Coronavirus Briefing: The kind of buzz we need

This edition of the Coronavirus Briefing is 2,600 words long and will take you 8 minutes to read.

Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

After a year of global pandemic, we should not be surprised that 2021 is the year when a horde of 17-year cicadas will descend on us once again.

According to the website EarthSky, billions of Brood X cicadas will emerge in a dozen states, “from New York west to Illinois and south into northern Georgia, including hot spots in Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.”

Not to worry. The cicadas will make a lot of noise with their mating calls, but they don’t sting and they’re not harmful. Locusts they are not. And they will go away, and the nitrogen from their bodies will feed the trees they once nibbled on.

We can wish a speedy departure for COVID-19 as well. As it happens, the picture looks decidedly brighter in the United States right now than it does in India, Brazil, much of Europe and the rest of the world. At this point in time, does anyone really remember the rocky start of our vaccine rollout last December and January?

The progress of the vaccination effort, though notably slowing of late, is helping a cloistered country open up again. That in combination with the advent of spring and summer portends a warming trend in more ways than one.

Some hopeful signs of the times:

·  The Massachusetts Department of Public Health reported zero deaths from COVID on Tuesday, the first time the state has been able to make that statement since June 2020.

·  A Harris Poll in the first week of May finds that more than two thirds of us (67%) believe the worst of the pandemic is over, twice the number who thought so (33%) at the end of December.

·  McDonald’s is adorning 50 million coffee cups with the federal government’s “We Can Do This” slogan along with links to vaccine resources.

That’s the kind of buzz we like to hear.

This edition of the Coronavirus Briefing is 2,600 words long and will take you 8 minutes to read.

Lives reclaimed

Getting back to normal will be a cautious toe in the water for some and a joyful plunge for others. An era of “revenge travel” is at hand.

·  British Airways ads are welcoming back passengers with big smiles, open arms and a huge thank you, Sara Nelson reports in Campaign. The TV spots feature the airlines’ staff and crew, from the captain to the “baton guy” on the ground, displaying “a palpable sense of impatience and excitement at returning to the skies.” “You make us fly” is British Airways’ first TV ad since 2019, created by Ogilvy as part of Team Horizon.   

·  Broadway starts its return on September 14 with hit shows Hamilton, Wicked, and the Lion King leading the way. The longest running show, Phantom of the Opera, which debuted on Broadway in January 1988 and has raised and lowered the curtain 13,370 times, will resume the Music of the Night on October 22.

·  A weekly virtual support group for Asian American families fostered a sense of community and belonging among 10 participating families during the pandemic, Jessica Nye reports in Psychiatry Advisor. Under the guidance of researchers from the Yale Child Study Center, the families created skits based on their own conflicts involving the pandemic, cross-cultural challenges unique to Asian American families, and LGBTQ issues. Participants said the structure gave them a sense of control during the uncertainty of lockdowns and promoted healthy coping skills.

·  After a year of bad press, the senior living industry is fighting back to flip the script and tell a more positive story, Kimberly Bonvissuto reports in McKnight’s Senior Living. One such effort is Safer in Senior Living, created by VirtuSense, a medical equipment supplier based in Peoria, Illinois. A number of continuing care retirement communities have joined in the initiative. As one exec put it, the pandemic cast a “long dark shadow” over the industry. The positive aspects of proactive planning and responsive crisis management were not deemed newsworthy, “yet it was these factors that helped us prevent … the spread of disease remarkably well.”

·  No question about it, the pandemic has forced families to reconsider nursing home care and to explore the alternatives, including options for keeping Mom and Dad well-cared for at home. In a report by the New York Times, an attorney for an advocacy group says we are entering a “market correction” for nursing homes.

·   Among the most poignant of Mother’s Day moments were those experienced by moms in nursing homes seeing and hugging their loved ones for the first time in a long, long time. McKnight’s Danielle Brown captures these moments in a way we all can appreciate.

·  Hawaiian Eye was a TV show in the early 1960s, but today it’s the name of the third largest meeting of ophthalmic healthcare professionals in the U.S. This year’s session, bumped from January to May 8-14, is taking place in Maui, much of it outdoors, with testing and other safety protocols in place. It’s the largest in- person medical meeting in the U.S.—600 HCPs and 1,000 total attendees—since the pandemic sent everything south. Well, this is south. Ka Lae on the big Island of Hawaii is the southernmost tip of the U.S., farther south than Key West.

·  Will you need a vaccination certificate to go out and about in the world? A Gallup poll reports that 57% of U.S. adults support requiring proof of vaccination to fly on airplanes and 55% think it’s a good idea for admittance to concerts, sporting events or other events with large crowds. Fewer than half, however, support vaccination proof to return to work (45%), stay in a hotel (44%) or dine indoors at a restaurant (40%). Within those averages, opinions vary widely. When it comes to flying on a plane, 74% of those who are or will be vaccinated support the passport idea but more than 90% who don’t plan to get vaccinated are opposed. 

·  A poll by Verywell exploring similar mental territory finds that 55% of Americans (68% of Democrats, 41% of Republicans) are in favor of some type of vaccine passport, 28% reject the concept and 17% are not sure. Support for requiring proof of vaccination varies by activity, from 65% for international travel and 51% for domestic travel to 53% for going to school and 41% for going to church.

The Takeaway:

The vaccination card. Don’t leave home without it.

Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

Back to work and back to school

“School hesitancy” and “office hesitancy” may become additions to the COVID lexicon.

·  As employers start summoning their workers back to the office, some folks don’t necessarily view it as a “return to normal” and have high anxiety,  Tina Reed reports in Axios. People have adapted over the past year to a new arrangement and many happen to like it. In a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, more than half (52%) said that, if given the option, they would prefer to work from home as a permanent gig.

·  The temporary workforce has come of age during the pandemic, Andrew Saunders writes in Management Today. The CEO of one staffing agency noted, “We have clients who are already asking us if we can [recruit for] marketing execs and account handling execs. We are getting close to some quite senior roles.” Another employer noted that it can take 3 to 6 months to hire a permanent employee, but with access to a corps of prescreened workers, “we can get someone in the afternoon if we really need to.” Turning to contingent workers allows companies like Pwc to access crucial but rarely used niche skills that do not justify a permanent hire.

·  Education Secretary Miguel Cardona expects all schools in the U.S. to be fully in person by September. We’re not there yet. Nearly 40% of students below high school level were still all-remote in March, according to a department survey, and 20% had a hybrid arrangement. More than half (54%) of public schools below high school were offering full-time classroom learning to any student who wanted it, up from 46% in January.

·  In the Los Angeles Unified School District, second largest in the country, only 7% of high school students have returned for in-classroom instruction in spite of safety measures designed to invite them back for the final weeks of the school year. Just 12% of middle schoolers and 30% of elementary school kids have returned.

The Takeaway:

Just like a space capsule, we have some re-entry issues.

Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

Lives disrupted

PTSD could also be an acronym for Pandemic Times Stress Disorder.

·  In many ways, 2020 was a lost year for people trying to quit smoking. Calls to a national quit hotline dropped 27% and reached their lowest levels since 2007, JAMA Network reports. Clinician referrals to quit lines were off 20%. In a chaotic year, smoking may have served as a coping mechanism. There have been fewer visits to doctors and more opportunities to light up at home, away from offices and restaurants where smoking is taboo. The University of California, San Francisco’s Smoking Cessation Leadership Center has launched a social media campaign, I COVID QUIT, to encourage smokers to quit for the sake of their mental and physical health.

·  Hospitals in Washington state are seeing more COVID-19 patients in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, the Seattle Times notes. Among 90 newly hospitalized COVID-19 patients in one health system, 40% were under 40. In January, two thirds of those hospitalized in the state were 60 or older. Now the most hospitalizations are occurring among people 40 to 59. Officials think the trend reflects a combination of the B.1.1.7 variant and the tendency of younger adults to let down their guard due to COVID fatigue.

·  Similar hospitalization trends are noted in Florida, where recent COVID-19 admissions were concentrated in the 30-to-50 age group. Maine’s hospitalized COVID-19 patients are trending younger as well. Maine health officials have described what’s happening as a “syndemic,” concurrent epidemics in both older and younger age groups. 

·  Pandemic stresses have led more than 40% of charity leaders in the U.K. to consider quitting, Stephen Delahunty reports in Third Sector. More than 40% also say they have seen an increase in staff mental health concerns since January. Major stresses include an increased demand for services and anxiety over not being able to provide them. The research, by insurance firm Ecclesiastical, reinforces findings of a report Third Sector published earlier this year on an emerging “crisis of wellbeing” in the nonprofit world.

·  A  pre-existing neurologic condition such as dementia or Alzheimer’s strongly predicts that a patient with COVID-19 will develop additional neurologic problems requiring ongoing care, according to a study of 133 healthcare institutions around the world. “Even if the pandemic is completely eradicated, we are still talking about millions of survivors who need our help,” said lead author Sherry Chou. In summarizing the study in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News, Alicia Lasek notes that people with COVID-19-related neurologic symptoms, from loss of smell to stroke, also have a six-fold higher risk of in-hospital mortality from the virus.

The Takeaway:

The pandemic will not stop throwing curves. And we can’t afford to swing and miss.

Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

Science revisited

COVID is reminding us that science is not written in stone. It’s fluid, elusive, like quicksilver.

·  The CDC now acknowledges that airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 can occur indoors at distances of more than 6 feet. The agency’s recently updated Scientific Brief notes that “the phenomenon has been repeatedly documented under certain preventable circumstances.” The events typically involve an infected person exhaling virus for more than 15 minutes and in some cases for hours. The risk of airborne transmission increases in enclosed spaces with inadequate ventilation and in situations where the infected person is exercising, shouting, singing or doing something else respiratorially strenuous.

·  The World Health Organization has reiterated its warning that the antiparasitic ivermectin should not be used to treat COVID-19 outside of clinical trials. The WHO weighed in after the government of Goa, a state in India, recommended ivermectin for all adults as COVID-19 prophylaxis. The FDA and the drug’s manufacturer have also weighed in against using ivermectin to treat COVID-19, but demand for the drug has cropped up in other parts of Asia and South America as well. Studies continue.

·  The WHO has classified a triple mutant variant of SARS-CoV-2, identified in India, as a global health risk.

·  The CDC estimates that more than 70% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are now caused by the B.1.1.7 variant that was first identified in the U.K. and is more transmissible than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus.

·  The emergency authorization of Pfizer/BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine in 12- to 15-year-olds in the U.S. and Canada (and likely soon in the European Union) is an overture to the next symphony: vaccination of children and young adolescents of virtually all ages. Despite misconceptions that kids don’t get COVID, about 1.5 million cases in youngsters 11 to 17 years of age were reported to the CDC between March 1, 2020, and April 30, 2021, Diana Ernst reports in MPR.

·  Long-term care facilities will have to start reporting COVID-19 vaccination status for their residents and staff on a weekly basis starting June 14. The rule comes from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which will post the information on a public website, Danielle Brown reports in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News. The rule also applies to intermediate care facilities for people with intellectual disabilities. Industry leaders believe the transparency of reporting will help achieve the goal of vaccinating 75% of LTC staff by the end of June, Brown notes.

·  Many questions have been raised about the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnant and nursing women. Infectious Disease Advisor’s Jessica Nye consults four experts and comes away with practical guidance. Bottom line: better to get the shot than the disease.

·  A recent study suggests that a nationwide rollout of inexpensive, home-based SARS-CoV-2 testing would help decrease the spread of disease, reduce mortality and save money. Nye offers details in Infectious Disease Advisor.

The Takeaway:

We didn’t have a rehearsal for this play. We’re learning our lines as we go along.

The rest

·  Global Citizen’s fundraising concert to emphasize vaccine equity raised $302 million, enough to acquire 26 million vaccine doses for countries in need. “Vax Live: The Concert to Reunite the World” was taped on May 2 in southern California and broadcast over Mother’s Day weekend. Selena Gomez hosted a show attended by several thousand of the fully vaccinated and featuring performances by Jennifer Lopez, Eddie Vedder, J. Balvin, Foo Fighters and H.E.R.

·  DKBmed has expanded its educational series COVID-19: Keeping Up with a Moving Target. New topics in the live webcasts include post-COVID syndrome, COVID-19 and multiple sclerosis, the impact of variants, the use of monoclonal antibodies and the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on underserved populations. Audiences are expanding as well to include managed care professionals, pharmacists and hospitalists.

·  If you missed the first supermoon of 2021 on April 27, fear not. You have two more chances this year, on May 26 and again on June 24. The moons are brighter but not bigger than other full moons. And they’re called pink moons not because they’re pink but because pink phlox blooms this time of year. The moon remains its quietly stoic self, generously reflecting the light of the sun for our nighttime benefit.

… and some songs

·  (Thursday) Here’s Why I Did Not Go to Work Today, Harry Nilsson

·  Almost There, Anika Noni Rose, from The Princess and the Frog

·  Up Around the Bend, Creedence Clearwater Revival

·  Good Feeling, Flo Rida

·  Go the Distance, Lea Salonga

·  Chariots of Fire, Vangelis

Thanks so much for joining us. Feedback always welcome. See you here next Wednesday for a new edition of the Haymarket Vaccine Project Newsletter. Take good care.

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