COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are at their lowest levels in the U.S. since the early days of the pandemic. In the rest of the world, not so much. That’s a perspective that we can’t afford to lose as India, South America and eastern Europe engage in epic struggles.
However, let us applaud and give thanks when we have good reason to do so. The seven-day moving average of daily new cases in the U.S. dropped 24% in just one week, from 46,390 to 35,442 as of last Friday and is now below 30,000. By comparison, the seven-day moving average was 248,042 on January 11.
The L-word in the U.S. has gone from lockdown to liberation, as state economies begin to rev up. We’re not out of the woods by any means, but there is a cautious sense of hope mixed in with the apprehension. A Harris Poll showed both sides of this equation: 67% believe that the worst of the pandemic is behind us, but 65% are fearful of a new wave.
If you want a microcosm of where the country is right now, consider Exhibit A: the 2021 high school prom.
In St. Cloud, Minnesota, the prom went on as scheduled, more or less. Students were allowed to attend in pods of six, which were distanced from other pods during the evening.
In Elmhurst, Illinois, the prom was switched from Chicago’s Navy Pier to the high school stadium after considering Brookfield Zoo and Morton Arboretum. Dancing was not allowed, but the kids could enjoy a photo booth, food trucks and a senior send-off video shown on a huge movie screen.
In Bozeman, Montana, groups of no more than 50 students rotated through three different stations on the school campus for 30 minutes each—one station for dancing, another for food and a third for after-prom games.
In Las Cruces, New Mexico, high school students had to return to full-time remote learning after officials learned of a “secret prom” attended by 100 to 150 mostly masked students, 20 supervising adults and one DJ.
In Oconomowoc, WI, dancing will be permitted but the DJ is being instructed to play “social distancing friendly” songs. Music will be turned off if the dance floor gets too crowded.
For high school seniors, the prom and graduation offer the hope of capturing a fleeting moment of blessed normalcy at the end of a long year of tumult. As one parent said, “We’re happy to have anything.”
This edition of the Haymarket Media Coronavirus Briefing is 2,763 words long and will take you eight minutes to read.
An old riddle asks how far you can walk into a forest. The answer: Halfway, because after that you are walking out. We’re walking out of this forest.
· Air travel is getting back to where it used to be in that misty far-off year of 2019. The Transportation Security Administration’s diligent reports on “traveler throughput” show that in the first two weeks of May, an average of 1.5 million travelers went through TSA checkpoints every day. That’s not quite up to the 2019 level of 2.3 million a day but it’s a stratosphere above the 180,000 a day in pandemic-stricken May 2020.
· Oh, the places you’ll go! The 27-country European Union will be opening up to vaccinated visitors. Formal final approval is needed but fully expected. Any of the shots approved in the U.S. will fly you to the E.U. Each country will set its own rules.
· As people start to venture out again, travel brands have an opportunity to demonstrate leadership by emphasizing empathy and responsibility, Marisa Lalli notes in Campaign. Lalli, who is VP, consumer, and general manager, NY at WE Communications, says that 74% of consumers want brands to take a stand on important issues. One good example: The hotel and lodging industry’s Hospitality for Hope Initiative donating millions of rooms to healthcare workers and quarantining patients. Meanwhile, in a recent American Express survey, 65% of future travelers said they are planning a “vaxication,” a getaway after everyone in the family is vaccinated, and 64% say they miss travel so much they’re willing to give up social media for a month to go on vacation.
· Pubs and restaurants in the U.K. opened for indoor service for the first time since January, the AP reports. Messages remain a tad mixed. Hug again but be careful because it can spread disease, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a Twitter video. Travel again, but only to certain approved countries if you don’t want to be quarantined when you return. Remaining restrictions will be lifted June 21, unless there’s another surge from another variant. In the meantime, cheers!
· Campaign’s Alison Weissbrot caught up with Anheuser-Busch CMO Marcel Marcondes to talk about the company’s pandemic pivot. In an effort to “make our brands relevant to consumers’ new routines, we streamed cooking lessons and workout sessions…We supported restaurants. It was all about adding tangible value to people’s lives, instead of just doing advertising. That led us to a new internal mantra: We don’t want to get back to normal. We want to be better.” As for the company’s “Let’s Grab a Beer” campaign, Marcondes says, “It’s never just about the beer. It’s about being together… safely.”
· At this week’s PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, South Carolina, face coverings are recommended but not required outdoors. PGA officials also decided, after consulting with the Medical University of South Carolina and other advisors, to require face coverings indoors and on shuttle buses. “Given the short notice, it is not possible to readily determine those on-site who are fully vaccinated, and the indoor face covering requirement helps us fulfill our responsibility to protect the health and well-being of all involved.”
· The New York City Marathon is on for November 7 and will be open to 33,000 runners, down from 53,000 in 2019. Participants will need to provide a negative COVID-19 test result or proof of a complete vaccination series.
· Lollapalooza, a four-day concert and general happening, is back in Chicago’s Grant Park for its 30th anniversary. A long, long list of performers is headlined by Foo Fighters, Post Malone, Tyler the Creator, Miley Cyrus, DaBaby, Journey and Megan Thee Stallion.
· The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Conference, taking place August 9-13 in Las Vegas, will require all attendees, exhibitors and HIMSS staff to show proof of full COVID-19 vaccination to gain entry to the meeting campus. In 2019, the HIMSS conference attracted 43,000 attendees from 90 countries.
· Different strokes for different folks. Massachusetts plans to reopen May 29, at which time Fenway Park (now open at 25% capacity) will be back at full capacity for the first time since September 2019. Washington state plans to lift restrictions by June 30, and sooner if the goal of vaccinating 70% of the population age 16 and older is reached.
· Seen on a marquee in Upper Montclair, New Jersey: “Coming Soon: A Theatre Near You.”
The Takeaway: Coming soon: a summer that is not a bummer.
For more than a few of us, post-pandemic life won’t be about getting back to what it used to be, but instead trying something completely different.
· Stressed by the pandemic, more than a third of GPs in the U.K. are planning an early retirement, while more than half will be reducing their working hours, Nick Bostock reports in GP. In addition, about one in five intend to explore another career and 15% hope to shift to locum tenens work. Doctors are also concerned about the health outcomes of patients who have missed or postponed care during the pandemic and worried that their practices will not be able to cope with resurgent demand.
· The British Medical Association is not pleased at all with recent guidance from the National Health Service calling for a general return to face-to-face patient visits, Bostock notes. BMA committee chair Richard Vautrey says the advice is “tone deaf” and doesn’t take into account the ongoing need to limit the number of people in the office at any given time. Vautrey says docs should be commended and not condemned for conducting more than half of patient visits in person.
· In McKnight’s Long-Term Care News, Eleanor Feldman Barbera offers five tips to reduce staff burnout: (1) Maintain mental health support and programming beyond the crisis period; (2) Monitor overtime hours and allow people who are overdoing it to pull back; (3) Control schedules to make sure that employees take days off and allow flexibility in arrival and departure times to accommodate family needs; (4) Model good self-care for the team; and (5) Get creative and foster a wellness culture by offering gift certificates for manicures, massages or a visit to a local botanical garden.
· Giving workers a week of paid leave to fight burnout is a nice treatment but not the cure, Orianna Rosa Royle writes in Management Today. The only answer: give people less work.
· Independent agencies are getting creative when it comes to reimagining the workplace, Sabrina Sanchez reports in Campaign. In the St. Louis metro area, Paradowski Creative leased two acres of land on the banks of Deer Creek to allow employees to reconnect in a safe, outdoor environment. They’re calling it Camp Paradowski. Grow, a digital experience company based in Norfolk, Virginia, invested in a campus shared with other companies that has collaborative spaces, a rooftop deck, library and game room. Grow CEO Drew Ungvarsky views the office environment as “a center point of company culture to create unique collaboration opportunities and relationships.”
The Takeaway: May is officially Mental Health Awareness Month, but let’s bookmark the resources for future reference.
Phoning it in
Telemedicine—they like it, they really like it.
· In a recent survey, two-thirds of patients with chronic endocrine problems said they want to continue with telemedicine visits even after the pandemic is over. These are people who need close monitoring for medication adjustments, symptom checks and counseling. Providers were even more enthusiastic, with 75% voting to continue telehealth post-pandemic and 50% reporting patient satisfaction as a benefit. John Schieszer has further details in Renal & Urology News. As with other things pandemic, a hybrid approach may be the answer, with a healthy balance of in-person and telehealth visits.
· High satisfaction with telehealth was also seen in a study in which more than 80% of the subjects were white women. In Psychiatry Advisor, Jessica Nye reports that, without telehealth, the patients said they would have delayed getting care (54.5%), gone to an in-person visit (46.7%) or self-treated their symptoms (28.3%). More than 80% felt the physician was thorough and listened to their needs. Fewer than a third said they would prefer an in-person visit in the future.
· The telemedicine industry wants to keep a good thing going, too. According to STAT, telehealth lobbyists are busy trying to preserve some of the emergency measures adopted in the early days of the pandemic, such as allowing healthcare providers to practice in states where they aren’t licensed and having Medicare pay the same for virtual visits as for in-person ones. This week the Government Accountability Office weighed in and said the cost and quality of telehealth services need to be examined more closely before policies are set, Donna Shryer reports in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.
The Takeaway: We recall a journal article from the ‘90s declaring that telemedicine’s moment had arrived. So yeah, better late than never.
While trying to banish this disease, we’re also trying to better understand it.
· What we know about the clinical manifestations and course of COVID-19 in children is evolving. One thing we do know is that 3.9 million cases of COVID-19 have now been reported in children and adolescents in the U.S., representing 14% of the total, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Association. As adults get vaccinated and cases decline, pediatric cases are a larger percentage of what’s being reported: They comprised 24% of new cases for the week ending May 13.
· A piece of good news here: Mild COVID-19 is not likely to lead to “long” COVID-19. For people who develop COVID-19 but do not require hospitalization, the long-term risk of delayed acute complications, new onset of chronic disease and hospital admission for persisting symptoms is low, Danish researchers said in Lancet Infectious Diseases.
· Although the Food and Drug Administration typically does not disclose confidential information about unapproved products, the agency has made an exception, Brian Park reports in MPR. “It has become clear that the data currently available do not support the clinical benefit of leronlimab for the treatment of COVID-19,” the FDA said. The manufacturer, CytoDyn, had reported favorable results for the monoclonal antibody in two trials. But the FDA challenged those findings as based on small subgroups and said the studies overall did not show any benefit of leronlimab versus placebo in either its primary or secondary end points.
· Testing wastewater for SARS-CoV-2 virus is an effective way to detect cases of COVID-19 in congregate settings such as nursing homes, student dorms, military barracks and prisons, Danielle Brown reports in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.
Amy Mathers, a researcher at the University of Virginia, said that wastewater inspection and detection “provides an early warning signal of when to test everyone in the building to find and isolate the newly infected persons before an outbreak becomes large.” Mathers and colleagues reported their findings in Applied and Environmental Biology.
· The New York Times explored the wastewater issue as well, noting wryly that “coronavirus could turn sewage surveillance into a mainstream public health practice.” The headline was similarly droll: “From the wastewater drain, solid pandemic data.”
· Another way to curb outbreaks is through regular testing, Donna Shryer writes in McKnight’s LTC News. In a Netherlands nursing home with 185 residents, weekly testing of the population identified 38 SARS-CoV-2 positive residents up to eight days before symptoms manifested themselves. Effective mitigation measures followed.
The Takeaway: In the pursuit of scientific truth, let no stone be unturned and no sewer pipe go unexamined.
· Vaccine manufacturers Moderna and Pfizer have cracked the Top 10 in the latest Axios-Harris rankings of corporate reputation. Moderna checks in at number three and Pfizer at number seven. Otherwise the Top 10 includes, in order, Patagonia, Honda, Chick-Fil-A, SpaceX, Chewy, Tesla, Costco and Amazon. Other health-related organizations in the Top 100 include CVS Health (24), Walgreens (46), Kaiser Permanente (47) and Johnson & Johnson (72).
· Right behind J&J is McDonald’s. In Campaign, Sandeep Goyal ponders the promotional impact of putting the federal government’s “We Can Do This” vaccination slogan on 50 million McDonald’s coffee cups. More than 14,000 of McD’s 40,000 worldwide locations are in the U.S., he notes. Globally, the number of people passing through the golden arches on a daily basis equals the population of Great Britain. In NYC, a “We Can Do This” mega-billboard is in the works for Times Square. Meanwhile, McDonald’s hosted a vaccination clinic at its Chicago headquarters for local crews, franchisees, corporate employees and contractors.
At Pennsbury High School in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania, where the prom was once voted the nation’s best by Reader’s Digest, the event is very much on this year. It includes a two-hour arrival parade with floats, an outdoor tented dinner, a hypnotist show (a tradition) and a performance by the stellar Faculty Band. There won’t be dancing but there will be carnival-style games and the crowning of the Prom King and Queen. Members of the class of 2020, who had no prom, were invited back for this one, and 125 have responded.
One prom-going senior in Illinois summed up the experience: “We were talking about pictures and we were like, ‘We need to get pictures with all of our masks on,’ because when we show our kids, our grandkids -whatever, you know. We got to make sure that we’re like, ‘This is what was different about our prom.’”
…and some songs for Prom Night
Thanks for joining us. Have a safe and pleasant weekend and we’ll see you back here next Wednesday for the Vaccine Project Newsletter. Stay well and keep dancing.