Checking Up On Health: March 29, 2021

Medical Monday: A weekly post of healthcare- and technology-related policy news, views and commentaries.

Monday: Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a press briefing today she has a “recurring feeling” of “impending doom” as new daily cases of the coronavirus are rising and the nation approaches 550,000 COVID deaths among 30.2 million cases. According to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 tracking dashboard, the United States has reported more than 549,350 deaths among more than 30.2 million cases and leads the world in cases and deaths. Walensky told a reporter, “Right now, I’m scared.”

Sunday:  President Biden’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, blamed “premature” reopening measures, along with COVID-19 variants, for a spike in coronavirus cases. “I’ve said many times … that when you’re coming down from a big peak and you reach a point and start to plateau, once you stay at that plateau, you’re really in danger of a surge coming up.”

Saturday: Mexico revised its coronavirus death toll figures upward Saturday, increasing the tally by 60%, to 321,000. That makes Mexico’s death count second only to the United States (549,000) and overtaking No. 2 Brazil  (312,000) as the place with the second highest death count. Mexico’s population is 126 million; Brazil’s population is 211 million; the U.S. population is 330 million, which means the COVID-19 death rate paints a different picture than the death toll.

  • Mexico’s death toll represents 0.25% of its population
  • The U.S. death toll represents 0.16% of its population
  • Brazil’s death toll represents 0.15% of its population.

In a recipe for COVID-19 disaster, thousands of people are crowded in facilities along the U.S. border after being allowed in from Mexico under the Biden administration’s immigration policies. According to a BBC report, the United States held more than 100,000 people at centers along the Southern border in February, a 28% increase compared to January.

Friday: That cruise ship won’t sail, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday. The CDC intends to continue preventing cruises from operating in U.S. ports for the foreseeable future. The cruise industry sought a phased-in resumption of business in U.S. waters by July; the CDC has announced a November 21 reopening date for the industry shut since March 14. Florida saw a $3.2 billion loss in the first six months of the pandemic in the cruise industry alone, along with 49,500 jobs and $2.3 billion in wages, according to news reports. Gov. Ron DeSantis is threatening to sue the federal government unless it opens the industry back up. “Cruising has resumed with effective health protocols in more than 10 markets across the world. We can do it in the U.S. too,” the cruise industry tweeted.

Samaritans: Between 1999 and 2019, more than 800,000 people have died from drug overdoses in the United States, according to the Government Accountability Office. (All indications are that the pandemic has aggravated drug abuse, especially with isolation mandates keeping many from seeking help for their addiction.) Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia have enacted “Good Samaritan” laws to help reduce overdose deaths and respond to opioid overdoses, protecting people from certain criminal penalties if they call 911 to save an overdose victim. A GAO review of 17 studies suggests “a pattern of lower rates of opioid-related overdose deaths” in states with Good Samaritan laws, as well as “an increased likelihood of individuals calling 911 if they are aware of the laws.”

Free ride to your COVID-19 shot: VaxTransit, a free ride to get the COVID-19 vaccine, is a shot in the arm for public transit agencies that were struggling for relevancy and ridership even before the pandemic. Just 15 transit agencies in nine U.S. states offered free rides for vaccines at the beginning of the year, according to the project’s leader, Stewart Mader. “Now, more than 450 agencies in 41 U.S. states are providing free transit to vaccine appointments and mass vaccination centers.” Transit agencies in Canada are offering free VaxTransit, and options are appearing in the United Kingdom. The only Georgia-based agency offering the rides on the VaxTransit website appears to be Athens-Clarke Transit, although the link is broken. In December, Athens-Clarke Transit Director Burch McDuffie said “only transit-dependent riders are using the bus these days.” People with other options, like driving, he said, are avoiding transit: “In my opinion, they’re afraid to ride the bus with other folks because they’re afraid of exposure to COVID-19.” Ridership may not fully recover for another two years, he added

Everything’s better in Texas: Vanity Fair predicted there would be another 500,000 deaths in Texas and Mississippi because of their decision to eliminate their statewide mask mandate. Weeks later, however, Texas has not seen a spike in coronavirus cases – in fact, cases have decreased for the 18th day in a row, the Washington Times reports. Texas has administered 10 million vaccine doses, with nearly 13% of its population fully vaccinated, hospitalizations have decreased, and death rates have plummeted, according to the Texas Tribune.

Notable Quotes

“Locked down states have had no statistically observable effect on the virus trajectory and resulting in severe outcomes, the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) notes. ‘On the other hand, the lockdowns destroyed industries, schools, churches, liberties and lives, demoralizing the population and robbing people of essential rights. All in the name of safety from a virus that did its work in any case,’ AIER reports.” – Washington Times

“Many physicians believe that vaccinated immunity will prove more durable than natural immunity. I agree, and I think everyone should get vaccinated. But after a year of millions of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., it’s clear that reinfections are rare. Natural immunity is real and shouldn’t be ignored.” – Marty Makary, professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Bloomberg School of Public Health and Carey School of Business

Compiled by Benita M. Dodd, vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

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