THIS WEEK IN REVIEW: Monday, Mar. 30th – Friday, Apr. 3rd

April 3, 2020 by B. Cameron Webb, MD, JD

THIS WEEK IN REVIEW: Monday, March 30th – Friday, April 3rd

Welcome to a brand new decade of Viewpoi- wait, we’re just getting word that it’s only April. Well, here’s your friendly neighborhood Viewpoints for the week!

On Sunday, President Trump extended federal guidelines on social distancing to April 30, in contrast to his earlier hopes that things would open back up by Easter Sunday. This extension came as the White House coronavirus task force presented modeling showing the US could see 100,000 deaths or more as the outbreak continues. Both Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci of the task force stressed that they hope, with continued social distancing and mitigation strategies, that these numbers would lessen over the long run. Nevertheless, President Trump stressed that “challenging times are ahead for the next 30 days.”

As more and more Americans find themselves unemployed and uninsured, the Trump administration decided that it would not be reopening the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchange market for broad enrollment. The administration is instead considering using Medicare and Medicaid to help cover some of those new gaps, though nothing has been proposed officially. It is believed that the decision not to open up Healthcare.gov was one made to avoid confusion while the Trump administration still advocates for the dismantling of the ACA in the courts. Critics are worried many uninsured Americans will end up seeing high costs from COVID-19. This is particularly harrowing at a time where some are estimating that up to 3.5 million Americans have already lost their employer-sponsored insurance.

As the US has struggled to stymie the rapidly diminishing national stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE), shipments of masks, gloves, and ventilators arrived in New York earlier this week from China and Russia.  Many states, including New York and Louisiana, have warned that they are days away from exhausting their stocks of medical supplies, prompting the Trump administration to expand the use of the Defense Production Act.  According to President Trump, the new guidelines will “save lives by removing obstacles in the supply chain that threaten the rapid production of ventilators.

In spite of national supply shortages, the CDC also issued new guidance encouraging the use of masks or face coverings outside of the home to help curb the transmission of COVID-19. However, Americans looking to find masks at popular retail outlets may have a hard time. In order to free up masks for health responders, Home Depot and Amazon have stopped sales of N95 masks to the general public. Instead, politicians have suggested that consumers make their own face coverings with bandanas, scarves, or even T-shirts. Although homemade face coverings may help prevent the spread of the virus via asymptomatic individuals, health experts have stressed that “the use of masks should not supersede existing social distancing guidelines.” 

As you can imagine the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been busy this week; let’s start with the bad news (sorry). Zantac is being pulled from shelves as impurities in its active ingredient ranitidine may cause cancer. Okay, the rest is good news! A new sterilization system by Battelle, which can decontaminate respirator masks up to 20 times, was approved. An Emergency Authorization approved antimalarial drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine for treatment use. A new antibody test for coronavirus was just approved, indicating if a patient has ever been exposed and if they have an immunity. And finally, the FDA relaxed guidelines in the face of blood shortages, now allowing gay and bisexual men to donate blood more readily. Blood and antibodies are more important than ever as the first patients were treated with plasma therapy this week in the US.

On Monday, a federal judge lifted abortion restrictions in Texas, Ohio, and Alabama. The three states imposed a ban on the procedure due to the pandemic, stating that it would preserve needed medical supplies, yet the ban was halted. Other states are considering a ban as well, arguing that ‘nonessential medical procedures’ applies to abortions. Planned Parenthood and the ACLU are suing Iowa, Ohio, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Texas to ensure access to the procedure during the pandemic. Other states, like Virginia, New Jersey, Washington, and New York, have explicitly stated that abortion will be classified as an essential medical procedure. Despite the ruling Monday from the federal judge, an appeals court has ruled that Texas can temporarily enforce their ban until their appeal is considered.

State by state, stay at home orders are being executed to help slow the spread of the virus. The strictness of the orders varies with some states such as Florida allowing for exemptions for religious gatherings. (For local folks, here’s a rundown of what gets the green light during the order). Dr. Anthony Fauci, a leader in the charge against COVID-19, believes that from a health and safety perspective, all states should have a stay at home order in place

With New York and New Jersey ranking #1 and #2 with the highest deal tolls in the nation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a travel advisory for the next two weeks. New York has been hit hard. The 1,000-bed hospital ship USNS Comfort arrived this week to help ease the pressure on hospitals but has been slow to take on patients. It is expected to see increases as the process for moving patients becomes more established. Meanwhile in Michigan (the state with the 3rd highest COVID-19-related deaths) has had its disaster declaration approved by the president

And if you need a new song to sing while you wash your hands for 20 seconds, Dwayne Johnson and his daughter can provide some help. Other favorites include:

  1. COVID-19 to the tune of Come On Eileen
  2. “We will, we will *wash* you” 3x
  3. Or, just pick your favorite song and this nifty website will set you up with a poster!

Stay safe, stay home, stay sane,

Viewpoints

 


This Week’s Viewpoints Writing Team:
Avery Bullock, Carina Clawson, Annie Duncan, Jo McClain and Nana Owusu