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Pandemic

COVID-19 Cases Climbing, Wiping Out Months of Progress | Chicago News

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In this September 14, 2021 file photo, a syringe containing the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is being made at a clinic at Reading Area Community College in Reading, Pennsylvania. (AP Photo / Matt Rourke, File)

COVID-19 deaths and cases in the US have returned to their winter levels, undoing months of progress and possibly fueling President Joe Biden’s case for his sweeping new vaccination regulations.

The cases – driven by the Delta variant combined with some Americans’ resistance to vaccination – are mostly concentrated in the south.

As one-off hot spots like Florida and Louisiana improve, infection rates are rising in Kentucky, Georgia, and Tennessee, fueled by kids now back in school, loose mask restrictions, and low vaccination rates.

The dire situation in some hospitals is starting to sound like the infection summit in January: operations in hospitals in Washington state and Utah were canceled. Severe staff shortages in Kentucky and Alabama. A lack of beds in Tennessee. Intensive care units with or over capacity in Texas.

The deteriorating picture nine months after the country’s vaccination campaign began has angered and frustrated medical professionals who view heartbreak as preventable. The vast majority of dead and hospital patients are unvaccinated. This has proven to be a tough lesson for some families.

“The problem now is that we have tried to educate based on science, but I think most of the education that is taking place now is based on tragedy, personal tragedy,” said Dr. Ryan Stanton, an ambulance doctor in Lexington, Kentucky.

In Kentucky, 70% of state hospitals – 66 out of 96 – are reporting critical staff shortages, the highest level during the pandemic, the governor said.

“Our hospitals are on the verge of collapse in many communities,” said Dr. Steven Stack, Kentucky’s Public Health Commissioner.

The U.S. has an average of over 1,800 COVID-19 deaths and 170,000 new cases per day, the highest since early March and late January, respectively. And both numbers have risen in the past two weeks.

The country delivers about 900,000 shots of the vaccine daily, well below its high of 3.4 million a day in mid-April. An advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration will meet on Friday to discuss whether the US should start giving boosters of the Pfizer vaccine to help protect people.

On a positive note, the number of people currently in hospital with COVID-19 has stabilized or even decreased at around 90,000 or around the level in February.

The US outbreak peaked in January, with an average of around 3,400 deaths and a quarter of a million cases per day. That was just weeks after the nation’s vaccination campaign. It was followed by a steep drop that stretched into spring before creeping back up with the ascent of the more contagious Delta variant.

Last week, the president ordered all employers with more than 100 employees to require vaccinations or weekly tests, a measure that affects approximately 80 million Americans. And the 17 million or so health care workers who receive federal Medicare or Medicaid must also be fully vaccinated.

“We read and hear about it and see the stories of hospital patients, people on their deathbeds among the unvaccinated in recent weeks,” said Biden when the rules were announced. “This is a pandemic for the unvaccinated.”

The conditions have met with opposition and complaints from Republicans.

Stanton, the Kentucky emergency doctor, said he has welcomed families where the Delta variant has been swept across generations, especially if the older members are not vaccinated.

“Kentucky now has a third of new cases under the age of 18,” he said. Some kids brought it home from summer camp and spread it to the rest of the family, and now “between daycare and school and school activities and meeting friends there are just so many exposures”.

In Alabama, hundreds of COVID-19 patients fill intensive care units, and hospital staff at one facility contacted 43 other hospitals in three states to find a special cardiac intensive care bed for Ray Martin DeMonia. It wasn’t fast enough. The 73-year-old died on September 1. And his family pleaded in his obituary.

“Please get vaccinated in Ray’s honor, if you don’t, to free up resources for non-COVID-related emergencies,” his obituary said.

In Hidalgo County, Texas, along the Mexican border, there were about 50 hospitalized patients with COVID-19 on a specific day in July. By early August the number had risen to over 600.

“We almost celebrated in July. We didn’t know, ”said Ivan Melendez, Hidalgo District Health Authority. The situation has improved a bit, with just under 300 people hospitalized for COVID-19 on Monday, but intensive care units are still over 90% busy, Melendez said.

“We haven’t turned the corner yet,” said Melendez. “Double-digit people, double-digit people die every day.”

The biggest spike in summer occurred in states with low vaccination rates, especially the south where many people rely on air conditioning and breathe recirculating air, said Linsey Marr, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech.

As the colder months begin, states further north with low vaccination rates, especially the Midwest, are likely to see upward trends.

“We are currently climbing the top, but I don’t think it will get all the way down,” said Marr. “I think it will stay on a simmering level as it works its way through the unvaccinated populations in the other states. And it will work to the north because in winter people heat up and then have the same problem of air circulation indoors. “

In some northern states, vaccination rates are not that low, but “there are still many unvaccinated people. Delta will find her, ”said Marr.

And vaccinated people are still not clear. Shri Amarnath said her father fell ill while on a business trip to Georgia shortly before retiring on August 31, and missed his last day of work and retirement celebrations.

After 48 hours of symptom free, the family traveled to a lake house in Tennessee. All were vaccinated. However, Amarnath’s mother got sick during the trip and she has now tested positive.

Everyone else is in quarantine and planning to test or retest, said Amaranth, who lives in Indianapolis.

“Everyone is on the alert waiting to see who’s next,” she said.

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Pandemic

Alaska reports nearly 1,800 new COVID-19 cases and 44 deaths, in part due to backlog

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Alaska broke multiple daily records for COVID-19 case numbers, hospital admissions and deaths on Friday, but public health officials said the high numbers were at least partially due to a lack of data.

Due to backlogs in data entry, the roughly 1,800 new cases reported Friday have been bloated by several hundred older cases, health officials said.

“That doesn’t detract from the fact that we continue to see the tremendous spread of COVID in our communities,” said Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska Chief Medical Officer, on a call to the news media.

The 41 Alaskan deaths from COVID-19 reported on Friday occurred mostly in the past month, officials said. Some even took place earlier this year and hadn’t been added to the list due to a cyberattack that hampered the state’s system of recording deaths.

However, a record of 217 hospital admissions reported on Friday was not part of the backlog and represents the growing number of people suffering from COVID-19 in need of hospital treatment in Alaska.

Last month the state had its “highest incidence of cases we have ever seen, weighing on our public health infrastructure, our hospitals, our businesses and our economy,” said Zink.

The majority of the 44 deaths reported Friday – including 41 residents and three non-residents – were deaths that occurred in August and identified through a standard death certificate check, officials said Friday.

[Alaska health workers face anger and threats from COVID patients and public, chief medical officer says]

Government agencies rely on death certificates to report COVID-19 deaths. If a doctor believes that COVID-19 infection contributed to a person’s death, it will be included on the death certificate and eventually counted in the state’s official toll, according to the DHSS.

Some deaths are reported directly to the state, while other deaths are less clear-cut than others and take longer to review, said epidemiologist Dr. Louisa Castrodale.

“Hospitals will call us and say, ‘Hey, we had this unfortunate death, we really think it’s COVID and we’re going to report it to you,'” she explained.

“Hospitals will also call us and say, ‘Hey, we have this person who died. There is a lot going on with this person, we are not sure what the provider will ultimately write on the death certificate. ‘ So that’s what we’re waiting for, ”she said.

Ultimately, every single COVID-19 death that the state reports has a death certificate listing COVID-19 as a contributing cause of death, and each one goes through a rigorous review process, Castrodale said.

[How do COVID-19 deaths in Alaska get counted?]

About a dozen of the deaths reported on Friday occurred in the spring; for these, reporting was delayed by a cyber attack in May that targeted the state health department and left many of its systems offline for months, officials said.

The continued high number of COVID-19 patients continues to overwhelm healthcare facilities across the state.

Record hospital stays – and long waiting times in the emergency room

As of Friday, a state dashboard reported a new record of 217 people hospitalized across the state with COVID-19 – higher than at any point in the pandemic and well above last winter’s high.

Hospitals say their numbers likely haven’t counted the true effects of COVID-19 enough, as they don’t include some long-term COVID-19 patients who have stopped testing positive but are still in need of hospital treatment.

Earlier this week, state officials announced that they would implement crisis standards for care nationwide, a worst-case scenario that forces hospitals to ration supplies due to resource and staffing constraints.

Hospitals across the state continue to report long emergency room waits, late procedures and limited transfers, and in at least one case, the death of a patient who was unable to receive timely care.

The vast majority of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in Alaska have been in people who have not been vaccinated.

In August in Alaska, state data showed residents were 8.3 times less likely to be hospitalized if they were vaccinated than if they were unvaccinated, Zink said Friday.

The new record of 1,793 new virus cases on Friday – including 1,735 residents and 58 non-residents – followed Thursday’s previous record of 1,330 cases plus seven deaths.

Fall residue

A few hundred of the cases reported on Friday were from positive test results from the last week and the week before, and some even before that, Castrodale said. She estimated that once the state clears its backlog, it will expect around 1,000 cases a day.

Since the state found ways to automate newer cases, they have been able to examine and catch up on older case reports, Castrodale said.

The delays in data reporting make it difficult to compare daily numbers, and Zink said it may be more helpful to look at the overall trend each week. She stressed that throughout September, the state had the highest number of cases ever.

The delays are also coming from a variety of locations, officials said, including certain overwhelmed testing facilities all of which are sending their results for several days at a time, as well as a limited number of staff amid a host of new cases.

“We only have a limited number of people on the team, so we’re doing our best to get it,” said Zink.

Alaska’s per capita fall rate remains the highest in the country – and about three times the national average, according to a New York Times tracker.

Nationwide, 9.23% of the tests carried out last week gave positive results.

Among eligible Alaskans 12 and older, 62.8% had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while 58.5% were considered fully vaccinated by Thursday.

The deaths involved residents from across the state, including 11 from Anchorage, six from Wasilla, four from Fairbanks, three from Ketchikan, three from Juneau, two from Soldotna, two from Bethel, one from Homer, one from North Pole, one from Tok, one from Big Lake, one from Petersburg, one from Palmer, one from Kenai, one from Willow, one from a small community in the northwest of the Arctic, and one from Sitka.

Fairbanks also recorded three deaths from non-residents.

Almost half of the deceased were over 70 years old. Fourteen were in their 50s or 60s, two were in their 40s, two were in their 30s, and two were in their 20s.

A total of 514 residents and 18 non-residents in the state have died of COVID since the pandemic began.

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Pandemic

Booster shot or not? Mixed messaging creates distrust during COVID-19 pandemic

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CLEVELAND, Ohio – Don’t wear masks; wear them. Masks protect you; Masks protect others. The only thing that was consistent about the masking of health professionals at the start of the pandemic was the inconsistency that left many Americans confused and skeptical.

Now the public is experiencing a similar whiplash injury from having the COVID-19 vaccine booster. First, President Joe Biden released a plan to bring Pfizer boosters to everyone. An advisory body to the US Food and Drug Administration rejected the plan.

Then an advisory panel from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed the game again on Thursday, recommending boosters for people 65 and over, people with pre-existing conditions and residents of nursing homes. And late at night, CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky prompted the committee’s decision to exclude frontline workers at increased risk of exposure.

What are the implications of all of the rapidly changing health policies and conflicting messages? Another type of pandemic – an increase in conspiracy theories, disinformation and a lack of confidence in the system that was created to protect us.

“The uncoordinated news that has occurred may be the biggest public health failure we’ve seen with COVID-19,” said Scott Frank, director of the public health program at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. “In public health, the first rule of a pandemic is always to present a single message.”

Frank said the idea that the booster was ready for a widespread release is premature and a good example of what he calls “news drift”.

Frank said it was important to come up with a coordinated response. Advances in science have helped the medical community fight COVID-19 in unprecedented ways, but it’s not without its consequences.

“Before, we wouldn’t have had the science that would have allowed us to change course in the middle of the stream. We would have stayed with our original plan and had a consistent message, ”said Frank. “But it would have been the wrong message. The fact that we had a change in science doesn’t mean scientists are upset; it means we are discovering new information that will enable us to take a more effective course in fighting the virus. “

Raed Dweik, a Cleveland Clinic doctor and a member of the hospital’s COVID-19 response team, said one of the most troubling aspects of the pandemic had been uncertainty.

“This uncertainty has been tough for a lot of people not only in the community but also in the medical field because we have to understand it ourselves so we can convey it to the public,” said Dweik. “I know it is awkward for people not to have definitive answers, but this is a sign of the times.”

For ethnic and ethnic minority populations, the insecurity and fear caused by inconsistent messaging are compounded by a lack of trust stemming from years of public health inequalities while being disproportionately affected by COVID-19, Frank said .

And since the early days of the pandemic, the interface between politics and medicine created a power dynamic that led to contradicting messages. Around the world, each country set its own safety plan, while here in the US, states advanced with different approaches, each backed by unique scientific research working with a variety of medical experts.

“The push-and-pull between science and politics has contributed most to the distrust,” said Frank. “Scientists have been asked to justify or rationalize some policy decisions that were not based on rational science.”

As this decision and scientific information evolves, the Internet provides a breeding ground for misinformation and disinformation – arguably more damaging as it is shared with the intent to deceive. Although the problem plagued online platforms long before the pandemic, COVID-19 exacerbated the problem as disinformation was turned into weapons to serve individual agendas rather than serve the health of the community.

“It can land on ears that may have a basic distrust of vaccines, healthcare, government, or science,” Frank said. “These messages are amplified by people on social media who have a tendency to believe these messages and convey them to others. It is quite painful to see people you know and trust spread messages that actually harm their neighbors and the people we care about. “

The challenge for the public health system is to maintain the public’s beliefs while mixed messages increase suspicion. For Frank and Dweik the answer is simple: create trust through coordinated and systematic communication.

The Cleveland Clinic has developed a strategy of communicating quickly and frequently while their experts share their knowledge of COVID-19 – and most importantly, what they don’t know – based on the latest data.

“A lot of things come out that are speculation or guesswork,” said Dweik. “It is not easy for us as doctors to say that we do not know. But it’s better … than saying something that isn’t backed up or supported by science and evidence. “

Cuyahoga County Health Department will decide its recommendations and the timing of their release based on the best possible way to prevent hospitalizations and death. However, these decisions can be at the expense of public opinion, according to Terry Allan, health commissioner for Cuyahoga County.

“Information comes out quickly, and a fog can build up when people try to understand the steps,” Allan said. “Sometimes it’s not popular. That comes with every emergency and we have to live with it. “

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Pandemic

Turkmenistan claims it hasn’t had a single Covid-19 case. Activists say that’s a lie

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At least that is what the mysterious, authoritarian government of the Central Asian country claims.

However, independent organizations, journalists and activists outside of Turkmenistan say there is evidence the country is fighting a third wave that is overwhelming hospitals and killing dozens of people – and warn that the president is downplaying the threat posed by the deadly virus to get its public image.

Ruslan Turkmen, an exile from Turkmenistan and editor of the Netherlands-based independent news organization Turkmen News, said he personally compiled the names of more than 60 people he claimed to have died of Covid-19 in the country, including Teachers, artists and doctors.

Turkmen said he had checked all recorded deaths with medical records and x-rays, which revealed severe lung damage and medical treatment consistent with coronavirus victims.

“Instead of accepting it and cooperating with the international community, Turkmenistan has decided to bury its head in the sand,” said Turkmen.

The Turkmen government did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.

How it unfolded

When Covid-19 spread around the world in early 2020, Turkmenistan insisted there were no cases even as neighboring countries reported exploding outbreaks.

Iran, with which Turkmenistan shares a long land border, has reported one of the world’s largest Covid-19 outbreaks, with almost 5.5 million total cases, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

“You are looking at what is happening in other countries in the region and how different Turkmenistan could possibly be?” said Rachel Denber, assistant director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch.

According to the UK and Australian Foreign Ministry websites, all flights to Turkmenistan are currently suspended and only Turkmen nationals are allowed to enter the country. Turkmen said his sources in Turkmenistan began contacting him about cases around May 2020 – around the same time Covid-19 spread around the world. He said the first messages he received spoke of a “strange lung disease, like the flu,” which affects many people.

“It was at least 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) outside – not a typical flu season,” he said.

In June 2020, the US embassy in the capital, Ashgabat, issued a health warning that “reports from citizens with symptoms have been subjected to Covid-19 testing for Covid-19” and quarantined for up to 14 days according to the Turkmen The government immediately dubbed the statement “fake news”. A WHO mission to Turkmenistan in July 2020 did not confirm any coronavirus infections in the country, but said it was concerned about “an increased number of cases of acute respiratory infections and pneumonia”. A WHO official said Turkmenistan should pretend that Covid-19 was floating around.

By that time, the Turkmen said the situation was out of control. The government advised citizens to take bizarre public health measures, such as eating a certain type of spicy soup.

In January of this year, Turkmenistan announced it had approved Russia’s Sputnik-V coronavirus vaccine for use in the country. Then, in June, the World Bank agreed to lend the Turkmen government $ 20 million, mainly for health facilities and construction, as part of a program to “Prevent, Detect and Respond to the Threat of Covid-19”.

As recently as Tuesday, President Berdymuhamedov said the efforts of the global community in combating the Covid-19 pandemic were “insufficient”, although he did not mention the situation in his own country.

“The pandemic has exposed serious systemic failures in the international response to this challenge,” he said.

“Turkmenistan is on fire”

Despite Berdymukhamedov’s claims that his country is Covid-free, the reality in Turkmenistan is very different, according to independent journalists and activists.

Diana Serebryannik, director of the Europe-based exile group Rights and Freedoms of Turkmenistan Citizens, said her organization learned from contacts in the country that hospitals there are currently struggling to deal with the influx of cases.

Serebryannik said that Turkmen doctors from her organization who now lived abroad had contact with their former colleagues in the country so that they could find out the real situation and offer advice.

She said doctors in Turkmenistan had told her that both oxygen and ventilators were hard to come by in the country, treatment was expensive, and deaths from the virus could run into the thousands.

“Turkmenistan is on fire, Covid is on fire … Sometimes they don’t even take patients to hospital, they just send them home,” she said.

A hermit state ruled by an egomaniac: is Turkmenistan on the brink of collapse?

According to Serebryannik, the official cause of death in these cases is not Covid-19 or even pneumonia – instead, a separate condition, such as a heart attack, is recorded in medical certificates.

When health professionals tried to speak out about the realities of the area, they were silenced, according to nonprofit Human Rights Watch. Press freedom and independent control are not allowed within the country – Turkmenistan was ranked 178th out of 180 countries and territories on Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index 2021, just above North Korea and Eritrea. Turkmen citizens who peacefully criticize the government have faced severe penalties, including reports of torture and enforced disappearances, according to Human Rights Watch. Foreign residents are also affected by the denial of the coronavirus by the Turkmen government. In July 2020, Turkish diplomat Kemal Uchkun was admitted to a hospital in Ashgabat with Covid-like symptoms but was denied permission to evacuate to his home country, according to the Journal of Asian Affairs. X-rays sent to Turkish hospitals by Uchkun’s wife have been confirmed as evidence of Covid-19, according to the BBC.

The Asian Affairs Journal said Uchkun died on July 7th. His official cause of death was heart failure.

Most recently, Turkmen said he had confirmed the death of a 61-year-old Russian language and literature teacher who had been in hospital since August, according to Turkmen News.

Undermine the rosy picture

Have multiple authoritarian governments around the world announced their Covid-19 outbreaks and received international aid including China, the earliest hit country.

So why is Turkmenistan so stubborn that it still hasn’t seen a single case?

Both Turkmen and Serebryannik said it was up to President Berdymukhamedov, who, as a dentist by profession and former health minister, placed great emphasis on effectively governing the well-being of his people – at least in principle.

Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov speaks remotely at the 76th session of the UN General Assembly on September 21, 2021.

Serebryannik said Berdymukhamedov, 64, wants to appear as the country’s savior and formidable world leader by keeping Covid-19 out.

“Turkmenistan is a country where everything looks rosy in the garden … They have these marble, ultra-modern (health facilities) with German, French, Japanese, whatever, equipment,” said the Turkmen journalist.

Admitting a deadly virus would undermine the president’s idealized image and leave Berdymukhamedov vulnerable to criticism – and possibly held accountable.

“It would be someone’s failure, someone would have to be responsible for it and who has the last word for it? The President,” said the Turkmen.

There has been no sign yet that Turkmenistan is preparing to reverse its position and admit that Covid-19 cases have occurred in the country, but Serebryannik said she believed the government should eventually.

She said there was just “too much death”.

Human Rights Watch’s Denber said international organizations interacting with Turkmenistan, including WHO, have a duty to be honest with the world about the situation in the country.

“At some point you have to say what is the price at which you are protecting this presence (in the country)? Are the measures you are taking to protect your relationship undermining your core business? ”She said.

Denber said in a global pandemic with many outbreaks linked across international borders, nations are required to provide accurate testing and accurate public information.

“We’re all connected,” she said. “If one of us fails, we all fail.”

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