Monday, March 21, 2022 – Kaiser Health News

Kaiser Health News Original Stories
Pfizer CEO Pushes Yearly Shots for Covid. Not So Fast, Experts Say.
A corporate CEO’s call for a fourth mRNA shot struck those closely watching the pandemic as self-serving. It creates public pressure for a fourth dose of vaccine before government experts have time to assess the evidence and settle on the best course forward. (Arthur Allen, 3/22 )
Money Flows Into Addiction Tech, But Will It Curb Soaring Opioid Overdose Deaths?
Experts are concerned that flashy Silicon Valley technology won’t reach those most in need of treatment for substance use disorders. (Brian Rinker, 3/22 )
Political Cartoon: 'Anti-Aging?'
Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Anti-Aging?'" by Dave Coverly.
Here's today's health policy haiku:
Covid public health
emergency conclusion;
Medicaid purge looms
– Nathan Bollhorst
If you have a health policy haiku to share, please Contact Us and let us know if you want us to include your name. Keep in mind that we give extra points if you link back to a KHN original story.
Covid-19 Crisis
Preparation, Not Panic: Health Officials Address Next Possible Covid Surge
With another potential covid spike on the horizon, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy says the U.S. has tools in place to weather the coming months of covid ebbs and surges. And Dr. Anthony Fauci says the BA.2 omicron strain will likely become dominant but does not appear to cause more severe disease.
Politico: Surgeon General: No Need To Panic Over Latest Covid Spike In Europe
“Our focus should be on preparation, not on panic,” Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said Sunday in discussing the latest rising wave of Covid-19 cases in Europe. The emergence of a new subvariant has led to a steep rise of cases in Britain, Germany, Finland, Switzerland and other European nations in recent weeks. While the United States has not yet seen a noticeable increase, experts warn that a spike in cases is pretty much inevitable. (Cohen, 3/20)
And Dr. Anthony Fauci says a major surge is unlikely —
The New York Times: Fauci Predicts Uptick In U.S. Cases From BA.2 Subvariant 
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the Biden administration’s top adviser on the pandemic, predicted on Sunday an “uptick” in coronavirus infections similar to the current increase in Europe, despite the current decline in cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the United States. It is “no time at all to declare victory, because this virus has fooled us before and we really must be prepared for the possibility that we might get another variant,” Dr. Fauci said on ABC’s “This Week.” “And we don’t want to be caught flat-footed on that.” While anticipating a new rise, Dr. Fauci said that at this time he does not expect a surge. (Jewett, 3/20)
The Hill: Fauci Says US Unlikely To See Surge From New COVID-19 Variant 
Fauci said while appearing on ABC's "This Week" that the new omicron strain is about 50 to 60 percent more transmissible than the first omicron strain, adding that it could take over as the dominant strain in the U.S. However, he noted that the strain does not appear to cause more severe illness or evade immune responses from vaccination or prior infection. (Choi, 3/20)
In related news —
The New York Times: Another Covid Surge May Be Coming. Are We Ready For It? 
Scarcely two months after the Omicron variant drove coronavirus case numbers to frightening heights in the United States, scientists and health officials are bracing for another swell in the pandemic and, with it, the first major test of the country’s strategy of living with the virus while limiting its impact. At local, state and federal levels, the nation has been relaxing restrictions and trying to restore a semblance of normalcy. Encouraging Americans to return to prepandemic routines, officials are lifting mask and vaccine mandates and showing no inclination of closing down offices, restaurants or theaters. (Mueller, 3/19)
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The Next COVID Wave In Georgia? Omicron BA.2 Subvariant Gains Steam
Lately, there’s been good news about COVID-19 in Georgia: The number of people hospitalized for COVID reached its lowest point in eight months on Friday, and new coronavirus infections are also at the lowest level since early December before omicron shifted into high gear. But public health experts say despite those encouraging trends, infections in Georgia could climb again because of BA.2, a subvariant of omicron gaining traction here and across the country. “Every time the cases come down, I feel relief. It feels great, and to be able to do things you were not comfortable doing before,” said Dr. Jesse Couk, an infectious disease doctor at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital. “But we have to look ahead, and this is why we are so focused on Europe. We see this wave in the distance and we don’t know what will happen here.” (Oliviero, 3/18)
USA Today: BA.2 COVID Variant: What To Know About New Omicron Strain In The US
A new COVID variant, first detected two months ago, is making its way across the U.S. and spreading more quickly in the Northeast and West, new data released this week shows. The BA.2 variant appears to be on its way to becoming the dominant COVID strain, having roughly doubled each week for the last month, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. BA.2 is considered by the World Health Organization as a "sublineage" of the highly transmissible omicron variant. It's a different version of omicron than BA.1, which was responsible for the surge that hit the Northeast late last year. (Fallon and Snider, 3/18)
Kids' Antibodies Start To Fade 7 Months After Covid Infections
Natural antibodies developed after childhood covid infections last for at least 7 months, according to a new study, but then decline. A different study shows that most recovering covid patients who are in comas do wake up, even after weeks of unconsciousness.
CIDRAP: Study Highlights Durability Of Antibodies In Kids After SARS-CoV-2 Infection
The vast majority of children previously infected with SARS-CoV-2 developed natural circulating antibodies that lasted for at least 7 months, but they declined after that, according to a study today in Pediatrics involving 218 Texas children. Researchers from UTHealth Houston examined data from children across Texas aged 5 to 19 years who were enrolled in the Texas CARES survey, which began in October 2020 with the goal of assessing COVID-19 antibody status over time. They assessed the duration of the nucleocapsid antibody response— a measure of past infection rather than vaccination, which elicits antibodies to the virus's spike protein. (3/18)
In other news about the spread of the novel coronavirus —
The Boston Globe: A ‘Huge Anxiety Reducer’: Most COVID Patients Regain Consciousness Even After Weeks In A Coma, New Research Shows
Doctors and nurses say one of the toughest parts of their job is counseling anguished families about a loved one’s chances of waking up from a coma. Now a new study by Boston and New York researchers offers hope and some guideposts. It focuses on individuals who have come off of ventilators but still require life support. At that stage, patients remain hooked to machines that deliver life-saving medicine, food, and hydration as doctors regularly check their ability to respond to a voice command. If there isn’t a response in the first few days, families can start to lose hope. In the study, researchers found that most patients with severe COVID-19 regained consciousness even after spending weeks in a coma. (Lazar, 3/20)
AP: South Dakota Ends Daily COVID-19 Reporting
Health officials in South Dakota say COVID-19 case rates have dropped so dramatically they’ll no longer give daily updates. The Argus Leader reported that the state health department ended daily reports on Friday and will now give only weekly reports. The first is expected on Wednesday. (3/20)
AP: North Dakota To Shift To Weekly COVID-19 Case Reports 
North Dakota health officials have shifted from daily to weekly COVID-19 reports as the disease continues to wane across the state. The Bismarck Tribune reported the state health department made the move on Friday. Department officials said updating their website daily was time-consuming and results from the growing use of at-home test kits aren’t required to be reported to the state, leading to increasing inaccuracy in state data. (3/20)
Bangor Daily News: Maine COVID Hospitalizations Are Below 100 For 1st Time Since August
The number of Mainers hospitalized with COVID-19 reached the lowest figure in seven months on Saturday. Ninety-four Mainers were hospitalized with the virus on Saturday, while the number of people in critical care dropped to 19 and the number of people on ventilators reached 7, according to data from the Maine Center for Disease Control. The last time the number of people hospitalized was below 100 came on Aug. 20, 2021, when 88 people were hospitalized with the virus. (Stockley, 3/19)
Chicago Tribune: New First Probable COVID Death In Illinois Uncovered — Woman Who Thought She Had A Cold 
For two years, the first confirmed death from COVID-19 in Illinois was believed to be that of Patricia Frieson, a retired Black nurse from Chicago, on March 16, 2020. But new information uncovered by the Tribune shows that another woman, an office worker from Chicago, was the first probable fatal case in the state, six days earlier. Sixty-four-year-old Debra K. Smith had just moved into a high-rise apartment near Millennium Park in Chicago Feb. 28, where some of her boxes were still unpacked, and she was scheduled to start a new job March 9. But when she talked by phone to her brother on the West Coast, he recently told the Tribune, she told him she was sick with a flu or bad cold. (McCoppin, 3/20)
Politico: The South’s Health Care System Is Crumbling Under Covid-19. Enter Tennessee
By the time Covid-19 hit Haywood County, it was too late to prepare. The rural county in the Tennessee delta, near the Mississippi River, had its health care system ground down in the years leading up to the pandemic: Ever since the 84-year-old Haywood County Community Hospital closed its doors in 2014, the numbers of doctors and other health care professionals dwindled. Residents who once were on a first-name basis with their care professionals were left to book appointments at facilities miles from where they’d raised their families and grown older. (Payne, 3/19)
Chicago Tribune: Two Years. 33,000 Dead. Tracing The Pandemic’s Toll Across Illinois 
It was the early weeks of the pandemic. A mystery illness was spreading across the Chicago area. And Dr. Sandra McGowan-Watts felt powerless. She was a family doctor but could do little as her husband and mother-in-law fell ill. Her mother-in-law soon died. Her husband clung to life for a week longer before the virus claimed him too, at age 51. “I’m a doctor,” she said last week, the pain fresh in her voice. “I’m supposed to be able to fix people and change things, and I can’t even help the person I love the most.” (Mahr and McCoppin, 3/20)
San Francisco Chronicle: Two Bay Area Futurists Predict We’ll Stop Talking About The Pandemic, And Have More Poop Surveillance
As we reconcile with the past, it’s worth wondering: What will the future look like in a world still suffering from the pandemic? Well, it’s probably going to be a time when we’re putting ourselves, and our society, back together. That’s a recurring theme in the forecasts from two Bay Area futurists — author Annalee Newitz and Marina Gorbis, executive director of the Institute for the Future. We asked each of them to offer thoughts on what life in the Bay Area will be like six, 12 and 24 months from now. They paint a picture to come of hope and denial, of struggle and celebration, of housing solutions and poop surveillance. (Morast, 3/19)
Vaccines and Covid Treatments
AstraZeneca Treatment, Vaccines Said To Be Effective Against Omicron Subvariants
AstraZeneca released lab results that shows its antibody cocktail Evusheld effectively prevents and treats against the omicron subvariants. Separate research finds that vaccine protection also held up during the omicron surge and that people who were boosted fared better than those who weren't.
Reuters: AstraZeneca COVID Drug Neutralises Omicron Sub-Variants In Lab Study
AstraZeneca said on Monday its antibody-based cocktail to prevent and treat COVID-19 retained neutralising activity against Omicron coronavirus variants, including the highly contagious BA.2 sub-variant, in an independent lab study. This is the first data looking at the impact of AstraZeneca's Evusheld treatment on "cousins" of the Omicron variant following a recent global spike in cases. The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker said in December that another lab study found that Evusheld retained neutralising activity against Omicron. (3/21)
In more news about covid treatments and vaccines —
The Washington Post: Vaccines Remained Highly Effective At Preventing Serious Illness And Death During Omicron Surge, CDC Report Says 
The coronavirus vaccines most widely used in the United States remained highly effective at preventing the worst outcomes from infections even in the face of the highly transmissible omicron variant in January, a report released Friday by federal disease trackers shows. While protection against mild illness waned over time, the mRNA vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech provided a robust shield against death and needing mechanical ventilation, the study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. (Shepherd, 3/18)
Stat: Covid-19 Vaccine Market Is Getting Crowded — As Demand Begins To Wane
CureVac, a pioneer in the effort to use messenger RNA as a vaccine platform, and its partner, pharmaceutical giant GSK, saw the writing on the wall last fall. When CureVac’s Covid-19 mRNA vaccine candidate underwhelmed in a Phase 2b/3 trial, the pair shifted plans. Too many other vaccines had already proven superior and been cleared by regulators. Rather than spend months tweaking a candidate that would end up battling for a rapidly shrinking share of the Covid vaccine market, they would focus instead on a second-generation product. Soon, experts tell STAT, other would-be Covid vaccine manufacturers are set to confront the same kinds of hard reality. (Branswell, 3/21)
CNN: Where The US Stands On Covid-19 Vaccines For Children Under 5 
A month after the US Food and Drug Administration delayed key steps toward authorizing Covid-19 vaccines for children under 5, many parents are more eager for the shots than ever. Dr. Daniel Leonard, a pediatric hospitalist who is working on the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine trial for these kids, said people are driving in from several states away to take part. "We're here in south central Nebraska, and while many may not think that this would be the epicenter of scientific progress, the influx that I've had with people from Colorado, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa — some driving eight or nine hours each way overnight to participate in the study," he said. "They are dedicated." (Christensen, 3/19)
KHN: Pfizer CEO Pushes Yearly Shots For Covid. Not So Fast, Experts Say. 
When Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said March 13 that all Americans would need a second booster shot, it struck many covid experts as a self-serving remark without scientific merit. It also set off spasms of doubt over the country’s objectives in its fight against the coronavirus. The decision on how often and widely to vaccinate against covid-19 is part science, part policy, and part politics. Ultimately it depends on the goals of vaccination at a time when it’s becoming clear that neither vaccines nor other measures can entirely stop the viral spread. (Allen, 3/21)
Also —
CBS News: "We Trust The COVID Vaccine," Heads Of Top Medical Groups Say In Ads Targeting Parents 
The heads of some of America's largest professional health care associations are urging parents to get their children vaccinated against COVID-19, as part of a new advertising push by the Biden administration to persuade millions of families that have yet to do so. The ads — a pair of 60-second spots titled "Oath" and "Trust" – feature pleas from Dr. Gerald Harmon, president of the American Medical Association; Dr. Moira Szilagyi, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics; Ernest Grant, president of the American Nurses Association; and Dr. Ada Stewart, chair of the board of the American Academy of Family Physicians. (Tin, 3/17)
NBC News: Is Tinnitus A Rare Side Effect Of Covid Vaccines?
It was the shock of a loud whistle that almost caused Gregory Poland to veer off the road as he was driving home after getting his second Covid-19 vaccine. "It startled me," said Poland, who is 66 years old. "I thought it was a dog whistle going off right next to me. "It was not a dog whistle; it was a piercing sound his brain conjured up for an unknown reason. Poland suspects it may have been a side effect of the vaccine. That was one year ago. The noise, he said, has been unrelenting ever since. (Edwards, 3/20)
Supreme Court
Justice Clarence Thomas Hospitalized With Infection
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is improving, court officials reported, and is expected to be released soon. Meanwhile, in other public health news, officials warn about a resurgence of flu this spring and how the disturbing lack of concern among the public for the impact of the disease may portend covid's future course.
USA Today: Supreme Court Justice Thomas Admitted To Hospital With Infection
Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas has been hospitalized for the past two days and  is being treated for an infection, court officials said Sunday. Thomas, the most senior associate justice on the high court, is being treated with intravenous antibiotics, the court said, and his symptoms are improving. The Supreme Court said Thomas was admitted to Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C., on Friday after experiencing flu-like symptoms. Court officials said Thomas expects to be released in a day or two. Thomas did not have COVID-19, the court said. (Fritze, 3/20)
The Wall Street Journal: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas Hospitalized With Flu-Like Symptoms
“He underwent tests, was diagnosed with an infection, and is being treated with intravenous antibiotics,” the court’s statement said. “His symptoms are abating, he is resting comfortably, and he expects to be released from the hospital in a day or two.” Justice Thomas, 73 years old, is a 1991 appointee of President George H.W. Bush and the longest-serving member of the current court. (Bravin, 3/20)
In news about the flu —
CIDRAP: US Flu Activity Continues Slow Rebound
Flu activity continued to rise in most of the nation last week, with three more pediatric flu deaths reported, but markers are still below epidemic baselines, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said today in its latest update. The national percentage of outpatient visits for flulike illness rose slightly, to 1.7%. (3/18)
The Atlantic: America's Flu-Shot Problem Is Also Its Next COVID Problem
About 18 years ago, while delivering a talk at a CDC conference, Gregory Poland punked 2,000 of his fellow scientists. Ten minutes into his lecture, a member of the audience, under Poland’s instruction, raced up to the podium with a slip of paper. Poland skimmed the note and looked up, stony-faced. “Colleagues, I am unsure of what to say,” he said. “We have just been notified of a virus that’s been detected in the U.S. that will take somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 lives this year.” The room erupted in a horrified, cinematic gasp. Poland paused, then leaned into the mic. “The name of the virus,” he declared, “is influenza.” (Wu, 3/18)
The New York Times: Shrugs Over Flu Signal Future Attitudes About Covid 
When Dr. Arnold Monto, a public health researcher at the University of Michigan, lectures about influenza, he starts by saying: “Flu is bad.” “You don’t have to start a lecture about hypertension by saying, ‘Hypertension is bad,’” he noted. It’s self-evident. But he has to convince his audiences that flu is, in fact, bad. In good years, it kills Americans in the low tens of thousands and sickens many times more. Yet even in the time of Covid, flu, the other respiratory killer caused by a virus, is underestimated. Almost half of American adults don’t bother to get vaccinated against it. (Kolata, 3/18)
Health Industry
Credit Agencies Pledge To Drop Most Medical Debt From Consumers' Reports
The move by the three large credit reporting agencies comes after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said errors related to medical debt are common on credit reports, and consumers often have difficulty clearing up the problems. Also, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra says he is interested in finding ways to keep expanded telehealth options after the covid emergency ends.
CBS News: Most Medical Debt Will Be Dropped From Consumers' Credit Reports 
Medical bills have become a source of major financial trouble for millions of Americans, amounting to the largest source of personal debt in the U.S. Now, the top three credit reporting agencies plan to drop most medical debt from consumers' credit reports starting this summer.  Equifax, Experian and TransUnion on Friday said that they are making a number of changes to the way they handle medical debt on credit reports, which is a record of a consumer's borrowing and repayment. Lenders use credit reports to determine whether a consumer is a good bet for a loan, which means a poor credit score can make it hard to get a mortgage, car loan or other products. Credit reports can also affect people's ability to rent an apartment and even get a job. (Picchi, 3/18)
The New York Times: Credit Companies Will Remove Stains From Repaid Medical Debts
Starting on July 1, medical debts that were paid after they went to collections will no longer appear on consumers’ credit reports, where they can currently linger for up to seven years. New unpaid medical debts will now only appear after a full year of being sent to collections — instead of the current six months. That will give people more time to address the debt with their insurance companies and health care providers. And beginning in the first half of 2023, the credit-reporting companies said, they will exclude unpaid medical collection debts under $500. (Siegel Bernard, 3/18)
CIDRAP: COVID-19 Patients May Owe Thousands For After-Hospital Care
Even when insurance companies waived charges for COVID-19 hospitalizations, 10% of patients still had out-of-pocket costs of $2,000 or more for care that took place in the 6 months after they were released, finds a new study in the American Journal of Managed Care. The same team published a study Feb 14 in JAMA Network Open showing that COVID-19 hospitalizations alone could cost patients, on average, $1,600 to $4,000. (3/18)
And HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra makes a push for more telehealth coverage —
Modern Healthcare: Becerra: HHS Will Fight For More Telehealth After Public Health Emergency Ends
The Department of Health and Human Services will seek to sustain and expand access to telemedicine after the federal government declares the COVID-19 public health emergency to be over, Secretary Xavier Becerra said Friday. Telehealth proved critical to Medicare beneficiaries during the first year of the pandemic, according to a report the HHS Office of Inspector General released Tuesday. "We would be really closing our eyes to a new form of quality healthcare if we did not expand authorities for telehealth to be available to Americans," Becerra said during a news conference. (Goldman, 3/18)
In other health industry news —
Modern Healthcare: HRSA: Providers That Lost 340B Eligibility During COVID-19 Can Reapply
Providers that were kicked out of the 340B Drug Pricing Program during the pandemic will be able to apply for reinstatement, the Biden administration said Friday in a notice to providers. Disproportionate Share Hospitals, sole community hospitals, rural referral centers, children's hospitals and free-standing cancer hospitals that were terminated from the program after Jan. 26, 2020, due to a change in patient mix, can apply to be reinstated. Providers must prove that the share of Medicare or Medicaid patients they treated decreased as a result of the public health emergency or the pandemic. (Hellmann, 3/18)
The Boston Globe: Doctors And Patients Grapple With Uncertainty As Tufts Moves Ahead With Plans To Shut Hospital Services For Children 
Nearly two months after executives at Tufts Medical Center announced they would close hospital beds for children, uncertainty around the controversial decision and the hospital’s ability to continue providing pediatric services is growing. Tufts leaders initially said they would keep inpatient beds for children open until July 1, but with staff already departing for new jobs, the pediatric hospital may be forced to shut down sooner, doctors and nurses told the Globe. The future of outpatient pediatric services also appears uncertain: Tufts leaders said they plan to keep outpatient clinics open, but this, too, will depend on having enough staff to provide care. (Dayal McCluskey, 3/20)
The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer: Cleveland Clinic Experts Join Call To End Disparities In Organ Donation; African-Americans Face Barriers To Transplant List 
African-Americans and rural Americans often face barriers that keep them off organ transplant waiting lists, according to a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. James Young and Jesse Schold were among the experts involved in drafting the recently announced recommendations. In order to create a more equitable system, the American transplant network needs to reduce the number of donated organs that aren’t used, make it easier for African-American patients to get on transplant lists, and increase the number of organs transplanted annually by 2026, the report said. (Washington, 3/21)
Stat: 5 Tech Strategies Health Systems Are Testing To Combat Clinician Burnout
Health care workers are experiencing unprecedented levels of burnout during the pandemic, leading many to quit or consider jobs that don’t involve patient care. To prevent more departures, their employers — desperate to retain critical employees amid staffing shortages — are ramping up tech investments to make work less stressful. “We have an unprecedented amount of our clinical workforce that’s saying, man, I’m tired of this and I don’t know if I want to continue doing what I’ve been doing,” Albert Marinez, Intermountain Healthcare’s chief analytics officer, told STAT. Marinez spoke about burnout at the HIMSS conference last week in Orlando, where employee retention was a recurring theme. (Ravindranath, 3/21)
Public Health
Around 13% Of High School Students Use Tobacco Products
A study of U.S. smoking habits found over 1 in 8 high school students are users of a tobacco product of some type, and around 4% of middle school students are, too. Separately, in Florida, the state Supreme Court issued a ruling that could make it harder to sue tobacco companies.
The Washington Post: 2.55 Million Middle And High School Students Use Some Type Of Tobacco Product 
The latest analysis of smoking habits among U.S. youths describes 2.55 million middle school and high school students as users of some type of tobacco product (combustible, smokeless or electronic). That equates to about 13 percent of high school students and 4 percent of middle school students. The findings are from the 2021 National Youth Tobacco Survey, run jointly by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration. (Searing, 3/20)
Health News Florida: Tobacco Industry Gets A Win At Florida Supreme Court 
In what a dissenting justice called a “fundamental shift,” the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday issued a ruling that likely will make it harder for many plaintiffs suing tobacco companies about smoking-related illnesses. The 6-1 ruling dealt with plaintiffs in a large group of cases — known as “Engle progeny” cases — and claims that tobacco companies fraudulently concealed or conspired to conceal information about the health effects and addictiveness of smoking. Siding with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the Supreme Court said plaintiffs must show that smokers relied on misleading information from cigarette makers to prevail on the claims. (Saunders, 3/18)
In news about marijuana use —
CNN: Study Raises Questions About Risks Of Using Medical Marijuana For Mood And Anxiety Disorders
Some people with pain, anxiety or depression who obtain medical marijuana cards may overuse marijuana within a short time frame, leading to cannabis use disorder while failing to improve their symptoms, a new study found. Cannabis use disorder, also known as marijuana use disorder, is associated with dependence on the use of weed. People are considered dependent on weed when they feel food cravings or have a lack of appetite, irritability, restlessness, and mood and sleep difficulties after quitting, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Heavy use of marijuana by teens and young adults with mood disorders — such as depression and bipolar disorder — was linked to an increased risk of self-harm, suicide attempts and death, according to an earlier study published in 2021. (LaMotte, 3/19)
NBC News: States, Flush With Marijuana Money, Are Now Fighting Over What To Do With It
Legal marijuana sales have been a boon to revenues in 11 states. But as the marijuana tax revenue boosts state treasuries, activists and politicians are jockeying over how to spend it. In California, state marijuana growers are pushing the Legislature to lower the taxes they’re required to pay, a move that child advocates say will cut funds meant for vulnerable communities. And on the East Coast, a battle over tax spending pushed back an early start of marjuana sales in Virginia. (Ramos, 3/17)
In other news about drug use and addiction —
Fox News: Fentanyl Found In Ventilation System Of Ohio Juvenile Detention Facility; 7 Victims Rushed To Hospital
At least seven people have been taken to the hospital after fentanyl was discovered in the air ventilation system of an Ohio juvenile detention facility, forcing an evacuation. Multiple ambulances and emergency personnel responded to dispatch calls at the Northwest Ohio Juvenile Detention Training and Rehabilitation Center in Stryker after several victims began collapsing for an unknown reason, WTOL reported. It was later discovered that fentanyl was being spread throughout the facility via the air conditioning, affecting four juveniles and three corrections officers, Williams County Sheriff's Deputy Jeff Lehman told the outlet. (Richard, 3/21)
Anchorage Daily News: ‘Lethal Batch’ Of Heroin Has Caused At Least 6 Deaths In Mat-Su, According To Alaska State Troopers
A “lethal batch” of heroin circulating now in Mat-Su has caused at least six deaths and 17 overdose emergencies, Alaska State Troopers say. Troopers, along with Palmer and Wasilla police departments, responded to several suspected overdoses just this week, troopers said in an online dispatch. “Law enforcement believe that a lethal batch of heroin is currently circulating in the Mat-Su, causing the rise in overdose events.” The deaths and emergencies — any overdose that required a 911 call for help or other request for assistance — were all within the last 30 days, according to troopers spokesman Austin McDaniel. (Hollander, 3/18)
St. Louis Public Radio: St. Louis Saw Hundreds Of Overdose Deaths During The Pandemic 
The number of reported drug-related deaths in the St. Louis region has held steady over the past year, but public health experts say that’s not a cause for celebration. In the first three quarters of 2021, there were 780 overdose deaths in the region, about the same as during the same period in 2020, according to the Missouri Institute of Mental Health at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. The St. Louis area was the only part of the state where overdose deaths didn’t increase. However, almost half of Missouri overdose deaths occurred in and around St. Louis. (Fentem, 3/21)
Axios: Latinos Experienced A 40% Spike In Drug Overdose Death Rates: Study
Latinos in the U.S. experienced a 40% spike in drug overdose death rates in 2020, according to a new study. The large percentage increase for Latinos shows how the pandemic and isolation may have affected Hispanics, who experienced higher rates of COVID-19 deaths. The study published this month in JAMA Psychiatry found that Latinos had a drug overdose death rate of 17.3 per 100,000 residents in 2020, compared to around 12.3 the year before. (Contreras, 3/18)
KHN: Money Flows Into Addiction Tech, But Will It Curb Soaring Opioid Overdose Deaths? 
David Sarabia had already sold two startups by age 26 and was sitting on enough money to never have to work another day in his life. He moved from Southern California to New York City and began to indulge in all the luxuries his newly minted millionaire status conveyed. Then it all went sideways, and his life quickly unraveled. “I became a massive cocaine addict,” Sarabia said. “It started off just casual partying, but that escalated to pretty much anything I could get my hands on.” (Rinker, 3/21)
Prenatal Exposure To BPA May Cause Asthma In School-Age Girls
There could be several possible explanations, Dr. Leonardo Trasande, director of environmental pediatrics at NYU Langone Health and author of the new study, told CNN. "BPA is a synthetic estrogen, and sex hormones shape nearly every bodily function during fetal development," he said.
CNN: BPA Linked To Asthma In School-Age Girls, Study Finds 
Exposure in the womb to bisphenol A, commonly known as BPA, may increase the risk of asthma among school-age girls, according to a new study of over 3,000 pairs of mothers and children from six European countries. "We believe that the effect may be due to the fact that bisphenols can cross the placental barrier and interfere with the child's respiratory and immune systems during the developmental phase," said first author Alicia Abellán, a postdoctoral researcher at Barcelona Institute for Global Health, in a statement. There was a significant association between levels of BPA in mothers' urine and asthma and wheezing for girls, but not boys, according to the the study published Friday in the journal Environment International. (LaMotte, 3/18)
In other public health news —
Los Angeles Times: L.A. Homeless Encampment Is Cleared Amid Taunts And Shoves
Night was falling Thursday when sanitation crews had to pause work on clearing a homeless encampment at a Little Tokyo plaza. A protester had jumped into a sanitation truck and refused to get out. She cursed and yelled at sanitation workers for tearing down the encampment. By then, most of the homeless people had been given temporary housing or moved to the sidewalk. The 10-minute standoff was one of several clashes that continued past midnight as sanitation crews tried to clear and fence off Toriumi Plaza, reflecting the knot of tensions in a city with little agreement on how to deal with the homeless crisis. (Vives, 3/18)
NBC News: Black Women Start To Talk About Uterine Fibroids, A Condition Many Get But Few Speak About
When Daye Covington visited her doctor for a routine physical last year, she expressed concern about weight gain in her belly that she said made her look seven months pregnant. But she knew she wasn’t pregnant, and she had a healthy lifestyle. An MRI revealed that she had multiple uterine fibroids — noncancerous growths in the uterus — the size of cantaloupes. “First, I was relieved to know that I was not pregnant because I was not trying to be pregnant,” she told NBC News, “and then I was scared, because I didn’t know much about fibroids.” (Bellamy, 3/21)
San Francisco Chronicle: In Wake Of COVID, Advocates For HIV Care Seek Return To Spotlight
San Francisco’s aggressive, nationally recognized push to drive HIV infections to near zero and improve the health of those living with the virus took a discouraging hit during the COVID pandemic, as attention citywide focused on a new and different public health crisis. HIV cases continued a decade-long decline during the pandemic, but testing also fell off dramatically and health officials worry they missed some infections in 2020 and 2021. Prescriptions for drugs to prevent HIV also decreased, potentially leaving some San Francisco residents vulnerable. (Allday, 3/20)
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Advocacy Group Stresses Need For More Paid Caregivers For People With Alzheimer’s
The pandemic has made healthcare workers harder to find and that’s also affected families of Alzheimer’s patients who are looking for help. By 2050, the number of Georgians living with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to reach 190,000, an increase of 26.7 percent, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. That rise will put even more pressure on caregivers and families, said Linda Davidson, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association, Georgia Chapter. Nationally, fueled by the general aging of the population, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s is projected to reach 12.7 million by 2050, according to the report. (Poole, 3/21)
Mental Health
Finland Tops World Happiness Report List — Again — As US Rises To No. 16
Scandinavian nations topped the list, self-reported by citizens, but the U.S. moved up from 19th place to 16th. Meanwhile, new research shows infants who experience trauma (of all sorts, from war to house fires) can suffer lifelong health impacts.
NPR: Americans Got A Bit Happier Last Year, But They've Still Got Nothing On The Finns
The World Happiness Report's annual rankings remain remarkably stable despite the lingering effects of the pandemic across the globe. Finland once again ranked the happiest according to people's self-reported assessment of their lives on a scale of zero to 10, with zero being the worst possible life they could have expected to have, and 10 being the best. Finland's neighbors, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden and Norway, all ranked in the top 10. The United States saw its ranking edge up slightly from last year, from 19th to 16th. (Dean Hopkins, 3/18)
And trauma during infancy is studied —
The Washington Post: Trauma In Infancy Can Have A Lingering Effect Throughout Life 
Are infants too young to experience and remember painful emotions or traumatic events? A growing body of research suggests no, and researchers believe that if left untreated, trauma experienced in infancy can sometimes result in lifelong health consequences. Beyond such obvious triggers as war and terrorism, exposure to domestic violence, natural disasters such as a house fire, physical abuse and community violence are examples of experienced events that can be traumatic for infants, experts say. (Reilly, 3/20)
In other mental health news —
AP: Most Vermont Barracks Now Have A Mental Health Crisis Worker
Nearly all of the state police barracks in Vermont now have an embedded mental health crisis worker. The Burlington Free Press reports that the Vermont Department of Public Safety has hired mental health workers for nine of its 10 barracks, who ride in cruisers with troopers and interact with the public alone while the trooper stays in the car when it’s safe to do so. (3/19)
AP: Lawmakers Seek Increase In School Mental Health Services 
Connecticut lawmakers are looking at ways to increase mental health services for school students, and a recent report has illuminated where the help is needed most. The legislative task force, led by the state Department of Health, began meeting late in 2021 to look at how and where the services should be offered. (3/20)
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee County Mental Health Emergency Center Receives $2.5 Million
More funding has been procured for the Milwaukee County Mental Health Emergency Center, as the center eyes a September opening. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers announced last August that he was allocating $5.7 million for the center, which will serve county residents. This week, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin announced in a news release that she had worked to secure just over $2.5 million for the center, 1525 N. 12th St., Milwaukee. “Many people are struggling with depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges as the result of a pandemic that has brought disruption, isolation and stress," Baldwin said in the release. "We need to provide more support for people and this legislation does just that, including better mental health services for kids who have had to endure a great deal throughout this pandemic." (Casey, 3/18)
Salt Lake Tribune: Officials Hope Mental Health Facility Can Reduce Burden On Hospitals, Jails
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox broke ground on the Washington County Receiving Center on Friday with representatives from state, county, law enforcement agencies and mental health providers in attendance. The facility, which will be completed in the next eight months, will offer social detox for those with substance abuse problems, beds for those needing more long-term care and crisis response teams. “For far too long, we’ve been asking our law enforcement officers to do things that are not their responsibility and put them in terrible situations,” Cox said, adding that local police often carry the burden of being mental health therapists in addition to responding to crises. (Lee Bitsóí, 3/19)
State Watch
Hospitals In Metro Detroit Are The Most Racially Segregated: Study
Think tank Lown Institute has looked into race-based segregation in over 2,800 American hospitals using Medicare claims and found Detroit hospitals scored the worst. Efforts to boost access to birth control, anti-trans sports bills, clean water metrics in Montana and more are also in public health news.
Crain's Detroit Businesss: Metro Detroit Hospitals Most Racially Segregated In U.S.: Study
Metro Detroit hospitals are the most racially segregated in the country, according to a new study released Thursday by healthcare think tank Lown Institute. Researchers studied more than 2,800 hospitals in the U.S. using Medicare claims and the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey from 2020 to determine the racial makeup of patients at each hospital versus the makeup of the community in which they serve. Metro Detroit's hospitals scored the worst for racial inclusiveness at 90 percent segregated. St. Louis ranked second with a 77 percent segregation. (Walsh, 3/18)
In other health news from across the U.S. —
AP: Lawmakers Consider Proposal To Expand Birth Control Access
Lawmakers in Rhode Island are considering a proposal to allow pharmacists to give people birth control without authorization from a doctor. Rhode Island’s House of Representatives approved a bill last week that would allow pharmacists to prescribe birth control. The measure is now under consideration in the Senate, where similar legislation has been introduced. (3/20)
New Hampshire Bulletin: N.H. House Tables Bill Barring Trans Students From Sports 
Abi Maxwell is tired of fighting perennial bills that would keep her trans daughter from playing sports with other girls, but she keeps speaking out against them for her daughter, who hopes to someday join a ski team. “My daughter is a girl, she will not grow up to ski with the boys and to ask her to is an act of bullying and exclusion,” Maxwell said at a press event ahead of a House vote on House Bill 1180.On Wednesday, House lawmakers voted, 175 to 167, in favor of tabling a bill that would put a biological definition of sex in state statute, to differentiate between the male and female sexes in athletic competitions at public schools, in prisons, and “places of intimate privacy,” like bathrooms. (Gokee, 3/18)
AP: Xavier-Louisiana Students Can Get Early Admission To LSU Med 
A national leader in the number of Black graduates accepted by medical schools has a new early acceptance agreement with one of Louisiana’s largest medical schools. LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine will admit up to 10 Xavier University of Louisiana students a year under the program, with a pair of four-year full scholarships open to those who don’t apply to any other medical school. (3/20)
Asheville Watchdog: AG Office Ad ‘Concerns’ Mission-HCA Deal Was Rigged 
The North Carolina attorney general’s office had “great concerns about how HCA was selected” as the purchaser of the Mission Health System, including that “the deck had been stacked in its favor from the beginning” by then-CEO Ronald A. Paulus and his advisor Philip D. Green, according to a 2018 internal document obtained by Asheville Watchdog. “[W]ith no outside advice other than Phil Green,” whom the investigators wrote had an undisclosed “prior business relationship with HCA,” Mission Health’s board of directors decided not to issue requests for competitive bids or to hold an auction before agreeing to sell Asheville’s flagship hospital system to HCA Healthcare for $1.5 billion, according to the document, prepared in advance of a meeting between Department of Justice lawyers and HCA representatives on Oct. 30, 2018. Instead, as Paulus “coached HCA behind the scenes on how to best present its case to the Mission Board,” the board invited only one other healthcare company — identified in other documents as Novant Health of Winston-Salem — to present a formal offer. (3/20)
Billings Gazette: Montana's Proposed New Clean Water Metrics Create Consternation
For more than two years the groundwater around Worden and Ballantine in Eastern Montana was unsafe to drink after the water district there discovered nitrates in the water in alarmingly high levels in 2019 — high enough to be mortally dangerous to infants. It also left the Worden Ballantine Yellowstone County Water and Sewer District scrambling to find a new source of drinking water. Water treatment systems are expensive, complex and out of reach for many rural water districts. For the Worden Ballantine water district, relief finally came last year in the form of $4.74 million in federal aid that it will use to essentially build a whole new water system. Investigators were never able to find the source of the nitrate contamination, so the water district dug four new wells from which it now draws its clean water. (Rogers, 3/19)
Anchorage Daily News: Emails Show Anchorage Spokesman Had Information About Mayor Bronson’s Fluoride Shutoff Before Denying It Occurred
Newly released public records about Mayor Dave Bronson’s decision to briefly shut off fluoridation of Anchorage’s water supply show that the mayor’s spokesman had been emailed information about the shutoff by another official before he categorically denied the incident happened. Bronson temporarily halted fluoridation of the city’s water supply during an Oct. 1 visit to Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility’s Eklutna Water Treatment Plant. City law requires Anchorage’s water supply be fluoridated. The mayor eventually said he ordered fluoride to be shut off after workers told him they were experiencing health issues related to the substance. The fluoride shutoff was first reported by the Alaska Landmine in December in an anonymously-sourced article. (Goodykoontz, 3/20)
Global Watch
Drug-Molecule Development Industry Hit By Ukraine Invasion
A report in the Wall Street Journal highlights how Ukraine is a globally-important source of molecular "building blocks" for early drug development. Separately, Stat reports on questions over cutting off drug supplies to Russia as part of the worldwide sanctions efforts.
The Wall Street Journal: Ukraine’s World-Class Drug-Molecule Industry Imperiled By Russia Invasion 
Russian attacks are endangering Ukraine’s world-leading medicinal chemistry industry, which supplies scientists across the globe with molecular building blocks needed for early drug development. Ukraine’s dominance in medicinal chemistry is little known beyond drug developers, who fine-tune a drug’s molecular design to give it the best chance of hitting the desired biological target in the body. Kyiv-based Enamine Ltd. has become a go-to supplier for drug-discovery scientists at academic laboratories and the largest pharmaceutical companies. (Roland, 3/20)
Stat: When Should Drug Makers Cut Off Essential Medicines To Russia? 
Just say nyet? As the war in Ukraine intensifies, several of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies have now joined hundreds of corporations in other industries that are cutting ties to Russia. One by one, many big drugmakers announced they would wind down clinical trial work, curtail investments, and withhold medicines that are not essential, which is to say, lifesaving treatments. But is that enough? (Silverman, 3/19)
More updates on the war in Ukraine —
Fox News: Chernobyl Staff Held Hostage By Russian Troops For Weeks Rotated: IAEA
Fox News confirmed that a group of 46 employees rotated into the facility on Sunday to start a new shift. Russian forces took control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on Feb. 24, with the staff there forced to stay behind and continue to operate the plant where radioactive waste management facilities are located. Officials had repeatedly expressed alarm that the staff was suffering exhaustion after weeks of forced, unrelieved work and that this compromised the decommissioned plant's safety. (Betz, 3/20)
The Wall Street Journal: War In Ukraine Is Already Taking Its Toll On Global Food Supplies 
Ukrainian farmer Igor Borisov has 2,000 metric tons of corn from the fall harvest stuck in a warehouse behind Russian battle lines. Like other farmers across Ukraine, his crop for this year is also imperiled. Global concerns that Russia’s invasion would curtail Ukraine’s 2022 harvest have come to fruition. The crop shortfall will extend to the many countries that rely on Ukraine for wheat, corn and cooking oil. (MacDonald, 3/20)
NPR: Russia's War With Ukraine Is Devastating To Ukraine's War On TB
"We have 20 patients we can't find, so we don't know if they are alive or not," says Dr. Olha Konstantynovska. She's referring to the tuberculosis patients under her care in Kharkiv, where, as in much of Ukraine, the Russian war has disrupted lives – including her own. She and her three daughters evacuated to her father's home about 20 miles away after a bomb hit a building down the street from their apartment. TB — a serious bacterial infection of the lungs — is a big problem in Ukraine. According to the World Health Organization, the country has the fourth highest incidence of the disease in Europe. And it has one of the highest rates of multidrug resistant TB anywhere in the world. (Daniel, 3/19)
AP: Young Ukrainian Cancer Patients Get Medical Help In Poland
Twenty-two-month-old Yeva Vakulenko had been through four rounds of chemotherapy for leukemia at a hospital in Ukraine, and then suffered a relapse. As she began returning again for more treatment, Russia invaded, disrupting doctors’ efforts to cure her. Air raids forced the toddler to shelter in the basement of the hospital in the western city of Lviv for hours at a time, making her feel even worse. She cried a lot and sought comfort from her grandmother, who is caring for her after her parents were in an accident that left her mother disabled with brain and leg injuries. (Gera and Kuczynski, 3/19)
In other global developments —
AP: China Reports First COVID-19 Deaths In More Than A Year 
China’s health authorities reported two COVID-19 deaths on Saturday, the first since January 2021, as the country battles its worst outbreak in two years driven by a surge in the highly transmissible omicron variant. The deaths, both in northeastern China’s Jilin province, bring the country’s coronavirus death toll to 4,638. (3/20)
Bloomberg: China Says Vaccine Makers Upgraded Shots To Fight Omicron
Chinese officials said vaccine makers have upgraded their Covid-19 vaccines against the omicron variant and other strains but new shots will be validated for safety and efficacy before they can be rolled out. Widely-used inactivated shots in the country have been tweaked to fight up to three variants, including omicron and the preceding predominant delta strain, according to Zheng Zhongwei, an official who oversees Covid vaccine development at the National Health Commission. Another protein subunit shot targeting four variants is seeking approval for human testing overseas, he said. (3/19)
Editorials And Opinions
Different Takes: Patients Fear Using Insurance More Than Illness; U.S. Assisted Suicide Needs Review
Editorial writers weigh in on these public health topics.
The Boston Globe: Does Anyone Actually Like Their Health Care Plan? 
There’s a talking point that often dominates the debate around health care reform: The majority of Americans like their health care plan. That’s why when Barack Obama was running for president — and when he rallied Congress to pass the Affordable Care Act — he repeatedly assured people that there was nothing to worry about. If you liked your health care plan, he promised unconvincingly, you could keep it. (Abdallah Fayyad, 3/21)
The Baltimore Sun: Switzerland Helped My Wife Die With Dignity; She Should Have Been Given Relief Here 
On Feb. 23, 2022, at 4:27 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, my wife, Shanley Rose Crutchfield, of Ellicott City, died at Pegasos, a voluntary assisted dying (VAD) organization, in Basel, Switzerland. She was 35 years old. (Kevin Froehlich, 3/18)
Stat: Welcome Back, Dr. Califf: Patients Will See You Now 
The confirmation of Robert Califf to lead the Food and Drug Administration is among the most consequential recent leadership appointments in Washington. In a polarized Senate, Califf’s past relationships with industry and decisions made under his previous FDA watch were enough to create uncertainty and a close confirmation vote. A parliament of patients, however, would likely have given Califf a more sizable majority based on something in his background that was not openly discussed: He is a believer in elevating the roles of patients in research and the development of new medicines. (Anthony Yanni, 3/18)
Chicago Tribune: Constitutionally, The Right To Abortion Isn’t Something Made Of Nothing 
A case currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court may result in the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Opponents of abortion rights would celebrate this outcome for many reasons. One is their belief that Roe constitutes a grievous legal mistake because the right to abortion has no grounding in the Constitution’s text. But the claim that the Supreme Court invented this right out of whole cloth is wrong since there are multiple textual bases for abortion rights. (Joshua M. Silverstein, 3/21)
Stat: Pharma Needs To Include Young Adults In Clinical Research 
The pharmaceutical industry has rapidly adapted to promoting prescription drugs to young people on TikTok, Instagram, and other social media platforms, yet it can’t be troubled to include adolescents and young adults in clinical trials for these products. The industry needs to address this hypocrisy. Children, adolescents, and young adults are physically different from adults. It seems obvious, but the industry has not yet caught up to this fact. In a clinical trial of tofacitinib (Xeljanz), a drug approved for people living with forms of inflammatory bowel disease, the participants range in age from 18 to 65 years. For adalimumab (Humira), a similar drug, the mean age of clinical trial participants was around 40 years. (Sneha Dave, 3/18)
Also —
Stat: The Breen Act Is Well-Intentioned. But It Won't Stop Burnout 
Both the Senate and the House of Representatives have passed a bill to “improve the mental and behavioral health among health care providers” that President Biden is expected to sign. As an emergency medicine physician who worked through the darkest days of the Delta and Omicron surges, I can personally attest to the need to prioritize the mental health of medical professionals and fight burnout. But this bill is fundamentally flawed in its approach and is unlikely to achieve its desired effects. (Greg Jasani, 3/21)
Cincinnati Enquirer: Time To Re-Imagine Police Response To Mental Health Calls
Nearly a quarter of all fatal police shootings involve someone with a mental illness, according to a database published by The Washington Post.  As a society, we must demand improvement in the response to emergency calls when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis, as well as increased funding for initiatives that offer support and treatment for mental health and substance abuse issues.  The current political and social climate and the induction of new city leadership gives our community an opportunity to expand the conversation, increase awareness of current solutions, and demand continued police reform. (Laura Maile and Allie Greene, 3/18)
Dallas Morning News: Social Media Is Turning 25. Let’s Take A Mental Health Checkup
According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Healthy Minds Monthly Poll, Americans’ views on social media are mixed. However, a third of Americans say social media does more harm than good to their mental health, and nearly half said that social media has hurt society at large. (Saul Levin, 3/21)
Viewpoints: What Does Covid Do To The Brain?; How To Create A Broadly Protective Covid Vaccine
Opinion writers weigh in on these covid related issues.
Bloomberg: Does Mild Covid Really Damage Your Brain? A Closer Look At That Study 
Scary headlines about the long-term effects of Covid gain traction easily. Recent news reports have warned that “even mild Covid can cause brain shrinkage,” “memory loss” and “long term” “brain damage” that “greatly” changes the brain “as much as a decade of aging.” Over time, that fear is likely to wear no better than fears that the virus could spread outdoors at beaches or on pieces of mail. (Faye Flam, 3/19)
Los Angeles Times: What Will It Take To Make A Universal COVID Vaccine? 
As California emerges from Omicron, other places are again in lockdown or facing record caseloads after trying and failing to avoid the variant. Many of us who did everything right, getting every shot and booster and avoiding crowds, nonetheless got infected. (Erica Ollmann Saphire and Edward Scolnick, 3/20)
The Boston Globe: Wastewater Monitoring Must Be Used As A Tool To Mitigate Future COVID Surges
Municipalities all over the United States, and in the Northeast in particular, have been tracking the level of SARS-CoV-2 viral material in wastewater since the beginning of the pandemic. The study of pathogens and chemicals in water, called wastewater-based epidemiology, has been used to monitor illicit drug use in communities and to track outbreaks of intestinal viruses for many years. (Catherine Klapperich and Rebecca Weintraub, 3/21)
The Star Tribune: Feds Offer More Free COVID Tests 
The Biden administration launched the COVID test program in mid-January, announcing it would send four free tests via the U.S. Postal Service to households requesting them. On March 8, officials said households can place a second order for four tests (two per box) through the same program. The second order again costs nothing and is delivered directly to your home. (3/20)
The New York Times: Why Omicron Is So Deadly In Hong Kong 
For most of the Covid pandemic, life in Hong Kong remained a simulacrum of normal. The city maintained one of the world’s strictest border control measures, requiring inbound travelers to undergo quarantine in hotels for up to three weeks. Small waves of cases were quickly stopped with exhaustive contact tracing, strict hospital-based isolation and supervised quarantine in designated facilities. Mask mandates were introduced but were hardly necessary; masks, for the most part, have been spontaneously adopted by the general public since early 2020. This frenetic city of 7.5 million never locked down. (Siddharth Sridhar, 3/18)
Stat: Ventilation, Healthy Buildings Elevated In National Covid-19 Strategy
The White House announcement on Thursday that it is elevating “clean air in buildings” as a key pillar in the national Covid-19 response is nothing short of a landmark shift in the response. How so? The country has made enormous gains in its Covid fight along several axes — vaccines and boosters, rapid tests and treatments, and the recent release of N95 masks to the public. But there was one element that was still lacking more than two years into the pandemic: ventilation and filtration. That has now changed. (Joseph G. Allen, 3/18)
The Star Tribune: Shift From COVID To The 'Next Normal' 
As its name suggests, a new, book-length report entitled "Getting to and Sustaining the Next Normal: A Roadmap for Living with COVID" offers a detailed guide for exiting the COVID-19 crisis. But as valuable as the precise advice is from experts such as Minnesota's Mike Osterholm, one of the report's key contributions is spotlighting a broader principle that should galvanize our response to this viral threat. That critical concept: "biosecurity." (3/18)
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