1. COVID roundup:
The Biden Administration will begin requiring private insurers to cover up to eight home COVID tests per person per month. In most cases, they’ll be free at purchase, though some may require claims to get reimbursements. This is definitely a good start (albeit, a very late one.) Paying for tests is only part of the problem. We don’t need to tell you: tests are nearly impossible to find these days.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky and NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci testified in the Senate Tuesday on the nation’s Omicron response. The CDC is facing criticism for its constantly evolving quarantine guidance, which now varies depending on your astrological sign (okay, it doesn’t, but you get the point.)
As hospitalizations continue to rise for children, another concerning trend has popped up: according to a new CDC study, children who recover from COVID have an increased risk of developing diabetes.
Healthcare workers are under extreme pressure and duress; many say management expects them to return to work despite positive tests and even symptoms.
TL;DR: Stay home when you can, mask up if you do have to go out, and do your part! This surge won’t last forever (we think).
2. Georgia on his mind: President Biden gave a speech in support of voting rights and election reform in Atlanta on Tuesday. He backed a proposal to do away with the filibuster (just this once) to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
Refresher: Currently, Democrats need 60 votes (aka a filibuster-proof majority) to pass the legislation. With a divided Senate, they can’t get 60. Biden is urging Democrats to support a one-time exception: pass the voting rights bills under new rules requiring only a simple majority (51) to pass.
In theory, Democrats could create such a rule because they control the Senate. But in practice they can’t because Democratic Senators Manchin and Sinema oppose a filibuster carve-out.
19 states passed laws limiting voting rights in 2021.
Several local voting rights leaders chose to boycott the speech, arguing that Biden's efforts could be better spent in D.C. lobbying Manchin and Sinema.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams was also not in attendance, saying that she had a scheduling conflict.
3. On the brink of war: What’s going on between Russia and Ukraine? According to the New York Times, American intel suggests President Putin is moving more military equipment to the border with Ukraine, strengthening his position if he should choose to invade.
The US has urged Russia to withdraw its 100,000 troops in favor of talks, but Russia is defiant, even holding live-fire tank drills along the border.
It’s a game of chicken right now: Russia is making demands the West will likely never meet (including ruling out Ukraine ever joining NATO) and the US is threatening fierce sanctions if Putin doesn’t comply.
4. Facing the music:
Donald Trump is facing possible civil liability for his inaction on January 6, despite his lawyers’ best efforts to dismiss the suits against him. A federal judge is wrestling with the constitutional question at hand: Can a president no longer in office face these kinds of civil claims?
Plus: The House January 6 committee plans to seek information from former Trump advisor Rudy Giuliani, according to CNN. Here's hoping he doesn't sweat it.
5. The Big…Sixteen? There’s a new scandal implicating elite universities, but this one doesn’t involve cheating on SAT scores or Aunt Becky’s daughter.
The sixteen “need-blind” colleges – including six of eight Ivy League schools – are being sued for alleged financial aid conspiracy. According to NBC News they allegedly colluded to inflate the cost of attendance for financial aid recipients.
How have they gotten away with it legally? Because they’re exempt from antitrust laws.
6. Healthcare (actually) for all: California is planning to expand its Medicaid program, Medi-Cal, including to cover undocumented immigrants, and the state is poised to be the first to do so.
The state expanded Medi-Cal last year to include all adults 50 and older who qualify regardless of immigration status. This will close the gap with everyone 26 to 49.
7. Top Dawgs: The University of Georgia took home the NCAA National Championship trophy Monday night, beating the Alabama Crimson Tide 33-18. Georgia hadn’t beaten Alabama since 2007, which doesn’t sound like that long ago, but was in fact the year the iPhone was released. That’s right, the last time it happened, you were probably buying 99 cent ringtones.
1. Do not try this at home: In perhaps the grossest of all non-scientific COVID “cures” promoted by anti-vaxxers, one guy suggests COVID-sufferers drink their own urine. Then again, he was also just arrested for criminal trespassing, so we would take everything he says with a grain of salt…and a cup full of any other beverage.
2. All the world’s a stage: If a Golden Globe is awarded in the forest but no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Seems like…no. The controversial awards were given out last weekend sans fanfare, telecast, or even ceremony. Reminder: last year NBC canceled this year’s telecast because the governing body, the HFPA, was credibly accused of a lack of membership diversity and questionable business practices (bribery.) Will the event be back next year, or will Ricky Gervais have to find a different way to spend his Sunday again? Congratulations to the winners, who can be found here.
3. Pokémon gone: Two LAPD officers who were fired for ignoring a robbery to play Pokémon Go lost their appeal. The officers argued their rights were violated because the LAPD relied on a video recording of their private conversation inside the police cruiser. According to court documents, the cops pretended not to hear the radio at all, but the recording shows they actually heard it, and one of the officers said “Aw, screw it.” Now they’ll have all the time in the world to capture the Snorlax.
After an eight-hour operation, a 57-year old man with life-threatening heart disease received a second chance that came in a surprising form: the heart of a genetically modified pig. It’s a first, and so far a success. The pig was modified to minimize chances the human body would reject the heart – and doctors say so far it’s pumping blood and the patient is recovering in a Maryland hospital. Still, doctors are willing to admit: “We don’t know what tomorrow will bring us.” If it works, this opens up a world of possibility and hope for patients in need of organ donations all around the world. There is an acute shortage of organs.
Why did they try such a risky procedure on this patient? It was his last chance: he was too sick to qualify for a human donor’s heart, and his treatment was no longer working. The critical first 48 hours post-operation have passed without incident, and we will continue to send good vibes to this patient and team of doctors, nurses, and medical workers!
Dr. Darien Sutton is an emergency medicine physician and trusted voice in the NNN community. On this week’s News Not Noise Podcast, I asked him all the questions you’ve wanted answered about Omicron, boosters, and keeping kids safe. Here’s part of what he had to say, edited for clarity:
A lot of people are asking, how long should you wait to get your booster shot? If you've had two shots, and then you get COVID, is there a specific window following you should get boosted?
If it's more than five months after the Pfizer shot, you should get your booster. If it's more than six months after the Moderna shot, you should get your booster. If it's more than two months after your Johnson and Johnson shot, you should get your booster. If you have an infection of COVID-19, you can get a vaccination or a booster as soon as you're done with your isolation period and your symptoms have resolved. So at any point after that infection, you can get that shot. You don't have to wait.
What do we know about long COVID and could Omicron cause it?
We don't have specific evidence to show the relation between the Omicron variant and long COVID simply because the Omicron variant hasn't been in existence long enough. Long haul symptoms associated with an initial COVID-19 infection can sometimes happen weeks to months after the initial infection and can include a lot of different symptoms.
I get a lot of patients, especially young patients, who come in with anxiousness and palpitations. I think that's the most common thing I see in young people. Of course, this is my anecdotal experience. For older patients, [many] come in saying they still feel short of breath, even though their oxygen saturation is a hundred percent and their chest x-ray looks normal. We don't have specific reasons why this happens, but unfortunately it seems like more than 35% of patients can have symptoms like this.
The beauty is that we've seen that vaccinations and completing your primary series can decrease the risk of long COVID. But again, I think that this is one of those things that we need to pay attention to. When we look at past infections, pandemics, outbreaks, [etc.] there's always something that comes up later on, a chronic condition [associated] with an infection. And that's what we try to protect against.
We need more information to nail down exactly what is long COVID and why certain people are getting it and certain people aren't. It just reminds us again, vaccines are not only protective in the initial infection, but also its complications.
Hospital admissions for children with COVID are rising, especially for kids under five who are unvaxxed. They are up 48% since early December. Is Omicron worse for kids, or is this a question of scale – it’s more transmissible, more people are getting it, so more kids will get a bad case?
In my anecdotal experience, I have not seen that the Omicron variant is posing an increased risk for children in terms of risk of hospitalizations and deaths. That still remains incredibly uncommon and low for those really poor outcomes. There will always be children who get infected with the virus when it's surging around.
I think it's more of a question of scale. As this pandemic surges, it's going to target those who are unvaccinated and most susceptible to infection, which unfortunately includes the 25 million children under the age of five who are not eligible for vaccination. And then if you look at the rates of hospitalization for pediatric patients, for example, in New York, half of the pediatric patients who are admitted are under the age of five.
If you look at the age groups from 5 to 11, 100% of them are not fully vaccinated. These are the patients who are admitted to the hospital. And then if you look at the age groups from 12 to 17, 75% of them are not fully vaccinated. So it shows us a clear trend that we've seen in adults, which is that vaccines are not only proving to be beneficial in terms of preventing transmission, but also infection and harm. And now we're starting to see more [concerning] results from children, things like association to a viral infection and a chronic illness, like diabetes, as we're seeing some [pediatric] patients who were infected with COVID-19 develop.
If you have an unvaccinated child under the age of five, what would you do? Would you send them to school? Would you keep them home? How do you keep them safe?
I think everyone's level of comfort with risk is very different. It's hard for me to speak to that, because I think that every parent makes their decisions based off their experiences within their community. If I had to make that decision, I would ask myself the question: What is the rate of transmission in my community? Is it above 5 or 10% right now? Because that's what the WHO and the CDC utilize to identify what is an outbreak.
Then my next question is: What are the rates of hospitalizations in my community? Do I have access to care if I were to need it?
My third question is: What protection is being done in these places? Whether that be pre-K or kindergarten. And by that, I mean, are children wearing masks? Are teachers vaccinated? Is there some form of contact tracing? Are there regular series of testing? I would probably logically think through all those factors before I made a decision, whether or not my child should go outside or not.
For more of Dr. Sutton’s interview covering what to do if exposed, best masking practices, and the vaccine’s impact on menstrual cycles, listen to the News Not Noise Podcast.
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