What is Happening and How Long Will it Last

Mid-April, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health reported that the US would have to endure social distancing regulation until 2022, if no vaccine was quickly found. This publication was contradicting White House statements at the time that the pandemic would be over in the summer, and I remember being shaken by the news. 

The days of the U.S. ignoring the coronavirus are over - AxiosHowever, a few weeks later, this prediction is looking more and more accurate. This Thursday, experts from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) came forward with predictions that the virus would continue to spread for roughly 18 months to two years, the results of their research published in this report. 

The reason it will take 18 months to two years is that this is the timeframe the virus is predicted to need to infect 60-70% of people in the United States. After this threshold is reached, herd immunity can be relied on to stop mass transmission like we are seeing now. The same experts also mentioned how pandemics, unlike flus, don’t tend to die down in the summers, as initially suggested by the White House.  

The report breaks down three plausible scenarios, which I will recount here. 

  1. The first wave we are seeing now is followed by a series of smaller waves that last before diminishing sometime in 2021.
  2. The first wave we are seeing now is followed by a larger wave in the fall or winter and one or more smaller waves into 2021.
  3. A “slow-burn” of ongoing transmission.

The second scenario is labeled “worst-case” and is what the experts encourage policymakers to prepare for, especially around mitigation efforts in the coming fall in order to ensure hospitals do not become overwhelmed. This may have an effect on how we return to school in the fall. Regardless of what ends up happening, it’s clear that this may last a lot longer than we initially thought.

Reopening Guidelines?

The world has shut down, and in some places (and for some interests) it is being called to reopen. We’ve seen the first stages of reopening abroad, as well as in our own country with more than half of US states planning to partially reopen in the coming week. Georgia has already partially reopened certain businesses such as gyms, hair salons, massage therapists, restaurants, and theatres, with some caveats in place. Some state governors, mostly in the midwest and northeast, have banded together to approach reopening, some planning on waiting out much longer than the coming week. Topically, this week, the CDC released a 17-page document detailing “interim guidance” on how businesses, schools, churches, public transit, etc. should approach safely reopening amid the pandemic. 

Reopening And Reinventing The US Economy | PYMNTS.comThis plan makes suggestions such as schools spacing desks 6 feet apart, avoiding “non-essential” assemblies and field trips, as well as having students eat in their classrooms instead of a larger cafeteria. For restaurants, it recommends disposable menus, plates, and utensils, single-use condiments, installation of sneeze guards at registers, and avoidance of self-serve stations. It also recommends faith organizations to utilize virtual meetings whenever possible, as well as encouraging patrons to wear face coverings, and utilize a stationary collection box. 

For context here, about half of South Korea’s 433 cases prior to March were all linked back to one individual attending two separate church services. In the US, there has been substantial difficulty in contact tracing the disease, most likely due to the fact that 3 in 5 Americans are unwilling or unable to use the infection-alert system developed by Apple and Google. Many would argue that the United States is not yet ready to open. 

However, with America starting reopening regardless of whether it is ready or not, the CDC document puts specific guidance in place for six categories: child care programs, schools and day camps, communities of faith, employers with vulnerable workers, restaurants and bars, and mass transit administrators. The Trump Administration still has yet to sign off on the guidelines. The President has gone back and forth on whether America should reopen or not, so it is really anyone’s guess what the policy will be here. It is also really too soon to tell what partial reopening will do to the curve-flattening we have all been participating in for the last few months, and what the long and short term effects reopening will have on our communities and our health.

Update on COVID-19 Prison Status

There are nearly 150,000 people being held in federal prisons in the US. Prisoners live in close proximity to each other, have no control over where they are held, or in what conditions. In the midst of a pandemic, prisons are struggling to adequately protect their inhabitants. There is often not enough room to socially distance, guards aren’t given proper PPE, and prisoners have a hard time accessing medical care. Out of the 2,700 people being held in federal prison that have been tested, 2,000 have tested positive for coronavirus. Since late March, 31 people have died, and 600 have recovered. 

Coronavirus Behind Bars: Cook County Jail Is Top U.S. Hot Spot ...

Families of the ones who did not recover have raised concerns that they were not notified their loved one was sick or in the hospital until after they had already passed. One family lost their father, Michael Fleming, and did not hear of his condition until the prison chaplain called and asked if they wanted their father’s body to be cremated. Fleming was being held at FCI Terminal Island in Los Angeles, California, where half of the population of the prison has tested positive for coronavirus. 

The Bureau of Prisons has obtained 5,000 test kits in the past week, as well as 20 rapid testing machines they are sending to “hotspot” prisons, prisons already with the highest rates of infection, such as FCI Terminal Island in LA. While this may be a step in the right direction, it may be a little too late, and this step is not being replicated across the country. 

At the Metropolitan Detention Center in NYC, there were only nine nasal swab tests for 1,700 inmates. Only one inmate has been confirmed for coronavirus there, but inside accounts at nearby prisons tell a very different story. At the Metropolitan Correctional Center in NYC, one inmate reported feeling sick for a week before his cellmate also started experiencing common coronavirus symptoms. The cellmate tested positive for corona and was put in solitary confinement for two weeks, and then put back with the first inmate, who continued to be sick and feverish for another week. The inmate reported that the only reason his cellmate was tested and isolated was because he was “coughing in the face” of the official who took his temperature. It is clear from this that prisoners are receiving sporadic and unsubstantial care. 

The incarcerated have a long history of being left behind during natural disasters. I remember learning about the flooded jails during Hurricane Katrina, and how the inmates there all thought they had been left to die. I can only imagine how it must feel to be incarcerated, let alone during this pandemic. While it is horrific to hear the stories of what inmates are experiencing right now, I am thankful their voices are beginning to be heard, and, hopefully, this will result in more of their needs being met in the future. My last post was about how COVID is affecting people being held in ICE detention centers, and I think a lot of those same issues are being mirrored here. Now is an important time to call for policy change, to ensure prisons are getting enough testing, following social distancing orders, releasing qualifying inmates, and encouraging sick workers to stay at home.

Success in Animal Vaccine for COVID-19

With the world passing 3 million confirmed coronavirus cases, there is immense pressure to develop a vaccine. Currently, there are about 80 coronavirus vaccines in development, the first of which are beginning to pass in their animal trials, others, which have skipped animal trials and proceeded straight to humans.

Last week, Sinovac Biotech, a private Beijing-based company, concluded successful animal trials of their vaccine. They administered their vaccine in two different levels of dosage to 8 rhesus macaques, a species of monkey of whom we share 93% of DNA. The monkeys were then directly exposed to the coronavirus through a tube inserted orally into their lungs. None of the monkeys developed full-blown infections, although a few did experience “viral blips” that they were able to fight off. This blip was only seen in the monkeys that received a lowered dose of the vaccine, and the study concluded that the monkeys who received a higher dose of the vaccine were able to fight off the virus more effectively. Four “control” monkeys who were not administered the vaccine developed severe pneumonia as a result of the same exposure. This study recently started “phase I” human trials in Shanghai, and will begin larger “phase II” studies in mid-May. This vaccine is unique as it uses “old-school” inactivation techniques, which only 4 of the 77 current trials are using, the rest employing more modern genetic engineering – that may turn out to be less accessible in some areas. 

Hopes for coronavirus vaccine rise after Chinese scientists find ...Similarly, an Oxford study at the Rocky Mountain Laboratory in Montana also concluded successful testing of their vaccine in the monkeys, about a week after the Beijing study. The rhesus monkeys were administered the vaccine and remained healthy and symptom-free 28 days after consistent heavy exposure to coronavirus strains known to infect monkeys. Human trials for this vaccine have just started this week, and are expected to end in September. However, this does not necessarily mean the vaccine will be available just as soon. 

In all, there are six human trials for a coronavirus vaccine being tested worldwide. While there has been a preliminary success in animal studies, just because a vaccine is effective in animals does not necessarily mean it will also be effective in humans, and experts predict it may be a while before we develop and are ready to distribute an effective human vaccine for the coronavirus. 

However, not everyone is waiting for the vaccines to be tested. The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, is currently working to produce 40 million vaccines before the Oxford trials are completed. This is to get a jump-start in production in case the vaccine does work. 

Ultimately, our way of life has changed a lot in the past month or two. Hopefully, we can all continue to try and put each other’s health first and work to protect those in our communities as best we can, hopefully even after a vaccine is developed.

Eli’s Blog

How COVID-19 is Affecting Immigrants in America. 

While most Americans and American communities have been hit by the coronavirus, there are certain communities that have, simply put, been hit harder. One of these communities is the immigrant population in the United States. 

COVID-19 has seen unemployment skyrocket. The Migration Policy Institute reported that although immigrants only make up 17% of the civilian workforce, 20% of workers in industries currently facing layoffs are immigrants. Immigrants are facing higher rates of unemployment, and yet are not receiving the same aid as others in the United States. 

In fact, immigrants without a social security number are unable to collect any of the resources offered by the $2.2 trillion package that Congress approved earlier this month. Not only are immigrants not qualified to receive these benefits, but the US government has extended this limitation to US citizens married to immigrants as well. Americans married to immigrants without social security numbers will be blocked from receiving any stimulus funds, affecting an estimated 1.2 million married couples in the US. These are legal, tax-paying residents of America, who contribute to the economy. However, if they, or any other US immigrant without a Green Card, such as the 2.3 million immigrants in the US who are on temporary working visas, are not eligible for aid, even though they are just as affected, if not more, by the economic collapse surrounding COVID-19. 

Another vulnerable community to consider during this time are the tens of thousands of immigrants being held in ICE detention centers. ICE detention shelters have been inhumane since inception, and these conditions have only worsened during a highly contagious coronavirus pandemic. Just as in US prisons, people are being held against their will in close quarters, with no way to protect themselves from the transmission of COVID-19. They often have no ability to see a doctor if they are feeling unwell, and there is not adequate social distancing or sanitizing taking place in any of these facilities. One woman, being held in a South Louisiana detention facility, reported there are just five bars of soap to be shared between the seventy detainees in her dorm. 60% of detainees in ICE custody have no criminal record and are only being detained over a civil immigration violation. 

At Least 20 People Have COVID-19 at One ICE Jail. Those Inside Say ...On top of this, ICE requested 45,000 N95 masks before withdrawing their request due to backlash, and have continued to detain people even in states under lockdown. It would seem to me that continuing to detain people who have not broken the law, or have only a civil immigration violation, would not be considered an essential pursuit during this time, and instead these resources should be redistributed to help people during this crisis. 31,000 people are currently being held in ICE detention centers, and as of Thursday, April 23rd, 297 of these people, as well as 35 ICE employees have tested positive for COVID-19. It is estimated this number is actually higher, due to lack of testing and underreporting suspected in some facilities. 

In policy related to this issue, a federal judge in California ordered that a Los Angeles detention center must reduce its number of detainees to such a level that a six-feet social distancing can be achievable at all times. The facility claims to have released 160 detainees since March 30 deemed vulnerable to COVID-19, and has limited intake of new detainees. California has also approved a plan that will give 150,000 undocumented immigrants a stipend of $500, with a cap of $1000 per household. $75 million of this will come from a disaster relief fund, while charities have offered to raise the remaining $50 million. New York Governor Cuomo will not commit to such a plan due to “lack of budget”, but New York City Mayor DeBlasio announced a $20 million dollar plan to give to 20,000 undocumented immigrants in NYC. Individuals will receive $400, married couples or single parents with children $800, and married couples with children $1000. Both of these stipends are notably lower than the stipend received by US citizens, averaging $1,200 per individual, and $2,400 for married couples. 

The immigrant population in the United States has a history of being taken advantage of and seen as less deserving of resources and rights. During this pandemic, this trend has only continued. The US Government is not providing equal aid to immigrant populations, some of the most affected communities currently. However, it is important to also recognize how grassroots activists have been stepping up to the occasion, I’ve linked some of the incredible work these activists are doing for immigrant communities, as well as other disproportionately affected communities, here.