Debate Begins for Who’s First in Line for COVID-19 Vaccine

Posted on August 2, 2020 | By Lauran Neergaard

(AP) — Who gets to be first in line for a COVID-19 vaccine? U.S. health authorities hope by late next month to have some draft guidance on how to ration initial doses, but it’s a vexing decision.

“Not everybody’s going to like the answer,” Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, recently told one of the advisory groups the government asked to help decide. “There will be many people who feel that they should have been at the top of the list.”

Traditionally, first in line for a scarce vaccine are health workers and the people most vulnerable to the targeted infection.

But Collins tossed new ideas into the mix: Consider geography and give priority to people where an outbreak is hitting hardest.

And don’t forget volunteers in the final stage of vaccine testing who get dummy shots, the comparison group needed to tell if the real shots truly work.

“We owe them … some special priority,” Collins said.

Huge studies this summer aim to prove which of several experimental COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. Moderna Inc. and Pfizer Inc. began tests last week that eventually will include 30,000 volunteers each; in the next few months, equally large calls for volunteers will go out to test shots made by AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax. And some vaccines made in China are in smaller late-stage studies in other countries.

For all the promises of the U.S. stockpiling millions of doses, the hard truth: Even if a vaccine is declared safe and effective by year’s end, there won’t be enough for everyone who wants it right away — especially as most potential vaccines require two doses.

It’s a global dilemma. The World Health Organization is grappling with the same who-goes-first question as it tries to ensure vaccines are fairly distributed to poor countries — decisions made even harder as wealthy nations corner the market for the first doses.

In the U.S., the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a group established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is supposed to recommend who to vaccinate and when — advice that the government almost always follows.

But a COVID-19 vaccine decision is so tricky that this time around, ethicists and vaccine experts from the National Academy of Medicine, chartered by Congress to advise the government, are being asked to weigh in, too.

Setting priorities will require “creative, moral common sense,” said Bill Foege, who devised the vaccination strategy that led to global eradication of smallpox. Foege is co-leading the academy’s deliberations, calling it “both this opportunity and this burden.”

With vaccine misinformation abounding and fears that politics might intrude, CDC Director Robert Redfield said the public must see vaccine allocation as “equitable, fair and transparent.”

How to decide? The CDC’s opening suggestion: First vaccinate 12 million of the most critical health, national security and other essential workers. Next would be 110 million people at high risk from the coronavirus — those over 65 who live in long-term care facilities, or those of any age who are in poor health — or who also are deemed essential workers. The general population would come later.

CDC’s vaccine advisers wanted to know who’s really essential. “I wouldn’t consider myself a critical health care worker,” admitted Dr. Peter Szilagyi, a pediatrician at the University of California, Los Angeles.

This March 16, 2020 file photo shows vials used by pharmacists to prepare syringes used on the first day of a first-stage safety study clinical trial of the potential vaccine for COVID-19 at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

 

Indeed, the risks for health workers today are far different than in the pandemic’s early days. Now, health workers in COVID-19 treatment units often are the best protected; others may be more at risk, committee members noted.

Beyond the health and security fields, does “essential” mean poultry plant workers or schoolteachers? And what if the vaccine doesn’t work as well among vulnerable populations as among younger, healthier people? It’s a real worry, given that older people’s immune systems don’t rev up as well to flu vaccine.

With Black, Latino and Native American populations disproportionately hit by the coronavirus, failing to address that diversity means “whatever comes out of our group will be looked at very suspiciously,” said ACIP chairman Dr. Jose Romero, Arkansas’ interim health secretary.

Consider the urban poor who live in crowded conditions, have less access to health care and can’t work from home like more privileged Americans, added Dr. Sharon Frey of St. Louis University.

And it may be worth vaccinating entire families rather than trying to single out just one high-risk person in a household, said Dr. Henry Bernstein of Northwell Health.

Whoever gets to go first, a mass vaccination campaign while people are supposed to be keeping their distance is a tall order. During the 2009 swine flu pandemic, families waited in long lines in parking lots and at health departments when their turn came up, crowding that authorities know they must avoid this time around.

Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s effort to speed vaccine manufacturing and distribution, is working out how to rapidly transport the right number of doses to wherever vaccinations are set to occur.

Drive-through vaccinations, pop-up clinics and other innovative ideas are all on the table, said CDC’s Dr. Nancy Messonnier.

As soon as a vaccine is declared effective, “we want to be able the next day, frankly, to start these programs,” Messonnier said. “It’s a long road.”

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

IKEA Donates 100 Gift Boxes to Senior Centers During Pandemic

Arabella Thornhill

 

IKEA in Woodbridge donated 100 gift boxes to area senior care centers with residents affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

More in a press release:

“IKEA Woodbridge is excited to share the “Christmas in July” donation for residence at the Envoy of Woodbridge-Consulate Health Care.

IKEA is committed to being a good neighbor in the community. When we found out that the residence at Envoy of Woodbridge have had a hard time during this COVID 19 pandemic, missing their families, we decided to give them presents and provide the residence with a “Christmas in July” along with Santa’s helpers.

The 100 residence received a plastic container filled with a blanket and slippers to keep them warm. As well as a package of markers to bring out the artist in each of them.

The staff received bags of Swedish chocolates for all that they do to provide a wonderful stay at the Envoy.
For more information, please contact: IKEA Woodbridge, 2901 Potomac Mills Circle, Woodbridge, VA 22192 [email protected] [or by cell] (703)492-1222 x1336.”

 

If you are looking for ways you can help out your community like IKEA during the pandemic, please check out Potomac Local News’ Call to Action posts where you can find local volunteer organizations looking for your help.

CDC Tool Helps Parents Weigh Risks of Returning Kids to School Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

It’s a tough and unprecedented decision for any guardian at this time, deciding if it’s safe for students to return to the classroom despite the virus risk.

Posted on August 2nd, 2020 | By Douglas Jones

WASHINGTON — The decision to return children to school has been a contentious one with state, local and federal levels of government seemingly unsure, and in many cases, in disagreement.

Back-to-school is fast approaching and the coronavirus pandemic in the United States is still a major concern.

An informational tool to try and help the parents and guardians of students weigh their options and prepare to take the safest step forward possible has been released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

90% Of parents Have Concerns About Reopening Schools Amid Pandemic

The CDC says expect class sizes to be smaller and the format of teaching to change.

However, there are options for families.

Expect to see many students in virtual learning if there is wariness about in-person study. And many suggest a hybrid of both, so there is at least a mitigation of the risk of coronavirus exposure as students would be going to in-person instruction fewer days per week.

The CDC says parents will need to assess if their child is at increased risk of severe illness. The federal agency warns that there are more cases of COVID-19 among children with intellectual and developmental disabilities than those without. The parents of children with certain underlying medical issues also need to seriously weigh the risks of in-person learning where COVID-19 exposure can be higher.

Parents must review a school’s plan to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus. The CDC says schools must promote behaviors that reduce the spread, like social distancing.

Cleaning and disinfecting need to be a top priority for schools. They should also be staggering schedules and keeping students in small groups, the agency says. And schools must be prepared in the event that someone gets sick.

The CDC is offering their “Back to School Decision Making Tool” as a downloadable PDF so that parents can be better informed to make a decision that best works for them.

People with disabilities see huge job losses; will pandemic roll back ADA gains?

Posted on July 22nd, 2020 | By Gov. Tom Ridge and Ted Kennedy Jr.

Thirty years ago, the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law, giving people with disabilities their hard-fought civil rights — the first comprehensive law addressing the needs of people with disabilities. President George H.W. Bush once confided it was among his proudest achievements.

We mark this significant anniversary this Sunday, July 26, but there is a cloud hanging over any celebrating. As we consider the enormous implications of the novel coronavirus on our society, we are worried about how this crisis ends for people with disabilities. We also are concerned there could be a rolling back of the gains we’ve seen since the ADA became law.

We hear the anxiety in their voices when people with disabilities discuss concerns about being on the losing end of COVID-19 medical care rationing or when they can’t keep direct care givers coming to their home as the pandemic continues to spread. And we are deeply troubled by the staggering unemployment rate for people with disabilities that will, without a doubt, rise even higher given the grim economics we now face together.

In early May, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Jobs Report showed that in March and April alone nearly 1 million working-age people with disabilities lost their jobs — a 20 percent reduction. By comparison, 14 percent of working-age people without disabilities lost their jobs in that timeframe. This, however, does not have to be the story that comes out of this crisis. We can make changes now that will profoundly alter its ending.

We can create a difference by being sure hospitals are not using physical and mental challenges as a criterion for who should and should not receive life-saving aid. Doctors make decisions on care based on a myriad of things. One of the main factors should not be whether someone has a disability.

We also can make a difference through bipartisan efforts on COVID-19 relief. One way is through the continuing legislative recovery package that Congress is working on. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) have introduced legislation that would create specific grants for states through Medicaid for the Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) program to make certain Medicaid funding is used to support individuals with disabilities. The funds would ensure long-term home- and community-based services continue uninterrupted.

Funding for HCBS will ensure that people with disabilities who can work get back on the job quickly as part of our country’s overall recovery efforts, something the National Organization on Disability and the American Association of People with Disabilities, whose boards we chair, wholly support.

Given the enormous issues faced by people with disabilities, Congress should consider creating a task force that can focus on efforts to make sure the 57 million Americans with disabilities are not left behind as our nation’s economy starts moving forward again.

If this pandemic has taught us one thing it is that, with the right accommodations, staff can work remotely, and do so well. It is something people with disabilities have been saying for years: If given the proper equipment at home, they can be productive employees. We hope with the successes they have seen with telework, more business leaders will realize people with disabilities are an untapped resource they should pursue. And adding this kind of diversity positively changes the spirit of a company, not to mention its productivity.

Before the current economic crisis, the employment-to-population ratio for working-age people with disabilities was historically high, even so, it was only at 31 percent. This is compared to 75 percent for working-age people without disabilities. With the last hired, first fired rule that many companies follow, we are seeing people with disabilities are among the first people to lose their jobs.

We can’t let anyone fall behind from the pandemic, let alone some of our most vulnerable citizens.

Three decades ago, the passage of the ADA was celebrated as a way of ending discrimination against anyone with disabilities. The politics at that time allowed a bipartisan group of lawmakers to champion sweeping legislation that has shaped every aspect of society.

The law’s passage should be something we all feel immensely proud about — and want to see strengthened further during the next 30 years.

The political situation today often prevents this from happening, but if we are willing to once again work across party lines, we can come together to make sure people with disabilities have the resources, tools, and — just as important — our empathy, to manage this crisis and prosper in the post-coronavirus era.

Tom Ridge was the 43rd governor of Pennsylvania and first U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security; he serves as board chairman of the National Organization on Disability.

Ted Kennedy Jr., is a disability rights lawyer and partner in the Health Care and Life Sciences practice at Epstein, Becker & Green; he served on President Reagan’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities and worked for passage of the ADA. He is board chairman of the American Association of People with Disabilities.

The Pandemic Isn’t Bringing Back Factory Jobs, at Least Not Yet

By Ana Swanson and

It’s a moment of reckoning for global supply chains. But that doesn’t mean companies are flocking back to the United States.

 

Donald Trump standing behind a sports car
“The global pandemic has proven once and for all that to be a strong nation, America must be a manufacturing nation,” President Trump said at a Ford factory in Ypsilanti, Mich., in May.Credit…

 

WASHINGTON — For companies with supply chains that snake around the globe, the crises have just kept coming: First the prolonged and painful U.S.-China trade war, then a pandemic that snarled shipments, stalled international travel and shut factory doors.

President Trump and his advisers have seized on the disruptions to make a familiar case to manufacturers: Come back home.

“The global pandemic has proven once and for all that to be a strong nation, America must be a manufacturing nation,” Mr. Trump said at a Ford factory in Ypsilanti, Mich., on May 21. “We’re bringing it back.”

Mr. Trump has spent much of his presidency trying to cajole manufacturers to return to the United States, through both tough talk and policies like tariffs. His advisers have pointed to both the trade war and the pandemic as evidence that it is just too risky for multinational companies to rely on other countries, particularly China, to make their goods.

But those arguments have yet to result in a wave of factories returning to the United States. Foreign direct investment into the United States — which measures spending from internationally owned companies to start, expand or acquire American businesses — sank drastically last year, to its lowest recorded level since 2006.

Foreign-owned companies invested about half as much in the United States in 2019 as they did in 2016, the year before Mr. Trump took office. After increasing in the first two years of Mr. Trump’s presidency, the number of manufacturing jobs flatlined last yearand fell sharply with the pandemic. As of June, there were nearly 300,000 fewer factory jobs in the United States than there were when Mr. Trump was inaugurated.

For all the president’s criticisms of global supply chains, the economic incentive to outsource still prevails. While his trade policy has made doing business abroad, particularly in China, more uncertain and costly, higher wages in the United States and the lure of foreign markets mean that most global businesses are choosing to remain global. Most firms that shifted out of China to avoid the crossfire of the trade war moved to other low-cost countries, like Vietnam and Mexico. Other companies say China is a growth market they cannot afford to lose.

And while the pandemic has prompted a broader reassessment of the risks of global supply chains, it has also brought about the deepest economic contraction in generations, battering companies’ finances and forcing them to cut back on workers. Executives are deeply uncertain what demand for their products will look like in the coming months and years — hardly the environment to encourage big investments in new American factories.

The furniture maker La-Z-Boy is one example. The company shifted its production out of China to Vietnam last year to bypass Mr. Trump’s tariffs on $360 billion worth of Chinese goods, according to tracking by Panjiva, a research firm. But on a June 24 earnings call, Kurt L. Darrow, La-Z-Boy’s chief executive, announced that the economic effects of the pandemic would force the firm to make steep cuts to its work force, including in the United States.

“While we were pleased to have brought back some 6,000 furloughed workers, we made the decision to permanently close our Newton, Miss., La-Z-Boy branded manufacturing facility and reduce our global work force by approximately 10 percent,” Mr. Darrow said.

There could still be a more significant reordering of global factory activity on the horizon. The one-two punch of the trade war and pandemic has shaken the confidence of executives and investors; led to shortages of toilet paper, meat, laptops and kettle bells; and revealed hidden frailties in many companies’ business models.

As factories struggle to reopen with components still in short supply, some executives are questioning the just-in-time supply chains they use to whisk products around the globe, rather than keeping warehouses stocked — and particularly how much they rely on factories in China, where production moved en masse in previous decades.

Emily J. Blanchard, a professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College who studies global value chains, said many firms were not thinking “in such broad and apocalyptic terms” before the pandemic.

“Covid has generated this new imagination of worst-case scenarios,” Professor Blanchard said.

Under the pressure of the trade war, some multinational companies have opened new facilities in the United States, including Williams Sonoma and Stanley Black & Decker. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company announced in May that it would set up a new facility in Arizona, pending funding. And makers of masks and protective gear, like Honeywell and 3M, are expanding American production during the pandemic.

Politicians from both parties are offering proposals to encourage more manufacturing in the United States, such as more funding for industries like semiconductors and pharmaceutical manufacturing.

The Trump administration’s newly created U.S. International Development Finance Corporation may offer tens of billions of dollars to help reshore manufacturing of protective equipment and generic drugs. The administration is also considering other tax incentives and “reshoring subsidies,” potentially as part of the next stimulus package, to try to lure factories home.

But there is little data to support claims by administration officials that their trade and tax policies have already encouraged significant reshoring of manufacturing or created a “blue-collar boom.”

U.S. factory output declined throughout 2019, as Mr. Trump’s trade war intensified, and it has dropped further this year, suggesting there is no boom in new American factories. Since peaking in mid-2019, corporate investment has declined for three consecutive quarters. Total foreign direct investment in manufacturing was nearly one-third lower in the first three years of Mr. Trump’s tenure than it was in the final three years of President Barack Obama’s.

Mr. Trump ostensibly fought his trade war on behalf of American manufacturing. But economists say it has actually been a drag on most U.S. factories, by increasing prices for components and inciting foreign retaliation. It has also coincided with a plunge in Chinese investment in the United States to $5 billion in 2019, the lowest level since 2009, according to Rhodium Group, a research firm.

Some Trump officials and their supporters blame a broader global economic malaise that has dragged down factories around the world. And they point to the fact that imports fell last year and now account for a slightly smaller share of the goods consumed by Americans, as a sign of their success.

Calculations by the Coalition for a Prosperous America, a trade group that supports the administration’s policies, indicate that 30.6 percent of the manufactured goods Americans consumed in 2019 were imported, down slightly from 31.2 percent the previous year. For much of the last two decades, the trend went in the opposite direction.

There are good reasons for some companies to move out of China. Wages are rising, whittling away at one incentive to manufacture there. And deep fissures between the United States and China have opened in areas like security and technology, which could lead to more aggressive action by either side, regardless of who wins the presidential election in November.

Still, more companies leaving China does not necessarily represent a win for American workers. Like La-Z-Boy, many companies that are moving some facilities out of China — including Samsung, Hasbro, Apple, Nintendo and GoPro — are relocating to countries where wages are even lower. While U.S. trade with China fell sharply last year, imports from Vietnam, Taiwan and Mexico swelled.

For many companies, making their supply chains more resilient has actually meant spreading out production around the world, not concentrating it in the United States, said Chris Rogers, a global trade and logistics analyst at Panjiva.

“If you want to hedge your risks, you need to stay global,” he said.

Michael W. Upchurch, the chief financial officer of Kansas City Southern, which runs railroads through Mexico and the United States, said in an earnings call this year that more companies were eyeing Mexico for new facilities because of the tariffs on China and Mexico’s relatively low wages and proximity to American customers.

“There is a real desire to begin to near-shore, and Mexico’s a great place to do business,” Mr. Upchurch said. Constructing new factories would take some time, he said, “but over the next few years, we would certainly expect to see benefit.”

For other companies, China still beckons.

Purveyors of consumer products, fast food and automobiles continue to expand in China, which is home to a rapidly growing consumer market and the world’s greatest concentration of factories. Some firms have struggled to find factory space or skilled workers outside of China. Data from Rhodium Group show that U.S. foreign direct investment in China continued to rise in 2019, despite the trade war.

In May, the U.S. engineering giant Honeywell opened a new headquarters in Wuhan, the original epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. Tesla has announced plans to expand its Shanghai factory, while Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Walmart and Costco are planning new stores in China.

Some executives insist that, contrary to popular belief, their investments in China allow them to employ more workers in the United States.

Milliken & Company, a textile maker with headquarters in South Carolina that employs 8,000 people, still performs the bulk of its manufacturing in the United States. It resisted a wave of offshoring in the 1980s and ’90s by shifting into niche products, like floor coverings and military uniforms. But it has opened factories in China in recent years to serve that market, enabling it to hire more people back home, said Halsey M. Cook Jr., the company’s chief executive.

“I think you’d hear the same thing” from other major multinational companies, Mr. Cook said, like John Deere. “Global supply chains are complicated. When you’ve seen one, you’ve seen one.”

Jeanna Smialek contributed reporting.

4 Ways Telehealth Is Changing Healthcare Consumer Behavior for the Better

Virtual care has the potential to address inequities, inconveniences and public health risks if access continues to grow and evolve, a PwC study finds.

Posted July 21st, 2020 | By Brian Eastwood

 

Data from the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic shows that U.S. consumers made a massive shift to telehealth. What’s more, a majority of new adopters want to keep using it in the months ahead.

Five percent of Americans have used telehealth for the first time since the onset of COVID-19, according to a report from the PwC Health Research Institute, which surveyed more than 2,500 consumers in early April.

Applied to the entire U.S. population, that equates to more than 16 million Americans, the consultancy estimates. Moreover, nearly 9 in 10 survey respondents said they would be willing to use telehealth again.

Data from other sources paints a similar picture:

  • The nonprofit claims analysis group FAIR Health reported a dramatic increase in telehealth claims from private insurance — more than 4,300 percent from March 2019 to March 2020, and more than 8,300 percent from April 2019 to April 2020.
  • Medicare claims for telehealth jumped 11,000 percent from early March 2020 to mid-April 2020, according to federal data.
  • Forrester predicts that there will be more than 1 billion telehealth visits in the U.S. this year, even though only 24 percent of healthcare organizations had an existing virtual care program as of January.

As healthcare organizations begin to resume operations and provide both urgent and elective care, leaders need to prepare for a future where telehealth plays an increasingly important role.

Despite its quick and often successful growth, telehealth will face new challenges. A Commonwealth Fund analysis suggests that telehealth use started to plateau in May as hospitals reopened, although the service remains far more popular than before.

In addition, relaxed telehealth restrictions during the pandemic — such as interstate licensure, reimbursement rates and limits on which services were covered — may be put back in place when the national public health emergency is lifted.

However, findings from the PwC report indicate that consumer behavior amid the pandemic will impact healthcare organizations in four key ways — and telehealth is positioned to guide the response.

  1. Reduce gaps in care: Nearly 1 in 3 consumers plan to spend less on healthcare services as a result of COVID-19, primarily by skipping visits, PwC found. And more than 1 in 5 consumers plan to spend less on medications, either by skipping doses or not taking medications at all. These actions all have negative health impacts and lead to increased spending on high-acuity care. Virtual visit technology enables consumers to see physicians or nurses from the safety of their homes, while medication adherence tools help consumers stay on track with reminders and refills.
  2. Manage chronic conditions: Of new telehealth users during COVID-19, PwC found that more than two-thirds had chronic conditions. Another 12 percent used telehealth to address their mental health needs, which are closely linked to chronic medical conditions. This shows the value of telehealth and remote monitoring technology in providing consistent care for consumers who often visit the doctor’s office — and must miss work or secure childcare — for routine consultations or vital-sign readings.
  3. Address social determinants of health: Survey respondents said COVID-19 heightened the impact of the nonclinical factors that influence their well-being: mental health, isolation, nutrition, employment, finances, exercise and more. Increased access to care via telehealth, available in part because of looser regulations, can help to address some of these concerns — but health systems should be prepared to invest in outreach and even put technology directly in the hands of consumers.
  4. Share critical information: PwC found that the likelihood of social distancing increases with age: 95 percent of Americans 65 and older were practicing social distancing, compared with only 58 percent of those who are 18 to 24. Social distancing efforts also varied by ethnicity, according to the report. Although one’s employment, financial status and access to broadband internet all can impact social distancing, PwC suggested targeted electronic communications to different consumer segments — such as patient portal messages or app notifications — could help share important information to lower the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

NIH Project Homes in on COVID Racial Disparities

July 21st, 2020 | Ashley Gold, Kaiser Health News

While the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black and Hispanic Americans is no secret, federal officials have launched studies of the disparity that they hope will better prepare the country for the next great epidemic.

The National Institutes of Health began the ambitious “All of Us” research project in 2018 with the goal of enrolling at least a million people in the world’s most diverse health database. Officials saw it as an antidote to medical research that traditionally has skewed heavily white, well-off and male.

Amid a wavering federal response that has allowed staggering levels of disease to sweep the country, the NIH program is a potential bright spot. About 350,000 people have consented to be part of the project, and more than 270,000 of them have shared their electronic health records and submitted blood or DNA samples. Of the latter, more than half are members of minority groups, and 81% are from traditionally underrepresented groups in terms of socioeconomic background, sexual identity or other categories, according to NIH.

NIH researchers are trying to get a better sense of how socioeconomic factors like income, family structure, diet and access to health care affect COVID infections and outcomes. The hope is to come up with insights that will better prepare the country, especially its Black and Hispanic communities, for the next pandemic.

The participants’ blood and DNA samples, and access to their electronic health records, offer researchers a trove of data about the pandemic’s effect on minorities. As part of the program, NIH has promised to return research results to all participants in plain language.

In a sense, “All of Us was designed for COVID-19,” said Hugo Campos, a program participant and ambassador who lives in Oakland, California. “If we can’t deliver value to participants now, we might as well just forget it.”

The NIH constructed All of Us with the expectation “that something like COVID-19 could come,” said Josh Denny, the project’s chief executive officer.

All of Us, started by NIH Director Francis Collins under President Barack Obama, aims to answer questions that will allow health care to be tailored to individuals based on their unique genetics, environmental exposures, socioeconomics and other determinants of health. Now, scientists are tapping into its database to ask how factors like isolation, mental health, insurance coverage and work status affect COVID-19 infections and outcomes.

The first NIH study employing the database, already underway, will conduct antibody testing on the blood of at least 10,000 program volunteers, starting with those who joined most recently and going back in time to determine when COVID-19 entered the U.S.

Beginning in early May, All of Us has distributed monthly surveys to participants, via email or text, inquiring about stress levels associated with social distancing, work habits and environments, mask-wearing and hand-washing. It’s also asking whether participants have had COVID-19 symptoms or have been tested, and includes queries about insurance coverage, drug use and mental health status.

Another study will provide researchers with de-identified data, including antibody test results and digital health information, to study whether symptoms vary among people who have tested positive for COVID-19 depending on their ethnicity, socioeconomic status and other categories.

Federal data shows that Black seniors have been four times as likely, and Latino seniors twice as likely, to be hospitalized with COVID-19 as white seniors. It’s understood that structural racism and socioeconomic differences contribute to this gap, but All of Us hopes to help pinpoint reasons and potential solutions.

The minorities who’ve experienced the poorest COVID-19 outcomes are well represented in the All of Us research cohort, said Denny. “We will really be able to layer a number of kinds of information on what’s happening to different populations and try to drive at some of that ‘Why?’ Are there genetic differences, differences in prior medical history, timing of testing?”

One of the precepts of All of Us is to share the results of its studies with participants as well as involve them in study designs. NIH hired leaders of churches, community organizations and other grassroots groups to spread the word on the program.

The largely Spanish-speaking clientele at San Ysidro Health, a federally qualified health center based in San Diego, has been eager to participate in the COVID-19 research, said Fatima Muñoz, the health system’s director of research and health promotion. Most of the All of Us participants she helped recruit prefer in-person interactions, but they are adapting to the pandemic’s online requirements, she said.

“There is historically a well-founded mistrust amongst some diverse populations and communities of color in biomedical research,” said Denny. “We can’t control history but can try to engage authentically going forward.”

The Black Lives Matter protest movement has pushed the program’s leaders to do more for its diverse participants, Denny said.

“It’s caused us to think more of how we can promote diversity in researchers, which had not been as much of a focus,” he said. “It has heightened some of the urgency and importance of what we’re doing. It’s a great call to action.”

The All of Us program is funded with $1.5 billion over 10 years through the 21st Century Cures Act of 2016. Denny said he expects results from the antibody testing, an $850,000 project that was contracted out to Quest Diagnostics, to be published this year, with insights from the surveys published after that.

The All of Us database provides unparalleled access to information on research groups whose level of harm by the virus would have been hard to predict, said Dr. Elizabeth Cohn, a professor of nursing at Hunter College in New York. Cohn is a community engagement lead for All of Us and chairs its publications committee.

“This is the demonstration of why we built this platform,” said Cohn. “This is a big moment for All of Us because this is what it was built to do.”

The pandemic has made it even clearer why it’s necessary to have a multicultural base for health research, said Dr. Randall Morgan, executive director of the W. Montague Cobb/National Medical Association Health Institute, an All of Us partner.

“When we get to 1 million, we hope to still have that level of representation,” he said.

Kaiser Health News is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

Companies Give Back to Communities, Employees in COVID-19

Posted July 21st | By Charlotte Atchley

 

When the coronavirus (COVID-19) reached the United States, many companies that promote social responsibility quickly extended their efforts into supporting employees and communities through the many challenges the pandemic brought.

For employee support, that meant incentivizing them to come to work by providing a safe environment and monetary rewards. Toufayan Bakeries, Ridgefield, NJ, gave its employees, both production and office staff, a 10% raise for six to seven weeks.

“That helped in a lot of ways, like people being able to hire a babysitter if they had lost their childcare,” said Karen Toufayan, vice president of sales and marketing. “It helped in ways we didn’t even understand. Some of our employees took that money and made their own donations to food banks, which really moved us.”

The Toufayan family took this a step further by estimating the total amount of that 10% bump and donated the same — a little more than $200,000 — to local food banks in New Jersey and Central Florida where the company’s three bakeries are located.

The Kellogg Company, Battle Creek, Mich., allowed front-line workers extended sick time and provided thank-you bonuses and schedule flexibility to enable them to care for their children. The company also expanded its workforce in places where there was increased demand.

[Related reading: General Mills CEO talks racial unrest, navigating a global pandemic] 

“That ensured our hard-working employees also have time to rest and recharge away from work,” said Kris Bahner, senior vice president, global corporate affairs, Kellogg Company.

For Wyandot, Marion, Ohio, supporting employees looked like an extra days’ worth of pay a week for seven weeks if they came to work. Typically, employees usually are allowed to take home two bags of snacks per week; the company increased it to a case for workers to distribute or keep as they saw fit. And Wyandot bought more than $10,000 worth of gift cards from Marion businesses, particularly restaurants, to not only support the local economy but also reward employees.

“The gift cards were a way to say, ‘We’re committed to Marion. We’re committed to helping out the businesses that employ your family and friends,’ ” said Rob Sarlls, president and chief executive officer of Wyandot. “We want to help keep Marion strong. That visceral commitment to Marion gave our employees a lot of pride.”

Wyandot also donated personal protective equipment and 60,000 lbs of snacks to first responders, the local school system and food banks. The company frontloaded some of its annual giving to the beginning of the year, making sizeable contributions to the Mid Ohio food bank and a relief fund for restaurant workers.

“We felt so fortunate that we were able to continue baking bread, to continue manufacturing, that we had to find a way to give back.”

Karen Toufayan, Toufayan Bakeries

When giving back to the community, it is an obvious choice for food manufacturers to focus on the thing they do best: feed people. This became the core of many companies’ COVID-19 response.

“As the pandemic began impacting North America, we recognized the immediate need for shelf-stable food and funding to help organizations meet the rapidly changing needs of their communities,” said Kim Fortunato, vice president, community affairs, Campbell Soup Co., Camden, NJ.

Campbell made an initial commitment of $1 million of financial and product donations in mid-March to food banks and local pantries in its 33 hometown communities. Since that initial donation, Campbell has grown that amount to more than $5 million in the United States.

Clif Bar, Emeryville, Calif., donated 14 million CLIF, LUNA and CLIF Kid Bars to food banks, first responders, non-profit partners and frontline healthcare workers. It also made up to 450 meals a week at its headquarters to feed volunteers at the Oakland Unified School District.

The Kellogg Company has taken its COVID-19 relief global through its Kellogg’s Better Days global purpose platform and  donated more than $11.5 million in food and funds to hunger relief efforts related to COVID-19 around the world. The donations are supporting The Global FoodBanking Network, European Food Banks Federation, Feeding America and Food Banks Canada.

[Related reading: Food companies team up to help frontline workers]

In addition to its support of national and local nonprofit organizations in its hometown of Baltimore, H&S Bakery donated 20,000 loaves of bread weekly to more than 40 charities.

“Despite the bakery’s extensive divisions and holdings, neither our company nor its family members have strayed far from our Baltimore roots and take pride in giving back to the city that helped build out business,” said Bill Paterakis, CEO of H&S Bakery. “Further, H&S has made contributions in all locales in which we operate a bakery.”

While the pandemic may have afforded many opportunities to give, for many of these companies it was just an extension of the commitment they had already made to corporate social responsibility. And for these businesses there was no other choice.

“We felt so fortunate that we were able to continue baking bread, to continue manufacturing, that we had to find a way to give back,” Ms. Toufayan said.

This article is an excerpt from the July 2020 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on social responsibility, click here.

Protesting AT&T Workers Question Company’s Commitment to Racial Equality

Posted on July 21st, 2020 | By Edward Ongweso Jr

 

 

On Monday, Memphis AT&T workers and members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) held protests in solidarity with the national Strike for Black Lives. Workers at the company’s Memphis call center, warehouse, and retail stores hoped to call attention to the contradiction between AT&T’s recent statements supporting Black Lives Matter and what they say is a failure to protect its predominantly non-white Memphis workforce from Covid-19.

Randall La Plante, CWA Local 3806 Executive Board Member, told Motherboard of a recent incident at the Memphis call center, staffed “overwhelmingly” by women of color, where a class of new hires were exposed to coronavirus during an in-person training. “We had asked, when they had the first two in the class test positive, for them to move to online learning for their training. The company refused to do it. When 10—half the class—eventually tested positive, the company finally decided to move into virtual training. But that was only after they had a week to expose 200 to 300 people.”

In a statement to Motherboard, AT&T said: “Everything we do meets or exceeds the local guidelines and has been a result of lots of consultation with the medical community to minimize risk at our locations. Any suggestion otherwise is wrong.”

AT&T CEO has called the pandemic a “time of war” where everyone needs to “step up,” but La Plante says the largely Black warehouse workforce has been told it’s not the company’s responsibility to sanitize common-use surfaces—workers should do it themselves. Workers have also “begged and begged” for call centers to be cleaned, with pleas either going unanswered or only being addressed after well over a dozen new cases were reported in one week.

“Talk is cheap,” La Plante said. “When they got a massive tax break, AT&T said they were going to create 7,000 middle-class jobs—they’ve laid off 30,000 people since then. So it’s not what they’re saying, it’s what they’re doing that really shows their real stance. If the company really believes that Black Lives Matter, let’s clean those call centers, let’s try to keep employees safe from [coronavirus].”

AT&T workers are also still protesting a 2017 incident and investigation that cleared Memphis warehouse supervisor Bruce Allman of wrongdoing after workers claimed he “made a noose and tossed it” at a black manager. Nine workers claimed they were fired for making complaints and filed a lawsuit shortly after. Allman still works for AT&T.

“We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind,” AT&T said. “This occured nearly three years ago, we thoroughly investigated it, and absolutely no evidence of any discrimination or threat was found. The facts don’t support these allegations.”

Wayde Boswell, CWA Local 3806 President, hopes that AT&T will be pressured by protesting workers to improve safety conditions during the pandemic. “We just want to keep our folks safe. We can work in conjunction instead of having to do this. Let’s work together, get things done, and keep our folks safe,” he said.

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

 

‘Fight the virus’: Ad Council tackles antisocial behaviour against Asian community

By Imogen Watson

 

To draw attention to the antisocial and racist treatment of members of the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) community since the outbreak of Covid-19, the Ad Council has unveiled ‘Fight the Virus, Fight the Bias’ as part of its ‘Love Has No Labels’ campaign.

Donald Trump unashamedly referring to Covid-19 as the ‘Chinese virus’ did nothing but encourage 2,000 reported incidences of discrimination and hate speech against the API community, as the current pandemic continues to see an increase in bigotry and racism.

According to a recent survey conducted by Pew Research Center, 31% of Asian adults have reported being victim to racial slurs or jokes since the outbreak, and 58% of Asian Americans say this behaviour has increased in frequency.

‘Fight the Virus, Fight the Bias’ intends to combat the harmful stereotypes, with a film that encapsulates the fear felt by those at the receiving hand of anti-API discrimination. Through a series of personal recounts, it tells the sad tale of abuse against members of API community who feel physically blamed for the virus.

Pulling off their face-masks, each narrative details how they are ‘not a virus’ but an essential worker, working tirelessly to help the world cope with the ongoing pandemic. ‘Fight the virus, fight the bias’ they say in unison as the spot concludes. Alongside the PSA, the campaign includes an AR filter, available on the Love Has No Labels Instagram page in the effects tab, to encourage users to show solidarity.

“At a time when hateful rhetoric and racially-fueled discrimination are plaguing the API community, it’s critical that we all play a role in dispelling the racist misconceptions and actions pervading our country,” said Ad Council President and CEO Lisa Sherman.

“Amid this pandemic and the stresses associated, nobody should have to also endure the added layer of fear that comes from this surge in racial violence and harassment. We hope this film will inspire Americans to rethink their biases and help put an end to the wave of racism facing the API community.”

The campaign will be promoted across the channels of Love Has No Labels’ partners, including Bank of America, Google, Johnson & Johnson, and Walmart.

Finding real purpose amid the global pandemic, the Ad Council has been hard at work on its ongoing national Covid-19 response efforts. Coinciding with Mental Health Awareness Month, the Ad Council approached the issue of youth suicide with a star-studded music video, in a bid to help those who might be struggling during lockdown.

 

 

It partners with Comedy Central and ViacomCBS’ Entertainment & Youth Brands, to address the effects of isolation on mental health. It launched an online hub that offered actionable resources to help people ‘Stay Calm’, ‘Stay Connected’, and ‘Stay Active while they ‘Stay Home.’

Alongside that, it created a campaign to thank those on the front lines of the Covid-19pandemic that featured an unreleased new song from Alicia Keys, titled ‘Good Job.’ At the beginning of April, it joined forces with Google, the ANA, and other advertising, media, and marketing trade associations, on an industry-wide movement that begged the American public to ‘#StayHome. Save Lives’.

The movement built on the success of #AloneTogether – a social distancing campaign created by MTV and the Entertainment & Youth Brands of ViacomCBS.