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The Coronavirus Files: Caught between two pandemics, 100,000 dead & Trump breaks with WHO

The Coronavirus Files: Caught between two pandemics, 100,000 dead & Trump breaks with WHO

Picture of Lindzi  Wessel

The Center for Health Journalism has begun offering a special newsletter geared to journalists as they report on one of the biggest and most complex stories of our times. The Coronavirus Files provide tips and resources and highlight exemplary work to help you with your work. The Center for Health Journalism’s Coronavirus Files Monday newsletter is curated and reported by science writer Lindzi Wessel. Have a suggestion or a request? Write us at editor@centerforhealthjournalism.org.

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Sign up for this Wednesday’s Webinar: Soaring Hunger and Unmet Needs

The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in soaring levels of child hunger and unmet needs in families across the nation. The lives of already economically precarious families have been upended during the pandemic, with school cafeterias shuttered, unemployment shattering records and food bank lines stretching for miles. Struggling parents report not having enough money to buy diapers, and difficulty finding groceries covered by federal benefits. Many families are falling behind in rent even as emergency assistance programs are set to expire. In this webinar, we’ll learn what this deepening crisis means for child development and family well-being, and what policies might help. We’ll also explore fresh angles for deeper reporting on food insecurity and other unmet needs in your community. For more information and to sign up for the Wednesday 10-11 a.m. PT/1-2 p.m. ET webinar, go here.

The Health Divide, 100,000 Dead & Trump Breaks with WHO

Caught Between Two Pandemics 

The death of George Floyd, a black man killed while being arrested by Minneapolis police, has ignited massive protests and violent skirmishes between police and protesters across the nation. Health officials are expressing alarm that the protests, which have also sparked solidarity demonstrations in cities like London and Berlin, could fuel new spikes in COVID-19 cases. But for many black communities, who have seen death after death at the hands of police, the issue of police brutality and state-sanctioned violence feels as much a threatening pandemic as the disease that is also disproportionately hitting them. 

“The disparities in Covid-19’s impact are in many ways the byproduct of America’s structural racism — just like the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, and other black people who have died at the hands of white law enforcement officers or civilians,” writes Dylan Scott for Vox.  

Black journalist Patrice Peck is working hard to highlight both. In a New York Times opinion piece, she writes that “black journalists are exhausted” as they push to cover racial inequalities that have remained constant for generations as well as the disproportionate toll of COVID-19 on black communities. Peck has created a newsletter to highlight the effects of the pandemic on black Americans. In it, she covers such topics as racially-targeted over-policing and vigilante activity surrounding mask-wearing and social distancing; how fears of a lack of privacy protections for test results might discourage black people from getting COVID-19 tests, and concerns from black men that wearing masks could make them targets of law enforcement.

Mapping COVID-19 Risk 

Certain health conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity, put individuals at higher risk for a severe or fatal case of COVID-19. When many people in a community have such conditions, and also confront other vulnerabilities, health systems are more likely to be overwhelmed and the health of residents is more likely to be compromised, putting every COVID-19 patient’s care and well-being at risk. We know that the pandemic is disproportionately affecting communities of color across the nation, but a lack of key demographic data might make it “difficult for local and state governments to marshal necessary resources for the hardest-hit communities.” To help fill gaps in data, The Washington Post mapped the percentage of individuals with high-risk health conditions relative to the nation’s average for each census tract, along with data on racial demographics, household overcrowding, health insurance coverage and the CDC’s social vulnerability index

The map includes every census tract in the country. For example, if you hover your mouse over one specific tract in Milwaukee, you’ll see a pop-up that tells you you’ve selected a majority community of color area with an above average rate of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. By clicking on different queries above the map, you can also look to see if data exists for that same area about social vulnerability, overcrowding and insurance coverage. 

The data allowed investigative data reporter Aaron Williams and graphics reporter Adrian Blanco to conclude that a majority of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Washington, D.C. are “in some of the city’s densest neighborhoods, which have large majority-minority populations as well as high rates of chronic health conditions.” The findings highlight long-standing health disparities which have left disadvantaged communities far more vulnerable during the pandemic. 

Far from Inevitable: 100,000 Dead

This week, the United States reached a tragic marker: 100,000 documented deaths from COVID-19. Sadly, we know this figure is an underestimate — gaps in testing and reporting mean many deaths go uncounted. Even as we grieve, we have to ask the question of how to stop the next 100,000 by evaluating what we’ve learned so far, writes Caroline Chen of ProPublica. “Through public records requests and other reporting, ProPublica has found example after example of delays, mistakes and missed opportunities.” 

To stem the flood of lost lives, Chen argues that we must do more to support hospitals in our most vulnerable communities, equip nursing homes with the resources and knowledge to prevent the spread of infection, ensure that nurses and doctors have enough protective equipment and, when they don’t, dial back reopening to avoid overwhelming hospitals and putting our frontline medical workers at greater risk. 

“This massive loss of life wasn’t inevitable. It wasn’t simply unfortunate and regrettable,” Chen writes. 

In a Pandemic with Nowhere to Go

Shelter-in-place measures assume a shelter, but, unfortunately, not everyone has that. Cities across the country are debating the best way to help homeless populations guard against the virus. Dense encampments with limited access to soap and water, masks and basic health resources put the homeless at high risk and threaten to undermine efforts to stop outbreaks from spreading. In San FranciscoPortland, Oregon, and elsewhere, steps to house the homeless in hotel rooms have sparked heated debates. A spike in deaths among San Francisco’s homeless, likely fueled by the pandemic’s disruption to shelters and other services, has only added to the urgency to find a plan. And, at least in California, many hotel rooms set up to house the homeless sit empty, reporting by the Los Angeles Times found.

Meanwhile, America could be facing “‘an avalanche of evictions,’” as the pandemic-fueled unemployment crisis continues to worsen, writes Sarah Mervosh for The New York TimesMore than 40 million Americans have filed for jobless benefits in the last 10 weeks and evictions, placed on temporary holds due to the crisis, will soon be allowed in about half the nation. Many Americans are left to grapple with the anxiety of potentially being forced from their homes, with little power to do anything about it. 

“The hardest hit are tenants who had low incomes and little savings even before the pandemic, and whose housing costs ate up more of their paychecks,” writes Mervosh. “They were also more likely to work in industries where job losses have been particularly severe.”

When Staying Home Doesn’t Mean You’re Safe

While stay-at-home orders have helped flatten the COVID-19 curve, they present grave new dangers for victims of domestic violence who suddenly find themselves locked down with their abusers. Cities across the country have reported an uptick in domestic violence calls, and some providers report seeing more violent incidents. Learn more about how to cover this topic with with our webinar, “Covering Coronavirus: The Domestic Abuse Crisis,” featuring reporters Deanna Paul of the Wall Street Journal and Adiel Kaplan of NBC National News, along with Allenna Bangs, the assistant criminal district attorney and the chief of the Intimate Partner Violence Unit in Tarrant County, Texas.

Trump Plans U.S. Exit from the World Health Organization 

On Friday, President Donald Trump announced he will be pulling the U.S. out of a decades-long relationship with the WHO, the United Nations agency responsible for global public health, citing his disapproval of their relationship with China, early handling of the coronavirus crisis and failure to address requested reforms, the specifics of which have not been made public. It’s still unclear whether the executive branch can terminate the U.S. relationship with the WHO without congressional approval.

Breaking with the WHO could have repercussions ranging from a resurgence of polio and malaria, barriers to the flow of pandemic-related information and a loss of U.S. influence abroad, writes Amy Maxmen for Nature. It could also mean a massive hit to international collaborations involving U.S. health workers and scientists. Important access to other nations, with weak diplomatic ties to the U.S. could also be lost. For example, “U.S. scientists were permitted to tour [China] in mid-February as part of a WHO mission to learn from its COVID-19 response,” Maxmen writes. The decision could mean the U.S. “will relinquish its ability to shape health agendas around the world.”

The COVID Crisis in Amazon’s Workforce 

Across the nation, jobs of all sorts are being cut. But Amazon is hiring. Those who might otherwise be out of work can earn $15 an hour or more delivering orders to customers’ doors or prepping purchases inside one of the company’s warehouses. But as Amazon’s workforce grows, so does the presence of the virus, writes Sam Dean for The Los Angeles Times. “As consumers continue to minimize their own risk by shopping from their couches,” he writes, “workers have to decide: Is working for Amazon a lifeline, or a life-threatening risk? 

Complicating that decision is the fact that Amazon has not been open with current and potential employees about the exact number of cases on their floors, writes Suhauna Hussain for the Los Angeles Times. While Amazon says it reports cases to public health authorities and alerts employees who may have come into contact with an infected colleague, employees say warning messages often come too late or not at all. The anxiety fueled by this lack of information has prompted some Amazon workers to take on tracking efforts themselves.

Resources 

And Don't Miss... 

  • “As COVID Cuts Deadly Path Through Indiana Prisons, Inmates Say Symptoms Ignored.” Kaiser Health News
  • “DC Mayor: We have to be Concerned about Virus /rebound.” The Associated Press
  • “When Hard Data are ‘Heartbreaking’: Testing blitz in San Francisco Shows COVID-19 Struck Mostly Low-Wage Workers.” STAT

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