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Coronavirus Files: COVID-19 White House outbreak highlights VIP care

Coronavirus Files: COVID-19 White House outbreak highlights VIP care

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Since April, The Center for Health Journalism has been publishing a special newsletter geared to journalists as they report on one of the biggest and most complex stories of our times. Each Monday, while the pandemic runs its course, The Coronavirus Files will provide tips and resources and highlight exemplary work to help you with your coverage. This week, The Center for Health Journalism’s Coronavirus Files Monday newsletter is curated and reported by community editor Hannah Hagemann. Have a suggestion or a request? Write us at
The Health Divide: COVID-19 White House outbreak highlights VIP care
President Trump’s battle with COVID-19 exemplifies the stark difference between the 
health care available to the wealthy and powerful and the average American. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was admitted to a hospital as a “precautionary measure” after contracting the virus. Trump received rapid, state-of-the-art medical care for COVID-19, while millions across the country continue to struggle to get tested for the disease. 
Most patients are told to stay home and monitor their COVID-19 symptoms. Others won’t go to the E.R. because they’re concerned “about losing their jobs because of a positive test, or (they’re) afraid to go into the hospital because no one else will be available to care for their children if they’re admitted,” write STAT reporters Casey Ross and Priyanka Runwal
In some areas, the gap between the most privileged and the average American is narrowing — many hospitalized patients can now receive treatment with remdesivir, an antiviral drug that was part of Trump’s treatment. But as the STAT writers point out, the president has received “everything-but-the-kitchen sink” care, which included an experimental antibody treatment, still undergoing clinical trials. Some doctors question whether this kind of “VIP care” does more harm than good.
It’s still early, though. COVID-19 antibody therapies remain unproven. Even so, last week the pharmaceutical companies Eli Lilly and Regeneron pushed for emergency FDA authorization on their new antibody treatments.
Overcoming vaccine mistrust in Black communities
For a COVID-19 vaccine to be effective, clinical trials must include populations taking the brunt of the disease. In the U.S. that’s by and large Black, Latino, Native American, Alaskan Native and Pacific Islander communities.
Academics are partnering with community leaders across the country to enlist communities of color to volunteer for COVID-19 vaccine trials, Jan Hoffman wrote in a deeply reported story in last week’s New York Times. But that’s a big challenge, particularly in Black communities. “Daily survival can feel so all-consuming that participating in an institutional research experiment seems utterly beside the point," writes Hoffman.
After decades of unequal access to care, and a history of horrendous abuse and racism in medicine, Black Americans are less likely to take a COVID-19 vaccine compared to other groups, and more hesitant to become involved in clinical research. Still, in one Pittsburgh neighborhood, Hoffman finds signs these kinds of community partnerships are gaining traction. “We want to make sure that the vaccine will get into our community and work for us,” Father Paul Abernathy said in the Times story, “I guarantee you it will be in other communities!”


COVID-19 surges in the Midwest

Back in July, Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, warned that the Midwest could see a spike in COVID-19 cases. Now, states like Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska are seeing just such a surge. In the West, Montana and Wyoming have also seen new cases spike
In Wisconsin, where new hospitalizations for coronavirus have almost tripled in the last month in the state, officials are opening a field hospital at state fairgrounds
Last week, Fauci again warned that the pandemic could worsen across the nation as winter approaches. Speaking at a UC Berkeley forum, Fauci criticized the decision of some colleges to host students on campus, and then require them to return home when COVID-19 cases spike. 
With colder weather ahead, scientists fear that more spent inside, coupled with lower humidity levels and the onset of flu season, could cause the pandemic to dramatically worsen. 
Preexisting Conditions Took Center Stage at V.P. Debate
If the ACA and its protections on preexisting conditions is swept away by a pending court challenge, will a COVID-19 infection prove a barrier to future health insurance? Sen. Kamala Harris suggested as much at last week’s debate. 
“Literally in the midst of a public health pandemic – when over 210,000 people have died and 7 million people probably have what will be in the future considered a pre-existing condition – Donald Trump is in court right now trying to get rid of the Affordable Care Act,” Harris said. “That means that there will be no protections, if they win, for people with pre-existing conditions.”
Pence responded by insisting that Trump’s health care plan would “improve health care and protect preexisting conditions for every American,” but he did not offer details. He also defended the Trump administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that “we believe, will have literally tens of millions of doses of a vaccine before the end of this year.” The administration’s Operation Warp Speed aims to supply 300 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine to Americans by January 2021. 

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