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Coronavirus Files: Huge death rate gap for young people of color; variants endanger children

Coronavirus Files: Huge death rate gap for young people of color; variants endanger children

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Since last 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 science writer Amber Dance, PhD. Have a suggestion or a request? Write us at editor@centerforhealthjournalism.org.

 

Immigrants face 'stunningly huge' death risk

According to the CDC, the COVID-19 death rate for Hispanics and Latinos is 2.3 times higher than that of white, non-Hispanic people. But when USC researchers narrowed their focus to working-age Californians, they found “stunningly huge” inequities, writes Amy Graff in SFGATE. Hispanic immigrants aged 20 to 54 were 11.6 times more likely to die of the disease than non-Hispanic, U.S.-born people of the same age. Hispanics in that age group, of any birthplace, were 8.5 more times likely to die than whites. For Black people in California, the death rate was almost five times that of whites, according to the peer-reviewed new study.
 
The researchers based their findings on death certificates between February and July 2020, allowing them to include COVID-19 cases that might be missed by health care or insurance records, Graff wrote. The authors do acknowledge some limitations. For example, they didn’t have a lot of detailed demographic or socioeconomic data on those who died, and those factors could influence death rates.
 
“We figured there would be differences,” said epidemiologist Erika Garcia, the study’s lead author, but “we didn’t expect it to be so large.” Potential explanations, she said, include the disproportionate numbers of Black and Hispanic people in service jobs and agriculture. Crowded living conditions could also contribute to the higher death rates. Jon Jacobo, health committee chair for the Latino Task Force in San Francisco, also pointed to “legacies of racist policies that were enacted with this country’s founding and continue to be perpetuated today.”
 
The CDC also reported last week that the COVID-19 mortality rate among American Indians in Montana was nearly four times that of whites last year.
 
 
Variant nation
 
It’s official: The B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant, first described in the U.K., is now the dominant strain in the U.S. While expected, that’s bad news since B.1.1.7 seems to be a more transmissible, and deadlier, version of the virus we started with. “We have to think about the B.1.1.7 as almost a brand-new virus,” Dr. Peter Hotez told CNN. “It’s acting differently from anything we’ve seen before.”
 
Another difference is that it’s spreading more widely among children than the earlier virus, writes Brenda Goodman at WebMD. Whether kids are more susceptible to this variant remains unclear, in part because B.1.1.7’s global proliferation often coincided with resumption of in-person school and other activities. The British Medical Journal reported in February that the variant was associated with spikes in pediatric cases in Israel, the U.K., and Italy; but a study in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health suggested children infected with the variant were no sicker, on average, than others who caught the original virus. Adding to the confusion, kids and teens who have asymptomatic infections can still develop the frightening inflammatory syndrome known as MIS-C, weeks after they tangle with the virus, reports Pam Belluck in The New York Times. Dr. Michael Osterholm told NBC’s Meet the Press that given the concern about B.1.1.7 and children, he’s reconsidering his support for re-opening schools: “B.1.1.7 turns that on its head,” he said.
 
“The only good news,” Osterholm added, “is that our vaccines do work against it.” The U.S. is now vaccinating an average of three million people a day, and President Joe Biden now promises access to vaccines for all adults by April 19. However, the vaccines aren’t yet authorized for anyone under 16. And Sarah Owermohle at Politico reports that if vaccine-resistant variants hit the U.S., the nation doesn’t have enough manufacturing capacity remaining to produce modified or booster vaccines at scale. Osterholm said there aren’t yet enough people getting vaccinated to keep a fourth wave from raging out of control, while Anthony Fauci was more upbeat on NPR’s Morning Edition. “It’s kind of like a race between the potential for a surge and our ability to vaccinate as many people as we can,” Fauci said. “Hopefully, if you want to make this a metaphorical race, the vaccine is going to win.”
 
 
Some universities will require shots
 
As vaccinations continue, many institutions — and reporters — are wrestling with the question of vaccine requirements and vaccine passports. For example, Rutgers University, in New Jersey, was the first college to announce that students must be vaccinated against COVID-19 by fall semester, and several other schools have followed suit in recent weeks. Proving vaccine status and managing religious or medical exemptions may pose logistical headaches, reports Axios. Already, write Courtenay Brown and Marisa Fernandez, some lawmakers in Texas and Florida have moved to ban vaccine requirements.
 
Vaccine passports and requirements, though likely legal, are shaping up to be quite a political debate, with many conservatives and libertarians against the idea. A recent poll found that about 60% of Americans would support some sort of voluntary vaccine documentation, but 24% were against it. Some people worry the passports will invade their privacy or digital rights, or exacerbate inequities already present between demographic groups getting vaccinated, reports Scott Lucas, an editor at BuzzFeed News. In The Atlantic, Yasmeen Serhan points out that the “green pass” system in Israel has led to a societal split between “the jabbed and the jabless” that makes vaccination the only way to avoid social exclusion. But then again, Lucas points out, many of us already have vaccine passports — often used to enroll in school, serve in the military, or travel internationally. “Many public health experts,” he writes, “say such proof will be key to getting life back to normal.”
 
From the Center for Health Journalism
 
 
Are you passionate about helping journalists understand and illuminate the social factors that contribute to health and health disparities at a time when COVID-19 has highlighted the costs of such inequities? Looking to play a big role in shaping journalism today in the United States? The USC Center for Health Journalism seeks an enterprising and experienced journalism leader for our new position of “Manager of Projects.” Learn more here.
 
 
Apply now for our annual all-expenses-paid National Fellowship July 19-23, 2021 via Zoom -- five days of informative and stimulating discussions, plus reporting and engagement grants of $2,000-$12,000 and five months of expert mentoring. Deadline to apply: May 17, 2021. Learn more here: https://bit.ly/3s0oYAi
 
 
What we're reading
  • “The U.S. has had ‘vaccine passports’ before — and they worked,” by Jordan E. Taylor, TIME
  • “The urgency of vaccinating kids,” by James Hamblin, The Atlantic
  • “The mysterious aftermath of infections,” by Roxanne Khamsi, The New York Times
  • “In rare instances, AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine linked to blood clots, regulators say,” by Helen Branswell and Matthew Herper, STAT
  • “‘We are hoarding’: Why the U.S. still can’t donate COVID-19 vaccines to countries in need,” by Katherine Eban, Vanity Fair
  • “Sweden’s pandemic experiment,” by Mallory Pickett, The New Yorker
  • “The story of one dose,” by Jeff Wise, Intelligencer

 

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This month marks the sober anniversary of the police killing of George Floyd, which ignited global protests and renewed efforts to reform or dismantle policing. In our next webinar, we’ll examine the price society pays for a criminal-legal system that disproportionately arrests, punishes and kills Black people. And we’ll look at how reporters can best cover this evolving story in original and powerful ways. Sign-up here!

As public health officials like to say, "COVID-19 isn't done with us." And journalists know that we're not done with COVID-19. Apply now for five days of stimulating discussions on the pandemic's disproportionate impact on people of color -- plus reporting and engagement grants of $2k-$10k and five months of mentoring while you work on an ambitious project.

Are you passionate about helping journalists understand and illuminate the social factors that contribute to health and health disparities at a time when COVID-19 has highlighted the costs of such inequities? Looking to play a big role in shaping journalism today in the United States? The USC Center for Health Journalism seeks an enterprising and experienced journalism leader for our new position of “Manager of Projects.” 

 

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