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Coronavirus Files: Immigrants receive sham treatments; renters get last-minute eviction reprieve

Coronavirus Files: Immigrants receive sham treatments; renters get last-minute eviction reprieve

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Since April 2020, 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 turn to black-market meds

Lack of access and fear is keeping many people, often immigrants, from getting the best COVID-19 treatment. Instead, they turn to a variety of unproven and often pricey alternatives, writes Amy Maxmen in The New York Times. From the ineffective and risky malaria drug chloroquine to $25 injections of dexamethasone to $1,400 for mysterious “peptide therapies,” Maxmen reports that a variety of meds, herbs and vitamins are being peddled at flea markets, on social media, and in alternative wellness clinics. “People are desperate and bombarded with misinformation and may not have the skills, time or context to interpret medical evidence,” said Rais Vohra, interim head of the Fresno County health department. 

About one in five Hispanic people in the U.S. don’t have health insurance, reports Maxmen, and the number is even higher among the undocumented. The problem is compounded by the fear and mistrust many immigrants harbor towards mainstream medicine. As a result, some people are spending their savings on unfounded treatments that may harm them or interfere with the treatments they truly need. Waiting to get appropriate treatment is one reason that Black and Hispanic people are dying needlessly from the coronavirus, Maxmen writes.

“I’m not surprised that people are taken advantage of,” said Oralia Maceda Méndez, a Fresno-based advocate for immigrants from Oaxaca, Mexico. “We don’t have the care that we need.”

Eviction ban extended for one more month

Households behind on rent will have an extra month to acquire aid and pay their bills. The CDC extended the federal moratorium on evictions to July 31, a move prompted in part by concerns over lagging vaccination rates in some regions. The administration released new guidelines it hopes will speed up distribution of financial aid for renters, which has proved to be a slow-moving and challenging process in many regions. A group of House Democrats had implored President Joe Biden and the CDC to prolong the ban, writing in a letter, “By extending the moratorium and incorporating these critical improvements to protect vulnerable renters, we can work to curtail the eviction crisis disproportionately impacting our communities of color.” 

This extension is expected to be the last one for the eviction ban, which has been in place since September, writes Katy O’Donnell at Politico. Some advocates worry that it won’t be sufficient: David Dworkin, president and CEO of the National Housing Conference, told O’Donnell that if state and local officials don’t step up aid distribution, “we’re simply going to have a horrific crisis in August instead of July.”

Back to work — or maybe not?

As COVID-19 infection rates continue to dwindle, many Americans are going back to work, in person, for the first time in more than a year. Companies like Apple and Amazon are eager to see employees return to the office, five days a week, but many workers are pushing back. They’ve grown to like the work-life balance or ability to supervise children during daytime that they achieved during lockdown — and commuting, especially on public transit, now seems expensive, inconvenient and scary. Some commuters in congested cities such as L.A. and Manhattan are refusing to return to their pre-pandemic routines

The pandemic forced many people to re-evaluate priorities, and this latest transition back to work is helping fuel an event economists are calling “the great resignation.” One-quarter to 41% of employees are considering turning in their notice, according to surveys, and more Americans quit their jobs in April than any other month since the start of the century. But Derek Thompson at The Atlantic cautions this may be because people delayed resigning during earlier phases of the pandemic. “A whole lot of this is a mirage,” Adam Ozimek, chief economist at Upwork, told Thompson. 

Nonetheless, opportunities to trade up to a better job abound. And companies such as Zillow, which have embraced remote work for the foreseeable future, are attracting tons of applications, writes Rani Molla at Vox. “There’s very little competition for the in-store, at-workplace, in-warehouse kinds of jobs,” said ZipRecruiter economist Julia Pollak.

CDC committee says heart risk no reason to avoid vaccines

The FDA and CDC will add a warning about potential heart inflammation to their fact sheets for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines following a CDC vaccine committee meeting June 23. The committee concluded that rare reports of inflammation appear to be associated with vaccination, but that the benefits of the shots far outweigh the risks.

This inflammation, known as myocarditis, can cause chest pain and shortness of breath, and is most common in younger, male vaccine recipients. The CDC calculated that for every million teen boys fully vaccinated, there might be about 60 cases of myocarditis, but the shots would also prevent an estimated 5,700 COVID-19 cases, 215 hospitalizations, and two deaths (not to mention long COVID and the post-infection condition in kids known as MIS-C). COVID-19 can also cause heart inflammation, but the vaccine-related cases are usually milder and treatable, sometimes with just ibuprofen or other over-the-counter meds. “This is an extremely rare side effect,” wrote the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Heart Association and other groups in a joint statement. “We recommend getting vaccinated right away if you haven’t yet.”

It’s not known if vaccination will cause myocarditis in children under 12, but the possibility is contributing to questions about whether it’s necessary to vaccinate that population right away. UCSF infectious disease specialist Monica Gandhi suggested to the San Francisco Chronicle that it might be possible to minimize the risk by waiting for more than 2 weeks between doses.

Falling short of vaccination goal makes fall surge likely

It’s official: The White House has admitted it won’t be possible to vaccinate 70% of American adults by Independence Day. Young adults, especially those who are poor and uninsured, continue to shun the shots, in part because they don’t think they need them. But that’s not the biggest problem, Yale health policy expert Jason L. Schwartz told The Washington Post: “The persistent low rates of COVID vaccination in some states and regions is far more worrisome than falling a few percentage points short of an interim national target.”

Adult vaccination rates are less than 55% in several Southern states as well as parts of the Pacific Northwest. Former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb warns that some less-vaccinated regions are already seeing upticks in cases, and will be at risk for new surges in the fall, especially with the more contagious delta variant on the rise. “This isn’t a benign disease,” he told CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “We have the tools to avoid it with vaccination.”

What we're reading

  • “The mRNA vaccines are extraordinary, but Novavax is even better,” by Hilda Bastian, The Atlantic
  • “Inside the Biden administration’s grassroots push to get America vaccinated,” by Abigail Adams and Alana Abramson, TIME
  • “In pandemic, drug overdose deaths soar among Black Americans,” by Claire Galofaro, AP
  • “South America is now COVID-19 hot spot, with eight times the world’s death rate,” by Samantha Pearson and Luciana Magalhaes, The Wall Street Journal
  • “Inside the extraordinary effort to save Trump from COVID-19,” by Damian Paletta and Yasmeen Abutaleb, The Washington Post
  • “She fought to reopen schools, becoming a hero and a villain,” by Dana Goldstein, The New York Times

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