COVID-19/coronavirus

Study finds link between neighborhood disadvantage and COVID-19 disparities

New research has found a strong link between COVID-19 and neighborhood disadvantage, a finding that supports earlier contentions of the connection between social factors and coronavirus disparities (Source: “How Neighborhood Disadvantage Drove COVID Health Disparities,” Patient Engagement HIT, July 21).

The study examined the connection between COVID-19 inequity and subway ridership in New York City. Neighborhoods that ranked higher on a COVID-19 inequity index — meaning that the neighborhood saw more factors that could put inhabitants at risk — also had higher subway ridership even after COVID-19 forced city-wide shutdowns.

Daniel Carrión, a researcher from Mount Sinai, said needing to ride the subway — or work an essential job — had a strong link to the unequal infection rates seen during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, largely because it limits the ability to socially distance.

“For us, subway utilization was a proxy measure for the capacity to socially distance,” Carrión, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine, told PatientEngagementHIT in an interview.

Although public health experts have made the link between the social determinants of health leading to actual infection, not just poor outcomes, Carrión and his colleagues put some data behind that. Social disadvantage was linked with higher subway utilization, and ultimately to higher infection rates and starker disparities.

“Folks like me were able to stay home for the majority of the pandemic and work from home. I didn't need to use public transit whereas others did. What we found was that areas that had higher COVID inequity indices were also riding the subways more after the stay-at-home orders compared to folks that were low in the COVID inequity index.”


Ohio set new record for overdose deaths in 2020, CDC reports

The toll of fatal drug overdoses last year hit Ohio even worse than initially thought, according to newly released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (Source: “Capitol Insider: As feared, Ohio smashes record for drug overdose deaths last year,” Columbus Dispatch, July 16).

The new figures showed that the agency projected Ohio to hit 5,215 drug deaths — fourth in the U.S. for the nation's seventh-largest state — breaking the record of 4,854 set in 2017. The CDC warned that the 2020 figure will grow; the current total is regarded as underreported due to incomplete data.

In 2014, Ohio led the country in overdose deaths — although the 2020 total is some 2.5 times higher.

A big jump was feared by many because of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. Indeed, overdose deaths for the nation as a whole increased every month last year, the CDC data show.

In all, the U.S. saw 93,331 people die from drug overdoses in 2020, a 29.4% leap over 2019.


DeWine signs bill banning COVID-19 vaccine requirements at public schools, universities

Gov. Mike DeWine signed a bill this week that will prevent public schools and universities from mandating COVID-19 vaccines for students and staff until they receive full approval from federal officials (Source: “Gov. DeWine signs bill to ban requiring COVID-19 vaccine at Ohio public schools, universities,” Columbus Dispatch, July 14).

Language added to House Bill 244 will prevent schools and universities from requiring vaccines that haven't received full U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. All three COVID-19 vaccines were approved under emergency use authorization, a rigorous protocol that includes clinical trials. 

The new law doesn't take effect for 90 days, and the vaccines might receive full FDA approval in that window, making the language moot.

"We are confident the three main COVID vaccines – the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson – will receive full FDA approval," said DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney, adding that the full approval will help reduce vaccine hesitancy.

The bill doesn't apply to private universities or the hospitals connected to public universities. Several private universities and colleges, such as Kenyon College and Ohio Wesleyan University, will require students to be vaccinated. Some have exceptions for religious or medical reasons. 


Children could face long-term education and health challenges following pandemic, experts warn

After more than a year of isolation, widespread financial insecurity and the loss of an unprecedented amount of classroom time, experts say many of the youngest Americans have fallen behind socially, academically and emotionally in ways that could harm their physical and mental health for years or even decades (Source: “Damage to Children’s Education — And Their Health — Could Last a Lifetime,” Kaiser Health News, July 1).

“This could affect a whole generation for the rest of their lives,” said Dr. Jack Shonkoff, a pediatrician and director of the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University. “All kids will be affected. Some will get through this and be fine. They will learn from it and grow. But lots of kids are going to be in big trouble.”

Many kids will go back to school this fall without having mastered the previous year’s curriculum. Some kids have disappeared from school altogether, and educators worry that more students will drop out. Between school closures and reduced instructional time, the average U.S. child has lost the equivalent of five to nine months of learning during the pandemic, according to a report from McKinsey & Co. that was released in December.

Educational losses have been even greater for some minorities. Black and Hispanic students — whose parents are more likely to have lost jobs and whose schools were less likely to reopen for in-person instruction — missed six to 12 months of learning, according to the McKinsey report.


CDC extends national moratorium on evictions

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has extended a moratorium on evictions until the end of July (Source: “CDC Extends Eviction Moratorium Through July,” National Public Radio, June 24).

The ban had been set to expire next week, raising concerns that there could be a flood of evictions with some 7 million tenants currently behind on their rent.

The Biden administration says the extension is for "one final month" and will allow time for it to take other steps to stabilize housing for those facing eviction and foreclosure. The White House says it is encouraging state and local courts to adopt anti-eviction diversion programs to help delinquent tenants stay housed and avoid legal action.

The federal government will also try to speed up distribution of tens of billions of dollars in emergency rental assistance that's available but has yet to be spent. In addition, a moratorium on foreclosures involving federally backed mortgages has been extended for "a final month," until July 31.


DeWine announces end of COVID state of emergency

After more than a year, Ohio will no longer be in a state of emergency, Gov. Mike DeWine announced Thursday (Source: “Ohio’s state of emergency, more health orders to end tomorrow, DeWine says,” Middletown Journal News, June 17).

The governor declared a state of emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic last March after three Ohioans tested positive for coronavirus.

The state is also lifting more health orders related to nursing homes, including restrictions on visitation, starting Friday. The only requirement that will remain in place is testing unvaccinated staff at nursing homes and assisted living centers for the virus twice a week.


Heart disease, diabetes, other leading causes of death up in 2020, federal data shows

The U.S. saw remarkable increases in the death rates for heart disease, diabetes and some other common killers in 2020, and experts believe a big reason may be that people stayed away from the hospital for fear of catching COVID-19 (Source: “US deaths from heart disease and diabetes climbed amid COVID,” Associated Press, June 9).

The death rates — posted online this week by federal health authorities — add to the growing body of evidence that the number of lives lost directly or indirectly to the coronavirus in the U.S. is far greater than the officially reported COVID-19 death toll of nearly 600,000 in 2020-21.

Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that nearly 3.4 million Americans died in 2020, an all-time record. Of those deaths, more than 345,000 were directly attributed to COVID-19. The CDC also provided the numbers of deaths for some of the leading causes of mortality, including the nation’s top two killers, heart disease and cancer.

Earlier research done by demographer Kenneth Johnson at the University of New Hampshire found that an unprecedented 25 states, including Ohio, saw more deaths than births overall last year (most states typically have more births than deaths).


EEOC says employers can mandate vaccinations

U.S. companies can mandate that employees must be vaccinated against COVID-19, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced last week (Source: “US companies can mandate vaccinations, federal agency says,” USA Today, May 29). 

In a May 28 statement, the agency said that federal EEO laws do not prevent employers from requiring that all employees physically entering a workplace be vaccinated as long as employers comply with the reasonable accommodation provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws.

Employers may also offer incentives to employees to get vaccinated, "as long as the incentives are not coercive," the statement said.


Rural areas of Ohio, U.S. lag behind in COVID-19 vaccine rates

Just 32% of the eligible population in Ohio’s 15 least populous counties are vaccinated, on average, according to an analysis of data from the Ohio Department of Health (Source: “In Ohio and U.S., vaccine coverage lags in rural areas,” Ohio Capital Journal, May 20).

This trails both the statewide and national average (about 48%), adding another piece to a vexing puzzle of vaccine hesitancy.

On Tuesday, the CDC published research finding the trend holds nationwide: COVID-19 vaccination coverage was lower in rural counties (38.9%) than urban counties (45.7%), according to an analysis of data from adults aged 18-and-up between Dec. 14 and April 10.

For Ohio, the split was slightly broader: 37.2% in rural counties vs. 45.3% in urban counties, according to the CDC.


Ohio updates mask mandate to align with new CDC guidance

Vaccinated Ohioans will no longer need to wear masks under state health orders that will be revised to align with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Source: “Ohio will change mask mandate for vaccinated Ohioans to follow CDC guidance,” Columbus Dispatch, May 14).

The orders will still require masks and social distancing for people who have not been vaccinated, Gov. Mike DeWine said Friday in a statement.

The revised order will stay in place until June 2, when remaining health orders that don't apply to long-term care or data collection will be lifted.

DeWine said Ohioans will have ample time before then to get vaccinated, and the state is awarding cash prizes and college scholarships to individuals who get at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.