Homeless Americans finally getting a chance at COVID-19 shot

Homeless Americans finally getting a chance at COVID-19 shot

Homeless Americans who have been left off priority lists for coronavirus vaccinations—or even bumped aside as states shifted eligibility to older age groups—are finally getting their shots as vaccine supplies increase.

While the U.S. government has only incomplete data on infections among homeless people, it’s clear that crowded, unsanitary conditions at shelters and underlying poor health increase the danger of COVID-19 infections, severe complications and death.

COVID-19 outbreaks have been documented at homeless shelters in cities such as Boston, San Francisco and Seattle. Vaccinating in vulnerable areas will be a key to achieving herd immunity, the goal of building a barrier of protected people to stop uncontrolled spread.

“It was important for me to protect myself and the health and welfare of others,” said Cidney Oliver, 39, who got her first dose of Moderna vaccine April 7 at the Seattle YWCA shelter where she sleeps.

Wanona Thibodeaux-Lee, 43, has lived in several Seattle shelters while trying to get back on her feet, most recently at WHEEL, a 26-bed women’s shelter in a church basement. On April 5, she received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“I feel like I can move around without anyone getting me sick,” she said. “It’s good to know that I don’t have to go back for a second one.”

The single-shot vaccine is preferred by many clinics who serve homeless people and by homeless people themselves, said Bobby Watts, CEO of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council.

The U.S. government on Tuesday recommended a “pause” in using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to investigate reports of rare but potentially dangerous blood clots. It is a temporary setback in the drive to vaccinate homeless people, forcing organizers this week to switch to other vaccines or postpone events.

Watts said he’s worried the pause will lead to more vaccine hesitancy.

“Assuming it is ultimately found to be safe and effective, it will be harder to convince people—especially people experiencing homelessness—that it is safe,” Watts said.

Seattle, with the third-largest homeless population in the U.S., has seen at least 1,400 of them test positive for COVID-19 and 22 die since the pandemic began. More than 100 shelters and other homeless service sites have had outbreaks. Seattle’s health department will switch to the Moderna vaccine for its planned events targeting homeless people.

Homeless people are at greater risk of being infected and greater risk of hospitalization and death than the average person, Watts said. Shorter lifespans—chronic homelessness can take 20 to 30 years off a person’s life—should have qualified them for vaccination priority much earlier, Watts said.

Instead, political pressure to vaccinate older adults moved them to the back of the line. Clinics serving them, Watts said, “were put in the unreasonable position of saying, ‘I know all of you are at high risk, but I can vaccinate only the few or you who are over age 70.'”

Now, that’s changing. With eligibility opening widely, homeless service providers are mobilizing to get vaccine to shelters and encampments.

In Nashville, 19 organizations have set a goal of bringing the vaccine to all homeless people by Memorial Day. In Salt Lake City, vaccinators offer incentives such as $5 grocery store gift cards or donated pizza. The Los Angeles Fire Department is delivering vaccine to the tent cities of Skid Row, MacArthur Park and other neighborhoods.

“Looking people in their eyes, telling them the truth about the vaccine … I love what I do every day,” said Melanie McConnaughy who works for Community Organized Relief Effort, a nonprofit that’s helping Los Angeles firefighters at mobile vaccine events. Her job is to answer questions and build trust.

She described a homeless woman, covered in tattoos, who at first said she didn’t want the shot because she didn’t like needles. Pointing to her tattoos, “we said, ‘How can you say you’re afraid of needles?’ She said, ‘You’re right, you’re right. I’m going to go tell my brother. He’s over there.'” Both siblings got vaccinated that day.

Vaccinating homeless people is good for the health of everyone, said Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Jose “Che” Ramirez.

“We’re all in it together. The more shots in arms the better,” Ramirez said. “The more folks who are vaccinated, the stronger we are in building herd immunity and the faster we can reopen our city and engage with each other like we were before.”

Giving outreach workers a unified message was important in Nashville, where organizers put together a one-page fact sheet about the vaccines in English and Spanish.

“Let’s please all sing off the same song sheet,” said Brian Haile, CEO of Neighborhood Health in Nashville. “This is Music City, so we have a vaccine song sheet.”

All homeless adults in Washington, D.C., became eligible for the vaccine in January, long before most states and before the J&J vaccine was available. The city has fully vaccinated more than 1,300 by giving out yellow bracelets printed with second-dose appointment dates as reminders.

The district also trained key shelter residents “so they could be ambassadors for the vaccine and talk about it to their peers,” said Dr. Catherine Crosland of Unity Health Care, a clinic system serving homeless people.

Walk-up vaccine events are crucial for a population with limited access to cars, cellphones or Wi-Fi, organizers say.

In Salt Lake City, the health department and a homeless clinic have given more than 1,000 doses of vaccine to homeless people. Pizza, candy bars, “whatever we can get donated,” helps keep people waiting if there’s a line, said Janida Emerson, CEO of Fourth Street Clinic.

“In our area, there are 10,000 people experiencing homelessness. We’ve got a ways go to. It’s a start,” Emerson said.

Even before the pandemic, homelessness had been rising across the U.S., with the biggest increases seen outside the shelter system—those people living on sidewalks, under bridges and in abandoned buildings.

The pandemic’s economic downturn uprooted people from their homes despite a moratorium on evictions. Cities closed crowded shelters to prevent infection, offering rooms in motels, but some shelter users who didn’t want to move to unfamiliar neighborhoods joined those on the streets.

How much the pandemic is further increasing the number of homeless Americans isn’t entirely clear. Many cities, under stay-at-home orders, canceled their annual homeless counts this year.

In January 2020, a one-night tally showed 580,000 homeless people in the United States. Advocates say that total should be multiplied by three to get the true scope of Americans using shelters and living on the streets.

In Seattle, it will take at least two months to get the vaccine to an estimated 575 housing, shelter and service sites, 85 unsanctioned encampments and nine youth service sites.

For Oliver, the pandemic was the least of her worries when she arrived in Seattle last month without family, friends or a job.

“Abuse, unemployment, losing everything,” Oliver said. “My life, it wasn’t that great. I was experiencing things prior to COVID that prepared me to deal with this pandemic.”

She says Seattle has been a good move so far. She found a job and is learning about housing options from the staff at Angeline’s, the YWCA facility where she keeps her top bunk neatly made.

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Biden predicts all Americans can get COVID vaccine by August

Biden predicts all americans can get COVID vaccine by august

Every American who wants a coronavirus vaccine should be able to get one by the end of July, President Joe Biden said Tuesday.

His message, delivered during a town hall meeting hosted by CNN, was more optimistic than one he delivered last week when he warned that logistical hurdles would most likely mean that many people would still not have been vaccinated by the end of the summer, The New York Times reported.

Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, on Tuesday revised his own optimistic estimate from last week, when he predicted the beginning of an “open season” for vaccines by April, the Times reported.

“That timeline will probably be prolonged, maybe into mid-to-late May and early June,” he said in an interview with CNN.

At a time when Americans are keen for life to return to normal, Biden tried on Tuesday night to reassure the public.

While the president said he did not want to “overpromise,” he said at one point that “by next Christmas I think we’ll be in a very different circumstance, God willing, than we are today.” At another point he predicted that by the time the next school year starts in September, the nation would be “significantly better off than we are today,” the Times reported.

The White House also said Tuesday that states would begin receiving 13.5 million doses each week—a jump of more than 2 million doses.

The increases were welcomed by state officials desperate to inoculate more vulnerable Americans before more contagious variants of virus become dominant, the Times reported.

The Biden administration has been working with Pfizer to get the company more manufacturing supplies through the Defense Production Act, the Times reported. The administration announced last week that Pfizer and Moderna, the other maker of a coronavirus vaccine authorized in the United States, would be able to deliver a total of 400 million doses by the end of May, well ahead of schedule.

The latest boost in supply came partly because Pfizer will now get credit for six doses instead of five per vial, a White House spokesman said, while two-thirds of the boost came from increased output. Officials also now say there is an ample supply of the specialized syringes needed to extract the extra Pfizer dose.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday that with the latest increase, vaccine deliveries had jumped 57 percent since Biden was inaugurated, the Times reported.

Winter storm slows US COVID vaccine rollout

Biden’s prediction came as winter storms continued to disrupt vaccine distribution. Clinics were closed and shipments were stalled in states where the pace of vaccinations had already lagged behind the national average. Vaccine appointments were rescheduled or canceled from Texas to Kentucky, the Times reported.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told the Times that the government was projecting “widespread delays” in vaccine shipments and deliveries in the coming days, because weather was affecting a FedEx facility in Memphis and a UPS facility in Louisville, both vaccine shipping hubs.

“CDC and federal partners are working closely with the jurisdictions, as well as manufacturing and shipping partners, to assess weather conditions and help mitigate potential delivery delays and cancelations,” the spokeswoman said.

The cancelations are just the latest hurdle in the vaccine rollout, which had finally been ramping up in recent weeks. An average of about 1.7 million people have been getting a shot each day, the Times reported.

Many of the closures and cancelations have been in the South, where the storm sent temperatures plummeting to record-breaking lows. The storm’s impact stretched beyond the South, however. Health officials in Washington State, where the storm has come and gone, said they are dialing down vaccination plans for later this week because they expect delays in delivery of doses, the Times reported. And Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said Monday that vaccine distributions run by the state would be canceled for the rest of the week.

“Missouri is experiencing severe winter weather that makes driving dangerous and threatens the health and safety of anyone exposed to the cold,” he said in a statement. “These conditions will also likely delay some vaccine shipments. We want to protect the safety of everyone involved in the mass vaccination events, from the patients being vaccinated to the volunteers who generously support these events.”

The vaccination delays are likely to grow as the storm continues to move across the country. Power outages have affected millions of people in Texas, Oregon, Virginia, Kentucky and elsewhere, the Times reported.

In Alabama, hospitals have closed vaccination clinics, as have more than two dozen county health departments. In New Hampshire, state officials said all Tuesday vaccination appointments would be canceled or rescheduled.

New evidence that British COVID variant could be more deadly

More evidence has emerged that suggests a coronavirus variant already known to spread faster is also likely to be more deadly.

The B.1.1.7 variant, which is thought to have originated in Britain, is already firmly entrenched in America and could soon become the dominant strain, according to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Speaking Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” she said “we know now that, or we estimate now that about 4% of disease in this country is related to B.1.1.7,” she said. “And we have projections that it may be the dominant strain by the end of March.”

As of Tuesday, there were 1,277 cases of the British variant found in 42 U.S. states, according to the CDC.

Walensky’s warning came on the heels of research released by British scientists that shows B.1.1.7 might be more likely to trigger more lethal cases of COVID-19.

“The overall picture is one of something like a 40 to 60 percent increase in hospitalization risk, and risk of death,” Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist and scientific adviser to the British government, told the Times.

Vaccines already being distributed in the United States are believed to be effective against B.1.1.7, so Walensky said it’s imperative that the massive rollout already underway continues. At the same time, and in the face of other new variants, other steps are underway, she told CBS.

Pharmaceutical companies are tweaking their research to fight the B.1.1.7 variant, she said, and the CDC is monitoring how people who’ve already gotten the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines are faring.

“But we’re not waiting for that,” she said. “We’re doing the science to scale up different vaccines in case we either need bivalent vaccines, that is a vaccine that has two different strains, or booster vaccines. Both are happening.”

As of Wednesday, more than 55.2 million Americans had been vaccinated, with 71.6 million doses distributed. More than 15 million people have gotten their second shot, according to the CDC.

A global scourge

By Wednesday, the U.S. coronavirus case count passed 27.8 million while the death toll neared 488,000, according to a Times tally. On Wednesday, the top five states for coronavirus infections were: California with nearly 3.5 million cases; Texas with more than 2.5 million cases; Florida with over 1.8 million cases; New York with more than 1.5 million cases; and Illinois with over 1.1 million cases.

Curbing the spread of the coronavirus in the rest of the world remains challenging.

In India, the coronavirus case count was more than 10.9 million by Wednesday, a Johns Hopkins University tally showed. Brazil had nearly 10 million cases and nearly 241,000 deaths as of Wednesday, the Hopkins tally showed.

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Pandemic unemployment benefits helped keep millions of Americans from going hungry

Pandemic unemployment benefits helped keep millions of americans from going hungry

Expanded unemployment benefits, passed by Congress last spring to ease the economic pain of the pandemic, appear to have held hunger at bay for millions of Americans, new research shows.

Called “The CARES Act” when it was put into effect nearly a year ago, the law expanded who is eligible for unemployment benefits and how long that coverage would last. A weekly federal supplement of $600 was also added to the coverage.

The move ultimately cut in half the chance that a middle-class recipient would need to eat less because of financial hardship, the study authors said. And it cut by roughly one-third the risk that a recipient would face so-called “food insecurity.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as “limited or uncertain access to adequate food.”

“The COVID-19 recession is markedly different from prior recessions in that it is so concentrated among people in low-income households,” explained study author Julia Raifman. She’s an assistant professor in the department of health law, policy, and management at Boston University School of Public Health.

“This has led to millions of people experiencing food insecurity,” Raifman said. “And households with children are more likely to report food insecurity,” with potentially dire implications.

For example, it is “not possible for children to concentrate on school if they do not have enough to eat. And there will be long-term repercussions for their educational attainment and health,” Raifman noted.

But access to greater unemployment benefits seems to have staved off the worst-case scenario for many, the researchers found.

“We evaluated food insecurity before and after people who lost work began receiving unemployment insurance,” Raifman said. “We found that receipt of unemployment insurance was associated with a 35% reduction in food insecurity and a 48% reduction in eating less. And we found that the CARES $600 per week supplement was associated with additional reductions in food insecurity.”

The finding stems from an analysis of survey data from just over 2,300 U.S. adults (average age 45) collected by the University of Southern California Center for Economic and Social Research. All respondents had been earning under $75,000 a year prior to the pandemic.

Job loss became a pandemic reality for nearly half, and of those more than one-third (37%) reported experiencing food insecurity. Nearly four in 10 said they ate less due to lack of funds.

Those figures fell considerably, however, when unemployment coverage kicked in, particularly after the $600 supplement took effect, the study authors noted.

Unemployment coverage protection appeared to be of particular relevance to certain vulnerable segments of society. For example, Raifman said that “people with young children were more likely to experience food insecurity, especially single parents. Hispanic, Black and Native American people were also more likely to report food insecurity.”

Unfortunately, some of those most at risk for hunger were also the least likely to gain access to unemployment coverage. For example, “Hispanic and Black people were more likely to lose work, but less likely to receive unemployment benefits,” Raifman said.

Still, it’s important to recognize the critical difference such benefits can and have made during a particularly risky time, she added.

“As we begin vaccinating people [against the new coronavirus], the end is in sight,” Raifman said. “We just need to help people get through these next few months with food on their plates and homes in which to live, so that we can all make it to the point when we can safely reopen.”

That thought was seconded by Elizabeth Rigby, an associate professor of public policy and public administration with the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C.

Rigby, who authored an editorial accompanying the study, noted that while more than 25 million Americans have been infected with COVID-19, many more have had their economic security turned on its head.

“Poverty, unemployment and food insecurity are key predictors of serious health problems now and in the future,” Rigby said.

But the study offers some encouraging news by highlighting the power of quickly targeting economic relief towards those in need, she added.

“Government can step in and do more to limit the damage done by COVID by getting the virus under control and by providing an ample safety set through more robust economic policies,” Rigby said, “such as food stamps and unemployment insurance.”

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New dietary guidelines for Americans


The Dietary Guidelines for Americans have been updated to include, for the first time, recommendations across the lifespan.

Dr. Donald Hensrud, director of the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program, says the dietary guidelines, which are updated every five years, are designed to give the best recommendations on what to eat and drink to promote health and prevent disease.

One of the changes for this edition of the guidelines is focused on a lifespan approach from infancy to older adulthood. “We’ve known for quite some time that for the first six months of an infant’s life, they should be fed exclusively human breast milk,” says Dr. Hensrud.

“Another addition that people may not be aware of is that when foods are introduced to an infant around the age of 4 to 6 months, peanut-containing foods can be added to the diet after checking with the infant’s health care provider. The evidence shows that by adding peanuts early in the diet, it may prevent allergies later on. Also, under the age of 2 years, no added sugars should be included in the diet of children. Added sugars do not provide any health benefit

Key recommendations from the guidelines include:

  • For about the first 6 months of life, exclusively feed infants human milk.
  • At about 6 months, introduce infants to nutrient-dense complementary foods. Introduce infants to potentially allergenic foods along with other complementary foods.
  • From 12 months through older adulthood, follow a healthy dietary pattern across the lifespan to meet nutrient needs, help achieve a healthy body weight and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
  • Limit foods and beverages higher in added sugars, saturated fat and sodium, and limit alcoholic beverages.

Dr. Hensrud says that before the guidelines are released, a scientific report on dietary guidelines is published. The dietary guidelines are then derived from this scientific report.

“What many people who work in nutrition would have liked to have seen is a lower limit for added sugars and alcohol. This was included in the scientific report, but did not end up in the Dietary Guidelines,” says Dr. Hensrud.

“For example, the dietary guidelines recommend no more than 10% of calories as added sugars. But the scientific report recommended no more than 6%,” he says. “Similarly, previous guidelines recommended up to no more than an average of two drinks per day for men. The scientific report recommended lowering this to one drink a day on average for both men and women. The Dietary Guidelines still recommend up to two drinks a day for men.”

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Loneliness Continues to Rise for Americans Under Lockdown

TUESDAY, Dec. 15, 2020 — Loneliness, particularly among folks under shelter-in-place orders, is a growing issue for Americans during the coronavirus pandemic, new research finds.

More people report they are feeling lonely, depressed and even harboring thoughts of suicide as COVID-19 cases in the United States soar. And those who are chafing under lockdown or other stay-at-home restrictions appear to be at the greatest risk, according to a research letter published in the December issue of the journal Psychiatry Research.

“Our society is becoming lonelier the longer the pandemic continues, which will likely lead to increased mental health issues in the near future,” said the letter’s author, William Killgore, director of the Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Between April and September 2020, his team conducted an online survey of about 6,200 U.S. adults. Roughly 1,000 participants answered questions about loneliness and their lockdown status each month.

By September, close to 65% of those who were locked down to reduce the spread of COVID-19 reported high levels of loneliness versus 48% of those who were living without such restrictions, the survey showed.

Higher levels of loneliness were associated with greater risk for depression and suicidal thoughts, the authors noted.

“We have to find a way to balance our ability to protect ourselves and others against the spread of the novel coronavirus, while also finding ways to maintain healthy emotional and social connections with others,” Killgore said.

The findings held up regardless of respondents’ age, gender and whether they had recently lost a job due to the pandemic, according to the report.

It’s possible that factors other than stay-at-home orders, such as fear of the virus due to high local infection rates, may predispose a person to feeling lonely, the authors added.

The survey is ongoing.

“We continue to collect about 1,000 participants each month to monitor the ongoing psychological reaction to the pandemic,” Killgore said.

Even before the pandemic, loneliness was a significant public health concern, he said.

“Loneliness has been associated with higher levels of anxiety, depression, perceived stress and suicide, as well as risk of heart disease, stroke, more frequent hospital visits and greater mortality from any cause,” Killgore said. “Some have suggested that high loneliness may be riskier to long-term physical health than obesity.”

Although vaccination for COVID-19 is under way, social distancing and face coverings will remain important for months to come. Now is not the time to start taking risks, Killgore stressed.

“For many people, prolonged stay-at-home restrictions may be leading to a form of social starvation and could lead them to engage in potentially risky decisions to be closer to others than they should be during the holiday season,” he said.

Patrick Raue, a professor of psychology at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, said the new findings add to what is already known about the mental health impact of public health precautions such as social distancing and lockdowns.

“As isolation gets prolonged, people could be at an even greater risk, which is why the health care system should be prepared to meet these needs,” he said.

While most of his own research focuses on senior citizens who are lonely, Raue said many of the same strategies can apply to all age groups. Feeling more connected starts with brainstorming things you might do to feel closer to others, he noted.

“You are creating a bank of activities you can draw from, especially during those times when you might not feel so inspired,” Raue said.

Killgore offered some specific suggestions, urging people to begin by spending more time outside in sunlit areas and exercising.

“Even light stretching and walking was correlated with lower loneliness,” he said.

Try to get adequate sleep, maintain a daily routine and eat a balanced diet, which will also help, Killgore said.

“Finding humor and something to do that gives you purpose and meaning each day, whether that is work, hobbies or activities that you are passionate about, is significantly correlated with lower loneliness, so focusing on these seems to have real benefits,” he added.

Killgore and Raue said it’s important to find ways to connect with others.

“There are many forums [online] for various interests and hobbies, and even apps for playing games and having parties on line,” Killgore said.

If you don’t know how to yet, learn to Zoom, Raue recommended.

“Get help with setting this up. It’s easier than you think, and it’s a wonderful way to join activities with others,” he said. Another idea: Look for virtual activities such as museum tours.

If forging a virtual connection seems too daunting, there’s always the telephone and snail mail.

“If there ever was a holiday season when we needed to send Christmas and holiday cards, it is this one,” Killgore said.

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Fauci warns Americans to brace for ‘surge upon surge’ of virus

Americans should brace for a “surge upon a surge” in the coronavirus as millions of travelers return home after the Thanksgiving holiday, US government scientist Anthony Fauci said Sunday.

“There almost certainly is going to be an uptick because of what has happened with the travel,” Fauci told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“We may see a surge upon a surge” in two or three weeks, he added. “We don’t want to frighten people, but that’s the reality.”

This was an ominous trend, Fauci added, with the Christmas holidays and more year-end travel looming, he said.

The virus is blamed for more than 266,000 deaths in the US, the hardest-hit country in the world, with cooler weather bringing daily death figures nearing the worst levels of April.

Pre-positioned vaccine

Fauci’s comments came as US news media reported that first shipments of the Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19—one of the first to claim high effectiveness, along with a Moderna product—had arrived in the United States from a Pfizer lab in Belgium.

Pfizer was using charter flights to pre-position vaccine for quick distribution once it receives US approval—expected as early as December 10—the Wall Street Journal and other media reported.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, both said to be safe and perhaps 95 percent effective, have introduced a much-needed glimmer of hope after months of gloomy news.

“This puts the end to the pandemic. This is the way we get out of the pandemic. The light is at the end of the tunnel,” Admiral Brett Giroir, the US official overseeing coronavirus testing, told CNN.

But like Fauci he expressed grave concerns about the months immediately ahead.

“Our hospitalizations are peaking right now at about 95,000,” Giroir said. “About 20 percent of all people in the hospital have COVID, so this is a really dangerous time.”

Until large numbers of Americans have been vaccinated—Giroir said half the eligible population might be by March—much will depend on people taking the recommended precautions, including mask-wearing and distancing, he and Fauci said.

Giroir said it might take until the second or third quarter of next year for most Americans to be vaccinated, but that substantial benefits would accrue much sooner.

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More than half of Americans know someone infected or ill with COVID: Poll

(HealthDay)—More than half of all Americans have been personally affected by COVID-19 at this point in the pandemic, according to a new HealthDay-Harris Poll survey.

The national survey was conducted by The Harris Poll between Oct. 8 and 12. It found that 55% of U.S. adults now say they know someone in their immediate or extended network of family and acquaintances who’s been infected, hospitalized or passed away from COVID-19.

About two in every five people said they’d had even more direct experience with COVID-19, with either themselves or someone very close to them falling ill, being hospitalized or dying.

“By now, we’re all accustomed to regularly seeing the sobering figures for COVID infection and death rates, but these findings translate to something so much bigger in terms of the full and relentless impact of the virus on millions of Americans,” said Robyn Bell Dickson, managing director of The Harris Poll.

These results come in the midst of a COVID-19 resurgence in the United States, with the nation averaging 59,000 new cases a day. There have been more than 8.3 million reported infections, and around 220,000 U.S. deaths caused by COVID-19.

The online poll of 2,021 U.S. adults also found that 39% reported a direct impact on their lives from the pandemic, including:

  • Having personally had COVID-19 (7%) or being hospitalized (4%) from their infection.
  • Residing in a household with someone who had COVID-19 (6%).
  • Having a close friend, family member or loved one who became infected with COVID-19 (34%), was hospitalized (19%), or passed away (13%).

Overall, more than one in 10 adults have a loved one who has passed away due to COVID-19, the survey found.

Shifts in outlook

People who’ve been personally affected by COVID-19 tend to see the pandemic differently from those who’ve so far remained relatively untouched by the virus, the results showed.

Those who have direct experience with COVID-19, either personally or through a loved one, are more likely to be very concerned that they or a loved one will die from COVID-19. Nearly two-thirds (64%) reported this high level of concern, versus 52% of those with no direct experience or whose only experience is through an acquaintance.

Those without direct experience are also likely to be more optimistic that the pandemic will be under control by early 2021, 56% versus 49% of those with direct experience.

Adults whose personal experience of COVID-19 was more severe, with either themselves or a loved one struggling for life in a hospital or dying, were also more likely to agree with these statements:

  • I wish more people took COVID-19 seriously (87%, versus 80%).
  • I am extremely worried about getting COVID-19 (78%, versus 59%).
  • I am very concerned that I or a loved one will die from COVID-19 (73%, versus 53%).

“It makes sense that people who have experience with the disease will carry a different outlook with them, given that at the beginning of 2020 no one knew much at all about the burgeoning threat of coronavirus,” said Lynn Bufka, senior director of practice transformation and quality at the American Psychological Association.

“As people have more experience with COVID, they are finding the messages regarding the pandemic to be more consistent and mapped on to their own experience,” Bufka said.

Anxiety and resilience

The growing number of people who have personal experience with COVID-19 is adding to the uncertainty that already disrupts the daily lives of all Americans, Bufka said.

“Collectively, we’re all faced with this pandemic, not knowing when it will end. We have no way to put some predictions around it and feel comfortable with those predictions,” she added.

“We’re all sitting in a period of uncertainty with the pandemic, with the economic impact of it, and then you layer in other issues like grappling with systemic racism and the political discourse, there are just a lot of things that are elevating our levels of uncertainty,” Bufka continued. “We know that uncertainty is connected to anxiety. It would not be surprising at minimum to see more individuals struggling with anxiety right now, because it’s harder to feel safe, secure and in control when so much feels outside of your control.”

People also are dealing every day with feelings of loss and grief, ranging from things as profound as illness and death down to the simple need for a regular routine, Bufka said.

“Routines help us in so many ways because they make our lives predictable. They make things less uncertain. They also free up our mental space for tackling the things that are novel,” Bufka said.

“If your schedule changes dramatically or if the kinds of decisions you’re having to make vary day to day, that takes mental energy, which is harder to deal with,” she explained. “So we see people struggling with decision making, with handling novel problems, all of that because mentally, cognitively, their attention is taken with what they’re dealing with in the pandemic.”

It’s also becoming harder to expect help from those around you, she suggested.

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With ‘Twindemic’ Looming, 2 out of 5 Americans Plan to Skip Flu Shot

THURSDAY, Oct. 1, 2020 — Despite a potential looming “twindemic” of influenza and COVID-19, about 2 in 5 U.S. adults do not plan to get a flu shot, a new survey shows.

Only 59% of adults surveyed said they will get the influenza vaccine during the 2020-2021 flu season, according to results released Thursday by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

That’s up slightly from the 52% who planned to get a flu shot in 2019, but nowhere near enough to stave off the potential for overlapping flu and COVID-19 epidemics, said Dr. William Schaffner, the NFID’s medical director.

“We in the infectious disease community have been talking about a potentially ‘double-barreled’ respiratory virus season, when flu and COVID-19 converge,” Schaffner said. “There’s a real risk that even if we only have a moderate flu season, we could be in for a rough few months ahead.”

The widespread reluctance to get the flu shot is puzzling, he said, because other results from the NFID survey show that Americans do know the stakes this flu season:

  • 68% agree that the flu vaccine is the best preventive measure against flu-related deaths and hospitalizations, up from 61% in 2019.
  • 28% say the COVID-19 pandemic has made them more likely to seek out the flu shot.
  • The percentage of people who think flu shots are ineffective has plummeted to 34%, down from 51% a year ago.

But a significant number of people at highest risk for becoming seriously ill and dying from either influenza or COVID-19 plan to skip a flu shot this year, the survey showed.

“Flu can exacerbate underlying conditions and lead to life-threatening complications like heart attack, stroke, permanent physical decline, pneumonia, hospitalizations and even death,” said Dr. Federico Asch, an assistant professor of cardiology at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. “Patients with diabetes or heart disease are most vulnerable and need the added protection to their immune system.”

Asch noted that studies have shown that adults with heart disease have a sixfold increased risk for heart attack within a week of getting the flu. The risk of flu-related hospitalization for adults with diabetes is also six times greater, and adults with diabetes are three times more likely to die of flu-related complications.

Nevertheless, 22% of people in high-risk groups for flu-related complications plan to skip the flu shot this year, the survey shows.

Black people are far more reluctant than others to get vaccinated, survey results revealed. About 62% of Black adults said they were either not sure or do not plan to get a shot. In contrast, 59% of white adults and 65% of Hispanic adults said they will get the shot.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that about 52% of people 6 months and older were vaccinated during the 2019-2020 flu season.

Last season, flu vaccines prevented 7.5 million cases of flu, 3.7 million flu-associated medical visits, 105,000 hospitalizations and 6,300 deaths, the CDC said.

It estimates there were 38 million cases of flu last season, along with 18 million related medical visits, 400,000 hospitalizations and 22,000 deaths.

People should go get their flu shot now, Schaffner said.

“October is the golden month. Let’s do that right now,” he said. “Let’s not procrastinate.”

The flu shot is the best way to avoid a twindemic, but the other measures that have been put into place could also help, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Last flu season ended abruptly, weeks earlier than usual because of quarantine measures instituted at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC has reported.

“Steps to prevent the flu and COVID-19 overlap greatly,” Fauci said. “We don’t want those two diseases together, but some of the good news is that the commonly practiced public health measures are good for both of these.”

Those measures include wearing masks, social distancing, avoiding indoor gatherings, regular hand-washing, and not touching your eyes, nose and mouth, he said.

The Southern Hemisphere, where flu season runs from April through August, shows the potential impact of these protective steps.

“Because the Australians in the Southern Hemisphere did many of these things, they had a very, very light flu season,” Fauci said.

Unfortunately, the United States is entering the flu season during an ongoing push to reopen schools and businesses shuttered during the COVID-19 pandemic, noted Dr. Daniel Jernigan, director of the Influenza Division at the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

“I don’t think we can rely on the significant decrease that we saw in the Southern Hemisphere, because I think we will be seeing some lessening of some of those restrictions in the United States,” he said. “We just have to be on guard and take flu out of equation this year by getting the vaccine.”

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