An Alabama physician glumly says she is making "a lot of progress" in encouraging people to vaccinate – as she struggles to keep them alive.
Dr. Brytney Cobia, a hospitalist at Grandview Medical Center in Birmingham, wrote in a recent Facebook post she is treating a lot of young, otherwise healthy people for serious coronavirus infections.
"One of the last things they do before they're intubated is beg me for the vaccine," she wrote. "I hold their hand and tell them that I'm sorry, but it's too late."
In her post, Cobia wrote that when a patient dies, she hugs their family members and urges them to get vaccinated. She said they cry and tell her they thought the pandemic was a "hoax," or "political," or targeting some other age group or skin color.
"They wish they could go back. But they can't," Cobia wrote. "So they thank me and they go get the vaccine. And I go back to my office, write their death note, and say a small prayer that this loss will save more lives."
Cobia was pregnant when she battled COVID-19 last summer, and she had a low-grade fever, sore throat, fatigue, congestion and sneezing. She spent a weekend with other family members – and eight of them ultimately tested positive for the virus, including her husband. Most suffered more severe symptoms than she did, she said.
"The fear that I feel for myself and my unborn baby is bad enough, but the guilt that I feel for exposing people that trusted me is what I want to focus on," she wrote in a Facebook post at the time. "Don't be me. Don't wear a mask everywhere else in the world EXCEPT around your core."
Also in the news:
►North Carolina children would need parental permission before they could receive COVID-19 vaccines authorized by federal regulators for emergency use in legislation that advanced through a Senate committee Wednesday.
►Dr. Anthony Fauci recommended parents follow the American Academy of Pediatrics guidance calling for everyone older than 2 to wear masks at school regardless of vaccination status. Fauci told "CBS This Morning” the CDC is reviewing its guidance calling for only unvaccinated children and adults to wear masks.
►Public health researchers called the rise in cases and hospitalizations in Arkansas a “raging forest fire,” and the state’s top health official warned he expects significant outbreaks in schools. Only 35% of Arkansans are fully vaccinated.
►Las Vegas employees are now required to wear masks indoors, but the mandate will not be extended to tourists strolling the strip or gathering in casinos, Clark County commissioners decided. The new mandate will remain in place until at least Aug. 17.
📈Today's numbers: The U.S. has had more than 34.1 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 609,600 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 191.7 million cases and 4.1 million deaths. Nearly 161.9 million Americans — 48.8% of the population — have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
📘What we're reading: Amid fears over COVID cases in Congress, the White House and public health experts urge vaccinations.
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US to keep Mexican, Canadian borders closed through Aug. 21
The U.S. will continue to restrict non-essential travelers from Mexico and Canada via land and ferry at least through Aug. 21, according to documents to be published in the Federal Register. The previous border restrictions were set to end Thursday. Travelers from Canada and Mexico can still come into the U.S. by air with proof of a negative COVID test or recovery from COVID. The borders were first closed to leisure travelers in March 2020 due to the pandemic. The restrictions have been extended on a monthly basis ever since.
Canada announced Monday it would reopen its borders to fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents Aug. 9, with plans to allow fully vaccinated travelers from any country on Sept. 7.
The U.S. Travel Association estimates that each month the border is closed costs $1.5 billion. Canadian officials say Canada had about 22 million foreign visitors in 2019 – about 15 million of them from the U.S.
– Bailey Schulz and Morgan Hines
Anti-vaxxers using fake names, code words to skirt social media bans
Anti-vaxx groups are disguising themselves to evade detection from social media platforms cracking down on COVID vaccine misinformation, NBC News reported.
Some of the groups are using names like “Dance Party” or “Dinner Party” and resorting to code words to avoid being banned from Facebook while still spreading their message.
NBC News said anti-vaxxers are using similar tactic on Instagram, "such as referring to vaccinated people as 'swimmers' and the act of vaccination as joining a 'swim club.'
Frustration over spike in infections that is 'largely preventable'
The latest national spike in coronavirus cases -- new infections have nearly tripled in the U.S. over the last two weeks -- is frustrating health care workers still reeling from the brutal winter surge.
"They are thinking this is déjà vu all over again, and there is some anger because we know that this is a largely preventable situation, and people are not taking advantage of the vaccine,” said Chad Neilsen, director of infection prevention at UF Health Jacksonville in Florida, where the number of COVID-19 patients at its two campuses skyrocketed from 16 in mid-May to 134.
On Wednesday, the seven-day average of daily vaccine doses administered nationally dipped below 300,000 for the first time since late December, when vaccines were scarce.
Not coincidentally, as one-third of the country's eligible population remains unvaccinated and the delta variant continues to spread, the seven-day average for daily new cases rose over the past two weeks to more than 37,000 on Tuesday, up from less than 13,700 on July 6.
“It is like seeing the car wreck before it happens,” said Dr. James Williams, a clinical associate professor of emergency medicine at Texas Tech who's seeing younger, overwhelmingly unvaccinated COVID-19 patients. “None of us want to go through this again.”
Johnson & Johnson vaccine may be less effective against delta variant
The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine may not be as effective against the delta variant as those with mRNA technology, according to a new study. The study, posted by bioRxiv, says that the 13 million people who received the one-shot J&J vaccine may need to receive a second dose, ideally of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
Although the study has not been peer-reviewed nor published, the findings align with studies of the AstraZeneca vaccine that concludes one dose of the vaccine is 33% effective against symptomatic disease of the delta variant and 60% effective against the variant after the second dose. The results contradict studies published by Johnson & Johnson that say a single dose of its vaccine is effective against the variant.
“The message that we wanted to give was not that people shouldn’t get the J&J vaccine, but we hope that in the future, it will be boosted with either another dose of J&J or a boost with Pfizer or Moderna,” Nathaniel Landau, a virologist at New York University's Grossman School of Medicine who led the study, told the New York Times.
Get hip to your HIPAA rights: Questions about vaccination status are OK
No matter what Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene says, she can be asked about her COVID vaccination status and businesses can require proof of inoculation.
The Georgia Republican, who was suspended from Twitter for 12 hours this week for spreading COVID misinformation on the online platform, invoked her "HIPAA rights'' Tuesday in declining to tell reporters whether she has been vaccinated.
But the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 protects patients from having their private health information shared by health care professionals without permission – and experts say it has no bearing on who can ask or answer questions about health status outside a health care setting.
-- Brett Molina and Kelly Tyko
Lambda variant arrives in Texas, may not be as transmissible as delta
A Houston-area hospital reported its first case of the lambda variant of the coronavirus, but public health experts say the variant is unlikely to take hold in the U.S. in the same way the delta variant has.
Dr. S. Wesley Long, Houston Methodist’s medical director of diagnostic biology, said the variant does not appear to be as easily transmissible as the delta variant. Lambda first spread in Peru; in the U.S., there have been fewer than 700 sequenced cases identified. While it does have some mutations similar to other variants that have raised concern, it isn’t spreading globally in a way that should raise the same alarm.
“I know there’s great interest in lambda, but I think people really need to be focused on delta,” Long said. “Most importantly, regardless of the variant, our best defense against all these variants is vaccination.”
– Ryan W. Miller
US life expectancy sees largest drop since WWII
The United States saw the largest one-year drop in life expectancy since World War II during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Hispanic and Black populations saw the largest declines, according to government data released Wednesday.
Life expectancy at birth declined by 1.5 years in 2020 to 77.3 – the lowest level since 2003, the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics found. Between 1942 and 1943, during the Second World War, life expectancy in the U.S. declined 2.9 years.
"The numbers are devastating," said Chantel Martin, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. "The declines that we see, particularly among Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black population, are massive."
Health experts said the life expectancy data is further proof of the disproportionate effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color.
COVID-19 deaths contributed to about 74% of the decline in life expectancy among the general U.S. population, according to the data. Another 11% of the decline can be attributed to increases in deaths from accidents or unintentional injuries, including drug overdose deaths. Read more here.
- Grace Hauck
FEMA funeral assistance funds not easy to claim
Americans who lost loved ones to COVID-19 can apply for up to $9,000 in funeral assistance, but some are finding it hard to get the money. More than $710 million has so far been distributed to 107,000 people.
But some applicants said they struggled to prove to FEMA that their relative had died from COVID if another cause of death, such as underlying conditions like heart disease or diabetes, was listed on the death certificate – especially during the early days of the pandemic when testing was limited. FEMA says it is streamlining the paperwork, but Kalpana Kpoto says she submitted paperwork three times on the FEMA website after her mother died last year. Her documents were finally approved, but she has seen no money.
"I'm still waiting," Kpoto said, "It's a process."
– Desireé Williams
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: New infections nearly triple in two weeks: COVID updates