Health Workers and Hospitals Grapple With Millions of Counterfeit N95 Masks

This story also ran on NBC News. It can be republished for free.

Thousands of counterfeit 3M respirators have slipped past U.S. investigators in recent months, making it to the cheeks and chins of health care workers and perplexing experts who say their quality is not vastly inferior to the real thing.

N95 masks are prized for their ability to filter out 95{81fee095584567f29e41df59d482e70712cfc555e382220efc71af2368c27a36} of the minuscule particles that can carry covid-19. Yet the fakes pouring into the country have fooled health care leaders from coast to coast. As many as 1.9 million counterfeit 3M masks made their way to about 40 hospitals in Washington state, according to the state hospital association, spurring officials to alert staff members and pull them off the shelf. The elite Cleveland Clinic recently conceded that, since November, it had inadvertently distributed 3M counterfeits to hospital staffers. A Minnesota hospital made a similar admissionRead more

As Pandemic Surged, Contact Tracing Struggled; Biden Looks to Boost It

This story also ran on U.S. News & World Report. It can be republished for free.

Contact tracing, a critical part of efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus, has fallen behind in recent months as covid-19 cases have soared. President Joe Biden had pledged to change that.

Biden proposes hiring 100,000 people nationwide as part of a new public health jobs corps. They would help with contact tracing and facilitate vaccination. Experts said it’s not clear that would be enough tracers to keep up with another surge in covid cases, even if the vaccination rate increases at the same time.

As with everything covid right now — testing, vaccinations and hospital capacity — ramping up contact tracing has become a race against time as new, more contagious variants of the virus threaten to accelerate transmission of the disease.

In addition, as testing has steadily increased to … Read more

Scalise’s Claim That Unauthorized Immigrants Are Getting Priority for Vaccination Misses the Point

“Now he [Biden] is saying that people who came here illegally can jump ahead of other Americans who have been waiting to get the vaccine.”

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.)

During a Feb. 2 interview on Fox News, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) claimed President Joe Biden was allowing unauthorized immigrants to move ahead of American citizens to get their covid-19 vaccines.

This story was produced in partnership with PolitiFact. It can be republished for free.

“Now [Biden’s] saying that people who came here illegally can jump ahead of other Americans who have been waiting to get the vaccine,” said Scalise, who is also the No. 2 Republican leader in the House.

Lauren Fine, a spokesperson for Scalise, said the representative was referring to a Feb. 1 statement from the Department of Homeland Security, which said the agency “encourages all individuals, regardless of immigration status, to receive the COVID-19 … Read more

Community Health Workers, Often Overlooked, Bring Trust to the Pandemic Fight

For 11 months, Cheryl Garfield, a community health worker in West Philadelphia, has been a navigator of pandemic loss and hardship. She makes calls to people who are isolated in their homes, people who are sick and afraid and people who can’t afford their rent or can’t get an appointment with a doctor.

The conversations always start with a basic question: “Tell me about yourself.” She wants to know her clients before she figures out how she can help.

“Sometimes a patient just needs somebody to listen to them, so you just listen,” said Garfield, 52.

Public health authorities are relying on Garfield and her peers to be a bridge to communities that have been hardest hit by covid-19 and who are most skeptical about the new vaccines. African Americans and Hispanics have been hospitalized with covid at rates more than three times higher than for non-Hispanic white Americans, but … Read more

Comparing Death Tolls From Covid to Past Wars Is Fraught

This story also ran on NPR. It can be republished for free.

Counting the dead is one of the first, somber steps in reckoning with an event of enormous tragic scope, be it war, a natural disaster or a pandemic.

This dark but necessary arithmetic has become all too routine during the covid-19 outbreak.

The total U.S death toll has now surpassed 450,000.

Each death is unique, a devastating loss that ripples through a family, a network, a community. But in the aggregate, the national death toll can feel abstract, and its repetition in the news can become numbing. Journalists, commentators and public officials are left searching for new ways to convey the deadliness of this pathogen, and the significance of its mounting fatality rate.

Many have turned to history, citing Pearl Harbor (2,403 killed) or the 9/11 attacks (at least 2,977 killed) as a way of providing perspective … Read more

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