December 3, 2020

CP Online Health

Eat Well, Life Well

Hi, I’m back with a revamped Friday Breeze, tackling a few hot health care topics of the week and some news you may have missed. Here’s what the Breeze blew in this week, in these dog days of our COVID-constrained, socially distant summer:

Schools Reopen: No Easy Answers for Keeping Kids Healthy

It’s back-to-school time, which means pencils, books, hand sanitizers and, for some, a visit from Vice President Mike Pence. The vice president visited a campus of Thales Academy in Apex, North Carolina, saying, “We’ve got to open up America’s schools, and Thales Academy is literally in the forefront.” Unfortunately, a few days later, Thales suffered a setback when a fourth grader at its Wake Forest campus tested positive for COVID-19.

Things weren’t much better in other states, either. Groups of students and teachers in Indiana, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee have been forced into quarantine after being exposed to the virus. When a photo of a packed hallway at North Paulding High School north of Atlanta went viral this week, Superintendent Brian Otott acknowledged that the photo “does not look good ” but said the school was following state health recommendations. (On Thursday, two teens who posted the photo were suspended from school.) And this just in: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced schools can reopen for in-person classes this fall across a state that was once the epicenter of the global pandemic.

Day cares and preschools might offer a glimpse into how to keep children safe. As KHN’s Anna Almendrala wrote this week, the facilities are “part of an unplanned national experiment” for parents weighing the pros and cons of in-person school. So far, the number of outbreaks at child care centers has remained low.

Other nations are trying different methods, with varied success. Denmark puts students in “micro-groups” of 12. Kids in New South Wales, Australia, go to school just one day a week. In Dandwal, India, students listen to a recorded voice from a loudspeaker. Israel, convinced it had beaten the virus, opened every school in May. By the first week of June, more than 2,000 students, teachers and staff had tested positive. (“[Other nations] definitely should not do what we have done,” said the chairman of the team advising Israel’s National Security Council. “It was a major failure.”)

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine Tests Positive, Then Negative: Can We Fix Our Testing System?

I live in Ohio, and the whole state practically gasped Thursday when Republican Gov. Mike DeWine tested positive for COVID-19. Everyone asked, “How could this happen to someone who steadfastly supports wearing a mask?” Then, on Friday, another gasp when he tested negative on a second, more sensitive test — followed by a collective, “Well, of course that happened.”

It’s an understatement to say we have had major problems with our COVID testing system. Some places are flush with them; others aren’t. Celebrities, the NBA, NFL and MLB have easy access, but many regular folks have been turned away multiple times, waited more than a week for results or were told their results were lost. Frustrated with delays, six states (Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio and Virginia) announced this week a deal to buy 3 million rapid tests in an effort to reduce turnaround time.

Meanwhile, some people are pushing for universal testing with fast, less-accurate tests, the idea being that you could identify outbreaks, trace them, quarantine people and move on with life. But scientists say this wouldn’t work for two reasons. One: Most tests take samples from behind the nose or the back of the mouth and will come out positive only if that area contained the virus. In some people, however, the virus has been shown in large quantities only deep in their lungs. And two: A false-positive result sidelines a healthy person, leading to unnecessary quarantining that can affect their mental health, job, school, etc. Kelly Stafford, wife of Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, wrote on Instagram this week that her family was harassed and put through “a nightmare” after Matthew tested false-positive for COVID.

Hurricane Isaias: How Do You Evacuate But Stay Socially Distant?

For just about everyone on the East Coast, the big talker of the week was Hurricane Isaias. (That’s pronounced “ees-ah-EE-ahs.”) Isaias skimmed Florida’s Atlantic coast as a Category 1 hurricane and banged its way up the East Coast before making landfall Monday near Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina. All told, Isaias killed nine people, spawned more than 30 tornadoes (here’s one caught on video in Marmora, New Jersey), knocked out power to millions and forced thousands to evacuate. One major health concern was whether people in the path of the storm — including residents of nursing homes — could safely evacuate but still follow COVID safety guidelines. “We were prepared with non-congregate sheltering,” said Mike Sprayberry, director of North Carolina Emergency Management, “but many people heeded the advice to stay with family or friends or at a hotel. It wasn’t needed.” Hurricane season is in full swing (it doesn’t end until Nov. 30), so here’s some advice on how to prepare for an emergency during a pandemic — and more from the Red Cross.

Beirut Blast: The Lasting Health Effects of a Massive Explosion

About 150 people were killed and 5,000 hurt when a warehouse full of ammonium nitrate exploded Tuesday in Beirut. Ammonium nitrate, an odorless, crystal salt, is a common but highly explosive chemical that was used in several other devastating blasts, including Tianjin, China, in 2015 (165 killed); West, Texas, in 2013 (15 killed); and Oklahoma City in 1995 (168 killed). Tuesday’s blast, involving about 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, was roughly equal to the power of 1,155 tons of TNT, according to one weapons investigator, making it “many times larger than the most powerful conventional airdropped bomb in the U.S. arsenal [the GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast],” The New York Times reported.

The blast released nitrogen oxides, ammonia and carbon dioxide into the air. According to Newsweek and the American Lung Association, some of their health effects include lung damage, asthma attacks, lower birth weight in newborns, blindness, convulsions, suffocation and death. In the years after the Oklahoma City bombing, doctors tracked survivors’ physical and emotional health. A 1999 report from the National Institutes of Health said that up to a third of survivors reported having anxiety, depression, PTSD, asthma, bronchitis and problems with their hearing. As Tommy Muska, the mayor of West, Texas, put it this week: “We don’t seem to learn that chemical is deadly.”

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Happy reading! Have a great weekend.

— Lauren

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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