Category Archives: COVID-19

“Many Tuskegees” occur daily in the U.S. 

Epidemiologist Dara Mendez, Ph.D., M.P.H., pediatrician Diane Rowley, M.D., epidemiologist Theresa Chapple-McGruder, Ph.D., and epidemiologist Bill Jenkins, Ph.D., who blew the whistle on the experiment at Tuskegee while working at the U.S. Public Health Service, gather at the 2017 meeting of the American Public Health Association. (Photo courtesy of Theresa Chapple)

When writing about the 50th anniversary of the revelation of the U.S. Public Health Service study at Tuskegee, I reached out to several Black health care professionals to ask for their perspectives on the study’s legacy a half-century later. Five women — an epidemiologist, two psychiatrists, a surgeon, and an HIV primary care physician — offered their insight. This post shares two of those perspectives, one focused on the man who blew the whistle on the experiment and the other on how the legacy of the experiment at Tuskegee is playing out with monkeypox.

Key takeaways

  • The whistleblower who ensured the world found out about the U.S. Public Health Service study at Tuskegee, Bill Jenkins, Ph.D., has also been a role model to Black epidemiologists in showing how to stand up to racism within the system.
  • Although the “Tuskegee study” is a convenient shorthand, it’s more appropriate and accurate to refer to the experiment as the ”U.S. Public Health Service study at Tuskegee” to keep the blame on the perpetrators rather than the victims.
  • The experiment at Tuskegee lives on in a collective memory of those in the Black community even when they don’t necessarily know the details of the specific study.
  • The distrust many in the Black community have toward the health care system is less about this one experiment than is “the everyday interactions” they have today, as “many Tuskegees” are occurring all the time.
  • The rollout of the monkeypox vaccine demonstrates how treatment is being denied to Black communities that need it.

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How to use health equity data to cover access to COVID‑19 rapid tests

Victoria Knight

When the Biden Administration rolled out two COVID-19 rapid tests programs in mid-January, Kaiser Health News reporters Victoria Knight and Hannah Recht were separately researching the initiatives, including one that allowed Americans to get free tests through the U.S. Postal Service. Their reporting included interviewing experts and gathering U.S. Census Bureau data about health equity measures such as home-based internet subscription rates. 

The behind-the-scenes reporting illustrates how some stories are rooted in social media serendipity and collaboration. In this “How I Did It,” Knight and Recht explain how the article came together and why the data they compiled suggested that millions of Americans — mainly Black, Hispanic and Native American, and Alaska Native people — could face significant challenges in getting the rapid tests. (The following conversation was edited for clarity and brevity.)

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Omicron subvariants “of concern” drive surge in cases and reinfection rates

Photo courtesy of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases.

The COVID-19 story of the summer is omicron subvariants.

As of mid-July, two subvariants are “of concern,” according to the CDC: BA.4 and BA.5, which make up about 80% all COVID-19 cases in the U.S. Another variant, though it has yet to reach the status of “concern,” is BA.2.75, which is rapidly spreading in India and could become a threat in the U.S., according to virologists. (Omicron is the SARS-CoV-2 variant that emerged and swept the globe beginning November 2021, causing a big wave in cases, hospitalizations and deaths globally.)

How much the public should worry about these variants is a matter of debate among public health experts. See this July 13 story in Business Insider, quoting four infectious disease experts I have contacted frequently over the past two and half years. Three of the four experts (Amesh Adalja, M.D., Celine Gounder, M.D., Katelyn Jetelina, Ph.D., M.P.H., and Preeti Malani, M.D.) ranked the risks — on a scale of 1 to 10 — of between 0 and 7 depending upon age, health status and geographic location. One wouldn’t rank the risk because the data isn’t clear.

Some researchers, including Eric Topol, M.D., are extremely concerned because the variant is so contagious.

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Award-winning journalist explains how to build meaningful connections with sources

Emily Woodruff

Emily Woodruff, a health care reporter for the New Orleans Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate, was recognized as one of the winners of AHCJ’s 2021 Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism in the beat reporting and health policy (small) categories at Health Journalism 2022.

Her winning local COVID-19 coverage offered a vivid picture of how Louisiana’s hospitals, health care providers and residents were coping with the ongoing pandemic and other events impacting health in communities, such as hurricanes, the opioid epidemic and other diseases. In many of her articles, Woodruff provided readers with a sense of connection to people featured in her stories. 

In this “How I did It,” Woodruff shares her process for building trust with sources and enlivening her stories. 

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

How do you create captivating scenes in your articles? What are your top tips?

You can probably tell in the stories when I was there with someone as an interaction unfolded or when I got to meet someone in their environment. I think that helps a lot. During COVID, we weren’t able to do a lot of that, and it’s something I missed. I think health care reporters in general, have to spend more time interviewing someone for any given story. Often [health reporters] are interviewing people who aren’t used to talking to the media. For a lot of these stories, you have to spend some time [with them]. You have to indicate that you understand where they’re coming from. So, a lot of times that looks like just being informed about whatever issue it is that they’re facing.

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The Monkeypox threat and what we have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic

An electron microscopic (EM) image depicting a monkeypox virion. (Image courtesy of the CDC Public Health Image Library.)

The world isn’t done with the SARS-CoV-2 virus pandemic, and now another pathogen has public health officials on high alert: the monkeypox virus.

Monkeypox is a rare viral disease seldom detected outside of west and central Africa, where the disease is endemic. Recently, it has emerged in places globally where it isn’t endemic and impacted populations that aren’t typically vulnerable to the virus, which causes a rash, skin pustules, fever and body aches.

As of May 21, the World Health Organization reported 92 laboratory-confirmed cases and 28 suspected cases in 12 countries where the disease isn’t endemic, including the United States. On May 23, the CDC said there has been one laboratory-confirmed case in Massachusetts and four suspected cases in three U.S. states — Florida, New York and Utah. Those infected are mostly men, but in the past, monkeypox cases have mostly occurred in children.

Monkeypox showing up in places where it isn’t endemic and affecting a different population is concerning public health officials. The initial sequencing of the monkeypox cases shows the strain is similar to the endemic virus in west Africa — raising questions about how it was transmitted — as many of those who have become sick never traveled to Africa.

“The emergence of the virus in separate populations across the world where it doesn’t usually appear has alarmed scientists — and sent them racing for answers,” wrote Max Kozlov in a  May 20 Nature article. Much of what scientists know about monkeypox is based on 1,500 cases as of 2018.

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