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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Conflicting state and federal abortion laws put pregnant patients, physicians and hospitals at risk

 

Physicians treating pregnant women/people needing emergency medical care are wrestling with how to comply with what’s been called the bedrock law of emergency medicine when facing strict, new mandates on abortion.

“Confusion among emergency room doctors remains even after the Biden administration clarified this week that federal law allowing abortions in life-or-death situations supersedes any restrictions a state may have on the procedure,” Tony Pugh wrote for Bloomberg Law on Wednesday. His article explained how conflicting federal and state laws are complicating abortion care.

Early this week, Melanie Evans of The Wall Street Journal took a close look at how physicians and hospitals are addressing the mandates of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) of 1986 in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade. That decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization stripped away an almost 50-year-old right to an abortion.

Even before the SCOTUS decision on June 24, many states had enacted laws to either restrict or prohibit abortions or expand and protect access to abortion in anticipation of the ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade, as noted in the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation’s tracker of these measures.

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New U.S. “988” mental health crises hotline debuts Saturday

AHCJ compilation of SAMHSA images for new 988 hotline.

Tomorrow (July 16) is the official launch date for “988,” which converts the existing 10-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to an easy-to-remember three-digit number.

This switch is intended to connect people suffering mental health crises more quickly with trained professionals and reduce instances where they end up in confrontations with law enforcement officers.

But there are questions about how well states are prepared to carry out the vision of “988,” especially given the current shortage of mental health professionals. There are estimates that by 2027, the emergency helpline will receive 24 million calls, texts, and online chat requests annually, although some experts say the number could reach 41 million, wrote Julie Wertheimer and Kristen Mizzi Angelone in a July 14 report for the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Below are resources for covering 988, including articles by fellow journalists who have taken a deep look at the challenges with the start-up process.

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Older adults sacrifice basic needs to pay for health care

Photo by cottonbro via pexels.

Rising costs are putting many older adults in an economic bind. Some are skimping on basics like food to pay for health care; others are foregoing health care entirely. Both approaches may have serious long-term health consequences, according to a recent survey from Gallup and West Health.

Over one in three adults 50 and older have forgone basics such as food or utilities to pay for health care. Conversely, some older Americans are skipping needed health visits or medication because of costs. U.S. adults 50-64, women, and Black adults are more likely to cut back on basics, according to the Gallup poll. However, more than a third of adults 65 and older (37%) also said they are concerned about affording needed health care services in the next year.

Journalists can use these results as a starting point for examining the cost of care locally and programs available to help offset health care costs or other basic living expenses. This is particularly relevant as inflation continues to rise forcing more people to choose what to pay for and what to sacrifice.

Adults 50 to 64 are not yet eligible for Medicare, but many are already experiencing health problems. Nearly 50 million adults 50 and older are at a critical age because they will need additional care as they age, Nicole Wilcoxon, Ph.D., research director at Gallup said in a Zoom interview. “Cutting back on care due to cost puts them at risk for more severe illness and even death.”

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New and updated freelance market guides

Photo by Christina Morillo via pexels.

After a two-month hiatus from working on the market guides, I’m back to ensuring AHCJ’s existing pitching advice from various publications is current.

I have reviewed most of the market guides created or updated in 2021 to confirm editors quoted are still working at their respective publications. Where that is the case, those guides are now marked “Checked for accuracy July 13, 2022.”

Where editors have changed, in most cases, I have interviewed new editors and revised the guides. In total, three updated guides —  for The BMJ, Next Avenue, and Spectrum — and one new guide for AARP have been posted on the AHCJ website this month.

There are now a total of 29 market guides, with more coming every month. Please email me with suggestions of publications you would like to see added.

New market guide

AARP pays freelancers $1 per word for articles between 800 and 1,400 words in length. Its health channel publishes “innovative and engaging content that can help Americans 50 and older make informed decisions on how to live the healthiest life possible,” according to its guidelines for writers. Editors ask that writers be careful to avoid language that stigmatizes age, including terms such as “seniors” and “the elderly.”

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