Tag Archives: COVID-19

Resources for reporting on COVID-19’s origins

The Qingping market in Guangzhou, China. (Photo by Tr1xx via Flickr.)

Since the early months of 2020, scientific debate has raged over the origin of COVID-19 and whether it emerged from the Wuhan seafood market (with a zoonotic transmission from animals to humans) or started as a breach from a Wuhan biosecurity lab or elsewhere. The debate over the origin spilled over to politics as China clamped down on the public release of scientific information about the pandemic’s origin since March 2020.

So, what is currently known about the origin of this virus?

For most of the past two years, China’s failure to cooperate with the Word Health Organization (WHO) and other countries on the pandemic’s origin hunt has seeded conspiracy theories — including that the Chinese government caused the pandemic or that the virus escaped from a biosecurity lab in the United States. 

In August 2021, the U.S. director of national intelligence published a declassified report with a clear summary of the debate about the virus’s origins. The report said there was broad agreement that the first cluster of cases emerged in Wuhan in December 2019; the virus wasn’t a biological weapon or genetically engineered and the government didn’t know about the virus before the pandemic emerged. 

However, the U.S. intelligence community was divided on whether the virus emerged from an animal or accidentally from a lab, with about half of analysts saying it was likely zoonotic and connected to the Wuhan market but had “low confidence” in this assessment. Others said they had confidence in the accidental lab leak theory, or there wasn’t enough evidence to have confidence in either theory.

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What AHCJ is doing to make HJ22 safe (and well worth the trip)

With just a few days left before early-bird registration ends, AHCJ’s staff have been finalizing conference planning at Health Journalism 2022, which takes place April 28-May 1 at the Hilton Austin. Health and safety are top of mind.

Travis County, where Austin is located, was at a relatively low level 2 on a risk scale of 5 on Friday, March 25, even as spring break and the festival season brought many visitors through the city.

Members who haven’t registered yet have until April 8, but the early bird discount ends on Monday, March 28, at 11:59 a.m. CST.

Still on the fence about traveling to Austin? Here’s what you should know about what’s being done to offer a safe, valuable and fun conference.

To reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission at Health Journalism 2022, AHCJ is implementing several safety protocols in addition to those established by the Hilton Austin. Continue reading

Using Patient Safety Week to report on rising risks

Photo courtesy of ECRI.

Journalists can use Patient Safety Awareness Week (March 13-19) as an opportunity to question officials at local hospitals and nursing homes about what’s happened with their risk-reduction programs in the past two years. U.S. hospitals and nursing homes lost ground during COVID-19 in their efforts to prevent harm to patients such as catheter-related infections, government data shows.

This article highlights a few resources for journalists seeking to use Patient Safety Awareness Week as a news peg.

The Association for Professionals

The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) recently issued a report with detailed recommendations for strengthening patient-safety measures. “Especially troubling to APIC is how many preventable infections were transmitted inside hospitals during COVID because that resilience was not built into our healthcare system,” Linda Dickey, R.N., M.P.H., C.I.C., F.A. P.I.C., the president of the group, said in a statement.

Devin Jopp, Ed.D., M.S., chief executive officer of APIC, stressed the need to prepare for crises, allowing infection prevention and control (IPC) procedures to remain in place even during surges in hospital demand. “I won’t sugarcoat it; fortifying our nation’s IPC infrastructure isn’t free, but the cost of ill-preparedness in lives and dollars is incalculable,” Jopp said in a statement.

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Is the Biden administration’s plan to revamp nursing home standards enough?

Photo by Ulrich Joho via Flickr.

It took a pandemic and tens of thousands of deaths before most people became aware of just how bad circumstances were in many U.S. nursing homes. Long-term care residents bore the brunt of COVID-19 cases and deaths, particularly in the early days of the crisis. The Biden administration wants the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid to tighten standards and oversight to avoid anything like this from happening again.

While the initiative only got passing mention in the March 1 State of the Union address, the White House released a lengthy fact sheet ahead of the speech, detailing several key initiatives it’s directing CMS to implement:

  • Increasing minimum staffing requirements.
  • Reducing resident room overcrowding.
  • Strengthening the Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) Value-Based Purchasing (VBP) Program.
  • Reinforcing Safeguards against Unnecessary Medications and Treatments, actions they say “will improve the safety and quality of nursing home care, hold nursing homes accountable for the care they provide.”
  • Making the quality of care and facility ownership more transparent so that potential residents and their loved ones can make informed decisions about care.

More than 200,000 residents and staff in nursing homes have died from COVID-19 — nearly a quarter of all COVID-19 deaths in the United States, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Despite current regulations, The Government Accountability Office found that from 2013 to 2017, 82% of all inspected nursing homes had an infection prevention and control deficiency, including a lack of regular handwashing, that was identified through Medicare and Medicaid surveys.

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Why journalists should report on wastewater 

Photo by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture via Flickr.

With an increasing number of states slowing the pace of reporting on COVID-19 cases, journalists should consider keeping an eye on wastewater testing efforts as they have the potential to signal COVID-19 case flare-ups weeks before they emerge more broadly in communities.

Earlier this year, the CDC unveiled a nationwide data dashboard that reports on the SARS-CoV-2 virus in sewage. Though sewage data are not collected in all 50 states — 18 have no wastewater analysis sites — enough data are being collected for the CDC to spot a coming surge in COVID-19 cases.

“If you live somewhere that this [wastewater] surveillance is happening, I highly recommend keeping an eye on those trends to watch for early warnings of future surges,” data analyst Betsy Ladyzhets wrote in her Feb. 27 COVID-19 Data Dispatch newsletter.

Wastewater and COVID-19

Wastewater is water that returns to the public utility system after being used for flushing a toilet, bathing, washing dishes, etc. In wastewater surveillance, public health officials collect sewer system samples — underneath specific buildings or water treatment plants — to test for infectious pathogens like SARS-CoV-2.

Sewage sampling has been a key tool in COVID-19 surveillance because it can pick up the coronavirus regardless of whether people have health insurance or access to COVID-19 testing. People begin shedding SARS-CoV-2 in their feces early in their infection before they experience COVID-19 symptoms. Sewage detection can signal up to two weeks in advance that there is a surge in cases brewing and prepare hospitals for patients hitting emergency rooms.

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