Health

grejak/iStockBy STEPHANIE EBBS and ANNE FLAHERTY, ABC News

(ATLANTA) -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reversed guidance on who should be tested for the virus that causes COVID-19, specifying that asymptomatic people who have come in contact with an infected person should get tested and quarantine for 14 days -- a change from guidance released last month that said testing might not be necessary for people without symptoms.

CDC guidance released in August caused alarm in the public health community that data would give an incomplete picture of outbreaks around the country, and The New York Times reported this week that it was published by the Department of Health and Human Services without approval from experts at the CDC.

It said that if a person came in contact with someone infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 "you do not necessarily need a test" if you don't exhibit any symptoms, but that local public health officials or health care providers might still recommend one. CDC Director Robert Redfield has tried to clarify the guidance, testifying this week that it did not mean people without symptoms shouldn't get a test but that they should consult local health guidance and that testing should be paired with other protective measures like isolating for 14 days.

The CDC removed that language on Friday, returning to instructions that say if someone has been in close contact with a person with COVID-19 infection "you need a test" and to self-isolate for 14 days, even if the test is negative.

Doctors like Thomas File, president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, praised the reversal and called it a return to science-based decisions.

“The return to a science-based approach to testing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is good news for public health and for our united fight against this pandemic. We urge officials to support the work of controlling this pandemic by following medical guidance of experts in the field," File said in a statement.

This week, The New York Times reported the August guidance was pushed by officials at the Department of Health and Human Service and White House coronavirus task force over the objections of experts at CDC. But Brett Giroir, the top official at the Department of Health and Human Services leading the federal efforts on testing, pushed back on that report.

“This was a CDC document and we will continue to clarify because I want people to know that if you are asymptomatic you can still spread the virus and we want them to be tested,” he said in an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America" on Friday.

Public health officials say that a lack of testing has been a weak point in the country's response to the coronavirus pandemic since the beginning, from a lack of tests to backlogs for results, making it more difficult to trace who infected people have been in contact with.

President Donald Trump has said that more tests result in more cases, causing concern among public health experts that he could push to slow testing they say is crucial to tracking outbreaks around the country.

He has also publicly contradicted officials working on the COVID-19 response on the timeline for a potential vaccine and the effectiveness of wearing face masks, which officials at the CDC and HHS say is the most important tool in preventing the spread of the virus.

Public health experts have expressed concerns that political considerations are influencing the pandemic response and have bristled at reports that political appointees are overruling subject matter experts at the CDC and the FDA.

A top official at Health and Human Services, Michael Caputo, recently announced he was taking leave after he made comments on social media accusing CDC scientists of sedition and saying they don't care about protecting Americans, charges the CDC director and other public health officials denied. Caputo later apologized.

Officials in the Trump administration have said they were not directed to slow testing and are distributing more testing equipment to nursing homes and other vulnerable populations to help track and stop infections.

"The number of cases are going to be the number of cases; we do more testing so we can detect more and more cases. That's a good thing. We want to detect as many cases as we can...It is true that the more testing you do, the more cases you will discover. But the cases are there no, no matter what," Giroir testified at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on Wednesday.

Any appearance of political influence could be particularly harmful when it comes to a potential COVID-19 vaccine, experts warn. The concern is that people will decide not get vaccinated and that the virus will continue to spread.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



By KATIE KINDELAN, ABC News

Hailshadow/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Olympic gold-medal-winning figure skater Tara Lipinski is opening up about undergoing endometriosis surgery in hopes of breaking down barriers around the condition that affects millions of women.

"The irony of my endometriosis diagnosis is that I knew almost nothing about a disorder that affects one in 10 women. That’s 176 million people," Lipinski shared on Instagram. "I’d never heard another woman mention 'endo' or the complications and pain that accompany it. And that definitely shows the lack of information that’s out there and the comfort level that affected women have discussing their endometriosis."

"To me, it feels like a hush hush topic that women feel they just need to tough out," the 38-year-old wrote. "No woman should live in pain or think 'this is just something I have to deal with.'"

Endometriosis, a medical condition whereby the lining of the uterus grows outside of the uterus, may affect more than 11 percent of American women between the ages of 15 and 44, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health (OWH).

Lipinski said she had “intermittent pain” for years that she overlooked and didn’t discuss completely with her doctors.

“Over the last five years the pain progressed, but because it wasn’t constant or startlingly intense, I just chose to ignore it,” she wrote. “I figured that since I didn’t have crippling pain and it wasn’t significantly impacting my life, I could just block out my concern.”

When the pain became more intense this year, Lipinski said she started researching endometriosis and then found a surgeon who was able to help, writing, “I think that might be the biggest obstacle of endo care -- finding a surgeon who knows exactly how to navigate this complicated disease.”

After studying her options, Lipinski said she chose to have an “excision procedure, that uses robotic scissors to cute the endo from the places where it exists.”

Calling herself “one of the lucky ones,” the California-based Lipinski described her surgery as a success, noting that “pretty much 100 percent” of her endometriosis was removed.

“After a week or so I began to forget I had the surgery until I’d look down at the battle wounds across my stomach,” she wrote. “It felt so good to finally have a diagnosis.”

What is endometriosis?


Endometriosis strikes when endometrial tissue, the tissue that lines the uterus, grows outside of the uterus and onto other areas of the body, like the ovaries, fallopian tubes, vagina and cervix, according to the U.S. Office on Women's Health.

The cause of endometriosis is unknown but its symptoms are well-known: Painful menstrual cramps, chronic lower back and pelvis pain, pain during and after sex, bleeding or spotting between periods and digestive problems like diarrhea, constipation, bloating and nausea. These symptoms are most often experienced during menstruation.

Endometriosis also makes it harder for women to get pregnant.

Any girl or woman who has menstrual periods is vulnerable to endometriosis. It is more common, however, in women ages 25 to 35.

There is no known cure for endometriosis. There are several treatment options, including birth control and other hormonal treatments, and a medication, Orilissa, specifically studied and marketed for the treatment of endometriosis pain.

Another treatment option is laparoscopic excision surgery, where doctors remove scar tissue and growths, according to Dr. Tamer Seckin, a New York-based endometriosis specialist who co-founded the Endometriosis Foundation of America (EFA) with actress Padma Lakshmi.

What women need to know


Many women wait as long as 10 years for an endometriosis diagnosis, according to the EFA.

That is not to say though that women who take years to be diagnosed are not advocating for themselves at every point in the journey. It's quite the opposite.

"Today’s women are exceptionally educated on this," said Seckin.

Seckin's advice for female patients is to track their symptoms diligently and to note, in particular, where the symptoms fall in relation to their menstrual cycle.

Symptoms of endometriosis, like cramping and digestive issues, are often misdiagnosed as Crohn's disease or irritable bowel syndrome when doctors don't ask if the pain is associated with the patient's period, Seckin noted.

Women should also know that they should not be suffering in silence, according to Seckin. He shared six symptoms that women should watch for -- not because they mean a woman automatically has endometriosis, but because women should not have to live with pain.

These symptoms are most commonly found during menstruation, when the tissue is the most inflamed.

1. With periods, any pain that lasts beyond two days is not normal.
2. Any pain that sends them into the fetal position, even for just one day, is not normal.
3. Any pain associated with vomiting or severe GI disturbance is not normal.
4. Pain during deep [sexual] contact, deep penetration is not normal.
5. If you have pain around bowel movements or get constipated during your period, that’s not normal.
6. Increased gas and bloating associated with your period is not normal.

Most important, according to Seckin, is to find a doctor whom you trust.

"If women tell their doctors [their symptoms] and their doctors’ eyes don’t lock on them, find another doctor," he said. "There are doctors who are interested in endometriosis."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Rattankun Thongbun/iStockBy DR. LEAH CROLL, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- As America waits for a COVID-19 vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's director, Robert Redfield, said we all might be better protected by simply continuing to wear masks. His comments drew criticism from President Donald Trump, who is touting the pending vaccine as a panacea for the pandemic.

"I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine," said Redfield, in testimony given to the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.

But later Wednesday, Trump said Redfield was "confused" and mistaken when he spoke about the importance of wearing masks. It was not the first time Trump has cast doubt on the CDC's mask recommendations. At an ABC News town hall Tuesday, he claimed, "There are a lot of people that think that masks are not good."

But five experts interviewed by ABC News all agreed with Redfield, saying that masks are, in fact, our strongest weapons against the pandemic.

During his Senate testimony, Redfield explained that a vaccine might not be 100% effective at producing an immune response strong enough to stave off infection. Masks, however, provide an evidence-backed protective barrier.

"I agree with Dr. Redfield. At best, a vaccine will be about 75% effective against moderate to severe disease," Dr. Paul Offit, a professor of pediatrics at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and a co-inventor of the rotavirus vaccine, told ABC News. "A mask, on the other hand, if used correctly and combined with social distancing, will be far more effective than that."

Dr. Paul Goepfert, director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Vaccine Research Clinic, said, "I think the confusion here is that we do not know the efficacy of the COVID vaccines yet, nor how quickly available they will be if found to be effective, nor the percent of the population willing to get the vaccine. Since we do not know any of that yet, masks are a better solution."

The physical barrier that masks provide eliminates the ability of the virus to move from person to person, Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, said. This means that if masks are implemented widely and consistently, they will dampen the spread of COVID-19 significantly.

"The first-generation COVID vaccines are not expected to render all vaccines impervious to infection -- as they won't be like the current measles vaccine -- but to modify illness so that severity and need for hospitalization is lower. So, even among the vaccinated, there will still be infections that occur, they will just be less frequent and less severe," he said.

Still, public health experts stress that vaccines are indeed essential for fighting off the pandemic, even if we don't know how effective they will be yet.

"An effective vaccine that is readily available and utilized by the majority of the population is the single best method that humans have developed to prevent disease -- other than providing clean water," said Goepfert.

However, "Based on the current information about COVID-19, we know that wearing a mask is very effective in slowing the spread of the disease," said Dr. Simone Wildes, an infectious disease specialist at South Shore Health and an ABC News Medical Unit contributor.

While we wait to learn more about COVID-19 vaccine efficacy and distribution, "both measures will be equally important," she added.

"The bottom line is we don't know what is more effective without data about the Phase 3 of the vaccine trials," said Dr. John Brownstein, an ABC News contributor and epidemiologist at Boston Children's Hospital.

"Without that information, we must still consider masks one of our most important currently available public health interventions," Brownstein said. "When a vaccine does become available, we should not consider this an either/or, but the synergy of two innovations creating the best possible combination of disease protection."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Lauryn WebbBy ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- A year-old boy from Virginia was given a very special gift this week: the ability to hear his mother’s voice.

Maison McMillian, of Richmond, sat on his mother Lauryn Webb’s lap as he was fitted for hearing aids at VCU Children’s Hospital.

“Hi! Can you hear me? Hi baby,” Webb said to Maison in a moment caught on video. Maison’s face immediately lit up with a smile and he cooed back to his mother.

Webb took to Twitter to share the heartwarming moment. The video has since gone viral with 4.3 million views.

Maison, who weight only a pound when he was born four months premature, has had to overcome a lot in the past year, said Webb. Maison spent 158 days in the neonatal intensive care unit after his family and doctors began to realize he could not hear them.

my baby got his hearing aids today. look at his face 🥺😭 pic.twitter.com/IwwdsQVrSN

— finessa hudgins (@lil_lopeep) September 16, 2020

“Maison you are nothing short of a miracle. A year ago, when I had you, I was scared you came out so small -- not even two pounds. Maison Martin you are the strongest, bravest person I know and I thank God everyday for choosing me to be your mommy,” Webb said in an Instagram post for Maison’s first birthday.

“I love you beyond words Maison. Here’s to the first year of our journey being complete, but the first day of our next journey,” she added.

The family is now happily home and smiling together. Webb told ABC News' World News Tonight that the family was glad the video was able to bring joy to so many people.

“Maison is so thrilled to be able to hear everything now,” she said. “He just can’t take his eyes off of whoever is speaking. We’re just so glad that everybody else can gain some happiness from the video just like we did, and brighten up some people’s days during quarantine.”

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



jfmdesign/iStockBy KELLY MCCARTHY, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Clorox wipes are still in short supply due to increased demand as Americans continue to clean off frequently used surfaces to combat the spread of coronavirus, but another household cleaner has been added to the list of effective products.

Pine-Sol Original Multi-Surface Cleaner received approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) "for kill claims against SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, on hard non-porous surfaces," the Clorox Company announced in a press release about its cleaning product.

After testing from a third-party laboratory, the disinfectant was proven effective against the virus with a "10-minute contact time on hard non-porous surfaces."

The EPA advises that when using any of the registered disinfectants on its list to follow all label directions "for safe, effective use," which includes the amount of time the surface should be visibly wet with the product.

Chris Hyder, vice president and general manager of the cleaning division at The Clorox Company said in a statement that they hope the new approval will "increase access to disinfectants that can help prevent the spread of COVID-19."

Check out the full list of products that meet EPA’s criteria for use against the COVID-19 virus here.


Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Bill Oxford/iStockBy PRIYA AMIN, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Nine months into the global pandemic, scientists are still piecing together the mystery of the first crossover event, in which the coronavirus moved from bats to an intermediary animal and, eventually, to humans.

By comparing the patterns of mutations from the new coronavirus to other known viruses, researchers have been able to create an evolutionary history of the related viruses, and found a "single lineage responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic." Surprisingly, they also found that the closest known ancestor of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has actually been living in bats for 40-70 years.

"While the new virus looks like coronaviruses that circulate naturally, it's unique in ways we didn't know about before the pandemic," said Dr. David Robertson, head of viral genomics and bioinformatics at the Institute of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation at the University of Glasgow.

Robertson and his team study how coronaviruses recombine in identifiable ways, which allows them to study the evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Scientists still aren't sure what happened in between bats and humans, but they say it's likely the virus circulated for a while in a pangolin or another intermediary animal.

Despite some lingering questions about how and when the virus made its journey from bats to humans, Robertson said his research on the virus' genetic code proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virus came from nature, and that by studying the virus' origin, we can better prepare for the next pandemic.

According to their recent study, which is awaiting peer review, humans are almost the perfect hosts for SARS-CoV-2, as the virus has "apparently required no significant adaptation to humans since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic." As a result, the virus naturally evolved in bats and was almost immediately ready to be spread through human contact.

"As part of our understanding of how this virus emerged, where it emerged from and what took place, this study adds an important component to an evolving story," said Dr. John Brownstein, the chief innovation officer at Boston Children's Hospital and an ABC News contributor.

"It shows it wasn't some big recombination of viruses that led to the pandemic -- it was actually a virus that had been circulating for a long while in bat populations that had properties that were conducive to human infection," he added.

"If it had been made in a lab, it would have looked like viruses we already knew about, more closely related to the SARS virus," he said.

Yet, conspiracy theories about the virus' origins persist. In the most recent example, an anti-Chinese government group linked to Steve Bannon published a swiftly rebuked paper alleging that "laboratory manipulation is part of the history of SARS-CoV-2." The paper makes a number of bold accusations, including that the virus was made in a lab controlled by the Chinese government. Virology experts widely agree, however, that none of the authors' claims can be supported.

"There is nothing in this document that supports the idea that it is man-made," said Stanley Perlman, M.D., Ph. D., a professor at the department of microbiology and immunology, and the department of pediatrics at the University of Iowa.

"In addition, no one would have known how to construct a pathogenic virus, and too little is known to predict pathogenicity," Perlman said.

"There is a great deal of experimental support, from multiple groups, on the natural origin of SARS-CoV-2," said Vincent Racaniello, Ph. D., a Higgins professor in the department of microbiology and immunology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Animal-to-human transmission of viruses has been responsible for many diseases, like the bubonic plague or the West Nile virus, and have caused other recent outbreaks, such as the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak and the global HIV/AIDS pandemic.

"This is a story that you have over and over again, where you have these viruses circulating in animal populations, and there is some moment where these viruses were able to infect someone," said Brownstein.

To prevent a future pandemic, scientists say our best bet is to better understand the link between animal populations and human populations.

"Landscape, fragmentation, climate change, transportation or illegal wildlife trade: All these factors are creating new interfaces for humans and animals. That probably was part of the reason for this pandemic," said Brownstein.

Having those scientific conversations will likely be the key to stopping a future pandemic -- next time, before it starts.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Meyer & Meyer/iStockBy DR. ALEXANDRIA LAMBERT, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- A growing chorus of experts is calling on Russian scientists to explain potential discrepancies in the data supporting the country's COVID-19 vaccine, dubbed Sputnik V.

Russia was the first country to authorize a COVID-19 vaccine, but it did so before completing proper scientific studies to show it is safe and effective.

Now, with questions about Russia's vaccine swirling, experts interviewed by ABC News expressed concern about the country's swift action to disseminate the unproven vaccine to low and middle-income countries, noting that if the vaccine were to prove a failure, it could fuel vaccine skepticism globally.

Russian scientists from the Gamaleya National Research Center published their findings of an early-stage study in the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, on Sept. 4, showing that the vaccine was safe.

But molecular biologist Dr. Enrico Bucci said he quickly developed "several concerns" upon looking at the data. Bucci, who heads a science integrity company called Resis, in Italy, published an open letter on his blog about Russian's vaccine study. The letter quickly gained additional signatories, and on Sept. 7, the scientists submitted their formal complaint to The Lancet.

The letter highlighted data irregularities in the study that appear to be duplicated. It has now been signed by a total of 38 experts.

"We do not allege misconduct, we just want them to provide additional data," said Dr. Konstantin Andreev, one of the signatories and a microbiologist and biophysicist affiliated with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Northwestern University.

Another researcher who signed the open letter, Dr. Donald Thea, the director of the Center for Global Health & Development at the Boston University School of Public Health, said, "What we need to see is the data. Science is based on transparency and accuracy and precision -- even more when it comes to a global vaccine effort of such huge proportions and importance."

The Gamaleya National Research Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology did not respond to ABC News' request for comment.

Sputnik V has also not completed the large Phase 3 randomized control trials that are required in the United States and many other countries prior to vaccine approval. These studies traditionally compare the vaccine to a placebo in thousands of people to determine whether it works in preventing disease, and to further assess its safety profile.

"The thing is that they try to start distributing the vaccine even before completing Phase 3 clinical trials, and the Phase 1 and Phase 2 trials described contain only a very, very small number of patients, only 76 patients, [an] enormously small [amount] for such an important topic," said Andreev.

Russia was able to initially skip the Phase 3 clinical trials due to differences in international regulatory agencies.

As Russia prepares mass production of Sputnik V, there are significant global health implications to be considered. Although international scientists have warned that no one truly knows yet if the vaccine works, Russia is already accepting purchase orders from low and middle-income countries eager to obtain a coronavirus vaccine.

In a recent article in The Lancet, Kirill Dmitreiv, CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, confirmed that Russia has received international requests for one billion doses of its vaccine.

Russia is talking to at least 20 countries about exporting the vaccine, including Brazil, Cuba, the Philippines and Saudi Arabia. If the vaccine is given to people before it's properly tested, however, the consequences could be catastrophic.

"If what we end up with is people in poor countries getting untested vaccines, first of all, ethically, that's a disaster," said Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University's School of Public Health. "Second, it will have very long implications for the health of those people and their confidence in vaccines. So, I think it's critically important that we don't do this anywhere, but particularly we don't do it in low-income countries."

Other experts cautioned that the global distribution of an ineffective vaccine could promote vaccine hesitancy and create a false sense of security that could further propagate COVID-19 transmission.

"I'm hopeful that it will work, but if it doesn't, it will send huge mixed signals to the global community," Jha said.

"People will be very, very hesitant to take the COVID vaccine," he said, if the Russian vaccine ends up not working.

"If we are lucky, it will be, you know 70-80% effective," Jha said.

"They are going to think they are protected and they very well might get sick and then die from it," he added. "So, it is absolutely essential to figure out how effective it is and then communicate that to people. But the problem is, if you haven't tested it, you don't know how effective it is. And if you don't know how effective it is, you don't know what to tell people, and you're going to create this huge false sense of confidence that could be very, very dangerous."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



hermosawave/iStockBy DR. LEAH CROLL, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- With less than two months to go before the U.S. presidential election, many Americans are worried about voting safely during the pandemic.

"As the pandemic continues to spread, it’s vital that we balance the right for citizens to vote along with the importance to maintain their health and safety in doing so," said Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, vice chair of the Infectious Diseases Society of America’s (IDSA) global health committee and emerging leader in biosecurity fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, during a media briefing held on Sept. 2 by IDSA, a community of doctors and public health experts who specialize in infectious disease.

Public health leaders agree that voting by mail is the safest method for minimizing the risk of COVID-19 infection. But it may not be feasible for all voters to use mail-in ballots, according to Myrna Pérez, director of the voting rights and elections program at the Brennan Center for Justice.

At the IDSA media briefing, Pérez noted that some voters' need for certain services that are best-provided at polling places, like language translation or aid for the visually or physically impaired, represents one drawback of mail-in voting.

"In this time of crisis, we need to make sure that voters have options," Pérez said.

In-person voting remains an important option for countless Americans who may not be able to vote by mail.

Although many people are concerned about the safety of in-person voting during the COVID-19 pandemic, public health experts say that with the proper precautions, risks can be minimized. The IDSA developed safety guidelines for those who need to vote in person, which can be accessed here.

It will be especially important to focus on controlling the spread of COVID-19 in the weeks leading up to the elections.

"Our best chance of having a safe election is that all citizens play a role in helping to reduce community transmission," said Kuppalli.

That means practicing good hand hygiene, wearing masks, maintaining physical distances of at least six feet from others and abstaining from social gatherings.

Below are answers to some common questions about voting safely during the COVID-19 pandemic:

How dangerous is it to vote in person?


"When it comes to COVID-19, there is no activity that is zero risk," said Dr. Amesh Adalja, FIDSA, infectious disease specialist and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, in an email to ABC News.

"The riskiest aspect is likely if there is a line where people cannot social distance," he added.

Can in-person voting be safe?

"Voting in person can be relatively safe if people are able to social distance, wear face coverings, and avoid congregation," said Adalja.

What can voters do to minimize their risk of getting COVID-19 at the polls?

Our experts offered these tips:

  • Be prepared to come early and to wait outside as long as possible.
  • Maintain six feet of distance between yourself and other voters or poll workers.
  • Wear a mask.
  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Refrain from touching your face.
  • Ask poll workers any questions you have about safety measures that are in place.
  • Any sick, disabled, or high-risk voter should engage in curbside voting if available.

What about voters who have COVID-19 or COVID-19 positive members of their households?

Individuals with known COVID-19 or who have been exposed to COVID-19 should continue self-quarantining. In many states, these individuals may qualify for exemptions for mail-in ballots, according to Pérez. She encouraged those with COVID-19 to apply for a vote-by-mail exemption, even if they live in a state with strict voting guidelines.

Should I consider volunteering to be a poll worker?

There is a push for new volunteers as most of the country’s poll workers are in high-risk categories because of their age. Consider volunteering if you are young and healthy, but Kuppalli suggests speaking to your health care provider first regarding whether it is safe for you to volunteer.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



ABC NewsBY: STEPHANIE EBBS and TRISH TURNER

(ATLANTA) -- Public health officials working to make a potential COVID-19 vaccine available to all Americans said they need more than $25 billion to make it happen, but the continued impasse between the Trump administration and congressional Democrats on another coronavirus relief package has stalled that much-needed funding.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield and Bob Kadlec, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Department of Health and Human Services, raised the alarm Wednesday, saying that the agencies have depleted $600 million in previously appropriated COVID relief aid and added they still don't have enough funding to fulfill the goals of getting a free COVID-19 vaccine to everyone in the country.

Redfield said at this point the CDC does not have the resources to distribute a vaccine across the country, including infrastructure to accommodate transporting and storing doses at cold temperatures.

"We need substantial resources and the time is now to get those resources out to the states, and we currently don't have those resources," he told members of a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday.

But President Donald Trump painted a different picture at a White House news conference Wednesday evening.

Asked by a reporter about Redfield saying earlier, under oath as he testified before the Senate, that a vaccine will be "generally available to the American public" in the "late second quarter, third quarter 2021," Trump deemed it "incorrect information."

"I don't think he means that," Trump said. "I don't think he -- when he said it, I believe he was confused."

"I saw the statement," he added. "I called him and I said what did you mean by that? And I think he just made a mistake. He just made a mistake. I think he misunderstood the question probably."

The White House hopes to begin distributing doses of a coronavirus vaccine within 24 hours of emergency approval, and states have been told to be prepared by November. But Redfield told lawmakers earlier Wednesday not to expect widespread distribution so soon -- before clarifying his comments later, following Trump's press briefing.

"If you're asking me when is it going to be generally available to the American public, so we can begin to take advantage of vaccine to get back to our regular life, I think we're probably looking at third, late second quarter, third quarter 2021," Redfield told senators.

Trump also contradicted Redfield at his briefing when he said the CDC director "made a mistake" and misunderstood the question when he said that masks are more effective than a vaccine.

"Face masks are the single most important public health tool we have," Redfield said during his testimony to the Senate while holding up his surgical mask.

"Number 1 it's not more effective than a vaccine," Trump said during his briefing from the White House hours later. "I called him about it. Those were the two things I discussed with him. If you asked him, he would probably say that he didn't understand the question because I said to him. I asked him two questions. The one we covered and the mask question."

The president added, "It's not more effective. I think there's a lot of problems with masks. Vaccines are much more effective."

Asked about these contradictions, Redfield said in a statement through his spokesman to ABC News that he was not referring to the time period in which COVID-19 vaccine doses would be made available to all Americans but that the timeline was really his estimate for when Americans would have their vaccinations completed.

"I 100% believe in the importance of vaccines and the importance in particular of a COVID-19 vaccine. A COVID-19 vaccine is the thing that will get Americans back to normal everyday life. The best defense we currently have against this virus are the important mitigation efforts of wearing a mask, washing your hands, social distancing and being careful about crowds," Redfield said.

Meanwhile, Democratic leaders have insisted on a sweeping fifth stimulus package -- at least $2.2 trillion -- but Senate Republicans and the White House have demanded that the number be far lower. Trump threw a curve ball to his party leaders on Wednesday though, tweeting, "Go for the much higher numbers, Republicans, it all comes back to the USA anyway (one way or another!)."

Redfield said in his testimony it will take somewhere between $5.5 billion and $6 billion "to get all 64 jurisdictions ready to implement" his agency's distribution plan.

And Kadlec, who works with the efforts to manufacture vaccines ahead of potential authorization by the Food and Drug Administration, said they need an additional $20 billion to have 300 million doses of a vaccine available.

"We have basically worked to basically do simultaneously the clinical trials, as well as doing the manufacturing of vaccines. So, if and when -- whether that's two weeks, three weeks, two months or four months -- once a clinical trial is complete and that scientific data is reviewed by the FDA and approved, then we have vaccine potentially available immediately to us," Kadlec said of Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration's plan to expedite vaccine allocation.

"We need to figure out a way to do this. ... Now is the time," Subcommittee Chairman Roy Blunt, R-Mo., told ABC News Wednesday. Blunt suggested that perhaps Congress could agree to some piecemeal approach, but so far, Democratic leaders have refused.

Lawmakers on the subcommittee that oversees HHS funding also raised concerns that money they appropriated for COVID-19 response was being used for other things, including concerns from Democrats about reports that the agency is soliciting a $250 million contract for a communications firm to convey a hopeful message to the American public about the end of the pandemic.

"We have two deputy secretaries of HHS before us today and neither one of them can testify as to whether that contract was awarded, why it was awarded, what the reasons for it were," Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said during the hearing.

"It's increasingly impossible for any of us to know who's in charge," he added. "We've got two people at the highest echelon of HHS that can't answer questions about a massive contract that's been awarded."

Redfield said the CDC was not involved in that contract or working to develop its message, just that the agency was told to transfer money to HHS.

"CDC received the direction from HHS and OMB (the Office of Management and Budget) to transfer $300 million to HHS," Redfield told Murray.

"We haven't been involved in this, other than the extent that the funds were transferred to HHS and so I assume that they're going to come back to the different subject matter experts, but again we haven't been involved in that," he said. "You know if given the opportunity that CDC would obviously want to put forth the accurate messaging for the American public."

ABC News' Anne Flaherty and Libby Cathey contributed to this report.



Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Andreas Rentz/Getty ImagesBy MEGAN STONE and JACQUELINE LAUREAN YATES, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Elle Fanning recently made light of a skin condition many of her fans can relate to.

The Maleficent star embraced her eczema on Monday by showing off her most recent flare-up in an unedited photo.

"Eczema but make it eye shadow," Fanning captioned the image.

The 22-year-old actress allowed fans to see an uncensored look at her skin which earned her praise from her 4.8 million followers.

Fanning's post has also garnered more than 700,00 likes with many people chiming in on how they related to her.

"I have the same problem," wrote Ali Corbin. "I'm allergic to certain ingredients in eye shadow! Gives me eczema."

Other famous faces came forward to commiserate with her about their struggles with eczema, such as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel star Rachel Brosnahan, who commented, "I feel seen."

"I am the itchiest person in the world," Fanning laughed back in response.

Eczema, also know as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic skin condition that causes red and itchy rashes, according to the Mayo Clinic. There is no cure but there are preventative measures people can take, such as moisturizing daily or using gentle soaps, to prevent future flares.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



artisteer/iStockBy CHRIS CIRILLO, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- When Robert and Janice Beecham were married on April 15, 1974, they vowed to stick together through sickness and health.

It was a promise twice tested: Robert suffered a stroke and was in the hospital on two of their wedding anniversaries, in 2014 and again 2016.

And he was on the verge of missing a third: In late February, Robert said he started feeling chills, lost his sense of taste and was dealing with phlegm "as thick as paint." He was hospitalized again as their 46th anniversary approached, this time with COVID-19.

"The night [before I was diagnosed], I prayed because I was so sick," Robert said. "I told God I was ready to come home."

Janice was dealing with her own health issues. She had just had surgery for breast cancer and was about to undergo her first chemotherapy treatment when she got the text that her husband had tested positive for COVID-19.

"I started crying hysterically because I was like, 'I got to get to this man,'" she said.

But Janice said the staff at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas wouldn't let her see Robert.

"I was trying to explain to them, 'I've always been there for him through everything,'" she said. "I didn't want him alone."

Fortunately, Robert wasn't alone. After he transferred to the floor with COVID-19 patients, he met Dr. Satyam Nayak, a hospitalist at Parkland Health & Hospital System. Nayak is also an assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

The two went for multiple walks around the tactical care unit and developed a friendship.

"I told him, 'It's not fair,'" Robert said. "'My anniversary is coming up and I'm in the hospital again.'"

Robert told Nayak that he wanted to get home to his wife in time for his anniversary.

"You could close your eyes," Nayak said. "And the way they talk about each other, you could feel the love."

Robert's condition began improving after a week in the hospital. Nayak spoke with his team, and they came up with a plan that could potentially get Robert home in time for his anniversary.

First, Nayak asked Robert to draw him a picture of his house floor plan.

Robert started drawing and Nayak mapped out where in the house he could go. The Beechams had a spare bedroom and bathroom, which allowed him to quarantine from his wife for 14 days.

They also had a window that faced the outdoor patio, where Janice could sit and to talk to Robert.

Robert agreed to the plan. After a week in the hospital, Robert was home in time for his 46th anniversary.

"I was so glad to see him. My heart was happy," Janice said. "When you're together all the time, it's hard when someone is not there."

Although the Beechams usually celebrate by taking road trips, this year's anniversary was still special, as Robert and Janice were able to speak on the phone and through a crack in the bedroom door.

On their anniversary, Robert called Nayak to thank him.

"My wife and I were sitting in the car," Nayak said. "We go into tears because, especially as a physician, we always see patients at their worst times, and it was one of those moments where I got to hear him at his best times with his wife celebrating his anniversary."

Robert has fully recovered from COVID-19 and Janice is now receiving radiation treatment for her breast cancer.

"Tomorrow is not promised," Janice said. "But I thank God that our tomorrow is a promise for us."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Prostock-Studio/iStockBy KATIE KINDELAN, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Pregnant Black and Pacific Islander women in San Francisco will get a $1,000 monthly supplement during and after their pregnancy in a first of its kind initiative meant to help improve health outcomes for both the mom and the baby.

Starting next year, 150 women will receive the supplement for the duration of their pregnancy and the first six months of their baby's life. The new initiative, called the Abundant Birth Project, has the goal of eventually providing the supplement to women for up to two years after pregnancy.

"We're really trying to reduce stress at a critical moment in a mom's life and a child's life," said Dr. Zea Malawa, a board-certified pediatrician who leads San Francisco's Expecting Justice initiative and who shepherded the project through two years of development. "Because we know that if we intervene in that window, the potential benefits can last a lifetime for that child."

In San Francisco, Black infants are almost twice as likely as white infants to be born prematurely, and Pacific Islander infants have the city's second-highest preterm birth rate. Black families also account for half of the city's maternal deaths and over 15% of infant deaths, according to the office of San Francisco Mayor London Breed, which announced the Abundant Birth Project on Monday.

Nationwide, Black women die during pregnancy or in the months after giving birth two-and-a-half times more often than white women and three times more often than Hispanic women, according to data released in January by the National Center for Health Statistics.

This is often because Black and Pacific Islander women lack access to quality health care, experience income inequality issues and are victims of systemic racism, experts say.

"When we see these disparities in birth outcomes, a lot of times people attribute that to Black and Pacific Islander people not caring about their health or being generally in poorer health or engaging in behaviors like drinking and smoking, but the data simply doesn't back that up," said Malawa. "We see in a lot of studies over the last several decades that when you control for those factors, we still see that Black women have adverse birth outcomes in comparison to their white counterparts, and frankly any of their race counterparts."

"One of the things that was clear to me was that strictly medical interventions were not going to be adequate for closing the gap," Malawa said of developing the Abundant Birth Project.

The idea to help pregnant women in San Francisco through cash, as opposed to additional programs or different medical care, came from both looking at the data and from putting Black and Pacific Islander women at the center of decision-making.

"We learned from the [Black and Pacific Islander] mamas in our steering committee, and for those of us that identify as Black what we know from our personal lives as well, that financial issues can be very stressful in a city of such great income inequality in particular," said Malawa. "The median income among Black families in San Francisco is less than the national median income, and we live in an extraordinarily expensive city."

"Pacific Islander families are also overwhelmingly concentrated in the lowest income neighborhoods of San Francisco, so it's not surprising at all that these are the kinds of [poor health] outcomes that we see," she said.

The monthly supplements, which will be paid for through private donations and some public funding, will come without any restrictions on how the women spend the money, a condition meant to empower the women, according to Malawa.

"There is a lot of stigma unfairly assigned to low-income women of color and in particular low-income Black women around receiving benefits," she said. "When we invest in low-income families, we need to remove the stigma, because that is also an investment in our economy and in our future well-being," she said.

"Everyone can benefit from a generation of kids who are born healthy and happy," added Malawa.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



narvikk/iStockBy DR. DAVE HARRISON, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- As the possibility of a widely available COVID-19 vaccine steadily approaches, initial limitations in supply have left experts worldwide asking: Who gets the vaccine first?

The World Health Organization and its appointed Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization, or SAGE, have released a worldwide vaccine distribution plan -- it pushes back on so-called vaccine nationalism, the idea that each country should prioritize its own citizens.

Instead, the WHO touts a global approach, prioritizing vaccination among the most vulnerable people everywhere.

"The first priority must be to vaccinate some people in all the countries, rather than all the people in some countries," WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in Geneva on Friday. "Vaccine nationalism will prolong the pandemic, not shorten it."

The WHO's proposed vaccine distribution framework ensures all countries access to the novel coronavirus vaccine once it becomes available. Participating upper- and middle-income countries, also called "self-financing" countries, will provide funding for the vaccine accelerator program, abbreviated COVAX, knowing that the long-term goal is global prosperity.

Seventy-eight wealthier countries have endorsed the program, with Germany, Japan, Norway and the European Commission this week expressing an interest in participating in the COVAX facility as self-financing countries. So far, a total of 170 nations intend to participate in COVAX, representing about 70% of the world's population. The United States is not among them.

"The idea behind the COVAX facility is that the world community unite in an enlightened and self-interested way to both incentivize and then distribute the vaccine so that there's no country in the world where no vaccines are available right from the beginning," said Dr. Ruth Faden, Ph.D., M.P.H., founder of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute for Bioethics. "The countries that come in who are self-financing are essentially helping themselves by helping the world."

In addition to strategizing an equitable distribution strategy among countries, the WHO's framework also examines vaccination priorities within each country.

By comparison, last week a committee that advises the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention proposed four sequential phases of vaccine prioritization within the U.S., beginning with high-risk health care workers, people with serious medical conditions and seniors living in crowded facilities.

The WHO guidelines don't include the order in which certain groups would receive the vaccine, but the plan does highlight certain vulnerable groups as a higher priority for global impact, with some flexibility based on each country's unique needs.

"We specifically did not say which groups should be prioritized first, second and third. That will come later. Not too long from now, but that will come later," continued Faden, who consults as a member of the working group that helped draft the framework but does not represent the international agency.

Local transmission patterns, the general quantity of vaccine supplies and a nation's infrastructure all will influence distribution tactics, Faden added. These will likely change between now and when a vaccine is approved, so as more information becomes available, the SAGE group will then begin prioritizing specific groups.

The framework's flexible approach is perhaps exemplified in the way children will be considered for vaccination.

"There's tremendous focus in our values structure around the negative impact that the pandemic has had on the well-being of children -- there's 1.5 billion kids out of school," Faden said. "It's just staggering, globally, the number of children whose lives have been disrupted. The goal is to get kids in school, full time, as quickly as possible.

"As the vaccine becomes available, it may be that the first-line strategy is to vaccinate teachers and school staff and not children, if only because the data will come first in adults."

In the United States, Pfizer/Biontech recently announced plans to expand testing to adolescents as young as 16.

"The WHO framework is particularly notable for its emphasis on global equity," Faden explained, "with specific objectives aimed at wealthy countries. ... The framework considers not only the public health impact of vaccine allocation, but also the social and economic impacts."

Dr. Dave Harrison is a pediatric cardiology fellow in Boston and a contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit. Sony Salzman, the unit's coordinating producer, contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



deepblue4you/iStockBy DR. LEAH CROLL, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- As the California wildfires and the COVID-19 pandemic rage on in tandem, they may pose a serious double threat.

"Now we're battling two public health crises," Panagis Galiatsatos, M.D., M.H.S., a pulmonologist at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and volunteer medical spokesperson for the American Lung Association, told ABC News.

And it gets worse: The two forces of nature may interact with each other.

"When we have public health concerns from wildfires to hurricanes, we worry about worsening spread of the virus," said Galiatsatos.

Wildfire smoke causes air pollution by creating particulate matter, microscopically small particles that may bypass filters in the nose and throat and penetrate deep into the lungs. These particles can cause airway inflammation, leading to increased susceptibility to respiratory infections, aggravation of underlying respiratory conditions and increased risks for hospitalization and death from pneumonia.

"Ongoing studies will give us more information on wildfire smoke and COVID-19, but we do know that air pollution makes COVID-19 worse, especially if you have underlying conditions," said Simone Wildes, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at South Shore Health and ABC News Medical Unit contributor.

The combination of airway inflammation caused by irritants in smoke plus underlying conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease create a "perfect storm" for poor COVID-19 outcomes, she added.

"Even if you have great working lungs, if you breathe in remnants from fires, your lungs may be impaired and ill-prepared to fight off the virus," said Galiatsatos.

Previous studies have shown that during wildfires, affected areas see a substantial increase in emergency room visits and hospital admissions for respiratory illnesses (like asthma or emphysema) and cardiovascular conditions (such as heart attacks and strokes). Now, experts are concerned that the wildfires may add to the pandemic's strain on California's hospitals.

"Hospitals are going to have to treat a lot of breathing problems as a result of damage from fire exposure. Capacity will be stretched," said Wildes.

As people are forced to flee from the fires and take refuge together, social distancing efforts may be compromised. Shelter crowding is a major concern, she said, but so are the effects of inhaling toxins from wildfire smoke.

"The big thing is social distancing is going to be hard, but you have to balance immediate danger, like needing to get people to safety from a fire, with the overall danger of spreading infection. The important thing is to get back to social distancing as soon as you are able," she said.

Similarly, Wildes explained, "Staying indoors is a double-edged sword now."

"If your house is too close to the fire, then you have to evacuate, but if you're not so close, it's safer to stay indoors and protect yourself from the smoke," she said.

Unfortunately, if you do have to go outdoors, the cloth masks that are recommended for reducing COVID-19 transmission won't keep you safe from the effects of air pollution.

"N95 masks work best in fires, but because of the pandemic, we have a shortage, which is another double-edged sword," Wildes said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers guidelines for staying safe while the COVID-19 pandemic overlaps with devastating wildfires. Checking air quality reports frequently is essential. The CDC recommends creating a cleaner air space at home, if possible, as well as adhering to social distancing and respiratory and hand hygiene practices as best as you can if you do have to go to a public disaster shelter.

Because COVID-19 and smoke inhalation can result in similar symptoms -- shortness of breath, sore throat, cough -- Dr. Wildes recommends discussing any concerning symptoms with your health care provider to see if COVID-19 testing is recommended.

"The major thing to remember is that if people don't catch the virus, they can't spread it. Now is the time to do everything you can," said Galiatsatos.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



ABC NewsBy KAITLYN FOLMER, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Researchers at Florida Atlantic University’s engineering department showed ABC News' GMA Investigates how fit and placement influence the effectiveness of face masks.

“We tried to see how different ways of wearing the mask would affect the amount of droplets that escape,” said Dr. Sid Verma, an assistant professor of ocean and mechanical engineering.

To conduct the demonstrations, researchers retrofitted a mannequin to release droplets through the nose and mouth, simulating a cough, sneeze or speaking. The droplets, made from a water and glycerin mixture, were then highlighted by a green laser beam.

The popular blue surgical, non-medical mask was placed loosely on the mannequin’s face. The researchers purposely did not press down on the internal nose clip.

“There were no droplets that were able to pass through the material,” said Verma. ”But we noticed that there were droplets escaping, primarily from the gap along the top edge of the mask.”

When researchers pressed down on the internal clip, contouring the mask to the curves of the mannequin’s face, they reported fewer particles escaping, although they saw an increase in particles that leaked from the sides of the mask, by the cheeks.

“The main thing to keep in mind is make sure it fits snugly on the face and any metallic wires or strips that are present, you should always try to press it down so it contours well to your face,” according to Verma.

Researchers also demonstrated the “half-mask” trend, when the mask is worn below the nose, only covering the mouth.

“We see droplets escaping, everywhere,” said Verma during the demonstration.

“When you’re half-masking, you’re keeping your nose exposed, which makes it easier for the virus particles to enter and begin its infection,” according to Dr. Jay Bhatt, an ABC News medical contributor.

Bhatt explained that half masking is a risk to both the person doing it and those around them, because virus particles can be released through the nose as well, and if a mask is not worn over the nose to block them, the particles can be released freely into the air.

From their observations of the demonstrations, researchers reported that particles escaping from the top of the mask usually start moving backwards, behind the mannequin. The particles can easily be carried to the right, left or behind a person, said Verma, depending on the ambient air flow conditions in the room.

“That’s why it’s so important to keep practicing social distancing even when everybody’s using a mask,” he said.

The homemade mask, made with multiple layers of cotton quilting, was also included in the series of demonstrations.

Researchers had previously tested this type of homemade mask in an earlier study, published in the journal Physics of Fluids. In that study, which compared different styles of face coverings, the homemade mask with two-layers of cotton quilting blocked the most droplets in comparison to the bandanna, a loosely folded handkerchief and a cone style mask.

In this demonstration, particles were visibly streaming from the top of the homemade mask, which did not have an internal nose clip.

“When quality masks restrict the flow of droplets through the material, these droplets tend to get redirected to wherever there’s small gaps or openings in the mask,” said Verma.

The mask that showed the least amount of escaping particles and droplets was the N95 mask. Researchers attributed a multitude of reasons for this, including a heavy metal clip that closes the gap very effectively, two straps over the head to secure the mask as opposed to ear loops and a rigorous custom-fitting process. But they also cautioned that this type of mask is not for general public consumption because it should be reserved for health care workers and that the mask itself is very uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time.

“We've come to regard masks as part of our daily life. And so it's ultimately really important to balance the issue of effectiveness versus comfort when we're wearing masks,” said Bhatt, who was the former chief medical officer of the American Hospital Association.

He stressed that these types of resources, such a N95 masks, should be reserved “for colleagues of mine on the front line.”

According to a recent model from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the widespread use of masks could prevent 100,000 COVID-19 deaths by the end of the year.

“The most important takeaway is masks do restrict the spread of droplets, but they are not perfect. They don't reduce the risk of transmission to zero,” said Verma. “This is why it's so important to still keep practicing social distancing.”

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

0
comments




COVD19
image of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

Weather

 

RI EMERGENCY MANAGMENT


Hurricane Preparedness


On Facebook