Health News Roundup

The disproportionate share of death and disease experienced by essential workers, and more in this week’s roundup

The essential workers filling New York’s coronavirus wards
Dhruv Khullar, The New Yorker, May 1
As this wave of the coronavirus starts to slow in New York City, many of the people still getting infected are those who don’t have the luxury of distance—those who, by necessity or by trade, expose themselves and their families to the virus every day. Many states are now deciding whether it’s safe to reopen the economy, but for essential workers it never closed. Each morning, during the apex of the deadliest pandemic in a century, these men and women have been venturing out into the epicenter of disease, to cook and clean, deliver food and carry mail, drive buses and stock shelves, patrol the streets and tend to the ill. Many have paid with their health—some with their lives.

A surge in COVID-19 testing needed before Connecticut can reopen safely

Steve Hamm, Connecticut Health Investigative Team, May 6
On May 20, Connecticut will allow the reopening of offices, all retail stores, the outdoor sections of restaurants, and hair and nail salons. Bars, the indoor sections of restaurants, and entertainment venues will remain closed. With a target for reopening just a few weeks away, government and health care leaders are scrambling to put an adequate and sustainable testing infrastructure in place wherever it is needed. In Connecticut and across the country, government and health care leaders are facing the same dilemma: They want to reopen their economies, yet not enough is known about the spread of the disease to do so with full confidence that it can be done safely. That’s because many of the people who are infected do not know it, there are no vaccines or treatments, and it is unclear if people who recover gain immunity. In addition, the most common tests for the disease take two to three days to deliver results, and there are many false positives and false negatives.

As coronavirus strikes, crucial data in electronic health records hard to harvest
Fred Schulte, Kaiser Health News, April 30
Electronic health records document every step doctors or other health care workers take in treating a COVID patient, from medicines prescribed to signs of progress or setbacks. Data collected from large numbers of patients could quickly yield answers about which treatments are succeeding. But the pandemic is bringing into stark relief just how far the nation is from achieving the promised benefits, critics say. Pooling data from the digital records systems in thousands of hospitals has proved a technical nightmare thus far. That’s largely because software built by rival technology firms often cannot retrieve and share information to help doctors judge which coronavirus treatments are helping patients recover.

The harm of a colorblind allocation of scarce resources
Nathan Chomilo, Nia Heard-Garris, Malini DeSilva, Uché Blackstock, Health Affairs Blog, April 30
COVID-19 will not only have a disparate impact on historically under-resourced and marginalized communities, but also carries the risk of deepening pre-existing racial inequities in health care access, treatment, and social service delivery. Even a health care system striving to provide fair and equal treatment to all persons is not immune to structural racism and the other inequities that exist throughout society. To achieve equitable access and distribution of care, critical race theory must be a part of the process utilized to create broad, population-focused guidelines. This is particularly true in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic which is stressing both our health care system and society.