Hospitalizations of Children Ages 5-11 During Omicron

In a recent CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), data collected from 14 states looked at confirmed hospitalizations of children 5-11 years of age due to COVID-19, particularly from December 19, 2021 to February 28, 2022 when the Omicron variant became the predominant variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This was also during a period where children 5 and up were eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations. During this period, about 400 children 5-11 years old were hospitalized due to COVID-19, with unvaccinated children being hospitalized at twice the rate compared to vaccinated children. In addition, 30% of those hospitalized were noted to have no underlying conditions, while children with diabetes and children who were obese were more likely to experience severe COVID-19, and almost 20% of the hospitalized children needed ICU care. It was also noted in this report that nearly 1 in 3 of the hospitalized children were Black, highlighting the disparity of the COVID-19 pandemic on racial and ethnic minority populations in the country. This report highlights that severe disease can happen in children and that increasing vaccinations in individuals in this age group will be crucial in protecting children from severe COVID-19.

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Federal Judge Strikes Down Transit Mask Mandate, DOJ Appeals

On Monday, a federal judge struck down the CDC’s mask mandate for airplanes and public transit in the United States. The ruling, which many legal experts believe was politically motivated and rests entirely on fundamental misunderstandings of public health law and faulty logic, comes from a judge who was deemed to be "Not Qualified" for her position by the American Bar Association when she was initially nominated. Judge Mizelle was nominated by then-President Donald Trump, despite not meeting the minimum standards for experience considered necessary for such a position, and now has a lifetime federal judgeship. Judge Mizelle decided that the mask mandate was illegal based on the word "sanitation" appearing in the 1944 Public Health Service Act, which provided the government with the authority to put the mandate in place. Rather than deferring to the relevant federal agency to interpret the language or relying on how the word was defined in the field of public health or by the CDC at the time the law was written (which would have included masks under the general term of "sanitation"), she instead looked up the word in a basic dictionary from the time, found two definitions, discarded the second one (which would include masks), and decided that since the first defintion didn't include masks, the original intent of the law didn't include masks. In addition, Judge Mizelle stated that the CDC should have followed standard rulemaking procedures when instituting the mandate, but those processes are not relevant during national public health emergencies.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice filed an appeal to overturn Judge Mizelle's decision. In the meantime, most major US airlines have made masks optional on their flights, rather than keeping them in place to protect the public from the pandemic (the removal of the CDC's mandate doesn't remove the airlines' authority to keep their own mandates in place). Locally, CATA, the Lansing area's public transit operator, quickly decided to abandon public health precautions after the ruling, announcing Monday night that they would no longer require masks on their buses or at bus stations.

Regardless of the status of the court ruling, the CDC, public health experts, and Queering Medicine recommend wearing a mask in crowded public places, including on public transit and airplanes.

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Wearing A Mask Can Still Protect You, Even When Others Aren’t Masking

Despite the discontinuation of numerous mask mandates throughout the United States in recent weeks, the pandemic is still ongoing and people, especially those who are immunocompromised or cannot be vaccinated, are still at risk. Although one of the most effective ways of preventing transmission of COVID-19 is community masking, masks can still help to protect you even if you are the only one wearing one. The most protective mask to wear when others are not wearing masks is an N95, KN95, or KF94 respirator. These masks fit more snugly on the wearer’s face and are designed to prevent at least 95% of particles from passing through the mask (or 94%, in the case of KF94 masks). Surgical masks, the rectangular single use masks, are less protective for the wearer if the person they are speaking with is not wearing a mask. Because surgical masks are more loose fitting, they are better for blocking coughs and sneezes than they are for preventing the wearer from breathing in infectious particles that have been hanging in the air. Per a recent study published in the official journal of the National Academy of Sciences, the risk of infection for someone wearing a surgical mask and speaking with an infected unmasked person within five feet of them is 90% within 30 minutes. That risk is reduced to 20% over an hour if the person instead wears a KN95 respirator, and down to less than one percent if both people are wearing KN95s. Different studies that have looked at the same infection risk in different ways agree that the risk is greatly reduced with a N95, KN95, or KF94 respirator. When wearing an N95, KN95, or KF94 respirator, it is important to make sure that the mask forms a seal at the bridge of your nose and that it rests on your cheeks tightly enough that you do not feel air coming in or out. Without doing this, the effectiveness of the mask is still greater than a surgical mask, but less effective than the 95% it was designed to filter out. Cloth masks are significantly less effective than N95, KN95, KF94, or surgical masks.

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Approximately 25% of Black and Latinx/Hispanic Elders in the United States Report Discrimination in Healthcare

A recent survey coming out of the Commonwealth Fund, a non-profit organization based in New York focused on health advocacy, found that older adults in the United States are the most likely to report that they were discriminated against on the basis of their race or ethnicity when accessing healthcare compared to elders in 10 other high-income countries. The survey, which was conducted from March 1 to June 14, 2021 and surveyed people 60 years and older, found that 32% of all older adults surveyed in the United States believe there is racial and ethnic discrimination in their healthcare system, well above the 13% average across all countries in the survey. For comparison, the second highest percentage of elders believing there was racial and ethnic discrimination in their health system were Canadians at 17%. Breaking this down further, around 25% of Black and Latinx/Hispanic identifying adults older than 60 in the United States reported racial discrimination when seeking healthcare, feeling that they were treated unfairly or that their concerns were not taking seriously by health professionals because of their race or ethnicity. This includes nearly 50% of older Black women. Meanwhile, only 3% of white elders felt they had experienced discrimination as a patient. As a result of this widespread discrimination, people of color experience challenges to both their physical and mental health, and all the downstream effects of those challenges — including social support, financial stability and poorer management of significant illnesses.

For an article by Axios that discusses the study results, links to several past studies and discusses systemic racism in healthcare over recent years, click here.

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Renewed Requests for Federal Investigation After Police Killing of Patrick Lyoya

On Thursday, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the Grand Rapids Police Department as a result of the killing of Patrick Lyoya by a Grand Rapids police officer earlier in the month. MDCR itself began investigating racial discrimination by the Grand Rapids Police Department in 2019, but didn't complete the investigation, reportedly due to a lack of staffing and resources. MDCR then asked both the Michigan Attorney General and the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the GRPD on multiple occasions over the past three years, but neither did so.

On Friday, Patrick Lyoya was laid to rest. Reverend Al Sharpton gave a eulogy, in which he also called for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the killing. Additionally, he echoed a demand made by Black Lives Matter Michigan, calling on the Grand Rapids Police Department to release the name of the officer who killed Lyoya.

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This Week's QM Round-Up Contributors (in alphabetical order):

    • Alessandra Daskalakis (she/her/hers), third-year medical student at MSU College of Human Medicine

    • Wilfredo Flores (he/him/his), PhD in Writing and Rhetoric, M.A. Technical Communication

    • Grey L. Pierce (they/them); M.A., Cognitive Psychology; Chair, Power of We Consortium

    • Francis Yang (he/him/his), M.S.-Global Medicine, Third-year medical student