New CDC Guidance and Pandemic Update

Following a recent CDC study published in their Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), the CDC updated their mask guidelines. Of note, the study showed that 74% of the 469 COVID-19 cases identified in those who visited the town being studied following large gatherings from July 3-17 were fully vaccinated. Of those, 90% of 133 of the positive cases were due to the Delta variant. This has led to the CDC stating that for those who are fully vaccinated, masks should be worn indoors in public in areas of “substantial or high transmission” to maximize protection from the Delta variant. The CDC also recommends that regardless of vaccination status, all individuals should wear masks in schools, including teachers, students, staff, and visitors. To check to see if your county falls under an area of “substantial or high transmission,” refer to the CDC link below:

CDC COVID-19 Data Tracker County View

While Ingham county was not initially listed as being subject to the guidance, it has since been increased to “substantial” transmission as of July 30th, meaning that it is now subject to the guidance, and it is recommended that even for those who are fully vaccinated, masks should be worn indoors in public. In addition, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky reported that CDC data suggests those who are fully vaccinated and have still been infected with the Delta variant show similar levels of the virus in their bodies than in those who are unvaccinated. This suggests that those who are infected while fully vaccinated can continue to transmit the virus almost as much as those who are unvaccinated.

It is important to mention, however, that current data strongly suggests that those who are fully vaccinated are much less likely to experience severe COVID-19 or be hospitalized, meaning that vaccination against COVID-19 is still strongly recommended and the best form of protection we have against COVID-19. While many mask mandates have not been reinstated yet, we also recommend wearing masks when in public or around other people. While being fully vaccinated still provides protection against infection, data shows that those who are immunocompromised do not have as much protection and are thus more vulnerable to infection, despite being fully vaccinated. As such, please wear masks when possible in public as well as follow proper hand hygiene and get vaccinated as soon as possible if you are able to. Please feel free to reach out to us or to your primary care providers with any questions or concerns.

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Ingham County Prosecutor Moves to Reduce Racial Bias in Criminal Charges; Police Chiefs Lash Out

This week, Carol Siemon announced that the Ingham County Prosecutor's Office "will no longer pursue certain criminal charges resulting from non-public safety traffic stops, as part of an effort to address the impact of systemic racial bias in the criminal legal system." The new policy is "intended to promote equity, justice, and fairness" in charging decisions, and explains that data from a partnership with the Vera Institute for Justice found "a significant racial disparity in charged cases in Ingham County," with Black and Hispanic people being disproportionately charged. While police officers make arrests, the Prosecutor's Office has discretion of who gets charged. Most of the City of Lansing and East Lansing are in Ingham County, and are affected by the policy change.

"Non-public safety related infractions are infractions that do not pose an actual danger to a person, property, or the general public. Examples of common infractions that do not typically pose an actual danger to a person, property, or the general public include: window tint, expired registration, a single defective tail light, failing to stop leaving a private drive, driving in the left lane, some defective equipment infractions, and driving while license suspended."

The policy also calls for "heightened scrutiny of all traffic stops and automobile searches" and specifically says that "routine traffic stop should not become 'fishing expeditions.'"

Rather than praise the Prosecutor's Office for taking steps to address racial bias in law enforcement or acknowledge their role in racial discrimination, chiefs from several major police departments held a press conference to slam the decision, calling it "what's best for the offender." A press release from the Prosecutor stated that "Evidence shows that non-public safety stops often reflect racial bias, and police stop, question, and search people of color at higher rates than white people. In addition, these stops do not improve public safety, as the majority do not result in the discovery of contraband or weapons." The police chiefs did not address these statements or the data showing the racial bias in their policing, instead stating that "this policy has nothing to do with public safety, but more so for supporting suspects." Those involved in the press conference were Ingham County Sheriff Wriggelsworth, Lansing Township Police Chief John Joseph, Lansing Police Interim Chief Ellery Sosebee, Meridian Township Police Chief Ken Plaga, Stockbridge Police Chief Johnnie Torres, Leslie Police Chief Evan Bennehoff, and Williamston Police Chief Jim Wolf. Also present was Eaton Rapids Police Chief Larry Weeks, despite the fact that his jurisdiction is in Eaton County, not Ingham County, and is therefore totally unaffected by the Ingham County Prosecutor's Office policy change. None of the chiefs at the press conference are Black.

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MSU to Require COVID-19 Vaccines and Masks for People on Campus

After multiple shockingly poor decisions to jeopardize the health and safety of employees and students on campus by not requiring vaccines or masks, MSU's administration has finally reversed course and announced that COVID-19 vaccinations and masks would be mandatory for those on campus. According to a letter from President Stanley:

    1. "All individuals are required to wear masks indoors beginning Aug. 1 in all campus buildings and other MSU facilities in East Lansing and throughout the state. This requirement will be in place for at least the first weeks of the fall semester."

    2. "All students, faculty and staff are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 with an FDA-authorized or WHO-approved vaccine by Aug. 31. Limited exemptions for medical or religious reasons will be provided."

MSU faculty, staff, and students voted in favor of mandatory vaccinations in May, but were ignored by administrators, who announced a few weeks later that vaccines would not be required. Days after that, MSU went further, eliminating mask requirements and nearly all COVID-19 restrictions on campus. According to President Stanley, the shift to requiring vaccines and masks comes in response to new CDC data, which points to transmission of the virus by vaccinated individuals. Many other universities around the country had already put vaccine and mask rules for the fall semester in place earlier this summer, and a federal judge upheld Indiana University’s vaccine mandate in July.

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Vaccine Requirements Increasing Throughout the Country

In light of increasing cases of COVID-19 due to the spread of the Delta variant, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (the VA) is requiring health care providers at their facilities (including doctors, dentists, nurses, and physician assistants) to be vaccinated within the next two months. This is the first federal department to make this a requirement and is significant because the department is one of the biggest federal employers and one of the biggest healthcare systems in the country. According to the New York Times, the current vaccination rate for workers in the department is 70% which has not been enough to prevent a handful of outbreaks among workers throughout the country, despite being higher than the national average. These outbreaks have caused staffing shortages and have potentially put vulnerable patient populations at risk.

In Michigan, in addition to the VA, the Henry Ford Health System, Trinity Health, Ascension, and OSF Healthcare have announced vaccination requirements. Earlier this past week, Spectrum also announced vaccination requirements for its workers, students, volunteers, and contractors. The Spectrum requirement will only be implemented after the FDA gives full approval to at least one vaccine, as opposed to the emergency use authorization that is currently in place. However, Spectrum representatives have said they may put the requirement into effect sooner if it is found to be necessary for safety.

This week, the White House also published a policy expanding vaccination expectations beyond the VA, saying that federal employees and contractors will have to be tested regularly if they are not vaccinated, however pushback is expected to this announcement and implementation details have not yet been announced. Similarly, President Biden has asked the Department of Defense to look into when COVID-19 vaccines will be required for service members, which is short of a mandate but is meant to increase vaccination rates.

Major cities across the country, including New York and Los Angeles, have also begun to announce vaccination requirements for health care workers and/or government employees, as well.

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Black U.S. Capitol Police Officers Recount Violent Racism of Insurrectionists

During testimony regarding the January 6th insurrection, in which supporters of Donald Trump stormed the Capitol in an attempt to use force to overthrow the democratically elected government, Black U.S. Capitol Police officers recounted the violent racism they faced. The following is excepted from the testimony of Officer Harry Dunn, who is Black (note that "[n-word]" has been substituted for the racial epithet that was in the original testimony):

More and more insurrectionists were pouring into the area by the Speaker's Lobby near the Rotunda, some wearing "MAGA" hats and shirts that said "Trump 2020." I told them to leave the Capitol, and in response, they yelled back: "No, no, man, this is our house!" "President Trump invited us here!" "We're here to stop the steal!" "Joe Biden is not the President!" "Nobody voted for Joe Biden!"

I am a law enforcement officer, and I keep politics out of my job. But in this circumstance, I responded: "Well, I voted for Joe Biden. Does my vote not count? Am I nobody?"

That prompted a torrent of racial epithets. One woman in a pink "MAGA" shirt yelled, "You hear that, guys, this [n-word] voted for Joe Biden!" Then the crowd, perhaps around twenty people, joined in, screaming "Boo! Fucking [N-word]!"

No one had ever—ever—called me a "[n-word]" while wearing the uniform of a Capitol Police officer. In the days following the attempted insurrection, other black officers shared with me their own stories of racial abuse on January 6. One officer told me he had never, in his entire forty years of life, been called a "[n-word]" to his face, and that that streak ended on January 6. Yet another black officer later told he had been confronted by insurrectionists inside the Capitol, who told him to "Put your gun down and we'll show you what kind of [n-word] you really are!"

Dunn went on to say that "Frankly, I guess it is America. It shouldn't be. But I guess that's the way things are. I don't condone it. I don't like it." He shared that the experience was traumatic, that he has since sought professional counseling, and encouraged others to do the same, saying "if you are hurting, please take advantage of the counseling services that are available to us."

More information:

"Written Statement of Harry A. Dunn, Private First Class, U.S. Capitol Police"

"Capitol Police Officer Testifies To The Racism He Faced During The Jan. 6 Riot"

"Racism of rioters takes center stage in Jan. 6 hearing"

Racial Disparities Detected in Officer Tone of Voice

A recent study out of the University of Michigan, in collaboration with Stanford University and Northwestern University, found that police officers are more likely to use a less-positive tone of voice with Black drivers than with White drivers. Furthermore, research participants who listened to recordings of officer voices captured by body cameras, without knowing the identity of the driver, responded that they were less likely to trust police officers after listening to the recordings of police officers speaking to Black drivers. The recordings, which were 12 seconds each and came exclusively from traffic stops in which the driver was not arrested, were rated on how friendly, comfortable, and respectful the officer appeared to be with the driver based on the tone and language the officer used. Officers were more likely to be perceived as comfortable and respectful to White drivers. The study suggests that officer tone of voice, which is perceived by drivers within the first few seconds of a traffic stop, is an important area of research when looking to understand racial disparities and a lack of trust in law enforcement as an institution.

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Majority of Americans Believe Racism Against Black People is Widespread

The results of a national poll conducted in early July by Gallup found that 64% of people in the U.S. believe racism against Black people is widespread in the United States. This reflects a three percent increase since 2016 and is the highest of five surveys recorded since 2008. The percentage of American adults who believe racism is widespread has increased since 2015, when the survey first hit 60%, in what is believed to be a response to increasing national coverage of police killings of and brutality against Black people. Since then, the number has modestly increased each time this specific question has been asked, though it was not asked in 2020, when the Black Lives Matter movement came to national attention.

The July poll also found that the majority of people in the U.S. are dissatisfied with the way that Black people are treated, with Black Americans (15%) and Hispanic Americans (37%), polling the lowest rates of satisfaction on record. Overall, satisfaction was the lowest in 2020 and first fell below 50% in 2015.

Additional information from this year’s poll and Gallup’s analysis:

    • Non-Hispanic Black (84%) and Hispanic (72%) respondents were more likely to say that racism is widespread. Non-Hispanic White respondents (59%) were less likely to.

    • 91% of Democrats polled believe racism is widespread, compared to 34% of Republicans and 62% of Independents.

    • 55% believe that Black people are treated less fairly than White people in their communities by police. This is further broken down into 80% of Black adults, 50% of White adults, and 54% of Hispanic adults. However, White and Hispanic adults are less likely to perceive that Black people are treated less fairly than White people in a handful of everyday situations, such as on the job, in healthcare settings, and in retail settings.

    • 69% of Americans believe civil rights for Black people have improved in their lifetimes, which is more Americans than in 2020 (59%) but fewer than in pre-2020 polls. In 2011, when Barack Obama was president, that number was 89%.

    • Since 2020, more people are likely to say that civil rights have only “somewhat improved” (44%) compared to “greatly improved” (25%). Before 2020, responses were more evenly distributed between the two survey options.

    • Black and White adults are a little bit more positive about progress for Black people’s civil rights this year than they were one year ago. Black, Hispanic, and White adults are all less optimistic about civil rights this year than they were before 2015.

    • Between 1997 and 2021, Black, Hispanic, and White adults have shown an overall trend of increasingly perceiving that Black people are treated less fairly than White people.


Vaccines Set to Expire

Widespread decreases in demand for COVID-19 vaccines throughout the U.S. are contributing to millions of unused doses of the vaccine nationwide that will soon expire in the coming months. Excluding estimates of delays in reporting, vaccines waiting to be administered as second doses, and typical wastage, it is estimated that there are enough unused doses to vaccinate more than 13 million people, per the Kaiser Family Foundation. According to the CDC, states across the country have received 52.36 million doses more than they have administered.

Michigan’s July vaccine distribution data similarly shows a decrease in demand, with a little more than 3,500 vaccines being administered per day in the first part of July. For perspective, in June more than 7,200 doses of the vaccine were being administered in the state each day. Currently, 54.0% of Michiganders 12 and up are fully vaccinated, and at this rate the state will not achieve 70% vaccination until some time in 2022.

Despite many states hoping to redistribute unused doses that have already been delivered to them to other countries in need of vaccines, the federal government, which owns the vaccines, will not allow their redistribution due to legal and logistical reasons. Instead, separate vaccines have been ordered for international distribution.

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

    • Alessandra Daskalakis (she/her/hers), B.A. Comparative Literature and B.S., Biology, third-year medical student

    • Wilfredo Flores (he/him/his), fourth-year PhD candidate 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