MDHHS Issues New COVID-19 Safety Recommendations for Schools

On Wednesday, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued new COVID-19 recommendations for schools in the state. The recommendations are based on guidance issued by the CDC and include:

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COVID-19 Can Cause Erectile Dysfunction and Affect Sperm Production

Researchers at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine have found that COVID-19 can invade the penis and testicles, potentially causing erectile dysfunction and infertility via low sperm count, even in people with mild infections. It is believed that COVID-19 causes erectile dysfunction by affecting endothelial cells, which are cells that play a key role in facilitating increased blood flow to the penis during an erection. The study, which also examined the testicular tissue of seven patients, six of whom had previously died of COVID-19 infection, also showed decreases in sperm count due to COVID-19. It is important to note that the sample size in this study was small and further research needs to be done to better understand how COVID-19 can affect these body parts, but COVID-19 is not the first virus to affect sperm production and fertility. Mumps and Zika are examples of two other viruses that can infect the testicles and can impair sperm production. Vaccination against COVID-19, however, helps prevent these complications and the vaccine itself does not increase the risk of erectile dysfunction or infertility, despite rumors online saying otherwise. 

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Statements That Immigrants are Responsible for Surge in COVID-19 Cases are False and Misleading 

The Republican Governors in Florida, Texas, and Iowa have been spearheading harmful and false rhetoric that blames immigrants, and the Biden administration’s policies relative to immigration, for the rising COVID-19 cases in the country and in their states. It should be noted that at least two of these three Governors, Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas, have expressed interest in running for president in 2024, which may further explain a political motivation for these claims. Specific blame is placed on immigrants coming across the border with Mexico, who are primarily people of color. In recent months, as cases have begun to dramatically rise again with the Delta variant spreading rapidly across the country, neither DeSantis nor Abbott have supported mask mandates, with DeSantis going as far as to ban mask mandates and potentially withhold funding from schools that do require masks, although the attempt to withhold funding  is facing legal challenges. Abbott and Iowa governor Kim Reynolds also banned mask mandates back in May. Instead of taking steps to promote masks and vaccination (proven strategies to protect people from COVID-19) — DeSantis has recently voiced that he does not support vaccine mandates even at hospitals — these governors have promoted misinformation about immigrants spreading COVID-19. Abbott has gone so far as to release an Executive Order restricting certain immigration processes. According to MSNBC, “the order ‘restricts ground transportation of migrants who pose a risk of carrying COVID-19 into Texas communities’ by authorizing Texas law enforcement officers to ‘stop any vehicle upon reasonable suspicion’ of violating the executive order.’” Per MSNBC, what this ultimately means is that private organizations and non-governmental agencies are restricted from facilitating the transportation of immigrants from federal immigration facilities to other locations. In doing so, there are questions to the legality of the Executive Order, which may defy the Constitution which states that the federal government is responsible for regulating immigration, not the states. Most importantly, the language of the order promotes fear of immigrant communities and is likely to increase racial profiling across law enforcement agencies and violence against people of color, which has been a common trend from Republican policies. This poses a threat to the safety of immigrant communities and people of color who may be falsely assumed to be immigrants. It also provides a convenient excuse and legal cover for racists to target people of color.

At this time there is no data to suggest that immigration is significantly contributing to increasing COVID-19 cases across the country. In fact, the CDC recently released an order in July that grants an exception for unaccompanied immigrant youth, easing one aspect of the broad immigration restrictions placed in 2020 by the Trump Administration in what the administration said was an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The new order was released by the CDC after it was decided that the risk to immigrant youth and those working with them could be adequately controlled. Furthermore, according to Glenn Kessler, a fact checker at the Washington Post, despite an increase in the number of immigrants from the southern border of the United States, the current available data shows the rate of positive cases among immigrants to be less than the rate of positive cases in the greater county in which they are being held, for example in McAllen, Texas (one of the busiest crossing points for immigrants). Additionally, in a statement to the Washington Post, Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, a primary organization working with immigrants in McAllen, Texas, has a protocol for ensuring that immigrants who test positive for COVID-19 and anyone else who may have been exposed goes into an effective quarantine. Click here for the full story and analysis from the Washington Post.

Although the data is not complete and more research may be needed, there is enough data to suggest that the infectiousness of the Delta variant, low vaccination rates, and a lack of mask mandates and other precautions are playing a far greater and far more consistent role in the spread of COVID-19 throughout the United States than immigration. Efforts to blame immigrants are harmful and a misrepresentation of what the data does show thus far, and are part of a consistent pattern of blaming and marginalizing people of color and immigrants. 

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Symptomatic COVID-19 Breakthrough Infections Rare Are Among Fully Vaccinated People

With the Delta variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 is causing widespread increases in cases throughout the United States and around the world, stories of breakthrough cases despite full vaccination have been raising concerns. The best step someone can take to prevent COVID-19 is to get fully vaccinated, if they are able to. New data supports this by showing that symptomatic breakthrough infections (cases where someone who has been vaccinated still gets sick from COVID-19 and has symptoms from it) are rare among fully vaccinated people, and that the vast majority of people who are becoming seriously ill due to COVID-19 are those who are unvaccinated. According to a report ABC News received that included new and unpublished internal CDC data, symptomatic infections have only affected 0.098% of people who have been fully vaccinated (approximately 1 out of every 1,020 people). Experts say this falls within the expected level of breakthrough infections, given the number of people who have been vaccinated, the number of COVID-19 cases across the country, and the fact that no vaccine is 100 percent effective at preventing infection. 

However, while this data shows the vaccines are working well by preventing symptomatic infections, the new data does not include asymptomatic infection among the fully vaccinated, which is difficult to measure. This is important because experts at the CDC have found that fully vaccinated people can spread the Delta variant. So even though it is encouraging that vaccines remain successful in preventing symptomatic and/or severe illness in fully vaccinated people, it is still important for people who are fully vaccinated to wear masks indoors, practice social distancing, and remember that there are still steps that need to be taken to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and protect community members who are not yet or cannot be vaccinated, especially during times of high infection rates. Taking these steps also prevents the likelihood of clusters of breakthrough infections among fully vaccinated people, which is what is believed to have occurred in Provincetown, Massachusetts after gatherings for the Fourth of July resulted in 551 cases, with 69% of affected people being fully vaccinated, per ABC news. 


COVID-19 “Delta Plus” and Lambda Variants

In recent news, South Korea reported 2 COVID-19 cases of what has been called the “Delta Plus” variant. This variant is also known as AY.1, while the original Delta variant is designated as B.1.617.2. This variant is a sublineage of the Delta variant and is currently a variant of concern per the World Health Organization. In the United States, the CDC has also included the Delta Plus sublineage as a variant of concern, along with the Delta variant and its other sublineages. Currently, most experts have stated that there may not be a major cause for concern, as this subvariant has had ample opportunity to spread like the Delta variant, but has not. Evidence suggests that it is not as transmissible at the moment. That being said, there is still a point of concern as it does continue to show the ability of the virus that causes COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) to continue to mutate and potentially get worse.

Concerns have also been raised regarding the Lambda variant, which has also been in recent news. While evidence also shows this variant is not as transmissible thus far, early evidence does suggest that this variant might be more resistant to current vaccines. Data also suggests, however, that vaccines do still work and that antibody responses are still sufficient. The Lambda variant is currently a variant of interest per the WHO, but is not currently a CDC variant of concern or variant of interest. 

There are still many other variants of the virus that causes COVID-19, and the variants mentioned above all involve mutations of the spike protein at the very least, meaning that the components that current vaccines primarily target are the subject of these mutations. While most variants are less concerning than the Delta variant, it does not bode well if mutations continue to occur and potentially lead to a variant worse than Delta. Without higher vaccination rates in our populations, the virus will continue to mutate. Vaccinations are still our best way to end this pandemic, as possibly shown by the United Kingdom. The U.K. reopened despite Delta cases surging, but has had cases fall overall. 88% of the UK adult population has received at least one vaccine dose, with 73% of the population having at least two doses, which are much higher rates than the United States. The current falling rates of COVID-19 cases in the UK has largely been attributed to the high vaccination rates there. 

Please get vaccinated if you are eligible to do so and wear a mask, socially distance, and practice proper hand hygiene. Many states have begun to reissue mask mandates for government employees, including California and New York, with California issuing a vaccine mandate for healthcare workers as well. Broad mask mandates have returned in some areas, including the state of Louisiana. The governor of Alabama in a press conference also stated that banning mask mandates was a mistake and is currently working to remove the ban. Companies such as Tyson Foods, Microsoft, United Airlines, and major automakers have issued vaccine and mask mandates as well. As conditions get worse with the Delta variant, we recommend being proactive in protecting yourselves and those around you, even if you are not subject to a mask or vaccine mandate.

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Couple Who Pointed Guns at BLM Protesters Pardoned by Missouri Governor

On Tuesday, lawyers Mark and Patricia McCloskey were pardoned by Missouri Governor Mike Parson. The couple, who are both White, made headlines after they were caught on film brandishing guns at Black Lives Matter protesters walking past their house in St. Louis in June of 2020. They were indicted by a grand jury for multiple felonies last October, and pled guilty to reduced misdemeanor charges this past June. Mark McCloskey was fined $750 for fourth-degree assault and Patricia was fined $2,000 for misdemeanor harassment. The couple were invited to speak at the 2020 Republican National Convention and Mark is currently running for U.S. Senate. The Governor's pardon sends a clear message: If White people commit crimes because they "feel threatened" by the presence or existence of Black people, they will not be held accountable in the state of Missouri.

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Michigan Supreme Court Limits Shackling of Juveniles in Court

On July 28th, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that juveniles cannot be handcuffed, shackled, or put in restraints during court proceedings, unless restraints are necessary to prevent harm or there is a "founded belief that the juvenile presents a substantial risk of flight from the courtroom." Thirty states and Washington, D.C. already limited the shackling of youth in court. The issue gained broader attention in Michigan after an incident last year in which a Black teenager from southeast Michigan was handcuffed and shackled during a court hearing for not completing online schoolwork during the pandemic, which was a violation of her probation. There was no evidence that she presented any risk of harm or flight.

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COVID-19 Outbreak in Okemos School Summer Program

Last week, 18 students and 6 staff members involved in a summer education program at Cornell Elementary School were infected with COVID-19. School officials have stated that their safety protocols (including mask wearing) were being followed, but that mask exceptions may have been granted in one of the affected classrooms. As a result of the outbreak, the summer program has been closed for two weeks.

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