Major Study Shows Mental Health Impacts of COVID-19 a Year After Infection

A massive study conducted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs found that mental health effects of COVID-19 can last a year or more. The study compared mental health measures of over 150,000 people who survived COVID-19 infections to current and historical control groups, each of which included over 5.5 million people.

The results of the study show that people who survive acute COVID-19 infections are at are at increased risk of a variety of mental health disorders a full year later, including:

The risk was found to be highest for those who were admitted to the hospital due to the disease, but even those who had COVID-19 infections that did not require hospitalization are at increased risk. The study also found that those who survived COVID-19 were at increased risk of mental health impacts compared to those who have survived influenza (i.e., "the flu").

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Mask Recommendations Are Disappearing, but the Pandemic Continues

On Wednesday, Governor Whitmer and the MDHHS ended the statewide recommendations that everyone in Michigan wear a mask when indoors around people from outside their household. The move matches changes made in other states around the country as daily case counts fall to levels last seen before the recent surge. While politicians are citing the dramatic decline in cases over the last few weeks, the changes are largely the result of political pressure from people who are tired of having to take (or ignore) precautions to control the pandemic and protect the health and wellbeing of themselves and those around them. The unfortunate reality is that the pandemic is not over; the daily average number of cases in the U.S. is now lower than it was during the three main surges, but is still higher than the majority of the pandemic, including the first eight months of it, when full lockdowns were in effect. We are not in a sustained period of time with a low number of daily cases, which would provide evidence for relaxing recommendations - the number of daily cases is decreasing, but is not at a stable, low number. We are also still in the midst of a major surge in deaths from the disease. Providing a warning to others, Denmark ended its COVID-19 restrictions earlier this month in response to an improvement in daily cases, and now has the highest daily case rate in Europe.

Unfortunately, the odds of another variant emerging and causing another major surge are still high, and "returning to normal" due to a decline in cases only a month after the peak of the worst surge in cases we have yet seen is short-sighted and risks making things significantly worse. In the U.S., COVID-19 vaccination rates are still low: Only 27.9% of the U.S. population has received a booster dose, which is necessary to provide protection against the Omicron variant. Making matters worse, financially poorer countries, particularly those in the Global South, have even lower vaccination rates (for example, less than 1% of people in Africa have received a booster dose, and only 12.13% of people on the continent have even completed their initial COVID-19 vaccine regimen). The low vaccination rates in financially poorer countries are almost entirely due to companies patenting vaccines, refusing to share details of how they are made, and prioritizing sales to wealthier countries in order to increase corporate profits. New, and potentially catastrophic, variants will likely continue to emerge until and unless we treat the pandemic as the global threat that it is, and ensure that everyone on the planet has access to vaccines and booster doses, that people wear masks and take other health precautions when they or others around them may be infected or when cases rise, and we prioritize lives over profits and convenience.

Additionally, we can never go "back to normal." Nearly 1 million people in the U.S. and over 30,000 in Michigan are dead from COVID-19 and many more have long-term health impacts from the disease. A large proportion of those deaths and disabilities were entirely preventable. Additionally, people who are immunocompromised, who medically cannot be vaccinated (or receive less protection from the vaccines), or are otherwise more susceptible to COVID-19 continue to be at elevated risk.

Getting vaccinated, boosted, and wearing an N95/KN95/KF94 mask remain the best ways to protect yourself and those in your community.

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Violence Against Black Trans Women in Prisons

In the past two weeks, two separate cases of violence against Black trans women in prisons have been noted and both have filed cases with courts in their area. In New York City, Latee Brockington is suing over three separate sexual assaults that occurred while she was being housed in a jail at Rikers Island. Ms. Brockington has been housed at Rikers on and off since May, 2020. She was first placed in a unit for men because officials told her she could not be housed with women since she was not on gender affirming hormone therapy, even though she started taking it soon after being incarcerated. In June of 2020, an officer let an inmate into her cell who then rendered her unconscious and sexually assaulted her, even though she was depressed and on suicide watch. While she was then transferred to a unit for women, she was shortly after sent back to the men’s unit while officials cited vague security concerns even while it was noted that she was uncomfortable in the unit because of the assault. She was assaulted two more times a few weeks after arriving back at the men’s unit. In all three incidents, she was taken to the hospital to do a rape kit and semen was found all three times. Her case has yet to go to trial and she is still being housed in the men’s unit, which leaves her vulnerable to more attacks. Her lawsuit has been filed with a court in the Bronx and is awaiting processing. Rikers is notoriously known for violence and harm. The city says it will be closed by 2027, but how many more incidents will that allow to occur, and will incarcerated people be safe in other facilities? 

In Pennsylvania, a Black trans woman is suing officials in Dauphin County, where Harrisburg, the state capital, is located. Ms. Henderson was taken to jail while waiting to post bail for a misdemeanor charge. She was housed in an all-male open area, even though she asked not to be placed there. Ms. Henderson was assigned to a bunk in an open area with 100 men with only one toilet blocked by a curtain. While she avoided using the bathroom for multiple days, when she finally could not wait any longer, an inmate reached through the curtain and attempted to grab her. She ran back to her bunk sobbing and shaking. One guard approached her using trans and homophobic slurs telling her to not disprupt the pod. Another guard approached and sprayed her with mace directly in the face, while others dragged her to the ground by her hair and slammed her head into the concrete, all while using slurs and telling her she deserved the attack. She was then placed in a suicide cell, in which the toilet was covered in another person’s feces and she had no drinking cup or utensils or any sheets to sleep on until a guard brought the mace soaked ones. The jail also refused to provide any medications she was on prior to being jailed. When her fiancé posted bail, she went to the hospital where she was diagnosed with a concussion. Her lawsuit states that the prison and staff violated her Fourth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights, failed to provide medical care, and violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, and she is seeking a jury trial with compensatory and punitive damages. 

While the Biden administration recently updated guidance on Trans individuals who are incarcerated, there are still huge issues with discrimination and violence that need to be addressed beyond governmental guidelines. Trans individuals, especially Black individuals, are continually being harmed. How many more people will have to suffer before actual changes are made?

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Two White Men Charged in Unnecessary Shooting of Black Man

A father and son in Mississippi are facing criminal charges after chasing and shooting a Black FedEx driver who was delivering packages. D’Monterrio Gibson was delivering packages to a home in January in full FedEx uniform when a pickup truck started approaching and the drivers began blowing their horn at him. Thinking he was in the way, Mr. Gibson tried to leave, but the truck swerved and cut him off. After driving a couple of streets, one of the men was in the middle of the road pointing a gun at Mr. Gibson’s vehicle and was waving at him to stop. Mr. Gibson swerved around him and heard at least 5 shots ring out and bullets hitting the van. When Mr. Gibson called the police to report the incident, dispatch told him there had been a call of a suspicious person at the same address and proceeded to question him about it. When Mr. Gibson went to the police station the next morning, he was not taken seriously and further questioned about what made him look suspicious. The two men were not arrested for eight days following the incident, but now have been charged with attempted bodily injury and conspiring to commit aggravated assault. Mr. Gibson’s lawyer made a statement that the charges should be upped to attempted murder, but so far nothing has come from that. The case will be presented to a Grand Jury in April, where the jury may decide to up the charges if they find probable cause. Mr. Gibson is currently on unpaid leave from FedEx after being put on the same route and experiencing heightened anxiety. While FedEx is voluntarily paying for Mr. Gibson’s therapy, they are not paying for his time off - which is inexcusable. Again, another Black person is targeted in the United States while trying to live their life. 

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Study Looks at Vitamin D Deficiency and Severe COVID-19

A recently published study out of Israel looked at individuals who were Vitamin D deficient to see if there was any correlation of severity of disease. A total of 253 individuals had records of vitamin D levels prior to COVID-19 hospitalization from April 7, 2020 to February 4, 2021. The study showed that those who were Vitamin D deficient (less than 20 ng/mL) were 14 times more likely to experience severe or critical COVID-19 as compared to those with vitamin D levels at 40 ng/mL or higher. Also to note, this study was looking at data prior to the recent Omicron variant becoming the dominant variant, however the study authors stated that this correlation is relevant to all COVID-19 variants. While there have been many studies into understanding this correlation, it is still unclear whether vitamin D is protective. That being said, data does seem to support being Vitamin D deficient puts you at greater risk of experiencing severe COVID-19. There is data showing that those who are Vitamin D deficient are more likely to get sick from other causes as Vitamin D is an important vitamin in overall health. We get most of the Vitamin D we need from being outside and being exposed to sunlight, with some of our Vitamin D coming from diet as well. In regions where people get less sunlight, Michigan in the winter, it is not uncommon to be Vitamin D deficient. This does not mean that you should take too much Vitamin D, as too much Vitamin D can lead to other complications, particularly high calcium levels in your blood, and can lead to other health concerns. There is also no evidence that having elevated Vitamin D levels provides additional protection - only that having too little Vitamin D increases risk. Vitamin D levels are often screened at least yearly by primary healthcare providers, and if you are concerned with your Vitamin D levels, talk to your primary care provider to see if you could benefit from some Vitamin D supplementation within safe limits.

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COVID-19 Vaccination After COVID-19 Recovery Offers More Immunity

A recently published article in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) looked at 83,356  people who had gotten at least one dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine after recovering from a COVID-19 infection. Out of those who were vaccinated, 354 got reinfected as compared to 2,168 of 65,676 individuals who recovered from COVID-19 but did not get vaccinated after. This area has lacked some data, but this recent publication shows what we understood before: vaccination, even after COVID-19 recovery, offers even greater protection against reinfection than recovering from COVID-19 on its own. While recovering from an infection does provide some protection, reinfection has been a concern, particularly from the recent Omicron variant. To note, this study did not show any difference in those who received one dose of a vaccine compared to two doses. Current guidelines also support getting vaccinated even after recovering from a COVID-19 infection to offer yourself the best chance of further protection from reinfection. Both recovering from COVID-19 and getting vaccinated offer some protection, but vaccination is by far the safest method, in addition to wearing masks and socially distancing. If you have recovered from COVID-19, however, it is important to note that you can still get infected and you should still get vaccinated if and when you can, and get a booster shot as soon as you are eligible.

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Supreme Court Declines to Block NYC COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate

Last Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene in a case brought by teachers in New York City who failed in their bid to overturn the city's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for public school employees. The teachers, who claimed religious exemption, argued against the city's requirement for religious exemptions to be supported by religious officials. While many Christians in the U.S. are using their religion to claim exemption from vaccine requirements, no major denomination supports that position, and even denominations that have broadly opposed vaccines in the past, like Christian Scientists, have not opposed COVID-19 vaccinations. Justice Sotomayor, who is responsible for emergency appeals from New York, declined the request for intervention.

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