Some Rapid COVID-19 Tests Have Small Amounts of Toxic Chemical

In a recent report from the National Capital Poison Center, it was noted that some rapid COVID-19 antigen test kits contained a small amount of the toxic chemical sodium azide. This chemical is primarily used as a preservative in the liquid portion of many at-home COVID-19 test kits. BinaxNow, BD Veritor, Flowflex, and Celltrion DiaTrust COVID-19 rapid antigen kits include sodium azide.

It is important to note that only a small amount is found in these test kits and that there is a low risk of poisoning, however sodium azide can be potent. The liquid portion of the COVID-19 test kits is not meant to be ingested, however the container with the testing liquid can sometimes be confused for other things, such as eye drops, and children may accidentally ingest this liquid. Poisoning from sodium azide can present with low blood pressure, dizziness, headache, and heart palpitations. Coming in contact with the liquid can irritate skin and potentially lead to chemical burns. The most severe cases can include seizures, loss of consciousness, and death. In addition, the National Capital Poison Center provides this guidance:

“If you suspect someone has swallowed sodium azide, do not make the person vomit. For eye exposures, rinse the eyes for 15-20 minutes with warm tap water. For skin exposures, rinse the skin well with tap water. Immediately check the webPOISONCONTROL® online tool for guidance or call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222. Both options are free for the public, and available 24 hours a day. If someone has swallowed part of a rapid antigen test and is choking, call 911 immediately.”

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Variant Update on Omicron Subvariant BA.2

Recent data from the WHO and other sources have looked into a subvariant of the Omicron variant, named BA.2, as this variant has become the dominant strain in several countries in the past few weeks. This subvariant was discovered around the same time as the BA.1 variant, which has been the dominant variant in the United States and the variant most have been referring to when talking about the Omicron variant. The BA.2 variant was initially also called “stealth Omicron” by the media because it’s hard to differentiate in tests from other variants (not because it has less noticeable symptoms or doesn't show up as COVID-19 in tests).

The WHO data showed that BA.2 is about 30% more transmissible than the BA.1 Omicron variant and accounts for about 20% of all recorded cases in the world right now. While cases have been dropping, the proportion of cases due to the BA.2 variant has been increasing, with BA.2 cases now accounting for more cases than those caused by the BA.1 variant in at least 43 countries. While there is some concern for this variant still, a recent study out of South Africa in preprint, meaning it has not yet been peer reviewed, suggests that this variant is similar to the BA.1 variant in terms of clinical severity and likelihood of hospitalization. In addition, another preprint study from Denmark suggested that the rate of reinfection due to the BA.2 variant is similar to the original BA.1 Omicron variant. While reinfection was rare, the study was relatively small with a total of 263 reinfections confirmed.

While there hasn’t been any alarming signs from the BA.2 variant yet, there are still concerns as it has been shown to be more transmissible. It is still too early to be certain how it compares to the original Omicron variant in terms of clinical outcomes. While cases and hospitalizations have been decreasing recently, deaths are still incredibly high, yet vaccines have been shown to be protective. In addition to getting vaccinated or boosted if or when you can, continuing to wear masks and socially distancing are our best ways of protecting ourselves and each other.

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President Nominates Ketanji Brown Jackson to be First Black Woman to Serve on Supreme Court

On Friday, President Joe Biden nominated Ketanji Brown Jackson to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. If approved by the Senate, Jackson would be the first Black woman in U.S. history to serve on the Court.

Judge Jackson's Experience:

    • Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (2021-present), nominated by President Biden

    • Judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (2013-2021), nominated by President Obama

    • Vice Chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission (2010-2014), nominated by President Obama

    • Appellate Specialist, Morrison & Foerster (2007-2010)

    • Assistant Federal Public Defender in Washington, D.C. (2005-2007)

    • Assistant Special Counsel to the United States Sentencing Commission (2003-2005)

    • U.S. Supreme Court Clerk for Justice Stephen Breyer (1999-2000)

    • Juris Doctorate, cum laude, Harvard Law School, 1996

    • Bachelor of Arts, magna cum laude, Harvard University, 1992

A statement from the White House explains:

"Since Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement, President Biden has conducted a rigorous process to identify his replacement. President Biden sought a candidate with exceptional credentials, unimpeachable character, and unwavering dedication to the rule of law. And the President sought an individual who is committed to equal justice under the law and who understands the profound impact that the Supreme Court’s decisions have on the lives of the American people.

"That is why the President nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to serve as the next Justice on the Supreme Court. Judge Jackson is one of our nation’s brightest legal minds and has an unusual breadth of experience in our legal system, giving her the perspective to be an exceptional Justice. "

A statement from the NAACP notes that:

"Since 1789, 115 justices have served on the Supreme Court of the United States, and not one has been a Black woman. The Court decides critical cases impacting the lives of all Americans, ranging from voting rights, economic justice, equal educational opportunity, reproductive rights, environmental justice, consumer rights, and criminal justice. Representation of a Black woman on the highest court of the land is long overdue. Her presence and voice on the Court will undoubtedly enrich its perspective and improve its decision-making."

Innocence Project Executive Director Christina Swarns stated that, "If confirmed, Judge Jackson will bring deep experience in litigation, indigent defense, and the representation of marginalized communities — unique perspectives that have long been excluded from the nation’s highest court. We look forward to reviewing her record on the issues of innocence and wrongful conviction that we care so deeply about."

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Racist Tweet From Prominent Psychiatrist Results in Consequences and Calls for Change

On Monday, a prominent psychiatrist who has had control over the careers and training of many others, and has had significant influence over the field in general, made a racist tweet that has caused a firestorm of outrage and led to more people speaking up about racism in the field. At the time the tweet was posted, Jeffrey Lieberman was Director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute, Chair of the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry, Chief of Psychiatric Services at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, and is also the former President of the American Psychiatric Association. Lieberman, who is white, retweeted a false claim that Nyakim Gatwech, a South Sudanese model born in Ethiopia, has the "darkest skin ever seen on earth" according to the Guiness Book of World Records. No such "record" exists, and Gatwech has been forced to publicly dispel the myth many times. Most problematic, however, is what Lieberman wrote in his retweet: "Whether a work of art of freak of nature she's a beautiful sight to behold." Characterizing very dark skin as being a "freak of nature" is a racist statement that shows very clear anti-Black bias. Lieberman's powerful positions allowed his racism to influence major policy decisions, hiring and firing decisions, selection of grants, and a variety of other things that may have harmed BIPOC psychiatrists and BIPOC patients (both directly and indirectly). Lieberman has since deleted the tweet and deactivated his Twitter account. In the past, he has stirred up controversy for his efforts to defend then-President Donald Trump and discredit people in the field who said negative things about Trump.

In response to the tweet, Columbia University has now suspended Lieberman from his duties as Chair, the New York State Psychiatric Institute has asked for his resignation, and he has been removed from his position as Chief Psychiatrist at New York Presbyterian Hospital.

The field of psychiatry has a long history of racism, and the American Psychiatric Association issued a formal apology to BIPOC for its support of structural racism in January, 2021 (Lieberman was President of the APA in 2013-2014, before the organization made the apology).

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Federal Grand Jury Awards Black Trans Woman $1.5 Million After False Arrest

This week, Ju’Zema Goldring was awarded $1.5 million after a bogus arrest for drugs. In October 2015, Ms. Goldring was walking with friends when she was arrested and charged for jaywalking, a crime that she says she didn’t commit. Two officers searched her purse and found a stress ball that they cut open. The officers then tested a substance found inside the stress ball for narcotics and despite two field tests which showed no evidence of illegal drugs, Ms. Goldring was also charged with trafficking cocaine. She remained in the county jail until March of 2016. Her federal lawsuit against the Atlanta police department and the two arresting officers was filed two years later and just went to trial earlier this month. Charges and arrests can have detrimental impacts on people’s lives, even if the charges or arrests were unfounded. To have to be fighting for justice for seven years is despicable. How many other individuals have been profiled and falsely arrested in Atlanta in that time frame? While this is a win for Ms. Goldring, it is further evidence that our so-called justice system is broken and unnecessarily harms many folx, particularly those from marginalized communities, with those at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities being the most vulnerable.

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Maternal Mortality Increased During First Year of COVID-19; Major Differences Based on Race Found

A new report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that maternal mortality rates increased during 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic (before vaccines or effective treatments were widely available to combat the disease). Maternal mortality is when a person who is pregnant or who had recently been pregnant dies from any cause related to the pregnancy (not including accidents). The overall maternal mortality rate in 2020 was 23.8 per 100,000 live births, up from 20.1 in 2019 and 17.4 in 2018 (861 people in 2020, compared to 754 in 2019 and 658 in 2018).

Maternal mortality rates showed wide discrepancies based on race, due to the impacts of systemic racism: While the non-Hispanic white maternal mortality rate in 2020 was 19.1 per 100,000, it was nearly three times higher for non-Hispanic Black people, at 55.3 per 100,000. The change from 2019 to 2020 was found to be significant for non-Hispanic Black people, going from 44.0 to 55.3 per 100,000, while it was not statistically significant for non-Hispanic white people, who went from 17.9 to 19.1 per 100,000. While the 2020 maternal mortality rate for Hispanic people was similar to non-Hispanic white people in 2020, the increase from 2019 to 2020 was significant for Hispanic people, going from 12.6 to 18.2 per 100,000.

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CDC COVID-19 Vaccine Timeline Updates

The CDC has recently updated some of their vaccination guidelines which we have highlighted below.

First, the CDC advised that for some individuals, particularly males 12-39 years of age, an 8 week period between the initial two doses of an mRNA vaccine may be beneficial due to the small but increased risk of myocarditis in this population. In addition, some recent data from the CDC has suggested that a longer time period between the first two doses of the initial mRNA vaccine series could actually increase the effectiveness of the vaccine. This was part of the interim consideration from the CDC, with a summary of recent changes made on February 22, 2022. Below are the key points that they included as well, with much of the information unchanged from previous guidelines:

Key points:

    • COVID-19 vaccines currently approved or authorized by FDA are effective in preventing serious outcomes of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), including severe disease, hospitalization, and death.

    • COVID-19 primary series vaccination is recommended for everyone ages 5 years and older in the United States for the prevention of COVID-19.

    • A 3-dose primary mRNA COVID-19 vaccine series is recommended for people ages 5 years and older who are moderately or severely immunocompromised, followed by a booster dose in those ages 12 years and older.

    • In most situations, Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 Vaccines are preferred over the Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine for primary and booster vaccination.

    • A booster dose of COVID-19 vaccine is recommended for everyone ages 12 years and older. Timing of a booster dose varies based on COVID-19 vaccine product and immunocompetence.

    • Efforts to increase the number of people in the United States who are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines remain critical to preventing illness, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.

    • These clinical considerations provide additional information to healthcare professionals and public health officials on use of COVID-19 vaccines.

The second change was regarding pre-teens, teens, and adults who are moderately or severely immunocompromised. While the timing of the initial series of vaccination (3 doses total) has remained unchanged, the timing of the booster (a 4th dose) for these individuals is a booster shot given at least 3 months after their 3rd dose. This is reduced from what was originally supposed to be 5 months after their 3rd dose. A summary of these changes has been copied below and linked here:

Pre-teens, Teens and Adults Who Are Moderately or Severely Immunocompromised

People ages 12 years and older who are moderately or severely immunocompromised should receive a total of 4 doses of COVID-19 vaccine. The 4 doses are made up of a primary series of 3 doses of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, plus 1 booster of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (4th dose).

CDC COVID-19 Vaccine Timeline Updates

Legal System Round-Up: Racism

Arbery's Murderers Convicted of Federal Hate Crimes

On Tuesday, the three men who have been convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery were found guilty on federal hate crime charges. At the trial, prosecutors shared a variety of racist comments and materials from their social media and text history. Earlier this month, two of the men withdrew their guilty pleas after the judge rejected a plea deal in response to Arbery's family speaking out against it.

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Three Minneapolis Police Officers Found Guilty of Violating George Floyd's Civil Rights

On Thursday, three former Minneapolis police officers were found guilty of violating George Floyd's civil rights by a federal jury, in connection to Floyd's killing. The three were present while Floyd was being killed and did nothing to intervene or prevent his death. Two of the officers convicted helped hold Floyd down and the third stood nearby holding bystanders back.

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Police Officer Who Killed Daunte Wright Sentenced to Two Years in Prison

Kim Potter, the former Minneapolis police officer convicted of killing Daunte Wright, was sentenced to two years in state custody on Friday, February 18th.

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3 White Supremacists Plead Guilty to Conspiring to Attack US Power Grid to Spark “Race War”

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that three men pleaded guilty to "crimes related to a scheme to attack power grids in the United States in furtherance of white supremacist ideology." The men, who are from Ohio, Indiana & Texas, and Wisconsin, pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide material support to terrorists with the intention of having those materials used to destroy energy facilities in the United States. They planned to use automatic rifles to attack power substations in order to cause "economic distress and civil unrest" that they hoped would lead to a "race war." They shared neo-Nazi and white supremacist materials with each other and also painted a swastika under a bridge in Columbus, Ohio.

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Pilot Basic Income Program in Washington, D.C. Shows Success

In Washington, D.C., four community organizations launched a basic income pilot program during the pandemic with funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. The program, THRIVE East of the River, put money into the hands of low-income residents east of the Anacostia River between July 2020 and January 2022. THRIVE was able to provide $5,500 in cash to 590 families either in a lump sum or monthly installments. Data from participants shows that the extra money was able to provide short-term financial stability and take stress off of purchasing day-to-day necessities. The data shows that most participants spent the funds on housing, food, transportation, internet or phone, debt, childcare, healthcare, or child support. Before the THRIVE money was distributed, more than 33% of participants said they “sometimes” or “often” didn’t have enough to eat. After receiving the funds, that dropped to 19%. Participants were able to purchase food they wanted or needed, as opposed to being limited on what they could purchase when using SNAP benefits or receiving food from local food pantries. The pilot program showed that, contrary to public belief, participants made rational financial decisions that best supported their family. The freedom to spend the funds however was needed allowed participants to be treated with respect and dignity that may have contributed to an increase in mental health status. While receiving income could make participants ineligible for government benefits, during a crisis the government does not allow benefits to be canceled. This is a hurdle that would need to be attended to for further programs. While the funds created some short-term stability, overall the rising costs of living in the D.C. area do not allow for the funds to have a long-term reach - $5,500 does not go very far. The country is seeing basic income programs pop up across the country after the pandemic. These programs are essential in helping those forced to live in poverty and change public perception of those living in poverty.

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Federal Judge Dismisses Anti-Vaccine Lawsuit at MSU

On Tuesday, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by two current and two former employees against Michigan State University over the school's vaccine mandate. They argued they should be exempt from the mandate because they have "natural immunity" due to having been sick with COVID-19 and then recovering. Research has clearly shown that this type of immunity is not as effective as vaccination against COVID-19, and should not be treated as a replacement for vaccines. They have announced that they plan to appeal the ruling.

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

    • Vanessa Burnett (she/they) M.P.H; Health Equity Consultant, Michigan Public Health Institute

    • Wilfredo Flores (he/him/his), fifth-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