Delta Variant Update: Dominant Variant and Potentially Different Symptoms

The Delta variant is now the most common variant of COVID-19, with recent CDC data showing 51.7% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. being due to the Delta variant. In addition, at least 24 states have seen increases of at least 10% in COVID-19 cases recently, largely due to the Delta variant. Recent reports as well as data from the Zoe COVID Symptom Study suggest that while most of the symptoms are the same as for the original strain of COVID-19, other symptoms seem to be more common now than others. What seemed to be less common symptoms before are currently some of the most common reported symptoms, including headache and sore throat. Symptoms such as a fever and persistent cough, however, are still some of the most common symptoms. 

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COVID-19 Vaccine Update

According to the CDC, 159 million people in the U.S. are currently fully vaccinated, about 47.9% of the total population. This is not a significant increase compared to previous weeks, showing that vaccination rates have slowed significantly. This comes as recent data has suggested that over 99% of current COVID-19 deaths have been in unvaccinated individuals. While there are breakthrough cases in fully vaccinated people, the data clearly shows that vaccinations are effective. In addition, unvaccinated individuals can further harm others as they are more likely to get infected and thus continue to infect others and increase the chance of the virus mutating further. COVID-19vaccines are effective, and if you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to us or to your primary care provider!

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Chicago Releases Report Linking Historical and Current Systemic Racism to Health Outcomes

Last month, the Chicago Department of Public Health released a report directly linking Black Chicagoans' health outcomes to the continued legacy of systemic racism. Up until recently, public health has placed the responsibility of health outcomes on the individual, while ignoring the great impact that systems and environments have on health outcomes. Public health now recognizes that where people live, work, grow, and play determines access to healthcare, education, transportation, safety, food, and jobs, and that structures and policies, both current and historical, have heavy influence on those factors. This historic and continued racism in Chicago’s systems has led to drastic health inequities between racial populations. The life expectancy gap between Black and non-black Chicagoans is 9.2 years and that gap continues to widen. Chicago, like many other cities, is racially segregated due to a legacy of political and economic exclusion such as redlining, local government policies, and violence. These factors have a direct influence on health outcomes. Without access to affordable grocery stores, liveable wages, safe and reliable transportation, and quality education, due to community disinvestment and racist policies and practices, population health suffers. The Chicago Department of Public Health is leading a call to action with Health Chicago 2025, which is a plan to improve the health of residents and close the widening health inequities. Being honest and naming racism as a factor in health is a step towards addressing disparate health outcomes. Without understanding how structures, policies, and practices came to be, we can’t hope to undo them. 

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Colorado Enacts Police Reforms

Colorado enacted several important law enforcement and criminal justice reforms this week, which could serve as a model for other states. While the moves do not defund the police or radically change the overall model of policing, and therefore fall far short of what is necessary, the steps are positive and may be more likely to pass in the near-term in other states.

In response to the death of a 23-year-old Black man, Elijah McClain, after police gave him ketamine, a new law prohibits police from using ketamine or from directing EMS to use it. EMS can now only administer it in prehospital situations in "justifiable medical emergencies" and are subject to a variety of requirements, including having proper training and equipment. The law also requires that police officers "intervene, without regard for chain of command, to prevent or stop another peace officer from using ketamine in pursuance of the other peace officer's duties."

Among the other changes:

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Racism, Sexism, and Transphobia in the Olympics 

In the past few weeks, several policies and practices have come to attention that disportionately affect athletes who are Black, women, and/or trans. 

Hair Cap Ban: Earlier this month, the International Swimming Federation (FINA) stated that hair caps by Soul Cap will not be permitted for competitions. Soul Cap makes hair caps that are larger and are suited for natural hair or protective hairstyles that are common for Black people, and particularly Black women. FINA’s ruling states that the hair caps did not follow the natural form of the head and that elite athletes have never used or required to use caps of such size. This exclusion of hair caps is based on racist ideas that white hair and head shapes are the norm and “natural.” This ruling eliminates any acknowledgement of inherent diversity in humans and that everybody has different needs. 

Testosterone Testing: Two Namibian sprinters, Christine Mboma and Beatirce Masilingi, were banned from competing in the 400m because their natural testosterone levels were higher than the accepted limit. In order to compete, they would have to take medication to lower their natural levels. Testosterone testing was implemented for the 2012 Olympic games and was stated to be necessary to make the competition fair. Testosterone limits are enforced for events between 400m and one mile, and are based on false ideas of what it means to be or look like a woman. These ideas are rooted in cis, white womanhood. Testosterone testing has also banned Caster Semenya from competing in any race since 2018 because she refused to take medication to lower her natural testosterone levels. She has tried to appeal the ruling, but it has been unsuccessful so far. This has also barred CeCe Telfer, a trans woman, from competing in 400m hurdles because of testosterone levels. Testosterone limits unnecessarily restrict and define what being a woman athlete is, and shuts out many athletes from competing. 

Drug Rules: This week, Sha’Carri Richardson was suspended for 30 days after testing positive for marijuana. Richardson explained that she used marijuana to cope with the loss of her mother, which she found out from a reporter during the trials in Oregon, where marijuana is legal. Marijuana is not seen as a performance enhancing drug and is quickly becoming legalized across the world. Even in the United States, the NFL and NBA have loosened rules around using marijuana. Brianna McNeal has also been negatively impacted by drug testing. She was given a 5 year suspension after missing a drug test in January 2020. McNeal stated that she missed the knock of the officials at her door because she was recovering from an abortion two days prior. McNeal has only had negative tests and the lack of empathy from officials is astounding.  While drug rules appear to be neutral, they are outdated, lack scientific basis and rooted in racist narratives (laws restricting marijuana use and imposing strict penalties for it were historically put in place to target Black people). 

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Courts Leave Voter Suppression in Place

A federal judge declined to strike down parts of a new, more restrictive Georgia voting law because he didn't want to "change the election administration rules for elections that are already underway," referring to runoff elections for the state House. The new law bans election officials from sending unsolicited ballot request forms to voters, further limits absentee ballot request periods, imposes voter ID requirements for mail ballots, limits the number of ballot drop boxes, prohibits people from giving food and water to people waiting in line to vote, and requires provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct to be discarded. The law has been widely decried as intentionally targeting and disproportionately impacting voters of color in an attempt to keep Republicans in power. The case is separate from one filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, which recently announced that it was suing the state of Georgia over the new voting restrictions.

A recent Supreme Court ruling was a significant setback to voting rights advances in the United States. At issue were two laws in Arizona, one that requires voters to cast their ballots in their assigned precinct or have their vote not counted and another that prohibits third parties from collecting mail-in ballots in order to deliver them. Plaintiffs, including the Democratic National Committee, argued that the laws violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, because they disproportionately impact BIPOC. Section 2 prohibits "voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or membership in [specified] language minority groups." The court determined that "Voting necessarily requires some effort and compliance with some rules; thus, the concept of a voting system that is “equally open” and that furnishes equal “opportunity” to cast a ballot must tolerate the “usual burdens of voting.”" The majority opinion goes on to state that "The size of any disparities in a rule’s impact on members of different racial or ethnic groups is an important factor to consider. Even neutral regulations may well result in disparities in rates of voting and noncompliance with voting rules. The mere fact that there is some disparity in impact does not necessarily mean that a system is not equally open or that it does not give everyone an equal opportunity to vote." In other words, as long as voting laws don't specifically target race, they can have a disproportionately negative impact on BIPOC, and that "some" disparities in impacts don't equate to inequality.

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COVID-19 Epsilon Variant

The Epsilon variant of COVID-19, also known as B.1.427 or B.1.429, was recently downgraded from a variant of concern to a variant of interest. This downgrade comes as the proportion of the Epsilon variant compared to other variants has decreased dramatically. This variant, which was first identified in California, was originally a variant of concern due to its higher transmissibility as well as studies suggesting it had greater antibody neutralization, thus potentially being more effective in infecting those who were fully vaccinated. The CDC currently has 3 “levels” of variants, with the worst being a variant of high consequence, though no variant is currently in that category.

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