Delta Variant COVID-19 Cases Rising In the United States, Associated With More Severe Disease

According to the CDC, the Delta variant of the virus that causes COVID-19, also known as B.1.617.2, now accounts for about 6% of all COVID-19 cases in the United States. So far, the Delta variant has been associated with more severe disease and increased likelihood of hospitalization. In a recent COVID-19 briefing, Dr. Fauci acknowledged the increased danger of the Delta variant and stated that “we cannot let that happen in the United States” when referring to how the Delta variant has now become the dominant strain in the U.K. The most severe cases of those sick with COVID-19 from the Delta variant are in those who are not vaccinated, unsurprisingly, and early data suggests that the full vaccination (two doses plus a two week waiting period) with the Pfizer vaccine is 88% effective against the Delta variant (compared to 95% against the original strain). While more real world data is needed for other vaccines as well, experts say this data emphasizes the importance of getting vaccinated, and if you have gotten your first shot, to get your second shot within the recommended time frame as soon as you can. As states begin to reopen, only about 50% of the United States population has been fully vaccinated, so if you are able to, please get vaccinated as soon as possible and if you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us or ask your primary care provider.

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Arizona Judge Slams Prosecutors and Police for Lying to Retaliate Against Protestors

Earlier this week, a judge in Maricopa County Superior Court dismissed (with prejudice) gang charges against 17 anti-police protesters which were the result of police and prosecutors colluding to lie to the grand jury to create a fictitious gang in order to retaliate against the protestors. They claimed that the protesters were a criminal street gang because they chanted "All Cops are Bastards," they wore black clothes, and many of them had umbrellas, which they claimed met the legal definition of a gang by fitting the "self proclamation" and "clothing or colors" requirements of the law, and dubbed them the "ACAB Gang." While the law itself is clearly flawed in being overly broad, the arguments constructed by the police and prosecutor were obviously disingenuous, politically motivated, and illegal. The judge's order stated that "Both Sgt. McBride and Ms. Sponsel colluded in their efforts to present the grand jury with false information regarding a non-existent gang," that testimony was "clearly false, misleading, and inflammatory," and that prosecutor April Sponsel committed "egregious misconduct." Sponsel, the lead prosecutor on the case, and Vince Goddard, another prosecutor responsible for the scandal, both resigned last month.

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office announced that it would permanently dismiss the remaining charges in the case on Friday.

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United States to Donate 500 Million Vaccines

President Biden announced Thursday that the United States will purchase 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine to donate to other countries around the world. It is expected that 200 million doses will be distributed starting in August, with the remaining 300 million doses to be distributed early next year. These donated doses will be allocated by Covax - a World Health Organization-backed initiative working for global equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines - to 92 low-income countries and the African Union. The Biden administration had previously announced that the U.S. would share 80 million doses with the world by the end of June. Last week, the administration announced it would allocate 25 million doses. About 6 million of those will be directly given to countries experiencing severe outbreaks and the other 19 million will be shared with Covax. Covax is aiming to deliver 2 billion doses by the end of the year, which would lead to vaccinating around 20% of populations of countries in need. So far, Covax has delivered 82 million doses to 129 countries. Even with this effort, the vaccine inequities are still widening. While more than two billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered globally, some countries have only just begun vaccine efforts or are still waiting for first doses to arrive. In Africa, only 2% of the continent’s residents have been vaccinated. Approximately 85% of vaccine doses have gone to high-income and upper middle-income countries, leaving lower income countries well behind in vaccinations. While Covax is aiming to vaccinate 20% of people from low-income countries, this is nowhere near reaching herd immunity. This pandemic is global, and in addition to the ethics of allowing others to be infected and potentially die when we have a vaccine available simply because their governments have less money and/or political clout to acquire them, having countries with severe outbreaks and the threat of emerging variants is almost certain to cause problems locally, as continued spread of the virus will result in new variants developing and reaching the U.S. that we cannot easily prevent with existing vaccines. Vaccine inequities harm us all.

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NFL Halting the Use of Anti-Black Race-Norming in Cognitive Assessments

Last week, the NFL announced that it would be halting the use of race-norming, the adjustment of scores on the basis of race or ethnicity, as part of its determination of which former players were entitled to compensation from traumatic brain injuries. Race-norming shows up as assuming that Black players start out with lower cognitive functions than white players and applies adjustments for race in neurocognitive test scores. This results in many Black players being ineligible for dementia-related compensation payments because the test doesn’t show a large enough decrease in neurocognitive functions compared to the racially assumed baselines.

In 2012, the NFL agreed to a settlement to compensate retired players with serious medical conditions linked to repeated head trauma after a lawsuit was filed on behalf of more than 4,500 former players. Of the roughly 3,000 dementia-related claims, only 600 have received awards. More than half of former NFL players are Black, so adjusting for race has a disproportionate effect on who is receiving compensation for injuries. Race-norming perpetuates false assumptions about race and abilities. Race is a social construction, not a biological one. Race-norming is not specific to the NFL and neuro-cognitive functions, but is found all over the medical field.

Currently, the field of nephrology has created a joint task to evaluate the use of including race in a calculation to diagnose kidney disease. Using race in the calculation can underestimate kidney function and lead to delayed and inequitable disease treatment. The University of Washington Medicine announced that they will exclude race from the calculations of kidney function as it is an imprecise variable and perpetuates false narratives that Black bodies are inherently inferior to white bodies, while not acknowledging social conditions that are shaped by racist systems. While these are only two examples of systemic racism in the medical field, they are certainly not the only ones. The NFL has agreed to stop race-norming for cognitive functions tests and review past scores as a result of a civil lawsuit by two former players that accused the NFL of discriminating against hundreds of former Black players.

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Keystone XL Oil Pipeline Terminated in Victory for Indigenous Communities

The Keystone XL oil pipeline project was officially terminated by TransCanada Energy earlier this week. The move comes six months after President Biden revoked the permit needed to complete the pipeline, causing construction to be suspended. While press coverage often focused on objections by environmental groups, the pipeline was vigorously opposed by several Indigenous communities, including the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Fort Belknap Indian Community, and Gros Ventre Tribe, who worked with the Native American Rights Fund to sue the Trump Administration, Department of the Interior, and Bureau of Land Management. The pipeline was planned to cross Indigenous lands, creating a substantial risk of...

    • the desecration and destruction of cultural, historic, and sacred sites;

    • the endangerment of tribal members, especially women and children;

    • damage to hunting and fishing resources, as well as the tribal health and economies associated with these activities;

    • the impairment of federally reserved tribal water rights and resources;

    • harm to tribal territory and natural resources in the inevitable event of Pipeline ruptures and spills; and

    • harm to the political integrity, economic stability, and health and welfare of the Tribes.

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The tribes had treaties that protected their natural resources and lands, requiring their approval and consent for construction, but "In approving the Keystone XL pipeline, the federal government repeatedly ignored treaty rights, tribal sovereignty, and widespread opposition to push forward the interests of a foreign oil and gas company," according to Rosebud Sioux Tribe President Rodney M. Bordeaux. Earlier this year, Fort Belknap Indian Community President Andrew Werk, Jr. stated that "Our land, water, and people are under direct threat from the KXL pipeline. It is a project that has moved forward without regard to legality or safety. Our water sources are threatened by the dirty tar sand crude, our ancestral homelands are in the direct path of the pipeline, and our people already are suffering the effects of nearby construction worker man camps."

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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), fourth-year PhD candidate in Writing and Rhetoric, M.A. Technical Communication

    • Grey L. Pierce (they/them); M.A., Cognitive Psychology; Assistant Director, Michigan State University (MSU) Usability/Accessibility Research and Consulting; Project Manager, State of the State Survey, MSU Institute for Public Policy and Social Research

    • Francis Yang (he/him/his), M.S.-Global Medicine, Second-year medical student