CDC Data Shows Vaccine Reduces COVID-19 Infection from Omicron in Children

In a recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) from the CDC, data on COVID-19 infections was collected from July 2021-February 2022 in children and adolescents from 5 to 15 years of age. The data showed that between those dates, two doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine reduced the risk of Omicron infection by 31% among children ages 5-11 and 59% among individuals ages 12-15. Data was collected regardless of whether they were symptomatic or not, thus looking specifically at infection rates. 

This data continues to confirm that vaccinations work, including a two-dose regimen of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in children and adolescents. If you are able to, please get your children who are 5 years of age and up vaccinated to provide as much protection as possible!

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New Data Shows Racial Disparities in At-Home COVID-19 Testing

A new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that at-home COVID-19 test use has increased rapidly during the Omicron variant, but that people who are Black, people 75 years of age or older, people with lower incomes, and people with a high school education or less had lower rates of at-home testing use. Trans and nonbinary people had higher rates of at-home testing use than cisgender people.

Among the findings:

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Federal Funds for COVID-19 Testing and Treatment Run Out

People in the US without health insurance will soon face high costs for PCR tests for COVID-19. Federal funds that had made such tests free for uninsured people have run out, and Congress has not approved further funding. Cost for a single test will likely be $100 or more. The lack of funds is also expected to reduce shipments of monoclonal antibody treatments by one third will also result in reductions in availability of antiviral pills and treatments for immunocompromised people.

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More than 100 NYPD Officers Committed Misconduct During BLM Protests

New York City's Civilian Complaint Review Board published new information showing that it has substantiated complaints against more than 100 police officers for misconduct during Black Lives Matter protests. The Board is still investigating many more complaints, but have faced "unprecedented challenges in investigating these complaints particularly around the identification of officers due to the failure to follow proper protocols, officers covering their names and shield, officers wearing protective equipment that did not belong to them, the lack of proper use of body worn cameras, as well as incomplete and severely delayed paperwork." Of the 179 full investigations completed, 65 complaints were found to be substantiated, compared to 38 that are marked "unsubstantiated" and only 14 exonerations. The Board has now recommended charges against 61 officers, and discipline for 43 officers. To date, the NYPD has imposed discipline against 10 officers and waived discipline against 14 officers.

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Jury Awards $14 Million to BLM Protesters, Finding Police Used Excessive Force and Violated Rights

BLM protesters in Denver, Colorado were awarded $14 million on Friday after a jury found that police had used excessive force against them during protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in 2020. The jury found that police had both used unreasonable force and had violated their right to free speech. Police used pepper spray and fired bags filled with lead shot from shotguns at protesters, among other things. One protester was awarded $3 million as a result of being hit in the head by a shotgun blast, which put him in the ICU. To date, only 6 police officers in Denver have been disciplined for their actions during the protests.

Last month, the city of Austin, Texas approved more than $10 million in settlements for two people injured by police during BLM protests.

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Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson Faces Sexism and Racism in Senate Confirmation 

This month, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson made history by being the first Black woman nominated to sit on the Supreme Court and when she is confirmed by the Senate, she will continue to make history as the first Black woman Supreme Court Justice. While this should be a monumental moment to be celebrated, Judge Jackson has faced sexism and racism in Senate confirmation hearings. Some Republican senators have subjected her to unnecessary questions regarding race. For example, Senator Ted Cruz grilled Judge Jackson about whether she believed a book should be taught to kids that babies are racist, along with asking questions about critical race theory. Senators Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley tried to attack Judge Jackson about being soft on crime and giving lenient sentences to child sex offenders - which a group of retired federal judges found to be untrue. Senator Marsha Blackburn went at Judge Jackson for a handful of items that were taken vastly out of context. Most of these topics brought up by Republican senators have nothing to do with the actual work of a Supreme Court Justice and show just how far some Republicans will go to push their narratives. Along with racist themes, Judge Jackson has had to endure sexism as well. Senator Ben Sasse told Judge Jackson that she was “incredibly likable and winsome,” along with others who have praised her work in similarly gendered terms. While we are witnessing a moment of long awaited and deserved history, we are also witnessing again the depth of racism and sexism in the United States. The unfair treatment of Judge Jackson, who is perfectly suited for a Supreme Court seat, is not unfamiliar to Black women in this country. Judge Jackson is expected to endure this ridiculous questioning in order to achieve her spot on the Supreme Court and not speak out about it. The United States has a long way to go in seeing and valuing Black women as equals who are worthy of the same treatment they give white individuals. 

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Omicron BA.2 Update

COVID-19 cases continue to rise globally, with the WHO reporting around 86% of current infections being due to the Omicron BA.2 variant. In Europe, about 18 countries have seen a recent surge in cases as well. In the United States, several states have reported that the number of cases due to the BA.2 variant has increased, and it is estimated that the BA.2 variant is now the dominant variant in some states in the northeast, including New York and in New England. In addition, Los Angeles has seen a 130% increase in cases, with a majority of new infections being attributed to the BA.2 variant. Projections from the CDC estimate that from the week of 3/12-3/19, BA.2 made up 34.9% of all COVID-19 infections, an increase from the previous week, where BA.2 accounted for 22.3% of COVID-19 infections.

While there is some data showing an increase in cases in the United States, overall, testing is down as funds for the pandemic are cut. In addition, cases that are from at-home rapid antigen tests are not being counted. On the note of at-home tests, a recent MMWR from the CDC looked into at-home test usage and found that there has been a rapid increase in at-home test usage, however at-home test usage was lower among individuals who self-identified as Black, were 75 years of age or older, had lower incomes, and had a high school education or less. At-home rapid antigen tests have been and will continue to be an important tool for individuals to make informed, safe decisions, however test availability and equity are key in ensuring that the most vulnerable and marginalized communities are also able to stay informed after potential exposure and/or experiencing symptoms.

With current data and at-home test usage, as well as disparities in access to testing, BA.2 cases are likely being massively undercounted in the US, and there is reasonable concern about another surge in cases which has been seen in other parts of the world. To continue protecting yourself and others, continue to wear masks, especially while in public spaces, socially distance, and get vaccinated and boosted when you can.

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Two Michigan Brothers Exonerated After 25 Years in Prison

This week, two brothers, George DeJesus and Melvin DeJesus, were exonerated in a wrongful murder convinction in Oakland County, Michigan from 25 years ago. George and Melvin were convicted of the murder of a woman in July of 1995. She was found nude in her basement with a pillowcase over her head and wires binding her neck, wrists, and ankles. DNA tests linked another man, Brandon Gohagen, to the crime scene. He confessed to sexually assualting the woman, but claimed that Melvin forced him to sexually assault the woman before Melvin and George bound her and beat her to death. Gohagen received a deal in exchange for his testimony against the brothers, despite witness statements corroborating the brothers’ alibi of being at a party the night of the crime and no other evidence linking the brothers to the crime scene besides Gohagen’s statement. Officials with the Michigan Attorney General’s Conviction Integrity Unit conducted advanced DNA testing and reviewed the brother’s cases - speaking to witnesses and reviewing decades of documents before moving to have the convictions vacated and charges dismissed. This is the third and fourth wrongful convictions overturned by the Conviction Integrity Unit, which was established in 2019 to ensure those convicted of state crimes are actually guilty. The brothers have been kept in separate facilities for the past 24 years and were unable to see each other. They are eligible for up to a year of reentry housing and two years of other support services, along with $50,000 for each year they were wrongfully imprisoned. While this exoneration should be celebrated, the fact that they were wrongfully imprisoned for two and a half decades points to the major flaws in the criminal justice system. Nobody should have to lose a big chunk of their life behind bars. 

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COVID-19 Researchers Face Harassment and Abuse

A new survey conducted by the journal Science found that approximately 38% of COVID-19 researchers have faced harassment during the pandemic. The survey included over 500 researchers who have published on COVID-19, and 71% reported that prior to the pandemic they had never experienced abuse or had experienced far less abuse.

Among the harassment they experienced:

Among the impacts on those who faced harassment:

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73% of US Counties Had More Deaths than Births in 2021

A new report from the U.S. Census Bureau revealed that more than 73% of counties in the country had more deaths than births in 2021, an increase from 55.5% in 2020 and 45.5% in 2019. While an aging population contributed to the change, the COVID-19 pandemic was a major driving force.

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