COVID-19 is the Leading Cause of Death of 35-54 Year-Olds in the U.S.

New data found over the last two months, COVID-19 was the leading cause of death among people aged 35-54 in the United States and the second leading cause of death among people aged 25-34 and 55-64. Across all ages, the disease was the second leading cause of death in the United States, causing 1,899 deaths per day in September, slightly behind the leading cause, heart disease (2,078 daily deaths), and ahead of cancer (1,636 daily deaths), the third leading cause. All other causes of death are below 600 per day. This data makes clear how serious the ongoing pandemic is in the United States, and also shows that the disease is not simply a problem for older people, as some have claimed.

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  • "COVID-19 continues to be a leading cause of death in the U.S. in September 2021"

Michigan COVID-19 Cases Still Rising; Local Hospitals at Capacity

Michigan is one of only five states in the U.S. where COVID-19 cases are still rising, and has the lowest percentage of the population fully vaccinated of those states. Over the last two weeks, cases have risen by 15% in the state, ranking fourth, behind Colorado (27% increase), Vermont (23% increase), New Hampshire (16% increase), and ahead of Minnesota (12% increase). All other states had no change or had a drop in cases over the same time period. 37 states had a drop in cases of 10% or more.

Locally, hospitals are at capacity, with Sparrow reporting that its emergency department, intensive care units, and inpatient floors are full. The hospital, like others across the state and country, is dealing with a high number of COVID-19 cases, but a large number of cases that are unrelated to COVID-19 are now also furthering the strain. Many people put off hospital care for the first 18 months of the pandemic, hoping to wait it out and get medical issues dealt with once hospitals were no longer dealing with a surge of cases, but can no longer continue to put it off. The wait has made things worse, as many conditions are considerably easier to treat when dealt with early on. An Emergency Medicine Professor at the University of Michigan explained, "We're still seeing people that may have deferred an early warning of a cancer, for example, over the last several months. And so when they're coming in now, they're coming in with more advanced cases." Medical staff are also burnt out and many are leaving their jobs due to the strain, furthering the hospital crisis.

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New Data on Major Racial and Ethnic Disparities in State Prison Populations

A new report from the Sentencing Project found significant racial and ethnic disparities in state prisons across the United States. In addition to significant nationwide issues, Michigan is cited as one of twelve states in which more than half of the people in prison are Black (for comparison, only approximately 15% of the state's overall population is Black).

Key findings:

    • "Black Americans are incarcerated in state prisons at nearly 5 times the rate of white Americans."

    • "Nationally, one in 81 Black adults per 100,000 in the U.S. is serving time in state prison. Wisconsin leads the nation in Black imprisonment rates; one of every 36 Black Wisconsinites is in prison."

    • "In 12 states, more than half the prison population is Black: Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia."

    • "Seven states maintain a Black/white disparity larger than 9 to 1: California, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Wisconsin."

    • "Latinx individuals are incarcerated in state prisons at a rate that is 1.3 times the incarceration rate of whites. Ethnic disparities are highest in Massachusetts, which reports an ethnic differential of 4.1:1."

    • The recommendations of the report include the elimination of mandatory sentences for all crimes, requiring racial impact statements for all criminal statutes, and the decriminalization of low-level drug offenses.

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FDA Committee Votes Unanimously for Moderna, J&J COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Shots

The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) voted unanimously this past Thursday in support of both Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine boosters. While this does not mean that the FDA has approved the booster to be given, this is a key committee decision that the FDA often follows. It is expected that the FDA will accept the recommendation of this committee and approve booster shots for those who received the Moderna or the J&J vaccine under an Emergency Use Authorization (as they have with Pfizer boosters) sometime this coming week, and the CDC is expected to issue recommendations soon after. Of note, while the Johnson & Johnson recommendation is for everyone who received that vaccine (as had also been the case with the Pfizer booster), the Moderna recommendations do not apply to everyone: The panel recommended the Moderna booster for people ages 65 and up, those with medical conditions that put them at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19, and those with jobs or living situations that put them at higher risk of exposure. The FDA and CDC may choose to expand the Moderna booster beyond the groups recommended by the FDA VRBPAC.

COVID-19 vaccine boosters continue to be a point of debate, particularly with regards to international access to vaccines. Concerns are not based on safety concerns related to the boosters, but instead about ensuring that vaccines are equitably distributed - there are many places around the world that do not have enough vaccine doses for initial vaccination, and many experts believe the doses being used for boosters in places like the U.S. would be better used as initial doses in other countries. This is a political issue, but should not influence your decision to get a booster, as there is currently no way for an unused dose in the U.S. to be sent overseas.

The CDC has also updated their COVID-19 data to include data on cases and deaths based on vaccination status as well as which type of vaccine. In August, unvaccinated people were found to be at a 6.1x greater risk of testing positive for COVID-19 and an 11.3x greater risk of dying from COVID-19. For those vaccinated, those who had received the Moderna vaccine were least likely to test positive or die from COVID-19. All three available vaccines in the U.S. were still shown to be very effective, however the risk of those who received the J&J vaccine for testing positive and experiencing some complications was higher than those who received the Moderna or the Pfizer vaccine, another indicator of the importance of a booster shot.

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COVID-19 is the Leading Cause of Police Deaths in the Line of Duty, But Police are Fighting Vaccine Mandates

According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, which collects statistics on law enforcement deaths in the United States, COVID-19 was responsible for approximately 65% of law enforcement deaths in the line of duty in 2020 and 2021. The next leading cause, gunfire, accounted for less than 13% of deaths. As a result of COVID-19, the death tolls for 2020 and 2021 are the highest in 50 years. In 2020, COVID-19 was the cause of death of 245 officers in the line of duty, while only 129 died from all other causes combined. So far in 2021, 231 have died of COVID-19, compared to 130 from all other causes.

Despite COVID-19 being the overwhelming leading cause of death of officers in the line of duty, police are fighting vaccine mandates across the country. Most recently, the head of Chicago's police union openly called on officers to refuse to comply with the city's requirement to report their COVID-19 vaccine status. A judge has granted a temporary restraining order to prevent the union head from making any further public statements telling officers not to comply, which city attorneys argued was effectively "sedition and mutiny." Chicago isn't alone: The largest police union in New York City is also fighting efforts to require vaccines for officers, the Los Angeles County Sheriff has refused to enforce the county's vaccine mandate for his officers, and Seattle police are threatening to not comply with requirements to provide proof of vaccination, among others.

At the same time that they fight against basic public health measures that could reduce the leading cause of police deaths, police and police unions are fighting against reforms that would reduce racial disparities in law enforcement and provide accountability for police brutality, frequently by claiming that those reforms would endanger police officers. Given the data, it appears that arguments against reforms are merely an excuse to uphold White supremacist systems, and are not rooted in genuine concern for their lives, otherwise they would be fighting for vaccine mandates, not against them.

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Federal Judge Denies Request to Block MSU's COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate

In August, a Michigan State University employee sued the school over its COVID-19 vaccine mandate, claiming that having previously had COVID-19 and recovered, she had "natural immunity" and therefore didn't need to be vaccinated. A federal judge denied her request for a temporary restraining order on August 31st, and on October 8th, denied her request for a preliminary injunction. The judge noted that because Michigan is an at-will state, an employer can terminate an employee for any reason that isn't specifically prohibited, and that she can therefore be legally fired for not complying with the University's vaccine requirement. He wrote that she "does not have the right to work at MSU" and "there is no fundamental right to decline a vaccination." The ruling also explained that MSU's vaccine mandate is important for public health reasons: "If MSU's vaccine mandate is not enforced, the harm to others and the public could be serious, according to health officials...The goal of the mandate is to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and keep people safe. Enjoining MSU's policy would increase risk based on the current record." "Put plainly, even if there is vigorous ongoing discussion about the effectiveness of natural immunity, it is rational for MSU to rely on present federal and state guidance in creating its vaccine mandate," the judge wrote.

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

    • 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; Chair, Power of We Consortium

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