More COVID 19 Quick Takes

April 7th, 2020 by Tom Lynch

Offered without comment. None needed.

“The notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile, It’s not supposed to be state stockpiles that they then use.” – Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and adviser, at a White House briefing last Thursday, 2 April.

The federal stockpile of you know what.

I know, I know. You’re saying, “What? Another piece on the federal government’s inept performance to get masks and ventilators to the states?”

Yup. Some seemingly dead horses need new beatings when new facts emerge, and, as John Adams said 250 years ago when defending British soldiers on trial for their roles in the Boston Massacre, “Facts are stubborn things.”

But first, a word about the Associated Press (bet you didn’t see that one coming).

The AP, founded 173 years ago, is a cooperativeunincorporated association. Its members are U.S. newspapers and broadcasters. Its 3,200 employees operate out of 263 bureaus in 106 countries. It’s won 53 Pulitzer Prizes since the prize was created in 1917, and its AP Stylebook is the gold standard for reporters. Although everyone makes mistakes, and the AP is no exception, it exemplifies what news reporting ought to be.

Yesterday, the AP reported on its investigation into federal purchasing contracts for COVID 19 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Ventilators. The investigation showed that:

As the first alarms sounded in early January that an outbreak of a novel coronavirus in China might ignite a global pandemic, the Trump administration squandered nearly two months that could have been used to bolster the federal stockpile of critically needed medical supplies and equipment.

A review of federal purchasing contracts by The Associated Press shows federal agencies largely waited until mid-March to begin placing bulk orders of N95 respirator masks, mechanical ventilators and other equipment needed by front-line healthcare workers.

By that time, hospitals in several states were treating thousands of infected patients without adequate equipment and were pleading for shipments from the Strategic National Stockpile.

The President has said repeatedly that the states should be purchasing the PPE they need to confront the virus and that the stockpile is a last resort (see the Jared Kushner quote, above). On 19 March Trump said of the federal government, “We’re not a shipping clerk.” Trouble is, we now have a situation where:

  • The stockpile is nearly empty, because Trump, under constant criticism from the governors, was forced to distribute much of it;
  • The federal government is now buying all the PPE and ventilators it can find all over the world;
  • The states continue to try to buy, scrounge, or borrow PPE and ventilators wherever they can; and,
  • Everybody’s competing with each other for the stuff, driving up prices, creating a seller’s market (think price gouging as an art form).

What’s going on in the Situation Room?

CNN is reporting a “heated disagreement” over the weekend in the Situation Room about the efficacy of the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine. Multiple sources told the network Donald Trump’s top trade adviser Peter Navarro, recommending widespread use of the drug,”feuded with other officials over the drug’s unproven effectiveness to treat coronavirus.” In particular, Navarro took great exception to Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of NIH’s National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a post he’s held since 1984, telling him there was no data to indicate hydroxychloroquine is in any way effective, let alone safe, for treating COVID 19. CNN reports Navarro came to the meeting armed with documents he said proved his point, but which Dr. Fauci called anecdotes, and anecdotes are not data. Apparently, Dr Fauci saying to Navarro, who is not a member of the White House Task Force, “What are you talking about?” was particularly upsetting to the Trade Advisor.

Asked about the exchange today on CNN’s “New Day” Monday morning, Navarro claimed he is qualified to disagree with Dr. Fauci about COVID 19, despite not working in the health care field, because he has a PH.D. and is a Social Scientist. According to Merriam-Webster, Social Science is “a branch of science that deals with the institutions and functioning of human society and with the interpersonal relationships of individuals as members of society.” Surely that qualifies Dr. Navarro to recommend unproven medical treatments for the hundreds of thousands of current and projected victims of COVID 19 and to hijack the Task Force’s valuable time in the Situation Room. Split hairs are thicker than Navarro’s logic.

On the other hand.

This morning, Maggie Haberman, of the New York Times reported that Navarro warned the administration late in January that the “coronavirus crisis could cost the United States trillions of dollars and put millions of Americans at risk of illness or death.” Navarro wrote in a memo that a “lack of protection elevates the risk of the coronavirus evolving into a full-blown pandemic, imperiling the lives of millions of Americans.”

Too bad Navarro couldn’t prevail in that discussion back in January. We give him points for trying.

And what about those masks?

China is the world’s leading producer of surgical masks, turning out 50 to 60 million of them per day. When COVID 19 happened, China increased production to – get ready for this – 200 million per day. But because the pandemic originated in China, most of those masks stayed there. When the pandemic eased in China, masks once again began flowing, albeit more slowly and at greater cost, to the rest of the world, which, by that time, was already in the throes of the pandemic. Masks became the new gold.

Yesterday, NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly interviewed Mike Bowen, Co-Owner and Executive Vice President of Prestige Ameritech, located in North Richmond Hills, Texas. Mr. Bowen’s firm is the largest domestic maker of healthcare masks in this country. Governments, the healthcare industry, and companies from all over the world are asking him and the other American mask makers to supply them with masks, given the Chinese have turned down the spigot. During the interview, Bowen was discouraged and discouraging about his firm’s success prospects in picking up the Chinese slack to produce more masks. According to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, as of 10 March, the U.S only had about 1% of the 3.5 billion masks it needs to combat this pandemic. Bowen said every day he gets more than 400 emails asking for masks. But he can’t provide what he doesn’t have. He said, “It’s not like flipping a switch.” Machines have to be built, employees hired and trained. And when this is over, what does he do with the new machines and the new workers when demand has dropped off?

Bowen told Kelly he has been here before, during H1N1, when he built new machines, hired and trained workers and, after the scare was over, nearly went bankrupt. He had to lay off 150 people and moth-ball his machines. He’s afraid that’s what will happen again, as are all the other mask manufacturers.

And why is that? Bowen says because his masks are made in America, they are more expensive than masks made in Mexico and China. Consequently, until COVID 19, his firm had, in his words, “zero masks” going to federal agencies. Prestige has repeatedly bid on federal contracts for masks with HHS and DOD, but has never succeeded, because of cost.

Even going all out, 24/7, Bowen claims there is no way on God’s Green Earth he, and all the other mask-making companies, will ever be able to get all the masks COVID 19 requires to American health care workers. Sobering, indeed.

On that happy note, I leave you until next time.

 

 

 

CoVid 19 Quick Takes

April 3rd, 2020 by Tom Lynch

 

Quote of the day: “To put it bluntly, the U.S. economy went from full speed to full stop — and millions of workers were not wearing seat belts.” – Josh Lipsky, director of global business and economics policy at the Atlantic Council, a nonpartisan think tank.

 

Keeping up with all things CoVid 19 is like swimming through Semolina. It takes a lot of fortitude and stamina. But here goes, anyway.

The states versus the nation

Examining the national response to CoVid 19….no, wait, we don’t have a national response. We have close to 60 responses, one for each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the other US territories. If you don’t think they’re all on their own, just ask Andrew Cuomo. He said yesterday that none of the governors were currently screaming for states rights. They all want help, they all want national leadership, and they want it yesterday, maybe last week. Look at Ron DeSantis, Governor of Florida. For weeks, under withering criticism and through the debacle of Spring Break on the beaches, he refused to issue a Stay At Home order. Said the state didn’t need it. His excuse? The White House hadn’t told him to do it. But yesterday it did, so he did. Well, actually, the White House “recommended” it. DeSantis made a point of saying he “cleared it with the President.”

Contrast DeSantis’s actions with those of Mario Cuomo, Jay Inslee, Gavin Newsom, JB Pritzker, Gretchen Whitmer, Janet Mills, Charley Baker, and Mike DeWine. They’ve all been on their own, but they’ve been decisively responsible, and their constituents will one day thank them.

Every governor is reacting, and reacting is the right word, differently. It’s like watching an Athenian Trireme in the Mediterranean with all 170 oarsmen rowing at different speeds.

Don’t believe me? Let’s look at Stay At Home orders. Here’s a New York Times map showing state Stay At Home orders from 30 March, four days ago:

And here’s the same map as of yesterday, four days later:

The nation’s Governors are all having to act like European Prime Ministers, many of whom have issued travel restrictions and sealed borders. A week ago, Rhode Island’s Governor Gina Raimondo began letting New Yorkers into her state only if they would self-quarantine for 14 days, and she had the National Guard at the border to enforce the order.

All Governors would like their constituents to view them as Horatius At The Bridge, but Covid 19 is likely not the particular bridge they would have in mind. They need national leadership, not national cheerleading. Absent that, they’ve been forced to step into the void, some, like DeSantis, very reluctantly.

Trouble coming for the southeast

Vann R, Newkirk, II, has a terrific piece in this week’s The Atlantic looking at the public health difficulties facing young people, made even more severe by CoVid 19, in America’s southeastern states. Newkirk says:

So far, about one in 10 deaths in the United States from COVID-19 has occurred in the four-state arc of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, according to data assembled by the COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer collaboration incubated at The Atlantic….The coronavirus is advancing quickly across the American South. And in the American South, significant numbers of younger people are battling health conditions that make coronavirus outbreaks more perilous.

Some context is needed. A new study by the World Health Organization (WHO), endorsed and published by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine ranks America at or near the worst in just about every mortality rate category you can think of when compared with the other 16 wealthiest countries. U.S. Health in International Perspectives: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health paints a grim picture that should concern us all.

Now, look at the health of people in the deep south, particularly young people, who, according to a new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, have more comorbidities than young people anywhere else in the country. Those comorbidities put them at much greater risk of becoming seriously ill if they contract CoVid 19.

According to Newkirk:

If you define Oklahoma as part of the South, southern states fill out the entirety of the top 10 states in percentage of population diagnosed with hypertension by a doctor. Southerners are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases than other Americans—even as Americans are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases than citizens of other countries with comparable wealth.

Imagine you have a big barrel full of apples. Inside that barrel is a smaller barrel with apples your farm stand might label “seconds.” Inside that “seconds” barrel is a third and smaller barrel with apples your farm stand wouldn’t ever sell. The third barrel is health in the deep south.

The USNS Comfort

Remember this photo?

That’s the USNS Comfort, the 1,000 bed ship Donald Trump, to great fanfare, sent to New York to help with the serious hospital bed shortage, getting worse every day.

I’m guessing not too many people knew that the Comfort’s orders prohibit treating CoVid 19 patients. As President Trump said when he sent her on her way, “By treating non-infected people remotely on the ship, it will help to halt very strongly the transmission of the virus.” Note the words, “non-infected.”

So far, the Comfort has taken in three of New York’s patients. It’s kind of a Catch 22 thing. The ship can only take patients not infected with CoVid 19, but without sufficient testing, the ship’s clinicians won’t know if anyone actually has the disease, or not. Result: three patients. “If I’m blunt about it, it’s a joke,” said Michael Dowling, the head of Northwell Health, New York’s largest hospital system.

And finally – Getting back to the deep south

The American Association of Medical Colleges is out with its 2019 State Physician Data Workforce Report,

This annual report examines the supply of physicians in the United States. It documents the number of physicians per 100,000 inhabitants of every state. I’m proud, (I think) to report my home state, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, takes the Gold Medal with 449.5 doctors per 100,000 people. On the other end of the scale, coming in at Number 50, is Mississippi with 191.3. I would love to know what goes on in Mississippi. It seems to be at or near the bottom of anything you can name.

Here are how all the southern states rank:

State                                MDs/100K                       Rank

Mississippi                       191.3                                50

Oklahoma                        206.7                                48

Arkansas                          207.6                                47

Alabama                           217.1                                43

Texas                                224.8                                41

Georgia                            228.7                                39

South Carolina                 229.5                                38

Kentucky                          230.9                                36

Tennessee                        253.1                                29

North Carolina                255.0                                28

Louisiana                          260.3                                27

Florida                              265.2                                23

Given that New York, which is begging for retired clinicians and clinicians from other states to come and help with its CoVid 19 fight, and given that New York, with 375.1 doctors per 100,000 people, ranks Number 3 on the list, just behind Massachusetts and Maryland, how do you think a state like poor Mississippi is going to fair when the full weight of this virus lands on it with a loud thud?

I hope all of you hermits have a safe weekend!

 

 

Andrew Cuomo Is Right: Send Him The Ventilators!

March 27th, 2020 by Tom Lynch

If the state of New York were a country, it would have the highest rate of CoVid 19 cases per million inhabitants in the world. By far. As of 8:00 AM this morning, 27 March, New York clocked in with 38,987 cases, up more than 8,000 cases, or 27%, from two days ago. With 19.54 million people, New York’s rate of CoVid 19 cases is 1,995 per million inhabitants. The country with the highest rate is Switzerland with 1,387 cases per million inhabitants. But Switzerland only has 8.6 million people.

 

 

The populations of Spain, Italy and France are two to three times that of New York’s; Germany’s four times. So, New York would rank as a relatively small, but still respectably-sized, European country.

Looking at the dire predictions of most experts, Governor Andrew Cuomo believes New York is going to need 30,000 ventilators, and it’s going to need them about two weeks from now.

Donald Trump does not agree. He doesn’t see the need. At his daily… well, what would you call it? It’s certainly not a traditional press briefing. But, whatever you’d call it, yesterday he downplayed the need, and Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House Corona Virus Response Coordinator, whatever that means, sort of backed him up. Sort of. But we’ll get to that in just  a moment.

Last night, talking with Sean Hannity, who may be the sub rosa White House Coordinator, Trump said, “I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they’re going to be. I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators. You go into major hospitals sometimes, and they’ll have two ventilators. And now, all of a sudden, they’re saying, ‘Can we order 30,000 ventilators?'”

“I have a feeling.” ” I don’t believe.” Think about that for a minute and ponder the implications.

But back to Dr. Birx, who is skilled at nuance. What did she say about Cuomo’s request for ventilators? She said she was told New York had enough ventilators “to meet current needs.” She said that, while New York City may have a shortage of ventilators at the moment, there are other parts of the state “that have lots of ventilators and other parts of New York state that don’t have any infections right now.”

Unpack what Dr. Birx said and you find she is careful to talk about what is needed right now. Cuomo is talking about what will be needed in two weeks when the proverbial fecal matter has hit the whirring instrument head on.

Right now New York has scrounged up about 15,000 ventilators, half the ventilators Cuomo and his experts say they’ll need in two weeks.

The White House Corona Virus Response Team has a choice here. It can either look at New York with a panoramic view, or continue to pretend they’re glimpsing an arrow as it whizzes past a crack in the door.

If you were making the ventilator decisions, which view would you want?

 

CoVid 19 And The Flu: Some Historical Perspective That Might Surprise You

March 26th, 2020 by Tom Lynch

Early in the morning of 4 March 1918, at Fort Riley, Kansas, Private Albert Gitchell reported for sick call at the Fort’s Hospital complaining of sore throat, fever and  a headache. By that noon, more than 100 other Fort Riley soldiers were at the hospital with similar symptoms. This was soon followed by similar outbreaks at other Army posts and prisons around America. Epidemiologists believe this to be the beginning of what came to be known as the Spanish Flu.

That March, 84,000 “Doughboys” shipped out for Europe, to be followed by another 118,000 in April. They brought the highly contagious flu with them. Soon, all of Europe and parts of Asia were infected. In June, Great Britain reported 31,000 cases (As I write this – 26 March – New York is reporting more than 30,000 cases of Covid 19). France and Germany suffered, too. Germany’s Crown Prince Rupprecht wrote on August 3. “Poor provisions, heavy losses, and the deepening influenza have deeply depressed the spirits of men in the III Infantry Division.” Soon, Russia, North Africa, India, China, Japan, the Philippines and even New Zealand would fall victim, as well.

The war ended on 11 November and the soldiers went home, bringing more of the disease with them. A second wave then hit America, much more devastating than the first. It infected 28% of the country’s population including my 5-year old Dad, who survived, thank you very much. It finally petered out at the end of 1919. As today, younger people seemed to combat the disease better than the aged.

From March through November, Americans did not know much about the Flu and its effect on the population. The Central Powers took great pains to censor bad news, trying to keep morale high. The first reports of the Flu came in May from Spain, a neutral country with uncensored media. Hence, it became the Spanish Flu. But when the war ended the ropes came off and the world knew it was in the grips of what would become the worst pandemic in history, rivaled only by the Bubonic Plague, caused by Yersinia Pestis, the black rat, in the mid-14th century. That plague killed more than two million people in England alone, 40% to 50% of the population, and the population would not recover to its former level until the early 1800s.

When Americans finally learned what the Spanish Flu was doing to them what happened?

Well, first of all, there was no vaccine and no curative treatment. Sound familiar? Second, because of not wanting to spread bad news, the government delayed mobilizing fully to combat a different kind of enemy. Sound familiar? When it did, what did it do? As now, with CoVid 19, the burden fell mostly on Governors, Mayors and local health officials. Because the Flu was so widespread, affecting the entire country at once, most states and cities were on their own. Many made tragic mistakes, as many are doing now. Actions in Philadelphia and St. Louis, MO, provide two 1919 examples.

As cases mounted, Philadelphia went forward with a Liberty Loan parade attended by tens of thousands, shoulder to shoulder. The disease exploded exponentially. In just 10 days, over 1,000 Philadelphians were dead, with another 200,000 sick. Only then did the city close saloons and theaters. By March, 1919, over 15,000 Philadelphians had died.

In St. Louis, the mayor ordered schools and movie theatres closed and banned public gatherings. The St. Louis mortality rate was one-eighth that of Philadelphia’s.

On the whole, Americans fought the Spanish Flu the same way we’re fighting CoVid 19 – social distancing, wearing masks and gloves, washing hands and staying at home. They had no cure; neither do we. Eventually, in the 1940s, the first flu vaccine was created. Now, sixty years later, only 40% of Americans take the trouble to get vaccinated yearly for the flu, 30,000 to 40,000 die annually and 200,000 are hospitalized.

Make no mistake. CoVid 19 is not like the flu – of today. But it is very much like the Spanish Flu of 1918 and 1919.

We will have a vaccine to combat CoVid 19. Right now we’re in the middle of a traffic jam of attempts, but it will happen. I only hope for two things. First, that the Corona Virus doesn’t mutate annually, like the flu. Second, that all Americans wake up and get vaccinated for both this virus as soon as they can and, finally, for the flu.

CoVid 19 Upate

March 17th, 2020 by Tom Lynch

Nuggets arriving over the transom.

Blood Supply

The American Red Cross is facing a serious blood shortage RIGHT NOW.

“We need people to start turning out in force to give blood,” Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s biologics evaluation and research, said in a statement. “We need people to prevent the blood supply from getting depleted. We need it not to get to the point that surgeries are having to get cancelled,” Marks said. “That’s something we absolutely do not want to have happen. To ensure an adequate blood supply we need people to come out and donate blood.”

Although hospitals around the country are cancelling elective surgeries, they cannot cancel emergency surgeries. A 2018 study concluded the Emergency-To-Elective Surgery Ratio to be 9.4 in the U.S., 5.5 in the E.U., but a whopping 62.6 in sub-Saharen Africa (not a lot of elective surgery going on there). Emergency surgeries still have to happen. So, what’s the beleaguered Red Cross to do? In this time of CoVid 19, it has quite the dillema. Federal and state governments tell us to stay home as much as possible, but the Red Cross, which faces an emergency every eight minutes, depends on people going to one of their centers to donate blood, which, given the virus scare, is something many are finding hard to do.

Information – Where To Get It

Everywhere you look (including this blog), people are passing on CoVid 19 updates. It can all be a bit of a mish-mash. So, at the risk of compounding the problem, I’d like to suggest looking at the website of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). It is superbly organized and helpful. Its staff publishes Situation Updates every day, both for Europe and the world. The main reason to spend some time with the ECDC is to get a better idea of what is likely heading our way. Europe is about two weeks ahead of us for CoVid 19 communal spreading, and the ECDC’s charts are well-done, enlightening and scary. Compare the Situation Updates in Europe to the CDC’s here and here in the U.S.

And In The World Of Workers’ Compensation

The state of Washington was the first U.S. CoVid 19 hot spot. We noted yesterday the plight of a 70-year-old Washington ER doctor who was in critical condition after contracting the disease. That certainly qualifies for workers’ compensation benefits. But what about clinicians, doctors and nurses who, although asymptomatic, are forced to quarantine themselves for two weeks following exposure? It’s one thing if their employers continue to pay them while quarantined, but what if they don’t? And what about the health care charges incurred during quarantine? Who pays?

In a move that could start a trend, Governor Jay Inslee yesterday said any Washington health care workers forced to quarantine themselves following exposure would qualify for workers’ compensation benefits. Will this propel health care institutions to discontinue paying clinicians under quarantine? Regardless, workers’ compensation covering all the health care charges is a big deal.

Like a red rope in the snow, we will follow this story to see whether other states follow Inslee’s lead.

And now to once more assume the position of the CoVid 19 shut-in and watch the Dow Jones bounce around like a bee bee in a boxcar.

Stay safe.

 

 

CoVid 19 Update

March 16th, 2020 by Tom Lynch

Physicians on the front lines of CoVid 19 defence are getting sick. The American College of Emergency Physicians reports two ER doctors are in critical condition after contracting the disease, one in his 40s in Washington State, the other a 70-year-old doctor in New Jersey.

Which brings us to something nobody seems to be talking about, nobody, that is, except the inestimable Jennifer Christian, about whom I wrote last week. In today’s Work Fitness and Disability Roundtable, Jennifer asks about the consequences to elderly doctors and nurses when the federal government and all the states tell the elderly to stay home. What are the implications?

From today’s Roundtable:

The 2018 Census of Licensed Physicians in the US ( https://www.fsmb.org/siteassets/advocacy/publications/2018census.pdf ) by the Federal of State Medical Boards found 985,026 physicians now licensed to practice medicine the US (which doesn’t necessarily mean they are in active practice), with 30.3% of them 60+ years old in 2018, compared to 25.2% in 2010.   If we use the 2019 State Physician Workforce Data Report ( https://store.aamc.org/2019-state-physician-workforce-data-report.html ) from the Amer Assoc of Medical Colleges which identifies physicians in ACTIVE PRACTICE based on the 2018 AMA Physician Masterfile, there are currently 908,760 physicians in active practice, and of those 32.1% are at least 60 years of age.   Sending them all home means benching 291,711 doctors.

Alright, let’s all agree we’re not going to tell nearly 300,000 physicians to stay home during the worst healthcare crisis of the last century. So, how do we protect them?

The first line of defence for ER physicians and nurses is personal protective equipment (PPE). That means appropriate face masks, gowns, gloves, soap and the like. Trouble is, the U.S. doesn’t have nearly enough PPE to go around if our coming experience resembles that of Italy or Wuhan. Think about that for a minute.

The only way to reduce the coming harm to elderly clinicians is to reduce the cases – flatten the curve. This presents each one of us with a choice. Either we do everything possible to avoid the disease – social distancing, staying home, washing hands, etc. – or, we engage in communal irresponsibility by treating all the warnings as mere suggestions, sort of the way we treat highway speed limits.

That type of behavior was very much in evidence over the weekend, from St. Patrick’s Day get togethers all over the country to Bourbon Street parties in New Orleans. Then, of course, there was the horrendoma at O’Hare and twelve other airports yesterday, as thousands of people tried to get back to  the USA from overseas and had to stand for hours elbow to elbow waiting to get screened for a virus many of them were probably spreading  during the communal scrum. Will somebody please tell me why our federal government continues to do things that have all the competence and well-thoughtoutedness of a Keystone Cops car chase?

All clinicians, expecially the heroic elderly ones now on the front lines, deserve our full-throttled disease avoidance engagement. Otherwise, we’re going to wake up a couple of weeks from now only to discover, as the bodies pile up, that what we did was way too little, way too late.

Have a nice day.

 

A Warning From One Who Knows

March 12th, 2020 by Tom Lynch

CoVid 19 appears to have begun in China. It then made its way around the world, and is now an “official global pandemic.” Last night, Donald Trump, in television primetime, addressed the nation and described what he and his administration are doing and plan to do to mitigate the pandemic’s effects in America. I won’t get into what I thought about his address, except to say that until the Fed intervened two hours ago, the stock market was down 9% and was on pace to have its sixth-worst one-day decline in history. So much for Wall Street’s response.

This morning, Trump, sitting in the Oval Office with Ireland’s Prime Minister, Leo Valadkar, answered questions from the press. He repeatedly made the point that things in America are ever so much better than in Europe, which he seemed to blame for our current pandemic difficulties. We have the “best doctors in the world” and all the resources needed to defeat the oncoming enemy. More than once, he said, “We’ve only had 32 deaths.” He opined in that certitudinous way of his that the virus will go away, maybe in a month or two, and urged everyone to “keep separation.”

I mention this by way of introducing the longest post WorkersCompInsider has ever published, about 2,400 words. And it’s all Dr. Jennifer Christian’s fault.

Jennifer, as many of you may know, is the Moderator of WFDRoundtable, an intelligent, illuminating and educational group chat site for clinicians, academics, workers’ compensation professionals, and anyone else who might be interested in learning what the medical profession, in general, is doing and thinking about sick and injured people. I wrote glowingly about Jennifer and her work in 2014. Might be worth a revisit.

This morning’s Roundtable arrived with Jennifer introducing a Facebook post by Dr. Daniele Macchini, from the Humanitas Gavazzeni hospital in Bergamo, Italy (northeast of Milan). Dr. Macchini is at the center of Italy’s CoVid 19 storm. He is smack dab in the middle of it, and what he’s seen isn’t pretty. He and his colleagues in northern Italy have been through a lot in the last couple of weeks, and what he’s written should be read by every American. it is a picture of what can, and very likely will, happen here, despite our President’s protestations to the contrary.

This is Dr. Macchini’s story. It’s been Google-Translated from Italian.

In one of the constant emails that I receive from my health department more than daily now these days, there was also a paragraph entitled “being sociably responsible”, which made some recommendations that I support. After thinking for a long time if and what to write about what is happening to us, I felt that silence was not at all responsible. I will therefore try to convey to people “not involved in the work” and more distant from our reality, what we are experiencing in Bergamo during these pandemic days from Covid-19.

I understand the need not to panic. I also understand the economic damage and I am also worried about that. After the epidemic, the tragedy will start again. However, apart from the fact that we are literally also devastating our National Health Service from an economic point of view, I allow myself to raise the importance of the health damage that is likely throughout the country and I find it nothing short of “chilling” for example that a red zone already requested by the region has not yet been established for the municipalities of Alzano Lombardo and Nembro (I would like to clarify that this is pure personal opinion).

I myself looked with some amazement at the reorganizations of the entire hospital in the previous week, when our current enemy was still in the shadows: the wards slowly “emptied”, the elective activities interrupted, the intensive therapies freed to create as many beds as possible. Containers arriving in front of the emergency room to create diversified routes and avoid any infections. All this rapid transformation brought into the corridors of the hospital an atmosphere of surreal silence and emptiness that we still did not understand, waiting for a war that was yet to begin and that many (including me) were not so sure would never come with such ferocity . (All this was done in silence and without publicity.)

I still remember my night watch a week ago that passed anxiously as I waited for a call from the microbiology unit. I was waiting for the outcome of a swab on the first suspect patient in our hospital, thinking about what consequences it would have for us and the clinic. If I think about it, my agitation for one possible case seems almost ridiculous and unjustified, now that I have seen what is happening.

Well, the situation is now nothing short of dramatic. No other words come to mind. The war has literally exploded and the battles are uninterrupted day and night. One after the other the unfortunate poor people come to the emergency room. What they have is nothing like the complications of a flu. Let’s stop saying it’s a bad flu. In these 2 years I have learned that the people of Bergamo do not come to the emergency room without cause. They did well this time too. They followed all the indications given: a week or ten days at home with a fever without going out and risking contagion, but now they can’t take it anymore. They can get enough breath, they need oxygen.

Drug therapies for this virus are few. The course mainly depends on our organism. We can only support it when it can’t take it anymore. It is mainly hoped that our body will eradicate the virus on its own, let’s face it. Antiviral therapies are experimental on this virus and we learn its behavior day after day. Staying at home until the symptoms worsen does not change the prognosis of the disease.

Now, however, that need for beds in all its drama has arrived. One after another, the departments that had been emptied are filling up at an impressive rate. The display boards with the names of the sick, of different colors depending on the operating unit they belong to, are now all red and instead of the surgical operation there is the diagnosis, which is always the same cursed: bilateral interstitial pneumonia.

Now, tell me which flu virus causes such a rapid tragedy. Because that’s the difference (now I’m going down a bit in the technical field): in classical flu, apart from infecting much less of the population over several months, cases can be complicated less frequently, only when the VIRUS destroying the protective barriers of the our respiratory tract allowing BACTERIA normally resident in the upper tract to invade the bronchi and lungs, causing more serious cases. Covid 19 is mild in many young people, but in many elderly people (and not only) it causes a real Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome because it arrives directly in the alveoli of the lungs and infects them making them unable to perform their function.

Sorry, but to me as a doctor it shouldn’t reassure you that the most serious are mainly elderly people with other pathologies. The elderly population is the most represented in our country and it is difficult to find someone who, above 65 years of age, does not take at least the tablet for pressure or diabetes. I also assure you that when you see young people who end up in intubated intensive care, pronated or worse in ECMO (a machine for the worst cases, which extracts the blood, re-oxygenates it and returns it to the body, waiting for the organism, hopefully, heal its lungs), any comfort you might take from being young passes then and there.

And while there are still people on social networks who pride themselves on not being afraid by ignoring the indications, protesting that their normal lifestyle habits are “temporarily” in crisis, the epidemiological disaster is taking place. And there are no more surgeons, urologists, orthopedists. We are only doctors who suddenly become part of a single team to face this tsunami that has overwhelmed us. The cases multiply, we arrive at the rate of 15-20 hospitalizations a day all for the same reason. The results of the swabs now come one after the other: positive, positive, positive. Suddenly the emergency room is collapsing.

Emergency provisions are issued: help is needed in the emergency room. A quick meeting to learn how the first aid management software works and a few minutes later they are already downstairs, next to the warriors on the war front. The screen of the PC with the reasons for the access is always the same: fever and respiratory difficulty, fever and cough, respiratory insufficiency etc … Exams, radiology always with the same sentence: bilateral interstitial pneumonia, bilateral interstitial pneumonia, bilateral interstitial pneumonia. All to be hospitalized. Someone already to intubate and go to intensive care. For others it is too late …

Intensive care becomes saturated, and where intensive care ends, more are created. Each ventilator becomes like gold: those of the operating rooms that have now suspended their non-urgent activity become places for intensive care that did not exist before. I found it incredible, or at least I can speak for Humanitas Gavazzeni (where I work) how it was possible to put in place in such a short time a deployment and a reorganization of resources so finely designed to prepare for a disaster of this magnitude. And every reorganization of beds, departments, staff, work shifts and tasks is constantly reviewed day after day to try to give everything and even more.

Those wards that previously looked like ghosts are now saturated, ready to try to give their best for the sick, but exhausted. The staff is exhausted. I saw fatigue on faces that didn’t know what fatigue was despite the already grueling workloads they had. I have seen people still stop beyond the times they used to stop already, for overtime that was now habitual. I saw solidarity from all of us, who never failed to go to our internist colleagues to ask “what can I do for you now?” or “leave alone that shelter that I think of it.” Doctors who move beds and transfer patients, who administer therapies instead of nurses. Nurses with tears in their eyes because we are unable to save everyone and the vital signs of several patients at the same time reveal an already marked destiny.

There are no more shifts, schedules. Social life is suspended for us. I have been separated for a few months, and I assure you that I have always done everything possible to constantly see my son even on the days of taking the night off, without sleeping and postponing sleep until when I am without him, but for almost 2 weeks I have voluntarily avoided my son nor my family members for fear of infecting them and in turn infecting an elderly grandmother or relatives with other health problems. I’m happy with some photos of my son that I regard between tears and a few video calls.

So be patient too, you can’t go to the theater, museums or gym. Try to have mercy on that myriad of older people you could exterminate. It is not your fault, I know, but of those who put it in your head that you are exaggerating and even this testimony may seem just an exaggeration for those who are far from the epidemic, but please, listen to us, try to leave the house only to indispensable things. Do not go en masse to stock up in supermarkets: it is the worst thing because you concentrate and the risk of contacts with infected people who do not know they are higher. You can go there as you usually do. Maybe if you have a normal mask (even those that are used to do certain manual work) put it on. Don’t look for disease masks. Those should serve us and we are beginning to struggle to find them. By now we have had to optimize their use only in certain circumstances, as the WHO recently suggested in view of their almost ubiquitous impoverishment.

Oh yes, thanks to the shortage of certain devices, I and many other colleagues are certainly exposed despite all the means of protection we have. Some of us have already become infected despite the protocols. Some infected colleagues in turn have infected family members and some of their family members already struggle between life and death. We are where your fears could make you stay away. Try to make sure you stay away. Tell your elderly or other family members to stay indoors. Bring him the groceries please.

We have no alternative. It’s our job. In fact, what I do these days is not really the job I’m used to, but I do it anyway and I will like it as long as it responds to the same principles: try to make some sick people feel better and heal, or even just alleviate the suffering and the pain to those who unfortunately cannot heal.

On the other hand, I don’t spend a lot of words about the people who call us heroes these days and who until yesterday were ready to insult and report us. Both will return to insult and report as soon as everything is over. People forget everything quickly. And we’re not even heroes these days. It’s our job. We risked something bad every day before: when we put our hands in a belly full of blood of someone we don’t even know if he has HIV or hepatitis C; when we do it even though we know it has HIV or hepatitis C; when we sting with the one with HIV and take the drugs that make us vomit from morning to night for a month. When we open with the usual anguish the results of the tests at the various checks after an accidental puncture hoping not to be infected. We simply earn our living with something that gives us emotions. It doesn’t matter if they are beautiful or ugly, just take them home.

In the end we only try to make ourselves useful for everyone. Now try to do it too though: with our actions we influence the life and death of a few dozen people. You with yours, many more. Please share and share the message. We must spread the word to prevent what is happening here in Italy.

A Puzzlement Before The WCRI’s Annual Conference

March 3rd, 2020 by Tom Lynch

Thoughts and questions before heading to the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute’s (WCRI) annual conference this week in Boston.

Despite the erstwhile efforts of certain folks to put a big lid on scientific data and bury it all deep in the ground, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) continues to publish interesting and compellingly thought-provoking work. Take the paradox of union membership and earnings, for example.

Beginning of the paradox: Non-union wage and salary workers earn only 81% of what union members earn. Union workers in 2019 earned an average of $1,095 per week, as opposed to $892 for non-union workers, a difference of $203 per week, which, if you’re doing the math, is $10,556 per year.

The difference in earnings for men and women is stark: Men in unions earn an average of $1,147 per week, which contrasts with non-union earnings of $986. The difference here is $161 per week, or $8,372 per year. Unionized women, on the other hand, earn less than the men, but way more than non-unionized women: $1,018 versus $792, a difference of $226 per week, or $11,752 per year.

Clearly, union members earn significantly more than non-union workers.

So, will somebody tell me why union membership has been declining for decades? Every year, God bless ’em, the brainiacs at the BLS tell us by just how much, which is the second part of the paradox.  In January, 2020, BLS published data for 2019, which showed the union membership rate for wage and salary workers to be 10.3%, down 0.2% from 2018. Of course, our workforce is made up of both private and public sector workers, and here the public sector saves the day. The union membership rate of public-sector workers, at 33.6% is more than five times higher than the 6.2% rate for private-sector workers.

Some say the reason for declining union membership is the hefty annual dues union members have to pay. Well, the most any worker will pay in dues to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers for 2020 is $492; for the United Auto Workers, it’s $843.84. It doesn’t seem as if sky-high dues can be the answer.

I don’t know whether WCRI, or anyone else for that matter, has studied whether there is a statistically significant difference in workers’ compensation injuries and costs between union and non-union wage and salary workers. Might be interesting to find out whether the 10.3%, in addition to earning more, has better workers’ compensation performance

Hope to see you in Boston

Gun Deaths in America: An Unending Tragedy

September 5th, 2019 by Tom Lynch

September, 1970

Let me tell you a story.

We call it “going back to the world.” Home in the USA. And I’ve arrived in one piece. For the last couple of years I’ve been running around the jungles of Vietnam. My new orders direct me to report to the Army’s Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia. I know the place well. It’s where I was trained and Commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant. Then on to Airborne and Ranger schools. Now a Captain, the job is to train the next bunch of happy warriors. My wife and I settle into the house at 3660 Plantation Road in the fine city of Columbus. It’s a nice neighborhood.

A few months after moving in a new civilian worker shows up at my office in the Infantry School. His name’s Bob. He’s a GS12 research analyst and I have no idea why he’s here, but he has a disability that makes it hard for him to walk or move even moderately weighted stuff. He’s rented a house in Columbus and is trying to figure out how to move his junk in. My wife and I offer to help.

So, on a sunny Saturday morning in the deep south we get into Marilyn’s red Corvair Corsa with turbocharged engine and dual carburetors, show up at Bob’s new place, and find a UHaul truck in his driveway packed with everything he owns. We get to work toting box after box into the house and putting it all where Bob wants it to go. It’s taken us all morning, but around noon we’re done and we sit down on Bob’s new furniture to celebrate the end of Bob’s beginning. Marilyn’s never met Bob, whom I’ve charitably described as being “a little strange.”  So, being a curious person she nicely asks about his life. This goes on for a while until the big moment.

The big moment is when Bob says to Marilyn, “Wanna see my hair-trigger Colt 45s?”

It’s like an E. F. Hutton commercial. Everything stops. I freeze for a second and then say, “Bob, do you really have hair-trigger Colt 45s?” He says, “Sure do. Two of ’em. They’re pearl-handled, too. Want to see?”

He’s asking a guy who’s just finished two years dodging bullets and other bad things in a spot where serious people really wanted to kill him and his men. To say I have developed a healthy respect for any kind of gun is not giving that phrase the value it needs. Having seen up close what they can do, the accidents that can happen, actually did happen, makes me scared to death of them. I’m not scared when they’re in my hands, but in somebody else’s who probably doesn’t know what he’s doing? I’m not scared yet, though, because Bob has yet to produce the firepower, but my tension level rises like a Goddard Rocket.

I look Bob dead in the eye and say, “Bob, please don’t get the 45s. Leave em’ right where they are. Marilyn and I have to be going. Hope you like your new place.” And with that, we leave.

We get back into the red Corvair Corsa with turbocharged engine and dual carburetors and drive home. When we get to the house on Plantation Road I pay the babysitter and look at the two-year-old daughter I’m just getting to know. And I think about the pearl-handled, hair-trigger Colt 45s in Bob’s house.

September, 2019 

Back in 1970 slightly more than 50% of Americans, mostly men, owned a firearm. Since then, although the population has grown, the percentage ownership has declined to 22.4%. Nonetheless, Harvard and Northeastern University researchers conclude there are about 265 million  handguns and rifles in the country now. Three percent of gun owners, super owners, own more than 50% of all firearms in the country. For the other 97%, average ownership is three firearms, mostly handguns.

Femicide, abusive men killing their intimate partners, is five times more likely if the abuser has a handgun and lives with the victim. Research shows the number one contributing factor to femicide is unemployment. Potential femicide victims who do not live with the abuser and own a handgun are significantly less likely to be killed by their abuser.

In 70% of workplace shooting deaths, the perpetrator used a handgun. Workplace shootings have declined significantly since the 1990s, but the 70% figure still holds. In the last 50 years there have been 50 workplace mass shootings with an average death count of six per event. According to Jillian Peterson and James Densley, who study mass shootings for a project funded by the National Institute of Justice: 

The perpetrators were almost exclusively men (94 percent) with an average age of 38 (the youngest was 19, the oldest was 66). More than three-quarters (77 percent) were blue-collar workers, and 53 percent had experienced a recent or traumatic change in work status before the shooting.

A University of Washington 2017 study found that three million Americans carry a loaded handgun daily; nine million do so at least once a month.

The National Center for Health Statistics, a unit of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, annually publishes National Vital Statistics Reports. One of those reports is about how we die. In Deaths: Final Data for 2017 (most recent data collection year), we note 38,396 deaths caused by firearms. Of those deaths, 23,854 were by suicide, 14,542 by homicide. Despite comprising 12.1% of the US population, non-hispanic blacks were homicide victims in 57% of the cases. Unfortunately, all CDC can do is report the numbers? Why? Because a 1996 appropriations act contained something that has come to be known as the Dickey Amendment. That amendment is interpreted to prohibit the CDC from doing any research into gun violence. The amendment says federal funding could not be used to “advocate or promote gun control.”  Since more than 38,000 people die by gun violence per year, is it too much to ask that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spend a few million of its $5 billion budget to research and analyze gun violence. Seems a modest proposal to me.

Although there is no universally accepted definition of a mass shooting, the Congressional Research Service defines a “mass shooting” as one in which four or more people are killed, not including the shooter. Using that definition, there have been 164 such events from 1966 through August, 2019. But they are increasing in frequency and deadliness. If the definition were expanded to include the death of the shooter, the raw numbers would rise substantially. Even so, mass public shootings represent only 0.5% of all homicides by firearms annually. But they are the incidents that garner all the attention, which the mass shooter is craving in most cases. And bigger body counts mean bigger headlines. One recently thwarted shooter posted that, “A good 100 kills would be nice,” and another wanted to “break a world record.”

In mass public shootings, the weapon du jour is the assault rifle. The National Shooting Sports Foundation has estimated that approximately 5 million to 10 million AR-15 style rifles exist in the U.S. Regarding assault rifles, I know a thing or two. And I can say with complete certainty and a good deal of experiential credibility that there is not a single reason on God’s lovely earth why anyone other than police and my military brothers should have one, especially one with automatic fire capability. Anybody who tells you differently is chock full up to their eyeballs with what makes the grass grow green and tall.

Now, I would not be an unhappy guy to wake up one morning to discover that all firearms in the hands of civilians have gone *poof* in the night. We all know that will never happen. But as Peterson and Densley argue:

One step needs to be depriving potential shooters of the means to carry out their plans. Potential shooting sites can be made less accessible with visible security measures such as metal detectors and police officers. And weapons need to be better controlled, through age restrictions, permit-to-purchase licensinguniversal background checkssafe storage campaigns and red-flag laws — measures that help control firearm access for vulnerable individuals or people in crisis.

Regarding Bob and his pearl-handled, hair-trigger Colt 45s? One evening in 1975 a bullet from one of them went straight through his head. Police classified it an accident, but I didn’t buy that for one minute.

 

 

 

 

Workers Memorial Day – April 28.

April 26th, 2019 by Tom Lynch

Today, just in time for Worker Memorial Day this coming Sunday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released employee injury and fatality data for 2017 contrasted with 2016. I guess you know the Great Recession is really over when worker injuries and fatalities reach pre-recession levels.

Compared with 2016, worker fatalities declined in 2017 – by 43 – from 5,190 to 5,147, a negligible and statistically insignificant difference of 0.8%.

Curiously, transportation incidents make up only 6% of non-fatal worker injuries, but 40% of fatalities. Essentially, 3% of all employment transportation incidents result in fatalities. Think about that the next time you merge into traffic on the freeway.

If you’ve ever wondered why car and truck manufacturers now devote so much effort to robotic, AI safety enhancements for their machines, you only have to look at the chart above to understand. They’re banking that taking the human out of the picture will reduce fatalities and sell more vehicles. In the end, everything reduces to economics.

Here at the Insider, we offer heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of the 5,147 men and women who died on the job in 2017. May they rest in peace.