CDC Eases COVID Social Distancing Guidance in the U.S.

Robin Foster wrote . . . . . . . . .

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday it has loosened its COVID-19 social distancing recommendations as the American public learns to live with the virus in its midst.

“We’re in a stronger place today as a nation, with more tools — like vaccination, boosters, and treatments — to protect ourselves, and our communities, from severe illness from COVID-19,” Greta Massetti, author of a report on the new guidance, said in a CDC news release.

“We also have a better understanding of how to protect people from being exposed to the virus, like wearing high-quality masks, testing, and improved ventilation. This guidance acknowledges that the pandemic is not over, but also helps us move to a point where COVID-19 no longer severely disrupts our daily lives,” Massetti added.

“As transmission of SARS-CoV-2 continues, the current focus on reducing medically significant illness, death, and health care system strain are appropriate and achievable aims that are supported by the broad availability of the current suite of effective public health tools,” Massetti’s team wrote in its new guidance.

Changes to the guidance include de-emphasizing the 6 feet of social distancing that the CDC has advised since early in the pandemic. Instead, the agency advises Americans on what settings are riskier based on crowds, poor ventilation and personal risks such as health issues and age. An emphasis will also be put on building ventilation to stop the spread of many respiratory illnesses, the agency said.

Although the CDC still asks people who are sick with COVID-19 to isolate, the guidance would ease recommendations for anyone who is simply exposed to an ill person. Instead of being asked to stay home for at least five days, those individuals should wear a mask for 10 days and get tested on day 5, the CDC said. However, the guidance also suggests that exposed persons take extra precautions around people at high risk for severe disease for at least 10 days.

The agency did fine-tune its advice for those who fall ill with COVID: If you have moderate illness (shortness of breath or had difficulty breathing), severe illness (hospitalization), or a weakened immune system, you need to isolate through day 10, instead of day 5.

If you are unsure if your symptoms are moderate or severe, or if you have a weakened immune system, talk to a health care provider for further guidance, the agency said.

If you have ended isolation, and your COVID-19 symptoms worsen or you test positive again, you should restart your isolation at day 0. Talk to a health care provider if you have questions about your symptoms or when to end isolation, the agency advised.

The reasons for the changes include a high level of underlying immunity, with 95% of Americans having had the virus or having been vaccinated against it, as well as changes in public opinion about the precautions.

Experts agreed the new guidance appears to be a reality check.

The relaxed guidelines are “a concession to realism, to the way that a lot of people are handling this,” William Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, told the Washington Post. While he noted that the new guidelines are “entirely reasonable, my major concern is whether they will continue to be entirely reasonable given the unpredictable dynamics of the virus.”

“I think the question is, is the CDC finally saying, ‘Look, we’ve done what we can do to contain the most acute phases of this pandemic,'” Jeanne Marrazzo, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told the Post. “So are they just finally saying that it is time for us to sort of take a step back and think about putting this back to the individual person?”

Regardless, the CDC’s recommendations are not mandates. Local government, states and school districts can still set their own guidelines.

About 42% of the U.S. population currently lives in areas with a high level of virus in the community, according to the CDC.

The new guidance was published in the CDC publication Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Source: HealthDay





Chart: Egg Prices Sky-High As Breakfast Inflation Pressures American Households

Source: Bloomberg and AFP





How Society Thinks About Risk

From pandemics to nuclear energy – the world is full of risks. Psychologists at the University of Basel have developed a new method of determining how risk is perceived within a society.

Many of our everyday activities involve a certain degree of risk – whether to our work, finances or health. But how is risk perceived within a society and how do individuals think about risk?

This was what Dr. Dirk Wulff and Professor Rui Mata, researchers in the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Basel, set out to discover. “There is a lot of academic interest in the phenomenon of risk,” explains Dirk Wulff. “But disciplines such as psychology, sociology and economics define it in different ways.”

According to Wulff, little attention has been paid until now to the fact that the meaning of risk can differ from individual to individual depending on goals and life experience. He feels it is important to understand how different people think about risk in order, for example, to gauge attitudes to new technologies or societal challenges.

Risk links polar ends of the sentiment spectrum

To investigate this, the researchers have developed a new method based on word associations and an algorithmic process that maps the representation of risk for different groups and individuals. The researchers adopted a new approach, employing a snowball word association method. Participants were asked to name five things they associated with the term risk and then, in turn, five things they associated with these associations. Using this method, researchers surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1205 people, with equal representation of men and women and different age ranges.

An algorithm was used to generate a semantic network of risk from the 36,100 associations. It identified the following components: threat, fortune, investment, activity and analysis. The semantic cluster “threat” (danger, accident, loss, etc.) was the component most prominently associated with risk, closely followed by “fortune” (profit, game, adventure). “Up until now, studies have mostly focused on the negative components of risk and ignored the fact that it can also have positive associations,” Wulff comments.

The method is designed to map both individual and group-specific differences in risk perception. The psychologists investigated the differences between men and women and between different age groups. Overall, women and men and people of different ages appeared to share similar thoughts about risk. Nevertheless, there were some differences: a higher proportion of older people than younger people and a higher proportion of women than men associated risk more closely with threat and less with fortune.

Small differences between languages

The researchers also posed the question: Do people from different language regions think about risk in a similar way? To investigate this, they compared the semantic network of risk that emerged from the German survey group with those that resulted in two other languages – Dutch and English. There were some small differences in the frequency of associations. For example, in Dutch the term risk tended to be more closely associated with threat and in English more with fortune and finance. Overall, however, the results indicate that there are some universal correlations in risk representation that transcend language boundaries.

“Our study lays new foundations for examining the question of how people think about risk,” says Wulff. “It could play an important role in helping to provide a better understanding of how different social groups interpret risk, enabling risk communication strategies to be improved to combat social polarization.”

Source: University of Basel



Tough Choices: When It’s Time to Move From Home to Assisted Living

While 8 in 10 Americans ages 65 and older say they want to age in their homes, it’s not always possible when health declines.

Knowing when a loved one needs a more supportive environment, such as assisted living, continuing care retirement community or a nursing home, can be challenging. Though “aging in place” remains a cherished goal, seniors are fretting less about it these days, a recent Associated Press/NORC Center for Public Affairs poll found.

An expert in geriatric mental health offers some guidelines for knowing if independent living is still realistic or if someone needs more care, whether through moving or a home visitation service.

Dr. Molly Camp is an associate professor of psychiatry at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. In a center news release, she said there are five domains to consider:

Personal needs and hygiene: Basic self-care activities, including bathing, dressing and toileting, must be met. A person’s ability to get in and out of tubs and showers and their risk of falling should be considered.

Home environment: Consider the ability to handle basic maintenance and repairs, as well as access to electricity and water, a sufficiently sanitary living environment and how to avoid safety hazards, such as structural deficiencies.

Necessary activities: Assess whether your loved one can complete complex, essential tasks such as transportation, shopping, meal preparation, cleaning and using technology.

Medical self-care: Your loved one should be able to manage their medications, care for minor wounds and self-monitor for illness.

Financial affairs: Evaluate whether the person has the ability to pay bills on time, track other finances, avoid exploitation, and enter into binding contracts when needed.

Of course, Camp noted, family members may be able to help manage finances and home visitation programs may be able to help with chores such as cleaning and cooking.

Source: HealthDay


Connecting Health, Pollution and Fairness – That’s Environmental Justice

Michael Merschel wrote . . . . . . . . .

In the beginning, the idea of environmental justice didn’t have a name. It didn’t have much support, either.

A few years after the first Earth Day, a young sociologist named Robert Bullard gathered data for a 1979 lawsuit, filed by his then-wife, about a landfill planned for a middle-class Black neighborhood in Houston. His work showed that although only about a quarter of Houston’s residents were Black, all of the city-owned landfills and most city-owned incinerators were in Black neighborhoods.

Today, environmental justice is widely accepted as a crucial public health issue. And Bullard is now known as father of the movement. He leads the Center for Environmental and Climate Justice named after him at Texas Southern University in Houston.

But in the early days, he said, when he sought help from environmental groups, the response was, “Ah, that’s interesting. But isn’t that where the landfills and waste dumps are supposed to be?” And civil rights leaders told him, “We don’t do environment.”

It would take a decade of organizing and action, by Bullard and many others, for more people to see how civil rights and environmentalism converge, he said. “And that convergence is called environmental justice.”

In 1990’s “Dumping in Dixie,” one of 18 books he’s written about environmental justice, he defines it as “the principle that all people and communities are entitled to equal protection of our environmental laws, regardless of race, income, national origin” and where they live.

Where someone lives “profoundly” affects their health, said Dr. Lisa Patel, deputy executive director of the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health, which the American Heart Association joined in 2019.

And a neighborhood’s health factors are not shaped by accident. “They are the result of structurally racist policies, like redlining, that make certain areas more susceptible” to pollution, said Patel, who also is a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at the Stanford School of Medicine in Palo Alto, California.

Examples abound:

  • Neighborhoods subjected to redlining in the 1930s have high levels of air pollution today. Redlined neighborhoods, usually where Black, Hispanic or Asian people lived, were deemed financially risky and deprived of investment. Today, redlining maps align closely with maps of the worst air pollution, according to a 2021 study in Environmental Science and Technology Letters. Air pollution – specifically, fine particulate matter such as soot, smoke or dust – has been linked to higher risk of heart attack, stroke and death from heart disease.
  • Regardless of income, Black, Hispanic, Asian and other people of color are more likely to be exposed to sources of air pollution, according to a 2021 study in the journal Science Advances. Such disparities have persisted even as such pollution has decreased overall.
  • A redlined neighborhood also is less likely to have cooling greenspaces and more likely to have higher heat levels – an average 4.7 degrees Fahrenheit hotter, according to a study published in Climate in 2020.

The Environmental Protection Agency says heat can contribute to heart attacks, strokes and other forms of cardiovascular disease, with low-income people and Black people among those most likely to be affected.

The result of such inequities, Bullard said, is that life expectancy in ZIP codes just a few miles apart can vary widely – by as much as 20 years, according to research at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Patel sees textbook examples in her own part of California. West Oakland, once a thriving Black business area, was isolated by construction of freeways. In the same area, trucks serving the busy port must use Interstate 880, which runs through neighborhoods where most of the residents have low incomes or are Black or Hispanic. But truck traffic is banned on nearby Interstate 580, which runs along wealthier areas.

As a result, Patel said, West Oakland is a place where rates of asthma and cardiovascular disease are “severalfold times higher than families just living a few miles away in the beautiful Oakland hills.”

Climate change will add to environmental justice problems, Patel said. For example, it’s already making wildfires more intense and severe, exposing people to choking smoke. “But what we’ve seen in the last few years play out in the Bay Area is that it is the higher income families that can afford an HVAC system within their home, with filters fitted to be able to take out most of the air pollution.” Lower-income families can’t.

Still, Bullard mixes optimism and realism as he looks to the future.

“We’ve made a lot of change, a lot of progress. But there’s still a lot of progress that needs to be made.” And even though he’s seen such issues move from rural backroads to the White House, much of what’s been done has been low-hanging fruit, he said, compared with the transformative changes that need to happen, particularly to protect communities from climate change.

He’s encouraged that younger people tend to be more inclined to see how “housing, transportation, education, environment, civil rights, criminal justice, health – all these things are connected.”

Bullard tells people who want to help to begin in their own communities. “Start local,” he said. “And as you start local, you can start to build relationships.”

Patel encourages people who are worried to openly talk about it, because surveys show people tend to underestimate others’ concerns about the environment. “Do something about it and talk to other people about what you’re doing.”

We’ve made “a lot of mistakes” as a society, she said, but we can learn from them and acknowledge, “this has been unjust; it has worsened health. But here’s an opportunity to build a sustainable future.

“I mean, we’re talking about clean air, clean water, healthy children, walkable, livable cities,” Patel said. “I think this is worth imagining and fighting for.”

Source: American Heart Association