While You Were Sleeping: Coronavirus updates for December 4

Coronavirus

INDIANAPOLIS — There were several developments in the coronavirus pandemic that you may have missed overnight.

Here’s a look:

Toll of the surge. Healthcare workers in Indiana on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic want you to see this crisis from their perspective.

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Indiana nearly doubled in November alone. On November 30, Indiana set its highest COVID-19 hospitalization record with 3,460 patients. Thursday, the state reported more than 8,500 new COVID-19 cases and 60 deaths.

Most of us will never understand what it is like to be on a COVID-19 ICU floor, but these healthcare workers know the faces behind the numbers.

“I have never felt this tired in my life,” said Jody White, a respiratory therapist at IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.

As a respiratory therapist, White cares for COVID-19 patients hooked up to ventilators. She explained her hospital is opening more units to increase bed capacity.

“We get to know a lot of these patients before they take a turn and see how scared they get,” she said. “That is hard to watch also.”

Her kids begged her not to work in the COVID-19 ICU. White has struggled with her own respiratory issues for most of her life.

“I love to be around my family and the really sick ones that pass away without family, that sucks a lot,” said White.

Across Indiana, hospitals are feeling the strain.

Healthcare workers are fatigued, and they are discouraged to see the numbers continue to rise.

Some frontline workers with Indiana University Health have created video diaries to describe what is it like to work in the ICU during the pandemic.

“I can describe the sound the zipper on a body bag makes,” said Brandie Kopsas-Kingsley, ICU nurse. “I know the feeling of my hand on a chest and the feeling of two minutes of CPR before the next pulse check.”

“I can describe with great detail the odd and very ugly of purple-ish grey you turn when your body is suffocating. So, for me, whereas I cannot understand the numbers, I can understand humans behind those numbers and that every single one of those was a life,” she said.

One respiratory nurse at Eskenazi Hospital in Indianapolis continued to work even as her father fought COVID-19 at another ICU. She said he did not have any pre-existing conditions and he is doing much better.

“It was a roller coaster just seeing what I saw at work,” said Stephanie Collins.

As hospitals begin to reach their limit, healthcare workers are struggling with their own. Some worry they will not have places to put patients if the numbers do not start to go down.

“It is what we need to do,” said White. “I mean, to keep everybody safe and everybody healthy and it angers me that people are disregarding it.”

3,100 deaths in a day. The U.S. recorded 3,157 deaths on Wednesday alone, according to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. That’s more than the number of people killed on 9/11 and shattered the old mark of 2,603, set on April 15, when the New York metropolitan area was the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak.

The number of Americans in the hospital with the coronavirus likewise hit an all-time high Wednesday at more than 100,000, according to the COVID Tracking Project. The figure has more than doubled over the past month. And new cases per day have begun topping 200,000, by Johns Hopkins’ count.

Nationwide, the coronavirus is blamed for more than 275,000 deaths and 14 million confirmed infections.

The three main benchmarks showed a country slipping deeper into crisis, with perhaps the worst yet to come — in part because of the delayed effects from Thanksgiving, when millions of Americans disregarded warnings to stay home and celebrate only with members of their household.

Keeping health care workers on their feet is considered vital to dealing with the crisis. And nursing home patients have proven highly vulnerable to the virus. Patients and staff members at nursing homes and other long-term care centers account for 39% of the nation’s COVID-19 deaths.

Vaccine priority. Getting a COVID-19 vaccine to the right people could change the course of the pandemic in the United States. But who are the right people?

As the decision looms for President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration, a new analysis argues for targeting the first vaccines to the same low-income Black, Hispanic and Native American households that have disproportionately suffered from the coronavirus. But no one at the federal level has committed to the idea, which would be a significant shift from the current population-based method adopted by Operation Warp Speed.

“It’s not just a math problem. It’s a question of implementing a major social justice commitment,” said Harald Schmidt, a medical ethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, who compared the strategies with colleagues from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Boston College. The Associated Press conducted an independent analysis of the findings and worked with the team to estimate how many disadvantaged people would benefit.

If the shots get to the right people, Schmidt argues, the benefits could extend to the entire nation: Fewer people would get sick, hospital capacity would improve and more of the economy could reopen. Lives would be saved.

In October, a panel advising the federal government suggested setting aside 10% of the vaccine supply to distribute as an extra boost to the states with greater shares of disadvantaged groups. But the idea from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has been largely ignored.

The strategy could get vaccines to 12.3 million more vulnerable people in the early phases of distribution compared with the population-based method, the AP found in a collaboration with Schmidt’s team.

Any distribution system will reverberate across the nation, with consequences for everyone. It will be shaped by the early steps of federal officials and by state leaders who will allocate vaccines in the months when there is not enough supply to go around. California and several other states have stated that they intend to direct some of their supply to disadvantaged neighborhoods, but there’s no national strategy to do so.

No vaccine has been authorized for use yet in the U.S., but the preliminary results of ongoing clinical trials have been encouraging for Moderna’s and Pfizer’s candidates. If the Food and Drug Administration allows emergency use of one or both of those vaccines, there will be limited, rationed supplies before the end of the year.

Operation Warp Speed officials announced last week that states would receive vaccine in proportion to their adult populations, at least for the first 6.4 million doses and possibly beyond.

Relief package. A bipartisan group of lawmakers from the House and Senate received some high-level support for their COVID-19 emergency relief package.

Both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer backed the $908 billion proposal, and President Donald Trump is also on board.

“I want it to happen, and I believe that they’re getting very close to a deal,” Trump said.

“We are gaining momentum as we speak,” said Congressman Tom Reed, R-New York.

Reed, who co-chairs the Problem Solvers Caucus, said the bipartisan group of legislators won’t go home until a deal is passed.

“At the end of the day, we know who we work for and those are the people back home,” he added.

The framework calls for $160 billion to help state and local governments, $180 billion for unemployment insurance, and $288 billion to help small businesses.

Schumer said Congress is one step closer to an agreement because of the proposal.

“Should be used as the basis — the framework — for immediate bipartisan, bicameral negotiations,” he said.

But the compromise faces a major hurdle as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has yet to back the bill.

Instead, McConnell is holding out for his own $500 billion plan.

“I put forward a serious and highly targeted relief proposal including the elements which we know the president is ready and willing to sign into law,” he said.

“Compromise is within reach. We know where we agree,” McConnell continued. “We can do this, and we need to do this, so let’s be about actually making a law.”

Any bill lawmakers come up with is expected to be attached to the spending bill to fund the government which is set to run out of money on Dec. 11.

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