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Coronavirus: Three Lessons From From the AIDS Crisis

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Aids Quilt: Wikimedia Commons

by Laurie Marhoefer for The Conversation

SEATTLE — As my governor closes all the public schools and public libraries here in Seattle, I’m thinking about 1981 – the year when newspapers in New York and Los Angeles reported that a strange new virus was killing healthy young men.

As of March 15, Seattle had recorded 420 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 37 deaths . As a historian of 20th-century queer and trans politics , I know that’s nothing compared to the toll that HIV, the virus that causes AIDS , took on our city. But these are early days.

The U.S. made serious mistakes when the HIV virus and AIDS emerged. Those errors cost many lives. But our nation learned a few things, too.

Act fast and think big

HIV is very different from the novel coronavirus, in ways that could have made it easier to slow down. Since HIV is harder to transmit, and its incubation period is much longer, a swift response could have prevented many infections.

But the response was slow. It took health experts decades just to notice HIV. Studies have shown that HIV jumped from animals into humans sometime in the 1920s, and had already killed lots of people by 1981, but doctors thought those patients died of other things.

Even so, once HIV was recognized as a new infectious agent in 1981, fast action and massive investments in research would have saved lives. Instead, government officials sat on their hands. In 1982, White House Press Secretary Larry Speakes turned a reporter’s question about AIDS into a homophobic joke. It took four years to develop a blood test for HIV.

Early reports on what came to be known as AIDS incorrectly suggested that it was caused by homosexual sex. In fact, HIV is transmitted by all kinds of unprotected sex, both homosexual and heterosexual, as well as in blood products.

That fatal inaction flowed from the wrong-headed assumption that only some people got AIDS, and that those people didn’t really matter. Instead of major research efforts to develop a test and medications, there were inane suggestions for forced quarantine of gay men and an actual forced quarantine of Haitians.

After a slow start, things improved. By the 1990s, even before the development of today’s magic bullets – antiretroviral drugs, the preventative medication PREP and the post-exposure prophylaxis medication PEP – public health agencies were advocating ways to slow HIV transmission that also protected individuals, such as using condoms, getting tested and communicating with sexual partners. If only they had had those measures in 1982.

Novel coronavirus is already all over the globe too, but public health officials already have ways to prevent transmission. They are hammering home essential actions for slowing transmission: Wash your hands, stay home if you’re sick, cancel large events and restrict your activities if you’re over 60 or have health issues.

A new study currently under review shows people may be most likely to transmit novel coronavirus just after they get it and before they have symptoms. That’s like HIV, too. For the coronavirus, it means “social distancing” is important, even from people who don’t seem sick. Scientists are estimating that social distancing, including canceling big events and closing schools, plus widespread testing, could save hundreds of thousands of lives.

It’s everybody’s disease

In the early years of HIV, discussion focused on “risk groups.” Even public health officials claimed that only gay men, Haitians or Haitian Americans, hemophiliacs, intravenous drug users and sex workers were at risk. Then straight, white, wealthy American women started dying too.

Today some Americans appear to believe that not everyone has to be cautious because not everyone will get seriously sick.

It’s true that older people and those of all ages with underlying health issues are at greater risk, and that pregnant women may also be. But if health care systems become overwhelmed, as has happened in Wuhan and Italy, anyone who needs medical care will be affected. And people who are sick from COVID-19 will do much worse.

‘Flattening the curve’ of an outbreak by slowing its transmission rate can prevent health care systems from becoming overwhelmed.

The HIV crisis also showed that the concept of “risk groups” is dangerous. When public health officials must take actions that are invasive and forceful, like quarantine or travel restrictions, they need to be based in real science and implemented transparently, without recycling prejudices against “risk groups.” Otherwise, quite rationally, people assume public health is biased and unscientific, and resist.

In the 1980s, gay activists debated whether to ask city health departments to close bath houses and sex clubs, while the U.S. Centers for Disease Control warned that they were spots where the risk of transmission was high because people met there for sex. Some gay activists called for the bath houses to close, to save lives.

But many gay people had the opposite reaction. Amid vitriolic homophobia and stigma around AIDS – people losing their jobs, family members barring gay relatives from their homes, lifetime quarantine for HIV-positive people – shuttering the bath houses sounded to them like a step down a slippery slope toward concentration camps. Gay communities resisted, and bath houses stayed open. In retrospect, to someone who studies gay politics and HIV, it’s shocking that New York City left its bath houses open until 1985.

Today racism has become attached to the novel coronavirus because the first reports of infection came from China. As the World Health Organization has pointed out, referring to it as “Wuhan virus” or “Chinese coronavirus” could lead people to hide their symptoms and avoid seeking health care. That will increase the risk for everyone. It is also misleading and stigmatizing, since it does not matter where the virus jumped from animals into humans, and the virus is not confined to any one country.

Investing in research and public health pays off

It took far too long for the U.S. to make HIV a public health priority, develop lifesaving drugs and deliver them to those who needed them. Partly because of that slow response, nearly 1 million people die of AIDS each year. Even today, not enough people who are HIV-positive have access to drugs.

But there is hope. After antiretroviral therapy for HIV debuted in 1996, and the wealthy world finally took major steps in 2004 to share these miracle drugs with the rest of the world, the story of HIV shows what science and public health can accomplish.

Especially in wealthy countries, substantial research funding and public action have converted AIDS from a devastating epidemic to a manageable chronic disease. And even for people who don’t live in wealthy countries, outcomes are much better than they were. Global deaths from AIDS had been cut by half by 2017.

Here is hope for a response to the novel coronavirus that’s smarter and faster.

Laurie Marhoefer is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Washington.

The Conversation publishes knowledge-based journalism that is responsible, ethical and supported by evidence from academics and researchers in order to inform public debate with facts, clarity and insight into society’s biggest problems.

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Health

County Hospitals Receive 300 iPads for Patients to See Family

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LOS ANGELES – 300 iPads have been donated to Los Angeles County hospitals to facilitate patient-family communication during the COVID-19 pandemic. The gift is through a partnership with the Annenberg Foundation, Brilliant Corners, and the Los Angeles County Center for Strategic Partnerships.

“The engagement of loved ones during hospitalization has been shown to improve clinical outcomes,” said DHS Director, Dr. Christina Ghaly. “Clinical staff identified a role for virtual visiting through technology in order to facilitate this family involvement. The generous donations by the Annenberg Foundation and MobileDemand will help support this critical element of our patients’ care.” 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, patient visitation by family and loved ones is limited at facilities in order to prevent exposure and the spread of disease. While there are some exceptions, such as the birth of a child or death of a patient, visitation is not permitted for the vast majority of patients and not allowed at all for COVID-19 patients. 

The donation provides 300 iPads to ensure patients and their families are able to connect, despite restrictions in access to the hospital. A second donation, by MobileDemand, provides rugged, protective healthcare iPad cases to protect against damage and loss. The rugged case also has an adjustable easel attached, providing effortless viewing for patients who are too weak to hold a tablet. Additionally, it frees health care staff from having to hold the device for patients.

“This is a wonderful example of how philanthropic organizations, nonprofits, government, and businesses can collaborate and meet an immediate need in our community,” said Wallis Annenberg, Chairman, President and CEO of the Annenberg Foundation. “Being able to offer an opportunity for comfort and connection to those suffering and to alleviate some of the stress from our frontline caregivers is of utmost importance.”

While social distancing has been successful in flattening the curve of the COVID-19 surge in Los Angeles County, it is anticipated that it will continue for several months. With this gift, physicians and nurses will be able to place an iPad in the room of COVID and other critically-ill patients for the duration of the admission and reduce potential exposure and use of personal protective equipment going in and out of the room. Having a stationary iPad helps relieve medical staff who would otherwise have to hold the phone for a patient or search for the person’s personal phone. It also will allow patients who do not have a personal mobile device to communicate and “visit” with their family.

The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services (DHS) is the second largest municipal health system in the nation. Through its integrated system of 26 health centers and four hospitals – LAC+USC Medical Center, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, Olive View-UCLA Medical Center, and Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center – and expanded network of community partner clinics, DHS annually provides direct care for 600,000 unique patients, employs over 22,000 staff, and has an annual budget of over $6 billion.

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Processions to Cedars Will Salute Healthcare Workers on National Nurses Day

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The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is putting a strain on essential workers such as first responders and healthcare workers who are on the frontlines in the effort to care for coronavirus patients so the City of West Hollywood is setting out to recognize them in a special way on May 6.

National Nurses Day is a day of recognition to celebrate and honor the contributions that nurses have made and continue to make in our communities and throughout the nation. National Nurses Day is celebrated annually on May 6, which marks the beginning of National Nurses Week, a week-long celebration to raise awareness of the value of nursing and educate the public on the role nurses play in meeting the healthcare needs of Americans. National Nurses Week concludes on May 12, the birthday of Florence Nightingale, or as she was more commonly known, “The Lady of the Lamp” and founder of modern nursing.

The West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is coordinating two motorcades to honor healthcare workers on Wednesday, May 6, 2020, which is nationally recognized as National Nurses Day. The processions will begin at 9:45 a.m. and at 7:15 p.m. on Santa Monica Boulevard at La Cienega Boulevard and the motorcades will head west and then travel southbound on N. San Vicente Boulevard passing multiple medical center locations in West Hollywood en route to a destination outside the emergency room entrance of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on Gracie Allen Drive. First responders will briefly stop, exit their vehicles and applaud healthcare workers while wearing face coverings and practicing appropriate social distancing.

“Our nurses and healthcare workers are nothing short of heroes,” said City of West Hollywood Mayor Pro Tempore Lindsey P. Horvath. “The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us just how critical their work is to our everyday health and safety. This National Nurses Day means so much more to all of us — the City of West Hollywood and our LA County Sheriff’s West Hollywood Station and LA County Fire Stations; the City of Beverly Hills and Beverly Hills Police and Fire; the City of Los Angeles and LAPD and LAFD; the California Highway Patrol, and more — and we will honor these heroes in a special way for the care that they provide, which often goes unseen and unrecognized, in carrying us through this crisis.”

“As the worldwide response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues, the critical importance of nurses in our society has been brought sharply into focus,” said City of West Hollywood Councilmember John Heilman. “More often than not, when a coronavirus patient ends up in a hospital, it is the nurses at the frontlines who are responsible for their care and treatment, putting themselves at risk in the process. We can’t say ‘thank you’ strongly enough.”

The City of West Hollywood encourages residents and community members to participate during this day of celebration while still adhering to LA County Safer At Home Orders and social distancing requirements. Suggested forms of participation include amplifying posts on social media channels, making yard or window signs and banners, participating in a coordinated daily applause or shout out for nurses and healthcare workers, and donating to organizations that are addressing the emerging needs of nurses and healthcare workers during the coronavirus (COVID-19) health pandemic.

According to the American Nursing Association, nursing is the nation’s largest healthcare profession, with more than four million registered nurses in the United States. Registered nurses comprise one of the largest segments of the U.S. workforce and are the primary providers of hospital patient care, delivering most of the nation’s long-term care. In nursing, where workers are on the front lines of patient interactions, women make up more than 85 percent of the workforce. This year, with the onset of coronavirus, nurses have stepped up and shown the incredible impact they have on our healthcare system. It is more important than ever that we recognize National Nurses Day and celebrate the significance of nurses every day.

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Texas & California Wet Markets Show Full Extent of Vile Conditions

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Texas & California Wet Markets Show Full Extent of Vile Conditions

(TMZ) — It’s becoming more clear by the day that wet markets are NOT just a China problem — it’s an American problem too … just take a look at these latest clips from Texas and California.

TMZ has gotten a hold of even more graphic videos of two different live animal shops in TX and CA — where people pick out the animal, have it slaughtered on the spot and then sold to them right then and there — and you see the mixed-in livestock runs the gamut.

There are pigs in pens, goats and sheep hoarded together … and, of course, as we’ve seen in New York and elsewhere — chicken and rabbits cooped up in cages — all in the same area within earshot of each other, and all getting butchered.

Ya got pigs hanging from hooks out in the open, chicken beaks, feathers and guts all over the floor and in an exposed trash can — this while customers (including kids) come in and browse the freezer for whatever cuts of meat they want. It’s downright dirty and gross.

As we’ve been told by the experts, these one-stop-shop slaughterhouses/storefronts can be breeding grounds for disease — including new viruses, like COVID-19, which supposedly got started at a wet market in China.

We already know of lawmakers in Cali and New York working to get these things shut down, but it’s pretty apparent there needs to be federal legislation rolled out to address this. Can’t call the kettle black when we’re swimming in the freakin’ pot.

Tune in to TMZ on TV weekdays Monday through Friday (check syndicated/local listings)

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