Surging cases: New coronavirus infections are rising in most states, averaging more than 50,000 cases per day nationwide, according to CNN. And yesterday, at least 65,327 new cases and 793 Covid-19 deaths were reported in the U.S., reports The New York Times, bringing the U.S. toll to more than 8 million cases and over 218,000 deaths. The U.S. isn’t the only place seeing a surge. A top World Health Organization official said this week that the weekly number of new cases in Europe is now higher than at any other point during the pandemic. The number of confirmed cases in Europe increased by a million in just 10 days, and daily deaths topped 1,000 for the first time in months. Worldwide the number of confirmed cases exceeds 39 million, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker, with 1.1 million deaths.

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Surging poverty: With Covid relief benefits from the CARES Act now largely exhausted, poverty in the U.S. has risen to higher levels than before the pandemic, according to a pair of new studies, The New York Times reports. Researchers at Columbia University found that the number of poor people in the U.S. has grown by eight million since May. Using different measures of poverty, a team from the University of Chicago and Notre Dame estimated that six million people have fallen into poverty in recent months. The $2.2 trillion CARES Act, signed by President Trump in late March, included expanded unemployment benefits and one-time payments of $1,200 to most U.S. adults and $500 per child. The House, with Democrats in the majority, has passed new multitrillion-dollar relief legislation to prop up the economy, but the Republican Senate has proposed smaller packages, leading to a deadlock. Despite the improving job market, the Labor Department reports that 886,000 people filed new jobless claims last week, an increase of 9.5 percent from the week before, according to The Times.

Thanksgiving cancelled?: Even as the president continues to hold large campaign rallies ahead of the election, the White House coronavirus task force warns against small, private gatherings, Betsy Klein reports for CNN. “What we’re seeing as the increasing threat right now is actually acquisition of infection through small household gatherings. And particularly with Thanksgiving coming up, we think it’s really important to stress the vigilance of these continued mitigation steps in the household setting,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director, Dr. Robert Redfield, said during a conference call with governors this week. In recent interviews, Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also sounded a warning about the upcoming holiday: “We really have to be careful this time that each individual family evaluates the risk-benefit.” He added, “If you have vulnerable people, the elderly or people that have underlying conditions, you better consider whether you want to do that now or maybe just forestall [gatherings] and wait.”

  • Also: In a call with reporters this week, two senior White House officials cited a document that advocates a strategy of achieving ”herd immunity” by allowing transmission of Covid-19 until most Americans have contracted the virus, The Hill reports. But public health experts say that vaccinating a large percentage of the population is the only way to achieve ”herd immunity” without killing huge numbers of people by letting the virus run free. It’s “a dangerous mix of pixie dust and pseudoscience,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Prevention at the University of Minnesota.

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$52,112: That’s how much one coronavirus patient was billed for an air ambulance ride from one hospital to another, a trip her family was told was a “life or death” transfer, Sarah Kliff reports for The New York Times. Unfortunately, these surprise bills for out-of-network doctors, ambulances and laboratory tests were common even before the coronavirus pandemic. Congress was working on a solution last year that had bipartisan support and White House approval—but was shelved after private equity firms spent millions lobbying against it. Now, Covid patients are paying the price. The bills are not always so astronomical, but can still be devastating and stressful. Alice Navarro, 40, told The Times her insurance refused to cover $4,000 of her 10-day in-network hospital stay because some of her doctors were out-of-network. She’s trying to appeal, but it’s difficult when she’s also suffering from short-term memory loss because of Covid. “I think about the bills several times a day,” Navarro told The Times. “How am I going to pay this all off? My parents were like, ‘Don’t worry about this right now, focus on getting better,’ but that’s easier said than done.”

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Physician kickbacks: Medical device maker Merit Medical Systems Inc. has agreed to pay $18 million to resolve allegations that it paid doctors and hospitals to use its products for patients in the Medicare, Medicaid, and TRICARE programs. “Paying kickbacks to doctors in exchange for referrals undermines the integrity of federal healthcare programs,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division said in a Justice Department statement. “When medical devices are used in surgical procedures, patients deserve to know that their device was selected based on quality of care considerations and not because of improper payments from manufacturers.” The company did not admit liability.

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In the cannabis patch: Although 35 states, three U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for recreational or medical use, the drug is still illegal at the federal level, and without federal oversight, regulating harmful contaminants is a patchwork and incomplete affair, Nate Seltenrich reports for FairWarning. Cannabis plants can accumulate trace metals like lead and arsenic from soil, water and fertilizers, and can harbor toxic mold and bacteria. Smoking contaminated weed can have serious health consequences, and in rare occasions, can lead to death, as in the case of a California cancer patient who died from a rare fungal infection in 2017 after smoking contaminated medical marijuana. “Each state successively has put together their own regulations,” said Josh Wurzer, president of California-based cannabis testing company SC Labs. “No two states are alike in their quality requirements.”

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Contaminated meat: In a report earlier this year, Environmental Health News found that hunters were ill-educated about the risk of lead ingestion and poisoning from eating animals shot with lead ammunition. However, hunters don’t always eat what they hunt. Every year, some 2 million pounds of hunted meat is given to food banks across the country, and as Sam Totoni reports for EHN, most states lack a lead-inspection program for the meat. The families who end up eating it could include those most vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead, like children and pregnant women, but there is no safe level of lead for anyone. “If you know that someone injected poison into a tomato, you don’t want to eat that,” Jon Arnemo, a wildlife veterinarian, professor at the Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences, and a leading expert on lead-hunted meat around the world, told EHN. “But that’s what’s happening when you go hunting with lead.”

 

FairWarning contributor Jessica McKenzie is an independent journalist. Find more of her work at jessicastarmckenzie.com.

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