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Your COVID Roundup Is A Festivus Miracle!
The miracle is that we remembered to look up when Festivus is.
Happy Christmas Eve Eve, America, aka the sacred day of Festivus, which I had somehow misremembered this year as being on December 20, but is actually today, so that in itself is a Festivus Miracle! As my memory get worse and worse, I will probably find myself declaring Independence Day fireworks a Festivus Miracle as well.
Not so miraculous, but certainly astonishing, is this statistic from the Washington Post's non-paywalled daily COVID update: The USA is now having its second-biggest surge in new coronavirus cases since last winter's record spike of 248,209 cases on January 12, 2021.
The United States logged a seven-day average coronavirus case count of 168,981 on Wednesday, amid a nationwide spike driven partly by the omicron variant, Washington Post figures show, surpassing a summer peak of just over 165,000 infections on Sept. 1.
Just another reminder: Get vaccinated (we assume most Wonkette readers already are) and get those booster shots, which provide much greater protection against severe illness and hospitalization, yes even with the Omicron variant. [ WaPo ]
Let us get to an abbreviated Rona Roundup!
FDA Approves Merck's COVID Drug Too
Following on its approval yesterday for "Paxlovid," Pfizer's COVID treatment pill that only sounds like an antidepressant invented by Jon Lovitz, the Food and Drug Administration has now granted emergency use authorization for a second COVID treatment drug, Merck's "molnupiravir," which despite sounding like Thor's hammer, Mjolnir does not actually assess whether you are pure of heart or otherwise worthy of taking it.
However, because Merck's antiviral pills appear to be less effective than Pfizer's and may cause birth defects if taken during pregnancy, the authorization is "limited to situations where other FDA-authorized treatments for COVID-19 are inaccessible or are not clinically appropriate," according to a statement from Patrizia Cavazzoni, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. Nonetheless, she said, the new pills "will be a useful treatment option for some patients with COVID-19 at high risk of hospitalization or death."
The Pfizer drug, we'd note, uses a different means of shutting down the spread of the virus in the body, and therefore doesn't appear to have the same potential side effects. Like the Pfizer treatment, though, molnupiravir has to be started within a few days after symptoms appear, so we need more damn testing, 'kay? [ Stat News ]
Coroners Nationwide Undercounted COVID Deaths
Since early on in the pandemic, public health researchers have agued that official statistics have undercounted deaths caused by COVID-19, since CDC data suggest that nearly a million more Americans have died in 2020 and 2021 than would be expected in normal circumstances — that's about 200,000 more deaths from the pandemic than officially recorded. A major investigation by the USA Today Network and the Documenting COVID-19 project suggests that a big part of the problem is that local coroners and medical examiners have frequently contributed to that undercount, for a variety of reasons:
Short-staffed, undertrained and overworked coroners and medical examiners took families at their word when they called to report the death of a relative at home. Coroners and medical examiners didn’t review medical histories or order tests to look for COVID-19. They and even some physicians attributed deaths to inaccurate and nonspecific causes that are meaningless to pathologists. In some cases, stringent rules for attributing a death to COVID-19 created obstacles for relatives of the deceased and contradicted CDC guidance.
As it turns out, one of the areas where a significant undercount occurred was Louisiana's Lafayette Parish, where the official COVID death toll was only 134, but the "excess deaths" statistics suggest another 285 deaths should most likely be attributed to the virus as well. The official figures on deaths at home don't otherwise make a lot of sense, since they would suggest that the county saw an unexplained explosion of deaths from hypertensive heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's, and other diseases. In many cases, coroner's office staff simply fill out death certificates by phoning a deceased person's family and they'll often list the cause of death as “what the families tell us,” without investigating further.
And here's your tie-in to recent news: The elected coroner for Lafayette County is Ken Odinet, the husband of former state circuit court Judge Michelle Odinet , who was shitcanned last week after a video showed her yelling the n-word at surveillance video of an attempted burglary of her home.
Small world! The USA Today story notes that Mr. Odinet thinks his county's system of recording deaths is just fine.
Mind you, Lafayette Parish isn't the only place in the US screwing up COVID stats; the story also notes that
[In] Cape Girardeau County, Missouri, coroner Wavis Jordan said his office “doesn’t do COVID deaths.” Jordan does not investigate deaths himself. He requires families to provide proof of a positive COVID-19 test before including it on a death certificate.
So far in 2021, he hasn’t pronounced a single person dead from COVID-19 in the 80,000-person county.
You see, the coroner just Wavis hand and the pandemic disappears! It's a lot like the Trump strategy of pushing for less testing: if you don't list COVID on the death certificate, then there's no longer a crisis, hooray! [USA Today ]
Oh, Hey, Speaking Of Trumpfuckery...
Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, will be retiring this weekend after 12 years of service heading the US's primary medical research agency. In an interview with CBS News last Sunday , Collins revealed that he had been pressured by Donald Trump to endorse "treatments" for COVID that had already been shown to be ineffective, like hydroxychloroquine and blood plasma from recovered COVID patients. He said he'd gotten "into a difficult place, and got a bit of a talking-to by the President of the United States," but that he "stuck my ground" and didn't let Trump bully him. Collins acknowledged that had it come to it, he would have resigned his position before he would be willing to "compromise scientific principles," so hooray for integrity.
Collins also said that he had had to push back against pressure from top Republicans to fire Anthony Fauci, although that decision was really a no-brainer:
Can you imagine a circumstance where the director of the NIH, somebody who believes in science, would submit to political pressures and fire the greatest expert in infectious disease that the world has known, just to satisfy political concerns?
His biggest regret from the pandemic, he said was that he wished government health agencies had
studied more carefully the problem of hesitancy. [...] I did not imagine that there would be 60 million people who, faced with compelling evidence of the life-saving nature of COVID vaccines, would still say, "No, not for me."
You, me, and all of us, Dr. Collins.
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