COVID-19 in the news

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COVID-19 may be to blame for the surge in RSV illness among children. Here’s why

A number of young children are being hospitalized because of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, and it’s happening at an unusual time of year and among older children than in years past. The current RSV outbreak is different from previous outbreaks in several ways: It’s happening in the fall rather than the winter; older children and not just infants are being hospitalized; and cases are occurring that are more serious than in previous years. “The theory is that everyone’s now back together, and this is a rebound phenomenon,” said Jeffrey Kline, a physician and associate chair of research for emergency medicine at Wayne State University School of Medicine. Kline runs a national surveillance network that gathers data about viral infections from about 70 hospitals, including four pediatric hospitals. He says those data show that 318 children were hospitalized with acute respiratory illness brought on by RSV in the week starting Oct. 9, compared with 45 hospitalizations in the week starting July 25. “If we think about the relative increase – ninefold increase – that’s not nothing, especially in the pediatric [emergency departments],” Kilne said.   
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Mobile health meets Detroiters ‘where they are’ for care

By Julie Walker After two decades of providing care in the Sinai-Grace emergency room, nurse Josephine Quaye-Molex has embraced a new way of connecting with patients. In late July, the venue was a van parked outside Immanuel Grace AME Church on Conner. Quaye-Molex joined the Wayne Health Mobile Unit about a year ago and said the ease of access has been reassuring for those who often have felt dismissed or mistrustful of doctors in traditional healthcare settings. The mobile units, she said, are meeting residents where they are and, in turn, building trust in the community. The setting also gives Quaye-Molex a chance to offer more feedback than the hospital’s ER might typically allow. “I get a lot more time to be able to sit and talk with my patients, or whoever it is that has approached,” she said. “They don’t necessarily have to get services, they just may have questions, and I’m able to answer those questions now.” Born out of necessity during the early peaks of the pandemic, some of the most vocal advocates behind mobile health said they are hopeful that the concept will alleviate barriers to healthcare access and increase trust in underserved communities like Detroit. Dr. Phillip Levy, who practices emergency room medicine at DMC Sinai-Grace Hospital and leads the WSU and Wayne Health Mobile Unit program, is hopeful that they will help revolutionize medicine in at least two ways; easing access to care and preventing serious diseases before they start. Levy says five factors – high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, high cholesterol and obesity – contribute to 80% of chronic illnesses in the country, especially heart disease. Levy’s findings resulted in a grant and Wayne State University supported efforts to turn that data into a tool. The tool, coined PHOENIX, is intended to be used by community members and healthcare professionals to identify and curb risk factors before they turn into deadly disease. “At the end of the day, we’re going to affect the most people by screening for the most common disorders and diseases and fixing those problems,” Dr. Levy said. 
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Generation COVID: Record numbers of youth opt out of college, work

Generation COVID: Record numbers of youth opt out of college, work By Anne Kim Three years into the pandemic, after two years of isolation, shuttered schools and virtual commencements, high school graduates from the classes of 2020, 2021 and beyond - call them the Generation COVID - are shunning college in record numbers. Enrollment is down nearly 10 percent over the past two years, a loss of 1.4 million students pursuing degrees. At TikTok, where variations on the hashtag #NotGoingToCollege have racked up more than 30 million views, young people argue "my career doesn't need college" and talk about starting their own businesses. Overall, just 51 percent of Gen Z teens are now considering a four-year degree, according to a survey this year by the nonprofit ECMC Group - a 20-point drop since May 2020. Student disengagement is a growing concern. As may as 70 percent of Detroit public schools were "chronically absent" during the 2020-21 school year, according to a study by Wayne State University. Schools are rolling out a variety of initiatives to attract new students and retain the ones they have, and viewing the challenges posed by the pandemic as a catalyst for broader reforms. "Higher ed needs to reestablish its value and find ways to highlight the importance and the value of a degree," said Ahmad Ezzeddine, vice president for academic student affairs and global engagement at Wayne State University in Detroit. "We need to adapt to the changing demographics, the changing workforce, the changing workforce." Among other efforts, Ezzeddine says Wayne State launched Warrior 360, which partners at-risk students with success coaches to provide academic and social support. More courses are now online and offered year-round or at night to accommodate working students' schedules. In addition, the university has beefed up its summer camps for K-12 students and outreach to area high schools. "We have faculty go and talk about careers in engineering and science, hopefully planting that seed," Ezzeddine said. 
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Heart disease exposes disparities, so medicine goes mobile in Detroit

By Robin Erb   Death comes early to Detroit, killing residents in some neighborhoods 12 to 15 years earlier than Michiganders elsewhere. Thickening heart muscles, narrowing arteries and cholesterol deposits are hallmarks of the heart disease silently afflicting Detroiters and building toward life-threatening heart attacks or strokes. Dr. Brian O’Neil, chair of emergency medicine at Wayne State University’s School of Medicine, said that young doctors arriving in Detroit are often blown away by patients’ blood pressure readings. The coronavirus has exacerbated chronic conditions, increased the number of deaths of preventable diseases because people skipped regular check-ups, and disrupted transportation options for those seeking to get to doctors. As a result, more people who suffered heart attacks or strokes died because they laced swift medical intervention. The pandemic also proved the nimble nature of mobile health. Dr. Phil Levy, an emergency medicine doctor at Detroit’s Receiving and Sinai-Grace hospitals and a researcher at Wayne State University, was positioned to act because he and his team had gathered and arranged data for years to map out hypertension rates in the Detroit area. Their data tool, called Population Health OutcomEs aNd Information Exchange (PHOENIX) revealed neighborhoods strained by high blood pressure and stress based on social vulnerability index factors. Even in the earliest days of the pandemic, the parallels between COVID and heart disease in Detroit were obvious, Levy said. “We started seeing everything that was happening with the brown and Black communities in Detroit and around Detroit – especially around the Sinai Grace area – and the increased caseload and death rate that was occurring in Detroit,” Levy said. In April, the Wayne Health mobile health fleet began with a single van. By the end of this year, it will consist of ten vans that visit schools, churches, festivals and neighborhood parking lots.   
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The power of short breaks, movement and other practices on improving mental health

As of July 16, people have only to press three digits – 988 – to reach the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline when they need help during a mental health crisis. Mental health issues such as anxiety and depression were a leading cause of global health problems even before the spread of COVID-19; however, they’ve gotten worse. Since the first year of the pandemic, anxiety and depression rates worldwide have increased by an overwhelming 25%. The Conversation gathered four essential reads that explore some daily habits and practices that have been shown to improve mental health. Arash Javanbakht, associate professor of psychiatry at Wayne State University, shares the science behind the connection between exercise and mental well-being as well as his personal experience with the positive impacts of physical activity. “Working out regularly really does change the brain biology, and it is not just ‘go walk and you will just feel better,’” he said. “Regular exercise, especially cardio, does change the brain. Do not see it as all or none. It does not have to be a one-hour drive to and from the gym or biking trail for a one-hour workout vs. staying on the couch. I always say to my patients: ‘One more step is better than none, and three squats are better than no squats. When less motivated, or in the beginning, just be nice to yourself. Do as much as possible. Three minutes of dancing with your favorite music still counts.”  
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Should you get a COVID-19 booster or wait for an omicron-specific shot?

The latest COVID-19 surge has health leaders urging the public to get booster shots. That leaves people with a choice: Get boosted now or wait for an omicron-specific booster that is expected to roll out this fall or winter? BA.5 is better at evading immunity from previous infection and vaccinations, and it’s now responsible for roughly 80% of new COVID-19 cases. Dr. Teena Chopra, the co-director at the Center for Emerging Infections at Wayne State University said don’t wait for omicron-specific vaccines to get boosted. “We don’t want to get a severe disease from COVID. We don’t want to be hospitalized. We don’t want to be in the ICU from COVID. So do not wait to get your boosters,” she said.  
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Doubting mainstream medicine, COVID patients find dangerous advice and pills online

By Geoff Brumfiel   COVID cases and hospitalizations are once again on the rise, thanks to a new omicron subvariant. Vaccines and certain proven treatments can help prevent the worst outcomes. But for some Americans who don't trust the medical establishment, there's a network of fringe medical doctors, natural healers and internet personalities ready to push unproven cures for COVID. And a shady black market where you can buy them. For some plugged into that alternative medical network, doctors say it ultimately cost their lives. "The non-fraudulent non-messed up clinical trials are all pretty uniformly negative," says David Gorski, a cancer surgeon and researcher at the Wayne State University School of Medicine in Michigan. For years before COVID, Gorski tracked doctors who offered alternative cures for cancers. And he sees plenty of parallels between those physicians and doctors like Pierre Kory. "A lot of these doctors fit the mold of what I used to call back in the day 'the brave maverick doctor,'" he says. Gorski says that they play up their persecution by the system, offer scant evidence for their treatments, and deride effective therapies while promoting their own cures. "COVID is no different than quackery going back centuries," Gorski says.  
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The current state of the COVID-19 pandemic

It has been over two years since the COVID-19 pandemic changed the ways we interacted as a community worldwide. While we have done a lot to fight the spread of the virus, many are wondering when the pandemic will officially end. In the meantime, the BA.5 Omicron subvariant – the most prevalent subvariant in the United States – is spreading and is four times more resistant to COVID-19 vaccines. Still, unvaccinated people are five times more likely to get infected and about fifteen times more likely to die from the disease than those vaccinated and boosted, according to the Mayo Clinic. While we know that those vaccinated are likely to have more mild symptoms than the unvaccinated, the death rate from COVID-19 is still much higher than the flu and other contagious diseases. Paul Kilgore, co-director of the Center for Emerging and Infectious Diseases at Wayne State University and the senior investigator for Henry Ford Health System’s Global Health Initiative, says exercise, a healthy diet, getting vaccinated and checking in with one’s physician is the best way to keep people safe and healthy while the Omicron subvariant spreads. “The real question is, what are the best health behaviors we can adopt now, for our own selves, but also for our family and children, that are going to protect us for years to come against chronic diseases and infectious diseases,” Kilgore said. 
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Union interest grows in Michigan in response to COVID, wage concerns

From Amazon to Google and Starbucks, workers at more and more major companies are seeking union representation, some more successfully than others. After workers at Buffalo Starbucks locations voted to unionize in December 2021, a wave of union interest spread in Michigan and around the country. According to the National Labor Relations Board, union petitions were up 57% in the first half of the fiscal year from Oct. 1 to March 31. Marick Masters, a professor at Wayne State University’s Mike Ilitch School of Business, has written extensively on labor issues and says that despite the measurable uptick, union membership in our state is still nowhere near what it used to be. “In 1960, 50% of workers in Michigan were unionized,” he said. It’s currently around 15%, when the private and public sector are combined. “So this is perhaps a tipping point, but it’s too early to tell whether or not this represents a sea-change in union success, either in Detroit, statewide, or nationally,” Masters said. He believes the COVID-19 pandemic was a huge catalyst for the recent wave of union interest. “There’s no doubt that the workers across the nation at Starbucks saw this as an opportunity and wanted to take advantage of it as quickly as possible. And I think that’s one of the reasons why they’ve had success,” he said.  
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Wayne State, DPS want students to be ambassadors for vaccines

Teena Chopra, professor of medicine and co-director of Wayne State University’s Center for Emerging and Infectious Diseases, is piloting a program that will educate Detroit’s youth on the significance and history of vaccines. The two-year program will be funded by a Detroit Medical Center grant of $60,000. The program will be targeted toward educating high school students during the summer to become ambassadors who return to the school to promote vaccines and educate their peers about the history and benefits of vaccines, and how vaccinations are effective in protecting communities. “This is an incredible opportunity for Detroit youth who will be empowered to serve as Vaccine Ambassadors for the city. They will gain insight into the history of vaccines and will be trained on their communication skills,” said Chopra.  

Long COVID still a risk, even for vaccinated people

By Jeanna D. Smiley  Long COVID can cause persistent COVID-19 symptoms including loss of smell, fatigue, mood changes, and brain fog in addition to disorders of the heart, kidneys, and lungs. These symptoms emerge or continue at least one month after a SARS-CoV-2 infection. It is estimated that 7.7 to 23 million Americans may have developed long COVID, a condition also called post-acute COVID or chronic COVID. While researchers have observed that vaccines have been effective in fending off some of the worst long COVID symptoms, they also found that mild breakthrough COVID-19 infections can trigger lingering, severe symptoms of long COVID even in vaccinated people. Dr. Joseph A. Roche, an associate professor in health sciences at Wayne State University agreed that vaccines do not replace other risk reduction methods for COVID-19. He pointed to a paper he authored, which urges “continued nonpharmacological risk-reduction measures…to complement vaccination efforts.” In his research, Dr. Roche cited mathematical models which predicted that such measures should stay in place for a year, even after the population reaches ideal vaccination levels.  
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More than 50% of all Michiganians should mask up inside, CDC says

More than half of all Michiganians live in counties where they should mask up indoors following a spike in COVID-19 cases, according to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Across the state, 16 counties – including Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb and many others near heavily-populated Metro Detroit – are now in “high” community levels, a CDC classification to show where COVID cases and hospitalizations have risen to the point that people are recommended to wear masks indoors. The city of Detroit is also at a high risk level. Dr. Matthew Sims, director of infectious disease research for Beaumont Health and a faculty member in the Wayne State University School of Medicine, said that upticks tend to follow a particular pattern. First, community levels rise, followed by a rise in hospitalizations, and then, a few weeks later, a rise in deaths. “We’re certainly not at a crisis point,” said Sims, acknowledging the number of COVID patients he has seen in recent days has risen. “But we could be there in a few weeks if things don’t go well. We’re going to keep watching this and doing everything we can.”  
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Michigan public colleges work to plug pandemic 'leaks' that hit enrollment

n the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Michigan's public higher education institutions have found themselves in a landscape rife with challenges, some long-anticipated, others entirely now. Enrollment in Michigan's public institutions overall took a downward turn during the pandemic, dropping 6.24% between fall 2019, when 280,490 students enrolled, and fall 2021 when 262,985 students enrolled. The landscape of higher education has changed, including class modality. Despite a push for in-person classes, assistant dean Kiantee Rupert-Jones said remote and hybrid classes will remain at the university's Mike Ilitch School of Business due to student demand. "Our students are usually working full time or have family obligations. So they're looking for flexibility and online and hybrid classes," she said. "And so at the graduate level, that's what we're offering, because we'll see an even greater decline in our enrollment if we don't offer that type of flexibility." Wayne State University bumped tuition for first-year undergraduates by 3.83%  for the 2021-22 school year after freezing tuition for 2020-21. Annual tuition for lower-division resident undergraduates at WSU for 2021-22 was $14,043. "It was a priority for us to keep any increase to the lowest level possible while not jeopardizing academic and student resources and investment," said Mark Kornbluh, Wayne State's provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. "Also, there was a significant increase in financial aid over this period." Between 2020 through 2022, WSU increased its commitment to financial aid by $16.6 million dollars, an increase of 21%. 
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Bank of America funds electric vehicles and expansion for Wayne Health Mobile Unit

Wayne State University and Wayne Health, its affiliated physician practice group, have received a $900,000 grant from Bank of America to strengthen the Wayne Health Mobile Unit (WHMU) program. The innovative fleet of health delivery vehicles was established in partnership with Ford X in April 2020 to deliver COVID-19 testing, education, and vaccinations to underserved populations in Detroit. The support from Bank of America will provide two fully outfitted electric vehicles from Ford Motor Company that will bring preventative health care to Detroit workers in an environmentally sustainable way. The new electric Ford Transit vehicles will make regular site visits to an estimated 16-20 small- and medium-sized businesses in Detroit through partnerships between Wayne Health, the businesses, and their health insurance providers – offering comprehensive or preventative health care services to thousands of workers. Each mobile unit will function as a mobile clinical setting with an examination and consultation area and a telehealth component. The funding from Bank of America will support the purchase of the vehicles, along with three years of personnel, medical supplies and vehicle maintenance. “We are helping businesses help their workers and with these new electric vehicles, we are doing so with a small environmental impact,” said Phillip Levy, M.D., M.P.H., project lead for the WHMU program as well as Wayne Health’s chief innovation officer. “Healthier workers mean healthier business, which translates to greater economic health for the Detroit region. We are grateful to Bank of America for helping us move from crisis response to destination care, and for giving these businesses the capacity to offer high-quality, affordable health care for their workers.”  
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Rethinking your drinking

Thirty-five years after the federal government created a public health campaign to raise awareness of a growing epidemic of alcoholism in the U.S., the problem became more pronounced, especially among young women, during the pandemic. Figures from Nielsen report national alcohol sales surged 54% in March 2020. April is National Alcohol Awareness Month, an opportunity to reexamine your relationship with alcohol, said Erika Bocknek, an associate professor of counseling psychology at Wayne State University. “It’s a moment to step back and reflect before your drinking gets out of hand,” she said. The first step to evaluating your drinking is to ask yourself why you’re having a drink, Bocknek said. “Alcohol plays a pervasive role in our culture, so it’s easy to make drinking issues seem less problematic. It’s important to remember that the problem can be invisible…The reason alcohol works as a coping strategy is because it dulls your senses and forces you to relax,” Bocknek said.  
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Wayne Mobile Health Unit brings equality to life expectancy

The team at Wayne Health knows to break the cycle of health disparities in Black and brown communities, they must take their tools on the road. For more than a year, the Wayne Health mobile unit has broken down the barriers to healthcare access in Detroit's Black neighborhoods, providing COVID vaccines, heart health awareness, and other services. Dr. Philip Levy, a professor of emergency medicine and assistant vice president for translational science and clinical research innovation at Wayne State and chief innovation officer for Wayne State University Physician Group, said that his team has noticed that nearly 7 out of of every 10 visitors has elevated blood pressure. "Most of the folks have pretty profound hypertension, and a lot of them fall into the category of stage 2 hypertension, which is advanced hypertension that we need to do something about as soon as possible," said Dr. Levy. This summer, Wayne Health will officially being its Achieve Greater initiative, which will provide Detroiters with the resources to manage their health. After one visit with the mobile health unit, all other follow ups are done remotely. Wayne Health is partnering with a number of church groups, recreation centers, and other community groups to connect with more residents. Dr. Levy said the life expectancy of a Detroiter is up to 15 years less than Michigan's average life expectancy of 77.7 years, and that deaths linked to heart disease jumped 25-30% during the pandemic. Wayne Health wants to help future generations of Black families live longer. "Ultimately, we want everyone in the state, and especially in the City of Detroit and the Black community, to live as many years as everyone else," Dr. Levy said. 

Mobile Health Clinics reach vulnerable MI communities

By Lily Bohlke  An analysis of mobile health clinics launched in the Detroit metro area during the pandemic finds it’s a model that can deliver health screenings and health care and could be replicated in other communities. The Wayne Health Mobile Units are specially equipped vans with medical equipment and professionals. They began as testing sites for front-line workers in the early days of COVID-19, out of a partnership between Wayne State University and Ford Motor Co. Over time, they transitioned to what Dr. Phillip Levy, a professor of emergency medicine and assistant vice president for translational science and clinical research innovation at Wayne State and chief innovation officer for Wayne State University Physician Group, called a “vision of patient-centric, portable population health.” “If they have comorbidities and need doctors’ appointments or health care,” said Levy, who runs the program, “can we provide linkages around that? If they have food insecurity, can we help them get food access so that we can really be delivering on the holistic approaches that are needed in order to keep this person healthy and avoid complications?” Appointments are not necessary, and they don’t require insurance or identification – which can be barriers to care. Levy added that bringing care into communities also reduces the barriers of transportation time and cost. Beyond testing and treatment for COVID, Levy said the Mobile Health Units do blood screenings for high cholesterol, diabetes, and kidney disease, and provide prevention infrastructure – as well as blood pressure screenings for hypertension. Levy said they are also building out HIV screening and treatment, and have started working with the state’s needle-exchange program.  
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Family travels to Chicago to find infant formula amid nationwide shortages

By Kiara Hay  A nationwide infant formula shortage has families in metro Detroit struggling to feed their babies. Empty shelves and signs rationing out supplies is a sight many have not seen since the early days of the pandemic. But moms across metro Detroit say it’s a constant crisis. Moms are struggling to find sensitive-stomach and lactose-free formulas, and some are relying on limited doctors’ samples or cans brought from relatives out-of-state. “We had a bad situation with access to baby formula before, and the recall by Abbott only made it worse,” said Kevin Ketels, an associate professor at the Mike Ilitch School of Business at Wayne State University. Ketels says a massive federal recall earlier in the year is one of the causes for the empty shelves, with 31% of formula products being out of stock across the country. According to Ketels, Abbott has begun airlifting formula products to the states to fill the gap, and other companies are looking at ways to stretch the supply. But he said the solution could take weeks, not months. “Hopefully, the company can ramp up production quickly and we can avoid the severe shortages that we have right now, but we ill not be able to escape the general shortages just because of the pandemic.” 
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COVID-19: Mental health telemedicine was off to a slow start – then the pandemic happened

By Arash Javanbakht  In the spring of 2020, COVID-19 brought rising levels of stress, anxiety and depression. But stay-at-home orders and a national emergency prompted many psychiatric and psychotherapy offices to shut down and cancel in-person appointments. The country needed a robust – and fast – transition to mental health telemedicine. And the pandemic turned out to be just the thing to make it happen. I was skeptical of telemedicine in 2015 when I began working at Wayne State University as a psychiatrist and researcher in the medical school. At that time, the department of psychiatry and its affiliated clinics were using telemedicine in primary and emergency care and for substance use recovery. But the idea of seeing patients via video had been around since long before then. In 1973, a team of behavioral scientists studied the two-way interactive television system Massachusetts General Hospital started using in 1969. The hospital provided mental health evaluations at an off-site medical station at Logan International Airport in Boston and a Veterans Affairs hospital outside the city. “The system has proven to be feasible and acceptable to individuals and institutions in the community, providing psychiatric skills on a much wider scale, in a more accessible way, and faster than any other system,” researchers wrote in their analysis.