COVID-19 in the news

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The medical community has failed people of color in the past: these doctors want to build trust

The COVID-19 pandemic has swept through the United States, highlighting racial inequities in healthcare. The numbers of infections and deaths related to COVID-19 are far higher among people of color, especially Black Americans, than among white Americans. Despite these higher risks, Black Americans are less likely to sign up for experimental medical treatments or potential vaccines. To help bridge this gap and champion the interests of Black people and other marginalized groups during the pandemic, the National Medical Association set up an expert task force to vet regulators’ decisions about COVID-19 drugs and vaccines. “We are more interested in efficacy,” said Dr. Bret Hughes, a professor of ophthalmology at Wayne State University and longtime member of the National Medical Association. He added that the process for vetting vaccines and other kinds of medications is very regimented and specific, and has two goals: safety first and then effectiveness. But “there are political groups that are willing to bypass those procedures and say there is a vaccine in order to quell fears. In fact, you can take a vaccine and develop other conditions because there’s more in the vaccine no one is aware of until you get it.” Dr. Rick Baker, a professor of ophthalmology and vice dean for medical education at Wayne State University and a longtime National Medical Association member, said the association will be doing three things in vetting vaccines: making sure whatever is developed is scientifically sound and effective; assessing whether there’s adequate representation of people of color in the trials; and ensuring that the distribution of the vaccine is equitable. In these uncertain times, he added, someone needs to be the trusted messenger, adding that physicians are uniquely qualified to be that messenger. “The message needs to be transmitted from physicians to patients,” he said. “The physician-to-patient relationship is very important.”
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Michigan riding ‘second’ COVID wave that could bring more deaths

Michigan’s battle with the novel coronavirus has taken a sharp turn, with the volume of cases sharply increasing almost daily along with hospitalizations, emergency room visits and deaths. For the past week, there have been over 1,100 newly confirmed cases a day. More than 1,000 people with COVID-19 are now in Michigan hospitals, following a recent low of 500 on Sept. 25. And deaths, which had been low, are creeping up in a likely “second wave” that will bring more cases. The recent rise in COVID-19 infections has not brought with it the volume of deaths suffered last spring. Cases are more widely distributed across the state and therapies and treatments have improved in Michigan, as they have elsewhere. Experts attribute the improved outcomes to a host of factors. Fewer patients spread across more hospitals have allowed for better care. Treatments have changed and some therapies have emerged, like using remdesivir,  which aided in President Trump’s recovery. And after the coronavirus ravaging nursing home residents in Michigan and elsewhere, changes were made to better protect those populations and many more are taking their own precautions, such as wearing masks and avoiding crowds. “All these precautions are definitely helping,” said Dr. Teena Chopra,  a professor of infectious diseases at Wayne State University who is in charge of infection control at Detroit Medical Center. Chopra said she has noticed that patients she sees at the Detroit Medical Center are younger, by about a decade, than those who were arriving in March and April. That’s made them more resilient to COVID-19. But it doesn’t mean it’s no longer to be feared. “The virus is not going to magically disappear,” Chopra said.
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The new rules of engagement

Online learning during the coronavirus pandemic has proved to be a particular challenge for some lower-income students and students of color, whose communities have been hit hardest by the virus. Technical and personal challenges can make it difficult to connect with their classmates, literally and figuratively. If students are logging on with data plans and phones, have little privacy, or are caring for others, turning on cameras for online classes can be awkward, even impossible. At Wayne State University, which has a similarly diverse student body, Karen Myhr, an associate professor of biology, has also been thinking about inclusivity. Many of her students are considered at risk academically, she says: Low test scores placed them in her course, called “An Introduction to Life,” instead of in a more advanced biology sequence. Even in normal times, she says, her students have needed a lot of support. To help them build connections, virtually, she has grouped them into teams of their choice, and then put those teams into private channels online. Her five undergraduate learning assistants can enter. But she stays out, knowing that having the professor listen to their conversation could cause some to freeze up. Instead, she monitors their written work, which is done through collaborative online software. A typical online class might include a few minutes of instruction, followed by group work, and a debrief, as she shares examples of what they came up with in their teams.
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MSU, U-M, Wayne State presidents: In-person classes likely won't resume until fall 2021

The presidents of Michigan's top three research universities said it’s likely it will be another year before their students return to classrooms full-time. Most students at Michigan State University, University of Michigan and Wayne State University are taking their courses remotely this fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Each university's president expects online classes to continue through the academic year, with students returning in person in the fall of 2021. "The truth of the matter is that this is going to be with us for a while," said Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson, who spoke with the MSU President Samuel Stanley and U-M President Mark Schlissel during a Lansing Economic Club panel on Thursday. "I anticipate that the winter semester will be basically the same as it is this semester."
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Wayne State opening of STEM Innovation Learning Center Oct. 1

Wayne State University will open its new STEM Innovation Learning Center on Thursday, Oct. 1, and host virtual pop-up mini events throughout the day from 9:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Students, faculty, staff, and the community are invited to join the celebration. The virtual event will include remarks from university and state leadership, a tour of the building, a drone flyover, and more. Construction on the project, which was made possible by a $14.75 million commitment from the state of Michigan as well as bond proceeds to WSU, began in March 2019. “Now more than ever is a time for innovation and optimism, and this facility will help further a culture of collaboration and creativity across disciplines,” says Tonya Matthews, associate provost for inclusive workforce development and director of the STEM Innovation Learning Center. “Students, faculty and the city of Detroit will benefit from the ideas and opportunities generated within this cutting-edge, state-of-the-art learning space for years to come.” This fall, the building will soft open with limited access while equipment is moved in and final systems are tested. The STEM Innovation Learning Center, however, has already begun to play a role in achieving Wayne State’s vision for STEM education and research for current and future Warriors through various community partnerships that could build upon the spirit of inclusive, collaborative STEM.
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Wayne State researcher predicts a COVID-19 spike as winter nears

It has been more than seven months since the novel coronavirus was first detected in Michigan. During that time, what we know about the virus has changed dramatically and our understanding continues to change rapidly. We’re also now hearing more and more about the race to develop a vaccine. Wayne State University medical researcher Dr. Paul Kilgore joins Stephen Henderson on WDET Detroit Today regularly to give the audience the most reliable and trustworthy information on these subjects. Kilgore is associate professor & director of research at Wayne State University’s College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. He says other viral infections tend to peak with colder weather, and researchers expect the same to be true of the novel coronavirus. He says it’s less a matter of if we’ll see another spike in cases in the coming months, and more a matter of how big that spike will be. “Caution is the key word right now,” says Kilgore. But he says one piece of good news is that medical professionals are getting better at treating COVID-19. “We have a better understanding of the pathology of the virus, which means we’re getting better at understanding how to treat it.”
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Off-campus students remain a challenge in Detroit’s census response

According to the city census data map, Midtown and the Wayne State University area — neighborhoods that have plenty of traditional and campus housing— still have some of the lowest census responses in the city, about 28 percent, while the city itself has pushed past the halfway mark with a response rate of 50.1, as of Wednesday. Wayne State officials said that they had been working with Victoria Kovari, who is leading Detroit’s Census initiative, for the past 1.5 years to encourage residents and students to respond to the 2020 Census. Wayne State ran volunteer events and education campaigns to help students understand that they could participate in the census for their campus address. “We just wanted to let students know that the Census was coming up and talked about the areas in which it effected funding, roads, Pell education, healthcare and trying to find things that would matter to students,” said Carolyn Berry, WSU associate vice president of marketing and communications. 
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Mental health expert: Limit news intake, check in on friends

Arash Javanbakht, associate professor of psychiatry and director of the Stress, Trauma and Anxiety Research Clinic at Wayne State University, was a guest on Detroit Today hosted by Stephen Henderson. Javanbakht says there are multiple factors that contribute to stress, all of which are present in the COVID-19 pandemic. He says the rapid transition and change in lifestyle has made the already traumatic situation more stressful for many and adds that all the unknowns around the virus can also create stress. “There’s also a lot of uncertainty. Uncertainty always makes any difficult situation even more difficult.” Javanbakht says limiting negative news intake and checking in on friends can really help mental health. He says that friends can learn coping skills together, easing stress. “If I am happy, if I am doing well, share it with others. Call a friend and be encouraging, even lend some money if someone needs it. If I don’t have happiness, I can’t share it with others.”
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Experts say Trump downplaying risks of the coronavirus was not justified

President Trump has defended the way he downplayed the dangers of the coronavirus. He says he was showing leadership during a time of crisis, but that's the opposite of what crisis management experts recommend. NPR's Ayesha Rascoe spoke with Wayne State University Professor Matthew Seeger. After 9/11, he helped the Centers for Disease Control develop plans for talking to the public about emergencies. “Whenever I hear, you know, the rationale of panic as an explanation for why people are withholding information, it's like fingernails on a chalkboard.” Seeger says past crises have shown that people rarely panic in these situations, and that's why experts recommend transparency. “When there is an announcement of a hurricane warning in South Florida, people don't panic. I mean, they don't abandon everything and jump in their cars and drive north.”
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Reasons online students should be able to keep webcam off

Child psychology researchers don’t know yet what the effects of this school year will be on children, said Erika Bocknek, a Wayne State University associate professor of educational psychology. “We’re building the boat as we sail it,” Bocknek said. Unlike in a traditional classroom, children are viewing themselves and staring at the faces of their classmates, which can make them self-conscious about their own appearance, said Bocknek, who teaches courses on child psychology. “We don’t have good data on this yet, but a lot of people are in fact speculating that there may be impacts on self-esteem, on a positive sense of identity,” Bocknek said. Increased screen time during virtual school is another unknown for researchers, Bocknek said. But experts know this school year may exacerbate already existing mental and behavioral issues, she said. “I think we are going to have some positive and negative lessons learned from this time period,” Bocknek said. "We really don’t know yet for sure what the impacts are going to be. However, we hypothesize that there are children with different learning styles who might really benefit from being able to turn the camera off and focus on listening auditorily to the lesson.”
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What nursing homes need: Lockdown safety – and room for hugs

Nursing homes closed their doors to most visitors in March in an attempt to shield vulnerable residents from the virus, which has killed more than 75,000 residents and staff in long-term care this year, according to early-September Kaiser Family Foundation data. But cautionary confinement has meant a second affliction for residents, and not just for those who missed final goodbyes. Some experts on aging say isolation can lead to depression, anxiety, and overall health decline. Desperate for connection, relatives of the country’s more than 1 million nursing home residents have scrambled for creative workarounds – from strained video calls to bucket truck-assisted window visits. And now, care facilities face high-stakes decisions about how to reopen safely. That means most reunions will come for the foreseeable future at a wrenching 6-foot distance. “The benefits [of visits] are really enormous,” says Peter Lichtenberg, director of Wayne State University’s Institute of Gerontology, who also speaks from personal experience. After weeks of isolation, he visited his own father for an end-of-life exception visit at a Pennsylvania facility this spring. My dad died without anxiety,” says Dr. Lichtenberg. “I thought in large part that was because I was there.”  
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This is how Michigan colleges are carrying out classes for the fall semester

Many colleges in Michigan have begun the fall semester, and all have varying approaches to try to keep students safe from COVID-19. A few have chosen to move all of their classes online, but many are offering a mix of online, in-person and hybrid classes to limit interactions on campus. Schools like Central Michigan University and Adrian College have already had outbreaks of COVID-19 on campus after students returned, and because of that, schools such as Kalamazoo College and Eastern Michigan University have chosen to move their classes online or delay the in-person fall semester by a few weeks. Wayne State University offers five options for students, according to its return to campus plan, which include traditional course instruction, remote instruction at specific times, online instruction, hybrid classes and individually arranged classes, which include dissertations, theses and individual research credits.
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COVID-19 cases rise in spots as students return to college, parties

Students at most Michigan public universities began classes this week, and even though schools have spent months preparing for a safe return amid the pandemic, what's happening off campus is causing heightened concern. The parties were inevitable, some say. They started happening at schools where students returned to campuses earlier than most, such as the University of South Carolina, which began Aug. 20 and now has more than 1,000 cases of COVID-19. All but nine positive cases are students. In Michigan, Central Michigan University now has 260 cases traced to the Aug. 17 return of students, including people living in and around the community, according to the Central Michigan District Health Department that serves six mid-Michigan counties. At Adrian College, the number of cases reached 152, which includes 138 cases that are active, the Lenawee County Health Department reported Thursday. At Wayne State University, President M. Roy Wilson sent a letter to students, asking them to behave. Dr. Teena Chopra, an infectious disease professor at Wayne State, said getting the younger generation to embrace safe behaviors is tough. "We can control what students do on campus," she said. "But when they are off campus, we cannot control that. These social gatherings are very good examples of how we are spreading the virus, and how the transmission can happen. Right now, students tend to gather outside, which is less risky. But once the weather changes and it's too cold to be outside all the time, Chopra doesn't expect schools to be able to continue in-person instruction. "We are going to be in a different situation," she said. "I don’t think the schools and colleges in the midst of winter will be able to remain open very long. It is impossible for younger kids to comply with 100% masking, and not be within 6 feet of one another."
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How the pandemic is affecting our finances and ability to plan for the future

We’re living through one of the worst economic crises America has ever experienced. Roughly 55 million people have filed for unemployment since the coronavirus pandemic hit back in March. More than 70,000 small businesses have closed forever. The Aspen Institute estimates one in five renters are at risk of being evicted by the end of this month. With all of the uncertainty and upheaval in our economy and the world more generally, what kinds of decisions should we be making with our own money? What does all of this mean for our ability to plan for the future — or even just get through the day? Matthew Roling is the executive director of Wayne State University’s office of business innovation and teaches personal finance at Wayne State’s business school. He says many Americans are looking for ways to make sure they have cash available to them, instead of being tied up in assets. “Cash is king in a way that it really never has been before because we really don’t know what’s around the corner,” says Roling. “We’re just starting to measure the impact that this has had on the long term [health] of the US economy.” He also notes that while many working-class and low-income people are being hit especially hard during the pandemic, wealthier people are taking advantage of new opportunities to make more money. “This is becoming a tale of two economies,” he says.
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Can jobs or schools require you or kids to get a COVID-19 vaccine? Here's what we know

Most businesses are open and schools are coming back in session, but there are major concessions to the coronavirus. From kindergarten to college, schools are switching to virtual learning and businesses are operating at reduced capacity. There is a race to create a COVID-19 vaccine to beat back the virus, and now, we're looking at who can require you to get the future vaccine, and what rights you have to push back. There's a lot of hope a coronavirus vaccine can help us get back to normal life, but that only works if the public takes the vaccine. Public Health Law Expert Professor Lance Gable said confidence in vaccines is the key to public health. Gable said despite parent protest, the state can require kids to get a future coronavirus vaccine, just as other childhood shots. "State requirements of this sort, as long as they have scientific evidence supporting their necessity, often they're going to be upheld," he said. He added, "It's really important we get this right and it's really important we maintain trust." Parents can request a non-medical waiver. It will require a visit with a county health educator and during disease outbreaks, non-vaccinated kids can be excluded from school. What about your job? Federal guidance says employers can require a COVID-19 test to look for active infection but not for antibodies. A vaccine can be closer to antibody screening. “So it could violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and it might be a problem for employers to do that," Gable said.
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Wayne State posts guidelines for action if COVID-19 spreads

As the majority of public universities begin fall semester classes this week amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Wayne State University has developed a plan with specific benchmarks about when to take action to contain any potential spread of the virus. The university would take its most drastic step and depopulate the campus if testing shows positive cases within the university community to exceed 15%, or three or more clusters appear in seven days or if fewer than 15% of hospital beds and fewer than 15% of intensive care unit beds are available. The "tipping point metrics," posted online Monday, include thresholds that will trigger and guide Wayne State officials in their decision-making in the event of numerous COVID-19 cases. While many universities have a plan of when to take action, the Detroit university is among a small number of universities nationwide that are publishing specific numerical thresholds to trigger actions if coronavirus infections escalate. Wayne State made the move after watching other universities that have returned to campus and grappled with numerous coronavirus cases. It also wanted to be transparent and clear about what will happen if necessary, President M. Roy Wilson said. "I don't think the time to make a decision is ... when everything is getting worse," said Wilson, who is an epidemiologist. "You have to have some things already worked out so you are not wasting time. We know the science, and we know when things reach a certain level, it’s bad." 
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Pandemic raises anxiety for expectant mothers amid higher intensive care risk

For women who are pregnant, the pandemic can be particularly fraught with anxiety as they worry about the effects of COVID-19 on themselves and their babies, all while coping with potential job loss, child care issues and economic uncertainty. An evolving body of research — including a recent study by investigators at the Wayne State University Medical School and the National Institutes of Health Perinatology Research Branch in Detroit — has shown it's unlikely for the virus to pass from a pregnant woman to her fetus. A data analysis of U.S. cases, published by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July, concluded that pregnant women are at no greater risk of dying from the virus than non-pregnant women, though they are more likely to end up in intensive care and require a ventilator. With 24 million cases of COVID-19 worldwide, including about 6 million in the United States and more than 100,000 in Michigan, there has been no consistent evidence of pregnant mothers passing the infection to their newborns, what's called vertical transmission. While other viral infections such as Zika, cytomegalovirus and rubella can be passed from mother to fetus, researchers led by Dr. Roberto Romero, chief of the Perinatology Research Branch at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at Wayne State, investigated why the same isn't true of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. "The rate of vertical transmission is extremely low," Romero said. "The best estimates that we have are less than 2%, or less than 1%. There have been some reports of neonates testing positive after birth, but there is always the question: Was that virus acquired in utero, or was it acquired from a mother who is sick?" 
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Medical experts warn that mental health of college athletes, and especially Black athletes, is being overlooked

As colleges grapple with the decision of when to resume athletic competition, the NCAA’s chief medical officer suggested mental health issues — especially among Black athletes — are getting insufficient attention. Mental health concerns were highest among respondents of color, those whose families are facing economic hardship and those living alone, according to an NCAA news release about the findings of the survey, which was conducted April 10-May 1. Greater financial pressures and more instability at home among Black athletes make separation from their teammates an even bigger issue, said M. Roy Wilson, president of Wayne State University and a panelist. “We have to deal with those aspects with the same rigor and concentration as we do social distancing, wearing masks, sanitation of facilities,’’ Wilson said. “All those things are good. But we’ve got to look at the well-being of our student athletes also, because they’re not going to be able to come back if they don’t."
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As teachers brace for student learning losses, many worry about the impact on Michigan’s most vulnerable students

As schools across Michigan begin an unpredictable new year, teachers are facing what may seem like an insurmountable task: Helping students, particularly the most vulnerable, who’ve experienced learning loss because of the pandemic. There is little doubt that the disruption caused by COVID-19, marked by an unheard-of shift from physical to remote learning, will leave many students struggling academically. That concern runs especially deep in cities like Detroit, home to long-existing inequities and students whose communities have borne the brunt of the virus’s damage. Sarah Winchell Lenhoff, an assistant professor at Wayne State University, says schools offering choices between in-person and remote instruction should have considered the needs of students who may have suffered the greatest losses. Most district leaders left it up to parents to decide between the two. “Parents choose what’s best for them,” Lenhoff said. “But that really leaves it up to chance whether the students who would benefit the most from face to face are the ones who are going to sign up for it.” Lenhoff said it’s “scary, frankly,” to think about the long-term consequences for students from low-income families and students of color who attend economically segregated schools who will “are likely bearing the brunt of the learning loss.”