Health

Is delta more dangerous for children? Pediatrician answers top back-to-school questions

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(New York) — With the hyper-transmissible delta variant driving a new COVID-19 surge, many families are wondering if it's safe to send young children back to school for in-person learning.

Once again, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that adults and children wear masks in schools. Meanwhile, a COVID-19 vaccine isn't likely to be available for children under 12 before the end of the year.

But Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez says that with the right precautions in place, children will benefit from in-person learning this year.

"I understand it is nerve-racking," Bracho-Sanchez, a primary care pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Irving medical center explained in a conversation with ABC News on Instagram Live.

"Let's trust the science. Let's take a deep breath.”

Experts agree that the best step adults can take to keep kids safe is to get vaccinated themselves. Children are less likely to become infected with the virus if all the adults around them are immune, creating an invisible ring of protection.

Is delta more dangerous for children?

Data is still emerging on the new delta variant. For example, it's still not clear if the variant causes more severe illness in adults and children, though the National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins recently told CNN the data is "tipping" that way.

But the real danger of delta is that it's highly contagious and now surging in communities with low vaccination rates. The CDC now recommends that everyone in school settings -- vaccinated or unvaccinated -- wear a mask to slow transmission.

"I know it is frustrating, but it really, truly does make sense and we should be doing it," Bracho-Sanchez said.

How can parents help kids prepare for in-person learning?

Bracho-Sanchez says children will benefit from in-person learning, but parents should be empowered to advocate with their school district to ensure the learning environment is as safe as possible.

At home, parents can help children transition by asking them about how they're feeling about going back to a classroom.

"You know, I've seen kids who have seen too much and have been through too much in the past year and a half," said Bracho-Sanchez. "Some have witnessed family members passing away … and we're now going to ask them to make a transition and to perform at a level that they haven't really been supported to perform at once the school year starts again."

Bracho-Sanchez said she reminds her patients to go back to the basics: Get the school year off on the right foot by ensuring children are getting outdoor time, nutritious food and plenty of sleep.

"Once we've implemented all of those basics, we can also start having conversations about how kids are feeling about going back to school," she said. "All it takes is creating this space and asking those questions."

Should I consider holding my child back to catch up after last year?

Some schools might recommend certain children be held back a grade to make up for last year. But according to Bracho-Sanchez, this decision shouldn't be taken lightly.

"We know we have studies ... we have data ... that show that kids who have been held back a grade actually are at higher risk of dropping out in the future," she said.

Parents and teachers should help students achieve while staying in their own grade, she said, and parents are encouraged to reach out to their pediatrician if a school recommends holding a child back.

"I think there's a lot the parents can do," she said. "Now is the time to come together as a community."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


More businesses are mandating COVID-19 vaccines. Is that legal?

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(WASHINGTON) — With the delta variant surging, some businesses have begun announcing COVID-19 vaccine mandates for employees with some exceptions on religious and medical grounds.

The announcements have led to relief for some and strong opposition and protests for others as well as a handful of states introducing legislation to block them.

While there may be opposition to those policies, ultimately the mandates -- which also come as efforts stagnate to reach the remaining unvaccinated Americans -- are on solid legal ground, public health experts contend.

In the last two weeks, private companies big and small, such as Google, the NFL and Disney (the parent company of ABC News) and many public offices, have announced that vaccines are mandatory for staff before they return to offices in the fall.

In addition, the federal government and some states are issuing testing mandates for any of their public employees who aren't vaccinated.

In a few localities, such as New York City, proof of vaccination is required for indoor activities such as movies and restaurants -- actions that take a harder line to incentivize vaccination.

The subject is tricky given that the vaccines are not fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said vaccines will not be federally mandated and public health officials have largely been trying to incentivize inoculation rather than making it compulsory given the hesitancy in the population.

Dr. Howard Koh, a former assistant secretary for health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told ABC News that there will be more organizations that follow suit given the rise in coronavirus cases among the unvaccinated, and they have solid arguments for the policies.

"Businesses want to go forward and they know that their status quo isn’t working," he told ABC News.

Here's what to know:

Long-standing legal precedent

States have over a century of legal precedent for mandating vaccines, according to Koh, who currently serves as a professor of the practice of public health Leadership at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.

The courts have not determined if the federal government can issue a vaccine mandate, however, the Supreme Court's decision in the 1905 case Jacobson v. Massachusetts gave state governments the power to issue such a mandate.

The 7-2 decision ruled that Massachusetts's smallpox vaccine mandate was constitutional stating, "it is for the legislature, and not for the courts, to determine in the first instance whether vaccination is or is not the best mode for the prevention of smallpox and the protection of the public health."

All states and the District of Columbia have mandated vaccines for ailments such as measles, rubella and polio, for school-age children, although requirements differ by state. There are also a range of exceptions, most commonly medical and religious reasons.

As of June, 44 states and Washington, D.C., grant religious exemptions for people who have religious objections to immunizations, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks the state regulations. Fifteen states that allow philosophical exemptions for children whose parents object to immunizations because of personal, moral or other beliefs, the NCSL found.

The situation is largely different for adults, for whom vaccines are generally not required for employment or in other forums. However, in certain states, such as New York, there is a requirement for health care workers, for instance.

Koh added things get tricky when it comes to a federal mandate.

"The president, from what I can tell, can not announce a federal mandate. No federal vaccination mandate has ever been tested in court," he said.

More leeway for private businesses

There is some legal uncertainty around the current batch of COVID-19 vaccines because they are being administered under an emergency use authorization from the FDA, Koh said. Opponents to vaccine mandates have argued states or businesses cannot enforce mandates unless the inoculations have received full approval.

But a ruling by the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel last month, ruled that Section 564 of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act doesn't prohibit private businesses from mandating vaccines. States and local municipalities, however, still have the power to prohibit a vaccine mandate within their own offices.

Koh noted that the Justice Department's ruling has given private and public businesses the legal backing to order their own mandates.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently issued an executive order Tuesday that required vaccination for certain indoor activities, such as the gym, movie theaters and concerts.

Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told ABC News' podcast "Start Here" that similar requirements will be popping up.

"I think it's not only reasonable, but I think it's part of what's going to, I think, nudge more people to get vaccinated while making it even safer for those who are vaccinated to be able to get back to their way of life, which is what we all want," he told ABC News.

Once the vaccines get full approval, there will be more push from all sectors to mandate the vaccine, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Tuesday. Pfizer's approval could come as early as September.

"You’re not going to see a central mandate coming from the federal government, but you’re going to see more universities, colleges, places of business who, once they get the cover of an officially approved vaccine, they’re going to start mandating vaccines," Fauci said.

There have been some signs that governors would change their rules once the vaccines get the full approval. During a virtual town hall Wednesday, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards told residents he would do just that.

"It would be my expectation that once full authorization or sometimes it's called licensure is granted, then that vaccine will be added to the list, and then it will work just like the current mumps, measles, rubella, and other vaccines," he said.

Attempts to block mandates

When it comes to local public government offices, rules for vaccine mandates differ and in a handful of states, mandates on the COVID-19 vaccines have been banned outright until full approval.

As of Aug. 4, six states have enacted legislation in the last year that would block state and municipal offices from mandating a COVID-19 vaccine among staff members. Those six states and another six also have laws that prevent schools from issuing mandates.

Only one state, Montana, has banned private businesses from issuing a vaccine mandate.

Some of the states with bans, such as Alabama, North Dakota and Arkansas, have lagged behind the rest of the country when it comes to vaccinations and seen a jump in cases, according to the CDC. Alabama's seven-day average of new cases has jumped from nearly 200 at the beginning of July to over 2,500 this week, CDC data shows.

During a news conference Tuesday, President Biden urged governors to lift restrictions on businesses and schools so they could increase vaccination numbers.

"I say to these governors, please help. But if you aren't going to help, at least get out of the way," he said.

Another way: Testing mandates

Koh noted that the vaccine order that Biden borrowed from New York and other states that required unvaccinated public employees to get tested weekly.

Koh and other experts contend the rule from the president and other leaders would ensure that workspaces would have fewer outbreaks and give those unvaccinated workers a bigger push to get their shots.

It also gives the states firmer legal standing because the testing mandate doesn't lead to a termination or penalty for the unvaccinated employee, they noted.

"The goal is to make vaccine the norm and the goal is to make vaccine the healthy choice," Koh said.

Ultimately, Koh said the biggest motivator for vaccine mandates will be from the private businesses. Their efforts will force the public sector to enact stricter measures, he argued.

"Our country has been trying to tame this pandemic for 18 months and counting. The other [vaccination] measures until now have not been completely successful in getting us through this," Koh said.

This report was featured in the Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021, episode of “Start Here,” ABC News’ daily news podcast.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Unvaccinated patient in hospital pleads for others to get vaccine: 'I want to help as many people as I can'

Courtesy of Kellie Campbell

(WASHINGTON) — Virginia residents Travis and Kellie Campbell were unvaccinated when they both contracted COVID-19 in late July. Since then, Travis Campbell has been hospitalized for 12 days and spoke to ABC News from his hospital bed at the Bristol Regional Medical Center Hospital in Tennessee.

"When you feel like you have to fight for your life, you don't realize that you're fighting for every single breath all day long," said Travis Campbell.

"If I have a day or two left, I don't want to waste my time," he said. "I want to help as many people as I can, to let them see the real truth, that [the delta variant] is real, and it's only getting stronger and faster."

The highly contagious delta variant now accounts for 93% of all sequenced COVID-19 cases in the U.S., compared to late May when it only accounted for 3%, according to data released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kellie Campbell, who was previously hospitalized with the virus, said the family was not against the vaccine, but hadn't prioritized getting it.

"We just put it in the back of our mind and we kept saying, 'We'll do it tomorrow, we'll do it tomorrow.' We have a very hectic life and it's no excuse but that's our excuse," said Kellie Campbell.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, hospitals in Virginia reported that 99% of those infected, hospitalized or who died in the past six months were not fully vaccinated.

"We thought it wasn't an urgent matter to get the vaccine and I was wrong," said Travis Campbell.

As of Tuesday, vaccination rates have reportedly risen in all 50 states, according to an ABC News analysis of CDC data from the last three weeks.

Travis Campbell said he regrets not getting vaccinated and is now encouraging his loved ones to do so before it is too late.

"I would rather be covered and protected and if something does happen and I have to worry about repercussions of the vaccine versus being buried in seven days," he said. "I beg you, please see your doctor and make an evaluated decision and protect your family or prepare yourself for your next life."

ABC News' Arielle Mitropoulos and Cheyenne Haslett contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Fauci: If community spread doesn't get under control, US 'may sooner or later get another variant'

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(WASHINGTON) — If the U.S. does not get control over community spread of the delta COVID variant, the nation will continue to see more variants that evade the protection of the vaccines, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the White House.

"That will happen, George, if we don't get good control over the community spread which is the reason why I and my colleagues keep saying and over again, it is very important to get as many people vaccinated as we possibly can," Fauci told "GMA" anchor George Stephanopoulos Thursday.

"People who say, 'I don't want to get vaccinated because it's me and I'll worry about me, I'm not having any impact on anybody else,' that's just not the case," Fauci said.

When the virus spreads through the unvaccinated population, as it is doing rapidly now in many states with low vaccination rates, it can mutate regardless of whether the person gets mild symptoms, or even no symptoms at all.

"And when you give it ample opportunity to mutate, you may sooner or later get another variant, and it is possible that that variant might be in some respects worse than the already very difficult variant we're dealing with now, which is a major reason why you want to completely suppress the circulation of the virus in the community," Fauci said.

More than 70% of the adult U.S. population has received at least one dose of a vaccine and 60.7% of the adult U.S. population is fully vaccinated. Of all eligible Americans, meaning everyone over the age of 12, 67.9% have had at least one dose and 58.3% are fully vaccinated. But in some U.S. states, the vaccination rate is well below the national average.

Nationwide, there are still about 93 million eligible Americans who have not gotten vaccinated.

Fauci warned in an interview with McClatchy on Wednesday that he thinks the virus's spread could increase to the point that the U.S. is reporting 100,000 to 200,000 new cases a day if more people don't mask up and get vaccinated.

The delta variant, the most transmissible variant to take hold in the U.S. so far, accounted for 93% of U.S. cases during the last two weeks of July, according to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. In areas of the Midwest, it made up 98% of cases.

"The thing that's important is that the delta variant that we're dealing with is so capable of pushing out other variants, that we're not expecting that to take over. Having said that, we follow it very closely," Fauci said.

Since the onset of the initial delta variant, there has been a swift increase in cases among children who aren't yet vaccinated, which experts chalk up to the faster spread of the virus.

Of the 58,000 people currently hospitalized for COVID-19 throughout the country, 18 to 49-year-olds account for 41%, according to CDC data. Pediatric hospitalizations are 3.5 times higher than they were a month ago, and the American Academy of Pediatrics reported that cases for kids under 17 nearly doubled over the last two weeks of July, from 39,000 a week to 72,000.

Some countries have published data showing that the delta variant also makes children more sick than past variants, even though children have had a very low risk of hospitalization or death throughout the pandemic. U.S. officials caution that the data is not strong enough to draw a firm conclusion.

While it's "unquestionable" that the delta variant is more transmissible, it's "less clear" whether or not it "actually makes individuals more seriously ill," Fauci said.

NIH Director Francis Collins said in a CNN interview on Tuesday that the data coming in from other countries is "tipping in the direction" of showing higher risk to children, but it's still not conclusive.

"I don't want to overstate the confidence that we have about whether delta is more dangerous to children. The balance has not been fully settled there but it's tipping in that direction," Collins said.

But he also said that more children are being hospitalized because they're part of the unvaccinated population, which is far more likely to get the virus as compared to older adults who have a much higher vaccination rate. Ninety precent of adults age 65 and older have had at least one shot of the vaccine, according to CDC data.

"So now we see perhaps in this spectrum of illness more emphasis on younger people, including kids," Collins said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Leaders across the country in disagreement over whether to require COVID-19 vaccine passports

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(NEW YORK) -- As New York City turns to vaccine passports to help limit the spread of COVID-19, other cities have pushed back against similar measures, with leaders citing a wide range of concerns, from equity to security.

This week, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the nation's largest city would soon require proof of at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine for indoor dining, indoor fitness facilities and indoor entertainment facilities.

"This is crucial because we know that this will encourage a lot more vaccination," de Blasio said Tuesday at a press briefing announcing the policy. "The goal here is to convince everyone that this is the time. If we're going to stop the delta variant, the time is now. And that means getting vaccinated right now."

New York City is the first U.S. city to announce such a measure as the highly contagious delta variant is driving up cases nationwide.

When asked this week if Boston would do the same, acting Mayor Kim Janey said the city is focusing on vaccine access, while likening the idea of vaccine passports to slave papers and birtherism.

"There's a long history in this country of people needing to show their papers," the Democrat told ABC Boston affiliate WCVB Tuesday. "During slavery, post-slavery, as recent as you know, what immigrant population has to go through here. We heard Trump with the birth certificate nonsense. Here we want to make sure that we are not doing anything that would further create a barrier for residents of Boston or disproportionally impact BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and people of color] communities."

Disparities in vaccination rates have raised concerns about vaccine passports disproportionately impacting communities of color. Vaccination rates among Black and Latino residents in Suffolk County -- where Boston sits -- lag behind those of white residents, state data shows.

Janey's comments were met with some criticism, though, particularly from fellow mayoral candidates. Boston city councilor Andrea Campbell tweeted that "this kind of rhetoric is dangerous."

"The acting mayor's comments yesterday put people's health at risk, plain and simple," Campbell said during a press briefing Wednesday while outlining her platform policies, which include requiring proof of vaccination for crowded public indoor spaces, like restaurants and gyms. "Boston has an opportunity frankly to be an example to the rest of the country when it comes to getting residents vaccinated and preventing the spread of the delta variant."

Following Janey's comments, Michelle Wu, another Boston mayoral candidate, said she supports requiring proof of vaccination at restaurants, shops and other indoor venues. "Our leaders need to build trust in vaccines," she said on Twitter Tuesday.

Janey further clarified her comments regarding vaccination "hurdles," saying on Twitter Tuesday that "we must consider our shared history as we work to ensure an equitable public health and economic recovery."

"While there are no current plans for business sector vaccination mandates, we are using data to inform targeted public health strategies," she said. This includes working with the hospitality sector to build on-site vaccination clinics.

The debate comes as other leaders have continued to push back against vaccine passports and other mandates on the grounds of personal liberty.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis -- one of several state leaders who have moved to ban vaccine passports -- spoke out against the measure during a press briefing Wednesday.

"I think the question is, is we can either have a free society or we can have a biomedical security state," the Republican governor said. "I can tell ya -- Florida, we're a free state."

Other GOP leaders have used more inflammatory rhetoric throughout the vaccination campaign by likening vaccination requirements to the Holocaust -- drawing condemnation from Jewish organizations and fellow members of their party.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene apologized for comments she made in June that compared being required to wear masks in the House to the Holocaust. Republican Washington state Rep. Jim Walsh also issued an apology last month after he donned a yellow Star of David to protest COVID-19 restrictions, saying it was "inappropriate and offensive."

In the latest incident, John Bennett, the chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party, recently took to Facebook to equate vaccine passports to the yellow Star of David that Nazis forced Jewish people to wear.

"It's not about the star, what it's about is a totalitarian government pushing a communist agenda on top of us and forcing people against their own liberties to get this vaccine," Bennett said in a video message Sunday following criticism to an earlier post on the Oklahoma Republican Party's Facebook page, which included an image of the yellow Star of David with the word "Unvaccinated" on it.

Following Bennett's initial post, local GOP leaders spoke out against the analogy, which the Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City called "ill-informed and inappropriate."

"It is sad and ironic that anyone would draw an analogy from the largest recorded genocide in the 20th century with public health attempts to save lives," the organization said in a statement.

New York City's vaccine mandate follows in the footsteps of the "health passes" in France and Italy.

"We do want to make as many of these settings as safe as possible," New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said during a press briefing Tuesday. "And that means having them be for people who are only fully vaccinated. That is the thrust of the policy."

Vaccine mandates are a smart policy for a dense urban place like New York City to help encourage vaccination, Dr. John Brownstein, an epidemiologist at Boston Children's Hospital and an ABC News contributor, said.

"We have to start to think about new ways to get the population to recognize the value of these vaccines," he said. "Creating some level of requirement is important. Of course that is going to be especially important in areas of high transmission, like health care organizations, or nursing homes ... but also places where there's potentially a high risk of transmission."

"A city like New York, which experienced the worst of the pandemic ... has a lot of concerns about a potential new surge," he said.

Each city will have its own context and "nuance in applying public health measures," Brownstein said, and there may not be a "one-size-fits-all approach" to increasing vaccination rates.

Following New York City's announcement, Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said during a news briefing Tuesday that the city is "interested" in the idea but there aren't current plans to implement a similar plan.

"We'll be watching to see how this plays out, but we don't have a current plan to do something like that at the city level," she said, noting that New Yorkers seem to have "embraced this vaccine passport idea a little bit more than has been embraced here in the Midwest and across Illinois."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


What is a HIPAA violation?

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(WASHINGTON) -- Late last month Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, of Georgia, raised eyebrows around the country when she claimed that a reporter's question about her COVID-19 vaccination status was a "violation of my HIPAA rights."

Not even close, legal experts say.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), a 1996 federal law, is a widely cited and misunderstood privacy statutes. In the age of COVID and questions about the disease and vaccines in the workplace, schools and elsewhere, debate over and misinformation about the law, which "gives you rights over your health information and sets rules and limits on who can look at and receive your health information," according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has taken on a whole new life.

"HIPAA is the tool the government uses to try and protect some of your personal health care information," explained Juan Morado, a health care regulatory and policy attorney at Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff, LLP. "It's a rule that prevents hospitals, health insurance companies, pharmacies, and health care companies from sharing certain protected health information (PHI) you provide them with anyone else without your permission."

In other words, the law primarily applies to health insurance companies and health care providers. Neither individual citizens nor most employers are considered "covered entities" under HIPAA, according to HHS.

"HIPAA's protection is incomplete," said Dr. M. Gregg Bloch, a professor of health law, policy and ethics at Georgetown Law. "The bottom line is that HIPAA is meant to provide some control for the consumer, for the patient, over how his or her information flows," he added.

"Here's the huge misunderstanding: What HIPAA does not do is stand in the way of anybody answering the question, 'Have you been vaccinated?'"

When asked about Greene's HIPPA comments, communications director Nick Dyer told ABC News, "It's none of the media's business. Privacy still exists in America, even though the fake news works every day to erode it."

Who and what falls under HIPAA?

Three main entities are covered under HIPAA: health care providers, health plans and health care clearing houses. Health care providers include doctors, clinics, mental health providers, dentists, nursing homes and pharmacies. Health plans include health insurance companies, HMOs, company health plans and government health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Health care clearing houses process health information.

A few practical examples of when the law would come into play: "Your doctor can't share your blood test results without your permission," Morado said. "A pharmacist isn't allowed to tell your employer if you're on medication without your permission."

Greene is far from the first to wildly misinterpret HIPAA.

Public relations departments and health care organizations are notorious for artfully misinterpreting the law, and claiming health information disclosures fall under HIPAA when they do not, in order to block information they'd prefer not to disclose to the public.

Bloch pointed to the early days of the pandemic, when U.S. nursing homes suffered major outbreaks. While nursing homes are covered entities under HIPAA, he explained, data needs to be identifiable in order to be protected for privacy reasons.

"The main misuse of HIPAA is by health care entities that want to hide the ball when they feel they have numbers that are going to make them look bad," Bloch said. So when health care journalists, for example, ask a nursing home for de-identified data about people who died there during an outbreak, HIPAA is not a relevant factor.

"That's utter nonsense," Bloch said of health care firms blocking requests for de-identified data by citing HIPAA. "HIPAA does not stand in the way of sharing that kind of data."

Widespread misinterpretations of HIPAA have also trickled down to ordinary citizens, who wind up thinking the law extends further than it does. "These things become on the surface, conventional wisdoms, and then people believe it," Bloch explained.

"Maybe a doctor's office doesn't want to bother with sharing a medical record, and so some assistant up front says HIPAA," he added. "He or she doesn't know what they're talking about. But the typical patient is not a lawyer, so the patient might not want to get into anything resembling a confrontational relationship with his or her doctor's office."

The result: The patient takes the incorrect information about HIPAA at face value and the myth proliferates. "Those are some of the ways that this mythology leeches into public space," Bloch said.

Other everyday situations that aren't covered under HIPAA: "If your boss/teacher asks if you're vaccinated, that's not covered by HIPAA," Morado said. Neither is your step count or heart rate recorded by an Apple Watch or Fitbit, he added.

"The biggest misconception is HIPAA protects all of your personal health care Information and that it applies to all businesses," Morado said. "HIPAA only protects information given to covered entities."

A non-exhaustive list of entities that are NOT covered by HIPAA, according to HHS:

Life insurers
Employers
Workers compensation carriers
Most schools and school districts
Many state agencies like child protective service agencies
Most law enforcement agencies
Many municipal offices

At the end of the day, HIPAA is "porous, maybe even squishy," according to Bloch. It's also subject to politics and political interests. While the law was meant to protect patient privacy, "the players that saw their business strategies as vulnerable got into the game, and made sure that there was plenty of Swiss cheese," he said of HIPAA. In addition to being misinterpreted, the law has many loopholes that benefit the marketing and the pharmaceutical industries, for whom health care data is extremely valuable.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


COVID leaves Louisiana front-line workers exhausted as hospitalizations surge

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(SHREVEPORT, La.) -- Our team saw many tears shed today.

We spent Wednesday morning and afternoon at Willis-Knighton Medical Center in Shreveport, Louisiana, where the medical teams at the health care group's four hospitals are in the throes of yet another coronavirus surge.

In the last six weeks, the number of patients receiving care for COVID-19 surged from just four patients to 88, and today, it's clear that exhaustion and frustration is taking its toll on each member of the staff.

All the health care workers we spoke with -- a pulmonologist, a staff nurse and an intensive care unit charge nurse -- were unable to fight the raw emotion and exhaustion experienced by every one of them.

"I'm not home near as much as I should be," Dr. Kevin Langlois told me, while fighting back tears.

Akin to many other hospitals across the country, the COVID-19 crisis has forced all hands on deck over the past year and a half at Willis-Knighton.

Young nurse Melinda Hunt, too, could not fight back tears, as she described the emotional toll the past year has taken on her.

"I'm putting people my age, and my parents' age, into body bags and it is my worst fear for it to be one of them," Hunt said. "To be honest, I probably cry most days at work. And I cry at home. I'm tired. I've been doing this for a year and half. It feels like it's never going to end."

Staff nurse Sandy Miller said she concealed her own emotions from her husband, as not to be a burden on her family.

"I have to hide it," Miller said. "When I go home, I hide it. I can't go home to my husband [every day] and tell him what a horrible day I've had. When I'm around the grandkids I have my smile on."

Just a few weeks ago, she believed that perhaps, the worst of the pandemic was finally over. But then the delta variant arrived in Louisiana, and the situation rapidly changed.

"These patients are sicker, they're younger. I mean, they're the age of my children," Miller said. "It's tough to see him come in, you know, they're scared, they're young, they don't understand, like, you know, they didn't get the vaccine because they didn't think they needed it. They were young, invincible kids, and they're sick -- it's bad."

The influx of severely ill patients has been increasing rapidly, and the COVID-19 crisis in Louisiana continues to reach levels never before seen during the pandemic. Virus related hospitalizations have skyrocketed in recent weeks, with now more than 2,000 residents hospitalized across the state, according to federal data.

"They get sicker faster. And we have patients on ventilators that are in their 30s, 40s and 50s, which was not the case last year. Last year it was in general an elderly population. Now it's a different game," noted Langlois.

On Monday alone, nearly 400 patients with COVID-19 were admitted to hospitals across the state, marking the highest number of patients seeking care within a 24-hour period in Louisiana since the onset of the pandemic.

"We're just exploding. We're bursting at the seams," Langlois said.

When we asked if there is ever a point when he simply wants to abandon ship, Langlois emphatically said he can never give up, "even when the odds are stacked against you."

The vast majority of patients at Willis-Knighton, regardless of age, are unvaccinated, the health care workers said.

One patient, 75-year-old Curtis Cannon, told our team he will surely get the vaccine once he is released from the hospital

Cannon said he was at first skeptical about getting the vaccine, but now realizes how "real" this virus truly is.

"I think everyone should get vaccinated," Cannon said.

Each health care worker stressed to ABC news that the best way to prevent severe illness and truly protect oneself against the virus is by getting vaccinated.

"If we are ever going to get back to normal, we have to work together ... the vaccines work," Langlois said. "The chances of having a bad reaction to one of these vaccines is far less than getting sick, getting COVID, getting in the hospital, getting on a ventilator, and unfortunately, passing away long before you should."

Hunt said once unvaccinated patients become sick, often, they tell her they will get the vaccine when they get out.

ABC News' Arielle Mitropoulos contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Defense Secretary to announce mandatory COVID vaccinations for troops 'soon': Sources

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(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is expected to announce his recommendation to President Joe Biden that COVID-19 vaccines be made mandatory for troops, officials told ABC News Wednesday evening.

A senior official said the announcement will come "soon," while a separate U.S. official said an announcement is expected by the end of this week.

The president last week directed the Department of Defense to look into how and when vaccines could be mandated for service members. Austin's recommendation in response to that request is expected to be in favor of vaccine requirements, but for Austin to implement such a policy, he'll need a written waiver from Biden.

Because COVID-19 vaccines are available to the military under the Food and Drug Administration's emergency use authorization (EUA), the shot has so far been strictly voluntary.

According to the Pentagon's latest statistics, at least 70% of military personnel have received at least one dose, compared to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's reporting that 58% of the total U.S. population has received at least one dose.

Pentagon officials have publicly said they would consider requiring COVID-19 vaccinations, as is done with more than a dozen other vaccines, after the FDA fully approves the vaccines.

"I believe that when it's formally approved, which we expect pretty soon, we probably will go to that, and then that question will kind of be moot," Vice Adm. John Nowell told a sailor in a town hall question-and-answer video posted to Facebook last month.

It's reasonable that the FDA will fully approve the Pfizer vaccine by early September, a senior White House official familiar with the FDA approval process told ABC News Tuesday night.

However, while the two-shot Pfizer vaccine is considered suitable for most troops, the single-dose Johnson & Johnson is preferred in some cases, such as for those who are deploying overseas or aboard ships. A waiver from Biden would mean the DOD wouldn't have to wait for all of the vaccines under EUA to be fully approved before being able to require them, which would afford the Pentagon more options.
 

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Flu shot linked to less severe COVID-19: Study

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(NEW YORK) -- People who got a flu shot earlier this year may be less likely to suffer a severe COVID-19 infection down the road, according to new research.

The study, published in the journal Plos One on Wednesday, analyzed the electronic medical records of more than 74,700 people from the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, Israel and Singapore, who tested positive for COVID-19. Researchers found that those who had gotten the flu vaccine during the previous six months were less likely to have had health complications related to their COVID-19 infection.

Specifically, researchers found that those who didn't get flu shots were up to 20% more likely to be admitted to the ICU; up to 58% more likely to visit the emergency room; up to 45% more likely to develop sepsis; up to 58% more likely to have a stroke; and 40% more likely to develop deep vein thrombosis, compared with those vaccinated against the flu.

Researchers didn't find any connection between receiving a flu shot and being less likely to die from COVID-19.

The new research is in line with several previous studies that found links between better COVID-19 outcomes and flu shots. That prior research similarly didn't find the flu vaccine offered any protection against COVID-19 death.

Importantly, the flu shot's link to better COVID-19 outcomes doesn't necessarily mean it's protective against the novel coronavirus. While it's possible that the flu shot boosts immunity, it's also possible that people who opt to get the flu shot tend to be healthier overall than people who skip it, meaning they're already at lower risk for COVID-19 complications.

Additionally, the flu shot changes every flu season, so it's unclear whether the vaccine developed for the 2020-2021 flu season would have the same link to less severe COVID-19 that the 2019-2020 vaccine did.

Another key limitation with electronic medical records is that different countries may report symptoms differently and use different diagnostic tests to confirm SARS-CoV-2 diagnoses, which could skew the data.

While more research is needed, the study authors noted, "Even patients who have already received SARS-CoV-2 vaccination may stand to benefit given that the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine does not convey complete immunity."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Alabama offering $5 in canteen credit to prisoners who get vaccinated

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(MONTGOMERY, Ala.) -- As coronavirus cases in Alabama prisons continue to rise, the state Department of Corrections is offering incarcerated individuals incentives to get vaccinated.

Both inmates who get the vaccine and those who've already gotten it will get $5 in canteen credit.

The initiative comes as the Alabama Department of Corrections reported a total of 15 people -- six inmates and nine staff members -- tested positive for COVID-19 as of July 30. Last week, 27 people -- nine inmates and 18 staff members -- tested positive, which was more than four times the amount of cases reported the previous week.

After introducing the incentive, the department reported 103 inmates participated in the prison's free vaccination program.

"A confined correctional environment in which social distancing is challenging and all communicable diseases, to include COVID-19, spread more easily is -- put simply -- starkly different than a community environment," department spokesperson Kristi Simpson told ABC News, adding that incarcerated people don't have the "freedoms available to free citizens to ensure public safety."

Along with this new initiative, Alabama correctional facilities have taken other measures to decrease infection rates, Simpson said, including restricting visitation and non-essential entry into facilities, quarantining new inmates and rescheduling non-emergency medical appointments.

Alabama isn't the first state to offer incentives to incarcerated individuals. The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision randomly selected vaccinated individuals to receive a care package valued up to $75 last month. In Pennsylvania, inmates were offered $25 in commissary credit.

Forrest Behne, policy director at the COVID Prison Project, an organization dedicated to tracking COVID-19 data and policy in correctional facilities, said that while incentives can help increase vaccination rates, the "high prioritization of vulnerable individuals and early vaccine distribution is really essential."

"It's not nothing. Right?" Behne told ABC News of the Alabama incentive, though he also noted that it's "not as generous" as some other places. "We want to see as many people afforded the opportunity to take a vaccine as possible."

Prisons aren't the only entities in Alabama trying to incentivize its community to get the jab. Auburn University rolled out its own vaccination program, offering big-ticket items such as a $1,000 scholarship, priority class registration and a lunch for four with Auburn President Jay Gogue.

President Joe Biden endorsed offering incentives in a briefing last week, encouraging states to use federal COVID-19 relief funds to provide $100 payments to individuals who get vaccinated. States such as Ohio and New York have adopted this approach, but it's unlikely Alabama will follow suit.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has continued to say there is no need for a statewide incentive program for all residents.

"Let's focus on encouraging people, educating people about the benefits of taking the shot," she said during a press conference last week. "That's all we need to do."

In a statement to ABC News, the Alabama Department of Corrections said it and its representatives “stand behind Governor Ivey and her statements.” When asked about the different approaches to increasing vaccination rates, the department added, “Governor Ivey recognizes that measures appropriate to advance the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine within a correctional environment are different than those most appropriate for the general population.”

Dr. Karen Landers, area health officer with the Alabama Department of Public Health, told ABC News the department is still researching available options for the use of federal funding to provide vaccination incentives.

According to the CDC, 34.3% of Alabama's population is fully vaccinated and 43.2% have received one dose.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Hugh Jackman urges fans to wear sunscreen after undergoing skin biopsy

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(NEW YORK) -- Hugh Jackman urged fans to wear sunscreen when revealing Monday he recently underwent a skin biopsy after his doctor noticed something "a little irregular" on his skin.

The Australian actor shared a video to social media in which he pulled down his mask and showed his bandaged nose. While assuring fans that he'll be OK, Jackman stressed the importance of wearing sunscreen on a daily basis.

"I just want to let you know, I just went to see ... my amazing dermatologists and doctors, and they saw something that was a little irregular," the Greatest Showman star explained while indicating to his bandaged nose. "So they took a biopsy, and they’re getting it checked."

Jackman, 52, thanked fans for their concern and assured them they need not "freak out," promising to keep everyone updated.

"They think it's probably fine," he continued. "But remember: Go and get a check and wear sunscreen. Don't be like me as a kid, just wear sunscreen."

The actor revealed in a 2015 interview with ABC News that he spent most of his childhood playing in the hot Australian sun and neglected to wear sunscreen. He was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer, in 2013.

In the years since, Jackman continued to remind fans of the importance of sunscreen and revealed in 2016 that he had to undergo another biopsy.

"An example of what happens when you don't wear sunscreen. Basal Cell. The mildest form of cancer but serious, nonetheless. PLEASE USE SUNSCREEN and get regular check-ups," he wrote at the time.

In 2017, he shared a similar message about his ongoing battle with skin cancer and credited his "frequent checks" for catching it early.

The Mayo Clinic says basal cell carcinoma is believed to be caused by long-term exposure to UV sunlight and says the best way to prevent it is to wear sunscreen.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


All 50 states report rising vaccination rates as COVID infections surge, data shows

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(NEW YORK) -- While states like Missouri end a second month enduring a surge in COVID-19 cases as the more contagious delta variant spreads, public health officials across the country are hearing the same story from an increasing number of people getting the vaccine: someone they know recently caught the virus and the experience was unsettling.

"We don't want to see more people getting sick as a driving force to get people vaccinated, but we know the case counts and more people in the hospital will play a role in that conversation," Dr. Sam Page, St. Louis county executive, told ABC News.

Missouri has seen an increase of nearly 560% in new cases, 205% virus-related hospitalizations since early June -- staggering increases, which have been exacerbated by the low number of residents -- just over 41% -- who are fully vaccinated.

"We really need higher vaccination penetration in our communities to slow this down," Page said.

However, Missouri is one of the many states in the nation which has experienced a significant, newfound demand for COVID-19 vaccinations in the last several weeks. Vaccinations statewide increased by approximately 100% in the last two weeks of July.

While the uptick in shots has been most notable in the states that have been recently hardest hit by the coronavirus, the entire country is experiencing a rising vaccination rate.

According to an ABC News analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data from the last three weeks, every state has reported an increase in its average number of first doses administered, with the national rate of Americans receiving their first dose up by more than 73%.

Similarly, in the last week alone, vaccination rates have increased by nearly 20% in young Americans, ages 12-17, and by more than 25% in adults.

And on Sunday, the White House reported more than 800,000 vaccine doses administered, including first and second doses, marking the fifth consecutive day with more than 700,000 doses were reported administered. The uptick pushed the national vaccination average to more than 637,000 doses administered each day -- up by more than 24% in the last two weeks.

There are many factors at play -- fear of the delta variant, incentives from the government and the rising popularity of vaccine requirements for school or work -- but regardless of why it's happening, Page said the increase in vaccinations could not come soon enough.

"The delta variant is a whole new virus," Page said.

Slowly but surely, officials have started to see their public urgings translate into shots in arms, data showed -- a sobering silver lining to the immeasurable grief that has accompanied the virus.

But Page urged other states and counties to get ahead of the delta variant while they could, pulling out every stop to increase vaccination rates before the virus hits their community, because when it does, it's too late.

The uptick in vaccinations in Missouri, for example, will only begin to give ample protection beginning around September, since full vaccination requires two shots and then about two weeks for the antibodies to kick in.

"We just wish that we could get people vaccinated sooner because the illness has an unfortunate loss of life associated with it. And that's just a terrible thing to watch," Page said.

In the final weeks of July, 14 states saw an increase of 100% or more in their first-dose average. All of those states have vaccination totals below the national baseline of eligible Americans who have had one at least shot -- 67.6%.

The five states which have seen the most significant increases in their vaccination rates -- Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Oklahoma -- are also among the states with the current highest seven-day case rates per capita. Louisiana, which currently has the nation's highest case rate, has experienced a nearly 335% increase in individuals receiving their first vaccine dose. Similarly, Arkansas, which has the nation's second highest case rate, has seen a 193% increase in recent weeks.

"This increase in vaccination rates in states that have been lagging is a positive trend. Americans are seeing the risk and impact of being unvaccinated and responding with action. And that's what it's going to take to get us out of this pandemic," White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said Monday at a briefing with reporters.

But experts caution that it will be critical for this trend to see even greater increases for the country to avoid more unnecessary hospitalizations and deaths.

"While the increasing caseload has had an impact on vaccine uptake, it has been minor, relative to the need," Maureen Miller, professor of epidemiology at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, told ABC News.

"Since the delta variant is so much more contagious, we'll need to see more people vaccinated to get this pandemic under control -- in the range of 85%-90% of the population."

The introduction of the delta variant, which now results in 8 out of 10 new cases in the U.S., has resulted in a rapid and significant increase in infections across the country.

The United States' daily case average is now up to more than 72,400 cases a day, a 532% increase since mid-June. On Friday alone, the country recorded more than 100,000 new cases, marking the highest single-day report in nearly six months.

Nationally, as of Friday, nearly 40,000 patients were receiving hospital care across the country, up nearly 190% increase in the last month.

Several states with the lowest vaccination rates are now seeing viral surges equal to or higher than the peaks they experienced last winter and spring.

"The combination of the new, highly transmissible delta variant and the lack of both vaccination and implementing preventive behaviors, such as mask wearing and social distancing, have ensured that the unvaccinated will continue to become infected, hospitalized, and a needless amount will die," Miller said.

In Louisiana -- reporting the nation's highest case rate -- the average number of first doses administered has tripled over the last three weeks.

"My hope and my prayer today, is that that slope -- that trajectory of increases in vaccinations -- will continue for a long period of time. Because when that happens, you will see that case growth lines start to come down," Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said.

Edwards on Monday imposed an indoor mask mandate congruent with case numbers climbing and the CDC's most recent mask guidance for everyone, including vaccinated people, to mask up if they're in areas with a lot of transmission.

Health experts like Miller praised the increased restrictions, since mandating vaccines -- considered to be the most effective way to reach herd immunity -- isn't currently an option.

"A current stumbling block to mandating vaccines is the (Food and Drug Administration) emergency use authorization status. Once the FDA provides full regulatory status, that will provide strong legal cover to institute mandatory vaccination," said Miller.

But a piecemeal effort to mandate vaccines is underway, and quickly gaining momentum as the spread of the delta variant grows. The American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Nurses Association (ANA) joined up with over 50 other health care organizations to call for mandatory vaccinations within their industry last week, citing rising COVID cases and the delta variant as reasons.

"Due to the recent COVID-19 surge and the availability of safe and effective vaccines, our health care organizations and societies advocate that all health care and long-term care employers require their workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine," the organizations wrote in a joint statement.

And last week, the U.S. government announced that federal workers must receive the COVID-19 vaccine or contend with regular testing. The announcement came as a growing list of companies are requiring shots for employees, including Walmart, Google and Disney, ABC News' parent company.

Vaccination is the "primary way" to move out of the pandemic, the AMA wrote, without having to revert to state lockdowns and additional mitigation measures.

"This surge was preventable. Unfortunately, it takes dying loved ones begging their family members to get vaccinated. Some people are starting to listen," Miller said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


US passes major vaccine milestone: 70% of adults now have at least 1 shot, White House says

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(New York) — Boosted by a recent uptake in vaccine administrations, the U.S. crossed a long-awaited milestone Monday in its race to vaccinate the country against the novel coronavirus.

Seventy percent of U.S. adults ages 18 and older have received at least one vaccine dose, Cyrus Shahpar, the White House's COVID-19 data director, posted in a tweet.

This is nearly a month after the country missed President Joe Biden's July 4 deadline to meet that threshold.

Although the majority of the country’s adults have one shot, there is a major discrepancy among states, according to the CDC.

Health officials have been urging eligible residents to get their shots, which are free and shown to prevent hospitalization and death from the virus, as soon as possible as the more contagious variants like delta spread.

As of Monday, 22 states and the District of Columbia have 70% of their adult population with one dose, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many of these states are located in the Northeast with Vermont leading the nation with over 86% of its adult residents receiving one shot, according to the health data.

A dozen states, almost all located in the South, haven’t cracked the 60% mark for their adult residents with one shot, CDC data showed. Mississippi has the lowest percentage of adults with one shot, at 50%, according to the data.

Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in the country have been on the rise, particularly in locations with low vaccination numbers, health officials said.

Officials in several states, including Mississippi, Alabama, Missouri and Arkansas, are reporting that the majority of their hospitalized patients are unvaccinated people.

The U.S. began vaccinating residents in December, starting with health care workers and the elderly. By mid-April, all residents above 18 were eligible and a month later, the Pfizer vaccine was approved for Americans over the age of 12.

Two of the three approved vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, require two doses and use mRNA technology to protect against the virus. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only one dose.

The seven-day average of new daily first shots administered peaked at 3.4 million on April 11 but it has declined to low of 217,884 on July 7, the CDC reported. Several states that had lagging vaccination numbers, however, saw a small jump in shots administered during the final weeks of July.

The seven-day average of first doses administered grew to 367,351 on July 27, the CDC data showed.

On Sunday, White House COVID-19 data director Cyrus Shahpar revealed that over 517,000 people received their first shot.

Anyone who needs help scheduling a free vaccine appointment can log onto vaccines.gov.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Black scientist fights to fund her potential cancer laser treatment: Bias in health funding

Courtesy Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green/Ora Lee Smith

(NEW YORK) — For the last five years, Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green, a physicist and cancer researcher, has fought to fund her cancer treatment technology.

Green has peer-reviewed studies on her research, which is still in the early stages, and has also received a $1.1 million grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

But that research is now on hold due to a lack of funding. Green said she needs to launch human clinical trials, and to do that, she said, will cost some $90 million.

Green launched her nonprofit to support her research, the Ora Lee Smith Cancer Research Foundation in 2016 after her beloved aunt and uncle died from cancer.

Some of those heading up Black-led health nonprofits and organizations told ABC News of the constant battle for them as smaller, minority-focused health care nonprofits to get government funding and attention from potential corporate sponsors who typically focus on mammoth nonprofits like Susan G. Komen and the American Cancer Society.

Several studies and data show that systemic racism permeates the health care nonprofit and research world and some say that could stymie lifesaving medical solutions and impede the on-the-ground work nonprofits do for health and wellness in underrepresented communities.

'Biased against people of color'

Researchers looking at disparities in philanthropic funding in the 2017 Stanford Social Innovation Review report revealed that nonprofit foundation leaders of color having inequitable access to social networks is a major barrier in accessing funding. Some 92% of U.S. foundation presidents are white, and some 75% of white people have entirely white social networks, the researchers wrote.

Bias in funding "absolutely" has the potential to keep lifesaving medical solutions from emerging, said Dr. Tshaka Cunningham, a former Department of Veterans Affairs scientific program manager who was instrumental in securing Green's $1.1 million grant, and sits on the board of her foundation.

"In the whole scientific enterprise it's difficult to achieve funding and historically found to be biased against people of color. Sometimes when you have data that is really good, the status quo doesn't believe you," said Cunningham, a molecular biologist and co-founder of TruGenomix Inc., a biotechnology company.

He said bias also exists in the entire nonprofit grant process as well as with mentorship, which can help form strategic connections to secure funding.

Green's predicament is shared by other Black scientists and researchers, who are often met with closed wallets, whether they launch a nonprofit or a for-profit startup. Brian Brackeen, founder of Lightship Capital, a venture capital fund serving underrepresented entrepreneurs, and an expert in funding Black startups, discussed the funding woes of yet another Black woman with a health care innovation.

Brackeen said Davielle Jackson, a health care entrepreneur, could not secure funding for her invention, highly absorbent menstrual panties. He said his firm led her first round of funding and that she is now making revenue as a successful business.

But, Brackeen said: "The question is why wasn't she invested in before?"

He said the funding situation is similar with Black entrepreneurs as with Black-led nonprofits, "[With] women or minority founders, they're simply told [by potential investors] 'you don't fit this exact box, and I'm not going to help you fit it,'" Brackeen said.

Black health care nonprofits are typically entrenched in the communities they serve. They are usually staffed with people from those communities who have long-established relationships with residents. They can often make in-roads into providing health and wellness services in those communities that outside organizations cannot. When these nonprofits are underfunded and strapped for cash, those communities can lack access to vital health care and information.

Green's struggles mirror other Black-led health organizations

Green set out on a mission to use her Ph.D. in physics from Alabama A&M University, as well as her research with optics and laser technology, to defeat the disease that remains the second-leading cause of death in the U.S. She used the $1.1 million grant to carry out initial research at the Morehouse School of Medicine.

Green describes her research as "laser-activated nanotechnology."

"It has already demonstrated complete elimination of human cancer in laboratory mice after one 10-minute treatment over the course of 16 days with no observable side effects; no chemo, no radiation, no surgery. It is a game-changer for solid tumors," she said.

Despite these promising early results, she has not been able to attract corporate or government interest in her research.

Green's stymied efforts track with long-standing disparities in the research funding system.

In a 2011 study published in the peer-reviewed journal Science, researchers found that Black applicants are 13% less likely to receive National Institutes of Health research funding compared to white applicants. The study concluded that factors including "perception of scientific merit," lack of diversity among grant reviewers and where an applicant attended school can influence who receives grants, all of which can place underrepresented groups at a disadvantage.

The NIH set out to make the grant process more equitable in 2014 including appointing its first chief officer of scientific workforce diversity and establishing the NIH Scientific Workforce Diversity Office.

As of 2020, the funding gap has narrowed, but African American/Black applicants are still 7% less likely to receive R01 (or equivalent) grants than white applicants, according to the latest data from NIH. R01 grants are described by NIH as "mature research projects that are hypothesis-driven with strong preliminary data.”

The landmark analysis quantified what many Black scientists already suspected, and sparked calls for policy intervention to address the funding gap. A follow-up study published in the journal Science Advances in 2019 said the funding rate for white scientists remained 1.7 times higher than for Black scientists. The researchers of this study suggested the funding gulf was due to topic choice, saying Black scientists "tend to propose research on topics with lower award rates."

The flip side: Elizabeth Holmes' Theranos jackpot

The funding obstacles of Black people with health care initiatives stand in stark contrast to the now-infamous Elizabeth Holmes, a young, white woman. Holmes claimed she had developed a revolutionary blood-testing solution that could detect diseases including cancer.

The college dropout had no peer-reviewed publications, advanced degrees or any academic background in cancer research, yet her appeals for funding her health care startup Theranos raked in hundreds of millions from investors, and made her Forbes' "youngest self-made woman billionaire" in 2015.

She has since faced a litany of fraud charges, to which she and a former partner in the company have pleaded not guilty, and her trial, delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, remains ongoing.

Holmes received money from private investors largely through her family's connections. But her access and influence skyrocketed so that even drugstore chain titan Walgreens considered a partnership with Theranos, although the technology had not been vetted, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.

The disparity between Holmes' ease in gaining investor and corporate trust versus her own experience has caused frustration for Green and other Black health care nonprofit leaders and researchers, who have faced closed door after closed door.

It's the "the essence of white privilege," Cunningham said about Holmes' ability to secure millions for Theranos.

"Who you know" is also a big part of getting dollars for a private company or a nonprofit foundation like Green's.

"White Americans are very well-networked," said Vanessa Greene, chief executive officer of the Grand Rapids African American Health Institute. "And a lot of grants are based on relationships … who you know."

Green's research is in the fledgling stage, however, which could also explain her obstacles in raising funding, medical experts who ABC News asked to review a peer-reviewed report of Green's research told ABC News, as well as the fierce competition to fund such initiatives.

"The funding landscape is so competitive even for super-compelling research that could save the lives of many," said Dr. John Brownstein, a Harvard epidemiologist and ABC News contributor.

It's "a struggle," C. Virginia Fields, the founder and CEO of Black Health told ABC News about securing funds for Black-led heath care nonprofits.

"We've been able to tap into some of the local funding … COVID funding, but the funding streams for programs, certainly outside of just COVID have basically been brought to a standstill," said Fields, a former Manhattan borough president and a 2005 New York City mayoral candidate.

Fields said nonprofits such as hers, are often offered things like computers in lieu of money. "We don't need computers," she said. "If you got $3 million on this contract let's talk about some funding so that we can increase staff with people on the ground," she said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Newspaper headlines convey seriousness of COVID-19 surge across the country

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(NEW YORK) — As COVID-19 surges nationwide, the seriousness of the virus's latest wave is reflected in newspaper headlines from cities and states across the country.

The number of new COVID-19 cases is reaching levels previously seen in February, as the U.S. was emerging from the winter surge.

The U.S. reported over 100,000 new daily COVID-19 cases for the first time since Feb. 6 on Friday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This latest surge is fueled by the highly contagious delta variant. A new internal CDC report first published by The Washington Post and confirmed by ABC News, said the variant could be more contagious than Ebola, Spanish flu, chickenpox and the common cold. It's also possible delta leads to more severe illness, though that is not confirmed.

Based on its latest findings on the transmissibility of the delta variant, the CDC revised its mask guidance earlier this week, now recommending that those in areas with substantial or high levels of transmission -- vaccinated or not -- wear a mask in public, indoor settings.

A sampling of headlines from newspapers across the country Saturday spotlight areas experiencing spikes in cases and overwhelmed hospitals, and how they're responding.

"Florida is the epicenter," read the Tampa Bay Times, reporting that the state had the most cases and hospitalizations in the U.S. in the past week. On Saturday, Florida reported its largest single-day increase in cases since pandemic began.

The Honolulu Star Advertiser reported on a spike in cases in Hawaii that accounted for the highest daily case count since the start of the pandemic.

In Louisiana, another hotspot, The Advocate reported that the state's hospitals are "overwhelmed again," as it experiences its fourth wave of the virus.

Mississippi is also experiencing overwhelmed hospitals. "State’s largest ICU full," the Clarion-Ledger reported, referring to the intensive care unit at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.

Hospitalizations are climbing at the East Alabama Medical Center, increasing from eight at the start of the month to 34 as of Friday, the Opelika-Auburn News reported.

The Houston Chronicle detailed how Texas surpassed New York in COVID-19 deaths to have the second-highest death toll in the nation, "a feat experts say was driven by an inability to control transmission of the virus here," the paper reported.

As cases quickly rise, restrictions are returning in some regions. The Times-Picayune in New Orleans reported on the city reissuing an indoor mask mandate due to its surge, with the headline. "Mask mandate back in N.O." -- one of several cities and counties to do so in recent days.

"Mask recommendations rise across Maine," the Kennebec Journal in Augusta reported.

"State emphasizes need for shots," read Saturday's headline in The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Indiana, as health officials urged residents to get vaccinated and bolster the state's relatively low vaccination rate.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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