Backyard Talk

Inequity in the Distribution of Covid-19 Vaccine

Everyone’s talking about the Covid-19 vaccine these days – who gets it first; how will it be distributed; is there enough; where do I sign up; and so much more. While it’s still early in the rollout, it’s already become clear that African Americans and Latinos, who have been hit the hardest by the Corona virus and Covid-19, are getting vaccinated at disproportionately low rates. The early data (though limited by many factors including poor data on who is being vaccinated) indicates that vaccinations are not reaching the populations the virus has harmed most and that Black and Brown people are getting vaccinated at a much lower rate than their share of cases and deaths.
In Maryland, only about 16% of the first doses of the vaccine have gone to African Americans, and 4.6% have gone to Latinos. Those groups represent 31% and 11% of the population, respectively. Black residents have accounted for approximately 33% of Maryland’s coronavirus cases and 35% of deaths from the disease; Latino residents account for 19% of infections and 9% of fatalities. In New York City, about 5% of those vaccinated are Latino or African American, but these groups make up 29% and 24% of the city’s population, respectively. In Philadelphia, 12% of those vaccinated were Black while the city’s population is about 44% Black.
These results are consistent with a report released last week by the Kaiser Family Foundation that evaluated race and ethnicity data on vaccinations for 17 states obtained from the federal government. Kaiser found that “the share of vaccinations among Black people is smaller than their share of cases in all 16 reporting states and smaller than their share of deaths in 15 states. For example, in Mississippi, Black people account for 15% of vaccinations, compared to 38% of cases and 42% of deaths, and, in Delaware, 8% of vaccinations have been received by Black people, while they make up nearly a quarter of cases (24%) and deaths (23%). Similarly, Hispanic people account for a smaller share of vaccinations compared to their share of cases and deaths in most states reporting data. For example, in Nebraska, 4% of vaccinations are among Hispanic people, while they make up 23% of cases and 13% of deaths.”
Conversely, Kaiser found that “the share of vaccinations among White people is larger than their share of cases in 13 of the 16 reporting states and larger than their share of deaths in 9 states.” For example, in North Carolina, 82% of vaccinations have been among White people, while they make up 62% of cases and 65% of deaths.
These figures make it clear that the early rollout strategy is not adequately nor appropriately targeting those most susceptible and vulnerable to Covid-19. It is early and much has been said about the logistics difficulties in getting the vaccine into the arms of the people who need it most. But it does seem apparent if not obvious that the rollout strategy for the distribution of the vaccine is not centered on equity – getting the vaccine into the arms of the people who have been infected the most and who are dying at the highest rate.

Homepage News Archive

Tiny air pollution rise linked to 11% more Covid-19 deaths – study

A small rise in people’s long-term exposure to air pollution is associated with an 11% increase in deaths from Covid-19, research has found. Another recent study suggests that 15% of all Covid-19 deaths around the world are attributable to dirty air.
The available data only allows correlations to be established and further work is needed to confirm the connections, but the researchers said the evidence was now strong enough that levels of dirty air must be considered a key factor in handling coronavirus outbreaks.
The new analysis is based on research reported by the Guardian in April, which has now been reviewed by independent scientists and published in a prominent journal. The consideration of additional data and more factors that may also influence Covid-19 death rates refined the rise in deaths from 15% down to 11%.
Most scientists think it is very likely that air pollution increases the number and severity of Covid-19 cases. Breathing dirty air over years is already known to cause heart and lung disease, and these illnesses make coronavirus infections worse. Short-term exposure is also known to increase the risk of acute lung infections.
Read More
Photo Credit: Wu Hong/EPA

Backyard Talk

A Call to Action: On the State of Our Nation & Covid-19

By Jenna Clark, Communications Intern
This week, Congress is in recess. Most Representatives and Senators will return home to districts in turmoil. After many states reopened, Covid-19 rates skyrocketed in much of the south, west, and Midwest. On Wednesday, the United States reported 67,300 new cases. On the same day, we accomplished a remarkable feat: 3.5 million confirmed cases. 
Despite the shattered records, in cases, in single day death statistics, and the growing number of hospitals facing- again, shortages in personal medical equipment and beds, Americans are today, somehow, still locked in a debate about masks. Perhaps its because our President until very recently refused to wear a mask in public, and because his administration is openly distancing itself from the CDC. Increasing research supports the airborne spread of Covid-19 particles. It shouldn’t need to be said, but I’ll say it: wear a mask.  Everybody In, Nobody Out
Many people in this country desperately need assistance. In tandem with an unprecedented health emergency: 138,000 deaths and rising, we face a once in a century economic disaster. As of this week, between 32 and 33 million people in the country are either receiving unemployment benefits or have applied to do so. While the national unemployment rate decreased from April to June, its hard to conceive that this upturn will continue as many states face massive waves of Covid-19. After re-opening, some states are re-enforcing shut down measures. 
President Trump and other leaders argued that we must open up the country to stave off economic disaster. Thousands of lives have been and will continue to be lost due to their ignorance, a tragedy unlike this country has seen. Their focus on re-opening against all scientific recommendations may also prove to be economically short sighted. By ignoring science and scientists, the Trump Administration is actually creating the economic disaster that they feared. Now we may face a much larger and much more longterm economic problem. As our country continues to be crippled by the virus, those short-term unemployed may become so permanently. It is our government’s responsibility to help.  
In March, Congress passed the CARES Act: a $2 trillion relief package. However, much of the funding allocated for local governments hasn’t reached them. Where local governments did receive aid, funds are running out, but the need isn’t. Increased unemployment benefits are set to end in most states on July 25, just over a week away. While Democrats passed a $3 trillion relief package through the House in June, it never reached the debate floor in the Senate. Senate Republicans are working on their own bill, which they expect to release “as early as next week.” However, the $1 trillion maximum that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell identified is below acceptable for House Leader Nancy Pelosi.  
Senators must pass another Covid-19 relief act, and soon. In todays’ era of politics, bipartisanship isn’t trendy. Unfortunately, our government no longer has the privilege to infight. They must work together and create an agreement that both Democrats and Republicans can get behind. Fighting this virus and its economic toll shouldn’t be a partisan issue. 
During this recess, constituencies across the country have an opportunity to hold their Senators accountable. Remember, our governmental officials are elected by us, for us. Our needs and our wills are their responsibility. They have power because we give it to them: we can just as easily take it away.  
So this week, call your representatives. Send emails. Hold them accountable for our well-being. Let them know that they have to take action, they have to pass a new Covid-19 relief act.   
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Homepage News Archive

60+ Environmental Justice Groups Call for Action and Equity in ‘Sacrifice Zones’

60+ environmental justice leaders and organizations are calling for action and equity for their ‘Sacrifice Zone’ communities. They released an open letter calling for “an immediate and sustained response to inequities causing Covid-19 to infect and kill a disproportionate number of people subjected to systemic racism and the denial of self-determination throughout the United States.” COVID-19 has exacerbated the equities throughout society, including unequal accessibility to health care and the industry and pollution that impacts mostly low-income and minority communities. Read More
Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

Backyard Talk

CDC – Where are you?

As the country moves to reopening this summer, with some states moving more quickly and others more deliberately, one thing seems clear, people are not paying attention to details and to the rules of living with a pandemic. Where are the masks and where is the social distancing? And where is the Centers for Disease Control or CDC? This is the agency that was born to step up and be front and center during a pandemic like we are now experiencing. This is their time to shine, to lead by example and to guide public behavior and response to the worst infectious disease event that most peel people alive today have ever experienced.
As we move into reopening the country, where is CDC’s voice guiding the decisions made by politicians and leaders? Where is CDC’s voice reminding us to wear masks, telling us how important they are in protecting the wearer and the potential spread of the virus from asymptomatic carriers and in fighting Covid-19.
Where is CDC’s voice reminding us why it’s important to wear masks and in what places and circumstances, they are critical; and in providing information and data on how effective they are and what kind to wear.
Where is CDC’s voice reminding us why it’s important to maintain social distancing as we travel out of our home to interact with people?
Where is CDC’s voice educating us about the primary means of transmission of this deadly virus which is by airborne transport, not just through sneezing or coughing, but also through singing, shouting and even just talking, especially in confined spaces.
Where is CDC’s voice reminding us how much this virus is transferred from person-to person, and from surfaces and by direct contact.
Where is CDC’s voice reminding us why testing is so important, not just to determine if you have the virus (not the disease!), but to identify asymptomatic people who don’t think they have the virus when they do and to then to isolate that person and to trace and isolate  others who might have been exposed to  contain the spread of the virus and the disease.
Where is CDC’s voice taking the lead in providing a rationale and clear vision of how we can all return to living with a viable highly transmittable virus and disease during a pandemic?
We miss you CDC and we need you. The prospects of a successful of reopening without your voice are not good.
It’s time to come out of the shadows, or the closet or wherever you have been the past few months. We need your knowledge, your experience and your ability to separate the many confusing messages coming from every which place.
It’s not too late to make your presence felt. We really need you.


Renewable Energy Overtaking the Coal Industry

During the COVID-19 outbreak, the United States has experienced a record low in coal energy production and use. The decline in fossil fuel energy has opened the door for renewable energy production to pick up the slack. For 90 straight days, America’s wind turbines, solar panels, and hydroelectric dams have produced more available energy than the coal industry. Read More.
The following article is reposted on our website from the New York Times and written Brad Plumer.

In a First, Renewable Energy Is Poised to Eclipse Coal in U.S.

The coronavirus has pushed the coal industry to once-unthinkable lows, and the consequences for climate change are big.
By Brad Plumer
May 13, 2020
WASHINGTON — The United States is on track to produce more electricity this year from renewable power than from coal for the first time on record, new government projections show, a transformation partly driven by the coronavirus pandemic, with profound implications in the fight against climate change.
It is a milestone that seemed all but unthinkable a decade ago, when coal was so dominant that it provided nearly half the nation’s electricity. And it comes despite the Trump administration’s three-year push to try to revive the ailing industry by weakening pollution rules on coal-burning power plants.
Those efforts, however, failed to halt the powerful economic forces that have led electric utilities to retire hundreds of aging coal plants since 2010 and run their remaining plants less frequently. The cost of building large wind farms has declined more than 40 percent in that time, while solar costs have dropped more than 80 percent. And the price of natural gas, a cleaner-burning alternative to coal, has fallen to historic lows as a result of the fracking boom.
Now the coronavirus outbreak is pushing coal producers into their deepest crisis yet.
As factories, retailers, restaurants and office buildings have shut down nationwide to slow the spread of the coronavirus, demand for electricity has fallen sharply. And, because coal plants often cost more to operate than gas plants or renewables, many utilities are cutting back on coal power first in response.
“The outbreak has put all the pressures facing the coal industry on steroids,” said Jim Thompson, a coal analyst at IHS Markit.
In just the first four and a half months of this year, America’s fleet of wind turbines, solar panels and hydroelectric dams have produced more electricity than coal on 90 separate days — shattering last year’s record of 38 days for the entire year. On May 1 in Texas, wind power alone supplied nearly three times as much electricity as coal did.
The latest report from the Energy Information Administration estimates that America’s total coal consumption will fall by nearly one-quarter this year, and coal plants are expected to provide just 19 percent of the nation’s electricity, dropping for the first time below both nuclear power and renewable power, a category that includes wind, solar, hydroelectric dams, geothermal and biomass.
Natural gas plants, which supply 38 percent of the nation’s power, are expected to hold their output steady thanks to low fuel prices.
The decline of coal has major consequences for climate change.
Coal is the dirtiest of all fossil fuels, and its decline has already helped drive down United States carbon dioxide emissions 15 percent since 2005. This year, the agency expects America’s emissions to fall by another 11 percent, the largest drop in at least 70 years. While the pandemic has made these projections uncertain, the decline is expected to come partly because Americans aren’t driving as much, but mainly because coal plants are running less often.
Even if coal does manage to beat expectations and rebound later this year, experts say that the dramatic shift in the nation’s electricity system is unlikely to be just a blip.
Utilities and large technology companies, major consumers of electricity, are increasingly turning to wind and solar farms for their power, both because renewables keep getting cheaper as technology improves but also because of concerns over air pollution and climate change. Large power companies, including Duke Energy in the Southeast and Xcel Energy in the Midwest, are currently planning to retire at least four dozen large coal plants by 2025, and no utility is currently planning to build a new coal facility.
“The grid is changing so much faster than anyone expected,” said Daniel Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University. “A decade ago, I was teaching my students that coal was the ‘baseload’ source that runs all the time, and solar was something you might sprinkle in if you want to pay more. Now coal’s been pushed to the margins and it’s wind and solar that are the cheapest options.”
At the same time, electric companies used to worry that using more than just a tiny fraction of wind and solar would make it difficult to keep the nation’s lights on, since the sun isn’t always shining and the wind isn’t always blowing. But since then, utilities have discovered ways to tackle this problem by using technologies like natural-gas plants that can be quickly turned on to meet spikes in demand, better weather forecasting and, increasingly, vast battery storage projects such as those planned in Nevada and California.
The Energy Information Administration expects wind and solar generation to increase this year, although the Covid-19 outbreak is likely to put many projects on hold as supply chains are disrupted. For instance, Pacificorp, a major utility in the Northwest, said it was facing challenges in completing a large 503-megawatt wind farm under construction in Wyoming, though a spokesman said the company was trying to find “creative solutions” in order to meet a November deadline.
Last week, the Internal Revenue Service signaled that it would provide some flexibility for wind and solar developers at risk of missing deadlines for finishing projects this year in order to qualify for a key federal tax subsidy.
The decline of coal power has created turmoil across the industry. Mining companies have laid off hundreds of workers in states like Wyoming and Montana. In April, Longview Power, which operates one of the nation’s youngest and most advanced coal power plants, in West Virginia, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, citing the pandemic as a factor.
Analysts said that coal power could see a moderate rebound next year if natural gas prices rise from their current lows. Still, even under that scenario, the E.I.A. does not currently see coal overtaking renewable energy.
For now, it is often cheaper for many utilities to generate electricity from natural gas than coal because of a nationwide gas glut, thanks in part to a warm winter that reduced demand for gas heating, combined with the boom in hydraulic fracturing. In places like Texas, natural gas is frequently an abundant side product produced by drillers that use fracking to extract crude oil.
More recently, however, the coronavirus has caused oil prices to crash worldwide. Many oil drillers are now being forced to shut down their wells, which could mean less natural gas next year and potentially higher gas prices, helping coal recover.
There is a wild card, however: If the financial pain caused by the pandemic leads utilities to speed up their decisions to retire more coal plants, the industry would have a much harder time bouncing back in the years ahead. Once a coal-burning plant is closed, it is difficult to restart.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we do see some companies accelerate their plans to retire more coal plants,” said Manan Ajuha, a power industry analyst at S&P Global Platts.
One danger sign for many coal plants is that they are running less frequently. Back in 2010, the average U.S. coal plant ran at about 67 percent of its capacity. Last year, that fraction dipped below one-half for the first time in decades and is slipping further this year.
“The less you use these plants, the more expensive they are to keep around,” said Seth Feaster, a data analyst at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. His group recently estimated that, by 2025, coal could make up 10 percent or less of the electricity generated in the United States.
The latest example: This month Great River Energy, a cooperative based in Minnesota, said it planned to close its giant Coal Creek Station, a 1.1 gigawatt coal plant in North Dakota, by 2022. While a utility official attributed the decision to long-term economic trends, not the pandemic, the closure is notable for what will replace it: The utility plans to add 1.1 gigawatts of new wind capacity, a small amount of gas, as well as a first-of-its-kind battery that can store wind power for long periods.
The coal industry, for its part, says that many of these retirements may prove shortsighted. Michelle Bloodworth, the chief executive of America’s Power, an industry trade group, argued that coal plants remained a critical pillar of the nation’s electricity mix and a valuable hedge in case natural gas prices rise, as they have done in the past during particularly severe winter storms when demand for gas heating can spike.
“The coal fleet is not dead,” Ms. Bloodworth said. “There is still a significant amount of coal that’s going to be needed in the future to make sure we don’t risk and threaten the reliability of the grid.”
While President Trump came into office vowing to save the coal industry and revive mining jobs, he has so far been unable to do so. His push to relax costly air pollution rules on coal plants has not stopped the plant closures. And several plans by the administration to indirectly subsidize coal plants, on the grounds that they can improve grid reliability, have gone nowhere.
The United States is not yet at the point reached in Britain, which now goes for weeks at a time without using any coal power at all. But some parts of the United States are now getting an early preview of life where coal is on the decline and renewables are soaring.
“In some parts of the country, we’re now seeing renewable penetration hit 60 or 70 percent on some days,” said Nat Kreamer, chief executive of Advanced Energy Economy, a clean-energy business group, “and no one’s screaming that they can’t do that.”

Backyard Talk

Vulnerability to Pollution and Susceptibility to Covid-19

A new screening tool is now available that identifies populations across the country that are most vulnerable to severe complications following exposure to the coronavirus and development of covid-19. This community vulnerability map which was developed by Jvion, a health care data firm, in collaboration with Microsoft. Jvion uses socioeconomic and environmental factors, such as lack of access to transportation, exposure to pollution, unemployment and mortality rates at the census block level to identify communities vulnerable to severe effects of covid-19.
In an article about his new mapping tool in Grist magazine, Jvion is described as using “machine learning to analyze block-level data from the U.S. Census to identify ‘environmental health hazards’ as one key socioeconomic factor that makes a population more vulnerable  to severe covid-19 outcomes, based on the health effects of polluted air, contaminated water and extreme heat. They also factored in how chronic exposure to outdoor respiratory air pollutants such as fine particulate matter can increase the risk of cancer, respiratory illness and cardiovascular disease – preexisting conditions that make exposure to the novel corona virus more severe and fatal.”
This interactive and searchable map differs from others available on the internet in that it identifies the populations that once infected will likely experience severe outcomes ranging from hospitalization to death.
This vulnerability map can be used together with the USEPA’s EJScreen, an Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping tool. The EJScreen uses 11 environmental and health indicators and standard demographic data to identify communities most susceptible to air quality pollution. The EJ screen specifically includes a cancer risk and respiratory hazard index that is provided as a percentile in the state or nationally.
When the vulnerability mapping tool is matched with the EPA’s EJ Screen, the results are astounding. The relationship between a community’s proximity to industrial facilities and the projected risk of severe covid-19 outcomes is very clear and very strong. The areas of high vulnerability identified on the Community Vulnerability map match well with areas with high pollution from industrial facilities identified by the EJScreen, painting an all too familiar picture of communities suffering disproportionately from multiple and cumulative risks.
The preexisting respiratory and other health conditions that African Americans suffer from living in the shadows of industrial facilities in sacrifice zones across the country contribute significantly to their susceptibility to the lethal effects of covid-19. This reality isn’t an accident, but the result of economic and environmental conditions imposed on people of color over the long history of discrimination in this country.
In spite of these obvious disparities and the growing threat that people of color and African Americans in particular face from covid-19, EPA announced this month that it has stopped enforcing regulations that hold corporate polluters accountable for releasing toxic chemicals into the air we breathe. This is another outrage. Sign our petition to demand that the government reverse this disastrous decision.


Coal Miners and Covid-19

As a result of economic cutbacks in the fossil fuel industry during the pandemic, coal companies are requesting relief from taxes that contribute funding to retired coal worker health benefits. Nearly 25,000 retired coal miners receive support from the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund. The program is funded by an excise tax on the mining industry and is set per ton of coal extracted. If the excise tax is cut back, more strain could be put on a population that is already vulnerable to serious impacts from the virus. Read More.

Backyard Talk

COVID-19 vs Past Pandemics

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Blog by: Joy Barua
COVID-19 has caused a major disruption in the entire world and have paused our daily life. It might even go down as the greatest challenge of its kind that we have faced in our lifetime. While the world is on pause and is unpredictable at the moment there is still hope that we will come out of this stronger than before.
As of this writing, there are 1,289,380 cases of COVID-19 in the world and a total of 70,590 deaths according to the John Hopkins Coronavirus resource center. That adds up to about a 5% case fatality rate (CFR). However, that 5% doesn’t paint the entire picture as to when looking at individual countries, the numbers shifts dramatically as for example, the CFR in Italy currently stands at 12%. It changes more for better or worse when dividing things up by regions or states in each country. For example, in our nation, the cases and CFR in New York are significantly higher than the rest of the country.
To provide a bit of background, COVID-19 is a single-stranded RNA virus. It is a zoonotic disease. Over the past 100 years or so, zoonotic diseases have become a major concern for the world of public health. Millions of people die each year due to some form of zoonotic diseases. Some of the deadliest zoonotic diseases includes Ebola, West Nile, Lyme Disease, Nipah Virus, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)and now COVID-19 which happens to be a strain of SARS or known as SARS-CoV-2. The first SARS outbreak took place in 2003 and also started in China. There are many more emerging zoonotic infectious diseases that are appearing in some of the lower-income countries. Most of the zoonotic diseases are considered to be RNA viruses. For those not aware, RNA viruses are considered more threatening than DNA viruses cause of their high mutation rate compared to DNA viruses.  As a result, creating a vaccine for an RNA virus takes longer than it would for a DNA virus.
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The goal of this writing is not to give you information that you are already aware of but to provide in-context how COVID-19 compares to past pandemics. Going back to the 1918 pandemic of the H1N1 virus, known as the Spanish Flu, infected about 500 million people or at the time 1/3 of the population. It claimed 50 million lives. That works up to a 10% CFR which is much higher than the current CFR of COVID-19. But similar to COVID-19, mortality was higher among the under 5 and over 65 age groups.
There was a second strand of flu pandemic in 1957 known as H2N2 or the Asian flu that claimed 1.1 million lives. Not long after, a third strand of the flu pandemic took place in 1968 known as the H3N2 virus that claimed another million lives. Similarly, the mortality rate was higher among those ages 65 and higher. The latest flu pandemic took place in 2009 known as the swine flu pandemic of the H1N1 virus. While it infected nearly 1.5 billion people, the CFR was much lower compared to past pandemics with deaths of about half a million people. There have also been other pandemics such as the Ebola outbreak, Zika (still active), HIV/AIDS pandemic (still active).
With the emergence of every new pandemic, the mortality rate slowly decreases. While the statistics differentiate between DNA and an RNA viruses, with the advancement of modern technology and modern medicine we are better equipped to deal with these types of pandemics than ever before. As COVID-19 continues to progress and has yet to peak in certain areas, just know that while it is still deadly, there is still hope that we will come out of this stronger than before.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]