Can Pollution Particles Carry the Coronavirus?

Can the coronavirus travel further distance because of air pollution? Three different research groups have proposed that the virus might be able to spread further distances when attached to pollution particles. Although the theory has not yet been confirmed, the idea that diseases can spread further distances in areas of greater pollution is plausible. Previous studies have shown that pollution could have likely carried viruses causing bird flu, measles, and foot-and-mouth disease. More research is being conducted to determine the correlation of pollution concentration and the spread of dangerous viruses, including COVID-19. Read More.


Is Air Pollution Connected to Higher Coronavirus Death Rates?

Is air pollution connected to higher coronavirus death rates? The Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health released findings on a study that found a positive correlation between long term exposure to particulate matter (PM 2.5) and higher death rates from disease. The study concluded that exposure to air pollution leads to more severe outcomes to patients infected with COVID-19. The study may be important to how health officials allocate virus resources, such as ventilator or respirators, to more vulnerable regions. Read More.
Find Harvard University’s health study here.

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]

Backyard Talk

The Coronavirus Outbreak

This blog was recently published by Hesperian Health Guides.

Coronavirus is all over the news and people are looking for how-to, actionable information on surviving the pandemic. But limiting advice and actions to improving individual or community hygiene is only washing our hands of the problem. To successfully defeat the looming epidemic, we have to change a health system that places profit over health. We have to recognize and address the political, social and economic factors –the social determinants of health — that govern how health or illness moves through our communities. 

Most of what to do immediately about Coronavirus (or COVID-19) is already known: Wash your hands; don’t touch your face so often; stay home if you are sick. Clean surfaces often that are touched by multiple people. Since the virus is mostly transmitted by respiration, cough or sneeze into your elbow, wear a mask if you are sick or around sick people, or stay about 6 feet away from people you speak with if you think the virus is active in your area. (See our COVID-19 Fact Sheet for more details.)

While individual action is important, it will not stop an epidemic, only collective action will. We have to start acting like the connections among us are not routes to transmit disease, but the channels through which we can defeat it. There are many actions and policies we can demand to lower the possibility that COVID-19 becomes epidemic in the United States:

1) Guaranteed income for people affected by the virus.

Most of us live paycheck to paycheck and cannot afford to stay home from work without pay. Quarantines are difficult enough for people without making them worse by causing financial disaster.

The federal government has refused to require employers to pay sick leave, and even states that do — California requires only 3 days a year – would not cover the time necessary for your quarantine, much less if your quarantine is because someone else in your household is sick. And how would people with the lowest wages survive, those in service or production jobs who cannot telecommute (as our health advisors so blithely suggest), if their employers shut down?  If schools are closed to prevent disease from spreading, how will adults stay home with children and not lose their jobs or income?

In places like the Bay Area, where housing costs take the lion’s share of monthly expenses, it may also be necessary to declare mortgage holidays and a moratorium on evictions. 

2) Free access to testing and treatment.

The cost of health care already stops people from getting timely testing and treatment for health problems. With coronavirus, our health system is a prescription for an epidemic. 

The CDC bungled producing testing kits for COVID-19, and hospitals still have a shortage. People who have been tested are being charged thousands of dollars. When asked about treatment costs, HHS Secretary Azar refused to say treatment would be affordable: “We can’t control that price because we need the private sector to invest.”

If the US continues on the health-care–for-profit path, it insures the epidemic will be more widespread and more severe. Free access to testing and treatment for coronavirus is essential, as it is for other health conditions. Demand access to care now and in November don’t vote for anyone who doesn’t support Medicare for All – they’re basically telling you that saving your life is too expensive. 

3) Prioritize reaching the most vulnerable communities

People of color and low-income communities have more exposure to disease and less access to health care facilities. We can’t perpetuate this injustice in our coronavirus response.

People already sick, especially those with breathing problems, have a higher chance of getting severely ill and dying from COVID-19. Environmental racism places factories and freeways disproportionately in poor communities of color, leading, for example, to 20% more asthma among African Americans. By prioritizing reaching communities marginalized by the medical system with necessary supplies, testing and treatment, we can slow the epidemic and begin to undo the deadly relationship of ill health, inequity and injustice. 

These are all achievable demands. To win them, we have to organize pressure on our local, state and national governments from our neighborhood organizations, unions, churches, professional groups, and within the political parties that are contending for our votes this election year. 

We can also organize locally to care for each other:

–Reorient your Neighborhood Watch or Earthquake Preparedness group to check up on your neighbors. Find out who is sick and who needs help.

–Expand the reach of Meals on Wheels and other such programs to feed those in quarantine.

–Volunteer and train others to be community health outreach workers to help answer questions and prepare your neighborhood for the coronavirus.

–Compensate “gig workers” who are the human backbone of food and supplies order and delivery apps for the time and disinfection supplies  they need to safely support people stuck at home in quarantine.

What really stands out in the face of an epidemic like coronavirus is our leaders’ antagonism to the concept of “the public good” — unless it’s profitable, it just shouldn’t exist. Our public health systems have been weakened by millions of dollars of budget cuts, an opposition to regulation of both pollution and greed, and the refusal to build or maintain common infrastructure. If we are going to survive coronavirus with a minimum of deaths, we need to replace our health-for-profit system with one that recognizes that health is a human right.


Trump administration restricting science in regulation

The Trump Administration is preparing to bring forth a new rule that will significantly limit the amount of scientific and medical research used in the process of establishing public health regulations. The EPA has presented a new proposal, named Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science, that will require scientists to disclose all raw data collected in a public health study. This will make new and existing air and water regulations more difficult to introduce or modify, because most public health studies rely on health information recovered through confidentiality agreements and cannot be disclosed publicly. Read More.


U.S. Air Quality Broken Down by Region

The National Bureau of Economic Research released a report this month investigating the recent increase in air pollution by region in the United States. After a decade of improving air quality with a decrease in the presence of particulate air matter by 25%, the United States has experienced an increase pollution between 2016 and 2018. The largest increases have stemmed out of the Midwest and West. The report speculates that pollution increases are the result of higher economic activity, lower environmental regulatory enforcement, and wildfires. Read More.


Healthcare Industry Major Source of Harmful Emissions

Ironically, while the health care industry will be key in responding to new health risks presented from climate change, it’s also responsible for creating a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, in the United States alone the healthcare industry is responsible for 10% of greenhouse gas emissions and 9% of of harmful non-greenhouse air pollutants. Jodi Sherman, M.D., associate professor of anesthesiology at the Yale School of Medicine, argues that the healthcare industry should do more to mitigate their impact on public health. <Read more>

Backyard Talk

Environmental and Public Health Implications of the TPP

By Dylan Lenzen

This past week, the House of Representatives failed to approve a measure that would provide President Obama with “fast-track authority” in negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free-trade agreement between the U.S. and eleven other countries of the pacific-rim including Japan, Vietnam, Australia, Mexico, and Canada among others. The trade agreement has been negotiated in secret for three years, and beyond leaked documents, the American public will likely not be able to view the details of the agreement until after it is approved. While President Obama supports the trade deal, he failed to convince the necessary number of his fellow democrats in order to pass the measure. Many democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, have expressed concerns that the deal does not provide adequate protection for American workers. In addition, a number of environmental and consumer-advocacy groups have expressed their opposition to the trade deal for a number of reasons, including threats to the environment and public health.

Particularly alarming are the rights granted to corporations under the “investor-state dispute settlement system”. As a result, multinational corporations would essentially be given the right to sue governments before international tribunals regarding regulations they believe pose a threat to “expected future profits”. In cases where corporations win, the taxpayers of the losing country would be responsible for providing compensation. This has already been observed under past trade agreements such as NAFTA. An example was described by the Sierra Club, in which Lone Pine Resources, an oil and gas corporation, sued the Canadian government for $250 million after a fracking moratorium was passed by the Quebec National Assembly. According to consumer rights advocacy group, Public Citizen, over $3 billion has been paid out to corporations as a result of disputes under past free-trade agreements, a majority being related to environmental and public health regulation. Public Citizen goes on to state, “the mere threat of a case can put pressure on governments to weaken environment and health policies.” These policies represent important protections for the health of communities all over the world.

In addition to the threat posed by the investor-state system, others worry that hydraulic fracturing operations in the U.S. will expand due to increased natural gas exports. Currently, all natural gas exports are subject to analysis by the Department of Energy to ensure that exports do not threaten the interests of the American public. Under the TPP, this authority would be lost and all natural gas export permits would be approved, increasing pressure to expand U.S. fracking operations and infrastructure. This increases the environmental health threats already posed by the industry.

These represent but a small portion of a great number of concerns in regards to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. While the capacity of free-trade agreements such as this to promote economic development and job growth is up for debate, it is clear that these agreements pose significant risk to the health of communities and ecosystems around the world.

To find out more about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, please consider the following resources: