With help from Dan Goldberg and Tyler Weyant
EIGHT MEN OUT — The New York Yankees confirmed eight cases of Covid this week, with shortstop Gleyber Torres being the first player sidelined by the positive result.
All eight people who tested positive were vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine. Only one player showed symptoms, while the rest were asymptomatic.
Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine, talked with Nightly about why this may have happened and what it means for the future of Covid testing. This conversation has been edited.
Eight breakthrough infections seems like a lot for one baseball team. Why would something like this happen?
There’s a possibility that there were false positives, so there was some problem with the testing. That would be an obvious answer. I think the other, though, and this gets to a more profound question about Covid testing in sports, where we may see a change in guidelines.
I’m maybe getting over my skis a bit, but I think what that may mean is in a short while, we may see that individuals who are fully vaccinated, they may just stop routine testing in Major League Baseball and other sports. Because it doesn’t mean anything. Even if they’re PCR positive, they’re not shedding enough virus to cause transmission.
One of the things we’ve learned now about these vaccines is that the performance features are really good. So not only is it halting symptomatic illness, 95 percent, but it’s halting asymptomatic transmission. And now, there’s some new data coming out of Israel that was just published this month, showing that individuals who are vaccinated have this really deep, big decrease in virus shedding. Just because they’re PCR positive, and they have viruses, it’s not enough virus to cause transmission.
What I hope is the CDC will issue some new guidelines, sooner rather than later, about halting routine testing in vaccinated individuals.
So you’re not worried about this?
No. But I’ll tell you what we do need to know, which is that I don’t know that we’re collecting enough information about the breakthrough cases to understand them better. Is it because of variants? Is it because they’re immunocompromised? Especially for the serious infections. I don’t even know how much surveillance testing the CDC is doing right now in breakthrough cases. But I think that’s going to be really important to understand this.
Do you agree with the latest mask guidance?
I do. I thought it would come a little later, as we were getting better at fully vaccinating the American people. We still have this big problem in the southern states, and in Wyoming and Idaho and our red states, where vaccination rates are still really low.
So what I'm worried about is, by the summer, we could be two Covid nations. One in which the blue or bluish states will be fully vaccinated, transmission will really slow, but there will still be a lot of vulnerability in the deep red states, and especially in the South. So I worry about another southern surge, like we saw last year. I worry about a fifth peak. It may not be as bad because you do have some people vaccinated and some people with previous infections, but that’s something I’ll watch very closely.
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THE 4 KINDS OF PEOPLE WHO AREN’T VACCINATED — Health care reporter Dan Goldberg emails Nightly:
Governors and public health officials have spent a lot of time over the past few weeks thinking about the so-called movable middle, an amorphous group of people who aren’t opposed to getting the vaccine but aren’t eager to do so either. It’s led to a lot of creative thinking, culminating this week with Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine offering five $1 million prizes to adults who get their shot.
But these incentive-laden efforts get at only one segment of the population. There are actually four main groups of people who aren’t getting the vaccine:
The ‘hell no’ group: Polls show roughly 20 percent of Americans are dead set against getting the vaccine and that number has held stable for months. Some in this group believe wild conspiracy theories, while others don’t believe Covid-19 is all that serious. The general consensus among public health experts is this not a group worth spending a lot of time on.
The truly hesitant: The number of Americans taking a wait-and-see approach has been declining for months, as millions did exactly that and found that the vaccines are safe. Still, others have seen posts on social media that spread false rumors about vaccines causing sterility or changing your DNA. State and federal officials feel this is a group that can be reached, which is why the White House is now scrambling to get vaccines to pediatricians and primary care doctors. Polling shows that people with some hesitancy around safety and efficacy are mostly likely to be persuaded by a community physician, nurse or pharmacist.
The unmotivated: Should a pollster ever ask, I’d confidently assert that I am not dentist-hesitant. But I also don’t get my teeth cleaned twice a year. There’s a good number of people who fall into that category when it comes to the Covid-19 vaccine. Some may have had the virus already, some consider the risks of catching Covid to be minimal, while others are just unmotivated. This is the group likely to be enticed by DeWine’s millions or a shot at a free car, or even something as simple as a free beer. It’s a nudge to people who don’t object to the vaccine but just don’t see any urgency either. And, if you’re wondering, I’d happily go to the dentist for a chance at a million dollars.
Access issues: These are people who’d like to get vaccinated but can’t because they don’t have transportation to a clinic or can’t find child care should they feel sick following their shot. These are typically, but not exclusively, issues in low-income, minority communities. The national failure to adequately address them is one reason why we see vaccine inequities. Reaching these people requires a far more targeted approach. Brian Castrucci, president of the de Beaumont Foundation, said this is a group that would benefit from $5 million being spent on things like pop-up clinics, mobile vans and community health departments that send health workers to knock on doors and ask people if they’d like to get vaccinated right now.
“I want 24-hour walk up clinics,” Castrucci said. “I want it to be as easy to get vaccines as it is to get cigarettes.”
— Stefanik elected as House GOP’s new No. 3 leader: Elise Stefanik cruised to victory in a vote to replace Liz Cheney as House Republicans’ third-ranked leader, capping off a tumultuous month in the GOP conference sparked by its bitter divisions over Donald Trump. Stefanik won in a 134-46 secret-ballot vote, defeating her sole challenger, Rep. Chip Roy of Texas.
— Death toll surges as Palestinians flee Israeli fire in Gaza: Thousands of Palestinians grabbed children and belongings and fled their homes as Israel barraged the northern Gaza Strip with tank fire and airstrikes, killing a family of six in their house and heavily damaging other neighborhoods in what it said was an operation to clear militant tunnels. As international efforts at a cease-fire stepped up, Israel appeared to be looking to inflict intensified damage on the Islamic militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel.
— House Democrats unveil sweeping response to Jan. 6 attacks: House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) released a $1.9 billion emergency funding bill that would provide tens of millions of dollars to the Capitol Police department, foot the bill for deploying National Guard soldiers at the complex and authorize funding for “future” security needs such as a retractable fence system.
— Biden kills Trump’s sculpture garden of ‘American heroes’: Biden today revoked several of the executive orders issued in his predecessor’s last year in office, including the sculpture garden Trump proposed on July 4 at an event at Mount Rushmore.
THE BUZZ ON CICADAS — As people around the Mid-Atlantic start finding loud insects, Matt Wuerker’s Weekend Wrap has found the latest in political satire and cartoons, including the House GOP leadership vote, the gasoline shortage and the continued vaccination push.
RANSOMWARE HITS IRELAND — Ireland’s hospitals were forced to shut down IT systems and cancel many appointments today after an overnight ransomware attack against the central servers of the Health Service Executive. Vaccine appointments to fight the pandemic were not disrupted.
HSE chief executive Paul Reid said investigators from the state’s Computer Security Incident Response Team were working with police and military specialists to aid the state agency’s own efforts to protect patient data and isolate the threat. “It's a very sophisticated attack,” Reid told RTÉ radio.
Hospital staff switched this morning to using whatever paper records existed for patients and canceled at least some outpatient services until they could get the all-clear to go back online. At the nation’s biggest maternity hospital, the Rotunda in central Dublin, most appointments were canceled except for patients over 36 weeks pregnant.
WHO WAS THAT MASKED MAN? Nightly’s Tyler Weyant emails:
Have you ever tried to jaywalk in Berlin? A tip from your friendly neighborhood newsletter: Don’t. Even on the quietest street, if the walk sign isn’t on, strangers will shout at you, imploring you to think of the children. You aren’t just breaking the law; you’re breaking a social compact.
My recollections of law-abiding German pedestrians have been in the back of my mind for the last year as I’ve walked around D.C. Yes, mask wearing has been required by law here. But masks, at some point, moved from a public health measure to something more. They became an outward expression of values: What does wearing a mask say about me?
And it went beyond “I follow the science” or “I’m helping you not to get sick.” The universal mask, even outdoors, became the latest sign that Washington is a city of Organization People, the ones who have found success by following the rules and coloring inside the lines.
The sense of joy we’ve felt when taking our masks off outside this week likely seems foreign to those for whom outdoor masking was just never a thing. (See: vast portions of the country.) For I too have masked up outside until this week in D.C., because it was the law, but also to project values of embracing public health.
Many have called for patience and grace toward still-cautious mask-wearers after the CDC’s Thursday announcement. I’d call for something else: A rethinking of how we view masks. They aren’t Sneetch stars, or mark-of-the-Beast harbingers of tyranny. They’re simply a public health tool that’s saved countless lives.
Now that the CDC has changed the rules, we no longer know what mask wearing means. And that’s something to celebrate. Perhaps your mask means, “I am not vaccinated.” Or it means, “I am immunocompromised.” Or maybe it means, “I'm still afraid.”
For all of us, when we see a masked face, we have been given a chance to try something new: to look behind it, and practice a little empathy.
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