Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

Hurricane Ida makes landfall in a Covid hotspot.

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This is the Coronavirus Briefing, an informed guide to the pandemic. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.

The Department of Education is investigating five states because their mask mandate bans may violate civil rights laws protecting students with disabilities.

The E.U proposed new travel restrictions for unvaccinated visitors from the United States.

Demand has surged for a deworming drug despite no evidence it can treat Covid.

Get the latest updates here, as well as maps and a vaccine tracker.

When a hurricane and Covid collide

Hurricane Ida made landfall southwest of New Orleans on Sunday as a Category 4 hurricane before moving into Mississippi, walloping hospitals in two states that were already brimming with Covid patients.

Louisiana has the country’s fifth-highest Covid hospitalization rate; Mississippi has the third-highest. Both states have coronavirus vaccination rates well below 50 percent, and many of their hospitals were struggling with an onslaught of Covid patients even before the storm arrived.

Ochsner Health, Louisiana’s largest hospital system, was working to evacuate 66 patients from two hospitals after “winds shattered double-pane windows and blew off roofing, sending water trickling into patient rooms,” The Advocate reported on Sunday night. In a briefing, Ochsner said the hospitals’ emergency rooms would stay open despite persistent challenges with staffing.

As the storm bore down on Baton Rouge, La., officials at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, already strained by Covid patients, expected to take on more patients from other facilities in the region, having received reinforcements from the state and the federal government. On Sunday, part of another hospital’s roof blew off.

In the aftermath of the storm, officials are focused on restoring power. The whole of New Orleans is without electricity, with no timeline for its restoration. “I hate to say it this way, but we have a lot of people on ventilators today and they don’t work without electricity,” Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana told The Associated Press.

The ripple effects of the storm on the pandemic are still taking shape. Oxygen supplies are running critically low in hospitals across Louisiana — with some only having one or two days left of supply. Delivery trucks have been giving hospitals partial refills because of demand, a representative of one of the largest hospital supply purchasing groups in the country told The Times.

Individual canisters used by discharged patients are also in high demand. CrowdSource Rescue, a volunteer emergency response group, did about a dozen oxygen-related rescues on Monday. The city of New Orleans has opened oxygen exchange sites for residents to get a free full tank of oxygen.

100,000 daily hospitalizations, again

The average for hospitalized Covid-19 patients in the United States is now more than 100,000 per day over the past week. That’s higher than in any previous surge except last winter’s, before most Americans were eligible to get vaccinated, when hospitalizations peaked at nearly 140,000 in mid-January.

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This month, one in five American I.C.U.s had reached or exceeded 95 percent of capacity. The crisis is concentrated in the South, fueled by some of the country’s lowest vaccination rates and widespread political opposition to public health measures like mask requirements.

Dr. Ijlal Babar, the director of pulmonary critical care for the Singing River Health System in coastal Mississippi, said the influx of mostly unvaccinated, younger Covid-19 patients was hampering care across the system’s hospitals.

“Because a lot of these patients are lingering on, the ventilators are occupied, the beds are occupied,” he said.

Mississippi was uniquely unprepared to handle what is now the worst coronavirus outbreak in the nation. There are 2,000 fewer nurses in Mississippi today than there were at the beginning of the year, according to the state hospital association. The state has fewer active physicians per capita than any other.

The state rejected a proposal to expand Medicaid, the federally subsidized health insurance program for low-income residents, a decision that critics say has deprived Mississippi of a much-needed infusion of federal money. What Mississippi has been left with, after years of infighting over health care policy, is a system believed to be the weakest in the nation.

Most days, the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the largest in the state, has upward of two dozen patients waiting in the emergency ward and other parts of the hospital for intensive care beds to free up.

The state announced last week that it was signing up more than 1,000 contract health care workers to address the hospital labor shortage, at a cost of $10 million per week — a cost that will eventually be borne by the federal government.

Vaccine rollout

New Zealand reported its first death linked to the Pfizer vaccine, Bloomberg reports, after a woman died from myocarditis.

AstraZeneca has mandated that its U.S.-based employees be vaccinated.

Denmark is phasing out its digital Covid pass because of the high rate of inoculation in the country.

Here’s the latest on when major U.S. companies are returning to the office, and whether they will require vaccines.

See how the vaccine rollout is going in your county and state.

What else we’re following

New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, reported its highest daily number of coronavirus cases since the pandemic began.

South Africa has identified a new variant, C.1.2., which has mutations “associated with increased transmissibility,” Bloomberg reports.

STAT went inside Pfizer’s labs to watch the company’s “variant hunters” in action.

A U.K. study found that most children admitted to intensive care with multisystem inflammatory syndrome after getting Covid did not have serious lingering issues a year later, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Nurses in the Philippines are threatening mass resignations amid record-high caseloads, Deutsche Welle reports.

What you’re doing

My current job is to identify, plan, coordinate and work mobile Covid-19 vaccine events, focusing on medically underserved communities where health disparities are apparent. Hours are long and the work is very hands on. Our team works rain or shine in the Texas summer heat and manages a smile for every patient. Recently, my 11-year-old son turned his room into a “calming room” for me. In the middle was a single chair. Surrounded by ambient light and calm music, he offered me a tray of various toys and gadgets that I could “fidget” with. What a sweet moment to share with my boy amid the chaos and noise. — Katt Anderson, Allen, Texas

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