The Latest: As COVID fills ICUs, chronically ill patients suffer ‘ripple effect’ of delayed surgeries


LOS ANGELES — In the early years of his illness, as his kidneys began to shrink and toxins coursed through his blood, the same four words often floated through Miguel Rangel’s mind: “I’m going to die.”

Although some people live much longer, the average life expectancy of dialysis patients is five to 10 years, and Rangel, who has last-stage chronic kidney disease, lives with constant pain and for the last decade has gotten dialysis nightly via a catheter into his abdomen. Still, the 43-year-old electrician, who lives in San Fernando, has trained his mind to linger on hope.

“This life is beautiful,” he often repeats as a mantra. “I want to keep going.”

Rafik Abdou

Dr. Rafik Abdou checks on a COVID-19 patient at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles in November. Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

But for now, he’s in a holding pattern — one exacerbated, in part, by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has ushered in a new level of anxiety for many patients with underlying conditions. Like Rangel, they are now confronting a cascade of delayed surgeries, while also weighing hard choices between risking exposure to the virus or further putting off important, at times lifesaving, health actions.

Rangel was scheduled to have a parathyroid gland removal at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center in mid-December, a procedure that will help alleviate his severe bone pain and improve his quality of life as he continues to await a transplant surgery. But the procedure ultimately had to be postponed because he got an infection in his abdominal wall a few days before the scheduled surgery.

When he asked about rescheduling, the hospital said it would get him back on the surgery schedule as soon as it could but warned him to expect delays — facilities and staff were being stretched to their limits, and some procedures had to be pushed back a bit.

“Because of COVID,” they told him.

Throughout the pandemic, health officials have pleaded with the public, reminding them that by wearing masks and staying at home they’re doing their part to prevent hospital overcrowding — a scenario that could quickly become catastrophic, officials warned, forcing doctors to make devastating moral and medical calculations about who would get lifesaving care.

Still, hospitals in some parts of the nation, including Los Angeles, have teetered dangerously close to such situations, and to avoid severe rationing in ICUs, hospitals have turned to another form of triage: They began postponing elective and non-emergency surgeries.

It was a best-of-hard-options choice, many health care experts agreed — a necessary step for conserving critical resources such as ventilators and oxygen, as well as a way to free up doctors and nurses who were being stretched increasingly thin.

But deciding whether a procedure is truly elective and how long it can be pushed back without causing harm always involves a certain level of subjectivity, and the postponements, no matter the cause, often translate into stressful and scary delays for patients, particularly those with underlying health conditions.

Read the full story here.

Texas Rep. Ron Wright dies after battling COVID-19, cancer

Rep. Ron Wright, R-Texas, died Sunday after being hospitalized with COVID-19. Wright, 67, had also been receiving cancer treatment for years.

Ron Wright

U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, R-Texas, walks to a session during member-elect briefings and orientation on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018. Wright died Sunday after a battle with COVID-19. AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

“His wife Susan was by his side and he is now in the presence of their Lord and Savior,” a statement from his office said. “Over the past few years, Congressman Wright had kept a rigorous work schedule on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and at home in Texas’ Congressional District 6 while being treated for cancer. For the previous two weeks, Ron and Susan had been admitted to Baylor Hospital in Dallas after contracting COVID-19.”

Wright had announced on Jan. 21 that he tested positive for the coronavirus.

His office said the lawmaker will be “remembered as a constitutional conservative. He was a statesman, not an ideologue.”

“Despite years of painful, sometimes debilitating treatment for cancer, Ron never lacked the desire to get up and go to work, to motivate those around him, or to offer fatherly advice,” the statement added.

NRCC Chairman Tom Emmer said in a statement that Wright was a “dedicated public servant who devoted his life to bettering his community.”

Oakland is first airport to offer COVID test from vending machines

LOS ANGELES — Travelers passing through Oakland International Airport during the pandemic can now pick up a COVID-19 test like they would a bag of chips or a pair of headphones.

For about $150, travelers can buy DIY saliva-sampling tests from vending machine kiosks in each terminal.

“We realized that travelers are going through a tough time right now, especially as we all navigate this COVID pandemic,” said Roberto Bernardo, the Oakland airport’s spokesman. “We wanted to give travelers another option for testing.”

Oakland International is the first in the U.S. to sell COVID-19 tests in vending machines, airport officials said.

The sampling kits, from Wellness 4 Humanity, are designed so users can collect saliva samples at home and then mail them for testing. Results come within 48 hours of the shipment being received and are sent to a person’s phone, according to the product website. The cost of shipping and running the molecular test used to detect viral RNA is included in the price.

The kits are intended for people flying into Oakland rather than those about to board a plane, Bernardo said. Like many airports, Oakland International has been offering curbside testing for several months, and travelers can get a last-minute rapid test for $120.

Many travelers have expressed concern they might have been exposed during a flight, Bernardo said. A test to be used when travelers get home could provide some clarity.

It’s recommended that people wait several days after a potential exposure before get tested because the likelihood of a false negative result decreases as individuals begin to show symptoms.

“If you’re worried about false negatives, you need to give it six or seven days from the time you land to specimen collection,” said George Rutherford, a professor of epidemiology at UC San Francisco.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently ordered that anyone flying into the U.S. must show a negative coronavirus test result before they get on a plane. The viral test, which detects current infection, must be taken within three days of boarding. The agency also recommends that those who have been abroad get tested again three to five days after arriving and that they stay home for seven days.

Thousands of maskless Tampa fans celebrated in the streets

Outside Raymond James Stadium Sunday night, three barefaced Buccaneers fans jumped up and down on the roof of a white car, waving their arms.One man held out his phone and recorded the largely maskless Tampa crowd cheering, flying flags, hugging and colliding into each other as the Tom Brady-led Buccaneers won the franchise’s first Super Bowl in 18 years.

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Fans arrive at Raymond James Stadium before Super Bowl 55 Sunday, Feb. 7, in Tampa, Fla. AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Other antics ensued, including hundreds gathering around a man who climbed a tree and swaying it back and forth; pedestrians walking opposite traffic as cars drove by with celebrators standing through sun roofs waving team flags; and police officers getting knocked down as intoxicated patrons poured out of the bars by the thousands.

Throughout Tampa this weekend, hordes of football fans crammed into bars, clogged up streets and belting chants – many without masks, despite dire warnings from public health experts that the Super Bowl could become a superspreader event.

In the days leading up to football’s biggest night, Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, urged Americans to stay home and “just lay low and cool it.” Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, D, made a video asking fans to cover their faces, after she updated the city’s mask mandate to include all outdoor areas used for Super Bowl events and gatherings.

In a news conference on Sunday, Castor also pleaded fans to act responsibly if the Buccaneers won, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

“Well, we’ve done so well in putting on a safe Super Bowl, when we do win tonight, I just want to keep safety at the forefront of everyone’s minds,” she said. “Celebrate, but do it safely. Simply wear a mask.”

There have been more than 1.7 million cases of the coronavirus in Florida and more than 28,000 deaths, according to The Washington Post’s COVID-19 tracker. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, R, has battled against many restrictions, and mask mandates or occupancy restrictions throughout the state have been hard to enforce since the governor lifted all COVID restrictions in September.

A report posted on the preprint server medRxiv on Sunday found that a more contagious and possibly more deadly mutation of the virus first discovered in the United Kingdom is rapidly spreading in Florida. The study said that the state has the most cases of the variant in the country.

Read the full story here.

Seoul to give free COVID-19 tests to pets

SEOUL, South Korea __ South Korea’s capital says it will give pet dogs and cats free coronavirus tests if they come into contact with infected humans and show symptoms.

Seoul official Park Yoo-mi told an online briefing that pets found infected with the virus must be quarantined at their homes or a city-run facility for 14 days.

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A medical worker in a booth takes a nasal sample from a woman at a coronavirus testing site in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 5. AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

The central government last week released guidelines on virus tests on pets, after a cat in the southeastern city of Jinju became the country’s first animal confirmed to have COVID-19. The cat belongs to a mother and daughter who were among dozens of confirmed patients associated with a Jinju religious facility.

Park said officials are ready to conduct free tests of pets starting Monday.

Seoul officials say there is no evidence that animals transmit the virus to humans. They say authorities will test pets, not all animals, because they are in close contact with humans.

Other local governments plan to launch similar tests for pets in line with the central government’s guidelines.

South Korea’s tally of newly confirmed coronavirus cases fell below 300 on Monday for the first time in more than two months as authorities slightly eased tough physical distancing rules. Officials began allowing restaurants, coffee shops, indoor gyms and other facilities outside the densely populated Seoul metropolitan region to stay open an hour longer.

ICU patients in Brussels drops below 300

BRUSSELS — Belgium’s strategy to counter the coronavirus pandemic continues to bear fruit as the number of patients in intensive care units has dropped below 300 for the first time since October.

The number of new infections has reached a plateau, with new daily cases between 2,000 and 2,500, while coronavirus-related deaths are decreasing.

The country with 11.5 million inhabitants has been severely hit by the virus, which has killed more than 21,352 people in Belgium. But it has coped well with a surge of new virus variants despite keeping schools and many stores open.

Bars and restaurants have been closed since October and traveling abroad for holidays is currently banned. As of Monday, there were 1,676 coronavirus patients in Belgian hospitals, including 299 in ICUs.

Businesses begin to reopen in Austria after 3rd lockdown

VIENNA — Schools, shops, hairdressing salons and museums are reopening in Austria after the country’s third lockdown, but concerns linger about infection rates and the spread of new coronavirus variants.

The relaxation of measures taking effect Monday is far from complete. People going to the hairdresser will need to show a negative test result that’s at most 48 hours old. In shops, customers have to wear full protective masks rather than just fabric face coverings.

Restaurants and hotels remain closed, and authorities say they won’t reopen this month.

The lockdown had been in place since Dec. 26. While the government has said that Austria needs to get as close as possible to an infection level of 50 new cases per 100,000 residents over seven days, the figure is still considerably higher — currently 108.

The country’s opposition leader says that reopening more than schools is a significant risk.

Lunar New Year could affect Maine’s lobster shipments

PORTLAND, Maine — America’s lobster exporters recovered from the Trump-era trade war with China to have a good 2020.

But the industry is approaching one of the most critical times of the year with trepidation because of the coronavirus.

Lunar New Year is typically one of the busiest parts of the calendar for America’s lobster shippers, who send millions of dollars worth of the crustaceans to China.

The holiday this year is Feb. 12, and industry members say they are prepared for a weak year.

Shipping is complicated this winter by the threat of the virus.

China reports no new virus cases in northeast

BEIJING — China appears to have stamped out its latest coronavirus outbreaks centered on the northeast, reporting no new cases of local infection in its latest daily report.

The National Health Commission said Monday that 14 newly confirmed cases had been brought from outside the country but no new cases were registered in the provinces of Heilongjiang and Jilin that have seen China’s latest clusters.

While China has relaxed some social distancing rules, extensive testing, electronic monitoring and periodic lockdowns remain in place.

The country has reported 4,636 deaths among almost 90,000 cases since the coronavirus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019.

South Africa suspends plans to vaccination front-line workers

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa has suspended plans to inoculate its front-line health care workers with the AstraZeneca vaccine after a small clinical trial suggested that it isn’t effective in preventing mild to moderate illness from the variant dominant in the country.

South Africa received its first 1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine last week and was expected to begin giving jabs to health care workers in mid-February. The disappointing early results indicate that an inoculation drive using the AstraZeneca vaccine may not be useful.

The trial results, which aren’t yet peer-reviewed, suggested the AstraZeneca vaccine “provides minimal protection against mild-moderate COVID-19 infection” among young adults exposed to the South Africa variant.

Oxford University and the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg said in a statement that protection against more severe forms of the disease could not be assessed in the trial because those participating were at low risk.

The variant appears more infectious and is driving a deadly resurgence, accounting for more than 90% of COVID-19 cases, health minister Zweli Mkhize said Sunday night.


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