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Heavy drinking is killing women in record numbers, and experts fear a COVID-related spike | Coronavirus

On her last day of consciousness, Misty Luminais Babin held onto hope. “I choose life,” the 38-year-old told her sister, husband and doctor from inside the Ochsner Medical Center ICU.

But her sister, Aimee Luminais Calamusa, knew it was a choice made too late. A former ICU nurse herself, she was trained to recognize signs of the end. Even after draining 3 liters of fluid from Babin’s abdomen, her liver — mottled and scarred by years of heavy drinking — couldn’t keep up. The fluid had started building up in her lungs and she gasped for air. Without oxygen, her other organs began to fail.

“When I left that day, I knew that would be the last time I talked to her, ever,” said Calamusa. “It was really hard to walk out that door.”

Babin died two days later, on June 14 of this year, after a long struggle with alcohol use disorder. Her family said the fight intensified in the last four or five years after a rough breakup, but may have been more stealthy and prevalent than they ever realized.

“None of us knew,” said Calamusa, who wrote a moving and honest obituary in The Times-Picayune | New Orleans Advocate about her sister’s struggles. “She hid it very well. I think she probably has been an addict for a long time. She lost control very quickly.”



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Misty Luminais Babin checked into the hospital a week before she died on June 14, 2020, after struggling with alcohol use disorder for years. Her family scattered her ashes on August 31, 2020, what would have been in 39th birthday, in her “thinking spot,” a quiet place along the Mississippi River. 




With an average of 1,591 alcohol-related deaths from 2011 to 2015, Louisiana is tied for 10th among U.S. states on a per-capita basis when it comes to people succumbing to the disease, according to a recent analysis of death certificates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Across the country, alcohol-related deaths have risen by 51% over a period covering most of the past two decades, according to a study from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism published earlier this year.

The most alarming increase was among women. Deaths increased by 85% from 1999 to 2017.

And amid all-time high levels of anxiety and economic uncertainty, public-health experts fear that deaths like Babin’s will spike in the coming years. New data examining how drinking habits have changed during the pandemic showed drinking overall has increased by 14% compared with a year ago. In women, the increase was 17%, according to the peer-reviewed study published Sept. 29 in JAMA Network Open by researchers from the RAND Corporation.

Binge drinking in women, defined as four drinks over two hours, increased by 41% from 2019 to 2020. 

“Drinking by women is sort of overlooked,” said Michael Pollard, author of the JAMA study. “And this points out that it is a real concern. We don’t really have

Trump says not to fear the virus. But fear saves lives when leaders fail us.

Face to face with his own mortality, Trump rejects the whole notion, and many of his allies have followed his lead. Jason Miller, a senior campaign adviser, told reporters that “we’re not going to hide in fear” and will continue to hold rallies after Trump’s diagnosis. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), one of the president’s biggest fanboys, tweeted in a tone that was surely meant to signal strength rather than desperation: “President Trump won’t have to recover from COVID. COVID will have to recover from President Trump. #MAGA.” In a similar vein, Fox Nation host Tomi Lahren ridiculed Joe Biden for advocating for coronavirus precautions: “Might as well carry a purse with that mask, Joe.”

But what’s so bad about fear? Fear is a rational, necessary response to a disease that has already killed more than 212,000 Americans and forced cities to use refrigerated trucks as makeshift morgues. Fear is what drives us to wear masks and get tested. Fear for the well-being of others — something one might call care — is what keeps us away from our loved ones for their own safety, even as the world crumbles around us. Of course we should be afraid of the coronavirus. Fear keeps us alive.

Being afraid is an adaptive feeling meant to protect us both physically and psychologically, allowing us to identify and avoid danger. Suppressing a response that evolved to safeguard us is foolish on its face. But fear itself is neither good nor bad; it can lead to selfish survivalism or a sense of collective responsibility. During the pandemic, we’ve seen some people hoard toilet paper, while others have formed mutual aid networks. We’ve seen bosses cut employees without offering any severance, while those same workers organize to help one another navigate the unemployment system. As a leader, Trump stokes the former impulse, even though combating a pandemic calls for the latter.

The president’s tactic of treating the pandemic as a test of personal strength rather than a policy issue isn’t anything new. Politicians tend to lean on stirring emotional rhetoric when sidestepping their responsibility as policymakers. The effect is individualizing: People are made out to be either courageous or scared; strong or weak; masculine or not. The implication is that if we all, on our own, choose to be brave, then we can overcome the coronavirus.

This type of framing isn’t unique to Republicans; it’s nearly impossible to walk around New York right now without seeing signs blaring “NY TOUGH.” The slogan is the center of a coronavirus propaganda campaign by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), in which the governor also unveiled a foam coronavirus mountain at a news briefing and a “New York Tough” poster with images of things New Yorkers have supposedly overcome, like the “Boyfriend Cliff” and the “Winds of Fear.” As Cuomo put it at the time, “I love poster art.”

This kind of rhetoric serves to shift blame for the pandemic’s fallout toward individual citizens and away from any sense of collective responsibility

Gallup: 72% of U.S. parents fear COVID-19 danger at schools, daycare

Oct. 9 (UPI) — Nearly three-quarters of parents in the United States say they’re “somewhat” or “very” concerned about their children picking up COVID-19 at school or daycare centers, a Gallup survey shows.

According to the poll, part of the Franklin Templeton-Gallup Economics of Recovery Study, 45% of U.S. parents say they’re “very worried” and 27% are “somewhat” concerned. Thirteen percent said they are “not too worried” and 9% said they’re “not at all worried.”

More than half said school cleanliness and sanitation had a major impact on their feeling, and 47% cited requirements or lack of requirements for daily health screenings for students and teachers as a major influencing factor in how they feel about sending children to schools full time. Another 44% said class size was a “major” concern.

“Most parents who have one or more children enrolled in school would prefer that their child’s school have some level of in-person learning, either full time or part time, with some distance learning,” Gallup wrote.

“However, about a third of parents would prefer that their child’s school offer full-time remote learning, and that rate increases among those who are very worried their child will contract the virus.”

“Full economic recovery will remain out of reach until schools can safely instruct students in person, as parents have to be able to participate fully in the economy — as consumers and as employees,” it added.

Many schools nationwide have reopened for the fall term in some form, but some parents and teachers have expressed concern about returning with rises in coronavirus cases.

Gallup said it polled more than 5,000 U.S. adults last month for the survey.

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Baltimore officials fear the coronavirus pandemic will exacerbate another public health issue: STD rates

At first glance, the numbers look promising.

During the first seven months of 2020, according to preliminary data provided by the Baltimore Health Department, reports of sexually transmitted diseases were down in the city. Compared to last year, reports of chlamydia decreased by 20%. Reports of gonorrhea and HIV dropped, too.

But these numbers may be deceiving, thanks in large part to complications caused by the coronavirus pandemic, warned Dr. Adena Greenbaum, assistant commissioner of clinical services at the city’s health department. In fact, she and other sexual health experts are bracing for STD rates to get worse.

“That’s just STDs that were reported — it doesn’t mean that they weren’t there,” she said of the preliminary data, which has yet to be finalized. “I don’t think the actual decrease in STDs was that severe during that time. I just think it really shows what happens when the reporting system closes down, or really gets reduced capacity.”

The pandemic has forced clinics and health care providers to cut back on in-person testing services and outreach efforts. With a new infectious disease to track, Baltimore City has also had to divert its contact tracing manpower from STDs.

Even before COVID-19 hit, STDs were at an all-time high across the U.S. According to an analysis done by a health services research group on data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Baltimore City had the highest STD rate in the country, with 2,004 cases per 100,000 people as of 2018.

Still, the concerns of Baltimore experts are echoed nationwide. A National Coalition of STD Directors survey at the start of the pandemic found that 83% of STD programs reported deferring services or field visits as a direct result of the coronavirus, and 66% of clinics reported a drop in sexual health screening and testing. All jurisdictions surveyed expressed concern about how the service restrictions would impact the vulnerable populations they serve.

In Baltimore, before the pandemic, no appointment was necessary to visit one of the two sexual health clinics run by the city’s health department. Now walk-ins aren’t permitted, and the city is only offering limited testing to those who are symptomatic — encouraging others to request a personal test kit from a program run out of Johns Hopkins University. Additionally, the city has yet to send its mobile outreach vans back out into the community.

Chase Brexton Health Care, however, has continued offering HIV testing on a walk-in basis. The health network’s social workers have also “intensified” outreach to their existing patients with HIV, reaching quite a few who had fallen out of care, said Dr. Sebastian Ruhs, chief medical officer for Chase Brexton. Perhaps as a result, he said, the number of patients who have an undetectable viral load has improved slightly during the pandemic.

However, the network hasn’t been able to continue offering testing for other types of STDs for those who aren’t Chase Brexton patients, due to COVID-19 restrictions and staffing issues.

Typically, during

Trump says he’ll be discharged shortly, tells people not to fear coronavirus

President Trump is apparently headed home after his bout with COVID-19 landed him in the hospital for multiple days.

Trump tweeted about his upcoming discharge, which he said will take place at 6:30 p.m. ET on Monday. He also said he feels well — indeed, as well as he has in 20 years — after his treatment, urging people not to fear the coronavirus or “let it dominate your life” thanks to medical advancements throughout the pandemic.

Questions remain about how severe Trump’s infection was, especially after it was revealed he needed supplemental oxygen and received treatments generally reserved for more serious cases, and CNN’s Dana Bash reported earlier Monday that while Trump was itching to leave Walter Reed, he was warned against doing so too soon.

But it looks like the president may have won out, and his latest announcement is in line with the optimistic outlook he displayed publicly throughout the week, echoing his previous claims suggesting the threat of the virus is overstated.

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White House staff, Secret Service eye virus with fear, anger

WASHINGTON (AP) — The West Wing is a ghost town. Staff members are scared of exposure. And the White House is now a treatment ward for not one — but two — COVID patients, including a president who has long taken the threat of the virus lightly.

President Donald Trump’s decision to return home from a military hospital despite his continued illness is putting new focus on the people around him who could be further exposed if he doesn’t abide by strict isolation protocols.

Throughout the pandemic, White House custodians, ushers, kitchen staff and members of the U.S. Secret Service have continued to show up for work in what is now a coronavirus hot spot, with more than a dozen known cases this week alone.


Trump, still contagious, has made clear that he has little intention of abiding by best containment practices.

As he arrived back at the White House on Monday evening, the president defiantly removed his face mask and stopped to pose on a balcony within feet of a White House photographer. He was seen inside moments later, surrounded by numerous people as he taped a video message urging Americans not to fear a virus that has killed more than 210,000 in the U.S. and 1 million worldwide.

White House spokesman Judd Deere said the White House was “taking every precaution necessary” to protect not just the first family but “every staff member working on the complex” consistent with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and best practices. He added that physical access to the president would be significantly limited and appropriate protective gear worn by those near him.

Nonetheless, the mood within the White House remains somber, with staff fearful they may have been exposed to the virus. As they confront a new reality — a worksite that once seemed like a bubble of safety is anything but — they also have been engaged in finger-pointing over conflicting reports released about the president’s health as well as a lack of information provided internally.

Many have learned about positive tests from media reports and several were exposed, without their knowledge, to people the White House already knew could be contagious.

Indeed, it took until late Sunday night, nearly three full days after Trump’s diagnosis, for the White House to send a staff-wide note in response. Even then, it did not acknowledge the outbreak.

“As a reminder,” read the letter from the White House Management Office, “if you are experiencing any symptoms … please stay home and do not come to work.” Staff who develop symptoms were advised to “go home immediately” and contact their doctors rather than the White House Medical Unit.

Even when Trump was at the hospital, his staff was not immune to risk.

Trump had aides there recording videos and taking photographs of him. On Sunday evening, he took a surprise drive around the hospital to wave to supporters from the window of an SUV. The Secret Service agents in the car with him

Coronavirus cases hit multiweek lows in D.C. region, but experts fear cold weather could reverse trend

But health experts cautioned that there’s no guarantee the numbers will continue to fall, as chillier October weather begins to usher outdoor activities indoors.

Taison Bell, an assistant professor of medicine specializing in infectious diseases and critical care at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, said the greater Washington region is “in a bit of a steady state” in its number of reported coronavirus cases. The region’s caseload had held steady for several weeks before starting to tick downward about 10 days ago.

He also cautioned that the arrival of cooler weather could increase the spread of the virus as people increasingly decide to congregate indoors.

Neil J. Sehgal, an assistant professor of health policy and management at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, urged residents to consider the pandemic as they make plans for the holidays. They should remember that this is “not the normal holiday season,” he said.

Sehgal said progress in some jurisdictions while battling the virus has started to slow, singling out Prince George’s County, where outbreaks have been reported at the University of Maryland. He said other college towns in the region, including Virginia’s Blacksburg and Charlottesville, also have seen caseloads rise as students go back to school.

“We haven’t controlled transmissions,” Sehgal said. “We’re still riding our first wave of the outbreak. We saw a summer dip, but we never stamped it out. There are still chains of transmission in the community.”

Short of a vaccine, Sehgal said, recent days are probably “as safe as it’s going to be” in terms of a lowered number of cases in the Washington region, also noting the likelihood of increased spread as the weather turns colder.

Still, D.C., Maryland and Virginia have made progress in battling the virus in recent days.

The seven-day rolling average of new cases in Washington’s Northern Virginia suburbs stood at 190 on Wednesday, with the region this week notching its lowest average caseloads since early August. Statewide, the number of new daily cases is the lowest since mid-July.

In D.C., the seven-day average dropped to 39 on Wednesday, the lowest in the city since early July.

Maryland’s seven-day average stood at 490 on Wednesday, up slightly in recent days but about half the number of daily cases as early August. Caseloads have held mostly steady in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in recent weeks.

Montgomery County officials said Wednesday that they are continuing to accumulate supplies in preparation for a possible increase in coronavirus cases this fall or winter.

“We are in a lot better position than we were in the spring,” County Executive Marc Elrich (D) said at a news conference. “We made a decision in the beginning that we would accumulate enough supplies for a second surge.”

Among the supplies are 50 new ventilators that arrived this summer, officials said.

The seven-day rolling average of new cases in the county stood at 83 on Wednesday, with a test positivity rate of 2.6 percent. County health officer Travis Gayles