Coronavirus Update From New York City: September 30, 2021

I hope that all of my readers are remaining safe, regardless of where you are.

On a personal level, the news about Moderna booster shots is big, as I have some family members who took the Moderna vaccine who would be eligible to get a booster shot. Though alas, I am on Team Pfizer so the time has not come (yet) for me to get a booster. As soon as I am eligible for one (assuming the science says that people who got the Pfizer two-dose should get a third dose), I hope to get one, though.

The biggest news out of my area this week has been over vaccine mandates, for both New York City’s Department of Education (DOE) employees and for health care workers in New York State.

The vaccine mandates for DOE employees has been subject to legal challenges, but as of the time of my writing, it looks like the mandates will go into effect at 5 PM this Friday. I hear that there’s a last-ditch effort for the vaccine mandate to be appealed to the United States Supreme Court, though I would be somewhat surprised if the Supreme Court blocked it–Justice Amy Coney Barrett turned away a challenge to a vaccine mandate at Indiana University (not to be confused with University of Indiana), so if that’s any indication, it seems like even the conservative Supreme Court justices have little appetite to take up anti-vaccine mandate cases. I support this mandate, because ultimately DOE needs to look out for the best interests of those most vulnerable in their system: unvaccinated kids under the age of 12 who cannot get vaccinated at this point. A public school system of teachers and other faculty who are fully vaccinated (with exemptions for extremely limited religious and medical reasons, of course) is a system that is looking out for those unvaccinated little kids. There is some concern as to what schools will do when confronted with teachers who remain unvaccinated, in spite of the mandates. While that is an understandable concern, I still remain hopeful that the majority of currently unvaccinated teachers will get vaccinated when push comes to shove, and that in the cases where there are teachers who continue to remain unvaccinated, there will be enough vaccinated substitute teachers to step in. We’ll know by this time next week, unless I am wrong in my prediction about what the Supreme Court will do, about whether I was correct to be hopeful.

The vaccine mandate for health care workers in New York State is already in effect, and there are reports of some hospitals taking a hard line on unvaccinated health care workers, even firing some of the unvaccinated.[1] In cases where there are staffing shortages at hospitals, people from the National Guard are stepping in. I support this mandate as well. Given the tragic consequences of not being diligent enough with how we care for COVID, I personally am led to be on the side of being more rather than less diligent, including with vaccinations for our health care workers. The side of being more diligent means health care workers getting vaccinated, with some rare exceptions.

Mandates aside, the virus seems to be spreading at more or less a steady rate in my area.[2] This gives me hope that we have weathered the potential storm of schools getting started, though honestly, even if it were a storm, at least the New York City area would’ve started with a decent amount of capacity in our ICUs in order to manage it. The fact that we have weathered this also gives me hope that maybe, just maybe, the spread of the virus will slow down some more.

Speaking of ICUs, I must continue to say that thankfully, the horror stories of ICUs at capacity still do not exist in the New York City area. As of last Tuesday, only 60% of ICU beds are filled.[3] This stands in stark contrast with the parts of the country that have lower vaccination rates than New York City and higher occupancy of ICU beds (still to the point of medical care being rationed in the most extreme of cases). I genuinely hope and pray for those of my readers in those parts of the country and world where there aren’t many, if any, available ICU beds for other COVID patients.

So, that is it for me for now. Feel free to leave comments below about the situation I describe in New York, the situation with COVID in the United States, and/or the situation where you are!


[1] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/covid-vaccine-mandate-new-york-hospital-workers-2021-09-28/

[2] https://covidactnow.org/us/metro/new-york-city-newark-jersey-city_ny-nj-pa/?s=23561273

[3] Ibid.

Coronavirus Update From New York City: September 16, 2021

I hope that all of my readers are healthy and safe, regardless of where you live.

Public schools in New York City started back last Monday. With the start of public schools again came the start of mass transit that in some places is as crowded, if not more so, as it was before the pandemic. Between schools starting back and the crew shortages on some bus and train lines in New York (I’m suspecting that it’s because a lot of mass transit workers are getting hit with COVID, though I could be wrong), I’ve experienced some very crowded buses in particular (and busy trains, albeit not quite as crowded as some buses I’ve been on). I’m hoping that this doesn’t result in our having another wave of this pandemic, but we will see. Over the past several weeks, I haven’t been particularly optimistic because all school kids under 12 cannot get vaccinated and therefore are potentially extremely vulnerable. In the next couple of weeks, we may see whether I was right to be pessimistic.

Even if my pessimism is correct, at least we continue to have a decent number of ICU beds available in the New York City area–over 4 in 10 of them.[1] Some other parts of the country are not so lucky, as Idaho is now rationing health care,[2] and so is Alaska’s largest hospital.[3] I say this because while we are not in an ideal situation in New York City, at least in my humble opinion, we are in a situation nowhere near as bad as some other parts of the country. Actually, I’m sensing that some other parts of the country may be experiencing now what people in New York City went through in March 2020.

There have been significant debates over vaccine mandates in my city, and nationwide. In fact, as some American readers know, the subject of vaccine mandates (along with COVID restrictions in general) was at the center of a recall election in California where Republicans were hoping to oust Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom. As such, I will give my two cents on such mandates…

There are numerous vaccines that are mandated for the simplest things, such as attending school. Take Nebraska for example, a state where its own governor was grilled on by Chris Wallace on Fox News for not mandating COVID vaccines even while other vaccines are mandated. That state requires vaccinations for things like hepatitis B, chickenpox, and polio.[4] Such mandates have been constitutional before, and in fact there is Supreme Court precedence for said mandates,[5] so arguments that mandates are infringing upon the liberties of people just doesn’t hold constitutional muster from what I have read.

All that being said, if one believes that the COVID vaccines are effective, just as vaccines against those other aforementioned diseases are effective, I honestly then struggle to understand why some leaders are not doing everything they can to make sure that every single person who can get vaccinated does get vaccinated. Especially with lives at stake here, I am a believer that we should do everything in our power to save as many lives as possible. People’s lives depend on it. And frankly, with how the pandemic has affected the economy, both in the United States and globally, people’s livelihoods depend on it too.

Enough of my lecturing, though. I’m curious to hear how others are doing!


[1] https://covidactnow.org/us/metro/new-york-city-newark-jersey-city_ny-nj-pa/?s=22991219

[2] https://apnews.com/article/business-health-public-health-coronavirus-pandemic-idaho-db21f9a14254996144e78aafb1518259

[3] https://www.usnews.com/news/health-news/articles/2021-09-14/latest-second-chinese-city-sees-outbreak-of-delta-variant

[4] https://dhhs.ne.gov/Pages/School-Immunization.aspx

[5] https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2021/09/08/vaccine-mandate-strong-supreme-court-precedent-510280

Rural Hospitals and COVID-19

Anyone who knows my background would know that I’ve spent most of my life living in a big city. So, you might be asking why I’d take an interest in rural hospitals during COVID-19, and why others should take an interest in this topic as well. There are really three answers to that “why” question:

(1) many rural hospitals were in danger before the pandemic,

(2) many rural hospitals may be in even more danger of closing as a result of the pandemic, and (3) such closures would reduce access to care for many during this pandemic.

Even before COVID-19, many rural hospitals had been closing at an alarming rate. The problem has been particularly bad in poor rural areas here in the United States. The reason for this is often attributed, at least in part, to the fact that some states have decided not to opt for Medicaid expansion, a move that affects the finances of hospitals severely.[1]

With COVID-19, this situation is expected to get even worse, unfortunately, especially in the states that have not expanded Medicaid. That’s not to say that the pandemic isn’t taking a toll on other places, but that toll is expected to be particularly bad in places that have not seen this expansion.[2]

What this will mean is potentially more rural hospital closures, especially in poor rural areas.

It means that many in these places who need urgent care for anything, whether it be for COVID-19 or something else, will need to wait longer to get urgent care that they need, ranging from heart attacks to severe strokes. Furthermore, it will mean that people in the areas affected by these closures will need to travel further to get the care they need, in the process putting more of a burden on the hospitals that do survive (both hospitals that exist in rural areas and ones that do not exist in rural areas).

All of this, in turn, would affect places’ abilities to adequately address COVID-19. I am presenting a rather doomsday scenario because it does sound like a doomsday situation, unless rural hospitals get the help they need.

There are two ways forward from this crisis, as far as I can tell. First, states that have resisted Medicaid expansion should end that resistance immediately. Second, federal assistance to rural hospitals, which from what I have read has been inadequate, should be much more substantial.[3] This is not to say that the situation will be universally great even with these measures because the entire American healthcare system is feeling the strain from COVID-19. However, the measures I suggest above would hopefully slow down some of the financial bleeding many rural hospitals are experiencing.

For any of my readers who live in rural parts of the United States and may be affected by the closures of rural hospitals, you may want to do the following:

  1. See if your state has implemented Medicaid expansion. If not, put pressure on your state officials to expand Medicaid in their states.
  2. Contact your members of Congress (particularly if your member covers some rural areas) to ask them to make sure that rural hospitals are adequately addressing any future COVID-19 relief or stimulus plan.

Yes, I may be a city kid in many ways, but I also know that we need urban, suburban, and rural hospitals alike to be in adequate shape financially as they confront this pandemic. Anything less than that is irresponsible and may result in unnecessarily losses of life.


[1] This Forbes article explains how a lack of Medicaid expansion causes significant financial harm to many rural hospitals: https://www.forbes.com/sites/claryestes/2020/02/24/1-4-rural-hospitals-are-at-risk-of-closure-and-the-problem-is-getting-worse/

[2] https://www.npr.org/2020/04/09/829753752/small-town-hospitals-are-closing-just-as-coronavirus-arrives-in-rural-america

[3] https://www.thegazette.com/subject/news/health/iowa-rural-critical-access-hospitals-money-problems-coronavirus-relief-20201019. This source, which is the paper of record for much of Eastern Iowa, has been consistently covering the issue of federal assistance to rural hospitals.

Obamacare and Race

One of the signature issues for both major political parties is health care. Many Republicans want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, that passed in 2010. President-elect Joe Biden, who was Vice President in the administration under which Obamacare was passed, says he wants to expand it. These are two wildly differing views on what to do with our health care system.

However, given the current climate of racial unrest in the United States, as well as the potential repeal of the law being considered by the United States Supreme Court, it seems timely to talk about Obamacare from a racial justice standpoint.

So, where does Obamacare stand from a racial justice standpoint? Well, I have some good news for proponents of Obamacare, and some not-as-good news:

Reductions in uninsured rates were significant among minorities.

Among the highlights of those gains:

  • 21.8% of American Indians and Alaska Natives were uninsured as of 2018, down from 32% in 2010.
  • 19% of Hispanics were uninsured as of 2018, down from 32.6% in 2010.
  • 11.5% of Blacks were uninsured as of 2018, down from 19.9% in 2010.
  • 9.3% of Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders were uninsured as of 2018, down from 17.9% in 2010.
  • 6.8% of Asians were uninsured as of 2018, down from 16.7% in 2010.[1]

These are undoubtedly significant gains. However…

The aforementioned gains I mentioned have stalled out.

Most of the gains that occurred were between 2014, when important provisions of Obamacare were implemented, and 2016. Those gains have stalled since then, and for Blacks the rate of those uninsured has started to tick up in recent years. The Kaiser Family Foundation, which focuses on health care issues, attributes this to certain policy changes in the Trump Administration “that affected the availability of and enrollment in coverage.”[2] But whatever the reason for this stall, it has happened, and this stalling trend is one that a President Biden will need to address (assuming the Supreme Court doesn’t repeal the law).

However, the gaps in insurance by race are about more than just what’s coming out of Washington, DC. It’s also because of policies at the state level.

Many states with large Black populations have refused to expand Medicaid under Obamacare.

As a result of this, even though there appear to be modest gains in racial disparities among the uninsured overall as a result of Obamacare, the gains are not as big as many might like. Additionally, the result of this is that about half of the remaining uninsured Americans are people of color.[3] This goes to show that elections have consequences—not just federal elections, but state ones too. This is worth keeping in mind for future elections at the state level.

In spite of the issues I’ve mentioned, the racial gap among the uninsured has closed somewhat.

The rate of those without insurance has dropped among whites too, but as there were fewer uninsured whites than uninsured people of any minority group to begin with, the rate among whites of those lacking insurance dropped more slowly than among any other racial group. As such, the racial gap among the uninsured has closed somewhat, even if there are disparities that still exist.[4]

In spite of all this data I’ve shared, there are some unanswered questions.

So far, I have painted a mixed picture of what Obamacare has been like for minority groups, particularly from an insurance coverage standpoint. But there are some unanswered questions about the true impacts of the health care law, too. Here are a few such questions:

  • While the number of uninsured Americans has decreased significantly since Obamacare was passed in 2010, the number of underinsured Americans has also increased.[5] To what extent does this underinsurance issue affect people of color?
  • Is there anything about Obamacare that might, even unintentionally, contribute to the continued (if somewhat decreased) gap in the uninsured between some minorities and whites?
  • There are mixed messages about how Obamacare affected health care costs—out-of-pocket health care spending decreased, while premiums increased.[6] To what extent are people of color getting the benefit of reduced health care spending, or the drain of increased premiums?

The unanswered questions are so numerous that I may need to republish this post at some point, as a version that hopefully answers some of the questions that I’m asking here.


Over the last several hundred words, I have painted a rather mixed message on the question of Obamacare and racial justice. But where does this leave us?

For those in the United States who care about American health care, this raises some questions. For the Republicans, who are proponents of repealing and replacing the law, how does the law get repealed and replaced without erasing all the gains that people of all races, particularly minorities, have seen as a result of Obamacare? For Biden and his supporters, how can we continue making progress in increasing the number of insured Americans, and how might the issues with underinsurance and health care premiums be addressed (assuming, once again, that the Supreme Court doesn’t strike down the whole law)? And for all sides of the debate on this law, how can we ensure that every American is insured?

The last question is maybe the most important one of all, because access to affordable health care should be a human right, not just a privilege to those fortunate enough to access it.



[1] https://www.kff.org/disparities-policy/issue-brief/changes-in-health-coverage-by-race-and-ethnicity-since-the-aca-2010-2018/

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://www.brookings.edu/blog/usc-brookings-schaeffer-on-health-policy/2020/02/19/there-are-clear-race-based-inequalities-in-health-insurance-and-health-outcomes/

[4] https://www.kff.org/disparities-policy/issue-brief/changes-in-health-coverage-by-race-and-ethnicity-since-the-aca-2010-2018/

[5] https://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/issue-briefs/2019/feb/health-insurance-coverage-eight-years-after-aca

[6] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/01/22/out-of-pocket-health-spending-dropped-after-obamacare-rolled-out.html

Want to “Support Our Health Workers”? Here are Some Tangible Ways to Do So.

“I support our health workers.”

The above is a common refrain I’ve heard while the United States has grappled with the coronavirus.

I agree with the sentiment—I think our health workers should be supported. However, I also recognize that all too often, this refrain does not turn into action. Often, we say “support our health workers” but then act in ways that show anything but support for our health workers.

But how can we support our health workers? I propose a few suggestions:

  1. If you aren’t doing so already, wear a mask or some other protective face covering[1] and practice social distancing. These two actions are widely proven to contain the spread of the coronavirus. If people performed these two actions, we would keep our health workers from becoming overwhelmed with coronavirus patients.
  2. Assess the needs of the health workers where you live, and act accordingly. Speaking as someone who witnessed how difficult things were with the coronavirus in New York City, the needs of health workers were varied—at one point it included everything from equipment to food to funds for childcare. I can’t speak for what the needs are of health workers in places like Miami or Houston, but I strongly urge you to assess the needs of health workers where you live and act accordingly.
  3. If there are murmurs of a hospital closing down near where you live, do all you can (within reason) to protest the closure. There is a great deal of concern about the financial strain that many hospitals are experiencing as a result of the pandemic.[2] As such, there is also concern about the potential of hospitals closing. The closure of hospitals would put more strain on the hospitals that remain, and therefore the health workers who remain. As such, I urge readers to protest any proposed hospital closures in your area.
  4. Support legislative efforts to reduce the financial burdens that our health workers have. From current childcare costs to past student loan costs, there are a multitude of financial burdens that many of our health workers have to deal with. Given the stresses involved with trying to deal with the pandemic, we should try to minimize other sources of stress, such as financial burdens. This is where I would recommend actions such as urging your member of Congress to support legislation to forgive student loan debts for frontline health workers during COVID-19.[3]
  5. If you have a friend who is a health worker, listen to what they have to say. Don’t blow off your friend. Don’t minimize the experiences your friend had. Just listen to them.

These are just a handful of ways that you can support our health workers during COVID-19. Are there other ways we should consider supporting health workers? If so, please leave a comment below!


[1] I understand that some people have a difficult time with masks for health reasons. However, for many, there are other types of face covering, such as face shields, that may work better for you than a face mask.

[2] https://www.aha.org/guidesreports/2020-05-05-hospitals-and-health-systems-face-unprecedented-financial-pressures-due#:~:text=Hospitals%20face%20catastrophic%20financial%20challenges,of%20%2450.7%20billion%20per%20month.

[3] https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/116/hr6720