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Tag Archives: Healthcare

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Is the pandemic to blame for lower college enrollments?

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As is customary for a high school principal who lives in the community that he serves, when I see my former students out and about in town I always ask them how they are doing and what they have been up to since graduation.

This season, I have been surprised to hear about the number of my students who have chosen to defer their freshman year of college. Among all of the reasons given, these three pandemic-related ones are often cited:

  • Uncomfortability with living in a dorm during the pandemic.
  • Dislike for a remote learning format (especially if paying the same tuition rate as an in person format).
  • Lack of money/finances due to other constraints in the family.

This trend is not just reserved for undergraduates. In the last three months, I have hired five of my recent graduates as temporary teachers because they finished their undergraduate degree but want to put off starting graduate school for the same reasons listed above.

I know my students’ situations are not unique, but rather part of a global trend. It seems, for the 20-something Generation Zers in our society, the pandemic has put many of their educational plans on hold for now.

Recently, Mind/Shift’s Elissa Nadworny reported that fall 2020 college enrollment plummeted for first-year students. Nadworny writes, “According to new data from the National Student Clearinghouse, undergraduate enrollment this fall declined by 3.6% from the fall of 2019. That’s more than 560,000 students and twice the rate of enrollment decline seen last year. Most of that decline occurred at community colleges, where enrollment fell by more than 10%, or more than 544,000 students.”

Indeed, according to the National Student Clearinghouse, which tracks college admissions, matriculation, and compilation rates, first-year college enrollments for the class of 2020 is down 22%, compared to the class of 2019. Perhaps the most alarming part of this statistic, according to National Student Clearinghouse Research Center Executive Director Doug Shapiro, is this: “…the pandemic impacted high school graduates in their immediate college enrollment, and those from high poverty, low income, and urban high schools have been hit the hardest.”

As Nadworny reports, the trend has put many colleges and universities into dire financial situations, with community colleges and other small schools feeling the brunt of the impact. This has forced many colleges to take drastic measures, including furloughs/layoffs for staff, cancellation of athletics and other programs, and cutting of academic courses, programs, and/or degrees.

The short supply of students is a problem that will continue to plague these schools even after the pandemic ends. A national trend of fewer live births equates to a downward enrollment in K-12 schools which will mean that the number of U.S. high school graduates will peak in 2025, and then start a decline that could last as long as 2037. This will greatly disrupt how colleges operate and plan for future budgets.

What will be the long-term impact of a decline in college degrees among Generation Zers? I predict two social trends will fill the void to address this:

  1. We will see an increasing number of students enter the trades. This move started before the pandemic, as I reported in this 2019 MultiBriefs Exclusive.
  2. We will see an increasing number of employers embed on-the-job training, licensure programs, and tuition reimbursement so that they can hire students directly from high school without formal college degrees.
  3. High schools will continue to fill the gap of providing students with entry-level college coursework through dual enrollment and industry-certification programming, subsidized by states and other organizations.

For years, we as educators conditioned our graduating seniors to believe that the logical next step to high school was a college degree. Will the pandemic disrupt this? I believe it will, but the scale of the disruption won’t be felt fully for several years to come.

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Infographic: What new tech means for nursing homes of the future

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The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for quality nursing home care. While 25% of coronavirus deaths come from nursing homes, the quality of the nursing home affects results: 4- to 5-star nursing homes had 94% lower risk than their 1-star peers. When the pandemic is over, those disparities will remain. As the population of America ages, nursing homes will house more people than ever in the coming years.

Advances in medical technology are improving the quality of nursing home care across the board. Some innovations can even help seniors regain their independence and return home. Current tech includes Solo-Step, a rehabilitation harness that prevents fall-related injuries and lets users move about more freely. Coming in the future is The Kidney Project, an artificial kidney that would remove the need for dialysis. These products give aging people a brighter future.

Infographic courtesy The Wayne Center

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Pandemic vaccines, patents and Uncle Sam

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As the coronavirus pandemic tears through rural and urban America, healthcare workers and others at-risk of catching the disease are receiving life-saving vaccines now. Meanwhile, in a new development, opposing views of vaccine policy are front and center in the U.S.’ paper of record.

First, we turn to the pharmaceutical industry, a powerhouse interest. Thomas Cueni is the director-general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations.

In a recent New York Times column, he opposed halting patents, or intellectual property rights, to accelerate companies’ distribution of coronavirus vaccines. (Uncle Sam is the authority that grants patents.)

Patents paved the path for the record-breaking development of the coronavirus vaccines, according to Cueni. Therefore, eroding vaccine patents during the current public health crisis as a policy to address the income inequality that makes the life-saving medication cost-prohibitive for scores of people is misguided.

“It is unclear how suspending patent protections would ensure fair distribution,” according to Cueni. “But what is clear is that if successful, the effort would jeopardize future medical innovation, making us more vulnerable to other diseases.”

As the global pandemic grows, India and South Africa have asked the World Trade Organization to suspend the patents on diagnostic tools, drugs and vaccines to fight the disease. A call for such patent suspension has also come from Doctors Without Borders, the global humanitarian medical non-governmental organization that began in France.

However, this proposal for intervention into the marketplace is a path to avoid, according to Cueni. He continues to make his case.

“Intellectual property rights, including patents, grant inventors a period of exclusivity to make and market their creations. Development of a new medicine is risky and costly.”

In a preceding Times column, two economists, Dean Baker and Arjun Jayadev, along with Achal Prabhala, a public health expert, disagree about the risk-taking aspect of pharmaceutical firms.

They write: “In fact, the novel technology at the heart of the Moderna vaccine, for example, was developed partly by the National Institutes of Health using U.S. federal funds. Moderna then received a total of some $2.5 billion in taxpayer money for research support and as preorders for vaccines; by the company’s own admission, the $1 billion contribution it received for research covered 100 percent of those costs.”

What about Pfizer and AstraZeneca? Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine began protecting health workers and other at-risk populations from the pandemic this week.

“Pfizer, for its part,” write Baker, Jayadev and Prabhala, “received a $455 million grant from the German government to develop its vaccine, and then, by our count, nearly $6 billion in purchase commitments from the United States and the European Union.

“AstraZeneca benefited from some public funding while it was developing its vaccine, and received a total of more than $2 billion from the United States and the European Union for both research and in purchase commitments.”

Cueni insists that the vaccine company risks justify their profits. “The companies and investors who fund research shoulder so much risk because they have a shot at a reward,” according to him.

In business and politics, motives do matters. They can and do reveal about what is at stake, and why.

Baker, Jayadev and Prabhala see the production and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines under the intellectual property rights regimen as more about milking the taxpaying public. A sizable part of the public is small and midsize businesses and their customers.

Taxpayers foot the bill for patent-protected medication twice, according to the trio.

“The vaccines developed by these companies were developed thanks wholly or partly to taxpayer money. Those vaccines essentially belong to the people — and yet the people are about to pay for them again, and with little prospect of getting as many as they need fast enough.”

Where policy on coronavirus vaccines goes next is anybody’s guess. However, it is no guesswork to see that much hangs in the balance.

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US economy gains 245,000 jobs; unemployment rate drops to 6.7%

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U.S. employers added 245,000 nonfarm jobs in November after 638,000 new hires in October and 661,000 in September, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. November’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.7% from October’s 6.9% and September’s 7.9%. The November federal jobs report reflects an easing of COVID-19 restrictions to slow coronavirus transmission, which have been unsuccessful as local and state governments resume restraints on gatherings of businesses and public places.

November’s national nonfarm jobless rate has decreased 8.0 percentage points from an April high. However, November’s rate is 3.2 percentage points higher than February’s figure. In November, there were 10.7 million people out of work, 4.9 million more than in February, according to the BLS.

In November, the jobless rate of adult women declined to 6.1% versus 6.5% in October and September’s 7.7%. November’s unemployment rates for adult men of 6.7%, teenagers 14%, whites 5.9%, blacks 10.3%, Asians 6.7% and Hispanics 8.4% “showed little or no change,” according to the BLS.

Long-term unemployment of 27 weeks or more rose to 385,000 workers, reaching 3.9 million, or 36.9% of the unemployed total, in November. That is the highest figure since 2013, according to Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation. Meanwhile, workers out of a job 15-26 weeks fell 760,000 to 1.9 million. Job seekers searching for employment five to 14 weeks and those unemployed “less than 5 weeks showed little change in November at 2.4 million and 2.5 million, respectively,” the BLS reported.

In November, the number of workers outside the labor force who now seek paid employment rose 448,000 to 7.1 million, a 2.2 million jobs deficit from February.

November’s average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose to $29.58 from October’s $29.50 and September’s $29.47. Meanwhile, the average workweek for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls in November was 34.8 hours, the same as October and up slightly from 34.8 hours in September.

In November, midsize firms of 50-499 workers led the way in job-creation, with 139,000 new hires compared with 135,000 in October, according to ADP/Moody’s monthly jobs report for nonfarm private-sector payrolls only. Small firms with 1-49 workers hired 110,000 employees in November versus 114,000 in October. Large employers of 500 workers and up had 58,000 new hires in November compared with 116,000 in October.

According to ADP/Moody’s, goods-producing firms gained 31,000 new hires in November versus October’s 17,000. Construction firms led the way, adding 22,000 new hires in November from 7,000 in October.

In the service sector, hiring slowed with employers adding 276,000 employees compared with 348,000 in October. Leisure and hospitality hiring slowed from October’s 125,000 workers to 95,000 in November. Franchise businesses added 33,700 new jobs in November after creating 49,600 in October.

“While November saw employment gains, the pace continues to slow,” said Ahu Yildirmaz, vice president and co-head of the ADP Research Institute, in a statement. The ending of federal relief measures such as enhanced unemployment insurance benefits facilitates the national hiring slowdown, according to Elise Gould, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, President-elect Joe Biden has backed a near $1 trillion new package of pandemic aid, along with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. However, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appears unwilling to budge from a $550 billion relief GOP package rejected twice previously.

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Study: Normal lung function remains intact during exercise despite mask wearing

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There’s no question that masks are uncomfortable, and they’re more uncomfortable when you exercise. But evidence confirms — the lungs are no worse for wear when healthy people wear a face mask and work out.

Uncomfortable, Not Harmful

Are masks safe to wear during exercise?

While some have questioned the safety of mask-wearing because they don’t want to wear a mask when they go the gym, others have held legitimate concerns.

Either way, we now know for sure: if you’re healthy, wearing a mask while you exercise is uncomfortable, not harmful.

A study published last month in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society found that “there is little empirical evidence that wearing a facemask significantly diminishes lung function, even when worn during heavy exercise.”

The study’s authors explain that concerns about working harder to breathe, altered pulmonary gas exchange, and dyspnea (the medical term for labored breathing) stem from studies that evaluated devices meant to intentionally and severely affect breathing mechanics and gas exchange.

A Review of Mask Wearing and Exercise

The Canadian-American research team reviewed all the available scientific literature on the effects of facemasks and respiratory loading devices on the body’s response to exercise.

As part of the review, the authors examined variables such as the amount of energy used to inhale and exhale, muscle blood flow, fatigue, cardiac function, blood flow to the brain, and arterial blood gasses.

They also examined perceptual responses to mask-wearing during physical activity.

Their review looked at several types of facemasks and respirators, including cloth face coverings, surgical masks, N95 respirators, industrial respirators, applied high resistive and high deadspace respiratory loads.

They concluded that “facemasks, including N95 respirators, surgical masks, and cloth facemasks, may increase dyspnea, but have small and often difficult to detect effects on the work of breathing, blood gases and other physiological parameters during physical activity, even with heavy/maximal exercise.”

In other words, it feels harder to breathe when wearing a mask, but any actual difficulties are largely in our heads — the actual work of breathing and gas exchange is largely unaffected by mask wearing.

The authors also claim that there is no evidence to suggest that mask-wearing harms younger or older individuals.

They also found no evidence to support sex-based differences and mask-wearing during exercise.

Cardiopulmonary Disease and Dyspnea

However, wearing a mask during exercise can cause people with cardiopulmonary disease to experience some breathing difficulty.

According to the current study, “increased exertional dyspnea with a facemask” is possible for those with cardiopulmonary disease “due to small increases in resistance and re-inspiration of warmer and slightly enriched CO2 air.”

The authors concluded that “such problems may serve as a basis for seeking exemptions from mask regulations, but the benefits of decreased dyspnea will need to be weighed [against] the risks of contracting the SARS-CoV-2 infection.”

Be Safe, Comfy & Polite: Mask Wearing Alternatives for Exercise

Nothing is ideal during a pandemic. If you genuinely can’t stand to wear a mask while you exercise, please consider safer alternatives to going “mask commando.”

Try walking the perimeter of your yard, where there’s no chance of coming into contact with others, or do a high-intensity interval training virtual class inside your home. Either option lets you skip the mask entirely while still keeping yourself and other safe.

While inconvenient, masks are still the best way to stop the spread of infection.

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Survey: Older patients less likely to have elective procedures as COVID-19 spikes

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Older patients continue their aversion to elective procedures during the continued onslaught of COVID-19, according to a survey by analysts at investment firm Needham & Company. The study, conducted in November, featured responses from several hundred people with an average age of 61. Only about a quarter (27%) of them are still willing to choose elective procedures.

As economies shutter again — notably California and New York — these numbers are likely to continue until the pandemic is under control or effective vaccines reach critical mass.

The volume of elective surgeries is down significantly. Earlier this year, more than 28.4 million planned surgeries were canceled or postponed globally because of the virus, according to research published in the British Journal of Surgery, which modeled the expected number of elective operations put on hold in 190 countries during a 12-week peak of COVID-19 disruption.

COVID impacts are down from the initial wave at the start of the pandemic, however.

Back to the Needham study: Its tracking ofolder patients in May said 13% of a similar group said they were willing to have an elective procedure. Willingness increased over the summer, culminating in 37% of people in September saying they would undergo surgery that month if needed. Those numbers are likely changing again.

By the middle of September, across the U.S., fewer than 40,000 COVID-19 cases were reported a day. As of November, the U.S. averages more than 150,000 cases a day. The Needham survey contains evidence that the surge has dented patients’ confidence in the safety of seeking elective surgeries.

The remedy may be a return to technologies like telehealth solutions.

However, telemedicine isn’t a cure-all for many people. Also, many medical procedures and exams are not good fits for televisits, and not all patients are on board with televisits, or they may not have internet access.

Additionally, there may be some confusion about what “elective” procedures are. The term can be general and encompassing everything — from dermatologic and cosmetic surgeries like mole removal or rhinoplasty to hip replacements, kidney stone removal, or a mastectomy for a breast cancer patient.

Depending on the health system, the meaning may be different from one to the next.

This time, some hospitals are continuing their outpatient procedures so they can maintain some revenue. For example, in California, Santa Clara County’s three hospitals — O’Connor, St. Louise, and Santa Clara Valley Medical Center — canceled all adult elective non-urgent surgeries and procedures that require post-operative admission to the hospital. Outpatient procedures will continue for the time being, however.

Another survey shows that the reduction in elective procedures first seen at the onset of COVID-19 resulted in the cost of more than $50 billion monthly in March, April, May, and June, according to the Alexander Group.

The slate of elective procedures is not expected to return to 100% until the second half of 2021. The primary motivator for procedure reductions is the patients themselves. Hospital leaders say patients are reluctant to book non-emergency surgery amid the pandemic.

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Hindsight is 2020: Putting the year in perspective

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Admit it. If two years ago someone had walked into your office with a movie script containing half of the things that happened in 2020, you would have laughed them out of there. Or perhaps suggested they needed psychological help.

None of us saw this coming. Yes, the infectious disease experts warned we should be on the lookout for a viral pandemic, but they couldn’t tell us how or when this would arrive or the impact it would have on our society. We didn’t know there would be continued uncertainty and doubt about the results of this year’s presidential election a full month later. And while there’s been increased awareness on social justice issues in the past few years, most of the country was stunned by watching George Floyd’s senseless murder on video.

Now that we’re getting close to the end of this tumultuous year, what learning can we take forward for the future?

Stuff happens. We often don’t know exactly what that might be, but we can be certain that things will happen throughout the year that are both unforeseen and out of our control. We need to have contingency processes in place — even if we don’t know what it is that contingency might be.

It’s only a black swan once. Author Nassim Taleb described the black swan as something that wasn’t considered possible…until it actually happened. Now that we’ve seen these totally unpredictable occurrences, we can be properly prepared for something like this in the future.

We are more creative than we think. A Google search on masks for sale brings over 2.5 billion results. Most of us never considered wearing a mask outside of a medical or hazardous material situation. In just a few short months, we have literally billions of mask options available.

Technology is a critical part of our lives. From overnight delivery of just about all goods to Zoom calls for business, pleasure, and education to a dramatic upswing in telemedicine, we’ve all found tech solutions to problems we didn’t know existed back in February. That doesn’t mean the technology is always better than the in-person option, but it’s better than nothing at all.

Necessity is the mother of reinvention. And boy was she busy this year! Restaurants quickly pivoted to offer takeout meals. Local municipalities jumped in to block off streets and allow for outdoor dining. Meeting and classes moved online. Vaccine development went into massive overdrive. It’s amazing what we can do when we don’t have a choice.

Fear and emotion can easily overtake logic. We’ve seen more than our fair share of conspiracy theories this year, from allegations the coronavirus was engineered by the Chinese to take over the world, to claims of massive fraud in the U.S. elections (neither of which seem to be based on reasonable data). These rumbling won’t go away in the new year, so we need to be aware of the ramifications.

Unresolved issues continue to fester. It was 2012 when Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in Florida. In the 8-plus years since then, we’ve seen dozens of similar shootings of unarmed Black men and women by both civilians and law enforcement officers — nearly 100 this year alone. The videotaped murder of George Floyd brought the issue national attention, but until we stop looking the other way, the situation won’t change.

We can’t change what happened this year, but we can take the lessons of 2020 to heart. How we apply these learnings will help shape the direction our organizations take in 2021.

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The meaning of the healthcare podcast revolution

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When podcasts began appearing around 2004, capitalizing on the presence of MP3 players like the iPod, little did we know that they would eventually become a driving force in the wider culture, let alone in healthcare, nursing, medicine, and related fields.

Podcasts have emerged as a leading technology for disseminating opinion, entertainment, and information. Through the expanding podcast sphere, laypeople and professionals are leveraging the power of digital audio to create content covering most every aspect of human endeavor.

No matter how crowded the airwaves may appear, the podcast ecosystem is growing exponentially as an increasing number of producers and listeners discover one another. To that end, what is the potential meaning of the exploding healthcare podcast revolution?

Leveraging (and Becoming) the Media

Blogging was arguably the original emerging technology that allowed laypeople and professionals the means to circumvent traditional media and self-publish content as “citizen journalists.”

Social media added fuel to the fire for those wishing to make their thoughts available to the public without a gatekeeper in the way. And with platforms like YouTube, Vimeo, and now TikTok, we’ve seen video become king for the creation of so-called “viral” content.

According to Statista, podcast growth is showing an upward trend:

Back in 2006, only 22 percent of the adult population in the United States was aware of podcasting. By 2020, this figure had risen to 75 percent. Podcasting is an increasingly popular pastime in the U.S. and there were an estimated 88 million podcast listeners in the country in 2019. Forecasts suggest that the number of podcast listeners will surpass 160 million in 2023 after increases of around 20 million each year.”

Statista has also elucidated that podcast listenership has increased among almost all age groups during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite the ubiquity of digital media created by self-made journalists, we still see newspapers, magazines, radio, and television with a major share of the public’s attention, not to mention the tenacious grip of the burgeoning milieu of streaming services and the concomitant phenomenon of binge-watching.

However, proof positive of podcasts’ reach and social currency is the creation of countless podcasts by traditional media channels and industry giants eager to jump on this fast-moving train long out of the station. The space may be that much more robust and crowded with voices clamoring for the attention of a growing audience hungry for portable audio content, yet as mentioned above, audience growth is significant, and advertisers are thus also taking notice.

Healthcare on the Air

Especially for the last decade, we have seen nurses, physicians, and other healthcare professionals creating and launching innumerable podcasts. While many have “podfaded” (a popular term for a newer podcast suddenly going off the air without notice), an increasing number have demonstrated longevity and increasing quality of content and production.

Many healthcare podcasts are indeed produced by providers for other providers. For example, nursing podcasts may target audiences ranging from nurse informaticists and critical care nurses to students and new graduates. Meanwhile, physician-led podcasts might offer case studies and clinical deep dives for fellow colleagues (including links to continuing medical education credits), or perhaps interviews with leaders in medical innovation or the business of healthcare.

However, as the podcast realm expands and creativity and forward-thinking reign, the diversity of shows is evolving to include podcasts geared towards the general public, for patients with specific conditions, or even podcasts by patients for patients. Networks of related podcasts are also entering the conversation, further curating content for avid or overwhelmed listeners seeking recommendations.

Whither the Healthcare Podcast?

As the market demand for podcasts related to health and wellness, medicine, nursing, psychology, and related fields grows, content creators will continue to hear the call. And as podcast market share expands, advertisers and sponsors will further invest in the medium.

What potential outcomes might we see in the next five to ten years vis-à-vis the seemingly unstoppable healthcare-related podcast industry?

  • More specialized networks for niche podcasts and their listeners
  • Further availability of continuing education credits for listeners who are healthcare providers
  • More podcasts hosted by patients for patients
  • Podcasts where patients and providers have salient conversations
  • Innovation in styles of medical/healthcare storytelling and podcast format
  • An increasing number of podcasts hosted and produced by people of color
  • More podcasts geared towards practical solutions to common societal ills and giving voice to the disenfranchised or marginalized
  • Continued freedom of podcasters to launch shows on podcast hosting services free of corporate influence
  • Lack of movement towards industry consolidation and the stymying of freedom, creativity, and constructive criticism of the healthcare infrastructure and its many facets

The usefulness and potential positive impact of healthcare-related podcasts cannot be overstated. When independent voices free of industry influence can speak freely to a global audience, the collective conversation is improved and empowered. And when like-minded podcasters from related fields can band together in well-constructed networks in the best interests of both consumers and producers, the rising tide can effectively lift all boats.

Any media can be diminished to the lowest common denominator with the introduction of corporate money and influence. For now, since anyone with a smart phone can record and release a podcast, the balance of power still remains with the people. As long as tech giants and others do not attempt to squeeze the industry into prescribed boxes geared towards pleasing monied interests, the healthcare podcasting universe will continue to expand and evolve, benefiting society, healthcare providers, and consumers alike.

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Fiction and fact: The undermining of science and society

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In these days of a tumultuous and politically divided country and a raging pandemic taking scores of lives each day, research is a cornerstone of the bedrock of public health, evidence-based science, and healthcare delivery.

However, when determined efforts are made to undermine the importance of the truth of scientific inquiry and discovery, our society itself is lamentably and powerfully undermined.

Is Fiction Truer Than Fact?

The very notion of how we as humans accept or reject the concept of facts has changed remarkably in the course of the first two decades of the 21st century.

In 2017, Donald Trump’s press secretary, Kellyanne Conway, used the term “alternative facts” in response to a question from a journalist. Since that time, the use of so-called alternative facts has seeped into the American consciousness, leading millions to believe obvious falsehoods in service to particular ideologies.

The president has been repeatedly found to be spreading falsehoods about the coronavirus throughout the pandemic. Stating that the virus was just like influenza led to many disbelieving public health officials’ cautions about the virulence of the disease. Stating that 99% of cases are “harmless” also undermined experts’ claims that the virus was dangerous. And consistently stating that our response and numbers were better than any other country vastly underplayed the extent of the pandemic.

When widely praised experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci are roundly criticized by a political leader with such global power and reach, the foundations of the public’s trust in science is undeniably shaken.

The Information Wars

In other areas of public discourse over previously accepted facts, the information wars rage on.

So-called flat-earthers are essentially conspiracy theorists who purport to have proof that the earth is flat and that astronomical science and physics have been duping the public for decades. To demonstrate the influence of such a clear rejection of science, a YouGov survey showed that one in six people believe that the earth is actually flat despite all scientific evidence to the contrary.

For decades, the belief that the moon landing with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin was faked by NASA and the government is yet another example of how science — and the rock-solid proof it offers — can still be rejected by those with other agendas.

Words, Influence, and Power

The world of social media and the internet make it possible for conspiracy theories and the utterances and tweets of presidents to change the global conversation within minutes. For instance, if hydroxychloroquine is touted as a miracle drug against the advice of medical experts, people suffer.

A man in Arizona died earlier this year when he and his wife ingested chloroquine phosphate, which is used in fish tanks to protect against parasites. In an interview, his wife referred to the president’s avid touting of hydrochloroquine for the prevention of COVID-19 as the reason they ingested this substance poisonous to humans.

In a 2019 study published on the website of the Cambridge University Press, the following conclusion speaks volumes to the power of words and conspiratorial beliefs:

“The proliferation of deceptive claims on social media has done a lot to normalize conspiracy, and to some extent conspiratorial worldviews. We can try to dismiss conspiracy theorizing as something undertaken only by a foil-hat-wearing fringe, however when our friends and neighbors (and sometimes ourselves) begin to believe and share conspiracies on social media, we must acknowledge that conspiracy theorizing is much more widespread. And when it becomes commonplace to project conspiratorial motives onto scientific institutions (and not just corporate or governmental ones) merely because information disagrees with our worldviews, we are in danger of entering into a space where knowledge becomes almost completely relative, we cannot engage in rational discussion with those with whom we disagree, and we completely break down the division of cognitive labor on which our society relies. Although we should not be gullible—after all, there are real conspiracies—we must learn how to balance skepticism with trust.”

Information that “disagrees with our worldviews” does not necessarily need to translate into wholesale denial of reality, yet it appears that such conspiratorial views it gives rise to does just that. And while the belief in a flat earth may on its surface seem harmless, the larger movement to reject scientific inquiry is supported by the ongoing dissemination of any so-called theory that further erodes public trust in the institutions and individuals who use rigorous scientific inquiry to increase the breadth and depth of human knowledge.

Is some research designed more thoughtfully than others? Of course. Yet the scientific process allows for previous research to be repeated and expanded upon so that further refinement of knowledge can be achieved in the hope of getting even closer to the truth.

The Brain Trust

At this pivotal time, we need experts to serve as the brain trust we look to for guidance regarding the best courses of action to take in the interest of our own well-being, as well as that of our loved ones, our communities, our nations, and humanity writ large.

If it wasn’t for the scientific method, the human race would be light-years behind its current state, and the societies and institutions that make us who we are would never have come into being. In fact, we would not be who we are without our ability to tap our powerful pre-frontal cortex and put it to use in ways to benefit the greater whole.

Our scientists are indeed the brain trust to whom we must look. Tweets from a desperate politician should not guide our thoughts and actions, and the denial of clear scientific proof should not be dismissed as misguided conspiracy for the purposes of nefarious agendas.

Science and facts are important collective touchpoints in the evolution of our species, and we must continue to push back against those who seek to destroy the savings account of encyclopedic scientific fact that helps us to be the best that we can be as human beings living on this troubled, fragile, spherical, and beautiful planet.

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Costa Rica slowly opens to US travelers

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Costa Rica intends to allow all U.S. residents to visit the country as of Nov. 1. This move marks a radical departure from its policy of partial openings that started in the beginning of September. That allowed visitors from limited U.S. states to enter the country. The list later grew to 20 states and territories in recent weeks as conditions changed. Although waves of spikes continue to ripple through various U.S. states, Costa Rica still remains on target to uphold the November date.

Costa Rica currently remains the only country to allow Americans entry depending on their state of origin.

But there are still hurdles for those who want to head to the pristine rainforests and soft white beaches of this Central American tourism mecca, although officials only recently removed a requirement that visitors present a negative RT-PCR test result.

“As of October 26, all local and foreign passengers who entered Costa Rica by air must not present a RT-CPCR diagnostic test with a negative result,” the Costa Rica Tourist Board noted in a website update.

But there remains in place a provision called the “Health Pass,” a digital epidemiological form all visitors must complete. In the event of having to quarantine or accrue medical expenses during a stay, visitors will have to purchase travel insurance covering accommodations and any medical services. Policies can be purchased from an international company or bought in Costa Rica.

As of September, all hotels throughout the Costa Rica have been allowed to operate at 100% capacity, although common areas, like restaurants, gyms and swimming pools, operate at only 50% capacity.

Costa Rica’s opening to international tourism will continue to be responsible, careful and gradual, and will go hand-in-hand with the promotion of local tourism.

“I reiterate the call for joint responsibility to protect people’s health, and at the same time, the jobs that we hope to recover. If we all adhere to the protocols, the measures will be sustainable over time,” said Tourism Minister Gustavo Segura.

For those U.S. citizens flying in privately, private flights from the United States are now allowed to enter, but under the same requirements as described apply. Private yachts are also able to enter with the mitigating requirements. It is not clear if maritime passengers will need to bring a negative PCR test with them and whether, if they set sail from a city or country that has not been authorized, they will receive a quarantine health order. If so, the days they have been at sea will be deducted from the last sailing recorded in the yacht’s log. Top harbors for entry into Costa Rica are in Golfito, Los Sueños, Pez Vela, Banana Bay and Papagayo.

Costa Rica closed its borders to foreigners in March but reopened in August for visitors from the European Union, the United Kingdom and Canada. Asian countries, Australia, New Zealand and Uruguay were added the list in the ensuing weeks.

U.S. citizens began arriving in September from the cleared states of Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Vermont and Virginia, plus the District of Columbia. On Sept. 15, Arizona, Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Washington and Wyoming travelers joined the crowds, and as of Oct. 1, California and Ohio gained visitation privileges.

As of early October, American Airlines announced its preflight coronavirus (COVID-19) testing program for customers traveling to international destinations and Hawaii. The initial launch, scheduled for Oct. 15 for passengers traveling from the airline’s hub at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) to Hawaii, will now also include passengers traveling to Costa Rica.

The airline plans to launch a testing program at its Miami International Airport (MIA) hub for passengers traveling to Jamaica, the Bahamas and Costa Rica as well. American is also working with CARICOM, an integrated grouping of 20 Caribbean countries, to expand the program to additional markets in the region.

The preflight testing program at DFW for travel to Costa Rica is in partnership with LetsGetChecked and CareNow. But customers will be responsible for testing costs.

American is offering three options for preflight testing to customers with flights from DFW to Costa Rica:

  • At-home test from LetsGetChecked, observed by a medical professional via virtual visit, with results expected in 48 hours on average.
  • In-person testing at a CareNow urgent care location.
  • On-site rapid testing, administered by CareNow, at DFW.

Customers traveling from MIA to Costa Rica will initially have one option for preflight testing, with more options becoming available after the program launches at the hub. That is the at-home test from LetsGetChecked, with results expected in 48 hours on average.

Testing must be completed within 72 hours of the final leg of departure and tourists who test negative will be exempt from the country’s 14-day quarantine. Negative test results must be uploaded to the country’s Health Pass.

American resumed its operation in Costa Rica in September with service from its DFW and MIA hubs to San Jose (SJO). In early October, the airline resumed service to Liberia (LIR) from DFW and MIA, and now operates a total of 19 weekly flights to the country.

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