Welcome back to the OptOut newsletter where we give you the highlights of the previous week.
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Naturally, we're starting with COVID-19. Although the national emergency declaration and public health emergency have come to an end, the virus never went anywhere. The latest surge has been called the second worst of the entire pandemic based on wastewater levels. Although deaths have not matched earlier waves, since August, over 30,000 Americans have died from the virus. For context, that still makes COVID a leading killer.
But besides death, there are other potentially horrifying consequences of infection–namely long COVID, which is estimated to affect between 7 and 21 million Americans and "can be extremely disruptive, dismantling [one's] ability to work, their sense of self, and their entire existence," according to a November 2022 report from the Department of Health and Human Services. That report noted the number of Americans affected would only grow as the virus continued circulating. Moreover, in July 2022, the American Academy of Neurology announced that long COVID was the country’s third leading neurological disorder.
Last week, the federal government took its first major step toward addressing the emerging crisis, The Senate's Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing and listened to experts and patients about the condition.
The committee members got more than they bargained for when two long COVID activists affiliated with the grassroots group Long COVID Action Project (LCAP), Linda Roberts and Stephanie Conan, disrupted the proceedings 10 minutes in, demanding the condition be declared a national emergency and billions of dollars allocated to study and address it.
In a statement provided by the group, Roberts said, "We had no choice but to act."
"If you fund the proposed legislation you’re not funding what we need," Roberts said. "The amount of 'moonshot' funding is insufficient, the focus of the legislation is not on development of treatments, and you’re checking a box instead of funding a cure for Long Covid."
The statement called the protest "necessary to reframe the discussion around Long Covid as an emergency," and explained that "LCAP has reached out to representatives and Biden Administration officials with phone calls and more than 400,000 letters, the largest Long Covid email campaign addressing demands for people with Long Covid." The group noted that despite its efforts, it "remained excluded not only from Thursday’s senate hearing, but every prior governmental meeting on Long Covid that has taken place between legislators and so-called advocacy organizations."
"After 4 years of those meetings there are zero FDA-approved effective therapeutics and LCAP believes the situation is unacceptable," the statement read. "The organization demands that the government declare Long Covid a national emergency, establish $28 billion in funding for Long Covid programs, establish novel research and treatments that includes trialing novel antivirals, and assisting children with Long Covid."
The takeaways of the Senate hearing were simple: The U.S. needs to do more to protect people from infection–namely workplace safety rules–because that is the best way to prevent long COVID, and we need significant funding for research into the condition.
For more on the hearing, check out this piece by States Newsroom:
For more on the COVID pandemic:
Thankfully, the latest COVID wave, driven by the JN.1 variant, appeared to have peaked, as hospitalizations began to drop. Deaths are still expected to climb and the virus will continue to circulate.
To protect yourself and your loved ones, please consider wearing a high-quality mask like an N95 or KN95 in public indoor spaces. Avoid eating out. Remain current on your vaccinations. If you can, get a HEPA filter for your workplace. Open windows.
With that, please enjoy these other big stories from OptOut participating outlets!
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A group of teachers affiliated with the nation's largest teachers union, the National Education Association, are pressing the organization to deny President Joe Biden its endorsement in the upcoming election over his handling of Israel's war on Gaza. Workday Magazine had the story.
Meanwhile, the Chicago Teachers Union has called for a ceasefire in Gaza. Jacobin covered the development.
Costco workers in Virginia have unionized, shattering the image of the company as worker-friendly. The American Prospect had a good rundown of why the workers took the historic step.
Miami's largest teachers' union has narrowly avoided decertification under a law passed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, requiring a certain percentage of dues-paying members. PRISM reported the story.
Ever since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, reproductive freedom has been under assault by well-financed religious conservatives across the country.
Your Call podcast had a good episode about how conservative legal activist and dark money mastermind Leonard Leo, who is known for building the Supreme Court's right-wing majority, is targeting the abortion pill. Listen here.
Leo's dark money network is also going after AID relief, attempting to get Republicans to block reauthorization of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief on the false grounds that it would fund abortions.
Meanwhile, Biden and the Democrats are planning to use abortion rights to galvanize voters in the upcoming election. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Biden's campaign co-chair, laid out the strategy and promised the president had a plan. Michigan Advance reported.
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