Good morning, fellow quarantiners, it’s Tuesday, April 14, 2020.
Some fun facts for the day:
- "Sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia" is the scientific term for brain freeze.
- In 1924, half the cars in the world were Fords.
- All galaxies, regardless of size, rotate once every billion years.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- Military Times: mseavey with “Remove” in the subject line. If you have received this from someone who forwarded it and would like to be added, email mseavey.
Leo Shane III | 20 hours ago
Remote mental health care use among Veterans Affairs patients jumped dramatically last month as normal medical care appointments were disrupted and veterans forced into self-isolation because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Most significant were mental health care check-ins and consultations conducted over the phone. In February, those totaled about 40,000 appointments. In March, they topped 154,000, a nearly four-fold increase.
Department officials also said the number of mental health appointments conducted through online video chats with physicians rose from about 20,000 in February to 34,000 in March, an increase of 70 percent. Another 2,700 online video group therapy appointments were conducted in March, a nearly 200-percent increase from the previous month.
VA officials have already reported significant increases in use of the Veterans Crisis Line, although they said many of the additional callers are not facing suicidal thoughts. Instead, numerous veterans and family members have called for information on existing resources, or for help obtaining alternative mental health care programs.
In a statement, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said that the department’s “early embrace of new technology” is helping veterans.
“VA is open for business and we continue to provide same-day mental health services and mental health screening for veterans at-risk who require attention at any of our facilities,” he said.
The coronavirus outbreak has disrupted numerous VA programs and protocols over the last month, as physicians across the country scramble to deal with a steadily-increasing number of cases.
As of Friday, 200 VA patients have died from the illness and more than 3,500 others tested positive. More than 1,100 VA employees have also contracted the virus, and at least seven have died.
New safety precautions have cancelled thousands of non-essential medical appointments at VA hospitals across the country, although veterans with immediate needs are still being admitted to the facilities.
About 17 veterans a day die by suicide, according to the latest department data available. White House and VA officials had been scheduled to release a new government-wide effort on veteran suicide prevention last month, but that announcement was delayed by the coronavirus outbreak.
Congress set aside $19.6 billion in emergency funding for VA in their coronavirus stimulus package last month. Of that total, about $3.1 billion was assigned for new telemedicine efforts within VA, to increase health care access for veterans quarantined at home.
The VA remote mental health care numbers are expected to increase again in April, since many states did not offer stay-at-home recommendations until late in March or early this month.
BY TARA COPP AND MICHAEL WILNER | APRIL 13, 2020 06:32 PM, UPDATED APRIL 13, 2020 07:36 PM
Researchers at the Army’s premiere infectious diseases lab are working on a more sensitive test that could detect the coronavirus in people who have no symptoms – a critical step in getting the nation back to “a new sense of normal,” the lab’s chief viral expert told McClatchy.
The experimental work underway at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick in Maryland comes amid increasing concern among public health officials that existing tests are producing false negatives, risking continued spread of the virus and exposure for people with more vulnerable immune systems.
Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the White House coronavirus task force, has repeatedly cautioned Americans that, “if you don’t have symptoms, don’t get a test,” as shortages of tests persist around the country. But medical experts on his team say that greater availability of precise testing will hasten the country’s return to normal operations.
The Army scientists are focused on creating a “more sensitive” coronavirus test than those currently approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said John Dye, chief of viral immunology at Fort Detrick’s research institute.
“Maybe those asymptomatic people have a very low amount of virus – which is why they’re asymptomatic – and you can’t really tell, they don’t even become positive,” he said.
The experimental test is part of a larger project at Fort Detrick to develop methods to identify all individuals who have had COVID-19, which will be the key to returning Americans “back to whatever the new normal is,” Dye said.
“Scientists around the world, including researchers at our institute, are trying to develop the tests that will allow us to determine is someone infected, is someone not infected, to a very sensitive degree,” Dye said.
If an individual has had the coronavirus, that individual should have antibodies and likely be protected in the future, Dye said.
Dye cautioned, however, that if a person does get tested and is discovered to have the antibodies, it is not an all-clear because they could have developed a medical condition in the meantime that would make them less able to fight off the coronavirus if they are exposed again.
While Fort Detrick has also developed its own antibody test to determine whether an individual has ever had the coronavirus, it is still investigating the extent to which people develop immunity to the virus after initial exposure. Reports have emerged in recent days of individuals falling ill a second time to the coronavirus, or testing positive a second time after receiving a negative test in between.
The lab is not developing a vaccine, but will be involved in the process of testing vaccine candidates produced by other labs, Dye said.
The lab is deeply involved in testing potential remedies to help people get over the virus. It has begun testing hydroxychloroquine, among hundreds of other drugs, to see how effective they are at stopping coronavirus infections in cells. It is the first step in a long process that would then move on to animal and human testing, to discover what the most effective treatment will be for people sickened by COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
“We are testing hundreds of drugs right now, and that is one of the drugs we are testing,” Dye said. “We take cells that are very permissible to the infection and we provide the virus to that particular cell. It’s in a little well. Then we actually add the therapeutic, whether it’s an antibody, whether it’s hydroxychloroquine to that well, and what we look for is a decrease in the viral infection.”
In the testing wells, Dye said researchers watch to see whether the injected drug actually stops the virus.
“When a virus sits down on those cells, and actually infects that cell and kills that cell, it would actually create a hole in the layer of cells on that plate. So you can actually count the number of holes and it tells you how much infection is there. So you look to see if there is a decrease in the number of holes when you add that drug.”
The lab still has to do more testing to see which drugs are most effective against the virus to eventually select those best suited for human testing, he said.
Hydroxychloroquine – a drug that has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat malaria, but has not gone through clinical trials testing its impacts on coronavirus patients – has been advocated as a potential treatment by President Donald Trump, who has cited anecdotal reports of success.
“I’m not a doctor – I’m just saying, we hear great results,” Trump said earlier this month when discussing the drug.
The long-term goal is to develop a treatment people could take orally. But for now, most of the treatments under assessment would be administered intravenously in a hospital, Dye said.
The lab has had access to coronavirus samples for about a month, and has also begun looking into how the virus behaves at different temperatures and on different surfaces. The virus struggles at higher temperatures, Dye said, which is why when a patient with coronavirus has a fever, it is the body trying to make the environment inhospitable to the virus.
Dye is hopeful that testing and effective social distancing may allow for a return to some normalcy by June or July, even if everyone will still need to be careful.
“I was telling my wife the other day that I was hoping maybe by the Fourth of July I’ll be able to have my father and her parents over to our house for a Fourth of July picnic because we’re hoping maybe we’ll be in a situation where we can start to relax some,” he said.
Howard Altman | 11 hours ago
The service organization created on behalf of mothers who lost children to military service may consider changing eligibility rules in the face of the growing coronavirus pandemic.
It’s an issue that came up for American Gold Star Mothers Inc. last month in a question from Military Times, after Army Capt. Douglas Linn Hickok died from coronavirus. As the virus attacks more personnel — a sailor aboard the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt became the second service member and first active-duty troop to die — the issue is likely to become even more pressing.
Hickok, 57, was a traditional drilling Guardsman with the New Jersey National Guard, who was not on active duty orders at the time of his death, according to a spokeswoman. As such, were his mother still alive, she would not be eligible for membership in the organization founded in 1928 to provide support and comfort for grieving mothers of service members. Vivian Hickok died in 2004, according to her granddaughter, Shandrea Hickok.
To accommodate mothers whose children are not on active duty, “our membership organization will need to change criteria and guidelines on how we operate,” Mona Gunn, president of American Gold Star Mothers Inc. told Military Times. “It is something we may want to consider looking at.”
This would not be an issue for the mother of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt sailor, who died after contracting coronavirus aboard ship. He was on active duty at the time, and as such, his mother, if alive, would be eligible to join the organization.
Interest in amending the rules will likely only increase as the active status of National Guard troops fluctuates amid an ever-present risk of contracting the virus. As of Monday morning, more than 2,550 service members had tested positive for coronavirus, including more than 500 Guard troops.
Gunn, 67, of Norfolk, Virginia, knows all too well the pain that comes with losing a child to military service, and says joining the organization has helped her immensely.
Her son, Navy SMSN Cherone Gunn, was one of the 17 sailors killed in the terrorist attack onboard the destroyer Cole on October 12, 2000.
“He followed his dad’s footsteps by joining the Navy,” said Gunn. “My husband had a very successful 21-year career in the U.S. Navy. My son’s time in the Navy was nine months and the attack happened on his first deployment. He was 22 years old and one of four boys.”
Gunn said joining American Gold Star Mothers Inc. helped her by putting her in contact with a small group of women who are among the few who truly understand her loss.
“We are moms and we bond together with each other,” said Gunn, a retired school principal. “This is a membership organization, and the benefit is you finally meet with someone who really, truly knows what it feels like to be on this journey in having lost a child to service of this county.”
The need for such fellowship, said Gunn, is especially important in the weeks and months after the dreaded knock on the door, when condolences fade, the shock subsides and the loss really sinks in.
“I think about how I received information about the organization and how my Next of Kin pin was presented to me,” she said.
“I would love to see this process changed. Presenting a Gold Star Lapel or Next of Kin pin to the family within the first two weeks of their child’s death is not the right time. Two weeks after the burial you are still filled with pain and shock and all you want is your child back. Sometimes there is a lot of anger as well because you have a lot of questions that aren’t being answered.”
A common misunderstanding, meanwhile, is that the organization is only for mothers whose children have died in combat. In reality, combat deaths, training deaths, illnesses, and death by suicide are all treated the same, Gunn said.
Though nearly 7,000 troops have died since 9/11, and many others have taken their own lives, American Gold Star Mothers Inc. only has about 1,000 members, said Gunn, adding that many mothers can’t bring themselves to join.
Those who do become part of the organization joins a membership that helps those who served and “strengthens the fellowship of other Gold Star moms and keeps their children’s memories alive,” said Gunn.
Back before the pandemic members could be found volunteering at VA hospitals, Gunn said. Now, with folks confined to homes, they are taking a different approach.
One Gold Star mom in Texas, for example, is making masks and giving them to hospital medical personnel, Gunn said.
Gunn said the unique circumstances presented by COVID-19 require organization members to keep tabs on troop deaths in order to follow up on future outreach efforts.
“Our organization is never notified of a military death by the Department of Defense,” Gunn said. “We do receive the Daily Digest Bulletins announcing the death of service members killed in operations overseas. However, all we can do is watch the news for service members who may die of COVID-19 because that information doesn’t come in the DoD’s Daily Bulletin.”
The process of reaching out to mothers who have just lost a child to service, however, is extraordinarily taxing.
“Having gone through the process of having a child killed while on active duty, the timing for outreach is critical,” she said. “The immediate family and friends provide all the support needed in the first few weeks when dealing with the loss of a child.”
Aaron Mehta | 19 hours ago
The chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has teamed up with the chairman of the House Armed Services readiness subcommittee to demand answers from the Federal Communications Commission on whether reallocating a band of spectrum will damage the Global Positioning System, or GPS, as the Pentagon claims.
C4ISRNET published a report on the afternoon of April 10 that the FCC intends to approve Ligado Networks, formerly Lightsquard, to operate in L-Band, a region of spectrum near where the Defense Department’s GPS system.
For years, the DoD and other government agencies have warned that Ligado’s plan would cause what one defense official termed “unacceptable operational impacts to the warfighter.” But some experts have argued the Pentagon is being too stringent with the spectrum near GPS and sources said the FCC seemed intent on moving forward despite those concerns. The move is driven in part by pressure from the White House to stimulate the economy and help develop America’s 5G capabilities.
As part of the report, C4ISRNET revealed an Air Force memo and two letters — a March 12 note from Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin and Chief Information Officer Dana Deasy, as well as a March 24 letter from Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist — sent from the Department of Defense arguing against Ligado’s approval.
Despite both letters requesting that their contents be made part of the public record, as of mid-afternoon April 10 they had yet to have been entered into the public docket. Sources said that was due in part to pressure from the White House National Economic Council.
After publication of the story, Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee, and Rep. John Garamendi, D-Califorinia, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee subcommittee on readiness, sent a letter to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao to “express our strong concerns about a decision pending at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) which could jeopardize not only the development of a back-up signal to GPS, but GPS itself.”
In the letter, the two congressmen said they are “concerned that not all relevant information on this issue within your Department has been made available to Congress, the public or the FCC,” and requested a series of documents, including any correspondence between the transportation department and any other government agency on this matter, as well as “correspondence signed by multiple agencies and/or departments, regardless of whether it has been transmitted formally to the FCC,” a description which would fit the Air Force memo.
Notably, the two congressmen put a deadline of April 15 on their request, a significantly shorter timeline than such letters usually carry and a way for Congress to express its displeasure with government agencies.
According to a congressional staffer, the committee is waiting for the information to “gain a better understanding of the strong concerns raised by relevant federal agencies involved with the management, operation and utilization of the electromagnetic spectrum and the civilian and military applications of GNSS/GPS.
“Virtually all infrastructure under the committee’s jurisdiction would be directly impacted by future degradation or unreliability of GPS. The committee intends to closely monitor the FCC’s handling of this application,” the staffer added.
Then, late on April 10, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) officially added the memo and two letters sent by the Defense Department on this issue to the FCC’s filing system.
The NTIA associate administrator said in a letter to FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai that the organization cannot “reasonably reach” the conclusion that the Pentagon’s concerns have been resolved.
That comment led to a new filing by Ligado on April 12, in which the company blasted the NTIA statement, and the attached notes from the Pentagon, as “simply astounding" and “replete with fearmongering.”
The company also argued that the DOD’s conclusions that GPS would be impacted are “based on irrelevant and misleading data,” most notably noting that the Air Force test cited in the service’s memo was based on an older plan the company has since abandoned.
Speaking to reporters April 13, Deasy, the Pentagon’s top IT official, made it clear he trusts in the department’s evaluation.
“We have very strong technical evidence that would suggest moving forward with that proposal would cause harm to the adjacent GPS spectrum,” Deasy said. “Therefore, we continue to believe it’s in the best interests — and I believe I can say this on behalf of all the agencies — it’s in the interest of the government not to pursue the Ligado licensing request.”
Deasy added that top defense officials have taken part in “active conversations” about the issue, including Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Gen. John Hyten, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.