The healthcare industry was already understaffed before vaccine mandates hit. Now hundreds of hospital beds across the US are lying empty because there isn’t enough staff to treat patients.

louisiana covid hospital
Healthcare staff say they’re feeling burned out and emotionally exhausted after working during the pandemic.

  • Hospitals are limiting how many patients they admit because of the labor shortage.
  • At one hospital in Massachusetts, nearly a quarter of beds are empty due to understaffing.
  • Its CEO warned that the hospital’s vaccine mandate could cause more staff to quit too.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Hospitals across the US are having to limit the number of patients they admit because there aren’t enough staff to treat them.

At the TaraVista Behavioral Health Center in central Massachusetts, nearly a quarter of its 116 beds are empty, CEO Michael Krupa told Bloomberg.

He said that across the state, there were hundreds of empty beds, and “the reason is exclusively staff.”

Krupa said that the hospital had struggled to find nurses and lower-paid aides in the past, but that this hadn’t limited its intake of patients before.

Healthcare staff say they’re feeling burned out and emotionally exhausted after working during the pandemic, often in a poor working environment – and some have been leaving the profession.

Just over 20 million people across the US worked in the healthcare and social assistance industry in August, per preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This is around 746,000 fewer workers than in February 2020.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed an executive order Monday declaring a “disaster emergency” due to “severe understaffing” in hospitals and healthcare facilities across the state. She warned that this could affect people’s ability to get adequate medical treatment.

The shortage of staff comes as some hospitals and healthcare facilities are mandating COVID-19 vaccines for their staff. Some states, like New York, are mandating the shot for healthcare staff, too.

The vast majority of healthcare staff are either already vaccinated or plan to get the shot, but some healthcare providers have lost workers over the policy.

Houston Methodist Hospital said in June that it had lost 153 workers who either quit or were fired over its vaccine mandate. Novant Health, which has 15 hospitals and more than 350 physician practices across North Carolina, said this week that it had fired around 175 members of staff who refused to get vaccinated.

Some execs say they’re reluctant to introduce mandates precisely because of this.

Kevin Smith, president of Massachusetts-based healthcare agency Best of Care, told CNN in August that he wanted to mandate the jab for his team, but that the policy “puts you at risk of alienating the staff, if not losing them to a competitor.”

“No one can afford to do that,” he added.

TaraVista’s vaccine mandate comes into effect on November 1, and Krupa warned that it could exacerbate the hospital’s understaffing.

“I am hopeful we will not lose many staff,” he told Bloomberg. “But I know we will lose some.”

Connecticut has mandated the vaccine for state staff, and its governor warned that he could even call in the National Guard to replace workers who don’t comply to prevent staffing shortages.

Hospitals are boosting pay in an effort to attract more workers. One hospital in South Dakota is offering a $40,000 bonus for intensive-care and operating-room nurses. Krupa told Bloomberg that TaraVista and its sister hospital were investing an extra $1 million a year in pay, improved benefits, and bonuses for 310 staffers.

Expanded Coverage Module: what-is-the-labor-shortage-and-how-long-will-it-last

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New York won’t extend unemployment benefits to healthcare workers fired over COVID-19 vaccine mandate

louisiana covid hospital
Clinicians work on intubating a COVID-19 patient in the ICU at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital in Lake Charles, Louisiana on August 10, 2021.

  • New York will not extend unemployment benefits to most unvaccinated healthcare workers who are fired over the vaccine mandate.
  • The mandate goes into effect Monday, making it necessary for healthcare workers in New York to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • New York Governor Kathy Hochul is ready to call in the National Guard in case of shortages of healthcare workers caused by the mandate.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Healthcare workers who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine and are fired for failing to comply with a new state law will not be able to collect unemployment benefits unless they present a doctor-approved request for medical accommodation, according to the New York Department of Labor.

New York’s new vaccine mandate, which goes into effect Monday, makes it necessary for workers in New York’s hospitals and nursing homes to have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Employees working at in home care, hospice, and adult care facilities need to be vaccinated by October 7. The mandate also applies to all out-of-state and contract medical staff who practice in New York.

“Workers in a healthcare facility, nursing home, or school who voluntarily quit or are terminated for refusing an employer-mandated vaccination” are not eligible for unemployment insurance because the employer has a “compelling interest” for its employees to be vaccinated, according to the New York Department of Labor website.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul has said she is prepared to call in medically trained National Guard members and workers outside New York to aid with a potential shortage of healthcare workers once the mandate takes effect and some people are no longer eligible to come to work.

As of Wednesday, 84% of healthcare workers in New York were fully vaccinated against coronavirus. As of Thursday, 81% of staff at all adult care facilities and 77% of all staff at nursing home facilities in New York State were fully vaccinated.

The mandate comes at a time where many US hospitals are experiencing staffing shortages. With an influx of patients because of the Delta variant and fewer nurses due to burnout and difficult working conditions, many healthcare facilities are understaffed. However, a nursing shortage has been looming for years, only accelerated by the pandemic as fear of contracting COVID-19 worsened working conditions.

Hochul can declare a state of emergency to allow health care professionals licensed in other states or countries, recent graduates, retired, and formerly practicing health care professionals to practice in New York.

“I am monitoring the staffing situation closely, and we have a plan to increase our health care workforce and help alleviate the burdens on our hospitals and other health care facilities,” Hochul said in a statement. “I commend all of the health care workers who have stepped up to get themselves vaccinated, and I urge all remaining health care workers who are unvaccinated to do so now so they can continue providing care.”

Expanded Coverage Module: The coronavirus pandemic

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Abortion providers in Texas are asking the Supreme Court to quickly review the state’s new abortion law

supreme court protest
Abortion rights activist gathered outside the U.S. Supreme Court to protest against the recent abortion laws passed across the country in recent weeks

  • Texas abortion providers asked the Supreme Court to quickly consider the state’s new anti-abortion law.
  • “This chaos must come to an end, and that is why we are going back to the Supreme Court today,” a president of an abortion clinic said.
  • The Supreme Court previously declined a request to block the Texas law, which took effect on September 1.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A group of abortion providers and advocacy groups on Thursday once again turned to the Supreme Court in their effort to block Texas’ new law that bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, which took effect on September 1.

The group is calling on the nation’s high court to intervene and fast-track the case, as the federal appeals court that is scheduled to review their challenge, the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, won’t hold a hearing until December.

“This Court’s review is urgently needed,” read the brief filed on Thursday by Texas abortion providers, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and others.

“We’re asking the Supreme Court for this expedited appeal because the Fifth Circuit has done nothing to change the dire circumstances on the ground in Texas,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement.

“We need this case to move as quickly as possible. Right now, patients are being forced to travel hundreds of miles in the middle of a pandemic to find abortion care,” she added.

“For 23 days, we’ve been forced to deny essential abortion care for the vast majority of patients who come to us,” Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Woman’s Health, an abortion clinic in Texas, said in a statement.

“This chaos must come to an end, and that is why we are going back to the Supreme Court today,” Miller continued.

The ask comes after the Supreme Court previously declined a request from abortion providers in Texas to block the state’s new abortion law. In a 5-4 vote on September 2, the Supreme Court allowed the Texas law to stay in place.

The court’s majority argued that the ruling was a technical one and they did not want to weigh in while the case was still being litigated in the lower courts.

“In particular, this order is not based on any conclusion about the constitutionality of Texas’s law, and in no way limits other procedurally proper challenges to the Texas law, including in Texas state courts,” the majority wrote in an unsigned opinion.

The move was met with fierce backlash from abortion providers and pro-abortion groups and politicians, including President Joe Biden. The Department of Justice on September 9 filed a lawsuit against Texas to try and block the new abortion law.

Texas’ six-week abortion ban has so far withstood legal challenges because of its unique enforcement mechanism. The law invites ordinary citizens, rather than state officials, to enforce the ban. That means an individual can sue an abortion provider or anyone they believe who “aids and abets” someone getting the procedure beyond the six-week mark. Successful plaintiffs will be rewarded at least $10,000, in addition to legal fees.

It’s uncertain whether the Supreme Court will take up the abortion providers’ request, as cases are normally played out in the lower courts first before making their way up to the high court.

The Supreme Court will consider a major abortion case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization,
starting December 1. The case concerns a Mississippi law that bans nearly all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy and is widely considered a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, a 1973 Supreme Court decision that established the constitutional right to an abortion.

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The best deals for getting your flu shot this season

coronavirus flu shot
An advertisement offering free flu shots in New York City on August 21, 2020.

  • Retailers are offering incentives for customers to get vaccinated against the flu.
  • Some of the best deals include coupons for up to $20 off purchases at select stores.
  • This year, health experts are worried patients with the flu could overwhelm hospitals already full of COVID-19 patients.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Retailers are making it easier than ever to battle cold and flu season this fall by offering incentives to get vaccinated.

Last year, because of the precautions many Americans took related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the flu season reached “historical lows,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as only 155 people were hospitalized during its peak.

This year, health experts are worried patients sick with the flu could once again overwhelm hospitals as doctors and nurses are still helping patients fight severe cases of COVID-19. The CDC also says it is safe to receive the flu and COVID-19 vaccines at the same time.

The best way to fight the flu is by getting the flu vaccine at the start of the flu season which goes from mid-fall to late spring, according to the CDC. Luckily, flu shots are free with insurance, and some pharmacies and clinics even offer free flu shots without insurance. This year, some retailers are also offering gift cards and coupons to customers who get their flu shots at their pharmacy locations.

Here are some of the best flu shot deals:


Albertsons pharmacies are offering 10% off grocery purchases up to $200 with any immunization.


CVS Pharmacy is encouraging customers to get vaccinated there by December 31 by offering a $5 shopping pass on any purchase of $20 or more when you shop in stores.

Fresco y Más

Fresco y Más is offering a deal where customers can get $20 off their groceries if they get two immunizations. Fresco y Más pharmacies are offering $10 coupons if customers get their flu shot in store, and another $10 if they get another immunization the same day.


Like Fresco y Más, Harveys is offering $10 coupons if customers get their flu shot in store and another $10 if they get another immunization the same day.

Rite Aid

Customers who get the flu at a Rite Aid pharmacy will receive $5 off any purchase of $25 or more, through September. 30.


Target pharmacies, which are operated by CVS, are also offering customers a $5 off $20 or more coupon when they get their flu shot.


Walgreens is offering $5 in Walgreens Cash to receive a flu shot there. With each flu shot, Walgreens will also donate $0.23 to a United Nations vaccine fund.


Customers can get up to $20 off their groceries if they get vaccinated at Winn-Dixie. Winn-Dixie pharmacies are offering $10 coupons if customers get their flu shot in store and another $10 if they get another immunization the same day.

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A nation’s healthcare system at ‘risk of collapse.’ Afghan doctors and health minister describe the looming catastrophe.

People gather to check on missing relatives a day after a twin suicide bombs attack, which killed scores of people including 13 US troops outside Kabul airport, at a hospital run by Italian NGO Emergency in Kabul on August 27, 2021
People gather to check on missing relatives a day after a twin suicide bombs attack, which killed scores of people including 13 US troops outside Kabul airport, at a hospital run by Italian NGO Emergency in Kabul on August 27, 2021

  • Insider investigated the state of healthcare in Afghanistan under the Taliban.
  • One midwife said she cannot get to work and says she is “devastated.”
  • Afghanistan is fast running out of medical supplies, said the World Health Organization.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Afghanistan’s healthcare system is on the brink of catastrophe, the acting Afghan health minister and a WHO representative have told Insider.

Speaking by phone from Kabul, Dr. Wahid Majrooh, Minister of Public Health, who has continued in his post after the Taliban takeover, told Insider that Afghanistan’s healthcare system is at “risk of collapse.”

Much hinges on the finances that have been pulled since the Taliban seized the country. The World Bank that announced this week it would halt aid to Afghanistan. It has committed more than $5.3 billion to projects in Afghanistan since 2002, according to the BBC.

“We have a resilient healthcare system, but it’s too dependent on aid,” said Dr. Majrooh.

“When we hear messages from the World Bank or the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund donors – whether they say that they have put our funds on hold, or they’ve frozen them – what that means to me is 3700 health facilities will collapse. That the health of 35 million people will collapse,” he said.

Read more: Persecuted for their Mongol looks and Shia faith, Afghanistan’s Hazara people describe a terrifying future under Taliban rule

Dr. Richard Brennan, WHO’s Regional Emergency Director, warns Afghanistan is fast running out of medical supplies,

He told Insider. “Given the escalation of events over the last few weeks, there’s been a big increase in demand for medical supplies, including trauma supplies, but we’re essentially running out.

“Before the collapse of the Government, we had three flights lined up to bring supplies in as part of our support for the regular program and the increasing need in the country. But these didn’t make it because there are no commercial flights into the country,” he said.

Dr. Brennan estimated that the missed flights equated to roughly 90 metric tonnes of medical equipment.

There are fresh hopes for a flight with roughly 20-25 metric tonnes of supplies to make it to Kabul airport on August 30.

Afghanistan is also experiencing a “brain drain,” Dr. Brennan tells Insider. The smartest people are fleeing the country, leaving a gaping hole in its human resources.

A wounded patient lays in the recovery unit at Wazir Akbar Khan Hospital. in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021
A wounded patient lays in the recovery unit at Wazir Akbar Khan Hospital. in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021

Too dangerous for doctors

“It is only men that are allowed inside the hospital,” a distressed midwife in Afghanistan told Insider over the phone.

Aadela*’s husband acts as a translator for the conversation: “My wife, she can’t go outside. The Taliban has said she is not allowed to go to work.”

Even if women are allowed to go to their workplace – as conditions across the country vary – many women remain too terrified to leave their homes, they add.

“We have no good feeling for our country,” the married couple from Kabul said.

“If we find a chance, we will seriously leave Afghanistan,” they add in a text message.

Women, however, are not the only healthcare professionals forced to stay home.

The UN reports one Afghan doctor saying: “Sometimes, the security situation means I will stay at home. If there are reports of gunfire or other disturbances and roadblocks, the team members decide it is too dangerous to work. It can be very tense on the streets.”

Dr. Ghaws Sayyid,* who runs a hospital in Kabul, told Insider: “If your physical safety is not threatened, then your mental health is – for everyone.”

Meanwhile, with the three explosions rocking Kabul airport on August 26, violence is surging across Afghanistan. Since August 1, the International Red Cross has treated 7,600 patients with weapon wounds.

njured people lie on stretchers at Vezir Ekber Han Hospital after the explosion at Hamid Karzai International Airport, the center of evacuation efforts from Afghanistan since the Taliban took over, in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 27, 2021.
Injured people lie on stretchers at Vezir Ekber Han Hospital after the explosion at Hamid Karzai International Airport, the center of evacuation efforts from Afghanistan since the Taliban took over, in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 27, 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic

On August 18 – three days after the Taliban seized Kabul – Doctors without Borders released data showing that 200 patients were seen in the COVID-19 treatment center alone on the 15th and 16th of August.

A doctor from Kabul, who does not want to be named, told Insider that whilst the COVID-19 pandemic does not stop for the security risks, the vaccinations have come to a halt.

Dr. Sayyid manages a satirical laugh when COVID-19 is mentioned. “We’ve had a change in the Government and people have now forgotten about COVID,” he said.

“Before the Taliban arrived, we were coming out of a third wave of Covid,” he adds.”There’s concern that it will spike. Mass movement across the country, the scenes we saw of crowds at Kabul airport, they’re not good to contain the virus.”

Since the start of the pandemic, 153,000 cases of COVID-19 and 7,101 deaths have been recorded in Afghanistan, according to John Hopkins University. But since the takeover of the Taliban, the ability to test for the virus and record any cases has been made much harder.

Health minister Dr. Majrooh tells Insider that the country has been unable to get testing equipment, leaving the looming threat of COVID-19 harder to predict.

Since the Taliban took control, 1,190 cases of COVID-19 have been recorded but the real figure could be much higher.

A wounded patient walks out EMERGENCY Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021
A wounded patient walks out EMERGENCY Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021

Many conversations between Insider and medical professionals in Afghanistan were held after the Kabul airport bombing attack by ISIS-K, which killed at least 95 people, including 13 US servicemen and women, and wounded 150 others.

From conversations, be it short message exchanges to in-depth calls battling the crackles of international phone lines, it became clear that the medics of Afghanistan are terrified, if not by the work they have to do or the inability to get to their workplace, but by the Taliban in general.

“I’m devastated,” one doctor said before ending their call with Insider.

(*Names were changed to conceal the identities of healthcare workers)

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Plastic surgeons say they’re more booked up than ever, as demand for procedures like Brazilian butt lifts break records

A peach with marks on its sides with a green upwards trending arrow on a pale yellow gridded background.
Plastic surgeons said high demand for Brazilian butt lifts (or “BBLs”) has resulted in a record number of cosmetic surgery appointments.

  • Plastic surgeons across the country told Insider they are seeing record numbers of patients.
  • Demand for butt augmentation has increased, per the The Aesthetic Society.
  • Brazilian butt lifts, or BBLs, have gained attention on social media like TikTok.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Dr. Carlos Burnett, a plastic surgeon in New Jersey, has appointments booked every day until March 2022.

Burnett said he previously considered his practice busy if he was booked two or more months in advance, even as he services the upscale Westfield, New Jersey, neighborhood. The plastic surgeon said he had not expected the huge spike in surgery bookings after spending months without work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You don’t want to jinx yourself, but it’s something that I’ve not seen in 25 years of practice,” Burnett said regarding the high demand for cosmetic surgeries.

Burnett is one of several plastic surgeons who told Insider they are seeing record numbers of patients make appointments for butt augmentation and other procedures as pandemic restrictions lifted this spring.

New Jersey-based plastic surgeon Dr. Carlos Burnett in office wearing mask and gloves
Dr. Carlos Burnett

Facial procedures and Botox saw an unexpected spike in demand during the COVID-19 pandemic, which the American Society of Plastic Surgeons dubbed the “Zoom boom” after more people spent time staring at themselves on video calls.

Demand for plastic surgery has extended into 2021, according to The Aesthetic Society president Dr. William P. Adams, driven by a high demand for butt augmentation procedures.

In 2020, surgeons performed 40,000 butt augmentation procedures that brought in $140 million worth of revenue, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. The number of butt augmentation surgeries – also called Brazilian butt lifts or “BBLs” – increased by 90.3% between 2015 to 2019.

Adams attributed the significant growth of butt augmentation procedures’ popularity to celebrity trends and social media. One TikTok purporting to show butt augmentation patients crowding in an airport line has 3.2 million views.

The surgery’s new popularity has even led to a meme: the “BBL effect.” Coined by TikTok creator Antoni Bumba, the BBL effect is the unbothered confidence of those who have elected to bolster their buttocks.

New York City-based plastic surgeon Dr. Norman Rowe said he’s seen a record number of patients inquiring about a BBL. A year ago, Rowe said he got a phone call asking for butt augmentation consultation around three to four times per week; now, he gets multiple calls asking about butt lifts everyday.

Like Burnett, Rowe said his schedule is booked for the next calendar year. His procedure numbers are 30% to 35% higher than last year.

Read more: A record 167 firms spent millions of dollars lobbying on cannabis as Amazon, investment banks, and tobacco companies race for a piece of the growing weed industry

Burnett said he believes demand is up as more of his patients opt to spend their disposable income on plastic surgery than vacations or expensive jewelry. Average national costs for butt augmentation dropped from $5,507 in 2018 to $3,329 in 2020, making the procedure slightly more accessible beyond just the rich and famous, Burnett added.

Brazilian butt lifts have also become safer to perform when done by board-certified plastic surgeons, according to Dr. Mark Mofid, a California-based plastic surgeon and author of the 2017 paper “Report on Mortality from Gluteal Fat Grafting.”

Plastic surgeon Dr. Norman Rowe sits in his New York City office.
Dr. Norman Rowe

Mofid and his team at the Aesthetic Surgery Education and Research Foundation found gluteal fat grafting, or the process of transferring stomach fat to the butt, had a “significantly higher” mortality rate than other cosmetic procedures because surgeons would more regularly inject fat into deep muscle and use smaller surgical instruments.

Since Mofid’s paper came out, board certified surgeons have adopted safer methods of performing butt augmentation procedures. Mofid and the doctors quoted in this article said the procedure is safer than in the past, but cautioned prospective patients to find a board-certified doctor who can perform the operation in a hospital and who stays up-to-date with latest safety research.

Mofid added he’s now the busiest he’s ever been in his career. Despite the heavy workload, each plastic surgeon told Insider they don’t feel burned out because they are passionate about their work.

“Am I working harder than I was two years ago? Yeah,” Rowe said. “Would I trade places with anybody? Not a chance in hell. I love what I do.”

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GOP doctors in Congress are targeting vaccine hesitancy with a video that says the shot will help ‘end the government’s restrictions on our freedoms’

rep larry bucshon
Rep. Larry Bucshon, a Republican and a doctor, appears in the PSA video.

  • Polls show Republicans are more likely to not want a COVID-19 vaccine.
  • A group of GOP lawmakers, who are also doctors, are encouraging people to get the shot.
  • Vaccine hesitancy could stop or slow the US from reaching herd immunity, experts say.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Americans who identify as Republicans are less likely to get a COVID-19 vaccine, prompting GOP lawmakers to address the issue in a public service announcement released this week.

The video features a group of Republican members of Congress who are also doctors or other healthcare providers, some donning white coats, urging Americans to get vaccinated.

“It’s obvious to me from a medical standpoint, the only way to protect ourselves and your loved ones,” says Rep. Greg Murphy.

“And to end the government’s restrictions on our freedoms,” Rep. Larry Bucshon continues, “is to take action and get the vaccine.”

Read more: Just 3 governors haven’t gotten their COVID-19 vaccine, Insider found. Here’s who – and why.

Experts have warned that vaccine hesitancy could stop the US from reaching herd immunity, which requires an estimated 70% of people to have immunity to COVID-19, Insider’s Dr. Catherine Schuster-Bruce reported. As vaccine supply swells in the US, some healthcare providers are running out of people interested in taking the shot, even prompting some mass-vaccination sites to close.

Republicans have especially shown hesitation toward getting vaccinated, despite some GOP leaders, including former president Donald Trump, getting vaccinated and talking up the shots. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell urged Republican men to get vaccinated last month after polls showed the group was especially hesitant.

Recent polls have shown nearly half of Americans who identify as Republicans do not plan to get vaccinated. One poll found white Republicans are more likely than any other group to turn down the shot, Insider’s Andrea Michelson reported.

Even as more than 100 million Americans are now fully vaccinated, an analysis by The New York Times last month found that counties that voted for Trump had disproportionately low vaccination rates.

In the new PSA, the lawmakers touted the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines and praised Trump’s Operation Warp Speed for their development in record time.

“The process was rigorous and transparent,” Rep. Brian Babin said, with Rep. Andy Harris adding, “the FDA did not skip any steps.”

The lawmakers also emphasized that taking the vaccine was a choice, but that they hope Americans will join them “in choosing to get the vaccine so we can throw away our mask and live life as free as we did before,” Sen. Roger Marshall said.

As vaccination rates have increased, many states and cities have begun to lift coronavirus restrictions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also updated mask guidelines this week. The new guidelines do not recommend vaccinated people wear masks outdoors except for in crowded places, like a concert or sporting event. Everyone is still recommended to wear masks indoors in public places.

“I look forward to the freedom that I along with my loved ones will regain once the vast majority of Americans are vaccinated,” Sen. John Barrasso said in the video.

The group of politicians also included Sen. John Boozman, as well as Reps. Buddy Carter, John Joyce, and Michael Burgess.

Have a news tip? Contact this reporter at

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California healthcare workers didn’t know they were fighting a new variant this winter. Their trauma should be a warning.

coronavirus covid hospital chaplain patient intubated
Chaplain Kevin Deegan places his hand on the head of a COVID-19 patient while praying for him at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles on January 9, 2021.

  • Southern California’s winter surge of COVID-19 infections overwhelmed hospitals.
  • A new variant of the virus became dominant there, which may have partially spurred the surge.
  • Four healthcare workers in San Diego and Los Angeles share their stories from the winter.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Shawna Blackmun-Myers grasped her patient’s hand, called the woman’s family, and held up the phone. As everyone said their goodbyes on the other end, the patient couldn’t respond: A tube down her throat was feeding oxygen from a ventilator into her lungs.

Blackmun-Myers, an ICU nurse at the Jacobs Medical Center in San Diego, told Insider that the woman was in her 50s and had been bubbly when she came in weeks earlier. Normally in the ICU, Blackmun-Myers said, “people are so sick that that energy and that light is dimmed, but even her being in that situation, she was still just such a bright light.”

“We were dancing and listening to music, and we were watching some soap opera drama stuff on TV and, you know, talking tea about everybody,” she added.

But the woman’s condition worsened quickly. Hospital staff readied a ventilator.

“She’s crying and telling me, you know, ‘I just don’t want to be alone. And I just know that once this tube goes in, I don’t think it’s coming out. I think this is going to be it,'” Blackmun-Myers said.

“I did my best to let her know, you know, obviously she’s not alone. I was there with her. I had her back,” she added.

Then the virus brought heart and kidney problems. The woman went on dialysis. Eventually, there was nothing more the hospital could do to restore her quality of life, and her family knew she wouldn’t want to live this way.

In January, Blackmun-Myers oversaw the woman’s death as hospital staff disconnected the ventilator. The sound of crying family members echoed through the phone.

coronavirus covid patient death hospital chaplain healthcare worker
Chaplain Kristin Michealsen holds the hand of a deceased COVID-19 patient while talking on the phone with the patient’s family member at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles on January 9, 2021.

It was the middle of winter in Southern California. Coronavirus cases were at an all-time high, and ICUs were above 90% capacity. Blackmun-Myers’s unit was losing multiple patients every day.

“I ugly-cry, and then I get angry, and I accept the fact that I did everything I could,” she said. “And just move on so I can take care of the next person and their family.”

Blackmun-Myers didn’t know it at the time, but a new coronavirus variant had been overtaking the region.

The CAL.20C variant was first identified in Los Angeles in July, then disappeared from the record until October. But by January, it accounted for 44% of Southern California coronavirus samples in one study, and more than half of California samples in another.

Several other factors contributed to Southern California’s winter surge – holiday travel, crowded housing, pandemic fatigue – but many researchers think the variant played a role.

Two studies that aren’t yet peer-reviewed suggest that the variant is more infectious than the original virus strain. The research also found it to be associated with a higher incidence of severe illness and partially resistant to antibodies developed in response to the original virus or vaccines.

Although California cases have dropped from a peak of about 40,700 per day in late December to about 4,000 now, experts warn that CAL.20C or other variants could still change the course of the pandemic.

“Now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know can stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, said at a White House briefing last week.

“Please hear me clearly,” she added. “At this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained.”

Blackmun-Myers and three other Southern California healthcare workers say what they saw this winter should serve as a strong warning.

Struggling to be heard

Kristine Chieh nurse hospital face
Kristine Chieh during a COVID-19 shift, with marks on her face from wearing protective gear.

The ICU was loud. Given the influx of coronavirus patients, the Sharp hospital network in San Diego had to jerry-rig negative-pressure systems to prevent virus particles from wafting out of patients’ rooms. The makeshift tubing roared overhead, so nurse Kristine Chieh had to yell over it – and through several layers of PPE – for patients to hear her.

Chieh isn’t normally an ICU nurse, but in January, the COVID floors needed all the help they could get. Two days before her first ICU shift, Chieh’s friend, a man in his late 40s, died from COVID-19 after more than two weeks in the hospital.

“I walked through the ICU, looking at the windows, and I swear I see my friend over and over and over again in those beds,” she said.

Chieh recalled stopping to help a man video chat with his family. A mask covered his face, pumping oxygen from a BiPap machine. Chieh lifted the mask for short intervals so he could speak to his family. After a few seconds, he would run out of breath, and Chieh would put the mask back down. Family members would speak up to fill the silence.

“There’s all kinds of people on that iPad, like he must have a large family,” Chieh said. “They thought it was so awesome to be able to hear his voice, and I think he was really excited to use his voice.”

bipap machine covid patient coronavirus hospital healthcare breathing mask oxygen
A healthcare worker places a BiPAP machine on a COVID-19 patient at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas, December 28, 2020.

She spent about half an hour like that, lifting and lowering the mask.

“The other ICU nurse was in the process of intubating somebody at the same time that this is happening, so there’s no way she would have been able to do that for him,” Chieh said. “I clocked out for the day and I don’t know what ever happened to him, long term. Hopefully he made it out okay.”

‘It almost overtook my vocabulary and my mind’

Chieh works as a float nurse across three locations in the Sharp hospital network, going wherever she’s needed. Typically, she works in progressive care units – the level before intensive care. But during the winter, even the COVID-19 patients there were severely ill. Chieh would dash from room to room, changing in and out of protective gear to help patients who suddenly found themselves struggling to breathe.

“Throughout my shift, I’ll get patients who are off and on just being like, ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.’ And then I go in and I do breathing exercises with them. I adjust their oxygen. I have the respiratory therapist come in, do breathing treatments, whatever is needed,” Chieh said.

They would calm down and be fine for about an hour, she said, before it happened again.

kristine chieh covid ppe hospital
Kristine Chieh, in full PPE, stands in front of a negative-pressure room for COVID-19 patients.

Robert Bang, a floor nurse in Los Angeles, spent his winter days the same way. Alarms were constantly sounding through the computer system, he said, to alert him that a patient’s oxygen levels had dropped too low. He would rush to the patient’s room, sometimes to find that they didn’t even realize they were losing oxygen.

“If you’ve been short of breath for so long, you just start developing fatigue from breathing so hard. So it might be like your new normal,” Bang told Insider.

Even when he went home, Bang said, he would still hear the alarms in his head. Work followed Chieh home, too.

“My husband gave me this feedback: I talked about COVID too much at home. Talked about math too much, talked about every news article,” she said. “It almost overtook my vocabulary and my mind.”

That hasn’t fully subsided – Chieh said those winter days still haunt her.

“I feel like I can remember every single COVID patient,” she said. “I imagine what it must be like to have this astronaut person come into their room to work with them. They must be terrified.”

‘I’ve never seen something infect people so easily’

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Dania Lima, right, helps fellow nurse Adriana Volynsky put on personal protective equipment in a COVID-19 unit at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles, December 22, 2020.

Many of Dr. Kenny Pettersen’s patients in Los Angeles live in crowded homes with a combination of parents, kids, grandparents, or cousins under one roof. That made it difficult to make quarantine plans for the COVID-19 patients who weren’t sick enough to stay at the hospital.

In spring and summer, he told Insider, “when someone in the household would have COVID, usually like half or less of the rest of the household would get COVID.”

But this winter, Pettersen, said “it was almost universally 100%.”

Pettersen is a primary-care physician at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center. The change in LA’s outbreak was so noticeable to him during the winter that he assumed the virus itself must have changed.

“I’ve never seen something infect people so easily,” he said. “I felt like I was almost wasting my time talking to patients about the prevention of household transmission.”

More research on CAL.20C is still needed to confirm his suspicions, though, since the initial studies of the variant haven’t been peer reviewed, and the spike-protein mutation that characterizes it has not been thoroughly investigated.

Relief and grief after the surge

Pettersen’s grandmother died of coronavirus in August. Many of his patients died, too, and some left behind young children. One family is losing their home after the coronavirus-related deaths of two family members.

“Practically every one of my patients, either they’ve been infected, or many of their family members have been infected, they know somebody very well who has died or gotten severely sick,” Pettersen said. “I think the cumulative toll that takes on my patients is just really profound.”

vaccine nurse coronavirus covid los angeles california
Nurse practitioner Nicole Monk, 44, receives a coronavirus vaccination at the Los Angeles Mission homeless shelter on Skid Row, February 10, 2021.

Still, he said, the mood among his coworkers is more upbeat now. There are even days at the hospital when nobody dies of COVID-19.

“I think that we can start to breathe with a little bit more confidence,” Pettersen said. He and his wife have both been vaccinated.

Bang and Chieh say they feel safer these days, too. The volume of COVID-19 patients is much lower. They’ve been vaccinated, and more people are getting shots each day. But the winter memories persist. Some healthcare workers are now nervous about other variants. And there’s a strong possibility they or their colleagues will develop PTSD.

But Pettersen, at least, said he was finally able to go to an outdoor restaurant for sushi with his wife recently.

“We can, you know, be optimistic for the first time in about a year,” he said.

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Doctors are calling to investigate a prestigious medical journal after it tweeted ‘No physician is racist’

Howard Bauchner, editor-in-chief of The Journal of the American Medical Association, in 2013.
Howard Bauchner, editor-in-chief of The Journal of the American Medical Association, in 2013.

  • Doctors launched a petition against The Journal of American Medical Association.
  • The publication’s editor-in-chief apologized after it tweeted “No physician is racist.”
  • The petition calls for further investigation of the editor-in-chief and editorial staff diversity.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Doctors are calling to investigate one of the country’s most prestigious medical journals.

The Institute for Antiracism in Medicine, an antiracism group founded by three Black women physicians, launched a petition against The Journal of American Medical Association after the publication tweeted “No physician is racist, so how can there be structural racism in health care?”

JAMA, a peer-reviewed medical journal that dates back to 1883, is the most widely circulated journal in the world, per its website. JAMA’s now deleted tweet promoted a podcast episode where two editors discussed how to talk about racism in medicine.

“Structural racism is an unfortunate term,” JAMA deputy editor Ed Livingston said in the podcast, which has also been deleted, according to The Root. “Personally, I think taking racism out of the conversation will help. Many of us are offended by the concept that we are racist.”

JAMA removed the podcast after Black doctors and other medical experts brought attention to offensive remarks about race in the episode. Editor-in-chief Howard Bauchner released a statement apologizing for the harm caused by the tweet and parts of the podcast.

The petition calls the investigate whether Bauchner failed to diversify editorial staff or discriminated against them. The group is also calling on JAMA to hire a deputy editor dedicated to antiracism and health equity publications, and schedule town halls with Black, Indigenous, and other community members of color.

The petition had more than 1,600 signatures as of Tuesday morning.

Research suggests racial bias in medicine leads to worse patient care for Black people. A 2016 report found half of white medical students and residents in the study endorsed false beliefs about biological differences among Black and white people, which led to making less accurate treatment recommendations for Black patients.

Doctors and nurses tend to not take Black patients’ pain as seriously as white patients. A national study of nearly one million emergency room visits found Black children had one-fifth the chance of receiving opioid painkillers compared to white children, The Washington Post reported.

The result of decades of racial bias in medicine has led to Black people having less trust in the life-saving COVID-19 vaccine.

Medical institutions in the US have taken some responsibility for the industry’s racial bias, prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic’s outsized impact on Black people and the calls for accountability during the 2020 George Floyd protests.

The American Medical Association recently defined racism as a public health threat. In 2018, AMA had apologized for actively discriminating against Black doctors and barring them from joining medical societies between the 1800s to the 1960s.

JAMA has been revising its editorial style for reporting on race and ethnicity over the last eight months.

JAMA and the Institute for Antiracism in Medicine were not immediately available for additional comment.

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From being called ‘bossy’ to becoming the boss: 7 leadership lessons from successful women doctors

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(L-R) Dr. Peggy Taylor, Dr. Ouida Collins, and Dr. Mary Manis.

When I was in elementary school, all of my grade cards came back with great scores and really positive comments. However, there always was the one little comment “She’s too bossy and overly talkative.”

Darian Dozier
Darian Dozier.

I had a big personality and used that to my advantage from a young age. Interestingly enough, as I transitioned into high school, my grade cards began to read “She’s a great leader and has great class participation.” 

I wondered if my “bossiness” and excessive talking had become more direct and efficient, or if I was just perceived differently by elementary school teachers versus high school teachers. I’ll never know, but one thing I do know is the detrimental effects that the word “bossy” can have on a young girl. 

It’s discouraging to young ladies and makes them feel as if they cannot be assertive. How can girls aspire to be politicians, lawyers, and judges if we shoot down their leadership traits from the very beginning? Several women leaders in medicine spoke with me about their “bossy” experiences, and how they’ve learned to use this trait successfully throughout their careers.

1. Assertive women may have to make adjustments to earn respect

“I had to learn how to lower the tone of my voice and smile more to not come off as controlling,” said Dr. Sharon Gustowski

Dr. Sharon Gustowski
Dr. Sharon Gustowski.

Gustowski is an osteopathic doctor based in Houston, Texas who is certified in neuromusculoskeletal and osteopathic manipulative medicine.

As a young child, she was independent and assertive, which helped her to gain the respect and trust of her elders who felt comfortable leaning on her for more responsibilities. As doctor however, she felt this trait and the way she carried herself alienated her peers, because it seemed she came off as snobby and unfriendly.

To offset these perceptions, she made adjustments to her tone and mannerisms so she was more inviting. Constantly being aware of your delivery can be exhausting, but she said it felt like she had to do it to earn respect and not be ostracized. 

As a current medical student, Gustowski’s account helped me understand that assertive women may have to adjust facial expressions, hand movements, volume, and tone to be heard in male certain dominated atmospheres. Without these adjustments, their colleagues may get caught up in the delivery and not the message which hinders progress, which could create strain and frustration.   

2. Becoming a leader comes with growing pains

The road to becoming a good leader isn’t straight and easy. In fact, becoming a leader will probably include quite a few setbacks before successes. Dr. Candace Walkley, an internal medicine physician based in Conroe, Texas, has experienced being “bossier than her boss.”

Dr. Candace Walkley
Dr. Candace Walkley.

Her assertive personality is either perceived as go getter or too assertive. Being a go-getter creates great work relationships, but being “too assertive” can create tension which can interfere with communication and expectations. 

Walkley refers to her assertiveness as “the sword with two sides.” These experiences have helped her shape her leadership skills to better assess and control herself in interactions, but not without a few bumps in the road with coworkers and colleagues.

Read more: PwC’s chief inclusion officer shares how the company developed a new toolkit to promote allyship in the workplace

3. Great leaders are great listeners 

A leader is nothing without a team behind them. The best way to gain a team’s trust and get them to work hard is to listen more than one speaks. This is especially important when working in the medical field because of all the different teams and personnel that could be working one case. Without hearing what they have to say, a leader won’t be very successful. 

Dr. Peggy Taylor is an OBGYN who ran her own practice for years before eventually selling it to retire. She now teaches and picks up shifts when needed. 

Dr. Peggy Taylor
Dr. Peggy Taylor.

Although considered bossy by some when opening her own practice, she said she “never wanted to be seen as really my way or the highway. I took more of a teamwork approach: I know I’m the leader and I make the final decision, but I want their input.” 

Taylor says she put in the extra effort to make her employees feel respected and heard, and she listened to their suggestions and implemented them when they were appropriate.

4. Assertiveness is necessary in serious situations

As physicians, these women are not just responsible for day to day operations. They are responsible for human lives, which means, occasionally, that assertiveness is absolutely necessary. 

“I try to only bring this trait out in its full glory when I’m supervising people or when a situation is clearly dangerously chaotic – where a leader must emerge for safety,” said Walkley. 

Taylor also put patients at the front of the helm when it came time to be the boss. She made decisions that her staff did not always like, but at the end of the day, they benefited the patients. 

There are times to be laid back, but when serious decisions have to be made about someone’s health, these bosses in medicine know how to get the job done. Gustowski learned to fully accept this duality of silliness and seriousness in the job, and when to switch back and forth. The ability to turn it on and off is powerful in a job where things can go from good to bad in the blink of an eye. 

5. Good leaders care and create lasting relationships 

The fun part about being a good leader is being able to create long-lasting relationships with employees. However, this only happens when employees feel like they matter and physicians care about them as people. 

Women leaders in medicine may have an advantage because many are natural nurturers at home and in society, and bring that attribute to work.

Dr. Mary Manis, a family medicine doctor in Conroe, Texas, made sure to keep up with her employees by asking them about their families and personal details they shared with her. This helped her develop relationships that lasted far beyond any work situation. 

Dr. Mary Manis
Dr. Mary Manis.

Taylor kept the same staff for over 20 years because she created such a family friendly environment.

As a mom, she understood the stressors of having children and allowed employees to bring their children to work when they were not able to go to school. Small acts like these help create fulfilling, long-lasting bonds between boss and employee.

Read more: How 4 wedding planners are prepping for the future of the events industry, from getting ordained to rejiggering seating charts to negotiating vendor contracts 

6. More women leaders means more women mentors

“I would’ve loved to have found a woman boss or mentor, but that never happened,” said Manis. 

While she did have a great relationship with a former male mentor and boss, Manis says it was disappointing to not find a woman boss to support her during her medical career. 

As a medical student myself, I’m fortunate enough to have

Manis, among many other women, as my mentors. I hope that as more women enter medicine and learn the same lessons as the women in this article, they too can find and be a mentor to other women leaders in medicine. 

7. Leadership skills can emerge at any point in life

Dr. Ouida Collins, a family medicine physician in Conroe, Texas, has been an introvert her entire life. Still, she says there were times early in her medical education journey when she had to be vocal and assertive. 

Dr. Ouida Collins
Dr. Ouida Collins.

“What made me stand up a little more is in a couple of classes, if you were a woman or didn’t fit the characteristics of those in leadership positions, they kind of pushed you to the side,” Collins said. “I was working on a project with another guy in the group and he told me ‘you need to do this’ and that and I said, ‘no, I don’t.’ That’s not how this works. That was the beginning of the pushback.” 

Women in medicine often deal with being silenced or pushed aside in such a male-dominated arena. Patients may think they are the nurse and some male counterparts don’t respect them the same way as male physicians. But, no matter how old you are or your personality type, when it’s time to speak up for what’s right, you have to. 

At the end of the day, Collins always had her paperwork in order and did her job, which gave her the confidence to assert herself regardless how others reacted to her firmness. She too has learned to tailor her leadership skills and always falls back on doing what’s right for her and her patients. 

Disclaimer: These views and opinions are of the individual physicians and the writer and in no way representative of their employers.

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