COVID-19 surge strains Alabama hospitals; employers can't require antibody testing, EEOC says — 7 updates

Tuscaloosa, Ala., had one intensive care bed available June 16 as record high COVID-19 hospitalizations plague the state, reports the Alabama Political Reporter.

On June 16, Alabama recorded the most COVID-19 patients hospitalized and had the fewest available intensive care unit beds since the pandemic began. Of the 1,600 ICU beds in the state, just 268 were available.  

"For the first time, I would have to say, I'm growing worried about the system," said Donald Williamson, MD, president and CEO of the Alabama Hospital Association. However, about 58 percent of ventilators statewide were still available as of June 16.

Six other updates: 

1. At least 78,609 healthcare workers have tested positive for COVID-19, and more than 422 have died, according to the CDC, which acknowledges that this is likely a significant undercount. National Nurses United has recorded 939 healthcare worker deaths, based on reports from its chapters around the U.S., social media and obituaries, as reported by The Washington Post. Nurses account for about 15 percent of those deaths, according to the union. The losses can deeply affect colleagues, leaving some workers with a growing sense of powerlessness, the Post noted.

2. Washington state overcounted negative COVID-19 tests for two months, the state Department of Health said June 17. Since April 21, the state counted 13 percent more people testing negative than actually have. The error was the result of a missing line of code, DOH spokesperson Lisa Stromme Warren said, according to The Seattle Times. The state dashboard also mistakenly included negative antibody tests in the active infection count.

3. Employers can't require their employees to undergo antibody testing before returning to work, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in a June 17 guidance. The EEOC cited interim CDC guidelines, which say antibody test results should not be used to make decisions about returning to work. Therefore, antibody testing does not meet the Americans with Disabilities Act's standard that required medical examinations for employees must be "job-related and consistent with business necessity," EEOC said. 

4. Gilead Sciences plans to test remdesivir's efficacy at treating COVID-19 in children, the drugmaker announced June 17. Gilead said it will soon start enrolling about 50 pediatric patients ranging from newborns to adolescents for a clinical trial across more than 30 sites in the U.S. and Europe.

5. The pandemic is disproportionately affecting black-owned small businesses, reports The New York Times. Forty-one percent of black business owners said they weren't working in April, compared to 17 percent of white business owners, according to an analysis from a researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Black-owned businesses usually have fewer employees and are often in industries like retail or restaurant, which have been hit especially hard during the pandemic. 

6. More than 1.5 million Americans filed initial unemployment claims for the week ending June 13, according to seasonally adjusted data released June 18 by the U.S. Department of Labor. That count represents a decrease of 58,000 claims from the previous week. It is also the lowest since Americans filed 6.9 million new jobless claims in late March.

Snapshot of COVID-19 in the U.S.

Cases: 2,163,290 (26 percent of 8,375,368 global cases)
Deaths: 117,717 (26 percent of 449,530 global deaths)
Recovered: 592,191 (14 percent of 4,096,974 global recoveries)

Counts reflect data available as of 8:15 a.m. CDT June 18.

More articles on public health:
Racial disparities in COVID-19 deaths most prominent in younger patients
1 in 5 people worldwide at higher risk for severe COVID-19, study finds
Face mask policies prevented up to 450,000 COVID-19 cases, study suggests

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