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Minnesota Doctors on the Cutting Edge Of COVID-19 Fight

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Molecular testing technologies help detect the presence of a virus by identifying a small section of the virus’ genome, then amplifying that portion until there’s enough for detection. This process can cut testing wait time from hours, if not days, to as little as five minutes for positive results and 13 minutes for negative results. They have been using this technique for influenza detection since 2014.

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The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder interviewed Dr. David Hamlar Jr. (DH), assistant professor of the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Hamlar is the 2018 recipient of the Archie M. Griffin Professional Achievement Award from The Ohio State University Alumni Association. (Photo: osu.edu Alumni News)

By Mel Reeves, Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder Community Editor

Minnesota doctors and researchers are on the cutting edge leading the fight in the war against COVID-19. Doctors and researchers at the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic are searching for medications that help ease the effects of the virus, including a process of plasma transfer, while also working to develop a vaccine.

No ‘new normal’ until August

The MSR interviewed Dr. David Hamlar (DH), assistant professor of the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Minnesota

MSR: Incredibly, despite the number of cases and deaths, there are some in our community calling the coronavirus a conspiracy or hoax. What do you say to them?

DH: This is no hoax!

MSR: Why has the CDC and others recommended people stay six feet apart?

DH: People who are within six feet of one another may spread the virus through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of those who are nearby or potentially be inhaled into the lungs. The droplets are airborne through aerosolization [producing a fine mist of minute particles].

MSR: How does one actually contract the virus?

DH: The COVID-19 virus can live in any living cell. It is transmitted primarily via the aero-digestive system, meaning airways and oral mucosa.

MSR: Has anything been found to be effective in fighting off the effects of the virus?

DH: Peridex or chlorhexidine has been found to decrease the viral load but not eliminate the virus itself.

MSR: There has been talk about anti-virals being effective in helping those who have contracted the virus to fight it off. Tell us more about that.

DH: Antivirals are the same medications initially utilized in HIV-positive patients who contracted AIDS. These seemed to lessen the symptoms if not reduce the viral load and increase the CD4-T cell count.

MSR: What makes the virus fatal?

DH: COVID-19 deaths are attributed to pulmonary or lung disease progression such as pneumonia. Cardiac events such as heart attacks have not been found to be part of the disease progression and death.

MSR: Why are pre-existing diseases a serious problem for people if they contract the virus?

DH: Pre-existing conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD, diabetes, congestive heart failure, CHF, and autoimmune diseases limit the body’s ability to fight diseases.

MSR: There has been a lot of discussion in the medical community about a vaccine. How soon do you anticipate one being ready for use?

DH: With controlled protocol-based studies, the estimate for a safe vaccine is 9-12 months away.

MSR: There have been problems in the U.S. getting people tested for COVID-19, some reporting long waits for test results. It has been reported that Abbott Labs has come up with a test that can provide results in a matter of minutes. How are they able to do this?

DH: Abbott Labs can detect the COVID-19 virus through a technique called molecular point-of-care testing for COVID-19, which offers healthcare workers rapid results in more settings where people show up for care.

Molecular testing technologies help detect the presence of a virus by identifying a small section of the virus’ genome, then amplifying that portion until there’s enough for detection. This process can cut testing wait time from hours, if not days, to as little as five minutes for positive results and 13 minutes for negative results. They have been using this technique for influenza detection since 2014.

MSR: There has been some discussion around Vitamin C that it can help stave off the disease. What is your professional opinion about its effectiveness?

DH: Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant, helping to reduce the damage caused by free radicals and thereby helping prevent the development of conditions like heart disease and cancer. Severe vitamin C deficiency is a serious condition, known for centuries as the sometimes-fatal disease scurvy. It helps in wound healing. It is a part of a healthy diet. It is not a specific inhibitor of contracting COVID-19.

MSR: When do you expect the virus to peak? When do you think the country can get back to normal?

DH: I personally feel that this is a virus that will be with us for prolonged periods until a vaccine is found. If the virus mutates or recurs in different forms, then even vaccines will be limiting disease agents like with influenza.

Once we get control or flatten the curve, we can start to realize a “new normal.” I predict August.

MSR: Any advice to our readers on how to stay safe during this pandemic?

DH: Stay healthy. Eat right, get rest, don’t smoke, limit alcohol use, and do all of the things your mother told you to do but you neglected!

Push for plasma treatment underway

At Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Dr. Michael Joyner (MJ) is part of a group of experts who are pursuing a unique but time-tested treatment to help patients with COVID-19 fight off the virus. Convalescent plasma treatment has been used historically to treat infectious diseases before the discovery of vaccines.

MSR: What is involved in convalescent plasma treatment?

MJ: It involves taking antibody-rich plasma from the blood of patients who have survived COVID-19, then infusing it into those who are ill to help their bodies fight off the disease. The approach is known as “convalescent plasma treatment.”

MSR: Why is it called convalescent plasma treatment?

MJ: It’s called convalescent because the word refers to when people are getting better.

MSR: You spent most of your career as a physiologist. How did you get involved in this?

MJ: That’s true, and I am also an anesthesiologist. What happened is my friend Dr. Arturo Casadevalle at John Hopkins wrote an editorial in the Wall Street Journal discussing the historical use of convalescent plasma.

I reached out to Arturo, and since we have a large network of collaborators, we reached out to them. This was me repurposing my career for a few months in my lab to help attack this problem, to see if we could find some way to push back.

I have thrown in with Arturo and want to help him move this forward. He is our visionary and spiritual leader.

MSR: Tell us who else is involved in this project.

MJ: We have people from about 40 universities and medical centers all over the country from about 20 states working on this, and we are getting cooperation from the Food and Drug Administration. We are trying to get this online right away. It’s already started in New York and Houston, and we hope the pace is going to pick up throughout April.

MSR: The FDA has approved the process but with limitations. Can you explain the limits?

DJ: You have to get special permission. It’s one off at a time. We are currently working to get an expanded access protocol going so we can begin to collect more [plasma] all over the country and treat more people.

It’s going to be a while until the supply is high. Infrastructure is being put in place to collect it at scale, distribute it, and get it to the people who can benefit from it. And then keep detailed records and make sure we do all the compliance and reporting, get people’s permission, and study it while we are actually using it. We want to do it in a rigorous and ethical way.

MSR: When does this treatment date back from?

MJ: Before 1900 it was tried.

MSR: It appears some people have died from heart failure as a result of contracting the virus. How do you explain this?

MJ: One of things that can happen when you have an overwhelming infection is you have a condition called myocarditis, meaning the heart becomes inflamed and the efficiency of the pumping action becomes worse. It’s unclear if COVID-19 does anything unusual.

It appears that when you are septic and when you have critical illness, when you have multi-organ failure, typically your heart function goes down as well. It’s unclear if there is any kind of nasty stuff being excreted by this virus.

It’s possible it targets the heart, but we don’t know that yet. My guess is it is more of the general phenomena. Time will tell. We have to do the research.

MSR: How does COVID-19 attack the body?

MJ: It’s not clear exactly how COVID attacks the body. I think we are 80 percent there. We have the general game plan, but the details are still being worked out.

MSR: How are you going to get started in Minnesota?

MJ: There are plans to collect it [plasma] and distribute it nationally. Most of the people we will begin to collect [plasma] from will be in the Rochester and southeastern Minnesota region.

MSR: What is plasma?

MJ: When you look at your blood it is red, but red cells are about 40 percent. The rest is protein-containing fluid that, if you separate it, put it in a centrifuge and spin it around, you will get this kind of yellowish material. That’s plasma. It is the part of the blood that is not the red and white cells, the non-cellular part of the blood.

MSR: What are this treatment’s chances of success?

MJ: It’s too soon to tell. It depends on how sick the patient is. Our best shot is people who are sick but not terribly sick or in the ICU yet. And it may help people in the ICU.

What we are trying to do is bend some curves. We want to stop people deteriorating as they go from sick to the ICU, and as they get in the ICU and do worse, we want them to stabilize and get better.

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Black Woman to Lead United States Park Police

 Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

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Pamela A. Smith

Pamela A. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the United States Park Police, will lead the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.

Smith, who became the first African American woman to lead the 230-year-old agency, immediately remarked that she would establish a body-worn camera program for USPP within 90 days.

The program will initially begin in San Francisco and be implemented across the country by the end of the year, Smith said.

“Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days,” Smith offered in a statement.

 “This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the FBI National Academy. She is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

During her law enforcement career, the proud Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sister has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, canine handler, and academy instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

 According to a news release, Smith also served as executive lieutenant to the chief of police, assistant commander of the San Francisco Field Office, commander of the New York Field Office, acting deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division, and deputy chief for the Field Operations Division.

Smith was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office as its Major.

At the USPP, she will lead a 560-member workforce that protects the public, parks, and the nation’s most iconic landmarks in Wash., D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

“Chief Smith’s commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the NPS director, noted in a statement.

 “Over the coming months, the leadership of the National Park Service will explore opportunities with Chief Smith designed to strengthen our organization’s commitment to transparency. Her personal and professional experience make her acutely aware of and ready to meet the challenges and responsibilities that face U.S. Park Police and law enforcement agencies across the nation.”

 Jennifer Flynn, the associate director for Visitor Resource Protection at the National Park Service added that she’s looking forward to Smith’s leadership.

“Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

 “As federal law enforcement officers, the U.S. Park Police officers have a new opportunity each day to give their best to the American people. Chief Smith exemplifies that approach as a colleague and mentor, and she will be instrumental in refining and shaping the future of the organization,” Flynn said.

Smith declared that she would lead by example and expects all officers to display integrity.

 “I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as chief of police,” Chief Smith declared. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”  

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Children’s Defense Fund: State of America’s Children Reveals that 71 Percent of Children of Color Live in Poverty

“While we reported on the 73 million children in the U.S. in 2019, which is 22 percent of the nation’s population, we also note that 2020 was the first year in American history that a majority of children are projected to be children of color,” said the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, the president and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund.

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Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)
Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

Part One of an ongoing series on this impactful and informative report.

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

The child population in America is the most diverse in history, but children remain the poorest age group in the country with youth of color suffering the highest poverty rates.

“While we reported on the 73 million children in the U.S. in 2019, which is 22 percent of the nation’s population, we also note that 2020 was the first year in American history that a majority of children are projected to be children of color,” said the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, the president and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund.

Dr. Wilson’s remarks come as the Marian Wright Edelman founded nonprofit released “The State of America’s Children 2021.”

The comprehensive report is eye-opening.

It highlights how children remain the poorest age group in America, with children of color and young children suffering the highest poverty rates. For instance, of the more than 10.5 million poverty-stricken children in America in 2019, approximately 71 percent were those of color.

The stunning exposé revealed that income and wealth inequality are growing and harming children in low-income, Black and Brown families.

While the share of all wealth held by the top one percent of Americans grew from 30 percent to 37 percent, the share held by the bottom 90 percent fell from 33 percent to 23 percent between 1989 and 2019.

Today, a member of the top 10 percent of income earners makes about 39 times as much as the average earner in the bottom 90 percent.

The median family income of White households with children ($95,700) was more than double that of Black ($43,900), and Hispanic households with children ($52,300).

Further, the report noted that the lack of affordable housing and federal rental assistance leaves millions of children homeless or at risk of homelessness.

More than 1.5 million children enrolled in public schools experienced homelessness during the 2017-2018 school year, and 74 percent of unhoused students during the 2017-2018 school year were living temporarily with family or friends.

Millions of children live in food-insecure households, lacking reliable access to safe, sufficient, and nutritious food, and more than 1 in 7 children – 10.7 million – were food insecure, meaning they lived in households where not everyone had enough to eat.

Black and Hispanic children were twice as likely to live in food-insecure households as White children.

The report further found that America’s schools have continued to slip backwards into patterns of deep racial and socioeconomic segregation, perpetuating achievement gaps.

For instance, during the 2017-2018 public school year, 19 percent of Black, 21 percent of Hispanic, and more than 26 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native school students did not graduate on time compared with only 11 percent of White students.

More than 77 percent of Hispanic and more than 79 percent of Black fourth and eighth grade public school students were not proficient in reading or math in 2019, compared with less than 60 percent of White students.

“We find that in the course of the last year, we’ve come to the point where our conversations about child well-being and our dialogue and reckoning around racial justice has really met a point of intersection, and so we must consider child well-being in every conversation about racial justice and quite frankly you can only sustainably speak of racial justice if we’re talking about the state of our children,” Dr. Wilson observed.

Some more of the startling statistics found in the report include:

  • A White public school student is suspended every six seconds, while students of color and non-White students are suspended every two seconds.
  • Conditions leading to a person dropping out of high school occur with white students every 19 seconds, while it occurs every nine seconds for non-White and students of color.
  • A White child is arrested every 1 minute and 12 seconds, while students of color and non-whites are arrested every 45 seconds.
  • A White student in public school is corporally punished every two minutes, while students of color and non-Whites face such action every 49 seconds.

Dr. Wilson asserted that federal spending “reflects the nation’s skewed priorities.”

In the report, he notes that children are not receiving the investment they need to thrive, and despite making up such a large portion of the population, less than 7.5 percent of federal spending went towards children in fiscal year 2020.

Despite Congress raising statutory caps on discretionary spending in fiscal years 2018 to 2020, children did not receive their fair share of those increases and children’s share of total federal spending has continued to decline.

“Children continue to be the poorest segment of the population,” Dr. Wilson demanded. “We are headed into a dark place as it relates to poverty and inequity on the American landscape because our children become the canary in the coal mine.”

Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children.

The $1.9 trillion plan not only contained $1,400 checks for individuals, it includes monthly allowances and other elements to help reduce child poverty.

The President’s plan expands home visitation programs that help at-risk parents from pregnancy through early childhood and is presents universal access to top-notch pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds.

“The American Rescue Plan carried significant and powerful anti-poverty messages that will have remarkable benefits on the lives of children in America over the course of the next two years,” Dr. Wilson declared.

“The Children’s Defense Fund was quick to applaud the efforts of the President. We have worked with partners, including leading a child poverty coalition, to advance the ideas of that investment,” he continued.

“Most notably, the expansion of the child tax credit which has the impact of reducing poverty, lifting more than 50 percent of African American children out of poverty, 81 percent of Indigenous children, 45 percent of Hispanic children. It’s not only good policy, but it’s specifically good policy for Black and Brown children.”

Click here to view the full report.

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She Bought Freedom for Herself and Other Slaves Today a Park is Named in Her Honor

Alethia Browning Tanner saved enough money to purchase her freedom in 1810. “The total amount, thought to have been paid in installments, was $1,400. In 1810, $1,400 was a significant amount; about the equivalent of three years’ earnings for an average skilled tradesperson,” attucksadams.com researchers surmised. 

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Alethia Browning Tanner worked to purchase the freedom of more than 20 of her relatives and neighbors, mostly the family of her older sister Laurana including Laurana herself, her children, and her grandchildren.

In her early years, Alethia Browning Tanner sold vegetables in a produce stall near President’s Square – now known as Lafayette Square – in what is now Northwest Washington, D.C.

According to the D.C. Genealogy Research, Resources, and Records, Tanner bought her freedom in 1810 and later purchased several relatives’ release.

She was the first woman on the Roll of Members of the Union Bethel AME Church (now Metropolitan AME Church on M Street), and Turner owned land and a store at 14th and H Streets, which she left to her nephews – one of whom later sold the property for $100,000.

Named in her honor, the Alethia Tanner Park is located at 227 Harry Thomas Way in Northeast DC.

The park sits near the corner of Harry Thomas Way and Q Street and is accessible by foot or bike via the Metropolitan Branch Trail, just north of the Florida Ave entrances.

“The first Council legislative meeting of Black History Month, the Council took a second and final vote on naming the new park for Alethia Tanner, an amazing woman who is more than worthy of this long-delayed recognition,” Ward 5 Councilman Kenyan McDuffie said in 2020 ahead of the park’s naming ceremony.

“[Her upbringing] itself would be a remarkable legacy, but Ms. Tanner was also active in founding and supporting many educational, religious, and civic institutions,” McDuffie remarked.

“She contributed funds to start the first school for free Black children in Washington, the Bell School. Feeling unwelcome at her predominately segregated church, she & other church members founded the Israel Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. When the church fell on hard times and was sold at auction by creditors, she and her family stepped in and repurchased the church.”

Born in 1781 on a plantation owned by Tobias and Mary Belt in Prince George’s County, Maryland, historians noted that Tanner had two sisters, Sophia Bell and Laurena Cook.

“Upon the death of Mary Pratt (Tobias had predeceased his wife) in 1795, the plantation, known as Chelsea Plantation, was inherited by their daughter Rachel Belt Pratt,” historians wrote.

“Mary Belt’s will stipulated that Laurena be sent to live with a sibling of Rachel Pratt’s while Sophia and Alethia were to stay at the Chelsea Plantation.”

Tanner sold vegetables at the well-known market just north of the White House in Presidents Park. It is possible – and probable – she met Thomas Jefferson there as he was known to frequent the vegetable markets there along with other prominent early Washingtonians, according to historians at attacksadams.com. 

“There are also White House records suggesting she worked for Thomas Jefferson in some capacity, likely doing various housework tasks,” the researchers determined.

Tanner saved enough money to purchase her freedom in 1810. “The total amount, thought to have been paid in installments, was $1,400. In 1810, $1,400 was a significant amount; about the equivalent of three years’ earnings for an average skilled tradesperson,” attucksadams.com researchers surmised.

“Self-emancipation was not an option for all enslaved peoples, but both Alethia and her sister Sophia were able to accomplish this, almost entirely through selling vegetables at the market,” the researchers continued.

“Alethia Tanner moved to D.C. and became one of a significant and growing number of free Black people in the District. In 1800, 793 free Black people were living in D.C.

By 1810, there were 2,549, and by 1860, 11,131 free Black people lived in D.C., more than the number of enslaved peoples.”

Historians wrote that beginning at about 15 years after securing her manumission, Alethia Tanner worked to purchase the freedom of more than 20 of her relatives and neighbors, mostly the family of her older sister Laurana including Laurana herself, her children, and her grandchildren.

All in all, Tanner would have paid the Pratt family well over $5,000. All accomplished with proceeds from her own vegetable market business, they concluded.

“Alethia Tanner, it’s an amazing story of resilience, hard work, and perseverance,” D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation Director Delano Hunter said at the park’s dedication.

“I just learned about this history through this, so it shows how when you name a park, you really educate people on the historical significance.”

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