Articles Posted in Covid- 19

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On Monday, Senate Republicans, led by Senator Mitt Romney (R – Utah), unveiled their Time to Rescue United States Trusts Act (TRUST) which purports to restore and strengthen federal trust funds, i.e. Social Security and Medicare.  The TRUST ACT is a sub-provision of the HEALS ACT, the Republican coronavirus proposed relief bill.  Congress is currently debating a second stimulus package in response to the coronavirus pandemic.  These bills could possibly extend unemployment benefits and provide a second round of stimulus checks.

The TRUST Act calls for creation of committees to shore up the programs and control debt over the long term.  Bills advanced by the committees would be fast-tracked.   The non-profit group, Social Security Works attacked the GOP proposal as a closed door attempt to cut Social Security.  Group President, Nancy Altman, says “It is a way to undermine the economic security of Americans without political accountability.”  She also accused Republicans of using the pandemic as cover for slashing Social Security.

Senate Republicans claim the Social Security, Medicare and federal highway trust funds are doomed to run out of money in the next few years.  Democrats claim the recent tax cuts ran up the national debt; thus stoking the fires of trust fund insolvency.   Republicans claim the COVID-19 pandemic has created an insolvency crisis that may occur much sooner.   The solutions involve raising taxes, cutting benefits or some combination of both.

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Psychologists are warning that thousands of Covid-19 survivors might find themselves struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder after recovery.

Psychologists believe that the mental health risks arising from the pandemic have not been addressed, and are likely to take a very significant toll on the survivors in the months following their recovery. Being hospitalized for any illness is a terrifying experience.  However, researchers say that being hospitalized for Covid-19 is a uniquely terrifying experience.

Because Covid-19 is a highly infectious disease, patients have been unable to have contact with family members for emotional support during a hospitalization or at-home quarantine.  Social connections help loved ones overcome traumatic events.  Covid-19 hospitalization often involves a complete lack of contact with family members, adding to the patient’s sense of helplessness and exacerbating his/her mental health issues.

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Thanks to occupying a household with social twenty-somethings with less than rigid quarantine habits, we have had two exposures to COVID-19, but we all just tested negative.  My family consists of my husband and I (we are both 56) and our two adult sons (21 and 24).  Our quarantine is only as good as the least quarantined member.  My youngest son has friends over (some of whom work in bars) and they socialize outside with no masks or social distancing.  We, as a family, have now twice been exposed to a houseguest who tested positive but was asymptomatic.  Today, three of us just received a negative rapid COVID-19 test.  The youngest family member will test tomorrow because he takes the LSAT today (yea!).

What does exposure to asymptomatic but COVID-19 positive individuals tells us about the benefits of more or less quarantine?  The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends testing of asymptomatic individuals with recent exposure to known SARS-COV-2  (or COVID-19).   However, the CDC also says that early testing after exposure may miss many infections and therefore a quarantine is still warranted.  Serial testing over many points in time may be more likely to detect infection.  But practically speaking, we found that testing was problematic.  On a prior exposure, my older son experienced delays in tele-medicine appointments, limited availability of testing sites, long delays/lines at testing centers, and seven days later he still does not have his test results.  Today, we went to a private facility and used our family health insurance at a delay of two and one-half hours, but we all have test results in hand.  I might add that we had a familial connection to the medical provider which enhanced this experience.

If testing does not always give us adequate information on our own levels of quarantine, what does the national data show?  Nationally, the overall percentage of specimens testing positive for SARS-COV-2 decreased from week 26 (9.2%0 to week 27 (8.8%) nationally but increased in five regions.  Increases were reported in New York/New Jersey/Puerto Rico, the Southeast, the Midwest, South Central and Central regions.  The overall cumulative hospitalization rate is 107.2 per 100,000 with the highest rates in persons 65 years or older.  Death rates decreased nationally from 6.9% to 5.5%, representing the 11th consecutive week with a declining percentage rate.

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Social media is a breeding ground for bad information.  Some people have complained recently, through social media mostly, that wearing a mask is detrimental to their mental health and there is no science behind the need to wear a mask in a pandemic.  These memes, posts, tweets and comments get passed around without any scientific back-up, but carry the weight of dogma.

The science behind mask-wearing in a global pandemic exists.  The Center for Disease Control (“CDC”) recommends that people wear cloth face coverings in public setting and when around people who don’t live in your household, especially when other social distancing is difficult to maintain.  The people who should not wear a face-covering are the following:  1) children under 2; 2) anyone who has trouble breathing; 3) anyone who is unconscious or otherwise unable to remove a mask.  In support of these recommendations the CDC lists 19 studies on the efficacy of masks to control the spread of contagious diseases from the period 2012 to 2019.    You can find that information here.

A recent study in Health Affairs compared the COVID-19 growth rate before and after mask mandates in 15 states and the District of Columbia.  Mask mandates slowed the daily growth rate by 0.9 percent.  By three weeks, a mask mandate had slowed the growth rate by 2 percentage points.  One study predicted that 33,000 deaths could be avoided by October 1 if 95% of people wore masks in public.  Even if 80% of the population wore masks in public, this could be more effective than a lockdown in slowing the growth rate of this contagious disease.   Six months into this pandemic, enough data has been gathered to determine that masks are critical in mitigating the COVID-19 spread.

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On June 11, Governor Kemp introduced an executive order, “Empowering a Healthy Georgia.” Those who are 65 and older no longer must shelter in place, unless they are in a long-term facility or are “medically fragile.” Effective June 16, restaurants no longer have a dining limit, and theaters have no seating limits. Salons and barbershops may now resume walk-in services. Bars may also now have 50 people inside. Gatherings of 50 or more people are banned unless social distancing of 6 feet is maintained. However, for gatherings of fewer than 50 people, social distancing requirements are no longer mandated.  The public health emergency remains in effect until July 12.

In the wake of this executive order, it is critical to understand the current COVID-19 cases in Georgia. As of June 17, there are 60,030 confirmed corona cases in Georgia and 2,575 deaths. The top counties with confirmed cases are Gwinnett, Fulton, DeKalb, and Cobb. Between May 30 and June 12, there were on average 675.14 new confirmed cases a day, an increase from the previous 2 weeks. The number of hospitalizations for COVID-19 decreased over the past month. On June 10, there were 836 hospitalizations reported, compared to 1,500 on May 1.

Despite the easing of restrictions, Georgians should continue to follow CDC guidelines. One should still wear a mask when going into public areas, such as grocery stores. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol when washing is not an option.  Avoid touching your face, especially when in public. Lastly, avoid close contact with other people, especially the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions.

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At the time of writing this, more than 130 million Americans had received their $1,200 stimulus checks to help them tide over their financial problems during this crisis. However, persons who are receiving disability and other benefits by the Social Security Administration may find that their checks have been delayed.

Logically speaking, the $1,200 check should first benefit persons receiving federal benefits. For example, persons who are already on Supplemental Security Income benefits or are currently receiving Social Security disability benefits are much more likely to be facing the kind of serious financial challenges that can make it hard to even take care of basic needs, like food.

These persons should have been getting the checks the quickest. If you are a disability beneficiary who is still waiting for his or her stimulus check, it’s very likely on its way. However, there may be a delay.

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In the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, when not much was known about the terrifying Coronavirus and the disease it caused, there were hopes that the pandemic would peter off as the weather got hotter. As we move towards summer, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen at all.

In fact, experts warn that any early easing of social distancing and shelter-in-place protocols would actually lead to an unbearable spike in infection rates across the country. The White House has been keen to open up the country to a more normal way of life, preferably in the first week of May. However, experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, believe that opening the country and easing lock-down and social distancing protocols now would be hazardous, and would actually lead to an increase in Covid-19 cases over the summer.

Across the globe, there has been little to indicate that an increase in temperatures is in any way helpful in destroying the virus. The virus is spreading in places as notoriously hot as India and Brazil. India, for instance, has only been to control its infection rates through strictly-enforced lock-down measures.

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Testing has been a tricky issue in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic in Georgia, but we are happy to report that things are now turning for the better. Symptomatic persons are eligible for Covid-19 testing in Georgia.

Testing is a major tool in the fight against Covid-19 pandemic. Globally, countries that have ramped up testing dramatically have been more successfully in controlling the spread of the disease.

The state of Georgia is taking the necessary steps to ensure that more people can get tested for the disease. All health care workers, first responders, law enforcement personnel, and residents and staff of long term care facilities will be tested on a priority basis, even if they are not symptomatic.

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In the initial days of the Coronavirus or Covid-19 outbreak many in Georgia believed that the disease would be restricted to urban areas due to higher travel as well as the greater population densities in cities.  However, rural Georgia is currently reeling from the effects of the outbreak, leaving many concerned about how hospitals in these regions will handle the large infection numbers that are now confirmed.

There is no denying that rural Georgia has been hit doubly hard by the outbreak. It is not just the number of cases that are alarming, but also the fact that rural hospitals, even in the best of times, are poorly equipped to handle vast caseloads. Several rural towns in Georgia have seen local hospitals close over the past few years as part of larger scale hospital closures across the country.

In Dougherty County, which is a Covid-19 hotspot, there are just 50 hospital ICU beds for the entire county. In the four counties surrounding it, there is not a single hospital bed. The Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany has seen as many as 600 people test positive recently, while a staggering 1000 more people who were tested at the hospital were waiting for their results at the time of writing this post. In sparsely populated Mitchell County, not a single Covid-19 case existed just two weeks ago. Today, the Covid-19 death count here is 9.

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The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases is fast increasing in the state of Georgia. The total number of cases at the time of writing this has touched 10566. The deaths total 379, an alarming increase by any standards. There are 2159 hospitalized.

The highest number of fatalities has been recorded in Dougherty County which has recorded 44 deaths linked to the Corona Virus global pandemic. 45 deaths were recorded in Fulton, while Cobb County recorded 29 Covid-19 related deaths.  Testing has been expanded across Georgia with more than 38,000 tests administered thus far, making it a testing rate of 24.2 percent.

Fulton County, in fact, recorded the largest increase in confirmed Corona virus cases in the past week, with 26 confirmed new cases, while DeKalb had 21 confirmed new cases. Fulton County is also the only county with a confirmed Covid-19 case toll of above 1000 with a total of 1276 recorded cases.  Currently, DeKalb County has 742 cases, while Cobb County has 629 Gwinnett County has 603, Clayton County has 297, Douglas has 127, and Fayette has 89 cases.

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