Plexiglass barriers at Pence-Harris debate ‘are a joke,’ won’t stop coronavirus, medical experts say

The Commission on Presidential Debates is taking extra precautions at Wednesday night’s Vice Presidential debate given the coronavirus outbreak in the White House, but pictures of two curved plexiglass barriers they plan to use has some epidemiologists and airborne pathogen specialists scratching their heads.

Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris will be seated more than 12 feet apart and separated by two plexiglass barriers. But those barriers are “entirely symbolic,” according to Dr. Bill Schaffner, an epidemiologist at Vanderbilt University.

The commission became worried after President Donald Trump and several White House staff contracted Covid-19 shortly after last Tuesday’s presidential debate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Pence was not in “close contact” with Trump, who announced that he was infected with the virus early Friday morning.

Nonetheless, a person familiar with the debate planning told NBC News that Harris’ campaign asked for the plexiglass to be used at the event at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

The plexiglass is “minimal protection,” Schaffner said in a phone interview, adding that the barriers are mostly “cosmetic.” 

However, he added that barriers are one part of a “layered approach” that includes testing and distancing of everyone on stage. Everyone in the debate hall is required to wear a mask and there will be no handshake or physical greeting between Pence and Harris, according to the commission. Altogether, he said, the steps have likely reduced the risk of spread occurring.

The plexiglass barriers are just one “part of the CPD’s overall approach to health and safety,” according to a fact sheet distributed by the commission.

The debate is due to take place indoors and, of course, plenty of talking is expected. That’s important because the CDC released new guidance on Monday that said the virus can spread through particles in the air between people who are further than six feet apart in certain environments. The CDC said the risk of that occurring increases indoors and when people are doing certain activities, including speaking.

Jeff Siegel, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Toronto and a specialist in indoor air quality, ventilation and filtration, said the risk of virus-carrying particles going airborne in an environment like a debate when people are talking loudly is “huge.”

“On the plus side, it’s a pretty big space, so there’s a big dilution effect,” he said over the phone, adding that Harris, Pence and the moderator, Susan Page, will be spaced out appropriately. The high ceiling and large room will also help to reduce risk, he said.

“But they’re not addressing things like ventilation,” Siegel said, adding that he hopes the debate hall has appropriately up-to-date air filtration and ventilation systems. “If I was Vice President Pence’s staff or Harris’ staff, I would certainly want to get a portable HEPA filter in there.”

HEPA filters are high-performing air filters that capture very small particles in the air. The commission did not return CNBC’s request for comment on the building’s

City of Hope-led study details new strategy to address the barriers that keep older adults out of clinical trials

The study examined what has been done and chartered a roadmap to improve equitable access using the best-available scientific literature on barriers to older adult participation in cancer clinical trials.

A City of Hope-led study revealed little effort has been made to improve older adult representation in clinical trials of new cancer drugs, even when the treatment is aimed at a disease that disproportionately affects this age group.

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William Dale, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Center for Cancer and Aging Research at City of Hope, the study’s senior author. Photo: City of Hope

“There is currently no incentive to establish real-world effectiveness among older adults. Older adults need a seat at the table,” said Mina Sedrak, M.D., M.S., lead author of the study and deputy director of the Center for Cancer and Aging at City of Hope, a world-renowned independent research and treatment center for cancer, diabetes and other life-threatening diseases.

Two in 5 Americans with cancer are age 70 or older, yet fewer than 25% of patients in cancer clinical trials registered with the Food and Drug Administration are in this age group, Sedrak said.

The study was published in the journal CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians on Oct. 1. Researchers reviewed 8,691 studies that evaluated barriers which hindered older adults from participating in cancer trials. Twelve articles defined complex, interrelated problems as root causes, including stringent eligibility criteria, physician concern for toxicity, ageism, transportation and caregiver burden.

Only one study implemented an intervention meant to increase enrollment of older adults in trials – and it was not successful. This finding starkly amplifies the lack of effective strategies to improve participation of this underrepresented group in cancer research.

The researchers report that cancer trials must ask appropriate questions tailored or driven by the needs of older adults with cancer and should measure relevant outcomes. Their call to action applies to all oncologists and primary care providers, not just geriatric oncologists, Sedrak said, adding that patients should advocate for themselves.

“Ask your doctor about clinical trial opportunities when you’re diagnosed with cancer and do your own research because there may be an option that you haven’t heard about. It may benefit you, but perhaps your doctor may not have considered you for the investigational trial,” he said.

William Dale, M.D., Ph.D., the study’s senior author and an oncologic geriatrician at City of Hope, said, “We don’t know enough about treating our largest group of cancer patients. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, when enrollment in trials is lower than ever due to isolation and distancing practices, actively including older adults in clinical trials is incredibly important.” Dale is the Arthur M. Coppola Family Chair in Supportive Care Medicine at City of Hope.

City of Hope is a leader in offering older patients appropriate and personalized cancer care, as exemplified by the fact that Dale and his colleagues co-wrote the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s guidelines

Telehealth Patient Satisfaction Surges During Pandemic but Barriers to Access Persist, J.D. Power Finds

Amwell Ranks Highest among Direct-to-Consumer Brands; Cigna Ranks Highest among Health Plans

Telehealth has emerged as one of the bright spots in the “new normal,” giving patients the ability to meet virtually with healthcare providers from the safety and comfort of home. However, the technology is still experiencing growing pains. According to the J.D. Power 2020 U.S. Telehealth Satisfaction Study,SM released today, patient satisfaction with telehealth services has been increasing during the COVID-19 pandemic, but several barriers to access still exist for many patients, including those most at risk.

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J.D. Power 2020 U.S. Telehealth Satisfaction Study (Graphic: Business Wire)

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been a moment of truth for telehealth, and, by most accounts, the technology is rising to the challenge and delivering a high degree of satisfaction among those who use it,” said James Beem, managing director of global healthcare intelligence at J.D. Power. “However, even though the public awareness with Telehealth is higher due to the influence of COVID-19, the barriers for the consumer to engage with the technology has been a consistent theme in our research.”

Following are some key findings of the 2020 study:

  • Great patient experience: The overall customer satisfaction score for telehealth services is 860 (on a 1,000-point scale), which is among the highest of all healthcare, insurance and financial services industry studies conducted by J.D. Power.

  • Barriers to access persist: Though telehealth has been pitched as a solution to improve access to healthcare for everyone, more than half (52%) of telehealth users say they encountered at least one barrier that made it difficult to use telehealth. The most common hurdles are limited services (24%); confusing technology requirements (17%); and lack of awareness of cost (15%). Additionally, 35% of telehealth users indicate they experienced a problem during a visit. Tech audio issues (26%) are the most common problem.

  • At-risk patients have lower levels of satisfaction: Overall satisfaction is 117 points lower among patients with the lowest self-reported health status than among patients who consider themselves to be in excellent health. Similarly, healthier patients are significantly more likely to understand the information provided during the visit, receive clear explanations, feel their visits are highly personalized and obtain a high-quality diagnosis.

  • Safety becomes a top driver of utilization: Among patients who used a telehealth offering this year, 46% say their top reason for choosing telehealth was safety. That compares with just 13% in 2019.

Study Rankings

Amwell ranks highest in telehealth satisfaction among direct-to-consumer brands, with a score of 885. Doctor on Demand (879) ranks second.

Cigna ranks highest among payers of health plan-provided telehealth services with a score of 874. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan (867) ranks second and UnitedHealthcare (865) ranks third.

The J.D. Power U.S. Telehealth Satisfaction Study, now in its second year, measures consumer satisfaction with their telehealth service experience based on four factors (in order of importance): customer service (42%); consultation (28%); enrollment (19%); and billing and