Safe takeout options under coronavirus

By Nailah John, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

The way we get food now has totally changed due to the Covid-19 virus. Most us around the nation no longer go to our favorite bar or restaurant or stop at the local coffee shop for a bite to eat or to socialize and have a drink. The mandatory closure shutdown of restaurants with the exception of takeout or delivery is our only option of enjoying a meal not cooked at home. Beyond that, we may ask the questions: first is it safe? Second: is it ethical to potentially expose a delivery worker to what we are all trying to avoid the risk of Covid-19?

The answer to the first question is yes, with some caveats. Currently food is not associated with the transmission of Covid-19, according to the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration. However, Vox reports that there is growing evidence of fecal/oral transmission, which means you can ingest the virus shed in feces through inadequate handwashing or contaminated food and water. Therefore, handlers of food who carry the virus can spread the virus to food items. In theory, all restaurants have to follow food safety rules, and there are extra measures that have been put in place due to Covid-19. However, we have seen Chipotle and other restaurants spread infections by poor food handling.

The second question is complicated, but here are some thoughts. Currently delivery workers are in the middle of a pandemic but still have to work to support their families and pay bills. Eater suggests that if customers forego take-out food, delivery workers and restaurants struggling to provide during the crisis could be put out of business.

We recommend ordering take-away food from your favorite restaurants and, even better, support them by buying gift cards for post-pandemic future meals when restaurants re-open.

Your first option is to is use the in-house restaurant delivery option, since third-party apps take commission fees, which reduce the profit for restaurants. Here are some apps that are taking the necessary measures in protecting their workers and helping out the restaurant industry.

  • UberEats is working to provide drivers with disinfectant. With limited supplies they are working with suppliers to source as much as possible. Any delivery worker who is diagnosed with Covid-19 or is individually asked to self-isolate by a public health authority will receive financial assistance for up to 14 days. UberEats customers have the option to choose how they would like their orders delivered, including selecting “leave at door” during checkout. UberEats has also waived the delivery fee for more than 100,000 independent restaurants across the USA and Canada.
  • Postmates launched the Postmates Fleet Relief Fund to help fleet workers cover medical expenses related to Covid-19, regardless of diagnosis. Active members of the fleet who receive a positive diagnosis for Covid-19 or who are required to self-quarantine based on infection may be eligible to access additional funds to offset up to two weeks of lost income while they recover. Postmates has also introduced non-contact deliveries, which allows distancing between customers and delivery workers. Postmates will also waive commission fees for businesses in the San Francisco Bay area.
  • DoorDash (also owns Caviar) is providing financial assistance to eligible delivery workers and Caviar couriers who are diagnosed with Covid-19 or quarantined. DoorDash is consulting with public health officials and working with restaurants to enhance their food preparation protocols. The default delivery method has been changed to the non-contact option to minimize contact between the delivery workers and customers. All new and existing DoorDash partner restaurants will receive commission relief and marketing support.
  • Grubhub is offering a one-time pay adjustment to help with medical expenses and loss of income if a driver tests positive with Covid-19. Grubhub will also support drivers who have been ordered by a public health authority or licensed medical personnel to self-isolate due to a risk of spreading Covid-19, and if a driver’s account has been individually restricted as a result of information provided to Grubhub by a public health authority regarding the risk of spreading Covid-19. Grubhub has also introduced contact-free delivery, which allows customers to request having their delivery left at the front door to avoid less contact.
  • On March 9, Instacart introduced a new sick pay policy that all part-time employees including in-store shoppers now have access to sick pay, an accrued benefit that can be used as paid time off for absences from work due to illness or injury. This pay accrual will be backdated from the start of the year for all in-store shoppers. Instacart is also offering 14 days of pay for any part-time employee and full-service shoppers who are diagnosed with Covid-19 or are under mandatory isolation or quarantine directed by local, state, or public health authority. This assist will be available for 30 days. Instacart has also introduced “Leave at my Door Delivery” to all customers across North America.

It is important that we minimize contact with others since daily things are changing in relation to Covid-19. However, delivery services are really stepping up to keep customers safe and, for that, we should all be grateful. Remember to support your local restaurants by requesting non-contact delivery!

 

Ten years later: ACA consistently proves to be America’s safety net, especially in times of crisis

Nissa Shaffi

By Nissa Shaffi, NCL Associate Director of Health Policy

Ten years ago, the United States Congress adopted the Affordable Care Act (ACA), after many decades of unsuccessful attempts at achieving universal health care by advocates. For the first time, the ACA provided coverage options for every American across the economic spectrum, expanding Medicaid in many states and offering the self-employed access to insurance on the open exchange. For NCL, the ACA is the safety net program the founders of the League sought to see put in place from the organization’s inception at the turn of the 20th Century.

Today with the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus across America, patients’ access to health care is more critical than ever. Yet despite the clear need we all have for health care coverage, over the past decade, the ACA has been under attack by conservatives in Congress and survived multiple attempts at repeal. The latest came from the Texas v. United States case – and now it threatens to render the entire ACA unconstitutional, following the repeal of the ACA’s  individual mandate provision. Why conservatives wish to deprive people of health care escapes us at the NCL. In fact, the ACA has transformed the way Americans interact with the healthcare system.

Throughout its short life, the ACA has cemented into law numerous consumer health protections and has expanded access to health coverage for over 20 million people. 37 states have expanded Medicaid, the health care program for low-income Americans. Prioritizing preventive care, the ACA mandated that health insurance providers  cover preventive services for all adults, women, and children – free of cost to the patient. The ACA also made it unlawful for insurers to deny or reduce benefits based on preexisting conditions. These include diagnostic included screenings, vaccines, birth control, and access to certain medications. For the first time, those 26 under could retain their health coverage through their parents’ insurance plans.

Research has shown that ACA Medicaid Expansion has improved access to care, financial security, health outcomes, economic mobility, and have reduced uncompensated care. Despite the progress made by the ACA, there are still 29 million uninsured people in the United States. If the ACA is repealed, 25 million Americans may lose their coverage overnight, without the promise of its replacement. Perhaps the COVID-19 outbreak will change the calculus and bring home how devasting it would be to repeal the ACA. Insurers would no longer be obligated to provide protections offered by the law, allowing plans to deny coverage indiscriminately, leaving millions of families along with low-income and high-risk individuals without care.

The true impact of the ACA will be even more apparent as the national continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic in the coming months. COVID-19 has upended the economy and affected virtually every industry and has caused unemployment to soar. On March 21, unemployment claims reached a record 3.3 million – the highest level of jobless claims in history (the Great Depression saw levels of 24 percent unemployment at its peak but there was no unemployment insurance safety net during the 1930s and thus no jobless claims, just breadlines). Economist Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute estimates that by summer, approximately “14 million workers will lose their jobs due to the coronavirus shock.”

A report by FAIR Health estimates that potential treatment for COVID-19, resulting in an average six-day hospital stay, could total to a whopping $73,300 for the uninsured: a devastating prospect in the middle of a global financial collapse. With the increased loss of employer-based health insurance, the ACA proves to be more crucial than ever as individuals and families may turn to the health insurance marketplace to secure coverage. NCL is backing legislation – and the health plans support this too – to move workers losing jobs and health insurance to the COBRA program with heavy subsidies so they can ride out the pandemic –  COVID-19 has exposed so many severe deficiencies in the healthcare system. To learn more about statewide efforts to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, click here.

While the fate of the ACA remains uncertain, it is still the law of the land. If you are concerned about loss of coverage during this time, several state-run health plans have enacted Special Enrollment Periods (SEPs) in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, click here to learn more. NCL believes that healthcare is a right and that protections offered by the ACA make this country a far stronger, more robust nation. We will continue to work diligently to protect universal access affordable and reliable health coverage. To learn more about what’s at stake and how you can help prevent the potential repeal of the ACA, click here.

Coronavirus and food safety: What you need to know

By Nailah John, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

Perhaps some of the only good news about the Covid-19 is that food is not the primary way that the virus can be spread. According to Harvard Medical School, “We are still learning about transmission of COVID-19. It’s not clear if this is possible, but if so, it would be more likely to be the exception than the rule. That said, COVID-19 and other coronaviruses have been detected in the stool of certain patients, so we currently cannot rule out the possibility of occasional transmission from infected food handlers. The virus would likely be killed by cooking.”

Great, but not all foods can or are intended to be cooked – think of deli meats, cole slaw, potato salad, cheeses, salads, fresh fruits and vegetables, breads, pastry, butter, cream cheese; so if the mainstay of a deli or restaurant is “fresh” foods, spreading the virus is a real threat if the right precautions are taken.

And COVID-19 has made us all keenly aware of the importance of wiping surfaces and washing hands frequently, especially when handling food. We also know that COVID-19 can’t typically be transmitted from food or from food packaging. But we do have suggestions.

Food safety measures one should take:

  • Wash your hands the right way: Use plain soap and water- skip the antibacterial soap, scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails for about 20 seconds, if you need to time yourself sing the chorus of your favorite song twice. Rinse your hands, and then dry them with a clean towel. Remember to wash your hands often especially since COVID-19 lives on surfaces for an extended period.
  • Wash surfaces and utensils after each use: Wash cutting boards, utensils countertops with hot, soapy water, especially if you had raw meat, seafood, poultry or eggs on these surfaces. Don’t cross contaminate!
  • Remember it is very important to wash your dishcloths in a hot cycle of your washing machine, sometimes we forget this key element to food safety.
  • Learn more from FoodSafety.gov.

Food safety is paramount in our day-to-day lives – it’s so important that we take the necessary steps not to expose ourselves – whether eating in a restaurant or cooking at home, to COVID-19. Remember eat healthy, nutritious foods and take all the steps needed in preparing a safe meal for you and your family.

Coronavirus: Keeping yourself and your family well-fed in a crisis

By Nailah John, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

Social distancing, isolation, and general uncertainty about the coronavirus have made many rightly concerned about feeding their families during this historic pandemic. Food is very much top-of-mind for most Americans at this critical time. Here are some tips we can offer consumers.

Some of us haven’t stocked our pantry, and we don’t cook much at home. This is a good time to start doing both. My pantry at home is always stocked because I have a toddler who always wants food and snacks. But it’s a good practice generally, and now we are reminded of that more than ever.

From The Washington Post, here are some tips for keeping the pantry stocked so that, in the event of an emergency, you have some options without having to leave the house:

  • Pick a weekend day. Involve the whole family, and make large batches of different dishes so there is variety. Some suggestions: turkey chili, green chili, pasta sauces, and soups or stews—all of which freeze well.
  • Pack them in pint-size containers so that you can take out just what you need for a meal
  • Remember to stock up on frozen vegetables; they have as good or better nutritional value as fresh, since they are flash-frozen at their peak, right after being harvested. If you do not have a big freezer, then opt to stock up on root vegetables. They last longer.
  • Make meals that are nutritious and provide good energy. Many grocery stores are out of stock or running low on stock of rice and pasta. Hugo Ortega, chef and owner of Blackstreet, offered this suggestion to The Post: mix Masa Harina (ground, nixtamalized corn flour better known as Masa), with water, stretch it in the palm of your hand, fill it with stewed vegetables, meat, cheese or anything really and cook it on a cast iron pan. For those that do not know, masa flour is equivalent to pasta, so if you cannot find pasta in your grocery store this is an option—and it’s delicious.

Chef Ortega also hopes that this forced hibernation will encourage people to cultivate fresh food themselves: fresh rosemary that you can grown near a your window or a tomato plant at your back door or on a balcony.

So make a trip to the grocery store—but consider doing so at an off-peak time, and follow the CDC’s advice for going into public safely—and stock up your pantry, cook your family’s favorite dishes, and store them in your freezer. There’s never been a time where we needed to be more prepared, and you’re sure to enjoy the experience with family!

NCL statement: Thank you, quarantine workers

March 18, 2020

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832 

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League joins with our fellow Americans, friends, colleagues, and families in as we adapt our lives to address the health crisis caused by COVID-19. NCL has long been a consumer and patient advocate and we strongly support research, scientific programs, and policy solutions to address diseases across the board.

We want to take this moment to say “thank you” to the thousands of public health servants going into the hospitals, doctors offices and clinics and working on the frontlines to save millions of lives. We rely and depend on their vast knowledge, dedication and commitment to treating sick patients, and we want to specially thank them during this unprecedented national health crisis.

We also thank so many other workers – those in drug stores, grocery stores, Post Offices, the food delivery drivers, taxi, bus and subway drivers, utility workers keeping our electricity, gas, and water systems intact. We owe all of them a debt of gratitude as so many of us are able to work from home; we depend on all of you and thank you for your service to the nation.

We also join with colleagues in the healthcare advocacy community to thank infectious disease specialist Dr. Anthony Fauci for his extraordinary and selfless leadership in this battle against the spread of the coronavirus.

Join us on social to say #ThankYouDrFauci.

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneering consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

 

NCL applauds crackdown on sham coronavirus cures

March 17, 2020

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL), America’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization, today applauded the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for cracking down on vendors selling purported “cures” for the deadly coronavirus. In letters sent to seven companies, the agencies rightly warned that companies seeking to profit off of the “high level of anxiety” consumers are experiencing due to the coronavirus outbreak may be violating federal consumer protection statutes.

The following statement is attributable to Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League:

“Americans are right to be concerned about the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Unfortunately, there are charlatans out there seeking to make a buck selling snake oil ‘cures’ for this deadly virus. These scammers are defrauding consumers of money they will need to weather the coming economic storm. Even worse, consumers who believe these fake cures will ward off or cure the coronavirus may delay obtaining needed medical care with potentially deadly results for themselves and those around them. That is why we are so grateful to the leadership shown by FTC Chairman Simons and FDA Commissioner Hahn in putting these purveyors of false hope on notice.”

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneering consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

COVID-19 is here and thriving, and ‘flattening the curve’ is the only way forward

Nissa Shaffi

Like most Americans, you probably feel besieged by the rapidly evolving developments surrounding COVID-19. The spread of this novel illness has led to drastic measures to contain the virus and protect public health, and the question on everyone’s mind is how bad is this going to get? The short answer: we don’t know. The long answer: COVID-19 is going to disrupt our lives in the coming weeks, if not days, and its overall impact will be realized for months to come.

A lot has happened since I last wrote on COVID-19, so let’s unpack the most recent events:

On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially designated COVID-19 as a pandemic, which is defined as the worldwide spread of a new disease.

On March 13, President Trump declared a national emergency in order to release $50 billion of funding to fortify efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19. With more than 4,100 (and counting) active cases of COVID-19 in the United States, more than 40 states have declared states of emergency.

On March 14, the House passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201), with sweeping bipartisan support. H.R. 6201 aims to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak by expanding access to free testing, extending the Family Medical Leave Act, allocating $1 billion in food aid, and extending sick leave benefits to vulnerable Americans.

On March 15, the White House Coronavirus Task Force announced that the nation is entering a new phase in testing for COVID-19, which will increase the capacity and throughput of testing across the country.

So, why exactly has the disease spread so quickly? The issue lies with the fact that the government has grossly mismanaged critical response efforts for COVID-19. This is in part due to initial faulty tests distributed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which contained technical manufacturing issues, yielding incorrect results.

Once the CDC identified the error, it promised prompt redistribution of new tests – a process that unfortunately took six-weeks to rectify, catalyzing the silent and effective spread of the virus. Amid these series of planning failures, the Trump administration has falsely claimed that anyone who wants a test can obtain one. Yet, concerned patients across the country have complained that they have been denied tests, due to either unavailability or shifting guidance from the CDC regarding who should be diagnosed, treated, and tested.

We now face the reality that we are catastrophically behind in terms of testing and identifying individuals carrying COVID-19. To put this in perspective, South Korea conducts more tests in one day (10,000), than the United States has in the past two months (5,000-8,000).

We must now accept the sobering truth that these delays have enabled patients with an unknown COVID-19 status to serve as vectors to the disease in their communities. Johns Hopkins Professor, Marty Makary, estimates that for every person that has tested positive for COVID-19, there are 25-50 potential new cases. Makary speculates that, at present, there are potentially 50,000 to 500,000 active (undetected) cases of COVID-19 in the United States.

The promising news is that we’ve entered a new phase in COVID-19 response efforts. The CDC traditionally reserved the right to develop new diagnostic tests. However, in the time of COVID-19, this has severely limited the potential to capture the full impact of the outbreak. On Sunday, the White House Coronavirus Taskforce announced that newly forged public and private partnerships would expand testing for COVID-19 significantly.

To aid in critical response efforts, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved high throughput testing, which will significantly increase capacity for testing to hundreds of thousands of individuals per day. We can expect 2 million tests to be available across 2,000 labs nationwide, starting this week.

There are currently labs in every state that have been approved to conduct COVID-19 testing. In order to ebb further contamination, drive-through testing centers have been established in seven states, with more expected to pop up in the coming weeks.

The CDC has released very specific guidance regarding how to pursue testing for COVID-19, should you suspect that you have the illness. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure, and they may include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. If you have these symptoms and suspect that you may be infected, the most important thing to do is to first call your doctor or local health care facility. This will assist your health care provider in properly triaging you without risk of contaminating others.

Over the past few days, you’ve probably heard the words “social distancing,” “self-quarantine,” and, most importantly, “flattening the curve.” In the coming days, we will witness increased cancellations of sporting events, public gatherings, and closures of entire school systems until the spread of the virus tapers off or declines.

It’s all part of a nationwide effort to curb the spread of the pandemic. These measures are extreme – something we haven’t experienced in our lifetimes – but they serve to prevent huge cohorts of people from getting sick all at once, which will wreak havoc on the healthcare system. Now that we have ramped up testing efforts, the number of active cases will arise. Flattening the curve will help delay the spread of disease, as we identify the true incidence of the illness.

We are in a critical time in our nation’s history, and we must all do our part in protecting our communities from further spread of COVID-19. If you have COVID-19, please click here to learn about how you can ensure its containment.

Lastly, if we had a vaccine against the Coronavirus, none of these dire steps would be needed because we’d all get vaccinated. NCL has long championed the effectiveness and safety of vaccines, often in the face of anti-vaxx zealots – we can’t help but be struck by the irony. Everyone wants a vaccine! We are heartened to know that many companies are working to develop antiviral therapies to help combat the spread of COVID-19. Pfizer, for example, has issued a five-point plan to aid scientists in developing treatments to help address this crisis.

The National Consumers League commends the efforts of the CDC, FDA, and other public health agencies in containing and mitigating the impact of COVID-19. Whether its 4 weeks or weeks, we all must make social sacrifices – whatever we must do to contain the virus. These are short windows in the scheme of things, and they will head us in the right direction. Stay healthy and follow CDC guidance on how to protect yourself and your community from COVID-19.

Understanding the rapidly emerging disease, Coronavirus

Nissa Shaffi

On January 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated the Coronavirus as a global health emergency. The virus first emerged from a seafood and poultry market in Wuhan, Hubei Province of China, in December 2019. Since then, it has paralyzed several cities around the world, metastasizing into a global public health and economic crisis.

Coronavirus, officially renamed COVID-19 by WHO, is a member of a large family of viruses that can cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe, life-threatening conditions. Coronaviruses are transmitted between animals and people (zoonotic). There have been only two prior coronaviruses that have exhibited zoonotic transmission, which include the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Secure Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus that has not previously presented in humans. With nearly 80,000 confirmed cases across 37 countries—which resulted in over 2,700 deaths—WHO warns that COVID-19 is likely to become a global pandemic. Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, cautioned that the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. is inevitable and could cause severe disruptions to everyday life.

Here’s what you need to know about COVID-19 

Risk Factors

Based on surveillance of COVID-19 thus far, it appears that the virus is nondiscriminatory, and anyone could be at risk for contracting the virus.

Symptoms

According to the CDC, the incubation period for COVID-19 may range from two to 14 days, and symptoms include high fever, cough, and shortness of breath. In more severe cases, the virus develops into pneumonia, which presents the most danger.

Transmission

The method of transmission is suspected to be from person to person via droplets resulting from breathing, coughing, or sneezing. The virus is also suspected to be transmitted via contaminated surfaces. WHO recommends maintaining a distance of at least one meter (three feet) between yourself and anyone who presents the symptoms mentioned above.

Precautions

WHO recommends regular hand washing with either an alcohol-based gel or soap and water to prevent the spread of infection. Individuals should also cover their mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing and should avoid close contact with anyone showing similar symptoms of respiratory illness. Additionally, while getting the flu shot cannot protect you from contracting COVID-19, it does protect you from the flu, a condition that has a far higher mortality rate than COVID-19.

Travel

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised that older and at-risk travelers limit travel to Japan, Italy, and Iran, where the disease is rapidly gaining ground. CDC has also explicitly advised against all non-essential travel to South Korea and China. For more information on CDC’s travel advisories, please click here.

Although the rapid spread of the disease is concerning, the promising news is that the number of new cases in China has dropped–indicating that aggressive interventions deployed by health officials in the region are working. While there are international efforts underway to develop treatments for COVID-19, there is currently no vaccine to prevent the disease. According to the CDC, the best way to prevent contracting the virus is to avoid exposure. For more information on prevention against COVID-19, click here and here.