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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Coronavirus Pandemic Promotes Panic and Unnecessary Waste

The coronavirus pandemic is not only presenting an immediate health hazard to Americans. It’s also resulting in food waste, medical waste, and non-sustainable practices being followed in the United States and beyond.

The Environmental Impact of Panic-Buying

Panic-buying is having an effect on both your grocery shopping experience and on the environment. Consumers are bypassing responsible purchases and buying in large quantities for fear of running out of supplies entirely. But if they buy more food than they can eat before it spoils, perishable items like produce and bread end up in the trash. The typical American produces more than four pounds of trash daily, but this amount could become higher amid fears of COVID-19.

The frenzied purchasing also has an effect on carbon emissions. Trucks transport approximately 71.5% of this country’s freight by weight. Because of the unprecedented demand caused by panic-buying, deliveries to grocery stores have increased. This results in more harmful exhaust from trucks and further encourages wasteful purchasing.

Some municipalities are taking action to control these consequences. For example, the city of Arcata in California is urging residents to educate themselves about reducing food waste through proper food storage. City officials point out that due to panic-buying, proper food storage is essential to keep food from spoiling and to save money.

Officials in the United Kingdom are also concerned about food as well as garden waste. Natural World Products, an organics recycling company in Northern Ireland, is bracing for an enormous increase in household waste due to panic-buying. The company makes compost out of organic household waste. Families staying at home are expected to produce significantly more food scraps and to generate more garden waste from activities such as mowing lawns. Waste services have been reduced in many parts of Northern Ireland because of worker shortages.

The Problem Of Medical Waste

In the United States, the increase in trash production containing infectious elements such as bodily fluids is worrying hospital administrators. Medical personnel and patients are using an unprecedented number of supplies such as masks and other personal protective equipment, all of which must be discarded after use. It’s crucial that this medical waste is safely handled. Stericycle, a company that handles medical waste, is already seeing an increase in disposable medical equipment in the United States. Food that has come into contact with patients suffering from COVID-19 must also be handled with caution.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), medical waste resulting from COVID-19 can be handled like other medical waste. Different locations and states have different regulations regarding the handling of this waste. In general, medical waste is burned, disinfected using chemicals, or steam sterilized before it’s sent to a landfill.

But waste from hospitals isn’t the only concern. Many patients are managing symptoms of COVID-19 from home, which means they are producing contaminated trash. Additionally, people who are infected with the coronavirus but have no symptoms might not be aware that the garbage they’re discarding could be contaminated. A study showed that the virus can live as long as a day on cardboard surfaces and more than a day on plastic and metal surfaces. All of this puts sanitation workers at risk.

Fortunately, if people secure their trash in bags rather than discarding it loose — and if sanitation workers use personal protective equipment like gloves — they are probably unlikely to be infected. These workers should also observe social distancing measures, staying six feet away from other people at all times to further reduce their risk of contracting COVID-19.

Anyone working with medical waste is advised by the World Health Organization (WHO) to use protective garments and equipment, such as masks, aprons, gowns with long sleeves, aprons, boots, thick gloves, and face shields or goggles. A March 19 report from WHO stated that there were no known instances of unprotected medical waste workers being infected by the virus, which indicates that protective gear is working so far. But as the virus spreads, the amount of waste will rise; communities may become overwhelmed, especially if protective gear for sanitation workers is in short supply.

Sustainability During The Pandemic

We don’t need to forget about eco-friendly practices during this crisis. People are buying massive quantities of disposable items such as toilet paper, hand sanitizer, latex gloves, and face masks, all of which will impact the environment as they are discarded.

You can save yourself a long wait at the grocery store and benefit the environment by ordering plastic-free toilet paper on the Internet. You can subscribe to receive these products regularly. You can also purchase a bidet, which can be attached to a toilet or used as a hand-held device. If your local stores are out of hand sanitizer, numerous online videos will show you how to make your own. If you can’t find cleaners, you can make an eco-friendly version with vinegar, orange peels, and water.

While you should consult your doctor about serious symptoms, you can boost your immune system and treat cold and flu symptoms using tea, cough syrup made at home with natural ingredients, or a Neti pot. But if you do need to seek medical attention, you can’t avoid the medical waste that will result from coronavirus testing and treatment.

Another practice that can’t be avoided during the COVID-19 crisis is the use of plastic grocery bags. Polyethylene or polythene (PE) is the plastic used most frequently. Every year, about 80 million tons of this plastic are produced worldwide. While we must use plastics for many items, such as medical equipment, single-use plastics are viewed as bad for the environment. But while many consumers have replaced plastic grocery bags with reusable cloth bags, some experts are calling on Americans to stop using cloth bags because they may contain bacteria.

Many people are simply not thinking about the environmental impact when they buy more food and disposable items than they actually need. But it’s not necessary to let food spoil and end up throwing it out, and some products can be made at home. We don’t have to forget about eco-friendly practices while we approach the challenges of this crisis.

Fewer Americans Struggle to Cover Medical Costs, But Many Still Face Burdens

In the United States, the percentage of people having difficulty covering out-of-pocket healthcare costs has dropped in recent years. But a significant portion of the population still struggles to cover medical bills. According to the results of the National Health Interview Survey, sponsored by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the proportion of Americans in families having trouble with medical bills dropped to 14.2 percent in 2018, down from 19.7 percent in 2011. Specifically, the share went down by 4.5 percentage points between 2011 and 2015, and then by one point from 2015 to 2018. This indicates that the decrease in the number of families with difficulties paying medical bills has slowed considerably. Still, it’s not all good news — as many of us know from watching the flurry of stories related to healthcare coverage and related legislation.

The Impact of Medical Debt

So how many Americans are currently struggling? A 2019 study from the Journal of General Internal Medicine, based on data from the 2015–2017 National Health Interview Survey, found that 137 million Americans reported experiencing financial hardship due to medical costs. Regular dental visits twice a year are crucial for patients of all ages, yet many Americans find they can’t afford this kind of preventative care or even treatment of existing medical conditions.

According to TD Ameritrade, medical debt is the number one reason why people of all ages think about dipping into their retirement accounts. But often, those accounts don’t even contain enough funds to cover medical debt. Bankruptcies in the United States increased in 2016, from 24,797 companies in the first quarter to 25,227 in the second quarter. However, business owners aren’t the only bankruptcy filers. A 2019 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that 66.5 percent of personal bankruptcy filings stem from debt due to healthcare costs.

While 50 percent of all workers in the U.S. report having back pain every year, not everyone is equally affected by the cost of healthcare. The aforementioned CDC survey found that African American and Hispanic respondents were more likely than respondents of other races and ethnicities to report difficulties with healthcare bills. Moreover, high costs for one member of a family may impact the entire family. People who are struggling with medical debt may have difficulty paying for other necessities for themselves and their loved ones, including housing, clothing, and food. This can lead to taking money out of retirement accounts and to filing for bankruptcy.

Crowdfunding to Pay for Medical Costs

In an attempt to avoid drastic measures like bankruptcy, more people in the United States are using crowdfunding to raise money online for healthcare expenses. Crowdfunding can bring in financial support from family, friends, or even total strangers, thanks to the wonders of the internet. According to a survey conducted by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center, eight million Americans have sought help via crowdfunding on behalf of themselves or a loved one to pay for everything from routine visits to the treatment of rare conditions. In addition, over 12 million Americans report using crowdfunding to assist someone who is not a close family member with healthcare costs. Although crowdfunding campaigns don’t always raise as much as is needed, experts believe the trend is an expression of the public’s frustration with the ever-expanding costs of medical treatment. That frustration seems to be fueling people’s willingness to help others with medical bills.

How Coronavirus May Lead to Higher Medical Bills

As if Americans’ current struggles to meet healthcare costs weren’t enough, the new coronavirus, known as COVID-19, may add significantly to people’s medical bills. According to Business Insider, two Americans were recently billed over $3,000 each for coronavirus treatment, despite the fact that tests showed they’re not infected with COVID-19. Only the CDC is able to test for COVID-19 or to authorize other labs to carry out the test — and they don’t bill for testing. If someone receives treatment for coronavirus from the emergency room or an urgent care facility, they won’t be billed for COVID-19 testing, either. But patients must still pay for tests for influenza or other viruses, as well as for the visit to the facility.

Costs due to coronavirus can be considerable, whether the patient has insurance or not. Despite the expansion of coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), 27 million Americans still lack health insurance — meaning they will foot the entire bill if they need to be tested or treated for COVID-19. Even those with insurance will have to contend with higher-than-expected bills from a hospital in their network, providing the doctor treating them is outside their insurance network. This is referred to as surprise billing, which affects many patients who visit the emergency room or who receive services in pathology (a department that is likely to be involved in coronavirus treatment). Problems also arise when a hospital in a patient’s insurance network is full, sending them to another hospital outside their network. In that case, the ACA’s out-of-pocket limits for in-network treatment don’t apply.

Coronavirus could even lead to more bankruptcies if it causes patients to acquire more medical debt. Unless a patient can arrange for a payment plan with a physician or hospital, bankruptcy may be the best option if they carry a lot of debt and are low income. Even for those receiving regular paychecks from steady employment, a large and unexpected healthcare bill can cause a financial crisis. And patients who are diagnosed with COVID-19 will need to be concerned with lost income if they are quarantined or are slow to recover.

The ACA has brought health insurance coverage to millions of previously uninsured Americans, yet millions more remain uninsured. What’s more, many of those with coverage still struggle with medical debts. While it’s encouraging that the percentage of families having difficulty with healthcare bills has decreased, the problem remains significant. With people turning to crowdfunding and raiding their retirement savings in order to avoid bankruptcy, and with many others using bankruptcy as their last option, it’s clear that medical costs in the United States are currently out of control.

Aging in Place is On the Rise, But Will Seniors Be Ready to Remain at Home?

Nationwide, more than 10,000 people reach the retirement age of 65 each day. And if current trends continue, the senior citizen demographic will outpace the number of children in the U.S. by 2030. While it can be excellent news that Americans are living longer, extended lifespans do bring up several issues, one of which being: where and how will all of these older people live?

As we age, we come to expect cognitive and physical changes. After all, 35 million men experience some level of hair loss or baldness throughout the U.S., with countless others enduring all kinds of bodily challenges. Nursing homes and retirement communities have been popular options for seniors who need some extra help and who want additional social stimulation, but many seniors have decided to explore more comfortable alternatives in recent years.

Despite the fact developers of senior housing have made major efforts to develop better facilities for aging generations, it’s clear that’s not really what seniors (or soon-to-be seniors) want. Thanks to perceived convenience and cost savings, aging in place has become the ideal for many older folks. In fact, more than three-quarters of Americans over the age of 50 now say they’d prefer to live within their current communities — and their existing homes — for as long as possible. Rather than downsize to a condo or apartment (which are housing units that 95% of pest professionals report treating for bed bugs) or pay into a senior community, older folks would much rather stay put. As a result, the Wall Street Journal is now reporting that the “aging in place” movement will likely throw a major wrench in the senior housing industry.

Senior housing isn’t going away completely, of course. Many people may not have the option of aging in place, often due to more severe physical or cognitive limitations or waiting too long to make necessary changes. Since roughly 75% of Americans experience foot health problems at some point, mobility can be an issue that forces some Americans out of their homes to more accessible living situations. And if a senior requires round-the-clock care, some families may find it’s more economically sound to move their loved one into a facility and sell their loved one’s property. Most often, families make this difficult decision when their loved one has dementia. About 64% of people aged 65 and up in nursing homes have Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. In these cases, families tend to find moving to a nursing home is a better option than undertaking home renovations and hiring outside help.

However, aging in place is often a viable choice if you plan ahead and make the right adjustments to your residence. Approximately 83% of homeowners choose a new roof based on longevity, and that factor should be high on your list when zeroing in on renovations for aging in place. You’ll need to think in the long term if you want to remain at home into your twilight years. Bathrooms and kitchens tend to have the most hazards and inconveniences for older folks, which means these spaces will need to be prioritized. Making sure pathways are clear and spacious can prevent falls and ensure seniors with mobility aids can safely navigate throughout the room, while non-slip flooring options (with no rugs) should be prioritized. In the kitchen, electric stovetops with unraised burners are better for cleaning and fire prevention, while countertops should have rounded edges and include multiple levels to ensure accessibility. Bathrooms, on the other hand, should feature grab bars or handrails and accessible bathtubs and showers. Throughout the home, adequate lighting is a must. And if your home has more than one story, you’ll certainly need a safe way for occupants to get up and down the stairs without the risk of injury.

Keep in mind that these home improvements won’t come cheap. According to a report published by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, the majority of senior homeowners who can afford to make these kinds of improvements pay for those projects out of their savings. Some of the most expansive aging-in-place renovation projects can cost hundreds of thousands, depending on the home’s location. And since a recent survey conducted by SCAN (formerly the Senior Care Action Network) found that 60% of seniors have less than $10,000 in savings, including retirement plans and investments, it’s clear that some older folks simply won’t have the financial means to remain at home in a safe environment.

Still, the dislike of senior housing alternatives (which come with their own cost burdens) might be enough to convince homeowners in their 40s and 50s to start budgeting and renovating with time to spare. By not waiting until retirement to make those housing decisions, seniors may be afforded a more comfortable lifestyle and fewer financial worries later in life. Overall, there’s no easy choice here. But since the preference for most American seniors is to remain where they are, it’s at least a good idea to start thinking ahead and remodeling a home before you need to.

It’s Time to Get Your Flu Shot: What Seniors Need to Know

This time of year should be full of good cheer. But a serious illness can put a real damper on your holiday. And while the global pharma market will reach $1.12 trillion by 2022, there are many of those who still neglect to receive the vaccinations that can keep them — and countless others — healthy this season. That’s right: we’re talking about the flu shot.

Ultimately, just about everyone who’s able to be vaccinated has an incentive (and an obligation) to protect themselves with the flu shot. In order for the 30.2 million small businesses throughout the U.S. to thrive, employees need to be healthy and refrain from infecting others. Parents and relatives need to refrain from infecting young children who cannot yet receive the shot, while friends and loved ones can do their part to protect individuals with compromised immune systems by getting their annual vaccination. Rather than risk being out of school or work for weeks and potentially spreading this contagious disease, you can get one shot (often, for free!) and obtain both better health and peace of mind.

It’s particularly important for elderly folks to protect themselves from this illness. Although the baby boomer population is experiencing a trend of substantial growth that will continue until 2030, there are no guarantees that individuals over 65 will outlive prior generations. Unless you take proper steps to prevent influenza, you could be in real trouble this winter. According to the National Council for Aging Care, seniors are at higher risk for developing flu-related complications than other demographics are. In fact, the CDC reports that 90% of all flu-related deaths that occurred between 2017 and 2018 involved adults over the age of 65.

That’s why it’s typically recommended that many seniors receive a special high-dose version of the flu vaccine. Known as Fluzone, the high-dose vaccine is formulated to have antigen content four times the standard dose and is specifically created for those over the age of 65. This higher dosage has been shown to be 24.2% more effective in preventing influenza in seniors than the regular flu vaccine.

So unless you want your healthy streak to have the lifespan of an ice sculpture (about four to six hours, on average), it’s important to consider receiving this higher dose vaccine — even if you’re in excellent health. However, there may be a small problem: some localities are reporting Fluzone shortages.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the makers of Fluzone, there isn’t actually a nationwide shortage of the vaccine (like some news outlets are claiming). As a result, seniors in certain areas are having trouble getting their shots and are having to wait longer to get them. Since the World Health Organization waited an extra month to make their official recommendations about which H3N2 flu strain to include in this year’s vaccine — and Fluzone’s manufacturer also waited to see which strains were already circulating in order to make the vaccine more effective — the result is that pharmacies are receiving partial or delayed shipments. Usually, the vaccines would arrive by late summer; this year, they may not arrive until late this month. And already, some providers have received and dispensed their full supplies for the year due to increased demand.

This can, understandably, leave seniors frustrated and concerned. However, officials advise that seniors not panic. While localized shortages aren’t unheard of, there are so many treatment providers that tracking down a source won’t take a log of leg work. It’s a good idea to contact your regular pharmacy or physician’s office first to see whether they have the vaccine in stock. If that fails, it’s recommended that seniors contact other pharmacies or retailers that offer the vaccine. If you aren’t able to find Fluzone, however, not all is lost. Seniors can opt to receive the Fluad vaccine instead (another flu immunization designed for adults over the age of 65) or get the regular flu shot — as some protection is certainly better than none at all.

Certainly, influenza can be scary — especially for older people. But if you know what you’re up against and take the need for getting the shot seriously, you’ll be able to better protect yourself and everyone around you.

Blue Light Gets a Bad Rap, But Is the Problem Overblown?

Although many of us are trying to reduce our reliance on plastics, the reality is that we use them all day, every day. From the medical equipment made through reaction injection molding to our constantly-connected devices, plastic plays at least some part in our ability to function. Of course, looking at those screens for so many hours each day can have major consequences. But is the blame placed appropriately?

Research shows that too much screen time can be damaging to our health. Although more than 40% of children have dental cavities by the time they enter kindergarten, research shows that eye damage due to screen use is now becoming more common among young kids, too. Both the amount of time spent on screens and the distance the user is away from the screen itself may cause anything from eye strain to reduced brain development, particularly in areas responsible for language and literacy — an alarming notion for many parents. For adults, the risks are significant, as well. One study suggests that excessive screen time might actually speed up aging and reduce one’s lifespan, though the data was admittedly obtained by watching fruit flies rather than humans.

But for quite a while, people have seemed a bit more concerned with the type of light being emitted from their screens. Electronic devices like smartphones, laptops, and tablets give out more blue light than light of any other hue, and because this type of light has a shorter wavelength, it’s reportedly more damaging than other kinds. And while Americans may use a pair of sunglasses (one of which is broken, sat on, or lost every 14 minutes) to protect their eyes from certain kinds of light, it’s not practical or even useful to wear sunnies when working at a desk all day.

Instead, many of us use blue light-blocking glasses or take advantage of screen settings to make the colors a bit warmer. These measures are supposed to help soothe or prevent tired eyes and allow us to get a better night’s sleep. But apparently, we might be too concerned about the damaging effects of blue light exposure. Although the eyes of rodents were found to sustain damage as a result of blue light, human eyes have built-in protective elements that rats don’t — which absorb blue light before it can damage our retinas. Blue light can disrupt our sleep, as this high-energy light can mess with our internal clocks. However, the same can be said of any color of light. In other words, even if you set your iPhone to night mode, you still might not get your full eight hours if you stare at a screen before your head hits the pillow. Moreover, reducing blue light exposure won’t keep your eyes from getting tired after working in front of a computer for the whole day. Many products that promise to block blue light don’t even do an adequate job, either.

The real problem here is screen use, not the type of light that’s emitted. That means you need to take steps other than blue light protection. Experts suggest that individuals follow the “20-20-20 rule,” which involves taking a 20-second break from the screen every 20 minutes to look at something that’s located 20 feet away. It’s also a good idea to use lubricating eye drops before you use the computer or look at your phone for an extended length of time. We tend not to blink nearly as often when we’re staring at a screen, which can dry out your eyes and make them feel tired at the end of the day. A good eye drop product can help to alleviate that problem. And, of course, you should consider cutting back on screen usage when possible (especially before going to bed).

In our tech-driven world, it’s really not possible to avoid screens entirely. But rather than buying into products that won’t really help you or wrongly placing blame, heed this advice and protect your eyes the right way.