Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

In Tennessee, the state’s top immunization official said this week that she was forced from her position for doing her job educating the public about coronavirus vaccine access.

The official, Dr. Michelle Fiscus, wrote a memo describing a decades-old legal doctrine that suggested that some teenagers might get vaccines without their parents’ permission. The memo came as conservative lawmakers in the state were lashing out at her agency’s efforts to raise awareness of vaccines among teenagers. One Republican lawmaker accused the Department of Health of employing “peer pressure” to prod young people to be inoculated.

But it’s not just Tennessee. A review last June by The Associated Press found that 27 health officials had left their jobs across 13 states during the pandemic.

“It’s a reflection of how challenging the job has become,” said my colleague Rick Rojas, who covers the American South. “Not only is there the exhaustion of dealing with the pandemic, there’s also more recently the political rancor around it. These public health officials have been caught in the middle of it, and for many of them, it’s a new and difficult thing to navigate.”

In Tennessee in recent weeks, lawmakers have pointed to advertisements from Fiscus’s agency on social media and charged that the department was going too far in its efforts to reach teenagers. Lawmakers even raised the prospect of dissolving the department.

“When you have advertisements like this, with a young girl with a patch on her arm, all smiling,” said Scott Cepicky, a Republican lawmaker, who held up a printout of a post during a recent hearing. “We all know how impressionable our young people are, and wanting to fit in in life.”

Fiscus, in a statement describing her departure, said that the actions of lawmakers gravely endangered the public by undermining confidence in the vaccines even as virus cases were rising in Tennessee and as the Delta variant was spreading across the country. She also addressed the attacks on people in her profession.

“Along the way, we have been disparaged, demeaned, accused and sometimes vilified by a public who chooses not to believe in science,” Fiscus wrote.

Rick said that when public health officials leave, taking years of institutional memory with them, it might be difficult to find people to replace them.

“It weakens the ability of the government to respond to a pandemic,” he said. “These people were the experts and now they’re increasingly not there anymore.”

As South Korea faces its worst virus wave yet, government officials have rolled out a plan for Seoul that includes some unusual restrictions.

Under the new regulations, gyms can remain open, but the treadmills must run no higher than 3.7 miles per hour. (A standard walking pace is a bit more than three miles per hour, making 3.7 roughly the speed you might move at if someone else was holding a door open ahead for you.)

And the music played at the gyms must be no faster than 120 beats per minute, roughly the speed of “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen, “Born in the U.S.A.” by Bruce Springsteen, or “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga.

Health officials said the measures were intended to prevent people from breathing too hard or sweating on other people. But gymgoers were confused by the guidelines, and some experts called them “absurd” and “ineffective.”

South Korea has managed to keep levels of infection low throughout the pandemic but is now contending with the Delta variant and a flagging vaccination drive. Just 11 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, with 30 percent having had one dose, and appointments have been halted because of a lack of vaccines.

See how the vaccine rollout is going in your county and state.

When Covid first started, we were happy to have the extra time at home together as a family. We had savings in the bank, my husband has a great job that paid him to work from home, and my teenage son was delighted to be spending his days on his favorite toy — his computer. As the months went on, however, the isolation began to wear on our son, and he began to show signs of rapidly declining mental health. We were terrified when he had to be hospitalized in the middle of the worst Covid outbreak. What had started out as a wonderful time of bonding and renewal became a season of terror as our son attempted suicide multiple times, and we grappled with the fallout. Now, though our family is fully vaccinated, our son is on medication that seems to be stabilizing him, and we are still recovering from the trauma of the past year. We feel as if we’ll never get our pre-Covid wacky, irascible, joy-filled son back, and that is devastating to us.

— Louahn Lowe, Atlanta

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