Atlas push to ‘slow the testing down’ tracks with dramatic decline in one key state

Atlas, a neuroradiologist, not an infectious disease expert, strongly supported a decision in August to revise federal guidelines to de-emphasize the need to test people without symptoms, according to two sources familiar with the process. He shared his view with state officials, including Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and several others in Florida, according to transcripts of public events and accounts from private meetings in that state.

“The purpose of testing is to stop people from dying,” Atlas said during one stop, captured on video. “When you start introducing closure of schools because people have positive, asymptomatic tests, that’s sort of not the purpose of testing.”   

“I think, Dr. Atlas, we’re in agreement on focusing strategies in school on people who are symptomatic,” DeSantis said in another joint news conference that day. 

Their push to de-emphasize tests coincided with a dramatic drop in testing across Florida, even as the country was careening toward a fall coronavirus surge. A CNN analysis of the Florida state official numbers, aggregated by the Covid Tracking Project, shows that testing dropped off at the end of July and early August, with a peak seven-day average over 90,000 tests per day on July 18. Six weeks later, in early September, the seven-day average dropped by nearly half, with fewer than 48,000 tests per day, and hovered between there and 60,000 during the fall.

If Atlas and DeSantis’ advocacy in Florida is, in fact, responsible for the state’s testing decrease, that would be in keeping with the wishes of Trump, who for months has falsely suggested that the US has so many coronavirus cases only because it conducts so many tests. In June, Trump even said publicly that he wanted to “slow the testing down, please.”   

Though both Atlas and DeSantis declined to discuss their views with CNN for this story, they have articulated them in public. Some state and local officials believe the pair was influential in taking Trump’s anti-testing pronouncements and helping to turn them into public policy. And the drop-off in testing is of deep concern to some. It took place as positivity rates remained high, in the range that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers indicative of high community spread.

Asymptomatic Covid-19 carriers are still contagious, experts say. A lack of widespread testing makes it harder to map the disease as it spreads and to warn those at risk of illness.    

“There’s no question more people are going to die,” says Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, a critic of DeSantis’ approach to testing and other matters of the governor’s pandemic management. “We are flying blind without tests.”    

At the moment, the nation is experiencing another surge of illness. Daily case numbers are reaching levels not seen since late July, and Florida is starting to see its numbers go up as well. Experts say that widespread testing, including of asymptomatic carriers, is critical to limiting the spread of the virus.    

A White House spokesman claimed Atlas had never advocated reducing testing, despite the

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Covid survivors deal with another lingering side effect: Dramatic hair loss

When Stacey Maravola’s hair started falling out in clumps two months after she tested positive for Covid-19, she was not initially concerned.

“I washed my hair one day and I’m pulling handfuls upon handfuls. And I’m like, ‘Maybe because it was up in a scrunchie,’” Maravola, 44, of Leetsdale, Pennsylvania, said.

But nearly two months later, the hair loss has not stopped. Each time Maravola, a health and lifestyle coach, shampoos her hair, fistfuls come out, getting tangled around her fingers and sticking to her legs as she showers.

“I’ve had to limit hair washes because I’m terrified,” she said. “I’m not a big emotional person, but I can tell you, this has changed me. I cry every single time I take a shower.”

Image: Stacey Maravola (Courtesy Stacey Maravola)
Image: Stacey Maravola (Courtesy Stacey Maravola)

Maravola is one of many coronavirus survivors dealing with dramatic hair loss, something that experts say is not entirely unexpected following a serious illness — but can be jarring nonetheless.

“It is upsetting, especially for those who have gone through a significant clinical course of Covid, to then experience this as well,” said Dr. Sara Hogan, a dermatologist and health sciences clinical instructor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. “But oftentimes, patients, once they have a diagnosis and they understand that typically this will get better, they feel better.”

Sudden hair loss can happen after any stressful event, including major surgery or even an emotional stressor such as starting a new job, Hogan said. The pandemic appears to have led to a large uptick in people who are seeing their hair thinning, she said: Hogan used to see an average of three to five hair loss patients a week and now sees up to seven a day.

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Why severe assaults to the body or mind sometimes trigger hair loss is not entirely understood. In the majority of these cases, the patient is diagnosed with telogen effluvium, a temporary condition in which he or she sheds many more hairs than the typical 100 or so that people lose in a day. Telogen effluvium usually begins about three to six months after the stressor has happened, and in most patients, the problem will resolve within four to six months, according to Hogan. (In rare cases, unremitting stress can lead to chronic shedding, she added.)

Researchers do not believe Covid-19 attacks the hair follicles, meaning the hair loss is the body’s reaction to the physiological and emotional stress that the disease caused, rather than a symptom of the disease itself. And many hair loss patients that Hogan and other dermatologists are currently seeing have never had the coronavirus to begin with.

“It’s just all the other tolls of the pandemic that are leading to the hair loss,” such as financial worries or grieving the death of a family member, said Dr. Lauren Kole, an assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine.

Hair loss following Covid-19

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