COVID-19 Update: How We Are Serving and Protecting Our Clients

As the world nears the end of July, new research declares promising results for the latest Coronavirus vaccines. There are more than 3,800,000 confirmed cases in the United States and more than 14,700,000 cases worldwide. The public has been waiting patiently for a vaccination; however, there are multiple steps that must be completed before a vaccine is deemed effective.

Before a vaccination is permitted for public-use, there are several steps and guidelines in order to ensure its success. First, the vaccine must be developed and studied before it can be tested on people. At this stage, the vaccine is considered “preclinical”, which means that it is being changed and updated frequently. There are more than 100 vaccinations that are in this stage, and only 18 have moved to Phase I of the testing stage. Researchers will begin testing a small group of people to monitor the dosage and efficiency of the vaccine. As it becomes available to pass to Phase II, more participants from different ages are involved. Essentially, the trials are expanded from Phase I and are studied more closely in the following phases. The Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.) has declared that the vaccine must protect at least 50% of all vaccinated participants to be labeled “effective” and succeed to the third and final phase of testing. Phase III incorporates testing thousands of people from different age groups and monitoring their results. Once the test trials conclude, official regulators will review the results and determine whether the vaccine will be approved for commercial use.

Oxford University and AstraZeneca, a global bio-pharmaceutical company, have recently conducted a trial for their prototype vaccine. Researchers have published their data in a general medical journal, The Lancet. Their test vaccine consists of a combination of genetic material from the Coronavirus and a modification of the Adenovirus, which causes mild respiratory illnesses. They tested 1,000 participants between the ages of 18 to 55 in their trial. Overall, the vaccine was mostly accepted by the participants tested; some reported that they experienced mild symptoms, such as fatigue and headaches, but there were no severe reactions.

Have you noticed your go-to beer or soft drink is hard to come by or completely unavailable?  It may not be coincidence; as the COVID19 pandemic continues to rage across the United States, shortages of a multitude of supplies have occurred.  Everyone remembers the toilet paper panic of March and April, the lack of available Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), the beef shortage at fast food restaurants like Wendy’s, and the general uneasiness these shortages and others like them gave us.  However, July has seen the rise of new shortages, most notably: aluminum cans.

You may have seen articles online or news segments that are discussing other prominent July shortages due to COVID19, such as coins or lumber; however, aluminum cans may make the greatest impact on the average American.  As COVID19 impacts rose, many Americans sought to bulk up on goods stored in their homes.  In doing so, consumption of products, including beers and sodas, shifted away from bars, restaurants, and convenience stores, which rarely utilize aluminum cans, and moved towards multi-pack products often purchased for domestic consumption.  These bulk-based products frequently feature aluminum-canned items.

This newfound demand for aluminum cans is pinching supplies for some drinks, and creating a significant disparity between supply and demand.  This disparity has sent the can industry into a tizzy, as manufacturers have already announced plans to build three new manufacturing plants in the next 18 months. Ball Corporation, a popular North American can maker, has also pledged to open two new manufacturing plants in the United States and add two additional production lines to already existing factories.  The corporation had seen an uptick in can demand from specialty drinks like hard seltzers and sparkling waters.  They also noted that the environmental upside of cans, combined with the rise in popularity of newly canned drinks and COVID19 impacts, has created “unprecedented demand and short supplies” of their coveted aluminum product.

A new study may send a shock to millions of at-risk Americans.  The study, which was published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology early this week, claims that taking heartburn medication featuring “Proton Pump Inhibitors” (PPI) could increase your chances of contracting the cause of the current pandemic, COVID-19.  In fact, it claimed the medication could make you between 2 – 4 times as likely to test positive for the potentially deadly virus (compared to non-users).

The study, which was led by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Dr. Brennan Spiegel, surveyed over 86,000 individuals through online communications.  Among them, more than 53,000 people reported taking medication for pain or discomfort associated with gastrointestinal regions of their bodies.  Ultimately, over 3,300 of them tested positive for COVID-19.

Although there is an array of medications to deal with gastrointestinal issues, proton pump inhibitors are extremely popular, and accessible.  Offered both through prescriptions and over-the-counter, popular medicines featuring PPI’s include, but are not limited to: Prilosec, Prilosec OTC, Zegerid, Prevacid, Protonix, Aciphex, Nexium, and Dexilant. These medications act by turning off pumps in cells that release acid into your stomach, and can be taken once or twice daily.  The study also determined the more frequently an individual was to take PPI medication, the more likely they would be to contract COVID-19.

Elmiron is a pentosan polysulfate sodium, which is used to treat interstitial cystitis or “painful bladder syndrome.”  Painful bladder syndrome affects more than a million people in the United States by causing chronic pain in the bladder and pelvis areas.  Currently, Elmiron is the only prescription pill approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat painful bladder syndrome.

Following the FDA’s 1985 approval of Elmiron, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a division of healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson, began production and distribution.  Elmiron has been open about known side effects, such as hair loss, bruising, diarrhea, gastroesophageal reflux, headaches, skin rashes, and sleep disorders.  However, studies completed in 2018 and 2019 determined that up to 25% of individuals who used Elmiron over an extended period of time developed vision loss and damage to their eyes, which has raised concern over whether the drug is safe.  The condition caused by Elmiron is referred to as “pigmentary retinal maculopathy of unknown origin.” Although maculopathies are fairly common conditions, the one seen in Elmiron patients is so rare, it was given its own name and its cause is referred to as “unknown origin.”

If these symptoms or circumstances sound familiar to you, you should immediately schedule a visit with a medical expert.  Vision loss, retinal damage, and dark spots on your retina may be signs of adverse impacts of Elmiron.  The more exposure an individual has to Elmiron, the more likely they are to develop serious vision issues.

At O’Connor Law, we wish to update you on the phases of shutdown affecting counties throughout the state. We hope everyone continues to stay safe as they can as the economy reopens.  Since the COVID-19 spread among Pennsylvania, all the counties in Pennsylvania have been quarantined under 3 different phases, which are red, yellow and green. During March and April of 2020, all of the counties in PA entered the red phase, the most restrictive stage, due to the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus. As the situation has stabilized throughout the state, a large amount of counties in Pennsylvania are transitioning from the red phase to the yellow and green phases. The transition of the yellow and green phases are the next steps for Pennsylvanians to return to work safely without being harmed by the virus.

Here are the guidelines for the yellow and green phases:

Yellow Phase

Social media has created online communities, and continues to drive online communication.  As this process occurs, the media adapts.  The newest adaptation in this trend is an app known as “Tik Tok”.  The app, which was started in China in 2016, launched in the United States in 2018 and has become an enormous hit with the country’s youth.  As with the social media of the past and present, Tik Tok trends have become prevalent.  Their flagship trend is called a “challenge”.  During Tik Tok Challenges, the participants attempt to recreate previous videos made by other users.  They all share the same general actions, music, dances, etc.

The newest, and most dangerous Challenge is titled “The Skull Breaker Challenge”.  This consists of three individuals standing side by side. As the middle participant jumps into the air, the two outside participants kick the legs out from underneath him/her.  As you may predict, this challenge has caused head, neck, and back injuries to many of its participants, which is how it received its charming name.  Some of these injuries have been severe, causing serious complications.

While Tik Tok has requested its users not participate in dangerous challenges like The Skull Breaker Challenge, their requests have largely gone ignored.  With COVID-19’s impacts driving online activity through the roof, Tik Tok users have continued to churn out these dangerous videos.

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on our state, our country, and our society.  As the impacts linger and possibly increase, many employees deemed “essential” continue to put themselves at risk of exposure to the virus to fulfill societal needs.  Many companies have gone to great lengths to ensure their employees remain safe during these trying times, but some continue to lag.

If you or someone close to you has been asked to work in a hazardous or dangerous work environment, especially during this pandemic, you may have the right to decline to do certain activities, or to even work at all.  Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should be worn whenever possible, along with other reasonable precautions.  Details about hazardous work conditions can be found at https://www.osha.gov/right-to-refuse.html.

A great example of legal action surrounding COVID-19 and workers comes from the Chicago, Illinois area.  The family of a Wal-Mart employee, who passed away due to complications from COVID-19, is suing the company because his manager ignored his symptoms and failing to let coworkers know he may have contracted the virus.  Furthermore, the suit also mentions a coworker by name who died from COVID-19 complications just 4 days later.  The family filing suit claimed employees were forced to work without gloves or masks, and social distancing requirements did not exist.  They also claim that a lack of guaranteed paid sick leave forced workers who would’ve otherwise stayed home to come into work.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has impacted the country and globe with many people being severely sick and not able to work. This pandemic can be tough for older and disabled Americans who are trying to file for Social Security disability. Even people who are able to work in their job even though they may have qualified for SS disability may not be able to find work moving forward due to the virus.  People who want to file for Social Security Disability should know the proper actions to take in order to receive benefits they need.

When there is threat of a national shutdown, it is common for local Social Security offices to close. Here is what to expect when your local Social Security office closes.  Social Security benefits will continue to get paid out without disruption. Online services, including all the information on the Social Security website and the various tools for looking at your own specific Social Security record, are still available. This situation is much better than what people have experienced in the past during government shutdowns. This is due to local Social Security offices not being entirely shut down. Even though that these offices are closed to the public, the staffers are still available on site and online handling people’s needs.

How Can You Apply for Benefits Online?

Following a disturbing trend, Mercedes-Benz has announced another recall of nearly 750,000 vehicles in the United States.  The recall, which is due to faulty sunroofs at risk to detach from the car, impacts Mercedes-Benz model years spanning over a decade.  The model years in question are 2001-2011; the models in question are the C-, CLK-, CLS-, and E-Class.

The National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHSTA) has been on top of this recall and elaborated on exactly what the defects are and how they can impact your Mercedes-Benz.  Last week, they offered this, “The bonding between the glass panel and the sliding roof frame may deteriorate, possibly resulting in the glass panel detaching from the vehicle.” The National Highway Safety Traffic Administration also claims Mercedes-Benz will notify its owners on or after February 14th.  The company is expected to offer free inspections and replacements to those possibly afflicted by the recall.

The following is a comprehensive list of all models possibly affected:

Four major automakers have landed squarely in the crosshairs of a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigation.  According to documents posted on December 19th, 2019, Audi, Toyota, Honda, and Mitsubishi are the companies under investigation.  The probe revolves around a Takata airbag recall, which involved 1.4 million airbag inflators.

The inflators are reported to have a unique problem that can cause them to blow apart, sending metal shrapnel into drivers’ and passengers’ faces and bodies.  The issue stems from problems caused by insufficient seals and a chemical deterioration within the product.  Takata, the maker of the air bags, has already recalled approximately 100 million inflators worldwide, while 19 automakers have recalled approximately 70 million inflators, making it the largest grouping of automotive recalls in United States history.

Takata, who has gone bankrupt due to the recalls, believes it’s made about 4.5 million of the faulty inflators.  However, Takata claims only a portion are still in use, because the vehicles equipped with the inflators are so old.

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