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'This Is an Emergency. We Need the Democrats to Act Like It': Outrage as DNC Says It Won't Host a 2020 Debate on Climate Crisis

Politics
The youth-led Sunrise Movement staged a series of protests to demand lawmakers take urgent action on the climate crisis and back the Green New Deal. Photo: Sunrise Movement / Twitter

By Jake Johnson

Sparking a torrent of backlash from Democratic White House contenders, environmental organizations, and youth climate leaders, the Democratic National Committee announced Wednesday that it will not host a climate-specific presidential primary debate and will punish candidates who attend a debate hosted by any other organization.


News of the DNC's decision was made public by 2020 presidential candidate and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who was the first Democratic contender to call for a debate focused solely on the climate crisis.

"Today, my team received a call from the Democratic National Committee letting us know that they will not host a climate debate," Inslee said in a statement. "Further, they explained that if we participated in anyone else's climate debate, we will not be invited to future debates. This is deeply disappointing."

Inslee said he will pressure the DNC leadership to change its mind, arguing that the climate emergency "merits a full discussion of our plans" rather than the "short exchange of talking points" typical of past presidential debates.

"The DNC is silencing the voices of Democratic activists, many of our progressive partner organizations, and nearly half of the Democratic presidential field, who want to debate the existential crisis of our time," Inslee said. "The next president must make defeating this crisis the top priority of the nation. And I will continue to do everything I humanly can to ensure the climate crisis is at the top of the national agenda."

Environmental groups that have led the grassroots push for a climate-focused debate echoed Inslee's outrage, which helped make the Twitter hashtag #ClimateDebate a trending topic in the U.S.

U.S. Youth Climate Strike, whose petition calling on the DNC to host a climate debate has garnered over 53,000 signatures, vowed to "fight back" against the committee's refusal to give the planetary crisis the national spotlight it deserves.

"Disappointed to learn DNC will not honor the rallying cries of their own base, and will not only not host a climate debate, but will also ban any candidate who participates in one from participating in DNC debates," the group tweeted. "Again and again, the establishment and adults have failed us. We need policy now."

Brandy Doyle, campaign manager for Credo Action, said in a statement Wednesday that the decision shows that DNC chairman "Tom Perez doesn't seem to care much about the climate crisis."

"[B]ut many of the Democratic candidates and a vast majority of Democratic primary voters do," Doyle said. "This move is a slap in the face to the hundreds of thousands of activists and all of the candidates calling on the DNC to hold a dedicated climate debate."

"It isn't too late for Tom Perez and other leaders at the DNC to come to their senses," Doyle added. "They'll find out soon enough that it is going to take a lot more than a quiet phone call to one campaign to silence the growing demands for a climate debate."

In what appeared to be an attempt to quell the backlash coming his way, Perez posted a series of tweets just after midnight assuring enraged presidential candidates and climate campaigners that he has "personally told media partners seeking to host a 2020 primary debate how important it is for climate change to be debated during each and every debate."

"The DNC will not be holding entire debates on a single issue area — we want to make sure voters have the ability to hear from candidates on all the issues," said Perez. "You have my word that I will do everything I can to make sure our candidates are able to debate all of the critical issues during this primary."

Grassroots activists who have been working tirelessly to push serious climate discussion into the national political conversation have good reason to be skeptical of Perez's insistence that the DNC's corporate media partners will give the climate crisis the necessary amount of focus.

In a report published in April, Public Citizen found that corporate media networks have systematically failed to devote sufficient time to the climate crisis, which activists argue should — given the existential threat it poses — dominate the headlines on a daily basis.

The youth-led Sunrise Movement, which is planning a massive action outside of the second DNC debate in Detroit next month, urged all 2020 Democratic presidential candidates to "speak out against" the DNC's "disastrous decision" and pressure the committee to reverse course.

"This is an outrage. Almost every major candidate has supported the call for a climate debate, but the DNC won't even let the American people hear their plans for one of the greatest challenges of our time," Sunrise tweeted. "This is an emergency. We need the Democrats to act like it."

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) quickly heeded Sunrise's call, tweeting late Wednesday that "Gov. Inslee is exactly right."

"Climate change is the biggest challenge we face," Warren wrote. "Every candidate running for president should have a serious set of policies to address it, and should be eager to defend those proposals in a debate."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

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Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Niq Steele / Getty Images

By Sherry H-Y. Chou, Aarti Sarwal and Neha S. Dangayach

The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.

When a neurologist examined him, Tom was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes abnormal sensation and weakness due to delays in sending signals through the nerves. Usually reversible, in severe cases it can cause prolonged paralysis involving breathing muscles, require ventilator support and sometimes leave permanent neurological deficits. Early recognition by expert neurologists is key to proper treatment.

We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.

Some patients may not seek timely medical care for neurological symptoms like prolonged headache, vision loss and new muscle weakness due to fear of getting exposed to virus in the emergency setting. People need to know that medical facilities have taken full precautions to protect patients. Seeking timely medical evaluation for neurological symptoms can help treat many of these diseases.

What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.

Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.

To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.

Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.

The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.

Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.

The first reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in COVID-19 pandemic originated from Italy, Spain and China, where the pandemic surged before the U.S. crisis.

Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?

The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.

Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.

It is certainly possible that there are other cases that have not been reported. The Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunctions in COVID-19 is actively underway to find out how often neurological problems like Guillain-Barre Syndrome is seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Also, just because Guillain-Barre Syndrome occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19, that does not imply that it was caused by the virus; this still may be a coincident occurrence. More research is needed to understand how the two events are related.

Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.

Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.

Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.