Mothers Who Rely on Federal Food Aid Struggle to Get Groceries Safely During the Covid-19 Outbreak

Despite pressure from advocates, the Trump administration has not expanded federal rules to allow low-income mothers to buy groceries online

Mothers Who Rely on Federal Food Aid Struggle to Get Groceries Safely During the Covid-19 Outbreak
high-risk of becoming severely ill if they get COVID-19, and she doesn’t want to be the one to infect them.

But while many Americans have switched to online grocery shopping to avoid crowded spaces during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, that’s not an option for Marquez—or the millions of other low-income women and children who rely on the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, better known as WIC. The federal program requires that WIC participants, or their designated proxies, complete their purchases in person, in front of a cashier.

“At Safeway, I went in and out because it was just literally chaotic,” Marquez says. “I’m like, there’s no way that I could do that because when I go out, I don’t take the kids so I have to leave the kids with the elderly and my husband is trying to work. So I’m trying to just be quick about it.”

Anti-hunger organizations and advocates for low-income families have been working toward making online grocery shopping possible for WIC families for years, and as the coronavirus spread this spring, those efforts accelerated. Federal lawmakers have backed the idea, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has granted a number of waivers allowing state agencies to issue WIC benefits and conduct other operations remotely during the pandemic. But even as most states imposed stay-at-home orders this spring, the USDA hasn’t budged on the rule requiring beneficiaries to purchase their groceries in person, citing concerns about fraud.

Advocates aren’t buying it. “It’s an equity concern,” says Melissa Cannon, a senior policy advocate at California Food Policy Advocates who has been working on the issue. “It’s challenging for anyone to go to the grocery store right now, given that social distancing rules are in place. You might have to wait in line for a long period of time. Those challenges are heightened for any mom who’s going in with young children.”

On May 8, nearly 100 members of Congress, led by Michigan Rep. Andy Levin and Wisconsin Rep. Gwen Moore, to Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) Administrator Pam Miller, whose department oversees WIC, asking her to waive the requirement that participants enter their PIN or use vouchers in front of a cashier. Miller recently responded to Levin saying that “FNS is actively reviewing requests for waivers of the requirement that WIC transactions occur in the presence of a cashier in order to allow for a contactless transaction.”

Levin says he’s “very unhappy about FNS’s failure to act. “I don’t understand what their rationale would be, he said in an interview with TIME. I mean, they almost act as if poor people, working class people, can’t be in the 21st century with others.”

The WIC program helps women who are pregnant, postpartum or breastfeeding and children up to age five. To qualify for the benefit, a family must be at or below 185% of the federal poverty level. Extensive data has now shown that are being hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, and Hispanic and black Americans, who make up a , are getting sick at higher rates.

FNS officials did not answer specific questions TIME asked about online shopping access or when the agency might change the requirement that WIC participants complete purchases in front of a cashier. A spokesperson for the agency said that removing the requirement could have a “significant negative impact on program integrity.” In a statement to TIME, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said that “USDA is maximizing our services and flexibilities to ensure children and others who need food can get it during this Coronavirus epidemic.”

The National WIC Association, the nonprofit that works on education and advocacy around the federal program, has taken a leading role in pushing for online purchasing. As the pandemic exploded this spring, USDA allowed a growing number of states to enter a pilot program that allows SNAP recipients to use food stamps to shop online. WIC advocates argue that a similar switch could happen in the WIC program too. WIC transactions are more complicated than using food stamps since they require stores’ computer systems to recognize the food items that individual participants are allowed to buy, so there are some technological hurdles to work out. But advocates say it can be done.

“An administration that was proactive, recognizing the problems and consequences and risks, particularly to pregnant women, babies and young children, would have been on top of this and moved aggressively to allow maximum flexibility for participants in the program,” says Douglas Greenway, executive director of the National WIC Association.

Instead, Greenway’s organization has been coordinating its own working groups and holding meetings with state WIC agencies, retailers and other organizations for months, even as the USDA issued guidance again on May 11 reiterating that WIC purchases must be completed in front of a cashier.

In the meantime, FNS told TIME that administrators are working with states to explore other options. For example, current regulations allow WIC participants to place orders online, but they still must show up in person to complete their purchases. In theory, states could allow mothers to select food items online and then pay in person during a curbside pickup, or when they receive a delivery.

But Elisabet Eppes, the director of program innovation at the National WIC Association, says no such program currently exists. No retailers have the technology to accept WIC payments outside of their stores, she says, and they have very little financial motivation to update their systems. While regional grocery chains and some national retailers including Walmart, Target and Kroger are participating in the National WIC Association’s working group, progress is slow. With no federal approval for an online-purchasing program and WIC representing a fairly small customer base—there are just over six million WIC participants—Eppes says it has been tough to get big retailers excited about investing time and money in new technology.

Given that delay, some states are trying to submit requests that would allow for more limited changes to speed up the process. Minnesota, for example, requested on April 15 that FNS waive the cashier requirement so that WIC participants could purchase groceries over the phone and then pick them up curbside without entering a store. The state has not yet heard back from Washington, according to Minnesota WIC Director Kate Franken.

Still, advocates say, the fight rages on. The San Francisco-based mother, Marquez, said a recent shopping trip took much longer than it should have—she had to go to four different stores before finding one that was not too crowded. As California, like most states, has moved into a period of reopening, Marquez says she’s seen longer lines, and fewer shoppers adhering to precautions about mask-wearing and social distancing.

“It’s been crazy because I’ve been trying not to go out,” Marquez says. “I don’t want to lose the WIC benefits because, you know, we need it for now during this hard time. So now it’s just like, I wish they could transition to online because that’s less exposure right now during these crazy scary moments.”

Source : Time More   

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Your Vitamin D Level Must Reach 60ng/mL Before the Second Wave

As reviewed in “Vitamin D Level Is Directly Correlated to COVID-19 Outcomes,” there’s compelling evidence to suggest optimizing your vitamin D level can reduce your risk of COVID-19 and other viral infections such as seasonal influenza. A number of different scientists are calling for people and governments to prepare for a second wave of COVID-19 come fall, both in the U.S. and abroad.1 Considering SARS-CoV-2 has been shown to be responsive to temperature and humidity, with infectiousness increasing with lower temperatures and humidity levels, we’re likely going to see a reemergence of COVID-19 infections in the fall, during normal influenza season. REALLY IMPORTANT: Optimize Your Vitamin D Level Before Fall! What this means is you now have a known “deadline” for optimizing your vitamin D level. To improve your immune function and lower your risk of viral infections, you’ll want to raise your vitamin D to a level between 60 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) and 80 ng/mL by fall. In Europe, the measurements you’re looking for are 150 nanomoles per liter (nmol/L) and 200 nmol/L. Historically, December typically has highest flu activity in the U.S.,2 but it would probably be good to aim for October, or maybe even earlier depending on your location. Optimizing your vitamin D is particularly important if you have darker skin, as darker skin places you at higher risk for vitamin D deficiency — and serious COVID-19 infection. COVID-19 Racial Disparity Rooted in Vitamin D Deficiency As reported by The Guardian,3 the COVID-19 mortality among black Americans is three times higher than that of whites, and researchers have long known that blacks cannot achieve optimal vitamin D levels from sun exposure at any time of the year in Northern America.4 Research5 posted April 28, 2020, points out that vitamin D insufficiency is prevalent in severe COVID-19 cases and that “Emerging health disparities data regarding African-American and homeless populations suggest that vitamin D insufficiency (VDI) may be an underlying driver of COVID-19 severity.” Importantly, this study6 found 100% of COVID-19 patients under the age of 75 admitted to intensive care units had vitamin D insufficiency. A letter to the editor,7 published in the Irish Medical Journal, also points out the many links between vitamin D deficiency and factors known to play a role in COVID-19, such as male sex, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and comorbidities like obesity, diabetes and heart disease, and presents data from an in-hospital review of 33 male COVID-19 patients’ vitamin D levels. The 12 patients who progressed to ARDS had a mean vitamin D level of 27 nmol/L (10.8 ng/mL), whereas those who did not progress to ARDS had a mean level of 41 nmol/L (16.4 ng/mL). It’s worth noting that 16.4 ng/mL is still grossly insufficient, as 40 ng/mL (100 nmol/L) has been established as a minimum level of sufficiency for general health and disease prevention by GrassrootsHealth.8 The same goes for the elderly, as you tend to lose the ability to convert vitamin D from sun exposure as you age. Step 1: Measure Your Vitamin D So, how do you go about optimizing your vitamin D level? First, you need to find out what your base level is, which is done using a simple blood test. An easy and cost-effective way of doing this is to order GrassrootsHealth’s vitamin D testing kit. Once you know what your blood level is, you can assess the dose needed to maintain or improve your level. Again, the ideal level you’re looking for is above 40 ng/mL, and ideally between 60 ng/mL and 80 ng/mL (European measurement: 100 nmol/L or, ideally, 150 nmol/L to 200 nmol/L). The easiest way to raise your level is by getting regular, safe sun exposure, but if you’re very dark-skinned, you may need to spend about 1.5 hours a day in the sun to have any noticeable effect. Those with very light skin may only need 15 minutes a day, which is far easier to achieve. Still, they too will typically struggle to maintain ideal levels during the winter. So, depending on your situation, you may need to use an oral vitamin D3 supplement. The next question then becomes, how much do you need? Step 2: Assess Your Individualized Vitamin D3 Dosage The reason you do not want to get fixated on arbitrary dosage recommendations is because the required dose can vary greatly depending on several factors, including skin color, weight and other nutritional deficiencies. As explained by GrassrootsHealth:9 “One of the main factors contributing to this variability is a person’s weight. Therefore, we also calculated a dose-response curve adjusted to an individual weighing 150 pounds (68 kg), shown below. Indicated on the chart are supplemental dose amounts that ensure a specific proportion of the population achieves particular vitamin D levels. For example, 55% of participants achieved at least 40 ng/ml with 2000 IU/d

Your Vitamin D Level Must Reach 60ng/mL Before the Second Wave

As reviewed in “Vitamin D Level Is Directly Correlated to COVID-19 Outcomes,” there’s compelling evidence to suggest optimizing your vitamin D level can reduce your risk of COVID-19 and other viral infections such as seasonal influenza.

A number of different scientists are calling for people and governments to prepare for a second wave of COVID-19 come fall, both in the U.S. and abroad.1 Considering SARS-CoV-2 has been shown to be responsive to temperature and humidity, with infectiousness increasing with lower temperatures and humidity levels, we’re likely going to see a reemergence of COVID-19 infections in the fall, during normal influenza season.

REALLY IMPORTANT: Optimize Your Vitamin D Level Before Fall!

What this means is you now have a known “deadline” for optimizing your vitamin D level. To improve your immune function and lower your risk of viral infections, you’ll want to raise your vitamin D to a level between 60 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) and 80 ng/mL by fall. In Europe, the measurements you’re looking for are 150 nanomoles per liter (nmol/L) and 200 nmol/L.

Historically, December typically has highest flu activity in the U.S.,2 but it would probably be good to aim for October, or maybe even earlier depending on your location. Optimizing your vitamin D is particularly important if you have darker skin, as darker skin places you at higher risk for vitamin D deficiency — and serious COVID-19 infection.

COVID-19 Racial Disparity Rooted in Vitamin D Deficiency

As reported by The Guardian,3 the COVID-19 mortality among black Americans is three times higher than that of whites, and researchers have long known that blacks cannot achieve optimal vitamin D levels from sun exposure at any time of the year in Northern America.4

Research5 posted April 28, 2020, points out that vitamin D insufficiency is prevalent in severe COVID-19 cases and that “Emerging health disparities data regarding African-American and homeless populations suggest that vitamin D insufficiency (VDI) may be an underlying driver of COVID-19 severity.” Importantly, this study6 found 100% of COVID-19 patients under the age of 75 admitted to intensive care units had vitamin D insufficiency.

A letter to the editor,7 published in the Irish Medical Journal, also points out the many links between vitamin D deficiency and factors known to play a role in COVID-19, such as male sex, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and comorbidities like obesity, diabetes and heart disease, and presents data from an in-hospital review of 33 male COVID-19 patients’ vitamin D levels.

The 12 patients who progressed to ARDS had a mean vitamin D level of 27 nmol/L (10.8 ng/mL), whereas those who did not progress to ARDS had a mean level of 41 nmol/L (16.4 ng/mL).

It’s worth noting that 16.4 ng/mL is still grossly insufficient, as 40 ng/mL (100 nmol/L) has been established as a minimum level of sufficiency for general health and disease prevention by GrassrootsHealth.8 The same goes for the elderly, as you tend to lose the ability to convert vitamin D from sun exposure as you age.

Step 1: Measure Your Vitamin D

So, how do you go about optimizing your vitamin D level? First, you need to find out what your base level is, which is done using a simple blood test. An easy and cost-effective way of doing this is to order GrassrootsHealth’s vitamin D testing kit.

Once you know what your blood level is, you can assess the dose needed to maintain or improve your level. Again, the ideal level you’re looking for is above 40 ng/mL, and ideally between 60 ng/mL and 80 ng/mL (European measurement: 100 nmol/L or, ideally, 150 nmol/L to 200 nmol/L).

The easiest way to raise your level is by getting regular, safe sun exposure, but if you’re very dark-skinned, you may need to spend about 1.5 hours a day in the sun to have any noticeable effect.

Those with very light skin may only need 15 minutes a day, which is far easier to achieve. Still, they too will typically struggle to maintain ideal levels during the winter. So, depending on your situation, you may need to use an oral vitamin D3 supplement. The next question then becomes, how much do you need?

Step 2: Assess Your Individualized Vitamin D3 Dosage

The reason you do not want to get fixated on arbitrary dosage recommendations is because the required dose can vary greatly depending on several factors, including skin color, weight and other nutritional deficiencies. As explained by GrassrootsHealth:9

“One of the main factors contributing to this variability is a person’s weight. Therefore, we also calculated a dose-response curve adjusted to an individual weighing 150 pounds (68 kg), shown below.

Indicated on the chart are supplemental dose amounts that ensure a specific proportion of the population achieves particular vitamin D levels. For example, 55% of participants achieved at least 40 ng/ml with 2000 IU/day and 94% of participants achieved at least 40 ng/ml with 8000 IU/day. This chart can be used as a guide to select your starting dose.”

While this chart provides a starting point, you can fine-tune your dosage further by taking into account your baseline vitamin D level. To do that, you can either use the chart below, or use GrassrootsHealth’s Vitamin D*calculator. To convert ng/mL into the European measurement (nmol/L), simply multiply the ng/mL measurement by 2.5.

Vitamin D - Serum Level

How to Calculate Your Vitamin D From Sun Exposure

To calculate how much vitamin D you may be getting from regular sun exposure in addition to your supplemental intake, consider using the DMinder app,10 created by Dr. Michael Holick, author of “The Vitamin D Solution: A Three-Step Strategy to Cure Our Most Common Health Problems.” The free app is available for iPhone and android in the Apple store and Google play respectively. As explained by imedicalapps.com:11

“The app attempts to calculate a patients’ vitamin D level based on demographics imputed when first opening the app and then updates the level based on either actual lab draws or data from the app. The app even uses the phone’s GPS and clock to determine the ‘best’ time of day for a patient to get the required sun exposure for vitamin D skin conversion.”

Step 3: Retest

Next, you’ll need to re-measure your vitamin D level in three to six months, to evaluate how your sun exposure and/or supplement dose is working for you. As explained by GrassrootsHealth:

“The only way to know how much supplemental intake you need is to test your levels. This will tell you whether the dose you are taking is the right dose for you to reach optimum nutrient levels. It is also important to check your nutrient levels at regular intervals because lifestyle changes may create a need for dosing adjustments.”

What Is the D*action Project?

Aside from the DMinder app, another helpful tool is the myData-myAnswers online tracker created by GrassrootsHealth. You automatically have access to this tool when you buy their vitamin D testing kit and enroll in the D*action project.

You can track any given supplement with this tracker (not just vitamin D). By tracking exactly how much you take and when, you can get a clearer picture of your personal requirement to reach and maintain an ideal level.

When you buy the GrassrootsHealth testing kit, you agree to enroll in the D*action project, an international field study aimed at solving the vitamin D deficiency epidemic.

By sharing your test results and anonymized personal health data with GrassrootsHealth researchers, you will enable them to determine the details of how vitamin D impacts health. As explained by GrassrootsHealth:

“You may choose to enroll 1-time to test your levels with an extended health questionnaire or you may participate for the full 5-year project where you provide your health information each 6 months for the 5-year period. The participation fees are based on the tests chosen; additional tests can be added to fit your individual needs.”

While I make these testing kits available in my online store, I do not make any profit from their sale. All proceeds go directly to GrassrootsHealth. If you prefer, you can also obtain the kit directly from their website. 

Share and Inform Your Community

I urge everyone to share this information with friends, family and community at large, so that we can minimize a second outbreak. For example, you could speak to pastors in churches with large congregations of people of color and help them start a program getting people on vitamin D. Doing so could help save many lives; far more than any vaccine program.

Additionally, if you have a family member or know anyone that is an assisted living facility, you could meet with the director of the program and encourage them to get everyone tested or at least start them on vitamin D.

Source : Mercola More   

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