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The omicron variant is deepening severe staffing shortages in medical laboratories across the US

The health care system is hemorrhaging medical lab workers, in part because of COVID-19 infections and also because of burnout, low wages and better opportunities elsewhere.

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Thousands of physicians throughout the U.S. rely daily on the critical data provided to them by medical labs. xavierarnau/E+ via Getty Images

Medical laboratory professionals form the backbone of health care and the public health system. They conduct some 13 billion laboratory medicine tests annually in the U.S. As of January 2022, these individuals had also performed more than 860 million COVID-19 tests and counting during the pandemic.

Why should anyone care? Laboratory testing is the single highest-volume medical activity affecting Americans, and it drives about two-thirds of all medical decisions made by doctors and other health care professionals. Simply put, every time you enter a hospital or health care facility for care, your life is in the hands of a medical laboratory professional.

Like other health care and health professionals, these lab workers are experiencing dangerously low staffing numbers as a result of the pandemic. This includes a diverse group of professionals with varying levels of education and credentials including phlebotomists, medical laboratory technicians, medical laboratory scientists, specialists and the most recent addition to our profession, the advanced professional doctor of clinical laboratory science. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2021 that employment of medical laboratory professionals is projected to grow 11% from 2020 to 2030, faster than the average for all occupations.

I’ve worked in public health and medical laboratories for over three decades. I specialize in the study of viruses and other microbes while also educating the next generation of medical laboratory scientists. Our profession was experiencing staffing shortages before the pandemic for over two decades. Now, going into the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic and with the omicron variant causing record high COVID-19 infection rates, this shortage has grown far worse.

The omicron effect

Before the omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus surfaced in late November 2021, it seemed as if vaccines and other safety measures might enable the U.S. to turn the corner in the COVID-19 pandemic. But the highly contagious variant, with its ability to dodge the immune system’s defenses, changed that.

Over 1 million cases of COVID-19 were reported in the U.S. on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, following the holiday backlog. This led to a seven-day average in the U.S. on Jan. 13 of almost 800,000 daily new cases – a new record that blew past the peak of last winter’s COVID-19 surge.

Fortunately, this tsunami of COVID-19 cases is not yet leading to higher death rates. But the skyrocketing COVID-19 infection rates are having a dangerous impact on patient care because of the sheer overwhelming numbers of hospitalizations.

The public almost always hears about the impact of the pandemic on front-line health care professionalsphysicians, nurses, respiratory therapists and others. But few people are familiar with the medical laboratory professionals who labor behind the scenes, conducting complex medical laboratory testing to keep the engine of the medical system running. Without them, physicians and others lose the necessary medical data to take care of patients.

YouTube: Medical lab professionals are in short supply as COVID-19 testing surges.

Voices from the medical laboratory

Recently I corresponded with Edwin Beitz, a medical laboratory scientist, or MLS, who works at a 600-bed hospital in Pennsylvania. He noted that his hospital’s medical laboratory staffing has declined by 26% – the highest shortage they’ve ever experienced. He also said they are constantly training incoming staff, “an additional challenge when you’re short-staffed,” Beitz said. I have talked with medical laboratory colleagues across the U.S. who are reporting similar high rates of dangerous vacancies.

The reasons for this decline are – first and foremost – the increased stress that health care professionals have been under throughout the pandemic. They are truly burning out. Hospitals keep hiring and relocating professionals from other states and regions to fulfill staffing needs, but even that is beginning to fall short of the demand.

While the pandemic has helped to raise visibility of the profession, it has created what I refer to as the “medical laboratory free agent.” Because of major staffing issues, hospitals are luring professionals away with crazy financial incentives. For example, Edwin reports that medical laboratory professionals are seeing signing bonuses for $15,000 for a two-year commitment and two to three times their normal hourly rate to travel.

Brandy Gunsolus of Augusta University Medical Center in Georgia, a doctor of clinical laboratory science, similarly reported that her hospital is experiencing a 21% staffing shortage. Frighteningly, Gunsolus told me that “many of the laboratory workers are leaving the field for good to careers in non-health care related areas,” such as real estate and sales. The ongoing staffing shortages have a ripple effect on the education and training of current students, as well as on the recruiting of new graduate and traveler hires.

Unsustainable shortages

A recent survey by AMN Healthcare, which provides data on health care staffing needs, reports that three in four hospitals are seeking to hire temporary health care professionals. Medical laboratory professionals, respiratory therapists and radiology technologists were the most in demand, according to the survey. And 16 states are experiencing critical staffing shortages in at least 25% of their hospitals, according to Health and Human Services data used in the report.

One often-cited reason for staffing shortages in the medical laboratory profession is low salaries. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics shows that a registered nurse has an annual salary of $75,330, while a medical laboratory professional has an annual median salary of $54,180 – almost 30% less.

Ongoing declines in new educational programs – in such states as Nevada and New Mexico, each of which has one program – are leading to a limited pipeline of new graduates for health care systems to employ.

In a 2020 laboratory professional survey, 85% reported burnout, nearly 60% reported inadequate compensation and more than a third complained of inadequate staffing.

Ripple effects of the pandemic

The omicron variant has had a “pile on” effect after two years of this pandemic. Health care professionals get sick too. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s mitigation strategies offer a continuum of options for addressing staffing shortages, including allowing workers to come back before symptoms cease.

Other impacts of these staff shortages may include restricting testing to symptomatic or high-risk patients and limiting other forms of laboratory testing, which can lead to postponement of critical surgeries or procedures. Staff may also experience postponement of their vacation time, which could lead to further mental health strain.

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Without medical laboratory professionals, every facet of our population’s health is at stake. Laboratory medicine informs almost every health issue, including diabetes, cancer, infections, labor and delivery, inherited disorders like sickle cell anemia, blood and organ typing, trauma and elective surgeries and procedures. Without these workers, critical needs go unmet.

So when people sit in agonizingly long COVID-19 testing lines, it’s worth remembering the beleaguered medical laboratory workers who have completed nearly one billion of these tests – with no end in sight.

Rodney E. Rohde has received funding from the American Society of Clinical Pathologists (ASCP), American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science (ASCLS), U.S. Department of Labor (OSHA), and other public and private entities/foundations. Dr. Rohde is affiliated with ASCP, ASCLS, ASM, and serves on several scientific advisory boards. See https://rodneyerohde.wp.txstate.edu/service/.

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After mass shootings like Uvalde, national gun control fails – but states often loosen gun laws

After mass shootings, politicians in Washington have failed to pass new gun control legislation, despite public pressure. But laws are being passed at…

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A girl cries outside the Willie de Leon Civic Center in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, 2022. Allison Dinner/AFP via Getty Images

Calls for new gun legislation that previously failed to pass Congress are being raised again after the May 24, 2022, mass shooting at an elementary school in the small town of Uvalde, Texas.

An 18-year-old shooter killed at least 19 fourth grade students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School, marking the deadliest school shooting in the U.S. in a decade.

The U.S. has been here before – after shootings in Tucson, Aurora, Newtown, Charleston, Roseburg, San Bernardino, Orlando, Las Vegas, Parkland, El Paso, Boulder, and 12 days earlier at a grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y.

Gun production and sales in the U.S. remain high, following a purchasing surge during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, the firearms industry sold about six guns for every 100 Americans.

Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut was among the Democratic politicians who pleaded for action on gun control as horrifying details of the Uvalde school shooting unfolded.

“What are we doing?” Murphy asked other lawmakers, speaking from the Senate floor on the day of the shooting. “Why are you here if not to solve a problem as existential as this?”

Congress has declined to pass significant new gun legislation after dozens of shootings, including those that occurred during periods like this one, with Democrats controlling the House of Representatives, Senate and presidency.

This response may seem puzzling given that national opinion polls reveal extensive support for several gun control policies, including expanding background checks and banning assault weapons.

In October 2021, 52% of people polled by Gallup said that they thought firearm sales laws should be made more strict.

But polls do not determine policy.

I am a professor of strategy at UCLA and have researched gun policy. With my co-authors at Harvard University, I’ve studied how gun laws change following mass shootings.

Our research on this topic finds there is legislative activity following these tragedies, but it’s at the state level.

A Democratic senator and Sandy Hook parents and teachers at a press conference in the US Capitol in 2013.
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) speaks to the media as teachers, parents and residents from Newtown, Conn. – where the Sandy Hook school massacre happened – listen after a Capitol Hill hearing on Feb. 27, 2013, on the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Restrictions loosened

Stricter gun laws at the national level are more popular among Democrats than Republicans, and major new legislation would likely need votes from at least 10 Republican senators. Many of these senators represent constituencies opposed to gun control.

Despite national polls showing majority support for an assault weapons ban, not one of the 30 states with a Republican-controlled legislature has such a policy.

U.S. Texas Senator Ted Cruz said on May 24 that more gun control laws could not have prevented the Uvalde attack, explaining “that doesn’t work, it’s not effective, it doesn’t prevent crime.”

The absence of strict control policies in Republican-controlled states shows that senators crossing party lines to support gun control would be out of step with the views of voters whose support they need to win elections.

But a lack of action from Congress doesn’t mean gun laws are stagnant after mass shootings.

To examine how policy changes, we assembled data on shootings and gun legislation in the 50 states between 1990 and 2014. Overall, we identified more than 20,000 firearm bills and nearly 3,200 enacted laws. Some of these loosened gun restrictions, others tightened them, and still others did neither or both – that is, tightened in some dimensions but loosened in others.

We then compared gun laws before and after mass shootings in states where mass shootings occurred, relative to all other states.

Contrary to the view that nothing changes, state legislatures consider 15% more firearm bills the year after a mass shooting. Deadlier shootings – which receive more media attention – have larger effects.

In fact, mass shootings have a greater influence on lawmakers than other homicides, even though they account for less than 1% of gun deaths in the United States.

As impressive as this 15% increase in gun bills may sound, gun legislation can reduce gun violence only if it becomes law. And when it comes to enacting these bills into law, our research found that mass shootings do not regularly cause lawmakers to tighten gun restrictions.

In fact, we found the opposite. Republican state legislatures pass significantly more gun laws that loosen restrictions on firearms after mass shootings.

In 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a new law that eliminated a requirement for Texans to obtain a license or receive training to carry handguns. This came two years after a 2019 mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso.

That’s not to say Democrats never tighten gun laws – there are prominent examples of Democratic-controlled states passing new legislation following mass shootings.

California, for example, enacted several new gun laws following a 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino. Our research shows, however, that Democrats don’t tighten gun laws more than usual following mass shootings.

After the Buffalo shooting in early May 2022, New York Governor Kathy Hochul said that she would work to increase the age for legal gun purchasing from 18 to 21 “at a minimum.”

'Change gun laws or change Congress' reads a sign at a 2018 rally in New York City.
In August 2018, Moms Demand Action hosted a rally at New York City’s Foley Square to call upon Congress to pass gun safety laws. Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

Ideology governs response

The contrasting response from Democrats and Republicans is indicative of different philosophies regarding the causes of gun violence and the best ways to reduce deaths.

While Democrats tend to view social factors as contributing to violence, Republicans are more likely to blame the individual shooters.

Cruz, for example, has said that stopping individuals with criminal records from committing violence could help prevent mass shootings.

Politicians favoring looser restrictions on guns following mass shootings frequently argue that more people carrying guns would allow law-abiding citizens to stop perpetrators.

In fact, gun sales often surge after mass shootings, in part because people fear being victimized.

Democrats, in contrast, typically focus more on trying to solve policy and societal problems that contribute to gun violence.

For both sides, mass shootings are an opportunity to propose bills consistent with their ideology.

Since we wrote our study of gun legislation following mass shootings, which covered the period through 2014, several additional tragedies have energized the gun control movement that emerged following the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. These include the May 2022 shooting at the Tops grocery store in Buffalo, as well as the Uvalde school massacre.

While President Joe Biden issued executive orders in 2021 with the goal of reducing gun violence, action in Congress remains elusive. States, meanwhile, have been more active on the issue.

Student activism following the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, did not result in congressional action but led several states to pass new gun control laws.

With more funding and better organization, this new movement is better positioned than prior gun control movements to advocate for stricter gun policies following mass shootings. Public outcry and devastation over the Uvalde shootings will likely provide fuel to this advocacy work.

But with states historically more active than Congress on the issue of guns, both advocates and opponents of new restrictions should look beyond Washington for action on gun policy.

This is an updated version of an article originally published on March 21, 2021.

Christopher Poliquin 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.

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Economics

5 Top Consumer Stocks To Watch Right Now

Are these consumer stocks a buy amid the earnings season?
The post 5 Top Consumer Stocks To Watch Right Now appeared first on Stock Market News, Quotes,…

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5 Trending Consumer Stocks To Watch In The Stock Market Now         

As we tread through the earnings season, consumer stocks could be worth watching in the stock market this week. This would be the case since a number of big consumer names such as Costco (NASDAQ: COST) and Macy’s (NYSE: M) will be posting their financials for the quarter. As such, investors will be keeping an eye on these reports for clues on the strength of consumer spending amid this period of high inflation.

However, despite the soaring prices across the economy, it seems that consumers are surprisingly showing resilience. According to the Commerce Department, retail sales in April outpaced inflation for a fourth straight month. This could suggest that consumers as a whole were not only sustaining their spending, but spending more even after adjusting for inflation. Ultimately, it could be a reassuring sign that consumers are still supporting the economy and helping to diminish the narrative of an incoming recession. With that being said, here are five consumer stocks to check out in the stock market today.

Consumer Stocks To Buy [Or Sell] Right Now

Nordstrom

retail stocks (JWN stock)

Starting off our list of consumer stocks today is Nordstrom. For the most part, it is a fashion retailer of full-line luxury apparel, footwear, accessories, and cosmetics among others. The company operates through multiple retail channels, boutiques, and online as well. As it stands, Nordstrom operates around 100 stores in 32 states in the U.S. and three Canadian provinces.

Yesterday, the company reported its financials for the first quarter of 2022. Starting with revenue, Nordstrom pulled in net sales worth $3.47 million for the quarter. This marks an increase of 18.7% from the same quarter last year. Its Nordstrom banner saw net sales rise by 23.5% year-over-year, exceeding pre-pandemic levels. Next to that, its Nordstrom Rack banner saw a 10.3% increase in net sales from last year. Besides, net earnings were $20 million, with earnings per share of $0.13 for the quarter. Considering Nordstrom’s solid quarter, should you invest in JWN stock?

[Read More] Best Stocks To Invest In Right Now? 5 Value Stocks To Watch This Week

The Wendy’s Company

best consumer stocks (WEN stock)

Next up, we have The Wendy’s Company. For the most part, it is the holding company for the major fast-food chain, Wendy’s. Being one of the world’s largest hamburger fast-food chains, the company boasts over 6,500 restaurants in the U.S. and 29 other countries. The chain is known for its square hamburgers, sea salt fries, and the Frosty, a form of soft-serve ice cream mixed with starches. WEN stock is rising by over 8% on today’s opening bell.

According to an SEC filing, Wendy’s largest shareholder, Trian Partners, is looking into making a potential deal with the company. Trian said that it is considering a deal to “enhance shareholder value.” Also, the firm adds that this could lead to an acquisition or business combination. In response, Wendy’s stated that it is constantly reviewing strategic priorities and opportunities. It added that the company’s board will carefully review any proposal from Trian. Given this piece of news, will you be watching WEN stock?

[Read More] 4 Semiconductor Stocks To Watch In The Stock Market Today

Foot Locker

FL stock

Another stock investors could be watching is the shoes and apparel company, Foot Locker. In brief, the company uses its omnichannel capabilities to bridge the digital world and physical stores. As such, it provides buy online and pickup-in-store services, order-in-store, as well as the growing trend of e-commerce. Some of its most notable brands include Eastbay, Footaction, Foot Locker, Champs Sports, and Sidestep. Last week, the company reported its results for the first quarter of the year.

For starters, total sales came in at $2.175 billion, a slight uptick compared to sales of $2.153 billion in the year prior. Next to that, Foot Locker reported a net income of $133 million. Accordingly, adjusted earnings per share came in at $1.60, beating Wall Street’s expectations of $1.54. CEO Richard Johnson added, “Our progress in broadening and enriching our assortment continues to meet our customers’ demand for choice. These efforts helped drive our strong results in the first quarter, which will allow us to more fully participate in the robust growth of our category going forward.”  As such, is FL stock one to add to your watchlist? 

Tyson Foods 

TSN stock

Tyson Foods is a company that built its name on providing families with wholesome and great-tasting protein products. Its segments include Beef, Pork, Chicken, and Prepared Foods. With some of the fastest-growing portfolio of protein-centric brands, it should not be surprising that TSN stock often comes to mind when investors are looking for the best consumer stocks to buy. 

Earlier this month, Tyson Foods provided its fiscal second-quarter financial update. The company’s total sales for the quarter were $13.1 billion, representing an increase of 15.9% compared to the prior year’s quarter. Meanwhile, its GAAP earnings per share climbed to $2.28, up 75% year-over-year. According to Tyson, these financial figures are a reflection of the increasing consumer demand for its brands and products. To top it off, the company was also able to reduce its total debt by approximately $1 billion. Thus, does TSN stock have a spot on your watchlist?

[Read More] Stock Market Today: Dow Jones, S&P 500 Rise, Wendy’s Stock Gains On Potential Deal

DoorDash

food delivery stocks (DASH Stock)

DoorDash is a consumer company that operates an online food ordering and delivery platform. In fact, it is one of the largest delivery companies in the U.S. and enjoys a huge market share. The company connects hundreds of thousands of merchants to over 25 million consumers in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Japan through its local logistics platform. Accordingly, its platform allows local businesses to thrive in today’s “convenience economy,” as the company puts it.

On May 5, the company reported its first-quarter financials for 2022. Diving in, it posted a revenue of $1.5 billion, growing by 35% year-over-year. This was driven by total orders that grew by 23% year-over-year to $404 million. Along with that, it reported a GAAP gross profit of $662 million, an increase of 34% year-over-year. The company said that it added more consumers than any quarter since Q1 2021, due in part to the growth of its DashPass members. The growth in Monthly Active Users and average order frequency has helped it gain share in the U.S. Food Delivery category this quarter as well. Given DoorDash’s performance for the quarter, should you watch DASH stock?

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The post 5 Top Consumer Stocks To Watch Right Now appeared first on Stock Market News, Quotes, Charts and Financial Information | StockMarket.com.

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Economics

Finding Shelter in an Inverse ETF

As the old saying goes, “What goes up must come down.” Indeed, up until the recent selling wave caused by Russia’s war against Ukraine and the continued…

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As the old saying goes, “What goes up must come down.”

Indeed, up until the recent selling wave caused by Russia’s war against Ukraine and the continued effects of supply chain disruptions amid the COVID-19 pandemic, tech stocks, including semiconductors, were the darlings of the investment world. That is, it seemed as if the sky-high valuations of some tech stocks were sustainable in an atmosphere of seemingly perpetual growth.

That, of course, was not the case, and the too-good-to-be-true valuations were quickly brought down to earth by the forces of inflation and tight monetary policy. As a result, the tech-heavy Nasdaq entered a free-fall that has not yet found a bottom.

At the same time, that does not mean that we should abandon the sector as a lost cause. One such way to play the sector during its downhill slide is the exchange-traded fund (ETF) Direxion Daily Semiconductor Bear 3X Shares (NYSEARCA: SOXS).

As its title suggests, this is an inverse ETF, meaning that it is built to go up in value when its parent index goes down. Specifically, SOXS provides three times leveraged inverse exposure to a modified market-cap-weighted index of semiconductor companies that trade in American markets by using swap agreements, futures contracts and short positions.

While the index’s holdings are weighted by market capitalization, the fund’s managers cap the weights of the top five securities in the portfolio at 8% each. The weight of the remaining securities is capped at 4% each.

As of May 24, SOXS has been up 0.37% over the past month and up 24.73% for the past three months. It is currently up 60.47% year to date.

Chart courtesy of www.stockcharts.com

The fund has amassed $258.15 million in assets under management and has an expense ratio of 1.01%.

In short, while SOXS does provide an investor with a way to invest in an inverse ETF, this kind of ETF may not be appropriate for all portfolios. Thus, interested investors always should conduct their due diligence and decide whether the fund is suitable for their investing goals.

As always, I am happy to answer any of your questions about ETFs, so do not hesitate to send me an email. You just may see your question answered in a future ETF Talk.

The post Finding Shelter in an Inverse ETF appeared first on Stock Investor.

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