- A state of emergency has been declared in Louisana and thousands have been evacuated as the state gets ready for Tropical Storm Barry.
- Forecasters have said the storm could be upgraded to a hurricane when it makes landfall late Friday or early Saturday, but most officials and residents are more worried about the flooding the storm could cause than wind damage.
- One of the biggest threats is the Mississippi River, which is typically at 6 to 8 feet in New Orleans this time of the year, but is now at 16 feet due to record flooding.
- New Orleans already experienced massive flash floods earlier this week, and many view Barry as the first real test to the levees which broke during Hurrican Katrina in 2005, destroying the city.
Flooding in New Orleans
Louisiana has declared a state of emergency as residents prepare for Tropical Storm Barry which has already caused flash floods and inclement weather throughout the state.
The storm is expected to make landfall late Friday or early Saturday, and forecasters anticipate that it could be upgraded to a hurricane before then.
The National Weather Service issued a hurricane warning Thursday for the areas between Intracoastal City and Grand Isle, about 50 miles south of New Orleans.
Thousands of people are already under mandatory evacuations, while others have been told to prepare for an intense rainfall, strong winds, and enormous storm surges. Around 3,000 National Gaurd members have been deployed for search and rescue efforts.
If Barry does become a hurricane, it would likely be a fairly weak one in terms of wind speeds.
As of Friday afternoon, wind speeds had reached 65 miles per hour, with forecasters predicting it will make landfall just above 74 miles per hour, the speed required to be categorized as a hurricane.
As Louisiana prepares for the incoming storm, many are far more concerned about the flood risks and storm surges from Barry’s heavy rains than the damage its winds could create.
“This is going to be a major weather event for a huge portion of the state of Louisiana,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday. “The more information we get, the more concerned we are it’s going to be an extreme rain event for large portions of the state.”
“There are three ways that Louisiana can flood; storm surge, high rivers, and rain. We’re going to have all three,” Edwards continued.
Forecasters have predicted that the storm could bring a three-to-six-foot storm surge to coastal areas. The Mississippi River represents one of the biggest risks to the state at large.
Between 10 to 20 inches of rain are expected across Louisiana, posing a dangerous threat of flooding from the Mississippi River, which is already inundated with unusual amounts rainwater.
The Mississippi River, which is usually at 6 to 8 feet in midsummer in New Orleans, is now at 16 feet because of record flooding along the waterway.
“This is the first time we’ve had a tropical system with water levels on the river this high,” Jeffrey Graschel, a hydrologist with the weather service’s Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center told CNN.
Low-lying parts of New Orleans have already flooded earlier this week in the wake of heavy storms ahead of Barry. It was reported that 10 inches of rain had fallen in parts of the city by noon on Wednesday.
Many streets were covered with dangerous amounts of water, and power outages were also reported.
On Friday, the National Weather Service of New Orleans issued an alert on Twitter warning that the city was “looking at potential for life-threatening flooding in some areas.”
A Test for New Orleans
Regardless of Barry’s strength, many view the storm as the first real test of the storm system improvements put in place after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Specifically, many New Orleans officials and residents are concerned about the levees that protect the city, and that infamously broke during Katrina, causing massive flooding and damages that New Orleans has still not fully recovered from.
Experts expect rainwaters to push the Mississippi River to swell to 19 feet, just a foot below the tops of the shortest levees.
The Army Corps of Engineers has said that the Mississippi River will likely be contained by levees that protect New Orleans, and many of the floodgates near the river have already been closed.
However, officials still warned that the system of levees and drainage pumps have limited capacity. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said Thursday that the city’s pumps were operating at “optimal capacity,” but also added that Barry’s downpour could outpace the pumps ability to move the water.
Still, Cantrell stopped short of mandatory evacuations in the city. On Friday, Cantrell announced a voluntary evacuation for the areas outside of the protection of the levees, noting on Twitter that certain areas could expect “a surge between three to six feet.”
Cantrell has also asked New Orleans residents to shelter in place starting at 8 p.m. local time.
Florida Breaks Its Record for New Daily COVID-19 Cases and Hospitalizations
The Sunshine State now accounts for 20% of all new COVID-19 cases nationwide.
Florida Becomes COVID Epicenter
Florida reported 10,207 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Sunday, marking its largest single-day count to date. The grim record comes just one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data showing that the state had counted 21,683 new infections Friday, its highest record of daily cases since the start of the pandemic.
Florida has become the new epicenter of the most recent U.S. outbreaks driven by the delta variant. The state now accounts for one out of every five new cases, and the weekend numbers are highly significant because they surpass previous records that were logged before vaccines were readily available.
Notably, Florida’s vaccination rate is actually the exact same as the nationwide average of 49% fully vaccinated, according to The New York Times tracker. In fact, Florida’s rate is the highest among the top 10 states currently reporting the most COVID cases.
While Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has encouraged Florida residents to get vaccinated, he and the state’s legislature have also made it much harder for local officials to enforce protections to mitigate further spread.
DeSantis Bars Masking in Schools
On the same day that the state reported its highest cases ever, DeSantis signed an executive order banning school districts from requiring students to wear a mask when they go back to school later this month.
The move directly contradicts guidance issued by the CDC last week, which recommended that everyone inside K-12 schools wear a face covering.
DeSantis, for his part, has repeatedly claimed the spikes are part of “seasonal” increases driven by more people being indoors and air-conditioning systems circulating the virus. Still, he argued also Friday that he did not think masks were necessary to prevent children from transmitting COVID in the classroom, where they are inside with air conditioning.
At the same time, last week, Florida reported more than 21,000 infections among children younger than 19.
Florida is not the only state that has banned schools from requiring masks. In fact, many of the states suffering the biggest spikes have done the same, including Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas — which all currently rank among the top 10 states with the highest per capita COVID cases.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (Axios)
Biden to Mandate COVID Vaccines for Federal Workers as CDC Changes Masking Guidance
News of the efforts came on the same day that the U.S. reported more than 100,000 new daily COVID cases for the first time since February.
Federal Vaccine Mandate
President Joe Biden will announce Thursday that all federal employees must get vaccinated against COVID-19 or consent to strict testing and other safety precautions, White House officials told reporters Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, Biden said he was considering the requirement but did not provide any more information.
While the officials also said the details are still being hashed out, they did note that the policy would be similar to ones recently put in place by California and New York City, which respectively required state and city workers to get the jab or submit to regular testing.
Also on Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their guidelines to recommend that Americans who live in areas “of substantial or high transmission,” as well as all students and teachers, wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status.
Delta Causes Spikes, But Vaccines Still Prove Effective
The renewed COVID mitigation efforts come as the delta variant is driving massive surges all over the country.
Coronavirus cases have quadrupled throughout July, jumping from a weekly average of 11,799 on the first day of the month to 63,248 on Tuesday, according to The New York Times tracker. Tuesday also saw new daily infections topping 100,000 for the first time since February, with more than 108,000 reported, per The Times.
While the vast majority of new infections are among people who have not been vaccinated, there have also been increasing reports of breakthrough cases in people who have received the jab.
Those cases, however, do not mean that the vaccines are not effective.
No vaccine prevents 100% of infections. Health officials have said time and time again that the jabs are intended to prevent severe disease and death, and they are doing just that.
According to the most recent data for July 19, the CDC reported that only 5,914 of the more than 161 million Americans who have gotten the vaccine were hospitalized or died from COVID-19 — a figure that represents 0.0036% of vaccinated people.
While safety precautions may be recommended for some people who have received the vaccine, many media narratives have overstated the role breakthrough cases play in the recent spikes. As New York Magazine explains, it is imperative to understand these new mask recommendations are not happening because the vaccine is not effective, but because not enough people are getting the vaccine.
“Because breakthrough infections have so often made the news due to their novelty, that can create a perception of more cases than are actually happening — particularly without more robust tracking of the actual cases to provide context,” the outlet wrote.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNBC)
Wisconsin Police Deny Planting Evidence in Viral Video, Release Their Own Body Cam Footage
The footage police released shows that during a search, officers found a corner tear from a plastic bag inside a backseat passenger’s pocket. An officer then discarded it into the car after determining that it was empty.
Viral Video Appears To Show Officer Planting Evidence
The Caledonia Police Department in Wisconsin has responded to a viral cell phone video that appears to show an officer planting a small plastic baggie inside of a car during a traffic stop.
The now-viral footage was posted to Facebook by a man who goes by GlockBoy Savoo.
The user, who also filmed the clip, wrote in his post’s caption that the officer did this “just to get a reason to search the car” and said the cop didn’t know he was being recorded by the passenger.
Police Shut Down Accusations With Their Own Footage
After that video spread across social media, many were outraged, calling the Caledonia police dirty for seemingly planting evidence. All the outrage eventually prompted the department to announce an investigation Saturday.
Within hours, the department provided an update, claiming that officers didn’t actually plant any evidence or do anything illegal.
Police shared a lengthy summary of events, along with two body camera clips from the incident. That statement explained that the driver of the vehicle was pulled over for going 63 in a 45mph zone.
Two passengers in the backseat who were then spotted without seatbelts were asked to identify themselves and step out of the car. During a search of one passenger’s pockets, an officer pulled out “an empty corner tear” from a plastic baggie.
Police claim the corner tear did not contain any illegal substances, though they said this type of packaging is a common method for holding illegal drugs.
In one body cam clip, an officer can be heard briefly questioning the backseat passenger about the baggie. Then, that piece of plastic gets handed off to different officers who also determined it as empty before the officer in the original viral video discarded it into the back of the car.
The officer can also be seen explaining where the plastic came from to the passenger recording him.
“Aye, bro you just threw that in here!” the front seat passenger says, as heard in his version of the events.
“Yeah, cause it was in his pocket and I don’t want to hold onto it. It’s on their body cam that they took it off of him…I’m telling you where it came from, so. It’s an empty baggie at the moment too, so,” the officer replies.
The department went on to explain that while it would discourage officers from discarding items into a citizen’s car, this footage proves that evidence was not planted.
Authorities also noted that no arrests were made in this incident and the driver was the only one issued a citation for speeding. The statement added that since four officers were present at the scene, police have more than six hours of footage to review but they promised to release the footage in full in the near future.