- Pacific Gas & Electric is cutting power to 750,000 customers in Northern California, impacting close to 2.5 million people.
- Current severe dry winds have increased the chances of wildfires, so PG&E is turning off power to lessen their risk of contributing to one.
- Californians are already upset with the company, which was found responsible for the 2018 Camp Fire that killed 85 people.
- But frustrations are now even higher as the outages have already caused car accidents, closed businesses, and could potentially cost the state billions in lost revenue.
PG&E Starts Outages
Millions in Northern California are being impacted by widespread planned power outages which have triggered gas shortages, car accidents, and long-term economic consequences.
Pacific Gas and Electric anticipates that close to 750,000 customers will be impacted by the outages, which started on Wednesday morning. A total of 2.5 million people in the states are expected to feel its effects.
PG&E is executing these “Public Safety Power Shutoffs” to prevent wildfires in the area. Severe hot, dry winds are currently making their way through Northern California, increasing the chances of a fire. PG&E was found responsible for 2018’s Camp Fire which killed 85 people. Anticipating this, the company filed for bankruptcy in January, predicting facing $30 billion in damages from both the Camp Fire, as well as other fires in 2017.
The outages could last for several days, with the mayor of San Jose warning it could last a week. People in areas affected by the shutoffs are already waiting in long lines at the grocery store and gas stations, and even seeing some stations run out of fuel. Several schools and businesses have closed as a result of the outages as well, leaving people without work.
Several car crashes related to the outages have also been reported. Traffic lights are not working, making major intersections more vulnerable to accidents. The city of Santa Rosa said that multiple collisions have occurred at intersections without power, with at least five resulting in injuries.
Concerned customers were also left in the dark when PG&E’s website crashed on Wednesday. Over 12 hours later, they created an entirely new site just devoted to the shutoffs.
Economic Impact of Power Outrage
Perhaps the most long-lasting consequence of these outages is the dame done to the economy. According to Michael Wara, the Director of the Stanford Woods Institute, this could cost anywhere between $65 million to $2.5 billion in economic losses.
Other reports indicate that the number could be closer to $1 billion. PG&E also says customers will not be reimbursed for losses during the outages.
Money is also only part of what is at stake for those in Northern California. The area is home to massive hubs of scientific, medical and technological research.
In an email to the New York Times, one researcher at the University of California, Berkeley said valuable research is at risk.
“Many friends and colleagues barely have enough emergency power to keep freezers cold and incubators running,” graduate student Julia Torvi wrote.
“These two things hold millions of dollars of research, tens of years of effort, their contents being irreplaceable.”
Frustrations With PG&E
Frustrations with PG&E are high among residents. Several leaders in California have spoken up about the blackout and condemned PG&E for this practice.
State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-11) called it “completely unacceptable.”
Presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) said that PG&E should be “held responsible for the maintenance of their power lines.”
The public outrage extends even further. A PG&E office in Oroville closed after its front door was vandalized. Reports say that it appeared someone had thrown eggs at it sometime late Tuesday or early Wednesday.
A PG&E truck was also struck by a bullet on Tuesday night. The California Highway Patrol is still investigating the incident. A bullet hit the passenger window. The driver was not injured.
In a statement Wednesday, Sumeet Singh, the Vice President of PG&E’s Wildfire Safety Program released a statement sympathizing with customers.
“We understand that this power shutoff is difficult for our customers and communities. Please check on your neighbors, friends and family and know that we will work safely, and quickly as possible, to restore power across the region,” the statement read. “Our meteorological and operations teams are actively monitoring the weather and this evolving situation, and we are working directly with state and local agencies to help our customers and communities through this event safely.”
Currently, they have been able to restore power back to 50,000 residents.
See what others are saying: (San Francisco Chronicle) (Wall Street Journal) (New York Times)
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.