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As Coronavirus Spreads, So Does Fear and Misinformation

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  • The new coronavirus that originated in Wuhan China has killed at least 170 people and infected more than 8,2000 worldwide.
  • Notably, one cruise ship off the coast of Italy is temporarily preventing any of its passengers from leaving, as the ship’s medical unit investigates a potential case onboard.
  • With constant updates and growing fears, doctors have begun trying to assure people not to panic and to take measures to avoid falling victim to misinformation.

Misinformation and Fears Surrounding the Virus

Since the outbreak of a new coronavirus that has killed 170 people in China and infected more than 8,200 people worldwide, many medical doctors have been working to assure people not to panic. 

They are also warning the public to be vigilant against misinformation that can rapidly spread from an influx of constant news updates. 

“Because this is an [unknown] virus… we tend to exaggerate the risks posed by the virus, and those is going to be associated with all kinds of fear, panic, if not hysteria,” Yanzhong Huang, Director of the Center for Global Health Studies at Seton Hall University, told Yahoo! Finance. “That’s probably going to cause more damage than the virus itself.”

Dr. Danielle Ofri—a physician at Bellevue Hospital in New York City—said that such fears, like with the Ebola and AIDS crises, are not unknown to doctors.

“Fear is a primal emotion, and to pretend that the medical staff are any less susceptible than the general public is folly,” she said. 

“But we also have to recognize that there are irrational fears, the kinds that are not necessarily allayed by data,” Dr. Ofri added. 

The coronavirus and its misinformation is also a topic that has not escaped Mikhail Varshavski, better known as Dr. Mike on his YouTube channel.

In a video posted Wednesday and recorded Tuesday, Dr. Mike urged his views to be “Alert, not anxious.”

Dr. Mike also touched on a topic that has made a considerable amount of headlines: the 2003 SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak in China. 

Like the virus that originated in Wuhan, China, SARS is a coronavirus; however, the two have a noticeable difference. SARS is generally only known to be contagious while those who are infected are displaying symptoms.

On Sunday, China’s National Health Commission said the Wuhan virus can spread during its incubation phase, which is the period where one is infected but might not know it because they aren’t showing any symptoms. According to those officials, that incubation period can last up to two weeks. 

Such is the fact omitted from most headlines and the body of many articles published Wednesday as the Wuhan virus outpaced the SARS outbreak, which lasted from Nov. 2002 to Aug. 2003 and infected nearly 8,100 people. By comparison, the Wuhan virus was first detected on Dec. 31 and had infected more than 8,200 within a month.

There’s been many headlines in that are trying to scare you into panicking because it urges you to click,” Dr. Mike said in his video, “and when you click, they earn money. Do not fall for this.”

Likewise, with the large influx of salacious headlines, as well as reports of xenophobia against Asian people in countries, many have begun to wonder just how deadly the virus is. 

“Now you may be wondering to yourself, is this a dangerous virus?” Dr. Mike asks. “Well, the answer is, it depends. It can become severe in about 20% of cases, leading to pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome, leading to ventilation or even death in some circumstances.”

For those of you who are living in the U.S., this is certainly a potential threat we should be on the lookout for. With all the international travel that goes on in the world today, it’s very easy to spread a virus from one country to another. That being said, with only five cases in the U.S., with zero deaths thus far, this is not a crisis and not a reason to panic.” 

Cruise Ship Quarantined

Among growing fears, reports also surfaced of a cruise ship in Italy that is holding its passengers from leaving the ship as it investigates a potential coronavirus case onboard.

On Wednesday, one Chinese woman on the ship came down with a fever. Reportedly, she’s also experiencing respiratory problems, both of which are symptoms of this coronavirus.

When the ship docked Thursday morning, the ship’s 6,000 passengers and 1,000 crew members were told they couldn’t leave to enter the city of Civitavecchia.

Meanwhile, that woman and her husband—who isn’t showing symptoms of the virus— were both placed in isolation. 

“The guest, a 54-year-old lady of Chinese nationality, is currently put on isolation on the onboard hospital since last night together with her travel mate, in line with health protocols,” the cruise line, Costa Cruises, said in a statement. “As soon as the suspected case was detected, the medical team on board immediately activated all the relevant health procedures to promptly isolate and manage the clinical condition.

As medical staff worked to understand the woman’s symptoms, many of the ship’s passengers waited on decks and in hallways with their luggage on hand, awaiting any announcement. 

According to the Telegraph, if the woman were found to have the virus, everyone onboard could be quarantined for up to two weeks. 

However, Thursday afternoon, the Italian health ministry confirmed that woman nor her husband had the virus.

See what others are saying: (CDC) (WHO) (NBC News)

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Lincoln College to Close for Good After COVID and Ransomware Attack Ruin Finances

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Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.


One of the Only Historically Black Colleges in the Midwest Goes Down

After 157 years of educating mostly Black students in Illinois, Lincoln College will close its doors for good on Friday.

The college made the announcement last month, citing financial troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack in December.

Enrollment dropped during the pandemic and the administration had to make costly investments in technology and campus safety measures, according to a statement from the school.

A shrinking endowment put additional pressure on the college’s budget.

The ransomware attack, which the college has said originated from Iran, thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data. Systems for recruitment, retention, and fundraising were completely inoperable at a time when the administration needed them most.

In March, the college paid the ransom, which it has said amounted to less than $100,000. But according to Lincoln’s statement, subsequent projections showed enrollment shortfalls so significant the college would need a transformational donation or partnership to make it beyond the present semester.

The college put out a request for $50 million in a last-ditch effort to save itself, but no one came forward to provide it.

A GoFundMe aiming to raise $20 million for the college only collected $2,452 as of Tuesday.

Students and Employees Give a Bittersweet Goodbye

“The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense,” David Gerlach, the college’s president, said in a statement.

Lincoln counts nearly 1,000 enrolled students, and those who did not graduate this spring will leave the institution without degrees.

Gerlach has said that 22 colleges have worked with Lincoln to accept the remaining students, including their credits, tuition prices, and residency requirements.

“I was shocked and saddened by that news because of me being a freshman, so now I have to find someplace for me to go,” one student told WMBD News after the closure was announced.

When a group of students confronted Gerlach at his office about the closure, he responded with an emotional speech.

“I have been fighting hard to save this place,” he said. “But resources are resources. We’ve done everything we possibly could.”

On April 30, alumni were invited back to the campus to revisit the highlights of their college years before the institution closed.

On Saturday, the college held its final graduation ceremony, where over 200 students accepted their diplomas and Quentin Brackenridge performed the Lincoln Alma Mater.

Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Herald Review) (CNN)

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U.S. Tops One Million Coronavirus Deaths, WHO Estimates 15 Million Worldwide

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India’s real COVID death toll stands at about 4.7 million, ten times higher than official data, the WHO estimated.


One Million Dead

The United States officially surpassed one million coronavirus deaths Wednesday, 26 months after the first death was reported in late February of 2020.

Experts believe that figure is likely an undercount, since there are around 200,000 excess deaths, though some of those may not be COVID-related.

The figure is the equivalent of the population of San Jose, the tenth-largest city in the U.S., vanishing in just over two years. To put the magnitude in visual perspective, NECN published a graphic illustrating what one million deaths looks like.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the White House predicted between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans would die from the coronavirus in a best-case scenario.

By February 2021, over half a million Americans had died of COVID.

The coronavirus has become the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.

The pandemic’s effects go beyond its death toll. Around a quarter of a million children have lost a caregiver to the virus, including about 200,000 who lost one or both parents. Every COVID-related death leaves an estimated nine people grieving.

The virus has hit certain industries harder than others, with food and agriculture, warehouse operations and manufacturing, and transportation and construction seeing especially high death rates.

People’s mental health has also been affected, with a study in January of five Western countries including the U.S. finding that 13% of people reported symptoms of PTSD attributable to actual or potential contact with the virus.

Fifteen Million Dead

On Thursday, the World Health Organization estimated that nearly 15 million people have died from the pandemic worldwide, a dramatic revision from the 5.4 million previously reported in official statistics.

Between January 2020 and the end of last year, the WHO estimated that between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people died either due to the coronavirus directly or because of factors somehow attributed to the pandemic’s impact on health systems, such as cancer patients who were unable to seek treatment when hospitals were full of COVID patients.

Based on that range, scientists arrived at an approximate total of 14.9 million.

The new estimate shows a 13% increase in deaths than is usually expected for a two-year period.

“This may seem like just a bean-counting exercise, but having these WHO numbers is so critical to understanding how we should combat future pandemics and continue to respond to this one,” Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Public Health who was not linked to the WHO research, told the Associated Press.

Most of the deaths occurred in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

According to the WHO, India counts the most deaths by far with 4.7 million, ten times its official number.

See what others are saying: (NBC) (U.S. News and World Report) (Scientific American)

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Official Says Missing Alabama Convict and Corrections Officer Had a “Special Relationship”

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Authorities have also said they now believe the officer willfully helped the inmate escape.


New Information on Missing Inmate & Officer

Authorities in Alabama revealed Tuesday that Assistant Director of Corrections for Lauderdale County Vicky White, who is accused of helping a murder suspect Casey Cole White escape from jail, had a “special relationship” with the inmate.

“Investigators received information from inmates at the Lauderdale County Detention Center over the weekend that there was a special relationship between Director White and inmate Casey White,” Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton said in a statement. “That relationship has now been confirmed through our investigation by independent sources and means.”

Officials have previously said that the two are not related, despite their shared surname.

Singleton elaborated on the nature of the relationship while speaking to CNN later on Tuesday. He said it took place “outside of her normal work hours” and added that although it did not include “physical contact,” he still characterized it as “a relationship of a different nature.”

“We were told Casey White got special privileges and was treated differently while in the facility than the other inmates,” Singleton said.

Also on Tuesday, the Marshals Service issued a statement confirming that authorities believe Officer White had helped Mr. White escape. The authorities described her as a “wanted fugitive” and offered a $5,000 reward for any information on her whereabouts. Earlier this week, the Marshals Service also offered a $10,000 reward for any information that could lead to Mr. White’s capture.

Singleton echoed the belief that Officer White’s actions were intentional while speaking to Good Morning America Wednesday.

“I think all of our employees and myself included were really hoping that she did not participate in this willingly. But all indications are that she absolutely did,” he said. “We’re very disappointed in that because we had the utmost trust in her as an employee and as an assistant director of corrections.”

Mysterious Escape

Vicky White and Casey White were last seen leaving the Lauderdale County jail just after 9:30 a.m. Friday. The officer told other employees that she was taking the inmate to a mental health evaluation at a courthouse just down the road, and that she would be going to a medical appointment after because she was not feeling well.

Officials later said her actions violated an official policy that required two sworn deputies to transport people with murder charges. In 2020, Mr. White was charged with two counts of capital murder in connection to a fatal stabbing he confessed to and was awaiting his trial in Lauderdale County.

Mr. White was also serving time for what officials said was a “crime spree” in 2015 which included home invasion, carjacking, and a police chase. He had also previously tried to escape from jail, police said.

It wasn’t until 3:30 p.m. on Friday that a jail employee reported to higher-ups that he was not able to reach Officer White on her phone and that Mr. White had never been returned to his cell.

During a press conference that same night, Singleton told reporters that there had never even been a scheduled mental health evaluation. At another briefing Monday, he announced that an arrest warrant had been issued for Vicky on a charge of “permitting or facilitating an escape in the first degree.”

At the time, Singleton said it was unclear “whether she did that willingly or was coerced or threatened” but added, “we know for sure she did participate.” 

See what others are saying: (CNN) (ABC News) (NPR)

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