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President Trump Selects VP Mike Pence to Oversee U.S. Coronavirus Response

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  • President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that Vice President Mike Pence will now head U.S. response efforts to fight the coronavirus.
  • The decision that has been met with pushback from those citing Pence’s delayed response to a 2015 HIV outbreak in Indiana.
  • In California, a case of “unknown origin” has seemingly appeared, suggesting a possible community spread of the virus and more undetected cases across the country.
  • Internationally, China is beginning to see a decrease in new cases and deaths, but other countries like South Korea, Iran, and Italy are seeing spikes.

Trump Places Pence in Charge of U.S. Response

At a press conference on Wednesday, President Donald Trump placed Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the U.S. government’s coronavirus response team as the virus continues to spread internationally.

Trump said he was handing the role to the vice president because of Pence’s experience handling health crises in Indiana when he was governor, saying those experiences qualified him for this role.

“This team has been, at your direction, Mr. President, meeting every day since it was established,” Pence said at the announcement.

“My role will be to continue to bring that team together, to bring to the president the best options for action to see to the safety and well being and help of the American people.” 

Pence also cited his response to a MERS—Middle East Respiratory Syndrome—outbreak in Indiana in 2014. Pence, however, was notably silent on a mention of a 2015 HIV outbreak in Austin, Indiana.

Pence’s response to that event has caused pushback with this latest announcement, with many citing his delayed response to that HIV outbreak. 

“He just revealed how ignorant he is about the situation,” Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, who works for the World Health Organization, said of Trump’s appointment of Pence.

In that Indiana incident, 30 people were confirmed to have HIV after sharing needles to abuse the painkiller Opana. Health officials then asked Pence to supply the town with clean syringes to help prevent the outbreak.

At first, Pence refused because syringe exchange programs were illegal in Indiana and because he opposed any form of drug use. While he refused, though, cases continued to grow. After 29 days, Pence ultimately supplied those syringes as part of a needle exchange program. By that time, the number of cases had jumped to 80. 

There has also been a significant amount of criticism aimed at the Trump Administration’s handling of the coronavirus, with some critics pointing to the fact that Trump fired the U.S. pandemic response team back in 2018 to cut costs.

At Wednesday’s press conference, however, Trump defended the White House’s response during the outbreak, saying, “Because of all we’ve done, the risk to the American people remains very low.”

Trump asked Congress Monday to release $2.5 billion to help fight the coronavirus. Half of that would then be directed as emergency funding. Then on Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer followed up Trump’s proposal with an $8.5 billion counter-proposal. 

Possible Community Spread in the U.S.

Also on Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a statement confirming the possibility that a patient with the coronavirus may have caught it via community spread.

In this context, community spread would result when a person becomes infected without having traveled abroad (for instance, to China) and without coming into contact with anyone confirmed to have contracted the virus. The patient in question has not been out of the country and has not knowingly been around anyone with the virus. 

If this case is later confirmed to be from community spread, that would suggest that the virus is currently circulating undetected in the U.S. since it is usually asymptomatic for the first 14 days. 

However, the CDC still said it’s also possible that this person may have been exposed to a returned traveler who was infected, meaning it is also possible that this might not actually be a case of community spread.

That person is a resident of Solano County, California.

Several counties in California have also declared local emergencies. Those include San Diego, Santa Clara, and Orange counties. San Francisco, a city-county, also declared an emergency on Wednesday despite having no confirmed cases. 

Of the decision, Mayor London Breed has said the move is an effort to be prepared for if/when the virus does hit the city.

Declaring an emergency in San Francisco, an international hub, will lead to several changes:

  • It helps clear up funds so that the city can be reimbursed later by the state and federal governments.
  • It allows staff such as public health nurses, case managers, and social workers to focus only on essential duties and focus on preparedness and prevention.
  • It allows officials to look at shelters and other opportunities to expand as well as to assess the city’s capacity to respond to an outbreak.

What’s Happening Across the World?

Globally, as of Thursday, more than 82,000 people have been infected with the coronavirus. More than 2,800 people have died. 

Similar to previous reports, the vast majority of cases and deaths still remain in China. Outside of the country, only about 4,000 people have been infected and about 60 have died from the coronavirus. 

On Thursday, China announced 433 new cases as well as 29 deaths, which is in line with their numbers from recent days. In fact, the country has actually begun to see a drop in the number of cases and deaths, which had previously spiked to more than 1,000 cases and 100 deaths a day. 

Outside of China, other countries are seeing a much different story as they work to contain fresh outbreaks. Over the past week, South Korea, Iran, and Italy have all seen a sharp spike in cases. 

In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asked schools on Thursday to shut down through March and until after spring break. Saudi Arabia has also banned foreign pilgrims from entering the kingdom to visit Mecca.

In Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, “The advice we have received today is…there is every indication that the world will soon enter a pandemic phase of the coronavirus.”

“And as a result, we have agreed today and initiated the…coronavirus emergency response plan,” he added.

As of right now, the COVID-19 outbreak has not been declared a pandemic. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNN) (USA Today)

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Supreme Court Rejects Third Challenge to Affordable Care Act

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In the 7-2 decision, the justices argued the Republican-led states that brought the challenge forth failed to show how the law caused injury and thus had no legal standing.


SCOTUS Issues Opinion on Individual Mandate

The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down the third Republican-led challenge to the Affordable Care Act to ever reach the high court.

The issue at hand was the provision of the law, commonly known as Obamacare, that requires people to either purchase health insurance or pay a tax penalty: the so-called individual mandate. 

The individual mandate has been one of the most controversial parts of Obamacare and it has already been before SCOTUS, which upheld the provision in 2012 on the grounds that it amounted to a tax and thus fell under Congress’ taxing power.

However, as part of the sweeping 2017 tax bill, the Republican-held Congress set the penalty for not having health care to $0. As a result, a group of Republican-led states headed by Texas sued, arguing that because their GOP colleagues made the mandate zero dollars, it no longer raised revenues and could not be considered a tax, thus making it unconstitutional.

The states also argued that the individual mandate is such a key part of Obamacare that it could not be separated without getting rid of the entire law.

The Supreme Court, however, rejected that argument in a 7-2 decision, with Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch dissenting.

Majority Opinion Finds No Injury

In the majority decision, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that the Republican states had no grounds to sue because they could not show how they were harmed by their own colleagues zeroing out the penalty.

“There is no possible government action that is causally connected to the plaintiffs’ injury — the costs of purchasing health insurance,” he wrote, adding that the states “have not demonstrated that an unenforceable mandate will cause their residents to enroll in valuable benefits programs that they would otherwise forgo.”

Breyer also argued that because of this, the court did not need to decide on the broader issue of whether the 2017 tax bill rendered the individual mandate unconstitutional and if that provision could be separated from the ACA.

The highly anticipated decision will officially keep Obamacare as the law of the land, ensuring that the roughly 20 million people enrolled still have health insurance. While there may be other challenges to the law hard-fought by conservatives, this latest ruling sends a key signal about the limits of the Republican efforts to achieve their agenda through the high court, even with the strong conservative majority.

While the court has now struck down challenges to Obamacare three times, Thursday’s decision marked the largest margin of victory of all three challenges to the ACA.

For now, the ACA appears to be fairly insulated from legal challenges, though it will still likely face more. In a tweet following the SCOTUS decision, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) vowed to keep fighting Obamacare, adding that the individual mandate “was unconstitutional when it was enacted and it is still unconstitutional.”

See what others are saying: (Axios) (The Washington Post) (The Associated Press

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Utah Student With Down Syndrome Left Out of Cheer Squad’s Yearbook Photo

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The move marks the second time in three years that Morgyn Arnold has been left out of the school’s yearbook. Two years ago, it failed to include her in the class list.


Two Photos Take, One Without Morgyn Arnold

A Utah school has apologized after a student with Down syndrome at Shoreline Junior High was excluded from her cheerleading squad’s yearbook photo.

The squad took two official team portraits this year. The first included 14-year-old Morgyn Arnold, who had been working as the team manager but attended practices and cheered alongside her other teammates at every home game. The second imsgr did not include her and ended up being the photo the school used across social media and in its yearbook.

Arnold was heartbroken by the decision and her family believed it was made because of her disability.

In social media posts about the move, Arnold’s sister, Jordyn Poll, noted that Arnold “spent hours learning dances, showing up to games, and cheering on her school and friends but was left out.”

“I hope that no one ever has to experience the heartbreak that comes when the person they love comes home from school devastated and shows them that they’re not in the picture with their team,” she continued.

According to The Salt Lake Tribune, Poll also said this marked the second time in three years that her sister has been left out of the yearbook. Two years ago, the school failed to include her in the class list.

School Apologizes After Backlash

After Poll’s public call out picked up attention, the school said it was “deeply saddened by the mistake.”

Apologies have been made to the family, and we sincerely apologize to all others impacted by this error,” it added. “We are continuing to look at what has occurred, and to improve our practice.”

The district issued a similar statement, claiming it was looking into why this occurred to make sure it doesn’t happen again. 

But Poll said this isn’t the same response her family received when they initially contacted school administrators. Instead, Poll told the Tribune that an employee at the school “blatantly said they didn’t know what we were expecting of them and there was nothing they could do.”

The school has since contacted them again “to make the situation right.”

Meanwhile, Poll stressed that her sister’s teammates had nothing to do with the decision, defending the girls as amazing friends who have done everything to make Arnold feel included.

In fact, they too were disappointed to see that she was not featured in the image or even named as a member of the team in the yearbook.

Arnold’s family decided to speak up about the issue so that this school and others can improve the ways they interact with and include students with disabilities. Different forms of exclusion happen at schools across the country, and this story has prompted other parents of kids with disabilities to share similar experiences.

A staff attorney at the Disability Law Center of Utah told the Tribune that it receives about 4,000 complaints each year. Some complaints stemmed from students with disabilities being separated into other classrooms without their peers. Others include name-calling or not allowing students on a team or in a club.

Thankfully, Arnold has not let this situation bring her down. According to her family, she has already forgiven everyone involved and plans to continue cheering alongside her friends.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Salt Lake Tribune) (NBC News)

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Ex-Shake Shack Manager Sues NYPD Over False Milkshake Poisoning Allegations

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The former manager is accusing the police department and its unions of false arrest and defamation relating to the viral incident last summer.


Former Shack Shack Employee Sues One Year Later

The former manager of a New York City Shake Shack restaurant who was falsely accused of poisoning several law enforcement officers’ milkshakes last summer is now suing the city’s police department, its unions, and individual officers.

On June 15, 2020,  three officers monitoring the anti-racism protests in Lower Manhattan entered a Shake Shack location for milkshakes, which they later claimed had been poisoned, likely by bleach.

By the end of the night, investigators determined that no one had tampered with the drinks, and the New York Police Department declared there was “no criminality.” Police later said the officers were possibly sickened by a cleaning solution that had not been properly cleaned out of the machines, though Shake Shack claimed it did not find leaks of any foreign substances.

Before that lack of criminality was determined and while the inquiry was ongoing, the police unions and their leaders accused the Shake Shack workers of launching a targeted attack in a series of tweets, which were then shared and discussed widely on social media by prominent conservatives.

The resulting outcome was widespread condemnation and deleting of tweets. Now, almost exactly a year later, the former manager of that Shake Shack, Marcus Gilliam, has accused the parties involved of false arrest and defamation.

According to his lawsuit, the three officers — who are referred to as Officers Strawberry Shake, Vanilla Shake, and Cherry Shake — ordered the drinks via mobile app, meaning the employees could not have known cops placed the order.

Additionally, the documents state the order was “already packaged and waiting for pickup” when the officers arrived, making it impossible for Gilliam or any other employee to have added anything to the shakes when they saw the officers come in to claim them.

After the officers complained about the taste of the milkshakes and threw them out, Gilliam said he apologized and offered them vouchers for free replacements, which they accepted. However, they still told their Sergeant that Gilliam had put a “toxic substance” in their drinks, even though they had disposed of any evidence.

Claims of Wrongful Detainment 

The court documents go on to say that another officer arrived and detained the employees, who cooperated with the officer’s investigation. That process included interviews, searches, and tests, which showed no evidence of bleach or other toxins.

The NYPD also conducted a review of security footage, which independently determined that none of the employees put any kind of toxic substances in the officer’s drinks.

Despite all that, and even after the three officers were released from a hospital “without ever showing symptoms,” the NYPD still arrested Gilliam and brought him into the precinct, the suit stated.

Once in the precinct, the former manager was allegedly “interrogated for approximately one to two hours” and detained for around three hours, putting the total time he was detained by police in both the store and the precinct at approximately five to six hours.

Gilliam’s attorney is arguing that the officers had no probable cause or warrants for his arrest. An arrest that the lawsuit says caused him to suffer “emotional and psychological damages and damage to his reputation,” as well as economic damages from legal fees and missed wages, for which he is seeking both punitive and monetary damages.

None of the defendants have responded to requests for comment from the media.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (NBC News)

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