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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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Contradicting Studies Leave Biden’s COVID-19 Booster Plan Up in the Air

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While some studies show that the effectiveness of Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID vaccines decrease over time, other publications argue the decline is not substantial and a full-flung booster campaign is premature.


Booster Rollout in Flux

President Joe Biden’s plan to offer COVID-19 booster shots is facing serious hurdles just a week before it is set to roll out. Issues with the plan stem from growing divisions among the scientific community over the necessity of a third jab.

The timing of booster shots administration has been a point of contention for months, but the debate intensified in August when Biden announced that, pending regulatory approval, the government would start offering boosters on Sept. 20 to adults eight months after they received their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna.

The announcement was backed by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, among others.

However, many scientists and other health experts both inside and outside of the government have continually criticized the plan. They have claimed the data supporting boosters was not compelling and argued that, while the FDA approved third doses for immunocompromised Americans, the push to give them to the general public was premature.

The plan also drew international backlash from those who argued the U.S. should not launch a booster campaign when billions of people around the world have not gotten their first dose yet. Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) extended its request that wealthy countries hold off on giving boosters until at least the end of the year.

Those arguments appeared to be bolstered when federal health regulators said earlier this month that they needed more time to review Moderna’s application for booster shots, forcing the Biden Administration to delay offering third shots to those who received that vaccine.

Now, Pfizer recipients will be the only people who may be eligible for boosters by the initial deadline, though that depends on a forthcoming decision from an FDA expert advisory committee that is set to vote Friday on whether or not to recommend approval.

Debate Continues in Crucial Week

More contradictory information has been coming out in the days leading up to the highly anticipated decision.

On Monday, an international group of 18 scientists, including some at the FDA and the WHO, published a review in The Lancet arguing that there is no credible data to show the vaccines’ ability to prevent severe disease declined substantially over time, so boosters are not yet needed for the general, non-immunocompromised public.

The experts claimed that any advantage boosters may provide does not outweigh the benefit of giving the extra doses to all those who are unvaccinated worldwide. 

On the other side, a study released Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine found that people who received a third shot of Pfizer in Israel were much less likely to develop severe COVID than those who just had the first two jabs.

The same day, both Pfizer and Moderna published data backing that up as well. Pfizer released an analysis that said data on boosters and the Delta variant from both Israel and the U.S. suggested “that vaccine protection against COVID-19 infection wanes approximately 6 to 8 months following the second dose.” 

Moderna also published data, that has not yet been peer-reviewed, which also found its jab provided less immunity and protection against severe disease as time went on.

Further complicating matters was the fact that the FDA additionally released its report on Pfizer’s analysis of the need for a booster shortly after Pfizer’s publication. Normally, those findings would shine a light on the agency’s stance on the issue, but the regulator did not take a clear stand.

“Some observational studies have suggested declining efficacy of [Pfizer] over time […] while others have not,” the agency wrote. “Overall, data indicate that currently US-licensed or authorized COVID-19 vaccines still afford protection against severe COVID-19 disease and death.”

Uncertain Future

It remains unclear what the FDA panel will determine when they meet Friday, or what a similar CDC expert panel that is expected to meet next week will decide regarding vaccination policies.

Notably, officials at the two agencies are not required to follow the recommendations of their expert panels, though they usually do.

Even if the FDA approves Pfizer’s application as it stands to give boosters to those 16 and older, people familiar with the matter said the CDC might recommend the third jabs only for people 65 and older or those who are especially at risk.

Regardless of what is decided, experts have said that it is absolutely essential for the agency to stand firm in its decision and clearly explain its reasoning to the public in order to combat further confusion and misinformation.

“F.D.A. does the best in situations when there are strongly held but conflicting views, when they’re forthcoming with the data and really explain decisions,” Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a vice dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health told The New York Times. “It’s important for the F.D.A. not to say, ‘Here’s our decision, mic drop. It’s much better for them to say, ‘Here’s how we looked at the data, here are the conclusions we made from the data, and here’s why we’re making the conclusions.’”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNBC) (The Guardian)

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Kansas Lawmaker Accused of Kicking Teen in Groin Receives Suspended Sentence

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Before allegedly assaulting the teenager in class, the lawmaker and former substitute teacher ranted to students about God, the Bible, Masturbation, and more.


Samsel Displays Inappropriate Behavior

Kansas Rep. Mark Samsel (R) was given a 90-day suspended jail sentence and one year of probation Monday after pleading guilty to three misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct. 

Samsel, a former high school substitute teacher in Wellsville, initially caused outrage in April after displaying bizarre classroom behavior. Footage recorded by students and published by the Kansas City Star showed Samsel ranting about the wrath of God, the Bible, masturbation, suicide, and other topics. At one point, he allegedly even pushed a student against a wall and kicked him in the groin.

While that specific altercation doesn’t appear to have been caught on video, student footage shows what seems to be the aftermath of the alleged assault.

“I’m simply built different, Mark. I don’t feel pain,” the student jokingly tells Samsel after picking himself up off the ground. Samsel responds by asking if the student is about to cry.

“You want to go to the nurse? She can check it for you?” Samsel adds.

“Make babies! Who likes making babies? That feels good, doesn’t it? Procreate,” Samsel said at another point in the video. “You haven’t masturbated? Don’t answer that question.”

Other notable quotes include, “Would you like me to introduce [you] to a sophomore who’s tried killing himself three times because he has two parents and they’re both females?,” and, “I could put the wrath of God on your right now because that is what he is trying to do. You should run and scream cause the devil’s getting the hell out of my classroom.”

After students reported his behavior, Samsel told local news outlets that he didn’t do anything wrong and that the situation was actually “planned.”

The kids and I planned ALL this to SEND A MESSAGE about art, mental health, teenage suicide, how we treat our educators and one another. To who? Parents. And grandparents. And all of Wellsville,” he also wrote on Snapchat, according to The Star.

However, he later told investigators that he what at his “wit’s end” with “misbehaving students.” Then last month, he announced via Facebook that he had sought mental health treatment and was giving up his substitute teaching license, describing the situation as an “isolated episode of mania with psychotic features’‘ prompted by “extreme stress, pressure and agitation.”

Samsel’s Sentence

Samsel faced additional consequences in conjunction with his suspended sentence and year of probation. He was also banned from using social media, unless for political purposes. He cannot have contact with the students who reported him and must write apology letters to those involved. He must also follow mental health treatment recommendations and take any prescribed medications

Samsel, for his part, apologized in his court appearance via Zoom, saying he never “intended for anyone to get hurt.”

Some parents seem happy with the sentence, like Joshua Zeck, who told the Star, “From the beginning, all I wanted was for Mark to get some help.”

“I don’t want to see anybody go to jail. So if this does him so good and he’s doing better, I’m happy to hear that,” Zeck continued.

Others in the community told the paper that his sentencing was too lenient, including Mary Woods, whose niece had class with Samsel the day of the incident.

“I don’t think that’s enough. He laid his hands on a kid. … He traumatized a lot of these kids. I think it’s bullsh*t, to say so myself.”

As far as whether Samsel will keep his job in the state legislature, Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman said that’s up to voters to decide.

See what others are saying: (The Kansas City Star)(Insider)(NBC News)

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Alabama Man Dies After Being Turned Away From 43 Hospitals Overwhelmed by COVID Patients, Family Says

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Alabama currently has the second-highest COVID hospitalization average and fourth-lowest vaccination rate in the country.


Full ICUs Allegedly Delay Care for Emergent Cardiac Patient 

The family of an Alabama man who died of heart issues is calling on people to get vaccinated after he was turned away by 43 hospitals in three states while having a cardiac emergency because all of their Intensive Care Units were at maximum capacity with COVID patients.

The man, 73-year-old Ray DeMonia, was taken to Cullman Regional hospital in Alabama on Aug. 23. The next morning — around 12 hours after he was admitted — his daughter said her mother got a call saying that hospital workers were unable to find him a specialized cardiac ICU bed in the area. 

He was eventually transferred to a hospital in Mississippi about 200 miles away and died on Sept. 1, just three days before his birthday.

In DeMonia’s obituary, his family pleaded with people to get the vaccine.

“In honor of Ray, please get vaccinated if you have not, in an effort to free up resources for non COVID related emergencies,” they wrote. “He would not want any other family to go through what his did.”

Rising Hospitalizations

Officials and healthcare providers in Alabama have said DeMonia’s case is not a one-off incident. 

Jennifer Malone, a spokesperson for Cullman Regional, told The Washington Post that situations like this have been an “ongoing problem” reported by doctors at the hospital and others throughout the state.

“When patients are transported to other facilities to receive care that they need, that’s becoming increasingly more difficult because all hospitals are experiencing an increased lack of bed space,” she said.

On Friday, Scott Harris, the head of the Alabama Department of Public Health, said that the state’s spike in ICU patients has stabilized some. Still, he added there are not enough ICU beds for the number of patients that need intensive care, many of whom are unvaccinated.

Even with the spikes “stabilizing,” Alabama still has the second-highest COVID hospitalizations in the U.S., according to The Post tracker

The calls from DeMonia’s family for people to get vaccinated also come as Alabama struggles with the country’s fourth-lowest vaccination rate. Despite those figures, top officials in the state are doing little to address the issue.

Last week, after President Joe Biden rolled out a sweeping vaccine mandate for 100 million people and promised he would use his power to circumvent Republican leaders “undermining” relief efforts, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) told the president to “bring it on.”

Ivey then doubled down on her refusal to mandate vaccines in her state, where people are being refused emergency hospital care because so many unvaccinated people are in ICU beds.

“You bet I’m standing in the way. And if he thinks he’s going to move me out of the way, he’s got another thing coming,” she said, referring to the mandates as “outrageous” and “overreaching” policies that will “no doubt be challenged in the courts.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NBC News) (NPR)

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