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Celebrities and States Work to ‘Flatten the Curve’

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  • Experts and celebrities alike have been encouraging social distancing – the practice of not going to public spaces, staying six feet away from others, and avoiding crowds– to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
  • Some, including actor Kumail Nanjiani, have compared what is happening in the U.S. to what was going on in Italy not long ago, noting that we could soon face their level of cases and lockdown if we don’t take precautions now. 
  • Other celebrities like Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande also encouraged people to take social distancing seriously.
  • Meanwhile, several states and cities have laid out strict measures, closing schools, bars, restaurants, and other public spaces. 

Bars and Restaurants Close

While states and cities are closing bars, restaurants, and other public spaces, celebrities are also doing their part to “flatten the curve” of the coronavirus spread.

Massachusetts, California, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Ohio and Michigan have all mandated that restaurants and bars close for dine-in services to further prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Other states and municipalities have also taken their own similar measures.

The goal of this is to prevent people from congregating in large public groups and to promote social distancing – a tactic experts believe is effective in slowing the spread of disease. Social distancing involves not going to public spaces, crowded areas, or anywhere where you cannot be at least six feet away from someone. This distance makes it harder for the infection to spread.

“What we can’t have is people congregating and seated. Every day we delay, more people will die,” Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said in a statement. “If we do not act and get some distance between people, our health care system in Ohio will not hold up. The loss won’t only be those impacted by COVID19, but the danger is also to everyone else who needs hospital care for other issues.”

Why Social Distancing?

Containing the spread of COVID-19 has been a difficult challenge for leaders as some people may be carrying the virus without even knowing or exhibiting symptoms. 

“We now know that asymptomatic transmission likely [plays] an important role in spreading this virus,” Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota explained CNN. Because of this, the virus is “very difficult to control.”

Asymptomatic transmission can be made especially dangerous because someone who believes they are in perfect health could then infect a more vulnerable party, like someone with pre-existing conditions, a weak immune system, or an elderly person. Despite efforts to spread this knowledge, bars and restaurants still saw crowds over the weekend. 

Out of concern for this, journalists and internet users warned that continued public appearances could lead the United States down a similar path that Italy is on. Currently, Italy has seen over 24,000 cases and over 1,800 deaths. The whole country is also on lockdown. According to data from Vox, the rate of case increases in the U.S. is on pace with that of Italy.

Many began to share videos of people in Italy congregating in areas just days before they were put on lockdown as proof that if the U.S. does not practice social distancing, they will find themselves in the same situation. Actor and writer Kumail Nanjiani was among them. 

“These tweets are from Italy 2 weeks ago. 10 days later, the entire country was in lockdown. We are on the exact same path,” he said. “We can learn from Italy’s mistake.”

“Stay away from crowds. It’s our responsibility to protect those in at risk groups,” he added. 

Celebrities Encourage Social Distancing

Nanjiani’s wife, Emily Gordon, is among those at risk, as she has a rare disease that makes her immunocompromised. Their Oscar-nominated film, The Big Sick, which they wrote together, discusses this illness. Because of it, Nanjiani feels a certain responsibility to encourage social distancing. 

“People get upset and annoyed at me when I tweet about the coronavirus, when I urge people to stay in and avoid crowds,” he wrote. “My favorite person in the world is immunocompromised.”

He was not the only celebrity telling people to stay at home. Ariana Grande told her fans that “it’s incredibly dangerous and selfish to take this situation that lightly.”

“I keep hearing from a surprising amount of people statements like ‘this isn’t a big deal’ / ‘we’ll be fine’… ‘we still have to go about our lives’ and it’s really blowing my mind,” she wrote. She also told followers the plans they have now are not important in light of the virus. 

Taylor Swift also addressed her concerns on her Instagram story.

“I’m seeing lots of get togethers and hangs and parties still happening,” the pop star wrote. “This is the time to cancel plans, actually truly isolate as much as you can, and don’t assume that because you don’t feel sick that you aren’t possibly passing something onto someone elderly or vulnerable to this.”

“It’s a really scary time but we need to make social sacrifices right now,” she added. 

Data and research on the benefits of social distancing back up the calls from these celebrities. Tomas Pueyo, an author and designer wrote a Medium post about its effects. Taking a look at theoretical data, he illustrated that social distancing flattens the curves on cases, and by practicing social distancing sooner, fewer cases come up. 

Via Medium, Tomas Pueyo

Pueyo also looked at the way different cities handed the 1918 flu pandemic. Philadelphia, which allowed public gatherings, saw far more cases that St. Louis, which took measures to encourage social distancing. 

Via Medium, Tomas Pueyo
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (Axios) (Aljazeera)

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Lawmakers Call For Action as Oil Companies Post Record Profits Amid Rising Gas Prices

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A recent analysis from the Center for American Progress found that the top five oil companies earned over 300% more in profits during the first quarter of 2022 than the same period last year.


As Consumer Prices Climb, Big Oil Profits

American oil companies are facing increased scrutiny over profiteering practices as gas prices continue to surpass record highs driven by Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.

Last week, costs surged to above $4 per gallon in all 50 states for the first time ever, according to the auto club AAA. Prices are currently averaging over $4.59 per gallon nationwide, which is 50% higher than they were this time last year.

In addition to consumers hurting at the pump, there are also rising concerns for industries that rely on fuel and oil like trucking, freight, airlines, and plastic manufacturers. 

To account for high prices, some in sectors have responded by ramping up prices further down the supply chain to account for costs, putting even more of a burden on consumers to pay for everyday items.

But as Americans struggle with sky-high gas prices at a time of record inflation, recently released earnings reports show that many of the world’s largest oil companies thrived in the first quarter of 2022.

ExxonMobil more than doubled its earnings from the same period last year, reporting a net profit of $5.5 billion. Meanwhile, Chevron logged its best quarterly earnings in almost a decade, and Shell had its highest earnings ever.

According to a new analysis conducted by the Center for American Progress, the top five oil companies — including the three mentioned above —  earned over 300% more in profits this quarter than during the same time last year.

“In fact, these five companies’ first-quarter profits alone are equivalent to almost 28 percent of what Americans spent to fill up their gas tanks in the same time period,” the report noted.

Per Insider, for at least four of those companies, that growth marks a tremendous increase in profits from even before the pandemic.

Lawmakers Ramp-Up Efforts to Reduce Prices

To address these startling disparities, federal lawmakers have moved in recent weeks to increase pressure on oil companies and take steps to lower prices.

On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a bill proposed by Rep. Katie Porter (D-Ca.) that aims to reduce gas prices. The legislation, called The Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act, would give the president the authority to issue an Energy Emergency Declaration that would be effective for up to 30 days with the possibility of being renewed.

In that emergency period, it would be illegal for anyone to increase gas or home energy fuel prices to a level that is exploitative or “unconscionably excessive.” 

The proposal would also give the Federal Trade Commission the power to investigate and manage instances of price gouging from larger companies and give state authorities the ability to enforce price-gouging violations in civil courts.

The bill, which has already seen widespread opposition from Republicans and extensive lobbying from pro-oil interest groups, faces an uphill battle in the 50-50 split Senate.

During debate on the act Thursday, Rep. Porter delivered an impassioned speech accusing oil companies of driving their record profits by using their market power to unfairly increase prices.

“The oil and gas industry currently has more than 9,000 permits to drill for oil on federal land, but they are deliberately keeping production low to please their investors and increase their short-term profits,” she said. “Even when the price of crude oil falls, oil and gas companies have refused to pass those savings on to consumers.”

“Let me be clear: price gouging is anti-capitalist,” Porter continued. “It exploits a lack of competition, which is a hallmark of capitalism. It is an effort to juice corporate profits at the expense of customers. Energy markets are reeling because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Big oil companies, however, are using this temporary chaos to cover up their abuse.”

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

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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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