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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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Mother and Boyfriend Charged After Abandoning 3 Children in Apartment With Sibling’s Remains

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Authorities said the malnourished children had been living in the unit without their parents for months.


Abandoned Children Discovered in Houston

Police in Texas arrested a mother and her boyfriend on Tuesday after finding the woman’s three children abandoned in an apartment unit with the remains of their sibling.

Authorities found the 7-, 10-, and 15-year-old boys on Sunday when the teen called police to report that his brother had been dead for a year and that his body was in the unit.

When authorities arrived at the scene, they found the children living in “deplorable conditions.” Police also found the skeletal remains of an 8-year-old, who they emphasized had been decomposing for an extended period of time.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the boys were fending for each other, with the eldest doing his best to care for the younger ones. According to the teen, his parents hadn’t been living in the apartment with them for months.

Gonzales called it one of the most shocking cases he had ever seen in all his years in law enforcement, and many are now asking how these kids could have been suffering for so long without anyone ever noticing.

Signs That Went Unnoticed

The Daily Beast reported that the kids hadn’t been attending school since May 2020, claiming that the school even conducted an unsuccessful home visit in September of that year.

On top of that, the children had been without power for several weeks, with one neighbor telling local reporters that the teen would often charge his phone at her place.

Another neighbor, Erica Chapman, said she had once found the teen sleeping on a playground slide, so she gave him some food and drinks.

I asked him if he was hungry. He said, ‘Yeah,’ and I brought him out some food and some drinks,” Chapman told KHOU.

She said he “wouldn’t talk about his parents,” and she didn’t push because she wanted him to feel safe coming to her if he needed food. Chapman added that she would drop off food at the apartment sometimes but said it was hard to tell what was going on inside.

Police also described a foul odor coming from the unit, which a different neighbor said she complained to management about more than once. That woman claimed the smell was so vile, she could not turn on her air conditioning.

Dianne Davis, who lived in the complex for two years, told The Houston Chronicle that the building manager performs regular inspections on the units, with the most recent one happening last week.

“How come they couldn’t detect this?” Davis told the paper. “How could that not have been found?”

Mother and Boyfriend Face Charges

According to Child Protective Services (CPS), the agency does have a history with the family, but there was no active investigation at the time the kids were discovered.

After they were found, the boys were treated at a hospital and placed with CPS while the agency seeks emergency custody of them.

At the hospital, doctors discovered fractures in the 7-year-old face and said two of the three boys were malnourished. Meanwhile, the medical examiner’s office said the deceased child suffered multiple blunt force injuries and ruled his death a homicide.

Police located the mother, 35-year-old Gloria Williams, and her boyfriend, 31-year-old Brian Coulter, on Sunday. They were interviewed and initially released without charges.

ABC13 reported that the teen texted his mother, who lived just 15 minutes, before calling the police.

On Tuesday, the couple was finally arrested while allegedly reading articles about themselves at a library. Williams, faces multiple charges, including injury to a child by omission and tampering with evidence involving a human corpse.

Meanwhile, Coulter was charged with murder over the death of the child, though both he and Williams are expected to face more charges as investigators continue to unpack the details of this case.

See what others are saying: (The Houston Chronicle) (The Daily Beast) (The Washington Post)

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Man Spent COVID Relief Loan on $58,000 Pokemon Card, Feds Say

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The man is facing a wire fraud charge, which carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.


COVID Relief Funds Used on Pokemon Card

Authorities have accused a man in Georgia of misusing COVID-19 relief funds, claiming that he spent $57,789 on a single Pokemon card.

Prosecutors said Vinath Oudomsine made false statements about the gross revenue his business earns and the number of workers he employs when he applied for aid authorized under the CARES Act.

On his July 2020 application, Oudomsine allegedly claimed he had 10 employees and 12-month gross revenues of $235,000.

The following month, he was given about $85,000 from the Small Business Administration (SBA), which means he spent nearly all of the money on the rare card.

Authorities have given few details about the specific card purchased, though they have said Oudomsine was charged with wire fraud and is expected to appear in court on Thursday.

The charge carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.

Misuse of COVID Relief Funds

Oudomsine is far from the first person to face charges for fraud related to small business loans issued amid the pandemic. Others who received relief funds have been accused of spending the money on Lamborghinis, nights at strip clubs, and even an alpaca farm, among other purchases.

In fact, the first person to be charged with fraudulently seeking a pandemic relief loan was recently sentenced to 56 months in prison following a nationwide search after the man faked his own death.

According to The Washington Post, a federal watchdog said this month that the SBA overpaid $4.5 billion in grants to self-employed people and that “no system of controls was in place to flag applications with flawed or illogical information.”

On top of that, the SBA inspector general determined earlier this year that the agency rushed to send out billions of dollars in loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) “at the expense of controls” that could have blocked inappropriate aid.

In a statement on Sunday, the agency said that under the Biden administration, it has worked with Congress and the inspector general to add antifraud measures. Meanwhile, defenders of pandemic relief programs have argued that flagged loans and grants represent only a small fraction of the distributed aid that has been critical to small businesses and their pandemic recovery.

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

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FDA Authorizes Moderna and J&J COVID Vaccine Boosters, Approves Mix-and-Match Doses

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The approval will allow at-risk Americans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get any booster six months after their initial series and all Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older to do the same two months after their single-shot dose.


New FDA Authorization

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized boosters shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy that will allow people who got one company’s shot to get a booster from a different maker.

The decision paves the way for millions of more at-risk Americans to get extra protection, and not just certain Pfizer recipients as previously approved by the FDA.

Under the authorization, people who received Moderna or Pfizer can get any one of the three booster shots six months after completing their initial series if they are 65 and older, at high risk of severe COVID, or face increased exposure because of their work.

Meanwhile, all J&J recipients 18 and older can get any of the approved vaccines two months after they received the one-shot jab.

Hazy Recommendations, For Now

Notably, the FDA did not recommend a certain combination of vaccines, nor did the agency say whether or not it would be more effective for people to stick with their original vaccine maker for their booster.

The new authorizations draw on a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which found that there are no safety concerns with mixing boosters and that vaccine combinations were at least as effective in stimulating antibodies as matched vaccines.

In the case of J&J recipients, the NIH found that people actually had a higher boost from mixing either Moderna or Pfizer boosters.

However, some of the scientists who worked on the study said it should not be used to recommend one combination over another because the research was limited.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determines vaccine recommendations, could issue more guidance on when and whether people should switch vaccine makers for their booster shots.

An advisory panel for the agency is meeting Thursday to discuss the new FDA authorizations and recommendations.

Once the panel makes its decision, the CDC director has the final say on the guidelines. If the agency agrees with the FDA’s decisions, the booster shots could be rolled out as soon as this weekend.

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

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