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State Department Slammed as Thousands of Americans Are Left Stranded Abroad

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  • A State Department official said Wednesday that as many as 50,000 Americans are stuck in other countries due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions. 
  • The Department has pledged to get as many citizens home as possible, but many are frustrated by inconsistent communication and lack of responses.
  • Americans in Peru are facing many issues in particular and have resorted to forming their own communication channels to maintain adequate updates. 
  • Politicians have also spoken out about their frustration with the State Department, accusing them of not doing enough and reacting too slowly.

Thousands of Americans Stuck

As the coronavirus pandemic escalates, many nations have been put on lockdown and thousands of flights have been cancelled as a result, leaving many stranded in foreign countries. According to the U.S. State Department, as many as 50,000 Americans are stuck overseas, trying to return home. 

A State Department official said Wednesday that it has brought about 9,000 Americans home from 28 countries since the beginning of the outbreak, and plans to bring at least 9,000 more back in the next week or so on chartered flights. 

“Our posts around the world have received requests for assistance for getting back to the United States from over 50,000 U.S. citizens,” Ian Brownlee, who runs the Department’s repatriation task force, told reporters. “And we’re committed to bringing home as many Americans as we possibly can.”

But the commitment hasn’t been totally reassuring, and many Americans have felt frustrated by the lack of communication and help from the U.S. government. Some have even taken matters into their own hands through measures like riskily crossing the border from Guatemala to Mexico and bringing money to pay off customs officials, according to reports from Politico

Brownlee says the Department has not been getting a heads up about border closes and flight cancellations, leaving them overwhelmed. He also said that vulnerable populations, like the sick and elderly, are given priority on limited flights. U.S. officials have been urging Americans to return home if they’re not ready to remain overseas for an extended period of time.   

Trapped in Peru

The situation is arguably the worst for those stuck in Peru, a nation that is now on lockdown and has closed its international borders in attempts to curb the spread of the deadly virus. The country closed its international airport in Lima on Sunday. 

“There were some [COVID19] infections in the civil aviation authority and on the civilian side of the airport and they’re trying to run it on a bit of a shoestring from the military side of the airport,” Brownlee told NPR

Because the situation intensified so quickly, many were unable to get home before this shutdown. On Twitter, the hashtag #stuckinPeru has been making its rounds. 

Information from the U.S. government has been conflicting. Last week, the Pentagon said it would fly military aircraft to retrieve Americans in Peru, but the trip was canceled and reconsidered. 

According to State Department officials, the Peruvian government denied permission for two U.S. chartered flights to land on Tuesday. Earlier this week, an American Airlines plane was actually on its way to retrieve Americans stranded in Lima, but had to turn around mid-way after the Peruvian government refused to give it permission to land, according to Politico

Many are upset by the absence of help from the U.S. government. 

“We are being held hostage here, and we don’t know by whom or why,” said Michael Katz, a New York resident stranded in Cusco, told The Wall Street Journal. “The State Department is completely useless and totally incompetent.”

Others have compared America’s failed repatriation efforts to the successes of other countries.

To combat their frustration, citizens have taken their own measures to try to spread accurate information, like making a Facebook page called “Americans Stuck in Peru.” The group has almost 5,000 members.

U.S. politicians have also placed blame on the State Department for failing to get everybody home. 

“#AmericansStuckInPeru is due to lack [of] urgency by some in mid-level of @StateDept,” Sen Marco Rubio tweeted on Tuesday. “We didn’t need you to ‘track’ this, we needed you to solve this.”

Frustrations with State Department Continue

Rubio wasn’t the only senator to speak out about the State Department’s inability to get every American stuck abroad home. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, pointed fingers at the department as well. 

“If this administration, including Secretary Pompeo and his senior leadership team, had taken the coronavirus threat seriously and planned ahead, we may have been able to avoid some of the confusion and chaos Americans abroad encountered,” Menendez told Politico. “Unfortunately, that simply did not happen. As a result, the State Department now has to try to catch up and make up for lost time.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has faced heat in particular. Over the weekend, he tweeted a photo of his wife at home as they did a puzzle together, and Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego had a heated reply.

“I have constituents stuck overseas can you get off your ass and get them home?” Gallego wrote.

On Thursday, Pompeo defended the official efforts to bring Americans home. 

“There’s still a lot of work to do. We’ve got a lot of people who are trying to get back this way, and with travel shut down in many of these countries without any notice or little notice, there’s still a major undertaking,” Pompeo told radio host Hugh Hewitt

“But the team has mashaled the resources. It’s an airlift back home like we’ve not seen in an awfully long time, and I’m really proud of the way our team has responded,” Pompeo said. 

See what others are saying: (Politico) (NBC) (NPR)

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Medical Workers Sign Letter Urging Spotify to Combat Misinformation, Citing Joe Rogan

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The letter accused Spotify of “enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research.”


Doctors and Medical Professionals Sign Letter to Spotify

A group of 270 doctors, scientists, and other medical workers signed an open letter to Spotify this week urging the audio platform to implement a misinformation policy, specifically citing false claims made on the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast. 

Rogan has faced no shortage of backlash over the last year for promoting vaccine misinformation on his show, which airs exclusively on Spotify. Most recently, he invited Dr. Robert Malone on a Dec. 31 episode that has since been widely criticized by health experts. 

Dr. Malone was banned from Twitter for promoting COVID-19 misinformation. According to the medical experts who signed the letter, he “used the JRE platform to further promote numerous baseless claims, including several falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines and an unfounded theory that societal leaders have ‘hypnotized’ the public.”

“Notably, Dr. Malone is one of two recent JRE guests who has compared pandemic policies to the Holocaust,” the letter continued. “These actions are not only objectionable and offensive, but also medically and culturally dangerous.”

Joe Rogan’s History of COVID-19 Misinformation

Rogan sparked swift criticism himself in the spring of 2021 when he discouraged young people from taking the COVID-19 vaccine. He also falsely equated mRNA vaccines to “gene therapy” and incorrectly stated that vaccines cause super mutations of the virus. He took ivermectin after testing positive for the virus in September, despite the fact that the drug is not approved as a treatment for COVID.

“By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions, Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals,” the doctors and medical workers wrote. 

“We are calling on Spotify to take action against the mass-misinformation events which continue to occur on its platform,” they continued. “With an estimated 11 million listeners per episode, JRE is the world’s largest podcast and has tremendous influence. Though Spotify has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform, the company presently has no misinformation policy.”

Rolling Stone was the first outlet to report on the letter from the medical professionals. Dr. Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois Chicago, was among the signees. She told the magazine that Rogan is “a menace to public health.”

“These are fringe ideas not backed in science, and having it on a huge platform makes it seem there are two sides to this issue,” she said. “And there are really not.”

Spotify had not responded to the letter as of Thursday.

See what others are saying: (Rolling Stone) (Deadline) (Insider)

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Data Shows Omicron May be Peaking in the U.S.

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In some cities that were first hit by the surge, new cases are starting to flatten and decline.


New Cases Flattening

After weeks of recording-breaking cases driven by the highly infectious omicron variant, public health officials say that new COVID infections seem to be slowing in the parts of the country that were hit the hardest earlier on.

Following a more than twentyfold rise in December, cases in New York City have flattened out in recent days. 

New infections have even begun to fall slightly in some states, like Maryland and New Jersey. In Boston, the levels of COVID in wastewater — which has been a top indicator of case trends in the past — have dropped by nearly 40% since the first of the year.

Overall, federal data has shown a steep decline in COVID-related emergency room visits in the Northeast, and the rest of the country appears to be following a similar track.

Data from other countries signals the potential for a steep decline in cases following the swift and unprecedented surge.

According to figures from South Africa, where the variant was first detected, cases rose at an incredibly shocking rate for about a month but peaked quickly in mid-December. Since then, new infections have plummeted by around 70%.

In the U.K., which has typically been a map for how U.S. cases will trend, infections are also beginning to fall after peaking around New Year’s and then flattening for about a week.

Concerns Remain 

Despite these recent trends, experts say it is still too early to say if cases in the U.S. will decline as rapidly as they did in South Africa and the parts of the U.K. that were first hit. 

While new infections may seem to be peaking in the cities that saw the first surges, caseloads continue to climb in most parts of the country. 

Meanwhile, hospitals are overwhelmed and health resources are still strained because of the high volume of cases hitting all at once.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Wall Street Journal)

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COVID-Driven School Closures Top Record Highs, But Many Remain Open

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While some districts have implemented protective measures, many teachers say they fall short.


Schools Respond to Omicron Surge

U.S. COVID cases, driven by the omicron variant, are continuously topping new record highs, posing difficult questions for schools resuming after winter break.

According to Burbio, a data firm that tracks school closures, at least 5,409 public schools canceled classes or moved to remote learning by the end of last week due to COVID — more than triple the number at the end of December.

That is still only a fraction of the nation’s 130,000 schools, and many of the biggest school districts in the country are still insisting that students come into the classroom.

Los Angeles, which is home to the second-biggest district, is requiring that students at least test negative before they return to school this week.

In the biggest district of New York City, classes have already resumed following winter break. Although the city has said it will double random tests and send home more kits, students were not required to provide negative results.

Teachers Protest In-Person Learning

Teachers in other major districts have protested the local government’s decisions to stay open.

One of the most closely watched battles is in Chicago, where students on Monday missed their fourth consecutive day of school due to a feud between the Chicago Teachers Union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D).

Last week, the union voted to return to remote learning in defiance of a city-wide order mandating they teach in-person, citing inadequate COVID-19 protections. Lightfoot claimed the conditions were fine and that students were safe, despite record surges, instead opting to cancel classes altogether while the fight plays out.

On Sunday, the union said it was “still far apart” from making any kind of agreement with public school officials after Lightfoot rejected their demands.

Lightfoot, for her part, has said she remains “hopeful” a deal could be reached, but she also stirred up the union by accusing teachers of staging an “illegal walkout” and claiming they “abandoned their posts and they abandoned kids and their families.”

Meanwhile, teachers in other school districts have begun to emulate the tactics in Chicago.

On Friday, teachers in Oakland, California staged a “sick-out,” promoting 12 schools serving thousands of students to close.

See what others are saying: (The Chicago Tribune) (CNN) (The New York Times)

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