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Trump Announces Ramped Up Counternarcotics Operations During Coronavirus Briefing

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  • At the top of Wednesday’s coronavirus press briefing, President Trump announced plans to double U.S military resources in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea to ramp up efforts against drug cartels.
  • The operation is also viewed as part of increased pushes to add strain on Venezuela’s leader Nicolás Maduro, who the U.S does not recognize as the country’s legitimate president. 
  • CNN and MSNBC cut away from the briefing during the announcement after considering it off-topic, with some reporters criticizing Trump for abusing the pandemic briefings for other political measures. 

Announcement 

President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that the U.S. is enhancing its focus on drug cartels and counternarcotics operations in an unusual start to the White House’s daily coronavirus press briefings. 

“As governments and nations focus on the coronavirus, there’s a growing threat that cartels, criminals, terrorists, and other malign actors will try to exploit this situation for their own gain, and we must not let that happen. We will never let that happen,” the President said. 

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said the U.S. was doubling military resources in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea to combat the flow of illicit drugs.

“Included in the force package are Navy destroyers and combat ships, Coast Guard cutters, P-8 patrol aircraft and elements of an Army Security Force Assistance Brigade,” Esper added.

President Trump explained that the U.S. Southern Command will increase surveillance, disruption and seizures of drug shipments, and provide other support for eradication efforts. He also said the mission would be supported by 22 partner nations. 

Pressure on Venezuela 

The timing of the announcement came as a bit of a surprise since the coronavirus briefings are usually dedicated to the pandemic response efforts, but officials drew a link between the spreading virus and the new military operation. 

Esper said criminal organizations are trying to capitalize on the fact that governments are distracted by the outbreak. He suggested that deploying the military vessels and ramping up pressure on cartels is also meant to put added strain on Venezuela’s embattled leader Nicolás Maduro. 

The United States and dozens of other countries recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate president after considering Maduro’s 2018 re-election a sham. Still, Maduro has remained in power, backed by Venezuela’s military as well as Russia, China, and Cuba.

“Corrupt actors, like the illegitimate Maduro regime in Venezuela, rely on the profits derived from the sale of narcotics to maintain their oppressive hold on power,” Esper said. “The Venezuelan people continue to suffer tremendously due to Maduro’s criminal control over the country.”

But experts say the enhanced mission has been months in the making as the U.S. increases efforts to oust Maduro. Last week, the U.S. indicted him on charges including drug trafficking while offering a $15 million reward for his arrest and conviction. And on Tuesday, the Trump administration even offered to begin lifting sanctions on the country if the opposition and members of Maduro’s Socialist Party form an interim government without him.

After President Trump announced his new anti-drug efforts, Jorge Rodriguez, Venezuela’s information minister, said the operation was an attempt to divert attention from the U.S. government’s “erratic handling of the coronavirus crisis.” However, he added, “if it is a serious effort to stop drug trafficking, we are willing to collaborate.” 

Networks Turn Away During Announcement 

According to Deadline, CNN and MSNBC each turned their broadcasts away as Trump made the announcement. It was reported that the networks found it off-topic, especially as Trump began to talk about the construction of the wall along the southern border.  

CNN’s John King seemed annoyed by the timing of the announcement, accusing Trump of abusing the briefings for other measures during a time when American’s are learning that 200,000 could die from the virus.

“When you are an incumbent president, to bring that into a briefing in the middle of a pandemic, the day after the incredibly sobering news the administration rightfully delivered to the American people yesterday, is shameless and it’s political.”

“The president has other opportunities to do this. There are 24 hours in a day. He has all the buildings of the government still at his disposal,” he continued. 

MSNBC’s Chuck Todd shared similar criticism, saying “If President Trump had important coronavirus news to tell us, it must not have trumped this.”

Both networks eventually returned to the briefing once the focus shifted solely to the pandemic, however, each broke away again before it ended. 

Some networks and journalists have been debating in recent weeks whether or not they should be airing the briefings live. They argue that at times, the President has used rhetoric seen in his campaign rallies and often dispells inaccurate information that is impossible to fact check in real-time. 

On the other side, some have said cutting briefings amounts to censorship. The networks have already faced backlash from White House officials and the Republican National Comittee for previous times they have cut away. 

See what others are saying: (Deadline) (Bloomberg) (Reuters)  

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Inmates Sue Jail for Giving Them Ivermectin to Treat COVID-19 Without Consent

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Four detainees who filed the suit allege that the jail’s doctor gave them “incredibly high doses” of the anti-parasite in a “cocktail of drugs” that he said were “‘vitamins’, ‘antibiotics,’ and/or ‘steroids.’”


Washington County Detention Center Lawsuit

Four inmates at an Arkansas jail have filed a federal lawsuit claiming that they were unknowingly given the anti-parasite drug ivermectin without their consent by the detention center’s doctor after contracting COVID-19.

The Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and countless other medical experts have said that ivermectin — commonly used for livestock — can be dangerous and should not be used to treat the coronavirus.

According to the lawsuit, after testing positive for COVID in August, the four men at the Washington County Detention Center (WCDC) were given a “cocktail of drugs” twice a day by the facility’s doctor, Robert Karas.

The inmates claim that Dr. Karas did not tell them that he was giving them ivermectin, but instead said the drugs consisted of “‘vitamins’, ‘antibiotics,’ and/or ‘steroids.’”

The complaint also alleges that the detainees were given “incredibly high doses” of the drug, causing some to experience “vision issues, diarrhea, bloody stools, and/or stomach cramps.”

Use on Other Inmates

The four plaintiffs were far from the only people to whom Karas gave ivermectin.

According to the lawsuit, the doctor began using the drug to treat COVID starting in November of 2020. In August, the Washington County sheriff confirmed at a local finance and budget committee meeting that the doctor had been prescribing the drug to inmates, prompting the Arkansas Medical Board to launch an investigation.

In response, Karas informed a Medical Board investigator in a letter from his attorney that 254 inmates at the facility had been treated with ivermectin.

In the letter, he confirmed that whether or not detainees were given information about ivermectin was dependent on who administered it, but paramedics were not required to discuss the drug with them.

He also admitted that after the practice got media coverage, he “adopted a more robust informed consent form to assuage any concern that any detainees were being misled or coerced into taking the medications, even though they weren’t.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, which filed the suit on behalf of the inmates, also claimed in a statement that after questions were raised about the practice, the jail attempted to make detainees sign forms saying that they retroactively agreed to the treatments. 

The WCDC has not issued a public response to the lawsuits, but Dr. Karas appeared to address the situation in a Facebook post where he defended his actions.

“Guess we made the news again this week; still with best record in the world at the jail with the same protocols,” he wrote. “Inmates aren’t dumb and I suspect in the future other inmates around the country will be suiing their facilities requesting same treatment we’re using at WCDC-including the Ivermectin.”

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

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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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