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Food Banks Across the U.S. See Skyrocketing Demands and Fewer Donations

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  • As unemployment levels continue to rise, American’s all over the country are turning to food banks for assistance.
  • But along with skyrocketing demands, food banks are also seeing fewer donations because of panic buying, hoarding, and other strains on the food supply chain.
  • Experts believe some shortages will continue as more workers in processing plants, warehouses, and grocery stores contract the coronavirus.
  • Meanwhile, the lack of demand from shuttered hotels, restaurants, and schools has forced farmers to destroy millions of pounds of perishable foods.

Food Banks See Shortages

More than 16 million people have filed for unemployment in the last three weeks— a number that is expected to grow— causing demand at food banks to skyrocket.

Jarring photos and videos from all over the country show miles of cars lined up for hours to get food at local donation centers.

Feeding America, the largest network of food banks in the U.S., reported that 98% of the 200 banks in their network reported increased demand. The organization also estimated that it will need around $1.4 billion in additional resources over the next six months to sustain its operations.

At the same time, food banks are seeing fewer volunteers as more people stay home and fewer donations because of panic buying and food hoarding.

The latter is especially concerning. Not only are less people making individual donations, grocery stores and retailers— which account for a huge chunk of donations— are also unable to give as much as normal because their shelves are stripped.

That, in turn, has also led to fewer donations from manufacturers who have to meet the increased demand at grocery stores. This has been the case for Feeding America, which reported donations from manufacturers have dropped by about half this month.

Farmers Forced to Destroy Crops

While food banks and grocery stores are experiencing shortages, farmers have been forced to destroy millions of pounds of fresh goods they cannot sell because demand has dropped drastically from all the restaurants, hotels, and schools that have closed.

The amount of food they are getting rid of is staggering. According to the New York Times, produce farmers are plowing millions of pounds of vegetables, while one chicken processor said it is smashing 750,000 unhatched eggs each week.

Dairy Farmers of America estimates that farmers are dumping around 3.7 million gallons of milk each day. International Dairy Foods Association reported that about 5% of America’s milk supply is being thrown out, and it expects that amount to double if closings are extended over the next few months.

While farmers have given some goods to food charities like Meals on Wheels, major-scale food banks like Feeding America largely need non-perishable goods. 

That creates a vicious cycle because restaurants, hotels, and casinos that are shut down and not buying from farmers are also places that normally give large amounts of food to food banks.

Supply Chain Problems

The drastic spike in demand for groceries and drop in demand for farm produce have put significant strain on the food supply chain. But they are not the only contributing factors to the issue.

There is also an increasing number of workers in processing plants, warehouses, and grocery stores that are getting the coronavirus.

One of the most recent and notable examples is a Smithfield Foods pork processing facility in South Dakota. The facility announced it was shutting down Sunday after more than 230 workers got sick with the coronavirus.

The cases at the plant alone made up more than half of the state’s total confirmed cases, according to Governor Kristi Noem.

The incident is quite notable not only because that plant alone produces more than 5% of the nation’s pork, but also because it raises broader concerns about safety measures taken in the meat industry, which has seen multiple large-scale outbreaks.

Last week, Tyson Foods suspended operations at a pork plant in Iowa and JBS USA did the same at a beef plant in Pennsylvania after the coronavirus spread in those facilities.

On the opposite end of the supply chain, grocery store workers are also getting sick as well.

While there are no government agencies tracking cases among food industry workers, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union said on Monday that at least 1,500 of its 1.3 million members have been infected with the virus, and 30 of them have died.

Industry leaders and experts say that shortages could increase, but continue to insist it is not a major problem. However, there is little writing and evidence from those same individuals regarding the impact these shortages can and will have on food banks.

While these concerns are expected to grow, there are some solutions in the works.

According to CNN, Feeding America has teamed up with the American Farm Bureau, which represents American agriculture producers, to propose a voucher program “that would increase the relationship between farmers and food banks, allowing them to work directly with one another.”

Normally, farmers and food banks go through third parties, which can delay food deliveries. However, the voucher program would cut out the middleman and send farm products to food banks while also helping farmers and ranchers earn back costs.

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

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New COVID-19 Variant Could Become Dominant in the U.S. by March, CDC Warns

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  • The CDC warned Friday that a new highly transmissible COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.
  • The strain was first reported in the United Kingdom in December and is now in at least 10 states.
  • The CDC used a modeled trajectory to discover how quickly the variant could spread in the U.S. and said that this could threaten the country’s already overwhelmed healthcare system.

CDC Issues Warning

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday that the new COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.

While it is not known to be more deadly, it does spread at a higher rate, which is troubling considering the condition the U.S. is already in. Cases and deaths are already on the rise in nearly every state and globally, 2 million lives have been lost to the coronavirus. 

The variant was first reported in the United Kingdom in mid-December. It is now in 30 countries, including the U.S., where cases have been located in at least ten states. Right now, only 76 cases of this variant have been confirmed in the U.S., but experts believe that number is likely much higher and said it will increase significantly in the coming weeks. It is already a dominant strain in parts of the U.K.

Modeled trajectory shows that growth in the U.S. could be so fast that it dominates U.S. cases just three months into the new year. This could pose a huge threat to our already strained healthcare system.

Mitigating Spread of Variant

“I want to stress that we are deeply concerned that this strain is more transmissible and can accelerate outbreaks in the U.S. in the coming weeks,” said Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC told the New York Times. “We’re sounding the alarm and urging people to realize the pandemic is not over and in no way is it time to throw in the towel.”

The CDC advises that health officials use this time to limit spread and increase vaccination as much as possible in order to mitigate the impact this variant will have. Experts believe that current vaccines will protect against this strain.

“Effective public health measures, including vaccination, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation and quarantine, will be essential,” the CDC said in their report.

“Strategic testing of persons without symptoms but at higher risk of infection, such as those exposed to SARS-CoV-2 or who have frequent unavoidable contact with the public, provides another opportunity to limit ongoing spread.”

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (New York Times) (NBC News)

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Former Michigan Gov. and 8 Others Charged Over Flint Water Crisis

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Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. (Al Goldis/AP)

  • Ex-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was charged with two counts of willful neglect of duty Wednesday for his role in the Flint water crisis
  • By Thursday, eight more former state and city officials were charged with crimes ranging from involuntary manslaughter to extortion.
  • Flint residents have long awaited this news. In 2019, prosecutors dropped all criminal charges against 15 officials and said they would start the investigation from scratch, citing concerns about how the special counsel had conducted its probe.

Rick Snyder Charges

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office said Thursday that it had filed 41 charges against nine former state and city officials for their role in the Flint water crisis.

The most high-profile figure to be charged was former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. On Wednesday, he was hit with two counts of willful neglect of duty.

He was the state’s top executive when local officials decided to switch the city’s drinking water source to the Flint River in 2014.

The switch was supposed to be a temporary cost-saving measure while a pipeline was being built to Lake Huron. However, the water wasn’t treated properly for corrosion, so lead-contaminated water was released into the homes of people all over the city. Because of that, 12 people died and at least 90 were sickened with Legionnaires’ disease.

Snyder appeared in court this morning via Zoom, pleading not guilty to the two misdemeanor charges. If convicted he could face up to a year in prison and as much as a $1,000 fine.

His charges alone are significant because they make him the first governor or former governor in the state to ever be charged with a crime for alleged conduct while in office.

8 Others Charged

Along with Snyder, eight others were charged, including a former state health director Nick Lyon. Lyon received nine charges of involuntary manslaughter, among others.

Richard Baird, one of Snyder’s closes advisors was changed for extortion, perjury, and obstructions of justice. Others who were charged include:

  • Jarrod Agen, Snyder’s former chief of staff and Vice President Mike Pence’s former communications director.
  • Dr. Eden Wells, a former chief medical executive for the state Department of Health and Human Services. 
  • Darnell Earley, former Flint finance director and state-appointed emergency manager.
  • Gerald Ambrose, former state-appointed emergency manager.
  • Howard Croft, former Flint Public Works Director.
  • Nancy Peeler, the state’s director of maternal, infant and early childhood home visiting for the health department.

Flint residents have waited a long time for justice over the water contamination issue. Prosecutors previously dropped all 15 criminal charges tied to the Flint case in 2019 and said the investigation would begin again from scratch.

At the time, they cited concerns about how the special counsel had conducted its probe.

It also wasn’t until last year that the state reached a $600 million settlement with victims, establishing a fund from which residents can file for compensation.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Detroit News) (Detroit Free Press)

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Three Lawmakers Test Positive for COVID-19 Following Capitol Attack

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  • At least three Congressmembers have tested positive for COVID-19 following Wednesday’s pro-Trump attack on the Capitol. 
  • Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) believe they contracted the virus after locking down in close quarters with numerous Republican lawmakers who refused to wear masks.
  • Jayapal and Schneider are calling for those who did not wear a mask to face consequences.

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman Tests Positive

At least three members of Congress have tested positive for COVID-19 after locking down in close quarters with other House members during Wednesday’s pro-Trump attack on the Capitol. 

Congress’ attending physician, Brian Monahan, warned that members may have been exposed during the lockdown. He recommended that everyone who was isolated inside should get tested for the virus. 

On Monday Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) became the first to announce that she tested positive. Watson Coleman believes she was exposed while in the Capitol lockdown. In her statement, she cited the multiple Republicans who refused to wear masks while inside. Video footage from Punchbowl News shows a Democratic lawmaker handing out masks and a handful of Republicans declining to take one. 

Watson Coleman is a 75-year-old lung cancer survivor. While she said she is only experiencing cold-like symptoms, she tweeted that per a doctor’s suggestion, she headed to a local hospital for antibody treatment. She also encouraged those who sheltered in place to get tested. 

More Cases Follow

Later on Monday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said she too had tested positive, also blaming a lack of mask-wearing in the Capitol. In a lengthy Twitter thread, she said Republicans created a superspreader event and demanded consequences for their actions. 

Many Republicans still refused to take the bare minimum COVID-19 precaution and simply wear a damn mask in a crowded room during a pandemic—creating a superspreader event ON TOP of a domestic terrorist attack,” she wrote. 

“Any Member who refuses to wear a mask should be fully held accountable,” Jayapal added. 

“I’m calling for every single Member who refuses to wear a mask in the Capitol to be fined and removed from the floor by the Sergeant at Arms.”

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) echoed her frustrations on Tuesday after releasing a statement saying he has become the third House member to have tested positive following the lockdown. 

“Today, I am now in strict isolation, worried that I have risked my wife’s health and angry at the selfishness and arrogance of the anti-maskers who put their own contempt and disregard for decency ahead of the health and safety of their colleagues and our staff,” he wrote.

Like Jayapal, he is calling for sanctions against those who opted to not wear masks. 

Many health officials feared that this lockdown could lead to a surge in cases. They also worry that the mob itself could lead to a superspreader event as most of those who attacked the Capitol were not wearing masks and were crowding together both inside and outside of the building.

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

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