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Harvard Returns $8.6M in Relief Funds After Backlash

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  • After receiving backlash, Harvard said it will return $8.6 million that it was given in federal aid through an education relief fund created by the stimulus package.
  • President Trump accused Harvard of taking emergency funding earmarked for small businesses and said he would request they give the money back.
  • In a statement, Harvard clarified that it had not taken money set aside for small businesses. Instead, it received money set aside for colleges and universities.
  • The money Harvard received was similar to the amounts of other schools with large endowments, like Stanford and Princeton, which have said they will not accept the funding.

Harvard Reverses Funding Decision

Harvard has said it will not accept the $8.6 million it received in emergency federal funding, a reversal prompted by widespread criticism that the richest school in America should not get government money.

Harvard had initially said it would keep the money after President Donald Trump said the school should give it back, though he appeared to confuse the source of funding.

During a press conference Tuesday, Trump accused Harvard of taking stimulus money set aside for small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

“Harvard is going to pay back the money. And they shouldn’t be taking it. So, Harvard is going to,” Trump said during a press conference Tuesday.

“You have a number of them. I’m not going to mention any other names. But when I saw Harvard, they have one of the largest endowments anywhere in the country, maybe in the world, I guess. And they’re going to pay back that money.” 

Shortly after Trump’s remarks, Harvard responded in a statement on Twitter. 

“Harvard did not apply for, nor has it received any funds through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for small businesses. Reports saying otherwise are inaccurate,” the school wrote. 

“President Trump is right that it would not have been appropriate for our institution to receive funds that were designated for struggling small businesses,” the statement continued. 

Like most colleges and universities, Harvard has been allocated funds as part of the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.”

Harvard also said that that it will direct all of the funds to the students, on top of additional financial assistance it has already given to students for things like travel, living expenses, and the transition to online classes.

But the next day, the university appeared to change it’s mind.

Harvard will not accept funds from the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund,” Harvard wrote in a series of tweets.

“We are concerned that intense focus by politicians & others on Harvard in connection with the program may undermine participation in a relief effort,” it continued, adding that as a result, “Harvard has decided not to seek or accept the funds allocated to it by statute.”

Harvard’s change of heart came hours after Princeton announced that it would not be accepting the funding and Stanford said on Twitter that it had withdrawn its application for the money on Monday.

Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund

Like the PPP, the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund was approved by both Congress and Trump as part of the $2 trillion stimulus package. The fund specifically designates $14 billion to help higher education.

The Education Department has said that thousands of colleges and universities will get money through the fund. The recipients include both public and private institutions, and range from Ivy Leagues to beauty schools.

Per the directions of the department, about half of the money the schools get is supposed to go the students, while the other half goes to making up lost revenue and other costs related to the pandemic.

While Harvard is the richest university in the U.S. with an endowment of around $40 billion, the money they received from the fund was in line with other comparable schools— including those that also have sizeable endowments.

Yale, which has a $30 billion endowment, was also given $6.8 million. Standford also has an endowment of just under $30 billion, and it had received $7.3 million before deciding to pull its application.

Other Ivy Leagues including Columbia and Cornell got even more from the fund— about $12.8 million each. While both schools have slightly smaller endowments, they are still quite large when compared to other universities. 

Funding Allocation

Notably, the money is not given out based on how much money a school does or does not have. Instead, the funds are allocated based on a formula that takes into account the overall student enrollment and income level of the student body.

That is measured by how many students at each school are receiving federal financial aid through federal Pell Grants. 

According to Harvard, 16% of their 6,600 undergraduates are Pell Grant recipients, and in the 2018-19 academic year, the school gave $200 million in scholarships to undergraduates alone.

That mechanism for measurement is also why many schools with less money got much bigger amounts of funding. The biggest sum went to Arizona State University, which received $63.5 million because it has 83,000 students and about half of them are considered low income.

But still, Harvard got a lot of backlash from plenty of people, not just President Trump. Republican Senators Rick Scott (R-FL), Josh Hawley (R-MO), and Ted Cruz (R-TX) all took to Twitter to voice their disapproval of the move.

That sentiment was even echoed by Department of Education.

“Sending millions to schools with significant endowments is a poor use of taxpayer money,” a department spokesperson said Tuesday, adding that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos had sent a letter to college and university presidents asking them to send the money back if they do not need it.

Other Problems With Funding

However, DeVos herself has recently received significant backlash for her handling of funding from the stimulus bill.

DeVos is in charge of distributing an additional $6 billion that is separate from the relief fund and earmarked specifically to help college students pay for food, childcare, and housing. 

On April 9, DeVos said that the $6 billion would be “immediately distributed” to the students. But according to a Politico report published Monday, only $6 million of that has been given out— less than a fraction of a percent.

That has already prompted widespread criticism from leaders in higher education, many of whom have said that they have struggled with bureaucracy and lack of guidance.

That is also not where their problems stop. Others have said there were glitches with the process of applying for the aid early on. According to reports, the website where schools submit documents would go down for hours at a time, and some schools that had not used the portal before had trouble registering.

But in a statement last week, a department spokesperson blamed the schools themselves.

“It’s tragic that at a time when students are struggling to make ends meet, too many highly capable and intelligent leaders of higher-ed institutions are dragging their feet and claiming it’s because there’s some lack of clarity in the law,” the spokesperson said.

Separately, DeVos issued a new guidance on Tuesday that prohibits undocumented students from receiving any of the $6 billion.

While the stimulus package does not have any language regarding undocumented student’s DeVos’ guidance mandates that the aid can only be given to students who qualify for federal financial aid.

Under current law, only U.S. citizens and some legal permanent residents are eligible for federal aid.

As a result, the policy explicitly excludes hundreds of thousands of students who are recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects individuals who were brought to the U.S. illegally as minors.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Newsweek) (Politico)

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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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