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Cal State University Announces Virtual Fall Semester, Provoking Debate About Reopening Schools

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  • California State University will be continuing classes online during the fall semester. 
  • Cal State is the biggest four-year public university system in the U.S., and it is now the first large American university to tell students it will not be holding in-person classes this fall.
  • The move has prompted many to wonder if other colleges, the vast majority of which have said they will re-open in the fall, will follow suit.
  • Many schools are struggling financially with the closures and will suffer significantly if they remain shut down. At the same time, students are not sure if they will commit or return to schools that are unsafe or online. 

Cal State Announcement

California State University, the largest four-year public university system in the country, announced Tuesday that it will be keeping classes online during the fall semester at all of its 23 schools.

“This planning approach is necessary because a course that might begin in a face-to-face modality would likely have to be switched to a virtual format during the term if a serious second wave of the pandemic occurs, as forecast,” Cal State Chancellor Timothy White said in a statement.

“This virtual planning approach preserves as many options for as many students as possible.”

Notably, White did say there would be possible exceptions for clinical nursing classes, some science labs, and other essential programs to be held in person, but noted that will only happen when “rigorous health and safety requirements are in place.”

The move marks a significant departure from the current plans universities all over the country have laid out for the upcoming fall semester.

The Cal State system, which is home to more than half a million students, is the first large U.S. university to tell students they will not be holding in-person classes this fall. 

According to reports, only a few schools have said that they will hold fall classes online, and most of them are small.

Several other colleges have proposed or said they will implement some kind of hybrid model, but the vast majority are currently planning for in-person classes this fall.

Risks and Considerations for Colleges

The noteworthy move from Cal State has prompted many to wonder if other universities will begin to take the same course of action.

While some experts say Cal State’s decision could have a significant impact on other colleges, there are a lot of other factors that go into that choice. Unfortunately, one of the biggest is money.

Even before the pandemic, many higher education institutions were already struggling financially. Since mid-March, when colleges were forced to shut down, the situation has gotten a lot worse as major sources of revenue have begun drying up.

Sporting events have been canceled, housing payments and some other tuition-related expenses have been repaid to students. Smaller sources like study abroad programs and campus bookstores have also disappeared.

Already, some schools have said they have lost hundreds of millions of dollars and that the $14 billion federal aid package in the stimulus bill is not nearly enough.

All of that is expected to get much worse if schools remain shuttered for the fall semester.

“Most colleges and universities are tuition dependent,” Christina Paxson, the president of Brown University wrote in a New York Times op-ed last month.

“Remaining closed in the fall means losing as much as half of our revenue. This loss, only a part of which might be recouped through online courses, would be catastrophic.”

“It’s not a question of whether institutions will be forced to permanently close, it’s how many,” she added.

To make matters more complicated, there are now major concerns that a growing number of students will sit out the fall semester, which would seriously hurt schools even more.

Last month, the American Council on Education, a higher education trade group, predicted that enrollment for the next academic year will drop by 15%, including 25% for international students.

Concerns for Students

With all the worry about health and safety and the uncertainty about campuses re-opening, tons of new students are not sure if they will go to school in the fall.

According to a survey conducted by the higher-education consulting firm the Art & Science Group, 35% of prospective college students said they are planning to take a gap year, and another 35% said they will enroll part-time.

The same also goes for students that would otherwise be returning. A poll by Top Hat found that more than a quarter of college students are unsure of whether they will return to their current college or university in the fall.

While a hard decision, taking time off from school makes sense for many students. So much is still up in the air, and some worry about committing to starting college online or committing to a school now that might decide to shut down later.

Virtual learning is also not for everyone. According to a report in the Harvard Crimson, after the prestigious university announced it would hold classes in the fall— either online or in-person— more than 700 students and parents signed a petition calling on the school to postpone its fall semester rather than have online classes.

There is also the matter of costs. Going to college is expensive, and a lot of people do not want to pay for a four-year university if part of that is online. Already, more than two dozen schools are facing lawsuits from students demanding tuition refunds for spring semesters.

To that point, many schools have not been at all transparent about how or if tuition costs will change. 

In both Cal State’s Tuesday announcement and the Board of Trustees meeting that followed, there was zero mention of tuition cuts. At one point, several trustees even urged the board not to increase tuition costs to help pay for the online fall semester.

On top of that, with the economy faltering, there may be students who were planning on going to college but now cannot afford it.

There are also health concerns to think about. While these schools rush to open up, it is important to consider how they are factoring in financial incentives versus the safety of students.

But the big question still remains: can students return safety in the fall?

Cal State’s announcement came the same day that Dr. Anthony Fauci testified at a Senate hearing on coronavirus, where he warned against reopening schools too soon.

“The idea of having treatments available, or a vaccine, to facilitate the reentry of students into the fall term would be something of a bit of a bridge too far,” he said.

“We don’t see a vaccine playing in the ability of individuals to get back to school this term. What they really want is to know if they are safe.” 

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Los Angeles Times) (Axios)

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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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Paris Hilton Urges Lawmakers To Crack Down on Abusive Teen Treatment Facilities

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The heiress alleges that she was a victim of abuse in these types of centers for two years and wants to ensure that no child suffers through the same experience.


Paris Hilton Details Abuse Within “Troubled Teen Industry”

Socialite and entrepreneur Paris Hilton spoke outside of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to support the Accountability for Congregate Care Act, which is set to be introduced in the near future.

Hilton joined Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) to advocate for the legislation, which aims to create a “bill of rights” for children in treatment and behavioral centers.

The heiress has alleged that she spent two of her teenage years in these types of facilities and was subject to rampant abuse. She is far from alone. 

During a press conference, Hilton said that one night when she was 16, she woke up to two large men in her bedroom forcing her out of her house. She said she screamed for help because she thought she was being kidnapped, but her parents watched as she was taken away to a “troubled teen” program. 

“Like countless other parents of teens, my parents had searched for solutions to my rebellious behavior,” she explained in an op-ed for The Washington Post this week. “Unfortunately, they fell for the misleading marketing of the ‘troubled teen industry’ — therapeutic boarding schools, military-style boot camps, juvenile justice facilities, behavior modification programs and other facilities that generate roughly $50 billion annually in part by pitching ‘tough love’ as the answer to problematic behavior.”

Hilton said she was sent to four different facilities where she was “physically and psychologically abused.” 

“I was strangled, slapped across the face, watched in the shower by male staff, called vulgar names, forced to take medication without a diagnosis, not given a proper education, thrown into solitary confinement in a room covered in scratch marks and smeared in blood and so much more,” she explained during the press conference. 

“At Provo Canyon School in Utah, I was given clothes with a number on the tag. I was no longer me, I was only number 127,” she continued. “I was forced to stay indoors for 11 months straight, no sunlight, no fresh air. These were considered privileges.”

Goals of the  Accountability for Congregate Care Act

Hilton claims that a lack of transparency and accountability has allowed this structure of abuse to thrive for decades. In some cases, she said it has taken children’s lives. Now, she wants Congress and President Joe Biden to act. 

“This bill creates an urgently needed bill of rights to ensure that every child placed into congregate care facilities is provided a safe and humane environment,” Hilton said of the Accountability for Congregate Care Act.

“This bill of rights provides protections that I wasn’t afforded, like access to education, to the outdoors, freedom from abusive treatment, and even the basic right to move and speak freely. If I had these rights and could have exercised them, I would have been saved from over 20 years of trauma and severe PTSD.” 

Foster children, children being treated for mental disorders, and other children in youth programs would be impacted by the bill.

Hilton was one of several survivors and advocates who fought for the legislation on Wednesday. Rep. Khanna thanked them for using their stories to fight for change. 

“No child should be subjected to solitary confinement, forced labor, or any form of institutional abuse,” he wrote. “Thanks to Paris Hilton, my colleagues & the survivors & advocates who joined us today to discuss how we can hold the congregate care industry accountable.”

While only Democratic legislators are currently sponsoring the bill, Hilton called for a bipartisan effort to fight for the rights of children. 

Ensuring that children are safe from institutional abuse isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue,” Hilton said. “It’s a basic human rights issue that requires immediate attention.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Hill) (NBC News)

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Surgeons Successfully Test Pig Kidney Transplant on a Human

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The procedure has been hailed as a major scientific breakthrough that could eventually open the door to a renewable source of desperately needed organs.


Groundbreaking Procedure

Surgeons at the NYU Langone Transplant Institute revealed Tuesday that they temporarily attached a kidney from a genetically modified pig to a human patient and found that it worked normally.

The operation was the first of its kind and could one day lead to a vast supply of organs for those who are in severe need. According to the Associated Press, more than 90,000 people in the U.S. are in line for a kidney transplant. Each day, an average of 12 die while waiting.

With the family’s consent, the groundbreaking procedure was performed on a brain-dead patient who was kept alive on a ventilator.

According to the surgeons, the pig used was genetically engineered to grow an organ that wouldn’t produce a sugar that the human immune system attacks, which would then trigger the body to reject the kidney. 

The organ was connected to blood vessels on the patient’s upper leg, outside the abdomen, and it was observed for over 54 hours, with doctors finding no signs of rejection.

Concerns and Hurdles Ahead

While the procedure was successful, this doesn’t mean it’ll be available to patients anytime soon. Several questions about long-term functionality remain, and it will still have to go through significant medical and regulatory hurdles. 

Details of the procedure haven’t even been peer-reviewed or published in a medical journal yet, though there are plans for this. 

Experts are also considering the ethical implications of this type of animal-to-human transplant. For some, raising pigs to harvest their organs raises concerns about animal welfare and exploitation. Such medical procedures have already earned criticism from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA.

“Pigs aren’t spare parts and should never be used as such just because humans are too self-centered to donate their bodies to patients desperate for organ transplants,” PETA said in a statement, according to The New York Times.

On the other side of the debate are people like Dr. Robert Montgomery, the director of the N.Y.U. Langone Transplant Institute who performed the breakthrough procedure in September.

“I certainly understand the concern and what I would say is that currently about 40% of patients who are waiting for a transplant die before they receive one,” he told BBC.

“We use pigs as a source of food, we use pigs for medicinal uses – for valves, for medication. I think it’s not that different.”

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

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