Photo by Kevin Lamarque for Reuters
- Videos and pictures from Memorial Day weekend show thousands of people all over the country going to crowded beaches, boardwalks, pool parties, and other events, largely ignoring health guidelines.
- One viral video showed dozens, if not hundreds, of people without masks in a crowded pool in the Lake of the Ozarks.
- A speedway opening in North Carolina attracted 2,500 people, despite state-wide orders preventing outdoor gatherings of more than 25. The county sheriff refused to enforce the orders because he felt they were “unconstitutional.”
- Meanwhile, the U.S. is on track to hit 100,000 deaths this week, and studies show at least 24 states still have epidemic levels of spread.
A Crowded Pandemic Memorial Day
Despite numerous calls from health officials at every government level, thousands of people all over America spent Memorial Day weekend at crowded beaches, pool parties, and other packed locations, flouting recommendations for social distancing and mask-wearing.
One of the most viral examples came from a video of a pool party at the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri.
In the video, dozens and dozens of people can be seen packed together in a pool with no masks in sight. It is unclear how many people were there, but according to reports, a Facebook event for the party, which was called “Zero Ducks Given,” showed nearly 400 people had attended.
The video sparked a lot of backlash on social media, with some noting that it came just days after the governor of neighboring Arkansas said a similar pool party caused a new cluster of coronavirus cases and a “second peak” in his state.
Numerous officials in Missouri slammed the move, including St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, who called it “irresponsible and dangerous.”
“Now, these folks will be coming home to St. Louis and counties all over Missouri and the Midwest, raising concerns about the potential of more positive cases, hospitalizations, and tragically, deaths,” she said. “It’s just deeply disturbing.”
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, a physician, also condemned the party, and warned of the risk it posed.
“The risk of contracting COVID- 19 is exponentially increased,” he said. “This reckless behavior endangers countless people and risks setting us back substantially from the progress we have made in slowing the spread of COVID-19.”
Page also announced that the County Department of Public Health issued a travel advisory in response to the video. The advisory urges anyone who traveled over the weekend and did not take proper safety precautions to self-quarantine for 14 days or until they test negative for the coronavirus.
Parties in the U.S.A.
The footage from the Lake of the Ozarks pool party, however, is only one of several notable videos and photos that surfaced from the long weekend.
When videos of a pool party at a club in Houston also circulated on social media, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced that authorities will start enforcing capacity limits for bars and restaurants.
According to Turner’s office, the city recieved hundreds of complaints alleging violations.
Separately, another video spread on social media showed thousands of people packed in the stands at the Ace Speedway season opening in North Carolina.
Ace Speedway co-owner Jason Turner told local reporters that 2,500 people attended. He also said that social distancing was recommended but not enforced, and that hand sanitizer would be provided. The event did not, however, recommend that attendees wear masks.
Very notably, the Ace Speedway opening appeared to violate state-wide restrictions on outdoor gatherings. Under Gov. Roy Cooper’s second phase of reopening, North Carolina currently limits outdoor gatherings to 25 people.
But according to local reports, the County Sheriff said he would refuse to “enforce an unconstitutional law.”
Beach Bashes Strain Resources
Many of the largest crowds from the weekend were those seen on beaches and boardwalks.
Some of the most jarring pictures that circulated showed crowded boardwalks in Ocean City, Maryland, and Venice Beach in California, as well as other photos of crammed beaches like Newport Beach in California.
However, some of the most crowded beaches were in Florida. Pictures from Pensacola show crowds of people all over the beach. One of the cities that saw the biggest throngs was Daytona.
“Without a doubt, this is one of the busiest weekends I’ve seen in many years,” Volusia County Beach Safety Deputy Chief Andrew Ethridge told reporters. “We have 47 miles of beach in Volusia County and every bit of it has crowds.”
Separately, organizers for a large block party called “Orlando Invades Daytona” canceled the event at the request of the police department, but hundreds of people still showed up, dancing in streets and on top of cars near the boardwalk.
At one point, a man began throwing money from a car, prompting a huge cluster of people to rush forward and creating a traffic jam.
Like in North Carolina, Volusia County, which houses Daytona, has strict regulations on group gathering, which are limited to ten or fewer. But unlike the North Carolina Speedway, the lack of enforcement in Daytona was not due to a lack of will.
“They were not practicing social distancing and they did not necessarily respond in a lot of ways that we wanted them to as it relates to the normal expectations of visitors,” explained Daytona Mayor Derrick Henry. “You got 300 to 500 people per law enforcement officer, it is a tough order.”
Later in the eveing, the Daytona party got out of hand when a shooting broke out, reportedly injuring at least six people.
Concerns Grow as Enforcement Gets Sticky
The rowdy events of the long weekend come as the U.S. is about to hit a huge and horrific milestone: 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus.
With about 347,000 deaths worldwide, the U.S. now accounts for almost a third of all the people who have died from the virus.
Even before the holiday weekend, many experts and officials were concerned about the rate of spread as states and cities continue to ease more and more restrictions.
One recent study found that 24 states still have epidemic-level spread. According to other reports, cases are still trending upwards in at least 17 states.
But in places where restrictions have been rolled back and there are no enforceable executive orders, authorities have said there is not much they can do.
For example, the mayor of Osage Beach, Missouri, where the viral pool party was held, has insisted that it is essential for businesses to reopen for tourists. That, however, makes things complicated for law enforcement.
“It kind of ties our hands when they’re just guidelines and not mandates,” Chris Twitchel, captain of operations for the Camden County Sheriff’s Office told the Washington Post. “We are doing the best thing that we can by urging people to use social distancing. But ultimately, there’s not a lot we can do about it.”
Meanwhile, the top health officials in the country are still warning that social distancing and masks are precautions that absolutely must be taken.
On Sunday, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, emphasized the importance of these measures while speaking to ABC This Week about the large Memorial Day crowds.
“Ee really want to be clear all the time that social distancing is absolutely critical,” she said. “And if you can’t social distance and you’re outside, you must wear a mask.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNN) (NBC News)
Biden Issues Targeted Eviction Moratorium for Counties With High Community Transmission
While more limited than the previous eviction ban, the new policy applies to all areas with “substantial” and “high” COVID transmission, which currently includes 80% of counties that compose 90% of the population.
New Eviction Ban
Three days after the federal eviction ban expired, the Biden administration issued a new, more limited moratorium that will extend until Oct. 3.
Unlike the last freeze, the latest version announced Tuesday only pertains to areas of the country experiencing what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention labeled “substantial” and “high” cases of COVID-19.
However, the rule still applies to the majority of the country given the new surges driven by the delta variant.
According to the CDC, 80% of counties that make up 90% of the population are currently experiencing substantial or high community transmission.
While not a full ban, many housing still advocates cheered the Biden administration, which has faced immense pressure to help the millions of Americans who risked losing their homes once the previous freeze expired.
“This is a tremendous relief for millions of people who were on the cusp of losing their homes and, with them, their ability to stay safe during the pandemic,” Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said in a statement Tuesday.
Still, others noted that there are outstanding issues with the new policy.
First and foremost, while the moratorium covers most Americans, it does not cover all. According to reports, there are counties in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York that are protected from evictions while neighboring counties are not.
The county-to-county patchwork also adds another layer of confusion for many people who are on the brink of eviction or who have already been evicted.
Tenants and landlords are now scrambling to see if the freeze applies to them, and because of the temporary lapse in protection, evictions resumed in some states and cities, meaning that some people who would now be covered under the ban have already been evicted.
Perhaps the most notable obstacle is the fact that the new moratorium will almost certainly face legal challenges.
The Biden administration previously argued that it did not have the jurisdiction to extend the eviction freeze unilaterally, citing a recent decision from the Supreme Court, which ruled that the CDC could not extend the ban past July and that Congressional action was needed.
Three days before the moratorium was set to expire, Biden asked Congress to pass legislation to extend it before leaving for their August recess. Republicans blocked the effort by unanimous consent, and Democratic leaders, frustrated with the president’s last-minute demand that left them with few options, said they did not have enough support for a formal vote.
Biden, for his part, has acknowledged that any freeze that comes from his administration would face this obstacle.
“Any call for [a] moratorium based on the Supreme Court’s recent decision is likely to face obstacles,” he told reporters Tuesday. “I’ve indicated to the CDC, I’d like them to look at other alternatives [other] than the one that is in existence, which the court has declared they’re not going to allow to continue.”
Any legal proceedings, however, will take time, meaning Congress could act before any disputes are resolved. The extended timeframe would also give state and local governments more leeway to distribute the nearly $47 billion in rental aid approved in the last two stimulus packages.
Only $3 billion of the funding has been distributed due to the numerous delays and hurdles municipalities have faced while struggling to create new systems to dole out the much-needed aid.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (CBS News)
Virtually All Emperor Penguins Doomed for Extinction by 2100, Study Finds
The new study comes as the U.S. The Fish and Wildlife Service moves to submit a proposal Wednesday to add the Emperor penguin to its list of threatened species.
Concerns for Emperor Penguins
Nearly all of the world’s emperor penguin colonies may be pushed to the brink of extinction by 2100, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal Global Change Biology.
More specifically, researchers behind the study said 98% of the colonies could be gone in the next 80 years if climate change continues causing sea ice to melt at its current pace. About 70% of colonies could die off by 2050, it added.
That is pretty huge news because Emperor penguins — the world’s largest penguin species —are a vital part of the Antarctic food chain. They prey on krill, squid, and small fish, and provide a source of food for leopard seals and killer whales.
However, the birds are particularly vulnerable to climate change because they depend on sea ice for viral activities like breeding, feeding, and molting, along with resting or seeking refuge from predators.
U.S. Moves To Protect the Species
The new study comes as the U.S. government considers adding the Emperor penguin to its list of threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to build off this new research, along with other data, for its proposal on Wednesday. Once published in the Federal Register, the proposal will be open to a 60-day public comment period.
If the classification is granted, the species would receive protections, including a ban on importations of the birds for commercial purposes.
“These penguins are hard hit by the climate crisis, and the U.S. government is finally recognizing that threat,” Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, told the Associated Press.
“Climate change, a priority challenge for this Administration, impacts a variety of species throughout the world,” said Martha Williams, principal deputy director of the wildlife service. “The decisions made by policymakers today and during the next few decades will determine the fate of the Emperor penguin.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Hill) (AP News)
Florida Breaks Its Record for New Daily COVID-19 Cases and Hospitalizations
The Sunshine State now accounts for 20% of all new COVID-19 cases nationwide.
Florida Becomes COVID Epicenter
Florida reported 10,207 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Sunday, marking its largest single-day count to date. The grim record comes just one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data showing that the state had counted 21,683 new infections Friday, its highest record of daily cases since the start of the pandemic.
Florida has become the new epicenter of the most recent U.S. outbreaks driven by the delta variant. The state now accounts for one out of every five new cases, and the weekend numbers are highly significant because they surpass previous records that were logged before vaccines were readily available.
Notably, Florida’s vaccination rate is actually the exact same as the nationwide average of 49% fully vaccinated, according to The New York Times tracker. In fact, Florida’s rate is the highest among the top 10 states currently reporting the most COVID cases.
While Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has encouraged Florida residents to get vaccinated, he and the state’s legislature have also made it much harder for local officials to enforce protections to mitigate further spread.
DeSantis Bars Masking in Schools
On the same day that the state reported its highest cases ever, DeSantis signed an executive order banning school districts from requiring students to wear a mask when they go back to school later this month.
The move directly contradicts guidance issued by the CDC last week, which recommended that everyone inside K-12 schools wear a face covering.
DeSantis, for his part, has repeatedly claimed the spikes are part of “seasonal” increases driven by more people being indoors and air-conditioning systems circulating the virus. Still, he argued also Friday that he did not think masks were necessary to prevent children from transmitting COVID in the classroom, where they are inside with air conditioning.
At the same time, last week, Florida reported more than 21,000 infections among children younger than 19.
Florida is not the only state that has banned schools from requiring masks. In fact, many of the states suffering the biggest spikes have done the same, including Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas — which all currently rank among the top 10 states with the highest per capita COVID cases.