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)
Texas Students Created Snapchat Group To ‘Slave Trade’ Black Classmates
- Freshmen at a Texas high school set up a Snapchat group to pretend to sell their Black classmates.
- A screenshot showed the group name being changed from “Slave Trade” with emojis of a Black man, a gun, and a white police officer to “[racial slur] Farm” and then “[racial slur] Auction.”
- That image also shows a person saying they would spend $100 on a peer while a second student said they would spend $1 on another, adding “would be better if his hair wasn’t so bad.”
- The school faced backlash for initially describing it as “an incident of cyberbullying and harassment,” without acknowledging the racism. The district later issued a stronger condemnation and said the students were disciplined but did not list specific consequences.
Racist Snapchat Group
Aledo high school students at Daniel Ninth Grade Campus in Northern Texas are making headlines for setting up a Snapchat group to pretend to sell their Black classmates.
A screenshot reviewed by several local news outlets showed the group name being changed from “Slave Trade” with emojis of a Black man, a gun, and a white police officer to “[racial slur] Farm” and then “[racial slur] Auction.”
That image also shows a person saying they would spend $100 on a peer. A second student said they would spend $1 on another, adding “would be better if his hair wasn’t so bad.”
At least one student who was mentioned as being “sold” in the chats was later sent screenshots of the conversations.
According to a report from the Star-Telegram reported last week, when the issue was brought to Principal Carolyn Ansley, she sent parents an email that didn’t mention the Snapchat group but only cited “an incident of cyberbullying and harassment.”
That caused frustrations because parents felt the issue of racism wasn’t being addressed or acknowledged.
Mark Grubbs, a father of three former students, told KXAS he was sickened by the students’ actions. Grubbs, who is Black, also said he had taken his children out of the district over other racist incidents in the past.
“My son being called out of his name and what not and it got to the point he didn’t mind fighting and that didn’t sit right with me and my wife. My son was never a fighter,” he said.
After the incident garnered media attention, the Aledo Independent School District issued a statement.
The district said it learned of the incident more than two weeks ago and started an investigation that involved law enforcement.
“There is no room for racism or hatred in the Aledo ISD, period,” it added. “Using inappropriate, offensive and racially charged language and conduct is completely unacceptable and is prohibited by district policy.”
District officials spoke with the students responsible as well as their parents, saying they “made it clear that statements and conduct that targets a student because of his or her race is not only prohibited but also has a profound impact on the victims.”
The district also said it assigned disciplinary consequences, though it did not explicitly state what those consequences were or state how many students were involved.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (ABC) (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
What You Need To Know About the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Pause
- The CDC and the FDA have issued a joint recommendation to pause distribution of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine amid reports that six women experienced “extremely rare” blood clots after receiving the single-dose shot.
- The vast majority of the 6.8 million Americans who were given the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have reported minor to no side effects, and no direct link has been established between the vaccine and blood clots at this time.
- The two agencies are expected to release updated guidance in the coming days.
- Several states and cities are now automatically giving the two-dose Pfizer vaccine to people who were scheduled to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week.
CDC and FDA Recommend J&J Vaccine Halt
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the Food and Drug Administration, released a statement Tuesday recommending a pause on the use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine.
So far, 6.8 million people in the U.S. have been vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine, most with zero or only mild side effects.
The updated guidance comes after six women, all between the ages of 18 to 48, experienced what both agencies described as “extremely rare” blood clots six to 13 days after being vaccinated. One of those women has died and another is in critical condition.
Neither the CDC nor the FDA has confirmed that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is the cause of these blood clots; rather, they said this guidance comes “out of an abundance of caution.”
That’s also in line with Johnson & Johnson itself, which said it’s aware of the reports but added that “no clear causal relationship has been established between these rare events.” As a precaution, Johnson & Johnson has also now delayed the rollout of its vaccine in Europe.
What Happens From Here?
Principal Deputy Director of the CDC Anne Schuchat said further recommendations will come quickly.
FDA Acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock echoed that statement, saying, “We expect it to be a matter of days for this pause.”
Wednesday, a CDC committee will convene to discuss the cases and assess their potential significance.
When asked if the government was overreacting to just six cases out of nearly 7 million vaccinations (a criticism made by some online), Schuchat said the CDC pulled its recommendation specifically because the type of blood clots seen in these 6 women requires special treatment, so “it was of the utmost importance to us to get the word out.”
In the meantime, both agencies are urging Johnson & Johnson vaccine recipients to contact their doctors if they experience any combination of severe headaches, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath.
What If I Had A J&J Appointment?
Both agencies, as well as other health officials, are still urging unvaccinated people to take the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines when available in their area.
The White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator has said that 28 million doses of those vaccines will be made available this week. Notably, that’s more than enough for the country to continue giving 3 million shots a day.
If you had an appointment scheduled to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you’re likely not completely out of luck.
For example, while D.C. vaccination sites are canceling all Johnson & Johnson appointments between Tuesday and this Saturday, the health department there has said it’ll send out invitations on Wednesday to reschedule.
Similar situations were reported in Virginia and Maryland, though some vaccination sites in Maryland are still honoring existing appointments by automatically giving people Pfizer instead. That’s also a process that is now being conducted in places like New York State and Memphis.
See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (NBC News) (The Washington Post)
Minnesota Protests Continue for a Second Night Over Police Killing of Daunte Wright
- Protests continued in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, on Monday over the death of Daunte Wright, who was fatally shot by a police officer who allegedly thought she was using her Taser.
- Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators violating the 7 p.m. curfew, as well as others who threw projectiles back at the officers. Several incidents of looting were reported, though law enforcement officials said they were minimal.
- That same evening, police officials identified the officer involved in Wright’s death as Kimberly Potter, a 26-year veteran of the force, prompting many experts to flag numerous reasons an officer with her experience should have known not to confuse her weapon with a stun gun.
- Wright tendered her resignation on Tuesday, as did Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon.
Second Night of Demonstrations
Demonstrators clashed with police for the second night in a row Monday after an officer shot and killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota.
Much like protests the day before, the events reportedly started out peaceful, with hundreds attending a vigil on the street where Wright was killed. Hundreds more gathered outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department.
The situation started to escalate after 7 p.m. when the curfew instituted across all four Twin City metro-area countries went into effect. According to reports, police began to warn people that they were in violation of the curfew, and shortly before 8 p.m., officers began firing rounds of tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash grenades.
Some protesters reportedly retaliated by throwing water bottles, fireworks, and other projectiles. Later, police in riot gear pushed groups of demonstrators who had regrouped away from the police station.
Looters also broke into several businesses at a strip mall close by, including a Dollar Tree, where flames were reportedly later spotted, though law enforcement officials described the looting as limited.
During a press briefing just after midnight, officials said that 40 people had been arrested at the Brooklyn Center protest.
Late Monday, state officials identified the officer who fatally shot Wright as Kimberly Potter, a 26-year veteran of the force. BCPD Chief Tim Gannon had previously said that the officer, who he refused to name, had intended to use her Taser, but accidentally used her gun.
Many social media users and experts questioned how someone with 26 years of experience could mix up a Taser and a gun, including one retired sergeant with the Los Angeles Police Department, who told The New York Times, “If you train enough, you should be able to tell.”
The Times also noted that it is not common for officers to mix up their Tasers and guns, that most police forces — including BCPD — use a variety of protocols to prevent this from happening
Tasers are usually designed with specific features to distinguish them from guns, such as bright color-coating and different styles of grips. According to The Times, the BCPD manual cites three different pistol models as standard-issue, all three of which “weigh significantly more than a typical Taser.”
Those pistols also have a trigger safety that can be felt when touching them, while the Tasers do not. The outlet additionally noted that BCPD protocol requires officers to wear guns on their dominant sides and Tasers on the opposite to prevent exactly this kind of confusion.
Beyond that, Potter’s actions may have violated department policy even if she had used her Taser because the manual says it should not be used on people “whose position or activity may result in collateral injury,” including those “operating vehicles.”
It also says that officers should make “reasonable efforts” to avoid using the stun gun on people in the “head, neck, chest and groin,” but Wright was shot in the chest.
On Tuesday afternoon, it was reported that Potter and Chief Gannon have resigned from the force. The resignations come after Brooklyn Center leaders dismissed the city manager, a decision that could potentially give Mayor Mike Elliot the ability to fire the chief or officers in the department.
The resignations also come amid reports that Potter had been involved in another police-involved shooting in 2019, where she had been “admonished by investigators for allegedly attempting to conceal evidence after a police shooting that left a 21-year-old autistic man dead,” according to The Daily Beast.
As more information comes out surrounding the traffic stop that led to Wright’s death, several pieces of misinformation have also continued to spread on social media.
Most of the false information centers around the warrant for Wrights’ arrest that prompted police to attempt to detain him.
According to reports, court records show that a judge issued the warrant earlier this month after he missed a court appearance for two misdemeanor charges he was facing from last June for carrying a pistol without a permit and running from officers.
Notably, Wright does have a number of past charges filed against him, including two for attempted sale of Marijuana and aggravated robbery. Despite claims by many social media users, those charges were for separate incidents, and the warrant was specifically for failing to appear in court for the June charge.
There has also been a viral video circulating Twitter and TikTok claiming court records show that the hearing notification was sent to the wrong address, seemingly in reference to a piece of mail that had failed to be delivered in his court records.
The mail, however, was actually for a different case and is not connected to the notification for the hearing he missed. While that video is incorrect and county officials maintain that they did send him notification, Wright’s public defender, Arthur Martinez, told reporters his client had never received the notice and that the court had not informed him either.