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Thousands Gather for Memorial Day Celebrations, Ignoring Social Distancing Guidelines

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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)

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SAT Drops Subject Tests and Optional Essay Section

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  • The College Board will discontinue SAT subject tests effective immediately and will scrap the optional essay section in June. 
  • The organization cited the coronavirus pandemic as part of the reason for accelerating these changes.
  • Regarding subject tests, the College Board said the other half of the decision rested on the fact that Advanced Placement tests are now more accessible to low-income students and students of color, making subject tests unnecessary. 
  • It also said it plans to launch a digital version of the SAT in the near future, despite failing to implement such a plan last year after a previous announcement.

College Board Ends Subject Tests and Optional Essay

College Board announced Tuesday that it will scrap the SAT’s optional essay section, as well as subject tests.

Officials at the organization cited the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason for these changes, saying is has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”

The decision was also made in part because Advanced Placement tests, which College Board also administers, are now available to more low-income students and students of color. Thus, College Board has said this makes SAT subject tests unnecessary. 

While subject tests will be phased out for international students, they have been discontinued effective immediately in the U.S. 

Regarding the optional essay, College Board said high school students are now able to express their writing skills in a variety of ways, a factor which has made the essay section less necessary.

With several exceptions, it will be discontinued in June.

The Board Will Implement an Online SAT Test

In its announcement, College Board also said it plans to launch a revised version of the SAT that’s aimed at making it “more flexible” and “streamlined” for students to take the test online.

In April 2020, College Board announced it would be launching a digital SAT test in the fall if schools didn’t reopen. The College Board then backtracked on its plans for a digital test in June, before many schools even decided they would remain closed.

According to College Board, technological challenges led to the decision to postpone that plan.

For now, no other details about the current plan have been released, though more are expected to be revealed in April. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The New York Times)

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Biden To Block Trump’s Order Lifting COVID-19 Travel Ban

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  • President Trump issued an executive order Monday lifting a ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil. 
  • Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when the CDC will start requiring all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.
  • The move was cheered by the travel industry; however, incoming White House press secretary Jennifer Psaki warned that Biden’s administration does not intend to lift the travel restrictions. 

Trump Order End To COVID-19 Travel Ban

President Donald Trump issued an executive order Monday ending his administration’s ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil.

That ban was put in place last spring in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus in the U.S. In his announcement, however, Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when new rules from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention go into effect.

Starting that day, the CDC will require all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.

The recommendation to lift the ban reportedly came from Alex Azar, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. According to Trump’s proclamation, “the Secretary reports high confidence that these jurisdictions will cooperate with the United States in the implementation of CDC’s January 12, 2021, order and that tests administered there will yield accurate results.”

It’s worth noting that the ban will stay in place for travelers from Iran and China. Still, Trump’s announcement was generally cheered by members of the travel industry who have been pushing to lift the ban and require preflight testing instead. 

Biden To Block Trump’s Order

Soon after the news broke, the incoming White House press secretary for President-elect Joe Biden, Jennifer Psaki, warned that Biden would block Trump’s order.

“With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” she wrote on Twitter.

“On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26.  In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” she added.

With that, it seems unlikely that Trump’s order will actually take effect. 

It’s also worth noting that this is one of many executive orders Trump has issued just before inauguration day.

Source: Whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions

Some of these orders could soon be overturned once Biden takes office Wednesday. Biden is also expected to roll out his own wave of executive orders in his first 10 days as president.

See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (The New York Times) (CNN)

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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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