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Some Health Officials Think Protests Are Worth the Risk, Even as Cases are Expected to Spike

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Photo by Phil Roeder

  • COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are rising, and while some outlets have indicated this could be because of protests, it is too soon to tell what kind of impact these marches have had on case growth.
  • The new spikes are likely linked to cities and states reopening. Still, most health experts think that because social distancing is near impossible in protesting crowds, the country will see an increase of cases in the next few weeks tied to the protests. 
  • But that does not mean all health officials are against the protests. Many believe protesting for racial equality is worth the risk.
  • Some say that because COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted Black communities, the protests are especially important so people can fight against the racial injustice that caused this. 

COVID-19 Case Growth

With coronavirus cases on the rise, some have been quick to blame the recent nationwide protests in response to the murder of George Floyd. However, experts note that it’s actually too soon to tie the demonstrations as the cause of cause of the surge.

Some officials believe protest-related surges are on the way, but some still think protesting is worth the risk.

On Monday, Johns Hopkins reported over 21,188 new cases of coronavirus in one day across the United States. While this is slightly lower, though essentially on par with last week’s daily average of 21,294 cases, it is part of a general trend of daily averages increasing.

Between May 26 and May 28 the average was 19,800 new cases. This figure went up to 21,700 new cases per day between May 30 and June 1. 

While some outlets correlated this case spike with the recent protests across the country, the protests have only been going on for around a week. Experts like Mark Shrime, a public-health researcher at Harvard, told The Atlantic that while he anticipates a spike eventually, we will not see it for ten to 14 days because of COVID-19’s long incubation period.

In some places, experts are not anticipating the data on cases to reflect the protests for even longer, including Southern California, which may not see protests-related coronavirus cases in health department data for another three or four weeks. 

Ties to Stay At Home Orders Ending

Some believe that this slew of cases could likely be tied to local government’s decisions to reopen in May. Palm Beach County in Florida showed the biggest one-day increase in coronavirus cases three weeks after reopening. While the South Florida Sun Sentinel says it may be too soon to tell if that’s the cause, it does mark an increase in the average number of cases being reported.

States like Texas and Arizona have also started to end their stay at home orders and have seen resulting spikes. According to KPNX in Arizona, three weeks after their order was phased out, the state saw one of the fastest-growing caseloads in the country, with a 70% increase after things reopened. 

Some health officials, like Julia Marcus, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School, anticipated the fact that the public would blame spikes on the protests, instead of the fact that states elected to ease lockdown restrictions. 

“What I fear will happen, particularly in those states, is that any increase in cases in the next couple of weeks will be blamed on protestors,” she told The Verge, even though, “There are multiple things happening at the same time.”

Because social distancing in these protest crowds is nearly impossible, health officials do believe a spike is coming. Many protesters are doing their best to mitigate risks by wearing masks, and spread could also be lessened because these protests are outside. Still, tight spaces and the use of tear gas, which causes coughing, could aid the virus’ ability to travel.

Why Some Health Officials Support Protests Despite Risk

Still, many health officials and activists think protesting is worth the risk. 

“I personally believe that these particular protests—which demand justice for black and brown bodies that have been brutalized by the police—are a necessary action,” Maimuna Majumder a computational epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital, told The Atlantic. “Structural racism has been a public-health crisis for much longer than the pandemic has.”

“The threat to Covid control from protesting outside is tiny compared to the threat to Covid control created when governments act in ways that lose community trust,” tweeted Dr. Tom Frieden. 

While the major focus of these protests is to demand justice for George Floyd and an end to police violence against Black Americans, they are also calling for an end to racial injustice of all kinds. Among the many other injustices Black Americans face includes a higher coronavirus death rate than white Americans. 

In Washington D.C., where 46% of the population is African American, they account for 75% of the district’s deaths. In Wisconsin, where less than 7% of the state’s residents are Black, they total 25% percent of the state’s deaths. Numerous other states and cities are also experiencing the same problem. 

“So many black communities are protesting because they have to,” said Doctor Mike in Wednesday video. “At a time of a pandemic, when they’re not only putting their lives on the line because of police injustice but also because of this virus. And COVID-19 has already dramatically and drastically affected communities of color disproportionately to other communities.

Impact of COVID-19 on Black Americans

Multiple factors contribute to this high death rate. African Americans are systemically under treated by the U.S. healthcare systems. Black Americans are more likely to have underlying conditions like high blood pressure, are less likely to be insured, and are more frequently denied access to testing and treatment. Throughout the pandemic, Black and Hispanic workers have also been less likely to work from home, further increasing their potential exposure to the virus. 

“Unless we are out there protesting in the streets, we can either be killed by Covid-19 just as easily as we can be killed by a cop,” Minneapolis activist Mike Griffin told Bloomberg. 

Marcus echoed the need for the protests. 

“Ultimately, these protests, if they bring us any semblance of progress in terms of structural racism — they will have had a positive impact on public health, not a negative one,” she told The Verge.

Others are still concerned about the potential consequences. Surgeon General Jerome Adams told Politico that he understands the anger behind these protests and why people are out there, but still has his fears. 

“I remain concerned about the public health consequences both of individual and institutional racism [and] people out protesting in a way that is harmful to themselves and to their communities,” Adams said. 

“There is going to be a lot to do after this, even to try and get the communities of color back to where they need to be for people to be able to recover from Covid, and for people to be able to recover from the shutdown and to be able to prosper,” he continued. 

See what others are saying: (The Atlantic) (The Verge) (Politico)

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San Francisco Lawmaker Proposes CAREN Act to Make False, Racist 911 Calls Illegal

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  • San Francisco City Supervisor Shamann Walton introduced an ordinance this week called the CAREN Act, which would make false, racially discriminatory 911 calls illegal.
  • The acronym stands for Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies. It is named after “Karens,” a nickname for white women who throw unwarranted fits in public.
  • These fits often appear racially motivated and have led to “Karens” calling the police on people of color.
  • California Assemblyman Rob Bonta has also introduced a similar piece of legislation that would outlaw these calls throughout the state.

Why the “CAREN” Act?

A lawmaker in San Francisco has introduced an ordinance that would outlaw making false, racially discriminatory 911 calls, dubbed the CAREN Act.

City Supervisor Shamann Walton introduced the ordinance. In a tweet announcing the act on Tuesday, he called racist 911 calls “unacceptable.”

The CAREN Act stands for Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies, but its name bears much more weight. A “Karen” is an Internet nickname for white women whose privilege and entitlement leads to loud complaints, threats of legal action, calling supervisors, and often, calling the police. The unjustified outrage of Karens has been documented in countless viral incidents, and in many cases, they show a clear prejudice against people of color. 

One video that went viral in May has been pointed to as a prime example of this. In that clip, Amy Cooper, a white woman in New York, called the police on a Black man named Christian Cooper. Both were in Central park at the time when the man asked her to put her dog on a leash, as she was required to do in that area.

However, that confrontation escalated when she desperately told a 911 operator that she was being threatened when she was not. Many felt her instinct to weaponize her white privilege and make a false claim could have had serious consequences considering the fact that Black Americans are more likely to face police brutality and die in police custody. She has since been charged with filing a false report after much public outrage.

While videos of this nature have often gone viral, this incident came at a cultural tipping point. Not long after it made its way across the Internet, another story received national attention: a video of George Floyd being killed by police officers in Minneapolis. This sparked a movement of people confronting systemic racism and police brutality, and since then, more “Karen” videos have spread online in an effort to hold people accountable for their racist behavior.

What the Ordinance Does

While filing a false police report is already illegal, Walton is pushing for more to be done to stop people from calling the authorities on people of color for no real reason. The CAREN Act would make it illegal to fabricate a report based on racial and other kinds of discrimination. 

“Within the last month and a half in the Bay Area, an individual called the police on a Black man who was dancing and exercising on the street in his Alameda neighborhood and a couple called the police on a Filipino man stenciling ‘Black Lives Matter’ in chalk in front of his own residence in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights,” he said in a statement. 

This is not the only proposal of its kind. California Assemblyman Rob Bonta has introduced a similar ordinance. His proposed legislation, AB 1150, would make state that “discriminatory 911 calls qualify as a hate crime, and further establish civil liability for the person who discriminatorily called 911.”

“AB 1550, when amended, will impose serious consequences on those who make 911 calls that are motivated by hate and bigotry; actions that inherently cause harm and pain to others,” Bonta said in a statement. “This bill is incredibly important to upholding our values and ensuring the safety of all Californians.”

See what others are saying: (SFist) (The Hill) (CNN)

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Catholic Church Granted at Least $1.4 Billion in PPP Loans

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  • An analysis from the Associated Press found that the Catholic Church received at least between $1.4 and $3.5 billion in federal coronavirus relief aid.
  • The report identified 3,500 loans the Church received from the Paycheck Protection Program, but leaders have previously stated that as many as 9,000 bodies of the Church received funding.
  • However, government data only shared who received loans over $150,000. Smaller churches that received under that amount were not on the list, meaning the Catholic Church could have collected even more than records show.
  • Usually, religious groups would not be eligible for funding from the Small Business Administration, but the Church allegedly spent a good chunk of money lobbying so that there would be an exception for the PPP.

Catholic Church Receives Billions in PPP Funds

The Catholic Church received between $1.4 and $3.5 billion in federal coronavirus relief aid, according to a Friday analysis from the Associated Press.

While houses of worship and religious organizations are usually ineligible for federal aid from the Small Business Administration, an exception was made for the Paycheck Protection Program, which was designed to keep American businesses afloat as the pandemic shut the country down.

The AP found records of 3,500 forgivable loans for Catholic dioceses, parishes, schools, and other ministries. That number, however, is likely higher.

The Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference has claimed that 9,000 Catholic bodies received loans. Government data only shared loans over $150,000, so smaller churches who got less were not on the list, meaning the Church may have pocketed even more than $3.5 billion. 

“The government grants special dispensation, and that creates a kind of structural favoritism,” Micah Schwartzman, a University of Virginia law professor told the AP. “And that favoritism was worth billions of dollars.”

According to the AP, the Archdiocese of New York received $28 million just for executive offices. St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City received $1 million. Diocesan officials in Orange County, California received four loans worth $3 million. The AP’s analysis suggests that the Catholic Church and its entities were able to retain 407,900 jobs with this loan money.

“These loans are an essential lifeline to help faith-based organizations to stay afloat and continue serving those in need during this crisis,” spokesperson Chieko Noguchi told the AP.

How Did the Church Get Aid?

Like many businesses throughout the country, churches had to shut their doors as large gatherings became unsafe as the coronavirus’ spread continued. Masses were canceled or moved online and celebrations for the Easter holidays were dropped, causing the Church to to fall behind financially. 

While its global net worth is not known, the Catholic Church is considered the wealthiest religious organization in the world. It is also one of the most powerful groups of any kind, with an estimated 1.2 billion followers all over the planet. According to the AP, its deep pockets and far-reaching influence helped it receive federal aid. 

The Catholic Church lobbied heavily to make sure religious groups were allowed to receive money from the PPP, the AP says. Their report found that the Los Angeles archdiocese spent $20,000 lobbying Congress to include “eligibility for non-profits” in the CARES Act, the legislation that formed the PPP. Records also show that Catholic Charities USA spent another $30,000 in CARES Act lobbying.

With its wealth and power, the Catholic Church is also plagued with controversy and scandal. For years, there have been reports that the Church has covered up for priests and other leaders who have been accused of sexual abuse. Many entities of the church have had to shell out large sums of money in legal fees and settlements. 

The AP found that around 40 of the dioceses that have paid out “hundreds of millions of dollars” to related compensation funds or bankruptcy proceedings received loans. These loans totaled at least $200 million.

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Business Insider) (Market Watch)

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Employers Can Opt-Out of Birth Control Coverage, SCOTUS Rules

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  • In a Wednesday ruling, the Supreme Court decided 7-2 that employers can opt-out of birth control coverage on religious grounds.
  • Under the Affordable Care Act, employers have been required to cover cost-free contraception to their employees. Exceptions had initially been made to houses of worship, but a 2018 Trump Administration rule expanded that to include most employers, ranging from large public businesses to universities.
  • The court sided with Trump, ruling that his administration had the authority to provide religious exemptions.
  • Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor cast the two dissenting votes, claiming it could harm healthcare access for women in the workforce.

SCOTUS Ruling

The Supreme Court sided with the Trump administration on Wednesday morning, ruling that employers can opt-out of providing birth control coverage on religious and moral grounds

Under the Affordable Care Act, employers have been required to cover cost-free contraception to their employees, though exemptions were made for houses of worship who could refuse for religious reasons. Exemptions grew in 2014 when Hobby Lobby won a Supreme Court case ruling that certain closely held corporations, like family businesses, could also refuse birth control coverage if it contradicted their religious beliefs. 

Wednesday’s ruling pertained to a 2018 Trump administration policy that would allow most employers – ranging from small private businesses, to universities, to large public companies – to opt-out of contraception coverage for religious reasons. That rule was challenged by the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, which claimed they would have to cover contraception costs to those who lost coverage under the Trump administration. 

The court’s decision responded to two cases: Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania and Trump v. Pennsylvania. In a 7-2 ruling, they sided with Trump. The two dissenting votes came from Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor. 

Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the opinion, said that the Trump administration “had the authority to provide exemptions from the regulatory contraceptive requirements for employers with religious and conscientious objections.”

“It is clear from the face of the statute that the contraceptive mandate is capable of violating the [Religious Freedom Restoration Act],” he added.

Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote a concurring opinion, claimed that the administration was “required by RFRA to create the religious exemption (or something very close to it).”

Ginsberg’s Dissent

This could leave as many as 126,000 women without access to contraception within a year. According to Planned Parenthood, nine out of ten women will seek access to contraception at some point in their lives. While birth control is often used as a contraceptive, it is also used for a variety of other health reasons, including regulating menstrual cycles, lowering risks for various forms of cancer, and managing migraines, endometriosis and other ailments. 

“This Court leaves women workers to fend for themselves, to seek contraceptive coverage from sources other than their employer’s insurer, and, absent another available source of funding, to pay for contraceptive services out of their own pockets,” Ginsberg wrote in the dissent. 

Ginsberg claimed that the court’s usually balanced approach of not allowing “the religious beliefs of some to overwhelm the rights and interests of others who do not share those beliefs” was thrown away. 

“Today, for the first time, the Court casts totally aside countervailing rights and interests,” she added.

Responses to Ruling

She was not alone in critiquing the rulings. The National Women’s Law Center called it “invasive, archaic, and dangerous.” The Center fears the ruling could have a larger impact on low wage workers, people of color, and LGBTQ people. 

Dr. Daniel Grossman, the head of a research group at the University of California, San Francisco called Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health also condemned the decision.

“No employer is welcome into the exam room when I talk to patients about their contraception options, why should they be able to dictate the method from their corner office?” he asked. 

On the other side, Tony Perkins, the President of the Family Research Council applauded the Supreme Court. 

“It should be common sense to allow a religious group to conduct themselves according to their religious convictions, and yet government agents have tried to punish them with obtuse fines for doing just that,” Perkins said in a statement. “We are pleased to see the Supreme Court still recognizes religious freedom.”

See what others are saying: (NPR) (Associate Press) (New York Times)

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