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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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Supreme Court Rejects Third Challenge to Affordable Care Act

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In the 7-2 decision, the justices argued the Republican-led states that brought the challenge forth failed to show how the law caused injury and thus had no legal standing.


SCOTUS Issues Opinion on Individual Mandate

The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down the third Republican-led challenge to the Affordable Care Act to ever reach the high court.

The issue at hand was the provision of the law, commonly known as Obamacare, that requires people to either purchase health insurance or pay a tax penalty: the so-called individual mandate. 

The individual mandate has been one of the most controversial parts of Obamacare and it has already been before SCOTUS, which upheld the provision in 2012 on the grounds that it amounted to a tax and thus fell under Congress’ taxing power.

However, as part of the sweeping 2017 tax bill, the Republican-held Congress set the penalty for not having health care to $0. As a result, a group of Republican-led states headed by Texas sued, arguing that because their GOP colleagues made the mandate zero dollars, it no longer raised revenues and could not be considered a tax, thus making it unconstitutional.

The states also argued that the individual mandate is such a key part of Obamacare that it could not be separated without getting rid of the entire law.

The Supreme Court, however, rejected that argument in a 7-2 decision, with Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch dissenting.

Majority Opinion Finds No Injury

In the majority decision, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that the Republican states had no grounds to sue because they could not show how they were harmed by their own colleagues zeroing out the penalty.

“There is no possible government action that is causally connected to the plaintiffs’ injury — the costs of purchasing health insurance,” he wrote, adding that the states “have not demonstrated that an unenforceable mandate will cause their residents to enroll in valuable benefits programs that they would otherwise forgo.”

Breyer also argued that because of this, the court did not need to decide on the broader issue of whether the 2017 tax bill rendered the individual mandate unconstitutional and if that provision could be separated from the ACA.

The highly anticipated decision will officially keep Obamacare as the law of the land, ensuring that the roughly 20 million people enrolled still have health insurance. While there may be other challenges to the law hard-fought by conservatives, this latest ruling sends a key signal about the limits of the Republican efforts to achieve their agenda through the high court, even with the strong conservative majority.

While the court has now struck down challenges to Obamacare three times, Thursday’s decision marked the largest margin of victory of all three challenges to the ACA.

For now, the ACA appears to be fairly insulated from legal challenges, though it will still likely face more. In a tweet following the SCOTUS decision, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) vowed to keep fighting Obamacare, adding that the individual mandate “was unconstitutional when it was enacted and it is still unconstitutional.”

See what others are saying: (Axios) (The Washington Post) (The Associated Press

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Utah Student With Down Syndrome Left Out of Cheer Squad’s Yearbook Photo

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The move marks the second time in three years that Morgyn Arnold has been left out of the school’s yearbook. Two years ago, it failed to include her in the class list.


Two Photos Take, One Without Morgyn Arnold

A Utah school has apologized after a student with Down syndrome at Shoreline Junior High was excluded from her cheerleading squad’s yearbook photo.

The squad took two official team portraits this year. The first included 14-year-old Morgyn Arnold, who had been working as the team manager but attended practices and cheered alongside her other teammates at every home game. The second imsgr did not include her and ended up being the photo the school used across social media and in its yearbook.

Arnold was heartbroken by the decision and her family believed it was made because of her disability.

In social media posts about the move, Arnold’s sister, Jordyn Poll, noted that Arnold “spent hours learning dances, showing up to games, and cheering on her school and friends but was left out.”

“I hope that no one ever has to experience the heartbreak that comes when the person they love comes home from school devastated and shows them that they’re not in the picture with their team,” she continued.

According to The Salt Lake Tribune, Poll also said this marked the second time in three years that her sister has been left out of the yearbook. Two years ago, the school failed to include her in the class list.

School Apologizes After Backlash

After Poll’s public call out picked up attention, the school said it was “deeply saddened by the mistake.”

Apologies have been made to the family, and we sincerely apologize to all others impacted by this error,” it added. “We are continuing to look at what has occurred, and to improve our practice.”

The district issued a similar statement, claiming it was looking into why this occurred to make sure it doesn’t happen again. 

But Poll said this isn’t the same response her family received when they initially contacted school administrators. Instead, Poll told the Tribune that an employee at the school “blatantly said they didn’t know what we were expecting of them and there was nothing they could do.”

The school has since contacted them again “to make the situation right.”

Meanwhile, Poll stressed that her sister’s teammates had nothing to do with the decision, defending the girls as amazing friends who have done everything to make Arnold feel included.

In fact, they too were disappointed to see that she was not featured in the image or even named as a member of the team in the yearbook.

Arnold’s family decided to speak up about the issue so that this school and others can improve the ways they interact with and include students with disabilities. Different forms of exclusion happen at schools across the country, and this story has prompted other parents of kids with disabilities to share similar experiences.

A staff attorney at the Disability Law Center of Utah told the Tribune that it receives about 4,000 complaints each year. Some complaints stemmed from students with disabilities being separated into other classrooms without their peers. Others include name-calling or not allowing students on a team or in a club.

Thankfully, Arnold has not let this situation bring her down. According to her family, she has already forgiven everyone involved and plans to continue cheering alongside her friends.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Salt Lake Tribune) (NBC News)

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Ex-Shake Shack Manager Sues NYPD Over False Milkshake Poisoning Allegations

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The former manager is accusing the police department and its unions of false arrest and defamation relating to the viral incident last summer.


Former Shack Shack Employee Sues One Year Later

The former manager of a New York City Shake Shack restaurant who was falsely accused of poisoning several law enforcement officers’ milkshakes last summer is now suing the city’s police department, its unions, and individual officers.

On June 15, 2020,  three officers monitoring the anti-racism protests in Lower Manhattan entered a Shake Shack location for milkshakes, which they later claimed had been poisoned, likely by bleach.

By the end of the night, investigators determined that no one had tampered with the drinks, and the New York Police Department declared there was “no criminality.” Police later said the officers were possibly sickened by a cleaning solution that had not been properly cleaned out of the machines, though Shake Shack claimed it did not find leaks of any foreign substances.

Before that lack of criminality was determined and while the inquiry was ongoing, the police unions and their leaders accused the Shake Shack workers of launching a targeted attack in a series of tweets, which were then shared and discussed widely on social media by prominent conservatives.

The resulting outcome was widespread condemnation and deleting of tweets. Now, almost exactly a year later, the former manager of that Shake Shack, Marcus Gilliam, has accused the parties involved of false arrest and defamation.

According to his lawsuit, the three officers — who are referred to as Officers Strawberry Shake, Vanilla Shake, and Cherry Shake — ordered the drinks via mobile app, meaning the employees could not have known cops placed the order.

Additionally, the documents state the order was “already packaged and waiting for pickup” when the officers arrived, making it impossible for Gilliam or any other employee to have added anything to the shakes when they saw the officers come in to claim them.

After the officers complained about the taste of the milkshakes and threw them out, Gilliam said he apologized and offered them vouchers for free replacements, which they accepted. However, they still told their Sergeant that Gilliam had put a “toxic substance” in their drinks, even though they had disposed of any evidence.

Claims of Wrongful Detainment 

The court documents go on to say that another officer arrived and detained the employees, who cooperated with the officer’s investigation. That process included interviews, searches, and tests, which showed no evidence of bleach or other toxins.

The NYPD also conducted a review of security footage, which independently determined that none of the employees put any kind of toxic substances in the officer’s drinks.

Despite all that, and even after the three officers were released from a hospital “without ever showing symptoms,” the NYPD still arrested Gilliam and brought him into the precinct, the suit stated.

Once in the precinct, the former manager was allegedly “interrogated for approximately one to two hours” and detained for around three hours, putting the total time he was detained by police in both the store and the precinct at approximately five to six hours.

Gilliam’s attorney is arguing that the officers had no probable cause or warrants for his arrest. An arrest that the lawsuit says caused him to suffer “emotional and psychological damages and damage to his reputation,” as well as economic damages from legal fees and missed wages, for which he is seeking both punitive and monetary damages.

None of the defendants have responded to requests for comment from the media.

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

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