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Viral Mask Disputes Continue as States Slow Reopening Plans

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  • As coronavirus cases across the country increase, more viral videos show mask confrontations escalating. 
  • At least 36 states have reported a rise in cases, with around 12 pausing or slowing reopening plans, especially ahead of the holiday weekend.
  • Meanwhile, the biopharmaceutical company Gilead has finally released its pricing plan for the drug remdesivir, which many believe sets the bar for the cost of future coronavirus treatments. 

Trader Joes Mask Incident 

Despite repeated calls from health experts for Americans to wear face masks in public, more and more videos from all over the country continue to surface of people going on tirades over mask requirements.

One incident that went viral this weekend involved a woman in North Hollywood, California who caused trouble at the grand opening of a Trader Joes on Friday. 

Viral video shows the shopper, with an empty handbasket, screaming at a store employee. It appears that she’s being asked to leave to store for not wearing a mask. “You f*cking b*itch!” she shouts as she slams the basket down. 

“You’re fucking Democratic pigs. All of you!” she adds before saying she was harassed by a man for not wearing a mask. 

According to another video from before the screaming ensued, a customer allegedly said, “F*ck you leave,” to her.

In a third clip, the woman screams at customers, saying she has a breathing problem. “My doctor will not let me wear a mask, so anyone harassing me to wear a mask, you guys are violating federal laws,” she says. 

However, a Facebook post from an alleged witness later suggested that the woman went to the store with the intention of making a scene. The witness pointed out that she went to the store with a mask on and took it off once inside. 

She never put anything in her basket, the Facebook user wrote, “Instead she was roaming the aisles and getting up in people’s faces, getting as close as possible,waiting for someone to inevitably tell her to put her mask back on.”

The user also expressed doubt in her claims of having a medical condition, noting that she must have waited in line for at least 30 minutes in the heat with her mask on to get inside.  

Fiesta Market Mask Incident 

Based on a video that is circulating online, it seems that a Fiesta Market in Dallas, Texas also recently found itself dealing with a similarly angry shopper. 

In this video, the shopper is seen throwing the grocery items out of her cart while also shouting obscenities. “Over a dumbass f*cking mask,” she says along with, “I don’t give a f*ck about Dallas and these dumb ass motherf*cking rules.” 

Especially following the Trader Joes incident, many are wondering if the shopper was looking to cause a scene because she actually had a mask in hand. 

Coronavirus Cases Surge

These mask disputes are continuing to emerge at a time when coronavirus cases across the country are rising. The United States broke another record Friday, reporting the highest number of new cases in a single day with at least 45,300 new infections.

As of now, at least 36 states have reported a rise in new cases. At least 12 have halted or rolled back on reopening plans like Arizona, Texas, and Florida, which are quickly becoming new epicenters for the virus.

Vice President Mike Pence has even postponed appearances in Arizona and Florida set for this week “out of an abundance of caution” due to the spikes. Pence is still expected to travel to those states to meet with governors and local officials, but the visits will no longer include campaign events.

With 4th of July weekend just around the corner, many are fearful of more potential spread, especially in Florida, after the state broke its single-day case record again Saturday with 9,585 new coronavirus cases. Another 8,530 new cases were recorded Sunday. 

In an effort to deal with the weekend rush, officials have ordered beaches in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Palm Beach to be closed for the weekend. Miami- Dae County’s Mayor added parks into that order as well, warning that the closure could be extended if conditions don’t improve. 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday took his most drastic action yet in response to the post-reopening coronavirus surge, shutting bars back down and scaling back restaurant capacity to 50%.

Just a few hours later, Florida also shut down bars with an announcement from Halsey Beshears, Secretary of Department of Business & Professional Regulation.

Other states are moving to do this same in specific counties, especially in anticipation of the weekend festivities.

Drug Pricing 

At the same time, new reports about pricing for the drug remdesivir have emerged based on an open letter from Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day. 

Remdesivir is the first antiviral drug shown to effectively help treat coronavirus in a major clinical trial and it was authorized for emergency use in May. The benefits are limited of course, and it hasn’t lead to a statistically significant drop in deaths, but a government study found that remdesivir shortened coronavirus recovery time by 31% — 11 days on average versus 15 days for those given just usual care.

The biopharmaceutical company Gilead previously donated its supply of the drug to the U.S. and other countries, but people have been waiting to see what it could charge after that supply runs out. 

O’Day said government price will be $390 per dose, or $2,340 per patient for the shortest treatment course of five days and $4,290 for a longer treatment course of 10 days.

Nongovernment buyers will pay around $520 per dose for patients with private insurance, or approximately $3,120 for the shorter treatment and $5,720 for the longer treatment.

Around 90-95% of patients currently receive the shorter five-day treatment plan, O’Day told the Wall Street Journal. The U.S. is the only country for which Gilead has set tiered pricing. It will charge the government price in other developed nations with public insurance programs.

This pricing plan is a huge deal because many feel like Gilead is setting the bar for how future treatments will be priced. According to Politico, the numbers are in line with what many analysts had suggested. 

However, consumer advocacy groups criticized the pricing as high, particularly because Gilead received about $70 million in taxpayer dollars and assistance from the National Institutes of Health to run clinical trials. Others say the pricing is too high for a drug that has not been shown to reduce mortality.

O’Day, for his part, has said that shortening hospitalization saves about $12,000 per patient and said Gilead will have spent $1 billion on developing and making the drug by the end of this year. 

See what others are saying: (Bloomberg) (CNN) (Wall Street Journal)

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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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Former Michigan Gov. and 8 Others Charged Over Flint Water Crisis

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Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. (Al Goldis/AP)

  • Ex-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was charged with two counts of willful neglect of duty Wednesday for his role in the Flint water crisis
  • By Thursday, eight more former state and city officials were charged with crimes ranging from involuntary manslaughter to extortion.
  • Flint residents have long awaited this news. In 2019, prosecutors dropped all criminal charges against 15 officials and said they would start the investigation from scratch, citing concerns about how the special counsel had conducted its probe.

Rick Snyder Charges

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office said Thursday that it had filed 41 charges against nine former state and city officials for their role in the Flint water crisis.

The most high-profile figure to be charged was former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. On Wednesday, he was hit with two counts of willful neglect of duty.

He was the state’s top executive when local officials decided to switch the city’s drinking water source to the Flint River in 2014.

The switch was supposed to be a temporary cost-saving measure while a pipeline was being built to Lake Huron. However, the water wasn’t treated properly for corrosion, so lead-contaminated water was released into the homes of people all over the city. Because of that, 12 people died and at least 90 were sickened with Legionnaires’ disease.

Snyder appeared in court this morning via Zoom, pleading not guilty to the two misdemeanor charges. If convicted he could face up to a year in prison and as much as a $1,000 fine.

His charges alone are significant because they make him the first governor or former governor in the state to ever be charged with a crime for alleged conduct while in office.

8 Others Charged

Along with Snyder, eight others were charged, including a former state health director Nick Lyon. Lyon received nine charges of involuntary manslaughter, among others.

Richard Baird, one of Snyder’s closes advisors was changed for extortion, perjury, and obstructions of justice. Others who were charged include:

  • Jarrod Agen, Snyder’s former chief of staff and Vice President Mike Pence’s former communications director.
  • Dr. Eden Wells, a former chief medical executive for the state Department of Health and Human Services. 
  • Darnell Earley, former Flint finance director and state-appointed emergency manager.
  • Gerald Ambrose, former state-appointed emergency manager.
  • Howard Croft, former Flint Public Works Director.
  • Nancy Peeler, the state’s director of maternal, infant and early childhood home visiting for the health department.

Flint residents have waited a long time for justice over the water contamination issue. Prosecutors previously dropped all 15 criminal charges tied to the Flint case in 2019 and said the investigation would begin again from scratch.

At the time, they cited concerns about how the special counsel had conducted its probe.

It also wasn’t until last year that the state reached a $600 million settlement with victims, establishing a fund from which residents can file for compensation.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Detroit News) (Detroit Free Press)

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Three Lawmakers Test Positive for COVID-19 Following Capitol Attack

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  • At least three Congressmembers have tested positive for COVID-19 following Wednesday’s pro-Trump attack on the Capitol. 
  • Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) believe they contracted the virus after locking down in close quarters with numerous Republican lawmakers who refused to wear masks.
  • Jayapal and Schneider are calling for those who did not wear a mask to face consequences.

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman Tests Positive

At least three members of Congress have tested positive for COVID-19 after locking down in close quarters with other House members during Wednesday’s pro-Trump attack on the Capitol. 

Congress’ attending physician, Brian Monahan, warned that members may have been exposed during the lockdown. He recommended that everyone who was isolated inside should get tested for the virus. 

On Monday Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) became the first to announce that she tested positive. Watson Coleman believes she was exposed while in the Capitol lockdown. In her statement, she cited the multiple Republicans who refused to wear masks while inside. Video footage from Punchbowl News shows a Democratic lawmaker handing out masks and a handful of Republicans declining to take one. 

Watson Coleman is a 75-year-old lung cancer survivor. While she said she is only experiencing cold-like symptoms, she tweeted that per a doctor’s suggestion, she headed to a local hospital for antibody treatment. She also encouraged those who sheltered in place to get tested. 

More Cases Follow

Later on Monday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said she too had tested positive, also blaming a lack of mask-wearing in the Capitol. In a lengthy Twitter thread, she said Republicans created a superspreader event and demanded consequences for their actions. 

Many Republicans still refused to take the bare minimum COVID-19 precaution and simply wear a damn mask in a crowded room during a pandemic—creating a superspreader event ON TOP of a domestic terrorist attack,” she wrote. 

“Any Member who refuses to wear a mask should be fully held accountable,” Jayapal added. 

“I’m calling for every single Member who refuses to wear a mask in the Capitol to be fined and removed from the floor by the Sergeant at Arms.”

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) echoed her frustrations on Tuesday after releasing a statement saying he has become the third House member to have tested positive following the lockdown. 

“Today, I am now in strict isolation, worried that I have risked my wife’s health and angry at the selfishness and arrogance of the anti-maskers who put their own contempt and disregard for decency ahead of the health and safety of their colleagues and our staff,” he wrote.

Like Jayapal, he is calling for sanctions against those who opted to not wear masks. 

Many health officials feared that this lockdown could lead to a surge in cases. They also worry that the mob itself could lead to a superspreader event as most of those who attacked the Capitol were not wearing masks and were crowding together both inside and outside of the building.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (NBC Chicago)

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