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Georgia Gov. Bans Local Government From Requiring Masks

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  • Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp suspended all local mask mandates in the state on Wednesday.
  • Around 15 cities and counties had mask requirements in place, but now people in the state are just “strongly encouraged” to voluntarily wear masks when out in public.
  • This order was met with a lot of backlash from local leaders who see it as a direct threat to public health. 
  • Republican leaders in states like Oklahoma are also holding back on issuing mask mandates, while some, like Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, have decided to enact them.

Gov. Kemp’s Order

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads throughout Georgia, Governor Brian Kemp is suspending all local governments from enforcing mandatory mask orders in the state. 

In an executive order issued Wednesday, Georgians were “strongly encouraged to wear face coverings” when in public, but the directive stopped cities and counties from enacting requirements of their own. According to the Associated Press, around 15 local governments had already adopted these kinds of mandates. 

Kemp has long stated that local leaders have no power in enforcing these kinds of rules, but this order makes it official. 

“No local action can be more or less restrictive than ours,” Kemp’s communications director wrote on Twitter. “We have explained that local mask mandates are unenforceable.”

Kemp is still encouraging those in his state to wear masks voluntarily, however, he previously told the Atlanta Constitution-Journal that a government mandate would be “bridge too far.”

“There’s some people that just do not want to wear a mask,” Kemp said. “I’m sensitive to that from a political environment of having people buy into that and creating other issues out there.”

Health officials have repeatedly said that masks are one of the most effective ways of slowing the spread of the coronavirus. Several studies have proven them to block transmission. Countries that had widespread mask-wearing have seen lower death rates from the coronavirus. 

Response From Local Leaders

The state has seen a total of 127,834 cases and 3,091 deaths, and on Wednesday, 3,871 new cases were reported, which is their second-highest daily case count to date. Given the rising number of cases, Kemp’s order was met with backlash from local leaders. 

Governor Kemp does not give a damn about us,” wrote Savannah mayor Van Johnson. Every man and woman for himself/herself. Ignore the science and survive the best you can.”

Dunwoody mayor Lynn Deutsch posted a Twitter thread claiming that this order leaves grocery store employees, retail workers, and restaurant servers “caught in the battle” between Kemp and local governments. 

“Our small businesses asked us to mandate masks,” she wrote.  “Their employees are worried about being exposed. Without our mandate, some customers are pushing back and arguing about wearing a mask.”

Deutsch also says that this comes as hospitals in the area are struggling with patient increases and community spread.

“Incredibly sad for my community and Georgia tonight. Sorry that the Governor has chosen to politicize your health,” she added.

Mask Rules in Other States

Kemp is not the only governor in the country standing by the choice to not mandate masks. When Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt announced Wednesday that he tested positive for the coronavirus, he claimed he did not regret his choice not to wear masks more frequently. 

“I don’t really second-guess anything,” he said in a press conference. 

“I’m just hesitant to mandate something that’s problematic to enforce,” he later added when asked about imposing a state-wide mask requirement. 

However, other Republican governors have recently made the choice to enforce mask mandates. In Alabama, Governor Kay Ivey announced that as of Thursday, the state will follow a mandatory mask requirement. That mandate will expire when the state’s stay at home order ends, which is currently at the end of the month. 

“We are almost to the point where our hospital ICUs are overwhelmed,” she said during a press conference. “Earlier this week 87% of our ICU beds statewide were occupied. Folks, the numbers just do not lie.”

Cases and deaths as a result of the coronavirus are on the rise in Alabama. Texas has seen a similar increase. At the start of July, Governor Greg Abbott ordered that most Texans wear masks in public. This mandate applied to anyone in a county with more than 20 confirmed COVID-19 cases. 

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Atlanta Constitution-Journal) (The Hill)

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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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Joe Biden Reportedly Frustrated With His Pick To Handle COVID-19 Vaccine Roll Out

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  • President-Elect Joe Biden has promised to give 100 million Americans the COVID-19 vaccine in the 100 days following his Inauguration.
  • Beyond logistical and administrative concerns that saw the Trump administration only giving out 6.7 million vaccines over a month, a Politico report states Biden lacks confidence in his Covid coordinator, Jeff Zients.
  • Reportedly, Zients and his deputy often give Biden a big-picture idea of how they will handle the vaccination efforts. The President-elect, however, wants specific details about how exactly they plan on ramping up vaccination efforts.
  • Even if Zients is the man for the job, there are still concerns about Biden keeping General Gustave Perna in his role as chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, despite his failure to vaccinate 20 million Americans by the end of December as promised.

Steep Hill To Climb

When President-Elect Joe Biden takes office on January 20, a timer starts on his promise to give 100 million Americans the COVID-19 vaccine in 100 days.

The Trump administration made a similar promise in December when it promised 20 million vaccinations by the end of the month. It only managed 2.6 million. As of January 8, only 6.7 million Americans have been vaccinated.

Many of the current issues that are plaguing Trump’s vaccination effort are likely to continue into the Biden administration. For one, sending out millions of vaccines is a logistical nightmare. On top of that, it’s the states, not the federal government, that often control the practical implementation of vaccinations.

Currently, many states are struggling with vaccinations. For example, in Florida, seniors – who are the first in line for a vaccine in the state – have found that the distribution has been chaotic and unorganized.

To tackle the issue, Biden has appointed Jeff Zients, known as President Barack Obama’s “problem fixer,” to be his Covid coordinator. However, a Politico report says Biden is frustrated with how Zients is handling the situation.

With his business background, Zients and his deputy, Natalie Quillian, often give the President-elect a big-picture idea of how they will handle the vaccination efforts. However, the President-elect, as a long-time government official, wants specific details of how exactly they plan on ramping up vaccination efforts ten-fold.

That is all behind-the-scenes reports because officially, Zients has the support of Biden. His transition spokesman reiterated this to reporters, saying, “Jeff Zients is the right person for the job and wakes up every day focused on how to vaccinate every single American as quickly as possible, and the President-elect has full confidence in the plan he and his team are putting forward to get that done.” 

Trump Officials Continuing Role Into Biden Administration

Even if Zients is the man for the job, there are still concerns about Trump officials being kept in charge. Biden has decided to keep General Gustave Perna in his role as chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed. 

Perna is the official who promised 20 million vaccinations by the end of December 2020 and barely got 2.6 million out.

At the same time, Perna has on-the-job experience. Losing that could put the incoming administration even further behind their plans. Although, failing to get 100-million vaccines in 100-days may not actually be a failure.

In fact, it’s been pointed out that the goal helps states have an idea of Biden’s expectations and will pressure them to more quickly roll-out vaccinations.

Cases are constantly increasing in the U.S., and hospitals are largely unable to handle the number of incoming patients. The country has had 22.5 million cases of COVID-10 and over 374,000 deaths, making it the leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2020.

See What Others Are Saying: (Politico) (CNN) (NPR)

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