- Hours after Hurricane Laura was upgraded to a Category 3 on Wednesday morning, it was upgraded once more to a Category 4.
- It is expected to make landfall in western Louisiana and eastern Texas late Wednesday or early Thursday. Over half a million people have evacuated the two states.
- Laura is expected to be catastrophic. Strong winds and flash flooding will begin on Wednesday and likely continue through Thursday. Storm surges could reach 30 miles inland.
- Government officials in the states are encouraging residents to evacuate. Officials are also working on balancing their hurricane response efforts with their pandemic response as COVID-19 continues to spread through Texas and Louisiana.
Hurricane Laura Upgraded to Category 3
Hurricane Laura was been upgraded to a Category 4 hurricane as parts of Texas and Louisiana brace for it to hit their coasts late Wednesday and early Thursday.
The storm had been declared a Category 3 earlier that morning, just hours before it received another upgrade. Over half a million people across the two states have evacuated in preparation for the storm. Areas east of Houston, Texas, which were hit hard by Hurricane Harvey just three years ago, are expected to be near the point of Laura’s landfall. People in those communities are among those evacuating.
A Wednesday morning update from the National Hurricane Center warned that Laura could have a severe impact.
“Unsurvivable storm surge with large and destructive waves will cause catastrophic damage from Sea Rim State Park, Texas to Intracoastal City, Louisiana,” the NHC said. The surge could penetrate up to 30 miles inland from the immediate coastline.
Hurricane winds are expected to be felt in portions of Texas and Louisiana Wednesday night and will move further inland early on Thursday. Flash flooding could begin as early as Wednesday afternoon in Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas. As of Wednesday morning, areas of Louisiana were already starting to see flooding begin.
Heavy rainfall threats as well as local flash and urban flooding could also spread to parts of Mississippi, Tennessee, and Ohio.
Meteorologists and Government Officials Respond
As Laura was upgraded this morning, with projections showing a devastating path, meteorologists and other experts took to Twitter to share their concerns. Some warned that it could be “catastrophic” while others said more people may have to evacuate that leaders initially thought.
Government officials have also been leading preparation efforts. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards requested federal assistance from President Donald Trump, which was approved over the weekend. Edwards has also been emphasizing the need to evacuate quickly, warning people on Wednesday that wherever they are come noon is where they will be to ride out the storm.
For his part, Texas Governor Greg Abbott also signed a disaster proclamation in his state. He has also spoken about the state’s plans to balance their hurricane response with their pandemic response.
Abbot said that the state has ordered hundreds of buses so that people can evacuate in a distanced way. There are also plans to send out COVID-19 testing teams to shelters once it is safe to do so.
“Just because a hurricane is coming to Texas does not mean Covid-19 either has or is going to leave Texas,” Abbott said while speaking to reporters on Tuesday. “Covid-19 is going to be in Texas throughout the course of the hurricane.”
The governor said that local officials are “taking all necessary protocols to make sure that they reduce the spread.”
See what others are saying: (The Weather Channel) (NBC News) (Washington Post)
Medical Workers Sign Letter Urging Spotify to Combat Misinformation, Citing Joe Rogan
The letter accused Spotify of “enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research.”
Doctors and Medical Professionals Sign Letter to Spotify
A group of 270 doctors, scientists, and other medical workers signed an open letter to Spotify this week urging the audio platform to implement a misinformation policy, specifically citing false claims made on the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast.
Rogan has faced no shortage of backlash over the last year for promoting vaccine misinformation on his show, which airs exclusively on Spotify. Most recently, he invited Dr. Robert Malone on a Dec. 31 episode that has since been widely criticized by health experts.
Dr. Malone was banned from Twitter for promoting COVID-19 misinformation. According to the medical experts who signed the letter, he “used the JRE platform to further promote numerous baseless claims, including several falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines and an unfounded theory that societal leaders have ‘hypnotized’ the public.”
“Notably, Dr. Malone is one of two recent JRE guests who has compared pandemic policies to the Holocaust,” the letter continued. “These actions are not only objectionable and offensive, but also medically and culturally dangerous.”
Joe Rogan’s History of COVID-19 Misinformation
Rogan sparked swift criticism himself in the spring of 2021 when he discouraged young people from taking the COVID-19 vaccine. He also falsely equated mRNA vaccines to “gene therapy” and incorrectly stated that vaccines cause super mutations of the virus. He took ivermectin after testing positive for the virus in September, despite the fact that the drug is not approved as a treatment for COVID.
“By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions, Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals,” the doctors and medical workers wrote.
“We are calling on Spotify to take action against the mass-misinformation events which continue to occur on its platform,” they continued. “With an estimated 11 million listeners per episode, JRE is the world’s largest podcast and has tremendous influence. Though Spotify has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform, the company presently has no misinformation policy.”
Rolling Stone was the first outlet to report on the letter from the medical professionals. Dr. Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois Chicago, was among the signees. She told the magazine that Rogan is “a menace to public health.”
“These are fringe ideas not backed in science, and having it on a huge platform makes it seem there are two sides to this issue,” she said. “And there are really not.”
Spotify had not responded to the letter as of Thursday.
See what others are saying: (Rolling Stone) (Deadline) (Insider)
Data Shows Omicron May be Peaking in the U.S.
In some cities that were first hit by the surge, new cases are starting to flatten and decline.
New Cases Flattening
After weeks of recording-breaking cases driven by the highly infectious omicron variant, public health officials say that new COVID infections seem to be slowing in the parts of the country that were hit the hardest earlier on.
Following a more than twentyfold rise in December, cases in New York City have flattened out in recent days.
New infections have even begun to fall slightly in some states, like Maryland and New Jersey. In Boston, the levels of COVID in wastewater — which has been a top indicator of case trends in the past — have dropped by nearly 40% since the first of the year.
Overall, federal data has shown a steep decline in COVID-related emergency room visits in the Northeast, and the rest of the country appears to be following a similar track.
Data from other countries signals the potential for a steep decline in cases following the swift and unprecedented surge.
According to figures from South Africa, where the variant was first detected, cases rose at an incredibly shocking rate for about a month but peaked quickly in mid-December. Since then, new infections have plummeted by around 70%.
In the U.K., which has typically been a map for how U.S. cases will trend, infections are also beginning to fall after peaking around New Year’s and then flattening for about a week.
Despite these recent trends, experts say it is still too early to say if cases in the U.S. will decline as rapidly as they did in South Africa and the parts of the U.K. that were first hit.
While new infections may seem to be peaking in the cities that saw the first surges, caseloads continue to climb in most parts of the country.
Meanwhile, hospitals are overwhelmed and health resources are still strained because of the high volume of cases hitting all at once.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Wall Street Journal)
COVID-Driven School Closures Top Record Highs, But Many Remain Open
While some districts have implemented protective measures, many teachers say they fall short.
Schools Respond to Omicron Surge
U.S. COVID cases, driven by the omicron variant, are continuously topping new record highs, posing difficult questions for schools resuming after winter break.
According to Burbio, a data firm that tracks school closures, at least 5,409 public schools canceled classes or moved to remote learning by the end of last week due to COVID — more than triple the number at the end of December.
That is still only a fraction of the nation’s 130,000 schools, and many of the biggest school districts in the country are still insisting that students come into the classroom.
Los Angeles, which is home to the second-biggest district, is requiring that students at least test negative before they return to school this week.
In the biggest district of New York City, classes have already resumed following winter break. Although the city has said it will double random tests and send home more kits, students were not required to provide negative results.
Teachers Protest In-Person Learning
Teachers in other major districts have protested the local government’s decisions to stay open.
One of the most closely watched battles is in Chicago, where students on Monday missed their fourth consecutive day of school due to a feud between the Chicago Teachers Union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D).
Last week, the union voted to return to remote learning in defiance of a city-wide order mandating they teach in-person, citing inadequate COVID-19 protections. Lightfoot claimed the conditions were fine and that students were safe, despite record surges, instead opting to cancel classes altogether while the fight plays out.
On Sunday, the union said it was “still far apart” from making any kind of agreement with public school officials after Lightfoot rejected their demands.
Lightfoot, for her part, has said she remains “hopeful” a deal could be reached, but she also stirred up the union by accusing teachers of staging an “illegal walkout” and claiming they “abandoned their posts and they abandoned kids and their families.”
Meanwhile, teachers in other school districts have begun to emulate the tactics in Chicago.
On Friday, teachers in Oakland, California staged a “sick-out,” promoting 12 schools serving thousands of students to close.