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Uber to Crack Down on Non-Mask Wearers With New Mask Selfie Policy



Source: Uber

  • Uber plans to implement a new policy by the end of the month that will require some customers to verify they are wearing a mask before they can request a ride.
  • Passengers will be prompted to take a selfie while wearing a mask only if their most-previous driver reported them for not wearing a mask on that ride. 
  • Some drivers have applauded Uber for listening to their requests and taking their safety into account, but others online have said the new policy doesn’t go far enough because passengers are only held accountable after the fact.
  • Both passengers and drivers can cancel rides without penalty if they report that the other person is not wearing a mask, and Uber has said that if a customer repeatedly violates the mask policy, their account could be deactivated.

Uber’s New Mask Selfie Policy

Uber is preparing to roll out a new feature by the end of the month aimed at protecting drivers by preventing passengers from getting into their vehicle without a mask. 

To enforce Uber’s “no mask, no ride” policy that it implemented on May 18, some users will be required to take a selfie while wearing a mask before being able to use the app.

The rule won’t apply to everyone, though. Customers will only be asked to take such photos if a driver reports that they are not wearing a mask. From there, they’ll need to take the picture before being able to request a new ride. Both riders and drivers are currently allowed to cancel a trip without penalty if they report that the other person is not wearing a mask.

Source: Uber

The new feature was originally designed to ensure that Uber’s drivers, as well as its delivery people for Uber Eats, were complying with company policy. Reportedly, the feature can even verify whether people’s mouths and noses are still exposed even if they are wearing a mask. It can also detect whether users are simply trying to skirt the rules by putting their hand over their face.

On Tuesday, the company said it had used this feature on more than 3.5 million drivers and delivery people who have completed more than 100 million mask verifications. 

Still, customers were not originally required to take mask selfies, and this move likely came following complaints from drivers who found themselves sharing their vehicles with unmasked passengers.

“We firmly believe that accountability is a two-way street,” Sachin Kansal, Uber’s global head of safety, said in a blog post. “That’s why we’re expanding the same technology to riders, too.”

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, ensuring that everyone in an Uber vehicle is wearing a mask could be critically important, as proper social distancing would be highly unlikely. Even if social distancing is possible in some vehicles, both passengers and drivers would still be in a relatively small enclosed space. 

The new policy will first roll out in the United States and Canada near the end of September. After that, Uber plans to begin implementing the policy in Latin American countries.

Drivers Cheer New Policy

On social media, many lauded the new policy, including some drivers who believe it will help keep them safer while working.

“Finally!!!!” one driver said on Twitter. “I’ve been asking for that with the passengers since us drivers are required to take a selfie with a mask on before we can get online.”

Others, however, noted what they believe to be blind spots in the new policy that could still lead to coronavirus spread. 

“Problem is it only applies to riders who previously were reported by another driver as not complying. SMH,” one Twitter user said.

The policy also would not be able to address instances where people remove their masks after taking the selfie, though a ride could still be canceled.

According to CNN Business, multiple violations of this policy could lead to an account deactivation, but the company did not indicate how many violations a customer would need to accrue for that to happen.

Uber’s Recent Safety Changes

In May, Uber made a number of changes to its operations. In addition to its mask requirement, the company has also reduced the number of people allowed to ride in an Uber X from four to three. 

The company has also promised to spend $50 million on its drivers for safety measures. As of September, Uber said it’s distributed more than 50 million face masks and over 800,000 packets of disinfectant sprays, wipes, and hand sanitizer to drivers.

In July, Uber’s coronavirus safety policies were made indefinite.

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (USA Today) (San Francisco Gate)


Lincoln College to Close for Good After COVID and Ransomware Attack Ruin Finances



Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.

One of the Only Historically Black Colleges in the Midwest Goes Down

After 157 years of educating mostly Black students in Illinois, Lincoln College will close its doors for good on Friday.

The college made the announcement last month, citing financial troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack in December.

Enrollment dropped during the pandemic and the administration had to make costly investments in technology and campus safety measures, according to a statement from the school.

A shrinking endowment put additional pressure on the college’s budget.

The ransomware attack, which the college has said originated from Iran, thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data. Systems for recruitment, retention, and fundraising were completely inoperable at a time when the administration needed them most.

In March, the college paid the ransom, which it has said amounted to less than $100,000. But according to Lincoln’s statement, subsequent projections showed enrollment shortfalls so significant the college would need a transformational donation or partnership to make it beyond the present semester.

The college put out a request for $50 million in a last-ditch effort to save itself, but no one came forward to provide it.

A GoFundMe aiming to raise $20 million for the college only collected $2,452 as of Tuesday.

Students and Employees Give a Bittersweet Goodbye

“The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense,” David Gerlach, the college’s president, said in a statement.

Lincoln counts nearly 1,000 enrolled students, and those who did not graduate this spring will leave the institution without degrees.

Gerlach has said that 22 colleges have worked with Lincoln to accept the remaining students, including their credits, tuition prices, and residency requirements.

“I was shocked and saddened by that news because of me being a freshman, so now I have to find someplace for me to go,” one student told WMBD News after the closure was announced.

When a group of students confronted Gerlach at his office about the closure, he responded with an emotional speech.

“I have been fighting hard to save this place,” he said. “But resources are resources. We’ve done everything we possibly could.”

On April 30, alumni were invited back to the campus to revisit the highlights of their college years before the institution closed.

On Saturday, the college held its final graduation ceremony, where over 200 students accepted their diplomas and Quentin Brackenridge performed the Lincoln Alma Mater.

Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Herald Review) (CNN)

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U.S. Tops One Million Coronavirus Deaths, WHO Estimates 15 Million Worldwide



India’s real COVID death toll stands at about 4.7 million, ten times higher than official data, the WHO estimated.

One Million Dead

The United States officially surpassed one million coronavirus deaths Wednesday, 26 months after the first death was reported in late February of 2020.

Experts believe that figure is likely an undercount, since there are around 200,000 excess deaths, though some of those may not be COVID-related.

The figure is the equivalent of the population of San Jose, the tenth-largest city in the U.S., vanishing in just over two years. To put the magnitude in visual perspective, NECN published a graphic illustrating what one million deaths looks like.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the White House predicted between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans would die from the coronavirus in a best-case scenario.

By February 2021, over half a million Americans had died of COVID.

The coronavirus has become the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.

The pandemic’s effects go beyond its death toll. Around a quarter of a million children have lost a caregiver to the virus, including about 200,000 who lost one or both parents. Every COVID-related death leaves an estimated nine people grieving.

The virus has hit certain industries harder than others, with food and agriculture, warehouse operations and manufacturing, and transportation and construction seeing especially high death rates.

People’s mental health has also been affected, with a study in January of five Western countries including the U.S. finding that 13% of people reported symptoms of PTSD attributable to actual or potential contact with the virus.

Fifteen Million Dead

On Thursday, the World Health Organization estimated that nearly 15 million people have died from the pandemic worldwide, a dramatic revision from the 5.4 million previously reported in official statistics.

Between January 2020 and the end of last year, the WHO estimated that between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people died either due to the coronavirus directly or because of factors somehow attributed to the pandemic’s impact on health systems, such as cancer patients who were unable to seek treatment when hospitals were full of COVID patients.

Based on that range, scientists arrived at an approximate total of 14.9 million.

The new estimate shows a 13% increase in deaths than is usually expected for a two-year period.

“This may seem like just a bean-counting exercise, but having these WHO numbers is so critical to understanding how we should combat future pandemics and continue to respond to this one,” Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Public Health who was not linked to the WHO research, told the Associated Press.

Most of the deaths occurred in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

According to the WHO, India counts the most deaths by far with 4.7 million, ten times its official number.

See what others are saying: (NBC) (U.S. News and World Report) (Scientific American)

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Official Says Missing Alabama Convict and Corrections Officer Had a “Special Relationship”



Authorities have also said they now believe the officer willfully helped the inmate escape.

New Information on Missing Inmate & Officer

Authorities in Alabama revealed Tuesday that Assistant Director of Corrections for Lauderdale County Vicky White, who is accused of helping a murder suspect Casey Cole White escape from jail, had a “special relationship” with the inmate.

“Investigators received information from inmates at the Lauderdale County Detention Center over the weekend that there was a special relationship between Director White and inmate Casey White,” Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton said in a statement. “That relationship has now been confirmed through our investigation by independent sources and means.”

Officials have previously said that the two are not related, despite their shared surname.

Singleton elaborated on the nature of the relationship while speaking to CNN later on Tuesday. He said it took place “outside of her normal work hours” and added that although it did not include “physical contact,” he still characterized it as “a relationship of a different nature.”

“We were told Casey White got special privileges and was treated differently while in the facility than the other inmates,” Singleton said.

Also on Tuesday, the Marshals Service issued a statement confirming that authorities believe Officer White had helped Mr. White escape. The authorities described her as a “wanted fugitive” and offered a $5,000 reward for any information on her whereabouts. Earlier this week, the Marshals Service also offered a $10,000 reward for any information that could lead to Mr. White’s capture.

Singleton echoed the belief that Officer White’s actions were intentional while speaking to Good Morning America Wednesday.

“I think all of our employees and myself included were really hoping that she did not participate in this willingly. But all indications are that she absolutely did,” he said. “We’re very disappointed in that because we had the utmost trust in her as an employee and as an assistant director of corrections.”

Mysterious Escape

Vicky White and Casey White were last seen leaving the Lauderdale County jail just after 9:30 a.m. Friday. The officer told other employees that she was taking the inmate to a mental health evaluation at a courthouse just down the road, and that she would be going to a medical appointment after because she was not feeling well.

Officials later said her actions violated an official policy that required two sworn deputies to transport people with murder charges. In 2020, Mr. White was charged with two counts of capital murder in connection to a fatal stabbing he confessed to and was awaiting his trial in Lauderdale County.

Mr. White was also serving time for what officials said was a “crime spree” in 2015 which included home invasion, carjacking, and a police chase. He had also previously tried to escape from jail, police said.

It wasn’t until 3:30 p.m. on Friday that a jail employee reported to higher-ups that he was not able to reach Officer White on her phone and that Mr. White had never been returned to his cell.

During a press conference that same night, Singleton told reporters that there had never even been a scheduled mental health evaluation. At another briefing Monday, he announced that an arrest warrant had been issued for Vicky on a charge of “permitting or facilitating an escape in the first degree.”

At the time, Singleton said it was unclear “whether she did that willingly or was coerced or threatened” but added, “we know for sure she did participate.” 

See what others are saying: (CNN) (ABC News) (NPR)

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