- The Chancellor of the University of Missouri has blocked students on Twitter who publicly criticized the school’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
- The school has 635 active reported cases and has seen a total of 1,100 cases since August 19.
- Some students say that testing is inadequate, that meals for quarantined students are small or oftentimes forgotten, and that the school is not living up to its contact tracing promises.
- A lawyer representing blocked students said that the Chancellor was violating the First Amendment by blocking them, and requested that he unblock individuals or else the matter could go to court. Several students have since said that they were unblocked.
Chancellor Blocks Students
The Chancellor of the University of Missouri is under fire for blocking students on Twitter who were critical of the way the school has handled the COVID-19 pandemic on campus.
According to the school’s COVID-19 dashboard, there are 635 active reported cases. Since August 19, there have been over 1,100 cases on the campus. Many students believe the school has failed when it comes to thorough testing, contact tracing, sanitation, social distancing, as well as its handling of students in quarantine and isolation.
Many shared those concerns on Twitter, tagging the school along with Mun Choi, the University of Missouri System President and MU Chancellor, in their posts. Many have said this resulted in Choi blocking them.
“Definitely a professional approach to addressing covid concerns. Real class act,” wrote one student who was blocked after sharing a video of sinks at the school not working, making it impossible for people to wash their hands.
At this time, it’s unclear how many students Choi blocked. University of Misery, a student Twitter account devoted to exposing and mocking the school’s fumbling of the pandemic, asked that anyone who was blocked respond to their tweet with screenshots as proof. That tweet has over one dozen replies. There are also others who did not respond to that post, but separately tweeted that they were blocked as well.
Choi’s decision to block those making their complaints public has outraged students who feel they are being silenced by the school’s administration.
“My job as a reporter is to hold the powerful accountable and be a watchdog,” one student reporter tweeted. “When the chancellor/president of the university decides to block me on here, and yet also brag about how great our (journalism) school is, that’s a huge problem.”
Attorney Asks Choi to Unblock Students
A spokesperson for the school confirmed to the Kansas City Star that Choi did in fact block people on his Twitter account. They claimed he had received rude tweets, some with profane language.
“He has been on the receiving end of messages/tweets that were disrespectful and not constructive,” the spokesperson said. “He is always open to respectful conversations with students.”
However, feeling disrespected on Twitter may not be enough for Choi to cover his bases. ABC 17 in Columbia obtained a letter sent to Choi and other school officials by Christopher W. Bennett, an attorney who was asked to represent some of the people who were blocked.
“Not only is it immoral and repugnant for President Choi to block students and other persons on social media who are trying to raise awareness of campus safety issues in the middle of a global pandemic, it is also unlawful,” Bennett argued in the letter.
Bennett claims that because this is Choi’s only public-facing Twitter account, and that since he uses it as a tool of his office, his Twitter is effectively government-controlled property.
“As President Choi’s twitter account is a government forum, blocking people for their criticism of the university’s handling of a public health crisis constitutes viewpoint-based discrimination in violation of the First Amendment,” he further wrote.
The letter asks that Choi unblock those who had been blocked, or else the matter could be escalated to a U.S. District Court. Some students have since shared screenshots showing that Choi has in fact unblocked them.
Issues at the School
Criticisms of the school range across many aspects of the pandemic. One prominent complaint is the lack of access to testing for students. At the start of September one student tweeted that even though she was showing symptoms, she was initially denied a test. The only reason she ended up getting one was because her job mandated it.
“Mizzou is hiding covid cases,” she wrote. “You need a referral in order to test (making tests inaccessible). During my appointment they said I have it but wouldn’t order me to be tested unless my work REQUIRED it. They didn’t want to report my case.”
She believes the school is limiting test access to lower its case count. Her test came back negative, which she believes is false because she has “every symptom in the book.” She has struggled to get tested a second time.
Testing is just the start of issues students have reported. Many tweets claim that meals for those in isolation have also been inadequate. One student shared a photo of their meal, which was two pieces of ravioli and a handful of broccoli. Other students have alleged that sometimes, the school forgets to feed them at all.
Another student in isolation claimed the robust contact tracing that the school has been promoting on its social media is not nearly as thorough as they claim it is. The student claims they went roughly a week in isolation without anyone contacting them about it.
As a result of these issues and the high case counts, some think the school should start asking students to pack their bags and go home. Right now, the school has not commented on any actions that will be taken as a result of these criticisms, or as a result of Choi’s decision to block students.
See what others are saying: (Kansas City Star) (ABC 17) (BuzzFeed News)
All U.S. Adults Officially Eligible for COVID Vaccine
- As of Monday, every adult in the U.S. who would like to receive a COVID-19 vaccine can get one.
- According to the CDC, more than 131 million people, roughly half of all American adults, have already gotten at least one shot. Around 84.3 million, about a quarter of the population, is now fully vaccinated.
- The U.S. is currently on pace to vaccinate 70% of its population by mid-June, but experts worry that herd immunity could be complicated by vaccine hesitancy and when the shots are approved for children.
- While vaccine hesitancy has decreased in recent months, it is still alarmingly high in some areas. Meanwhile, pending FDA approval, experts have said that they believe all children will not be able to be vaccinated until the first quarter of 2022.
U.S. Opens Vaccine Eligibility
Adults in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico who want a COVID-19 vaccine can now get one after the last few states opened eligibility Monday, officially meeting a goal set by President Joe Biden.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 131 million people — half of all American adults — have already received at least one shot. Around 84.3 million, or about a quarter of the population, is now fully vaccinated.
The open eligibility deadline, which was initially set for May 1, comes as the vaccination rate has risen substantially in the last few months after a slow initial rollout. This month, the CDC said the U.S. has been administering an average of 3.2 million doses every day, up from around 2.5 million last month.
At the current rate, the country is also on track to meet another accelerated goal of Biden’s: administering 200 million doses by his 100th day in office — a number that was originally set at 100 million.
Right now, the U.S. is on track to vaccinate 70% of its population by mid-June.
Barriers to Herd Immunity
However, there are two major factors that will impact the country’s ability to achieve herd immunity: when the shots are approved for children and vaccine hesitancy.
Currently, 16- and 17-year-olds can receive the vaccine but only Pfizer’s version. Notably, Pfizer announced earlier this month that it applied for an emergency use authorization for children ages 12 to 15 eligible for its vaccine, and Moderna is set to release results from its trial on adolescents soon.
Experts worry the full administration could take a while, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, who said Sunday that he does not expect children of all ages to be eligible until the first quarter of 2022.
As far as vaccine hesitancy is concerned, polls have found that more people are willing to take the shot than before. Specifically, hesitancy has decreased in Black and Latino communities, where it was previously quite high.
A Kaiser Family Foundation survey from the end of last month found that 61% of adults said they were vaccinated or wanted to be — an increase of 55% from the month before, which was largely driven by the change of interest among Black Americans.
At the same time, the poll also found that fewer than half of Republicans said they have received at least one dose or intend to get it. Additionally, a recent analysis of data in nearly every U.S. county conducted by The New York Times found that both vaccination rates and willingness were lower on average in counties that voted for former President Donald Trump in 2020.
“In more rural — and more Republican — areas, health officials said that supply is far exceeding demand,” the report noted. “And in interviews with more than two dozen state and county health officials […] most attributed low vaccination rates at least partly to hesitant conservative populations.”
Now, public health officials are also concerned that hesitancy will only get worse as officials investigate whether Johnson & Johnson’s shot is linked to a rare blood-clotting disorder. Experts have said the risk is exceedingly low, even if some connection is found, including Dr. Fauci, who said Sunday that he believes federal regulators will likely resume J&J jabs later this week after they were paused last week in all 50 states.
Still, many believe the bad press will likely spell trouble for vaccine-hesitant populations — not just for J&J but for all COVID vaccines — a fact that is especially worrisome as cases in the U.S. have spiked recently. Over the past seven days, the country has averaged 67,000 new cases a day, a significant jump from over 54,000 a month ago.
Others are more optimistic that the expanded eligibility will drive demand in states where it is low, and as a result, those numbers will drop.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (CNN)
Bodycam Footage Shows Adam Toledo Wasn’t Holding Gun When an Officer Shot Him
- Chicago officials released body camera footage Thursday which showed that 13-year-old Adam Toledo, who was shot and killed by police last month, had put his hands up in the air right before the officer opened fire.
- The graphic video showed the officer, who has now been identified as Eric Stillman, yelling at Adam to stop as he chases him through an alley.
- The teenager obeyed and stopped by a fence, where he can be seen holding what appears to be a gun behind his back. Stillman ordered him to drop it, and then shot him a split second after Adam raised his empty hands in the air.
- The footage prompted renewed outrage, protests, and calls for an investigation. A lawyer for the Toledo family called the killing “an assassination,” while Stillman’s lawyer defended the officer, and claimed he acted appropriately.
Officer Bodycam Footage Made Public
Body camera footage released by Chicago officials Thursday showed that Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old boy killed by police last month, had his hands up when he was fatally shot.
The footage, which was released as part of a report by the city’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), showed officers chasing Adam, who was Latino, through an alley in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Little Village during the early hours of March 29.
The officer ordered Adam to stop. The teenager complied and halted by the side of a fence, holding what looks like a gun in one of his hands behind his back. The policeman yelled at him to drop it and show his hands.
Adam turned and lifted his empty hands, and the officer fired his weapon, striking the teenager once in the chest. The policeman is then seen administering CPR and asking him, “You alright? Where you shot?” while blood poured out of his mouth.
The COPA report published Thursday also identified the officer who shot Adam as 34-year-old Eric Stillman, who is white, and whose lawyer said he had been put on administrative duties for 30 days.
Stillman’s lawyer also argued that the shooting was justified, as did John Catanzara, president of the Fraternal Order of Police.
“He was 100% right,” Catanzara said. “The offender still turned with a gun in his hand. This occurred in eight-tenths of a second.”
Renewed Backlash and Protests
Adeena Weiss Ortiz, an attorney obtained by Adam’s family, said they are looking into taking legal action against Stillman.
“If you’re shooting an unarmed child with his arms in the air, it’s an assassination,” she said at a news conference Thursday.
Ortiz acknowledged the bodycam footage did appear to show Adam holding something that “could be a gun,” but argued the video must be independently analyzed to confirm.
“It’s not relevant because he tossed the gun,” she said. “If he had a gun, he tossed it.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois also echoed Ortiz’s demands on Thursday, calling for a “complete and transparent” investigation.
“The video released today shows that police shot Adam Toledo even though his hands were raised in the air,” said Colleen Connell, executive director of the ACLU of Illinois.
“The people of Chicago deserve answers about the events surrounding this tragic interaction. The anger and frustration expressed by many in viewing the video is understandable and cannot be ignored.”
Hours before the video was released, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot pleaded for calm in the city, where anti-police protests have taken place in the weeks following the shooting.
“We must proceed with deep empathy and calm and importantly, peace,” she said. “No family should ever have a video broadcast widely of their child’s last moments, much less be placed in the terrible situation of losing their child in the first place.”
Some businesses in downtown Chicago boarded prepared for violence ahead of the video’s publication by boarding up their windows. City vehicles stood by to block traffic.
However, the demonstrations that took place Thursday were small, peaceful, and spread out over several parts of the city. Organizers said they plan to hold more protests Friday.
See what others are saying: (The Chicago Sun-Times) (The New York Times) (The Chicago Tribune)
Eight Dead in Indianapolis Shooting
- Eight people were killed and several more were injured after a gunman opened fire at a FedEx Ground Facility in Indianapolis late Thursday.
- The gunman took his life after opening fire. Authorities have not identified his motive yet.
- According to the Gun Violence Archive, in 2021, there have been 147 U.S. mass shootings, defined as verified incidents with four or more gunshot victims.
- President Joe Biden released a statement calling gun violence “an epidemic in America,” adding, “We should not accept it. We must act.”
Eight Killed in Shooting
Eight people were killed and several others have been wounded after a gunman opened fire at a FedEx Ground Facility in Indianapolis late Thursday.
The gunman killed four people in the parking lot then four people inside before taking his own life, according to local officials. Authorities have identified the gunman and are searching his home, but have not disclosed any potential motives.
“There was no confrontation with anyone that was there,” Deputy Chief Craig McCartt of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said during a press conference. “There was no disturbance, there was no argument. He just appeared to randomly start shooting.”
Several witnesses told local outlets they initially thought the gunshots were engines backfiring or another type of mechanical noise until they saw the gunman. Some said they heard him shouting indistinctly before opening fire. The investigation is still in very early stages and victims have not yet been identified.
The facility employs 4,500 team members. It is unclear how many were working at the time of the shooting. FedEx released a statement expressing its condolences to the victims and their families.
“We are deeply shocked and saddened by the loss of our team members following the tragic shooting at our FedEx Ground facility in Indianapolis,” the statement read. “Our most heartfelt sympathies are with all those affected by this senseless act of violence. The safety of our team members is our top priority, and we are fully cooperating with investigating authorities.”
Gun Violence in the U.S.
This tragedy follows a recent string of mass shootings in the U.S., including in Atlanta, Colorado, Southern California, and Texas. According to the Associated Press, this is at least the third in Indianapolis this year.
The Gun Violence Archive has logged a total of 147 mass shootings in the U.S. so far in 2021. The organization defines mass shootings as reported and verified incidents with at least four gunshot victims.
Several politicians have released statements about the shooting, including Vice President Kamala Harris, who said this pattern “must end.”
“Yet again we have families in our country that are grieving the loss of their family members because of gun violence,” she said. “There is no question that this violence must end, and we are thinking of the families that lost their loved ones.”
President Joe Biden also released a statement saying that, “Too many Americans are dying every single day from gun violence. It stains our character and pierces the very soul of our nation.”
“Gun violence is an epidemic in America,” Biden added. “But we should not accept it. We must act.”
Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett echoed those remarks in a news conference.
“The scourge of gun violence that has killed far too many in our community and in our country,” he said.
“Our prayers are with the families of those whose lives were cut short,” he added on Twitter.
Hogsett is among 150 U.S. mayors who recently signed a letter asking the Senate to take up gun legislation, including expanding background checks.