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Mizzou Chancellor Criticized for Blocking Students Who Are Critical of School’s COVID-19 Response

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  • 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)

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FDA Authorizes Moderna and J&J COVID Vaccine Boosters, Approves Mix-and-Match Doses

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The approval will allow at-risk Americans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get any booster six months after their initial series and all Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older to do the same two months after their single-shot dose.


New FDA Authorization

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized boosters shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy that will allow people who got one company’s shot to get a booster from a different maker.

The decision paves the way for millions of more at-risk Americans to get extra protection, and not just certain Pfizer recipients as previously approved by the FDA.

Under the authorization, people who received Moderna or Pfizer can get any one of the three booster shots six months after completing their initial series if they are 65 and older, at high risk of severe COVID, or face increased exposure because of their work.

Meanwhile, all J&J recipients 18 and older can get any of the approved vaccines two months after they received the one-shot jab.

Hazy Recommendations, For Now

Notably, the FDA did not recommend a certain combination of vaccines, nor did the agency say whether or not it would be more effective for people to stick with their original vaccine maker for their booster.

The new authorizations draw on a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which found that there are no safety concerns with mixing boosters and that vaccine combinations were at least as effective in stimulating antibodies as matched vaccines.

In the case of J&J recipients, the NIH found that people actually had a higher boost from mixing either Moderna or Pfizer boosters.

However, some of the scientists who worked on the study said it should not be used to recommend one combination over another because the research was limited.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determines vaccine recommendations, could issue more guidance on when and whether people should switch vaccine makers for their booster shots.

An advisory panel for the agency is meeting Thursday to discuss the new FDA authorizations and recommendations.

Once the panel makes its decision, the CDC director has the final say on the guidelines. If the agency agrees with the FDA’s decisions, the booster shots could be rolled out as soon as this weekend.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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Paris Hilton Urges Lawmakers To Crack Down on Abusive Teen Treatment Facilities

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The heiress alleges that she was a victim of abuse in these types of centers for two years and wants to ensure that no child suffers through the same experience.


Paris Hilton Details Abuse Within “Troubled Teen Industry”

Socialite and entrepreneur Paris Hilton spoke outside of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to support the Accountability for Congregate Care Act, which is set to be introduced in the near future.

Hilton joined Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) to advocate for the legislation, which aims to create a “bill of rights” for children in treatment and behavioral centers.

The heiress has alleged that she spent two of her teenage years in these types of facilities and was subject to rampant abuse. She is far from alone. 

During a press conference, Hilton said that one night when she was 16, she woke up to two large men in her bedroom forcing her out of her house. She said she screamed for help because she thought she was being kidnapped, but her parents watched as she was taken away to a “troubled teen” program. 

“Like countless other parents of teens, my parents had searched for solutions to my rebellious behavior,” she explained in an op-ed for The Washington Post this week. “Unfortunately, they fell for the misleading marketing of the ‘troubled teen industry’ — therapeutic boarding schools, military-style boot camps, juvenile justice facilities, behavior modification programs and other facilities that generate roughly $50 billion annually in part by pitching ‘tough love’ as the answer to problematic behavior.”

Hilton said she was sent to four different facilities where she was “physically and psychologically abused.” 

“I was strangled, slapped across the face, watched in the shower by male staff, called vulgar names, forced to take medication without a diagnosis, not given a proper education, thrown into solitary confinement in a room covered in scratch marks and smeared in blood and so much more,” she explained during the press conference. 

“At Provo Canyon School in Utah, I was given clothes with a number on the tag. I was no longer me, I was only number 127,” she continued. “I was forced to stay indoors for 11 months straight, no sunlight, no fresh air. These were considered privileges.”

Goals of the  Accountability for Congregate Care Act

Hilton claims that a lack of transparency and accountability has allowed this structure of abuse to thrive for decades. In some cases, she said it has taken children’s lives. Now, she wants Congress and President Joe Biden to act. 

“This bill creates an urgently needed bill of rights to ensure that every child placed into congregate care facilities is provided a safe and humane environment,” Hilton said of the Accountability for Congregate Care Act.

“This bill of rights provides protections that I wasn’t afforded, like access to education, to the outdoors, freedom from abusive treatment, and even the basic right to move and speak freely. If I had these rights and could have exercised them, I would have been saved from over 20 years of trauma and severe PTSD.” 

Foster children, children being treated for mental disorders, and other children in youth programs would be impacted by the bill.

Hilton was one of several survivors and advocates who fought for the legislation on Wednesday. Rep. Khanna thanked them for using their stories to fight for change. 

“No child should be subjected to solitary confinement, forced labor, or any form of institutional abuse,” he wrote. “Thanks to Paris Hilton, my colleagues & the survivors & advocates who joined us today to discuss how we can hold the congregate care industry accountable.”

While only Democratic legislators are currently sponsoring the bill, Hilton called for a bipartisan effort to fight for the rights of children. 

Ensuring that children are safe from institutional abuse isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue,” Hilton said. “It’s a basic human rights issue that requires immediate attention.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Hill) (NBC News)

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Surgeons Successfully Test Pig Kidney Transplant on a Human

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The procedure has been hailed as a major scientific breakthrough that could eventually open the door to a renewable source of desperately needed organs.


Groundbreaking Procedure

Surgeons at the NYU Langone Transplant Institute revealed Tuesday that they temporarily attached a kidney from a genetically modified pig to a human patient and found that it worked normally.

The operation was the first of its kind and could one day lead to a vast supply of organs for those who are in severe need. According to the Associated Press, more than 90,000 people in the U.S. are in line for a kidney transplant. Each day, an average of 12 die while waiting.

With the family’s consent, the groundbreaking procedure was performed on a brain-dead patient who was kept alive on a ventilator.

According to the surgeons, the pig used was genetically engineered to grow an organ that wouldn’t produce a sugar that the human immune system attacks, which would then trigger the body to reject the kidney. 

The organ was connected to blood vessels on the patient’s upper leg, outside the abdomen, and it was observed for over 54 hours, with doctors finding no signs of rejection.

Concerns and Hurdles Ahead

While the procedure was successful, this doesn’t mean it’ll be available to patients anytime soon. Several questions about long-term functionality remain, and it will still have to go through significant medical and regulatory hurdles. 

Details of the procedure haven’t even been peer-reviewed or published in a medical journal yet, though there are plans for this. 

Experts are also considering the ethical implications of this type of animal-to-human transplant. For some, raising pigs to harvest their organs raises concerns about animal welfare and exploitation. Such medical procedures have already earned criticism from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA.

“Pigs aren’t spare parts and should never be used as such just because humans are too self-centered to donate their bodies to patients desperate for organ transplants,” PETA said in a statement, according to The New York Times.

On the other side of the debate are people like Dr. Robert Montgomery, the director of the N.Y.U. Langone Transplant Institute who performed the breakthrough procedure in September.

“I certainly understand the concern and what I would say is that currently about 40% of patients who are waiting for a transplant die before they receive one,” he told BBC.

“We use pigs as a source of food, we use pigs for medicinal uses – for valves, for medication. I think it’s not that different.”

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

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