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Fires Continue to Spread Across West

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  • Unprecedented fires have been raging across the West Coast, with California, Oregon, and Washington particularly affected.
  • Currently, more than 100 large fires are blazing in the West, and more than half are in the three coastal states alone.
  • In California, more than three million acres have been burned, a record for a single year.
  • The governor of Oregon said Thursday that the state had never seen so many uncontained fires. As of Friday, 500,000 people — more than 10% of the state’s population — had been forced to evacuate their homes.
  • Washington, too, is dealing with record-breaking blazes, as well as massive plumes of smoke that have migrated north from California and Oregon, creating dangerous air conditions.

Fires Spread

Dozens of fires continue to tear up and down the West Coast as California, Oregon, and Washington endure a historic wildfire season.

As of Friday morning, there were at least 100 large fires burning across 12 western states, and more than half of the fires were just in the three coastal states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC). 

At least 15 people have died, though officials expect the toll to rise. Entire towns have been destroyed, hundreds of thousands have had to evacuate, and thousands of homes have been lost.

Pictures of apocalyptic orange skies and hazy cityscapes continued to circulate as smoke from the persistent blazes created dangerous air conditions for millions of people.

On Friday, four of the five cities with the worst air quality indexes in the world were Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, and San Francisco, the air quality monitoring website IQAir.com reported.

California

California currently has the most active large fires, with at least 24 current blazes, per the NIFC.

More than three million acres have been burned in California, a record for a single year. Reportedly, an estimated 64,000 people are under evacuation orders.

One of the worst blazes, the August Complex in Northern California, is now considered the biggest fire in the state’s recorded history, according to the state’s fire agency, Cal Fire. The complex of multiple fires has been burning in the Mendocino National Forest since Aug. 17 when it was started by lightning.

The fires, which doubled in size this week, have burnt 471,185 acres and are only 24% contained. 

Several other large fires have also been raging across the northern parts of the state with little containment. Dozens are missing and thousands of homes and structures are believed to have been damaged or destroyed. 

The Bear Fire, which turned the skies of San Francisco orange earlier this week, has forced thousands to evacuate and reportedly damaged around 2,000 structures. Meanwhile, in Southern California, fires also blazed in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties.

In Los Angeles, some residents are warily watching the Bobcat Fire, which has burnt around 24,000 acres in the Angeles National Forest just 25 miles northeast of Los Angeles, prompting evacuation warnings for a number of populous areas, including the city of Pasadena.

In a statement on Twitter, California Gov. Gavin Newsom emphasized the historic magnitude of this year’s fire season and pleaded with residents to obey evacuation orders.

“6 of the 20 largest wildfires in California history have occurred in 2020,” he wrote. “If you are asked to evacuate please do so immediately. Listen to your local authorities and stay safe.”

Oregon

Just north of California, blazes are spreading rapidly in Oregon, which has never seen so many uncontained fires, according to the state’s governor, Kate Brown.

More than 900,000 acres have burned in the recent fires, nearly double the average of 500,000 a year the state has seen for the last decade.

“I want to be up front in saying that we expect to see a great deal of loss, both in structures and human lives,” Brown said during a press conference Thursday. “This could be the greatest loss of human lives and property due to wildfire in our state’s history.”

So far, more than 500,000 people in Oregon — over 10% of the state’s population — have been forced to evacuate.

As the fires spread further North, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler declared a state of emergency in the city Thursday night. Pictures showed packed, smoke-filled highways as residents fled the approaching infernos.

In addition to the fires, officials in the state are also dealing with widespread misinformation. Several law enforcement agencies have to contradict false rumors that either far-left or far-right groups had purposely started some of the blazes. 

Many of the rumors appear to center around false claims that the far-left group Antifa was responsible for intentionally causing several fires.

Numerous law enforcement officials in multiple jurisdictions have fervently disputed those claims, including the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, which asked that community members stop spreading the misinformation in a post on Facebook.  

“Rumors spread just like wildfire and now our 9-1-1 dispatchers and professional staff are being overrun with requests for information and inquiries on an UNTRUE rumor that 6 Antifa members have been arrested for setting fires in DOUGLAS COUNTY, OREGON,” the post said. “THIS IS NOT TRUE! Unfortunately, people are spreading this rumor and it is causing problems.  Do your part, STOP. SPREADING. RUMORS!”

Washington

Washington state is also experiencing unprecedented fires. As of Friday, 16 major fires had scorched around 625,000 acres, the NIFC reported. 

“The enormity of these fires, the geographical scope, the intensity and the destruction are unequal in Washington state history,” Gov. Jay Inslee said Friday,

In addition to the fallout from their own fires, huge masses of smoke from the wildfires in 

Oregon and California have also been migrating north. On Thursday evening, the National Weather Service warned that a huge cloud of smoke would descend on Washington Friday, creating dangerous air conditions across the state. 

That same day, the Bureau of Land Management of Oregon and Washington shared satellite images on Twitter of massive smoke plumes along the coast.

Officials in all three states continue to worry as they try to contain the historic fires all along the coastal states. Right now, at least seven weeks remain in the prime fire season, and experts say that conditions may be made worse by the La Niña climate pattern, which often brings dry weather and winds across parts of California and the Southwest.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal) (USA Today)

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CDC Data Shows Booster Shots Provide Effective Protection Against Omicron

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Public health experts have encouraged Americans to get boosted to protect themselves against the omicron variant, but less than 40% of fully vaccinated people who are eligible for their third shot have received it.


A First Glimpse of Official Data on Boosters and Omicron

COVID-19 booster shots are effective at preventing Americans from contracting omicron and protecting those who do become infected from severe illness, according to three reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published Friday.

The reports mark the first real-world data regarding the highly infectious variant and how it has impacted the U.S.

One of the CDC reports, which studied data from 25 state and local health departments, found that there were 149 cases per 100,000 people among those had been boosted on average each week. 

In comparison, the figure was 255 cases per 100,000 people in Americans who had only received two shots.

Another study that looked at nearly 88,000 hospitalizations in 10 states found that the third doses were 90% effective at preventing hospitalization. 

By contrast, those who received just two shots were only 57% protected against hospitalization by the time they were eligible for a booster six months after their second dose.

Additionally, the same report also found that the boosters were 82% effective at preventing visits to emergency rooms and urgent care centers, a marked increase from the 38% efficacy for those who were six months out from their two-shot regime and had not yet received a third.

Low Booster Shot Vaccination Rates

Public health officials hope that the new data will urge more Americans to get their booster shots.

Since the emergence of omicron, experts and leading political figures have renewed their efforts to encourage people to get their third shots, arguing they are the best form of protection. 

The CDC currently recommends that everyone 12 and older get a booster shot five months after their second shot of Pfizer and Moderna or two months after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Still, in the U.S., less than 40% of fully vaccinated individuals eligible for a third shot have gotten one.

While COVID cases in the country have begun to drop over the past several days from their peak of over 800,000 average daily infections, the figures are still nearly triple those seen in the largest previous surges.

Hospitalizations have also slowly begun to level out over the last week in places that were hit first, such as New York City and Boston, but medical resources still remain strained in many parts of the country that experienced later surges and have not yet seen cases slow.

Some experts predict that the U.S. will see a sharp decline in omicron cases, as experienced in South Africa and Britain. Still, they urge American’s to get boosted to ensure their continued protection from the variant, as well as other strains that will emerge.

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

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California Bill Would Allow Kids 12 and Up to Get Vaccinated Without Parental Consent

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Nearly one million California teens and preteens between the ages of 12 and 17 are not vaccinated against COVID-19. 


State Senator Proposes Legislation

Legislation proposed in California on Thursday would allow children age 12 and up to get vaccinated without parental consent. 

State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced Bill 866 in the hope it could boost vaccination rates among teenagers. According to Wiener, nearly one million kids aged 12- to 17-years old remain unvaccinated against COVID-19 in the state of California. 

“Unvaccinated teens are at risk, put others at risk & make schools less safe,” Wiener tweeted. “They often can’t work, participate in sports, or go to friends’ homes.”

“Many want to get vaccinated but parents won’t let them or aren’t making the time to take them. Teens shouldn’t have to rely on parents’ views & availability to protect themselves from a deadly virus.”

Currently, teens in California can receive vaccines for human papillomavirus and hepatitis B without parental consent. They can also make other reproductive or mental healthcare choices without a guardian signing off. Wiener argues that their medical autonomy should expand to all vaccines, especially during a pandemic that has already killed roughly 78,000 Californians. 

Vaccine Consent Across the U.S.

“Teens shouldn’t have to plot, scheme or fight with their parents to get a vaccine,” he said. “They should simply be able to walk in & get vaccinated like anyone else.”

Bill 866 would allow any kids ages 12 and up to receive any vaccine approved or granted emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Currently, Pfizer’s COVID vaccine has been fully approved by the FDA for those 16 and older. It has received emergency authorization for ages five through 15. 

Across the United States, vaccine consent ages vary. While the vast majority of states require parental approval for minors to be vaccinated against COVID-19, kids as young as 11 can get the jab on their own in Washington, D.C. In Alabama, kids can receive it without parental consent at 14, in Oregon at 15, and in Rhode Island and South Carolina at 16. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, providers can waive consent in certain cases in Arkansas, Idaho, Washington, and Tennesee.

In October, California became the first state to announce plans to require that students receive the COVID-19 vaccine to attend class. The mandate has yet to take effect, but under the guidelines, students will be “required to be vaccinated for in person learning starting the term following FDA full approval of the vaccine for their grade span.” 

In other words, once the FDA gives a vaccine full approval for those aged 12 and up, it will be required the following session for kids in grades 7-12. Once it does so for kids as young as five, the same process will happen for children in kindergarten through sixth grade. There will also be room for exemptions from the mandate. 

The Fight to Vaccinate California

This week, a group of California state legislators formed a Vaccine Work Group in order to boost public health policies in the state. Wiener is among the several members who are “examining data, hearing from experts, and engaging stakeholders to determine the best approaches to promote vaccines that have been proven to reduce serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19.”

“Vaccines protect not only individuals but also whole communities when almost everyone is vaccinated at schools, workplaces and businesses, and safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines have already prevented the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans,” Sen. Dr. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) said in a press release. “Public safety is a paramount duty of government, and I am proud to join a talented group of legislators in the pro-science Vaccine Work Group who want to end this disastrous pandemic and protect Californians from death and disability by preventable diseases.”

While vaccine policies have been a divisive subject nationwide, including in California, state politicians and leaders are hopeful public health initiatives will prevail. 

“If we allow disinformation to drive our state policy making we will not only see more Americans needlessly suffer and die, but we will sacrifice the long term stability of our society having effectively abandoned the idea that we all must work together to protect each other in times of crisis.” Catherine Flores Martin, the Executive Director of the California Immunization Coalition, added. 

See what others are saying: (Los Angeles Times) (NBC News) (Sacramento Bee)

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Inmates Sue Jail for Giving Them Ivermectin to Treat COVID-19 Without Consent

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Four detainees who filed the suit allege that the jail’s doctor gave them “incredibly high doses” of the anti-parasite in a “cocktail of drugs” that he said were “‘vitamins’, ‘antibiotics,’ and/or ‘steroids.’”


Washington County Detention Center Lawsuit

Four inmates at an Arkansas jail have filed a federal lawsuit claiming that they were unknowingly given the anti-parasite drug ivermectin without their consent by the detention center’s doctor after contracting COVID-19.

The Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and countless other medical experts have said that ivermectin — commonly used for livestock — can be dangerous and should not be used to treat the coronavirus.

According to the lawsuit, after testing positive for COVID in August, the four men at the Washington County Detention Center (WCDC) were given a “cocktail of drugs” twice a day by the facility’s doctor, Robert Karas.

The inmates claim that Dr. Karas did not tell them that he was giving them ivermectin, but instead said the drugs consisted of “‘vitamins’, ‘antibiotics,’ and/or ‘steroids.’”

The complaint also alleges that the detainees were given “incredibly high doses” of the drug, causing some to experience “vision issues, diarrhea, bloody stools, and/or stomach cramps.”

Use on Other Inmates

The four plaintiffs were far from the only people to whom Karas gave ivermectin.

According to the lawsuit, the doctor began using the drug to treat COVID starting in November of 2020. In August, the Washington County sheriff confirmed at a local finance and budget committee meeting that the doctor had been prescribing the drug to inmates, prompting the Arkansas Medical Board to launch an investigation.

In response, Karas informed a Medical Board investigator in a letter from his attorney that 254 inmates at the facility had been treated with ivermectin.

In the letter, he confirmed that whether or not detainees were given information about ivermectin was dependent on who administered it, but paramedics were not required to discuss the drug with them.

He also admitted that after the practice got media coverage, he “adopted a more robust informed consent form to assuage any concern that any detainees were being misled or coerced into taking the medications, even though they weren’t.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, which filed the suit on behalf of the inmates, also claimed in a statement that after questions were raised about the practice, the jail attempted to make detainees sign forms saying that they retroactively agreed to the treatments. 

The WCDC has not issued a public response to the lawsuits, but Dr. Karas appeared to address the situation in a Facebook post where he defended his actions.

“Guess we made the news again this week; still with best record in the world at the jail with the same protocols,” he wrote. “Inmates aren’t dumb and I suspect in the future other inmates around the country will be suiing their facilities requesting same treatment we’re using at WCDC-including the Ivermectin.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CBS News) (NBC News)

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