- At least three Congressmembers have tested positive for COVID-19 following Wednesday’s pro-Trump attack on the Capitol.
- Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) believe they contracted the virus after locking down in close quarters with numerous Republican lawmakers who refused to wear masks.
- Jayapal and Schneider are calling for those who did not wear a mask to face consequences.
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman Tests Positive
At least three members of Congress have tested positive for COVID-19 after locking down in close quarters with other House members during Wednesday’s pro-Trump attack on the Capitol.
Congress’ attending physician, Brian Monahan, warned that members may have been exposed during the lockdown. He recommended that everyone who was isolated inside should get tested for the virus.
On Monday Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) became the first to announce that she tested positive. Watson Coleman believes she was exposed while in the Capitol lockdown. In her statement, she cited the multiple Republicans who refused to wear masks while inside. Video footage from Punchbowl News shows a Democratic lawmaker handing out masks and a handful of Republicans declining to take one.
Watson Coleman is a 75-year-old lung cancer survivor. While she said she is only experiencing cold-like symptoms, she tweeted that per a doctor’s suggestion, she headed to a local hospital for antibody treatment. She also encouraged those who sheltered in place to get tested.
More Cases Follow
Later on Monday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said she too had tested positive, also blaming a lack of mask-wearing in the Capitol. In a lengthy Twitter thread, she said Republicans created a superspreader event and demanded consequences for their actions.
“Many Republicans still refused to take the bare minimum COVID-19 precaution and simply wear a damn mask in a crowded room during a pandemic—creating a superspreader event ON TOP of a domestic terrorist attack,” she wrote.
“Any Member who refuses to wear a mask should be fully held accountable,” Jayapal added.
“I’m calling for every single Member who refuses to wear a mask in the Capitol to be fined and removed from the floor by the Sergeant at Arms.”
Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) echoed her frustrations on Tuesday after releasing a statement saying he has become the third House member to have tested positive following the lockdown.
“Today, I am now in strict isolation, worried that I have risked my wife’s health and angry at the selfishness and arrogance of the anti-maskers who put their own contempt and disregard for decency ahead of the health and safety of their colleagues and our staff,” he wrote.
Like Jayapal, he is calling for sanctions against those who opted to not wear masks.
Many health officials feared that this lockdown could lead to a surge in cases. They also worry that the mob itself could lead to a superspreader event as most of those who attacked the Capitol were not wearing masks and were crowding together both inside and outside of the building.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (NBC Chicago)
FDA Finds Violations and Unsanitary Conditions at Emergent J&J Plant as Lawmakers Open Investigations
- The Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday that it found numerous safety violations at Emergent Biosolutions, the Baltimore manufacturing plant responsible for ruining more than 15 million Johnson & Johnson Vaccines.
- The FDA said it watched security footage of employees ignoring cross-contamination protocols and improperly handling medical waste. It also found brown and black residue on the floors and walls of the plant, respectively.
- Separately, top House Democrats launched an investigation into how Emergent won contracts to manufacture two COVID-19 vaccines and whether or not those contracts were the result of an improper relationship between the plant and a former Trump administration official.
- Democrats are also investigating Emergent’s role as the country’s only provider of the anthrax vaccine in the Strategic National Stockpile.
The FDA’s Unforgiving Report
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a damning inspection report Wednesday on Emergent Biosolutions, the Baltimore manufacturing plant that ruined 15 million Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines.
Among a multitude of violations, inspectors workers hadn’t been properly trained. They also found that medical waste had been improperly handled, saying “such waste was transported through the warehouse before disposal and has the potential to contaminate the warehouse and adjacent areas.”
For example, it found that employees had used their gloved hands to put waste into bags, that they drug the waste through hallways, and that they even allowed it to touch walls.
Made worse was the fact that the FDA found peeling paint on the walls of several sensitive work areas, with inspectors noting that they found paint flecks all along the floors around the walls. As the agency reported, that peeling — as well as additional wall damage — “impacts the firms’ ability to adequately clean and disinfect the area.”
Moreover, inspectors said they found an unknown brown residue attached to the walls, as well as a black residue on the floor.
Through reviewing security footage, inspectors said workers repeatedly failed to follow procedures that were meant to prevent vaccine cross-contamination.
Notably, that backs up information that had been previously reported, particularly that those 15 million Johnson & Johnson vaccines were ruined because of cross-contamination with AstraZeneca’s vaccine. That said, it’s important to note that none of those vaccines were ever distributed to the public because the FDA never gave the plant approval to do so.
It’s possible that the report also describes the event that specifically led to the vaccine cross-contamination, as it mentions that through security footage, it watched an employee travel from one area of the plant where one vaccine was being made, to another area of the plant where the other vaccine was being made — all without that employee changing their protective gear.
With that finding, the FDA said Emergent didn’t properly investigate its workers’ movements as a potential cause of contamination. More broadly, it also noted that even after the plant was made aware of the contamination, it only performed routine cleaning and didn’t take further decontamination steps.
Congress Investigates Emergent’s Role in Winning Vaccine Contracts
Alongside the FDA’s recent report, top House Democrats have now launched an investigation into how Emergent won several multi-million dollar contracts.
Those lawmakers are specifically looking into what role Dr. Robert Kadlec played in helping the company obtain the contract and if it was influenced by Kadlec’s previous role as a consultant for Emergent.
Kadlec was the assistant secretary for preparedness and response under former President Donald Trump, and as this group of Democrats alleges, Kadlec “appears to have pushed for this award despite indications that Emergent did not have the ability to reliably fulfill the contract.”
Those Democrats went on to say that after Kadlec’s confirmation, Emergent obtained millions in contracts from his agency — including some that “were awarded without competitive bidding.” In fact, the Trump administration ultimately awarded $628 million to the plant, even though it had fallen short on federal investigations.
Emergent also reportedly tried to encourage oversight of the stockpile to be shifted from the CDC to an office under Kadlec’s control.
“We are concerned by the costs to taxpayers and the potential impact on our nation’s vaccination efforts caused by Emergent’s failed attempts to manufacture these vaccines,” the Democrats said.
Congress Investigates Emergent’s Role as Sole Anthrax Provider
It doesn’t end there. Those lawmakers are also looking into Emergent’s role as the country’s sole provider of the anthrax vaccine in the Strategic National Stockpile.
“Emergent has raised the government purchasing price of the anthrax vaccine by 800% since acquiring the drug in 1998,” they said. “As a result, through most of the last decade, nearly half of the SNS’s budget has been spent purchasing Emergent’s anthrax vaccine.”
When Emergent acquired that anthrax vaccine license in 1998, the vaccine was selling for about $3.35 a dose. Today, it’s over $30.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Wall Street Journal) (CNBC)
Ohio Police Fatally Shoot Black Teenage Girl
- Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old Black girl, was fatally shot by a Columbus police officer Tuesday afternoon.
- Police released body camera footage that appears to show Bryant lunging at two other women with a knife before the officer opened fire.
- Members of Bryant’s family disputed parts of the police department’s version of events, including Bryant’s aunt, who said the teen called police and was trying to defend herself from people who had come to her foster and threatened her with physical assault.
- The incident came just before a Minnesota jury convicted former officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, exacerbating frustrations over repeated police killings of Black people in America.
Ma’Khia Bryant Shot by Police
Columbus police shot and killed a Black teenage girl Tuesday, shortly before the verdict against Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd, adding tension to existing conversations about excessive use of force from police against Black people.
The girl was identified as 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant by a spokesperson for Franklin County Children’s Services, who said she had been in foster care.
During a news conference late Tuesday night, Columbus police said the shooting happened after they received a 911 call around 4:30 from someone who said that women were trying to stab them before hanging up.
The law enforcement officials also played segments of body camera footage from the officer who fired the shots, which they said showed the victim lunging at two others with a knife.
In the graphic video, the officer is seen getting out of his car as Bryant appears to chase someone who falls onto the sidewalk. She then lunges at another person, and the officer yells “get down” three times before quickly firing at least four shots at the teenager.
Bryant collapses on the ground, and the bodycam video shows a knife next to her as officers attempt CPR. People at the scene immediately start screaming, and one man can be heard yelling, “You didn’t have to shoot her! She’s just a kid, man!”
“She had a knife,” the officer responds. “She just went at her.”
Police officials said Bryant was taken to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Notably, they did not identify the officer who shot her, though they did say he would be pulled off patrol duty while the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation conducts an inquiry.
Some of Bryant’s family members contradicted elements of the police report. Her aunt, Hazel Bryant, told The Daily Beast that adult women had come to the foster home and started an altercation with her niece, who called the police.
Hazel claimed that Ma’Khia grabbed the knife to defend herself and was fending off a physical assault when the police arrived. She also told a local outlet that the teenager had dropped the knife before she was shot, but the slow-motion capture of the video shown by the police appears to show the knife in her hand at the time.
Protests & Response
According to local reports, shortly after the shooting, a group of roughly 60 people gathered at the site to demonstrate but dispersed around 10 p.m. Others protesters also took the streets of downtown, with many gathering in front of the Columbus Police Department headquarters.
The shooting quickly sparked a widespread response on social media and #MKhiaBryant became a trending Twitter hashtag. Many argued that the shooting, which coincided so closely with the Chauvin verdict, shows that single instances of police accountability do not change systemic problems.
“The emotional contrast between the #DerekChauvinVerdict and the killing of #MaKhiaBryant is exactly why we must not use small wins to justify the end of large fights!” tweeted Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP. “We must stay steadfast in our pursuit of #PoliceAccountability WE NEED #PoliceReformNOW”
Other users also condemned the officer for immediately shooting Bryant instead of trying to de-escalate the situation or use other tactics like a Taser. Some asserted that if police can arrest white men who commit mass shootings without killing them, they can do the same for a Black teenager with a knife.
“In a world where the police can safely apprehend white male mass shooters. I would really like to know why a trained police officer assumed that the only way to deescalate a fight, where a 16 year old black girl had a knife, was to immediately shoot her dead,” one user wrote.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Daily Beast) (The Columbus Dispatch)
USDA Extends Free Meals for All Students Through June 2022
- The U.S Department of Agriculture will extend free meals for kids at schools and daycare facilities through the 2021-2022 school year.
- The move will bring much-needed relief to families across the country as an estimated 12 million children are experiencing food insecurity amid the coronavirus pandemic.
- The extension also gives schools time to prepare and improve their current meal distribution systems without having to scramble to process a massive influx of free lunch applications at the start of the year.
USDA Call for Free Lunch Extension
The U.S Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday that it will extend free meals for children at schools and daycare facilities through the 2021-2022 school year.
In the early days of COVID-19 last March, the USDA implemented Child Nutrition waivers that cut through barriers to allow kids to eat free even outside of normal school settings and meal times.
Those waivers also allowed schools the flexibility to adapt their own programs to better meet the needs of their families. For instance, they allowed parents to do a curbside pickup of multiple days of food at once for students learning from home, even without the student being present. In many cases, they allowed for meals to be dropped off at a student’s home if they continue to learn virtually part- or full-time.
The USDA even increased the school’s meal reimbursement budgets to allow for healthier options and cover bigger costs that came due to added transportation and labor, as well as pandemic-related supply shortages for to-go boxes, Personal Protective Equipment, and more.
These waivers were only supposed to last until Sept. 30, which left a ton of families uncertain about what to do after that as many continue to struggle financially.
Helps Remove Extra Burdens
Now, the extension will bring much-needed relief to families across the country because according to the USDA, an estimated 12 million kids are experiencing food insecurity amid the coronavirus pandemic.
While celebrating more free meals for students, school nutrition groups have also pointed to the fact that this gives schools time to prepare and improve their current meal distribution systems after the surge in need this current school term.
Diane Pratt-Heavner, director of media relations for the School Nutrition Association, the trade group for school food-service manufacturers and professionals, told The Washington Post, “Schools aren’t going to have to scramble to collect applications from families that are eligible.
“At the start of every school year, this is a huge task for administrators to collect and process the applications, a task made bigger because during the pandemic there are more families eligible who may never have applied before.”
It also means fewer “touch points” like keypads that take pin numbers to prove free meal eligibility.