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Miami Beach Extends Emergency Curfew as Spring Breakers Overwhelm City

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  • Miami Beach extended its 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew until April 12 in an effort to fight off an influx of spring break crowds.
  • The curfew was initially put in place for 72 hours starting Sunday, but it was expanded after recent crowds packed entire streets, started fights, destroyed property, and in at least one instance, fired shots into the air, prompting police in riot gear to break out pepper spray.
  • The curfew represents a major concession for state and local leaders, who encouraged people to visit despite rising COVID-19 cases in the state and the Miami-beach area specifically, which was recently one of the worst-hit places in the country.

Miami Beach’s Party Problem

Officials in Miami Beach moved Sunday to extend a curfew in parts of the city for at least three weeks in an effort to crack down on spring breakers.

Over the last several weeks, the city has been packed with partiers ignoring social distancing and masking guidelines. In fact, officials have said that this year, there have been more visitors and more disruptions than in previous years despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Police have reported fights breaking out, property destruction, and several stampedes, including one that was started after someone fired gunshots into the air. According to the Miami Beach Police Department, since early February, about 1,000 arrests have been made and 80 firearms have been seized.

Notably, around 51% of arrests involved non-Florida residents, and police in neighboring cities have sent officers to help crowd management.

The situation escalated last week and culminated heading into the weekend. Videos showed thousands of people openly drinking, dancing, and partying in the streets, shoulder-to-shoulder on the city’s iconic Ocean Drive.

The city imposed a state of emergency and an 8 p.m. curfew in the entertainment district Saturday night, but that failed to stop the partiers. Police then responded by sending in SWAT teams and personnel from multiple law enforcement agencies in riot gear, who broke up crowds with pepper balls.

The move has drawn criticism, especially from Black activists and advocacy groups in the city, who claimed many of the people they dispersed were Black. City officials have argued they were targeting conduct, not groups of people, and that police had fired the pepper balls after a group rushed them.

Curfew Extended

On Sunday, Miami Beach authorities moved to extend the curfew — which was initially set for 72 hours — until April 12, when spring break usually ends. The leaders also voted to extend the state of emergency until at least Monday evening. 

Under the current rules, Ocean Drive will be closed to all vehicle and pedestrian traffic from 8 p.m. until 6 a.m. four nights a week, with exceptions for residents, hotel visitors, and employees in the area. Bridges and other main causeways into the city will also be blocked.

Many have said the move marks a major concession for Miami Beach and Florida at large, where both state and city leaders have been heavily encouraging tourists to come. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has recently bragged about how open the state is in an attempt to bring more tourists to Florida’s traditional spring break hot spots.

These efforts have continued despite the fact that Miami-Dade County, which houses Miami Beach, has recently seen one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the country. Florida — which currently ranks in the top 10 states for highest cases per capita and has seen increases in the last few weeks — is also believed to be the state with the largest concentration of the highly contagious and possibly more lethal U.K. strain.

In addition to worries about continued spikes in Florida as a result of the influx of spring breakers, experts have also expressed concern that the visitors will bring back new cases — and most alarming, new strains — to their home states when they return.

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

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Medical Workers Sign Letter Urging Spotify to Combat Misinformation, Citing Joe Rogan

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The letter accused Spotify of “enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research.”


Doctors and Medical Professionals Sign Letter to Spotify

A group of 270 doctors, scientists, and other medical workers signed an open letter to Spotify this week urging the audio platform to implement a misinformation policy, specifically citing false claims made on the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast. 

Rogan has faced no shortage of backlash over the last year for promoting vaccine misinformation on his show, which airs exclusively on Spotify. Most recently, he invited Dr. Robert Malone on a Dec. 31 episode that has since been widely criticized by health experts. 

Dr. Malone was banned from Twitter for promoting COVID-19 misinformation. According to the medical experts who signed the letter, he “used the JRE platform to further promote numerous baseless claims, including several falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines and an unfounded theory that societal leaders have ‘hypnotized’ the public.”

“Notably, Dr. Malone is one of two recent JRE guests who has compared pandemic policies to the Holocaust,” the letter continued. “These actions are not only objectionable and offensive, but also medically and culturally dangerous.”

Joe Rogan’s History of COVID-19 Misinformation

Rogan sparked swift criticism himself in the spring of 2021 when he discouraged young people from taking the COVID-19 vaccine. He also falsely equated mRNA vaccines to “gene therapy” and incorrectly stated that vaccines cause super mutations of the virus. He took ivermectin after testing positive for the virus in September, despite the fact that the drug is not approved as a treatment for COVID.

“By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions, Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals,” the doctors and medical workers wrote. 

“We are calling on Spotify to take action against the mass-misinformation events which continue to occur on its platform,” they continued. “With an estimated 11 million listeners per episode, JRE is the world’s largest podcast and has tremendous influence. Though Spotify has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform, the company presently has no misinformation policy.”

Rolling Stone was the first outlet to report on the letter from the medical professionals. Dr. Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois Chicago, was among the signees. She told the magazine that Rogan is “a menace to public health.”

“These are fringe ideas not backed in science, and having it on a huge platform makes it seem there are two sides to this issue,” she said. “And there are really not.”

Spotify had not responded to the letter as of Thursday.

See what others are saying: (Rolling Stone) (Deadline) (Insider)

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Data Shows Omicron May be Peaking in the U.S.

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In some cities that were first hit by the surge, new cases are starting to flatten and decline.


New Cases Flattening

After weeks of recording-breaking cases driven by the highly infectious omicron variant, public health officials say that new COVID infections seem to be slowing in the parts of the country that were hit the hardest earlier on.

Following a more than twentyfold rise in December, cases in New York City have flattened out in recent days. 

New infections have even begun to fall slightly in some states, like Maryland and New Jersey. In Boston, the levels of COVID in wastewater — which has been a top indicator of case trends in the past — have dropped by nearly 40% since the first of the year.

Overall, federal data has shown a steep decline in COVID-related emergency room visits in the Northeast, and the rest of the country appears to be following a similar track.

Data from other countries signals the potential for a steep decline in cases following the swift and unprecedented surge.

According to figures from South Africa, where the variant was first detected, cases rose at an incredibly shocking rate for about a month but peaked quickly in mid-December. Since then, new infections have plummeted by around 70%.

In the U.K., which has typically been a map for how U.S. cases will trend, infections are also beginning to fall after peaking around New Year’s and then flattening for about a week.

Concerns Remain 

Despite these recent trends, experts say it is still too early to say if cases in the U.S. will decline as rapidly as they did in South Africa and the parts of the U.K. that were first hit. 

While new infections may seem to be peaking in the cities that saw the first surges, caseloads continue to climb in most parts of the country. 

Meanwhile, hospitals are overwhelmed and health resources are still strained because of the high volume of cases hitting all at once.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Wall Street Journal)

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COVID-Driven School Closures Top Record Highs, But Many Remain Open

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While some districts have implemented protective measures, many teachers say they fall short.


Schools Respond to Omicron Surge

U.S. COVID cases, driven by the omicron variant, are continuously topping new record highs, posing difficult questions for schools resuming after winter break.

According to Burbio, a data firm that tracks school closures, at least 5,409 public schools canceled classes or moved to remote learning by the end of last week due to COVID — more than triple the number at the end of December.

That is still only a fraction of the nation’s 130,000 schools, and many of the biggest school districts in the country are still insisting that students come into the classroom.

Los Angeles, which is home to the second-biggest district, is requiring that students at least test negative before they return to school this week.

In the biggest district of New York City, classes have already resumed following winter break. Although the city has said it will double random tests and send home more kits, students were not required to provide negative results.

Teachers Protest In-Person Learning

Teachers in other major districts have protested the local government’s decisions to stay open.

One of the most closely watched battles is in Chicago, where students on Monday missed their fourth consecutive day of school due to a feud between the Chicago Teachers Union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D).

Last week, the union voted to return to remote learning in defiance of a city-wide order mandating they teach in-person, citing inadequate COVID-19 protections. Lightfoot claimed the conditions were fine and that students were safe, despite record surges, instead opting to cancel classes altogether while the fight plays out.

On Sunday, the union said it was “still far apart” from making any kind of agreement with public school officials after Lightfoot rejected their demands.

Lightfoot, for her part, has said she remains “hopeful” a deal could be reached, but she also stirred up the union by accusing teachers of staging an “illegal walkout” and claiming they “abandoned their posts and they abandoned kids and their families.”

Meanwhile, teachers in other school districts have begun to emulate the tactics in Chicago.

On Friday, teachers in Oakland, California staged a “sick-out,” promoting 12 schools serving thousands of students to close.

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

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