The activation is the first of its kind, but school districts across the country have been offering various incentives to address the growing lack of bus drivers.
Massachusetts Deploys National Guard
States across the country have deployed the National Guard to help with COVID-19 related hospital shortages, but now, Massachusetts is calling on its Guard members to help drive children to school.
The activation, given by Gov. Charlie Baker (R) Monday, calls on up to 250 Guard members to fill open bus driver positions amid a growing job crunch. According to Baker, 90 Guard members will be dispatched to four different cities starting Tuesday, where they will undergo training to drive children to school in 10-person passenger vans.
Joel Boyd, the superintendent of Lowell Public Schools, said Monday that he expects the program to be up and running by the end of the week in his district.
“This relationship will continue until we can fill all of our buses and vans with permanent school bus drivers,” Boyd added.
Bus Drivers Are Leaving Their Jobs
For years, school districts across the country have struggled to maintain their bus driver populations, but like many other sectors, the coronavirus has accelerated those issues at an unprecedented rate.
While retail, teaching, medical, and food and hospitality workers have all cited fears of catching COVID-19 on the job, bus drivers are in an interesting position. Many of them are retirees, putting them in an age bracket that’s more vulnerable to the virus.
On top of that, they work directly with children, many or all of which may not be vaccinated given that no vaccine is currently approved for people under 12. As a result, many drivers may simply be weighing the newfound risks of their jobs.
Stilling, that kind of en masse resignation causes problems, especially for children who have no other way to get to or from school. For example, many districts have said their students are now facing longer commutes‚ sometimes hours long, causing them to be late for class.
Schools Offer Incentives
While Massachusetts is the first state to call in the National Guard to obtain more school bus drivers, it’s far from the first to try to find some way to recruit them.
Schools in multiple states — including Montana, Michigan, and Texas — have all offered hourly wage increases, as well as first-time sign-on bonuses of up to $4,000. Eastside Charter School in Wilmington, Delaware, has even promised to give parents $700 for each of their children they can drive to school for the entire year.
With the Delta variant continuing to surge across the country, the shortages plaguing schools, as well as other institutions and businesses, will likely persist for some time. It’s also possible that other states could eventually activate their National Guards in unique capacities to address similar shortages.
Earlier this month, the Labor Department reported that the U.S. only added 235,000 non-farm payroll jobs for the month of August, making it one of the worst months for hiring in the past year and a stark decrease from June and July’s estimates of about 1 million added jobs each.
See what others are saying: (Axios) (AP News) (The Washington Post)
China Decrees All Crypto-Related Transactions Illegal
The announcement has led to significant sell-offs in the crypto market, though many analysts expect those sell-offs to be short-term.
Crypto Is Illegal in China
China’s central bank announced on Friday that all cryptocurrency-related transactions are illegal.
“Virtual currency-related business activities are illegal financial activities,” the People’s Bank of China said, adding that cryptocurrency “seriously endangers the safety of people’s assets.”
In 2019, China officially banned crypto trading through its domestic exchanges as a way to suppress money laundering, but since then, it has also worked to restrict people in the country from continuing to trade using online foreign exchanges.
In May, China barred banks and other financial institutions from providing crypto-related transaction services while warning traders that it would not protect them against speculative trading.
The following month, the province of Sichuan banned crypto mining, which in turn lead to some miners leaving the country. To prove it was serious on its crackdowns, the People’s Bank even ordered one company to shut down in July due to suspicions that it was “providing software services for virtual currency transactions.”
China’s new decree fully outlaws all online foreign exchanges from offering services in the country. Further, anyone in China who participates in crypto-related activities will be prosecuted.
The country will also now gradually phase out domestic mining operations, and from this point forward, it will no longer allow new operations to pop up. Between Sept. 2019 and April this year, China fell from accounting for 76% of the world’s Bitcoin energy use to 46%.
Crypto Fears Induce Sell-Off
Major digital currencies such as Bitcoin and ether tumbled after China’s latest decision.
On Friday, Bitcoin, which has never been a stranger to volatility, fell from a 24-hour high of $45,000 to a 24-hour low of $40,800. Meanwhile, ether, the world’s second-largest virtual coin, fell from nearly $3,200 to below $2,800 within the same time frame.
Still, many analysts expect the sell-offs to be short-term given that additional crypto crackdowns by China were already expected.
Many crypto holders in the country are also worried that their investments will now be forever frozen by China.
“I have already received over a dozen messages – email, phone and encrypted app – from Chinese crypto holders looking for solutions on how to access and protect their crypto holdings in foreign exchanges and cold wallets,” David Lesperance, a Toronto-based attorney who works in the international crypto trading sphere, told CNBC on Friday.
“Along with not being able to do anything with an extremely volatile asset, my suspicion is that… the Chinese government will ‘offer’ them in the future to convert it to e-yuan at a fixed market price,” he added.
Currently, China is one of many countries which has announced plans to develop and launch a digital version of its currency.
NY Gov. Says State Will Seek To Replace Some Unvaccinated Staff With Foreign Workers
The effort is aimed at addressing job shortages in the healthcare industry, which will only become worse next week when medical facilities in the state can begin terminating unvaccinated workers.
NY To Terminate Unvaxxed Medical Staff
Starting Monday, medical facilities in New York state will be allowed to terminate any healthcare workers who haven’t already received at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot.
According to data compiled by the state’s Health Department, 19% of hospital workers and 18% of nursing home workers were unvaccinated as of Sept. 15.
Given that nearly one in five people in the state’s healthcare workforce are unvaccinated, mass terminations could exacerbate problems in a field that is already struggling with job shortages.
Because of that, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), who assumed the position last month following the resignation of Andrew Cuomo, said New York is currently “reaching out to the Department of State to find out about visas for foreign workers, on a limited basis, to bring more nurses over here.”
Hochul added that the state is also “working closely with various hospital systems to find out where we can get other individuals to come in and supplement places like nursing homes.”
For now, a clear answer seems uncertain as New York tries to navigate the difficult task of ensuring that healthcare facilities are adequately staffed while also not allowing unvaccinated workers to potentially spread COVID.
Staffers who claim religious exemptions to the vaccine will be able to avoid the deadline and continue working until at least Oct.12, but it’s also possible that their formal challenge could fail in court after that day. Many of those bucking against the requirement are Catholic and oppose the use of “aborted fetal cell lines” that helped develop the vaccine, despite the U.S. Conference of Bishops and Pope Francis both endorsing the vaccine.
Medical Facilities Fear Shutting Down Over Employee Shortages
Employee shortages have been hitting every sector of the workforce in recent months, but one area where shortages are proving to be particularly disastrous is healthcare.
According to data published this month by the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, “86% of nursing homes and 77% of assisted living providers [surveyed] said their workforce situation has gotten worse over the last three months.” Around 50% of both types of facilities indicated that staffing issues have gotten “much worse.”
The same survey found that “nearly every nursing home (99%) and assisted living community (96%)” in the country is currently facing a staffing shortage, which is leading to nearly all workers taking on overtime or extra shifts. As a result, many facilities have had to limit admissions.
Perhaps even more concerning is that 78% of nursing homes and 71% of assisted living communities are worried these shortages might force them to close.
Around 70% of both types of facilities said they believe the staffing shortages are due to a lack of interested or qualified candidates, coupled with unemployment benefits discouraging people from work. The next greatest cause of the shortages was the loss of staffers due to vaccination requirements, which was indicated by about 40% of respondents.
See what others are saying: (Axios) (New York Post) (ABC Rochester)
Couple Kicked Out of Texas Restaurant for Wearing Masks Out of Concern for Immunocompromised Son
While the pair has been met with widespread support online, they’ve also had to defend themselves from critics who slammed them for going out to a restaurant in the first place.
Texas Restaurant Sparks Outrage With Face Mask Ban
A couple in Texas said they were forced to leave Hang Time Bar & Grill earlier this month after refusing to comply with the owner’s ban on face masks.
Natalie Wester and her husband Jose Lopez-Guerrero went out to meet friends at the restaurant in Rowlett on Sept. 10. They told NBC’s TODAY this was a rare date night for them since they are new parents to a four-month boy who has cystic fibrosis.
The pair wore their masks out in public to be as safe as possible with their son in mind as he stayed home with his grandmother that night.
According to a Facebook post from Wester, they were immediately asked to take down their face coverings when entering the restaurant. Because the music was loud, they assumed it was related to staff checking their IDs, so they put their masks back on and went to order. After ordering, Wester said a waitress came over to tell her, “Our manager sent me over because I’m nicer than he is. And yes, this is political.“
“She then told me that masks are not allowed in their building, and they can make the rules because they are [a] private business,” Wester wrote in her post. “She said that the mask ‘doesn’t work, is like using a chain-link fence to keep out mosquitoes, and doesn’t give people enough oxygen.'”
Wester allegedly explained that they were wearing masks out of concern for their immunocompromised baby at home. However, she was reportedly told there was no other option and that they would have to close out their tab if they didn’t comply.
Because the couple didn’t want to make a scene or ruin their friends’ night, they decided to go home and wrote about their experience on Facebook, which they also left as a review on the restaurant’s page. It, of course, went viral.
Owner Stands by Policy
Since then, the owner of the restaurant, Thomas Blackmer, has admitted on Facebook and to reporters that he doesn’t allow masks inside his business.
He told The Washington Post that he implemented the ban in April because he doesn’t think masks stop COVID from spreading and believes criminals can use them to get away with a robbery, theft, or vandalism in a place where his two adult children work.
“I’m not doing things that put them at risk,” he added.
He has also reportedly shared anti-vax and anti-mask content on social media.
After news of this incident spread, Blackner was was hit with a flood of backlash both over the phone and online. He claims he even had to move from his Dallas apartment into one he’d already rented but hadn’t moved to after he was doxxed on Twitter.
Still, he is not backing down on his stance. “This is right,” he told The Post, “and if we don’t have a business next week, we’ll be fine.”
Meanwhile, the couple at the center of this story has also faced backlash from people who asked why they went out in the first place. Many are digging through their social media posts to call them out about any other times they were spotted without a mask or at a large gathering.
For example, strangers found a photo of Wester not wearing a mask in August while taking her mom to see a Chris Stapleton concert. Wester told The Post she wore a mask inside the venue until they got to their seats and decided to take some pictures.
The couple has also responded by noting that their son’s doctors have encouraged them to still live their lives, telling TODAY that they “just advised us to be a little extra cautious when we’re going out and use our brains and make decisions as we feel appropriate, and that’s why we left.”
Wester additionally argued that photos of her without masks or at events don’t negate any part of their experience at this specific establishment.
“Tom has stated that he does not care for masks nor believes that they work,” she told The Post. “I am confused why me wearing one (or not wearing one) in any setting would matter to them?”