Category Archives: Health

Israeli rabbi claims COVID vaccine makes you gay


Our nominee for wingnut of the day goes to an Israeli far-Right cleric who claims that getting vaccination for coronavirus will turn strtaights into gays.

From the Independent:

An ultra-Orthodox rabbi has told his followers to avoid getting a Covid vaccine because it can “make them gay”.

Israeli media reported that Rabbi Daniel Asor, who has amassed a large online following, also claimed inoculation efforts were part of a “global malicious government“ trying to ”establish a new world order”.

While his claim of a link between the vaccine and homosexuality is factually incorrect, it also contradicts statements from leading orthodox rabbis who have called on their followers to come forward for a coronavirus jab.

According to news outlet Israel Yahom, Mr Asor used a recent sermon to claim: “Any vaccine made using an embryonic substrate, and we have evidence of this, causes opposite tendencies. Vaccines are taken from an embryonic substrate, and they did that here, too, so … it can cause opposite tendencies,” seemingly referring to homosexuality. 

Responding to his comments, LGBT+ rights group Havruta joked that it was “currently gearing up to welcome our impending new members”.

What is it about COVID that turns far-Right zealots into total idiots.

1 in 3 Los Angelenos have been infected with COVID


Los Angeles continues to struggle with the coronavirus pandemic, and the latest numbers, via the state’s Department of Public Health’s COVID Dashboard show just how bad it’s getting:

But the true rate of infections may be far higher, reports the Los Angeles Daily News:

Nearly a year after it began ravaging the region, coronavirus has infected one in every three Los Angeles County residents, according to the county’s latest estimates.

The statistics, released on Wednesday by the county’s Department of Health Services, suggest  a spread much wider than even the county’s own confirmed toll.

As of Thursday, the county’s total number of officially confirmed positive cases throughout the year was 975,299, with a seven-day average positivity rate of 18.2% — nearly 1 in every 5.

But officials continue to believe that in a region of 10 million people, the virus likely infected many more people who simply have not been tested or exhibited symptoms. Their scientific projections arrived at a one-of-three ratio, or about 3.2 million infections, officials said.

The science also suggests that as the virus surges, many more people are increasingly infectious to others.

Tweets of the day: AOC observes, Bernie burns


A reminder that there’s another Twitterverse. . .

We begin with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, via her Tweetstream:

And Bernie keeps his eye on the prize, via his Tweetstream:

Former Mich. Gov. Snyder indicted over Flint water


From the Wall Street Journal:

Michigan prosecutors investigating the Flint drinking water crisis charged former Gov. Rick Snyder with two counts of willful neglect of duty on Wednesday, according to court records.

Mr. Snyder, a Republican who was governor from 2011 to 2019, has previously been criticized for contributing to the city’s water troubles, which stemmed from a 2014 decision by an emergency manager he appointed to switch the city’s water source to the Flint River as a cost-saving measure.

When the city and state failed to properly treat the water to prevent corrosion, lead leached into the drinking water in the city of nearly 100,000, causing one of the worst lead contaminations of a municipal water system in U.S. history.

The charging document, a bare-bones filing made Wednesday in state court in Flint, lists only the two charges, and refers to April 25, 2014, as the “offense date.” That day, Flint officials held a ceremony at the city’s water plant to switch its water supply to the Flint River.

Los Angeles nears million COVID cases mark


But real woes will continue long after the pandemic burns itself out.

First the numbers, via the Los Angeles Times:

Los Angeles County is fast approaching 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases, a massive milestone that means 1 out of every 10 Angelenos has been infected at some point during the pandemic.

That L.A. County, by far the nation’s most populous, has such a high case count is not a shock, but the rapidity with which infections have grown is staggering.

It took the county nearly 11 months to top 500,000 coronavirus cases, which occurred in mid-December. At the current rate, L.A. County will crest the 1-million mark by the end of this week, doubling its colossal case count in a month.

The approaching benchmark comes two weeks before the one-year anniversary of the county’s first confirmed coronavirus case.

Homelessness will rise, study says

Jobs lost when businesses shutter during lockdowns will lead to a major spike in homelessness in L.A. County, reports the Los Angeles Daily News:

The recession brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to send 603,000 working-age adults into homelessness across the United States by 2023, more than 52,300 of them in Los Angeles County, according to findings from a report released Tuesday, Jan. 12.

Across California, the number of adults who are of working age and could face homelessness is predicted to be 131,400, according to the report put out by the Los Angeles-based Economic Roundtable, which used data from the 2008 Recession to study the connection between job-loss and homelessness and potential effects of the current recession.

While large percentages of the working-age adults projected to become homeless are expected to be couch-surfing, Economic Roundtable analysts also predict many will fall into a deeper form of homelessness.

The think tank projects that as the result of the current recession, chronic homelessness is expected to rise by 86% in Los Angeles, 68% across California and 49% across the country, over the next four years.

Study: Unhealthy wildfire smoke soars in the West


And its precisely the sort that does the most damage to your health.

From the Associated Press:

Wildfire smoke accounted for up to half of all health-damaging small particle air pollution in the western U.S. in recent years as warming temperatures fueled more destructive blazes, according to a study released Monday.

Even as pollution emissions declined from other sources including vehicle exhaust and power plants, the amount from fires increased sharply, said researchers at Stanford University and the University of California, San Diego.

The findings underscore the growing public health threat posed by climate change as it contributes to catastrophic wildfires such as those that charred huge areas of California and the Pacific Northwest in 2020. Nationwide, wildfires were the source of up to 25% of small particle pollution in some years, the researchers said.

“From a climate perspective, wildfires should be the first things on our minds for many of us in the U.S.,” said Marshall Burke, an associate professor of earth system science at Stanford and lead author of the study.

The AP notes that particulates form the smoke have been linked to breathing problems and other ailments, as well as an increased rate of premature deaths, according to health experts.

More than a million tons of particulate pollution were recorded five of the last ten years.

From the report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science:

Over the past four decades, burned area from wildfires has roughly quadrupled in the United States. This rapid growth has been driven by a number of factors, including the accumulation of fuels due to a legacy of fire suppression over the last century and a more recent increase in fuel aridity, shown for the western United States), a trend which is expected to continue as the climate warms. These increases have happened parallel to a substantial rise in the number of houses in the wildland–urban interface (WUI). Using data on the universe of home locations across the United States and updated national land cover maps, we update earlier studies and estimate that there are now ∼49 million residential homes in the WUI, a number that has been increasing by roughly 350,000 houses per year over the last two decades. As firefighting effort focuses substantially on the protection of private homes, these factors have contributed to a steady rise in spending on wildfire suppression by the US government, which in recent years has totaled ∼$3 billion/y in federal expenditure. Total prescribed burn acreage has increased in the southeastern United States but has remained largely flat elsewhere, suggesting to many that there is underinvestment in this risk-mitigation strategy, given the massive overall growth in wildfire risk.

A graphic from the report sums up the rapid spread of wildfire pollution:

The quantity, source, and incidence of wildfire smoke. (A and B) Average predicted micrograms per cubic meter of PM2.5 attributable to wildfire smoke in 2006 to 2008 and 2016 to 2018, as calculated from a statistical model fitting satellite-derived smoke plume data. (C) Share of smoke originating outside the United States, June to September 2007 to 2014, with a substantial amount of smoke in the Northeast and Midwest originating from Canadian fires and about 60% of smoke in the Northeast originating outside the country; nationally, ∼11% of smoke is estimated to originate outside the country. (D) The share of smoke originating in the western United States, June to September 2007 to 2014. Smoke originating in the western United States accounts for 54% of the smoke experienced in the rest of the United States. (E and F) Racial exposure gradients are opposite for particulate matter from smoke compared to total particulate matter: Across the coterminous United States, counties with a higher population proportion of non-Hispanic whites have lower average particulate matter exposure but higher average ambient exposure to particulate matter from smoke (P <0.01 for both relationships).

L.A. COVID update: Deaths soar, easing sought


Los Angeles County leads the nation in coronavirus cases, with 920,177 confirmed by testing, with Cook County Illinois coming in second with 417,790. Los Angeles also leads in deaths, with 12,550 confirmed COVID fatalities, and Cook County again comes in second with 8,760, according the the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine Cornonavirus Resource Tracker.

The pandemic continues to create chaps at regional hospitals, as reported by the Los Angeles Times:

At a hospital near South Los Angeles, doctors debate whether an elderly patient should be hooked to one of the few remaining ventilators.

Meanwhile, nurses at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Westwood fear they are treating too many patients to provide them all with the best care.

And for emergency medical technicians, racing the sick to hospitals has become an obstacle course, with not enough beds for the hundreds of patients in need. Once an ambulance that has responded to a 911 call finds a hospital, it can take up to 17 hours to offload the patient.

These are dark days for Los Angeles County doctors, nurses and EMTs, marked by levels of death once unimaginable in the United States, despite tireless efforts to treat patients.

“It’s a war zone,” said one doctor at an L.A. County public hospital. “The way most people leave is by dying.”

The Long Beach Press-Telegram sounds a more optimistic note:

As state officials closed in on 30,000 coronavirus deaths, Los Angeles County’s daily report slid below 200 fatalities for the first time in six days on Sunday, Jan. 10, as public officials hoped for a break in the as-yet uncontrolled post-holiday COVID-19 surge.

Meanwhile, the county’s Department of Health Services announced Sunday that it will discontinue the use of COVID-19 PCR tests made by San Dimas-based Curative at pop-up testing sites. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned patients and healthcare providers a week ago about the potential risks of false negative results, specifically with Curative’s test.

The county Public Health Department reported 14,482 new cases of COVID-19 and 166 additional deaths on Sunday, bringing the county’s totals to 920,177 cases and 12,250 fatalities.

Meanwhile, state officials posted 468 deaths on Sunday, a day after setting a record one-day total of 695, according to the Department of Public Health. California’s death toll since the start of the pandemic rose to 29,701. L.A. County is home to a fourth of California’s population, but it accounts for about 40% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths.

But another threat looms in the more highly infectious viral strain already present in the Golden State.

From the Los Angeles Times:

The coronavirus variant from the United Kingdom is now in at least nine U.S. states, and scientists expect that number to rise in short order.

A total of 63 infections with the strain known as B.1.1.7 were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of Friday, the most recent data available. Given the limited amount of genetic analysis conducted on coronavirus samples collected here, health officials say the true number of cases is surely higher.

California currently has more confirmed cases than any other state, with 32, according to the CDC. Florida is next, with 22.

<snip>

The U.S. accounts for about 4% of the world’s population, but it’s responsible for nearly 25% of all coronavirus cases and more than 19% of COVID-19 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. That track record doesn’t make scientists optimistic that Americans will be able to contain B.1.1.7.

Some Congress Republicans don’t care if you die


An extreme statement?

No. It’s a statement of fact, and we have evidence, thanks to the New York Times, which posted a video captured during the Congressional lockdown during the Trump-inspired Capitol takeover in which Delaware Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester passes out masks, and sequestered Republican colleagues rebuff her efforts:

Refusing to mask-up is not a symbolic gesture of liberty [other than the “liberty” to be an asshole]; it is an expression of contempt for the ill and the elderly who might catch the virus because of their refusal to accept simple public health measures.

Their contempt for a simple act of humanity is simply breathtaking, and given that Republican voters skew older than Democrats, it’s a contempt that impacts directly on their own base.

From the accompanying New York Times story:

While sheltering in a secure location as a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on Wednesday, House lawmakers may have been exposed to someone who was infected with the coronavirus, Congress’s Office of the Attending Physician said on Sunday.

<snip>

Dozens of lawmakers, staff members and reporters took shelter in the secure room on Wednesday, but a handful of Republicans refused to wear masks, one person there said, even as Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester, Democrat of Delaware, tried to pass out masks.

Before the mob breached the Capitol, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, overseeing the certification of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory and debate over a Republican effort to subvert those results in certain states, admonished Republicans for having too many people on the floor and for some objectors refusing to wear masks as they spoke.

As the 117th Congress reconvened a week ago, multiple lawmakers tested positive for the coronavirus after taking their oath. Late Wednesday, one Republican, Representative Jake LaTurner of Kansas, received positive test results after voting on the House floor to overturn Arizona’s results and did not return for a second vote early Thursday. It was unclear where Mr. LaTurner was sheltering in place as the mob tried to break into the House chamber, but in a statement issued shortly before 3 a.m. on Thursday, his office said he was not experiencing symptoms.

And if someone exposed to one of the maskless wonders catches COVID as a result, a massive civil suit could follow, and even a possible prosecution from criminally negligent homicide, were this a just and reasonable world.

New coronavirus strain will overwhelm U.S.


The coronavirus variant ravishing Great Britain will soon establish itself in the U.S., and when it does, it could make the events of last year pale in comparison.

New, more stringent lockdowns are just part of what’s in store for a country when simple public health precautions have inspired violence and heightened political tensions.

From the Los Angeles Times [emphasis added]:

Once it becomes established in the U.S. — a prospect experts view as inevitable — thwarting it will require public health measures more stringent than those adopted so far, a speedier vaccine rollout, and a greatly increased willingness to be immunized.

We’re losing the race with coronavirus — it’s infecting people much faster than we can get vaccine into people’s arms, and it’s overcoming our social distancing,” said University of Florida biologist Derek Cummings, an expert in emerging pathogens. “Now there’s this variant that will make that race even harder.”

The new variant’s genetic changes appear to have increased its transmissibility by about 56%, according to the new research, though it could be as low as 40% and as high as 70%.

With this competitive advantage, it will quickly become the most commonly encountered strain in any region where it gains a toehold. As it does so, coronavirus infections — and the increased illness, hospitalizations and deaths that result — will blow up.

“The bottom line is it will be harder to control this new variant if it takes over,” said Ira Longini, a University of Florida infectious disease modeler who was not involved in either of the British studies. And it will take over, he added.

And because Donald Trump politicized the disease, compliance with new health measures is certain to inspire yet more resistance and more violence.

And you thought 2020 was bad. . .

Post-holiday COVID spikes hits Los Angeles


From the Los Angeles Times:

The post-Christmas surge of coronavirus cases is worsening in Los Angeles County, a much-feared scenario that officials say will result in more crowding at already overwhelmed hospitals and an increase in deaths. On Saturday, L.A. County reached new milestones in the pandemic: more than 12,000 dead from COVID-19 and more than 900,000 cases of the coronavirus.

The coming days are expected to be critical in determining how bad this surge will get and how much it will affect conditions at hospitals.

L.A. County’s average number of new coronavirus cases on Thursday, Friday and Saturday was 17,879 — significantly above last week’s average of 14,000.

“This very clearly is the latest surge from the winter holidays and New Year’s — no question about it,” said Dr. Paul Simon, chief science officer of the L.A. County Department of Public Health, on Friday. “It had gradually started earlier in the week, but [definitely is] here in the last day or two.”

On Saturday, there were 218 COVID-19 deaths reported in L.A. County. That came the day after the county set a single-day record, with 318. L.A. County has averaged 200 COVID-19 deaths a day over the past week.

Hard hit by COVID, L.A. hospitals set to ration care


Hospitals in Los Angeles prepare to introduce triage officers to decide who gets care as the pandemic crushes the region.

Triage officers, normally used only during wartime and extreme disasters, will decide who to treat and who to let die as shortages and demands on emergency services and equipment soar.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Stretched to the breaking point by a deluge of COVID-19 patients, Los Angeles County’s four public hospitals are preparing to take the extraordinary step of rationing care, with a team of “triage officers” set to decide which patients can benefit from continued treatment and which are beyond saving and should be allowed to die.

The county’s top health officials have not yet declared a shift to a crisis level of care, which would trigger the rationing system, but the leader of the public hospitals acknowledged in a letter reviewed by The Times this week that “there will likely come a point when we simply don’t have sufficient staffing or critical supplies to care for all our patients in the way we normally would.”

The crisis designation would empower the newly named triage officers — usually critical care and emergency room doctors — to decide which patients at county hospitals would get access to resources such as ventilators, respiratory therapists and critical care nurses when they become too scarce to be provided to every patient.

Hospitals outside the county system will have to decide on their own whether to invoke similar urgency measures, though state officials told them last week that they should have triage plans ready.

Today’s latest hospitalization update from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reveals the stunning acceleration in county area hospitals [minus the cities of Long Beach and Pasadena]:

Too many bodies, too little oxygen: COVID in L.A.


COVID continues its surge along the Southern California coast, and coping with the pandemic is placing a huge strain on the systems for both healthcare delivery and the disposal of the increasing numbers of bodies.

It’s bad in Los Angeles, and about to get worse, as the Los Angeles Times reports:

About 1 in 5 coronavirus tests performed daily in Los Angeles County are coming back positive, an astounding rate that officials say illustrates the pandemic’s continued rampage through the region and foreshadows grave consequences for an already beleaguered healthcare system.

Around Nov. 1, roughly the starting point of the current coronavirus wave, only about 1 of every 25 tests confirmed an infection.

Officials warn that the arithmetic is as grim as it is simple. When such a high proportion of people are testing positive and tens of thousands of tests are conducted a day, case counts end up staggeringly high. And when community transmission is this prolific, officials warn that activities that seemed mundane months ago now carry a higher risk of infection than ever.

<snip>

On Thursday, 18,764 new cases were reported, well above the daily average over the last week, which was about 14,000. There were 205 COVID-19 deaths, according to The Times’ tally, the sixth-highest single-day death toll. L.A. County is now averaging 171 deaths a day over the past week.

These figures “can be numbing,” Mayor Eric Garcetti acknowledged, but he emphasized that the number of hospitalizations represents a threefold increase from a month ago and the most in a single day since the pandemic began.

Oxygen runs so low hospitals refuse patients

When a virus attacks the lungs, their ability to deliver oxygen to the blood begins to fail. And because most of the air we breathe consists of nitrogen, the medical treatment involves administering pure oxygen, concentrating the life-giving gas to enable a life-sustaining flow to the bloodstream, absorbed through the lungs.

But the problem isn’t so much shortage of oxygen; it’s the problems caused by the intense demands the increased demand places on delivery systems.

From Kaiser Health News:

As Los Angeles hospitals give record numbers of covid patients oxygen, the systems and equipment needed to deliver the life-sustaining gas are faltering.

It’s gotten so bad that Los Angeles County officials are warning paramedics to conserve it. Some hospitals are having to delay releasing patients as they don’t have enough oxygen equipment to send home with them.

“Everybody is worried about what’s going to happen in the next week or so,” said Cathy Chidester, director of the L.A. County Emergency Medical Services Agency.

Oxygen, which makes up 21% of the Earth’s air, isn’t running short. But covid damages the lungs, and the crush of patients in hot spots such as Los Angeles; the Navajo Nation; El Paso, Texas; and in New York last spring have needed high concentrations of it. That has stressed the infrastructure for delivering the gas to hospitals and their patients.

The strain in those areas is caused by multiple weak links in the pandemic supply chain. In some hospitals that pipe oxygen to patients’ rooms, the massive volume of cold liquid oxygen is freezing the equipment needed to deliver it, which can block the system.

“You can completely — literally, completely — shut down the entire hospital supply if that happens,” said Rich Branson, a respiratory therapist with the University of Cincinnati and editor-in-chief of the journal Respiratory Care.

National Guard called in to help with bodies

And it’s not just oxygen that’s scare, reports the Los Angeles Times. They’ve run out of place to put the growing numbers of bodies:

The intensity of the pandemic continues to worsen, with the rising COVID-19 death toll overwhelming funeral homes and causing state officials to send refrigerated trucks across California to hold corpses.

The National Guard has been called to Los Angeles County to help with the temporary storage of bodies at the county medical examiner-coroner’s office, relieving pressure on hospital morgues and private mortuaries that have run out of storage space for bodies.

Deaths from COVID-19 have been spiking both in L.A. County and the rest of California. Earlier this week, L.A. County exceeded 11,000 COVID-19 deaths. Officials warned of dark weeks ahead amid a post-Christmas surge that is expected to put pressure on already overwhelmed hospitals.

There have been, on average, 183 deaths reported each day over the last week, and nearly 1,600 deaths have been recorded since Dec. 30.

Many hospital morgues are now filled with bodies, and officials are trying to move them for temporary storage at the county medical examiner-coroner’s office. Mortuary and funeral home operators say they are having to turn away bereaved families because they don’t have the capacity to handle more bodies.

Orange County, home of Disneyland, hit hard

Orange County, immediately to the south of L.A., is fighting its own surge/

From the Orange County Register:

In a now almost routine upping of the ante, metrics tracking Orange County’s rate and spread of coronavirus cases again broke records this week, according to a state update released Tuesday, Jan. 5.

The county’s case rate was 67.8 cases per day per 100,000 residents, up from 53.5 cases per 100,000 last week for a fifth straight record-breaking week. In comparison, the rate of new cases during the summer surge peaked at roughly 27 cases per 100,000.

Testing positivity – the share of positive swabs tests out of all administered – climbed to 17.1% from 16.9% last week. Recent rates are well above a relatively modest 3.6% testing positivity recorded in early November.

Health equity – testing positivity among a county’s hard-hit and generally low-income neighborhoods – dipped to 23.4% from 24.2% last week, signaling a slight improvement in areas with less access to health care.

Numbers spike in San Diego County, too

Things are getting worse further south, too, as the San Diego Union-Tribune reports:

With new case, hospitalization and intensive care totals all increasing in Wednesday’s daily COVID-19 report, officials continued to warn that the new year is not a clean slate where the novel coronavirus is concerned.

After posting a relatively low 1,814 new cases Tuesday, the number jumped to 3,815 Wednesday. Nathan Fletcher, chair of the county Board of Supervisors, said during the county’s weekly COVID-19 briefing that experts continue to predict a significant surge of additional cases, and eventually hospitalizations, connected the Christmas-New Years Eve mega holiday week.

“We expect the holiday cases to arrive soon, and a corresponding increase in hospitalizations to continue, certainly, through the end of the month,” Fletcher said.

After hitting a kind of plateau for about one week, total COVID-related daily hospital census — the number of people in beds each day — topped 1,600 for the first time Monday, hitting 1,664 on Tuesday, the most recent day for which countywide data was made publicly available. Overall intensive care use also increased, though more slightly, with 384 of 633 total ICU beds holding patients with positive COVID tests Tuesday.

Carmakers to their grandkids: Suck it up


Carmakers have revealed they have no conscience, ramping up production of vehicles, knowing that Donald Trump would do nothing to stop them as their products spew elevated emissions into the atmosphere, increasing the pace of global warming in a world their own grandchildren will inherit.

From the Associated Press:

A new government report says gas mileage for new vehicles dropped and pollution increased in model year 2019 for the first time in five years.

The mileage increase comes as Americans continue to buy SUVs and trucks, and shift away from more efficient vehicles.

The Environmental Protection Agency says the changes show that few automakers could meet strict emissions and mileage standards set by the Obama administration.

But environmental groups contend that automakers used loopholes and stopped marketing fuel-efficient vehicles knowing that the Trump administration would roll back mileage and pollution standards.

The EPA report released Wednesday says gas mileage fell 0.2 miles per gallon, while greenhouse gas emissions rose by 3 grams per mile traveled, compared with 2018 figures. Mileage fell and pollution increased for the first time since 2014.

DHS facial recognition tech can ID mask wearers


While the report from the Department of Homeland Security insists the technology is for folks wearing masks during the pandemic, we have other ideas.

But first the report from DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate:

A controlled scenario test by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) shows promising results for facial recognition technologies to accurately identify individuals wearing protective face masks. The tests were conducted as part of S&T’s 2020 Biometric Technology Rally, held this fall at the Maryland Test Facility, and could reduce the need for people to remove masks at airports or ports of entry.

The third annual rally evaluated the ability of biometric acquisition systems and matching algorithms to reliably collect and match images of individuals wearing a diverse array of face masks. Previous rallies show biometric systems can excel at rapidly processing high volumes of travelers using face recognition. This year’s focused on using such systems to detect and recognize travelers without asking them to remove their masks, thereby protecting both the public and frontline workers during the COVID-19 era.

The in-person event included 10 days of human testing with 60 facial recognition configurations (using six face and/or iris acquisition systems and 10 matching algorithms) and 582 diverse test volunteers representing 60 countries. Acquisition systems were evaluated based on their ability to reliably take images of each volunteer with and without masks, volunteer processing time, and overall volunteer satisfaction.

Early results, released today on the Biometric Rally website, indicate:

● Without masks, median system performance demonstrated a ~93% identification rate, with the best-performing system correctly identifying individuals ~100% of the time.

● With masks, median system performance demonstrated a ~77% identification rate, with the best-performing system correctly identifying individuals ~96% of the time.

● Performance can vary greatly between systems.

Based on these results, organizations that need to perform photo ID checks could potentially allow individuals to keep their masks on, thereby reducing the risk of COVID-19 infection.

“This isn’t a perfect 100% solution,” said Arun Vemury, director of S&T’s Biometric and Identity Technology Center, “but it may reduce risks for many travelers, as well as the frontline staff working in airports, who no longer have to ask all travelers to remove masks.”

We suspect the official explanation is, at best, incomplete.

Judging from our past experience in dealing with intelligence outfits, we suspect the program was created to identify other people wearing masks, people like these folks, photographed in Berkeley three years ago:

Antifa protests in Berkeley, 27 October 2017, via Wikipedia.

Nebraska gov. sentences citizens to COVID death


Nebraska’s Republican governor, the son of a racist Wall Street billionaire, has just sentenced scores of his fellow Nebraskans to death by COVID.

And he’s done it by ordering that no COVID vaccinations be given to non-documented workers at the state’s massive meat-packing industry.

And why is that so terrible?

Consider this from a study reported in July in the prestigious British Medical Journal [open access}:

Slaughterhouses and meat processing plants are favourable environments for SARS-CoV-2 transmission. The virus thrives in lower temperatures and very high or very low relative humidity. Metallic surfaces retain live viruses for longer than other environments. A dense production of aerosols combining dust, feathers, and faeces is produced in the plants, and intense water use carries materials extensively over surfaces. Workers must speak loudly or shout over the noise, releasing more droplets and spreading them further. Workplaces are crowded, and social distancing is difficult.

<snip>

The meat industry is highly profitable globally and a major driver of both antimicrobial resistance and climate breakdown. People may come to reflect on how they get their meat, what they are prepared to pay for it, and what conditions they expect the animals and the workers to endure so they can have it.

And then there’s this, from a study reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science and published late last month, focusing on the U.S. packing industry [emphasis added]:

We estimate the total excess COVID-19 cases and deaths associated with proximity to livestock plants to be 236,000 to 310,000 (6 to 8% of all US cases) and 4,300 to 5,200 (3 to 4% of all US deaths), respectively, as of July 21, 2020, with the vast majority likely related to community spread outside these plants. The association is found primarily among large processing facilities and large meatpacking companies. In addition, we find evidence that plant closures attenuated county-wide cases and that plants that received permission from the US Department of Agriculture to increase their production-line speeds saw more county-wide cases. Ensuring both public health and robust essential supply chains may require an increase in meatpacking oversight and potentially a shift toward more decentralized, smaller-scale meat production.

Even Trump’s own administration acknowledges the link.

Here a dramatic graphic from the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

Two-week moving average of new daily COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population since March 1, 2020, in nonmetro counties with 20 percent or more employment in meatpacking compared to all other rural counties in the United States

There also another surge erupting, and a new, much faster-spreading variant here in the U.S., and a third even more contagious variety already spreading through Europe and certain to arrive here.

Now toss in the fact that Nebraska is the nation’s largest producer of beef, with all the slaughterhouses and packing plants that entails.

And add in this from Insurance Journal [emphasis added]:

States with a heavy presence of meatpacking facilities such as South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota now have among the highest concentration of new cases by population.

And, finally, the story

Via the London Daily Mail, with emphasis added:

Undocumented immigrants in Nebraska will not be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines, Governor Pete Ricketts announced Monday. 

Ricketts, the son of TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, was asked at a press conference if undocumented persons would be included when vaccines become available to meatpacking plant workers. 

Illegal immigrants are not permitted to work in those facilities, so I don’t think that will be a problem,’ the governor replied without further explanation.

In reality the issue is much more complicated, as undocumented workers make up a large section of Nebraska’s meatpacking industry – which is the largest in the US with roughly 26,600 workers in total

According to recent data from the Migration Policy Institute, some 66 percent of the state’s meatpacking workers are immigrants, and varying estimates suggest that anywhere between 14 percent to almost all of them are undocumented.  

The American Immigration Council estimated that in 2016, Nebraska was home to 60,000 immigrants, 41 percent of them undocumented, rendering Rickett’s claims absurd.

And by ordering no vaccines for undocumented workers in meat plants, Rickett has passed a death sentence on his friends and neighbors.

Ricketts, the school-slasher with a bigoted billionaire daddy

When he’s not ensuring another COVID surge, Gov. Ricketts has been busy cutting school funding, and for the obvious neocon reason, cutting taxes at the very moment the state is struggling with a pandemic.

From the Omaha WorldHerald:

Gov. Pete Ricketts made it clear Friday that he’s not done pushing for lower property taxes.

Ricketts, during a press briefing on the state’s COVID-19 response, said he will be pursuing legislation to place limits on local school spending during the 2021 session, which begins Jan. 6.

Slowing the growth of K-12 school spending was one thing that was left out of a property tax relief bill passed earlier this year, the governor said, and he will be asking state lawmakers to rectify that.

“That will be a big priority,” he said. “That’s the next step in what we have to do to continue to get that property tax relief for Nebraskans.”

He’s also, with his dad and three siblings, co-owner of a baseball team in another meat-packing town, the Chicago Cubs.

And his billionaire daddy, whose business is headquartered in Omaha, is also a a racist, a truth revealed when someone leaked his emails, complete with gems like these:

● “good one” – a joke about how Iranians, Iraqis, Afghans, Syrians and Pakistanis won’t exist in the future

● “very good” – a joke about a “Mexican family of six,” an “Islamic group of welfare cheats,” and “6 LA, Hispanic, Gang Bangers, & ex-cons” dying in an apartment fire that didn’t kill a white couple because they were at work

● “tired of Political Correct, Multicultural and Diversity aspects of our culture” – a story about how former Congressman Allen West fired a gun at the crotch of an Iraqi prisoner (note: West actually fired the gun near his head) in an interrogation, which led led to West’s retirement from the military

● “great laugh” – a joke with a punchline revolving around a white man agreeing to not call his black wife the n-word

● “WOW! I’m sending on” – a video titled “Is Barack Obama really a Saudi/Muslim plant in the White House?”

● “I like this” – a forward of a speech tied to disgraced Seinfeld actor Michael Richards about racism against white people in America that ends with “Be proud to be white! It’s not a crime yet … but getting very close!”

Looks like the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

A final word

Via the 16 December 2020 Wall Street Journal:

Tyson Foods Inc. said it fired seven managers of an Iowa meatpacking plant following the company’s investigation into allegations that they had wagered on Covid-19 infections among employees.

Tyson announced the investigation in November, after a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by the family of a deceased Tyson worker claimed that managers of the company’s Waterloo, Iowa, pork-processing facility organized a betting pool around how many employees would contract the coronavirus and pressured sick employees to stay on the job.

Trump’s anti-environmental rampage continues


Like an angry teenager smashing up his room in a fit of pique at his parents, Donald Trump is doing everything he can in his [hopefully] final days to trash the environment.

Here’s the latest.

A major blow to medical science and clean air

From the Associated Press:

The Environmental Protection Agency released one of its last major rollbacks under the Trump administration on Tuesday, limiting what evidence it will consider about risks of pollutants in a way that opponents say could cripple future public health regulation.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the new rule, which restricts what findings from public health studies the agency can consider in crafting health protections, was made in the name of transparency about government decision-making. “We’re going to take all this information and shine light on it,” Wheeler said Tuesday, in unveiling the terms of the new rule in a virtual appearance hosted by a conservative think tank.

“I don’t think we get enough credit as an administration about wanting to open up … to sunlight and scrutiny,” Wheeler said of the Trump administration, which has already rolled back dozens of public health and environmental protections.

Opponents say the latest rule would threaten patient confidentiality and privacy of individuals in public health studies, and call the requirement an overall ruse to handicap future regulation.

The kind of research findings that appear targeted in the new rule “present the most direct and persuasive evidence of pollution’s adverse health effects,” said Richard Revesz, an expert in pollution law at the New York University School of Law.

The stench becomes pervasive when you look at the origin’s of Trump’s policy change.

From the New York Times:

Nearly a quarter century ago, a team of tobacco industry consultants outlined a plan to create “explicit procedural hurdles” for the Environmental Protection Agency to clear before it could use science to address the health impacts of smoking.

President Trump’s E.P.A. has now embedded parts of that strategy into federal environmental policy. On Tuesday Andrew Wheeler, the administrator of the E.P.A., formally released a new regulation that favors certain kinds of scientific research over others in the drafting of public health rules.

<snip>

“Right now we’re in the grips of a serious public health crisis due to a deadly respiratory virus, and there’s evidence showing that air pollution exposure increases the risk of worse outcomes,” said Dr. Mary Rice, a pulmonary and critical care physician who is chairwoman of the environmental health policy committee at the American Thoracic Society.

“We would want E.P.A. going forward to make decisions about air quality using all available evidence, not just putting arbitrary limits on what it will consider,” she said.

It’s not a good sign when your science rules come from a powerful industry that spent millions on election and propaganda designed to conceal the fact that they’d probably killed as many people as Hitler.

But it gets even worse, the Times notes:

The E.P.A. says the regulation only deals with future rules. Public health experts, however, warned that studies that have been used for decades to show, for example, that lead in paint dust is tied to behavioral disorders in children might be inadmissible when existing regulations come up for renewal.

Most significantly, they warned, a groundbreaking 1993 Harvard University project that definitively linked polluted air to premature deaths, currently the foundation of the nation’s air-quality laws, could become inadmissible as the agency considers whether to strengthen protections. In that study, scientists signed confidentiality agreements to track the private medical and occupational histories of more than 22,000 people in six cities. Its findings have long been attacked by the fossil fuel industry and some Republican lawmakers.

Corporate bird slaughter legalized

From The Hill:

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has finalized a rule rolling back protections for migratory birds, according to a document that will be published in the Federal Register this week. 

The new rule changes the implementation of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) so that companies are no longer penalized for accidentally or incidentally harming or killing these birds. 

The MBTA has protected more than 1,000 different species of birds for more than 100 years by punishing companies whose projects cause them harm. 

The Trump administration has argued, however, that companies should only be punished for intentionally killing the animals, though it has admitted that relaxing these rules may cause companies not to carry out best practices that limit incidental bird deaths. 

By way of analogy, the the case of murder of a human being, the law differentiates between intentional homicide and negligent homicide, the latter being a death cause of by negligent actions not intended to lead to the death at issue.

But both are crimes; only the punishment differs.

And a fresh assault on Alaska’s wilderness

Finally, there’s a new front in his assault on the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge, via the Guardian:

On Monday, the Trump administration also dramatically expanded the area where the government can lease public land for oil drilling to the west of ANWR.

The plan would allow drilling in 82% of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, an area bigger than the state of West Virginia, according to environmental groups, though the Biden administration could reverse that decision more easily than it could hold off drilling in ANWR.

<snip>

Native groups in Alaska have fought ANWR drilling proposals with lawsuits. For the Gwich’in, indigenous Alaskans who have migrated alongside the caribou and relied upon them as a food source, the fight is personal. They formed the Gwich’in Steering Committee in 1988 to oppose drilling in the coastal plain, which they call the Sacred Place Where Life Begins.

“We come from some of the strongest people that ever walked this earth. They survived some of the coldest, harshest winters so that we can be here,” Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the committee, said during an AM radio segment last week. “I feel like this is my responsibility as a Gwich’in, to protect the caribou.”

Polar bear advocates say the habitat is also critical to a population in dire straits from development and rising temperatures that are melting sea ice. The Arctic is heating at a much faster pace than the rest of the world. Polar bear numbers in Alaska and western Canada declined 40% from 2001 to 2010, said Steven Amstrup, chief scientist for Polar Bears International.

Well sign off with a quote:

“I want the cleanest water on Earth, I want the cleanest air on Earth and that’s what we’re doing — and I’m an environmentalist.” — Donald J. Trump

Doctor closes clinic, forgives patients’ medical bills


How about some good news for a change?

Here it is, via ABC News:

Around 200 people are starting 2021 off without any medical debt thanks to the kindness of an oncology doctor who erased $650,000 of his patients’ debt.

Dr. Omar Atiq, a medical oncologist for nearly 40 years, closed his cancer clinic in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, in March after nearly three decades in business.

He worked with a billing company for several months after closing to try to collect payments from his former patients, but soon made a decision to stop reaching out.

“Over time I realized that there are people who just are unable to pay,” Atiq told “Good Morning America.” “So my wife and I, as a family, we thought about it and looked at forgiving all the debt.”

“We saw that we could do it and then just went ahead and did it,” he said.

The week of Christmas, around 200 of Atiq’s former patients received a holiday greeting that read, “I hope this note finds you well. The Arkansas Cancer Clinic was proud to serve you as a patient. Although various health insurances pay most of the bills for majority of patients, even the deductibles and co-pays can be burdensome. Unfortunately, that is the way our health care system currently works. Arkansas Cancer Clinic is closing its practice after over 29 years of dedicated service to the community. The clinic has decided to forego all balances owed to the clinic by its patients. Happy Holidays.”

Dr. Atiq, for the record, is a Muslim.

He remains a practicing physician, and now treats patients at the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute.

Peace be unto you, doc.

Order: No ambulances for the dying in L.A.


Just how bad is the cornoavirus pandemic in Los Angeles as one new super-spreading COVID variety looms close by and another, even more rapidly spreading variant lurks offshore?

Consider this from the Los Angeles Times [emphasis added]:

The situation in L.A. County hospitals is so critical that ambulance crews have been advised to try to cut back on their use of oxygen and not to bring to hospitals patients who have virtually no chance of survival. Officials now say they need to focus on patients with a greater chance of surviving.

The measures were taken as circumstances were expected to become even worse in coming weeks, when patients sickened over the Christmas holiday will need treatment, leaving officials desperate for ways to increase capacity and triage care to focus on the sickest patients.

Hospitals are moving to rapidly discharge ill patients who, in less-crowded situations, would normally be allowed to stay for continued observation. That has helped, but officials fear the flood of new patients — many with COVID-19 — is outpacing their ability to move less critical patients out.

In a sign of the strain the surge is putting on critical medical supplies needed for severely ill patients, the L.A. County Emergency Medical Services Agency issued a directive Monday that ambulance crews should conserve oxygen by administering it only to patients who had oxygen saturation levels below 90%.

To reduce demand on overwhelmed hospitals, the EMS agency last week also issued memos directing ambulance staff not to transfer to hospitals most patients who had virtually no chance of survival.

In pre-pandemic times, even those who had slim odds of pulling through were transported to the hospital, as there was capacity to accommodate even the most unlikely recovery scenarios.

Member of Parliament arrested for COVID breach


And somehow it’s reassuring.

From Sky News:

An MP has been arrested and charged with “reckless conduct” after an alleged breach of coronavirus rules.

Margaret Ferrier, 60, was suspended from the Scottish National Party parliamentary group back in September.

That was for travelling from Glasgow to Westminster despite having experienced COVID-19 symptoms while waiting for a test result – and then making a return journey a few days later after being informed it was positive.

The Metropolitan Police conducted an investigation and said it would take no further action, but referred the case to Police Scotland.

On Monday, Police Scotland confirmed a 60-year-old woman, understood to be Ferrier, was arrested and charged in connection with alleged culpable and reckless conduct.

So will Trump get arrested if he doesn’t wear a mask when he [allegedly] flies to his Scottish golf resort the day before Biden’s inauguration?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Another new COVID super-strain found


Originally reported in South Africa, it’s even more rapidly spread than the variant recently spread to Europe and the U.S.

And to make matters worse, there are fears existing vaccines won’t stop it.

From CBS News:

A new variant of the coronavirus, which appears to be more transmissible, has been discovered in South Africa and is being blamed for a new surge in COVID-19 cases there.

Though it emerged independently, it features a similar mutation to the new variant discovered in the United Kingdom that scientists say is more transmissible, prompting many nations to ban travel from Britain.

South Africa’s health minister, Zweli Mkhize, said that the new variant there appeared to be linked to higher rates of severe illness in younger people, and that scientists are working to learn more about it.

More from Reuters:

South Africa has identified a new variant of the novel coronavirus, which authorities believe is driving a surge in COVID-19 infections that could overwhelm its healthcare system.

<snip>

Scientists say the variant is different from others circulating in South Africa because it has multiple mutations in the important “spike” protein that the virus uses to infect human cells.

It has also been associated with a higher viral load, meaning a higher concentration of virus particles in patients’ bodies, possibly contributing to higher levels of transmission.

Between 80% and 90% of new cases in the country are carrying the mutant variant, according to health authorities.

Aljazeera covers the story from the U.K.:

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said the new COVID-19 variant identified in South Africa is a bigger risk than the highly infectious UK variant.

“I’m incredibly worried about the South African variant, and that’s why we took the action that we did to restrict all flights from South Africa,” Hancock told BBC Radio on Monday.

<snip>

The ITV network’s political editor, citing an unidentified scientific adviser to the British government, said scientists were not fully confident that COVID-19 vaccines would work on the new South African variant.

“According to one of the government’s scientific advisers, the reason for Matt Hancock’s ‘incredible worry’ about the South African COVID-19 variant is that they are not as confident the vaccines will be as effective against it as they are for the UK’s variant,” ITV political editor Robert Peston said on Monday.

U.K reports two cases of the new strain

Hancock has reason to worry, since cases of the new variant have already been reported in the U.K. and the Sun reports:

Two Brits have been diagnosed with another new and “highly concerning coronavirus mutation from South Africa”, it emerged today.

Matt Hancock said the new variant is even more contagious than another new strain detected in Kent and London earlier this month, which led to millions being plunged into Tier 4 restrictions over Christmas.

The Health Secretary urged anyone who has returned from South Africa in the last two weeks to quarantine immediately – and said close contacts of any travellers should also self-isolate.

It comes as flights from South Africa were stopped in order to contain the spread of the new strain as experts warn we could be entering a “dangerous new phase of the pandemic”.

The Department of Transport last night confirmed a ban on all arrivals from South Africa from 9am this morning.