Wildfires Force 10,000 to Flee as Alberta Repeals Carbon Tax
More than 10,000 people have been forced to evacuate as wildfires spread in northern Alberta, Canada's CBC News reported Thursday. Smoke from the fires has choked skies across the province, raising the Air Quality Health Index in its capital city of Edmonton to a 10+ Thursday, the Edmonton Journal reported.
In an ironic turn, the fires prompted Alberta Premier Jason Kenney to cancel a celebration of the repeal of the province's carbon tax, Canada's National Observer reported.
*This event has been cancelled so the premier can receive an internal, real-time briefing on the status of Alberta's wildfires," the government said in a statement reported by Canada's National Observer.
.@Jkenney ends the #Alberta #CarbonTax— Jaro Giesbrecht🇨🇦 (@JaroGiesbrecht) May 31, 2019
Just hours later, the skies of #Edmonton darkened with smoke from #Wildfires in the north of the province#Albertawildfires
Kenney had promised to repeal the carbon tax and roll back other climate change policies in the April 16 general election. A bill to repeal the tax was the first his government introduced after gaining power. While the bill has not yet passed, fuel sellers were expected to stop collecting the tax at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, the Edmonton Journal reported.
"Just hours later, the skies of Edmonton darkened with smoke from wildfires in the north of the province," the paper wrote.
Canada's Environment Minister Catherine McKenna criticized the repeal and said she was working on a national tax.
"We know we're feeling the impacts of climate change. In Alberta, you have forest fires this year that have started earlier than before, major concerns about the impacts of these fires this year," McKenna said, as the Edmonton Journal reported. "We're going to work as quickly as possible to make sure it's no longer free to pollute."
The tax had charged Albertans an additional 6.73 cents per liter for gasoline and $1.51 per gigajoule of natural gas.
The current fires had forced around 5,000 to evacuate more than a week ago, according to Canada's National Observer. They continued to spread this week, as smoke forced even more people to flee their homes Thursday.
"We began the day yesterday with approximately 5,500 evacuees and we currently have over 10,000," Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen said, as CBC News reported Thursday.
Officials said the Chuckegg Creek fire was spreading especially quickly.
"It traveled about 30 kilometers (approximately 18.6 miles) south yesterday between noon and four o'clock this morning, which means it was traveling at a rate of about 23 meters (approximately 25 yards) a minute," Christie Tucker from Alberta Wildfire said.
The Chuckegg Creek wildfire in the High Level Forest Area experienced extreme fire behaviour yesterday with significant growth to the south towards Paddle Prairie, across Highway 35 by Highway 697 and spotted across the Peace River.— Alberta Wildfire (@AlbertaWildfire) May 30, 2019
Latest information at: https://t.co/Su9d1ehf9a pic.twitter.com/zsH9mXG8JP
The Maria Lake and MacMillan Complex fires were also spreading and growing closer together. Dry, windy conditions made firefighting more difficult.
Fires destroyed 11 homes in the Paddle Prairie Métis Settlement, the Edmonton Journal reported further.
"The roads are melted," Blake Desjarlais, director of public and national affairs for the Métis Settlements General Council, told the Edmonton Journal.
Desjarlais was frustrated by the lack of support his community was receiving from the Alberta government, Global News reported. He said they were not fighting the fire on the western side, which would most protect the evacuated community, and also that they were not doing enough to help evacuees.
Desjarlais also said the fire could have a long-term economic impact on the community.
"We've lost trap lines, they're a strong economic driver for us," he said, as Global News reported. "Most of the regional farmers have had to cut animals loose."
The impact of the fires hasn't been limited to Alberta. Smoke from the fires has contributed to cloudy skies in western Ontario, southwestern B.C. and the U.S. Midwest, Global News reported Thursday.
If you notice the sky looks hazy today, here's your reason why: smoke from wildfires across northern Canada has once again been transported down into the upper Midwest. Should make for a nice sunrise/sunset!#mnwx #wiwx pic.twitter.com/Gcb22P3rYF— NWS Twin Cities (@NWSTwinCities) May 30, 2019
On Thursday, smoke covered Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit and Kansas City and reached as far south as Denver, Global News reported.
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It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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By Eoin Higgins
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<div id="fea63" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9a6f211c2bc5aedd34837944cb8eeedf"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1281000111481294849" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Water in Illinois is overwhelmingly public. Why is Tammy Duckworth sponsoring a bill that aims to change that? https://t.co/1V36Kkd99s</div> — The American Prospect (@The American Prospect)<a href="https://twitter.com/TheProspect/statuses/1281000111481294849">1594249201.0</a></blockquote></div>
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