By Sarah Reinhardt
The federal government released new U.S. dietary guidelines Tuesday after three years of preparation, and it served a strong win to both alcohol and soda industries.
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By Ken Kimmell
2020 is coming to a close, and it can't end fast enough. But as the year winds down, I am buoyed by two big climate victories on the same day, perched atop a clear change in direction mandated by the election.
Like many other plant-based foods and products, CBD oil is one dietary supplement where "organic" labels are very important to consumers. However, there are little to no regulations within the hemp industry when it comes to deeming a product as organic, which makes it increasingly difficult for shoppers to find the best CBD oil products available on the market.
Charlotte's Web<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDcwMjk3NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MzQ0NjM4N30.SaQ85SK10-MWjN3PwHo2RqpiUBdjhD0IRnHKTqKaU7Q/img.jpg?width=980" id="84700" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a2174067dcc0c4094be25b3472ce08c8" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="charlottes web cbd oil" data-width="1244" data-height="1244" /><p>Perhaps one of the most well-known brands in the CBD landscape, Charlotte's Web has been growing sustainable hemp plants for several years. The company is currently in the process of achieving official USDA Organic Certification, but it already practices organic and sustainable cultivation techniques to enhance the overall health of the soil and the hemp plants themselves, which creates some of the highest quality CBD extracts. Charlotte's Web offers CBD oils in a range of different concentration options, and some even come in a few flavor options such as chocolate mint, orange blossom, and lemon twist.</p>
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By Karen Perry Stillerman
Tyson Foods is the nation's largest (and world's second largest) meat and poultry producer. It operates 110 processing plants with 121,000 employees in the United States and boasted $42 billion in revenue in 2019, putting the publicly traded, Arkansas-based company at #79 in the Fortune 500. As it seeks to maintain meat industry dominance, Tyson is counting on many of us to put its products — which include Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage and Hillshire Farm hams, as well as the ubiquitous Tyson chicken — on our holiday tables.
The Food & Environment Reporting Network has closely tracked the spread of COVID-19 at meatpacking plants, food processing facilities, and farms. FERN data, updated Dec.18, shows that Tyson Foods is responsible for the highest number of cases among workers, by far.
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By Kristy Dahl
In early January of this year, fresh off the experience of writing a year-end blog post for 2019, I started a project that I thought would make writing this year's year-end post easier. I created a little 2020 calendar on which I planned to record the one big thing that happened in the climate change space each day. In my mind I called it "The Daily Big Deal," and I could envision myself sitting here, as I am, on December 17, reviewing the year's climate-related events and deftly knitting them together in the blog post equivalent of a beautiful scarf made of reclaimed yarn. Or an ugly sweater. Or whatever.
Financial commitments to the fossil fuel industry have far outpaced commitments to clean energy in G20 countries since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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By Astrid Caldas
As we reach the official end of hurricane season, 2020 will be one for the record books. Looking back at these long, surprising, sometimes downright crazy past six months (seven if you count when the first named storms actually started forming), there are many noteworthy statistics and patterns that drive home the significance of this hurricane season, and the ways climate change may have contributed to it.
A summary infographic showing hurricane season probability and numbers of named storms predicted from NOAA's 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook. NOAA
The updated 2020 Atlantic hurricane season probability and numbers of named storms. NOAA
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.
We Need More Than Listening<p>By now we have all become sadly accustomed to the current administration sidelining scientists, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, because the facts they provide do not fit with the political rhetoric of the moment.</p><p>I have <a href="https://www.csldf.org/2019/08/22/csldf-helps-climate-scientist-maria-caffrey-fight-for-scientific-integrity/" target="_blank">my own history</a> of filing a scientific integrity complaint with the National Park Service (which falls under the Department of the Interior) after senior ranking employees attempted to censor one of my scientific reports. I know all too well the damage and pain that these actions cause, not just for the individual scientist, but also because these <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">attacks on science</a> over the last few years have undermined sound, evidence-based decision making.</p><p>President-elect Biden has repeatedly said that he will <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/521638-trump-biden-will-listen-to-the-scientists-if-elected" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">listen to the scientists</a>. While this is certainly a welcome change, listening can only take us so far. This past week Lauren Kurtz from the <a href="https://www.csldf.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Science Legal Defense Fund</a> and my colleague <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/gretchen-goldman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gretchen Goldman</a> published <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ten-steps-that-can-restore-scientific-integrity-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an article</a> listing 10 actions the new administration should implement to show their commitment to strengthening government science:</p><ol><li>Clearly prohibit political interference and censorship.</li><li>Protect scientists' communication rights.</li><li>Acknowledge that attempts to violate scientific integrity, even if ultimately not fruitful, are still violations.</li><li>Protect federal scientists' right to provide information to Congress and other lawmakers.</li><li>Commit to incorporating the best science as part of agency decisions.</li><li>Elevate agency scientific integrity policies to have the full force of law.</li><li>Publicly release anonymized information about scientific integrity complaints and their resolutions at every agency.</li><li>Institute an intra-agency workforce, potentially under the White House <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/strengthening-science-and-si-at-ostp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Office of Science and Technology Policy</a>, to coordinate scientific integrity efforts across agencies, foster discussion of policy improvements, and standardize criteria for policies across agencies.</li><li>Strengthen whistleblower protections.</li><li>Ensure that policies cover all actors who will be dealing with science.</li></ol>
Time for Action<p>I have spoken to many scientists, particularly federal scientists, who are eager to turn the page so they can hurry back to the work they had been doing before this administration, but I urge caution in assuming that things can be "normal" again.</p><p>Before Trump, I naively thought the scientific integrity policies established during the <a href="https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/12/19/scientific-integrity-policies-update" target="_blank">Obama administration</a> would be sufficient. I never imagined that any administration could so willfully ignore and attack expert advice and evidence that is intended to protect us and our public lands.</p><p>I have personally witnessed how hard our federal scientists work. They put in long hours with minimal pay (far less that what they could get if they worked in private industry) to pursue one simple goal: to make things better for the nation.</p><p>We need stronger scientific integrity policies to protect these people and their work. But more than that, we need stronger scientific integrity laws because they also benefit society.</p>
By Genna Reed
In his first week as president-elect, Joe Biden instituted an advisory board of experts to provide science-based recommendations to respond to COVID-19. This could be a signal that independent science advice under a Biden administration is valued. After four years of watching the norms of science advisory structures eroded and undermined, especially at the EPA, it is hard to visualize the possibilities of a government informed by experts. Once Biden takes office in January, here are the actions I hope his administration will take to shore up the government's fifth arm of external expert advice:
1. Rescind EO 13875 and Reinstate Disbanded Committees<p>In Executive Order 13875, titled "Evaluating and Improving the Utility of Federal Advisory Committees," issued in June 2019<strong>, </strong>President Trump mandated the elimination of one-third of federal advisory committees with an aim of <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/genna-reed/trump-executive-order-advisory-committee" target="_blank">reaching the arbitrary total of 350</a>. Some agencies followed the order, cutting committees like <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/genna-reed/the-first-cut-of-epa-advisory-committees-is-the-deepest" target="_blank">EPA's Environmental Laboratory Advisory Board (ELAB) and the National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology (NACEPT)</a>, <a href="https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/465001-trump-officials-eliminate-board-that-advised-on-smart-grid" target="_blank">The Department of Commerce's Smart Grid Advisory Committee</a> and <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/genna-reed/science-advice-shouldnt-be-at-the-whim-of-a-president-and-his-appointees" target="_blank">Marine Protected Areas Advisory Committee, and DOI's Invasive Species Advisory Committee</a> and CDC's <a href="https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/science/" target="_blank">Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry's Board of Scientific Counselors</a> and its <a href="https://www.facadatabase.gov/FACA/apex/FACAPublicCommittee?id=a10t0000001gzkCAAQ" target="_blank">Advisory Committee to the Director</a>. Yes, you read that right. As the CDC director responded to a national public health crisis, he did not have a sounding board of leading public health experts to help guide a federal response, as <a href="https://www.facadatabase.gov/FACA/apex/FACAPublicCommittee?id=a10t0000001gzkCAAQ" target="_blank">had been readily available since 1962</a>.</p><p>Neither the White House nor federal agencies released criteria or a full justification for disbanding these committees to the public. This is likely not an exhaustive list. Thus, the Biden administration should allow agencies to bring back disbanded committees quickly so that they can get back to work on projects left unfinished and take on new ones, especially those with direct relevance to providing expertise to the government on responding to COVID-19.</p>
2. Issue a Proactive Executive Order to Affirm the Value of Advisory Committees<p>The president-elect should issue an executive order affirming the value of advisory committees and direct agencies to improve the integrity and transparency of processes to ensure committees meet their chartered objectives. <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/si-of-federal-advisory-committees.pdf" target="_blank">Our fact sheet</a> includes a long list of measures that should be included in that order, but the goal of the executive order should be threefold:</p><ul><li>address committee membership by requiring agencies to be more transparent and make decisions based solely on experience and technical qualifications in the topic the committees address, and not based on inappropriate criteria (e.g., party affiliation, political opinions, <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/michael-halpern/the-epa-science-advisory-board-is-being-compromised-heres-why-that-matters" target="_blank">having received a government grant</a>);</li><li>protect the independence and integrity of advisory committees by protecting against <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/conflicts-of-interest-at-federal-agencies.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">conflicts of interest</a>;</li><li>ensure that the processes used to establish and terminate advisory committees are clear and transparent and that the government seeks out the advice it needs.</li></ul><p>An order that sets a high ethical bar for external advice can help protect against some of the more egregious violations we saw under the Trump administration, like the appointment of a majority of members with <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/genna-reed/biased-science-board-threatens-fetal-tissue-research" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">clear issues of impartiality to the HHS's Human Fetal Tissue Ethics Advisory Board,</a> which then issued sweeping rejections of grant proposals for critical research using fetal tissue.</p>
3. Go Back to the Drawing Board at the EPA<p>The Biden administration should begin to reverse the damage done by former Administrator Pruitt and Administrator Wheeler to <a href="https://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/512063-americans-need-the-best-science-more-than-ever-from-government" target="_blank">gerrymander science at EPA</a> and signal a commitment to balanced, independent advice by instituting a new nominations process for all EPA committees, while promoting transparency and public input and listening to its own staff recommendations. The administration should begin by scrapping the <a href="https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/521044-shuffle-of-epas-science-advisors-elevates-those-with-industry-tries" target="_blank">Science Advisory Board</a> and <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/gretchen-goldman/the-epa-cut-science-out-of-air-pollution-standard-setting-were-putting-it-back" target="_blank">the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee</a> and start over. Here's why.</p><p>There are still qualified experts on EPA's advisory committees, but since the <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/genna-reed/epas-chance-to-get-science-advice-right" target="_blank">process barred EPA-funded scientists from applying from fall 2017 to 2020</a>, the expertise is not balanced and not the most relevant for the issues currently facing EPA. Further, it is unclear whether membership was adequately vetted for conflicts of interest. These are all fair questions, since <a href="https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-19-280" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">we know Wheeler's administration failed to provide documentation on its selection process</a>.</p><p>The only way to fix a broken process is to start from scratch, instituting some of the norms and processes that were in place before the Trump administration came in, but also updating them to ensure even more transparency. For example, <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/si-of-federal-advisory-committees.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">we recommend</a> that all agencies, including EPA, publish relevant basic information about each committee member on a public online portal (e.g., integrity.gov), including qualifications, background, employers, and funding sources for the previous five years, along with any conflict-of-interest waivers granted. Additionally, the decisionmaking processes used for committee formation, including how agencies screen members, how they assess committees for balance, and which political officials are involved, should be made public.</p><p>All members of committees re-formed could reapply if they wished to remain. But importantly, a new vetting process would ensure that expertise was prioritized and that conflicts of interest or appearance of impartiality was avoided.</p>
4. Work With Congress on Bipartisan Legislation That Would Increase Transparency and Public Input<p>The <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/andrew-rosenberg/improving-transparency-and-disclosure-of-conflicts-of-interest-for-science-advisory-committees" target="_blank">Federal Advisory Committee Act Amendments of 2019</a> would require agencies to open nominations for committee positions, select and publicize from those nominations, and clearly distinguish independent scientists from those representing a particular interest group. The bill would also require disclosure of conflicts of interest to the agency and the public and greater transparency of the meetings themselves. Also, political party affiliation cannot be used as a criterion for selection for a committee, which is important as such political litmus tests have been used in the past to <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/center-for-science-and-democracy/scientific_integrity/abuses_of_science/a-to-z/fogarty-international-center.html" target="_blank">distort and stack</a> advisory committees under previous administrations.</p><p>Congress could also consider legislation that would institute a formal petition process for the public to request an agency assemble a federal advisory committee for an issue based on a set of criteria. This could ensure a more inclusive and equitable approach to deciding what issues get paid adequate attention by agencies.</p>
Making a Sound Investment in Science Advice<p>We have studied the ways in which science advisory committees have been sidelined or hijacked and over the past four years saw very clearly how changes to norms and the erosion of processes built to uphold integrity can wreak havoc on environmental and public health policy decisions.</p><p>As a new administration takes office, I hope that it takes advantage of this hindsight and sees the opportunities I see: not just bringing back old policies and signaling the importance of government science advice, but finding new ways to make it more responsive to the public than to special interests, and more inclusive of a diverse set of scientists and experts whose voices need to be heard right now. There's no time like the present to modernize our government advisory infrastructure, and <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/si-of-federal-advisory-committees.pdf" target="_blank">our recommendations feature actions that can help get us there.</a></p>
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By Derrick Z. Jackson
Officials at the highest levels are discussing the possibility of caving in on controlling the coronavirus and instead letting it run rampant throughout the United States until we reach "herd immunity," the point where the virus effectively runs out of people to infect. More than 6,200 scientists, health professionals, and research organizations say this is inhumane and have signed a memorandum rejecting herd immunity as a legitimate strategy.
Herd Immunity’s Unacceptable Toll<p>Resumption of normal life in the United States under a herd immunity approach would result in an enormous death toll by all estimates. Former CDC director Tom Frieden <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/tom-frieden-herd-immunity-wrong-solution-coronavirus/2020/10/16/acb4ae8a-0fe6-11eb-8074-0e943a91bf08_story.html" target="_blank">estimates</a> that another 500,000 people would have to die to achieve 60 percent herd immunity. "And that's the best-case scenario," Frieden wrote in a <em>Washington Post</em> op-ed. "The number of deaths to get there could be twice as high."</p><p>Frieden said that is the best-case scenario because no one really knows if the <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/herd-immunity-and-coronavirus/art-20486808" target="_blank">actual percentage needed</a> to see the virus peter out is to have it <a href="https://thehill.com/opinion/healthcare/521834-covid-19-vaccine-barriers-efficacy-availability-and-acceptability" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">infect</a> more like <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/08/31/herd-immunity-covid-19/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">65, 70,</a> or even <a href="https://www.vox.com/21451282/herd-immunity-explained-covid-19-pandemic" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">75 percent</a> of the population. Even if immunity could be miraculously achieved at 50 percent, an estimate <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41577-020-00451-5" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">published</a> in <em>Nature Reviews Immunology</em> places the range of sacrifice somewhere between 500,000 and 2.1 million deaths.</p><p>That makes it little wonder that Anthony Fauci, the most respected scientist advising the Trump administration on the pandemic, called herd immunity for the coronavirus "total nonsense." Fauci is backed up by the likes of National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, who said herd immunity is a "dangerous" and "fringe" component of epidemiology. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Health <a href="https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/10/20/nation/scores-mass-scientists-doctors-sign-open-letter-against-herd-immunity-proposal/?outputType=amp" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called</a> herd immunity "junk science."</p><p>The head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, <a href="https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19---12-october-2020" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said this month</a> that the only acceptable form of "herd immunity" is achieved through vaccination. "Herd immunity is achieved by protecting people from a virus, not by exposing them to it," the secretary general said. "Never in the history of public health has herd immunity been used as a strategy for responding to an outbreak, let alone a pandemic... Allowing a dangerous virus that we don't fully understand to run free is simply unethical. It's not an option."</p>
Herd Immunity Is the National De Facto Strategy<p>Somehow, none of that has culled herd immunity from being considered as a legitimate approach for fighting COVID-19. Rather, the Great Barrington Declaration has much in common with the Trump administration's approach to the coronavirus, which has led to more people dying from COVID-19 in the United States than in any other nation on Earth.</p><p>A de facto herd immunity approach is the only thing that can explain the push by governors of so many states to <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/derrick-jackson/the-push-to-relax-covid-19-protections-exposes-age-old-racial-wounds" target="_blank">reopen</a> bars, restaurants, beaches, bowling alleys, and gyms in states even as the virus has raged and case numbers have been increasing. It is the only thing that can explain the federal designation of meatpackers as essential workers and state demands that teachers go back into classrooms despite outbreaks and deaths related to those professions.</p><p>It also explains how so many of the nation's most respected scientific voices have been silenced. Despite the virus's current "uncontrolled spread" in 34 states and Puerto Rico, according to October 21 <a href="https://www.covidexitstrategy.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">tracking</a> by CovidExistStrategy.org, the White House has pushed aside Fauci, Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Deborah Birx, Surgeon General Jerome Adams, and Robert Redfield, the head of the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control.</p><p>In their place, the administration has handed the pandemic podium to <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trumps-den-of-dissent-inside-the-white-house-task-force-as-coronavirus-surges/2020/10/19/7ff8ee6a-0a6e-11eb-859b-f9c27abe638d_story.html?utm_campaign=wp_to_your_health&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_tyh&wpmk=1&pwapi_token=eyJ0eXAiOiJKV1QiLCJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiJ9.eyJjb29raWVuYW1lIjoid3BfY3J0aWQiLCJpc3MiOiJDYXJ0YSIsImNvb2tpZXZhbHVlIjoiNWE1ZDQ3N2M5YmJjMGYyNmNiMTViMmI0IiwidGFnIjoiNWY4ZGZhZmQ5ZDJmZGEwZWZiNGViMzQyIiwidXJsIjoiaHR0cHM6Ly93d3cud2FzaGluZ3RvbnBvc3QuY29tL3BvbGl0aWNzL3RydW1wcy1kZW4tb2YtZGlzc2VudC1pbnNpZGUtdGhlLXdoaXRlLWhvdXNlLXRhc2stZm9yY2UtYXMtY29yb25hdmlydXMtc3VyZ2VzLzIwMjAvMTAvMTkvN2ZmOGVlNmEtMGE2ZS0xMWViLTg1OWItZjljMjdhYmU2MzhkX3N0b3J5Lmh0bWw_dXRtX2NhbXBhaWduPXdwX3RvX3lvdXJfaGVhbHRoJnV0bV9tZWRpdW09ZW1haWwmdXRtX3NvdXJjZT1uZXdzbGV0dGVyJndwaXNyYz1ubF90eWgmd3Btaz0xIn0.MyoXrwQD-PwWqdbb70_JfrI_fxHO0be_O_tpTTMXBgE" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Scott Atlas</a>, a radiologist and conservative pundit with <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/derrick-jackson/public-wants-science-based-policies-for-covid-19" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">no background</a> in infectious disease science or epidemiology in measuring disease prevalence. Inhumanely ignoring the more than half of U.S. adults having a pre-existing condition that could compromise them for COVID-19, he blithely praises herd immunity, <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/derrick-jackson/public-wants-science-based-policies-for-covid-19" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">saying,</a> "We can allow a lot of people to get infected. Those who are not at risk to die or have a serious hospital-requiring illness, we should be fine with letting them get infected."</p><p>He <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/521688-birx-confronted-pence-about-atlas" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pooh-poohs</a> expanded testing, saying, "you are destroying the workforce." Twitter recently took down one of Atlas's tweets for falsely claiming, "Masks work? NO" and then lying that the WHO says widespread mask use is "not supported." The first sentence of the WHO's <a href="https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/when-and-how-to-use-masks" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">webpage</a> on masks says, "Masks are a key measure to suppress the spread of COVID-19 and save lives."</p><p>Atlas denies that the White House has a "wide-open strategy of achieving herd immunity." But there's little doubt that the White House is wide open to the idea. Last week, Atlas <a href="https://www.foxnews.com/transcript/trump-adviser-calls-nbc-town-hall-brazen-display-of-media-duplicity" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appeared</a> on Fox News <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/white-house-touts-document-calling-for-herd-immunity-approach-to-covid-19-crisis-11603051550" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">to say</a> the thrust of the Great Barrington Declaration "is exactly aligned with the president." That was seconded by a senior administration official who <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/covid-herd-immunity/2020/10/10/3910251c-0a60-11eb-859b-f9c27abe638d_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told reporters</a> in a conference call that the Great Barrington Declaration "is endorsing what the president's policy has been for months."</p><p>The freezing out of scientists on the Coronavirus Task Force reached deep space levels this week (a metaphoric minus 455 degrees Fahrenheit), with multiple buckets of ice dumped on Fauci. Atlas diminished Fauci as "just one person" on the force, offering only a "limited approach." President Trump called Fauci a "disaster," <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-fauci-campaign-biden/2020/10/19/30b2fe58-1226-11eb-82af-864652063d61_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">claiming,</a> "People are tired of hearing Fauci and these idiots, all these idiots who got it wrong."</p>
Many Thousands of Lives Can Still Be Saved<p>Atlas's malpractice already merits his dismissal. He should be forced to step down because his disregard for science will surely lead to incalculable disaster if a herd immunity approach becomes official government policy. Calls for his ouster have already begun even from inside the task force. <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trumps-den-of-dissent-inside-the-white-house-task-force-as-coronavirus-surges/2020/10/19/7ff8ee6a-0a6e-11eb-859b-f9c27abe638d_story.html" target="_blank">According</a> to the <em>Washington Post</em>, Birx went to Vice President Mike Pence to suggest removing Atlas. All Pence reportedly did was ask Birx and Atlas to work out their problems on their own.</p><p>There is no time left for such discord within the task force and for discordant messages to come from the White House on how people should protect themselves from COVID-19. The thousands of scientists and public health professionals who signed the John Snow Memorandum say "it is critical to act decisively and urgently," to launch a "robust" response on the level of New Zealand, Vietnam, or Japan—all of which have shown success in containing the virus and keeping the numbers of cases and deaths relatively low.</p><p>The approach that has been proven effective starts with face coverings and social distancing and reducing the temptation we all will feel during the oncoming winter holidays to have extended family gatherings. Researchers from MIT and the Vancouver School of Economics <a href="https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.05.27.20115139v6.full.pdf" target="_blank">estimate</a> in a working paper that, if the United States had established a national mask mandate in mid-March, between 19,000 and 47,000 lives could have been saved by the end of May. Now that the nation's death toll approaches a quarter million lives lost, and is <a href="https://covid19.healthdata.org/united-states-of-america?view=total-deaths&tab=trend" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">projected</a> to reach nearly 400,000 by February 1, according to the Institutes for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, the institute estimates we could avoid 74,000 new deaths with universal mask use.</p><p>Importantly, masks protect others, including the most vulnerable among us. This week, the <em>Washington Post</em> reported how coronavirus outbreaks among college students partying in unmasked packs in LaCrosse, Wisconsin was found to have <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/10/21/la-crosse-wisconsin-covid-outbreak-nursing-home-deaths/?utm_campaign=wp_to_your_health&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_tyh&wpmk=1&pwapi_token=eyJ0eXAiOiJKV1QiLCJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiJ9.eyJjb29raWVuYW1lIjoid3BfY3J0aWQiLCJpc3MiOiJDYXJ0YSIsImNvb2tpZXZhbHVlIjoiNWE1ZDQ3N2M5YmJjMGYyNmNiMTViMmI0IiwidGFnIjoiNWY5MWU3YjU5ZDJmZGEwZWZiNTE3OGNmIiwidXJsIjoiaHR0cHM6Ly93d3cud2FzaGluZ3RvbnBvc3QuY29tL2hlYWx0aC8yMDIwLzEwLzIxL2xhLWNyb3NzZS13aXNjb25zaW4tY292aWQtb3V0YnJlYWstbnVyc2luZy1ob21lLWRlYXRocy8_dXRtX2NhbXBhaWduPXdwX3RvX3lvdXJfaGVhbHRoJnV0bV9tZWRpdW09ZW1haWwmdXRtX3NvdXJjZT1uZXdzbGV0dGVyJndwaXNyYz1ubF90eWgmd3Btaz0xIn0.6Ep-AvkJkNqGTE08UsekVlNWR01vYzQe-qg5BPruSQM" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">led to 19 deaths so far of people over the age of 60</a>. Before that, the city had gone without a single pandemic death in its nursing homes.</p><p>That is on the heels of the wedding in Millinocket, Maine that resulted in an outbreak that <a href="https://bangordailynews.com/2020/09/19/news/eight-deaths-now-tied-to-millinocket-area-wedding-outbreak-including-seven-at-nursing-home/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">killed eight elderly people</a>, none of whom attended the event, and the 500,000-person Sturgis, South Dakota motorcycle rally that is <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/10/17/sturgis-rally-spread/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">now tied</a> to the massive coronavirus outbreak in the Upper Midwest and Mountain States. The Germain IZA Institute of Labor Economics estimates that the illness generated from the rally <a href="https://www.iza.org/publications/dp/13670/the-contagion-externality-of-a-superspreading-event-the-sturgis-motorcycle-rally-and-covid-19" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">will cost</a> the nation $12.2 billion in health care costs.</p><p>Atlas and the proponents of the Great Barrington Declaration have not yet said why this is just fine. That is why they must be unmasked for the charlatans that they are.</p>
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By Jose Pablo Ortiz Partida
The immediate emergency of COVID-19 has been a powerful reminder that the most valuable things in our lives are our families, friends, and the welfare of our communities.
Thousands of People in the SJV Live Without Reliable Access to Water.<p>California is the wealthiest state in the most prosperous country in the world, and yet, there are close to one million people living without reliable access to safe, clean, and affordable drinking water. Most of these people are <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/21/us/california-central-valley-tainted-water.html" target="_blank">concentrated in disadvantaged communities</a> in the SJV. California identifies <a href="https://oehha.ca.gov/calenviroscreen/sb535" target="_blank">disadvantaged communities</a> as areas that experience disproportionate levels of a combination of poverty, air and water pollution, high unemployment, and high rates of cardiovascular diseases and asthma. According to a report from the UC Davis Center for Regional Change, residents in these communities are <a href="https://regionalchange.ucdavis.edu/publication/water-justice" target="_blank">over 60% Hispanic</a>.</p><p><span></span>The SJV is one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world, <a href="https://www.ppic.org/wp-content/uploads/water-and-the-future-of-the-san-joaquin-valley-overview.pdf" target="_blank">producing more than half of California's agricultural output</a> with over 200 different crops and annual revenue of about 20 billion US dollars. The astonishing volume of water that agriculture requires has led to over-exploitation of groundwater and the continuous lowering of groundwater levels that has impacted water quality and quantity.</p><p>Groundwater is the primary source for household water needs and agricultural water supply. Yet, thousands of people are unable to drink and use the water in the SJV, because there are multiple contaminants in it. Some of the water pollution comes from natural sources and includes substances like arsenic, but most of it has emerged due to agricultural practices. These contaminants include pesticides and nitrates, which are linked to cancer, birth defects, and blue baby syndrome.</p><p>In years with average precipitation, water flowing in California's rivers from rain and melted snowpack meets about 60 percent of the state's water demand and groundwater meets the remainder. However, during dry years water supply sources shift and put severe stress on groundwater levels. During the California drought from 2012 to 2016, groundwater use, mostly from agricultural water pumping, <a href="https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/04/droughts-exposed-california-s-thirst-groundwater-now-state-hopes-refill-its-aquifers" target="_blank">grew to 80 percent</a> in some regions of the SJV increasing overdraft. Groundwater overdraft occurs when water extractions exceed recharge into an aquifer. An analogy is your bank account; extract more money than is put in, and your account will go dry. Aquifers are like a shared account, with some people taking out more than others. Consequently, thousands of domestic wells ran dry, unable to reach water due to lowered groundwater levels, in large part due to increased agricultural water pumping, and affecting thousands of people across the valley.</p><p>We think about drought as standalone events, but in reality, human actions triggered by droughts can have effects that continue long after the drought has ended, like permanently lowering the water table. In the SJV, the last drought has permanently reduced the capacity of some aquifers because overdraft left air in between soil particles instead of water, and the soils subsided eliminating the space for water storage. Overdraft also leads to infrastructure damage from land subsidence, that is when the ground levels drop, plus reduction of surface water, and an increase in water quality problems. That range of concerns brought by overdraft formed the basis of SGMA.</p>
Groundwater Sustainability Plans Could Fix Part of the Problem but Are Currently Inadequate.<p>SGMA passed in 2014 and is the first legislation in California to mandate sustainable management of groundwater resources. SGMA is intended to bring about groundwater sustainability by the year 2040. Local water agencies describe the means to achieve this goal in their Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs). For those interested in the details of SGMA, <a href="https://water.ca.gov/Programs/Groundwater-Management/SGMA-Groundwater-Management" target="_blank">here is a thorough description of it</a>. The focus of this post is on the latest developments.</p><p>The 21 most critically over-drafted groundwater basins submitted their GSPs at the beginning of the year and are now under review by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR). External reviews of these plans argue that some of them do not sufficiently address current and future impacts on disadvantaged communities. For example, the Groundwater Leadership Forum (a group of organizations funded by the <a href="https://waterfdn.org/" target="_blank">Water Foundation</a> focused on ensuring the success of SGMA and of which UCS is part) also reviewed several GPSs and found gaps in how drinking water, climate change, stakeholder involvement, managed wetlands, and groundwater-dependent ecosystems were addressed in the plans. The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) reviewed 36 plans submitted for basins overlapping the SJV. They found Kings Basin (surrounding Fresno) stands out for having the highest number of domestic wells that may go dry, about 600 of them, under the proposed water level sustainable thresholds and yet the local groundwater plan considers that an <a href="https://www.ppic.org/blog/will-groundwater-sustainability-plans-end-the-problem-of-dry-drinking-water-wells/" target="_blank">insignificant impact from continued overdraft</a>. This is concerning and unacceptable. Public comments can be consulted in the <a href="https://sgma.water.ca.gov/portal/gsp/all" target="_blank">SGMA portal from DWR</a>.</p><p>I, and many others are concerned that multiple GSPs have questionable integrations of climate change projections. GSPs are considering numerous projects to tackle their local overdraft, yet they are not planning for the uncertain future that climate change is bringing. To reduce some of the vulnerabilities that we see now, GSPs need to integrate climate change and show benefits on the range of future scenarios.</p><p>Another concern is that on May 14, the <a href="http://www.ebudget.ca.gov/FullBudgetSummary.pdf" target="_blank">Governor announced</a> a $40 million cut on funding for SGMA. Part of the money was expected to support 37 new staff positions at DWR to uphold its statutory obligation on reviewing GSPs. While the budget still allocated $26 million of existing Proposition 68 bond funds to help with implementation projects in critically overdraft basin, it is unlikely that DWR will have the capacity to review the GSPs thoroughly. However, the governor's budget did prioritize safe and affordable drinking water and the State Water Board approved <a href="http://californiawaternewsdaily.com/infrastructure/state-water-board-approves-2020-21-funds-to-improve-access-to-healthy-drinking-water/" target="_blank">$130 million for 2020-2021</a> to projects that support such objective on vulnerable communities.</p>
Without Bold Action and Preparation, Climate Change Threats May Bring Similar Impacts to Those of COVID-19.<p>The lack of drinking water causes many residents in the valley to rely on bottled water as their primary source for drinking and cooking. Panic buying at the beginning of the pandemic left stores across the valley without bottled water. In the case of COVID-19, unsafe and unreliable access to water has endangered a multitude of low-income communities by preventing them from performing protective, hygienic acts, handwashing, in particular, and forcing them to go to public water supply kiosks. As we've all learned, hand washing is one of the most necessary measures needed to slow and stop the spread of a virus. Without a correct implementation of groundwater sustainability plans under SGMA, many of these risks will continue.</p><p>Shelter in place orders resulted in people losing their jobs and hence, their source of income and being unable to pay utility services. Small utility services were also impacted because of low economic margins of operations in which small drops in income translate to being unable to provide service. Fortunately, many organizations and individuals wrote a letter to Governor Newsom that prompted him to issue an <a href="https://www.gov.ca.gov/2020/04/02/governor-newsom-issues-executive-order-protecting-homes-small-businesses-from-water-shutoffs/" target="_blank">executive order</a> protecting homes and small businesses from water shutoffs.</p><p>We now have the opportunity to give meaning to these current hardships by learning from them to prevent hardships from climate change. Climate change is a threat intensifier. In this case, the threat is a virus, and historical inequities and water vulnerabilities increased its impact on the most vulnerable among us. An example of the unpreparedness of the system to support our vulnerabilities during times of crisis is seen in the case of school children who rely on school lunches as their main meal of the day but are now unable to access this resource due to school closures. Some farmworkers, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/02/us/coronavirus-undocumented-immigrant-farmworkers-agriculture.html" target="_blank">while cataloged as 'essential' by the federal government</a> during this crisis, are undocumented and were not part of the stimulus package. The height of irony is <a href="https://www.kvpr.org/post/covid-19-deepens-food-insecurity-san-joaquin-valley" target="_blank">farmworkers struggled with access to food distribution</a> when they needed it.</p>
There Is No Scenario Where Water Is Not Absolutely Necessary to Lessen the Impacts During a Crisis.<p>One of my <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/cecilia-moura/covid-19-air-pollution-and-health-impacts-an-interview-with-pediatric-pulmonologist-dr-denise-serebrisky" target="_blank">colleagues wrote</a> that moments of crisis often expose the weak points of a system. In the SJV, the weak points of the water system have been exposed for years and won't be strengthened without managing water resources sustainably. This is evidenced by the number of people in the SJV without access to safe, clean, and affordable drinking water. Considering that about <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/feb/28/california-water-wells-dry-sgma" target="_blank">95% of valley residents</a> depend on groundwater for at least part of their water, it is critical that GSPs explicitly include strategies for addressing some of the current and future water issues in the SJV.</p><p>Numerous, various kinds of climate threats will come, whether they develop as <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-020-0804-2" target="_blank">floods, heatwaves, wildfires, droughts, or other climate hazards</a>, we need to be prepared and do everything possible to improve sustainable water management for all. While future climate-change-derived crises most likely will be different than COVID-19, there is no scenario where water is not absolutely necessary to lessen the impacts.</p>
By Derrick Z. Jackson
All over America, protesters have taken to the streets to protest the police murders of African Americans George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville and the white vigilante lynching of African American Ahmed Aubrey in Brunswick, Georgia. Part of the news coverage has dwelled on the speculation that the protests will fuel a second wave of COVID-19. One infectious disease scientist, Trevor Bedford of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, made the rough calculation that the protests could ultimately lead to between 15,000 and 50,000 overall coronavirus infections and between 50 to 500 deaths.
Police Contribute to COVID-19 Risk<p>Those same masks worn by protesters were too often ripped off in agony as police around the nation chose to break up usually peaceful protests with tear gas and pepper spray. Researchers told National Public Radio that the gasping and violent coughing <a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/06/05/870144402/tear-gassing-protesters-during-an-infectious-outbreak-called-a-recipe-for-disast" target="_blank">can project the virus of an infected person many feet</a>. Many of those gasping people were then herded into packed vans and sent to crowded jails.</p><p>The Army has <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25003867/" target="_blank">found</a> that tear gas training exercises make soldiers more susceptible to acute respiratory illnesses, and the increased risk of COVID-19 spread triggered by using tear gas is so high that Duke University researcher Sven Eric Jordt <a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/06/05/870144402/tear-gassing-protesters-during-an-infectious-outbreak-called-a-recipe-for-disast" target="_blank">told</a> NPR, "Using it in the current situation with COVID-19 around is completely irresponsible."</p><p>The police also displayed more irresponsibility than the people they were supposed to control by often spurning face coverings for themselves and practicing no social distancing. Several New York City police officers <a href="https://nypost.com/2020/06/02/nypd-cops-ignore-directive-abandon-masks-during-protester-clashes/" target="_blank">told</a> the media that face coverings are too hot and difficult to breathe through while dealing with protesters. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, local and county policy said they did not wear face coverings because they hampered communication.</p><p>That did not wash with the Rev. Alaina Cobb of the Mercy Junction Justice and Peace Center. She <a href="https://www.timesfreepress.com/news/local/story/2020/jun/03/protesters-question-lack-masks/524488/" target="_blank">said to the Chattanooga Times Free Press,</a> "We see once again the significance of the police's disregard for the health, safety and even lives of those who they feign they are here to protect."</p><p>The police actions mirrored political disregard around the nation for health, safety, and lives—especially those of black and brown people. Governors in many states ignored pleas not to reopen so quickly from mayors of cities whose populations are significantly of color and hard hit by COVID-19.</p><p>One of the most dramatic dismissals of the damage and continuing risk of COVID-19 to black people came a month ago in Mississippi, where Governor Tate Reeves <a href="https://voxpopulisphere.com/2020/05/16/michelle-d-holmes-m-d-re-opening-america/" target="_blank">announced</a> an aggressive reopening of close-contact gyms, hair salons, and barbershops on the same day the state hit a <a href="https://www.clarionledger.com/story/news/2020/05/08/watch-gov-reeves-coronavirus-crisis-mississippi/3095787001/" target="_blank">record high</a> in new cases. He could reopen with unspoken racial comfort as a white governor. Mississippi is 59 percent white, but <a href="https://www.apmresearchlab.org/covid/deaths-by-race" target="_blank">52 percent</a> of the state's COVID-19 deaths have been suffered by African Americans, who are more vulnerable to the disease through a combination of poor prior health, congested living conditions, and riskier essential jobs.</p><p>As my epidemiologist wife Michelle D. Holmes pointed out in her own <a href="https://voxpopulisphere.com/2020/05/16/michelle-d-holmes-m-d-re-opening-america/" target="_blank">commentary</a> in Vox Populi, Reeves justified reopening by claiming that the economic damage was becoming as "disastrous" as the virus. Vigorously objecting to this equating of money with life was Chokwe Antar Lumumba, mayor of Mississippi's heavily black capital of Jackson. He said, "It's a bad decision to freeze economic progress, but a worse one to sacrifice human lives."</p>
White Privilege Unmasked<p>The rush back to business by Reeves and so many governors who have pursued aggressive openings gives a new expression of white privilege in America. In striking photographs from all over the country, predominately white crowds are <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/social-distancing-strictures-fall-away-as-crowds-gather-to-party-and-protest/2020/05/30/42df4d9c-a2a6-11ea-81bb-c2f70f01034b_story.html" target="_blank">packed</a> shoulder to shoulder, with few face coverings, at <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/31/sports/ace-speedway-north-carolina-coronavirus.html" target="_blank">raceways</a>, at Lake of the <a href="https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/destinations/2020/06/06/lake-ozarks-covid-cases-community-undeterred-reopening/3156993001/" target="_blank">Ozarks</a>, West Coast and East Coast beaches, and at the <a href="https://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/2020/05/30/go-baby-go-crowds-converge-space-coast-spacex-launch/5279246002/" target="_blank">launch</a> of SpaceX.</p><p>These photos showcase a kind of jolly version of the angry, all-white, and supremacist-influenced anti-lockdown protests at state capitols. The images amount to an open declaration that the pursuit of white happiness is an unalienable, unalterable right. It offers up a perverted version of America the Beautiful, where alabaster crowds beam, undimmed by COVID-19 tears from black and brown communities.</p>
Shutting Up Every Scientist They Can<p>The nation's cheerleader for this version of happiness is President Trump, who has overtly shunned mask wearing and social distancing. His administration gave a royal welcome to the coronavirus by <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/05/17/the-art-of-the-pandemic-how-donald-trump-walked-the-u-s-into-the-covid-19-era/" target="_blank">shuttering</a> most of the pandemic-warning apparatus built up by prior administrations. Now the White House is helping to assure a second wave by <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/white-house-tensions-with-cdc-spill-into-public-view-as-top-trump-adviser-criticizes-agency-response/2020/05/17/a4917896-9854-11ea-a282-386f56d579e6_story.html" target="_blank">shutting up</a> every scientist they can.</p><p>Chief among the silenced has been whistleblower Rick Bright, who <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/05/us/politics/rick-bright-coronavirus-whistleblower.html" target="_blank">said</a> he was removed from a top post combatting infectious threats because he told the administration it was <a href="https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/key-moments-from-hhs-whistleblower-rick-brights-testimony-on-coronavirus-response" target="_blank">moving</a> too slowly to stem the spread of the coronavirus. He warned a House hearing last month that, without a coordinated national response based in science, "the pandemic will get far worse."</p><p>It appears that the silencing of science is also now muting one of the few voices America could count on for sane public health advice during the now-evaporated coronavirus task force press briefings in which Trump ranted about dubious virus remedies, personally attacked reporters, and self-congratulated himself on closing borders despite the dead. CNN <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/01/politics/fauci-trump-two-weeks/index.html" target="_blank">reported</a> on June 1 that infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said he had not talked with Trump since May 18. In a June 1 <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/06/01/anthony-fauci-on-covid-19-reopenings-vaccines-and-moving-at-warp-speed/" target="_blank">interview</a> with STAT News, Fauci expanded on this, saying:</p><p>"We used to have task force meetings every single day, including Saturday and Sunday, and about 75 percent of the time after the task force meeting, we'd meet with the president. So, I was meeting with him four times a week back, a month or so ago. But as you probably noticed, the task force meetings have not occurred as often lately. And certainly, my meetings with the president have been dramatically decreased."</p>
COVID-19 Cases Increasing in Nearly Half of All States<p>In the absence of federal leadership, not to mention science-based leadership, we find ourselves in the midst of a 50-state experiment, weaving a clashing quilt of regulations and timing in <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/states-reopen-map-coronavirus.html" target="_blank">opening up</a> shopping malls, restaurants, barbershops, beauty parlors, gyms, churches, and childcare facilities.</p><p>Universities—responsible for <a href="https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372#College_enrollment" target="_blank">20 million</a> young adults—are releasing their plans for fall re-openings that <a href="https://www.marketplace.org/2020/05/20/covid-19-college-campuses-reopening-online-classes/" target="_blank">display no consistency</a>, ranging from the Harvard School of Public Health and the California State University System remaining online to aggressive plans for in-person classes at schools such as Notre Dame and Purdue. Top college football teams are opening facilities, AMC Theaters says it will <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/09/business/coronavirus-amc-movie-theaters-reopening.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage" target="_blank">reopen</a> its cineplexes in July. The National Basketball Association, which jumpstarted the closure of mass events in mid-March by suspending the season, says it plans to resume its season at the end of July.</p><p>And on what public health evidence? Not much. Consider that:</p><ul><li>According to the June 11 <em>New York Times</em> <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html" target="_blank">coronavirus map</a>, coronavirus cases are increasing in 20 states and Puerto Rico, based on 14-day trajectories;</li><li>According to the June 11 Johns Hopkins <a href="https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/data/new-cases-50-states" target="_blank">coronavirus map,</a> 21 states and Puerto Rico were seeing an increase, based on a three-day rolling average.</li><li>A June 8 <em>Washington Post</em> <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/06/08/14-states-puerto-rico-hit-their-highest-seven-day-average-new-covid-19-infections-since-june/" target="_blank">analysis</a> found that 14 states and Puerto Rico saw their highest-ever seven-day average of new cases in the pandemic. The states were: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Kentucky, New Mexico, North Carolina, Mississippi, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah;</li><li>According to the June 10 version of The Atlantic's COVID-19 <a href="https://www.covidexitstrategy.org/" target="_blank">Tracking Project</a>, states "trending poorly" toward safe reopenings outnumber those "trending better" by a 3-to-1 margin. Only six states were trending better while 20 were trending poorly. The other states and the District of Columbia were in a muddled middle, making progress in decreasing infections, but still raising concern given their limited intensive care units and low testing levels;</li><li>And Columbia University infectious disease specialist Wafaa El-Sadr <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/california-and-some-other-states-see-coronavirus-cases-rise-11591540411" target="_blank">noted</a> to the Wall Street Journal that the national average of cases, which seem to be on a gradual downward trend, might be a dangerous illusion created by the few states that were hit hard early but since have made major progress in curbing COVID-19. "If you take out the impact of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and so on, you'd have a much more worrisome picture of what's happening in the U.S.," El-Sadr said.</li></ul><p>No matter which tracking map you look at, the list of states most poorly controlling the virus are dominated by those which have aggressively relaxed COVID health protections and been most supportive of the Trump administration's drive to get back to business regardless of safety. In the <em>Atlantic</em> map, not a single Southern or Southwestern state shows a decreasing trend in the spread of disease. It is equally scary that the largest blue state in the country, California, is seeing new outbreaks as it begins to lift restrictions after being one of the first states to shut down.</p><p>Now that every state has reopened in some way, there are new outbreaks from California to the Jersey Shore and from Utah to Florida from <a href="https://www.sacbee.com/news/local/article243400791.html" target="_blank">family gatherings</a>, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/08/us/jersey-shore-coronavirus-trnd/index.html" target="_blank">beach vacations</a>, <a href="https://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/local/2020/06/09/coronavirus-kentucky-17-clays-mill-baptist-church-members-infected/3164299001/" target="_blank">churches</a>, people going back to <a href="https://www.deseret.com/utah/2020/6/8/21284039/utahs-recent-spike-in-covid-19-cases-inevitable-but-no-cause-for-panic-epidemiologist-says" target="_blank">workplaces</a>, resumption of college <a href="https://www.kcra.com/article/more-universities-report-coronavirus-cases-in-athletics-programs-1/32793704" target="_blank">sports practices, </a>and factory food processing. In the purple swing state of North Carolina, state health secretary Mandy Cohen <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/coronavirus-latest-news-06-08-2020-11591604366" target="_blank">told</a> the Wall Street Journal on June 8: "These trends moving in the wrong direction are a signal we need to take very seriously."</p>
A Texas-Sized Problem<p>Even though there is plenty of emerging evidence that new outbreaks are spreading out into whiter parts of America, you would not know that from governors such as Greg Abbott of Texas.</p><p>Like other governors of states in which COVID-19 deaths of people of color outnumber those of white residents, Abbott is reopening Texas as though he can gerrymander the boundaries of the virus to protect privileged communities. We know that social distancing and face coverings offer the best tools we have to prevent the spread of the coronavirus without a vaccine. Despite how badly the White House botched the beginning of the pandemic, a <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2404-8_reference.pdf" target="_blank">study</a> released June 8 in the journal <em>Nature</em> found that state lockdowns still <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/06/08/shutdowns-prevented-60-million-coronavirus-infections-us-study-finds/" target="_blank">averted</a> some 60 million infections.</p><p>Nonetheless, despite Texas seeing a 53 percent increase in its rolling 14-day average number of virus cases as of June 10, Abbott <a href="https://dailytimes.com/promotions/article_69e42a14-a668-11ea-b60b-2be4980fc413.html" target="_blank">has announced</a> plans to allow Fourth of July celebrations, to let <a href="https://www.dallasnews.com/sports/cowboys/2020/06/03/gov-greg-abbott-says-professional-collegiate-stadiums-in-texas-can-operate-at-50-capacity/" target="_blank">sports stadiums</a> and retailers operate at 50 percent capacity, and to let restaurants serve meals at 75 percent capacity.</p><p>Abbott was quite clear in his statements that he has not taken in any of the science about <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/02/opinion/coronavirus-superspreaders.html?campaign_id=9&emc=edit_nn_20200611&instance_id=19296&nl=the-morning&regi_id=61941902&segment_id=30654&te=1&user_id=4f40d98c4eef63a91e3d367c28db532b" target="_blank">potential superspreading of the virus from large gatherings</a>. He also seems to take perverse comfort in his reopening based on his perception of where the virus hits hardest, citing jails, nursing homes, and meatpacking plants.</p><p>The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting <a href="https://investigatemidwest.org/2020/04/16/tracking-covid-19s-impact-on-meatpacking-workers-and-industry/" target="_blank">says</a> that as of June 9, at least 24,000 meatpacking workers and family members have been infected with COIVD-19, with at least 86 worker deaths. "We have the ability to contain those hot spots while opening up Texas for business," <a href="https://dailytimes.com/promotions/article_69e42a14-a668-11ea-b60b-2be4980fc413.html" target="_blank">Abbott said.</a> Translated, Abbott's statement amounts to a plan to contain the virus to communities that are disproportionally made up of people of color. While he didn't bother to say it, the fact is that inmates, meatpackers, and nursing home <a href="https://healthworkforce.ucsf.edu/sites/healthworkforce.ucsf.edu/files/REPORT-2018.HWRC_diversity_.4-18.pdf" target="_blank">staff</a> all tend to be disproportionately black and brown.</p>
Failing to Prioritize Justice and Public Health<p>The major question now is what will come of an America that is smoldering in the photographed displays of white privilege, the pillaging of science by the Trump administration, and an uprising of black grievance.</p><p>The uprisings started with police killings but have also reminded us that racism itself is a fatal virus that has been with us far longer than COVID-19. Back in 2005, former Surgeon General David Satcher <a href="https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/pdf/10.1377/hlthaff.24.2.459" target="_blank">estimated</a> that 83,500 black lives a year could be saved by eliminating health disparities. In the COVID-19 crisis, the APM Research Lab <a href="https://www.apmresearchlab.org/covid/deaths-by-race" target="_blank">estimates </a>that at least 14,400 African Americans would still be alive if they died from the virus at the same rate as white Americans.</p><p>One source of those disparities—one tied to the COVID-19 crisis—is <a href="https://prospect.org/greennewdeal/toxic-injustices-little-village-chicago/" target="_blank">environmental injustice</a>. Even as protesters marched in the streets, President Trump signed an <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/eo-accelerating-nations-economic-recovery-covid-19-emergency-expediting-infrastructure-investments-activities/" target="_blank">executive order</a> last week waiving environmental reviews for fossil fuel facilities and pipelines, mining, and other toxic industries. People of color <a href="https://prospect.org/greennewdeal/toxic-injustices-little-village-chicago/" target="_blank">live disproportionately</a> close to lung-penetrating particles and poisonous fumes from industrial plants, increasing their vulnerability to the worst effects of COVID-19.</p><p>At a June 9 House hearing, Mustafa Santiago Ali, vice president of environmental justice at the National Wildlife Federation and former senior adviser for environmental justice at the Environmental Protection Agency, tied the protests and environmental justice together. According to The Hill, he <a href="https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/501894-in-trump-response-to-coronavirus-lawmakers-and-activists-see" target="_blank">said,</a> "Black communities are dealing with the systemic racism that has infected the policing in our communities that is literally choking us to death. The rolling back of environmental rules and regulations has us gasping for air due to the cumulative public health impacts from the burning of fossil fuels," he <a href="https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/501894-in-trump-response-to-coronavirus-lawmakers-and-activists-see" target="_blank">said,</a> according to The Hill. "When we say, 'I Can't Breathe,' we literally can't breathe."</p>
The Looming Second Wave<p>A lot more people will not be breathing if we get a second wave of disease anything like the fall resurgence of the 1918 flu <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-commemoration/three-waves.htm" target="_blank">pandemic</a>, which killed most of the 675,000 Americans who perished from the virus. If we do, this country will have no one to blame but itself. The widespread abandonment of state lockdowns began a month ago even though just one-quarter of all states were <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/derrick-jackson/the-push-to-relax-covid-19-protections-exposes-age-old-racial-wounds" target="_blank">reporting</a> a decline in COVID-19 caseloads and even fewer had robust virus testing programs in place.</p><p>The US reopenings are proceeding even though the Imperial College of London has found "little evidence that the epidemic is under control in the majority of states." They are proceeding even though Harvard University global health expert Ashish Jha <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/06/10/873624522/as-cities-hit-hardest-by-covid-19-reopen-red-flags-emerge-in-other-areas" target="_blank">told</a> National Public Radio on June 10, "It's stunning to me that we have just decided it's OK for tens of thousands of Americans to die. And we aren't going to do what we know we can do to prevent those deaths. And that is, to me, unconscionable."</p><p>They are proceeding even though Irwin Redlener, director of Columbia University's National Center for Disaster Preparedness, recently <a href="https://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/watch/dr-redlener-disaster-for-states-to-reopen-without-enough-testing-83884613632" target="_blank">told</a> MSNBC that without strong testing and tracing, it is a "disaster for the country to have these various states opening. We should be reconsidering this right now. If it was up to me, I'd put a halt to this reopening."</p><p>That makes it ludicrous to spend a whole lot of time speculating about the spread of COVID-19 from protesters. The far greater concern is the rampage on science and public health now underway by governors and the White House.</p><p>To effectively combat the pandemic, we need a just response guided by science and accurate data. But in this terrible moment when Americans have taken to the streets in droves because a police officer put a fatal knee to the neck of a black man, tens of thousands more Americans now risk of dying because the states and the White House have applied a figurative knee to the neck of our public health.</p>
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By Juan Declet-Barreto
In early April, when social distancing took hold across many places in the U.S. — with school and workplace closings and public life coming to a halt — it seemed like an inopportune time to talk about climate change.
The Double whammy of Climate and COVID-19 on Vulnerable People<p>If the litany of pandemic scientists' warnings sounds familiar, it's because climate scientists have been issuing, for decades, similar warnings about the need to reduce carbon emissions to curb climate change and avoid catastrophic consequences for human life and the infrastructure that supports it. And while climate change and COVID-19 may seem unrelated on the surface, we live in an interconnected world where carbon emissions and viral agents like the novel coronavirus are globalized, operating and disrupting our lives at different spatial and temporal scales. Think, for example, of the novel coronavirus' 1-14 day incubation period in our bodies, a climate change-driven heat wave through our city, or seasonal flooding through our region.</p><p>Our new pandemic reality has been made more complicated and dangerous by climate change and the added pressure it can exert on millions of people — e.g., to seek cooling centers, endure a long power outage, flee the path of hurricanes, the loss of life or property, habitats, and ancestral ways of life — and the combination looks frightening.</p><p>A few weeks ago, my colleague Dr. Kristy Dahl and I analyzed the <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/kristy-dahl/new-ucs-analysis-coronavirus-and-flooding-set-to-collide-in-us?fbclid=IwAR0H0KQu7pq6mlssXFHYCCrJ_NPcQ9sIiYVbV00vPiqtXjJOCKdSMUNlezg" target="_blank">confluence of projected COVID-19 infections</a> and spring flood predictions by the end of May 2020. We found that many areas in the U.S. South and Midwest, including rural agricultural communities like Cedar Rapids, IA, and large metropolitan areas like Atlanta and St Louis could be dealing with evacuating people to shelters while simultaneously trying to prevent spread of the novel coronavirus by maintaining social distancing guidelines.</p><p>Fortunately, most of those flood predictions have not come true. But NOAA's Spring flood outlook, <a href="https://www.weather.gov/dvn/2020_springfloodoutlook" target="_blank">updated since we did that analysis</a>, is warning that spring rain and wet soil conditions could still drive flooding in the late season.</p>
Protecting Against Both COVID-19 and Extreme Weather<p>As temperatures across the U.S. rise with the approach of summer, another climate and COVID-19 quandary is in sight: how to protect people — especially the most vulnerable — from heat waves, while also protecting them from COVID-19?</p><p>For example, elderly people, who are at <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/adrienne-hollis/catch-22-of-coronavirus-for-seniors-most-at-risk-and-the-importance-of-up-to-date-information" target="_blank">higher risk of death from COVID-19</a>, are also at high risk of becoming sick or dying from extreme heat, as was the case in the <a href="http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/July-2015/1995-Chicago-heat-wave/" target="_blank">1995 Chicago heat wave</a> that killed 700-plus (many of them people of advanced age who lived on their own). In some cities, where heat tends to be more extreme because of the <a href="https://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/pdf/10.1175/WCAS-D-15-0026.1" target="_blank">urban heat island effect</a>, many elderly people live on their own, may not have an air conditioner unit at home, or may be unable to afford its use. Many among those will be forced to observe social distancing by sheltering in place in dangerously hot homes. But poverty and social isolation on their own will unfortunately also take their toll on the most vulnerable if we don't take steps to protect them.</p><p>COVID-19 is already ravaging <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/adrienne-hollis/the-crisis-within-the-crisis-covid-19-is-ravaging-african-americans" target="_blank">African American</a> and <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/coronavirus-takes-more-native-americans-lives-killing-our-elderly-erases-ncna1189761" target="_blank">Native American communities</a>, and <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/juan-declet-barreto/para-enfrentar-la-pandemia-del-coronavirus-necesitamos-escuchar-a-los-cientificos-y-mantener-el-distanciamiento-social" target="_blank">Latinos are also disproportionately exposed</a> to the novel coronavirus. Many of the usual steps taken to protect people from extreme heat in many of these communities — in urban and rural areas alike — are incompatible with the social distancing measures taken to prevent virus contagion. And if climate change continues unchecked, the <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/killer-heat-united-states-0" target="_blank">number of "killer heat" days</a> could quadruple in many areas of the U.S., putting more people in harm's way.</p><p>Before the COVID-19 crisis, it may have been possible for elderly people and other vulnerable persons to go to nearby cooling centers, malls, movie theaters, parks, lakes, or beaches, but in many states these are closed to limit spread of COVID-19 infections.</p><p>In mid-April, the <a href="https://twitter.com/DecletBarreto/status/1250882413837901826" target="_blank">heat index in parts of Florida exceeded 100<strong>°</strong>F</a>, prompting calls for Governor DeSantis to enact a statewide moratorium on utility shutoffs for lapses in bill payment. Keeping the air conditioner (AC) on is a critical way for people to stay healthy and alive indoors during extreme heat days while observing social distancing and stay-at- home orders.</p><p>This came into focus last week across the Southern U.S. as a deadly heat wave blanketed the region. As my colleague <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/rachel-licker/how-to-keep-us-south-safe-from-covid-19-and-scorching-heat-even-as-some-states-ignore-pandemic-dangers" target="_blank">Dr. Rachel Licker pointed out</a>, the combination of income loss, COVID-19, extreme heat, and the lack of utility shutoff moratoria are bad, bad news for millions across the South. In this time when multiple environmental hazards are hitting us, the way to keep people safe from a heat wave is to keep the AC running at home so they don't have to go outside to cool and risk spread of COVID-19.</p><p>Under normal times, it's difficult for a significant chunk of the U.S. population to keep the AC, refrigerator, and other essential home appliances running, but loss of jobs and income will make it even harder for an even larger segment of the population.</p>
Six Ways Congress Can Keep Low-Income People at Home and Cool During the Pandemic<ul> <li><strong>Ensure Parity in energy bill assistance benefits to residents of public housing </strong>– In at least 26 states, residents of public housing with energy costs included in rent are <a href="https://liheapch.acf.hhs.gov/pubs/440.htm" target="_blank">not eligible for energy bill payment</a> assistance under the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Such an arrangement means that tenants don't have to pay out of pocket for electric bills, which can serve to protect from heat those residents of public housing that includes AC units. But it does not work for public housing that does not include AC units because LIHEAP does not cover the purchase of AC units. In addition, residents of public housing in many states receive less LIHEAP benefits regardless of how energy costs are paid. Residents of public housing, like other low-income populations, already face significant challenges to meeting material needs, and should not be penalized by LIHEAP. Congress must ensure parity in LIHEAP benefits for all low-income populations.</li></ul><ul><li><strong>Eliminate LIHEAP medical documentation requirement </strong>– One requirement for LIHEAP benefits eligibility is that an applicant with a health or medical risk that could worsen with a utility disconnection provides medical documentation of such risk. In this country, many low-income persons lack health insurance due to cost barriers. In addition, in-person medical appointments are currently largely not possible due to the need to observe social distancing during the pandemic, and virtual medical appointments require broadband internet connections at home and computer equipment that may be out of reach for many low-income populations. Beyond pre-existing medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes that could be exacerbated by extreme heat, many persons without diagnosed medical conditions are still at risk of heat-related illness or death. While some <a href="https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ocs/resource/liheap-dcl-initial-covid-19-program-guidance" target="_blank">LIHEAP implementation guidelines have been explicitly relaxed during the COVID-19 emergency</a>, jurisdictions do not appear to have authority to relax medical documentation eligibility requirements.</li></ul><ul><li><strong>Enact utility shutoff moratoria in all states and territories for the duration of the pandemic </strong>– While Florida is the only state with no protections against utility shutoffs due to health or medical reasons, only nine states have enacted bans for electricity shutoffs based on temperature thresholds. <a href="https://www.metro.pr/pr/noticias/2020/03/17/aee-rechaza-otorgar-moratoria-pagos-energia-electrica.html" target="_blank">Puerto Rico</a> and the <a href="http://www.viwapa.vi/news-information/press-releases/press-release-details/2020/03/28/wapa-reiterates-commitment-to-not-disconnect-delinquent-accounts-during-covid-19-state-of-emergency" target="_blank">US Virgin Islands</a> have not formally enacted moratoria, but their respective power companies have committed publicly to not disconnect power for non-payment during the COVID-19 emergency. But as my colleague Joe Daniel wrote, voluntary actions of <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/joseph-daniel/how-covid-19-leads-to-energy-insecurity" target="_blank">power companies do not provide</a> comprehensive protection and are not uniform across the U.S. Therefore, what is needed is a national mandatory moratorium on utility disconnections that includes territories and tribal nations as well. If power bills stack up and become due at some point after the crisis, many low-income people will see their energy burden increase, so a national utility disconnection moratorium needs to come with a plan for recouping costs that does not impose an inequitable burden.</li></ul><ul><li><strong>Enact parity in evictions moratoria for the duration of the pandemic </strong>– The CARES Act temporarily banned evictions for not paying rent, but similar to the utility shutoff ban, the evictions moratorium "<a href="https://www.pogo.org/analysis/2020/04/amid-pandemic-congress-suspends-evictions-but-not-for-all/" target="_blank">has gaps, limits, and pitfalls</a>" and can also be problematic for landlords. There is no straightforward way for renters to know if their landlords are banned by law from evicting renters–not unless the landlord shares with renters information on for example, if the landlord has a federally-backed mortgage, or participation in housing programs for victims of domestic violence. And landlords will typically have little incentive to share such information with their tenants. Regardless, <a href="https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/cares-act-eviction-moratorium-covers-all-federally-financed-rentals-thats-one-four-us-rental-units" target="_blank">the CARES Act moratorium</a> covers just 28 percent of rental units in the US. Just like with the utility shutoff ban, Congress must enact a national moratorium on evictions that includes the territories and tribal nations as well.</li></ul><ul><li><strong>Increase income ceiling for LIHEAP eligibility </strong>– Income eligibility for LIHEAP is somewhere between 100 and 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (<a href="https://www.healthcare.gov/glossary/federal-poverty-level-fpl/" target="_blank">FPL</a>), and states have discretion in choosing the specific cutoff within that range. To use an example, the FPL for a family of four (like mine) is $26,200, obviously a very modest income, and too low for many households to deal with the <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewdepietro/2017/12/28/cost-of-living-is-surging-in-these-major-cities-and-what-it-could-mean-for-2018/#74d1fe5571c6" target="_blank">increasing cost of living in US cities</a>. Congress must raise the income limits for LIHEAP eligibility, which would go a long way to reduce energy insecurity among millions in the US.</li></ul><ul><li><strong>Increase funding for the Weatherization Assistance Program </strong>– Poor-quality homes increase cooling (and heating) costs, which can increase the energy burden of low-income households. The <strong><a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/mark-specht/three-stimulus-package-priorities-to-rebuild-a-more-equitable-and-sustainable-economy" target="_blank">Weatherization Assistance Program</a> (WAP) funds home improvements such as insulation, repairs to heating or cooling systems, and home appliance upgrades to more energy-efficient models. </strong> This program supports thousands of jobs, and can help low-income households lower their energy bills and thus their energy burden. Increased funding for the program will create more jobs and lower energy burdens.</li></ul>
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By Ken Kimmell
The COVID-19 crisis has upended the world, threatening the health and lives of millions, shattering the global economy, and imposing an unprecedented physical isolation upon us. It has changed so much almost overnight, including how we advocate for action on an even bigger long-term threat — climate change.