Posts tagged with "COVID-19"

Kimbal Musk’s quest to start one million gardens

March 29, 2021

While Elon Musk, age 49, is intent on reaching for the skies with SpaceX, his younger brother, Kimbal, age 48, is more concerned with the ground beneath his feet—with a goal of creating one million home gardens within the next year, according to an article first published by Rolling Stone and picked up by Yahoo.

Since 2010, the junior Musk has:

  • Launched an initiative to put “learning gardens” in public schools across America (now at 632 schools and counting);
  • Courted Generation Z into the farming profession by converting shipping containers into high-tech, data-driven, year-round farms; and
  • Spoken out vociferously against unethical farming practices and vociferously forthe beauty and community of slow food.

What’s more, this year, on the first day of spring, is kicking off a new campaign with Modern Farmer’s Frank Giustra to create one million at-home gardens in the the next 12 months.

Aimed at reaching low-income families, the Million Gardens Movement was inspired by the pandemic, during which food insecurity—and a desire to go back to nature to address the problem— have been at the forefront of so many people’s lives.

“We were getting a lot of inquiries about gardening from people that had never gardened before,” Giustra told Rolling Stone during a recent interview. “People were looking to garden for a bunch of reasons: to supplement their budget, because there was a lot of financial hardship, to help grow food for other people, or just to cure the boredom that came with the lockdown. To keep people sane—literally, keep people sane—they turned to gardening.”

The program offers free garden kits that can be grown indoors or outdoors, and will be distributed through schools that Musk’s non-profit, Big Green, already has partnered with. It also offers free curriculum on how to get the garden growing and fresh seeds and materials for the changing growing seasons.

“I grew up in the projects when I was young, in what we now call food deserts,” says EVE, one of the many celebrities who have teamed up with the organization to encourage people to pick up a free garden or to donate one. “What I love about this is that it’s not intimidating. Anyone can do this, no matter where you come from, no matter where you live. We are all able to grow something.”

Musk told Rolling Stone that, while the idea for a million gardens was not his, he was enthusiastic about it from day one” “Frank [Giustra] and his team pitched us on joining forces and doing the Million Gardens Movement. And we loved it. We thought it was a great idea.

“Because of COVID, we had been forced to pivot our model from the learning gardens because we couldn’t really teach people in the gardens anymore. And so we had done this trial of what we call little green gardens, which are round, beautiful sort of beige sacks, and you can come in and pick these up from a local school in your community. You can grow them on a windowsill as long as there’s some light. You can grow them indoors, which enables any city to be able to use them.”

He further explained, “What we would be doing with these little green gardens is inspiring people to garden and empowering them to garden. The average garden generates about $600 to $700 worth of food a year. So it provides actual food to your family. You’re having a lower carbon footprint because you’re not shipping food around. It’s great for mental health. Think about COVID and how crazy we all are. This gets you out there. It connects you to your kids. Gardening is such a beautiful thing to do for yourself, for the community, for the environment.”

He urges readers to go the Million Gardens Movement website: “If you sign up now to grow a garden AND donate $20, we will give a garden to a family in need, and send you a limited edition Million Gardens Movement bracelet!”

Research contact: @RollingStone

Study finds that roughly 40% of the USA’s coronavirus deaths could have been prevented

February 12, 2021

About 40% of the nation’s coronavirus deaths could have been prevented if the United States’ average death rate matched that of other industrialized nations, a new Lancet Commission report on public policy and health during the Trump era has found, USA Today reports.

The commission faulted former President Donald Trump’s “inept and insufficient” response to COVID-19, but its report also finds that the roots of the nation’s poor health outcomes are much deeper.

Commission co-chairs Dr. Steffie Woolhandler and Dr. David Himmelstein— professors at the City University of New York’s Hunter College and longtime advocates for a single-payer health system, such as Medicare for All—said the report, published on Thursday, February 11, underscores decades of health, economic and social policies that have accelerated the nation’s disparities.

The report found U.S. life expectancy began trailing other industrialized nations four decades ago. In 2018, two years before the pandemic, the report said 461,000 fewer Americans would have died if U.S. mortality rates matched other Group of Seven nations: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom.

“The overriding thing that we need to do in our country is to decrease the huge and widening inequalities that have emerged in our nation,” Himmelstein told USA Today.

Indeed, the report finds that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected people of color—with the death rates among Blacks increasing 50%, compared with whites. Coronavirus deaths for people of color are 1.2 times to 3.6 times higher than for whites; the disparities were especially high among middle-aged adults, possibly a sign of crowded living conditions and jobs that did not allow people to safely distance..

Public health measures such as mask wearing and physical distancing could have saved lives, Woolhandler said, but Trump failed to create a national response— instead leaving crucial decisions to states.

His actions “caused a lot of citizens to fail to take it seriously and interfered with the kind of coordinated response they have been able to use in a lot of countries that are more successful than the U.S. in controlling the epidemic,”  Woolhandler said.

“We’re still in a very deep hole. We have 30 million uninsured people. We have tens of millions of more who are underinsured,” Woolhandler said. “The thing that would be best for the health of the population would be Medicare for All.

“A Medicare for All program would substantially increase economic equality,” Himmelstein said. “Poor people spend a much larger share of their incomes for their healthcare even though they get much less for their healthcare.”

Woolhandler and Himmelstein are co-founders of Physicians for a National Health Program, which advocates for a single-payer health system.

Research contact: @USATODAY

GOP plan is ‘just not in the cards,’ Biden says during call with House Democrats

February 4, 2021

President Joe Biden has reassured House Democrats that he is committed to his COVID-19 relief package in its current form, and that—despite his “cordial” meeting with Senate Republicans on February 1—“the idea that we’re going to go out and compromise and go from a trillion-nine to six hundred billion is just not in the cards,” The Daily Beast reports exclusively.

Biden’s remarks, made on a call with House Democrats on Wednesday morning—a recording of which was obtained by The Daily Beast—represent the surest indication yet that he plans to push for passage of the American Rescue Planhis $1.9 trillion relief package to address the coronavirus pandemic and the damage it has done to the nation’s economy, through the budget reconciliation process. That process, which allows the Senate to pass budget-related legislation through a simple majority, would circumvent attempts by Republicans to filibuster the relief plan.

“We’ve got to be up to the moment,” Biden said on the call. “That’s what the American people, I think, are expecting of us, and frankly, that’s what they have a right to expect. And that’s why I’ve asked for the package proposed.”

Biden took particular exception to the Republican proposal on direct payments to cash-strapped Americans. Under his plan, direct payments would begin at $1,400 per person, as well as for dependents, gradually phasing out for individuals with a gross income of more than $75,000. Under the Republican plan, those payments would be cut to a $1,000 maximum, phasing out for individuals who made more than $40,000 in taxable income, with a $50,000 cap.

The president said that the GOP proposal would leave out almost the entire middle class, which he called a non-starter.

“Who are we helping is just as important as who’s being left out,” Biden said on the call. “I don’t think we need to be in the business of helping those folks making three hundred grand a year, but a family making 60, 70 grand, maybe 80, who’s barely hanging on, middle-class folks?”

“We want to make sure we get the poor,” Biden continued, “but we can’t leave out the middle class.”

The adjective “targeted” is most often used by the Republicans to describe a plan under which direct payments would be cut from $1,400 to $1,000 per person—phasing out for individuals who made more than $40,000 in taxable income in 2019 with a $50,000 cap, according to The Daily Beast.

Democrats have not yet outlined an income bracket where they’d limit check eligibility, but it’s likely to be more in line with the $75,000 threshold in the CARES Act, and the administration is aiming to expand eligibility to adult dependents. Given their belief that the last round of checks worked well, many Democrats see no problem in getting more money into the economy, especially with the relatively negligible dollar difference between a “targeted” plan and what they may propose.

The president’s private assurances that slashing a more than a trillion dollars from his COVID relief bill, particularly cuts to direct payments to Americans and assistance for schools to reopen their doors, “is just not in the cards” come as Democrats on Capitol Hill have been preparing to pass the relief plan with minimal Republican support.

Democrats—who owe their razor-thin majority in the Senate to victories in the Georgia runoff elections in which $2,000 stimulus checks played a key role—have already put the reconciliation process into motion. On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) invoked the memory of the onset of the Great Recession as a moment when Congress was “too timid and constrained” in its response, a line that centrist Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) echoed on Tuesday morning.

“If it’s $1.9 trillion, so be it,” Manchin said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, stressing that while he wants the process to be bipartisan, he won’t stand in the way of passing much-needed relief. “If it’s a little smaller than that and we find a targeted need, then that’s what we’re going to be. I want it to be bipartisan.”

Research contact: @dailybeast

 

President Biden to sign executive actions aimed at ending COVID pandemic

January 22, 2021

On first full day in the Oval Office, President Joe Biden is expected to sign a second set of executive actions, aimed at making good on his plans to use the might of the federal government to end the coronavirus pandemic, The Guardian reports.

His administration plans a coordinated federal coronavirus response aimed at restoring trust in the government and focused on boosting vaccines, increasing testing, reopening schools, and addressing inequalities thrown up by the disease.

“We can and will beat COVID-19. America deserves a response to the COVID-19 pandemic that is driven by science, data and public health—not politics,” the White House said in a statement outlining the administration’s national strategy on COVID-19 response and pandemic preparedness.

The administration’s new strategy is based around seven major goals:

  1. Restoring public trust in government efforts;
  2. Getting more vaccine doses into more arms;
  3. Mitigating the spread—including mask mandates;
  4. Emergency economic relief;
  5. A strategy to get schools and workers functioning ag;
  6. Establishing an equity task force to address disparities in suffering involving issues of race, ethnicity and geography; and
  7. Preparing for future threats.

According to The Guardian, Biden has pledged to vaccinate 100 million people in 100 days and reverse the impact of a year of mismanaged response under Donald Trump that saw more than 400,000 people die and more than 24 million infected – by far the worst rates in the world.

But his executive orders are set to go far beyond just boosting vaccination efforts.

The 46th U.S. president plans to re-engage with the World Health Organization—a reversal from the Trump administration’s move to cut ties during the pandemic. In other moves, the new administration says it plans to set up pandemic testing and vaccination sites, and devise a speedy vaccine distribution program.

On traveling, Biden will sign an executive order requiring people to wear a mask on trains, airplanes and maritime vessels. Another Health and Human Services to give guidance on safely reopening schools.

Biden also will release a presidential memorandum utilizing the FEMA disaster relief fund for providing reimbursement for personal protective equipment (PPE), cleaning, and costs needed to safely reopen schools.

The Biden administration is also looking to fix supply shortfalls. Biden plans to direct federal agencies to fulfill supply shortfalls using the Defense Production Act.

Biden will restore a White House team on global health risks set up under Barack Obama and dismantled under Donald Trump.

The executive orders aim to help people of color in particular. One will set up the COVID-19 health equity taskforce.

Biden will issue an order to develop a national strategy to reopen schools, hoping to meet his goal of having most elementary and middle schools open within his first 100 days in office and will ask Congress to provide $130 billion additional aid to schools, $35 billion for colleges and universities, $25 billion for child care centers at risk of closing and $15 billion in childcare aid for struggling families.

Research contact: @GuardianUS

You can use Yelp to report businesses that aren’t enforcing social distancing and mask use

January 13, 2021

Businesses that do not enforce social distancing or that do not require their employees to wear masks now can be reported in a new Yelp update that launched on Tuesday, January 12, Business Insider divulged this week.

Yelp users can specify what type of pandemic precautions a business is—or is not—taking by answering survey questions on the business’ page or through the edit button on a company’s COVID-19 updates section.

What’s more, businesses on Yelp will either receive a green check mark or orange question mark to indicate whether they are following COVID-19 guidelines.

Multiple customers must report a business within 28 days for it to appear on the company’s page.

Yelp said that every decision the company has made to date to prioritize COVID-19 information on its site has only increased consumer interest.

“This new update further highlights how businesses have adapted to keep their customers safe, and aims to instill confidence in consumers to continue supporting local businesses,” Yelp’s Head of Consumer Product, Akhil Ramesh, said in the announcement.

Businesses with multiple locations only will receive feedback based on each individual location—and will not be rated overall. Yelp also plans to send users notifications when a company updates its COVID-19 information.

The review aggregation site has actively updated coronavirus data on the app since the pandemic started. In June, Yelp launched its coronavirus safety section where companies were able to update their pages with their own COVID-19 information.

Research contact: @businessinsider

Sweetgreen will pilot a drive-in restaurant as part of suburban push

December 17, 2020

These are the “salad days” for the restaurant chain Sweetgreen, which has been been offering contact-free delivery and pickup at its 91 restaurants throughout the pandemic, CNBC reports..

Now, Chief Concept Officer Nic Jammet says that the business pivot that the company has taken since the virus took hold in the USA earlier this year has accelerated its decision to pilot test a new type of eatery—slated to open next winter in Highlands Ranch, Colorado next winter. At the test site, customers will be encouraged to order on-site using dedicated parking spaces with intercom boxes connected to the chain’s app; and to pick up their food from drive-thru lanes.

As Sweettgreen expands from urban settings into suburban America, it joins the flood of restaurant companies that have unveiled new designs inspired by the coronavirus pandemic. Fast-food chains like Yum Brands’ Taco Bell and Restaurant Brands International’s Burger King have focused their new designs on making delivery and digital orders even more convenient.

But the fast-casual segment, which includes Sweetgreen and Chipotle Mexican Grill, has been influenced by the success of drive-thru lanes. Drive-thru orders grew by 24% across the restaurant industry in October, according to the NPD Group.

Like Sweetgreen, Shake Shack will open its first ever drive-thru lane in 2021, says CNBC. And Chipotle, which has been building its “Chipotlanes” for several years, is planning to add even more drive-thru lanes as same-store sales at those restaurants outpace the rest of its footprint.

Already, says Jammet, “A lot of our customers [… already are adopting this] behavior of using the Sweetgreen app to order ahead and come in ahead to pick it up.”

Research contact: @CNBC

Moderna’s vaccine is highly effective, FDA says, clearing way for second vaccine

December 16, 2020

Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine is 94% effective at preventing symptomatic illness—and appears to prevent the spread of the virus, as well—according to an FDA briefing document released on Tuesday, December 15, NBC News reports. .

The findings set the Moderna vaccine up for emergency use authorization by the FDA—which would double the number of COVID-19 vaccines available, after the first shots of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine were given to healthcare workers nationwide in the USA on Monday.

The high efficacy of the Moderna vaccine was achieved after two doses given 28 days apart. This is about the same level of effectiveness as the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.E

But there is also evidence that just one dose of Moderna’s may stop the virus’s spread. A second document published on the FDA website shows asymptomatic infection was reduced by 63% after the first shot.

Still, it is expected that regulators will require two doses of the vaccine for maximum protection, NBC News notes.

A committee independent of the FDA, the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, will meet Thursday to decide whether to recommend that the agency greenlight the Moderna vaccine. The meeting will largely mirror the one from last Thursday, when the panel of experts ultimately recommended that the FDA authorize Pfizer’s vaccine.

The vaccines from both drugmakers use similar technology.

It is widely anticipated that the Moderna vaccine’s path to approval will be similar to Pfizer’s. Indeed, NBC reports, an authorization could come as soon as Friday. And officials with Operation Warp Speed are already planning for widespread distribution of the Moderna vaccine.

Research contact: @NBCNews

After COVID, Bryan Cranston isn’t stopping to smell the roses

December 9, 2020

Bryan Cranston, 64—still celebrated for his memorable acting turn in Breaking Bad and now appearing in Your Honor—still can’t fully taste or smell after getting the coronavirus back in March, the actor shared December 4 on The Ellen Show.

Both Cranston and his wife, actor Robin Dearden, came down with the illness, Self Magazine reports.

As he told DeGeneres: “She got it first. She gave it to me because we share.”

Overall, Cranston and his wife had a mild experience with the virus. “We had a few days of achiness, but not enough to keep you in bed, and I had a temperature of about 99 [degrees] for about three hours. And then just exhaustion for a week after that,” he explained. “We were very lucky, in all seriousness.”

The majority of the couple’s symptoms lasted for about ten days, Cranston said. But his sense of taste and smell still aren’t what they used to be. “The only thing that lingered and still to this day is I lost a percentage of my ability to taste and smell,” the actor told DeGeneres. “I think about 75% has come back. But if someone was brewing coffee, and I walk into a kitchen, I cannot smell it.”

A loss of taste or smell is one of the strange but not uncommon symptoms of this novel coronavirus. One small study published by JAMA Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery last June surveyed 204 people who had been diagnosed with coronavirus and found that 55.4% of them reported a loss of taste, while 41.7% reported a loss of smell.

Then an August 2020 systematic review and meta-analysis by the Mayo Clinic looked at 24 studies with a collective 8,438 test-confirmed COVID-19 patients and found an average of 41% of patients had a loss of smell, while an average of 38.2% had a loss of taste.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 symptoms run the gamut. In addition to a new loss of taste or smell, symptoms can include fevercough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea.

The CDC continues to update the list as new symptoms emerge. If a person with the virus develops symptoms, signs of illness appear between 2 to 14 days after exposure, though asymptomatic people can and certainly do spread the illness as well. Experts also continue to look into “long-haulers” such as Cranston—who experience coronavirus symptoms weeks or months after first getting the disease.

Several other celebrities have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Neil Patrick Harris also experienced a loss of taste and smell back in March, which alerted him to the fact that he didn’t just have the flu. Hugh Grant sprayed his wife’s perfume directly in his face to try to trigger his sense of smell, but got nothing—and also struggled with a feeling of pressure on his chest. Rita Wilson initially thought her fatigue symptoms were just jet lag when she and her husband, Tom Hanks, were diagnosed.

“I was pretty strict in adhering to the protocols and still… I contracted the virus. Yep. it sounds daunting now that over 150,000 Americans are dead because of it,” Cranston wrote on his Instagram back in July. “I count my blessings and urge you to keep wearing the damn mask, keep washing your hands, and stay socially distant. We can prevail—but ONLY if we follow the rules together.”

Research contact: @SELFmagazine

The new ‘Donald J. Trump Presidential Library’ is fake news for his detractors to love

November 17, 2020

It’s been tough for anyone to get an up-close and personal look at presidential history during 2020. From FDR’s family home in Hyde Park, New York, to Ronald Reagan’s commemorative exhibition space in Simi Valley, California, all 13 presidential libraries administered by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) have been closed since mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sadly, for folks who like to absorb history in person, we’ll likely see fewer brick-and-mortar presidential libraries in the future, Forbes reports. Four years since the 44th president left office, the all-digital Barack Obama Presidential Library isn’t fully open yet. And, while it takes a lot of time to digitize hundreds of thousands of records, NARA supports the digital model chosen by Obama going forward.

Now, considering his reluctance to read, you wouldn’t think that President Donald Trump’s first priority would be a library for posterity. But search the internet for Donald Trump Presidential Library and you will find a shiny new website already achieving killer first-page ranking on Google, Forbes says.

What’s more, this slick operation has a communications team that churns out press releases and thousands follow the DJT Library on Twitter.

Sleekly rendered in WordPress using the classy Musea theme, with an elegant gray Garamond typeface and all-white backdrop, djtrumplibrary.com looks and feels like many beautiful museum portals. That is, until you start poking around.

The website invites Americans to explore the COVID Memorial, where a quiet reflecting pool lets visitors “mourn the thousands dead under his lack of leadership.” Oh.

Decorated with “Make America Great Again” signs and Confederate flags, the Alt-Right Auditorium is hosting a movie series including Nazi propaganda and Birth of a Nation. “A silent film which represents the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) as a heroic force necessary to preserve American values and a white supremacist social order,” touts the site, along with a special promo: “2 for 1 tickets available for White Supremacy Wednesday!”

Yes, folks, it’s a hoax —and a rather elaborate, painstaking one at that.

While the project began as the brainchild of a small New York City architecture practice that wishes to remain anonymous, the team quickly “gained an army of curators, writers, designers, and general trouble-makers,” according to the site’s FAQ page.

The Felons Lounge is a shrine to Trump’s indicted cohorts, Forbes informs us.

As satirical spoof sites go, this is top of the line, chock full of custom artwork and clever Easter eggs. Take the library’s physical address at 1 MAGA Lane in Nogales, Arizona. The street is fictional, of course, but Nogales is a real border city that’s been central to Trump’s “build the wall” promise.

And check out the price of admission. Kids and students are free, while there’s a three-tiered structure for adults: $10 for seniors, $25 for U.S. citizens and $50 for immigrants.

Presidential libraries are known for museum-quality exhibits that show off their respective administrations’ accomplishments. Think John F. Kennedy’s Space Program Exhibit, LBJ’s Social Justice Gallery and Reagan’s Berlin Wall Exhibit.

At the faux Donald J. Trump Presidential Library website, permanent exhibits include Tax Evasion 101, where letters spelling “tax paid $750” rise from the floor in bas-relief. There’s a Twitter gallery, of course, as well as a Wall of Criminality that draws lines from Trump to some of his numerous alleged misdeeds.

No doubt, Trump critics will enjoy taking this unflattering virtual tour of his presidency. But while the site is layered with plenty of snark, its take-away is somehow not gleeful, Forbes notes.

For a reminder of why so few Americans are traveling these days, head to the rooftop COVID Cemetery, where an old tweet from Trump supporter Herman Cain, who died of Covid-19, has been blown up to billboard size. It reads, “It looks like the virus is not as deadly as the mainstream media first made it out to be.”

Research contact: @Forbes

 

Pandemic prompts drive-through pet blessing in the Philippines

October 8, 2020

Coronavirus-wary (and weary) animal owners in the Philippines had their pets blessed during a drive-through ceremony on Sunday, October 4, to mark World Animal Day and the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.

From a safe distance inside their owners’ cars, cats, dogs, and birds were sprinkled with holy water by a Catholic priest in Manila, as the nation’s coronavirus cases continued to surge, Reuters reports, noting that the Philippines had confirmed a total of 322,497 coronavirus infections as of that date—the highest in Southeast Asia.

But the numbers continue to spiral upward: as of October 7, the Philippines’ Health Ministry had recorded 2,825 new coronavirus infections and 50 additional deaths.

Organizers and participants said this year’s unusual way of blessing pets for World Animal Day ensured social distancing.

“We have to adapt to the new normal and the pandemic should never stop us from paying tribute to the furry animals that we have,” said Ritchie Pascual, one of the event organizers.

For dog-owner Arlene Pedron, having her pet blessed is “very important…because we really feel like our pet is part of our family.

“We also want the best for his health,” Pedron said, while waiting in line with her two-year-old golden retriever.

Research contact: @Reuters