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Reopening Schools Poses ‘Highest Risk’ of COVID-19 Spread, Internal CDC Documents Warn

Federal health authorities have warned that fully reopening K-12 schools and universities remain the “highest risk” for spreading the coronavirus.

Elias Marat

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(TMU) – Federal health authorities have warned that fully reopening K-12 schools and universities remain the “highest risk” for spreading the coronavirus, even as President Donald Trump continues to push for students and teachers to return to in-person classes while COVID-19 infections dramatically rise across the country.

In a 69-page internal document from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) obtained by the New York Times and meant for federal public health response teams deployed to coronavirus hotspots to help local officials cope with the outbreak, the CDC criticizes reopening plans in states such as Florida, Oregon, Oklahoma and Minnesota and individual schools, districts, and university as having “noticeable gaps” and jarring with CDC guidance.

The document marked “For Internal Use Only” was circulated this week as President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have pressured schools to fully reopen this fall and have even gone so far as to threaten to pull tax exemption for schools and colleges.

On Friday, Trump said on Twitter that he had instructed the U.S. Treasury Department to re-examine the tax-exempt status of schools he accused of providing “Radical Left Indoctrination” rather than education. Accusing educational institutions of “Propaganda or Act Against Public Policy,” the president added: “our children must be Educated, not Indoctrinated!”

Trump’s attack on schools on ideological grounds comes after he spent the week demanding that K-12 schools reopen “quickly and beautifully” while states remain locked in a debate about the wisdom of reopening schools while states experience a terrifying resurgence in COVID-19 infections and mortality rates.

Trump has also threatened to slash federal funding for schools and universities that refuse to reopen, although he lacks the apparent authority to unilaterally do so. Additionally, about 90 percent of public school funding comes from state and local governments. The bulk of federal funding goes toward disadvantaged, low-income, and special needs students, reports CNN.

While it remains unclear as to whether the president has reviewed the CDC document, on Wednesday he did blast the public health body’s guidelines for safe school reopenings as “very tough” and “expensive.”

The CDC document is a packet of material that is mostly already public, but it also contains pointed criticisms of various reopening plans across the country.

“While many jurisdictions and districts mention symptom screening, very few include information as to the response or course of action they would take if student/faculty/staff are found to have symptoms, nor have they clearly identified which symptoms they will include in their screening,” the ‘talking points’ section says. “In addition, few plans include information regarding school closure in the event of positive tests in the school community.”

In CDC guidelines for K-12 schools, administrators are instructed to encourage hygiene, the use of cloth face masks, and staying at home when appropriate. The guidelines also suggest that staggered scheduling of classes, backup staffing, and modified seating norms that upholds physical distancing be established.

The guidelines, which were last updated in May, also note that the “lowest risk” setting to prevent the spread of the coronavirus is virtual-only learning options, while in-person classes lacking social distancing remain the “highest risk” setting.

The Trump administration has largely dismissed the possibility of offering parents fully online instruction, however.

“Now that we have witnessed it on a large scale basis, and firsthand, virtual learning has proven to be TERRIBLE compared to In School, or On Campus, Learning,” Trump wrote in a Twitter post on Friday. “Not even close! Schools must be open in the Fall.”

While the transition to online schools has dealt setbacks to the educational plans of students – especially students in low-income areas who were already struggling in public schools – educators have demanded that states and school administrators ensure prioritize the safety of students and educators amid the growing surge of COVID-19 cases.

In an open letter to California lawmakers published Wednesday, the California Teachers Association noted that its members are “deeply concerned that politics are being played with the lives of children and the educators who serve them.”

“President Donald Trump [has] implored the nation’s schools to physically open amid a new wave of COVID-19 diagnoses,” the teachers’ union wrote. “In doing so, he pointed to other countries’ abilities to reopen their schools as evidence that America’s schools needed to do the same. President Trump ignores the fact that these other countries invested heavily in PPE, health and safety protocols for education and testing – the very resources that he is threatening to withdraw.”

On Friday, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement alongside teachers’ unions and school superintendents to defend schools from the administration’s threats to withhold funds from schools that don’t reopen this fall. The doctors blasted the “one-size-fits-all approach” as inappropriate for deciding to reopen schools.

“Withholding funding from schools that do not open in person fulltime would be a misguided approach, putting already financially strapped schools in an impossible position that would threaten the health of students and teachers,” the children’s doctors wrote in a statement with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and AASA, the School Superintendents Association.

“We should leave it to health experts to tell us when the time is best to open up school buildings, and listen to educators and administrators to shape how we do it.”

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Good News

Betty White Turns 99, and Her Tips on Living a Long and Happy Life Are More Valuable Than Ever

Elias Marat

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Betty White, the original golden girl beloved by people of all ages, celebrated her 99th birthday on Sunday.

The spry granny, born Betty Marion White on Jan. 17, 1922, has managed to live a long, healthy, happy life and this can likely be chalked up to her unconventional approach.

The Emmy award-winning veteran actress once joked that her secret to longevity consisted of three simple ingredients: vodka, hot dogs, and her love of pets.

However, her tongue-in-cheek advice is getting new attention, especially given that too many of us have been forced to stay at home over much of the past year.

In 2011, during a Late Show interview with David Letterman, White gave 10 sagely tips on how she’s managed to maintain her verb and energy for so long. With White reaching one year short of a century, the advice is worth revisiting.

Her first bit of advice was to “get at least eight hours of beauty sleep, nine if you’re ugly.” Next, she advised that one should “Exercise. Or don’t. What the hell do I care?”

Third, she opined that one should “never apologize. It shows weakness.”

Her fourth tip shouldn’t give anyone any adventurous ideas, but it’s helpful nonetheless: “The best way to earn a quick buck is a slip and fall lawsuit.”

She then gave the priceless tip that one should “avoid tweeting any photos of your private parts” while also making sure to “schedule nightly appointment with Dr. Johnnie Walker.”

Some of the healthy eaters in our audience may take exception to White’s seventh tip, which is to: “Take some wheatgrass, soy paste and carob, toss it in the garbage and cook yourself a big-*ss piece of pork.”

Her next bit of adice was to “try not to die” and “never dwell on past mistakes,” which may both be easier said than done. Lastly, she recommended that you “don’t waste your time watching this crap.”

Sound advice that we can all relate to, Mrs. White!

White is reportedly spending her 99th birthday simply relaxing, she told Entertainment Tonight.

“You probably didn’t ask, but I’ll tell you anyway. … What am I doing for my birthday? Running a mile each morning has been curtailed by [coronavirus], so I am working on getting ‘The Pet Set’ re-released, and feeding the two ducks who come to visit me every day,” she explained, referencing a 1971 show she starred in that featured celebrities appearing alongside their pets.

Her birthday was also marked by various celebrities, who tweeted out birthday greetings to the TV icon.

“Happy birthday, @BettyMWhite! You’re a miracle in every way,”  wrote Ellen DeGeneres.

“I still get warm when I see this look. Happy 99 baby. You are a testament to living life on your own terms. Sending you a great big socially distanced kiss. I love you @BettyMWhite,” Ed Asner tweeted.

“Betty White bloopers are the best bloopers #HappyBirthdayBettyWhite,” Valerie Bertinelli tweeted alongside a video of hilarious mistakes made on the set of their former show, Hot in Cleveland.

“Wishing the incomparable Betty White a very happy 99th birthday! What’s your favorite Betty White role, friends?” wrote Star Trek star George Takei.

White, who is best known for her role as Rose Nylund in the classic sitcom The Golden Girls (1985-92), has over 75 years in show business under her belt. The comedian became a staple of U.S. television in such shows as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Hot in Cleveland along with memorable appearances in shows like Mama’s Family and That ‘70s Show.

She catapulted to fame with her first sitcom, Life with Elizabeth, where White played the titular role and became the first woman to have creative control of a program as both a producer and the star.

White earned no less than 24 Emmy nominations and won eight in the span of her career.

When she reached the age of 90 it didn’t slow her down one bit. Not only did White become the oldest host in the history of Saturday Night Live but she also made dozens of cameos. White also starred in a memorable 2010 Super Bowl commercial for Snickers where she got tackled to the ground, football-style.

In an email to the Associated Press, White shared an especially enjoyable perk of old age: “Since I am turning 99, I can stay up as late as I want without asking permission!”

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Environment

Mexico Decrees Ban on GMO Corn and Monsanto’s Glyphosate Weed Killer

Elias Marat

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Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has rung in the New Year by decreeing an end to the use of glyphosate – best known as the active ingredient in Monsanto’s “Roundup” pesticides – and also ordering the phase-out out of genetically modified corn for use in the food industry, with both goals to be realized by January 2024.

The move has been widely hailed by organic food producers and environmental, health, and social justice advocates, who welcome the move as crucial to preserve Mexico’s native corn crops, national heritage, and food sovereignty from the threat of multinational food corporations.

On Thursday, the government published an official decree stating that federal biosecurity authorities would “revoke and refrain from granting permits for the release of genetically modified corn seeds into the environment,” reports Reforma news agency.

The decree noted that the object of the decision, which came after months of unsuccessful pushback from lobbyist groups representing the massive food industry, was to “contribute to food security and sovereignty” and protect “native corn, cornfields, bio-cultural wealth, farming communities, gastronomic heritage and the health of Mexicans.”

The move makes good on promises by President Lopez Obrador, popularly known by his initials AMLO, to preserve native corn varieties from the threat of GMO corn.

The government of Mexico has taken numerous steps in recent months to safeguard the over 60 types of corn developed with traditional and indigenous agricultural methods that are, by law, considered a part of Mexico’s national food and cultural heritage.

Indigenous peoples in the Mesoamerican region cultivated the first strains of corn thousands of years ago, but multinational corporations have been flooding the Mexican market with varieties of corn that have been genetically modified to resist certain types of infestations and adverse climate conditions such as drought.

The government also ordered the phase-out of GMO corn imports for use in the food industry and decreed the elimination of the chemical glyphosate – the active ingredient in Bayer-Monsanto’s weedkiller, Roundup.

While a total ban on glyphosate isn’t yet possible in Mexico – especially amid major pushback from Big Ag lobbyists – federal agencies must immediately halt “purchasing, using, distributing, promoting and importing glyphosate or agrochemicals that contain it as an active ingredient,” according to the decree.

Instead, they must use “culturally appropriate” alternatives such as low-toxicity agrochemicals and organic products.

Opponents of the use of genetically modified crops have hailed the ban.

“It’s a great victory,” said Homero Blas, the director of the Mexican Society of Organic Producers. His group, like many other civil society organizations, blames GMO crops for contaminating the native, ancient varieties of corn while saying that the widespread use of dangerous pesticides endangers the health of both producers and consumers while undermining biodiversity.

However, GMO advocates such as the National Agricultural Council (CAN) claim that the prohibition of GMO corn cultivation will harm farmers while curbing imports will harm the Mexican food chain.

“The lack of access to production options puts us at a disadvantage compared to our competitors, such as corn farmers in the United States,” said CNA spokeswoman Laura Tamayo, who is also the regional director for the German multinational Bayer AG, the parent company to agro-chemical subsidiary Monsanto.

Glyphosate has been at the center of safety concerns in numerous countries and has also been the focus of massive lawsuits in the U.S. in recent years over the allegedly carcinogenic effects of the herbicide Roundup, which Monsanto introduced in 1974.

In July, Bayer agreed to pay as much as $10.9 billion to settle nearly 100,000 lawsuits in the U.S. claiming that the chemical causes a type of blood cancer.

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Health

CDC Study: Brain-Eating Amoeba Is Spreading in United States

Justin MacLachlan

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According to a new study by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Naegleria fowleri, or the “brain-eating amoeba,” is spreading into the U.S. and scientists blame climate change.

Where as the actual number of yearly cases isn’t increasing the cases are occurring in a larger range of the U.S. than before. The the CDC study published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases this week, examined CDC data from 1978 to 2018, finding that new cases moved northwards at about 8.2 miles per year.

Since the amoeba prefers warm waters, up to what Live Science reports to be a hot-tub-like 113 degrees Fahrenheit, an upward shift in global temperatures caused by climate change is giving N. fowleri new opportunities to expand north over the last 40 years, according to the CDC study.

“It is possible that rising temperatures and consequent increases in recreational water use, such as swimming and water sports, could contribute to the changing epidemiology of PAM,” the paper reads.

Naegleria fowleri is a free-living amoeba that causes primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a disease of the central nervous system. Naegleria fowleri infections are extremely rare in the U.S. but the contagion is almost always fatal. In the United States, there have only been 145 PAM infections from 1962 through 2018 with only four survivors according to the CDC. If humans accidentally drink the microbe, it’s harmless. But if it makes its way inside the nose it’s usually lethal.

Naegleria fowleri occurs naturally in freshwater, the soil, warm lakes, rivers, and hot springs. It usually infects people when contaminated water enters the body through the nose and then travels to the brain.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says infection typically happens when somebody go swimming or diving in “warm freshwater places”.

The CDC says people cannot get infected by swallowing contaminated water, and it cannot be passed from person to person.

Those infected with Naegleria fowleri have flu-like symptoms including fever, nausea, and vomiting. Besides the normal symptoms showing someone is sick Naegleria fowleri comes with a stiff neck and headaches. Most people infected do not recover and usually die within just a week after the amoeba is within their brain.

Since the amoeba prefers warm waters, up to what Live Science reports to be a hot-tub-like 113 degrees Fahrenheit, an upward shift in global temperatures caused by climate change is giving N. fowleri new opportunities to expand north over the last 40 years, according to the CDC study published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases this week.

Earlier this year, eight Texas cities warned their residents about the tap water system after the deadly brain-eating amoeba was found in the public water supply. A Do Not Use Water Advisory was issued for the residents as well with at least one death of a little boy which sparked the investigation.

Additionally this year there was also an infection of Naegleria fowleri that was confirmed in the U.S. state of Florida. At the time, health officials there urged locals to avoid nasal contact with water from taps and other sources. Two children in Minnesota died from N. fowleri in 2010 and 2012 — both cases “550 miles north of the previously reported northernmost case in the Americas.”

The amoeba was found to be thriving in U.S. rivers and lakes more and more, earlier this year. Insider reports that cases may increase as climate change warms waters. Experts estimate that between 3 and 8 Americans die from N. fowleri annually.

Furthermore, there have only been 34 infections reported in the U.S. in the last ten years, according to CDC data.

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