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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.

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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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Health

Biden to Ban Menthol Cigarettes, Citing Health Impact on Youth and Black People

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The Biden administration is reportedly planning to propose an immediate ban on menthol cigarettes, a product that has long been targeted by anti-smoking advocates and critics who claim that the tobacco industry has aggressively marketed to Black people in the U.S.

On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that the administration could announce a ban on menthol and other flavored cigarettes as soon as this week.

Roughly 85 percent of Black smokers use such menthol brands as Newport and Kool, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Research has also found that menthol cigarettes are easier to become addicted to and harder to quit than unflavored tobacco products, along with other small cigars popular with young people and African Americans.

Civil rights advocates claim that the decision should be greeted by Black communities and people of color who have been marketed to by what they describe as the predatory tobacco industry.

Black smokers generally smoke far less than white smokers, but suffer a disproportionate amount of deaths due to tobacco-linked diseases like heart attack, stroke, and other causes.

Anti-smoking advocates like Matthew L. Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, also greeted the move to cut out products that appeal to children and young adults.

“Menthol cigarettes are the No. 1 cause of youth smoking in the United States,” he said. “Eliminating menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars used by so many kids will do more in the long run to reduce tobacco-related disease than any action the federal government has ever taken.”

However, groups including the American Civil Liberties Group (ACLU) has opposed the move, citing the likelihood that such an action could lead to criminal penalties arising from the enforcement of a ban hitting communities of color hardest.

In a letter to administration officials, the ACLU and other groups including the Drug Policy Alliance said that while the ban is “no doubt well-intentioned” it would also have “serious racial justice implications.”

“Such a ban will trigger criminal penalties, which will disproportionately impact people of color, as well as prioritize criminalization over public health and harm reduction,” the letter explained. “A ban will also lead to unconstitutional policing and other negative interactions with local law enforcement.”

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Environment

Pollution Is Making Human Penises Shrink and Causing a Collapse of Fertility, Scientists Say

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With many still scoffing at the idea of rampant pollution posing a threat to humanity, a new study could drastically change the conversation: the chemicals across our environment could be the cause of shrinking human penises.

According to a new book by Dr. Shanna H. Swan, conditions in the modern world are quickly altering the reproductive development of humans and posing a threat to our future as a species.

The argument is laid out in her new book Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race.

The book discusses how pollution is not only leading to skyrocketing erectile dysfunction rates and fertility decline, but also an expansion in the number of babies born with small penises.

While it may seem like good fodder for jokes, the research could portend a grim future for humanity’s ability to survive.

Swan co-authored a study in 2017 that found sperm counts had precipitously fallen in Western countries by 59 percent between 1973 and 2011. In her latest book, Swan blames chemicals for this crisis in the making.

“Chemicals in our environment and unhealthy lifestyle practices in our modern world are disrupting our hormonal balance, causing various degrees of reproductive havoc,” she wrote in the new book.

“In some parts of the world, the average twentysomething woman today is less fertile than her grandmother was at 35,” she also wrote, noting that men could have only half the sperm count of their grandfathers.

Swan blames the disruption on phthalates, the chemicals used in plastic manufacturing that also have an impact on how the crucial hormone endocrine is produced

However, experts note that the proper implementation of pollution reduction measures could help humanity prevent the collapse of human fertility.

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Health

Visualizing The World’s Deadliest Pandemics By Population Impact

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Humanity has been battling against disease for centuries.

And while most contagious outbreaks have never reached full-blown pandemic status, Visual Capitalist’s Carmen Ang notes that there have been several times throughout history when a disease has caused mass devastation.

Here’s a look at the world’s deadliest pandemics to date, viewed from the lens of the impact they had on the global population at the time.

Editor’s note: The above graphic was created in response to a popular request from users after viewing our popular history of pandemics infographic initially released a year ago.

Death Toll, by Percent of Population

In the mid-1300s, a plague known as the Black Death claimed the lives of roughly 200 million people – more than 50% of the global population at that time.

Here’s how the death toll by population stacks up for other significant pandemics, including COVID-19 so far.

The specific cause of the Black Death is still up for debate. Many experts claim the 14th-century pandemic was caused by a bubonic plague, meaning there was no human-to-human transmission, while others argue it was possibly pneumonic.

Interestingly, the plague still exists today – however, it’s significantly less deadly, thanks to modern antibiotics.

History Repeats, But at Least We Keep Learning

While we clearly haven’t eradicated infection diseases from our lives entirely, we’ve at least come a long way in our understanding of what causes illness in the first place.

In ancient times, people believed gods and spirits caused diseases and widespread destruction. But by the 19th century, a scientist named Louis Pasteur (based on findings by Robert Koch) discovered germ theory – the idea that small organisms caused disease.

What will we discover next, and how will it impact our response to disease in the future?

Like this? Check out the full-length article The History of Pandemics

Republished from ZH with permission.

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