Threat #1: United Nations Secretary General António Guterres called the Covid-19 pandemic the “number one threat to global security in our world today,” saying that the “outbreak remains out of control,” according to a video from Reuters. “Many pin their hopes on a vaccine,” Guterres said, but in the meantime “we need to massively expand new and existing tools that can respond to new cases and provide vital treatment to suppress transmission and save lives, especially over the next 12 months.” After a dramatic decline in recent months, coronavirus infections in Europe have come roaring back, with new cases increasing by more than 10 percent in the last two weeks in more than half the countries on the continent, said Hans Kluge, the W.H.O.’s regional director for Europe. In France, the per capita rate of new infections is among the highest in Europe, with 91 cases per 100,000 residents, compared to 10 per 100,000 at the end of July, according to The New York Times. Olivier Véran, the country’s health minister, cited gatherings of family and friends as driving a ”massive” increase in infections.
- Also: The number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the United States is about 6.7 million, while global cases are over 30.2 million, according to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracker. At over 947,000, global deaths due to Covid-19 are approaching the 1-million mark. In the U.S., coronavirus deaths in mid-September have averaged about 850 per day, reports The New York Times. Altogether, the more than 198,000 U.S. deaths make up more than one-fifth of the world’s total.
Warp Speed: As trials for a Covid-19 vaccine move forward at an “unprecedented” pace—part of a government plan, dubbed Operation Warp Speed, to deliver 300 million doses of a safe and effective vaccine by January 2021—participation in clinical trials by Black people remains low. With Black communities suffering disproportionately from the pandemic, pharmaceutical companies made it a priority to include Black people and other minorities in vaccine trials. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recommended that minorities be enrolled in trials at levels at least double their percentage of the population. And yet, writes NPR reporter Blake Farmer, “recruiting minority participants into these ongoing trials requires sensitivity to a legacy of mistrust based on past and current medical mistreatment, and that trust-building cannot be rushed.”
- Also: Plans are underway to begin shipping a Covid-19 vaccine within 24 hours of a medication’s approval by the Food and Drug Administration, The Wall Street Journal reports. Health officials also said that the government is setting up a database to track who gets vaccinated.
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Smoke signals: Evidence of the wildfires devastating California, Oregon, Washington and other Western states has reached across the Atlantic, with CNN reporting that thick smoke is visible in Europe and across large swaths of North America. The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, part of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, said the fires are “tens to hundreds of times more intense than the 2003–2019 average in the U.S. in general.” It said the blazes in California and Oregon have emitted far more carbon than in any other year since the group began compiling records in 2003. In recent days, Portland, Seattle, and Denver have ranked in the top 10 for the worst air quality among the world’s major cities. According to CNN, 36 deaths have been reported as a result of the fires.
- Also: President Trump, in an exchange with California officials on his visit to the state this week, disputed the idea that climate change was a factor in the raging fires. ”If we ignore that science and sort of put our head in the sand and think it’s all about vegetation management, we’re not going to succeed together protecting Californians,” Wade Crowfoot, the state’s secretary for natural resources, told Trump, according to the Los Angeles Times. “OK,” said Trump. “It’ll start getting cooler. You just watch.” “I wish science agreed with you,” Crowfoot responded. “I don’t think science knows, actually,” Trump said.
Pile up: Hurricane Sally left more than 600,000 homes and businesses without power in the Deep South, USA Today reported. In Escambia County on the Florida Panhandle, at least 377 people had to be rescued from the flooding, according to The New York Times. Surging water reached over five feet high in Pensacola, Florida, and a barge crashed into the Pensacola Bay Bridge, causing part of it to collapse. Areas of Alabama and Georgia also experienced heavy rainfall and winds blowing at 105 miles per hour; at least one person died in Orange Beach, Alabama, on the state’s southeastern coast. And while hundreds of thousands wait for Sally to move on, more extreme weather is piling up behind her in the Atlantic: Hurricane Paulette, about 450 miles south of Newfoundland, Canada; Tropical Storm Teddy, about 865 miles east of the Lesser Antilles; and Tropical Storm Vicky, about 710 miles west of Cape Verde, are all still active storms.
Fatal flaws: Democrats on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee issued a scathing report blaming a mix of “engineering flaws, mismanagement and a severe lack of federal oversight” for the two crashes that killed 346 people on Boeing’s 737 Max jet planes in 2018 and 2019, The New York Times reports. The report caps an 18-month investigation based on interviews with two dozen employees at Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration, and about 600,000 pages of documents. It called the air disasters the “horrific culmination” of mistakes both by Boeing and the FAA. Republicans on the committee also called for safety improvements, but thought action should be based on expert advice, “not a partisan investigative report,” as Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri told The Times. In the first crash in October, 2018, a Lion Air flight dove into the Java Sea shortly after takeoff from Jakarta, Indonesia. The second crash occurred in March, 2019, when an Ethiopian Airlines flight bound for Nairobi, Kenya, crashed soon after takeoff from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. The planes were grounded after the second crash, but Boeing is hoping for regulatory approval to begin flying them again as early as the end of this year.
Sunny forecast: The use of solar power is on the rise at schools across the United States, reports Environmental Health News. A new study co-published by the clean energy nonprofit Generation180 found an increase of 81 percent in the number of K-12 schools using solar energy since 2014. Today, 5.3 million students attend 7,332 schools that take advantage of solar energy—5.5 percent of all public and private K-12 schools in the country. These “solar schools” generate enough energy to power over 254,000 U.S. homes.
Pellets in the water: Much smaller than the discarded water bottles we commonly associate with plastic pollution, plastic pellets—“tiny granules, about the size of lentils, and even smaller resin flakes and powders”—are the building blocks of almost every plastic item. After almost three decades of government inaction to address the ongoing problem of pellet pollution, with only a voluntary industry program called “Operation Clean Sweep” and poorly enforced regulations, concerned citizens are taking matters into their own hands, reports Myron Levin at FairWarning. On the Texas Gulf Coast, a group of residents filed a federal lawsuit against the Formosa Plastics Corporation and a U.S. district judge issued a stern ruling, calling the company “a serial offender” of the Clean Water Act. Now, a coalition of 280 environmental, public health and community groups is petitioning the Environmental Protection Agency to crack down on plastic pollution, including a zero-discharge standard for pellets.
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