Dark days for CDC: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—once “the world’s most admired public health agency”—has suffered a loss of institutional credibility during the Covid-19 pandemic, The Washington Post reports. At the time it was most needed, the CDC responded to the pandemic with technical mistakes and botched messaging, while also facing false accusations and interference from the Trump administration. Just this month, President Trump directly contradicted CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield by saying Redfield was “confused” when he told Congress that a vaccine for the virus would not be widely available until the middle of next year, which is in line with what other top officials have said. “Since late February, the CDC has lost massive amounts of credibility,” Jody Lanard, a physician who worked for nearly two decades as a pandemic communications adviser consulting with the World Health Organization, told The Post. One veteran researcher at the agency, who spoke to The Post on the condition of anonymity, said that morale is at “an all-time low.”
NYC’s Covid hotspots: After doing far better than most of the nation since its initial spike in Covid-19 cases in the spring, New York City is now seeing worrisome hot spots, according to a CNN report. Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned residents to be careful as cases spiked in parts of Brooklyn and Queens, while the state of New York reported more than 1,000 new cases on Saturday for the first time since early June. The New York City health department said in a statement that “COVID-19 cases continue to grow at an alarming rate in eight neighborhoods in the city, outpacing the citywide average by 3.3 times over the past 14 days.” And New York is not alone: Nationwide, only 10 states are exhibiting downward trends in new cases, with 19 states holding steady and 21 states reporting more new cases last week than the previous week, according to CNN.
- Also: The number of Covid-19 cases in the United States is now over 7.15 million, while deaths due to the virus top 205,000, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. Worldwide, there are now over 33.4 million cases of Covid-19 and more than 1 million deaths.
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Fire in wine country, again: Fueled by dry conditions and high winds, wildfires have burned homes and vineyards and forced tens of thousands to evacuate in California’s wine country, Reuters reports. The Glass Fire and Shady Fire burning through Sonoma and Napa counties are just the latest in a series of historic conflagrations to hit California this year. So far, wildfires have scorched over 3.8 million acres and left 29 people dead, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Together, the fires in wine country and further north in Shasta County have already burned over 67,000 acres, with neither fire contained. Wine country has been hit hard by fires in recent years: In 2017, the Tubbs Fire killed 22 people and destroyed more than 5,600 buildings.
POTUS tax bill: $750: Tax-return documents obtained by The New York Times reveal that President Trump paid almost nothing in taxes in some recent years, and nothing at all for even more. He paid no income tax in 10 of the previous 15 years, largely due to his losing far more money than he made; in his first year as president, he paid only $750 in federal income taxes. President Trump’s tax returns reveal the hollowness of his claims of business acumen and show that he may be under financial pressure to make deals, despite conflicts of interest. “The tax returns that Mr. Trump has long fought to keep private tell a story fundamentally different from the one he has sold to the American public,” write Ross Buettner, Susanne Craig, and Mike McIntire for The Times. “His reports to the IRS portray a businessman who takes in hundreds of millions of dollars a year yet racks up chronic losses that he aggressively employs to avoid paying taxes. Now, with his financial challenges mounting, the records show that he depends more and more on making money from businesses that put him in potential and often direct conflict of interest with his job as president.”
Indiscriminate murder: President Trump has blamed a big leap in murders during the pandemic on Democratic leadership in some of the cities that have seen increases, but the numbers show the picture is not so clear—murder is up pretty much everywhere, according to an analysis by The New York Times. Looking at publicly available crime data from this year, reporter Jeff Asher found that more cities are run by Democratic mayors than by Republican mayors, but murders are on the rise in big cities throughout the country, regardless of the political affiliation of the mayor. The FBI recently released data on crime in 2020 that found an almost 15% increase in murder nationally. Nevertheless, the Department of Justice has singled out Democratic-run cities as lawless places, going so far as to classify New York City, Portland and Seattle as “anarchist” jurisdictions that “have permitted violence and destruction of property to persist.” But, Asher notes, “The Department of Justice refers to ‘destruction of property’ as a reason the three cities are permitting ‘anarchy,’ but the FBI does not classify vandalism as a major crime.”
Charged questions on electric cars: Electric cars currently make up just 6% of California’s market, so Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to ban the sale of gas-powered cars by 2035 will require a lot of work, from placing charging stations conveniently to making electric cars affordable, writes Dustin Gardiner for the San Francisco Chronicle. “We are marking a new course,” Newsom said. “The opportunity is limitless for the state of California to compete, not only nationally, but globally.” California would be the only state in the U.S. with a ban on gas-powered vehicles, but at least 15 other countries, including France and Germany, have pledged to phase them out, according to NPR. The governor said the plan will inspire innovation in the auto sector, but he has left state regulators to iron out the details. As it now stands, electric car sales will need to increase by 18% every year to meet the target by 2035. But in order to do this, Gardiner writes, a couple key issues will need to be addressed, such as the price of electric cars—now seen as a luxury only available to the rich—and figuring out how people will charge their cars if they can’t afford their own charging stations nor the hours it takes to charge an electric car in a standard outlet.
Rehab or human trafficking?: People sentenced to drug treatment programs instead of prison often must work at dangerous jobs for little or no pay, receiving minimal, if any, actual treatment, according to several lawsuits against the treatment facilities. Even when they are injured on the job, residents are forced to keep working or face incarceration, reports Law360. One lawsuit resulted in a judgment of over $1 million in favor of the plaintiffs, with a federal judge saying that the treatment facilities are violating labor laws for their own financial gain. The facilities maintain that unpaid labor is a key part of their programs, instilling discipline and a work ethic to keep residents out of prison or jail, but critics like Dan Smolen, an attorney leading a class action suit against Christian Alcoholics & Addicts in Recovery, a treatment center in Oklahoma, say the practice is “also known as human trafficking.”
Women and children at risk: PFAS, chemicals found in a wide variety of consumer products, can wreak havoc on the health of pregnant women and their unborn children, according to a New York Times investigation. Sometimes called “forever chemicals,” PFAS are most commonly found in contaminated drinking water, carpets, tainted seafood, microwave popcorn and takeout foods in grease-resistant containers. They affect almost everyone, but pregnant women appear to be the most susceptible. Scientists think that the chemicals mess with gene regulators and hormones that control the metabolism and immunity—two of the body’s most critical functions. PFAS can also affect both mothers’ and babies’ thyroid levels, which impact brain development and growth. Women exposed to PFAS while pregnant have higher risks of gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, a form of high-blood pressure in conjunction with other symptoms; their babies are more likely to experience abnormal growth in utero and eventually face increased risk of childhood obesity and infections.
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