Deadly winds: An unusual late-summer snowstorm that hit the Rocky Mountains this month was no balm for the fire-stricken West, and instead exacerbated the deadly flames all along the West Coast, Rong-Gong Lin II and Joseph Serna report for the Los Angeles Times. The mass of cooler air poured through the mountains towards the Pacific Coast, sweltering in a heat wave at the time, whipping up a windstorm that acted “as a giant bellows.” In Oregon, the relatively small Beachie Creek fire grew from just 500 acres to more than 131,000 acres overnight, killing four, including a 13-year-old boy and his grandmother. Wildfires in California, Oregon and Washington have killed 36, with dozens still missing.
- Also: The fires in the West have burned more than 7,000 square miles, an area equivalent to New Jersey, according to NBC, which has an interactive feature that compares the size of the fires to U.S. cities.
“The uterus collector”: A whistleblower who works as a nurse at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Georgia alleges that detainees are being subjected to a shockingly high number of hysterectomies, Kari Paul reports for The Guardian. A whistleblower complaint filed Monday by a number of legal advocacy and human rights groups on behalf of the nurse, Dawn Wooten, accuses the Irwin County Detention Center, which is run by the private corporation LaSalle Corrections, of negligence, based on the unsanitary and hazardous conditions at the center. Wooten also alleged that an offsite doctor was performing an excessive number of hysterectomies on Spanish-speaking detainees, who did not know why they needed the procedure, and may not have been capable of informed consent (because the consent was obtained by nurses who “simply googl[ed] Spanish”). “Everybody he sees has a hysterectomy – just about everybody,” Wooten said. “That’s his specialty, he’s the uterus collector. Everybody’s uterus cannot be that bad.” One woman claims to have not been properly anesthetized during a procedure, and overheard the physician say he removed the wrong ovary, rendering her unable to have children. “When I met all these women who had had surgeries, I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp. It was like they’re experimenting with our bodies,” said one detainee who was quoted in the complaint.
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The cost of Covid: Although the United States has tried to cobble together what could be considered “universal health care” for Covid-19, many patients are still receiving surprise bills for coronavirus tests and antibody tests, Sarah Kliff reports for The New York Times. Insurers blame the complicated billing system, which wasn’t set up for circumstances like these—blanket, out-of-network coverage for a single affliction. Some of those who fall ill with Covid-19, in some cases very ill, also fall through the cracks and can be hit by health care bills in the thousands, Robbie Whelan reports for The Wall Street Journal. People on Medicare without supplemental insurance seem to be especially vulnerable.
- Also: There are now more than 6.5 million confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S., and more than 194,000 people have died, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. Globally, there are more than 29 million confirmed cases and more than 927,000 people have died.
Take a hike or two: AstraZeneca, one of the world’s largest drug companies, has received hundreds of millions of dollars from the U.S. government to develop a coronavirus vaccine, but in the meantime, the company has hiked prices on other drugs not once but twice this year, according to an analysis by the Los Angeles Times and 46brooklyn Research, a nonprofit that studies the pharmaceutical industry. The price increases are up to six percent, even as inflation hovers at one percent. Last year, approximately one in five American households reported that they could not afford at least one prescription medicine the previous year, and yet prices continue to rise. “Pharma corporations are sophisticated political actors that understand this is a risky time to be seen increasing prices, and yet these corporations are addicted to price increases,” said Peter Maybarduk, from the nonprofit watchdog group Public Citizen. “We recognize the challenges many Americans are facing and remain committed to ensuring patients are able to access our medicines,” AstraZeneca said in a statement.
Rally for Trump: President Trump held a rally with thousands of attendees inside a manufacturing plant in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson, Nevada, ignoring a state directive to limit gatherings to no more than 50 people, Jennifer Medina and Annie Karni write for The New York Times. The gathering also seems to violate the rules of the plant, Xtreme Manufacturing, which claims to have “restricted meetings and gatherings to no more than 10 people in large areas.” Attendees did not attempt to maintain social distancing and most did not wear a mask, they report. In a statement, Tim Murtaugh, a Trump campaign spokesman, said, “If you can join tens of thousands of people protesting in the streets, gamble in a casino or burn down small businesses in riots, you can gather peacefully under the First Amendment to hear from the president of the United States.” Trump supporters in attendance told The Times reporters that the coronavirus was a hoax. Medina and Karni write: “One man wore a T-shirt that announced: ‘Social-ism distancing.’ Another Trump supporter outside the venue held a sign shaped like the president’s head painted with the message: ‘Media is the virus.’”
- Also: Eight people who refused to wear masks in Indonesia have been made to dig graves for those who have died after contracting coronavirus, according to a report in The Jakarta Post. “There are only three available gravediggers at the moment, so I thought I might as well put these people to work with them,” said Suyono, the district head responsible for the punishment. “Hopefully this can create a deterrent effect against violations,” he added.
Hazardous air and Covid: A new peer-reviewed study by ProPublica and researchers at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry found that industrial emissions called hazardous air pollutants, or HAPs, exacerbate Covid-19. The researchers looked at 3,100 U.S. counties and found a high correlation between levels of HAPs and the per-capita coronavirus death rate. Chemical plants outside of New Orleans emit these types of cancer-causing chemicals and may help explain why Louisiana has been hard hit by coronavirus.
Off message: A secret recording of an industry meeting of oil and gas lobbyists last year reveals that they are anxious about public perceptions of their clients’ practice of flaring off natural gas, Hiroko Tabuchi reports for The New York Times. “We’re just flaring a tremendous amount of gas,” Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said at the 2019 meeting. Natural gas is not as valuable as oil, and while wells can produce both, it can be cheaper to just burn the gas then and there instead of trying to move it, but flaring releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere without even the benefit of using it for energy first. “What’s our message going forward?” Ness fretted. “What’s going to stick with those young people and make them support oil and gas?”
Ice cube the size of two Manhattans: A 44-square-mile piece of ice has broken off from northeast Greenland, the Arctic’s largest remaining ice shelf, Zamira Rahim reports for CNN. That’s roughly twice the size of the island of Manhattan. The melting ice sheet, the second largest after Antarctica’s, is increasing sea level rise by about a millimeter every year. Activists and researchers expressed horror, but not shock, an indication of the steady drumbeat of climate change evidence. “When you observe large parts of an ice shelf breaking off you do raise an eyebrow, but with current developments in the Arctic there is also the realization that this is to be expected,” Niels J. Korsgaard, a researcher from The Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, said in a statement. Greenpeace campaigner Laura Meller said in a statement, “As the sea ice minimum in the Arctic is set to be one of the lowest ever recorded, another massive chunk of vital sea ice has fallen into the ocean. This is yet another alarm bell being rung by the climate crisis in a rapidly heating Arctic.”
FairWarning contributor Jessica McKenzie is an independent journalist. Find more of her work at jessicastarmckenzie.com.
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