Wave of virus restrictions: Despite the antipathy of President Trump and many Republican voters to Covid restrictions, GOP governors are ordering residents to wear masks public as infections in their states continue to soar, The New York Times reports. Utah’s governor, Gary Herbert, who issued new mask requirements last week, has been joined by Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota—the state that has the country’s highest rates of new daily cases and deaths per person, according to The Times—as well as Gov. Jim Justice of West Virginia, and, yesterday, Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa. “There aren’t enough sheriffs in Iowa’s 99 counties to shut down every noncompliant bar,” Reynolds said. “If Iowans don’t buy into this, we lose.” Democratic governors are also escalating their responses, reversing reopening steps and introducing new lockdowns and restrictions. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered high schools and colleges to stop in-person classes, closed restaurants to indoor dining and suspended organized sports. She also closed some entertainment facilities, banned gyms from hosting group exercise classes and restricted indoor and outdoor residential gatherings, Jessica Glenza reports for The Guardian. Washington governor Jay Inslee closed indoor service at gyms, restaurants and some entertainment centers and prohibited multiple-household, indoor social gatherings unless attendees have quarantined for 14 days or tested negative and quarantined for a week. Likewise, as The Times reports, large parts of California have had to reverse their reopening plans, Philadelphia has banned indoor gatherings and closed indoor dining at restaurants and a broad stay-at-home advisory went into effect in Chicago. More than 11.2 million people in the United States have contracted the virus, and more than 247,000 have died, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. Globally, more than 55.2 million have tested positive and more than 1.3 million have died.
- Also: After Gov. Whitmer issued new restrictions in Michigan, Scott Atlas, President Donald Trump’s top coronavirus adviser, tweeted: “The only way this stops is if people rise up. You get what you accept.” Federal and state officials arrested 14 men in October in connection with an alleged plot to kidnap Whitmer, Paul Egan writes for the Detroit Free Press and USA Today. “It’s just incredibly reckless, considering everything that has happened, everything that is going on,” Whitmer told reporters. Later, Atlas told critics that he wasn’t endorsing violence against the governor. “Hey. I NEVER was talking at all about violence,” he wrote on Twitter. “People vote, people peacefully protest. NEVER would I endorse or incite violence. NEVER!!”
A second vaccine: The drugmaker Moderna said that its coronavirus vaccine candidate was 94.5 percent effective, joining Pfizer in announcing better-than-hoped-for results, Denise Grady reports for The New York Times. Both companies will be applying soon to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency authorization to begin vaccinating people, although a widely available vaccine for the general public is still months away. Of the few test subjects who received the Moderna vaccine and still contracted coronavirus, none had severe cases.
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Testing, testing: Rapid antigen tests—the speedy, on-the-spot coronavirus testing solution that was supposed to return the country to a state of near-normalcy—have been a disappointment, Lisa Song reports for ProPublica. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spent more than $760 million by September on 150 million tests for nursing homes and schools, without realizing that the tests were far more prone to false negatives and false positives. And when problems began to emerge, instead of clarifying when and how to use them, HHS defended the tests and threatened Nevada with unspecified sanctions until the state backed down and continued using tests in nursing homes. Even taking their unreliability into account, experts still don’t agree on the usefulness of rapid antigen tests in controlling a pandemic.
Another epidemic: The number of opioid overdose deaths in San Francisco this year surpassed the 2019 death toll by the end of August, Trisha Thadani and John Blanchard report for the San Francisco Chronicle, in part because those who have counted on others to save them have been more isolated during the pandemic, but also because the potent painkiller fentanyl has become more available and is sometimes used to lace other drugs. To better understand this second epidemic, the Chronicle has mapped every overdose death in the city, beginning with a 71-year-old man on January 1. Nor is San Francisco alone in this epidemic; experts say the loneliness and the stress of the pandemic has caused an increase in overdoses around the country.
An avalanche of claims: At least 92,700 individuals have filed sex-abuse claims against the Boy Scouts of America, surpassing even the number of abuse allegations against the Catholic Church, Kim Christensen reports for the Los Angeles Times. A bankruptcy judge set Monday as the deadline for victims to come forward with claims if they want compensation from a victims’ fund. The organization initiated bankruptcy proceedings in the hopes that victims’ claims wouldn’t wipe out its $1 billion in assets and that it could one day emerge intact. “I knew there were a lot of cases,” said Paul Mones, a lawyer who has been working on Boy Scouts cases for nearly two decades, told The New York Times. “I never contemplated it would be a number close to this.” The organization said in a statement that it has been “devastated by the number of lives impacted by past abuse in Scouting,” adding, “We are deeply sorry.”
Mourning the giants: Experts say hundreds—and perhaps more than 1,000—giant sequoias were killed in the devastating Castle wildfire in California’s Sierra Nevada this summer, Bettina Boxall reports for the Los Angeles Times. The trees have lived hundreds of years, through wildfires and drought, but since 2015 wildfires have become too hot for them to withstand, the result of a century of fire suppression, a multi-year drought and rising temperatures. “This fire could have put a noticeable dent in the world’s supply of big sequoias,” Nate Stephenson, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, told the Times.
- Also: Scientists know smoke from increasingly-hot wildfires enters the stratosphere and circles the planet; what they don’t know is how damaging the effects might be, Robert Lee Hotz reports for The Wall Street Journal. In some cases, the smoke can block sunlight, much as volcanic eruptions do. Fires in Australia that started in 2019 even punched a temporary hole in the ozone layer. “It is a new form of severe weather,” said David Peterson, a meteorologist at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Monterey, California.
Up for grabs: The Trump administration is rushing to auction off drilling rights in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge before President-elect Biden takes office, Juliet Eilperin reports for The Washington Post. The refuge shelters tens of thousands of migrating caribou and waterfowl, along with polar bears and Arctic foxes. The move is just one in a series of actions the administration wants to take to further its campaign to open public lands to logging, mining and grazing. These include finalizing a plan to open parts of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska to drilling, auctioning oil and gas rights to hundreds of thousands of acres of federal land in the Lower 48 and reducing protections for endangered species and migrating birds.
FairWarning contributor Jessica McKenzie is an independent journalist. Find more of her work at jessicastarmckenzie.com.
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