One in three: Officials in Los Angeles County estimate that the coronavirus has infected one in three residents, Luke Money and Rong-Gong Lin II report for the Los Angeles Times. That works out to more than 3 million people in the county of 10 million, where Covid-19 has claimed more than 13,000 lives. Fewer than a third of those infected have tested positive, but experts say testing only captures a fraction of actual cases because those with mild or no symptoms often don’t get tested. The county averaged more than 15,000 new confirmed Covid cases a day over the past week. Poor neighborhoods and Latino and Black communities are bearing the brunt, Money and Lin write. Wealthy neighborhoods are averaging 10 deaths a day per 100,000 residents, while poor neighborhoods are seeing around 36 deaths a day per 100,000 people. In November, Latinos were dying at an average rate of 3.5 per day per 100,000 people, but the situation has drastically deteriorated and the rate is now 28 deaths per day per 100,000 Latinos.
- Also: The coronavirus has sickened at least 23.3 million people in the U.S. and killed more than 389,000, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. Today, the global death toll topped 2 million.
Vaccination drive: The Trump administration has told states to begin vaccinating every American over the age of 65, and those with medical conditions that put them at higher risk of dying from Covid-19, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Abby Goodnough report for The New York Times. In a change from the previous policy, federal officials said they will release all the currently available doses to states instead of holding half in reserve for second doses. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has threatened that states will lose their vaccine allocations if they don’t use them quickly. “This next phase reflects the urgency of the situation we face,” Azar said. “Every vaccine dose that is sitting in a warehouse rather than going into an arm could mean one more life lost or one more hospital bed occupied.” But The Washington Post reports that no stockpile of second doses actually exists, as officials had already begun shipping out remaining stocks at the end of December. That means local health officials who had expected a surge of supplies will not immediately get them. Meanwhile, rules on who is to be vaccinated first vary from state to state, sowing confusion about who can sign up for shots, The Times reports. State vaccine appointment portals have crashed and public health department phone lines have been tied up for hours as demand far outstrips supply.
- Also: The outgoing Trump administration has been reluctant or unwilling to share information with the incoming Biden administration on response to the pandemic, including data on the production and distribution of vaccines, The Washington Post reports.
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Vaccine pipeline: Pfizer and Moderna are churning out coronavirus vaccines for a desperate U.S. and global market. Carolyn Y. Johnson reports for The Washington Post that the U.S. by July is expected to have 200 million doses from each company, enough to vaccinate 70 percent of adults. But that’s assuming all goes smoothly (no unforeseen ingredient shortages or other bottlenecks) and that vaccine distribution picks up the pace.
- Also: Brazil has been ravaged by the coronavirus, with more deaths than any country except the U.S. But the vaccine made by the Chinese company Sinovac and tested on thousands of Brazilians is only 50.4 percent effective, Terrence McCoy and Eva Dou report for The Post. Countries that can’t compete with the U.S. and other wealthier nations for supplies of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are still placing orders, including Turkey and Indonesia.
OSHA and the coronavirus: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said it levied $3,930,381 in proposed penalties against some 300 employers for Covid-related health and safety violations from the start of the pandemic through December 31. Most of the companies have been hospitals, clinics and nursing homes, although other establishments, such as food processing plants, have also been cited for violations. A list of those cited by the federal agency is here. It does not include companies cited by state job-safety agencies.
Flint indictments: Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and eight other officials have been indicted for their roles in the Flint water scandal, in which the majority-Black city’s drinking water was polluted with lead and was blamed for an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that sickened 90 and killed 12 in 2014-15, Ars Technica reports. The charges include felonies and misdemeanors. Snyder faces two misdemeanor charges of willful neglect of duty, which can be punished by up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.
Clearing the air: Toyota will pay a $180 million civil penalty to settle allegations that it systematically violated the Clean Air Act for a decade by delaying reporting of defective parts that resulted in higher emissions of air pollutants. “Toyota failed to report mandatory information about potential defects in their cars to the EPA, keeping the agency in the dark and evading oversight,” said EPA Assistant Administrator Susan Bodine. David Shepardson reports for Reuters that while sources said the government sought a higher civil penalty, the $180 million fine is still the largest civil penalty for violation of EPA’s emission-reporting requirements to date.
Auto industry savings: The Trump administration has delayed the start of higher penalties for automakers that fail to meet fuel efficiency standards, which could save the companies hundreds of millions of dollars, Shepardson writes for Reuters. Environmental groups have pointed out that U.S. fuel economy fines lost nearly 75 percent of their original value because fines had been increased only once since 1975. As FairWarning reported in December, administration officials at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had long resisted a mandate to raise penalties on automakers that violate mileage standards under a 2015 law requiring federal agencies to adjust penalties for inflation. The Trump administration claimed that the law didn’t apply to the fuel economy program, but in August a federal appeals court rejected that argument. Dave Cooke, vehicles analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Reuters that regulators were “doing some last-minute favors” for automakers.
Bad grades: The nonprofit group Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety is out with its annual report card on states with the best and worst sets of laws aimed at reducing injuries and deaths on the nation’s roads. Only eight states got “good” ratings for having strong laws on such things as impaired and distracted driving, restrictions on teen drivers and child passenger safety– California, New York, Rhode Island, Washington, Delaware, Maine, Oregon and Louisiana, along with Washington D.C.
FairWarning contributor Jessica McKenzie is an independent journalist. Find more of her work at jessicastarmckenzie.com.
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