‘Nature welcomes the change’: with no tourists, wildlife roams California’s Yosemite

(Reuters) – A bear ambles across a forest glade and a herd of deer stroll down a silent road. At Yosemite National Park in Northern California, coronavirus restrictions mean no tourists – and bolder wildlife.

“It’s very quiet right now at the park,” Yosemite Conservancy President Frank Dean said in an interview.

“It’s an amazing scene where you hear the natural sounds of the river, wildlife and the birds. The wildlife is getting a little bit bolder now because there are few people around.”

Yosemite, one of the best-known national parks in the United States, has been closed to all except a few employees and local residents since March 20, in response to the public health emergency triggered by the coronavirus.

The park, famed for its waterfalls and giant sequoia trees, normally attracts over 3 million visitors a year, most of whom arrive between April and October.

“We are trying to anticipate and plan how the park will be when it reopens, because, you know, it won’t be business as usual this summer,” said Dean, whose nonprofit organization protects the park and runs services for visitors.

Dean added that he expected visitor patterns to be different once it does reopen – people may be reluctant to visit the restaurant or visitor center, for instance.

In the meantime, the wildlife is having a ball.

“I think nature is obviously welcoming the change,” said Dean. Bears, coming out of hibernation, were being seen more frequently as they were less secretive and felt more comfortable, he said.

Coyotes were the most noticeable change, said Dean.

“They are out in the daytime now and they’re not afraid. I mean, they’re just sort of walking by people and walking around, among buildings.”

(Reporting by Norma Galeana in Los Angeles; Writing by Rosalba O’Brien)

NYC mayor orders mandatory measles vaccinations after Brooklyn outbreak

FILE PHOTO: A vial of measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and an information sheet is seen at Boston Children's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts February 26, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency in parts of Brooklyn on Tuesday in response to a measles outbreak, requiring unvaccinated people living in the affected areas to get the vaccine or face fines.

The city’s largest measles outbreak since 1991 has mainly been confined to the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, with 285 cases confirmed since October, de Blasio said at a news conference.

“This is the epicenter of a measles outbreak that is very, very troubling and must be dealt with immediately,” de Blasio said.

The disease is easily spread and can be fatal, but there have been no confirmed deaths so far, officials said.

The outbreak is part of a broader resurgence in the United States, with 465 cases reported in 19 states so far this year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Officials from New York City’s Department of Health will check vaccination records of anyone who has been in contact with infected patients in certain parts of Brooklyn, officials said.

Those who have not received the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, or can otherwise give evidence of immunity, such as having previously had the measles, will face a fine of up to $1,000.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen and Gine Cherelus; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

U.S. life expectancy fell in 2016 as opioid overdoses surged: CDC

A used container of the drug Narcan used against opioid overdoses lies on the ground in a park in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. October 26, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Life expectancy in the United States dipped in 2016 as the number of deaths due to opioid drug overdoses surged and total drug overdose deaths rose 21 percent to 63,600, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Thursday.

Life expectancy fell to 78.6 years, a decrease of 0.1 year from 2015, the second annual decline in a row and the first two-year decline since a drop in 1962 and 1963.

Opioid-related overdose deaths have been on the rise since 1999, but surged from 2014 to 2016, with an average annual increase of 18 percent, to become a national epidemic. From 2006 to 2014 the rise was only 3 percent annually on average and between 1999 to 2006 averaged 10 percent per year.

In 2016, 42,249 people died from opioid-related overdoses, up 28 percent from 2015, while the number of deaths from synthetic opioids other than methadone, such as fentanyl and tramadol, more than doubled to 19,413, the CDC said.

The 2016 rate of overdose deaths was up across all age groups but was highest rate among people aged 25 to 54.

West Virginia, Ohio, New Hampshire, the District of Columbia and Pennsylvania had the highest age-adjusted drug overdose death rates in 2016.

The number of drug overdose deaths involving natural and semisynthetic opioids, which include drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone, was 14,487 in 2016.

As the U.S. opioid addiction epidemic has worsened, many state attorneys general have sued makers of these drugs as they investigate whether manufacturers and distributors engaged in unlawful marketing behavior.

President Donald Trump in October declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency, which senior administration officials said would redirect federal resources and loosen regulations to combat abuse of the drugs. However, he stopped short of declaring a national emergency he had promised months before, which would have freed up more federal money.

(Reporting by Caroline Humer; editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Jonathan Oatis)

Flint Michigan’s Water Crisis Prompts Emergency Filters

Residents of Flint after increased pressure by the EPA are getting free water filters from the state along with donations of bottled water, as local officials take steps to ensure that residents have safe drinking water. Tests showed that the city’s water supply is causing elevated levels of lead in children. These tests followed months of complaints.  Residents are unhappy with the taste, smell and appearance of water from the Flint River and have reported rashes, hair loss and other health concerns.

After months of resisting complaints about the water, and even a press conference by local doctors warning of potential effects, officials relented this week, declaring a public health emergency.

The spike in lead occurred last spring after Flint changed the source of its drinking water. Conducted by a pediatrician with Hurley Medical Center, the newest study examined the lead levels of hundreds of children, comparing blood tests taken before and after April 2014, when Flint stopped using Detroit water and started drawing water from the Flint River as a temporary cost-saving measure.

Residents also pay some of the highest water rates in the U.S., in the community known for its economic decline. Most pay an average of $140 per month.

About 5,500 filters have already been distributed through private donations. And on Tuesday, Flint officials announced bottled water donations from a grocery chain as well as a monthlong water donation drive for distribution to senior citizen centers and schools.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder announced that the state will spend $1 million to buy water filters and immediately test water in public schools in Flint. He also announced expanded health exposure testing, continued free water testing, and quicker steps to ensure that water from the Flint River is effectively treated.

On Thursday, the Genesee County health department declared a public health emergency, recommending that people not drink the water unless it has been filtered and tested to rule out elevated levels of lead. More steps will be announced Friday.

County Commissioner Brenda Clack told residents that infants and children should not use the water coming from the taps in the city of Flint.

“Individuals who have respiratory conditions should not use the water, pregnant women should not use the water – it’s imperative that they not use the water,” she urged.