Breakdown of services due to Omicron explosion

Luke 21:11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.

Important Takeaways:

  • Omicron explosion spurs nationwide breakdown of services
  • First responders, hospitals, schools and government agencies have employed an all-hands-on-deck approach to keep the public safe, but they are worried how much longer they can keep it up.
  • In Kansas’ Johnson County, paramedics are working 80 hours a week.
  • Pharmacies have been slammed by staffing shortages, either because employees are out sick or have left altogether.
  • In Los Angeles, more than 800 police and fire personnel were sidelined because of the virus
  • In New York City, officials have had to delay or scale back trash and subway services

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Judge overrules Texas governor’s ban on mask mandates in schools

By Kanishka Singh and Sharon Bernstein

(Reuters) – A federal judge overruled Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates in schools, clearing the path for districts to issue their own rules.

Judge Lee Yeakel of U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas ruled the governor’s order violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, a landmark 1990 federal law that includes protections for students with special needs. In his ruling, Yeakel said the executive order put children with disabilities at risk.

“The spread of COVID-19 poses an even greater risk for children with special health needs,” the judge said in the order. “Children with certain underlying conditions who contract COVID-19 are more likely to experience severe acute biological effects and to require admission to a hospital and the hospital’s intensive-care unit.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said he “strongly disagreed” with the ruling.

“My agency is considering all legal avenues to challenge this decision,” Paxton said on Twitter.

The issue of mandates to curb the pandemic has become politicized in much of the United States. Supporters of mandates say they are needed to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, and opponents argue they curb individual liberty.

Some school districts in conservative states where governors have forbidden mask mandates are ignoring the bans, but others feel compelled to enforce them. In Texas, numerous districts including those in Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio, have flouted the ban since it was first announced in May, but others came into compliance amid state pressure including a public list published by Paxton’s office.

In his order, Yeakel said the state could not enforce its ban on mask requirements in school, and also could not levy fines or withhold funds from districts that impose mask-wearing.

The order was challenged by disability rights activists on behalf of several Texas students with special needs.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru and Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento; Editing by Tom Hogue and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Treasury warns Arizona it can’t use federal funds to undermine school mask requirements

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo told Arizona’s governor on Tuesday that his state could not use federal funds to pay for programs aimed at undermining face mask requirements in schools, and said Arizona could lose funding if it did not change course.

In a letter to Governor Douglas Ducey, Adeyemo raised concerns about two new Arizona state programs funded under the coronavirus relief “American Rescue Plan” which he said would “undermine evidence-based efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Adeyemo’s letter comes a month after the U.S. Department of Education opened civil rights investigations to determine whether five states – Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah – that have banned schools from requiring masks are discriminating against students with disabilities.

One of the Arizona programs offers grants to school districts on condition they not require the use of face coverings during instructional hours. The second gives families a voucher of up to $7,000 per student to cover tuition or other educational costs at a new school that does not require face coverings if the student’s current school requires them.

Both programs tapped a $350 billion fund established under the American Rescue Plan to mitigate the fiscal effects of the COVID-19 emergency, which has killed over 700,000 people in the United States, Adeyemo said in his letter.

“A program or service that imposes conditions on participation or acceptance of the service that would undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 or discourage compliance with evidence-based solutions for stopping the spread of COVID-19 is not a permissible use of (such) funds,” he said.

Adeyemo asked Ducey to respond within 30 days on how Arizona planned to come into compliance with the federal requirements, warning that “failure to respond or remediate may result in administrative or other action.” Such action included federal efforts to recoup the funds, a Treasury official said.

Florida, Texas and Arkansas have also banned mandatory masking orders in schools. The Education Department left those states and Arizona out of its inquiry because court orders or other actions have paused their enforcement, it said in a news release.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Mark Porter and Sonya Hepinstall)

‘All we can do is cry’ – La Palma volcano leaves trail of devastation

By Borja Suarez and Marco Trujillo

LA PALMA, Spain (Reuters) -Lava flowed from an erupting volcano on the Spanish island of La Palma for a fourth day on Wednesday, forcing more people to evacuate their homes and blanketing towns in ash, while residents struggled to come to terms with the destruction.

“All we can do is cry. We are a small business, we live off all these people who have lost everything,” said Lorena, 30, who works in a jewelers in the small town of Los Llanos de Aridane.

Since erupting on Sunday, lava from the Cumbre Vieja volcano has destroyed at least 150 houses and forced thousands of people to flee, mostly in Los Llanos de Aridane and nearby El Paso.

Holding back tears as she swept away a thick layer of ash from the street outside her store, Nancy Ferreiro, the jewelry shop owner, said: “There are no words to explain this feeling.”

Less than 5 km (3 miles) to the south, in Todoque, forked tongues of black lava advanced slowly westward, incinerating everything in their path, including houses, schools and the banana plantations that produce the island’s biggest export.

Emergency services tried to redirect the lava towards a gorge in an effort to minimize damage but had little success.

“Faced with the column of advancing lava … nothing can be done,” regional leader Angel Victor Torres told a news conference, adding that the flow had slowed to a crawl.

Miguel Angel Morcuende, technical director of the Pevolca eruption taskforce, said the lava’s speed had reduced so much that it might not reach the sea.

Experts had originally predicted it would hit the Atlantic Ocean late on Monday, potentially causing explosions and sending out clouds of toxic gases. Marine authorities are keeping a two nautical mile area in the sea closed as a precaution.

Morcuende said for now there was no indication that gases released by the eruption were damaging to human health.

People from the El Paso neighborhood of Jerey were ordered to evacuate on Wednesday as the lava crept close to their homes.

About 6,000 of La Palma’s population of 80,000 have been evacuated since Sunday. Some were allowed back briefly to recover belongings.

Property portal Idealista estimated the volcano had caused around 87 million euros ($102 million) in property destruction so far.

Late on Tuesday, the Canary Islands’ volcanology institute said the scale of seismic activity within the volcano was intensifying.

Drone footage captured towers of magma bursting high into the air, spraying debris onto the flanks of the Cumbre Vieja volcano.

No fatalities or injuries have been reported

(Reporting by Borja Suarez, Marco Trujillo, Nacho Doce, Emma Pinedo, Clara-Laeila Laudette and Inti Landauro; Writing by Nathan Allen and Inti Landauro; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Over 71% of Lebanon’s population risks losing access to safe water – UNICEF

BEIRUT (Reuters) – The United Nations warned on Friday that more than four million people in Lebanon, including one million refugees risked losing access to safe water as shortages of funding, fuel and supplies affect water pumping.

“UNICEF estimates that most water pumping will gradually cease across the country in the next four to six weeks,” a statement by the U.N. body said.

Lebanon is battling an economic meltdown that has propelled more than half of its population into poverty and seen its currency lose over 90% of its value in less than two years.

The financial crisis has translated into severe shortages of basic goods such as fuel and medicine as dollars run dry.

UNICEF said that should the public water supply system collapse, water costs could jump by 200% a month as water would be secured from private water suppliers.

The U.N. agency said it needed $40 million a year to secure the minimum levels of fuel, chlorine, spare parts and maintenance required to keep critical systems operational.

“Unless urgent action is taken, hospitals, schools and essential public facilities will be unable to function,” UNICEF Representative in Lebanon, Yukie Mokuo, was quoted as saying in the statement.

(Reporting By Maha El Dahan; editing by Grant McCool)

Iowa joins U.S. states forbidding COVID-19 mask mandates in schools

(Reuters) – Iowa joined a handful of other U.S. states on Thursday in passing a law that forbids cities, counties and local school districts from requiring people to wear face masks that protect against the spread of the coronavirus.

Governor Kim Reynolds, a Republican, signed the measure into law just hours after it was approved by the state legislature. Texas and Florida, which also have Republican governors, have passed similar measures.

“The state of Iowa is putting parents back in control of their child’s education and taking greater steps to protect the rights of all Iowans to make their own healthcare decisions,” Reynolds said in a statement.

A week ago, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said people vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer need to wear a mask in most settings because the chance of them catching or transmitting the airborne coronavirus is so low. But it still advised face coverings be worn in schools, medical settings and public transit.

The decision by Texas, Florida and Iowa to ignore some of the guidance comes after a year in which many conservative political leaders have cast mask mandates as an erosion of individual liberty rather than a public health issue.

Some Democrat-led states, such as New York and Connecticut, have adopted the CDC advice and said vaccinated people are no longer bound by mask mandates, though unvaccinated people must still wear them if they cannot distance themselves from others. Those states also have not stopped individual businesses from requiring visitors to wear masks.

In his Tuesday executive order, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said schools must scrap any mask requirements by June 4. However, public hospitals and state jails may still impose mask requirements, the order said.

On Wednesday, the Utah legislature passed a bill forbidding public schools and state universities from requiring masks, which now heads to the governor to be signed into law.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Texas governor bars mask mandates for schools, other government entities

(Reuters) -Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Tuesday ordered all government entities in the state, including school districts, to lift mask mandates by week’s end, though existing guidelines for face-coverings in schools may remain in effect through June 4.

Abbott’s executive order puts Texas at odds with the latest guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommending that students in schools across the United States wear masks for the 2020-2021 academic year because not all will be inoculated against the coronavirus.

Abbott said Texas was making strides against the COVID-19 pandemic through vaccinations, antibody therapeutics and voluntary health-safety practices “utilized by Texans in our communities,” leaving government mask requirements no longer necessary.

“We can continue to mitigate COVID-19 while defending Texans’ liberty to choose whether or not they mask up,” he said in a statement announcing the executive order.

Abbott and many other Republican politicians have cast mask mandates as an imposition on personal freedoms but nevertheless grudgingly required face coverings at the height of the pandemic as hospitalizations and deaths surged out of control.

Texas lifted its state-imposed mask mandate 10 weeks ago but sued officials in Austin, the state’s capital city, for refusing to go along with the lifting of those restrictions.

Abbott said that beginning Friday, local governments or officials that attempt to impose a mask mandate or other restriction in defiance of his latest executive order barring compulsory face-coverings would be subject to a $1,000 fine.

Public school districts are given more time to comply, but after June 4, “no student, teacher, parent or other staff member or visitor can be required to wear a mask while on campus,” his announcement said.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by David Gregorio)

U.S. vaccinated 600,000 12-15 year old’s last week

By Carl O’Donnell

(Reuters) -The United States administered COVID-19 vaccinations to around 600,000 children ages 12 to 15 last week after regulators cleared Pfizer Inc’s and BioNTech’s shots for use in that age group, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said in a media call on Tuesday.

In total, more than 4 million people under 17 have been vaccinated in the United States so far, she added. Top U.S. infectious disease specialist Anthony Fauci said he expects that by the end of 2021 the United States will have enough safety data to vaccinate children of any age.

U.S. regulators last week authorized Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for use in children as young as 12. Most states began issuing shots to children last Thursday but some, including Georgia, started sooner.

Pfizer’s shot is the first to be cleared in the United States for children 12 to 15. Vaccinating younger ages is considered important for getting children back into schools safely. U.S. President Joe Biden has asked states to make the vaccine available to younger adolescents immediately.

The vaccine has been available under an emergency use authorization to people as young as 16 in the United States since December.

Most children with COVID-19 develop only mild symptoms or no symptoms. Yet children remain at risk of becoming seriously ill, and they can spread the virus.

Widely vaccinating 12- to 18-year old’s could allow U.S. schools and summer camps to relax masking and social distancing measures suggested by the CDC.

Fauci also said on Tuesday that existing COVID-19 shots probably also protect against the new variant of the coronavirus first found in India, which has been battling the world’s biggest jump in COVID-19 infections.

(Reporting by Carl O’Donnell, additional reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio)

U.S. CDC panel backs COVID-19 vaccine now cleared for adolescents

By Michael Erman and Manojna Maddipatla

(Reuters) -U.S. states are set to begin using the vaccine from Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE to inoculate younger adolescents against COVID-19 after advisers to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) backed the plan in a unanimous vote on Wednesday.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday authorized the vaccine for children aged 12 to 15, offering relief to parents eager to get their children back to schools and summer camps, and the action by the CDC group is an important, but not required, final seal of federal regulatory approval.

Some states, including Georgia, Delaware and Arkansas, began offering the vaccine to younger teens on Tuesday.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), which provides recommendations to the CDC, voted 14-0 to back the vaccine, after reviewing trial evidence that showed no one in the 12-15 age group who received the vaccine got COVID-19, and there were no cases of Bell’s Palsy or severe allergic reactions.

Moreover, the vaccine produced robust antibody responses in the age group and showed 100% efficacy in the trial, with no cases of symptomatic COVID-19 among the fully vaccinated adolescents.

“This will provide protection for 12 to 15 year old’s,” said Dr. Henry Bernstein, a member of the advisory committee and professor of pediatrics at Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell. “It will decrease transmission within their family. It will contribute to community immunity, and it allows the kids to more safely go back to camps this summer, and back for in-person school.”

About a third of all Americans have been fully-vaccinated according to the CDC data. But the pace of vaccination has slowed in the recent weeks.

The rollout of a vaccine for adolescents should help further limit the spread of the virus at a time when more contagious variants are circulating, and could shorten the road to normalcy for Americans.

“I think we should be in full school, full in-person school, in the fall,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at a CNBC health summit on Tuesday.

Children have been considered by health officials as being at a lower risk for severe COVID-19, but they can still spread the virus. More than 1.5 million cases have been reported among 12- to 17-year-olds, and as more adults become vaccinated, adolescents are accounting for a higher proportion of total cases.

Adjusted for underreporting, the working group estimated 22.2 million U.S. COVID-19 infections in those aged 5 to 17.

Pfizer is running a separate trial testing the vaccine in children as young as 6-months-old, and has said it expects data on its use in 2- to 11-year-olds in September. The 2,260 participants in the 12-to-15 age group – half of whom were given placebo – were tested as an expansion of Pfizer’s more than 46,000-person trial.

The committee will hear from Pfizer about the vaccine’s safety and efficacy in adolescents and will consider the views of a handful of CDC officials on its implementation.

(Reporting by Manojna Maddipatla in Bengaluru; Editing by Caroline Humer, Peter Henderson and Bill Berkrot)

U.S. backs distance of three feet between students, which may help schools open

By Carl O’Donnell

(Reuters) – The U.S. government on Friday updated its COVID-19 mitigation guidance to narrow the acceptable distance between students who are wearing masks to at least three feet from at least six feet, potentially easing the path for schools that have struggled to reopen under previous recommendations.

The new recommendation from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a boost to the Biden administration’s goal of reopening in-person learning for millions of public school students without sparking outbreaks of the virus.

Many schools continue to teach students remotely more than a year after the novel coronavirus prompted widespread closures across the United States.

The new guidance applies to students from kindergarten through high school and in areas with low, moderate, and substantial community transmission of COVID-19. Middle and high school students in communities with high levels of COVID-19 should stay six feet apart unless their school day contact can be limited to a single small group of students and staff.

Students should continue to maintain six feet of distance when interacting with teachers and other school staff and when eating, the CDC said.

The CDC has been under pressure to relax its guidance to schools and Director Rochelle Walensky said this week that the agency was looking at data in part from a recent study in Massachusetts which suggested tighter spacing had not impacted COVID-19 transmission.

Many schools do not have the space in classrooms to maintain six feet between students, and outside of the United States public health agency recommendations for social distancing start at about three feet and range to more than six.

The guidance urged schools to conduct widespread COVID-19 testing of students and said such regular use of screening tests offers added protection for schools that require fewer than six feet of separation.

School districts should expand screenings for students participating in sports or other extracurricular activities, and consider universal screening prior to athletic events.

The agency continues to recommend quarantines for anyone who has been within six feet of someone sick with COVID-19 for more than 15 minutes within a 24-hour period.

The White House said Wednesday said it would allocate $10 billion to states to support COVID-19 screening testing for teachers, staff and students to assist schools resume in-person instruction.

The CDC said students are required to wear masks on school buses and any other forms of public transit they use to get to school. The agency issued an order in February requiring travelers to wear masks when using public transit.

The Biden administration has urged states to vaccinate teachers and childcare workers, with the goal of getting all of them inoculated by the end of March.