Bubonic Plague Found in Colorado Squirrel
Public health officials in Colorado are urging the public to be vigilant after a squirrel tested positive for bubonic plague. Courtney McGough / Flickr
The plague has recently seen an uptick in cases, and the World Health Organization has categorized it as a re-emerging disease. That’s why public health officials in Colorado are urging people to be vigilant after a squirrel tested positive for bubonic plague.
The squirrel was found in the town of Morrison, west of Denver. Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) officials announced the discovery of the plague-infected squirrel in a statement over the weekend. It’s the first case of plague in the county, according to the statement, as CBS News reported.
“Plague is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis, and can be contracted by humans and household animals if proper precautions are not taken,” officials from JCPH said in the statement.
The county was prompted to test the squirrels after someone in Morrison reported seeing at least 15 dead squirrels around the town. Officials tested one, and since it was positive for bubonic plague, they expect others to be infected, according to CBS News.
The disease has been around for centuries and is responsible for the deadliest pandemic in human history. An estimated 50 million people in Europe died during the Black Death pandemic of the Middle Ages. JCPH warns the public that it can infect both humans and animals if proper precautions are not taken, according to CNN.
Every year, there are approximately 1,000 to 2,000 reported cases, but that is likely an undercounted number as there are many unreported cases, according to the WHO, as CNN reported. The U.S. reports up to a few dozen cases every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Two people died in Colorado from the plague in 2015, according to CNN.
Rodents are the main vector of plague transmission from animals to humans, but the disease can also be passed on through flea bites or from person to person. People can be infected from direct contact with blood or tissues of infected animals such as a cough or a bite, according to ABC News.
That danger hit home on the other side of the world this week when a teenage boy in Mongolia died from bubonic plague after eating a marmot, according to a separate report from CNN.
Marmots are large ground squirrels, a type of rodent, that have historically been linked to plague outbreaks in the region. Tests confirmed the teenager had contracted bubonic plague and authorities imposed quarantine measures in the Tugrug district of Gobi-Altai province, according to CNN.
The quarantine began on Sunday, but so far the 15 people authorities isolated who came into contact with the teenager have all been healthy.
JCPH warned pet owners that cats are highly susceptible to the plague from things like flea bites, a rodent scratch or bite, and ingesting an infected rodent. Cats can die if not treated quickly with antibiotics after contact with the plague. Dogs, on the other hand, are far less likely to pick up the plague. However, they can contract it through fleabites, according to ABC News.
In its statement, JCPH recommended several precautions to protect against the plague, including eliminating sources of food and shelter for wild animals, avoiding sick or dead wild animals and rodents, and consulting with vets about flea and tick control, as CBS News reported
“Risk for getting plague is extremely low as long as precautions are taken,” the statement said.
The statement also added that plague symptoms include sudden onset of high fever, chills, headache, nausea and extreme pain and swelling of lymph nodes, which could occur within two to seven days after exposure to the bacteria.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp sued the Atlanta City Council and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms Thursday to block a city-wide order requiring face masks in public, in the latest example of how public health has been politicized as coronavirus cases continue to surge across the U.S.
Kemp argued that the Atlanta rule is not “legally enforceable” because he signed an executive order prohibiting municipalities from enacting stricter requirements than the state, CNN reported. On Wednesday, he signed an executive order suspending all local mask mandates.
“It is officially official. Governor Kemp does not give a damn about us,” Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, whose city also requires masks, tweeted in response to Wednesday’s order. “Every man and woman for himself/herself. Ignore the science and survive the best you can.”
It is officially official. Governor Kemp does not give a damn about us. Every man and woman for himself/herself. Ig… https://t.co/s5xm4dCOj2
— Mayor Van Johnson (@Mayor Van Johnson)1594864483.0
Kemp’s justifications for the lawsuit were largely economic. In the text of the lawsuit itself, Kemp argued that Atlanta’s mask rule created uncertainty for people and businesses and would cause people to “suffer immediate and irreparable harm,” CBS News reported. He said some Atlanta restaurants had closed because they thought it was necessary to escape enforcement measures.
“This lawsuit is on behalf of the Atlanta business owners and their hardworking employees who are struggling to survive during these difficult times,” he tweeted Thursday. “These men and women are doing their very best to put food on the table for their families while local elected officials shutter businesses and undermine economic growth.”
These men and women are doing their very best to put food on the table for their families while local elected offic… https://t.co/96KTE8OQRG
— Governor Brian P. Kemp (@Governor Brian P. Kemp)1594936505.0
Bottoms, meanwhile, who has herself tested positive for the virus, defended her order on public health grounds.
“Public health experts overwhelmingly agree that wearing a face covering helps slow the spread of this sometimes deadly virus,” she said during a press conference Thursday, as NPR reported. “It’s a simple thing to do.”
She also responded to the lawsuit on Twitter, noting that 3,104 Georgians had died of the virus so far and 106,000 had tested positive.
Bottoms’ order, passed July 8, also bans public gatherings of more than 10 people. That is much lower than the statewide limit on gatherings of more than 50, as CBS reported. Those who do not wear masks within Atlanta’s city limits could face a fine or up to six months in jail, according to CNN.
At least 15 Georgia municipalities require masks, according to CBS. In at least one of them, Dunwoody, the requirement was actually passed at the request of small business owners, Mayor Lynn Deutsch said in a Twitter thread.
“You know who is caught in the battle between the Georgia Governor and Local governments? Grocery store clerks, retail workers, and restaurant servers,” he tweeted. “In other words, just the folks who aren’t likely to have health insurance and paid time off.”
Multiple hospitals are on diversion, struggling with an increase in the number of patients and a workforce that is… https://t.co/V0cE39EU25
— Lynn Deutsch (@Lynn Deutsch)1594865403.0
It is unknown if Kemp will bring lawsuits against other local governments that require masks, CNN reported.
The dispute comes as coronavirus cases in Georgia continue to surge. On Wednesday, the day Kemp banned mask requirements, the state reported 3,871 new confirmed cases and 37 deaths, its second-highest daily case count, NPR reported at the time. On Thursday, the state reported 3,441 new cases and 13 deaths, according to CBS, as well as 244 hospitalizations.
It also comes the same week that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield strongly encouraged the use of masks during a visit to Charlotte, North Carolina on Wednesday.
“If all of us would put on a face-covering now for the next four weeks, six weeks, I think we could drive this epidemic into the ground,” Redfield said, as ABC 12 reported.
Muhammad Ikhsan Asaad, who oversees the project for state-owned utility PLN, said the Batang Toru plant was supposed to start operating in 2022, based on the agreement between PLN and project developer PT North Sumatra Hydro Energy (NHSE).
“But it might be delayed to 2025, mainly because the drawdown from lender Bank of China is stopped due to environmental concerns as well as COVID-19,” he said.
In construction, a drawdown refers to a situation in which a company receives part of the funding necessary to complete a project, and the rest of the funding might be disbursed gradually over the course of the project.
The project is estimated to cost $1.68 billion, financed through equity and loans.
NSHE initially sought loans from funders like the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). But following the description of a new orangutan species, the Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis), in the Batang Toru ecosystem in northern Sumatra in 2017, environmentalists have called for the project to be stopped or at least halted to allow for an independent scientific study of its impact on the newly known species.
They say the project might devastate the most critical areas of the Batang Toru ecosystem and drive the Tapanuli orangutan to extinction. Only 760 of the great apes are estimated to survive in a tiny tract of forest less than one-fifth the size of the metropolitan area that comprises Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta.
Shortly after its description, the Tapanuli orangutan was categorized as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List due to its decreasing population trend — down by 83% in just three generations — and heavily fragmented distribution.
The IFC and ADB subsequently distanced themselves from the project. And in March 2019, the Bank of China, which is also involved in financing the project, said it had “noted the concerns expressed by some environmental organizations” and promised to carefully review the project. It has not issued any further public updates, leaving the funding for the project uncertain.
NSHE has previously confirmed that the project’s funding was in doubt as a result of campaigns against the dam.
PLN director Zulkifli Zaini said environmental issues were among the reason why the project might be delayed.
“It is true that the project faced hurdles from NGOs over environmental issues,” he said. “There are apes and other [animals] there.”
The coronavirus outbreak has also proved to be a setback, with the work on the hydropower plant put on hold since January after construction workers from Chinese state-owned contractor Sinohydro, who had gone home for the Lunar New Year holiday, were barred entry back into Indonesia over health concerns.
NSHE has submitted a request to PLN, as the buyer of the plant’s power, to push the start of the dam’s operation to 2025. But the utility said a decision hadn’t been made yet.
“NSHE and PLN are still in the stage of discussion or collective review regarding the target of the Batang Toru hydropower dam operational target,” NSHE spokesman Firman Taufick said. “Whatever the result of the discussion between NSHE and PLN, we will always follow the policy and direction from PLN.”
A decline in electricity consumption as a result of suspended economic activity during the pandemic is another factor that could delay the project, according to Riza Husni, chairman of APPLTA, a national association of hydropower plant developers.
Dana Tarigan, the head of the North Sumatra chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), said he hoped PLN would take into account the environmental concerns over the project in making a decision.
“We’re hoping PLN could see the rejection well,” he told Mongabay. “There’s not only the problem with COVID-19, but also rejections from many parties, whether it’s because of [the potential impact on] the orangutan and other biodiversity, or on the safety of the people [living in nearby areas].”
Dana said Walhi had staged a protest in 2018 against the project outside the offices of PT Pembangkit Jawa Bali (PJB) Investasi, a subsidiary of PLN that serves as the project sponsor and a shareholder in the Batang Toru power plant.
The protesters demanded that PJB Investasi, which holds a 25% stake in NSHE, to withdraw from the project.
Dana also urged PLN to take into account a recent fact-check report by the IUCN that analyzes the many contradictory claims being made about the project’s potential impacts, specifically assertions made by NSHE.
The Batang Toru River, the proposed power source for a Chinese-funded hydroelectric dam. Ayat S. Karokaro / Mongabay-Indonesia
The report identifies several significant claims found in NSHE’s publications or press releases as being inaccurate or misleading.
“In at least ten cases, assertions made in public-facing NSHE literature or on the NSHE website are found to be inconsistent with findings presented in earlier impact assessments conducted on behalf of NSHE,” the report says.
The report also finds other claims made by NSHE contradict findings in peer-reviewed literature and technical reports.
“Some of these relate to the most controversial aspects of the project such as its impact on the Tapanuli orangutan and the ecology of the Batang Toru river, the demand for the power that the plant would produce, and the project’s compliance with international investment standards,” the report says.
Emmy Hafild, a senior adviser to NSHE’s chairman, said the report mistakenly accounted for the whole project permit area, instead of its actual footprint, to assess its potential impact on the orangutan. She also said the permit area referred to in the report was based on the company’s permit area during exploration stage, which was larger than the current permit area post-exploration.
“The IUCN fact check report is clearly wrong,” Emmy said. “The report uses data that’s already outdated and this is the location permit, not the footprint of the project.”
Serge Wich, the co-vice chair of the IUCN primate specialists’ section on great apes (SGA) and one of the researchers who described the Tapanuli orangutan, said it’s clear the IUCN report refers to the whole permit area in fact-checking the company’s claim.
“[A]nd we have always said that this indicates the maximum impact,” he told Mongabay.
Wich said that while the project might not occupy the full area, its impact on the orangutan could still be devastating due to the location of the project, which lies at a key location for connectivity between the orangutan’s subpopulations, split up across three separate blocks: west, east and south. By locating the dam there, the project would jeopardize that connectivity, he said.
Emmy denied the location of the project would impact the potential for a future forest corridor linking the western and southern populations of the orangutan.
“The footprint of the project has been checked by our friends [researchers] and it will not disturb the corridor,” she said.
Wich said that might not be the case, as the latest Batang Toru ecosystem map provided by NSHE clearly shows that the project area is “a long wall-like structure cutting those three areas from each other.”
The map of the Batang Toru ecosystem and the hydropower dam project area. PT North Sumatra Hydro Energy (NSHE)
Didik Prasetyo, an orangutan researcher at Jakarta’s National University, who conducted a study on the project, said he’s confident the hydropower dam will not threaten the orangutan as long as NSHE sticks to his recommendations. Among them: limiting the amount of traffic passing over the project’s roads; and designing the project’s overhead power lines to allow the orangutans to travel safely beneath them.
“If it’s safe, then [the orangutans] will not be scared to briefly walk on the ground [to cross from one population to another],” Didik said. “The width of the road is not too dangerous for the orangutans if there’s no one passing on the road. So we’re recommending the traffic be limited to particular hours.”
He said rehabilitating impacted areas is also crucial.
“We’re recommending to the company that there are three areas that will be impacted significantly if the company doesn’t manage [the project] sustainably,” Didik said. “So we recommend these most-threatened areas to be restored as soon as possible.”
He said there are 273 hectares (585 acres) of orangutan habitat in the project area, of which 84 hectares (207 acres) will be used as a location for permanent buildings by the company. The remaining 189 hectares (467 acres) will be reforested, he added.
NSHE said it will offset permanent forest loss caused by the project by planting trees in other areas, while temporary forest loss will be restored.
The IUCN report, however, says restoring affected areas might not be feasible. NSHE literature identifies heaps of dug-up dirt as the areas intended for restoration, but the IUCN says this might not be realistic because these areas consist of large amounts of unconsolidated material.
“The material is from underground and is potentially sterile to rehabilitation efforts and/or volatile to erosive processes,” the report says.
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission delivered a victory to supporters of renewables by rejecting an April petition from the New England Ratepayers Association calling for federal rather than local jurisdiction over solar net-metering policies. Gray Watson / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 3.0
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) delivered a victory to supporters of renewables by rejecting an April petition from the New England Ratepayers Association (NERA) calling for federal rather than local jurisdiction over solar net-metering policies, which had provoked strong condemnation from a bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers, solar investors, and hundreds of advocacy groups.
As Public Citizen explained last month:
Net-metering is a billing mechanism that credits solar power generators for the electricity they add to the grid. It is a crucial component of rooftop solar project financing because it makes solar energy systems affordable for small businesses and families through energy credits for the solar power they generate. The NERA petition would grant FERC sole jurisdiction to govern such programs through the Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act [PURPA] or Federal Power Act.
Public Citizen, the Center for Biological Diversity, and over 450 other environmental, faith, and consumer groups sent a letter to FERC in June arguing that “state net-metering policies and distributed solar systems are foundational to achieving the nation’s urgently needed clean and just energy transition—to address historical environmental injustices, fight the climate emergency, and ensure long-term resilience.”
Howard Crystal, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity’s energy justice program, authored a legal intervention filed with FERC regarding the petition. In a statement Thursday, he welcomed the Republican-led commission’s rejection of the NERA proposal.
“This is a big win for our climate and for communities embracing clean solar power,” Crystal said. “FERC’s unanimous ruling ensures that states can keep appropriately compensating people who install rooftop solar. That allows community solar and other distributed renewables to continue playing a critical role in the urgent transition to clean energy.”
Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, applauded the panel’s dismissal of the “flawed petition” in a statement that highlighted the solar industry’s record on job creation and contributions to the U.S. economy.
“Our industry holds great promise to help create jobs and revive local economies,” she said. “We are grateful to the state utility commissions and many other partners who strongly opposed this petition. We will continue working in the states to strengthen net metering policies to generate more jobs and investment and we will advocate for fair treatment of solar at FERC where it has jurisdiction.”
Tom Rutigliano, an advocate in the Sustainable FERC Project, which is housed at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), similarly welcomed the decision, saying that “FERC did one thing right today in rejecting the outrageous petition that would have upended the ability of rooftop solar owners to get a fair price for the excess electricity they generate.”
However, Rutigliano expressed concern about the panel’s vote to overhaul PURPA, which is more than 40 years old and has been key to renewable energy growth across the country. As he put it: “Instead of promoting small, clean generation, FERC is undercutting the ability of solar and wind power to get a fair chance to compete.”
Noting that “utilities have long sought changes to the law” over cost concerns while solar and wind developers say it “is critical to giving renewables a leg up in states that aren’t green-leaning,” Bloomberg reported Thursday that the panel
reduced the mandatory purchase obligation for utilities to five megawatts from 20 megawatts in some markets, and gave states more authority to set the price at which small generators sell their power. The “one-mile rule,” which determines whether generation facilities should be considered to be part of a single facility, was also changed. The agency will now require that qualifying facilities demonstrate commercial viability.
Commissioner Richard Glick, the lone Democrat on the panel, dissented in part but said that the changes would benefit consumers. “Under the old regime, customers were overpaying for power they were receiving” to the tune of $2.2 billion to $3.9 billion, he said.
Rutigliano warned that “homeowners putting solar panels on their roof, farmers leasing their land to wind turbines, and industrial facilities with efficient on-site power all lose under FERC’s rule today.”
“FERC is pushing the nation to use more fossil fuels,” he said, “just when it should be doing everything it can to support clean power.”
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
Indian Territory, which occupied all Oklahoma minus the panhandle, was almost 44 million acres of fertile rolling prairies, rivers and groves of enormous trees. Hugh Pickens / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 3.0
In alarmist language, Sen. Ted Cruz of neighboring Texas tweeted that the Supreme Court “just gave away half of Oklahoma, literally. Manhattan is next.”
In fact, the landmark July 9 decision applies only to criminal law. It gives federal and tribal courts jurisdiction over felonies committed by tribal citizens within the Creek reservation, not the state of Oklahoma.
Any shock that tribal nations have sovereignty over their own land reflects a serious misunderstanding of American history. For Oklahoma – indeed, all of North America – has always been, for lack of a better term, Indian Country.
North America was not a vast, unpopulated wilderness when white colonizers arrived in 1620. Up to 100 million people of more than 1,000 sovereign Indigenous nations occupied the area that would become the United States. At the time, fewer than 80 million people lived in Europe.
America’s Indigenous nations were incredibly advanced, with extensive trade networks and economic centers, superior agricultural cultivation, well developed metalwork, pottery and weaving practices, as historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz has comprehensively detailed.
Unlike Europe, with its periodic epidemics, North America had little disease, Dunbar-Ortiz says. People used herbal medicines, dentistry, surgery and daily hygienic bathing to salubrious effect.
Historically, Indigenous nations emphasized equity, consensus and community. Though individualism would come to define the United States, my research finds that Native Americans retain these values today, along with our guiding principles of respect, responsibility and reciprocity.
The US has violated every treaty it has made with Indian Tribes. Public.Resource.Org
Broken Promises and Stolen Lands
European and American colonizers did not hold these same values. From 1492 to 1900, they pushed inexorably westward across the North American continent, burning Native villages, destroying crops, committing sexual assaults, enslaving people and perpetrating massacres. The government did not punish these atrocities against Indigenous Nations and their citizens.
Citing the so-called “Doctrine of Discovery” and Manifest Destiny, U.S. policymakers argued that the federal government had a divine duty to fully develop the region. Racist in language and logic, they contended that “Indians” did not know how to work or to care for the land because they were inferior to whites.
Oklahoma was born of this institutionalized racism.
Under the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole nations – known as the Five Tribes – were forced from their ancestral homelands in the southeast and relocated to “Indian Territory,” as Oklahoma was then designated. Half of the Muscogee and Cherokee populations died from brutal and inhumane treatment as they were forcibly marched 2,200 miles across nine states to their new homelands in what most Americans call the Trail of Tears.
Indian Territory, which occupied all Oklahoma minus the panhandle, was almost 44 million acres of fertile rolling prairies, rivers and groves of enormous trees. Several Indian nations already lived in the area, including the Apache, Arapaho, Comanche, Kiowa, Osage and Wichita.
Legally, Indian Territory was to belong to the tribal nations forever, and trespass by settlers was forbidden. But over the next two centuries, Congress would violate every one of the 375 treaties it made with Indian tribes as well as numerous statutory acts, according the United States Commission on Civil Rights.
By 1890, only about 25 million acres of Indian Territory remained. The Muscogee lost nearly half their lands in an 1866 Reconstruction-era treaty. And in 1889, almost 2 million acres in western Oklahoma were redesignated as “Unassigned Lands” and opened to “white settlement.” By 1890, the U.S. Census showed that only 28% of people in Indian Territory were actually “Indian.”
With statehood in 1907, Oklahoma assumed jurisdiction over all its territory, ultimately denying that the Muscogee had ever had a reservation there. That is the historic injustice corrected by the Supreme Court on July 9.
Respect, Responsibility and Reciprocity
Despite all the brutality and broken promises, the Five Tribes have contributed socially, culturally and economically to Oklahoma far beyond the shrinking bounds of their territories, in ways that benefit all residents.
The public school system created by the Choctaws shortly after their arrival became the model for Oklahoma schools that exists today. Last year, Oklahoma tribes contributed over US$130 million to Oklahoma public schools.
Oklahoma tribes also enrich Oklahoma’s economy, employing over 96,000 people – most of them non-Native – and attracting tourists with their cultural events. In 2017, Oklahoma tribes produced almost $13 billion in goods and services and paid out $4.6 billion in wages and benefits.
The Muscogee (Creek) Nation, in particular, invests heavily in the state, creating businesses, building roads and providing jobs, health care and social services in 11 Oklahoma counties.
Still Our Homelands
Citizens of the Five Tribes have also contributed to broader American society.
Before the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II, the Choctaw Code Talkers used their language as code for the United States in World War I. Lt. Col Ernest Childers, a Muscogee, won the Medal of Honor for his service in World War II. U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, also a Muscogee, is the first Indigenous poet laureate. Mary Ross, a Cherokee, was the first known Indigenous woman engineer. And John Herrington, Chickasaw, was a NASA astronaut. These are but a few examples.
The strong collaborative leadership of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation was apparent after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Principal Chief David Hill’s official response.
“Today’s decision will allow the Nation to honor our ancestors by maintaining our established sovereignty and territorial boundaries,” Hill said, adding: “We will continue to work with federal and state law enforcement agencies to ensure that public safety will be maintained.”
Dwanna L. McKay is an Assistant Professor of Race, Ethnicity, and Indigenous Studies, Colorado College.
Disclosure statement: Dwanna L. McKay does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) web page is displayed on a mobile phone. Pavlo Gonchar / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images
In the lead-up to the implementation of that order, which goes into effect today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) removed coronavirus tracking data from its website, prompting an outcry that forced HHS to put the data back up on its site, as The Washington Post reported.
On Thursday, governors from across the country added their voices to the groundswell of objections to the plan and the abruptness of the change to the reporting protocols for hospitals, according to The Washington Post. They asked the administration to delay the shift for 30 days. In a statement, the National Governors Association said hospitals need the month to learn a new system while simultaneously handling the pandemic.
Democrats have accused the administration of seeking to subvert the CDC and potentially manipulate coronavirus findings.
“I don’t know why the White House is saying they want to hide the numbers, but it makes no sense in terms of fighting this crisis,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on Thursday, as POLITICO reported.
The maneuver seems like an attempt by the Trump administration to shift blame for the mismanagement of the coronavirus to the CDC. In addition to governors rebelling, the medical community was appalled that the CDC would be sidelined.
“Placing medical data collection outside of the leadership of public health experts could severely weaken the quality and availability of data, add an additional burden to already overwhelmed hospitals and add a new challenge to the U.S. pandemic response,” said Thomas File Jr., president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, in a statement, as The Hill reported.
That is when HHS directed the agency to put the information back up on its website.
“HHS is committed to being transparent with the American public about the information it is collecting on the coronavirus. Therefore, HHS has directed CDC to re-establish the coronavirus dashboards it withdrew from the public on Wednesday,” Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs Michael Caputo said Thursday, as CNN reported.
“Going forward, HHS and CDC will deliver more powerful insights on the coronavirus, powered by HHS Protect,” said Caputo. HHS Protect is the department’s coronavirus information center.
CDC officials were reluctant to maintain the dashboard if they were no longer receiving first-hand information. The dashboard shows the number of people with COVID-19, the number affected by SARS-COV2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) and hospital bed capacity. The CDC dashboard states that its information comes directly from hospitals and does not include data submitted to “other entities contracted by or within the federal government.” It also says the dashboard will not be updated after July 14.
“This file will not be updated after July 14, 2020 and includes data from April 1 to July 14,” the CDC said, as CNBC reported.
As The Washington Post noted, the CDC site had been one of the few public sources of granular information about hospitalizations and ICU bed capacity. About 3,000 hospitals, or about 60 percent of U.S. hospitals, reported their data to the CDC’s system.
Now the new requirements have hospitals and state officials in a bind. At least some state health departments that have been collecting data for their hospitals and sending it to Washington have already said the switch will make it impossible for them to continue, at least for now, according to The Washington Post.
The changed protocol includes a requirement that hospitals send several additional types of data that some state systems are not equipped to handle, state health officials said, as The Washington Post reported.
The reporting change “is a heavy lift for hospitals,” said Charles L. Gischlar, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Health to The Washington Post. He added that the new system “exceeds the capacity of the current statewide system.”
Ventura, California, residents demonstrate on Earth Day against President Trump’s environmental policies in 2017. Joe Sohm / Visions of America / Universal Images Group / Getty Images
The election is also pivotal for the climate emergency—and its solutions.
Science shows that humanity is careering toward a point of no return. To meet the Paris Agreement’s preferred goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius—essential to saving millions of lives outright, not to mention avoiding “tipping points” that would bring ever more hurricanes, floods, droughts, wildfires, and heat waves in the years ahead—humanity must cut global emissions in half by 2030. Doing this, scientists say, will require economic transformation at a speed and scale unprecedented in human history. It will take deliberate, aggressive action across industries and at all levels of government, foremost from the world’s top emitters, including the US. Simply put, we need action and we need it fast. (Latest projections routinely suggest we are farther down the road to disaster than we think.)
As Justin Worland wrote in the cover story for a tour de force Time magazine special issue last week, “In the future, we may look back at 2020 as the year we decided to keep driving off the climate cliff—or to take the last exit.” A serious response to the threat, he said, means spending on green energy, restricting emissions for companies that receive government bailouts, and bolstering green transportation in cities. Entrenchment in fossil fuels will instead spell climate catastrophe. “What we do now,” Worland wrote, “will define the fate of the planet—and human life on it—for decades.”
In any election year, it is journalists’ job to inform the public and convey the full measure of what’s at stake. That’s why, even as the coronavirus outbreak rages—a tragic case study in ignoring science—and activists fight to topple long-standing systems of inequality, the climate crisis must be a priority for newsrooms this campaign season.
This responsibility puts journalists in a potentially tricky spot, however. If the public deserves a fair-minded accounting of candidates’ positions, what’s to be done when one party, broadly speaking, denies the reality of climate change or favors only weak policies to address it? Here, journalists must make a vital but nuanced point: what a society does about climate change is inherently political, but clarifying that something must be done—and that it must square with the science—is not partisan.
Climate change is political insofar as strong policies are necessary to answer its challenges. That’s a plain fact of governance, not partisan opinion. Yet, for too long, journalism has tended to view climate policy through the lens of horse race politics: One candidate favors action. The other doesn’t. Who will prevail? This tendency has to go. If one party or candidate offers credible policies on climate and the other does not, it’s up to the other party or candidate to catch up. It’s not journalists’ job to wait for them in the name of false equivalence.
Donald Trump, who has falsely called climate change “a hoax,” claims he has made America an environmental leader even as his administration has slashed environmental regulations and propped up flagging fossil fuel companies. Trump’s campaign website makes no mention of climate change, other than to call America’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement a “promise kept.” Meanwhile, former vice president Joe Biden, Trump’s presumptive opponent in the fall, has committed to rejoining the Paris Agreement and proposed an ambitious $2 trillion plan to combat climate change, drawn up cooperatively with his top challenger during the Democratic primaries, US senator Bernie Sanders. Biden’s plan does not explicitly back a Green New Deal, but it favors many of its components, including a transition to zero-carbon electricity nationwide by 2035, economic protections for workers in the fossil fuel industry, and well-funded commitments to environmental justice.
The two candidates’ plans are, self-evidently, not equal. In the virtual absence of a plan from Trump, Biden’s plan gives the country and the planet a much better shot at pulling back from the brink. And it’s no endorsement of Biden to say so. It’s a scientific and political judgment, not a partisan one. For the sake of humanity now and in the future, Trump and his team are welcome to catch up.
But it would be a shame if climate-related election coverage was all about Trump and Biden. State and local leaders can also do a lot to curb emissions and make communities resilient. And the issues candidates are pushed on during campaigns drive the commitments and promises they are judged against in office. So where do candidates for city council, mayor, state legislatures, and Congress stand? And what might contributions to their campaigns say about their environmental allegiances?
Questions like these should be the norm in the coming months. “It’s not enough to do one story on one candidate’s position on climate change and be done with it,” Covering Climate Now’s cofounders Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope argued recently in The Nation and Columbia Journalism Review. “The word ‘climate’ should be included in headlines and broadcast scripts often enough that the public can’t miss it.” Nor should climate change be siloed on the science beat. Political reporters and newsroom leaders must make it central to the campaign narrative, giving it equal prominence as electoral mainstays like the economy and national security. (Indeed, climate change cuts across and binds these issues; if we do not adapt, it will cripple economies and make us all less secure.)
The good news is that audiences care. Climate action is a leading issue for young voters, and an April poll by Yale and George Mason Universities found that two-thirds of all registered voters are worried about global warming; four in ten said candidates’ positions on climate change will be “very important” in how they vote this fall.
Still, doing justice to the climate story will take leadership and discipline from newsrooms. Reporters and editors must step back from ephemeral shifts in the polls and all the nitnoid controversies of campaign overload. Decades from now, most of us will have forgotten the names and deeds of Donald Trump’s various associates. But we will surely take note of unlivable heat and flood waters lapping at our feet if we ignore the climate crisis this campaign season. Will journalists count the 2020 election a missed opportunity, or will it be the breakthrough moment when they got the climate story right—and helped America do the same?
This story originally appeared in Columbia Journalism Review and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
Doctors move a coronavirus patient at a hospital in Houston, Texas, one of the hardest-hit states in the U.S., on July 2, 2020. MARK FELIX / AFP via Getty Images
The U.S. shattered its daily record for new coronavirus cases Thursday with more than 75,000 new cases.
Johns Hopkins University put the record caseload at 77,300, according to The Guardian, while a Reuters tally recorded 77,217 new cases and The New York Times reported more than 75,600. Thursday marks the 11th time in the last month that the U.S. has broken a new case record, according to The New York Times, and the record has more than doubled since June 24, when a record was set with 37,014 new cases.
Top U.S. infectious disease official Anthony Fauci said Thursday that the U.S. had never lowered the daily caseload to below 20,000 and called for additional measures to control the outbreak.
“What I think we need to do, and my colleagues agree, is we really almost need to regroup, call a timeout — not necessarily lock down again, but say that we’ve got to do this in a more measured way,” he said in an interview with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, as The New York Times reported. “We’ve got to get our arms around this and we’ve got to get this controlled.”
The U.S. continues to lead the world in both cases and deaths, with 3,576,430 confirmed cases and 138,360 deaths, according to Friday morning data from Johns Hopkins University. Brazil has the world’s second-worst outbreak and just passed two million confirmed cases on Thursday, The Guardian reported. It had reported 76,688 deaths as of Friday morning, according to Johns Hopkins.
The U.S. caseload is rising in 41 states and hospitalizations are increasing in 33, The Guardian reported. In June, U.S. cases were rising by an average of 28,000 a day, while in July that number had more than doubled to 57,625, Reuters reported. The country’s last record was set a week ago Friday at 69,070, according to Reuters, and 68,241 according to The New York Times.
Particularly hard-hit states include Texas, Florida and California, which saw their caseloads rise by more than 15,000, nearly 14,000 and nearly 10,000 respectively Thursday, Reuters reported.
Deaths are also on the rise. The country as a whole reported 969 Thursday, according to Reuters, the highest daily death toll since June 10. This is still below the country’s April average of around 2,000 deaths a day. That number fell to 1,300 deaths a day in May and less than 800 a day in June, but has started to rise again this month. Public health experts fear the death toll will continue to rise following the surge in cases and hospitalizations.
Ten individual states also broke their records for deaths this week, according to the New York Times: Idaho, Alabama, Arizona, Utah, Oregon, Texas, Hawaii, Montana, South Carolina and Florida. Florida broke the record twice, once on Thursday with 156.
Texas and Arizona, another hard-hit state, have been forced to request refrigerated trucks to store bodies as morgues fill up, CBS News reported Wednesday.
“[It’s a] hard thing to talk about – people’s loved ones are dying,” Dr. Ken Davis, chief medical officer of Christus Santa Rosa Health System in Bexar County, Texas, told CBS News. “In a hospital, there are only so many places to put bodies … We’re out of space, and our funeral homes are out of space, and we need those beds. So, when someone dies, we need to quickly turn that bed over.”
Refrigerated trucks were also used to store bodies in New York City at the height of the outbreak there.