In Brief: May 20, 2020

  • Mark Musselman brings a chair to the front of his house from the back yard, wading through floodwater, Tuesday in Edenville, Mich. (Katy Kildee/Midland Daily News via AP)

States accused of fudging or bungling COVID-19 testing data

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Public health officials in some states are accused of bungling coronavirus infection statistics or even using a little sleight of hand to deliberately make things look better than they are.

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The risk is that politicians, business owners and ordinary Americans who are making decisions about lockdowns, reopenings and other day-to-day matters could be left with the impression that the virus is under more control than it actually is.

In Virginia, Texas and Vermont, for example, officials said they have been combining the results of viral tests, which show an active infection, with antibody tests, which show a past infection. Public health experts say that can make for impressive-looking testing totals but does not give a true picture of how the virus is spreading.

In Florida, the data scientist who developed the state’s coronavirus dashboard, Rebekah Jones, said this week that she was fired for refusing to manipulate data “to drum up support for the plan to reopen.” Calls to health officials for comment were not immediately returned Tuesday.

In Georgia, one of the earliest states to ease up on lockdowns and assure the public it was safe to go out again, the Department of Public Health published a graph around May 11 that showed new COVID-19 cases declining over time in the most severely affected counties. The daily entries, however, were not arranged in chronological order but in descending order.

Trump allies lining up doctors to prescribe rapid reopening

WASHINGTON — Republican political operatives are recruiting “extremely pro-Trump” doctors to go on television to prescribe reviving the U.S. economy as quickly as possible, without waiting to meet safety benchmarks proposed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

The plan was discussed in a May 11 conference call with a senior staffer for the Trump reelection campaign organized by CNP Action, an affiliate of the GOP-aligned Council for National Policy. A leaked recording of the hourlong call was provided to The Associated Press by the Center for Media and Democracy, a progressive watchdog group.

CNP Action is part of the Save Our Country Coalition, an alliance of conservative think tanks and political committees formed in late April to end state lockdowns implemented in response to the pandemic. Other members of the coalition include the FreedomWorks Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council and Tea Party Patriots.

A resurgent economy is seen as critical to boosting President Donald Trump’s reelection hopes and has become a growing focus of the White House coronavirus task force led by Vice President Mike Pence.

2 Michigan dams breached, thousands evacuated amid flooding

EDENVILLE, Mich. — Two breached dams caused by several days of rainfall and rising water on Tuesday forced the evacuation of about 10,000 people in mid-Michigan, where the governor said one downtown could be “under approximately 9 feet of water” by morning.

For the second time in less than 24 hours, families living along two lakes and a river were ordered Tuesday to leave home.

The National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch for locations along the Tittabawassee River after the breach at the Edenville Dam in Midland County, about 140 miles (225.31 kilometers) north of Detroit and the Sanford Dam, downriver from Edenville.

“Extremely dangerous flash flooding is ongoing along the Tittabawassee River in Midland county due to catastrophic dam failures at the Edenville and Sanford dams,” the weather service said on its website, noting that anyone near the river should seek higher ground immediately, be prepared for immediate evacuations, and not drive into flooded roadways. “This flooding will continue all along the length of the river in Midland county, and possibly extending into Saginaw county where a Flash Flood Watch is also in effect.”

“In the next 15 to 15 hours, downtown Midland could be under approximately 9 feet of water. We are anticipating an historic high water level,” Whitmer said.

From wire sources

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J&J to stop selling talc-based baby powder in US, Canada

FAIRLESS HILLS, Pa. — Johnson &Johnson is ending sales of its iconic talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder in the U.S. and Canada, where demand has dwindled amid thousands of lawsuits claiming it has caused cancer.

The world’s biggest maker of health care products said Tuesday the talc-based powder will still be sold outside the U.S. and Canada.

“Demand for talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder in North America has been declining due in large part to changes in consumer habits and fueled by misinformation around the safety of the product and a constant barrage of litigation advertising,” the company said.

J&J faces about 19,400 cases alleging its talcum powder caused users to develop ovarian cancer, through use for feminine hygiene, or mesothelioma, a cancer that strikes the lungs and other organs.

Of the cases that have been tried, J&J has had 12 wins, 15 losses and seven mistrials. All of the losses have either been overturned on appeal or are still being appealed.

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Lauer says Ronan Farrow’s work on him was shoddy and biased

NEW YORK — Matt Lauer accused author Ronan Farrow on Tuesday of shoddy and biased journalism in his book “Catch and Kill” that included what Lauer says is a false accusation that the former “Today” show host raped a co-worker.

Farrow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning staff writer at The New Yorker, said Lauer “is just wrong.”

Lauer penned an article published on the Mediaite website a day after an investigation in The New York Times suggested that Farrow, who won a Pulitzer for his work on the accusations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, was less than thorough in vetting his work.

Lauer, similarly, said Farrow had not corroborated several specific accusations against him in the 2019 book, “Catch and Kill.”

NBC fired Lauer in 2017 for an inappropriate relationship with a co-worker. In Farrow’s book, that former co-worker, Brooke Nevils, said Lauer raped her in a Sochi hotel room during the 2014 Winter Olympics. Lauer denies the rape charges, and both he and Nevils said they had a subsequent consensual relationship.

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Bronx ‘city within a city’ shaken by sickness, fear

NEW YORK — Tarhia Morton and her family were planning to party this year.

She is retired after 40 years with the U.S. Postal Service. Her sister is turning 70. A birthday bash in Las Vegas was booked for August.

That was before the coronavirus changed hers and so many other lives in the massive residential development in the COVID-19 battered Bronx known as Co-op City in which she lives. Before her mother was infected with it. Before medical examiners determined her father didn’t die from it — but only after she says his body was held at the hospital for 10 days after his March 27 death.

And before the virus killed at least six fellow members of her nearby Community Protestant Church.

“That’s six people that I know,” Morton said. “Someone else could have passed on, or their family members or whatever that we don’t know about, but those six people I actually knew them.”

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Study: World carbon pollution falls 17% during pandemic peak

KENSINGTON, Maryland — The world cut its daily carbon dioxide emissions by 17% at the peak of the pandemic shutdown last month, a new study found.

But with life and heat-trapping gas levels inching back toward normal, the brief pollution break will likely be “a drop in the ocean” when it comes to climate change, scientists said.

In their study of carbon dioxide emissions during the coronavirus pandemic, an international team of scientists calculated that pollution levels are heading back up — and for the year will end up between 4% and 7% lower than 2019 levels. That’s still the biggest annual drop in carbon emissions since World War II.

It’ll be 7% if the strictest lockdown rules remain all year long across much of the globe, 4% if they are lifted soon.

For a week in April, the United States cut its carbon dioxide levels by about one-third. China, the world’s biggest emitter of heat-trapping gases, sliced its carbon pollution by nearly a quarter in February, according to a study Tuesday in the journal Nature Climate Change. India and Europe cut emissions by 26% and 27% respectively.

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Barbers to offer free haircuts to protest Michigan lockdown

LANSING, Mich. — Barbers plan to offer free haircuts on the Michigan Capitol lawn to protest the state’s stay-at-home orders, a defiant demonstration that reflects how salons have become a symbol for small businesses that are eager to reopen two months after the pandemic began.

Third-generation hairdresser Scott Weaver, who owns five salons across Michigan, said his “forgotten industry” is getting much-needed attention after being initially dismissed as “just hair.”

Barbershops, salons and spas stand at the forefront of small businesses that want to open again despite the risks of their services, which require employees to be in close contact with customers — similar to medical or dental care. The coronavirus has contributed to more than 5,000 confirmed deaths in Michigan, the fourth-highest toll in the country. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s closure of nonessential businesses is among the nation’s toughest and is in effect at least through May 28.

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Weaver credits a 77-year-old barber with helping to fuel the movement to resist Whitmer’s sweeping stay-at-home orders.

But Weaver said Karl Manke’s decision to open his doors in violation of the governor’s mandate has put Whitmer and law enforcement in a tough spot. He said Michigan’s 75,000 barbers and cosmetologists have “been heard” and that they should focus on working with her administration to ensure a safe reopening.

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