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COVID-19 is sticking around. America should plan accordingly.

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Wearing a mask? Illustrated | iStock

The Delta variant that first appeared in India continues to surge across the United States. While the virus may have burned through states like Louisiana and Florida so fast that case loads are already starting to drop, if last year’s seasonal patterns are repeated we can expect similar surges in the Northeast and Midwest as the weather cools. It feels like Back to the Future — back to sweatpants and Zoom school and washing the groceries.

It’s not — or it shouldn’t be. The current COVID-19 wave is significantly different from what happened last winter, in ways that make the current situation both much better and much harder to get a handle on. Both differences have important consequences for how we need to respond.

Overwhelmingly, the reason why the current wave is much better is that vaccinations are still proving extremely effective at preventing serious illness and death. The best evidence comes out of Iceland, which is now a notable COVID hotspot but which has not suffered any COVID deaths since May and has seen only a modest uptick in hospitalizations. The reason: Iceland’s population is over 70 percent vaccinated, primarily with the most effective mRNA vaccines like Pfizer (though they used the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines as well).

That’s cold comfort for countries that have barely begun to vaccinate their populations, from Southeast Asia to the Middle East to Africa — and more than enough reason to step up vaccine production and distribution around the world. But for the wealthy countries of Europe, North America, and East Asia, mass vaccination provides a straightforward way to drastically reduce the impact of COVID. And while children remain largely unvaccinated (for now), and therefore highly susceptible to catching the Delta variant, the evidence so far suggests that children remain vastly less at risk than older people to severe disease or death — and no more at risk than they were from the earlier variants. The rise in pediatric COVID cases in the Delta wave, like the rise in symptomatic disease among younger vaccinated people, is likely due to the rapid spread of the variant — which has likely far outstripped our capacity to measure it — rather than increased severity.

But that rapid spread is why the current wave is so hard to get a handle on.

The Delta strain of COVID is vastly more infectious than prior strains — more than twice as infectious as the original strain — and as with the original strain, those infected shed the most virus before they become symptomatic, if they even get sick at all. This appears to be true for vaccinated individuals as well, at least some of the time. In fact, a major factor in transmission is likely vaccinated individuals with asymptomatic breakthrough cases they never know about. Again, Iceland is important proof case in this regard; with their high vaccination rate, how could they have become a hot spot unless vaccinated people can spread the disease?

That’s why, in jurisdictions that are more COVID-cautious, there’s been increased pressure to restore the non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) like mandatory mask-wearing and social-distancing that predominated in the pre-vaccine era of the pandemic. Ironically, though, the very fact that the Delta variant is so much more infectious makes the case for those interventions in some ways weaker, not stronger.

In the very earliest days of the pandemic, and particularly in easily-isolated places like New Zealand, a rigorous regime of NPIs was a plausible path to “zero COVID” — eliminating the virus entirely. But once COVID spread out of control globally, this was no longer a plausible goal in most of the world. An individual or even a small community can lock down thoroughly, but an entire society cannot; in the worst early days of the pandemic, tens of millions of Americans were still going to work at “essential” jobs from agriculture to healthcare to transportation to public safety that cannot be performed on Zoom. Many of them got COVID, and spread it.

So in most of the world, the purpose of NPIs was to slow the spread of the disease enough to protect the integrity of the medical system, so that people who could be saved — or who had non-COVID afflictions that required treatment — didn’t die from lack of medical care. That remained the rationale until the vaccine became widely available, at which point there was a strong argument for holding on, even at meaningful economic and social cost, until the vaccine was distributed widely enough that we could return to normal life without risking unnecessary death.

Now, though, those vaccines are available, at least in the United States. The exit strategy we were holding on for has arrived — and there’s no safer off-ramp visible further down the road. Meanwhile, since the Delta variant is much more contagious, NPIs would have to be much stricter this time around to actually stop the spread. Even if we cut the virus’s reproduction rate in half, that would only bring us back to the level of infection that the original COVID strain manifested without any interventions at all — the level that prompted the first round of NPIs. And if the vaccinated are an important transmission belt for infection, then there’s no logical endpoint to those interventions.

That doesn’t mean masking and the like serve literally no purpose. They can indeed slow down the rate at which the virus spreads, and protecting the integrity of the medical system remains a key priority. But they are not a “solution” to the pandemic. With a strain as infectious as Delta going around, the right way to bet is that we’re all going to be exposed to COVID one of these days. We should just plan on getting vaccinated first — and getting a booster shot once our immunity has started to wane — so we most-likely don’t even notice, as in fact most of the vaccinated probably haven’t, even when they’ve gotten infected.

And speaking of booster shots: the same reasoning behind getting a third shot after eight months or so (or a second shot if, like me, you got the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine last spring) can be deployed to argue against trying to protect yourself from any exposure to COVID once you’ve been vaccinated. Here’s why.

As Harvard’s Michael Mina explains toward the end of this interview, each additional variant, from Alpha to Delta to the looming Lambda, is slightly different, with a different mode of attack. Once you have a base level of immunity, exposure to these different variants helps broaden that immunity, making it less and less likely that future variants — which will inevitably continue to evolve, but have only a limited toolkit to work with in so doing — can break through in a way that leads to more serious disease. There’s risk to each exposure, in other words, but there’s also risk to avoiding exposure — the risk that you’re effectively making yourself more vulnerable to the next variant. If COVID is going to become endemic, in other words, we’re going to need to learn to live with being exposed to it — and the quicker we get used to that idea, the quicker the virus will settle down to its evolutionary end-point.

If that sounds a bit like the philosophy behind Sweden’s initial response to COVID, that’s because it is. But while Sweden’s response has been rightly criticized relative to its Nordic neighbors, which fared significantly better in the first wave of the pandemic, changing conditions can justify a change in philosophy.

Planning for endemic COVID doesn’t mean simply letting things rip. It means strenuous efforts to maximize vaccine penetration — which means, primarily, employer mandates, not screaming at each other on the internet — but also a focus on getting boosters to those who need them in a timely fashion. It means that people who work with or care for newborns or the immunocompromised are going to have to take special precautions for some time to come — as much as another year or two, if Mina’s prediction for how long it will take for COVID to settle down evolutionarily-speaking is accurate. And it means that we’ll all have to keep making regular personal risk-assessments that we aren’t well-equipped psychologically to make.

But it’s not the end of the world. It isn’t even a return to last winter, much less the spring of 2020. We lost the battle to eliminate COVID a long time ago, but between vaccines and natural immunity, we’re still going to win the war.

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Russian Troops Dead After Getting ‘Treated’ to Poisoned Meals, Ukraine Officials Say

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Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine’s Defense Ministry / Facebook

In a show of hospitality, Ukrainian citizens in the besieged region of Kharkiv have reportedly been “treating” Russian troops local delicacies—laced with poison.

At least two troops from the 3rd Motor Rifle Division of the Russian Federation died immediately after eating stuffed buns served by the residents of Izium, a town about 80 miles southeast of Kharkiv, the Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine wrote Saturday in an announcement posted to Facebook.

Another 28 Russians are being treated in intensive care from eating the contaminated treats. The condition of these poisoned invaders has yet to be confirmed.

According to the Intelligence Directorate, several hundred Russian soldiers have also suffered severe illnesses from drinking poisoned alcohol while occupying the region. Ukrainian officials said that the Russian military is “writing off these cases as so-called ‘non-combat losses.’”

Though Russian troops have reportedly retreated from the capital of Kyiv. The New York Times reports that insurgent forces are still fighting to gain control of Izium, despite the locals’ culinary efforts. Control of the eastern town would allow Russians to strategically secure access to the occupied Donbas region.

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Massive ship called Ever Forward is stuck in Chesapeake Bay

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Despite two failed attempts to free it this week, a sister container ship to the Ever Given that got stuck in the Suez Canal last year has been lodged in the Chesapeake Bay for 21 days — and now cargo holders have to pay to help free it.

Why it matters: The Ever Forward (yes, bask in the irony) is the largest ship to get stuck in the Chesapeake Bay and it’s carrying 5,000 containers of … stuff.

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What’s happening: The ship’s owner — Evergreen Marine Corp. — has invoked a maritime law dubbed “General Average,” under which people whose belongings are on a ship must share in the cost of freeing it.

Zoom in: It’s unclear what’s in the thousands of containers aboard the Ever Forward, but at least one cargo holder — a Bloomberg journalist who recently moved from Hong Kong to New York — has been sharing her experience waiting on her furniture.

  • “The entire contents of our apartment, all of our furniture, lots of books, things of sentimental value are all in a container stuck in the Chesapeake Bay,” Tracy Alloway told NBC Washington.

  • The U.S. Coast Guard, which is handling Ever Forward’s PR, per the Port of Baltimore, told Axios that “general cargo” is on the ship and referred further questions to Evergreen.

Zoom out: The Ever Forward has been idling near Baltimore, en route to Norfolk, since a wrong turn leaving Baltimore on March 13 ran the boat aground in shallow water (24 feet of water — when it needs 42 to float, per NBC Washington.)

  • The Ever Forward has been stuck thrice as long as its sister ship sat marooned between the Mediterranean and Red seas last year.

  • The ship is not disrupting trade — or blocking passage out of Baltimore Harbor, William Doyle, director of the Port of Baltimore tweeted.

  • Tuesday and Wednesday were the first attempts to refloat the boat using tug boats.

  • A third attempt will be coming soon, “using two anchored pulling barges from the stern and five tugs,” Doyle wrote on Twitter.

The big picture: You can stay informed on the progress via istheshipstillstuck.com, a website that went viral last year during the Suez fiasco.

  • The boat has become a tourist attraction and Downs Park (there’s a $6 entry fee) in Pasadena, Maryland is apparently the best place to see it.

By the numbers: Comparing giant, stuck container ships.

  • The Ever Forward — currently lodged in Baltimore en route to Norfolk for 21 days and counting — 1,095 feet long, 117,340 gross tons. Ran aground due to a wrong turn in the Bay.

  • The Ever Given — stuck in the Suez Canal for 6 days – 1,312 feet long, weighing in at 224,000 gross tons. Ran aground due to a large wind gust.

🗞 This article is by Axios Richmond’s Karri Peifer! Subscribe to the Axios Richmond newsletter (launching soon).

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California has $600M in unclaimed can, bottle deposits

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California is sitting on a $600 million pile of unclaimed nickel and dime deposits on recyclable cans and bottles and now wants to give some of that back to consumers.

To get the state’s nearly 40 million residents to recycle more and send more deposits back to them, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration unveiled a plan Friday to temporarily double to a dime the refund for a 12-ounce (355 milliliters) bottle or can. California already pays 10 cents on containers over 24 ounces (709 milliliters), and that would temporarily double to 20 cents.

The move would make California among the highest-paying recycling programs in the country. Rachel Machi Wagoner, director of the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, said the effort would help California again become the recycling leader it was 35 years ago when it started its cash refund program.

When someone in California purchases a regular-sized soda, a 5-cent charge is applied that can be recouped if the container is brought back for recycling. Under Newsom’s plan, the deposit charge would remain the same but the return amount would double. The goal is to raise the recycling rate for beverage containers from 70% to at least 80%.

Oregon and Michigan already offer 10-cent refunds and advocacy groups say that amount for each glass or plastic bottle or aluminum can has been enough for consumers to recycle at least nine of every 10 containers.

The advocacy group Consumer Watchdog’s President Jamie Court, a frequent critic of the recycling program, called the plan “a very positive step” and “a bold proposal to give people their money back.”

“That money isn’t doing anybody any good sitting in the bank,” Court said. “We need a complete structural fix, but this is a good interim step.”

California’s proposal feeds the latest national effort to boost recycling as beverage distributors face increased pressure to include higher percentages of recycled material in their containers, National Stewardship Action Council executive director Heidi Sanborn said.

Just 10 of the 50 states have deposit programs now, but many are considering them — potentially creating a confusing patchwork and beverage labels crowded with different states’ deposit amounts, something she said distributors want to avoid.

California’s doubling of refunds would be temporary — a duration for the change has yet to be decided — and is expected to cost $100 million. If approved by the Legislature the refund increase would take effect sometime during the next fiscal year that starts July 1.

It’s uncertain if any boost in recycling would last once the higher price ends, Sanborn acknowledged, but she hopes instead California will decide to make the increase permanent. She’s also hopeful pressure from states will spur attempts by U.S. Rep. Alan Lowenthal of California and U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon to craft a national bottle bill.

Newsom’s plan also attempts to ease a bottleneck that began years ago as more neighborhood recycling centers closed and Consumer Watchdog said many grocery stores also were refusing to take back empties in-store as required.

To increase access, Newsom’s administration proposes spending $100 million on grants to add about 2,000 automated recycling machines, also known as reverse vending machines, at high schools, colleges and retailers. Consumers dump their empty containers into the machines, which issue a refund.

Another $55 million would go for state-funded mobile recycling programs in rural areas and other places with few recycling options.

Consumers are very upset that “they are unable to return their bottles and cans and get their money back as promised,” said Sanborn, who also heads California’s Statewide Commission on Recycling Markets & Curbside Recycling.

Sanborn blamed the closure of many California recycling centers on the state’s failure to quickly adjust its complicated payment formula to meet changing market conditions.

Many of California’s recyclables go to China, which toughened standards in 2017 on accepting contaminated material, including plastics. The move “totally slammed the recycling industry” nationwide, said Kate O’Neill, a University of California, Berkeley, environmental science professor and author of the 2019 book “Waste.”

The U.S. market is recovering now with the addition of domestic recycling facilities, but there still is a problem matching supply to demand, O’Neill said.

Recycling officials had expected beverage consumption to drop during the pandemic, as it does during most economic downturns, Wagoner said. Instead, container sales in California increased by 2.5 billion over three years, to 27 billion last fiscal year, meaning a record number of deposits flowing into the state’s recycling fund.

The number of refundable containers recycled in California meanwhile hit a record high of more than 18.8 billion in 2021 — but that still left plenty of money on the table.

Repeated attempts to improve the state’s recycling system have struggled in the Legislature, even as California tries to boost its recycling rates, minimize food waste, and work toward a circular-use economy.

Wagoner said Friday’s proposal is an interim step while the administration continues talks with lawmakers over permanent fixes.

Democratic state Sen. Bob Wieckowski said he tried a bill last year with proposals similar to what the administration is now suggesting, “and they didn’t want to hear about it.” He anticipates people now hoarding their recyclables until the double redemption period, then facing long lines once it begins.

His proposal this year would put more responsibility on producers to recycle their containers.

“It has a little gimmicky nature to it,” Wieckowski said of the state’s plan. “We have 45 Band-Aids on this program, and sometime you have to get out of the Band-Aid business.”



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Fort Lauderdale police arrest Black hotel clerk who called for help

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New body camera video released by the Fort Lauderdale Police Department shows officers pushing a Black hotel employee before arresting him. The employee, Raymond Rachal, was the person to call the police after an incident in the lobby where Rachal claims a man was yelling racial slurs at him.



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Police investigating ‘appalling’ incident recorded inside a Wilmington High School bathroom

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Police and school officials in Wilmington are investigating a “serious and disturbing physical altercation” inside a boys’ bathroom this week that left the superintendent of schools “appalled,” not only because of the incident, but because some students recorded video and posted it online.

The video is difficult to watch.

In a letter to the school community dated March 30th, Superintendent Glenn Brand said the incident happened on Tuesday and investigators are working to identify the students involved.

The recording sent to Boston 25 indicates a student was picked up inside the bathroom and had his head forced into a toilet inside a stall in the bathroom. The video below has been blurred due to the ages of those involved.

“I am truly appalled by the actions of these students which are unacceptable and do not represent the core values of this educational community,” said Supt. Brand. ”It is my expectation that each and every one of our students has the right to attend a school that is safe and supportive. While I recognize that the vast number of our students consistently make appropriate choices to support such an environment, we will have zero tolerance for those that do not.”

“The Wilmington Public School prioritizes, above all else, the safety, well-being and respect of all of our students and staff,” said Supt. Brand.

“It is therefore with tremendous disappointment that I write to inform you of a serious and disturbing physical altercation that occurred in one of the boys’ bathrooms (Tuesday),” said Brand. “Not only is the incident itself concerning, but also that some of our students recorded the altercation and posted this online.”

“All students who are found culpable will be held fully accountable and appropriate disciplinary action will be taken as well as the removal of appropriate privileges that are afforded to those students,” said Supt. Brand. “I assure you that we will pursue relevant legal actions should such be deemed warranted following the investigation.”

The superintendent also alluded to other recent trouble at the school.

“This incident comes in the wake of a number of other concerns recently involving troubling student behavior. Everyone has an obligation to help foster the type of school environments that our students deserve, including our staff, families and most importantly, our students themselves,” said Brand.

A statement posted to the school’s website on Friday by the Wilmington High School Student Class Officers, called the incident “horrific.”

“If a picture is worth a thousand words then a video is worth a million, yet many of us were left speechless by the thoughtless actions of others that transpired earlier this week in one of our school bathrooms,” according to the statement. “These horrific actions perpetrated by an embarrassing group of individuals do not represent who we are as a student body. We are honor roll students, college bound-career focused seniors, varsity athletes, robotic champions and so much more. Our image should not be clouded by these individuals.”

Boston 25 spoke with Wilmington Police Chief Joe Desmond about the incident.

“Obviously there were a lot of kids in the bathroom and this young man was taken and physically dragged into the bathroom,” said Desmond.

The chief says the students pick the student up and lower him head down into the toilet. “It clearly looks like an assault as far as where I come from,” said Desmond.

Police are also looking to see if this incident rises to the level of a hate crime or civil rights violation. Chief Desmond says they have at least three recordings and they are working with the school to identify everyone involved.

“Kids should be able to go to school and feel safe and feel supported and not worried about being picked on or God forbid this incident is horrible. That poor kid” it’s terrible,” said concerned parent Roberta Biscan.

The school superintendent is scheduling bystander training that will be mandatory for all students. According to police, the case is moving quickly and charges are likely to be filed.

Watch for updates on Boston 25.

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Why this huge catfish was released by a fisherman who didn’t even bother to weigh it

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Ivan Garren from Cleveland, Tennessee caught a huge catfish Thursday while fishing in Wolftever Creek.

Garren, who used skipjack as bait, was fishing in a depth of about six feet when he hooked the monster.

He did not weigh or measure the fish but estimated it was about 38 pounds. He wanted to get the fish back in the water as soon as possible after taking a couple of pictures.

More: A 500-pound black bear made its home near a Tennessee college. Here’s how TWRA relocated it

Ivan Garren caught this big catfish in Wolftever Creek in Hamilton County.

“I release all big fish for other people to enjoy,” Garren said.

As big as the fish was, Garren said he has caught bigger.

Wolftever Creek is located in Hamilton County near Middle Valley, Tennessee. It is known for having a large population of catfish, largemouth and smallmouth bass and crappie.

Ivan Garren caught this big catfish in Wolftever Creek in Hamilton County.

Ivan Garren caught this big catfish in Wolftever Creek in Hamilton County.

Reach Mike Organ at 615-259-8021 or on Twitter @MikeOrganWriter.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Tennessee fisherman releases huge catfish without weighing



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The Judds reunite for CMT Music Awards performance

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Judds, one of the most successful duos in country music in the 1980s, are reuniting to perform on the CMT Music Awards, their first major awards show performance together in more than two decades.

The mother-and-daughter duo of Naomi and Wynonna will perform their hit “Love Will Build a Bridge” on the awards show on April 11, airing on CBS and Paramount+, during an outdoor shoot in front of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee.

It’s a fitting backdrop for the five-time Grammy winners, who will be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in May.

“It feels both surreal and what a thrill it is. What a thrill to finally get her back on the stage because she’s been waiting for 20-plus years,” Wynonna told the AP of her mother, Naomi. “As a daughter and as an artist, it’s a win-win.”

Originally from Kentucky, Naomi was working as a nurse in the Nashville area when she and Wynonna started singing together professionally. Their unique harmonies, together with elements of acoustic music, bluegrass and blues, made them stand out in the genre at the time.

The Judds won nine Country Music Association Awards and seven from the Academy of Country Music and had more than a dozen No. 1 hits, including “Mama, He’s Crazy” and “Grandpa (Tell Me ’bout the Good Old Days).”

In 1990, Naomi Judd announced her retirement from performing due to chronic hepatitis. Wynonna has continued her solo career and they have occasionally reunited for special performances.

“To have all the incredible opportunities that I have had, being reminded of all that, just makes me very humbled and I just want to bask in the moment,” Naomi Judd told the AP.

This is also their first ever performance together at the CMT Music Awards. Country star Kacey Musgraves will introduce the pair prior to the performance.

“Music is the bridge between mom and me, and it it bonds us together. Even in the not easy times,” said Wynonna Judd. “We show up and we sing because that’s what love is about, right? So what a beautiful celebration.”

Hosted by country singer Kelsea Ballerini and actor Anthony Mackie, the fan-voted awards show will also feature performances by Ballerini, Kane Brown, Miranda Lambert, Luke Combs, Maren Morris, Cody Johnson, Little Big Town, Keith Urban, Carly Pearce and more.



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