Friday, October 30, 2020

A Letter from Bob Lyons Regarding TRS of Illinois



“The TRS Board has asked for a contribution of $5.69 billion from the state for Fiscal Year 2022, an increase of 10.7% over the current year’s $5.14 billion. Our return on our investments was finally calculated for FY 2020 ending on June 30 at 0.55%. Halfway through the fiscal year on December 31 we were up 13.4 %, but the effect of COVID-19 on the market brought us down to just above breakeven.

“The system’s unfunded liability increased by $2.6 billion to a total of $80.7 billion. Total liability – all benefits to all TRS members for all time is calculated to have increased by $4.1 billion to $135.6 billion. We ended the fiscal year with $51.6 billion in assets.

“Despite the growth of the unfunded liability in FY 2020, the funded status of TRS remained relatively stable at 40.5 percent compared to 40.6 percent in FY 2019.

“Since the start of this fiscal year our fund has grown and in mid-October our fund had improved to over $54 billion. The stock market of course has been down with the current increase in COVID cases and hospitalizations. What is important for all of us that are currently retired is we are covered, that there is more than enough money to pay our pensions.

“If the Fair Tax Amendment passes on election day, the state next year will have several billion more in revenue. If Biden is the new president and the Democrats control both houses of Congress, Illinois will get additional help from the Federal Government. If the constitutional amendment does not pass and/or the Democrats are not successful on the federal level, the State of Illinois is going to be looking for new sources of revenue.

“Even with the last year where we barely showed a profit TRS has shown positive returns for every year in the last decade and has a 40-year average of annual returns of nine percent.”

-Bob Lyons, former TRS Trustee

 

A Letter from Alzheimer’s Association to the FDA

 


Peripheral and Central Nervous System Drugs Advisory Committee Center for Drug Evaluation and Research
Food and Drug Administration
10903 New Hampshire Avenue
Building 31, Room 2417
Silver Spring, Maryland 20993-0002

October 23, 2020

Re: Docket No. FDA-2018-N-0410: Peripheral and Central Nervous System Drugs Advisory Committee; Notice of Meeting; Establishment of a Public Docket; Request for Comments

To Members of the Peripheral and Central Nervous System Drugs Advisory Committee,

On behalf of the Alzheimer’s Association, all those living with Alzheimer’s disease, their caregivers, and their families, we are grateful to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for convening this advisory committee and for so carefully weighing this therapeutic agent, which may address the underlying biology of Alzheimer’s disease.

For decades, millions of Americans and their loved ones have waited for access to such a therapy as they have faced this relentless disease. Currently, more than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. This number will only grow as our nation ages. By 2050, a projected 13.8 million Americans 65 and older may have Alzheimer’s.1​

As the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support, and research, each year we speak with hundreds of thousands of families through our 24/7 Helpline and serve communities by providing education and support to people living with this disease and their families every day. We hear from people who are devastated and confused, struggling to process a diagnosis that some doctors still fear to deliver, and from those trying to determine how to continue to function in the face of a progressive, fatal decline. Through our work, we have witnessed firsthand the devastating toll Alzheimer’s disease takes on individuals, their caregivers, and families.

While everyone experiences the disease differently, the trajectory of cognitive and functional decline is currently inevitable, and the disease is fatal. For individuals living with Alzheimer’s, they lose more of themselves as it progresses. It’s not just memories they lose. They lose the ability to participate in the world around them. They lose their independence. All of those affected die with or of Alzheimer’s disease.

For the person with the disease, a diagnosis is devastating. But they aren’t the only ones affected. For families and friends, watching a once vibrant, curious, and articulate loved one slip away can be heart-wrenching. But on top of the emotional pain, they become caregivers. They take on overwhelming tasks in order to support the person in their daily life, including bathing and dressing, feeding, keeping them safe, and making every single decision for them all day, every day. And often they do so at great personal expense to their health, economic security, and emotional well-being.

In 2019 alone, caregivers of people with dementia provided an estimated 18.6 billion hours of unpaid assistance. Nearly half of dementia caregivers (49 percent) indicate that providing help is highly stressful compared with 35 percent of caregivers of people without dementia. This disproportionate reporting of stress compared to other caregivers is not surprising. Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s poses special challenges. ​Individuals with Alzheimer’s require increasing levels of supervision and personal care as the disease progresses.​

People in the middle to later stages of Alzheimer’s experience losses in judgment, orientation, and the ability to understand and communicate effectively. The personality and behavior of a person with Alzheimer’s are affected as well, and these changes are often among the most challenging for family caregivers and can often lead to placement in a long-term care community. That is why the decision before the members of this committee is so critical. There is a dire and drastic need to offer relief and support to the millions of Americans impacted each day by the crushing realities of Alzheimer’s.

Given the devastating toll of this disease, the publicly released data justifies approval accompanied by a Phase 4 post-marketing surveillance study. The alternative, requiring completion of an additional Phase 3 trial, would deny broad access up to four years while it is completed. A four-year delay is too long to wait for millions of Americans facing a progressive, fatal disease. A four-year delay is too long to wait for millions of American caregivers. While the trial data has led to some uncertainty among the scientific community, this must be weighed against the certainty of what this disease will do to millions of Americans absent a treatment. The potential to delay decline would be denied to millions, and that time lost for those spouses, partners, moms, dads, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, friends, and neighbors cannot be recovered. In the balance of these considerations, we urge approval.

Given the potential this therapy may offer, we are grateful for the advisory committee's careful consideration of all evidence and information, and we deeply respect and appreciate the FDA’s role in the health and safety of our constituents and its adherence to a rigorous scientific review. Thank you for the opportunity to comment. The Alzheimer’s Association would be glad to serve as a resource to the FDA as it considers aducanumab, future therapies, and any other issue related to Alzheimer's disease and other dementia. Please do not hesitate to contact Laura Thornhill,

Senior Associate Director, Regulatory Affairs, at lthornhill@alz-aim.org or 202.638.7042 if we can be of additional assistance.

Sincerely,

Joanne Pike, DrPH Chief Strategy Officer
 

 


Thursday, October 29, 2020

Trump Administration to permit logging in the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest

 


“The Trump administration has announced it will lift protections in Alaska’s Tongass national forest, permitting logging in the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest. Experts call the Tongass the ‘lungs of the country’ and one of nation’s last remaining bulwarks against climate change. Located on the southern coast of Alaska, it is made up of centuries-old western cedar, hemlock and Sitka spruce trees, and is home to immense biodiversity, including the largest-known concentration of bald eagles.

“‘It’s ironic that this administration is trying to tout this president’s environmental record when [Trump is] unwinding environmental safeguards all over the place,’ said Ken Rait, project director of the Pew Charitable Trust, who two decades ago helped win the protections that Donald Trump is now undoing. ‘And lifting protections on the Tongass, the nation’s flagship forest, is about the most egregious of all of them.’

“The administration’s decision ignores overwhelming public support for keeping protections in place on the Tongass, including resolutions from six south-east Alaska tribes and six south-east Alaska city councils against lifting protections. Of the public comments solicited on the plan, 96% were in favor of keeping protections in places. Tribes also petitioned the government to protect customary cultural use areas of the Tongass. ‘All other avenues to protect our homelands have been exhausted, to little avail,’ they wrote in their petition.

“The Tongass has been safeguarded since 2001 by a ‘roadless rule,’ which prohibits road construction, road reconstruction and timber harvesting in designated areas of national forests. It barred the construction of roads on some 58.5m acres, and in addition to the environmental benefits, the rule was motivated to protect US taxpayers from the costs of maintaining a web of US Forest Service roads ‘long enough to go to the moon and most of the way back with no way to maintain them,’ said Rait.

“Tourism has soared, and the forest support some of the last productive wild salmon runs in the world, and a billion-dollar commercial fishing industry. A 2019 scientific analysis showed that the Tongass absorbs more carbon than any other national forest, on a level with the world’s most dense terrestrial carbon sinks in South America.

“After a brief private meeting between the president and the Alaska governor, Mike Dunleavy, aboard Air Force One in June 2019, Trump ordered his administration to lift all protections from the forest. According to Rait, ‘between taxpayer expenses and the fact that the majority of logs cut on the Tongass will be exported to China and other Pacific Rim nations, today’s decision isn’t going to have robust economic benefits to anyone in this country.’

“A recent report from the Center for Sustainable Economy documented taxpayer losses of nearly $2bn a year from federal logging programs, largely due to the fact that demand for timber has been flagging nationally. ‘The Tongass is America’s Amazon,’ Adam Kolton, executive director of Alaska Wilderness League, said in a statement. ‘This presidentially directed move to gut roadless protections for our nation’s largest and most biologically rich national forest is a calamity for our climate, for wildlife and for the outdoor recreation economy of south-east Alaska’” (Trump to gut protections in Alaska’s Tongass forest, the “lungs of the country” The Guardian).

 


Wednesday, October 28, 2020

A Skeptic’s Guide to Election Day 2020 (Politico)

 


You might be wondering: How do we know this election is legitimate? We’re glad you asked. America is just one week from Election Day, but many voters continue to tell us they are confused about the rules and processes that govern the election — and downright skeptical that it will be administered in a fair, accurate and transparent way.

Having spent the last few months attempting to separate fact from fiction, we thought it would be useful to answer the most common questions and concerns we’ve found in one place, from the specifics of how mail voting works to the reasons why some states count ballots faster than others. We hope you’ll share this with your friends and family to spread awareness of what to expect next week and why. Without further ado, here is POLITICO’s Skeptic’s Guide to Election Day 2020.

I'm worried my ballot won't count. Do they get thrown out for no reason?

No, ballots aren’t thrown out for no reason. But they can be rejected for not meeting the very specific criteria demanded by your jurisdiction. This is especially relevant for people voting by mail. If a ballot is returned with a signature that is determined to not match the signature on file, for example, or if it is returned without the proper envelope (and sometimes there are multiple envelopes! All of these rules vary by state), the local clerk’s office can reject a ballot.

You should carefully examine the fine print included with your ballot material, and if you have any questions, contact your local clerk’s office. The good news is that many election bureaus now allow citizens to track their ballots, from the time they are mailed until the time they are received and processed, so you can make sure yours gets counted. To find information on your state, you can visit CanIVote.org, an informational website set up by the bipartisan National Association of Secretaries of State.

Why are so many people suddenly being allowed to vote by mail? Isn’t this just a knee-jerk response to Covid-19?

Actually, most states were giving voters the option to vote by mail before the pandemic arrived. According to the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures, 34 states and Washington, D.C., already offer, at the very least, permanent no-excuse absentee voting, meaning any voter in those states can request a mail ballot. In the 2018 elections, one-quarter of all voters cast their ballot by mail, according to research from the Election Assistance Commission, a federal agency. A tally from the Brennan Center, a voting rights organization housed at New York University, showed that more than one-third of voters in 10 states cast their ballots by mail in the last midterm elections.

Now, several states that did not previously offer mail voting to everyone are allowing it for the 2020 election, either by allowing voters to cite Covid-19 as their excuse for requesting an absentee ballot or by waiving their requirement altogether. Only five states still require an excuse, beyond fear of the pandemic, for citizens who want to vote by mail: Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas.

But wait. Isn’t it true that ballots have been mass-mailed out to everyone?

No. Not even close. Most voters will not be mailed a ballot unless they have requested one. At the beginning of 2020, there were only five states — Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Utah — where every registered voter is sent a ballot, a system often known as “universal vote by mail.”

Because of the pandemic, four additional states adopted laws this year to mail ballots to all registered voters: California, Nevada, New Jersey and Vermont, along with Washington, D.C. Additionally, most voters in Montana are automatically receiving a ballot, but that decision is made on a county-by-county basis. You’ll notice that of all the states we listed, only one, Nevada, could be generously described as a presidential battleground. The truth is, in the nine or 10 most competitive battleground states — the places where this election will be won or lost — a voter will not receive a ballot in the mail unless they applied for it and were verified by their clerk’s office.

The media always insists that voter fraud isn’t real. But aren’t there documented cases of it? And isn’t absentee voting far more vulnerable to manipulation than in-person voting?

It's not that election fraud isn’t real; it’s just extremely rare, on whatever kind of scale you use. That’s partially because it’s so challenging. Even if you’re willing to risk a federal sentence, there are so many safeguards in place — from individualized ballot bar codes to signature matching to voter database verifications — that defrauding the system is extremely difficult on an individual basis, much less on a bigger scale.

Election experts say that prominent cases of election fraud show how tough it is to pull it off, and how easy it is for officials to detect it. It’s difficult to cheat in American elections, and the evidence suggests that attempts at cheating are usually caught. The most prominent recent case was in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, where in 2018 a Republican consultant illegally collected and marked ballots on behalf of a candidate. But local election officials cracked the scheme and declined to certify the results, instead calling for a new election.

Now, some election experts do note that, historically, it’s been slightly easier for voter fraud to occur with mail ballots as opposed to in-person votes. But it’s getting harder: The security technology utilized in mail voting systems has advanced so dramatically that many of those same experts believe it’s close to a wash at this point. In a Washington Post study of three states with universal vote-by-mail programs, analysts found “just 372 possible cases of double voting or voting on behalf of deceased people out of about 14.6 million votes cast by mail in the 2016 and 2018 general elections, or 0.0025 percent.”

The other reason I don’t like mail voting is the delays it’s going to cause on election night. Why will some states have final results on Nov. 3, but other states won’t have final results for days or even weeks later?

It’s a good question. Every state has different rules governing when local clerks can process mail ballots, a procedure which includes everything from checking voter signatures to opening the envelopes containing the ballots to loading the ballots into scanners for counting. Some states, like Florida, allow election officials to start processing mail ballots well ahead of Election Day, and the head start allows for faster reporting of results after the polls close. Other states, such as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, don’t allow officials to start processing mail ballots until Election Day.

Under normal circumstances, that state-by-state distinction wouldn’t mean much — the difference between Florida’s reporting of final results and Wisconsin’s might be a matter of hours. But this year, because of the historic number of voters utilizing mail-in voting, there will be a more pronounced gap in tallying time between states. (Also, keep in mind that some states, such as Pennsylvania, will count ballots that are postmarked by Election Day and arrive some days later, as long as they reach election offices before a receipt deadline. That will also drag out tallying times.)

It’s important to realize that there’s nothing unusual about a political race going uncalled for days or even a few weeks. In 2018, the Arizona Senate race and a number of competitive House races were among the midterm campaigns that took time beyond election night to resolve. There are always some races that are too close to call in every election, and we have to wait for the final results. Sometimes there are recounts and recanvassing of votes. That’s OK, too. Clerks have an obligation not to count fast, but to count accurately.

If you’re feeling impatient on election night, blame the media! We’re the ones clamoring for quick answers. The television networks and the Associated Press all have dedicated decision desks that project the winners of races up and down the ballot based on a combination of vote tallies and exit polling data. (The exit polls, combined with what we know about party registration and other relevant data, are why media outlets often call certain states, like New York or Wyoming, before a single vote is counted.) That said, in close elections, media outlets won’t project a winner until the vast majority of votes are counted and reported. And this year, because of the backlog of mail ballots in some states, it could take a few days for enough votes to be counted to give us a clear idea of who won and who lost a close election.

But wouldn’t a long delay open the door to mischief behind the scenes? Can I really trust the people counting all those late-arriving ballots?

First of all, the vote-counting process is incredibly transparent. Many jurisdictions have taken to livestreaming the rooms where it happens, and local parties are typically entitled to have representatives, known as “poll watchers,” observing the process. (They need to register ahead of time; concerned citizens are not authorized to just show up at a clerk’s office and attempt to supervise election activity.)

The level of oversight and scrutiny involved cannot be overstated. There are not only cameras monitoring the activity and party representatives serving as a check on the vote-counters; there are also the clerks themselves. These are highly trained people with intimate knowledge of their precincts. They know how to spot irregularities because they know exactly what to look for. If the federal government was in charge of counting ballots, you could have a real cause for concern. The hyperlocal way in which we administer elections brings its own challenges, but it also allows for maximum accountability — and with it, maximum accuracy.

A final thing to keep in mind: The people counting ballots are your neighbors. The people who go to your place of worship, shop in your grocery store or participate in your PTA meetings are the same ones making sure your vote is tallied correctly. (And, we should note, this happens anonymously. Poll workers cannot associate names with ballots.)

It’s true that some jurisdictions have partisan election officials, who seek office under the banner of a party affiliation. But these clerks are some of the most competent people you find in government, not fire-breathers and conspiracy theorists. Moreover, they are surrounded by bipartisan teams of civic-minded people who do tremendous work to preserve the integrity of our elections. You should thank them for it.

What happens if both candidates declare victory on election night? Who steps in to resolve it?

The media’s most basic task this November is to explain the nature of election results — why some states have finished counting, why other states are still tabulating, and why a candidate’s declaration of victory may or may not be premature, if it comes to that. As we already discussed, we may not know who won the presidency on election night, because some key states will get such a late start counting millions of mail ballots. (There are also a few narrow paths through the Electoral College that could produce a quicker-than-expected election night call.) A delay isn’t a sign of fraud or malfeasance — it just means election officials are taking time to tabulate the results.

So, if a candidate declares victory before we really know the results, we can just say that. There’s just no way, if the presidential candidates are neck and neck in a host of swing states, for either of them to credibly claim victory.

Of course, anyone is free to declare a victory. But the winner of the presidency isn’t determined by who calls it first, no more than our hopes and dreams for our favorite struggling sports teams affect the results of their games. The winner of the presidency is determined by the tallying of results in November, followed by a vote by the Electoral College in December, followed by the formal certification of that Electoral College vote by Congress in January, several weeks before Inauguration Day.


Tuesday, October 27, 2020

TRS paid lawyers six figures to probe brass/ FBI expresses interest by Bruce Rushton, Illinois Times

 


The state pension system for Illinois teachers spent nearly $700,000 on lawyers to investigate two top officials at Teachers' Retirement System, one who was fired in June and the other who resigned in August after being placed on administrative leave.

The figure comes from TRS's response to a Freedom of Information Act request from Illinois Times, which asked for billing records, personnel records and a copy of reports outlining any allegations of wrongdoing by Richard Ingram, former TRS executive director who resigned in August, and Jana Bergschneider, the pension system's chief financial officer, who was terminated by Ingram in July.

The nature of investigations conducted by two Chicago law firms isn't clear. TRS refused to turn over reports on any impropriety, proven or not, by either Bergschneider or Ingram. Bergschneider was hired last month as a fiscal officer by the state appellate defenders office at an annual salary of $120,000, which is $70,000 less than she earned at the teachers' pension system, according to records in the state comptroller's ofice. Reached by Illinois Times, she declined to answer questions about her new position or why she was hired for a state job despite being fired by TRS. Ingram could not be reached for comment.

The FBI has shown an interest in Ingram's departure from TRS. Seven days after his resignation, a Springfield-based special agent asked for a copy of a report on an investigation conducted by the Chicago law firm of King and Spalding, which TRS paid more than $577,000 between March and September to conduct the investigation that resulted in the executive director's resignation. It's not clear whether TRS turned over a report to the FBI. The agent declined comment. TRS in August would not say whether the investigation uncovered evidence of criminal activity, and it remains unclear why Ingram was placed on administrative leave by unanimous vote of the TRS board during a special board meeting convened days before his resignation.

The King and Spalding investigation into Ingram was headed by Zachary Fardon, former U.S. attorney for northern Illinois, who billed TRS $1,116 per hour of his time; Michael Johnston, a fellow partner in the firm, was paid $1,129 per hour. In addition to King and Spalding, TRS paid nearly $114,000 to the Chicago law firm of Elrod Friedman, also between March and September, according to records provided in response to the newspaper's request for bills paid to firms that investigated Ingram and Bergschneider. Ingram approved payments to Elrod Friedman until his departure from TRS, the records show, while King and Spalding sent bills directly to Devon Bruce, TRS board chairman.

In a July 2 letter to Bergschneider, Ingram wrote that she was being fired due to work performance and conduct related to the procurement process for the Gemini Project, a software overhaul aimed at modernizing the agency's pension administration system. The Gemini Project, which last March was expected to go live in January, now is undergoing review, according to a request for proposals issued last month by TRS.

In its request for proposals, TRS asked prospective bidders to evaluate the Gemini Project, which has been under construction for two years, and "conduct a high-level review, assessment and oversight." Bidders were told that the pension system, among other things, wanted to know whether the project was properly planned, whether "rigorous methodology" was followed and whether issues were being addressed in a timely manner.

With $53.4 billion in its investment portfolio, TRS is the state's largest pension system. As of the end of last year, the system was underfunded by 40%, but TRS paints a rosy picture on its website, saying that the pension system expects to break even on the fiscal year that ended June 30 and has a 40-year return of nine percent, higher than the target of seven percent.

Illinois Times


Jared Kushner

 


“White House adviser Jared Kushner described Black America's issues with inequality and racism as ‘complaining’ in an interview Monday. ‘The thing we've seen in the Black community, which is mostly Democrat,’ he said on ‘Fox & Friends,’ ‘is that President Trump's policies are the policies that can help people break out of the problems that they're complaining about, but he can't want them to be successful more than they want to be successful.’

“Kushner's words appeared to blame Black Americans' disproportionate lack of wealth and job opportunities, as well as health disparities and other inequalities, on a lack of drive — suggesting that the problem is that Black Americans don't 'want' success enough. However, his comments did not address the roots of systemic racism.

“‘This dismissive approach to the issues that Black voters care about is indicative of Trump's callousness and disregard for the lives of Black people,’ Brandon Gassaway, the Democratic National Committee's national press secretary, said in a statement. ‘We cannot afford another four years of a White House that does not take our voices seriously and tells us to be grateful for whatever scraps are left over from the bargaining table. We need leaders who not only value our input but prioritize and act upon it. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are those leaders, and Black voters will continue to show up to the polls in record numbers to ensure that Donald Trump, Jared Kushner, and this failed administration get the message.’…” (NBC).


Sunday, October 25, 2020

“The goal of any tool to fight this pandemic is to slow the spread of the virus and save lives. Universal masking will do both”

 


“Masks slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2 by reducing how much infected people spray the virus into the environment around them when they cough or talk. 

“Evidence from laboratory experimentshospitals and whole countries show that masks work, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends face coverings for the U.S. public. With all this evidence, mask wearing has become the norm in many places.

“I am an infectious disease doctor and a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. As governments and workplaces began to recommend or mandate mask wearing, my colleagues and I noticed an interesting trend. In places where most people wore masks, those who did get infected seemed dramatically less likely to get severely ill compared to places with less mask-wearing.

“It seems people get less sick if they wear a mask. When you wear a mask – even a cloth mask – you typically are exposed to a lower dose of the coronavirus than if you didn’t. Both recent experiments in animal models using coronavirus and nearly a hundred years of viral research show that lower viral doses usually means less severe disease.

“No mask is perfect, and wearing one might not prevent you from getting infected. But it might be the difference between a case of COVID-19 that sends you to the hospital and a case so mild you don’t even realize you’re infected.

 


Exposure dose determines severity of disease

“When you breathe in a respiratory virus, it immediately begins hijacking any cells it lands near to turn them into virus production machines. The immune system tries to stop this process to halt the spread of the virus.

“The amount of virus that you’re exposed to – called the viral inoculum, or dose – has a lot to do with how sick you get. If the exposure dose is very high, the immune response can become overwhelmed. Between the virus taking over huge numbers of cells and the immune system’s drastic efforts to contain the infection, a lot of damage is done to the body and a person can become very sick.

“On the other hand, if the initial dose of the virus is small, the immune system is able to contain the virus with less drastic measures. If this happens, the person experiences fewer symptoms, if any.

“This concept of viral dose being related to disease severity has been around for almost a century. Many animal studies have shown that the higher the dose of a virus you give an animal, the more sick it becomes. In 2015, researchers tested this concept in human volunteers using a nonlethal flu virus and found the same result. The higher the flu virus dose given to the volunteers, the sicker they became.

“In July, researchers published a paper showing that viral dose was related to disease severity in hamsters exposed to the coronavirus. Hamsters who were given a higher viral dose got more sick than hamsters given a lower dose. Based on this body of research, it seems very likely that if you are exposed to SARS-CoV-2, the lower the dose, the less sick you will get. So, what can a person do to lower the exposure dose?

Masks reduce viral dose

“Most infectious disease researchers and epidemiologists believe that the coronavirus is mostly spread by airborne droplets and, to a lesser extent, tiny aerosols. Research shows that both cloth and surgical masks can block the majority of particles that could contain SARS-CoV-2. While no mask is perfect, the goal is not to block all of the virus, but simply reduce the amount that you might inhale. Almost any mask will successfully block some amount.

“Laboratory experiments have shown that good cloth masks and surgical masks could block at least 80% of viral particles from entering your nose and mouth. Those particles and other contaminants will get trapped in the fibers of the mask, so the CDC recommends washing your cloth mask after each use if possible.

“The final piece of experimental evidence showing that masks reduce viral dose comes from another hamster experiment. Hamsters were divided into an unmasked group and a masked group by placing surgical mask material over the pipes that brought air into the cages of the masked group. Hamsters infected with the coronavirus were placed in cages next to the masked and unmasked hamsters, and air was pumped from the infected cages into the cages with uninfected hamsters.

“As expected, the masked hamsters were less likely to get infected with COVID-19. But when some of the masked hamsters did get infected, they had more mild disease than the unmasked hamsters.

Masks increase rate of asymptomatic cases

“In July, the CDC estimated that around 40% of people infected with SARS-CoV-2 are asymptomatic, and a number of other studies have confirmed this number.

“However, in places where everyone wears masks, the rate of asymptomatic infection seems to be much higher. In an outbreak on an Australian cruise ship called the Greg Mortimer in late March, the passengers were all given surgical masks and the staff were given N95 masks after the first case of COVID-19 was identified. Mask usage was apparently very high, and even though 128 of the 217 passengers and staff eventually tested positive for the coronavirus, 81% of the infected people remained asymptomatic.

“Further evidence has come from two more recent outbreaks, the first at a seafood processing plant in Oregon and the second at a chicken processing plant in Arkansas. In both places, the workers were provided masks and required to wear them at all times. In the outbreaks from both plants, nearly 95% of infected people were asymptomatic.

“There is no doubt that universal mask wearing slows the spread of the coronavirus. My colleagues and I believe that evidence from laboratory experiments, case studies like the cruise ship and food processing plant outbreaks and long-known biological principles make a strong case that masks protect the wearer too.

“The goal of any tool to fight this pandemic is to slow the spread of the virus and save lives. Universal masking will do both” (The Conversation).


-Monica Gandhi, Professor of Medicine, Division of HIV, Infectious Diseases and Global Medicine, University of California, San Francisco

 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Dear Retired Teacher: Imagine You Are a Teacher Today by Glen Brown

 


Dear Retired Teacher:

Imagine you are a teacher today. 

You are afraid that you cannot teach effectively because you are afraid: You are afraid of contracting the coronavirus and infecting your family and others. You are afraid of your students contracting the coronavirus and infecting their families. You are afraid for students who ride buses and for bus drivers who bring them to school and home each day.

You are afraid that frequent hand-washing is impossible for students to do throughout the entire day. You are afraid there is not enough space in your classroom for proper distancing. You are afraid of sharing classrooms. You are afraid social distancing and wearing cloth masks for hours is impossible for students. You are afraid of students eating lunches without masks, passing in hallways, and congregating in bathrooms or by their lockers. You are afraid your students cannot safely "socialize" in a pandemic despite the irrational push to send them to school. You are afraid some parents will undermine your safety concerns.

You are afraid of airborne transmission of the coronavirus that thrives indoors, especially in closed spaces. You are afraid the windows cannot be opened or will not be opened in inclement weather. You are afraid your school's ventilation system is antiquated or poor (where air is not properly filtered, diluted and exchanged); that the HVAC system has not been upgraded and will easily spread the coronavirus. You are afraid that every surface in your school will not be sanitized each day.

You are afraid your school will have insufficient Personal Protective Equipment to keep everyone healthy and safe, such as portable HEPA air purifiers for each room, N-95 masks, Nitrile gloves, face shields, Clorox wipes, hand sanitizers... 

You are afraid you will not be able to tell the difference between the symptoms of the coronavirus and the flu, or the difference between the coronavirus and the common cold, or the difference between the coronavirus and common allergies. You are afraid of asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus.

You are afraid your school cannot guarantee everyone’s health and safety through reliable and consistent testing and professional contact tracing. You are afraid there are not enough nurses and custodians for each school. You are afraid administrators and the school board lack the expertise to determine health and safety measures for students, teachers and staff. 

You are afraid of the blatant incompetence of some of your administrators, the risky agenda of the school board, and the selfish irrational priorities of many parents in your school district. You are afraid for your students’ lives. You are afraid of dying.

You would be afraid too.

Until this country has a unified and coherent federal, state and local strategy; until the federal government increases its funding for health and safety for all schools across this nation; until there is federal funding for parents to assist with their at-home childcare and technology and federal funding to feed disadvantaged children; until business entrepreneurs and the Trump administration solve the false choice they have created for parents of school-age children—all schools and universities across this nation should open only on online this fall and not until this pandemic is totally under control!

Furthermore, until the morons among us stop spreading misinformation and conspiracies because of their own gullibility and ignorance; until the Creons among us cease their stubbornness and spitefulness; until the pathological narcissists among us end their gas-lighting, this unabated coronavirus will continue to proliferate, and thousands of Americans will die.

Please help our teachers today. Get involved. Call your school district and express your concerns.

-Glen Brown

Retired Teacher

https://teacherpoetmusicianglenbrown.blogspot.com/2020/08/this-retired-teachers-concerns.html


Friday, October 23, 2020

Teaching During a Pandemic, Week 1 by Vikki Reid

 


📚”WhAt I LeArNeD In ScHoOl ThIs WeEk”📚
 🦠😷Teaching During A Pandemic-WEEK 1😷🦠

My classroom ranged from 47-55 degrees because the windows are all open to increase circulation, except for Thursday, when it was 84 in my classroom because the heat was on.

My 12 desk stations are spaced 5 feet apart to fit my class sizes, and in one class I have 13 students.

The school was to supply one mask for each student/staff member, but we received an email that we ran out on Tuesday before the end of the day.

Teachers were provided one 16 oz. bottle of hand sanitizer for each classroom, refillable at the bookstore during limited hours.  

Teachers were provided one 24 oz. bottle of Dr. Joe’s spray for teachers to sanitize the desks during the five-minute passing period; it takes 11 minutes for the spray on the desks to dry. Teachers were instructed to NOT wipe it off.

Teachers were provided with a brown lunch bag of 20 Band-Aids, two tampons, one sanitary napkin, five fabric masks, and one ice pack to treat students who have minor incidents instead of sending them to the nurses office.

Teachers are to recognize students with masks on, who we have never met in person, and be engaging and welcoming, while we balance remote learning students Zooming who are projected on the screens for their classmates to interact with, through a remote mic and speaker.

I share a classroom with a teacher from another department during lunch study hall, so I have nowhere to work unless I sanitize a new location in a shared office space.

The cockroach that I stepped on Monday in my classroom was still on the floor today. 🐜

“Deep cleaning” is only happening when a student who is Covid positive has been in a classroom location, instead of every Wednesday during remote learning, according to the Buildings and Grounds staff.

Teachers are being asked to track who leaves their seat, who uses the washroom, who removes their mask, how long their masks are off, who eats during class, and are asked to create seating charts for evidence of investigation and contact tracing should a student become Covid positive.

The women’s faculty washroom in the B wing has not been cleaned since last Friday, as evidenced by the unsanitary matter that still remains dried after dripping down the door.

The faculty restroom only runs cold water, unless it runs for over 4 minutes and 24 seconds before beginning to wash your hands.

Two feeder schools have sent out emails this week that they currently have students quarantining after contact tracing from positive Covid tests within their building.  

On Thursday, OUR school sent families an email that there has been at least one positive test result for Covid in one building, as contact tracing continues.

Tragically, a 2020 alum lost his battle with Covid this week.

Several of my colleagues are in isolation after this week, from school and personal exposures.

And this afternoon, a friend and colleague headed to the ER and was just admitted to the hospital, after having a fever of 102 for several hours, with awaiting a Covid test result.

Is this virus still a hoax???? (That’s a rhetorical question, of course.) 😷

We are...💙💛
$ 67,759,012—Annual Tax Revenue, 2019 School Report Card
4,050 students


Joe Biden at the Final Presidential Debate, October 22, 2020 (a few excerpts)


“…220,000 Americans dead. You hear nothing else, I say tonight, hear this. Anyone who is responsible for not taking control. In fact, not saying I take no responsibility initially. Anyone is responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America. We’re in a situation where there are a thousand deaths a day now. A thousand deaths a day. And there are over 70,000 new cases per day. Compared to what’s going on in Europe as the New England Medical Journal said, they’re starting from a very low rate. We’re starting from a very high rate.

“The expectation is we’ll have another 200,000 Americans dead between now and the end of the year. If we just wore these masks, the president’s own advisors have told him, we can save 100,000 lives. And we’re in a circumstance where the president, thus far, still has no plan, no comprehensive plan.

“What I would do is make sure: we have everyone... wear a mask all the time. I would make sure we move in the direction of rapid testing [and] investing in rapid testing. I would make sure that we set up national standards as to how to open up schools and open up businesses so they can be safe and give them the wherewithal, the financial resources to be able to do that.

“We’re in a situation now where the New England Medical Journal, one of the serious, most serious journals in the whole world said for the first time ever that the way this president has responded to this crisis has been absolutely tragic. And so, folks, I will take care of this. I will end this. I will make sure we have a plan…

“He says that we’re learning to live with it. People are learning to die with it. You folks at home will have an empty chair at the kitchen table this morning. That man or wife going to bed tonight and reaching over to try to touch, there out of habit where their wife or husband was, is gone. Learning to live with it. Come on. We’re dying with it, because he’s never said... ‘It’s dangerous.’ When’s the last time? Is it really dangerous still?... You tell the people it’s dangerous now. What should they do about the danger? And you say, ‘I take no responsibility.’

“…[T]hink about what the President knew in January and didn’t tell the American people. He was told this was a serious virus that spreads in the air, and it was much worse, much worse, than the flu. He went on record and said to one of [his] colleagues, recorded, that in fact he knew how dangerous it was, but he didn’t want to tell us. He didn’t want to tell us because he didn’t want us to panic. He didn’t want us… Americans [to] panic. He panicked! But guess what, in the meantime, we find out in the New York Times the other day, that in fact his folks went to Wall Street and said, ‘This is a really dangerous thing.’ And a memo out of that meeting — not from his administration, but from some of the brokers — said, ‘Sell short, because we’ve got to get moving. It’s a dangerous problem.’

“…What I’m going to do is pass Obamacare with a public option and becomes Biden care. The public option is an option that says that if you in fact do not have the wherewithal, if you qualify for Medicaid and you do not have the wherewithal in your state to get Medicaid, you automatically are enrolled, providing competition for insurance companies. That’s what’s going to happen. Secondly, we’re going to make sure we reduce the premiums and reduce drug prices by making sure that there’s competition. That doesn’t exist now, by allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices with the insurance companies. Thirdly, the idea that I want to eliminate private insurance, the reason why I had such a fight with 20 candidates for the nomination was I support private insurance. That’s why. Not one single person with private insurance would lose their insurance under my plan, nor did they under Obamacare. They [will] not lose their insurance unless they choose to go to something else…

“These 500-plus kids came with parents. They separated them at the border to make it a disincentive to come [here] to begin with... Coyotes didn’t bring them over. Their parents were with them. They got separated from their parents. And it makes us a laughingstock and violates every notion of who we are as a nation… Their kids were ripped from their arms and separated, and now they cannot find... those parents, and those kids are alone. Nowhere to go. Nowhere to go. It’s criminal. It’s criminal…

“The fact of the matter is, there is institutional racism in America. And we have always said, we’ve never lived up to it, that we hold these truths to be self-evident, all men and women are created equal. Well, guess what, we have never, ever lived up to it. But we’ve always been moving the needle further and further to inclusion, not exclusion. This is the first president to come along and says, that’s the end of that. We’re not going to do that anymore. We have to provide for economic opportunity, better education, better healthcare, better access to schooling, better access to opportunity to borrow money to start businesses, all the things we can do. And I’ve laid out a clear plan as to how to do those things just to give people a shot. It’s about accumulating the ability to have wealth as well as it is to be free from violence…

“[He] is one of the most racist presidents we’ve had in modern history, he pours fuel on every single racist fire, every single one. [He] started off his campaign coming down the escalator saying he’s getting rid of those Mexican rapists; he’s banning Muslims because they’re Muslims. He has... made everything worse across the board...  About the Proud Boys, last time we were on stage here he said, ‘I tell them to stand down and stand ready.’ Come on, this guy has a dog whistle about as big as a foghorn…

“Climate change, global warming is an existential threat to humanity. We have a moral obligation to deal with it. And we’re told by all the leading scientists in the world we don’t have much time. We’re going to pass the point of no return within the next 8 to 10 years. Four more years of this man eliminating all the regulations that were put in by us to clean up the climate… To limit the emissions will put us in a position where we’re going to be in real trouble. Here’s where we have a great opportunity. I was able to get both the environmental organizations as well as the labor, [and] the people worried about jobs, to support my climate plan…

“I do rule out banning fracking because... we need other industries to transition, to get to ultimately a complete zero emissions by 2025. What I will do with fracking over time is make sure that we can capture the emissions from fracking [and] capture the emissions from gas. We can do that, and we can do that by investing money in doing it, but it’s a transition…

“When I was growing up in Claymont, Delaware there [were] more oil refineries in Marcus Hook and the Delaware River than there is any place, including in Houston at the time. When my mom got in the car to drive me to school during the first frost, turning the windshield wiper on, there [would be an] oil slick on the window. That’s why so many people in my state were dying and getting cancer. The fact is those frontline communities — it’s not a matter of what you’re paying them  it matters how you keep them safe. What do you do? You impose restrictions on the pollutions…

“I’m an American President. I represent all of you, whether you voted for me or against me, and I’m going to make sure that you’re represented. I’m going to give you hope. We’re going to move; we’re going to choose science over fiction. We’re going to choose hope over fear. We’re going to choose to move forward because we have enormous opportunities, enormous opportunities to make things better.

“We can grow this economy; we can deal with the systemic racism. At the same time, we can make sure that our economy is being run and moved and motivated by clean energy, creating millions of new jobs. That’s the fact, that’s what we’re going to do.

“And I’m going to say, as I said at the beginning, what is on the ballot here is the character of this country. Decency, honor, respect. Treating people with dignity, making sure that everyone has an even chance. And I’m going to make sure you get that. You haven’t been getting it the last four years”—Joe Biden (rev.com).