Author Archives: Sapphires

Why is the US Government prioritising obesity patients for Covid-19 vaccinations?

Patty Nece hasn’t been inside a retail store for an entire year.

Even though most Virginia businesses reopened by July and grocery stores remained opened throughout the pandemic, the 62-year-old hasn’t dared to step inside one since last March, as her obesity puts her at risk for severe COVID-19.

Because of her disease, she’s eligible to get the vaccine and has an appointment for her first dose on Wednesday. While she’s looking forward to getting vaccinated, she’s also disappointed some Americans have criticized people with obesity who are prioritized to get the vaccine.

“It displays a misunderstanding … weight isn’t always within your control,” said Nece, who is also the chairwoman of the Obesity Action Coalition. “Like many diseases, there’s personal responsibility involved but that’s not the end. The mantra of eat less and move more – which I’ve heard my entire life – isn’t the answer.”

In one instance, a news anchor for WTTG-TV in Washington, D.C., sent a tweet criticizing health officials for prioritizing obesity patients for the vaccine.

“I’m annoyed obese people of all ages get priority vaccine access before all essential workers,” Blake McCoy said in the since-deleted tweet. “Vaccinate all essential workers. Then obese.”

Obesity and COVID-19

Roughly 40% of adult Americans have obesity, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from 2018. Studies have shown people with obesity are more likely to have worse outcomes from COVID-19 than others with a lower body mass index (BMI).Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found people with a BMI above 30 had a 113% higher risk for hospitalization, a 74% higher risk for ICU admission and a 48% higher risk of death, according to a study published in August 2020 in Obesity Reviews.

At first, health experts believed people with obesity were more at risk for severe COVID-19 because the disease also is associated with numerous underlying risk factors including hypertension, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and chronic kidney and liver disease.

But after controlling for those factors, researchers found people with obesity were still at higher risk for COVID-19, said Dr. Rekha Kumar, medical director of the American Board of Obesity Medicine and associate professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. This may be partly due to the excess fat tissue producing more inflammation, she said.

Nearly $1.9 trillion allocated- By 50-49 votes the United States Senate passes the #AmericanRescuePlan

Senate Democrats passed their version of the near- $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act Saturday afternoon, but not before making some major changes from the version of the bill passed by the House of Representative last week.

Some of the most notable changes between the two relief bills include dropping a provision to gradually increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour and reducing the number of people who will qualify for a $1,400 stimulus payment

The value of federal enhanced unemployment insurance (UI) benefits were also changed to appease moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who threatened not to support the bill. Just as in the House, no Republican lawmakers voted in favor of the legislation, saying it was unnecessary.

“This isn’t a pandemic rescue package,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-K.Y, said on Friday. “It’s a parade of left-wing pet projects that they are ramming through during a pandemic.”

The bill keeps many of the progressive provisions from the House’s version, and added a provision to make student loan forgiveness passed between Dec 31, 2020 and Jan 1, 2026 tax-free.

“Covid has affected nearly every aspect of life,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Saturday. “The American Rescue Plan will deliver more help to more people than anything the federal government’s done in decades.”
Here are some of the major changes between the House and Senate versions of the bill that may affect your pocketbook.

Minimum wage

As expected, the provision to gradually increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour was stripped from the Senate’s bill after the parliamentarian, a nonpartisan official who decides which bills qualify to pass the upper chamber via reconciliation, determined last week that the provision did not meet the standards legislation must meet to pass with a simple majority.

It’s not clear it would have been included anyway: Seven Democratic senators and Angus King, the independent from Maine who caucuses with the Democrats, voted against an amendment proposed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, also an independent, to increase the minimum wage.

Stimulus payments

The bill provides funding for a third economic impact payment, worth up to $1,400 per individual and dependent.

Individuals earning an adjusted gross income (AGI) up to $75,000 (and married couples earning up to $150,000) are eligible for the the full $1,400 each, plus $1,400 for each dependent. In the Senate version, the payments phase out much more quickly than in the House version: No individual with an AGI over $80,000 or couples earning over $160,000 will receive one. Heads of household earning up to $112,500 will receive the full amount, and it will phase out completely at $120,000 for those filers.

In the previous version of the bill, the payments phased out completely at $100,000 for individuals and $200,000 for couples. An estimated 12 million fewer adults will now qualify for a stimulus payment, compared to previous rounds.

Many Americans were upset by the move to lower the top income eligibility threshold, calling it a “slap in the face” to middle class Americans who were counting on the money and no longer qualify.

The payments are based on either 2019 or 2020 income, depending on when a taxpayer files their 2020 tax return.

Unlike previous stimulus payments, adult dependents, including college students, disabled adults and elderly Americans, may qualify for a $1,400 payment.

Student loans

The Senate’s bill includes a provision to make any student loan forgiveness passed between Dec 31, 2020 and Jan 1, 2026 tax-free. Usually, forgiven debt is treated as taxable income.

The Senate’s bill does not include student debt forgiveness directly, but it would make it easier for President Joe Biden to forgive $10,000 in student debt, as he has said he wants to, by executive action, if Congress does not do it.

Unemployment insurance

The Senate’s bill will extend the federal jobless benefit supplement at $300 per week through Sept. 6, and make the first $10,200 in UI received in 2020 non-taxable for households with incomes under $150,000.

That differs from the House bill, which extended jobless programs through Aug. 29 and gave an extra $400 per week in benefits. It did not include the provision to make any of the benefits non-taxable.

The House will now have to sign off of the changes before the bill can be signed by the president.

A light of “hope” for Democrats – #CovidReliefBill

Senate Democrats are moving ahead with an updated version of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package that includes several tweaks intended to satisfy some moderates ahead of an expected final vote in the coming days.

The Senate voted 51-50 along party lines to advance the bill on Thursday. Vice President Harris voted with all Democrats to break the tie and move ahead with the lengthy debate and amendment process.

The new version of the bill includes more money for rural hospitals, more generous access to federal programs for live venue operators, a tax benefit for student-loan borrowers and changes to the $350 billion pot of state and local relief money. The changes come a day after party leaders agreed to narrow the income eligibility for receiving the latest round of $1,400 stimulus checks, at the request of moderate Democrats.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., spent the past several days negotiating with senators to balance changes demanded by moderates with tweaks that satisfy others in the Democratic Party. Republicans are not expected to vote for the bill, meaning Democrats will need unanimous support to pass one of the largest spending bills in history.”We are not going to repeat the mistakes of the past,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “We are not going to be timid in the face of a great challenge. We are not going to delay when urgent action is called for.”

The latest update would make all coronavirus-related student-loan relief tax-free, increase COBRA health care coverage for those who lose jobs in the pandemic from 85% to 100% and provide $10 billion in additional infrastructure funding for state, local and tribal governments.

Another significant change sought by Democrats and many Republicans was limitations on how the $350 billion state and local relief fund could be spent. The new version of the bill requires that funds be used by the end of 2024 and only to respond to the public health emergency with respect to COVID-19 “or its negative economic impacts, including assistance to households, small businesses, and nonprofits, or aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel and hospitality.”

The new limits go on to specify that the fund can be used to provide government services “to the extent of the reduction in revenue” from the pandemic and can be used for “necessary investments” in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure

Progressives have been disappointed by changes to the House-passed legislation that they say make the bill less effective in providing economic relief to the people hardest hit in the pandemic. First, Democrats were forced to eliminate a provision to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024 after the nonpartisan Senate parliamentarian decided the policy would have violated Senate budget rules.

They were further frustrated by the decision to cap stimulus payments at lower income levels than those that had passed the House. Senate leaders and the White House agreed to demands from centrist Democrats that the payments be focused on lower- and middle-income families.

Under the Senate bill, individuals earning $75,000 or less and couples earning $150,000 or less per year would still receive the full $1,400 payment. But the payments would cut off for individuals earning $80,000 or more and couples earning over $160,000, a significant decrease from the House figures.

Many House progressives, particularly those who represent cities with higher costs of living, argue the lower thresholds penalize single parents in particular because often they must earn much more in order to support their families.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the vast majority of people who received payments in December would still receive payments under the new agreement.

“Under the Senate version of the bill, 158.5 million households are going receive direct payments,” Psaki said. “That’s 98% of the households who received them in December.

[Full Story] Why are fans trending “Proud of Louis” on twitter? – Defenceless

One Direction fans have always been known to be a passionate and loud group of supporters. They’ve shown up in incredible ways for band members Louis Tomlinson, Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Niall Horan, and former member Zayn Malik in the the band’s 10 years of existence. The fans’ latest feat has been a beautiful way to support Tomlinson — read on to see why fans have said they’re “proud” of the oldest ban member.

How Louis Tomlinson fans have shown support before

Tomlinson’s fans have moved metaphorical mountains for him in the past. In May 2015, they decided to organize Project “No Control,” an effort to make One Direction’s song “No Control” a single. The song, from album Four, features strong lead vocals from Tomlinson as well as his own writing embedded through the song.

The project included calling radio stations, asking them to play the Tomlinson-written song. (Liam Payne also co-wrote it.) Eventually, the fans’ passion was so hard to ignore that the band added “No Control” to the setlist for their On the Road Again Tour and Tomlinson spoke about the project on The Late Late Show with James Corden in a 2015 interview.

Fans began trending the topics “Support Defenceless” and “Proud of Louis” on Twitter on Feb. 6 after their latest effort to get Tomlinson’s song “Defenceless” to No. 1. It reached that top spot on the Global 100 iTunes chart per data-tracking site Kworb.net, knocking off formerly consistent song “drivers license” by Olivia Rodrigo.

“Defenceless” is a track from Tomlinson’s album debut, Walls, released in January 2020. The album track came out over a year ago, and is a favorite among fans. While Tomlinson never released “Defenceless” as a single himself, it appears that fans are pushing for another fan-released song and may prove to have another successful campaign for the singer.

Fans took to Twitter to express how proud they are of Tomlinson for reaching No. 1 with “Defenceless” so quickly in this new effort.

“I hope his smile was wide and his eyes sparkled when he saw ‘Defenceless’ up at No. 1,” one fan wrote on Twitter.

Another fan remembered when Tomlinson recounted an anecdote in the 2013 One Direction documentary film This is Us, that his Geography teacher said he would “never amount to anything.”

“Proud of Louis you deserve it,” they wrote.

Someone else commented, “Now that’s the sh*t I wanna see. I can’t even describe my love for him! I’m so proud of Louis, he deserves the world.”

Tomlinson, who often uses his Twitter account to interact with his fans, responded to the outpouring of love on Feb. 6.

“#1 on the worldwide iTunes chart and it’s an album track, crazy,” he said. “Never have enough words to thank you all for everything you do!”

This might be only the beginning for where the song “Defenceless” will go — but one thing’s for sure, we’re definitely #ProudOfLouis, too.

The World Needs More Syringes – See How this Indian Man Makes 5,900 Syringes per minute

In late November, an urgent email popped up in the inbox of Hindustan Syringes & Medical Devices, one of the world’s largest syringe makers.

It was from UNICEF, the United Nations agency for children, and it was desperately seeking syringes. Not just any would do. These syringes must be smaller than usual. They had to break if used a second time, to prevent spreading disease through accidental recycling.

“I thought, ‘No issues,’” said Rajiv Nath, the company’s managing director, who has sunk millions of dollars into preparing his syringe factories for the vaccination onslaught. “We could deliver it possibly faster than anybody else.”

As countries jostle to secure enough vaccine doses to put an end to the COVID-19 outbreak, a second scramble is unfolding for syringes. Vaccines aren’t all that useful if health care professionals lack a way to inject them into people.

Officials in the United States and the European Union have said they don’t have enough vaccine syringes. In January, Brazil restricted exports of syringes and needles when its vaccination effort fell short.

Further complicating the rush, the syringes have to be the right type. Japan revealed last month that it might have to discard millions of doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine if it couldn’t secure enough special syringes that could draw out a sixth dose from its vials. In January, the Food and Drug Administration advised health care providers in the United States that they could extract more doses from the Pfizer vials after hospitals there discovered that some contained enough for a sixth — or even a seventh — person.“A lot of countries were caught flat-footed,” said Ingrid Katz, the associate director of the Harvard Global Health Institute. “It seems like a fundamental irony that countries around the world have not been fully prepared to get these types of syringes.”

The world needs between 8 billion and 10 billion syringes for COVID-19 vaccinations alone, experts say. In previous years, only 5% to 10% of the estimated 16 billion syringes used worldwide were meant for vaccination and immunization, said Prashant Yadav, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, a think tank in Washington, and an expert on health care supply chains.

Wealthier nations like the United States, Britain, France and Germany pumped billions of dollars of taxpayer money into developing the vaccines, but little public investment has gone to expand manufacturing for syringes, Yadav said.

“I worry not just about the overall syringe manufacturing capacity but capacity for the specific types of syringes,” he said, “and whether syringes would already be in locations where they are needed.”

Not all of the world’s syringes are suited to the task.

To maximize the output from a vial of the Pfizer vaccine, for example, a syringe must carry an exact dose of 0.3 milliliters. The syringes also must have low dead space — the infinitesimal distance between the plunger and the needle after the dose is fully injected — to minimize waste.The industry has ramped up to meet demand. Becton Dickinson, which is based in New Jersey and a major syringe manufacturer, said it will spend $1.2 billion over four years to expand capacity in part to deal with pandemics.

#WhatsHappeningInMyanmar – More than 19 Myanmar Police officers flee to India

At least 19 Myanmar police officers have crossed the border into India in the latest sign of growing dissent within the security forces and civil service officials who are opposed to the military coup.

The first reported case of police fleeing the country came as one of the country’s top diplomats resigned from his post at the United Nations after being promoted to the role of ambassador by the junta.

Tin Maung Naing, the deputy envoy, refused to take over from Kyaw Moe Tun, the current ambassador, who was fired last week by the generals after he urged countries at the 193-member UN General Assembly to use “any means necessary” to reverse the coup that ousted the nation’s elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

In Washington, Myanmar’s embassy also signalled a break with the military regime on Thursday, issuing a statement decrying the deaths of civilians protesting the coup and calling on authorities to “fully exercise [the] utmost restraint.”

In Myanmar’s capital Naypyitaw last month, nine ministry of foreign affairs officials were arrested after they joined a Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) which aims to prevent the military from being able to govern the country by organising nationwide strikes.

Tin Maung Naing, the deputy envoy, refused to take over from Kyaw Moe Tun, the current ambassador, who was fired last week by the generals after he urged countries at the 193-member UN General Assembly to use “any means necessary” to reverse the coup that ousted the nation’s elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

In Washington, Myanmar’s embassy also signalled a break with the military regime on Thursday, issuing a statement decrying the deaths of civilians protesting the coup and calling on authorities to “fully exercise [the] utmost restraint.”

In Myanmar’s capital Naypyitaw last month, nine ministry of foreign affairs officials were arrested after they joined a Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) which aims to prevent the military from being able to govern the country by organising nationwide strikes.

Many members of the security forces are violently supporting the coup, however. More than 50 civilians have died as police officers and soldiers increasing turn to lethal force to suppress peaceful mass protests.

More than 1,500 have also been arrested – often in terrifying night raids during internet blackouts. They include officials from the previous civilian administration, journalists, and civil society activists.

On Thursday, Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister condemned the deadly crackdown against pro-democracy protesters in Myanmar.

“I’m horrified by the escalation of violence in Myanmar and the killing of pro-democracy protesters. We stand with the people of Myanmar in calling for an immediate end to military repression, the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and others, and the restoration of democracy,” said Mr Johnson.

The United States added further sanctions on members of the military junta, in addition to previous restrictions on the defence minister and three companies in the jade and gems sector, blocking members of the ministries of defence and home affairs from doing certain types of trade.

“People should be worried about natural mutations of Covid-19” says Dr. Kavita Patel

Thanks to natural mutations, more-infectious and potentially deadlier variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 are now racing around the globe and are threatening to turn back the recent progress against the disease due to vaccination.

Last week Houston became the first big American city to report the presence of all five variants that have medical experts worried — a California strain called B.1.427/B.1.429, a New York variant classified as B.1.526, the Brazilian P.1 strain, a strain called B.1.351 that is believed to have originated in South Africa, and the U.K. mutation B.1.1.7, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts will become the dominant strain in the U.S. by the end of the month.

Each new variant comes with new, worrisome features. P.1, for instance, has been found to make reinfection easier, while new studies show that B.1.1.7 extends the infectious period beyond the original strain.

With so many questions being raised by the growing number of mutations, Yahoo News turned to resident medical expert Dr. Kavita Patel for answers. (The following interview was edited for clarity.)

Dr. Kavita Patel: I think people should be worried. There’s a large number, a majority of the population that has not been vaccinated. They should be very worried, because they are prime targets for these viruses with the variants to reproduce.

Remember, the goal of a virus is not to kill people, it’s actually just to continue to stay alive, and the only way it does that is by infecting people. People who are not vaccinated should be incredibly worried, which is why I, in turn, am very worried about the variants as I watch now 12 states and counting, very big states including Texas and Florida, lifting any sort of mask requirements or leaving it to individuals or businesses. That’s a group that should be very worried.

Even people who are vaccinated should have some concern because all these [vaccine] trials that went on, the majority of them did not happen when we had experience with these variants. So, we are all happy that the vaccines work to some degree against the variants, but we’re not quite sure how long it will last, whether we need a booster. All the manufacturers are already talking about booster vaccines, so getting a vaccine, like I did, is a ton of relief mentally, but, I’ll be honest with you, I’m still worried when I leave my house, mostly because of these variants.

To date, a little over 16 percent of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Is there a level at which mutations won’t pose as big of a threat?

We do know that in just kind of normal virology or infectious disease that over 50 percent and higher, the more people who are vaccinated, [the more] decreased the rate of infectivity becomes. The R naught or the Rt, which is [the measure of] how many people, if you get the infection, you will infect, that number is already coming down and will continue to go down. It won’t get to zero, but it will be pretty darn close. So that if you get infected there’s basically no chance of you infecting anyone else when we get to a certain level of immunity.

Everybody’s asking, ‘Is that herd immunity?’ But it’s not a light switch, so above 50 percent, the higher we go, the more the chances of getting infected decrease. That’s good news. We’re getting closer and closer, but we’re not going to get there in the next — it’s going to be weeks if not months before we get to that point.

U.N. Criticises Pakistan for allegedly killing 23 in Iran’s Boarder

At least a dozen people and possibly up to 23 have been killed in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province where Revolutionary Guards and security forces have used lethal force against fuel couriers from ethnic minorities and protesters, the United Nations said on Friday.

Iran is investigating an incident in which at least two Iranians were shot dead this week at the border with Pakistan, and Islamabad has handed over the body of one of the victims, the Iranian foreign ministry said a week ago.

The shooting of people carrying fuel across the border led to protests that spread from the city of Saravan to other areas in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan, including the capital, Zahedan.

“The series of violent events and unrest began on 22 February, when Revolutionary Guards are alleged to have shot and killed at least 10 fuel couriers, known as sookhtbar, in Sistan and Baluchistan Province at the border with Pakistan, after a two-day stand-off triggered by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps blocking the road to the city of Saravan,” U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a news briefing in Geneva.

The killings had triggered demonstrations in several cities across the province, during which the revolutionary guard and security forces fired lethal ammunition at protesters and bystanders, he said.

Colville said that it has been difficult to verify the death toll due to disruptions of local mobile data networks, but some unconfirmed reports have estimated that as many as 23 people may have been killed.

“We call on the authorities to immediately restore Internet access in areas that remain disconnected,” he said.

Sistan-Baluchistan’s population is predominantly Sunni Muslim, while most Iranians are Shi’ite. Iran has some of the lowest fuel prices in the world and has been fighting smuggling to neighbouring countries.

India Man arrested for beheading own daughter in the name of “honour killing”

Police in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh have arrested a man suspected of beheading his daughter.

Sarvesh Kumar was arrested as he walked towards a police station carrying the severed head of the 17-year-old girl.

In a video shot by the police, he is heard saying that he was angered by his daughter’s alleged affair with a man he did not like.

Hundreds of people are killed each year for falling in love or marrying against their families’ wishes in India.

In the video, the man says that he had recently found out about this daughter’s relationship and that had made him very angry.He is heard saying that he found her alone at home, locked her in a room and beheaded her with a sharp object.

Alarmed at the sight of a man walking with a severed head, local people alerted the police.

The man told the police that he had left the body and the murder weapon “in the room” and was on his way to the police station.

Police say an investigation is being carried out.

Meanwhile, a policeman was suspended after a photograph showed him carrying the severed head inappropriately.

Wednesday’s crime took place in Hardoi district in Uttar Pradesh. Last year, the state topped the list of Indian states with the highest number of crimes against women, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.Murders by family members for being in a relationship are known as “honour killings” and although there are no authentic figures, campaigners say hundreds of so-called “honour crimes” take place every year in India.

Age-old notions of tradition and family honour are still deeply entrenched in many parts of Indian society.

Many victims anger their families by marrying outside their caste and religion and often these crimes against them are endorsed, or even encouraged, by village-based caste councils.

In 2011, the Supreme Court said that people convicted of so-called honour killings should face death penalties.

#WhatsHappeningInMyanmar – Womens on the front line

Ma Kyal Sin loved taekwondo, spicy food and a good red lipstick. She adopted the English name Angel, and her father hugged her goodbye when she went out on the streets of Mandalay, in central Myanmar, to join the crowds peacefully protesting the recent seizure of power by the military.

The black T-shirt that Kyal Sin wore to the protest Wednesday carried a simple message: “Everything will be OK.”

In the afternoon, Kyal Sin, 18, was shot in the head by the security forces, who killed at least 30 people nationwide in the single bloodiest day since the Feb. 1 coup, according to the United Nations.

“She is a hero for our country,” said Ma Cho Nwe Oo, one of Kyal Sin’s close friends, who has also taken part in the daily rallies that have electrified hundreds of cities across Myanmar. “By participating in the revolution, our generation of young women shows that we are no less brave than men.”

Despite the risks, women have stood at the forefront of Myanmar’s protest movement, sending a powerful rebuke to the generals who ousted a female civilian leader and reimposed a patriarchal order that has suppressed women for half a century.

By the hundreds of thousands, they have gathered for daily marches, representing striking unions of teachers, garment workers and medical workers — all sectors dominated by women. The youngest are often on the front lines, where the security forces appear to have singled them out. Two young women were shot in the head Wednesday and another near the heart, three bullets ending their lives.

Earlier this week, military television networks announced that the security forces were instructed not to use live ammunition, and that in self-defense they would only shoot at the lower body.

“We might lose some heroes in this revolution,” said Ma Sandar, an assistant general secretary of the Confederation of Trade Unions Myanmar, who has been taking part in the protests. “Our women’s blood is red.”

The violence on Wednesday, which brought the death toll since the coup to at least 54, reflected the brutality of a military accustomed to killing its most innocent people. At least three children have been gunned down over the past month, and the first death of the military’s post-coup crackdown was a 20-year-old woman shot in the head on Feb. 9.

The killings have appalled and outraged rights advocates around the world.

“Myanmar’s military must stop murdering and jailing protesters,” Michelle Bachelet, the top human rights official at the U.N., said Thursday. “It is utterly abhorrent that security forces are firing live ammunition against peaceful protesters across the country.”

In the weeks since the protests began, groups of female medical volunteers have patrolled the streets, tending to the wounded and dying. Women have added spine to a civil disobedience movement that is crippling the functioning of the state. And they have flouted gender stereotypes in a country where tradition holds that garments covering the lower half of the bodies of the two sexes should not be washed together, lest the female spirit act as a contaminant.

« Older Entries