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Scientists debate: Were fossil footprints left by extinct bear species or human ancestors?

Wed, 2021-12-01 20:06

This photo shows Anjali Prabhat and Jeremy DeSilva, associate professor of anthropology at Dartmouth, excavating Site A footprints at Laetoli, Tanzania. (Shirley Rubin/ Dartmouth College via AP) (RUBIN/)

WASHINGTON — Prehistoric footprints that have puzzled scientists since the 1970s are getting a second look: Were they left by extinct animals or by human ancestors?

When famed paleontologist Mary Leakey first uncovered the footprints in Tanzania 40 years ago, the evidence was ambiguous.

Leakey focused her attention instead on other fossil footprints that could be more clearly linked to early humans. Those footprints, found at a site called Laetoli G, are the first clear evidence of early humans walking upright.

Decades later, a new team re-excavated the confusing footprints, found at a site called Laetoli A, and made photos and 3-D scans available for other researchers to continue the debate.


Dr. Mary D. Leakey, of the National Geographic Society in Washington, Feb. 24, 1978 holds her hands near a picture of a footprint found at Laetolil, Tanzania. (AP Photo/File) (Cock/)

The research was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

“These footprints have been in the mystery category for 40 years,” said Rick Potts, who directs the Smithsonian Institution’s Human Origins Project.

“It’s a really exciting idea to re-exhume them and study them again,” added Potts, who was not involved in the research.

What’s long perplexed scientists is that those tracks — broad footprints with enlarged fifth toes and estimated to be around 3.7 million years old — don’t closely match anything scientists have elsewhere identified.

“They didn’t have the right weight and foot movement to be easily identified as human, so other explanations were sought,” including that they may belong to an extinct species of bears, said co-author and Dartmouth paleoanthropologist Jeremy DeSilva.

He and other researchers returned to the site in 2019 and used Leakey’s original maps to locate the enigmatic prints, preserved in a layer of volcanic ash that had cooled and hardened.

Co-author Ellison McNutt of Ohio University studied the foot mechanics of black bear cubs at a wildlife rescue center in New Hampshire to see whether a small bear walking on hind legs could leave similar footprints.

She held a tray of apple sauce to lure the cubs into walking toward her. Each footstep was recorded in a track of mud, to be analyzed.

Bears walking upright first put weight on the heels of their feet, like humans, she said. “But the foot proportions aren’t the same.” She concluded that the fossil footprints were not left by bears.


In this photo from video, Ellison McNutt collects data from a juvenile female black bear (Ursus americanus), who walks bipedally, unassisted through the mud trackway at Kilham Bear Center in Lyme, N.H. (Jeremy DeSilva/Dartmouth College via AP)

Other factors, such as the spacing of the footprints, led the study authors to conclude that that the footprints were left by a previously unknown species of a very early human ancestor.

Not everyone is convinced.

Smithsonian’s Potts said it’s a toss-up between an ancient bear or an ancient human, adding that an ancient bear may have walked differently than a modern black bear.

William Harcourt-Smith, a paleoanthropologist at the American Museum of Natural History who was not involved in the research, said he was convinced that it wasn’t a bear, but wasn’t certain it was an early human.

“These prints could still belong to some form of non-human ape,” he said.

If two different species were walking upright on the landscape at the same time, that suggests different simultaneous experiments in bipedalism — complicating the conventional view of human evolution as strictly linear.

“That’s really cool to think about,” said Harcourt-Smith.

Anchorage’s busiest COVID-19 testing site, at Loussac Library, closes with no notice as city switches contractor

Wed, 2021-12-01 19:17

Testing specialist Wendy Carrio swabs three-year-old Hope Dengel at the new Capstone Clinic COVID-19 drive-thru testing site at 4810 C Street on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

Anchorage’s busiest COVID-19 testing site, at the Loussac Library, closed abruptly Wednesday and was replaced at a new location operated by a different company on a nearby vacant lot by the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center.

The sudden shutdown came as municipal health officials announced changes in the way the municipality handles COVID-19 testing.

Longstanding testing contractor Visit Healthcare is being replaced by Capstone Family Medicine, a Wasilla-based company that operates medical clinics but also scores of COVID-19 testing sites around the state including at airports and in local communities.

“Capstone is now in charge of testing as it’s the more efficient and cost effective option,” Anchorage Health Department spokesman Robert McNeily said in an email Wednesday afternoon.

Testing remains free, municipal officials said.

“Testing is not going away,” Anchorage Health Department director Joe Gerace said during a meeting Wednesday, pointing out the city was adding a testing site in West Anchorage. “... There’s still no cost.”


Angel Libby shovels snow at the newly opened Capstone Clinic COVID-19 drive-thru testing site at 4810 C Street during the snowstorm on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

A primary reason for the switch is that Capstone will be able to bill health insurance for testing, something Visit Healthcare doesn’t do, according to Anchorage Assembly member Kameron Perez-Verdia, co-chair of the Health Policy Committee, who talked with Gerace after the meeting.

“Visit is not really set up to do the same kind of billing that Capstone is, and that’s the main issue,” Perez-Verdia said. “They want to move to an organization that can bill insurance.”

Free testing will still be provided to people without insurance, he said.

“You get tested regardless, but they would now also have the opportunity to bill for it,” Perez-Verdia said.

A spokesman for the mayor’s office confirmed free testing is still available and that the city switched providers in order to bill insurance.

Visit Healthcare learned Tuesday the Loussac site was closing the next day, according to Chris Koone, the company’s operations chief. Municipal officials told him traffic issues and a lack of funding factored into the decision, Koone said.


Vehicle exhaust rises as people wait at Visit Healthcare COVID-19 testing site at the Loussac Library during the cold snap on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

The Loussac site, which has administered 5,600 tests last month, was more than twice as busy as any other municipal testing site, he said.

It wasn’t immediately clear why the transition occurred so abruptly.

Capstone now “technically” runs seven testing sites in the city, according to McNeily. The company already operates state locations at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Four sites currently operated by Visit Healthcare are being “phased out” for five Capstone sites, he said: An Eagle River site that switched over last week; the new Loussac replacement at 4810 C Street; a popular Changepoint Church site; a Muldoon area testing site; and a new site at Alaska Park near the airport.

The sites will switch to Capstone’s hands by mid-December, McNeily said.

A Capstone representative did not respond to questions Wednesday.

The testing change was announced the same day the omicron variant of the coronavirus was first detected in the United States. There is no indication omicron has arrived in Alaska, where daily new case counts and hospitalizations are declining after surging through the fall to the point the state in early October enacted crisis standards of care to relieve pressure on overwhelmed hospitals.

[Impossible choices inside Alaska’s inundated hospitals]

Now two of three Anchorage hospitals — Providence Alaska Medical Center and Alaska Regional Hospital — are out of crisis mode.


Alaska Regional Hospital in Anchorage photographed on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)

In an interview Wednesday, McNeily, the city health department spokesman, said the municipality might consider reducing testing levels if COVID-19 transmission levels continue to drop. The reproduction rate of the virus is now below one, meaning each case infects fewer than one person.

That trend could change, he continued, “but the rate has continued to fall over the last several weeks. The AHD remains cautiously optimistic about the future because the local hospitals are out of crisis care standards.”

Generally, health experts say broad access to testing is important regardless of hospitalizations, which are delayed markers for the presence of the virus. Testing tracks the spread of the virus — especially with the potential for a new variant to start circulating — but also prompts early treatment that helps slow new cases that could eventually lead to hospitalizations.

Along with the municipal sites, free testing is also available at Walgreens Pharmacy locations in Anchorage.

Testing for people without symptoms is also available at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, though as of Wednesday that location was moved behind security, for ticketed passengers and badged employees only.

Gerace also announced Wednesday that the municipality is shifting from a city funding model to a federal one.

Municipal officials say they’d like to rein in the costs of the testing program. Under Visit, each test cost around $100. Testing is reimbursable by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but the city has to cover costs for up to a year, Gerace has said.

The city in October cited short funding as a reason to cut back free testing during an October COVID-19 surge. The assembly later approved a $2.65 million request from the Bronson administration that fully restored testing levels through November.

Anchorage assembly member Meg Zaletel, health policy committee vice-chair, said the health department announcement came as a surprise and she was still trying to get more information.

“I don’t know much yet. The (health department) description wasn’t very informative,” Zaletel said Wednesday morning. “They had previewed wanting to find a more cost effective model for treatment. I’m not familiar with what they’ve switched to, but the fact that they made a change to try to reduce costs is not surprising.”

It wasn’t immediately clear why the city switched testing in Midtown from the familiar, popular site at the Loussac Library to an empty lot on C Street.


Capstone Clinic opened a new COVID-19 drive-thru testing site at 4810 C Street on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

Corey Allen Young, spokesman for the mayor, said the decision to move the site was made between Capstone and the city and was for “better access.”

“At the Loussac there is kind of a log jam there. I’ve seen it every time I’ve pulled in for Assembly meetings,” Young said. The new site, next to the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center, provides “just a little bit more space,” he said.

Young did not comment as to why the site was moved without widespread public notice, and referred the Daily News to the health department.

The switch to a new location and vendor is “really disruptive,” Perez-Verdia said.

“That’s one of the problems ... this may be more efficient from their perspective. And certainly the opportunity to bill (insurance) I think is good,” he said. “But we need to be able to communicate this really well so people know what’s going on and why.”

At least one Anchorage resident took to Twitter to share her struggles with the testing transition Wednesday.

Q/

Some Alaska hospitals no longer under crisis standards as COVID-19 patient numbers decline

Wed, 2021-12-01 18:25

Alaska on Wednesday reported one death and 336 new cases of COVID-19 as hospitalizations continued to fall.

By Wednesday, there were 76 people hospitalized with the virus — well below a peak of more than 200 recorded earlier this fall. Of the people hospitalized statewide, roughly 7.8% had active COVID-19 cases.

Some Alaska hospitals — including the state’s largest, Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage — confirmed this week that as a result of more manageable patient counts, crisis standards of care were no longer active at their facilities.

Crisis standards were activated at the majority of hospitals around the state in early October in response to sharply rising hospitalizations and severe strain on essential resources like beds and staff.

Crisis standards are meant to provide both guidance and liability protection for health care workers operating with extremely scarce resources, and are often considered a worst-case scenario.

In Alaska, the application of crisis standards of care varied widely by each facility, and didn’t always mean the rationing of care. In many cases, activating crisis standards was seen as a pre-emptive measure.

Providence Alaska Medical Center stopped using crisis standards in mid-November, according to spokesman Mikal Canfield.

Crisis standards were not active at Alaska Regional Hospital in Anchorage, “nor are we rescheduling or postponing surgeries due to capacity or resource concerns any longer,” spokeswoman Kjerstin Lastufka said Tuesday.

At Alaska Native Medical Center, although crisis standards have not been needed in the past few weeks, the standards are officially still in place as a way to provide “future flexibility for staffing and equipment if necessary,” hospital spokeswoman Shirley Young said.

Crisis standards of care “are not being used right now,” said Jared Kosin, president and CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association. “I have not heard of any reports in the last few weeks that they’ve been necessary to use,” he said.

Even as cases and hospitalizations continue to fall, state health officials said this week that they are continuing to monitor for the omicron variant of the coronavirus that’s sparked concern worldwide due in part to its many mutations. The first U.S. case of the new variant has now been confirmed in California, but no omicron cases have been identified in Alaska so far, Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, said Wednesday.

The new variant was classified as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization late last week. Much about the new variant is unknown — it’s not clear how contagious it is, whether it causes more severe illness or how well it can evade vaccines.

“I would say that there’s more unknowns than there are knowns,” Zink said Wednesday. “The science is evolving, we’ll continue to follow it quickly.”

Zink and other health officials continue to stress the importance of getting vaccinated. All adults 18 and older who are either six months past their last dose of an MRNA vaccine or two months past a Johnson & Johnson shot should get the booster shot, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said.

As of Wednesday, about 61% of Alaskans 5 and older had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 55% were considered fully vaccinated. The state ranks 27th in the nation for its vaccination rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The newly reported death involved a man from the Southeast Fairbanks Census Area in his 60s. So far, 851 Alaska residents and 30 nonresidents have died with the virus since the start of the pandemic.

Starting Monday, state COVID-19 data will be updated three times a week — on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — instead of on each weekday, said the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

Hilcorp fined after a valve designed to prevent an oil spill at Prudhoe Bay was shut down

Wed, 2021-12-01 18:08

The sign for the Hilcorp Alaska offices at the JL Tower in Midtown Anchorage. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

The state agency that oversees oil production in Alaska issued a strongly worded penalty to the operator of the state’s largest oil field this week after a safety valve designed to prevent an oil spill at a Prudhoe Bay well was shut off.

An inspector with the Alaska Oil Gas Conservation Commission discovered the inoperable surface safety valve on Sept. 27, one week after the well in the western Prudhoe Bay area had returned to oil production, according to documents associated with the incident.

It’s unknown how long the valve had been shut off.

In its two-page order issued Tuesday, the agency fined Hilcorp Alaska $10,000 and said it has a “substantial history of noncompliance.” The agency said the company has provided inadequate details about the situation. It questioned whether the company’s corrective actions will be effective in preventing a similar incident in the future.

“While Hilcorp notes that it conducted an internal investigation, no details have been shared that would point to a root cause for the defeated critical well (safety valve system) and how long it was defeated before being discovered by an AOGCC inspector,” the order says.

A Hilcorp official said in an emailed statement Wednesday that it undertakes thousands of operations every year and safety and environmental protection are its top priorities.

“Upon learning of this specific incident, Hilcorp immediately began an investigation to determine a root cause,” said Luke Miller, Alaska government and public affairs manager. “We have implemented procedures in order to prevent this from happening in the future. We will continue to work closely with AOGCC to ensure compliant, safe and responsible operations.”

Commissioners could not comment on the matter, said Grace Salazar, a spokeswoman with the agency said.

Hilcorp, a privately owned company based in Houston, Texas known for its lean operations, has been credited for helping stabilize production at aging oil fields, including at Prudhoe Bay, where it took over as operator from BP last year in a $5.6 billion deal. But critics have said the company is prone to environmental accidents, like gas leaks in Cook Inlet in recent years.

The agency’s language about Hilcorp’s “substantial” noncompliance hearkens back to previous strongly worded commission orders against the company before its acquired the Prudhoe Bay oil fields. The incident is the first example of noncompliance recorded against Hilcorp by the agency this year, though it faced a batch of incidents last year, according to agency records.

[Congressional Democrats using Republicans’ strategy in budget bill to take back ANWR leases]

Company practices such as daily inspections should have caught the inoperable safety valve system, Hilcorp said in a one-page letter to the agency, signed by Stan Golis, an operations manager with Hilcorp Alaska.

An investigation found “a lack of attention” by two individuals, the day and night operators of the H Pad, the Nov. 2 letter said. The incident occurred at well H-24A.

The letter said disciplinary action was taken against both individuals, biennial safety valve system training is in place for pad operators, and the incident has been reviewed with Hilcorp’s operations team to raise awareness.

The order said Hilcorp did not request an informal review or hearing to address the alleged violations.

The incident is a “serious” one that should have been caught through normal procedures on the North Slope, said Mark Myers, a former Oil and Gas director for the state of Alaska and a former geologist with Arco Alaska when it operated on the North Slope in the late 1990s.

“This should be a wake-up call for Hilcorp,” he said.

The Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and Hilcorp should look closely at the company’s training, procedures and safety culture to prevent future problems, he said.

The safety valve system was shut off when a low-pressure detection device was “defeated,” according to the order. That prevented the automatic closure of the surface safety valve.

“Defeated” means the safety valve component was intentionally rendered inoperable when it should be operational, meaning it was not a mechanical failure, Salazar, the commission spokeswoman, said in an email.

Hilcorp said in its letter that an investigation found a switch associated with the safety valve system was in bypass mode, leading to the problem.

Hilcorp said the well was “offline” between Aug. 12, when well work was completed, and Sept. 20, when the well was placed into production.

In the order, the three-member commission questioned Hilcorp’s response and indicated Hilcorp had not provided the agency with enough information.

Hilcorp’s “claim that an internal investigation was performed is unsupported by any details, including a root cause analysis that identifies the cause for the defeated critical well (safety valve system),” the order says.

Commissioners Jessie Chmielowski and Dan Seamount signed the order. Chairman Jeremy Price is on personal leave this week, Salazar said.

The agency also “questions the effectiveness of Hilcorp’s reliance on disciplinary action against those involved with the (safety valve) maintenance as a means to prevent a recurrence of this violation, especially in light of corrective actions that Hilcorp claimed it would implement in response to previous (safety valve system) violations.”

“Further, Hilcorp has not adequately addressed AOGCC’s request for information about what has or will be done in the future to prevent its recurrence,” the agency said.

Hilcorp could have faced a larger fine after not responding to an initial notice from the agency in early October. But the agency waived the daily, $2,000 fee after Hilcorp said that it had not received the initial notice.

U.S. is top contributor to plastic waste, report shows

Wed, 2021-12-01 18:06

The United States ranks as the world’s leading contributor of plastic waste and needs a national strategy to combat the issue, according to a congressionally mandated report released Tuesday.

“The developing plastic waste crisis has been building for decades,” the National Academy of Sciences study said, noting the world’s current predicament stems from years of technological advances. “The success of the 20th century miracle invention of plastics has also produced a global scale deluge of plastic waste seemingly everywhere we look.”

The United States contributes more to this deluge than any other nation, according to the analysis, generating about 287 pounds of plastics per person. Overall, the United States produced 42 million metric tons of plastic waste in 2016 - almost twice as much as China, and more than the entire European Union combined.

“The volume is astounding,” said Monterey Bay Aquarium’s chief conservation and science officer, Margaret Spring, who chaired the NAS committee, in an interview.

The vast majority of plastics are made from fossil fuels, and some can take hundreds of years to decompose.

[1 million pounds and counting: Recycling fishing nets and lines takes off in Alaska coastal communities]

The researchers estimated that between 1.13 million to 2.24 million metric tons of the United States’ plastic waste leak into the environment each year. About 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in the ocean a year, and under the current trajectory that number could climb to 53 million by the end of the decade.

That amount of waste would be the equivalent to “roughly half of the total weight of fish caught from the ocean annually,” the report said.

Congress last year ordered the National Academy of Sciences study, which drew on expertise from American and Canadian institutions, when it passed Save Our Seas 2.0 in an effort to address plastic waste.

“This report is a sobering reminder of the scale of this problem,” the legislation’s co-author, Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said in a statement. “The research and findings compiled here by our best scientists will serve as a springboard to our future legislative efforts to tackle this entirely solvable environmental challenge and better protect our marine ecosystems, fisheries, and coastal economies.”

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), the law’s primary Democratic sponsor, said, “I look forward to working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to keep making progress cleaning up this harmful mess.”

Christy Leavitt, plastics campaign director for advocacy group Oceana, said in a statement that the findings show the extent of U.S. responsibility for a global problem.

“We can no longer ignore the United States’ role in the plastic pollution crisis, one of the biggest environmental threats facing our oceans and our planet today,” she said. “The finger-pointing stops now.”

Spring said that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency would be best positioned to develop a national strategy to curb plastic waste.

“There’s more activity and testing of solutions at the state level as compared with other countries that are taking it at a national level,” she said. “Plastics and microplastics are ubiquitous in inland states too,” Spring said, referring to rivers, lakes and other waterways.

The EPA recently released a national recycling strategy, which some critics faulted for not taking aim at the current level of plastics production. Today’s recycling system, scientists found in the new report, is “grossly insufficient to manage the diversity, complexity, and quantity of plastic waste in the United States.”

“A lot of U.S. focus to date has been on the cleaning it up part,” said Spring. “There needs to be more attention to the creation of plastic.”

The American Chemistry Council, a trade association, endorsed the idea of a national approach but said it opposed efforts to curtail the use of plastics in society.

“Plastic is a valuable resource that should be kept in our economy and out of our environment,” said the group’s vice president of plastics, Joshua Baca, in a statement. “Unfortunately, the report also suggests restricting plastic production to reduce marine debris. This is misguided and would lead to supply chain disruptions.”

The bipartisan oceans bill enacted last year also calls for a number of other analyses to be completed by the end of 2022, on topics ranging from the impacts of microfibers to derelict fishing gear.

“You can’t just focus on one thing,” Spring said. “This really all has to be done with the end in mind, which is what is going to happen to this stuff when you’re finished with it.”

HIV/AIDS strategy in United States must confront inequity, President Biden says

Wed, 2021-12-01 17:47

The North Portico of the White House is adorned with a huge red ribbon to commemorate the annual World AIDS Day, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, in Washington. The Biden administration in its new HIV/AIDS strategy is calling racism "a public health threat" that must be fully recognized as the world looks to end the epidemic. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) (Manuel Balce Ceneta/)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Wednesday unveiled his new HIV/AIDS strategy to end the more than 40-year-old epidemic, calling for a renewed focus on vulnerable Americans — including gay and bisexual Black and Latino men, who his administration says are too often stigmatized even as they are disproportionately affected.

The new strategy, which declares racism a “public health threat,” was released on the annual commemoration of World AIDS Day. It is meant to serve as a framework for how the administration shapes its policies, research, programs and planning over the next three years.

But Biden acknowledged that the country still needs to work to destigmatize HIV/AIDS and noted that LGBT and racial minority groups have “endured the brunt” of the epidemic that’s killed more than 36 million worldwide, including 700,000 Americans.

“I want to make sure that everyone in the United States knows their HIV status, and everyone with HIV receives high-quality care and treatment that they deserve and that we end the harmful stigma around HIV and AIDS,” Biden said.

The new strategy asserts that over generations “structural inequities have resulted in racial and ethnic health disparities that are severe, far-reaching, and unacceptable.”

Today’s HIV treatments not only can give people with the AIDS virus a near-normal life expectancy, they can make those patients less likely to infect other people. There are also medications that can help protect healthy people who are at risk from their infected sexual partners, a strategy known as “pre-exposure prophylaxis” or PreP.

New HIV infections in the U.S. fell about 8% from 2015 to 2019. But Black and Latino communities — particularly gay and bisexual men within those groups — continue to be disproportionately affected, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

African Americans make up about 13% of the U.S. population but accounted for more than 40% of new infections. The Latino population accounted for nearly 25% of new infections but makes up about 18.5% of the U.S. population.

Historically, gay and bisexual men have been the most disproportionately affected group. They account for about 66% of new HIV infections, even though they are only 2% of the population, according to the CDC. In 2019, 26% of new HIV infections were among Black gay and bisexual men, 23% among Latino gay and bisexual men, and 45% among gay and bisexual men under the age of 35.

Disparities also persist among women. Black women’s HIV infection rate is 11 times that of white women and four times that of Latina women.

To reduce the disparities, the strategy includes calls for focusing on the needs of disproportionately affected populations, supporting racial justice, combating HIV-related stigma and discrimination and providing leadership and employment opportunities for people with or at risk for HIV.

Besides addressing racism’s impact on Americans battling the virus or at risk of contracting it, the new strategy also puts greater emphasis on harm reduction and syringe service programs, encourages reform of state laws that criminalize behavior of people with HIV for potentially exposing others and adds focus on the needs of the growing population of people with HIV who are aging.

Biden expressed disbelief that some states have laws on the book that criminalize spitting in public by HIV-positive people even though it has long been proven that the virus can’t be transmitted through saliva. Thirty-five states have laws that criminalize various forms of HIV exposure, according to the CDC

“We have to follow science and that means eliminating laws that perpetuate discrimination, exacerbate disparities, discourage HIV testing and take us further away from our goal,” Biden said.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, health officials were celebrating how new medicines and other developments had gradually tamed HIV, prompting then-President Donald Trump to announce in 2019 a campaign to “eliminate” the AIDS epidemic in the U.S. by 2030.

But researchers have expressed concerns that COVID-19 may have halted progress in the battle against HIV, with limited data collected by the CDC suggesting there was a large drop-off in HIV testing and other related services in early months of the pandemic.

The CDC looked at data from a lab that handles about a quarter of the nation’s HIV tests, comparing the numbers from March 13 through Sept. 30 last year with the same period the year before. The agency found there were 670,000 fewer HIV screening tests and about 4,900 fewer HIV diagnoses than normal. There also was a 21% national decline in prescriptions for PrEP.

The Biden administration recently announced it will host the Global Fund to Fight AIDS replenishment conference next year. The United States has contributed about $17 billion to the fund, about a third of all donor contributions.

A giant red ribbon, a symbol of support for people living with HIV, was displayed on the North Portico of the White House to mark World AIDS Day. The two-story ribbon display has become an annual tradition at the White House since 2007.

Trump received praise from some public officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases expert, when he set the 2030 goal to eliminate the AIDS epidemic.

But as Biden marked his first World AIDS Day as president, he noted that his administration reestablished the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, an office that was eliminated during Trump’s tenure. Trump also faced criticism during his time in office from some AIDS activists who said he did too little to address racism and the stigma faced by some most at risk of contracting HIV.

Biden praised former President George W. Bush, a Republican, for launching in 2003 the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, a global health initiative that is credited with saving more than 20 million lives.

He added that Bush’s push for PEPFAR was “undeniable proof of the good that American leadership and innovation can achieve in the world when we commit to it.”

DNA matches remains found on Fire Island in 1989 to Alaskan last seen alive 10 years earlier

Wed, 2021-12-01 17:37

Michael Allison Beavers in 1978. Alaska officials say human remains found on Fire Island on July 24, 1989, belonged to Beavers, who was last seen alive in 1979. Evidence found on the remains indicated his death was criminal, officials said. (Photo courtesy Alaska Department of Public Safety)

The remains of a man found on Fire Island just west of Anchorage in 1989 have been identified through DNA and genome sequencing, Alaska State Troopers said Wednesday.

Troopers said the victim was Michael Allison Beavers, who owned an excavation business in Chugiak. He was reported missing in 1980.

The decadeslong investigation started when human remains were discovered July 24, 1989. An autopsy concluded it was a Caucasian male between the ages of 35 and 50, and evidence found on the remains indicated the death was criminal, troopers said. Officials said it appeared the remains had been on the beach for at least a year, but the date of death couldn’t be determined.

A DNA profile entered into the national missing persons database in 2003 came back with no match.

Earlier this year, the Alaska Bureau of Investigation Cold Case Investigation Unit reopened the case. Bone samples retained in the case were sent to a private lab, where DNA was extracted and genome sequencing was used to create a comprehensive DNA profile.

That was uploaded to a genealogy database and linked to other people, including some with ties to Alaska. Later, a DNA sample taken from a close relative confirmed Beavers’ identity.

[DNA match helps cold case investigators identify Alaska serial killer’s victim after 37 years]

Beavers’ spouse reported him missing two months after he was last seen alive, in November 1979.

Beavers, 40, left his home in Chugiak to travel to Seattle by car to contact a business associate. He never arrived, troopers said.

The investigation into his disappearance stalled and closed in 1982. Ten years later, he was declared dead.

Troopers say the investigation into his death continues, and anyone with information about his disappearance and death should call the Alaska Bureau of Investigation’s Cold Case Investigation Unit at 907-375-7728 or the main bureau number at 907-269-5611.

In October, troopers were able to use the same method to identify Robin Pelkey, who was killed in the early 1980s and was one of the unidentified victims of Alaska serial killer Robert Hansen.

Hansen abducted women, many of them sex workers, off the streets of Anchorage and hunted them in the wilderness north of the city. In total, 12 bodies have been found, and 11 of those have been identified, troopers spokesperson Austin McDaniel told The Associated Press in October.

The only person not yet identified is known only as Eklutna Annie, who is believed to have been Hansen’s first victim, McDaniel said. Her body was found near Eklutna Lake north of Anchorage.

Genetic genealogy efforts are underway in hopes of identifying her, Randy McPherron, an Alaska State Troopers cold case investigator, said in October.

Jan. 6 panel votes to hold former DOJ official in contempt

Wed, 2021-12-01 16:48

House Jan. 6 Select Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., center, flanked by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., left, and Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., meet to vote on pursuing contempt charges against Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department lawyer who aligned with former President Donald Trump as Trump tried to overturn his election defeat, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (J. Scott Applewhite/)

WASHINGTON — The House panel investigating the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection voted Wednesday to pursue contempt charges against Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official who refused to answer the committee’s questions, even as the committee has agreed to let him come back for another try.

The committee voted 9-0 to pursue criminal charges against Clark, who aligned with Donald Trump as the then-president tried to overturn his election defeat.

The Democratic chairman of the Jan. 6 panel, Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, said it had received a last-minute notification from Clark’s lawyer that he wants to instead invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Thompson said the lawyer had offered “no specific basis for that assertion” and “no facts that would allow the committee to consider it,” but the committee will give him a second chance at a deposition scheduled for Saturday.

“This is, in my view, a last-ditch attempt to delay the Select Committee’s proceedings,” Thompson said. “However, a Fifth Amendment privilege assertion is a weighty one. Even though Mr. Clark previously had the opportunity to make these claims on the record, the Select Committee will provide him another chance to do so.”

Thompson said the committee still proceeded with the contempt vote “as this is just the first step of the contempt process.”

Clark appeared for a deposition last month but refused to answer any questions, citing Trump’s legal efforts to block the committee’s investigation.

The recommendation of criminal contempt charges against Clark will now go to the full House for a vote, though it is unclear if that will be delayed. If the House votes to hold Clark in contempt, the Justice Department will then decide whether to prosecute.

In a transcript of Clark’s aborted Nov. 5 interview released by the panel Tuesday, staff and members of the committee attempted to persuade the former Justice Department official to answer questions about his role as Trump pushed the department to investigate his false allegations of widespread fraud in the election. Clark had become an ally of the former president as other Justice officials pushed back on the baseless claims.

But Clark’s attorney, Harry MacDougald, said during the interview that Clark was protected not only by Trump’s assertions of executive privilege but also several other privileges MacDougald claimed Clark should be afforded. The committee rejected those arguments, and MacDougald and Clark walked out of the interview after around 90 minutes.

According to a report earlier this year by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which interviewed several of Clark’s colleagues, Trump’s pressure culminated in a dramatic White House meeting at which the president ruminated about elevating Clark to attorney general. He did not do so after several aides threatened to resign.

Despite Trump’s false claims about a stolen election — the primary motivation for the violent mob that broke into the Capitol and interrupted the certification of Biden’s victory — the results were confirmed by state officials and upheld by the courts. Trump’s own attorney general, William Barr, said in December 2020 that the Justice Department found no evidence of widespread fraud that could have changed the results.

Thompson wrote in Clark’s subpoena that the committee’s probe “has revealed credible evidence that you attempted to involve the Department of Justice in efforts to interrupt the peaceful transfer of power” and his efforts “risked involving the Department of Justice in actions that lacked evidentiary foundation and threatened to subvert the rule of law.”

Wednesday’s committee vote came as Trump’s top White House aide at the time, chief of staff Mark Meadows, has agreed to cooperate with the panel on a limited basis after more than two months of negotiations. Meadows has provided some documents and is expected to sit for a deposition as soon as next week, though his lawyer has indicated he will decline to answer specific questions about his conversations with the president.

A lawyer for Meadows, George Terwilliger, said Tuesday that he was working with the committee and its staff on an accommodation that would not require Meadows to waive the executive privileges claimed by Trump or “forfeit the long-standing position that senior White House aides cannot be compelled to testify before Congress.”

Terwilliger said in a statement that “we appreciate the Select Committee’s openness to receiving voluntary responses on non-privileged topics.” He had previously said that Meadows wouldn’t comply with the panel’s September subpoena because of Trump’s privilege claims.

Thompson said Meadows has provided documents to the panel and will soon be interviewed, but the committee “will continue to assess his degree of compliance.”

Still, Meadows’ intention to work with the panel is a victory for the seven Democrats and two Republicans on the panel, especially as they seek interviews with lower-profile witnesses who may have important information to share. The committee has so far subpoenaed more than 40 witnesses and interviewed more than 150 people behind closed doors.

We need to do what it takes to beat COVID-19

Wed, 2021-12-01 16:17

Downtown Anchorage, photographed on Sunday, March 14, 2021. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

Looking at the statistics on COVID-19 for Anchorage, most residents have been incredibly fortunate. So far, most of us have not experienced the loss of a loved one or friend. Nonetheless, every one of us has suffered the impacts of COVID-19, as it continues to infiltrate every aspect of our daily lives. We are all dealing with the onslaught of COVID in one way or another, and it’s awful. The quality of life here has deteriorated significantly, as Anchorage struggles to maintain basic services and functions.

Our overwhelmed hospitals adopted “crisis standards of care” months ago, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Recently, in just a two-week period, these were Anchorage residents’ experiences:

A woman had respiratory symptoms typical of a sinus infection, but first, the doctor had to rule out COVID. Rapid response tests were out of stock all over town; she could only get a drive-through test and wait for results. Two days later, her test showed negative for COVID. However, it was a Friday afternoon and too late to be seen at the doctor’s office, which recommended she go to a walk-in clinic. The first clinic’s doors were locked with shades drawn; it required an appointment. Their hold time was 55 minutes, with no appointments available until the following day. The second clinic’s lobby was full of patients trying to social distance. Wait time to see the doctor was two hours, which would have to be done sitting in her car. A third clinic required that patients stay in their cars and call the front desk. Given her symptoms, the woman was not allowed inside, so a nurse (wearing full protective equipment) came out to the car to administer a second COVID test, flu and throat cultures. Eventually, the woman was diagnosed and treated for a sinus infection, all without a physical exam.

An employer received a text from his office manager; the office would be short-staffed the following day. Her child was home from elementary school, due to a case of COVID in his class.

Another young mother had to abruptly rearrange her schedule. Her preschooler had been sent home again, the third time this semester that COVID had been detected in the preschool.

When vaccines first became available, Alaska’s state and local health departments responded immediately, setting up vaccination clinics in every community. This extraordinary effort was hugely successful and Alaska made headlines in those early months, as it became a national leader in vaccination numbers per capita. However, during the last half of 2021, everything changed and the headlines on Alaska have become the tragic opposite. Our seven-day COVID-19 case rate was one of the highest in the nation for many weeks, with September and October being our deadliest months so far. At the same time, our vaccination rate has stalled out.

What caused this devastating reversal? The national effort required the support and endorsement of local governments, and our local government has let us down. Gov. Mike Dunleavy repeatedly refused the urgent appeals of public health officials to declare a state of emergency and order public health mitigation measures. He has failed to assume a leadership role in the battle against the virus, punting responsibility to local officials instead.

Anchorage has suffered particularly, with Mayor Dave Bronson elected by a slim margin in a runoff election six months ago. He ran on a platform opposing any kind of public health measures that could stop the spread of the virus. As COVID-19 gained its stranglehold on our town, he launched a political crusade to defy medical science, Anchorage public health officials, doctors and the Anchorage Assembly. Essentially, he’s fighting everyone and everything except the virus. Mayor Bronson and his unruly allies have turned Assembly meetings into the ugliest, most disturbing spectacles our town has ever seen. This is what Anchorage has come to.

Since early 2020, all local medical facilities, clinics and offices have required masks and a short COVID screening for admittance. This consisted of a few questions from medical personnel about symptoms, recent travel, contacts and a temperature check. Notably, a recent visit to Providence Alaska Medical Center involved heightened screening that takes much longer. Security guards do the screening now, and their first question is, “Are you carrying a weapon today?” Patients state their reason for entering and then have to pass through a metal detector to be admitted. This is what Anchorage has come to.

Mayor Bronson recently appeared as a guest at the “Alaska Early Treatment Medical Summit.” He took the stage to cheers and applause, vowing to continue to fight against public health measures targeting the virus.

Many of the seminar’s speakers have been repudiated in their home states, and the Alaska State Medical Board is currently reviewing complaints on two local doctors who spoke. Events of this kind nationwide have been severely criticized for pitching claims based on anecdote and hearsay, claims contrary to the overwhelming consensus of scientific research worldwide. They’re repudiated because they operate with an irresponsible disregard for the common good. They target the frightened people who are already sick with COVID and those who think they might be the lucky ones to avoid it. The travesty of this seminar and every one like it is that their presentations ignore or outright reject the only therapeutic that can both keep people out of the hospital and stamp out the virus: the vaccine.

During the oil boom of the 1980s, it was common to see this bumper sticker on cars all over town: “We don’t give a damn how they do it Outside.” Alaskans have always taken great pride in their ability to meet the challenges of living here. They are known for their independence and toughness. And Alaskans share a strong belief in community, as they’ve learned that the only way to survive Alaska’s extremes is through interconnectedness.

In this moment, we have to look around and ask ourselves the serious questions. How long can we continue providing safe harbor for the virus, as it spreads and mutates all over town? How long do we continue listening to the hucksters and charlatans, who have no plan to stop the virus? At what point do we turn away from the politicians who have hijacked a public health crisis for their own political purposes and instead listen to our medical experts? COVID-19 is a direct threat to every Alaskan and the life we hold dear.

It’s time to do what generations of Alaskans have always done when facing adversity. It’s time to rely on common sense and put our trust in our fellow Alaskans, the medical professionals. It’s time to assume the responsibilities of living in a community, follow their guidance and do whatever it takes to defeat the deadly virus. Anchorage simply cannot continue like this indefinitely; it’s time to vaccinate and wear a mask.

Joan Burnett first came to Alaska in 1971. She is the mother of two and grandmother of four Alaskans.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

2 Alaska-based soldiers found dead in their vehicles over holiday weekend

Wed, 2021-12-01 16:12

Two soldiers were found dead in their vehicles in separate incidents in Alaska over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, the Army said in statements this week.

Spc. Isaiah Nicholas Oneal, 22, was discovered dead in Fairbanks on Friday. The body of Sgt. Miles Jordan Tarron, 30, was found in Anchorage on Sunday.

Foul play is not suspected in either death, the Army said Tuesday. No details on the circumstances of the deaths were released.

Oneal’s death is being investigated by the Alaska State Troopers and the Army Criminal Investigation Division.

The Anchorage Police Department and Army CID are investigating Tarron’s death.

Tarron, from Indianola, Oklahoma, was a specialist in chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons with the 6th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, the Army said.

He joined the Army in October 2016 and trained at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina, before reporting to Alaska in March.

He was “a disciplined paratrooper” and “a dedicated husband, father and friend,” Lt. Col. Justin Pritchard, commander of the 6th Brigade Engineer Battalion, said in a statement.

Tarron deployed to Afghanistan from September 2017 to March 2018 and to Kuwait from January to May 2020 while stationed at Fort Bragg.

His awards and decorations include the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, the Parachutist Badge and the Combat Action Badge.

Oneal, from Tyner, North Carolina, was an Army wheeled-vehicle mechanic with the 25th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, at Fort Wainwright, the Army said.

He joined the Army in November 2017, trained at Fort Bragg and reported to Alaska in May.

“Isaiah was a dedicated soldier and we continue to grieve, while also cherishing the memories had with him,” Lt. Col. William Bennett, commander of the 25th Brigade Support Battalion, said in a statement. “We ask that all Arctic Wolves to check on their fellow soldiers and families and to look out and take care of each other during the holidays.”

Oneal’s awards and decorations include the Army Commendation Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and the Army Service Ribbon.

The deaths closely follow that of another Fort Wainwright-based soldier, Sgt. Christian Joseph D’Andrea, 22, who was found dead in his off-post home in Fairbanks on Nov. 12.

Stacey Abrams launches 2nd campaign for Georgia governor

Wed, 2021-12-01 15:49

FILE - In this Monday, Nov. 2, 2020, file photo, Stacey Abrams speaks to Biden supporters as they wait for former President Barack Obama to arrive and speak at a campaign rally for Biden at Turner Field in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File) (Brynn Anderson/)

ATLANTA — Stacey Abrams, the Georgia Democrat and leading voting rights activist, said Wednesday that she will launch another campaign to become the nation’s first Black woman governor.

Without serious competition in a Democratic primary, the announcement could set up a rematch between Abrams and incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Kemp. Their 2018 contest was one of the most narrowly decided races for governor that year and was dominated by allegations of voter suppression, which Kemp denied.

Yet Abrams’ strong showing convinced national Democrats that Georgia should no longer be written off as a GOP stronghold. Her performance and subsequent organization convinced Joe Biden to invest heavily in the state in 2020, and he became the first Democratic presidential candidate to capture it since 1992. The party later won a narrow Senate majority after victories in two special elections in the state.

The 2022 governor’s race will test whether those gains were a one-time phenomenon driven by discomfort with then-President Donald Trump or marked the beginning of a more consequential political shift in a rapidly growing and diversifying South. The Democratic loss in the Virginia governor’s election could raise questions about whether Abrams’ straightforwardly liberal approach can be effective in a national environment currently trending against the Democrats.

In a video announcing her candidacy, Abrams said “opportunity and success in Georgia shouldn’t be determined by background or access to power.”

Abrams said she would provide “leadership that knows how to do the job, leadership that doesn’t take credit without also taking responsibility, leadership that understands the true pain that folks are feeling and has real plans. That’s the job of governor, to fight for one Georgia, our Georgia.”

Kemp said in a statement that Abrams was a on a “never-ending campaign for power” in an attempt to become president, linking her to what he said was the “failed Biden agenda.”

“Her far-left agenda of open borders, gun confiscation, high taxes, and anti-law enforcement policies don’t reflect who we are as Georgians,” Kemp said.

In a state where Democrats often sought — and failed — to win power by relying on Black voters and appealing to older white moderates, Abrams ran in 2018 as an unapologetic progressive. The 47-year-old Abrams embraced expanding Medicaid access, something a series of Republican governors have refused to do, and supported abortion rights.

Georgia remains narrowly divided, and voters often reject the president’s party during the first election of their presidency. But in abandoning nods at centrism, Abrams insists Democrats can attract new voters, including recent transplants to the booming Atlanta area, Black voters who hadn’t participated in previous elections and younger, more liberal white voters.

Although Kemp defeated her by 1.4 percentage points, Abrams won 778,000 more votes than the previous Democrat to run for governor.

Abrams was defiant in the face of the 2018 loss, acknowledging Kemp as the victor but refusing to concede the race, citing “gross mismanagement” in his role as secretary of state overseeing the election. She accused Kemp of using his office to aggressively purge the rolls of inactive voters, enforce an “exact match” policy for checking voters’ identities that left thousands of registrations in limbo and pass other measures to tilt the outcome in his favor.

Kemp has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

After the election, Abrams started Fair Fight, an organizing group that has raised more than $100 million and built a statewide political operation that registered hundreds of thousands of new voters in Georgia. The state saw record-breaking turnout in the 2020 presidential race and January Senate runoff elections.

Now, Abrams and Kemp look like they may face a rematch in a new political climate. For one, Kemp faces opposition from Trump and his most loyal GOP supporters for not supporting the former president’s baseless argument that he was cheated out of reelection through massive voter fraud, including in Georgia. Election officials conducted three recounts in the state, each of which affirmed Biden’s victory.

Trump, who campaigned for Kemp in 2018, is now one of the governor’s most vocal critics. The former president held a rally in the state in September, pointedly inviting former U.S. Sen. David Perdue to run against Kemp and sarcastically suggesting to the crowd that he would prefer Abrams to the incumbent governor.

Since then, Perdue has privately consulted with leading Republicans about a possible bid and suggested in a radio interview last month that “a lot of people feel like that people in power ... caved in to a lot of things back in 2020 that didn’t have to be done,” a reference to Kemp’s refusal to overturn Biden’s Georgia victory.

Kemp’s disavowal of problems in Georgia’s election results did not stop him from pushing through restrictive changes to voting laws in response to Trump’s 2020 national defeat. Many Democrats are worried that Georgia’s new law, which gives the GOP-controlled legislature more control over elections officials, will reverse Abrams’ years of fighting voter suppression. Still other Democrats hope the new voting law will invigorate supporters and make them even more determined to go to the polls.

Abrams has used voting concerns to mobilize Democrats, telling The Associated Press in April that “Republicans are gaming the system because they’re afraid of losing an election.”

Republicans, meanwhile, have tried to gain an upper hand by using the prospect of an Abrams candidacy to galvanize its voters. Earlier this year, Kemp allies preemptively formed a group called Stop Stacey, aimed specifically at stopping her from winning the governorship in 2022.

Abrams faces vulnerabilities on several fronts. Her national stature could raise questions that she’s more interested in eventually seeking higher office than in running the state. Republicans tried to blame her for Major League Baseball’s decision to pull the All-Star Game out of Atlanta last year over backlash to the restrictive new voting law, though Abrams repeatedly discouraged boycotts.

Moving forward, she is part of a growing contingent of Black women seeking statewide office.

Deirdre DeJear has announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination for governor in Iowa. In Florida, Democratic Rep. Val Demings is running for Senate. In North Carolina, former state Sen. Erica Smith and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley are competing in the Democratic primary for Senate.

And in Virginia, Winsome Sears was elected lieutenant governor as a Republican.

But none has the national stature of Abrams.

Since 2018, Abrams was named to Time magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people. She was featured in Vogue and interviewed on a podcast by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. She wrote two books, including a legal thriller. She conducted a 12-city speaking tour. She considered a run for president in 2020 before eventually deciding against it. When Biden became the nominee, she openly lobbied to be his running mate, a position that ultimately went to Kamala Harris.

How bad is the supply chain shortage, really?

Wed, 2021-12-01 15:47

A customer browses items for sale at the Anchorage re:MADE store, an upcycling thrift store, on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2016. (Loren Holmes / ADN archive 2016) (Loren Holmes/)

We’re hearing a lot lately about the supply chain breakdown. Merchandise is hard to come by; some items will take months to arrive at stores. For those in the retail business, this is tough. While I am not unsympathetic to the small outlets, I have a hard time shedding tears over the presumed losses mega-stores will suffer. I know, I know. Those stores employ people, and help keep the economy going. Lord knows we need jobs, and consumers, and more jobs, and consumers, etc.

Herein lies the problem. We are accustomed to a society that accepts an endless cycle of buying. Something is wrong with this picture. I happen to be in the midst of cleaning out my in-laws’ house — an immense task, given their 60-plus years’ accumulation of things. They were/are wonderful people, and it’s also fair to say they were good American consumers. I’m sure I’m not alone. How many descendants of the deceased or soon-to-be deceased are faced with this reality: What in the hell do I do with all this stuff?

Some call in a charity and ask them to pick it up. Everything goes away in a big van. The service is free and we can believe it went to a good cause. We make no money, but it’s out of sight and out of mind. We can get on with our lives.

Or we sell the big items and call in the van for the rest.

Or we piecemeal it. Once family and friends have had the opportunity to take what they want, we knuckle down. Maybe there is an initial yard sale, and after that, we go item by item. Bit by bit, photo by photo, post by post, we sell things off. Everything is scrutinized. We ask ourselves: Is this worth advertising? If not, it will be relegated to a thrift store.

Those who visit thrift stores or online sites for used goods are well aware how much merchandise is out there. They know which items are rare and which are in such surplus that an asking price of $10 is questionable. Make no mistake: The sheer number of goods in our world today is so overwhelming, so beyond the pale, that a 2080 archeologist might look back and say, “Really? Why was so much being manufactured at this time in history? At what cost to the environment?” Because everything manufactured is ultimately drawn from the earth’s resources. Too many basements, closets and attics are overflowing.

I’m a minimalist by some people’s standards. I try to do mostly with necessities. But I’ll never be a match for my mother, who owned one paring knife. And I’m no Gandhi — I want more than a single bowl and spoon. At the same time, it’s worth considering what our tolerances are. Do we want a house packed so full of things that we know longer know what we even own? Is it worth paying for a storage unit for items we may never again lay eyes on? What is the purpose of over-accumulation? Does it enhance or diminish our lives?

So when you hear about supply chain shortages, consider used goods. Chances are, whatever it is you are looking for is being sold at a reasonable price. Many things out there are in great condition, and some have never been opened.

Right now, I’d like to pull out the vintage Monopoly game I have listed for sale and challenge my husband. It would be fun to see who ends up with the most property, whether I will nail Boardwalk and Park Place or how many hotels he’ll put on the Pennsylvania Avenue block. It will be solely for amusement, and when we’re done with the game, we can store it all in a single, 10-inch by 20-inch box.

Anne Coray is a writer; her debut novel, “Lost Mountain,” was published in March 2021. She divides her time between Homer and her birthplace on Lake Clark.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Lights return to Anchorage’s holiday star after avalanche damages bulbs

Wed, 2021-12-01 14:45

A worker stands in the snow near the top of the JBER Star on Mount Gordon Lyon near Arctic Valley while making repairs on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

The Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson holiday star is lit up once more after an avalanche buried and damaged a portion of the star this year, causing crews to puzzle over fixes for days.

The 300-foot star that sits on the Chugach mountainside east of Anchorage is traditionally lit the day after Thanksgiving, but this may mark the first year in its more than 60-year history that crews were unable to fully light the star on time, said Erin Eaton, a spokeswoman for the base.

A five-man crew from the 773rd Civil Engineer Squadron Electrical Shop headed to the star Friday. The star sits about 4,000 feet up on Mount Gordon Lyon by Arctic Valley Ski Area, and Eaton said crews travel by truck and then tracked vehicles to reach the steep location at this time of year.

When the crew reached the star Friday, they found that only about half of the 350 lights worked. They spent the day troubleshooting and returned again Monday to try to identify and fix the problem to no avail, Eaton said.

The star had functioned properly when it was lit on Sept. 11, Eaton said, but an avalanche occurred sometime between then and Friday, burying a portion of the lights under snow and ripping some of the stakes from the ground.


The Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson star is Illuminated on the side of Mount Gordon Lyon on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019, just east of Anchorage. (Bill Roth / ADN archive) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

The crew unburied about a 15-foot section of lights from the snow on Tuesday and made repairs, Eaton said. A portion of the star remained buried even when crews left, she said. They can only work during daylight hours, and conditions on the mountainside were challenging this week due to single-digit temperatures and limited visibility Tuesday as fresh snow fell.

“They’re going to see how it functions tonight, hoping that everything is visible, and then determine whether or not they need to do any additional fixes to see what else they can do at this point,” she said Tuesday evening. “But the one portion where the posts are completely damaged, those require being cemented in.”

On Wednesday afternoon, JBER posted a photo of the illuminated star on Facebook, saying airmen had repaired it.

More repairs will be made to the star during the summer, Eaton said.

Loyalty to family, instead of role as CNN journalist, puts Chris Cuomo at risk

Wed, 2021-12-01 10:58

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, left, and and his brother CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, right. (Mike Groll/Office of Governor of Andrew M. Cuomo via AP, left, and Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

NEW YORK — There’s family, and your job as a journalist. Chris Cuomo’s willingness to put the latter at risk in service to his brother has led to his suspension by CNN.

The network took him off the air Tuesday, saying that material released by New York’s attorney general shows that he played a greater role than previously acknowledged in defense of his brother, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, as he fought sexual harassment charges.

Transcripts of emails and Chris Cuomo’s testimony before state investigators revealed that he strategized regularly with the governor’s aides and tried to help them learn what other journalists were reporting about harassment allegations.

CNN said that he was more involved than its executives — not just the general public — had been aware of.

“As a result, we have suspended Chris indefinitely, pending further evaluation,” a CNN spokesperson said.

Cuomo, on his SiriusXM show Wednesday, said it “hurts to even say” he’s been suspended.

“It’s embarrassing,” he said, “but I understand it. And I understand why some people feel the way they do about what I did. I’ve apologized in the past. I mean it. It’s the last thing I ever wanted to do was compromise any of my colleagues. And do anything but help.”

The Cuomos are part of a New York political dynasty that began with their father, Mario, serving three terms as governor from 1982 to 1996. Andrew was in his third term before resigning this year, and he burned to beat his dad’s record.

Andrew was his father’s most trusted aide and protector during Mario’s first campaign and early years as governor, an example of loyalty that Chris grew up watching even though, at 51, he is more than 13 years younger than his brother.

They frequently describe themselves as best friends.

“He’s my brother, and I love him to death no matter what,” Chris Cuomo said in his testimony this past July. “I only got one.”

Still, they were fiercely competitive, said Michael Shnayerson, author of “The Contender,” an unauthorized biography of Andrew that was published in 2015.

“Always, under the mockery and machismo, was a powerful bond — the Cuomos against the world,” Shnayerson said. “I can imagine it all too easy for Chris to let that bond cloud his judgment when it came to reporting the news, and following up on leads about Andrew’s political enemies.”

Throughout his testimony, Chris Cuomo frequently returns to family when asked to explain his frequent contact — often combative — with Andrew’s aides as they tried to figure out a way to save the governor’s job.

“This is my brother, and I’m trying to help my brother through a situation where he has told me he did nothing wrong,” Chris testified. “And that’s it for me. How do I help protect my family? How do I protect him? Probably should have been thinking more about how I protect myself, which just never occurred to me.”

James’ investigation found that Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed at least 11 women. He resigned as governor in August to avoid a likely impeachment trial.

The last time he talked to his brother about the charges, Chris Cuomo said during his testimony, was to figure out what was going to happen and what he would tell their 90-year-old mother.

Cuomo has insisted he has done nothing to try to influence CNN’s coverage of his brother’s political problems, and that it would be quickly found out if he did.

While people can relate to wanting to help a family member, his primary obligation as a journalist is to CNN’s viewers, said Kathleen Culver, director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin. These revelations can damage CNN’s reputation, and all journalists, at a time people are already suspicious of the profession, she said.

Journalists need to establish independence from newsmakers. Cuomo “was not independent of his brother in any sense of the term, and that’s a very, very big problem,” Culver said.

When it was first reported by The Washington Post last May that Cuomo had strategized with his brother’s aides, CNN said that it was inappropriate but did not discipline him.

“When Chris admitted to us that he had offered advice to his brother’s staff, he broke our rules and we acknowledged that publicly,” the CNN spokesperson said Tuesday. “But we also appreciated the unique position he was in and understood his need to put family first and job second.”

At the request of his brother’s aides, Cuomo also used his contacts to find out what other journalists were going to report, most notably the New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow. Cuomo said “the idea of one reporter calling another to find out what’s coming down the pipe is completely business as usual.”

For competitive reasons, journalists are frequently curious about what rivals are working on, although a phone call for that reason would likely result in an angry hang-up.

In this case, Cuomo was seeking “inside information that would be valuable to his family member,” Culver said. “It is not inside information that serves the public. That’s what makes this extraordinary.”

CNN’s ultimate decision on Cuomo’s future is complicated, in part because it draws attention to how it has treated the issue in the past and its own efforts to investigate his activities. Cuomo testified that he didn’t tell anyone at CNN that he was contacting other journalists to find out about the Farrow piece.

“His suspension from CNN is the correct move, and something that should have happened sooner,” said Ben Bogardus, a journalism professor at Connecticut’s Quinnipiac University. “The longer it dragged on, the more credibility CNN lost.”

“Cuomo Prime Time” has averaged 1.3 million viewers a night so far this year, the Nielsen company said. While its audience is down sharply from the 2020 election year, like it is for many cable news programs, it’s still CNN’s most-watched show, and Cuomo’s exit would leave a big hole.

His suspension makes some of the advice that Cuomo told investigators that he gave to his brother during the harassment scandal sound eerily like it could apply to his own situation.

“You have to tell the truth,” Cuomo said he advised his brother. “You have to not be coaxed to tell the truth. You have to own what was wrong. You have to apologize. And you have to tell people you’ve learned from this.”

Whether or not he gets that chance is an open question.

First US case of COVID-19 omicron variant has been identified in California, officials say

Wed, 2021-12-01 10:17

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) (Susan Walsh/)

WASHINGTON — A person in California who had been vaccinated against COVID-19 became the first in the U.S. to have an identified case of the omicron variant, the White House announced Wednesday as scientists continue to study the risks posed by the new virus strain.

Dr. Anthony Fauci told reporters that the person was a traveler who returned from South Africa on Nov. 22 and tested positive on Nov. 29. Fauci said the person was vaccinated but had not received a booster shot and was experiencing “mild symptoms.”

The Biden administration moved late last month to restrict travel from Southern Africa where the variant was first identified and had been widespread. Clusters of cases have also been identified in about two dozen other nations.

“We knew that it was just a matter of time before the first case of omicron would be detected in the United States,” Fauci said.

Officials said they had contacted everyone who had close contact with the person and they had all tested negative.

Genomic sequencing was conducted at the University of California, San Francisco and the sequence was confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is taking steps to tighten U.S. testing rules for travelers from overseas, including requiring a test for all travelers within a day of boarding a flight to the U.S. regardless of vaccination status. It was also considering mandating post-arrival testing.

Officials said those measures would only “buy time” for the country to learn more about the new variant and to take appropriate precautions, but that given its transmissibility its arrival in the U.S. was inevitable.

Much remains unknown about the new variant, including whether it is more contagious than previous strains, whether it makes people more seriously ill, and whether it can thwart the vaccine. Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, said more would be known about the omicron strain in two to four weeks as scientists grow and test lab samples of the virus.

The announcement of the first U.S. case comes before President Joe Biden plans to outline his strategy on Thursday to combat the virus over the winter. Biden has tried to quell alarm over the omicron variant, saying it was a cause for concern but “not a cause for panic.”

Biden and public health officials have grown more urgent in their pleas for more Americans to get vaccinated — and for those who have been vaccinated to get booster shots to maximize their protection against the virus.

Death of bullied Utah girl draws anger over suicides, racism

Wed, 2021-12-01 09:21

Brittany Tichenor-Cox, holds a photo of her daughter, Isabella "Izzy" Tichenor, during an interview Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, in Draper, Utah. Tichenor-Cox said her 10-year-old daughter died by suicide after she was harassed for being Black and autistic at school. She is speaking out about the school not doing enough to stop the bullying. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer) (Rick Bowmer/)

DRAPER, Utah — When her 10-year-old daughter tried spraying air freshener on herself before school one morning, Brittany Tichenor-Cox suspected something was wrong with the sweet little girl whose beaming smile had gone dormant after she started the fifth grade.

She coaxed out of Isabella “Izzy” Tichenor that a boy in her class told her she stank after their teacher instructed the class that they needed to shower. It was the latest in a series of bullying episodes that targeted Izzy, who was autistic and the only Black student in class. Other incidents included harassment about her skin color, eyebrows and a beauty mark on her forehead, her mother said.

Tichenor-Cox informed the teacher, the school and the district about the bullying. She said nothing was done to improve the situation. Then on Nov. 6, at their home near Salt Lake City, Izzy died by suicide.

Her shocking death triggered an outpouring of anger about youth suicides, racism in the classroom and the treatment of children with autism — issues that have been highlighted by the nation’s racial reckoning and a renewed emphasis on student mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Utah, the suicide also intensified questions about the Davis School District, which was recently reprimanded by the Justice Department for failing to address widespread racial discrimination.

The district, where Black and Asian American students account for roughly 1% of the approximately 73,000 students, initially defended its handling of the bullying allegations but later launched an outside investigation that is ongoing.

“When I was crying out for help for somebody to do something, nobody even showed up for her,” Tichenor-Cox said this week in an interview with The Associated Press. “It just hurts to know that my baby was bullied all day throughout school — from the time I dropped her off to the time I picked her up.”

Being autistic made it difficult for Izzy to find words to express what she was feeling, but her mother sensed her daughter was internalizing the messages from school. She asked her mother to get rid of the beauty mark and shave her unibrow. Her mother told her those features made her different and beautiful. She told her mother her teacher didn’t like her and wouldn’t say hi or help with schoolwork.

Izzy’s mother, 31, blames the teacher for allowing the bullying to happen. Prior to this year, she said, Izzy and two of her other children liked the school.

Tichenor-Cox has also called out deep-rooted racism in the predominantly white state of Utah, where she said the N-word that kids called her when she was a child in the 1990s is still hurled at her children three decades later.

But she doesn’t want fury to be her only message. She vows to make Izzy’s life matter by speaking out about bullying, racism and the importance of understanding autism so that no other parent has to suffer like she is.

As she looked at a picture on her cellphone of Izzy smiling with fresh braids in her hair last May, Tichenor-Cox teared up as she realized that was her last birthday with her dear daughter who dreamed of being a professional dancer.

“No parent should have to bury their 10-year old,” she said. “I’m still in shock. ... This pushes me to get this out there like this. Mommy is pushing to make sure that this don’t happen to nobody else.”

Davis School District spokesman Christopher Williams did not answer questions about the investigation, the employment status of Izzy’s teacher or about any direct accusations. He instead referred back to a Nov. 12 statement in which the district pledged to do an outside investigation to review its “handling of critical issues, such as bullying, to provide a safe and welcoming environment for all.”

The Justice Department investigation uncovered hundreds of documented uses of the N-word and other racial epithets over the last five years in the district. The probe also found physical assaults, derogatory racial comments and harsher discipline for students of color.

Black students throughout the district told investigators about people referring to them as monkeys or apes and saying that their skin was dirty or looked like feces. Students also made monkey noises at their Black peers, repeatedly referenced slavery and lynching and told Black students to “go pick cotton” and “you are my slave,” according to the department’s findings.

The district has agreed to take several steps as part of a settlement agreement, including establishing a new department to handle complaints, offering more training and collecting data.

Tichenor-Cox told the AP she doesn’t trust the district’s investigation and said the district has zero credibility. Instead, her attorney, Tyler Ayres, hired a private investigator to do their own probe as Tichenor-Cox considers possible legal action.

She and Ayres also said the Justice Department is looking into what happened with Izzy. The agency would not say if it’s investigating what happened to Izzy at the school but said in a statement Wednesday that it is saddened by her death and aware of reports she was harassed because of her race and “disability.” The department said it is committed to ensuring the school district follows through on the plan established in the settlement agreement.

Youth suicides in Utah have leveled off in recent years after an alarming spike from 2011 to 2015, but the rate remains sharply higher than the national average. The state’s 2020 per capita rate was 8.85 suicides among 10- to 17-year-olds per 100,000, compared with 2.3 suicides per 100,000 nationally in 2019, the latest year with data available.

Tributes to Izzy are scattered on social media under #standforizzy. The Utah Jazz basketball team honored her at a recent game, and players Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles, who has an autistic son, both expressed dismay over what happened, calling it “disgusting.” Other parents from the school district have sent letters to the school board calling out the district’s “dismissive actions.”

Tichenor-Cox and her husband, Charles Cox, have five other children to focus on, so they’re doing all they can to handle the grief while trying to remember the sparkle Izzy brought to their lives for a decade.

“I want her to be remembered of how kind she was, how beautiful she was, how brilliant she was and intelligent she was,” Tichenor-Cox said. “Because if I keep thinking of what happened, it’s just going to put me back, and I’m trying to be strong for her.”

Former Anchorage Sen. Cathy Giessel, defeated in 2020, will run again in 2022

Wed, 2021-12-01 09:13

In this Jan. 15, 2019, file photo, Anchorage Republican state Sen. Cathy Giessel is shown after being elected Alaska Senate president in Juneau, Alaska. After being defeated in the 2020 election, Giessel has registered as a candidate for 2022. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File) (Becky Bohrer/)

Former Alaska Senate President Cathy Giessel will run for her old Senate seat in next year’s election, two years after losing narrowly in the Republican primary to a political newcomer.

Giessel did not announce her candidacy but on Tuesday, the Alaska Division of Elections reported that she had filed as a candidate. She confirmed her candidacy Wednesday morning by text message and said she would be able to talk later in the day.

Roger Holland, the incumbent who defeated Giessel in 2020, has filed as a candidate with the Alaska Public Offices Commission, which regulates campaign fundraising.

Holland defeated Giessel in the 2020 Republican primary amid a wave of Republican dissatisfaction over the handling of the Permanent Fund dividend. Giessel was one of seven legislative Republicans who lost primary elections that year.

Since then, Alaskans have approved a new election system that allows four candidates, regardless of party, to advance to the November general election, where a winner will be chosen by ranked-choice voting.

In addition, the boundaries of Giessel’s former district have been changed by redistricting, and the politics of the Permanent Fund dividend have changed, with more legislators advocating a new long-term formula.

This article is developing and will be updated.



Volcanic lava threatens church, more homes on La Palma

Wed, 2021-12-01 07:46

A fissure is seen next to a house covered with ash on the Canary island of La Palma, Spain, Wednesday, Dec.1 2021. A fissure that volcanologists believe spouted a gusher of lava left a gaping hole in front of house whose bottom floor was completely covered by a mountain of ash. A fresh stream of lava from volcano on Spain's La Palma threatened on Wednesday to engulf a parish church that has so far survived the eruption that shows no signs of relenting in its tenth week. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) (Emilio Morenatti/)

LOS LLANOS DE ARIDANE, Canary Islands — A fresh river of lava from the volcano on Spain’s La Palma island threatened Wednesday to engulf a parish church that has so far survived the eruption that shows no signs of relenting after 10 weeks.

The nearest lava flow to the Los Llanos de Aridane church has slowed down since it started over the weekend but it is still only 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) away.

Molten rock from the Sept. 19 eruption on La Palma, part of Spain’s Canary Islands archipelago, has consumed over 1,500 buildings and covered over 1,130 hectares (2,800 acres) including banana farms, the island’s main source of revenue along with tourism.

A nearby cemetery has been completely covered, burying for a second time the remains of 3,000 people. A fissure that volcanologists believe spouted a gusher of lava has also left a gaping hole in front of a house whose bottom floor was completely covered by a mountain of ash.

“The lava is flowing mostly on top of previous flows that have hardened,” Noelia García, the mayor of Los Llanos de Aridane, told Canary Islands Television. “But we won’t dare make a prediction (about its course).”

The volcano is going strong and seismic activity in the area has increased in recent days. Spain’s National Geographic Institute registered 341 earthquakes over the past 24 hours.

Thousands of residents have been displaced by the eruption, which has not claimed any lives on the westernmost member of the archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean off the northwest coast of Africa.


Firefighters look at lava flowing from a volcano on the Canary island of La Palma, Spain, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. Several new volcanic vents opened in La Palma, releasing new lava that flowed fast down a ridge and threatened to widen the impact on evacuated land, infrastructure and homes. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) (Emilio Morenatti/)
A house is covered by ash from a volcano as it continues to erupt on the Canary island of La Palma, Spain, Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. The erupting volcano continued to emit vast amounts of magma, gases and ash, after days of intense seismic activity and more than five weeks since it first erupted. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) (Emilio Morenatti/)
Ash covers the graves at the La Palma cemetery as volcano continues to erupt on this Canary island, Spain, Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. The quick relocation of over 7,000 people has prevented the loss of human life. At cemeteries, though, the occupants go through a second burial by ash, a burial that will wipe away the markers that note the place where they were put to rest. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) (Emilio Morenatti/)
Lava from the volcano advances destroying houses as it continues to erupt on the Canary island of La Palma, Spain, Monday, Nov. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) (Emilio Morenatti/)
Ash covers chairs on the terrace of a house as volcano continues to erupt on this Canary island, Spain, Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. Scientists estimate the volcano also has ejected over 10,000 million cubic meters of ash. The ash is jettisoned thousands of meters into the sky, but the heaviest, thickest particles eventually give way to gravity. They accumulate into banks that slowly cover doors, pour into windows, make rooftops sag. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) (Emilio Morenatti/)
Lava from a volcano flows covering the cemetery of La Manchas on the Canary island of La Palma, Spain, Wednesday, Dec.1 2021. A fresh stream of lava from volcano on Spain's La Palma threatened on Wednesday to engulf a parish church that has so far survived the eruption that shows no signs of relenting in its tenth week. A nearby cemetery has been completely covered, burying for a second time the remains of 3,000 people. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) (Emilio Morenatti/)
Lava from a volcano flows destroying a house on the Canary island of La Palma, Spain, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. Several new volcanic vents opened in La Palma, releasing new lava that flowed fast down a ridge and threatened to widen the impact on evacuated land, infrastructure and homes. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) (Emilio Morenatti/)
Lava flows as volcano continues to erupt on the Canary island of La Palma, Spain, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. Several new volcanic vents opened in La Palma on Sunday, releasing new lava that flowed fast down a ridge and threatened to widen the impact on evacuated land, infrastructure and homes. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) (Emilio Morenatti/)
Smoke rises from a volcano on the Canary island of La Palma, Spain, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. Several new volcanic vents opened in La Palma, releasing new lava that flowed fast down a ridge and threatened to widen the impact on evacuated land, infrastructure and homes. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) (Emilio Morenatti/)

Omicron? Many Americans give it a shrug

Wed, 2021-12-01 07:25

Air China flight crew members in hazmat suits walk through the arrivals area at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. Brazil and Japan joined the rapidly widening circle of countries to report cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) (Jae C. Hong/)

Donna Smith was vaccinated, booster shot and all, and ready to travel.

Then came reports a new fast-spreading COVID-19 variant, Omicron, raising the specter of a new wave of infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

There was a time when such news might have alarmed her. But not now.

She has no intention of changing her plans to spend Christmas with her kids in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee and then taking off in her motorhome on a tour of the Southwest.

“You have to live life,” said Smith, 53. “The virus is with us forever; we have to adjust.”

As financial markets shuddered and global leaders contemplated new travel restrictions in response to reports of the variant, many Americans had a much different reaction: ho-hum.

After nearly two years and 780,000 U.S. deaths, fatigue and fatalism have become as much a part of pandemic life as booster shots. The emergence of a new variant — at least one as poorly understood as Omicron — seems unlikely to change that.

“I cannot believe we are still going through this,” said Lisa Cotton, 56, who owns a shoeshine stand in downtown Minneapolis.

She is vaccinated and exhausted. Business has been slower than in years past but is picking up as offices reopen.

Her level of caution? Unchanged.

Cotton said she plans to work through the holidays and also do catering gigs on the side.

“Hopefully the cases don’t surge too much,” she said.

Little is known about Omicron, whose discovery in South Africa was announced last week. The variant has since been detected in Europe, Asia and Canada. The World Health Organization says that it poses a “very high” risk of global spread, and that based on its mutations could be less susceptible to the current vaccines.

As of Tuesday, it had not been found in the United States, but the White House’s top pandemic adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has said he “would not be surprised” if it were already here.

Experts said figuring out Omicron could take months. Its effects could be catastrophic and set the nation and world back in the battle against COVID-19. Or it could be a relatively benign variant that spreads quickly but causes little harm.

“Really too early to tell what it means,” said Georges Benjamin, president of the American Public Health Association. “The fact that it has so many mutations is of real concern, but it will depend on how easily it evades the vaccine, if at all.”

“It is very infectious by all accounts, but in a part of the world” — Africa — “with very low vaccination rates, so its impact in high-vaccination populations is untested,” he said.

Americans appear to be heeding calls to avoid panic. A poll released this week by YouGov found that 21% of U.S. adults were “very concerned” about Omicron.

Some 33% were “somewhat concerned,” while the remaining 45% were “not very concerned,” “not concerned at all” or “not sure.”

For many, the early days of the pandemic — the confusion about how the coronavirus spreads, the shutdowns, the run on toilet paper — have been relegated to distant memory by surge after surge.

This December was supposed to be a holiday season for the vaccinated. The experts had cleared the 59% of Americans who are vaccinated to return to a semblance of pre-pandemic life — to board flights and cram into homes without masks for long-overdue reunions.

And that is exactly what many plan to do.

“I am over it,” said Soffia Wardy, 54, who runs a gift store in Aspen, Colo., and writes books about food.

“They sound the alarms so loudly about Omicron because they don’t know how bad it is or isn’t,” she said. “So what are we to do?”

Her answer: Host dozens of people this month at several Christmas parties.

“I just wish we had a crystal ball to tell us what happens now with Omicron and this pandemic, because it seems we go in circles,” she said.

Ted Cotrotsos, a graphic designer in Seattle, said he worried about how well the current vaccines would match up against Omicron.

“It’s the unknown that’s really troubling,” said the 65-year-old. “We just don’t know how much protection we truly have.”

Still, he and his wife, both vaccinated, plan to vacation with friends this month in Southern California.

“It seems like we are steadily making our way through the Greek alphabet,” he said about the latest variant. “At some point, I just hope we can get ahead of this virus.”

Others, including people who have been on the front lines of the pandemic, are less relaxed about the new variant.

Dr. Ivan Melendez, the top health official in Hidalgo County, Texas — where COVID-19 took a heavy toll on Latino families that gathered for previous holidays — predicted Omicron infections could follow the same course as the Delta variant.

That strain drove average daily infections in his region from 48 to 600 over the summer. Now the average is back to 48 — 90% of them among the unvaccinated.

His advice: “Assume that [people] have COVID unless proven otherwise.”

Priscilla Garcia, a 40-year-old nurse in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, has spent most of the pandemic doing just that.

After both of her parents died of COVID-19 last year — she was also infected — she appeared in public service announcements urging people to take the pandemic seriously.

Only recently did her caution begin to ease.

“I did go to the mall the other day. It was in the morning, so there were not a lot of people,” Garcia said. “Then I heard about Omicron, and I was like, ‘Oh, not again!’”

“I’m kind of at a point where I don’t know what to think anymore,” she added. “Since I’ve had COVID and dealt with loss from it — what more can happen?”

____

(Kaleem and Lee reported from Los Angeles and Hennessy-Fiske from Houston. Times staff writers Jenny Jarvie in Atlanta and Emily Baumgaertner in Los Angeles contributed to this report.)

Trump tested positive for coronavirus before first debate with Biden, former chief of staff says

Wed, 2021-12-01 07:10

President Donald Trump arrives at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md., Friday, Oct. 2, 2020, on Marine One helicopter after he tested positive for COVID-19. White House chief of staff Mark Meadows is at second from left. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) (Jacquelyn Martin/)

President Donald Trump tested positive for the coronavirus days before his first debate against then-Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in September 2020, a former top aide says in a new book.

Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows writes that Trump tested positive for the virus on Sept. 26, 2020, three days before his Sept. 29 debate with Biden, according to the Guardian, which obtained a copy of the book ahead of its official release next week.

The White House did not reveal the positive test at the time, and Trump received a negative result from a different test shortly thereafter, Meadows writes.

It was not until Oct. 2 that Trump revealed that he and his wife, then-first lady Melania Trump, had tested positive for the virus. Trump was taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for treatment later that day. By that point, a host of White House officials had also tested positive for the coronavirus.

In a statement Wednesday morning, Trump denied Meadows’s account of events.

“The story of me having COVID prior to, or during, the first debate is Fake News,” Trump said. “In fact, a test revealed that I did not have COVID prior to the debate.”

According to the Guardian, Meadows writes that “nothing was going to stop (Trump) from going out there” at the first presidential debate in Cleveland, even though the debate rules required candidates to have tested negative for the virus 72 hours ahead of the start time.

In addition to attending the debate, Trump participated in a number of other events after his positive diagnosis - including a campaign rally in Pennsylvania, an indoor news conference at the White House and a close-quarters exchange with reporters aboard Air Force One - potentially putting dozens of other people at risk.

“Hours after he received the call from Meadows informing him of a positive test, Trump came to the back of AF1 without a mask and talked with reporters for about 10 minutes,” New York Times White House reporter Michael Shear said in a tweet Wednesday morning. “I was wearing a mask, but still got COVID, testing positive several days later.”

Meadows writes that Trump acted as though he had “full permission to press on as if nothing had happened” upon receiving the negative test after his initial positive test Sept. 26 - but Meadows “instructed everyone in his immediate circle to treat him as if he was positive,” according to the excerpts reported by the Guardian.

“I didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks, but I also didn’t want to alarm the public if there was nothing to worry about - which according to the new, much more accurate test, there was not,” Meadows writes, according to the newspaper.

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