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Biden vaccine rule for health workers blocked in 10 states, including Alaska

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-11-29 12:20

FILE - Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt speaks during a news conference in St. Louis on Aug. 6, 2020. A federal judge has blocked President Joe Biden's administration from enforcing a coronavirus vaccine mandate on health care workers in 10 states. The preliminary injunction issued Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, applies to a coalition of suing states. They are Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File) (Jeff Roberson/)

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A federal judge on Monday blocked President Joe Biden’s administration from enforcing a coronavirus vaccine mandate on thousands of health care workers in 10 states that had brought the first legal challenge against the requirement.

The court order said that the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid had no clear authority from Congress to enact the vaccine mandate for providers participating in the two government health care programs for the elderly, disabled and poor.

The preliminary injunction by St. Louis-based U.S. District Judge Matthew Schelp applies to a coalition of suing states that includes Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. Similar lawsuits also are pending in other states.

The federal rule requires COVID-19 vaccinations for more than 17 million workers nationwide in about 76,000 health care facilities and home health care providers that get funding from the government health programs. Workers are to receive their first dose by Dec. 6 and their second shot by Jan. 4

The court order against the health care vaccine mandate comes after Biden’s administration suffered a similar setback for a broader policy. A federal court previously placed a hold on a separate rule requiring businesses with more than 100 employees to ensure their workers get vaccinated or else wear masks and get tested weekly for the coronavirus.

Biden’s administration contends federal rules supersede state policies prohibiting vaccine mandates and are essential to slowing the pandemic.

But the judge in the health care provider case wrote that federal officials likely overstepped their legal powers.

“CMS seeks to overtake an area of traditional state authority by imposing an unprecedented demand to federally dictate the private medical decisions of millions of Americans. Such action challenges traditional notions of federalism,” Schelp wrote in his order.

Even under an exceedingly broad interpretation of federal powers, “Congress did not clearly authorize CMS to enact the this politically and economically vast, federalism-altering, and boundary-pushing mandate,” Schelp wrote.

Maxwell, Epstein were ‘partners in crime,’ prosecutor says

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-11-29 11:41

In this courtroom sketch, Ghislaine Maxwell sits at the defense table during final stages of jury selection, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, in New York. Two years after Jeffrey Epstein's suicide behind bars, a jury is set to be picked Monday in New York City to determine a central question in the long-running sex trafficking case: Was his longtime companion, Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein's puppet or accomplice? (AP Photo/Elizabeth Williams) (Elizabeth Williams/)

NEW YORK — Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein were “partners in crime” in the sexual abuse of teenage girls, a prosecutor said Monday in opening statements, with the defense countering that like so many women before her, Maxwell was being made a scapegoat for a man’s bad behavior.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Pomerantz said at the start of Maxwell’s sex trafficking trial that the British socialite and Epstein enticed girls as young as 14 to engage in “so-called massages” in which sex abuse came to be seen as “casual and normal” after they were showered with money and gifts.

The prosecutor sought to make clear to a jury of 12 that there was no confusion about whether Maxwell, Epstein’s longtime companion, was his puppet or accomplice.

She described Maxwell, 59, as central to Epstein’s sex abuse scheme, which prosecutors say lasted over a decade.

“She was in on it from the start. The defendant and Epstein lured their victims with a promise of a bright future, only to sexually exploit them,” Pomerantz said.

Maxwell “was involved in every detail of Epstein’s life,” the prosecutor said. “The defendant was the lady of the house.”

Even after Maxwell and Epstein stopped being romantically involved, the pair “remained the best of friends,” Pomerantz said.

She said Maxwell “helped normalize abusive sexual conduct” by making the teenagers feel safe and by taking them on shopping trips and asking them about their lives, their schools and their families.

The prosecutor spoke from an enclosed plastic see-through box that allowed her to take off her mask as Maxwell, in a cream-colored sweater and black pants, at times wrote and passed notes to her lawyers.

When she finished, attorney Bobbi Sternheim said her client was a “scapegoat for a man who behaved badly.” Maxwell, she said, was being blamed for a man’s bad behavior just as so many women have before, all the way back to Adam and Eve.

“She’s not Jeffrey Epstein. She’s not like Jeffrey Epstein” or any of the powerful men, moguls and media giants who abuse women, Sternheim said.

“He’s the proverbial elephant in the room. He is not visible, but he is consuming this entire courtroom and overflow courtrooms where other members of the public are viewing,” she said.

Sternheim said the four women who would testify that Maxwell recruited them to be sexually abused were suffering from quarter-century-old memories and the influence of lawyers who guided them to get money from a fund set up by Epstein’s estate after his August 2019 suicide in a Manhattan federal jail as he awaited a sex trafficking trial.

The lawyer said “accusers have shaken the money tree, and millions of dollars have fallen their way.”

The openings came in the afternoon, after hours in the morning were lost to questions about whether two prospective jurors could work throughout the six weeks the trial is projected to last.

During the morning, Maxwell gazed frequently at her sister, who was seated in the front row of a spectator section diminished in space by coronavirus restrictions.

One prospective juror was dismissed after he acknowledged he’d had to listen to someone he knew who was “passionate” about the case. Another juror’s employment was in jeopardy until the judge contacted the employer to speed the process of approval for the juror’s service.

Maxwell — who once dated the financier — is accused of acting as Epstein’s chief enabler, recruiting and grooming young girls for him to abuse. The charges against her stem from the allegations of four women who say she and Epstein victimized them as teens from 1994 to 2004.

Pomerantz said the abuse occurred at Epstein’s homes, including his estate in Palm Beach, Florida; his posh Manhattan townhouse; a Santa Fe, New Mexico, ranch; a Paris apartment; and a luxury estate in the Virgin Islands.

Authorities charged Maxwell in July 2020, arresting her after tracking her to a $1 million New Hampshire estate where she had been holed up during the coronavirus pandemic.

Maxwell has pleaded not guilty and vehemently denies wrongdoing. She has been jailed in Brooklyn since her arrest, calling the claims against her “absolute rubbish.” Maxwell’s lawyers and family say she was Epstein’s pawn, now paying “a blood price” to satisfy public desire to see someone held accountable for his crimes.

The wealthy, Oxford-educated Maxwell is the daughter of British newspaper magnate Robert Maxwell, who died in 1991 after falling off his yacht — named the Lady Ghislaine — near the Canary Islands. Robert Maxwell, whose holdings at the time included the New York Daily News, was facing allegations that he had illegally looted his businesses’ pension funds.

Ghislaine Maxwell holds U.S., British and French citizenships and was repeatedly denied bail in the run-up to her trial.

Dunleavy’s corrupt misuse of public funds is rampant

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-11-29 11:32

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks with reporters during a press briefing on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, in Juneau, Alaska. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer) (Becky Bohrer/)

By now, Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s “creative” use of his office is well known. Like him or not, it’s clear he uses public resources in ways that none of his predecessors have. He’s directed jobs and lucrative no-bid contracts to wealthy donors and their families.

He has also spent significant state funds on paid advertising pushing his partisan agenda. These ads promote payouts of the largest Permanent Fund dividends in the program’s history (regardless of the fact it would cause billion-dollar deficits and require massive taxes). Controversially, he also published ads attacking specific legislators. This led to Dunleavy being fined for violating the Executive Ethics Act.

Recently, Dunleavy filed for reelection, funneling state resources to those ends as well. For example, Dunleavy has traveled Alaska for “cabinet meetings” in various communities. He’s also overtly scheduling campaign fundraisers in those communities on the same dates — meaning we Alaskans are subsidizing the travel and lodging of Dunleavy and his staff as they  campaign on the state dime. Making it even more obvious, a review of the “co-hosts” for these fundraisers doesn’t show significant local sponsorship — rather, the majority of the individuals “co-hosting” these events are his cabinet and senior staff. We’re not just paying for Dunleavy’s campaign travel, but also that of his entourage. And his cabinet’s presence at these events represents an opportunity for wealthy donors to directly access the entire Dunleavy administration. The Executive Ethics Act prohibits using state resources to subsidize a campaign — but who wants to bet on whether Dunleavy’s campaign is reimbursing the state for these costs?

Dunleavy would claim this spending is in Alaska’s best interests because his agenda’s success is important to the state. But the worst of example of Dunleavy misusing state funds is something that slipped under the radar of the press and others —and clearly works against the state’s interests. He’s forcing the state of Alaska to pay for his personal attorney to appeal a court decision holding him liable for the illegal firings early in his term.

Once elected, Dunleavy sent loyalty pledges to every state employee who it was within his discretion to fire. He did this regardless of whether their positions were related to policy or politics in any way. For example, prosecutors, psychiatrists, doctors, advocates for foster children, and many others, were all required to sign the loyalty pledge. Two state psychiatrists  refused to sign the oath, stating that their first duty was to the patients they serve, not  Dunleavy’s partisan agenda. They were fired, and later filed suit.

District Court Judge John Sedwick found these loyalty oaths and firings were an unconstitutional and illegal “political patronage scheme.” He further found Dunleavy’s actions were so far beyond the pale that he was not entitled to qualified immunity — making him personally liable for financial damages.

It’s important to understand what qualified immunity means. Qualified immunity is a legal  doctrine protecting public officials from being sued personally for actions taken in their official capacities. This doctrine serves a logical purpose — after all, who would serve in public office if they could be sued by every person who feels wronged by an official action? However, the doctrine has limits. When an official takes action that blatantly violates “clearly established” statutory or constitutional rights, a suit against the official in their personal capacity is allowed. Typically, such actions must be egregious and clearly unlawful at the time they occurred.

In Dunleavy’s case, Judge Sedwick found the actions reprehensible enough that qualified  immunity was waived, making the governor personally liable. Some might argue “of course a liberal activist judge ruled against Dunleavy” — however, they should remember this judge was  appointed by Republican President George H.W. Bush and has served honorably for decades.

What happened next is particularly absurd. Dunleavy ordered the Department of Law to his  personal attorney’s appeal of Judge Sedwick’s ruling. The issue on appeal, however, is not whether Dunleavy’s loyalty oath and firings were illegal, but only whether qualified immunity applies. To be clear—if Dunleavy prevails on his appeal regarding qualified immunity he’ll no  longer be personally financially liable. And if he’s not liable, the State of Alaska is on the hook.

That’s right — Dunleavy is forcing the State of Alaska to pay his personal attorney to work against the state’s interests. Dunleavy’s attorney’s sole mission is to put the state on the hook to pay damages for his misdeeds instead of him.

Certainly, there are those who support Dunleavy and many who don’t. Whether it’s his  prioritization of a large PFD over all else, or his handling of COVID-19, there are a variety of opinions. But for those who support Dunleavy, think harder. Every fact stated above is true. So ask yourself, would you condone this misuse and abuse from a governor whose politics you didn’t support?

Scott Kendall served as chief of staff under Gov. Bill Walker. He is now an attorney in private practice.

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.

Letter: Grateful for balancing priorities

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-11-29 10:12

I’m sharing my heartfelt thank-you to the Anchorage Assembly for passing the 2022 municipal budget on Nov. 23, with the community’s big alcohol tax priorities intact: protecting funds for prevention, early education and our new Mobile Crisis Team. Finding resources to restore proposed cuts while still balancing the operating budget for 2022 was not easy, and is very much appreciated.

What I appreciated most: They found a way to fund these community priorities and maintain a historic level of investment in solving homelessness. In the same budget, the Assembly also approved more than $3 million of alcohol tax funding, supporting what the Bronson administration proposed. We didn’t have to choose prevention grants and pre-kindergarten programs or helping our houseless neighbors. We found ways to make solid investments in both.

Too often, we look at our scarce resources as a competition — this instead of that. This organization fights for funding against other organizations also doing good work. This cause is “more worthy” or “more urgent” than the rest. The Assembly’s well-crafted amendment package shows we can balance our priorities, without setting them — or our community — against each other. We will always have to prioritize, but we can find a balance that benefits everyone, with a little generosity of spirit and creative thinking. I’m grateful for their leadership in balancing our shared priorities.

— Anna Brawley

Anchorage

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Letter: Unbelievable behavior

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-11-29 10:06

I read today two unbelievable reports on members of the Republican party in Congress who consider Kyle Rittenhouse worthy of the Congressional Gold Medal. These same Republicans never offer the same respect to our military members who receive the Medal of Honor or those who returned with permanent, life-changing wounds while defending other American military members in combat.

Further, members of Congress are trying to entice Rittenhouse to take a position as an intern. What does he have to offer the country, as an 18-year-old who barely completed high school? Republicans have made these moves, and there no denying their intention is not in the best interest of the country.

— John Parker

Kodiak

Have something on your mind? Send to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.

Letter: Derogatory names

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-11-29 10:05

A Nov. 24 Alaska Public Media article in the ADN told how the derogatory and offensive word “squaw” was being erased from all federal place names, and also mentioned that the 20 Alaska geographic features that contain this word would require state or local action for such removal.

What was not mentioned is the origin of this word: the Algonquin word for “woman” is “squa.” Algonquin, as a subgroup of Native American languages, includes a minimum of 18 East Coast tribes and 10 Central tribes, such as Blackfoot, Cheyenne and Shawnee.

Anthropologists tell us that the first Europeans to arrive on the East Coast in the 1600s learned at least some of the Algonquin language. Somehow their use of the word “squa” became offensive and derogatory?

— Jim Lieb

Palmer

Have something on your mind? Send to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.

Letter: Providence needs rapid tests for workers

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-11-29 10:03

Why does Providence Alaska Medical Center have no protocol for health care workers to get rapid COVID testing before work shifts?

I practice obstetrics and gynecology at Providence Alaska Medical Center. Our office is currently short-staffed, as are many health care facilities, and one of our physicians is out with COVID-19. Immediately before a scheduled call shift last week, I started feeling nauseated with body aches. When I developed a low-grade fever, I called Providence to inquire how I could get a rapid COVID test before my shift. My thinking was that I would slog through the shift if I were COVID-negative, but of course, I would quarantine at home if I tested positive.

I was disturbed to learn that there was no process for health care workers here to get a rapid COVID test if they are feeling unwell before work. I was told I would have to check into the ER, wait to be seen, have a chart made for me, eventually see a provider who would swab my nose and, of course, pay for whatever portion of the ER visit that was not covered by my insurance. Nearly two years into this pandemic, the hospital has not established a protocol to enable rapid COVID screening of its health care workers.

Every day, my work email inbox contains at least one letter stating, “You are being notified that an individual in our facility has tested positive for COVID-19 and may have exposed others in our workplace to the virus.” The Providence website professes, “We are doing more than ever to help ensure your protection” and “your safety is our priority.” I see signs outside the hospital thanking health care workers and calling them heroes.

Clearly, this is lip service. If Providence truly cared about maintaining patient and health care worker safety, the institution would set up an efficient way for those on the front line to get tested when they are feeling poorly before they have patient interaction.

— Lisa Lepine, M.D.

Anchorage

Have something on your mind? Send to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.

Letter: Don’t sign it

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-11-29 10:02

Today I was approached by a gentleman near the door to the Fairbanks Safeway. He asked if I would sign the initiative making a state law to assure Alaska tribes would be recognized as sovereigns by the state.

I simply replied, “They already are,” and walked away. I encourage readers to do the same. I could have continued, “Read the 1999 Alaska Supreme Court decision John v. Baker — or the October 2017 attorney general’s opinion by Jahna Lindemuth.”

So I went home and found The Alaska Tribal Recognition Act on the internet. As a non-attorney student of Native American law, I concluded that the effort to get this language into state law is either 1. a public relations thing without meaning, or 2. an effort to put something in statute that is not clear to the reader.

The state Supreme Court makes it clear: Alaska’s 200-plus tribes are sovereigns. As such they have certain authorities over their membership. The tribes have sovereign immunity from suit in their business endeavors unless they choose to waive it.

But Alaska tribes, with few exceptions, do not have lands held in trust for them by the feds — which equates to Indian Country, or reservations where state and municipal tax and regulatory authorities are lost. A pretty big deal!

I don’t know if this initiative impacts ongoing efforts to establish Indian country in Alaska. In my humble opinion, don’t sign it.

— Mary Bishop

Fairbanks

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Letter: A plea to animal owners

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-11-29 09:59

I recently had the unfortunate experience of seeing an abandoned dog chained to a light post in a store parking lot in sub-freezing temperatures. I was not the only person to observe the scene, but I nonetheless followed up to ensure that the dog would not spend night outside — and likely die, or at least result in an amputated leg or two. I have seen such a dog with an amputated leg, which is inexcusable.

If you or anyone you know feels compelled to abandon an animal, please take the animal to a shelter rather than abandoning it in freezing or sub-freezing temperatures. There is no excuse for doing anything less. Anything less is a human failure — in my opinion — and causes unnecessary suffering to the animal.

— Laura Gould

Anchorage

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Conservative Wasilla legislator Christopher Kurka will run for Alaska governor in 2022

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-11-29 09:38

Rep. Christopher Kurka, R-Wasilla, is seen during a Tuesday, March 9, 2021 meeting of the House Health and Social Services Committee at the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau. (James Brooks / ADN) ( /)

Rep. Christopher Kurka, R-Wasilla, will run for Alaska governor in 2022.

Kurka, a former director of Alaska Right to Life, was elected to the state House in 2020 and is in his freshman term within the Legislature.

In a video posted Monday morning, former Alaska U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller said he endorses Kurka as a more conservative option to incumbent Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

Reached by text message, Kurka said he was preparing a video announcement and could be available for an interview later.

Under Alaska’s new election system, all candidates — regardless of party — will compete in the same August primary election. The top four finishers advance to the November general election, where a winner will be chosen by ranked-choice voting.

As of Monday, Les Gara, a Democrat from Anchorage, Republican incumbent Dunleavy, independent Bill Walker, Libertarian Billy Toien, and Libertarian Roman Shevchuk had registered as governor candidates with either the Division of Elections or the Alaska Public Offices Commission. Kurka had not yet filed with either agency, and it is not yet known who will run as his lieutenant governor.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Letter: Bragg energized the Gold Nugget Triathlon

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-11-29 09:19

We salute Beth Bragg on her retirement. Through her years of coverage of our race for the ADN, Beth brought the excitement each racer feels when she participates in the Gold Nugget Triathlon to the community where GNT lives and flourishes. Beth composed excellent interest stories leading up to race day each year, whether it was about a woman completing her 100th triathlon; the multi-generations of one family of grandmothers, mothers and daughters competing as a team in the race; or a woman moving beyond her incarceration to come back into the community by keeping her running front and center. Each story exemplified the mission of the GNT to empower women and girls to improve their lives through fitness.

On race day, Beth then pivoted and was there ready to interview the top finishers and hear their stories of fitness, challenges they surmounted, and the families cheering them all the way. We are forever grateful that Beth’s coverage of our race helped it evolve to be the beloved community event it is today. Congratulations Beth; you will be missed!

— Sheila Swanson

and the members of the Board of Directors of the Alaska Women’s Gold Nugget Triathlon

Anchorage

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Letter: Thanks for allowing visitors

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-11-29 09:17

My 87-year-old mother needed emergency care over the weekend. Alaska Regional Hospital allows visitors to the ER and Providence does not. My mother received excellent care at the quiet ER at Alaska Regional.

I very much appreciate being able to accompany my mother as she navigated the emergency room and the admission process. It was so helpful for her to have me th ere as an advocate. Good job, Alaska Regional Hospital, for allowing visitors, thank you!

— Steve Kruse

Eagle River

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Doctor: Many South Africans ill in surge have mild symptoms

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-11-29 08:33

A man receives a dose of a vaccine at a COVID-19 vaccine centre, in Soweto, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. The World Health Organization has urged countries not to impose flight bans on southern African nations due to concerns over the new omicron variant. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell) (Denis Farrell/)

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s rapid increase in COVID-19 cases attributed to the new omicron variant is resulting in mostly mild symptoms, doctors say.

“We’ve seen a sharp increase in cases for the past 10 days. So far they have mostly been very mild cases, with patients having flu-like symptoms: dry coughs, fever, night sweats, a lot of body pains,” said Dr. Unben Pillay, a general practitioner in Gauteng province where 81% of the new cases have been reported.

“Most of these patients have been treated at home,” Pillay told an online press briefing Monday. “Vaccinated people tend to do much better. We have not seen a vast increase in hospitalizations, but this is still early days. Hospitalizations often come several days after a rise in confirmed cases.”

Most of the new cases in South Africa have been among people in their 20s and 30s, and doctors note that age group generally has milder symptoms of COVID-19 in any case. They warn that older people infected by the new variant could have more severe symptoms.

Learning more about the omicron variant is important as nations around the world sought Monday to keep the new variant at bay with travel bans and further restrictions, even as it remains unclear what the variant means for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Japan announced it would suspend entry for all foreign visitors, while new cases of the variant identified days ago by researchers in southern Africa appeared as far away as Hong Kong, Australia and Portugal. Portuguese authorities were investigating whether some infections there could be among the first reported cases of local transmission of the variant outside of southern Africa.

South Africa has seen its seven-day average of new cases over the past two weeks surge from about 200 per day to more than 2,000.

Omicron appears to be more transmissible than previous variants and the surge in South Africa could bring the daily number of new cases to 10,000 by the end of the week, infectious diseases specialist Salim Abdool Karim, told the briefing.

“Our biggest challenge will be to stop super-spreading events, particularly indoors,” he said, suggesting that it might be necessary to restrict indoor gatherings to those who are vaccinated.

The hotspot for the new surge is Gauteng’s Tshwane metropolitan area, incorporating the capital, Pretoria. The “vast majority” of those hospitalized there have been unvaccinated people, said Waasila Jassat of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

“Of recent hospitalizations 87% have been unvaccinated, 13% have been vaccinated,” Jassat said of the 455 hospital admissions in the Tshwane area in the past two weeks.

Vaccination appears to have also helped people avoid infection, she said.

Of South Africa’s 60 million people, 16.5 million are vaccinated and the number of fully vaccinated who are testing positive is very small, said Nicholas Crisp, the acting director general of the department of health. “It is a very small number of those people who tested positive. It’s minute in comparison to unvaccinated people.”

To combat the surge of COVID-19 cases attributed to the omicron variant, South Africa is urging vaccinations and is weighing making vaccines mandatory to enter indoor areas, the minister of health said Monday.

The government is not planning to impose centralized vaccine mandates, but will support businesses and organizations that seek proof of vaccination to enter indoor areas, Minister of Health Joe Phaahla told reporters.

The government is considering requiring vaccines for health workers, including those who work at state hospitals, he said.

“We are looking at concrete proposals on how to deal with vaccine mandates in workplaces and health care workplaces,” Phaahla said.

A few African countries, including Angola, Egypt, Mauritius and Rwanda, have joined the slew of nations that have placed travel restrictions on South Africa and other countries in southern Africa.

“It’s quite regrettable, very unfortunate and I’ll even say sad to be talking about travel restrictions imposed by a fellow African country,” said Clayson Monyela, spokesman for the Department of International Affairs and Cooperation. He called the decisions “unwarranted and unjustified because it’s not based on science.”

Lee Elder, 1st Black golfer to play Masters, dies at age 87

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-11-29 08:28

Lee Elder participates in the Masters Tournament at Augusta, Ga., May 9, 1975. (AP Photo/Lou Krasky, File) (Lou Krasky/)

Lee Elder, who broke down racial barriers as the first Black golfer to play in the Masters and paved the way for Tiger Woods and others to follow, has died at the age of 87.

The PGA Tour announced Elder’s death, which was first reported Monday by Debert Cook of African American Golfers Digest. No cause or details were immediately available, but the tour said it confirmed Elder’s death with his family.

A native Texan who developed his game during segregated times while caddying, Elder made history in 1975 at Augusta National, which had been an all-white tournament until he received an invitation after winning the Monsanto Open the previous year.

Elder missed the cut at his first Masters but forever stamped himself as a groundbreaking figure in a sport that had never been known for racial tolerance.

Twenty-two years later, Woods became the first Black golfer to capture the green jacket, launching one of the greatest careers in golf history.

This past April, in the wake of social justice protests that roiled the nation, the Masters honored Elder by having him join Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player for the ceremonial opening tee shots.

Elder was in poor health and unable to take a swing, but he held up his driver proudly at the first tee, clearly moved by the moment.

“For me and my family, I think it was one of the most emotional experiences that I have ever witnessed or been involved in,” he said.

Fred Ridley, chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters, called Elder “a true pioneer in the game of golf.”

“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Lee Elder,” Ridley said in a statement. “Lee was an inspiration to so many young men and women of color not only through his play, but also through his commitment to education and community. Lee will always be a part of the history of the Masters Tournament. His presence will be sorely missed, but his legacy will continue to be celebrated.”

Elder got into golf as a caddie, since that essentially was the only conduit Black people had to be permitted on the course. He was able to polish his game while serving in the Army and, after his discharge, joined the United Golf Association Tour for Black players in the early 1960s.


FILE - Lee Elder waves as he arrives for the ceremonial tee shots before the first round of the Masters golf tournament on Thursday, April 8, 2021, in Augusta, Ga. At far right is Phil Mickelson. Person at right in cart is unidentified. Elder broke down racial barriers as the first Black golfer to play in the Masters and paved the way for Tiger Woods and others to follow. The PGA Tour confirmed Elder’s death, which was first reported by Debert Cook of African American Golfers Digest. No cause or details were immediately available, but the tour said it spoke with Elder's family. He was 87. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File) (Charlie Riedel/)
FILE - Lee Elder watches the flight of his ball as he tees off in the first round of play at the Masters in Augusta, Ga., in this April 10, 1975, file photo. Elder broke down racial barriers as the first Black golfer to play in the Masters and paved the way for Tiger Woods and others to follow. The PGA Tour confirmed Elder’s death, which was first reported by Debert Cook of African American Golfers Digest. No cause or details were immediately available, but the tour said it spoke with Elder's family. He was 87. (AP Photo/File)
FILE - Lee Elder poses for a picture on the first tee at the Masters golf tournament Monday, Nov. 9, 2020, in Augusta, Ga. Elder broke down racial barriers as the first Black golfer to play in the Masters and paved the way for Tiger Woods and others to follow. The PGA Tour confirmed Elder’s death, which was first reported by Debert Cook of African American Golfers Digest. No cause or details were immediately available, but the tour said it spoke with Elder's family. He was 87. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson, File) (Chris Carlson/)
FILE - Lee Elder signs autographs for patrons outside the club house at the 2008 Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., Monday, April 7, 2008. Elder broke down racial barriers as the first Black golfer to play in the Masters and paved the way for Tiger Woods and others to follow. The PGA Tour confirmed Elder’s death, which was first reported by Debert Cook of African American Golfers Digest. No cause or details were immediately available, but the tour said it spoke with Elder's family. He was 87. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File) (Elise Amendola/)

He developed into one of the UGA’s best players, but meager prize money made it tough to earn a living. Finally, at the age of 33, Elder was able to afford PGA qualifying school, where he earned his first tour card for the 1968 season.

The highlight of his rookie year was a memorable loss to Nicklaus on the fifth hole of a sudden-death playoff at the American Golf Classic.

Elder would go on to capture four PGA Tour victories and eight more wins on the PGA Tour Champions for 50-and-over players. He played in all four major championships, tying for 11th at both the 1974 PGA Championship and the 1979 U.S. Open. His best finish at the Masters was a tie for 17th, also in 1979.

But Elder’s impact on the game went far beyond wins and losses, even if it took decades for his legacy to be fully appreciated.

“It always amazed me that presidents of the United States would be giving these different awards to athletes for their athletic prowess, and here was a man that ... was never given the awards that he actually duly deserved,” Player said.

Elder was 40 when he played in his first Masters, so many of his prime years already stolen from him by the scourge of racism.

The PGA had a Caucasian-only rule until 1961 — 14 years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier. It took another 14 years before the Masters finally invited a Black player.

Last year, before the pandemic-delayed Masters was played in November for the first time, Augusta National recognized Elder’s enormous contributions by setting up two scholarships in his name at Paine College, a historically Black school in Augusta.

The club also invited him to take part in the ceremonial tee shot with Nicklaus and Player at this year’s Masters.

“It’s a great honor, and I cherish it very much, and I will always cherish it,” Elder said.

Nicklaus added, “It was long overdue.”

Elder knew Robinson, who died in 1972, and was close with Hank Aaron, who endured racist threats throughout his stellar baseball career, particularly as he approached what was Babe Ruth’s home run mark.

Aaron hit his record-breaking 715th homer on April 8, 1974.

Twelve days later, Elder won the Monsanto Open to qualify for the following year’s Masters.

Elder visited with Aaron shortly before the Hammer died in January.

“We talked about several things ... our sports, our particular sport and the involvement that we felt that we could help other young Blacks that was coming up behind us,” Elder said. “And I certainly hope that the things that I have done have inspired a lot of young Black players and they will continue on with it.”

Elder was at Augusta National for Woods’ historic win in 1997. He wasn’t about to miss seeing a Black man win the tournament for the first time.

After all, it was Elder who paved the way.

As omicron emerges, a tired public has little appetite for new restrictions

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-11-29 08:23

Black Friday shoppers wearing face masks carry bags at the Citadel Outlets in Commerce, Calif., Friday, Nov. 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu) (Ringo H.W. Chiu/)

Cold weather is driving more Americans indoors. The holiday season has prompted a wave of travel, generating new lines of covid transmission. And the delta variant is pushing up hospitalizations.

Now, adding to the potentially bad news, an ominous new variant has emerged: Omicron.

But after nearly 21 months of covid-19 restrictions, there is little appetite in the country for the kinds of school closures, indoor gathering bans and restaurant restrictions that defined the early days of the pandemic, according to health officials, who say that the political will to push for unpopular - but effective - mitigation measures is waning.

“It is very exhausting,” said Ezekiel Emanuel, a physician and bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania who was on President’s Biden’s covid advisory team during the transition. “The American public is rightfully exhausted, and therefore the amount of risk we’re willing to take goes up. People are willing to take more risks and accept more challenges, but they’re not willing to accept more restrictions.”

But he suggested that a resistance to such limitations, which some European countries have begun to reimpose, carries its own dangers.

“How often do you hear people say, ‘I’m done with covid?’ Well, your being done with it does not mean the pandemic is over,” Emanuel said.

The landscape could change as scientists learn more about omicron and how much protection the current vaccines provide against it. But public health officials, from White House staffers to county leaders, have shown little desire to once again take disruptive measures, instead pushing Americans to voluntarily change their behavior without punitive threats.

Joe Kanter, Louisiana’s top public health official, was among those who, rather than proposing new restrictions, reiterated that Americans should get vaccinated.

“This deserves our attention, but not yet panic,” Kanter said in an interview. “The greatest single tool we have is increasing vaccinations both at home and abroad. If people’s families are not yet fully vaccinated but eligible, now is the time to do it.”

And in some places, even if health officials did want to enact restrictions, their power to do so has been stripped as Republican governors, GOP-controlled state legislatures and conservative state supreme courts have moved to curtail their powers.

Biden, speaking to reporters late last week, said he was not considering a new round of vaccine mandates such as requiring shots for domestic travel. Instead, he renewed his plea for Americans to get their shots and boosters.

“No, not at the moment,” Biden said when asked if he were weighing new vaccine requirements. A current administration rule that businesses with more than 100 employees must vaccinate their workers or require regular testing has been halted by a court order.

The president plans to give a formal update about the pandemic from the White House on Monday. He has restricted travel from southern African nations in an attempt to slow the spread of the new variant to the country, although health officials said Sunday that omicron probably is already circulating in the United States.

Biden’s top aides have been clear recently - before omicron was detected, but as covid deaths in the country remained at about 1,000 a day - that stricter measures were not under consideration amid a persistent delta-driven wave. In the last week, covid-related hospitalizations have risen by about 5 percent, even as new cases and deaths dipped.

Asked last week whether the United States would consider European-style lockdowns, White House press secretary Jen Psaki demurred. “Our process and our focus continues to be getting more Americans vaccinated,” Psaki said.

White House covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients was more blunt when asked about lockdowns. “No, we are not headed in that direction,” Zients said last week.

As of Monday morning, the omicron variant had not been detected in the United States, though it had entered some European countries. While omicron has a high number of mutations that could suggest greater transmissibility, scientists have not yet determined how large a threat it poses.

Unlike the United States, other countries have been swift to impose population-wide restrictions because of the new variant.

Britain, which has a small number of confirmed omicron infections, reimposed its partial mask mandate after relaxing its rules over the summer. The United Kingdom will also require those who enter the country to self-isolate pending the result of mandatory PCR coronavirus tests and will require people exposed to omicron to quarantine for 10 days.

“We need to buy time for our scientists to understand exactly what we are dealing with,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Saturday as he announced the new measures. The rules will be revisited in three weeks, he said.

For Biden, who is struggling with low approval ratings, any resurgence of covid worries could further drag down his popularity and undercut a central promise of his presidency that he would restore the country to normalcy.

In the early summer, before the delta wave took hold, 89 percent of Americans said they thought the coronavirus situation was getting better, according to a Gallup poll. That figure plummeted in July and August.

But in late October, Americans had been regaining some optimism about the pandemic, with a Gallup poll finding 51 percent said the situation was getting better, up from 20 percent in September.

Now, if there is a major resurgence of the pandemic, the political will for the harshest virus mitigation measures has largely evaporated even in the most liberal parts of the country that have been most open to restrictions, experts say.

“The threshold to shut things down is going to be much higher than it was,” said Robert Wachter, who chairs the Department of Medicine at the University of California at San Francisco. “One of the durable takeaway lessons is that the closing of schools is really a terrible thing to do and should be avoided at all costs.”

Wachter said that, if omicron proves as dangerous as some health officials fear, there will probably be a more regional approach to restrictions, with places like California and East Coast states tightening rules while states in the Midwest and South take a more relaxed approach.

“There is a general zeitgeist in other parts of the country of ‘we’re over it,’ " Wachter said. “Politicians are over it. . . . I think it’s going to sort itself by region and probably by political persuasion.”

In deep-blue New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) declared a state of emergency over the weekend though mid-January to allow the state to prepare for a covid surge by purchasing additional supplies and letting hospitals postpone nonessential procedures.

But the weariness is evident even in such blue regions. And some Republicans were already suggesting that omicron is a fabrication.

“They are going to try and sell us new ‘Variants’ for the rest of our lives if we don’t tell them to shove it,” tweeted Kari Lake, a GOP candidate for governor in Arizona who is backed by former President Donald Trump.

Ronnie Jackson, the former White House physician turned GOP member of Congress from Texas, also hinted at a conspiracy.

“Here comes the MEV - the Midterm Election Variant!” Jackson posted on his Twitter feed. “They NEED a reason to push unsolicited nationwide mail-in ballots. Democrats will do anything to CHEAT during an election - but we’re not going to let them!”

Some Republican officials have acted on the anti-lockdown sentiment. New state laws in Kansas block state officials from closing businesses, for example. The Montana legislature prevented health officials from quarantining those exposed to the virus. And North Dakota has passed a law barring health officials from issuing mask mandates, even in cases like an active tuberculosis outbreak.

The supreme courts of Michigan, Wisconsin and Kentucky curtailed the ability of those states’ Democratic governors to implement emergency measures such as statewide mask mandates.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) recently signed legislation banning government mask mandates in most situations and vaccine mandates, and he allowed another bill stripping local public health authorities of emergency powers to become law without his signature.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) called a special session and signed legislation earlier this month to block efforts to control the virus, including a prohibition on employer vaccine mandates and school boards issuing mask mandates or quarantining students who have been exposed to the virus.

The new laws follow earlier measures to prohibit localities from mandating masks or fining businesses that violate covid restrictions, which some county officials said undermined their ability to respond to a summer surge that led to record hospitalizations, infections and deaths.

Over the weekend, state and local officials largely used the interest in omicron to reiterate current restrictions rather than publicly discuss new ones.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) urged vigilance against the variant and said its emergence accentuated the urgency of vaccinations and wearing masks indoors. Connecticut does not have a statewide mask mandate, but some towns, including New Haven, still do.

“This news of the Omicron variant reminds us about the importance of being vaccinated and getting a booster,” Lamont tweeted Sunday. “We have now entered the winter holiday season and still need to mask while in indoor public places, practice proper hand hygiene, get tested and stay home if you feel sick.”

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) received a booster shot Sunday and encouraged others to follow his lead. “The best way to strengthen your protection against covid-19 is to get your booster shot,” he tweeted, with a photo of himself receiving a shot.

Kanter, Louisiana’s top public health official, said the state’s immediate priorities for responding to omicron are shoring up its genetic surveillance systems to detect the variant early and to ensure that labs that can detect the omicron variant while conducting routine coronavirus tests are prepared to do so.

He said social distancing measures such as restoring an indoor mask mandate, imposed by Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) in response to the summer delta surge, are premature while scientists and health officials await additional information about the variant.

A previous variant detected in South Africa before it was found in Louisiana ended up not being concerning because it was not highly transmissible, Kanter said, even though early data suggested it may be resistant to vaccines or therapeutics.

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The Washington Post’s Scott Clement contributed to this report.

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