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Pandemic-response official dismissed by Bolton speaks out: ‘I’m frankly scared’

Tori Holland

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Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at a briefing April 22 with President Trump and members of the coronavirus task force. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at a briefing April 22 with President Trump and members of the coronavirus task force. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The official who oversaw epidemic preparedness for the National Security Council under President Obama said the absence of public guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the COVID-19 pandemic leaves her “frankly scared” — and that eliminating her position weakened the American response to the coronavirus when it emerged 18 months later.

Beth Cameron, who served as senior director for global health security and biodefense on the NSC until early 2017, was interviewed on the Yahoo News “Skullduggery” podcast. “I’m frankly scared that our CDC is not out in front talking about this,” Cameron said. “The CDC is our gold standard for public health, and we’re in the middle of one of the largest public health crises we’ve ever faced, certainly in my lifetime, and they’re not at the table, they’re not out in front. And I think we’re really suffering from that right now.”

Tensions between the CDC and the White House have been evident since late February when senior CDC official Nancy Messonnier publicly contradicted President Trump, warning Americans to prepare for the possibility the new virus would severely disrupt daily life, at a time when the administration was downplaying its likely effects.

The administration reportedly watered down CDC guidelines for reopening, blocking the release of a detailed plan agency officials favored. In recent days, anonymous CDC officials have told CNN they were prepared to issue a global travel alert on March 5, after noticing a number of new cases in Europe, but for unexplained reasons the alert didn’t go out until nearly a week later. A CDC spokesman did not respond to an email seeking comment.

In her position in the NSC, Cameron briefed White House officials about pandemic preparedness and sent several memos about the larger threat, including to President Trump early in his administration, before COVID-19 had emerged. While serving as national security adviser, John Bolton eliminated the office in August 2018 as part of a reorganization of the NSC and placed bio-preparedness officials elsewhere in the NSC bureaucracy. Cameron believes abolishing the office as a stand-alone unit left the administration in the dark about the gravity of the coronavirus threat.

“We would have been asking a lot of questions about preparedness for testing,” Cameron said. “A really robust public health response to start tracking down where the cases were across the United States, isolating those cases, tracking contacts, all of those things we’re talking about now, we really should have been talking about in January.”

Cameron, who is now the vice president for global biological policy and programs at the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit organization focused on reducing biological, chemical, radiological and nuclear weapons threats, said the NSC pandemic office would have been able to identify “points of failure” and likely supply chain problems before the disease began spreading in the U.S. And eliminating her office reduced the prominence of global health in the overall NSC portfolio, meaning the president and his top advisers received fewer briefings on the subject and were less informed about the seriousness of the looming threat.

It could be years before life returns to normal, Cameron said. When social distancing measures are relaxed, it will be vital to have sufficient testing and contact tracing infrastructure in place to ensure new infections can be tamped down, she added. All of that remains impossible to do.

“Unfortunately, right now we still don’t have decreasing case counts for over 14 days in a number of states around the country, we still don’t have sufficient contact tracing workforce to isolate and contain the disease around the country and we still don’t have sufficient testing in many states,” Cameron said.

Beth Cameron, vice president for global biological policy and programs at the Nuclear Threat Institute. (NTI)
Beth Cameron, vice president for global biological policy and programs at the Nuclear Threat Institute. (NTI)

While early vaccine trials are showing positive results in monkeys, she said, it may be a long time before a vaccine is ready.

“Betting on any specific vaccine until you’ve gone through the clinical trials required to test it out is really a challenging business,” she said. “I’m hopeful, but I’m definitely not confident, because I don’t have any data on which to be that confident at the moment.”

Delivering a vaccine to the world’s 7 billion people also will be challenging and time-consuming, she said. Asked if Americans need to be prepared for another three years of social distancing, Cameron said she believes it could be longer than a year and emphasized how difficult it is to make predictions when we know so little about the virus.

In recent weeks, baseless conspiracy theories about how the coronavirus developed and spread as well as about dangers posed by a vaccine have gone viral on online.

Cameron said some states have begun investing in public-facing decision-making tools about the virus, a move she hailed in an age of disinformation, when fear seems to drive many people’s thinking.

“What needs to happen, and it needs to happen at the federal level as well as at the state and local level, is really honest, constant, fact-based communication where people know exactly what we know and what we don’t know,” she said. “Just being really honest.”

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Click here for the latest coronavirus news and updates. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please refer to the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides. 

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After being a professional journalist for 5 years and understanding the ups and downs of health care sector all over the world, Tori shifted her focus to the digital world. Today, she works as a contributor for News Brig with a knack for covering general and health news in the best possible format.

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Iranians must live with virus ‘for long time’: Rouhani

Tori Holland

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Iranians must live with virus 'for long time': Rouhani

Tehran (AFP) – President Hassan Rouhani warned Iranians Saturday to prepare to live with the novel coronavirus “for a long time”, as the country gradually rolls back restrictions imposed to curb the outbreak.

People should not assume that “this disease will be eliminated in 15 days or a month: we must therefore follow the instructions for a long time,” Rouhani said during the weekly meeting of the coronavirus taskforce broadcast on state TV.

“We must end all gatherings, be it marriage, mourning, or family visits, until told otherwise by the health minister,” he added.

Iran has been battling the Middle East’s deadliest outbreak of the novel coronavirus since reporting its first cases in February.

Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said the country’s total number of cases had risen to 169,425 with 2,269 new infections confirmed in the past 24 hours.

He added that 75 people who were infected died in the same period, bringing the overall fatalities to 8,209.

There has been some scepticism at home and abroad about Iran’s official figures, with concerns the real toll could be much higher.

Authorities have progressively lifted restrictions imposed to tackle the virus, and activity has almost returned to normal in most of the country’s 31 provinces.

The rising trajectory of infection figures since a low in early May and the lack of observance of social distancing measures have authorities worried.

According to Rouhani, there is no “second path” for Iran and economic activity across the country must continue.

He announced a further relaxation of restrictions with travel agencies set to resume local tours as of June 13, and cinemas and concerts reopening with only half of venue capacity from June 21.

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‘Am I going to get shot?’ kids ask, as brands try to explain racism and violence to children

Evan Lewis

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'Am I going to get shot?' kids ask, as brands try to explain racism and violence to children

NEW YORK (Reuters) – For 8 minutes and 46 seconds – the length of time it took George Floyd, an unarmed black man, to die at the hands of Minneapolis police – cable TV kids channel Nickelodeon’s screen went black on Tuesday to sounds of inhaling and exhaling, as white text flashed “I can’t breathe.”

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Muppets from Sesame Street, including Big Bird, arrive for the 42nd Annual Kennedy Awards Honors in Washington, U.S., December 8, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo/File Photo

Pokemon pledged $100,000 in support for Black Lives Matter. Sesame Street is co-hosting a televised town hall meeting with CNN on Saturday morning.

These are just a few of the examples of how companies that entertain or sell products for kids are adjusting their messages, as they attempt to deal with this moment in American history and explain the complexities of racism and police brutality to children through action and words.

“It’s one thing to try to preserve the innocence of children, but you shouldn’t preserve the ignorance of children in a country that is multiracial that has this bad history,” CNN commentator Van Jones told Reuters in an interview on Friday.

Jones and CNN anchor Erica Hill will host an hour-long special on CNN titled “Coming Together: Standing Up to Racism” in partnership with Sesame Street. The show aims to teach school-aged children how to identify inequality and speak out against it.

CNN is owned by telecommunications company AT&T Inc, whose chief executive, Randall Stephenson, urged other CEOs in a CNBC interview to speak out against racial inequality.

Experts said parents need help interpreting for children the relentless barrage of messages on social media and on television as peaceful protesters and looters clash with authorities all across the country.

“I have seen a spike in anxiety for my black kid clients because they are having access to the news,” said Javonte’ Bass, a clinical mental health counselor. “When the parents are watching, they’re listening.”

Fear of catching the coronavirus forced families indoors. Fear of dying at the hands of police are keeping kids from going back out, Bass said. One nine-year-old black child even asked Bass, “Am I going to get shot, too?”

On CNN’s event, Jones said viewers should not expect a historical rundown of slavery and colonialism in the United States. The show will urge parents to teach their children empathy. “Failing to teach kids about empathy and fairness is always harmful,” Jones said.

That applies to views of law enforcement as well, Jones and Bass emphasized. “Police officers are not saints or superheroes. They’re human beings,” Jones said. “Some are good. Most are good, but some are bad.”

Education is a theme among the responses from brands for children.

“Our mission is to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow and that includes inspiring them to be tolerant, inclusive, and kind,” toy company The Lego Group said in a statement.

In addition to pausing advertising for a week to avoid marketing any of its toys, including police-themed toys, next to images of police violence, the company is committing $4 million to organizations that teach children about racial inequality.

Lego has also encouraged fans to come up with new ideas for inclusive toy sets on its platform Lego Ideas.

One of its previous sets, The Women of NASA, which featured astronaut Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space, was inspired by a submission to Lego Ideas.

Reporting by Arriana McLymore; Editing by Kenneth Li and Bill Berkrot

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Washington prepares for major protest as U.S. officials move to rein in police

Evan Lewis

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Washington prepares for major protest as U.S. officials move to rein in police

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Protesters are expected to gather in Washington for a huge demonstration on Saturday, its police chief said, as U.S. street marches over the killing of a black man in custody enter a 12th day and authorities move to rein in policing tactics.

George Floyd, 46, died on May 25 in Minneapolis after a police officer pinned him to the ground with a knee to the neck for nearly nine minutes. The killing has sparked days of protests across the United States against racism and police brutality, and also demonstrations around the world.

Some activists on social media have called for a million people to attend a protest in the capital.

“We have a lot of public, open source information to suggest that the event on this upcoming Saturday may be one of the largest we’ve ever had in the city,” Washington DC Police Chief Peter Newsham told local media, adding that much of the city center would be closed to traffic from early in the day.

Newsham did not give a crowd estimate. Local media has predicted tens of thousands of attendees.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper has ordered that all flags at state facilities be lowered to half-staff from sunrise to sunset on Saturday in honor of Floyd, who was originally from the state’s Fayetteville city. A televised memorial service will also be held in the city.

On Friday, marches and gatherings took place in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Miami, New York and Denver, among other places, while protesters massed again, in the rain, in front of the White House. The night-time protests were largely peaceful but tension remains high even as authorities in several places take steps to reform police procedures.

A federal judge in Denver ordered city police to stop using tear gas, plastic bullets and other “less-than-lethal” devices such as flash grenades, with his ruling citing examples of protesters and journalists being injured by police.

“These are peaceful demonstrators, journalists, and medics who have been targeted with extreme tactics meant to suppress riots, not to suppress demonstrations,” U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson wrote in the ruling.

In Minneapolis, Democratic city leaders voted to end the use of knee restraints and choke-holds, where pressure is applied to the neck, while California Governor Gavin Newsom said he would end state police training of carotid restraints similar to the technique used on Floyd.

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo said his state should lead the way in passing “Say Their Name” reforms, including making police disciplinary records publicly available as well as banning choke-holds.

“Mr Floyd’s murder was the breaking point,” Cuomo, a Democrat, said. “People are saying enough is enough.”

Several men stand at the locked gates of Jackson Square, where a statue of Andrew Jackson resides, and had brief heated words with demonstrators who had gathered around the square during a protest against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., June 5, 2020. Picture taken June 5, 2020. REUTERS/Kathleen Flynn

Protesters around the world are also expected to take to the streets again on Saturday, a day after many marched in a wave of outrage at the death of Floyd and racism against minorities in their own nations.

NFL: WE WERE WRONG

Black Lives Matter activists have called for cities to defund police departments. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a Democrat who in April proposed increasing law enforcement funding, this week reversed course and said he would seek some $150 million in cuts to the Los Angeles Police Department.

In another sign of how attitudes have changed, National Football League (NFL) Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league had made mistakes in not listening to players, in a video denouncing racism in the United States.

The NFL has been locked in a debate with players over kneeling protests during the playing of the national anthem.

Two police officers in Buffalo, New York, were suspended without pay on Thursday and placed under investigation after a video showed them shoving a 75-year-old man to the ground.

But the decision was met with pushback from the officers’ colleagues, with all 57 members of the police tactical unit quitting in protest at their treatment.

Slideshow (32 Images)

The demonstrations have erupted as the public and businesses struggle to recover from sweeping lockdowns imposed to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. Disease experts have said the protests could spark new outbreaks.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, who has sparred with U.S. President Donald Trump over his sometimes heavy-handed response to the rallies and marches in the nation’s capital, had the slogan “Black Lives Matter” painted in massive yellow letters on a street leading to the White House.

After nightfall, Bowser had light projections spelling out the words beamed onto nearby buildings, which she said on Twitter was a “night light” aimed at Trump.

Reporting by Lisa Lambert, Alexandra Alper, Andy Sullivan, Idrees Ali, Phil Stewart, Nathan Layne, Sharon Bernstein, Dan Whitcomb, Matt Spetalnick, Raphael Satter, Keith Coffman,Rich McKay; Writing by Dan Whitcomb, Matt Spetalnick and Robert Birsel; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Pravin Char

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