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‘A game changer’: Humboldt State University ponders becoming third Cal Poly

Humboldt State University will conduct a self-study, at the request of the California State University system, examining whether it should become a polytechnic university.

HSU announced Monday that it would conduct the study and would complete it by spring 2021. There is no guarantee the university will become a polytechnic and no timetable for when it might.

“Designation and recognition of HSU as a polytechnic university would make your campus increasingly attractive to students from around California and beyond, creating a robust and stable student body at the undergraduate and graduate levels.” CSU chancellor Timothy White wrote in a letter dated Friday to HSU president Tom Jackson

By becoming a polytechnic university, HSU would join Cal Poly Pomona and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo as the third polytechnic CSU in the state and the only one in Northern California.

Jackson on Monday wrote in a letter, “this designation would build upon HSU’s strengths, help us meet important needs for the North Coast and California, and make our campus increasingly attractive to students from California and beyond. Building on the collective vision emerging from our academic and strategic planning, we can reimagine the polytechnic university for the 21st century — marked by a focus on sustainability, hands-on and career-focused programs, and a broad liberal arts education. Beyond traditional polytech programs, we can infuse traditional ecological knowledge, renewable technologies, equitable and ethical practices, and more. There are many possibilities, and I believe this is a time to raise our sights.”

HSU has the highest percentage of courses with a hands-on component in the CSU system, and it has the third-highest percentage of students in natural resources and STEM programs (behind Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Cal Poly Pomona). HSU also has the CSU’s highest percentage of STEM graduates who go on to earn doctoral degrees, ranking eighth nationally among 660 master’s level institutions, the university said in a news release.

White said HSU was positioned well to meet needs the state’s future workforce needs.

“(HSU) is a vital institution on the North Coast and for California,” he wrote. “The campus currently has many distinct strengths in the sciences, with a special capacity for matters pertaining to forestry, oceanography, energy, and agriculture. As we look to the needs of California in the decades ahead, programs dealing with the development and application of new knowledge in the fire sciences, aquaculture, sustainable energy, North Coast crops, and environmental sustainability are among a few areas where HSU could provide world-class programs.”

College of the Redwoods president Keith Flamer, whose institution recently announced it would be introducing an aquaculture program to prepare students for job opportunities at the soon-to-be-built Nordic Aquafarms fish farm in Samoa, lauded the potential for more collaboration between the two schools.

“This will allow CR and HSU to expand the transfer pathway in the science, technology, engineering, mathematics, forestry and aquaculture fields,” Flamer said. “CR’s administration and faculty are committed to working with our (HSU) partners to build a pathway from our high-quality, STEM-related programs to HSU. It is a ‘win-win’ collaboration.”

A polytechnic designation, as described by both White and Jackson, would make HSU a more desirable destination for prospective students across the state, and nation, during a time in which HSU is combatting decreasing enrollment. HSU fields 85% of its students from outside the county.

Although the university did see a significant improvement over its estimated 2020-21 enrollment projection, the university is still planning for a 20% decline in enrollment for 2021-22 because of current “uncertainty” amid the coronavirus pandemic and other uncontrollable factors.

Jackson, in an interview with the Times-Standard, said HSU already offers a number of polytechnic courses.

“This would enable us to play on those strengths,” Jackson said. “It’s no secret that California needs a more career-minded, technically trained people in its workforce. Being a polytechnic is a very specific brand, and it is one we are already delivering.”

The state’s other two polytechnic universities, according to Jackson, turn away more students yearly than HSU enrolls.

“I’m not saying we would get all those students, but (HSU becoming a polytechnic) would give those students another option,” he said.

Jackson said, for example, HSU may look at adding more types of engineering courses and increasing its offerings in its sustainability and environmental science course, areas which would give HSU its own lane in the CSU’s polytechnic trio, should it become one. Jackson said specific course additions would be up to faculty to determine what is best.

“It’s about growth in certain areas to meet the needs of this state,” Jackson said. “Being a polytechnic doesn’t mean we would lose anything we already have — it just means we would gain more.”

As Nordic Aquafarms nears construction of its fish farm, and as RTI Industries prepares to land a series of fiber-optic cables stretching from Singapore to Humboldt County’s coast and connect them in Arcata with other new lines from the Digital 299 project, Jackson says it “couldn’t be a more opportune time for Humboldt State, and for our county, for HSU to become a polytechnic school.”

“This is big,” Jackson said. “This is one of the biggest things that, potentially, could happen to this university in its history. This a game changer.”

North Coast Congressman Jared Huffman lauded the potential for the district he represents.

“Becoming the third polytechnic university in the CSU system could be an exciting way forward for HSU, its students, and the North Coast community,” he said.

Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson, whose district includes Arcata, called it a natural fit.

“To me, it’s a recognition of the important role this institution continues to play in our understanding of natural systems, our impacts on the planet and the quest for solutions to make all communities more resilient,” Wilson said.

Argentine soccer great Diego Maradona has died at age 60

  • FILE – In this June 27, 2010 file photo, Argentina head coach Diego Maradona gestures during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Argentina and Mexico at Soccer City in Johannesburg, South Africa. The Argentine soccer great who was among the best players ever and who led his country to the 1986 World Cup title before later struggling with cocaine use and obesity, died from a heart attack on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, at his home in Buenos Aires. He was 60. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)

  • FILE – In this Dec. 26, 2019 file photo, former soccer great Diego Maradona flashes victory signs to fans below at the Casa Rosada government house after meeting with Argentine President Alberto Fernandez in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Decades ago, Maradona held up his team’s soccer trophy at this spot on the balcony after winning the World Cup in Mexico in 1986. The Argentine soccer great who was among the best players ever and who led his country to the 1986 World Cup title before later struggling with cocaine use and obesity, died from a heart attack on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, at his home in Buenos Aires. He was 60. (AP Photo/Marcos Brindicci, File)

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  • FILE – In this July 25, 1984 file photo, Argentine soccer superstar Diego Armando Maradona trains with his new team, Napoli of Naples, in Castel del Piano, mountain resort in central Italy. The Argentine soccer great who was among the best players ever and who led his country to the 1986 World Cup title before later struggling with cocaine use and obesity, died from a heart attack on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, at his home in Buenos Aires. He was 60. (AP Photo/Massimo Sambucetti, File)

  • FILE – In this Sept. 8, 2019 file photo, former soccer great Diego Maradona gets emotional during a news conference after his presentation as the new head coach of the Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata soccer team in La Plata, Argentina. The Argentine soccer great who was among the best players ever and who led his country to the 1986 World Cup title before later struggling with cocaine use and obesity, died from a heart attack on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, at his home in Buenos Aires. He was 60. (AP Photo/Marcos Brindicci, File)

  • FILE – In this June 29, 1986 file photo, Diego Maradona holds up his team’s trophy after Argentina’s 3-2 victory over West Germany at the World Cup final soccer match at Atzeca Stadium in Mexico City. The Argentine soccer great who was among the best players ever and who led his country to the 1986 World Cup title before later struggling with cocaine use and obesity, died from a heart attack on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, at his home in Buenos Aires. He was 60. (AP Photo/Carlo Fumagalli, File)

  • FILE – In this June 22, 1986 file photo, Argentina’s Diego Maradona, left, beats England’s goalkeeper Peter Shilton to a high ball and scores his first of two goals at the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match in Mexico City. On this day: This was the day of the “Hand of God,” when Maradona used his left fist to knock a ball past England’s Shilton. (El Grafico via AP, File)

  • FILE – In this Oct. 10, 2009 file photo, under the pouring rain, Argentina’s coach Diego Maradona looks up under the pouring rain during a 2010 World Cup qualifying soccer match against Peru, in Buenos Aires. Argentina won 2-1. The Argentine soccer great who was among the best players ever and who led his country to the 1986 World Cup title before later struggling with cocaine use and obesity, died from a heart attack on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, at his home in Buenos Aires. He was 60. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko, File)

  • FILE – In this Oct. 25, 1997 file photo, Diego Armando Maradona celebrates a goal on his last official soccer game with Boca Juniors in Buenos Aires, Argentina.The Argentine soccer great who was among the best players ever and who led his country to the 1986 World Cup title before later struggling with cocaine use and obesity, died from a heart attack on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, at his home in Buenos Aires. He was 60. (AP Photo/Eduardo Di Baia, File)

  • FILE – In this April 22, 2008 file photo, former Boca Juniors player and soccer legend Diego Armando Maradona celebrates a goal by Boca Juniors at a Copa Libertadores match against Venezuela’s Union Maracaibo in Buenos Aires. The Argentine soccer great who was among the best players ever and who led his country to the 1986 World Cup title before later struggling with cocaine use and obesity, died from a heart attack on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, at his home in Buenos Aires. He was 60. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko, File)

  • FILE – In this Nov. 4, 2005 file photo, Diego Armando Maradona speaks to the crowd as he is embraced by Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez during a rally against the presence of U.S. President Bush at the Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, Argentina. The Argentine soccer great who was among the best players ever and who led his country to the 1986 World Cup title before later struggling with cocaine use and obesity, died from a heart attack on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, at his home in Buenos Aires. He was 60. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills, File)

  • FILE – In this June 25, 1994 file photo, Diego Maradona leaves the field of play for a random drug test with a medical technician of the International Soccer Federation (FIFA) after the team’s 2-1 win over Nigeria in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The Argentine Football Association confirmed Maradona tested positive for ephedrine, a nasal decongestant that is a banned substance. The Argentine soccer great who was among the best players ever and who led his country to the 1986 World Cup title before later struggling with cocaine use and obesity, died from a heart attack on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, at his home in Buenos Aires. He was 60. (AP Photo/Joe Cavaretta, File)

  • FILE – In this Oct. 27, 2005 file photo released by the Cuban government’s National Information Agency (AIN), Cuban President Fidel Castro, right, meets Argentina’s former soccer star Diego Maradona on the program “Mesa Redonda” in Havana, Cuba. The Argentine soccer great who was among the best players ever and who led his country to the 1986 World Cup title before later struggling with cocaine use and obesity, died from a heart attack on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, at his home in Buenos Aires. He was 60. (AIN/Ismael Francisco via AP)

  • FILE – In this July 14, 1996 file photo released by Telam, Boca Juniors’ Diego Maradona, right, and teammate Claudio Caniggia kiss as they celebrate Caniggia’s goal, their team’s second against River Plate, before their 4-1 victory in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The Argentine soccer great who was among the best players ever and who led his country to the 1986 World Cup title before later struggling with cocaine use and obesity, died from a heart attack on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, at his home in Buenos Aires. He was 60. (Telam via AP File)

  • FILE – In this June 29, 1982 file photo, Diego Maradona is tackled by Italy’s Claudio Gentile during a World Cup second-round match between Italy and Argentina at Sarra Stadium in Barcelona, Spain. The Argentine soccer great who was among the best players ever and who led his country to the 1986 World Cup title before later struggling with cocaine use and obesity, died from a heart attack on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, at his home in Buenos Aires. He was 60. (AP Photo, File)

  • FILE – In this March 7, 2020 file photo, Diego Maradona, coach of Gimnasia y Esgrima, sits on the bench prior to Argentina’s soccer league match against Boca Juniors at La Bombonera stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Maradona turns 60 on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko, File)

  • FILE – In this June 27, 2010 file photo, Argentina head coach Diego Maradona, left, gives instructions to Argentina’s Lionel Messi during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Argentina and Mexico at Soccer City in Johannesburg, South Africa. The Argentine soccer great who was among the best players ever and who led his country to the 1986 World Cup title before later struggling with cocaine use and obesity, died from a heart attack on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, at his home in Buenos Aires. He was 60. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)

  • Dorados’ Head Coach Diego Maradona waves as he takes his seat on the bench ahead of the start of Dorados’ Copa MX quarterfinal match against Pumas at Olympic University Stadium in Mexico City, Tuesday, March 12, 2019. Pumas defeated the Dorados 3-0.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

By DEBORA REY

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Diego Maradona, the Argentine soccer great who was among the best players ever and who led his country to the 1986 World Cup title before later struggling with cocaine use and obesity, has died. He was 60.

The office of Argentina’s president will decree three days of national mourning because of Maradona’s death on Wednesday, and the Argentine soccer association expressed its sorrow on Twitter.

Maradona died two weeks after being released from a Buenos Aires hospital following brain surgery.

Famed for the “Hand of God” goal in which he punched the ball into England’s net during the 1986 World Cup quarterfinals, Maradona captivated fans over a two-decade career with a bewitching style of play that was all his own.

Although his reputation was tarnished by his addictions and an ill-fated spell in charge of the national team, he remained idolized in soccer-mad Argentina as the “Pibe de Oro” or “Golden Boy.”

The No. 10 he wore on his jersey became synonymous with him, as it also had with Pele, the Brazilian great with whom Maradona was regularly paired as the best of all time.

Bold, fast and utterly unpredictable, Maradona was a master of attack, juggling the ball easily from one foot to the other as he raced upfield. Dodging and weaving with his low center of gravity, he shrugged off countless rivals and often scored with a devastating left foot, his most powerful weapon.

“Everything he was thinking in his head, he made it happen with his feet,” said Salvatore Bagni, who played with Maradona at Italian club Napoli.

A ballooning waistline slowed Maradona’s explosive speed later in his career and by 1991 he was snared in his first doping scandal when he admitted to a cocaine habit that haunted him until he retired in 1997, at 37.

Hospitalized near death in 2000 and again in ’04 for heart problems blamed on cocaine, he later said he overcame the drug problem. Cocaine, he once said famously, had proven to be his “toughest rival.”

But more health problems followed, despite a 2005 gastric bypass that greatly trimmed his weight. Maradona was hospitalized in early 2007 for acute hepatitis that his doctor blamed on excessive drinking and eating.

He made an unlikely return to the national team in 2008 when he was appointed Argentina coach, but after a quarterfinal exit at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, he was ousted — ultimately picking up another coaching job with the United Arab Emirates club Al Wasl.

Maradona was the fifth of eight children who grew up in a poor, gritty barrio on the Buenos Aires outskirts where he played a kind of dirt-patch soccer that launched many Argentines to international stardom.

None of them approached Maradona’s fame. In 2001, FIFA named Maradona one of the two greatest in the sport’s history, alongside Pele.

“Maradona inspires us,” said then-Argentina striker Carlos Tevez, explaining his country’s everyman fascination with Maradona at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. “He’s our idol, and an idol for the people.”

Maradona reaped titles at home and abroad, playing in the early 1980s for Argentinos Juniors and Boca Juniors before moving on to Spanish and Italian clubs. His crowning achievement came at the 1986 World Cup, captaining Argentina in its 3-2 win over West Germany in the final and decisive in a 2-1 victory against England in a feisty quarterfinal match.

Over the protests of England goalkeeper Peter Shilton, the referee let stand a goal by Maradona in which, as he admitted years later, he intentionally hit the ball with his hand in “a bit of mischief.”

But Maradona’s impact wouldn’t be confined to cheating. Four minutes later, he spectacularly weaved past four opponents from midfield to beat Shilton for what FIFA later declared the greatest goal in World Cup history.

Many Argentines saw the match as revenge for their country’s loss to Britain in the 1982 war over the Falkland Islands, which Argentines still claim as “Las Malvinas.”

“It was our way of recovering ‘Las Malvinas,’” Maradona wrote in his 2000 autobiography “I am Diego.”

“It was more than trying to win a game. We said the game had nothing to do with the war. But we knew that Argentines had died there, that they had killed them like birds. And this was our revenge. It was something bigger than us: We were defending our flag.”

It also was vindication for Maradona, who in what he later called “the greatest tragedy” of his career was cut from the squad of the 1978 World Cup — which Argentina won at home — because he was only 17.

Maradona said he was given a soccer ball soon after he could run.

“I was 3 years old and I slept hugging that ball all night,” he said.

At 10, Maradona gained fame by performing at halftime of professional matches, wowing crowds by keeping the ball airborne for minutes with his feet, chest and head. He also made his playing debut with the Argentinos Juniors youth team, leading a squad of mostly 14-year-olds through 136 unbeaten matches.

“To see him play was pure bliss, true stardom,” teammate Carlos Beltran said.

Maradona played from 1976-81 for first division club Argentinos Juniors, then went to Boca Juniors for a year before heading to Barcelona for a world-record $8 million.

In 1984, Barcelona sold him to Napoli, in Italy. He remade its fortunes almost single-handedly, taking it to the 1987 Italian league championship for its first title in 60 years.

A year after losing the 1990 World Cup final to West Germany, Maradona moved to Spanish club Sevilla, but his career was on the decline. He played five matches at Argentine club Newell’s Old Boys in 1994 before returning to Boca from 1995-97 — his final club and closest to his heart.

Drug problems overshadowed his final playing years.

Maradona failed a doping test in 1991 and was banned for 15 months, acknowledging his longtime cocaine addiction. He failed another doping test for stimulants and was thrown out of the 1994 World Cup in the United States.

In retirement, Maradona frequented Boca matches as a raucous one-man cheering section and took part in worldwide charity, sporting and exhibition events. But the already stocky forward quickly gained weight and was clearly short of breath as he huffed through friendly matches.

In 2000, in what doctors said was a brush with death, he was hospitalized in the Uruguayan resort of Punta del Este with a heart that doctors said was pumping at less than half its capacity. Blood and urine samples turned up traces of cocaine.

After another emergency hospitalization in 2004, Maradona was counseled for drug abuse and in September of that year traveled to Cuba for treatment at Havana’s Center for Mental Health. There he was visited by his friend, Cuban President Fidel Castro.

In Cuba, Maradona took to playing golf and smoking cigars. He frequently praised Castro and Argentine-born revolutionary “Che” Guevara, who fought with Castro in the Cuban revolution — even sporting a tattoo of Guevara on his right arm.

Maradona said he got clean from drugs there and started a new chapter.

In 2005, he underwent gastric bypass in Colombia, shedding nearly 50 kilograms (more than 100 pounds) before appearing as host of a wildly popular Argentine television talk show. On “10’s Night,” Maradona headed around a ball with Pele, interviewed boxer Mike Tyson and Hollywood celebrities, and taped a lengthy conversation with Castro in Cuba.

In retirement, Maradona also became more outspoken. He sniped frequently at former coaches, players — including Pele — and the pope. He joined a left-wing protest train outside the Summit of the Americas in 2005, standing alongside Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to denounce the presence of then-President George W. Bush.

His outsider status made it all the more surprising when he was chosen as Argentina coach following Alfio Basile’s resignation.

He won his first three matches but his tactics, selection and attention to detail were all questioned after a 6-1 loss to Bolivia in World Cup qualifying equaled Argentina’s worst-ever margin of defeat.

Victor Hugo Morales, Argentina’s most popular soccer broadcaster, said Maradona will ultimately be remembered for a thrilling style of play that has never been duplicated.

“He has been one of the great artists of my time. Like great masters of music and painting, he has defied our intellect and enriched the human spirit,” Morales said. “Nobody has thrilled me more and left me in such awe as Diego.”

L.A. County takes first steps toward new youth justice department

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has voted to take the first steps in transitioning to a rehabilitative, ‘care-first’ model of juvenile justice, a plan expected to ultimately move funding and responsibility out of the probation department and into a new Department of Youth Development by 2025.

The move was based on a set of recommendations laid out in a report titled Youth Justice Reimagined, produced by the county’s Youth Justice Work Group. It calls for reducing the overall size and scope of the juvenile probation system and investing in community-based resources.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl previewed the plan Monday in a briefing with reporters.

“Honestly our current system really isn’t working. It’s not working for us, it obviously isn’t working for the young people,” Kuehl said then.

“Rather than a punitive system in a prison-like setting with big buildings and barbed wire, far from their communities, what we’re proposing and beginning to explore with this motion is more of a homelike setting in communities, still with public safety in mind.”

Kuehl and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas co-authored a motion calling on the board to adopt the ‘care-first’ values outlined in the report and direct the CEO and the Office of Diversion and Reentry to return in 60 days with a report on establishing a transition-planning team.

It also calls for a legal analysis of responsibilities that could be assumed by the envisioned Department of Youth Development, as well as an analysis of the probation workforce and the staffing needed for the DYD.

Though the number of minors in care of the probation department has declined significantly in recent years, Los Angeles County’s youth justice system remains the largest in the nation with approximately 500 young people in the county’s two juvenile halls and six probation camps.

As with county jails, the juvenile system is characterized by and promotes ongoing racial inequities. Black youth are six times more likely to be arrested and 25 times more likely to be incarcerated than their white peers. Research shows that a single arrest nearly doubles the likelihood of a young person dropping out of high school.

More than 100 county staffers, community leaders, labor partners and activists, including youth previously in detention or otherwise involved in the justice system, worked over the past year to generate the report.

They imagine something that is bigger than reform and more on the order of transformation.

“Probation is not a system that can simply be reformed,” Milinda Kakani of the Children’s Defense Fund said. “This system of incarceration and punishment is no place to lift up the potential of L.A. County’s youth.”

The work included discussions with probation officers, who reportedly expressed fear about losing their jobs, but also hope about a system that might better serve everyone.

Probation will maintain responsibility for adult probationers and Kuehl said the transition will be gradual.

“The county does not like to let anybody go,” Kuehl said Monday, noting the absence of layoffs even during the pandemic.

“We want to explore sort of redesigning the work so that people who are in our union working in probation have the opportunity to shift to roles in this new department.”

The county is simultaneously making plans to handle the state’s shut down of its juvenile justice system. California will end the transfer of minors to state lockups as of July 1.

A report on the county’s plans to accommodate that change is expected Dec. 15.

Coronavirus cleaning: Is wiping down groceries still a thing?

By CANDICE CHOI | Associated Press

NEW YORK — Cleaning wipes are harder to find on store shelves, and businesses are reassuring customers with stepped up sanitation measures. In New York, the subway system is shut down nightly for disinfecting.

To avoid any traces of the coronavirus that might be lurking on surfaces, Americans have been wiping down groceries, wearing surgical gloves when they go out and leaving mail packages out for an extra day or two. But experts say the national fixation on scrubbing sparked by the pandemic can sometimes be overkill.

“It’s important to clean surfaces, but not to obsess about it too much in a way that can be unhealthy,” said Dr. John Brooks, chief medical officer for the COVID-19 response at the U.S. Centers for Disease and Control.

  • FILE – This March 13, 2020, file photo shows a package of Lysol disinfectant wipes on a shelf at a store in Athens, Ga. Disinfectant wipes are harder to find on store shelves, and businesses are going all out to reassure customers with stepped up sanitation measures. To avoid any traces of the coronavirus that might be lurking on surfaces, Americans have been wiping down groceries, wearing surgical gloves in public and leaving mail packages out for an extra day or two. But experts say fear of being infected by touching something can be overblown. (Joshua L. Jones/Athens Banner-Herald via AP, File)

  • FILE – In this July 6, 2020 file photo, women with face masks and protective gloves wait for a Metro Rail train in Los Angeles during the coronavirus pandemic. To avoid any traces of the coronavirus that might be lurking on surfaces, Americans have been wiping down groceries, wearing surgical gloves in public and leaving mail packages out for an extra day or two. But experts say fear of being infected by touching something can be overblown. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

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  • FILE- In this March 24, 2020 file photo, a woman reaches for yogurt wearing gloves during senior shopping hours at Homeland in Oklahoma City. To avoid any traces of the coronavirus that might be lurking on surfaces, Americans have been wiping down groceries, wearing surgical gloves in public and leaving mail packages out for an extra day or two. But experts say fear of being infected by touching something can be overblown. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

Health officials knew less about the virus in the early days of the pandemic, but say it’s become clearer the main way it spreads is between people — through the respiratory droplets they spray when talking, coughing, sneezing or singing. It’s why officials emphasize the importance of wearing masks and social distancing.

That doesn’t mean surfaces don’t pose any risk — cleaning is still recommended — especially frequently touched spots like door knobs or elevator buttons that infected people might have recently touched. Other germs that sicken people, like gastrointestinal bugs, haven’t gone away either.

But with COVID-19, experts say to keep the risk in perspective: The virus is fragile and doesn’t survive easily outside the body for long. Early studies finding it could linger on surfaces for days used large viral loads and were in laboratory conditions, not the real world. Other tests might just detect remnants of the virus, rather than live virus capable of infecting people.

Viruses also don’t leap off surfaces to infect people, and infection would require a sequence of events: There would have to be enough surviving virus on whatever the person is touching, the person would have to get it on their hands, then touch their mouth, nose or eyes.

All that means there could be diminishing returns to all the disinfecting, especially if people have good hand washing practices.

For public health experts, the challenge is telling people exactly where they should draw the line, especially if cleaning isn’t doing any harm.

What counts as overkill could also vary depending on the situation, said Justin Lessler, an expert in infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins University.

While Lessler wouldn’t wipe down his own groceries, for example, he said it might not be a bad idea for people caring for someone at high-risk for becoming severely ill if infected.

“These are things that maybe are on the lower end of how much they actually reduce risk. But they’re relatively easy and cheap,” he said.

And in nursing homes, Lessler said vigilance about disinfecting surfaces makes sense.

Even if it doesn’t meaningfully reduce risk, regularly disinfecting surfaces can be a way for people to exert control when they feel they don’t have any, said Stephen Morse, an infectious disease researcher at Columbia University.

In public places, he said stepped up cleaning — what some refer to as “hygiene theater” — can be a way to reassure people.

“People want to make it evident that they really care,” Morse said.

But Emanuel Goldman, a professor of microbiology at Rutgers-New Jersey Medical School, said that reassurance could also create a false sense of safety — and detract from measures that matter more.

“They worry less about what they breathe. And breathing is your primary source of infection,” said Goldman, who wrote a commentary in a medical journal in July saying the fear of transmission through surfaces was being overblown.

“I’m not saying don’t do routine maintenance. I’m not saying don’t do cleaning. But you don’t have to go to extraordinary measures,” he said.

In some cases, Goldman noted there are significant financial costs.

In New York, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is spending $8.1 million a week on COVID-19 related expenses, including subway cleanings throughout the day and overnight.

The agency says it’s approaching safety in multiple ways. And Mark Dowd, the agency’s chief innovation officer, said surfaces could still pose a risk, and that understanding of the virus has continued to evolve.

“We don’t think taking our foot off the pedal with regard to disinfecting our surfaces is the right approach,” he said.

The MTA is also looking at ways to improve ventilation, Dowd said, but that is far more complicated.

Americans are wiping store shelves clean of disinfecting products, too. Since the pandemic hit, sales have been up about 30% in the The Clorox Co.’s business unit that includes cleaning products.

Whether those habits will last remains to be seen.

At the start of the pandemic in March and April, Paige Zuber said she would come home from her corporate food service job in New York and leave her mask in a bag by the door, immediately change out of her clothes and shower.

“It was like disinfecting chaos to make sure I was not bringing anything into our apartment,” said Zuber, who has since been laid off and moved to Rhode Island.

Zuber is still cleaning a lot more than she did before the pandemic, but not going to the same extremes.

At the CDC, Brooks said he tells people to do what makes them comfortable, but to keep in mind the relative risk of different routes of transmission.

“As long as you don’t touch your face when you’re unpacking those groceries, and wash your hands afterwards and are careful, I think that may be sufficient,” he said.

Joe Biden appeals for unity in Thanksgiving-eve address

By ALEXANDRA JAFFE | Associated Press

WILMINGTON, Del. — In a time of plague and raw division, President-elect Joe Biden appealed for unity Wednesday in a Thanksgiving-eve address to the nation asking Americans to “steel our spines” for a fight against the coronavirus that he predicted would continue for months.

But even as he implored Americans to join in healing and common purpose, President Donald Trump asserted that the election should be overturned, a futile call but one that stokes the divisions Biden is trying to overcome.

With COVID-19 cases surging nationwide, Biden called on Americans to take precautions to try to stem the tide of the virus, by wearing masks and practicing social distancing. While he said the federal government has “vast powers” to combat the virus, “the federal government can’t do it alone.”

“Each of us has a responsibility in our own lives to do what we can to slow the virus,” he said in remarks in Wilmington.

Biden said that, until there’s a vaccine, wearing masks, social distancing and limiting the size of gatherings “are our most effective tools to combat the virus.” But he pledged that from the start of his presidency, “we will take steps that will change the course of the disease,” including increasing testing, providing more protective gear and clearer guidance for businesses and schools to reopen.

And he said that he himself was taking precautions around Thanksgiving and eschewing his traditional large family gathering, instead spending the holiday with just his wife, daughter and son in law.

“This is the moment when we need to steel our spines, redouble our efforts and recommit ourselves to this fight,” Biden said. “We’re all in this together.”

But Trump stoked the embers of his flailing effort to upend the election results as his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and other members of his legal team met Pennsylvania Republican state senators in Gettysburg. There, they again aired grievances about the election and repeated allegations of Democratic malfeasance that have already disintegrated under examination by courts.

Trump joined the meeting from the Oval Office, asserting: “This was an election that we won easily. We won it by a lot.” In fact the election gave Biden a clear mandate and no systemic fraud has been uncovered.

In his remarks in Wilmington, Biden made passing reference to Trump’s refusal to concede, declaring “our democracy was tested this year” but “the people of this nation are up to the task.”

“In America, we have full and fair and free elections, and then we honor the results,” he said. “The people of this nation and the laws of the land won’t stand for anything else.”

He also offered an optimistic vision, calling on Americans to “dream again” and predicting that “the 21st century is going to be an American century.”

Biden’s remarks came as COVID-19 cases are surging nationwide. Hospitalizations, deaths and the testing positivity rate were also up sharply as the nation approached Thanksgiving, and public health experts have warned that the large family gatherings expected for the holiday are likely to extend and exacerbate the surge.

Biden has said turning the tide of the pandemic will be the top priority of his administration once he takes office in January, and he’s made multiple public remarks urging Americans to embrace mask-wearing and social distancing guidelines to combat the spread. The Democratic president-elect formed a coronavirus advisory board of scientists, doctors and public health experts, and he plans to establish a COVID-19 coordinator in the White House to lead his administration’s response.

This week, however, Biden focused beyond the crisis stateside and unveiled his national security team on Tuesday, including his nominees for secretary of state, director of national intelligence and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Drawing implicit contrasts with President Donald Trump throughout the event, Biden said that the team “reflects the fact that America is back, ready to lead the world, not retreat from it.” He’s also expected to name Janet Yellen as treasury secretary in the coming weeks.

The president-elect’s team has also begun the next phase of its transition preparations after the Trump-appointed head of the General Services Administration declared Biden the “apparent winner” of the election, removing a major roadblock to cooperation between Biden’s staff and their counterparts in the Trump administration.

Trump has refused to concede the election, and his campaign continues to pursue legal challenges to the vote in some states. But the GSA’s ascertainment of Biden’s win means the transition can proceed regardless of the Republican president’s resistance.

For the next few days, Biden plans to spend some time focused on his family. He’s traveling with his wife, Jill, to Rehoboth Beach, the small Delaware beach town where the two have a vacation home. That’s where they’ll host their daughter and son-in-law for Thanksgiving dinner. Biden is expected to stay through the weekend in Rehoboth, before returning to Wilmington for further work on the transition.

Willowbrook Community Doubt the District Attorney Will File Charges Against the Deputy Who Fatally Shot a Black Man in the Back

Mother and father of Fred Williams at a press conference.

Stephen Oduntan, Staff

Mid October, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy shot and killed Fred Williams in Willowbrook, prompting days of protests and conflicting accounts of the moment that led to his death. Amid the demonstrations, one notable chant rippled through the crowds: “Release the bodycam.”

Now, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has done just that.

Sheriff’s officials released an 11-minute briefing late last Friday that included body camera footage, security video and radio communications from the incident. The disclosure came after the Williams family privately reviewed the footage with the captain of the Century station, where the deputy was assigned.

The newly released video from Oct. 16 shows Williams, 25, fleeing the sheriff’s deputy up a driveway and then jumping over a fence with a gun in his hand before he was shot. During the incident, the deputy broadcasted over the radio that Williams “pointed 417 at me,” referring to the firearm.

Toni Jaramilla, a civil rights activist and attorney, said the video revealed that Black lives don’t matter to the deputy who was chasing Williams on foot.

“The video shows that Fred was unjustly shot at by the deputy,” Jaramilla told L.A. Focus in a telephone interview on Monday. “From looking at the camera footage, Fred was not pointing a weapon at the deputy. He was jumping over the fence when he was shot. And it’s consistent with the autopsy report that says he was shot in the back.”

The Sheriff’s Department said homicide investigators recovered a semiautomatic handgun at the scene.

A day after the incident, the Sheriff’s Department said Williams “engaged the deputy by pointing his firearm at him.”

But a summary of the incident posted on the Sheriff’s Department’s website Friday appeared to walk that back, saying “the deputy rounded the corner and encountered [Williams], gun in hand and a deputy involved shooting occurred.”

The coroner’s office has not yet completed the full autopsy report but has determined that Williams died by a “gunshot wound of the back,” according to its online records.

The slain man’s father Fred Williams Jr. said he was angry.

“We all know what’s going on in these streets. We’ve been watching it on the news every day. It’s coldblooded. They murdered my son. I can’t fathom the words to explain it other than it’s heartbreaking,” said Williams Jr., struggling to suppress raw emotions. 

The Williams family and activists are demanding that criminal charges be filed. Cliff Smith, an organizer with the Coalition for Community Control Over the Police, called on Jackie Lacey, the district attorney to charge the deputy involved in the fatal shooting with murder “just as any [civilian] would’ve been charged for shooting someone in the back.”

Still, activists and the Willowbrook community remain more pessimistic than optimistic about the District Attorney’s Office filing criminal charges against the deputy. Lacey, say critics, has a long history of not prosecuting police officers who kill civilians.

“We have no confidence in Jackie Lacey, and we have no confidence in the criminal justice system. But it is our job to organize and bring pressure on the system to the extent that we get justice,” Smith said.

Smith explained that he wanted to see a more robust civilian control of law enforcement agencies and officers, who he says abuse their authority and answer to no one but themselves.

“We want community control. We want the sheriff’s department under the democratic control of the community. An all civilian control board with absolute authority over the sheriff’s department. Only democracy will bring accountability,” Smith said.

Senior Citizens Targeted in South L.A. Voting Scam

Christal Mims, Staff

L.A. County is assembling a special investigative team to enforce search warrants at the Westminster Arms apartments and surrounding areas after an unidentified woman targeted senior citizens in a voting scam. The woman allegedly told residents that she would assist them in filling out their ballot and then either had them sign it or signed it herself before taking them.

The Los Angeles bureau of the Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS) reported that seniors involved in the incident planned to report it.

“Many seniors were suspicious, but after hearing that the woman will help them with the election, they gave her the mail ballots. The senior apartment has 54 units and only three households are non-Korean and many Korean American seniors plan to report the incident to the police,” the SBS report said.

The SBS also reported that the suspect asked the victims to vote for a particular candidate before signing and collecting them.

The Los Angeles County Registrar Recorder is now involved in attempting to identify the suspect.

“We take reports of this type of activity very seriously, as even the appearance of interference can erode trust in the elections process,” said L.A. County Registrar Dean Logan.

Rev. William Smart, CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California (SCLC), expressed his disappointment with any individual attempting to illegally influence the election and manipulate citizens.

“It’s unfortunate that something like this has happened with all that we have done to ensure people the right to vote and the SCLC’s work on voter representation. We just hope that the county, as they do their investigation, can find out what happened and that whoever’s responsible, they can be dealt with accordingly,” Rev. Smart said. “I want justice. One vote for everybody is something that we advocate for. People shouldn’t be desperate and do wrong.”

Voters are being encouraged to drop off their ballots at official ballot drop-off locations.

“You can still register to vote in person at any Vote Center through Election Day,” tweeted L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti on Monday. “Vote Centers are open today. Make your voice heard.”

A new online reporting tool has also been created to manage cases of potential voter fraud.

“Voter integrity is at stake and consequences for this kind of alleged fraud must be swift and certain,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas in a statement. “It is particularly deplorable that anyone would take advantage of a vulnerable population in order to swing the outcome of an election.”

In an effort to ensure more awareness and transparency, the L.A. County Registrar announced a new resident tool to help protect ballots and alert their office to any attempts to damage or mislead voters.

Said Logan, “The swift nature in which the Department of Consumers and Business Affairs assisted in this effort speaks to the commitment across the County to protect and provide great customer service to our voters.”

Anyone with information regarding the incident that took place at the Westminster Arms apartments is being encouraged to contact the L.A. County Registrar Recorder at (800) 815-2666.

Black and Latinx Voters Are Being Targeted by Potential Russian Social Media Campaigns

Dianne Lugo, Staff

Four years ago, the Russian government used Twitter bots, Facebook pages and Instagram posts to launch a massive misinformation campaign to interfere in the 2016 U.S election. These Russian operatives, working for the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency specifically targeted African Americans according to the final Senate committee report released earlier this year.

“No single group of Americans was targeted by IRA information operatives more than African Americans. By far, race and related issues were the preferred target of the information warfare campaign designed to divide the country in 2016,” the report said.

Now, it appears someone is employing similar tactics to mislead Latino and Black voters this election.

Once again Black voters have become the primary target of disinformation efforts, although it’s not as clear if the Russians are to blame.

In a report from NPR, it appears messages are hoping to encourage apathy among Black voters in an effort to dissuade them from heading to the polls.

“Democrats and Republicans are the same. There’s no point in voting,” one post read.

This year, Latinos have also become a massive target as they become the largest non-white voting block in 2020. There will be 32 million eligible Latino voters this year, just slightly more than the 30 million voters who are Black. And unfortunately, some of the more harmful messages spread on social media appear to be trying to pit Latino and Black voters against one another, according to the New York Times.

“They feed into real fears, about the pandemic, about socialism and exploiting potential gaps within communities, between the Black community and the Latino community,” said Jacobo Licona to the New York Times. Licona studies misinformation for Equis Labs, a liberal-leaning Latino research group.

To combat this, both Latino and Black activists have launched campaigns to protect and spread awareness about misinformation being spread online, warning voters about the more obvious signs of fake accounts and groups and about being more careful about what they share online. 

Briefly: Businesses Around L.A. Board Up Their Shops in Preparation for Election Results; Tyler Perry to Hire Writers and Filmmakers after Facing Criticism…

Businesses Around L.A. Board Up Their Shops in Preparation for Election Results

Several businesses around L.A. and the nation are taking precautions ahead of Election 

Day results by boarding up their stores in case of any rioting or looting that may follow. Plywood window panels can now be seen covering multiple shops in cities like L.A., New York, San Francisco, Boston and Washington DC.        

Rodeo Drive will be closed starting at 11:59 p.m. on Monday for two days and several businesses on Rodeo and the surrounding areas have boarded up their shops. Many shops in Downtown L.A. and Santa Monica are also boarding up ahead of Tuesday’s election night.

“As a Police Department, we cannot tell businesses what to do when it comes to boarding up,” a Santa Monica Police Department statement read. “However, we understand the need to feel secure and we respect your decisions on how to handle your day to day operations.”

Businesses down Sunset Blvd. and La Brea Ave. have also made the decision to board up their shops.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and Police Chief Michel Moore have stated that preparations are in place to deal with unrest on election day or the following days.

“We are very prepared for the election, but at the same time I don’t want to buy into a narrative that there’s going to be chaos during our election,” Garcetti said. “We prepare for the worst, but we are hoping and expect generally the best. There may be individual instances, we’ll see some stuff around the country, but don’t let any of that change the narrative of you, your right to vote.”

The Insurance Information Institute reported that businesses in the U.S. have faced upwards of $900 million in insured losses from vandalism during protests this year.

                                                                 

Tyler Perry

Tyler Perry to Hire Writers and Filmmakers after Facing Criticism for Writing All of His Content 

Tyler Perry is set to begin hiring a new team of filmmakers and writers for his multiple TV shows and upcoming movies. The new billionaire faced criticism earlier this year after revealing that he did not have a “writer’s room” and did all of the writing for his TV shows and movies himself. Perry is now saying that he wants to fill his Tyler Perry Studios with young creatives.

“We’re super excited about the young, up-and-coming filmmakers and new writers that we’re working with,” said Michael Sneed, president of production and development for Tyler Perry Studios. “Tyler has solidified his place in the industry, his brand is amazing, and we’ll continue to grow that. Then on the other side, we’re working on promoting, providing a platform and advocating for this new talent, both in front of and behind the camera.”

Perry is reportedly very excited to begin working with new talent on fresh ideas, a change in tone from his response to earlier criticism, in which he said, “When I hear that kind of stuff, I’m thinking, ‘Are y’all looking at the ratings? Do you understand that the audience is in love with this? Because if you’re complaining about my writing, you’re not the audience. My audience loves the way that it’s done and the way the stories are told. And from the beginning, it’s always been about being true to them.” 

The 50-year-old is now willing to expand the vision of his catalogue by hiring promising talent.

New Report Recommends Colon Screening at age 45

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force—an independent, volunteer panel of national experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine—is officially recommending that the screening for colorectal cancer be lowered from 50 to 45 to reduce the risk of colon cancer deaths.

      Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Despite strong evidence that screening for colorectal cancer is effective, about a quarter of people ages 50 to 75 have never been screened. “Unfortunately, not enough people in the U.S. receive this effective preventive service that has been proven to save lives,” says Task Force chair Alex Krist, M.D., M.P.H. “We hope that this recommendation to screen people ages 45 to 75 for colorectal cancer will encourage more screening and reduce people’s risk of dying from this disease.”

      Black adults get colorectal cancer more often than other populations and are more likely to die from this disease. The Task Force recognizes this disproportionate risk and encourages clinicians to offer recommended colorectal cancer screening to their Black patients beginning at age 45.

      In August, Chadwick Boseman died at the age of 43 from colorectal cancer and while his cancer was diagnosed in his late thirties, experts believe the new recommendation will save lives. 49% of young onset colorectal patients are 43-49 years old.

      Fact is, while the rates for colon and rectal cancer have been declining in adults over 50, they have been rising in adults under 50 who—like Boseman—are more likely to be diagnosed in stage III or IV, when the disease is harder to treat.

      “New science about colorectal cancer in younger people has enabled us to expand our recommendation to screen all adults starting at age 45, especially Black adults who are more likely to die from this disease,” says Task Force member Michael Barry, M.D.

      The most common colon cancer signs and symptoms are:

            Blood in your stool

            Change in bathroom habits

            Fatigue

            Anemia

            Unexplained weight loss

            Persistent cramps or low back pain

            Feeling bloated


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