Data show mass vaccination sites are reaching the general population — not the vulnerable areas they are supposed to target

Cloe Poisson ::

Cars line up at a 10-lane mass COVID-19 vaccination site at Rentschler Field.

When Yale New Haven Hospital officials opened their first mass vaccination clinic at the Floyd Little Athletic Center, they thought they had found the perfect site – near the center of the city and accessible by multiple bus lines for the residents it hoped would come there.

But it didn’t take long for hospital officials to realize that while they were vaccinating lots of people at Floyd Little, few of them were from New Haven.

“We were very disturbed in the first two weeks of opening the Floyd Little site that it was predominantly white suburban people getting vaccinated,” Yale’s chief medical officer, Dr. Thomas Balcezak, said.

Floyd Little wasn’t alone. Many mass vaccination clinics — established in cities to encourage minority residents to participate — instead were drawing more white suburban residents than anticipated.

Yale New Haven Hospital and Hartford HealthCare, two of the largest vaccinators in the state, have vaccinated the state’s most vulnerable residents at similar rates, according to data they shared with CT Mirror.

Yale had administered about 45,000 first doses to the general public as of March 3, and 82% of those went into the arms of white people, while only 6% went to African Americans and 4% to Hispanics.

For Hartford HealthCare, as of March 1, about 78% of their vaccines went to white people, 5% to Hispanics and 4% to African Americans.

Those percentages closely reflect the general population of the 65-and-older age group that was eligible at the time to get vaccinated. Census data show that about 84% of the state’s residents older than 65 are white, about 7% African American and 6.4% Hispanic.

But some of the mass vaccination sites, such as the Floyd Little site in New Haven and another Yale opened at Mitchell College in New London, were supposed to target the more vulnerable populations in the cities, where the demographics are different.

The largest mass vaccination site at Rentschler Field, operated by Community Health Center Inc., inoculated in quantity, not to targeted populations. For weeks, it was the only mass vaccination site where people were getting appointments if they called the state’s dedicated vaccine line, whether they lived near the East Hartford location or elsewhere in the state.

Community Health Center Vice President of Communication Leslie Gianelli said since most of the appointments at the Rentschler site are booked through the federal VAMS website and the state’s dedicated vaccine line, they have not been able to access ethnicity data and are in the process of creating a program to capture the data themselves.

Both Yale and Hartford HealthCare cautioned that their data is skewed because vaccine recipients aren’t required to disclose their race, and many don’t. About 15% of Hartford HealthCare’s first dose recipients didn’t disclose their race when they got vaccinated. At Yale, the non-disclosure rate was about 6%.

At the Floyd Little site, when Yale officials realized it was mostly suburbanites getting the vaccine appointments, they made changes to the system.

“We quickly changed our policies and practices for how we get people signed up at Floyd Little,” Balcezak said. “We are trying to be nimble and change to try to accommodate the people we need to reach.”

Yale made the clinic accessible only to people who live within certain ZIP codes in New Haven, a process that the state is now asking vaccinators to adopt statewide.

State officials recently sent a list of 50 or so ZIP codes that they have identified as qualifying for the CDC’s Socially Vulnerable Index to vaccinators and told them to concentrate on getting vaccines to those areas.

Dueling Bloomfield clinics

Both hospitals are now ramping up pop-up clinics focusing on working with church leaders in the minority communities.

Hartford Health did its first church clinic last weekend at the United Methodist Church in Hartford, vaccinating 55 people. On Friday, hospital officials came to the First Cathedral Church in Bloomfield, the same place where Gov. Ned Lamont made one of his last campaign stops before his election, to vaccinate another 80.

Many of them left First Cathedral to go to another event in Hartford with the Hispanic Health Council, where they announced a new pop-up clinic that will run every week. The first 100 people who signed up were getting vaccinated Friday.

People started lining the halls of First Cathedral about 20 minutes before the clinic opened, and William Rhoe was one of the first people in line. The 64-year-old Hartford man doesn’t have a computer and was wondering how he would get a vaccine when a friend of his wife’s told him to call First Cathedral because they were having a clinic.

“We were fortunate enough to have a friend call us,” Rhoe said as he sat for his 15-minute waiting period after getting his shot.

“I am too old to be nervous. I just wanted to get it done,” Rhoe said. “I’m relieved. It’s been a long year.”

Venita Goodwin decided to get her shot after seeing Gov. Ned Lamont get his at the church a few weeks earlier. She called First Cathedral the next day to ask if they were doing more clinics. They took her number and called last week to sign her up for Friday’s clinic.

Goodwin suffers from diabetes and has been careful not to go out much. She admitted she had concerns about the vaccines initially, but after seeing people get vaccinated without side effects, including the governor, she felt it was time.

“People are dropping like flies from this virus. I don’t want that to be me,” she said.

Get the shot

First Cathedral Pastor Michael Bailey said there’s no reason to fear the vaccine. He believes people are willing to get it if they have access to it. He pointed to the fact there were two clinics going on at his church to show there should be no excuses not to get the shot.

“We want to be a place of comfort, a place where you can come here, feel safe, feel happy, feel cared for,” Bailey said. “If the door is open, you have to walk right through it to be able to get whatever you need as far as getting the shot. Certain places you have to register — there’s also places you don’t necessarily need to register to get the shot.”

While Hartford HealthCare officials set up their clinic inside the First Cathedral Church, the staff from the Charter Oak Health Center and a few members of the Connecticut National Guard set up tents for nurses to prepare the vaccine. They set up a row of computers to register people and put out orange cones in the parking lot to mark lanes.

Charter Oak is one of four federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) that will be getting extra vaccine from the federal government under a new program. It is the third week they have run a vaccine clinic out of the church parking lot. They had used Bloomfield High School previously, but that is no longer available.

Charter Oak Communications Director T.J. Clarke said they expected to administer about 110 shots on Friday.

“We have been working with the mayor to set this up for Bloomfield residents,” Clarke said.

The FQHCs are seen as a vital part of reaching minority populations because many don’t have health care and use the facilities as their main medical provider.

“As the age limit has gotten lower, we have seen more people driving here, so we expect that it will continue to grow as the weather gets better and people more likely to have a car become eligible,” Clarke said.

Clear line of sight

In January and February, Hartford HealthCare was busy doing mobile vaccinations at six different homeless shelters in the Hartford and Windham areas. They are now turning to pop-up clinics to reach the socially vulnerable population.

Hartford HealthCare’s Chief Clinical Integration Officer Dr. James Cardon said they study their numbers to see “where we’re doing well, where we’re not doing so well and where we need to move to ensure that we’re not leaving anybody behind.”

Cardon acknowledged that racial and ethnicity numbers at the hospital’s mass vaccinations sites “were not good.” He said with all the systems people use to sign up for vaccines, it is easy for some to get lost and sometimes difficult for vaccinators to see the full picture.

“Nobody has the clear line of sight of the universe, except for potentially the state, in the end,” Cardon said. “We are continuing to parse in and look at the vaccine schedules to make sure that we’re reserving them for the populations we’re trying to target.”

Similar to Yale, Hartford HealthCare has started blocking off appointments by ZIP codes to make sure that, “unless you’re from a ZIP code the state has asked us to target,” you won’t be able to get appointments at certain sites, he said.

“You have to protect schedules somewhat and limit access to where they can schedule to make sure that you’re reserving spots for those that just aren’t savvy enough to figure out how to search the world and find myself a vaccine, or who may not have the technology to do that,” Cardon said.

At Gov. Ned Lamont’s press conference Thursday, state Chief Operating Officer Josh Geballe said that the vaccine team has been meeting regularly with providers all around the state, talking about strategies to make sure people in those critical ZIP codes have access to vaccines.

“We’ve got a number of initiatives, dedicated call-in lines, outbound calling. Many of our providers are now reserving appointment slots to make sure people in those ZIP codes have better access to appointments. We have community workers out literally knocking on doors and more and more mobile clinics getting spun up everyday,” Geballe said.

“So we are working really hard at this, and we’re hopeful we will see improvements in those vaccination rates in the coming weeks.”

They are ready

On Dec. 28, New Haven Director of Public Health Maritza Bond stood before a small crowd to see the first Moderna vaccines administered to nurses and firefighters.

She recalled a conversation she had had that morning at the Fair Haven Community Center, where a woman had asked her in Spanish when the vaccine would be coming.

“It really reminded me of last March, when we were looking and scrounging to expand testing in the community, and we will vouch today that we will do everything together collectively to ensure the vaccines are available to the community, because they are ready.”

Since then, Bond has done 14 pop-up clinics all over the city, including one at the Bethel A.M.E. Church, where Yale officials did their first pop-up clinic Wednesday. Bond has paused her community pop-up clinics to comply with DPH orders to vaccinate teachers, other school staff and child care workers this month.

Griffin Hospital did its first mobile clinic on Jan. 21 at the Macedonia Baptist Church in Ansonia. They vaccinated 22 people that day, Griffin Hospital CEO Pat Charmel said.

The next day, they did a three-hour mobile clinic at a Derby Housing Authority complex and vaccinated 16 residents.

Since then, they’ve done at least 16 other mobile clinics all over the Naugatuck River valley and beyond, from a senior center in Beacon Falls, where 60 people were vaccinated on March 3, to senior housing complexes as far away as Wilton.

They have returned twice to several housing projects in Ansonia and Derby, two towns in the CDC’s SVI Index, and have clinics throughout March, including some as far away as Newtown.

Charmel said the hospital sent vaccination teams to senior housing facilities and churches even before they started getting vaccine to generate interest.

“Towns that are high on the SVI index usually have a significant number of low-income people who might have challenges with things like transportation to a mass vaccination site,” Charmel said.

They also met with church leaders from some of the African American churches in the area.

“As a hospital, we don’t have deep relationships in the community. Our relationship is more episodic — they visit someone at the hospital or use the emergency room, so we knew we needed help reaching the community,” Charmel said.

As they have returned to some housing authority complexes to vaccinate residents 65 and older, they have seen an increase in the number of people willing to get vaccinated, Charmel said.

“We need to meet these people where they are and let them know that they don’t have to come to us if they want to be vaccinated.”

Environmental racism: Why Long Beach residents of color have worse health outcomes

Editor’s note: This story is part of “A Public Health Crisis: Systemic Racism in Long Beach,” a series looking at the different ways systemic racism has negative health consequences for Black people and other communities of color. 

The smoke blotted out the sun.

The fumes, from an explosion at Carson’s Tosco refinery one Monday afternoon nearly 20 years ago, billowed outward, raining soot on parts of the South Bay. The dark haze, according to news accounts at the time, traveled across Long Beach and into Orange County.

Chris Chavez, a Long Beach teenager at the time, was one of those whose homes were shrouded in artificial night.

Officials at the time offered assurances. No one was hurt, they said, and as long as the smoke remained in the atmosphere, it didn’t pose significant risks.

That’d become a familiar refrain after each fire over the next two decades – of which there were many.

But research has shown the opposite. Pollutants in the atmosphere, multiple studies over the years have found, are indeed a serious risk, particularly for communities closest to their source – such as the neighborhood of Chavez’s youth, less than 3 miles from the Tosco refinery.

Long Beach. Wilmington. Carson. These towns, built on oil, are accustomed to polluted air.

And for activists and experts — like the now-grown Chavez or Monica Argandona, who teaches environmental science policy at Cal State Long Beach — it’s obvious why.

“Look at the vast number of refineries and oil wells,” Argandona said. “One of the largest oil refineries in the country is located in this area, and we keep approving things like that.

“The argument is,” she added, “it’s not going to affect the air quality, that it isn’t going to make it any worse. But we know it’s worse.”

Over the last 20 years, however, refineries throughout the Los Angeles area have taken steps to reduce carbon emissions.

Take, for example, the Tosco refinery. That facility — which has changed hands three times since its explosion, according to state records — has installed several new pieces of technology to limit emissions, said Kenneth Dami, spokesman for current owner Phillips 66. And the company’s not done, he said; it has plans to invest in more emission-reducing measures throughout this year and next.

The refinery has cut flaring by more than 90% since 2008, Dami said, and the site funded a $13 million fence-line monitoring system last year — as required by the region’s air quality watchdog agency — that posts emissions in near-real time online.

More broadly, Dami said, L.A. area refineries are among the most strictly regulated.

“As a result, (refineries) are among the cleanest operating in the world,” Dami said in an email. “We continue to strive to improve our environmental performance to match the expectations of the community.”

While refinery emissions have declined in recent decades, fires at the facilities remain somewhat common.

In 2019, the Phillips 66 facility had two blazes roughly two months apart. And last year, an explosion at Carson’s Marathon Refinery sparked a fire that burned for about five hours.

That’s all to say that air pollution, caused partly but not entirely by refineries, has long been an issue throughout the region.

Long Beach’s western half, for example, has among the worst air pollution in the country, according to state and federal data.

But air pollution from refineries is just one of myriad environmental factors, in Long Beach and elsewhere, contributing to disparate health outcomes among communities, research has shown. Communities that lack open spaces, have fewer healthy food options and are closer to freeways also have worse health compared to the general population.

Those factors, and the poorer health that follows, are concentrated in low-income communities of color, research has shown.

And health experts and activists have a name for that phenomenon:

Environmental racism.

Chavez knows this phenomenon personally. There were the nearby refineries. But his childhood home was also within a mile of where the 710 and 405 freeways intersect. In his neighborhood, chronic lung issues were the norm, he said.

Chavez grew up with asthma — as did his cousins. The family members who lived closer to the freeways, he said, had more severe cases.

Chris Chavez grew up within a mile of the intersection of the 710 and 405 freeways and remembers a childhood in which chronic lung issues were the norm. He’s now the deputy policy director for the Coalition for Clean Air. Chavez near the riverbed and 710 Freeway in Long Beach on Thursday, October 15, 2020. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

Indeed, the neighborhoods where people of color live — which also have a lower socioeconomic status than the rest of Long Beach — closely align with those most vulnerable to environmental hazards, city officials have found.

That finding came from an assessment Long Beach conducted as part of its forthcoming Climate Action and Adaptation Plan.

“The areas with the greatest numbers of socially vulnerable populations,” city planner Jennifer Ly said during a recent study session on the plan, “overlap significantly with areas with the highest levels of pollution and that are most vulnerable to extreme heat.”

Health experts agree.

“The difference between the ZIP codes is stark,” said Dr. Odrin Castillo, director of community engagement and diversity for Long Beach Memorial’s Family Medicine Program, noted how vast the health gap can be among ZIP codes. In his own ZIP code, which he did not divulge, the life expectancy – 72-to-73 – is eight-to-nine years less than an average American in an average ZIP Code, he said.

But if you live in East Long Beach, the chances of living into your 80s is much better.

“Literally go east on Willow (Street) and your life expectancy shoots up to 82,” Castillo said. “So it’s stark, the difference that you see just from neighborhood to neighborhood — not even city to city.”

Cross-referencing city data on everything from lifespan and health insurance to air pollution and income suggests a cause-and-effect cascade that helps explain why residents west of Redondo Avenue can expect to die a decade sooner than their counterparts farther east.

Greater air pollution, lacking access to healthy food options either because they are too expensive or too far away, and not being insured – what healthcare professionals call the “social determinants of health” – cause or exacerbate underlying medical conditions. Those underlying conditions, in turn, can trim years off a person’s life.

“If you superimpose these things upon the ZIP codes where the life expectancies are lower,” Castillo said, “you actually see almost point-by-point where air pollution is higher, access to healthy food is lower, socioeconomic status is lower.

“If you superimpose it,” he added, “you could not trace out a more perfect — or imperfect, so to speak — map that really highlights how these things affect health care.”

And while numerous initiatives over the years have had some success, to varying degrees, in lessening these environmental factors, health experts and advocates agree that much work remains.

♦ ♦ ♦

These days, the biggest threat is the coronavirus.

Ly, the city planner who spoke recently about Long Beach’s climate plan, noted that the map of the city’s vulnerable populations also overlaps with the areas hit hardest by the pandemic.

For John Chen, one of thousands of people of Cambodian descent who call Central Long Beach home, that reality is impossible to ignore.

He has asthma.

And that illness, with him his whole life, makes Chen particularly susceptible to worse outcomes — and possibly death — if he were to catch the coronavirus.

So when his wife lost her sense of smell over the summer, he acted quickly.

The whole family got tested. Each was positive – except, somehow, Chen.

He made his wife and children stay in their own rooms. He cooked for them all and, using gloves, left the meals outside bedroom doors.

“The kids hated me for a few days,” he said, “because they don’t like my cooking. They like Mom’s cooking.”

Chen can joke about it now, since everyone recovered. But those weeks in July, he said, were frightening.

“I couldn’t sleep for almost a month,” Chen said. “I’m not going to lie.”

No one could blame him: The coronavirus has been far deadlier for Long Beach residents who, like Chen, have underlying conditions than those without.

Of the 857 Long Beach residents who have died from coronavirus-related causes so far, all but 22 had underlying health conditions.

The coronavirus, though, has only magnified inequalities that already existed, Long Beach health officials have said.

And those inequalities go beyond where people live and the air they breathe.

People of color, City Health Officer Dr. Anissa Davis said in a recent interview, are also more likely to have jobs where they can’t telecommute: Custodial work. Retail. Restaurants and hospitality.

And, Davis said, they are more likely to rely on public transportation.

The income from those jobs, meanwhile, has not risen as much as the cost of housing, said Health and Human Services Director Kelly Colopy — further limiting the ability of people in those communities to afford a decent place to live. Instead, they are more likely to dwell in crowded housing conditions.

In short, people of color – forced to be around others to work and live — have a higher risk of catching the virus.

Of course, those conditions didn’t develop amid the pandemic.

“If you look at poverty and median income (for communities of color), it’s significantly less than you find overall in Long Beach,” Colopy said, “and so generally, and often, that is from the practices of structural racism in our community.”

For Chavez, the polluted sky from the Tosco explosion, when he was 13, was the most dramatic illustration of how communities like his, in the North Wrigley neighborhood, suffered more from environmental hazards than those on the city’s more affluent, Whiter east side.

But it was far from the only example.

“So certainly,” Chavez said in a recent interview, “environmental racism is a huge concern.”

A body of research on the impact of environmental hazards, decades in the making, has found that toxic waste sites, refineries, freeways and other threats to environmental and public health are disproportionately concentrated in communities of color nationwide.

The reason largely goes back to historic housing discrimination that limited where people of color could live.

And, as Colopy said, ongoing systemic racism in education, employment and elsewhere work to trap people of color in those same neighborhoods.

Long Beach isn’t immune. The city has a lot of working-class residents. A majority of the population is people of color. It has a high rate of renters.

“Just looking at the pure economics of it right now,” said Argandona, the environmental science policy professor, “this is where people end up because they can’t go anywhere else.”

They end up in neighborhoods that are bad for their health. And so, Argandona said, people of color have significantly worse health outcomes.

‘A Public Health Crisis: Systemic Racism in Long Beach’ — also in this series:

Introduction: Why racism is a public health crisis

Part One: The story of housing discrimination in Long Beach and the ways in which its consequences linger today.

Part Two: Activists in Long Beach have called for the city to divert funding for the police to various social programs, with the goal of improving quality of life for communities that have traditionally been overrepresented in the criminal justice system, primarily Black and Latino people. And while many have said police brutality in particular, and violence in general, contribute to a public health crisis for Black people, Long Beach’s police chief says the department has taken strides over the years to build its relationship with the community and to also prevent crime.

Part Three: Where you live often determines how healthy you are and how long you live. That holds true in Long Beach, where racial disparities in health outcomes also align with historically segregated neighborhoods.

Part Four: Black and Latino students still underperform compared to their White peers. The district also remains segregated, according to data, particularly at the lower levels. We examine the challenges Black and Latino students face academically, and the role school segregation plays.

Part Five: The Long Beach Health Department has found that people who live in ZIP codes where most of the city’s African American, Latino and Cambodian populations live are much more likely to have “serious psychological distress” than people living elsewhere in the city. We delve into the reasons for that distress.

♦ ♦ ♦

Carrie Jones-Brown, a Black woman, has high blood pressure. For much of her life, she was obese.

And she lives in North Long Beach.

It’s difficult, based on city data, to separate her health from her neighborhood.

Emergency room visits due to hypertension, for example, were highest in Central Long Beach’s 90806 and 90913 ZIP codes, the city’s 2019 Community Health Assessment found. Next were the West Long Beach and North Long Beach ZIP codes of 90810 and 90805, respectively.

And that North Long Beach ZIP code also had a higher percentage of both obese adults and teens – 35% and 47% — than any other ZIP code in the city.

In her neighborhood, Jones-Brown said, fast food is a lot easier to come by than organic produce.

While North Long Beach does have supermarkets — like a Big Saver Foods and two Food 4 Less locations — it lacks the more health-conscious, albeit pricier, options available elsewhere in the city, like Whole Foods or Sprouts.

And its options could shrink further, at least in the short-term.

That’s because Kroger has said that, come April, it will close one of those Food 4 Less locations, along with a Ralphs in East Long Beach, because the Long Beach City Council has required a temporary $4 per hour wage bump for grocery workers to recognize the hazards they face amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Members of UFCW and city officials held a rally outside of Food 4 Less, after Kroger announced it will close the store and a nearby Ralphs in Long Beach on Wednesday, February 3, 2021. The union and city claim the closure is retaliation for the city instituted hazard pay of $4. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

In response, the council last month unanimously OK’d an item, introduced by Vice Mayor Rex Richardson, directing officials to create a food security plan, with a particular focus on communities impacted by the store closures.

“To offset the sudden economic shock that may be created — the food shock — by the closure of these grocery stores, we should prepare an equity-informed food security recovery strategy, a food security plan,” Richardson, who represents North Long Beach, said during the February council meeting, “and this should be put in place to prevent further escalation of food insecurity in disproportionately impacted areas.”

But while North Long Beach may be light on grocery stores, it has a surplus of cheaper fast food options. The 90805 ZIP code, in fact, has more fast food drive-thrus – 26 – than any other in the city, according to a 2019 Long Beach analysis.

“It’s very difficult to find fresh food in the neighborhood,” Jones-Brown said. “I cannot just go out and find a fresh salad.”

Officials have worked for years to bring more grocery stores and farmers markets to North Long Beach – which can be challenging, since stores like Whole Foods tend to target wealthier areas — and the pandemic has further accelerated those efforts.

The city announced last month, for example, that it used $3 million from its federal CARES Act allocation to partner with 16 organizations to provide food and nutrition-related services to people having trouble accessing healthy meal options.

Long Beach is also in the process of helping three markets —  La Bodega #8 in Central Long Beach, Olives Gourmet Grocer in Belmont Shore and Prince Market & Deli in North Long Beach — expand so they can offer healthy food.

The initiative, also thanks to the CARES Act, provides each market $20,000 to install equipment, like refrigeration and shelving, dedicated to selling healthy food; it also provides those businesses with city support on store layout, marketing and other considerations, Lara Turnbull, manager of Long Beach’s Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention Division, said in a phone interview late last month.

The city, she said, also hopes to fund similar conversions in three other liquor stores, convenience stores or small markets.

The stores are encouraged to select healthy food that’s culturally appropriate for their customers, Turnbull said, to ensure the program achieves its intended goals.

The ideal outcome, Turnbull said, is to expand access to healthy food throughout Long Beach.

That’s why the program is of the kind the city would like to continue offering in the future, Turnbull said – even after the CARES Act money is gone.

“Our goal is to ensure that no matter where you live in Long Beach,” she said, “that you have access to healthy food within a walkable, or relatively short-distance, commute.”

In North Long Beach, though, the program could have an outsize impact, since there’s evidence to suggest the future of healthy food there will rely less on large grocery chains and more on smaller shops and community efforts.

The importance of mom-and-pop stores in filling food gaps in the neighborhood became clear early on in the pandemic, with small business revenue in North Long Beach jumping 39%. Nearly every other neighborhood in the city, meanwhile, saw revenue decline.

During an economic forum last year, Cal State Long Beach economics department Chair Seiji Steimetz shared a theory on that contrast, which he credited to his graduate research assistant, North Long Beach resident Megan Anaya.

“That’s where all the bodegas are,” he said. “That’s where all the small independent grocery operations are.

“And all of you belong to some Facebook group, at some point, that tells you where to buy toilet paper,” Steimetz added, “and they always say: ‘Go to the bodegas.’”

Richardson, for his part, described that data point as an example of where the neighborhood’s focus should be when it comes to closing gaps in access to healthy food.

“Where we’re headed in North Long Beach is honestly — it’s smaller,” he said in a recent phone interview. “It’s more quality produce, and we’ve been placing a focus on healthy corner stores.”

♦ ♦ ♦

For Taylor Thomas, a Black woman born and raised in West Long Beach, the air pollution coming off the nearby 710 Freeway — an artery clogged with trucks carrying freight to and from the nation’s largest port complex, a few miles south — was just another part of life.

She didn’t know until relatively recently that her childhood asthma was linked to broader trends in the city.

“I think, for a lot of us, we come to view our circumstances that we’re in as normalized,” she said in a recent interview, “but they’re not really normal.”

Taylor Thomas grew up in West Long Beach in close proximity to the twin port complex and the 710 Freeway, and like many in the area she has asthma, a condition often associated with air pollution. Thomas now seeks to push for change to improve conditions in areas like the neighborhood where she grew up. She is co-director for the nonprofit group East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice in Long Beach on Tuesday, October 27, 2020. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

The Los Angeles-Long Beach region, according to the American Lung Association, is among the most polluted metropolitan areas in the country across a range of metrics.

But Thomas didn’t know the connection between that pollution and her own health for much of her life.

It wasn’t until she attended a meeting for East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, a nonprofit focused on environmental issues in southeastern Los Angeles County, that she learned about how her surroundings impacted her health.

That was eight years ago.

Thomas is now the group’s co-director, and her mission is to give others the same education she received — and to help remove the burden of environmental threats from the backs of people of color.

“Folks are starting to understand environmental racism a little bit,” she said, “but I think there’s still a lot of gaps in people’s awareness and just how much it plays out in our own city.”

The Port of Long Beach, though, is one agency that’s all too familiar with the consequences of environmental racism.

People who live near the trade hub “are predominantly communities of color,” the port’s director of Environmental Planning, Matt Arms, said in a recent phone interview. “They are communities of lower socioeconomic ability. They are the communities that are most at risk.

“Going up the 710 trade corridor,” he added, “those are the communities that need to be addressed, and they are the communities that are our neighbors.”

Arms said the port’s efforts to limit environmental impacts on local communities date to 2005, when the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners approved the Green Port Policy, largely in response to community pressure. The policy committed the port to investing in emission-reducing technology, supporting sustainability and engaging the public on those issues.

Since then, the Port of Long Beach has deepened its investment in reducing its environmental impacts. The facility has programs dedicated to improving water and soil quality, eliminating truck pollution and adopting new technology in the hopes of becoming the first zero-emissions port.

(The adjacent Port of Los Angeles, the busiest in the nation, is also working on similar and sometimes joint initiatives.)

One initiative that gets less attention but is just as critical to addressing the impact the nation’s second busiest port has on nearby neighborhoods, Arms said, is its Community Grants Program. The program funds community projects to improve air quality, traffic, noise and water quality in and around Long Beach, with a particular focus on the 710 corridor.

“Over a decade or two, we’re putting about $65 million into the exact communities that we’re talking about,” Arms said. “It’s recognizing that these local communities are being impacted, and so it’s targeting projects directly in those communities.”

The port has funded projects to install new air filtration systems in nearby schools, plant 6,000 trees in Long Beach and create a mobile care clinic, run by St. Mary Medical Center, that diagnoses and treats asthma in the communities most impacted by air pollution.

“We really are targeting our Community Grants Program to serve those most vulnerable and those most impacted by port operations,” Arms said. “If you look at that, I think it shows how we really are acknowledging that we need to do something.”

Port of Long Beach officials, though, are also aware there’s a long way to go before the facility can eliminate its impacts on local communities, Arms said.

A major challenge in achieving the port’s goal of zero emissions, for example, is simply that “the technology does not exist,” Arms said.

“We’re making great progress, but currently, there’s not commercially available technology,” he said, “and the financial resources it’s going to take to make this transition are gigantic, so overcoming the technological and financial barriers are a challenge.”

Still, Arms said he has a positive outlook on the port eventually reaching its goal.

While the port has been piloting its own efforts to reduce emissions, he said, officials like Gov. Gavin Newsom — who has issued an executive order requiring all sales of passenger vehicles to be zero-emission by 2035 — are helping quicken the shift to green technology.

“All of that stuff working together will help push zero-emissions technology forward, so I do see progress,” Arms said. “I am optimistic.”

♦ ♦ ♦

The Port of Long Beach isn’t the only agency looking to reverse the impacts of environmental racism.

The city itself has long worked toward that end.

But its efforts have been magnified over the last year – and infused with an extra emphasis on equity.

The City Council in August approved the Racial Equity and Reconciliation Initiative, which calls on Long Beach to address systemic racism in multiple ways. Environmentally, it recommends decreasing industrial air pollution in communities of color, equitably increasing access to green jobs and increasing production of healthy, locally sourced food in underserved areas.

The city has already started working on many of those proposals, as evidenced by its health food initiatives.

“There will be a lot of work that we’ll be doing, both internally as a city to really strengthen and really understand our policies and practices and what their impacts have been,” Colopy, the Health and Human Services director, said, “and how do we start to ensure we’re working from a racial equity lens when we are designing for the future.”

While city officials will craft the policies to reduce environmental racism, residents will also have an active role.

That’s where folks like North Long Beach resident Jones-Brown and Central Long Beach resident Chen come in.

Jones-Brown has lost 50 pounds since she joined the Grace Park Community Garden in her neighborhood 10 years ago. And Chen has kept his asthma under control by staying active with his own backyard garden and taking time each day to meditate.

Carrie Jones Brown has created a healthy lifestyle for herself through community gardening. She’s been involved with Grace Park Community Garden for more than 10 years. She lives in North Long Beach, an area with few healthy food options and growing her own food has helped her lose weight, lower her high blood pressure and relieve stress in general at Grace Park Community Garden in Long Beach on Saturday, October 17, 2020. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

But while individual changes in habits are effective, they are far from a communitywide panacea.

Ultimately, officials and activists have said, institutional problems like environmental racism and its effects on public health can only be solved with systemic change.

And advocacy is a key part of effecting change.

That’s why Thomas and Chavez have taken to activism.

Chavez is now the deputy policy director for the Coalition for Clean Air, where he’s advocated for laws requiring smog checks for big rigs and dedicating funds from the state’s cap-and-trade program toward disadvantaged communities that face greater consequences from polluted air.

More recently, Chavez spoke in favor of a Long Beach ballot measure, which voters approved in November, to increase the city’s oil tax to fund racial equity programs.

While Chavez acknowledged the city’s efforts to reduce environmental hazards, he also said it’s not enough.

“Seeing bolder action from the city is going to be important,” he said.

“One of the good discussions going on now,” Chavez added, “is how to really focus in on environmental racism and how to rectify some of the injustices that our communities have faced.”

Richardson agrees.

The Ninth District councilman was recently elected as the Western Region Cities representative for the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

Richardson recently had a public discussion with his predecessor, Judith Mitchell, and other clean-air officials. In that chat, Richardson said the problems of air quality in disadvantaged communities are intertwined with poverty and systemic racism.

To address those problems, he said, government agencies need to be involved — but activists and community members are also necessary. Activists, after all, are the ones who help expose when and how government initiatives fail, Richardson said.

“In order to have a government that truly serves and a system that truly serves people,” Richardson said, “you have to acknowledge that.

“You need to open the doors of government to allow the community in,” he added. “Dismantle what doesn’t work and put an alternative, more superior path forward.”

Rather than viewing environmental racism as the result of a broken system that just needs some repairs, he said, it’s time to create something new.

Creating a new system, and not fixing a broken one, is the mission. Because the way Richardson sees it, there’s nothing to fix.

“People say the system is broken. No, the system is doing what it’s designed to do,” he said. “It’s designed not with the conditions of (vulnerable) people in mind, so the answer is to design alternative systems.”

In Long Beach, the Racial Equity and Reconciliation Initiative, which Richardson spearheaded, lays the groundwork to design those alternative systems.

But creating those systems will be complex – and expensive. The latter challenge is especially true amid a pandemic that’s drained state and city budgets.

And the scope of the problems is likely too wide for any single city or agency to solve.

That doesn’t mean, however, the city shouldn’t try – or activists shouldn’t keep the pressure on public officials.

For Argandona, that’s a must.

And, the CSULB professor said, she’s optimistic that the increasing attention on environmental justice issues will lead to changes.

“The path we’re on isn’t sustainable,” Argandona said. “It has to break somewhere.”

Otherwise, Long Beach’s ZIP codes will continue dictating how long their residents can expect to live. For many, that status quo is untenable. Particularly those in communities of color.

So despite the challenges ahead, Argandona said, Long Beach must make that break.

For people like Chavez, Chen, Jones-Brown and Thomas.

For every resident forced to bear the burden of environmental racism.

Sign up for The Localist, our daily email newsletter with handpicked stories relevant to where you live. Subscribe here.

Employment Rates Are Dropping Among Black Women, Data Shows

MadameNoire Featured Video

Young woman working from home

Source: Georgijevic / Getty

The unemployment rate is dropping but Black women are not a factor in this increase. According to CNBC, the unemployment rate has dropped to 6.2% in the U.S but Black women are still unemployed at higher rates. Data has shown that while unemployment rates are dropping for white people, it is at 9.9% for Black people. For Black women in particular, the employment rate is 9.7% lower than it was in February 2020. Unemployment rates for white men, white woman and Black men have dropped.

Kate Bahn, an economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, said it may take years for Black women to recover from this blow to the job market.

“Whoever was hit the hardest takes the longest to recover,” Bahn told CNBC. “Once we are long into the recovery, employment levels and income levels may not fully recover for years. Women are slightly more represented in some sectors like leisure and hospitality and food service. We’ve also lost health care jobs, particularly low wage health care jobs that are disproportionately held by women of color.”

Kristen Broady, a fellow in economics studies at the Brookings Institution, added that Black women not being able to afford or find child care has played a role in the spike in unemployment.

“In other recessions, children were still in schools,” Broady said. “If you can’t afford child care and are a single mom, you can’t go to work. And that’s more likely to affect Black and Hispanic women.”

According to the Economic Policy Institute, Black folks have been leaded the unemployment rates since the start of the pandemic.  They noted that “in the first quarter of 2020, African American workers had the highest unemployment rate nationally, at 6.3%, following by Hispanic workers (at 4.8%), white workers (at 3.1%), and Asian workers (at 2.9%).” The states with the highest unemployment rates in 2020 were District of Columbia at 11.3%, followed by Pennsylvania at 10.2%, Louisiana at 10.0%, and Mississippi at 9.1%.

JAMA Posts Podcast On Structural Racism, Here Is The Backlash

Who thought that this would be a good idea?

The JAMA Network recently posted a podcast entitled Structural Racism for Doctors: What Is It?” Things didn’t exactly get off to a rousing start when they promoted the podcast on Twitter. The tweet began with the words, “no physician is racist.” Exsqueeze me? Baking powder?

Remember when Julia Roberts said, Big Mistake, huge,” in the movie Pretty Woman? Well, in general, it’s not the best idea to say, “no [fill in any profession] is racist.” After all, applicants to medical school, public health, and hospital positions haven’t had to go through a racism test that says, “you shall not pass. The nasal swab says that you are a racist.” Remember physicians come in all types and from many different mindsets.

Uché Blackstock, MD, founder and CEO of Advancing Health Equity, tweet-commented on the JAMA tweet that has since been deleted:

OK, so the original JAMA tweet sort of fell flat on its face. But surely the web page hosting the JAMA podcast would clarify, right? Oh, but there you’ll find the following description, “Many physicians are skeptical of structural racism, the idea that economic, educational, and other societal systems preferentially disadvantage Black Americans and other communities of color.” Umm, did it actually say “many physicians are skeptical?” OK, so far, you’ve got a tweet that says, “no physician is racist” and a promo page that says “many physicians are skeptical of structural racism” for a podcast that’s supposed to be about structural racism.


Sure, there are people who still believe that the Earth is not flat. But do you start a astrophysics podcast about the Earth simply by saying, “many people are skeptical about this Earth being a globe thing?” Or begin a climate science podcast about climate change by just stating that “many people are skeptical about climate change?” Surely, you should add a qualifier such as “despite numerous scientific studies showing evidence of climate change,” just in case people only read the tweet and the promo page.

As Paige Nong, a PhD candidate in Sociology and Organizational Studies at the University of Michigan, pointed out, scientific studies have already provided plenty of evidence of racism and structural racism in medicine:

Note that “utter nonsense” is not a positive review, unless, of course, the podcast was supposed to be about utter nonsense and entitled, “Utter Nonsense: What Is It?”

Whether there is racism and structural racism in medicine is not something that needs to debated any longer. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) now has an ”Ending Structural Racism” web page, acknowledging that racism is real and a problem. There have been numerous stories about medical students, physicians, and patients of color facing numerous challenges while trying to navigate the medical and health systems. Persons of color have filed lawsuits about facing discrimination in the medical system. Denying the existence of racism brings further pain and suffering to victims of discrimination.

In fact, the stories that have emerged publicly probably represent only the tip of the iceberg. Within the medical and public health systems, many persons of color may not feel comfortable or empowered to speak out about experiencing or witnessing racism for fear of retaliation. You only have to look at how few persons of color have made it to true leadership positions in hospitals, medical schools, and schools of public health. This despite the fact that since the 1970’s, medical school classes have had significant percentages of Asian Americans, Black Americans, Latino Americans, Native Americans, and other persons of color. Relatively few racial and ethnic minorities seem to have seats at the table on the editorial boards of many major medical journals either.

Speaking of seats at the table, the two people who appeared on the podcast on “structural racism” were the host, Ed Livingston, MD, the Deputy Editor for clinical reviews and education at JAMA, and the guest Mitchell Katz, MD, the president and CEO for NYC Health + Hospitals and deputy editor for JAMA Internal Medicine. Yes, a podcast about “structural racism” did not feature a single person of color who has had to deal with structural racism, as the following tweet pointed out:

Hmm, isn’t that a bit like having a football broadcast without having anyone who, you know, actually played football? Imagine how that would go.

Tamara Saint-Surin, MD, an Assistant Professor of Medicine and Clinical Epidemiology at the University of North Carolina, observed that the host didn’t exactly have the strongest grasp of the subject matter:

How many football broadcasters don’t quite understand the concept of running on the field and tackling? Again, wouldn’t it have been helpful to have had someone who has actually experienced structural racism on the podcast on “structural racism?” Saint-Surin’s tweet thread continued by saying:

If it’s all just the environment of “their places” then why have medical students, doctors, and patients of color complained of facing discrimination in medical school, public health, and hospital environments? Why aren’t there more persons of color in leadership positions in medicine, health, and public health. Or on podcasts for that matter? Saint-Surin questioned why there seemed to be an interest in taking the word “racism” out of the conversation:

Saint-Surin finished her tweet thread wondering why the podcast didn’t include experts in the area of structural racism or people who have actually experienced or been victims of structural racism:

It’s not as if finding such experts would be like trying to find a Covid-19 vaccine now or toilet paper in March of last year. There are plenty of people who would want the opportunity to speak about the challenges that they have observed and faced. You just have to take an extra step to look for them. This would have a good opportunity to elevate the voices that have not yet been heard because of, ding, ding ding, structural racism.

Oh, and just in case you are still skeptical about the existence of racism in health care, look at a tweet from Arghavan Salles, MD, PhD, a bariatric surgeon and Scholar in Residence at the Stanford University School of Medicine. She pointed to a story from trauma surgeon Jamie Colman, MD, Associate Professor of Surgery at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, about what Coleman’s husband had to face:

You know the Alanis Morrissette song that goes “ isn’t it ironic?” Well, the JAMA podcast about “structural racism” ended up bringing broader questions about JAMA, including its stance about racism and the racial and ethnic compositions of its editorial boards. For example, Stella Safo, MD, MPH, an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, called for the following:

And Brittani James, MD, an Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago and co-founder of the Institute for Antiracism in Medicine, circulated a petition:

As you can see, the petition stated that “JAMA’s key objective is to promote the science and art of medicine and the betterment of public health. The release of this podcast blatantly contradicts JAMA’s cited objective. It is imperative that the executive leadership of JAMA act to rectify this harmful incident and examine the infrastructural makeup that allowed this podcast to pass many stages of evaluation before release.”

The petition also called for a “formal review of the leadership displayed by Dr. Howard Bauchner as editor-in-chief, including actions suggesting a failure to diversify the editorial staff and/or displaying blatantly discriminatory behavior patterns.”

As indicated earlier, JAMA has deleted the original tweet about the podcast. Baucher issued the following statement as well:


Well, the podcast may end up bringing more attention to existing structural racism, perhaps not in the way that the producers and host of the podcast originally intended. Debating whether racism and structural racism exists in medicine would be like debating whether the Earth is really a globe or whether pollution is bad or whether climate change really exists. The first step to solving a problem is fully acknowledging its existence. Medicine should be beyond this stage. It is now time for solutions and everyone to look at how they themselves may be contributing further to racism and structural racism in medicine. As has been said over and over again, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

A large gathering near the University of Colorado turns into a maskless melee.

Loida Mendez, 86, receives the first dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine from U.S. Army Medic Luis Perez at a FEMA vaccination site in North Miami, Florida. Four FEMA sites with the capacity to vaccinate up to 3,000 people daily have opened in the state.
Credit…Marta Lavandier/Associated Press

Few eligible people were trickling in to a remote Federal Emergency Management vaccination site in South Florida on Saturday. So when some younger people without proof of eligibility showed up, workers at the site went ahead and gave them shots, thinking there was no danger of running out for the day.

Word quickly spread around town: The site in Florida City, just north of the Florida Keys, was vaccinating any state resident 18 or older. Get down there fast.

It was a rare — and ultimately short-lived — opportunity for younger people to get shots in Florida, which for two months has concentrated almost exclusively on vaccinating older residents, who tend to be more vulnerable to Covid-19. Unlike every other state, Florida had not released a priority order for making more categories of people eligible, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, leaving younger people in the dark about when their turn might come.

The state loosened its restrictions last week to allow people with certain medical conditions and a doctor’s note to get a shot and lowered the minimum age of eligibility to 50 for teachers, police officers and firefighters.

Those steps coincided with the arrival of FEMA, which opened mass vaccination sites in Miami, Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville, each able to administer 3,000 shots a day. All four also have two 500-shot-a-day satellite sites that will move from one underserved community to another every week. The one in Florida City, a majority Black city, was a satellite site.

Things soon started getting confusing. At first, any doctor’s note would do. Then the state required a specific form filled out by the doctor. Later, teachers and day care workers regardless of age became eligible, but only at FEMA sites and pharmacies participating in the federal vaccination program.

Public anger mounted with reports that the state was steering vaccines to affluent, predominantly white retirement communities linked to powerful business people and political donors.

Still, demand seemed to be soft. Before Saturday, only one FEMA site — the mass site in Orlando — had ever used all of its daily allotment of shots, according to Marty Bahamonde, a FEMA spokesman. That was especially worrisome in the Miami area, which for weeks has seen persistently high numbers of new cases, including more transmissible virus variants.

So on Saturday, when word got around that the Florida City satellite site appeared to be relaxing its eligibility restrictions, hundreds of people flocked there — so many, in fact, that the staff started taking down names and asking them to come back on Sunday. By the end of the day, the site had administered 483 shots, its biggest day so far.

When the site reopened Sunday at 9 a.m., people were lined up around the block, but in the end the site administered only 321 shots.

Workers and police officers waved copies of Gov. Ron DeSantis’s executive order on eligibility and telling people who did not qualify that they would be turned away, said Julio E. Ligorria, 34, who had made a 45 minute drive to get there.

Mr. Ligorria said he had a medical condition, but did not have a primary care physician to sign his eligibility form. One doctor told him he would first need a physical and $3,000 worth of tests, which Mr. Ligorria’s insurance would not cover.

“I’ve been trying so hard to do this the right way,” he said. But he left without a shot.

Color guard participants practice their routine at a competition in Southaven, Miss., on Saturday after Gov. Tate Reeves ended the statewide mask mandate early last week.
Credit…Rory Doyle for The New York Times

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected this week to issue eagerly awaited guidance regarding how or whether Americans vaccinated against the coronavirus may set aside restrictions adopted to slow its spread.

More than 30 million people in the United States — more than 8 percent of the population — are fully vaccinated, and many are wondering if it is safe to get together with friends and family, to travel or stop wearing masks, or to resume activities like going to gyms and restaurants.

“Those guidelines are coming out from the C.D.C. really imminently,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser on Covid-19, said on Sunday on the CBS program “Face the Nation.”

He suggested that the recommendations could be issued within the next couple of days.

The new advice had been expected last week, but Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the C.D.C. director, said in a White House briefing on Friday that “these are complex issues, and the science is rapidly evolving.”

“Our goal, and what is most important, is that people who have been vaccinated and those not yet vaccinated are able to understand the steps they can take to protect themselves and their loved ones,” she added. “We are making sure and taking the time to get this right.”

The clamor for federal guidance comes as some governors have begun lifting state restrictions, despite warnings from health officials that it is much too soon and criticism from President Biden that such actions represent “Neanderthal thinking.”

Last week, Texas and Mississippi, both Republican-led states, lifted statewide mask mandates. Restaurants have reopened for limited indoor dining in New York City. Officials in Connecticut plan to end capacity limits on restaurants, gyms and offices this month. In at least a half-dozen states, officials are insisting that schools offer in-person instruction for at least some grades.

“We need the country open,” Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, where the mask mandate has not yet been lifted, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“We need kids back in school every day with a mask, without a mask. We know how to stay safe. We know what we need to do: get vaccinated.”

Asked if lifting mask mandates would inspire some people to stop taking protective measures, Mr. Barrasso, an orthopedic surgeon, said, “Well, people need to take precautions. I have my mask with me right here. I’m going to continue to wear a mask. And I think people will use good judgment to do so.”

On Sunday, Gov. Jim Justice of West Virginia, who recently loosened restrictions on businesses but has kept the state’s mask mandate, said that other governors needed to be more incremental in lifting mandates.

“I don’t like the mask, either,” Mr. Justice, a Republican, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” adding that he believed the mandates were still necessary for probably at least another month.

“I have a saying — ‘one robin doesn’t make spring,’” he said. If Americans start to celebrate too early, he added, there will be consequences: “You’re about to get hit by a winter storm.”

There is still some scientific ambiguity around which behaviors are safe for people who have been vaccinated. While the vaccines are highly effective at preventing serious illness and death, there is not yet sufficient evidence on whether vaccinated people may still transmit the virus to others.

Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said Sunday on “Meet the Press” that it was important that the C.D.C. issue guidelines that are pragmatic and recognize the conundrums faced by Americans trying to navigate a society in which some people are vaccinated while others await their turn.

“If we just tell people that they’ve got to stay cocooned, that they’ve got to stay in their homes, that they’ve got to continue to wear their masks, even though they’re fully vaccinated — they’re not going to do that,” Dr. Osterholm said. “They’re going to disregard the public health recommendations, so we have to get real.”

The guidelines should address questions like whether grandparents who are vaccinated can see their grandchildren, he added. And the recommendations should distinguish between activities that might be relatively reasonable for vaccinated people and those that should still be off-limits, like going to crowded restaurants.

As of Sunday, Biden administration officials still were urging American communities to maintain precautions until more progress has been made.

“We just need to hang in there a bit longer,” Dr. Fauci said. “We will be pulling back on these mitigation measures. It’s not going to be this way indefinitely, for sure.”

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said businesses in his state needed more flexibility.
Credit…Staci Vandagriff/The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, via Associated Press

Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas said that if his state maintained its current progress on key measures of the coronavirus — like test positivity rates and hospitalizations — he would make wearing masks in public voluntary rather than mandatory by the end of the month.  

The plan seemed to seek a middle ground between abruptly announcing the end of mask mandates, as Texas and Mississippi did last week, and retaining them indefinitely in the face of growing pressure from businesses, as New York and other states are doing.

“We didn’t want a cliff,” Mr. Hutchinson said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I wanted an off-ramp.”

The Texas and Mississippi moves were criticized as premature and reckless by public health officials, and President Biden called them the product of “Neanderthal thinking,” because the virus is still infecting tens of thousands of people in the country every day and new, more contagious variants are spreading widely. Several governors have said in recent days that their states were definitely not ready to drop mask mandates.

But more broadly, many states, including Arkansas, have recently been relaxing some restrictions on businesses despite the warnings from public health officials that it was too soon to let the nation’s guard down.

“Our businesses have taken the right measures,” Mr. Hutchinson said on Sunday, but “there’s just a limit as to how much the restrictions can be placed on business and for how long. They’ve struggled, they’ve suffered, and so we wanted to give more flexibility.”

“That’s not caveman thinking,” he added. “That’s common sense.”

He said people in his state needed to know that an end was in sight: “For me in Arkansas, I wanted to set a goal, and give people hope that we can end a mask mandate if we get to this place where we feel more comfortable and our hospitalizations are still down.”

Queen Elizabeth II signs her annual Commonwealth Day Message in St. George’s Hall at Windsor Castle.
Credit…Pool Photo by Steve Parsons

Queen Elizabeth II praised people throughout the Commonwealth for uniting during the pandemic in upbeat televised remarks on Sunday.

“We have all continued to appreciate the support, breadth of experiences and knowledge that working together brings, and I hope we shall maintain this renewed sense of closeness and community,” the queen said.

Calling the pandemic “a time like no other,” she also commended “remarkable advances in developing new vaccines and treatments” and frontline health care workers for their “selfless dedication to duty,” Reuters reported.

The speech was broadcast on Sunday for Commonwealth Day, a celebration of countries largely from the former British Empire that continue to maintain ties with Britain.

The queen’s remarks came just hours before a highly anticipated televised appearance of her grandson Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, with Oprah Winfrey on Sunday night. Relations between the couple and the royal family have been strained since the duke and duchess announced they would step back from their official duties and move to North America.

The annual Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey in London, which the royal family typically attends, was canceled this year because of the pandemic.

After a highly contagious variant ravaged Britain over the winter and the country tightened restrictions, confirmed cases in Britain have steadily ticked down, according to a New York Times database.


Video player loading
Despite coronavirus concerns, thousands of people convened at a stadium in Erbil, Iraq, on Sunday as Pope Francis said Mass. The service capped the first papal visit to Iraq.CreditCredit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

Pope Francis’s three-day visit to Iraq was a boon to the diminishing Christian community, a boost for the beleaguered Iraqi government — and a possible health hazard, as many participants found social distancing impossible and disregarded masks.

The trip, the first papal visit to the country, came at a vulnerable time. Iraq reported record daily highs of more than 5,000 infections this week, and its leaders have implemented curfews. The country’s vaccination campaign began only last week, and many Iraqis are wary of government health programs, so few in the population of nearly 40 million have received even a single shot.

The pope and his entourage were vaccinated, and the Vatican had dismissed fears that large events during the trip might spread the virus, saying that precautions would be taken to minimize risk.

But Iraqis are generally unaccustomed to wearing masks and many live and work in crowded conditions, so they are also unused to social distancing. When they gathered in large numbers to see the pope, mask-wearing was far from universal.

The virus is far more easily transmitted indoors than outdoors, but most Iraqis wrongly believe that there is no outdoor transmission at all. In some cities where the pope appeared, thousands of people jammed together in the streets to await his arrival. At services, choirs were generally unmasked.

At a Mass in the town of Qaraqosh, about half the congregation was unmasked. Another service, on Sunday, was held in a stadium in Erbil, the Iraqi Kurdistan regional capital. Church officials had said that about 5,000 tickets would be distributed, but Kurdish television reported that about 10,000 people attended.

In the streets of Ankawa, the Christian enclave of Erbil, thousands of people holding flowers and olive branches stood behind plastic tape strung between barriers, hoping to catch a glimpse of the pope as he drove to the stadium. Musicians played drums and flutes as children danced on the sidewalk.

The pope himself was sometimes masked, sometimes not. He did not wear one when first arriving in Baghdad. Photos and a brief video of a meeting with one of Iraq’s most revered and vulnerable residents, 90-year-old Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, showed neither the pope nor the Shiite cleric masked.

Ayatollah Sistani has not been vaccinated, with his office saying he wants to make sure others have access first. He has declared the vaccine religiously permissible.

A large gathering of mostly maskless young people turned into a melee near the University of Colorado Boulder on Saturday evening and left multiple students bleeding and tear-gassed, at least two vehicles damaged and three SWAT officers injured, the police said.

The crowd was at its largest at about 7 p.m., involving as many as 800 people, the chief of police said, and most of the attendees were not taking precautions against the coronavirus like social distancing or wearing masks.

Infectious disease experts have raised concerns that as the weather warms and local restrictions ease, social gatherings and spring break trips could cause a surge in coronavirus cases.

The Boulder County district attorney, Michael T. Dougherty, said the episode was a “tremendous setback” in the city’s efforts to fight the pandemic. Jeff Zayach, the county’s public health director, called the lack of mask-wearing and social distancing “shocking and disturbing.”

Colorado recently reached 6,000 deaths from Covid-19, according to a New York Times database.

The university said it was “aware of a large party on University Hill on Saturday evening and allegations of violence toward police officers responding to the scene.”

“We condemn this conduct,” it said, adding that “it is unacceptable and irresponsible particularly in light of the volume of training, communication and enforcement” about coronavirus restrictions.

Students who live in the neighborhood said people were having small gatherings in their yards on Saturday to enjoy a warm day after having been cooped up by the cold weather and coronavirus restrictions.

A research facility at Duke University in Durham, N.C., where positive coronavirus tests are sequenced.
Credit…Pete Kiehart for The New York Times

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been warning about it since January: A more contagious and possibly deadlier variant of the coronavirus, first found in Britain, is likely to become predominant in the United States, perhaps leading to a wrenching surge in cases and deaths.

The first part of that warning seems to be coming true: The variant, known as B.1.1.7, is doubling its share of all new U.S. cases about every 10 days.

But the second part is harder to make out, at least so far. The steep fall in new cases from the January peak halted in mid-February, but the trend since then has been roughly steady or only slightly downward, rather than a feared “fourth wave.”

Experts are not sure why. The accelerating pace of vaccinations and the remaining virus-control measures in much of the country might be balancing out the spread of the more contagious variant, so that total cases neither rise nor fall very much. But it is difficult to know how long that equilibrium might last, or whether the next clear turn in the trend will be upward or downward.

The risk of a surge has by no means passed, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser on Covid-19, warned on Sunday.

The nation was averaging about 60,000 new cases a day as of Saturday, according to a New York Times database. That is the lowest seven-day average since October and about 10 percent below the average on Feb. 21, when the steep decline slowed. Still, the figure is close to the peak level of the surge last summer. Death reports are also falling but remain high, regularly topping 2,000 a day.

In an interview Sunday on the CBS program “Face the Nation,” Dr. Fauci said that over the past week and a half, the decline in cases had stalled. “We’re plateauing at quite a high level — 60 to 70,000 new infections per day is quite high,” he said.

This trend is particularly worrisome, he said, because in the United States over the past year, when the daily level of new infections plateaued at a high level, surges in cases followed. And recently in Europe, infection levels were declining, then plateaued and “over the last week or so, they’ve had about a 9 percent increase in cases,” Dr. Fauci said.

Experts say they need more data to understand why the United States has not yet seen a surge in cases as the fearsome B.1.1.7 variant has spread so rapidly, already accounting for more than one-fifth of new cases.

William Hanage, a Harvard epidemiologist, said there could be several reasons B.1.1.7 has not started ravaging the United States the way it consumed Britain, including more widespread vaccination, improving weather and the patchwork of pandemic restrictions across the states.

Florida, Mr. Hanage and other experts say, is an interesting example, because infections have not surged even though restrictions are looser than in other states and the variant makes up at least an estimated 30 percent of cases, the highest proportion in the nation.

Dr. Fauci said on Sunday that a variant first identified in New York is “not widespread yet, but it seems to be spreading pretty efficiently through the New York City metropolitan area and beyond.”

He said there is evidence that the variant may partly elude protection conferred by vaccines and monoclonal antibody treatments, although the variant does not evade vaccines and treatments as much as one first identified in South Africa.

The best way to prevent further spread is to “get people vaccinated as quickly and as expeditiously as possible and, above all, maintain the public health measures that we talk about so often: the masking, the physical distancing, and the avoiding of congregate settings, particularly indoors.” Dr. Fauci said. “That’s what you can do to prevent the spread of a worrisome variant.”

The corporate headquarters of Emergent BioSolutions in Gaithersburg, Md.
Credit…Samuel Corum for The New York Times

A year ago, as the coronavirus spread unchecked, sending thousands of dying people to the hospital, desperate pleas for protective masks and other medical supplies went unanswered. Today the shortage of basic supplies, alongside inadequate testing and the slow vaccine rollout, stands as a symbol of the broken federal response to a worldwide calamity that has killed more than a half-million Americans.

An investigation by The New York Times found a hidden explanation as to what went wrong: Government purchases for the Strategic National Stockpile, the country’s emergency medical reserve where such equipment is kept, have largely been driven by the demands and financial interests of a handful of biotech firms that have specialized in products that address terrorist threats rather than infectious disease.

Chief among them is Emergent BioSolutions, a Maryland-based company now manufacturing Covid-19 vaccines for AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. Last year, as the pandemic raced across the country, the government paid Emergent $626 million for products that included vaccines to fight an entirely different threat: a terrorist attack using anthrax.

Throughout most of the last decade, the government has spent nearly half of the stockpile’s half-billion-dollar annual budget on the company’s anthrax vaccines, The Times found. That left the government with less money to buy supplies needed in a pandemic, despite repeatedly being advised to do so.

Former Emergent employees, government contractors, members of Congress, biodefense experts and current and former officials from agencies that oversee the stockpile described a deeply dysfunctional system that contributed to the shocking shortages last year. Their accounts were confirmed by federal budget and contracting records, agency planning documents, court filings, corporate disclosures and transcripts of congressional hearings and investor presentations.

Purchases are supposed to be based on careful assessments by government officials of how best to save lives, but many have also been influenced by Emergent’s bottom line, the documents and interviews reveal.

In the two decades since the repository was created, Emergent’s aggressive tactics, broad political connections and penchant for undercutting competitors have given it remarkable sway over the government’s purchasing decisions related to the vaccines, the interviews and documents show.

While national security officials still consider anthrax a threat, it has not received specific mention since 2012 in the intelligence community’s annual public assessment of dangers facing the country, a report that has repeatedly warned of pandemics.

“The risk of a serious terrorist attack with anthrax is real, but that doesn’t mean you buy unlimited quantities of vaccine,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under former President Barack Obama. “It is a zero sum. There’s only so much money, and so if you buy more of one thing, you have to buy less of another.”

Israelis show their “Green Passes” to gain admittance to a concert in Tel Aviv on Sunday as the country reopened to those who are fully vaccinated.
Credit…Jack Guez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel enjoyed a cappuccino and cake on the terrace of a Jerusalem cafe on Sunday morning to mark the broadest reopening of the country’s economy since the first coronavirus lockdown began a year ago.

For the first time in months, restaurants have reopened, with restrictions on occupancy and social distancing and with indoor seating available only to so-called Green Pass holders, meaning people over 16 who are fully vaccinated.

Israel has outpaced the rest of the world in vaccinations, with 55 percent of the population having received one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and more than 41 percent two doses. It is now an international laboratory for the efficacy of the vaccine, and is becoming a test case for the practical, legal and ethical issues arising from a tier system for the vaccinated and unvaccinated.

Event halls are reopening for Green Pass holders and gatherings of up to 1,500 people will be allowed in stadiums and arenas. And after weeks of tight restrictions on entry to the country that left thousands of Israeli citizens stranded abroad, all citizens and permanent residents will be allowed to enter the country, but with a cap on numbers that will increase over the week from 1,000 to 3,000 people per day.

“This is a great day,” Mr. Netanyahu said, as he supped in the spring sunshine alongside the mayor of Jerusalem, Moshe Leon. “We are coming back to life.”

The “Back to Life” program is central to Mr. Netanyahu’s election campaign, with another ballot scheduled for March 23, Israel’s fourth in two years.

With new daily infections still in the thousands, health officials and experts have warned against opening up the airport to passengers from abroad who may carry contagious virus variants, and against relaxing restrictions too rapidly out of political considerations. But the government has also come under pressure from Israelis wanting to return to the country to vote.

Hundreds of people gather in downtown Asunción, Paraguay, in protest of the government's lack of management and transparency during the pandemic and to demand the end of Mario Abdo Benitez's presidency on March 5.
Credit…Maria Magdalena Arrellaga for The New York Times

President Mario Abdo Benítez of Paraguay faced calls for his resignation and large street protests over the weekend as Paraguayans decried the dismal state of the public health system, under strain amid a record number of coronavirus infections.

Paraguay, one of the poorest countries in South America, has received just a few thousand doses of Covid-19 vaccine. Julio Mazzoleni, the health minister, resigned Friday as critical care units in hospitals became full and doctors ran out of basic drugs.

Hours after Mr. Mazzoleni stepped down, thousands took to the streets in downtown Asunción, the capital, to call for the resignation of Mr. Abdo Benítez, a conservative leader who assumed office in August 2018.

Protesters and opposition lawmakers said the country’s health crisis had been exacerbated by pervasive corruption at all levels of public procurement and spending.

“Paraguayans have already paid for drugs and vaccines that aren’t here,” said lawmaker Efraín Alegre, the head of the main opposition party, the Liberal Party. “It’s not the fault of Paraguayan people — it’s a serious corruption problem.”

As lawmakers called for his impeachment, Mr. Abdo Benítez on Saturday called on all his ministers to draft resignation letters. By the end of the day, he accepted the resignations of three ministers, including the minister of education.

The outcry began on Wednesday when medical professionals held a protest in Asunción to call attention to the scarcity of basic medical supplies. The health care workers said they had run out of drugs for chemotherapy treatment and sedatives for patients who needed to be intubated.

For now, Mr. Abdó Benítez appears to have enough support in Congress to avoid impeachment. But protesters across the country have said they intend to continue holding demonstrations until his government falls.

Paraguay shut down its borders and implemented strict measures early in the pandemic, which spared it initially from the large outbreaks seen in neighboring countries like Brazil and Argentina. But infections have surged in recent weeks, reaching a peak on March 4, when health officials reported 1,439 new cases.

The health ministers of three other countries in South America — Peru, Ecuador and Argentina — have stepped down in recent weeks amid scandals and criticism of the ways in which governments have handled vaccine distribution and other aspects of the response to the pandemic.

People praying outside Hasan Anani mosque in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, in January.
Credit…Amr Nabil/Associated Press

Saudi Arabia on Sunday lifted most restrictions that had been imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus, permitting indoor dining at restaurants and allowing gyms and barbershops to reopen.

After getting hit hard by the virus last summer, the kingdom has done comparatively well at controlling its epidemic with on-again, off-again restrictions. The country of 34 million, more than one-third of them noncitizens, has recorded more than 379,000 cases and 6,500 deaths.

After a rise in cases, the government on Feb. 3 imposed restrictions on recreational activities that were supposed to last 10 days but were extended for another 20 days.

Under the new rules, indoor dining at restaurants has resumed, with mandatory temperature checks upon entry and no more than five people at tables that must be three meters apart. Movie theaters, gyms and sports centers have also reopened.

Larger events such as weddings, banquets and corporate conferences are still banned, with a 20-person cap on other events.

Saudi Arabia and its wealthy Gulf Arab neighbors have generally fared better against the virus than other countries in the Arab world.

The United Arab Emirates has heavily invested in vaccination and is now a world leader, having given more than 6.2 million vaccines and reaching rate of 63 doses per 100 people, according to government figures.

Kuwait on Sunday imposed a 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew for the next month after a rise in cases. Last month, the country had reduced opening hours for nonessential business and barred noncitizens from entering the country. Kuwait also has a strict mandate on face masks in public places; violators can be fined up to $16,000 and given three-month jail terms.

The pandemic has put economic pressures on Gulf states since it has reduced demand for oil and gas, on which the nations rely heavily for income. The pandemic has also increased stress on the millions of low-paid foreign laborers, mostly from South Asia, who do a range of essential jobs. Across the region, many such workers have seen their wages cut, been laid off or had to return home because of lost jobs.







Senate Narrowly Passes Biden’s Pandemic Relief Plan

The Senate passed President Biden’s sweeping $1.9 trillion stimulus bill on Saturday, with a party-line vote of 50-49. The package must now move back to the House before being signed into law.

“The pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of American life, so this bill spans the gamut and provides support to every part of our country. For Americans who doubted that the government can help them in this time of crisis, you’ll be getting direct checks. Your schools will receive assistance to reopen quickly and safely. Your local businesses will get another lifeline. And the day when you receive the vaccine will be a lot sooner. The American Rescue Plan will go down as one of the most sweeping federal recovery efforts in history. Our job right now is to help our country get from this stormy present to that hopeful future. And it starts with voting ‘aye’ on the legislation before us. Vote ‘yes’ on the American Rescue Plan.” “Voters gave Senate Democrats the slimmest possible majority. Voters picked a president who promised unity and bipartisanship. Democrats’ response is to ram through what they call, quote, ‘the most progressive domestic legislation in a generation’ on a razor-thin majority in both houses. We could have worked together to speed up victory, but our Democratic colleagues made a decision. Their top priority wasn’t pandemic relief. It was their Washington wish— wish list. So Mr. President and colleagues, I strongly recommend a ‘no’ vote.” “The yeas are 50. The nays are 49. The bill as amended is passed.”

Video player loading
The Senate passed President Biden’s sweeping $1.9 trillion stimulus bill on Saturday, with a party-line vote of 50-49. The package must now move back to the House before being signed into law.CreditCredit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

The Senate passed its version of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan on Saturday. The pandemic relief bill now goes back to the House of Representatives, which must approve the Senate’s changes before it can go to President Biden’s desk. Here are some answers to some frequently asked questions.

The stimulus payments would be $1,400 for most recipients. Those who are eligible would also receive an identical payment for each of their children.

To qualify for the full $1,400, a single person would need an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income would need to be $112,500 or below, and for married couples filing jointly that number would need to be $150,000 or below.

If you’re already receiving unemployment benefits, payments would generally be extended for another 25 weeks, until Sept. 6. The weekly supplemental benefit, which is provided on top of your regular benefit, will remain $300 but run through Sept. 6.

Although unemployment benefits are taxable, the new law would make the first $10,200 of benefits tax-free for people with income less than $150,000. This applies to 2020 only.

Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper.

COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive.

Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30.

A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either.

A fisherman in Hoi An, Vietnam, last month.
Credit…Rehahn C for The New York Times

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared that the coronavirus outbreak had reached the level of a pandemic, with “alarming levels of spread and severity.” Almost immediately, international travel ground to a halt, as countries closed their borders, airlines canceled flights, and cities around the world went into lockdown.

The losses in life, health and people’s livelihoods continued to mount. The blow to the travel industry and all who depend on it was stunning: International arrivals at United States airports fell by 98 percent in April 2020 compared to the previous year, and stayed at that level for months.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the global tourism economy is expected to shrink by about 80 percent when all the data for 2020 is in.

With the one-year anniversary of the pandemic approaching, The Times Travel Desk looked at places around the world that are heavily dependent on tourism to see how they have adapted.

Carla Brown of Canon Hospice speaks with workers at the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging while waiting with one of her patients.
Credit…Abdul Aziz for The New York Times

BATON ROUGE, La. — Flossie West was not at all interested in taking the coronavirus vaccine. Carla Brown, the nurse overseeing her care, was determined to change her mind.

Ms. West, 73, has ovarian cancer, congestive heart failure and breathing difficulties — conditions that place her at grave risk should she contract the virus. But her skepticism about the new vaccines overshadowed her fears of Covid-19.

“I’m just not interested, because everyone tells me the virus is a hoax,” Ms. West said. “And besides, that shot is going to make me more sick than I already am.”

On Thursday morning, Ms. Brown, 62, breezed into Ms. West’s apartment and delivered a stern lecture: The virus is real, the vaccines are harmless, and Ms. West should get out of bed, grab her oxygen tank and get into her car.

“I’ll be darned if I’m going to let this coronavirus take you,” Ms. Brown said.

Even as vaccine supplies become more plentiful, African-Americans are being inoculated at half the rate of whites, according to an analysis by The New York Times. The disparities are especially alarming given the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on communities of color, who have been dying at twice the rate of whites.

The racial gap in vaccination rates is no less stark in Louisiana, where African-Americans make up 32 percent of the population but just 23 percent of those who have been vaccinated.

In recent weeks, Ms. Brown has been frenetically working to persuade her patients to get inoculated, and her one-woman campaign provides a glimpse into the obstacles that have contributed to the troublingly low rates of vaccination in the Black community.

Part of the problem is access. In Baton Rouge, the majority of mass vaccination sites are in white areas of the city, creating logistical challenges for older and poorer residents in Black neighborhoods who often lack access to transportation. Older residents have also been thwarted by online appointment systems that can be daunting for those without computers, smartphones or speedy internet connections.

But much of the racial disparity in vaccination rates, experts say, can be tied to a longstanding mistrust of medical institutions among African-Americans. Many Baton Rouge residents can readily cite the history of abuse: starting with the eugenics campaigns that forcibly sterilized Black women for nearly half of the 20th century, and the notorious government-run Tuskegee experiments in Alabama that withheld penicillin from hundreds of Black men with syphilis, some of whom later died of the disease.

“The distrust among Black Americans comes from a real place and to pretend it doesn’t exist or to question whether it’s rational is a recipe for failure,” said Thomas A. LaVeist, an expert on health equity and dean of the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane University.

A child tossed a surgical mask into a fire during a protest at the Idaho Statehouse in Boise on Saturday.
Credit…Nathan Howard/Getty Images

A group of parents urged their children to burn masks on the steps of the Idaho State Capitol on Saturday, videos show, in a state that has never had a statewide mask mandate.

“Destroy them! Feed them to the fire! We don’t want them in our world anymore!” young children are heard shouting as they grab handfuls of surgical and cloth masks and toss them into a barrel of flames. Adults in the background cheer them on.

Gov. Brad Little, a Republican, has resisted a mask mandate in Idaho, despite research showing mask mandates are linked to fewer infections and Covid-19 deaths in counties across the United States. Conservative lawmakers in the state have nonetheless pushed legislation banning any such measures, The Associated Press reported.

The videos, taken by an Oregon Public Broadcasting reporter and a New York Times contributor, Sergio Olmos, show about 100 people on the steps of the state capitol building.

In one video, several children not much taller than the burning barrel itself approach to drop in masks. “Here fire, you hungry?” says one child. In another video, police officers approaching a woman about a fire are repeatedly told to back off. “Leave her alone!” protesters call out. Idaho State Police said in a statement that open flames were not allowed on State Capitol grounds and that the incident was under review.

The demonstrations were in part organized by Darr Moon, the husband of Dorothy Moon, an Idaho State representative.

In a video posted to YouTube on Friday, Ms. Moon, along with another state representative, Heather Scott, called the demonstrations a “grass-roots project that we have become aware of and fully support.”

Ms. Moon claimed in the video that the state has a low caseload that doesn’t justify protective measures. A total of 1,880 people in Idaho have died from the coronavirus, according to a New York Times database.

COVID’s assault on Native Americans

The coronavirus has taken a devastating toll on indigenous communities across the U.S. Here’s everything you need to know:

How bad were the outbreaks?
Native Americans and Alaska Natives have been hit harder by the pandemic than any other community in the U.S. They are 3.5 times more likely to be infected with COVID-19 than whites, and are 1.8 times more likely to die from the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Nationwide, 1 in every 475 Native Americans has died from the coronavirus, compared with 1 in 645 African-Americans, another hard-hit group. In Mississippi, 1 in every 127 indigenous people has died of COVID-19; in the Navajo Nation — a sprawling reservation that straddles Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah and is home to 175,000 people — more than 1,150 have died, a rate of about 1 in 160. Last May, the reservation registered the highest infection rate in the U.S. The pandemic has worsened severe substance-abuse issues and poverty on reservations, in part because of the shuttering of Native-run casinos. “Everyone has been impacted,” said Amber Kanazbah Crotty, a Navajo tribal council delegate. “Some families have been decimated.”

Why such a heavy toll?
It’s partly because Native communities are so poor, and have had such limited access to health care. In some remote areas, there is one hospital for an area the size of Delaware, and the Indian Health Service, a federal program that serves 2.6 million people, is underfunded and understaffed. A third of Native Americans live in poverty, and the population disproportionately suffers from chronic health conditions — including obesity, diabetes, liver disease, hypertension, and respiratory disease — that heighten the risk of dying from COVID. Even before the pandemic, Native Americans had an average life expectancy 5.5 years lower than the national average. “We’re more at risk [of COVID] because we are Native people living in the U.S., where we have been experiencing this kind of oppression for the past 500 years,” said Abigail Echo-Hawk, chief research officer at the Seattle Indian Health Board and a member of the Pawnee Nation. Many Natives live in crowded, multigenerational households, exacerbating spread to vulnerable old people. As of mid-January, 565 of the Navajo Nation’s 869 deaths were among people age 60 and older. The loss of so many elders has been uniquely devastating to Native communities.

Why is that?
Elders are revered in Native communities, and serve as repositories of history and culture. They pass down Native languages, oral histories, songs, prayers, medical knowledge, and cultural traditions. “It’s like we’re having a cultural book burning,” said Jason Salsman, a spokesman for Oklahoma’s Muscogee Nation. “We’re losing a historical record.” In the Navajo Nation, many hataalii — practitioners of traditional medicine — have died. Among the Cherokee, who in 2019 initiated a program to preserve their dying language, dozens of the remaining speakers have been lost to COVID over the past year. “Our language, culture, and traditions is what makes us Cheyenne,” said Desi Rodriguez-Lonebear, a Cheyenne and an assistant professor of American Indian studies at the University of California. “But we’re losing our teachers.”

What is being done?
In some areas, tribal leaders have instituted safety measures beyond state and local mandates. In the Navajo Nation they’ve banned large gatherings, organized pro-masking campaigns, and enforced curfews and stay-at-home orders, putting up checkpoints and threatening violators with fines and jail terms. Some tribes, such as the Eastern Band of Cherokee in North Carolina and Oglala Sioux in South Dakota, have at times barred nonresidents from reservations. On the federal level, $8 billion was allocated to Native American communities as part of the first coronavirus relief package last March — though many Natives complained that a months-long delay in allocating the money cost lives. In early February, President Biden signed a major disaster declaration for the Navajo Nation that cleared the way for additional federal funding for vaccine distribution and medical staffing.

Are Native Americans getting vaccinated?
Yes. In fact, Native communities are well ahead of the general population when it comes to inoculating their members. Over half of Navajo Nation residents have received at least one shot, for example, while the Rosebud Sioux of South Dakota have been inoculated at double the state rate. With the virus rampaging through the reservations, tribes have created aggressive outreach programs to get vaccines to remote populations. A strong sense of community — and fear of extinction — has increased compliance rates. In a recent survey, 75 percent of Native Americans said they’d be willing to get the vaccine — 20 percentage points above the general population. The main motivation, the study reported, “was a strong sense of responsibility to protect the Native community and preserve cultural ways.” The high Navajo vaccination rates are “enough to give our people real hope,” said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez. “We got through smallpox, we got through tuberculosis, and we will get through this.” Still, tribal leaders express concern about damage to their communities that will be felt long after the pandemic passes. “I fear the long-term impacts on mental health, our children, community resilience and cohesiveness,” said Rodriguez-Lonebear. “We’re in the middle of a massive storm, and we’re not prepared for the aftermath.”

New hope for neglected tribes
After decades of federal neglect, tribal leaders are cautiously optimistic about securing more money and attention from the Biden administration. On the campaign trail Biden — who notched key wins in Arizona and Nevada with help from Native voters — issued a detailed agenda of policies intended to aid Native Americans, ranging from reinstating the White House Tribal Nations Conference to investing in Native agriculture. He has nominated a Native American, Deb Haaland, to head the Department of the Interior, which plays a significant role in Native American affairs. Tribal leaders say they hope to see a series of other actions from the Biden administration to improve infrastructure, stem environmental damage, and fully fund the long-criticized Indian Health Service. “We’re helping other nations with billions in aid,” said Navajo Nation President Nez. “We should be working on improving quality of life for the first citizens of this country, who are being ignored.”

This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.

Remembering Selma’s ‘Bloody Sunday’ And The Fight For The Voting Rights Act

March 7 marks the 56th anniversary of an ill-fated march from Selma to Montgomery organized by Civil Rights activists to protest unfair voting rights in Alabama. This year’s commemoration will be the first without Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who died last summer.

Later known as “Bloody Sunday,” the violent clash between law enforcement and protesters at the crest of the Edmund Pettus Bridge led to the hospitalization of more than 50 people, including Lewis, who was then 25 years old.

Televised accounts of “Bloody Sunday” outraged Americans of all backgrounds, and forced a sympathetic but reluctant President Lyndon B. Johnson to push for voting rights legislation.

The Long Road to Voting Equality

“The voting rights campaign was a very long campaign, and Selma was one of the culminating activities that came before the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act,” said Howard Robinson, Ph.D., assistant professor of history at Alabama State University.

“You had the ’57 Civil Rights Act, the ’60 Civil Rights Act and the ’64 Civil Rights Act, all of which had elements that spoke to voting,” he told Zenger News. “Each of the acts was supposed to alleviate some of the disenfranchisement tactics that were employed widely throughout the South.”

March 7 marks the 56th anniversary of a march from Selma to Montgomery organized by Civil Rights activists to protest unfair voting rights in Alabama. This year’s commemoration of what came to be known as “Bloody Sunday” will be the first without Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who died last summer. (Public Domain/United States Library of Congress)

In the two years leading up to “Bloody Sunday,” the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee engaged in numerous demonstrations that led to more than 2,000 arrests.

At the same time, the Dallas County Voters League, which included local activists Rev. Frederick D. Reese and Amanda Boynton Robinson, appealed to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, led by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to join their cause.

President Johnson exploited national sympathy in the wake of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination and increasing protests to push through the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

“Johnson expends a lot of political capital doing that,” said Robinson. “Although he is sympathetic to a future civil rights bill, that’s not at the top of his list of priorities. He wants to turn his attention to his Great Society initiatives.” Those initiatives included increased spending on health care, education, transportation and programs to address poverty.

As a stall tactic, Robinson added, Johnson enlisted King to create “the public pressure that would give him the opportunity to push for legislation in the future.”

This pressure began to build with the Feb. 18, 1965, shooting of Jimmie Lee Jackson during a nighttime demonstration in Marion, Ala.

Jackson died from his wounds a week later.

A pedestrian walks by vintage photos of the civil rights march and “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Alabama. The famed civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery that resulted in a violent confrontation with Selma police and State Troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

“The idea was to march Jackson’s body up Highway 80 and place it at the steps of the capital in Montgomery to draw attention to the brutality that black people were facing in Alabama,” Robinson said. “It morphed into a voting rights march, and the memorial aspects of the march were sort of lost.”

Fearing potential violence and skeptical of its effectiveness, the student organizers opted not to participate in the march. But despite his organization’s misgivings, John Lewis led the march along with Southern Christian Leadership Conference lieutenant Hosea Williams.

“[Gov. George Wallace] gives the order to stop the marchers by ‘whatever means necessary’” Robinson said. “The state troopers and irregular posse men beat the marchers, tear-gassed them and turned them around in what we now know as ‘Bloody Sunday.’”

The Ministers’ March

In the aftermath, King, who was not present at the March 7 event, implored all “people of conscience” to descend on Selma and restart the march. Incensed that one of their own, Lewis, was injured in the melee, the student committee’s leaders were eager to rejoin the march.

Meanwhile, Southern Christian Leadership Conference lawyers were in court to prevent Gov. Wallace from taking punitive actions to halt subsequent demonstrations. Instead, U.S. District Court Judge Frank Johnson, Jr. issued a restraining order barring any further protests.

On March 9, King led more than 2,000 people to the bridge but, fearing that he might violate the restraining order barring demonstrations, he gathered them in prayer and turned back to Selma.

The “Ministers’ March,” also called “Turnaround Tuesday,” outraged the student protesters.

“[The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] was livid; they smelled a sell-out,” Robinson said.

What the students did not know was that King was in secret negotiations with the White House on a voting rights bill, and that he turned the protesters around to avoid any negative impact on those negotiations.

President Lyndon B Johnson (1908–1973) discusses the Voting Rights Act with civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King Jr (1929–1968). The law dramatically increased the number of black voters in the South, who had previously been hindered by discriminatory laws. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

About a week after the events of “Bloody Sunday,” Johnson made a call for equal voting rights for black Americans.

“Their cause must be our cause too,” Johnson said in his March 15, 1965, speech to a joint session of Congress. “Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.”

The speech was interrupted with applause 40 times.

Ironic Moments Help Shape the Movement and the Country

“I admire the Selma-to-Montgomery marchers,” said Dana Chandler, the university archivist at Tuskegee University. “It was a coming together of people in the defense of rights for other people. They followed a pattern of peaceful demonstration, yet they were resilient in the face of enduring abuse to push for those accomplishments.”

Visiting one such marcher, Amanda Boynton Robinson, on many occasions years later, Chandler heard stories that he said illustrated a great deal about her and others in the movement.

“She said to me one time that ‘the man that beat me [on “Bloody Sunday] died, and I’m going to his funeral,’” Chandler told Zenger. “I asked her why, and she said, ‘I need closure.’ As the funeral came to an end, the man’s family approached her, hugging her and thanking her. That says so much about the woman. All of her accomplishments were fulfilled through the laws of Christ, and that’s how many others in the movement felt.”

Civil rights activists in cities nationwide marched in solidarity with Selma protesters. March 7 marks the 56th anniversary of a march from Selma to Montgomery organized by Civil Rights activists to protest unfair voting rights in Alabama. This year’s commemoration of what came to be known as “Bloody Sunday” will be the first without Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who died last summer. (Public Domain/United States Library of Congress)

In a larger context, the events of “Bloody Sunday” laid bare a cruel irony. On that night Americans were glued to ABC Television’s presentation of the 1961 movie “Judgment at Nuremberg,” which depicted the horrors of Nazi bigotry during World War II, until ABC News anchor Frank Reynolds interrupted the broadcast to report the violence in Selma.

“As part of the [Cold War] propaganda, the United States was taking a beating over civil rights because it was arguing … that Third World countries should implement a democracy and let the public participate in the electoral process,” said Robinson. “But, to have this steady drumbeat of chaos and confrontation coming out of the American South … was problematic.”

A “Daughter of Selma” Fighting to Remove Today’s “Bad Actors”

“As a daughter of Alabama and representative of Birmingham, Selma, and Tuscaloosa and Montgomery, there is not a time when I didn’t remember ‘Bloody Sunday’ and the commitment of the foot soldiers that fought for equal rights to vote for everyone,” said Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), the state’s first black woman elected to Congress. “I never would have imagined that their cause would become my cause.”

Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) is the first black woman elected to serve in the Alabama Congressional delegation. (Courtesy Rep. Terri Sewell)

Her cause is the passage of H.R. 4, a bill to restore the voting rights protections that were stripped from the 1965 Voting Rights Act when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that a section on preclearance was unconstitutional.

At issue in Shelby County v. Holder was the legality of Section 5, which requires certain states to get federal approval — or “preclearance” — before changing their voting laws or practices, and Section 4(b), which outlines the formula that determines which jurisdictions are subject to preclearance based on their history of discrimination.

While upholding Section 5, the court struck down Section 4(b) on the grounds that the formula was based on data more than 40 years old. Without a new formula, no jurisdiction can be subject to preclearance.

In the years since, jurisdictions previously subject to preclearance have increased voter purges, closed polling sites in predominantly black counties, and curtailed early and mail-in voting.

Rep. Sewell is now conducting evidentiary and field hearings to establish a more equitable formula.

“I look forward to working with Congress to let the world know there are bad actors out there instituting voter suppression laws,” she said. “There is nothing more basic than being engaged in the electoral process.”

Mourners visit the Alabama State Capitol to view the body of Rep. John Lewis on July 26, 2020 in Montgomery, Alabama. Six days of ceremonies honored the life of the civil rights icon. (Lynsey Weatherspoon/Getty Images)
A horse-drawn carriage carrying the body of civil rights icon, former U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) crosses the Edmund Pettus Bridge on July 26, 2020 in Selma, Ala., as it follows the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail on its way to the State Capitol to lie in state. On March 7, 1965 Lewis and other civil rights leaders were attacked by Alabama State Police while marching across the bridge in support of voting rights for African Americans. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

This year’s “Bloody Sunday” is bittersweet for Rep. Sewell. As she has done for many years, she returned to her church — Brown Chapel A.M.E. — for a commemoration of that violent day in March 1965, but it will be different due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the absence of John Lewis.

“This will be the first time in my life commemorating the events of Bloody Sunday, via a drive-through march, without John Lewis,” Sewell said. “But, as beneficiaries of his call to action to keep the faith and exercise our moral obligation to do something, we must pick up the baton toward forming a more perfect union.”

(Edited by Kristen Butler and Alex Patrick)

The post Remembering Selma’s ‘Bloody Sunday’ And The Fight For The Voting Rights Act appeared first on Zenger News.

Biden news – Cuomo faces fresh allegations as Obama praises president on Covid-19 relief bill

Fighting Biden virus aid, GOP rekindles Obama-era strategy , and other top stories in politics from March 07, 2021.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is reportedly facing fresh allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior.

According to reports from The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, two more women have come forward to accuse Mr Cuomo of misconduct.

Karen Hinton, a former press aide, has said Mr Cuomo invited her to his hotel room after a work event in Los Angeles in 2000. She said the former governor embraced her as she tried to leave and pulled her towards him when she tried to move away.

Ana Liss, a former aide to the governor, has further accused Mr Cuomo of hugging and kissing her on both cheeks in an incident in 2014.

According to ABC 7, a protest is expected outside the governor’s office, with demonstrators calling for his resignation.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden is receiving high praise after his American Rescue Plan passed in Senate, with former President Barack Obama, who Mr Biden once served alongside as vice president, crediting his former second-in-command for pushing forward a bill that “will improve the lives of families across the country”.

With Mr Biden’s plan set to provide $1.9 trillion in Covid-19 relief once it is approved by the House and signed by the president himself, Mr Obama said the bill’s success in Senate was proof of the importance of voting.


Good morning and welcome to The Independent’s live blog tracking the latest on US politics as President Joe Biden prepares to issue an executive order aimed at expanding voting access as the country marks the 56th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday”.

Chantal Da Silva7 March 2021 12:14


Trump tells GOP to stop using his name to raise funds

Former President Donald Trump has reportedly demanded that GOP bodies stop using his name and likeness to raise funds and rally support without his permission.

According to Politico, which cited an unnamed Trump adviser, lawyers for the former world leader have sent cease-and-desist letters to the Republican National Committee (RNC), National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) demanding that they stop using Mr Trump’s name and image in fundraising emails and merchandise without his consent.

The development comes after Politico reported that Trump had been furious that his name was being used by organisations that support Republicans who had voted to impeach him.

Chantal Da Silva7 March 2021 12:29


Biden to issue executive order expanding voting rights

President Joe Biden is expected to sign an executive order today aimed at making it easier for Americans across the country to vote.

The new measure will direct federal agencies to outline a plan for expanding voter registration and improving the distribution of election information to voters within 200 days.

The EO will come as the US marks the 56th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday”, the 1965 incident that saw state troopers and police officers attack civil rights demonstrators protesting against racial injustice in Selma, Alabama.

Chantal Da Silva7 March 2021 12:35


Obama applauds Biden administration for Covid-19 relief bill success

Former President Barack Obama has applauded President Joe Biden, who once served as his second-in-command, on the passage of his administration’s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill in Senate.

“Elections matter—and we’re seeing why. Congratulations to the Biden Administration and to the American people on a COVID relief bill that will improve the lives of families across the country,” Mr Obama wrote in a Twitter thread.

“This landmark legislation will help families pay rent and put food on the table, lift millions of children out of poverty, make health care more affordable, aid small businesses, fund broad-based vaccination efforts, and make it easier for states to reopen schools,” he said.

“This is the kind of progress that’s possible when we elect leaders across government who are devoted to making people’s lives better—and a reminder of why it’s so important to vote,” the former president added.

The Democrat-controlled House is expected to give final approval of the bill on Tuesday, before sending it off to the president’s office for his signature.

Chantal Da Silva7 March 2021 12:40


China tells Biden to reverse Trump’s ‘dangerous’ practice on Taiwan

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi has called on the Biden administration to reverse former President Donald Trump’s support for Taiwan, which Beijing has claimed as its territory.

Speaking at a news conference during an annual meeting of China’s ceremonial legislature, Mr Wang said Beijing’s claim to Taiwan is an “insurmountable red line”.

“The Chinese government has no room for compromise,” Mr Wang said.

The US does not have an official relationship with Taiwan, but does have informal ties, which many perceived Mr Trump as strengthening when he sent a US envoy to the island before departing the White House.

The decision further came not long after the Trump administration lifted restrictions on diplomatic interactions with Taiwan amid opposition from China.

Chantal Da Silva7 March 2021 13:08


Biden condemns state lawmakers’ ‘all-out assault on the right to vote’ in ‘Bloody Sunday’ address

In remarks being made virtually at the Martin and Coretta King Unity Breakfast this morning, President Joe Biden takes aim at what he branded state lawmakers’ “all-out assault on the right to vote”.

In prepared remarks published by the White House, the president says “every eligible voter should be able to vote and have that vote counted”.

“If you have the best ideas, you have nothing to hide. Let the people vote”, he says.

Condemning the deadly 6 January insurrection at the US Capitol Building Biden goes on to condemns the actions of rioters that day.

Rather than celebrating the 2020 election’s “powerful demonstration of voting,” he said, “we saw an unprecedented insurrection on our Capitol and a brutal attack on our democracy on January 6th. A never-before-seen effort to ignore, undermine and undo the will of the people.”

“And to think that it’s been followed by an all-out assault on the right to vote in state legislatures all across the country happening right now,” he continues.

“During the current legislative session, elected officials in 43 states have already introduced more than 250 bills to make it harder for Americans to vote. We cannot let them succeed,” he says.

Held on the 56th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” when state troopers and police officers attacked civil rights demonstrators in Selma, Alabama as they rallied against racial discrimination, the Martin and Coretta King Unity Breakfast is being held as a drive-in event due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Biden’s comments come as he is set to sign an executive order today seeking to expand voting access across the country.

Chantal Da Silva7 March 2021 13:29


John Lewis asked Biden to help ‘heal and unite’ US in final days, president says

The late civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis asked Joe Biden to stay focused on helping “heal” and “unite” America in the final days before his death, the president has said.

In remarks prepared for the Martin and Coretta King Unity Breakfast this morning, which marked the 56th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” – the day state troopers and police officers attacked civil rights demonstrators, including Lewis, in Selma, Alabama, as they marched as part of a voting rights campaign, Mr Biden says that he and his wife, Jill Biden, were able to speak with the civil rights hero in the days before his passing.

“But instead of answering our concerns about him, ‘how are you doing, John,’ he asked us to stay focused on the work left undone to heal and to unite this nation around what it means to be an American,” Mr Biden said.
“That’s the God’s truth. John wouldn’t talk about his pending death or his concerns. He said we just got to get this done,” he said. “That we are all created equal. That we all deserve to be treated equally.”

Lewis had helped lead the protest in 1965 that was met with violence from state troopers and police.

Mr Biden noted that this was the first commemoration of Bloody Sunday without the civil rights icon, who died on 17 July, 2020.

Mr Biden said that “in our lifetime, for Black Americans, the fundamental right to vote has been denied by white supremacy hiding both behind white hoods and in plain sight in state houses and courtrooms.”
“Yet those torches and burning crosses, the batons, tear gas, fire hoses, attack dogs, and unfair laws and trials could not stop progress. The blood of John Lewis and hundreds of other brave and righteous souls that was spilled in Selma, on this Sunday in 1965 sanctified a noble struggle,” he said.
The president called for Americans to “stay focused on the work ahead”.
“Let’s remember all those who came before us as a bridge to our history so we do not forget its pain, and as a bridge to our future so we never lose our hope,” he said.

Chantal Da Silva7 March 2021 13:50


B-52s flown over Mideast in US warning to Iran

Two B-52 bombers were reportedly flown over the Mideast on Sunday in a warning to Iran amid growing tensions between Washington and Tehran.

According to the Associated Press, the two B-52s were flown over the region alongside military aircraft from Israel, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The mission was noted as the fourth bomber deployment of its kind this year, as well as being the second under President Joe Biden.

Read more here:

Chantal Da Silva7 March 2021 14:10


Poll shows Biden’s approval rating high thanks to Covid leadership

A recent ABC News/Ipsos poll found that more than two-thirds of respondents – 68 per cent – approve of Joe Biden’s pandemic leadership. His approval rating has remained at essentially the same level since he took office.

Of the poll respondents, 35 per cent of Republicans gave Mr Biden positive feedback, as did 67 per cent of independents and 98 per cent of Democrats.

The approving feedback comes just as Mr Biden celebrates the passage of a historic $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill and a single-shot vaccine development partnership between pharmaceutical giants Merck and Johnson & Johnson.

Graig Graziosi7 March 2021 14:31


Biden expected to sign $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill Tuesday

Joe Biden is expected to sign the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill when it hits his desk on Tuesday. The bill was passed without the help of any Republicans, and includes $1,400 stimulus checks for American adults, the extension of unemployment expanded benefits until 6 September, and provides billions of dollars of funding for state and local governments, testing, vaccines, businesses and schools.

An amendment to the bill aimed at raising federal minimum wage to $15 per hour was defeated when eight Senate Democrats defected to vote alongside Republicans.

The federal minimum wage has not been increased since 2009.

Graig Graziosi7 March 2021 14:49

Queen celebrates unity in Commonwealth address, ahead of Harry and Meghan interview

Queen Elizabeth praised the “renewed sense of closeness” the coronavirus pandemic has brought to communities around the world in a video message released Sunday to mark Commonwealth Day.

She praised the “courage, commitment and selfless dedication to duty” of front-line health-care and public service workers across the Commonwealth in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have also taken encouragement from remarkable advances in developing new vaccines and treatments,” she said in a rare televised address to mark the day.

“The testing times experienced by so many have led to a deeper appreciation of the mutual support and spiritual sustenance we enjoy by being connected to others,” she added.

In the message, pre-recorded at Windsor Castle, the Queen also talked about the importance of maintaining connections with family and friends using “innovative technology.”

“Increasingly, we have found ourselves able to enjoy such communication as it offers an immediacy that transcends boundaries or division, helping any sense of distance to disappear,” she said.

The broadcast replaces the annual service at Westminster Abbey, which was cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions.

In this undated image released on Sunday, Queen Elizabeth signs her annual Commonwealth Day message in St. George’s Hall at Windsor Castle to mark Commonwealth Day. (Steve Parsons/WPA pool/Getty images)

It comes hours before the airing of a two-hour special hosted by TV talk show host Oprah Winfrey in which the Queen’s grandson and his wife, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, are set to tell the story behind their tumultuous departure from royal duties.

Prince Harry and Meghan’s departure from royal duties began in March 2020 over what they described as the intrusions and racist attitudes of the British media toward the duchess, who is African American.

Harry and Meghan are expected to explain, directly to the public for the first time, why they stepped back as working members of the Royal Family during the interview, airing at 8 p.m. ET.

The filibuster showdown is coming soon. The fight for a living wage could be key to its elimination

These outright displays of disdain for the plight of hard-working Americans struggling through the pandemic were, frankly, sickening. Any Democratic lawmaker who wants their party to head into 2022 claiming they fought for working Americans better find a way to tame the centrist Democrats doing their damnedest to kill that rallying cry. 

But before I launch into an uncertain discussion of what comes next, here’s something to ponder alongside some unfortunate setbacks for progressives in the bill.


I’m open to counterexamples,” New York Times columnist Ezra Klein tweeted Friday evening, “but this still looks like the most ambitious and progressive economic package Congress has passed in my lifetime. It will do more to cut poverty, and push full employment, than anything else I’ve covered.” In other words, President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package—which finally cleared the Senate on Saturday afternoon—is still a damn good bill, even if it isn’t everything we wanted it to be. It’s a win, we claim it as a win, and we move on.

But once the American Rescue Plan is signed into law, we are immediately into territory where nearly every progressive priority is likely to get jammed by the filibuster—a centuries-old tool of oppression. As I sat watching the maneuverings of Sinema and Manchin, I returned to something that’s been on my mind ever since interviewing former Senate aide and filibuster expert Adam Jentleson in January: Which issue will provide the best leverage point to exert pressure on Senate Democrats to finally ditch the filibuster? Democrats now have less than two years to get meaningful things done to reset the playing field for average Americans and give them a fighting chance. And to the extent that Democrats are successful, it will also give them a fighting chance to retain power in the next several election cycles. Delivering COVID-19 relief is a good start. Not delivering anything else will absolutely hamstring Democrats’ ability to claim they are the party that fights for the American people and gets thing done. 

Personally, the only way I can imagine getting any leverage over people like Manchin and Sinema is through a grassroots campaign that dogs them over and over again in their states. So the question is, which Democratic bill provides the best opportunity to mobilize a mass of impassioned people to target Democrats on their home turf and make them respect the issue deeply enough to kill the filibuster? Which movement already has the built-in organizing infrastructure to exert that kind of pressure? Watching the immediate backlash to the minimum-wage vote made me think it just might be Fight for $15 and allied organizations. 

Sure, there was a lot of Twitter activity, but that’s not what caught my attention. Check out the passion of West Virginian Pam Garrison from the Poor People’s Campaign.

“People, we have to join,” said Garrison. “We have to be one loud voice and say, enough is enough, and we are tired of putting the filthy rich in silk beds and us sleeping on straw.”

Garrison is pure fire in the video, and she’s itching to go talk to Manchin. “I will meet with him,” she said, “because I don’t know who he’s listening to right now.”

Rev. Dr. William Barber co-chairs the Poor People’s Campaign, and he has wasted no time taking the fight straight to the White House. 

“The entire Democratic Party platform says they want to eradicate poverty,” Barber tweeted Friday morning. “@VP Harris and @POTUS Biden ran on raising the federal minimum wage to $15/hr. They never said ‘$15 unless the parliamentarian advises not to.'” On Democracy Now, Barber added, “What we are seeing is a robbing of the rights of the poor … It’s extreme. It’s catering to the corporate bloc in this country.”

Back in Sinema’s home state, Progress Arizona was projecting messages in both English and Spanish on to a building that’s visible from I-10.

“Senator Sinema: End the filibuster,” they read. “Elimina el filibuster. $15 salario mínimo ahora.”

What strikes me about the $15 minimum wage fight is the intersectionality of the movement—it cuts across race, gender, and culture. And it draws energy from other movements, such as those fighting for immigration reforms, voting rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, affordable health care, and more. In other words, it’s the type of movement that already has a ton of activists at the ready, and has been heavily organizing in the states for a solid decade (though clearly the fight for a living wage and workers’ rights has a much longer and deeper history). Already, actions are planned for Monday, International Women’s Day, in Phoenix (outside Kyrsten Sinema’s office) and Charleston, West Virginia (outside Joe Manchin’s office), along with rallies in Chicago, Washington D.C., Detroit, New York, and San Francisco.

On top of that, the issue and the movement have a senator who appears more than ready to go to the mat for it: Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. On Friday, Sanders alerted his eight Democratic caucus colleagues that their vote to kill his amendment isn’t a one and done, in case they harbored any illusions that it was. 

“If any Senator believes this is the last time they will cast a vote on whether or not to give a raise to 32 million Americans, they are sorely mistaken,” Sanders tweeted. “We’re going to keep bringing it up, and we’re going to get it done because it is what the American people demand and need.”

In other words, make no mistake, this issue is going to dog you. Also, fun fact, Sanders won every county in West Virginia in the 2016 Democratic primary, and there’s certainly no love lost between Sanders and Manchin, who said in 2019 he wouldn’t vote for Sanders in a head-to-head contest against Donald Trump. 

On MSNBC Friday afternoon, Sanders said he was “disappointed” by the minimum wage vote but promised a coast-to-coast effort to pass an increase.

“This is an issue that impacts all working people. It especially impacts women, who are disproportionately working for low wages; it disproportionately impacts the African American and Latino community,” he said. “So we’re going to get the word out, and we’re going to mobilize people from coast to coast. And at the end of the day—here’s my prediction—we will pass that.”

When it comes to eliminating the filibuster, we only need to win on one issue to unlock the potential for all the issues. The fight for a living wage has a lot of the elements already in place that have the makings of a legitimate grassroots uprising. Senate Democrats, and the White House in particular, need grassroots activists to apply pressure and create the space for them to eliminate an accident of history that presently stands in the way of moving the country into a new era of progressivism.