GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas on Sunday said that the reluctance of many supporters of former President Donald Trump to receive COVID-19 vaccination shots is rooted in “a natural resistance to government,” a sentiment he described as “worrisome.”
During an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Hutchinson remarked at the conservative nature of his state’s electorate when host Dana Bash informed him of results from a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll which revealed that a full 50 percent of Trump voters indicated that they would “never” get the vaccine.
“I’ve thought a lot about that and I think it’s a natural resistance to government and skepticism of it,” he said. “But you look at the breadth of support here in Arkansas for President Trump, and you have rural voters, you have minority voters, and their hesitancy is worrisome, not just here but all across the country.”
He added: “I expect, as a country, we’ll get the 50 percent vaccination rate of the population, but we’re going to have a harder time getting from 50 percent to 70 percent, and it’s about overcoming the skepticism.”
While former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter all participated in a recent series of public service announcements touting the vaccine, Trump did not to participate.
When asked if Trump should be more vocal about the merits of the vaccine, which the former president and former first lady Melania Trump received shortly before leaving the White House in January, Hutchinson said that messages of support from all leaders would be beneficial.
“Well, I’m delighted that he did get the vaccine [and] promoted that,” Hutchinson said. “I don’t know the story behind as to why he wasn’t in the PSA with the other presidents. Any message is helpful and I think we have to have our leaders, we have to have sports figures, we have to have different representatives of our community, including our political leaders, say [the] vaccine is important.”
“We’re a year into this and we know so much more today than we did a year ago,” he said. “We had to educate people to understand the importance of the mask, and I expect even though we take the mask mandate away that people will continue to use the mask when you cannot socially distance. Common sense is going to replace mandates and I think that’s where we are right now.”
President Joe Biden in his Thursday address to the nation denounced a surge in attacks on Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.
In the prime-time address marking the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 outbreak being declared a pandemic, Biden said that Asian Americans had been subjected to “vicious hate crimes” and been “attacked, harassed, blamed and scapegoated” during the pandemic.
“At this very moment, so many of them – our fellow Americans on the front lines of this pandemic trying to save lives – and still, still they are forced to live in fear for their lives just walking down streets in America,” said Biden.
The remarks come after a study by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, this month found that while overall hate crimes had fallen 7% during the pandemic, those targeting Asian Americans had increased 150%.
It followed a report by the UN last October which found an “an alarming level” of racist violence and abuse against Asian Americans during the pandemic.
E. Tendayi Achiume, one of the authors of the UN report, said the president had fostered an environment in which Asian Americans were being scapegoated for the pandemic.
“I think it’s absolutely the case that if you have the head of government speaking about groups in ways that stigmatizes them and associates them with the virus, it creates an environment where violence is more permissible and attacks are more permissible,” she told NBC News. “It really does legitimize those kinds of acts.”
Although most of us are now overloaded with information about COVID-19, there’s always more to learn.
New variants have led to more research and there is still no clear picture of when exactly the pandemic will end.
A John Hopkins professor, Dr. Martin Makary, said the US would reach herd immunity by April, but other experts disagree.
Until that happens, contact tracing and self-isolation will have to continue.
I decided to take the COVID-19 contact tracing course offered by John Hopkins so that I could learn more about the work of the trackers and how they’re helping to reduce the impact of the pandemic.
I took the Spanish version but the US course listed on Coursera is a free seven-hour class taught by Emily Gurley, Ph.D., MPH, an infectious disease epidemiologist with a background in outbreak response.
What you’ll learn and how
The course covers the science of COVID-19, including its infectious period and why contact tracing is a particularly effective method of stopping the virus in its tracks.
Course students will learn how to become contact tracers, identify contacts, and support both patients and healthcare workers in the process.
They will be given simulations to explain some of the challenges posed by contact tracing.
In my course, which was 21 hours long, we had a Virtual Campus Forum where people could ask classmates or tutors any questions they had about the course.
There’s also a final exam that’s easy enough to pass if you’ve studied and are clear on the key concepts.
There are several questions and it’ll take longer than you think as you have to really understand what they’re saying.
Unlike most exams, you won’t have to wait to find out your grade – they’ll tell you straight away.
After completing the course, you’ll get a certificate too.
You should take it even if you don’t work in healthcare
A lot of people asked me why I was taking the course if I wasn’t a healthcare professional.
My answer was always the same.
The course is a great way to learn more about what’s happening in our world right now and the important work contact tracers do.
People who aren’t healthcare workers will have had a different experience of the pandemic and there are worries that complacency is on the rise – testing has already declined in the US.
It could be a wake-up call, or it could prepare you if you ever have to deal with a COVID-19 case in your home or local community, as a lot of people don’t immediately know what to do and there’s a lot to take in.
I found the course very useful, although I think certain things could be improved – like having notes available in writing, for example. I’d give the course a B+.
Ultimately, I learned that being a contact tracer isn’t just about looking for positive cases, but also about saving lives.
A number of women are at the forefront of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, both at a Spanish and global level – from the first female president of the Spanish National Research Council to a researcher whose work in AI could reduce COVID-19 mortality by 50%.
While that percentage is slowly changing, there remain prominent gender gaps in STEM fields and women face more challenges than men in these sectors.
A study of 194 countries released last year suggested women-led countries handled the pandemic better than those led by men – and they’ve also played key roles in revolutionizing the pandemic response.
In celebration of International Women’s Day, here are 11 Spanish women who could hold the key to tackling COVID-19.
Sánchez-Felipe is researching a single-dose vaccine for long-term protection
Spanish researcher Lorena Sánchez-Felipe is working at the Rega Institute in Leuven, Belgium, to develop a vaccine that could change the course of the pandemic.
Her research group is creating a vaccine based on the yellow fever vaccine which carries a coronavirus antigen to train the immune system to recognize it. Sánchez-Felipe’s vaccine would protect people against both yellow fever and COVID-19.
She believes her vaccine could be especially vital in countries where yellow fever is still a problem and will also protect against COVID-19 in the long-term.
“We expect long-term immunity, given previous results we’ve seen with this type of vaccine,” Sánchez-Felipe told Business Insider España.
Sola is working on developing a COVID-19 vaccine in Spain
Senior scientist and co-director of the coronavirus laboratory at the National Center for Biotechnology at the Spanish National Research Council, Isabel Sola, has spent years researching the coronavirus family of infections.
Sola is now working to develop a vaccine based on a smallpox virus and is created using a virus that has been genetically modified to retain its reproduction properties. It thus goes from cell to cell with a controlled dose acting as a vector.
“From our experience with similar coronaviruses, this vaccine is 100% effective,” Sola told Business Insider España.
Del Val is a virologist and coordinates the Global Health platform
Spanish National Research Council virologist Margarita del Val has been one of the most visible faces of the pandemic response in Spain.
The expert coordinates the 150 teams brought together by the council on a large multidisciplinary research platform called “Global Health.”
Among the tasks carried out by the platform are the improvement of COVID-19 diagnostic systems, and they have pioneered a system for testing wastewater to identify whether the virus is spreading in a community.
Del Val has also been carrying out educational work during the pandemic and has warned of the need to be cautious about future possible waves and other pandemics.
Fernández-Sesma researches immune responses to COVID-19
Ana Fernández-Sesma directs a laboratory at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York which studies how certain types of viruses modulate our immune system, with a special focus on dengue.
The research she conducts on dengue places her among the five best-funded researchers by the National Institute of Health (NIH) in the United States.
Fernández-Sesma told Business Insider España she aims to understand “what the virus does to evade barriers in a host and how the host protects itself.” Uncovering this could change the pandemic response, as our immune response to the virus has still not been fully understood.
She has also joined a group of researchers evaluating the immune system’s response to the virus in an effort to understand how it differs among patients.
Oliver is an AI expert working on predicting the evolution of the pandemic
Nuria Oliver has established herself as one of the world’s leading artificial intelligence experts. In her capacity as authority-appointed high commissioner for AI in Valencia.
Oliver works with a research group that tries to communicate the real data of the pandemic to those in charge of making decisions.
The group tries to predict the behavior of the virus using different potential scenarios, answering key questions like how many people will be infected and modeling human mobility.
During the 2009 influenza pandemic in Mexico, Oliver analyzed aggregate data from cell phone networks to investigate the effectiveness of government measures.
She also spearheaded a macro-survey to assess the impact of the measures adopted during lockdown that has warned of the increased socialization in risky environments.
Marco leads a project that focuses on preparing for subsequent waves
Spanish National Research Council professor Pilar Marco is the head of Nanobiotechnology for Diagnostics (Nb4D). The tool could revolutionize the pandemic response.
Marco leads a team researching devices that can simultaneously and rapidly detect several biomarkers of COVID-19 infection.
These quick detection diagnostic systems could prepare the world better for any future outbreaks of COVID-19.
Rodríguez is improving diagnoses and treatments through AI at IBM
Astrophysics and cosmology specialist María Rodriguez uses her knowledge of quantitative technical tools to help doctors provide better diagnoses and suggest individual treatments.
The computational biologist works with IBM applying artificial intelligence to the healthcare sector, focusing on integrating high-throughput molecular datasets to build comprehensive models of disease.
This sector could transform the treatment of cancer and immune and degenerative diseases, Rodriguez told Business Insider España.
García Vidal is working on an AI solution that could cut mortality in COVID-19 patients by 50%
Head of the Covid Digital Control Center at the Hospital Clínic in Barcelona, Dr. Carolina García Vidal, is leading one of the 207 projects named by the European Institute of Innovation as providing a better response to the healthcare crisis.
García Vidal’s initiative uses artificial intelligence to monitor the evolution of patient systems, anticipating the worsening of the disease.
Rosa Menéndez is the first female president of the Spanish National Research Council
In 2017, Rosa Menéndez became the first female president in the 80-year history of the Spanish National Research Council.
An organic chemistry graduate from the University of Oviedo, Menéndez is confident that the council will produce the first Spanish vaccine to fight COVID-19, with reports suggesting it could be ready by the end of 2022.
San Francisco’s public schools were among the first in the US to shut down at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in February 2020.
They’re still closed. And the outrage over the endless foot-dragging on re-opening is well-deserved, especially considering what the city’s school board has spent precious time on rather than laser-focusing on reopening.
And yet for some reason, San Francisco’s Board of Education recently devoted a disproportionate amount of time and energy on an effort to review every single public school in the district with the goal of swiftly renaming any building bearing the name of a person who contributed to the abuse or subjugation of women, minorities, queer people, and the environment.
There’s still no set date to reopen San Francisco’s schools.
But the same excuses offered by the school board and teachers unions for why schools can’t reopen remain unchanged:
“Teachers’ lives would be at grave risk” is a common argument – even though the CDC has repeatedly stated that schools are among the lowest-risk public places for spreading COVID.
“Schools need revamped ventilation systems” is another – even though the CDC has recommended reopening schools with basic social distancing and ventilation measures (like a fan and an open window) as soon as possible.
“Teachers need to be vaccinated” is yet another – even though teachers are among the prioritized professions for vaccination in California already.
And while California is slowly ramping up its vaccine roll out, the school district and unions could use their resources to help teachers and school employees coordinate COVID vaccination appointments. Thus far, there has been no demonstrable urgency in taking such initiatives.
But no one can argue the school board hasn’t treated the effort to rename schools with the utmost urgency.
Originally conceived in 2018 in the wake of the Neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville, the school re-naming project was kicked into high gear this past summer following the police killing of George Floyd and protests against racism and police brutality.
A schools renaming committee was convened and as can be seen in public video of its deliberations, adherence to historical facts was a secondary concern, and the scope of its own mission seemed to change on the whims of a few of its members.
Committee members were expected to come to the meeting having already conducted their research, and yet during the meeting members are seen Google-searching for impeachable evidence of reputation-destroying racism or contributions to colonialism.
And even with such flimsy source material, members sometimes misread the information before them, as demonstrated when a committee member said Paul Revere participated in a conquest of Native American land.
Other names deemed worthy of removal included Abraham Lincoln, because despite signing the Emancipation Proclamation his policies were “detrimental” to Native Americans, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein for her support of an urban renewal project that displaced members of a Filipino community while she served as the city’s mayor.
One committee member noted that former Mayor George Moscone also supported neighborhood-disrupting urban renewal projects, but the school named for the martyred Moscone (who in 1978 was assassinated along with the legendary gay rights activist and city supervisor Harvey Milk) was spared by the committee.
The mythical city of “El Dorado” – in which a king sprinkled subjects in gold dust – was deemed removable because the Gold Rush led to the death of Native Americans and, as one committee member put it, “I don’t think the concept of greed and lust for gold is a concept we want our children to be given.”
Another committee member pushed back, arguing that not only is El Dorado not real, it’s not a person, and therefore out of the scope of the group’s stated guidelines. His point of view was rejected out of hand.
There were several more egregious mistakes, but the San Francisco school board voted 6 to 1 to accept the committee’s recommendations and to begin the process of swiftly renaming 44 schools – including those named for Revere, Lincoln, and Feinstein.
The response was tough but fair.
A historical embarrassment
An exasperated Mayor Breed said the school board should “bring the same urgency and focus on getting our kids back in the classroom” and only when that’s accomplished should we “have that longer conversation about the future of school names.”
And in an interview with The New Yorker’s Isaac Chotiner, school board president Gabriela Lopez appeared to defend the committee’s decision to not consult historians who could have easily helped the committee avoid its embarrassing mistakes. Lopez said she didn’t want “get into a process where we then discredit the work that this group has done.”
Historians, previously deemed inessential to the process of re-examining historical figures, will be invited into future discussions.
There is still no anticipated date for San Francisco public schools to reopen, despite private schools and public schools in neighboring counties being opened for months.
We need schools, and we need facts
It’s tempting to view the San Francisco school renaming debacle through a one-way culture war lens: with woke lefties beclowning themselves and a liberal city’s government unable to provide a basic public function. But that’s reductive.
If the San Francisco community believes school renaming should be a priority for the district, the board should by all means push forward on those efforts. But it’s tragically comical to focus on renaming schools that have been closed for a year and for the foreseeable future.
It is a story of misplaced priorities, but it is also indicative of a greater societal problem – which is the conscious choice by many to adopt a Manichean point of view that defines everyone as simply good or simply evil, with facts deemed secondary nuisances.
That’s why the San Francisco debacle matters. Because for citizens of this country to be able to share a reality-based existence, partisans on both sides need to accept that facts matter, political narratives be damned.
Over the past few weeks, New York’s attorney general released a report showing the state had undercounted the number of COVID nursing home deaths by about 50%, Cuomo senior aide Melissa DeRosa admitted in a conference call with some New York Democrats that the administration “froze” out of fear of a DOJ investigation when the legislature requested nursing home data, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers called for Cuomo to be stripped of the emergency powers he has held since the start of the pandemic.
Kim said Cuomo called him personally and threatened to “destroy” him if he did not amend his previous comments about what DeRosa had said on last week’s conference call. This week, a spokesman for the governor said Kim is “lying” about these allegations, and Cuomo accused Kim of accepting “unethical if not illegal” political donations.
Insider columnist Anthony Fisher spoke with Assemblyman Kim by phone on Friday about feeling “terrified” by the sounds of a screaming Cuomo, why the nursing home catastrophe hits him so personally, and why he thinks the Cuomo administration’s investigation of itself was “complete bullshit.”
This interview has been edited for length, context, and clarity.
A little more than a month into the pandemic in April 2020, you posted a video talking about the surge in deaths at nursing homes in Queens – which was the US’ COVID epicenter at the time.
What made you jump on this issue so early?
It was a very frantic, desperate email from a constituent. I spoke to her on the phone and by the next morning I met her at the nursing home to get to the bottom of what was going on. I emailed and called the nursing home director, but he wasn’t responding.
So I took a softer approach and told him we want to drop off some PPE for you. He came out and I started talking to him. He told me over a hundred people died and it hadn’t been reported. He didn’t know how to handle it, and the Department of Health hadn’t done anything to support him.
And that’s when I realized, “Holy shit. Something is happening and we need to get ahead of this. More people might die.”
That’s when I really started investigating what was going on. And during that time, a couple of articles came out that publicized the situation and people kept piling on texts, emails, Facebook [messages and tweets] telling me about other loved ones and citing similar situations.
The Cuomo administration’s Department of Health last summer investigated and cleared itself of any wrongdoing with regards to nursing home deaths.
That’s when we started to demand an independent commission because these guys were not acting in good faith. I introduced the bipartisan commission with Republicans in the Senate, because we needed a completely independent commission to thoroughly investigate what was going on – with full subpoena power.
The governor said just the other day that if members of the legislature wanted the records so badly they could have just subpoenaed him. Republicans certainly wanted to do it. Why didn’t it happen?
The [Democratic] speaker and the majority leader have those powers. And Gov. Cuomo knows he has a lot of influence on the leadership. It’s a distraction. And I think at this point, we know those words are empty and we’re moving toward an impeachment process, because I think most members have had enough.
After the DOH report came out, Cuomo rarely addressed the nursing home catastrophe at all. But when he did, he’d suggest that even asking questions about nursing home deaths made you the tool of a coordinated right-wing smear campaign.
As a progressive Democrat, how did you feel about being accused of being a tool of a right-wing smear?
Those are just distracting comments. He’s very good at reducing any criticism to either right-wing smears, or it’s just people being incompetent and not understanding information.
I think we’re all catching up to some of those tactics, and he knows that he’s quickly running out of time, and we’re going to get to the truth very soon.
It’s unfortunate it has to be this way. I hope he realizes every second he wastes we’re actually jeopardizing more lives in these facilities, because people are still dying every day in nursing homes from his policies.
It’s just another typical Cuomo distraction. We’ve seen it over and over, it’s part of his tactics. But I’m doing my job and people are still impacted [by COVID]. And instead of talking about the truth, he wants to talk about nail salons.
In a tweet Thursday, you wrote that Cuomo had “pushed for blanket COVID legal immunity for unprepared nursing homes in the budget.” You asked, “Who got to Gov. Cuomo?”
Are you accusing the governor of a quid pro quo?
There’s a saying, “All you have to do is follow the money.”
There were a number of articles that showed the link between healthcare lobbyists that donated close to $1.3 million to Cuomo’s campaign and [Cuomo’s push for added immunity for nursing home executives]. The evidence is there.
The question is who let them into the governor’s office, and why did they slip that toxic law into the budget quietly at the last hour without notifying any members? Those are the tough questions that he needs to face.
And instead of confronting that challenge, [the Cuomo administration] chose to continue to work with the business interest and suppress the data for six months. Someone has to pay for that decision. My role is to continue to push, investigate, and do my job as a chair of the aging committee.
What do you think the governor can do to make this right? Should he resign? Should he face any other sanctions?
I think only Cuomo can answer that question for himself, at this point.
My colleagues are moving toward a number of different ways to protect the integrity of our Senate and Assembly. And I trust that the leadership in the Assembly and Senate will get us to the right place.
People keep forgetting 15,000 died [in New York nursing homes].
I feel like people don’t understand that number of deaths. It’s almost like we helped dehumanize these lives by constantly putting the number up for like six months. It is a shocking, dramatic number of people who died.
If we truly understood, we wouldn’t be able to go ahead and have lunches and dinners without feeling sick to our stomach every day over the fact that we had a state that allowed these many deaths.
You said that Gov. Cuomo called and threatened you. It’s got to be unnerving for the governor to be yelling at you while you’re standing around with your family, especially after you’ve put your chin out there as an adversary in his own party.
How did that call end? Did it just trail off? Or did you push back on Cuomo?
No, I was terrified. I didn’t push back. I wanted to get off as quickly as possible. I just wanted to acknowledge whatever he was saying and get off as soon as possible. No man has ever in my life spoken to me that way. I just told myself, “Don’t say anything stupid. Don’t take the bait.”
What made you want to go public with it? Because obviously that was going to invite more of Cuomo’s wrath.
I think if it had just been regular useless yelling, I think that’s fine, and I probably could just yell back and call it a day.
I wasn’t sure at the time that I was going to go public, but after hearing Monday’s press conference where he continued to double down and tried to implicate the legislature in the coverup basically because we knew about the DOJ investigation, I realized what his pattern is, which is roping as many people into his coverup and his lies, and implicating them.
I sent a memo out Monday night, with my colleagues, pushing for repeal of Cuomo’s emergency powers, and also possible impeachment.
[Editor’s note: Cuomo’s senior adviser Rich Azzopardi said Kim is “lying” about the details of this call as “part of a years-long pattern of lies by Mr. Kim against this administration.” Gov. Cuomo on Monday argued for the need to retain emergency powers, saying they “have nothing to do with nursing homes.” On Wednesday the governor flatly-denied Kim’s accusations and said the assemblyman engaged in “unethical if not illegal” behavior in accepting nail salon owners’ campaign donations.]
We wanted to wake up our colleagues. This is corrupt, potentially illegal obstruction of justice. We need to wake up and we can’t be affiliated with this executive. We have to do our jobs. It was a very intense memo. And I got a lot of angry phone calls because of the memo, but I felt like [my colleagues] needed to wake up.
Once that memo went out, I knew that everything had to move forward and we had to deploy everything possible to hold him accountable. And part of that is making sure the public knows that he is an abuser. He tries to abuse people with his powers, for doing their jobs.
The UK economy shrank by 9.9% in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic battered the country, official Q4 GDP figures showed on Friday.
It was the worst contraction since records began and likely sharpest contraction overall in 300 years. It means the UK economy fared the worst out of the G7 group of rich democracies and among the worst overall.
The economy grew 1% in the final three months of the year, the country’s Office for National Statistics said, after dealing better than expected with a sharp tightening of restrictions in November. Britain’s gross domestic product had grown 16.1% in the third quarter.
But despite two consecutive quarters of growth, GDP remained 7.8% below its level in the fourth quarter of 2019.
Along with one of the worst economic downturns, the UK has one of the world’s highest coronavirus death rates, with more than 110,000 having so far died from COVID.
Yet the UK has been one of the fastest countries in the world at rolling out coronavirus vaccines, after rapidly approving jabs from AstraZeneca/Oxford, Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.
The Bank of England cut its growth forecast for the UK economy in 2021 to 5% on February 4, saying the lockdown put in place in January would delay the recovery. It also expects Brexit to weigh on growth in the first quarter.
However, the Bank said that the recovery will be “rapid” when it comes, thanks to vaccines allowing people to go out and spend again. The BoE said it expects the UK economy to regain its pre-COVID size at the start of 2022.
The UK’s 9.9% contraction in 2020 compares unfavorably with the rest of the G7. The US economy shrank 3.5%, while Canada’s economy is expected to have shrunk around 5%.
Germany shrank 5%, France contracted 8.3% and Italy’s economy finished the year 8.8% smaller. Japan’s GDP is expected to have contracted around 5.5%.
Andrew Cuomo and Rudy Giuliani have more in common than they’d probably care to admit.
The Italian-American heritage, the outer-borough New York City roots, and the way they both parlayed their legal backgrounds into elected executive positions are among the more obvious comparisons.
Cuomo and Giuliani also followed similar paths to nationally-acclaimed “hero” status.
And both men soon sullied their ascendant reputations simply by revealing the disagreeable, narcissistic tendencies that were there all along.
Like Cuomo, Rudy was once briefly considered a national “hero”
Rudy Giuliani was always a media heat-seeking missile, going back to his days as a crusading federal prosecutor taking on the New York mafia.
He rode that “tough on crime” persona to two terms as mayor at a time when New York City was emerging from decades of mismanagement, high crime rates, and blight.
Giuliani was the face of the city’s turnaround, but he was also the same face that presided over a New York Police Department rife with allegations of systemic abuse. And he was the “no-fun” mayor who enforced archaic “cabaret laws” that criminalized dancing. He was also a would-be censor for his efforts to shut down the Brooklyn Museum over an art exhibition that offended him.
It’s hard for people under the age of 30 to believe, but I swear it’s true: Rudy Giuliani deserves the credit he got for being “America’s Mayor” on 9/11 and the immediate weeks thereafter.
Giuliani was in the shadows of the twin towers when they came crashing down.
He emerged as a picture of calm, steady, authoritative leadership. He helped tamp down on panic by refuting unfounded rumors. He demonstrated empathy for the loved ones of “the missing” – while grieving for many of his own friends.
As an unflappable conduit of information to a traumatized nation, and later as “mourner-in-chief,” Giuliani presented an image of stoic resilience.
Andrew Cuomo was never as divisive a figure as Giuliani, but he has developed a reputation for being personally disagreeable, vindictive, and autocratic.
All of that receded into distant memory at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
With then-President Donald Trump spreading dangerous misinformation, the New York governor’s daily press conferences became a national balm.
Like Giuliani post-9/11, Cuomo presented as a thoughtful leader, tamping down on rumors and false information, while also not condescending to the public. When relaying the horrifically tragic death tolls, he gave it to you straight, no filter.
Cuomo filled the leadership void, and for that he was feted across the talk show and nightly news show circuits. He hopped on planes for a “victory” tour. And he wrote a book about “leadership” during the COVID pandemic.
There was speculation that Cuomo might replace Joe Biden atop the Democratic presidential ticket. Cuomo’s press conferences earned him an Emmy award. And “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah declared himself a “Cuomosexual.”
So confident in his own greatness was Cuomo that he blithely dismissed calls for an independent investigation into his administration’s order that nursing homes accept COVID-positive patients as dirty Republican trickery. For months Cuomo was able to maintain this posture to little media scrutiny, even though many Democrats demanded greater transparency from the governor.
But then last week a bombshell report from New York’s attorney general Letitia James revealed that the state had been deliberately undercounting its COVID nursing home deaths, by approximately 50%.
And on Wednesday, a state Supreme Court justice ruled the Cuomo administration’s Department of Health inappropriately stonewalled a Freedom of Information Law request into the state’s data regarding COVID nursing home deaths. As a result, New York state taxpayers will have to pay the complainant’s legal bills.
Cuomo, put simply, had finally been revealed as a liar and the worst kind of “leader,” one who couldn’t even acknowledge he had made a mistake.
Take Cuomo’s handling of bars and restaurants during the pandemic.
These are typically small businesses that turn just-modest profits even during boom times. They’re also often the lifeblood of communities. But at every turn Cuomo has shown a clumsy indifference to actually helping people.
The governor arbitrarily added minimum food requirements for any establishment serving alcohol, then ordered strict crackdowns to enforce them.
Similarly, he abruptly shut down indoor dining in New York City in December because of rising COVID rates, but now says they will reopen on Valentine’s Day, even though COVID hospitalization rates are currently about 60% higher than they were in December.
When asked by a reporter if restaurant workers could be added to the new list of vaccine-eligible occupations, Cuomo dismissed it as “a cheap, insincere, discussion.”
A day later, he did an about-face and said he’d allow restaurant workers to join the ranks of the vaccinated.
And this week, The New York Times reported that nine top New York health officials had resigned as Cuomo “has all but declared war on his own public health bureaucracy.” The result has been a horribly botched vaccination rollout and morale “at an all-time low” among the state’s health agencies.
The next global pandemic could be the result of a bioterrorist attack, a tech expert has warned.
Vivek Wadhwa, a distinguished fellow and adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Engineering, said in an essay for Foreign Policy that this was largely due to advances in cheap and easily accessible methods of genetic engineering.
However, Wadhwa, who is also a distinguished fellow of Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program, insisted that the pandemic was not created in a lab, citing a report by Nature Medicine.
“But if genetic engineering wasn’t behind this pandemic, it could very well unleash the next one,” Wadhwa said.
He believes the current pandemic should be treated as a “dress rehearsal of what is to come, including viruses deliberately engineered by humans.”
Advances in genetic engineering are a double-edged sword
The concerns of those in science and tech have slowly been becoming a reality, with Wadhwa pointing to the ease of access to gene editing kits in the US.
Mail-order do-it-yourself kits can be ordered by anyone, with a bacterial engineering kit costing as little as $169. Meanwhile, a human engineering kit comes in at $349.
One reviewer said they were a high-school student while another said they “didn’t know it could be this easy.”
This ease of accessibility is largely due to the advances of CRISPR gene editing, which enables scientists to cut and paste genes, with the possibility of curing or eradicating malaria or Huntingdon’s disease, but also of damaging species and ecosystems.
Wadhwa said CRISPR makes it “almost as easy to engineer life forms as it is to edit Microsoft Word documents.”
“There should have been international treaties to prevent the use of CRISPR for gene editing on humans or animals. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration should have kept companies from selling DIY gene-editing kits,” Wadhwa added.
In April 2015, Chinese researchers genetically engineered human embryos, and this was followed by a failed attempt to genetically modify two babies to be HIV-resistant in 2018.
The scientist involved in the latter experiment, He Jiankui, was eventually sentenced to three years in prison.
There is still much research to be done on CRISPR, which has not yet been declared safe for use and has previously caused concern due to potential links with cancer.
Although this was largely dismissed as an “overreaction”, there is no clear consensus among scientists, with geneticist Allan Bradley of the Wellcome Sanger Center saying the effects of CRISPR had been “seriously underestimated.”
Could this lead to a pandemic created by bioterrorists?
From board games simulating a bioterrorist attack to a bipartisan report declaring the US to be “significantly underprepared” for bioterrorism, it seems a bioterrorism pandemic could well be in our future.
“The bad is just too terrible to think about,” said Wadha, who maintained “the only solution is to accelerate the good side of these technologies while building our defenses.”
Piers Millett, of the University of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute, is more optimistic than Wadhwa.
Speaking to Future of Life, he said gene editing was not a significant step forward for biowarfare, and pinned the possibilities of bioterrorist attacks on “states” rather than lone actors.
He did, however, concede that the intentional creation of a harmful pathogen would be “amongst the most dangerous things on the planet.”
In 2018 the John Hopkins Center for Health Security ran a simulation exercise with US policymakers, testing their reactions and decisions in the face of a bioterrorist attack involving a highly contagious disease, according to Vox.
Vox reported that the results showed worldwide deaths in excess of 150 million and a 90% tumble for the Dow Jones.
“It is now too late to stop the global spread of these technologies – the genie is out of the bottle,” Wadhwa said.
Their potential harmful impact will depend on how quickly a counter-response can be formed. If used for good, however, these technologies could be the answer to curing “all disease.”
Israel will ban foreign airlines from flying in and out of the country until January 31 to curtail the spread of new COVID-19 strains.
The country’s cabinet on Sunday approved plans to freeze flights starting at midnight between Monday and Tuesday, Haaretz reported Sunday. Flights leaving the country will only be approved in rare instances. Firefighting planes, emergency medical flights, and cargo aircraft won’t be affected by the policy. Domestic airlines will also face some new restrictions.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the new travel policy, saying in a government meeting “no nation has done what we are about to do,” according to Haaretz.
“We are hermetically sealing the country,” he added.
Flights leaving Israel for legal or medical reasons will be permitted, as will those for family funerals or relocations. Travel for personal or humanitarian needs will require approval by the government’s directors-general of health and transportation, Haaretz reported.
The flight halt also marks the first time that Jewish people won’t be able to immigrate to Israel unless it’s “a matter of life or death,” transportation minister Miri Regev reportedly said in the meeting.
Separately, one of Israel’s biggest health insurers recently warned of the variant’s spread. Leumit Health Maintenance Office CEO Haim Fernandes said last week that up to half of its tested members had caught the UK strain, Haaretz reported.