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As Delta COVID Variant Spikes, Vaccine Mandates Surge from the Ground Up

As Delta COVID Variant Spikes, Vaccine Mandates Surge from the Ground Up
A man receives a Covid-19 test at a mobile testing site in New York City's Times Square on July 20, 2021. Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images

In San Francisco, the owners of nearly 300 bars now demand proof of vaccination before customers may enter. A growing number of Los Angeles restaurateurs require diners to prove they’ve been vaccinated or produce a recent negative test. Broadway patrons won’t be seeing a New York show unless they’ve got proof of vaccination. Private businesses and hundreds of colleges are telling employees and students they can’t show up if they haven’t been jabbed.

The irony cannot be lost on governing bodies who still resist the idea of large-scale COVID-19 vaccine mandates: They’re happening anyway. The mandates are simply occurring in a patchwork, haphazard sort of way, rather than following governmental top-down guidance.

covid california pandemic delta gavin newsom vaccines
People shop at a grocery store enforcing the wearing of masks in Los Angeles on July 23, 2021. – With the Delta variant pushing US Covid cases back up and governing bodies reluctant to demand vaccines, more and more small businesses require proof of vaccination. CHRIS DELMAS/AFP via Getty Images

Nationally, 58.2 percent of those over age 12 are fully vaccinated against COVID, although the surge of the Delta variant appears to have prompted an uptick in the numbers over the past week. For the population at large, the figure is 49.7 percent. (No vaccine is approved for those 12 and under.) Incentives ranging from cash to cannabis have largely failed to persuade the vaccine-hesitant to get a shot. And state and local governments have shied away from large scale requirements to get inoculated, even though the U.S. Supreme Court upheld their ability to enforce mandatory vaccinations more than 100 years ago.

Instead, the movement toward higher vaccination rates is happening from the ground up. In many cases, it starts with food and drink establishments that have everything to lose if runaway COVID rates once again force mass lockdowns on the public or on businesses like theirs.

“We haven’t fought this hard, for this long, to let it go awry now,” owners of the Los Angeles restaurant Osteria La Buca wrote in an Instagram post announcing that all guests at both of its locations show proof of vaccination beginning Aug. 2. “If you are not vaccinated, please do not argue. This policy will not be broken for anyone.”

“It was done in order to keep our staff, our community, our musicians safeand hopefully to prevent another shutdown,” said Jay Bordeleau, owner of an indoor-only jazz venue in San Francisco.

If you live in a smaller town, as I do, you may have seen both sides of the situation play out in real time. A local bar, fearful of being shut down, opts for either a strict mask mandate or for proof of vaccination to avoid an outbreak among patrons or staff—but by doing so, it opens itself up to argument and blowback, even if only from a disgruntled minority.

Having a higher authority make a policy of such requirements might provide businesses with some cover when dealing with unhappy customers, but that has proved elusive. A notable exception occurred Tuesday, when Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced that New York will require vaccines of both workers and customers at indoor dining, gyms, performances and entertainment venues, making it the first U.S. city to do so.

With case rates rising dramatically, Los Angeles County last month reinstated an indoor mask mandate regardless of vaccination status. But neither the county’s top health officials nor its supervisors have acted to require that its own 100,000 employees either be vaccinated or face regular testing, which would set a powerful example for the county’s estimated 4 million unvaccinated people. (A proposal may come at the supervisors’ next meeting, scheduled for Aug. 10.)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, meanwhile, has not initiated even an indoor mask requirement statewide. The closest Newsom has come is his administration recommending that folks mask up, and that came a day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had largely issued similar advice. A statewide vaccine mandate is not on the table.

Private businesses have the right—and the obligation—to keep their workplaces safe, legal experts say. As long as they make an allowance for someone who is medically unable to take a vaccine or has a specific religious objection, most employers can require that their workers become inoculated.

Masking remains a valuable tool to prevent the spread of COVID—”The data we have on masks is incredibly reassuring,” Dr. Jeanne Noble, who directs COVID response at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, told Capital & Main. But the most effective deterrent to the spread of the virus is vaccination. That brings the conversation back to businesses and employers, even those at the federal level.

“The Justice Department has made it clear that it is legal to require COVID-19 vaccines,” President Joe Biden said in announcing that all federal employees and contractors must be vaccinated or face workplace restrictions and weekly testing. “Local communities can do that, local businesses can do that. It’s still a question whether the federal government can mandate the whole country.”

Gavin Newsom certified recall ballot
Facing a recall election next month, California Governor Gavin Newsom has not initiated even an indoor mask requirement statewide. Newsom on March 2, 2021 in Palo Alto, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

That question likely won’t be answered any time soon—another reason why this pandemic is being fought on the ground. The three vaccines in the U.S. (Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson) are currently being administered under emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration, as opposed to final approval. But experts say businesses, employers and state governments still generally have the authority to mandate them.

That’s what is happening in California, as companies and storefronts come to the same conclusion: Staying open and productive is the only path forward. If it takes a hyperlocal vaccine requirement to make that happen, businesses are increasingly willing to consider it. And some larger corporations don’t disagree: Both Google and Facebook said last week that all U.S. employees must be vaccinated before returning to those companies’ offices, with Google CEO Sundar Pichai noting, “Getting vaccinated is one of the most important ways to keep ourselves and our communities healthy in the months ahead.”

It’s also good business. After a year of often staggering financial loss, the arrival of the vaccines has coincided with a crying need for places to open again—and stay open. “Let’s be clear here: We’re doing this because we need to protect our staff and their families and our customers,” Ben Bleiman, founder of the San Francisco Bar Owner Alliance, told the Washington Post. “We know how to control this virus.”

Source Newsweek This story is co-published with Capital & Main

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Why a State Known for Charter Schools Is Now Joining a Nationwide Trend for Community Schools

Why a State Known for Charter Schools Is Now Joining a Nationwide Trend for Community Schools
Nationwide Trend for Community Schools. GETTY IMAGES
Minnesota, the birthplace of charter schools, is awakening to an approach to school improvement that’s about lifting up schools and communities rather than making them compete.
Minnesota is widely known as the land of 10,000 lakes—actually, there are more than 10,000. But the state, which was the first in the nation to pass a charter school law in 1991, could also be described as the land of school choice. Beyond charters, Minnesota is also home to the nation’s first comprehensive open enrollment law, dating back to the late 1980s, which allows K-12 students to attend any public school in a district of their choice, provided there is space in the host district.

While the abundance of lakes covering the state was the result of a natural process, it would be hard to describe the rapid growth of charter schools and school choice in the North Star State as some sort of natural occurrence, driven solely by parents and teachers hungry for alternative learning environments. But Minnesota—as well as many other states and the federal government—is awakening to another approach to school improvement that is expanding, from the ground up, in a more natural way: the full-service community schools model.

In contrast to charter schools and other market-based approaches to school improvement, full-service community schools offer a holistic approach to education that is about lifting up students and the communities they live in, rather than pitting schools against one another in the interest of greater choice and competition.

Why Charters and Choice?

An overview of Minnesota’s groundbreaking charter school legislation refers to it as an attempt to fund “results-oriented, student-centered public schools.” This is an optimistic assessment of the Minnesota law that touches on the educational aspirations that the charter schools system carries, but it entirely sidesteps another important aspect of the system: the connection between charter schools and the privatization of public education.

This push to privatize the nation’s public school system has been made possible in large part by the federal government. In the 1990s, the Clinton administration readily embraced the concept of school choice by promising to close the “worst performing schools,” among other things, while seeking millions in expansion funds for the growing charter school sector. These efforts snowballed under former President George W. Bush, who funneled more than $1 billion toward supporting charter schools, often at the expense of public school districts.

Former President Barack Obama’s administration then continued along this path by pumping billions of additional taxpayer dollars into the hands of charter school operators around the country, thanks to the pro-school choice efforts by Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Wealthy philanthropic organizations, including the Walton Family Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, also jumped aboard the school choice train, directing millions of dollars toward the privatization of public education in the United States. The interests of both philanthropists and the federal government were most clearly united under former President Donald Trump’s leadership, when billionaire school choice advocate Betsy DeVos became the secretary of education.

Minnesota’s “first in the nation” charter school law also opened the door to charter school legislation in other states. Since the 2005-2006 school year, charter school enrollment has more than tripled; today, more than 3 million students attend such schools across the country. Only a handful of small, less-populated states, such as Nebraska, Vermont, and North and South Dakota, do not allow charter schools.

In Minnesota, there are currently 180 privately run, publicly funded charter schools, enrolling more than 60,000 students in grades K-12.

Similarly, open enrollment policies have exploded since Minnesota pioneered that option, and now nearly all states offer some sort of intra- and inter-district transfer option.

School reform models built around competition and choice have led to greater disruption in cities such as New Orleans and Chicago, where former Mayor Rahm Emanuel oversaw the shuttering of dozens of neighborhood schools amid a boom in the local charter school market.

In Minnesota, the Saint Paul Public Schools district has been left gasping for air as school choice schemes continue to wreak havoc on the district’s enrollment numbers and, subsequently, its finances.

This district is one of the largest and most diverse in the state, if not the nation, with approximately 35,000 students representing a wide array of racial and ethnic backgrounds. Two-thirds of the district’s students live in poverty, according to federal income guidelines, and almost 300 students in the district are listed as being homeless.

As a result of more school choice, in 2017, 14,000 school-age children living in the city were not enrolled in the Saint Paul Public Schools district. Instead, they either attended a charter school in or near the city or chose to open-enroll into a neighboring school district.

Just two years later, in 2019, the exodus of families had risen to more than 16,000. Today, more than one-third of all students living in Saint Paul do not attend Saint Paul Public Schools, leaving the district in a constant state of contraction.

The district’s lagging enrollment numbers can be attributed to shrinking birthrates and “a rise in school choice options,” according to a recent article by Star Tribune reporter Anthony Lonetree.

As a consequence of shrinking enrollments, district officials recently outlined a reorganization proposal that calls for the closure of eight schools by the fall of 2022 “under a consolidation plan,” in an attempt to offload expensive infrastructure costs and improve academic options for students.

Charter school options abound in and around Saint Paul, and many represent the worst effects that come with applying unregulated, market-based reforms to public education.

There’s the handful of white flight charter schools within the city limits, for example, that have long waiting lists and offer exclusive programming options, such as Great River School (a Montessori school), Nova Classical Academy, and the Twin Cities German Immersion School. On the flip side of this are racially and economically isolated Saint Paul charter schools such as Hmong College Prep Academy, where according to state data 98 percent of the students enrolled are Asian and nearly 80 percent live in poverty, according to federal income guidelines.

Hmong College Prep Academy has been in the news recently, thanks to a scandal that was dubbed a “hedge fund fiasco” by the Pioneer Press. The school is run by a husband-and-wife administrative team who invested $5 million of taxpayer money in a hedge fund, hoping it would provide a return that would help pay for the school’s expansion plans. Instead, the hedge fund investment apparently lost $4.3 million, leading to calls for the school’s superintendent, Christianna Hang, to be fired—something school officials refused to do. Hang finally submitted her resignation in late October.

In short, the market-based approach to education reform that Minnesota helped pioneer has caused a great deal of disruption, segregation and chaos. In a Hunger Games-type setting, districts and charter schools have been forced to compete for students with white, middle and upper class students and families largely coming out on top.

The end result, critics allege, is an increasingly segregated public education landscape across the state, with no widespread boost in student outcomes to show for it.

An Alternative to Choice and Competition

Thirty years after Minnesota’s charter school and open enrollment laws ushered in a mostly unregulated era of school choice, many states—including Minnesota—and federal officials may be turning their attention to the reform model offered by full-service community schools.

Full-service community schools offer a holistic approach to education that is about much more than students’ standardized test scores or the number of AP classes a school offers. Instead, this model seeks to reposition schools as community resource centers that also provide academic instruction to K-12, or even Pre-K-12, students.

In Minnesota, a handful of districts have adopted this model, often with impressive results.

The state’s longest running full-service community schools implementation is in Brooklyn Center, a very diverse suburb just north of Minneapolis. Since 2009, the city’s public school district has operated under the full-service model, providing such things as counseling and medical and dental services alongside the traditional academic offerings of the school system.

In recent months, Brooklyn Center’s community schools approach has been put to the test, due to both the ongoing pandemic and the unrest that erupted after George Floyd was murdered by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in 2020. In April 2021, as Chauvin’s murder trial was underway a few miles away in downtown Minneapolis, a white Brooklyn Center police officer shot and killed a young Black man named Daunte Wright during a traffic stop.

This layering of trauma upon trauma might have broken the Brooklyn Center community apart, as large protests soon took place outside the city’s police headquarters and caused disruption among residents—many of whom are recent immigrants and refugees. During this turmoil, school district staffers, already familiar with the needs of their community, were able to quickly mobilize resources on behalf of Brooklyn Center students and families thanks to the existing full-service community schools model.

It’s not just urban districts like Brooklyn Center that have benefited from this approach. In rural Deer River, Minnesota—where more than two-thirds of the district’s K-12 students live in poverty, according to federal income guidelines, and 85 Deer River students are listed as being homeless—the school district adopted the full-service model in recent years, thanks to startup grants from state and federal funding sources.

Staff in Deer River are reportedly very happy with the full-service model, which allowed them to pivot during the pandemic and provide food, transportation services and other community-specific needs. A local media outlet even noted that the community schools approach enabled school district employees to survey families during the COVID-19 shutdown and provide them with things such as fishing poles and bikes to help them get through this challenging time.

Several other districts across the United States, from Las Cruces, New Mexico, to Durham, North Carolina, have also adopted the full-service community schools approach, which is built around sharing power and uplifting communities rather than closing failing schools and shuttling students out of their neighborhoods through open-enrollment or charter school options.

Community Schools Approach Is on the Rise

Disrupting public education through the proliferation of school choice schemes, including charter schools, has long been the preferred education reform model for politicians and wealthy philanthropists in the United States, and while the charter school industry has been able to score billions in federal funding, the full-service community schools model has instead been relegated to the sidelines.

That’s starting to change.

In February 2021, a coalition of education advocacy groups, including the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, wrote an open letter to congressional leaders asking that more federal dollars be spent on full-service community schools. Most recently, the letter notes, Congress allocated $30 million in funding for such schools nationwide, a number the coalition deemed far too low to meet the “need and demand for this strategy.”

Now, the Biden administration has proposed dramatically bumping this funding up to $443 million, based on the support this model has received from people such as the current U.S. Education Secretary, Miguel Cardona. While giving input to Congress on behalf of Biden’s proposed budget for the Department of Education, Cardona explained that full-service community schools honor the “role of schools as the centers of our communities and neighborhoods” and are designed to help students achieve academically by making sure their needs—for food, counseling, relationships, or a new pair of eyeglasses, and so on—are also being met.

If the Biden administration succeeds in directing millions more in funding toward full-service community schools, it might not be too late to save public schools, in Minnesota and across the country.

By Sarah Lahm

Sarah Lahm is a Minneapolis-based writer and researcher. Her work has appeared in outlets such as the Progressive and In These Times. Follow her on Twitter @sarahrlahm.

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Ending Late Fees Restores the Principle of ‘Public’ Libraries-NYC Shows the Way for Big Cities

Ending Late Fees Restores the Principle of ‘Public’ Libraries-NYC Shows the Way for Big Cities
Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

For more than 100 years, public library systems throughout the U.S. have charged late fees for books and other materials returned past their due dates. This policy primarily impacts the disenfranchised, low-income communities that the modern public library system is intended to serve in the first place—and most often affects people of color, according to an article published by the Urban Libraries Council. The article, written by Katherine Carter and Denise Belser of the National League of Cities, notes:

“Research shows that communities of color are more likely to be impacted by unpaid library fees and are grappling with a higher percentage of suspended library cards.”

In response to the inequalities created by the late fee policy, a Fine Free movement has been gaining traction, and libraries across the U.S. have been eliminating the late fee policy over the last few years, as detailed by Deborah Fallows in the Atlantic in 2020.

Now, the largest public library system in the country has followed suit. As of October 5, all three public library systems in New York City—Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library and Queens Public Library—eliminated “late fines on books and other circulating materials.” The New York libraries’ decision comes in the wake of other major cities that have gone fine-free, including San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Miami-Dade, Seattle and Dallas. “New York City’s [library] systems represent the largest municipality to eliminate fines,” according to a press release by the Brooklyn Public Library.

Under the new system, a replacement fee will still apply to lost items. According to the press release, an item will be considered “lost after being overdue for about one month. If materials are returned, however, no fees will apply.” Under the former system, any library-goer with more than $15 in late fines would have their library card blocked. This is no longer the case.

As of October 5 (the date of the NYC libraries’ joint announcement), the library systems estimated 400,000 New Yorkers had blocked library cards—and more than half of those with blocked cards live in high-need communities, according to statistics gathered by the libraries and shared in the press release.

Nick Higgins, the chief librarian for the Brooklyn Public Library system, says the decision to end late fines was a long time coming. He says the conversation was brewing for several years before the three large and complex library systems in New York City were able to come together in unison around the decision.

“The conversation around [being a] fine-free [city] has been bubbling up for a long time, always couched in this idea of equity and access for people,” Higgins says. “It just took a little while to build the case. It’s a really complex system [and] one library system couldn’t really go out on their own. We wanted it to be a fine-free city for people who were accessing libraries across the five boroughs.”

The revenue brought in by late fees is not insignificant. The Brooklyn Public Library alone has typically accrued anywhere between $600,000 and $800,000 annually in late fees, Higgins says.

“It’s a form of revenue that a lot of public libraries have depended on since their beginnings, but it isn’t a great [form of revenue],” he says. “That’s why we changed it. We shouldn’t be getting revenue from folks who need our resources just by virtue of their lives being complicated or difficult… we shouldn’t be deriving revenue from them. But there is a tangible loss, so it has to be made up somewhere.”

Higgins says that for the Brooklyn Public Library, the challenge now is to adjust fundraising efforts so that it is focused on maintaining or expanding their collections of books and other materials.

“The revenue that we get from late fines was going right back into supporting the collections, so if our collection budget is, say, $10 million a year, and we are losing $600,00 to $800,000 of that because of canceling fines, we’re going to take a hit. Our eyes are wide open on this… but we’ll just get creative in figuring out ways to generate some fundraising around it to make up for that loss.”

Higgins notes that in 2020, during the onset of the ongoing pandemic, the library systems in New York already temporarily canceled late fines, “because obviously it was just the right thing to do. People were losing their homes and dealing with all sorts of things, and the library fines should be the last thing on their minds.”

He says in some way the emergency of the pandemic, as well as the Black Lives Matter movement—and all that rose to the surface throughout 2020 in society—brought to light underlying and preexisting realities and challenges many library-goers (and people in general) have long faced.

“I think we came to the decision to eliminate late fines possibly faster because of [the pandemic and the events of 2020], although we did have people who have been building the case for a few years now,” Higgins says. “Perhaps the pandemic—and more and more people waking up to the systemic racism that has been around for a long time (and that a lot of people already knew about and lived with, but [which] many people just woke up to)—maybe that all accelerated the process for us going fine-free, and helped some of the stakeholders understand that the equity argument for going fine-free was a good one.”

He notes that the libraries were able to gather statistics about who was most impacted by late fines, based on addresses collected with library registration information. Based on the collection of this data, libraries were able to calculate that most of the people who were shouldering late fines throughout New York City, lived in neighborhoods that have historically had double-digit unemployment rates, and also were people who belonged to communities where primarily people of color live.

These statistics based on address information reveal some stark inequities. They show that branches of the New York Public Library in high-needs communities with a median household income below $50,000 “accounted for six times the number of blocked patrons as others,” said the press release from the Brooklyn Public Library.

The press release further noted that “[t]he 10 branches with the highest percentage of blocked cards are all in high needs communities, and each have one in five cardholders blocked. In the Queens Public Library system, the communities with the highest number of blocked cards—Corona, Jamaica, Far Rockaway, and Elmhurst—all have median incomes well below the borough average.”

Similar statistics were reported for the Brooklyn Public Library, where library branches “with the highest percentage of blocked cards [were] in neighborhoods where more than 20 percent of households live below the poverty level.”

Across the board, the trend was exaggerated for youth. Children and teens 17 and under made up 30 percent of blocked library accounts in Brooklyn, and in Queens, 65 percent of blocked accounts belonged to kids of the same age group.

A citywide assessment of blocked cards completed in 2017 found that 80 percent of blocked youth cards were located in low-income communities, as reported in the press release.

“I’m hopeful that us going fine-free fundamentally changes our relationships with the public, in a way that I hope signals that we’re here for everyone, and that people don’t have to be afraid to come into the library and belong to the library community because of that 50 cent charge on the Stephen King book that they took out when they were in fourth grade,” Higgins says.

Higgins says going fine-free is aligned with the kinds of institutions libraries set out to be in the first place.

“We talk about ourselves as the most democratic, accessible, inclusive institutions in the city or anywhere, and we pride ourselves on being an anchor of community problem-solving, community engagement, places where people can come in from all different backgrounds and experiences and build relationships, and just access all of these shared resources for free,” he says. “Having a penalty system folded into that experience is antithetical to our values and our principles—for both access and inclusion—and being free and accessible to everyone in our communities.”

By April M. Short

April M. Short is an editor, journalist and documentary editor and producer. She is a writing fellow at Local Peace Economy, a project of the Independent Media Institute. Previously, she served as a managing editor at AlterNet as well as an award-winning senior staff writer for Santa Cruz, California’s weekly newspaper. Her work has been published with the San Francisco Chronicle, In These Times, Salon and many others.

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US Hits 100,00 Covid-19 Cases, Highest Since Before Vaccine Rollout

US Hits 100,00 Covid-19 Cases, Highest Since Before Vaccine Rollout
Print this page COVID-19 Pandemic US Hospital ICUs Filling Up After Another Record-Breaking Day of COVID Infections By VOA News Updated July 10, 2020 06:39 AM Dr. Joseph Varon, top with JV on shield, leads a team as they tried without success to save the life of a patient Dr. Joseph Varon, top with JV on shield, leads a team as they tried without success to save the life of a patient inside the Coronavirus Unit at United Memorial Medical Center, July 6, 2020, in Houston. AP PHOTO

The US had topped 100,000 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday — its highest daily total since before the vaccine rollout, federal data show.

This is the highest rate of infections nationwide since the winter wave, which at its peak saw over 250,000 cases per day in January. Cases leveled out in June at just around 11,000 per day, The Associated Press reported.

It had taken the US nine months from the outbreak to reach 100,000 daily cases in November.

Hospitalizations and deaths are increasing — but still remain far below the pre-vaccine peak in January, when over 120,000 were hospitalized. More than 44,000 Americans were hospitalized with COVID-19, according to the latest data from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That represents a 40 percent increase in one week and a 400 percent increase since June, the data show.

Nearly 500 people are dying related to the virus a day, according to weekly averages as of Friday. That’s up from 270 deaths two weeks ago, according to Johns Hopkins University. Deaths peaked at 3,5000 per day in January.

Registered nurses treat a COVID-19 patient at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles, California on July 30, 2021. Nurses treat a COVID-19 patient at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in LA last month.Mario Tama/Getty Images

Cases and hospitalizations have seen the most significant increases in South, particularly in Florida, where over 135,000 residents tested positive for the virus in the last week. That averages to nearly 20,000 per day, accounting for 20 percent of the nation’s new cases.

Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky now represent 41 percent of the nation’s new hospitalizations, according to the CDC.

Florida’s hospitalizations also reached their highest point in the pandemic this week, with more than 12,864 confirmed COVID-19 patients as of Friday, the state’s Department of Health and Human Services reported. That’s a daily average of 1,837 hospitalizations per day.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis pledged not to shut down businesses or impose a new mask mandate last week, predicting that the current spike is a seasonal outbreak — and adding that lockdowns “have failed time and time again throughout this pandemic.”

The governor, who has encouraged residents to get the vaccine, has also passed legislation banning local K-12 school districts from requiring masks for students and staff.

DeSantis has traded verbal blows with President Joe Biden all week over the handling of the virus.

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Biden AdministratioExtends Pandemic Relief for Student Loans Until Jan 2022

“The payment pause has been a lifeline that allowed millions of Americans to focus on their families, health, and finances instead of student loans during the national emergency,”

Biden AdministratioExtends Pandemic Relief for Student Loans Until Jan 2022
The Biden Administration and the U.S. Department of Education have extended the pause on student loan repayment until Jan. 31, 2022. Above, Biden speaks during an event at the White House August 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. Win McNamee/Getty Images

The pause on student loan repayment has been extended until January 31, 2022, the U.S. Department of Education announced Friday.

The moratorium applies to federal student loan interest, repayment and collections. Students have not had to worry about interest compounding or repayment bills since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The payment pause has been a lifeline that allowed millions of Americans to focus on their families, health, and finances instead of student loans during the national emergency,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.

The department allowed the pause to be extended one last time to give borrowers enough time to plan for repayment. The goal is to “reduce the risk of delinquency” after payments are once again required.

“As our nation’s economy continues to recover from a deep hole, this final extension will give students and borrowers the time they need to plan for restart and ensure a smooth pathway back to repayment,” Cardona said.

The moratorium was issued in March 2020 and has been extended multiple times. The latest extension was due to expire on September 30.

Borrowers will be notified of the extension in the coming days, according to the department. As the January 2022 deadline approaches, more information will be provided on ways to plan for repayment.

Cardona said in a press release that it’s the department’s priority to make this a smooth transition and provide students and borrowers with the “resources they need to access affordable, high quality higher education.”

The extension comes as a relief for struggling students and borrowers, but some advocates for student debt cancellation are calling on President Joe Biden to do more.

Natalia Abrams, executive director of Student Debt Crisis, is urging the president to sign an executive order before January 31, 2022 arrives. Student Debt Crisis is a nationwide advocacy group for student debt reform.

“We remain firm in our call for the president to cancel student debt for all Americans,” Abrams said. “Debt cancellation is the best long-lasting solution that empowers individuals, and the economy, to build back stronger than before.”

“While today’s announcement provides some financial security for borrowers and their families as they recover from job losses, reduced hours, or shut down businesses, the reality is that the President can do much more,” she added.

U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), who is vocal about student loan forgiveness, commended the extension but would also like an “outright” cancelation.

“Thousands of families will sleep easier tonight. Now let’s #CancelStudentDebt outright, Mr. President,” Pressley tweeted.

Biden has forgiven nearly $1.5 billion in student loan debt, according to the Department of Education, reaching about 92,000 borrowers who were victims of fraud from for-profit colleges. He said soon after taking office that he would cancel $10,000 in student loan debt for each borrower, but efforts on that cancelation have slowed.

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Jen Psaki Accuses Ron DeSantis Of ‘Fundraising’ Off Dangerous Anti-Mask Stance

“I want public health officials to make decisions about how to keep my kids safe, not politicians,” the White House press secretary told reporters.

Jen Psaki Accuses Ron DeSantis Of ‘Fundraising’ Off Dangerous Anti-Mask Stance

White House press secretary Jen Psaki slammed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) for his dangerous stance against face masks amid skyrocketing COVID-19 cases in his state, and accused the governor of cynically using the divisive issue for “fundraising.”

Psaki was responding to a question Friday from Peter Doocy of Fox News, who mentioned DeSantis’ threat to stop funding to Florida schools that require masks to help stem the spread of the coronavirus. Doocy asked if President Joe Biden shouldn’t also consider leaving the mask issue up to students’ parents.

Psaki replied: “I will say, as a parent myself — I have two young children — that I want public health officials to make decisions about how to keep my kids safe, not politicians. And not only is Governor DeSantis not abiding by public health decisions, he’s fundraising off of this.”

She said parents in Florida and the rest of the nation should be able to know that their children are going to school in safe environments. “That shouldn’t be too much to ask,” Psaki said.

DeSantis’ campaign team has sought to capitalize on the conspiratorial hostility that some voters harbor for scientists and public health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert. DeSantis’ team is selling T-shirts and beverage coolers that read “Don’t Fauci My Florida.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meanwhile, have recommended masking at schools as the highly contagious delta coronavirus variant continues to spread.

Florida is now the epicenter of the U.S. in terms of COVID-19 spread, accounting for at least 20% of the nation’s cases the past few weeks.

The state reported 134,506 new COVID-19 cases over the last week on Friday, more than any other seven-day period during the pandemic, according to CNN. Florida reported an average of 19,215 cases each day during that time, according to data released Friday by the state Health Department. The week’s total was about 22% higher than the previous week.

The previous record high was set Jan. 8, with 125,937 cases reported over seven days, for an average of 17,991 cases each day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, CNN noted.

Yet DeSantis is ignoring the skyrocketing number of cases, insisting it’s a matter of parents’ freedom of choice to allow their children to go unmasked.

“We can either have a free society or we can have a biomedical security state, and I can tell you, Florida, we’re a free state,” DeSantis said at a Wednesday news conference.

He also said that he won’t let his own young children wear masks, because he wants to see them “smiling.”

The sharpest uptick in Florida COVID-19 infections over the past month has been among children under the age of 12, who can’t yet receive any of the three vaccines available in the U.S., according to a Miami Herald analysis of weekly COVID-19 cases.

Ronald Ford, chief medical officer for Memorial Healthcare System’s Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, Florida, said the emergency rooms in children’s hospitals in the region are seeing far more symptomatic cases among kids than during previous COVID-19 waves.

This is different,” Ford told the Miami Herald. “There’s a much higher percentage of pediatric patients becoming infected and symptomatic.”

As of Friday evening, DeSantis hadn’t responded to Psaki’s comments.

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Jill Biden’s ‘United’ Message To U.S. Olympians: We Are More Than Our Political Parties

Jill Biden’s ‘United’ Message To U.S. Olympians: We Are More Than Our Political Parties

First lady Jill Biden sent a proud message of support for U.S. athletes competing in the Tokyo Olympics ahead of Friday’s opening ceremony.

In an open letter published by NBC News, Biden wrote that “your entire nation is cheering you on — and we are so grateful for what you’ve given us.”

“In these moments, we are more than our cities or states or backgrounds. We are more than our jobs or our political parties. We are united. We are all, first and foremost, Team USA,” she added.

Biden said the athletes “bring us together in a way that little else can.”

“You remind us that with dedication, hard work, courage and teamwork, incredible things are possible,” she continued. “What a gift you give. What an honor it is to watch you soar.”

“So, thank you for your hard work. Thank you for the tears and sweat that you’ve given to be here today. Thank you for representing our nation to the world,” said Biden. “Go Team USA!”

Biden is leading the U.S. delegation in Tokyo for her first solo international trip as first lady. She has met with Japanese Emperor Naruhito at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, had dinner with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and met virtually with American Olympians.

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