1. Scandalous dereliction of duty by OSHA around COVID
15 months after the beginning of the pandemic in the US, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) finally sent draft workplace standards to the Office of Management and Budget for review. The standards should cover ways to prevent transmission of COVID in the workplace, but it is not known what they will include, Medscape reports. Under the Trump administration, OSHA refused to offer guidance to employers, even in high-risk industries such as meat packing and health care–to date, an estimated 3,758 health care workers have died of COVID, according to the Center for Public Integrity. 50,000 meat-packing workers in the US have been infected, according to ProPublica, and at least 250 have died. The day after he was inaugurated, President Biden told OSHA to decide by March 15 whether it was going to issue an emergency standard mandating mask-wearing and other measures, but the agency allowed the deadline to pass without doing so. Under Trump, OSHA had been virtually dismantled; it is not clear to what degree it has been restored, as badly needed as its work is. National Nurses United supports the emergency standard, saying that 81 per cent of their members surveyed were being required to re-use PPE–still. The AFL-CIO’s director of occupational safety and health said that Americans have a false sense of security, as if the pandemic were nearly over. “We’re now in a fourth surge,” she told the Center for Public Integrity. “We have variants wreaking havoc in some cities, and we know we’re not out of the woods.” RLS
2. Children suffering in detention centers
Over 35,000 children and teenagers who arrived at the border have been deported since the beginning of 2021, according to TracImmigration, which has interactive graphs revealing the status of juveniles at the border in various categories. Over 25,000 of these young people were not represented by anyone in hearings. Those who have been able to stay have been packed in Health and Human Services shelters–then reunited with sponsors in the United States. 40 per cent have been reunited with parents, another 40 per cent with other family members or friends, according to Vice. On May 2nd, there were some 22,000 children in HHS custody. Conditions in the shelters are sometimes dreadful, with bad food, few opportunities to bathe, and no clean clothes, according to the New York Times. A BBC report today describes kids wet from sleeping under leaking pipes, freezing at night with only one emergency blanket, suffering from lice, catching COVID, becoming ill on bad food. A number suffer from depression and told volunteers they are considering suicide.
It takes an average of 30 days to place a child or teenager with an appropriate sponsor–family member or friend, according to Vice–well over the legal limit of 72 hours. Still, according to HHS staff, it is time-consuming to vet sponsors, making sure that the sponsor is safe and that the child is not being trafficked. But parents describe the process of retrieving their children as arduous, and the children themselves have years of immigration proceedings ahead of them–after which they can still be deported.
Earlier in May, at least nine busloads of children were kept overnight on busses, some for several days. They were supposed to be en route to reunite with their families, but the company relocating them could not account for why they were held for so long, according to NBC News.
The Dallas Morning News quoted Dr. Amy Cohen, a psychiatrist who founded the nonprofit Every.Last.One, who said that the time it takes for children to reconnect to their families is damaging to them: “There is an enormous amount of clinical data to show that if you withhold from traumatized children the capacity to be in touch with their own family members, with their own parents, that you are absolutely damaging them,” she said. RLS
You can contribute to or volunteer for one of the organizations supporting children at the border, among them Every.Last.One. See the Resources, below. You can also speak up about conditions in detention centers and about the time it is taking to connect children to sponsors. Addresses are here.
3. Haitians granted temporary protected status
Haitians in the U.S. by May 21 will be granted temporary protected status by the Biden administration, according to Buzzfeed. With political instability in Haiti, residents have been fleeing gang violence and kidnappings, but have been rapidly deported from the US. Now, the 100,000 Haitians already here will be able to work, safe from deportation, but the TPS status will not cover new arrivals or anyone who was already deported. RLS
4. Deaths of protesters in Colombia due to live fire from police
Last week, we described the protests by millions of people in Colombia, which originated in a flawed and punitive tax reform initiative (since withdrawn) but which were fueled by acute inequality and poverty–the poverty rate increased from 36 percent in 2019 to 42.5 percent in 2020. At least 42 people have been killed by police and 134 are missing. Protests are also responding to police violence; a 17 year old girl killed herself last week after being sexually assaulted by police officers, according to Democracy Now. Videos of the deaths of four of those protesters have been analyzed by the Washington Post, which has posted clips of the shooting on its site; they clearly show that three of them were killed by live fire, which police are only supposed to use if they are under “imminent threat of death or serious injury, or to prevent a particularly serious crime that involves a serious threat to life.” Charges have just been brought against the police officer who killed one of the protesters, according to CNN. RLS
Rep. Gregory Meeks, the head of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, along with other House members, has called for the application of the Leahy Law to freeze U.S. assistance to Colombian security forces. You can use the link from the Colombia Scholars Network to ask your representative to invoke the Leahy Law in response to the situation in Colombia.
5. Thousands in Israel march for peace
As of Sunday, the ceasefire in Gaza has held, according to Reuters, and mediators are trying to persuade all sides to keep the peace. On Saturday, thousands of Israelis marched in Tel Aviv calling for peace, according to the Jerusalem Post. Hundreds also protested outside the residence of Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, calling on him to resign and accusing him of prolonging the fighting to advance his own interests.
Hospitals in Gaza are over-run by people injured in the fighting and by a surge in COVID cases, which was spread in crowded shelters, according to the Washington Post. Only 2 per cent of people in Gaza have received the vaccine, while 60 per cent of Israelis are vaccinated. Meanwhile, Gaza’s health-care system, which had already been fragile, has been further threatened by the destruction of a company that produces three-D printed medical products, the CBC reports. Under the blockade imposed by Egypt and Israel, medical supplies are impossible to import. The company was producing, among other things, face shields and ventilators. RLS
SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
6. The WHO and the CDC finally acknowledge airborne transmission of the coronavirus
A new book on COVID’s Cassandras, The Premonition: A Pandemic Story, by Michael Lewis, on how all the systems failed to preserve the US from the pandemic, says essentially that while Trump was a problem, the bigger problem was “The bureaucratic disease of under-reaction [which] runs deep in America’s fragmented, underfunded health system.” As one of Lewis’s sources puts it, “Trump was a comorbidity,” but the CDC was a particular culprit. Reviewed in the New York Times, the book describes how various scientists and public health experts who raised the alarm about COVID-19 were silenced, unable to prevent the catastrophe that happened.
A particularly disastrous failure, as Wired points out, is that the WHO refused to listen to 36 scientists who pointed out that COVID-19 was likely spread through aerosol transmission–that is, particles hung in the air where they could be inhaled by someone else. The difference between airborne and droplet transmission is crucial, as Wired put it: “To combat droplets, a leading precaution is to wash hands frequently with soap and water. To fight infectious aerosols, the air itself is the enemy.”
Like unpacking a mystery novel, the Wired story explains how an error in scientific calculation from the 1930s became gospel in medical thinking over the decades. The error–how small a droplet had to be before it could hang in the air–led to the WHO’s assertion that a 3-6 foot distance between people would prevent transmission, because the viral droplets would fall to the ground. Not until the winter of 2020 did the WHO begin to talk about airborne transmission, and even then not very clearly. On April 30, 2021 the New York Times pointed out, the WHO changed its website to read that particles that float could transmit COVID-19. The CDC followed suit.
The stakes here are massive. If it had been widely understood–if it were widely understood now–that crowded, unventilated spaces were the biggest issue, not surfaces, then the emphasis would have been on ventilation and on masks–better fitting masks much earlier. Many fewer people would be dead. RLS
7. Millions of barrels of DDT decaying off the coast of Southern California
As many as half a million corroding barrels of DDT off the coast of Southern California are an environmental disaster in process, which is already leading to cancer cases in marine mammals, according to a recent story by CBS News. One in four sea lions have cancer, according to Frontiers in Marine Science, likely due to pesticide contaminants and a herpes virus. Humans are also at risk, as DDT moves up the food chain, ending up in ocean fish we eat. Largely due to the work of pioneering biologist, Rachel Carson, DDT–a pesticide used to kill mosquitos–was declared a “probable carcinogen” by the FDA in 1972. As CBS reports, the dumped barrels were first identified in the 80s by a California Regional Water Quality Control Board scientist but then somehow forgotten. Then, last October, the LA TImes did a piece on David Valentine, a U.C. Santa Barbara scientist, who sent a deep-sea robot down and saw the leaking barrels. There is no clean-up strategy, the Times says–the EPA has one in progress but it is not expected to be completed for another four years. Women exposed to DDT as children are five times as likely to develop breast cancer as women who were not; a new study shows that the granddaughters of women exposed to DDT are more likely to develop obesity and to get their periods early, both risk factors for breast cancer, according to Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. RLS
You might want to tell the California State Environmental and Toxic Materials (ESTM) Committee that four years is too long for action on leaking barrels of DDT.
Read Heather Cox Richardson’s column to keep up with how the formation of a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol is being blocked and how efforts to suppress the 2020 vote continue. And actually, read her every day to see how today’s events live in yesterday’s context.
A trans hotline with both Canadian and US numbers–and with operators who speak Spanish–provides services by and for trans people. You don’t need to be in crisis to call, and if you are a friend or a family member of a trans person, you can also call to find out how to support them. If you would like to know more about the organization, see their staff bios here.
Moms Rising has actions you can take to preserve reproductive rights and trans rights.
The Americans of Conscience checklist has new actions every other week that will enable you to make your voice heard quickly and clearly. In addition, they have a good news section that will help you keep going.
Among the organizations that supports kids and their families at the border is RAICES, which provides legal support. The need for their services has never been greater. You can support them here.
Al Otro Lado provides legal and humanitarian services to people in both the US and Tijuana. You can find out more about their work here.
The Minority Humanitarian Foundation supports asylum-seekers who have been released by ICE with no means of transportation or ways to contact sponsors. You can donate frequent-flyer miles to make their efforts possible.
The group Angry Tias and Abuelas provides legal advice and services to asylum-seekers at the border. You can follow their work on Facebook and see the list of volunteer opportunities they have posted.