- Also: For those of us using the Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracker to follow the pandemic, this Washington Post article about its fallibility is an interesting read. “Numbers in some ways instill this sense of comfort. But then on the other hand, they can be wrong,” said Lauren Gardner, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins’s Whiting School of Engineering and the project lead from day one. “And they can be wrong for lots of different reasons.”
Applying the brakes: Many states are putting restrictions on movement and business activities back in place as the number of new coronavirus cases soar, including California, Arizona, Florida, and Texas. More than 45,000 new cases were reported on Friday making it the third consecutive day that the country set a daily record for new cases, The New York Times reports. The numbers have been down slightly since then, including just over 40,000 Monday. “If I could go back and redo anything, it probably would have been to slow down the opening of bars,” Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas said in an interview with KVIA-TV in El Paso on Friday. “People go to bars to get close and to drink and to socialize. And that’s the kind of thing that stokes the spread of the coronavirus.” Arizona has closed bars, gyms, movie theaters and water parks for the next 30 days and banned gatherings of 50 or more people; California has shut down bars in Los Angeles County and the Central Valley, and South Florida beaches will be closed over the holiday weekend.
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The dupe tube: At least three studies have now established that Americans who watched Fox News during the coronavirus pandemic, especially at the beginning, were misinformed about the risks and how to protect themselves, The Washington Post’s media columnist Margaret Sullivan writes. Nor was every show equally damaging; Tucker Carlson’s message was more fact-based than, say, Sean Hannity’s. One of the studies even found that Carlson viewers took steps to protect themselves earlier than Hannity viewers. “That’s the real evil of this type of programming,” Arthur West of the Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics, which sued Fox News in April over its coronavirus coverage, told the Times of San Diego. “We believe it delayed and interfered with a prompt and adequate response to this coronavirus pandemic.”
- Also: Those masks you may have seen advertised with a valve in the front were designed for dusty construction work, and the valve is for exhaled air, which makes them pretty poor at stopping the spread of coronavirus, Angela Fritz reports for The Washington Post. A simple cloth mask is much more effective.
Sky high complaints: Complaints about airlines have skyrocketed this year, with consumers filing nearly 20,000 complaints in April alone, a 1,500 percent increase over the same period last year, Lori Aratani reports for The Washington Post. Nine out of 10 of those complaints were about refunds. United and American Airlines take home the prizes for the highest number of complaints; Southwest, United, and Spirit have been sued by consumers for offering vouchers or credits instead of cash. In May, the Transportation Department had to remind carriers of their obligations under consumer protections laws, which don’t guarantee travelers refunds but do afford them some protections and rights. The hassle over refunds is viewed as particularly outrageous when airlines received $50 billion in bailout money from the Cares Act.
- Also: The Federal Aviation Administration began test flights of the Boeing Co.’s 737 MAX jet this week, after the planes were grounded for 15 months following two crashes that killed almost 350 people, Andy Pasztor reports for The Wall Street Journal. Experts expect the planes will be returned to service by the end of the year.
Desert winds: It’s normal for Saharan dust to be carried over the U.S. during hurricane season, but the dust cloud that hovered over Georgia in recent days was historic—the densest it has ever been in more than half a century, Kelly McCleary reports for CNN. There were air quality alerts across the Ohio River Valley, mid-Atlantic, and the Southeast, and public health officials advised those with chronic lung conditions to protect themselves. The dust could cause eye, nose and throat irritation and wheezing in those with allergies or asthma.
Risk reassessment: A new data analysis from the nonprofit research group First Street Foundation shows millions more U.S. homes are at risk of flooding than the Federal Emergency Management Agency indicates on its floodplain maps, Zack Colman reports for Politico. First Street found that an estimated 14.6 million homes would be at risk in a 100-year flood, well over the 8.7 million homes FEMA classifies as carrying substantial risk. Climate scientists and others have long criticized the agency for failing to take climate change into full consideration when assessing flood risks.
- Also: The Northeast is the fastest-warming part of the Lower 48, for reasons climate scientists don’t fully understand, Abby Weiss writes for InsideClimate News. This spring continued the trend, with warmer than normal temperatures in all 12 Northeastern states.
Rubbery chicken: Nearly 60,000 pounds of Pilgrim Pride chicken nuggets have been recalled because they might be contaminated with a flexible rubber material, Kelly Tyko reports for USA Today. The problem was only discovered after a consumer found bits of rubber and filed a complaint. “Consumers who have purchased these products are urged not to consume them,” the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service said. “These products should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase.”
What’s in the water: A recent study by Consumer Reports looked at 45 brands of bottled water and found that one brand, Starkey Spring Water, which is made and sold by Whole Foods Market and Amazon, contained arsenic levels ranging from 9.49 to 9.56 parts per billion, Mike Snyder reports for USA Today, just shy of the federal limit of less than 10 parts per billion. The International Bottled Water Association isn’t happy that Consumer Reports described that level as “potentially harmful”; the industry group described the report as “misleading and false.” “Regardless of the type, bottled water that meets the 10-ppb FDA arsenic standard is safe,” the IBWA said, although two states, New Jersey and New Hampshire, limit arsenic levels to just 5 parts per billion in drinking water. The Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program at Dartmouth College confirmed that continued exposure to water with levels over 5 parts per billion could have adverse health effects.
Poison bombs: Wildlife Services, an agency within the Department of Agriculture, regularly uses cyanide bombs to kill coyotes and other livestock predators without the knowledge or cooperation of land owners or local law enforcement, Jimmy Tobias reports for The Guardian. But there’s a movement to ban them led by a family who saw first-hand what they can do. “The United States government put a cyanide bomb 350 feet from my house, and killed my dog and poisoned my child,” Theresa Mansfield, whose son Canyon and dog Kasey stumbled upon a cyanide bomb in March 2017, told The Guardian. Wildlife Services acts with little oversight and has support from some powerful agricultural and ranching lobbying groups. “I served on the homeland security committee for a decade, and Wildlife Services, so called, is more opaque than some of our intelligence agencies,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon. “Basically, in some cases, it is rogue.” The environmental group Predator Defense has found roughly 40 domestic pets killed by cyanide bombs across the country since 2000, with numerous humans exposed to the toxins. Brooks Fahy, the executive director of Predator Defense, describes them as “indiscriminate killers and a public safety menace.”
Jessica McKenzie is an independent journalist. Find more of her work at jessicastarmckenzie.com.