11,000 Federal Inmates Were Sent Home During the Pandemic. Only 17 Were Arrested for New Crimes.

“Of the more than 11,000 federal inmates who were released to home confinement during the COVID-19 pandemic, 17 were returned to prison for committing new crimes, according to the Bureau of Prisons (BOP).”

“of the 17, 10 committed drug crimes, while the rest of the charges included smuggling non-citizens, nonviolent domestic disturbance, theft, aggravated assault, and DUI.”

Study: Huanan Market In Wuhan Was the ‘Epicenter’ of COVID-19 Outbreak

“Did the coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic originate from live animals for sale in the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan, China, or as a lab leak from the Wuhan Institute for Virology? In search of answer to this question, a new article in Science parses the early outbreak data along with environmental samples taken in Huanan Market supplied by Chinese researchers. It finds that the market was the “epicenter” for the contagion. A second article concludes that the outbreak began after two genetically distinct coronaviruses infected people beginning in November and December of 2019.

Do these findings rule out the possibility that the COVID-19 coronavirus originated from the institute? No. The first article acknowledges that “events upstream of the market, as well as exact circumstances at the market, remain obscure, highlighting the need for further studies to understand and lower the risk of future pandemics.” Those “events upstream” could include a scenario in which someone associated with the Virology Institute was unknowingly infected with the virus and carried it to the market while shopping.

“Have we disproven the lab leak theory? No, we have not,” one of the study’s authors told The Washington Post. “Will we ever be able to? No. But there are ‘possible’ scenarios and there are ‘plausible’ scenarios….’Possible’ does not mean equally likely.”

Skeptics of the natural origin of the virus will point to its novel furin cleavage site (FCS), which enhances its ability to latch onto and infect human cells. Broad Institute researcher Yujia Alina Chan and her colleagues noted in a January 2022 article for Molecular Biology and Evolution that the Wuhan Institute had earlier proposed to research FCS in coronaviruses found in bats. They further observed that the FCS has not been found so far in plausible evolutionary forebears of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

On the other hand, a May 2022 analysis of the genetics of bat coronaviruses in Communications Biology identifies “several possible ways for natural acquisition of the FCS” in bat coronaviruses. This, they argue, supports “a natural evolutionary origin from bats with or without the involvement of [other animal] intermediary hosts.”

In June, the World Health Organization urged the Chinese government and researchers to allay speculations about lab leaks by being more forthcoming about the work on coronavirus viruses undertaken at the Wuhan Institute for Virology. The world is still waiting to hear from them.”

How the pandemic screwed up our antibiotics

“if we’re not very careful now, humanity may backslide into a world where our antibiotics become useless — and the common infections they used to treat cut our lives short.

The Covid-19 pandemic has made that danger worse. According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), during the first year of the pandemic, the problem of drug resistance only intensified.

Drug resistance is what happens when we overuse antibiotics in the treatment of humans, animals, or crops. When a new antibiotic is introduced, it can have great, lifesaving results — for a while. But then the bacteria adapt. Gradually, the antibiotic becomes less effective, and we’re left with diseases we’re less able to treat.

Even before Covid-19, experts had been warning that we’re approaching a post-antibiotic era — a time when our antibiotics would become largely useless against health problems ranging from tuberculosis to STIs to urinary tract infections. They noted that routine hospital procedures like C-sections and joint replacements could become more dangerous, too, as the risk associated with infection — especially infections acquired in hospitals — increases.

Some professionals, especially in hospitals, had heeded the experts’ warnings, and we’d seen some progress as a result. Take staph infections, for example. A 2019 CDC report noted that rates of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) had dropped. And overall, deaths caused by drug resistance had decreased by 18 percent since 2013.

But the Covid-19 pandemic has reversed years of hard-won progress. Drug-resistant hospital-related deaths and infections from seven pathogens grew 15 percent from 2019 to 2020, including a 13 percent increase for MRSA infections, which can be deadly.

One reason for that is that hospitals overprescribed antibiotics, according to the CDC. From March through October 2020, almost 80 percent of Covid-19 patients who were hospitalized were given antibiotics. As a viral illness, Covid-19 isn’t affected by antibiotics, but doctors may have been keen to prescribe them to cure or protect against secondary infections, especially given that hospital stays for Covid-19 can be long and intensive.

“This setback can and must be temporary,” Michael Craig, the director of the CDC’s Antibiotic Resistance Coordination and Strategy Unit, said in a statement. “The best way to avert a pandemic caused by an antimicrobial-resistant pathogen is to identify gaps and invest in prevention to keep our nation safe.”

Obviously, the last thing we want is for the Covid-19 pandemic to pave the way for a new pandemic caused by some drug-resistant pathogen.”

“The good news is that we can absolutely address the problem of drug resistance. In its new report, the CDC calls for doubling down on strategies we know work, like preventing hospital-acquired infections in the first place and training medical professionals on when it is and isn’t appropriate to dole out antibiotics.”

California’s Competitors

“The median home value in San Francisco in 2022 is above $1.5 million, according to the Zillow Home Value Index, which shows home values rising by more than 10 percent in the past year alone. In nearby San Jose, Redfin reports a median home price of $1.45 million—but home values have risen by a staggering 24 percent in the last year. Today’s Bay Area is simply unaffordable for most people, in part because California regulations hinder new construction and in part because natural geographical constraints reduce the total amount of buildable space; San Francisco has a huge housing supply shortage that shows no signs of being remedied soon.

Pair this with complaints that the city has failed to handle its homelessness problem, leading to open-air drug scenes and massive tent encampments in neighborhoods like the Tenderloin. One in every 100 San Franciscans is homeless, and California is a national outlier in terms of what proportion of the homeless population is actively “unsheltered,” as in, sleeping on the streets or under highway overpasses. In San Francisco, 73 percent of the city’s homeless population is considered unsheltered. That’s not normal, even for a big city: In New York City, the figure is about 3 percent.

And then there was the pandemic, which made many big tech offices obsolete: Twitter, Yelp, and Airbnb attempted to sublease their expensive Bay Area office spaces. Pinterest paid almost $90 million in the third quarter of 2020 to break the lease of their almost 500,000-square-foot office space. For many workers, the value of living in San Francisco dropped. Why pay a premium to live near an office you aren’t going to?

Finally, there was the broader sense, especially among high-value tech workers, that San Francisco and its neighbors were uninterested and unresponsive, focused only on extracting from their most productive citizens in the form of high taxes, which fund poor city services. In the last few years, many have simply grown tired of paying exorbitant taxes for the privilege of living in California—one that now bestows little in return.

Hence the Golden State exodus. In 2021, for the first time ever, California lost a congressional seat. The state didn’t technically lose population, but it didn’t have the same growth rate as the rest of the country.”

“the shift also owes something to responsive governance. Leaders of other cities have actively courted the movers. In December 2020, venture capitalist Delian Asparouhov tweeted “ok guys hear me out, what if we move silicon valley to miami.” Miami Mayor Francis Suarez responded promptly, “How can I help?”

Yet as Bay Area tech workers depart, it remains an open question whether those new pastures will truly be greener. The city of Austin has faced rising housing costs, stemming in part from restrictions on development. Miami has struggled with corruption and policing problems. San Francisco’s urban competitors are cheaper, for now, but there are already worrying signs that the cities luring tech’s highly mobile, highly desirable workers are already poised to repeat many of the same mistakes that drove so many Californians away.”

“In 2012, Austin city officials saw the writing on the wall and proactively tried to remedy these problems by moving toward a zoning code rewrite. The 30-year-old code had outlasted its usefulness, and with massive population growth, city planners needed to allow for much more density.

The city’s newly proposed zoning code was dubbed CodeNEXT, as part of a forward-looking urban revitalization plan, Imagine Austin. The new code aimed to reduce the strict separations between Austin’s residential and commercial corridors, allowing for more mixed-use buildings and more housing overall.

It would’ve scrapped single-family zoning restrictions in many areas, allowing for duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, and apartment buildings to be built in their stead; it would’ve allowed for urban in-fill instead of forcing newcomers to gravitate toward far-flung suburbs; it would’ve reduced or eliminated minimum parking requirements in some places too. It wasn’t exactly an urbanist’s dream—some criticized it for not going far enough with regard to density—but it was a reasonable step toward that ideal.”

“By 2018, the project was dead in the water, having been met with fierce opposition primarily from neighborhood preservationists and homeowners, who had seen their homes double in price over the last five or 10 years.”

Blame Congress for Pandemic Fraud

“The inconvenient truth behind all this fraud and waste is that these government programs never should have been designed as they were. For example, while the federal government justifiably boosted state unemployment benefits at the beginning of the pandemic, it was irresponsible to enhance the benefits by $600 a week. As a result, 76 percent of the individuals who received such benefits were making more by not working than by working. It was also irresponsible to extend the program long after the economy reopened and resumed growing.

The same is true of the overly generous three rounds of $1,200, $600, and $1,400 individual payments paid to people who either already received the enhanced unemployment benefits or who never lost their jobs. Most recipients of these funds didn’t need them. In fact, only 15 percent of people who received the first round of checks said they had spent it or planned to spend it. And there were other benefits on top of these checks.”

“This non-fraudulent spending is now helping to fuel inflation.

Then, you have the money dispensed to corporations. In one way or another, that spending made up a huge share of the COVID-19 relief. Indeed, whether through the airline bailouts or the Payroll Protection Program, shareholders collected trillions of dollars in government handouts they didn’t need. Most of the PPP funding, for example, went to companies whose workers were never at risk of losing their jobs since they were well-suited to work from home.”

“billions of dollars went to state and local governments, including for schools that stayed closed, even though many of these governments’ revenue growth equaled or exceeded pre-pandemic levels.

Of course there was some fraud, but the malfeasance happened only because the programs were created in the first place and designed to go to everyone regardless of need. This reckless “design” is the true scandal.”

The Pandemic Killed Dissent in Hong Kong

“When Great Britain returned control of Hong Kong to China in 1997, a condition of the transfer was that Beijing would allow the territory to maintain its own government until 2047. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has never liked this agreement, and the COVID-19 pandemic provided the excuse to all but erase the “one country, two systems” distinction.

The CCP began its authoritarian assimilation of Hong Kong in 2019, when Beijing encouraged CCP loyalists in Hong Kong’s legislature to pass a law allowing extradition of residents to mainland China. That proposal sparked pro-democracy protests and a police crackdown in Hong Kong, which captured the world’s attention.

In June 2020, Beijing responded to the pro-democracy movement by requiring Hong Kong to implement a national security law that “introduc[ed] ambiguously defined crimes such as separatism and collusion that can be used to stifle protest,” as The New York Times put it. But the pandemic provided Beijing with an even bigger opportunity to suppress dissent.

Citing public health concerns, Hong Kong postponed its Legislative Council (LegCo) elections for a year. In the interim, Beijing changed LegCo election rules to reduce the number of directly elected seats and to require that candidates pledge their loyalty to mainland China.

With only Beijing-aligned “patriots” on the ballot, CCP loyalists swept the 2021 LegCo elections. Many leading opposition politicians went into exile, while others were jailed. Voter turnout was a paltry 30 percent—the lowest since the handover in 1997. By comparison, a record 71 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the 2019 district council elections. The high turnout was reportedly driven by opposition to the extradition treaty, and pro-democracy candidates won 85 percent of the available seats.

The pandemic also has facilitated suppression of pro-democracy protests. Every June since 1990, residents of Hong Kong had marched and held a vigil in memory of the Tiananmen Square dead. But in 2020, Hong Kong announced that it would extend social distancing restrictions until June 5, the day after the massacre’s anniversary.

Hong Kong’s COVID-19 rules banned public meetings of more than eight people, with a potential penalty of six months in jail. As a result, only a small vigil was held. Organizers nevertheless were arrested and sentenced to up to 14 months in jail. The sentencing judge remarked that they had “belittled a genuine public health crisis.””

Smallpox used to kill millions of people every year. Here’s how humans beat it.

“More than a million Americans have died of Covid-19, and the World Health Organization estimated this Thursday that the global death toll is around 15 million — a horrifying, and largely unnecessary, tragedy.

But for all that the world has lost in the last few years, the history of infectious disease has a grim message: It could have been even worse. That appalling death toll resulted even though the coronavirus kills only about 0.7 percent of the people it infects. Imagine instead that it killed 30 percent — and that it would take centuries, instead of months, to develop a vaccine against it. And imagine that instead of being deadliest in the elderly, it was deadliest for young children.

That’s smallpox.”

“Before modern vaccine development, humans had to get creative in slowing the spread of infectious disease. It was known that people who’d survived smallpox didn’t get sick again. In China, as early as the 15th century, healthy people deliberately breathed smallpox scabs through their noses and contracted a milder version of the disease. Between 0.5 percent and 2 percent died from such self-inoculation, but this represented a significant improvement on the 30 percent mortality rate of the disease itself.

In England, in 1796, doctor Edward Jenner demonstrated that contracting cowpox — a related but much milder virus — conferred immunity against smallpox, and shortly after that, immunization efforts began in earnest across Europe. By 1813, the US Congress passed legislation to ensure the availability of a smallpox vaccine that reduced smallpox outbreaks in the country throughout the 1800s.”

“By 1900, smallpox was no longer quite as much of a scourge in the world’s richest countries. In the 1800s, about 1 in 13 deaths in London were caused by smallpox; by 1900, smallpox caused only about 1 percent of deaths. Several countries in Northern Europe had also declared the disease eradicated. Over the next few decades, more of Europe, and then the US and Canada, joined them.

But as long as smallpox ravaged other parts of the globe, continual vaccination was necessary to make sure it wasn’t reintroduced, and millions of people continued to die of it. Data is spotty — this is before there was any international authority on infectious disease statistics worldwide — but it is estimated that 10 to 15 million people caught smallpox annually, with 5 million dying of it, during the first half of the 20th century.

It was not until the 1950s that a truly global eradication effort began to appear within reach, thanks to new postwar international institutions. The World Health Organization (WHO), founded in 1948, led the charge and provided a framework for countries that were not always on friendly terms to collaborate on global health efforts.”

“A 1947 outbreak in New York City, traced back to a traveler from Mexico, resulted in a frantic effort to vaccinate 6 million people in four weeks. Europe, Henderson says, repeatedly saw the virus reintroduced by travelers from Asia, with 23 distinct importations (different occasions of someone bringing smallpox into the country) in five years.

As we face down Covid-19, with effective vaccinations finally in hand, we’re encountering the same challenge that the world faced with smallpox in the 1950s: It doesn’t matter if a vaccine exists unless there also exists the international will and creativity to get it to all the people who need it, many of whom will be reluctant and skeptical.”

“features of smallpox made it easier to eradicate than many other diseases. For one thing, it didn’t have animal reservoirs; that is, unlike diseases like Ebola, smallpox doesn’t live in animal populations that can reintroduce the disease in humans. That meant that once it was destroyed in humans, it would be gone forever. And, once a person has survived it, they are immune for life. Only one vaccine is needed for immunity in almost all cases.

Additionally, it largely doesn’t have asymptomatic transmission and has a fairly long incubation period of about a week. That made it possible for public health officials to stay on top of the disease with a strategy of “ring vaccination” — whenever a case was reported, vaccinating every single person who may have come into contact with the affected person, and ideally everyone in the community could keep the disease at bay.”

“Humanity’s triumph over smallpox should stand out as one of our proudest moments. It called on scientists and researchers from around the world, including collaborations between rival countries in the middle of the Cold War.

Unfortunately, we’ve never replicated that success against another virus that affects humans. With some, such as polio, we’re drawing close. Wild polio has been eradicated in Africa and remains only in conflict-torn regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. “Ring vaccination,” as practiced in the smallpox battle, has been successfully used in public health efforts against other diseases, most recently with the new Ebola vaccine, used against outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

But in other cases, like HIV and Covid-19, we’ve let new diseases grow to pandemic proportions. And while those diseases have had devastating effects, it’s worth keeping in mind that they could have been even worse. Some viruses with the potential to escape laboratories or make the jump from animals to humans are as deadly and transmissible as smallpox, and Covid-19 has made it clear that we’re not prepared to handle them.”

“The devastation of Covid-19 has hopefully made us aware of the work public health experts and epidemiologists do, the crucial role of worldwide coordination and disease surveillance programs (which are still underfunded), and the horrors that diseases can wreak when we can’t control them.

We have to do better. The history of the fight against smallpox proves that we’re capable of it.”