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Police in Rochester, NY Pepper- Spray 9-Year-Old Girl in Handcuffs
On January 29th, police officers in Rochester, NY, pepper-sprayed a 9-year-old Black girl in handcuffs while trying to force her into the back of a police car. Police had been called to respond to "family trouble" and had been told that the girl was suicidal and "wanted to kill herself and she wanted to kill her mom." Video of the incident shows the girl in distress, crying out for her father, trying to resist being taken away from her family, being held on the ground and handcuffed, and then being pepper-sprayed for not sitting properly in the police car. Public outcry was swift after video of the incident was released. Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren has called for reform, and the city announced that it had suspended the officers involved.
The brutality of the Rochester Police Department previously made national news last year, when officers pinned a naked, handcuffed Black man experiencing a mental health crisis on the ground for two minutes, ultimately resulting in his death.
"Rochester police officers handcuff and pepper-spray a 9-year-old girl after call of 'family trouble'"
"Rochester mayor offers police reform proposals after a 9-year-old girl is handcuffed and pepper-sprayed
BLM Lansing Calls for Resignation of City Councilor Betz
Content Warning: Contains profanity and potentially offensive language.
On Thursday, Erica Lynn, co-host of Merica 20 to Life along with her husband, Michael Lynn, Jr., posted a series of shocking text messages that Lansing City Council member Brandon Betz sent to Michael, a prominent Black activist in Lansing who has been critical of Betz recently. The texts, which include Betz calling Lynn a "dickbag troll" and responding to Lynn saying "You are my council person!!!" with "I don't represent assholes" (the Lynns live in Ward 1, which Betz represents), also include Betz making racially charged statements, like "You'll turn your back on any white person who doesn't do exactly what you want. Weak ass bitch."
Lynn has stated that he has filed an ethics complaint with the city regarding the texts. On Thursday afternoon, City Council President Spadafore issued a statement in which he said, "Personally, I find them offensive, inappropriate, and unbecoming of a member of Council to a resident" and "I want to make clear that Councilmember Betz does not speak on behalf of the Lansing City Council nor the City of Lansing." Spadafore also said that he "asked the City Attorney’s office to look into the matter."
In response to the texts and Betz's statements in a Lansing City Pulse article about them, Black Lives Matter Lansing issued a statement calling on Betz to resign:
"Chapter leadership has had no contact with you since November 2020 when you agreed to call for a vote of no confidence in Andy Schor. Your failure to do so effectively ended the alliance as you have not been accountable in any way, shape or form. The community has moved on without you to continue our work to defund the police which began long before you ever thought about Lansing City Council or building a political career on the Black struggle for liberation.
"Based on your statements to the media and your texts to one of your constituents, Black Lives Matter Lansing joins Michael Christopher Lynn Jr., our new chapter co-lead since January 2021, in demanding your resignation from City of Lansing, Michigan - Government City Council and Michigan League for Public Policy."
BLM Lansing also called for Betz to resign from his job at the Michigan League for Public Policy. On Friday, the MLPP announced that they and Betz "agreed to part ways."
Betz is also under fire for receiving a COVID-19 vaccine without having been in an eligible group.
BLM Lansing Response:
"Black Lives Matter activist says he's filed ethics complaint against council member who sent him profane texts"
"Lansing Councilman goes off in profane tirade"
Contact Sports Can Resume in Michigan on Monday
A new Epidemic Order from MDHHS allows contact sports in Michigan to be played starting tomorrow (February 8th), provided a mask is worn. Per the order, if participants cannot remain masked ("where it would be unsafe for participants to remain masked"), all participants must be tested according to MDHHS guidelines.
Feb. 8: Sports and COVID-19
Contact sports that can be played with a mask can proceed with contact practice and competition beginning Monday, Feb. 9.
Where contact sports participants cannot remain masked, they must be tested consistent with the testing protocol specified in MDHHS’s Guidance for Athletics issued February 7, 2021.
Non-contact sports where distancing can be maintained and a mask is not possible can continue with no changes.
Outdoor: Mask *Where athletes are playing non-contact sport outdoors and can consistently maintain social distance, a mask is not required.
Contact sports and cannot mask safely
For more information about sports and COVID-19, visit Michigan Department of Health & Human Services at Michigan.gov/Coronavirus. Questions or concerns can be emailed to COVID19@michigan.gov.
"Gatherings and Face Mask Order"
"MDHHS Epidemic Orders"
ICHD Vaccine Eligibility Schedule Update
ICHD recently updated the roadmap on their COVID-19 website that depicts phases of vaccine distribution and when certain groups would be eligible. All groups, including Phase 1B, Phase 1C, and Phase 2 have all been pushed back. The current schedule does not have Phase 1C, which is for people aged 16-64 with a health condition that puts them at high risk for serious COVID-19 infection, eligible for vaccination until May, in contrast to the original plan, that had indicated the group could start receiving vaccines as early as March. Phase 2 (vaccinations for anyone age 16 and older) has been pushed back to July. The timeline is based on estimates of vaccine supply that are constantly being revised, and the roadmap is therefore likely to change again. While these delays are unfortunate, they were not unexpected, however changes like this are shared so that folks can plan or adjust their plans accordingly. Below is the updated roadmap from ICHD:
Biden Administrations to Ship COVID-19 Vaccine Directly to Pharmacies
The Biden Administration announced that starting next week, COVID-19 vaccines will be shipped directly to pharmacies such as CVS, Walmart, and Rite Aid. This is in an effort to address equity concerns for vaccine distribution as well as speed up vaccination rates. Since pharmacies are usually sites for the yearly flu shot, using these existing vaccine distribution systems makes sense, and while some pharmacies have been distributing the COVID-19 vaccine, this program is dedicated to expanding them as a vaccine resource, potentially reaching a much wider percentage of the population. It is still early, with only 6,500 pharmacies to participate in the initial 1 million doses, but this will hopefully expand to make COVID-19 vaccination access as easy as possible.
mRNA Vaccines and New COVID-19 Variants
With the news that all vaccines may not provide the same degree of protection against the new variants of the virus that causes COVID-19, a recent article highlighted the versatility of Pfizer and Moderna’s mRNA vaccines and how they could quickly be adapted to the new strains. The mRNA in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are like blueprints for your body to make the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Thus, by getting the vaccine, you are not getting any actual virus but are yourself ultimately making this spike protein which is crucial for the virus to attach and ultimately infect ourselves in a normal situation. Once the spike protein is made, your body can mount an immune response to it, create antibodies, and learn how to react and prevent disease if you are exposed to the actual virus later. Since the mRNA blueprint is the base of these vaccines, by knowing what is needed in an updated “blueprint” based on the new strains of virus, that can simply be “copy and pasted” into a booster shot if needed to protect against new strains. That being said, since mutations are happening, this emphasizes the need for faster and wider vaccination so that there is not as much opportunity for the virus to mutate and spread. In addition, washing your hands properly, masking up, socially distancing, and following public health guidelines are as crucial as ever.
More on the SARS CoV-2 Variants
More continues to surface around SARS CoV-2 variants. So what is the most relevant? We reviewed a series of different articles and found this information to be the most salient.
According to experts at Johns Hopkins University
There are currently two hypotheses about what, specifically, makes the UK strain more transmissible than the original strain of the virus. One is that this variant virus is “stickier,” meaning it requires a smaller amount of virus to cause infection because it’s better at adhering to your cells. Another hypothesis is that this variant causes people to harbor more virus particles in their noses and throats, leading to more virus shedding when people talk, cough, or sneeze,
The term ”transmission” is more often used when referencing populations (i.e., groups of people), while the term “contagious” is more often used when referring to an individual.
Masks, social distancing, and hand washing are the most effective means of stopping the transmission of all known variants of the virus that causes COVID-19. Keep adhering to these practices. They save lives.
The variants of the virus should still be susceptible to the antibodies induced by the vaccines.
The technology used to make the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines is easy to update for a new lineage or strain of S protein in virus variants.
It is not surprising or unexpected that we have found the variants of COVID-19 first identified in South Africa and the UK here in the United States. People are still traveling and the virus continues to undergo mutations. We will continue to hear about variants popping up in different countries and states. The issue that is most concerning is the number of people becoming infected by the increased transmissibility of the variants and whether or not these new variants cause worse outcomes. Luckily, folks like those at Johns Hopkins University are continuing to study this.
Links to articles:
"What You Need to Know About COVID-19 Variants"
"‘That hurricane is coming’: expert warns US to brace for virulent Covid strain"
"UK coronavirus variant gets nastier as South African variant spreads"
Cities Cutting Police Funding and Re-Allocating to Public Services
In the wake of so many documented cases of the police killing unarmed or nonviolent people and protests to defund the police, some cities are choosing to cut back on funding for police departments. In Seattle, $12 million was diverted from the police department to be allocated for participatory budgeting. This, along with $18 million from the Mayor’s Equitable Communities Initiative Fund, will allow Seattle residents to have a say in how and where the money is spent in the city. In addition to the $30 million, there was also $3 million given to plan, identify needs, and research potential barriers to participation in the budget process. The goal will be to make the participatory budgeting process as accessible as possible for all citizens in Seattle, including those experiencing homelessness, those with disabilities, and people who are incarcerated. The participatory budgeting will be re-assessed monthly with citizens and has the potential for more money to be added. Seattle has used participatory budgeting on a smaller scale in past years, involving only a few million dollars and specific departments. This much larger budget can be used across city departments to make Seattle safer and healthier for all residents.
In August, the Austin, Texas City Council unanimously voted to re-allocate $150 million over the course of 2021 from police department funding. Immediately, $21 million was divested by stopping new cadet classes and shifting funding to violence prevention, food access, and abortion access programs. Another $80 million is planned to be shifted by moving forensic functions, victims’ services, and support services to other city departments. Additionally, $50 million will be used to reimagine public safety and community support throughout the year. These cuts have received push-back from the Governor and Republican Party lawmakers, proposing legislation that any city who cuts police department funding would be ineligible to raise property taxes - a vital source of funding for cities. Even with push-back, Austin is still moving forward with police divestment. At the end of January, the City Council voted to purchase a hotel to turn into transitional housing for those experiencing homelessness or housing instability. The costs of running the hotel will be covered from money shifted from police department funding. This will be one of three city-owned hotels used for homelessness, with another hotel purchase expected in the upcoming weeks. Divesting from the police department to community health and safety projects has been shown to lower crime rates and improve well-being of community members. With continued calls for defunding police departments, hopefully more cities will follow the actions of Seattle and Austin after seeing their success.
Biden Reforms Immigration Policy and Begins Process to Reunify Separated Immigrant Families
President Biden, continuing his trend of using Executive Orders to undo Donald Trump’s work, issued four Orders aimed at reforming immigration in the past week. The first three, issued on February 2nd, will create a Task Force to reunify families, develop a strategy to address irregular migration across the southern border and create a human asylum system, and restore faith in our legal immigration system and promote integration of new Americans, according to the White House. The Task Force for the reunification of families has been tasked with "identifying all children who were separated from their families at the United States-Mexico border between January 20, 2017, and January 20, 2021, in connection with the operation of the Zero-Tolerance Policy" and "to the greatest extent possible, facilitating and enabling the reunification of each of the identified children with their families." The fourth Executive Order, issued on Thursday, aims to rebuild and enhance programs to resettle refugees and plan for the impact of climate change on migration.
"FACT SHEET: President Biden Outlines Steps to Reform Our Immigration System by Keeping Families Together, Addressing the Root Causes of Irregular Migration, and Streamlining the Legal Immigration System"
"Executive Order on the Establishment of Interagency Task Force on the Reunification of Families"
"Executive Order on Rebuilding and Enhancing Programs to Resettle Refugees and Planning for the Impact of Climate Change on Migration"
"Executive Order on Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion Efforts for New Americans"
"Executive Order on Creating a Comprehensive Regional Framework to Address the Causes of Migration, to Manage Migration Throughout North and Central America, and to Provide Safe and Orderly Processing of Asylum Seekers at the United States Border"
New Preliminary Information on AstraZeneca Vaccine
In a preprint publication (the paper has not yet been peer-reviewed), data from Oxford University, who is partnering with AstraZeneca to develop their vaccine, suggested that their vaccine could reduce the transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19 in addition to providing protection against COVID-19 after one dose. This suggests that even though the AstraZeneca vaccine is a two-dose regimen, a single dose strategy if supply/access is still limited may be warranted. Research is still being conducted on whether the COVID-19 vaccines will reduce transmission, so having some preliminary data that suggests this is a potential good sign.
Also in preliminary analysis regarding the AstraZeneca vaccine, a small study in South Africa with just over 2,000 participants suggested that the AstraZeneca vaccine was not effective in preventing mild cases of the disease resulting from the South African virus variant. The participants were largely young, healthy adults and none were hospitalized or died. The study was too small to ascertain any significant results but it has been consistent with the decreased efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines against this new strain of virus.
Michigan Vaccine Milestone Update
Michigan recently passed more than 1 million COVID-19 doses administered. So far, the state has received 1.735 million doses for distribution. While this is a combination of some who may have had the full 2 doses and some folks who have only received their first shot, it is still a significant milestone as vaccination rates ramp up. Demand is still high for the vaccine, however if you are concerned or skeptical of the vaccine, please reach out to us for any questions or clarifications!
Lansing Mayor and Two City Councillors Under Fire for Receiving COVID-19 Vaccine Before Being Eligible
In January, Lansing Mayor Andy Schor and Lansing City Council members Peter Spadafore and Brandon Betz received COVID-19 vaccines, despite not belonging to groups that were currently eligible. They were reportedly offered the vaccines by Sparrow Health Systems and believed that the vaccines would be wasted if not used. The Pfizer vaccine must be used within six hours of being removed from a freezer, and people are routinely called to come in on short notice when people scheduled to receive the vaccine don't show up, but those shots should be given to other eligible people. The Ingham County Health Department has reportedly worked to prevent future situations of people jumping in line ahead of those eligible for the vaccine.
"Lansing officials defend getting COVID-19 vaccinations early"
"Lansing mayor cuts line for his COVID-19 vaccine"
Lansing NAACP Releases Report on Haslett School
The Lansing branch of the NAACP released findings from their investigation of Haslett High School in response to allegations of racism and bullying by students. The NAACP report calls for "additional staff training to ensure that the complaints of students regarding bullying and racial or ethnic harassment are understood, properly investigated and appropriate discipline used to provide for a safe learning environment." They also note that the parents who made the complaint "expressed a desire to assist the school in dealing with potentially racist activity by students and staff." The school district is reportedly in the process of getting training for all teachers.
"NAACP releases report on Haslett schools"