CDC Updates Mask Recommendations, but Mask Rules Remain Unchanged in Michigan

The CDC has updated mask recommendations, suggesting that fully vaccinated people can attend small outdoor gatherings with other fully vaccinated people or dine at outdoor restaurants without wearing a mask (in contrast to unvaccinated people, who the agency still recommends wear a mask in both settings). The CDC recommendations do not change the legal mask requirements in Michigan - people, regardless of vaccination status, must wear masks outdoors and when at restaurants (except while eating or drinking).

Michigan continues to lead the nation in COVID-19 case rate and has the second-most cases of the more infectious and deadly B.1.1.7 variant. We recommend that you continue to wear a mask and take other precautions - the pandemic is not over, Michigan is still a COVID-19 hot spot, vaccines may not protect as well against some virus variants, we are not certain whether fully vaccinated people can still transmit the virus, and masks are an easy way to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19. Please get vaccinated as soon as you are able to do so, and remember that it takes weeks after being vaccinated for the vaccine to be fully effective (you are not "fully vaccinated" as soon as you receive your final shot).

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Millions Have Skipped Second Dose of COVID-19 Vaccines

Recent data from the CDC shows that more than 5 million people, representing nearly 8% of those who got their first shot of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, have missed their second dose of the vaccine. There are many potential reasons as to why people may not have gotten their second dose. Sometimes getting to a vaccination site or having the vaccine be available is an issue. In some cases, if the first dose was either Pfizer or Moderna, by the time of their second dose, only the other is available, and mixing different vaccine doses is still not recommended outside of extraordinary circumstances. Many worry about the side effects of the second dose, especially if the first dose required taking time off, which many people can’t afford to do. For a very small number of people, it was a severe allergic reaction to the first dose, meaning a second dose is not recommended. A recent correspondence article published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) has also made rounds on the internet, stating that for those who have had COVID-19, a single dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine resulted in a greater antibody immune system response than those who did not previously have COVID-19 and received both doses. It is important to note, however, that this was just correspondence and not a peer-reviewed scientific study. The sample was also very small, with only 110 participants. In addition, antibody levels are not necessarily a measure of degree of protection against COVID-19. 

There are also many questions with regards to the timing of a second dose and difficulties around ensuring that scheduling of both doses works. While the CDC states that you should try to keep within the 3-4 week interval between doses if you received the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, your second dose can be up to 6 weeks (42 days) after the first dose if necessary. This is based on limited data, and there is even less data regarding how effective the vaccines are outside of this time frame. Experts still state that if you can’t get both doses within the time frame, you should still get the second dose regardless, as it will still provide protection against COVID-19, but it is still unknown how that protection is affected. In addition, the CDC does not currently recommend restarting the COVID-19 vaccination series if your second dose is outside of the window to get both doses. There are still a lot of questions that, unfortunately, there are not clear answers to. While research is still ongoing, if you are able to get a COVID-19 vaccine, it is best to do so and to try your best to be as close to the 3-week window between Pfizer doses and 4-week window between Moderna doses, as well as plan for dealing with potential side effects of the vaccine. 

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Man Dies After Police Pinned Him to the Ground for 5 Minutes in California

On April 19th, police in Alameda, California, responded to 911 calls that reported that someone was loitering and looked like he was breaking security tags off of alcohol bottles, and another call which claimed the man was talking to himself and "not doing anything wrong," but was scaring the wife of the caller. After questioning the man, 26-year-old Mario Gonzalez, police pinned him to the ground for more than five minutes, causing Gonzalez to eventually become unresponsive. He was pronounced dead shortly afterwards, and autopsy results have not yet been released. Details only came to light after bodycam footage was released on the 27th; the initial police statement on the 19th said that "patrol officers responded to two separate reports of a male who appeared to be under the influence and a suspect in a possible theft...Officers attempted to detain the man, and a physical altercation ensued. At that time, the man had a medical emergency. Officers immediately began lifesaving measures and requested the Alameda Fire Department to the scene. The Alameda Fire Department transported the male to a local area hospital, where he later died."

All three officers involved in the incident were placed on administrative leave, and the city is reportedly conducting an independent investigation. Gonzalez's family are demanding answers and justice. His brother, Jerry, made a statement on Tuesday, saying that "The police killed my brother in the same manner that they killed George Floyd...There was no reason to detain him, let alone kill him. The APD took a calm situation and made it fatal."

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New York City Announces New Mental Health Response Program

On Monday, April 26th, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that a program that uses EMS and social workers to respond to non-violent mental health crisis calls will be expanded to the entire city. The program was originally supposed to be piloted in three police precincts, but the Mayor is so convinced of the approach that he has expanded it before the pilot has been completed. Last year, 154,000 mental health crisis calls came into 911 and unfortunately, some police responses to those calls escalated to violence or death. Using trained EMS or social workers to respond to non-violent calls will hopefully reduce some incidents of police brutality in the city. While the program is the right thing to do and holds a lot of potential, there has been pushback from some EMS workers. EMS workers are paid significantly less than other first responders and adding potential risk to their jobs without an increase in pay is inequitable. The field also has a high turnover rate so the pool of EMS workers who have long-term experience is small and that presents challenges in readiness for responding to mental health calls. Responding and properly attending to mental health crises requires significant training. EMS workers have stated that the program feels rushed and not well thought out, which could lead to risks for both workers and those experiencing mental health crises. 

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3 Men Federally Indicted for Hate Crimes and Attempted Kidnapped in Death of Ahmaud Arbery

On Wednesday, a Federal grand jury indicted three men for hate crimes and attempted kidnapping related to the death of Ahmaud Arbery last year. Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was jogging in Brunswick, Georgia when a former police officer saw him, thought he looked like someone suspected of break-ins in the area. The man and his son then got two guns, got into a pickup truck, and chased him down and confronted him. They claim to have been conducting a citizen's arrest and that they acted in self-defense. A third man joined the chase and tried to block Arbery, and filmed the incident on his phone. After getting into a physical altercation, the men shot Arbery multiple times, killing him. All three men who pursued and confronted Arbery are White. Federal prosecutors said that the three men "used force and threats of force to intimidate and interfere with Arbery's right to use a public street because of his race," and that "All three defendants attempted to unlawfully seize and confine Arbery by chasing after him in their trucks in an attempt to restrain him, restrict his free movement, corral and detain him against his will, and prevent his escape." All three have also been charged in state court, two for murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, and attempted false imprisonment, and one for murder and attempted false imprisonment.

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Police Officer Caught on Camera Throwing Autistic Teen to the Ground and Punching Him in the Face

Newly released video showed a police officer throwing Preston Wolf, a 17-year-old autistic boy in Vacaville, California, to the ground and then punching him in the face. The video, recorded by a doorbell camera across the street, "shows Preston standing with his scooter on a sidewalk in a suburban neighborhood when a police officer exits his vehicle and approaches him while aggressively yelling at him to sit down. Preston complies and sits down with his legs crossed. The officer then appears to yell at the teenager to put his legs out, and when he does not immediately do so, the officer picks up his scooter and throws several feet away. It appears as though the officer attempts to grab the boy, at which point Preston flinches and leans back, seemingly scared. A few moments later, Preston attempts to run away, and the officer grabs him by the arm and slams him onto the street. A second video of the incident shows the officer straddling the teen who was on his back on the road. The officer repeatedly yells at him to put his hands behind his back as he remains in the same position, and is seen punching him in the face." (CBS News)

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Police Officers in Michigan and California Caught on Camera Punching People in the Head During Arrests

Recently released bodycam video shows a police officer in Grand Rapids punching Diabate Hood, a 25-year-old Black man, in the head after a traffic stop initiated for littering and saying "You're lucky you’re not dead." Grand Rapids Police Department Chief Eric Payne defended the officer, saying "This is the police work that I expect from my personnel," while Kent County Commissioner Robert S. Womack criticized the police and the Chief, saying "once he was apprehended and you have three cops on him, we can't allow another cop to go ahead and hit him in the face continuously" and that "[Chief Payne] needs to hold the police responsible for their actions."

In a similar story, a California police officer was put on leave after punching Ciomara Garcia, a 34-year-old woman, in the face multiple times while she was handcuffed, prompting two other officers to intervene and stop him from further violence. The incident was recorded by a bystander with their cellphone.

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Flint Water Crisis Updates

The Flint Water Crisis started seven years ago, beginning in April of 2014. So far, the city has excavated almost 27,000 water service lines. Of those 27,000 lines, nearly 10,000 of those were lead and galvanized steel pipes that were damaged by corrosive water from the Flint river and had to be replaced. The water service lines project has been ongoing for the past five years and is set to be finished early this summer with pipes from approximately 500 homes still needing to be excavated. The city is also building a new chemical feed building to treat water that goes to the city, along with a secondary water source connection in case service is disrupted from the Great Lakes Water Authority. So far, the projects have cost $104 million out of $167 million that was allocated from state and federal funds for water upgrades. The water tested in December of 2020, showed that lead levels were 6 parts per billion. The federal threshold for lead is 15 parts per billion, so those readings now put Flint significantly below the federal action levels. While the water quality has drastically improved, the long-term effects of lead exposure on Flint residents are still unknown. Trust was broken on every level of the government and rebuilding that trust has proved challenging. Residents have been calling for justice for the crisis, including being compensated for the effects on their health and lives. A U.S. District Court has given preliminary approval to a $641 million settlement for those affected, but there have been 100 objections logged against the settlement. A hearing on July 12th will be held to hear those objections. Some parties have refused to settle, including the EPA. Additionally, the criminal cases against nine government individuals are still ongoing and slowly taking shape. Attorneys for the defendants have filed motions to dismiss some charges or have said their defendants were arraigned in the wrong county. Accountability for the unnecessary harm done to Flint residents has still not been served, even seven years after the start of the crisis. 

In addition, there are now concerns about residents potentially being exposed to harmful radiation. Through an arrangement made by the plaintiff’s attorneys, a portable bone scanner was approved for use to document lead exposure of residents in order to be included in the $641 million settlement. The manufacturer states that the scanner is not designed for use on humans. Attorneys have argued that the equipment is safe and has only been approved after modifications were made and protocols were established by medical professionals at Harvard University and New York University. Doctors in the Flint area have stated that bone scans may come with low risk, but they are medically unnecessary and unethical. The scans are not an approved practice by any regulatory agency or professional body, so this seems to be an unethical and unsupervised research project by attorneys on individuals who have already been harmed by the water crisis. The attorneys using the scanner stated that the modifications on their scanner are similar to modifications used in studies done at Purdue University and Harvard University, which were approved by the Institutional Review Boards at both schools. Attorneys representing plaintiffs have been split on the use of the portable bone scanner because other firms are unable to acquire their own scanner because the manufacturer does not approve the device for that use. This makes the bone scanner inaccessible to residents represented by other attorneys which could lead to them receiving lower amounts of money in the settlement. 

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This Week's QM Round-Up Contributors (in alphabetical order):