Alaska’s Special House Race Stunned America. Here’s What November Could Bring.

I think the synergy between Peltola and Murkowski is very interesting. They draw from substantively contiguous voting groups predominated by Democrats and independents, political moderates, women, [abortion rights supporters], rural residents, Alaskan Natives. I mean, that was essentially the constituency that wrote in Lisa’s name in 2010. And it is categorically the Mary Peltola constituency too. And so those two, even though they come from different parties, will feed off each other’s energy [in November] in a way that bodes very well for them.

And the governor’s race, whether you’re looking at Democratic candidate Les Gara, or independent candidate Bill Walker, the race is very simple there. One of those two will come second after the incumbent Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy [who finished first in the primary]. And one will come third. Well, there’ll be a fourth, obviously, but the fourth person will be very minor. And then the next question is whether Les Gara or Bill Walker comes second and who comes third. They will get 95 percent of each other’s votes when the third place is eliminated. And then it just comes down to whether that’s enough to put them over 50 percent or whether Dunleavy gets there.

And so going back to the Murkowski/Peltola synergy that helps Les Gara and Bill Walker [in drawing out more moderate and liberal voters] … it’s kind of an interesting dynamic. All three races are competitive. Murkowski is probably least competitive of all. But the governor’s race, I think, in the end will be competitive. The House race, even though it’s usually a foregone conclusion, or has been for the last 50 years, will be the top of the ticket, so to speak [and get the most attention].

I mean, that’s the blessing and the curse of Sarah Palin, isn’t it? She just draws such fanatical attention, not only from her supporters, but also from the press and people in general. But it’s just gotten to the point where it’s too much for people. But I think the Murkowski/Peltola synergy is the most important thing that ties it all together.

Jacobs: You mentioned the Murkowski/Peltola synergy. It’s rare to see that sort of cross-partisan synergy, and how much is that because Alaska is politically very unique and has a very different political culture than other states?

Moore: Well, Murkowski is an interesting case. She served with late Republican Sen. Ted Stevens for his final term and with late Republican Rep. Don Young; she was part of this Republican trio. But over time, she kind of started to draw support from a different group. It started in 2010 when tea party Senate candidate Joe Miller made his run at her from the right. … The tea party saw her as a Republican-in-name-only. And then she lost the primary to him, but went on to win as a write-in candidate in the general election. And that started the switcheroo because she then drew her support from the coalition of voters that I listed off, and then over time, she went back and forth between votes that would make Republicans happy and votes that would make Democrats happy.

The final straw was in 2017, with the Obamacare skinny repeal vote. That vote was the one where Republican Sen. John McCain dramatically went on to the Senate floor with the thumbs-down. And Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski were the other two no votes on that. And that did it for her at that point. For years before that, going back to before 2010, the dynamic was she was most popular amongst moderates, she was deeply distrusted by Republicans, and she was also distrusted by Democrats. But her strength was in the middle. It could be plotted out as kind of a hump going across the political spectrum and strongest in the middle.

It’s now moved to the point where it’s strongest among Democrats, moderately strong with moderates, and then in the absolute toilet amongst Republicans. So I don’t know if that necessarily says anything kind of unique and odd about Alaska politics.

Since the early ‘90s, anyway, [Alaska politics] has been very normal. Republicans have been in power, generally speaking.

But Alaska has a somewhat unconventional streak. To look at the Legislature again, we’ve had a few bipartisan coalitions both in the House and the Senate over the years. And that says something about how, I think, we don’t subscribe to the groups and partisanship that inflicts other states. We are all, both Republicans and Democrats, more willing to occupy the middle and cross the aisle.

Alaskans are unconventional, and they’re very independent. Although the political parties are dominated by the extreme wings on both sides, [I’d estimate that] the extreme wing of the Republican Party in Alaska in terms of current voters is 20 percent and the extreme wing, as far as voters, on the Democratic side, is 10 percent. That leaves 70 percent leftover.

And that 70 percent look at people like Murkowski and go, “Not everything she does I like. She’s sensible, and usually does what she thinks is best.” They look at people like Bill Walker, and they go, “I like his independence and his willingness to do the right thing.” They look at bipartisan coalitions in the Legislature, and they go, “I kind of like that, too.” So that’s good. We’ve got a big, healthy middle in Alaska, much more than it is kind of a deep red state. It’s not necessarily purple. It’s got a strong red tinge at one end, a strong blue tinge on the other, and then a big purple streak all the way across the middle.

Source link

read more

Ian will ‘financially ruin’ homeowners and insurers

President Joe Biden declared nine counties disaster areas Thursday, making residents eligible for federal aid to pay for minor home repairs, short-term housing and other emergency costs.

But of the 1.8 million households in those nine counties, only 29 percent have federal flood insurance, according to an analysis of government records by POLITICO’s E&E News.

That leaves 1.3 million households at ground zero without federal flood coverage.

In Hardee County, only 100 households have federal flood insurance — out of 8,000 households in the county.

That’s a 1.3 percent coverage rate.

Hardee has one of the lowest income levels of any Florida county, and 44 percent of its residents are Hispanic.

“Ian could financially ruin thousands of families in Florida. There’s no better way to say it,” said Mark Friedlander of the Insurance Information Institute.

Flood coverage is not included in homeowners’ insurance policies. That forces people to buy flood insurance separately, though almost no one who lives inland from a coastal area does. The vast majority of flood coverage in the U.S. is sold through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Flood Insurance Program. It is unclear how many people have flood policies through private insurers.

People without flood insurance “could be devastated,” Friedlander said.

Problems, problems, problems

At the same time, the damage caused by Ian’s 155 mph winds could plunge Florida’s private insurance market into deeper chaos, potentially forcing additional insurers into insolvency and triggering a surcharge on almost every insurance policy in the state.

The Insurance Information Institute, an industry-funded research group, estimates that Ian has caused at least $30 billion in damage. That would make it roughly the 12th-costliest U.S. disaster since 1980, according to NOAA records.

Ian hit Florida as the state faces an insurance crisis. Policyholders there pay the nation’s highest property-insurance rates, and huge losses have forced six small Florida-based insurers into insolvency this year while others have stopped writing new policies.

That has pushed homeowners into Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state-backed insurer of last resort. The number of its policyholders has doubled in the past two years and recently passed 1 million for the first time since 2014 (Climatewire, Sept. 19).

Insurer losses are due to a combination of extensive legal claims and huge payouts on policies in states such as Louisiana, which has faced two catastrophic storms since 2020.

“Florida is already having a problem with [insurance] availability. It’s having a problem with affordability. And it’s having a problem with reliability when insurance companies are going insolvent,” said Nancy Watkins, a principal at Milliman actuarial consultants. “All three of the pillars of a sustainable market are under threat.”

Friedlander said he expects Ian-related claims to drive several local insurance companies into bankruptcy, making it even harder and costlier for Florida homeowners to buy property coverage.

“Many insurers have been on the financial edge for several years. This may push them over that cliff,” Friedlander said.

The average property insurance rate in Florida is $4,231 — nearly triple the U.S. average of $1,544, according to the insurance institute.

A major issue as Florida begins to recover is the extent to which damage was caused by wind or by water. The question has huge implications for property owners without federal flood coverage and for private insurers that could face billions of dollars in wind-damage claims.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) danced around a question about whether Citizens insurance has enough money to pay Ian-related wind claims. Instead, he emphasized the storm’s damaging floods, which are usually covered by the federal government.

“We are looking at a lot of flood claims,” DeSantis said, adding that Citizens should be able to pay Ian claims without charging a special assessment on its own policyholders, or on all insurance policies in the state except for medical and malpractice coverage.

Watkins said disputes and litigation will arise when property insurers like Citizens deny claims because they say damage was caused by flooding — which they don’t cover.

“In a litigious environment like Florida, that could be a perfect storm on top of a perfect storm,” Watkins said.

Records from the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation show that insurance companies denied roughly 30 percent of the nearly 1 million claims filed after Hurricane Irma swept across the state in 2017.

The denial rate in Florida for Hurricane Matthew in 2016 was roughly 40 percent.

Citizens has $13.6 billion in reserves and has projected paying 225,000 claims from Ian worth a total of $3.8 billion.

Higher temps, more inland floods

The good news for Florida is that it has more federal flood insurance policies than any other state — at about 20 percent of households. That’s second only to Louisiana. Nationwide, only about 4 percent of properties are covered through FEMA’s flood insurance program.

But the bad news is that flood coverage varies widely across Florida — and among the counties that have faced the worst damage from Ian.

In the nine counties that Biden declared a disaster, coverage rates for flood damage range from 1.3 percent in Hardee County and 3.2 percent in DeSoto County to 67 percent in Collier County, which is in the state’s southwest corner and is one of Florida’s richest counties.

“There are going to be a lot of folks without flood coverage,” said Carolyn Kousky, a leading expert on flood insurance and associate vice president for economics and policy at the Environmental Defense Fund. “If you don’t have insurance, economic recovery from these events is really hard.”

Some parts of Florida suffered huge flooding and are not among the nine counties that Biden declared a disaster.

Orlando, which is Florida’s third-largest city, experienced up to 15 inches of rain and saw flash floods, according to the National Weather Service. The city has 130,000 households.

Yet records show that only 2,039 buildings are covered by federal flood insurance.

That’s a coverage rate of 1.5 percent.

Inland flooding caused by Ian “highlights the fact that as climate is changing storm patterns, we’re seeing lots of flooding away from the coasts from stalled hurricanes and intense precipitation,” Kousky said. “Lots of areas are at risk of flooding.”

People without flood insurance will have to rely on FEMA aid, which is capped at $72,000 but usually results in payments of less than $10,000.

When flash flooding devastated eastern Kentucky in July and August, only about 2 percent of the households in the flooded area had flood insurance (Climatewire, Aug. 9).

FEMA has given $73 million in disaster aid to 7,800 Kentucky residents — an average of about $9,350 each.

A version of this report first ran in E&E News’ Climatewire. Get access to more comprehensive and in-depth reporting on the energy transition, natural resources, climate change and more in E&E News.

Source link

read more

How one New York county went from fighting measles to battling polio

The battle continues on all health fronts.

“On polio, we simply cannot roll the dice,” state Health Commissioner Mary Bassett stressed as she urged New Yorkers in September “to not accept any risk at all.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul declared a public health emergency in early September, and it sparked high-level talks among top Biden administration officials concerned about the virus’ potential spread across the nation.

But with a statewide polio vaccination rate among 2-year-olds of less than 80 percent — not including New York City (where that rate for kids under age 5 is 86 percent) — and an even lower rate in Rockland County, officials are faced with a familiar task: convincing vaccine-hesitant people to get the shots.

A county fighting multiple viruses

In Rockland County, which has a population of 339,000, local health officials have been working with the state Department of Health and the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention to identify ZIP codes with high rates of unvaccinated or undervaccinated residents, who face the most risk for contracting polio.

The county had a polio vaccination rate among 2-year-olds of just 60 percent as of August — one of the lowest in the state, according to data from the New York State Immunization Information System. Some ZIP codes in the county fared even worse, with at least one — 10952, which spans parts of Monsey, Kaser and Airmont — having a toddler polio vaccination rate of just 37 percent. (Rates are calculated based on children who have received three polio immunizations by age 2.)

State health officials said vaccination rates are generally higher by the time children enter school, with nearly all adults vaccinated against polio. They said they did not have data on adult vaccination rates in New York.

Rockland County Health Commissioner Patricia Schnabel Ruppert said officials have informed physicians in at-risk ZIP codes of the patients in need of polio shots and, in some cases, worked with providers to send letters to individuals encouraging them to get themselves or their children vaccinated, or up to date on polio vaccinations.

“We have found that is really the best way to notify them [and] have them feel comfortable,” she said in an interview. “They can come to our immunization clinic here at the health department, they can go to their own providers, federally qualified health centers. Between all of us, we’re increasing our ability to provide vaccinations to those who need it: children and adults.”

Since identifying the case of paralytic polio in July, Rockland County has administered more than 5,000 polio vaccines, the bulk of which went to individuals under age 4. And a total of 25,766 polio vaccine doses were administered to individuals under age 19 in Rockland, Orange, Sullivan and Nassau counties from July 21 to Sept. 25 — up more than 26 percent compared with the rates among that age group in those counties in the same period of 2021, according to the health department.

Despite that uptake, Ruppert said, misinformation and vaccine skepticism continue to pose challenges.

“At every level, we’re working on plans to engage the community more. The health education side, the disease control side and increasing surveillance, wastewater — whatever we need to do in the short and long term — and improve vaccination rates. We also work on correcting misinformation,” she said, adding that “the anti-vaxxers definitely have had a foothold here.”

It’s a playbook that borrows strategies deployed during the measles outbreak, in which the state reported more than 400 cases in Rockland, Orange, Sullivan and Westchester counties — including 300-plus in Rockland County, alone — between October 2018 and October 2019. New York City’s 11-month outbreak, meanwhile, resulted in 650-plus measles cases from October 2018 to September 2019.

Many of those cases were reported in the state’s Orthodox Jewish communities, though some were also found in Wyoming County’s Mennonite community and among other groups that often oppose vaccines.

Former state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, who worked with Ruppert and others to stem the measles outbreak, told POLITICO that the emergence of another major communicable disease in Rockland County and surrounding areas is particularly concerning.

“You have a situation with polio in the same counties that three, four years ago had a measles outbreak: two diseases where vaccines are incredibly effective in preventing illness,” he said in an interview. “The fact that the wastewater is positive for the virus says clearly, there’s not enough people immunized against polio in these counties. The message that vaccination prevents disease has not resonated broadly enough despite strong public health efforts.”

Ruppert acknowledged that Rockland County health officials “probably lost some of that headway [they] had made” on vaccination rates following the measles outbreak as response to Covid-19 forced health departments to refocus efforts on the pandemic.

With Covid finally on the decline in New York, the county had planned to work with the state on vaccination audits at schools and day cares this past spring, as part of a larger campaign to increase vaccination rates, Ruppert said. Those plans were again upended once polio hit.

“Now it’s all hands on deck,” she said.

Rockland County Executive Ed Day said the county is working with the state Department of Health this fall to ensure schools are complying with vaccination requirements — an issue which he and others argued takes on new significance as polio spreads in New York.

The 2018-2019 measles outbreak sparked heated debate in Albany as state lawmakers voted to outlaw religious exemptions to the state’s school vaccination mandate, which requires immunization against polio. That law, however, has faced compliance issues since it took effect.

School audits on vaccine compliance are expected to begin as early as November, a timeline which Day said gives districts enough time to ensure compliance with the vaccination requirements. Those found in violation could face fines of up to $2,000 per violation.

“If there’s any winks and nods going on because a parent comes in with a note and there’s no follow up by the school, that’s not good enough, and we will fine the school,” said Day, a Republican and one of the most vocal proponents of the 2019 law to end religious exemptions. “There’s no religious exemptions. Medical exemptions have to be supported by documentation. If a school decides that they don’t want to pursue it, they’ll be fined.”

Testing the wastewater

Although the coronavirus pandemic has presented challenges for public health officials beyond the immediate Covid response — including lagging childhood vaccination rates, medical workforce shortages and a rise in anti-vaccine rhetoric — it has also offered some benefits.

The renewed focus on public health during Covid led to an influx in federal funding and widespread adoption of new disease surveillance technology, like wastewater monitoring — a tool rarely used prior to the pandemic that’s now helping track polio’s spread in New York.

Nearly every county in New York is monitoring wastewater for Covid, but fewer than 10 — which are located primarily downstate and on Long Island — are using such systems to look for polio. (New York City is conducting its own wastewater monitoring for poliovirus.)

“Our focus began where the individual case of paralytic polio was identified (Rockland County) and the surrounding areas because of what we know about how polio spreads, and these efforts will continue and expand,” Jeffrey Hammond, a spokesperson for the state Department of Health, said in an email.

Kimberly Thompson, a polio expert and president of Kid Risk, a nonprofit that works on public health issues, told POLITICO that the value of wastewater monitoring may be greatest in communities with low polio vaccination rates, including the Hasidic Jewish community in New York, Amish communities, minority populations without access to care and communities with significant pockets of people who oppose vaccines.

“Despite the ‘test everything’ culture that emerged during Covid-19, testing purely for the sake of testing implies real costs and does not necessarily lead to actionable information,” she said.

As of Sept. 23, the state Department of Health reported 69 positive wastewater samples of concern, 62 of which were genetically linked to the individual case of paralytic polio in Rockland County. That includes 37 samples collected in Rockland County, 16 collected in Orange County, eight collected in Sullivan County and one collected in Nassau County. New York City health officials in August, meanwhile, reported finding poliovirus in sewage samples.

The samples, some of which were collected as far back as this spring, suggest polio may have been spreading undetected for several months in New York, the CDC noted in an August report. And while only one case has been confirmed, health officials warn that there could be hundreds more as only about one in 200 people will become paralyzed.

Sarah Ravenhall, executive director of the New York State Association of County Health Officials, said the limited polio surveillance is due, in part, to a lack of testing capacity for wastewater samples. Currently, counties using their wastewater systems to monitor for polio send samples to the state, which in turn sends them to the CDC for sequencing. County health officials are working with the state on a plan to expand surveillance to other counties.

“We would love to see expansion of that testing, availability of testing in New York state so that we don’t have to send it down to the CDC,” Ravenhall said. “This wastewater detection is really important in our ability to know where the disease is.”

State health officials said limited capacity at the federal level for the testing has led to New York’s targeted approach to wastewater monitoring for polio.

The county health officials association had also pressed Bassett to declare polio an “imminent threat to public health” — as it has for Covid and monkeypox.

Bassett officially named polio an imminent public health threat on Wednesday, triggering increased reimbursement for local health departments’ response efforts. That declaration covers poliovirus response activities undertaken from July 21 through Dec. 31.

The statewide emergency disaster declaration for polio, which Hochul issued on Sept. 9, also offers some support to local health officials, such as allowing certified emergency medical technicians, midwives and pharmacists to administer polio vaccines.

Ravenhall, however, argued that more must be done to ensure local health officials don’t have to rely on emergency declarations or other actions for funding to adequately respond to outbreaks.

“That imminent threat to public health, while it’s incredibly helpful and desperately needed, it is still only 50 percent of the costs related to those activities,” she said.

“In addition, we’ve received a lot of federal funding, but we call that a ‘boom -and-bust’ cycle of funding: that grant may end in three or five years. So what happens to the staff we’re hiring? And how do we retain them? On top of that, there’s restrictions on how to use the funding. We’re looking for disease agnostic funding.”

Erin Banco and Megan Messerly contributed to this report.

Source link

read more

New York’s private schools are gaming vaccine exemptions in ‘obvious’ fraud

The shift, uncovered by a POLITICO analysis of state data, mirrors a similar outcome in California and highlights potential gaps in oversight and enforcement that medical experts warn could allow dangerous diseases to flourish. The revelation also comes as New York — the frequent epicenter of contagious outbreaks, from measles to West Nile — deals with a resurgence of polio, the continued spread of Covid-19 and at least one childhood case of monkeypox this year.

Leading the way in exemptions are religious and private schools, which have come under fresh scrutiny after a sweeping New York Times investigation into the quality of education provided at some Jewish religious schools.

“It’s pretty obvious that there is a fraud taking place — one that endangers the lives of people,” said Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, a sponsor of the 2019 bill that removed nonmedical exemptions in response to a measles outbreak among a religious community.

“Clearly, things didn’t change for large numbers of children medically in that short period of time,” he said in an interview. “And unless some of these schools have a super high concentration of children who are cancer patients, for example, there is no plausible explanation as to why the rates are so high unless somebody is lying.”

A dubious rise

Each year, schools are required to report immunization data through a state survey — including the number of medical exemptions issued and how many students have received their required vaccines. While the state requires a battery of inoculations, its survey does not track reasons for exemptions or whether the exemptions apply to one, some or all required vaccinations. The survey records rates of immunization for polio, measles, mumps, chickenpox and other diseases, while also tracking the percent of students fully immunized at each school.

During the 2019-20 school year, campuses statewide reported 2,097 students with medical exemptions, accounting for 0.13 percent of students, though even schools with the highest medical exemption rates reached only 0.2 percent.

But in the 2020-21 school year — one year after religious carve-outs were eliminated and the latest year for which data is available — the number of medical exemptions ticked up to 2,650. The rate statewide remained at 0.1 percent, but the number of schools reporting higher-than-average exemption rates rose sharply.

That year, more than 1,000 schools reported medical exemptions exceeding the previous 0.2 percent high, and over 200 schools rose to 1 percent or more. Twenty-one schools reported exemption rates above 5 percent in 2020-21 — five of them exceeded 10 percent, and five more were above 20 percent. One school reported a medical exemption rate of more than 36 percent.

“It’s really, really unlikely that those are true medical exemptions,” said Jana Shaw, a professor of pediatrics at SUNY Upstate Medical University, after reviewing a portion of the state survey data provided by POLITICO.

While prior school years had seen schools rise above 0.2 percent, no school had hit 1 percent medical exemptions since the 2015-16 school year, when a single institution did, according to state data.

In California, where nonmedical exemptions were eliminated in 2015, a similar trend arose statewide. By 2019, the rate of medical exemptions had risen from 0.2 to 0.9 percent for all students, prompting lawmakers to pass additional legislation requiring the state to audit schools with an immunization rate below 95 percent and doctors who signed off on more than five medical exemptions in a year.

The Medical Board of California would later take action against some physicians — in one case suspending a San Diego doctor’s ability to issue exemptions after she reportedly filed around 1,000 exemptions in the years after non-medical exemptions were removed in what the state called “gross negligence.”

Since the start of 2021, health officials in California said they’ve reviewed more than half of the nearly 10,000 medical exemptions issued in the state. Of those, more than 1,000 were revoked, though 31 were later restored after appeals. Nearly 50 appeals remained pending.

Hotbeds for disease

The New York State Department of Health would not explain why some private schools saw such drastic leaps in exemptions, noting instead that the overall rate across the state remained low.

Both school years were also disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, potentially creating additional hurdles in vaccination enforcement as students shifted out of the classroom and health officials addressed widespread outbreaks of the virus.

But experts warn small pockets of vulnerable students can still drive local spread — especially when unvaccinated people tend to be “geographically clustered.”

“It’s the groups of unvaccinated people that will start and propagate outbreaks,” Shaw said. “That’s ideal, fertile soil for starting an outbreak, which will then spread like wildfire.”

True medical exemptions — such as those granted for a severe allergy to a vaccine component or an unstable seizure disorder — are exceedingly rare, Shaw said. Severe allergies, for example, affect roughly one or two in every million people, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

And at schools with high exemption rates, where children interact closely in classrooms and other indoor spaces, diseases like measles, whooping cough and polio can spread more easily. Measles, for example, requires a vaccination rate upwards of 95 percent in order to prevent local spread, Shaw said.

At schools that saw 5 percent or higher medical exemption rates, vaccination coverage for polio varied from completely immunized to as low as 40 percent in one case — though such rates were not necessarily linked to exemptions.

While one childhood case of monkeypox was detected in New York, medical experts state the risks of it spreading in K-12 classroom settings remain low.

Measles outbreak prompted legislative change

Lawmakers in Albany eliminated non-medical exemptions in 2019, after New York became the epicenter of the nation’s measles outbreak. That year, nearly 1,300 cases were confirmed across the country, the most reported in the U.S. since 1992, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Roughly 650 cases were reported in New York City and more than 300 in Rockland County, mainly among unvaccinated Haredi Jewish people.

That change was effective in increasing the number of schools with high vaccination rates — with the number of schools with 95 percent or more completely immunized increasing by just over 340 between the 2018-19 and 2020-21 school years.

Under New York State law, all children attending day care and pre-K through 12th grade at public, private and religious schools must receive a series of vaccines on a recommended schedule, unless they submit a valid medical exemption. Those include vaccinations for measles, mumps, rubella, polio, chickenpox and more. Vaccination against Covid-19 is not currently required. Schools must prohibit any students who are not up to date on their vaccinations from attending class.

Physicians are instructed by the medical exemption form to refer to guidance issued by vaccine manufacturers and the CDC for valid exemption conditions.

But the pressure on physicians to fudge a vaccination form can be intense, said Jennifer Lighter, a pediatric epidemiologist at NYU Langone. It can take time and effort to educate parents who question public health systems and science, and those set against vaccination for their child can be stubborn and persuasive, she said.

Once the form is signed, the child and school community can be put at risk, Lighter added.

“The schools are almost helpless at that point,” she said. “So the onus really goes back to the clinical providers to really try to adhere to the guidance from the CDC and only make medical exemptions when it’s truly indicated.”

Increasing vaccine hesitancy

State Sen. Brad Hoylman, who sponsored the 2019 legislation, said the “anti-vax mentality” has only grown since the law changed.

“There’s still a demand for parents to seek exemptions for their children from vaccines due to the misinformation that’s been perpetrated on social media and elsewhere,” Hoylman said. “The major concern is that parents who make this decision are not just endangering the lives of their own children, but the lives of others, including classmates and teachers and staff — some of whom may not be protected by vaccines because of a legitimate medical condition.”

Hoylman said high rates of unvaccinated children at individual schools could act as a “tinder keg,” leading to a wider community outbreak.

He added the high exemption rates warrant “an inquiry.”

In an interview, Dinowitz called for a “crackdown” on potentially false exemptions.

“One school here says 37 percent of the kids in that school have medical exemptions. That’s not even plausible. How is that possible?” Dinowitz said. “I don’t know how large that school is … but the point is that when the numbers are that huge, something is not right.”

In New York, schools handle the approval and denial of exemptions, for which families must submit forms signed by a licensed physician. Schools are required to report the number of medical exemptions issued to the state through its annual immunization survey.

A spokesperson for the state’s health department said physicians who participate in fraud related to a child’s immunization record will be referred to the Board for Professional Medical Conduct for possible disciplinary action.

“Every parent, physician, and school administrator plays a role in ensuring that school-aged children — and school communities — are protected against dangerous diseases through safe and effective immunization,” said the spokesperson, Samantha Fuld.

Fuld did not share specifics on how or when the state would investigate a physician or school by publication time.

Patrick Gallahue, a spokesperson for the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said the city agency educates schools on immunization requirements, focusing on those with lower immunization rates.

“DOHMH audits a subset of schools annually to ensure compliance,” he said. “Data from the NYS self-reported survey helps to inform sites selected for audit.”

Legislators respond

In Rockland County, where a paralytic case of polio surfaced this year for the first time in the U.S. in nearly a decade, officials are working to ensure compliance.

Rockland County Executive Ed Day, one of the most vocal proponents for eliminating the religious exemption, said the county has volunteered to work with the state health department to inspect school records and compliance, beginning as early as November.

“Frankly, if a doctor’s going to do something like that [fudge a medical exemption], he’s risking the lives of children and I’m not going to stand for that. If there’s any winks and nods going on because a parent comes in with a note and there’s no follow-up by the school, that’s not good enough, and we will find the school.”

Schools could face state fines of up to $2,000 per violation, per day if they fail to enforce state requirements, according to Day.

In Albany, Dinowitz said few legislators are focusing on vaccine compliance, but he hopes to bring attention to the issue during the next legislative session.

Last year, Dinowitz introduced a bill that would provide city and state officials with the number of vaccine exemptions reported by individual health care providers, arming the state with additional tools to identify physicians who may be issuing false exemptions.

“I’m sure it’s a very tiny number, but the number is not zero,” he said. “And it doesn’t take a whole lot of people engaging in this conduct to cause significant harm.”

Asked how New York could better address the issue, Lighter suggested such data be made public.

“It’s important for parents to know if a certain pediatric office or clinician has a poor adherence rate to staying on top of the vaccination status of their patients,” she said. “Do they really want to take their children into the waiting room where there may be a child with measles or chickenpox?”

Shannon Young contributed to this report.

Source link

read more

The region where Democrats aren’t going all in on the fall of Roe

But both parties acknowledge that those personal views don’t automatically translate to wider support for government bans on abortion, either, making it a difficult issue for GOP candidates to lean their campaigns on.

In South Texas, state Democratic Party chair Gilberto Hinojosa said abortion simply is not the wedge issue others predicted it would be, playing a secondary role behind education, inflation and other classic “kitchen table” issues. While statewide Democratic candidates even in conservative-leaning Texas are advertising on abortion, and Hinojosa says the issue is “clearly on the ballot” in November, it’s not playing as well closer to the border. A pair of outside groups — House Majority PAC and the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus — have run ads mentioning abortion in only the most Democratic-leaning South Texas district.

Democrats have long held power in the region, but their influence has been slipping since the 2016 presidential election: In 2020, Democratic support dropped in all three districts by about 7 percentage points, with President Joe Biden capturing nearly 51 percent support there. Then, the 15th District flipped for Trump during last year’s redistricting.

The GOP already nabbed one South Texas seat in Congress, after Rep. Mayra Flores won a special election in June, and Republicans are looking to add Cassy Garcia and Monica De La Cruz to their ranks, too. De La Cruz is running for the 15th district’s open seat, while Garcia faces Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar in November and Flores is in a member-versus-member contest against Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez.

Abortion isn’t absent from the Democratic campaigns: Though the issue ranks low on the priority list for Latinos, the party does have some hope that general disquiet over hardline abortion messaging from the GOP could turn off voters in the region, said Hidalgo County Democrats chair Richard Gonzales.

“We’ve never been an extreme community,” Gonzales said of the county, which is encompassed by two of the battleground districts. “We’ve always cared about hard work, opportunity, inclusiveness, equality — and now, all of a sudden, we’re having congressional candidates running on a Donald Trump agenda, and that is not who we’ll ever be.”

Republicans aren’t publicly fazed.

“I’m not concerned with the Dobbs decision affecting Republican candidates in South Texas at all,” said Abraham Enriquez, founder of Bienvenido US, an organization dedicated to engaging conservative Latinos. “I think, if anything, the Dobbs decision has given an opportunity for voters in South Texas to be more educated and have a more sophisticated understanding on what it is to be pro-life.”

Two of the three South Texas matchups feature Republican women running against Democratic male incumbents, Enriquez said, which also gives the GOP candidates “some wiggle room” and “credibility” to be outspoken in their anti-abortion beliefs.

In one of those battleground races, Cuellar won his Democratic primary despite getting attacked from the left on abortion.

Hinojosa pointed to Cuellar’s primary win over attorney Jessica Cisneros, who twice campaigned against him specifically on his anti-abortion beliefs and previous Congressional votes on the issue. In a May runoff, Cuellar eked out renomination over Cisneros by less than 300 votes. His extensive experience in Congress won voters over in the end, Hinojosa said.

“This issue of abortion, just one small issue that he’s dealt with, but if you look at all the stuff in terms of bringing home the things that are important to voters, he’s always been there for South Texas voters and that’s why he’s been so successful,” Hinojosa said.

In the race against De La Cruz in another district, Democrat Michelle Vallejo said she has been a “loud advocate” for reproductive access throughout the campaign, as her opponent has remained quiet. Her message also includes abortion on a wider healthcare infrastructure platform.

But while there’s a big policy gap between the anti-abortion De La Cruz and the pro-abortion rights Vallejo, neither is running broadcast advertisements on the issue. Pro-De La Cruz spots have focused on issues like inflation and immigration, while Vallejo’s current ads highlight her working-class background and claim her opponent would endanger Medicare.

“No election is won on just one issue, and this is something that’s become very apparent to me as I’ve connected with more and more people throughout our district,” Vallejo said of Texas’ 15th District which runs from McAllen to outside of San Antonio. In addition to speaking with voters about the economy, she continued, “the issue of women not having the care they need is something felt across the board with absolutely everyone, and it’s an issue that we have not shied away from.”

Source link

read more

Venezuela releases 7 jailed Americans; U.S. frees 2 prisoners

It amounts to a rare gesture of goodwill by Maduro as the socialist leader looks to rebuild relations with the U.S. after vanquishing most of his domestic opponents. The deal follows months of back channel diplomacy by Washington’s top hostage negotiator and other U.S. officials — secretive talks with a major oil producer that took on greater urgency after sanctions on Russia put pressure on global energy prices.

Those freed include five employees of Houston-based Citgo — Tomeu Vadell, Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Zambrano, Jorge Toledo and Jose Pereira — who were lured to Venezuela right before Thanksgiving in 2017 to attend a meeting at the headquarters of the company’s parent, state-run-oil giant PDVSA. Once there, they were hauled away by masked security agents who busted into a Caracas conference room.

Also released was Matthew Heath, a former U.S. Marine corporal from Tennessee who was arrested in 2020 at a roadblock in Venezuela on what the State Department has called “specious” weapons charges, and Florida man, Osman Khan, who was arrested in January.

The United States freed Franqui Flores and his cousin Efrain Campo nephews of “First Combatant” Cilia Flores, as Maduro has called his wife. The men were arrested in Haiti in a Drug Enforcement Administration sting in 2015 and immediately taken to New York to face trial. They were convicted the following year in a highly charged case that cast a hard look at U.S. accusations of drug trafficking at the highest levels of Maduro’s administration.

Both men were granted clemency by President Joe Biden before the release.

The Biden administration has been under pressure to do more to bring home the roughly 60 Americans it believes are held hostage abroad or wrongfully detained by hostile foreign governments. While much of the focus is on Russia, where the U.S. has so far tried unsuccessfully to secure the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner and another American, Paul Whelan, Venezuela has been holding the largest contingent of Americans suspected of being used as bargaining chips.

At least four other Americans remain detained in Venezuela, including two former Green Berets involved in a slapdash attempt to oust Maduro in 2019, and two other men who, like Khan, were detained for allegedly entering the country illegally from neighboring Colombia.

The Biden administration did not release another prisoner long sought by Maduro: Alex Saab, an insider businessman who Venezuela considers a diplomat and U.S. prosecutors a corrupt regime enabler. Saab fought extradition from Cape Verde, where he was arrested last year during a stopover en route to Iran, and is now awaiting trial in Miami federal court on charges of siphoning off millions in state contracts.

The oil executives were convicted of embezzlement last year in a trial marred by delays and irregularities. They were sentenced to between eight years and 13 years in prison for a never-executed proposal to refinance billions in the oil company’s bonds. Maduro at the time accused them of “treason,” and Venezuela’s supreme court upheld their long sentences earlier this year. The men have all pleaded not guilty and the State Department has regarded them — and the two other Americans freed on Saturday — as wrongfully detained.

Source link

read more

Biden to make a big fundraising swing through the Tri-State area

President Joe Biden is continuing his prodigious fundraising swing next week, with a new stop scheduled in New Jersey.

Biden is set to appear at the home of Gov. Phil Murphy on Thursday, according to an invitation obtained by POLITICO. The Red Bank stop was described by a person familiar with it as a “million dollar fundraiser” for the Democratic National Committee’s grassroots victory fund.

It will be, at least, the second major fundraiser for Biden that day. The president is also scheduled to appear at a New York City fundraiser at the home of James and Kathryn Murdoch. That event will help raise cash for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and will feature Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer as well as DSCC Chair Gary Peters (D-Mich.).

Source link

read more

NYC police investigate after Russian consulate vandalized

New York City police are investigating a possible bias incident after red paint was sprayed on the Russian Consulate.

Police received a 911 call around 1:30 a.m. Friday at the Upper East Side building and found that the facade of the consulate had been vandalized with red paint, according to police. There were no obvious words or symbols painted on the building.

As of Saturday, no arrests have been made, and the investigation remains ongoing, an NYPD spokesperson said.

Source link

read more

Florida begins long recovery as death toll from Hurricane Ian rises

The storm caused widespread destruction in several counties. Hurricane Ian unleashed massive flooding and winds up to 150 mph, leveling some city blocks in hard-hit Fort Myers. A 14-mile stretch of Interstate 75 remained closed on Saturday in Sarasota County because of flooding from a nearby river.

More than 1.3 million homes and businesses remained without power on Saturday, though the number has gone down significantly from the 2.6 million who were without power during the height of the storm.

“We have a long way to go,” Eric Silagy, chair and CEO for Florida Power & Light, said on Saturday. Florida Power & Light is the biggest utility in the state.

Hurricane Ian made landfall in South Carolina on Friday near Georgetown, a city about 60 miles north of Charleston. Ian eventually weakened to a post-tropical cyclone as it moved north.

At least five hospitals along Florida’s Gulf Coast were evacuating patients in the aftermath of the storm, some of which were in locally-enforced evacuation areas. While many of the 200-plus hospitals in the state are battle-tested for hurricanes, Florida Hospital Association President and CEO Mary Mayhew stressed the difficulty of removing sick patients from facilities.

“It is incredibly disruptive to evacuate patients,” Mayhew said.

Arek Sarkissian contributed to this report.

Source link

read more

Russia abducts head of Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, operator says – POLITICO

Russian forces have abducted the head of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Ukrainian operator Energoatom said on Saturday.

Ihor Murashov, director general of the power plant, was arrested by Russian patrols on his way from the facility to a nearby town on Friday afternoon, according to Energoatom, a state enterprise operating all four nuclear power plants in the country.

“The vehicle of the Director General of the [Zaporizhzhia plant] was stopped, he was taken out of the car, and with his eyes blindfolded he was driven in an unknown direction. For the time being there is no information on his fate,” Energoatom’s head, Petro Kotin, said in a statement.

Murashov’s detention “jeopardizes the safety of operation of Ukraine and Europe’s largest nuclear power plant,” Kotin said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has asked for clarification, Reuters reported.

Kotin believes that Russia is planning to transfer the Zaporizhzhia power plant to Rosatom, the Guardian reported. “They are trying to make our personnel just to sign the accurate deals for the work at Rosatom,” the news outlet quoted him as saying.

The power plant was in the spotlight earlier this month when it was taken off the electricity grid in response to Russian shelling. It is located in one of the areas that Russian President Vladimir Putin has moved to annex.

Source link

read more
1 2 3 4 5 273
Page 3 of 273