COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
Congress to hold hearing on news media's role in promoting conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and the 2020 election
  • House Democrats are holding a hearing on the media's role in promoting "disinformation and extremism."
  • The hearing, by the Energy and Commerce Committee, will be held remotely on February 24.
  • It will feature testimony from as-yet-unnamed "media experts."
Conspiracy theories are no longer the domain of fringe websites, but have aired on major cable news networks. Now Democrats in Congress say they want to examine the role that the mainstream media has played in promoting false and outlandish claims.

"The prolonged severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and the attack on our Capitol on January 6 have driven home a frightening reality: the spread of disinformation and extremism by traditional news media presents a tangible and destabilizing threat," Reps. Frank Pallone and Mike Doyle said in a joint statement on Thursday.

Palone, a Democrat from New Jersey, chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee while Doyle, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, leads the Communications and Technology subcommittee. On February 24, the two lawmakers will host a remote hearing, featuring unnamed "media experts," examining the issue.

"Some broadcasters' and cable networks' increasing reliance on conspiracy theories and misleading or patently false information raises questions about their devotion to journalistic integrity," the lawmakers said.

Though not stated, it's possible that lawmakers will be discussing Fox News, which until this year has long been the top-rated cable news network. In January, host Steve Hilton promoted a claim that Dr. Anthony Fauci played a direct role in creating the coronavirus. Many of the network's anchors and commentators also promoted false claims about election fraud, assertions that were challenged by some of its more fact-oriented, straight-news personalities.

Grocery workers say they can’t get vaccines, even as they help distribute them
Just 13 states, including Maryland and Virginia, are offering vaccines to grocery workers

Though hailed as “heroes” early in the pandemic, the nation’s 3 million grocery workers lag other essential workers when it comes to vaccine priority. Just 13 states — including Maryland, Virginia, California, New York and Pennsylvania — have begun inoculating such employees as the broader vaccine rollout is hampered by widespread delays, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents 800,000 U.S. grocery employees.

“The threat of this pandemic for essential workers is worse now than ever before,” Marc Perrone, the union’s president, told reporters this month. “Simply put, the failures in early vaccine distribution under the past administration have left millions of Americans and essential workers defenseless.”

At least 170 grocery employees have died and thousands more have tested positive for coronavirus, according to data from labor advocacy groups and media reports. Many workers say they have taken on additional hours and responsibilities to keep up with booming demand. Grocery stores and pharmacies were among the only retailers not swept up by shutdowns early in the pandemic, which workers say has placed additional strain on their jobs. Though many companies, including Kroger and Meijer, offered hazard pay early on, nearly all have stopped.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends including grocery workers in the second stage of the vaccine rollout — Phase 1B — along with firefighters, police officers and other front-line essential workers. But states are free to set their own guidelines. Eleven states, including Florida, Indiana, Ohio and Texas, do not have a clear plan to prioritize grocery workers, according to the workers advocacy group United for Respect.

... Workers say their vaccine challenges are further proof of how they have been shortchanged during the pandemic, especially as their employers are pulling in record profits and winning government contracts to administer vaccines. Kroger, the nation’s largest grocery chain, made $3 billion in profit in the year ending Oct. 31, an 88 percent increase from 2019. In the last quarter alone, profits spiked 140 percent, to $631 million, year over year. Other big retailers, including Walmart, Target and Albertsons, also reported explosive sales gains.

... Even in states where grocery employees qualify for vaccinations, actually getting one can be a challenge.

Hawaiian tourists bribed an airport screener with $3,000 to bypass covid-19 protocols, police say
The two travelers from Louisiana were promptly arrested and flown back to the mainland

Two travelers visiting Hawaii from Louisiana were arrested on Friday and accused of offering a Honolulu airport screener $3,000 to let them pass without quarantining or providing the negative coronavirus tests required for entry, officials say.

Johntrell White, 29, and Nadia Bailey, 28, were charged with bribery and flown back to the mainland. The two allegedly flew to Daniel K. Inouye International Airport without any coronavirus test results and told an airport screener not to alert officials in exchange for money.

White is accused of offering the screener $2,000 to avoid quarantine, and Bailey offered the same screener an additional $1,000, the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office and Department of Public Safety reported in a covid-19 update from the governor’s office.

“The screener alerted deputy sheriffs, who arrested them both for bribery. White and Bailey were booked and released and immediately flew back to the mainland,” the governor’s news update stated. “The attorney general’s investigation is continuing.”

Bribery is punishable in Hawaii by up to 15 years in prison and can be fined up to triple the bribe amount.

Men Posed as Marshals to Avoid Masks at Florida Resort, Authorities Say
Two men were arrested and charged with impersonating a federal officer after they pretended to be U.S. marshals to avoid wearing masks at a South Florida resort, according to a criminal complaint.

Walter Wayne Brown Jr., 53, and Gary Brummett, 81, flashed mask exemption cards and fake U.S. marshal badges to get around mask rules at the hotel, according to the criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. They were arrested last week after a real U.S. marshal was sent to the hotel to validate their claims.

The men were guests at the Wyndham Deerfield Beach Resort, an oceanfront hotel in Broward County, Fla. The resort did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the arrests, which were reported by The South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

During their confrontations with members of the resort’s staff, both men wore “authentic appearing” circular badges with a seven-point star that read “Cherokee Nation Marshal” and “Aniyvwiya Criminal Justice Deputy,” according to the complaint.

Around their necks hung laminated cards that read “FACEMASK EXEMPT NOTICE/CARD.” The cards said that they were “exempt from any ordinance requiring face mask usage in public” and that “wearing a face mask poses a mental and/or physical risk to me.”

“Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), I am not required to disclose my conditions to you,” the cards said. The cards also listed the real A.D.A. violations reporting phone number.

During his stay, Mr. Brummett approached the front desk to ask for a coffee, according to the criminal complaint. When an employee working at the front desk asked him to wear a mask, Mr. Brummett presented the face mask exemption card and said that the hotel would be fined $75,000 if he were forced to wear a mask. Then he pointed to a badge on his belt and threatened to arrest the employee.

“Do you know what this means? I’m a U.S. marshal and can have you arrested if you force me to wear a mask,” Mr. Brummett said, according to the complaint.

On two separate occasions, Mr. Brown showed a similar card and U.S. marshal identification to hotel managers when he was asked to wear a mask in public areas of the resort, the complaint said.

Members of the hotel’s staff “thought it was strange for a federal agent to make an issue about wearing a mask,” the complaint said, so they notified the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, which called a real U.S. marshal to investigate the authenticity of the claims.

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a contagious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The first case was identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. It has since spread worldwide, leading to an ongoing pandemic.

Symptoms of COVID-19 are variable, but often include fever, cough, fatigue, breathing difficulties, and loss of smell and taste. Symptoms begin one to fourteen days after exposure to the virus. Most people (81%) develop mild to moderate symptoms (up to mild pneumonia), while 14% develop severe symptoms (dyspnea, hypoxia, or more than 50% lung involvement on imaging) and 5% of patients suffer critical symptoms (respiratory failure, shock, or multiorgan dysfunction). At least a third of the people who are infected with the virus remain asymptomatic and do not develop noticeable symptoms at any point in time, but can spread the disease. Some patients continue to experience a range of effects—known as long COVID—for months after recovery and damage to organs has been observed. Multi-year studies are underway to further investigate the long term effects of the disease.

Source: Coronavirus disease 2019 - Wikipedia