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Colombia hotels turn into camming studios to stay afloat amid COVID

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Colombia hotels turn into camming studios to stay afloat amid COVID

Between July and November 2020, the 40-room Hotel Poblado Boutique Medellin in Colombia underwent a $200,000 transformation — with a team replacing all the floors, redecorating rooms and repainting the walls.

That sum also included a big investment in technology, such as professional-grade web cameras — because, due to decreased tourism amid the coronavirus pandemic, this hotel has become home to a camming studio for adult entertainers to broadcast live to their followers.

This new use has helped keep the hotel afloat financially, and The Post has learned it’s one of three hotels in the city of Medellin, also including the 23-room In House and the 63-room Hotel Poblado Natura, to take this unusual step for survival.

“The hotels were closed during five, six months [and] the owners of those hotels didn’t see any good predictions,” said Jose Dominguez, a co-owner of Colombia’s JuanBustos Studios, which owns studios all over the country and has around 4,000 female, male and transgender camming models under its belt.

Dominguez added that the hotels’ owners said, “ ‘We have all these rooms available, your industry is growing a  lot … why don’t you provide those rooms to your models?’ ”

Now, from these hotels, the models broadcast on the California-based web platform Cams.com — connecting them to users around the world and helping the money flow in.

Colombia is home to around 60,000 cam models, which makes up roughly 30% of JuanBustos Studios’ worldwide share, according to Dominguez — and they rake in some $70 million in monthly revenue. The model count is significantly higher than the 2019 tally of some 40,000 models in Colombia. The reason for this surge in workers: the pandemic — and business has reportedly been booming for cam performers since the early days of COVID-19.

“They just lost their jobs, so they were looking for growing opportunities,” said Dominguez of these workers, including engineers, who now cam. “We need smart models to be able to do a good job and have good conversations with the users,” he said, adding that not everyone on the other side of the screen signs on for sexual reasons. “They’re looking for a friend.”

Consequently, Dominguez added, “We need more places to accommodate these models who are trying to join us.”

The contracts that JuanBustos has with these hotels last from five to 10 years — and allow for the models to use every hotel room. For each property, JuanBustos creates a company that operates the working studio, of which the hotel owns 20%. The camming company pays a below-market-rate rent — no greater than $200 per room per month — to the hotel owner. In the end, the hotel owner collects that 20% share of net income after expenses, plus the monthly rent.

As for the models, the rooms allow for single occupancy and distancing. Colombia, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says has a “very high level” of COVID-19, has seen more than 2.1 million cases and more than 56,000 deaths. But Dominguez said all precautions are being taken. Models can’t share common spaces inside the hotels, and a team cleans each room after a model’s shift ends. There’s control over how many models can enter the properties at any given time — and they’re regularly tested for COVID, as well as for sexually transmitted diseases.

“Models don’t need to be direct with each other,” he said. “It’s not a team job.”

The hotels also have other security measures for the models. JuanBustos declined to comment on the full scope of protection but said there are security cameras, staff on location and doors that require fingerprint scans to open.

Working out of hotels also ensures the models can have more privacy than they would at home. Over the summer, Medellin saw the test launch of a similar concept with the webcam company CamSoda converting one of the city’s many empty warehouses into a camming hub with individual sanitized pods.

Vaccines are not yet available in Colombia — although on Tuesday, Moderna said that it will supply the nation with 10 million doses, with deliveries expected to begin mid-year. And even when the pandemic becomes a memory there, Dominguez anticipates he can still maintain the rooms at full occupancy with working models. 

For the time being, he’s scouting more locations in South America. Dominguez said he has a small share in Argentina that he’s aiming to grow — and is looking for opportunities in Brazil. He thinks his alternative use for the struggling hotel properties can set an example.

“I’m sure it’s going to be followed by others,” he said.

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Vaccine passports not for the jetset, says WHO

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Vaccine passports not for the jetset, says WHO

No need to pull your suitcase and neck pillow from storage just yet.

In light of hype and rumor surrounding the so-called “vaccine passport,” the World Health Organization has issued a statement warning transportation officials that such clearances would not guarantee travelers are immune from spreading COVID-19 in one way or another.

Proof of immunization would be a moot requirement, as there are still more “critical unknowns regarding the efficacy of vaccination in reducing transmission,” WHO asserted.

“WHO also recommends that people who are vaccinated should not be exempt from complying with other travel risk-reduction measures,” they wrote in a Feb. 5 statement about the proposed digital passports that show a person has been vaccinated.

They also discouraged the possibility that cautious international travelers might put a squeeze on already scarce coronavirus vaccine doses, putting disadvantaged groups at a continued risk of exposure — and extend their period of lockdown isolation.

“Individuals who do not have access to an authorized COVID-19 vaccine would be unfairly impeded in their freedom of movement if proof of vaccination status became a condition for entry to or exit from a country,” WHO wrote. “National authorities should choose public health interventions that least infringe on individual freedom of movement.”

The US, UK and other European leaders have publicly mulled safe travel programs and strategies that would pave the way for a travel industry rehab, allowing greater mobility between countries in the wake of a pandemic which has seen over 2.5 million lives lost globally since last winter. In addition to international travel, the license might potentially allow for access to bars and restaurants.

Public health experts outside of WHO’s ranks have also criticized the proposition.

“I can see that they might be useful in the longer term, but I have several concerns about them being considered at this point in time when I think the scientific evidence doesn’t support them. And there are lots of ethical concerns about them that I think are legitimate,” said Dr. Deepti Gurdasani, clinical epidemiologist at Queen Mary University of London, according to a CNBC report on Thursday.

“We know very little about the effectiveness of vaccines in preventing infection or even asymptomatic disease against several variants circulating in different countries,” Dr. Gurdasani added.

The statements come at a time when scientists are learning more than ever about the enigmatic disease, including a study reported on Wednesday which revealed that the coronavirus can survive on fabric, including cotton and polyester blends, for up to three days — removed only with scorching hot water and detergent.

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Arizona woman returns 1950s Purple Heart to man’s family after finding it at thrift store

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Arizona woman returns 1950s Purple Heart to man’s family after finding it at thrift store

A family has been reunited with their father’s Purple Heart more than three decades after he died, thanks to a bit of sleuthing.

Teresa Ferrin discovered the Purple Heart — along with several other military awards — at a thrift shop in Phoenix, Arizona, where she volunteers once a week. 

Ferrin explained to Fox News that her job involves pricing the donated items before displaying them on the shop’s floor. But about two weeks ago, someone dropped off the military awards, making sure to point out the Purple Heart among the collection. 

She inspected the medal and found a name on the back. That’s when she decided to track down the owner. 

“I just felt it needed to go to the family, and I was going to try to find the family,” Ferrin told Fox News.

At first, Ferrin she had trouble reading the name, but she eventually deciphered it: Erik Karl Blauberg. Blauberg was a veteran of the Korean War, where he received the Purple Heart, a medal presented to service members who have been wounded or killed in the line of duty. 

After doing some research online and making a few phone calls, Ferrin learned that Blauberg had been living in Apache Junction, Arizona, when he died in 1988 at the age of 58. 

Ferrin was later able to get in touch with a few of Blauberg’s eight children, including Lisa Walker, who lives in Florida.

Walker told Ferrin that Blauberg had left her family when she was young, leaving her mother to care for all eight children on her own. 

“They were estranged from him,” Ferrin explained to Fox News. “They knew who he was, they talked to him occasionally, but they didn’t really know him very well.” 

By the time Blauberg died, he didn’t leave anything to his children. So when Ferrin sent the military awards — and the Purple Heart — to the family, Walker described the gesture as “bittersweet.”

“This is one of the only things that we have [of his],” Walker told Fox News. “I’m very grateful to Teresa.

Walker said she and her siblings were also surprised to find out about their father’s military awards.

“We didn’t even know he had a Purple Heart,” Walker said. “I knew — and my brothers knew — that he had medals, but we didn’t know he had a Purple Heart, so that was very shocking.”

Ultimately, Walker said she’s thankful Ferrin was able to track her and her family down. “I can’t believe someone went above and beyond like Teresa did, and didn’t give up to find us,” Walker said.

As far as Ferrin was concerned, she said she couldn’t have done anything else, especially because her own father had also served in the military during the Korean War.

“I thought, if it was my father’s, I’d certainly want someone to return it to me,” Ferrin said. “I just felt the family needed to have that.”

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Italy’s Lombardy again in virus crisis as Brescia sees surge

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Italy’s Lombardy again in virus crisis as Brescia sees surge

ROME — Italy’s northern Lombardy region, where Europe’s coronavirus outbreak erupted last year, asked the national government Thursday for more vaccines to help stem a surge of new COVID-19 cases that are taxing the health system in the province of Brescia.

The province’s fast-growing caseload is contributing to another upswing in reported cases nationwide: Italy added another 19,886 confirmed infections Thursday, its highest daily number since early January. Authorities reported another 308 virus-related deaths, bringing the country’s official toll in the pandemic to just under 97,000.

Brescia, with a population of around 1.2 million, has seen its daily cases go from the mid-100s at the start of February to 901 on Wednesday and 973 Thursday, due to clusters of infections traced to the British variant. Doctors say the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the main public hospital went from an average of around 200 to 300 recently.

“We can’t talk about a third wave from our point of view, just because the second one never really ended,” said Dr. Cristiano Perani, head of emergency room at Brescia’s civic hospital. “The increase was gradual, but had an acceleration in the last few weeks.”

Lombardy’s governor, Attilio Fontana, said he told Italy’s health minister Thursday that the region needed an “immediate delivery (of vaccines) in the territory where the virus is growing.”

Already, Lombardy — Italy’s most populous region — has imposed new lockdown measures in Brescia and revamped its vaccine strategy to redirect the jabs it has on hand to the province and nearby towns in neighboring Bergamo. The aim of the strategy is to inoculate as many people as possible as quickly as possible in the hardest-hit areas.

Guido Bertolaso, who is in charge of the vaccine campaign, said the region was going to bypass the 30% reserves that the national government recommends keeping on hand for second doses, and starting Thursday would begin vaccinating residents ages 60-79, well earlier than scheduled. Lombardy only recently began vaccinating people aged over 80, after prioritizing health care workers and residents of nursing homes.

The aim of the strategy, Bertolaso said, is to create a “health cordon” in the area with blanket vaccinations. The approach is based on studies from Britain and Israel — and even on Lombardy’s own data — that show declines in infection rates as more people are vaccinated with only one dose.

“This is war,” Bertolaso said.

Brescia’s deputy mayor, Laura Castelletti, said residents were willing to accept new lockdown measures — which include closing all schools and day-care centers — as long as the vaccination schedule accelerated.

“We are ready to make sacrifices if the vaccination campaign goes forward 24/7,” she said.

Brescia and Bergamo were two of the Italian provinces hardest hit during the first wave of the pandemic, which began this time last year and quickly turned Lombardy into the epicenter of the outbreak in Europe.

Lombardy as a whole still accounts for nearly a third of Italy’s 96,974 confirmed COVID-19 dead, and a fifth of its 2.87 million confirmed infections. Italy has the world’s sixth-highest confirmed death toll, and the second in Europe after Britain.

Italy’s vaccine campaign, which has administered 3.92 million doses, has been slowed by delays in deliveries from the three pharmaceutical companies supplying the European Union: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the health ministry would redirect any vaccines to Lombardy, given previously established quotas which have already delivered the most doses there.

Italy’s virus czar, Domenico Arcuri, didn’t address Fontana’s request in a statement Thursday but boasted that inoculations showed “a comforting increase” this week, averaging around 100,000 a day nationally.

Nearly two months after Italy began its vaccination campaign on Dec. 27, the tiny Republic of San Marino administered its first doses Thursday. San Marino, a city state of about 33,800 people surrounded by Italy, had to buy Russian Sputnik V doses after delays in receiving allotted doses from Italy.

“This constitutes the most effective weapon we have to defeat this disease,” said Dr. Enrico Rossi, who was among the first inoculated. “It has been kind of a nightmare this year but we are hopeful that it will end.”

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