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More than 10,000 VA patients have died from coronavirus

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More than 10,000 VA patients have died from coronavirus

More than 10,000 Veterans Affairs patients have died from complications related to coronavirus in less than 11 months, another grim milestone in the ongoing global pandemic.

As of Wednesday morning, VA officials had reported 10,059 deaths among veterans and other patients being tracked by department medical officials.

The department’s first death was reported on March 18, 2020. Since then, VA has averaged about 30 deaths a day connected to the virus. However, more than 60 percent of the deaths — 6,059 — have come since Nov. 1.

In addition to the patient deaths, at least 128 VA employees have also died from virus-related issues. About half of those have come since Nov. 1. VA cemeteries have hosted about 6,000 burials related to coronavirus deaths since last spring.

In a statement, VA officials said the recent spike in coronavirus cases and deaths is connected to the nationwide surge in cases which began last fall. At least 485,000 Americans have died from problems related to the virus, and more than 27.5 million Americans have contracted the illness.

“The United States, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, has experienced three surges in COVID-19 cases over the past year,” said Alan Greilsamer, spokesman for the Veterans Health Administration. “The overall rate of deaths in veterans in VA care for COVID-19 has declined since the beginning of the pandemic.”

VA has seen a sharp decrease in active coronavirus cases among patients over the last month.

In mid-January, department officials reported nearly 21,000 active cases spread out over more than 140 medical centers around the country. On Wednesday, that number was down to 6,411, the lowest figure since early November.

The number of patients hospitalized with severe virus symptoms has dropped by more than half in the last month, with fewer than 800 as of Tuesday.

Department officials have already administered about 1.8 million vaccine doses in the last two months, and expect that number to grow to more than 14 million (7 million individuals receiving the two-dose regimen) in coming months.

Last week, officials announced they were being given an extra 200,000 doses by the Department of Health and Human Services to meet VA needs. The department typically gets about 125,000 doses each week, to be distributed to sites across the country.

President Joe Biden has said he is optimistic that federal and state officials will have enough vaccine doses available for every American adult by the end of July.

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Hawaii considering a rescue fine if hikers don’t follow signs

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Hawaii considering a rescue fine if hikers don't follow signs

Hikers who don’t follow trail signs in Hawaii could face more than just danger to their lives — they could also be required to pay for their own rescue. 

Hawaiian lawmakers are considering a bill that could require hikers to reimburse local rescue teams if they had to be saved because they left marked trails, entered clearly-marked private property or ignored signs saying a trail is closed, according to recent reports. 

SB 363 would also give those hikers additional, criminal fines for petty misdemeanor charges.

State lawmakers are also considering another bill, SB 700, which has been revised to allow local rescue teams to choose whether they have hikers reimburse them for any fees associated with their rescue. 

According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, similar bills have previously been introduced in Hawaii’s House and Senate before.

This time, the bills are being considered as a way to help Hawaii’s budget, which is “straining” because of the coronavirus pandemic, the newspaper reported.

“It’s an issue that has been brought up in the past in a number of ways, especially in times when budgets are thin and resources are limited,” state Sen. Chris Lee told the Star-Advertiser. “It’s a discussion that everybody is interested in having this year.”

According to the newspaper, the state’s Fire Department opposes the bills. 

“The Honolulu Fire Department does not want to deter anyone from calling 911, thinking there is going to be a cost associated with them getting help,” HFD spokesperson Carl Otsuka told the Star-Advertiser.

Meanwhile, the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) Chairwoman Suzanne Case, previously supported an earlier version of SB 700 that required hikers to pay back their rescue costs in written testimony, according to the Star-Advertiser.

“The Department is in support of any strategy that will incentivize the general public to stay within authorized managed areas and already has statutory penalties for violation of laws and rules adopted specifically for going into closed areas,” Case wrote. “While these penalties are in place, absent enforcement and citations, they are clearly not a deterrent.”

The Star-Advertiser reported that Case also noted in her testimony that the DLNR would defer to counties — who are responsible for search and rescue operations — on whether they required hikers to pay for their rescue or not.

According to the Star-Advertiser, hikers frequently get into trouble on the islands and rescuing them can be a dangerous and expensive task.

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Museums are safest indoor activity, study finds

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Museums are safest indoor activity, study finds

For people fatigued with quarantine amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study from Germany recommends what to do after getting out of the house.

Don’t go out to eat or get a haircut, don’t go shopping for food or go to the gym —  go to a museum.

According to the Berlin Institute of Technology (TU Berlin) in Germany, the risk of COVID-19 infection via aerosol particles is far lower in museums than in supermarkets, restaurants, offices and on public transportation.

Variables considered were the quality of the airflow, the type of activity carried out in the space, and the dose of aerosol particles inhaled by people in a room.

“What is clear from the study is that it is above all the situations in which we like to be that are unfavorable,” said Martin Kriegel, who helped lead the study. “Situations in which many people come together in a confined space: there you can not ventilate sufficiently, it will always be an unfavorable situation.”

Outdoor activities all increased last year in the face of canceled indoor events and cautions about the dangers of catching the virus while around other people inside.

The study said food shopping, dining indoors or exercising in a gym are at least twice as risky as visiting a museum to view art.

Museums, however, haven’t been considered essential to the populace.

Celeste DeWald, the executive director of the California Association of Museums, told the New York Times earlier this month: “It’s frustrating to see crowded shopping malls and retail spaces and airports, yet museums are completely closed and many have not been able to reopen at all for the last 10 months. […] There is a unique impact on museums.”

Critics think museum closure is a political matter.

In a column for the Los Angeles Times, art critic Carolina A. Miranda called California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s policies “absurd.” Museums in the Golden State remain closed to visitors.

“The wildly uneven criteria speak more to the powerful, well-funded lobbies helping shape public health policy than to anything resembling science or even common sense,” Miranda wrote. “At a moment in which it is possible to get a tattoo or paw the goods at Chanel in Beverly Hills, it should be possible to visit a museum. Period.”

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New version of first-ever African-American screen kiss discovered in Norway

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New version of first-ever African-American screen kiss discovered in Norway

A new version of the first known on-screen kiss between two African-American actors has been discovered in the collections of the National Library of Norway.

The 1898 film, directed by US film industry pioneer William Selig, stars vaudeville actors Saint Suttle and Gertie Brown and shows them courting and kissing in front of a cloth backdrop.

The only previously known copy of ‘Something Good – Negro Kiss’ was acquired from a collector in Louisiana in 2017 and added to the US Library of Congress’ National Film Registry in 2018 for its cultural value.

It depicts a tender scene between two African-American actors at a time when caricatures of Black life were more common.

The version identified by Norway’s National Library differs in that it is longer and the actors are filmed from a greater distance.

“It is more complex, there is more of a prelude before the kisses, with wooing, refusal and negotiation,” said Eirik Frisvold Hanssen, head of the National Library of Norway’s film section.

It was taken to Norway by a young Norwegian man, who likely bought a copy at the time in the United States and brought it back home, the National Library said. It is among the oldest films in the library’s collections.

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