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US colleges divided over requiring student vaccinations

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US colleges divided over requiring student vaccinations

BOSTON — US colleges hoping for a return to normalcy next fall are weighing how far they should go in urging students to get the COVID-19 vaccine, including whether they should — or legally can — require it.

Universities including Rutgers, Brown, Cornell and Northeastern recently told students they must get vaccinated before returning to campus next fall. They hope to achieve herd immunity on campus, which they say would allow them to loosen spacing restrictions in classrooms and dorms.

But some colleges are leaving the decision to students and others believe they can’t legally require vaccinations. At Virginia Tech, officials determined that they can’t because the US Food and Drug Administration has only allowed the emergency use of the vaccines and hasn’t given them its full approval.

The question looms large as more colleges plan to shift back from remote to in-person instruction. Many schools have launched vaccination blitzes to get students immunized before they leave for the summer. At some schools, the added requirement is meant to encourage holdouts and to build confidence that students and faculty will be safe on campus.

“It takes away any ambiguity about whether individuals should be vaccinated,” said Kenneth Henderson, the chancellor of Northeastern University in Boston. “It also provides a level of confidence for the entire community that we are taking all appropriate measures.”

Northeastern and other colleges requiring shots believe they’re on solid legal ground. It’s not unusual for colleges to require students to be vaccinated for other types of diseases and a California court last year upheld a flu shot requirement at the University of California system.

But legal scholars say the COVID-19 vaccines’ emergency use status moves the issue to a legal gray area that’s likely to be challenged in court and some colleges may take a more cautious approach to avoid litigation.

Harvard Law professor Glenn Cohen, who teaches health law and bioethics, said there’s no legal reason colleges wouldn’t be allowed to require COVID-19 vaccinations. It makes no difference that the shots haven’t been given full approval, he said, noting that many colleges already require students to take coronavirus tests that are approved under the same FDA emergency authorization. But there’s also no federal guidance explicitly permitting vaccination mandates.

The biggest clashes could come in states taking a stance against vaccination requirements, he said.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis this month banned all businesses from requiring customers to show proof of vaccination. The order raises questions about Nova Southeastern University’s plan to require students and staff to get vaccinated. The college’s president said he’s still confident in the plan, but he also promised to “respect the laws of our state and all federal directives.”

The governor of Texas, the country’s second-largest state, issued a similar order.

There’s a parallel debate about whether to require vaccination for faculty and staff, an issue that employers across the nation are grappling with. At the University of Notre Dame, one of the latest schools to require student vaccinations, shots are still optional for workers. Northeastern is considering whether to extend its mandate to employees.

Even at schools making shots mandatory, there are exemptions. Federal law requires colleges to provide accommodations to students who refuse a vaccine for medical reasons and most schools are also offering exemptions for religious reasons.

At Brown, students who forgo shots and have no valid exemption must file a petition to study remotely or take a leave of absence next fall, the school’s president, Christina Paxson, told students in a letter last week.

But enforcing vaccine mandates will bring its own challenges. Cornell and Northeastern say students will be asked to show proof of vaccination, but there is no widely accepted vaccine credential. Cornell told students they can provide the card given out at their vaccination site, but card formats vary and generally seem like they would be easy to forge.

At Northeastern, officials are still deciding whether students will have to provide a medical record proving they were vaccinated or whether they will be allowed to attest to having been immunized — essentially taking their word for it.

“We would expect students to be honest and forthright about any attestation they make to the university,” Henderson said.

Northeastern student Tyler Lee said he thinks requiring vaccinations is the right move because it will help stop the virus’ spread and protect the community around the downtown Boston campus. There has been some pushback from parents, but little from students, he said.

“It’s Northeastern’s decision,” said Lee, a senior who is awaiting his second shot. “If I didn’t like it, I would transfer. And that’s what most students feel.”

Ariana Palomo, an incoming freshman at Brown, said the university’s mandate sends the message that it’s serious about keeping students safe. She was “happy and relieved” when she heard about it, she said.

“I know that I’m going to feel so much safer on campus,” said Palomo, 18. “This is the next step in protecting one another and preventing more lives from being lost.”

Schools expect some pushback and Republican student groups on some campuses have opposed mandates, saying it should be a choice.

Colleges are also grappling with what to expect of international students, who may not have access to vaccines in their home countries or who may get shots that are not used in the United States. Some colleges say they’re planning to develop arrangements to make shots available for international students when they arrive.

Other colleges are using a lighter touch to promote shots, including at Dickinson State University in North Dakota, which is exempting students from a campus mask mandate two weeks after they are fully vaccinated.

Many others are hoping a word of encouragement will be enough. Campus officials at Bowdoin College in Maine said it’s their “hope and expectation” that all students will get shots. Harvard University officials “strongly recommend” that students get vaccinated but have stopped short of a mandate.

Some, including Dartmouth College, are waiting for shots to become more widely available before making a decision. Diana Lawrence, a spokesperson for Dartmouth, said officials “cannot make a determination regarding required vaccination until vaccines are accessible for all students.”

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Florida fisherman chased by 11-foot alligator in scary video

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Florida fisherman chased by 11-foot alligator in scary video

A Florida fisherman became the bait when he was chased by an alligator in the Everglades.

GoPro video captured the near-death experience when Tommy Lee was tarpon fishing on May 8.

The 22-year-old was recording himself fishing at sunrise when an 11-foot bull alligator swam onshore. As Lee backed up, the reptile chased him through the brush, getting too close for comfort.

It “stalked me then chased me,” he told ViralHog. “The gator appeared much larger and closer in person. It got within 10 feet of me.”

At one heart-pounding moment, Lee tripped and fell to the ground, but quickly regained his footing and continued to back up.

In the two-minute video, you can hear the frazzled fisherman exclaiming, “Jesus Christ. You gotta be careful here.” But as he lost sight of the deadly creature, he retraced his steps following the animal until it splashed back in the water.

“And I am out of here,” Lee said to himself before grabbing his gear and turning off the camera.

Lee uploaded the shocking clip to his YouTube channel, Chum Dumpster, where it amassed 1.2 million views.

However, it isn’t too surprising that the sharp-toothed creature came out to play. May and June mark mating season for the more than one million alligators that live in Florida.

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KFC hackers jailed in China over $31,000 worth of chicken

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KFC hackers jailed in China over $31,000 worth of chicken

The Chinese students who scored a five-finger-lickin’ discount at Kentucky Fried Chicken — for a total of $31,000 worth of food — are going to prison.

Their scam took place in 2018 after one of them discovered a glitch on KFC’s online order platform, allowing them access to an endless supply of fried chicken.

The five college con artists involved in the grift were handed down a range of sentences by the People’s Court of Xuhui District in Shanghai, from 13 to 30 months, according to Daily Mail and recent Chinese-language reports, with fines set between $150 (1,000 yuan) and $900 (6,000 yuan).

“Being fully aware of this bug, the convicted deliberately engaged in false transactions and illegally profited from them, which constituted the crime of fraud,” court papers read, according to Australia’s 9News.

The group’s 23-year-old ringleader, identified only as “Xu,” defrauded the company out of some $9,000 (58,000 yuan). All told, they stole more than $31,000 (129,000 yuan) worth of food from Yum! Brands, which owns the KFC name.

The simple scheme involved a loophole between KFC’s app and the restaurant’s page on Chinese social network WeChat, which allowed Xu to use a voucher for free food while also being refunded. It’s been reported that Xu later began shilling out the free food he’d reaped as a side hustle.

The case has reportedly sparked debate online, according to Global Times, with some saying that a bug in KFC’s order system is on the corporation — not the customers who reaped the spoils of their mistake.

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Brood X cicadas force businesses, homeowners to take precautions

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Brood X cicadas force businesses, homeowners to take precautions

Brood X, a classification of the trillions of periodical cicadas that have descended in states across the eastern and southern U.S., has emerged after a 17-year hiatus — and already closed one restaurant.

The District of Columbia and the surrounding states of Maryland and Virginia are cicada ground zero, reporting sightings earlier than most other states. 

More of the red-eyed, singing insects will appear as ground temperatures warm to 64 degrees and experts say that the bugs come in peace. 

However, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Washington, D.C., announced this week that it was temporarily closing on May 10 in order to “combat” the bugs. 

“We have decided to pause service at Little Pearl for 4 weeks starting May 10th in preparation for ‘Cicada Season,’” Capitol Hill’s Little Pearl wrote in an email to customers, according to The Washington Post. “As we tried to get as creative as possible to combat them this year, we know in good faith that a single 100 decibel cicada will ruin anyone’s dinner experience, a ‘tsunami’ of them will be impossible to control.”

Washingtonian noted that the restaurant offered to reschedule, refund bookings or move diners’ reservations to their sister restaurant Rose’s Luxury.

Rose’s Restaurant Group owner and chef Aaron Silverman told the local magazine that Little Pearl’s closing is also “to renovate, clean, reorganize, up-train, and get all our affairs in order as the pandemic caused so many disruptions.”

In addition, he said that because around 80% of the restaurant’s seating is outdoors in a “heavily vegetative area,” it “seemed like the best window to take advantage of.”

Many businesses have decided to embrace the arrival of Brood X, selling coffee mugs and “Choco-cadas.”

Nevertheless, while the cicadas aren’t dangerous, their presence can be disruptive. 

As WCPO reported on Monday, the cicadas’ loud buzzing sounds may cause emotional or physical reactions in people with autism or with sensory issues.

Furthermore, although cicadas do not bite and are harmless to humans and property, Michigan State University entomologist Gary Parsons notes that their abundance can be a “nuisance” and that — while edible — eating too many could make pets sick.

While cicadas do not intentionally enter homes like ants and spiders, cicada eggs laid in stems and twigs of trees and shrubs often kill twigs and branches. 

Experts advise against using insecticide, as the chemicals will kill other bugs in the process.

The Baltimore Sun reported last week that an effective way to prevent damage on young trees is to enclose them with half-inch mesh netting, though the University of Maryland’s professor emeritus Michael Raupp advises planting next fall. 

Raupp told Fox News in March that people who might be afraid of cicadas should try to learn as much about them as they can.

“Hey, this is a chance to go out in your backyard and have a National Geographic special happening right there,” he said. “It’s going to be birth. It’s going to be death. It’s going to be predation. It’s going to be competition. It’s going to be better than an episode of ‘Outlander.’ There’s going to be romance in the treetops when the big boy band cranks it up.”

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