National news stories from across America, from RogueValleyMagazine.com and Wynne Broadcasting
Monday, September 14, 2020
Firefighters made substantial progress over the weekend as in some places improved weather conditions are helping them battle wildfires in California and Oregon. But the death toll from blazes roaring across the these two states is at least 24 while dozens remained missing in both states.
Seven more people were found dead on Friday, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Nine of the 19 California fatalities were in an area called the North Complex, which flared up with fires during windstorms earlier this week.
The White House says President Trump would visit California on Monday to be briefed on the wildfires and to offer help in many ways.
In Oregon near Eugene in Lane County, officials said firefighters found a fatality in a home within boundaries of the Holiday Farm Fire on Friday. State officials have reported at least five deaths in fires, with some in Southern Oregon.
In the Rogue Valley, the Almeda Fire and the Obenchain fire both continue burning and the office of the State Fire Marshal says that about 50 people are still missing.
Over 1600 homes and apartments in Ashland, Talent and Phoenix have been destroyed, and more than 100 businesses.
“We’re preparing for a mass fatality incident,” Andrew Phelps, director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, said in a briefing, noting that thousands of structures had been destroyed in the state of Oregon.
Wildfires have burned over 3.2 million acres in California with over 4,000 structures destroyed and 60,000 people evacuated. There, the death toll could also be high over the coming weeks.
The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office said Friday a man was arrested on charges of arson tied to a fire set during the Almeda Fire in the area. Residents reported seeing a man setting a fire behind their house in Phoenix, Ore., Tuesday. After investigating, officers arrested 41-year-old Michael Jarrod Bakkela, who is now in Jackson County Jail.
The FBI in Portland said Friday that local law-enforcement agencies have been receiving false reports that extremists were responsible for setting wildfires in Oregon. The FBI said it investigated several similar reports and found them to be false.
“Conspiracy theories and misinformation take valuable resources away [from] local fire and police agencies working around the clock to bring these fires under control,” the FBI said. “Please help our entire community by only sharing validated information from official sources.”
A second round of $1,200 stimulus checks to help Americans weather the pandemic once seemed a sure-thing with both Democrats and Republicans supporting the provision in early coronavirus relief negotiations in July.
And most Americans were confident that Congress would approve a new round of federal jobless aid, even if it might be less than the $600 a week that ran out at the end of that month.
But with bipartisan talks now stalled with the coming presidential election, a second direct check is one of several policy proposals left in the lurch. Jobless aid is stuck as well. After Democrats blocked a pared-down Republican proposal on Thursday, lawmakers in both parties are increasingly pessimistic that Congress can reach an agreement before the November election. Some also see the urgency of new aid fading, thanks to an improving economy. No deal would mean no new check and no enhanced unemployment benefits from Congress.
Each party blames the other for the impasse. Republicans argue that Democrats are refusing to compromise because they think they have the upper hand politically if talks fail, while Democrats say Republicans won’t accept the level of aid necessary for the economic and public health crises.
Democrats proposed another $1,200 check for adults and $1,200 for dependents, with a maximum of $6,000 sent to each household. A $1 trillion proposal released by Senate Republicans in July largely replicated the first round of stimulus checks. Both the Republican and Democratic plans had income caps.
In their latest bill, Republicans proposed continuing the federal supplement at $300 a week through Dec. 27. Democrats want to extend the federal aid at $600 a week through January. When bipartisan negotiations first collapsed in August, the Trump administration moved to offer $300 in weekly federal benefits to state unemployment programs through executive actions.
More than 40 states have received federal approval to distribute the extra payments, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Some states, including Arizona and Louisiana, have already started delivering the money to individuals, though the payments are expected to quickly run dry as they draw on a limited pool of funds.
White House officials have said they are considering further executive actions on coronavirus aid, but nothing is expected imminently.
New York City restaurants have resumed indoor dining at a 25% capacity, if you can keep protesters interrupting your meal inside or out on the patio. New Yorkers say they are ready to enjoy dining again but most older persons are too afraid to go out.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo says all dining customers must undergo temperature checks at the door and one member of each party will have to provide information for contact tracing if needed. Sad rules for sure. There will be no bar service and restaurants must close at midnight. Tables must be 6 feet apart and customers must wear masks while not at the table. Indoor dining is already allowed in restaurants elsewhere in New York state. Cuomo said the state will halt indoor dining if infection rates go up. But if it remains steady, Cuomo said more restrictions could be lifted on indoor dining on Nov. 1.
Many health-care companies and hospital industry groups are fighting a Trump administration policy tying extra federal coronavirus reimbursements to test results proving that patients are positive for Covid-19, saying the requirement unfairly deprives them of relief money established by Congress.
Legislation in March provided hospitals a 20% boost to the standard federal Medicare reimbursement for each patient admitted for coronavirus.
But the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services added a requirement, which took effect Sept. 1: For hospitals to receive the funding, each patient must have a documented positive Covid-19 lab test.
CMS officials said the requirement was added to protect against fraud since the funding was increased. “As part of Medicare’s longstanding standard payment policies, Medicare providers are required to accurately document and bill for services provided based on a beneficiary’s diagnosis,” a spokesman said.
CMS is concerned that without a lab test showing someone has Covid-19, hospitals may code them incorrectly as having the virus and erroneously receive the 20% add-on. Evidence suggests that hospitals could be overreporting Covid-19-related deaths for patients with certain medical conditions, such as end-stage renal disease and chronic kidney disease, according to an Aug. 20 report to CMS by Acumen, a Burlingame, Calif., provider of data analysis to government agencies.
Industry groups say the new requirement is significant because tests can sometimes yield false negatives, and some people with Covid-19 don’t test positive if the exam is conducted 14 days after infection.
Some Republicans have raised questions recently over whether the increased funding presents an incentive for doctors to inflate Covid-19 cases.
Hospital groups and doctors counter that they are being unfairly maligned as they stretch resources to grapple with the coronavirus, and say they are losing out on money. They also raise concerns about whether there has been enough oversight of federal stimulus funding and grants to providers. HHS is distributing $175 billion to hospitals and health-care providers on the front lines of the coronavirus response.
Some hospital leaders said they are concerned funding will be reduced during a time of historic financial pressures because of the pandemic. They also said the add-on payment still doesn’t cover their costs for treating Covid-19 patients, because Medicare reimbursements trail private insurance reimbursement.
John Mackey helped popularize organic food when he co-founded Whole Foods Market four decades ago. Over the past several months, his chain of more than 500 stores has scrambled to adapt to another major shift in how Americans buy groceries.
Since the coronavirus pandemic gripped the U.S. in March, consumers have been ordering more groceries online, making bigger purchases at a time and avoiding lingering in Whole Foods’ aisles. To meet the rush for grocery deliveries, the chain temporarily closed some urban stores to walk-in shoppers and converted them to handling online orders only. The grocer is also expanding its pickup operations.
“When things return to normal, there will be a lot of people who don’t go back to shopping in-person,” Mr. Mackey predicts.
The pandemic has accelerated an online-grocery movement that Whole Foods was already seeking to capitalize on as part of Amazon.com. Mackey oversees the chain but sold Whole Foods to Amazon.com for $13.4 billion in 2017, one of the decisions he recounts in his new book out this month, “Conscious Leadership: Elevating Humanity Through Business.”
In the second quarter of this year, Amazon’s online grocery sales, which include Whole Foods’ business, tripled from a year ago.
Mr. Mackey says people are purchasing differently, and that’s partly because they’re not eating at restaurants as much. All the animal proteins have increased tremendously, and our prepared foods are way down across the U.S. More people are shopping with a list. They come in, they get what they want, they get out, he says. They’re not lingering longer like they used to, pre-Covid, and I think they will again over time.
At Whole Foods customers must wear masks and employees are disinfecting shelving, grocery carts, and equipment. Mr. Mackey says they do temperature checks for all team members every day. If someone’s temperature is high, you have to leave the store, and if it stays high, you have to get tested. Whole Foods continues to roll on.
PHILADELPHIA MALL HAS ITS OWN COVID-19 BOUTIQUE
A mall store in Philadelphia has gone COVID-19. The boutique — it’s officially called COVID-19, Inc. — is right by a Sephora. The main offerings at the COVID store are masks, of course: standard masks; gas masks; masks with bling; masks with zippers. The COVID-19 store also had pandemic-related doohickeys, like those brass tools used to open doors — which you can find at pretty much every convenience store right now.
TOY HALL OF FAME FINALISTS
The National Toy Hall of Fame announced its 2020 finalists for induction on Wednesday: Baby Nancy, bingo, Breyer Horses, Jenga, Lite-Brite, Masters of the Universe, My Little Pony, Risk, sidewalk chalk, Sorry!, Tamagotchi, and Yahtzee. • LINK
… Three of the inductees will be chosen by a panel of judges, while three will be chosen by the public at toyhalloffame.org. Voting is open through September 16.
PEEPS WON’T BE MAKING HALLOWEEN OR CHRISTMAS MARSHMALLOWS
2020 just keeps losing. Not only are we in a pandemic, we learned Wednesday that we won’t have any Halloween or Holiday Peeps to look forward to in stores this year. Just Born, the company behind Peeps, says it won’t be releasing any new Christmas or Halloween Peeps in 2020 because of the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on their operations.
TODDLERS MOSTLY ACT LIKE LITTLE JERKS FOR NO GOOD REASON
The theory behind toddlers’ bad behavior has long been that they’re acting up because they’re angry or frustrated and haven’t yet developed the self-control or language necessary to deal with that anger in a more civilized manner. But a child development researcher (University of Santa Cruz) published a study that proposed an alternative explanation.
… Much of the time, toddlers act like tiny terrors for absolutely no good reason. Researcher Audun Dahl observed about two dozen children in their own homes at three separate times — when the child was 14 months, then 19 months, and then 2 years old — for two and a half hours at a time. About half of the time a child intentionally harmed someone — usually a parent, though siblings and pets were also in the line of fire — there appeared to be no provocation. In about 43 percent of the interactions Dahl observed, there did appear to be a reason for their bad behavior and the rest of the time the action seemed more like an accident.
OVERHEARING CELLPHONE CONVERSATIONS ARE MORE DISTRACTING
Scientists (at Cornell University) definitively proved that overhearing a cellphone conversation is more distracting than overhearing a normal conversation. It’s because you only hear a “half-a-logue,” which is less predictable and therefore requires more mental power to analyze and ignore.
OSCAR MAYER’S WIENERMOBILE AVAILABLE FOR WEDDING PROPOSALS
Pivotal moments, such as wedding proposals, graduations, anniversaries and Mr. Peanut’s funeral, are only so special without Oscar Mayer’s famous Wienermobile in attendance. Now, the general public will have a chance to nab the Wienermobile for a very special sort of milestone: Oscar Mayer is making its 27-foot-long hotdog vehicles available to members of the public looking to pop the big question.
… The company says while the vehicles are available to attend special occasions — and receive more than 7,000 requests each year — “this is the first time we’ve put out a call for people to request the Wienermobile be part of their proposal.”
… The lunch meat brand is asking interested individuals to submit requests three months to a year in advance to help secure a free appearance from one of the six Wienermobiles currently on the road. Oscar Mayer will accept requests based on availability, and those fortunate enough to be selected will be notified a week prior to their requested date. People are not allowed to ride in the Wienermobile due to safety precautions.
… According to the company, the idea was inspired by a Wienermobile driver known as Zach n Cheese who recently proposed to his girlfriend at Yellowstone National Park with his ride parked in the background.