“If you’ve got the means, I would go ahead and order home tests right now,” she advised families — a further burden on parents awaiting news on whether their children would be attending school the following day.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said her union’s Chicago affiliate was not to blame for the labor strife. She asked why the nation’s two larger districts, New York City and Los Angeles, had been able to collaborate with unions to set up testing programs, while Chicago’s testing effort had failed.

Pandemic school closures have contributed to backlash against union-affiliated Democrats in places like Virginia and New Jersey, particularly in majority-white suburbs. But Ms. Weingarten said she was not worried about the political ramifications in Chicago. The city is heavily Democratic, and its public school students are predominantly Black and Latino.

“I’m worried about it for the kids and for the teachers and for families,” she said.

went on strike for 11 days and extracted concessions from Ms. Lightfoot on pay, class sizes and support staff. A year ago, when schools first returned to in-person instruction, the city and union engaged in weeks of tense negotiations.

“Having these very public head-butting sessions is really detrimental for, I think, Chicago Public Schools overall,” Ms. Hadden said. She added, “People expect us to get over ourselves, to get over our really strong need to be absolutely right or to not be seen as giving into demands.”

Giulia Heyward contributed reporting.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

‘It’s Chaos’ as Schools Confront Omicron

The Omicron surge threatens to upend any sense of peace in the nation’s education system.

After a holiday break that saw Covid-19 cases spike unrelentingly, a small but growing list of districts — including Newark, Atlanta, Milwaukee and Cleveland — moved temporarily to remote learning for more than 450,000 children.

Districtwide closures, even those that last for a week or two, are a step backward after months in which classrooms largely remained open, even during a fall surge of the Delta variant.

And although politicians, including Mayor Eric Adams of New York and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, vowed to keep schools open, there were growing fears from parents and educators that more districts would soon turn to remote learning — even though in-school transmission of Covid-19 has been limited.

Those decisions could, in turn, radiate through the country, affecting child care, employment and any confidence that the pandemic’s viselike grip was loosening.

announced on Saturday that classes would be online for the first week of January, just days after saying that classes would be held in person.

widened during previous phases of the pandemic.

“There is a casualness with which some have approached closing schools that I find deeply concerning, precisely because of the severe harms we’ve seen accumulate over the past year when schools were closed,” said Joseph Allen, a Harvard University professor who studies indoor environmental quality, including in schools.

the Chicago Teachers Union are preparing to vote on Tuesday on whether to refuse to report to schools starting the following day. The union, which has repeatedly clashed with Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration, had demanded that every student be tested for the virus before returning from winter break, a step the district did not take.

The district, one of the largest in the country, instead gave tens of thousands of students optional take-home P.C.R. tests before winter break, which parents were supposed to bring to a FedEx drop box.

On Monday, it became clear that the testing effort had largely failed. Of 35,590 tests recorded by the district in the week ending Saturday, 24,843 had invalid results. Among the minority of tests that did produce results, 18 percent were positive.

A district official said test vendors were looking into the reasons for the inconclusive results.

At a news conference on Monday, the union’s vice president, Stacy Davis Gates, expressed her anger at having “to continuously fight for the basic necessities, the basic mitigations.”

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis reiterated on Monday that officials would not allow the state’s public schools to close, despite a major spike in coronavirus cases.

“You have worse outcomes by closing schools,” said Mr. DeSantis, a Republican who has increased his national profile by rejecting coronavirus lockdowns and mandates for much of the pandemic. “Kids need to be in school.”

statement, “The lives of all of our students mean more to me than anything else, especially since three of them are actually mine.”

In New Rochelle, N.Y., the school superintendent, Jonathan P. Raymond, wrote in a Dec. 31 letter that a week of remote learning would allow the district to await a shipment of rapid tests from the state, and sign up more students for in-school surveillance testing.

Some schools announcing their decision to temporarily close cited the closing of other districts — adding to an uneasy sense of falling dominoes. When the superintendent in Mt. Vernon, N.Y., announced a two-week period of remote learning, he pointed to the closure of some schools in Maryland, where, on Dec. 17, Prince George’s County became the first major district to announce an extended shift to virtual teaching.

While Omicron is more contagious than previous iterations of the virus, early indications are that it is also less severe. Dr. Allen, from Harvard, said the existing recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still allowed schools to operate safely, especially because children were at such low risk of serious complications from Covid-19. Those measures include vaccination, masking, handwashing, the use of portable air filters and cracking windows.

authorized Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine boosters for 12- to 15-year-olds, but child and teenage vaccination rates have been disappointing in many places.

The C.D.C. also recommends a strategy called test to stay, in which close contacts of positive virus cases are given frequent rapid tests; only those who test positive must stay home.

But many schools still lack the number of rapid antigen tests they need.

Dr. Allen acknowledged that rapid tests were in short supply.

“We’ve been calling for rapid testing for a year and a half,” he said. “I find it stunning that the country has so failed to prioritize kids.”

Still, many parents said that despite the difficulties of closures, they trusted their children’s schools to make the right call.

Lorenzo Spencer, whose son is a freshman at Cass Technical High School in Detroit, said he was not surprised by the district’s announcement of a three-day closure — without remote learning — to test its 8,000 employees.

“There’s no playbook for what we’re going through,” Mr. Spencer said. “As long as they’re doing what they can do to stay safe, I’m all for it.”

Reporting was contributed by Giulia Heyward, Patricia Mazzei, Tariro Mzezewa, Eliza Shapiro and Mitch Smith.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Puerto Rico Faces Staggering Covid Case Explosion

Armed with her vaccine passport and a giddy urge to celebrate the holiday season, Laura Delgado — and 60,000 other people in Puerto Rico — attended a Bad Bunny concert three weeks ago.

Three days later, she was sick with Covid-19, one of about 2,000 people who fell ill as a result of the two-day event.

“We did so well; we followed the rules,” said Ms. Delgado, a 53-year-old interior designer. “We followed the mask mandate. Our vaccination rate was so high that we let our guard down. The second Christmas came, we were like, ‘We’re going to party!’”

travelers and diners in hopes of staving off the new wave of cases.

dashboard of Puerto Rico Covid-19 data, tweeted the daunting facts: A third of all coronavirus cases the island has recorded since the start of the pandemic occurred in the past month. The number of cases per 100,000 residents jumped to 225, from three, in three weeks.

In December, the number of hospitalizations doubled — twice.

it reduced the recommended quarantine period to five days for those without symptoms.

After a few dozen Miss World contestants got sick, the pageant finals in Puerto Rico were canceled.

On Thursday, the Scientific Coalition, a group of scientists and health professionals that has been advising the governor, recommended even stricter measures, such as limits on alcohol sales and shorter hours for bars and other establishments. On Friday, the governor followed the recommendation and ordered businesses closed between midnight and 5 a.m. from Jan. 4 until Jan. 18. He also mandated booster shots for restaurant employees and public safety workers.

“It’s a message that’s hard to digest when two weeks ago the case numbers here were among the lowest in the world,” said Daniel Colón-Ramos, a Yale University professor who is president of the coalition.

The measures are particularly hard in Puerto Rico, he said, where it is hard to overstate the importance of a holiday season that starts at Thanksgiving and lasts until Jan. 6. He described it as “Fourth of July plus the Super Bowl.”

“Christmas is a week that Puerto Ricans celebrate their identity,” he said. “They celebrate their family. They celebrate their faith. They celebrate their heritage.”

The average age of people who become infected on the island is 33, health officials said. But experts worry that if young people who become infected while attending parties and other events visit elders for New Year’s and Three Kings Day, the number of sick older people is certain to rise. With so many of its young professionals moving in recent years to Florida, Texas and other states, Puerto Rico has a disproportionately high percentage of older adults, many of whom suffer from diabetes, obesity and other ailments that put them at higher risk for coronavirus complications.

“We have a health system that is — it’s not a secret — fragile,” said Carlos R. Mellado López, the island’s secretary of health. He urged people not to unnecessarily overwhelm testing centers and insisted that Puerto Rico had the tools necessary, such as monoclonal antibody treatments, to combat the crisis.

But experts also caution that thousands of medical professionals have left Puerto Rico in recent years in search of higher salaries, which could complicate the island’s ability to attend to large numbers of sick people. The number of doctors on the island has dropped by 5,000 since 2006, and another exodus of primary care doctors is anticipated because they were left out of recent tax incentives designed to keep specialists from leaving, said Víctor M. Ramos Otero, president of the Puerto Rico doctors’ association.

“The problem we have is not the beds,” Mr. Ramos said. “The principal issue is the personnel.”

José R. López de Victoria, an epidemiologist who helped design coronavirus protections for Puerto Rican basketball teams, said the crisis was still stretching ahead.

“From what we are seeing at testing sites, this is not over,” he said. “It’s going to be two more weeks. The expectation is that the case rate will go up.”

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

With Omicron’s Rise, Americans Brace for Returning to School and Work

Across the country, workers were steeling themselves for months of disruptions to come.

“I’ve been working through most of the pandemic, and I hadn’t tested positive before Omicron,” said Amelia Smoak, 29, who works at a restaurant and bar in Manhattan’s East Village neighborhood. She is fully vaccinated but recently recovered from a mild case of Covid. She added that business has gotten far slower as case counts rise: “Tips have been stable, but head count went down drastically.”

Scientists are projecting that the country’s sharp increase in cases will crest by the middle of January. But much about the new variant remains uncertain, and experts remain worried that hospitals might be overwhelmed.

The number of cases in New York continues to rise steeply, yet city school officials have vowed to keep schools open, embracing increased testing as an alternative to closing classrooms.

Schools in Chicago, Washington and most other major cities have announced they also plan to reopen this week, many with increased testing regimens. But some districts — including public schools in Cleveland; Prince George’s County, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C.; Newark, N.J.; Mt. Vernon, N.Y.; and Jersey City, N.J. — will transition to remote learning for one week or more in January.

In Chicago, where businesses have remained open as cases have spiked to their highest levels of the pandemic, public school leaders said they planned to return to class as scheduled on Monday despite concerns from the city’s powerful teachers’ union about safety precautions.

“If they shut down the restaurants, they shut down all the events, every component of the city and state, then hey, I’m not going to put my families at risk, I’m not going to force them to take their children to school,” said Pedro Martinez, the chief executive of Chicago Public Schools. He added: “But short of that, what is the logic of thinking that somehow shutting down schools is going to help this pandemic? I don’t see the logic.”

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Record-Setting Colorado Fires Destroyed More Than 500 Homes

LOUISVILLE, Colo. — It took only a few hours for the flames to cut an unimaginable path of destruction across the drought-starved neighborhoods between Denver and Boulder.

By Friday morning, as smoke from the most damaging wildfire in state history cleared, more than 500 homes, and possibly as many as 1,000, had been destroyed. Hundreds of people who had hastily fled returned to ruins, everything they owned incinerated in the fast-moving blaze. Entire neighborhoods had been reduced to ashes.

wildfires in the American West have been worsening — growing larger, spreading faster and reaching into mountainous elevations that were once too wet and cool to have supported fierce fires. What was once a seasonal phenomenon has become a year-round menace, with fires burning later into the fall and into the winter.

Recent research has suggested that heat and dryness associated with global warming are major reasons for the increasing prevalence of bigger and stronger fires, as rainfall patterns have been disrupted, snow melts earlier and meadows and forests are scorched into kindling.

Colorado Climate Center, said the Boulder region had experienced a wet spring followed by months that were “extremely dry, since about the middle of summer.” He added that “an event like this puts into context how dangerous and how potentially deadly winter season fires that occur primarily over grassland can be.”

mass shooting at a grocery store in March that left 10 people dead. As residents took stock of the fire damage, some expressed a sense of resignation that what had happened on Thursday was a frightening new part of what it means to live in a landscape scarred by the warming earth.

“I’m seeing my future,” said Angelica Kalika, 36, of nearby Broomfield. “I grew up in Colorado, and this is a place where I’ve had snowy Christmases and a nice 60-degree summer. But for me, this is a moment of deep reckoning of climate change when there is a wildfire outside my door.”

Video published by a local television station showed a cul-de-sac where one house had been destroyed, while the others appeared to be intact. In one neighborhood, a line of about 10 still-smoldering rubble piles was situated next to other houses that appeared to have escaped severe damage.

“I think it’s indicative of our future,” said Laurie Silver, a resident of a nearby suburb who on Friday morning stood near the smoking remnants of her cousin’s townhome in Louisville. “And I don’t know what it’s going to take for people to take it seriously. Maybe, when it directly affects people right where they live.”

Ms. Silver said her cousin had been traveling in Tennessee. His only remaining possessions were what he had packed in his carry-on.

On New Year’s Eve, with the fire mostly contained and an intensifying snowstorm promising to help limit additional damage, displaced residents faced another uncertain night at shelters or in the homes of friends or relatives, some still waiting to learn whether their property had been damaged.

“If our place is smoke damaged, who determines that?” said Ben Sykora, who rushed out of his rental home in Superior, Colo., after grabbing a backup computer hard drive and a couple of changes of clothes. “I don’t want to get thinking too materially, but we’re kind of all waiting, seeing how much is this going to flip our lives upside down. As of right now, we just don’t know.”

Boulder County and surrounding areas on Colorado’s Front Range live with the frequent threat of wildfires, although those concerns have historically been associated more with the summer and autumn months and the forested hillsides west of the cities. Few people were prepared for the sudden onslaught on Thursday.

“You think you’re safe here — these things happen in the mountains,” said Steve Sarin, whose apartment narrowly escaped destruction. “Out here, we think we’re relatively protected from the dangers of wildfires. Yesterday was a big wake-up call.”

Dana Goldstein, Isabella Grullón Paz, Michael Levenson and Alyssa Lukpat contributed reporting.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

A Digital Manhunt: How Chinese Police Track Critics on Twitter and Facebook

For Chinese security forces, the effort is a daring expansion of a remit that previously focused on Chinese platforms and the best-known overseas dissidents. Now, violations as simple as a post of a critical article on Twitter — or in the case of 23-year-old Ms. Chen, quoting, “I stand with Hong Kong” — can bring swift repercussions.

Actions against people for speaking out on Twitter and Facebook have increased in China since 2019, according to an online database aggregating them. The database, compiled by an anonymous activist, records cases based on publicly available verdicts, police notices and news reports, although information is limited in China.

“The net has definitely been cast wider overseas during the past year or so,” said Yaxue Cao, editor of ChinaChange.org, a website that covers civil society and human rights. The goal is to encourage already widespread self-censorship among Chinese people on global social media, she said, likening the purging of critics to an overactive lawn mower.

“They cut down the things that look spindly and tall — the most outspoken,” she said. “Then they look around, the taller pieces of grass no longer cover the lower ones. They say, ‘Oh these are problematic too, let’s mow them down again.’”

Chinese security authorities are bringing new technical expertise and funding to the process, according to publicly available procurement documents, police manuals and the government contractor, who is working on overseas internet investigations.

In 2020, when the police in the western province of Gansu sought companies to help monitor international social media, they laid out a grading system. One criterion included a company’s ability to analyze Twitter accounts, including tweets and lists of followers. The police in Shanghai offered $1,500 to a technology firm for each investigation into an overseas account, according to a May procurement document.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

How Oklahoma Became a Marijuana Boom State

KEOTA, Okla. — Across Oklahoma, a staunchly conservative state with a history of drawing people in search of wealth from the land, a new kind of crop is taking over old chicken coops, trailer parks and fields where cattle used to graze.

Next door to a Pentecostal church in the tiny town of Keota, the smell of marijuana drifts through the air at the G & C Dispensary. Strains with names like OG Kush and Maui Waui go for $3 a gram, about a quarter of the price in other states.

Down the road, an indoor-farming operation is situated in a residential area near mobile homes, one of about 40 in the town of just 500 residents. “It might look strange, but this is where the action is,” said Logan Pederson, 32, who moved this year from Seattle to Oklahoma to manage the small farm for a company called Cosmos Cultivation.

about 10 percent of Oklahoma’s nearly four million residents have one, by far the most of any other state.

Fueled by low barriers for entry and a fairly hands-off approach by state officials, weed entrepreneurs have poured into Oklahoma from around the United States. It costs just $2,500 to get started, compared to $100,000 or more across the state line in Arkansas. And Oklahoma, a state that has long had a tough-on-crime stance, has no cap on how many dispensaries can sell marijuana, the number of cannabis farms or even how much each farm can produce.

That unfettered growth has pitted legacy ranchers and farmers against this new breed of growers. Groups representing ranchers, farmers, sheriffs and crop dusters recently joined forces to call for a moratorium on new licenses. They cited climbing prices for land, illicit farms and strains on rural water and electricity supplies as among the reasons. In some parts, new indoor farms are using hundreds of thousands of gallons of water.

$138 million in revenue from retail, state and local taxes this year, through November, on the sale of cannabis.

Ms. Berry, an early opponent of medical cannabis, says the industry is here to stay and that the state’s marijuana law effectively restrains her agency from limiting the number of new licenses it approves.

On the ground level, that means that the number of Oklahoma cannabis businesses keeps on surging.

Mr. Pederson, the transplant from Seattle, had served in the Army and was looking for a new career when he learned earlier this year about growing cannabis in Oklahoma. Despite being new to the industry, he moved on his own to Keota to supervise the small, five-person farm, which he said was supplying dispensaries in the state.

“There’s culture shock for outsiders,” Mr. Pederson said about moving to a tiny Oklahoma town. He said he plans to stay in the state for at least the next five years.

Signs of the explosive growth are hard to miss. There are now towns with far more dispensaries than food stores. And cannabis operations now outnumber wheat and cotton farms. The industry has also created thousands of jobs in a state that remains among the poorest in the country. Supporters of the industry also argue that the less punitive approach to possession of marijuana and other drugs, along with other sentencing reforms, has eased pressures on the state’s prisons.

operation that had moved from Colorado to Oklahoma.

Momentum is building for an even more forceful crackdown. Senator James Inhofe, a Republican, requested $4 million this year in direct funding from the federal government for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics to combat illegal farms. And a bill introduced in the State Legislature would allow county and city authorities to impose their own caps on licenses.

Lawmakers recently allowed revenues from cannabis licensing to create a full-time enforcement unit, and the state narcotics bureau has hired nearly 20 agents. Another measure now allows the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority to hire more than 70 new employees, mainly to work in compliance and enforcement.

While the influx intensifies, growers have groused that the ever-expanding supply has made cannabis prices plunge by about half in the last six months, to as low as $800 a pound for some strains, down from $1,600.

Tara Tischauer, co-owner of Red Dirt Sungrown in Guthrie, a town north of Oklahoma City, said falling prices have reduced her revenue by about one-third this year. Still, her operation, part of a family business that also includes a hemp farm and garden plant greenhouses, employs 25 people and steadily produces about 125 pounds of cannabis a week.

“A few years ago I thought Oklahoma would have been the last state in the country to get cannabis going,” said Ms. Tischauer, 46. “If we can’t succeed, it’s our own fault. That’s how a free market works.”

Despite a saturated market, she said she believes the state’s cannabis industry is still in its infancy. Activists have begun organizing to secure a referendum on the ballot next year that would legalize recreational use of marijuana. Doing so could bolster the state’s growers, who Ms. Tischauser said could look to meet demand from neighboring Texas, where legislators have resisted full legalization of cannabis.

For critics of Oklahoma’s approach to marijuana, that would be a move in the wrong direction.

“It smells like weed all the damn time, even right here in our offices,” said Haskell County’s Sheriff Tim Turner, a Republican, pointing toward one of the dozens of licensed marijuana farms in his county, this one across the road from his department. “We’re one of the reddest states around, but we have the country’s most permissive marijuana laws.”

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Video Shows Chaos and Violence at Scene of Los Angeles Police Shooting

LOS ANGELES — A woman clutched at her bloodied face in an aisle splotched with red as she scrambled away from a man who had been pummeling her with a bike lock. A frightened employee at the Burlington clothing store told Los Angeles police officers that a man was “going crazy” in the store.

“I have a hostile customer in my store attacking customers!” she told dispatchers in a 911 call. “He’s walking around the store looking for people.” Someone else called in a report of “a guy with a gun.”

A scrum of officers mounted the escalators in a diamond formation, weapons drawn. Within moments of spotting the man, later identified as Daniel Elena Lopez, 24, at least one officer opened fire.

As Mr. Elena Lopez lay wounded on the ground, a woman’s anguished wails could be heard. They seemed to be coming from the dressing rooms nearby, where 14-year-old Valentina Orellana-Peralta had been with her mother. In what the police now say was a tragic accident, she too had been fatally shot by an officer’s bullet.

newly released footage from surveillance and police body cameras of the episode on Thursday that left both Mr. Elena Lopez and Ms. Orellana-Peralta dead.

The 35-minute compilation shed new light on the city’s latest high-profile police shooting, which has reignited an intense debate in Los Angeles over the role police should play in keeping communities safe.

This year, Los Angeles Police Department officers have fatally shot 18 people, The Los Angeles Times has reported, more than twice the number who were shot and killed by the department last year.

With the release of the video on Monday, Los Angeles police made it clear that it was one of their officer’s bullets that struck the 14-year-old girl in the dressing room.

“Preliminarily, it is believed the victim was struck by a round which skipped off the floor and entered the dressing room wall,” the video said. Mr. Elena Lopez did not have a gun in his possession, the police have said.

supported a $150 million cut to a $1.7 billion-plus police budget. Leaders of other cities, including the mayors of Oakland and San Francisco, made similar calls.

State officials also vowed to hold police officers accountable for misconduct. In July, a new state law took effect that requires the state’s Department of Justice to investigate police shootings that result in the death of unarmed people and decide whether to prosecute the officers involved. The department is investigating last week’s shooting in accordance with that law, officials announced.

But many efforts at reforming law enforcement practices have fizzled as leaders in Los Angeles and across California have scrambled to address fears of rising violent crime and anxiety provoked by a wave of high-profile “flash mob” robberies at high-end stores.

modest increase in funding for the Los Angeles Police Department.

Gov. Gavin Newsom earlier this month unveiled a $350 million proposal to crack down on crime, with most of the money going to local law enforcement agencies. The same day, San Francisco’s mayor, London Breed, declared a state of emergency aimed at cleaning up the “nasty streets” of the Tenderloin district, breaking with the liberal conventions that have shaped the city’s governance for decades.

Progressive activists in Los Angeles have described those declarations as a disheartening reversal.

“Nothing has changed,” said Albert Corado, whose sister was shot and killed by police officers during a standoff at a Trader Joe’s in 2018, an incident with grim parallels to the latest shooting in North Hollywood. “It’s all, ‘Spin the narrative and make it so the police don’t have to be held accountable.’”

Mr. Corado said he felt compelled to return home to Los Angeles from Minneapolis where he had been living when his sister, Melyda Corado, an assistant manager at the Trader Joe’s, was killed by a stray bullet as police exchanged gunfire with a man they had been pursuing.

The officers involved did not face charges related to Ms. Corado’s death.

Mr. Corado is now running for the Los Angeles City Council in hopes of working to dismantle the city’s police department, an agency that he said is too fundamentally flawed to be repaired.

“I think we need an entire restructuring of the city government,” Mr. Corado said. “If we tally up what the system we have in place now has actually done, it doesn’t address the reasons why people commit crime. It’s not serving anybody but the ultra wealthy.”

But some of those who are campaigning to become Los Angeles’s next mayor resisted drawing conclusions from the still-sparse information available about Thursday’s shooting.

who is the front-runner in the race. “We need to continue to push for accountability and transparency.”

Kevin de León, a member of the City Council who is also considered a top contender for mayor, said that the task facing Los Angeles’s next leader is a significant one.

“The next mayor must be capable of balancing the need for police reforms and ensuring that crime is not a threat to public safety,” he said. “I don’t think you can live in a world of absolutes.”

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<