These are among the many battle-style slogans that Beijing has unleashed to rally support around its top-down, zero-tolerance coronavirus policies.
China is now one of the last places on earth trying to eliminate Covid-19, and the Communist Party has relied heavily on propaganda to justify increasingly long lockdowns and burdensome testing requirements that can sometimes lead to three tests a week.
The barrage of messages — online and on television, loudspeakers and social platforms — has become so overbearing that some citizens say it has drowned out their frustrations, downplayed the reality of the country’s tough coronavirus rules and, occasionally, bordered on the absurd.
citywide lockdown in Shanghai this spring, Jason Xue had no more food left in his fridge. Yet when he clicked on the government’s social media account, he noticed that a top city official had vowed to “make every possible endeavor” to address food shortages.
Government assistance didn’t show up until four weeks later, Mr. Xue said.
“I was extremely angry, panicked and despairing,” said Mr. Xue, who works for a financial communications firm. He eventually turned to neighbors for help. “The propaganda was resolute and decisive, but it was different from the reality that we didn’t even know whether we could have the next meal.”
Xi Jinping, China’s leader, has made controlling the virus a “top political priority.” Thousands of state media outlets and social media accounts have echoed Beijing’s “zero Covid” policy and praised the sacrifice of workers trying to control Covid-19.
at least 120 Covid-related propaganda phrases have been created since the beginning of the pandemic.
blocking them from seeking safety.
Videos of the episode were posted online and quickly deleted by censors, who said people should “at least bring masks before escaping from buildings,” even when an earthquake is “highly destructive.”
For some, the video was a reminder of how the government had used the pandemic to tighten its grip on their private lives, telling them when they can leave their apartments, what kind of food they can buy and what hospitals they can enter.
Kong Lingwanyu, a 22-year-old marketing intern in Shanghai, was upset that officials used the phrase “unless necessary” when describing restrictions around things like leaving the home, dining out or gathering with others.
Ms. Kong said a local official responsible for carrying out coronavirus policies had told her that she should not “buy unnecessary food.” She said she asked the official what standards the government used to determine what kind of food was necessary.
“Who are you to decide the ‘necessity’ for others?” she said. “It’s totally absurd and nonsense.”
On state television, Beijing’s “nine storm fortification actions” around the pandemic are frequently repeated to keep people in line with Covid policies. The nine actions are: neighborhood lockdowns, mass testing, contact tracing, disinfection, quarantine centers, increased health care capacity, traditional Chinese medicine, screening of neighborhoods and prevention of local transmission.
Yang Xiao, a 33-year-old cinematographer in Shanghai who was confined to his apartment for two months during a lockdown this year, had grown tired of them all.
“With the Covid control, propaganda and state power expanded and occupied all aspects of our life,” he said in a phone interview. Day after day, Mr. Yang heard loudspeakers in his neighborhood repeatedly broadcasting a notice for P.C.R. testing. He said the announcements had disturbed his sleep at night and woke him up at dawn.
“Our life was dictated and disciplined by propaganda and state power,” he said.
To communicate his frustrations, Mr. Yang selected 600 common Chinese propaganda phrases, such as “core awareness,” “obey the overall situation” and “the supremacy of nationhood.” He gave each phrase a number and then put the numbers into Google’s Random Generator, a program that scrambles data.
He ended up with senseless phrases such as “detect citizens’ life and death line,” “strictly implement functions” and “specialize overall plans without slack.” Then he used a voice program to read the phrases aloud and played the audio on a loudspeaker in his neighborhood.
No one seemed to notice the five minutes of computer-generated nonsense.
When Mr. Yang uploaded a video of the scene online, however, more than 1.3 million people viewed it. Many praised the way he used government language as satire. Chinese propaganda was “too absurd to be criticized using logic,” Mr. Yang said. “I simulated the discourse like a mirror, reflecting its own absurdity.”
Spoofing Chinese propaganda:
His video was taken down by censors.
Mr. Yang added that he hoped to inspire others to speak out against China’s Covid policies and its use of propaganda in the pandemic. He wasn’t the only Shanghai resident to rebel when the city was locked down.
In June, dozens of residents protested against the police and Covid control workers who installed chain-link fences around neighborhood apartments. When a protester was shoved into a police car and taken away, one man shouted: “Freedom! Equality! Justice! Rule of law!” Those words would be familiar to most Chinese citizens: They are commonly cited by state media as core socialist values under Mr. Xi.
The Federal Reserve’s determination to crush inflation at home by raising interest rates is inflicting profound pain in other countries — pushing up prices, ballooning the size of debt payments and increasing the risk of a deep recession.
Those interest rate increases are pumping up the value of the dollar — the go-to currency for much of the world’s trade and transactions — and causing economic turmoil in both rich and poor nations. In Britain and across much of the European continent, the dollar’s acceleration is helping feed stinging inflation.
On Monday, the British pound touched a record low against the dollar as investors balked at a government tax cut and spending plan. And China, which tightly controls its currency, fixed the renminbi at its lowest level in two years while taking steps to manage its decline.
Somalia, where the risk of starvation already lurks, the strong dollar is pushing up the price of imported food, fuel and medicine. The strong dollar is nudging debt-ridden Argentina, Egypt and Kenya closer to default and threatening to discourage foreign investment in emerging markets like India and South Korea.
the International Monetary Fund.
Japanese yen has reached a decades-long high. The euro, used by 19 nations across Europe, reached 1-to-1 parity with the dollar in June for the first time since 2002. The dollar is clobbering other currencies as well, including the Brazilian real, the South Korean won and the Tunisian dinar.
the economic outlook in the United States, however cloudy, is still better than in most other regions.
loss of purchasing power over time, meaning your dollar will not go as far tomorrow as it did today. It is typically expressed as the annual change in prices for everyday goods and services such as food, furniture, apparel, transportation and toys.
What causes inflation? It can be the result of rising consumer demand. But inflation can also rise and fall based on developments that have little to do with economic conditions, such as limited oil production and supply chain problems.
Is inflation bad? It depends on the circumstances. Fast price increases spell trouble, but moderate price gains can lead to higher wages and job growth.
Can inflation affect the stock market? Rapid inflation typically spells trouble for stocks. Financial assets in general have historically fared badly during inflation booms, while tangible assets like houses have held their value better.
A fragile currency can sometimes work as “a buffering mechanism,” causing nations to import less and export more, Mr. Prasad said. But today, many “are not seeing the benefits of stronger growth.”
Still, they must pay more for essential imports like oil, wheat or pharmaceuticals as well as for loan bills due from billion-dollar debts.
debt crisis in Latin America in the 1980s.
The situation is particularly fraught because so many countries ran up above-average debts to deal with the fallout from the pandemic. And now they are facing renewed pressure to offer public support as food and energy prices soar.
Indonesia this month, thousands of protesters, angry over a 30 percent price increase on subsidized fuel, clashed with the police. In Tunisia, a shortage of subsidized food items like sugar, coffee, flour and eggs has shuttered cafes and emptied market shelves.
New research on the impact of a strong dollar on emerging nations found that it drags down economic progress across the board.
“You can see these very pronounced negative effects of a stronger dollar,” said Maurice Obstfeld, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and an author of the study.
central banks feel pressure to raise interest rates to bolster their currencies and prevent import prices from skyrocketing. Last week, Argentina, the Philippines, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, Sweden, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, Britain and Norway raised interest rates.
World Bank warned this month that simultaneous interest rate increases are pushing the world toward a recession and developing nations toward a string of financial crises that would inflict “lasting harm.”
Clearly, the Fed’s mandate is to look after the American economy, but some economists and foreign policymakers argue it should pay more attention to the fallout its decisions have on the rest of the world.
In 1998, Alan Greenspan, a five-term Fed chair, argued that “it is just not credible that the United States can remain an oasis of prosperity unaffected by a world that is experiencing greatly increased stress.”
The United States is now facing a slowing economy, but the essential dilemma is the same.
“Central banks have purely domestic mandates,” said Mr. Obstfeld, the U.C. Berkeley economist, but financial and trade globalization have made economies more interdependent than they have ever been and so closer cooperation is needed. “I don’t think central banks can have the luxury of not thinking about what’s happening abroad.”
Flávia Milhorance contributed reporting from Rio de Janeiro.
RICHMOND, Va. — In late July, Norman Otey was rushed by ambulance to Richmond Community Hospital. The 63-year-old was doubled over in pain and babbling incoherently. Blood tests suggested septic shock, a grave emergency that required the resources and expertise of an intensive care unit.
But Richmond Community, a struggling hospital in a predominantly Black neighborhood, had closed its I.C.U. in 2017.
It took several hours for Mr. Otey to be transported to another hospital, according to his sister, Linda Jones-Smith. He deteriorated on the way there, and later died of sepsis. Two people who cared for Mr. Otey said the delay had most likely contributed to his death.
the hospital’s financial data.
More than half of all hospitals in the United States are set up as nonprofits, a designation that allows them to make money but avoid paying taxes. Although Bon Secours has taken a financial hit this year like many other hospital systems, the chain made nearly $1 billion in profit last year at its 50 hospitals in the United States and Ireland and was sitting on more than $9 billion in cash reserves. It avoids at least $440 million in federal, state and local taxes every year that it would otherwise have to pay, according to an analysis by the Lown Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.
In exchange for the tax breaks, the Internal Revenue Service requires nonprofit hospitals to provide a benefit to their communities. But an investigation by The New York Times found that many of the country’s largest nonprofit hospital systems have drifted far from their charitable roots. The hospitals operate like for-profit companies, fixating on revenue targets and expansions into affluent suburbs.
borrowing tricks from business consultants, have trained staff to squeeze payments from poor patients who should be eligible for free care.
John M. Starcher Jr., made about $6 million in 2020, according to the most recent tax filings.
“Our mission is clear — to extend the compassionate ministry of Jesus by improving the health and well-being of our communities and bring good help to those in need, especially people who are poor, dying and underserved,” the spokeswoman, Maureen Richmond, said. Bon Secours did not comment on Mr. Otey’s case.
In interviews, doctors, nurses and former executives said the hospital had been given short shrift, and pointed to a decade-old development deal with the city of Richmond as another example.
In 2012, the city agreed to lease land to Bon Secours at far below market value on the condition that the chain expand Richmond Community’s facilities. Instead, Bon Secours focused on building a luxury apartment and office complex. The hospital system waited a decade to build the promised medical offices next to Richmond Community, breaking ground only this year.
‘Glorified Emergency Room’
founded in 1907 by Black doctors who were not allowed to work at the white hospitals across town. In the 1930s, Dr. Jackson’s grandfather, Dr. Isaiah Jackson, mortgaged his house to help pay for an expansion of the hospital. His father, also a doctor, would take his children to the hospital’s fund-raising telethons.
Cassandra Newby-Alexander at Norfolk State University.
got its first supermarket.
according to research done by Virginia Commonwealth University. The public bus route to St. Mary’s, a large Bon Secours facility in the northwest part of the city, takes more than an hour. There is no public transportation from the East End to Memorial Regional, nine miles away.
“It became impossible for me to send people to the advanced heart valve clinic at St. Mary’s,” said Dr. Michael Kelly, a cardiologist who worked at Richmond Community until Bon Secours scaled back the specialty service in 2019. He said he had driven some patients to the clinic in his own car.
Richmond Community has the feel of an urgent-care clinic, with a small waiting room and a tan brick facade. The contrast with Bon Secours’s nearby hospitals is striking.
At the chain’s St. Francis Medical Center, an Italianate-style compound in a suburb 18 miles from Community, golf carts shuttle patients from the lobby entrance, past a marble fountain, to their cars.
after the section of the federal law that authorized it, allows hospitals to buy drugs from manufacturers at a discount — roughly half the average sales price. The hospitals are then allowed to charge patients’ insurers a much higher price for the same drugs.
The theory behind the law was that nonprofit hospitals would invest the savings in their communities. But the 340B program came with few rules. Hospitals did not have to disclose how much money they made from sales of the discounted drugs. And they were not required to use the revenues to help the underserved patients who qualified them for the program in the first place.
In 2019, more than 2,500 nonprofit and government-owned hospitals participated in the program, or more than half of all hospitals in the country, according to the independent Medicare Payment Advisory Commission.
in wealthier neighborhoods, where patients with generous private insurance could receive expensive drugs, but on paper make the clinics extensions of poor hospitals to take advantage of 340B.
to a price list that hospitals are required to publish. That is nearly $22,000 profit on a single vial. Adults need two vials per treatment course.
work has shown that hospitals participating in the 340B program have increasingly opened clinics in wealthier areas since the mid-2000s.
were unveiling a major economic deal that would bring $40 million to Richmond, add 200 jobs and keep the Washington team — now known as the Commanders — in the state for summer training.
The deal had three main parts. Bon Secours would get naming rights and help the team build a training camp and medical offices on a lot next to Richmond’s science museum.
The city would lease Bon Secours a prime piece of real estate that the chain had long coveted for $5,000 a year. The parcel was on the city’s west side, next to St. Mary’s, where Bon Secours wanted to build medical offices and a nursing school.
Finally, the nonprofit’s executives promised city leaders that they would build a 25,000-square-foot medical office building next to Richmond Community Hospital. Bon Secours also said it would hire 75 local workers and build a fitness center.
“It’s going to be a quick timetable, but I think we can accomplish it,” the mayor at the time, Dwight C. Jones, said at the news conference.
Today, physical therapy and doctors’ offices overlook the football field at the training center.
On the west side of Richmond, Bon Secours dropped its plans to build a nursing school. Instead, it worked with a real estate developer to build luxury apartments on the site, and delayed its plans to build medical offices. Residents at The Crest at Westhampton Commons, part of the $73 million project, can swim in a saltwater pool and work out on communal Peloton bicycles. On the ground floor, an upscale Mexican restaurant serves cucumber jalapeño margaritas and a Drybar offers salon blowouts.
have said they plan to house mental health, hospice and other services there.
a cardiologist and an expert on racial disparities in amputation, said many people in poor, nonwhite communities faced similar delays in getting the procedure. “I am not surprised by what’s transpired with this patient at all,” he said.
Because Ms. Scarborough does not drive, her nephew must take time off work every time she visits the vascular surgeon, whose office is 10 miles from her home. Richmond Community would have been a five-minute walk. Bon Secours did not comment on her case.
“They have good doctors over there,” Ms. Scarborough said of the neighborhood hospital. “But there does need to be more facilities and services over there for our community, for us.”
California workers won’t have to worry about being fired, or not hired, for off-the-clock marijuana use.
A new phase of California’s weed legalization begins, as the state prepares to make it illegal for a company to fire, or not hire, someone simply for their off-the-clock marijuana use.
California is the seventh state to do it, but a potentially pivotal one for the national attitude toward weed.
At the very least it’s an emboldening step for the millions of California adults who report using marijuana.
At a cannabis store near San Diego, it could mean a tax boom.
The elimination of job risk helps boost usage numbers.
“There were a lot of myths and stigma associated with cannabis and with having a cannabis store in the community. So it’s nice to see that none of those myths came true and a lot of that stigma is starting to disappear,” said David Dallal, a California cannabis store manager.
Cannabis industry insiders and even some law enforcement hope that destigmatizing weed will push more weed users to shop at legitimate dispensaries.
Related StoryThe Big Business Of Cannabis
It could be a potentially life-saving choice as fentanyl-laced drugs flow over the southern border and end up on the black market.
But the stigma around marijuana is still a challenge for people like Dr. David Berger, who’s trying to battle a new restriction in Florida that limits the amount of medical marijuana a person can get in a day.
“Some of my patients for instance, because of their medical needs, they might need to have more milligrams than what the state is allowing for,” said Berger.
Florida is allowing doctors to appeal the limit for those who need it. But that takes time — a potentially-serious wait for users who need the drug.
“If a person is out of their medicine they could be out of their medicine for a good week or almost two and really have no way of accessing it,” said Berger.
It’s a deep contrast to the new reality in California, where lawmakers hope making marijuana irrelevant to employability will set a new standard for the country.
Roughly 900,000 people on the island were without power four days after the storm, and nearly 500,000 people did not have water service.
Hurricane Fiona left hundreds of people stranded across Puerto Rico after smashing roads and bridges, with authorities still struggling to reach people four days after the storm smacked the U.S. territory, causing historic flooding.
For now, government officials are working with religious groups, nonprofits and others braving landslides, thick mud and broken asphalt by foot to provide food, water and medicine for people in need, but they are under pressure to clear a path so vehicles can enter isolated areas soon.
Related StoryHurricane Fiona Strengthens As It Heads To Bermuda
Nino Correa, commissioner for Puerto Rico’s emergency management agency, estimated that at least six municipalities across the island had areas that were cut off by Fiona, which struck as a Category 1 hurricane and was up to Category 4 power Wednesday as it headed toward Bermuda.
Living in one of those areas is Manuel Veguilla, who has not been able to leave his neighborhood in the north mountain town of Caguas since Fiona swept in on Sunday.
“We are all isolated,” he said, adding that he worries about elderly neighbors including his older brother who does not have the strength for the long walk it takes to reach the closest community.
Veguilla heard that municipal officials might open a pathway Thursday, but he doubted that would happen because he said large rocks covered a nearby bridge and the 10-foot space beneath it.
Neighbors have shared food and water dropped off by nonprofit groups, and the son of an elderly woman was able to bring back basic supplies by foot Wednesday, he said.
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Veguilla said that in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that struck five years ago and resulted in nearly 3,000 deaths, he and others used picks and shovels to clear the debris. But Fiona was different, unleashing huge landslides.
“I cannot throw those rocks over my shoulder,” he said.
Like hundreds of thousands of other Puerto Ricans after Fiona, Veguilla had no water or electricity service, but said they there is a natural water source nearby.
Fiona sparked an islandwide blackout when it hit Puerto Rico’s southwest region, which already was still trying to recover from a series of strong earthquakes in recent years. Some 62% of 1.47 million customers were without power four days after the storm amid an extreme heat alert issued by the National Weather Service. Some 36% of customers, or nearly half a million, did not have water service.
The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency has sent hundreds of additional personnel to help local officials as the federal government approved a major disaster declaration and announced a public health emergency on the island.
Neither local nor federal government officials had provided any damage estimates as Puerto Rico struggles to recover from the storm, which dropped up to 30 inches of rain in some areas. More than 470 people and 48 pets remained in shelters.
“Our hearts go out to the people of Puerto Rico who have endured so much suffering over the last couple of years,” said Brad Kieserman, vice president of operations and logistics at the Red Cross.
After Puerto Rico, Fiona pummeled the Dominican Republic and then swiped past the Turks and Caicos Islands as it strengthened into a Category 4 storm. Officials there reported relatively light damage and no deaths, though the eye of the storm passed close to Grand Turk, the small British territory’s capital island, on Tuesday.
“God has been good to us and has kept us safe during this period when we could have had a far worse outcome,” Deputy Gov. Anya Williams said.
Fiona was forecast to pass near Bermuda early Friday, and then hit easternmost Canada early Saturday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
The center said Fiona had maximum sustained winds of 130 mph on Thursday morning. It was centered about 485 miles southwest of Bermuda, heading north-northeast at 13 mph.
A Newsy investigation finds more Americans are going to the ER during a mental health crisis, and why they aren’t getting the help they need.
More Americans going through a mental health crisis are seeking care in hospital emergency rooms not always equipped to give the psychiatric care they need, a Newsy investigation has learned.
Breia Birch, 44, suffers from bipolar, post-traumatic stress and dissociative identity disorders.
She began thinking about suicide after her mother’s death in 2017.
“I remember sitting down at my table and getting my pills out,” Birch said. “I started to separate out the ones that would hurt or hurt me out of the pile of pills. I was trying to kill myself.”
She went to her local emergency room in Manhattan, Kansas, for help.
“Unfortunately, there aren’t many places in Kansas where you can go and get screened. You have to go to the ER,” Birch said.
Across the country, mental health-related ER visits shot up 66 percent from 2013-2018, according to a study published in the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine.
“Our rooms are full,” said Robyn Chadwick, president of Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph hospital in Wichita, Kansas.
“Every single day in this facility, we have patients who are suicidal or homicidal,” Chadwick said. “On a good day, there will be 10 behavioral health patients waiting in the emergency room. On a really bad day, there might be 30.”
Nationally, bed capacity for psychiatric patients has plummeted in recent decades.
Care outside the hospital can also be hard to find. An audit from the Government Accountability Office this spring found mental health patients with insurance “experience challenges finding in-network providers.”
Patients also face a shortage of psychiatrists willing to accept Medicaid. Emergency rooms are also coping with a surge in behavioral health visits related to substance abuse.
“Substance abuse and mental health have always gone hand-in-hand,” Chadwick said.
Patients with nowhere else to go are flooding emergency rooms.
“Whatever that mental illness is, if you can’t get help, the situation gets worse, it escalates,” Chadwick said. “The emergency room is the safety net for everything.”
The problem is, hospital emergency rooms are struggling with the influx of patients who, like Birch, are desperate for help.
The ER closest to her in Manhattan, Kansas, was like many nationwide that don’t have a behavioral health unit.
“They couldn’t find me anywhere to go for mental health,” Birch said.
She was so desperate for care, she steered herself in a wheelchair toward traffic outside the ER so she could get into a state hospital.
“I did what I had to do to get help,” Birch said.
A Newsy analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found of all psychiatric patients who go to the ER, about 11 percent leave without a follow-up plan for care.
Eleven percent may not sound like much, but it equals hundreds of thousands of patients in mental distress leaving the ER without a referral for future treatment.
Chadwick says too many hospitals are not able to meet the need.
The hospital she leads in Wichita built a new space to expand behavioral health treatment.
“There are special screws used that cannot be pried out because a screw could then be used to harm yourself,” Chadwick said.
To prevent suicide by hanging, doors have special handles. Televisions mounted to the wall don’t have exposed cords.
The build-out took money: about $60 million. It also took determination.
“It has become very personal,” Chadwick said. “My oldest daughter, who’s now 22, attempted suicide twice as a freshman in high school. And it really hit home. She’s what drives me to make sure that everyone who needs care gets it.”
Outside the hospital, leaders in Sedgwick County surrounding Wichita established a rapid response team to help with mental health related 911 calls when people may not need the ER.
They also set aside $15 million for a new mental health community crisis center.
County Commissioner Lacey Cruse envisions an area between the hospital and jail could be used to help psychiatric patients before they need emergency help.
“What we need really is like sort of a one-stop-shop,” Cruse said. “Let’s make sure they have transportation and get there. And then let’s follow up with them. You can’t teach someone to swim when they’re in the middle of the ocean drowning.”
The county has not settled on when or where to build the new center.
Medication and a caregiver are helping Birch’s mental health, four years after struggling for emergency room care.
“I have to keep reminding myself that I really don’t have too much to complain about right now,” Birch said. “I’m just doing a lot better now and I just hope I stay on this path.”
If you need to talk to someone, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988 or text “HOME” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
The FDA will also seek new authority to compel companies to turn over key information.
The Food and Drug Administration acknowledged Tuesday that its response to the U.S. infant formula shortage was slowed by delays in processing a whistleblower complaint and test samples from the nation’s largest formula factory.
A 10-page report from the agency offers its first formal account of the factors that led to the ongoing shortage, which has forced the U.S. to airlift millions of pounds of powdered formula from overseas.
The review zeroed in on several key problems at the agency, including outdated data-sharing systems, inadequate staffing and training among its food inspectors, and poor visibility into formula supply chains and manufacturing procedures.
“For things that are critical to the public health, if you don’t have some understanding of how all the pieces fit together, then when you get into a crisis or a shortage you have a real problem,” FDA Commissioner Robert Califf told The Associated Press in an interview. “To a large extent that’s what happened here.”
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Califf said the FDA will seek new authority to compel companies to turn over key information.
One consumer advocate said the evaluation doesn’t go far enough to fix the problems.
“This internal evaluation treats the symptoms of the disease rather than offering a cure,” Scott Faber of the Environmental Working Group said in a statement. “Nothing in this evaluation addresses the fragmented leadership structure that led to critical communication failures.”
The FDA report was overseen by a senior official who interviewed dozens of agency staffers. It comes nearly eight months after the FDA shuttered Abbott’s Michigan plant due to safety concerns, quickly slashing domestic production within the highly concentrated formula industry.
A company whistleblower had tried to warn the FDA of problems at the plant in September 2021, but government inspectors didn’t investigate the complaints until February after four infants became sick, resulting in two deaths. The FDA is still investigating links between those illnesses and the formula.
The FDA previously told Congress that top agency officials didn’t learn about the complaint until February because of mail delays and a failure to escalate the Abbott employee’s allegations. The new report stated that FDA’s “inadequate processes and lack of clarity related to whistleblower complaints,” may have delayed getting inspectors to the plant.
“Whistleblower complaints come into the agency in many different ways, from many different sources,” said Dr. Steven Solomon, an FDA veterinary medicine official who oversaw the review. “One of the actions we’ve already taken is to make sure that however they come into the agency, they get triaged and escalated to the right leadership levels.”
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FDA inspectors collected bacterial samples from the plant for testing, but shipping issues by “third party delivery companies” delayed the results, according to the report. The FDA also faced challenges ramping up its testing capacity for cronobacter, a rare but potentially deadly bacteria repeatedly linked to outbreaks in baby formula.
The FDA also noted that it had to reschedule its initial inspection of the Abbott plant due to cases of COVID-19 among company staff. That delay came on top of earlier missed inspections because the agency pulled its inspectors from the field during the pandemic.
The report concluded by listing new resources that Congress would need to authorize to improve infant formula inspections and standards, including:
— Increased funding and hiring authority to recruit experts to FDA’s food division;
— Improved information technology to share data on FDA inspections, consumer complaints and testing results;
— New authority to compel manufacturers to turn over samples and records on manufacturing supply chains, manufacturing quality and safety.
U.S. inventories of baby formula have been improving, hitting in-stock rates above 80% last week, according to IRI, a market research firm. That’s up from a low of 69% in mid-July. The U.S. has imported the equivalent of more than 80 million bottles of formula since May, according to White House figures, and the Biden administration is working to help foreign manufacturers stay on the market long term to diversify supply.
Califf has commissioned a separate external review of FDA’s food division citing “fundamental questions about the structure, function, funding and leadership” of the program. That review is being led by former FDA commissioner Dr. Jane Henney, who led the agency during the final years of the Clinton administration.
Studies show 30% of COVID patients report brain fog a few months after they’re sick. It’s 65 to 85% for long-haulers sick beyond that.
COVID-related brain fog is a condition that can feel very defeating and overwhelming.
Newsy’s Lindsey Theis has COVID-related brain fog herself. And it’s a topic she’s covered since 2020. She says each person she’s spoken with tells her it’s a dramatic change that impacts how they think and move throughout their lives. For this story, Theis met a family dealing with what she says is one of the worst cases she’s ever seen.
On a bright, sunny day in rural Rensselaer, Indiana, 45-year-old Kari Lentino’s mind is a slow-moving storm.
“I feel like a brain blizzard half the time,” she said.
Lentino is immunocompromised. She’s had COVID twice. Since June 2021, it’s left her with several neurological setbacks. She says her brain fog is among the worst of it.
“I couldn’t remember passwords to get into certain systems. I worked at the library and I would forget what I was doing while I was doing it,” Lentino said.
Her conversations now go at a snail’s pace as she searches for words.
The mother of four and grandmother of two had to quit work and file for disability.
She can’t watch her grandkids. She won’t run errands or drive. Now, her time is spent mothering her brain.
Dr. Igor Koralnik is chief of neuro-infectious diseases and co-director of the Northwestern Medicine Comprehensive COVID-19 Center, where he also runs a lab.
He says 70% of his COVID brain fog patients are like Lentino — women in their early 40s.
“We see that attention is their main cognitive problem,” he said. “Problem with attention, problem with memory, problem with multitasking and briefly, problems getting through their daily life and working in their current job capacity. … We have people who have been infected back in March 2020 and still have decreased quality of life because of those symptoms and decreased cognitive function.”
Scientists think COVID cognitive dysfunction is from brain inflammation — but what causes it is still itself foggy.
One leading theory is that long COVID is an autoimmune disorder, where the immune system attacks healthy cells in the body, including the brain.
“We find that the virus has confused the immune system, and we think that it’s driving the immune system towards autoimmunity,” Koralnik explained.
Studies show 30% of COVID patients report brain fog a few months after they’re sick. It’s 65 to 85% for long-haulers sick beyond that.
Researchers haven’t found brain fog treatments yet, so they tackle someone’s symptoms.
But even diagnosing brain fog is tricky. It’s invisible. There’s no set case definition but it can include trouble focusing, struggling to remember names, places, or words, reacting slowly, confused judgment, losing a train of thought often and fatigue or exhaustion from concentrating.
Back in Rensselaer, Lentino’s husband helps her prepare her pills. She takes eight medications and two vitamins daily, plus a handful more as needed. That’s in addition to her therapies and memory aids like calendars and post it notes. Those cues share spots in the Lentino home near the signs of her former creative and vibrant self. Prescription bottles near her paintings. Reminders near her Star Wars string art.
“It’s frustrating and depressing. It takes so long to do anything,” she said.
In the spot where she used to stand to paint, brushes and acrylics wait patiently.
Lentino is waiting too, like so many brain fog sufferers. It’s a long, draining wait and the ultimate test of patience.
On a hopeful note, research shows many brain fog patients recover memory and attention near the 6-to-9-month mark. For treatment, some doctors prescribe medicine, like steroids or antihistamines, plus therapies like speech or cognitive rehabilitation therapy. If you have brain fog yourself, experts say you can try memory games and puzzles, and focus on quality sleep and healthy eating.
After more than 200 days in a Russian prison, new details are coming out on efforts to free WNBA star Brittney Griner.
More than 200 days and counting. It’s how long Phoenix Mercury basketball star and Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner has been held in Russia.
At a WNBA finals press conference Sunday, league commissioner Cathy Engelbert called it a complex situation and revealed she recently received a handwritten letter from Griner.
“As we prepare to start this great series, it’s important to reiterate that we are always thinking of Brittney Griner and our commitment to bring her home safely and as quickly as possible,” Engelbert said. “I am so inspired by her courage in the face of enormous adversity.”
After a stretch of silence, new details are coming out on efforts to free her.
Friday marks President Joe Biden’s first in-person meeting with the family of Griner and fellow imprisoned American Paul Whelan.
“One of the reasons he is meeting with the families is that he wanted to let them know that they remain front of mind and that his team is working on this every day — on making sure that Brittney and Paul return home safely,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.
Earlier this week, published reports revealed that former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson and Russian leaders met in Moscow.
Richardson’s experience includes negotiating on behalf of other Americans detained in Cuba, Iraq and North Korea.
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U.S. Department of State Spokesperson Ned Price says the department has been communicating with the Russian government through “appropriate channels.”
“We have been in contact with the Richardson Center,” he said. “We made a significant offer to the Russians. We have followed up on that proposal repeatedly. Those discussions are ongoing.”
Last month, Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison for drug-related charges. She has since appealed the punishment.
Whelan, a Michigan-born corporate executive, is serving a 16-year prison sentence on espionage-related charges.
A person familiar with the case previously confirmed the U.S. offered convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for the release of Griner and Whelan, but no word on a deal.
Family members and fans say with every passing day, they worry about the conditions Griner may be exposed to in prison.
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Amy Manson is a board member for Hostage U.S., a nonprofit that helps families and people taken hostage cope with the trauma.
“They face the reality of poor nutrition, sometimes no access to fresh air or actual daylight,” she said.
Trauma stemming from everyday, taxing challenges in a Russian prison ranging from isolation to a drop in physical activity and bad food, which is especially tough for an elite athlete like Griner.
“Some of our returnees face as much as 50 to 60 to 70 pounds lost,” Manson continued. “And then we’re talking about muscle wastage, as well as the impact on their bodies of constant poor nutrition and constant stress.”
NEWSY’S ADI GUAJARDO: When prisoners like Brittney Griner and Paul Whalen see their names back in the news, that they’re being talked about, what does this do for them?
AMY MANSON: It’s incredibly uplifting … Someone said to me that it was like the best medicine he could have had during his captivity, when he heard that there was something going on relative to his captivity.
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Aaron Stark discusses his emotions and circumstances that drove him to buy a gun and nearly go on a rampage at 16 years old.
Aaron Stark is a dad, husband, full-time worker and self-described nerd. But life wasn’t always so normal.
“I grew up in a really dark and violent and chaotic life,” Stark said.
Stark says from a young age, adults around him turned life into a Stephen King horror story.
“I never went to school more than six months,” Stark said. “I was constantly the new kid. I was dirty, fat and smelly. I adopted that early on as my persona. I was told I was worthless by everybody in my life, and when you’re told you’re worthless enough, you will believe it.”
He tried to get help but says the system repeatedly failed him. He came close to a point of no return: almost becoming a mass shooter.
NEWSY’S CLAYTON SANDELL: What was the tipping point that made you want to shoot up your school?
AARON STARK: I saw a therapist, and I don’t really remember much of that conversation because all I remember is the end of it. The young lady, early 20s or so, said, “I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do. I can’t help you.” As I walked out of that door, my brain shattered.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all profile of a mass shooter, Stark ticked a few boxes. According to the Violence Project study of nearly 180 mass shootings, 98% were committed by men, about half are white and many are under 30 years old.
Of all the shootings in the database, only four were committed by women. Psychiatrists say young males are more prone violence.
“It’s not just about mass shootings,” said Jonathan Metzl, director of Vanderbilt University’s Department of Medicine, Health and Society. “Young men between 15 and 25 make up the vast majority of people who die in fights, in car accidents.”
Brain chemistry is part of the reason. Scientists say the prefrontal cortex that helps humans understand consequences of actions isn’t done growing.
“The male mind is not fully developed in terms of this kind of impulse control, probably until the mid-late 20s,” Metzl said.
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For psychiatrists like Metzl, it’s one of the biggest arguments for limiting gun sales to people 21 and older.
“In the U.S., we’ve gone exactly the opposite direction we keep pushing,” Metzl said. “Even in spite of all this data, we push the age limit down to 18 pretty much everywhere.”
Only a few pictures of that period of Stark’s adolescence have made it to present day.
“I lived in a very dark and angry life,” Stark said. “I spent my whole life hating myself. In that time I also snuck into the family members’ photo albums and destroyed all the pictures of me before 15 years old. I was trying to annihilate my own existence.”
He was on the brink of not only annihilating himself, but as many others as he could take with him.
“Instead of talking about girls or sports or movies, we talked about killing people,” Stark said. “If you’re going to kill 10 people, what would you do? If you’re going to kill 20 people, what would you do?”
Stark says he was ready to die. Then, his life changed again. One of the few friends he had left reached out.
“He’s like, ‘Dude, you’re gonna be okay,'” Stark said. “He would always tell me, ‘You’re a good kid in the crap world.” He brought me in, sat me down, and we had a movie and had a meal and gave me a shower and treated me like I was a person when I didn’t feel human at all. I felt like I was a walking ball of destruction, like I was just death walking on the street, and he treated me like I was just a kid in pain. It was like a splash of water in my face.”
Stark now travels the country telling his story.
“If I can help some person, anybody else, out of their own depression by talking about it, I’m going to keep talking until I don’t have a voice,” Stark said.
Newsy caught up with him in San Antonio, Texas.
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“Today I will be presenting my story to a whole convention of teachers and administrators,” Stark said. “It’s going to be a very intense day. These were the teachers that specifically were in the Uvalde school district.”
Stark said he deeply recognized some of the Uvalde’s shooter’s story.
“The biggest thing that made me see myself in his story was a couple weeks before it happened,” Stark said. “He showed up to school with his face covered in razor marks. To me, that’s the biggest sign of someone saying, ‘I’m hurting me. Help me.’ I don’t think anyone could have stopped his slide at that point, but maybe we can stop the next one.”
Stark says he never thought he’d live past 30 years old. Now at 43, he’s dedicating his life to helping stop a cycle of violence.
“Everybody’s pain is individual, and the key of it is to see the person as an individual to break through that barrier,” Stark said. “I somehow managed to now be able to use my darkest time to help someone else out of theirs. If anybody listening can get one message: Just give love to the people you think deserve it the least, because they need it the most.”
Newsy’s mental health initiative “America’s Breakdown: Confronting Our Mental Health Crisis” brings you deeply personal and thoughtfully told stories on the state of mental health care in the U.S. Click here to learn more.