Many U.S. Homes Too Cramped to Stop COVID’s Spread

FRIDAY, July 24, 2020 (HealthDay News) — People with COVID-19 are told to keep their distance from family members to protect them from infection. But a new study finds that one-fifth of U.S. homes are too small for that to happen.

Researchers found that more than 20% of households nationwide lacked enough bedrooms and bathrooms to allow a person with COVID-19 to isolate. That covers roughly one-quarter of the population.

And as with the pandemic in general, minority and low-income Americans are most affected. Among Hispanic adults, close to 40% live in a home with too few bedrooms or bathrooms.

Experts said housing conditions are likely one reason that Black and Hispanic Americans have been especially hard-hit during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is not affecting everyone in the same way,” said Dr. Talia Swartz, an infectious disease specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

It’s hard for any family to keep coronavirus from spreading in the household, said Swartz, who is also a spokeswoman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

“It’s that much harder if you’re living in crowded conditions,” she added.

Health experts’ advice to isolate sick family members makes sense, Swartz noted. But it can be frustrating for people without the space to do so.

“The guidance is catered to people who are able to do those things,” she said. “I think we need to be more thoughtful in our recommendations.”

Dr. Ashwini Sehgal, a professor of medicine at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, led the study.

“The issue of quarantining at home hasn’t gotten the same attention as mask wearing and social distancing,” he said. “And I think we need to do more.”

One option, Sehgal said, could be to offer hotel rooms to people who need to quarantine — under medical supervision, and with free meal delivery. The tactic has been used in several Asian countries, he noted.

New York City, which was the epicenter of the U.S. pandemic in the spring, did launch a hotel program, as did some other big cities. But Sehgal said he’s not aware of any coordinated effort to make that option widely available.

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Alex Trebek says he will stop cancer treatment if chemo fails

Alex Trebek says if his latest round of chemotherapy isn’t successful, he will stop treatment.

In his up-and-down battle with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, the beloved “Jeopardy!” host is struggling with side effects of the chemo, including pain that keeps him awake at night.

“Yesterday morning my wife came to me and said, ‘How are you feeling?’ And I said, ‘I feel like I want to die.’ It was that bad,” he told the New York Times.

“There comes a time where you have to make a decision as to whether you want to continue with such a low quality of life, or whether you want to just ease yourself into the next level. It doesn’t bother me in the least.”

Working in a studio set up in his LA home over the past several months has boosted his strength, he said: “It’s the strangest thing. It is some kind of an elixir.”

Since the coronavirus shutdown, Trebek has taped introductions to yet-unaired episodes of the popular quiz show, which he has hosted since 1984.

Once production resumes, Trebek — who turns 80 on July 22 — plans to keep making the show for as long as he can. But he worries about his performance, and speech problems.

“It’s a quality program, and I think I do a good job hosting it, and when I start slipping, I’ll stop hosting,” he told the Times.

Trebek is “currently doing well,” a representative told People.

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To Stop COVID-19 Transmission, Contact Tracers Follow The Trail Of The Virus : Shots

Contact tracing for the coronavirus is the subject of colorful conspiracy theories. In fact, contact tracing is a straightforward process of notifying people if they’ve been exposed to someone who is sick.

Hannah Norman/KHN

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Hannah Norman/KHN

Contact tracing for the coronavirus is the subject of colorful conspiracy theories. In fact, contact tracing is a straightforward process of notifying people if they’ve been exposed to someone who is sick.

Hannah Norman/KHN

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, contact tracing is downright buzzy, and not always in a good way.

Contact tracing is the public health practice of informing people when they’ve been exposed to a contagious disease. As it has become more widely employed across the U.S., it has also become mired in modern political polarization and conspiracy theories.

Misinformation abounds, from tales that people who talk to contact tracers will be sent to nonexistent “FEMA camps” — a rumor so prevalent that health officials in Washington state had to put out a statement in May debunking it — to elaborate theories that the efforts are somehow part of a plot by global elites, such as the Clinton Foundation, Bill Gates or George Soros.

At the very least, such misinformation could hinder efforts to contain the coronavirus, and at worst it has sparked threats against tracers, say some observers, including the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a London-based organization that studies polarization.

The dynamic, ISD notes in a June report, “is being generated both by individual social media users and by key influencers in conspiratorial communities” and plays on fears that Big Brother is watching us.

According to that report, social media posts, mainly videos, have been associated with “widespread sharing of petitions and other efforts to galvanise political action against contact tracing.” The videos, steeped in disinformation and conspiracy think — whether alleging that tracers have ties to the deep state or casting them as part of a Democratic effort to interfere in the 2020 election — “are receiving more than 300,000 views each on YouTube and are being shared tens of thousands of times across public Facebook pages and groups.”

Of course, the real story behind tracing is nothing like these colorful conspiracy theories. Contact tracing is an age-old infection-control strategy, and it’s a bit tedious, actually.

“We’ve been doing it in public health for decades,” said Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

Part old-fashioned shoe-leather detective work, part social work, the goal is to interrupt the spread of the illness by reaching out to people who test positive — and the people they have been in close contact with — and provide needed support for them to isolate. It has to be done quickly, and it takes a lot of people. Recent case count surges in some parts of the country are making the task more difficult.

So let’s take a look at what it is and isn’t.

What’s the process?

When a person tests positive for a communicable disease, health care providers must report the person’s contact information to public health departments. Contact tracers then try to reach out quickly, generally by phone.

The tracer will ask for the patient’s address. Some social media sites have decried this as nefarious, but it’s not. The tracer does not want to provide private medical information — “Mr. Smith, I see you tested positive for COVID-19” — to the wrong person. Answering contact tracers’ questions is always optional, and those contacted should also feel free to confirm it really is the public health department calling, experts note, as there have been reports of fraudulent calls.

During the initial call, the tracer makes sure the patient is OK and understands the disease and what to expect. Ideally, the contract tracer builds a relationship with the patient. Some can link the patient with local resources or services, such as food delivery or needed medical supplies, that can make it easier to stay isolated until the patient has recovered from the virus.

What’s a close contact?

Contact tracers ask where the infected person traveled and with whom they came in close contact — generally defined as being within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more — from about two days before they started showing symptoms until they isolated themselves.

That does not include such things as simply passing people on the street or opening the door to pick up a package dropped off by a FedEx driver.

Providing the information is voluntary, but it is the only way the programs will work. Most patients happily comply, but a few are reluctant, said Plescia.

“That was a little surprising,” he said. “You would think if you might cause another person to become ill, you would have an interest in that person being notified. But some worry they are snitching on other people.”

Tracers do not disclose the name of the infected person to the contacts. Contacts simply “receive a call saying, ‘You have had a significant exposure,’ ” said Crystal Watson, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and the co-author of a report on contact tracing.

To assist with tracing, some restaurants, stores, salons and other businesses are keeping daily logs of customers. Some voices on social media have raised concerns about those logs, saying they are intrusive and suggest that Big Brother is watching. Their purpose, though, is to make it easier for health officials to notify other employees and patrons in the event that someone tests positive.

Close contacts are urged to quarantine for 14 days, check their temperature regularly and avoid contact with other household members, if possible.

For each infected patient, tracers need to contact an average of 10 other people, said Watson — noting, however, that the number could be far higher. “If contact tracing is done in a place where there’s a big epidemic and no one is under social distancing restrictions, you’ll have to contact more,” she said.

Speed is of the essence in finding close contacts. Infected people start showing symptoms within two to seven days of exposure — although it can take up to 14 — and they may be contagious before symptoms appear.

Who is asking these questions?

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., tracing was limited because testing for the virus was also limited. The two really go together. That meant the nation used the other tool at its disposal, the blunt instrument of stay-at-home orders. Now, with testing more available and with many states in the fits and starts of reopening, the more targeted effort of contact tracing becomes important.

Used effectively, it can sharply slow outbreaks, as seen in countries that have employed comprehensive tracing programs, such Japan, New Zealand and China.

So far, though, the U.S. has had a more limited effort, and it varies state by state.

An estimated 37,000 contact tracers are now employed by public health departments nationwide, triple the number just a few weeks ago, according to an NPR state survey and tracking effort. Still, those numbers are far below estimates of what many say is necessary. Indeed, Watson and other Hopkins researchers say the U.S. needs to add a minimum of 100,000 contract tracers.

Can they force me into quarantine?

Although health officials do have authority to isolate people who pose a danger to others, that power is almost never used.

“Mandatory quarantine hasn’t really been used since the days of smallpox in this country, although the president used it in the beginning of the pandemic for some people repatriating back to the county,” said Watson.

Public health officials avoid such aggressive tactics because they don’t want to discourage people from getting tested. As for hauling people away from their homes by force, that also doesn’t happen here, although it does in some authoritarian countries. Instead, a number of cities and regions have set up special hotels or other facilities where infected or exposed people who live in homes where they can’t isolate themselves from other family members can voluntarily spend their convalescence.

Is contact tracing working?

It has certainly worked in other countries, said Howard Koh, professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and former assistant secretary for health in the Obama administration.

“Italy, Spain, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and New Zealand have all gotten to the other side of the curve,” said Koh. “When they have outbreaks, they are relatively small, and they jump on them right away.”

One difference, he said, is those places have a national strategy.

“In our country, we have a 50-state strategy, a patchwork response including contact tracing, with some states having embraced it and some have barely started.”

Massachusetts and New York have reported success with tracing, said Watson.

But there are many areas of the country, especially the Sun Belt, where cases are spiking, complicating efforts to control the virus. With more demand for testing, the turnaround time for results grows. And large numbers of new cases mean contact tracers have far more people to track down, making it challenging to do so in the short time frame needed to be effective.

“I’m discouraged that a lot of the states where we are seeing a big surge right now have not put a lot of effort into developing their contact tracing workforce,” Watson said, echoing Koh’s call for a national plan. “We need an initiative by the federal government focused on contract tracing.”

Kaiser Health News is a nonprofit news service covering health issues. It is an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation and is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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Wearing a mask at home could help stop coronavirus spread among family members, study says

The study, which was published in BMJ Global Health on Thursday, showed that wearing a mask at home was 79% effective at preventing the spread of the virus — but only when family members started wearing masks before symptoms emerged in the first person infected. Cleaning the house frequently with bleach or disinfectants was almost equally effective at 77%.

“This study confirms the highest risk of household transmission being prior to symptom onset, but that precautionary [non-pharmaceutical interventions], such as mask use, disinfection and social distancing in households can prevent Covid-19 transmission during the pandemic,” the study says.

In February, Chinese officials said most of the cluster cases they studied weren’t coming from supermarkets or schools, but rather within families. Of the more than 1,000 cluster cases studied, 83% were identified as family clusters, according to Wu Zunyou, a virus expert with China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

While it was known that social distancing and mask wearing could prevent transmission of the disease in the community, there was little evidence to prove whether it was effective within families.

For the new study, researchers called 460 people from 124 families in Beijing who were living with an infected person and questioned them on their household hygiene and other behaviors during the pandemic.

Researchers found 41 out of the 124 families saw the virus being transmitted from the first infected person to other family members, totaling to 77 adults and children being infected. But the families who cleaned their homes with disinfectants daily, opened their windows and kept at least 1 meter (3 feet) apart were at lower risk of passing the virus, even in more crowded households.

Families who engaged in close daily contact, such as eating meals around a table or watching TV together were associated with an 18-fold increased risk. Daily close contact with a family member who was showing symptoms increased the risk for others, even if they started wearing masks at that point, according to the study.

The study is not without its critics

Some members of the scientific community who didn’t participate in the study are recognizing its significance.

“This is an important paper because it comes at a time when — as lockdown is eased — the risk of a person entering the home who has become infected (e.g. whilst on public transport or in the workplace) but is unaware that this is so, is increasing,” Professor Sally Bloomfield of London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said in a statement.

Professor Trish Greenhalgh of University of Oxford mirrored her response, saying that the practice of wearing masks at home is “perhaps the most interesting as it’s something that few people currently do in their own homes, especially when not symptomatic.”

“Worryingly, whereas people who wore a mask before they became symptomatic with Covid-19 were significantly less likely to pass it on to others in the household, those who only started wearing the mask after they became symptomatic weren’t able to protect their family members,” Greenhalgh added.

But others have pointed to the study’s limitations, including ones that the authors also recognized.

“Telephone interview has inherent limitations including recall bias,” the study says. “The evaluation results of mask wearing were reliable, but we did not collect data on the concentration of disinfectant used by families.”

Dr. Antonio Lazzarino at the University College London said that the study itself is not enough to make any official recommendations of any kind.

“This study is not robust science, as it has several limitations in the conception and in the statistical analysis,” he said in a statement. “The main limitation is that it was designed at the family level, rather than at the individual level.”

Lazzarino also pointed out that the study didn’t make a distinction between whether the families were wearing N95 masks, surgical masks or basic cloth masks.

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Breaking New

Atlanta mayor: Racist text will not stop her from speaking up for residents

In a Wednesday night tweet, the mayor said she received a text addressing her by the n-word and demanding, “just shut up and RE-OPEN ATLANTA!”

Her son received the same text, she later told the city council. When Bottoms opened the text on her phone, she said, her daughter was looking over her shoulder as she read it.

Bottoms included in her tweet, “I pray for you. ‘Conscientious stupidity or sincere ignorance'” — a nod to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assertion that nothing is more dangerous than these two human characteristics.

Following Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s controversial decision to start reopening parts of the state economy, Bottoms pushed back, saying she would consider legal options to keep Atlanta largely shut down because the city is “not out of the woods yet.”
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp faces resistance over move to reopen economy
“I have searched my head and my heart on this and I am at a loss as to what the governor is basing this decision on,” Bottoms said earlier this week. “You have to live to fight another day, and you have to be able to be amongst the living to be able to recover.”

Disagreement over courses of action have been a theme during the pandemic, with residents in some states staging protests over the decision to shut down parts of their economies, while local leaders, governors and the federal government bicker over the best way forward.

When a city council member asked Bottoms on Thursday how she was handling the racist abuse, she said her family was fine but that it was disturbing that her son received the same message.

“That was more concerning to me than anything,” she said.

She had a “very long conversation” with civil rights activist and former ambassador Andrew Young Thursday morning, and he reminded her that “white supremacy is a sickness.”

Bottoms will not stop speaking up for and defending Atlantans, she told the city council.

“We are not cowards. Cowards don’t run for office,” she said.

The number from which the text originated is not a real phone number. It contains only nine digits.

The number has been used in phishing scams, according to online reports, and it was included in a federal cyberstalking case out of Washington D.C. in which the defendant was accused of using technology that enables anonymity to send harassing messages to an ex-girlfriend.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated who told the mayor that “white supremacy is a sickness.” It was Andrew Young who said it to the mayor.

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Breaking New

Biden: Trump should ‘stop talking and start listening to the medical experts’

Trump set the Easter goal earlier Tuesday on Fox News. It’s a date that few health experts believe will be sufficient in containing the spread of coronavirus.

“Look, we all want the economy to open as rapidly as possible. The way to do that is let’s take care of the medical side of this immediately,” Biden said in an interview with CNN.

The former vice president said he could envision some parts of the country and some sectors being ready to return to work on Trump’s timeline.

“But the idea that we’re in a position where we’re saying, by Easter, he wants to have everybody going back to work? What’s he talking about?” Biden said.

Biden said Trump is “not responsible for the coronavirus” but that the President is “responsible for the delay in taking the actions that need to be taken.”

He said Trump should have invoked the Defense Production Act earlier and used its powers to require companies to rapidly ramp up production of medical equipment like masks and ventilators.

“He says he’s a war-time president — well God, act like one. Move. Fast,” Biden said.

Biden has been off the campaign trail for two weeks as the pandemic has forced candidates to cancel rallies and fundraisers and order staff to work from home. His campaign converted a room in his Wilmington, Delaware, home into a broadcast studio, and Biden began a media blitz Tuesday.

In the interview, Biden said he has not been tested for coronavirus because he has not exhibited any symptoms, and that he is following medical experts’ advice — including keeping distance from his grandchildren when they visit and ensuring everyone who enters his house, including the Secret Service, wears gloves and masks.

At one point in the interview, Biden coughed into his hand. Tapper told Biden that doing so was “kind of old school” and that he should cough into his elbow.

“Actually that is true,” Biden said. “But fortunately I’m alone in my home. But that’s OK. I agree. You’re right.”

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Breaking New

Ohio orders abortion clinics to stop ‘nonessential abortions’ because of coronavirus

“The order was issued, in part, to preserve PPE (personal protective equipment) for health care providers who are battling the Covid-19 pandemic that is spreading in our state and also to preserve critical hospital capacity and resources,” the letters, which were reviewed by CNN, say. Surgical abortions, the letters say, “involve the use of PPE.”

The Attorney General’s office said the letters, signed by Ohio Deputy Attorney General Jonathan Fulkerson, comply with an order from Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton, who wrote that effective March 18, all non-essential or elective surgeries and procedures “should not be conducted.”

“This is not an abortion issue,” Bethany McCorkle, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, told CNN. “A letter was also sent to a urology group that was allegedly performing elective surgeries. As our client, if Dr. Acton’s office determines that her order was violated by any surgical facility in Ohio, they can refer it to our office to pursue legal action on behalf of the Ohio Department of Health.”

In her order, Acton defined a non-essential surgery as “any procedure that can be delayed without undue risk to the current or future health of a patient.”

Top health care officials across the country say there is not enough stockpiled medical protective equipment like masks, gowns and gloves to fulfill the anticipated need of nation’s health care system as it deals with coronavirus. To save equipment and hospital space, the White House recommended canceling non-essential elective surgeries such as cataracts and colonoscopies.
Ohio issued a statewide “stay at home” order Sunday to try to stop the coronavirus from infecting and killing more people, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said. DeWine, a Republican, was among the first governors in the country to aggressively shut down activity to stem the virus’s spread.
There are 247 confirmed coronavirus cases in Ohio and three people have died from the virus, according to CNN’s latest tally.
According to The Washington Post, letters were only sent to facilities that were the subject of complaints to health departments, according to McCorkle. Those clinics include Planned Parenthood Southwest in Cincinnati, the Women’s Med Center in Dayton and the Preterm facility in Cleveland. CNN has reached out to all three clinics for comment.

Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region said in a statement that it is abiding by the order regarding personal protective equipment.

“Planned Parenthood’s top priority is ensuring that every person can continue accessing essential health care, including abortion,” the organization said in a statement. “Under that order, Planned Parenthood can still continue providing essential procedures, including surgical abortion, and our health centers continue to provide services that our patients depend on.”

NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, a non-profit that supports legal abortion, said that “abortion care is a time-sensitive medical situation that cannot be significantly delayed without profound consequences.”

“Ohioans are continuing to rely on their trusted community abortion providers during this crisis, and Ohio’s elected officials should not stand between patients and their doctors,” the group said. “Abortion is an essential health service. Attorney General Dave Yost and Ohio Right to Life president and State Medical Board member Mike Gonidakis should not be exploiting the Covid-19 crisis to further their agenda to close Ohio’s abortion clinics.”

In a press conference on Saturday, Acton said the order was not a political decision.

“I am the doctor for 11.7 million people and all women no matter where they fall on this,” she said. “And I think that’s very important we cannot allow the politics of things to get in the way of doing what we have to do in a state of emergency.”

CNN’s Sarah Jorgensen and Eric Levenson contributed to this report.

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Breaking New

California may stop school fitness tests over fears they lead to bullying and body-shaming

California Governor Gavin Newsom has proposed suspending the physical fitness tests at the state’s schools over concerns that they promote bullying and body discrimination.

Under current state requirements, students in grades five, seven and nine are required to take a physical fitness test, which includes the one-mile run, curl-ups, push-ups and a measure of body mass index.

While the administration argues the physical assessments can cause students of different body shapes to be body-shamed or bullied, the BMI screening is particularly sensitive because it asks students to select whether they are female or male.

A number of school districts have complained to the state that this is discriminatory against students who identify as non-binary, according to H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the Finance Department.

If the proposal, which was included in Newsom’s budget bill for next year, passes, physical fitness testing would be suspended for three years.

“Dispelling myths, breaking down stereotypes, and improving school climate is one way California is working to keep all students safe and healthy, consistent with the Governor’s commitment to a California that respects all students,” Palmer said in an email.

South Dakota advances bill prohibiting doctors from assisting in gender reassignment process for transgender youth

During the proposed three-year suspension, the Department of Education would consult with experts on fitness, physical education, gender identity and students with disabilities to determine whether the test needs to be modified or a new assessment should be developed.

The proposal comes as California’s annual reports of the fitness test since the 2014-2015 school year show a decline in the percentage of students scoring healthy. The share of students meeting the healthy fitness zone for all six fitness standards (aerobic capacity, body composition, abdominal strength, trunk extension strength and upper body strength) decreased by 3.3 percentage points for fifth graders, 4.3 points for seventh graders and 4.6 points for ninth graders.

But Palmer says Newsom’s proposal will not affect students’ physical fitness.

“The pause in administering tests won’t affect the amount or level of (physical education) that kids receive from their school,” Palmer said, adding that PE classes would still be a graduation requirement.

Gender identity advocates praise the move

Advocates for gender identity are praising Newsom’s proposal as a step forward.

“There is an objective in measuring a student’s fitness. The problem is when it’s defined by gender,” Joel Baum, senior director for professional development at Gender Spectrum, told CNN.
The current fitness test sets different criteria for boys and girls. For example, a 12-year-old girl is considered healthy if she can do more than four modified pull-ups. But a boy of the same age is considered healthy if he can do more than seven pull-ups, according to FITNESSGRAM.

This difference in standards can put transgender and non-binary students in a tough spot, possibly even in danger, Baum said.

“If I’m a transgender boy and nobody knows, and then I don’t meet the standards of a boy physically, I’m put in a difficult situation. Either I don’t meet the standards and take the according grade or I compromise my own privacy and tell my teacher I was actually born as a girl,” Baum said, adding that this can lead to bullying of the transgender student.

When a student who identifies as non-binary is pushed to select male or female on the BMI assessment, Baum says, that forces them to claim an identity that’s not their own.

“It’s simply important that kids feel seen by the school that they go to,” Baum said. “By recognizing non-binary people and using the right pronouns, that’s a huge acknowledgment of someone’s reality and experience, and it’s affirming.”

BMI isn’t even an accurate measure of fitness, some say

BMI is commonly used in the US to measure obesity. You divide your weight (in pounds) by your height (in inches) squared, and multiply that number by 703. If the resulting number is 30 or higher, a person is considered obese. But in recent years, BMI has come under scrutiny because it doesn’t distinguish between fat and muscle, which can be an issue for athletic people.

Even former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger would be considered obese when he won the top bodybuilding title of Mr. Olympia in 1974, Schwarzenegger’s spokesman told the Associated Press.

“Whether the state uses fitness tests or not, Governor Schwarzenegger believes that the most important thing is that our students have access to daily physical education classes to promote a healthy and fit lifestyle,” Schwarzenegger’s the spokesman said.

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Breaking New

Riverview neighborhood in ‘limbo’ after vandal refuses to stop dumping nails on road

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — A vandal continues to dump nails all over a Hillsborough County road. Now, neighbors are fed up with getting flat tires. They say it’s been going on for nearly two years but nobody can catch the slippery vandal.
In the new year, neighbors discovered even more nails on Hannaway Drive in front of Riverview Elementary School. But neighbors say they’re stuck in limbo.

It’s a nightmare that just won’t end for those living off Hannaway.

“Whoever it is is very sneaky,” said Dennis Labrie.

The crime has no lack of evidence. In fact, Labrie has collected 15 bags of nails over nearly two years. But this vandal just won’t quit. They always slip away without getting caught.


“You know how everybody says ‘violence is not the issue’ (sic.), but I just want to shake somebody,” said Labrie.

Early Friday morning, he headed off to work.

“You put your high-beams on, you see the heads of the nails on the road,” he described.

There, scattered on the school crosswalk, were enough nails to fill his hand. Just two days later, the vandal struck again. It’s gotten so bad Labrie has had to call off work before stranded at home.

“Every time I go to the tire store it’s $20 so I probably have a couple of hundred dollars in just patching tires,” he said.

Frustrated neighbors have even installed cameras with no luck. HCSO has told us they’re aware of the problem but can’t do anything unless the person is caught in the act.

“I’ve thought about moving. It just pushes you — you don’t want to be in that area,” said Labrie.

For now, all they can do is warn one another on Facebook and hope this nail vandal makes a mistake.

The school district is taking action too. They’ve told us an administrator comes out routinely to check for nails. HCSO encourages anyone who finds nails to report it to them. The agency says it has not arrested anyone in connection with this series of crimes.

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Terrorists are using crypto to pay for attacks. It’s time to stop them (opinion)

Since Bitcoin arrived in 2009, there has been growing economic and ideological interest in perfecting money that is native to the internet, and its popularity has sparked thousands of iterations. Blockchain-based digital money was indeed supposed to make our financial systems more free, fair and transparent. But where visionaries saw improvements over traditional finance, criminal enterprises saw opportunities.

Sure, the traditional financial system is regularly used by traffickers and terrorists, but cryptocurrencies have some attributes that are especially attractive for illicit activity. Unlike payments through banks, blockchain-based transactions settle in a matter of minutes. There’s no central authority to handle disputes, and transfers are irreversible. One currency can be rapidly traded for another. Security company CipherTrace notes that while only a fraction of Bitcoin transactions is used for crime, it’s also true that “nearly all dark market commerce is transacted in cryptocurrencies.”
One key area that has been repeatedly attacked are cryptocurrency exchanges, companies that allow customers to purchase and trade different types of digital assets. They “handle the money,” so they have the most sensitive role. Despite that, these businesses are notorious for the shady practices they enable, like insufficient verification of listings, abusive trading activity and rampant conflicts of interest. Cryptocurrency exchanges are rife with fraud and constantly being hacked. While this has led to many lost fortunes, there’s far more than money at stake.
Take North Korea. A March report from the United Nations Security Council found that Kim Jong Un and the North Korean regime have been exploiting vulnerabilities in cryptocurrency exchanges to evade sanctions and fund their military ambitions. So far, it’s been a huge success. Between January 2017 and September 2018, state-sponsored hackers have stolen $571 million worth of tokens from cryptocurrency exchanges across Asia, according to one estimate cited in the UN report.
North Korea is not the only rogue state looking to leverage cryptocurrencies. Venezuela had explored creating its own cryptocurrency to bypass sanctions imposed by the United States.
Non-state actors are constantly evolving their tactics, too. The United States has accused two Iranians of using Bitcoin in a digital extortion campaign. Middle East Media Research Institute, a research and analysis organization, has observed an uptick in jihadi organizations soliciting donations in cryptocurrency through social media, particularly on the messaging app Telegram. The founder of Telegram has defended the company’s policies and said during a “60 Minutes” interview in 2016 that it is trying to do more to stop terrorist groups from using the service.
Fighters around the region are using cryptocurrency to fund attacks, purchase weapons, obtain equipment and support their families. Elliptic, a company that develops tools to track how cryptocurrencies are used in criminal activity, has found that Hamas, the Palestinian fundamentalist militant organization, has deployed a method to make some of their donations nearly untraceable by providing each visitor a different Bitcoin address to send payments to.
Staging a terrorist attack can cost as little as a few thousand dollars. With cryptocurrencies, that sort of money can be raised almost instantly by scamming users, attacking businesses or manipulating financial markets. For a state-sponsored hacker with nearly unlimited resources, the potential earnings can be far greater.

Blockchain entrepreneurs and developers now need to develop and adopt the guardrails, protections and the oversight necessary for a global financial system. That means learning from the existing financial system while still embracing the security advantages unique to blockchain. Banks can be greedy and ineffective, but they have built complex and reliable ways to build, test and maintain systems that are worth emulating. With a cultural focus on reducing risk, these institutions have clear guidelines, train employees extensively and strictly adhere to compliance laws.

Most blockchains allow you to build policies and rules in the data, which requires a more thoughtful strategy, but can be used to prevent problems and create a system that is capable of correcting itself. Entrepreneurs should develop a set of standards, limits and restrictions directly into the function of the blockchain itself. This could include mandating advanced forms of cryptography, building in insurance policies if data is misused, or setting rules for how updates can be made in the future.

Public policy groups can be helpful here by creating and disseminating clear procedures for the industry to follow. Most notably, The Financial Action Task Force, an intergovernmental organization, has produced guidelines on how cryptocurrency businesses should share the identity information of users who transact in their markets.
Heavy-handed regulation is not the way to go. But if developers fail to improve, governments will be forced to step in and take drastic action. That will likely lead to burdensome regulations, or worse, criminalization. In fact, US Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Sigal Mandelker warned that if foreign financial institutions, including cryptocurrency exchanges, do not build appropriate safeguards, then the United States will work to make sure “that non-compliant networks and fintechs do not survive.”

A much more aggressive policing approach appears to be on the horizon. Law enforcement priorities will outweigh the efficiencies and opportunities made possible by blockchain, constraining a promising field of economics.

Blockchain’s greatest asset is the passionate community of developers behind it. But the work they’ve done to improve the world is now being hijacked by those who want to commit acts of violence and create instability. We need to fix this situation in order to move the industry forward. Without serious course corrections, a movement to create government-less currency is on track to become yet another tool for nations to undermine each other.

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