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Uber buys Postmates in deal where restaurants, delivery people and customers all lose

2 0 09 Jul 2020

On Monday, Uber announced it was acquiring the food-delivery service Postmates for $2.65 billion in stock. While Uber says it will keep the Postmates app running as its own separate brand, the move effectively reduces the food-delivery industry from four major players — DoorDash, GrubHub (which owns Seamless), Postmates and Uber Eats — to three, and that could have consequences for the drivers and couriers who are already feeling squeezed by high commissions and low pay.

The acquisition is already questionable because arguably, neither company is in a healthy financial state.

The acquisition is already questionable because arguably, neither company is in a healthy financial state. Uber continues to lose billions of dollars a year, reporting a $2.9 billion loss in the first quarter of 2020, while the food-delivery companies are similarly struggling to turn a profit. Only GrubHub has tipped into profitability in some quarters by serving online ads. (Although GrubHub’s “success” might also come from its shady practice of tricking customers into calling GrubHub-generated phone numbers that charge restaurants additional fees.)

And yet, despite their financial struggles, new food-delivery apps act as middlemen and take a cut from both ends. They usually charge customers a delivery fee (some have been waived during the pandemic) and take a commission on the total amount of the order from restaurants. Those commissions can range from 15 percent to as high as 40 to 60 percent, depending on many factors — and restaurants say those fees eat up thin margins and then some. McDonalds even ended its exclusive arrangement with Uber Eats because its fees were too high.

The services also rely on delivery couriers. These essential but low-paid workers don’t have good things to say about the apps either. Couriers work as independent contractors, meaning they don’t have to get paid a minimum wage or get health benefits, and the companies take full advantage of that. While New York City passed regulations ensuring Uber and Lyft drivers get paid at least $17.22 an hour, delivery couriers are not covered and can make less than the city’s minimum wage.

During the pandemic, orders on delivery apps have soared. Uber Eats, for example, was up 54 percent in the first quarter over the previous year, but the service still lost over $300 million. However, couriers, who already face high injury rates say that despite being deemed “essential,” have said they received no additional pay, very little protective equipment or sanitizer. Some restaurants wouldn’t even let them wash their hands, according to part-time courier Wilfred Chan.

And the customer isn’t spared. A proposed class-action lawsuit filed in April against the big four food-delivery services claims customers are paying artificially inflated prices for food. Since the high commissions are cutting so deeply into restaurants’ bottom lines, that means prices have to go up for everyone, not just those using the delivery services.

In short, the food-delivery app business right now seems like a long-term loser for everyone involved. The customer may get a bit more convenience, but it’s unclear how Uber’s acquisition of Postmates will make anything significantly better for anyone. The deal will allow the companies to dominate the Los Angeles and Miami markets — where the companies have significant combined market share — which could attract antitrust scrutiny, but its business is premised on minimizing courier costs, which it might not be able to maintain much longer. California is already taking Uber to court for flaunting labor rights and filed an injunction in June to force it to reclassify its contract workers as employees. And workers themselves are beginning to organize to demand better treatment by the app companies and for governments to hold them accountable.

The food-delivery services are a typical example of a rentier business model where the companies effectively put themselves in the middle of transaction and charge a toll from everyone involved while reducing the wages of workers and even stealing their tips, as DoorDash did. There’s absolutely no reason to believe that giving the intermediary even more power will improve the situation for any of those groups. A report in The Information suggests DoorDash thinks it will get all the benefits of consolidation without having to spend a penny, and the acquisition will allow both companies to spend less on incentives for couriers.

Uber has already spent more than a decade trying to turn a profit from disrupting the taxi industry and failed. It also tried to dominate the bike-share industry, but gave up in May as it was still losing $60 million a quarter. That same month it laid off thousands of employees, closed 45 offices, shuttered a start-up incubator and even signaled it could finally abandon its autonomous-vehicle project.

Maybe the Postmates acquisition is a signal Uber thinks the food-delivery business could be the one that will finally work. But it seems far more likely this venture is its latest attempt to delay investors pulling the plug and will fail like so many before it.

New climate report highlights enormous challenge ahead for meeting Paris Agreement goals

4 0 09 Jul 2020

The world is struggling to slow the effects of climate change, according to a report released Wednesday by the World Meteorological Organization that outlines new projections for rising temperatures over the next five years.

The so-called Global Annual to Decadal Climate Update states that global average temperatures are likely to be at least 1 degree Celsius above preindustrial levels each year from 2020 to 2024. The new forecasts also show that there is a 20 percent chance that global average temperatures could exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius in at least one of those years.

The new outlook, based on models from climate prediction centers around the world, highlights the need for drastic action to curb climate change — particularly if the world has any hope of meeting the goals set out by the Paris Agreement, which aims to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius by the year 2100.

“This study shows — with a high level of scientific skill — the enormous challenge ahead in meeting the Paris Agreement on Climate Change target of keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement.

Those efforts are likely to be an uphill battle. Earlier this year, an analysis by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that the past decade was the planet’s warmest on record, and the past five years have been the warmest since record-keeping began in 1880.

A 2018 report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated that Earth has already warmed by 1 degree Celsius since the 19th century and warned that further warming by 1.5 degrees could have catastrophic consequence, including melting ice, extreme heat and rising seas, that may be life-threatening to tens of millions of people around the world.

The WMO report states that over the next five years, almost all regions of the planet are likely to be warmer than in the recent past.

In 2020 alone, the Arctic, which has been in the grips of a heat wave in recent weeks, will likely warm by more than twice as much as the global average, according the WMO. Last month, the Siberian town of Verkhoyansk recorded a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit), likely setting a new record for the hottest temperature recorded that far north.

The WMO’s projections account for natural climate variations and provide a look at how temperatures, precipitation and wind patterns may change over the next five years. The new outlooks do not, however, include changes in greenhouse gas emissions or other impacts from the coronavirus pandemic.

A study published in May in the journal Nature Climate Change found that strict lockdowns and restrictions that banned travel and scaled back economic activity contributed to an estimated 17 percent decline in daily global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions compared to daily global averages from 2019.

The study’s researchers added that the drastic drop could also fuel a decrease in this year’s annual carbon emissions of up to 7 percent, though the declines likely won’t have a long-term impact after countries return to normal.

The WMO stressed that any observed decreases in emissions from the coronavirus pandemic should not replace meaningful action to address climate change.

“Due to the very long lifetime of CO2 in the atmosphere, the impact of the drop in emissions this year is not expected to lead to a reduction of CO2 atmospheric concentrations which are driving global temperature increases,” Taalas said.

He added that global warming could have even more far-reaching health and economic consequences than the current global health crisis.

“Failure to tackle climate change may threaten human well-being, ecosystems and economies for centuries,” he said in the statement. “Governments should use the opportunity to embrace climate action as part of recovery programmes and ensure that we grow back better.”

Supreme Court birth control ruling shows how civil rights and abortion access will be limited

3 0 08 Jul 2020

Days after progressives were celebrating Supreme Court victories on LGBTQ equality and abortion access, the justices made clear just how they will go about limiting — if not outright dismantling — any judicial wins like these that the left ekes out.

On Wednesday, the court ruled that the Trump administration could exempt employers from offering health insurance coverage for contraception if they have either religious or moral objections to contraception. The 7-2 decision in the case, Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, is a harbinger of things to come.

It’s poised to decide a case next term in which it will likely expand religious objectors’ ability to opt out of civil rights protections.

Little Sisters involved a challenge to a regulation of the Affordable Care Act that required employers to offer coverage for contraception. It exempted churches, which might have objections of conscience, and gave religious objectors not affiliated with churches a path out of the requirement as well: They could notify the federal government or their insurer of their objection to covering the cost of contraception, and the insurer would offer the contraception at no expense to the employee without ever involving the employer. The federal government would reimburse the insurance companies’ expenses.

In 2017, however, the Trump administration decided to exempt all employers from even this notification requirement. The upshot is that, if an employer has religious or moral objections, employees have no way of obtaining free contraception through their employer-sponsored health care insurance.

Wednesday’s decision affirms the Trump administration objections, leaving the up to 126,000 female employees at companies whose owners object to contraception in the lurch. Moreover, in light of the decision, even when laws and courts guarantee rights like abortion and freedom from discrimination, there is a way for entities to get around them.

The concurrence by Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch in Wednesday’s ruling provides an even clearer roadmap for how the court will whittle away the recent victories for LGBTQ rights and abortion. Whereas the majority concluded the Trump administration could exempt entities from the contraception mandate, these two justices would have concluded that the administration was required to exempt entities from the mandate under their reading of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Their views and the majority’s views have sweeping implications for the Supreme Court’s recent decisions that appear to be progressive victories.

In one, Bostock v. Clayton County, the court ruled last month that existing anti-discrimination law prevents employers from firing employees because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. But the opinion, written by Gorsuch, made clear that the court was not deciding whether the statutory prohibition against discrimination could be applied to employers who had religious objections to LGBTQ equality. Indeed, the opinion went so far as to describe the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a statute that could override civil rights legislation.

Unfortunately, the court could soon have an opportunity to put this reasoning into practice, as it’s poised to decide a case next term in which it will likely expand religious objectors’ ability to opt out of civil rights protections.

Specifically, in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, the court is poised to decide whether Philadelphia can condition eligibility for one-year government contracts on an entity’s compliance with nondiscrimination provisions. A foster care agency is arguing that it shouldn’t be kept from consideration even though it doesn’t offer placements to same-sex couples.

If the foster care agency wins, the decision would expand Wednesday’s ruling to mean that religious objectors are entitled to government funding even if they do not comply with generally applicable conditions for those benefits, rather than merely being exempt from government penalties if they do not comply with government requirements.

Mother Loraine Marie Maguire, of the Little Sisters of the Poor, speaks to reports after arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court, March 23, 2016.Mark Wilson / Getty Images file

There is every reason to think that the court will proceed down that road, since another decision Wednesday, Our Lady of Guadalupe v. Morrissey-Berru, held that nondiscrimination statutes could not be applied to religious teachers at religious schools.

In the hands of this court, it is not clear where religious exemptions will end and women’s health will begin.

Coronavirus reported in over half of Latino meat, poultry workers in 21 states, CDC says

3 0 08 Jul 2020

Latino workers at meat and chicken processing plants have been the hardest hit by coronavirus, accounting for 56 percent of cases reported in plants in 21 states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

The latest CDC data, published Tuesday, reinforces alarms raised as meat and chicken facilities and their surrounding communities have become COVID-19 hot spots and deaths among workers have mounted this year.

In total, almost 9 in 10 coronavirus cases (87 percent) were among racial and ethnic minority workers, with 5,584 cases occurring in Latinos through May 31. Another 1,842, or 19 percent, of cases occurred in non-Hispanic Black workers; 1,332, or 13 percent, in non-Hispanic whites; and 1,161, or 12 percent, in Asians.

In the last several months, the deaths of Latino workers at meat processing plants have raised alarms about the safety of workers and the vulnerability of the nation’s food supply.

A coalition of food worker, civil and human rights advocates filed a civil rights complaint Wednesday with the U.S. Department of Agriculture against Tyson Foods Inc. and JBS USA, asking for a suspension of federal funds they receive and referral of the complaint to the Justice Department.

Tyson and JBS did not respond to NBC News requests for comment by the end of the business day Wednesday.

Overall, there have been at least 17,358 coronavirus cases and 91 COVID-19-related deaths in 264 meat and poultry facilities in 23 states through May 30, the CDC said.

But the severity of the impact of COVID-19 on meat and poultry plant workers may not be fully known because so few states responded, fewer had demographic data and there was limited data from affected plants on the racial and ethnic breakdown of all their workers, the CDC said.

In the facilities that reported racial and ethnic data, 39 percent of the plants’ workers are white, 30 percent are Hispanic, 25 percent Black and 6 percent Asian.

Some companies tried to close some of their plants in April as deaths and infections escalated, but President Donald Trump signed an executive order to compel them to stay open.

Shared working, commuting and living conditions

In many facilities, workers are within 6 feet of one another for long periods, with work shifts of 8 to 12 hours. Workers share work spaces, transportation to and from work, live in shared housing and have frequent community contact with fellow workers, CDC noted. Those factors may contribute to the virus spreading in the community, the report states.

Nebraska reported the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases among workers with 3,438 and the highest number of deaths, 14. It also had the highest number of workers in affected facilities.

The CDC said meat and poultry plants worked with local health departments to try to reduce COVID-19 transmissions and curb exposures, including offering testing.

“Expanding interventions across these facilities nationwide might help protect workers in this industry,” the CDC said in its report.

That could include comprehensive testing and “targeted, workplace-specific prevention” strategies, which are critical to reducing COVID-19-associated health disparities among “vulnerable populations.”

The data was obtained from 239 facilities in 23 states. COVID-19 was confirmed in 16,233 workers, which includes 86 who died.

Only 21 states provided demographic data. In these states, 7,288 of the cases were men and 5,741 or 46 percent were ages 40-59, and 88 percent of workers with COVID-19 were symptomatic and 12 percent asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic.

In the 239 facilities, 89 reported screening workers on entry, 86 required all workers to wear face coverings, 72 increased the availability of hand hygiene stations, 70 educated workers on community spread, and 69 put up physical barriers between workers, the CDC said. Forty-one of 111 facilities offered testing for the virus that causes COVID-19 to workers; 24 reported closing temporarily.

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Trump admin plans to block asylum seekers from U.S. by citing public health risk of COVID-19

4 0 08 Jul 2020

The Trump administration has proposed a new rule that would allow it to deny asylum to immigrants who are deemed a public health risk.

The soon-to-be published rule would let the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice to block immigrants from seeking asylum in the U.S. based on “potential international threats from the spread of pandemics,” according to a notice announcing it Wednesday.

The rule would apply to immigrants seeking asylum and those seeking “withholding of removal” — a protected immigration status for those who have shown they may well face danger if returned to their home countries.

The determination of whether migrants pose a public health risk would be made at the “credible fear” screening — essentially the first interview of the application process to determine an immigrant has a credible fear of returning to their home country — not in immigration court.

The credible fear interview transcript of an asylum seeker in the gated compound where she lives two hours outside of San Salvador, El Salvador on Sept. 6, 2018.Carolyn Van Houten / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

“The United States has among the highest COVID-19 infection rates worldwide, so the real threat of COVID-19 is not outside our nation’s borders but within them,” said Jennifer Minear, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “Like the prior CDC order from March that was recently extended indefinitely to ban asylum seekers,  this is an unconscionable attempt to scapegoat vulnerable people who are seeking humanitarian protection under the pre-textual ruse of safeguarding the public health.”

Minear stated she considered the proposed rule a move to create a “backstop” in case the courts strike down other immigration limitations the administration has put in place.

Ivy League colleges calls off all fall sports, including football, due to coronavirus

4 0 08 Jul 2020

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic prompted Ivy League schools to cancel their upcoming fall sports seasons Wednesday, suggesting that other major intercollegiate bodies could follow suit.

Student-athletes who normally play football, field hockey, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball will not take the field or court for their schools this autumn, the league announced.

It’s the first NCAA Division I conference to call off any sports for the 2020-21 academic year because of the pandemic.

“Ivy League institutions are implementing campuswide policies including restrictions on student and staff travel, requirements for social distancing, limits on group gatherings and regulations for visitors to campus,” the group said in a statement.

“As athletics is expected to operate consistent with campus policies, it will not be possible for Ivy League teams to participate in intercollegiate athletics competition prior to the end of the fall semester.”

Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Brown, Dartmouth and Cornell Universities, plus the University of Pennsylvania, were supposed to kick off their football slates with non-conference games Sept. 19 — but officials said they couldn’t risk the safety of players, coaches, staff and fans with the deadly virus still plaguing America.

“With the information available to us today regarding the continued spread of the virus, we simply do not believe we can create and maintain an environment for intercollegiate athletic competition that meets our requirements for safety and acceptable levels of risk,” according to a joint statement by the league’s eight presidents.

Yale Athletics Director Victoria Chun, whose Bulldogs won a share of the Ivy League football title last year, said going forward with intercollegiate sports would have put players in an untenable spot.

“While difficult to imagine fall at Yale without sports, it is unimaginable to ask our student-athletes to choose between their health and athletic competition.”

The Ivy League’s move also causes a ripple across the NCAA as various teams lose a scheduled opponent for non-conference games.

For example, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point now has a hole in its football slate, where Princeton was supposed to play on Oct. 10. Army said it’ll try to fill that vacancy and play a regular 12-game schedule.

A decision on when to reschedule the sports — including “whether fall sport competition would be feasible in the spring” — will come at a later date, the statement said.

Wednesday’s action comes after Harvard announced earlier this week it’d only be bringing a fraction of students back to campus this fall with all learning online.

It remains to be seen if the Ivy League’s fall sports postponement will be the first domino to tumble across major college sports.

The Ivy League, back on March 10 as the pandemic first took hold of North America, was the first conference to cancel its post-season basketball tournaments. That triggered a wave of other leagues to stop their own hoops competitions.

And within 48 hours, the NCAA pulled the plug on its wildly popular postseason tournament, known as March Madness.

While Ivy League football competes in the NCAA’s second tier, the Football Championship Subdivision, it still represents a major symbolic role in the 151-year-old sport.

College football has long marked its birth as Nov. 6, 1869 when teams from Rutgers and Princeton faced off in a soccer-style game in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

A desperate Trump bets on racism in 2020 election

5 0 08 Jul 2020

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is betting heavily on a public backlash against efforts to combat systemic racism.

In the last week, he has accused activists of wanting to “end America,” criticized NASCAR for banning the Confederate flag at its races and threatened to veto a major defense bill over a provision requiring the military to rename bases that honor Confederate generals. He also called on NASCAR’s lone Black driver, Bubba Wallace, to “apologize” for a “hoax” after the FBI said a noose found in Wallace’s garage at Alabama’s Talladega Superspeedway had been there since before it was assigned to him.

The spate of racist rhetoric represents a return to Trump’s favorite playbook of fear and bloviating. Rather than deepening his support, though, this time it appears to have a more modest goal — to reclaim a portion of his eroding political base as his poll numbers slide.

“What he doesn’t seem to take note of is that he is speaking to a much, much narrower group of Americans,” former Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., said in an interview with Nicolle Wallace on MSNBC’s “Deadline: White House” on Tuesday. “He’s behaving not like a winner, like he likes to be. He is behaving like a loser.”

It all amounts to an all-in gamble by Trump that he is on the side of what he calls a “silent majority” of Americans — a phrase that, like much of his political speech, was appropriated from President Richard Nixon — at a time when he is desperate for a turnaround. During the coronavirus crisis and nationwide protests against racial injustice, he has lost ground in his overall approval ratings, ceded a portion of the noncollege-educated white voters who form the heart of his base, and fallen even further behind presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Some Republicans say there is a method to Trump’s recent moves.

“There’s a lot of people who are sympathetic to Black Lives Matter, but there is a large group of people on the center-right that think it’s gone a bit too far — not the protests, not the Black Lives Matter movement at its core, (but) the statues, the firings, the sort of Salem witch trial that’s going on,” said one Republican strategist who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering the White House.

“There are a lot of people who are not going to express themselves for fear of being misquoted or misconstrued or losing their job,” the strategist added. “He’s riding the media wave every day and trying to figure out what he can use to appeal to that group, but it’s not a long-term strategy.”

In lieu of a strategic plan for reversing the trend lines just four months before Election Day, Trump has settled for the time being on a shopworn tool: scaring conservative white voters.

At a campaign rally at Mount Rushmore on Friday, Trump warned that a “left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American Revolution.”

But he has positioned himself as the defender-in-chief not only of the Founding Fathers but of Confederates who actually tried to dissolve the Union and made war on it. And he has chosen to race-bait in an era in which protests for racial justice have broad and diverse support.

Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., the House majority whip and a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Trump’s moves are a hyper-charged version of more nuanced appeals to racial animus by two former presidents — Ronald Reagan, who called for “states rights” in the Mississippi town where three voting-rights activists were murdered in 1964, and Woodrow Wilson, who held the first screening of the pro-Ku Klux Klan film “Birth of a Nation” at the White House.

“He’s mimicking Ronald Reagan … but Ronald Reagan had a kind of sophistication that this president doesn’t have,” Clyburn said Tuesday in an interview on MSNBC. “He’s mimicking Woodrow Wilson with ‘Birth of Nation.’ … [Wilson] was an intellectual, which this president is not.”

And the times are different. In 1983, the year before Reagan was re-elected, only 38 percent of whites approved of marriage between men and women of different races, according to Gallup. Now, polls show that roughly 7 in 10 Americans were supportive of protests in the wake of George Floyd’s killing at the hands of Minneapolis police, and a CNN survey last month found that two-thirds of respondents, including 60 percent of non-Hispanic whites, said that racism is a “big problem” in American society.

In other words, Trump’s made his bet — and he’s taken the long odds on racism.

CDC to release new safety guidelines for reopening schools

4 0 08 Jul 2020

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will release additional guidance next week on how to reopen schools safely, Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday during a White House coronavirus task force briefing at the Department of Education.

The guidance, however, is only a recommendation and will not replace state and local decision-making, Pence said.

Full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

Recommendations on reopening schools have been available on the agency’s website since mid-May, and more guidance was added last week on COVID-19 testing in schools.

The briefing Wednesday came only a few hours after President Donald Trump said in a tweet that he disagreed with the CDC’s “very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools.”

During the briefing, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield echoed the task force’s stance on the importance of reopening schools, adding that the agency’s additional guidelines should not be used as a rationale to keep schools closed.

“It’d be very disappointing if individuals were using guidelines for not reopening schools,” Redfield said. The CDC is prepared to work with states and communities to come up with the best strategies to reopen schools, he said.

Redfield noted that children appear to be less susceptible to the coronavirus.

“Clearly the ability of this virus to cause significant illness in children is very limited,” Redfield said.

However, data on COVID-19 cases in school-age children is also very limited. The task force’s coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, said that children under 10 represent the least-tested age group in the country.

Birx also raised the issue of how to best test children for the virus, though the CDC’s current guidance leaves the decision to implement any testing strategy up to schools and state and local health officials.

Spit tests, which look for the virus in saliva, would be easier for kids, Birx said. The tests are not yet widely available and it’s unclear whether they will be available for school children in the South who typical start going back to school in August.

The U.S. is already straining to keep up with demand for diagnostic tests in states with rising cases. During the Wednesday briefing, Dr. Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary of health and human services who oversees U.S. coronavirus testing, said a fourth federal “surge” testing site would be added in West Phoenix, Arizona. On Tuesday, Giroir said three temporary testing sites would be opened in Florida, Louisiana and Texas to help those states cope with spikes of new coronavirus cases.

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Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar acknowledged that there are some risks associated with reopening schools, but that there are risks to keeping kids at home as well.

Last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued detailed recommendations on how to reopen schools safely, emphasizing the importance of school for children’s health and well being.

“The AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school,” the guidance said.

Neither Pence nor Redfield specified which current CDC recommendations were too tough for schools to follow, as Trump said in his tweet, but one guidance is for students to social distance and be kept 6 feet apart, which could be difficult for many schools. It’s one reason some school districts are considering hybrid models. On Wednesday, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city’s 1.1 million students would return in September with a hybrid learning model. Under the proposal, most students across the city’s 1,800 schools would be in class two or three a week and do remote learning on the other days.

“We don’t want the guidance to be too tough,” Pence said, adding, however, that the president has made clear that every state should take steps to get students back in the classroom to the fullest extent possible.

He added that the federal government would consider providing incentives for states to go forward with reopening schools.

The task force did not address guidance or protections for teachers or other adults in schools.

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The U.S. has already had 10 billion-dollar weather disasters this year

4 0 08 Jul 2020

The United States has experienced 10 extreme weather events so far this year that each caused at least $1 billion in damages, according to new figures released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

This makes 2020 the sixth consecutive year with at least 10 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters, a new record, NOAA officials said. The latest assessment demonstrates the extensive economic and societal impact of — and the country’s vulnerability to — extreme weather events, which in some cases are expected to become either more frequent or more intense because of climate change.

The busy first half of 2020 also puts it on pace to rival 2017, which had 16 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters, and holds the record for the most such events in a year. According to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, 2020 is currently tied with 2011 and 2016 for the most billion-dollar disasters in the first six months of the year.

All of 2020’s billion-dollar disasters through the end of June were due to severe storms, which NOAA said affected more than 30 states. The most destructive so far was the outbreak of more than 140 tornadoes from Texas to Maryland on April 12 and 13 that resulted in an estimated $3 billion in damages and caused 35 deaths.

Hail storms and severe weather across Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Missouri on April 7 and 8 resulted in an estimated $2.6 billion in damages but no fatalities, according to NOAA. And rounding out the top three was an outbreak of severe weather across several Midwest and Ohio Valley states in late March, where high winds, hail and two dozen reported tornadoes led to an estimated $2.4 billion in losses.

So far, the most destructive weather and climate events of the first half of 2020 have caused a total of 80 deaths and nearly $18 billion in damages.

NOAA has tracked the economic and societal impact of weather and climate events in the U.S. since 1980. Over those four decades, there have been 273 disasters where overall damages were at least $1 billion, with the total cost exceeding $1.79 trillion.

And the economic risk will likely remain high in the future, as global warming causes more widespread drought, more severe wildfires and fuels more intense storms and hurricanes.

Adam Smith, an applied climatologist at the National Centers for Environmental Information, said it’s uncommon that 2020’s billion-dollar disasters to date are all from severe storms, but he added that these types of weather events tend to cluster at certain times of the year.

“It is a bit unusual that we did not have any billion-dollar winter storm or flooding events during the first half of the year,” Smith said in an email. “However, the months March to June are when the U.S. experiences the majority of the severe storm events (tornadoes, hail and high wind damage) just like we have so far in 2020.”

The wildfire season in the western U.S. and the Atlantic hurricane season are about to ramp up in the coming months. NOAA previously predicted that 2020 would see a busier-than-normal hurricane season. The agency’s projections included a 70 percent chance of 13 to 19 named storms with winds of 39 miles per hour or higher. Of those, six to 10 could become hurricanes, including three to six “major” hurricanes that reach Category 3 or higher.

“We have had a preview of the hurricane potential given the ongoing record number of named storms so early in the 2020 hurricane season,” Smith said.

And though the first half of 2020 is at near-record pace for billion-dollar disasters in the country, Smith said he hopes the next six months are more subdued.

“We hope the fall months of 2020 do not mirror the 2017 and 2018 hurricane and western wildfire seasons,” he said. “During 2017 and 2018 the U.S. experienced historically damaging and costly hurricane and wildfire seasons.”