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Tensions over vaccine equity pit rural and urban America against one another.

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Tensions over vaccine equity pit rural and urban America against one another.

Tensions over vaccine equity pit rural and urban America against one another.

Rita Fentress was concerned that she might get lost while looking for a coronavirus vaccine on an obscure forested, one-lane road in rural Tennessee. The trees then cleared, exposing the Hickman County Agricultural Pavilion.

Since there were too many health care staff to vaccinate in Nashville, where she lives, the 74-year-old woman was not willing to be vaccinated. However, a friend told her that the state’s rural counties had already switched to younger age groups, and she made a 60-mile appointment.

“I felt a little bad about it,” she admitted. “I was afraid I was stealing it from someone else.” However, she said there were still five openings for the next morning late that February day.

The US vaccine initiative has heightened tensions between rural and urban America, with complaints of actual — or alleged — inequity in vaccine delivery surfacing from Oregon to Tennessee to upstate New York.

Recriminations about how scarce vaccines are delivered have taken on political tones in some cases, with rural Republican lawmakers in Democrat-led states accusing Democrats of “picking winners and losers” and urbanites driving hours to rural GOP-leaning areas to get COVID-19 shots when their city is out of supply.

Last week, Republican legislators in Oregon walked out of a legislative session over the Democratic governor’s vaccine proposals, citing rural vaccine delivery as one of their key concerns. Rural health officials in upstate New York have complained about vaccine distribution inequalities, and rural lawmakers in North Carolina say too many doses are going to mass vaccine centers in big cities.

A shortage of shots in urban areas with the largest concentration of health care staff has caused senior citizens in Tennessee, Missouri, and Alabama to book appointments hours away from their homes. As a result, there is a patchwork of approaches that can appear to be the polar opposite of equity, with those most likely to be vaccinated being those who have the savvy and resources to find a shot and travel to it.

“It’s badly flawed,” said Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Protection, who added that there are also vaccine hunters who can find a dose for a fee. “Ideally, allocations will suit the needs of the population.”

With little more than general guidance from the federal government, states have taken it upon themselves to decide what it means to distribute the vaccine fairly and reach vulnerable populations.

Tennessee, like many states, has divvied up doses based primarily on county population, not on how many residents belong to eligible groups — such as health care workers. The Tennessee health commissioner has defended the allocation as the “most equitable,” but the approach has also exposed yet another layer of haves and have-nots as the vaccine rollout accelerates.

In Oregon, the issue led state officials to pause dose deliveries in some rural areas that had finished inoculating their health care workers while clinics elsewhere, including the Portland metro area, caught up. The dust-up last month prompted an angry response, with some state GOP lawmakers accusing the Democratic governor of playing favorites with the urban dwellers who elected her.

Public health leaders in Morrow County, a farming region in northeastern Oregon with one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates, said they had to delay two vaccine clinics because of the state’s decision. Other rural counties delayed vaccines for seniors.

States face plenty of challenges. Rural counties are less likely to have the deep-freeze equipment necessary to store Pfizer vaccines. Health care workers are often concentrated in big cities. And rural counties were particularly hard hit by COVID-19 in many states, but their residents are among the most likely to say they’re “definitely not” going to get vaccinated, according to recent Kaiser Family Foundation polling.

Adalja said most of these complications were foreseeable and could have been avoided with proper planning and funding.

“There are people who know how to do this,” he said. “They’re just not in charge of it.”

In Missouri, where Facebook groups have emerged with postings about appointment availabilities in rural areas, state Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, a Democrat from the Kansas City suburb of Independence, cited a need to direct more vaccine to urban areas.

The criticism drew an angry rebuke from Republican Gov. Mike Parson, who said vaccine distribution has been proportional to the population and critics are using “cherry-picked” data.

“There is no division between rural and urban Missouri,” Parson said during his weekly COVID-19 update last week.

In Republican-led Tennessee, Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey notes that the Trump administration deemed the state’s plan among the nation’s most equitable. Extra doses go to 35 counties with a high social vulnerability index score — many small and rural, but also Shelby County, which includes Memphis, with a large Black population.

Last week, state officials revealed some 2,400 doses had been wasted in Shelby County over the past month due to miscommunication and insufficient record-keeping. The county also built up nearly 30,000 excessive doses in its inventory. The situation caused the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate and the county health director to resign.

In Nashville, Democratic Mayor John Cooper says the fact that city residents can get shots elsewhere is a positive, even if the road trips are “a little bit of a pain.”

“I’m grateful that other counties have not said, ‘Oh my gosh, you have to be a resident of this county always to get the vaccine,’” Cooper said.

Nashville educators Jennifer Simon and Jessica Morris took sick days last week to make the four-hour round-trip to tiny Van Buren County, population less than 6,000.

They got their first shots there in January, when Republican Gov. Bill Lee was pushing Nashville and Memphis area schools to return to in-person classes. Republican lawmakers even threatened to pull funding from districts that remained online.

In-person classes started a couple weeks ago, but the city only began vaccinating teachers last week.

“It was scary, frustrating, and feeling really betrayed,” Simon said.

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Senate Republicans hold out on debt ceiling as shutdown looms

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Senate Republicans hold out on debt ceiling as shutdown looms

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — A week away from a shutdown, Democrats and Republicans are still sparring over a path forward to fund the government.

One main sticking point: Democrats’ push to attach a debt ceiling hike to the spending plan. Senate Republicans are refusing to support that measure even though economists warn failure to raise the ceiling could damage the economy.

“Republicans won’t agree to pay our past bills, the debts we owe,” Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said.

“Give me a break,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., retorted on the Senate floor. “If they (Democrats) want to tax, borrow and spend historic sums of money without our input, they’ll have to raise the debt limit without our help.”

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., agreed.

“They can do it if they want to do it, and they should, but I’m certainly not going to help them do it,” Hawley said.

The House of Representatives has already passed a bill to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling, but Democrats need at least 10 Republicans on board to get the measure through the Senate.

Brown and Democrats say there’s too much at stake to not raise the debt ceiling. The U.S. Department of the Treasury says the government could run out of money to pay its debts by mid-October if Congress does not act.

“I don’t want to vote for it. I didn’t want to vote for it when Trump was president but I did because my obligation is to pay our bills so that we can make veterans VA benefit payments, we can make Social Security payments,” Brown said. “It’s what we do as patriotic Americans.”

Despite Republican pushback, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., says he will hold a vote on the entire package by next week.

“Every single member of this chamber is going to go on record,” he said.

Democrats have not announced a backup plan if Republicans block the passage.

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Local organization says ‘enough is enough’ regarding gun violence

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Local organization says ‘enough is enough’ regarding gun violence

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – A local organization says enough is enough after more than a dozen gun shots are fired near their store Wednesday afternoon.

“Being an executive director for an organization can be stressful enough, you worry about your staff you worry about about everyones livelihood but it’s an added burden to worry about their lives everyday,” says Pamela Howard, Executive Director at the Historic Albany Foundation.

The Historic Albany Foundation is a charity organization that preserves and protects buildings and their historical value. They sell all different items inside their 10,000 square ft warehouse. You can find everything from fireplace mantels, bathtubs to small antiques!

They’re located at 89 Lexington Ave in Albany, an area that’s far too familiar with gun violence. “You got 15 shots fired, thankfully no one being hit but what are the chances of a stray bullet coming through my window?,” says Pamela.

“First we try to tell ourselves that it was fireworks and we want to think that but we know it’s not and I think what is troublesome to as well is that when we look outside, the neighborhood doesn’t really react. We can’t always get a read on whether it was gunfire or fireworks,” says Pamela.

“People in the community should certainly be outraged…one shooting incident is one too many,” says Albany Police Officer Steve Smith. Smith says recent data shows shots fired incidents are down 15% compared to last year. “We’re not waving the flag to success yet. We still have a lot of work to do. It’s important to know solving these issues can’t just be a police problem — we need our community to come together as a whole and work with the police department.”

Pamela says there have thought about moving, but ultimately, it’s just not feasible for the organization. “…People may not shop here because they don’t want to come on this street.  Even though our warehouse does incredibly well, how much better could we do in a safe neighborhood? [Also,] who would want to buy our building and come to this neighborhood for all the reasons we want to leave it?”

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Civilian task force looking at Bennington police on track

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Civilian task force looking at Bennington police on track

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — More than 40 years later, the rape and murder of a 77-year-old woman has been solved after detectives took another look at the case and made a breakthrough using DNA evidence, Raleigh police said Wednesday, September 22.

According to police, Alma Jones was raped and killed in 1977. In 2011, 34 years after the crime was committed, the “case was revived when the box it was stored in had been discovered during a transfer of older case boxes.”

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Hochul asks for more rent funding, landlords running into obstacles

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Hochul asks for more rent funding, landlords running into obstacles

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Governor Kathy Hochul has asked for more federal funds to help tenants and landlords financially impacted by the pandemic because money is quickly running out.

Landlords like Debbie Pusatere, who are owed back rent from tenants, are financially beginning to get payments from the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP).

“It’s great. It’s helping the tenants. It’s helping us,” Pusatere said.  

With funds quickly running out and an extended eviction moratorium, Pusatere said she’s concerned she may find herself in the same position come January because renters are still out of work and unemployment benefits have run out.  

“Let’s take the next step. Let’s not stop at third base. Let’s get a home run,” Pusatere said.  

$1.6 billion of the $2.7 billion in funds from ERAP are in the process or have already been paid out.  

“The fact that New York State has gone from being at the back of the pack to the front of the pack, kicking this money out the door, it’s really a positive sign,” said Assemblyman John McDonald.  

McDonald said the state running out of emergency funds is a good thing because it shows the federal government the need of the state and the ability to quickly get it into the hands of landlords.

“Yes, there’s probably a concern that does this mean my opportunity is gone? And the reality is that, Hey, New York is, we’re getting it done,” McDonald said.  

But for landlords like Pusatere, there’s an even larger problem looming that still leaves her in debt.  

“The majority of my money that I’ve lost is tenants who’ve never applied that just up and left,” Pusatere said.  

Starting October 1, landlords can apply for a piece of $250 million set aside to help people in a situation like Pusatere’s. She’s only been able to get $12,000 in rent so far. She’s still owed $160,000 from her renters.  

“A lot of us have a huge tax bill due in two weeks. I can’t cover that yet,” Pusatere said.

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New downtown Troy live performance venue to join city movement reviving the Riverwalk

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New downtown Troy live performance venue to join city movement reviving the Riverwalk

TROY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Local business owners say COVID has kept them down for too long. Now it’s time to shake things up.

“There’s seemingly a path to getting to normal life, or we’re even there in a lot of regards. You know, that pent-up energy kind of like encourages me to do other things at this point,” says August Rosa.

Rosa already owns Pint Sized in Albany and Saratoga. He now announces a third location opening in Troy that will double as a performance venue. Rosa says although bars and live music suffered some of the worst of the pandemic, he’s not worried about success because it is Troy.

“It really came from the needs of Troy, because there aren’t a lot of spaces to present live music, art events, stuff like that,” he explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.

The combined space at 275 and 277 River Street will function on one side as the third Pint Sized location while the other half will stand as the “No Fun” performance venue. Rosa says the space will focus on an entirely open concept for live performances and art installations across the walls.

“We hosted events at our other two locations, but they weren’t necessarily conducive to those events because of the space. This too is relatively small, but for a moderate event of say 150 people, it can bring those music, art, or like cultural performances to downtown and still have that intimate, personal feel we’ve cultivated at Pint Sized,” Rosa says.

“We are hopeful. I think the word is hope. I think people are looking at this as an opportunity to get in, be set, so that when we’re on the outside of COVID, they are going to be successful,” says Troy Deputy Mayor Monica Kurzejeski. “I think people are seeing COVID as an opportunity to take a pause too, to see what worked and what didn’t work and then come out of it potentially different.”

She says filling River Street vacancies comes at the perfect time. The newly unveiled plan for Monument Square will shape much needed economic development and accessibility for Troy.

“I think that’s the biggest excitement about this project for me is the continuity of the Riverwalk blending into the park, blending into the amenities of the public plaza, and then getting everybody up to River Street,” she explains.

Rosa says coming out the other side of the pandemic, he believes his and other new businesses will do well thanks to the many city efforts to engage people in downtown.

“Before I ever start a new project, I make sure what we’re trying to do sits well with the current business environment, and Troy always looked good to us when we were in the mindset to expand. Things like the Monument Square project, the Riverwalk accessibility, the farmer’s market, things like that are more of an added bonus when choosing our space,” Rosa says.

“I think we’re going to be filling a void that’s needed here and it’s going to work in harmony with all the other cool stuff that’s happening in town,” he goes on to say.

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Queensbury students call for better handling of racism, sexism at high school

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Queensbury students call for better handling of racism, sexism at high school

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Come Monday, it’s either vaccination or termination for those who work in state run hospitals and nursing homes. Security officers are among those who work at state hospitals who are being forced to make that decision. The lawsuit claims that the vaccine mandate goes against their constitutional rights.

In a newly filled lawsuit against Governor Kathy Hochul, Heath Commissioner Howard Zucker, and the New York State Health Department, 10 individual state hospital security officers are fighting for the option to have regular COVID tests instead of being mandated to get the vaccine. They say it’s unfair that teachers would have the option for regular testing, but they won’t.

“Students who are 12 years or younger can’t be vaccinated,” said Dennis Vacco. “Inherently, the population in schools is less vaccinated than the population in hospitals or in health care facilities. To say nothing of the fact that health care facilities are constructed to prevent the spread of illness within the facility.”

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Kids’ Arts Festival returns to Schenectady this Saturday

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Kids’ Arts Festival returns to Schenectady this Saturday

SCHNECTADY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The 27th annual Kids’ Arts Festival is celebrating creativity, culture and community this weekend. The festival is taking place on September 25 from noon to 4 p.m. along the Jay Street Marketplace and around City Hall in Downtown Schenectady.

Normally attracting more than 3,000 kids with their families, the festival brings free hands-on arts activities and performances.

“This year, we have a great mix of golden-oldie favorite art activities and new ones that let our imaginations soar,” said Betsy Sandberg, chair of Kids’ Arts Festival. “Alex Torres and his Latin Orchestra will bring their arts-in-education program to Downtown Schenectady thanks to funding from The Upstate Coalition for a FairGame, which supports arts and cultural organizations in three New York State casino regions.”

Other performers and student groups include the Rock Camp Kids, the Electric City Puppets, Dueling Saxophones, and Dance Me Elite performers. A poster contest offers $100 prizes in three age groups. Happiness is the contest’s theme, and official entry forms and plenty of supplies for drawing will be available at Electric City Art Gallery.

In 2020, the festival went virtual and provided four hours of virtual arts programming.

The rain location will be inside Proctors Theatre. All required COVID safety protocols will be in place if the event moves indoors.

A complete list of activities and entertainment are available on the festival website.

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Trump lawyer who planned election overthrow to speak at conference despite objections

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Trump lawyer who planned election  overthrow to speak at conference despite objections

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — When John Eastman speaks during the American Political Science Association’s annual conference next month, he may want to tread lightly. Political scientists from across the country are condemning Eastman and chiding their own organization for allowing the former Trump lawyer to participate in the discipline’s most important annual meeting.

Eastman made national headlines this week following the publication of a memo he wrote last year that outlined a six-step plan to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Eastman is scheduled to participate in two panels at APSA, both run by the Claremont Institute, which lists him as a senior fellow on its website. The “virtual roundtables” are scheduled for Sunday, October 3, and are titled “The 2020 Elections and the State of American Conservatism” and “The Supreme Court’s Current and Future Direction.”

Dr. David Karpf, an associate professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University, said Wednesday that Eastman’s plan to overturn the presidential election puts his views well outside the legitimate marketplace of ideas.

“If that was published as a blog post,” Karpf said of the memo, “I would call it laughable trash. Since it was presented to the Vice President of the United States, I would call it treason.” The memo said that then-Vice President Mike Pence should refuse to recognize electors from seven states and declare Trump president.

“The main thing here,” Eastman wrote, “is that Pence should do this without asking for permission—either from a vote of the joint session or from the Court.”

That suggestion, according to Karpf, was beyond the pale. “That’s overthrowing free and fair elections,” he said.

Eastman’s notoriety goes beyond that memo. In 2020, he was widely criticized for an op-ed he wrote that suggested Kamala Harris is not an American citizen. Eastman, who was a law clerk for Clarence Thomas, was also a professor at Chapman University School of Law. He retired from that position after giving a speech at the January 6 “Save America” rally that preceded the storming of the U.S. Capitol.

“He’s not a political scientist, but he and the Claremont Institute try to gain legitimacy by having little panels at APSA, where they present those sorts of arguments, or at least don’t have those arguments criticized,” Karpf, who is an APSA member, said. “That’s dangerous for American politics and APSA should not be associated with it.”

Karpf said that he believes those who attend the conference should make their views on Eastman and the Claremont institute clear. “Claremont should not be welcome anymore,” he said. “That’s not about the diversity of ideas. That’s about recognizing that there are some ideas that are so far outside of the boundaries of American political discourse that we should be not lending them our platform.”

This is not the first time political scientists have taken issue with APSA. In 2011, scholars opposed John Yoo’s participation in that year’s annual meeting. Yoo was a lawyer for former Pres. George W. Bush, who wrote documents outlining the alleged legality of torture techniques. In their response to members’ objections, APSA’s governing council said that it supported members’ right to protest Yoo’s presence “as we support the right of APSA members to produce panels and speakers on topics they think it important for the association to consider.”

In that letter, APSA clarified that “organizers of the affiliated group panel on which he participated,” not APSA itself, invited Yoo to the meeting. “These groups exist explicitly to bring forward diverse points of view,” the letter continued.

Like Yoo, Eastman is set to participate in a panel organized by an outside group, the Claremont Institute. On its website, Claremont Institute solicits donations of $5,000 to “support” its panels at the annual APSA conference.

“You may designate a gift at any level to APSA panels,” the Claremont page continues, “where our scholars teach the true principle of government and their application to today’s policies.”

For his part, Karpf has said he supports the diversity of ideas wholeheartedly. “I agree with the stance that we should have a diversity of ideas at the conference. I also would readily acknowledge that there are gray areas where it’s a difficult call,” he said. “But I think every political scientist, who has spent any time in America in the past four years, certainly since January 6, can look at that memo and immediately acknowledge that that is nowhere close to the line. There are difficult cases. And then there is this. This is not a typical case. This is so far beyond the line.”

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Race, gender major factors in COVID job recovery in Massachusetts

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Race, gender major factors in COVID job recovery in Massachusetts

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Come Monday, it’s either vaccination or termination for those who work in state run hospitals and nursing homes. Security officers are among those who work at state hospitals who are being forced to make that decision. The lawsuit claims that the vaccine mandate goes against their constitutional rights.

In a newly filled lawsuit against Governor Kathy Hochul, Heath Commissioner Howard Zucker, and the New York State Health Department, 10 individual state hospital security officers are fighting for the option to have regular COVID tests instead of being mandated to get the vaccine. They say it’s unfair that teachers would have the option for regular testing, but they won’t.

“Students who are 12 years or younger can’t be vaccinated,” said Dennis Vacco. “Inherently, the population in schools is less vaccinated than the population in hospitals or in health care facilities. To say nothing of the fact that health care facilities are constructed to prevent the spread of illness within the facility.”

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‘Tiger King 2’ confirmed, coming to Netflix this year

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‘Tiger King 2’ confirmed, coming to Netflix this year

(NEXSTAR) — Netflix announced on Thursday that “Tiger King,” the global phenomenon that premiered last March, will return with season two later this year. In the announcement, Netflix promised “more madness and mayhem.”

“Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness” followed zookeeper Joe Exotic—real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage—and captivated audiences during the first few weeks of lockdown. According to Netflix, the original series was watched by over 64 million households in the first four weeks following its March 2020 premiere.

In July, a federal appeals court ruled Joe Exotic should get a shorter prison sentence for his role in a murder-for-hire plot and violating federal wildlife laws. He was sentenced in January 2020 to 22 years in federal prison after being convicted of trying to hire two different men to kill animal rights activist Carole Baskin.

A three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver found that the trial court wrongly treated those two convictions separately in calculating his prison term under sentencing guidelines.

The panel agreed with Maldonado-Passage that the court should have treated them as one conviction at sentencing because they both involved the same goal of killing Baskin, who runs a rescue sanctuary for big cats in Florida.

According to the ruling, the court should have calculated his advisory sentencing range to be between 17 1/2 years and just under 22 years in prison rather than between just under 22 years and 27 years in prison. The court ordered the trial court to resentence Maldonado-Passage.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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