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Jennings, Bialik hosting Jeopardy! through end of year

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Jennings, Bialik hosting Jeopardy! through end of year

CULVER CITY, Ca. (WROC/AP) — Ken Jennings and Mayim Bialik will host Jeopardy! shows that will air through the end of 2021, Sony Television officials announced Thursday.

According to a press release, Bialik will serve as interim host for several weeks of episodes from September 20 through November 5. Afterward, Bialik and Jennings will split hosting duties as their schedules allow. No on-air auditions of other potential hosts were announced.

It was previously announced that Bialik would host new prime-time and spinoff series, including a new college championship. Jennings, the record-holder for the longest “Jeopardy!” winning streak, is a consulting producer on the show.

Thursday’s announcement comes after Mike Richards was ousted as executive producer of “Jeopardy!” days after he exited as the quiz show’s newly appointed host when past misogynistic and disparaging comments surfaced. Richards is also no longer an executive producer of “Wheel of Fortune,” according to a memo to staff that was confirmed by Sony, which produces both of the shows.

“We had hoped that when Mike stepped down from the host position at Jeopardy! it would have minimized the disruption and internal difficulties we have all experienced these last few weeks. That clearly has not happened,” said Suzanne Prete, a Sony executive, in the memo.

Alex Trebek, the beloved national icon and longtime host,l died last November of cancer. “Jeopardy!” had a series of guest hosts, including Richards, taking turns at the lectern this past season for shows filmed after his death. They included LeVar Burton, Katie Couric, Anderson Cooper, George Stephanopoulos, Robin Roberts, and Dr. Oz. Donations of nearly $3 million—equaling contestant’s cumulative winnings—were made to each host’s preferred charity.

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Denver weather: Monday expected to hit 75 degrees before cool down

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Denver weather: Monday expected to hit 75 degrees before cool down

While the sun rises later and sets earlier, Denver is still seeing some nice weather, which will continue this week.

According to the National Weather Service in Boulder, Denver will near 75 degrees on Monday with sunny skies. Winds could kick up to 22 mph with snow showers developing in the mountains overnight. A cold front will work its way in overnight, with Denver dropping to 43 degrees. The foothills could have brief bursts of heavier snow as the colder air arrives.

Tuesday will be cooler but still clear, with a high of 61 degrees and 25 mph wind gusts. The low temperature will dip to 34 degrees Tuesday night.

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Protestors disrupt flame lighting for Beijing Winter Games

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Protestors disrupt flame lighting for Beijing Winter Games

By Nicholas Paphitis and Thanassis Stavrakis, The Associated Press

ANCIENT OLYMPIA. Greece — Three activists protesting human rights abuses in China sneaked into the archaeological site where the flame lighting ceremony for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics was being held Monday and ran toward the newly lit torch holding a Tibetan flag and a banner that read “No genocide games.”

The protesters managed to enter the grounds and attempted to reach the Temple of Hera, where the ceremony was being held. They were thrown to the ground by police and detained.

“How can Beijing be allowed to host the Olympics given that they are committing a genocide against the Uyghurs?” one protester said, referring to the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in China’s northwest region of Xinjiang.

The flame was lit at the birthplace of the ancient Olympics in southern Greece under heavy police security.

With the public excluded amid pandemic safety measures, and a cloudless sky over the verdant site of Ancient Olympia, the flame was ceremoniously kindled using the rays of the sun before being carried off on a mini torch relay.

Earlier, other protestors were detained by Greek police before they could reach the site. Pro-democracy protests also had broken out during the lighting ceremony for the 2008 Beijing Summer Games.

Despite widespread international criticism of China’s human rights record, the International Olympic Committee has shied away from the issue, saying it falls outside its remit.

In his speech in the ancient stadium of Olympia, where in antiquity male athletes competed naked during a special truce among their often-warring cities, IOC President Thomas Bach stressed that the modern Games must be “respected as politically neutral ground.”

“Only this political neutrality ensures that the Olympic Games can stand above and beyond the political differences that exist in our times,” he said. “The Olympic Games cannot address all the challenges in our world. But they set an example for a world where everyone respects the same rules and one another.”

Tibetan rights activists said in a press release that China was trying to “sportswash” its human rights abuses “with the glamour and veneer of respectability the Olympic Games brings.”

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Colin Powell has died of COVID-19 complications, family says

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Colin Powell has died of COVID-19 complications, family says

WASHIINGTON — Colin Powell, former Joint Chiefs chairman and secretary of state, has died from COVID-19 complications, his family said Monday. He was 84.

In an announcement on social media, the family said Powell had been fully vaccinated.

“We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father and grandfather and a great American,” the family said.

Powell was the first African American to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state.

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Fire on South Table Mountain sparks Monday morning

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Fire on South Table Mountain sparks Monday morning

A wildfire sparked Monday morning on South Table Mountain, according to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.

Officials estimated the fire to be between three and five acres.

The blaze, just outside of downtown Golden near the Coors factory, was first reported around 3:30 a.m. Monday. Crews put the fire out before 6:30 a.m.

While the fire is 100% contained on South Table Mountain, firefighters will remain on the scene all day, ensuring no flare-ups.

The cause of the blaze has not yet been determined. Multiple fire agencies responded to the scene, no structures were threatened.

A fire burned in the same area in 2017, scorching about 100 acres.

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Water shortage worsening for along northwest Colorado’s Yampa and White

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Water shortage worsening for along northwest Colorado’s Yampa and White

Facing severe droughts along Colorado’s Western Slope, state officials want to take better stock of how much water people, businesses and governments take out of the White and Yampa rivers, both of which flow into the historically low Colorado River.

The White and Yampa rivers traditionally supply a comfortable amount of water compared with other waterways across the state, according to Jeff Lukas, a Lafayette climate consultant and former water scientist with the University of Colorado Boulder. But that’s not as much the case recently.

“The whole Colorado River system is on the wrong side of the knife’s edge in the first part of the 21st century,” Lukas said.

Over the last two decades, the Yampa’s average flow decreased by about 6% from its 20th-century average, Lukas said. And the White’s average flow decreased by about 19%.

So officials with Colorado’s Division of Water Resources want to better track who’s taking water from the rivers — and its tributaries — and how much. Better tracking there would bring the division’s northwest region into line with the rest of the state, where that type of data collection is already more common.

Division officials are hosting stakeholder meetings in the region to develop rules by which water usage will be measured and hope to have the process finished by the end of next year, state Engineer Kevin Rein said. And as more data flows in, the state can better allocate water to those legally allowed to take it, an increasingly precise task as droughts continue to plague the Western Slope.

And in the bigger, and unprecedented, picture, if Colorado is called to work with upper- and lower-basin states because not enough water is passing southwest through the Colorado River, it will need that concrete data in hand, Rein said.

“We just need to know where it’s going,” Brain Fuchs, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, said. “Every drop counts when it comes to water.”

The process underway in northwest Colorado is part of an increasing nationwide trend to better track water use as droughts become more common, Fuchs said.

Drying rivers

One key indicator that water is tighter in northwest Colorado is that senior water rights holders along the Yampa River are more frequently calling state engineers to shut off supply for junior rights holders until their thirst is quenched, according to Erin Light, water division engineer for the region.

The first ever call like that on the Yampa came in 2018, Light said. Another followed in 2020 and then another this year, both of which only ended after Colorado River conservation officials agreed to release water from the Elkhead Reservoir, northeast of Craig.

Water shortages and calls like those can spell trouble not only for those in Colorado but also millions more downstream.

Water from the Yampa and White rivers flows into the Colorado River and ultimately into Lake Powell, making up to a fifth of the reservoir’s water supply each year, Lukas said.

The reservoir, which sank to its lowest level on record this year, supplies water to about 35 million people, irrigates millions of acres of cropland and generates billions of kilowatt-hours of electricity annually.

While calls from senior water rights holders come each year — even in non-drought years — along the Arkansas, Rio Grande and South Platte rivers, Rein said “it’s a new thing to the Yampa.”

“It’s unfortunate,” Rein added.

Not only are those rivers drying due to climate change but more water is allocated from them than the rivers actually have to offer. And now the historically water-abundant Yampa, which is also over-allocated, appears to be joining those ranks, Light said.

“It’s not even just increasing water users but it’s also consumptive use,” Light said. “As our temperatures increase, our crops need more water.”

Accounting for water

As Colorado’s rivers dry up, like the Ogallala Aquifer on the eastern plains or Georgia’s Lake Lanier, for example, governments across the country are working to take better inventory of their water supply, Fuchs said. When those water shortages arise, people start to ask where the water went and who took it.

“All of a sudden these questions are starting to be asked and (governments) can’t really put those cards on the table because they don’t have them,” Fuchs said.

The same logic applies when states strike deals with each other over rivers that cross their borders, Fuchs added. The states not only want to make sure they’re following the agreements but also that they’re keeping as much water as possible.

Colorado’s northwest region represents a gap in the state’s inventory.

As of April, only about 54% of the structures used by water rights holders in Light’s region, which covers Craig and Steamboat Springs, have devices to measure their water usage.

For comparison, about 95% of the structures in the Roaring Fork and Crystal river basins to the southeast have measuring devices, the Summit Daily reported.

In late 2019, Light ordered hundreds of water users in the Yampa River basin to install measuring devices and then in March 2020 she issued formal notices for others along the White and Green rivers to follow suit, the Summit Daily reported. And Light’s office is now holding stakeholder meetings this month across the region as they look to cement consistent rules for what kinds of devices can be used, how they should be maintained and how they measure water use.

Rein said he hopes that the rule-making process could be finished by the end of next year, but he doesn’t want to rush it.

Howard Cooper said he received one of those notices last year and installed head gates and flumes at all the points where his Three Crown Ranch, east of Meeker, diverts water. The mechanisms are designed specifically to measure the flow of water through them.

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Trail review: Cloud Ladder provides adventurous thrills for climbers of all ages

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Trail review: Cloud Ladder provides adventurous thrills for climbers of all ages

I have always told my children to “do hard things.” It is a philosophy that has served me well in life. On Friday, Oct. 8, I accomplished another “hard thing” at the age of 59.

The new Cloud Ladder Via Ferrata is part of the Alpine Jewell. The trail is installed into the Deville rock formation on the northern flanks of Twin Sisters in Estes Park.

“You’re climbing straight up a vertical cliff for several hundred feet,” explained Buster Jesik, who has worked for Kent Mountain Adventure Center (KMAC) for ten years. He’s an International Federation of Mountain Guides Association (IFMGA) certified mountain guide. “It’s an experience that people can have that simulates – or essentially is the same as – a rock climbing experience, but you don’t need to have the physical skill set that a rock climber needs to get to these same places.”

Via ferrata means iron trail or iron road. Via ferratas have their origins in World War I Italy, helping move troops about in the Alps. After the war, the iron trails were left in place and people started to use them for outdoor adventure climbing.

RELATED: For the steepest via ferrata climb in the U.S., head up to Estes Park

The systems of fixed anchors, steel cables and ladders are gaining popularity around the world.

“The cool thing about via ferratas is that they are a gateway into rock climbing,” Jesik noted.

Via Ferrata Works Partner and Developer Reed Rowley, Estes Park Trail-Gazette Managing Editor Wendy Rigby and mountain guide Buster Jesik pose for a selfie at one of the many scenic stops on the Cloud Ladder. (KMAC, Estes Park Trail Gazette)

The new Cloud Ladder adventure begins with a short hike up to a shed that houses the gear KMAC provides for the climb, including helmet, carabiners, gloves and a harness.

At the base of the first cliff, I clipped my carabiners into the cable and started up the implanted ladders. The sheer rock face above is intimidating, but quickly, the adventure becomes a quest. I had to get to the top to see the amazing views of the Rockies and my town.

“Unlike a lot of via ferratas which are really just about finding the path of least resistance going up them, the Cloud Ladder is designed to almost replicate that experience of being a big wall climber,” explained Reed Rowley, Partner and Director of Business Development for Via Ferrata Works. “This is the crown jewel via ferrata we have worked on. It was completed in June of this year. It’s also probably one of the most challenging via ferratas in the U.S. with one of the longest single pitches.”

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The systems of fixed anchors, steel cables and ladders are gaining popularity around the world. (KMAC, Estes Park Trail Gazette)

There are about 850 steps and rungs on the climb up the Cloud Ladder. At a couple of crucial points, you actually have to use the rock to step up, not just the cables and the rungs.

Three weeks ago, designers added two bridges to the Cloud Ladder. These incredible spans take nerve to step out on to, but once I was on them, the sensations I felt were indescribable.

“The Cloud Ladder is designed for the more advanced climber,” Rowley noted. “But what makes the experience so special is that it allows people who don’t have the technical skill to get that hands-on sensation of actually being on a big wall. The bridges we installed three weeks ago add an element even beyond what rock climbs get. You almost get the perspective of what a peregrine falcon sees when flying through a ravine.”

The Cloud Ladder is designed for people of all ages and many skill levels. Children as young as 12 and people in their mid-60s have been up this trail.

The first via ferrata route built on the Deville rock formation is the Peregine route which opened in 2019.

I climbed that route last summer. I noticed something fascinating on both trips up. I was totally in the moment. You have to concentrate as your safety hangs in the balance. You become completely attuned to your body, the elements and the incredible beauty which surrounds you. I felt acutely alive.

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Three weeks ago, designers added two bridges to the Cloud Ladder. (KMAC, Estes Park Trail Gazette)

“One of the cool things about any form of climbing – whether it’s rock climbing, ice climbing or doing a via ferrata – is that you have to be 100 percent focused on what you are doing,” explained Jesik. “There are certain levels of risk with all of these activities. The via ferrata enables the least amount of risk to be able to climb up a mountain or cliff like this, but you still have to pay attention to make sure you’re doing everything right. You have to do it correctly or you could put yourself in a very dangerous situation. That’s what the guide is there for…to instruct and to supervise, to watch you and to help you through difficult sections if need be.”

At the top, a sign marks the top elevation at 9,282 feet on the south summit of Cathedral Peak. A Colorado flag flies. As someone who has undergone four major surgeries over the past four years, I felt a great sense of accomplishment. Of course, then is had to hike back down, buoyed by an adventure I will never forget.

Via Ferrata Works

Via Ferrata Works is a company started by Harry Kent and Keith Lober. It is one of only a handful of companies in the U.S. that designs and builds via ferratas.

“Kent and Lober have an incredible amount of experience in climbing, adventuring and mountaineering,” Rowley noted. “Lober’s background is actually as the head of Search and Rescue for Yosemite National Park in California. These via ferratas integrates a lot of the combined 60 years of experience that Kent and Lober have as big wall climbers.”

Recently, the company wrapped up a project in New Mexico at media mogul Ted Turner’s ranch called Vermejo.

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There are about 850 steps on rungs on the climb up the Cloud Ladder. At a couple of crucial points, you actually have to use the rock to step up, not just the cables and the rungs. (KMAC, Estes Park Trail Gazette)

“What’s really cool about it is that it’s a low elevation via ferrata,” Rowley said. “It’s more of a traverse. We had to think, ‘How do we make this exciting and challenging without the big exposures and the big wall?’ We integrated a bunch of different artifacts from the site. We found historic artifacts, relics from mining operations on site. We pulled out chains and cables and draglines. There’s a section on that where you actually walk on a steel dragline from a mine. That’s actually part of you grab on to. We’ve integrated mazes.”

Increasingly, Rowley explained, the company is thinking about pushing the boundaries with elements like the bridges on Cloud Ladder, trying to find the sweet spot between making it too hard or too easy and finding the place where most people can do it, but they still finish the climb with an amazing sense of accomplishment.

“We’re looking to take this skill set and work on projects all over the world,” Rowley added. “We’re looking at sites in the UK, Canada, Mexico…all over. We also have some great partnerships that allow us to push the boundaries more. We’re working with another company out of Maine that designs sailboats. We’re working with them to create platforms that are installed into the rock, accessible by via ferrata. It’s going to be a version of cliff camping, but a little bit more robust where you can actually get out of your harness. We want to create something that’s a little closer to glamping (glamorous camping) where you can get out of your harness. You can have a meal up there. You can spend the night. You can get some protection from the elements. And then the next day you can put your harness back on and continue up the route. We’re looking at this site and a couple of others for that. We’ve got some designs already and we’re really excited to share those, hopefully in the next few months.”

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Going solo on public health will not come cheap for Tri-County’s remaining two members

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Going solo on public health will not come cheap for Tri-County’s remaining two members

Public health is about to get more expensive in Adams and Arapahoe counties, as the rapid unraveling of the Tri-County Health Department forces both metro counties to figure out how to best safeguard the wellbeing of more than a million residents amid an ongoing global pandemic.

That’s the conclusion of a consultant’s report released last week, which calculated that Adams and Arapahoe counties will have to spend millions more to provide public health services whether they join forces or choose to each go it alone.

The difficult — and sudden — choice facing the two counties stems from Douglas County’s decision last month to break off from Tri-County and form its own health department following a months-long battle over COVID-19 public health orders, culminating with Tri-County’s directive that all students be masked while in school.

Douglas County had been the third member of Tri-County since 1966. The public health agency has provided services like disease surveillance, vital records and infectious disease protection to a large swath of the metro area population for more than 70 years.

The report, from the Otowi Group LLC, states that Arapahoe County’s annual tab to go solo would leap from the $4.8 million it currently pays Tri-County to $8.4 million. Meanwhile, Adams County would pay $6.5 million a year as its share to operate its own health department, well above the $3.8 million a year it contributes to Tri-County for health services.

An Adams County health department would have an overall $18.5 million budget with 158 employees, while Arapahoe County’s agency would have a budget of $22 million with nearly 200 employees, Otowi Group said. Aside from the county contributions, the agencies’ revenues would come from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and from what is raised through grants and contracts for service.

Even if the counties partner in a single public health district, the report says, more than $6 million in “additional needed” funding beyond what the two counties now pay Tri-County is required. And that’s not to mention the $61 million in “transition costs” that Otowi projects the disassembly of Tri-County will generate.

“Whatever we do, we want to make sure we have a seamless health department for our residents,” Arapahoe County Commissioner Nancy Jackson said. “This is not going to be an easy decision. This will take some time.”

Concerns about cost estimates

Already there is pushback on some of the consultants’ numbers, with Adams County Commissioner Steve O’Dorisio calling them an “inflated, worst-case scenario” that needs to be “analyzed more.” His colleague, Commissioner Eva Henry, said of the report: “There are holes in it.”

Both commissioners question how much Adams and Arapahoe counties will be on the hook for separation costs, $50 million of which the report pegs as pension obligations under the Public Employees’ Retirement Association, or PERA.

“There’s no evidence that we ever signed anything as a county that we were responsible for PERA,” Henry said.

Attorneys for the county, she said, are poring over the financials of Adams County going forward with its own health department or pairing with Arapahoe County, and she expects that she and her colleagues will make a decision on what to do by Dec. 1.

Chris Henning, a spokesman for Arapahoe County, acknowledged that creating a standalone agency or partnering with Adams County “results in a cost increase to the county.” But he said final costs will likely change based on the “specific mix of programs that are needed for Arapahoe County residents.”

And that’s where the auspicious aspects to going alone on public health come through, Henry said.

“The greatest benefit is targeting our health services to the needs of Adams County residents,” she said. “This has made us really take a look at our health department and how to make it better.”

That was part of Douglas County’s philosophy when it broke away from Tri-County, saying it had a much different demographic and health picture than its two partner counties. The county, which will still contract for services from Tri-County through 2022, hasn’t yet pinpointed a cost to run its own health agency, but Commissioner Abe Laydon said he is “not interested” in paying more than the $2.5 million the county paid Tri-County a year.

Counties’ differing needs

The three counties that made up the Tri-County Health Department are significantly different from each other and different from what they once were, O’Dorisio said. Adams County, for example, had just 40,000 residents when it joined Tri-County after World War II. It now has 520,000 residents.

“Each of these communities is growing and we each have different challenges and needs,” he said. “I believe the pandemic just highlighted those differences and accelerated the inevitable.”

Adams County faces unique health and environmental challenges with the Suncor Energy oil refinery in Commerce City and the county’s extensive oil and gas production sector, both of which present air pollution and water contamination concerns. Suicide prevention and family planning, especially in communities of color, are also issues that Adams County grapples with to a greater degree.

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Threats, resignations and 100 new laws: Why public health is in crisis

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Threats, resignations and 100 new laws: Why public health is in crisis

By Mike Baker and Danielle Ivory, The New York Times

PORT ANGELES, Wash. — As she leaves work, Dr. Allison Berry keeps a vigilant eye on her rearview mirror, watching the vehicles around her, weighing if she needs to take a more circuitous route home. She must make sure nobody finds out where she lives.

When the pandemic first hit the northern edge of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, Berry was a popular family physician and local health officer, trained in biostatistics and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University. She processed COVID-19 test kits in her garage and delivered supplies to people in quarantine, leading a mobilization that kept her counties with some of the fewest deaths in the nation.

But this summer, as a delta variant wave pushed case numbers to alarming levels, Berry announced a mask mandate. In September, she ordered vaccination requirements for indoor dining.

By then, to many in the community, the enemy was not the virus. It was her.

Berry should be attacked “on sight,” one resident wrote online. Someone else suggested bringing back public hangings. “Dr. Berry, we are coming for you,” a man warned at a public meeting. An angry crowd swarmed into the courthouse during a briefing on the COVID-19 response one day, looking for her, and protesters also showed up at her house, until they learned that Berry was no longer living there.

“The places where it is most needed to put in more stringent measures, it’s the least possible to do it,” Berry said. “Either because you’re afraid you’re going to get fired, or you’re afraid you’re going to get killed. Or both.”

State and local public health departments across the country have endured not only the public’s fury, but widespread staff defections, burnout, firings, unpredictable funding and a significant erosion in their authority to impose the health orders that were critical to the United States’ early response to the pandemic.

While the coronavirus has killed more than 700,000 in the U.S. in nearly two years, a more invisible casualty has been the nation’s public health system. Already underfunded and neglected even before the pandemic, public health has been further undermined in ways that could resound for decades to come. A New York Times review of hundreds of health departments in all 50 states indicates that local public health across the country is less equipped to confront a pandemic now than it was at the beginning of 2020.

“We have learned all the wrong lessons from the pandemic,” said Adriane Casalotti, chief of public and government affairs for the National Association of County and City Health Officials, an organization representing the nearly 3,000 local health departments across the nation. “We are attacking and removing authority from the people who are trying to protect us.”

The Times interviewed more than 140 local health officials, public health experts and lawmakers, reviewed new state laws, analyzed local government documents and sent a survey to every county health department in the country. Almost 300 departments responded, discussing their concerns over long-term funding, staffing, authority and community support. The examination showed that:

— Public health agencies have seen a staggering exodus of personnel, many exhausted and demoralized, in part because of abuse and threats. Dozens of departments reported that they had not staffed up at all, but actually lost employees. About 130 said they did not have enough people to do contact tracing, one of the most important tools for limiting the spread of a virus. The Times identified more than 500 top health officials who left their jobs in the past 19 months.

— Legislators have approved more than 100 new laws — with hundreds more under consideration — that limit state and local health powers. That overhaul of public health gives governors, lawmakers and county commissioners more power to undo health decisions and undermines everything from flu vaccination campaigns to quarantine protocols for measles.

— Large segments of the public have also turned against agencies, voting in new local government leaders who ran on pledges to rein in public health departments. In Idaho, commissioners last month appointed a new physician representative to the health board in the Boise region who advocates unapproved treatments for COVID-19 and refers to coronavirus vaccinations as “needle rape.” “We have heard from the voters,” Ryan Davidson, one of the commissioners, said.

— Billions of dollars have been made available to public health by the federal government, but most of it has been geared toward stemming the emergency, rather than hiring permanent staff or building long-term capability. Most of the departments that responded to the Times’ survey said they were worried about their funding levels, which in most cases had been decreasing or flat before the pandemic. About three dozen departments said their budgets were the same or smaller than they were at the beginning of the pandemic.

There are already signs that the growing shortfalls in public health could have lasting impacts beyond the pandemic.

More than 220 departments told the Times they had to temporarily or permanently abandon other public health functions to respond to the pandemic, leading to a spike in drug overdoses and a disturbing drop in reports of child abuse. Several health officials pointed to runaway infections of sexually transmitted diseases, with gonorrhea cases doubling and syphilis on pace to triple in one county in Pennsylvania. Oswego County, New York, recorded a surge in lead poisoning. In Texas, requests for exemptions to the usual suite of required childhood immunizations have risen sharply.

Mandates and mobilizations to protect public health have long been part of American life; colonists issued quarantine laws and fines for disobeying them as early as the 1700s. Public health departments later delivered vaccines to halt diseases like smallpox and polio, upgraded water systems to limit typhoid and cholera, curbed sexually transmitted diseases and helped guarantee the safety of food in restaurants.

But not since the flu pandemic of 1918 has the country faced a disease outbreak that called for unelected health officials to impose widespread mask mandates and business closures.

As scientists helped overcome many infectious diseases, the focus on keeping Americans healthy turned more to individualized treatment for ailments like heart disease and cancers, said David Rosner, a historian at Columbia University who specializes in the history of public health.

Many, particularly in conservative circles, have increasingly embraced individual rights over collective responsibilities, a trend that Rosner said was undercutting the notion of a social contract in which people work together to achieve a greater good.

“It’s a depressing moment,” he said. “What makes a society if you can’t even get together around keeping your people healthy?”

During the pandemic, the federal government made tens of billions of dollars available to bolster testing, contact tracing and vaccinations.

In May, the Biden administration announced that it would invest an additional $7.4 billion from the COVID-19 stimulus package to train and recruit public health workers.

But while health officials described the money as critical to helping them quickly build out teams after years of budget cuts, many of those new hires were temporary workers and much of the spending went to urgent needs such as testing and vaccinations. The new funding often came routed through states or grant programs with conditions, like a short time frame for spending money or time-consuming requirements for state or county approvals. Some departments said they had to lay off employees at inopportune times over the past year because grants had run out of money.

And the funding is not permanent. Many local health officials said they expected that the extra money would peter out over the next two to three years. They likened the COVID-19 funds to the money that flowed into health departments after the 9/11 attacks but then vanished when political priorities changed.

Dozens of departments said that, in order to be prepared for more surges or a future pandemic, what they truly needed was a higher baseline of qualified, permanent employees. Instead, they bought equipment or, more frequently, hired temporary staff, knowing they would need to let them go when the money dried up.

A health official in Berrien County, Michigan, said it was so time-consuming to get approval from the county to hire temporary staff members in the fall of 2020 that, when her department received more funding later, she focused instead on quicker purchases, like software. When the virus closed in, she had to pull existing employees off their regular duties.

“If a ship is sinking, throwing treasure chests of gold at the ship is not going to help it float,” said Melissa Lyon, public health director for Erie County, Pennsylvania.

An Erosion of Authority

When the pandemic struck last year, Dr. Jennifer Bacani McKenney, the top public health officer for Wilson County, Kansas, began doing Facebook Live presentations and coordinated with hospitals, schools and churches. She helped implement a state lockdown, but when it came time to reopen businesses, she did it more slowly than her county commissioners desired.

The Kansas state Legislature, alarmed by the persistence and power of public health orders around the state, passed a series of laws that gutted the authority of health officials like McKenney. The new laws limited COVID-19 contact tracing, gave authority for health decisions to elected leaders and allowed anyone “aggrieved” by a mask mandate, business closure or limit on public gatherings the ability to sue the agencies that imposed the order.

“It was a huge slap in the face to all of us who are doing the public health work,” McKenney said.

The Wilson County commissioners, emboldened with new powers over much of what she does, have discussed replacing McKenney, saying she focused too much on health and not enough on businesses, she said. The public grew so hostile toward her that she at one point had her elementary-age children sit away from the windows when they did their homework.

New laws passed in at least 32 states similarly restrict the ability of health officials to impose mask and vaccine mandates; close churches, schools and businesses; conduct contact tracing; or apply penalties for violating health restrictions. Some limit the length of time that governors’ emergency orders can be in effect. Many require a legislative body to approve health orders.

The Times spoke with dozens of lawmakers who have introduced such legislation, most of whom shared a concern that health officials had overstepped their authority and required a check on that power.

“It’s a very dangerous situation when you decide to take away anybody’s rights,” said Bob Rommel, a Republican lawmaker in Florida. He drafted a bill, whose main provisions were incorporated into a law that took effect this summer, allowing the governor to squelch local health orders deemed too restrictive.

Citing that law, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ government, which has been aggressive in slapping down local restrictions, fined Leon County $3.5 million this month for mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for its employees — $5,000 for each person required to get a shot. The state has threatened to levy millions of dollars more in fines for similar county mandates.

In Bismarck, North Dakota, the state capital, health director Renae Moch credited a state mask mandate last year with curbing a devastating outbreak.

Cases have recently surged again, but a new state law bars the state government from requiring masks. Moch would need to get approval from her city commissioners before ordering a local mandate, a hurdle she regards as insurmountable.

Some of the new laws are so sweeping they contradict public health practices that stretch back decades. In Montana, new laws could make it harder to quarantine people with diseases like measles and will prevent hospitals from enforcing their usual requirement that staff members get a flu shot.

Jim Murphy, an epidemiologist who worked in leadership roles at Montana’s Department of Public Health and Human Services for three decades before retiring this summer, said the department had enjoyed the support of governors from both parties — until Gov. Greg Gianforte took office this year, pledging to reopen the economy.

The new administration immediately raised questions about how COVID-19 deaths were being counted and whether testing was accurate. Health department officials, Murphy said, were left out of conversations over changes to public health laws.

“The dialogue and the problem-solving approach was completely gone,” Murphy said. “We don’t have a lot of say in this anymore.”

In Gallatin County, Montana, Ron Marshall, a state representative who owns a vape store, said he had been battling the local health board’s ban on indoor vaping. But after passage of a new law restricting local public health authority, he said, the board relented and told him that it would no longer enforce the ban.

Marshall said other local boards were also easing off on health orders. “They were out of control,” he said. “I think a lot of them are still trying to figure out how hard they got spanked.”

“You’re Going to Pay”

Last fall, two days after signing an order requiring masks in public places, Dr. Vernon Miller, the health officer for Hot Springs County, Wyoming, found his staff huddled around the phone, listening to a voicemail.

“Well, Dr. Miller, you’ve got some nuts facing off against this whole goddamn town,” a man said in an eerily singsong voice. “You’re going to pay for this.”

Miller canceled the day’s appointments, sent the staff home and called the sheriff. Police arrested a local machinist, Connor Fairbairn, who, according to court documents, admitted he left the message and wished he could take it back.

Fairbairn, who through his lawyer declined to comment, told a deputy that he had wanted Miller “to feel the way the rest of us feel,” which was “helpless and insecure.”

Public meetings have turned into battlegrounds. In California, a health officer resigned after a resident announced her home address at one meeting. In Nevada, a woman warned ominously that those protesting health orders made the meals, changed the tires and filled the prescriptions of local officials. “We’re everywhere,” she said. “I’m not the one who should be scared.” In Michigan, a man shouted another warning: “There’s a lot of good guys out there ready to do bad things!”

Several health officials said they had installed security cameras, were getting police patrols at their houses or were now carrying pepper spray.

The threats have come not just from members of the public. In Klickitat County, Washington, the sheriff announced over the summer that his office would “arrest, detain and recommend prosecution” of any government official enforcing health restrictions that he deemed unconstitutional.

Erinn Quinn, the county’s public health director, said she suspended some outreach work and thought seriously about resigning. “It was the first time I truly gave pause to my career in public health,” she said. But she resolved to push back.

Two weeks later, dozens of people held a rally for the sheriff, who was later hospitalized with COVID-19.

“That Chaotic Mess”

The pandemic has already started to reshape the public health workforce in ways that could impair the ability to fight future pandemics.

Some of the most experienced staff members have walked out the door, and departments have struggled to find replacements. Few can compete financially with hospitals in the middle of a nationwide nursing shortage. In the past, health departments could lure workers with better hours and less heartache. That is no longer the case.

Kathy Emmons, the executive director of the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department in Wyoming, said her department had a turnover approaching 80% during the pandemic.

In January, hundreds of people gathered at the state Capitol to protest health orders and burn masks. A few days later, red paint was spattered across almost every entrance to the county health department.

Emmons worried that for people privately wondering whether to stay or quit, the job had changed too much.

“They didn’t join our department to COVID-test 10 hours a day or to give vaccinations 10 hours a day,” she said. “We were asking people to completely change their work priorities.”

Sue Rhodes, the health department administrator in Marshall County, Kansas, was one of many officials who said finding people to do contact tracing had become a challenge with the public sometimes threatening or verbally abusing tracers. She has been trying to hire an extra nurse to help with the work. But she has had no luck.

“Everybody looks at public health now and says, ‘Who wants to work there?’” she said. “Who wants to work in that chaotic mess?”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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Exploring the roots — and high drama — of flamenco

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Exploring the roots — and high drama — of flamenco

In the United States, we tend to push flamenco music and movement into the category of folklore, something to be respected and admired for its showy skills, but not quite a fine art with the same status as “elevated” forms like ballet and orchestral music.

Flamenco dancer Maria Vazquez dances in her Denver studio on Oct. 11. The artistic director of Flamenco Denver since its inception in 2004, Vazquez has been thrilling audiences in the United States and Europe since 1994. Vazquez will be performing at the Newman Center on Oct. 21 called “Raices.” (Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

But in Spain, where it has been evolving for more than two centuries, it shares equal status with all of the classical European traditions. The Spanish respect their dances no matter where they came from or how they developed. Flamenco, ballet, regional, bolero and contemporary — dance students learn them all with a similar passion.

It’s not so difficult to understand why the classical set resists flamenco: It’s full of free-wheeling passion and emotion and personal expression, just the opposite, of say, symphonic music, where each performer’s role is proscribed by the composer and the emphasis is on the whole, rather than the individual. Flamenco — romantic, tragic, celebratory, free — is not for people who want their art predictable or anonymous.

Americans are coming around, though, and maybe quickly these days, says Maria Vázquez, who has watched interest in flamenco grow steadily here over the past two decades.

When she opened her dance studio, Flamenco Denver, in 2004, there was just a trickle of interest, she said. Students weren’t exactly lining up to take lessons.

These days, the place is bustling with 16 group classes each week, full of eager learners who caught on to flamenco in one way or another in the self-guided information age, maybe by seeing performances on television dance competitions or catching one of the scores of flamenco videos posted on the internet and flowing through social media streams, like Facebook and TikTok.

1634558916 659 Exploring the roots — and high drama — of flamenco
(Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

“It’s a great time for flamenco,” she said in an interview last week, between rehearsals for “Raices,” the dance concert she has organized for Oct. 21. “It’s getting bigger and bigger all the time.”

The concert itself may be proof of that growing interest — and flamenco’s improved status in this area. It’s taking place at the 1,000-seat Gates Concert Hall, the largest venue at DU’s Newman Center for the Performing Arts and a frequent showplace for orchestras and ballet companies.

The lineup includes members of her Flamenco Denver troupe along with some of the top flamenco artists in the U.S, including Antonio Granjero and Estefania Ramirez, the husband-and-wife duo based in New Mexico. Each is highly regarded in their own right — his bio brags of performing for Queen Elizabeth; hers of touring with dance legend Maria Benitez — and together their EntreFlamenco dance company continues to travel internationally.

Vázquez will perform, too, adding star power to the mix. A native of Seville, Spain, she danced with numerous companies there before moving to the U.S. almost 20 years ago, after meeting her husband who was visiting her home country as a student.

There are also musicians in the show, of course, including singer José Cortés Fernández, who began his career at the age of 10 in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, and now lives and works in the U.S. And Grammy-winning Diego “El Negro” Alvarez will be featured on cajón, the box-shaped percussion instrument that is essential to flamenco.

The right mix of musicians and dancers is crucial, according to Vázquez. Audiences with limited knowledge of the art tend to focus on the dancers, with their formal, often elaborate costumes and highly dramatic foot stomps and hand gestures. Flamenco dancers can be shameless in the way they command attention.

1634558916 654 Exploring the roots — and high drama — of flamenco
Posters for Flamenco hang on the walls in the studio of Flamenco dancer Maria Vazquez on Oct. 11, 2021.  (Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

But music is the heart of the form, as Vázquez explains it for newcomers. The musicians’ songs, stories and poetry guide every moment and the dancers follow their lead, interpreting the plots, all of the joys and sorrows, through movement, sometimes literally but most often emotionally.

“If the singer is not there, you are missing a big part of the whole thing,” she said.

Within that task of translation, and working within the familiar and often complex rhythms of flamenco, dancers have considerable freedom to improvise, connecting with the mood of the singer and developing the visuals. “They have to make their own movie,” Vázquez said.

“Raices” — the word translates from Spanish-to-English as “roots,” will feature both solo and group dances. The dancers coordinate their collaborative movements ahead of time, Vázquez said, but give each other space to make the performance their own using a common framework and language.

“It’s more like a jazz conversation,” she said. “We know what we are talking about.”

And audiences should consume it that way, letting it unfold like a jazz concert rather than watching for perfection as they might with a ballet performance.

Vazquez’s advice: “Just be open to sensations, to feel and share the experience of the moment.”

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Patriots having two blocked punts a sore subject with Bill Belichick

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Patriots having two blocked punts a sore subject with Bill Belichick

The Patriots have now had two blocked punts in their first six games, with their latest coming during the second quarter in the Cowboys loss.

They had no punts blocked in the previous five seasons combined, with their last two punts blocked coming in 2015 and 2014.

But All Pro kicker Jake Bailey has already seen two opponents easily stuff a pair of his kicks.

Dallas didn’t wind up scoring after the block by Luke Gifford, with the Pats ultimately putting on a goal line stand for the ages, with four stops from the one yard line before the half.

But having two punts blocked this season doesn’t sit well with Belichick, who spoke on the subject during his WEEI appearance on “The Greg Hill Show” Monday morning.

“We just obviously have to do a better job. Neither of those plays should have been a problem. But, we just didn’t execute them well enough,” said Belichick. “Obviously we have to coach them better, and play them better. We’ll just have to keep working on that. We haven’t done anything differently than we’ve done in the past. But two is certainly two too many. That’s an area we can’t continue to make those kind of mistakes or they’ll continue to cost us.”

 

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