Wuhan was Fentanyl Capital Before Becoming Coronavirus Capital

​Wuhan, China, is the world capital of production of chemicals needed to make fentanyl.(Getty Images) ​

 

For drug traffickers interested in getting in on the fentanyl business, all roads once led to Wuhan.

The sprawling industrial city built along the Yangtze River in east-central China is known for its production of chemicals, including the ingredients needed to cook fentanyl and other powerful synthetic opioids.

Vendors there shipped huge quantities around the world. The biggest customers were Mexican drug cartels, which have embraced fentanyl in recent years because it is cheaper and easier to produce than heroin.

But the novel coronavirus that emerged in Wuhan late last year before spreading across the planet has disrupted the fentanyl supply chain, causing a ripple effect that has cut into the profits of Mexican traffickers and driven up street drug prices across the United States.

Few industries — illicit or not — have been unscathed by the pandemic that has upended the global economy and killed more than 190,000 people worldwide.

The narcotics trade, which relies on the constant movement of goods and people, has been stymied by lockdowns, travel bans and other efforts to contain the virus, according to government officials, academic researchers and drug traffickers.

Mexican production of fentanyl and methamphetamine appears especially hard hit.

Fentanyl pills disguised as prescription pain killers.(Associated Press)

Both drugs are made with precursor chemicals that are typically sent on planes or cargo ships from China, where despite U.S. pressure to ban them, they continue to be sold legally.

That supply chain was shut down in January when authorities in Wuhan enacted a lockdown that forced residents to stay inside for more than two months.

In February, after a major manufacturer of the chemicals closed, vendors began posting apologies on the online sites where chemicals are typically sold, said Louise Shelley, a professor at George Mason University who tracks global fentanyl production.

“They were saying: ‘We’re not producing or selling or shipping,’” she said.

Logan Pauley, a researcher at C4ADS, a Washington-based think tank focused on transnational security, also noticed a decrease in advertisements for fentanyl precursors. He said vendors switched to selling other products, including face masks and anti-malarial drugs that some doctors and politicians initially hoped would help treat the coronavirus.

The drop in exports has left some Mexican drug producers with less access to needed chemicals.

Simultaneously, cartels have encountered another colossal challenge: new restrictions on entry to the United States — the world’s biggest market for illegal drugs.

Normally, more than a million people cross the U.S.-Mexico border legally each day. But that number has fallen significantly since March, when President Trump closed the border to all nonessential traffic, reducing opportunities for cartels to smuggle drugs north.

Some cartels are hurting financially, said Falko Ernst, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group. He said he has interviewed gang members who complain that cartel bosses have not paid their salaries.

“They’re being told that business is bad, that finances aren’t flowing smoothly,” he said.

Other factors are also hurting organized crime. Experts say quarantines have slowed the movement of cocaine from South America to Mexico and harmed legal industries, such as the avocado trade, from which cartels extort money. Meanwhile, the downturn of global oil prices has been a blow to gangs that resell stolen gasoline.

That loss of income could be exacerbating violence in Mexico, which saw 2,585 homicides in March, more than in any month in nearly two years.

In the United States, reduced drug production and less trafficking across the border appear to have resulted in rising retail prices.

Kameron Korte, a spokeswoman for the San Diego field division of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, said fentanyl pills in her region now sell for $7 each, up from $5 a few months ago.

The average cost of methamphetamine has risen from $1,000 per pound to $1,400 per pound, she said.

Similar price hikes have been seen in other parts of the country.

Drug users have grumbled about rising prices on online forums. On a message board on the website Reddit, one person complained that prices of fentanyl pills in Phoenix had nearly doubled. “Border shut = less trafficking,” it said.

Despite that, drug treatment experts say they are seeing a surge in drug use.

Jeffrey Holland, who runs a nonprofit rehabilitation facility in Albuquerque, said anxiety about the pandemic and the economic recession is a potent trigger. It doesn’t help that Narcotics Anonymous meetings and other recovery programs have been moved online, he said.

“This is cultural trauma on a global scale,” he said. “And when people have more anxiety, they turn to alcohol and drugs.”

The country’s opioid crisis began more than a decade ago with prescription painkillers and heroin, but in recent years it has been dominated by fentanyl.

In 2018, more than 31,000 people in the United States died after taking fentanyl or one of its close chemical relatives, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. No other drug in modern history has killed more people in a year.

Holland said he’s seen no sign of a slowdown in New Mexico during the pandemic.

“Drug dealers are still driving around, and they’re still selling from their houses,” he said.

Jaime López-Aranda, a Mexican security analyst, said that drug traffickers are accustomed to disruptions in the supply chain and that they would bounce back from the pandemic the same way they rebound from cartel infighting or law enforcement crackdowns.

“It’s part of the business cycle,” he said. “This has never been a stable market. The rule is strife and conflict.”

In Mexico, there has been some evidence that cartels have been trying to adapt.

Miguel Angel Vega, a journalist and expert on the Sinaloa cartel, said multiple drug producers have told him of efforts — so far unsuccessful — to manufacture the precursor drugs needed to make fentanyl and methamphetamine in Mexico.

Wuhan ended its 76-day lockdown on April 8, and many of the city’s 11 million residents have returned to work. According to Shelley, some online websites have already resumed selling fentanyl ingredients.

Ben Westhoff, who traveled to Wuhan in 2018 while researching the opioid trade for his book “Fentanyl, Inc.,” said it’s likely that Mexican cartels are already designing more resilient supply chains.

The only reason they relied on Chinese manufacturers for precursor chemicals in the past was because it was easy, he said.

“The reason they buy these ingredients from China is the reason everybody buys things from China: because it’s cheap.”

By Kate Linthicum | Los Angeles Times

Missouri Supreme Court Issues Directive to Resume Court Activities

The Supreme Court of Missouri has issued an order and operational directives, effective May 16, to help courts statewide establish localized plans – recognizing the varying community health safeguards and court dockets, facilities and staffing levels across the state – for easing COVID-19 restrictions on in person proceedings. Since mid-March, the state’s courts have been operating under precautionary measures to help combat the spread of the disease while ensuring they remain open to conduct business as necessary to carry out their core, constitutional functions.

Under the order, activities in all appellate and circuit courts – including all associate, family, juvenile, municipal and probate divisions – will continue to be restricted in some respect, and courts are encouraged to use all available technologies to conduct activities remotely to limit the number of in-person proceedings conducted in courthouses. The order authorizes judges presiding over civil matters to waive, for good cause shown, deadlines or time limitations set by state or local court rule (but not those set by a statutory or constitutional provision) and directs courts to adopt measures to ensure timely filing by self represented litigants (who lack access to Missouri’s electronic filing system).

The order further enacts operational directives establishing uniform “gateway criteria” for Missouri courts to begin resuming – gradually as local conditions permit – activities previously suspended. Under the operational directives, also effective May 16, to help make paramount the health and welfare of litigants, witnesses, victims, jurors, attorneys, judicial employees and other individuals involved in judicial proceedings in determining whether a courthouse is ready to progress through four defined operating phases, local courts:

  • Should monitor local circumstances and conditions on a regular basis.
  • Should work with local health officials, law enforcement officers, children’s division personnel, juvenile officers, prosecutors and public defenders, and local attorneys in adapting their plans for moving through operating phases to local health conditions.
  • May move to a new operating phase only after being in the prior operating phase at least 14 calendar days, with no confirmed COVID-19 cases in the court facility and improving COVID-19 health conditions in the community during that time.
  • May revert to a prior operating phase immediately when required by local conditions and circumstances.


Regardless of the phase in which they may be operating, local courts should:

  • Allow (or, in phase three, consider allowing) “vulnerable individuals” as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to postpone their required presence in a court proceeding.
  • Follow social-distancing protocols and consider requiring the use of masks or other face coverings.
  • Clean and disinfect common areas and consider providing hand sanitizers and wipes.

The Court intends to issue further operational directives for conducting grand and petit jury proceedings as pandemic and health conditions improve.

Jails Turn to UVC Robots to Fight Coronavirus

​​Dane County, Wisconsin Sheriff’s Office is testing out UV light emitters to kill bacteria within the jail. (WMTV) 

​​At the Dane County Jail in Madison, Wisconsin, robots that look like fancy space heaters have rolled from room to room 24 hours a day, seven days a week, since the end of March. The devices emit high-intensity ultraviolet light, a technology that can destroy viruses including swine flu and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome).
 
Sheriff Dave Mahoney bought the pair of UVC emitters, which cost about $80,000, shortly after the coronavirus pandemic hit, and was reimbursed through a federal FEMA grant the county received for COVID-19 expenses. Now, the robots target everything from solitary cells to eating utensils. Mahoney says he’s had 40 cases at the jail so far after testing the roughly 450 prisoners and 600 staff who work there, a level of infection that he believes would be higher if not for the robots.

“There is so much nasty stuff in the jail,” Mahoney said. “Once you clean a room, it’s only as good as the next person who comes in. That’s why we do it around the clock.”

Prisons and jails, where social distancing is nearly impossible, are epicenters for COVID-19 infections, and corrections officials have struggled to find ways to stop the spread. So they are increasingly turning to UVC technology typically used by hospitals to reduce the organisms that contribute to new infections.

Many lock-ups rely on the people incarcerated there to scrub them down, often with diluted and alcohol-free products. That can keep cleaners from getting intoxicated or injured, but can also make disinfection more difficult.

The Marion County Jail in Indianapolis, Indiana, used bleach as a disinfectant before the pandemic, said Col. James Martin. But it wasn’t always possible for prisoners to leave it on surfaces, such as walls, long enough to work. Now, Martin says, in addition to chemical disinfection, officers run the UVC machines, which the county bought at the end of April.

“We were fighting hard water, dirt and grime,” he said, “but now we’re fighting something totally different.”

Martin said he and others at the jail first learned about UVC during an Indiana Sheriff’s Association meeting last fall where they met with representatives from Skytron, a Michigan-based company that manufactures UVC disinfection systems and other equipment for major hospitals, including the Cleveland Clinic.

Last year Skytron began to pursue a foothold in the prison and jail market, attending conferences and supplying machines to jails for free demos, said Larry Perez, a company vice president. “I began to think, why aren’t we sharing this with other places in our community?” Perez said. “One of the dirtiest places you’ll step foot in is a jail.”

That strategy has paid off, Perez said. Skytron’s UVC sales to jails more than quadrupled in April, going from 11 jails to a total of 48. Perez said several state prisons have also ordered units, which cost between $40,000 and $80,000.

Morris Miller, the chief executive of Xenex, which makes UVC robots, said he’s also noticed more interest from police departments and jails. Last year, the company made its first such sale when the LAPD purchased a UVC machine, which cost about $100,000, after an officer contracted typhoid fever.

Companies are pitching new coronavirus-fighting products for lockups, including a machine that sprays an atomized disinfectant mist, which has been adopted by prisons in Connecticut and North Carolina, and a humidifier that a promoter said was being used to combat the virus in 83 unnamed prisons and jails across the country. Studies have shown that the influenza virus does not spread as easily in humid environments.

But UVC, which is also referred to as UVGI (for ultraviolet germicidal irradiation), has the advantage of a long track record. For decades, municipal water plants have used UVC to sanitize water. Hospitals nationwide are currently using UVC to decontaminate equipment, including N95 respirators. There is also a growing reliance on UVC disinfection outside of hospitals, including in New York City’s subway cars and the floors of Pittsburgh’s airport.

Nevertheless, its use is largely unregulated and there are no uniform standards to measure performance. “Right now it’s just whatever anybody wants to say,” said Meredith Stines, CEO of American Ultraviolet and a member of the International Ultraviolet Association, which is pushing for standardization in the industry. There are a range of UVC products, including hand- held devices, that are much less expensive than the robots, which are manufactured by about a dozen companies nationwide, Stines said, adding that some products aimed at consumers don’t deliver on the level of disinfection they promise.

Researchers are studying the impact of UVC light specifically on the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and some studies have shown it’s probably as effective on this virus as on older ones like SARS.

Despite President Donald Trump’s floating ultraviolet light as a possible coronavirus treatment for people, the intensity of UVC rays that are required to kill viruses and other germs are dangerous to humans and could burn skin and eyes.

“This is promising technology for jails, as long as you don’t expose the prisoners or anybody to this light directly,” said Steven DenBaars, a professor at UC Santa Barbara who specializes in ultraviolet LED light. He said he has seen an increase in funding for research into UVC and is expecting guidelines on the use of this technology in public spaces from the National Institutes of Health soon. NIH has already put out guidelines for the use of UVC to disinfect personal protective equipment.

Experts say UVC should be used in conjunction with other cleaning efforts, and is not a silver bullet. “What this does, is it gives an additional layer of security, because we’re people, and people will miss spots when cleaning,” said Shawn Gibbs, Dean of the School of Public Health at Texas A&M University.

UVC companies said the robots are high priced because they emit more powerful rays and can automatically assess a room’s size, which allows the machine to estimate the correct dosage of light required to be effective. Robots also come with a variety of safety features, including an auto shutdown function if a person goes in the room while it’s on and door motion sensors to detect people trying to enter.

The Kent County Sheriff’s office in Grand Rapids, Michigan, reduced its spending on chemical cleaning agents so it could afford to buy a UVC robot. It is seeking reimbursement through a Bureau of Justice Assistance federal grant, Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young said.

The 1,400-bed jail has so far had just two positive cases of COVID-19, even though Michigan has one of the highest positive case counts in the country, according to data from John Hopkins University. LaJoye-Young partially credits the new robots for keeping the virus out, alongside reducing the jail’s population by about 350 people.

“We have to approach this from all angles,” LaJoye-Young said. “You can’t just clean your way out of this.”

Dane County’s Sheriff Mahoney said he believes UVC is an important tool that he’d like to see other prisons and jails embrace. As incoming president of the National Sheriff’s Association, Mahoney said he plans to distribute a white paper to law enforcement nationally about “the benefits of investing in this technology to keep deadly organisms out of jail populations.”

Mahoney says he’s already shared his enthusiasm for UVC with other sheriffs across Wisconsin, who have followed his lead and also bought UVC emitters. He said he has no ties to any UVC businesses.

“I’ve sold more of those machines for them than their salesman,” he said with a laugh.

 
By Alysia Santo | themarshallproject.org

Stress Awareness and Management in COVID-19 World

In our day to day life, no matter what our profession is, or if you’re a student, fast-food worker, parent, care-giver, etc. – it doesn’t matter. Each of us has an average day-to-day stress load we’re used to dealing with. Some people deal with that daily stress better than others, and some folks deal with greatly increased levels of stress with ease. What we need to address is how the added stress of a pandemic can negatively impact your usual stress management skills and alter how you behave. There is nothing wrong with this adjustment in behavior, but you need to at least be aware of it and do what you can to minimize it for your own health and wellness.

In the law enforcement world, we deal with daily stressors that many if not most folks can’t imagine dealing with at all… ever in their lives. The necessity of on-going situational awareness, while it might stress “normal” people, helps law enforcement professionals reduce the stress they perceive or feel. That reality for law enforcement doesn’t apply to all professions though and even those of us with high stress management skills might feel a bit overwhelmed. Why? Because of the add on stress of the unknown.

This morning it was observed in one conversation that there’s a distinct difference between the stress of potentially being shot / shot at, and the stress of not knowing whether or not you’ll be infected by or exposed to COVID-19. Why would that be? For law enforcement, simple situational awareness and the practice of good officer survival skills can reduce your chances of being shot or shot at. It’s a known risk. It’s relatively minimal (depending on where you work). The chance of surviving it even if it happens is high. It’s an accepted and recognized part of the job. It exists in whatever minimal form from day one of the job until you retire and possibly even after that dependent on your outlook toward lifestyle in retirement.

COVID-19 on the other hand… You can’t see it. You don’t know where it is. You can exercise good risk management practices 100% and still not know whether or not you’ve been exposed. If you happen to get infected, symptoms might not show up for as much as ten to fourteen days – or they might not show up at all. At present, there seems no end in sight for how long this threat might be actively part of our day, or if it will ever be mitigated by vaccine or cure.

Let’s take a look at the Stress Continuum Model. This image is available from about a hundred different online sources and resides in the public domain of every social media outlet this author can find. All things being equal, most officers operate in the green, even while at work. With the addition of the daily stress from the COVID-19 concerns and changes in operations, we might find ourselves in the Yellow space instead. That’s not terrible and if we’re aware of it, we can mitigate or resolve it during our off-duty time or with proper self-care (to the best of our ability) on duty.

Our concern should be raised if we feel that we’re already operating in the Yellow space day to day and the addition of the COVID-19 situational impact drops us into the Orange space. This can have a longer term impact as well as impairing our function during our day-to-day life and duty. The most common and obvious way to address such stress matters is, “Talk to someone; seek professional help.” The additional challenge of COVID-19 restrictions is that they may well prevent such face to face counseling opportunities.

Just this morning (as this is published) this author was talking to a police psychologist headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania who is conducting counseling and therapeutic sessions virtually by using the ZOOM meeting app.

What we must do is stay aware and take appropriate action to avoid dropping into the RED space. For all of us who normally exist and function in the Green space, dropping into the Yellow during this prolonged time of additional challenge isn’t out of the ordinary. We need to be aware of it and make sure we practice good stress management / mitigation behaviors while off-duty. If we feel ourselves getting overwhelmed and potentially dropping into the Orange space we must immediately seek assistance and support BEFORE it negatively impacts our behavior and our performance on duty.

Here are a few things you can do to assist in maintaining a positive outlook and/or reducing the impact of all the negative “news”:

  • Minimize the negative saturation in your day. Look at infection numbers no more than twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening.
  • Make sure that when you look at the COVID-19 infection data you pay attention to the number of negative tests and recoveries as much as, if not more than, the numbers of infected or deaths.
  • See between the sensationalistic headlines and commentary to the actual facts. News media outlets habitually use language and sentence structure that makes things sound worse than they are. It’s how they keep people coming back or staying glued to the TV screen. It’s how they increase their ratings and therefore advertising revenues. Don’t buy into the hype, but pay attention to the data reported that is supported factually.
  • Assess your own health and risk. The risk of serious challenge from a COVID-19 infection is much higher for those over 60 years of age or who have other pre-existing health conditions. Be realistic about your own risk, both positive and negative.
  • Set the example in your community by practicing the recommended prevention protocols related to COVID-19: wash your hands frequently; avoid touching your face, particularly any area with mucus / moist membranes. Maintain a six foot minimum space when talking to people (haven’t we always done this as “reactionary gap?”).
  • Don’t feed the hype or panic. As you serve your community, be the voice of reason.

We are all in this together and we can all come out of it together if we support one another and maintain ourselves properly. That doesn’t just mean avoiding infection but also taking care of yourself emotionally, mentally and physically.

Stay safe.

By Lt. Frank Borelli, the editorial director for the Officer Media Group. Frank brings 20-plus years of writing and editing experience in addition to over 35 years of law enforcement operations, administration and training experience to the team. 

First Emergency Responder to Succumb to COVID-19 Honored

U.S. and Missouri flags were flown at half-staff at all government buildings in Cass, Clay, Jackson, and Platte counties and at fire houses across the state on Wednesday, April 22, 2020, in honor of Kansas City Fire Department EMT Billy Birmingham.

Governor Mike Parson also ordered the U.S. and Missouri flags to be flown at half-staff at the Fire Fighters Memori​​al of Missouri in Kingdom City.

On April 13, EMT Birmingham died of COVID-19 after responding to several service calls in which there were patients positive for COVID-19, according to the Kansas City Fire Department. His death is the first known COVID-19 line-of-duty death of a first responder in the state of Missouri. His funeral was held on April 22.

“In the face of this unprecedented public health crisis, Billy Birmingham repeatedly and without hesitation risked his own health and safety by responding to emergency calls,” Governor Parson said. “EMT Birmingham died heroically and selflessly in service to others. His death is a reminder to all of us to appreciate and thank the EMTs, paramedics, and all first responders who are serving on the frontlines in the battle against COVID-19.”

EMT Birmingham served as a member of the Metropolitan Ambulance Services Trust (MAST) from 1998 to 2010 and continued his service as a member of the Kansas City Fire Department following the consolidation of MAST and KCFD in 2010. He was an ordained minister and founded Agape Love Ministries of Christ Unlimited in 2012. He was 69 years old and is survived by six children, 14 grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.

To view the proclamation, visit https://governor.mo.gov/proclamations/governor-parson-orders-flags-half-staff-four-counties-april-22-honor-kansas-city-emt

Decontamination System Will Help Extend Use of N95 Masks

In​ his April 22 COVID-19 briefing, Governor Parson announced the deployment of a decontamination system in Missouri to assist with the N95 mask shortage.

Governor Parson was joined by CoxHealth Medical Director of Infectious Diseases Dr. Robin Trotman, Missouri Department of  Health and Senior Services (DHSS) Director Dr. Randall Williams, MO HealthNet Director Todd Richardson, and Missouri Department of Public Safety Director Sandy Karsten.

In an effort to conserve personal protective equipment amid the COVID-19 crisis, hospitals, health care providers, and first responder agencies will have the opportunity to utilize the Battelle Critical Care Decontamination System (CCDS) starting next week to safely decontaminate N95 masks for reuse.

Expanding PPE reserves is one of the four essential pillars of the state’s “Show Me Strong Recovery” plan.

“The PPE shortage has been a top concern in Missouri and nationwide as health care professionals and first responders respond to COVID-19,” Governor Parson said. “By helping conserve PPE, this system will be a huge asset to our overall recovery plan.”

A result of two decades of research and approved for use through the federal Food and Drug Administration, the system uses a process of vapor phase hydrogen peroxide to decontaminate the masks. Any one mask can be decontaminated using this process up to 20 times without impacting its integrity.

The Battelle CCDS is 100 percent federally funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, allowing the mask decontamination to be provided at no cost to health care providers.

There will be up to 13 drop-off and pick-up sites located throughout the state for health care providers and first responders to drop off their N95 masks for decontamination. Each facility or organization will be responsible for correctly and safely packaging their contaminated masks and labeling them according to the directions supplied by Battelle.

The masks are then transported via a biohazard courier to the temporary site of the Battelle CCDS in Jefferson City. The masks are then returned to the original drop-off/pick-up site approximately 72 hours following drop-off.

The Battelle system is completely safe while in operation to the surrounding community. Specialists from both DHSS and the Department of Natural Resources have thoroughly reviewed the specifications.

It is anticipated that the Battelle system will be available to Missouri providers for use for at least six months. Battelle continues to research additional types of PPE that might be safely decontaminated using this process. Any health care or first responder organization interested in using the Battelle CCDS to decontaminate N95 masks should enroll at www.battelle.org/N95.

Also in today’s briefing, Governor Parson announced that DHSS has expanded the criteria for who can be approved for testing through the Missouri State Public Health Laboratory.

In addition to symptomatic close contacts to a suspect COVID-19 patient or a laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 patient and symptomatic health care workers and first responders, DHSS will also approve state testing for symptomatic residents of congregate living facilities whose residents are at higher risk for poor outcomes; symptomatic hospitalized patients who have signs and symptoms compatible with COVID-19; and symptomatic patients who are at high risk for negative health outcomes from COVID-19.

For individuals not meeting DHSS criteria for testing, providers may pursue private laboratory testing. Testing through private laboratories does not require DHSS approval. An interactive testing site map is now available on the DHSS website.

Missouri Launches PPE Marketplace

On April 22 Governor Mike Parson announced the launch of a new tool developed by Google to help health care providers connect with Missouri manufacturers and suppliers of personal protective equipment (PPE).

“It’s vital that we keep our health care workers as protected as possible in the fight against COVID-19,” Governor Parson said. “Manufacturers across the state have answered the call to help protect our health care workers, and we are committed to doing all we can to get this equipment into the hands of those that need it.”

​​The new tool is a joint effort between the state and the Missouri Hospital Association. It was built to help manufacturers that have shifted production to PPE enter the health care market and connect with buyers.

Over the past month, the Department of Economic Development (DED) has gathered interest from more than 200 manufacturers and suppliers of PPE and invited all of these companies to register in the system.

Likewise, state health care agencies and the Missouri Hospital Association are reaching out to health care providers across the state to ensure they have access and can connect directly with suppliers through the new tool.

Expanding reserves of PPE by opening public and private supply chains is one of the four essential pillars of the “Show Me Strong Recovery” plan introduced by Governor Parson on April 17.

Missouri businesses interested in selling or manufacturing PPE can contact DED at ded.mo.gov/howtohelp.

COVID-19 Derails Efforts to Put Recreational Marijuana on Fall Ballot

An effort to get a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana in Missouri on the November ballot has collapsed amid the coronavirus outbreak.

A group called Missourians for a New Approach committee announced Wednesday that it “simply cannot succeed in gathering sufficient signatures” amid restrictions that closed business and forced people to stay home. The group had faced a deadline of May 3 to collect 170,000 signatures.

“We had hoped that it might be possible to persuade the state of Missouri to allow online signature gathering under the extraordinary circumstances we find ourselves in this spring,” the group said in a statement.

But state officials said no, and the group sai​​d “there does not appear to be any other path.” The statement said that the group hoped that the campaign would resume next year, with the goal of placing the issue of whether to legalize the use of marijuana for those 21 or older on the November 2022 ballot.

“It appears,” the group wrote, “that Missourians are ready to embrace legalization if given the opportunity to vote on it.”

The group has said the recreational marijuana effort is being supported by the same backers who helped pass the medical marijuana constitutional amendment in 2018.

 
​Associated Press | News Tribune​

Senators Propose up to $25K in Hazard Pay for ‘Essential Workers’

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) unveiled a proposal Tuesday that would grant a pandemic premium pay increase of up to $25,000 to essential workers and institute a $15,000 essential worker recruitment incentive.

The COVID-19 “Heroes Fund” proposal aims to reward and retain essential workers as well as recruit more.

U.S. senators have proposed a COVID-19 “Heroes Fund” that would provide up to $25,000 in hazard pay for essential workers, including first responders and healthcare professional​​s. (Photo/Wikimedia Commons)

“Thousands of New Yorkers across the city, Long Island and upstate are leading this fight and reporting to the frontlines of our state and nation’s pandemic response each and every day, placing themselves squarely in harm’s way to serve the needs of others,” Schumer said in a statement.

He named doctors, nurses, grocery store workers, transit workers and more as those that fall into the essential category.

“Essential frontline workers sacrifice daily for our collective health and well-being, and I, along with my colleagues, are fully committed to supplying these heroes the financial support they deserve.”

EMPLOYERS WOULD APPLY

The pay increase would be the equivalent to an additional $13 per hour from when the COVID-19 public health emergency began Jan. 27 until Dec. 31, or until the maximum allowable premium pay increase is reached, according to a press release from Schumer’s office.

Those increases would be capped at $25,000 for essential frontline workers who make less than $200,000 per year and $5,000 for those who earn more than $200,000 annually.

People who sign on to be essential health and home care workers or first responders could receive a one-time $15,000 premium.

Employers in industries that engage in “essential work” would apply to the “Heroes Fund” to add pay to employees’ and independent contractors’ paychecks.

They would track these payments and return any unspent funds, the release said.

Per the proposal, the “Heroes Fund” would be fully federally-funded and essential frontline employees in the federal workforce would also be eligible.

“The definition of essential frontline workers for purposes of both the premium pay increase and the recruitment-retention incentive will be the subject of debate,” the press release said.

“Our goal is to make federal, state, tribal, local and private sector essential workers that are at risk eligible for this benefit.”

STEFANIK, GILLIBRAND SPEAK

Essential workers, particularly nurses, doctors and health care workers, are on the front lines of the crisis, North Country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville) said in a statement.

“The North Country is forever indebted to them and grateful for their work during this difficult time.

I support hazard pay for our health care workers as well as other essential workers, and strongly believe Congress must work on a bipartisan basis to deliver crucial support for those on the front lines working to keep our communities and families healthy and safe.”

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said she strongly supported the proposed “Heroes Fund.”

“These brave men and women are putting themselves in harm’s way to save lives, support other essential workers and give food security to millions of Americans and New Yorkers.

They’ve earned our full support and then some.”

By Cara Chapman | Press-Republican, Plattsburgh, N.Y

Fulton Public Schools Offering Free Child Care for First Responders

The program will be held at Bush Elementary where bathrooms are close to the doors allowing students to wash their hands as soon as they walk in. This was a recommendation made by the state.
 

Fulton Public Schools will begin offering free childcare to children whose parents are first responders.

Fulton Public Schools superintendent Jacque Cowherd said the school district received a list from Governor Parson and the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that included kids in the school district whose parents are first responders.

Fulton Public Schools’ list included 24 kids from 14 families. After identifying the families, Cowherd did a survey of the staff and found 14 to 16 individuals who were willing to be a part of the program. The individuals include teachers who Cowherd said will be able to help teach the students and a custodian who can keep the area clean.

Cowherd said the custodian’s husband is a firefighter and she has two kids in the medical field, so this program is close to her heart.

The volunteers will meet up on Monday and nursing staff will layout protocols to ensure the safety of those involved.

Cowherd said his biggest fear that too many people will get sick and they’ll have to shut down. In response to this fear, the program is working on gathering hand sanitizer and masks for people to wear.

Cowherd hopes they’ll be able to start as early as next Wednesday with six kids.

But, the program may end up assisting more kids as time goes on.

Cowherd said every w​​eek, the local school superintendents have a conversation and if the other districts have kids that fit the criteria for the free childcare the Fulton Public Schools will work to include them.

The program will be held at Bush Elementary where bathrooms are close to the doors allowing students to wash their hands as soon as they walk in. This was a recommendation made by the state. (Fulton Public Schools)

The program will run until May 21 and, as of now, the program will run from 6:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.

By Megan Smaltz | KRCG TV