5 Things That Happened While You Were Out: Sept. 1, 2020

Welcome to September CivMixers. It is not the official start of fall, but here in upstate, I think we can all agree it is the unofficial start. Who doesn’t love an upstate fall? From the apples to the zombie runs, nothing is better.

Usually.

Unfortunately, I have no clue how this fall will be due to COVID-19. So many things have been different, and I am sure this fall will be, too. Hopefully, we will all get to have those quintessential “its fall, y’all” moments. I hope there will be hayrides (the non-haunted kind) and apple picking, Double M Haunted Hayrides, and, of course, plenty of pumpkins.

Let’s see what happened today, shall we?

1) Both Facebook and Twitter announced they had removed accounts that were determined to be linked to Russian state actors who tried to spread false stories about racial justice, the Democratic presidential campaign of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and President Donald Trump’s policies.

According to those who looked into the situation, it is similar what occurred in 2016 when Russian-linked accounts sought to spread disinformation and reduce progressive and minority support for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

According to Facebook, these Russian agents started a site that was masked as an independent news entity and then hired unsuspecting freelancers to write stories for them. These stories were built off of inaccurate facts and then shared on social media platforms by artificial intelligence.

The most popular site is called PeaceData, which claims to be a news agency aimed at exposing corruption and abuse of power. Facebook and Twitter have both removed multiple sites connected to PeaceData and will continue to block any that emerge in the future.

Facebook started an investigation after receiving a tip from the FBI that accounts backed by the Kremlin through the Russian Internet Research Agency tied to the issues in 2016 were active. Mindful of the past foreign interference in the U.S. election process, Facebook and Twitter are stepping up their security.

Both now label posts with false or misinformation that may be intended to mislead people, and add context to trending topics and remove posts that blatantly violate their rules. Of course, the Russians are adapting. Graphika, a well known social media analysis firm, recently released a new report on the tactics of using unwitting freelancers to do their dirty work.

2) There are about a handful of COVID-19 vaccines now at the final stage of development, which means they’re testing whether they indeed work. Yesterday, AstraZeneca announced that their proposed vaccine, AZD1222, was one of the few to enter the final testing phase in the U.S.

AstraZeneca is based in Cambridge, England, and plans a diverse final study of how the vaccine impacts up to 30,000 individuals of many different races and ethnicities.

Two other vaccines began their final phase of testing earlier this summer. Moderna Inc. manufactured one designed by the National Institutes of Health, and Germany’s BioNTech partnered with Pfizer Inc. to create the other. These were tested on tens of thousands of Americans.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has said that it would be a fantastic achievement to have just one vaccine entering this stage only eight months after the outbreak of a virus, let alone three.

Yesterday, the U.S. advisory panel on vaccines issued its initial plan for how the country should ration the first doses of anything that proves both safe and effective. This calls for the first doses to be given to front-line, high-risk health workers, and first responders. Next up are nursing home residents and high-risk people living in a facility. Then school faculty and staff, essential industry workers, and people in group living situations – including prison.

The rest of the population would not be eligible for the vaccine until it is widely available.

The U.S. panel, created by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, has said that the likely first supply would be around 15 million doses, and there is a “moral imperative” to focus on helping relieve the COVID burden on POC communities and other vulnerable neighborhoods. The panel will accept reactions to their plan until this Friday.

3) It’s Taaaraval Ban Tuuuesday**. Two more states have been added to New York’s 14-day self-quarantine list – Alaska and Montana – and no states were removed.

This list, as you’ll recall, started back in June, and is an effort by the Cuomo administration to keep the state’s infection rate low. The list now includes 30 states and three territories: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Wisconsin.

Inclusion on the list (or removal from it, as the case may be) is determined by testing rate positivity. Anywhere with a rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents or an overall positivity of 10 percent or higher (both on rolling seven-day averages) are added to the list.

The ban also exempts essential workers from quarantining as well as allowing a traveler to by-pass the list if they were in a state or territory on the list for under 24 hours. The ban also applies to residents of the state returning home from anywhere on the list.

**credit to Amy Marlette

4) With fall comes flu season, which is something that no one wants to hear – especially not this year. But it is a fact of life, and Albany Med. is expecting a particularly busy flu season this year. In anticipation, they have set up their flu testing site outside in a tent that is going to be located in the P Building parking lot.

The area will be equipped to test for multiple respiratory diseases such as cold, flu, parainfluenza, and of course, COVID-19.

The last time the area was used was last spring, and the hope is that they are over-prepared and will not need the site to be used that often.

5) The Great New York State Fair may have been canceled this year, but the American Dairy Association North East and fair organizers are banding together to bring the beloved annual butter sculpture to life. It will be put on display virtually.

They will unveil the sculpture on the ADANE’s Facebook page live. It will be an 800-pound sculpture made out of scrap butter and crafted by Jim Victor and Marie Pelton, who has made the butter sculpture every year since 2003. This year’s offering took them 10 days to complete.

After it is taken apart, the butter is transported to a dairy farm and recycled into a methane digester, where it will be converted to energy.

Stay steady, stay strong, stay safe.

Stay woke.

Photo credit: George Fazio.

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