‘Staggering and depressing’: Covid-19 takes dramatic toll on U.S. life expectancy

By John Tozzi | Bloomberg

Life expectancy in the United States dropped the most in more than seven decades last year as Covid-19 sent hundreds of thousands of Americans to early deaths.

The pandemic’s disproportionate toll on communities of color also widened existing gaps in life expectancy between White and Black Americans, according to estimates released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The tally represents an extraordinarily grim accounting of an ongoing catastrophe. The first year of the pandemic delivered a bigger blow to American life expectancy than any year of the Vietnam War, the AIDS crisis or the “deaths of despair” that nudged down life expectancies in the mid-2010s.

“It’s staggering and depressing,” said Noreen Goldman, a professor of demography and public affairs at Princeton University. “The U.S. lags behind virtually all high-income countries in life expectancy, and now it’s lagging further behind.”

The pace of Covid-19 deaths dropped sharply as vaccinations spread in the first half of 2021. But it’s unclear how long it will take for life expectancy to rebound. The U.S. has recorded a total of 609,000 Covid deaths since the pandemic began. More than 43% occurred in 2021, with almost half the year still to come.

The first year of the pandemic reduced Americans’ life expectancy at birth by 1.5 years, to 77.3 years. That erased the country’s gains since 2003. It was the largest annual decline since 1943, in the middle of World War II. Goldman said that it was the second largest decline since the 1918 influenza pandemic, which is believed to have killed some 50 million people worldwide.

The 2020 pandemic decline widened the distance between the U.S. and other wealthy democracies like France, Israel, South Korea and the U.K., according to research recently published in The BMJ journal.

“This is not a decline that happened in other high-income countries, so something went terribly wrong in the U.S. where the number of Americans who died was vastly in excess of what it needed to be,” said Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University and one of the authors of the BMJ study.

Life expectancy is a statistical construct that reflects death rates in a given place and time. The CDC report describes life expectancy at birth as the “average number of years a group of infants would live if they were to experience throughout life the age-specific death rates prevailing during a period.” It isn’t meant to predict the actual lifespans that people born in that period will experience. Rather, it’s a way to compare death rates across geographies and years.

Covid accounted for three-quarters of the decline in 2020. Unintentional injuries, a category that includes record fatal drug overdoses for 2020, also dragged down the measure, as did homicides, diabetes and liver disease. The drop would have been steeper had it not been offset by fewer deaths from other factors including cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, heart disease and suicide.

All demographic groups saw declines in life expectancy in 2020. But the drops weren’t evenly distributed. Men lost more ground than women. Hispanic Americans, who have longer life expectancies than White or Black Americans, recorded the greatest losses during Covid, with life expectancy dropping three full years, double the rate of the country as a whole.

Black Americans likewise recorded a 2.9-year loss of life expectancy. That decline widened the gap between Black people and White people in the U.S., a disparity in life expectancy that had been shrinking since the 1990s. Life expectancy for White Americans declined by 1.2 years in 2020.

“There’s no biological reason for people of a certain skin color to die at higher rates of a virus,” Woolf said, noting that the disparate impact reflects structural inequities.

Skewed representation in frontline jobs like retail, meatpacking, transport and health care, combined with higher rates of chronic conditions, put people of color both at increased risk of exposure to Covid and increased risk of dying from it, Goldman said.

Unequal access to health care, language barriers, and crowded or multigenerational housing also contributed to the virus’s disproportionate toll on Hispanic and Black populations, she said.

The estimates published by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics reflect death certificate data reported by states and cities. The report didn’t include data on populations of Asian Americans, American Indians, Alaskan Natives, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders.

As alarming as the one-year drop in life expectancy in 2020 is, Woolf said that more attention should focus on the decades-long gap in life expectancy that has cut short more American lives than Covid has.

In the 20th century, life expectancy generally increased in wealthy countries as science and sanitation helped conquer infectious diseases. In the U.S., troubling signs that the country wasn’t keeping up with other nations’ gains in the measure emerged in the 1990s. This divergence came to be known as the U.S. health disadvantage.

“The more important issue than the acute event we’re seeing right now in life expectancy is the long-term trend,” Woolf said. “That’s actually much scarier for the U.S. than what we’re reporting for 2020, as strange as that might sound.”

More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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Agriculture pesticide caused kids’ brain damage, California lawsuits say

By DON THOMPSON | The Associated Press

SACRAMENTO  — Lawsuits filed Monday in California seek potential class-action damages from Dow Chemical and its successor company over a widely used bug killer linked to brain damage in children.

Chlorpyrifos is approved for use on more than 80 crops, including oranges, berries, grapes, soybeans, almonds and walnuts, though California banned sales of the pesticide last year and spraying of it this year. Some other states, including New York, have moved to ban it.

Stuart Calwell, lead attorney in the lawsuits, argued that its effects linger in Central Valley agricultural communities contaminated by chlorpyrifos during decades of use, with measurable levels still found in his clients’ homes.

Lawyers project that at least 100,000 homes in the nation’s largest agricultural state may need to dispose of most of their belongings because they are contaminated with the pesticide.

“We have found it in the houses, we have found it in carpet, in upholstered furniture, we found it in a teddy bear, and we found it on the walls and surfaces,” Calwell said. “Then a little child picks up a teddy bear and holds on to it.”

All that needs to be cleaned up, he says, because “it’s not going away on its own.”

State records show 61 million pounds of the pesticide were applied from 1974 through 2017 in four counties where the lawsuits were filed, Calwell said.

Officials with Dow and its affiliated Corteva Inc. did not immediately respond to telephone and email requests seeking comment.

Corteva stopped producing the pesticide last year. The Delaware-based company was created after a merger of Dow Chemical and Dupont and had been the world’s largest manufacturer of chlorpyrifos. The company has said it believes the product is safe and said it stopped production because of declining sales.

Scientific studies have shown that chlorpyrifos damages the brains of fetuses and children. It was first used in 1965 but was banned for household use in 2001.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is weighing whether to ban the product or declare it safe, including for infants and children. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in April ordered the EPA to make a decision after studying the product for more than a decade. The Trump administration had halted the rule-making process.

The lawsuits were filed on behalf of people in Fresno, Kings, Madera and Tulare counties, though Calwell said they are a precursor to seeking class-action status. Aside from Dow-related companies, they name various farming companies they say applied the chemical near the plaintiffs’ homes.

In each case, the plaintiffs are parents suing on behalf of children who suffer from severe neurological injuries that the lawsuits blame on their exposure to the chemical while they were in the womb or when they were very young.

Aside from nearby spraying, the lawsuits say the parent, relatives or others in frequent contact with the child worked in the fields or packing plants and became contaminated with the chemical that they passed on to the child.

Calwell filed related lawsuits last fall on behalf of farmworkers who his firm said “spent years marinating in the pesticide.”

The first of those related lawsuits blames chlorpyrifos for causing autism, cognitive and intellectual disabilities in a now-teenager born in 2003.

The teen’s father worked spraying pesticides on farm fields and his mother packed what the lawsuit says was chlorpyrifos-covered produce in a facility surrounded by fields treated with the pesticide, often applied by aerial spraying.

Calwell similarly sued Monsanto for damages he alleged it caused to homes in Nitro, West Virginia, with its use of dioxin to make the defoliant known during the Vietnam War era as Agent Orange.

That case settled for $93 million, with Monsanto paying to decontaminate 4,500 homes, a fraction of those that he alleges in California will require more extensive decontamination followed by medical monitoring.

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These are the hotshot firefighters leading attacks against California wildfires. And they’re quitting

By Paul Vercammen and Christina Zdanowicz | CNN

A swirling tornado of flames reaching 40,000 feet into the sky tore through a California city in 2018, leaving a veteran hotshot firefighter horrified.

The fire tornado, which obliterated entire neighborhoods in Redding, California, during the massive Carr Fire, still haunts former hotshot supervisor Aaron Humphrey. He says that terrifying moment forever changed his outlook.

“You are in a fog and expecting death or disaster around every corner … It collectively killed my hotshot spirit,” Humphrey, 44, said of the fire tornado.

“Hump,” as fellow firefighters and friends call him, supervised hotshot crews from the US Forest Service on blister-inducing hikes to dig out fire lines, hack down trees and set blazes to fight advancing flames. Hotshot crews of 20 to 22 people spearhead fire attacks, and it’s not uncommon for them to hike 10 miles daily with fire gear packs that can weigh up to 45 pounds.

Hump rose up from a seasonal rookie firefighter to the prestigious position of supervisor of the Eldorado Hotshots. He called it the “best job in the world.”

But he quit a year ago.

After 25 years, Hump says he became just the latest mentally fried, underpaid hotshot veteran to leave, at a time when California wildfires are at their worst.


Two firefighters were killed in the 2018 Carr Fire.(Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

Hotshots are leaving for better pay

The pay discrepancy between federal hotshots, most of whom are employed by the US Forest Service, and firefighters for other jurisdictions is staggering.

First-year federal hotshots make $13.50 an hour, according to David Alicea, vice president of the Forest Service Union in California.

“Yes, you can make overtime, but we’re putting them through the meat grinder,” Alicea told CNN. “We’re abusing them because we are short-staffed, and they are not getting their rest periods. They get laid off when fire season is over, and they choose not to come back.”

These usually young, seasonal firefighters are some of the ones who are leaving. But all levels of firefighters are moving on, including top managers who have the most experience.

“We have experienced staffing challenges as a result of issues such as compensation, remote and hard-to-fill duty stations, a competitive employment market, and the physical and mental stress of year-round fire conditions on fire personnel,” Regina Corbin, a spokeswoman for the US Forest Service, told CNN via email.

Corbin said that Region 5, which includes California, is converting temporary seasonal positions to permanent full-time posts to improve recruitment and retention.

She says the problems are not new and apply to other federal firefighters.

Alicea agrees.

“We’re down engine crews,” he said. “I know of three or four forests that are down staffed.”

He estimates they are missing hotshots in 35 key positions this summer in California.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein pressed the US Forest Service in a May hearing on how it can stop losing hotshots to other places offering bigger salaries.

“We have 19 million acres [of California forestland] under federal jurisdiction,” Feinstein said in the May 26 hearing on Capitol Hill. “State pay is $70,000, that’s what Cal Fire pays to a state firefighter. The United States Forest Service pays $38,000.”

During the hearing, US Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen confirmed the average yearly pay for a US Forest Service firefighter is $38,000.

“State, local and private entities can range from $70,000 to $88,000 a year, and their benefits are better,” she said.

On Wednesday, Senators Feinstein and Alex Padilla of California, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Steve Daines of Montana wrote a letter proposing a plan to raise federal firefighter pay. They are asking the Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government to include it in the 2022 funding bill, according to the letter.

Fires are getting fiercer

Experts fear another terrible wildfire season — possibly worse than 2020, the most active fire season that California has ever recorded. The prolonged drought in the West is also fueling the fires, just one of the ways climate change is compounding the crisis.

The recent fires are part of a larger trend in California.

The seven largest wildfires in state history happened within the last four years, according to Cal Fire. The Carr Fire, which changed Hump’s perspective on his work, ranked as the 12th largest fire in state history.

The increase in California’s wildfire intensity and acres burned can only be explained by factoring in climate change, according to a recent analysis of several peer-reviewed studies. Land management plays a role in the trend, experts say, but it alone cannot explain why the state’s fires have become so much more destructive.

On top of fiercer fires, an unrelenting drought and another big fire season on the horizon, California is losing hotshots, the rock star firefighters with the track records to successfully fight these mega blazes.

“I needed to be home with my family,” Hump told CNN. “The level of stress I was bringing home (from massive fires) — I didn’t even recognize myself anymore.”

Hump, a married father with three children — ages 12, 10 and 8 — now works for Pacific Gas and Electric, as a lead on the utility’s safety infrastructure protection team.

Hump says he’s paid at least $40,000 more annually than what he made before as a hotshot supervisor. The money comes with peace of mind, as he now attends all of his children’s events, even coaching some flag football.

Not enough firefighters to form hotshot crews

There are hotshot shortages across the country, but California hotshots are getting hit harder, according to Jonathan Miller, chairman of the National Forest Service Firefighters Union.

“We’ve seen some attrition across the federal crews and engines, but nothing like the shortages in California,” Miller said.

Alicea says 15 California Interagency Hotshot Crews don’t have enough members to activate as a full firefighting unit. CNN obtained a CIHC document that confirms that number.

When a hotshot crew isn’t big enough, it’s harder to fight fires, Hump says. Smaller crews can’t split up into small squads or help teams with special missions as effectively.

Members with particular qualifications are required to be called a hotshot crew, which were nicknamed for fighting the hottest fires. These crews are trained to tackle “strategic and tactical wildfire assignments,” according to the US Forest Service website.

Two crews, Modoc and Horseshoe Meadow, are operating as even lesser-staffed firefighting modules.

The Eldorado Hotshots may soon lose another seasoned manager, captain D.J. McIlhargie.

“I have five irons in the fire right now,” McIlhargie told CNN. “I’m looking for something that will work for my family more. And my wife knows that I’m tired of waiting for the forest service to give me a commensurate salary to what other departments pay.”

The father of two boys, 7 and 10, McIlhargie lives an hour outside Sacramento. He described feeling “wiped out” and “frustrated” by battling the recent streak of super fires.

McIlhargie, 39, says there are just not enough firefighters to take on massive blazes such as the ones that ravaged Northern California last year.

He says the Eldorado Hotshots spent a month trying to stop the largest wildfire in California history, the August Complex fire, which scorched more than 1 million acres.

The years in fire battle wear down the hotshots from helmet to boots, McIlhargie says.

“My knees ache every day,” he said. “My rotator cuffs are ratchety and clicky from swinging tools and carrying cans (used for backfire fuel) and carrying saws and carrying your (back) pack.”

“Your range of movement in your hips starts to go,” McIlhargie said.

More homes will burn without enough hotshots

If vacant hotshot positions don’t get filled, the firefighters CNN interviewed said more homes will burn.

“It used to be for us hotshots we are up in the mountains, the back country fighting these fires,” McIlhargie said. “Now it seems that every single fire has some element of wild land fire meets urban interface.”

Maeve Juarez spent a year as a Redding Hotshot in 2004.

The 41-year-old mother of two left her US government job as a battalion chief in the Los Padres National Forest four years ago.

“I left because I took a higher paying job with the Montecito Fire Department that allowed me to spend more time with my kids, and it’s less stress,” she said.

Juarez says the pay is significantly higher in her new role as wildfire specialist in Montecito.

Because of her experience, Juarez serves as an operations section chief on major fires, a sort of general directing fire troops from many agencies.

Juarez says losing hotshots, especially supervisors, to other jobs is hindering California’s effort to fight mega fires.

“These hotshot supes know the terrain, what type of brush is burning, how it burned in an area in the past,” Juarez said. “They are a big part of our decision making, strategy and tactics on fighting fires.”

She added: “When a veteran superintendent leaves, we lose that experience, and they are our backbone.”

Hump recalls his hotshot decades, visions of firefights, falling trees, crew members seriously burned and hotshots dying. He helped set up a memorial service in Arizona for the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots killed when a fire burned over them eight years ago.

“It’s this feeling of doom, that every fire you go to you are going to lose someone you care about,” Hump said. “It’s terrifying. It’s hard to communicate with your family because you don’t want to scare them. You just hug them and never want to leave.”

Leaving behind the doom of that deadly fire tornado in 2018, Hump is looking ahead to this Fourth of July do something he’s never done before.

“I plan on teaching my kids to fish,” he said. “I’ve never had the time.”

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

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These communities remain at high risk for dangerous Covid-19 variants rapidly increasing in US, expert warns

By Travis Caldwell | CNN

The country continued this week on a path to reopening from the Covid-19 pandemic, with major population centers such as New York and California pulling back on restrictions following increased vaccinations and lowered infections.

Yet with overall vaccination rates in the US slowing this month when compared to highs in April, health officials are raising awareness about the uneven distribution of vaccines in different parts of the country.

“I’m very unconcerned for people who have been vaccinated, and I’m more concerned for people who have not been vaccinated and the communities that are largely unvaccinated,” Andy Slavitt, former White House senior adviser for the Biden administration’s Covid-19 response, told CNN’s Don Lemon on Wednesday.

Slavitt, who earlier described the Delta variant, or B.1.617.2, as “Covid on steroids,” noted people who are in high vaccination areas are likely to know others likeminded about inoculations, and places with few vaccinations are more susceptible to clusters of Covid-19 infections.

“In those communities, a Covid that spreads twice as fast is not a good thing,” Slavitt said.

The Delta variant, a form of Covid-19 first identified in India, has increased to approximately 10% of coronavirus cases in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The strain has been listed by the CDC as a “variant of concern,” meaning scientists believe it is more transmittable and can cause more severe disease.

Recent studies demonstrated the effectiveness of vaccines against variants such as Delta, with many in the health community urging to Americans that the best way to defend against Covid-19 is preemptive vaccination and immunization.

“It’s one more reason for people to take this seriously and say, ‘Wow, we’ve got great vaccines, we’re so lucky to have them, maybe I should take one or two,’” Slavitt said.

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Recent study points to long-term dangers of Covid-19

This week, the US surpassed 600,000 deaths since the coronavirus pandemic began, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, meaning approximately one in 550 Americans have died from Covid-19.

The rate of infection and deaths in the country have slowed dramatically since the 2020 holiday season, which is largely credited by health experts to the millions of Americans who have since received vaccines. Despite the improved outlook toward beating the pandemic, the risk of contracting Covid-19 remains for many who have not yet been vaccinated.

In an analysis of nearly 2 million people who had a Covid-19 diagnosis between February and December 2020, a new white paper study from FAIR Health points to the dangers of contracting Covid-19 and how symptoms for some can last well beyond what is hoped for after surviving the infection.

Nearly a quarter of Covid-19 patients, 23.2%, had at least one post-Covid condition 30 or more days after their initial diagnosis, according to the study posted on Tuesday.

While post-Covid conditions were found to a greater extent in patients who had more severe Covid-19, they were also found in a “substantial” share of asymptomatic cases.

Half of patients who were hospitalized with Covid-19 had a post-Covid condition 30 days or more after their initial diagnosis, as did 27.5% of those who had symptoms but were not hospitalized and 19% who were asymptomatic.

Pain and breathing difficulties were the top two conditions cited. Most of the post-Covid conditions studied were more common in females, yet there were 12 conditions that were more commonly experienced by males.

One of these, cardiac inflammation, the researchers call “notable” as the age distribution was skewed towards a younger cohort. The largest share — 25.4% — of patients reporting this condition were in the 19- to 29-year-old age group, a number that was also disproportionate to the age group’s share of Covid patients overall.

FAIR Health says it believes this is the largest population studied for post-Covid conditions and the study was not formally peer-reviewed but was evaluated by an independent academic reviewer.

Rare heart-related risk after vaccination resolved in days, study finds

While a risk of heart inflammation following vaccination for younger individuals is being examined by federal health officials, prompting discussions during a recent FDA committee meeting over how to prepare for vaccinating for children under the age of 12, another study found that such symptoms resolved themselves within days.

Wednesday’s report in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation suggests that myocarditis, an uncommon condition that causes inflammation in the wall of the heart muscle, after vaccination may be temporary and straightforward to treat.

Seven patients, all of whom were male and between the ages of 19 and 39, hospitalized with a myocarditis-like illness after vaccination were reported to the CDC’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.

Diagnosis of the conditions was confirmed through testing and all had stable vital signs. Treatment for the patients involved heart drugs known as beta-blockers and anti-inflammatory medication, and the patients were discharged from the hospital within two to four days.

“The clinical course of vaccine-associated myocarditis-like illness appears favorable, with resolution of symptoms in all patients,” wrote the team led by Dr. Christopher deFilippi of the Inova Heart and Vascular Institute in Virginia.

“Given the potential morbidity of Covid-19 infection even in younger adults, the risk-benefit decision for vaccination remains highly favorable,” they added.

Outreach for vaccinations continues

About 147.8 million people, or 44.5% of the US population, are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data released Thursday.

Fifteen states have hit the Biden administration’s goal of vaccinating 70% of adults with at least one dose by July 4.

To reach out to the many who remain unvaccinated, health officials continue to promote new ways to convince Americans of the need to inoculate.

The US Department of Health and Human Services will enlist student ambassadors 16 years and older to help promote Covid-19 vaccination, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said Wednesday.

“We want to use those students who want to be ambassadors to their fellow students to get them out and get vaccinated,” Becerra said at a roundtable with Anacostia High School students in Washington, DC.

Governors and state officials have also turned to financial incentives during the vaccination rollout, with several states promoting lotteries for vaccinated people to boost interest, even in places that have done relatively well with vaccination efforts.

On Wednesday, Maine announced a sweepstakes that will reward one vaccinated winner with $1 for every person vaccinated in the state by July 4.

The cash winnings increase by $1 for every Maine resident who receives at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, so “the more people vaccinated, the higher the prize,” according to a statement from Governor Janet Mills’ office.

“Maine is a national leader in Covid-19 vaccination thanks to the more than 876,000 people who have already rolled up their sleeves,” Mills said, adding that residents ages 12 and up who have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine can enter for a chance to win.

According to the release, as of June 15, 74% of eligible Maine residents have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, and Maine ranks third among states in the percent of eligible residents who are fully vaccinated.

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Pediatric cardiologists explain myocarditis and why your teen should still get a Covid-19 vaccine

By Elizabeth Cohen | CNN Senior Medical Correspondent

The news about a potential link between the Covid-19 vaccine and a cardiac ailment in young people may be striking fear in the hearts of some parents.

But pediatric cardiologists have a message for these parents: Covid-19 should scare you more — a whole lot more — than the vaccine.

And these doctors should know. They’ve treated young patients who’ve contracted this heart ailment after vaccination — it’s called myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle — and they’ve also treated young patients who’ve had Covid-19.

There simply is no comparison between the two, they say.

Myocarditis sounds scary, but there are mild versions of it. In almost all cases among vaccinated young people (they were ages 16 to 24), the symptoms have gone away quickly. Covid-19, on the other hand, can be a long illness, or it can kill a young person — it has already killed thousands of them.

CNN spoke with pediatric cardiologists Dr. Kevin Hall at the Yale School of Medicine and Dr. Stuart Berger at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, who is also chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics section on cardiology and cardiac surgery, about the cases of myocarditis that have been spotted among young people after vaccination with the Moderna or Pfizer Covid-19 vaccines.

Both doctors, as well as the American Heart Association and American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend the Covid-19 vaccine for young people.

What causes myocarditis, and how often does it happen to young people?

While myocarditis is relatively uncommon, it does happen to young people (and we mean long before the Covid-19 vaccine ever came along). Usually it’s caused by a viral or bacterial infection. A different vaccine, one against smallpox, has previously been linked to myocarditis.

There’s a wide spectrum of myocarditis. Some people don’t feel anything and they’re fine without treatment. For others, myocarditis can be deadly.

Berger estimates that at the emergency room where he works at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, they see approximately one child a week with the condition in the summer, when coxsackie and other viruses that cause myocarditis are in full bloom. Generally speaking, these young people are otherwise healthy.

People from puberty through their early 30s are at higher risk for myocarditis, according to the Myocarditis Foundation. Males are affected twice as often as females.

How many people in the US have developed myocarditis after Covid-19 vaccination?

As of May 31, nearly 170 million Americans had at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Through that time, fewer than 800 cases of myocarditis or pericarditis (inflammation of the tissue around the heart), have been reported after receiving the vaccine, according to the CDC, most of them after the second dose. And these are preliminary numbers — they might be lower as further investigation could show that not all of these people actually had myocarditis or pericarditis.

Are these numbers unusual?

As we mentioned, people get myocarditis and pericarditis — inflammation of the lining around the heart — even without the Covid-19 vaccine. The CDC set out to determine if the numbers of post-vaccination myocarditis and pericarditis are higher than what you’d see without the Covid-19 vaccine.

The answer was “yes” for people ages 16 to 24. The CDC found that among 16-and 17-year-olds, as of May 31, there were 79 reports of the illnesses soon after vaccination, and ordinarily you’d expect to see around two to 19 cases in this group. Among 18-to-24 year olds, there were 196 reported cases, and you’d expect to see between 8 and 83 cases. There were also reports of myocarditis and pericarditis in older age groups, but the numbers weren’t higher than what you’d normally expect.

Did the myocarditis in these vaccinated young people make them really sick?

It sounds like an inflamed heart would, by definition, always be a huge deal, right? But it isn’t.

“Many times, people have myocarditis and don’t even know it. It goes away and they’re fine,” Berger said.

In the vast majority of these post-vaccination cases, patients had a full recovery.

Looking at 270 patients who were admitted and discharged from the hospital as of May 31, the CDC has found that 81% had full recovery of symptoms. The other 19% had ongoing symptoms or their recovery status was unknown.

Hall, the pediatric cardiologist at Yale, said many of the post-vaccination myocarditis patients at his hospital didn’t feel very sick, but they were admitted so doctors could do more testing and out of an abundance of caution.

“Some of these young men and boys were rather upset that they had to stay in the hospital,” Hall said.

What kinds of symptoms did these young people have?

Hall is co-author of a study published last week looking at seven cases of myocarditis among adolescents after vaccination.

They all had chest pain, and some of them also had fevers or felt weak or tired.

Their symptoms began between two and four days after the second dose of the vaccine. They spent two to six days in the hospital. For all seven patients, their symptoms resolved rapidly with medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and steroids.

All seven of the cases were males. In the CDC report, most of the cases were males.

How do young people do when they get Covid-19?

This gets to the heart of the issue. When young people developed myocarditis following vaccination, the numbers were small, and they weren’t very sick.

While most young people who develop Covid-19 are fine, some do develop complications and even die from the infection.

As of June 9, 2,637 people under age 30 have had deaths that involved Covid-19, according to the CDC. As of June 5, preliminary data shows 3,110 people under the age of 18 have been hospitalized, a number the CDC says is likely an underestimate.

Berger and Hall have each taken care of dozens of Covid patients.

“Some of them spent weeks in the intensive care unit. They had poor heart function. They had acute infections that were completely preventable by the vaccine,” Berger said.

Even if they recovered, some have had long-term illnesses.

“We do remain concerned about these children in the long term,” Hall said. “We have seen some with persistent changes in their cardiac testing. This is a very serious disease.”

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After San Jose mass shooting, new gun tax falls short in California Assembly

By ADAM BEAM | The Associated Press

SACRAMENTO  — The California Assembly on Thursday failed to pass a bill that would have raised taxes on handguns and ammunition.

The bill by Assemblyman Marc Levine, a Democrat from San Rafael, would have imposed a 10% tax on the sales price of handguns and an 11% tax on the sales price of rifles, precursor parts and ammunition.

The tax would have applied to retailers, not consumers. But a legislative analysis of the bill said retailers could have passed that cost along to buyers. The Assembly Appropriations Committee estimated it would have generated $118 million per year, with the money going toward gun violence prevention programs and research.

A majority of the Assembly’s 80 members voted for the bill. But because the bill would create a new tax, it required a two-thirds vote. The bill fell five votes short of the 54 required for passage. Democrats control 59 votes. But several Democrats come from more moderate districts, making a tax increase on guns a tough vote for them.

Despite the bill’s failure on Thursday, Levine said he believes it’s possible to revive the legislation later this year.

“California is in the midst of a gun violence epidemic that will only end when our leaders have the courage to do what is right and necessary to end it,” Levine said.

The vote comes one week after nine people were killed in a mass shooting at Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority rail yard in San Jose, California. Assemblyman Alex Lee, a Democrat from San Jose, read the names of each victim on the Assembly floor as he urged his colleagues to support the bill.

“We continue to see the breaking news headlines of yet another mass shooting in our nation on a nearly weekly basis. And frankly, I’m sick of it,” he said.

In a letter to lawmakers, the pro-gun group Gun Owners of California wrote that the bill wasn’t fair because it sought to “penalize the lawful for the misdeeds of the unlawful.’

Levine, the author of the bill, said his goal was in part a response to the increase in gun sales and gun violence since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

California already imposes a fee of $37.19 on gun sales, which includes a fee for background checks.

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California lawmakers eye shuttered malls, big box retail stores for new housing

By ADAM BEAM | The Associated Press

SACRAMENTO  — California state lawmakers are grappling with a particularly 21st-century problem: What to do with the growing number of shopping malls and big box retail stores left empty by consumers shifting their purchases to the web.

A possible answer in crowded California cities is to build housing on these sites, which already have ample parking and are close to existing neighborhoods.

But local zoning laws often don’t allow housing at these locations. Changing the zoning is such a hassle that many developers don’t bother trying. And it’s often not worth it for local governments to change the designations. They would prefer to find new retailers because sales taxes produce more revenue than residential property taxes.

However, with a stubborn housing shortage pushing prices to all-time highs, state lawmakers are moving to pass new laws to get around those barriers.

A bill that cleared the state Senate last week would let developers build houses on most commercial sites without changing the zoning. Another proposal would pay local governments to change the zoning to let developers build affordable housing.

“There has always been an incentive to chase retail and a disincentive to build housing,” said Sen. Anthony Portantino, a Los Angeles-area Democrat who authored the bill to pay local governments. “There is more dormant and vacant retail than ever.”

  • This Thursday, May 27, 2021, photo shows the closed Sears in Buena Park Mall in Buena Park, Calif. California state lawmakers are grappling with a particularly 21st-century problem: What to do with the growing number of shopping malls and big-box retail stores left empty by consumers shifting their purchases to the web. A possible answer in crowded California cities is to build housing on these sites, which already have ample parking and are close to existing neighborhoods. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • This Thursday, May 27, 2021, photo shows the closed Sears in Buena Park Mall in Buena Park, Calif. California state lawmakers are grappling with a particularly 21st-century problem: What to do with the growing number of shopping malls and big-box retail stores left empty by consumers shifting their purchases to the web. A possible answer in crowded California cities is to build housing on these sites, which already have ample parking and are close to existing neighborhoods. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • This Thursday, May 27, 2021, photo shows an empty shopping cart in an empty parking lot at the closed Sears in Buena Park Mall in Buena Park, Calif. California state lawmakers are grappling with a particularly 21st-century problem: What to do with the growing number of shopping malls and big-box retail stores left empty by consumers shifting their purchases to the web. A possible answer in crowded California cities is to build housing on these sites, which already have ample parking and are close to existing neighborhoods. Even before the pandemic, big-box retail stores struggled to adapt as more people began buying things online. In 2019, after purchasing Sears and Kmart, Transformco closed 96 stores across the country, 29 in California. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • This Thursday, May 27, 2021, photo shows the closed Sears in Buena Park Mall in Buena Park, Calif. California state lawmakers are grappling with a particularly 21st-century problem: What to do with the growing number of shopping malls and big-box retail stores left empty by consumers shifting their purchases to the web. A possible answer in crowded California cities is to build housing on these sites, which already have ample parking and are close to existing neighborhoods. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • This Thursday, May 27, 2021, photo shows the closed Sears in Buena Park Mall in Buena Park, Calif. California state lawmakers are grappling with a particularly 21st-century problem: What to do with the growing number of shopping malls and big-box retail stores left empty by consumers shifting their purchases to the web. A possible answer in crowded California cities is to build housing on these sites, which already have ample parking and are close to existing neighborhoods. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • This Thursday, May 27, 2021, photo shows the closed Sears in Buena Park Mall in Buena Park, Calif. California state lawmakers are grappling with a particularly 21st-century problem: What to do with the growing number of shopping malls and big-box retail stores left empty by consumers shifting their purchases to the web. A possible answer in crowded California cities is to build housing on these sites, which already have ample parking and are close to existing neighborhoods. Even before the pandemic, big-box retail stores struggled to adapt as more people began buying things online. In 2019, after purchasing Sears and Kmart, Transformco closed 96 stores across the country, 29 in California. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • This Thursday, May 27, 2021, photo shows the closed Sears in Buena Park Mall in Buena Park, Calif. California state lawmakers are grappling with a particularly 21st-century problem: What to do with the growing number of shopping malls and big-box retail stores left empty by consumers shifting their purchases to the web. A possible answer in crowded California cities is to build housing on these sites, which already have ample parking and are close to existing neighborhoods. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • This Thursday, May 27, 2021, photo shows the closed Sears in Buena Park Mall in Buena Park, Calif. California state lawmakers are grappling with a particularly 21st-century problem: What to do with the growing number of shopping malls and big-box retail stores left empty by consumers shifting their purchases to the web. A possible answer in crowded California cities is to build housing on these sites, which already have ample parking and are close to existing neighborhoods. Even before the pandemic, big-box retail stores struggled to adapt as more people began buying things online. In 2019, after purchasing Sears and Kmart, Transformco closed 96 stores across the country, 29 in California. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

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If successful, it’s believed California would be the first state to allow multi-family housing on commercial sites statewide, said Eric Phillips, vice president of policy and legislation for the California chapter of the American Planning Association. Developers who use the law still would have to obey locally approved design standards. But Phillips said the law would limit local governments’ ability to reject the projects.

That’s why some local leaders oppose the bill, arguing it undermines their authority.

“City leaders have the requisite local knowledge to discern when and which sites are appropriate for repurposing and which are not,” wrote Mike Griffiths, member of the Torrance City Council and founder of California Cities for Local Control, a group of 427 mayors and council members.

It’s a familiar battle in California. While nearly everyone agrees there is an affordable housing shortage, state and local leaders face different political pressures that often derail ambitious proposals. Last year, a bill that would have overridden local zoning laws to let developers build small apartment buildings in neighborhoods reserved for single-family homes died in the state Senate.

Sen. Anna Caballero, a Democrat from Salinas and author of this year’s zoning proposal, said her bill is not a mandate. Developers could choose to use the bill or not. The Senate approved the measure 32-2, sending it to the state Assembly for consideration.

“It’s always a challenge when you’re trying to do affordable housing, because there are entrenched interests that don’t want to negotiate and compromise, and we’re working really hard to try to break through that,” she said. “I’m trying to give maximum flexibility to local government because the more that you start telling them how they have to do it, the harder it becomes for them to actually do it.”

Even before the pandemic, big-box retail stores were struggling to adapt as more people began buying things online. In 2019, after purchasing Sears and Kmart, Transformco closed 96 stores across the country — including 29 in California.

The pandemic, of course, accelerated this trend, prompting major retailers like J.C. Penney, Neiman Marcus and J. Crew to file for bankruptcy protection. An analysis by the investment firm UBS shows online shopping will grow to 25% of all retail sales by 2025. The analysis predicted that up to 100,000 stores across the country could close.

Local governments and developers in California are already trying to redevelop some retail sites. In Salinas, a city of about 150,000 people near the Monterey Peninsula, city officials are working to rezone a closed Kmart. In San Francisco, developers recently announced plans to build nearly 3,000 homes in the parking lot that surrounds Stonestown Mall — a sprawling, 40-acre site that has lost some anchor retail tenants in recent years.

Still, the idea of repurposing shopping centers has divided labor unions and affordable housing advocates, putting one of the Democratic Party’s core base of supporters against backers of one of their top policy goals.

Housing advocates love the idea, but they don’t like how Democrats want to do it. Both proposals in the Legislature would require developers to use a “skilled and trained” workforce to build the housing. That means a certain percentage of workers must either be enrolled or have completed a state-approved apprenticeship program.

Developers have said while there are plenty of trained workers available in areas like San Francisco and Los Angeles, those workers are scarce in more rural parts of the state, potentially delaying projects in those areas.

California needs to build about 180,000 new housing units per year to keep up with demand, according to the state’s latest housing assessment. But it’s only managed about 80,000 per year for the past decade. That’s one reason the state’s median sales price for single-family homes hit a record high $758,990 in March.

“At a time when we’re trying to increase production, we don’t believe we should be limiting who can do the work,” said Ray Pearl, executive director of the California Housing Consortium, a group that includes affordable housing developers.

Robbie Hunter, president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, dismissed that argument as just greedy developers trying to maximize their profits.

He said there is no construction project in California that has been delayed because of a lack of workers, adding: “We man every job.”

“When there is a demand for workers, we rise with the demand,” Hunter said.

Labor unions appear to be winning. A bill in the state Assembly that did not initially require a “skilled and trained” workforce stalled in committee because it did not have enough support.

___

The legislation is SB 6 and SB 15.

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When it comes to earthquakes, size matters but so does the terrain

By Allison Chinchar | CNN Meteorologist

Earthquakes can be like Jell-O. A simple, yet often used analogy is that if you’re sitting in a valley or basin, it acts like a bowl of gelatin and it will shake more than surrounding rock.

But not all earthquakes are created equal and the ground you walk on can make all the difference.

“The local geology definitely matters — what you’re sitting on,” said Dr. Susan Hough, a geophysicist with the US Geological Survey. “What the topography is, it definitely matters.”

Earthquakes are broken down into two basic wave types: body waves (often called P-waves or S-waves which travel through the Earth) and surface waves (which travel along the Earth’s surface).

The surface of the Earth is made up of a variety of soil types – from sand to clay to rock and many others, so the damage resulting from those basic wave types can vary as an earthquake travels through these varying types of terrain.

Hough explains further that while the waves themselves travel the same way, in the sense that a P wave is still a P wave, and a S wave is still a S wave, however, their speeds and amplitudes will change depending on the rock type.

Whether it is sedimental rock or a young sandy soil, it makes a difference.

Because the particle motion of surface waves is larger than that of body waves, surface waves tend to cause more damage.

Earthquakes occur on every continent in the world — from the highest peaks in the Himalayan Mountains to the lowest valleys like the Dead Sea to the bitter cold regions in Antarctica. However, the distribution of these quakes is not random.

  • Haitians walk past the collapsed Sacre Coeur Church in Port-au-Prince on January 14, 2010, following the devastating earthquake that rocked Haiti two days before.
    (Thony Belizaire/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Ground failure estimates from a 6.0 magnitude quake in India in 2021
    (USGS)

  • Houses in a poor neighborhood of Port-au-Prince lie in ruins a day after an earthquake struck the Haitian capital on January 12, 2010.
    (Handout/Getty Images)

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Size matters, and so does the type of terrain

When it comes to earthquakes, the size is very important. The physical size of an earthquake is measured in magnitude. For example, a 5.5 is a moderate earthquake, and a 6.5 is a strong earthquake. Because the scale is logarithmically based, each whole number increase in magnitude represents a tenfold increase. So, a 6.5 magnitude quake is 10 times bigger than a 5.5 magnitude, not one times bigger like the number implies.

But just because the magnitude of an earthquake is bigger does not always mean the resulting damage is worse.

For example, in January 2010, a magnitude 7.0 quake struck Haiti. More than 200,000 people lost their lives during that event with estimated damages between $7.8 and $8.5 billion.

In 2019 a 7.1 magnitude quake struck near Ridgecrest, California. For this stronger quake only one person lost their life, with an estimated $5 billion in damages.

Besides the magnitude being similar, the depths were also similar. The Haiti quake was 8 miles (13 km) deep, and the California quake was 5 miles (8 km) deep. While 8 miles may not sound shallow, it is in terms of earthquakes. Geologically speaking, any earthquake that is less than 43 miles (70 km) deep is considered shallow. The shallower an earthquake is, the more likely damage will occur since it is closer to the surface.

So why was there such a disparity between the fatalities and damages from two quakes with such similar magnitudes and depths? The answer has a lot to do with plate tectonics and how buildings are constructed.

Earthquakes emit low and high frequencies. If the ground vibrates slowly, it is low frequency. If the ground vibrates quickly, it’s more of a high frequency.

Low frequencies mainly affect multistory buildings in particular. In fact, the lower the frequency, the bigger the buildings that will be affected. Whereas high frequencies tend to affect small buildings.

Frequency was just one factor in why the Haiti earthquake was so devastating.

“The earthquake itself, like most large earthquakes, released energy with a wide range of frequencies,” Hough tells CNN. “The bigger the earthquake, the greater the level of booming low tones. But big earthquakes also release a lot of high-frequency energy. The high-frequency energy gets damped out quickly as it travels through the earth, so the Haiti earthquake was damaging to Port-au-Prince in part because the fault rupture was so close.”

Subsoil is often just as important as magnitude and frequency.

In Haiti and other island nations, you have rocks that rise from the surface, on which houses are built, to much softer zones which can actually amplify the seismic waves.

These factors can locally intensify the seismic waves, therefore leading to additional damage.

“In the 1906 California earthquake, some people living 100 miles away slept through the quake,” Hough said. “Whereas the New Madrid earthquakes (which happened in 1811 and 1812 in present-day Missouri), it actually rang church bells in Charleston, South Carolina. That has to do with how the waves travel through the crust. There’s a difference.”

California’s terrain varies widely. There are active faults, mountain ranges, valleys, basins and beaches. When an earthquake occurs in California, the energy is scattered around and gets attenuated by the varying terrain, which means it just doesn’t make it very far out into the crust.

In contrast, the East Coast has an older crust. When an earthquake happens, it reverberates like the waves produced by a ripple in water. The waves can travel for hundreds of miles, usually much farther in the East than in California.

“There’s three important factors with earthquakes, there’s energy that leaves the source, there’s amplification by the local geology when it gets to a site, and then there’s what happens in between,” Hough said. “It’s the in between that really matters for East Coast versus West Coast.”

Haiti also has a topographical aspect to it. Port-au-Prince sits mostly at sea level, with sandy sediments in those low-lying areas. But just 10-15 miles away, the elevation increases several thousand feet into a more mountainous terrain with harder rock at the surface.

Shaking is amplified by low-lying sandy sediments in Port-au-Prince, but also on some of Haiti’s hills and ridges due to a topographic effect.

But we must also build structures according to the soil and/or rock that we are building on.

Constructing on harder ground provides more stability for the buildings because essentially the rock absorbs the waves. Hough cited the 2015 magnitude 7.8 earthquake that struck Nepal and leveled multistory buildings in the capital of Kathmandu.

“In Kathmandu in 2015, there was a booming amplification because it’s a lake bed zone, but the valley was sloshing back and forth with a five-second period, and you can see that on closed captioned TV. You had things that went to one side … one one thousand, two one thousand, and then back three one thousand, four one thousand. It’s a fairly slow motion, and it was strong due to the lake bed. But the effect on buildings depends on the size of the buildings.”

Hough uses an analogy of a big swell in the ocean explaining that waves will be damaging if they jostle the boat violently. For a large ship on a big swell its bow would go up while the stern goes down, generating stress within the boat. If the ship is smaller than the swell, the entire ship just goes up and down — essentially going along for the ride.

When the ground becomes a liquid

Another significant contributor to earthquake damage comes from earthquake-triggered landslides and liquefaction, collectively known as ground failure.

The USGS has a ground failure product that provides near-real time regional estimates of landslide and liquefaction hazards triggered by earthquakes.

“It takes time for first responders and experts to survey the actual damage in the area, so our product provides early estimates of where to focus attention and response planning,” according to the USGS.

Though the models provide initial awareness, overall extent, and indicate areas in which they are most likely to have occurred, they do not predict very specific occurrences.

Using satellite imagery, the USGS was able to map more than 23,000 landslides that were triggered by the strong shaking across the island of Hispaniola from the 2010 Haiti quake.

But landslides are just one component of ground failure.

Liquefaction is a process where water-saturated sediments are shaken hard enough to start behaving more like a liquid rather than a solid.

“There is something called non-linearity, and it turns out that if you try to shake soft sediments really hard, it’s not a bowl of Jell-O as much as it is a sandbox,” Hough says.

For example, Hough explains that if you shake a sandbox really hard, it’s going to stop acting like rock. Things are going to shift around at grain-size level and that process absorbs energy.

A tweet surfaced during a 6.0 magnitude quake that struck India in 2021 showing how liquefaction occurred.

“If the sand is water-saturated, as I imagine it is in many places in India, it can start to behave like a liquid. Liquefaction has a couple of consequences for shaking: some of the potentially damaging shaking gets absorbed, which can be a good thing, but if the ground beneath a structure starts behaving like a liquid, the structure no longer has a solid foundation. It’s like it’s sitting on quicksand. Even a well-built building can just tip over,” Hough told CNN.

Any aftershocks will further the damage since buildings could be already structurally compromised from the initial quake. Building on a slope, or especially soft ground, can lead to the sinking of the foundations and allow the waves to multiply the devastating impact of the earthquake.

It’s also important to note that what works in one disaster does not work in another.

It is often mentioned that buildings in Haiti are not built to the same standards that buildings are in California, New Zealand or Chile where earthquakes are also common. While this is true, it only tells part of the story.

Haiti is more likely to be hit by a major hurricane in any given year than they are by a major earthquake.

Hough explains that they have a building style where they put very heavy roofs on for hurricanes, so the roof doesn’t blow off. But when an earthquake happens, the very heavy concrete roof gets displaced and compromises the underlying structure, which likely already had some element of building vulnerability to begin with.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

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The IRS has no plans to bring back a tool that helped low-income Americans get their stimulus checks. Here’s what to do instead

By Katie Lobosco | CNN

About 8 million low-income people were eligible for stimulus payments last year but never received the money, raising concerns about getting the latest round of help to those most in need — yet there’s no sign the Internal Revenue Service plans to restore a tool that would make it easier.

Early in the pandemic, the IRS created a simple online form to allow low-income people who aren’t usually required to file tax returns to provide their contact information to the agency. But that tool has remained offline since November, even after Congress approved two more rounds of stimulus payments.

Now, people who missed out must file a 2020 tax return in order to get the money they’re owed from the first two stimulus checks, along with the third one. People who used the non-filer tool before it went offline will automatically receive their third stimulus payment without taking action.

An IRS spokesman told CNN Thursday that there are no plans to bring back the tool but encouraged people to file returns so that they can claim a credit for all three payments as well as claim any other expanded credits they may be eligible for, like the Earned Income Tax Credit or the child tax credit.

Filing a return ensures that families may get other benefits they qualify for, like the Earned Income Tax Credit or the now expanded child tax credit — but it can be a challenging process for someone who hasn’t filed in years.

“The stakes are high with billions of federal dollars not reaching low-income people in California and across the country. The IRS reposting its online non-filers tool immediately would be a good first step,” Aparna Ramesh, senior research manager at the California Policy Lab at UC Berkeley, said in a statement.

The group found that at least 1.5 million Californians could potentially miss out on $3.5 billion in stimulus payments. It estimated that about 25% of low-income Californians didn’t get the money automatically last year.

[vemba-video id=”business/2021/03/18/irs-stimulus-checks-pandemic.cnnbusiness”]

Still waiting for the latest round

Most Americans had their stimulus payments directly deposited into their bank accounts or sent in the mail without them having to take any action. In the weeks since President Joe Biden signed the most recent stimulus bill, the IRS has swiftly delivered more than 156 million payments — but those who likely need the money the most may still be waiting.

“I think the IRS has limited resources and has to decide how much to devote to its traditional lines of business, like processing tax returns and audits, or becoming more of a customer service agency focused on benefits delivery,” said Elaine Maag, a principal research associate in the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. “It certainly doesn’t look like that’s the priority when they’re taking down these tools rather than creating them.”

IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig told lawmakers at a hearing last month that the agency had extended its reach far beyond its normal contacts to try to reach lower-income people, working with “hundreds of local community groups and religious organizations” as well as “thousands of homeless organizations.”

A challenging year for the IRS

It will be a challenging year for the IRS, an agency whose budget has been cut about 20% over the past decade, leaving it with antiquated technology and a smaller staff.

The agency is also grappling with several changes to the tax law made by the Covid relief bills. The one passed in March also directs the IRS to send out periodic payments for an expanded child tax credit, as well as waive income taxes on up to $10,200 in unemployment benefits received in 2020, helping some laid-off workers who faced surprise tax bills on their jobless benefits.

The changes create work for the IRS, tax preparers and taxpayers. Facing pressure from lawmakers, the agency recently extended the tax filing deadline to May 17.

“This has been the most challenging tax seasons I’ve experienced, hands down,” said Courtney O’Reilly, the director of Tax Help Colorado, an IRS-certified tax assistance center.

There’s more need and fewer volunteers due to the pandemic, even though most work is still done remotely. It’s a challenge to help out brand new filers, unfamiliar with the tax system, seeking desperately needed benefits over the phone.

Taxpayers earning less than $72,000 a year can use a tax preparer site for free to file a federal return. But they still need to gather the documents showing their income, have an email address and a phone number. New filers are sometimes hesitant to submit a return at all, fearing they might owe more in back taxes than they are set to receive from the stimulus benefits.

“These new benefits will be really helpful to families, but it’s so hard to make sure people who need it the most get them. It takes time to create the foundation to provide the support,” O’Reilly said.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

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Here’s how to tell if your Facebook account was one of the half billion that were breached

By Jordan Valinsky | CNN Business

Over the weekend, cybersecurity experts revealed that about half a billion Facebook users’ personal information was breached — a treasure trove of data the includes full names, birthdays, phone numbers and their location.

Facebook said that massive leak stems from an issue in 2019, which has since been fixed. Still, there’s no clawing back that data. More than 30 million accounts in the United States were affected and the company isn’t making it easy to find out if your data was included in the breach.

But a third-party website, haveibeenpwned.com, makes it simple to check by inputting your email. For now, it just checks if your email was among those stolen.

That’s a pretty big catch: Although 533 million Facebook accounts were included in the breach, only 2.5 million of those included emails in the stolen data. So you’ve got less than a half-percent chance of showing up on that website, even though you’ve got about a 20% chance of being hacked if you’ve got a Facebook account.

[vemba-video id=”business/2021/04/04/500-million-facebook-user-personal-data-leaked-online-osullivan-nr-vpx.cnn”]

HaveIBeenPwned creator and security expert Troy Hunt said on Twitter that he’s examining whether to add phone numbers.

“The primary value of the data is the association of phone numbers to identities; whilst each record included phone, only 2.5 million contained an email address,” Hunt’s website said.

Although this data is from 2019, it could still be of value to hackers and cyber criminals like those who engage in identify theft.

Facebook didn’t immediately respond to CNN on Monday about whether if it will create a way to see if their information was leaked.

— CNN Business’ Donie O’Sullivan contributed to this report.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

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