Public hospital suspends staff vacation due to virus cases

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A state-run psychiatric hospital in Rhode Island has suspended all medical staff vacation in response to a rising number of coronavirus cases among patients and workers.

“We regretfully are canceling all direct care patient support vacations” effective midnight Nov. 25, according to a letter to Eleanor Slater Hospital staff, The Providence Journal reported.

The letter also said, “We hope this vacation hold is temporary as we recognize the hard work and dedication of our staff and the need for time off.”

The letter was signed by Kathryn Power, director of the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, which oversees the Cranston facility.

A Slater spokesperson earlier this week confirmed that 14 patients and 35 staffers had tested positive for the virus.

Another hospital group, Lifespan, previously issued an appeal for retired doctors and nurses to return to work, and even sought medical students and interns, to help relieve the medical staff shortage. Lifespan operates Rhode Island, Miriam, Hasbro Children’s and Newport hospitals.

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Dan Andrews’ secret text messages on the disastrous hotel quarantine program FINALLY made public

Secret text messages sent by Daniel Andrews to his chief of staff about Victoria’s hotel quarantine have been released by the inquiry into the botched program.

The phone records between the Victorian premier and his right-hand woman Lissie Ratcliff were made public on Friday after additional evidence was provided to the inquiry.   

The then Department of Premier and Cabinet secretary Chris Eccles – who resigned as Victoria’s top public servant last month – has also had his phone records released by the inquiry.

Text messages between Mr Andrews and Ms Ratcliff on the evening of March 27 show him telling her to expect updates on logistics of hotel quarantine, such as rooms available, transportation and guidelines for travellers. 

Secret text messages sent by Daniel Andrews to his chief of staff about Victoria's hotel quarantine program have been released. Mr Andrews pictured addressing the media on Thursday

Secret text messages sent by Daniel Andrews to his chief of staff about Victoria’s hotel quarantine program have been released. Mr Andrews pictured addressing the media on Thursday

‘How are we going on hotels and midnight tomorrow? Do we have many flights tomorrow. Call if you need to,’ A text from Mr Andrews at 8.26pm said.

Ms Ratcliff replied: ‘I’ll have updates tonight on number of rooms, transportation, guidelines for leaving rooms, protection for workers, number of expected arrivals [and flights] for Sunday.

‘It’ll only apply to flights landing after midnight so anyone coming in during the day won’t be caught up.

‘Will get you an update as soon as it comes through.’

A summary of the March 27 national cabinet meeting by Department of Health and Human Services bureaucrat Nicole Lynch was mentioned throughout the new tranche of documents, particularly the line: ‘Enforcement by S and T governments keen for police not to babysit but called in as need (eg use private security)’.

Mr Andrews said in his sworn statement he did not take this to be a decision about private security and therefore did not pass it on.

‘Decisions of that kind are of an operational nature in which I do not play a role,’ he wrote.

Former police commissioner Graham Ashton told the inquiry it was Mr Eccles who led him to believe private security would be used.

Staff pictured at Melbourne's Stamford Hotel quarantine facility on June 25. Ex-top Victorian civil servant Chris Eccles has also had his phone records made public

Staff pictured at Melbourne’s Stamford Hotel quarantine facility on June 25. Ex-top Victorian civil servant Chris Eccles has also had his phone records made public

The ex-police chief’s recollection of a phone call at 1.17 pm on March 27 was detailed in a fresh sworn statement tendered to the inquiry on Friday.

It was one of a raft of documents called for by the inquiry in a final attempt to nail down who made the decision that ultimately led to Victoria’s second coronavirus wave.

Mr Ashton wrote that he and Mr Eccles spoke for 136 seconds following a meeting of the national cabinet.

‘At least part of this conversation involved Mr Eccles informing me regarding the potential use of the ADF to guard returned travellers during the transfer from their flights and the use of private security to guard them at the hotels,’ he wrote.

‘But my belief as to what

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Millions of Americans travel for Thanksgiving, against advice of public health officials

Americans, millions of whom traveled against the advice of public health officials, tried to stay safe before they hunkered down with their families for Thanksgiving, a holiday remade by the pandemic as case numbers and death tolls rise.

Lily Roberts, 19, said she got tested for COVID-19 at San Francisco International Airport before driving home to Marin County in Northern California.

“I’m not worried about it because I’m not at risk,” Roberts said. “However, I do follow the rules and the precautions because of my parents. That’s why I’m getting tested because I do not want to bring it into my home.”

Thanksgiving travel traditionally comes with highs and lows but it’s even more fraught this year as travelers attempt to social distance while navigating crowds.

Lexi Cusano, 23, said Wednesday she encountered people standing too close in airport terminals, some not wearing masks or wearing them improperly, on her way from Miami to Hartford, Connecticut.

“It was just a little bit overwhelming and very shocking to me that people were just — you couldn’t move in a 6-foot radius without hitting someone or breathing in with a person next to you,” she said. “It was just a little bit crazy.”

She said travelers didn’t act any safer on the plane.

“People were just hanging out without their masks on,” said Cusano, who recently took a job in Miami. “I saw them walking back and forth from the bathroom, down the aisles, with no mask on, and I was like, this is a little bit ridiculous now.”

“You know, the main fear people have usually going on planes is: ‘Are we going to crash?’” she added. “But today, it was more like, ‘I’m breathing in the same air that’s been circulating in here and people are just being very irresponsible.’ So that was the main horror.”

Things appeared a bit cramped to Juan Mojuta who flew Wednesday night to Wilmington, North Carolina, from Arizona.

“The first flight was very claustrophobic,” Mojuta told WWAY-TV. “A lot of people. Very gathered. But the second flight wasn’t as bad.”

More than 12.7 million Americans have been diagnosed with the virus since the pandemic’s start earlier this year and deaths have topped 262,200, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Data shows the seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the U.S. rose over the past two weeks from 127,487 on Nov. 11 to 175,809 on Thursday. The seven-day rolling average for daily new deaths rose from 1,044 to 1,658 over that time.

Millions of Americans took to the skies and the highways ahead of Thanksgiving, despite warning and pleas from elected and health officials in a number of states to stay home and keep holiday gatherings smaller than usual.

Cusano said she got tested at Bradley International Airport in Connecticut after landing and was told to expect results in two to three days.

Regardless of her test results, she said she plans to quarantine in Connecticut for a month or two to make sure

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Millions travel for Thanksgiving despite coronavirus, leaving public health experts ‘stunned’

Tens of millions of Americans are ignoring the advice of public health experts and plan to travel for Thanksgiving, according to the latest updates.

a group of people walking down the street: BOSTON, MA. NOVEMBER 22: A few travelers in the open section of Terminal A Sunday, November 22, 2020, in a sparsely occupied Logan Airport in Boston. (Jim Michaud / MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

© Provided by Boston Herald
BOSTON, MA. NOVEMBER 22: A few travelers in the open section of Terminal A Sunday, November 22, 2020, in a sparsely occupied Logan Airport in Boston. (Jim Michaud / MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

“I have been stunned to see the reports of lines of travelers in airports,” Boston University professor Davidson Hamer said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel advisory urging “postponing travel” plans as coronavirus cases surge.

Yet Sunday was the busiest day for air travel since the pandemic began, with 1.04 million travelers, according to the U.S. Transportation and Security Administration.

Though the numbers are still less than half those for travelers who flew last year for what’s traditionally the busiest travel season of the year, AAA predicts 50 million people will travel by plane, train or automobile this Thanksgiving. That’s down from 55 million last year.

Already travel volume is creeping up across New England. The region’s six airports, the largest of which is Boston Logan International Airport, have seen about 25,000 passengers per day since Friday. Air travel from the six airports spiked 23% on Friday, 71% on Saturday and 25% on Sunday. Monday was a lighter day with 20,000 passengers, according to the TSA.

Spokesman Daniel Velez said the agency expects “similar numbers” between Thanksgiving and Sunday.

A projected 10% dip in travelers is based on October metrics and is likely to be even bigger as Americans watch cases grow and heed warnings from public health officials, said Mary Maguire, director of public and legislative affairs for AAA Northeast.

“The wait-and-see travel trend continues to impact final travel decisions, especially for the Thanksgiving holiday,” she said.

On Friday the U.S. set a record, reporting 204,000 new coronavirus cases in a single day. Massachusetts, too, is seeing a spike in cases. The number of new daily cases has consistently surpassed 2,000 per day over the past week, according to public health data.

“Right now, with the large amount of SARS-CoV-2 circulating in many communities, people need to be really cautious when traveling. The potential congestion that they may encounter waiting to board a plane, train or bus and the close proximity of seating — all of these things increase the likelihood of transmission,” said Hamer, an infectious disease specialist.

“And masks don’t 100% protect you,” he added.

Gov. Charlie Baker and local health officials are asking people to celebrate Thanksgiving with only the members of their household. In an effort to curb informal gatherings, which he has blamed for fueling the contagion in Massachusetts, the governor has capped indoor gatherings at 10 people.

Anyone traveling to Massachusetts, with the exception of people coming from Vermont or Hawaii, must either quarantine for 14 days or have a negative result on a COVID-19 test administered within 72 hours of their arrival, according to the state’s travel

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Norfolk to hold 2 virtual public input meetings on future of Parks and Recreation Master Plan

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – City officials announced they will be holding two virtual public input meetings to get feedback from the community on updating the Parks and Recreation Master Plan.

The Zoom meetings will be held Wednesday, Dec. 9, from 6 p.m. until 7 p.m. and then again Thursday, Dec. 10, from 6 p.m. until 7 p.m. Click the respective date and time to register for a spot. The meetings will include live polling, Q&A, and public comment collection.

“Diverse and equitable opportunities for recreation and vibrant parks and facilities are essential to our thriving community,” said Mayor Kenneth Cooper Alexander, Ph.D. “Norfolk is an innovative community, as we continue to address the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges, this refresh and update of the Parks & Recreation Master Plan will help better position our city as the premier destination for families and businesses for years to come.”

The public’s input will help with future recreational, programming, environmental, and maintenance needs, as well as establish priorities for facility improvements, future park development, and land acquisitions.

The city hired PROS Consulting, Inc. — a national leader in parks and recreation consulting. Principal Neelay Bhatt will serve as the project lead. Bhatt states, “Norfolk RPOS is a top-notch agency, selected as a National Gold Medal Finalist in 2019. Having worked with parks and recreation agencies nationwide, I have no hesitation positioning RPOS staff and team with the best of the agencies across the country. With this plan, we will implement industry trends and exceed the needs of the growing Norfolk community.”

The consulting team provided an ADA-accessible, multilingual crowdsourcing website to guide this project. “This virtual engagement is critical in the current times to ensure everyone is able to participate in the planning process in an inclusive manner. This website provides all project findings and allows residents to participate in the virtual public meetings. Survey results and recordings of the virtual meetings will be available on the site,” said Bhatt.

“During these meetings, we will introduce the master plan and engage the community through creative online mediums designed to boost public input. We look forward to the Norfolk community and key stakeholders participating to help guide our efforts to improve and redefine Norfolk’s park system, and plan for future parks and recreation services, including prioritizing projects, maintenance, policy, and funding,” said RPOS Director Darrell R. Crittendon.

Click here for more information.

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Public reacts to new St James Quarter hotel as viral tweet shows finishing touches to exterior

The strongly-worded tweet, by Twitter account “Crappy Cheapo Architecture” highlighted the new twirled metal sculpture that sits atop the building on Leith Street, labelling it “horrendous”.

Other twitter users were quick to voice their opinions, and the tweet has been liked by more than 1,300 people.

One unimpressed user wrote: “It’s not been nicknamed ‘The Golden Turd’ for no reason.

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Members of the public have been weighing in on the latest addition to Edinburgh’s skyline, as a tweet highlighting the new St James Quarter hotel goes viral.
Members of the public have been weighing in on the latest addition to Edinburgh’s skyline, as a tweet highlighting the new St James Quarter hotel goes viral.

“That it has been allowed to dominate the skyline above the heart of the New Town demonstrates appalling judgement on the part of whoever gave it planning permission.”

Another called it “dreadful”, adding: “One of the worlds great architectural cities and they bring this ‘Disney’ architecture to town.”

One person joked: “The planning officer must really hate Edinburgh.”

Another took aim at Edinburgh City Council, writing: “It never ceases to amaze me what terrible stewards Edinburgh council are.

“They have no idea both what they have or how to cherish it.”

Others disagreed, however, reminding people of what had been at the site before the development.

“It’s a vast improvement on the St James Centre as was, and the rest of the development seems decent enough, so not going to complain too hard.”

Among a host of nicknames for the sculpture, several tweets referred to it as the “Walnut Whip”.

“If it was a Walnut Whip,” one user wrote, “at least it would have context.

“Walnut Whips were originally made by Duncan’s of Edinburgh.”

So perhaps the hotel’s eye-catching design is fitting after all.

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Fed And Treasury Asks Public For Comment On New Travel Rule For Crypto

The Federal Reserve, along with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Agency (FinCEN), an agency of the U.S. Treasury, have invited comment on a proposed rule that lowers the threshold on reporting under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) from $3,000 to $250 for transactions outside of the United States in what is widely known as the ‘Travel Rule.’ Additionally, cryptocurrency transactions would also be required for both domestic and international reporting as the rule broadens the definition of money.

Bitcoin transactions have risen to $366 billion dollars in 2019 and $312 billion through in 2020 through August, according to the new rule. The Fed and FinCEN explains virtual assets will be defined as ‘money’ under the new proposed rule to include ‘convertible virtual currencies’ (CVC) and digital assets that are legal tender. FinCEN first addressed CVC with guidance issued in 2013 – notable in that it was the first U.S. agency to publicly address how crypto was to be regulated.

Jamison Sites, a Blockchain and Digital Asset Tax Lead at RSM, the world’s fifth-largest tax, auditing, and consulting firm in the U.S., stated, “The proposed rules give greater clarity and regulatory certainty to those operating with CVCs. This will be a positive for the industry.” According to Sites, the unintended consequence of the initial guidance that addressed cryptocurrency users was not simultaneously updating the travel rule, which the proposed rule would cure.

In 2019, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a powerful international body focused on preventing money laundering and terrorist activities, offered recommendations for countries to adopt a ‘travel rule’ as it is known in the U.S. to be applied to digital currencies with this release of new guidance. Specifically, information that is required to be recorded and transmitted with these transactions should include a customer’s name and address, the amount of the transaction, the execution date, and also the data of the recipient of the transaction as well.

Earlier this year, Michael Ou, CEO of CoolBitX, said, “The blockchain and cryptocurrency industry is at a major crossroad. As the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) continues to push its cryptocurrency guidance across the globe, compliance and preventing criminal activity can feel extremely daunting…The truth is, ‘Travel Rule’ compliance and blockchain analytics to track criminal activity are two sides of the same coin.” Ou spoke in reference to a partnership between the securities firm and Elliptic, a global leader in crypto asset risk management solutions.

The proposed rule from the Fed and FinCEN notes that, “Consistent with the FATF guidance, in May 2019, FinCEN issued guidance advising that CVC-based transfers effectuated by a nonbank financial institution may fall within the Recordkeeping and Travel Rules, on the grounds that such transfers involve the making of a ‘transmittal order’ by the sender” – i.e., an instruction to pay “a determinable amount of money to a recipient – a criterion for

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Refuse public transport to anyone without mask, CDC says

  • The CDC “strongly recommends” all passengers and staff wear a face mask on public transport including airplanes, ships, trains, buses, and taxis, it said in guidance on Monday.
  • “Conveyance operators transporting people should refuse boarding to anyone not wearing a mask,” it said.
  • The guidance is roughly in line with existing practices around the country, but it is stricter than any previous CDC guidance.
  • The guidance comes more than four months after the World Health Organization said people “should be encouraged” to wear face masks on public transport.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Public transport operators in the US should refuse to allow anyone onboard without a mask, apart from in exceptional circumstances, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Monday.

The CDC “strongly recommends” all passengers and staff wear a face mask on airplanes, ships, trains, buses, subways, ride-shares, and taxis, it said.

This includes waiting and boarding locations, such as airports, train stations, and ferry terminals.

The new guidance is roughly in line with existing practices around the country, but it is stricter than any previous CDC guidance.

Traveling on public transport increases the risk of spreading COVID-19 because people are in close contact, often for a long period of time, and may touch the same surfaces, the CDC said. 

“Conveyance operators transporting people should refuse boarding to anyone not wearing a mask and require all people onboard, whether passengers or employees, to wear masks for the duration of travel.”

The guidance comes more than four months after the World Health Organization said people “should be encouraged” to wear face masks on public transport.

In September, the CDC drafted an order that would have made its new guidelines compulsory, but it was blocked by the White House, two federal health officials told the New York Times on October 9.

Read more: Republican Party officials hid COVID-19 mask purchases by labeling them ‘building maintenance’ in federal disclosures

Staying 6 feet away from other passengers “may be difficult if not impossible” on buses and flights, the CDC said in its new guidance.

Public transport means that local transmission can quickly spread to other states and even other countries when infected people travel without wearing masks, according to the CDC.

“Broad and routine utilization of masks on our transportation systems will protect Americans and provide confidence that we can once again travel more safely even during this pandemic,” the CDC said.

“Masks are most likely to reduce the spread of COVID-19 when they are widely used by people in public settings,” the CDC said. Masks should cover both the nose and mouth, it added.

In June, the CDC recommended people cover their faces if they have to go out in public – but didn’t make this a requirement. 

Face masks were made compulsory on public transport in Germany in April. The UK, Spain, France, Italy, and Greece are among countries that have since introduced the same policy.

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Public Outcry Forces King Willem-Alexander of Netherlands to ‘Abort’ Greece Vacation After One Day

King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima

King Willem-Alexander of The Netherlands is regretting his choice of fall vacation.

The 53-year-old Dutch monarch and his wife Queen Maxima, 49, have been forced to return from their holiday villa in Greece after being out of the country for just one day.

Their trip, which started on Friday and ended in disgrace on Saturday, caused an uproar in The Netherlands as it came just three days after the Dutch government advised locals to spend the fall vacations at home to contain the spread of COVID-19.

“We will abort our vacation,” a statement posted on behalf of King Willem and Queen Maxima said Friday, shortly after the public became aware of the royal vacation.

“We see people’s reactions to media reports. And they are intense, and they affect us,” he added.

“We do not want to leave any doubts about it: in order to get the COVID19 virus under control, it is necessary that the guidelines are followed. The discussion following our vacation does not contribute to that.”

The royal family’s decision to fly out of the country with daughters Princess Catharina, 16, Princess Alexia, 15, and Princess Ariane, 13, — who recently returned to school — has also caused deep embarrassment for Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima with Princess Catharina, Princess Alexia, and Princess Ariane

As the head of the Dutch government, he is responsible for assessing whether the royal family’s private trips abroad are in the public interest.

In a letter to the Dutch parliament on Sunday, Rutte said that while he was aware of the king’s vacation plans he “realized too late” that they didn’t match up with the recent tightening of the country’s COVID-19 measures, reports Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

“This should have prompted me to reconsider the intended holiday,” he added.

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This is the second time this year that a Greek holiday has caused problems for King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima.

In August, they were forced to apologize after a photo emerged of them ignoring social distancing rules and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a restaurant owner on the Greek island of Milos.

“A photo appeared in the media in which we don’t keep enough distance,” the King and Queen posted on Twitter.

“In the spontaneity of the moment, we did not pay enough attention to that,” they added. “Of course we should have. Because compliance with corona rules is also essential on vacations to get the virus under control’ -WA & Máxima.”

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Virus-stalled Hotel Aiken renovation pits public concerns against private promises | Local News

The historic Hotel Aiken has become a cold war of sorts, with burgeoning disputes on the fronts of alleged blight, public safety and the endurance of hospitality ventures in the age of coronavirus and collapsed industries.

The multimillion-dollar Hotel Aiken modernization and corporate facelift, unveiled to much pomp and circumstance three years ago, remains unfinished. Project representatives and city officials this week confirmed construction there has yet to begin again – a point that has seemingly pitted those worried about the aging building’s condition, and downtown repercussions, against Historic Hospitality LLC and the Shah family, the ownership.

In an August letter, then-Aiken Municipal Development Commission Chairman Tim Dangerfield described the status of the hotel as hazardous to public well-being. It poses a significant fire risk, Dangerfield wrote to the mayor and Aiken City Council, and, more broadly, represents “a clear and present danger of irreversible blight.”

“The Hotel Aiken property has become essentially abandoned and partially demolished in preparation for an announced but, as yet, much-delayed renovation and reopening under the badge of a nationally-recognized hospitality brand,” he argued Aug. 17, emphasizing that “immediate steps” must be taken.

Historic Hospitality LLC, headquartered near the hotel, and the Shah family have vehemently rejected Dangerfield’s assessment, suggesting that coverage and publication of the letter without further inquiry as to its veracity has “unfairly harmed the business and personal reputations of the owners of Hotel Aiken,” among other grievances.

Dangerfield’s missive, the two jointly said in a nearly 900-word Thursday statement to the Aiken Standard, was grandiose, discriminatory and pockmarked by opinion. It foisted “unreasonable demands” upon Mayor Rick Osbon and his fellow City Council members, the ownership continued, while ignoring surrounding circumstances.

“The owners of Hotel Aiken have coordinated closely with the local authorities and with city leadership in order to comply with all applicable codes and ordinances and have gone above and beyond what is required by code in the interest of public safety,” a principal with Richard Rauh & Associates Architecture is quoted as saying in the statement. “This began two years ago and continues to the current date.”

While there is no working sprinkler system at the hotel, the owners said, there are heat detectors and alarm and video systems, each of which is monitored.

Both the mayor and City Manager Stuart Bedenbaugh said the Aiken Department of Public Safety is in touch with the Hotel Aiken ownership. City and project executives last month toured the hotel site, on the prominent corner of Laurens Street and Richland Avenue.

(The full response to the Aiken Standard’s inquiry, submitted Tuesday, is available below as a PDF.)

The Hotel Aiken ownership in an Aug. 8 statement, also hundreds of words long, said “work on” the hotel had ceased – an apparent victim of the devastating coronavirus crisis.

“We were approximately 4-weeks from submitting for a permit before the governor declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19,” the months-old statement reads.

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