There is a saying at the top: “More Love. Less Hate.” Underneath are five different colored hearts. The first heart is broken.

What is the Equality Act?

On Feb. 25, the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, a landmark piece of legislation that would strengthen and expand the existing Civil Rights Act of 1964 to broaden its range of sex discrimination to protect LGBTQ people. 

This Act makes it explicit that existing federal statutes prohibiting sex discrimination also prohibit sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. In many state and local governments, there is discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, and receiving federal financial assistance. 

The bill is currently awaiting Senate approval, where 60 votes are needed for its passage. That means every Democrat, and at least 10 Republicans must vote in favor of this act. 

Currently, there are no federal anti-discrimination laws for LGBTQ people. At least 27 states lack a state anti-discrimination law, something that is sorely needed. A 2020 survey from the Center for American Progress found that 1 in 3 LGBTQ Americans, including 3 in 5 transgender Americans, experienced discrimination in just the past year alone. 

In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled in a landmark case, Bostock v. Clayton County, that it is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to not hire, fire, or plainly discriminate against individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Equality Act would solidify this interpretation into the country’s civil rights laws by defining existing sex discrimination protections that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Under the act, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) would also be amended to clearly classify sexual orientation and gender identity protections, firmly prohibiting housing discrimination against LGBTQ people. This would include the prohibition of differential treatment in renting, selling, pricing, eviction, and other activities.

Within federally funded programs, like shelters, schools, community health centers, adoption agencies, and law enforcement, LGBTQ individuals face a higher amount of discrimination in these programs. The Equality Act would protect LGBTQ people and women from discrimination, mistreatment, and or refusal by any of these programs. 

The act would also benefit LGBTQ students in federally funded schools, ensuring that students have the right to use sex-segregated facilities and participate in sex-segregated activities in keeping with their gender identity. It also adds protections for transgender and nonbinary students from the widespread misgendering and harassment that many face. 

The Equality Act would establish provisions that businesses, such as restaurants and pharmacies, would face accountability if they were to discriminate against, mistreat, or refuse service to LGBTQ people. Women would also no longer be charged higher prices than men for the same services or be denied service by institutions that provide health care. The expansion of public accommodations under the Equality Act would ensure protections for race, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in public spaces. 

While on the campaign trail, President Biden championed this bill, saying it would be one of his top priorities for his first 100 days in office. However, he has since fallen short of that goal. During his first joint speech before Congress on the eve of his 100th day of presidency, Biden urged Congress to pass the Equality Act to protect LGBTQ people against discrimination. 

“I also hope Congress will get to my desk the Equality Act to protect LGBTQ Americans,” Biden said. “To all transgender Americans watching at home, especially young people who are so brave: I want you to know your president has your back.”

A report from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that a survey of more than 10,000 Americans shows strong support for LGBTQ protections — more than 80% of Americans — against discrimination in jobs, public accommodations, and housing across every subgroup of Americans. Even groups least likely to support nondiscrimination protections show majority support — 62 % of Republicans and 62% of white evangelical Protestants support nondiscrimination policies. 

While the bill has received a lot of public support, many Republican representatives fear the bill may infringe on religious objections. The bill explicitly states that it overrules the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which gives people the right to air their grievances against something that infringes upon their religious freedom. 

Under the Equality Act, the RFRA could not be used to challenge the act’s provisions, nor could it be used as a defense to a claim made under the act. Ensuring that religion cannot be weaponized as a permit to discriminate — including against people of another religion. 

Opponents of the Equality Act fear that it would threaten businesses or organizations with religious objections to serving LGBTQ people, forcing them to choose between operating their business or following their beliefs. 

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney told the Washington Blade that he won’t support the Equality Act, citing religious liberty. 

“Sen. Romney believes that strong religious liberty protections are essential to any legislation on this issue, and since those provisions are absent from this particular bill, he is not able to support it,” his spokesperson told the Blade.

Previous arguments against the notable Equal Rights Amendment in the 70s argued that the adoption of the bill would undercut existing legal protections for girls and women, echoing a similar sentiment to the Equality Act. 

However, advocates for the LGBTQ community praised lawmakers for extending legal protections to include LGBTQ individuals around the nation. 

GLAAD called the House passage of the Equality Act “a victory for all Americans and for our country’s core values of equal treatment under law,” continuing to say, “ This landmark civil rights law secures those protections for every LGBTQ person, to live without fear of discrimination.”

The National Black Justice Coalition also applauded the Equality Act, adding that “it also fills in significant gaps within existing civil rights laws for women, people of color, immigrants, religious groups, and those of us who live at the intersections of those identities.

Seeing the Rights of the Transgender Community

June is Pride Month. As the Democrats retake office, many hope to see advances and support for the LGBTQ+ community. Though there have been setbacks, State and House officials have been more publicly open surrounding the community’s rights this year. 

“To all the transgender Americans watching at home, especially the young people who are so brave, I want you to know that your president has your back,” President Biden stated in an address to a joint session of Congress on Apr. 29. 

Transgender Visibility Day was on Mar. 31, and the Biden administration has made progress to ensure that there is a push for protecting and respecting the community’s rights. 

On May 10, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) released the following statement:

“The Office for Civil Rights will interpret and enforce Section 1557 and Title IX’s prohibitions on discrimination based on sex to include: (1) discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; and (2) discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Section 1557 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability in covered health programs or activities.”

“It is the position of the Department of Health and Human Services that everyone — including LGBTQ people — should be able to access health care, free from discrimination or interference, period.” as stated by HHS Secretary Xavier Barreca. 

Cases can now be investigated again in which individuals have been discriminated against due to sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Ricardo Alonzo-Zaldivar of LA Times described it as an act by the Biden administration to “strengthen and protect the rights of gay and transgender people across society, in such areas as military service, housing, and employment opportunities.” 

Alonzo Zaldivar’s article posted on Monday, “Biden Administration Restores Healthcare Protections for Transgender People,” refers back to when the Trump administration had tried to block protection against transgender people in health care, military aid programs, and homeless housing. 

The Trump administration tried to issue specific rules that “narrowly defined “sex” as biological gender,” Trump submitted a policy (which has now been withdrawn) that would have allowed taxpayer-funded homeless shelters to turn away transgender people. 

As Alonzo-Zaldiva put it, “(Biden) officials (will) unwind the actions taken in the Trump years.”

On Mar. 23, 2016, North Carolina signed House Bill 2, stating transgender people are banned from using public restrooms with the gender they identify with. The bill came to a compromise the following year, but it’s just the beginning. 

A video went viral back in Mar. 3 of a Missouri citizen, Brandon Boulware, speaking on behalf of his transgender daughter and the rights she deserves as a human being. Boulware was present at a hearing surrounding whether or not to ban transgender students from participating in girl’s sports. 

“I had a child who did not smile, “Boulware stated in front of Missouri Lawmakers, expressing the pain his daughter went through when having to be someone she wasn’t.

Boulware’s daughter was compromising her identity to be treated like any other kid, “I was teaching her to deny who she is.” Boulware stated that wearing boy’s clothes was the only way she was allowed to interact with other kids. 

“Let them have their childhoods. Let them be who they are.” 

Boulware admits that while trying to protect his daughter and family, he was also trying to protect himself from dealing with others’ judgment. Boulware showed up to court on his daughter’s birthday to ask that she and many other girls be allowed to continue to play on their school’s sports teams. 

That day Missouri House representatives, in a 100-51 vote, proceeded with adding this provision to a bill prohibiting transgender girls from participating in girl’s high school sports teams. This doesn’t make it official until 2022, when Missouri voters decide this issue.

Representatives, House officials, and many other members of Congress are speaking out on the relationships of their loved ones and the injustice they faced due to their sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Pushbacks cannot stop people from expressing who they truly are.

In Dec. 2020, award-winning actor Elliot Page came out on his Instagram page as a transgender male. Page was overwhelmingly happy to express himself and grateful for those who have supported him along the way.

“I can’t begin to express how remarkable it feels to finally love who I am enough to pursue my authentic self.” Page commented.

Oprah Winfrey sat down with Page to discuss his journey in an interview presented by Apple TV last month. Page described his time in isolation during the pandemic as an opportunity to separate himself from the world’s views and allow himself to come to his acceptance of his true identity. 

Page emphasized the importance to many, including himself, the ability to undergo top surgery as being lifesaving. He calls out the current state of transgender health care and the Missouri case taking away transgender girls’ right to play school sports. He calls lawmakers liars for their portrayal of health care for the trans community. 

“Children will die,” Page stated simply as a result of denying a generation their right to be who they know they are.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y) at the Women’s March

The Green New Deal Explained

The Green New Deal aims to reduce greenhouse gases and slow the acceleration of climate change while also addressing economic inequality and racial injustice. It was first introduced by Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) in 2018. The bill recognizes the need to create a more sustainable society to combat climate change and improve the quality of life for everyone. 

Human activity is the leading cause of climate change over the past century, as reported by the Fourth National Climate Assessment. The bill asserts that climate change “constitutes a direct threat to the national security of the United States,” as it impacts the economic, environmental, and social stability of many communities, not just in the United States but worldwide. 

Climate change has led to extreme weather patterns, rising sea levels, and an increase in wildfires. It disproportionately affects indigenous people, communities of color, low-income communities, women, youth, and elderly people. 

The Green New Deal acknowledges that the United States is experiencing several other related crises besides climate change. Such as a trend of wage stagnation, deindustrialization, and anti-labor policies, as well as the greatest income inequality since the Great Depression. White families, on average, have 20 times more wealth than Black families, epitomizing a large racial wealth divide. 

The United States is also experiencing a decline in life expectancy and inaccessibility to basic needs, such as clean air and water, healthy food, health care, housing, transportation, and education to many marginalized communities. 

The Green New Deal calls for securing clean air and water, food security, and a sustainable environment for all people of the United States for generations to come and promoting justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historical oppression of disenfranchised communities. 

The bill will aim to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, to meet “100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources,” as well as creating millions of new high-wage jobs, ensuring economic growth and security for all people of the United States, and investing in infrastructure to meet the needs and demands of the 21st century. 

The ultimate goal of the deal is to stop using fossil fuels entirely and transition away from nuclear energy. The bill aims to be completed through a 10-year national mobilization to reduce carbon emissions in the United States. 

“We’re going to transition to a 100 percent carbon free-economy that is more unionized, more just, more dignified, and guarantees more health care and housing than we ever have before,” Ocasio-Cortez said at a news conference. “Do we intend on sending a message to the Biden administration that we need to go bigger and bolder? The answer is absolutely yes.”

However, many Republicans have denounced the resolution, calling it “a socialist super-package.” Rep. James Comer (R-Ky), a ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, claims that the deal “will only saddle hardworking taxpayers with debt and displace millions of Americans from their jobs.” 

The bill is a nonbinding resolution meaning that if it were to pass, it cannot be made into law or create any new programs. The Green New Deal is more of a proposal of what the United States should do to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and a more sustainable future. 

Currently, carbon emissions rates are rising at a high rate. The United States emissions rate rose by 3.4 percent in 2018 and rose globally by 2.7 percent. By continuing on our current path with no real measures done to combat climate change, we risk irrevocably damaging the earth in ways we cannot come back from.

Angelo Quinto, Mental Health and Policing

On December 23, 2020, Angelo Quinto, a 30-year-old Navy veteran, was experiencing a mental health crisis, and instead of helping him, the police killed him in a similar manner to George Floyd, with a knee to his neck. 

Cassandra Quinto-Collins, Quinto’s mother was told by the officer who knelt on her son’s neck for over 4 minutes that what he was doing was standard protocol for sedating a person experiencing a mental breakdown. 

She told Associated Press, she was watching the whole time and “just trusted that they knew what they were doing.” When she began filming him, he was already unresponsive, never regaining consciousness and passing away 3 days later.

Quinto’s sister had called 911 for help calming him down during an episode of paranoia on Dec. 23. His family, who live in Antioch, said Quinto didn’t resist the officers — one who pushed his knee on the back of his neck, and another who restrained his legs — and the only noise he made was when he twice cried out, “Please don’t kill me.”

The family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit, as it took the police department over a month to share the details of the circumstances of Quinto’s death. Antioch Police Chief Tammany Brooks said, “At no point did any officer use a knee, or other body parts to gain leverage or apply pressure to Angelo’s head, neck, or throat, which is outside of our police and training” and “at one point an officer repositioned to control Quinto’s legs, which officers say were thrashing around. Officers called an ambulance and more police arrived on the scene. After, Quinto was no longer conscious and was “immediately” rushed to the hospital. He was later transferred to an intensive care unit, where he died three days later.” However, the department did not make details of Quinto’s death public until questioned by East Bay Times, and the investigation is still ongoing.

John Burris, the Quinto’s attorney said along with claims of a knee restraint, there were other issues with the officers’ response, including how they didn’t try to de-escalate and first talk to Quinto, and how they failed to turn on their body cameras and the camera in their patrol car. Police are typically taught how to de-escalate situations in their jobs however when it comes to mental health they receive little to no training, they are not taught to listen and be non violent when it comes to such situations.

Mentally challenged individuals have always been a target of the police and when contacted for help, their situations are typically met with unnecessary violence that at times can lead to their death. This is not the first case recorded of a family member calling the police for assistance with their child or sibling, but this one has sparked outrage as it acknowledges police brutality, in the way they handle mental health issues. 

According to Treatment Advocacy Center, a site that discusses the criminalization of mental health, people with mental health are 16 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement. According to John Snook, a co-author in this study, he addressed this issue as “patently unfair, illogical and proving harmful both to the individuals in desperate need of care and the officer who is forced to respond.” By not having legislative policies address this issue, it causes these mental health crises and neither party knows how to deal with the problem in a safe manner.

Proposals for additional training when dealing with mental health are being pushed. Antioch is now in the process of developing a mental health crisis team and a requirement of the use of body cameras.

March Madness Elevates, Delivers

Indianapolis — After a yearlong hiatus from intercollegiate athletics, one of the most hyped tournaments, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, also known as March Madness, returned to form in a thrilling exposition. The teams accumulated throughout the process of Selection Sunday, a tradition by which the most impressive 68 contenders were selected to participate in the tournament, posted a flurry of electrifying matchups that went down to wire.

On March 21, 2020, the NCAA announced it would postpone the convention, leaving many athletes that were college seniors having to decide how to continue their careers.

Of the 68 teams competing, 32 teams received an automatic bid from winning their conference tournaments. The remaining 36 teams received a bid from the NCAA selection committee.

Historically, the college with the most championships is UCLA, with 11 total championships.

UCLA made a historic run in the 2021 ‘Big Dance.’ They were selected as a member of the First Four but annihilated their way through the tournament. 

They advanced all the way to face no. 1 seed Gonzaga, who was undefeated during the matchup with UCLA. In an astounding thriller that went down to the wire, Gonzaga’s guard Jalen Suggs hit a desperation three from just past half-court to win the game.

Unfortunately for the powerhouse Gonzaga Bulldogs team, the championship game after that featured a battle-tested and weathered Baylor Bears team that so decisively pounded Gonzaga from the beginning of the match up until the final buzzer. In the end, Baylor emerged victorious and ended Gonzaga’s winning streak.

The final night of the NCAA tournament was a stunning ride. “We’re really good defensively. I thought we made things tough tonight,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “Gonzaga missed some shots that they probably normally make. But credit our guys for making everything difficult.”

“They were just so much more aggressive than us,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “They just literally busted us out of anything we could possibly do on offense.”

“They punched us in the mouth right at the get-go,” Gonzaga star Corey Kispert said. “And it took a long, long time for us to recover and start playing them even again. But then it was too late.”

According to CNN reporter Steve Almasy, Few said he never saw his team play as if they were weighted down by the pressure to go undefeated.

Baylor star Jared Butler explained his insights from the game, “I was struggling the whole tournament probably until the Final Four,” Butler said. “And as a shooter, it’s hard. Like, it just makes the days longer, and you think about it all day long. But I knew … I couldn’t go the whole tournament and not shoot well.” Butler had 22 points to lead the Bears.

Few explained his team ” … loves one another. Just such a positive spirit yet such a competitive spirit.”

Nonetheless, Drew acknowledged the historic run for the Bears and how it felt for Texas. “Look at how much great basketball we have (in Texas) from high school, AAU, junior college, college,” Drew said. “And we haven’t won a national championship since ’66. It’s long overdue for the state, and I’m so pleased for all of them.”

The Baylor Bears’ season was justified after giving up their perfect record to Kansas and Oklahoma State. They retaliated against this star-studded Gonzaga offense and prolific Gonzaga defense to capture the 2021 NCAA title. This was Baylor’s first Intercollegiate title for Men’s Basketball. The Baylor Women’s Intercollegiate Basketball team has won the tournament three times, including one in 2019.

$1.9 Trillion American Rescue Plan

On March 11, this year, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill. The Biden Administration’s primary ambition was to restabilize the economy. The nation is on the verge of emerging again to normalcy as vaccines roll out and COVID deaths drop.

But Americans across the U.S. are still under strain from the lasting effects of COVID’s hit on the economy. According to CNBC, over 20 million people are on some form of assistance for unemployment benefits. The bill features several aspects aiming to reallocate direct funds to businesses and people. One of the most expensive parts of the bill is the payments of up to $1,400 to almost every American citizen, as most are undergoing financial strain.

Caroline Huntsman, a local resident and employed in the bay, says, “I’ve had a job almost all of my life. I’ve waited tables, worked the bar, been a cashier, but once I lost my position from the pandemic. I struggled with money and spent most of my savings to stay afloat. It has been so tough to find work and now reliable hours are hard to come by.” Ms. Huntsman also said she “is fortunate to have a job … but I can feel myself slipping under still and into more debt as things pick back up slowly,”.

With millions of households struggling to afford food and housing, Democrats say the bill will decrease family and child poverty. It will send more than $120 billion to K-12 schools across the nation.

They are also increasing the maximum Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by 15% through September. While nearly $30 billion will go toward restaurants seeking aid, expanding tax credits will help businesses keep employees on the payroll as well. The legislation will also boost provisions to make health care more affordable.

“This historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country,” Biden said to CNBC before signing the legislation. “And giving people in this nation, working people, middle-class folks, the people who built this country, a fighting chance.

The Bill includes a full $1,400 check for adults who earned $75,000 or less, married couples who earned $150,000 or less, and heads of household who earned $112,500 or less.

People eligible for a reduced check are adults who earned between $75,000 and $80,000, married couples who earned between $150,000 and $160,000, and heads of household who earned between $112,500 and $120,000.

Adults who earned more than $80,000, married couples who earned more than $160,000, and heads of households who earned more than $120,00 are ineligible.

The Democrats were able to pass the relief bill through reconciliation. Usually, a simple majority of 60 votes are needed to pass legislation and hurdle the filibuster. But the Senate is split 50-50, Republican to Democrat caucus members, requiring Vice President Kamala Harris to vote and disappointing Republican Senate members as they felt bypassed during what they thought would be a bipartisan bill.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R) Utah told reporters inside the Capitol, “If some Republican amendments got into the bill, some of his colleagues may support it … But my guess is it’s not likely that many of our amendments will get any Democrat support, so I think it’s very unlikely that any Republicans will support the final bill.”

Since the campaign trail, the Biden Administration has been promoting their “reach across the aisle” mantra. But major Senate members have critiqued the Democrat’s ability and willingness to meet them with closer compromises.

Rumors from the Capitol say Democrats are not “picking up their phone calls,” As both Senate Republicans’ infrastructure projects were dropped from the relief bill following deliberations with key Senate officials.

Pelosi spokesperson Drew Hammill said, “the bill’s funding for an expansion of the BART, a subway system serving the San Francisco Bay Area, was struck from the bill because it was “part of a pilot project.”

Despite the omissions from Democrats, the Republicans from the Senate feel the bill features many infrastructure and economic breaks. The tax credit is one piece Republicans saw as not relevant to COVID relief.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R) Florida said the Democrats’ proposal would turn the credit into “welfare,” adding the benefit should be tied to employment. Rubio, and some other Republican senators, have proposed their own changes to the child tax credit and stand against the permanent expansion of the credit.

In the same aisle, Republicans plead the relief bill, although passed, is unnecessary as the economy begins to rise on its own as people get back out and businesses open back up.

“They want to send wheelbarrows of cash to state and local bureaucrats to bail out mismanagement from before the pandemic,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R) Kentucky told CNN. “They’re changing the previous bipartisan funding formula in ways that will especially bias the money toward big blue states.”

Republicans believe the revenue decline to be from a history of budget mismanagement. There is also the truth that blue states have higher unemployment and steep revenue losses from policies to shut down businesses during the pandemic. Marissa Payne of The Gazette analyzed the claim of a bailout for blue states, and blue states do benefit more when all dollars are added up.

According to the review from the Tax Foundation, a think tank in Washington D.C. studying Federal and State tax policy, $121.4 billion are being allocated to the state legislature and the governor’s seat of 23 Republican-run states. $130.1 billion will be allocated to 15 Democratic-run states, including D.C. The last 11 states with split control will receive $6.4 billion.

If Reevaluated for population, the analysis shows blue states would get more aid in the amount of $1,278 per capita. While on average red states receive $1,017 per capita, and split states receive $1,041.

In 2020 10 blue states, including D.C. and 13 red states, as well as four split states, all lost revenue in the fight to handle COVID. What hasn’t been said is the bill would send aid to all states, whether or not they lost revenue.

But the “formula for allocating funding takes into account each state’s share of the nation’s unemployed workers. The average unemployment rate is 5.03 percent for red states, 7.61 percent for blue states and Washington and 6.09 percent for split states, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.”

When Marissa Payne, a fact-checker for the Gazette, was asked in blunt terms if this was a bailout for blue states once the data is put through the formula?

She said, “On average, these (blue) governments lost less revenue but have higher unemployment rates, and do benefit the most on many accounts.”

She did leave the caveat that “these (blue) states encompass the nation’s largest and most populous cities, like Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago, where there is typically a much higher cost of living than in rural areas. Urban counties are also more racially and ethnically diverse, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledges minorities are more likely to contract COVID-19 and die from it.”

California Passes New York in Covid Related Deaths

California has officially passed New York as the state with the most deaths related to Coronavirus.

As of March 18, the number of deaths currently sits at 56,952 and continues to rise every day.

That being said, the statistics are beginning to show a move in a positive direction. As of February 17, the reported coronavirus cases were down 43%. According to the LA Times, confirmed cases in hospitals have also decreased by 40.3 percent from two weeks ago.

According to 24/7 Wall Street, there is still an average of 3,298 COVID cases confirmed per week in California, as of the week of March 16, and this means that businesses continue to remain at limited capacity, restaurants remain limited to outdoor seating. Hospital beds remain regularly occupied by coronavirus patients.

However, as the vaccine is slowly distributed to the public, the key for California remains limiting the spread of the virus. There is no official timetable for when every person will be eligible for the vaccine currently.

Sabrina, a quality assurance employee for a large produce distributor in California, was eligible for the vaccine because her job involves agriculture. “They basically told everyone in the office it was optional to get the vaccine, but most employees did receive the vaccine now. It’s going to be a lot less stressful knowing we can feel a little more comfortable in the office together,” says Sabrina.

Jared, an EMT in the bay area, received a vaccine very soon after it became available to first medical employees. “It’s just a huge relief. After worrying about a lot of things during the pandemic, it feels good knowing I can still work and go visit my parents with a lower risk of exposing them to anything.”

According to California state health director Dr. Mark Ghaly, “starting March 15, people between ages 16-64 who are severely disabled, and those with health conditions that put them at high risk can get in line for shots.”

Joe Biden has ordered 200 million COVID-19 vaccines to boost the number of shots available for Americans.

To help slow the spread of germs, the Center for Disease Control has recently endorsed double masking to ensure a tight fit on the mask and to allow fewer respiratory droplets out.

As double masking is thought to lower the risk of exposure, there is no mandate on wearing two masks. The California department of public health’s guidance remains that Californians must wear face coverings in public spaces, especially indoors and in areas where physical distancing is not possible.

Another facet that could lead to potentially more cases of coronavirus is in-person learning at schools. As many schools remain online, some schools have taken specific measures to return for the fall semester of 2021.

UC Berkeley began a lockdown on campus on Feb 1 as over 400 people contracted coronavirus. With about 2000 students living on campus, students were required to remain in their rooms at all times. Students were only permitted to leave for seeking medical attention, going to the bathroom, and picking up food.

Violation of these lockdown rules by any student could have resulted in suspension.

The campus quarantine was proved effective as cases dropped, and the school lifted the lockdown on February 15th.

It is essential to stay informed on when vaccine distribution is available to you. You can keep track of this information at covid19.ca.gov.

GameStop, AMC, and the Stock Market

GameStop Stock and AMC stocks seemed to skyrocket after a Reddit post began, now apps like Robinhood have set limits on the number of shares available for purchase. Small independent stock buyers are calling this unfair and only beneficial to the one percent. 

Companies such as GameStop and AMC were at a low in the market early in 2020, once the pandemic hit their values dropped. Gamestop locations are to this day closing their doors permanently, and AMC in most areas have not reopened their doors. 

A subreddit began by a group of the name the WallStreetBets, here anyone could discuss any information on stocks and investments. Here traders have been known to take a gamble on stocks and “meme stocks” quickly caught their attention. (Many of these meme stocks were in correlation with failing companies) 

Add the addition of Elon Musk simply tweeting out “Doge” on Feb 3, and “ur welcome” knowing it would gain major value for the cryptocurrency Dogecoin. 

Dogecoin, a cryptocurrency that has mainly been seen as a joke in comparison to its top competitor, Bitcoin, has had a value typically under one penny for most of 2020. 

When the value of Dogecoin reached one penny, purchases skyrocketed. Cryptocurrency is a currency, that when purchased, can rise or fall in value, and can be resold for US currency without the effects of government regulation. (Some countries have banned cryptocurrency) 

Gamestop stocks increased over 400% within the last month according to Robinhood. Musk also tweeted out “Gamestonk!!” on Jan 26 with a direct link to the WallStreetbets. Though AMC has dropped down, most likely due to Robinhood’s (an online brokerage app for buying/selling stocks and cryptocurrency) limits on share buying, there is still talk of it increasing again. 

Jan 27 AMC stock values were rising, due to subreddits, and the next day was predicted to blow up. Whether a gain or rise in value, traders were ready to buy. But traders quickly realized their orders weren’t submitting on Robinhood, the app was extremely overwhelmed. 

On Jan 28 a message was sent to its users through the app, “Our mission at Robinhood is to democratize finance for all … In light of recent volatility, we restricted transactions for certain securities to the position closing only. We also raised margin requirements for certain securities.” 

The initial message didn’t give direct information on why certain shares (Gamestop and AMC) were taken off and left it’s users in a vague state. The message did state how the app has helped small traders learn about the stock market, “In 2020, more than 3.3 million people read out articles through Robinhood Learn.” Robinhood claims they’re determined to continue their work in making sure everyone has the help “for their long-term financial futures.”

Chris Cuomo of CNN spoke with the CEO of Robinhood, Vlad Tenev, on why they would limit shares on an app that supposedly is to “take from the rich and give to the poor” as Cuomo put it “starve the little guy.” on Jan 29. 

Cuomo’s main criticism surrounded the idea that the limitations only seemed to be placed because it had begun hurting large investors, including one of Robinhood’s main investors. 

Cuomo asks why should people believe Robinhood did this for the right reasons, Tenev responded, “We have no choice, we have to comply with all financial requirements,” Cuomo points out the (SCC) hasn’t declared any of Robinhoods actions as necessary. 

Tenev reinstates that certain brokers have to follow guidelines and regulations and it was in no intention to put anyone down, just necessary precautions. 

Planet Money, a podcast hosted by Nick Fountain and Mary Childs spoke with Annie Masa, an investing reporter at Bloomberg News, on Feb 3. Masa broke down why there are delays whenever purchasing from a brokerage app, and what that means for companies like Robinhood.

Masa starts off by comparing how buying stocks have changed. People would have to call their broker over the phone and place an order for their stock, the broker then would call over to someone who works on the trading floor, New York Stock Exchange for example, who is also making negotiation with yet a third person on the floor who sells the stock, and eventually gets back to the ordinal broker. 

Buyers not only would have to pay for the stock purchase but the broker for the labor. When online brokerage apps became available this cut out having to make calls and prices dropped immensely, but Masa explains that there is still a middleman when you submit an order from Robinhood. 

Robinhood sends your order over to other firms like Citadel Securities, “the company’s in the business of matching people who want to buy stock with people who wants to sell stock,” host Childs summarizes how Robinhood gets paid by Citadel to do this process, and in return, Citadel makes a small profit when there’s a small difference between what buyers are offering and what sellers asking. 

Citadel securities pay Robinhood to make sure that there are smaller traders buying because if there are only big companies selling stocks, Citadel would actually lose money. They need the back and forth trade to make a profit themselves.

Brokerages have to post money (to a clearinghouse) for stock purchases in between the waiting period before you own the stock to guarantee trades, in case buyers decide they want to opt-out. So when hundreds of thousands of people were trying to buy GameStop and AMC, Robinhood would have had to post 3 billion dollars. 

This was a heavy demand for Robinhood, “An order of magnitude,” Tenev stated on social media, one which they did not have. So when the limitations took place on those certain stocks, this was in order to not have to put up the entire 3 billion Robinhood did not have. 

Fountain and Childs make it clear that there is no evidence of market manipulation, however, at this point internet stock traders were wildly upset as they believed they were “pumping up the stock” as Fountain put it. 

On Feb 4, Robinhood had reopened trading for Gamestop and AMC, but the criticism has left a sour taste in most small traders’ mouths, many have now considered other options. 

On Feb 3 Investorjunkie put out its list for its top alternatives to use instead of Robinhood:

  1. Ally Invest 
  2. TD Ameritrade
  3. E* TRADE
  4. Public
  5. Charles Schwab 
  6. WeBull 

While many brokerage apps went through similar approaches like Robinhood, the damage had been done, and although thousands still use the apps, others are starting to gain much more attraction as thousands continue to join the stock market.

Gavin Newsom Proposes New Plan for Reopening Schools

On Mar. 1, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced at a news conference California’s plan to reopen schools around the state. Legislative leaders joined Newsom to discuss the state’s multibillion-dollar plan to incentivize K-12 schools into reopening. The bill would give power to the state’s 58 counties to decide when to reopen schools. 

Under the bill, schools are not required to open. Instead, those that do will receive financial compensation. The package will allocate a total of $6.6 billion to entice and push public schools to reopen and bring students back into classrooms. At least $2 billion of the fund will be grants given to schools that temporarily open kindergarten through second grade by Apr. 1 and bring back at-risk students in all grades.

“Our plan is also geared toward providing schools the resources and incentives that they need to ensure that education can be all things for every child in California,” said Speaker Anthony Rendon at the event. 

The bill aims to safely phase in younger students who are most at risk and benefit the most from in-person learning. Those most at risk include foster and homeless youth and children of color disproportionately affected by the pandemic. A study done by Common Sense and Boston Consulting Group found that at least 15 to 16 million students live in households without internet access or the proper device for distance learning at home. 

Under the proposal, school districts must reopen Kindergarten through second grade classrooms by Apr. 1 to receive funding from the $2 billion in grants. 

However, those that open after Apr. 1 will receive smaller cash grants, and those that don’t open by May 15 would lose their share of the funding. The funds could pay for summer school activities and in-person services like tutoring. 

The plan would allow all districts to start slowly phasing in students, even those in the “purple-tier”- the most restrictive level of California’s COVID-19 tier system- as long as the daily rate of COVID-19 cases is less than 25 per 100,000 residents. 

Once counties move into the red tier — daily case rates below 7 per 100,000 residents — schools that are eligible for grant funding must open all elementary grades, as well as at least one grade in middle and high school. As of Mar. 9, California has 34 counties in the purple tier and 20 counties in the red tier. 

Over 75,000 vaccines will be pushed aside from educators and school employees, Newsom said, and school staff will be prioritized in the distribution of vaccines as well as seniors and those most vulnerable. At least 15 million vaccines have already been administered in California. Schools will also require staff and students to wear masks while in school. 

On Mar. 3, the Newsom administration announced it would dedicate 40% of available COVID-19 vaccines to residents in the most disadvantaged areas across the state, as reported by the LA Times. 

Legislators have also acknowledged how challenging online learning is for students, from technological challenges to mental health issues. 

“This package of funding and supports for our schools recognizes that in-person education is essential to meet not only the learning needs but the mental health and social-emotional needs of our kids — especially the youngest and the most vulnerable,” said Gov. Newsom at a virtual signing ceremony of the bill.

Since the start of the pandemic last year, many schools have been shut down and forced to switch to remote learning. Almost a full year of online schooling across the nation has taken a toll on students, families, and the education system. It’s even more challenging for those who lack the technological resources to access an education. 

For younger students, in-person learning is fundamental to build social and emotional skills. The social environment of schools is critical in children’s development as they engage with others in an academic setting. For older students in high school and college, online learning has negatively impacted many students’ mental health. 

A report from Best Colleges found that 95% of college students have had “negative mental health symptoms as a result of COVID-19 related circumstances.” Out of the 702 college students surveyed, almost half struggle with isolation, anxiety, and a lack of focus. 

“College years are a pivotal time for young adults as they pursue their chosen academic field and have the opportunity to gain independence and learn more about themselves,” said Dr. Melissa Venable, Education Advisor for Best Colleges.

As schools plan to return to in-person instruction, Venable encourages schools to “do all they can to support students as they experience a range of mental health concerns.” 

The Safe Schools for All plan comes after ongoing concerns from parents and schools about reopening districts in a safe manner.

By slowly opening schools and phasing in students through safety precautions and measures, the state hopes to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. However, schools will continue to offer online learning for students and families who are still hesitant to send their children back to school.

Texas Storm Impacting COVID-19 Patients

Texas — Severe winter storms continue to bombard Texas statewide as the vaccine distribution and supply chain comes to a halt.

According to CNN’s Miguel Marquez, Texas is dealing with burst water pipes, lack of boiling water, and low water pressure as of Feb. 24.

As stated by Texas Hospital Association’s Carrie Williams, this condemnation has arrived on top of the intense COVID-19 situation.

Hospitals in Texas are running low on supplies of food, linen, and water. The shelter-in-place progressed from a suggestion to stay inside to a compulsory safety warning for Texans.

“This was a sprawling natural disaster that has hit us statewide and arrived on top of the pandemic,” Williams said.

According to Williams, power outages and food shortages are just the shallow elements of the Texas situation. Dialysis patients are contemplating shortages of dialysis equipment and a crucial treatment shortage in Texas.

According to Dr. Ben Saldana, Houston Methodist’s emergency department’s medical director, water was back on for a while. Still, hospitals were in a dilemma with low water pressure.

According to CNN’s Marquez, around 13 million Texans, nearly half the state’s population, were under a boil-water advisory. Almost 25 million people were “under a hard freeze warning” for Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

However, Saldana did state, “COVID-19 vaccine administration is full speed ahead at all Houston Methodist sites.”

According to the CNN, this Texas weather situation shows that a major global warming solution such as the Green New Deal, a spirited solution for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency, would not effectively draw up by Democratic dynamos, would be ineffective.

CNN’s Zachary Wolfe articulated that the Green New Deal is a strict proposal to convert America’s energy sources into more effective and safer alternatives. It would involve tackling the United State’s energy policy and evolving it into a more futuristic, cleaner approach.

This would involve creating millions of American jobs and would attempt to solve the greenhouse gas issues.

According to Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbot, “This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America. Our wind and our solar got shut down, and they were collectively more than 10% of our power grid, and that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis.”

CNN’s Theresa Waldrop reported FEMA is sending help to Texas as relief for the harsh winter meteorological conditions.

CNN’s Waldrop also stated that the distribution of the vaccine throughout the South has evolved, and while power outages continue in Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma, states such as Florida are being affected by the inability of vaccines coming from the Midwest and Southwest.

Even places like Illinois, Kentucky, and South Carolina are being indirectly affected by the dismaying state of Texas.

According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the legitimate distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine won’t be available to the ‘general public’ until early June.

A statement released by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, the weather and situation throughout the states affected in America “makes driving dangerous and threatens the health and safety of anyone exposed to the cold.”

According to CNN’s Waldrop, Dallas officials said specific vaccine centers closed due to severe weather conditions.

“We understand the urgency to administer second doses of the vaccine, but we must also balance people’s safety. As soon as we can safely open again, we will.”