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Immunization assistance comes from unexpected companies

Amazon wrote to President Biden on Thursday to offer communications and technology assistance. Microsoft is opening its largely empty office campus as a vaccination center as part of a larger partnership with Washington state. Starbucks is assigning employees from its operations and analysis departments to help design vaccination sites, handing the workforce to the same state while still paying employees.

While some retailers and drugstore chains have been directly involved in the coronavirus vaccination rollout, what is more surprising is the number of companies that have offered help when they had little to do with it. do with health care.

What these companies have are vast national footprints, a large workforce, huge distribution warehouses and, in some cases, empty office buildings. And they have the money to spare for a public service effort that could boost both their public image and their bottom line.

“Big business can think big,” said Arthur Herman, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a Washington, DC think tank. “They can afford to take a step back and reflect on their role as a social force. in their state and in the country. They also have huge supply chains and logistical connections. “

As Mr. Biden tries to reach his goal of achieving 100 million doses in 100 days, he will need all the help he can get. The president asked Congress for $ 20 billion to help fund vaccinations at stadiums, pharmacies and others. He said on Friday he had appealed to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to operate up to 100 mass vaccination sites.

But the private sector could help administration efforts with data storage, appointment scheduling, delivery of supplies to clinics and hospitals, etc.

“Amazon, Google, Microsoft, these guys are consumer-facing people who can handle billions of transactions on a daily basis,” said Suketu Gandhi, a partner of Kearney, a management and consulting firm.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee has included help from companies like Starbucks, Costco and Microsoft in a plan to vaccinate 45,000 residents a day.

“We are not a healthcare company,” said Kevin Johnson, chief executive of Starbucks, at a press conference announcing the partnership Monday, “but Starbucks operates 33,000 large-scale stores, serving 100 million clients per week. And we have a world-class team of human-centered design engineers working under the direction of the state, and healthcare providers like Swedish, Kaiser Permanente, and others.

The coffee chain will bring its expertise in “operational efficiency” among others, Governor Inslee said in a press release.

Vaccines against covid19>

Answers to your questions about vaccines

While the exact order of vaccinees can vary by state, most will likely prioritize medical workers and residents of long-term care facilities. If you want to understand how this decision is made, this article will help you.

Life will only return to normal when society as a whole is sufficiently protected against the coronavirus. Once countries authorize a vaccine, they will only be able to immunize a few percent of their citizens at most in the first two months. The unvaccinated majority will always remain vulnerable to infection. A growing number of coronavirus vaccines show strong protection against the disease. But it is also possible for people to spread the virus without even knowing they are infected, as they show only mild symptoms, if any. Scientists do not yet know if vaccines also block transmission of the coronavirus. So for now, even vaccinated people will have to wear masks, avoid crowds inside, etc. Once enough people are vaccinated, it will become very difficult for the coronavirus to find vulnerable people to infect. Depending on how quickly we, as a society, reach this goal, life may start to move closer to something normal by fall 2021.

Yes, but not forever. The two vaccines that will potentially be authorized this month clearly protect people against Covid-19 disease. But the clinical trials that delivered these results were not designed to determine whether vaccinated people could still spread the coronavirus without developing symptoms. It remains a possibility. We know that people naturally infected with the coronavirus can spread it without feeling a cough or other symptoms. Researchers will study this question intensely as the vaccines are rolled out. In the meantime, even vaccinated people will have to consider themselves as possible spreaders.

The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is given by injection into the arm, like other typical vaccines. The injection will be no different from any you received before. Tens of thousands of people have already received the vaccines and none of them have reported serious health problems. But some of them experienced short-lived discomfort, including aches and pains and flu-like symptoms that usually last for a day. People may need to plan a day off or school after the second shot. While these experiences are not pleasant, they are a good sign: they are the result of your own immune system encountering the vaccine and building a powerful response that will provide long-lasting immunity.

No. Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use a genetic molecule to stimulate the immune system. This molecule, known as mRNA, is ultimately destroyed by the body. The mRNA is packaged in an oily bubble that can fuse with a cell, allowing the molecule to slip inside. The cell uses mRNA to make proteins from the coronavirus, which can stimulate the immune system. At any given time, each of our cells can contain hundreds of thousands of mRNA molecules, which they produce to make their own proteins. After these proteins are made, our cells shred the mRNA with special enzymes. The mRNA molecules made by our cells can only survive for a few minutes. The mRNA in vaccines is designed to resist the enzymes in the cell for a bit longer, so that the cells can produce additional viral proteins and elicit a stronger immune response. But mRNA can only last a few days at most before being destroyed.

Microsoft will open an empty building on its campus in Redmond for vaccinations in partnership with the state and healthcare providers. It is also offering its technology, building on capabilities it has already offered to the government, including artificial intelligence at the State Department of Health to help track hospitalizations and tests.

“Technology certainly plays a role in vaccine delivery, as it basically does in distributing everything around the world,” Microsoft President and General Counsel Brad Smith said at the event announcing the rollout.

Amazon hosts a pop-up vaccination clinic in Seattle on Sunday, thanks to a partnership with Virginia Mason Medical Center; they hope to vaccinate 2,000 people. The company has also offered to vaccinate its own employees in the state, many of whom it says are essential workers – an offer it also made in Tennessee.

Amazon last week told the Biden administration that it could help with “operations, information technology, and communications capabilities.” He did not tell the New York Times what the assistance would involve.

“The scale of some of these retailers is so important,” said Andrew Lipsman, an analyst at data analytics firm eMarketer. “They have never been better equipped to handle volume increases, not least because they have had to increase their operational capacity in the midst of the pandemic.”

Some companies may hope their offerings will interest them in the new administration – or the public.

“It’s great to be seen as someone helping during this crisis,” said Herman, senior researcher at the Hudson Institute.

Companies also encourage their workers to get vaccinated. Representatives for Kroger and Walmart said vaccination efforts will include their employees who are eligible to receive one.

Some retailers directly encourage their employees to get vaccinated.

JBS, the meat packaging giant, is offering a bonus of $ 100. (The industry’s working conditions make its employees particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus.) Dollar General, which has 157,000 workers in around 17,000 stores, gives them four hours of pay if they get vaccinated. The Instacart grocery delivery service said it will provide an allowance of $ 25. Chobani covers up to six hours of wages so workers can get vaccinated.

“We are going to do our part to help defeat this virus that hurts so much,” said Peter McGuinness, Chobani COO. “And in doing so, it will ensure the safety of our employees.”

Approaches from other companies are sloppier than the carrot, saying they might require vaccinations. Scott Kirby, chief executive of United Airlines, which reported its biggest losses in a decade for the fourth quarter, told employees on Thursday that the carrier – and other companies – could make the coronavirus vaccine mandatory for all the workers.

Businesses whose employees are vaccinated are likely to be more attractive to customers, making them feel more secure when shopping or receiving help in stores. For some, mass vaccination can be essential in stabilizing their business.

“There is no doubt that getting their employees vaccinated will be good for business and go a long way in getting the economy back on track,” said Herman, who wrote a book on mobilizing American industry during the world War. II.

Yet achieving nationwide immunization requires what Biden has described as a “large-scale war effort,” whose success depends on coordination between business, federal agencies and a bitterly divided Washington.

“These companies have a huge, huge opportunity to help,” said Gandhi of Kearney. “Are they going to save the day? I do not know.”

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Financial assistance is restored for inmates in the education plan included in the stimulus bill

Senator Patty Murray of Washington, a senior Democrat on the education committee, said the simplification, along with other technical fixes she helped negotiate, made the financial aid process easier to navigate for students in a situation of homelessness and for students formerly placed in foster care.

“While the pandemic and economic recession have made it even more difficult for students to afford and continue their university education,” Ms. Murray said in a statement, “I am proud that we have made significant progress in improving the how our financial aid process works.

Democrats have also pushed for historically black colleges and universities to be freed from more than $ 1.3 billion in federal loans they have taken out for capital improvement projects, like new housing and college halls. .

The United Negro College Fund, which helped push for forgiveness, called the victory “transformational,” saying it would work to help chronically underfunded institutions, including with accreditation renewals and creditworthiness. budgetary.

Roderick L. Smothers, the president of Philander Smith College, in Little Rock, Ark., Said he was still in shock. The measure would wipe out $ 22 million, about 70% to 75% of the school’s debt, overnight, he said, and make college wishlists, such as a new university center, a reality.

“It really gives us a moment to reset our finances, our balance sheets, our dreams – and it gives us the lead we now need to step back and think more creatively and boldly about the things we need to serve.” our students, ”Dr. Smothers said.

He noted that this was an extraordinary year for black colleges, which received huge funding increases from Congress and philanthropists, and broad bipartisan support in their mission to take on student populations. most vulnerable in the country and build a strong black middle class.

“It sounds like a form of repair,” Dr. Smothers said.

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Pandemic leaves more military families seeking food assistance

WASHINGTON – Fort Bragg, the largest military base in the United States, has all the attributes of a small American town: shopping malls, a barber shop, and social clubs. A sign of the times, it also has a food bank.

This spring, the YMCA on base – which opened a pantry last year to address the growing food insecurity of military families – saw a 40 percent increase in grocery requests. During the same time period, grocery requests to AmericaServes, a network that helps military families, reached the largest service request in the organization’s history.

The story is roughly the same across the country, say the Hunger Groups, for the lowest-income families in the military, who have a specific set of challenges, and different from civilians whose economic fortunes was also damaged by the coronavirus pandemic.

Spouses of active-duty troops have lost their jobs, like thousands of other Americans, but are often the least likely to find new ones. Children who rely on free or discounted school meals no longer receive them, and military families often have more children than the national average.

“A lot of the kids who used to have breakfast and lunch at school aren’t anymore,” said Michelle Baumgarten, associate executive director of the YMCA Armed Services in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, who said the demands for peanut butter, jelly and oats had exploded. . “Families have gone from two incomes to one income is the common thread.”

While many poor civilian families have turned to federal food programs for help, military families often receive a housing allowance that makes them ineligible for food aid, a legal quirk that Congress says. failed to resolve several times.

The most junior enlisted staff earn $ 1,733 to $ 2,746 per month; According to a report by the family advocacy group Blue Star Families, 7-18% of military and veteran families have asked someone in their home for emergency food assistance.

While military families make up only a small portion of the 37 million Americans struggling with food insecurity, hunger experts say most Americans have no idea that the people who serve in the army often needs help with food.

“There is something so unfair about this that families who make significant sacrifices for our country and are unable to fully meet their basic needs,” said Josh Protas, vice president of public policy at Mazon, a specialized Jewish group. on hunger. “The charitable sector does not have the capacity to fully tackle this problem – and neither should it. I really think the Pentagon really tried to sweep this under the rug.

The Defense Department is working on a report to Congress on the matter, said Major César Santiago, a Pentagon spokesman.

Veterans are in a similar situation, hunger advocates and service organizations have noted. The food aid has become the first request for Serving Together, an organization that helps veterans and military families in Maryland and Washington, for the first time in at least five years, said Jennifer Watson, program manager there. -low. The group has a partnership with two other organizations, and teenagers have helped distribute boxes of food to hungry veterans.

Military families had distinct economic problems long before the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States. Spouses of members of the military have a high unemployment rate – around 25% – due to constant relocations and inability to transfer professional licenses from state to state.

Because they are so mobile, military spouses tend not to accumulate seniority in the workplace and are often the first to be made redundant and last rehired in a weak economy. Many families find it difficult to manage their money.

“Military families, especially young enlisted people, struggle with financial literacy,” said Daniel Gade, a retired military lieutenant colonel who now teaches public policy at the American University in Washington. “Military families are often quite isolated, which means they have a thinner social network.”

According to a recent study by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, nearly 40% of families on active duty had food and nutritional needs since the start of the pandemic.

As demands for rent relief and unemployment insurance covered other basic costs, food jumped to the forefront of needs. “In nearly six years of supporting coordinated care networks across the country, food aid has never managed to break through the top three services demanded,” said Nick Armstrong, senior director of research and data for the institute.

One recent Wednesday, the Fort Bragg pantry was buzzing with business. “It was eye-opening to see families struggling in the military,” said Rachel Szabo, who was recently fired from her job in industrial design.

Her husband, who is stationed at Fort Bragg and is at the bottom of the pay scale, and Ms. Szabo, who is pregnant, have received help from the YMCA at the base, which started their food program ago. one year and has seen explosive growth in needs. “I never needed to ask for help,” Szabo said. “When I lost my job, we still had bills. I still have a lot of student loans, so being able to contact the Y to make ends meet has really been a lifeline.

In San Diego, another YMCA program distributes meals to 1,000 children of military families every week, and its food distribution for this group has increased by more than 400% since the start of the pandemic. “The greatest need is that our military children are no longer in school,” said Tim Ney, who runs a program for military families there. “They no longer have access to free or reduced-price meals.”

The Pentagon says the issue of hunger on military bases – which have had pantries for years – is exaggerated.

“The military is paid very well,” said Major Santiago, citing a recent study conducted by the RAND National Defense Research Institute. “Junior enlisted members, on average, are better paid than 90 percent of the adult workforce with a high school diploma and similar years of experience in the workforce. The issue of food insecurity has been discussed and found to be minimal in the military. “

Several members of Congress disagree and have worked on legislation to change the housing allowance that prohibits some families from receiving food assistance.

“Our military is weakened when the military is unable to feed their families,” said Senator Tammy Duckworth, Democrat of Illinois, who has repeatedly tried to change the law to no avail.

Mr Gade, a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for Senator from Virginia this year, acknowledged that his party is often hostile to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, as food stamps are also notorious. But he said he believed the parties could find common ground on this particular issue.

“We know SNAP is not going anywhere,” he said, adding that correcting what he called the “blatant” rule “is something we can do together.”

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In the Trump campaign, government agencies and officials often provided assistance

WASHINGTON – President Trump’s National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien has hit the road in recent weeks – not touring war zones, but promoting Mr. Trump’s record in the Swing states.

Mr O’Brien bragged about Mr Trump’s job-creating push at a shipyard in Kittery, Maine. He spoke at Drake University in Iowa, calling the world a more peaceful and prosperous “because of the president’s policies.” And he visited a manufacturing plant and shipyard in Wisconsin, telling a local radio host that Mr. Trump is a “peacemaker” but reporters “won’t give him much credit.”

In the days and weeks leading up to Election Day, Mr. Trump used every tool at his disposal to win another four years in the Oval Office in a back-to-back election that is likely to help determine the boundaries of a president’s ability to bend the government. to his whims.

While the National Security Advisor is a traditionally non-partisan job, Mr. O’Brien has been part of a sustained effort by the President, members of his cabinet and key aides to use the incumbent’s powers in a manner which goes far beyond its predecessors, harnessing the levers of governmental power and the authority of Mr. Trump’s office to help him stay there.

Department of Homeland Security officials last month gathered reporters, cameramen and photographers in Pennsylvania and Minnesota to highlight the president’s immigration policies, even though the routine arrests they announced took place in various states. The agency paid for disturbing billboards in Pennsylvania, a state crucial to Mr. Trump’s re-election, depicting wanted immigrants charged with violent crimes.

On October 15, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo participated in five telephone interviews with broadcasters, including four in the swing states of Florida, Georgia, Arizona and Michigan.

The Office of Special Counsel has opened two investigations into whether Mr. Pompeo campaigned illegally for Mr. Trump. One centers on a speech Mr. Pompeo made at the Republican National Convention on a diplomatic trip to Jerusalem, and another on his statement that the State Department may issue new emails from the old one. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ahead of the election.

“We have the emails,” Pompeo said in an interview with Fox News, a day after Mr. Trump expressed his impatience with the secretary’s inaction. “We take them out. We are going to release all of this information so that the Americans can see it.

The use of government resources to aid the president’s political fortunes is taking place in a bitterly polarized country, and Mr. Trump and his aides’ assertion of raw political power has drawn sharp criticism from Democrats and politicians alike. ethics experts.

“There’s a reason Secretaries of State and National Security Advisers don’t campaign,” said Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut. “It’s really important for a handful of national security figures to stay above the partisan melee, and when they become just another partisan actor, it robs them of some of their credibility.

Other presidents have embraced the benefits of office to their advantage. But no other modern president of either party has so brazenly directed government action to its own benefit through so many agencies and departments.

In the months leading up to election day, the Justice Department represented Mr. Trump in a libel suit brought by a woman who accused him of rape. Its intelligence chiefs declassified documents essential to the president’s campaign rhetoric. The Treasury Department’s coronavirus assistance checks to taxpayers were prominently featured on Mr. Trump’s signature, and boxes of food for the poor included a letter from the president. Mr Trump has offered, though never delivered, a $ 200 discounted drug prescription card for the elderly – a gift programmed to arrive in the middle of the vote.

Mr Trump and his aides have urged scientists to approve treatments and vaccines ahead of the election. Attorney General William P. Barr has attacked Democrat-run towns and intervened in voting cases to benefit Mr. Trump’s campaign. The president has practically turned the Department of Homeland Security into an engine of his campaign, confronting protesters in cities even against the wishes of governors and mayors.

And members of the president’s cabinet have scattered across the country, seemingly conducting official business, but doing so in places undeniably critical to the president’s personal political fortunes. In late September, Mr. Pompeo gave an official speech in – of all places – the Capitol Building in Madison, Wisconsin, a critical state Mr. Trump narrowly won in 2016.

“The presence of Robert O’Brien on the electoral track, or pseudo electoral track, is further proof of the irregularity of the Trump administration and of the president’s bad situation in Washington and in the countryside,” said John Gans , the author of “White House Warriors: How the National Security Council Transformed the American Way of War.”

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Mr. Trump’s White House rival, bluntly condemned the president’s use of government for political purposes, and described the Department of Justice under the leadership of Mr. Barr, a fierce ally of Trump, as essentially corrupt.

“Trump’s department,” Biden said.

This name could also apply to the Department of Homeland Security.

On the final night of the Republican convention, it was hard to miss the display of the Trump-Pence campaign logo on the Jumbotron screens flanking both sides of the White House. But inside, the president and his acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf held an official naturalization ceremony for half a dozen new Americans – a solemn occasion turned into a campaign stunt and broadcast to millions. people under Mr. Trump’s policy. convention.

After Mr. Wolf and Mark Morgan, the acting Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, hosted an event in the shadow of Mr. Trump’s border wall last week to celebrate the near completion of 400 miles of the project and criticizing the policies adopted by the Democrats, the American Oversight, the nonprofit government watchdog, asked the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security to investigate whether senior management had violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activity on the job.

Last summer, when Mr. Trump focused his re-election campaign on protesters damaging statues and monuments during a speech at Mount Rushmore, the Department of Homeland Security was also there to help.

That same weekend, Mr. Wolf announced a new task force to protect “historic monuments, memorials, statues and federal facilities” which used tactical agents from various agencies. Some of those officers, particularly from Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs, were later deployed to Portland, Oregon, and suddenly became the focus of the president’s re-election campaign.

Following the deployment of the Department of Homeland Security’s tactical teams, the Trump campaign highlighted images of camouflaged agents clashing with protesters as they portrayed Democrat-ruled cities as places of crime and chaos.

Mr Wolf also delayed the release of an intelligence bulletin warning that the Russians were specifically targeting Mr Trump’s adversary Mr Biden by denigrating his sanity.

Mr Wolf said the quality of the product needs to be improved.

But in a whistleblower complaint filed with the House Intelligence Committee, Brian Murphy, the former head of the Homeland Security Intelligence branch, said Mr. Wolf blocked the newsletter from being released because the briefing “gave a bad image. Of the president”.

Within DHS, some career leaders have tried to slow down or stop what they call overly political efforts by the president and his allies. In April 2019, when key Trump aides pressured immigration agencies to release migrants arrested in so-called sanctuary towns represented by Democratic lawmakers, homeland security lawyers and even a senior ICE official Matthew T. Abence objected, saying there would be liability issues if a migrant was injured during transport.

Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, the department’s acting deputy secretary, dismissed concerns about the agency during a press briefing on Monday.

“We don’t stop doing our job because there are upcoming or ongoing elections,” Cuccinelli said. “I don’t apologize for being here. It’s part of my job.

While Mr. Trump has been accused of politicizing Mr. Cuccinelli’s department from the early days of the administration, intelligence agencies have mostly been spared. But this year, the president installed a pair of political allies as director of national intelligence, who quickly moved to declassify and release information to benefit Mr. Trump.

The president first made Richard Grenell, then Ambassador to Germany, the acting director of national intelligence. He was then replaced by John Ratcliffe, a Republican congressman who was confirmed by the Senate to take the post permanently.

Mr Ratcliffe continued Mr Grenell’s efforts to declassify documents that raised questions about the origins of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Republicans had claimed that the documents supported Mr. Trump during the election campaign that his predecessor had spied on him.

Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, condemned the actions of the administration’s national security team to revive Mr. Trump’s campaign.

He said the White House “has bent the national security adviser to mislead the country, appointed a director of national intelligence who is willing to do the same and installed an attorney general who has no qualms about deceive the public in any way the president. wishes.”

But as the elections approach, the president’s main aides show no sign of slacking off. Last week, Mr. O’Brien attended a roundtable discussion on the mining industry in Hermantown, Minnesota, hosted by a Republican congressman.

In a statement, John Ullyot, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, said Mr. O’Brien had visited Minnesota to focus on “protecting the mining industry and supply chains for for national security reasons ”and traveled to Wisconsin to highlight the role of defense manufacturers.

“The important work of protecting our national security continues regardless of national political events,” he added.

Mr. Ullyot did not identify any non-swing states that Mr. O’Brien had visited in recent weeks.

Julian Barnes contributed reporting.