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Tornado hits town of Alabama, traps residents in collapsed homes

A tornado swept through a northern suburb of Birmingham, Alabama, late Monday night, collapsing buildings, trapping people in their homes and triggering frantic rescue efforts, authorities said.

The storm, which struck the town of Fultondale just before 11 p.m. local time, was part of a swathe of severe weather systems that stretched across much of the southeast, local meteorologists reported.

A Hampton Inn on Interstate 65 in Fultondale was mutilated by the tornado, which tore part of the roof, photos shared online showed.

“We still have people trapped in houses,” Larry Holcomb, the city’s mayor, said by phone Tuesday.

Mr Holcomb said emergency responders were assessing the damage, but was not aware of any deaths at midnight. The mayor said he was at his home when the tornado hit and the streets in his neighborhood were blocked by fallen trees.

City fire chief Justin McKenzie told the TV station Birmingham ABC 33/40 that Fultondale was “seriously affected, several injuries, several houses, trees, people trapped”.

High winds and heavy rain continued to move through the tornado-affected area, hampering search and rescue efforts, according to local news reports.

Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency urged the public to avoid the area.

“In addition to road hazards such as power lines and debris,” the agency said on Twitter, “traffic is obstructing the roads. Again, PLEASE stay out of the area. “

The northbound lanes of Interstate 65, the north-south highway that crosses the state, were closed after the tornado hit Fultondale due to a major accident, the Department of Transportation said. Alabama. It was not immediately clear whether the accident was caused by the tornado or its aftermath.

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“ We are forced to live in these conditions ”: in Los Angeles, the virus ravages overcrowded homes

LOS ANGELES – Betty Rivera was the first in her family to fall ill early last month. To protect her family, she locked herself in the room she shares with her grandson. Her daughter left some chicken soup and herbal ginger, garlic, and rosemary on her doorstep.

But it was impossible to stop the spread, not with three generations crammed into a one-bedroom apartment in one of Los Angeles’ most crowded communities.

Its three-story brick building is wedged between Koreatown and Pico-Union, neighborhoods filled with immigrants who stock groceries and drive buses and where the streets are dotted with businesses serving the poorest – shops. at 99 cents, from check-cashing stores that distribute payday loans, pawn shops. Nowadays, the whine of ambulance sirens never seems to be silent.

“It’s all day,” Ms. Rivera, 69, said in a recent interview in her living room, where her family sleeps and the fireplace is filled with toys.

Ms. Rivera’s daughter was next to fall ill, followed by her son-in-law and two of her grandchildren. Even Chloe, the mix of black and white Dachshund and Chihuahua rushing into the apartment, fell ill, she said.

Los Angeles may not have the population density of New York City, may not have as many skyscrapers, high-rise apartment buildings, or crowded subways, but the county has a percentage highest overcrowded homes – 11%, according to the US census. Office – than any other major metropolitan area in America.

Overcrowded accommodation is defined as more than one person per room, excluding bathrooms. As you traverse the vastness of Los Angeles County, starting at the ocean and heading east, the shifting landscape tells the story of the housing inequality that fueled the virus outbreak. The mansions give way to smaller single-family homes, and finally to immigration areas like the one where Ms. Rivera lives, who moved from El Salvador almost 40 years ago, six people in a small bedroom. In some areas, such as Westlake, where street vendors line the sidewalks near MacArthur Park, nearly 40% of homes are considered overcrowded.

It’s that Los Angeles, of tight-knit families, streets filled with food vendors from Central America and Mexico, homeless settlements, where the virus has spread fiercely, causing so much disease and death.

At the start of the pandemic, many hoped that Los Angeles – at least the Los Angeles of the popular imagination, with beautiful homes and backyard pools and everyone in their cars – would be somehow protected from the catastrophe.

Now hospitals are overrun and southern California has become one of the hotbeds of the outbreak in the country, with an alarming daily death toll. In the communities of Los Angeles County, the largest in the country with a population of more than 10 million people, it is clear that these early hopes were misguided.

Perhaps nowhere else in America can the uneven toll of the virus be felt more dramatically than in Los Angeles, where sprawl and freeways demarcate neighborhoods of the haves and have-nots.

And now that the virus is rampant in the city’s densest neighborhoods, it has highlighted the crisis of economic inequality and housing affordability which, even before the pandemic, was one of the region’s most pressing issues. .

The problem has been most visible in the growing number of homeless settlements across the state, but also in some ways hidden, with so many living in overcrowded homes.

“I think Los Angeles was extremely vulnerable and has always been vulnerable,” said Anne Rimoin, epidemiologist and professor at the Fielding School of Public Health at the University of California, Los Angeles. “LA is extremely large and extremely complex. There is a lot of overcrowding and I think it is very important to think about how the virus is spreading. “

Amid the spike in cases and deaths, Los Angeles rulers in recent weeks have issued urgent appeals to citizens to wear masks and keep their distance from each other. Officials like Mayor Eric Garcetti are also increasingly warning people that the virus is now spreading rapidly in the one place they thought they were safe: their own home.

To combat this spread, people should keep their masks indoors if they live in overcrowded homes, especially those who interact with the public at work, said Barbara Ferrer, Los County Public Health Director. Angeles. Ms. Rivera has already followed this advice.

“This is especially important,” said Dr Ferrer, “for people who live in their households with very vulnerable people, older people, people who have serious underlying health problems that put them at risk. a high risk of Covid19. “

The county has no way of enforcing such a recommendation, but she added that wearing masks indoors “would add a layer of protection as we ride this wave.”

Because the virus has spread so quickly in Los Angeles, contact tracing efforts have not been sufficient. The county and state have moved homeless people to motels and offered rooms in motor homes and motels to those infected who cannot safely isolate themselves in their homes, but many have chosen to stay with their family or on the streets.

The virus has highlighted inequalities across the country, leading to far more deaths among the poor and communities of color.

Consider the number of coronavirus deaths that Los Angeles County has recorded through Thursday in predominantly white affluent neighborhoods in the west: Brentwood, nine; Bel-Air, two; Venice, 13; the city of Beverly Hills, 21. Where life seems almost normal, ambulance sirens are not a constant intrusion and many people can work from home.

Now consider the death toll in overcrowded and more populated neighborhoods to the east, such as the one where Ms. Rivera lives: Westlake, 202; Pico-Union, 146; Boyle Heights, 187 years old; the town of Compton, 147.

On a quiet street in Pico-Union, Bob Armstrong runs a business that has been family-owned since 1903, first in Canada and then, from the 1920s onwards, in Los Angeles – the Armstrong Malloy-Mitten family mortuary. He’s never been so busy. There are new refrigerated units to store the growing number of bodies received from hospitals. He took all of his advertising off the Internet.

“Everyone in our industry is overwhelmed right now,” he said. “We refuse business. I have been in the business for 45 years and it is the most difficult situation we have ever seen.

As Los Angeles’ immigrant households are consumed by the virus, many people are worried about loved ones back home as well. In El Sereno, a largely Latino working-class neighborhood in eastern Los Angeles, Domingo Miguel Aguilar, the patriarch of the family who lives with three generations in a tiny two-bedroom bungalow, has lost his mother in Guatemala to Covid- 19.

At home, almost everyone got sick. His wife, who lived in Bakersfield while working in a fruit packing factory, has died.

Mr. Aguilar, 69, evangelist and missionary, reflects on his losses with the equanimity of a deeply spiritual man. “We prayed and God made our lives strong,” he said. “He blessed us and uplifted us. We did not fall.

The virus often leaves in its wake economic devastation as many people who fall ill are in jobs that do not provide health benefits or sick pay.

Ms. Rivera, who works in child care, lost her income when she fell ill; the same was true for her son-in-law, who missed shifts in a textile factory. To pay their monthly rent of $ 1,500, Ms. Rivera had to pledge the gold necklace her daughter received for her quinceañera. She got $ 500.

She hopes to get it back, but after only a month, she already owes $ 200 in interest. They relied on charity to leave boxes of food outside their door.

“Even though we don’t have enough to eat, we have a roof over our heads for the children,” Ms. Rivera said.

In South Los Angeles, Hilda Rodriguez-Guzman was fortunate enough to buy a home about 20 years ago in the neighborhood where she grew up. But as house prices have skyrocketed in the region, homeownership is out of reach for its children.

So now four generations live in his little three bedroom house, which has one bathroom. Her adult son is sleeping on the sofa. There are grandchildren running around. Her father recently came to live with her after being hospitalized for Covid-19. So did his godson for a while, a homeless veteran with PTSD.

“We are forced to live in these conditions where we are basically all on top of each other,” Ms. Guzman said. “There is no privacy.”

Almost everyone in the house has fallen with Covid-19. Ms Guzman believes the infections started when her daughter attended a small dinner party in June, after the initial coronavirus restrictions were lifted. Ms. Guzman had the worst and was hospitalized for nine days last summer. She needed extra oxygen for months afterward.

In wealthier, whiter neighborhoods, she says, people who get sick can easily isolate themselves and they often have jobs that provide them benefits and allow them to work from home. “We can’t do this,” she said. “We don’t have that luxury. And that says a lot about the inequity that exists and racism. This pandemic has made the disparities even clearer. “

With so many people at home, and so many people falling ill and missing work, money got tight. Utility bills skyrocketed, as did food costs, as quarantined family members relied on delivery apps like Postmates.

“Fortunately, we saved a bit, but it’s all gone now,” she says.

And yet, as Los Angeles officials analyze the daily rhythm of cases and deaths, looking for any signs the outbreak is slowing, Ms Rivera continues to hear sirens.

With each passing ambulance, Ms. Rivera pauses, wondering who’s sick this time. Her lingering effects of the virus include loss of smell and she is afraid of being re-infected.

Before getting on the bus for work each morning, she says a short prayer, asking God to protect her.

But she doesn’t leave everything in the hands of God. To protect herself, she always has extra masks, circulating them on the bus to those who need them.

Ana Facio-Krajcer contribution to reports.

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Drug prevents coronavirus infection in nursing homes, manufacturer claims

An unusual experiment to keep staff and residents of nursing homes from being infected with the coronavirus has been successful, drugmaker Eli Lilly said Thursday.

A drug containing monoclonal antibodies – virus fighters grown in the lab – has avoided symptomatic infections in residents exposed to the virus, even the most vulnerable frail elderly, according to preliminary results of a study conducted in partnership with the National Institutes of Health.

The researchers found an 80% reduction in infections among residents who received the drug, compared to those who received a placebo, and a 60% reduction among staff, both statistically very powerful results. said Eli Lilly.

The data has not yet been peer reviewed or published. The company plans to present the results at an upcoming medical meeting and publish them in a peer-reviewed journal, but did not say when.

The study included 965 participants in nursing homes: 666 staff and 299 residents. (The company hoped more residents would participate, but it proved difficult to register them; many suffered from dementia and others were concerned about being given an intravenous drug.)

There were four deaths from Covid-19 among study participants. All of them were residents of the nursing homes who received a placebo, not the drug.

The drug, bamlanivimab, already has Emergency Use Clearance from the Food and Drug Administration which allows Eli Lilly to provide it to symptomatic patients at the onset of their infection.

But this study asked if the drug could stop infections before they started. It was an unusual experience: in trucks equipped with mobile laboratories, medical staff traveled to nursing homes as soon as a single infection was detected. Upon arrival, the workers set up temporary infusion centers to administer the drug.

The research ended this weekend with an emergency meeting of the Security and Data Oversight Council, an independent group monitoring the incoming results. The data was strong and compelling enough to put an end to placebos.

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 have only mild symptoms, if any. Scientists do not yet know if the vaccines also block the 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 experiencing a cough or other symptoms. Researchers will study this question intensely as the vaccines roll 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. Once these proteins are made, our cells then 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.

“My jaw dropped when I saw the results chart,” said Dr. Myron Cohen, professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a senior researcher who helped design and implement study.

Although the study is complete, Dr. Daniel Skovronsky, scientific director of Eli Lilly, said the company will continue to rush to nursing homes in its study network when an outbreak is detected. “Everyone will get the medicine,” he says.

Experts who were not part of the study were enthusiastic, but stressed that they had not yet seen full data. “I only see positive aspects here,” said Dr. Ofer Levy, director of the precision vaccination program at Boston Children’s Hospital. “It’s a victory.”

Dr Kathleen Neuzil, director of the Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health at the University of Maryland, was also encouraged.

“The mortality effect is remarkable,” she said, adding that the drug should be used more widely to prevent and treat Covid-19, “especially in populations such as residents of nursing homes, who have high mortality and may have suboptimal responses to vaccines. “

Vaccines, of course, also protect people from infection with the virus, and nursing home staff and residents were among the first priority groups for vaccines. But supplies are insufficient and many nursing home workers frightened by vaccines have refused to obtain them.

And after vaccination, it can take six weeks for the body to produce enough antibodies for maximum protection, said Dr. Srilatha Edupuganti, a vaccine researcher at Emory University in Atlanta and researcher in the study.

Treatment with monoclonal antibodies, she said, can give almost equivalent protection immediately, although it will not last as long as the protection offered by a vaccine.

Eli Lilly plans to approach FDA about emergency use authorization for use of drug to prevent infections in frail elderly populations, especially those in nursing homes or long-care facilities duration, said Dr Skovronsky.

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The homes of Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi have reportedly been vandalized.

The homes of Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi, political opponents and the two most powerful members of Congress, have reportedly been vandalized, as their standoff continues over a stimulus bill that has been criticized as inadequate by both left and right – including President Trump.

In a Saturday statement, Mr. McConnell, a Kentucky Republican and Senate Majority Leader, lamented what he called a “radical tantrum” from a “toxic playbook.” Louisville station WDRB-TV reported that the senator’s house was sprayed overnight with red and white spray paint. Photos show written on the front of Mr. McConnell’s house, including a message that says “Weres my money” on the front door. The Louisville Metro Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

“I have spent my career fighting for the First Amendment and defending peaceful protests,” McConnell said in the statement. “I appreciate every Kentuckian who has embarked on the democratic process, whether he agrees with me or not. This is different. Vandalism and the politics of fear have no place in our society.

At around 2 a.m. Friday, police officers in San Francisco responded to a report of vandalism at a home in the city’s Pacific Heights neighborhood. Graffiti had been spray painted on the garage door and “a pig’s head” was left on the sidewalk in front of the house, a police department spokesperson said. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the house belonged to Ms. Pelosi, a Democrat who is Speaker of the House.

The police department did not respond to further questions, including whether the pig’s head found on the property was real or fake. The speaker’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

President Trump signed a $ 900 billion stimulus bill last Sunday, but called for payments to individuals to be increased from $ 600 to $ 2,000. Ms Pelosi rallied support for the change, and the House voted to increase payments on Monday. Mr. McConnell blocked the effort the next day.

Mr McConnell said on Tuesday that the Senate would “begin a process” to consider larger payments as well as other demands from Mr Trump, which include investigations into his baseless allegations of voter fraud in the 2020 election and l ‘repeal of certain legal protections for technology. giants such as Facebook, Google and Twitter.

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Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi’s homes declared vandalized

The homes of Senator Mitch McConnell and President Nancy Pelosi, the two most powerful members of Congress, were reportedly vandalized, days after the controversial passage of a stimulus bill that was criticized as inadequate by wide coalition ranging from progressive activists to President Trump. .

In a statement on Saturday, Mr. McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, lamented what he called a “radical temper tantrum” from a “toxic playbook.” Louisville station WDRB-TV reported that the senator’s house was sprayed overnight with red and white spray paint. Photos show written on the front of the house including “Weres my money” on the front door. The Louisville Metro Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

“I have spent my career fighting for the First Amendment and defending peaceful protests,” McConnell said in the statement. “I appreciate every Kentuckian who has embarked on the democratic process, whether he agrees with me or not. This is different. Vandalism and the politics of fear have no place in our society. “

At around 2 a.m. on Friday, San Francisco police responded to a report of vandalism at a home in the city’s Pacific Heights neighborhood. Graffiti was found spray painted on the garage door and “a pig’s head” was left on the sidewalk, a police department spokesperson said. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the house belonged to Ms. Pelosi.

The police department did not respond to further questions, including whether the pig’s head found on the speaker’s property was real or fake. The speaker’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

On Tuesday, McConnell blocked an effort to increase stimulus checks to $ 2,000 from $ 600 after the House voted on Monday to increase the amount of payments. The proposed increase was part of a list of President Trump’s demands that included an investigation into his baseless allegations of voter fraud in the 2020 election and the repeal of certain legal protections for tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Twitter.

Mr McConnell said on Tuesday that the Senate would “begin a process” to consider larger payments as well as Mr Trump’s other demands.

Ahead of the House vote on Monday, Pelosi said in a statement that voting against increasing stimulus payments “is to deny the financial hardships families face and to deny them the help they need.”

Last Sunday, Mr. McConnell applauded Mr. Trump’s signing of the new stimulus bill in a statement posted on Twitter.

“The compromise bill is not perfect,” he said. “But it will do tremendously good for Kentuckians and struggling Americans across the country who need help now.

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Rental protections, funding for nursing homes, food stamps: this is what is included in the stimulus bill.

The $ 900 billion stimulus bill passed by Congress this week is supposed to meet the needs of millions of Americans who have resisted the effects of the coronavirus pandemic for months, even as numerous federal programs have help have been reduced or expired.

The full text of the bill was almost 5,600 pages long. Here’s a look at what’s included.

Direct payment is one of the most anticipated elements of the law, with $ 600 earmarked for adults whose adjusted gross income can reach $ 75,000 per year based on earnings in 2019. Household heads earning up to $ 112,500 and a couple (or someone whose spouse died in 2020) earning up to $ 150,000 per year would receive double that amount.

Eligible families with dependent children would receive an additional $ 600 per child.

In a change from the last round, payments will not be denied to citizens married to someone without a social security number, allowing some spouses of undocumented immigrants to claim the benefit this time around.

On Tuesday evening, President Trump threatened to veto the bill because he said the payments were too low. He advocates payments of $ 2,000. House Democrats are scheduled to introduce an amendment to the bill on Thursday, an aide familiar with the proposal said. We do not know how the House and the Senate will act.

With up to 12 million Americans facing the prospect of losing federal unemployment assistance on Dec. 26, Congress has acted to expand several programs, albeit at less generous levels than in the spring.

The deal would relaunch enhanced federal jobless benefits for 11 weeks, providing a lifeline for hard-hit workers until March 14. The new benefit, up to $ 300 per week, is half of the amount provided by the CARES Act in the spring.

The legislation also extends pandemic unemployment assistance – a program aimed at a wide range of freelancers and independent contractors – for the same period, providing an additional $ 100 per week.

The deal sets aside $ 285 billion for additional loans to small businesses under the Paycheck Protection Program, renewing the program created under the CARES Act.

The latest version includes stricter terms that seem intended to correct some of the unpopular elements of the original program. It caps loans at $ 2 million and makes them available only to borrowers with fewer than 300 employees who have seen at least 25% decline in sales from a year earlier for at least one quarter. The deal also sets aside $ 12 billion specifically for minority-owned businesses. And publicly traded companies won’t be able to apply this time around.

The legislation provides nearly $ 70 billion for a range of public health measures, including $ 20 billion for the purchase of vaccines, $ 8 billion for vaccine distribution and an additional $ 20 billion to help states continue their testing and traceability programs.

The bill also allows a federal program that insures mortgages for nursing homes to provide emergency loans to help hard-hit senior care centers.

In an unusual rebuke of the Trump administration’s climate policy, the deal includes new legislation to regulate hydrofluorocarbons, the potent greenhouse gases common in air conditioners and refrigerators.

It also allocates $ 35 billion to finance wind, solar and other clean energy projects.

The bill will ban hospitals from charging patients for services such as emergency treatment by off-grid doctors or air ambulance transport, over which patients often have no say.

The compromise would protect tenants struggling with rent by extending a moratorium on evictions by one month, until January 31. . It runs until February 28.

The bill also provides for housing assistance of $ 25 billion.

Expanding one of the most trusted aid channels, the deal increases monthly food stamp benefits – officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP – by 15% for six months, to as of January 1.

The legislation provides $ 7 billion to expand access to high-speed Internet connections, nearly half of which will be used to cover the cost of monthly Internet bills by providing up to $ 50 per month to low-income families.

The deal also provides $ 300 million for infrastructure construction in underserved rural areas and $ 1 billion in grants for tribal broadband programs.

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Florida City’s Beloved Swans Find New Homes

Buyers traveled from all over Florida, with crates and carriers, to bring their feathered guests home.

The buyers, the new keepers of some of Lakeland, Florida’s beloved swans, smiled as they rocked the long-necked birds.

Last month, the city held a public lottery and sold 36 mute white swans, split evenly between men and women, to alleviate overcrowding at Lake Morton, their longtime home in the city.

Lakeland’s swan population, at Lake Morton and another lake in the city, had climbed to 86 since Queen Elizabeth II donated them in 1957.

A Lakeland resident, whose husband was stationed in the Air Force in England, missed seeing the swans in the lake where their population was wiped out in 1953, said Kevin Cook, a spokesperson for the city.

She wrote to Queen Elizabeth II, asking if she would donate a pair from her royal herd. The Queen agreed and on February 7, 1957, a breeding pair of mute swans arrived in Lakeland, Mr Cook said.

Eighty-two people registered for the swan sale, which was organized because the lake was overcrowded with waterfowl, including swans and wild geese and ducks, Cook said.

The city randomly picked the names and approved 18 buyers, who each sold a pair of swans for $ 800.

“We sold them in pairs because they’re very social,” Cook said. Proceeds from sales go to a fund to take care of birds remaining in the city.

Buyers were required to sign a sales contract in which they agreed to “provide safe and healthy habitat for swans”, including a water source, such as a pond or lake, and veterinary care on an annual basis, at least.

On Thursday, buyers picked up their swans, which can live up to 50 years in captivity.

The swans are heading to these new homes:

Danifer Quinones, Fort Myers, Florida.

The Fort Myers resident was the first to line up to get her swans.

“I was so excited,” said Ms Quinones, who drove about two hours to Lakeland to pick them up. “And they’re bigger than I thought they would be.”

Ms Quinones has ducks, pheasants and black swans on her 10-acre farm, which has two ponds, she said. She thought a pair of white swans would complement them. When swans are face to face, she says, their long, curved necks form the shape of a heart.

“They do it naturally,” she says. “I think it’s cute.”

Jose and Yesenia Gonzalez, Riverview, Florida.

The couple have a menagerie of animals on their two-acre property in Riverview, Fla., Including parrots, chickens, roosters, turtles and four swans – two black and two white.

When they heard about the sale of swans, everyone applied for a lottery to increase their chances of being selected.

“And it was I who won!” said Ms Gonzalez, a teacher who lived in Lakeland where she loved to watch swans at Lake Morton. “They are so beautiful. We have always wanted swans from the lake. We were very happy to get them back.

The Gonzalezs used a very large dog crate to bring the swans home. Ms Gonzalez said the new additions fit well.

“They get along with the other swans,” she says. “They are so happy to be together.”

Highland Village, Lakeland, Florida.

The community of 380 homes has three lakes in southern Lakeland. When Stephen Sandberg Jr., the president of the homeowners association, heard about the sale of swans, he thought it would be great to have some as neighbors.

“They are a symbol of Lakeland and I thought they would look beautiful in our lake,” he said. “There has been a huge wave of support since we let them go.

Birds preening in the main lake where residents watch them from a dock.

“They swim under the fountain and get wet,” he says. “They are beautiful animals, and I can’t wait for them to breed and for us to have more. ”

The association is organizing a competition to name the swans.

Lost Lake Apartments, Jacksonville, Florida.

The residential community with 280 units has an expansive pond “which we knew to be the perfect home for a pair of swans,” said Chelsey Southard, a regional real estate director for the Becovic Management Group, who oversees the property.

When the owner of the business, Muhamed Becovic, learned of the swan sale, he asked him to register, Ms Southard said.

“Swans really hold a special place in her heart,” she says. “I counted the days like Christmas until our pair of swans were safely brought into their new home.”

When the birds emerged from a crate by the pond, they wagged their tails and flapped their wings, video of their arrival showed. They then began to move to their new home.

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Retirement homes, torn by the virus, face a new crisis: isolation

KIRKLAND, Washington – After months of near isolation at his senior care facility, Charlie has not recognized his wife for almost 50 years. In another nursing home, Susan’s toenails got so long that she couldn’t fit into her shoes. Ida lost 37 pounds and stopped talking. Minnie cried and asked God to take her.

They are among the thousands of seniors stricken by another epidemic ravaging America’s nursing homes – an epidemic of loneliness, depression and atrophy fueled by the same lockdowns that were imposed to protect them from the coronavirus.

“A slow killer,” said Esther Sarachene, who said she had seen her 82-year-old mother, Ida Pasik, wither and fall mute during the months she was confined to her nursing room in Maryland. “She didn’t know who I was.”

Covid-19 continues to creep through the halls of long-term care facilities despite a series of security measures and visitor bans put in place months ago to slow the devastation.

More than 87,000 residents and workers have died from the virus, which has infected more than half a million people linked to the facilities, and new clusters continue to erupt with numbing regularity: 16 people were pronounced dead this month in a retirement home in Chesterfield, Virginia. ; all 62 residents of a Kansas nursing home infected.

At the same time, the damage of loneliness is being overlooked, say families and advocacy groups. They say widespread lockdowns are still needed to protect people from the virus, but also that facilities now face a growing physical and mental toll of social isolation as the pandemic shows no signs of slowing down.

One of the most serious deprivations of the pandemic is separation from family and friends. Experts say absence can inflict particularly severe damage on people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, thousands of whom have been confined to their buildings since March.

Long-term care facility operators say they are faced with an impossible choice between depriving residents of vital human contact and inviting the virus inside.

“We have to walk a very fine line,” said Robin Dale, president of the Washington Health Care Association, a business group that has noted a recent increase in cases of the virus at state facilities amid new news. national outbreak. “We need to work on more in-person visits, but it’s difficult at the moment.”

In more than two dozen interviews across the country, long-term care workers described increased confusion, anger and anxiety among residents. Family members said their loved ones are deteriorating in understaffed facilities that have cut back on physiotherapy, exercise classes and community visits.

A worker described how a resident told her one evening that she was the first person she had seen all day.

“Mum just isn’t here,” Deanna Williams said, as she and her two siblings traveled to Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash., To visit their 89-year-old mother. year-old Peggy Walsh, who loved to cycle across the country before developing. dementia.

Life Care, on the outskirts of Seattle, was the country’s first hotspot for Covid-19 in February, a location that provided a first glimpse of how the virus could tear homes apart. Forty-six residents of Life Care have died.

Since the outbreak, as the deaths of residents of long-term care facilities have risen to nearly 40% of the 229,600 coronavirus deaths in the country, Ms Walsh has spent every day sitting quietly in her wheelchair, facing to the fence and to the bushes outside his room. .

She used to say “I love you” when her children visited and kissed her, but it has now been eight months since they could touch her. Some days she doesn’t seem to notice when they wave her bedroom window or dance with decorative fall scarecrows to get her attention.

“If we could just give her a hug or a kiss on the cheek,” said another girl, Colleen Mallory. “It’s like losing her over and over and over again.”

Life Care has continued to operate throughout the pandemic, although families say its population of 200 patients has declined. The initial outbreak that killed dozens of residents and sickened many of the staff is now gone, but families say they are still receiving sporadic notifications of a new infection inside.

As Ms Walsh’s children chatted at a Starbucks before a morning’s visit, their phones suddenly rang in unison – it was a text message from Life Care reporting that a patient and three staff had been tested positive.

Life Care Centers of America, which has more than 200 facilities, faces wrongful death lawsuits from the families of two former Kirkland residents, and federal and state regulators have cited loopholes in its response to the outbreak .

Life Care has challenged the lawsuits and appealed the findings of regulators. In September, a Washington state administrative judge broadly sided with Life Care, saying the facility had violated certain regulations, but the evidence did not show that the care or health of residents had been threat.

Nancy Butner, vice president of the Northwest Division for Life Care, said the Kirkland facility is doing well and is a top notch facility. “They provide a high level of service in a safe environment that ensures peace of mind for our residents and their families,” she said.

In total, the virus has infected more than 581,000 people in some 23,000 long-term care facilities, including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, memory care centers, retirement and retirement communities. other care facilities for the elderly.

In the first few months of the pandemic, most senior facilities banned family and friends from entering their buildings. State and federal regulators have issued guidelines, restricting visitors and non-essential healthcare personnel and canceling communal activities in buildings. In the months that followed, even as illness and deaths continued in some facilities, government restrictions were relaxed in many places.

Research groups recently reported that thousands of nursing homes still face severe shortages of masks, gowns and other equipment. Adding to the risks, nursing home workers continue a long-standing practice of working across multiple facilities, which increases the chances of carrying the virus from one location to another, especially if the virus is more easily spread. this winter.

Mark Parkinson, president of the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living, a business group, said that despite the institutions’ efforts to protect residents, they are largely at the mercy of their surrounding communities.

For now, a patchwork of state and federal guidelines govern the way long-term care facilities handle visits from family and friends of residents. Some leave families indoors while many only allow outdoor visits, an option that decreases in colder weather.

Previously, relatives could visit to make sure residents finished lunch and brushed their teeth. A family member’s face and touch can be anchors, experts said, and such a presence helps spark people’s long-term memories.

“These familiar faces are what our residents rely on to determine whether they are in a safe place or not,” said Dr. Jim Wright, medical director of a nursing home in Richmond, Va., Who criticized the security conditions in an establishment where he worked after the death of 51 inhabitants in the spring.

At the start of the pandemic, Charlie Cape could still recognize his 50-year-old wife, Linda.

Mr Cape learned he had Alzheimer’s disease ten years ago and had spent the past two years in an elderly care facility in Sarasota, Fla. Where Ms Cape was returning to him. visit almost every day. A nurse, she sometimes helped him feed him, shower him, shave him and periodically give him a pedicure.

Her weight was stable, she said, around 180 pounds. He could string together a few words. He went to rallies that stood on his floor, even dancing with his wife on “My Girl” before the pandemic.

Then the installation stopped allowing visitors.

Ms Cape said she had tried speaking with her husband using video chats, but the technology was intimidating. He didn’t understand how the iPad worked and was going to look elsewhere or get up and walk away. On such calls between March and August, she could see that he was losing weight and retiring. He no longer participates in group activities, she says. She hadn’t understood anything he was saying for months.

Ms Cape said she did not blame the establishment for banning visitors, adding that she had been impressed with its staff and communication during the pandemic. The facility, HarborChase, did not respond to interview requests.

“Charlie doesn’t know us anymore,” she said in October after seeing him as the tours resumed. She and her son go every Sunday with a cookie and a diet coke, unless Mr. Cape is sleeping. Sometimes during these visits Mr. Cape sits down and cries.

Part of her decline may be attributable to Alzheimer’s disease, Ms. Cape said, but she believes the family’s long period of isolation has accelerated her progress. If nothing else, she feels that she has missed a crucial period in her life when he still knew who she was.

“I wish I had spent a little more time with him, a little more quality time,” she said. “It’s my regret.”

A survey of 365 people living in nursing homes across the country found that most no longer leave their rooms to socialize. Three in four residents said they felt lonely.

Susan Hailey, 77, is trying to recover from five months of isolation. She moved to Life Care Center in Kirkland to recover from knee surgery, but contracted the coronavirus and saw her roommate and closest friend at the facility die from the virus. She fell twice and began to hallucinate that the dead were visiting her.

“I missed talking to my family and touching them, kissing them on the cheek,” she says.

In August, she moved to a small adult care home where she started learning to walk again. She still has cognitive problems and can no longer read detective novels because she forgets what happened from paragraph to paragraph.

But she says she’s happy now and full of hope, and when her two daughters visited her one evening, Mrs. Hailey smiled and asked, “Touch me, okay?”

Jack healy reported from Kirkland, and Danielle Ivory and Serge F. Kovaleski from New York. Susan C. Beachy contributed to the research.