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The Latest: Ariz. gov. rejects call for online learning

Inside Telecom Staff

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The Latest: Ariz. gov. rejects call for online learning

PHOENIX — Arizona’s Gov. Doug Ducey has rejected the state’s top education official’s call for Ducey to order public schools to use only online instruction for the next two weeks unless they have waivers from health officials.

Amid a coronavirus surge in the state, Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said Saturday that schools need a two-week “quarantine period” while educators and local officials review health data and decide what type of instruction is appropriate for their communities.

A spokesman for the governor said Ducey wouldn’t issue the order because how schools open is a local decision.

Arizona on Saturday reported nearly 8,900 additional known COVID-19 cases and 46 deaths.

Ducey, a Republican, and Hoffman, a Democrat, were aligned last spring when he ordered schools closed because of the coronavirus, but she voiced reservations later as he urged schools to provide in-person learning. Guidelines issued by Ducey’s administration during the fall let students remain in in-person classes beyond what earlier guidance would have recommended.

Many Arizona school districts in recent months have provided hybrid learning that includes both distanced and in-person instruction, while others either were already on remote learning or returning to it this month.

Many schools are set to resume classes in the coming week after the winter holidays.


THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

The British government is facing mounting pressure from the teachers’ union to keep schools closed in England. The U.K. has reached a record of more than 57,000 daily coronavirus cases. On Monday, it plans to ramp up vaccinations, using the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

Tokyo’s Gov. Yuriko Koike is asking the national government to declare a “state of emergency” to curtail the surging coronavirus “in the name of valuing life.” Tokyo reported a daily record of 1,337 cases on New Year’s Eve and concerns are growing ahead of hosting the Olympics in July.

In Ohio, a 95-year-old woman who made 1,700 masks took a short break while she recovered from the coronavirus. During World War II, Miriam Looker inspected parachutes for the Army.


HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina has reported its highest daily number of COVID-19 cases yet.

The state reported 9,527 confirmed cases on New Year’s Day. That went over the state’s previous high by more than 1,000 cases. It reported nearly as many on Saturday: 9,356 cases. Cases for both days were released by the state health department on Saturday.

“We begin 2021 in our most dangerous position in this pandemic,” Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s health secretary, said in a statement.

North Carolina has reported a total of more than 558,000 cases.

On Saturday, 15.5 percent of tests were positive, the highest rate since the start of the pandemic. In addition, a record 3,479 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 and 783 people were in the intensive care unit.

The state reported Saturday that there were 144 deaths over the last two days. That brings the total number of deaths from the virus in North Carolina to nearly 6,900.


NEW YORK — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the state has recorded more than 1 million confirmed COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began.

New York reached that figure as it reported about 15,000 new positive tests on Friday. Experts say the official number of coronavirus cases represents a significant undercount, since many people in the New York City area were infected with the coronavirus last spring when testing was largely unavailable.

New York is the fourth state to report more than 1 million positive COVID-19 tests after California, Texas and Florida.

New York reported 128 COVID-19 deaths on Friday.


LOS ANGELES — Hospitals struggling to provide enough oxygen for the sickest coronavirus patients in the Los Angeles area received some relief Saturday when U.S. Army Corps of Engineers crews arrived.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office says crews helped some aging hospitals update their oxygen delivery systems. Besides the shortage of oxygen, they’re also having difficulty keeping with demand for oxygen tanks for discharged patients to take home.

The southern half of the state has seen the worst effects, with hospitals swamped with patients and full intensive care units. Makeshift wards are set up in tents, arenas, classrooms and conference rooms.

California started the new year on Friday with a record 585 coronavirus deaths in a single day. The state Department of Public Health on Saturday reported more than 53,341 new confirmed cases, bringing the total to 2.3 million.

There’s been 26,357 total confirmed deaths in California, making it the third state to exceed 25,000 deaths, behind New York (38,000) and Texas (28,000), according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.


LONDON — The U.K. has registered a record 57,725 daily coronavirus cases.

Government figures show the U.K. has recorded five straight daily highs — all above 50,000 and nearly double the levels of two weeks ago.

Also, hospitals in Britain have started receiving batches of the coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, approved by British regulators this week.

Some 530,000 doses of the vaccine will be available for rollout across the country from Monday. Nursing home residents and their caretakers, those over 80 and hospital staff are set to receive the first doses.

The Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath, part of Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust in southern England, was among the first to get the vaccine. Dr. George Findlay, the trust’s chief medical officer, says the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is “much easier” to administer than the Pfizer-BioNTech, which needs storage at extremely cold temperatures.

Second doses of both vaccines will occur within 12 weeks rather than the 21 days initially planned, following a change in guidance that aims to increase the number of people who get the first vaccine. More than a million people in the U.K. have received their first shot of the Pfizer vaccine.

The government says 445 people have died in the 28 days after testing positive for the coronavirus. That takes the confirmed total to 74,570, the sixth-highest death toll in the world.


MEXICO CITY — A doctor in northern Mexico had a severe allergic reaction to the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine and remains hospitalized in intensive care Saturday.

The Health Department didn’t name the doctor, but in a statement said she was in stable condition and treated with steroids and anti-convulsion medications.

It said late Friday that she suffered difficulty breathing, brain inflammation and convulsions a half-hour after getting the shot.

The 32-year-old doctor had a known allergy to an antibiotic medication.

The reaction occurred at a hospital in the northern state of Nuevo Leon and included a rash and weakness.


PHOENIX — Arizona reported nearly 8,900 coronavirus cases, giving the state a two-day pandemic high.

There were 10,060 cases reported Friday for a two-day confirmed total of 18,943. The state’s previous two-day high was 17,649 on Dec. 13-14.

Arizona reported 46 deaths on Saturday, increasing the total death toll to 9,061.

Arizona had the second-worst diagnosing rate in the past week, behind only California.


WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — The Navajo Nation has reported 266 confirmed coronavirus cases and seven more deaths.

The figures reported late Friday increased the tribe’s totals since the pandemic began to 23,429 cases and 813 confirmed deaths.

The number of infections is considered far higher than reported because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick.

The tribe’s reservation includes parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. The reservation was under a weekend lockdown that began Friday evening and ends Monday at 5 a.m.


LAS VEGAS — Community advocates and health officials are working to engage with Nevada’s diverse communities and reach out in Spanish and other languages as the state plans for mass COVID-19 vaccinations.

Erika Marquez, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas public health professor and vice chair of the Nevada Minority Health & Equity Coalition, says merely translating information about the vaccine into other languages is not enough and there must be a conversation with the communities.

The Las Vegas Sun reports Marquez’s group is working on vaccine education materials in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese and Thai.

The group plans to release short videos in a few weeks featuring community leaders and culturally relevant information for Black, Latino, Native American, Asian and Pacific Islander communities along with LGBTQ people and those who are deaf.


LOS ANGELES — Southern California funeral homes are turning away bereaved families because they’re running out of space for the bodies.

The head of the California Funeral Directors Association says mortuaries are being “inundated.”

One funeral home is averaging 30 body removals a day, about five times more than usual. Mortuary owners are calling each other to see if anyone can handle overflow, and the answer is always the same – they’re full.

Los Angeles County, the epicenter of the crisis in California, has surpassed 10,000 COVID-19 deaths. On Friday, California reported a record 585 coronavirus deaths.


FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Few Native American tribes have signed up to participate in clinical trials as coronavirus vaccines are developed.

The reasons range from suspicion and distrust tied to unethical practices of the past to the quick nature of the studies, which typically may need several layers of approval from tribes.

Researchers say without participation from Native Americans, tribes won’t know which vaccine might best be suited for their citizens.

About a handful of tribes have agreed to allow researchers to enroll their citizens in vaccine trials, including in the Southwest and Pacific Northwest. They point to a need to slow the virus among a population that’s been disproportionately affected.

About 460 Native Americans participated in the trials for the vaccine by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, including Navajos.


ATHENS, Greece — Greece has tightened its lockdown for the next week, closing retail shops, hairdressers and bookshops.

The restrictions come as the government plans to open all schools, from kindergarten to universities, on Jan. 11.

Churches will remain closed and won’t celebrate the annual Epiphany holiday on Jan. 6, nor will priests conduct the traditional blessing of the waters. Also, the nightly curfew will start at 9 p.m. The new rules take effect Sunday and run until Jan. 11.

Greece announced 40 deaths and 262 new coronavirus infections on Saturday.

There have been 139,709 confirmed infections and 4,921 deaths since the start of the pandemic.


RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia state Sen. Ben Chafin has died after contracting the coronavirus.

Lawmakers from around the state mourned Chafin’s death late Friday. The 60-year-old Republican state senator represented southwest Virginia and was from Russell County.

He was first elected to the House of Delegates in 2013 and then moved to the state Senate in 2014. Gov. Ralph Northam says Chafin “loved the outdoors, and he loved serving people even more.”

Chafin is the first Virginia lawmaker to die from the virus.


VATICAN CITY — The Vatican says it expects to start administering COVID-19 vaccinations in mid-January.

A statement on Saturday says vaccines, “enough to cover the needs of the Holy See and of Vatican City State.”

The brief statement didn’t say if 84-year-old Pope Francis would be getting the vaccine. But it specified priority would go to Vatican health and security workers, to the elderly and to “the personnel most frequently in contact with the public.” Some 450 people, including the Swiss Guards, reside in Vatican City, while many others work in its offices, museums and other facilities.

Vatican City has registered at least 27 confirmed cases of coronavirus. Some cases last fall included Swiss Guards, who generally attend events with the Pope.


NEW DELHI — India has tested its COVID-19 vaccine delivery system with a nationwide trial as it prepares to roll out an inoculation program to stem the coronavirus pandemic.

The exercise Saturday included data entry into an online platform for monitoring vaccine delivery, along with testing of cold storage and transportation arrangements for the vaccine.

The massive exercise came a day after a government-appointed panel of experts held a meeting to review the applications of potential vaccine candidates, including front-runner Covishield, developed by Oxford University and U.K.-based drugmaker AstraZeneca.

The government plans to inoculate 300 million people in the first phase of the vaccination program, which will include healthcare and front-line workers, police and military troops and those with underlying medical conditions over age 50.

India has confirmed more than 10.3 million coronavirus cases, second in the world to the U.S. More than 149,000 people have died in India, third behind the U.S. (347,000) and Brazil (195,000).

By The Associated Press undefined.

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Airline CEOs, Biden officials consider green-fuel breaks

Associated Press

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Airline CEOs, Biden officials consider green-fuel breaks

Chief executives of the nation’s largest passenger and cargo airlines met with key Biden administration officials Friday to talk about reducing emissions from airplanes and push incentives for lower-carbon aviation fuels.

The White House said the meeting with climate adviser Gina McCarthy and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg also touched on economic policy and curbing the spread of COVID-19 — travel has been a vector for the virus. But industry officials said emissions dominated the discussion.

United Airlines said CEO Scott Kirby asked administration officials to support incentives for sustainable aviation fuel and technology to remove carbon from the atmosphere. In December, United said it invested an undisclosed amount in a carbon-capture company partly owned by Occidental Petroleum.

A United Nations aviation group has concluded that biofuels will remain a tiny source of aviation fuel for several years. Some environmentalists would prefer the Biden administration to impose tougher emissions standards on aircraft rather than create breaks for biofuels.

“Biofuels are false solutions that don’t decarbonize air travel,” said Clare Lakewood, a climate-law official with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Real action on aircraft emissions requires phasing out dirty, aging aircraft, maximizing operational efficiencies and funding the rapid development of electrification.”

Airplanes account for a small portion of emissions that cause climate change — about 2% to 3% — but their share has been growing rapidly and is expected to roughly triple by mid-century with the global growth in travel.

The airline trade group says U.S. carriers have more than doubled the fuel efficiency of their fleets since 1978 and plan further reductions in carbon emissions. But the independent International Council on Clean Transportation says passenger traffic is growing nearly four times faster than fuel efficiency, leading to a 33% increase in emissions between 2013 and 2019.

The U.S. accounts for about 23% of aircraft carbon-dioxide emissions, followed by Europe at 19% and China at 13%, the transportation group’s researchers estimated.

The White House said McCarthy, Buttigieg and economic adviser Brian Deese were “grateful and optimistic” to hear the airline CEOs talk about current and future efforts to combat climate change.

Nicholas Calio, president of the trade group Airlines for America, said the exchange was positive.

“Airlines are ready, willing and able partners, and we want to be part of the solution” to climate change, Calio said in a statement. “We stand ready to work in partnership with the Biden administration.”

By DAVID KOENIG.

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Internet disruption reported in southeast Iran amid unrest

Associated Press

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Iran Telecom

Iran’s impoverished southeast has been experiencing wide disruptions of internet services, experts said, as unrest gripped the remote province after fatal border shootings.

Several rights groups reported in a joint statement that authorities shut down the mobile data network in the restive province of Sistan and Baluchestan, calling the disruptions an apparent “tool to conceal” the government’s harsh crackdown on protests convulsing the area.

The reports of internet interference come as Iranian authorities and semiofficial news agencies increasingly acknowledge the turmoil challenging local authorities in the southeast — a highly sensitive matter in a country that seeks to repress all hints of political dissent.

Starting Wednesday, the government shut down the mobile data network across Sistan and Baluchestan, where 96% of the population accesses the internet only through their phones, rights groups said, crippling the key communication tool.

After four days of unverified “localized regional network disruptions” amid the protests, NetBlocks, which monitors worldwide internet access, confirmed a new disruption to internet connectivity in the province beginning late Saturday.

“This is Iran’s traditional response to any kind of protest,” Amir Rashidi from Miaan Group, a human rights organization that focuses on digital security in the Middle East, told The Associated Press on Saturday. “Shutting down the internet to block news and pictures getting out makes (authorities) feel more comfortable opening fire.”

The week saw a series of escalating confrontations between police and protesters. Crowds with light arms and grenade launchers descended on Kurin checkpoint near Iran’s border with Pakistan on Thursday, Abouzar Mehdi Nakhaie, the governor of Zahedan, the provincial capital, said in comments carried by Iran’s semiofficial ISNA news agency. The violence killed one policeman, he added.

Earlier this week, protesters attacked the district governor’s office and stormed two police stations in the city of Saravan, outraged over the shootings of fuel smugglers trying to cross back into Iran from Pakistan on Monday. The border shootings and ensuing clashes killed at least two people, the government said. Many rights activists in the area reported higher death tolls without offering evidence.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Saeed Khatibzadeh, vowed Friday to investigate the deaths. Officials insisted that calm had returned to the streets.

The Iranian government previously has cut off internet access and cellphone service in tense times. In the fall of 2019, for instance, Iran imposed a near nationwide internet blackout as anti-government protests sparked by an increase in fuel prices roiled the capital of Tehran and other cities. Hundreds were reportedly killed in the crackdown nationwide.

Given that authorities targeted the mobile network and not the landline in Sistan and Baluchestan, the disruption likely wouldn’t appear on regular network data, said Mahsa Alimardani, researcher at Article 19, an international organization that fights censorship. The area already suffered from unreliable internet connections.

“This targeted shutdown was very intentional because they knew the realities of this province,” where people are poor and use cheap phones as opposed to computers, Alimardani said.

Sistan and Baluchestan is one of most unstable and least developed parts of Iran. The relationship between its predominantly Sunni residents and Iran’s Shiite theocracy long has been fraught. A low-level violent insurgency in Sistan and Baluchestan involves several militant groups, including those demanding more autonomy for the region.

The area also lies on a major trafficking route for drugs and petrol, which is highly subsidized in Iran and a key source of income for smugglers.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — By ISABEL DEBRE

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Nevada governor proposes giving tech firms power to govern

Associated Press

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Nevada governor proposes giving tech firms power to govern

Nevada’s governor on Friday unveiled a proposal that would allow technology companies to establish jurisdictions with powers similar to those of county governments, arguing the state needed to be bold to diversify its economy and pushing back against those who have likened the idea to company towns.

“This proposal is an exciting, unprecedented concept that has a potential to position Nevada as a global center of advanced technology and innovation, while helping to create immediate positive economic impact and shape the economy of the future,” Gov. Steve Sisolak said of his Innovation Zones idea. “As we’ve learned in the past, an emergency requires us to throw out the tried-and-true, discard the ‘How We’ve Always Done It’ manual and move on.”

Under the proposal, companies developing cutting-edge technologies that have at least 50,000 acres (200 sq. kilometers) of land and promise to invest $1.25 billion could establish “Innovation Zones.” The zones would be governed by a board responsible for overseeing zoning, taxation, law enforcement and other government functions on their land. It would override local county regulations.

The governor’s office of economic development would initially appoint three members to govern the zone, including two required to be from the company.

While the legislation does not specifically mention the company, the proposal is geared toward Blockchains LLC, a cryptocurrency company that owns 67,000 acres of land (270 sq. kilometers) in rural Storey County. Blockchains LLC hopes to build a smart city 12 miles (19 kilometers) east of Reno that would include underground data storage bunkers, 15,000 homes and a research and development park where entrepreneurs could invent applications of blockchain technology.

Blockchain is a digital ledger known mostly for recording cryptocurrency transactions. Local governments have also taken advantage of its secure record-keeping capabilities to document marriage licenses and facilitate overseas voting.

The Innovation Zone proposal has sparked concerns about ceding excessive amounts of power to technology companies. But Blockchains CEO Jeffrey Berns insists that the company’s technology has the potential to empower people to control their digital footprint.

“What we’re trying to build is a place where you have power instead of companies,” he told The Associated Press earlier in February.

An economic impact study commissioned by Blockchains projects the company’s Innovation Zone will create jobs, economic activity and revenue from a tax imposed on transactions made on the blockchain. The study projects Blockchains’ proposal will eventually generate $2.2 billion in direct output annually, about 1.3% of Nevada’s overall economic activity.

But forecasting the economic impact of unproven technology is difficult, particularly because many of the potential applications of the company’s ledger technology have yet to be invented.

Applied Analysis’ Jeremy Aguero, who authored the study, said the projections were based on more than cryptocurrency transactions and encompassed any action on Blockchains’ database made in Nevada or elsewhere. Blockchains, he said, planned to pilot its cryptocurrency in Nevada on industries like cannabis sales or in the gig economy and then expand its applications to other sectors and locations. All of the transaction taxes would be collected by Nevada.

“When we think about it in terms of the revenue estimates that are being yielded, it’s not just related to cryptocurrency. It’s related to any of the transactions that will add a block to the chain,” Aguero said.

Blockchain technology is already used to record financial transactions, store medical records and coordinate supply chain logistics. Sisolak said the purpose of innovation zones is to attract developers to Nevada as they devise new ways to use the technology.

“The applications of the technology are limitless. We cannot even imagine what their technology could be,” he said.

The yet-to-be invented applications are a key reason that Blockchains wants to establish an Innovation Zone. The company and the proposal’s proponents say small jurisdictions are not the ideal governmental bodies to make decisions about new technologies and a massive development that, in Storey County’s case, could increase the population tenfold.

“The traditional forms and functions of local government … are inadequate alone to provide the flexibility and resources conducive to making the State a leader in attracting and retaining new forms and types of businesses,” according to draft legislation.

Some locals disagree. Storey County resident Eileen Gay said that the mechanisms in place for development and project approval protect local interests and the environment.

“Oversight is what makes for safe, well-considered, well-balanced development,” she told county commissioners at a Feb. 16 meeting. “What is to prevent this 800-pound gorilla of a neighbor from swallowing our small neighborhood up?”

Developers may indeed invent new ways to use the digital ledger, but at an August 2020 Storey County Commission meeting, Blockchains lobbyist Matthew Digesti described the company’s proposal as something local governments routinely encounter: a “high-tech business park integrated with a master planned residential community.”

Sisolak said he understood that the Innovation Zones was unconventional, but he said the pandemic had proven that Nevada needs to be bold to diversify its tourism-driven economy. He said government and the private sector needed to work together to induce economy recovery.

“What we’ve been doing has not worked,” he said. “We cannot wait for economic recovery to come to us. We must accelerate and pursue innovative ways to inject Nevada with new and organic economic growth, and more jobs.”

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP)

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