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Wildfire smoke’s health impacts have only just begun
09/21/2020 12:00am

When he looked outside, he saw a gritty haze. Everything was covered in gray ash. Even indoors, the smell of smoke inundated his nostrils. He couldnt seem to get away from it.Jaffee wondered: If a main public health recommendation is to stay inside, why couldnt he seem to escape smoke Jaffe conducted an experiment, testing the air quality in his office. It registered at a level that wasunhealthy for sensitive groups, such as asthmatics.I started to walk around with a smoke monitor, and realized it was basically the same inside and outside, Jaffe says.For years, Jaffe has been studying the composition of wildfire smoke, overseeing a multimillion-dollar, multiuniversity study to monitor the air on the top of MountBachelor in Oregon. His work is part of a larger, global effort to understand whats in tiny bits of wildfire ash, and what they can do to human bodies and the environment.Ask us questions about your health & wildfire smoke at the bottom of this story, or click here.Those tiny, unhealthy bits of soot loom large for our collective health. The massive smoke waves that engulfed the Pacific Northwest this month are likely only a start to a climate-fueled health crisis in the Pacific Northwest of staggering breadth and depth, InvestigateWest found after a year of reporting that involved reviews of dozens of scientific studies, interviews with researchers across the U.S. and Canada, and an independent analysis of a decades worth of Seattle hospitalization data.Research is still ongoing and unprecedented fires are still tearing through the American West.But this much already is clear: Wildfire smoke is dangerous, with evidence mounting that it increasesthe likelihood of illness and perhapseven death, especially amogolder people and folks with underlying health conditions. Hazy, orange skies can cause anxiety that lasts years after a smoke event, and may even harm unborn children. And with climate change, more wildfire smoke is coming. But what were doing to prepare is inadequate, with poor communities, people of color, and outdoor laborers most vulnerable to dangerous exposure.Were living in a new world, Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee said recently. This is not the old Washington.So far this year, wildfires have scorched more than 3.2 million acres of California and all but obliterated whole towns in Oregon and Washington. Dozens are dead and dozens more have been reported missing, with tens of thousands forced to evacuate. Californias Bay Area residents suffered through days whenthe sun, blocked by ash, seemingly didnt rise, and the pall turned the Pacific Northwest daytimes into twilight.InvestigateWest is a Seattle-based nonprofit newsroom producing journalism for the common good. Learn more and sign up to receive alerts about future stories here.Without major changes in climate and forestry policy, things will only get worse. As North America faces increasingly long, hot, dry summers because of climate change, the number of deaths attributed to wildfire smoke could double by 2050. Even before the worst effects of climate change are upon us, wildfires are one of the major causes of pollution in America, with California, Washington and Oregon seeing some of the worst air pollution in the world during wildfires in recent years. Evidence is emerging that after a century of misguided fire suppression that has left Western forests hopelessly overstocked, so-called megafires are increasingly threateningthe health of millions of people as far away as the Midwest, at least. Put simply, smoke is bad, its getting worse, and climate change is exacerbating fires, says Sarah Henderson, a senior environmental scientist at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control in Vancouver, Canada.And yet, government and community efforts to protect the public from wildfire smoke are nascent. Most measures suggested by officials rely on individuals protecting themselves: closing windows, wearing N95 masks, staying indoors. But what if being inside isnt necessarily better What if someone cant afford an air filter or if they work or even live outside What do we do this year, when N95 masks are saved for essential workers, when most of Seattles new smoke shelters are closedand when cafes and day centers that the unhoused relied on have been shuttered for months Most urgently, what happens when wildfire smoke and the coronavirus mix Should we all become inured to this new inevitability, or is there any way to stop the onslaught of smokeScientists like UW Bothells Jaffe who study the problem say were entering an era in the American West. To prepare for the onslaught, we have to start by understanding the magnitude of the crisis. Dan Jaffe, right, and Dr. Praphulla Chandra Boggarapu, a post-doctoral research associate, talk about a homebuilt sampler used tocollecthydrocarbons and test for unique traces in smoke in the the Jaffe Group lab at the University of WashingtonBothell,Sept.26, 2019. Jaffe is a professor of atmospheric chemcstry in the UW Bothell Department of Atmospheric Sciences and in the School of STEM. Dan DeLong/InvestigateWest A microscopic enemyThe air of our modern world is full of small debris from human activities such as driving cars, refining oil, incinerating trash, building skyscrapers and making products in factories. The tiniest bits are classified as PM2.5, meaning particulate matter 2.5 micrometers or smaller. Thats 1/20th ofthe width of a human hair, or less.The particles are so small they can slip past the bodys defenses and lodge in the lungs. Decades of research in some of the worlds most polluted countries India, China, Nigeria haveshown that exposure to large amounts of PM2.5 can shorten life expectancies by up to two years by causing and exacerbating lung and heart conditions. Exposure to pollution-related PM2.5 is a leading environmental risk factor for early death worldwide.As wildfires began to be baked into North American summers and falls, researchers asked: If we know that wildfires make these dangerous small particles, too, can we assume they can wreak the same health damageExposure to wildfire smoke can provoke sharp headaches, shortness of breath and other temporary effects but exposure to PM2.5 means it can also increase the risk of severe respiratory illness, and even death. Some groups are more vulnerable than others: children, whose lungs are still developing people over the age of 65, whose lungs have weathered a lifetime of wear and tear and people of all ages with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease COPD and asthma. Sarah Henderson, the researcher in British Columbia,is one of the scientists whos been studying the health effects of wildfire smoke the longest. Shebegandecades ago, as B.C.s summers became warmer, fire seasons grew longer and more intense, and smoke regularly filled the air for weeks on end. She tracked asthma patients inhaler prescriptions and doctor office visits, showing that asthma and other respiratory illnesses, as well as inner-ear infections, increase during wildfires.Building on Hendersons work, dozens of other studies and reports from across the North American West have since shown that wildfire smoke increases trips to the doctor and time spent in hospitals. For example, in Montana in the summer of 2017, hospital admission rates for respiratory complaints doubled over the previous year, according to local officials. In Oregon in 2013, asthma-related visits to hospitals, doctors and pharmacists in smoke-affected areas were up, especially for those under 15 and over 65.You dont have to be right next to a wildfire to have a reaction: In August 2018, after weeks of smoke, the Washington State Department of Health noticed an uptick in respiratory-related emergency room visits for kids and adults across the state, even though fires were concentrated in the east. A review of data by InvestigateWest also confirmed an increase in respiratory-related admissions in Seattle hospitals during smoky years. Wildfire smoke may cause early death, too. A 2020 study tracked mortality over each Washington summer from 2006 to 2017, ultimately concluding that people of all ages and health backgrounds face a slightly increased risk of dying during and just after exposure to wildfire smoke. Older adults with underlying lung ailments face the most risk.Theres been a small group of us trying to show that this is a growing public health concern for a long time, says Henderson. And now everyone is saying, oh yeah, those guys were right A masked pedestrianwalks through Seattles downtown as thick, hazardous wildfire smoke from historically large and damaging fires burning mostly in California and Oregon blankets the Pacific Northwest on Saturday, September 12, 2020. Mike Kane/InvestigateWest Smoke is bad for us. What can we doAs Montana faced the worst wildfire year since 1917, Missoula County air quality specialist Sarah Coefield scrambled to support the community amid what she called apocalyptic smoke. Public officials had suggested that people evacuate. But even after 35 days of hazardous air, most werent budging. To protect the many residents who stayed, Coefield quickly emptied Missoulas tiny public health emergency preparedness fund, triaging whom to give air purifiers that support the high- efficiencyparticulate air HEPA standard, while finding more cash in order to buy more.The governor had declared an emergency and I said, This is an emergency, wheres the money recalls Coefield. Why cant I give clean air Looking back years later, shes still exasperated. There is not a mechanism in place to consider wildfire smoke a public health emergency.Stuck with few options and seeing hospital admissions rise, Coefield looked to a local nonprofit, Climate Smart, which the year before had already started a small program to deliver air filters to vulnerable seniors. During Montanas 2017 fires, the organizations staff made the same realization that UW researcher Jaffe would come to a year later 500 miles away in Seattle: that indoor smoke wasnt much better than outdoor smoke.So Climate Smarts executive director, Amy Cilimburg, bought more air filters to give away, putting the expenses on her personal credit card in the hopes that someone might one day pay it back. Climate Smart then gave HEPA portable air cleaners, which are mobile and can help to clean indoor air, to homebound seniors with lung troubles, families with newborn babies, health centers and schools. The nonprofit continues to dispense air filters to vulnerable families today, and the United Way eventually covered some of Climate Smarts costs for the 2017 fire. Coefield was relieved, and also a little annoyed. Without those extra efforts Coefield reaching out, Climate Smart stepping up the Missoula area probably wouldnt have seen so much support. I would love for everything to be systematic, she says.It would be great if it was not just one woman in a health department and one woman in a nonprofit trying to do what we can.Coefield expects to be on her own in the future, too. In 2018, her team applied for a post-fire mitigation grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, asking to use some of the money to buy air cleaners, purchase air monitorsand write a wildfire smoke mitigation plan. FEMA declined the purchasing of air filters, saying that they didnt fit the agencys cost-benefit calculation. That kind of broke my heart, because to me its super obvious that clean air is a public health benefit, says Coefield.She says FEMA officials told her that if another wildfire hits, theyre not going to come to Montana. They told us, essentially, we are on our own, and bootstraps and all, do what you can. Coefields not expecting any help from state officials either. Our state funding got cut in half a few years ago, she says, referring to a 42 cut by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. We have not asked for more money, perhaps because we dont expect to get it.With already slim budgets tightening, the question does become, how do we pay for this says Coefield. For what were doing, theres not established funding for this.Coefield and Climate Smart successfully raised funds for a stockpile of emergency HEPA filters, with funding from the private Montana Disaster Relief Fund. Some have been given to preschools and day cares, and Coefield has a cache from which she candistribute tohard-hit schools, if and when another wildfire occurs. But Coefields filters are given on loanand need to be returned when smoke abates. Her desire is for all public buildings to have updated air filtration systems people should be able to expect cleaner air whenever they go but outfitting Missoula schools alone would take $150,000, or 10times what Coefield and Climate Smart received from the Disaster Relief Fund. And schools are just a start.We need to help vulnerable and underserved residents, says Coefield. I dont know what to do with unhomed individuals, with people who dont have a place to go inside, or people who live in a trailer and cant afford an air filter. That all takes resources. Traffic heads east on I-90 as wildfire smoke obscures the view of T-Mobile Park, the home of the Seattle Mariners, September 11, 2020. Dan DeLong/InvestigateWest Can local governments offer a solutionIn the years since UW Bothells Dan Jaffe tested the air quality in his office, he and his students have worked with the city of Seattle to test different air filtration systems, monitoring indoor air quality to see what can be done to keep air safe. What type of MERV filter is best What about air curtains Are expensive systems really better Can cheap, do-it-yourself attempts work just as wellLocal governments are for the most part figuring these things out on their own. Last year, representatives and senators from Oregon and California including vice presidential candidateKamala Harris introduced four bills that would provide federal funding to upgrade public buildings and private businesses with clean air systems, establish emergency shelters, require farmworkers to receive N95 masks and education on the health impacts of smoke, and study the public health impacts of wildfire smoke. None hasyet passed either the House or the Senate.In the absence of coordinated federal support, a patchwork of prevention and response activities hasarisen across North America. They include Ashland, Oregon, which hasboughtair purifiers for vulnerable residents and set up a smokewise website.Washington state has kepta cache of N95 masks that can be given to the most vulnerable, such as unhoused people a stockpile that has diminished because of the coronavirus. Some organizations are stepping up, too. The Mountain Pacific chapter of the American Lung Association, for example, has previously run a program to give air filters to senior citizens in Eastern Washington with COPD. For a look at how Puget Sound communities are preparing for wildfires, check out these resources.But most towns that are used to being caught in wildfires crosshairs, such as those in Washingtons Methow Valley, are going it alone,trying to create a rural public health action plan with support from the University of Washington. They complain about limited resources from the state Department of Health, which has no dedicated wildfire smoke program and no funds available to respond to emergencies like wildfire smoke events for local health departments, says Elizabeth Coleman, a state spokesperson.For the most part, individuals are left to put recommendations into effect when they can. Our guidance is centered on how to protect yourself, which requires a lot from individuals, so were trying to talk early and often with people, says Julie Fox of the Washington State Department of Health. Last summer, the word was to use N95 masks, which, if fitted properly, can offer some protections. But now those masks aresupposed to be saved for essential workers. The main advice is for people to stay indoors, close their windowsand wait it out.But that may not do a lot, as Jaffes experiment showed. People who cant afford to make a clean air space inside those without HEPA filters or air conditioning, who live in old, porous buildings that easily let smoke inside, or who rely on open windows to keep cool may be as unsafe indoors as they are outdoors.Recognizing that not everyone can reup their HVAC system, city staff members who spoke to InvestigateWest say Seattle has tried to make public spaces safer. Last year, Seattle spent nearly half a million dollars upgrading several city buildings places like community centers and libraries with new air filters and air monitors to create smoke shelters, while encouraging local businesses to invest in air filters, too. California hasgone further, establishing a grant program to create clean air centers at public buildings like schools, senior centersand libraries in vulnerable communities across the state.The idea is that people who dont have their own clean air space at home those in precarious housing, the unhoused, those who cant afford air filtration systems can pop by a public space for a breath of fresh air. Last year, Seattle also encouraged residents to go to each others houses to wait out a smoke event, a way to share clean air and keep isolation at bay.But what seemed like an exciting innovation is now unfeasible during the coronavirus pandemic, with people told to socially distance and local businesses operating in reduced circumstances, if at all. According to Seattle city staffers, some public buildings remained open during the most recent smoke event: a few libraries kept bathrooms available for unhoused people, and two homeless shelters are undergoing air-conditioning upgrades to provide cleaner air. But most of the citys smoke shelters remained closed. A representative from the mayors office says the city is working on a contingency plan, with more shelters potentially opening in case of anotherextreme smoke event. One such shelter in the SoDo district was open during this months sustained smoke event. Meanwhile, residents were encouraged to make their own filter with a box fan.But its not clear smoke shelters are an effective public health solution because theyre not really an option for low-income people, explains Anjum Hajat, a University of Washington epidemiologist who researches health disparities.If they have jobs, Hajat says,they need to keep working to put money on the table. You cant really go to the day centers and hang out there all day. And if your job happens to be more of an outdoor job, then so be it. A woman walks across the Jose Rizal Bridge, as a blanket of wildfire smoke obscures the view of the Seattle skyline, September 11, 2020. Dan DeLong/InvestigateWest Government response mutedWashington state agencies have considered other ways to help low-income people afford changes in their own homes. Public Health Seattle and King County is partnering with the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency to distribute air filtration kits to some residents, staffer Shirley Tan said a moveJaffe and his colleagues have previously championed but she knows that theres going to be more of a need than we can provide for. Some state staffers have floated the idea of encouraging physicians to prescribe HEPA filters, which would mean they could be covered by insurance. Coefield, in Missoula, thinks governments should go even further and recommend air-conditioning systems as a medical device.But those ideas linger in reports and casual conversations. New programs are unlikely to move forward soon, as the same government employees responsible for figuring out how to prepare for and respond to the onslaught of wildfire smoke are now overwhelmed by the coronavirus.Jaffe wants policymakers to realize that proactive action now could help reduce health impacts and long-term costs: We need to be thinking about how climate change is impacting us, and how we can do these adaptations in advance, he says. Smoke may come, smoke may not come, but weve gotta be prepared.ForHajat, the UW epidemiologist, governments need to focus on reaching vulnerable communities. Maybe it starts with talking to folks about what they need. Maybe that includes partnering with community groups that know the community well and can reach out, he says.Jaffe is clear that building smoke shelters and testing air quality arejust a start much bigger changes are needed, right from the top. Without an international climate treaty that America agrees to, then theres no incentive for everyone else to reduce carbon, he says. Without that, these fires are just going to get bigger, more intense, every year.This summer, Jaffes home and office are inundated with smoke again. With Seattles air quality considered unhealthy, he rigged up a simple, do-it-yourself air filterconsisting of a simple box fan and a MERV filter. To his delight, it worked, bringing indoor air quality far into the healthy level. Tucked safely away in what he calls his personal smoke shelter, hes tracking measurements from air monitors he put together at the top of MountBachelor, as the Oregon sky turns gray. We certainly are having a lot of good smoke events, he chucklesbefore saying that even though its good for science, for him and the rest of us, its really challenging.Jaffes persistence to learn more about smoke and what it does to humans and the environment is admirable. And yet even without further studies, without more multimillion-dollar instruments, we know that wildfire smoke risks making us sick, maybe even killing us, with some of us deemed more disposable than others. The question now is: will cities, states and the federal government act And will they do so in a way that protects the oldest, the youngest, the sickest, the poorest Right now, overwhelmed officials are taking the relatively easy route of simply telling people to stay indoors, wear masks, be healthyand wait it out. Are we prepared to do that, for weeks or months on end Henderson, the British Columbia researcher, worries that after this months smoke and wildfires pass, progress will stop. Again.The problem with wildfires is everyone is thinking of it when it happens, and then if we dont have wildfires then we forget about it, she says. Human memories are very short. Sunrise attempts to break through a smokey haze created by western wildfires, September 9, 2020. Karen Ducey/InvestigateWest Topics: Climate, Health

New Seattle pantries fight food insecurity one fridge at a time
09/20/2020 11:59pm

The refrigerator, plugged in and nestled in the leafy shade of Seattles Danny Woo Community Garden, is part of a new, citywide network of so-called community fridges. Taking after similar projects in New York, Oakland, San Francisco, Milwaukee and other U.S. cities, a local group of volunteers installs and stocks the fridges as a way to get free, fresh food and produce to people who mayneed it, no questions asked. Amid rising food insecurity, this literally cool food pantry can keep produce and other surplus food donated by volunteers eggs, bread, yogurt fresh for longer.We all need food, and we all deserve it, says Christina Charlton, one of the Seattle Community Fridges volunteers. Plus,theres plenty of it, says Jordan Saibic, another volunteer. A lot of people dont have access to food, but there is actually so much food that is thrown away, either from restaurants or grocery stores, Saibic says. Charlton and Saibic kickstarted the Seattle mutual aidproject this summer after seeing Instagram photos of friends setting up brightly painted refrigerators on sidewalks in New York where some call them Friendly Fridges and in Los Angeles.Since then, the group has grown to 10-plusmembers and set up three working fridges, the one in the Danny Woo garden in the Chinatown-International District and two in the South Park neighborhood. There are at least four more in the works for locations in Beacon Hill, West Seattle and North Seattle. Community fridges are not a completely novel concept. Some say the idea originated in Berlin, nearly a decade ago, and volunteers have operated nonrefrigerated free pantries in the U.S. for a while.But ever since COVID-19 put millions out of a job and pushed food insecurity rates in the U.S.to record levels, neighbors have been pitching in. Some have turned Little Free Librariesinto Little Free Food pantries. Others have joined the international network built on a cooler cousin, the fridge the California-based nonprofit Freedge is mapping the rapidly increasing locations.In King, Pierceand Snohomish counties, food insufficiency rates have nearly doubled since the start of the pandemic, with one in 10 residents reporting not having enough to eat. People of color have been especially hard hit.Access to food and other economic issues are really exacerbated by COVID-19 and the economic consequences of it, Saibic says. Mutual aid networks like this are getting a lot more traction, and a lot more people involved, because theyre realizing that at any point they can be put in a position where they dont have access to food.Just as in other cities, the Seattle fridges are powered by the community. Literally, because someone has to pay for the wattage of a functioning fridge in their front yard, garden or driveway. Figuratively, too, given that the group relies on donations of refrigerators and food and volunteers to get them to the right place at the right time. Afree-food fridgein the Chinatown-International District, one of threeinstalled in the city by Seattle Community Fridge volunteers.Dorothy Edwards/Crosscut The group sources most of the fridges from people whove signed up to donate onlineor reached outvia Instagram and local Buy Nothing Facebook groups. Volunteers and local artists then paint them with bright colors and slogans in Spanish, English, Chinese and other languages, depending on the fridgeslocation.To oversee the complex operation, Seattle Community Fridge commandeers a giant, color-coded spreadsheet full of planned donations and volunteers who have signed up to host, drive or stock food.One of those early volunteers was Lashanna Williams, who now has a French-door fridge painted yellow with floating red flowers, by artist Emma Kates-Shaw on her front lawn in South Park. A recent peek inside revealed tofu, cartons of eggs, carrots, lettuce, berries and organic yogurt and milk. The fridges are there not only to address the immediate need of food and nutrients for people, Williams says. Its also a physical reminder that your neighborhood cares. From left, volunteers Beija Flor, Jordan Saibic and Marine Au Yeung install a community refrigerator offering free food in South Park, Aug. 20, 2020. This was the second refrigerator installed by Seattle Community Fridge. Dorothy Edwards/Crosscut On a sweltering August day, three Community Fridge volunteers built a shed to shelter the South Park fridge from future rain. Behind it, a table held a load of fresh vegetables including some oversized zucchinis from someones garden plus canned foods and sanitary pads, all free for the taking. Most of the food came from neighbors, Williams says, who either bought extras on their weekly grocery run, couldnt eat all the vegetables grown in their garden or just had some food they couldnt get to. But heed this advice: If you wouldnt eat it yourself, dont put it in the fridge.Like Williams, the donors are often solo citizens stocking the community fridges with whatever they have left or want to contribute. Local groups like Food Not Bombs, a longstanding free meal collective, and Pedaling Relief Project, a farm-to-city and food donation cycling collective, contribute fresh produce, bread and other perishable foods semiregularly. A local grocery store and food bank have also donated frozen food, Saibic says.Sometimes food banks dont have the capacity to store all the perishable food that comes to them, says Maddie Price, another Community Fridge volunteer who works at a hunger-relief nonprofit as her day job. Theres a need to keep up the flow of food through the emergency food system so that it does get to an end consumer before becoming food waste, Price says. Community fridges offer a very unique solution to that. The fridges also fill another role: bringing surplus carrots, zucchini and other produce grown on local farms or in private gardens to people who dont regularly have this type of food, Price adds. Instead of fresh produce, lower-income households will often spend their limited funds on less expensive, nonperishable foods such as rice and canned goods.Healthily grown food should be the default for everyone, Price says. Because its not just about food security, its nutrition security.Plus, Saibic says,unlike food banks, community fridges are available 24/7 and are largely anonymous. If we can get fridges directly in communities where people dont have to jump through any hoops of applying for things or having access to a computer, where they can just walk out on the street and grab the food that they need its one less barrier.While the group doesnt know who has been making use of the fridges part of the point is anonymity, Saibic says they regularly need restocking.I have seen photos of the fridges before they stock it, and noticed that a couple of days after a major restock its ... ready for another, Saibic says.With a small footprint, Seattle Community Fridge members know the project cant entirely solve hunger or food insecurity. Its one piece of a whole system thats needed, volunteer Charlton says. But, she says, if a small collective can help, everyone can. The group is not a nonprofit or foundation, she points out. Were just regular folks that were like, this is something that we have the capacity to do, and theres a need for it, Charlton says. So lets just do it. Article continues below Related Stories Topics: Agriculture, Coronavirus, Economy, Features, Food, Seattle & King County

What’s stopping King County from opening more homeless shelters?
09/20/2020 11:58pm

In response, officials opened several centers throughout the county, enough to house several hundred at a time.One of those facilities, on a vacant property in Bellevue, cost the county around $4.5 million to build, plus an additional $25,000 a month in utilities, security and upkeep, according to records King County provided through a public records request. The idea was the federal government would cover the cost eventually, so long as it was used specifically for COVID relief.Since that facility was completed, however, it hasnt been used, at least not for its stated purpose. The National Guard housed about170 guardsmen there for two nights during the tensest periods of this summers protests, but, to date, no homeless people have slept in the newly erected building.Thats a bit of good news: Homeless shelters have so far not seen the exponential spread of the coronavirus that some feared, and the recovery facilities havenot reached capacity. For its original purpose providing indoor space for COVID-positive individuals with nowhere else to go the Bellevue recovery center was not needed.There is still a need for additional temporary shelter in the area. Shelter capacity is stretched thin, and the recent wildfire smoke rendered spending timeoutside more unhealthy than usual, resulting in calls from advocates for smoke shelters to protest people living without permanent shelter. But for a number of reasons the Bellevue facility has not been used to serve those needs.For one, infrastructure set up in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic faces funding requirements. If the county is to be reimbursed by the federal government for the construction of the Eastside facility, it cannot be easily used for alternative reasons.We would not have erected any of these facilities without federal COVID-specific funding and that funding does limit the things that we can use them for, said Leo Flor, director of the King County Department of Community and Human Services.More broadly, staffing has been a challenge for new, temporary shelters in the county. Service providers say their capacity to provide trained staff is limited, and the county is hesitant to advertise for work that may last only three more months, depending on funding models.Its a very involved process to staff these things, said Will Lemke, director of external affairs withSeattles Human Services Department. It isnt as simple as opening a big room and turning the lights on and off. Youre managing large groups of people who may not know each other who have a whole variety of needs that need to be met.Nevertheless, with at least 5,000 people living outside in King County, advocates have pushed local officials and private businesses to work harder to bring people indoors by using vacant space or empty hotels. A group of activists recently staged what they called the Hyatt Hoax, issuinga fake press release announcing thatHyatt was providing rooms to homeless individuals. Several people then protested in the hotels lobby.Its not just about housing its about people having the resources they need to live, said Anna Humphreys, one of the organizers of the hoax. Were not seeing any of that getting better.In response to the public health hazards of wildfire smoke, Seattle and King County recentlymade useda site similar to the one in Bellevue, located in the citys SoDo neighborhood. The local governments opened it to about100 homeless individuals looking for a refuge last week. It closed for wildfire use on Friday.Threading the needle to open that site was delicate, said King Countys Flor, and involved assuring the federal government that the cost of using it in response to wildfire smoke would be covered locally to avoid jeopardizing COVID-related federal reimbursement.Staffing, too, was tricky. Only the Salvation Army, a religious organization, was available. Lemke said that, as a national organization, the Salvation Army was well-prepared to quickly stand up services and staff.But William Parham, a formerly homeless man who was involved with the Hyatt Hoax, said many people he knows who still live outside especially those in the LGBTQIA community feel uncomfortable with the Salvation Army.They do not feel welcome in that space, he said.For local service providers, finding and maintaining enough well-trained employees havealways been challenging. But the pandemic has made the picture even more complicated.In a press conference last week, Jason Johnson, director of the Seattle Human Services Department, saidSeattle Center was unable to open up more space for smoke refuge in its Armory building due to staffing constraints.Weve got people who would regularly be in this workforce who are scared and are saying, Im not going to go into that place because theyre asking me to do frontline work with 100 individuals. Thats dangerous, Im going to work somewhere else, said David Bowling, executive director of the Eastsides Congregation for the Homeless.Daniel Malone, executive director of the Downtown Emergency Service Center, echoed the point.Even if the money is available, expanding services means needing the capacity to hire, trainand supervise people, he said. The workforce of people experienced in helping people with behavioral health disabilities is not big enough, so it is tough to quickly staff up new operations knowing that you have to do a lot of extra training for people new to this work, and that bringing in experienced people means pulling them away from other activities that are already under a lot of strain.At the Bellevue facility, staffing has been an issue pretty much from the start. Back in April, in a question and answersession with Eastside stakeholders, county staff blamed staffing logistics challenges that have led to the delayed opening of some of our COVID-19 Response Facilities, including Eastgate.Particularly challenging is that much of the emergency-related funding is time limited, which makes hiring even more of an issue because the county at this point canpromise only three months of work.Its turned out not to be an issue in Bellevue about 1,200 people have used the recovery centers, said Flor, and the spaces in SoDo and Shoreline have managed to handle the need.But, Flor said, the county feels comfort knowing that if another spike in COVID cases occurs in the fall, the Eastside facility is ready for an overflow. Despite all the complexity, it was worth it and we would do it again, he said. We might still need these sites.In the meantime, Parham and Humphreys, who were behind the Hyatt Hoax, said theyd like to see more urgency in finding space for people to move indoors. Parham said the initial flurry of activity around finding hotel space for homeless individuals was remarkable.Since that first act of compassion, the city has really limited shelter space and has not offered substitutions, he said.Humphreys said thedemonstration at the Hyatt was not a success from the perspective of pressuring the hotel into accepting people that night. But it was successful in what it did to force a broader conversation.Our larger goal was that people would see there are vacant spaces that could shelter people in the city and that are sleeping on the streets in spite of that, she said. Topics: Homelessness

When White Salmon, WA, had the world’s worst air quality
09/18/2020 12:00am

It was obviously beautiful, but there was this unnerving feeling, she says. It almost feels like what I would imagine a war zone to feel like. Just this sense of dread and inescapable uncomfortableness.With wildfires raging across the Pacific Northwest, fire and smoke have hit Washington state hard. This smoke event marks the most days our monitoring sites have recorded hazardous air quality going back to 2000, and the majority of the state has experienced three or four days in a row of very unhealthy to hazardous air quality, said Washington State Department of Ecologys Beth Friedman Tuesday.But White Salmon, just south of the Yakama Indian Reservation and across the Columbia River from Hood River, Oregon, was in a uniquely bad position: Available sensor data show the Klickitat County town may have experienced the most hazardous air quality in the world over the weekend. Based on the Washington Department of Ecologys White Salmon monitor, over the three days from Sept. 11 to 13, the Columbia River Gorge reached an average of 687 micrograms per cubic meter of PM2.5 an unprecedented concentration of those particulates deemed most concerning for respiratory health.The corresponding AQI for thatis 623,Friedman says. This is beyond Hazardous classification,based on the national Air Quality Index score for air pollution.To put things in perspective, the worst PM2.5 levels Seattle saw this week were 264 micrograms per cubic meter, or an AQI ofabout 220.On Sunday, it sunk in for White Salmon Mayor Marla Keethler that something was seriously wrong. The smoke that began rolling in Thursday was stifling and claustrophobic, and even more noticeable and alarming to her than the smoke from 2017s Eagle Creek Fire. With the knowledge her town may have been the most polluted place on the planet, she decided to put out an emergency proclamation curtailing peoples outdoor activities, despite the impacts to people who work in agriculture and to the tourism-driven economy of her 2,200-person community, already restricted by the pandemic.I think my first reaction was maybe this emergency proclamation is something I should have declared Friday, when we started seeing these numbers skyrocket, Keethler said by phone Wednesday.Ashley Nelson has felt those impacts. Nelson, who is part of an artist co-op in nearby Hood River, has seen sales drop to basically zero since the smoke settled into the Gorge. She also has a pear orchard that she hasnt been able to harvest. Its already been a tough year there without the smoke, she says.Keethler says wildfire planning has been a safety priority in White Salmon for years because of the threat of more fires and longer fire seasons in Washington, but smoke has never been something singularly that we have flagged or thought we needed to address as being its own emergency or extreme situation.Theres not a fire knocking our doors, but the air should be a reminder that were still at great risk of, if this stays, who knows what the health effects are of being in a hazardous area for this long Keethler says.Around townSome White Salmon residents report using air purifiers they purchased during the Eagle Creek fires, but many are struggling to find ways to keep indoor air clean. Facebook groups are full of neighbors trading resources and DIY purifier hacks boiling water with baking soda and herbs, for one, with dozens of posts showing off their best fan-and-filter efforts. A number of residents say theyve looked at their filters after a day or two of use, only to see the filter unsettlingly darkened by smoke.Kent Lay works in customer service at the White Salmon Ace Hardware store. The store has sold out of the air filters required to clean smoky air, which people started buying around Friday to put behind fans. The Dalles, Portland, Vancouver everybody is seeing a mad rush to buy box fans and filters, Lay says. More people have come in to buy weather stripping for doors and seals for windows, which is especially helpful for less insulated older homes. Its just not something that we commonly live with for this lengthy period of time, he says.View this post on InstagramSmoke Gets In Your EyesA post shared by Jim Henderson jhendersonphotographer on Sep 13, 2020 at 10:45am PDT//--//--Ive worked outside for an hour, hour and a half when it wasnt that bad, Lay says. But over time, I can tell that I am starting to cough a little more. Im 62. It doesnt seem to bother me as badly as it does others. But long-term effects Now that remains to be seen.As the smoke rolled in, peoples daily routines changed in unnerving ways.Heidi Venture, who has family in White Salmon, gets up every morning and checks the air quality first asking Siri, then checking open source AQI program PurpleAir.com, then WebSky. Two of my sons live in White Salmon, she says One has gotten very sick from the smoke hes an essential worker in IT support, and was out in the smoke at its worst. Now hes home in bed.The first night, the smoke woke Venture up in Hood River, so she took her air conditioners out of the windows. Now every time she opens her door, she says, she feels like shes breathing in dead trees, dead animals, dead flowers.It made me feel so hopeless and sad. I cried every day at first. I coped by crying, and by calling friends to check on them, Venture says. With the isolation of COVID-19 lockdown and fear for the future swirling together, I got in a bit of a hole of sadness, she says. To see so many large fires burning the places I love was terrifying, disheartening. ... I really dont know how to describe it. It felt like the apocalypse was beginning right here.Cassie Wilson evacuated from the chaos and panic of fires near her home in Boring, Oregon. She went to her grandparents home in White Salmon on Sept. 9, only to find herself at the center of extreme smoke. For once, the Gorge was the safe place without fires, and we knew there were no fires around them, so we went there to get away, she says. Her grandparents covered their air conditioning unit with a blanket to help filter pollution, and had a box fan with a filter going but they accidentally left windows open upstairs for a bit. My grandparents are both asthmatic and have a pulse oximeter and both of them read in the low 90s the morning after the smoke arrived, says Wilson, who returned to Oregon on Wednesday.Sasha Bentley says its scary to see AQI numbers go off the charts and learn you live in the place with the worst air quality. I share a small piece of land with deer and turkeys and rabbits and hummingbirds and so many other animals that cant escape the smoke like I can, she says.She has a 7-month-old baby and only one air filter, which means theyre all staying in her childs room right now. She crawled for the first time on our mattress in front of her crib, Bentley says.Voice actor and audiobook narrator Mikael Naramore says that despite running a studio HVAC system with smoke-standard air filters around the clock, hes still unable to work.I was doing pretty well during the pandemic, even at its worst. I had more work than ever voice actors are the only folks in the industry still getting regular work and could still spend plenty of time outside, he says. Now my family and I are stuck indoors, struggling to breathe, with headaches and low energy. Add in the stress from trying to do distance learning with two young kids and weve kind of hit our wall.I think people were already tired of so many limitations and changes to their daily lives with the pandemic, says Julie Fox, air quality epidemiologist with the Washington State Department of Health. For some, it seems like being months into the pandemic has made it easier for them to adapt so quickly. In others I see frustration, or even desperation, and maybe that leads to not following health recommendations.The health fieldThe health impacts of wildfire smoke are in many ways still being established, medical experts say. While its complicated, research shows more people experience worse health outcomes as the air quality gets into those higher categories, Fox says.In the short-term, local medical professionals are seeing respiratory problems compounding those of the pandemic. The smoke presents an extra challenge as we rule out COVID because of the overlapping health conditions, says Debi Budnick, community health and outreach coordinator at Skyline Health in White Salmon.Erinn Quinn, director of public health with Klickitat County Public Health, said Wednesday that the county had seen one case of COVID in the past six days, with a decrease over the past two weeks.We are hearing from our patients they are suffering from a general smoke depression, Budnick says. It was already hard to continue to social distance and limit group activities during this time of COVID, but we still had the outdoors to go enjoy.Fewer patients have come into the facility, but more reported smoke-related headaches, coughs, asthma exacerbations and more difficulty breathing than usual. There was a significant increase in calls to the COVID Nurse Hotline with people concerned about sore throats and respiratory problems.View this post on InstagramCurrent View Day 6 Ghost Valley :: Ghost Ridges breathe maskup ghostvalley ghostridges toomuchsmoke climatechangeisreal thewestcoastisburning nofilter gorgelife whitesalmon viewsformiles currentview Waachila viewobsessed viewblessedA post shared by Kristin Lee Amundson-Speer kristinleeamundsonspeer on Sep 16, 2020 at 2:56pm PDT//--//--More than that, theres been an uptick in the number of respiratory-related emergency room visits, which has staff especially concerned about the homeless population. And Skyline staff worries that people are protecting themselves from smoke with cloth COVID masks, which arent as effective as the KN95 masks they reserve for vulnerable patients.Budnick says the county emergency operations center planned to send 500 masks to Skyline, but because of COVID restrictions, residents couldnt get to the hospital to pick them up. To complicate things further, since it was a Saturday, most public service offices were closed, she says. The local police department stepped in to help distribute 200 masks to people in low-income areas, clinics, farms and food banks. We could have given out thousands of these honestly, but we only received an initial amount of 500, which went very quickly, she says.Whats nextKeethler says this smoky period feels like a surreal, sad reckoning for dealing with climate change a sobering reality to see playing out at home instead of somewhere on the other side of the world.But you think about all the communities across Oregon and California, she says. This smoke that were seeing and experiencing is this constant reminder of how many homes and communities have been lost. Its tough, because we feel fortunate that were only having to deal with the smoke issue.Keethler hopes to prepare for future smoke and fire in the towns 2021 budget. We need clean-air shelters. Were a community with a lot of older homes and those residents have probably felt this worse than those in newer homes with better ventilation, Keethler says. If a wildfire broke out nearby, Keethler says, there wouldnt be many evacuation routes out of town.White Salmon City Councilor David Lindley says the town will pick back up on initiatives already in motion, like working with the state Department of Natural Resources to thin and manage vegetation at the border of urban areas and wild ones reviewing evacuation routes researching equipment that could be installed along the bluff south of town to slow or stop a fire and discussing ways to improve community and individual emergency preparedness.Hood Rivers Venture says that though people in the area deal with smoke almost every year, this time is different. Its worsening as time passes, she says. My firefighter friends have told me that everything is going to burn, unless something changes. Topics: Climate, Disasters, fire, Health, Washington State, Wildfire smoke health effects

Joining the fight for racial justice? Learn to find accountable leaders
09/18/2020 12:00am

Similarly, creating social change requires having an accurate analysis of the root causes of injustice and a functional knowledge of the tools available to effectively intervene. Just like jumping in to help at the site of an accident without the requisite skills, it is possible to do more harm than good, as I wrote in my last column. What if a bystander at the accident brings you a Valium to help with the pain, or wraps your ankle in a T-shirt because it looks swollen These may be the right remedies, or they may trigger an allergic reaction or some other complication. Inept treatment can be more damaging than no treatment at all.Likewise, having a Black family member, working for a nonprofit led by a person of color or having an Asian best friend doesnt make you anti-racist, nor does it confer a right to declare yourself an expert in the struggle for racial justice. And the middle of trauma isnt the best place to read a book or have a conversation about trauma. Nor is it the time to lecture on seatbelt safety, distracted driving or helmet laws. Rather, thats the time to identify those who have been preparing themselves to lead and follow their instructions.What you need at the accident site is a professional, someone experienced in dealing with medical trauma. Maybe that third person, the one telling them to stop moving you, is a nurse, doctor or other medical professional who has spent years learning how to assess and treat people in crisis. They are experts. Youre in luck if one is onsite at your accident and steps in to direct your care, provided, of course, the others also onsite step aside and accept the direction of the professional.How do you know who the right leader isImagine the accident victim getting to the hospital and being met by a surgeon who immediately calls in all the bystanders and asks them what to do. Racist systems work in a similar way. Such systems have a history of anointing their preferred leaders rather than those known by and accountable to oppressed communities funneling resources to those individuals or organizations, then declaring disappointment when the programs are ineffective or corrupted.Thats what Jenny Durkan did in early July when she opted to set up a secret meeting with individuals she labeled as leaders of the protests, but who had no record of effective leadership, nothing to show their analysis of racism, no proposals crafted from years of experience. She excluded the NAACP, Africatown, Creative Justice and the many other organizations that have worked for years to bring justice to the legal system and have engaged with her office many times. She passed them over for individuals with limited history and experience, in effect guaranteeing the ineffectiveness of any solution.To identify an effective leader, ask questions: Is this their first venture into crisis Have they done the self-preparation to lead If so, do they already have tools for analysis of the situation and can they quickly suggest remedies Are you a medical professional is a great question to ask before following someones instructions at a car accident. Likewise, researching a person or organization to learn what they have done in the past is a good place to start.Do they have a track record of creating effective change Dont know if theyre qualified What has this person or organization done for community is another legitimate question for assessing their track record.Im often asked, There are so many different Black people and organizations, how do I know which to follow My response is always the same, There are so many different white people and organizations, how do you know who to followThere are many organizations, some even led by people of color, claiming to be effective. Attend any of their fundraisers and theyll bring out one or two individuals whose lives were transformed by their program. Its wonderful, moving. How many other lives have their programs changed What barriers, if any, do they face in having the resources to be more effective Are the primary beneficiaries of the organization the well-paid staff or the actual vulnerable populations they claim to serve Ask people in those vulnerable populations. If homeless people have never heard of a program that claims to care for the homeless, find out why. If someone claims to be an anti-racist organizer, find out who they claim to be organizing and ask the allegedly organized for information about the organizers effectiveness. If a diversity, inclusion and equity trainer seeks your support, ask what organizations they have worked with, then ask people of color within those organizations about the effectiveness of the trainers program.Is the leader focused on fixing Black or brown people or on dismantling the systems that deny Black and brown people the opportunities for self-determination Do their programs teach people how to survive within racism, while never addressing the racism that creates the adverse conditions Do they address problems in the Black community, or is their focus on the lack of hiring, funding for entrepreneurs, overburdened taxation, unavailability of healthy food options and other systemic attacks on opportunities that underlie those problemsAnother trait of effective leaders: They will understand the current context of their actions and use appropriate remedies. Organizers and leaders working to bring about social justice need fluent understanding of the current context, tools and methodologies available to them. Marching in Selma may show a one-time commitment to ending racism, but it isnt a qualification for leading today. Congressman John Lewis, the icon of effective, consistent, anti-racist organizing, kept current with his strategies and tactics until his dying day. In our region, Nikkita Oliver, Kshama Sawant and K. Wyking Garrett afford a 21st century understanding of the morphology and evolution of racism while offering remedies appropriate to this era.Effective leaders have an action plan. They come with solutions based on nuanced, thoughtful, well-reasoned understanding of the problem. They provide steps and methods for making things better. Many ineffective attempts to address racism have focused on fixing the victims, rather than removing the systems of oppression. Providing housing is necessary, but all the housing in the world wont help if people are being methodically excluded from both the sectors that create the most jobs and the education necessary to qualify for those jobs.Finally, good organizers live by one principle: community empowerment. Do their actions result in strengthening the community they purport to serve, or only enhance them and their immediate circle If the latter, stay away. Are they trying to fix people who are oppressed or fix the systems of oppression Do they exhibit respect for the diversity within the community they serve, or do they focus on a single oppression while oppressing others Do they dialogue with and listen to community decisions or take unilateral action the community will not support or sustain in the long run Are they listening to the accident victim or doing whatever they wantHere, its important to say: Racism has nothing to do with love or hate. Just as male rapists seldom hate women, racists seldom hate Black people. In both cases, the issue is the need to feel superior. If a person or program is attempting to make people of color more like white people, it is racist. If it is asking how white people can get out of the way so people of color can make decisions for ourselves to live free and flourishing lives, it is anti-racist. Most programs in history have been the former. They have failed because there is nothing inherently wrong with us. We are as equally magnificent and equally flawed as our white counterparts. In every case where there have been opportunities, we have used them to thrive and become self-sufficient. To paraphrase Jesse Jackson, look how much excellence Black musicians and athletes brought once barriers were removed in their fields, and imagine how much better the world would be if those same barriers were removed in science, math, engineering, technology, education, law, medicine, and every other field.Next time, Ill explore how white people can prepare themselves with an accurate analysis and the right tools to become effective anti-racists. Topics: Law & Justice, Race

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Mysteries Decoded – “The Montauk Experiments”
09/18/2020 7:33am

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09/16/2020 2:04pm

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Tell Me A Story – “Chapter 9: Deception”
09/16/2020 2:04pm

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Travel leaders test Covid-19 safety measures at Canadian border
09/21/2020 9:52am

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Patti Payne: Norm Rice extols value of 'civil discourse' in new book
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Boeing offers $700,000 to help wildfire victims along the West Coast
09/21/2020 12:17am

Boeing on Friday awarded $700,000 in grants to communities in Washington, Oregon and California to help those areas through a humanitarian crises caused by wildfires. Thousands of our families, friends and neighbors have been displaced around the West. We are committed to helping them through this exceptionally challenging time, Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Stan Deal, said in a news release.It was a rare public statement by Deal, a private but respected executive who hasnt

Patti Payne's Cool Pads: Corkrums' gated Madrona manse lists for $3.2M
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Seattle shuts down Great Wheel pier after partial collapse of neighboring Pier 58
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Though the city says no damage to Pier 57 was observed, it could be affected if the remaining part of Pier 58 fails.

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Adding Fuel To The Fire Of Our Pandemics
09/21/2020 8:58am

Forty-five fanned the flames of fear and uncertainty about COVID-19 with false comments about the virus. First, he said it was going to go away, and that it was no more severe than the flu. Then he suggested a drug, hydroxychloroquine, that has proven to be ineffective. Then he jokingly suggested Lysol or bleach to cure the virus.The post Adding Fuel To The Fire Of Our Pandemics appeared first on The Seattle Medium.

National Black Voter Day
09/21/2020 8:13am

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Supreme Court Decision Jeopardizes CFPB’s Future And Its Independence
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Although the case known as Seila Law v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, was argued on March 3 of this year, its origins date back to 2017 when Seila Law, a California-based debt relief firm, asked the CFPB to set aside a civil investigative demand CID that sought information to determine whether it was engaged in illegal debt relief practices. The post Supreme Court Decision Jeopardizes CFPBs Future And Its Independence appeared first on The Seattle Medium.

Podcast: Nana’s Southern Kitchen
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Rhythm & News interview with Todd Minor, owner of Nanas Southern Kitchen, about how the support of the community has allowed his business to flourish during the COVID-19 pandemic. Interview by Chris B. Bennett.The post Podcast: Nanas Southern Kitchen appeared first on The Seattle Medium.

Podcast: The Black Wealth Gap In 2020
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Rhythm & News interview with Charlene Crowell with the Center For Responsible Lending about a recent report that shows that Blacks households earn 61 cents for every dollar earned by White households. Interview by Chris B. Bennett.The post Podcast: The Black Wealth Gap In 2020 appeared first on The Seattle Medium.

The Seattle Times
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Democrats unveiling temporary funding bill to avert shutdown
09/21/2020 10:18am

WASHINGTON AP Democrats controlling the House are on track to unveil a government-wide temporary funding bill on Monday that would keep federal agencies fully up and running into December. The measure would prevent a partial shutdown of the government after the current budget year expires at the end of the month. The stopgap funding

Man accused in 1976 double slaying to get another psych exam
09/21/2020 10:15am

MARINETTE, Wis. AP A judge ordered another competency exam Monday for an 83-year-old man charged with killing a couple in a northeastern Wisconsin park in 1976. An attorney for Raymand Vannieuwenhoven asked for a second opinion on the most recent psychiatric exam, which showed the defendant is competent to proceed with the case against

NY judge: Postal service must timely process election mail
09/21/2020 10:09am

NEW YORK AP The U.S. Postal Service must live up to its responsibilities to timely process election mail by treating it as a priority, a New York judge ordered on Monday, adding that the agencys workers should be permitted to make extra deliveries and work overtime near the November presidential election. The written decision

Desert homes threatened by enormous California wildfire
09/21/2020 10:07am

JUNIPER HILLS, Calif. AP An enormous wildfire that churned through mountains northeast of Los Angeles and into the Mojave Desert was still threatening homes on Monday, but officials said calmer winds could help crews corral the flames. At 165 square miles 427 square kilometers, the Bobcat Fire is one of the largest ever in

GAO: Millions in danger of missing coronavirus payments
09/21/2020 10:02am

WASHINGTON AP A government watchdog says millions of Americans are in danger of missing coronavirus relief payments of up to $1,200 per individual because of incomplete government records. The Government Accountability Office, Congress auditing arm, said in a report Monday that possibly 8.7 million or more individuals who are eligible for the economic impact

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