Monday News: Twenty two thousand, nine hundred twenty two


COVID HOSPITALIZATIONS IN NC DROP BELOW 1,000: At least 2,606,754 coronavirus cases have been reported in North Carolina, and at least 22,922 people have died since March 2020, according to state health officials. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services on Friday, March 11, reported 1,849 new COVID-19 cases, up from 1,783 the day before. An additional 30 coronavirus-related deaths were added to the total. At least 960 people were reported hospitalized with COVID-19 as of March 11, a drop from 1,012 the day before. The last time fewer than 1,000 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 was July 25, 2021. 182 adults were being treated in intensive care units as of March 10, health officials said. As of March 8, the latest date with available information, 3% of coronavirus tests were reported positive. A lot of good developments, but I can't help but wonder when the next viral shoe will drop.

NEW NC DHHS LEADER PUSHES FOR CHANGE IN GAY MALE BLOOD DONOR RULES: North Carolina’s top health official, joined by public health leaders from eight other states and the District of Columbia, is asking the Food and Drug Administration to lift a three-month waiting period for gay men who are sexually active to donate blood. On Thursday, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kody Kinsley sent a letter to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf asking the agency to remove a blood donor deferral policy that prevents men who have had sex with another man in the last 90 days from donating blood. In addition to Kinsley and N.C. Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Tilson, the letter was signed by health officials from California, Connecticut, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Oregon and Washington, D.C. Up until a few years ago, gay and bisexual men were subject to a lifetime ban on blood donation that was put in place in 1983, at the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In December 2015, the FDA lifted the ban, replacing it with a policy allowing gay and bisexual men to donate blood, but only if they hadn’t been sexually active for 12 months. The deferral period was shortened to 90 days in April 2020, soon after the start of the coronavirus pandemic, when there was a substantial drop in the nationwide blood supply. This was always a questionable policy, needs to be done away with entirely.

MORE LUXURY HIGH-RISES COMING TO DOWNTOWN RALEIGH: The development known as Salisbury Square is due to feature two different 20-story residential towers with 600 multi-family units, a 660-space parking deck, 62 housing units and parcel for future hotel development. The North Carolina Association of Educators Inc. is listed as the previous owner of the land, which is just west of the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. Phase-one construction at the 4.9-acre site is expected to begin in May to build the first residential tower. The tenants will have first-class amenities, which include a sky deck terrace, a pool and an area offering unobstructed views of the city. The units in the phase one tower are expected to be ready by spring 2024. The phase-one tower is also set to become Dogwood State Bank’s headquarters. “Dogwood was founded on the philosophy of providing first-class customer and employee experiences in all facets of our company,” Dogwood State Bank CEO Steve Jones said. “Being a part of the growth of downtown Raleigh while contributing to its vibrancy and progression highlights our continued focus on creating those experiences.” Phase-two construction will add a second 20-story residential tower. Dominion Realty Partners will partner with a New York Life Insurance Company subsidiary, New York Life Real Estate Investors, on the joint venture.

POSTAL WORKER LOSES ARM IN GREENSBORO DISTRIBUTION FACILITY ACCIDENT: The arm of a mechanic working at a U.S. mail facility in North Carolina was amputated last year after coming into contact with a machine that had a safety guard removed, the U.S. Labor Department has found. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration said it inspected the facility in Greensboro following the injury in late September. The agency released its findings in a news release on Friday. The U.S. Postal Service operates the Greensboro Network Distribution Center. The federal inspection identified “repeat and serious safety violations, including failure to ensure that safety guards were in place as required and allowing conveyor guards to be routinely removed, leaving workers at risk of injuries,” the news release said. The facility also failed to train staff on working near conveyors or proper methods for safely operating equipment, the agency said. And the facility allowed workers without adequate training and protective equipment to perform tests on live electrical equipment, the news release said. The agency said its citations come with $170,918 in proposed fines. Workplace safety is no joke. I actually got my leg caught in a skid wrapping machine when I was 19, lucky I didn't lose it.

RUSSIAN MISSILE ATTACK WAY TOO CLOSE TO POLAND'S BORDER: At least 35 people were killed and 134 injured early Sunday when a barrage of Russian missiles slammed into a military facility in western Ukraine about 15 miles from the border with Poland, bringing the fighting ever closer to NATO’s borders. The strike came a day after the Kremlin warned that it viewed Western weapons shipments as “legitimate targets,” heightening the possibility of a direct conflict with the West. It left more than 134 people injured, the regional governor, Maksym Kozytskyi, said on Telegram. On Sunday, Russia’s Ministry of Defense issued a statement that was at odds with the Ukrainian account and threatened more such attacks. “At these facilities, the Kyiv regime deployed a training center for foreign mercenaries before being sent to the areas of hostilities against Russian military personnel, as well as a storage base for weapons and equipment coming from foreign countries,” the statement said. “As a result of the strike,” the statement added, “up to 180 foreign mercenaries and a large consignment of foreign weapons were destroyed. The destruction of foreign mercenaries who arrived on the territory of Ukraine will continue.” It was not immediately clear if the Russian claims about foreign forces being at the center were true. Westerners, including military veterans, have begun to arrive as volunteers to fight alongside Ukrainian forces, and Russian officials have taken to calling them mercenaries. NATO troops have for years deployed to the military facility, also known as the International Peacekeeping and Security Center, for training alongside Ukrainian troops, with Americans on-site as recently as February. Putin is just like Republicans, accusing people of doing exactly what he does. Russian mercenaries made the fatal mistake of attacking U.S. troops in Syria a few years ago. About 200 of them went home in body bags.

CHERNOBYL IS STILL DANGEROUS, AND GETTING MORESO DAILY: It wasn’t until 2016, in a feat of engineering, that the unit 4 remains were covered with a massive structure weighing 36,000 tons. But with war breaking out, Chernobyl has once again resurfaced in the headlines. First Russian forces occupied the nuclear plant, and then on March 9 they damaged a high-voltage line that connected the reactor site with the electricity grid. That’s important because when the reactors shut down two or three decades ago, they put more than 20,000 spent fuel rods in storage facilities that look like deep swimming pools. There were four of these pools whose walls and bottom are lined with corrosion-resistant steel and reinforced concrete. The spent fuel is hot; each rod has a radioactive core surrounded by zirconium cladding, which can burn at hundreds of degrees Celsius. So the pools need pumps to circulate water and cool off the rods. That requires electricity from the grid. Without access to electricity, the reactors at Chernobyl turn to backup diesel generators. But Ukrainian regulators from the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine said March 9 that there was only enough fuel to last 48 hours. Petro Kotin, head of Energoatom, the state-owned enterprise that runs the country’s other 15 reactors, said that “at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the critical temperature can be reached in seven days if the generators are shut down.” In that scenario, it’s possible for water in the pools to evaporate and the cladding on the spent fuel rods could be exposed to the air and catch fire. U.S. experts caution that reactors that are operating now, such as the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, carry much greater risks because they run at higher temperatures. Depending on the outcome of the war, the dangers posed by Chernobyl could be reduced even further. An American company has been hired to transfer the spent fuel into tall dry casks, large vessels surrounded by steel and concrete. But that transfer had only just started and will take years to complete. What a fricking mess.