The Push For Equity In Education Hurts Vulnerable Children The Most

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

America has always had an uneasy relationship with brilliance. Cultural tropes, like the mad scientist or the nerdy computer whiz, show both a respect for high accomplishment and an anxiety about how smart people fit into society.

This cultural uneasiness is most apparent in the educational realm. Schools recognized the existence of students with high academic aptitude by providing them with gifted programs and advanced classes. Outside of school hours, many sponsor honor societies or academic competitions. And the old tradition of publicly recognizing a graduating class’s valedictorian remains strong.

However, the educational industry has never let these programs shake the field’s commitment to egalitarianism. The spending on education in the United States is disproportionately directed towards struggling children. Sometimes this policy is explicit, such as earmarking billions of federal dollars annually for special education and little or nothing for advanced academics.

Other policies implicitly support struggling learners more than students who excel, such as the No Child Left Behind Act and its successor, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which encouraged states to reward schools that help struggling students reach basic proficiency levels. These laws, though, did not incentivize or reward schools for helping students reach high levels of academic accomplishment. As a result, the numbers of high achievers stagnated.

Equity over excellence

This truce of carving out a few advanced programs and classes from a system concentrated on educating the lowest performing students worked reasonably well for decades. However, that arrangement was shattered within the past few years in the United States as districts and states embraced “equity” initiatives with the goal of achieving equal outcomes across individuals as well as groups.

The policies inevitably sacrifice bright and high achieving students to the social goals of activists. The push to hobble high performing students in order to achieve equity can take many forms. In Oregon, the state legislature eliminated the requirement that students pass a high school exit exam to demonstrate proficiency in reading, mathematics, and writing for two years until the state can re-evaluate its graduation requirements.

The reason: the testing requirement was “inequitable” because higher percentages of black and Hispanic students were failing the test. The impetus to eliminate tests that show differing levels of academic success is also apparent in admissions tests. At the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a magnet high school in Virginia often touted as the best high school in the country, admission is no longer based on high test performance.

Instead, a new system assigns seats at the prestigious school so that each region in the school district is evenly represented, and then all students that meet basic criteria (a 3.5 middle school grade-point average) are entered into the lottery. The result is a student body that is more racially diverse (from 73 percent Asian to 53 percent Asian, from one percent black to seven percent, and from three percent Hispanic to 25 percent Hispanic), but much less academically elite.

Magnet schools in Philadelphia and Boston also revamped their admissions procedures to de-emphasize tests and to improve the admission chances for Hispanic and black students. Reducing or eliminating the impact of admissions tests is not unique to high schools. Concerns about equity have also caused universities to make college admissions tests optional for applicants.

College admissions tests show well-known differences in average scores, and applying the same admissions standard to all groups will inevitably admit higher scoring groups at higher rates than lower scoring groups. This mathematical reality makes admissions tests a target of equity advocates. The test-optional movement has been underway for many years, mostly at small liberal arts colleges. Making standardized tests optional seems like a good idea to counteract the unequal admissions rates across groups.

However, research shows that it does not improve the socioeconomic or racial diversity of a student body. It does, however, raise a college’s reported test score average (because low performing applicants choose not to report scores), which improves the school’s rankings. Test-optional universities also increased tuition at higher rates than universities that required test scores. None of these developments help disadvantaged students.

The test-optional movement accelerated recently during the COVID-19 pandemic and in response to growing concerns about equity. The movement to drop testing requirements reached its greatest success when the regents of the University of California system voted to make admissions tests optional for applicants—despite their own faculty making a strong recommendation against a test-optional policy.

Even this move towards lowering standards was not enough. Advocacy groups sued the University of California system, which settled the lawsuit by agreeing to ban the consideration of any test scores in the admissions process. This outcome was exactly what university president Janet Napolitano had previously proposed and what many California politicians had wanted for years. What an amazing coincidence!..Continue reading..

By: Russell T. Warne

Source: The Push for Equity in Education Hurts Vulnerable Children the Most

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Meet The Man Who Scams The Scammers , Jim Browning

We’re all targeted by scam calls and spam emails, but one virtual vigilante decided to turn the tables by hacking the hackers. Jim Browning is not his real name, rather a secret identity. Working in IT by day, by night he’s a virtual vigilante hunting cyber criminals.

In response to endless spam emails and robocalls telling us we’re experiencing difficulties with an online banking or shopping account, Browning decided fight back. He lets himself be scammed then turns the tables.

If they’ve hacked into his machine, he can hack into theirs; find out where they’re from, call them by their real name – even have pictures of them displayed as his desktop background to give them a shock when they try to take control of his computer.

Browning makes videos of his crime fighting exploits and has hundreds of thousands of followers on YouTube. They are bizarrely gripping. The scams are often ingenious, easy to see why anyone could fall victim. Then just as a scammer thinks they’ve gotten away with a con, the power shifts as Browning has them on the ropes.

Cybercrime has escalated through the pandemic now that people, tech savvy or not, have to rely on the internet for almost everything. In 2021, 45 million people were targeted by scam calls and texts. Which? reported a 33 per cent rise in incidents with consumers conned out of £2.3 billion during that (largely locked down) year.

So The Big Issue meets Browning on Zoom, to delve into the dark world of cybercrime to understand how we can protect ourselves.

The Big Issue: Just who are you?

Jim Browning: I do have a proper day job. It’s in IT as you can probably imagine. I know about computers and networks and so on. My night time job is going after scammers and I put YouTube videos online about my exploits.

What’s the what’s the origin story of this superhero?

So unfortunately, it’s not like a Batman type story. I find scams fascinating, full stop. I work from home a fair bit, particularly over the last couple of years like a lot of people. I was getting of scam phone calls. The advice is usually, ignore them and hang up. But I thought with my background in IT, surely I could do something about these calls. They do have a weakness, which is the fact that they will try to connect to my computer. And when they do I can find out who these people are.

Do you get excited when you come across a new scam?Oh yeah, for sure. A lot of this scams are very scripted. So anytime I come across something new it’s definitely fascinating. I like different sorts of scams. I’m looking at a couple at the moment. You know, those letters you get from people who say you’ve won a fortune. It’s rare to get an insight into those types of scams, because normally, someone does all of this offline.

How long does it take to break a scam? How many hours does each video represent?

A lot of my evenings are taken up with this. In some ways, I’m fortunate because a lot of the scams are aimed at people in the USA, and their daytime is when they’re targeted so that is our evening. I probably spend too much time. But it’s a hobby so for me it’s time well spent.

Some scammers I’ve been watching for at least six months before I would put a video out about them. Whenever I do find relevant details about who’s running scams, I pass information to police in the hope that they will do something. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. All in all, it can take months and months of work to even get a video live.

Why is it difficult for police to take any action?

Most of the scams I uncover are from outside the UK. A lot of these call centres are based in India, there’s very little happens in that country. Anytime I do report it, it seems to be swept under the carpet. It can be quite frustrating.

The scams and the people behind them are clearly very intelligent, what sense do you have of perpetrators?

You get the odd one or two who will be open and honest with you. If you ask, look why are you doing this, it’s a scam, they will give you loads of different reasons. The main one is, India’s a poor country, high unemployment, low wages. If you get into a scam call centre, compared a legitimate business, you will be paid so much more. Now, you maybe get a fraction of what you scam but you earn an awful lot of money very quickly. And you can convince yourself that you’re stealing money from a very rich western country, I can see people doing that.

Everybody has their own story about why they got into it. But at the end of the day, it is really just greed. I can see what they do on their computers and there’s very few people who seem to be on the breadline.

What affect has the pandemic had on scams as more older and vulnerable people are using the internet with little experience?

Certainly older people are the prime target for most of these scam calls. I’ve seen scammers take lists and filter them for people over 60. That’s because they are the demographic most likely to fall for it. It is really just a numbers game for them. The vast majority of the day is people hanging up on them. But they will eventually get someone who’s vulnerable.

In the UK and US people are so used to receiving these calls, they know just to hang up immediately. Scammers are moving to other countries. I’m monitoring a group at the moment who are targeting the Czech Republic and Norway. And although they can’t speak Czech or Norwegian, they are still attempting the same scam in English in the hope that they can get people who are unaware.

The biggest scam call seems to be from people impersonating Amazon. Why can’t one of the richest companies do anything?

It used to be Microsoft a few years ago, now it is Amazon. They’re so prevalent. And I’m a little surprised Amazon aren’t trying the legal route to try and do something. I hear these phone calls all the time. Even if [a victim] doesn’t use Amazon what they’ll immediately say is, well someone has registered an Amazon account in your name using your details. Eventually they’ll want access to your computer.

You were recently victim of a scam yourself, does that show it really can happen to anyone?

Anyone can be scammed, the circumstances have to be right. Someone tried to take over my YouTube channel, basically to steal the revenue that you get. What this particular person did was impersonate Google, who own YouTube, and they were quite convincing. They’d found was a flaw in the chat services that Google offer and were able to make it look like a legitimate email. So initially, I did fall for this.

So the person was just trying to steal money, they weren’t someone out for revenge?

They didn’t even know who I was. I sent them a couple of links when I figured out it was a scam, said could you click on this and they did. I was able to find out where the scammer was based, in Turkey, but when he figured out that he wasn’t getting any money out of me, he disappeared.

Are you quite famous within this scammer community? In some videos you disguise your voice to sound like an old woman.

Yeah, I have to use that because scammers do recognize me. I can get access to scammers’ computers, see what they’re looking at on their screen, what they’re typing and some of them have been watching my videos. I have to change my voice. As the scammer is concerned, I’ll sound like an old woman. That helps me out quite a bit.

You’re taking part in a new BBC One show, Scam Interceptors.

I find it difficult to get the message through to the right people. I’ve been working with the BBC and there’s an organisation called the American Association of Retired People. For me, it’s never good enough to say do this, don’t do this. I think you actually have to see the scams running. And this programme shows it in intricate detail. You can see and hear the language that they use, the techniques they use, what people typically say and how the scammers respond. When you see it first-hand, it’s far more likely to sink in. The scams themselves will change over time but if something triggers in the back of your head, at least gives you a bit of doubt, it can only be a good thing.

If in doubt…?

That’s it. If you’re in any way doubtful, a real organisation will have no problem assuring you that they are who they say they are. They have to be able to tell you more than your name, address and phone number because that’ll be on the screen of every scammer. If they can’t give you a customer ID or a recent transaction I would always treat it with a lot of scepticism. If they want to keep you on the phone for any reason or if there’s a sense of urgency, it’s almost bound to be a scam. The best thing to do is hang up.

Could you have been hacking this computer as we were speaking?

I’m not as good as people could make out. Honestly, the only way that I can really get access to scammers is if they connect to my computer. Without that I’m just no good at all.

By: Steven MacKenzie

Source: Who is Jim Browning? Meet the man who scams the scammers – The Big Issue

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New Survey Finds Inflation, Housing Costs And Eviction Threats Hitting Minorities Hardest

Minority communities have been the hardest hit financially by the current spike in consumer prices and housing costs, with high percentages of Black, Latino and Native American families reporting serious financial problems and even threats of eviction, according to a survey published Monday by the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, NPR and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

With the annual increase in consumer prices hitting a 40-year high of 9.1% in June, Americans, by a wide margin, cite inflation as the number one problem facing the U.S. But the actual impact on individual households is more dispersed. For example, in the new survey, 58% of Black adults, 56% of Latinos and 69% of Native Americans say inflation has caused them serious financial problems, compared to 44% of white and 36% of Asian adults.

Soaring rents are similarly hitting certain minority households the hardest. In the new survey, 16% of Black renters, 10% of Latino renters and 21% of Native American renters reported they had been evicted or threatened with eviction in the past year. That compares to 9% of white and 4% of Asian families. “This is just a warning from this survey, that unless the government can provide some help for vulnerable populations, a year from now they are going to have more people who are homeless,” said Robert J. Blendon, co-director of the survey and an emeritus professor of Health Policy and political analysis at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Programs of emergency rental aid helped around 5 million American families during the early months of the pandemic, with 1.5 million fewer evictions compared to pre-pandemic levels. After 22 million Americans lost their jobs during the start of the pandemic, Congress provided $25 billion in emergency rental assistance in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CAR AR +3%ES Act) passed in March 2020. A year later, in the American Rescue Plan, it added another $21.55 billion of rental assistance.

The CARES Act also included a temporary federal eviction moratorium that expired in the summer of 2020. It was later extended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and then by Congress, and then again by the CDC. Finally, on August 3, 2021, after a surge in Covid-19 cases due to the Delta variant, the CDC extended the moratorium yet again. Later that month, the Supreme Court ruled against it.

Meanwhile, the emergency rental funds Congress appropriated have either been used up or are being returned to the federal government unspent. For example, last Thursday, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves announced his state would halt the federally-funded Rental Assistance for Mississippians Program by Aug. 15, meaning as much as $130 million for the program would be returned to the federal government.

California, having used up its federal money, ended its Covid-19 rental assistance program on March 31, 2022. It sent more than $4 billion to 344,000 households –but around 5,400 tenants and landlords have received emails asking to return money received in Covid-19 rent relief.

The housing component of the CPI increased 5.6% in the 12 months ended in June, but that includes costs to both homeowners and renters. In many places renters have seen far greater increases. According to housing data collected by Redfin RDFN +14.3%, average asking rents in June were up 14% compared to June 2021. In some sunbelt cities like Miami, rent has increased nearly 40%.

The recent spike in rent prices leaves low-income and minority groups in particularly precarious situations. A May report by the Federal Reserve Board showed that as of last fall, about half of renters with income between $25,000 and $49,999 were already “cost burdened”—meaning they were spending more than 30% of their income on rent. In the Fed survey, 44% of Black households and 37% of Hispanic households reported they were renters, compared with just 21% of white households.

“Unless some sort of emergency help is provided, a substantial number of minority populations are going to be evicted over the next year,” Blendon warns.

MORE FROM FORBESMortgage Applications Rise In Potential Housing Market Respite-Could Home Buying Become More Affordable Soon?

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

I’m a summer intern reporting for Forbes Money and Markets. I graduated from Boston University with a degree in Journalism

Source: New Survey Finds Inflation, Housing Costs And Eviction Threats Hitting Minorities Hardest

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Bankman-Fried Warns: Some Crypto Exchanges Already “Secretly Insolvent”

fter throwing lifelines to troubled digital currency platforms BlockFi and Voyager Digital, Sam Bankman-Fried, the 30-year-old billionaire founder of FTX, warns that some crypto exchanges will soon fail. The question on everybody’s mind in the crypto world is whether we’ve reached the market bottom. Nearly $2 trillion in crypto market value has evaporated since November.

Two bellwether digital assets Luna, a $40 billion crypto asset associated with TerraUSD, a $16 billion stablecoin designed to maintain parity with the U.S. dollar, have collapsed. Earlier this month bitcoin traded for below $20,000, its lowest level since December 2020. But the fallout is far from complete. Earlier this month, Singapore-based Three Arrows Capital (3AC), a highly levered crypto trading firm with $200 million of exposure to Luna revealed that it was nearly insolvent.

Three Arrows’ had borrowed large sums from numerous crypto firms including New Jersey’s Voyager Digital and New York-based BlockFi. In order to survive Three Arrows default, the two digital asset exchanges turned to billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, founder of FTX and the richest person in crypto, worth some $20.5 billion. Between FTX and his quantitative trading firm Alameda, he provided the companies with $750 million in credit lines.

There is no guarantee that Bankman-Fried will recoup his investment. “You know, we’re willing to do a somewhat bad deal here, if that’s what it takes to sort of stabilize things and protect customers,” he says. We’re willing to do a somewhat bad deal here, if that’s what it takes to sort of stabilize things.”

Bankman-Fried’s cash infusions are far from altruistic. He has emerged as a smart vulture capitalist in the beleaguered crypto market, knowing full well that his own fortune depends on its healthy rebound and growth. Bankman-Fried has also bought into crypto brokerage Robinhood, where FTX has already accumulated a 7.6% stake, and is rumored to be considering an acquisition.

Bankman-Fried denies any active merger talks with Robinhood but tells Forbes that more crypto exchange failures are coming. “There are some third-tier exchanges that are already secretly insolvent,” says Bankman-Fried. Fried’s FTX, along with Coinbase, Kraken and Binance, are giants among digital asset exchanges. They have millions of customer accounts and functionally they operate similarly to online stock brokerages. But outside of these whales, there are more than 600 crypto exchanges around the world operating in a largely unregulated frontier.

Never heard of AAX, Billance and Hotbit? You aren’t alone, but like Coinbase they trade bitcoin, ether and dogecoin and offer generous margin loans–as much 20 times their initial capital— to their clients. Lacking any meaningful regulatory oversight many crypto exchanges have been vulnerable to scammers and hacks.

Japanese exchange Coincheck was hacked for $530 million in crypto in 2018, Singaporean exchange KuCoin lost $275 million in 2020, and then in December 2021 Cayman Island-based Bitmart was breached for $200 million. Back in 2016, Bitifinex was hacked to the tune of nearly 120,000 bitcoin worth $2.5 billion now.

But, despite the generous bailouts, not even Bankman-Fried is able, or willing, to throw good money after bad in perpetuity. “There are companies that are basically too far gone and it’s not practical to backstop them for reasons like a substantial hole in the balance sheet, regulatory issues, or that there is not much of a business left to be saved,” says Bankman-Fried, who declined to name any specific crypto exchanges.

As Forbes reported in its analysis of the world’s best 60 crypto exchanges, the digital asset exchange business generally lacks standards to certify a new entity before or after they start soliciting client funds. The SEC doesn’t regulate the exchanges and the Commodities Futures and Trading Commission has oversight of only a handful of crypto derivatives markets. In the United States there is no member organization like FINRA to self- regulate crypto exchanges.

Bankman-Fried is worried about continued failures because during the euphoria of rising crypto prices, exchanges kept upping the ante to attract customers with generous yields for deposits. BlockFi or Voyager were promising yield payments to customers, upwards of 12% per year that had to be paid for either by charging at least that much more interest to borrowers or more likely, by putting that money to work in decentralized finance DeFi applications.

That worked fine when crypto was going nowhere but up. It looks disastrous now. “There are companies that are basically too far gone and it’s not practical to backstop them.”

Like J.P. Morgan during the stock market panic and crash of 1907, Bankman-Fried is taking advantage of the crypto chaos to expand his empire. He recently closed the acquisition of Liquid, a troubled Japanese exchange. BlockFi and Voyager Digital are in his grip and despite his denials, Robinhood may be next. According to sources familiar with his loans to Voyager, Alameda is likely to lose at least $70 million of the credit it has already extended. In 2021, publicly-traded Voyager’s Digital had a market value of more than $3 billion.

Today it shares trade for pennies and its market cap of $62 million points to an imminent bankruptcy filing. Despite the carnage, Bankman-Fried tells Forbes that FTX remains profitable and has been for the past 10 quarters. FTX’s biggest rival Coinbase lost $432 million in the first quarter of 2022 and its stock is down almost 90% from its all-time high.

Bankman-Fried also has his eye on crypto miners, many of whom leveraged their balance sheet at breakneck pace to quickly scale and take advantage of this 21st century digital gold rush. The stocks of publicly-trading crypto miners including Marathon Digital Holdings and Riot Blockchain are down more than 60% year to date.

One bellwether crypto asset Bankman-Fried is not worried about is Tether, world’s largest dollar-pegged stablecoin with a market cap exceeding $70 billion. Many industry watchers have deemed it a ticking time bomb with questionable collateral whose failure would almost certainly be an existential threat to the entire cryptocurrency market. Tested during the Luna collapse Tether briefly lost its $1 peg and fell to a price 95 cents. However, it successfully processed over $10 billion worth of withdrawals and has since recovered.

Says Bankman-Fried, “I think that the really bearish views on Tether are wrong…I don’t think there is any evidence to support them.”

Steven Ehrlich

I am director of research for digital assets at Forbes. I was recently at Kraken, a cryptocurrency exchange based in the United States.

Source: Bankman-Fried Warns: Some Crypto Exchanges Already “Secretly Insolvent”

Related contents:

ED send notices to crypto firms — CoinSwitch, CoinDCX to probe any foreign exchange violations Business Insider IndiaOne Of Crypto Biggest Exchange Finds New Ways Of Revenue, Applying Fees On Inactive Users The Crypto Basic

07:42

Planning on Going Back To The Office, Hitting The Gym or Attending a Wedding? A Guide To Staying COVID Safe

Dr. Anthony Fauci declared last month that the U.S. is transitioning “out of the pandemic phase,” following mask mandates lifting across the country. However, that doesn’t mean COVID-19 is behind us. Surges continue in different parts of the U.S., while an estimated 300 people die every day because of the virus.

So it’s understandable that some people — at least the ones who have been trying to protect themselves and others from the highly-contagious virus for the past two years — are feeling a bit confused about what exactly they should be doing at this stage of the pandemic to stay healthy and safe.

Dr. Joseph Khabbaza, a critical care medicine specialist and pulmonologist at the Cleveland Clinic, tells Yahoo Life, “A lot of people have been given a sense that this is probably over for most of us. The answer isn’t going to be the same for every two people.”

Khabbaza says that’s because every person has to assess their own individual risk factors when it comes to getting COVID. Dr. Prathit Kulkarni, an assistant professor of medicine in infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine, agrees, telling Yahoo Life: “Safety precautions at this stage in the pandemic are related to one’s personal risk of having a bad outcome from COVID-19, vaccination status and one’s personal risk tolerance. All situations are slightly unique and require an individual and situational risk assessment.”

With the exception of people who are immunocompromised or elderly, though, “if you’re fully vaccinated and up-to-date on boosters, your personal odds of getting severe illness are very low, even if you come across the virus,” says Khabbaza. “Whereas for people who have not been vaccinated they may not factor in that they are at high risk for severe illness. But that’s something some people have chosen.”

How can you protect yourself in general?

In a nutshell, getting vaccinated and boosted if eligible is still the right call — especially if you’re more vulnerable to severe illness from COVID — and offers “the best protection,” says Kulkarni.

He adds: “Folks who are at higher risk for a worse outcome from COVID-19 may wish to enhance their protection from contracting COVID-19. The best way to do this is with a well-fitting mask. N95 respirator-type masks afford the greatest individual protection.”

Kulkarni says that “the folks who are potentially at the highest risk at this point in the pandemic include unvaccinated individuals, especially older persons, folks who are at higher risk but have not yet been boosted such as older persons or people living in nursing homes and people with significant immunocompromising conditions.”

Both Kulkarni and Khabbaza say it’s also important to know what the COVID rates are in your area or where you’re traveling to. “Following CDC’s tracker of COVID activity around the country can also be helpful to get a gauge for how things are going in a particular geographic area,” says Kulkarni.

Planning on going back to the office, hitting the gym or attending a wedding? Keep these precautions in mind to stay COVID safe and healthy.

Flying on a plane

With multiple U.S. domestic airlines including Delta, American and United dropping mask requirements on flights, you may be wondering how to stay safe while traveling on packed planes. The CDC states that it continues to recommend that people wear masks in indoor public transportation settings at this time. But depending on your own personal risk factors and risk tolerance, while at the airport, “if you’re able to space apart from people and avoid close sustained contact, then a mask is not going to be needed,” says Khabbaza. But when you’re in prolonged close proximity to others, it’s a good idea to mask up.

For example, Khabbaza shares that he doesn’t wear a mask while walking around the airport because he’s in motion and able to distance himself from others. However, he puts on a mask while in the security line “because of close contact.” He then takes it off walking to the gate and while sitting at the gate “because I’m away from other people.” Once on the plane, Khabbaza puts his mask back on. “Ventilation in airplanes seems to be good, but to me, it’s easy enough to minimize my risk in a setting with others by wearing a mask,” he says. “That’s where you’ll get more value for masking.”

Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, told CNN that wearing a mask in the highest-risk settings while traveling is key. “That includes during boarding and deplaning when the ventilation systems on airplanes are often not running,” she says. “Don’t drink or eat at those times.”

Although airlines often hand out sanitizing wipes as you board, Khabbaza explains that, from a COVID transmission standpoint, “I don’t think that would have much of a barrier.” That’s because “contact with surfaces is not as big of a mode of transmission as initially thought, if at all,” he says. That said, it doesn’t hurt to wipe down the seat and tray table for hygiene’s sake.

Kulkarni agrees, saying, “In general, wiping down surfaces via routine cleaning can be generally helpful for avoidance of transmission of several different infectious organisms.”

Eating at a restaurant

In general, it’s safer to dine outdoors when feasible. “Similar to the initial stages of the pandemic, outdoor transmission of COVID is very limited compared to indoor transmission,” points out Kulkarni.

Khabbaza says to keep in mind that “if you are choosing to dine in a restaurant, most of your risk is when you’re sitting down and eating, which is much of the time.” Putting on a mask while walking for “a few seconds to your seat” or wearing one on the way to the restroom may not change the fact that there’s a “slightly higher risk of indoor dining right now,” he says. “Theoretically, it could lower it a little bit, but you’re drinking, eating, talking and laughing when seated and not moving around — that’s where the risks are.”

Khabbaza says the safest way to dine indoors is by choosing restaurants with big open windows to further lower the risk of transmission or going to restaurants during off-hours “when they’re not full.”

Working in an office

If you’re alone in your own office or in a private cubicle, a mask likely isn’t needed. “It will be hard to transmit if far away from others and there’s a barrier with cubicles,” Khabbaza says.

But he stresses that it’s important to know your company’s policy on vaccinations and whether employees need to show proof of vaccination to better assess the risk. “If vaccination is mandatory that certainly makes things a lot safer,” Khabbaza says. “But if you’re in close sustained contact all day at work, masking is probably not a bad idea, especially in times of high cases.”

Wearing a mask can also help put co-workers and employers who are more vulnerable at ease. “If you’re working with people you know are immunocompromised or elderly, it’s OK to try to protect them with masking,” he says.

Along with distancing and good ventilation, Wen told CNN that “testing that’s done at least once a week can help catch early, asymptomatic COVID-19 cases and serve as an additional layer of protection.”

Visiting a public pool

The good news is that the virus doesn’t transmit through water, per the World Health Organization. There’s also the protective benefit of being outdoors while at a public pool. However, Khabbaza points out that “close sustained contact with someone in a pool might have some of that risk.”

If the pool isn’t crowded, it’s easy to avoid people and space apart. “But if it’s a crowded pool party, there’s a risk and masks aren’t feasible,” he says.

When going indoors, such as to the locker room, it’s a good idea to put on a mask if there are several people close by. The CDC recommends bringing extra masks and storing them in a plastic bag in case one gets wet.

Going to the supermarket

In general, supermarkets are “lower risk from a COVID standpoint because you’re not really in close sustained contact — a lot of it is walking by people,” says Khabbaza, “and you can space out in a line at the cashier.”

But if you’re concerned or immunocompromised, he says, “just wear the mask, and then you have a barrier over your nose and mouth.”

Working out at the gym

The size, crowd and ventilation matter when it comes to gyms. Small boutique gyms that rely on fans to circulate the air are going to be “a little [riskier] if crowded because there’s not much ventilation,” says Khabbaza. “In the really big gyms, spacing can be done” so you can distance yourself from others. Large gyms are also more likely to have an HVAC system for better air filtration.

“If you can space out, it’s going to be relatively safer compared to smaller gyms where spacing isn’t much of an option,” says Khabbaza.

While wiping down gym equipment isn’t essential from a COVID transmission standpoint — “it would be very hard to get it, especially if you’re not touching your face,” Khabbaza says — it’s a standard recommendation to do so before and after using gym equipment in general.

Attending an indoor party or wedding

If you’re at a high risk of severe illness, “it might be reasonable to avoid weddings at times of [COVID] surges,” says Khabbaza, who recommends wearing a well-fitting N95 mask at group events, particularly if you’re more vulnerable. “If you’re anxious about the possibility of getting it, weddings may not be best for you during times of surges.”

That said, most weddings take place at “big venues where you can space out a bit,” he says. “If you’re spaced out and in a mask, you should be very good about minimizing your risk.” But Khabbaza says that the best protection is being up-to-date on COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, which makes the odds of severe illness “extremely low, assuming you have a normal immune system,” he says.

You can also go one step further to assess the risk of attending a larger social gathering: Dr. Preeti Malani, chief health officer at the Division of Infectious Diseases and Geriatric Medicine at the University of Michigan, told NPR that before a big event, “ask if people must be vaccinated and/or tested to attend and if they have to show proof or are on the honor system.”

Staying at a hotel

While you don’t need to wear a mask when you’re in your own hotel room, you might want to put one on while riding the elevator if it’s crowded or if you’re staying at a big hotel with longer elevator rides that stop at multiple floors. “A short elevator ride will be on the lower end [of the risk spectrum], but not impossible,” says Khabbaza. “But transmissibility becomes higher when in close contact.”

A 2021 study found that in elevators without proper ventilation, an infected person coughing can transmit viral particles “all across the elevator enclosure.”

Another option to stay safe: If you don’t want to mask, wait for the next empty — or mostly empty — elevator if it’s feasible, or take the stairs, suggests Khabbaza.

By:

Source: Planning on going back to the office, hitting the gym or attending a wedding? A guide to staying COVID safe now.

Further reading:

Monkeypox: Doctors warn of ‘massive impact’ on sexual health services as staff self-isolate (Yahoo) | https://uk.news.yahoo.com/monkeypox-d…

Monkeypox outbreak linked to superspreader event at adult sauna (Yahoo) | https://news.yahoo.com/monkeypox-outb…

MISCExplainer: What to Know About Monkeypox (Visual Capitalist) | https://www.visualcapitalist.com/expl…

Human monkeypox: an emerging zoonosis (Lancet) | https://www.thelancet.com/journals/la…

First monkeypox genome from latest outbreak shows links to 2018 strain (NewScientist) | https://www.newscientist.com/article/…

Monkeypox virus evades antiviral CD4+ and CD8+ T cell responses by suppressing cognate T cell activation (PNAS) | https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas…

FDA approves first live, non-replicating vaccine to prevent smallpox and monkeypox (FDA) | https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press… Nov 3, 2021

ACIP Meeting – Orthopoxviruses Vaccines (CDC) | https://youtu.be/4SCUOppgtxE Israel reports first case of monkeypox, suspects others (ABC) | https://abcnews.go.com/Health/wireSto…

New York officials investigate case of suspected monkeypox (Miami Herald) | https://www.miamiherald.com/latest-ne…

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