New York Declares Health Emergency As Measles Spreads In Parts Of Brooklyn

More than 285 cases of the measles have been reported in New York since October. Nearly all are associated with people who live in the Williamsburg or Borough Park neighborhoods of Brooklyn.

Seth Wenig/AP


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Seth Wenig/AP

New York City on Tuesday ramped up the battle against the spread of a measles outbreak in a Brooklyn hot spot, declaring a public health emergency and calling for mandatory vaccinations.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the emergency covers four Brooklyn zip codes, including most of Williamsburg and Borough Park, which have seen more than 285 cases of the measles since October.

“We cannot allow this dangerous disease to make a come back here in New York City. We have to stop it now,” de Blasio said at a news conference.

“We have a situation now where children are in danger. We have to take this seriously,” he added.

The order mandates that all unimmunized children and adults living or working in the area must receive vaccinations unless they can prove a medical exemption applies. Those who do not comply could be guilty of misdemeanor violations and incur fines.

Measles is a highly contagious disease and can cause pneumonia, encephalitis (swelling of the brain) and death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says two doses of measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine are about 97 percent effective in preventing the disease.

Tuesday’s order follows another decree by the city’s health department issued a day earlier that any yeshivas in Williamsburg that continue to defy the mandatory exclusion of all unvaccinated children will immediately be issued a violation, and face fines and possible school closures.

“This is the epicenter of a measles outbreak that is very, very troubling and must be dealt with immediately,” de Blasio explained. “The measles vaccine works. It is safe, it is effective, it is time-tested.”

Mistrust over the safety and alleged side effects of vaccines has played a significant role in outbreaks among wealthier nations around the world, where parents are choosing not to vaccinate their children, often citing popular but debunked misinformation — as opposed to forgoing immunization for lack of access to the vaccine which is what tends to promote the spread of the disease in poorer countries. Similarly, tightly clustered religious communities, insulated from mainstream society also tend to suffer higher flare-ups of the highly contagious virus because the group’s level of immunity has fallen.

In order to achieve what is called herd immunity, which protects even those who are not vaccinated, a population must reach a 93 percent to 95 percent immunity rate.

In Williamsburg, the immunization rate is particularly low among the Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish communities causing the virus “to increase at an alarming rate,” according to the Health Department.

The vast majority of the city’s cases are children under 18 years of age. In most cases, the patients were unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated individuals. While no one has died, a handful have been admitted to intensive care.

“This outbreak is being fueled by a small group of anti-vaxxers in these neighborhoods. They have been spreading dangerous misinformation based on fake science,” Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot said in statement.

“We stand with the majority of people in this community who have worked hard to protect their children and those at risk. We’ve seen a large increase in the number of people vaccinated in these neighborhoods, but as Passover approaches, we need to do all we can to ensure more people get the vaccine.”

Recent steps by the city to try to stem the fast-growing outbreak have been unsuccessful despite efforts taken by the health department to stop it, including orders excluding unvaccinated children from attending preschools and day care programs, “because a high rate of people living within Williamsburg have not been vaccinated against measles.”

Health officials in a northern suburb of New York called Rockland County, last month also banned unvaccinated children from visiting public places for 30 days. The order was temporarily halted by a judge last week.

Measles was declared eliminated from the United States in 2000, less than four decades after the vaccination was first made available in 1963. But travelers bring in new cases. The CDC reports measles is still common in many parts of the world, including some countries in Europe, Asia, the Pacific and Africa.

Three 2018 outbreaks in New York state, New York City and New Jersey, which contributed to most of the cases recorded last year, were all associated with travelers who brought measles back from Israel, where a large outbreak is occurring.

According to the city’s health department, “five cases, including the initial case of measles, were acquired on a visit to Israel.” Two people contracted measles while in the U.K. and one in Ukraine.

The CDC says there are currently scattered cases in 19 states, including Washington, Arizona and Texas. The total this year as of last week is 465, the highest count since 2014.

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Susan Choi Takes Her Teenagers Seriously

The new novel Trust Exercise opens with teenagers attending an elite performing arts high school in the 1980s.

There, the theater kids form heartfelt friendships and relationships, and then sabotage them. Their semi-tyrannical drama teacher both inspires and manipulates them — with his “trust exercises.”

Midway through, the book leaps forward in time and perspective. One of the students, Karen, is now an adult, re-thinking her past.

Trust Exercise is Susan Choi’s fifth novel. She wanted to explore what happens when you look back on decisions that you made as an adolescent — when you felt like a grown-up, but may not have been as in control of your life as you had imagined.


Interview Highlights

On the teenage mind

It’s so hard to just decode the world. And when we’re teenagers, I think that we’re wildly improvising. We’re just sort of grabbing standards of judgment, we’re grabbing values out of the air, and hoping that they fit. And we are really, really, I think, prone to make mistakes. I hate speaking for all teens, but I have to say: As a teen myself, I made loads and loads of real mistakes about the values that I held, the things that I thought were important versus dumb, the people that I thought were admirable versus silly. I really was basing my judgments on pretty limited experience. But it was so important to make those judgments. Remember? That’s what it was all about. That’s what growing up is all about. … And we’re supposed to! I mean again, that’s what we’re supposed to do … because that’s what growing up is.

On discovering the music of David Bowie

As a teen, it was very important for me to understand about music. And I remember being confronted by David Bowie. … I remember David Bowie being this amazing conundrum, where I was like: Is this the kind of thing lots of people like? Is this a secret that I’ve discovered? Is this — I think I like it, I think that’s OK, I think I’m brave enough to choose this as one of the things that I like. So that was what we were constantly trying to do. But with … a very small toolbox.

On Karen’s high-school experiences, in hindsight

Karen is a student who has an experience that I think could be recognized by some people who have struggled to know how to feel about a relationship they were involved in, in the past when they were young. Karen is really torn between — to put it most simply — blaming the adult in the room at the time, and blaming herself, because she felt so much like another adult in the room at that time. But now that she’s really an adult, it’s impossible for her not to understand that she was a child. …

What Karen is really struggling with, that I really struggle with, is that she had an experience of agency, of choosing. … And what do you do with that? Once you grow up, what do you do with that? And so that was something that I — I didn’t want to give the reader a pat answer because I don’t think there is one.

On how some women feel about other women coming forth with accusations of misbehavior later in life, in this passage:

Karen’s attitude toward them is violently mixed. She might defend them to David, but in her bowels she scorns them, these young women who made a bad judgment and now want to blame someone else.

The thing that’s really complicated about this — and I would never want a reader to imagine that that sentiment of Karen’s is in some way a sentiment being endorsed by the book — what I wanted to express is that I think that sentiment is really real. I think it’s one of the reasons that people who experience abuse or misconduct at whatever level struggle so much with figuring out how to tell the story to themselves before they even try to tell the story to others.

I think a lot has changed for young women today, and I think a lot hasn’t. I think a lot is exactly the same as it was when I was a young woman. I think that there’s every reason for a young woman to feel very strongly that allying herself with a powerful man, regardless of how she has to do it, might be her path forward — might sometimes be her only path forward. And forming that alliance may be a decision she makes when she is less experienced, and a decision that she is able to recognize for how compromised it was later in life, but we still have to recognize that there’s this whole baked-in social and cultural structure that’s pointing her toward that decision. Just identifying all the “bad men” and putting them into a time-out isn’t really going to address the ways in which sexism is baked into our society.

On if younger generations are more cognizant of structural sexism

Oh yeah, definitely. I don’t think that I would have written this book without my students. And I think the experience of teaching younger people — my students [at Yale University] are all 17-20 years old, and I’ve been teaching for quite a while — their way of seeing and their way of thinking is totally different. And I’m so grateful from it. …

There are a lot of things that I take for granted that I realize: I shouldn’t take them for granted. I shouldn’t just go, “Oh, well that’s just the way it is.” My students will go, “No. Uh-uh. We don’t like it. We don’t like this. It shouldn’t be like this.” And it’s like having the wool pulled from my eyes, where I’ve most often end[ed] up going, “Wow, they’re right. I don’t know why I would’ve accepted that.”

Justine Kenin and Dave Blanchard produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Patrick Jarenwattananon adapted it for the Web.

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Delivering Local News And More On Alexa

smart speakers with NPR wrap

Today, we’re happy to announce another step forward in our strategy to deliver the best nationally and locally produced public radio content on smart speakers.

When the first Amazon Echo hit the market in 2014, users who asked Alexa to “play the news” would hear the most recent NPR hourly newscast. Starting today, thanks to a new partnership between NPR and Amazon, new Alexa owners have the opportunity to hear not only the hourly newscast but, immediately after it, a continuous listening experience that delivers a stream of the best and most up-to-date national and local content from Member stations and NPR.

Now, new users who have not had an Alexa account previously will simply have to say, “Alexa, play the news.” Alexa will then ask the users to select a source. If the user replies, “NPR,” Alexa will ask for a zip code and confirm a local Member station, which will then be linked to a flow of news.

Built by NPR, the new long-form news experience is expected to slowly roll out to 100% of Alexa devices by Monday, April 15. Existing Alexa account holders will also be able to access the new experience, though the utterance they use will need to be a little more specific: either “Alexa, play news from NPR,” or “Alexa, play NPR news.”

The new continuous stream is the latest in a growing list of voice skills and actions built by NPR. The others include:

Public Radio Streaming Action on Google Assistant

Public Radio Streaming Skill on Alexa

Flash Briefing Visual newscast on Alexa

Visual and Audio Newscast on Google Assistant

NPR One Skill on Alexa

Wait Wait Quiz on both Alexa and Google Home

More than 53 Million Americans 18 and older now own a smart speaker, and more than half of them own at least two (NPR & Edison research 2019). NPR Is committed to continuing to serve our audience and meet listeners where they are, providing the best mix of local and national news in these new platforms.

To get started, just say, “Alexa, play NPR news.”

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14 Are Reported Killed In Sudan As Protesters Call For End To President’s Rule

Protesters rally near the military headquarters on Tuesday in Khartoum, Sudan. Activists behind the anti-government protests say that security forces killed 14 people on Tuesday as troops moved to break up the demonstration.

AP


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AP

Demonstrations in the capital of Khartoum have been gaining intensity in recent days as protesters staged a sit-in in front of the military complex there.

Now the scene has turned violent. Security forces killed at least 14 people on Tuesday, activists involved in the demonstration told the Associated Press. At least eight others have been killed since Saturday, including members of security forces, the news service reported.

Sudan has been the site of protests since late December, when a protest began over the price of bread. The economic concerns have become political demands, and protesters want an end to the 30-year-rule of President Omar al-Bashir.

As the AP reports, activists are pushing their appeal with fresh vigor after nearly four months of protests: “On Monday, for the first time, leaders of the protests called on the military’s leadership to abandon al-Bashir and join their call for change. And on Tuesday, they invited military leaders to meet with their representatives to ‘discuss arrangements for a transition’ in Sudan.”

Amid the crackdown, there are signs that the government’s control could be weakening. Video that was being shared on Tuesday showed some members of the military shielding protesters and site of the sit-in, the AP reported.

NPR Africa Correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports that the Sudanese interior minister told Parliament on Monday that 15 protesters and 42 security force members have been injured, and nearly 2,500 people arrested. Key sections of the security forces remain loyal to Bashir, Quist-Arcton notes.

The Sudanese Professionals Union, which is organizing the protests, said in a public letter that the government’s security forces, along with Islamist militias, attacked the peaceful protest for over two hours on Tuesday. They had attacked the demonstration before, the union said, but this time it was larger and more violent.

The union wrote that the regime rules “with complete tyranny, using violence and the security apparatus to guard itself against the people,” and argues that the government “has lost all legitimacy” since the protests began.

And the union called on the international community to support their movement: “The Sudanese people continue to stand alone in the face of the regime’s brutal apparatus. We urge the international and regional community to stop turning a blind eye to the ongoing situation in Sudan and to respond in an appropriate way to the crimes committed by Bashir’s regime.”

Bashir has governed Sudan since 1989, when he came to power in a military coup that toppled the country’s last freely elected leader. In 2010, the International Criminal Court indicted Bashir for genocide and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur.

Reuters reports that a state news agency cited a Sudanese police spokesman as saying that police had been told “not to confront citizens and peaceful gatherings.”

Women in particular have played a striking role in the Khartoum protests. The photo and video of a woman standing on car, dressed in white and leading a crowd in defiant song, has gone viral.

Taken by me@lana_hago#8aprile pic.twitter.com/o7pDUsQg84

— Lana H. Haroun (@lana_hago) April 8, 2019

Don’t know her name, but this Woman in #Sudan is leading rallies, standing on car roofs, and pleading for change against autocratic Bashir.

Here she is singing “Thawra” (Revolution). Remember this voice: pic.twitter.com/0JG31Tp4rZ

— Joyce Karam (@Joyce_Karam) April 9, 2019

Hind Makki, an interfaith educator in Chicago, explained on Twitter that the woman’s clothing is highly symbolic.

“She’s wearing a white tobe (outer garment) and gold moon earrings. The white tobe is worn by working women in offices and can be linked w/cotton (a major export of Sudan), so it represents women working as professionals in cities or in the agricultural sector in rural areas,” Makki wrote. “Her entire outfit is also a callback to the clothing worn by our mothers & grandmothers in the 60s, 70s, & 80s who dressed like this during while they marched the streets demonstrating against previous military dictatorships.”

The U.S., Britain and Norway released a joint statement on Tuesday that called on Sudan’s government to respond to protesters’ demands and deliver “a credible plan” for political transition. “Failing to do so risks causing greater instability. The Sudanese leadership has a grave responsibility to avoid such an outcome.”

The three countries called on the government to lift the state of emergency, allow freedom of movement and release political detainees. The countries said they would support the process of political transition and “in time could work to help resolve some of the long term economic challenges that Sudan faces.”

Amnesty International criticized the violent quashing of protest. “The Sudanese authorities must stop firing at protesters peacefully exercising their freedom of expression. The killing of people who are simply taking a stand for what they believe in is completely unacceptable,” Joan Nyanyuki, the organization’s director for the region said in a statement.

The United Nations expressed concern about the reports that government forces were using live ammunition and tear gas on demonstrators.

A spokesperson for UN Human Rights said that it was “again calling on the Government and security forces to ensure that the right to peaceful assembly is fully respected and the right to freedom of expression is respected, and that a genuine dialogue is undertaken to resolve this very complex situation with very real economic and social grievances of the public.”

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As Dunes Disappear, Fiber Rolls Protect Cape Cod Homes From Coastal Erosion

Uncovered fiber rolls in front of a private home on Town Neck Beach in Sandwich, Mass. These large rolls are made from coconut fiber and filled with sand and are designed to prevent beach erosion.

Hayley Fager/WCAI


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Hayley Fager/WCAI

Along the East Coast, spring typically means serious erosion caused by strong storms. This year, homeowners on Cape Cod, Mass., are bracing for the worst.

Laura Wing lives in a beachfront home in Sandwich. She inherited the house from her parents 40 years ago, but the beach has changed a lot since then.

“The dunes went much further out on the beach, so over all this time it’s just eroded away to what it is now,” she said.

These days the water is 50 feet from her home at high tide. It’s typical to have houses right on the shore on Cape Cod, and storms can cause a lot of damage.

Wing has a costly decision to make: whether to invest $30,000 in fiber rolls, the most resilient method for slowing erosion that Massachusetts homeowners are allowed to use.

The rolls are made from coconut fiber and are buried in sandy slopes in front of homes, to absorb wave energy and hold sand in place. They are filled with sand or coconut fiber and planted with grasses and shrubs; they end up looking like dunes.

Laura Wing in front of her beachfront home in Sandwich, Mass. Wing has not installed fiber rolls. This natural dune helps protect her home from erosion, for now, but spring storms could make her home vulnerable.

Hayley Fager/WCAI


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Hayley Fager/WCAI

But, whatever Wing decides to do with her property could also affect erosion on nearby public beaches. According to Dave Deconto, the Director of Natural Resources for Sandwich, there is a beach in town where public and private land meet. The private homes on the beach have fiber rolls in front of them — the beach next to the rolls is pretty washed out and has lost a lot of sand. That’s because any time you construct a dune, even a fiber roll dune, there’s going to be more erosion where the dune ends and the beach begins.

There are other options for slowing erosion. One method uses barriers to break up the wave action before it hits the coast line, but it hasn’t been approved by Massachusetts environmental regulators.

Deconto says whatever homeowners decide, all of the fixes are temporary. “Mother nature’s gonna do what mother nature does,” says Deconto. “Every town on the coastline of Massachusetts is dealing with it, every community along the eastern seaboard, and the Gulf Coast, and the West Coast of the United states are dealing with it.”

Fiber rolls are mostly being used by private homeowners right now because the high cost can be a barrier for small coastal towns, and because most buildings on public beaches are further inland and not as vulnerable as beachfront homes.

Massachusetts officials recommend fiber rolls because they have a lower impact on natural habitats than other methods for slowing erosion. The good news is, they are biodegradable. The bad news is, that means they have to be reinstalled every 5 years.

Seth Wilkinson installs these systems and he says he’s had some hard conversations with homeowners. “And they’re saying, ‘I don’t think I can afford to live here anymore. Repairing this bank or stabilizing this bank, will cost more than the value of my home.'”

Laura Wing says she isn’t going to install fiber rolls for now. “I can’t cover that kind of expense by renting the house, so that just comes out of my savings. And I’m retired.” She says she’s taking things one year at a time, and hopes she doesn’t lose her home in a storm before she decides to sell.

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