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Mentally disabled man anxious about Presto after transit card problems nearly left him stranded

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The family of a Toronto man with a developmental disability says he’s now anxious about using his Presto card after an incident where he says he was kicked off a bus because his card didn’t work even though there was money on it.

“I was upset about it,” Grant Koturbash told CBC Toronto.

His sister, Shelley Koturbash, says he’s now constantly nervous about using his card, and calls her repeatedly.

“He has anxiety. Now he’s worried about every time he gets on the bus. Even today before we sat down [for this interview], the first thing out of his mouth was, ‘Can you put 10 more dollars on my Presto card because I may be out,”‘ she said.

The TTC said there are instances where Presto passes — with money on them — are tapped and declined. It says it’s working with Presto and the gate manufacturers to address the issue.

For most transit passengers the glitches in transitioning to Presto are frustrating but for people with developmental disabilities, they represent a challenge to their independence, according to some advocates

“[With Metropasses] it’s sort of a one and done: you go and you pay your monthly fee … you know if it’s December and you’ve paid your fee you’re on the bus,” said Brad Saunders, CEO of Community Living Toronto, an organization that offers support for those living with an intellectual disability and works to help them live meaningful lives.

“Presto is more complicated and that sense of not knowing for sure creates anxiety which is never a good thing.”

In the new year, Metropasses will be phased out entirely and replaced with Presto cards that have a monthly pass on them. Community Living Toronto is now working with the TTC and other groups on a training program specifically for those with developmental disabilities on how to use the new cards and the system in general.

Card issue

In November, Grant Koturbash said he was heading home from a coffee shop near Eglinton West and Islington.

Grant Koturbash (right) with his sister Shelley who helps him load his Presto card. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

“I tapped my Presto card and [the driver] said I have no money on my Presto card,” said Koturbash.

He said the driver told him to get off the bus and to put money on his Presto card. He said he told the driver he was special needs but he said there was no response.

With no cash on him and no ability to load his card, Koturbash said he approached a woman.

“I said, ‘Can you please help me, I have no money, I tapped my Presto card, no money in my wallet and stuff,”‘ said Koturbash.

Shelley Koturbash says her brother now calls her multiple times a day worried about whether he has enough money on his Presto card. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

The woman agreed to pay his fare and when he arrived home he called his sister.

“I was shocked,” said Shelley Koturbash, who said she had just loaded up his card two days prior.

She describes her brother as a mild-mannered and non-aggressive person. She said he’s high functioning in some ways — he is able to wash his dishes, pick up bottles for recycling and other tasks — but loading a Presto card is too complicated; he relies on a social worker or his family to help him.

She said the incident has left her brother shaken.

(John Lesavage)

“Grant gets very anxious. He keeps asking me, ‘How much money is on my Presto card,’ and, ‘Am I going to be okay? What’s going to happen?”‘

Presto and technology

Community Living Toronto said it often hears of stories about people with developmental disabilities encountering problems with Presto.

“Presto has just added another layer of complication that they need to understand and figure out, and there hasn’t been a lot of communication that’s accessible to people we support,” said Saunders who said he’s heard of  TTC enforcement officers ticketing people with mental disabilities in the confusion.

“The challenge with the situations I’ve heard of is it’s just so definitive, you tap your Presto and if that “x” comes out on the gate, you’re not getting in. If there’s no one to talk to, to ask about it, you’re stuck.”

Discover my route

The TTC maintains it’s not its policy to kick anyone — let alone someone with a developmental disability — off a bus because their card doesn’t tap properly.

“We would never want our operators to ask someone to leave the vehicle,” said Heather Brown, acting manager, customer communications.

Brown  said there are glitches with some gates that don’t let a passenger go through, even if there’s money on their card.

“There is continuous improvement in the availability of our fare gates. But there are circumstances where sometimes this is happening. We are working with Presto  and our fare gate manufacturers to make sure this issue is being rectified.”

One of the challenges for people with an intellectual disability, advocates say, is not knowing what the balance is on your card when you tap it, but the TTC said that might change in the future.

“We are exploring the option of possibly including the balance on the screen,” said Brown.

In the meantime, the TTC has also partnered with Community Living and other groups to offer a training program called “Discover my Route” for those with developmental disabilities transitioning to Presto.

Angela Bradley with Community Living is part of a team that’s launched Discover My Route, a program that helps to train people living with an intellectual disability how to get around on the TTC. (John Lesavage)

“It really works with the individuals to make sure they do understand the change, they understand the differences and more importantly they know how to problem solve and how to ask for help,” said Angela Bradley,  director of resource development and marketing with Community Living.

The pilot program — launched around the time the transition to Presto began — includes in-class instruction to teach people how to use transit and what to do in case of an emergency or when their card doesn’t work.

“It’s like anything, it’s new, it’s changed and it needs training.”

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Health Ranger posts new microscopy photos of covid swabs, covid masks and mysterious red and blue fibers

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(Natural News) What follows is a series of microscopy photos of covid swabs (a synthetic swab, then a cotton swab), a covid mask and some zoomed-in photos of mysterious red and blue fibers found in the masks.

The magnification range for these photos is 50X to 200X. Most were taken with white light, but several (as indicated) were taken with UV light.

The images shown here are 600 pixels wide. We have higher resolution images available to researchers and indy media journalists; contact us for those hi-res images.

More microscopy investigations are under way, and new images will be posted as they are finalized.

First, this series shows the carbon fiber layer of a covid mask, illuminated with UV light:

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5,800 test positive, 74 die of coronavirus at least 14 days after getting fully vaccinated

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(Natural News) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday, April 15, confirmed some 5,800 breakthrough coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the U.S.

A breakthrough COVID-19 case is defined as someone who has detectable levels of SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – at least 14 days after getting fully vaccinated against the disease.

Nearly 400 breakthrough cases required treatment at hospitals and 74 died. A little over 40 percent of the infections were in people 60 years and above and 65 percent were female. About 29 percent of the vaccine breakthrough infections were reportedly asymptomatic. The figures were for cases through April 13.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told a congressional hearing on Thursday that the causes of the breakthrough cases are being probed. “Some of these breakthroughs are, of course, failure of an immune response in the host. And then some of them we worry might be related to a variant that is circulating. So we’re looking at both,” she said.

The CDC is monitoring reported cases “for clustering by patient demographics, geographic location, time since vaccination, vaccine type or lot number, and SARS-CoV-2 lineage.” It has created a national COVID-19 vaccine breakthrough database, where state health departments can enter, store and manage data for cases in their region.

Where available, respiratory specimens that tested positive for COVID-19 will be collected for genomic sequencing “to identify the virus lineage that caused the infection.”

Positive test less than two weeks after getting fully vaccinated is not a breakthrough case

The number of cases the CDC has identified does not include people who contracted COVID-19 less than two weeks after their final dose. The two-week marker is important, said infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

A human body should have enough time to develop antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 after that timeframe. Before then, a person won’t necessarily have the built-up immunity needed to fight off an infection. According to Dr. Adalja, cases that occur before the two-week mark are not considered breakthrough cases.

Dr. Adalja also noted that more research is needed to determine if highly infectious variants of the virus are behind the breakthrough cases. “It is crucial to study breakthrough cases to understand their severity, their contagiousness and what role variants may be playing,” Dr. Adalja said.

More than 78 million people have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in the U.S. as of April 15.

“To date, no unexpected patterns have been identified in case demographics or vaccine characteristics,” the CDC said in a statement. “COVID-19 vaccines are effective and are a critical tool to bring the pandemic under control.”

But the CDC conceded that “thousands of vaccine breakthrough cases will occur even though the vaccine is working as expected.”

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, agreed with the CDC. “These vaccines that we’re using are fabulous but they’re not perfect,” he said. “At best, they’re 95 percent effective in preventing serious illness, but minor illnesses can occur.”

According to U.S. drug regulators, Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is 95 percent effective in preventing infection. Moderna’s was shown in a clinical trial to be 94.1 percent effective while Johnson & Johnson’s was 66.9 percent effective. Only Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which received its emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Feb. 27, was tested when variants were circulating.

The percentages are based on results from vaccine recipients two weeks after the final vaccination.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stated in a briefing last week that the breakthrough cases are not a cause for concern.

“I think the important thing is to look at what the denominator of vaccinated people is. Because it is very likely that the number of breakthrough cases is not at all incompatible with the 90-plus percent vaccine efficacy,” he said. “So I don’t think that there needs to be concern about any shift or change in the efficacy of the vaccine.”

More info needed before drawing conclusions from breakthrough cases

The percentage of vaccine breakthroughs in a population depends on multiple factors, including vaccine efficacy, the amount of virus circulating and the length of time since vaccination, according to Natalie Dean, an assistant professor of biostatistics at the University of Florida.

“I love to see small numbers as much as anyone, but know that numbers like this cannot be directly interpreted as a measure of vaccine efficacy (although I have a feeling they will be). We can only interpret them against a background rate in unvaccinated people,” Dean wrote on Twitter.

“Similarly, ‘most breakthroughs have been in elderly adults’ should not be read as the vaccine is less effective in elderly adults. The majority of vaccinations (and the longest amount of follow-up time) have been in elderly adults. Again, we need more info to interpret.”

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More people died from fentanyl overdose than coronavirus in San Francisco last year

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(Natural News) More people died from fentanyl overdose than coronavirus (COVID-19) in San Francisco last year, a microcosm of a larger nationwide problem coinciding with the pandemic.

Data from San Francisco’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner shows that 708 people were killed by fentanyl in 2020, an astonishing 118 times more since the introduction of the drug in the city just five years earlier.

That figure nearly tripled the 254 COVID-19 deaths recorded in the city for the whole of last year. More than 8 in 10 deaths were male, and just under half were white. People aged 55 to 64 made up nearly a quarter of the fatalities. Nearly 40 percent of the deaths occurred in open-air drug markets such as the Tenderloin and South of Market.

The number of overdose deaths in the city could have been far worse as more than 3,000 addicts suffering from an overdose were administered with naloxone, the lifesaving medication that reverses overdoses.

San Francisco’s death rate from fentanyl overdose continues to rise this year as 135 died by overdose in January and February, putting the city on pace for more than 800 deaths by the end of the year.

The city has become a significant part of a larger trend. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data on Wednesday, April 14, showing that more than 87,000 Americans died from drug overdose over the 12-month period that ended in September last year – the highest since the opioid epidemic began in the 1990s.

Lockdowns lead to more cases of drug overdose

The surge represents an increasingly urgent public health crisis that may be correlated to the government’s monotonous battle plan against the COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 19 last year, California became the first state in the U.S. to implement a stay-at-home order. It subsequently endured the longest lockdown of any state in the country.

The pandemic and accompanying lockdowns are believed to be partly responsible for the soaring number of drug deaths for obvious reasons. Lockdowns have badly disrupted the social services in the city, including drug addiction treatment. Drug experts say the isolation of the past 12 months is causing vulnerable residents to turn to opioids.

“We see the death and devastation getting worse right in front of us,” said Matt Haney, San Francisco Board of Supervisors member. “It’s an unprecedented spiraling, directly connected to the introduction of fentanyl in our city.”

Fentanyl first appeared on the streets of San Francisco in 2015. There were just six deaths from the synthetic opioid that year, 12 deaths in 2016 and 37 deaths in 2017. The figure skyrocketed when the drugs became widely available in the city in 2018.

Kristen Marshall, manager of the national drug harm reduction DOPE Project, noted the grim irony that while social isolation could save lives from COVID-19, it had undoubtedly contributed to the number of overdose deaths.

“Isolation is also the thing that puts people at the absolute highest risk of overdose death,” she said.

Pandemic exacerbates rise in deaths from drug overdose

The number of deaths from drug overdose started rising in the months leading up to the coronavirus pandemic, making it hard to gauge how closely the two phenomena are linked. But the pandemic unquestionably exacerbated the trend. The biggest jump in overdose deaths took place in April and May when fear and stress were rampant, job losses were multiplying and the strictest lockdown measures were in effect.

Many treatment programs closed during that time while drop-in centers, which provide support, clean syringes and naloxone, cut back services.

The data released by the CDC shows a 29 percent rise in overdose deaths from October 2019 through September 2020 compared with the previous 12-month period. Illicitly manufactured fentanyl and other synthetic opioids were the primary drivers, although many fatal overdoses have also involved stimulant drugs like methamphetamine.

Unlike in the early years of the opioid epidemic, when deaths were largely among white Americans in rural and suburban areas, the current crisis is affecting Black Americans disproportionately.

“The highest increase in mortality from opioids, predominantly driven by fentanyl, is now among Black Americans,” Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said at a national addiction conference last week.

“And when you look at mortality from methamphetamine, it’s chilling to realize that the risk of dying from methamphetamine overdose is 12-fold higher among American Indians and Alaskan Natives than other groups.”

Dr. Volkow added that more deaths than ever involved drug combinations, typically of fentanyl or heroin with stimulants.

“Dealers are lacing these non-opioid drugs with cheaper, yet potent, opioids to make a larger profit,” she said. “Someone who’s addicted to a stimulant drug like cocaine or methamphetamine is not tolerant to opioids, which means they are going to be at high risk of overdose if they get a stimulant drug that’s laced with an opioid like fentanyl.”

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) supported Dr. Volkow’s claim, saying that transnational criminal organizations cause a spike in overdoses by mixing fentanyl into illicit narcotics.

According to the DEA, Mexican cartels often purchase the drug components in China and use human mules to smuggle the narcotics to lucrative drug markets north of the border.

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