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Federal agents seize roughly 10 million phony N95 masks in COVID-19 probe

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal agents have seized roughly 10 million fake 3M brand N95 masks in recent weeks, the result of an ongoing investigation into counterfeits sold in at least five states to hospitals, medical facilities and government agencies. 

The most recent seizures occurred Wednesday when Homeland Security agents intercepted hundreds of thousands of counterfeit 3M masks in an East Coast warehouse that were set to be distributed, officials said. 

Investigators also notified about 6,000 potential victims in at least 12 states including hospitals, medical facilities and others who may have unknowingly purchased knockoffs, urging them to stop using the medical-grade masks. Officials encouraged medical workers and companies to go to 3Ms website for tips on how to spot fakes.

The phony masks are not tested to see whether they meet strict N95 standards and could put frontline medical workers at risk if they are used while treating patients with COVID-19. 

Nearly a year into the pandemic, fraud remains a major problem as scammers seek to exploit hospitals and desperate Americans. Federal investigators say they have seen an increase in phony websites purporting to sell vaccines as well as fake medicine produced overseas and scams involving personal protective equipment. The schemes deliver phony products, unlike earlier in the pandemic when fraudsters focused more on fleecing customers.

3M, based in Maplewood, Minnesota, is among the largest global producers of the N95 mask, which has been approved by the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. It is considered the gold standard in protection against the coronavirus. The company delivered some 2 billion N95 masks in 2020 as the pandemic intensified, but in the earlier months, when masks were in short supply, fraudsters took advantage.

So far during the pandemic Homeland Security Investigations has used its 7,000 agents, along with border officials, the Food and Drug Administration and the FBI, to investigate the scams, seizing $33 million in phony products and arresting more than 200 people. The effort is based at the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, a government watchdog aimed at enforcing international trade laws and combating intellectual property theft.

Local researchers to test potential of psychedelics for treating amputees

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) – The Psychedelics and Health Research Initiative at UC San Diego received a $1.3 million grant from the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation to fund a clinical trial investigating the therapeutic potential of psilocybin in treating phantom limb pain, it was announced Wednesday.

Psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychedelic compound produced by many species of fungus, including so-called “magic mushrooms.” Phantom limb pain is pain originating from parts of the body no longer present, such as an amputated arm or leg. It is a form of neuropathic pain that actually originates in the spinal cord and brain.

The grant will fund the first randomized, placebo-controlled human clinical trial examining the safety and efficacy of psilocybin in patients suffering from chronic phantom limb pain. The trial is also designed to explore the brain mechanisms involved, including possible alterations in brain circuitry.

The trial is part of the PHRI, whose mission is to study the potential of psilocybin and related compounds in treating pain and promoting healing.

“The therapeutic potential of psilocybin is unique among pharmaceutical agents that are used as analgesics,” said Dr. Timothy Furnish, a clinical professor of anesthesiology at UCSD School of Medicine and a co- principal investigator in the trial.

“Most analgesic drugs are taken at least daily to treat the symptoms of chronic pain, but they do nothing to change the underlying pathology,” he said. “Psilocybin has the potential to `reset’ altered cortical brain circuits associated with certain chronic pain conditions. This reset could result in a drug that works on an extended basis (days or weeks) or perhaps even constitutes a `cure.”‘

Research at UCSD on psychedelics began in the 1970s with the work of Mark Geyer, a professor of psychiatry and neurosciences emeritus and co-founder of the PHRI. Geyer conducted basic research on the behavioral and neurobiological effects of psychedelics at UCSD.

The PHRI has a briefer history, originating in 2016 with Albert Yu-Min Lin, a research scientist at the Jacobs School of Engineering and Qualcomm Institute, who lost his lower right leg in an off-road vehicle accident. During recovery and rehabilitation, Lin experienced serious, recurrent phantom limb pain.

“The pain wasn’t subtle,” Lin said. “It was like being in the heart of a trauma all of the time. It was all consuming, but coming from a part of the body that literally no longer existed. I was desperate. I felt like I was gasping for air in a pool, looking for relief.”

During recovery, Lin discovered the work of V.S. Ramachandran, a professor of psychology and neurosciences at UCSD, who had pioneered development of a therapy for treating phantom limb pain. The treatment involves using mirrors to create a reflective illusion of the limb, tricking the brain into thinking movement has occurred without pain or to create positive visual feedback of limb movement. For Lin, the therapy provided pain relief, but only while the mirror was in place.

As a field researcher and explorer for the National Geographic Society, Lin had traveled the world helping develop technologies to assist in archeological digs and similar activities. He was aware that other cultures used plant-based preparations to produce mind-altering, therapeutic effects.

Lin procured some psilocybin, drove out to the desert, boiled it to create a tea and hooked up his leg mirror. He studied the illusion, removed the mirror, studied where his leg once had been and repeated the sequence, again and again.

Within 45 minutes, he said, there was relief.

“The pain was gone. I did handstands. It was a profoundly spiritual moment,” Lin said. “My mind had a map of my body and it was experiencing severe feedback issues, but it had to let go of that map through a sort of `state of ego death’ in which the psilocybin allowed the mind to reject the old map and create a new one. Now, I occasionally have a jolt of pain, but it’s mostly gone.”

But Lin also recognized that his experience was anecdotal and singular, and that more work was needed to help others in similar pain and circumstances. In 2018, Lin, Furnish, Ramachandran and others published a paper in Neurocase describing their collaboration, and in 2019, another account was published in the journal Regional Anesthesia & Pain Medicine.

The World Health Organization estimates that there are more than 40 million amputees in the world, with up to 80% experiencing phantom limb pain. Military veterans exhibit the highest rates of amputation and chronic phantom limb pain, according to previous studies.

Thirty amputees suffering from phantom pain will be enrolled in the three-year clinical trial. Half of the participants will receive 25 milligrams of psilocybin on two occasions; the other half will receive two doses of niacin.

Niacin was chosen as the placebo because it mimics some of the physical sensations that subjects may experience after taking psilocybin, but does not produce a “trip,” according to Furnish. The trial will include multiple clinical visits to assess pain and psychological functioning, including magnetic resonance imaging.

State’s new virus spending expected to include stimulus checks, business grants

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom says details will be released Wednesday on spending for small business grants, stimulus checks for individuals and housing for farmworkers infected by the coronavirus.

The deal with lawmakers will include $24 million for a program that puts farm and food processing workers up in hotels if they are exposed to the virus and can’t isolate. He didn’t share other details. His comments came as he visited a vaccination clinic in the Coachella Valley, an area that’s home to many farmworkers.

California’s virus numbers continue to improve in recent weeks, and Newsom voiced optimism Wednesday, saying that if the trend continues, most counties should be out of the state’s most restrictive “purple tier” by this time next month.

“We will see counties move not just purple to red, but more red to orange. And I anticipate based on the numbers already in orange, you will see many more in that yellow tier as well, which is the most permissive of the tiers,” Newsom said.

A move from the purple to red tier gives counties the opportunity to have restaurants open indoors at 25% capacity. Additionally in the tier:

  • Retail shops and malls can increase indoor capacity to 50%;
  • Museums, zoos, and aquariums can open indoors at 25% capacity;
  • Gyms and fitness centers can open indoors at 10% capacity; and
  • Movie theaters can open indoors at 25% capacity.

But Newsom cautioned that it’s only if cases continue to drop. He’s concerned that might not happen due to an increasing number of COVID-19 variants in the state. Demand for vaccines also still far exceeds supply in the state, futher limiting its recovery.

Thousands of service members saying no to COVID-19 vaccine

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  • In this Feb. 9, 2021 photo provided by the Department of Defense, Hickam 15th Medical Group host the first COVID-19 mass vaccination on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. By the thousands, U.S. service members are refusing or putting off the COVID-19 vaccine, as frustrated commanders scramble to knock down internet rumors and find the right pitch that will convince troops to take the shot. Some Army units are seeing as few as a third agree to the vaccine, others are higher. (U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Anthony Nelson Jr./Department of Defense via AP)
  • In this Feb. 9, 2021 photo provided by the Department of Defense, Hickam 15th Medical Group host the first COVID-19 mass vaccination on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. By the thousands, U.S. service members are refusing or putting off the COVID-19 vaccine, as frustrated commanders scramble to knock down internet rumors and find the right pitch that will convince troops to take the shot. Some Army units are seeing as few as a third agree to the vaccine, others are higher. (U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Anthony Nelson Jr./Department of Defense via AP)
  • In this Feb. 9, 2021 photo provided by the Department of Defense, Hickam 15th Medical Group host the first COVID-19 mass vaccination on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. By the thousands, U.S. service members are refusing or putting off the COVID-19 vaccine, as frustrated commanders scramble to knock down internet rumors and find the right pitch that will convince troops to take the shot. Some Army units are seeing as few as a third agree to the vaccine, others are higher. (U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Anthony Nelson Jr./Department of Defense via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — By the thousands, U.S. service members are refusing or putting off the COVID-19 vaccine as frustrated commanders scramble to knock down internet rumors and find the right pitch that will persuade troops to get the shot.

Some Army units are seeing as few as one-third agree to the vaccine. Military leaders searching for answers believe they have identified one potential convincer: an imminent deployment. Navy sailors on ships heading out to sea last week, for example, were choosing to take the shot at rates exceeding 80% to 90%.

Air Force Maj. Gen. Jeff Taliaferro, vice director of operations for the Joint Staff, told Congress on Wednesday that “very early data” suggests that just up to two-thirds of the service members offered the vaccine have accepted.

That’s higher than the rate for the general population, which a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation put at roughly 50%. But the significant number of forces declining the vaccine is especially worrisome because troops often live, work and fight closely together in environments where social distancing and wearing masks, at times, are difficult.

The military’s resistance also comes as troops are deploying to administer shots at vaccination centers around the country and as leaders look to American forces to set an example for the nation.

“We’re still struggling with what is the messaging and how do we influence people to opt in for the vaccine,” said Brig. Gen. Edward Bailey, the surgeon for Army Forces Command. He said that in some units just 30% have agreed to take the vaccine, while others are between 50% and 70%. Forces Command oversees major Army units, encompassing about 750,000 Army, Reserve and National Guard soldiers at 15 bases.

At Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where several thousand troops are preparing for future deployments, the vaccine acceptance rate is about 60%, Bailey said. That’s “not as high as we would hope for front-line personnel,” he said.

Bailey has heard all the excuses.

“I think the most amusing one I heard was, ‘The Army always tells me what to do, they gave me a choice, so I said no’,” he said.

Service leaders have vigorously campaigned for the vaccine. They have held town halls, written messages to the force, distributed scientific data, posted videos, and even put out photos of leaders getting vaccinated.

For weeks, the Pentagon insisted it did not know how many troops were declining the vaccine. On Wednesday they provided few details on their early data.

Officials from individual military services, however, said in interviews with The Associated Press that refusal rates vary widely, depending on a service member’s age, unit, location, deployment status and other intangibles.

The variations make it harder for leaders to identify which arguments for the vaccine are most persuasive. The Food and Drug Administration has allowed emergency use of the vaccine, so it’s voluntary. But Defense Department officials say they hope that soon may change.

“We cannot make it mandatory yet,” Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, commander of the Navy’s 2nd Fleet, said last week. “I can tell you we’re probably going to make it mandatory as soon as we can, just like we do with the flu vaccine.”

About 40 Marines gathered recently in a California conference room for an information session from medical staff. One officer, who was not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations and spoke on condition of anonymity, said Marines are more comfortable posing questions about the vaccine in smaller groups.

The officer said one Marine, citing a widely circulated and false conspiracy theory, said: “I heard that this thing is actually a tracking device.” The medical staff, said the officer, quickly debunked that theory, and pointed to the Marine’s cellphone, noting that it’s an effective tracker.

Other frequent questions revolved around possible side effects or health concerns, including for pregnant women. Army, Navy and Air Force officials say they hear much the same.

The Marine Corps is a relatively small service and troops are generally younger. Similar to the general population, younger service members are more likely to decline or ask to wait. In many cases, military commanders said, younger troops say they have had the coronavirus or known others who had it, and concluded it was not bad.

“What they’re not seeing is that 20-year-olds who’ve actually gotten very sick, have been hospitalized or die, or the folks who appear to be fine but then it turns out they’ve developed pulmonary and cardiac abnormalities,” Bailey said.

One ray of hope has been deployments.

Lewis, based in Norfolk, Virginia, said last week that sailors on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, which is operating in the Atlantic, agreed to get the shot at a rate of about 80%. Sailors on the USS Iwo Jima and Marines in the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, who also are deploying, had rates of more than 90%.

Bailey said the Army is seeing opportunities to reduce the two-week quarantine period for units deploying to Europe if service members are largely vaccinated and the host nation agrees. U.S. Army Europe may cut the quarantine time to five days if 70% of the unit is vaccinated, and that incentive could work, he said.

The acceptance numbers drop off among those who are not deploying, military officials said.

Gen. James McConville, the Army’s chief of staff, used his own experience to encourage troops to be vaccinated. “When they asked me how it felt, I said it was a lot less painful than some of the meetings I go to in the Pentagon.”

Col. Jody Dugai, commander of the Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital at Fort Polk, Louisiana, said that so far conversations at the squad level, with eight to 10 peers, have been successful, and that getting more information helps.

At the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Brig. Gen. David Doyle, has a dual challenge. As base commander, he must persuade the nearly 7,500 soldiers on base to get the shot and he needs to ensure that the thousands of troops that cycle in and out for training exercises are safe.

Doyle said the acceptance rate on his base is between 30% and 40%, and that most often it’s the younger troops who decline.

“They tell me they don’t have high confidence in the vaccine because they believe it was done too quickly,” he said. Top health officials have attested to the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.

Doyle said it appears peers are often more influential than leaders in persuading troops — a sentiment echoed by Bailey, the Army Forces Command surgeon.

“We’re trying to figure out who the influencers are,” Bailey said. “Is it a squad leader or platoon sergeant in the Army? I think it probably is. Someone who is more of their age and interacts with them more on a regular basis versus the general officer who takes his picture and says, ‘I got the shot.’”

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AP National Security writer Robert Burns contributed to this report.

Two arrested in murder of teen found dead in Akron backyard

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AKRON, Ohio (WJW)– Members of the Northern Ohio Violent Fugitive Task Force arrested two suspects in the murder of a 17-year-old boy.

Leeric Dayvierre Campbell and Jaemeir Lamorreon Gooden, both 19, were wanted by the Akron Police Department for homicide.

The U.S. Marshals Service said the 17-year-old victim was shot numerous times in the chest and died in a backyard on Clifford Avenue Monday evening.

Campbell and Gooden were quickly identified as suspects and both found at a home on Raymond Avenue, according to the Marshals.

“Extremely swift and diligent work by both the Akron Police Department and our task force led to these two violent suspects being located so quickly and arrested without any issue.  The city of Akron will be a safer place with these two behind bars,” U.S. Marshal Pete Elliott said in a news release on Wednesday.

Texas mayor resigns after telling residents without power ‘only the strong will survive’

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*See video above of the snow in Lubbuck, Texas.*

COLORADO CITY, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) — The now former mayor of a Texas city is catching some heat after posting a message on social media berating citizens affected by the cold.

Tim Boyd wrote Tuesday morning on Facebook that it is “not the local government’s responsibility to support you during trying times like this! Sink or swim, it’s your choice!”

Addressing power outages, Boyd writes, “The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a d— handout!”

“Only the strong will survive and the weak will parish (sic),” Boyd continues.

Boyd made another social media post later Tuesday afternoon saying he “won’t deny for one minute” what he said in the post, and that many of the things he wrote were “taken out of context.”

In the same post, Boyd states that he had already turned in his resignation, although it is unclear if he did so before or after writing the initial Facebook post. As of Tuesday evening, Boyd was still listed as the city’s mayor on the government website.

Calls made to Boyd were not immediately returned.

See the Facebook statements in full below:

No one owes you or your family anything; nor is it the local government’s responsibility to support you during trying times like this! Sink or swim, it’s your choice! The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a d— hand out! If you don’t have electricity you step up and come up with a game plan to keep your family warm and safe. If you have no water you deal without and think outside of the box to survive and supply water to your family. If you are sitting at home in the cold because you have no power and are sitting there waiting for someone to come rescue you because your lazy is direct result of your raising! Only the strong will survive and the weak will perish. Folks God Has given us the tools to support ourselves in times like this. This is sadly a product of a socialist government where they feed people to believe that the FEW will work and others will become dependent for handouts. Am I sorry that you have been dealing without electricity and water; yes! But I’ll be d—ed if I’m going to provide for anyone that is capable of doing it themselves! We have lost sight of those in need and those that take advantage of the system and meshed them into one group!! Bottom line quit crying and looking for a handout! Get off your a– and take care of your own family! Bottom line-DON’T BE A PART OF A PROBLEM, BE A PART OF THE SOLUTION!

Boyd’s second post:

All, I have set back and watched all this escalating and have tried to keep my mouth shut! I won’t deny for one minute what I said in my post this morning. Believe me when I say that many of the things I said were taken out of context and some of which were said without putting much thought in to it. I would never want to hurt the elderly or anyone that is in true need of help to be left to fend for themselves. I was only making the statement that those folks that are too lazy to get up and fend for themselves but are capable should not be dealt a handout. I apologize for the wording and some of the phrases that were used! I had already turned in my resignation and had not signed up to run for mayor again on the deadline that was February 12th! I spoke some of this out of the anger that the city and county was catching for situations which were out of their control. Please understand if I had it to do over again I would have just kept my words to myself and if I did say them I would have used better wording and been more descriptive.

The anger and harassment you have caused my wife and family is so undeserved….my wife was laid off of her job based off the association people gave to her and the business she worked for. She’s a very good person and was only defending me! But her to have to get fired from her job over things I said out of context is so horrible. I admit, there are things that are said all the time that I don’t agree with; but I would never harass you or your family to the point that they would lose there livelihood such as a form of income.

I ask that you each understand I never meant to speak for the city of Colorado City or Mitchell county! I was speaking as a citizen as I am NOT THE MAYOR anymore. I apologize for the wording and ask that you please not harass myself or my family anymore!

Threatening our lives with comments and messages is a horrible thing to have to wonder about. I won’t share any of those messages from those names as I feel they know who they are and hope after they see this they will retract the hateful things they have said!

Thank you

Tim Boyd(citizen)

Police arrest Cleveland driver after he reportedly hit 2 cruisers, lead officers on chase with 3 kids in vehicle

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MACEDONIA, Ohio (WJW) — Police are investigating an early morning chase incident that reportedly involved multiple departments and ended with the arrest of a Cleveland man.

Around 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, a Macedonia police officer reportedly saw a car speeding down State Route 82. Attempting to catch up with the car, the officer put on his sirens, and the driver did pull over. The officer reportedly told the driver to turn off the vehicle, at which point the driver sped off.

The officer pursued, and on East Highland Road and Boyle Parkway the driver pulled a U-turn and hit the officer’s vehicle. The driver then sped off, and nearby departments were told to look out for the vehicle.

Around 1:15 a.m., Cuyahoga Heights police saw the suspected vehicle in a Speedway parking lot. Approaching the vehicle, the driver took off, striking yet another police cruiser. Police were eventually able to catch up and surround the car on Harvard Avenue.

The driver of the car was identified as 31-year-old James Avery Jr., who was taken into custody (on currently pending charges) by Cuyahoga Heights police and taken to a nearby hospital for evaluation.

No officers were reportedly hurt in the incident.

A male passenger, whose three children were also in Avery’s car, was also released at the scene, police said.

According to the Macedonia Police Department, Avery has been charged through the Stow Municipal Court with the following: felonious assault, failure to comply with an officer, driving under suspension and reckless operation. He reportedly had multiple warrants out for his arrest.

Police: Eastbound lanes of Cleveland Memorial Shoreway shut down due to crash

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CLEVELAND (WJW) — The eastbound lanes of Cleveland Memorial Shoreway are currently closed following a crash.

According to the Cleveland Division of Police, a vehicle flipped near the Edgewater exit.

A 45-year-old woman was taken to MetroHealth for her injuries.

No other details are available at this time. FOX 8 has a crew heading to the scene.

DeSantis: Moderna vaccine shipment delays may be due to winter storms

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Officials rolling out COVID-19 vaccines are dealing with another distribution hurdle in Florida and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says Mother Nature is to blame.

Over the next couple of days, getting some COVID-19 vaccines to Florida may become a problem due to the winter weather the rest of the nation is facing.

“The Moderna though, that entire shipment is still yet to come,” said DeSantis. “We think it’s going to come hopefully by Thursday or Friday. Normally we would have all the Moderna [vaccines] by Tuesday or Wednesday of each week. What’s happened is, you see all the storms, you see a lot of the ice, I think some of this stuff is just in Memphis or the places where they ship from.”

In the meantime, the National Retail Pharmacy Program is still going strong and the COVID-19 response team said they will be doubling those vaccinations in a short time.

Cases across the nation have been dropping continuously for approximately five weeks.

The coronavirus response team at the White House said the COVID-19 cases are down 20% in the last week alone.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said vaccines are playing a role in the declining case and death rate for the virus.

DeSantis: Moderna vaccine shipment delays may be due to winter storms

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Officials rolling out COVID-19 vaccines are dealing with another distribution hurdle in Florida and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says Mother Nature is to blame.

Over the next couple of days, getting some COVID-19 vaccines to Florida may become a problem due to the winter weather the rest of the nation is facing.

“The Moderna though, that entire shipment is still yet to come,” said DeSantis. “We think it’s going to come hopefully by Thursday or Friday. Normally we would have all the Moderna [vaccines] by Tuesday or Wednesday of each week. What’s happened is, you see all the storms, you see a lot of the ice, I think some of this stuff is just in Memphis or the places where they ship from.”

In the meantime, the National Retail Pharmacy Program is still going strong and the COVID-19 response team said they will be doubling those vaccinations in a short time.

Cases across the nation have been dropping continuously for approximately five weeks.

The coronavirus response team at the White House said the COVID-19 cases are down 20% in the last week alone.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said vaccines are playing a role in the declining case and death rate for the virus.