Georgia lawmaker: Can people with HIV be ‘legally’ quarantined?

A Georgia state representative — who is also an anesthesiologist and the wife of the former federal Health and Human Services secretary — asked at a public hearing Tuesday about the legality of quarantining HIV patients to stop the spread of the virus that causes AIDS.

“What are we legally able to do?” Dr. Betty Price, a Republican, asked Dr. Pascale Wortley, director of the HIV/AIDS Epidemiology Surveillance Section at the Georgia Department of Public Health. “I don’t want to say the ‘quarantine’ word, but I guess I just said it. … What would you advise, or are there any methods, legally, that we could do that would curtail the spread?”

Price, whose husband, Dr. Tom Price, resigned last month from President Donald Trump’s Cabinet, raised the issue during a committee meeting.

“It just seems to me it’s almost frightening the number of people who are living that are potentially carriers — well, they are carriers — but, potential to spread,” Betty Price said. “Whereas, in the past, they died more readily, and then at that point, they are not posing a risk. So, we’ve got a huge population posing a risk if they’re not in treatment.”

An estimated 1.1 million people in the United States were living with HIV at the end of 2014, the most recent year for which this information is available, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Wortley did not directly address Price’s question about quarantine, pivoting instead to describing the state’s programs for identifying and tracking HIV patients.

Advocacy group demands apology

The quarantining of people with HIV has not been a matter of serious discussion since the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. At that time, about half of respondents to a poll by the Los Angeles Times found said AIDS should be added to the list of infectious diseases that require quarantine.

The LGBQT advocacy group GLAAD on Friday demanded an apology from Price.

“We have come a long way in how we understand and talk about HIV as a nation, and comments like those made by Georgia State Representative Betty Price fly in the face of that progress, and of basic decency,” the group’s president, Sarah Kate Ellis, said in a written statement.

It is “reprehensible” that the comments were made by a physician and a lawmaker, Ellis added.

CNN legal analyst Mel Robbins also criticized Price.

“My first impression is, ‘Thank god, as a doctor, she is not treating people with HIV,’ because she clearly knows nothing about the disease,” Robbins said. “As was the case with Ebola, to have any kind of quarantine, the immediate threat to the public would have to be so substantial as to warrant the infringement upon someone’s individual rights.”

Price’s office did not respond to CNN’s multiple requests for comment. The Georgia Department of Public Health, on behalf of Wortley, declined to comment.

Proper care can eliminate virus spread

Price was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in a 2015 special election to represent Atlanta’s northern suburbs. She serves as deputy whip for the Republican caucus and is a member of the Health and Human Services Committee, according to her official biography. The Georgia Society of Anesthesiologists supported Price’s candidacy.

Tom Price, an orthopedic surgeon, resigned as HHS secretary amid a scandal over his use of private planes.

Men and women who are HIV-positive can virtually eliminate their chances of transmitting the virus if they are under proper care.

Getting tested and knowing one’s status is the first step in the fight to end HIV/AIDS. The CDC estimates 1 in 7 people who have HIV don’t know they are infected. Those carriers can then unwittingly infect their sexual partners or, in the case of drug users, individuals with whom they share needles or syringes.

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At least 15 killed in Kabul suicide attack

At least 15 people died in a suicide bombing Saturday in Kabul, the latest in a string of attacks this week across war-weary Afghanistan.

The bombing took place near a military academy, about seven miles from the Afghan capital’s downtown, Defense Ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri told CNN.

A suicide bomber on foot struck a bus carrying men who had been taking a course at the Marshal Fahim Military Academy.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

The attack was the latest in a violent week in Afghanistan, where US-led coalition and Afghan forces have been battling Islamic militants, including the Taliban and ISIS.

There were two assaults on mosques Friday when people gathered for prayers.

At least 39 people were killed in a suicide attack on a Shiite mosque in Kabul, and at least 20 people died when a bomber detonated his suicide vest at a Sunni mosque in the central province of Ghor. CNN has not confirmed any claims of responsibility.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack Thursday on a base in Kandahar that killed 43 people.

At least 41 people were killed and scores were injured Tuesday in an attack on police headquarters in Gardez, the provincial capital of Paktia in eastern Afghanistan. The Taliban claimed responsibility.

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Court, for now, blocks immigrant teen’s access to abortion

An appeals court is blocking, for now, an abortion sought by a pregnant 17-year-old immigrant being held in a Texas facility, ruling that the government should have time to try to release her so she can obtain the abortion outside of federal custody.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued its ruling Friday hours after arguments from lawyers for the Trump administration and the teenager. The court ruled 2-1 that the government should have until Oct. 31 to release the girl into the custody of a sponsor, such as an adult relative in the United States. If that happens, she could obtain an abortion if she chooses. If she isn’t released, the case can go back to court.

The judge who dissented wrote that the court’s ruling means the teen will be forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy for “multiple more weeks.”

The teen, whose name and country of origin have been withheld because she’s a minor, is 15 weeks pregnant. She entered the U.S. in September and learned she was pregnant while in custody in Texas.

She obtained a court order Sept. 25 permitting her to have an abortion. But federal officials have refused to transport her or temporarily release her so that others may take her to have an abortion. A lower federal court ruled that she should be able to obtain an abortion Friday or Saturday, but the government appealed.

Federal health officials said in a statement that for “however much time” they are given they “will protect the well-being of this minor and all children and their babies” in their facilities.

Susan Hays, legal director of the Texas group Jane’s Due Process, which works with pregnant minors seeking an abortion and had offered to help pay for the teen’s abortion, said the court appeared to be “punting” the final decision on whether the teenager would be entitled to an abortion.

Brigitte Amiri, the ACLU lawyer who represented the teen in court, said in a statement that the group is “investigating all avenues to get justice for her.”

“Justice is delayed yet again for this courageous and persistent young woman. She continues to be held hostage and prevented from getting an abortion because the Trump administration disagrees with her personal decision,” Amiri said. “Our client and women across this country should be able to access a safe, legal abortion without federal officials stepping in to interfere.”

The teenager’s lawyers have argued that even a brief delay in allowing her to obtain an abortion could mean she may need a more complex procedure, one possibly not available in the region where she lives. If that happens, she could have to travel hundreds of miles to obtain an abortion, and if her case drags on she could lose her right to an abortion all together, her lawyers said. Texas law bans most abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy.

During arguments at the appeals court, Amiri told the judges that all the government needed to do was “get out of the way.” An attorney appointed to represent the teen’s interests had said she could transport her to and from appointments necessary for the procedure, and the federal government would not have to pay for it.

But administration lawyer Catherine Dorsey told the judges that the federal Department of Health and Human Services, which is responsible for sheltering children who illegally enter the country unaccompanied by a parent, has a policy of “refusing to facilitate” abortions and that releasing the teenager would require arranging a transfer of custody and follow-up care.

During arguments, Judge Brett Kavanaugh said releasing the girl to a sponsor seemed to be the best option. That, he said, would get her out of the facility where she is being held, allow her to obtain an abortion and leave the government out of it. But Amiri said a sponsor hadn’t yet been found and that the process could take months. At least one potential sponsor has fallen through.

In a two-page order, Kavanaugh and Judge Karen Henderson, both of whom were appointed by Republican presidents, said that if a sponsor is found by Oct. 31 and the teenager released, the government agrees she “will be lawfully able, if she chooses, to obtain an abortion on her own pursuant to the relevant state law.”

Judge Patricia Millett, who was appointed by a Democrat, President Barack Obama, would have allowed the girl to obtain an abortion as the lower court had ruled. Millett wrote that the girl “has already been forced by the government to continue an unwanted pregnancy for almost four weeks, and now, as a result of this order, must continue to carry that pregnancy for multiple more weeks.”

 

 

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They survived California fires — now crisis is finding housing

Laurie Martinez has slept in a tent every night since a fire ripped through her neighborhood in Santa Rosa, California.

She walked several blocks to a local center on Wednesday to find out what help is available and began the process of piecing her life together after the fire.

“Everyone has to start over,” she said.

She and her family were displaced by one of the massive Northern California fires last week.

The fire didn’t discriminate. The most destructive fire in California history torched Santa Rosa’s high-end homes, middle-class neighborhoods and a mobile home park. It left the entire spectrum of the city’s population in distress as homes and businesses went up in flames.

And because of the housing crunch gripping the San Francisco Bay Area, survivors of the fire are dealing with a different kind crisis: They have nowhere to go.

Housing was already scarce in Santa Rosa before the fire. Now, there’s even less.

Altogether, the fires killed 42 people and destroyed 8,400 structures, according to Cal Fire. The fires are almost contained, as of Friday.

While residents expressed gratitude for surviving the deadly blaze, nearly all have been dealing with daily uncertainty. Where do they go from here? Where are they going to sleep tonight?

Every day, Pauline Conway, a substitute teacher, tries to figure out if she can reserve one more night at a Santa Rosa hotel where she has stayed. She can’t book reservations beyond one night due to the demand for hotel rooms, and hasn’t found any open apartments.

“I’ve been going night-to-night, and it’s stressful,” said Conway on Wednesday.

She wore a look of fatigue, and a pair of denim shorts and zip-up jacket — the same clothes she had on when she fled her house more than a week ago. She held her cell phone in one hand and a clump of documents in the other as she bounced from call to call.

Conway’s house, which was in the Fountaingrove neighborhood, was destroyed. She hasn’t decided whether to rebuild her home, where she lived for 20 years. But since the night of the fire, she has slept on the floor of a sporting goods store, at a cousin’s house and in hotels.

Displaced residents are in shelters, mobile homes, staying with friends and family, or bouncing from one hotel to another, trying to figure out where they can stay after their homes were reduced to ash.

Some have gone to stay with family more than a hundred miles away. But many told CNN that they want to stay close to Santa Rosa. They’ve lost their homes, they don’t want to lose their jobs, too.

No housing means no place to put donations

Martinez, her three daughters and two grandchildren had lived in a two-bedroom apartment. The building didn’t burn down, but there was so much smoke damage, they can’t stay there, she said.

Her five family members now share a bedroom in a house about 20 miles away in the city of Monte Rio, but Martinez stayed behind in Santa Rosa, preferring to stay in a tent to avoid overcrowding. She set up the tent near a shelter, so she could wash and use the facilities.

“It’s been really humbling,” she said. “No one looks down at you. This is a resort area, a vintage town. Everybody didn’t want homeless people on the streets. Now people are homeless.”

Martinez sleeps in the tent shared with her cousin and charges her phone in her daughter’s car during their visits.

After vising the local assistance center, she received a list of low-income housing resources to call — a stack of paperwork stuffed inside a grocery bag. But she wasn’t confident she’d find a place for her and her family.

Their belongings, which were mostly in storage, were destroyed in the fire. Martinez said there have been generous offers of donated items and clothing, but they can’t accept them.

“There’s nowhere to put it,” she said. “There’s no storage. My family is living in one room.”

‘I don’t know where everyone’s going to go’

Santa Rosa, a mixed-income community is about 50 miles north of San Francisco. It was one of the last vestiges of affordable housing compared with the rest of the Bay Area.

The value of a typical Santa Rosa home was around $600,000, compared with San Francisco’s $1.2 million and Marin County’s $1 million, according to 2017 data from the National Association of Realtors.

Before the fires, the city had already been grappling with severe lack of housing and a 3 percent vacancy rate.

“The inventory was constrained prior to the fire,” said Rick Laws, senior vice president in Santa Rosa for Pacific Union International real estate agency. “Now, we have lost about 5 percent of the housing stock of Santa Rosa, so that’s huge.”

Homes that had once seemed undesirable have been snapped up.

“People are calling, asking ‘What have you got? I can buy it. I don’t care what it is,” Laws said.

One listing in Petaluma — a city 15 miles south — had previously rented for $4,000 a month and went for $13,000 to an insurance company. Another vacation rental also went to an insurance company for $18,000 a month, he said.

While homeowners with insurance can likely rebuild and stay in the neighborhood, it’s a tougher question for low-income residents.

“Low-income people are even more likely to be squeezed out,” said Sarah Karlinsky, senior policy adviser at SPUR, a public policy think tank that does urban planning in the Bay Area.

“Is rental housing going to be rebuilt? How affordable will it be? Those are big questions and without some thinking through, low-income people will be disproportionately affected.”

Housing experts agree: Costs will likely increase.

“We’re going to see inventory get really tight and prices go up. Not everyone can buy, and there were almost no rentals prior to this,” Laws said. “I don’t know where everyone’s going to go.”

Shelters still opened

Since evacuating on Oct. 9, Lydia Delos Reyes and her son, Robert, have been staying in a Sonoma County shelter.

Shelters are gradually closing as more evacuation orders are lifted. There were 20-30 shelters during the peak of the fire, now the county is down to three. Staying there isn’t a tenable, long-term solution, but Delos Reyes is grateful for the shelters and the kind workers there.

She’s a retiree from Hewlett-Packard and had lived in her Santa Rosa house in Coffey Park for 26 years. She lives with her son and grandson.

She said they have to stay in the area because her grandson works locally. But so far, the only available apartments have been in San Francisco (50 miles away), Sacramento (95 miles away) and Bakersfield (300 miles away).

“We keep calling, but nothing is available. All residents are in the same situation. A lot of people need a place. They just said nothing’s available,” she said.

They’re working with their insurance company, but they have no leads for temporary housing.

“I can feel myself getting heavier and heavier,” Delos Reyes said, pointing to her heart. She paused for a moment, choking back emotions.

“Every afternoon, I remember my house. I love my neighbors. I love my area. This is my place forever.”

What help is available?

Homeowner insurance policies vary, but generally fire coverage could include the cost of rebuilding, interim housing and property damages. There are limits to how much personal property is covered though, said Linda Kornfeld, vice chair at Blank Rome’s insurance recovery practice.

The key is to file claims early, she said.

FEMA offers a maximum of $34,000 grant per individual to both renters and homeowners who’ve sustained damage during a disaster. The money can be used for temporary housing, lodging, emergency repairs, personal property loss, medical, dental and funeral expenses.

The agency has also started the process of gathering local resources to build lists of vacancies to help people who need temporary housing. But the options could be limited as housing was already scarce before the fire.

FEMA said it had its first meeting with state officials and affected communities to assess housing issues on Thursday. But Frank Mansell, spokesman for FEMA, cautioned that it was still early in the process.

“We sit down with the state and communities, discussing what the options are,” he said. “FEMA doesn’t come in and say, ‘This is your solution.'”

FEMA used mobile homes for people after the 2005 Hurricane Katrina, but such decisions regarding housing are made by the community, Mansell said.

Something beautiful born out of ashes

The question of where Michael Ruiz and his family would live also weighed heavily. They had lost their home and all their belongings.

His pregnant wife, Charity Ruiz, escaped from the flames — that overtook their Santa Rosa house — on a bicycle last week. She put her two daughters in a toddler trailer hitched to the bike and rode out of the flames to safety.

A week after her harrowing escape, she gave birth to their third child.

With a newborn and two toddlers, the couple were eager to find a place for their growing family that was close to the couple’s workplace, a church in Santa Rosa.

Like many, Michael Ruiz struggled to find anything available, but worked with a family friend who’s a real estate agent. They may have found a rental in Sebastopol, a city about five miles west of Santa Rosa, he said.

In a span of a week, they lost their home that was bought in March, escaped from their burning neighborhood and welcomed the birth of their son.

“In the midst of all the heartache, there’s incredible joy as well,” Ruiz said.

He said they named their newborn son Remington Phoenix, to symbolize that “something beautiful has been born out of the ashes.”

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Five former US presidents to appear at hurricane relief concert

It’ll be a rare joint appearance of five members of an exclusive club.

All five living former US presidents will take part in a benefit concert Saturday in Texas to raise money for hurricane relief efforts.

Former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter will attend the event at Reed Arena at Texas A&M University.

The concert named “Deep From the Heart: The One America Appeal” will feature rock and country musicians such as Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen, Sam Moore and Yolanda Adams. Country music artist Lee Greenwood will emcee the event.

“It’s important that those affected by these devastating storms know that even if the path to recovery feels like a road that goes on forever, we’re with them for the long haul,” President George H.W. Bush said.

This isn’t the first time the former presidents joined forces.

After Hurricane Harvey struck Texas in September, all five started the “One America Appeal” charity effort and filmed a video urging citizens to help out amid the devastating flooding.

They have since resumed the effort in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria.

“We love you Texas,” the elder Bush said in a video posted to the One America Appeal site. The President raised his family in Texas and also served as a congressman for the state.

Funds collected through concert ticket sales will be distributed through various organizations in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

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