WBRZ https://www.wbrz.com/ WBRZ News News en-us Copyright 2021, WBRZ. All Rights Reserved. Feed content is not avaialble for commercial use. () () Tue, 2 Mar 2021 HH:03:ss GMT Synapse CMS 10 WBRZ https://www.wbrz.com/ 144 25 Gov. Edwards expected to loosen some virus restrictions Tuesday https://www.wbrz.com/news/gov-edwards-expected-to-loosen-some-virus-restrictions-tuesday/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/gov-edwards-expected-to-loosen-some-virus-restrictions-tuesday/ News Mon, 1 Mar 2021 10:05:48 PM WBRZ Staff Gov. Edwards expected to loosen some virus restrictions Tuesday

BATON ROUGE - Ahead of the expiration of Louisiana's 'modified phase 2' order Wednesday, Gov. John Bel Edwards is expected to relax some of his COVID-19 restrictions.

Last week, Edwards hinted he would ease some restrictions when the current order lapses March 3.

"I would anticipate that we will have a new proclamation, meaning not just an extension of the current public health emergency proclamation with its restrictions and mitigation measures," Edwards said on Feb. 25. "There will be new features in that."

Edwards will announce his next order during a Tuesday afternoon news conference, hours before he is scheduled to receive his second COVID-19 vaccine dose.

"Given that we're still at a reasonably high level of cases, I would imagine he's going to make an incremental change and then see how the population responds," Dr. Susan Hassig, a Tulane University epidemiologist said.

Louisiana has been under 'modified phase 2' restrictions for the past three months. Edwards first pushed the state back days before Thanksgiving.

In Edwards' current 'modified phase 2' order, restaurants, retail stores, gyms, salons, and spas, can operate at 50% capacity. Tighter restrictions on bars have kept them closed or nearly-shuttered in several parishes.

Hassig and other public health experts believe Edwards will target capacity when he relaxes some of the restrictions, effective Wednesday.

"I think restaurant capacity is a reasonable place to expand," Hassig said. "It's a more controlled environment. I would be really concerned if indoor seating in bars expanded tremendously, or at all."

Even as the state continues making progress with vaccinations, having administered more than 1 million as of Tuesday, Dr. Hassig, who helped advise the state on its coronavirus vaccine distribution plan, says the state's current improvements remain fragile, and a loosening of restrictions, while manageable, could present problems the state has seen previously.

"The challenge is that when restrictions get loosened you kind of have to assume that it's probably going to get pushed a little farther than the actual guidance or level of loosening that's recommended," Hassig said.

As other states also ease virus-related restrictions or throw them out altogether, Hassig and others are confident Edwards will keep his mask mandate in place.

"It's not back to normal, normal, as we knew it," Dr. Susanne Straif-Bourgeois, an epidemiologist at LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans, who sits on the state's COVID-19 Public Health Advisory Committee said.

Click HERE to watch the news conferences on WBRZ Plus, which is available online and on TV.  


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Baton Rouge Dioscese, New Orleans Archdiocese tout moral concerns over Johnson & Johnson vaccine https://www.wbrz.com/news/baton-rouge-dioscese-new-orleans-archdiocese-tout-moral-concerns-over-johnson-and-johnson-vaccine/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/baton-rouge-dioscese-new-orleans-archdiocese-tout-moral-concerns-over-johnson-and-johnson-vaccine/ News Mon, 1 Mar 2021 8:53:07 PM Falon Brown Baton Rouge Dioscese, New Orleans Archdiocese tout moral concerns over Johnson & Johnson vaccine

BATON ROUGE - As the new single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine makes its way to Louisiana, the Catholic church is citing moral concerns over the shot. 

On Monday, Bishop Michael Duca of the Baton Rouge Diocese issued a statement marking the Catholic Church's stance on vaccines. Duca encouraged Catholics in Baton Rouge to get the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines if they are available, but warned against receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to the nature of its production, if patients have a vaccine option.

The statement reads, "I continue to encourage everyone to receive a vaccination, but the new vaccine from Johnson & Johnson has some moral concerns we must acknowledge. Unlike the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, Johnson & Johnson uses a line of stem cells procured from abortions performed over 30 years ago in the production of its vaccine." 

The Archdiocese of New Orleans also spoke out in opposition of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for the same reason. Both Catholic churches said fellow Catholics should choose a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine if they are available, but the church will not condemn individuals who receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine if it is the only option. 

"Given our present situation and the need to protect ourselves and one another from this virus, my guidance to the faithful of the Diocese of Baton Rouge is to accept as your first choices the vaccines created by Pfizer and Moderna, but if for any reasonable circumstance you are only able to receive the vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, you should feel free to do so for your safety and for the common good," said Bishop Duca. 

These statements have been released following the news of nearly 38,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that are set to be delivered to hospitals in Louisiana this week. 


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Debris from winter storm causes clog in Ascension waterway https://www.wbrz.com/news/debris-from-winter-storm-causes-clog-in-ascension-waterway/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/debris-from-winter-storm-causes-clog-in-ascension-waterway/ News Mon, 1 Mar 2021 8:16:33 PM Earl Phelps Debris from winter storm causes clog in Ascension waterway

ASCENSION PARISH - Debris in a creek running from the Amite River in Ascension Parish is blocking boat traffic on the waterway.

"[It is] kinda aggravating. You buy a place to be on the river, and then you have to deal with this," said Rob Bergeron, who lives nearby. 

Bergeron move to Summerfield Road almost 15 years ago. He had to rescue his dog from the dirty creek after it jumped into the water.

"I've probably been through 15, 16 floods and this is the only time I've seen this," Bergeron said.

The creek is filled water bottles, tree limbs, old tires and debris that has been there since last week's winter storm.

"I was disgusted. It looks like 2,000 people dumped trash in there," said Nicole Nichols.

Nichols also lives near by. She notice the trash right after the ice storm.

"It flooded first, then froze and this is what was left," Nichols said.

After contacting Ascension Parish officials about the problem, a work order is now in to have the debris removed, but the residents say a bigger problem is a private bridge built last year where the debris is collecting.

"If the water gets too high, you can't get in or out, whether the trash is there or not, it doesn't matter," Nichols said.

Parish officials say the Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit to allow the crossing over the creek to be built, but the property is now for sale.


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Arrested BRPD officer allegedly took seized drugs, gave them to a friend https://www.wbrz.com/news/arrested-brpd-officer-allegedly-took-seized-drugs-gave-them-to-a-friend/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/arrested-brpd-officer-allegedly-took-seized-drugs-gave-them-to-a-friend/ News Mon, 1 Mar 2021 5:20:44 PM Jeremy Krail Arrested BRPD officer allegedly took seized drugs, gave them to a friend

BATON ROUGE - Investigators say a Baton Rouge cop arrested for giving out drugs was caught taking department-seized marijuana by one of his fellow officers.

Arrest records obtained by WBRZ Monday said Jason Acree was charged last week after another officer caught him taking marijuana seized by BRPD and slipping it into zip-lock bags. Investigators said surveillance cameras caught the act on video. 

When his co-worker questioned Acree about the marijuana, he allegedly said he was giving the drugs to a friend who uses THC vape pens. 

Detectives were able to determine that friend's identity and executed a search warrant at his home on Feb. 23. That person told officers that Acree was a family friend who'd given him both marijuana and THC vape pens on several occasions. He added that Acree had brought him up to 10 of those pens since 2019. 

The man claimed he did not know where Acree got the drugs but said he was aware Acree worked at BRPD and that he would sometimes drive a marked police unit while delivering the marijuana. 

Officers found a plastic baggie containing marijuana and several THC vape pens while searching the friend's home.

Acree was ultimately arrested this past Friday on charges including malfeasance and possession with intent to distribute. He spent 12 years with the department, including six in the narcotics division. 


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Surprising tax notice for man with missing unemployment benefits https://www.wbrz.com/news/surprising-tax-notice-for-man-with-missing-unemployment-benefits/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/surprising-tax-notice-for-man-with-missing-unemployment-benefits/ News Mon, 1 Mar 2021 4:45:58 PM Brittany Weiss Surprising tax notice for man with missing unemployment benefits

BATON ROUGE - For 18 weeks last year, Karl Hamilton was furloughed from his job and hoped to collect unemployment benefits. He assumed it would take a couple of weeks for the benefits to arrive, but months went by and nothing came.

Hamilton says he called the Louisiana Workforce Commission and emailed them multiple times. He says it was difficult to get through and calls weren't returned.

He went back to work and didn't think much of those benefits until a 1099 form turned up in his mail.

"It says that I was paid $15,124, which I was never paid," Hamilton said.

The 1099 form says Hamilton was paid the money in unemployment compensation. Hamilton says he didn't see a dime.

"I don't know what's going on, I don't understand if the money went somewhere else," he said.

Like last year, Hamilton says he hasn't had much success getting in touch with the Louisiana Workforce Commission.

"Once in a while you get somebody, but they always tell you that a supervisor will call you back and no one calls you back," he said.

Hamilton reached out to 2 On Your Side with concern over his taxes. He said he was unable to file his taxes with the 1099 form that says he received $15,000 when he didn't.

Last week, 2 On Your Side reached out to LWC on Hamilton's behalf and soon after received a response. On Monday, Hamilton says he took a call from LWC that said he would be getting that money after all.

LWC says there currently isn't any known widespread issue with claimants receiving incorrect 1099-G forms, but if a claimant thinks their form is incorrect they can contact the UI call center.

If a claimant receives the 1099G form in error and did not file for UI benefits, they should:

• Go to the Fight Fraud banner located in the center of the laworks.com home page.
• The claimant will receive a confirmation that you can print out and attach to your tax return with the erroneous 1099-G.
• Remember, filing a false identity theft report is subject to criminal penalties.
• The IRS advises if someone receives a 1099-G in error and it has not been corrected before you file your federal income tax return, they should NOT report the income.

The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensations (FPUC) and Lost Wage Assistance (LWA) payments are taxable income.

Last month, 2 On Your Side reported that a man received an incorrect 1099 form and he is still working to get that corrected.


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Double shooting reported in neighborhood off Hollywood Street https://www.wbrz.com/news/double-shooting-reported-in-neighborhood-off-hollywood-street/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/double-shooting-reported-in-neighborhood-off-hollywood-street/ News Mon, 1 Mar 2021 4:21:01 PM WBRZ Staff Double shooting reported in neighborhood off Hollywood Street

BATON ROUGE - A shooting left two people wounded in a neighborhood Monday afternoon, the latest in rash of violent crimes in the capital city.

The gunfire was reported shortly before 3 p.m. on St. Katherine Avenue near Hollywood Street. Two people were shot, according to the Baton Rouge Police Department. 

Both victims were taken to a hospital. The extent of their injuries is unknown. 

It's one of two shootings reported in the capital city around 3 p.m., with a second reported at the Triple S convenience store on N Foster Drive around that same time. One person was wounded in that shooting. 

At least three people were shot over the weekend, including two people who died Sunday evening. Another person was shot Saturday and ran for help at a library along Terrace Avenue.

Another shooting Friday left four people hurt on Paige street.


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LIVE UPDATES: Monday afternoon commute https://www.wbrz.com/news/live-updates-monday-afternoon-commute-140353/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/live-updates-monday-afternoon-commute-140353/ News Mon, 1 Mar 2021 3:37:59 PM Falon Brown LIVE UPDATES: Monday afternoon commute


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One hurt in shooting at Triple S store in Baton Rouge https://www.wbrz.com/news/one-hurt-in-shooting-at-triple-s-store-in-baton-rouge/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/one-hurt-in-shooting-at-triple-s-store-in-baton-rouge/ News Mon, 1 Mar 2021 3:14:22 PM WBRZ Staff One hurt in shooting at Triple S store in Baton Rouge

BATON ROUGE - Police responded to a shooting at a convenience store, one of two shootings reported in the capital area Monday afternoon.

Both shootings happened shortly before 3 p.m.. The Baton Rouge Police Department said one person was wounded in the shooting at the Triple S store along N Foster Drive near Fairfields Avenue. 

The victim was taken to a hospital, though that person's condition is unknown. 

Details surrounding what led to the shooting are limited at this time.  


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Louisiana set to receive nearly 38,000 doses of new Johnson & Johnson vaccine https://www.wbrz.com/news/louisiana-set-to-receive-nearly-38-000-doses-of-new-johnson-and-johnson-vaccine/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/louisiana-set-to-receive-nearly-38-000-doses-of-new-johnson-and-johnson-vaccine/ News Mon, 1 Mar 2021 2:28:21 PM Dana DiPiazza Louisiana set to receive nearly 38,000 doses of new Johnson & Johnson vaccine

BATON ROUGE - Millions of doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine are being distributed nationwide this week with 37,900 of those going to Louisiana hospitals.

First it was Pfizer, then Moderna, now it's Johnson & Johnson. Authorization of the third coronavirus vaccine comes nearly one year after Louisiana saw its first confirmed case on March 9, 2020.

The Food and Drug Administration authorized the vaccine on Saturday, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention mirrored that decision the following day. By Sunday night, nearly four million doses began shipping out.

Of those millions of doses, Louisiana hospitals are prepping to receive 37,900 of them, according to the CDC. 

Unlike Pfizer and Moderna, the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine is given in a single dose, making it easier to schedule an appointment without needing a follow-up. The new vaccine is also more durable, lasting up to three months in the refrigerator, whereas the other vaccines must be stored at very cold temperatures.

As of Monday, nearly 8% of the nation has been vaccinated, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases. Dr. Fauci reassured that the new vaccine is worthwhile despite concerns.

"These are three highly efficacious vaccines. I can tell you. I have been fully vaccinated with one that was available, it was the Moderna. If I were not vaccinated now and I had a choice of getting a J & J vaccine now or waiting for another vaccine, I would take whatever vaccine would be available to me," Dr. Fauci said.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 85% effective at preventing severe illness, while Pfizer is 95% and Moderna is 94.1%. All three vaccines are 100% effective at preventing hospitalization and death 28 days after receiving the full dose. 

"There's a lot being talked about with the different percentages, with these vaccines against the coronavirus. When all of this first began, the FDA indicated that an efficacy of 40% would be good enough to get these vaccines approved for emergency use," said Dr. Sandra Kemmerly, system medical director with Ochsner.

Though the percentages differ, physicians say this is not something to worry about.

"All of these vaccines have shown in the clinical trials to prevent death due to COVID. So we want to make sure we prevent death and serious disease, and all of the vaccines have been shown to be effective to do that. We want to be sure that anybody that's offered a vaccine takes whatever is available to them," said Dr. Katherine Baumgarten, Ochsner's director of Infection Control and Prevention.

Health experts say because the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a single dose, it can offer more protection faster than the other two vaccines, which both require two shots four weeks apart.


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Police: 29-year-old killed in Sunday night shooting on Prescott Road https://www.wbrz.com/news/police-29-year-old-killed-in-sunday-night-shooting-on-prescott-road/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/police-29-year-old-killed-in-sunday-night-shooting-on-prescott-road/ News Mon, 1 Mar 2021 9:48:10 AM WBRZ Staff Police: 29-year-old killed in Sunday night shooting on Prescott Road

BATON ROUGE - Authorities in Baton Rouge are investigating the shooting death of a 29-year-old that occurred Sunday, Feb. 28.

According to representatives with the Baton Rouge Police Department, the fatal shooting took place within the 5600 block of Prescott Road around 10 p.m. and resulted in the death of Artrell Conner.

Detectives say Conner may have been shot after pulling a gun and pointing it at an individual.

According to police, Conner died at the scene.

Authorities add that the shooter was taken into custody and released pending further investigation.

Anyone with information related to this incident is urged to contact the Violent Crimes Unit at 389-4869 or Crime Stoppers at 344-7867.


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Girl dies after being caned during 'exorcism' in Sri Lanka https://www.wbrz.com/news/girl-dies-after-being-caned-during-exorcism-in-sri-lanka/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/girl-dies-after-being-caned-during-exorcism-in-sri-lanka/ News Mon, 1 Mar 2021 1:10:31 PM Associated Press Girl dies after being caned during 'exorcism' in Sri Lanka

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - Police in Sri Lanka said Monday they have arrested two people in connection with the death of a 9-year-old girl who was repeatedly beaten during a ritual they believed would drive away an evil spirit.

The two suspects — the woman performing the exorcism and the girl's mother — appeared in court on Monday to hear charges over the girl's death, which occurred over the weekend in Delgoda, a small town about 40 kilometers northeast of the capital, Colombo. The court ordered the suspects detained until March 12.

According to police spokesperson Ajith Rohana, the mother believed her daughter had been possessed by a demon and took her to the home of the exorcist so a ritual could be performed to drive the spirit away.

Rohana said the exorcist first put oil on the girl and then began to repeatedly hit her with a cane. When the girl lost consciousness, she was taken to a hospital, where she died. An autopsy was scheduled for Monday.

The woman who performed the ritual on the girl was known in the area for offering such services in recent months and police were investigating whether anyone else had been abused, Rohana said.

Rohana urged the public to be careful about such services as the girl was not the first to die during such a ritual.


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Health system, school join to train nurses, health workers https://www.wbrz.com/news/health-system-school-join-to-train-nurses-health-workers/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/health-system-school-join-to-train-nurses-health-workers/ News Mon, 1 Mar 2021 11:24:37 AM Associated Press Health system, school join to train nurses, health workers

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A Louisiana health system and a community college in New Orleans are joining forces to expand training for nurses and allied health professionals.

Ochsner Health is putting up $10 million for a new building to consolidate Delgado Community College’s Allied Health Division and its Charity School of Nursing, the health system and college said in a news release.

An equal amount will cover full-time tuition for Ochsner employees in nursing and allied health programs at Delgado, which graduates about 1,200 nursing and allied health professionals each year.

“The events of recent months have increased awareness regarding the necessity for a well-trained, dedicated healthcare workforce in the city, region and state,” said Larissa Littleton-Steib, Delgado’s chancellor. She said the college is pleased to be partners with Ochsner.

The new building is slated to break ground in the spring and open for classes in 2023. The combined department will be called the Ochsner Delgado School of Nursing and Allied Health.

“Together, we are creating a talent pipeline that will meet the long-term needs of our community,” said Warner Thomas, president and CEO, Ochsner Health.

The announcement comes at a time when the Louisiana State Board of Nursing Center for Nursing forecasts a significant shortage of nurses across the state, the news release said. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an average of 175,900 openings nationally for registered nurses each year over the next ten years.

“Nursing and allied health occupations continue to be among the most in-demand professions in the country, and as the current health crisis continues, it is more important than ever that we provide greater access and produce more essential personnel to move our state and country forward, said Monty Sullivan, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System.


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AG sues Texas utility over customers' sky-high energy bills https://www.wbrz.com/news/ag-sues-texas-utility-over-customers-sky-high-energy-bills/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/ag-sues-texas-utility-over-customers-sky-high-energy-bills/ News Mon, 1 Mar 2021 10:38:09 AM Associated Press AG sues Texas utility over customers' sky-high energy bills

AUSTIN, Texas - Texas' attorney general said Monday he's suing electricity provider Griddy for passing along massive bills to its customers during last month's winter storm.

The lawsuit comes days after Texas' power grid manager effectively shut down Griddy by revoking its access to the state's electricity market.

Griddy charges $10 a month to give people a way to pay wholesale prices for electricity instead of a fixed rate. But when temperatures plummeted well below freezing last month, wholesale prices spiked and Griddy customers were left with sky-high electricity bills.

“Griddy misled Texans and signed them up for services which, in a time of crisis, resulted in individual Texans each losing thousands of dollars," Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement. “As Texans struggled to survive this winter storm, Griddy made the suffering even worse as it debited outrageous amounts each day.”

The lawsuit accused Griddy of violating the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act and seeks refunds for customers. The unusually heavy winter storm blanketed much of Texas with snow, knocking out electricity to 4 million customers and leaving many struggling to find clean water.

Meanwhile, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, shifted about 10,000 Griddy customers to other utilities on Friday.

Griddy said in a statement that ERCOT “took our members and have effectively shut down Griddy.”

“We have always been transparent and customer-centric at every step. We wanted to continue the fight for our members to get relief and that hasn’t changed,” the statement said.


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La Dept of Health announces COVID-19 testing for week of March 1-6 https://www.wbrz.com/news/la-dept-of-health-announces-covid-19-testing-for-week-of-march-1-6/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/la-dept-of-health-announces-covid-19-testing-for-week-of-march-1-6/ News Mon, 1 Mar 2021 9:17:13 AM WBRZ Staff La Dept of Health announces COVID-19 testing for week of March 1-6

BATON ROUGE - According to a Monday (March 1) morning press release from the Louisiana Department of Health, the COVID-19 testing schedule for sites operated by the Louisiana Army National Guard (LANG) have been updated for the week of March 1-6.

LDH also notes that no LANG-operated sites will be open in Region 7 (Northwest Louisiana). 

The updated testing schedules are listed below.

LDH says pre-registration for COVID-19 testing is encouraged by going to Health.QuestDiagnostics.com/STLOU  and notes that testing is for individuals who are ages 3 and older.

There is no cost, and no identification is needed, officials say.

Test results are available by calling 1-866-MYQUEST (1-866-697-8378), but note that wait times can be lengthy. Test results are also available through the Quest online portal or app.

Those who are unable to make it to a LANG testing location can seek out no-cost testing, which is available by appointment at select Walgreens locations through a partnership between Walgreens and the Department of Health. These locations offer testing 7 days a week to people ages 3 and older. Appointments are required; any eligible individuals who wish to do so can make an appointment at walgreens.com/covid19testing.

For information from the Louisiana Department of Health on COVID-19, click here.


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Louisiana officials: Don't put crawfish boil, shells, down storm drain https://www.wbrz.com/news/louisiana-officials-don-t-put-crawfish-boil-shells-down-storm-drain/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/louisiana-officials-don-t-put-crawfish-boil-shells-down-storm-drain/ News Mon, 1 Mar 2021 8:42:49 AM Associated Press Louisiana officials: Don't put crawfish boil, shells, down storm drain

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — As crawfish season begins, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality is reminding people not to commit crawfish pollution.

Don’t put crawfish shells or water left after boiling crawfish down storm drains, into ditches, or anywhere they could get into bodies of water, the department said in its February newsletter.

“Dumping any seafood waste such as crawfish shells and boil water into a ditch, bayou, river, lake or other waterway can seriously harm or kill any resident aquatic species living there,” the article said.

In the longer term, such dumping also contributes to fish kills and fish diseases, according to the department and the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program.

The waste can spread pathogens that make fish ill, the estuary program said on its website.

In addition, decaying shells use dissolved oxygen, leading to fish kills. The nitrogen-rich waste also can feed blooms of algae — which in turn die and sink to the bottom, using oxygen as they decompose, according to the estuary program.

Shells should either be double-bagged and put into a secure trash can or buried in your own yard as compost, the department newsletter said.

“Just ensure that the burial is fully covered and isn’t near a ditch or water body,” it said. “Try to add hay, grass, mulch or topsoil as an added cover so that odors are reduced along with the potential for subsequent disturbance by animals or humans.”

Boil water should go down the drain to a public sewage system. or onto your own property away from water drainage.

“Public wastewater treatment systems are equipped to process wastewater and treat the constituents in the boil water,” the department said, but private treatment systems aren’t.

“Instead, the water may be poured into a grassy or weeded area on your own property away from any bayou, ditch, or body of water,” it said.


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Monday evening deadline to file sexual abuse by Catholic clergy https://www.wbrz.com/news/monday-evening-deadline-to-file-sexual-abuse-by-catholic-clergy/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/monday-evening-deadline-to-file-sexual-abuse-by-catholic-clergy/ News Mon, 1 Mar 2021 8:39:25 AM WBRZ Staff Monday evening deadline to file sexual abuse by Catholic clergy

NEW ORLEANS — An impending deadline, known as 'bar date' is fast approaching. 

According to WWL-TV, 'bar date' is the deadline for victims who have been sexually abused by Catholic clergy to file compensation claims against the Archdiocese of New Orleans and it falls on Monday, March 1 at 5 p.m. (CST).

The deadline comes 10 months after the Archdiocese filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on May 1 of last year.

Some feel that by filing compensation claims against the organization, decades-old remaining clergy abuse claims can be addressed. 

"They're heart-wrenching, the stories are heart-wrenching," Kevin Bourgeois, an advocate for sexual abuse survivors, told WWL-TV.

Bourgeois, who has assisted several individuals in filing claims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy, said that even though the filing procedure is somewhat emotionally challenging, certain aspects of the process are successful in protecting the survivor as they move forward.

"It’s the hardest thing anyone will ever do because you have to document what happened to you, but it's easy in the sense that it's all online, it's private," he said.

He mentioned that in some cases the filing process took less than an hour. 

Relating the outcome of the process to WWL-TV, Bourgeois said, "Less than an hour we went through everything and there were tears shed, and hugs given, and support." 

Officials say survivors can file claims online without the assistance of an attorney. do not need an attorney to file.

Bourgeois also noted that survivors can call the Archdiocese to meet with the Archbishop if they want to share their stories in person.

A survivor himself, he believes it's a step towards healing.

"I did that with my father as a way of reconciliation, it was a powerful, moving two hours," he said.

WWL-TV reports that the Archdiocese will review the claims and those whose claims are approved may receive compensation.


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Biden administration promises focus on environmental justice https://www.wbrz.com/news/biden-administration-promises-focus-on-environmental-justice/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/biden-administration-promises-focus-on-environmental-justice/ News Mon, 1 Mar 2021 8:07:21 AM Associated Press Biden administration promises focus on environmental justice

When President Joe Biden made environmental protection a key element of his campaign, he promised to overhaul the federal office that investigates complaints from people in minority communities who believe they have been unfairly harmed by industrial pollution or waste disposal.

Although the Environmental Protection Agency acknowledges that disadvantaged communities in America are disproportionately affected by pollution, hundreds of complaints sent to its civil rights office since the mid-1990s have only once resulted in a formal finding of discrimination.

The situation has provoked criticism from the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, the EPA’s own Office of Inspector General and citizens who have filed complaints that sometimes languished for years — or decades.

Under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, states, cities and other entities that receive federal funds are prohibited from discriminating because of race, color or national origin. That means citizens bearing the brunt of industrial pollution can bring a complaint if federal money is tied to the project.

In Uniontown, Alabama — a mainly Black town of 2,200 — residents complained to the EPA in 2013 about the Alabama Department of Environmental Management’s oversight of a huge landfill containing 4 million tons of coal ash that residents blame for respiratory, kidney and other ailments. Five years later, the EPA dismissed the complaint, saying residents hadn’t proven the landfill caused their health problems.

The U.S. Civil Rights Commission called the dismissal of the Uniontown complaint “another distressing step in the wrong direction” by the EPA office.

The outcome was typical. In three decades of fielding complaints, EPA’s civil rights office has almost never found pollution was adversely affecting human health. And without such a finding, the agency won’t even consider whether illegal discrimination occurred.

Marianne Engleman-Lado, who was recently appointed by the Biden administration to the EPA’s office of general counsel, had helped Uniontown residents with their case. She maintains the way the EPA evaluates such complaints makes it nearly impossible to prevail because proving with scientific certainty that pollution is causing disease is a nearly insurmountable obstacle.

Ben Eaton, a Perry County Commissioner involved in the Uniontown complaint, said attorneys warned that discrimination claims usually go nowhere, but residents felt their evidence — including photos and videos — was compelling. “What’s the use of having these agencies,” he said, “if they’re not going to do the job?”

Residents of a predominantly Black and Latino community in Oakland, California were similarly disappointed with results of their civil rights complaint over air pollution from ships and truck traffic at the busy Port of Oakland.

Margaret Gordon, a co-founder of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, said her group did not have a seat at the table when EPA hammered out an informal resolution with the port. Air pollution is still a problem, she said, although port officials are now more willing to listen to community members.

Lilian Sotolongo Dorka, who heads the EPAs office of external civil rights enforcement, touted the 2019 Oakland resolution as an “extremely effective” example of the difference her office is making in people’s lives.

But Richard Grow, who worked at EPA for 40 years before retiring in 2019 and was one of the agency’s negotiators, agrees with Gordon’s assessment.

“We put forth a number of very practical ... solutions and recommendations and they just said ‘No,’” Grow said. When he reported the port’s and city’s position to Dorka’s office, he said he was told nothing could be done.

The office had no further comment, and the port issued a statement saying it is committed to continuing a dialogue with the community.

The EPA has the power to withdraw funding from groups that discriminate, although it has never used that power. Dorka defends her office’s record, saying it has eliminated a chronic backlog of complaints.

“I disagree very significantly with the conclusion that you can judge our civil rights program by the number of formal findings (of discrimination) we’ve made,” she said, noting the office is required by regulation to seek informal resolutions wherever possible.

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) is among those who think EPA’s civil rights office should do more. During confirmation hearings this month for Michael Regan, Biden’s nominee for EPA administrator, Booker spoke of meeting Alabama citizens suffering from tropical diseases they attribute to sewage pollution, children with elevated lead levels in his own state, and families in Louisiana’s so-called “cancer alley” who felt abandoned by their government.

The EPA’s civil rights office “has been eviscerated over the years,” the African-American senator told Regan. “You’re not even equipped, in my opinion, to actually begin to fight against these issues that affect millions of Americans.”

Regan promised to make environmental justice a top priority, including “restructuring and reorganizing” the office of civil rights, which has 12 fulltime employees. “We will need additional resources. ...” he said.

Critics concede that Dorka, who took over the office of external civil rights under President Barak Obama, has made some progress, including producing a case resolution manual to guide investigations.

Obama’s last day in office marked the only time Dorka’s office issued a formal finding of discrimination — in a complaint filed 25 years earlier over the Genesee Power Plant outside Flint, Michigan. The agency dismissed allegations that the plant’s emissions hurt Black residents, finding insufficient evidence of harm to their health. However, the EPA did find residents were not given a fair opportunity to participate in the permitting process.

Dorka said progress has continued under the Trump administration.

EPA spokeswoman Lindsay Hamilton said that “The new leadership team will be working closely with career colleagues ... as well as receiving input from stakeholder groups, in an effort to bolster the agency’s capabilities to deliver on our environmental justice and civil rights missions.”

Environmental justice advocates say the changes need to be significant.

“There are still places where people don’t have access to safe drinking water, where they live in close proximity to hazardous sources,” said Vernice Miller-Travis, a longtime advocate and cofounder of WE ACT for Environmental Justice. “This could be a moment of real sea change in terms of how the EPA is not just paying lip service to civil rights.”


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Prince Philip moved to new hospital for infection, preexisting heart condition https://www.wbrz.com/news/prince-philip-moved-to-new-hospital-for-infection-preexisting-heart-condition/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/prince-philip-moved-to-new-hospital-for-infection-preexisting-heart-condition/ News Mon, 1 Mar 2021 7:57:21 AM WBRZ Staff Prince Philip moved to new hospital for infection, preexisting heart condition

LONDON, England - Buckingham Palace reported Monday that 99-year-old Prince Philip has been moved from one London hospital to another on for treatment of an infection and observation of a preexisting heart condition, CNN reports.

The Duke of Edinburg and husband of Queen Elizabeth II was admitted to the King Edward VII Hospital in London on February 17 after feeling unwell and the palace later confirmed that he was being treated for an infection.

Philip spent 14 days and 13 nights there before being transferred on Monday to St. Bartholomew's Hospital, which is also in London.

There, doctors are expected to continue treating the prince for an infection, and test/monitor his condition in relation to a preexisting heart condition.

A statement from the royal communications office assured the public that the Duke remains comfortable and is responding to treatment but is expected to remain in hospital until at least the end of the week.

Prince Philip's youngest son, Prince Edward, told the UK's Sky News recently that his father was doing "a lot better" and was looking forward to returning home, CNN reports.

"We've had some brilliant and lovely messages from all sorts of people. And we really appreciate that and so does he. I've been passing them on," Edward said.

Philip's grandson, Prince William, similarly, stated his grandfather was doing "ok" and that hospital staff were keeping an eye on him.

Prince Philip, who turns 100 in June, took a decided step back from from public life in 2017 and has been taken to the hospital several times in recent years.

In December 2019, he was under the care of hospital personnel for a pre-existing condition. The Duke also surrendered his driving license in February 2019 after he was involved in a car crash.

The Queen and her husband have spent most of the past year at Windsor Castle, outside London, after moving away from Buckingham Palace during the first wave of the novel coronavirus pandemic in spring 2020; the couple received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in January 2021.


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Welcome back: Optimism abounds as MLB's spring includes fans https://www.wbrz.com/news/welcome-back-optimism-abounds-as-mlb-s-spring-includes-fans/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/welcome-back-optimism-abounds-as-mlb-s-spring-includes-fans/ News Mon, 1 Mar 2021 7:42:27 AM Associated Press Writer David Brandt Welcome back: Optimism abounds as MLB's spring includes fans

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Brian Delaney checked his ticket, found his seats and then sat down for a minute in the sunshine. It wasn’t a typical late February day in Arizona — a little cool, a little breezy — but Delaney didn’t complain a bit.

“You ever been through a Colorado winter?” the Colorado Rockies fan said with a grin.

The good humor and smiles were easy to find as baseball fans streamed into Sunday afternoon’s spring training opener between the Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks. A downward trend in COVID-19 cases throughout most of the country has meant that a limited amount of fans are allowed back in spring training facilities throughout Arizona and Florida.

At Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the crowd was capped at about 2,200 fans, which is 16% of the usual capacity. Delaney said he never hesitated to get tickets for himself and Debra Mierzwa once they went on sale a few weeks ago.

“Oh yeah,” Delaney said. “We were never worried. This is great.”

The happy and halfway-normal scene on Sunday was a far cry from 353 days ago, when incredulous fans stood outside Salt River Fields and digested the news that baseball — and pretty much the rest of the world — was being shutdown because of the spreading coronavirus pandemic.

Nearly a year later, things are very different.

“It seemed like forever,” said Brandon Ramsey, who lives in the Phoenix area and went to the Reds-Indians game in Goodyear on Sunday. “Last year got cut a little short. To come out here for opening day is just fantastic. They did a great job in socially distancing. They made sure we were safe.”

Aside from the World Series and NL Championship Series held last October at a neutral-site park in Arlington, Texas, this marked the first time fans were allowed at big league baseball games since March 12.

By now the safety protocols for sports events have become familiar. Fans in Scottsdale are spread out in small pods of two, four or six people. Masks are worn except when eating and drinking. People sitting on blankets in the grass beyond the outfield wall were given spray-painted squares to stay separate. Cleaning crews are ubiquitous.

But spring baseball appears to have considerable safety advantage over its NBA, NHL and college basketball counterparts: It’s played outdoors where studies have shown the virus is less effective at spreading.

“We feel really good about our ability to host spring training in the safest possible way,” Cactus League executive director Bridget Binsbacher said.

All 30 teams in Major League Baseball are allowing fans at their spring training facilities in Arizona and Florida, though capacity will be severely limited. The Chicago Cubs are welcoming the most fans (3,630 per game) while the San Francisco Giants will have the fewest (1,000 per game).

The Yankees and Twins have the largest percentage of seats available, with the potential to reach 28% of capacity.

Fans certainly seem excited about getting back to the park. The players have missed them, too.

Oakland right-hander Daulton Jefferies got a thrill from facing the loaded Los Angeles Dodgers lineup with fans in the seats at last. The limited crowd of 1,998 was a sellout at Hohokam Stadium in Mesa, Arizona.

“Even though it’s 20-percent capacity it didn’t feel like it,” Jefferies said. “Everyone was very loud. It was just a lot of fun. I think we truly underestimated how much we missed it.”

The outlook for spring training has changed drastically just in the past month. Back in January, the Cactus League sent a letter to MLB suggesting that the spring schedule be delayed because of high COVID-19 case counts in Maricopa County, which is home to all 15 teams in Arizona.

But then cases plummeted in Arizona and the plan to play games pushed forward. Binsbacher and others became much more optimistic.

For some fans, the progress came too late.

Don Witynski is a 58-year-old Milwaukee Brewers fan from Wisconsin who has traveled to Arizona the past four years for about a week during spring training. He said his family of four would watch three or four baseball games but the trip also includes hiking and other outdoor activities in the Arizona sun.

Not this year. He said most of his friends are staying in Wisconsin this year, though a few will make the trip to the desert.

“We’re hunkering down, staying home,” Witynski said. “I’ve got teenagers, 13-year-old twins. Obviously until this vaccine rolls out more we’re definitely staying home this year unfortunately.”

Those are the kinds of stories that have Arizona and Florida bracing for another year of lost revenue. But limited fans are better than no fans. The appetite to watch baseball appears strong: The Rockies and Diamondbacks — who share the Salt River Fields facility — both sold out their entire spring ticket allotments about 24 hours after they went public.

Delaney said he and Mierzwa were coming to Arizona regardless of the baseball situation. They enjoy trail running and Arizona in February is a fine time for that sport. Businesses in Arizona hope there more Delaneys and Mierzwas out there to make 2021 a little less painful.

“It’s all part of moving the right direction,” Binsbacher said. “I can’t stress enough – health and safety was at the forefront of everything we did. But the financial numbers are real. It definitely impacts our businesses and the numbers speak for themselves. It’s a tremendous impact.”

The COVID-19 hit to central Arizona’s baseball economy was stark: A study from Arizona State University found that the Cactus League’s season generated an estimated economic impact of $363.6 million in 2020 before the shutdown in mid-March, which was down nearly $300 million from the estimated $644.2 million generated in 2018.

The study added that 2020 would have been “on a par” with 2018 had it not been for the coronavirus.

As for 2021, there is cautious optimism that the Cactus League season won’t be a complete washout for the local economy. But for hotels, restaurants, bars, golf courses and rental house companies, there’s little doubt that finances will take a hit for a second straight year.

Stephanie Pressler, who is the director of community affairs for Experience Scottsdale, said businesses are balancing realism with a little optimism now that COVID-19 cases have gone down and all teams are allowing at least some fans.

“This is normally the busiest time of year for Scottsdale’s tourism industry, largely because of Cactus League spring training,” Pressler said in an email. “Understandably, our expectations are muted this year given the ongoing pandemic, though Experience Scottsdale is excited that the season is moving forward in a way that will keep teams, fans, employees and residents safe.”


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Analysis: How effective is the J&J COVID-19 vaccine? https://www.wbrz.com/news/analysis-how-effective-is-the-jandj-covid-19-vaccine-/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/analysis-how-effective-is-the-jandj-covid-19-vaccine-/ News Mon, 1 Mar 2021 7:37:44 AM WBRZ Staff Analysis: How effective is the J&J COVID-19 vaccine?

Federal authorities have authorized the emergency distribution of Johnson & Johnson's Janssen COVID-19 vaccine, which is designed to be given as a single dose. 

A recent CNN report explained that this means no follow-up visits and none of the red tape needed to make sure people return for second shots, in addition to none of the worry about making sure a second dose is available at the right time.

This is one of the major differences between Johnson & Johnson's vaccine and its Pfizer and Moderna counterparts, which are both designed to be given in a two-dose series -- the Pfizer vaccine three weeks apart and Moderna's four weeks apart.

There's been some discussion as to whether it might be acceptable to administer these vaccines as a single dose, or to extend the time between doses so more people can get their first vaccine, and thus get at least some protection.

However, the FDA authorization says two doses are acceptable at this time. A number of vaccine experts, including White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci, agree, fearing that by administering only one dose of Pfizer and Moderna's vaccines might leave people partialy protected.

In contrast, Johnson & Johnson's vaccine was tested and proven to protect people with a single dose, although studies are underway to see if two doses might provide even more protection.

But, how does Johnson & Johnson's vaccine stack up against Pfizer's and Moderna's in terms of efficacy?

According to CNN, those vaccines had a startling efficacy rate in clinical trials of 94% to 95%.

The news outlet states that based on statistics in real-world studies of Pfizer's vaccine in Israel, efficacy holds up. The risk of symptomatic COVID-19 -- meaning people who got infected with the coronavirus and felt sick -- decreased by 94% among people who were given two doses of the vaccine.

In comparison, the overall global efficacy of Janssen's vaccine was 66% against moderate to severe illness.

That said, it was 85% effective against severe disease and, in trials anyway, 100% effective at preventing death, as no one who got the vaccine died from COVID-19.

CNN notes that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was administered in different populations and at a different time. It was tested in 44,000 people in the US, South Africa and Latin America, and most of the testing was months later in the pandemic than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which started testing in the spring and summer.

This is somewhat different from how testing of Pfizer's vaccine proceeded. The vaccine was tested in 43,000 people in the United States, Germany, Turkey, South Africa, Brazil and Argentina. And, Moderna's was tested in 30,000 people, all of them in the US.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was tested after some of the troubling new coronavirus variants had started to circulate, CNN explains, including one first seen in South Africa, called B.1.351, that appears to weaken the body's recognition of the virus -- including after vaccination. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine's efficacy was just 57% in South Africa, where B.1.351 is now the dominant variant, compared to 72% in the US, where it is far less common.

Health experts seem to agree that all three of the vaccines provide very good protection by the most important measure, which is whether they keep people from getting seriously ill.

But the differing efficacies raise the possibility that some will perceive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as second class, Sarah Christopher, the policy advocacy director at the National Women's Health Network, told an FDA advisory committee meeting Friday.

There are feelings "that there are first and second class vaccines, with the latter relegated to low income, rural, or otherwise marginalized communities that has the potential to exacerbate existing mistrust," she said. "Public health authorities must address these perceptions head on."

Johnson & Johnson's vaccine begins to protect patients against moderate to severe disease starts about two weeks after people get vaccinated. Four weeks after the shot, data from the clinical trial showed there were no hospitalizations or deaths.

Recent studies show good level of protection with the first dose of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, but people don't get full protection until about two weeks after the second dose -- so five to six weeks after the first dose, CNN reports.

The news outlet goes on to say that Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use a brand-new technology called messenger RNA, or mRNA. They deliver genetic material directly into cells via fatty particles. That genetic code is taken up by cells in the arm muscle, which then follow the genetic instructions to make tiny pieces that look like a part of the coronavirus.

Those small proteins stimulate an immune response, generating antibodies and immune cells that "remember" what they look like and that will be ready to respond quickly in case of a new attack.

According to CNN, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses viral vector technology. A common cold virus called adenovirus 26 is genetically engineered so that it can infect cells, but it won't replicate there. It cannot spread in the body, and won't give people a cold, the news outlet explains. Similar to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it delivers genetic instructions.

Instead of being carried in little lipid balls, the genetic instructions are injected by the weakened virus into arm cells, and they make the pieces that look like part of the coronavirus spike protein -- the knob-shaped structure that the virus uses to connect to cells, CNN reports.

Those delicate little balls of fat used to carry the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require careful handling. Pfizer's vaccine needs to be stored and shipped at between -80ºC to -60ºC (-112ºF to -76ºF) -- something that caused a lot of trouble for states at first, which had to scramble to get dry ice and special freezers.

As of March, the FDA has eased up on those requirements a bit, but the vaccine can still only be held in the refrigerator for five days and must be used within six hours of being thawed and diluted.

The Pfizer vaccine must be diluted before it's used, and it cannot be shaken, but must be carefully inverted exactly 10 times to mix it. The Moderna vaccine is a little less complicated, but must also be frozen and carefully handled.

Moderna's vaccine can be kept at about -20ºC, or about the temperature of a home freezer, CNN reports.

Johnson & Johnson's vaccine is much easier to store. It can be kept at simple refrigerator temperatures for up to three months, making it far easier to store and ship.

None of the three vaccines have additives that can sometimes cause strong reactions, such as antibiotics, preservatives or adjuvants, which are compounds used to boost the immune response that can add to the kick of any vaccine.

This means that risk of allergic reaction is low, especially life-threatening anaphylaxis. The CDC reports only a few cases of anaphylaxis in people who have been given the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines.

Only one case of anaphylaxis has been reported in the 44,000 people who have tested the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

In addition to this, all three vaccines target a specific part of the spike protein called the receptor binding domain. As the name implies, it is the part the virus uses to grapple cells. Mutations to this particular region might weaken the efficacy of all three vaccines.

Fortunately, all three appear to stimulate an overwhelming immune response and so far, it appears to be enough to continue at least partially protecting people from the most concerning variants.


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