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Coronavirus

Congress Passes $1.9T Covid Relief Bill, With $1,400 Checks, in Major Win for Biden

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The long awaited bill will extend unemployment benefits, increase funding for schools, and boost vaccine distribution, with president Biden set to sign it into law on Friday.

What We Know:

  • The House passed the bill on Wednesday with a vote of 220-211, giving Biden his first legislative victory since he took office in January. The Senate revised the original version passed by the House in February, lowering the weekly unemployment benefits. Congress passed the revised version along party lines on Saturday with a vote of 50-49.
  • The bill includes $1,400 payments for every individual making up to $75,000 and $2,800 payments to married couples making less than $150,000. In addition, the extra $300 weekly unemployment benefits are slated to continue until Sep. 6th. The bill also increases the Child Tax Credit to $3,600 for children up to five years old and $3,000 for children up to 17.
  • Republican lawmakers opposed the bill in both the House and Senate on the belief that the bill included too many unnecessary parts. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called the measure “costly, corrupt, and liberal.” According to NBC, Rep. Marjorie Taylor of Georgia moved to adjourn the vote, saying it was a “massive woke progressive bill” that needed to be stopped. NY Rep. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senate Majority Leader, disagreed, stating that “it does so much good for so many people. . . .our mission is to show people that the government can actually make their lives better,” said Schumer.
  • The 628 page bill is largely focused on helping lower and middle-class families; there are provisions for farmers, student loan borrowers, pensions, and health insurance. The bill will reduce the number of Americans living in poverty from around 44 million to 28 million. However, some progressive initiatives were scrapped, including raising the federal minimum wage to $15/hour.

After the bill passed in the Senate on Saturday, Biden called it “one more giant step forward” in bringing help to the millions of Americans reeling from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Coronavirus

Journal of Neuroscience Study Finds Psychological Importance of Face-to-Face Interaction

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Image credit: Naeblys/Shutterstock.com

Following a pandemic filled with online social events and strict gathering restraints, many Americans are now accustomed to socializing, working, and spending leisure time online. Bonding in-person, however, has strong mental, physical, and emotional benefits originating in distinct brain stimulation.

What We Know:

  • Evidence using EEG (electroencephalogram) brain scans suggests real-life socialization activates stronger connections and comfort levels compared to digital socialization. The study created three groups: one that was exposed to photos of a person, another that was exposed to a television show with a person in it, and the last actually meeting a person. EEGs were taken for members of each group both before and after the exposure, measuring familiarity and identity activity in the brain.
  • Researchers discovered a high familiarity quality for the physical interaction group, a low familiarity quality for the group exposed to a TV show, and nonexistent familiarity for the group exposed to only photos of a person. Strong familiarity is tied to faster and more intense connections, demonstrating the importance of face-to-face interaction for building relationships.
  • The face-to-face interaction group only spent 3 hours with a person while the other groups spent 20 hours watching a person on television or 20 hours looking at photos, yet the face-to-face group still made stronger connections. Exemplified is the rapid familiarity and connection built between two people interacting in person.
  • In the digital age, as well as during COVID, online communication is normal. Consequentially, with in-person communication falling second, communicators miss out on reading body language and picking up on nearly unrecognizable facial changes. In-person communication is especially important for children, many of which have been out of school due to pandemic safety measures. Face-to-face communication helps children build skills that enhance their socioemotional development.

Face-to-face meetups provide the dopamine and oxytocin that support trust, bonding, and connection to others. For overall health, wellbeing, and happiness, socializing in real life is a scientifically significant aspect.

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France, Belgium Ease Virus Curbs

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On Wednesday, France and Belgium announced they would begin easing their COVID-19 restrictions; the countries would do this by allowing cafes and restaurants to serve indoors, dropping overnight curfews, and more.

What We Know:

  • The two nations’ leaders made the announcements, respectively. France’s Emmanuel Macron took to Twitter for his declaration. In his tweet, he emphasized the French citizens’ longing to return to normalcy while also advising people to continue following precautions. French people may now enjoy outdoor dining and stay out past 11 P.M. Additionally, Macron intends on removing the overnight curfew by June 30.

  • Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander De Croo stated the country will now permit parties of up to four people to dine indoors. Indoor events can now function with no more than 200 people, or 75% capacity. Furthermore, their work-from-home mandate is still in effect, but employees may request to spend one day in the office. Employers may accept this request as long as larger offices maintain a daily capacity of 20% of workers.
  • The vaccine rollout across Europe facilitated the newfound lenience. Across the continent, nations are encouraging their subjects to get vaccinated in an attempt to “strike a balance” between public health and reviving industries. Europe wants to renew tourism across the continent, as pandemic travel restrictions devastated the sector the most.

  • To boost travel, the European Parliament voted on Wednesday to approve the Digital Covid Certificate. The new document will permit those who received the vaccine, tested negative, or recently recovered from COVID-19 to travel across the European Union (EU) countries.

Currently, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Lithuania, Poland, and Spain already issued millions of certificates to EU residents.

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Biden Administration Purchases 500 Million More Vaccines For Global Distribution

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(Patrick Semansky/AP)

The Biden administration is slated to purchase 500 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer to donate globally.

What We Know:

  • Previously, the Biden administration’s goal was to distribute 80 million doses worldwide by the end of the month. However, global demand for richer countries with excess doses to distribute has increased significantly.
  • 200 million of the vaccines are going to be distributed through COVAX, a World Health Organization-backed initiative. 300 million will be distributed in the first half of 2022. All of these vaccines are going to low or middle-income countries.
  • Britain is hosting the Group of Seven summit, which will primarily focus on how to close the vaccine gap and end the pandemic. Currently, more than half the populations of the U.S. and Britain have received at least the first dose of the vaccine. In Africa, this number is less than 2%. Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security advisor, told reporters, “The president is focused on helping to vaccinate the world because he believes it is the right thing to do; it’s what Americans do in times of need.”
  • Jennifer Nuzzo, epidemiologist and senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, applauded the effort, saying it “sends a profound signal in terms of U.S. commitment to global health security”. The hope is that, by announcing this at G7, other countries in the EU will be encouraged to do the same. International Health Organizations warn that the virus needs to be curtailed in order to prevent more dangerous variants.
  • As the Biden administration looks globally, vaccination rates in the U.S. have begun to drop. This decrease, coupled with exposure to a new variant called “delta”, has been a cause for concern. The ability for this and other new strains to spread due to a stagnation in vaccination is on the mind of health officials. Despite this, they said the global effort needs to take priority.
  • COVAX aimed to deliver 2 billion doses by the end of the year and vaccinate 20% of the populations of countries in need. These hopes have seemed unattainable due to a lack of funding and a severe supply crunch. To date, they have delivered just under 82 million doses to 129 countries.
  • The efforts of the Biden administration to distribute vaccines globally have garnered both worldwide and bipartisan support. Republican Senator Richard Burr stated, “This is exactly what the federal government should be doing: working with the companies who developed lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines to make them available to the rest of the world.”

Biden is expected to announce his plan at the G7 meeting with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla. “We have to end COVID-19, not just at home, which we’re doing, but everywhere,” Biden said. 

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