Dating over Zoom? Don’t be surprised if those online sparks fizzle in person

Dating over Zoom? Don’t be surprised if those online sparks fizzle in person

For those dipping their toes into the dating pool during stay-at-home orders, it’s been like swimming in a version of Netflix’s reality series “Love is Blind.”

In the show, contestants must get engaged before ever actually meeting one another in person. And while a lockdown engagement might be a bit extreme, it’s entirely possible that two people have grown to really like one another over the previous weeks and months. Maybe it started with a match on a dating app, followed by flirting over text. Then came regularly scheduled Zoom dates. Perhaps they’ve even started envisioning a future together.

Now, as states start to ease restrictions, some may have broached taking the next step: an in-person rendezvous.

What are the chances that their online connection will lead to true love?

In my book, “The Science of Kissing,” I describe how compatibility requires engaging all of our senses. And absent the touch, taste and smell of a potential partner, people dating online during quarantine have essentially been flying blind.

Muzzled neurotransmitters

Human attraction involves the influence of cues that evolved over millions of years.

On a traditional date in a restaurant or move theater, we actively gather details about someone by walking side by side, holding hands, hugging and – if things get far enough – kissing. These experiences send neural impulses between the brain and body, stimulating tiny chemical messengers that affect how we feel. When two people are a good match, hormones and neurotransmitters bring about the sensations we might describe as being on a natural high or experiencing the exhilaration of butterflies. Finding love isn’t rocket science – it’s anatomy, endocrinology and real chemistry.

One of the most important neurotransmitters involved in influencing our emotions is dopamine, responsible for craving and desire. This natural drug can be promoted through physical intimacy and leads to the addictive nature of a new relationship. Of course, dopamine is just one player in a chemical symphony that motivates behavior. Intimate encounters also promote the release of oxytocin, which creates a sense of attachment and affection, and epinephrine, which boosts our heart rate and reduces stress. There’s also a decrease in serotonin, which can lead to obsessive thoughts and feelings about the other person.

In fact, one study showed that people who report that they’ve just “fallen in love” have levels of serotonin similar to patients suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. This chemical cocktail can even lead to trouble sleeping or a loss of appetite – symptoms people often attribute to meeting “the one.”

Our noses also play a powerful role in who we fall for. The famous “sweaty t-shirt experiment” reported that a man’s natural scent may influence how women choose a partner. The women in the study nearly always expressed a preference for the odor of men who differed genetically from them in immune response to disease. Scientists theorize that selecting someone with genetic diversity in this region, called the major histocompatibility complex, could be important for producing children with flexible and versatile immune systems.

A kiss can make or break it

While a man’s natural scent may not be something women consciously notice early on in a heterosexual relationship, getting up close and personal can serve as a kind of litmus test for a couple. A kiss puts two people nose to cheek, offering a reliable sample of smell and taste unrivaled by most other courtship rituals. Perhaps that’s one reason a 2007 University of Albany study reported that 59% of men and 66% of women have broken off a budding romance because of a bad first kiss.

Complicating matters, factors that typically grab our attention in person are less obvious to recognize in a witty profile or photo. Studies of online dating behavior reveal superficial features are correlated with the level of interest an individual receives. For example, short-haired women do not tend to get as much attention from men as those with long, straight hair, while men who report a height of six-foot-three or six-foot-four fare better than their peers at interacting with women. The initial focus on appearance promotes pairing based on characteristics that aren’t significant in lasting relationships, compared with more important factors for long-term compatibility, like intimacy and shared experiences.

Still, at a time when many of us are feeling more isolated than ever, online dating does offer some benefits. Quarantine has encouraged men and women to take additional time to learn about each other prior to meeting, sparing the anxiety of rushed physical intimacy.

For some couples, a real-world date will kindle the spark that began online. Many others will realize they’re better suited as friends.

[You need to understand the coronavirus pandemic, and we can help. Read The Conversation’s newsletter.]The Conversation

Sheril Kirshenbaum, Associate Research Scientist, Michigan State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Evictions Damage Public Health. The CDC Aims to Curb Them ― For Now.

Evictions Damage Public Health. The CDC Aims to Curb Them ― For Now.

Robert Pettigrew has a mass on his lung that makes him more suscpetible to contracting COVID-19, so he had to give up his job at Motel 6 when the pandemic struck. The loss in income meant that his family had trouble paying the $600-a-month rent on their two-bedroom apartment in Milwaukee, and were served an eviction notice by their landlord after a statewide eviction moratorium expired in May. (Coburn Dukehart/Wisconsin Watch)

In August, Robert Pettigrew was working a series of odd jobs. While washing the windows of a cellphone store he saw a sign, one that he believes the “good Lord” placed there for him.

“Facing eviction?” the sign read. “You could be eligible for up to $3,000 in rent assistance. Apply today.”

It seemed a hopeful omen after a series of financial and health blows. In March, Pettigrew, 52, learned he has an invasive mass on his lung that restricts his breathing. His doctor told him his condition puts him at high risk of developing deadly complications from COVID-19 and advised him to stop working as a night auditor at a Motel 6, where he manned the front desk. Reluctantly, he had to leave that job and start piecing together other work.

With pay coming in less steadily, Pettigrew and his wife, Stephanie, fell behind on the rent. Eventually, they were many months late, and the couple’s landlord filed to evict them.

Then Pettigrew saw the rental assistance sign.

“There were nights I would lay in bed and my wife would be asleep, and all I could do was say, ‘God, you need to help me. We need you,’” Pettigrew said. “And here he came. He showed himself to us.”

As many as 40 million Americans faced a looming eviction risk in August, according to a report authored by 10 national housing and eviction experts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited that estimate in early September when it ordered an unprecedented, nationwide eviction moratorium through the end of 2020.

That move — a moratorium from the country’s top public health agency — spotlights a message experts have preached for years without prompting much policy action: Housing stability and health are intertwined.

The CDC is now citing stable housing as a vital tool to control the coronavirus, which has killed more than 200,000 Americans. Home is where people isolate themselves to avoid transmitting the virus or becoming infected. When local governments issue stay-at-home orders in the name of public health, they presume that residents have a home. For people who have the virus, home is often where they recover from COVID-19’s fever, chills and dry cough — in lieu of, or after, a hospital stay.

But the moratorium is not automatic. Renters have to submit a declaration form to their landlord, agreeing to a series of statements under threat of perjury, including “my housing provider may require payment in full for all payments not made prior to and during the temporary halt, and failure to pay may make me subject to eviction pursuant to state and local laws.”

Confusion surrounding the CDC’s order means some tenants are still being ordered to leave their homes.

A sign inside a Boost Mobile store in Milwaukee prompted Robert Pettigrew to call Community Advocates to ask for help paying rent on the apartment he shares with his wife, daughter and grandson. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said stable housing is vital to controlling the coronavirus pandemic.(COBURN DUKEHART/WISCONSIN WATCH)

Princeton University is tracking eviction filings in 17 U.S. cities during the pandemic. As of Sept. 19, landlords in those cities have filed for more than 50,000 evictions since March 15. The tally includes about 11,900 in Houston, 10,900 in Phoenix and 4,100 in Milwaukee.

It’s an incomplete snapshot that excludes some major American cities such as Indianapolis, where local housing advocates said court cases are difficult to track, but landlords have sought to evict thousands of renters.

Children raised in unstable housing are more prone to hospitalization than those with stable housing. Homelessness is associated with delayed childhood development, and mothers in families that lose homes to eviction show higher rates of depression and other health challenges.

Mounting research illustrates that even the threat of eviction can exact a physical and mental toll from tenants.

Nicole MacMillan, 38, lost her job managing vacation rentals in Fort Myers, Florida, in March when the pandemic shut down businesses. Later, she also lost the apartment where she had been living with her two children.

“I actually contacted a doctor, because I thought, mentally, I can’t handle this anymore,” MacMillan said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do or where I’m going to go. And maybe some medication can help me for a little bit.”

But the doctor she reached out to wasn’t accepting new patients.

With few options, MacMillan moved north to live with her grandparents in Grayslake, Illinois. Her children are staying with their fathers while she gets back on her feet. She recently started driving for Uber Eats in the Chicagoland area.

“I need a home for my kids again,” MacMillan said, fighting back tears. The pandemic “has ripped my whole life apart.”

Searching for Assistance to Stay at Home

That store window sign? It directed Pettigrew to Community Advocates, a Milwaukee nonprofit that received $7 million in federal pandemic stimulus funds to help administer a local rental aid program. More than 3,800 applications for assistance have flooded the agency, said Deborah Heffner, its housing strategy director, while tens of thousands more applications have flowed to a separate agency administering the state’s rental relief program in Milwaukee.

Persistence helped the Pettigrews break through the backlog.

“I blew their phone up,” said Stephanie Pettigrew, with a smile.

She qualifies for federal Social Security Disability Insurance, which sends her $400 to $900 in monthly assistance. That income has become increasingly vital since March when Robert left his motel job.

He has since pursued a host of odd jobs to keep food on the table — such as the window-washing he was doing when he saw the rental assistance sign — work where he can limit his exposure to the virus. He brings home $40 on a good day, he said, $10 on a bad one. Before they qualified for rent assistance, February had been the last time the Pettigrews could fully pay their $600 monthly rent bill.

Robert and Stephanie Pettigrew embrace outside their two-bedroom rental apartment in Milwaukee on Sept. 4. In August, local group Community Advocates covered more than $4,700 in the Pettigrews’ rental payments, late charges, utility bills and court fees, and is now helping them look for a more affordable place to live.(COBURN DUKEHART/WISCONSIN WATCH)

Just as their finances tightened and their housing situation became less stable, the couple welcomed more family members. Heavenly, Robert’s adult daughter, arrived in May from St. Louis after the child care center where she worked shut down because of concerns over the coronavirus. She brought along her 3-year-old son.

Through its order, the CDC hopes to curtail evictions, which can add family members and friends to already stressed households. The federal order notes that “household contacts are estimated to be 6 times more likely to become infected by [a person with] COVID-19 than other close contacts.”

“That’s where that couch surfing issue comes up — people going from place to place every few nights, not trying to burden anybody in particular, but possibly at risk of spreading around the risk of coronavirus,” said Andrew Bradley of Prosperity Indiana, a nonprofit focusing on community development.

The Pettigrews’ Milwaukee apartment — a kitchen, a front room, two bedrooms and one bathroom — is tight for the three generations now sharing it.

“But it’s our home,” Robert said. “We’ve got a roof over our head. I can’t complain.”

Housing Loss Hits Black and Latino Communities

A U.S. Census Bureau survey conducted before the federal eviction moratorium was announced found that 5.5 million of American adults feared they were either somewhat or very likely to face eviction or foreclosure in the next two months.

State and local governments nationwide are offering a patchwork of help for those people.

In Massachusetts, the governor extended the state’s pause on evictions and foreclosures until Oct. 17. Landlords are challenging that move both in state and federal court, but both courts have let the ban stand while the lawsuits proceed.

“Access to stable housing is a crucial component of containing COVID-19 for every citizen of Massachusetts,” Judge Paul Wilson wrote in a state court ruling. “The balance of harms and the public interest favor upholding the law to protect the public health and economic well-being of tenants and the public in general during this health and economic emergency.”

The cases from Massachusetts may offer a glimpse of how federal challenges to the CDC order could play out.

By contrast, in Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers was one of the first governors to lift a state moratorium on evictions during the pandemic — thereby enabling about 8,000 eviction filings from late May to early September, according to a search of an online database of Wisconsin circuit courts.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s most populous city, has seen nearly half of those filings, which have largely hit the city’s Black-majority neighborhoods, according to an Eviction Lab analysis.

In other states, housing advocates note similar disparities.

“Poor neighborhoods, neighborhoods of color, have higher rates of asthma and blood pressure — which, of course, are all health issues that the COVID pandemic is then being impacted by,” said Amy Nelson, executive director of the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana.

“This deadly virus is killing people disproportionately in Black and brown communities at alarming rates,” said Dee Ross, founder of the Indianapolis Tenants Rights Union. “And disproportionately, Black and brown people are the ones being evicted at the highest rate in Indiana.”

Across the country, officials at various levels of government have set aside millions in federal pandemic aid for housing assistance for struggling renters and homeowners. That includes $240 million earmarked in Florida, between state and county governments, $100 million in Los Angeles County and $18 million in Mississippi.

In Wisconsin, residents report that a range of barriers — from application backlogs to onerous paperwork requirements — have limited their access to aid.

In Indiana, more than 36,000 people applied for that state’s $40 million rental assistance program before the application deadline. Marion County, home to Indianapolis, had a separate $25 million program, but it cut off applications after just three days because of overwhelming demand. About 25,000 people sat on the county’s waiting list in late August.

Of that massive need, Bradley, who works in economic development in Indiana, said: “We’re not confident that the people who need the help most even know about the program — that there’s been enough proactive outreach to get to the households that are most impacted.”

After Milwaukeean Robert Pettigrew saw that sign in the store window and reached out to the nonprofit Community Advocates, the group covered more than $4,700 of the Pettigrews’ rental payments, late charges, utility bills and court fees. The nonprofit also referred the couple to a pro-bono lawyer, who helped seal their eviction case — that means it can’t hurt the Pettigrews’ ability to rent in the future, and ensures the family will have housing at least through September. The CDC moratorium has added to that security.

Heavenly Pettigrew and her 3-year-old son moved in with her parents in May after the St. Louis child care center where she’d been working closed because of the pandemic. The two-bedroom, one-bath apartment is tight for three generations, said Heavenly’s father, Robert, “but it’s our home.”(COBURN DUKEHART/WISCONSIN WATCH)

The federal eviction moratorium, if it withstands legal challenges from housing industry groups, “buys critical time” for renters to find assistance through the year’s end, said Emily Benfer, founding director of the Wake Forest Law Health Justice Clinic.

“It’s protecting 30 to 40 million adults and children from eviction and the downward spiral that it causes in long-term, poor health outcomes,” she said.

Doctor: Evictions Akin to ‘Toxic Exposure’

Megan Sandel, a pediatrician at Boston Medical Center, said at least a third of the 14,000 families with children that seek treatment at her medical center have fallen behind on their rent, a figure mirrored in national reports.

Hospital officials worry that evictions during the pandemic will trigger a surge of homeless patients — and patients who lack homes are more challenging and expensive to treat. One study from 2016 found that stable housing reduced Medicaid spending by 12% — and not because members stopped going to the doctor. Primary care use increased 20%, while more expensive emergency room visits dropped by 18%.

A year ago, Boston Medical Center and two area hospitals collaborated to invest $3 million in emergency housing assistance as community organizing focused on affordable housing policies and development. Now the hospitals are looking for additional emergency funds, trying to boost legal resources to prevent evictions and work more closely with public housing authorities and state rental assistance programs.

“We are a safety-net hospital. We don’t have unlimited resources,” Sandel said. “But being able to avert an eviction is like avoiding a toxic exposure.”

Sandel said the real remedy for avoiding an eviction crisis is to offer Americans substantially more emergency rental assistance, along the lines of the $100 billion included in a package proposed by House Democrats in May and dubbed the Heroes Act. Boston Medical Center is among the 26 health care associations and systems that signed a letter urging congressional leaders to agree on rental and homeless assistance as well as a national moratorium on evictions for the entire pandemic.

“Without action from Congress, we are going to see a tsunami of evictions,” the letter stated, “and its fallout will directly impact the health care system and harm the health of families and individuals for years to come.”

Groups representing landlords urge passage of rental assistance, too, although some oppose the CDC order. They point out that property owners must pay bills as well and may lose apartments where renters can’t or won’t pay.

In Milwaukee, Community Advocates is helping the Pettigrews look for a more affordable apartment. Robert Pettigrew continues attending doctors’ appointments for his lungs, searching for safe work. He looks to the future with a sense of resolve — and a request that no one pity his family.

“Life just kicks you in the butt sometimes,” he said. “But I’m the type of person — I’m gonna kick life’s ass back.”

For this story, NPR and KHN partnered with the investigative journalism site Wisconsin Watch, Side Effects Public Media, Wisconsin Public Radio and WBUR.

Subscribe to KHN’s free Morning Briefing.

Electionland 2020: PA Voting, NYC Absentee Ballots, Legal Battles and More

Electionland 2020: PA Voting, NYC Absentee Ballots, Legal Battles and More

This article originally appeared on ProPublica.org, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. 

Vote by Mail News

  • The U.S. Postal Service stopped updating the national change of address system for three weeks in August, leaving more than 1.8 million records unprocessed in that period. In most states, the address database is used as a guide to keep voter rolls up-to-date. (TIME)
  • The New York City Board of Elections is reprinting and resending nearly 100,000 absentee ballots after voters in Brooklyn received the wrong return envelopes. If signed, the ballots inside would have been invalidated. The governor says that the city should only resend the envelopes, not the ballots. (Gothamist/WNYC, New York Daily News)
  • President Donald Trump’s campaign sent a letter to Republican members of county election boards in North Carolina, urging them to ignore a recent court decision that expands access to mail-in voting. “The Democrats are trying to undermine the election process through backroom shenanigans,” the letter read. (WRAL)
  • Some absentee voters in Illinois are jumping the gun and showing up at the polls for early voting before their ballots arrive in the mail. (WICS/WRSP, Chicago Tribune)
  • Iowa poll workers can start opening ballot envelopes on Oct. 31 to relieve pressure on Election Day, under a new emergency declaration from state lawmakers. (Des Moines Register)
  • Election workers in Michigan will get an extra 10 hours of prep time for opening envelopes, starting Nov. 2. (Detroit Free Press)
  • Kentucky officials are working on a standard ballot curing system so voters can fix mistakes on their absentee ballots this November. (WUKY)
  • Hundreds of North Carolina absentee ballots have already been sent back to voters because of missing witness information. (ABC News)
  • The pandemic-era shift to voting by mail is creating an “administrative nightmare” for election officials in New Mexico. (Santa Fe New Mexican)
  • More than 3,000 New Hampshire voters were locked out of tracking their ballots online because their birth years had defaulted to 1964 in a state database. (Concord Monitor)
  • New York state unveiled new absentee ballot envelopes featuring a large red “X” on the signature line, in response to problems reported in the June primary. (Gotham Gazette)
  • In Virginia, around 1,400 absentee voters received duplicate ballots as election workers rushed to fulfill requests. (Washington Post)
  • Some Charlotte, North Carolina-area voters are getting inundated with absentee ballot applications and mailing duplicate requests to their local elections offices. (13 News Now)
  • After a string of errors, Utah election officials are keeping a close eye on private vendors printing out absentee ballots. Democratic Party voters in one clerk’s county received GOP ballots and vice versa during the June primary. Now, the clerk said, “I’m in communication with [the printer] probably four or five times a day.” (Salt Lake Tribune)

Pandemic Voting

  • Some anxious Washington state voters have registered to vote or made change of address requests multiple times, which slows down the process. (Crosscut)
  • The Center for Public Integrity and Stateline released data for polling place locations across 30 states since 2012 to help journalists and advocates study voting accessibility. (Center for Public Integrity)
  • For 38 million Americans with disabilities, the pandemic has made voting more inaccessible, especially for people who need help filling out a physical ballot or using voting machines. (The New York Times)
  • A group started by NBA star LeBron James has signed up 10,000 people to volunteer as poll workers in Black districts around the country. (The New York Times)
  • Testing of Georgia’s new voting system has been halted temporarily while the state resolves issues with how candidates’ names are displayed on voting machine screens. (Georgia Public Broadcasting)
  • Jefferson County, Kentucky is moving forward with plans to expand the number of polling locations from 8 to 20. (Courier-Journal)
  • A New York state bill that would allow online voter registration is unlikely to pass in time for the general election. (Gotham Gazette)
  • The new county clerk in Harris County, Texas is on a mission to avoid long lines and other issues that hampered voting in the March primary. (Texas Monthly)
  • Milwaukee Republicans say that having mascots at early voting locations in sporting arenas constitutes illegal electioneering. (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

What’s Happening With Elections in Pennsylvania

  • Pennsylvania’s voting website has experienced technical problems recently, preventing voters from registering and checking other election-related services. The secretary of state says there’s no “malicious activity” and that a team is working on a fix. (Penn Live)
  • Some voters in Western Pennsylvania reported problems getting through on the phone to local elections offices. (PostIndustrial)
  • A laptop and memory sticks used to program Philadelphia voting machines were stolen from a warehouse. The laptop was disabled remotely and did not have election material on it, an official said. (The Philadelphia Inquirer)
  • GOP state legislators are moving forward with a plan to investigate the presidential election, giving lawmakers “the authority to subpoena election officials, the U.S. postal service and examine aspects of the election, even while voting and counting are in process.” (The York Daily Record)
  • At the debate Tuesday night, Trump renewed his false claim that officials in Philadelphia threw observers out of a polling place. (Philadelphia Inquirer)
  • Luzerne County, Pa., officials say they acted quickly when they discovered that a temporary elections worker had improperly discarded nine mail-in ballots to cover up a mistake. But it was “wildly improper” for the Justice Department to announce an investigation into the matter, legal experts say. (Times Leader, The Washington Post)
  • Trump has used the discarded ballots in Pennsylvania, and the Justice Department’s investigation into them, to make unfounded claims about voter fraud. (CNN)

Private Funding for Election Administration

  • Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg gave $300 million in grants to two organizations to be used for election administration, but a conservative group is suing to block the funding in Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. (The New York Times)
  • Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger offered grants to local elections officials in jurisdictions formerly covered by the Voting Rights Act. He’s already started giving out the funds, awarding a $250,000 grant to a Texas county, which also received a $1.8 million grant from the Center for Tech and Civic Life. (The Hill, TPR, Valley Morning Star)
  • New York City joined a host of other New York state municipalities seeking private grant funding to defray the cost of holding an election during a pandemic. (The Wall Street Journal)

The Latest on Misinformation

  • Ongoing court battles and misleading claims about mail-in ballot fraud seem to be taking a toll on voters. More said they’ll be casting ballots in person, in a recent poll. (NPR)
  • The FBI is investigating a Russian group posing as an independent media outlet to target right-wing social media users. (Reuters)
  • Right-leaning YouTube channels are spreading misinformation about mail-in voting, raising questions about the platform’s ability to enforce its own rules. (Media Matters)
  • An unverified video accusing Rep. Ilhan Omar of voter fraud was part of a “coordinated disinformation campaign,” researchers say. (The New York Times)
  • The White House lit into FBI Director Christopher Wray this week after he told a congressional panel there was no evidence of a coordinated national voter fraud effort, undercutting claims by the president. (Reuters)
  • Trump claimed without evidence this week that states cannot count mail-in and absentee ballots accurately, and also tweeted misleading information about Brooklyn’s mail ballot debacle. (Twitter)
  • Russia is spreading disinformation about mail-in voting in the U.S. as Trump continues to attack it, intelligence officials say. (The New York Times)

Election Legal Battles

  • Trump’s campaign has assembled a massive legal network to monitor the election and oversee the deluge of mail-in ballots expected this year. (Politico)
  • A top lawyer for the Trump campaign got his start working for Democrat Al Gore’s presidential campaign. (WFAE)
  • A review of 90 state and federal voting lawsuits has found judges are “broadly skeptical” of GOP arguments that mail voting should be limited due to fraud concerns. (Washington Post)

The Latest Lawsuits

 

Pink Ribbon Warriors

Pink Ribbon Warriors

Since 1985, the month of October has become known throughout the United States as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. During this annual health campaign, charities, hospitals, retailers and others commit to raising funds earmarked for programs that aim at discovering a cause and a cure for breast cancer. Many of these programs also focus on helping women learn what they can do to minimize their risk of ever developing breast cancer in the first place.

Which would you rather do—reduce your risk for breast cancer or race around hoping for a cure? Most women, quite sensibly, would rather reduce their risk for breast cancer as much as possible.  So what can you do to reduce your risk?  Well, there are at least six strategies that are known and proven to reduce the risk for breast cancer:  exercise regularly, maintain ideal body weight, avoid smoking, avoid alcohol, avoid oral contraceptives, and avoid hormone replacement therapy. Let’s take them one at a time. But before we dive into them, let’s first take a look at some important breast cancer facts as they relate to African American women.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among African American women and is the second most common cause of cancer death among African American women right behind lung cancer.

In addition, Breastcancer.org reveals on its website that while white women are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than African American women, breast cancer is more common in African American women than white women in those under the age of 45. Research also indicates that Asian, Hispanic, and Native-American women have a lower risk of developing and dying from breast cancer than African American women. So, why is breast cancer so much more common — and deadly — among African American females?

Scientists are not certain why this is the case. Early studies suggested that African American women have, on average, fewer healthcare resources at their disposal. But further analysis shows that there is a distinctly more lethal form of breast cancer stalking black women. Until doctors can figure out precisely what is causing this different pattern of breast cancer in African American women, it just makes for them to use every means available to reduce their risk for breast cancer. So, while early diagnosis and treatment are important for improving survival from breast cancer, it is a wiser strategy to try to prevent the disease in the first place. And this leads us to the above-mentioned strategies.

Exercise, Exercise, Exercise

Moderate exercise, defined as 30 minutes of brisk walking four times per week, reduces the risk for breast cancer by 30 to 50 percent. A pair of tennis shoes is all you need. No pills; just walk! And if you are a breast cancer survivor, the same amount of exercise can reduce your risk of death by 50 percent. As far as I’m concerned, every woman newly diagnosed with breast cancer ought to be given a brand new pair of tennis shoes and told to use them regularly!

Find Your Fighting Weight

Maintaining ideal body weight is also important. Simply put, it is a matter of keeping extra body fat to a minimum. The reason this is beneficial is that estrogen — which is known to increase the risk for breast cancer — is manufactured in fat cells. So the more fat you carry around, the more estrogen you make. By maintaining ideal body weight, you reduce the amount of circulating estrogen and that will reduce your risk for breast cancer. Here’s a link you can use to calculate your ideal body weight.

Where There’s Smoke …

Steer clear of cigarettes because smoking definitely increases the risk for breast cancer; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  And it most definitely increases the risk of death from breast cancer in those women who do smoke. Although doctors haven’t quite figured out why smoking increases the risk of death in women with breast cancer, there is no doubt that it does.

Rethink That Drink

For reasons that are not entirely clear, but may be related to elevated estrogen levels associated with alcohol intake, drinking increases a woman’s risk for breast cancer. Even half a glass of wine per day increases one’s risk. I know, cardiologists are proclaiming the heart-healthy benefits of drinking red wine, but alcohol increases your risk for breast cancer. So I recommend women steer clear of it.

Other Risk Factors

Oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy are also known to increase the risk for breast cancer. As a matter of fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared them to be Group I carcinogens, which are substances or agents that are known to cause cancer in humans in 2007, as compared to other WHO categories in which the cancer link is either questionable to yet to be confirmed. Although the FDA has not yet included the WHO analysis in the package inserts for these medications, it would be wise to avoid the use of oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy if you want to reduce your risk for breast cancer.

The Good News

Now, here’s some very good news: the world’s first preventive breast cancer vaccine was developed at the Cleveland Clinic in 2010 and is awaiting funding to begin clinical trials to see if it is safe for use in women.  It is a very promising discovery, for the vaccine was 100 percent effective in preventing breast cancer in three different animal studies. The results were vetted by a panel of experts and published in the prestigious journal Nature Medicine in May 2010. The scientist who created the vaccine, Professor Vincent Tuohy, received the Cleveland Clinic’s Sonnes Innovation in Medicine Award that same year, and this year the vaccine has become the centerpiece of the Cleveland Clinic’s fund-raising efforts, a mark of the Clinic’s endorsement of Tuohy’s work.

In addition to this amazing development, Drs. Beatriz Pogo and James Holland, scientists working at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, have found a virus that appears to be involved in 40-75 percent of breast cancer. They presented their results to the annual meeting of the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in 2006–a very tough and demanding crowd of breast cancer experts. In fact, Pogo and Holland are just one step away from proving this virus causes breast cancer in women. Both of these areas of research, the virus and the vaccine, are now our best hope for ending breast cancer worldwide … just like we ended small pox and are ending polio.

But in the meantime, exercise regularly and maintain ideal body weight. And don’t drink alcohol, smoke, use oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy. Though nothing can guarantee you won’t get breast cancer, you’ll reduce your risk and be healthier for it.

Resources for the Fight

Visit the following websites for additional information and resources:

1.    National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/nbccedp/screenings.htm
This is a government program created to help low-income, uninsured, and underinsured women gain access to breast cancer screenings and diagnostic services.

2.    Sisters Network Inc. (SNI)
http://www.sistersnetworkinc.org/index.html
SNI is a national organization that strives to educate African American women around the country about breast cancer, as well as provide support to survivors. Visit the website to locate a chapter near you.

3.    Are You Dense Inc.
http://www.areyoudense.org
Formed to educate the public about dense breast tissue, this organization espouses the value of adding screening ultrasounds to mammograms to increase detection of breast cancer. It also has a government relations affiliate, Are You Dense Advocacy, which aims at helping more women have access to an early breast cancer diagnosis and helps them find out what their state is doing to facilitate this. — By Shelley Bacote

 

Electionland 2020: PA Voting, NYC Absentee Ballots, Legal Battles and More

Electionland 2020: PA Voting, NYC Absentee Ballots, Legal Battles and More

This article originally appeared on ProPublica.org, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. 

Vote by Mail News

  • The U.S. Postal Service stopped updating the national change of address system for three weeks in August, leaving more than 1.8 million records unprocessed in that period. In most states, the address database is used as a guide to keep voter rolls up-to-date. (TIME)
  • The New York City Board of Elections is reprinting and resending nearly 100,000 absentee ballots after voters in Brooklyn received the wrong return envelopes. If signed, the ballots inside would have been invalidated. The governor says that the city should only resend the envelopes, not the ballots. (Gothamist/WNYC, New York Daily News)
  • President Donald Trump’s campaign sent a letter to Republican members of county election boards in North Carolina, urging them to ignore a recent court decision that expands access to mail-in voting. “The Democrats are trying to undermine the election process through backroom shenanigans,” the letter read. (WRAL)
  • Some absentee voters in Illinois are jumping the gun and showing up at the polls for early voting before their ballots arrive in the mail. (WICS/WRSP, Chicago Tribune)
  • Iowa poll workers can start opening ballot envelopes on Oct. 31 to relieve pressure on Election Day, under a new emergency declaration from state lawmakers. (Des Moines Register)
  • Election workers in Michigan will get an extra 10 hours of prep time for opening envelopes, starting Nov. 2. (Detroit Free Press)
  • Kentucky officials are working on a standard ballot curing system so voters can fix mistakes on their absentee ballots this November. (WUKY)
  • Hundreds of North Carolina absentee ballots have already been sent back to voters because of missing witness information. (ABC News)
  • The pandemic-era shift to voting by mail is creating an “administrative nightmare” for election officials in New Mexico. (Santa Fe New Mexican)
  • More than 3,000 New Hampshire voters were locked out of tracking their ballots online because their birth years had defaulted to 1964 in a state database. (Concord Monitor)
  • New York state unveiled new absentee ballot envelopes featuring a large red “X” on the signature line, in response to problems reported in the June primary. (Gotham Gazette)
  • In Virginia, around 1,400 absentee voters received duplicate ballots as election workers rushed to fulfill requests. (Washington Post)
  • Some Charlotte, North Carolina-area voters are getting inundated with absentee ballot applications and mailing duplicate requests to their local elections offices. (13 News Now)
  • After a string of errors, Utah election officials are keeping a close eye on private vendors printing out absentee ballots. Democratic Party voters in one clerk’s county received GOP ballots and vice versa during the June primary. Now, the clerk said, “I’m in communication with [the printer] probably four or five times a day.” (Salt Lake Tribune)

Pandemic Voting

  • Some anxious Washington state voters have registered to vote or made change of address requests multiple times, which slows down the process. (Crosscut)
  • The Center for Public Integrity and Stateline released data for polling place locations across 30 states since 2012 to help journalists and advocates study voting accessibility. (Center for Public Integrity)
  • For 38 million Americans with disabilities, the pandemic has made voting more inaccessible, especially for people who need help filling out a physical ballot or using voting machines. (The New York Times)
  • A group started by NBA star LeBron James has signed up 10,000 people to volunteer as poll workers in Black districts around the country. (The New York Times)
  • Testing of Georgia’s new voting system has been halted temporarily while the state resolves issues with how candidates’ names are displayed on voting machine screens. (Georgia Public Broadcasting)
  • Jefferson County, Kentucky is moving forward with plans to expand the number of polling locations from 8 to 20. (Courier-Journal)
  • A New York state bill that would allow online voter registration is unlikely to pass in time for the general election. (Gotham Gazette)
  • The new county clerk in Harris County, Texas is on a mission to avoid long lines and other issues that hampered voting in the March primary. (Texas Monthly)
  • Milwaukee Republicans say that having mascots at early voting locations in sporting arenas constitutes illegal electioneering. (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

What’s Happening With Elections in Pennsylvania

  • Pennsylvania’s voting website has experienced technical problems recently, preventing voters from registering and checking other election-related services. The secretary of state says there’s no “malicious activity” and that a team is working on a fix. (Penn Live)
  • Some voters in Western Pennsylvania reported problems getting through on the phone to local elections offices. (PostIndustrial)
  • A laptop and memory sticks used to program Philadelphia voting machines were stolen from a warehouse. The laptop was disabled remotely and did not have election material on it, an official said. (The Philadelphia Inquirer)
  • GOP state legislators are moving forward with a plan to investigate the presidential election, giving lawmakers “the authority to subpoena election officials, the U.S. postal service and examine aspects of the election, even while voting and counting are in process.” (The York Daily Record)
  • At the debate Tuesday night, Trump renewed his false claim that officials in Philadelphia threw observers out of a polling place. (Philadelphia Inquirer)
  • Luzerne County, Pa., officials say they acted quickly when they discovered that a temporary elections worker had improperly discarded nine mail-in ballots to cover up a mistake. But it was “wildly improper” for the Justice Department to announce an investigation into the matter, legal experts say. (Times Leader, The Washington Post)
  • Trump has used the discarded ballots in Pennsylvania, and the Justice Department’s investigation into them, to make unfounded claims about voter fraud. (CNN)

Private Funding for Election Administration

  • Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg gave $300 million in grants to two organizations to be used for election administration, but a conservative group is suing to block the funding in Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. (The New York Times)
  • Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger offered grants to local elections officials in jurisdictions formerly covered by the Voting Rights Act. He’s already started giving out the funds, awarding a $250,000 grant to a Texas county, which also received a $1.8 million grant from the Center for Tech and Civic Life. (The Hill, TPR, Valley Morning Star)
  • New York City joined a host of other New York state municipalities seeking private grant funding to defray the cost of holding an election during a pandemic. (The Wall Street Journal)

The Latest on Misinformation

  • Ongoing court battles and misleading claims about mail-in ballot fraud seem to be taking a toll on voters. More said they’ll be casting ballots in person, in a recent poll. (NPR)
  • The FBI is investigating a Russian group posing as an independent media outlet to target right-wing social media users. (Reuters)
  • Right-leaning YouTube channels are spreading misinformation about mail-in voting, raising questions about the platform’s ability to enforce its own rules. (Media Matters)
  • An unverified video accusing Rep. Ilhan Omar of voter fraud was part of a “coordinated disinformation campaign,” researchers say. (The New York Times)
  • The White House lit into FBI Director Christopher Wray this week after he told a congressional panel there was no evidence of a coordinated national voter fraud effort, undercutting claims by the president. (Reuters)
  • Trump claimed without evidence this week that states cannot count mail-in and absentee ballots accurately, and also tweeted misleading information about Brooklyn’s mail ballot debacle. (Twitter)
  • Russia is spreading disinformation about mail-in voting in the U.S. as Trump continues to attack it, intelligence officials say. (The New York Times)

Election Legal Battles

  • Trump’s campaign has assembled a massive legal network to monitor the election and oversee the deluge of mail-in ballots expected this year. (Politico)
  • A top lawyer for the Trump campaign got his start working for Democrat Al Gore’s presidential campaign. (WFAE)
  • A review of 90 state and federal voting lawsuits has found judges are “broadly skeptical” of GOP arguments that mail voting should be limited due to fraud concerns. (Washington Post)

The Latest Lawsuits

 

Black church turnout effort mobilizes against alleged voter suppression

Black church turnout effort mobilizes against alleged voter suppression

Pastor Mike McBride, left, during a Live Free event in October 2019. Courtesy photo

For each day left before Election Day, Martinique Mix, a graphic designer in Atlanta, is developing promotional materials for the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s get-out-the-vote efforts.

“We’re putting them on all social media and email to make sure it has a wide range so that it does reach the person who is 17 ½ and the person who is 77,” said Mix, the granddaughter of a retired AME bishop and president of the historically Black denomination’s Richard Allen Young Adult Council. She began working on the church’s V-Alert campaign in August.

“The information that we’re trying to give is basically trying to get people to understand the importance of the election, to understand that not only do you need to register but you have to make sure that you take the extra effort to vote,” she said.

While preserving the presidency of President Donald Trump is energizing many white evangelical Christians, many Black Protestants, evangelical and mainline, are motivated equally to oppose him, pointing to the president’s unquestioning support for police after the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other unarmed African Americans, as well as his handling of a pandemic that has sickened minorities in disproportionate numbers.

But most pertinent in these last weeks before Election Day are allegations that the GOP has attempted to limit minority voting, particularly since the 2013 Supreme Court decision striking down parts of the Voting Rights Act intended to prevent some states from raising barriers at the polls.

In 2018, Stacey Abrams lost Georgia’s gubernatorial race to Brian Kemp, then the state’s top election official, by single-digit percentage points, after Kemp purged thousands of voter registrations from the rolls. Two years later, in Georgia’s primary elections, voters complained of long lines and technical problems with new voting machines.

On Monday (Sept. 28), a British television news report found that the 2016 Trump campaign had targeted 3.5 million Black voters with ads designed to reduce voter turnout.

In answer to these concerns, a coalition of clergy and social justice organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Sojourners and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, is mounting an effort called “Turnout Sunday/Lawyers and Collars” this year, recruiting at least 100 pastors and lawyers in each of nine states — Arizona, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — for the campaign.

They will be a “moral and spiritual presence on the ground” and can offer legal expertise at polling sites, said the Rev. Barbara Williams-Skinner, co-convenor of the National African American Clergy Network, which is participating in the voter protection campaign.

Before the vote begins, the campaign will set up a “clergy hotline and call center” that will be supported by groups ranging from the NAACP to the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference to Black pastors in the United Methodist Church. Lawyers will help staff the hotline, answering questions about polling locations and consulting on voter intimidation issues.

“This election is viewed by most African Americans as a life and death situation,” said Williams-Skinner. “It is a choice between an America that continues to be steeped in systemic racism and injustice for people of color or an America that has space for every person of every background.”

While these groups often support voter mobilization, Williams-Skinner said they “never worked this tightly together because the stakes are higher.”

With the continuing coronavirus pandemic, many Black churches are complementing “Souls to the Polls” initiatives that have traditionally ferried people to the polls for early voting with socially distanced equivalents.

“More cars on the road as opposed to bus pools and van pools,” said the Rev. Leslie Watson Wilson, national director of People for the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council. “I’ve even seen where people are going to be creative and pay for Uber or share rides or Lyft services to help people to get to the polls.”

The National Black Evangelical Association is among the groups planning to share email blasts from the Turnout Sunday initiative.

“The challenges of the time, and the attacks against voter registration and people voting, particularly Black people, is cause for doubling down efforts among all of us to push for fairness, access, education in terms of voting,” said the Rev. Walter McCray, president of the NBEA.

“There is a level of energy and coordination among Black church leaders at the highest level that I’ve not seen in my 20 years of organizing,” said Pastor Mike McBride, a Pentecostal minister who is working with both the multifaith, nonpartisan Faith in Action and Black church organizations to ensure people are registered and ready to vote.

McBride is a founder of the Black Church Action Fund, which is offering weekly virtual training in tweeting and sending pro-voting memes to “turn every single Black church person into a de facto digital organizer.” He hopes to get more than 2 million people to the polls.

Abrams, who founded Fair Fight, a voter protection organization, after her loss in 2018, has not limited her efforts to Christian groups. In August, Jewish and Sikh leaders joined a conference call with her and Black church clergy (including her parents, United Methodist Church pastors who said they used to take her into the voting booth with them when she was a child). The call also promoted the new documentary “All In: The Fight for Democracy,” which features Abrams’ efforts to overcome barriers to voting.

“I come to this moment of voting raised by people who taught me that faith is an action; it is not simply a thought,” said Abrams, on the call. “We have engaged communities of faith because I know if you want to see something done, give it to somebody in the church.”

Black celebrities have been recruited to the voter mobilizing effort. The AME Church has joined forces with Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Your Vote, developing a PSA featuring actress Deborah Joy Winans, a star of “Greenleaf,” on Winfrey’s OWN network.

“When segregation was the order of the day and laws prevented African Americans from voting, you held meetings in your church to protest,” said Winans, seated in front of a “Greenleaf” poster. “So now Own Your Vote is pleased to partner with you to go that next mile.”

Among African American women, there may be no greater celebrity than former first lady Michelle Obama, who co-chairs  a voter empowerment organization called When We All Vote. The group has partnered with the AME Church’s Women’s Missionary Society.

The Rev. LaKesha Womack. Courtesy photo

Some Black church members have taken it upon themselves to create their own voter education efforts. The Rev. LaKesha Womack, a North Carolina business consultant and ordained deacon in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, held a voter education symposium as part of her “rethinking church” series. She’s also interviewing “everyday people” — from an African American pastor in Michigan concerned about gun violence to a white high school classmate in southern Alabama on Facebook Live — about why voting is important to them.

Other Black church officials are taking a more personal approach yet, pushing voter education with whomever they talk with ahead of Election Day.

“I greet people now: ‘Happy the 47th day before the election on Nov. 3,’” said AME Church Social Justice Commission Director Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker.

Faith-based voter mobilization is often officially nonpartisan — endorsements by name or party are forbidden by IRS rules about nonprofits — but the National Congregations Study found in 2018-19 that Black church officials are “by far” the most likely of faith groups to acknowledge they endorse candidates, with 13% saying they have, though it’s unclear whether they made their pleas from the pulpit or more generally.

The Rev. Walter McCray. Courtesy photo

McCray said that some of the president’s statements — such as his claim that racial violence at the right-wing protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 included “some very fine people on both sides” —  have put endorsements beyond the realm of mere politics.

“Theologically there are times for the church or 501(c)(3) to take a stand that even may be outside the bounds set by 501(c)(3) when the issues are just that important,” he said. “This season may be one of those times when, as the apostle said in the early church, we ought to obey God rather than man.”

McBride said this year’s collaborative efforts — such as Black Church PAC events on Facebook and YouTube — can also allow clergy who won’t endorse from the pulpit to direct people in the pews to more “politically pointed conversations” about the upcoming election.

“People look to the Black church, whether they attend the church or not, to at least have some kind of compass,” he said, “and I think we will and have to continue that role even if it does kind of put a little bit of our partisanship on display.”

For the most part, added Williams-Skinner, people don’t need to be told whom to vote for. “We are connecting the dots between evictions, between police killings of unarmed Black people, between those who would try to eliminate health care, and voting for people who will do right by people of color,” she said.

“When you give people the information about what’s at stake in their life, they’ll make the right decision.”

This story was supported by the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.