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India Expected to Ease COVID-19 Vaccine Export Restrictions

There is growing optimism that India could resume exports of COVID-19 vaccines as production expands at a rapid pace, putting the country on track to immunize its adult population in the coming months

“We had put a target of 1.85 billion doses for ourselves. That has been organized by the end of December and thereafter the government will be able to allow vaccine exports,” N.K. Arora, head of the national technical advisory group on immunization told VOA. “We will have several billion doses available next year.”

India, a vaccine powerhouse, was expected to be a major supplier of affordable COVID- 19 vaccines to developing countries.

However, after supplying 66 million doses to nearly 100 countries, New Delhi halted exports in April following a deadly second wave of the pandemic, slowing inoculation programs of countries from Africa to Indonesia.

There is no official comment on a timeline for resumption of exports, with officials stressing that for the time being, the focus is on India’s domestic rollout.

“First, all of our adults will have to be immunized, we have to take care of our own people,” Arora said.

The issue of vaccine supplies is expected to figure in the summit meeting of the Quad nations —  the United States, Japan, India and Australia — Friday in Washington.

Public health experts say India will likely wait to restart exports until the country’s festive season ends in November to ensure it does not have to grapple with a third wave. Currently authorities are racing to administer at least one dose to all adults.

India has given one shot to roughly two thirds of its population but only 20% of its approximately 900 million adults have been fully inoculated.

In April, as a ferocious surge in infections took a heavy toll, the government had faced criticism for exporting vaccines when most of its own population was not inoculated.

India has been urged to resume exports as the country’s vaccination program gains momentum and the supply of vaccines increases.

The World Health Organization told a press briefing in Geneva Tuesday that it has been assured that supplies from India will restart this year. Officials said that discussions in New Delhi have emphasized the importance of ensuring that India is “part of the solution for Africa.”

African countries have struggled to inoculate their populations — only about 3% of the continent’s population is vaccinated.

“Given the successful ramp-up of domestic production and the diminishing intensity of its own outbreak, we hope that India will ease its restrictions,” a spokesman for the Gavi alliance, co-leading the global vaccine sharing platform COVAX, told VOA.

The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest producer of the AstraZeneca vaccines, has said that exports could resume as India nears a level where sufficient stocks are available for its inoculation drive.

“In the next two months, we do expect slow easement of exports. But you have to also check with the government; ultimately it is their decision,” SII chief executive Adar Poonawalla said on Friday.

The institute was to be one of the major suppliers of affordable vaccines to COVAX, but the vaccine-sharing platform’s ability to get sufficient doses for low- and middle-income countries took a hit when India shut down exports.

“Countries with a low level of vaccination can breed variants and if the world does not cover those people there is an opportunity for mutants to rise and creep into other countries, making it harder control the pandemic,” K. Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India, said.

Eyes will also be on the Quad summit next week to see how it makes headway on the vaccine initiative announced in March under which the four countries had decided to produce 1 billion doses in India by 2022 with financial backing from the United States and Japan.

“The summit will be a good opportunity to take stock and expedite that initiative. Some conversations have happened, let us see what progress is made,” an official in India’s Ministry of External Affairs, who did not want to be named, said.

Vaccines produced under the Quad initiative were meant for countries in the Indo-Pacific region. These and other developing countries have turned to China, which has supplied over a billion doses, while Western countries are seen to have lagged in their efforts to vaccinate developing countries.

However, hopes are rising that India will emerge as a major global supplier as new production facilities are set up and the basket of vaccines expands.

The SII for example is set to ramp up production to 200 million doses next month –nearly three times its output in April when India halted exports. Indian companies are also set to make millions of doses of both domestically developed vaccines and those developed overseas, such as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and Russia’s Sputnik V.

“It may look like a presumptuous statement, but we will immunize many countries next year, and these will be with affordable shots. There is no confusion in that. India is committed to it and I see no difficulty at all,” Arora said. 

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‘Compassion Fatigue’ Hitting US Doctors, Report Says

A report in The Guardian says U.S. physicians treating unvaccinated patients are “succumbing to compassion fatigue” as a fourth surge of COVID-19 cases sweeps across the country.

Dr. Michelle Shu, a 29-year-old emergency medicine resident, said medical school did not prepare her to handle the misinformation unvaccinated patients believe about the vaccine, calling the experience “demoralizing.”

“There is a feeling,” Dr. Mona Masood, a psychiatrist in Philadelphia told The Guardian, “that ‘I’m risking my life, my family’s life, my own wellbeing for people who don’t care about me.’”

The U.S. has more COVID-19 cases than any other country, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, with over 42 million infections.

India’s health ministry said Sunday that it had recorded 30,773 new COVID-19 cases in the previous 24-hour period and 309 deaths. Johns Hopkins reports that only the U.S. has more infections than India, which has over 33 million.

Johns Hopkins has recorded more than 228 million global COVID-19 cases and 4.6 million global deaths. Almost 6 billion vaccines have been administered, according to Johns Hopkins.

Meanwhile, in the southern U.S. state of Alabama on Friday, Dr. Scott Harris, Alabama’s state health officer, said that 2020 was the first year in the history of the state that it had more deaths than births – 64,714 deaths and 57,641 births. The state “literally shrunk,” he said. Alabama is headed in the same direction for 2021, Harris said, with the current rate of COVID deaths.

 

 

 

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World Leaders Return to UN With Focus on Pandemic, Climate

World leaders are returning to the United Nations in New York this week with a focus on boosting efforts to fight both climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, which last year forced them to send video statements for the annual gathering.

As the coronavirus still rages amid an inequitable vaccine rollout, about a third of the 193 U.N. states are planning to again send videos, but presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers for the remainder are due to travel to the United States.

The United States tried to dissuade leaders from coming to New York in a bid to stop the U.N. General Assembly from becoming a “super-spreader event,” although President Joe Biden will address the assembly in person, his first U.N. visit since taking office. A so-called U.N. honor system means that anyone entering the assembly hall effectively declares they are vaccinated, but they do not have to show proof.

This system will be broken when the first country speaks — Brazil. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is a vaccine skeptic, who last week declared that he does not need the shot because he is already immune after being infected with COVID-19.

Should he change his mind, New York City has set up a van outside the United Nations for the week to supply free testing and free shots of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

 

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told Reuters that the discussions around how many traveling diplomats might have been immunized illustrated “how dramatic the inequality is today in relation to vaccination.” He is pushing for a global plan to vaccinate 70% of the world by the first half of next year.

Out of 5.7 billion doses of coronavirus vaccines administered around the world, only 2% have been in Africa.

Biden will host a virtual meeting from Washington with leaders and chief executives on Wednesday that aims to boost the distribution of vaccines globally.

Demonstrating U.S. COVID-19 concerns about the U.N. gathering, Biden will be in New York only for about 24 hours, meeting with Guterres on Monday and making his first U.N. address on Tuesday, directly after Bolsonaro.

His U.N. envoy, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said Biden would “speak to our top priorities: ending the COVID-19 pandemic; combating climate change … and defending human rights, democracy, and the international rules-based order.”

Due to the pandemic, U.N. delegations are restricted to much smaller numbers and most events on the sidelines will be virtual or a hybrid of virtual and in-person. Among other topics that ministers are expected to discuss during the week are Afghanistan and Iran.

But before the annual speeches begin, Guterres and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will start the week with a summit on Monday to try and save a U.N. summit — that kicks off in Glasgow, Scotland, on Oct. 31 — from failure.

As scientists warn that global warming is dangerously close to spiraling out of control, the U.N. COP26 conference aims to wring much more ambitious climate action and the money to go with it from participants around the globe.

“It’s time to read the alarm bell,” Guterres told Reuters last week. “We are on the verge of the abyss.” 

 

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US Business Demand High, Worker Availability Low

Millions of Americans who were thrown out of work in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic are now encountering a hot jobs market with businesses eager, even desperate, to hire them.

But amid continued spread of the delta COVID-19 variant, workers are trickling, not rushing, back into the labor market, despite the expiration of augmented federal unemployment benefits and offers of higher wages in some sectors.

Consumers eager to spend money would normally be a boon to the service industry in Charlotte, North Carolina. But businesses here, as in many parts of the United States, can’t find enough workers to accommodate the demand.

Help wanted signs are ubiquitous in storefronts across the city, where, since May 2020, the local unemployment rate has fallen from nearly 14% to less than 5%.

“Oh, there’s business here,” Brixx Wood Fired Pizza general manager Lethr’ Rotherttold VOA. “The restaurant stays busy and we’re making loads of money, but I don’t have the staff to keep up.”

It’s a similar situation at The Giddy Goat Coffee Roasters, an independent outfit with a unique business model of roasting coffee beans in-store and right in front of customers. The coffee shop was launched during the pandemic and has struggled to keep up with demand.

“When we think we’re good [for workers], the volume increases, and we suddenly need more help,” said manager Enzo Pazos. “Two people go to school, that’s two less staff on hand, so it’s kind of like it’s never enough.”

“You’re seeing variations of this same theme of a worker shortage across the country,” economist Matthew Metzgar of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte told VOA.

Metzgar notes that a federal economic stimulus program provided some workers with higher temporary incomes than they had received at their old jobs before the pandemic.

“What’s happening is of course with that higher unemployment compensation, people are less willing to work and people are less willing to accept lower wages,” Metzgar said.

Others who remain unemployed say they are reluctant to take jobs that would put them in close contact with the public at a time when the United States is averaging more than 1,500 COVID-19 deaths a day.

“Most people that have stayed on unemployment have done it for safety reasons, it seems,” job seeker Alex Jordan Ku said. “I have some friends on unemployment, and their safety was their main concern. They haven’t been looking for jobs They kind of just went back home to live with their parents so they can be without jobs for a while until things feel safe to them.”

Yet another problem keeping many people out of the workforce has been a shortage of affordable child care – a problem that was exacerbated by COVID-related school closures and remote learning that have forced many parents to remain at home with their children.

That problem may be easing as schools are reopening across the country this fall, but the parents of younger children are still finding it hard to secure placements in child care facilities, which are themselves impacted by difficulty in hiring enough qualified staff.

In a move partly aimed at getting more people back to work, the Biden administration is promoting enhanced child care subsidies as part of a proposed $3.5 trillion plan to fund infrastructure and social safety net programs.

 

This month’s expiration of supplemental unemployment benefits should force at least some workers back into the labor pool as their bank accounts run dry. But Metzgar says many potential workers are less than eager to return to jobs that pay less than what they received in benefits.

“From the worker’s point of view, there is resistance to coming back to lower-wage positions, and in some situations, there may not be much to entice them back in,” he said.

Adequate compensation

At a recent jobs fair in the neighboring state of Virginia, securing adequate compensation was on the minds of many prospective applicants, several of whom stressed factors beyond an hourly wage.

“What I’m looking for is something where there’s long-term stability, and benefits are important,” Lisette Bez told VOA at the Leesburg, Virginia, event. Even though she has run out of unemployment benefits, Bez indicated she is holding out for a job that includes things like generous health insurance benefits.

“The cost of insurance these days continues to go up. And I think for a lot of people that’s a huge concern,” she said. “So it’s not just enough to have a job that will pay you a certain amount. You have to have those other things.”

While employers have no control over the pandemic, they do have leeway in what they offer to entice workers, say labor advocates.

“In all candor, raising wages is the only thing that’s going to be bringing people back to work,” Charlotte labor organizer William Voltz told VOA.

Voltz, president of Unite Here’s Local 23, a union for airport employees, said workers need an hourly wage in the $17-$22 range to get by, far higher than the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

“Unfortunately, to live in Charlotte you really have to make a livable wage to be able to afford housing and life’s necessities,” he said.

Message heard

Amid fierce competition for labor, a growing number of U.S. employers big and small are sweetening wage and benefits packages offered to job seekers. E-commerce giant Amazon.com, Inc. recently boosted its average starting wage to $18 an hour, up from a $15 minimum wage the company set before the pandemic.

In Charlotte, Giddy Goat founder Carson Clough said he expects a certain amount of negotiation in determining compensation for new employees.

“If workers do have requests regarding pay and benefits, I am all ears,” Clough told VOA. “My business partner and I started off with the mindset [in] which we’re going to try and meet high-end wage requests, even prior to the pandemic. I’d be very open to hearing different demands, such as ‘How can I go do this’ or ‘How can this be a part of the package’ or something like that.”

Flexibility and creativity will be key to hiring and retaining workers going forward, according to Metzgar.

“Companies may consider thinking about bringing on workers that could contribute in multiple ways, doing something that brings value to the business. This would be a win-win, it would allow the worker to be invested, while the worker receives a higher wage in return,” the economist said.

“The point is to reimagine some of these positions so that the workers have the opportunity to produce more value, so managers set up workers to flourish to produce value for the company, which again comes with higher wages for the worker,” he added.

 

 

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Space Tourists Splash Down in Atlantic, End 3-Day Trip

Four space tourists ended their trailblazing trip to orbit Saturday with a splashdown in the Atlantic off the Florida coast.

Their SpaceX capsule parachuted into the ocean just before sunset, not far from where their chartered flight began three days earlier. 

The all-amateur crew was the first to circle the world without a professional astronaut. 

The billionaire who paid undisclosed millions for the trip and his three guests wanted to show that ordinary people could blast into orbit by themselves, and SpaceX founder Elon Musk took them on as the company’s first rocket-riding tourists. 

SpaceX’s fully automated Dragon capsule reached an unusually high altitude of 585 kilometers (363 miles) after Wednesday night’s liftoff. Surpassing the International Space Station by 160 kilometers (100 miles), the passengers savored views of Earth through a big bubble-shaped window added to the top of the capsule. 

Rare return to Atlantic

The four streaked back through the atmosphere early Saturday evening, the first space travelers to end their flight in the Atlantic since Apollo 9 in 1969. SpaceX’s two previous crew splashdowns — carrying astronauts for NASA — were in the Gulf of Mexico.

This time, NASA was little more than an encouraging bystander, its only tie being the Kennedy Space Center launch pad once used for the Apollo moonshots and shuttle crews, but now leased by SpaceX. 

The trip’s sponsor, Jared Isaacman, 38, an entrepreneur and accomplished pilot, aimed to raise $200 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Donating $100 million himself, he held a lottery for one of the four seats. He also held a competition for clients of his Allentown, Pennsylvania, payment-processing business, Shift4 Payments. 

Joining him on the flight were Hayley Arceneaux, 29, a St. Jude physician assistant who was treated at the Memphis, Tennessee, hospital nearly two decades ago for bone cancer, and contest winners Chris Sembroski, 42, a data engineer in Everett, Washington, and Sian Proctor, 51, a community college educator, scientist and artist from Tempe, Arizona. 

Strangers until March, they spent six months training and preparing for potential emergencies during the flight, dubbed Inspiration4. Most everything appeared to go well, leaving them time to chat with St. Jude patients, conduct medical tests on themselves, ring the closing bell for the New York Stock Exchange, and do some drawing and ukulele playing.

Arceneaux, the youngest American in space and the first with a prosthesis, assured her patients, “I was a little girl going through cancer treatment just like a lot of you, and if I can do this, you can do this.” 

They also took calls from Tom Cruise, interested in his own SpaceX flight to the space station for filming, and the rock band U2’s Bono. 

Atypical menu

Even their space menu wasn’t typical: cold pizza and sandwiches, but also pasta Bolognese and Mediterranean lamb. 

Nearly 600 people have reached space — a scorecard that began 60 years ago and is expected to soon skyrocket as space tourism heats up. 

Benji Reed, a SpaceX director, anticipates as many as six private flights a year, sandwiched between astronaut launches for NASA. Four SpaceX flights are already booked carry paying customers to the space station, accompanied by former NASA astronauts. The first is targeted for early next year with three businessmen paying $55 million apiece. Russia also plans to take up an actor and film director for filming next month and a Japanese tycoon in December. 

Customers interested in quick space trips are turning to Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. The two rode their own rockets to the fringes of space in July to spur ticket sales; their flights lasted 10 to 15 minutes.

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Media: ‘Quad’ Countries to Agree on Secure Microchip Supply Chains

Leaders of the United States, Japan, India and Australia will agree to take steps to build secure semiconductor supply chains when they meet in Washington next week, the Nikkei business daily said Saturday, citing a draft of the joint statement.

 

U.S. President Joe Biden will host a first in-person summit of leaders of the “Quad” countries, which have sought to boost co-operation to push back against China’s growing assertiveness. The draft says that in order to create robust supply chains, the four countries will ascertain their semiconductor supply capacities and identify vulnerability, the Nikkei said, without unveiling how it had obtained the document.

 

The statement also says the use of advanced technologies should be based on the rule of respecting human rights, the newspaper said on its web site.

 

The draft does not name China, but the move is aimed at preventing China’s way of utilizing technologies for maintaining an authoritarian regime from spreading to the rest of the world, the Nikkei said.

 

The United States and China are at odds over issues across the board, including trade and technology, while Biden said in April his country and Japan, a U.S. ally, will invest together in areas such as 5G and semiconductor supply chains.

 

No officials were immediately available for comment at the Japanese foreign ministry.

 

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Malawi Trial Shows New Typhoid Vaccine Effective in Children

Malawi plans a nationwide rollout of the newest typhoid vaccine after a two-year study, the first in Africa, found it safe and effective in children as young as 9 months. Previously available vaccines were found not effective in children younger than 2 years and even then only provided short-term protection.  

Typhoid is an increasing public health threat in Malawi and across sub-Saharan Africa with an estimated 1.2 million cases and 19,000 deaths each year.

 

Typhoid is a treatable bacterial infection that has become a serious threat in many low- and middle-income countries.

 

In Malawi, the study on the efficacy of the Typhoid Conjugate Vaccine or TCV involved about 28,000 children aged between 9 months and 15 years from three townships in the commercial capital, Blantyre.

 

The University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health, the Blantyre Malaria Project, and the Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome Trust conducted the study.

 

Professor Melita Gordon, principal investigator for the study at the Malawi-Liverpool Wellcome Trust, says the results, released this week, show an efficacy rate of more than 80% in protecting children against the disease.

   

“The previous vaccines were only 50% effective, and they were never even tested very well in the very youngest children. They were never even usable in the youngest children. So, the fact that this new conjugate vaccine works in pre-school children, right down to 9 months is a really big deal and important to be able to tackle typhoid across the board in all the children who suffer with it,” she said.

 

Gordon also said the vaccine efficacy data provides hope that sub-Saharan Africa can be rid of the multidrug-resistant strain of typhoid that arrived from Asia about a decade ago.

 

“In Malawi, the incidents are something [around] four or five hundred cases per 100,000 per year. Now anything over 200 is considered high incidence, so we are a very high-incidence country. There have been studies in Burkina Faso, in Ghana, in Kenya; we know that many other African countries have an equivalent burden of the disease,” Gordon said.

   

Dr. Queen Dube, chief of health services in Malawi’s Health Ministry, says rollout should begin soon.

 

“The exciting news is that we had applied to GAVI that supports us on the vaccination front to add this to the list of vaccines we are administering in the country and GAVI approved our application. And we are looking at introducing this typhoid vaccine and rolling it out next year,” Dube said.

 

However, some fear the new typhoid vaccine would face hesitancy and resistance from people, as has been the case with COVID-19 vaccines, and which led to the incineration of about 20,000 expired doses in Malawi in May.

 

But Dube said this won’t happen with typhoid vaccine because COVID-19 was a new disease.   

   

“We have had typhoid for decades and decades, so people know what typhoid is. Nobody will wake up in the morning saying, oh no, typhoid was manufactured in a laboratory. And so, chances that you will end up with misinformation are on the lower side compared with a new disease which swept across the globe, killing so many people brought a lot of fear and a allowed a lot of false theories,” she said.

   

Still, Dube said Malawi’s government plans to launch a massive sensitization campaign to teach people about the new typhoid vaccine to a reemergence of the myths and misinformation that engulfed the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

 

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WHO: Rich Countries’ Chokehold on COVID Vaccines Prolongs Pandemic in Africa

The World Health Organization is warning that COVID-19 vaccine export bans and hoarding by wealthy countries will prolong the pandemic in Africa, preventing recovery from the disease in the rest of the world.

 

While more than 60% of the U.S., European Union, and British populations have been vaccinated, only 2% of COVID vaccine shots have been given in Africa.

 

The COVAX facility has slashed its planned COVID-19 vaccine deliveries to Africa by 25% this year.  WHO Africa regional director Matshidiso Moeti says the 470 million doses now expected to arrive by the end of December are enough to vaccinate just 17% of Africans on the continent.   

    

“Export bans and vaccine hoarding still have a chokehold on the lifeline of vaccine supplies to Africa.… Even if all planned shipments via COVAX and the African Union arrive, Africa still needs almost 500 million more doses to reach the yearend goal.  At this rate, the continent may only reach the 40% target by the end of March next year,” Moeti said.   

    

The WHO reports more than 8 million cases of COVID-19 in Africa, including more than 200,000 deaths.  Forty-four African countries have reported the alpha variant and 32 countries have reported the more virulent and contagious delta variant.

 

Moeti warns of further waves of infection and loss of life in this pandemic.  Given the short supply of vaccines, she urges strict adherence to preventive measures, such as mask wearing and social distancing.

 

She reiterates WHO’s call for a halt to booster shots in wealthy nations, except for those with compromised immune systems and at risk of severe illness and death.

“I have said many times that it is in everyone’s interest to make sure the most at-risk groups in every country are protected.  As it stands, the huge gaps in vaccine equity are not closing anywhere near fast enough. The quickest way to end this pandemic, is for countries with reserves to release their doses so that other countries can buy them,” she said.

    

Moeti said African countries with low vaccination rates are breeding grounds for vaccine-resistant variants.  She warned this could end up sending the world back to square 1, with the pandemic continuing to ravage communities worldwide if vaccine inequity is allowed to persist.

 

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‘Devious Licks’ Videos of Damage, Thefts Bedevil US Schools 

Kids across the U.S. are posting TikTok videos of themselves vandalizing school bathrooms and stealing soap dispensers and even turf from football fields, bedeviling school administrators seeking to contain the viral internet trend. 

The “devious licks” challenge that swept social media this week is plaguing principals and school district administrators who already must navigate a bitter debate over requiring masks to keep COVID-19 in check. Some schools have had to more closely monitor or even shut down bathrooms, where much of the damage is occurring. 

No section of the nation appears to have been untouched. In northeastern Kansas, Lawrence High School had to close several bathrooms after students pried soap dispensers off the walls. Then, students tried to steal the “closed” signs, so staff is guarding the bathrooms, even the closed ones, said 17-year-old student Cuyler Dunn, relaying Friday what he called “total destruction.” 

“Some of them were to the point where they were borderline unusable,” said Dunn, who is also the co-editor-in-chief of Lawrence High’s student newspaper. “Locks on stalls had been taken off.”

Ice Bucket Challenge

While social media did spawn the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise money for research into the condition known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, it also led to a rash of poisonings several years ago when teenagers swallowed pods of laundry detergent for the “Tide Pods challenge.” The latest trend follows close upon a viral challenge to walk on stacks of milk crates.

Some school officials are reluctant to say much about “devious licks,” which is slang for theft. In Virginia, Fairfax County Public Schools spokesperson Kathleen Miller emailed that officials were aware of several incidents of property damage and that “disciplinary action has and will be taken.” 

Outside of that statement, Miller noted that the school district was saying little to avoid “encouraging copy-cat behavior.” 

A spokesperson said TikTok was removing “devious licks” content and redirecting hashtags and search results to its guidelines to discourage the behavior and that it doesn’t allow content that “promotes or enables criminal activities.”

While some school officials say they don’t know what caused the “devious licks” challenge to go viral, others chalk it up to a desire for peers’ attention or adolescents’ lack of impulse control. Some incidents have involved smashing things, like bathroom mirrors and sinks.

Tradition of senior pranks

Dunn said that his Kansas high school has a tradition of senior pranks that led someone to set chickens loose inside last year. But he said some students are starting to worry about the repercussions of “devious licks,” not only for kids who get caught but also for big events as the school tries to prevent thefts. His newspaper wrote about “devious licks” this week.

He said a detour sign taken from another school after a football game is in Lawrence High’s parking lot and that students even stole a small section of artificial turf off the school’s football field.

“The general vibe around the student body is that this is just another one of those funny things that high schoolers do,” he said. “But it has started to reach a point where it is starting to get in the way of things.” 

Damage displayed on social media

Northeast of Sacramento, California, the Rocklin school district has seen students destroy soap dispensers, damage faucets, plug toilets with whole rolls of toilet paper and tear mirrors and railings off walls, then share videos and photos on social media.

Spokesperson Sundeep Dosanjh said that the damage can close bathrooms for extended periods, an issue potentially made worse by “national supply chain disruptions” that have arisen amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Police in the central Florida city of Bartow, located about 50 miles east of Tampa, said they arrested a 15-year-old student who vandalized a new building’s bathroom by tearing off soap dispensers and leaving one in a sink. 

“He said he did it because of this TikTok challenge and he wanted to be cool,” police Chief Bryan Dorman said. 

In the Cherry Creek school district serving an affluent Denver neighborhood and nearby trendy suburbs, the district sent parents of middle and high school students a letter warning that kids who are caught face being suspended, could be forced to make restitution and might have their cases forwarded to police.

Warnings sent to parents

Districts in Miami and Scottsdale, Arizona, sent similar warnings to parents.

Cherry Creek spokesperson Abbe Smith said its schools had seen “a handful” of incidents of damage to or theft of soap dispensers, toilet paper dispensers and fire extinguishers. 

In southern Alabama, Robertsdale High School’s principal said a student there is facing criminal charges after he was caught on surveillance cameras swiping a fire extinguisher. He also was suspended from school. 

Punishments aren’t effective

In Wichita, Kansas, the district has found that punishments like suspensions aren’t effective in stopping such behavior, and community service is the more likely response, said Terri Moses, its director of safety services. The district’s middle schools have lost soap dispensers, paper towels and toilet paper. 

And, she said, the district warns students that what they post now could hurt their chances of getting jobs in their early 20s. 

“What they’re putting out on social media is giong to be with them for a long time,” Moses said. “We’re trying very hard to relay that.” 

 

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Leaders to Gather at UN Against COVID-19 Backdrop

New York next week will see one of its first large gatherings since the coronavirus pandemic, when more than a hundred world leaders are expected to return to the United Nations for their annual meetings. VOA U.N. correspondent Margaret Besheer reports.

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