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Updated: 6 days 1 hour ago

What Will It Take To Get Students Caught Up After The Pandemic?

Sat, 09/17/2022 - 00:28

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For perspective from inside the classroom, we're joined by National Teacher Of The Year Kurt Russell. How are the political debates impacting how he does his job? And what will it take to get kids caught up after the pandemic?


Election 22: What Matters airs at 8:30 p.m. Fridays on Newsy, and re-runs air at 7 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays on Newsy. Each week dives into one of the issues that will decide the midterm elections.

 

Election '22: What Matters: Education

Sat, 09/17/2022 - 00:23

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As student test scores plummet and states grapple with a critical shortage of teachers, Election '22: What Matters looks at how education has become a lighting rod issue driving elections up and down the ballot.


Election '22: What Matters airs at 8:30 p.m. Fridays on Newsy, and re-runs air at 7 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays on Newsy. Each week dives into one of the issues that will decide the midterm elections.

California Governor Runs Billboard Campaign For New Abortion Website

Sat, 09/17/2022 - 00:00

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"Abortion remains legal and protected in California. We have your back," said California Governor Gavin Newsom.  

Newsom touted a brand new state website dedicated to locating and accessing abortion services. 

The new site is a direct appeal to women in seven GOP-led states where abortion bans are in effect or in motion. 

In those seven states Newsom ran a billboard campaign directing people to the new website. 

Republicans are blasting him for the move. South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem defended her state as a "destination for freedom and life." 

"These are extremely dangerous times," said Noem. 

This is a new push as Democrats at a national level make abortion a centerpiece of their midterm election pitch. They're arguing Republican wins this fall would galvanize the party around a national abortion ban, which Senator Lindsey Graham proposed this week. 

SEE MORE: GOP's Graham Unveils Nationwide Abortion Ban After 15 Weeks

"I think we should have a law at the federal level that would say after 15 weeks, no abortion on demand, except in cases of rape, incest, to save the life of the mother. And that should be where America is at," said Graham.  

The latest Pew Research data shows adults think abortion should be legal in most or all cases, as Republicans hesitate to embrace Graham's bill. 

"I think most of the members of my conference prefer that this be dealt with at the state level," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader.  

California is now trying to solidify its place as a sanctuary state in a country where most people want abortion access, but many states restrict it. 

"Visit abortion.ca.gov to learn more about your freedom to choose in California," said Newsom. 

The site offers ways to find, get to and pay for abortion services from in or outside California. 

A political strategy, no doubt, but a potentially critical move for people looking for abortion care in states where it's not allowed. 

"These are extremely personal decisions that women make and should only make in the context of their lives, their faith, their medical needs, not with what the congressman from their district thinks they should do," said Rep. Katherine Clark. 

SEE MORE: South Carolina Senators Reject A Near-Total Abortion Ban

How Live Storytelling Is Helping People Cope With Mental Illness

Fri, 09/16/2022 - 21:05

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Live storytelling is an emotionally powerful medium, and one organization in Chicago is using it to get more people to talk about mental health. 

Heather Bodie is the executive artistic director of erasing the distance, a non-profit arts organization started in 2005 that uses live storytelling to foster community discussions about topics like alcoholism, depression, anxiety and PTSD.   

"You'll notice, even in the last like five years, billboards on the side of the highway or signs on the side of the bus that say 'talk to someone,' right? But if you've never placed language to what it is that you're living with, to what it is that's going on in your body, if you have deep seated stigma and shame around what it means to live with a mental health issue or to be going through crisis, you go sit down and talk to someone, but what are you going to say?" said Bodie. "The stories are performed by professional actors. But the way it works is that people sit down with us and share their own experiences in one-on-one interview style setting for anywhere from like an hour and a half to two hours, we transcribe those interviews, and then shape them verbatim text into two page scripts that we hand to those actors."

SEE MORE: Curbing People With Mental Illness Away From Jail

The performances are followed by moderated discussions where audiences can talk about their own experiences and the ways they relate to the stories they just heard. 

It's not therapy, though Bodie says it can feel therapeutic. And most importantly, it gives audiences the opportunity to learn how to talk about mental health with others. 

"If we can't talk about it, we can't take advantage of the resources that can lead to potential healing. So, storytelling helps people understand how to put words to what they live with," she said. 

Beyond their live and virtual storytelling events, erasing the distance also works with schools, faith organizations and workplaces to reach different audiences — especially those who are new to discussions about mental health.  

"I think that's our biggest challenge. A lot of times in our public performances, the people who join the room are here for it, right? And I wish, honestly, that more folks who were new to the experience of discussing their mental health showed up to these sorts of things," said Bodie. 

Newsy’s mental health initiative “America’s Breakdown: Confronting Our Mental Health Crisis” brings you deeply personal and thoughtfully told stories on the state of mental health care in the U.S. Click here to learn more.

The Story Of Smokey The Bear

Fri, 09/16/2022 - 20:57

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In a long line of famous bears, one stands out. 

"Only you can prevent forest fires," says Smokey Bear. 

Without Smokey Bear protecting their home, the other caring, crude and cuddly bears might not have a place to stomp around. 

Smokey’s story goes back to World War II. Many firefighters were deployed overseas and at home there were fears enemy attacks could spark deadly blazes. The U.S. Forest Service organized a campaign to help prevent forest fires, and suddenly it was everyone’s duty to help. 

SEE MORE: Smokey Bear Turns 73 As Wildfires Are On The Rise

In 1942 Walt Disney let the Forest Service use "Bambi" in promotional material, but only for a year. 

So, on August 9, 1944 the Forest Service and the Ad Council gave birth to a new face of wildfire prevention: Smokey Bear. 

The slogan "Smokey says care will prevent nine out of 10 forest fires," accompanied his first image.  

Smokey’s popularity grew and in 1947 he adopted a new signature phrase: "Only you can prevent forest fires!" 

In 2001 that was updated to "Only you can prevent wildfires." 

In 1950, Smokey came to life. Firefighters discovered a young bear cub who was burned after a fire in New Mexico. They named him Smokey.  

He went to live at the National Zoo in Washington. The real-life Smokey died in 1976, but today the original Smokey Bear lives on with his message still loud and clear, over 75 years later. 

Why Is Chicago Against Ketchup On Hot Dogs?

Fri, 09/16/2022 - 20:57

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Chicago takes its food seriously.  Maybe you've heard of their pizza? It's deeper than yours. And when it comes to their hot dogs — don't even think about ordering ketchup. 

Chicago's disgust may be best summed up by Dirty Harry in the 1983 thriller, "Sudden Impact."  

"You know what does bother me? You know what makes me really sick to my stomach? Watching you stuff your face with those hot dogs. Nobody, I mean nobody puts ketchup on a hot dog," said Harry.

In Chicago they've perfected the hot dog. Newsy went to an expert to get the lowdown: Doug Sohn, the founder and president of Hot Dogs Incorporated.

So what makes a perfect Chicago dog?

SEE MORE: For The Love Of Ketchup

"That's easy. You start with a steamed poppyseed bun. It is an all-beef natural-casing hot dog, topped with yellow mustard, a little diced onion, neon green sweet relish, some tomatoes, dill pickle and sprinkle of celery salt, then sport peppers. These little hot peppers," Sohn said. "That is the classic Chicago hot dog." 

There's growing consensus that this is the way to do it. 

The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council — yes that's a real thing — says don't use ketchup on your dog after the age of 18.  

But why are they so particular?  To be frank, part of it might be that we relish the chance to tell non-Chicagoans they're doing it wrong. But there might be some food science behind it too. 

A newspaper column from 1991 claimed "ketchup smothers the flavor of the hot dog because ketchup makers add sugar to their products."

In other words, ketchup would mask the rest of what we have going on. So what happens if you commit the faux pas?

SEE MORE: Why Do Hot Dogs And Buns Come In Different Counts?

The then-candidate for Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner was grilled by locals after ordering a dog with ketchup in 2014. His campaign said it was for a staffer. 

When presidential candidate John Kasich came to town a year later, he made sure not to alienate Chicago voters. 

We're not saying it could be the difference in an election, but you never know.  

While ketchup on a dog is frowned upon, even true Chicagoans know America is a country of freedoms.  

"Honestly, do whatever you want, but I personally think the flavors don't match and it's not gonna be as good," said Sohn.

"I think that having sweet elements, tart elements, crunchy elements, salty elements to it, really kind of creates this full kind of flavor profile but mouth feel as well. I think it's one of the rare complete dishes."

Why Is There New Interest In Fusion Energy?

Fri, 09/16/2022 - 19:52

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Temperatures hotter than the center of the sun, the highest-energy lasers in the world, magnets the size of a basketball court — and the promise of virtually unlimited energy on Earth. 

Dozens of universities and governments around the world are pursuing fusion energy, hoping to obtain a limitless energy source that produces no carbon emissions. 

At Zap Energy outside Seattle, researchers are among the 35 private companies racing to crack the puzzle.  

Ben Levitt is the director of research and development at Zap Energy. 

"I run a team here of physicists and engineers at this lab. We do the development on the fusion core reactor right here," said Levitt. "Where we need to get to is getting more energy output from these fusion reactions than is required as input. In other words, to light the candle, you need a certain amount of energy." 

No one here is wearing radiation protection. Scientists say nuclear fusion is very different than nuclear fission, which powers hundreds of power plants across the world. 

SEE MORE: European Union Leaders Divided On How To Curb Soaring Energy Costs

"Fission, which is commercially available and has been so since, you know, right after World War II, is the breaking apart of large nuclei. Think of uranium and plutonium, those things, when you take a large nucleus and split it apart, you get a bunch of energy coming out and that's great," Levitt said. 

But fission reactors also produce thousands of tons of radioactive waste each year.  

"Fusion, on the other hand, is quite different and is not yet commercially available. This is the process that exists in all the stars in all the galaxies in the universe. So the challenge for us is how do you create a star on Earth? Our sun is made up predominantly of hydrogen and helium. What the sun also has is a lot of gravitational force. So it can compress all this hot gas, hot enough and dense enough that these nuclei of hydrogen come so close together they actually fuse and they're pushed together to create another nucleus, a heavier nucleus, which is helium. And you get even more energy than in the fission reaction," said Levitt. 

To "create that star on Earth," says Levitt, researchers must contain a mysterious substance called plasma.

"In order of increasing temperature, you can start at a solid, increase the temperature you get to a liquid, then to a gas," he said.  "What happens when you go even hotter than a gas? That's a plasma."

Plasma's charged particles repel one another.  

"The trick is to force them together, long enough that they'll fuse," he continued. 

Smushing charged plasma to achieve fusion takes incredible force. A massive machine called the National Ignition Facility in Livermore, California uses 192 giant lasers to push the plasma together.   

SEE MORE: In Parts Of The Mideast, Power Generators Spew Toxic Fumes 24/7

A facility under construction in France called Iter will use huge magnets to try to achieve fusion. 

Zap, meanwhile, is working to make smaller scale reactors. Their name reflects their strategy: By hitting the plasma with a zap of lightning, they create magnetic fields that they believe can eventually keep the plasma together. 

"If we can create this actually confined plasma with its own magnetic field, it will self confine without the need for any other confinement technology," said Levitt. 

But big hurdles loom. Tritium gas is a rare isotope of hydrogen that serves as a key ingredient for fusion.  

Recent reports, including an article in Science Magazine, suggest a shortage of the gas could derail efforts to achieve fusion. 

The bigger problem is that despite billions of dollars of funding and decades of research into fusion, no experiment has ever produced a sustained fusion burn. 

"We've been making fusion reactions for more than a decade now. The issue is producing more energy output from fusion reactions than is required to start. These fusion reactions are what's called this energy break-even demonstration. We believe we're right around the corner from doing so," said Levitt. 

That achievement could make Zap Energy a household name and transform the world energy system for centuries. 

Russian President Putin Vows To Press Attack On Ukraine

Fri, 09/16/2022 - 18:24

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Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed Friday to press his attack on Ukraine despite its latest counteroffensive and warned that Moscow could ramp up its strikes if Ukrainian forces target power plants and other infrastructure in Russia.

Speaking to reporters Friday after attending a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Uzbekistan, Putin said the “liberation” of Ukraine's entire eastern Donbas region remained Russia’s main military goal and that he sees no need to revise it.

“We aren’t in a rush,” the Russian leader said, adding that Russia has only deployed volunteer soldiers to fight in Ukraine.

SEE MORE: Ukraine's Fighters Share What They've Seen In Newly Retaken Territory

Russia was forced to pull back its forces from large swaths of northeastern Ukraine last week after a swift Ukrainian counteroffensive. Ukraine's move to reclaim control of several Russian-occupied cities and villages marked the largest military setback for Moscow since its forces had to retreat from areas near the capital early in the war.

Asked about the Ukrainian counteroffensive, Putin replied: “Let’s see how it develops and how it ends.”

He alleged that Ukraine has attempted to launch attacks “near our nuclear facilities, nuclear power plants” in Russia and vowed to do “everything to prevent any negative turn of events.”

“We will retaliate if they fail to understand that such methods are unacceptable, they don't differ from terrorism,” Putin said.

Putin also sought Friday to assuage India’s concern about the conflict in Ukraine, telling Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that Moscow wants to see a quick end to the fighting and alleging Ukrainian officials won’t negotiate.

“I know your stand on the conflict in Ukraine and the concerns that you have repeatedly voiced,” the Russian leader told Modi. “We will do all we can to end that as quickly as possible. Regrettably, the other side, the leadership of Ukraine, has rejected the negotiations process and stated that it wants to achieve its goals by military means, on the battlefield.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said it is Russia that allegedly doesn’t want to negotiate in earnest. He also has insisted on the withdrawal of Russian troops from occupied areas of Ukraine as a precondition for talks.

Putin's remarks during the talks with Modi echoed similar comments he made during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping the previous day.

China and India have refused to join Western sanctions against Russia over its war in Ukraine while increasing their purchases of Russian oil and gas, helping Moscow offset the financial restrictions imposed by the U.S. and its allies.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization was formed by Russia and China as a counterweight to U.S. influence. The group also includes India, Pakistan and four ex-Soviet Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Iran is on track to receive full membership.

On Thursday, Putin held a one-on-one meeting with Xi and thanked the Chinese leader for his government’s “balanced position” on the Ukraine war, while adding that he was ready to discuss unspecified China’s “concerns” about Ukraine.

Xi, in a statement released by his government, expressed support for Russia’s “core interests” but also interest in working together to “inject stability” into world affairs.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Trump Openly Embraces Some QAnon Conspiracy Theories

Fri, 09/16/2022 - 17:04

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After winking at QAnon for years, Donald Trump is overtly embracing some of the group's baseless conspiracy theories, even as the number of frightening real-world events linked to it grows.

On Tuesday, using his Truth Social platform, the Republican former president reposted an image of himself wearing a Q lapel pin overlaid with the words “The Storm is Coming." In QAnon lore, the “storm” refers to Trump's final victory, when supposedly he will regain power and his opponents will be tried, and potentially executed, on live television.

As Trump contemplates another run for the presidency and has become increasingly assertive in the Republican primary process during the midterm elections, his actions show that far from distancing himself from the political fringe, he is welcoming it.

SEE MORE: Some Social Media Sites Don't Mind Being Home To Misinformation

He's published dozens of recent Q-related posts, in contrast to 2020, when he claimed that while he didn't know much about QAnon, he couldn't disprove its conspiracy theory.

Pressed on QAnon theories that Trump allegedly is saving the nation from a satanic cult of child sex traffickers, he claimed ignorance but asked, “Is that supposed to be a bad thing?”

“If I can help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do it,” Trump said.

Trump's recent postings have included images referring to himself as a martyr fighting criminals, psychopaths and the so-called deep state. In one now-deleted post from late August, he reposted a “q drop,” one of the cryptic message board postings that QAnon supporters claim come from an anonymous government worker with top secret clearance.

A Trump spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Even when his posts haven't referred to the conspiracy theory directly, Trump has amplified users who do. An Associated Press analysis found that of nearly 75 accounts Trump has reposted on his Truth Social profile in the past month, more than a third of them have promoted QAnon by sharing the movement's slogans, videos or imagery. About 1 in 10 include QAnon language or links in their profile bios.

Earlier this month, Trump chose a QAnon song to close out a rally in Pennsylvania. The same song appears in one of his recent campaign videos and is titled “WWG1WGA,” an acronym used as a rallying cry for Q adherents that stands for “Where we go one, we go all.”

On Truth Social, QAnon-affiliated accounts hail Trump as a hero and savior and vilify President Joe Biden by comparing him to Adolf Hitler or the devil. When Trump shares the content, they congratulate each other. Some accounts proudly display how many times Trump has “re-truthed” them in their bios.

A growing list of criminal episodes has been linked to people who had expressed support for the conspiracy theory, which U.S. intelligence officials have warned could trigger more violence.

QAnon supporters were among those who violently stormed the Capitol during the failed Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

In November 2020, two men drove to a vote-counting site in Philadelphia in a Hummer adorned with QAnon stickers and loaded with a rifle, 100 rounds of ammunition and other weapons. Prosecutors alleged they were trying to interfere with the election.

Last year, a California man who told authorities he had been enlightened by QAnon was accused of killing his two children because he believed they had serpent DNA.

Last month, a Colorado woman was found guilty of attempting to kidnap her son from foster care after her daughter said she began associating with QAnon supporters. Other adherents have been accused of environmental vandalism, firing paintballs at military reservists, abducting a child in France and even killing a New York City mob boss.

On Sunday, police fatally shot a Michigan man who they say had killed his wife and severely injured his daughter. A surviving daughter told The Detroit News that she believes her father was motivated by QAnon.

SEE MORE: Report: TikTok Search Results Riddled With Misinformation

Major social media platforms including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have banned content associated with QAnon and have suspended or blocked accounts that seek to spread it. That's forced much of the group's activities onto platforms that have less moderation, including Telegram, Gab and Trump's struggling platform, Truth Social.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Expert Talks About Effects Of Trauma On Detainees Like Griner, Whelan

Fri, 09/16/2022 - 16:36

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More than 200 days and counting. It's how long Phoenix Mercury basketball star and Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner has been held in Russia.  

At a WNBA finals press conference Sunday, league commissioner Cathy Engelbert called it a complex situation and revealed she recently received a handwritten letter from Griner.

"As we prepare to start this great series, it's important to reiterate that we are always thinking of Brittney Griner and our commitment to bring her home safely and as quickly as possible," Engelbert said. "I am so inspired by her courage in the face of enormous adversity."

After a stretch of silence, new details are coming out on efforts to free her. 

Friday marks President Joe Biden's first in-person meeting with the family of Griner and fellow imprisoned American Paul Whelan.

"One of the reasons he is meeting with the families is that he wanted to let them know that they remain front of mind and that his team is working on this every day — on making sure that Brittney and Paul return home safely," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. 

Earlier this week, published reports revealed that former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson and Russian leaders met in Moscow. 

Richardson's experience includes negotiating on behalf of other Americans detained in Cuba, Iraq and North Korea. 

SEE MORE: Lawyers Appeal Brittney Griner's Russian Prison Sentence

U.S. Department of State Spokesperson Ned Price says the department has been communicating with the Russian government through "appropriate channels."  

"We have been in contact with the Richardson Center," he said. "We made a significant offer to the Russians. We have followed up on that proposal repeatedly. Those discussions are ongoing."

Last month, Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison for drug-related charges. She has since appealed the punishment.  

Whelan, a Michigan-born corporate executive, is serving a 16-year prison sentence on espionage-related charges.  

A person familiar with the case previously confirmed the U.S. offered convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for the release of Griner and Whelan, but no word on a deal.  

Family members and fans say with every passing day, they worry about the conditions Griner may be exposed to in prison.

SEE MORE: Paul Whelan's Family 'Cautiously Hopeful' For Potential Prisoner Swap

Amy Manson is a board member for Hostage U.S., a nonprofit that helps families and people taken hostage cope with the trauma.  

"They face the reality of poor nutrition, sometimes no access to fresh air or actual daylight," she said.

Trauma stemming from everyday, taxing challenges in a Russian prison ranging from isolation to a drop in physical activity and bad food, which is especially tough for an elite athlete like Griner. 

"Some of our returnees face as much as 50 to 60 to 70 pounds lost," Manson continued. "And then we’re talking about muscle wastage, as well as the impact on their bodies of constant poor nutrition and constant stress."

NEWSY'S ADI GUAJARDO: When prisoners like Brittney Griner and Paul Whalen see their names back in the news, that they're being talked about, what does this do for them? 

AMY MANSON: It's incredibly uplifting ... Someone said to me that it was like the best medicine he could have had during his captivity, when he heard that there was something going on relative to his captivity. 

SEE MORE: Why Is It So Difficult To Bring Detained Americans Home?

Cardi B Pleads Guilty, Resolving Case Over NYC Club Brawls

Fri, 09/16/2022 - 16:27

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Grammy-winning rapper Cardi B resolved a yearslong criminal case stemming from a pair of brawls at New York City strip clubs by pleading guilty Thursday in a deal that requires her to perform 15 days of community service.

The 29-year-old "WAP" singer agreed to a conditional discharge just as her case was about to go to trial, saying in a statement: "Part of growing up and maturing is being accountable for your actions."

Cardi B, a New York City native whose real name is Belcalis Almanzar, pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges stemming from the August 2018 fights. Ten other counts, including two felonies, were dismissed. Two co-defendants also pleaded guilty.

According to prosecutors, Cardi B and her entourage were targeting employees of Angels Strip Club in Flushing, Queens, over an apparent personal dispute.

In one fight, chairs, bottles and hookah pipes were thrown as the group argued with a bartender. She and another employee had minor injuries.

"No one is above the law," Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said in a statement. "In pleading guilty today, Ms. Belcalis Almanzar and two co-defendants have accepted responsibility for their actions. This Office is satisfied with the resolution, which includes appropriate community service."

In 2019, Cardi B rejected a plea deal that would have given her a conditional discharge. Prosecutors then presented the case to a grand jury and obtained an indictment that included the two felony charges.

"I've made some bad decisions in my past that I am not afraid to face and own up to," said Cardi B, adding that she wanted to set a good example for her two children.

"These moments don't define me and they are not reflective of who I am now," she added. "I'm looking forward to moving past this situation with my family and friends and getting back to the things I love the most — the music and my fans."

Cardi B's chart-topping hits include "I Like It" and the Maroon 5 collaboration "Girls Like You."

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

'Biosphere' Review: A Hilariously Thought-Provoking Sci-Fi Comedy

Fri, 09/16/2022 - 15:41

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Two dudes are in a biosphere after the world has ended. We don't know exactly why, or how long ago. But childhood friends Ray (Sterling K. Brown) and Billy (Mark Duplass), who also co-wrote the screenplay with director Mel Eslyn, in a stellar debut) are now presumably spending the rest of their days in a dome protecting them from whatever made Earth uninhabitable. Climate change feels implied but is never directly referenced. Ray is a charismatic, quietly confident scientist who built the biosphere, while Billy is a well-meaning putz who somehow served as the last president of the United States when end times happened. Humanity had to have already been on its last legs for Billy to be an elected official at any level of government.  

The biosphere is designed not just to sustain life, but to also maintain some semblance of normalcy. The guys play video games, exercise, read, cook and have the necessities for comfortable living, relatively speaking. But they both seem to recognize this can only last for so long, and it's a ceremonious seafood dinner, of all things, that sparks a doomsday scenario for their safety inside the dome, challenging their friendship, the way they see each other and the way they see themselves.  

SEE MORE: 'Glass Onion' Review: A Middling Satire With Appealing Performances

And that's really all I feel I should say. The less you know about this movie going in, the better. No trailer, no detailed plot summary, not even too much discussion about the themes "Biosphere" is tackling. Because, rest assured, while it approaches some deep, important topics in the span of 106 minutes, even knowing what those are would tip you off to possible directions the story is headed. That doesn't seem fair. "Biosphere" made its world premiere with a surprise screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, which is appropriate for a movie you should embrace as a complete surprise.  

What I will tell you is "Biosphere" is creative, daring and hysterical. Eslyn and Duplass show no hesitation in pushing these two characters to unexpected, bold places. And they do so with comedy that often plays as both outrageous and tender. It's their conduit for the social commentary that reverberates throughout the biosphere and in the feelings and interactions of the last men on Earth who inhabit it.  

SEE MORE: Streaming Is Changing How Companies Make Money, For Better Or Worse

 Eslyn also makes a remarkably assured feature-length directorial debut, helming an ostensible sci-fi comedy that's so much more. A lot could go wrong with how this story is told and the messages it offers, and the seemingly unique but actually relevant questions it presents. She fearlessly handles this with sincere thoughtfulness and empathy.  

And when you have a cast of two, that dynamic had better work. Brown and Duplass are a delight to watch, both together and individually. Their chemistry as lifelong friends is believable from the moment we meet them on their morning jog around the dome, discussing the dynamics of video-game brothers Mario and Luigi. It's a galaxy-brain conversation you have only with someone you feel comfortable around. Their banter never feels forced, and it seems likely the screenplay was light on dialogue in some places to allow space for the two actors to just riff organically.  

A surprise entry at TIFF, and one of the most pleasant surprises of the year for me, "Biosphere" goes far deeper than what it means to live in a post-apocalyptic world, continually pushing the audience to consider the human experience in ways most ordinarily wouldn't. In the case of Ray and Billy, that consideration comes while stuck in a doomsday dome. Fortunately for us, all it could take is watching a movie.

Biden To Meet With South African Leader About Ukraine, Trade, Climate

Fri, 09/16/2022 - 15:21

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U.S. President Joe Biden and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa are set to meet Friday at the White House for talks on Russia's war in Ukraine, climate issues, trade and more.

Ramaphosa is among African leaders who have maintained a neutral stance in the aftermath of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, with South Africa abstaining from a United Nations vote condemning Russia’s actions and calling for a mediated settlement.

South Africa’s international relations minister, Naledi Pandor, said Ramaphosa would emphasize the need for dialogue to find an end to the conflict during his meeting with President Biden and in separate talks with Vice President Kamala Harris.

Pandor added that the issue will be South Africa's focus when it participates in the annual meeting of the U.N. General Assembly next week.

“We would want a process of diplomacy to be initiated between the two parties and we believe the U.N. must lead, the U.N secretary-general in particular,” Pandor said.

The White House meeting comes on the heels of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to South Africa last month, in which he said the Biden administration sees Africa’s 54 nations as “equal partners” in tackling global problems.

But the administration has been disappointed that South Africa and much of the continent have declined to follow the U.S. in condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

SEE MORE: Palestinian Death Toll Mounts As Israel Steps Up West Bank Raids

During the Blinken visit, Pandor accused the U.S. and other Western powers of focusing on the Ukraine conflict to the detriment of crises around the globe.

“We should be equally concerned at what is happening to the people of Palestine, as we are with what is happening to the people of Ukraine,” she said.

The Biden administration, meanwhile, has sought to underscore that Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports has led to scarcities in grain, cooking oil and fertilizer — resulting in disproportionate impact on Africans.

South Africa’s neutral position is largely because of the support the Soviet Union gave during the Cold War era to Ramaphosa’s African National Congress in its fight to end apartheid, South Africa’s regime of repression against the Black majority that ended in 1994. South Africa is seen as a leader of the several African countries that will not side against Russia.

Despite the differences on the war in Ukraine, the Biden administration recognizes the importance of strengthening relations in Africa as China has spent decades entrenching itself in the continent's natural resources markets. Improving relations with South Africa — one of the continent's biggest economies — is central to the U.S. effort.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the two leaders would also discuss climate change and opportunities to increase trade and investment. Harris and Ramaphosa will discuss global health security, space cooperation and other matters, when they meet over breakfast at the vice president's residence, Jean-Pierre said.

South Africa’s ambitious efforts to transition from coal to cleaner energy are expected to be discussed during the leaders' talks. The U.S., Britain, France and Germany announced a plan last year to provide $8.5 billion in loans and grants over five years to help South Africa phase out coal.

Ramaphosa could also raise with President Biden the failure of the United States and other wealthier nations to make good on a more than decades-old pledge — first made in 2009 and reaffirmed at the 2015 Paris climate talks — to spend $100 billion to help developing nations deal with climate change.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Floods In Italy Kill At Least 10 People

Fri, 09/16/2022 - 12:48

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Floodwaters triggered by heavy rainfall swept through several towns in a hilly region of central Italy early Friday, leaving 10 people dead and at least four missing, authorities said. Dozens of survivors scrambled onto rooftops or up trees to await rescue.

“It wasn't a water bomb, it was a tsunami," Riccardo Pasqualini, the mayor of Barbara, told Italian state radio of the sudden downpour Thursday evening that devastated his town in the Marche region, near the Adriatic Sea.

He said the flooding left the 1,300 residents of Barbara without drinking water and with spotty telephone service. A mother and her young daughter were missing after trying to escape the floodwaters, the mayor told the Italian news agency ANSA.

While firefighters reported at least seven confirmed deaths and three people missing, RAI state TV quoted the local prefect's office as saying there were 10 confirmed deaths. Two children, including a boy swept out of his mother's arms in Barbara were among four people still unaccounted for as of late Friday morning.

Some 50 people were treated at hospitals for injuries.

SEE MORE: Report: 2021 Saw New Weather Records, Shifts In Global Ecosystems

Many of the 300 firefighters on rescue operations waded through waist-high water in flooded streets, while others operated rubber dinghies to scoop up survivors along their path.

The fire department tweeted that dozens of people who were trapped in cars or had clambered up to rooftops or climbed trees to escape rising floodwaters had been brought to safety.

Police officers in the town of Sassoferrato recounted the rescue of a man trapped in a car. Unable to reach him, they extended a long branch, which the man grabbed onto and then officers pulled him to safety.

Helicopters were also deployed to rescue seven people in the more remote towns of the Apennine Mountains, which form the backbone of central Italy.

Floodwater invaded garages and basements and with its weight and force knocked down doors.

In a space of a few hours, the region was deluged with the amount of rainfall it usually receives in six months, state TV said.

Some of the worst flooding struck in and around the town of Senigallia, where a river overflowed its banks. Hamlets in the hills near the Renaissance tourist town of Urbino were also inundated when fast-moving rivers of water, mud and debris rushed through streets.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Treasury Recommends Exploring Creation Of A Digital Dollar

Fri, 09/16/2022 - 12:47

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The Biden administration is moving one step closer to developing a central bank digital currency, known as the digital dollar, saying it would help reinforce the U.S. role as a leader in the world financial system.

The White House said on Friday that after President Joe Biden issued an executive order in March calling on a variety of agencies to look at ways to regulate digital assets, the agencies came up with nine reports, covering cryptocurrency impacts on financial markets, the environment, innovation and other elements of the economic system.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said one Treasury recommendation is that the U.S. "advance policy and technical work on a potential central bank digital currency, or CBDC, so that the United States is prepared if CBDC is determined to be in the national interest."

"Right now, some aspects of our current payment system are too slow or too expensive," Yellen said on a Thursday call with reporters laying out some of the findings of the reports.

SEE MORE: Cryptocurrency Increasingly Used In Drug, Human Trafficking

Central bank digital currencies differ from existing digital money available to the general public, such as the balance in a bank account, because they would be a direct liability of the Federal Reserve, not a commercial bank.

According to the Atlantic Council nonpartisan think tank, 105 countries representing more than 95% of global gross domestic product already are exploring or have created a central bank digital currency. The council found that the U.S. and the U.K. are far behind in creating a digital dollar or its equivalent.

Treasury, the Justice Department, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, the Securities and Exchange Commission and other agencies were tasked with contributing to reports that would address various concerns about the risks, development and usage of digital assets. Several reports will come out in the next weeks and months.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers have submitted various pieces of legislation to regulate cryptocurrency and other digital assets.

The director of the National Economic Council, Brian Deese, told reporters that "we've seen in recent months substantial turmoil in cryptocurrency markets and these events really highlight how, without proper oversight, cryptocurrencies risk harming everyday Americans' financial stability and our national security."

"It is why this administration believes that now more than ever," he said, "prudent regulation of cryptocurrencies is needed."

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

400M Tons Of Plastic Waste Created Each Year But Only 2M Tons Recycled

Fri, 09/16/2022 - 12:46

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Americans generate a lot of waste — about five pounds per person per day — and a lot of it is plastic. Those flimsy grocery bags, shrink wrap packaging and of course, bottles — lots and lots of bottles.  

Every year, we toss out 2.5 million plastic bottles.  

"They are highly recyclable and its imperative they end up in your recycling bin," Republic Services External Communications Manager Jeremy Walters said.

Together, we create 400 million tons of plastic waste a year. Only two million tons of that gets recycled. We used to do better but during the pandemic, our recycling rate dropped because we started making more garbage.  

SEE MORE: Why Does The U.S. Produce So Much Waste?

"It's how much trash is generated versus how much recycling is generated. And when that trash starts to go up, the recycling volumes start to dilute," Walters continued. 

Vegas—What happens here, gets recycled here. It's not the official slogan for the city, but it could be. 

This city is known for excess — huge hotels and big casinos. And it also has the largest residential recycling plant in the country.  

Republic Services recycles two million pounds every day, which is the equivalent weight of 500 cars. Workers at the massive plant sort the mixed recyclables, plastics, aluminum, glass and paper and remove the wish-cycle items, which are things we wish we could recycle but can't. 

"Bowling balls, shoes, engine blocks, steel security doors—I promise you, if you use your imagination, we've seen it here," Walters said.

SEE MORE: Is Hitting A 50% Recycling Rate Realistic?

Paper is easily the most recycled item — 50 million tons of it per year, and we also break down and recycle almost all of our cardboard boxes. More than 90% of those boxes get recycled.

There is plenty that doesn't get recycled, though. One hundred and ten million glass bottles get thrown away every year. Glass can be recycled indefinitely—same with aluminum— but we still don't recycle about seven million tons a year. And then there's all those plastic bottles.

All the trash that we create, which does not go through recycling plants like this one, ends up piling up in landfills.  

Queue For Queen's Coffin 'Paused' As Wait Hits 14 Hours

Fri, 09/16/2022 - 11:17

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The flood of grief from the death of Queen Elizabeth II forced the British government to call a temporary halt to people joining a miles-long line to file past her coffin as it lay in state Friday, hours before King Charles III and his siblings were to stand vigil in the historic Westminster Hall.

A live tracker of the queue said it was "at capacity" and entry was being "paused" for six hours as waiting times reached 14 hours and the line stretched 5 miles from Parliament to Southwark Park in south London and then around the park.

Caroline Quilty of London said that she got to the line around 4 a.m. Friday.

"I think it is a moment in history, and if I did not come and celebrate it and see it and be part of it, I think I would really regret it," she said.

Meanwhile, a delegation of Chinese officials reportedly was barred from visiting the historic hall in the Houses of Parliament where the late queen's coffin is lying in state, as geopolitics cast a shadow over the solemn pageantry surrounding the monarch's death.

The Chinese ambassador to the U.K. has been banned from Parliament for a year after Beijing sanctioned seven British legislators last year for speaking out against China's treatment of its Uyghur minority in the far-west Xinjiang region.

SEE MORE: Debate On Monarchy's Ties To Commonwealth Reignited After Queen Death

The office of House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle declined to comment Friday on a report by American news outlet Politico saying the Chinese delegation would not be allowed into Westminster Hall.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said she had not seen the Politico report but that as host of the queen's funeral, the U.K. government should "follow the diplomatic protocols and proper manners to receive guests."

A Chinese delegation is expected to attend the queen's Monday funeral, which is in Westminster Abbey church and not Parliament. Organizers of the funeral have not published a guest list, and it was unclear who from China might attend.

The sanctioned British legislators wrote to officials this week to express concerns about the Chinese government having been invited to send representatives to the queen's state funeral.

Conservative lawmaker Tim Loughton told the BBC that the invitation to China should be rescinded, citing the country's human rights abuses and treatment of Uyghurs.

After a day out of the public eye Thursday, King Charles III was traveling to Wales on Friday on the final leg of his tour of the nations that make up the United Kingdom in the aftermath of the death of his mother last week after 70 years on the throne.

Charles, who for decades before his accession to the throne was the Prince of Wales, visits Llandaff in Cardiff for a service of prayer and reflection in honor of his late mother and will receive condolences from the Welsh parliament, the Senedd.

SEE MORE: Younger Britons Are Less Likely To Support The Continued Monarchy

Charles returns to London later Friday and will briefly stand vigil at his mother's coffin in the evening with his siblings, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward.

A day later, all eight of Queen Elizabeth II's grandchildren are expected to stand vigil beside her coffin for 15 minutes.

Charles' sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, will attend the vigil along with Princess Anne's children, Zara Tindall and Peter Philips; Prince Andrew's daughters, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, and the children of Prince Edward – Lady Louise Windsor and Viscount Severn.

William, who after his grandmother's death and his father becoming king is now the heir to the throne, is set to stand at the head of the coffin and Harry at the foot. Both princes, who are military veterans, will be in uniform.

Most senior royals hold honorary military roles and have worn uniforms at events to commemorate the queen. Harry, who served in Afghanistan as a British army officer, wore civilian clothes during the procession of the queen's coffin from Buckingham Palace because he's no longer a working member of the royal family. He and his wife Meghan quit royal duties and moved to the United States in 2020.

The king requested both William and Harry wear uniforms at the Westminster Hall vigil.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

STD, STI Cases Rise Each Year. Why Isn't The U.S. Making Any Progress?

Fri, 09/16/2022 - 01:00

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Public health has been top of mind for many the last couple of years, but there's a public health problem that has largely flown under the radar: a growing rate of sexually transmitted diseases and infections.

The number of STD and STI cases among Americans have been rising steadily each year since 2014. Even the pandemic, which trapped millions inside their homes, didn't really make a dent in those numbers, and it might have made it worse.

These rising numbers have led many health officials to raise an alarm and urge action. Many experts believe one of the causes behind this problem is the lack of knowledge about the basic principles of safe sex, typically taught in sex education classes.

SEE MORE: How Different Sex Education Methods Affect Students Around The World

In fact, a Centers for Disease Control survey from 2019 showed that nearly 46% of sexually active high school students did not use a condom the last time they had sex. That's a huge problem considering the fact that out of all new STDs reported to the CDC each year, half were among young people aged 15 to 24.

The numbers show there were 2.4 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis in 2020, which is the most recent year of data.

Chlamydia is currently the most common STD in the U.S., with 1.6 million cases reported to the CDC that year. While its numbers saw a slight drop from 2016, the CDC notes that the drops are probably not really because of an actual drop in infections. Since chlamydia is usually asymptomatic, case rates are heavily influenced by screening coverage, which the pandemic worsened.

Although overall cases of STDs and STIs fell in the pandemic's early months, the CDC acknowledges that's likely due to the reduced frequency of in-person health care services, resulting in fewer screenings. STD test and lab supply shortages, the diversion of health workers to pandemic response teams, and lapses in health insurance due to unemployment also contributed. Plus, the pandemic came after years of cuts to public health funding.

As anticipated by many experts, numbers picked up again at the end of 2020, with other diseases like gonorrhea and syphilis surpassing 2019 levels, according to CDC data. Preliminary data from 2021 shows there were more than 2.5 million reported cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis in that year, meaning STDs and STIs continued to increase during the second year of the pandemic too, with no signs of slowing.

The CDC says it's likely, "...we may never know the full impact of the pandemic on STDs. What is clear, however, is the state of STDs did not improve in the United States. Prevention and control efforts remain as important as ever."

But, the country's prevention and control methods need work. Comprehensive sex ed programs would be a start on prevention among the most commonly affected age group, but robust public testing and information campaigns could help all Americans. Public health funding, however, has faced slashes for years, taking a toll on STD screening and prevention efforts.

"Public funding cuts will prevent the public health system, the safety net, of being able to track down people's partners so that your index patient doesn't get reinfected because their partner was also treated appropriately," said Dr. Anna Maya Powell, co-director of the Johns Hopkins HIV Women's Program. "It's easy to say, 'People should take personal responsibility and come in for care,' but I think the picture is a lot more complex than that."

Only 2.5% of all health spending in the U.S. — which is about $3.8 trillion — is spent on public health and prevention programs. Last year, the Biden administration did announce a $1.13 billion investment to strengthen the disease intervention specialists (DIS) workforce at the CDC, but much of that funding seems to be for the agency's pandemic response. 

Still, there's reason for some optimism: There has been progress on STDs and STIs since the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 90s. The STI spread rapidly in the country then, especially among certain groups, like men who have sex with other men. 

SEE MORE: U.S. May Expand Monkeypox Vaccine Eligibility To Men With HIV

Years of public information campaigns and research into treatment brought numbers down through the early 2000s and to a stable level by 2013. More recent figures may seem to hint at further progress on the overall HIV cases during the early pandemic, but those figures are also misleading because of the sharp drop in testing.

Plus, many experts have criticized the focus of historic HIV treatment and prevention efforts as largely being focused on treating rich, white, gay men and transgender groups, leaving out many lower-income Americans, people of color and women.

Women in general face a greater burden when it comes to sexual health. Many studies have established that women have a higher biological risk for contracting many STIs and HIV than men, with a higher probability of transmission from men to women.

"Women tend to be more asymptomatic for a lot of a lot of the conditions we're talking about," Dr. Powell said. "Not having symptoms maybe gives people a false sense of security, and then they don't come in to get the routine screening that they might have otherwise if things were open and accessible."

Black women in particular suffer higher numbers of both HIV and other STDs like herpes, and many experts say public prevention efforts have failed to address these groups adequately. Overall, inconsistencies in access to health care and prevention programs across different demographics throughout the country have affected our national battle against STDs and STIs. 

"We have had data that shows consistently what we need to be doing in the sexually transmitted infections, those cases in reproductive health," said Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, director of health for the city of St. Louis, Missouri. "We need to make sure that those policies are as standardized as possible so that they're easily implementable and therefore easy to track data, data that then feeds back into the funding."

STIs In Newborns Have Significantly Risen Over The Pandemic

Fri, 09/16/2022 - 01:00

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The pandemic has touched just about every portion of American life, exposed some of our greatest disparities and opened the door to new challenges. For many healthcare workers that means an uptick in things they thought the country had a grip on.  

"This is not just like an issue. It's a crisis," said Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, the director of health in St. Louis, Missouri. 

The U.S. had made strides against sexually transmitted infections like congenital syphilis in the early 2000s.

Dr. Davis says those gains have disappeared.   

"We had a hyper focus on COVID that took away our ability to really prioritize and understand that other aspects of health don't go away," said Davis. 

According to the CDC, by the end of 2020 syphilis among newborns, which is generally passed during pregnancy, was up nearly 15% from 2019 and 254% from 2016. 

SEE MORE: How Different Sex Education Methods Affect Students Around The World

40% of babies born to women with untreated syphilis can be stillborn or die from the infection. Those that do survive face challenges.  

Dr. Anna Maya Powell is co-director at Johns Hopkins HIV Women's Program. 

"An untreated case of congenital syphilis can result in things like brain or bone malformations, that can cause blindness over time or organ damage," said Powell. 

Experts point to a myriad of reasons for the uptick: for one, people stopped getting checkups in 2020, or relied on telemedicine, which could miss a diagnosis.  

Another hurdle was that public resources for combating STIs were often diverted to COVID response.  

According to Dr. Powell, the congruent opioid epidemic didn't help.  

"Pregnant patients who are using substances during pregnancy — They're less likely to come in for prenatal care," said Powell. 

There are also inconsistencies in healthcare requirements. According to the CDC only 13 states and DC require all patients to undergo syphilis testing in both the first and third trimesters. Eight states don't require testing at all.  

Davis says none of that matters if a patient doesn't have access to care in the first place. It's an issue disproportionately facing ethnic minorities.   

"We're seeing the same pattern, not just in STIs, but across all disease states. So that says it's not just about the genes. It's not about the specific disease. It's not about the specific issue. It's about those fundamental structural issues that need to be addressed," said Davis. 

Doctors tell Newsy one of the first ways to address the issue is to get rid of stigma, making the STI conversation routine in doctor visits. Another solution is making sure partners are also treated for STIs. These are simple steps — but also things they say require funding.   

How The Power Of Music Is Helping Patients With Alzheimer’s

Fri, 09/16/2022 - 00:59

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It’s been said that music is healing, and for Peter Midgely and his daughter Debbie Caramella, music is family.  

"He made us all play instruments — all six kids," said Caramella.  

The father and daughter make their way to practice with the Sentimental Journey Singers weekly, a chorus of people with memory loss and their loved ones.  

A second sister joined us via zoom.  

DEBBIE CARAMELLA: Dad wasn’t your first job delivering papers? And what did you do with your money?" Didn’t you pay for your own.. 

PETER MIDGELY: Pay for piano lessons.  

CARAMELLA: That’s right.  

For the trio, rehearsals are about more than family time. 

SEE MORE: Study Finds Most Americans Unfamiliar With Signs Of Early Alzheimer's

Mary Ann East, is the director of Arts for Life, Encore Creativity for Older Adults.

"There's even parts of the brain that are strictly for music and they tend to be untouched by cognitive change, or at least not touched right away," said East. 

It’s something that’s been observed with musician Tony Bennett, who has Alzheimer’s disease.  

The group of singers rehearse at Insight Memory Care, an adult center in Virginia dedicated to memory loss patients.   

"When you get a diagnosis, families go, what the heck do I do now? We're trying to meet them at that space," said Anita Irvin, the executive director at Insight Memory Care Center.

For people with dementia, it isn’t just about music, but finding that thing that makes each person spark.  

"This is actually participant artwork here. So this is stuff that is done by our participants that we like to kind of highlight what they've been successful at doing through art," said Irvin. 

It’s also about exercise and just plain camaraderie.  

"I find that physical movement, you would say they're minor, but for seniors, they're major," said James Brophy, a client at Insight Memory Care Center. 

As with any diagnosis, the impact goes beyond the patient, to family members and caregivers.  

Melissa Long, is the director of education and support at Insight Memory Care Center. 

"The guilt that they're not doing enough. The frustration that they get that this isn't the person they've been with their whole life," said Long. 

SEE MORE: WRTV: Report Details Impact Of COVID-19 On Dementia Patients

"One of the most devastating times that can happen to a caregiver is the day that that person doesn't know who they are," said Beth Kallmyer, the VP of care and support at the Alzheimer’s Association

According to the Alzheimer’s Association caregivers of patients with dementia are more likely to suffer from higher levels of stress and anxiety than non-caregivers.  

"It's helpful to remember that it's a disease. The person has no control over it, but still it's very devastating to family members," said Kallmyer. 

While there’s no cure for diseases like Alzheimer’s, experts encourage caregivers to focus on the little victories. And while there’s no clear-cut evidence that isolation speeds disease progression. 

"There is there's some evidence showing that social engagement, using your brain to do different things, having a purpose is remains really important," said Kallmyer. 

CARAMELLA: It’s beneficial to have physical activity, mental activity and social activity every day. What do you think dad? Does this cover those things?  

MIDGELY: It does.  

CARAMELLA: It does. All of it.  

Newsy’s mental health initiative “America’s Breakdown: Confronting Our Mental Health Crisis” brings you deeply personal and thoughtfully told stories on the state of mental health care in the U.S. Click here to learn more.

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