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Health Headlines

    More than 500 people have been diagnosed with vaping-related breathing illnesses, but the cause remains unknown, U.S. health officials said Thursday. Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration revealed that its criminal investigations unit started tracking leads early on. The agency's tobacco director, Mitch Zeller, stressed that it is not interested in prosecuting individuals who use illegal products but is lending a hand because of the unit's 'special skills.' The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 530 confirmed and probable cases have been reported in 38 states and one U.S. territory, up from 380 a week ago. Seven deaths have been reported. Canada reported its first case Wednesday, a high school student who was on life support and has since recovered. All patients had used an electronic cigarette or other vaping device. Doctors have said the illnesses resemble an inhalation injury, with the lungs apparently reacting to a caustic substance. So far, no single vaping product or ingredient has been linked to the illnesses, though most patients reported vaping THC, the high-producing ingredient in marijuana. Two-thirds of the cases involved 18- to 34-year-olds. Three-quarters are men. Some of the first cases appeared in April. CDC hasn't said when most people got sick. A congressional subcommittee will hold a hearing on the outbreaks Tuesday. ___ The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
  • The U.S. government will spend $3 million to find out if marijuana can relieve pain, but none of the money will be used to study the part of the plant that gets people high. Nine research grants announced Thursday are for work on CBD, the trendy ingredient showing up in cosmetics and foods, and hundreds of less familiar chemicals. THC research was excluded. The federal government still considers marijuana an illegal drug, but more than 30 states allow it use for a range of medical problems, some without good evidence. The science is strongest for chronic pain, the most common reason people give when they enroll in state-approved medical marijuana programs. But little is known about which parts of marijuana are helpful and whether the intoxicating effects of THC can be avoided. 'The science is lagging behind the public use and interest. We're doing our best to catch up here,' said Dr. David Shurtleff, deputy director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, which is funding the projects. THC has been investigated extensively, Shurtleff said, and its potential for addiction and abuse make it unsuitable for treating pain. Other federal agencies have supported marijuana research, but much of the focus has been on potential harms. Shurtleff said the grants answer the call in a 2017 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report, which concluded a lack of marijuana research poses a public health risk. Another driver is the nation's opioid addiction crisis, with its roots in overuse of prescription painkillers. The crisis has sparked new scientific interest in marijuana's pain-easing properties. Dr. Judith Hellman, a grant recipient from University of California San Francisco, said scientists need to better understand pain and to find more ways to treat it. 'It's very exciting to have the opportunity to do that,' she said. Hellman's research involves the body's ability to produce signaling molecules similar to marijuana's ingredients. Her and Dr. Mark Schumacher's work involves human immune cells in the lab, then tests on mice. Human test subjects will be involved in only one of the grant projects. University of Utah researcher Deborah Yurgelun-Todd will scan the brains of human volunteers with lower back pain to see how CBD extract — mixed with chocolate pudding — affects pain-signaling pathways. Half the volunteers will get pudding without CBD as a control group. Two more human studies may be funded in a second round of grant awards, NCCIH said. In July, the National Institute on Drug Abuse said it would grow 2,000 kilograms (4,409 pounds) of marijuana this year at the University of Mississippi, which holds the sole federal contract for producing research cannabis. Those plants won't be used in many of the new projects, which instead will use lab-made versions of the chemicals. Researchers in Illinois hope to create a library of useful compounds found in cannabis plants. 'We make them from scratch and test them one by one,' said David Sarlah of the University of Illinois. Marijuana contains such tiny amounts of the interesting ingredients that it's too costly and time consuming to isolate enough for research, Sarlah said. Sarlah, an organic chemist, will make the chemicals. His colleague Aditi Das will run tests to see how they react with mouse immune cells. 'There are so many beneficial effects that patients report. We need to know the science behind it,' Das said. ___ Follow AP Medical Writer Carla K. Johnson on Twitter: @CarlaKJohnson ___ The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
  • Preparing for a lengthy legal battle with the Trump administration about how much pollution to allow from cars, California regulators on Thursday said they were considering cracking down on other emissions to make up for any impacts on air quality. The Trump administration on Thursday officially revoked California's authority to set its own emission standards — authority the state has had for decades under a waiver from the federal Clean Air Act. The changes won't take effect for another 60 days, giving state officials time to prepare a lawsuit. But the litigation will be complex and could last for years. In the meantime, California regulators in charge of reducing pollutants are considering toughening limits on refinery emissions and imposing 'roadway pricing' — which includes charging higher tolls during rush hour in the hopes of keeping cars off the road. ''We must do other things to meet our commitments,' Ellen Peter, chief counsel for the California Air Resources Board, said during Thursday's board meeting. A spokesman for the board said officials are 'evaluating options at this point and aren't prepared to discuss details.' 'However, (the board) has been quite public about the need to make up reductions that may be lost through any federal attempt at intervention in state air quality and (greenhouse gas) regulations,' spokesman Dave Clegern said. 'This is a public health issue for California and not an abstract exercise, so we must find additional reductions.' California has 35 million registered vehicles, giving it great influence with the auto industry. That was evident in July, when Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that Ford, BMW, Honda and Volkswagen had agreed to follow California's standards, bypassing the administration, which had been working on new rules. The Trump administration's decision to stop California from setting its own emission standards for cars and trucks would undermine the state's ability to convince the world's largest automakers that they should make more environmentally friendly vehicles. 'We will not let political agendas in a single state be forced upon the other 49,' Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said Thursday at a Washington news conference. One California lawmaker is already working on a way to preserve at least some of the state's environmental muscle: rebates for electric cars. California residents who buy or lease a zero-emission vehicle can get up to $7,000 from the state. A bill by Democratic Assemblyman Phil Ting would mean people could only get that money if they buy a car from a company that has agreed to follow California's emission standards. 'We want to be incentivizing consumers to purchase from automakers that have aligned themselves with our state's overall goals,' Ting said. 'I think rebates are one tool. I'm sure the administration and the state will be looking at other tools that we have.' David Vogel, a professor emeritus of business ethics at the Haas School of Business of the University of California-Berkeley, noted California could accomplish its goals through various tax changes, which the federal government could not stop. 'Even if the Trump administration would win on this, California could use taxes to accomplish much of the same goals,' Vogel said. 'The federal government would have less of an ability to challenge, because states can pretty much tax who they want.' Trump said his move would result in less expensive, safer cars. He predicted Americans would purchase more new cars, which would result in cleaner air as older models are taken off the roads. 'Many more cars will be produced under the new and uniform standard, meaning significantly more JOBS, JOBS, JOBS! Automakers should seize this opportunity because without this alternative to California, you will be out of business,' Trump tweeted. Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler said at the Thursday news conference with Chao that Trump's approach was 'good for public safety, good for the economy and good for the environment.' Wheeler also played down electric vehicles, calling them 'a product that has minimal impact on the environment and which most families cannot approach' U.S. automakers contend that without year-over-year increases in fuel efficiency that align with global market realities, their vehicles could be less competitive, potentially resulting in job losses. But most of the industry favors increases in standards that are less than the Obama-era requirements, saying their consumers are gravitating to SUVs and trucks rather than buying more efficient cars. Top California officials and environmental groups pledged legal action to stop the Trump rollback. The U.S. transportation sector is the nation's biggest single source of greenhouse gasses. Trump's claim that his proposal would result in a cleaner environment is contrary to his own administration's estimate that by freezing economy standards, U.S. fuel consumption would increase by about 500,000 barrels per day, a 2% to 3% increase. Environmental groups predict even more fuel consumed, resulting in higher pollution. The administration argues that lower-cost vehicles would allow more people to buy new ones that are safer, cutting roadway deaths by 12,700 lives through the 2029 model year. But The Associated Press reported last year that internal EPA emails show senior career officials privately questioned the administration's calculations, saying the proposed freeze would actually modestly increase highway fatalities, by about 17 deaths annually. ___ Biesecker reported from Washington. Ashraf Khalil in Washington contributed to this report.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, trying to seize the agenda on a top consumer issue, announced an ambitious prescription drug plan Thursday that would allow Medicare to negotiate prices for seniors and younger people. The proposal would direct Medicare to bargain over as many as 250, but no fewer than 25, of the costliest drugs. Insulin is on the list. Drugmakers that refuse to negotiate could face steep penalties. Companies that raise prices beyond inflation would have to pay rebates to Medicare. The plan would limit copays for seniors covered by Medicare's 'Part D' prescription drug program to $2,000. Medicare-negotiated prices would be available to other buyers, such as employer health plans. It's shaping up as a high-stakes gamble for all sides in Washington. Polls show that high drug prices have Americans worried, and regardless of party affiliation, they want Congress to act. As a candidate, President Donald Trump called for Medicare negotiations but then later seemed to drop the idea. Pelosi, D-calif., said her goal is a deal that Trump can sign onto and that could pass the GOP-controlled Senate. 'We don't want a political issue at the polls,' Pelosi said at a news conference. 'We want a solution in Congress, and we want it now.' But in the Senate, Republican John Cornyn of Texas said the proposal 'has absolutely no chance —zero, zip, nada' of passing. Some House Republicans quickly dismissed it as 'socialism.' The 2003 law that created Medicare's prescription drug benefit barred the program from negotiating prices, a restriction Democrats have long opposed. Most Republicans say they believe price negotiations are best left to private players such as insurance companies. The industry group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America said Pelosi's plan was 'radical' and would usher in an era of government price-setting that would 'blow up' the current system, stifling innovation. But health insurers called the plan 'bold reform' and hospitals said it takes 'significant strides toward reducing out-of-control drug prices.' Public Citizen, a consumer group on the political left, said the bill didn't go far enough because it left intact drugmakers' monopoly on new medicines. A leading House progressive, Texas Democrat Lloyd Doggett, agreed that more is required. 'This new bill was promoted as a way to sway President Trump and a reluctant Republican Senate,' said Doggett. 'I await their embrace.' While the legislation leans left politically it also incorporates ideas from the Trump administration and from Republican and Democratic senators — a signal Pelosi wants a deal. Pelosi's proposal would: —authorize Medicare to negotiate prices for up to 250 drugs with the greatest total cost to society. That includes pharmacy drugs under the Part D prescription benefit, and Part B medications dispensed in doctors' offices, such as many cancer drugs. Medicare would negotiate for as many drugs as possible on a list refreshed annually, but no fewer than 25. The maximum price would be determined using a blend of international prices, similar to a more limited proposal from the administration. Drug companies that balk at making a deal would face penalties that start at 65% of sales for the drug at issue, and escalate if they hold out. —require drugmakers to pay rebates to Medicare if they raise prices beyond the increase in inflation. That idea resembles a plan from Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore. Their proposal has cleared a key committee, with Trump's support. But many Senate Republicans oppose inflation rebates, and it's unclear what Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., plans to do next. —limit what seniors pay out of pocket for their medications to $2,000 a year. Currently, Medicare's pharmacy benefit has no cap on copays, and the advent of drugs costing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year has left some seniors saddled with bills that rival a mortgage payment. An out-of-pocket limit is part of the Grassley-Wyden bill and is backed by the administration. For now, criticism of the industry — from Trump and lawmakers of both parties — appears to be having an effect on prices. The Commerce Department's inflation index for prescription drug prices has declined in seven of the past eight months, which is highly unusual. That index includes lower-cost generic drugs. For brand-name drugs, a recent Associated Press analysis shows that prices are still going up on average, but at a slower pace. Costly brand-name drugs that translate to steep copays are the top concern for consumers. The AP analysis found that in the first seven months of 2019, drugmakers raised list prices for brand name medicines by a median, or midpoint, of 5%. That's a slowdown. Prices were going up 9% or 10% over those months the prior four years. Still, there were 37 price increases for every decrease in the first seven months of 2019. ___ Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.
  • Philippine health officials declared a polio outbreak in the country on Thursday, nearly two decades after the World Health Organization declared it to be free of the highly contagious and potentially deadly disease. Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said at a news conference that authorities have confirmed at least one case of polio in a 3-year-old girl in southern Lanao del Sur province and detected the polio virus in sewage in Manila and in waterways in the southern Davao region. Those findings are enough to declare an outbreak of the crippling disease in a previously polio-free country like the Philippines, he said. The World Health Organization and the United Nations Children's Fund expressed deep concern over polio's reemergence in the country and said they would support the government in immunizing children, who are the most susceptible, and strengthening surveillance. 'As long as one single child remains infected, children across the country and even beyond are at risk of contracting polio,' UNICEF Philippines representative Oyun Dendevnorov said. WHO and UNICEF said in a joint statement the polio outbreak in the Philippines is concerning because it is caused by vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2. The weakened virus used in vaccines replicates for a short time in children's intestines and is excreted in their feces. In rare instances, they said, the weakened virus can strengthen in areas with poor sanitation and hygiene. Children who have not been properly immunized can be susceptible. They said the last known case from a wild strain of the virus in the Philippines was in 1993. Wild poliovirus type 2 was declared globally eradicated in 2015. There is no known cure for polio, which can only be prevented with vaccines. Duque said his department will launch a mass vaccination campaign next month for children under age 5, starting in the Manila metropolis, Lanao del Sur and Davao, where the virus was detected. The government's immunization programs were marred in 2017 by a dengue fever vaccine made by French drugmaker Sanofi Pasteur which some Philippine officials linked to the deaths of at least three children. Duque and other Philippine health officials say they have worked to restore public trust in vaccines since then. The government halted the dengue immunization drive after Sanofi said a study showed the vaccine may increase the risk of severe dengue infections. More than 830,000 children received the Dengvaxia vaccine under the campaign, which was launched in 2016 and halted in 2017. Sanofi officials said the Dengvaxia vaccine was safe and would reduce dengue infections if the vaccination drive continued. At least 95% of children under age 5 need to be vaccinated to halt the spread of polio in the Philippines, WHO and UNICEF said.
  • The number of U.S. deaths and illnesses from a rare mosquito-borne virus are higher than usual this year, health officials report. Eastern equine encephalitis has been diagnosed in 21 people in six states, and five people have died. The infection is only being seen in certain counties within a small number of states. The U.S. each year has seen seven illnesses and three deaths, on average. It's not clear why numbers are up this year, but for some reason cases seem to spike once every several years, Dr. Mark Fischer, an expert at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday. Most infections occur in the summer, so health officials do not think it will get much worse. Massachusetts has eight cases, followed by Michigan, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey and North Carolina. In Rhode Island, there are three cases, including one death. 'This is an extremely unusual year,' said Al Gettman, head of the state's mosquito control program. The other deaths were in Massachusetts and Michigan. Catherine Brown, who tracks diseases for Massachusetts, said she thinks introduction of a new strain of the virus may be a factor in that state this year. The virus is spread to people through mosquitoes that mostly feed on infected birds but sometimes bite humans. Few people who are infected get sick but those who do can develop a dangerous infection of the brain, spinal cord or surrounding tissues. Cases are generally confined to New England and states along the Gulf of Mexico or Great Lakes, usually in or near swamps. The uptick in cases has prompted health warnings in some places and even calls to cancel outdoor events scheduled for dusk — when mosquitoes are most active. Precautions include using mosquito repellent and wearing long sleeved shirts and long pants outdoors. Scientists first recognized eastern equine encephalitis as a horse disease in Massachusetts. There's a vaccine for horses, but not people. It's not considered as large a concern as West Nile virus, which also is spread by mosquitoes, and is seen in most states. Nearly 500 West Nile illnesses, including 21 deaths, have been reported to CDC so far this year. ___ McDermott reported from Providence, Rhode Island. ___ The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
  • A cheap, daily pill that combines four drugs has been tested for the first time in the United States to see if it works as well among low-income Americans as it has in other countries to treat conditions leading to heart attacks and strokes. Experts said the study may draw U.S. interest to a strategy that has been seen as useful only in places with limited access to medical care. The pill contained low doses of three blood pressure drugs and a cholesterol drug. About 300 people, ages 45 to 75, from a community health center in Mobile, Alabama, took part. Half were assigned to take the combo pill. The others continued their usual care. After a year, the polypill patients had lowered their blood pressure and LDL, or bad cholesterol, by more than the others and by amounts doctors find meaningful. The study didn't last long enough to measure heart attacks or strokes. A five-year study of a different polypill, in 6,800 people in Iran, found it lowered the danger of heart attack, stroke or heart failure by a third. Polypills aren't yet available in the United States. Many U.S. doctors have seen little need, preferring to tailor medications individually, said Dr. Salim Yusuf of McMaster University in Canada, who leads another polypill study expected to finish next year. But doctors often fail to customize medications because they don't have time and patients dislike return visits. 'That just doesn't happen in practice,' Yusuf said. The research , paid for by the American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health, was published Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine. 'This is exactly the type of evidence we need that will help move this strategy forward,' said Dr. Sidney Smith, a former heart association president from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He wasn't involved in the study. Most of the people in the study made less than $15,000 a year and 96% were black. They had at least borderline high blood pressure. People were excluded if their 'bad' cholesterol was too high, which would require more aggressive treatment. Despite having elevated blood pressure, only about half were on medication for it and less than 20% were on cholesterol medicine. 'The polypill gives vulnerable patients a running start' toward better health, said lead author Dr. Daniel Muñoz, a heart doctor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. Vanderbilt made the pills at a monthly cost of $26 per patient, though the drugs were free to study participants. Charles Roland, 66, of Prichard, Alabama, took the polypill. Remembering one pill was easier than his prior routine of a blood pressure pill in the morning and a cholesterol pill in the evening. 'My blood pressure went way down,' Roland said of his results during the study. 'My cholesterol went down and maintained at a consistent level that's not a threat to my health.' ___ Follow AP Medical Writer Carla K. Johnson on Twitter: @CarlaKJohnson ___ The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
  • A greater share of U.S. teens are vaping nicotine e-cigarettes. About 25% of high school seniors surveyed this year said they vaped nicotine in the previous month, up from about 21% the year before. The University of Michigan study was published online Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers surveyed more than 42,000 students across the country in grades 8, 10 and 12. The study also found cigarette smoking declined in high school seniors, from about 8% to 6%. The researchers have not reported how many students said they vaped marijuana. A government survey released last week showed similar trends.
  • The number and rate of abortions across the United States have plunged to their lowest levels since the procedure became legal nationwide in 1973, according to new figures released Wednesday. The report from the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, counted 862,000 abortions in the U.S. in 2017. That's down from 926,000 tallied in the group's previous report for 2014, and from just over 1 million counted for 2011. Guttmacher is the only entity that strives to count all abortions in the U.S., making inquiries of individual providers. Federal data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention excludes California, Maryland and New Hampshire because those states don't compile comprehensive abortion data for the CDC. The new report illustrates that abortions are decreasing in all parts of the country — in Republican-controlled states seeking to restrict abortion access and in Democratic-run states protecting abortion rights. Between 2011 and 2017, abortion rates increased in only five states and the District of Columbia. One reason for the decline in abortions is that fewer women are becoming pregnant. The Guttmacher Institute noted that the birth rate and the abortion rate declined during the years covered by the new report. A likely factor, the report said, is increased accessibility of contraception since 2011. The Affordable Care Act required most private health insurance plans to cover contraceptives without out-of-pocket costs. According to the report, the 2017 abortion rate was 13.5 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 — the lowest rate since the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. Following that ruling, the number of abortions in the U.S. rose steadily — peaking at 1.6 million in 1990 before starting a steady, still-continuing decline. The abortion rate is now less than half what is was in 1990. Guttmacher noted that almost 400 state laws restricting abortion access were enacted between 2011 and 2017. But it said these laws were not the main force behind the overall decline in abortions. It said 57% of the nationwide decline occurred in the 18 states, plus the District of Columbia, that did not enact any new restrictions. Michael New, an abortion opponent who teaches social research at Catholic University of America, said Guttmacher's report understated the role played by anti-abortion activism in reducing the number of abortions. In 1981, he said, 54% of women with unintended pregnancies opted for abortion. That number fell to 42% by 2011. 'This shows that pro-life efforts to change public opinion, assist pregnant women, and pass protective laws are all having an impact,' New said in an email. Between 2011 and 2017, the number of clinics providing abortion in the U.S. declined from 839 to 808, with significant regional disparities, the report said. The South had a decline of 50 clinics, including 25 in Texas, and the Midwest had a decline of 33 clinics, including nine each in Iowa, Michigan and Ohio. By contrast, the Northeast added 59 clinics, mostly in New Jersey and New York. Over that period, the abortion rate dropped in Ohio by 27% and in Texas by 30%. But the rate dropped by similar amounts in states that protected abortion access, including California, Hawaii and New Hampshire. Areas with the highest abortion rates in 2017 were the District of Columbia, New Jersey, New York, Maryland and Florida. Rates were lowest in Wyoming, South Dakota, Kentucky, Idaho and Missouri — many women from those five states go out of state to obtain abortions . One significant trend documented in the report: People who have abortions are increasingly relying on medication rather than surgery. Medication abortion, making use of the so-called abortion pill, accounted for 39% of all abortions in 2017, up from 29% in 2014. The report, which focuses on data from 2017, does not chronicle the flurry of sweeping abortion bans that were enacted earlier this year in several GOP-controlled states, including a near-total ban in Alabama and five bills that would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, as early as six weeks into pregnancy. None of those bans has taken effect and their backers hope that litigation over the laws might eventually lead to a Supreme Court ruling weakening or overturning Roe v. Wade. Guttmacher's president, Dr. Herminia Palacio, said abortion restrictions, regardless of whether they lead to fewer abortions, 'are coercive and cruel by design,' with disproportionate impact on low-income women. However, the push for tougher restrictions continues. Just last week, Texas Right to Life and some allied groups urged Republican Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session of the Legislature to 'abolish every remaining elective abortion' in the state. The report comes amid upheaval in the federal family planning program, known as Title X. About one in five family planning clinics have left the program, objecting to a Trump administration regulation that bars them from referring women for abortions. Title X clinics provide birth control and basic health services for low-income women. 'If your priority is to reduce abortions, one of the best things you can do is make sure that women have access to high-quality, affordable and effective methods of birth control,' said Alina Salganicoff, director of women's health policy for the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.
  • Lawyers for two Air Force members who are HIV-positive urged a federal appeals court Wednesday to uphold an injunction that bars the Trump administration from continuing with discharge proceedings against them. The Department of Defense is appealing a ruling by a judge who found that the Air Force is working under policies that are 'irrational' and 'outdated.' The policies prevented the service members with HIV from deploying outside the U.S. without a waiver and resulted in them being considered 'unfit' for continued service. The Department of Justice has argued that the military allows service members who contract HIV to continue to serve if they can perform their duties. While acknowledging that treatment decreases the risk of transmitting HIV, the DOJ argues that the risk is amplified on the battlefield where soldiers often come into contact with blood. The U.S. Central Command, which governs military operations in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, prohibits personnel with HIV from deploying without a waiver. A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals questioned a Department of Justice attorney extensively about why the military policy is still necessary despite major advances in the treatment of HIV. 'There are risks in the combat context,' said Lewis Yelin, an attorney in the DOJ's Civil Division. But Geoffrey Eaton, an attorney for the airmen, argued that the odds of transmitting HIV in combat are infinitesimal and should not limit their deployment or lead to their discharge. Eaton said advances in science and treatment of HIV have made the military's policies outdated. The 2018 lawsuit filed by the airmen argues that there is no rational basis for prohibiting deployment of service members with HIV. They argue that they can easily be given appropriate medical care and present no real risk of transmission to others. The DOJ argues in legal briefs that the Air Force determined that the two airmen could no longer perform their duties because their career fields required them to deploy frequently and because their condition prevented them from deploying to Central Command's area of responsibility, where most airmen are expected to go. U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema issued a preliminary injunction in February, a ruling that ensured that the men would remain in the Air Force at least until their claims could be heard at trial. Brinkema is also expected to hear a separate lawsuit filed by a sergeant in the D.C. Army National Guard who says he was denied the opportunity to serve as an officer and faces possible discharge because of his HIV-positive status. The airmen are not named in the lawsuit and are referred to by pseudonyms, Victor Voe and Richard Roe. The lawsuit was filed by Lambda Legal, the Modern Military Association of America and the law firm Winston & Strawn LLP. 'Serving my country has been the greatest honor of my life, one that I am extremely grateful for and proud off,' Voe said in a statement released by his attorneys. 'All my fellow service members in this lawsuit and I want is to be able to continue to serve, and to do so without unnecessary restrictions preventing us from giving this country what it deserves — our best,' he said. The appeals court did not indicate when it would rule.

Local News

  • Athens’ Habitat for Humanity schedules a groundbreaking on a new home project.    From Athens Habitat for Humanity…   So-called tiny homes, with around 400 square feet of floor space or less, are a recent growing trend in the US. They’re efficient, low-maintenance, and don’t require a lot of space. And they can be the focus of a less consumer-driven lifestyle.   But at the moment they’re not legal in Clarke County, GA. So Athens Area Habitat for Humanity decided to shake things up a bit with a design contest for “Kinda Tiny Homes” of 600-800 square feet in 2018. A team from Atlanta and another from UGA split the prize, and four lots owned by Habitat on New Hope Drive were designated as build sites.     Since then, these small homes have sparked a lot of discussion around Athens, including a “Housing Code Hack” in August which drew questions on housing affordability from the public for Athens Area Habitat’s executive director Spencer Frye, Athens Mayor Kelly Girtz, County Commissioner Ovita Thornton, civil engineer Jon Williams, and local builder Michael Songster. Several points of the building and zoning codes were identified as amenable to updates to enable more lower-cost housing to come on the market.   Now the lots are ready and Habitat is set to start building, with a groundbreaking scheduled for 8:30 AM on Saturday, September 28th at the cul-de-sac of New Hope Drive. The project has attracted several new sponsors in addition to the original cosponsor, the US Green Building Council of Georgia, including Timberbilt, Mitsubishi Electric, Lowe’s, Huber Engineered Woods, Imery Ratings who will oversee the energy efficiency certification, and even the Ladies’ Charity Skeet Classic which raised more than $24,000 for the homes at their 2019 event.   “It’s been wonderful to see the community get excited about what we’re doing and rally around this project,” says executive director Frye. “We already have homeowners lined up for the first two Kinda Tiny homes, a hospital staffer and a veteran. We had a tremendous response to the ‘code hack’ by folks who want to see more innovation in housing locally with greater affordability and more choice. And some of the top companies in the housing industry are on board with it, so this ‘tiny’ project has grown into something kinda huge, actually. From the beginning, we wanted it to lead to more than just these four homes and I’m confident now that it will.”   Athens Area Habitat is currently in talks with other potential sponsors regarding potential solar installations and other features of the homes. “Habitat has always been an innovator,” says Frye. “There were Habitat houses that survived Hurricane Michael in Florida when surrounding homes didn’t because they used some inexpensive methods to make them hurricane resistant. Habitat is really invested in the future of the home and its owners, so we often build to higher standards than are required, and I’m hoping that we can set the pace for energy efficiency and low environmental impact in Clarke County with these homes.”
  • A woman from Hall County is killed in a crash in Dawson County: Alyssa Borg was 20 years old, from Lula, a passenger in a car that wrecked near Dawsonville. She died after being taken to a hospital in Gainesville. Another 21 year-old passenger was, at last report, hospitalized in critical condition. The Georgia State Patrol says the driver of the car is facing a DUI charge. From Zachary Hansen, AJC… Just before 12:30 a.m., Zoe Starr Sowell, 21, of Dawsonville, was driving a 2004 Mazda 6 on Grant Ford Drive, the Georgia State Patrol said in a news release. Sowell, who was wearing her seatbelt, is accused of driving the vehicle off the road at a high rate of speed, causing the sedan to hit several trees and overturn.  Four passengers in the backseat of the vehicle were not wearing their seatbelts, the release said. Stephen Caldwell, 21, and Alyssa Borg, 20, both of Lula, were ejected from the vehicle. Caldwell was flown to Atlanta Medical Center, where he remains in critical condition. Borg was flown to Northeast Georgia Medical Center, where she later died from her injuries. The other two passengers suffered minor injuries and were taken to Northeast Georgia Medical Center in an ambulance, the release said. Sowell also suffered minor injuries, but she was booked into the Dawson County Detention Center.  She is charged with first-degree vehicular homicide, serious injury by vehicle, DUI, reckless driving, failure to maintain lane and driving too fast for conditions, authorities said. 
  • As work crews continue preliminary work on a reconfigured intersection in Oconee County, the County announces plans for lane closures: they are expected to start Monday and continue through Wednesday of next week at the intersection of Mars Hill, Virgil Langford, and Rocky Branch roads off Highway 316 in Oconee County. It’s a project that is expected to be completed sometime in November. From the Oconee County government website…   Work on the intersection improvement at Mars Hill/Virgil Langford/Rocky Branch is expected to impact travel lanes Monday, September 23, through Wednesday, September 25. Expect minor delays and temporary lane closures.   The Georgia DOT says Highway 72 in Elbert County will get new blacktop: 7.8 miles of resurfacing on 72 between State Route 17 and Nicksville Road in Elbert County will come with a $4.7 million price tag and is scheduled for completion by July of next year.
  • The Athens-Clarke County Unified Government and the University of Georgia will conduct tests of their emergency alert notification systems on Thursday, September 19 at approximately 10:45 a.m. The notification systems are generally tested twice annually - once each fall and once in conjunction with Severe Weather Awareness Week in February. While the February tests also include testing the community tornado siren system, the September test does not include tornado siren testing. Emergency alerts are sent by the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government through text and email and are posted throughout the website when there is a severe threat to the public safety and health of the entire community. Emergency alerts are characterized as information on an event that has not been contained or controlled and requires immediate action on the part of the recipient groups, such as in the case of chemical spills impacting public health or tornado warnings. Athens-Clarke County residents can sign up for e-mail and text message alerts about emergencies and other community alerts through the Notify Me area of the Unified Government's website at www.accgov.com/notifyme or through the Notify Me button located throughout the website. Registration for UGAAlert is available at www.ugaalert.uga.edu and is for UGA students, faculty, and staff.
  • For the sixth consecutive year, the University of Georgia’s far-reaching commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion has been recognized with a national award.   The INSIGHT Into Diversity Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award is the only national recognition honoring colleges and universities that exhibit outstanding efforts and success in the area of diversity and inclusion. Rather than recognizing a single program or unit, the award highlights a range of student, faculty and staff initiatives at the university.   “The University of Georgia is proud to be a national leader in promoting diversity and inclusion throughout our institution,” said President Jere W. Morehead. “I appreciate this recognition from INSIGHT Into Diversity once again for our successes in this important area and our efforts to go even further.”   The central role that diversity plays at UGA is outlined in the institution’s mission statement, and efforts to promote diversity and inclusion include programs to recruit and support historically underrepresented and first-generation students; recruit and retain diverse faculty; and promote a living, learning and working environment where differences are respected and celebrated.   “The University of Georgia proudly embraces the diversity that is found in our faculty, staff and students,” said Michelle Cook, Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion and Strategic University Initiatives. “We also are committed to building a community, culture and climate where everyone is supported and where everyone can be successful.”   Recruiting Students The diversity of perspectives and backgrounds that students bring to the University of Georgia enriches the learning environment by preparing students for success in the global society of the 21st century.   To help recruit historically underrepresented and first-generation students, staff from the Office of Undergraduate Admissions and several other campus units visit high schools across the state through programs such as Road Dawgs. The university recently partnered with the Clarke County School District to launch a college readiness program known as Georgia Possible, and a new program known as Gear Up for High School brings eighth graders and their parents to campus, where they learn about the transition to high school and beyond. This fall, the university also offered free chartered bus transportation to students and families at 18 high schools in rural Georgia to provide an additional way for them to attend Peach State Tour events and learn about opportunities for higher education at UGA and elsewhere in the state.   To encourage admitted students to enroll at UGA, the Office of Institutional Diversity hosts programs such as Georgia Daze, Movimiento Latino and the Georgia African American Male Experience. In addition, several of the university’s schools and colleges offer programs focused on specific fields, such as agriculture, business, pharmacy and veterinary medicine.   Promoting Success UGA has several long-standing and recent programs that help incoming students navigate the university and the many academic resources it offers. The yearlong RISE Scholars program, which was launched in 2018 and is funded by the President’s New Approaches to Promote Diversity and Inclusion Grants Program, offers first-year students from underrepresented groups a series of workshops and networking events that ease the transition to college. The ALL Georgia program supports students from rural parts of the state in their transition to UGA, while the federally funded TRIO programs offered through the Division of Academic Enhancement support low-income students, first-generation college students and students with disabilities. The recently launched Early Start/Early Success program, for example, helps incoming first-generation students form meaningful academic connections.   The National Science Foundation-funded Peach State Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, which earlier this year received an Inspiring Program in STEM Award from INSIGHT Into Diversity, helps to increase the number of minority undergraduate students pursuing STEM degrees. In addition, the NSF-funded Bridges to the Doctorate program and the TRIO McNair Scholars program work to increase the number of underrepresented students pursuing graduate degrees. UGA colleges and departments also offer programs such as Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences and, in the School of Law, the Robinson Scholars Program and the Benham Scholars Program.   Additionally, the generous support of donors has enabled the creation of more than 450 need-based Georgia Commitment Scholarships since 2017.   Building Community To support an inclusive environment, the university’s Office of Faculty Affairs offers a faculty learning series that includes workshops on cultural competency for recruitment and retention and creating inclusive academic teams. In addition, it offers trainings for search committee members that focus on best practices and sponsors a faculty learning community on resources for diverse faculty retention. Programs such as the Women’s Leadership Fellowship are part of a range of professional development resources that help build a pipeline of future leaders for the institution.   In addition to fostering a sense of community, affinity groups such as the Black Faculty and Staff Organization assist with the recruitment and retention of faculty, staff and students. Through the voluntary Certificate in Diversity and Inclusion program offered by Training and Development in the Office of Human Resources, faculty and staff choose from a range of courses that increase awareness and understanding of diversity. Since the program was launched in 2012, more than 5,000 faculty and staff members have participated.   “The breadth of programs and initiatives focused on diversity highlights the University of Georgia’s commitment to creating an inclusive environment that promotes academic excellence,” said S. Jack Hu, the university’s senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. “I am deeply grateful to our faculty, staff and students for their ongoing dedication to building community.”

Bulldog News

  • ATHENS Georgia coach Kirby Smart has done his due diligence to keep it a quiet week with as few distractions as possible, and that meant going to the extreme of closing practice on Tuesday and Wednesday. The No. 3-ranked Bulldogs play host to No. 7 Notre Dame in a game that Smart said on the Wednesday SEC teleconference 'will probably be unrivaled in Georgia history, from a non-conference standpoint.' Georgia fans are thrilled, but there have been concerns this week with the news that starting cornerback Tyson Campbell was still limited in Tuesday's practice. Campbell played arguably his best half of football at the start of the Arkansas State game, but he did not return after halftime. The former 5-star recruit was spotted running on the sideline, as though he was trying to jog off the injury. But the report from UGA was that he had a right foot injury. Campbell arrived at Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall on Monday wearing a protective boot. He was not seen during the media viewing portion of Monday's practice. Smart said following a closed Tuesday practice that Campbell took limited reps, and left it at that. RELATED: Kirby Smart's update on Tyson Campbell The head coach has said he has been pleased in practice with the backups at cornerback, Tyrique Stevenson and DJ Daniel. But neither the true freshman (Stevenson) nor junior college transfer (Daniel) has seen much game action. Smart said on Wednesday that receiver Demetris Robertson, who was held out of the Arkansas State game with what Smart described as a 'lower body extremity' injury (hamstring), is 'continuing to work and progressing well.' Senior receiver Tyler Simmons, who played more than half of last season in a shoulder brace, could be in that situation again this year after getting slammed to the turf on the sideline agains Arkansas State. Smart has said all week he expects Simmons to be able to go. Freshman Dominick Blaylock stepped up in the slot last Saturday with Robertson and Simmons sidelined. Blaylock caught four passes for 112 yards and a TD against Arkansas State. Right tackle Isaiah Wilson returned to practice on Monday from the sprained ankle he suffered on Sept. 4. Smart said he was 'coming along well,' on Monday, but claimed not to pay much attention to him at Tuesday's pracice. Redshirt junior Ben Cleveland made his first start of the 2019 season last Saturday at right guard last Saturday and sophomore Cade Mays kicked out to Wilson's previous spot at right tackle. If Wilson is less than 100 percent it seems likely the Cleveland-Mays combo at right guard and right tackle will start of the game with the Irish. Georgia injury report for Notre Dame WR Tyler Simmons (shoulder) probable WR Demetris Robertson (lower body) probable DT Julian Rochester (knee) questionable DT Tyson Campbell (foot) questionable WR Kearis Jackson (hand) doubtful WR Tommy Bush (groin) out QB D'Wan Mathis (head) out The post Georgia football injury update for Notre Dame: Key starter remains questionable appeared first on DawgNation.
  • DawgNation has four staffers who cover Georgia football from every angle: Beat, live streams, photos, podcasts, recruiting, etc. The 'Cover 4' concept is: 1) Present a topic; 2) Offer a reasoned response; 3) Share a brisk statement to support the informed opinion. 4) Pepper the page with photos for the big picture. For this edition, we discuss a big perceived weakness for the Bulldogs to exploit on Saturday against Notre Dame. DawgNation continues with the 'Cover 4' concept. It was a regular in our story rotation in 2018. We have four staffers who cover UGA athletics on a full-time basis. It means the focus shifts to a timely 'Cover 4' look with each of our guys manning the secondary here. The quick in-and-out game remains. These takes are designed to come out quicker than former Bulldog Mecole Hardman Jr. ran the 40 at the NFL combine. The latest 'Cover 4' question of the regular season is: What is the big advantage UGA has on Notre Dame? Brandon Adams: The overall talent level The 'why' from 'DawgNation Daily' here: ' UGA's four recruiting classes under Kirby Smart have ranked sixth, third, first and second. Over that same span, Notre Dame has been 15th, 10th, 10th and 16th. That huge disparity is the biggest reason why the game shouldn't be close .' Mike Griffith: Line of scrimmage The 'why' from 'On the Beat' here: 'Georgia's offensive line has been well documented, and while the Bulldogs' defensive line isn't as celebrated, it's as deep, and staying fresh is a factor. ' Connor Riley: Georgia's ability to run the football The 'why' from 'Good Day UGA' here: ' Notre Dame's rush defense has been less than stellar to start the season, giving up an average of 230 yards a game. That's a real good recipe to get absolutely throttled by the likes of D'Andre Swift, Brian Herrien, Zamir White and James Cook . ' Jeff Sentell: Players. The Intel here: 'Notre Dame is a very well-coached team so this will come down to players. Not plays. The blue-chip ratio has UGA with 76 signees over the last four cycles who carried a 4-or 5-star rating. Notre Dame has also signed 50 of those. The bigger tell is the 5-star guys. The Bulldogs have signed 18. Notre Dame? It did not sign a 5-star over the last four cycles . ' The 2019 season 'Cover 4' topics so far: Which Bulldogs have really opened our eyes after two games? The most improved Bulldog since last season is . A few big non-score predictions for Georgia-Vanderbilt Which returning Bulldogs impressed the most in fall camp? The players set to become the new fan favorites for 2019 are . What will convince you the Bulldogs are throwing the ball more this fall? What kind of numbers will D'Andre Swift put up in 2019? Jake Fromm's best quality? The Cover 4 crew chops that one up DawgNation Nickel: What was the alarming trend coming out of spring ball in Athens? The post Cover 4: What is the big edge Georgia football will have against Notre Dame? appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book appears to have a 'California Cool' mindset going for him this week. Book represents the bullseye the Georgia defense has targeted in Saturday night's 8 o'clock game at Sanford Stadium. But Book, a 6-foot, 212-pound senior from the Sacramento suburb of El Dorado Hills, looked to take it all in stride in an interview taped in South Bend. 'We believe in ourselves, everyone in this building, this one family, we know what we do, and we know our potential,' Book said. 'So we're not worried, we're just confident.' Ian Book highlights The book on book Book has gotten it done against an SEC opponent before in addition to beating a Top 10 team, along a victory over a Top 25 team on the road. Book came off the bench and rallied Notre Dame to a 21-17 win over LSU in the 2018 Citrus Bowl, completing 4 of 6 passes in the fourth quarter for 108 yards and two touchdowns. Last season,Book humbled a No. 7-ranked Stanford team, throwing for four touchdowns in a 38-17 win. The next week, he led Notre Dame to a 45-23 win at then-No. 24 Virginia Tech. No wonder Book doesn't seem to care that the No. 3-ranked Bulldogs are a two-touchdown over the No. 7-ranked Irish in the first non-conference battle of Top 10 teams between the hedges since 1966. Book says all that has done is added a chip on Notre Dame's shoulder as the program looks to snap a nine-game losing streak against Top 5 opponents that dates back to 2005. 'Honestly, we don't care care what anyone says, if we're supposed to lose by double-digits, it's kind of a chip on our shoulder, we're going to use that as motivation,' Book said, 'and I think it's great, the pressure's not on us, we're going down there to do what we've got to do.' Kirby's concerns Georgia coach Kirby Smart hasn't stopped talking about Book all week. 'They have multiple formations, they have tempo, they have the ability to do a lot of things, they have a lot of offense,' Smart said. 'Then you throw in the fact they have the quarterback that can make you right every play,' Smart said. 'The coach could call a bad call, the kid will bail him out and go scramble for it.' Book's ability to scramble and extend plays seems to concern Smart more than any other element of the game. 'It's nice when you've got a guy that can make somebody miss, whether it's a pressure, whether it's a three-man rush, whether it's a four-man rush,' Smart said. 'I mean, he can make you right.' Book recognizes the pressure is on him to perform at his highest level with little margin for error. 'I think they have a great scheme, and they've got some athletes, obviously,' Book said, breaking down the Georgia defense. 'They've got some guys that can fly around, a lot of speed out in the field, and obviously for a quarterback it makes the windows smaller, challenges myself to give our guys a shot, the windows are going to get small.' The Georgia Defense Georgia ranks 17th in the nation in pass efficiency defense, allowing just one TD pass through the first three games. But Tyson Campbell, one of the Bulldogs' starting cornerbacks, was limited in Tuesday's practice after missing Mondays with what UGA reported was a foot injury. It's a safe bet Notre Dame has taken note. Book said he'll be spending more time in the film room, looking to build on the momentum the Irish generated with their 66-14 win over New Mexico last Saturday. 'I think it was huge, not just for me but for everybody to make those plays,' Book said. 'Just to get everyone's confidence up to show that we can do that for ourselves and start to prove our identity as an offense.' Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said playing for the Irish is like being on Broadway, in terms of the players relishing the big stage. Book agreed. 'You've really got to embrace it and have fun with it, these are the reasons you come to Notre Dame, to play in these games,' Book said. 'We've got a lot of guys that have been there and been to those environments, and now we've got to go there and we've got to win.' Notre Dame QB Ian Book DawgNation Georgia-Notre Dame David Pollack says Nolan Smith rising star Georgia zeroed in on Notre Dame quarterback Isaiah Wilson returns to Monday practice, Tyson Campbell not present World of difference in Jake Fromm now from 2017 Georgia newcomers proving pivotal to season success Jake Fromm, Crush it and flush it,' on to Notre Dame Brian Kelly says Irish found themselves' in 66-14 win Notre Dame coach says team in position to win national title The post WATCH California Cool Notre Dame QB Ian Book: We're not worried' appeared first on DawgNation.
  • The Georgia Bulldogs saw six former players score in week two of the NFL season, including Mecole Hardman who brought in a 42-yard reception from the reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes for his first touchdown in the NFL. In addition to Hardman, Nick Chubb, Matthew Stafford, Isaiah McKenzie, Sony Michel and Todd Gurley all scored this past weekend. And all of their teams picked up wins over the weekend. How they did this weekend Hardman 4 receptions 61 receiving yards 1 receiving touchdown Chubb 18 carries 62 rushing yards 1 rushing touchdown 4 receptions 36 receiving yards Stafford 73.33 cmp% 245 passing yards 2 passing touchdowns 2 interceptions 4 carries 13 rushing yards McKenzie 2 receptions 40 receiving yards 1 receiving touchdown 1 carry 4 rushing yards Michel 21 carries 85 rushing yards 1 rushing touchdown 1 fumble Gurley 16 carries 63 rushing yards 1 rushing touchdown 3 receptions 4 receiving yards
  • ATHENS Ever wondered what Kirby Smart says to his team in the locker room? The Georgia football film crew provided a snippet in the Bulldogs' highlight tape from their 55-0 win over Arkansas State. RELATED: Why Georgia could literally run the score up on ND 'Give them your best shot, make them remember when they play us, it's about how we play,' Smart said, firing up his team. ' We don't do it with our mouths, we don't do it with anything else, all we do it with is our flat back and pad speed.' The Reel: Georgia vs Arkansas State #ATD #GoDawgs pic.twitter.com/RqdfJ0UZOZ Georgia Football (@GeorgiaFootball) September 18, 2019 After the game, Smart's teaching points included the value of downfield blocking, with a shoutout to Lawrence Cager, and the importance of buy in. 'We have a really special team when everybody buys in,' Smart said. 'Defensively, up front when we can do that guys, we can wreak a lot of havoc.' #Dawgs Tell em Kirby! #GiveEmThree #GoDawgs #BeatNDAgain pic.twitter.com/DlvlQqoEnP GATA Dawgs (@BassinDawg) September 17, 2019 Georgia will look to do precisely that in its 8 p.m. game against Notre Dame on Saturday at Sanford Stadium. DawgNation Georgia-Notre Dame Georgia zeroed in on Notre Dame quarterback Isaiah Wilson returns to Monday practice, Tyson Campbell not present World of difference in Jake Fromm now from 2017 Georgia newcomers proving pivotal to season success Jake Fromm, Crush it and flush it,' on to Notre Dame Kirby Smart sets relaxed tone for showdown with Irish Brian Kelly says Irish found themselves' in 66-14 win Notre Dame coach says team in position to win national title The post WATCH: Kirby Smart fires up Georgia in the locker room appeared first on DawgNation.