As CHSAA lifts moratorium on in-person workouts June 1, districts are left to make own decisions for summer – The Denver Post

The Colorado High School Activities Association will lifts its moratorium on in-person training between coaches and high school students starting June 1.

CHSAA Commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green sent an email to schools Tuesday addressing the change, as it will soon be up to local school districts to make decisions on player-coach contact during the summer months amid the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s likely those decisions will vary based on differing conditions and local health orders across the state.

Multiple districts in the Denver metro have prohibited player-coach contact until July 1, while Jeffco Public Schools’ prohibition remains in place until Aug. 1. Jeffco schools athletic director Jim Thyfault said that date could be moved to the start of July, however, if public health orders from local authorities change.

“Right now I think you have to remain fluid,” Thyfault said in a phone interview. “I heard one of our athletes say it best last week when he said ‘I don’t want the decision made today, because I’m not too sure I’d like the decision.’ I thought that was a great point. We all know where we’re at right now, and where we’re at right now makes it pretty difficult.”

Like other districts in the metro, Cherry Creek School District’s facilities are closed through the end of June. Thus, it won’t be able to allow player-coach contact until July 1 at the earliest. And even that date remains in question, with Cherry Creek athletic director Larry Bull saying his district intends to re-evaluate the situation in mid-June.

Current state social distancing guidelines call for no more than 10 people in a room, with all those in the room at least six feet apart. Although, some counties can be granted a variance.

While those standards may allow for limited player-coach contact, there is no doubt things will have to change for sports to fully return this August. As Thyfault said Friday, any return to high school sports will have to be accompanied by a return to the classroom.

“We’re just going to remain optimistic that this thing is going to continue to get better over the course of the next two and a half months and in the end we’ll be able to have sports,” he said. “Whether that’s middle of August startup or a middle-of-September startup, it could be that we have to adjust seasons a little bit to make it happen.”

Last week, CHSAA announced the creation of a task force to solicit ideas for how and when high school athletics can return to play for the 2020-21 school year. There is no established timetable for when the association will make those decisions.

All summer bylaws remain in place for CHSAA. After June 1, the association’s administrative oversight on player-coach contact will not resume until camps, clinics and fall sports practice dates are scheduled.

In the email sent out to schools earlier this week, Blanford-Green provided administrators with a list of suggested guidelines to follow during the summer. Among those recommendations were that all training sessions be voluntary, that districts establish safety plans approved by administrators at the district and school levels, and that those plans are shared with all participants.

“Decisions to return to coach/participant contact will need to be made with an abundance of caution and within the state guidelines,” the email read. “As much as the return to athletics and activities is invading our every thought and the external pressure from coaches and parents mounts with each passing day, we must continue to make our decisions based on the safety and well-being of all those under our care.”

Other recommendations listed in the CHSAA email:

  • Federal and state social distancing guidelines must be followed.
  • The number of participants per session should align with federal and state public gathering mandates.
  • Groups should be divided into “pods” and should include the same participants and coaches at each session.
  • All participants should be screened prior to each session with temperature checks and health surveys.
  • Signage should be posted in highly visible areas with questions pertaining to COVID-19.
  • No use of locker rooms and showers, with athletes and coaches dressed to participate upon arrival.
  • All equipment should be properly sanitized after every time it is used, with areas disinfected between staggered “pod” training sessions. And there should be no shared equipment, including balls, bats, clubs, rackets, sleds, helmets and masks.
  • Hand sanitizer should be provided during all sessions.
  • Participants should bring their own water bottles, with use of shared water sources prohibited.
  • Spectators and non-essential individuals should not be allowed to attend, and outside groups should not be invited.
  • Masks are recommended during all sessions.

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Boris Johnson U-turns as he scraps NHS fee for foreign health workers after being ‘personal beneficiary of carers from abroad’

Boris Johnson has pledged to scrap the fee for foreign health and social care workers to access the NHS “as soon as possible”.

The move is a swift U-turn from Wednesday, when the prime minister defended the policy, saying it was “the right way forward” to boost NHS funds.

A Downing Street spokesperson said Mr Johnson changed his mind because “he had been a personal beneficiary of carers from abroad” when he was treated in intensive care for coronavirus.

The spokesperson explained: “The purpose of the NHS surcharge is to benefit the NHS, help to care for the sick and save lives.

“NHS and care workers from abroad who are granted visas are doing this already by the fantastic contribution which they make.”

Hours earlier, Downing Street had insisted the prime minister was standing by the surcharge.

The change will apply to all NHS workers, including porters, cleaners, independent health workers and social care staff.

Originally, care workers, cleaners and porters had been left out of the scheme.

Currently the fee is £400 a year but that is set to rise to an annual sum of £624.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who pressed for the change at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, said: “This is a victory for common decency and the right thing to do.

“We cannot clap our carers one day and then charge them to use our NHS the next.”

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US on track to pull troops out of Afghanistan: Pentagon

Some question whether the US-Taliban agreement aimed at bringing peace to Afghanistan was mainly just a withdrawal deal.

The United States is on track to meet its commitment to the Taliban to withdraw several thousand troops from Afghanistan by mid-July, even as violence flares, the peace process is stalled, and Kabul struggles in political deadlock.

US officials say they will reduce to 8,600 troops by July 15 and abandon five bases. By the second quarter of 2021, all foreign forces are supposed to withdraw, ending the US’s longest war. Yet the outlook for peace is cloudy at best. In the absence of Afghan peace talks, the administration of US President Donald Trump may face the prospect of fully withdrawing even as the Taliban remains at war with the government.

That has concerned some lawmakers, including Representative Liz Cheney, a Republican and member of the House Armed Services Committee.

She says the US needs to keep a military and intelligence presence in Afghanistan to prevent groups like al-Qaeda and the ISIL’s Afghan affiliate from forming havens from which to attack the US

“Withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan won’t end the war – it will just let the terrorists win,” she told The Associated Press.

Serious negotiation? 

Some question whether the US – Taliban agreement signed in Doha, Qatar, on February 29, which the Trump administration billed as “a decisive step to achieve a negotiated peace”, was instead mainly a withdrawal agreement. Trump had campaigned on bringing troops home from foreign wars. And although the Afghan government publicly supported the deal, it did not participate directly in the negotiations and has not, in Washington’s view, capitalised on the chance for peace talks.

“President Trump promised to bring our troops home from overseas and is following through on that promise,” the White House said when the Doha deal was signed.

The deal stipulated that the Taliban would start intra-Afghan peace negotiations on March 10, but that has not happened. The Taliban and the Afghan government also have squabbled over a promised release of each other’s prisoners.

“A lot of this boils down to: Was the US -Taliban agreement any kind of serious negotiation at all, or was it just totally a fig leaf to cover abject withdrawal? I suspect the latter,” Stephen Biddle, a Columbia University professor of international and public affairs and a former adviser to US commanders in Kabul, told the Associated Press.

“It gave away almost all the leverage we had in exchange for virtually nothing,” he added. “It looks very much like a situation in which the Taliban have concluded that the Americans are out, and they’re going to play out the string and see what happens when we’re gone.”

The US has been the prime backer of the Afghan government since it invaded the country soon after the September 11, 2001, attacks and overthrew the Taliban.

According to US government auditors, Washington has committed $86bn to support Afghan security forces and is still spending about $4bn a year.

The Trump administration has expressed frustration with the lack of movement toward peace talks, but it has not threatened publicly to pull back from its commitment to fully withdraw. It did conduct an air attack against the Taliban in defence of Afghan ground forces in early March just hours after Trump had what he called a good conversation by phone with a senior Taliban leader, Abdul Ghani Baradar.

Although the withdrawal is required by the Doha agreement, US defence officials had said for many months that they wanted to reduce to 8,600 – the approximate number of troops that were supporting Afghan forces and conducting counterterrorism operations when Trump took office.

US officials constructed the Doha agreement mainly as a way of ending US involvement in the war, rather than as an assured path to peace. The withdrawal is subject to Taliban assurances, but it does not require a peace settlement.

The deal also is seen by the US as a way to enlist the Taliban in the fight against the ISIL (ISIS) group. The US military considers the group’s Afghan affiliate as a greater threat than the Taliban.

The US agreed to withdraw not just military forces but also all intelligence agency personnel, private security contractors, trainers and advisers. NATO allied forces also are to withdraw.

The Doha deal was seen at the time as Afghanistan’s best chance at peace in decades of war, but the government has since been consumed with political turmoil. Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah have both declared themselves winners of last year’s presidential polls, and each declared himself president.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said that getting out of Afghanistan would advance his aim of devoting more forces to the Asia-Pacific region to counter China, which he sees as the number one long-term threat to the US.

Esper has been sceptical of the Taliban’s commitment to peace, and on May 5 he said neither the Taliban nor the Afghan government is abiding by the agreement.

Esper said the Taliban should return to the reduced levels of violence that existed in the week before the February 29 Doha signing.

At the time, Ghani put his government forces in a defensive stance, but on Tuesday he ordered a return to the offensive, expressing anger for two attacks, including one that killed 24 people, including infants, at a hospital.

The Taliban denied responsibility and the US has blamed the ISIL affiliate in Afghanistan for the attack. The Taliban on Thursday said it had carried out a suicide bombing as retaliation for having been falsely accused by Ghani.

A Pentagon spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Campbell, indicated the US stance has not changed.

“Consistent with the agreement, the US military will continue to conduct defensive strikes against the Taliban when they attack our [Afghan] partners,” he said Wednesday. “As the secretary of defence stated recently, this is going to be a windy, bumpy road, but a political agreement is the best way to end the war.”

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Cityscapes as you’ve never seen them – with light pollution removed

Starry night skies are near impossible to admire if you’re living in a city heavily polluted by light. 

There may be thousands of stars visible to the naked eye from remote areas of planet Earth, but for budding stargazers in densely populated areas, looking upwards often reveals a blank canvas.

But a new photo series from a company that designs star maps has now made it possible to view city landscapes the way nature intended.

The company, Under Lucky Stars, has taken 27 cityscapes and matched them with star maps and constellations to give a representation of the sky without pollution using photoshop, which it says affects 80% of the world’s population.

London

Ten of the worst cities for light pollution, which register a class 8-9 (the highest) on the Bortle Scale, have been brought back down to a class 1-2 with this project.

These include Moscow, Chicago, New York, Cairo, Houston, Buenos Aires, Los Angeles, Miami, Singapore and London.

Take a look at the other cities in the series:

New York, USA

Barcelona, Spain

Beijing, China

Berlin, Germany

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Cairo, Egypt

Cape Town, South Africa

Chicago, USA

New Delhi, India

Dubai, UAE

Hong Kong

Houston, USA

Lisbon, Portugal

Los Angeles, USA

Miami, USA

Milan, Italy

Montreal, Canada

Moscow, Russia

Paris, France

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rotterdam, Netherlands

Seoul, South Korea

Singapore

Sydney, Australia

Tokyo, Japan

Toronto, Canada

Zoltan Toth-Czifra, from Under Lucky Stars, said our planet is part of “a much bigger picture” but that light pollution in the metropolitan world made it “impossible to see”.

He added: “If you were born in a place where stars are invisible, you’ll never forget the excitement and rush of joy you feel when you see the night sky in its unencumbered beauty for the first time.

“And the way you simply cannot take your eyes off the thousands of stars that we chose to extinguish in exchange for modern comfort.”

Offering advice to anyone interested in stargazing themselves, Mr Toth-Czifra said “the trick” is to plan, find a place high up, and remove any close sources of light.

He added: “If you’re central, get as high as possible on buildings or alternatively, head to the outskirts to a darker, quieter area such as a park to improve your chances of seeing the stars.

“Give time for your eyes to adjust to the dark and choose a moonless night, binoculars can help too, you won’t be able to see the incredible view in these images, but it’s a start.”

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Officials urge calm as fire nears Chernobyl

Ukrainian authorities have called for calm as firefighters battle a blaze near the abandoned Chernobyl nuclear plant.

A senior emergency service official said there was “no threat” to the plant or its storage facilities, while deputy interior minister Anton Gerashchenko insisted: “Everything will be fine”.

But there are fears the fires have grown to a huge size.

Greenpeace Russia said one was just one kilometre from the plant itself.

The NGO’s Russia branch, quoted by Reuters, said the largest fire covered 34,000 hectares, while a second fire, just a kilometre (0.6 mile) from the former plant, was 12,000 hectares in area.

Though fires are common in the area, Greenpeace said this could be the worst in decades. Police have arrested a 27-year-old man and accused him of starting the blaze on 4 April.

In 1986, the former nuclear plant suffered a catastrophic meltdown that spread radioactive fallout across Europe.

Chernobyl and the nearby town of Pripyat have been abandoned ever since, although they have attracted large numbers of tourists in recent years.

What’s the situation?

Emergency services continue to battle the blaze. Ukraine has sent hundreds of firefighters as well as planes and helicopters.

Officials in Kyiv say there is no reason for alarm. In a post on Facebook, Mr Geraschenko called for “calm, only calm”, insisting the huge concrete structure built to cover up the former nuclear site was safe and that there was “no change” in radiation levels.

Efforts to contain the fire are complicated by the disaster, he said. Firefighters cannot dig deep trenches in the ground for fire breaks as “radioactive particles” could be exposed, but aircraft have instead dropped huge volumes of water on the fires.

“The task of rescuers is to prevent the spread of fire to critical infrastructure. And they will cope with this task!” Mr Geraschenko wrote. “Please do not interfere with their work. Do not spread fakes, untruth and nonsense. Everything will be fine.”

But others say the situation is far worse.

Sergiy Zibtsev, head of the Regional Eastern European Fire Monitoring Center, told AFP news agency that the fire had become “super-huge” and “unpredictable”.

Local tour operator Yaroslav Emelianenko said one fire had reached Pripyat, which used to serve the plant.

He said it was now just 2km (1.24 miles) from where the most dangerous waste from the plant was stored. “The situation is critical,” he wrote on Facebook.

Mr Emelianenko also said that if the fire engulfed Pripyat it would be an economic disaster, as supervised tourist visits provided valuable revenue.

In 2018 more than 70,000 people visited the town. Last year that figure was even higher, after the success of an HBO mini-series about the disaster.

Smoke from the fire is now blowing towards Kyiv.

Chernobyl nuclear power station and Pripyat have been abandoned since 1986, when the plant’s No. 4 reactor blew up.

People are forbidden from living within 30km (18 miles) of the power station.

Chernobyl continued to generate power until the plant’s last operational reactor was finally closed in 2000.

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China to expand coronavirus testing, boost containment effort along land borders

BEIJING (Reuters) – China will allocate more resources to prevent the spread of the coronavirus from its land borders, as the country still faces risks of a comeback after new clusters are identified in some regions, a central government meeting concluded on Thursday.

The meeting, chaired by premier Li Keqiang and focused on coronavirus prevention work, also decided China will expand coronavirus and antibody testing to identify infected patients and asymptomatic cases, a government statement said.

China will aim to improve testing technologies, and speed up development of antiviral drugs and vaccines, it added.

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