Is travel safe? We interviewed experts on risks associated with flying, booking hotels or Airbnbs, renting cars, and more, plus ideas on safe vacations during COVID-19 - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY SURVIVAL

Is travel safe? We interviewed experts on risks associated with flying, booking hotels or Airbnbs, renting cars, and more, plus ideas on safe vacations during COVID-19

As states lift restrictions around the novel coronavirus, many of us are eagerly wondering: is it safe to travel right now?

The answer depends on many variables, namely, how you plan to do so, where you want to go, the rates of infection in your chosen destination, and your anticipated behavior once you arrive.


For example, driving your own car and renting a house where you’re the only inhabitant is quite different from entering a crowded airport, boarding a plane, and checking-in to a large resort.

Ultimately, resuming travel without a vaccine will come down to the level of risk that makes you feel comfortable. And it’s sure going to look a lot different.

Insider Reviews reached out to experts including infectious disease and ER doctors, cleaning specialists, travel industry professionals, and representatives from major rental cars, hotels, Airbnb, and transportation organizations, to reveal both the risks and best practices associated with various forms of travel and lodging during an ongoing pandemic.

We also interviewed travel agents and tour operators, to find out how they’re advising and planning travel for clients later this year and in 2021. And if you do book a trip that is ultimately postponed or canceled, it’s important to understand your cancellation policies and consider options for the best travel insurance.

Of course, this is an evolving situation and it’s crucial to follow guidelines and advice set forth by organizations such as the CDC and WHO, and practice safety measures no matter where you go, including wearing a mask, washing your hands, and maintaining social distancing.

Below, our experts address popular questions and concerns around each mode of travel, and major brands share their updated cleaning policies, so you may make fully informed decisions about where to go. And if you need ideas on socially-distant locations, we’ve got some inspiration for that, too.

Are rental cars safe?

If you’re among the many urban dwellers without a car of your own, you might be wondering if rental cars are safe to drive in a pandemic. For guidance, we talked to several experts, including Dr. Thomas Russo, chief of the division of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo.

“Remember that most of the transmission of the coronavirus is respiratory — it’s not through inanimate objects,” says Dr. Russo. “When you’re in a rental car, the greatest risk is if you happen to be in the car with someone else and they could be infected.”

When it comes to the car itself, the risk is reasonably low. “Even if there’s an area you touch that wasn’t properly wiped down and might have been contaminated, as long as you don’t touch your mouth, nose, and face, and have good hand hygiene in between, you should still be protected,” Dr. Russo says.

Additionally, rental car companies are taking rigorous new cleaning measures under recommendations from various health authorities to sanitize key high-touch areas.

Read the full story on whether rental cars are safe.

Is travel safe? We interviewed experts on risks associated with flying, booking hotels or Airbnbs, renting cars, and more, plus ideas on safe vacations during COVID-19

Are hotels safe?

Many regular travelers are long-time hotel devotees who adore a beautiful property or sprawling resort filled with high-end amenities and services. But even these frequent hotel guests are likely concerned that staying in one risks exposure to the virus.

After all, checking-into a hotel means mingling with other guests and staff in common spaces like the lobby, elevators, pool decks, spas, and golf courses. When it’s time to eat, there are busy restaurants to consider, and that’s all assuming your own guest room is clean and sanitized.

In the latter, objects and furnishings are shared and reused by visitors, sometimes with only hours in between. So, is it safe to stay in a hotel right now?

Dr. Russo says the answer is highly individual. “If it’s a trip that is important and necessary, I feel relatively safe using the proper protective measures like wearing a mask, distancing, disinfecting, and hand hygiene.”

We also asked him about the worst-case scenario, in which an infected person stayed in your room hours before you. If the housekeeping crew cleaned and sanitized according to guidelines, would you escape risk?

“The answer is probably yes,” Dr. Russo says. But, “that’s not an ideal scenario.” You’d be better off specifically requesting a room no one has stayed in for a day or two.”

He also adds, “Wear a mask during the check-in process, going in the elevator up to your room, or even the stairwell. I’m a big fan of mask use because this magical six-foot zone is based on probability. The closer you are to someone, and the longer you’re close to someone that’s infectious, the more likely you are to get infected.”

Read the full story on whether hotels are safe.

What are hotels’ new cleaning policies?

Most major hotel chains have announced wide-reaching new cleaning policies made in combination with health experts. These policies also focus on social-distancing and contact-free transactions such as virtual check-in and out, digital keys, limited dining, and more.

Dr. Robert Quigley, who serves as the senior vice president and regional medical director of global medical travel risk management company International SOS, spent four days and four nights transforming an Upper East Side hotel into a utilitarian home base for health care workers on the front lines.

“We came in and converted what was a very high end, very luxurious hotel into a laboratory with the objective to protect the health and safety of the employees that were willing to come in and work.”

Now, that work is being replicated in hotels for regular guests, placing technology at the forefront. In addition to adhering to strict CDC guidelines on health and safety, some brands including InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG), Loews, and Best Western are adopting American Hotel Lodging Association’s (AHLA) StaySafe campaign to help facilitate everything from how to conduct a contactless check-in to a new set of cleaning standards and protocols.

Additionally, Marriott Bonvoy hotels rolled out the Marriott Global Cleanliness Council, focusing on treating high-touch surface areas with hospital-grade disinfectants, providing disinfecting wipes in each guest room, and reducing person-to-person contact by removing furniture and installing hand-sanitizing stations. More than 3,200 Marriott hotels will now allow guests to use their phones to check-in, access their rooms, make requests, and order room service without contact.

Similarly, Four Seasons worked with experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine International on its new Lead With Care program for cleanliness and safety. The program promises that restaurants and bars will operate with reduced capacity to allow for social distancing, and the hotel will leverage technology for safety, by way of its Four Seasons app and chat.

Here are the new plans and precautions being taken from major hotel brands around the world.

Are Airbnbs safe?

Just as some people have always preferred hotels, others choose Airbnbs to enjoy more space in residential-style houses or apartments that are well-suited for longer vacations, or family and group stays.

These days, they may seem especially attractive given the fact that you are often booking an entire home that is protected from interaction with any others. However, cleaning practice vary by property, where everything from kitchen utensils to bed linens were used by previous guests.

Airbnb has, however, announced rigorous new procedures including a program known as the Cleaning Protocol, which includes guidelines on personal protective equipment for hosts or cleaners, as well as only using disinfectants approved by regulatory authorities. Additionally, these listings are required to maintain a 24-waiting period after a guest checks out before entering to clean, followed by another 48-hour waiting period before a guest may check-in.

As a second measure, hosts may instead opt into a new feature called Booking Buffer, which enforces a longer vacancy period of 72 hours between stays so guests may feel more secure knowing there has been no activity other than cleaning the property.

And third, hosts can also choose to do neither of those things.

Dr. Russo estimates that staying in a private Airbnb is likely to be safer than booking a hotel, given there is generally less direct person-to-person contact. But he also encourages taking extra preventative measures such as running “utensils and dishware through the dishwasher when you get there” and laundering bed linens and towels “so you have control of what you want to be washed and cleaned.” He also suggests running a disinfecting wipe over all flat surfaces, phones, TV remotes, door handles, bathroom faucets, and toilet handles.

Of course, that also means you’re now cleaning the home for which you already paid a lofty cleaning fee.

Read the full story on whether Airbnbs are safe.

Hotels vs. Airbnbs: Which one is safer?

After breaking down the risks of both hotels and vacation rentals such as Airbnb, no matter the type of lodging you pick, the main factors to consider are the likelihood you’ll encounter other people, the number and length of such encounters, and whether the location and region are experiencing high rates of infection.

“When booking any type of lodging, consider how many people you’ll be surrounded by, when was the last time someone stayed in that accommodation, and how is the state or city doing in regards to flattening the curve,” said Dr. Neil Brown, K Health‘s chief diagnosis officer.

With either choice, be aware of high-touch areas and flat surfaces that might facilitate virus transmission. If possible, book accommodations with a significant margin of time since the last guest stayed in the same space.

The doctors we spoke with agreed private Airbnbs, however, are likely safer than hotels because they come with fewer person-to-person interactions.

“While there is no question hotels are working diligently to keep their hotels clean and sanitized, Airbnb has a huge advantage given that the renter is generally the only one occupying the property,” said Dr. Brown. “With Airbnb’s new Enhanced Cleaning Initiative, the company provides a better option than public hotel spaces … Double-check to see if the host is participating in the program,” he said.

Dr. Russo “absolutely agree[s]” that staying in a private Airbnb, especially one that allows no-contact check-in, such as through a lockbox, is the safer option.

But both doctors recommend seriously evaluating the risks versus rewards with either choice, with Dr. Brown noting, “Personally, I would do my best to avoid traveling altogether, but if it is necessary, I would feel more comfortable staying at an Airbnb after doing my own disinfecting upon arrival.”

Read the full story on which is safer: Airbnbs or hotels?

Is travel safe? We interviewed experts on risks associated with flying, booking hotels or Airbnbs, renting cars, and more, plus ideas on safe vacations during COVID-19

Is flying safe right now?

In comparison to renting a car or booking lodging, air travel seems like a larger gamble. Entering an airport, waiting in long lines, and sitting next to strangers of unknown backgrounds, for a prolonged period, in a closed setting, all seems about as high-risk as it can get right now.

To help determine is flying is safe, we turned to a diverse panel of experts including an infectious disease doctor, an ER doctor, a pilot, a medical advisor for an aviation trade association, and the founders of popular flight deal platforms to discuss the risks of flying during COVID-19, and precautions to mitigate those risks.

First the good news: airports are trying various tactics to minimize contact between people, promote social distancing, and conducting temperature checks. Additionally, airplanes are designed to clean and filter air quickly according to Dr. David Powell, a medical advisor for a trade group that represents most of the world’s major passenger airlines and cargo carriers. “Customers sit facing forward and not toward each other, seatbacks provide a barrier, and the limited movement of passengers once seated adds to the onboard protection. Moreover, airflow is less conducive to droplet spread than other indoor environments: flow rates are high, directed in a controlled manner (from ceiling to floor), to limit mixing, and the use of High Efficiency Particulate Air filters ensures that the air supply is pure.”

But while these features help reduce risks, they do not eliminate them. Commercial airplane travel still means flying in a confined space with other people. Another passenger’s droplet can easily invade your personal space even with no one in the middle seat beside you.

Says Dr. Russo, “Once you’re on the flight, you’ve been dealt a hand. Hopefully, everyone around you isn’t infected, but you just don’t know for sure. A longer flight is going to be a greater risk even though the air is handled pretty well because it’s a close space, exposed to other individuals, and the time of exposure is longer.”

If you must fly, wear your best mask, sanitize all surfaces, and try to avoid eating, drinking, or using the lavatory.

Read the full story on whether flying is safe right now, including a sample of airlines’ current COVID-19 policies.

How travel agents and tour operators advise clients to book travel

While many travelers previously booked travel independently, some are returning to travel agents. These seasoned professionals have spent years in the business and are well-equipped to help clients identify viable locations with vetted, flexible policies. They may also have better insights into new practices at specific hotels to help determine how clean and safe they will be, and whether facilities and amenities may be impacted.

Their advice is to plan now, travel later (most of their clients are looking to travel between March and May of 2021), book refundable options, be aware of cleaning policies, try to travel domestically or close to home, opt for socially distant places, take advantage of deals, and assess your own comfort level with risk before booking.

Read the full story on key takeaways to learn from travel agents and tour operators about how to book travel right now, and into next year.

Socially distant travel: safe vacations during COVID-19

As noted by various experts, no matter your destination, your risk of infection largely depends on factors such as whether you’ll encounter other people, the intensity of such encounters, and if the location is experiencing high rates of infection.

While nothing can be guaranteed safe 100 percent safe, if you heed expert advice, take necessary precautions, and make informed decisions led by CDC and WHO guidance, you may be able to explore the world again soon.

If you find yourself in such a position, consider these locations within the United States that are well-suited to outdoor activities, offer socially-distant-friendly lodging, and remove the need for international travel.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY SURVIVAL

COVID-19: One Iranian ‘dying every 10 minutes’; Romania urges expats to stay away

The global coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 230,000 people worldwide, causing mass disruptions as governments continue to try to slow the spread of the new respiratory illness.

Here’s a roundup of developments in RFE/RL’s broadcast countries.


Iran

The death toll from the coronavirus in Iran continues to rise as the worst-affected country in the Middle East prepares for scaled-down celebrations of Norouz, the Persian New Year.

“With 149 new fatalities in the past 24 hours, the death toll from the virus has reached 1,284,” Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raisi said on state television on March 19.

“Unfortunately, we have had 1,046 new cases of infection since yesterday,” Raisi added.

Iran has the third-highest number of registered cases after China and Italy.

With the country reeling from the outbreak, officials have recommended that Iranians stay home during the March 20 holiday, a time when hundreds of thousands usually travel to be with friends and relatives.

The government has closed schools at all levels, banned sports and cultural events, and curtailed religious activities to try and slow the spread of the virus.

Kianoush Jahanpour, the head of the Health Ministry’s public relations and information center , noted on March 19 that the data on the outbreak means an Iranian dies every 10 minutes from COVID-19, while 50 infections occur each hour of the day.

“With respect to this information, people must make a conscious decision about travel, traffic, transportation, and sightseeing,” he added.

Despite the dire circumstances, many Iranians were angered by the temporary closure of Shi’ite sites, prompting some earlier this week to storm into the courtyards of two major shrines — Mashhad’s Imam Reza shrine and Qom’s Fatima Masumeh shrine.

Crowds typically pray there 24 hours a day, seven days a week, touching and kissing the shrine. That’s worried health officials, who for weeks ordered Iran’s Shi’ite clergy to close them.

Earlier on March 19, officials announced that the country wouldn’t mark its annual day celebrating its nuclear program because of the outbreak.

Georgia

The Georgian government has ordered the closure of shops except grocery stores and pharmacies beginning March 20 to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The measure, announced on March 19, also exempts gas stations, post offices, and bank branches. The South Caucasus country has so far reported 40 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, and no deaths.

Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia on March 19 said he would declare a state of emergency, as many countries in Europe already have, if health authorities advise him to do so.

“As of today, I would like to emphasize that there is no need for this. However, in agreement with the president, we have decided, as soon as that need arises, that we will be able to make this decision within a few hours,” he said.

Romania

President Klaus Iohannis has urged Romanians working abroad to refrain from traveling home for the Orthodox Easter amid fears of a worsening of the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Romania has been under a 30-day state of emergency since March 16.

Iohannis made the appeal in a televised speech on March 19 as thousands of workers returning from Western Europe were slowly crossing into Romania after having clogged Hungary’s borders both to the west and the east for two days in a row.

Romania is the European Union’s second-poorest country, and at least 4 million Romanians work abroad, according to estimates.

The bottlenecks were worsened by Hungary’s decision to close its borders on very short notice from March 17 at midnight — a measure relaxed by Budapest after consultations with the Romanian government.

“Romanians from abroad are dear to us, and we long to be with them for Easter,” Iohannis said. “However, that won’t be possible this year…. We must tell them with sadness but also with sincerity not to come home for the holidays,” he added.

Some 12,500 mostly Romanian travelers had crossed into Romania in 4,600 vehicles as of the morning of March 19, Romanian border police said.

They said 180 people were immediately quarantined, while some 10,000 were ordered into self-isolation once they reached their destinations.

The rest were mostly travelers in transit toward Moldova and Bulgaria, according to the police.

Romania has confirmed 277 coronavirus cases.

One of the patients is in serious condition in intensive care, while 25 people have recovered, according to health authorities.

No deaths have been reported so far.

However, authorities are concerned that the massive number of Romanians returning, mostly from Italy and Spain — the European countries most affected by the coronavirus pandemic — will lead to a spike in infections in the run-up to Orthodox Easter on April 19.

The Romanian military has started building an emergency hospital in Bucharest amid fears that the country’s crumbling health-care system will not be able to cope with the outbreak.

Ukraine

Some 900 Ukrainians are embarking on March 19 on a train journey from Prague to Kyiv as part of an evacuation plan amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The train is set to travel through the Czech Republic and Poland, where it will make a stop at Przemysl, before heading to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv and the capital.

Yevhen Perebiynis, the Ukrainian ambassador to Prague, tweeted that more than 3,000 Ukrainians residing in the Czech Republic had asked to be evacuated.

Meanwhile, the mayor of Zhytomyr, Serhiy Sukhomlyn, said the city located 140 kilometers west of Kyiv recorded its first coronavirus infection.

Sukhomlyn said the patient, aged 56, had recently returned from Austria.

As of March 19, there were 21 confirmed cases of the respiratory illness in six regions and the capital, Kyiv, the Health Ministry said.

Meanwhile, Ukraine recorded its third death linked to COVID-19 in the western Ivano-Frankivsk region.

An elderly woman died one day after visiting a hospital with severe flu-like symptoms, according to the Health Ministry.

Russia

Russian officials have reported the country’s first death connected to the coronavirus outbreak, but quickly backtracked, saying an elderly woman perished due to a detached blood clot.

The Moscow health department said on March 19 that the 79-year-old, who had tested positive for COVID-19, died in a Moscow hospital from pneumonia related to the virus.

Svetlana Krasnova, head doctor at Moscow’s hospital No. 2 for infectious diseases, said in a statement that the woman had been admitted with “a host of chronic diseases,” including type 2 diabetes and heart problems.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin then confirmed the coronavirus-releated death, saying on Twitter, “Unfortunately, we have the first loss from the coronavirus infection.”

Hours later, however, health officials put out another statement saying an autopsy had confirmed the woman had died of a blood clot.

A subsequent official tally of the number of official coronavirus cases in Russia showed 199 confirmed infections but no deaths.

It was not clear whether the woman’s death would eventually be counted as a result of the virus.

Though President Vladimir Putin said earlier this week that the situation was “generally under control,” many Russians have shown a distrust for official claims over the virus, and fear the true situation is much worse than they are being told.

Amid a recent rise in the number of cases, officials have temporarily barred entry to foreigners and imposed restrictions on flights and public gatherings.

The national health watchdog on March 19 tightened restrictions for all travellers from abroad with a decree requiring “all individuals arriving to Russia” to be isolated, either at home or elsewhere.

Serbia

Serbia has closed its main airport for all passenger flights and said it will shut its borders for all but freight traffic in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The government banned commercial flights to and from the Nikola Tesla Airport in Belgrade on March 19.

However, the airport will remain open to humanitarian and cargo flights, according to the Ministry of Construction, Traffic, and Infrastructure.

Later in the day, President Aleksandar Vucic said that as of March 20, Serbia’s border crossings will be closed for all passenger road and rail transport.

“Nothing but trucks will be allowed to enter,” Vucic said. “From noon tomorrow we will also halt commercial passenger transport inside the country.”

The move comes after some 70,000 Serbs working in Western Europe and their families returned to Serbia in the last few days despite appeals by authorities not to do so.

Serbia currently has 103 confirmed coronavirus cases, with no fatalities.

The Balkan country had already imposed a state of emergency, introduced a night curfew for all citizens, and ordered the elderly to stay indoors.

Pakistan

Authorities in Pakistan have closed shrines of Sufi saints in the capital, Islamabad, and elsewhere while access to museums, archaeological, and tourist sites have been banned as confirmed coronavirus cases jumped to 301, mostly in pilgrims returning from Iran.

Two Pakistanis who had returned from Saudi Arabia and Dubai became the country’s first victims when they died on March 18 in the northwest.

Schools have already been shut in Pakistan.

Thousands of Pakistanis, mostly pilgrims, have been placed into quarantine in recent weeks at the Taftan border crossing in the country’s southwestern province of Balochistan after returning from Iran, one of the world’s worst affected countries.

Pakistani authorities on March 19 plan to quarantine hundreds more pilgrims who returned from Iran. These pilgrims will be kept at isolated buildings in central Pakistan for 14 days.

Uzbekistan

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev’s influential son-in-law says police have identified individuals who allegedly published the names of Uzbek nationals who tested positive for the new coronavirus.

Otabek Umarov, who is also the deputy head of the president’s personal security, said on Instagram that officials are now trying to determine the legality of the perpetrators’ actions.

A joint working group set up by the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor-General’s Office has also identified 33 social media accounts involved in “disseminating false information that provokes panic among people,” Umarov wrote.

He called the accounts a “betrayal” of the country and a matter of “national security.”

Umarov’s comments come amid a campaign by the Uzbek government to crack down on information that incites panic and fear among the public amid the coronavirus crisis.

On March 16, the country’s Justice Ministry said that, according to Uzbek law, those involved in preparing materials with the intention of inciting panic — and those storing such materials with the intent to distribute them — will face up to ,400 in fines or up to three years in prison.

Those who spread such information through media and the Internet face up to eight years in prison, the ministry added.

The statement came a day after the Central Asian nation announced its first confirmed coronavirus infection, which prompted the government to introduce sweeping measures to contain the outbreak, including closing its borders, suspending international flights, closing schools, and banning public gatherings.

The number of infections had risen to 23 as of the morning of March 19, the Health Ministry said.

The ministry said that the 23 individuals are all Uzbek nationals who had returned home from Europe, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.

The Health Ministry regularly updates its social media accounts with information on the outbreak in Uzbekistan. Posts are frequently accompanied by the hashtag “quarantine without panic” in both Uzbek and Russian.

Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan

The Kazakh national currency, the tenge, has continued to weaken sharply as the number of coronavirus cases in the oil-rich Central Asian nation reached 44.

Many exchange points in Nur-Sultan, the capital, and the former Soviet republic’s largest city, Almaty, did not sell U.S. dollars or euros on March 19, while some offered 471 tenges for id=”listicle-2645571641″, more than 25 percent weaker than in early March when the rate was around 375 tenges.

The tenge has plunged to all-time lows in recent days following an abrupt fall in oil prices and chaos in the world’s stock markets caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

The Kazakh Health Ministry said on March 19 that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country had increased by seven to 44.

In neighboring Kyrgyzstan, three people, who returned home from Saudi Arabia several days ago, tested positive for the virus, which led to three villages being sealed off in the southern Jalal-Abad region.

In two other Central Asian nations, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, no coronavirus cases have been officially recorded to date.

Armenia

A relative of an Armenian woman blamed for spreading the coronavirus in the South Caucasus country alleges that criminal offenses have been committed against members of their family.

It emerged last week that the woman had traveled from Italy before attending a family gathering with dozens of guests in the city of Echmiadzin, disregarding health warnings about the coronavirus pandemic.

The woman, whose name was not released, later tested positive for the virus and was hospitalized. Dozens of other people who attended the gathering were placed under a 14-day quarantine.

Armenia has reported a total of 122 cases so far, including dozens in Echmiadzin. It has not yet reported any deaths.

Echmiadzin was locked down and a nationwide state of emergency has been announced in a bid to slow the spread of infection in Armenia.

Many on social media in Armenia expressed anger over what they said was irresponsible behavior by the woman.

Some ridiculed the woman and used offensive language against her. A photo of her also was posted online.

The woman’s lawyer, Gohar Hovhannisian, said that one of her relatives who lives abroad filed a complaint with the public prosecutor on March 17.

The complaint alleges that personal information about infected people was illegally obtained and published by the press and social media along with insults and photographs.

“It affects the mental state of a person. Imagine that a person is sick and such language is used against her or him and her or his personal data are published,” Hovhannisian said.

The Prosecutor-General’s Office forwarded the report to police to investigate the case.

Human rights activist Zaruhi Hovhannisian, who is not related to the lawyer, noted that the protection of personal data is enshrined in Armenia’s law. He said that disclosure of personal data in this case made it possible to identify the infected woman.

“Moreover, under the law on medical care and public services it is forbidden to disclose medical secrets, talk about people’s medical examinations and the course of their treatment as well as to pass these data to third parties,” the activist said.

Earlier this week, a shop owner in Yerevan filed a complaint with police alleging that he had been attacked by three relatives of the woman in question for posting a joke about her on Facebook.

Police said they had identified and questioned three people over that complaint. But the authorities did not reveal their identities.

Azerbaijan

The Azerbaijani capital, Baku, has been sealed off to slow the spread of the coronavirus in the South Caucasus state.

According to a government decision, as of March 19 entrance to Baku, the nearby city of Sumqayit, and the Abseron district has been banned for all cars, except ambulances, cargo trucks, and vehicles carrying rescue teams and road accident brigades. The measure will run until at least March 29.

All railway links between Baku, Sumqayit and the Abseron district, and the rest of the country were also suspended.

Azerbaijan has reported 34 confirmed coronavirus cases, with one fatality.

In neighboring Armenia, where authorities announced a state of emergency until April 16, the number of coronavirus cases is 115.

Elsewhere in the South Caucasus, Georgia, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases reached 40.

Afghanistan

The United States is temporarily suspending the movement of new soldiers into Afghanistan as a way of protecting them from the coronavirus outbreak.

U.S. Army General Scott Miller said in a March 19 statement that the move could mean that some of the troops already on the ground in Afghanistan may have their deployments extended to ensure that the NATO-led Resolute Support mission continues.

“To preserve our currently healthy force, Resolute Support is making the necessary adjustments to temporarily pause personnel movement into the theater,” he said.

“We are closely monitoring, continually assessing and adjusting our operations so we can continue to protect the national interests of the NATO allies and partners here in Afghanistan,” he added.

About 1,500 troops and civilians who recently arrived in Afghanistan have been quarantined, Miller said, stressing that this was purely a precautionary measure and “not because they are sick.”

Earlier this month, the United States began reducing its troop presence in Afghanistan as part of a peace deal signed in February with the Taliban.

The agreement sees an initial reduction of U.S. troops in Afghanistan from about 13,000 to 8,600 soldiers.

Miller did not mention the agreement in his statement.

So far, 21 U.S. and coalition staff exhibiting flu-like symptoms are in isolation and receiving medical care, Miller’s statement said.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.


MIGHTY SURVIVAL

What to expect when flying on United, American, Delta, Southwest during pandemic: comparison

Over the course of four weeks in June, I flew seven flights on the largest airlines in the US including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and Southwest Airlines.

After on flight on Delta, two flights on American, two flights on United, and two flights on Southwest, I’ve been adequately reacquainted with flying having been grounded since February.

The experiences have been unlike anything I’ve seen before in a lifetime of flying with each airline having its own, unique way of handling the pandemic. No two airlines have been exactly alike on any of my journeys and seemingly ever-changing policies are creating confusion for passengers.


Social distancing, for example, has different definitions depending on what airline you fly on. Some airlines have chosen to block middle seats and limit capacity in an effort to achieve social distancing while others have given up entirely or only give the appearance of social distancing.

Here’s what you can expect on each airline.

American Airlines

Blocking middle seats or allowing free flight changes

Starting July 1, American began filling its flights to capacity and not blocking any middle seats. If a passenger is on a crowded flight, there is an option to change flights free of charge to an alternate flight, if there is one available.

Middle seats can be selected in advance and passengers flying in basic economy may be automatically assigned a middle seat, even if other aisle or window seats are available. Only check-in or gate agents typically have the power to change seat assignments if a passenger isn’t happy with their seat location.

American has not stated what factors determine whether the option to change flights is offered. The airline has been operating a reduced flying schedule so alternate flights have not always been available for passengers but an airline spokesperson told Business Insider that more flights being flown starting July 7 should give passengers more options.

Boarding

American operates a normal boarding process and passengers still board in their assigned groups, which vary based on seat location, fare type, and elite status. First class still boards first and basic economy boards last, regardless of seat location.

This results in economy passengers in the back of the plane walking through an entire aircraft of people before arriving at their seat.

Signage at the gate informs passengers that masks are required and that the airline has adopted new cleaning standards but does not go into detail.

Onboard the aircraft

American is limiting the in-flight service depending on the duration of the flight. Flights under 2,200 miles will no longer have a snack or drink service with non-alcoholic canned or bottled beverages being served on request in economy.

Flights greater than 2,200 miles will see a beverage service but no snack service in economy. The airline will also not distribute wipes or hand sanitizer kits to passengers upon boarding or as part of the in-flight service.

Deplaning

Flight attendants on American are typically asking passengers to remain seated until it is time for their row to deplane.

Delta Air Lines

Blocking middle seats or allowing free flight changes

Delta is blocking middle seats and certain aisle seats on its flights until September 30. Passengers who still do not wish to travel on a crowded flight even with the capacity restriction will have the option to request a free rebooking to a later flight, a Delta spokesperson confirmed to Business Insider.

Boarding

Delta is boarding its aircraft back to front with passengers being asked to remain seated until their row is called. Elite status holders and first class flyers can still board first.

Signage at the gate area informs passengers that aircraft are being “sanitized and inspected,” asks passengers to social distance, and reminds passengers that face coverings are required onboard the aircraft.

The airline has also installed placards both on the floor and in jetways at hub and outstation airports reminding passengers to social distance. In its Atlanta hub, Delta employees were distributing hand sanitizer to passengers of all airlines after the security checkpoint.

In-flight service

The traditional in-flight snack and beverage service has been replaced by flight attendants distributing a sealed bag containing snacks, a water bottle, and sanitary products.

Deplaning

Flight attendants did not ask passengers to stay seated during the deplaning process.

United Airlines

Blocking middle seats or allowing free flight changes

United is not blocking middle seats but won’t assign them until there are no more aisle or window seats to assign. Passengers on flights with greater than 70% capacity will have the option to change their flight for free but as United’s flying schedule has been reduced due to the pandemic, options are limited.

Boarding

United is boarding its aircraft back to front with first class passengers and elites still boarding first. Economy passengers are boarded from the last row forward in groups of five rows.

Gate agents are asking passengers to scan their own boarding passes when they board to reduce interactions between staff and passengers. Every passenger is given a sanitary wipe when they step on the plane that can be used to clean the seat.

Signage at the gate area informs United passengers of the sanitary measures the airline is taking including requiring face masks to be worn and the new fogging procedures. The displays, however, were inconsistent and were only prominent at United’s hubs and not outstations.

In-flight service

United has suspended the in-flight snack and beverage service for shorter flights in economy, including those less than two hours and 20 minutes. Passengers can, however, request beverages from the flight attendant.

On flights longer than two hours and 20 minutes, passengers in economy will receive a snack bag that includes a sanitary wipe, water bottle, stroopwafel snack, and package of pretzels.

Deplaning

Flight attendants on United are typically asking passengers to remain seated until it is time for their row to deplane.

Southwest Airlines

Blocking middle seats or allowing free flight change

Southwest is limiting capacity by around one-third so that there is only a maximum of two people in each row, with exceptions for family. The airline does not assign seats in advance.

Boarding

Southwest is boarding its aircraft in groups of 10 based on a boarding number given at check-in. The system is similar to the airline’s current procedure except only 10 passengers line up and board at a time instead of 30.

Some airports were not following the rule of 10 procedure, as I found on a recent Southwest flight, and passengers who boarded first chose to sit in the front of the plane. As Southwest allows for open seating, this meant passengers boarding last would have to walk passed crowded rows of people.

There is some signage at the gate asking passengers to social distance and informing them of the new boarding procedure but no visuals or anything pertaining to the airline’s new cleaning procedure.

In-flight service

Southwest is suspending the in-flight service on flights under 250 miles. Passengers on flights over that threshold will receive a cup of ice water and a snack bag served by flight attendants.

Deplaning

Flight attendants did not ask passengers to stay seated during the deplaning process.

The Winner

Delta Air Lines is the clear winner here as nearly every aspect of a flight has been revised to become more passenger-friendly during this pandemic while not compromising too much on service. From placards and informational signage in the gate area to blocking middle seats and maintaining an in-flight service, albeit limited, Delta is leading the way in multiple aspects.

Southwest Airlines comes in a close second with the low-cost airline earning its reputation for good customer service even more so during this crisis. The only downsides were the boarding process, the lack of informational signage at the gate area that I found on most other airlines, and a lack of consistency in staff following the new procedures.

United Airlines is the second-runner up mainly because I found its policies to be more empty gestures than actually helpful. The airline is offering free flight changes despite having few back-up options and restricting the advance selection of middle seats rather than blocking them but are still allowing flights to fill up,

United did have some positives in that it revised its boarding procedure and offered sanitary wipes upon boarding but I did find a lack of consistency in informational signage at different airports. Flights on United were boring, above all, as the in-flight service was also suspended.

American Airlines was the least passenger-friendly airline I found on my travels with a complete lack of social distancing policies and abandonment of in-flight service on most of its domestic flights. It’s largely business as usual when flying on American as if there is no pandemic occurring, with the airline happy to assign middle seats to basic economy passengers when entire empty rows are available and keep the standard boarding procedure.

I will say, however, that all aircraft I flew on from all airlines were clean and I was never worried I was getting on a dirty aircraft.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY SURVIVAL

The Army plans to issue ‘black or camouflage’ face masks to soldiers

The U.S. Army‘s top enlisted soldier said Tuesday that the service plans to issue some type of non-surgical mask to troops to help control the spread of the novel coronavirus.

During an Army Facebook Live on Tuesday, Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston said that soldiers should follow the face-covering guidance the service issued Monday evening until it can provide masks for them.


“We are going to get you the masks,” he said. “In the near term, we will get you something either black or camouflage to put on.”

Grinston gave no other details, but Army officials confirmed to Military.com that the service is working on a plan to eventually issue some type of masks to soldiers and will release details in the near future.

The Army issued broad guidance regarding a Pentagon announcement Sunday that service members, family members and other personnel may make their own face coverings to wear when social distancing is not possible.

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The Air Force began making their own masks in order to protect airmen in positions that make social distancing difficult.

Soldiers are authorized to wear the “neck gaiter and other cloth items, such as bandanas and scarves, as face coverings,” according to the guidance.

“To protect the facial area, the cloth item must cover the mouth and nose and extend to the chin or below as well as to the sides of the face,” Lt. Col. Emanuel Ortiz, an Army spokesman, told Military.com. “It must be secured or fastened to the face in a manner that allows the soldier to breathe while also preventing disease exposure or contamination.”

Soldiers should not cut up Army Combat Uniforms to use as face coverings since they are chemically treated to reduce wrinkles.

“Our uniforms are treated with chemicals for various reasons, so we do not want people using these uniforms and putting them close to their face,” Army Chief of Staff James McConville said during the Facebook Live event.

The color of the masks is up to unit leaders, Army officials said, but Grinston added that homemade masks should look as professional as possible.

“You’ve got either a … black neck gaiter, brown, some kind of scarf — that’s fine,” he said. “Use common sense. I don’t want to see any skull and crossbones on your face — maybe a brown or something that looks somewhat professional.”

Surgical masks and N95 respirators are in short supply and should be reserved for health care workers or other medical first responders, as recommended by CDC guidance, Ortiz said.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY SURVIVAL

Worried about coronavirus? Take this infection-control course online

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to uproot life around the world, it’s easy to feel, well, uneasy. After all, there are a lot of unknowns. But there are plenty of ways to arm yourself with proper information and feel a bit more grounded. Doctors, for instance, are all mandated to take state-mandated infection courses online. Available to the public, and free unless someone wants to take a test to pass, the courses offer a wealth of public information. While they are a bit of a slog to read (and nary an educational video in sight) they’re helpful for anyone who wants to know everything from if their bleach is strong enough to kill bacteria or how to put on gloves without covering them in germs.


So, which courses might be useful? One, administered by Access Continuing Education Inc., intended for doctors in New York State, and aptly (and drily) titled Infection Control: New York State Mandatory Training, contains a wealth of worthwhile information. The course isn’t like a typical virtual classroom — there are no teachers, no video sessions, and no mandated quizzes at the end. There are no hours required to finish the course and each ‘Element,’ a full-text article that reads about a page long, touches on a different process of how to limit transmission.

Is it an exciting read? No, but the pages are full of very, very important information, including hand washing technique, what the proper etiquette and technique is when coughing, and how to clean spills of bodily fluids. Other relevant information for parents within the text include what protective gear people can wear to limit transmission (including gloves, masks, and goggles) and how to put them on while also keeping them clean. The text also defines the different levels of sterilization and what recommended, medical grade sterilizers can be used and how to dilute bleach.

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Now, a large chunk of the course does focus on safe usage of needles — which is not exactly relevant for parents and Coronavirus — but the text is free to read online for anyone who wants to be educated on best practices and how to stay safe. There’s a test at the end of the course, which does not need to be taken, obviously, as parents could just be reading this for their own information, but could be fun if you’re very, very bored.

The average parent won’t be using scalpels or lancets, but they can learn the differences between cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, learn how professionals limit potential exposure from patients when dealing with infectious diseases, and learn strategies for how to limit the spread of pathogens in the home and use those in their own spaces.

Knowledge, at a time like this, can be empowering. It can also be scary if that knowledge is not actionable. That’s why these courses are an excellent resource. They provide parents a sense of control of a situation over which no one has control. They can help parents do all that they can to help keep their families healthy. And that is what it will take to limit the spread of this disease: serious, educated action, social distancing, and disinfecting.

This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

MIGHTY SURVIVAL

5 vintage hacks for surviving the quarantine

The world has gone straight past the hipster phase of just looking vintage, and right into recalling the bygone era of the Great Depression culture. Long before zero waste was made cool, lived a generation who were thriftier than you could ever hope to be. We’re taking a page out of their book for some vintage life hacks coming in handy right about now.


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live.staticflickr.com

It’s better with bacon

Everyday staples are disappearing from the shelves, and stockpiles only last so long. The next time you fry, take the excess bacon grease and store it in the fridge for a delicious addition to your oily arsenal. Southern vegetables have a reputation of not being vegan for a reason…bacon!

Spread your meat 

Meat can be a luxury and getting the most per pound right now counts. Sorry bodybuilders, your entire chicken breast per meal might not be possible these days. Swapping meat for lentils, adding mushrooms to meatballs, or simply cutting the beef portions is smart quarantine meal prep.

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Regrow it

Celery, green onions, romaine stalks and more are all possible to regrow quickly and simply at home. Double your fresh food lifespan by searching to see everything you can count on to regrow and yield a whole new batch without having to plant in the ground.

Stocking up 

It’s funny how every American now loves soup. Soup stocks and broths are one item missing from the shelf yet are incredibly easy to make at home with a little forward-thinking. Save the scraps of celery, carrots, onions and herbs and toss them into the freezer for safekeeping. As is, you have the ingredients to make a delicious vegetable broth, but add in beef, chicken bones and even a little of that bacon grease to add depth.

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Grow your own

Forecasts are showing we might be staying thrifty for a while. Want to guarantee the foods you want will always be in stock? Grow your own “Victory Garden” to combat any sort of shortage in your area. Years ago, neighborhoods and whole communities joined forces to swap produce, keeping everyone fed.

MIGHTY CULTURE

7 hysterical realities of being a ‘Zoom Soldier’

It’s finally here — the point in which playing Call of Duty might actually become relevant to your military career. In the extra weird era of “Zoom soldiers,” virtual training (to no one’s surprise) isn’t as great as it likely sounded when some general in the Pentagon thought it up (sorry, sir). Get soldiers together over their computer screens and execute training as usual. What could go wrong? Well, a lot actually.


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Virtual missions

Congratulations, you have been selected to lead today’s attack on a Taliban stronghold. You are in charge of a 40-man infantry platoon and have at your disposal the most lethal and casualty-producing weapons available to the U.S. Army. Ready? Oh, one more thing: The Taliban stronghold is imaginary and your platoon is ten of your peers linked up over computers. Welcome to combat training in the Zoom era.

Everyone’s a super soldier

You are handed a map with your location and the location of the enemy and after planning, start your movement. Cue the unrealistic battlefield conditions and superhuman feats by you and the enemy. Do you have a 5-click movement to the objective? Too easy, you can “walk” that in two minutes over Zoom for “time constraints.” Need to call for air support? They arrive within 15 seconds tops and damn, your grid is on point.

Cadre are unsurprisingly biased

Recocking sucked before but reaches a whole new level of stupid in a virtual training lane. Unfortunately for you, the guy running the Zoom room is being a really d-bag today and all 20 rounds you fired on your pre-planned targets were misses. Instead of safety violations or hitting the wrong building, getting a pass depends on who’s feeling bored AF in their pajamas this morning.

There’s a mute button for that

The best thing ever just happened to safety briefs, newly promoted monologues from Sergeant Smith, and all the other pointless crap you had to listen attentively to before…a mute button. Is there anything more satisfying than muting your superior while playing COD on silent under the desk? I think not.

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No one’s looking this put-together every morning anymore.

What grooming standards

We’re not saying it’s true, but grooming accountability may or may not be as easy as a few outfit changes after you finally get around to shaving. No fresh haircut? Sorry, my camera function isn’t working today for the call.

Dang, my internet broke 

Have you ever had to face the wrath of showing up late, oversleeping or just plain forgetting? Virtually, there’s an excuse for that. Due to “unforeseen” circumstances, that 7 am phone call I missed was because of the Wi-Fi going down. Definitely not because I overslept, no way.

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When did PT become a group fitness class?

“PT is the most important part of every soldier’s day” – Every CSM in history. Oh, you thought COVID19 would let you slack off a little on working out? Well you thought wrong. Your Platoon Sergeant has made it very clear you will still execute PT every day and you have to show proof of doing the exercises. Better be ready to both hold your phone for video and do push-ups at the same time. You haven’t experienced true horror until you hear the words “the bend and reach” over a Zoom call and realize it’s not a joke.

MIGHTY CULTURE

5 tips for leading during COVID-19, from the Sergeant Major of the Army

Across the military, service members and their families are working through the new normal brought about by COVID-19. Everyone is dealing with a fair amount of stress and we understand how important great leadership is right now. So, we reached out to the Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston (socially distanced, of course) to get his advice for leaders while we work through this pandemic.

He opened up his green notebook and provided the following insights.


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Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Grinston, senior enlisted leader for Army Forces Command, presents the FORSCOM Eagle Award during a ceremony Jan. 9, 2019.

Department of Defense

1. Lead differently

Leadership matters right now. This isn’t harder than what is required of leaders in combat, but it is a very difficult time. In combat, you can physically bring everyone together. Now, how do you lead during this time of uncertainty? How do you get the information out? How do you make sure they stay the course? How do you make sure your soldiers are following orders –- which in some cases may be to stay at home and keep everyone healthy?

Everyone agrees that face-to-face leadership is the best and leaders can tell a lot about someone’s emotional condition by looking them in the eyes. We still have to do it. Don’t fall in the trap of relying on text messages to communicate. I recommend leaders develop a communications PACE plan. Make video chats your primary means of communication. If that isn’t available, make a phone call so you can hear their voice. Finally, leaders can use text and email to keep the lines of communication open.

Remember, these are difficult times and leadership is what is going to make the difference for the people in your formation.

2. Get innovative

There are so many opportunities right now for leaders to get innovative with how they maintain readiness and keep their soldiers motivated.

For example, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, a battalion conducted an individual 6-mile foot march competition. Everyone used either cell phone apps or GPS watches to track their progress and then posted their times online. The winner with the fastest time received an Army Achievement Medal.

Another unit in Poland conducted EIB training, but included hand-washing and social distancing enforcement during the event.

At the Department of Army level, we are looking for ways to maintain readiness. We started running the Basic Army Leader Course via distance learning. I expect the same of our leaders down at the unit level — look for innovative ways to accomplish the mission.

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Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston visited the U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston Jan. 15.

Department of Defense

3. Stay ready

We all have a responsibility to maintain our fitness and stay focused on personal readiness during this period.

We also have a responsibility and a great opportunity to focus on the operational readiness rate of our equipment so that when we come back to train, our vehicles and weapons are ready to go. Leaders can take advantage of this pause in training to bring mechanics and crews in to bring equipment up to 10/20 standard.

4. Stay informed

Besides company-level leadership keeping soldiers and their families informed, there are also plenty of opportunities to stay up-to-date on the latest news by Department of the Army and Garrison Commands.

I know that unit-level leaders are doing weekly virtual town halls, most garrisons are doing them several times a week and we have done a few at the Army level. Don’t rely on hearsay to get your information; tune-in and stay informed with facts.

5. Set goals

Treat this period like a deployment. We not only want to survive it, we also want to thrive in it. A great way to do this is to set personal and professional goals.

Gyms are closed and many of the conditions we had pre-coronavirus have changed. So, we need to reassess our goals. While we can’t go to gyms, there are workouts we can do in our living rooms to stay fit. Look for opportunities; there might be online courses or credentialing classes that you can take advantage of to achieve professional goals.

I recommend everyone try to figure out some kind of routine to work toward your goals. Don’t wake up everyday and muddle through it — keep moving forward.

A Proud SMA

At the end of our interview, SMA Grinston shared how proud he was of our Army’s efforts to #KilltheVirus; from researching a vaccine to preventative measures and treatment efforts. He also applauded the efforts of our National Guard and Reserve forces who are bearing a large burden of the response efforts across the country.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Back to School: What IEP parents need to be doing right now

The biggest thing that I was not prepared for when the Coronavirus pandemic shut down our schools? Becoming a teacher to all four school-aged children, all in differing grade levels — and one being an IEP student.


(For those that don’t know, an IEP student is a student with educational needs addressed by an Individualized Education Plan.) And I wasn’t alone, families across America had the same struggle, and my mind constantly was the fear of regression for my IEP child, as she was finally making headway in her studies.

Even if your child does not have an IEP, I urge you to familiarize yourself with the process at your school.

“We are all a breath away from a disability.” -MJ Boice said during a Facebook live I watched, and her statement stuck with me. I never expected my daughter to need me to be a fierce advocate so that she could access appropriate health services and have a proper education. It became evident that she needed help after our PCS to Jacksonville, where she was placed in a school that for a variety of reasons, was not a good fit for her. We withdrew before the end of the year, as we felt that we could do a better job of preparing her for First Grade.

From the moment I requested that my daughter be evaluated at her new school, she started receiving additional services at school, such as tutoring and speech therapies, thanks to her school’s very proactive approach to IEPs. Throughout this time, she had been receiving Occupational Therapy outside of school, which was moved to an in-school service after her IEP was issued, allowing her to be more present during her therapy days instead of being pulled out early before the end of the day to drive across town. However, this also meant that when school was shut down, until we got her online, she wasn’t receiving any therapies for about two weeks.

Across the United States, IEP children were either going without services entirely or being forced to access services in a new way online, which for children like my own daughter, was a rough adjustment. Military families found ourselves without respite, some of us had deployed spouses, and many of us had to choose between continuing to work or taking over our child’s education.

More than ever, IEP parents must advocate right now for our children.

As we head into a new school year, some schools across the nation are continuing to rely on distance learning while others are giving parents the option to distance learn at home — and some districts are mandating that you cannot receive IEP services while distance learning, almost forcing IEP students back into schools to receive their services, many of which are even immunocompromised due to their disabilities.

If you don’t know where to begin, start with an IEP binder.

My binders are organized by school year and divided into sections. In the front is the IEP for that year with logs of meetings and any missed services. If my daughter missed a session at home, I logged it and the reason why she was unable to make that session. Next is a log of every specialist she sees, when and why she saw them, the results of those visits, and their contact information.

If my child goes back to school and lacks goals that she previously attained, these logs will help me advocate properly for her because I’ll know exactly why, when, and even possibly how things happened into the present.

Keep all present-level assessments and performance paperwork.

This makes up the next tab of my folder – any assessments, performance paperwork sent home throughout the year, and any report cards. This can help me and her IEP team see a pattern over a period of time, even years, so we can ensure that she progresses.

My final tab in our yearly binder is a Miscellaneous/Notes section.

I personally am a fan of recording IEP meetings and then transcribing them into this section for my personal records, which could make for some great fun in future meetings if I ever quote anyone. “Ms. K., according to my records which are based on audio recordings of our IEP meetings, it shows you said x,y,z, in our meeting two years ago regarding this matter.” It sounds a little crazy, but it is hard for people to argue with themselves. Extensive records are also helpful when we move, as we all know how hard it can be to get new services set in place for our neediest children — the best thing we can do is lay it all out for the gaining school so that an IEP and services can be put into place as soon as possible.

Partners in Promise is also a great resource for IEP families, and is currently introducing legislation that would make it easier for children to take an IEP with them to a gaining school and allow the IEP to remain in place for six months.

This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY SURVIVAL

The Wuhan coronavirus has officially spread to every region in China

The deadly coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China, has officially spread to every region of the country.


Cases of the Wuhan coronavirus, officially called 2019 n-CoV, have been confirmed in all 34 of China’s major regions, after the National Health Commission said Thursday that a person in the southwestern frontier region of Tibet had contracted the disease.

There are now 7,711 confirmed cases on the Chinese mainland, with 10 in Hong Kong, seven in Macau, and eight in Taiwan.

As of Thursday at least 170 people had died from the virus, all of them in China.

The map below, produced by Johns Hopkins University, shows China, with each red dot representing an area that has reported cases of the virus. The larger the red circle, the greater the number of cases:

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2F5e32b21c24306a6ef7417f93%3Fwidth%3D1300%26format%3Djpeg%26auto%3Dwebp&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fi.insider.com&s=715&h=0a653a1b90880e491527ffcf8d7cc600d0af8fe58b045f557aa56dad369d9ee5&size=980x&c=2098743097 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252F5e32b21c24306a6ef7417f93%253Fwidth%253D1300%2526format%253Djpeg%2526auto%253Dwebp%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fi.insider.com%26s%3D715%26h%3D0a653a1b90880e491527ffcf8d7cc600d0af8fe58b045f557aa56dad369d9ee5%26size%3D980x%26c%3D2098743097%22%7D” expand=1]

Johns Hopkins University

The virus, which originated in the central city of Wuhan in early December, has spread rapidly in the past few weeks.

There are confirmed cases in Qinghai, Xinjiang, and Tibet, the three most remote regions in the country.

The coronavirus had remained largely in Wuhan, its province Hubei, and other surrounding provinces in central China. Of the confirmed cases of the virus, more than 4,500 — or about 60% — are in Hubei province.

But it has spread rapidly over the past two weeks thanks in part to the mass travel carried out by millions of citizens in the run-up to the Lunar New Year, which took place Saturday.

upload.wikimedia.org

On Wednesday, the NHC confirmed that the number of confirmed cases of the Wuhan coronavirus in mainland China officially eclipsed the number of SARS cases in the mainland during its 2002-2003 outbreak.

The number of SARS cases on the mainland topped out at 5,327, though there were close to 8,100 cases of SARS globally during the epidemic.

China is taking aggressive measures to try to prevent the virus from spreading, including quarantining Wuhan and many other cities in Hubei province and seeking to build two new hospitals in Wuhan in under a week.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY SURVIVAL

Thunderbirds wow Las Vegas with tribute flight to healthcare workers in COVID-19 crisis

The U.S. Air Force flight demonstration team, the Thunderbirds, performed an inspiring flyover of the greater Las Vegas area on Saturday, April 11, 2020 in honor of healthcare workers and first responders working during the international COVID-19 crisis.

The flight, which included all six of the Thunderbird F-16s in wedge formation along with at least two camera aircraft accompanying the aircraft, took place at 2:30 PM local Las Vegas time and was watched by hundreds of thousands of spectators who were separated all over Las Vegas by social distancing guidelines.


Vegas Goes Blue Flyover

www.youtube.com

Local media, aviation photographers around Las Vegas, and the Thunderbirds produced some sensational visuals of the event. Interestingly, the team carried out the flyover in 5 instead of 6 jets because, according to local spotters, one of the F-16s experienced a birdstrike shortly after taking off from Nellis Air Force Base.

One fascinating photo featured on the local Las Vegas Review Journal social media pages showed the Thunderbird formation flying over the famous Luxor pyramid-shaped hotel with five “Janet Airlines” Boeing 737s parked at McCarran International Airport. The aircraft, perhaps the “worst kept secret in the world”, fly personnel to several classified test facilities around the western U.S.

A statement on the official Air Force Thunderbirds Twitter page said, “We salute the healthcare workers and first responders who are at the forefront of our nation’s fight against COVID-19. They are an inspiration for the entire country during these challenging times and it was an honor to fly for them today.”

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The Thunderbirds shared their flyover time and route across social media before the flight so people in Las Vegas could view the flyover while maintaining social distancing guidelines.

(Photos Credit: 57th Wing Commander via Facebook)

One photo also showed special markings applied to the lower, ventral fins on the Thunderbird F-16s with the social media hashtag #vegasgoesblue in honor of healthcare workers.

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The Thunderbirds F-16s showed up with new, special markings for the flyover.

(Photos Credit: Air Force Thunderbirds via Facebook)

Nellis AFB, just outside Las Vegas, Nevada, has a long history of supporting the community through triumph and tragedy under the leadership of 57th Wing Commander Brig. Gen. Robert G. Novotny. Following the tragic October 1, 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, the 57th Wing honored health care workers, first responders, survivors and memorialized victims of the tragedy with two specially painted aircraft, an F-16 and an F-15, wearing the moniker “Vegas Strong”.

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First responders around Las Vegas maintained social distancing while watching the Thunderbird flyover.

(Photos Credit: 57th Wing Commander via Facebook)

Brig. Gen. Novotny and the entire 57th Wing, have consistently led the U.S. military’s effective use of social media not only with the public affairs outreach by the Thunderbirds, but through a host of other initiatives that showcase the Air Force mission and personnel performing the Air Force mission every day at Nellis AFB and around the world.

The version below includes the air-to-air comms.

www.facebook.com

This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.

MIGHTY SURVIVAL

As COVID-19 Hits Russia, A Self-Styled Psychic Healer And Soviet-Era Icon Returns

MOSCOW — Last week, Russians of a certain age saw a familiar face return to their screens. Anatoly Kashpirovsky, a self-styled psychic healer who entranced TV audiences as the Soviet Union was coming apart three decades ago, is back as an octogenarian YouTuber offering solace as the coronavirus spreads.

And some are taking what he has to offer, apparently, helping revive the career of a man who had become an almost forgotten symbol of a time when desperation ran high.


Almost 250,000 viewers have watched Healing Seance, a video posted on April 9 to Kashpirovsky’s channel on YouTube:

Кашпировский: Оздоровительный сеанс. Прямой эфир из Москвы. 09.04.2020г.

www.youtube.com

He sits immobile against a background of beige wallpaper and asks viewers to cover their eyes with their hands — not normally advisable as a pandemic rages.

“Over the coming days,” he says toward the end of what is essentially an hourlong monologue, “comments will keep coming in from people who have been cured.”

Kashpirovsky, now 80, achieved celebrity status in the Soviet Union through a series of televised sessions beginning in 1989 — two years before the country ceased to exist. Fixing his steely gaze on viewers who sat at home, some transfixed, he claimed powers to cure the sick and heal a nation that was hurting from the effects of economic decline.

At the peak of his celebrity in the early 1990s, Kashpirovsky was traveling the country to appear before packed halls and placed second only to President Boris Yeltsin in surveys of Russia’s most popular public figures.

In the waning days of the U.S.S.R. and the early years after its collapse, millions of people looking for meaning amid the chaos of change and stark economic challenges turned for relief to people like Kashpirovsky, who years earlier might have risked being sent by the Soviet state to a psychiatric hospital but now found a prominent place on prime-time television.

Early Morning Psychics

Kashpirovsky was not alone. Hundreds of thousands watched Allan Chumak, his main rival, as he flailed his arms in a “healing” ritual on his early morning TV slot. Viewers would place water bottles or tubs of cream in front of their TV sets to “charge” them with Chumak’s energy, which the mystic claimed was enough to heal ailments if drunk or smeared on the skin.

Kashpirovsky’s most famous stunt came in March 1989, when he appeared on a screen inside an operating room in Tbilisi, Georgia, via video link from Ukraine, and proceeded to guide a woman who could not use anesthesia through open abdominal surgery.

“Now everyone who watched me can go to the dentist and have their tooth pulled,” he told viewers afterward. “There will be no pain at all.”

The woman, Lesya Yershova, said in an interview several months later that she had felt “terrible pain” throughout the operation, which required a 40-centimeter incision, and had only cooperated because she didn’t want to let Kashpirovsky down. She agreed to forego anesthesia because Kashpirovsky had promised to make her thinner and bring her along to his shows around the world as an example of his healing powers, she told the newspaper Literaturnaya Gazeta.

He didn’t keep his promise, she said.

Kashpirovsky’s claims of supernatural powers soon drew comparisons with the 20th-century healer Rasputin, whose malign influence on the family of Tsar Nicholas II sparked accusations that he was meddling in affairs of state and contributed to the collapse of Russia’s war effort in 1917 and the ultimate downfall of its monarchy. Rasputin was said to ease the pain of the tsar’s hemophiliac son simply by talking to him.

A former weightlifter and a trained psychologist, Kashpirovsky has largely retreated from the spotlight since the 1990s. In 2009, with Russia reeling from the effects of the global financial crisis, he sought to stage a comeback of sorts by launching a TV show devoted to “paranormal investigations.” But in a country where there’s no shortage of such offerings — a show called Battle Of The Psychics is now in its 20th season — his star soon faded again.

In 2010, shortly after he announced that comeback, Kashpirovsky — who did not immediately respond to RFE/RL’s request for comment — launched his YouTube channel. Since then he has posted videos from auditorium shows performed in various countries, where he meets with locals and members of Russian emigre communities who pay money in hopes of being healed. The videos are posted with titles like Instantaneous Cure For A Slipped Disc and Salvation From Pain.

In a video he posted last August, an elderly man who appears to have a heavily curved spine walks across a stage in Taraz, Kazakhstan, to meet Kashpirovsky, before disappearing backstage. Minutes later he runs back onstage, waving his arms in triumph to rapturous applause from the audience, his back seemingly healed.

Кашпировский. Мгновенное избавление от спинно-мозговой грыжи.

www.youtube.com

The coronavirus pandemic appears to have drawn new attention to Kashpirovsky as it spreads in Russia, where the numbers of confirmed cases have risen sharply in recent days and President Vladimir Putin said on April 13 that the situation was “changing for the worse.”

Officially, the number of confirmed cases now exceeds 21,000, with 170 deaths, but experts suspect the real numbers may be higher.

Viewership of Kashpirovsky’s YouTube channel has risen substantially in recent weeks: His March 25 monologue — titled Coronavirus. Its Pluses And Minuses — has almost half a million views.

As he spoke during his “healing seance” on April 9, a scrolling text chat displayed comments from viewers.

“My tinnitus has completely gone,” one woman wrote. Another reported that a chronic neck pain had passed within three minutes. “I’ve believed in you since 1989,” wrote a third — though it was unclear whether in earnest or in jest.

After 53 minutes, Kashpirovsky signed off with a message to gullible viewers.

“Our meeting will naturally provoke in you an explosion in your immune system, which will protect you,” he said. “I crave that from the bottom of my soul.”

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY SURVIVAL

Authoritarian leaders are using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to lock up dissenters and grab power, human rights experts warn

Country leaders, some of them from authoritarian regimes, are being accused of using the coronavirus pandemic to consolidate power and crack down on dissenters.

In March, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a state of emergency that shut down the courts — including his own corruption trial — and allowed Shin Bet security forces to start tracking quarantine violators using their cellphones.


Later in the month, Hungary’s parliament voted to cancel elections, suspend its own legislative power, and grant Prime Minister Viktor Orbán the right to rule by decree indefinitely, all under the premise of fighting COVID-19. It also introduced five-year jail sentences for anyone spreading “fake news” about the virus.

Last week, Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev authorized a rapid and strict military draft that the Defense Ministry said would ensure “the effective and complete protection of the health of our people.” Recruits are being charged with disinfecting spaces and patrolling streets during the lockdown.

Emin Abbasov, a human rights attorney in Azerbaijan, said emergency measures can threaten civil liberties anywhere. But the risk is greatest in countries with dictatorships and weak democracies.

“The restrictive measures imposed on civil liberties take place outside the accountability of those who exercise them — without effective parliamentary control and an independent judiciary,” Abbasov told Business Insider.

In many places, the situation is exacerbated by the absence of a free press.

“In the absence of such guarantees, people do not have the opportunity to assess the necessity, adequacy, and appropriateness of measures taken in the event of a pandemic,” Abbasov said.

Is travel safe? We interviewed experts on risks associated with flying, booking hotels or Airbnbs, renting cars, and more, plus ideas on safe vacations during COVID-19

Azerbaijan’s leader threatens to root out the country’s ‘enemies’

In his 16-year tenure as president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev has faced numerous accusations of corruption, including vote-rigging, human rights abuses, and involvement in a massive billion bribery scheme to whitewash the country’s image abroad. As COVID-19 spread in March, Aliyev warned the pandemic might require him to purge the nation of “enemies.”

“Where do these provocations come from? From the very fifth column, from the enemies who are among us,” he said during a March 19 speech to mark Nowruz, the Persian New Year. “The elements calling themselves opposition, the traitors who receive money from abroad. Their main goal is to destroy Azerbaijan.”

Aliyev added that he was considering a state of emergency and that, during the crisis, “the rules of completely new relationships will apply.”

Less than a week later, on March 25, police arrested opposition leader Tofig Yagublu on hooliganism charges that Human Rights Watch called “spurious.”

“The Azerbaijani government has a longstanding pattern of pursuing trumped-up charges against government critics in order to silence them,” HRW’s Giorgi Gogia said in a statement. “The case against Yagublu falls squarely in that pattern.”

That same month, police closed the offices of the opposition group D18 in Baku, saying activists could not “gather en masse,” even though only four members were present. Several days later, the group was evicted without explanation.

“President Aliyev clearly said that the new reality of the coronavirus does not tolerate the existence of an opposition,” Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova told Business Insider.

Ismayilova said others are being summoned to the police and threatened with arrest for writing social media posts about the coronavirus.

In El Salvador, swift action spurs accusations of a ‘political emergency’

A full week before El Salvador reported its first novel coronavirus infection, the National Congress approved President Nayib Bukele’s request for emergency powers — including closing schools and limiting free speech, assembly, and travel — to contain the disease. He implemented a nationwide lockdown on March 21, the same day the country reported its first COVID-19 patient.

“Looking at the measures that the president has taken, I think this is more of a political emergency than a public health emergency,” Mariana Moisa, an anthropologist in San Salvador and member of the Uncomfortable Feminist Collective, told Business Insider.

“At this moment when there’s a public health problem, they are putting more emphasis on the militarization of society than they are investing in the healthcare system. There’s no guarantee that our rights will be respected.”

Bukele promised a 0 stipend to day laborers struggling during the lockdown, but after aid centers became too crowded, he closed them and told citizens to go online or call a toll-free number. On March 30, police in San Salvador used pepper spray to disperse thousands of street vendors and others gathering to demand financial help.

In a televised address on Monday, Bukele warned that security forces would be cracking down further on quarantine violators: “The restrictions are the same, but we are going to be much tougher in enforcing them.”

Those who defy the order could have their cars confiscated or be taken to “containment centers” for 30 days, he said, according to Reuters. Bukele added that the lockdown was being extended for 15 days, and he outlined a plan to track virus carriers.

Is travel safe? We interviewed experts on risks associated with flying, booking hotels or Airbnbs, renting cars, and more, plus ideas on safe vacations during COVID-19

A 14-year-old is among those arrested in Cambodia for talking about the pandemic

Cambodia reported 109 confirmed coronavirus cases on March 31, the same day its parliament submitted state-of-emergency legislation that would allow Prime Minister Hun Sen to order unfettered surveillance of telecommunications and censorship of media reports on COVID-19.

But civil rights activists worry that the measure, expected to pass on Friday, will grant Hun Sen far-reaching authority with little accountability.

“Instead of introducing a hasty and problematic law, the government should focus on enacting measures within their current powers in order to manage the COVID-19 pandemic,” Cambodian Center for Human Rights director Chak Sopeaph said.

“Now is a time for action, considered measures, and precautions — not a time for pushing a vague law through parliament that does not include any protections for human rights.”

Since the start of the year, at least 17 people have been arrested in the country for sharing information about COVID-19, Al Jazeera reported, including members of the defunct opposition group Cambodia National Rescue Party.

Most were released after signing pledges to not “spread fake news,” but those still in pretrial detention face charges of incitement, conspiracy, and spreading false information.

Police also arrested a 14-year-old girl who posted on social media that she was worried about rumors of a coronavirus outbreak at her school.

“The Cambodian government is misusing the COVID-19 outbreak to lock up opposition activists and others expressing concern about the virus and the government’s response,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

Uganda is using the coronavirus to fuel homophobia, activists warn

In Uganda, where lawmakers once passed a bill punishing homosexuality with life in prison, the government is accused of using concerns about the virus to fuel homophobia.

On April 1, police raided a shelter for LGBT people in the town of Kyengera, detaining 20 people for failing to follow social distancing. But Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, said those charges were only added later.

“A search was conducted in the shelter in order to find evidence of ‘homosexuality,'” Mugisha told Business Insider. “The mayor personally beat up at least two of those arrested as he questioned them about their homosexuality.”

President Yoweri Museveni closed schools, churches, and mosques before any COVID-19 cases were reported in Uganda. He also banned public rallies, elections, political gatherings, and weddings for 32 days, and instituted a broad travel ban.

“You have seen how airports were clogged with people. That crowding is the perfect ground for new infections,” he said in a March 18 address. “Let us, therefore, move early to avoid the stampede.”

Movie theaters, nightclubs, and bars were all shuttered for a month. “These are very dangerous gathering points with the virus around,” Museveni added. “Drunkards sit close to one another. They speak with saliva coming out of their mouth. They are a danger to themselves.”

After the first infection was confirmed, Museveni closed all of Uganda’s borders and police began impounding vehicles of residents trying to leave Kampala.

The question becomes: Will these leaders lift the harsh measures they implemented once the pandemic subsides?

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.