1. News
  2. 2020
  3. June

Current Events in June 2020

Browse Current Events by year

2020

Browse Current Events by month

Get trending consumer news and recalls

    By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

    Thanks for subscribing.

    You have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

    Bayer agrees to pay more than $10 billion to settle Roundup cancer lawsuits

    The settlement sets aside money to settle with users who may develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the future

    Bayer, which purchased Monsanto in 2018 for $63 billion, has agreed to pay $10.9 billion to settle a staggering number of claims that its weed-killing product Roundup caused cancer. 

    Bayer said the settlement would “bring closure” to roughly 75 percent of the 125,000 claims currently filed and unfiled. The settlement also establishes a mechanism to resolve potential future claims.

    “The company will make a payment of $8.8 billion to $9.6 billion to resolve the current Roundup litigation, including an allowance expected to cover unresolved claims, and $1.25 billion to support a separate class agreement to address potential future litigation,” said Werner Baumann, CEO of Bayer, in a statement on Wednesday.

    Baumann described the settlement as the “right action at the right time for Bayer to bring a long period of uncertainty to an end.” Despite the litigation and numerous pending lawsuits, Bayer will continue to sell the product without adding safety warnings. 

    Numerous cancer cases linked to Roundup

    Since 2018, tens of thousands of lawsuits have been filed against Bayer’s Monsanto by people claiming their regular use of Roundup -- which contains glyphosate -- caused their cancers. Lawsuits allege that Monsanto willfully ignored warnings that the product contained potentially carcinogenic chemicals and then deliberately chose not to disclose those risks to consumers. 

    In August 2018, Dewayne Johnson -- a former school groundskeeper in California who developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma -- won a lawsuit alleging that Roundup was a factor in his terminal illness. A jury awarded him nearly $290 million after finding that Monsanto failed to warn Johnson and other consumers about the risks posed by its weed-killing products. 

    The verdict was upheld by a judge, but the damages were ultimately reduced to $78 million because a judge believed the figure was too high and needed to be more in line with Johnson’s $39 million compensatory award.  

    Last year, a California jury awarded a husband and wife more than $2 billion (later reduced to $87 million) in damages in a suit that claimed Roundup caused their non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas. 

    Bayer has never admitted wrongdoing or said Roundup is anything other than safe. 

    The latest settlement covers an estimated 95,000 cases and sets aside $1.25 billion for potential future claims from long-time Roundup users who may develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

    Bayer, which purchased Monsanto in 2018 for $63 billion, has agreed to pay $10.9 billion to settle a staggering number of claims that its weed-killing prod...

    Get trending consumer news and recalls

      By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

      Thanks for subscribing.

      You have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

      Electric cars could be a huge financial benefit for consumers

      Researchers say eliminating the cost of gas could make a huge difference in consumers’ savings

      While there’s no question that electric cars greatly benefit the environment, researchers from the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Renewable Energy Lab explored how they could also be a money saver. 

      The study showed that eliminating the need for consumers to fill their tanks with gas could ultimately save those with electric cars tens of thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the vehicle. 

      More money in the bank

      The researchers had to determine how to compare what an average consumer spends on gas versus what an average consumer would spend on the electricity required to charge their vehicle, considering that both gas and electricity prices vary across state lines. 

      “Finding out the purchase price of a vehicle is relatively simple, but the savings related to fuel aren’t readily available, especially since electricity cost varies greatly for different locations and charging options,” said researcher Matteo Muratori. 

      The researchers explained that consumers with electric vehicles have a number of options when it comes to charging their cars. At-home charging stations can range from the more high-end options, which could run nearly $2,000. Consumers can also plug into an existing electrical outlet. In the latter case, the price would be tacked onto the electric bill. 

      However, there are also public charging options, similar to gas stations. The study found that opting for a public charging station is a faster but more expensive option, whereas charging at home can take a little longer but is often cheaper -- especially if consumers wait until the evening hours when electricity prices tend to dip even further. 

      Saving thousands of dollars

      The study found that, on average, charging an electric car costs 15 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). Depending on the state, though, that figure could jump as high as 27 cents per kWh, or dip as low as eight cents per kWh. 

      If a consumer can hang onto that vehicle for roughly 15 years, the researchers predict that savings could be as high as $15,000. 

      The researchers found that the more consumers opt for public charging stations, the more expensive electricity is likely to become; however, the savings are still expected to be considerable when compared to the cost of gas for traditional fuel-powered vehicles. 

      While there’s no question that electric cars greatly benefit the environment, researchers from the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Renewable En...

      Amazon creates new Counterfeit Crimes Unit to wipe out fake products

      The company says it will go to the ends of the earth to track down the fakers and bring them to justice

      Amazon has been fighting counterfeit goods for years, but now it’s going after the fakers hard and heavy. 

      On Wednesday, it announced that it has established a new Counterfeit Crimes Unit -- an initiative with a dual purpose: to keep the fake products off their platform and bring the hoodwinkers to justice.

      As shopping moves online, consumers need more protection

      Any consumer who’s sought out the “deal of a lifetime” has probably come across fake, counterfeit products. As consumer habits move from brick and mortar retailers to online ones, the problem has gotten worse. 

      Especially hard hit is the clothing product sector. As of 2020, annual sales losses from counterfeiting in the clothing sector alone amounted to nearly $27 billion -- an amount nearly equal to the $30 billion in sales that Amazon rings up in that category.

      Another concern is consumer safety. Rarely thought of as a side-effect of a counterfeit product, just last year, an investigation indicated that thousands of items on Amazon’s site were either banned or declared unsafe by federal agencies.

      Attack mode

      Amazon’s Counterfeit Crimes Unit is a far cry from the typical Amazon warehouse jobs we read about. Rather, it’s a brigade of former federal prosecutors, veteran investigators, and data analysts.

      Amazon says its first order of business is to prevent a counterfeit from ever being listed on its platform. The company says its current anti-counterfeit programs have ensured that 99.9 percent of all Amazon products viewed by customers did not have a valid counterfeit complaint. Still, that tiny tenth of a percent that makes it through without getting caught is a problem. 

      The new unit will have a cocked eye aimed at any bad actor who has tried to get past Amazon’s gatekeepers before. Those fraudsters may have gotten off with no more than a slap on the wrist when they first tried to get a counterfeit good listed, but Amazon says it’s going to more effectively pursue civil litigation against bad actors this time around.

      Getting as close to the source as possible

      Finding the counterfeiters won’t be easy. Since China came down on its infamous counterfeit industry, many of its fakers have taken to promoting their knock-offs on social messaging networks like WeChat, Instagram, and Tik Tok. Buyers then order and pay through private messaging apps.

      Amazon realizes that it must go everywhere, not just underground, to catch these bad actors. Just last month, Amazon identified counterfeiters based in Canada, China, the Dominican Republic, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States. 

      To get to square one, the new unit is enhancing its engagement with authorities like the National Intellectual Property Rights Center (U.S.), Europol (EU), and relevant enforcement authorities in China and around the world. And while it doesn’t have jurisdiction in all those places, it says it will turn over each and every fake to relevant national authorities.

      “Every counterfeiter is on notice that they will be held accountable to the maximum extent possible under the law, regardless of where they attempt to sell their counterfeits or where they’re located,” said Dharmesh Mehta, Vice President, Customer Trust and Partner Support, Amazon. 

      “We are working hard to disrupt and dismantle these criminal networks, and we applaud the law enforcement authorities who are already part of this fight. We urge governments to give these authorities the investigative tools, funding, and resources they need to bring criminal counterfeiters to justice because criminal enforcement – through prosecution and other disruption measures such as freezing assets – is one of the most effective ways to stop them.”

      Amazon has been fighting counterfeit goods for years, but now it’s going after the fakers hard and heavy. On Wednesday, it announced that it has establ...

      Air pollution greatly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease

      Researchers say this trend is consistent around the globe

      Recent studies have highlighted how air pollution continues to take a toll on consumers’ health. Now, researchers from Oregon University say that these health risks are consistent across all countries, regardless of their economic status.

      The study found that air pollution is affecting consumers’ health globally and has been closely linked with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. However, the researchers found that efforts to reduce air pollution can reduce those same risks.  

      “If you reduce the concentration of outdoor air pollution, you’re going to see benefits for cardiovascular disease,” said researcher Perry Hystad. “Before this study, we were not sure if this was the case. Some studies suggested that at high concentration, as seen in many developing countries, levels would have to be reduced in very large amounts before health benefits would occur.” 

      High risks, regardless of wealth

      The researchers came to their conclusions after analyzing data from the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study. Their work included nearly two decades’ worth of results from over 157,000 participants from 20 countries. 

      The researchers were interested in seeing how high-income communities stacked up against low- or middle-income communities when it came to health risks. Ultimately, over 9,000 participants experienced a cardiovascular issue over the course of the study, with 14 percent of all cardiovascular episodes being associated with rising air pollution emissions.

      However, when it came to global differences, the researchers discovered that there weren’t many. The risk for cardiovascular disease was just as prevalent in all of the regions included in the study, regardless of wealth. 

      The researchers hope that these findings inspire lawmakers to do their part to reduce consumers’ exposure to air pollution. The researchers note that drastic differences aren’t necessary to see considerable changes to consumer’s health. 

      “What I hope -- and this is actually what is happening -- is that developing countries can take these lessons and apply them and reduce the time it takes to achieve some of these air pollution reduction successes,” Hystad said. “Maybe instead of 30 years, you can do it in 10 years.” 

      Recent studies have highlighted how air pollution continues to take a toll on consumers’ health. Now, researchers from Oregon University say that these hea...

      Tesla ranks at the bottom of J.D. Power’s Initial Quality Survey

      Dodge and Kia are tied for first place

      J.D. Power’s Initial Quality Study of 2020 vehicles puts Dodge and Kia at the top. But it’s the brand at the bottom -- Tesla -- that’s raising eyebrows.

      The annual survey looks at the problems owners are having with their new vehicles, including those related to new technologies. The study singles out features on a new car or truck that fail, are difficult to use, hard to understand, or don’t work the way owners want.

      This was the first study in which Tesla was profiled, and its poor showing comes with a caveat. Though it was given a score of 250/PP100, J.D. Power says it is not officially ranked among other brands in the study because it doesn’t meet ranking criteria. 

      “Unlike other manufacturers, Tesla doesn’t grant us permission to survey its owners in 15 states where it is required,” said Doug Betts, president of the automotive division at J.D. Power. “However, we were able to collect a large enough sample of surveys from owners in the other 35 states and, from that base, we calculated Tesla’s score.”

      U.S. brands make a strong showing

      Dodge and Kia tied for first place in overall initial quality, both earning a score of 136/PP100. Dodge is the first U.S. brand in the study’s history to gain the top spot while it’s Kia’s sixth straight year as the highest-ranked mass-market brand.

      Overall, U.S. brands made good showings. Chevrolet and Ram placed third in a tie. GM was second behind Hyundai as the parent company with the most model-level awards with six. Chevrolet’s Sonic achieved the best score of any individual model in this year’s study.  

      “Collectively, this is the best-ever performance by the Detroit automakers -- when compared with the import brands -- in the history of the study,” the authors wrote.

      By comparison, luxury imports didn’t perform as well. Only Genesis, Lexus, and Cadillac were ranked better than average. Luxury brands also dominated the bottom of this year’s ranking, with Jaguar, Mercedes Benz, Volvo, Audi, and Land Rover joining Tesla in the cellar.

      This year, consumers complained the most about the infotainment systems in their new vehicles.  Almost one-fourth of all problems cited by new-vehicle owners were in that category. The most frequent complaints include built-in voice recognition, Android Auto/Apple CarPlay connectivity, touchscreens, built-in navigation systems, and Bluetooth connectivity.

      J.D. Power’s Initial Quality Study of 2020 vehicles puts Dodge and Kia at the top. But it’s the brand at the bottom -- Tesla -- that’s raising eyebrows....

      Toyota recalls Prius and Prius v vehicles

      The vehicle could lose power and stall

      Toyota is recalling about 267,000 model year 2013-2015 Prius and model year 2014-2017 Prius vehicles.

      The vehicles were designed to enter a failsafe driving mode in response to certain hybrid system faults, but in rare situations, the vehicle may fail to do so.

      If this occurs, the vehicle could lose power and stall. While power steering and braking would remain operational, a vehicle stall while driving at higher speeds could increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Toyota will notify owners, and dealers will update the hybrid system software at no charge. Additionally, if the vehicle has experienced an inverter failure with certain hybrid system faults related to this condition, the inverter will be repaired or replaced at no charge.

      The recall is expected to begin in late August 2020.

      Owners may contact Toyota customer service at (800) 331-4331.

      Toyota is recalling about 267,000 model year 2013-2015 Prius and model year 2014-2017 Prius vehicles. The vehicles were designed to enter a failsafe dri...

      Model year 2014-2017 Jeep Cherokees recalled

      The Power Transfer Unit Input Splines may break

      Chrysler is recalling 67,248 model year 2014-2017 Jeep Cherokees with a two-speed Power Transfer Unit (PTU).

      Relative movement in the PTU between the differential input splines and the transmission output shaft may cause some input spline teeth to wear off, which may eventually cause a loss of engagement between the transmission and the differential inside the PTU.

      If this occurs, power cannot be transferred between the front wheels and the transmission which results in a loss of drive while the vehicle is in motion and a loss of the Park function while stationary.

      A loss of drive can cause a vehicle crash without warning. A loss of the Park function can cause unintended vehicle rollaway which can increase the risk of a crash or injury.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will perform a software update that will maintain vehicle propulsion by engaging rear wheel drive and prevent rolling in Park by activating the electronic parking brake if a failed input spline occurs.

      This recall is expected to begin July 31, 2020.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at (800) 853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is W47.

      Chrysler is recalling 67,248 model year 2014-2017 Jeep Cherokees with a two-speed Power Transfer Unit (PTU).Relative movement in the PTU between the di...

      What you need to spruce up your bathroom

      Here are some exceptional items to make your bathroom your happy place

      Everyone wants to have a fantastic bathroom, but a full remodel can take more time, effort and cash than you might want to spend on a small space. If you want to get organized and feel happy about the way your bathroom looks, we can help. Below are some of our favorite items to make your bathroom feel like a new space.

      Makeup organizer

      One of the most challenging things to manage in a bathroom is all the clutter. An excellent first step to revitalize any room is getting organized. This organizer can declutter your counter, keep your things arranged and give the room more space.

      • Clear, acrylic material
      • Money-back guarantee

      Buy on Amazon

      Shower curtain

      Who likes a dirty, dreary old shower curtain? Brighten up your bathroom with a sparkling new one! We love this plant-themed shower curtain for its modern look, and it’s a simple way to bring a new vibe into your space.

      • Shower hooks included
      • Various sizes available

      Buy on Amazon

      Memory foam bathroom rug

      You probably stand in your bathroom far longer than you realize, so why not upgrade your experience with a foam bathroom rug? These matching rugs come in several colors and help keep your feet comfy.

      • Multiple colors available
      • Machine wash and dry

      Buy on Amazon

      Bathroom towel rack

      These floating shelves are a classy and functional addition to any bathroom. They have a space for your towels and other bathroom items, as well as handy hooks and a rack for wet items and your robe.

      • 2 shelves included
      • Money-back guarantee

      Buy on Amazon

      Toothbrush holder and sanitizer

      Take cleanliness to the next level with this toothbrush sanitizer. This device sanitizes and dries your toothbrushes every four hours using UVC rays. It’s also a handy way to store your brushes off the counter and save space.

      • Cleans up to 5 brushes
      • 99.9% sterilization rate

      Buy on Amazon

      Bathroom canvases

      The easiest way to liven up a room is through artwork, so why not hang some new canvas art on the walls? These matching prints will introduce some great colors and a new feel to your space.

      • 12” x 12”
      • Includes all 4 canvases

      Buy on Amazon

      Shower organizer

      An organized shower is a huge part of having a functional bathroom. Put away all those random bath bombs, shampoos and soaps with this hanging organizer. Not only is it practical, but it has a classic finish for a high-end look.

      • Rust-resistant steel
      • 10" x 4" x 22"

      Buy on Amazon

      Full-length mirror

      Having a full-length mirror is a fantastic way to make a smaller bathroom feel more open. It’s also an excellent tool to help you get ready and feel confident before starting your day.

      • 65" x 22"
      • Shatterproof glass

      Buy on Amazon

      Storage for bathroom products

      Unsure where to put cotton balls, Q-tips or other daily products? These clear canisters are perfect for organizing these small items. Plus, they have an upscale style that makes your bathroom look like a whole new space.

      • 3 canisters included
      • Shatterproof

      Buy on Amazon

      When sprucing up a bathroom, remember to think about what style you’re looking for and the best ways to get organized. For significant bathroom projects that need more elbow grease, read our guide on bathroom remodeling contractors.

      Here is our list of items that can bring new life into your bathroom....

      Amazon warehouse workers claim the company isn’t being honest about COVID-19 cases

      The company denies all claims and says it’s practicing what it’s preaching

      Workers at Amazon’s Minneapolis-area warehouse in Shakopee MN -- the facility where 88 employees tested positive for coronavirus -- are up in arms about Amazon’s lack of response, saying that the company is essentially concealing the exact nature of what’s going on. 

      When questioned about the scene at the warehouse, workers told Digital Trends that managers would lie about anyone being sick until the warehouse was dazed with dozens of cases.

      Some of the workers said that, in their estimation, the real number of positive cases might be higher than the 88 cases reported by the Star Tribune. Others stated that they didn’t hear about the new cases from Amazon’s managers, but from the media instead.

      “From the beginning of this, they’ve tried to downplay and hide the extent of it inside the warehouse,” said William Stoltz, a three-year veteran at the warehouse. “I can see that worker safety is not the overriding concern. Keeping packages shipping is the overriding concern.”

      Amazon’s blurry messaging

      Despite all that Amazon says it’s doing for its workers, both Stoltz and his co-worker, Tyler Hamilton, said that Amazon’s effort to keep employees informed has been muddy at best. 

      In Stoltz and Hamilton’s opinion, the company’s text messages confirmed that there had been “cases” of COVID-19 in the warehouse and that the warehouse was being sanitized, but little else. 

      The texts shared with Digital Trends were fuzzy, informing workers of “additional confirmed cases” of the disease as opposed to hard numbers.

      “They were in absolute denial that anything was wrong,” Hamilton said. “I figured maybe we had 30 or 40 cases, but 88! That’s shockingly high.”

      A matter of trust

      When the pandemic was still in its infancy, warehouse worker Habiq Mohamed alleged that management was lying about whether there were COVID-19 cases at that specific location. “I asked them how many people were sick, and they said, ‘oh, we don’t know.’ Amazon is not taking our health and safety seriously,” he said.

      “People have to keep working when they feel sick, and they don’t tell us how many people are sick. They send us these unclear messages; just tell us the rate! Can you please just tell us the truth? We are grown people.”

      Hamilton stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Mohamed, saying that workers at the warehouse can no longer trust the company or its local management. 

      “Honestly, it’s management’s fault. And a lot of it is corporate’s fault,” Hamilton fumed. “As long as I’ve been there, it seems like every couple of weeks or months, something happens where they shoot themselves in the foot.”

      One of those self-inflicted wounds showed up in the break rooms of all places, Hamilton said. “They literally had TVs placed in the commons areas of the warehouses that had a recording from the General Manager playing on a loop that was saying ‘there are no cases of COVID here’ and ‘people are fear-mongering,’ and ‘why are they sowing fear at a time like this,’ and then as soon as they had the first case, they sent out a text, and they took all the TVs down.”

      Workers say Amazon is in the dominant position here, leaving concerned workers little choice but to suck it up, run the risk of getting sick, or stay at home without pay.

      “Each worker is put in a position where we’re having to make a risk calculation,” said Stoltz. “Are we willing to go into work if it means catching the virus? But going on leave means no money.”

      Amazon denies workers’ claims

      As you can imagine, Amazon says what Hamilton, Mohamed, and Stoltz are saying is false and that it’s practicing what it’s preaching.

      “These claims are simply not true,” wrote Amazon spokesperson Timothy Carter in an email to Digital Trends. “We utilize a variety of data to closely monitor the safety of our buildings and there is strong evidence that our employees are not proliferating the virus at work -- what we see generally is that the overall rate of infection and increase or decrease of total cases is highly correlated to the overall community rate of infection.”

      “Over the months of COVID-19, thousands of employees and partners have worked at our Shakopee site and we believe strongly people are not spreading the virus at work given the robust safety measures we’ve put into place,” Carter added.

      Amazon enacts some protections

      While Stoltz came down hard on Amazon, he did say that the Shakopee warehouse was actually doing some things right. The facility is using masks, temperature checks, and enacting social distancing -- all things Amazon has said it’s doing.

      On top of the additional safety precautions that Amazon established, it’s also watching workers like a hawk to make sure those guidelines aren’t violated. Instead of the typical three-strikes-you’re-out way of keeping workers in line, Amazon has gone to a one-strike-you’re-out if someone defies the new six-foot social distancing rule.

      Workers at Amazon’s Minneapolis-area warehouse in Shakopee MN -- the facility where 88 employees tested positive for coronavirus -- are up in arms about Am...

      Coronavirus update: Cases are surging, the spike could be bigger than April’s

      Death rate rises on U.S. highways in spite of the shutdown

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 2,348,956 (2,313,445)

      Total U.S. deaths: 121,279 (120,451)

      Total global cases: 9,295,365 (9,131,445)

      Total global deaths: 478,289 (472,856)

      Coronavirus cases are surging again

      It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. By the end of June, coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the U.S. were supposed to be on the decline, after most of the country shut down for several weeks and stopped the economy in its tracks.

      Instead, new cases are surging in regions of the country that previously had been spared the worst effects of the pandemic. Cases are higher in Arizona to the point that there is concern about hospital capacity being overwhelmed. There are similar concerns in parts of Texas. The seven-day average of new cases nationwide is up 30 percent in a week.

      The spike in new cases has finally gotten Wall Street’s attention. After weeks of rising back to pre-pandemic levels, stocks opened lower this morning.

      The current spike could be bigger than April’s

      The sudden and growing increase in coronavirus cases could turn out to be the biggest of the pandemic so far. Former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb was been watching the daily numbers and now thinks the current surge in cases will be larger than the one in mid-April, which at the time was considered the peak.

      “We’re going to eclipse the totals in April, so we’ll eclipse 37,000 diagnosed infections a day,” he said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “But in April we were only diagnosing one in 10 to one in 20 infections, so those 37,000 infections represented probably half a million infections at the peak.“

      The rise in cases is causing government officials to reconsider decisions to reopen. This morning, organizers of the New York City Marathon announced this year’s race is being canceled.

      Traffic death rate jumps in April

      Major auto insurance companies announced temporary rate cuts in March on the belief that fewer drivers on the road would mean fewer traffic accidents. That might have been a miscalculation.

      The National Safety Council reports that the highway fatality rate jumped 36.6 percent in April, in spite of an 18 percent drop in the total number of roadway deaths compared to April 2019. However, motorists were driving 40 percent fewer miles compared to a year ago.

      "Even without traffic, our roads were no safer," said Lorraine M. Martin, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. "These numbers underscore our urgent need to change the culture of safety on our roads."

      CVS getting people back to work

      CVS Health is introducing Return Ready, a customizable coronavirus testing solution designed for use by employers and colleges. The system is aimed at helping offices reopen and helping students safely return to campus.

      Testing can be done on-site or using drive-thru testing capability at CVS Pharmacy locations. Using the system, CVS says organizations can design a customized testing strategy to meet their unique needs. 

      Return Ready is based on a customized COVID-19 testing strategy guided by clinical consultation that allows organizations to choose who, how, where, and when to test employees or students. 

      For travelers, safety is top-of-mind

      TripAdvisor is offering a suite of tools to help consumers travel more safely. Specifically, the tools can be used to find, filter for, and validate health and safety information to feel more confident while on the move.

      Called “Travel Safe” tools, the features are available in all 49 markets where Tripadvisor operates, and more than 13,850 properties have already activated the feature set.

      A recent TripAdvisor survey found that consumers may not be ready to travel, but they’re already thinking about it. Ninety-two percent said cleanliness is the most important factor in selecting accommodations. More than eight in 10 said they want to see evidence of compliance with government sanitation standards.

      Around the nation

      • Michigan: Public schools may get some extra financial help to reopen in the fall. Michigan Republicans have proposed a $1.3 billion aid package for public K-12 schools, saying districts should have the flexibility to react to local conditions.

      • Missouri: The state’s surge in new coronavirus cases appears to be coming from a concentrated area. More than half of Missouri’s record number of new cases are in one rural southwestern county. McDonald County reported 235 new cases last weekend.

      • Washington: Washington is the latest state to require people to wear face coverings in public. "Any covering that will cover the nose and mouth will do in this case," said Gov. Jay Inslee. "What you choose is your choice. We're just appreciative if everyone could think of this as the new part of etiquette in our state." The order takes effect Friday.

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 2,348,956 (2,313,44...

      Missouri Court reduces Johnson & Johnson baby powder verdict

      The court upheld the verdict that the company knew its talc-based baby powder contained asbestos

      On Tuesday, a Missouri appeals court upheld a jury verdict against Johnson & Johnson claiming that its talc-based baby powder caused ovarian cancer in almost two dozen women. However, it cut the total damages the company must pay by more than half.

      In the unanimous decision, the judges noted that internal memos spanning decades indicated that Johnson & Johnson knew its talcum products contained harmful asbestos. 

      “A reasonable inference from all this evidence is that, motivated by profits, defendants disregarded the safety of consumers despite their knowledge the talc in their products caused ovarian cancer,” the court said.

      Johnson & Johnson to appeal

      A spokeswoman for Johnson & Johnson said the company intends to seek further review of the ruling by the Supreme Court of Missouri. The company refuted the claim that its talcum products cause adverse health effects. 

      “We continue to believe this was a fundamentally flawed trial, grounded in a faulty presentation of the facts,” spokeswoman Kim Montagnino said. “We remain confident that our talc is safe, asbestos free and does not cause cancer.” 

      The court upheld the $500 million in damages awarded to the women who sued the company but agreed to slash the total damages to $2.1 billion. 

      Johnson & Johnson is facing thousands of lawsuits filed on behalf of long-time consumers who claim the company’s products contained cancer-causing asbestos. Mark Lanier, the lawyer who represented the women in this trial, called the company’s handling of the asbestos issue “reprehensible” and urged consumers to dispose of any baby powder they may have in their home. 

      Baby powder pulled in North America

      Last month, Johnson & Johnson announced that it would permanently discontinue about 100 of its products, including Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder. At the time of the announcement, the company continued to deny that its products cause cancer. 

      “Demand for talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder in North America has been declining due in large part to changes in consumer habits and fueled by misinformation around the safety of the product and a constant barrage of litigation advertising,” the company said in a May statement. 

      Company officials added that they remain “steadfastly confident in the safety of talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder” and will continue to market the product in other parts of the world.

      On Tuesday, a Missouri appeals court upheld a jury verdict against Johnson & Johnson claiming that its talc-based baby powder caused ovarian cancer in almo...

      Chemicals used to treat firefighters' gear could pose a health risk

      These commonly used chemicals could increase the risk of cancer

      A new study conducted by researchers from Notre Dame University found that chemicals that are used to treat firefighters’ gear could actually pose a threat to their health. 

      They found that firefighters’ gear is doused in per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS), which are also commonly found in fast-food wrappers and children’s car seats, as a way to protect against water or oil spills. However, these chemicals are incredibly dangerous for consumers and can increase the risk of several types of cancer. 

      “If they touch the gear, it gets on their hands, and if they go fight a fire and they put the gear on and take it off and then go eat and don’t wash hands, it could transfer hand to mouth,” said researcher Graham Peaslee. “And if you’re sweating and you have sweat pores, could some of these chemicals come off on the thermal layer and get into the skin? The answer is probably.” 

      More risks than meet the eye

      The researchers went straight to the source for this study: they tested more than 30 samples of firefighters’ gear, which came from several different manufacturers. They were most interested in understanding the levels of PFAS found on the samples and how the chemicals could put firefighters at risk.  

      The researchers learned that the multi-layer design of firefighters’ gear makes the spread of these chemicals riskier, as there are several ways the substances could be spread from gear to person. 

      The study revealed that the PFAS residue, though it clings to the fabric it’s adhered to, isn’t permanently stuck there. A simple touch of the hand could cause the chemicals to spread to other parts of the fabric or onto the skin. Moreover, particles can be transferred from the gear onto different surfaces, which can then also be absorbed into the skin. 

      Exposure to these chemicals is dangerous for consumers, as it can increase the risk for several types of cancer, including prostate, testicular, and mesothelioma, among several others. Though firefighters’ jobs are to protect others, the researchers think that more should be done to see how firefighters themselves can be better protected.  

      “Further work needs to be done to assess the extent of this risk to firefighters,” Peaslee said. “But until this risk is estimated, operational steps can be taken to minimize occupational exposure to these PFAS while still using the [personal protective equipment] to keep the firefighters safe on the job.” 

      A new study conducted by researchers from Notre Dame University found that chemicals that are used to treat firefighters’ gear could actually pose a threat...

      Federal judge rejects hospital group’s attempt to keep prices secret

      The Trump administration argued that patients ‘deserve to know’ health care costs ahead of time

      On Tuesday, Judge Carl Nichols of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia upheld a Trump administration policy requiring hospitals to disclose prices that they negotiate with insurers. 

      These prices are usually kept secret, but the administration said price transparency would help reduce costs for patients. 

      "Especially when patients are seeking needed care during a public health emergency, it is more important than ever that they have ready access to the actual prices of health care services," said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

      Disclosing prices

      In his decision, Judge Nichols rejected an attempt to block the policy made by a coalition of industry groups, which argued that disclosing the rates might confuse patients. Those prices aren’t the same as the amount they’re required to pay out-of-pocket, the group noted.

      "The proposal does nothing to help patients understand their out-of-pocket costs. It also imposes significant burdens on hospitals at a time when resources are stretched thin and need to be devoted to patient care," said Melinda Hatton, the group's general counsel. "Hospitals and health systems have consistently supported efforts to provide patients with information about the costs of their medical care. This is not the right way to achieve this important goal."

      Judge Nichols countered by saying that “hospitals may be affected by market changes and need to respond to a market where consumers are more empowered.” 

      Trump calls decision a ‘big victory’

      In a tweet on Tuesday, Trump called the decision a “big victory” and said it will bring needed transparency to health care costs. 

      “Patients deserve to know the price of care BEFORE they enter the hospital. Because of my action, they will,” he wrote. “This may very well be bigger than healthcare itself."

      Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar also celebrated the decision, which is slated to go into effect in January. 

      “With today’s win, we will continue delivering on the president’s promise to give patients easy access to health care prices,” he said in a statement. “Especially when patients are seeking needed care during a public health emergency, it is more important than ever that they have ready access to the actual prices of health care services.”

      The hospital coalition that sought to block the decision -- which included the Association of American Medical Colleges, Federation of American Hospitals, National Association of Children's Hospitals, and three hospitals -- said it intends to appeal. 

      On Tuesday, Judge Carl Nichols of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia upheld a Trump administration policy requiring hospitals to disclose...

      Consumers return to the highways as stay-at-home orders lift

      A roadside assistance firm points to a big increase in breakdowns

      Traffic on American highways has picked up significantly due to most states lifting stay-at-home orders. At last, two metrics show that traffic has surged.

      One way to measure the increase in vehicle traffic is gasoline demand. It’s increased sharply over the last two weeks, sending gas prices higher. GasBuddy reported that gas demand on Monday was up 1.3 percent over the previous Monday and more than 13 percent higher from a month earlier.

      Another way to measure traffic is to count the number of vehicle breakdowns. The more cars that are on the road, the more that will break down and require assistance.

      Agero, a company that provides driver assistance services, has released breakdown data suggesting a rapid increase in traffic volumes as states relax existing COVID-19 restrictions. After plunging in the wake of a nationwide lockdown, the volume of breakdown calls has rebounded.

      “The pandemic has certainly disrupted traditional traffic patterns,” said Beth Davidson, Agero’s chief marketing officer. “The typical rush hour commute has disappeared, errands are no longer relegated to Saturday morning, and road trips are becoming the new plane ride.”

      More breakdowns mean more cars on the road

      Davidson says the company is seeing signs that traffic patterns are beginning to return to normal. And they know that because they’re a lot busier.

      “We’re seeing breakdown event volumes rapidly return to near-normal levels as people begin to use their vehicles again,” she said. “We believe this could be the start of far higher traffic volumes than we are used to seeing.”

      As of June 10, Agero reported roadside event volume was down just 5 percent from the amount forecasted at the beginning of the year -- before there was any thought the pandemic would radically alter Americans’ travel patterns.

      Easter Sunday turned out to be a turning point for people returning to the highway. The average daily number of roadside events decreased by 32 percent between the first two and a half weeks of March and the period from March 17th to April 12th. Since then, average daily events have shown a greater than 30 percent increase through June 10th.

      Agero predicts that highway volume could actually be higher than normal this summer since fewer people are flying to destinations. Before taking a long road trip, the company suggests that consumers make sure their vehicle’s service is up to date, especially if the car has been sitting idle for long periods during the shutdown.

      Traffic on American highways has picked up significantly due to most states lifting stay-at-home orders. At last, two metrics show that traffic has surged....

      Mortgage delinquencies rose sharply in May

      But in a bright spot, foreclosure action is on the decline

      Mortgage delinquencies are rapidly rising amid widespread and sudden unemployment caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19).

      It’s hard to separate missed payments that are allowed under forbearance programs for government-backed mortgages from those outside those programs, but what is clear is the number of homeowners who feel they can’t keep up is surging.

      An analysis by Black Knight, a real estate data firm, shows that the total mortgage delinquency rate in May rose 20.43 percent from April 2020 and 130.78 percent from May 2019. Another 723,000 homeowners fell at least 30 days behind on their mortgages last month, pushing the national delinquency rate to its highest level in more than eight years.

      At the end of May, 4.3 million homeowners were past due or in active foreclosure -- including those in forbearance who have missed scheduled payments as part of their plans -- up from 2 million at the end of March.

      Geography plays a role

      Geography also seems to play a role. The five states with the largest percentage of overdue mortgages were in the South and Northeast. 

      The states with the smallest percentage of troubled mortgages are in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest.

      The number of homeowners more than 30 days past due, in what are classified as serious delinquencies, is also sharply higher. The Black Knight analysis shows these troubled homeowners have increased by more than 50 percent since the pandemic shutdown began.

      Not as serious as 2009

      Despite that worrisome trend, the housing market is nowhere as precarious as it was in the wake of the financial crisis, which was caused by a crashing housing market that was overwhelmed by a tsunami of foreclosures.

      At the end of May, there were only 5,100 foreclosure starts, down 31 percent from April and nearly 87 percent lower than May 2019. Forbearance programs may be responsible for that.

      The number of homes being prepared for foreclosure sales was also lower last month, making up a fractional portion of housing inventory. The number was down nearly 23 percent year-over-year.

      In fact, The share of homeowners in active foreclosure has fallen to its lowest level on record since Black Knight began reporting the figure in January 2000.

      Mortgage delinquencies are rapidly rising amid widespread and sudden unemployment caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19).It’s hard to separate missed pay...

      ‘Mommy brain’ doesn't hold up long term, study finds

      Researchers say there’s no evidence that mothers have compromised attentional capabilities

      A new study conducted by researchers from Purdue University explored how “mommy brain,” or women’s tendency to be forgetful after having children, can affect them long-term. 

      They learned that mothers shouldn’t worry about being forgetful or distracted, as these symptoms are often associated with a drastic change of hormones and drastically different sleeping patterns postpartum. Though stressful situations like the COVID-19 pandemic can make it harder for moms to stay on top of their game, “mommy brain” isn’t likely to be an issue long term. 

      “For this particular study, we recruited moms who were past that first year postpartum because we wanted to see the long-term effects of maternity,” said researcher Valerie Tucker Miller. “Overall, moms did not have significantly different attention than non-mothers, so we did not find evidence to support ‘mommy brain’ as our culture understands it. It’s possible, if anything, that maternity is related to improved, rather than diminished, attentiveness.” 

      Moms stay sharp

      The researchers had mothers and non-mothers participate in the study, all of whom underwent various tests that assessed their memory and overall attention spans. 

      Miller and her team utilized a newer iteration of the Attention Network Test, which assessed the participants’ reaction skills in three key areas: noticing something new, deciphering conflicts, and gearing up for incoming information. Participants also answered questionnaires that allowed them to assess their own ability to stay attentive, as well as report on how much sleep they’re getting and how tired they feel. 

      The researchers learned that mothers outperformed nonmothers on the attentiveness test. While the ability to recognize something new and prepare for new information was about the same in both groups, the mothers were better able to stay focused. 

      “Moms were not as distracted by those outside, incongruent items,” said Miller. “It makes perfect sense that moms who have brought children into this world have more stimuli that need to be processed to keep themselves and other humans alive, and then to continue with all the other tasks that were required before the children.” 

      The study also revealed that all of the women involved in the study were good judges of their own abilities. Their self-reported assessments of their attentiveness aligned with how they performed on the attention test. 

      Overall, the researchers believe that consumers should focus less on “mommy brain” and more on outside influences, as daily stressors could have a great impact on mothers’ attentiveness and ability to be present and focused. 

      “This means that women have accurate awareness of their cognitive state, and that their concerns regarding their perceived attentional functioning should be taken seriously,” Miller said. “We also believe that ‘mommy-brain’ may be a culture-bound phenomenon, and that mothers will feel the most distracted and forgetful when they feel stressed, overextended, and unsupported. Unfortunately, many U.S. moms feel this way, especially now in the midst of economic and political instability and pandemic.” 

      A new study conducted by researchers from Purdue University explored how “mommy brain,” or women’s tendency to be forgetful after having children, can affe...