Current Events in December 2020

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2020

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    More social media use increases belief in misinformation about COVID-19, study finds

    Experts say that consumers struggle to see past misleading posts

    Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a great deal of misinformation about the virus has been circulated on social media. 

    Now, a new study conducted by researchers from Washington State University has found that consumers are more likely to buy into this misinformation when they spend more time on social media. 

    “It seems that the more you use social media, the more likely you become worried about COVID-19, perhaps because there is a lot of unfounded and conspiracy theories on social media,” said researcher Yan Su. “Then this in turn can trigger a high level of worry which leads to further belief in misinformation.”

    The importance of engaging with different ideas

    To understand the relationship between social media use and belief in misinformation, the researchers analyzed over 3,000 responses to the American National Elections Exploratory Testing Survey. While the survey covered a wide range of topics, the researchers were primarily focused on how much time the respondents spent on social media and where they stood on critical stances regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. 

    Participants were more likely to believe that either a vaccine for COVID-19 had been created or that the virus was created in a lab if they spent more time on social media. While several pharmaceutical companies have since created a vaccine for COVID-19, this data was collected in early April, which means this misinformation had reached consumers at a critical point in the pandemic. 

    Additionally, the study revealed that the more worried people became about the pandemic, the more likely they were to believe misinformation on social media. However, the researchers also learned that participants weren’t doomed to get stuck in this cycle. Engaging with people who had different points of view was found to be a key component in not buying into misinformation on social media. Those who had a deeper understanding of science were also more likely to identify and reject falsehoods. 

    “Fact checkers are important for social media platforms to implement,” said Su. “When there is no fact checker, people just choose to believe what is consistent with their pre-existing beliefs. It’s also important for people to try to get out of their comfort zones and echo chambers by talking with people who have different points of view and political ideologies. When people are exposed to different ideas, they have a chance to do some self-reflection and self-correction, which is particularly beneficial for deliberation.” 

    The researchers hope that future studies continue to explore this area because they worry about how the continued spread of misinformation about the pandemic will continue to affect consumers.

    “During the COVID-19 pandemic, social media has spread a lot of conspiracy theories and misinformation, which has negative consequences because many people use these false statements as evidence to consolidate their pre-existing political ideologies and attack each other,” Su said. “It’s important to understand the antecedents and motivations for believing and circulating misinformation beliefs, so we can find ways to counteract them.”

    Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a great deal of misinformation about the virus has been circulated on social media. Now, a new study conducte...

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      Burley recalls child bicycle seats

      The child seat may become unstable, causing the bike rider to lose control

      Burley Design of Eugene, Ore., is recalling about 780 Dash X FM child bicycle seats.

      The reclining plate that holds the child seat in place can detach, making the child seat unstable and can cause the bike rider to lose control, posing a crash hazard.

      No incidents or injuries are recalled.

      This recall involves Dash X FM frame mount child bicycle seats (model number 924004).

      The recalled child seats have a serial number beginning in P924 and a lot number beginning in the letter D or E. The serial number and lot number are located on the lower rear of the child seats, on the white label that has “BURLEY” printed on it.

      “DASH X” is engraved on the rear of the child seat, near the top.

      The child bike seats, manufactured in Portugal, were sold at various bicycle retailers and online at Burley.com, REI.com, Amazon.com from April 2020, through July 2020, for about $190.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled child bicycle seats and contact Burley to receive instructions on how to identify and dispose of the recalled child seat and how to receive a free replacement child seat.

      Consumers will be provided with a replacement Dash Bicycle Seat (Dash X FM, Dash FM, or Dash RM).

      Consumers may contact Burley at (800\) 311-5294 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (PT) Monday through Friday, by email at Burley@burley.com, or online at http://www.burley.com and click on the “Safety Recall Information” link at the bottom of the page.

      Burley Design of Eugene, Ore., is recalling about 780 Dash X FM child bicycle seats. The reclining plate that holds the child seat in place can detach, ...

      Holiday Gift Guide: The Home Chef

      Kiss the cook and buy them a present

      The home chef in your life likely has a specialty cuisine they love, whether it's covered in bacon, totally vegan or somewhere in between. No matter their culinary preferences, there's sure to be a gift that suits them on our list.

      1. Anova Sous Vide Nano Precision Cooker

      The best part about getting a sous vide for the home chef in your life is you might get a thank-you meal out of it. A sous vide (pronounced “soo-veed”) precisely controls cooking temperatures, resulting in restaurant-quality meats, eggs and root vegetables.

      This one is compact and highly rated by Target customers. It connects to your phone, letting you start, stop and monitor your cooking through its Anova Culinary app. The app also comes with more than 1,000 recipes to help with inspiration.

      • 750 watts of power
      • 2-year limited warranty
      • $129.99*

      Shop on Target

      *As of publishing date

      2. Island Bamboo Utensil Set

      Perfect for your funky friend who loves nothing more than some color in their kitchen, this four-piece pakkawood set comes with a spoon, slotted spoon, corner spoon and spatula, all featuring a peacock pattern with swirls of blue, green and yellow. The utensils’ ergonomic handles are designed for comfort.

      • Made with eco-friendly materials
      • Lightweight and scratch-resistant
      • $39.99*

      Shop on Amazon

      *As of publishing date

      3. NuWave Air Fryer

      Air fryers have become increasingly popular over the years as an alternative to deep-frying, sauteing, baking or grilling. You can load up this 4.5-quart air fryer with bacon, cookies, diced potatoes and more. It can bake, roast or fry your food using no unhealthy oils — the perfect gift for a more health-conscious home chef who loves alternative ways of preparing the most comforting meals.

      • Digital LED controls
      • 1-year limited warranty
      • $99.99*

      Shop on Overstock

      *As of publishing date

      4. Stainless Steel Electric Meat Grinder

      If you need a practical gift for the meat lover in your life, this electric grinder is an excellent addition to any carnivore’s kitchen. Its heavy-duty stainless steel construction looks both classy and powerful, and not only does it help you create your own sausage and grind meat — you can also use it to make noodles.

      • Easy installation
      • Four cutting plates
      • $41.39*

      Shop on Overstock

      *As of publishing date

      5. Powell Raeford Kitchen Island

      What does a cook love more than expansive open counters and plenty of cabinet space? If you're looking for a big gift for your home chef, you might want to consider counter space. It's a bit pricier than the other gifts we list here, but it’s sure to help a kitchen look more chef-worthy.

      • 3 doors and adjustable shelves
      • 56” by 29.25” by 36”
      • $1,384.99*

      Shop on Overstock

      *As of publishing date

      6. Solid Copper Polenta Pan

      A classy gift for any cook who likes to dabble in fine cuisine, this fancy copper pan is specifically designed to make polenta, which originated in Northern Italy and is made from cornmeal and other grains. It comes with a wooden handle reminiscent of old-world kitchens and wood-fired stoves.

      • Lacquered to prevent tarnishing
      • Makes up to 5 quarts
      • $89.99*

      Shop on Overstock

      *As of publishing date

      7. Potato Cooker Pouches

      This is a practical stocking stuffer for those who like to cook but don’t have much free time. The fun little pouch lets you cook a potato in only four minutes. Though some of us might be satisfied with its basic use, home chefs will likely take it a step further to prepare some more creative dishes.

      • Easy to use
      • Washable
      • $10.49*

      Shop on Amazon

      *As of publishing date

      The holidays are supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but often this season becomes the most stressful part of the year. It can be hard to pick the perfect gifts for our friends and our family — but from proud pet parents to tech lovers, there's an outstanding gift out there for everyone.

      Holiday Gift Guide: The Home Chef...

      Coronavirus update: A green light for the Pfizer vaccine, dashed hopes for a new aid bill

      Biden health adviser: ‘No Christmas parties’

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

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 15,645,955 (15,413,913)

      Total U.S. deaths: 292,611 (289,970)

      Total global cases: 69,833,475 (69,139,809)

      Total global deaths: 1,587,024 (1,574,294)

      FDA panel greenlights Pfizer’s vaccine

      The U.S. is a step closer to receiving a vaccine against the coronavirus (COVID-19). An advisory panel to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recommended approval of the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech.

      FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said today that the FDA “is finalizing the necessary documents to ensure that patients and providers have the information that they need to make informed decisions.”

      Three of the panelists voting no told reporters that they would have voted yes if the vaccine were strictly for people 18 and older. They said there was insufficient data for people under 18. Other panelists said the benefits outweighed the risks.

      “When you have 2,000 to 3,000 people a day—a day—dying of coronavirus, to me this was a clear choice,” Ofer Levy, a panel member and director of the Precision Vaccines Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, told The Wall Street Journal.

      GOP casts doubt on passage of compromise aid bill

      Hopes for Congressional action on a new COVID-19 aid bill this month are quickly fading. Key Republican senators have backed away from a $908 billion compromise bill put forth by a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

      The sticking point remains language dealing with financial aid to states and cities along with liability protection during the pandemic for businesses. Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said Republicans think the liability protection should be stronger.

      Democrats say they continue to be supportive of the proposal, noting that key benefits for consumers under the CARES Act expire at the end of the month. This morning, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) upped the ante, adding an amendment to send direct aid to Americans to the stopgap spending bill.

      No Christmas parties, Biden adviser says

      One of President-elect Biden’s top COVID-19 advisers says Americans are going to have to find different ways to celebrate the Christmas holiday this year because Christmas parties are out. 

      Dr. Michael Osterholm told CNN that the next three weeks are going to be bad, and people will have to take extra precautions. Despite the government’s first step toward vaccine distribution, Osterholm warned that it would be “several months” before the nation sees widespread availability of vaccines.

      Researchers say a rapid test could prevent deaths

      Researchers have found that a rapid COVID-19 test could identify which patients are responding to drug treatments and which patients are in need of more aggressive help. Their study was presented at the virtual 2020 AACC Annual Scientific Meeting & Clinical Lab Expo.

      The scientists say this is important because, while treating severely ill patients with corticosteroids reduces the risk of death, prescribing it for patients who don’t really need it can carry the risk of serious side effects.

      Corticosteroids work by reducing the activity of a patient’s immune system to prevent it from attacking and damaging the lungs. Doctors worry that prescribing these drugs either too early or at too high a dosage could worsen a patient’s condition by hindering the body’s ability to clear the virus. 

      Mask pollution plaguing California

      The pandemic has produced economic misery and an ever-rising death toll. It may also be contributing to pollution.

      California residents are complaining that masks, rubber gloves, disinfectant wipes, and other personal protective equipment (PPE) that is effective in saving lives is now finding its way to rivers, bays, and the Pacific Ocean.

      “Whatever the product may be, this is a new, additional plastic threat," Adam Ratner, of the Marine Mammal Center, told the Washington Post.

      Around the nation

      • Minnesota: State health department director Dr. Ruth Lynfield says many people who are infected with COVID-19 do not have symptoms, making it easier to spread the virus. “This is estimated that about 50 percent of transmission can occur in people who are pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic," she told reporters.

      • New Jersey: A new report warns that the COVID-19 risk to students and teachers in public schools is rising. The report said New Jersey had 18 new in-school outbreaks leading to 103 new cases in the past week.

      • New Mexico: Gov. Michelle Lujan says the state is making preparations to roll out a vaccine so it can be distributed as soon as it’s approved by the FDA. In keeping with federal guidelines, Lujan said the first doses will go to frontline health workers in the state.

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 15,645,955 (15,413,...

      CVS, UPS, and others on hiring spree to aid in COVID-19 vaccine distribution

      Some companies are offering bonuses to new hires

      The COVID-19 pandemic’s supply chain is getting a boost to the advantage of unemployed workers. With the country readying itself for the distribution of approved coronavirus vaccines and weekly unemployment claims continuing to mount, four companies involved in the pivotal distribution and administration of a vaccine have set out on a hiring binge. 

      The country’s two largest logistics companies -- UPS and FedEx -- typically hire extra employees every year around the holidays. But because of the demand of getting vaccines to ready and willing people safely, and the added stress of making sure the vaccines are delivered at the ultra-low temperatures required, the companies are adding even more workers.

      “We recognized early on this would be a record peak season. We’ve even taken to calling this peak ‘The Shipathon’ months ago because we knew it was going to be a record peak,” FedEx’s Americas regional president Robert Smith told senators at a subcommittee hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on Thursday. 

      Pharmacies are adding more workers too

      The other part of the equation, of course, is administering the vaccines. To escalate that component, Operation Warp Speed has contracted both Walgreens and CVS, the nation’s two largest pharmacy chains. 

      Walgreens’ goal is to hire 9,000 additional staff, and it’s so intent on fulfilling its obligation that it’s offering sign-on and referral bonuses of up to $30,000. CVS didn’t disclose any hiring numbers or bonuses, but it did add additional information on the “vaccine support” section of its corporate website.

      “We’re hiring pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, and nurses to administer COVID-19 vaccines and care for patients across the United States,” the company said.

      COVID-related customer service needs some work

      On a customer satisfaction level as it relates to coronavirus-related services, CVS and Walgreens both have some work to do. 

      CVS took it on the nose from one ConsumerAffairs reviewer -- Saheli of Bryan, TX -- who said its 'minute clinic' doesn't provide the results on time as guaranteed on their website, which caused them to miss their flight and change their itinerary. 

      “When we called them on their helpline, they assured us that the lab will make sure that we get our results in time to board our flight. But their tone changed once we took the COVID-19 test at one of their pharmacies,” Saheli commented.

      Walgreens’ fared about the same with another consumer, Melissa of Belton, Texas. In her review, she complained that her son also needed testing to be able to travel, but when he arrived for his appointment time, he was greeted with a sign saying that testing was canceled and to come back the next day. 

      “He did not receive a phone call or any other notification. No one in the store could answer any questions, they only gave him a phone number to call which no one answered and had a voicemail that was not set up. The next day he came back to the same sign. Because of this he was not able to fly. Walgreens handled this so badly, not even returning calls through customer service or giving him any other options,” Melissa wrote.

      The COVID-19 pandemic’s supply chain is getting a boost to the advantage of unemployed workers. With the country readying itself for the distribution of ap...

      FDA panel recommends approval of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine

      It’s the first step in distributing the vaccine to Americans

      An advisory panel to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recommended approval of the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech.

      The FDA is expected to grant emergency use authorization (EAU) within hours, meaning the vaccine could begin to be distributed in the U.S. to people age 16 and older. The panel reached its decision on a 17-4 vote after a day-long meeting.

      Three of the panelists voting no told reporters they would have voted yes if the vaccine were strictly for people 18 and older. They said there was insufficient data for people under 18. Other panelists said the benefits outweighed the risks.

      “When you have 2,000 to 3,000 people a day—a day—dying of coronavirus, to me this was a clear choice,” Ofer Levy, a panel member and director of the Precision Vaccines Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, told The Wall Street Journal.

      Concerns

      The non-profit Children’s Health Defense expressed concern, saying the clinical trials for the vaccine failed to provide adequate data.

      “Only 2.1 percent and 1.8 percent of the study cohort included patients 75 years old and over with pre-existing medical conditions, for the vaccinated and the placebo groups, respectively,” the group said in a press release. “There were only 41 total African Americans over age 75 in both arms of the Pfizer vaccine study. These are insufficient samples on which to base broad recommendations for these very important and vulnerable segments of the population.”

      Two health care workers who received the vaccine this week in the UK suffered adverse reactions to it. Health officials said both persons had a history of severe allergic reactions, suggesting the vaccine might not be appropriate for people in that category.

      Preparing for distribution

      Frontline medical personnel and the staff and residents of nursing homes will be the first Americans to receive the vaccine, under guidelines adopted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

      Pending the FDA’s green light, Pfizer could begin the vaccine distribution process this weekend. The health agency will next turn its attention to the vaccine produced by Moderna. The two vaccines are similar messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines that contain a tiny bit of genetic material from the virus but not the virus itself.

      If both are approved, the government says 40 million doses could be available in the U.S. by the end of December. However, the CDC said it expects between 5 million and 10 million doses to become available each week for the first few months while manufacturers ramp up production. 

      "We expect a constrained supply environment," the CDC’s Sara Oliver said earlier this month.

      Retail pharmacies are being mobilized to distribute the vaccines as more Americans become eligible to be inoculated. 

      The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has begun working with Kroger, Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, and other national chains to become vaccination distribution centers. These firms have begun training staff and securing large refrigeration units to become vaccination centers.

      An advisory panel to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recommended approval of the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioN...

      Nearly 40 percent of Americans plan to spend less this holiday season, survey finds

      Many consumers cited pandemic-related reasons for cutting back on spending

      Around 40 percent of U.S. consumers plan to spend less than they normally do on gifts this holiday season, according to a survey from CNBC. 

      The organization polled 800 Americans as part of its All America Economic Survey and found that the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is causing many consumers to cut back on spending. 

      The survey found that 39 percent of consumers will spend less this holiday season, while just 11 percent plan to spend more than usual. The average American plans to spend $886, which is a 10 percent decrease from planned holiday spending last year. 

      In 2017, the same survey found that 25 percent of Americans planned to cut back spending during the holidays, and 18 percent said they would spend more.

      Wealthiest Americans showing most restraint

      This year, the reasons consumers cited for spending less were: 

      • Loss of wages or income (29 percent)

      • The coronavirus (19 percent)

      • The economy (17 percent)

      • A need to save money (16 percent)

      CNBC’s survey showed decreased spending plans across all income brackets. However, the survey suggested that “the wealthiest Americans could be holding back the most” this year.

      “It does seem like those Americans earning over $100,000 are holding back a little bit more than they did in 2019,” said Hart Research Associates partner Jay Campbell.

      That caution could be rooted in uncertainty regarding how next year will play out economically. A third of respondents said they believe the economy will get worse in 2021. Republicans were found to have a more pessimistic outlook about the economy while Democrats’ outlook has grown more positive since the election of former Vice President Joe Biden. 

      Online spending surge

      The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a significant jump in the number of consumers planning to do their shopping online this holiday season. CNBC’s survey found that 55 percent of respondents plan to do most of their shopping online, compared with 43 percent a year ago. 

      “It’s the biggest gain in the 14 years of the survey and follows a three-year plateau in that metric. It’s also the first time more than half of respondents favored online shopping,” the report noted. 

      Around 40 percent of U.S. consumers plan to spend less than they normally do on gifts this holiday season, according to a survey from CNBC. The organiz...

      AMC secures $100 million investment, but it says it will need more to avoid bankruptcy

      The movie chain continues to fret over studios releasing movies simultaneously on streaming services and in theaters

      AMC Theatres has secured a $100 million investment to help keep the beleaguered movie chain afloat, but it says it still needs another $750 million of additional liquidity to fund the company’s cash requirements through the end of 2021.

      Mudrick Capital came to AMC’s rescue with the additional funding. The company is an investment firm specializing in distressed credit investing, focused on “find(ing) investments with attractive risk reward ratios.” It also holds second lien notes issued by AMC and, if need be, will convert $100 million of existing AMC debt into AMC common stock.

      If all else fails?

      Should AMC fail to get more help, it repeated that it may have to enter bankruptcy proceedings. While 400 of its nearly 600 U.S. theaters are still open, bankruptcy may force it to close the rest of those theaters’ doors.

      “Given the uncertainty regarding our ability to raise material amounts of additional liquidity and the uncertainty as to the time at which attendance levels might normalize, substantial doubt exists about the company’s ability to continue as a going concern for a reasonable period of time,” AMC said in a regulatory filing.

      Another COVID-19 casualty

      It’s no surprise, but AMC puts much of the blame squarely on the pandemic’s shoulders. 

      “A significant spike in coronavirus cases, together with delays of major movie releases or the direct or simultaneous release of movie titles to the home video or streaming markets in lieu of theatre exhibition, have led to theatre closures, prevented the opening of theatres in major markets and have had, and are expected to continue to have in the future, a material adverse impact on theatre attendance levels and our business,” AMC said.

      The company’s finger-pointing toward delays and simultaneous releases of movies was aimed directly at Warner Brothers, who recently decided to release its entire 2021 movie slate on its streaming service HBO Max and in theaters simultaneously. AMC has fretted about this possibility for months, and it said in the filing that other studios may follow. 

      AMC found some respite over the summer with Universal, which it struck a deal with to make movies available sooner outside of theaters. However, that’s the only handshake deal it has been able to make so far.

      AMC Theatres has secured a $100 million investment to help keep the beleaguered movie chain afloat, but it says it still needs another $750 million of addi...

      Disney+ tacks on $1 to its monthly subscription price

      Subscribers will pay $8 a month for the service starting in the spring

      Disney+ is raising its monthly subscription price to $7.99 a month, a $1 increase. The new price will go into effect March 26, 2021. 

      With the price hike, subscribers will pay $79.99 per year. Disney is also raising the price of the Disney Bundle -- which has Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN Plus -- to $13.99 a month (also a $1 increase). 

      Since launching in November 2019, Disney+ has amassed a whopping 86.8 million subscribers. During a four-hour presentation for investors on Thursday, Disney said it’s putting a lot of money into new content and needs to raise prices for subscribers as a result. 

      As many as 20 new Marvel and Star Wars series and more than two dozen Disney and Pixar movies or series are headed straight to Disney+, according to the company. Disney+ will be the first to receive movies like “Pinocchio,” starring Tom Hanks and directed by Robert Zemeckis, and “Peter Pan and Wendy,” starring Jude Law (both of which are still in production).

      The price increase comes a little over a month after fellow streaming giant Netflix raised the prices of its standard and premium subscription plans. At the time, Netflix’s COO and chief product officer Greg Peters said Netflix will “occasionally go back and ask [customers] to pay a little bit more to keep that virtuous cycle of investment and value creation going.” 

      Disney+ is raising its monthly subscription price to $7.99 a month, a $1 increase. The new price will go into effect March 26, 2021. With the price hik...

      Flavors added to e-cigarettes can lead to lasting heart damage, study finds

      Experts say that young people are most attracted to the wide variety of flavor options

      There is no shortage of research highlighting the health risks associated with vaping -- especially when looking at the additives that are particularly popular among younger consumers. 

      A new study conducted by researchers from the University of South Florida has explored the flavor additives even further, and it found that these chemicals can increase the risk of lasting heart damage.

      “The flavored electronic nicotine delivery systems widely popular among teens and young adults are not harm-free,” said researcher Sami Noujaim, PhD. “Altogether, our findings in the cells and mice indicate that vaping does interfere with the normal functioning of the heart and can potentially lead to cardiac rhythm disturbances.”

      Compromising heart health

      The researchers conducted experiments on both young mice and human cardiac cells to better understand how flavor additives in e-cigarettes can compromise heart health. In all of the trials, both the mice and the human cells were exposed to several different flavor additives, as well as e-vapors that didn’t contain flavorings, to understand how the health risks change. 

      While e-cigarettes pose a threat to consumers’ health without adding flavors, the researchers learned that the flavor additives only exacerbated those health risks in both mice and human cells. 

      For the mice, the researchers observed several changes to their normal heart functioning. The primary disturbance was heart rate, as the mice exposed to e-cigarette flavor additives were more likely to develop ventricular tachycardia, which speeds up the natural heart rate. However, other mice were also more susceptible to a slowed heart rate variability, which means the time between heartbeats is slower; this typically happens when the body is under stress, and it can increase the risk for heart disease over time. 

      The researchers noted similar effects to the human cardiac cells. Even before exposing the cells to the flavor additives, the e-cigarette vapor alone affected how fast the cells were able to beat. As the researchers added both nicotine and flavoring, the cells became even more compromised, though the worst outcomes came from the addition of the flavoring.  

      “This experiment told us that the flavoring chemicals added to vaping devices can increase harm beyond what the nicotine alone can do,” Dr. Noujaim said. 

      Tightening restrictions

      Despite efforts to regulate e-cigarettes -- especially in recent months as experts warned about the risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic -- many young people continue to seek out flavored vaping options. The researchers hope that these findings can help cut down on the use of e-cigarettes among this demographic.

      “Our research matters because regulation of the vaping industry is a work in progress,” said Dr. Noujaim. “The FDA needs input from the scientific community about all the possible risks of vaping in order to effectively regulate electronic nicotine delivery systems and protect the public’s health. At USF Health, in particular, we will continue to examine how vaping may adversely affect cardiac health.”

      There is no shortage of research highlighting the health risks associated with vaping -- especially when looking at the additives that are particularly pop...

      Gas prices stabilize as COVID-19 cases rise

      Sixteen states still have average prices below $2 a gallon

      The rise in oil prices that sent gas prices higher two weeks ago was offset this week by a continued drop in demand. More cars remained parked as health officials urged Americans to spend more time at home to stem the deadly rise in coronavirus (COVID-19) cases.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows that the national average price of regular gas is $2.15 a gallon, a penny more than last Friday. Prices are four cents higher than a month ago. The average price of premium gas is $2.77 a gallon, the same as last week. The average price of diesel fuel rose two cents a gallon to $2.45 a gallon.

      Oil prices have begun to rise in recent weeks in response to optimism about vaccines that could end the pandemic by mid-2021. But the lack of demand has kept prices at the pump in check. At the beginning of the week, AAA reported that gasoline demand was down 8 million barrels a day. GasBuddy reported that demand was slightly higher than the week before, but it’s running 12 percent below 2019.

      Though prices have risen over the last four weeks, 16 states still have average prices below $2 a gallon. One year ago, the average price was 42 cents a gallon higher than today.

      The states with the most expensive gas

      These states currently have the highest prices for regular gas, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Survey:

      • Hawaii ($3.28)

      • California ($3.18)

      • Washington ($2.75)

      • Oregon ($2.58)

      • Nevada ($2.58)

      • Pennsylvania ($2.53)

      • Alaska ($2.50)

      • Maryland ($2.34)

      • New Jersey ($2.28)

      • Idaho ($2.26)

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

      The survey found these states currently have the lowest prices for regular gas:

      • Missouri ($1.84)

      • Mississippi ($1.84)

      • Texas ($1.85)

      • Oklahoma ($1.87)

      • Louisiana ($1.88)

      • Arkansas ($1.90)

      • Alabama ($1.91)

      • Tennessee ($1.91)

      • South Carolina ($1.92)

      • Wisconsin ($1.94)

      The rise in oil prices that sent gas prices higher two weeks ago was offset this week by a continued drop in demand. More cars remained parked as health of...

      Volkswagen recalls vehicles with rear view camera issue

      The rear view camera malfunction could pose a crash risk

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 31,947 model year 2021 Atlas Cross Sports, Tiguan LWBs, Jetta NFs, Jetta GLIs, Golf GTIs, Atlas FLs and Arteons.

      The rear view camera could malfunction during an ignition cycle, leading to a black screen or infotainment system freeze.

      A black or frozen rear view image reduces the driver's view when reversing, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will update the infotainment system software free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin January 15, 2021.

      Owners may contact Volkswagen customer service at (800) 893-5298. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 91BB/91BC.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 31,947 model year 2021 Atlas Cross Sports, Tiguan LWBs, Jetta NFs, Jetta GLIs, Golf GTIs, Atlas FLs and Arteons. ...

      Delta ultra-violet generators for pools and spas recalled

      Water can leak within the generator, causing excessive heat build-up

      Neptune Benson of Warwick, R.I., is recalling about 4,650 Delta UV EA-4H-10 ultra-violet generators installed in swimming pools and swim spas.

      Water can leak within the generator, causing excessive heat build-up in the area where the power cord connects to the body of the generator unit, which can pose a fire hazard.

      The firm has received 92 reports of incidents involving overheating, melting or burning of the generators and the area around the generators. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Delta UV EA-4H-10 ultra-violet generators installed in swimming pools and swim spas to sanitize the water. The majority were installed in Endless Pools.

      The brand and model number can be identified from the manufacturing plate located on one end of the generator’s steel tube.

      They are silver and black in color and are 4 inches in diameter and 25 inches long.

      The generators, manufactured in the U.S., were sold by Neptune Benson to pool and spa commercial customers from August 2016, through February 2020, for about $320.

      Prior to August 2016, the generators were manufactured and sold by Delta UV Corporation to pool and spa commercial customers.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately unplug and discontinue use of the generator and contact Neptune Benson for a free inspection and repair or replacement.

      Consumers may contact Neptune Benson toll-free at (888) 847-8710 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, or online at https://www.evoqua.com/en/brands/Neptune-Benson and click on “Register your recall” in the middle of the page for more information.

      Neptune Benson of Warwick, R.I., is recalling about 4,650 Delta UV EA-4H-10 ultra-violet generators installed in swimming pools and swim spas. Water can...

      Washington Shoe Company recalls Western Chief toddler boots

      Rivets used to attach the handles to the boot can detach

      Washington Shoe Company of Kent, Wash., is recalling about 77,400 pair of Western Chief toddler light-up rain boots.

      Rivets used to attach the handles to the boot can detach, posing a choking hazard to children.

      The firm has received 115 reports of the boot handles and rivets detaching, and two reports of children placing the rivets in their mouths. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall includes the Western Chief “Abstract Camo,” “Alia Silver,” and “Sweetheart Navy” Light-Up Rain Boots in sizes 5-12 for toddlers or children.

      The recalled boots are camouflage, silver glitter, and navy with hearts; include boot handles; and have a light up feature in the heel of the boot.

      The rivets used to attach the handles are silver-gray.

      “Western Chief” and the model numbers are located on the inside tag of the boot. The recalled model numbers are T24121725P, T24121728P, and T24121729P.

      The boots, manufactured in China, were sold exclusively at Target stores nationwide and online at Target.com from May 2020, through October 2020, for about $25.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled boots, take the boots away from children, and return them to any Target Store for a full refund. ​​​​

      Consumers may contact Washington Shoe Company toll-free at (855) 545-0862 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (PT) Monday through Friday, by email at recall@westernchief.com, or online at https://www.washingtonshoe.com/recall for more information.

      Washington Shoe Company of Kent, Wash., is recalling about 77,400 pair of Western Chief toddler light-up rain boots. Rivets used to attach the handles t...

      Holiday Gift Guide: The Coffee Snob

      Wake up! It’s Christmas!!

      Christmas shopping for a coffee lover is hard if you don’t drink much coffee yourself. For the under-caffeinated, the sheer number of options and amount of paraphernalia can be intimidating. To help, the ConsumerAffairs research team curated a list of some of our favorite coffee-related gifts for 2020.

      OXO Cold Brew Coffee Maker

      There really isn’t a “season” for cold brew concentrate — rest assured your coffee lover will use this all year long. We like that the OXO has a rainmaker top so the grounds brew evenly. It yields up to 16 ounces per batch, which can then be used in cold or hot drinks.

      • Compact size
      • Automatic draining
      • $29.99*

      Shop on Amazon

      *As of publishing date

      Bean Box Gourmet Coffee Subscription

      The gift that keeps on giving. Each month for three months, Bean Box sends four half-pound bags of whole coffee beans sourced from top roasters in Seattle. The package also includes tasting notes, roaster profiles, brewing tips and a special “artisan treat.”

      • Supports small-batch roasters
      • Freshness guaranteed
      • $68*

      Shop on Amazon

      *As of publishing date

      Ember Smart Mug

      Do you know someone that always lets their coffee get cold? A heated mug is cool for them because it keeps that sweet bean juice steamy, even if they get distracted for a few minutes — or an hour and a half.

      • Pairs with the Ember app
      • Includes charging coaster
      • $99.95*

      Shop on Amazon

      *As of publishing date

      Bretani Manual Coffee Grinder

      A manual grinder makes a perfect gift for the coffee lover who needs control over all aspects of their life. The brushed stainless steel makes this coffee grinder easy to look at and easy to clean.

      • 18 adjustable course settings
      • Washing brush and travel bag included
      • $15.99*

      Shop on Overstock

      *As of publishing date

      Whetstone Camera Lens Mug

      The Ember mug is great for home, but this mug is better for being out and about. It looks like you're drinking from the SLR of a camera, which is sure to be a conversation starter. This is a must-buy if your coffee friend also happens to be a photographer.

      • Stainless steel with screw-on lid
      • Holds up to 12 ounces
      • $26.73*

      Shop on Overstock

      *As of publishing date

      Flair Signature Espresso Maker

      The Flair Signature is a stunning piece of craftsmanship with overall positive ratings on Amazon. Plus, it’s portable and easy to clean. (A completely manual espresso machine is a pretty serious gift — it’s best for the person who already has a quality grinder, scale and everything else you need to make better coffee a home.)

      • Custom pressure gauge
      • $239*

      Shop on Amazon

      *As of publishing date

      Breville Barista Express Espresso Machine

      A Christmas surprise for the true latte lovers. This semi-automatic espresso machine comes with the equipment that's needed to be an at-home barista, including a tamper, stainless steel milk jug, portafilters and a dose trimming tool.

      • Built-in grinder
      • One-year warranty
      • $699.98*

      Shop on Overstock

      *As of publishing date

      "The Monk of Mokha" by Dave Eggers

      If your coffee snob also loves a good read, then "The Monk of Mokha" by Dave Eggers is sure to impress. The 352-page book tells the true story of a young Yemeni-American man from San Francisco as he rises to success in the coffee industry.

      • Nonfiction
      • 352 pages
      • $10.89*

      Shop on Amazon

      *As of publishing date

      As you can see, there are tons of coffee gadgets and accessories to delight even the most fickle coffee snobs. For more news about holiday shopping, check out the latest in holiday spending trends.

      Holiday gifts for coffee lovers...

      Coronavirus update: Wednesday marks another deadliest day, FDA begins final vaccine review

      Jobless benefits claims surged last week

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

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 15,413,913 (15,189,410)

      Total U.S. deaths: 289,970 (286,521)

      Total global cases: 69,139,809 (68,469,834)

      Total global deaths: 1,574,294 (1,561,953)

      More than 3,000 deaths on Wednesday

      Wednesday was America’s deadliest day for the coronavirus (COVID-19), with more than 3,000 deaths attributed to the disease. The number of deaths has been moving steadily higher since mid-November.

      The COVID-19 Tracking Project at Johns Hopkins University put the official death toll at 3,124, the most ever recorded in a 24-hour period. Deaths have risen in tandem with a sudden rise in infections.

      In a new forecast, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said it now expects another 24,000 deaths in the U.S. over the next four weeks.

      FDA begins final  review of vaccine data

      A panel of outside experts advising the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has begun reviewing data from the clinical trial of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. A recommendation is expected by Friday.

      Doran Fink, deputy clinical director of the FDA’s division of vaccines, said this week that the agency won’t stop monitoring the use, manufacturing quality, benefits, or risks of vaccines, even after they have been approved. In a joint statement, FDA Commissioner Dr. Steven Hahn and Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said efforts are being expedited to approve a vaccine, but not at expense of sound science and decision making. 

      “We will not jeopardize the public’s trust in our science-based, independent review of these or any vaccines,” they said. There’s too much at stake.”

      New jobless benefit claims take off again

      There was a big increase in the number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits last week. The Labor Department reports that claims totaled 853,000, a significant increase from the revised 716,000 the week before.

      Last week saw the largest number of benefit applications since Sept. 19. Economists, who were expecting a lower number, say it points to the struggle the economy is experiencing because of the virus.

      Just as troubling, the Labor Department said continuing unemployment claims increased by 230,000 to 5.76 million. That number had been trending lower over the last three months.

      Southern California fueling that state’s virus surge

      California health officials who are trying to track the state’s surge in COVID-19 infections and deaths have pointed a finger at Southern California and the Central Valley. They say deaths from the virus are rising despite the region’s younger demographic.

      A Los Angeles Times analysis of data shows that more than 300 fatalities were reported in Los Angeles County, with nearly 80 in San Bernardino County. Riverside and San Diego counties both recorded 70 deaths, and Orange County reported 60 fatalities.

      Ten mostly rural counties in California reported having no intensive care unit beds available on Wednesday, according to state health data analyzed by Reuters. 

      The new frontier of vaccines

      Researchers at Penn State Health have issued guidance to the public to provide more information about mRNA vaccines, the type developed by Pfizer and Moderna and the ones most likely to be available first to Americans. In a way, they say it’s uncharted territory.

      “This type of vaccine — mRNA — has been studied before,” said Dr. Catharine Paules, an infectious diseases physician at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. “But this will be the first time they’ve been authorized for use broadly in the United States.”

      Researchers are highly optimistic that these vaccines will be safe and effective. Unlike traditional vaccines, they say mRNA vaccines don’t contain the virus itself but use a piece of genetic material from the virus to trigger an immune response.

      Around the nation

      • Ohio: Ohio’s curfew, enacted Nov.19, expires today, but few expect an all-clear signal from the governor while cases of the virus are increasing. Gov. Mike DeWine is expected to extend the curfew, which requires people to stay at home during the overnight hours.

      • Washington: An appellate judge has ruled that the owner of Anytime Fitness gyms in Yakima does not have to pay fines levied by the state for allegedly violating virus mitigation rules. The judge said the Washington state Department of Labor and Industries did not show sufficient evidence to justify the penalty.

      • Connecticut: Gov. Ned Lamont said the state is exploring the possibility of offering financial aid to Connecticut’s restaurants. Over 600 restaurants in the state have permanently closed their doors due to the pandemic.

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 15,413,913 (15,189,...