Columbian Newspaper

‘Hard to budge’: Virginia researchers are studying COVID-19 vaccine myths
Author: Katherine Hafner, The Virginian-Pilot

NORFOLK, Va. – Many of us spent more time online in the past year after public health officials encouraged us to distance ourselves from each other and stay home during the coronavirus pandemic.

It was the safer way to live. But the online world has its dangers related to the virus, too.

The internet has been a breeding ground for misinformation about the pandemic, so much so that the World Health Organization deemed COVID-19 the first “infodemic.”

At Virginia Tech, researchers have been studying the phenomenon. With a $25,000 grant from the university’s Fralin Life Sciences Institute, research assistant professor Michelle Rockwell formed an interdisciplinary team focused on learning more about how misinformation on social media influences people’s plans to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Rockwell said she was first interested in social media messaging around health care more generally, “but how could we be interested in anything else (but the vaccine) right now?”

Misinformation is different from disinformation. While the latter is distributed purposefully to sow confusion or depress knowledge – think Russian hackers – the former is simply false information that gets circulated.

The Virginia Tech team decided to focus its study on how misinformation is perceived in the Appalachian region, believing that community to be particularly vulnerable due in part to historically worse access to quality health care.

The researchers designed a social media simulation to see if a post warning people to look out for misinformation would affect people’s perceptions of stories they saw afterward. Rather than a flag – a type of warning label that Facebook, for example, has started adding to posts notifying users to possible misinformation – the warning they used was a social media post itself, discussing misinformation about the vaccine.

The study participants – 1,048 people in the 13-state Appalachian region, half in rural areas and half not – saw either a neutral post or a warning post in their social media feed. It was designed to look like it was coming from different sources, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden; a local hospital; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; or the individual’s health provider.

After seeing such a warning, people were 40% less likely to rate an erroneous story about the coronavirus vaccine as accurate, and 60% less likely to share it, Rockwell said. The researchers call that a “nudge” from a trusted health influencer.

The Virginia researchers based the misinformation test posts on four COVID-19 vaccine myths they have seen persist online:

  • That the vaccine can cause infertility. Almost half of respondents to the Virginia study said they believed this. The myth likely originated in a letter sent to the European equivalent of the FDA, according to health news organization STAT. The letter erroneously claimed that the vaccine contains a spike protein called syncytin-1 that is vital for women’s placentas. Coronavirus vaccines in fact do not contain syncytin-1, nor do they instruct women’s bodies to generate it. There has been valid debate over whether pregnant women should opt for a vaccine. Medical experts now say they should because infection from COVID-19 can increase risk for complications that outweigh possible vaccine side effects.
  • That there is a high risk of serious side effects, including paralysis. About 40% of respondents believed a story about a high percentage of vaccine recipients experiencing such side effects. Here’s the truth: The most common side effects are swelling, redness and pain around the site of injection, as well as headache, muscle pain, nausea, fever and chills for a short time following the shot. Women have been reporting more side effects than men, possibly because of their stronger immune response. But extreme effects, like paralysis, are not on the list. There’s also an inherent perception problem, experts say: If someone receives a vaccine and then experiences a health problem that might have happened anyway, such as a heart attack, people could draw conclusions that they were related.
  • That Microsoft founder and billionaire Bill Gates created the vaccine to install microchipped tracking devices in people. About 40% believed this. It’s simply not true. The rumors may have been propelled, as the BBC reported, when Gates said in an interview last year that eventually we “will have some digital certificates” showing who had recovered or been tested for the virus. He was referring to the idea of an open-source digital platform to share information, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation later clarified. There was never any mention of microchips. The foundation has pledged millions of dollars to efforts fighting the coronavirus, particularly in low-income countries, but was not involved in developing the vaccines currently on the market.
  • That vaccines aren’t real because the coronavirus and pandemic aren’t real, either. Less than 20% believed this.

The myths “are sure hard to budge,” Rockwell said.

So how best to combat the infodemic?

“There are gobs of information, and it’s evolving so quickly,” she said. “A very subtle pause and reminder that this (misinformation) is out there, could make such a powerful difference.”

That’s especially true, they found, when the source is your own doctor.

In a survey, the Virginia Tech team found that trust in science and trust in health care in general were the biggest predictors of a person’s readiness to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Younger people and those in more rural areas tended to be less likely to say they’d get a shot.

But when asked who was the most trusted health messenger, or where they’d prefer to get a vaccine if they did, primary care physicians “far and away” topped the list.

As part of the grant, the team is now working with business analytics to track language about the vaccine across Twitter and Reddit through a process called context mapping.

In the meantime, researchers hope their early findings can help inform public health officials on how to best get people accurate information from sources they trust.

Letter: Help all Americans achieve dream
Author: Ken Simpson, Vancouver

In 1931, historian James Truslow Adams coined the phrase “American Dream” to capture the optimism of the American people. It’s built upon the self-evident truth, identified by Thomas Jefferson, that all men are created equal.

But Jefferson’s American dream included enslaving more than 600 people. Later, when the multicultural children of immigrant factory workers found social mobility and economic security, all Americans were not included. Today, competing visions of the American dream are driving Democrats and Republicans apart.

Democrats have wholeheartedly embraced the rights revolution and its new definition of the American dream. They want to champion diversity by expanding rights and individual choice to those who have been historically overlooked.

Meanwhile, symbols of white supremacy along with Trump banners were on full display at the U.S. Capitol riot. Are extremists, who are not interested in enlarging the American dream to everyone, winning the battle for the GOP’s soul?

Now we have dueling legislations. President Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill provides both a handout and a hand up to all challenged American workers, while Republican state lawmakers have proposed election laws that would limit minority voters.

It’s a struggle to determine what the American dream will mean in America’s future.


Tom Hanks’ ‘Greyhound’ streaming, up for Oscar
Author: Rich Heldenfels, Tribune News Service

You have questions. I have some answers.

Tom Hanks made a movie about being the captain of a destroyer escorting a convoy during World War II. I do not know the name of the movie, but I don’t think it was ever released in theaters. I can’t find it on Redbox or pay-per-view, and I cannot find it for purchase anywhere. Do you know what happened to this movie?

The name of the movie is “Greyhound,” and it is quite good. As you know, when the pandemic forced many movie theaters to shut down, studios began looking for other ways to get their productions in front of audiences, and streaming was one solution. So “Greyhound” ended up on the subscription service Apple TV+, where you can still find it (and where you can get a seven-day free trial).

The shift to streaming, by the way, affected the eligibility rules for the Academy Awards on April 25. Motion Picture Academy rules customarily require “that a film be shown in a commercial motion picture theater in Los Angeles County for a theatrical qualifying run of at least seven consecutive days, during which period screenings must occur at least three times daily.” But for this year’s awards, streaming films were eligible without a theatrical release. “Greyhound” is nominated for an Oscar for its achievement in sound.

“Wolf Hall” is an amazing series! When will there be a second season, and will the cast be the same?

Based on two novels by Hilary Mantel, the six-episode drama was much praised when it first aired in 2015. Those novels, “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up the Bodies,” were part of a trilogy. And in 2019, the BBC confirmed that a second run of “Wolf Hall” was in the works, to be based on the conclusion of the trilogy, the long-anticipated “The Mirror & The Light.” That novel arrived in March 2020 and work began on a screen adaptation. But that was also the point where the pandemic was wreaking havoc, and I don’t know where the production currently stands, or if it will reunite the original cast.

As a small child I watched a show called “Whirlybirds.” I recall it was about helicopters but not the characters or the plot. Could you please help me with that and where I can find episodes online?

“Whirlybirds” was a syndicated show originally airing from 1957 to 1959 which “The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable Shows” calls a modern-day Western where “helicopters were substituted for horses.” Chuck Martin (played by Kenneth Tobey) and Peter Moore (Craig Hill) ran a Southern California helicopter company “hired out for all sorts of jobs, such as locating lost prospectors, delivering vital supplies, and even chasing a bad guy or two.” Stunts were commonplace in their jobs. Their company had a secretary first played by Sandra Spence and then by Nancy Hale. Robert Altman, later an acclaimed movie director, directed quite a few episodes. You can find the show on YouTube, although the video and audio quality in the episodes I checked was less than ideal.

Check It Out: Ditch gadgets, go retro with reading
Author: Jan Johnston

Did you know that April 11 is National Eight-Track Tape Day? My parents had an eight-track player when I was a kid, and believe it or not, I thought it was pretty cool. I can still hear the “ka-chunk” of the cartridge going into the player and the loud “clicks” in between songs. My favorite memory of listening to eight-track tapes didn’t happen at home but on a lake. My great-aunt and -uncle lived in the same small town as my family in southern Nevada. One year my uncle won a local contest in which the grand prize was a three-day houseboat trip on Lake Mead. There were seven of us who went on the trip, and I have to say it was a hoot. The houseboat came equipped with an eight-track player and a small collection of tapes. If we had known this ahead of time, we probably would have brought some tapes of our own because our choice of music was polka … and polka. So, forevermore, eight-track tunes remind me of polka music.

This topic has put me into a groovy retro vibe, so of course, I just had to create a retro reading list. Not that I want to return to clunky eight-track cartridges, but there are other reasons to celebrate the past – maybe through clothing, hairstyles, cars or child-rearing. I was a child-to-preteen in the 1970s, so I find myself feeling a certain nostalgia for life before computers and smartphones (just not eight-track players or the abundance of gold, avocado and orange d’ecor). Maybe your retro vibe embraces a different decade, and that’s all right. Paying tribute to the past, no matter the decade, can be out of sight. Can you dig it?

  • “Classic Car: The Definitive Visual History” edited by Chauney Dunford.
  • “Retro Baby: Cut Back on All the Gear and Boost Your Baby’s Development with More Than 100 Time-Tested Activities” by Anne H. Zachary.
  • “Retro Mama Scrap Happy Sewing: 18 Easy Sewing Projects for DIY Gifts and Toys from Fabric Remnants” by Kim Kruzich.
  • “Simply Retro with Camille Roskelley: Fresh Quilts from Classic Blocks” by Camille Roskelley.
  • “The Steampunk User’s Manual: An Illustrated Practical and Whimsical Guide to Creating Retro-Futurist Dreams” by Desirina Boskovich.
  • “Sweater Girls: 20 Patterns for Starlet Sweaters, Retro Wraps, & Glamour Knits” by Madeline Weston.
  • “Vintage Hairstyles: Simple Steps for Retro Hair with a Modern Twist” by Emma Sundh.

Jan Johnston is the collection development coordinator for the Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries. Email her at

Cuban official: Island open to Cuban Americans investing, ‘strengthening ties’ with Cuba
Author: Bianca Padró Ocasio, Miami Herald

Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment is opening the door to Cuban Americans who want to participate in foreign investment projects as the island tries to jump-start its beleaguered economy and encourage Washington to loosen sanctions.

Katia Alonso, the ministry’s director of foreign capital investments, told the Miami Herald by email in response to a list of questions that Cuba won’t reject potential business bids from Cuban Americans based on the sole fact that they live in the U.S. – something she said the law has never prohibited, though in the past exile entrepreneurs haven’t always been welcomed either.

“Cuba is open to foreign capital regardless of its place of origin,” Alonso explained, “so if a Cuban American were interested – whether they were born in the U.S. or migrated to that country – in investing on the island, their interest would be evaluated just like any other potential investor from any other place of origin.”

The invitation comes as Cuba looks to boost foreign investment by including opportunities for small and medium business investors within the 503 projects now available, adding up to an estimated $12 billion. Most of the open proposals are in the tourism and energy industries, while the others include investment projects in agriculture, commerce, telecommunications, construction, medical tourism and pharmaceutical industries.

Cuba is in the midst of its most severe economic contraction since the collapse of the Soviet Union, with the government reporting an 11% contraction last year. Pandemic lockdowns, Trump administration sanctions and Venezuela’s worsening crisis shut the island off to traditional lifelines for revenue such as tourism. Cuban officials are hoping the Biden administration will loosen Trump-era restrictions on travel and remittances, though thus far the new administration has signaled that changing Cuba policy is not a priority.

“If the Biden administration is looking for signs of positive movements in Cuba as a rationale for why it should relax some of the restrictions imposed during the Trump era, this gesture by the Cuban government could be seen as a positive step forward,” said Richard Feinberg, a University of California professor and former diplomat.

The foreign investment projects are led by existing Cuban businesses, which would create partnerships with potential investors and negotiate the terms of their business proposal. It would then have to be approved by the Cuban government. Alonso said foreign investors can still propose their own private business ideas, and they will be considered as long as they meet the government’s requirements under their foreign investment policies. She first suggested Cuban Americans might apply at a press conference in March.

“The participation of Cubans who live abroad in a more active way in the economic development of the country corresponds with a desire to continue strengthening ties between Cubans and their country,” she told the Herald.

The foreign investment program does not apply to Cubans living on the island, who are legally barred from establishing medium to large private businesses in the communist country.

This became an issue in one notable case in 2016, when Saul Berenthal, a Cuban American investor wanting to create the first U.S. manufacturing plant on the island since Fidel Castro took power in 1959, saw his plans fall apart after deciding to change his permanent residency to the island, the Herald reported. Berenthal, who was born in Cuba, had proposed a plan to assemble tractors to help small farmers on the island.

Alonso said that for a foreign investor to qualify under Cuba’s laws, they must be a “natural or legal person, with residency and capital abroad.”

“In that regard, a repatriated Cuban citizen, since they do not meet the requirements established for foreign investment, would need to follow the norms for non-state forms of business in the Cuban economy,” she said.

Watchers of Cuba’s economic policies say the island’s overture to Cuban American entrepreneurs could signal a possible shift spurred by the economic crisis and the arrival of a new U.S. administration, though it is still too early to draw any conclusions. Analysts said that as long as the island continues to enforce a double standard for Cuban citizens and does not open up opportunities for private enterprises, interest from Cuban American investors will likely be limited.

“[Cuban government officials] were asked several times whether Cuban Americans could invest and the official response to this is that there was no legal impediment. But that was kind of false. So this open declaration that Cuban Americans can invest in small business is a significant change in comparison past,” said Carmelo Mesa Lago, professor emeritus of economics and Latin American studies at the University of Pittsburgh.

The Cuban government blames its economic woes on the U.S. embargo that has lasted nearly 60 years, in addition to other, more recent sanctions imposed by the Trump administration scaling back engagement with the island.

Ricardo Herrero, executive director of the Cuba Study Group, a pro-engagement policy organization, said one of the greatest impediments for Cuban Americans who may be interested in investing on the island is the deep lack of trust in Cuban authorities. Examples of projects that have been rejected, like Berenthal’s, have only made it harder to change perceptions that the island continues to have a tight grip on private enterprises.

“There is a real trust gap between the Cuban government and Cubans abroad. There’s a high level of risk perceived in an investment with the Cuban government,” Herrero said, adding that many potential investors don’t find the more than 500 projects that attractive. “Cuban Americans will want to invest in private businesses on the island… not just the ones that the Cuban government says.”

Herrero added that it is important to consider that Cuban Americans will also want to partner and hire freely on the island, which would be hindered by the government’s restrictions on local private businesses.

“Nothing will beget success like success. If Cubans in the diaspora see that Cubans investing in Cuba, that their rights are being recognized … that’s going to attract more investors,” Herrero says.

But he added: “Cuba should be recognizing the same rights for all Cubans, whether they’re at home or abroad when it comes to investing on the island.”

Cuba announced recently it would increase the number of business fields where self-employment is allowed from 127 to more than 2,000, part of a planned expansion in the works since last year. But a law to give small and medium-sized private companies legal status has been postponed until 2022.

Throughout the years, the Cuban government’s attitudes toward those who fled and wanted to return as investors has fluctuated. For years, hardliners looked at exile entrepreneurs as a potential threat to the nation’s communist system. But during the Obama administration, several prominent Cuban Americans traveled to the island to weigh potential investments.

“Most of these investors are doing this with relatives or friends, so in some ways, politics is important but it’s not the only impediment to do this,” Mesa Lago said. “Allowing Cuban Americans to invest in private business may be a sign that they are moving away from those restrictions.”

Markle, Harry’s first Netflix project set
Author: Kate Feldman, New York Daily News

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry are ready to get back to work.

The royal couple, through their production company, Archewell Productions, announced its first project Tuesday, a docuseries about the Invictus Games and its athletes.

“Heart of Invictus,” from director Orlando von Einsiedel and producer Joanna Natasegara, “will follow a group of extraordinary competitors from around the globe, all service members who have suffered life-changing injuries or illnesses on their road to the Invictus Games The Hague 2020, now set to take place in 2022,” Netflix said in a statement.

The Invictus Games, which Prince Harry co-founded in 2014, are a multisport event for wounded, injured and sick service personnel and veterans.

“Since the very first Invictus Games back in 2014, we knew that each competitor would contribute in their own exceptional way to a mosaic of resilience, determination, and resolve. This series will give communities around the world a window into the moving and uplifting stories of these competitors on their path to the Netherlands next year,” Prince Harry said in a statement.

The couple signed a massive, multiyear Netflix deal in September, shortly after leaving their royal lives behind.

The deal is expected to produce documentaries, docuseries, feature films, scripted shows and children’s programming.

Seattle Times Politics

Cops for $1,000 a day: How Seattle spends millions hiring off-duty police officers but does little to monitor their moonlighting
Author: Daniel Gilbert

Seattle officials vowed but failed to reform off-duty police work. In the system left in place, SPD can’t reliably enforce its rules. Employers pay wildly different rates for off-duty cops. One of the biggest customers? The city itself.

E. J. Dionne

Respectfully, Justice Breyer, court enlargers aren’t the problem
Author: E.J. Dionne
Enlarging the court is precisely what would preserve the court’s legitimacy.

Portland Tribune

Sunday, April 11: Heat 107, Trail Blazers 98
Author: Jason Vondersmith
Miami forces 17 turnovers, and has a 28-7 advantage on points off turnovers, and holds down Lillard.

The skinny: The Miami Heat, playing with Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic back in the lineup, played some fine defense and beat the Trail Blazers 107-98 Sunday at the Moda ...

Sunday, April 11: Heat 107, Trail Blazers 98
Author: Jason Vondersmith
Miami forces 17 turnovers, and has a 28-7 advantage on points off turnovers, and holds down Lillard.

The skinny: The Miami Heat, playing with Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic back in the lineup, played some fine defense and beat the Trail Blazers 107-98 Sunday at the Moda ...