Tag Archives: Mask

Mini Review: Moon Raider – Cute Visuals Mask A Mediocre Metroidvania

Moon Raider Review - Screenshot 1 of 6

Another day, another attempt to replicate the Metroidvania titles of yore. Moon Raider is an attractive, yet wholly unremarkable game with barely a sliver of originality. Taking place on, well, the moon, you take on the role of Ava, whose mother has fallen ill. In a brief, rather poorly constructed introductory cutscene featuring largely static images and accompanying text, it turns out Ava’s mother is Queen of the Selenites, a hostile race that inhabits the moon. In order to save her mother, Ava must travel there and locate the cure.

Almost everything about Moon Raider is achingly average. It’s not a bad game, by any means, but there’s unfortunately nothing here that stands out amongst its peers. Graphically, it’s cheery and colourful, with decent environmental design and animations. However, the character design falls completely flat; the enemy Selenites look like what a toddler’s vision of an alien would look like, with bulbous heads and big, black eyes, and Ava herself is a bland protagonist with no unique features.

Right from the start, there’s something about the gameplay that feels a little… off. The controls are relatively typical of 2D action titles and actually feel quite similar to Mega Man (albeit with an added double jump ability), but a distinct lack of polish makes the moment-to-moment gameplay feel rough. There are moments where Ava will freeze in place for a fraction of a second, and it’s as if the game can’t quite grasp the concept of performing two different moves at the same time. So basically, if you try to jump and shoot at the same time, Ava will essentially throw a miniature tantrum and just stop. These occurrences don’t last long enough to break up the gameplay, as such, but they’re absolutely long enough to become an irritation.

The game is split into levels — or zones — that largely feel fairly linear, despite numerous branching paths that lead to secrets or collectibles. The cure to your mother’s ailment is fragmented and scattered throughout the levels, and the game encourages the brand of exploration you’d expect from the genre, which works well enough. You’ll also come across various unlocked doors, and these can be opened by pulling the plug in a nearby location, killing the power supply and opening the doorway. This can also be used in other scenarios like disabling a gun turret or freeing captured creatures.

Despite some reasonably pretty visuals, the game’s sound design and audio falls disappointingly short. Every enemy gives an annoyingly unrealistic yelp upon death (think of the Wilhelm scream, but take it down an octave), which you can imagine becomes intolerable after a while. The music is consistently forgettable, with no standout tracks, and nothing that elevates the gameplay or setting. If you’re playing in handheld mode, you’ll want to crank up the volume in the settings, as its default setting is way too low, even with the hardware’s volume cranked up to maximum.

To an extent, we feel we’re being hard on Moon Raider, but compared to the plethora of excellent Metroidvania titles on Switch, this title is just ‘all right’. It’s not bad, but its various flaws mean it’s certainly not great, either. At around three hours in length, there are absolutely worse ways to spend your time, and the game does also include a neat co-op option to increase its longevity somewhat. Ultimately though, if you’re after a thrilling, memorable 2D action title with a dash of originality, this sadly isn’t it.

Ex-UFC star Bonnar rants about ‘sheep’, refers to the suffering of Jesus Christ after being kicked out of gym over mask issue

UFC legend Stephen Bonnar has gone on a rant about ‘sheep’ after apparently being kicked out of his gym on his birthday for refusing to wear a facemask properly.

The American, who famously lost to Forrest Griffin in The Ultimate Fighter 1 finale in 2005, claims to be well known to those on the premises in the clip uploaded to social media. 

“[I’ve] been coming to this gym 14 years,” he begins in a clip posted on his Instagram account.

“Getting kicked out on my birthday, ‘cos one of these sheep were complaining that my mask was dropping,” he continues, while showing fitness enthusiasts behind him seemingly minding their own business.

“Well guess what, Sheep?,” he says, revealing an inhaler. “I’ve got a medical exemption. I’ve got asthma.

“I’m doing you a favor by even playing pretend. Masks don’t do anything. Wake up you sheep,” he demanded, turning to the crowd.

Calling those present “tattle tales” and “cowards”, he then finally makes his exit. 

In a message accompanying the clip, Bonnar appeared to compare his suffering to that of Jesus Christ. 

“Easter is a good reminder how Christ, despite being a cool dude, was pretty maligned,” he wrote. 

“When I was 10, I was thrown out of the playhouse at Celebration station for my own bday party for being too tall.

“Here I am 34 years later getting thrown out of the gym for exercising my right to breathe clean air.
That’s consistency!”

Attacked for the outburst, Bonnar was asked by one observer: “Seriously, is stupidity a ‘medical exemption?'”.

“I have asthma and wear a mask eight hours a day, five days a week. I call BS on that excuse,” said another.

“The fact he calls them tattle tales means he knows he doing something wrong and is just mad he got caught. It also means he argues like a kindergartner,” came one critic of Bonnar’s maturity.

“I wish they’d all baaaaa’d at him as he left, just to p*ss him off. Poor baby,” mocked someone else.

Various users, while still critical, worried that Bonnar perhaps received “too many blows to the head” during his time in the UFC.

Someone at least fought his corner by questioning how he was meant to work out with a mask on. 
Also on rt.com ‘Wake up you fools!’: UFC Hall of Famer Stephan Bonnar laments death of free speech as Parler removed from App Store
This is the second time in recent months that Bonnar has been in the headlines for such behavior. 

In January, he told called his fellow citizens “fools” and told them to “wake up” while lamenting the death of free speech, as Parler was removed from the App Store. 

RT

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Parents sue Katy ISD for keeping mask mandate, after Gov. Greg Abbott lifted statewide requirement

A group of parents are suing the Katy Independent School District, calling its continued requirement for masks in schools unconstitutional and a violation of Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order from[2] last month that lifted the statewide mask mandate, among other COVID-19 safety restrictions.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday by a Houston attorney for parents Bonnie Anderson, Jenny Alexander, Doug Alexander, Heather Calhoun and Stephen Calhoun, takes issue with the district’s current safety protocols for in-person schooling, specifically its requirement that students wear masks in hallways, buses, and other common areas.

When Abbott announced his executive order, he did not address the ways rescinding the mask mandate affected public schools. In a later interview with radio host Chad Hasty, Abbott said he expected the Texas Education Agency to leave the decision to require masks up to local school boards[3].

The agency’s updated mask policy has allowed “local school boards have full authority to determine their local mask policy,” according to its website[4]. In public planning guidance, the agency also recommends the use of masks.

Under Katy ISD’s policies, students who don’t comply with the mask policy will be moved to online school and aren’t allowed to participate in other student activities. Those who have medical conditions that preclude them from wearing a mask must notify the school nurse and have documentation from their medical provider, according to the policy.[5]

The lawsuit also argues under the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Brown v. Board of Education that forcing students to switch to virtual school is a form of “separate but equal” discrimination.

The Supreme Court case’s ruling focused on segregation between Black and white students in public schools and discrimination on the basis of race.

Experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say attending school in person can be relatively safe, if schools can contain the community spread of COVID-19 and follow safety procedures — including the universal and correct use of masks[6].

Jared Woodfill, the attorney who filed the lawsuit, said the district’s mask policy is illegal.

“You don’t create a policy that is geared around a minority,” Woodfill said of the fraction of students and teachers who are at risk because of health conditions.

“You don’t shut down and force 99.9% of the people to wear a mask all day long,” he added.

Katy ISD responded to the lawsuit with a statement that it is complying with the agency’s public planning recommendations.

“Katy ISD continues to follow the Governor’s Executive Order GA-34 and comply with the Texas Education Agency’s Public Health Planning Guidance,” said the statement, obtained by Fox 26 Houston.[7]

The lawsuit cites multiple international studies that show children are at low risk from COVID-19 and that masks do not prevent the spread of the virus. Although children are infected at lower rates, they are capable of spreading the virus to at risk family members, and children with disabilities, who are immunosuppressed or have other health conditions are still at high risk for severe symptoms from the virus, according to the CDC[8].

In the past, TEA has opted against mask mandate enforcement in schools. Last November, the Tribune reported that North Texas-area Peaster ISD chose not to require masks as required, despite being in a county with more than 20 active cases. The agency said it would not take action because the concerns from parents “appear to be local in nature.”

Neelam Bohra

Spain: Balearic Islands to remove face mask rule for beaches if 'two conditions' are met

Balaeric Island health minister Patricia Gomez spoke up on the need for flexibility in certain situations.

Speaking at a press conference, the minister said: “We believe that masks should not be worn on beaches if you are with people from the same household or if the safety distance can be respected.”

Since then, the nation has confirmed it will allow beachgoers to ditch their mask if two specific conditions can be met.

The first of these is for people who are visiting the beach alone or with their household.

In this instance, as long as they are not coming into contact with anyone from outside of their immediate bubble, they will not be required to wear a face covering.

READ MORE: Summer holidays ‘set for Covid traffic lights’[1]

References

  1. ^ Summer holidays ‘set for Covid traffic lights’ (www.express.co.uk)

Spain holidays: Huge U-turn over mandatory mask law after British holidaymakers outraged

Spain[1] authorities explained this includes beaches and other tourist destinations. What’s more, the rule applies even if there is an interpersonal distance of more than 1.5 metres. Previously, those in Spain were only required to wear a mask outside when there was less than 1.5 metres distance between them.
It was explained that masks won’t be mandatory on the beaches of Majorca, Menorca, Ibiza and the other Balearic Islands as long as there is distance between people, if you are with your social bubble or if you are sunbathing, reported the Europa Press.

Councillor of Health, Patricia Gómez, explained the Balearics will continue to maintain this measure, agreed in November in the Government Council.

However, face masks must be worn if you are on the beach and meeting up with another social bubble and a maximum of six people.

Gómez specified the details after participating in the Interterritorial Health Council.

DON’T MISS

At the meeting, the Minister of Health, Carolina Darias, explained the “New Normality Law,” published on Tuesday in the Official State Gazette, but drafted in June of last year as a Decree Law, has been decontextualised.

Therefore she has proposed working in a technical-legal committee with the participation of the different regions to modify the measure, “provided there is consensus.”

Over on the Canary Islands, anyone swimming or sunbathing won’t have to don a mask.

With no end date in sight for Spanish face mask rules, Britons may have to observe the new mask law when travel to Spain is permitted again.

Being made to wear a mask while visiting beaches or swimming pools may be less than desirable for many tourists.

One wrote on Twitter in reaction to the order to wear masks on beaches: “I will not be going to Spain. I was going to book a trip to Palma for a weekend and then a family holiday maybe, but I will not be wearing a mask outside anywhere.”

Another wrote: “I’ll not bother looking at Spain for a holiday then. Sitting on a beach in only shorts and a face mask isn’t for me.”

The statement stated: “It will not be required either in the case of individual outdoor sport.

“Or in cases when, due to the very nature of the activities, the use of the mask is incompatible, in accordance with the indications of the health authorities.”

Spain’s ban on UK arrivals was lifted yesterday but travellers still must prove they are visiting for essential reasons.

However, under UK rules, Britons are not able to travel until May 17 at the earliest.

References

  1. ^ Spain (www.express.co.uk)

Biden Pushes Mask Mandate as C.D.C. Director Warns of ‘Impending Doom’

WASHINGTON — President Biden, facing a rise in coronavirus cases around the country, called on Monday for governors and mayors to reinstate mask mandates as the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned of “impending doom” from a potential fourth surge of the pandemic.

The president’s comments came only hours after the C.D.C. director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, appeared to fight back tears as she pleaded with Americans to “hold on a little while longer” and continue following public health advice, like wearing masks and social distancing, to curb the virus’ spread.

The back-to-back appeals reflected a growing sense of urgency among top White House officials and government scientists that the chance to conquer the pandemic, now in its second year, may slip through its grasp. Coronavirus infections and hospitalizations are on the upswing, including a troubling rise in the Northeast, even as the pace of vaccinations is accelerating.

“Please, this is not politics — reinstate the mandate,” Mr. Biden said, adding, “The failure to take this virus seriously is precisely what got us into this mess in the first place.”

According to a New York Times database[1], the seven-day average of new virus cases as of Sunday was about 63,000, a level comparable with late October’s average. That was up from 54,000 a day two weeks earlier, an increase of more than 16 percent. Similar upticks in Europe have led to major surges in the spread of Covid-19, Dr. Walensky said.

Public health experts say that the nation is in a race between the vaccination campaign and new, worrisome coronavirus variants. Although more than one in three American adults have received at least one shot and nearly one-fifth are fully vaccinated, the nation is a long way away from reaching so-called herd immunity — the tipping point that comes when spread of a virus begins to slow because so many people, estimated at 70 to 90 percent of the population, are immune to it.

But states are rapidly expanding access to more plentiful quantities of the vaccine. On Monday, at least six — Texas, Kansas, Louisiana, North Dakota, Ohio and Oklahoma — made all adults eligible for vaccination. New York said that all adults would be eligible starting April 6[2].

Mr. Biden said on Monday that the administration was taking steps to expand vaccine eligibility and access, including opening a dozen new mass vaccination centers. He directed his coronavirus response team to ensure that 90 percent of Americans would be no farther than five miles from a vaccination site by April 19.

The president said doses were plentiful enough now that nine of 10 adults in the nation — or more — would be eligible for a shot by that date. Previously, he had called on states to broaden eligibility to all adults by May 1. He revised that promise because states, buoyed by projected increases in shipments, are opening their vaccination programs more rapidly than expected, a White House official said.

But it was Dr. Walensky’s raw display of emotion that seemed to capture the angst of the moment. Barely three months into her new job, the former Harvard Medical School professor and infectious disease specialist acknowledged she was departing from her prepared script during the White House’s regular coronavirus briefing for reporters.

She described “a feeling of nausea” she experienced last year when, caring for patients at Massachusetts General Hospital, she saw the corpses of Covid-19 victims piled up, overflowing from the morgue. She recalled how she stood — “gowned, gloved, masked, shielded” — as the last one in a patient’s room before they died alone, without family.

“I am asking you to just hold on a little longer, to get vaccinated when you can, so that all of those people that we all love will still be here when this pandemic ends,” Dr. Walensky said. The nation has “so much reason for hope,” she added.

“But right now,” she said, “I’m scared.”

In nine states over the past two weeks, virus cases have risen more than 40 percent, The Times database shows. Michigan[3] led the way with a 133 percent increase, and the Northeast has also seen a marked rise in virus cases. Connecticut[4] reported a 62 percent jump over the past two weeks, and New York[5] and Pennsylvania[6] both reported increases of more than 40 percent.

Michigan[7]’s increase has not been traced to any one event, but epidemiologists have[8] noted that cases started to rise after the state eased restrictions for indoor dining on Feb. 1 and lifted other restrictions in January. Other hot spots included North Dakota[9], where cases rose by nearly 60 percent, and Minnesota[10], where cases have risen 47 percent. Of those states, North Dakota is the only one currently without a mask mandate.

The wave of new cases does come at the same time as some promising news: A C.D.C. report released Monday confirmed the findings of last year’s clinical trials[11] that vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer were highly effective against Covid-19. The report[12] documented that the vaccines work to prevent both symptomatic and asymptomatic infections “in real-world conditions.”

Researchers followed nearly 4,000 health care employees and essential workers beginning in December. They found 161 infections among the unvaccinated workers, but only three among those who received two doses of vaccine. The study suggested even a single dose was 80 percent effective against infection two weeks after it was administered. Studies are continuing to determine whether vaccinated people can still transmit the virus to others, although many scientists consider that unlikely.

The pace of vaccination continues to pick up. The seven-day average of vaccines administered hit 2.76 million on Monday[13], an increase over the pace the previous week, according to data reported by the C.D.C. On Sunday alone, nearly 3.3. million people were inoculated, said Andy Slavitt, a senior White House pandemic adviser.

Broader eligibility pools should bolster that further, with more than three dozen states now allowing all adults to sign up for shots by mid-April.

Minnesota will open up to all adults on Tuesday, and Connecticut on Thursday. Florida has lowered the age of eligibility to 40, and Indiana has lowered it to 30.

At the same time, Covid surges in some states have health officials increasingly on edge. Similar escalations several weeks ago in Germany, France and Italy have now turned into major outbreaks, Dr. Walensky said.

“We know that travel is up, and I just worry that we will see the surges that we saw over the summer and over the winter again,” she said.

As his presidency enters its third month, Mr. Biden is still fighting some battles started by his predecessor, who turned the act of mask wearing into a political statement. As soon as he took office, Mr. Biden used his executive authority to impose mask requirements where he could — on federal property. And he urged all Americans to “mask up” for 100 days.

But some governors, particularly in more conservative states, ignored him. When the governors of Mississippi and Texas announced this month that they would lift their mask mandates, Mr. Biden denounced the plans[14] as a “big mistake” that reflected “Neanderthal thinking.”

In Texas, a recent drop in cases may be reversing. Although The Times database[15] shows that over the past two weeks coronavirus infections there have declined 17 percent, deaths have declined 34 percent and hospitalizations have declined 25 percent, the seven-day average of newly reported coronavirus infections was up on Sunday to 3,774. Last Wednesday, the average case count was at a low of 3,401.

“There is something particularly difficult about this moment,” said Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, a former top Food and Drug Administration official who now teaches at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. With more and more Americans vaccinated and the potential to bring the pandemic to an end in sight, he said that “it feels like every case is unnecessary.”

Dr. Walensky, who has issued several warnings in recent weeks about the need to keep up mask wearing and social distancing, said she planned to talk to governors on Tuesday about the risks of prematurely lifting restrictions.

“I know you all so badly want to be done,” she said. “We are just almost there, but not quite yet.”

Eileen Sullivan contributed reporting.

References

  1. ^ According to a New York Times database (www.nytimes.com)
  2. ^ said that all adults would be eligible starting April 6 (www.nytimes.com)
  3. ^ Michigan (www.nytimes.com)
  4. ^ Connecticut (www.nytimes.com)
  5. ^ New York (www.nytimes.com)
  6. ^ Pennsylvania (www.nytimes.com)
  7. ^ Michigan (www.nytimes.com)
  8. ^ epidemiologists have (www.nytimes.com)
  9. ^ North Dakota (www.nytimes.com)
  10. ^ Minnesota (www.nytimes.com)
  11. ^ A C.D.C. report released Monday confirmed the findings of last year’s clinical trials (www.nytimes.com)
  12. ^ report (www.cdc.gov)
  13. ^ administered hit 2.76 million on Monday (www.nytimes.com)
  14. ^ denounced the plans (www.nytimes.com)
  15. ^ The Times database (www.nytimes.com)

Sharon LaFraniere and Sheryl Gay Stolberg

Austin and Travis County officials can keep enforcing local mask mandate for now, judge says

Austin and Travis County can keep requiring masks for at least a bit longer after a district judge denied Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton[1]‘s request for a temporary block of the local mandate.

Paxton sued the local officials for refusing to end the mandate after Gov. Greg Abbott[2] lifted state restrictions earlier this month. Paxton will likely appeal the decision.

District Judge Lora Livingston has yet to issue a final ruling on the merits of the case, meaning Austin and Travis officials may later be told to comply with state officials.

But in the meantime, County Judge Andy Brown said Friday’s ruling at least prolongs the amount of time masks are required in their communities — which gives them more time to vaccinate their residents.

“I’ve been doing everything that I can to protect the health and safety of people in Travis County,” Brown said in an interview. “And Judge Livingston’s ruling today allows us to keep doing that.”

Abbott ended nearly all of the state’s COVID-19 safety restrictions on March 10, including the statewide mask mandate[3], citing decreases in COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases. Many public health experts said the move was too soon, before the majority of the state was vaccinated or even was eligible for a shot.

In his order, Abbott said that “no jurisdiction” can require a person to wear a mask in public if the area doesn’t meet a certain threshold for coronavirus hospitalizations in that hospital region. Many local governments dropped their restrictions as a result. However, this was not the case in Travis County where officials said they would continue to require public mask use.

Paxton sued Austin and Travis County the day after state restrictions were lifted[4]. He maintained that Abbott’s order supersedes all local jurisdictions.

State lawyers pushed for the judge to grant a temporary injunction the next day, but Livingston said it wouldn’t have been fair to give the defendants only a day to prepare. Therefore, masks remained required in Travis County in the meantime.

“Every day that we can keep the local health authority mask mandate in place is a victory,” Austin mayor Steve Adler said in an interview with The Texas Tribune on Friday. “The fact that we were able to keep it in place for the last two weeks, during spring break, is a victory, for however long it lasts.”

Adler said as case numbers level off and vaccination eligibility widens, the city can follow through on plans to open more businesses — but the mask mandate should remain in place.

“You can wear masks and still open businesses, you can wear masks and have more students in school,” Adler said, “You could wear masks and do all of those things, and it is such a small price to pay to protect lives and people.”

Texas has seen improving conditions as new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have dropped to lows not seen since October. Vaccinations are increasing with more than 11.5% of the population fully vaccinated — although Black and Hispanic Texans face systemic medical inequities and are being vaccinated at disproportionately low rates. Starting Monday, all Texans older than 16 will be eligible to register for a vaccine appointment.[5][6][7]

But even though the numbers are improving, Dr. Mark Escott, Travis County Interim Health Authority, testified in court Friday that over the last week, he is seeing the downward trend leveling out. And with variant COVID-19 strains in the mix, Escott said the situation could worsen without public health intervention.

“It’s clear that we haven’t beaten COVID-19 yet,” Escott said. “And it’s clear that if we are able to maintain those protections that it’s going to buy us time to get more people vaccinated, and ultimately, it’s going to save lives.”

This isn’t the first time Paxton sued over COVID-19 restrictions. Back in December, Paxton successfully sued Austin and Travis County over local officials implementing an overnight curfew during the New Year’s holiday weekend. However, the case wasn’t decided until after the holiday, and officials enforced the curfew.

Paxton also blocked El Paso County’s order telling nonessential businesses to shut down[8] in November.

The final outcome of the case could have implications for other Texas cities and counties on how local governments can enforce their own public health mandates, even after the state ordered them to end.

During Friday’s hearing, discussion broadly centered around the question: What powers do local public health departments have, and how do the governor’s emergency powers affect them?

Austin and Travis attorneys said public health officials have the authority to implement health measures — like mask mandates — outside of the context of the pandemic, and therefore should not be affected by Texas’ latest order.

State attorneys argued that Abbott’s emergency powers because of the pandemic trump any local orders.

Livingston pushed back on some of the state attorney’s arguments that not requiring masks allows for individual freedom.

“I’m trying to understand why the person with the deadly virus should have more power than the person trying to stay alive and not catch the deadly virus,” Livingston said.

She pointed to past examples of Abbott delegating authority in the pandemic’s response to local governments — and said she understands why officials say they have received mixed messages.

“It’s got to be pretty confusing for local officials to know when they are charged, in the governor’s mind, and have the responsibility to react locally and take charge locally — and when they shouldn’t,” Livingston told the state’s attorneys. “I just needed to let you know that I find that kind of a puzzle.”

Neelam Bohra contributed to this story.

Disclosure: Steve Adler is a former Texas Tribune board chairman and has been a financial supporter of the Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here[9].

Reese Oxner

When Texas ended its mask mandate, the event cancellations started — and the losses are adding up

Need to stay updated on coronavirus news in Texas? Our evening roundup will help you stay on top of the day’s latest updates. Sign up here.[1]

At least four organizations canceled conferences or conventions in Austin, citing health concerns after Texas ended its statewide mask mandate earlier this month. The cancellations cost the Hilton Austin hotel $ 350,000 in revenue, according to Austin Convention Enterprises, a city-created corporation that owns and manages the hotel.

“These were rooms that were already on the books, and largely what we saw was fallout, ironically, from the governor opening the economy,” said Joe Bolash, Hilton Austin general manager, during a March 16 Austin Convention Enterprises board meeting. “It was groups that were not comfortable returning to a fully opened economy where there was no mask mandate in place.”

Gov. Greg Abbott[2] ended the statewide mask mandate and capacity limits on businesses on March 10[3], pointing to fewer COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases in the state. Public health experts and political opponents lamented the move, saying it was too soon before the majority of the state was vaccinated against the virus or even eligible for a shot.

Jimmy Flannigan, ACE president and former Austin City Council member, said these cancellations are the latest blow to the hospitality industry in Austin, which has already suffered severe losses due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Flannigan declined to share the names of the organizations that canceled the events. However, he said three of them “had relationships in the medical field” and were concerned with “the message that medical groups might be sending” if they hosted events in Texas.

“This is the worst possible time for any part of the hotel industry to be [losing] business,” Flannigan said. “We’re at the very first few upticks of the recovery of the hotel industry and tourism, which is both important to the hotels themselves, and to the many, many, many jobs that those hotels create in Central Texas.”

Flannigan said consumer sentiment and confidence in their safety heavily impacts business.

“Nothing will help the return of the economy more than the prevention and the public health requirements to arrest the spread of this virus,” he said. “And I hope that the governor lifting the mask mandate ends up not being a horrible decision as it relates to the health of Texas.”

Abbott did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Thursday, the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology announced it was canceling the in-person portion of its annual conference that was to be held in Austin due to the end of Texas’ COVID-19-related precautions.

Conference organizers were working with Hilton Austin, the JW Marriott Austin and Fairmont Austin, but it’s unclear if it is one of the four events that ACE said were canceled.

Devin Jopp, CEO of the organization, said in an interview that it’s already a challenge planning safe events during the pandemic, but the masking mandate ending “felt like the rug being pulled out from underneath us.” He said there was no way an organization dedicated to preventing the spread of infectious diseases could risk bringing its members to a state without a mask mandate.

“The policies that Gov. Abbott moved the state into just created a condition we couldn’t work around,” he said. “We think it was premature, and I would say that goes with a lot of other sentiment out there.”

The event was to be held partially online and scaled back from its usual projected attendance of 6,000 to 1,000 due to the pandemic.

Greg Casar, an Austin City Council member, said the lack of a mask mandate isn’t just driving business from the state, but it is putting pressure on public-facing workers, including those in the hospitality industry, to enforce mask-wearing in businesses.

“Greg Abbott didn’t help the economy when he lifted the mask rule, he only helped the virus,” he said. “That’s clearly bad for workers, but it’s bad for business, too. And you can see that clearly with the cancellation of these conferences.”

Even after Texas ended its mask mandate, Austin and Travis County have continued to require masks[4]. In response, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton[5] filed a suit demanding that local officials end the mandate. A final hearing to decide the case will be Friday.

Both Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Andy Brown have said even if the mask orders are shot down in court this week, they are glad they were able to keep the mask mandate in the meantime, allowing more residents to get vaccinated.

Casar says the city will continue pursuing ways to keep masks on Austin residents.

“We will not stop doing everything we can to protect health and safety. So even if our mask rules get taken down, we will continue to try to find other ways to require masks,” he said. “We will continue to work to make sure that everybody wears a mask or that every business requires masks.”

Disclosure: Steve Adler, a former Texas Tribune board chair, and Fairmont Austin have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here[6].

References

  1. ^ Sign up here. (www.texastribune.org)
  2. ^ Greg Abbott (www.texastribune.org)
  3. ^ ended the statewide mask mandate and capacity limits on businesses on March 10 (www.texastribune.org)
  4. ^ Austin and Travis County have continued to require masks (www.texastribune.org)
  5. ^ Ken Paxton (www.texastribune.org)
  6. ^ here (www.texastribune.org)

Reese Oxner

How to Buy a Real N95 Mask Online

To hear more audio stories from publishers like The New York Times, download Audm for iPhone or Android.[1]

A year into the coronavirus pandemic[2], buying a heavy-duty medical mask online remains downright maddening.

The most coveted mask to keep safe against Covid-19 has been the N95, the gold standard for pandemic protection because of its tight fit and 95 percent efficiency in filtering airborne particles. Then there’s the KN95 from China, a mask for medical workers, which also offers high filtration and is somewhat looser fitting.

But these masks have been far from easy to buy on the internet. When the pandemic hit last year, they immediately became scarce as health care workers and governments rushed to obtain them. The demand was so intense that a gray market sprang up[3] for them.

Yet even after supplies have improved[4], it is often not easy to find authentic N95s and KN95s online. That’s because there are few brand-name makers, so it can be hard to know which of the dozens of manufacturers are reliable. And counterfeiters continue to flood the market[5], even on trusted sites like Amazon[6].

The result is frequently frustration, when wearing a heavy-duty mask is more important than ever. Last week, federal health officials emphasized the need for all of us to have tightfitting masks[7] because of new fast-spreading coronavirus variants.

“People don’t know what’s legit, and they don’t know which suppliers are legit,” said Anne Miller, an executive director of Project N95,[8] a nonprofit that helps people buy protective coronavirus equipment. “We’ve had that issue since the very beginning of the pandemic.”

I recently spent hours comparing masks online and almost bought a pack of counterfeits on Amazon. Thankfully, I avoided falling into the trap and eventually found legitimate, high-quality masks from a trustworthy online retailer.

Along the way, I learned plenty about how to spot fraudulent mask listings and how to sidestep fake reviews. So here’s how to home in on real medical-grade masks that will keep you and your loved ones safe.

My journey began on the website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There I found charts of N95[9] and KN95[10] masks that the agency has tested, including the make, model number and filtration efficiency.

After some reading, I learned about the trade-offs between the two types of masks. The N95s typically have bands that strap over the back of your head, which is what makes them snug. They can be uncomfortable to wear for long periods.

The KN95s, which the Food and Drug Administration has approved for emergency use by health care workers, have ear loops for a tight fit that is slightly more comfortable than an N95. The downside is that the KN95 leaks a bit more air than an N95.

If you are often in high-risk areas like hospitals, N95s may be more suitable. But if you just need a protective mask for more casual use, like the occasional trip to the grocery store, KN95s are probably sufficient.

After doing the research, I decided a KN95 mask from Powecom, a Chinese brand, was best for my purposes. The mask scored 99 percent filtration efficiency in the C.D.C.’s tests[11].

From there, I visited Amazon, where I buy everything from dog food to batteries in the pandemic. That’s when things went awry.

When I typed “Powecom KN95” into Amazon’s search box, the masks instantly popped up with a rating of 4.5 stars[12]. I quickly clicked “Add to Cart.”

But before checking out, I scrolled down to read the reviews. There were about 130 — including a handful of one-star reviews from aggrieved buyers who said the masks were most likely fake. I emptied my shopping cart.

How had I almost bought a counterfeit? Saoud Khalifah, the founder of Fakespot, a company that offers tools to detect fake listings and reviews online, said a third-party seller had probably taken control of the product listing and sold fakes to make a quick buck.

“It’s a bit of a Wild West,” he said. “The normal consumers that shop on Amazon do not know that they just bought a fake mask. This is the biggest critical problem: You think it’s real, and suddenly you get sick.”

Mr. Khalifah presented other examples of questionable masks that were being sold on Amazon:

  • A pack of 50 masks was highlighted on Amazon this week as the No. 1 new release in women’s fashion scarves. Obviously, masks are not scarves, which was a giveaway that something was off. The listing description also replaced all of the letter A’s with accented characters. This was a technique used to bypass Amazon’s fraud detection systems, Mr. Khalifah said. Amazon removed the listing after I called about it.

  • Another pack of 20 masks looked attractive[13] and was described as approved by the C.D.C. It even had positive reviews with an average of 4.4 stars. But the reviews revealed that most customers had received the masks for free, probably an incentive to leave positive feedback. One lukewarm review from someone who had paid for the product noted that the masks were “thin and very, very big.”

  • Mr. Khalifah’s software also detected that the reviewers of another pack of 100 masks[14], which had unanimous five-star ratings, had a history of writing promotional reviews for other brands.

Amazon said in a statement that it prohibits the sale of counterfeit products and invests to ensure its policy is followed. It said it had specific policies for N95 and KN95 masks, including a process for vetting inventory and taking action on those who sold fakes.

Amazon also said it had addressed the questionable Powecom mask that I nearly purchased, as well as the mask advertised as a scarf. It added that there was no evidence that the pack of 20 masks was counterfeited and did not comment on the pack of 100 masks.

Mr. Khalifah cautioned that the fakes he spotted on Amazon could just as easily be on websites for other big retailers, such as Walmart and eBay, that allow third-party sellers to ship products. To buy authentic masks, he said, I should take a less traditional approach to shopping online.

Armed with this advice, I continued my search for the Powecom mask.

I visited the manufacturer’s website[15], which listed steps for verifying that a mask is real. That involved scanning a bar code on the package with a phone camera. Then I did a web search for the mask, which brought me to bonafidemasks.com[16], an online retailer that shows documentation[17] stating that it is an authorized distributor of Powecom[18] masks in the United States.

That was more reassuring. So I ordered a pack of 100 for $ 99. When the package arrived in the mail, I scanned the bar codes to confirm their authenticity. They were the real deal.

Another path I could have taken was to order masks directly from the manufacturer. Verified mask producers like DemeTech[19], in Miami, and Prestige Ameritech[20], in Texas, sell N95s through their websites.

But ordering directly from a manufacturer presents other challenges. Often you have to buy a large quantity to reduce the cost.

So what if you just want to buy a few to try on? Ms. Miller’s nonprofit Project N95[21] buys bulk orders of masks and breaks them up so people can buy smaller batches. “It’s a very painstaking process to go through,” she said.

No kidding.

References

  1. ^ download Audm for iPhone or Android (www.audm.com)
  2. ^ coronavirus pandemic (www.nytimes.com)
  3. ^ a gray market sprang up (www.nytimes.com)
  4. ^ improved (www.nytimes.com)
  5. ^ counterfeiters continue to flood the market (www.nytimes.com)
  6. ^ Amazon (www.nytimes.com)
  7. ^ have tightfitting masks (www.nytimes.com)
  8. ^ Project N95, (www.projectn95.org)
  9. ^ N95 (www.cdc.gov)
  10. ^ KN95 (www.cdc.gov)
  11. ^ 99 percent filtration efficiency in the C.D.C.’s tests (www.cdc.gov)
  12. ^ with a rating of 4.5 stars (www.amazon.com)
  13. ^ pack of 20 masks looked attractive (smile.amazon.com)
  14. ^ pack of 100 masks (www.amazon.com)
  15. ^ manufacturer’s website (powecom.com)
  16. ^ bonafidemasks.com (bonafidemasks.com)
  17. ^ shows documentation (bonafidemasks.com)
  18. ^ authorized distributor of Powecom (powecom.com)
  19. ^ DemeTech (www.demetech.us)
  20. ^ Prestige Ameritech (www.prestigeameritech.com)
  21. ^ Project N95 (www.projectn95.org)

Brian X. Chen

Grab a Mask and Rule the World in Covered

Don’t ever stop dreaming. If you are anything like me, you’ve been dreaming about superpowers, aliens, and secret societies since you were eight. Here’s a game with a little bit of everything mixed in a weird world looking a lot like a third-world country.

Ok, I know I said “weird,” but words like different, funny, or smart are not quite enough to describe Covered. Don’t get me wrong: weird and funny is what I like the most. I enjoy dark humor as much as the next guy, and I’m one of those who find it hard not to read between the lines every time I hear the news. Let’s be honest, it’s hard to stop your mind from wondering about conspiracy theories. Tell me, have you ever looked up to the sky asking aliens to invade us right now before it’s too late? Because I have, many times!

Covered

I’m only human and Covered is not helping at all. Suddenly, I came across a game that makes fun of politicians, questions the entire society, has no respect for religion, talks about an ancient prophecy, and makes you aware of secret societies. It’s like my childhood all over again.

Sometimes a great look and feel, likable graphics, and good storytelling are just not enough. Sometimes you need superpowers. And I’m not talking about flying around in a cape or being this undefeatable guy. No fun there. I mean commanding a demon and the ability to see everybody’s real intentions. Here’s where masks make the difference. Did anybody say masks? Yes, there’s a bunch of them awaiting you.

Covered

Everyone’s got something to hide. From cruel intentions to greed, or a ravenous need for power, you name it. That’s why Covered‘s society was split into levels, where you can spot criminals, workers, politicians, and even famous people, and yes, you guessed it right, there’s a mask for each.

When the studio told me about this project, I had to say yes almost immediately, as my inner alien/believer child would bounce up and down.

Covered

Well, I’ve said too much already, and the game is not even available yet. But it will soon, and in the meantime, check out the teaser above. We can compare notes after that.

Daniel Hernandez. Marketing Manager, Covered