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OPINION: The Common Theme of High-Profile Shootings: Mental Health

The supermarket shooting in Buffalo, N.Y., was like an echo of Christchurch, only this time the accused is teenager Payton Gendron. Ten African Americans were shot and killed in a hateful event driven by what President Joe Biden called the “poison” of White Supremacy.

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Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He does a talk show on www.amok.com
Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. His web talk show is on Facebook.com/emilguillermo.media; YouTube; and Twitter@emilamok. See recordings on www.amok.com

By Emil Guillermo

America is trying to let the three most publicized shooting incidents of the last month fade away.

We can’t afford to let that happen again. Not after Orlando. Las Vegas. Atlanta. Not to mention Christchurch, New Zealand. But of course, we’ve forgotten them all.

The supermarket shooting in Buffalo, N.Y., was like an echo of Christchurch, only this time the accused is teenager Payton Gendron. Ten African Americans were shot and killed in a hateful event driven by what President Joe Biden called the “poison” of White Supremacy.

The coda to Buffalo was followed the next day by a shooting at a Taiwanese church service in Laguna Woods, in the Orange County/Los Angeles area. David Wenwei Chou, 68, is accused in the shooting of six people, one fatally. Chou had sent a diary to the Los Angeles office of the World Journal indicating he was against Taiwan’s independence and believed in “one China.”

And then there was an arrest in Dallas on Tuesday for a shooting the previous week. Jeremy Theron Smith, 37, is being held in connection with the shooting of three Asian Americans in a Koreatown hair salon. His girlfriend reportedly told police Smith had problems after having been in an auto accident involving an Asian American.

All three shootings involved guns and some degree of racial or political hate.

But the Smith case in Dallas shows the real common thread: mental health.

According to Smith’s arrest affidavit, his girlfriend told police Smith was having “delusions that an Asian mob is after him or attempting to harm him.” It’s the evolution of #StopAAPIHate, after two years of being scapegoated for the virus, we’re being stalked based on xenophobic fantasies.

By comparison, Buffalo was far less sophisticated. It was old-fashioned Black/white racism that provided a comfort level for Gendron, who proudly displayed anti-Black symbols and slogans on his weapons.

Gendron was brought to a Buffalo hospital by state police for mental evaluation in June of 2021 after writing that he wanted to shoot people. He was released a day and a half later with no further evaluation.

The church shooter Chou was based in Las Vegas and found himself at the end of his rope.

Chou’s wife was diagnosed with cancer and left him to return to Taiwan. He lost the four-unit building he and his wife owned, was barely employed, homeless, and according to a neighbor, showed signs of mental instability. Balmore Orellana, who lived next door to Chou, told the Los Angeles Times, “He told me, ‘I just don’t care about my life anymore.’”

Suicidal ideation? No one was there to help Chou figure it out.

But who was there to stop and help Smith in Dallas? His girlfriend apparently could see the signs, but not enough to intervene.

In Gendron’s case in Buffalo, police had taken the suspect to a mental hospital. But now it appears that a day and a half of evaluations was not nearly enough.

No one took mental health seriously.

Certainly not the folks who market in guns. All three shooters were well armed. What if, instead of guns, they had greater access to care?

Would our society rather pay for that instead of funerals?

It’s a coincidence that May is both Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and Mental Health Awareness Month.

Understanding our nation’s great diversity is important.

But it’s also important to pay attention to how we as human beings deal with our stresses and anxieties, and how that impacts our thoughts and actions toward ourselves and one another.

That’s mental health.

How we deal with it makes a difference as we brace ourselves for the next Gendron, Smith, or Chou.

Because these are not all one-offs. We will see these situations again if we don’t pay attention and start caring.

NOTE: I will talk about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my micro-talk show. Live at 2 p.m. Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on www.amok.com.

Bay Area

Board Bars Evictions Related to COVID-19

Several times during the COVID-19 public health emergency, the Board has passed resolutions barring evictions for nonpayment of rent arising directly from the coronavirus. Preventing evictions for nonpayment due to financial hardship related to COVID-19 allows the County and its partners to continue making funds available for tenants who have struggled to pay rent. Since spring 2020, nearly 1,260 local households have received County-sponsored COVID-19 rental assistance.

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The County budget is balanced and structurally sound, although national economic indicators are showing signs that the recovery is slowing down.
The County budget is balanced and structurally sound, although national economic indicators are showing signs that the recovery is slowing down.

Protections intended for those experiencing hardship because of pandemic

Courtesy of Marin County

Determined to prevent housing displacement for residents financially hampered by the ongoing pandemic, the Marin County Board of Supervisors took another action June 21 to prohibit residential renter evictions in unincorporated Marin effective July 1 through Sept. 30, 2022. The State of California’s eviction protections are scheduled to expire June 30.

Several times during the COVID-19 public health emergency, the Board has passed resolutions barring evictions for nonpayment of rent arising directly from the coronavirus. Preventing evictions for nonpayment due to financial hardship related to COVID-19 allows the County and its partners to continue making funds available for tenants who have struggled to pay rent. Since spring 2020, nearly 1,260 local households have received County-sponsored COVID-19 rental assistance.

The County is continuing to assist tenants who have applied for rental assistance and working with community partners to assure an equitable distribution of federal funds earmarked for eviction prevention. All renters have been protected by state or local laws, regardless of a person’s citizenship status, during the public health emergency. The County continues to process rental assistance applications as quickly as possible with added staff over the past year to accommodate assistance applications.

Rental assistance priority has been given to households that are considered extremely low income, which in Marin would be a family of three with an income of no more than $43,550. Nationally, communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and are often at the highest risk of housing displacement. The County recognizes that those most in need of eviction protection experience barriers to access such a program. While more than two-thirds of non-Hispanic white residents are homeowners in Marin, roughly three-quarters of both Black/African American and Hispanic/Latinx communities in Marin are renters.

Between state and federal funds, the County’s pandemic rental assistance program was awarded $36,414,871 of which $23,970,885 has been distributed to 1,260 local households in need. There is a remaining balance of $8,579,705, which will serve the remaining applicants and waiting list and is anticipated to be spent by September 30, 2022.

Clearing accumulated debt is designed to provide a lifeline to the hardest-hit families and provide income stability for landlords. Several local agencies, such as Canal Alliance, Community Action Marin, and North Marin Community Services, are assisting applicants with the process.

Property owners may call the District Attorney’s Consumer Protection Unit at (415) 473-6450 for assistance on rights and responsibilities. Renters are encouraged to contact Legal Aid of Marin at (415) 492-0230, extension 102, for inquiries on eviction protections.

Anyone needing help with the online application may call (415) 473-2223 or email staff to learn more about the Emergency Rental Assistance Program. More information about the County’s eviction moratorium is on the County’s COVID-19 Renter Protections webpage.

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Bay Area

Marin Prepares to Vaccinate Young Children

Parents and guardians should contact their pediatrician to discuss appropriate timing to have their child vaccinated for COVID-19, especially if due for another routine pediatric vaccination. Children in their first 5 years are regularly visiting their pediatrician and vaccines are a routine part of these visits. The COVID-19 vaccine can be given in the same visit as the other important vaccines needed. MCPH will support pediatricians to ensure access to the vaccine over the coming weeks.

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Parents and guardians in Marin County will be able to make COVID-19 vaccine appointments for kids 6 months to 4 years starting this week. (Copyright-free photo from Unsplash).
Parents and guardians in Marin County will be able to make COVID-19 vaccine appointments for kids 6 months to 4 years starting this week. (Copyright-free photo from Unsplash).

New COVID-19 vaccine reduces risk in childcare and youth settings

Courtesy of Marin County

Now that federal and state regulators have approved the use of COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 6 months through 4 years old, local pediatricians, health centers and Marin County Public Health (MCPH) are preparing to vaccinate the nearly 8,000 children in that age group who call Marin County home. Appointments are opening this week.

“This has been a long time coming,” said Dr. Matt Willis, Marin County’s Public Health Officer. “Until now, 8,000 of our residents – everyone under 5 years – has been excluded from the protection of vaccines because they were too young. Vaccinations will make every setting where kids gather safer, for kids and adults. We’ll all be able to worry a lot less about childcare centers, playdates, parties, and summer camps.”

Community transmission rates in Marin and across the Bay Area remain high. Since the beginning of June, Marin children up to 4 years old have the highest rates of COVID-19 of any age group. Nationally, over 500 children aged 5 or younger have died from COVID-19, making the virus among the top 10 causes of death in children.

The two authorized vaccines are Moderna and Pfizer, offered in lower doses than for adults and older children. Moderna will be for children aged 6 months to 5 years, as two shots spaced one month apart. The Pfizer vaccine will be for children 6 months through 4 years, as three shots over 11 weeks, two within three weeks and a third eight weeks later. The three-dose Pfizer regimen was found to be 80% effective at preventing infection, roughly twice as effective as the Moderna vaccine.

One of the settings that will benefit most from pediatric COVID-19 vaccination is childcare. In Marin, over 80% of school-aged children 5-18 are fully vaccinated, after a dedicated countywide campaign to make schools safer through vaccinations.

“Our childcare providers have been heroes, taking care of our kids since the very beginning of the pandemic while knowing none of the children were vaccinated,” said Michelle Fadelli, Manager of Public Policy and Communications at First 5 Marin. “Now very young children will be safer in childcare, and their providers will be, too.”

ACCESSING THE VACCINE

Parents and guardians should contact their pediatrician to discuss appropriate timing to have their child vaccinated for COVID-19, especially if due for another routine pediatric vaccination. Children in their first 5 years are regularly visiting their pediatrician and vaccines are a routine part of these visits. The COVID-19 vaccine can be given in the same visit as the other important vaccines needed. MCPH will support pediatricians to ensure access to the vaccine over the coming weeks.

Kaiser Permanente, which is the primary medical provider for more than half of Marin households, will welcome children 6 months to 5 years old for COVID-19 vaccination starting Friday, June 24. Parents and guardians can book a vaccination appointment via Kaiser’s call center at (415) 444-4460. Walk-ins or drop-ins are not immediately available.

In addition, parents and guardians will be able to find appointments in a variety of settings – including pharmacies, pediatricians, and public health clinics – online via MyTurn.ca.gov. Select MCPH clinics will offer vaccines to infants and young children without a primary care physician beginning Thursday, June 23. Appointments can be made online via MyTurn and the ongoing schedule will be published at GetVaccinatedMarin.org.

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Bay Area

Cautious Parents Weigh Decision to Give Children Under 5 COVID Vaccine

“There is definitely still a need for vaccinations for the whole population,” said Dr. Lucia Abascal, a physician and researcher at CDPH. “There is this idea that Omicron is milder, but if we look at children’s data in this age group, we can actually see that hospitalizations peaked as well as deaths. We have more and more evidence that kids are at an acute risk of COVID.”

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Visit Vaccinate All 58 to learn more about the safe and effective vaccines available for all children in California ages 6 months and older.
Visit Vaccinate All 58 to learn more about the safe and effective vaccines available for all children in California ages 6 months and older.

By Edward Henderson, California Black Media

Antonio and Tenaja Kizzie, a San Diego area couple, are parents of a 3-year-old daughter. Although both parents are vaccinated and boosted, the Kizzies have reservations about giving their toddler the COVID-19 vaccine the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended last week for children younger than 5 years old.

“It’s one thing to feel like her body is still developing and growing. She’s been vaccinated for everything else for things that have been around for years. It’s a little scary thinking about something that’s new. We don’t want to jump in right now,” Tenaja told California Black Media. “We just want to wait a little bit and see the side effects for other kids in her age group and reassess from there.”

Her husband chimed in.

“We believe in the science, we believe vaccines work, but when it comes to the under-fives, just being a parent we’re a bit more hesitant to give her the vaccine so far. We’re waiting to see how it goes with other under 5 kids that get the vaccine. Even though science and logic say yes, as a new parent you’re extra cautious,” Antonio said.

The Kizzies are not alone.

Numbers the CDC released at the end of May indicate that hesitancy about vaccinating their children is high among parents across the country. Although the U.S. Food and Drug administration approved COVID vaccines for children between the ages of 5 and 11 last October, only about 30% of kids in that age range have received the shot.

“For those families that are hesitant and questioning, I try to understand what their fears and questions are. I try to remind them that we are in this together. I care about the health and wellbeing of their children, and I will always suggest the best possible course for them,” said Dr. Jennifer Miller, a pediatrician with East Bay Pediatrics, a medical practice with offices in Berkeley and Orinda.

Miller was speaking during a medical panel co-hosted by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and Ethnic Media Services (EMS). The discussion was held to offer information about vaccinating children 6 months to 4 years old against COVID-19 to parents, caregivers and the media.

“I let them know that ultimately it is their decision to make, and I am here as a resource,” Miller added. “It is normal to be afraid of the unknown and to want to protect your child. With that in mind, vaccination is the best protection around.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized emergency use of COVID-19 vaccines made by Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech earlier this month. The agency’s approval came on the heels of news that COVID-19 is now the fifth leading cause of death in children 1-4 years old and the fourth leading cause of death for children younger than 1.

“These are sobering statistics for all of us,” said Sandy Close, EMS director and moderator of the news briefing. “Vaccination is an important tool to protect their long-term health against COVID-19 and helps achieve full family protection against this deadly virus.”

Panelists said it is a myth that COVID does not affect children. The CDC reports that 1 in 5 hospitalized children end up in the ICU. And during the Omicron surge, children were hospitalized five times more than in the Delta surge.

“There is definitely still a need for vaccinations for the whole population,” said Dr. Lucia Abascal, a physician and researcher at CDPH. “There is this idea that Omicron is milder, but if we look at children’s data in this age group, we can actually see that hospitalizations peaked as well as deaths. We have more and more evidence that kids are at an acute risk of COVID.”

Abascal detailed the steps of the vaccine approval process at the state and federal levels. An independent expert panel reviewed the data that Moderna and Pfizer provided and unanimously voted that the FDA approve the vaccine. The CDC was the final step of approval for the vaccine at the federal level.

Before California recommends any COVID vaccine, it is reviewed by The Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup, a commission comprising medical professionals and scientists convened by Washington, Oregon, Nevada and California.

Children 3 years old and above will be eligible to receive vaccines at pharmacies. However, children under 3 will need to get vaccinated at a pediatrician’s office or a community clinic.

California has purchased enough vaccinations for every child in the state. The first shipment of 500,000 doses will arrive next week. About 2.2 million children are eligible for vaccination in California.

The Moderna vaccine is a two-dose regimen like the adult shot, with a one-month wait between doses. The Pfizer vaccine requires three doses. The first dose is followed by the second 21 days later and the final dose comes 60 days after that.

Authorities familiar with the vaccine trials say the side effects of minor fever and pain at the injection site may be stronger for children who receive the Moderna shot.

Dr. Sarah Takekawa, an obstetrician-gynecologist, who is currently raising three children under age 5, was also a panelist.

Takekawa spoke to some of the concerns pregnant women may have. She said she was fully vaccinated before conceiving her third child. She received her booster while pregnant.

“I have seen firsthand what COVID-19 infection can do to otherwise extremely healthy young women during their pregnancies. Watching adults who are otherwise healthy succumb to the disease, it seems easy to us to make this decision about wanting to get vaccinated and encouraging other parents to have their children vaccinated.

Visit Vaccinate All 58 to learn more about the safe and effective vaccines available for all children in California ages 6 months and older.

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