We’re pleased to bring you “While You Were In”—Verily quick takes on the happenings of this week.
Queen Elizabeth II Celebrates Her 94th Birthday in Quarantine
Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning monarch in the history of the United Kingdom, celebrated her 94th birthday on April 21. Elizabeth has served as monarch since 1952, and her birthday was celebrated in a way that the then newly-crowned, 25-year-old queen probably could have never imagined.
The queen celebrated her birthday in quarantine and connected with family members via Zoom and—according to the royal family’s Instagram—she had some gorgeous cupcakes to snack on (the full recipe is available in the post!).
Although the queen did not receive the traditional 21 gun salute, the royal family continued to pay tribute to HRH on social media with throwback photos of the queen and even home video footage of the Queen playing with her sister, Princess Margaret. —Gabriella Patti
COVID-19 Crisis Puts the Nation’s Bacon Supply At Risk
On Wednesday, Tyson Foods suspended operations at a key pork processing plant in Iowa, the latest blow to the pork industry as it struggles to cope with coronavirus infections in the workforce.
The single factory in Waterloo, Iowa accounts for 4 percent of all U.S. pork production, processing more than 19,000 hogs a day. Local authorities had increasingly called for the closure as up to 180 infections have been linked to the facility. Tyson had resisted shutting down, but faced with scores of positive tests and high rates of absenteeism on the part of frightened fellow workers, the company capitulated. Mass testing of Tyson’s thousands of plant employees is expected to begin shortly.
Nearly 20 percent of processing capacity is offline nationwide. Other meat plants, not just those that handle pork, have been shutting down as well. Analysts predict that consumers will begin noticing meat shortages in grocery stores in about two weeks.
The clog in the middle of the supply chain means that farmers will likely have a surplus of animals with few places to sell them, so some pigs will likely simply be euthanized instead of being used for food, a frustrating waste.
One bright note: Tyson has pledged to continue paying workers during the shutdown. —Margaret Brady
Oil and Gas Industry Faces Uncertain Future As Price of Crude Oil Drops
On Monday, jaws dropped when the price of crude oil fell below zero, an unprecedented phenomenon in the history of the oil and gas market. As a result, prices at the pump fell astronomically as well, descending to a national average of $1.81 earlier this week.
The reason for the sudden plunge in the price of oil is due in large part to the effects of the COVID-19 epidemic on the global economy. Companies that produce oil do so in massive numbers, and they did not significantly curb their production until it was too late into the quarantine to achieve some sort of balance according to the laws of supply and demand.
With nearly all forms of travel at a virtual halt, there simply is not sufficient need or desire for fuel, and companies pumping out crude oil are running out of places to store it. They now have to pay third-parties to store it for them, hence the negative price.
Likewise, prices on stocks for both crude oil and oil and gas companies consequently crashed, causing many to question the future of smaller oil companies laden with debt. As one Houston, Texas attorney practicing energy law put it, he has been overwhelmed with an influx of potential oil bankruptcy cases. “I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it in my lifetime...100 bankruptcies is the optimistic view. That shows you where we are.” —Mariel Lindsay
If you’d like to get a daily email curating only the essential news on COVID-19 directly in your inbox, along with some levity along the way, sign up here for “Keeping Calm During COVID-19.”
A Child Sex Trafficking Survivor Had Her Prison Sentence Commuted After Appearing In Kim Kardashian West's Documentary
At 17, Alexis Martin was sent to prison for collaborating with two adults in the murder of her sex trafficker in Akron, Ohio. At the time of the murder in 2013, she was 15-years-old.
However, last Friday, her sentence was commuted by Ohio governor, Mike DeWine along with six other prisoners. Martin, now 22, was recently highlighted in Kim Kardashian West: The Justice Project, a documentary on Oxygen. Kardashian-West is currently studying law and hopes to take the bar exam in 2022. She has been an advocate for the end of mass incarceration and has used her influence to help free prisoners.
Martin was previously sentenced to 21 years to life in prison after being convicted of aggravated assault for her alleged role in the murder of her pimp.
DeWine said that Martin and the other prisoners have been commuted in part to protect them from the spread of COVID-19 in prison, but he did note that her case is unique due to how young she was when she was imprisoned as well as due to her circumstances.
"She is a child sex trafficking survivor," DeWine said. "She will be sent to an appropriate group home, and she will be under supervision for an extensive period of time."
Martin’s lawyer, Jennifer Kinsey, said that Kardashian-West has been a “strong advocate” for Martin and she provided Martin with hope. Kinsey said that Martin will be undergoing a therapeutic treatment program for sex trafficking survivors. Martin began this second-chance at life by performing a cartwheel upon exiting the prison. —GP
Beyonce Pledges $6 Million to Mental Health Services During the Pandemic
Beyonce’s BeyGOOD Foundation and Square and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey have teamed up to form the #startsmall campaign to assist mental wellness organizations during the time of COVID-19.
A statement on Beyonce’s website addresses the immense need for “mental health support and personal wellness care, including testing and medical services, food supplies and food deliveries, both during and after the crisis,” especially among essential workers in positions of high risk of contracting the coronavirus.
The campaign will benefit No Kid Hungry, Matthew 25, Dia De La Mujer Latina, and other organizations. Additionally, the foundation has partnered with the National Alliance in Mental Illness to provide assistance in some of the virus hotspots, including New York, Houston, New Orleans, and Detroit. —Maggie Sicilia Bickerstaff
Publix Buys Food and Milk From Struggling Local Farm and Donates it to Food Banks
Florida-based grocery chain Publix has announced plans to purchase dairy and produce from struggling local farmers to help alleviate some of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Publix, in turn, intends to donate these goods to Feeding America member food banks serving their area.
In an interview with the Sarasota Herald Tribune, Publix CEO Todd Jones addressed the food retailer’s “unique opportunity to bridge the gap between the needs of families and farmers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.”
Florida’s agricultural industry estimates a loss of over $500 million, which is expected to rise as long as the pandemic continues. The Publix initiative aims to offer a reprieve from some of this financial burden, while also providing relief for one of many food banks’ most notable struggles.
UF/IFAS regional dairy extension agent Colleen Larson shared with USA Today that dairy is one of the most requested and least provided goods in food banks. “Many dairy farmers would have been more than willing to donate the milk but couldn’t afford to process it,” she says. Publix, therefore, plans to support both farmer and food bank with an estimated 150,000 pounds of produce and 43,500 gallons of milk purchased and donated in the program’s first week. —MSB
‘Parks and Recreation’ Cast to Reunite for One Special Episode
NBC has announced the reunion of the Parks and Recreation cast for one half-hour, scripted, shot-at-home special with the goal of raising money for the fight against COVID-19. Amy Poehler, Nick Offerman, Retta, Rashida Jones, Aziz Ansari, Aubrey Plaza, Chris Pratt, Adam Scott, Rob Lowe, Jim O’Heir, and other guest stars from the show will be featured.
This reunion differs from the upcoming Friends reunion, in that the Parks and Recreation special will be a scripted story in which the cast will be playing their original characters. The episode will reportedly follow Leslie Knope as she attempts to stay connected with her friends and family in a quarantined Pawnee.
Parks and Rec co-creator Mike Schur indicated that when he reached out to the cast with the idea of a reunion special, the response was notably quick and positive. The special will air on April 30, and all proceeds will benefit Feeding America’s COVID-19 response fund. —MSB
Canada Experiences Worst Mass Murder in its History
Flags in Canada are at half-mast this week as the country mourns the worst mass murder in its history. On Saturday night, Gabriel Wortman, a 51-year-old dental technician, posed as a police officer and killed at least 22 people by setting fires to various properties and shooting those fleeing the flames.
Law enforcement could not locate him for the first twelve hours, finally killing him Sunday morning in a standoff at a gas station 50 miles from the first murders. Detectives at his home found a “kill list” including names of potential victims. They say that they believe he acted alone, though they are still investigating whether or not someone helped him obtain the firearms and/or his replica police cruiser and uniform.
The victims include a police officer, a firefighter, a nurse, teacher, numerous couples, and a family. The first identified victim was a Royal Canadian Mounted Police constable who had served on the force for 23 years. “She was answering the call of duty,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said of her in a statement on the tragedy.
The vigil takes place on Friday night, online due to quarantine. As one lifelong resident of the area told reporters, “Everybody’s dropped their work and they’re bringing their very best self too…We need a really big light to shine up into the biggest darkness imaginable.” —Mariel Lindsay
Good News of the Week
A Boston nurse recovered from COVID-19 this week and says she’s looking forward to getting back to work. "Brigham and Women's and the nurses and the doctors did a great job to get me back here with my husband,” Buonopane said. “I feel so grateful. I'm so grateful that I'm able to breathe. I feel very bad for those who didn't make it home."
Debbie Buonopane, an emergency room nurse, spent nine days as a patient at the hospital where she works. On Thursday she was discharged and was escorted back to her home by local police and greeted by her entire neighborhood, who lined the streets to cheer her home. Buonopane, a Navy veteran, is no stranger to survival, having beat breast cancer years ago. —GP
Watch of the Week
This week, astronauts from the International Space Station shared Some Good News for John Krasinski’s weekly digest. Their two-minute segment shared tips on how they endure isolation, as well as this powerful line: "The Earth is still beautiful. An Earth in crisis is still an Earth worth returning to."
Miss our “Articles of Note” section? Subscribe to Verily Daily emails and check out our new suggested reading at the bottom, in our new “May We Recommend” section.