Record-breaking Sierra snow buries towns, closes highways

Los Angeles Times

Record-breaking Sierra snow buries towns, closes highways

Hayley Smith, Melody Gutierrez December 28, 2021

Spring Street in Nevada City, calif., was socked in with snow and downed tree limbs, on Monday, Dec. 27, 2021. (Elias Funez/The Union via AP)
Spring Street in Nevada City, Calif., was socked in with snow and downed tree limbs on Dec. 27. (Elias Funez / The Union )

“Snowbound” was not a term Stephen Kulieke thought he would hear at the end of California’s driest year in a century, but that’s precisely the position the Sierra City resident found himself in this week.

“It’s snowmaggedon,” said Kulieke, 71, whose mountain cabin was buried under at least 4 feet of powder Monday amid record-breaking snowfall in the Sierra Nevada. “It’s just beyond belief how much snow there is.”

Officials at the UC Berkeley Central Sierra Snow Lab at Donner Pass said the area’s snowfall totals have surpassed the previous December record of 179 inches set in 1970. By Tuesday morning, the lab had received a whopping 202.1 inches of snow, making it the third-snowiest month on record.

The snow comes as a much-needed surprise for the bone-dry West, where only months ago, officials put residents under a state of drought emergency amid increasingly dry conditions. During the long, hot summer, rivers and reservoirs dried up, and once-green fields sat fallow and turned to dust.

But December roared in like a lion, with back-to-back storms dumping up to 15 feet of snow across the Sierra Nevada and other mountain areas of California, prompting road closures and snarling holiday travel. Though experts wouldn’t go so far as to call it a drought-buster, they said every bit helps.

“It’s a great start,” said Mike Anderson, state climatologist at the California Department of Water Resources. “It alleviates the worst of the conditions that had accumulated, but it doesn’t cure everything. We really need this to continue into the new year.”

Andrew Schwartz, the station manager and lead scientist at the Berkeley snow lab, agreed, noting that “cautious optimism is the name of the game right now.”

According to Schwartz, the month’s earlier storms were driven by a high-pressure system sitting off the coast of California. Another high-pressure system off Alaska has been “slinging moisture” at the state this week.

The result is that snowfall at the lab since Oct. 1 — the start of California’s water year — is at 258% of average, he said. Almost all of it came in December.

Though welcome, the snowfall has also proven dangerous.

Conditions have hampered search and rescue efforts for a missing 43-year-old ski shop worker in Truckee, Rory Angelotta, who was last seen heading out to ski on Christmas morning. There have been rockfalls, road closures and multicar pileups as the latest storm barreled through the state from north to south.

Highway 50 near South Lake Tahoe was backed up and “at capacity” Tuesday, officials with the California Department of Transportation said. Residents were urged to stay home or face delays of up to 10 hours.

Other highways were completely blocked, including Interstate 80, which was closed much of the day Tuesday from Colfax to the Nevada state line until some eastbound lanes reopened in the afternoon.

In South Lake Tahoe, officials activated the city’s emergency operations center and warned drivers against unnecessary travel. They warned that basic services — gas, tow trucks and lodgings — were strained or overwhelmed. “With the highways also at capacity, there are significant delays in travel time.”

Drivers risk running out of fuel or depleting their batteries and becoming stranded, according to the statement.

“Emergency vehicles, snowplows and their staff are challenged with getting through the traffic, so assistance may be delayed,” officials said.

Electric vehicle drivers are encouraged to look up charging stations closest to them, officials said.

“Because of road conditions and limited ability to get supplies, all resources within the city are currently limited and will likely remain so until conditions improve,” officials said.

At Marval’s Sierra Market in Colfax, store manager Jeremey Rogers and supervisor Barrett Deveraux watched drivers navigate the unplowed parking lot.

“This is pretty gnarly,” Deveraux said of the storm, which toppled trees and threatened to dump more snow later in the day.

A steady stream of shoppers flooded the store, leaving with bread, water and beer. Several locals said spotty cell service was preventing them from making calls. The market was out of propane and low on bread, but Rogers said he expected to have enough diesel to run the generator until more supplies arrived.

“I slept here at the store last night,” said Rogers, who lives in Alta Sierra, northwest of Colfax, where his home was also without power. “I might have died on my way home.”

Those hitting the highways encountered blockades amid hazardous conditions, with some expressing concern that mapping software was sending drivers onto dangerous, poorly maintained mountain roads in efforts to avoid closures.

On Tuesday, weary travelers and locals pulled into a Valero gas station south of Colfax off I-80’s Applegate exit in hopes of snacks and fuel. But with no power, the pumps were off and the station closed.

“We haven’t had power since yesterday morning,” said Zach Stein, 33, who lives in nearby Weimar. “There are downed trees and power lines.”

Erin Morgan and her husband, Jaime Labeiga, were trying to get to a rental house in Truckee with Labeiga’s sister and her boyfriend, who had never seen snow before.

They knew they were unlikely to make it when they left the Bay Area, but as they drove past Auburn and continued east on I-80, their hopes began to rise.

“We were driving and there was no snow, no snow, and then bam,” Morgan said.

With cars being turned around, the four pulled over at the gas station for a snowball fight and to take pictures with a deserted snowman.

“Clearly, we weren’t the only ones with this idea,” Morgan said. “I guess we will just head back after this.”

The record snow is still only a start for California, which has to make up for a massive moisture deficit before it can chip away at the drought, Schwartz said. Though snowfall for Tuesday was high at the snow lab, it still was only about 68% of what the state expects each year.

“It’s definitely amazing that we’ve been able to break this record, but ultimately, we can’t really depend on it to do anything to the drought just yet,” Schwartz said.

Earlier this year, researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that climate change was contributing to dwindling snowpack across the state and that winters of low snow, or even no snow, could become a regular occurrence in California in as little as 35 years.

Anderson, the state climatologist, said the recent snow is tied to shifting weather patterns, but it doesn’t necessarily alter the long-term climate outlook.

“The good news is December came through the way we needed it to in terms of delivering rainfall and developing snowpack,” he said. “It also fits into that narrative that as the world warms, there’s more extremes, more variability. So when you do get these events — boy, they really come in.”

Whether the current deep snowpack will last until the spring and summer — when the state’s water regulators typically lean on it as a critical source of supplies — depends on several factors, including temperatures, wind and sun, he said. But there’s no denying that it made a difference.

“If December ends up being our whole winter, if that’s the case, then thank goodness it was such a big one,” Anderson said, noting that statewide reservoirs made some gains this month.

The latest outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also points to drought improvements for large parts of the Central Valley, he said, although drought conditions are likely to persist in much of Southern California.

For residents like Jared Abelson, an avid skier with a home in the Tahoe Donner neighborhood of Truckee, the waist-high snow was cause for celebration.

“This is probably one of the best things that could happen to the state after the drought,” said Abelson, 39. “Most of our water comes from Sierra snowmelt, so we need this. Especially after the dry November. I live for this stuff.”

Abelson said he made it to a grocery store in Truckee on Sunday, which was running on a generator and had been nearly picked clean of supplies. He was able to secure enough provisions to hunker down at the house with his family of eight, including his wife, children and in-laws.

But temperatures quickly dropped into the teens and single digits as a storm hit Sunday night, and electricity in the area was intermittent, he said. Everyone gathered around a small fireplace that had already been running for four days straight.

“We hung blankets in front of the windows, put towels around the door jambs and put other blankets on the floors just trying to keep the heat in,” Abelson said.

Still, he was glad for what the snow means for California, and said the family was passing the time playing with the kids, ages 4 and 8 months, and snowshoeing and shoveling.

His excitement will likely be met with even more snow: The National Weather Service on Tuesday said another storm was rolling in this week. Winter weather watches and storm advisories will be in effect in the Sierra and other mountain areas intermittently through week’s end, officials said.

Some, like Kulieke in Sierra City, are glad for the moisture. A columnist for the weekly Mountain Messenger newspaper, he said he spent 10 straight weeks this year writing about wildfires, including the Dixie fire, which burned nearly 1 million acres not far from where his cabin now sits beneath a mountain of snow.

“What’s the old expression? Look out what you ask for — you might get it,” he joked.

The small community where he and his husband, Jeff, spend much of their time has been impassable for days, and electricity has been intermittent. He was using a generator to power his cellphone and refrigerator, and a fireplace to keep the house warm.

His husband has already trounced him in Scrabble several times, he said, so he was passing the hours in his study working on his next column for the paper, which will be a reflection on the events of 2021.

“It’s daunting how both nature and a pandemic can bring us to a standstill,” he said as he watched the steady snow falling outside his window. “We’re going into a new year in a way that we didn’t anticipate, and it has challenges and also opportunity. And that’s a good metaphor for our lives generally right now.”

Times staff writers Mark Z. Barabak, Stuart Leavenworth and Gregory Yee contributed to this report. Gutierrez reported from Colfax, Calif., and Smith from Los Angeles.

Lake Tahoe shatters 50-year December snowfall record with more than 16 feet of snow

USA Today

Lake Tahoe shatters 50-year December snowfall record with more than 16 feet of snow

Amy Alonzo December 28, 2021

LAKE TAHOE, Nev. —With four days left to go in the month, Lake Tahoe has already broken the record for December snowfall set 50 years ago.

On Monday, December snow totals at the UC Berkeley Central Sierra Snow Lab reached 193.7 inches, blowing a 1970 record of 179 inches out of the water.

The lab, located at Donner Pass, has received roughly 39 inches of snow in the past 24 hours and could break the 200-inch mark today.

The lab was built in 1946 by the U.S. Weather Bureau and Army Corps of Engineers and maintains one of the longest-running manual snow depth records in the world, dating back to 1879.

“This has been a very beneficial storm for the Sierra region,” said Dan McEvoy, regional climatologist for the Western Regional Climate Center.

Snow continued to make travel nearly impossible over mountain passes on Dec. 26, 2021, a day after a Christmas storm left more than 7 feet of snow in some locations.  Seen here is a sign for Spooner Summit Dec. 26, 2021
Snow continued to make travel nearly impossible over mountain passes on Dec. 26, 2021, a day after a Christmas storm left more than 7 feet of snow in some locations. Seen here is a sign for Spooner Summit Dec. 26, 2021

The Lake Tahoe Basin is sitting around 200 percent of average for snow water equivalent – the amount of water that will be released from the snowpack when it melts – for this time of year.

And the Basin is sitting at 60 percent of its peak average snow water equivalent, which occurs around late March or early April, McEvoy said. The median peak average is 27 inches, and today 16.1 inches of snow water equivalent was measured, he said.

‘Unrelenting’: Record cold and massive snow plague the West as Southern US basks in holiday heat wave

December’s storms came in “forming a right-side-up snowpack,” he said. Earlier storms were wetter with higher elevation snow, but then temperatures and snow levels dropped.

“That’s good for both water content and avalanche concerns,” McEvoy said.

It will also help keep the snowpack for area ski resorts in good shape, even if the region runs into a dry spell.

“It’s been a pretty impressive December,” McEvoy said.

But, he cautioned, it’s possible for drought conditions to resume.  

“If I had to emphasize one point, it’s that the drought’s not over. We need the storms to continue through the winter.”

Reach Amy Alonzo at aalonzo@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Reno Gazette Journal: Lake Tahoe blows past 50-year December snowfall record set in 1970

Op-Ed: After 2021 tumult, here’s what it will take to protect American democracy

Los Angeles Times

Op-Ed: After 2021 tumult, here’s what it will take to protect American democracy

Nils Gilman December 27, 2021

FILE - In this Nov. 6, 2018 file photo potential voters wait in long lines to register and vote at the Los Angeles County Registrar's office in Los Angeles.A pair of propositions on California's November ballot would expand voting rights in California - restoring the vote for parolees and allowing 17-year-olds to vote in primaries if they turn 18 before the general election. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)
Voters wait in long lines in November 2018 to vote at the Los Angeles County Registrar’s office in Los Angeles. (Associated Press)

For those of us who care about protecting democracy, 2021 has at times resembled the sort of nightmare where you see a friend standing on a train track but your screams about the looming danger can’t be heard. The runaway train of illiberalism continues to bear down on American democracy, and the need to act could not be more urgent.

In truth, this nation avoided the worst that many anticipated might happen during and after the 2020 presidential election. Notwithstanding the “Big Lie” promoted by former President Trump and his cronies, the election, in fact, went off properly, and the candidates who received the most votes were allowed to assume their offices.

However, what the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 showed, and which subsequent congressional investigations have made even clearer, is that Trump and his minions were very much willing to try to steal the election. They considered a variety of specific plans, with some going so far as to wargame strategies for overturning his electoral loss.

Yet the main reason that Trump and his team were unable to pull off their schemes was because the election wasn’t all that close. Of the 59 presidential elections since 1792, there have been 13 that were narrower in the electoral college and 17 that were closer in terms of the popular vote.

Despite Trump’s failure, the right-wing anti-democratic forces are still at it. Over the last year, Republicans in state legislatures crafted various measures to make it easier to pull off what they tried to do in the 2020 election. The GOP’s anti-democratic strategy has several dimensions.

First, gerrymander so aggressively that they can win majorities of seats with minorities of votes. The template here is the Wisconsin State Assembly, where the GOP has so successfully gerrymandered the state that in 2018, they received only 47% of the Assembly votes but picked up 64% of the Assembly seats. As congressional redistricting unfolds after the 2020 census – which (by design) undercounted Democratic-leaning residents — similar efforts are underway in every state controlled by Republicans.

Second, make it harder for those same Democratic constituencies to vote. For example, by striking them from electoral rolls, or limiting the number of polling stations in heavily Democratic areas, including in communities of color, or by making it illegal to provide various forms of voting assistance. In just the first half of 2021, 18 states enacted more than 30 laws that restrict access to the vote.

Third, if all else fails and Democrats somehow still manage to get more votes, nullify the votes themselves. Trump demanded this of GeorgiaMichigan and Pennsylvania lawmakers and election officials after his losses in those states in 2020. The elections officials, who upheld normal electoral practices, have in many cases been replaced by ones making few bones about their desire to ensure GOP victories occur no matter what.

Fourth, purge any Republicans critical of anti-democratic political strategies. In one swing state after another, Trump supporters are working to replace impartial election administrators with partisan hacks who, in some cases, have explicitly said they will try to enforce results on the basis of the Big Lie. Of the 10 Republicans in Congress who voted to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 insurrection, all appear headed for the exits, either voluntarily or by primary challenges from Trump loyalists.

All of this adds up to a Republican Party that has made a complete turn toward what in other countries, such as Viktor Orban’s Hungary or Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey, is known as “illiberal democracy.” Illiberal democracies are ones where elections take place, but they are rigged in the sense that not everyone has equal access to the ballot; or the ballots themselves do not get counted in impartial ways. In such nations, the purpose of elections is not to ensure that elected representatives reflect the will of the people, but rather to legitimate and consolidate the power of one party or leader.

Despite ample evidence of how this has happened in other countries, and of the explicitly stated intentions of Trumpist Republicans in the U.S., Americans continue to stand on the railroad tracks, their backs turned to the impending danger. The primary imperative, then, is for all citizens to take seriously the danger of election nullification, achieved through various means.

Taking that threat seriously means passing federal voting rights and election security bills to ensure that every citizen is empowered to vote, that every vote is properly counted and that the candidates with the most votes assume office. Unfortunately, Democrats have failed to get these bills to President Biden’s desk. They need to do so immediately, if necessary, by carrying out filibuster reform.

Perhaps even more important is the critical political work at the state and local level, where the clearest threats to our democratic system appear at present. For ordinary citizens, this means getting directly involved with local politics, because showing up to vote every four years is hardly enough.

This can include volunteering to serve as a poll worker; getting involved in the campaigns of pro-democracy candidates for governor and secretaries of state; and running for one of the thousands of local electoral administration positions across the country. Ideally, we will move toward nonpartisan professionals overseeing elections, while citizens insist that elected representatives commit to respecting ballot outcomes.

A liberal democracy in the end depends not on laws, but on the political virtues and commitments of its citizens. Those who would tear down our democratic traditions are a minority in this country, but a focused one. To defend against this deepening threat, Americans, regardless of party, will have to respond with greater fervor and dedication.

Nils Gilman is vice president of programs at the Berggruen Institute in Los Angeles.

Trump Adviser Worried He’s Not Getting Enough Credit for Trying to Ruin American Democracy

Rolling Stone

Trump Adviser Worried He’s Not Getting Enough Credit for Trying to Ruin American Democracy

Tim Dickinson December 28, 2021

Ted-Cruz-Paul-Gosar-Jan-6 - Credit: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc/Getty Images
Ted-Cruz-Paul-Gosar-Jan-6 – Credit: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc/Getty Images

For most patriotic Americans, Jan. 6 represents a day of national shame and terror at what could have been the end of our democracy. But when former Trump economic adviser Peter Navarro reflects on that day, what he dwells on is that he doesn’t get nearly enough credit.

Navarro recently published a memoir, and is now pushing out interviews to reporters, bragging of a scheme he dreamed up with former Trump adviser Steve Bannon to overturn the results of the 2020 election. They even had a cringey name for it: the Green Bay Sweep.

The plot sought to keep Trump in office by exerting maximum pressure on Vice President Mike Pence to block the certification of the Electoral College votes from pivotal swing states, by drawing out the proceedings on national television for as long as 24 hours. “It was a perfect plan,” Navarro told the Daily Beast. “We had over 100 congressmen committed to it.”

Navarro’s anti-democratic plot was intended to keep Trump in office without violence, he’s fast to insist. In fact, Navarro blames the bloody insurrection at the Capitol for what he calls the “inglorious” result of Congress certifying the (100 percent legitimate) election of Joe Biden, foiling the autogolpe that could have continued Trump’s reign of “populist economic nationalism.”

Navarro is a Harvard-educated economist whom Trump tapped, originally, to escalate his trade war with China. But as coronavirus struck, Navarro’s role at the White House expanded to include pandemic response, in which he pushed the quack treatment of hydroxychloroquine. By the bitter end, Navarro was compiling cockeyed dossiers of (now-exhaustively-debunked) allegations of election fraud — “receipts” Navarro believed justified tin-pot measures to keep Trump in the White House.

So what was the Green Bay Sweep? The plot, Navarro writes, was named after a famous football play designed by storied 1960’s NFL coach Vince Lombardi, in which a Packers running back would pound into the end zone behind a “phalanx of blockers.”

For the 2021 Green Bay Sweep, Navarro writes, Bannon played the role of Lombardi. The plan was to have members of the House and Senate raise challenges to the counts of Electoral College votes from six pivotal battleground states.

“The political and legal beauty of the strategy,” Navarro writes, is that the challenges would force up to two hours of debate per state, in each chamber of Congress. “That would add up to as much as 24 hours of nationally televised hearings,” Navarro writes. The hearings would enable Republicans to “short-circuit the crushing censorship of the anti-Trump media,” Navarro hoped, and broadcast their Big Lie that Democrats had stolen the election “directly to the American people.”

The goal was not to get the election overturned on Jan. 6. Instead, they aimed to create such a spectacle that Pence would be forced to exercise his authority as president of the Senate to “put the certification of the election on ice for at least another several weeks” while Congress and the state legislatures pursued the “fraud” allegations. The dark particulars for how Trump would remain in office after that are not spelled out, and Navarro did not immediately answer an email seeking clarification. But he writes that the Green Bay Sweep was the “last, best chance to snatch a stolen election from the Democrats’ jaws of deceit.”

The problem with the plot was that its success hinged on “Quarterback Mike” — and Pence wasn’t solidly on board. Navarro writes that he tried, with Trump’s backing, to brief Pence on his claims of election irregularities, but that Pence was kept off-limits by his chief of staff, Marc Short. (Navarro seethes that Short was part of the Koch brothers wing of the GOP, having previously worked for a nonprofit backed by the Kochs. When Short came to work for the vice president, Navarro writes, “it was like the Soviet Union taking over Eastern Europe. As an Iron Koch Curtain fell over the vice president, the only way you could speak to VPOTUS was to go through Short.”)

Regardless, Jan. 6 began auspiciously — to Navarro’s view of things. He told the Daily Beast that Trump was “on board with the strategy,” which he writes also had the backing of “more than 100” members of Congress. Navarro elaborated that the plan started off “perfectly” as Congress opened the proceedings to count Electoral College votes. Rep. Paul Gosar objected to results from his home state of Arizona, seconded by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas — an action that received standing applause from GOP colleagues in the chamber.

Navarro writes that the insurrection at the Capitol actually undermined the Green Bay Sweep by disrupting the official proceedings. When the Capitol was finally cleared of rioters and the joint session of Congress reconvened, Pence and leaders of both parties used “the excuse of the violence” to block other challenges to certification, Navarro writes. “In the inglorious way,” the Green Bay Sweep ended. Call it a sack, a fumble, or an interception, Navarro writes, Pence blew the play and “secured his place in history as the Brutus most responsible for the final betrayal of President Trump.”

It is unclear whether the Jan. 6 committee is probing the Green Bay Sweep as part of its investigation. Bannon, for his part, has been charged with criminal contempt for defying a subpoena from the congressional body. Navarro did not immediately respond to questions about whether he’s been contacted by the committee, or whether he was concerned about having potentially implicated himself in an attempted coup.

This Simple Breathing Technique Could Help Fend Off Illness and Ease Stress

Shape

This Simple Breathing Technique Could Help Fend Off Illness and Ease Stress

Mary Anderson December 28, 2021

If you hum while you read this, your body could experience beneficial side effects from the vibrations. For one, the resulting oscillation as you exhale helps circulate healthy nitric-rich air within the nasal sinuses, which creates a better environment to help protect against pathogens. “If you do 10 seconds of humming, all the air is exchanged,” says Eddie Weitzberg, M.D., a researcher at the Karolinska Institute and an intensive care physician at Karolinska University Hospital in Sweden. “With normal breathing, it takes between a half-hour and one hour.” The better ventilation may help guard against sinus infections, especially in those prone to recurrent ones, he says.

Previous research by Dr. Weitzberg and his colleague also found that people who hummed as they steadily exhaled through their nose for five seconds increased the amount of nitric oxide in their nasal cavity (pumped in from the sinuses, which have stores of it) by 15 times compared with exhaling normally for five seconds. That spike in nitric oxide presents an opportunity to get more of the salubrious gas into the lungs, says Lou Ignarro, Ph.D., an emeritus professor of molecular and medical pharmacology at UCLA who won a Nobel Prize for his findings about nitric oxide. “After you finish humming, if you immediately breathe in through your nose, you can capture quite a bit of the nitric oxide,” he says.

Humming-Could-Strengthen-Your-Immune-System-GettyImages-522664038
Humming-Could-Strengthen-Your-Immune-System-GettyImages-522664038

Getty Images

The huge benefits of getting that injection into your lungs (which work to produce the gas themselves): Nitric oxide helps cells throughout the body destroy pathogens, and it’s also both a vasodilator (it helps blood vessels open wider) and a bronchodilator (it expands airways). “Nitric oxide dilates the pulmonary arteries and veins so more blood can get into the lungs and therefore pick up the oxygen,” Ignarro says. “It also widens the airways, the trachea, and the bronchioles so more oxygen can get in and get picked up by the increased blood getting in.” Better circulation means your body is getting more fuel for all its inner workings, immune functions included. Then there’s this crucial direct detox: “Nitric oxide in the lungs will kill or inhibit the growth of many bacteria, parasites, and viruses, especially the coronavirus,” he says. (Related: How Improving Your Cardiorespiratory Fitness Can Strengthen Your Immune System)

Meanwhile, your humming is also creating vibrations in the inner ear that are being picked up by the vagus nerve, the longest nerve in the body, which starts at the brain stem and runs to the belly. “This power cord is the bidirectional highway of communication between body and brain,” says Arielle Schwartz, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Boulder, Colorado. A study in the International Journal of Yoga that five minutes of humming (the humming-bee breath in yoga) increased vagus nerve activity as measured by improved heart rate variability. “That rhythmic rise and fall of the heart rate in synchronization with the breath in its optimal zone is actually putting the brain into what’s often referred to as flow state,” she says. Having your system in flow translates to many health benefits, including less stress.

Front-line workers describe symptoms they’ve observed in latest Covid wave

NBC News

Front-line workers describe symptoms they’ve observed in latest Covid wave

Daniella Silva December 29, 2021

Health NBC News

Physicians around the country facing the latest surge of Covid-19 cases, driven by the highly contagious omicron variant, have a straightforward message based on what they’re seeing in their emergency rooms: Vaccinations and boosters are having a positive effect.

“The general trend that I’m seeing is, if you’re boosted and you get Covid, you really just at worst end up with bad cold symptoms. It’s not like before where you were coughing, couldn’t say sentences and were short of breath,” said Dr. Matthew Bai, an emergency medicine physician at Mount Sinai Queens in New York City.

“There are obviously exceptions like if you start out with a very weakened immune system, your immune response won’t be as strong with a booster. But in your average person, a booster’s definitely going to make a difference is what I’m seeing,” he said.

Dr. Joseph Varon, chief of critical care services and the Covid-19 unit at Houston’s United Memorial Medical Center, said of the roughly 50 patients admitted to the hospital’s Covid unit in the last four weeks, 100 percent of them were unvaccinated.

He said patients who needed to be admitted typically have “shortness of breath, high fevers, being dehydrated like crazy.” He said those who are unvaccinated also “have more illness. What I mean by more illness is more pneumonia, not just a little bit of pneumonia, you have a lot of pneumonia.”

“The people that are coming in unvaccinated have a much larger burden of illness in the lungs than those who are vaccinated,” he said.

Meanwhile, those who had received the booster shot were “almost back to normal” within several days, he said. Those who had not received the booster have tended to “still feel sick after a week, a week and a half or so,” he added.

Patients who have received the booster shot may still have symptoms such as a sore throat, a lot of fatigue and muscle pain, said Dr. Craig Spencer, director of global health in emergency medicine at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. Those who are vaccinated but have not got the booster “looked worse, they looked like they felt pretty darn bad. But, again, they didn’t need to be hospitalized,” he said.

“I’m not seeing people who have got two doses and a booster and are coming in profoundly short of breath,” he said. “It’s just not happening.”

Those who are vaccinated but have not got a booster have shown symptoms such as more coughing, more fever and more fatigue than those who had received a booster, he said.

Meanwhile, Spencer said almost every patient he has seen who needed to be admitted was unvaccinated.

“We’ve known that there are multiple presentations of this disease, that hasn’t changed. What has changed is that we know that those who are vaccinated are significantly less likely to end up seeing me in the hospital and needing to be admitted. That’s for certain,” he said.

The new omicron variant continues to spread rapidly in the United States, making up about 58 percent of all new Covid cases for the week ending Dec. 25, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Early evidence suggests that for most people, at least for those who are up to date on their Covid vaccines, omicron appears less likely to cause severe illness.

A small study from the CDC published Tuesday suggested people who had Covid and are later reinfected with omicron may experience fewer symptoms than they did during their initial bout with the virus.

And last week, reports out of the United Kingdom found that people who were infected with omicron in November and December were about two-thirds less likely to be hospitalized, compared with the delta variant.

Physicians still stressed the importance of getting the vaccine and getting a booster, even if omicron appears less likely to lead to severe illness than delta.

“Especially for those that are above 50-55, anyone with underlying medical conditions, we know that it can decrease the likelihood of you needing to be hospitalized with severe Covid,” Spencer said.

For those who are younger or without underlying medical conditions, he said, “if you can prevent infections in younger folks, you can hopefully prevent infections in older folks, their grandparents, their parents or people that they see and mingle with, especially around the holidays.”

“So, I think from an infection prevention and control standpoint, getting a booster dose in younger folks, in addition to the benefit in terms of severe disease, is quite important,” he said.

Record Beef Prices, but Ranchers Aren’t Cashing In

By Peter S. Goodman December 29, 2021 

Photographs by Erin Schaff

“You’re feeding America and going broke doing it”: After years of consolidation, four companies dominate the meatpacking industry, while many ranchers are barely hanging on.

Record Beef Prices, but Ranchers Aren’t Cashing In

Steve Charter on his 8,000-acre ranch on the high plains of Montana. Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

SHEPHERD, Montana — Judging from the prices at supermarkets and restaurants, this would appear to be a lucrative moment for cattle ranchers like Steve Charter.

America is consuming more beef than ever, while prices have climbed by one-fifth over the past year — a primary driver for the growing alarm over inflation.

But somewhere between American dinner plates and his 8,000-acre ranch on the high plains of Montana, Mr. Charter’s share of the $66 billion beef cattle industry has gone missing.

A third-generation cattle rancher, Mr. Charter, 69, is accustomed to working seven days a week, 365 days a year — in winter temperatures descending to minus 40, and in summer swelter reaching 110 degrees.

On a recent morning, he rumbled up a snow-crusted dirt road in his feed truck, delivering a mixture of grains to his herd of mother cows and calves. They roam a landscape that seems unbounded — grassland dotted by sagebrush, the horizons stretching beyond distant buttes.

Mr. Charter has long imagined his six grandchildren continuing his way of life. But with no profits in five years, he is pondering the fate that has befallen more than half a million other American ranchers in recent decades: selling off his herd.

“We are contemplating getting out,” Mr. Charter said, his voice catching as he choked back tears. “We are not getting our share of the consumer dollars.”

The distress of American cattle ranchers represents the underside of the staggering winnings harvested by the conglomerates that dominate the meatpacking industry — Tyson Foods and Cargill, plus a pair of companies controlled by Brazilian corporate owners, National Beef Packing Company and JBS.

Since the 1980s, the four largest meatpackers have used a wave of mergers to increase their share of the market from 36 percent to 85 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Their dominance has allowed them to extinguish competition and dictate prices, exploiting how federal authorities have weakened the enforcement of laws enacted a century ago to tame the excesses of the Robber Barons, say antitrust experts and advocates for the ranchers.

One landmark piece of legislation, the Packers & Stockyards Act of 1921, was adopted by Congress to “safeguard farmers and ranchers” — among other market participants — from “unjustly discriminatory and monopolistic practices.”

Today’s record high beef prices are most directly reflective of scarce stocks, another manifestation of the Great Supply Chain Disruption accompanying the pandemic. The initial spread of the coronavirus swept through slaughterhouses, killing scores of workers, sickening thousands and halting production. That caused shortages of beef.

But the shock landed atop decades of takeovers that closed slaughterhouses. The basic laws of economics suggest what happens when the packers cut their capacity to process beef: The supply is reduced, increasing consumer prices. At the same time, fewer slaughterhouses limits the demand for live cattle, lowering prices paid to ranchers for their animals — an advantage for the packers.

“Their goal is to control the market so that they can control the price,” said Marion Nestle, a professor of food studies and public health at New York University. “The pandemic exposed the consequences of the consolidation of the meat industry.”

The packers — now confronting a push from the Biden administration to revive antitrust enforcement — maintain that the attention on consolidation is misguided.

JBS, the largest meatpacker in the United States, declined to discuss the impact of consolidation on the market, instead referring questions to a Washington lobbying organization, the North American Meat Institute.

“Concentration has nothing to do with price,” said a spokeswoman for the organization, Sarah Little. “The cattle and beef markets are dynamic.”

As slaughterhouses work through a glut of live cattle, ranchers have in recent weeks received rising prices for their animals, she added.

Cassandra Fish, a former senior executive at Tyson who now runs a beef industry consultancy, said the shuttering of slaughterhouses by meatpackers in recent decades was prompted by the simple fact that many were losing money.

“The packers are not masterminds,” she said. “The packing industry was unprofitable for several years, so they closed plants.”

But ranchers complain that the game is rigged.

They generally raise calves, allowing them to roam across grassland until they are big enough to be sold to so-called feed lots that administer grains to bring them to slaughtering weight. The feed lots — the largest concentrated in Texas, Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado — then sell their animals to the packers.

Because the feed lots face relentless pressure from the packers for lower prices, they in turn demand cut-rate terms from the ranchers.

“A lot of people don’t understand how trapped ranchers are in this really broken system,” said Jeanie Alderson, whose family has run cattle in southeastern Montana for more than a century. “We don’t have a market.”

Many of the cattle raised in Montana are eventually hauled to slaughterhouses run by JBS, the world’s largest meat processor.

The two brothers who control the enterprise, Wesley and Joesley Batista, possess a fortune estimated by Bloomberg News at $5.8 billion. Four years ago, they went to prison after pleading guilty to participation in a Brazilian bribery ring that secured loans from government-owned banks. (They have since been released.) A $20 billion international acquisition spree put JBS in control of one-fourth of the American capacity for slaughtering beef.

While ranchers have been tallying losses, JBS has been celebrating gains — revenues of $18 billion between July and September, which represented an increase of 32 percent compared with the same quarter in 2020.

In past decades, when beef prices rose, so would payments to cattle ranchers, who claimed over half of what consumers paid for meat. But that relationship began to break down in 2015. Last year, cattle ranchers received only 37 cents on every dollar spent on beef, according to federal data.

“You’re having consumers exploited on one end of the supply chain, cattle producers exploited on the other,” said Bill Bullard, a former rancher who now heads an advocacy group, the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund. “The meatpackers are making all-time record profits.”

His organization is a plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit that accuses meatpackers of manipulating prices by sharply reducing their purchases of cattle at so-called sale barns — open marketplaces where animals are inspected and purchased on the spot, with the prices disclosed publicly.

Instead, the packers now overwhelmingly rely on private contracts with feed lots. Those contracts provide the feed lots with certainty that the packers will buy their animals. In exchange, the feed lots must lock into a price structure that tracks those in public auctions, where buyers are scarce.

According to industry experts, this system allows packers to lock up the overwhelming supply of cattle at prices they impose, under terms hidden from public view. Given the market dominance of the four largest packers in their regions, feed lots lack alternative places to sell their animals once they reach slaughtering weight.

“There’s no competition,” said Ty Thompson, an auctioneer at the public auction yards in Billings, Mont., who also operates his own feed lots. “We have so much supply and so little capacity, that there’s no negotiation whatsoever.”

In the rolling hill country of northern Missouri — a tableau of grain farms dotted by compact towns — Coy Young, a fifth-generation rancher, has concluded that raising cattle is pointless.

“You’re feeding America and going broke doing it,” he said. “It doesn’t pencil out to raise cattle in this country anymore.”

How the Supply Chain Crisis Unfolded


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The pandemic sparked the problem. The highly intricate and interconnected global supply chain is in upheaval. Much of the crisis can be traced to the outbreak of Covid-19, which triggered an economic slowdown, mass layoffs and a halt to production. Here’s what happened next:

A reduction in shipping. With fewer goods being made and fewer people with paychecks to spend at the start of the pandemic, manufacturers and shipping companies assumed that demand would drop sharply. But that proved to be a mistake, as demand for some items would surge.

Demand for protective gear spiked. In early 2020, the entire planet suddenly needed surgical masks and gowns. Most of these goods were made in China. As Chinese factories ramped up production, cargo vessels began delivering gear around the globe.

Then, a shipping container shortage. Shipping containers piled up in many parts of the world after they were emptied. The result was a shortage of containers in the one country that needed them the most: China, where factories would begin pumping out goods in record volumes

Demand for durable goods increased. The pandemic shifted Americans’ spending from eating out and attending events to office furniture, electronics and kitchen appliances – mostly purchased online. The spending was also encouraged by government stimulus programs.

Strained supply chains. Factory goods swiftly overwhelmed U.S. ports. Swelling orders further outstripped the availability of shipping containers, and the cost of shipping a container from Shanghai to Los Angeles skyrocketed tenfold.

Labor shortages. Businesses across the economy, meanwhile, struggled to hire workers, including the truck drivers needed to haul cargo to warehouses. Even as employers resorted to lifting wages, labor shortages persisted, worsening the scarcity of goods.

Component shortages. Shortages of one thing turned into shortages of others. A dearth of computer chips, for example, forced major automakers to slash production, while even delaying the manufacture of medical devices.

A lasting problem. Businesses and consumers reacted to shortages by ordering earlier and extra, especially ahead of the holidays, but that has placed more strain on the system. These issues are a key factor in rising inflation and are likely to last for months — if not longer.

Mr. Young, 38, carries credit card debts reaching $55,000. He plowed most of that debt into artificial insemination technology aimed at producing premium breeding cows.

His payoff was supposed to come early last year, with a sale that Mr. Young anticipated would fetch $125,000. But the day that he trucked his herd to a nearby auction, panic over the pandemic assailed markets. Traders in Chicago pushed down the price of live cattle by more than 10 percent. Mr. Young received a bid of only $32,000.

It was a crushing blow, a price that seemed certain to trigger his financial unraveling. Still, he had no choice but to take it. Cattle are perishable goods. Holding on to them after they reach slaughtering weight entails the costs of feeding them. They begin to add more fat than muscle.

A week later, the bank began calling Mr. Young demanding repayment. Sinking into despondency, he waited for his wife to drive to her nursing job — their means of paying the bills. He planned to kill himself, he said. When she pulled back into the driveway, having forgotten something, he reconsidered.

“You put your heart and soul into something, and then you lose your ass,” he said. “You don’t see any other way out.”

He plans to sell off his herd early next year and start a barbecue catering business.

“You’re raised a farmer, and that’s what you’re supposed to do,” he said. “It’s my family legacy. It’s like I’m losing my image as a man.”

Ever since the Reagan administration, the federal government has taken a lax approach to antitrust enforcement, investing in the popular notion that when large and efficient companies are permitted to amass greater scale, consumers benefit.

That notion may now be up for readjustment.

The Biden administration and members of Congress are pressing to diminish the dominance of the meatpackers as inflation concerns intensify.

The Federal Trade Commission last month opened an inquiry into how anticompetitive practices by major companies have contributed to supply chain problems.

“The meat price increases we are seeing are not just the natural consequences of supply and demand,” senior White House economists recently declared in a blog post. “They are also the result of corporate decisions to take advantage of their market power in an uncompetitive market, to the detriment of consumers, farmers and ranchers, and our economy.”

Last year, as the pandemic began, the Charter family recognized a full-on market failure.

“You could see a cow across the road, and you couldn’t find ground beef in Billings, Montana,” said Mr. Charter’s daughter, Annika Charter-Williams, 34.

As they made arrangements to sell about 120 head of cattle in March 2020, they reached out to a friend who owns a feed lot that sells animals to a JBS plant in Utah.

Mr. Charter was taken aback by the terms for the first load: The slaughterhouse demanded that he commit to delivering his cattle, with the price to be dictated by JBS.

“I wanted to tell him to go to hell,” Mr. Charter says. “But what choice did I have?”

His break-even point was $1.30 a pound. “Without any consulting or any dealing, they just decided that they were going to pay me $1 a pound,” he said.

His daughter took the disaster as the impetus for creativity. She engaged a small, local slaughterhouse to process some of their remaining animals. Then she sold the beef directly to consumers across Montana, marketing it on social media.

This resonated as a triumph — the successful sidestepping of the packers.

It was also not enough.

“It looks like we’re going to have to liquidate almost all the cattle,” Mr. Charter said.

When family ranches like his disappear, he added, so do the values that have governed their operations for generations — a commitment to caring for land and producing quality beef, rather than catering exclusively to the bottom line.

“People shouldn’t be worried about us because we’re kind of quaint and it’s nice to have the cowboys out there,” Mr. Charter said. “We need a food system that serves everyone, and not just a handful of companies.”

Peter S. Goodman is a global economics correspondent, based in New York. He was previously London-based European economics correspondent and national economics correspondent during the Great Recession. He has also worked at The Washington Post as Shanghai bureau chief. 

Want to be happier? Science says buying a little time leads to significantly greater life satisfaction

Fast Company

Want to be happier? Science says buying a little time leads to significantly greater life satisfaction.

Buying things won’t make you happier. But research shows that buying time can, as long as you do it the right way.

By Jeff Haden December 29, 2021

Remi Muller/Unsplash;Sharon McCutcheon/Unsplash]

In 1930, the influential economist John Maynard Keynes assessed how technological and economic advances had reduced the number of hours the average person worked. He predicted that within two generations, most people would work only three hours a day.

Working hard wouldn’t be a problem. Filling all that free time would, for most people, be the problem.

While Keynes got a lot of things right, he swung and missed on that one. Technological advances have not freed up the average person’s time. Neither have broader economic advances.

Nor has increased wealth. In fact, some studies show that the more money people make, the less time they think they have.

Add it all up, and money can’t buy you happiness.

Unless, purposefully and consciously, you use a little money to buy a little time.

In a 2017 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers surveyed thousands of people who sometimes paid other people to perform tasks they didn’t enjoy or didn’t want to do. Like mowing the lawn. Or cleaning the house. Or running errands. Stuff they needed to do, but didn’t particularly want to do.

Unsurprisingly, people who were willing to spend a little money to buy a little time were happier and felt greater overall life satisfaction than those who did not.

Correlation isn’t always causation, though. Maybe the people who spend money to buy time are happier simply because they have the money to buy time?

Nope. While relatively wealthy people who spent money to buy a little time were happier than relatively wealthy people who did not, people at the bottom end of the economic spectrum who spent money to buy a little time were happier than those at the bottom end of the economic spectrum who did not.

No matter how much you make, no matter how wealthy you are, buying a little time makes you happier. (With a couple of catches; more on that in a moment.)

Just to prove the causation point, the researchers conducted a further experiment. One week, participants were given $40 and told to spend it on any item or items they chose. The only restriction was that they had to use the money to buy “things.”

The next week, participants were given $40 and told they had to spend it on freeing up time. Cleaning. Maintenance. Delivery. Paying someone to do something they didn’t want to do so they could use that time to do something they did want to do.

You’ve already guessed the result: When the participants bought time instead of things, they felt happier, less stressed, and more satisfied.

There is a catch. The researchers found that “spending too much money on time saving services could undermine perceptions of personal control by leading people to infer that they are unable to handle any daily tasks, potentially reducing well-being.”

Granted, most of us can’t afford to spend so much money buying time that we feel inadequate or incapable. But still: Making a conscious decision about which tasks to occasionally farm out is key.

And why you decided to farm out that task. If someone always cuts your grass, then you’ve likely made that your new normal. You probably still feel too busy. You probably still feel time is scarce.

The key to buying time is to consciously decide how you will use the time your money freed up. Buying time will make you happier only if it feels intentional and purposeful–not because you don’t have the time, but because you want to use the time you have differently.

Instead of cutting the grass, you might decide (again, to make this work you have to decide) to spend the time with family or friends. Or working on that side project you can’t seem to get to. Or reading. Or working out.

In short, doing something you enjoy–doing something you want to do–with the time you bought.

That’s when money can buy you a little happiness.

No matter how much you make.

This article was originally published on our sister publication, Inc., and is reprinted here with permission.

I Thought I would never get it, and boy was I wrong’

The Daily Astorian, Oregon

‘I thought I would never get it, and boy was I wrong’

Abbey McDonald December 27, 2021

Gigi Thompson doesn’t remember the August night when she knocked on her neighbor’s front door, desperate for help. She doesn’t remember getting in the neighbor’s truck to go to the hospital, or saying goodbye to her husband and asking him to watch over their pets.

She doesn’t remember being transferred from Providence Seaside Hospital to St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland the next day, or getting the scars on her neck.

What she does remember, from moments in and out of consciousness, is the feeling of the oxygen mask tight on her face and her sense of suffocation.

She remembers a nightmare that seemed so real, where she died and cold hands pulled her into the darkness of a mortuary drawer as she kicked at them and begged God for more time. She doesn’t think she’ll ever forget that.

Thompson spent 122 days in the hospital after contracting COVID-19.

Her neighbor drove her to Providence Seaside on Aug. 15, and she was quickly transferred to St. Vincent, where she stayed until early November. She then spent another month back in Seaside, getting less-intensive treatment and physical therapy.

Thompson has pieced together what happened through conversations with doctors, family and friends.

Her neighbor filled her in about the night she was admitted. Her daughter told her she had approved the emergency tracheotomy that cut into her neck, leaving scars but saving her life. After she woke from a monthlong coma, a doctor told her she had nearly died twice.

Grateful

There’s a lot to be grateful for, Thompson said. She can walk a little bit and can dress herself. And she has hope that her health will improve with time.

“That experience with COVID, that actually changed my life for the better,” Thompson said. “I have a better outlook on certain things, and I always try to keep a positive attitude.”

Thompson, who is 72 years old, was discharged from Providence Seaside on Dec. 15 after several months of treatment for the virus. She exited the hospital in “Rocky” themed attire, wearing boxing gloves, an American flag and a nasal cannula.

The hospital staff lined up and clapped, some teary-eyed, as they said goodbye to the long-haul COVID patient.

Two days later, Thompson sat at home after her nurse left for the evening. Her cat, “Amara,” which will have her 22nd birthday in March, sat on Thompson’s lap as she told her story over the phone.

“She just won’t leave me alone. She has to sleep on me and keep touching me to make sure I’m still there,” Thompson said.

Being back home has been an adjustment. When she first arrived, her husband, her son and a neighbor had to carry her wheelchair up the stairs to the front door. They’re looking for first-floor apartments, but finding few options.

She can’t make dinner anymore, and for now has resigned to observing and critiquing her husband’s work in the kitchen.

“I’m doing OK. It’s time-consuming, that’s what healing is,” Thompson said. Her statements were sometimes punctuated by brief coughing fits.

Thompson’s daughter, Carol Dickeson, said she is amazed her mom got through her battle with COVID.

“She had one foot in the grave there, and that scared us,” Dickeson said.

She talked to the hospital daily for updates on her mom, calling from her home in Colorado.

“Just the thought of losing her? Oh man, that was — it really, really scared me,” Dickeson said. “She’s a feisty woman. She’s very, very feisty and she’s a fighter. She won’t let nothing keep her down.”

Thompson worked in the fishing industry her whole life, from shrimp picking in Gold Beach to Pacific Seafood in Warrenton, and up to Alaska for a time. She retired in her 50s after an on-the-job shoulder injury while hauling 35-pound crab buckets.

Dickeson described her mom as selfless, and said she always had a place at her table for neighborhood kids. She said her fried chicken recipe was so good that her siblings would ask her to make extra just so they could share it at school.

“With my mom, she’s always …” Dickeson said, before getting emotional. “There’s not enough time to say enough good about my mom. She always — always — is looking to help other people.”

A struggle to get vaccinated

Prior to her hospitalization, Dickeson and her siblings had struggled to convince their mom to get vaccinated.

“Now that she’s had this COVID, and went face to face with that. She’s taking it seriously now,” Dickeson said. “So I’m glad she went through this to realize that it’s not funny or anything, and I’m glad that she survived it. I’m happy that my mom’s still with us, and we get to put up with her wittiness.”

Now Thompson can assure them that she received two vaccine doses during her stay at Seaside, having changed her mind after dealing with the virus firsthand. She plans on getting the booster as soon as she is eligible.

“I thought I would never get it, and boy was I wrong. It smacked me down like nothing. And I’m glad I got those two shots,” Thompson said.

Thompson is a mother of eight, including two stepchildren and an adopted daughter. She described the support of her family and her faith as her strengths.

“With my strength in the Lord, and my kids and my husband, we all got together. And so many people — people I didn’t even know — were texting my phone and saying, ‘God bless you Gigi. We’re so happy you made it. You’ve been through the wringer.’ And I said, ‘I have literally been at hell’s door and came back,'” she said.

She thanked the hospital staff for their work and said that she’s glad to be alive.

“There’s still things that I want to do, and things I want to see. I’ve been a fish filleter for over 40 years. I did a little bit of logging for three years, and raised my children before all that. Life has been alright, you know, it’s like a roller coaster,” she said. “I’m here and I’m so grateful that I am here, and I want to thank everybody for everything that they have done.”

Men across America are getting vasectomies ‘as an act of love’

The Washington Post

Men across America are getting vasectomies ‘as an act of love’

Emily Wax-Thibodeaux December 26, 2021

A demonstrator holds up a placard reading ‘Against Abortion ? Have a vasectomy’ during a demonstration against Poland’s near-total ban on abortion in Berlin on November 7, 2020. – Mass protests began in Poland in October when Poland’s Constitutional Court ruled that an existing law allowing the abortion of damaged foetuses was “incompatible” with the constitution. The government has defended the verdict, saying it will halt “eugenic abortions”, but human rights groups have said it would force women to carry non-viable pregnancies. Poland, a traditionally devout Catholic country of 38 million people, already has one of the most stringent abortion laws in Europe. (Photo by Tobias Schwarz / AFP) (Photo by TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP via Getty Images)

After Andy and Erin Gress had their fourth child, Andy decided it was time for him to “step up” and help with the family planning. So he did something that the mere thought of makes some men cringe: He got a vasectomy.

It was early one morning last winter – a brief moment of peace, before juggling getting the kids ready for online school and work Zoom calls. He happened to see a local news story about discounts being offered during “World Vasectomy Day.” He made an appointment that day.

His wife had taken birth control pills, but she struggled with the side effects. She had worked as a night nurse through four pregnancies, and the couple had children ranging in age from 2 to 11.

“The procedure was a total relief, almost like the covid shot – like I’m safe now,” said Gress, who works in higher education. “I wanted to man up.”

But Gress’s action wasn’t just about his family. He also believed he should do more to support his wife and other women who don’t think the government should decide what they do with their bodies. “I’ve seen the miracle of life,” he said. “But I’ve also seen kids who are born into poverty and misery and don’t have a fair shot.”

With the Supreme Court set to decide the fate of Roe v. Wade next year and with more than 20 states poised to ban or impose restrictions on abortion depending on what the court decides, some reproductive rights advocates say it is time for men to take a more active role in both family planning and the fight for reproductive rights.

In their own form of protest, state lawmakers in Alabama, Illinois and Pennsylvania introduced legislation that highlights the gendered double standards with regards to reproductive rights.

Pennsylvania state Rep. Chris Rabb, a Democrat, introduced “parody” legislation this fall in response to the Texas law that amounts to a near-total ban on abortion. Rabb’s proposal would require men to get vasectomies after the birth of their third child or when they turn 40, whichever comes first. It would be enforced by allowing Pennsylvanians to report men who failed to comply, for a $10,000 reward.

“As long as state legislatures continue to restrict the reproductive rights of cis women, trans men and nonbinary people, there should be laws that address the responsibility of men who impregnate them. Thus, my bill will also codify ‘wrongful conception’ to include when a person has demonstrated negligence toward preventing conception during intercourse,” Rabb wrote in a memo about his proposal, as reported by the Keystone.

Rabb, a father of two who had a vasectomy in 2008, noted that he only had to discuss his choice with his wife and his urologist. The point of his proposal, he said, was to highlight the sexism, double standard and hypocrisy inherent in the antiabortion debate. But it blew up in a way he didn’t expect.

“I underestimated the vitriol this proposal brought,” Rabb said in an interview, adding that he received thousands of hate-filled emails, Facebook posts and even death threats. “The notion a man would have to endure or even think about losing bodily autonomy was met with outrage, when every single day women face this and it’s somehow OK for the government to invade the uteruses of women and girls, but it should be off limits if you propose vasectomies or limit the reproductive rights of men.”

Since Dec. 1, when the Supreme Court heard a case that is expected to decide the future of Roe v. Wade, social media has been filled with tweets, memes and quips using tongue-in-cheek humor to point out how men’s role in reproduction is almost never talked about. “Against abortion? Have a Vasectomy,” says one bumper sticker.

Koushik Shaw, a doctor at the Austin Urology Institute in Texas, said his practice saw about a 15% increase in scheduled vasectomies after the Sept. 1 Texas abortion ban went into effect.

Patients are saying “‘Hey, I’m actually here because some of these changes that [Gov. Greg] Abbott and our legislature have passed that are really impacting our decision-making in terms of family planning,’ so that was a new one for me as a reason – the first time, patients are citing a state law as their motivating factor,” Shaw said.

Advocates say they want to be clear: They are not pushing vasectomies as a replacement for the right to obtain an abortion, nor do they believe men should have a say in the decision to have an abortion. In 1976, the Supreme Court ruled in Planned Parenthood v. Danforth that the father’s consent to an abortion was no longer required, largely because of a risk of violence or coercion in a relationship.

Doctors who perform vasectomies say they want men to be open and comfortable talking about the procedure instead of recoiling in horror at the idea, said Doug Stein, a urologist known as the “Vasectomy King” for his billboards, bar coasters and ads at child support offices around Florida.

“An act of Love,” for their partners, “the ultimate way to be a good man,” is how he and others market the procedure.

“It’s a remarkable trend in the family planning community of recognizing and promoting vasectomy and birth control for men, where this was once considered more fringe,” said Sarah Miller, a family medicine doctor who has a private practice in Boston and joined Stein’s movement.

Advances in the needle- and scalpel-free 10-minute procedure need a cultural push and maybe some fun to make men less bashful around doctors coming near their “junk,” Stein said.

He has a full-time vasectomy and vasectomy-reversal practice in Tampa and has traveled the world performing the procedure. He was inspired by his concern about population growth, but he also wanted to empower men to be responsible.

Stein, a father of two, had his own vasectomy more than 20 years ago.

Reliable statistics on the number of men who have sought vasectomies since the Texas ban and the U.S. Supreme Court hearing aren’t available, doctors say. But, Miller said, she has seen an increase in patients at the small clinic she opened in Boston less than three years ago because she couldn’t believe “the paucity of options for men and people with men parts.”

At one point, she was told that vasectomy was not considered part of family planning, and she had to make her own arrangements to get the necessary training.

“It warms my heart to hear men say, ‘I am so nervous, but I know this is NOTHING compared to what my wife has gone through,'” she said in an email.

“It’s outrageous that we don’t have more contraceptive options for people with man parts,” Miller said. “There’s even a misguided sense that birth control is not a man’s job. That men can’t be trusted, or that they would never be interested, and that has led to lack of funding and development,” she said.

Engaging men in the abortion debate is tricky, experts say, because on the abortion rights side, men don’t want to be viewed as questioning a woman’s right to choose. And on the antiabortion side, the procedure is viewed as murder. But some abortion rights advocates contend that men have a huge stake in legal and safe abortions, and “the fact we’re not out there fighting every bit as hard as women is shameful,” said Jonathan Stack, a co-founder with Stein of World Vasectomy Day.

“The quality of life for millions of men will be adversely affected if this right is taken from women,” said Stack, a documentary filmmaker who made a film about Stein called “The Vasectomist.”

Stack said that while filming the documentary, he would ask men: “Why are you choosing to do this?”

“They expressed something rarely heard in films about men – love or kindness or care,” he said.

“I had already come to believe that there was a story about masculinity that was not being told – not of power and control or rage, but of alienation, of insecurities, of uncertainty and of fear,” he said.

“We already know that men don’t always want to wear condoms, or they don’t work, or well, they take them off,” Esgar Guarín said with a sigh and chuckle. He is a family medicine doctor who runs SimpleVas in Iowa and performed Gress’s vasectomy.

Guarín trained under Stein and joined his movement. “We have to invest in helping men understand how easy and safe vasectomies are,” he said. After having two children, Guarín performed a vasectomy on himself.

The doctors also started “Responsible Men’s Clubs,” chat groups where men can share information such as how sexual performance is just fine after the procedure, and that it “doesn’t take away their manhood, but in fact makes them a better man,” Guarín said.

One man asked for a sort of “vasectomy passport,” a letter from Guarín to show his wife that sex would now be free of worry.

Brad Younts, 45, said his wife, Lizz Gardner, wants him to become a “vasectomy evangelist,” after he had the “simple procedure” without any problems.

“Men are big babies. Considering everything women go through – menstruation, Pap smears, OB/GYN visits,” said Younts, who lives in Chicago. “I’m proud I did it. And I went on to tell two friends who are also looking into it, too.”