Fuel stations, liquor shops allowed to snap up profit cash with out offering intensive wholesome meals choices

(InvestigateTV/Gray News) – Driving through almost any town in rural America, gas stations have peculiar selections.

Of course, there’s the usual road trip fare: soda, chips and candy. Maybe a section of T-shirts with funny slogans or essentials for your car such as containers of oil and antifreeze.

But there’s often also the out-of-place package of ham in the beer cooler. A random few frozen meals tucked in near the bags of ice. Or an odd bunch of bananas in a basket at the checkout.

The reason in many cases: Stores are working to meet the minimum requirements to accept food stamps – a government program meant to help America’s poorest buy healthy food. It’s a program that can also mean big money for small stores.

By law, stores in the federal program are supposed to regularly stock multiple different types of food that fall into each of the following categories: Fruit/vegetables, dairy, meat/seafood and bread/cereal.

“Not all stores meet the low standards to be in the program. So, there’s two problems. One: standards are too low. And the second problem is there’s no compliance to make sure that those standards are met. But SNAP is vitally important,” said Chicago-based researcher and consultant Mari Gallagher.

On the government’s benefits website, the stated mission of the food stamp or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is “to supplement the food budget of needy families so they can purchase healthy food and move towards self-sufficiency.”

The healthy options are what people from food bank operators to food access advocates say are lacking, particularly in rural stores.

Many stores that accept food stamps that InvestigateTV visited had prominent shelves of chips, candy and other snack foods, as well as large coolers of beer and other alcoholic beverages. Fresh and/or healthy food was sparse. Federal regulations require stores to stock some dairy, bread/cereal, fruit/vegetables, and meat/seafood, but critics say the standards are too low.(InvestigateTV)

Seven years ago, lawmakers tried to expand the access to food for Americans on benefits by requiring stores to stock a wider variety of healthy food to be allowed to accept benefit money.

But InvestigateTV discovered that the eligibility requirements published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the program, don’t meet the current legal requirement.

That’s because a few years after passing that law, Congress effectively reversed its own law by pulling funding on the new requirement. So, while the law requires more, stores aren’t required to follow the mandate.

Benefits are big business

While the intention of the program is to help families put food on their table – and make sure their options are nutritious – it’s not always happening.

There are currently around 245,000 stores that accept food stamps across the United States. Many are typical grocery stores with a meat counter, produce department and aisles of refrigerated, frozen and shelf-stable foods. Most benefit dollars are used at such stores, according to the USDA.

But there are thousands of what Gallagher refers to as fringe stores that also take food stamps. Those stores, she explains, don’t offer foods that could regularly support a healthy diet.

“Three reasons: Money, money, money,” Gallagher said.

Gas stations, minimarts, bait shops and stores with huge shelves of liquor can cash in on the benefits program, without providing many healthy options for customers.

While people who use food stamps cannot use the benefits to buy liquor, cigarettes or household supplies, they can buy nearly any food or non-alcoholic drink product including chips, candy bars and slushies.

In some towns, gas stations and minimarts are the only game in town. The National Association of Convenience Stores says nearly half of those stores are in rural areas, and more than 80% of rural Americans live within 10 minutes of a convenience store.

“Convenience stores are important because rural areas don’t always have access to as many goods and services as other places,” said NACS general counsel Doug Kantor, who agrees more fresh food options should be required at stores.

Critics say currently the small stores often don’t offer much for poor residents, some of whom also lack access to transportation to get to a town with a full grocery store. With a limited selection, some customers may only have a few healthy options and walls of sugar or sodium-packed choices.

“There are a lot of people who are missing meals because they cannot afford them, or they’re missing quality meals. They’re going to the minimart gas station and getting something that’s there because they’re really hungry,” Gallagher said.

Accepting SNAP is lucrative for stores. From a store’s perspective, accepting benefits is the same as taking a debit card or cash.

“Retailers love to be in the SNAP program, and why shouldn’t they? There’s a lot of money in the program,” Gallagher said.

In the last fiscal year, convenience stores accepted $3.8 billion in benefits.

Undercover findings

In rural Louisiana, small stores on the side of the road sell trinkets, beer, and even life-like baby dolls.

InvestigateTV journalists drove to multiple towns to visit a dozen stores that have applied for and been allowed to accept food stamps. The goal of the undercover reporting: See what residents can buy at their local convenience stores. In some towns, those stores are the only places to buy food.

The findings: Many specialized in junk food and booze – with little to no fresh fruits or vegetables, limited if any meat in the coolers or freezers, and only small containers of often pricey milk.

In one store, the only sign of fresh fruits or vegetables was a shelf with five green bell peppers and one moldy lemon.

In rural Louisiana, small stores that accept SNAP benefits sell items including life-like baby dolls, karaoke machines. The dozen stores InvestigateTV visited contained mostly sugary and salty snack foods as well as large beverage selections. Most had canned fruits, vegetables and meats to fulfill SNAP requirements. Very few had any fresh produce or raw meat intended to cook at home. One store had a few bell peppers and a moldy lemon; another had expired eggs. Rural convenience store owners say it can be hard to stock and keep perishable foods with limited truck deliveries.(InvestigateTV)

Gallagher, the Chicago-based researcher, has spent years working on food research and is credited with popularizing the term “food desert.” In her work, she has done a lot of reconnaissance herself.

“I saw a laundromat one time that was in the SNAP program. They had this little kind of dumpy laundromat and then a little table with, it was just a little like a card table, with some stuff that they sold and accepted SNAP,” she said. “I saw one convenience store that had little gambling machines in there. People were in there smoking. They had no, really no real food.”

To accept food stamps, a store fills out a nine-page form, part of which asks stores to check “yes” or “no” on whether they have the required minimum stock of staple foods.

The current requirement for most stores, according to the USDA’s website, is that each store have three packages of three varieties of food in four categories: Fruits/vegetables, meat/seafood, dairy, and bread/cereals.

For example, to meet the fruit/vegetable category, a store might have three cans of green beans, three bananas and three cartons of orange juice.

To accept food stamps (SNAP benefits), a store must stock at least three units of three types...To accept food stamps (SNAP benefits), a store must stock at least three units of three types of food in each of the four major categories. Shown are examples of food that would qualify a store to participate in the program. Congress amended the law seven years ago to require seven types of food in each category; however, that law is on hold while the USDA finalizes its rules.(Illustration: Jon Turnipseed, InvestigateTV)

Canned tomato soup is a qualifying vegetable. So is a bag of frozen tater tots. Beef jerky is a meat. Jarred alfredo sauce can be counted as milk and a qualifying dairy product.

In addition to the requirements being low and some would say strange, inspections for SNAP compliance are infrequent. According to a USDA spokesperson, the agency “in general” visits stores when they initially apply for the program. It then “may” visit again when they apply for reauthorization every five years.

“USDA colleagues that we work with are very talented and dedicated. Congress actually has to allocate money for there to be money for compliance,” Gallagher said.

Current rules fail to meet 2007 Farm Bill requirements

A law currently on the books strengthens the requirements for stores. It forces them to have more healthy food on the shelves at any time.

But that law is also essentially shelved.

In 2014, Congress passed a new farm bill, a 357-page law that encompasses issues from conservation to subsidies to food stamps.

One of the changes: Instead of requiring three varieties of food in those big categories, stores would now be required to have seven types of food. For example, instead of three types of dairy products such as milk, cheese and sour cream, shops would need to have seven.

“We supported it, and it was a nice instance of bipartisan agreement in Washington that this was an achievable improvement in terms of pushing stores to offer more,” said Kantor, from the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS).

The USDA amended its benefit rules to reflect the change.

But, NACS and a group of lawmakers said the new rule ended up being written in a way that was too limiting for rural stores.

The 2014 Farm Bill included a change to SNAP requirements for stores to participate in the...The 2014 Farm Bill included a change to SNAP requirements for stores to participate in the program. Instead of requiring three “varieties” of food in each category such as fruit/vegetables, the law now required seven varieties. The USDA wrote a new rule to reflect the changes; however, there was significant criticism. In 2017, Congress stopped enforcement of the change until the USDA addressed and rewrote the definition of variety. A 2019 rule to fix the concern has not been finalized.(InvestigateTV)

The bar, according to those in the industry and some lawmakers, was too high.

“Unfortunately when the Department of Agriculture first wrote the rules to implement this, they wrote them in a way that nobody understood or thought made sense,” Kantor said.

In 2016, more than 150 members of the House of Representatives signed a letter asking the rule be reconsidered.

Senators, including the current chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), also wrote a letter to the secretary of agriculture.

It stated, in part, “The cost and burden of complying with the proposed rule could be too high for these retailers to continue participating in SNAP. This would result in the exact opposite of what is intended- it would reduce access to healthy food for SNAP participants.”

The hang-up is in the word “variety.” Currently, only one type of product can be a “variety” – so roast beef and a steak only count for one variety of meat/seafood: beef. Orange juice and fresh oranges are one variety of fruit/vegetable.

Stores say it’s too hard to stock that much variety in a small, rural store where deliveries are few and far between. In particular, the meat and dairy categories would run out of options very quickly if only one type of beef, chicken, etc. counted toward the total as the original rule suggested.

Part of the NACS argument stated on its website: “On average, convenience stores get food deliveries 1-2 times a week, which can make stocking certain foods, particularly perishable foods, difficult. Convenience stores have limited space and storage. The average convenience store is approximately 3,000 square feet—almost 15 times smaller than the average supermarket.”

So in 2017, Congress essentially pulled back its own mandate in an omnibus appropriations bill. It said the rule established by the still-in-effect law would not be funded until some definitions are hammered out. As of this date, it still has not happened.

Many rural stores carry only canned or otherwise shelf-stable produce. Some stock frozen...Many rural stores carry only canned or otherwise shelf-stable produce. Some stock frozen varieties. These all meet SNAP requirements for stores; however, many food access experts say there should be more fresh choices to support a healthy diet. Some stores, such as Dollar General, have plans to expand fresh selections.(InvestigateTV)

Now, in 2021, while the law still technically says stores should have seven different kinds of fruits and vegetables, that’s not the requirement in practice.

“The law that Congress wrote is achievable, and frankly we think they were clear. As I said, the Department of Agriculture, I think, made it more complicated than it should have been in a way that folks would not have been able to implement,” Kantor said. “We hope that they’ll finish the job of simplifying that soon so that everybody can then comply with the new law and offer more.”

The USDA answered questions through email, but the agency declined to go on camera for an interview.

InvestigateTV specifically asked the USDA why it has not finalized the rule that would bring the program into step with the law.

A spokesperson responded through email: “USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) received significant comments in response to the proposed rule. FNS is currently determining the appropriate next steps to balance the improved retailer stocking requirements with the costs and operational realities of such changes.”

Food bank replaces grocery store

The last grocery store in Pine Hill, Alabama, closed some 30 years ago, according to the recollection of former residents.

All that’s left now is a dollar store and two gas stations.

“Even when I was small coming up, it wasn’t a whole lot here. But we had three grocery stores, and now there’s no grocery store at all,” said Edith Ruffin, who grew up in Pine Hill and now lives in Selma.

The twisted irony: Ruffin now runs the town’s food bank out of one of the old grocery store buildings.

A few times a week, Ruffin loads up her car and drives the 60 miles between her home in Selma and her hometown to run the food bank.

The Pine Hill Mission food bank co-founded by Edith Ruffin serves over 17 nearby counties. The...The Pine Hill Mission food bank co-founded by Edith Ruffin serves over 17 nearby counties. The food bank operates out of an old grocery store building. With limited options for healthy food, Ruffin said she is one of the only places people can get fresh produce and other perishable items.(Owen Hornstein, InvestigateTV)

“Dollar General is just canned goods and, you know, snack stuff. They might have canned vegetables, but there’s no fresh stuff there,” Ruffin said. “Here at the food bank, we are able to give them potatoes and tomatoes. We’ve been blessed with a three-door cooler now so I can add dairy stuff.”

An InvestigateTV videographer went into the three stores that accept food stamps in Pine Hill. There were options for canned and frozen vegetables, fruit, and meat – but as Ruffin said, fresh food was virtually non-existent.

“So, it’s just the food bank itself going on right here … just the food bank. I know a lot of them come here and they are calling me later when we have a drive-by giveaway, and they say, ‘Thank you so much, you know, because I don’t know what we would do if the food bank wasn’t there.’”

Dollar General said it offers convenient, affordable access to components to make nutritious meals such as frozen and canned vegetables and fruits. A corporate news release states the company has fresh produce in more than 1,300 of its stores, which would account for about 7% of its stores, though it has published plans to expand. The closest large grocery stores to Pine Hill are a Piggly Wiggly, 25 minutes away in Camden, and a Walmart, 15 minutes away in the next county.

“You look at people with low income, how can you pay somebody for taking you down there? You don’t have the money for it, or if you squeeze it … you get there and pay for the gas for somebody to take you, there is a dent in your money to buy food,” Ruffin said.

Gallagher deployed her special missing meals deficit model in Wilcox County, where Pine Hill is located, at the request of InvestigateTV to get a clearer picture of the hunger in the county.

The goal: Factor in all kinds of things on a local level from seasonal employment and government benefits to school lunches and food pantries to figure out how many people are missing meals each day, week and year.

Her findings: People who live in Wilcox County miss an estimated 686,000 meals a year, which is equal to almost 1 million pounds of food. Said another way, the average family or household misses an average of 3.5 meals a week.

The Pine Hill area is one of the more stretched parts of the county. The around 1,100 residents there miss more than 67,000 meals each year.

If everyone in the county shared the missing meals at the same time, no one in the county would eat a meal for three weeks. (Full reports available at the end of the story).

This map shows how many meals are missed each year in various block groups of Wilcox County,...This map shows how many meals are missed each year in various block groups of Wilcox County, Alabama. Pine Hill is in one of the more stressed areas of the county, according to analysis and mapping. Mari Gallagher Research and Consulting Group analyzed Wilcox County’s local data as well as that of Ashtabula County, Ohio at the request of InvestigateTV.(Mari Gallagher Research and Consulting Group)

Solving hunger issues by looking at access, education

Wilcox County has been ranked the worst county in Alabama to live in. Nearly ten years ago, Census data ranked it the poorest county in America by household income.

It has a storied and complicated history, much of it tied to slavery. It is a place where descendants of slaves now live, home to people who marched from Selma to Montgomery.

And for many, it’s a home they won’t abandon. But to remain, they need help.

Tamika Dial works as the coordinator for the Wilcox County Extension Office. For her, helping rural Alabama serves a personal purpose, but she can’t do it alone.

“It’s a lot to live in rural Alabama. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but it’s a lot of things that if somebody would really take the time to hear what we are saying they can see that we need help here,” she said.

Some of the biggest obstacles in the county, Dial said, come down to accessing resources and transportation to get to those resources.

Since many people are locked into their towns with only gas stations or convenience stores, they are stuck with the options that exist there. On top of the lack of choices, Dial said the prices are also worse, meaning food stamps don’t stretch as far.

“When you come to rural Alabama, you don’t have enough competition so you’re going to pay more,” Dial said.

InvestigateTV looked at prices in rural convenience stores, a dollar store and the large grocery store in Camden. Many items were double the price per weight – and often the choices were only to compare fresh foods to canned options.

InvestigateTV compared prices for various grocery items in Wilcox County in June 2021....InvestigateTV compared prices for various grocery items in Wilcox County in June 2021. Convenience and dollar store prices were gathered in person; the Piggly Wiggly prices are from the store’s weekly advertisements. Some produce items were only available in cans, which is noted in the graphic.(Illustration/Research: Cory Johnson, InvestigateTV)

Dial said they have worked with stores in an attempt to get more fresh food options, but the owners haven’t had luck keeping the stock or selling it.

“A lot of our convenience stores started complaining because they were losing money because a lot of folks will not go in and buy the fresh fruits and vegetables. They would be purchasing chips and candy and the gum, and the business owners started taking a loss in trying to do that,” Dial said.

Now, much of the focus of her office is on educating people on making healthier choices. They help teach school children about eating vegetables. They talk to people about choosing granola bars instead of candy and drinking water and 100% juice instead of sugar-filled juice mixes.

The office also works with stores to make healthy choices stand out.

“We try our very best to make sure all those good items are the items that you see when you first walk into the store. Like your water… your 100% juices,” Dial said.

For Dial and her coworkers, helping people make healthy choices even when those choices are slim is a matter of life or death.

“Healthy choices… because it makes you live longer. It cuts out obesity. It lowers the heart rate, it lowers diabetes, cholesterol, and if we can get these children at an early age, we can cut out a lot of health problems that may be in our rural communities,” Dial said.

But like many working in rural areas and putting in so much time and heart, Dial said they need help.

“We are not asking for handouts. We just ask to be recognized and noticed and help us combat all these disparities that we have in rural Alabama,” Dial said.

Solutions

In Wilcox County, Edith Ruffin, who runs the food bank, plans to keep doing what she can on a small level. Her next big goal: Get a fresh food truck that comes into Camden to head the 25 minutes down the road to Pine Hill.

“I do believe that if we could get that vegetable and fruit truck coming through this area we could do more,” Ruffin said.

She once tried to haul fresh fruit and vegetables from the Camden truck, but the pallet fell from her car onto the highway. Ruffin said she nearly wrecked and is too concerned to try it again.

For now, she leans on the generosity of others, too. The food bank in Selma helps donate food, and a local company helps give money to buy more.

Dial, from the extension office, hopes more stores would consider coming to the county.

“I think that we need to be looked at closer and see the problems and see how important it is that we need to…we need more stores in our area,” she said.

The NACS wants the USDA to move the rule changes forward so the requirements are higher for stores, and the organization’s general counsel said he will continue pushing for the finalization.

“We continue to support it and hope that the Department of Agriculture will finish some rules that allow us to implement it,” Kantor said. “There are some impediments to offering more variety, especially in small stores like convenience stores. But we do think they should offer more.”

Meantime, Kantor said many stores are taking it upon themselves to offer more.

“As people have wanted to buy more different kinds of foods, more fresh foods, convenience stores have started to offer more and more of those products,” Kantor said.

Dollar General is one such store. While in Pine Hill, Alabama the store didn’t have much fresh food on hand, the corporate headquarters said it plans to expand fresh food to up to 10,000 of its stores within the next several years.

That move would mean fresh produce in more than half of its stores. With the company’s estimate of 75% of Americans living within five miles of a Dollar General, it could mean a significant increase in availability.

When it comes to the bigger picture, Gallagher hopes to see changes in mindset and policy.

“If you don’t want to do it for the moral imperative you can do it for the economic imperative. I mean, because in the end, you know, we’re going to have a workforce that can’t pay attention to this, a lot of missed work because of diet-related diseases,” Gallagher said.

One potential solution Gallagher proposes is building SNAP compliance into health department inspections, since someone already goes into stores regularly at the county level.

“Let’s put some money together for compliance because we all eat as part of human condition, and food and access to food should be a conscious part of our infrastructure maintenance,” Gallagher said.

Wilcox County, Alabama and Ashtabula County, Ohio Full Reports

Courtesy: Mari Gallagher Research and Consulting Group

Copyright 2021 Gray Media Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

The place are unvaccinated individuals not allowed to journey?

It is one thing to quarantine unvaccinated travelers or undergo additional Covid tests.

It is another matter to ban them altogether.

A small but growing list of travel destinations either closes its doors to unvaccinated travelers or opens only to vaccinated ones. However, travel options for the unvaccinated are dwindling as tourism-dependent nations prioritize security and simplified entry requirements over open-door policies.

Unvaccinated people are no longer welcome

When Anguilla reopened last November, travelers to the small Caribbean island had to test negative for Covid-19 before and after arriving. Then, in April, there was a flood of new cases and Anguilla closed its borders to tourists for a month.

As of next week, unvaccinated travelers will no longer be allowed to enter Anguilla.

Michael Runkel | Collection mix: subjects | Getty Images

Now the British overseas territory is changing its tactics. Visitors from July 1st must be vaccinated at least three weeks before arrival. This applies to “all visitors who can be vaccinated”, according to the Anguilla Tourism Association websitestating that children are exempt from the requirement.

Vaccinated travelers no longer have to be quarantined, do not have to take a Covid test or pay entrance fees on arrival. Earlier this year, vaccinated travelers were charged $ 300 to enter, while unvaccinated visitors were charged $ 600.

Cases rise, tolerance falls

Anguilla isn’t the only Caribbean island locking its doors to unvaccinated travelers. The twin-island state of St. Kitts and Nevis implemented a similar policy last month.

As of May 29, St. Kitts will only accept travelers vaccinated with US or European vaccines. The new rule was part of several initiatives announced by Prime Minister Timothy Harris last month in response to a cluster of 16 Covid cases in the islands, according to the St. Kitts Tourism Authority.

A buildup of 16 new Covid cases in May resulted in St. Kitts and Nevis closing their borders to unvaccinated travelers.

Walter Bibikow | DigitalVision | Getty Images

“The previously announced travel regulations for non-vaccinated travelers are null and void,” a Statement on the announcement of the policy change.

The islands have a daily curfew at 6:00 p.m. and tourist attractions are closed until June 26th. A timeframe for reopening to unvaccinated tourists has not yet been given.

Unvaccinated children traveling with vaccinated parents can also enter, but they have to “go on vacation” for 14 days rather than the nine days required for vaccinated tourists.

Anguilla and St. Kitts and Nevis are rated as Low Covid Level 1 travel destinations by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Both were approved by CNBC in March among just a handful of tourist destinations that have opened while maintaining low rates of Covid infection.

A “compelling reason” to travel

Elsewhere, unvaccinated visitors have to prove for other reasons that they don’t just need vacation.

When French Polynesia, which includes the islands of Tahiti and Bora Bora, reopened on May 1, Americans were selected as the only nationality allowed to enter for tourist purposes. The policy also applied to unvaccinated Americans, although the unvaccinated were quarantined.

In the meantime, that has changed. From June 16 vaccinated tourists can enter if you have spent the last 15 days in the UK, most French territories or France’s “Green Zone” countries, according to the French Polynesia Destination Marketing Organization. The “Green Zone” countries currently encompass most of Europe as well as countries such as Australia, Canada and the United States.

France’s “green” list of countries

Most of Europe plus Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, Lebanon, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, and the United States

Source: French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, updated June 17th

All others – including all unvaccinated travelers – must demonstrate a “compelling reason” relating to health, family or work to travel to French Polynesia.

“Tourism is not a compelling reason to travel”, so Tahiti tourism website.

France’s politics are a little more relaxed. It allows unvaccinated travelers out “green” countries to enter via a negative Covid test. Travelers from “orange” countries – those are all countries that are not on the green or red list, that is, most of the world – must comply with the Website of the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs.

The French collectives St. Barts and St. Martin in the Caribbean reopened this month with a similar policy. Nils DuFau, President of the St. Barts Tourist Board, separately issued an announcement that St. Barts open to vaccinated Americans from June 9th.

St. Barts reopened its borders to vaccinated American travelers on June 9th.

Walter Bibikow | DigitalVision | Getty Images

Spain went one step further. From June 7th, Spain welcomes travelers from Europe and from a list of 10 countries with low Covid rates; all other tourists must show vaccination cards to enter.

Note: The country lists from France and Spain are similar. However, the UK is currently on Spain’s list, but the US and Canada are not.

balancing act

Tourism-dependent countries like those in the Caribbean need to balance the economic impact of taking in tourists with the safety of their citizens, said Tim Hentschel, co-founder and CEO of hotel reservation company HotelPlanner.

“I can only imagine how challenging these conversations must be between a country’s infectious disease expert advising stricter policies and a tourism chief who argues to let everyone in immediately so the economy doesn’t stall,” he said.

Hentschel said that while 13 Caribbean states are sovereign, French territories like Martinique and Guadeloupe and Dutch territories like Curacao, Aruba and Sint Maarten may follow state policies.

Hentschel called Asia “a completely different story”, mainly because of the lower vaccination rates.

Vaccinated travelers from some countries do not need to be quarantined in Phuket, Thailand as of July 1.

Jordan Siemens | Stone | Getty Images

“As soon as there seems to be progress, there will be a new outbreak and lockdown. like in Singapore“he said.” Asia’s journey back to what appears to be normal pre-pandemic travel will take much longer – maybe a year or more, alas. “

Asian destinations no longer require vaccinations for travel, but the continent is still largely closed to leisure travelers. The much-discussed “Phuket Sandbox” model – in which the popular island of Phuket is set to reopen on July 1 before the rest of Thailand – waives quarantine requirements for vaccinated travelers from low to medium risk countries.

Unvaccinated travelers can still enter despite being subject to a 14-day isolation period, the Thai tourism authority CNBC confirmed.

The vaccination requirement for tourists is “completely sensible” in some places, but not everywhere, said Hentschel.

“Interestingly, Mexico never closed its border to American tourists during the entire pandemic,” he said. “So this is an example where a more open policy to Mexico made sense given its proximity to the US, billions of billions in cross-border shipping and trade every day, and reliance on US tourism dollars.”

Editor’s note: The U.S. land borders with Mexico were closed to non-essential travel in March 2020 and will remain restricted until at least July 21. However, air traffic between the two countries was opened throughout the pandemic.

Stars and Stripes – Airmen are actually allowed to put on baseball-style tactical camouflage caps

The Air Force has authorized airmento to wear camouflage tactical caps that look like military-grade baseball caps. (Michael Murphy / US Air Force)

The Air Force has authorized Airmen throughout the service to wear camouflage tactical tactical caps that look like military-grade baseball caps.

“If you have an OCP tactical cap as stated in the Air Force official instructions, you are entitled to wear it immediately,” said Air Force Chief Master Sgt. JoAnne Bass said in a Facebook post Monday.

The Air Force introduced a number of changes this year, including longer hairstyles for women, redesigned training uniforms, and shorts for aircraft maintenance personnel in hot climates.

The change in cap policy is part of the service’s intention to allow commanders of certain units to wear standardized maintenance uniforms, the Air Force said in a press release on Monday. The acquisition process for the new uniforms is expected to be completed in the next year.

The Air Force introduced a number of changes this year, including military-grade baseball caps, longer hairstyles for women, redesigned training uniforms, and shorts for aircraft maintenance personnel in hot climates. (Michael Murphy / US Air Force)

Meanwhile, Monday’s permit will allow Airmen to wear certain tactical stealth caps provided they are either made entirely of approved camouflage material or a mixture of that material with coyote brown mesh on the back of the canopy.

Other colors or combinations are not allowed, the Air Force said.

In addition, the Velcro or sew-on tape must be centered on the back of the hats.

“The only item that can be worn on the front of the hat is the officer rank,” the Air Force said.

Chaplains are allowed to wear their professional badges sewn on and centered over the visor.

Chaplains can have their job badge sewn on and centered over the visor, as part of an Air Force change that allows Airmen to wear tactical, operational stealth caps.

Chaplains can have their job badge sewn on and centered over the visor, as part of an Air Force change that allows Airmen to wear tactical, operational stealth caps. (US Air Force)

Female aviators are allowed to pull topknots or ponytails through the back of the hat.

The Space Force guards will continue to adhere to the Air Force uniform standards until that service develops its own dress code, the Air Force said.

olson.wyatt@stripes.com

Twitter: @WyattWOlson

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Nightclubs and grownup leisure allowed to reopen in Washoe County

RENO, Nevada (KOLO) – Adult nightclubs and entertainment venues scheduled to open June 1 under COVID-19 rules are now open after the Washoe County Board of Commissioners took action on Tuesday.

They can be reopened if they adhere to all applicable social distancing, hygiene, and performance rules set out in state policies and guidelines for COVID-19. Karaoke will also follow state rules.

Commission chairman Bob Lucey said the topless entertainment can open on Tuesday as long as the entertainers maintain social distance. You received your first dose of vaccine within the last 14 days. NS must be given the second dose within six weeks or have weekly COVID-19 tests.

Lucey asked that these businesses be treated in the same way as bars and restaurants.

Commissioner Vaughn Hartung said reopening these stores is not as easy as flipping a switch. A casino operator told him he couldn’t get large amounts of alcohol right away if he tried to open a club.

“It will take some time,” said Hartung.

Commissioner Kitty Jung said the opportunity to reopen the businesses earlier will level the playing field for similar businesses in Clark County.

Copyright 2021 KOLO. All rights reserved.

Leisure and occasion venues allowed to reopen within the Golden State

Entertainment and event venues are allowed to reopen in the Golden State

As of Thursday, many concert and event venues in California are allowed to reopen. You are only restricted by the animal color of the county where the venue is located. However, don’t expect to be free to everyone right away.

Starting Thursday, many California concerts, theaters, convention and other venues can open for business with a number of restrictions before they fully open in June.

Venue opening is now legal and only limited by the animal color restrictions of the county where the venue is located.

“If you are safe, hygienic, and healthy, why not be outside doing all the things you can normally do?” said Cayvion Ventura from Vallejo.

Right now, most of the people we’ve talked to still seem cautious.

“I still hope people proceed with caution because not everyone is on the same vaccination level,” said Anthony Grant of Emeryville.

“As long as everyone is safe and wearing their masks as they should, it should be fine,” said Serina Trujillo of San Leandro.

“Be patient and let science guide you in what we do,” said James Su of Emeryville.

As of June 15, the venues are essentially wide open provided there are no surges or vaccine shortages.

“It’s not exactly a jack-of-all-trades. We can open 100%, but there may still be mask and vaccination requirements,” said wedding planner Amy Ulkutekin, who is also president of the California Association for Private Events.

“The first day of weddings, birthday parties, graduation ceremonies, bar mitzvahs, baby showers. All of these events are technically allowed in the state. This is a huge win for our industry as it helps us get back to work and us to reach.” I’m going into the summer, “said Ms. Ulkutekin.

It’s also about general trust. Now the couples who get married, the people who plan the galas, fundraisers, and everything under the sun have confidence that they won’t have to cancel or postpone the future, “Ulkutekin said.

Matt Altman, owner of the Headline Booking Group, is a New York City-based major international tour operator for corporations and high net worth clients.

“The most important thing is to see what the localized environment is like. It really becomes a state-to-state matter,” Altman said.

So we asked him: are the days of big crowds at huge venues back?

“Confidence at that level? We’re not there yet. They watch the big tours of the big headliners. They don’t announce things that go into stadiums,” Altman said.

He expects to build up gradually for the remainder of this year.

“Then next year’s spring comes around this time next year, it’s going to be full and there’s going to be this mass opening we’re talking about,” Altman said.

But the days when nothing works quickly fade behind us.