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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

In Light Of COVID-19 Pandemic, U.S. Opioid Crisis Worsens

There's no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the way in which most Americans go about their daily lives. We're working and learning from home, dealing with social isolation, and turning to technology for just about everything. Despite the fact that digital ordering and delivery had already grown 300 percent faster than dine-in traffic since 2014, our current health crisis has perpetuated a number of trends that were already on the rise.

Sadly, that doesn't merely apply to online restaurant orders and other deliveries. It's now clear that the opioid epidemic, which was already a major problem, has only gotten worse thanks to issues related to the novel coronavirus.

California is the world's fourth-largest producer of wine -- and alcoholism is the most widespread substance abuse disorder nationwide. Arguably, those struggling to maintain a healthy relationship with alcohol may have had an even tougher time during the pandemic, as is evidenced by skyrocketing sales, widespread job loss, and a number of other factors. But while alcohol consumption may be an issue for many, opioid misuse can often be even more devastating.

Even before the pandemic, the opioid-related health crisis was spiraling out of control. By 2017, healthcare providers in Ohio were writing 63.5 opioid prescriptions for every 100 people. And while Ohio historically had some of the highest rates of opioid abuse and opioid-related fatalities, it's far from the only state with an opioid problem.

In 2019, more than 70,000 Americans died as a result of drug overdoses. And while not every overdose is fatal or connected to opioids, it's clear that COVID-19 hasn't helped matters. A study published in JAMA Psychiatry earlier this month found that there were significantly higher rates of opioid overdose ED visits during the period March 2020 to October 2020 than the same period the year before. What's more, from mid-April 2020, the weekly rates of drug overdose ED visits had increased by up to 45 percent year-over-year. Overall emergency department visits for opioid overdoses increased by 28.8 percent from 2019 to 2020, according to the analysis. That data is even more substantive when it's made clear that emergency department visits, overall, saw major decreases in 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns.

These findings echo reports from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which reported that overdose deaths increased by 38.4 percent during the year leading up to June 2020. Overall, more than 83,000 Americans died as a result during that period -- a sobering statistic during a year that was already filled with so much loss. The CDC maintains that the pandemic has accelerated those deaths, though the growing popularity of synthetic opioids has also played a role.

That's not surprising, according to experts. Health concerns, job loss, social isolation, increased sources of stress and fear, and other routine disruptions can make a society more susceptible to increased drug misuse. And since the pandemic forced many 12-step programs to suspend their operations for some time, that has left little support for those with addiction issues.

Addiction is clearly an issue that hits close to home for President Biden, as his son Hunter has been quite open about his struggles with substance abuse. But juxtaposed next to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it's clear that the virus will likely take precedent. That said, if the nation is able to finally get the coronavirus under control, the opioid epidemic would be that much easier to tackle. Until that happens, however, it's unclear as to how bad both health concerns might become before they get better.

Four Simple Ways To Protect Your Finances As An Entrepreneur

It's no secret that developing your own business is a major feat. But that doesn't stop millions of people around the world from getting started. In fact, there are over 400 million entrepreneurs operating worldwide. Of course, for your business venture to actually succeed, it's important to make sure your finances are in order. Financial hurdles are one of the leading causes of why small businesses fail.

So what can you do to keep your finances safe and secure while building your miniature empire? Here are four tips you can use to keep your money safe.

1. Keep Your Assets Protected

When you're a small business owner, the idea of protecting your assets like someone in the big leagues might seem ridiculous on the surface. But crime, accidents, and natural disasters happen and they hit the little guys the hardest. The last thing you want is to have essential documents go up in flames during a freak house fire. Fortunately, private vaults allow you to store assets like essential documents, gold and silver bullion, and more in safes that are designed to keep the elements (and criminals) out. You can use private safes to help protect your cash reserves, too.

2. Outsource Your Finance Function

Finance function is an essential part of your business' financial management, which is the actual control and planning of your financial resources. When you're working solo or with a small group of people, outsourcing is ideal because it saves time, improves accuracy, and helps you make the right financial decisions. What's more, up to 75 percent of U.S. and European multinational firms use outsourcing or shared services for their own financial functions, too.

3. Try To Keep Debt To A Minimum

Debt is often a major downfall for small businesses. While it's easy to assume that you'll make the money back quickly after borrowing once your business takes off, it's important to consider the very real possibility that your business may not take off at all. Don't take out business loans to access capital unless it's absolutely necessary. The less you owe, the better.

4. Prioritize Data Security

The great Equifax data breach wasn't so long ago, and hackers have only gotten bolder during the COVID-19 pandemic now that a greater number of people are working remotely. Make sure that you're prioritizing data security when you're an entrepreneur whether it's your customers' data, your company's data, or your own personal data. Keep up-to-date with software changes and never leave gaps in your security. You might not think you're a major catch when it comes to cybercrime if you're a small business, but hackers will go after what they can get.

When you're an entrepreneur, it can be challenging to safeguard your finances. However, if you really want your business to succeed, it's important to be smart with your spending and your financial security. Don't let your ambition get the better of your wits.

Five Tech-Related Ways To Cut Back On Your Energy Consumption

Many of us already know how to cut back on our energy usage to help the environment. But unnecessarily high energy usage can also be a problem for your utility bills. On average, the annual electricity consumption for a U.S. customer was 10,9772 kWh, or 914 kWh per month. That's a lot of energy you may not actually be using.

From energy vampires to inconsistent tech habits, there are plenty of reasons why your energy usage may be higher than usual. To help you fight back against your energy bills and shrink down your carbon footprint a little more, here are a few simple ways you can cut back on your electricity with a little help from your tech devices.

Unplug Your Electronics

When it comes to using your electronics, it's understandable to want to keep your battery as high as possible. You don't want to lose important work, after all. But keeping your devices plugged in once the battery is at 100 percent isn't the best idea. In fact, it might actually be doing your devices more harm than good. When you keep your tech plugged in, you can overfill the battery. Because power is still connected to your device, once the battery has reached 100 percent, the power is redirected to the rest of your device, which can damage it. You're essentially damaging your devices while also wasting power you don't need.

Unplug Your Cords

Now that you've unplugged your charged devices, it's just as important to unplug the cords from the wall. While it might seem more convenient to leave your laptop's cord plugged into the wall so you can simply plug in your device when you need to, the disconnected cord can actually create an energy vampire in your home. Your cords don't need to be connected to anything to draw power from the wall. In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, idle cords and electronics pull the same amount of power as 12 power plants in a single year.

Stay Connected To Your WiFi Network

When it comes to the Internet, you typically want to stay connected without any interruptions. That's why infrastructure like GroupCast exists to provide connectivity without a single point of failure. However, it's actually better to stay connected to your own WiFi network as much as possible rather than making the switch over to your LTE network while you're on your smartphone. The reason for this is that phones and other devices actually consume less battery power when they're connected to WiFi compared to 4G/LTE.

Turn Off Devices When Not In Use

Many of us will put our devices in sleep mode rather than completely turning them off. While sleep mode doesn't use very much energy (approximately two watts of electricity for a laptop and five watts for a desktop), it can still drain your tech to keep your devices on all the time. As you use your computer, for instance, you're collecting cached copies of attachments, cookies, and running several applications. It's recommended to turn your computer off at least once a week to give your tech some rest.

Turn Off Background Apps

While some phones need to be charged more often than others, it might actually be your applications that are causing your phone to lose its battery. The average smartphone draws about 3.68 watts of power from your outlet while it's charging. Even when it's fully charged, your phone will still pull 2.24 watts from the outlet (see our point above about unplugging your devices). To keep your phone charged for longer and to save on energy usage, consider powering down your apps. Games like Minecraft, which sold over 200 million copies, and Animal Crossing, which sold over 31 million copies, can be closed out while not in use.

When it comes to saving on energy costs, many of us tend to focus on turning off the light and lowering our thermostat. However, our tech devices and how we maintain them can also be a major player in how we're wasting energy. By following the tips above, you can help to keep your energy usage down while keeping your tech devices in great shape, too.

As Biden Takes Office, Will Mask Mandates Go National?

As a brand new presidential administration takes office, it's clear that this momentous occasion is taking place against the backdrop of an ongoing (and, perhaps, unprecedented) health crisis: the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although anywhere from 8,000 to 18,000 people are hospitalized with Legionnaires' disease in the U.S. every year, the novel coronavirus has done an incredible amount of damage in less than a year's time, infecting millions and killing 400,000 nationwide. Today, nine out of 10 funeral services held have loved ones who are unable to attend, thanks to fears surrounding this highly contagious virus. And due to health concerns, the 2021 presidential inauguration was a much smaller affair than most in the past. While most Americans watched the inauguration from their living rooms (and others attended the festivities with their faces covered), it's only natural to wonder whether President Joe Biden -- whose biggest challenge will no doubt be COVID-19 -- will soon declare stricter and more widespread mandates related to mask-wearing.

Public opinion, and even professional recommendations, on face masks have changed a lot over the past ten months. When the first cases of COVID-19 were starting to emerge last winter, medical experts stressed that masks weren't necessary for most people; the exceptions were for those who were exhibiting symptoms of illness or even for those who had pre-existing health conditions. That narrative changed quite rapidly, however, as we learned more about this virus. Soon enough, healthcare leaders were urging everyone to wear face masks, while many local politicians stepped up to enact statewide mask mandates for public places like grocery stores, pharmacies, and retail stores. The shift in guidance inspired skepticism in many -- but we now know that masks provide an impressive amount of protection.

Still, only 36 states had established some form of mask mandate by November 2020. Of course, business owners have the right to require customers to wear masks -- provided they don't discriminate based on protected classes. Just as they can say "no shirt, no shoes, no service," they have the right to deny access to someone who can't or won't wear a mask as long as they provide reasonable accommodations for them (like curbside pickup or delivery). Undeniably, there's some confusion about that, just as some non-maskers believe they can't legally be asked about their reasons for opting to not wear face coverings. Although HIPAA records have to be kept for six years after the last date of service or entry into the medical record, HIPAA rules apply only to healthcare professionals. In other words, there's nothing legally barring a store employee or even another shopper from asking why someone isn't wearing a mask. While there's no obligation to answer those questions, HIPAA rules simply don't apply. Furthermore, the Americans with Disabilities Act and constitutional amendments -- which are often cited as another way non-maskers can maintain their supposed face freedoms -- don't give blanket exemptions from mask-wearing, nor do they really even apply in these situations.

Those who continue to feel that mask requirements are somehow stomping on their freedoms may be worried that the new president will further take away their rights by mandating face coverings on a federal level. But Biden will be somewhat limited in what he can do to require compliance everywhere in the United States. However, President Biden has committed to implement a federal mask mandate for his first 100 days in office, which would require masks to be worn in all federal buildings (including post offices and courthouses) and on interstate transportation. A recent poll found that 69 percent of Americans support this plan, with 72 percent of respondents saying that masks should be worn in all public places. Around 66 percent agreed that they should be required when interacting with anyone outside your immediate household. And while that poll found that Republicans are less likely to support these measures, an analysis conducted by UCLA actually found that a U.S. mask mandate could add $1 trillion to the U.S. GDP -- so even those who feel mask-wearing requirements somehow impede our freedoms might be enticed to at least embrace the idea of having a profitable economy.

As yet, we aren't sure what will happen in the early days of Biden's presidency -- or if the calls for unity will convince anti-maskers to finally cover their faces. But given what we now know about this virus and the damage it's done, it might be time to give in, order some masks, and "grow up," as the new President recently said in a statement, for the sake of the nation.

What Is Happening to My Tax Return This Year?

This tax season is already proving to be different from previous tax seasons due to a recent announcement from the IRS. The announcement detailed a new start date for the 2021 tax season, which would traditionally be expected to begin in late January. Instead, the 2021 tax season is expected to begin on February 12; though this might initially be surprising to some, it will occur with good reason.

Traditionally, the beginning of the American tax season signifies the time at which the IRS will begin accepting and processing tax returns from the previous year. The reason why this is important for Americans is that tax refunds cannot be issued until tax returns are submitted. Tax refunds can be the form of cash that many Americans rely upon in order to fill certain financial gaps, and lots of people are reliant upon them. They're especially reliant upon them in tough economic times. COVID-19 has presented an unprecedented financial crisis for Americans, and therefore the contributions coming from tax refunds are more important now than ever before.

But there is a reason for this delay. The IRS is not only responsible for processing income tax returns. They have also been responsible for processing and issuing the stimulus checks that so many Americans have needed in order to survive. The second round of stimulus checks are still being processed right now, and President Biden has indicated that he wishes to issue a third round of stimulus checks. These checks are all a part of bigger COVID-19 relief packages, which required the implementation of new laws.

On December 27, 2020, new tax laws were put in place, specifically; this means that there hasn't been enough time for the IRS to fully test and program their adjusted systems. One major reason for a delay too is that not everyone received their second round of payments. Those people may be eligible for a rebate when they file for their income taxes. If people began filing their income tax returns before the IRS was prepared to handle issues like these, there would actually, in some cases, be even more of a delay in processing income tax returns. Conversely, if these changes are not properly implemented, people will not be able to receive their rebates.

Understanding The Timeline Of Refunds

As previously mentioned, many Americans are in great need of their tax refunds. They need their refunds to come through as quickly as possible, and some people even plan certain financial decisions around their expected income tax returns. Some people may use them to pay rent or their mortgage, or perhaps child support, which a non-custodial parent will have to pay until their child turns 21 years old. But the timeline of the tax refunds will be thrown off this year, and people should prepare for that. Additionally, the more prepared they are, the easier it will be for them to do what they can to speed their tax refunds along.

One of the best moves that individuals can make to ensure that they receive their tax refunds in a timely manner is filing electronically. Even if an individual is used to filing with paper and believes that filing electronically will take more time for them, they should choose that option. While it may take them more time to fill out that option, the speed through which electronic processing works will ensure a faster tax refund. For this same reason, individuals should choose to have their tax refunds direct deposited in their bank accounts. Not only will this ensure that they get their refunds more quickly; it will also ensure that their stimulus checks are direct deposited in turn.

People should also begin filing their income tax returns as quickly as possible. There is no need for them to wait until February 12 to begin filing. Rather, they should start working with software companies to begin filing their income tax returns. The software will file the tax return automatically, as soon as the start date is triggered. Additionally, software can often save an individual's tax return information over the years, making it easier for them to file every time. Although the typical American will move around 12 times in their life, resulting in them needing to update their addresses on their income tax returns, other aspects can be saved on tax return software.

Unfortunately, a delay is likely for tax refunds regardless of how quickly individuals choose to file. The IRS is overloaded with the new laws and regulations surrounding the COVID relief packages and stimulus checks. As previously mentioned, a third round of stimulus checks is rather likely. While typically speaking, these tax refunds will be deposited or sent to the recipient within 21 days of them electronically filing, this time the processing could take weeks more. Furthermore, the 21-day estimate is dependent on an individual's tax return being without issue. When a tax return is problematic, it will naturally take more time to process, and therefore it will take more time for the individual filing the return to receive their tax refund.

There are other delays to consider as well. By law, the IRS is currently prohibited from issuing tax refunds that involve the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Additional Child Tax Credit before the middle of February. Tax returns can also get somewhat more complicated if individuals are subject to taxes that not everyone else would typically be subjected to. For example, married couples that own estates worth over $10,860,000 or individuals with estates worth $5,430,000 would typically be subject to real estate taxes.

Right now, the deadline for submitted a tax return is April 15, though that deadline could be extended as it was in the previous year. No matter what, people need to be prepared and ready to submit their tax returns early.

Don't Drink and Inoculate: Should You Avoid Alcohol When Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine?

Many of us wanted to begin the year with a clean slate, which perhaps explains the prevalence of Dry January -- a month without alcohol consumption. Aside from the physical and mental benefits associated with a respite from drinking, banishing the booze may also help you to avoid legal problems related to overindulgence. After all, a second DUI conviction in the state of Pennsylvania can result in jail time and fines ranging from $300 to $2,500.

However, not everyone wants to give up alcohol completely for 31 days. But if you're going to be receiving the COVID-19 vaccine any time soon, some experts believe that you should refrain from any alcohol consumption immediately before and after you're inoculated.

In the era of COVID-19, we've taken a number of precautions to safeguard our health. We've worn masks, stayed six feet away from others, obsessively cleaned our homes and hands, and in some cases even invested in three-sided plastic table products in an effort to stop the spread. But undoubtedly one of the most essential steps to get us on the other side of the pandemic is widespread vaccination.

The COVID-19 vaccine rollout has a lot of room for improvement -- and it will likely be months or even years before everyone in the U.S. receives their doses. Convincing the public that these vaccines are safe is already proving to be a huge hurdle for medical professionals. While 48 percent of internet users conduct more than two weeks of research before scheduling a healthcare appointment, the skepticism surrounding the coronavirus vaccines is being driven by misinformation that can be readily found online. If you do opt to become vaccinated, as many who have already received the inoculations have pointed out, the process is quick and painless. But there's one step that some medical experts are suggesting that patients take: Refrain from drinking alcohol in the days leading up to and after you receive each dose of the vaccine.

It might seem like a strange request, but it's actually fairly simple. Drinking alcohol has been shown to suppress the immune system -- and that's exactly what you don't want when you're introducing a vaccine into the body. One 2015 study found that just one binge drinking session can cause physical inflammation in just a few hours' time and can have adverse effects on the body's ability to fight off infection and regulate the immune system. And although some medical professionals say that having a single glass of wine a day after you receive your vaccine might not have negative consequences, it's generally a good idea to refrain from any alcohol consumption in order to get your body ready and maximize the chance of having a good response to the vaccine.

Other countries have already urged citizens receiving COVID-19 vaccinations to cut back on drinking. According to Reuters, one Russian health official instructed residents to refrain from drinking for several weeks before and after receiving the Sputnik V vaccine. Considering the high levels of drinking among Russian citizens, the news caused some alarm -- although the vaccine's developer spoke out to say that the recommendations were too extreme. In the United Kingdom, health experts made recommendations to limit alcohol intake the day before and after receiving the vaccine. But in a new BBC documentary, medical professionals found that consuming even three glasses of Prosecco can cut down levels of white blood cells by half. Since these cells play a vital role in creating antibodies and protecting us from viruses, the findings caused quite a stir.

In the U.S., guidance on alcohol consumption and vaccines is mixed. William Moss, the executive director of the International Vaccine Access Center at Johns Hopkins University, told Business Insider: "There's no evidence that, if you have one beer or a glass of wine a couple of days after you get your vaccine, that's going to interfere with your immune response or protection following the vaccine." And while Pfizer has stated that there is no warning that relates to alcohol consumption for vaccine recipients, others in the field have cautioned against anything more than moderate drinking in the days leading up to and following vaccination.

Ultimately, most agree that it's better to be safe than sorry. While you might not have to completely cut out alcohol for the sake of vaccination, it may be worth noting that a reluctance or refusal to do so could point to a larger problem in regard to substance abuse and dependence. In the end, making a lifestyle change for only a few days for the sake of protecting your body seems like a small sacrifice to make. To err on the side of caution -- and even to test your resolve -- you might want to find a healthier way to indulge during the week of your vaccination.

Could Teleconferencing Spell Trouble For Your Trade Secrets?

Even before the pandemic, our society was dependent on technology. With 61 percent of mobile users refusing to visit a mobile site again if they feel it's slow or hard to navigate, it's clear that the digital tools we use have to keep up with user demand and behavior.

Of course, the challenges of the pandemic have made these needs even more pronounced. As millions of Americans continue to work remotely to combat COVID-19, we're now spending even more of our days online. That's led to some issues, particularly in regard to web security.

In the first half of 2019, data breaches exposed an estimated 4 billion records and experts estimate that those numbers have continued to reach new heights throughout our current health crisis. But unfortunately, that isn't the only way that proprietary information can fall into the wrong hands. While many of us depend on teleconferencing platforms to stay connected with colleagues as we work from home, the truth is that these programs can present a number of legal complications -- including the potential loss of trade secrets.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office defines a trade secret as information that has potential or actual independent financial value due to its general secrecy; offers value to those who can't legitimately access this information; and has been the subject of reasonable protective measures to control its access. Trade secrets can become "lost" if any of these three factors become compromised or eliminated. Since the passing of the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016, U.S. trade secret case filings increased from a range of 960 to 930 cases a year to a staggering 1,134 cases in 2017. While that's partially because the new law allowed federal courts to hear cases pertaining to trade secrets, it's also worth noting that there may now be more opportunities -- thanks to technology -- for trade secrets to come to light.

That may certainly be the case, as some business owners have found out the hard way, with popular teleconferencing platforms like Zoom. According to recent reports, a trash compacting company called Smash decided to hold several Zoom calls with prospective franchisees. During these calls, the company ended up revealing information that it later claimed was a protected trade secret. After attending these Zoom sessions, those potential franchisees ended up starting a business to directly compete with Smash. Although Smash sued, the court found that Smash lost its trade secret protection because the company failed to adequately safeguard its teleconferencing sessions for privacy. In fact, all of the meetings they held utilized the exact same Zoom link (which could have legally been shared with anyone). Not only that, but the meetings weren't password-protected. Smash couldn't even identify every person who attended the Zoom meetings, representing a massive privacy failure on their part. Interestingly, the use of a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) wasn't enough to uphold expectations of privacy.
Unsurprisingly, Smash lost the case -- though the court did find that the defendants acted with deception -- and willingly gave up its trade secrets.

Considering that Zoom reported having more than 200 million daily users in March 2020 and many American businesses continue to employ remote workforces, it's essential to take heed of this cautionary tale. Although teleconferencing has become just one part of our new normal, that doesn't mean you have no choice but to leave your business vulnerable.

Zoom does provide some layers of protection that Smash failed to use in this case. Creating different meeting links for each new session, and ensuring those sessions are password-protected, can help keep unwanted visitors out. It's also a good idea to use the waiting room feature in order to screen attendees for this reason. You can also disable the ability to record the session and remove those who aren't authorized to attend. In addition, you can request that attendees position themselves in a private space that won't be subject to eavesdropping. But you can also choose to use a more secure platform than Zoom, like Microsoft Teams or Cisco Webex Meetings, both of which offer end-to-end encryption.

Of course, a lot of trade secret protection comes down to user behavior rather than technological features. Ultimately, it's the business's responsibility to ensure their secrets stay secrets. Generally speaking, you should refrain from sharing trade secrets on any platform that doesn't provide a reasonable expectation of privacy, whether it's through an email or in a video meeting. It's up to you to keep that proprietary information under lock and key. And if you don't do your due diligence, you could find yourself losing a court case and losing what makes your business unique.

How to Protect Yourself Against Cybercrime This Holiday Season

As Santa begins to load up his sleigh and people across the country prepare for Yuletide fun, you mustn't forget to protect yourself against thieves who are looking to have a very Merry Crime-mas. As many people find out too late, 'tis the season to be burgled, with one car theft being reported every 41 seconds in the United States. But what you might not realize is that criminal activity can easily extend beyond the real world into the digital world -- and since we're spending a lot more time online getting ready for this year's festivities, it's essential that you protect yourself against seasonal cybercrime.

Internet crime, which involves the use of the web to communicate false or fraudulent representations to customers, is all too common in 2020. In fact, the pandemic caused countless businesses to ramp up their technological barriers due to widespread concerns about internet safety and data protection. Those efforts haven't necessarily done much to address how rampant cybercrime has become, however, as the FBI reported that internet-related criminal activities increased by a staggering 400 percent this year. And considering how much U.S. consumers spent online during Black Friday (a record $9 billion on retail websites), your online activities may be making you more vulnerable than you realize. From stolen credit card information to gift-giving scams, here are a few tips to keep in mind in your quest to avoid becoming a victim.

Use A VPN To Browse And Buy

Although the U.S. Postal Service is beyond overwhelmed due to the increase in online shopping this year, many people have still waited until the last minute to purchase gifts. If you're finishing up your holiday shopping online, you should always do so using a password-protected internet connection. Using public WiFi is extremely risky and can make it easy for your information to be stolen. But keep in mind that your private connection may not actually be enough. Many experts recommend using what's called a VPN (or virtual private network). Basically, VPNs put up an extra barrier between you and what you're doing on the internet; this makes it harder for hackers to get what they're looking for. They're easy enough to set up and use, so consider using one whenever you make a purchase online.

Change Your Passwords Regularly

If recent data breaches have shown us anything, it's that a single incident can result in massive damages for a single person. If you're using the same password for a bunch of different sites, one breach could put your personal information at-risk across multiple platforms. Even if you act fast, you'll still have to go through and change your password on tens of hundreds of sites to avoid the worst-case scenario. Failing to change your passwords regularly is a no-no, as well, since this will also make it easier for someone to gain access to your accounts. Consider investing in a password locker (perhaps even as a Christmas present to yourself!), which will keep track of all your account passwords and come up with more difficult-to-hack options to keep everything secure.

Don't Save Your Personal Info

It may be tempting to save your financial information to make the checkout process speedier, but this also makes it easier for criminals to access your information. Even if it takes a little longer every time you buy something, consider wiping any saved payment information from these accounts. That way, data breaches and hacks will be less fruitful for cybercriminals. It may also be helpful to use a service like PayPal or to make sure that your payment methods provide adequate fraud protection -- just in case you forget to clear your info prior to a breach.

Think Before You Click

Your email inbox is probably chock-full of holiday deals. But you must remember that some emails should be opened at your own peril. From scammy links in phishing emails to unsecured websites, you need to do your due diligence before you click or tap. Make sure to verify email addresses prior to clicking on any shopping links and to ignore any suspicious texts or emails that refer to package delivery issues or too-good-to-be-true offers. View every electronic correspondence with a healthy dose of suspicion and always triple-check the sender before you engage in any way.

Steer Clear Of Gifting Scams

Gift-related scams happen all year round, but they're especially prevalent during the holiday season. Gift card scams may involve fraudulent messages that look like they come from friends or family members (either through email or through social media platforms) asking for help in the form of gift cards. Some fraudulent websites may also request payment for items with gift cards. The reason? They're almost impossible to track. Once the gift card numbers are handed over, there's a slim-to-none chance that you'll get your money back.

Speaking of social media, you should also stay away from so-called gift exchanges that run rampant on Facebook and other sites. "Secret Sister" and other similar exchanges ask you to provide some personal information and buy a gift for a recipient on the list in the hopes that you'll receive a present back from someone else. This scam operates just like any other pyramid scheme, as it's actually about recruiting other people to participate. These scams are actually illegal, so you'll want to scroll past (or even report) these posts when you see them.

If you do become the victim of an internet crime, it's important to remember that you aren't alone. As such, it's a good idea to report this crime to the FTC or another government authority to protect others from falling prey to the same schemes. While there are more than 800,000 sworn law enforcement officers now serving in the U.S., you may want to take the step of reporting the incident to the appropriate fraud agency before contacting law enforcement (particularly because your local police department may not be able to provide assistance due to jurisdictional limitations). You may also need to take the steps of reporting potential fraud to your bank or credit card company, change your passwords, and sign up for credit score reporting or even a freeze on your credit score. The agency to which you report the incident will be able to provide you with the exact next steps to take in regard to your specific situation.

While these tips won't stop all instances of cybercrime, they can raise awareness for many people who might otherwise be at-risk. During this holiday season, when we already have so much else to worry about, these tips can keep your information safe and ensure you protect what you have.

Experts Worry Domestic Violence May Increase During Pandemic Holiday Season

The COVID-19 pandemic has been tough on all of us. Even if you've been fortunate enough to keep your job and stay healthy, the stress of remote learning, working from home, rescheduling events, and avoiding potentially high-risk situations often feels like too much for us to handle.

But for many Americans, the chaos brought about by the coronavirus has another, potentially more dangerous impact: it's increased the likelihood and frequency of domestic abuse incidents. And with the holidays just around the corner, experts are worried that victims might find themselves in even more hazardous situations.

When countries have entered lockdown status, domestic violence reports have skyrocketed -- and that doesn't even account for the victims who are unable or don't feel empowered to seek support. One women's aid organization in the UK reported that calls increased by 25 percent during the lockdown there in the spring. That trend has been seen worldwide, and the U.S. certainly hasn't been spared. COVID-19 restrictions have forced more people to stay at home -- and combined with other stressors related to the pandemic, both victims and advocates have feared that this health crisis would quickly translate into personal crises for many people. Considering that homicide is one of the leading causes of death for women and nearly half of female victims are killed by a current or former male intimate partner, there's certainly reason for worry.

That's especially true as the holidays approach. Data shows that Christmas Day and New Year's Day tend to prompt an influx of calls to domestic violence hotlines the world over, though there's no one specific reason as to why. A combination of alcohol consumption, increased contact between abusers and victims, financial stress, and other factors can make domestic abuse more likely to occur during this time of year. Access to services may also be limited around the holidays -- and in the midst of an ongoing or impending lockdown, that could be disastrous for many people.

It's also worth noting that although 3.6 million open wounds are reported in the U.S. each year, not all domestic abuse is physical in nature. In fact, many abusive relationships feature no physical violence at first. That said, the pressure of the holidays could culminate into a violent or dangerous event. And because many people are under pressure to stay home and away from loved ones this year in order to curb the spread of COVID-19, this could keep domestic violence victims feeling even more isolated during times of upheaval.

If you or someone you love experiences domestic abuse during this time of year, it's important to seek help in a safe way. The most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is when one partner prepares to leave. And because abusers will typically isolate their victims to ensure their dependency, it can be incredibly difficult for them to remove themselves from this situation. Contacting the Domestic Violence Support Hotline can be a great first step, even before getting in touch with one of the 1,315,561 lawyers working in the United States.

While COVID-19 will be sticking around for a while yet, that doesn't mean you have to follow suit. Leaving or even identifying an abusive relationship is far tougher than most people realize -- but it all starts with taking the small first step of seeking support.

More Than A Million Dental Patients At Risk After Data Breach

New reports from the Dental Care Alliance (DCA) has revealed that the information of more than one million dental patients is at risk after a cybersecurity attack back in October.

On October 11, the Dental Care Alliance discovered an ongoing attack from mid-September. Even though the organization was able to contain the attack by October 13, reports estimate that more than one million dental care patient records could have been breached. This includes important personal information like addresses, diagnoses, billing information, and more. News about the breach has become more widespread since the Dental Care Alliance began notifying those who might be impacted by the attack this week.

But what is the Dental Care Alliance? The business, based in Sarasota, FL, serves as a dental support organization. As such, they're affiliated with over 320 practices across 20 states, according to their website.

So far, the organization claims that there is no evidence that malicious acts have taken place in regard to patients' information. However, questions over lawsuits and remediation efforts have been brought up as the scope of the breach becomes more well-known.

According to David Quigley, who acts as general counsel for the DCA, the organization has reported the breach to all necessary regulatory bodies and the 1,004,304 patients who might have been impacted by mail.

"We will continue to do all that is necessary and appropriate to support and inform impacted individuals in the days ahead," Quigley explained.

However, more than 25 percent of orthodontic patients are over the age of 21 and countless other patients go to the dentist for routine check-ups. Information regarding family members and other dental patients may also be at risk.

A recent review of the attack concluded, however, that only 10 percent of bank accounts belonging to patients may have been viewed by the hackers or another unauthorized third party.

While this is devastating for the patients, it's also detrimental for the affected dental practices. One dental practice owner in Nebraska explains their situation:

"You are absolutely paralyzed in the same way as if you lost your location physically," explained Dr. Jessica Meeske to the American Dental Association.

While estimates show that more than four billion data breaches occurred in the first half of 2019 alone, a scale of this magnitude on one organization is far rarer.

It doesn't matter if you're among the one in five orthodontic patients who's over the age of 21 or someone who gets routine check-ups: this kind of breach has wide-reaching consequences. If you have questions about the breach, reach out to your dental services provider.

Pandemic Substance Abuse: Will a Second Wave Make Matters Worse?

Even before the coronavirus came to the U.S., we were already facing a nationwide health crisis: addiction and substance abuse. As it was, 18 million Americans said they had misused prescription drugs at least once within the last year. And with the stress of the pandemic -- and all of the turmoil that has happened as a result, including mass job layoffs and widespread closures -- it's no wonder that alcohol consumption and substance use are on the rise. Now that cases are continuing to increase across the country and we lay in wait for a second wave, many experts worry that the problem will get a lot worse before it gets better.

Despite the fact that 22.5 percent of small businesses fail within their first year, there's no doubt that the pandemic has made temporary and permanent business closures much more common than before. Without much financial assistance to speak of, it's no wonder that countless businesses have either shuttered their doors for good or are still on the brink of collapse. Subsequently, at the height of the pandemic, millions of Americans found themselves out of work, with only one small stimulus payment (if that) and a short period of increased unemployment benefits to stay afloat.

That alone could have been enough to convince individuals to turn to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism, but there was also the upending of routines to contend with. Although we know that people who participate in regular physical activity have up to a 30 percent lower risk of depression, most gyms and health clubs were forced to close during the early months of the pandemic in order to reduce risk. Social opportunities, in-person classes, and other activities were either canceled or moved online, with special events delayed for months or even years. Even support groups and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings were either made remote or postponed for the time being. Without much to do other than stay home, we saw drinking and drug use skyrocket.

Alcohol sales went through the roof during March and April, but now we're also seeing evidence that drug abuse has followed suit, both in Canada and in the United States. Experts say that the isolation needed to slow the spread of COVID-19 creates a perfect storm for drug misuse and overdoses.

An October briefing from the American Medical Association stated, "In addition to the ongoing challenges presented by the COVID-19 global pandemic, the nation's opioid epidemic has grown into a much more complicated and deadly drug overdose epidemic." The brief also noted that opioid overdose rates had increased in 40 states since the beginning of the pandemic.

Of course, the holiday season can be an especially difficult time for those who struggle with alcoholism and drug addiction. And as we prepare for a devastating second wave of COVID-19, many experts have major concerns about the effect that another round of shut-downs might have on individuals who need addiction treatment and support.

Some have even pointed out that President-Elect Biden will actually be facing two public health crises when he takes office in the United States in January. Not only have 276,000 Americans died from COVID-19, but more than 76,000 U.S. residents died from drug overdoses between April 2019 and April 2020 (the highest number ever recorded in a 12-month period). And while drug addiction is a topic with which Biden is quite familiar, that may not be much comfort to those who are affected first-hand by this disease -- particularly because the plan to curb COVID might include more stringent closures of or lowered accessibility to the services most needed by those with substance use disorders.

In the end, Americans and others around the world really have no choice but to weather the storm and try to hang on until COVID can be brought under control. But that sentiment may not provide much peace of mind for those who are in recovery or family members who worry about a loved one who's struggling.

The Best Tips for Safe Winter Driving

Winter can be a beautiful time of year but it can also be a dangerous one. The snow and ice of this frosty season can make roads slippery, obscure drivers' vision, and damage the condition of your car. With over 70 percent of roadways in the United States subject to snow and other winter conditions, everyone can benefit from knowing how to drive safely during this season. Let's take a look at some of the most important driving tips to stay safe this winter.

Stay Further Away From Other Cars

One of the best pieces of advice for driving in the winter is to leave ample room between yourself and other cars on the road. While you may be able to creep up behind other cars in the warmer months and still have plenty of time to break, winter weather conditions don't allow for that. Weather is a factor in about 21 percent of all motor vehicle crashes in the United States and winter brings some of the most dangerous conditions of any season.

If you encounter a dangerous patch of road, such as one covered in black ice, snow, or damaged surfaces, you need enough space to maintain or regain control of your car. Without that space, you run the risk of going right into the car in front of you after losing control on ice or snow. Giving yourself more space will also help put distance between you and other drivers who may not be as cautious. If someone is following you a little too closely, take the time to safely pull off to the side of the road and let them go by so that you can continue on your safe journey.

Practice Proper Vehicle Maintenance

The harsh conditions of winter will put a strain on your vehicle. Whether you drive a truck, car, or SUV, make sure that you've gone through your maintenance checklist so that it can better stand up to wintery elements. First, make sure that your car battery is in good condition. If your battery fails, you can be left stranded in the cold.

Another important car part to check is the tires. There are about six million car accidents every year in the United States and many of them occur because of tires that aren't in great condition. During the winter, air pressure becomes one of the most important aspects of your tires. The air pressure in tires goes down when the temperature falls below 32 degrees, causing them to deflate. This deflation can cause you to spin out and get into an accident. Check your tire pressure on a weekly basis during the winter, especially if your area experiences freezing temperatures throughout the winter.

Know What to Do if You Start Skidding

No one wants to lose control of their car when driving in the winter, but it can happen to even the best of drivers. If you start to skid or spin out, you can steer your way out of trouble. Try not to panic, look for an escape route, and steer towards it. Keep your eyes on where you want your car to go rather than the obstacle you're trying to avoid. If you have a safe, open space where you can practice steering yourself out of a skid, do so. You'll then be better prepared to handle it if it happens to you when you're on the road.

Never Drive While Under the Influence

This is an important safety tip no matter what time of year you're driving, but it bears repeating when the holiday season brings alcohol-filled parties and wintery weather. Drinking impairs your judgment and reaction times, both of which are essential when driving in the winter. If you drive after drinking, you may not remember to drive more slowly and carefully than you normally do and you won't have the proper reflexes to regain control of your car if you start sliding on ice or snow.

Drinking and driving in the winter puts your life on the line as well as those of other drivers on the road. You can also face legal repercussions if you get pulled over. If your blood alcohol content is over the legal limit, you may get sent to jail and then you'll have to spend money on bail or time contacting a bail bond company for your release. A DUI charge will stay on your record and you could even get your license revoked. Avoid this myriad of repercussions and keep everyone safe by always having a designated driver or relying on rideshare services to get home.

These are just a few of many safety tips for winter driving. Use these tips to stay safe this winter and when in doubt, stay home. You'll keep yourself safe and you won't endanger anyone else who may be on the road.

How the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally May Have Led To COVID-19 Outbreaks

The perception that the COVID-19 pandemic was under control led to many Americans becoming more comfortable with the idea of the virus towards the end of the summer. Yet, as the pandemic rages into the autumn, it becomes increasingly clear that COVID-19 remains a significant problem within the country.

There are several ways to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, as the main reason why it remains such an issue is that it's highly contagious. Of course, Americans have been advised to wear face masks when out in public and these masks are mandatory in many states. Furthermore, sanitation, like hand washing and the use of hand sanitizer, is highly beneficial. Not only does this prevent the spread of the virus, but it's also simply good practice, as the healthier an individual is when they contract the virus, the more likely they will be to withstand its symptoms. Bacteria is the main source of most infections, and as it can multiply up to 31 percent daily on surfaces that are not cleaned or disinfected, it's important that Americans attempt to control both its growth and the spread of COVID-19. Perhaps the most significant way in which COVID-19 is spread, however, is through close contact with others and most prevalently through large groups.

This is one reason why a motorcycle rally in South Dakota has come under recent scrutiny and may be connected to major COVID-19 outbreaks across the Midwest. It's speculated that the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was one of the biggest public gatherings in the United States, and perhaps the world, since the pandemic began and ultimately could be connected to outbreaks across five different states.

Held in mid-August, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally attracted roughly 460,000 people across a ten-day period, despite the fact that it is advised that people limit themselves to gatherings of ten people or fewer during the COVID-19 pandemic. While some states made restrictions on gatherings mandatory and enforceable by the authorities, South Dakota declined to enforce such restrictions. Therefore, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was able to proceed in South Dakota without issue. Unfortunately, the rally has been indirectly linked to 330 COVID-19 cases, including one fatal case.

Understanding The Spread Of The Virus

The size of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, as well as the lack of masks and other precautions utilized, made the spread of the virus somewhat inevitable. A further issue that made the COVID-19 virus spread further is that many of those attending the rally were from out of state. Therefore, even if their own home states were controlling the spread of the virus locally, it was easy for residents to attend the rally then return home, bringing the virus across state lines. The states most heavily affected by the rally aside from South Dakota were North Dakota, Wyoming, Minnesota, and Montana. Throughout September and October, North and South Dakota have seen an uptick in hospitalizations. This could contradict statements from South Dakota governor Kristi Noem indicating that the rise in cases is merely connected to an increase in testing.

South Dakota's particular issues are further compounded by the fact that the rally was not held in a single space, exactly. Those visiting from out of state stayed for a somewhat extended period of time in various hotels and homes, while also visiting bars and restaurants on a broad scale. All of these factors could have contributed to the virus spreading out of control.

Why Misunderstandings Could Have Led To More Infections

The transmission of the COVID-19 virus could have been exacerbated by several different factors. The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally celebrates a culture (motorcycle culture) that is already regarded by some as dangerous, though not necessarily fairly; though the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported 5,127 fatal motorcycle accidents in 2017, this was a 3 percent drop from the previous year. As motorcyclists are passionate about defending their freedom to ride, they also may have felt passionate about celebrating their love of motorcycles regardless of concerns around the virus. Many, too, may have genuinely felt due to misinformation that the virus was no longer a concern.

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally took place in mid-August, when South Dakota was experiencing high temperatures. Early misinformation regarding the virus indicated that it would be slowed by hot weather. However, this proved to be incorrect. New studies have confirmed that there is no link between the virus's transmission and weather patterns. Furthermore, many of those that visited the rally came from more rural states. Rural areas saw a slower infection rate during the pandemic's beginning, understandably. As the virus is more easily spread throughout tightly packed areas, it makes sense that the more rural a state is, the more slowly the virus would spread within it. Therefore, many that attended the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally may have theoretically had less experience with the spread of the virus on a personal level.

Combatting The Spike In COVID-19 Infections

It's important that those infected with the COVID-19 virus are quarantined for at least 14 days, regardless of their symptoms. Some may recover from the virus's symptoms but remain contagious for some time; others may never show symptoms, while still being capable of spreading the virus. Furthermore, those that have been exposed to the virus must be aware of the fact that they should be tested before they begin experiencing symptoms, due to that potential for becoming an asymptomatic carrier. Those that are caring for a chronically ill, disabled, or aged family member should be particularly vigilant; as 29 percent of the American population will spend an average of 20 hours per week doing so, this is a significant portion of people that could be infected and furthermore infect those that are most vulnerable.

Aside from quarantine, Americans should also be especially aware of resisting large gatherings or unnecessary outings in general. As health experts have projected that the fall and winter of 2020 may be particularly problematic in terms of the pandemic, it's important that Americans plan for the future and do what they can to prevent the spread of the virus.

Autumnal Injury Prevention: How to Avoid Falls During the Fall

During our current health crisis, we're placing a lot of emphasis on our physical well-being. But in order to stay safe this fall, you'll need to do more than wash your hands and wear a mask. You'll also need to be aware of how to prevent a variety of injuries. September may have been National Falls Prevention Month, but it's just as important to focus on avoiding these kinds of hazards throughout the autumnal season -- particularly as temperatures start to cool and the weather becomes more treacherous.

After all, an estimated 25 percent of elderly people will die due to a fall-related broken hip. Falls are the number one cause of occupational injury for people over the age of 55, as well. But even if you aren't a senior citizen, you should be considered about slips, trips, and other injuries that can happen during this season and beyond. To help keep you and your loved ones safe this autumn, pay attention to these injury prevention tips.

Use Caution When Raking

Fall foliage can be beautiful, but all those fallen leaves can be annoying at best (and dangerous at worst). Although yard work can provide a means for physical activity, it can also offer an opportunity for injury. You could easily hurt your back due to the repetitive twisting, lifting, and reaching motions you'll need to perform. And if you're charged with cleaning out the gutters, you might have an even higher risk of becoming injured due to a fall. With many injuries, like ankle sprains, you might be able to treat them at home and recover within ten days to a few weeks. But if you hurt your back or fall from a great height, you might be looking at a much longer and more painful recovery period. To avoid injury when doing autumnal yard work, be sure to wear gloves, use a rake with ergonomic handles, take frequent breaks, and always follow directions when using a stable ladder (including having someone to hold the ladder).

Watch Where You Step

It doesn't always take much to experience a fall. One wrong step on a slippery surface can send you flying. Because fall is often prone to rainy and cold weather, it's likely that ground surfaces may be slicker than you realize. Whether you're walking out to the mailbox or into a public building, you should always be aware of where and how you're stepping. Avoid walking near fallen leaves when the ground is wet and always wipe your shoes on floor mats upon entering a building. Make it a habit to wear shoes with excellent traction and always be aware of your surroundings. Keep in mind that frost may be a factor during the early morning, so look for ice patches and make sure you aren't distracted when you're walking around.

Conduct Some Fall Cleaning

Spring cleaning gets a lot of the glory, but it might behoove you to do some fall cleaning, as well. A cluttered home is automatically going to have more potential tripping hazards, so take this opportunity to clear out what you don't need and to get organized. Be sure to clear stairways of any potential hazards and make sure you have more than enough space to navigate your home without tripping over anything. Although throw rugs can keep in the heat, you'll want non-slip mats underneath to prevent accidents. Instead of walking around in socks, it's a good idea to get yourself a pair of house slippers or house shoes that stay indoors; that way, you won't track dirt or debris inside but you'll still have some traction when navigating slippery floors and stairwells.

Injury prevention is important for people of all ages and at any time of year. But as we head further into this season, keep these tips in mind to ensure that the only fall you'll experience will be positive in nature.

Millennial Engagements: How to Save On Your Wedding

Marriage is the ultimate dream for some. However, for millennials its a pretty mixed bag. Some millennials are celebrating marriage with bigger, longer weddings and spending a lot of money to do it and others are the children of divorce who don't want a huge affair around getting married. Whether you're considering getting engaged, planning a wedding, or just thinking about the future, here's how you can save your wallet.

1. Don't Be Afraid of Pre-Nups

Even the words pre-nuptial agreement can stir fear in many people. However, these agreements aren't just for the rich person who wants to weed out a golddigger. Divorce is a very real part of life and millennials are more aware of that than any other generation has been. Many millennials are the children of divorced parents and know how trying a long divorce battle can be. And although dating, cohabitating, and engagements are often taking place long before any rings or I dos, it can still happen.

Prenups are a practical solution that allows both parties to ensure their assets will be protected in the event of divorce. Just because women are more likely to ask for a divorce doesn't mean men are the only ones who should ask for a prenup. Prenups also ensure that things like debt and student loans aren't confused and they are a great way to ensure both parties understand each other's financial situations before combining them.

2. Rings Don't Have to Cost A Fortune

It seems like the only way to propose is with a ten-carat diamond ring that costs half a year's salary. But it's not. If you're going to get engaged, there are a multitude of ways you can save money. The main stone doesn't have to be a diamond. In fact, 80 percent of millennials think it's important to purchase responsibly sourced jewelry and diamonds have a sordid history. Instead, many millennials are turning to alternatives like rubies, emeralds, sapphires, amethyst, topaz, and other semi-precious stones. Another alternative is using lab-grown simulants as well as lab-grown gems and diamonds, which are both cheaper and more ethical. You can save a lot of money this way.

Another great way to save is to use a family heirloom or search for an inexpensive antique. You always upgrade the ring later when you have more money. Finally, talk to your partner about what they want, set a budget together, and shop together. You can still make the proposal a surprise afterward!

3. Wedding Planning And Planning to Save

The actual wedding is bound to be the most expensive part of getting married but that doesn't mean you can't save money. First, don't plan out a budget until you talk to vendors about what they offer and can estimate for your big day. Search for local businesses, as they will often have better rates and be open to compromise. When you do start budgeting, set an absolute max. This is a number that if you go over means you'll be risking rent and car payments. This will keep you from overspending.

Second, choose a venue that doesn't cost a lot. Venues are one of the highest costs of the wedding but If you choose a state park, golf course, campground, or someone's back yard, you can get married for nearly nothing. If you're in a larger city, look for inexpensive restaurants and public parks.

Finally, food is a big expense of any wedding. If you want catering, you can save a lot by going to a favorite local restaurant and asking about catering events. You could also go with a local delicacy like a clam bake or a barbeque that you can do yourself and save a ton of money. You could even ask friends and family to cook if your party is small enough. Overall, wedding savings come from remembering that you're going to remember the day and not the details, so focus your cash on the big parts, not the little ones.

4. Honeymoon Responsibly

On average, a hotel room can cost $120 a night. That's a lot of money if you're planning your honeymoon. Right now, in the midst of COVID-19, there a lot of travel bans and hotel closings, so you may be forced to wait or plan something a little different for your honeymoon. A romantic stay in a log cabin or beach house can be a very nice way to start your marriage. Alternatively, you can also save your honeymoon money for after the pandemic ends and take an extra-long vacation. Either way, remember to enjoy each other's company.

Getting married should be a joyful and fun time, not strain. Save money with these tips today!

Young People May Be New Super Spreaders of COVID-19

Illness is an unfortunate part of life. But in many cases, the effects may be short-lived. Sinusitis, for example, typically lasts less than four weeks and improves with the appropriate treatment. But as we're now learning, the novel coronavirus can come with serious symptoms -- both at the onset of transmission and even months after contraction. And as confirmed COVID-19 cases surge past the six million mark in the U.S., it's now become clear which group might be the biggest spreaders: young people.

Given how much we don't yet know about the latest coronavirus, it's understandable as to why directives have evolved so much over the last six months. Although children and young adults were generally seen as having a much lower risk of complications as a result of COVID-19 contraction, the problem is that these younger people aren't taking as many precautions. As a result, those who are asymptomatic or who have yet to show signs of illness often spread the virus to others, many of whom may be vulnerable to complications. And while it took more than three months for our nation to reach one million confirmed cases, it's taken less than one-third of that time -- only 22 days, to be exact -- to go from five million to six million.

According to the World Health Organization, young people are the drivers behind COVID-19 spread in many countries, including Japan, Australia, and the Philippines. There may also be an increased risk of complications related to coronavirus transmission in youths. And as coeds return to campuses all across the nation, many are worried that the situation in the U.S. is about to go from bad to worse.

Approximately 64 percent of 2011 private high school graduates went on to attend four-year colleges, but collegiate life looks a lot different less than a decade later. Some classes are being conducted solely online, while others have brought students back with mandates to wear masks, practice social distancing, and eschew traditional rites of passage like parties. Although those in the 18-to-29 age bracket are most vulnerable to problem drinking -- and parties are often being outlawed due to the risk of COVID-19 transmission -- some students have shown that they're not willing to play by the rules.

More than a third of the nation's colleges have reopened, but some have already closed again due to an increase in coronavirus cases. At last count, more than 25,000 students and campus staff across at least 37 states had tested positive for COVID-19. Many schools have taken the step to (or have threatened to) suspend, evict, or expel students who fail to follow health crisis policies and put everyone on campus in danger. Others have closed their residence halls and embraced remote learning. But whether it's realistic to ask students to forgo social opportunities or to expect that every person would have followed proper guidelines is a big question mark.

Ultimately, the effect of college and university reopenings on the national response has yet to be fully realized. But it's pretty clear that the nation has not seen the worst of COVID. Although we may be tired of the coronavirus, it certainly hasn't tired of us.

Remote Work: Adjusting to (and Thriving in) the New Normal

Although the COVID-19 pandemic is still very much in full swing, many states are navigating the process of reopening. That means many American workers who were formerly claiming unemployment benefits will start needing to look for work again; while those wages never reached the same level as temporary disability payments in California (which can be up to $5,077 per month), the inflated weekly benefit from the pandemic was able to keep many laid-off staff members afloat until now.

Of course, not everyone has been furloughed over the past few months. While stenographers and court reporters -- who can make up to $70,000 during their first year in the field -- were largely unable to work due to court closures, many businesses have been able to shift to a completely remote workforce over the past few months. Even professionals who typically rely on physical interactions with clients have had to make changes. If you're a real estate agent (which is typically a lucrative endeavor, as real estate has outperformed the stock market two-to-one since 2000), you might have to get creative in order to show off available properties or virtually meet with prospective buyers and sellers.

But with many areas entering the final stages of reopening, many employees and business owners hope that they'll be back to work as usual before too long. However, the danger of the coronavirus is far from over -- and without a vaccine, our best defenses continue to be frequent hand-washing, mask-wearing, and social distancing. As you might have already guessed, none of these measures is especially conducive to the traditional office environment or any occupation that requires you to work in close quarters with others.

So what's the solution? It might be to make a permanent shift to working from home. Roughly 72 percent of people surveyed by said they'd be hesitant to return to an office even when they were allowed to do so and 60% said they have no desire to return to in-person meetings. Instead, 45.5 percent of new job seekers will adjust to working remotely, with 42 percent specifically seeking out remote positions. Many big-name employers are making adjustments in order to stay fully staffed in this new normal, with tech leaders including Google, Twitter, and Facebook allowing employees to either extend work-from-home arrangements or continue remote work indefinitely.

Of course, remote work isn't a possibility for every business. But the pandemic did force many organizations to take a closer look at the jobs they used to insist could be performed only on-site. Much to their surprise, some found that their employees were perfectly capable of doing their jobs without ever coming into the office. And as a result, even smaller companies are allowing their employees to continue operations from the comfort of their homes for the time being whenever possible.

That said, there are some definite challenges to remote work. Cybersecurity is an ongoing issue for many businesses, as employees may be inclined to use their personal devices and unsecured connections when working from home. In fact, a recent survey showed that 52 percent of employees felt they could get away with riskier behaviors pertaining to cybersecurity when they worked outside of the office setting. Whether you're an independent contractor or you're managing a team of staff, it's important to invest in cybersecurity measures (like VPNs, password lockers, and other types of encryption) to ensure both professional and personal data stays safe during this time.

Another challenge is productivity. Although older data suggests that employees may be more productive when they're able to embrace more flexible work arrangements, the pandemic has forced many family members to stay home at one time. An employee who's trying to balance Zoom work meetings, homeschooling, and other obligations likely won't be able to give their all in every situation -- no matter how much they care. Still, the upside is that remote work has forced many businesses to streamline and embrace leaner operations; with fewer distractions and unnecessary meetings, it's easier to see what's really essential to get the job done. Many major businesses are reporting that productivity has gone up during the pandemic, as well, which just goes to show that some are actually thriving right now. But regardless, individual employees will need to work out logistics with other members of the household and discuss how goals will be set and met with their managers if they want to stay productive. And if you don't already have a designated room for work with a bit of privacy and quiet, you'll want to establish one if you want to keep working from home.

Remote work certainly isn't the ideal scenario for everyone. Many employees thrive off of social interaction, meaning that they may not do as well in isolation. Working from home can make it more difficult to concentrate for some -- and if there isn't enough oversight, it can be hard for some employees to really care enough to perform as well as they used to while in the office. But for others, working remotely is the ideal scenario that provides more solitude, more control, and more flexibility. If your office plans to continue with remote work, you'll want to conduct a thorough self-assessment to determine your own feelings about it, the challenges you face, and the actions you'll need to take in order to be successful. As many are finding out, remote work may be crucial to our economic success in the future... but it may require some major adjustments along the way.