Americans risk traveling over Thanksgiving despite warnings

By LISA MARIE PANE, SOPHIA TULP and DANIELLA PETERS for the Associated Press

Millions of Americans took to the skies and the highways ahead of Thanksgiving at the risk of pouring gasoline on the coronavirus fire, disregarding increasingly dire warnings that they stay home and limit their holiday gatherings to members of their own household.

Travelers wait in line at the ticket counter before traveling from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Those who are flying witnessed a distinctly 2020 landscape at the nation’s airports: plexiglass barriers in front of the ID stations, rapid virus testing sites inside terminals, masks in check-in areas and on board planes, and paperwork asking passengers to quarantine on arrival at their destination.

While the number of Americans traveling by air over the past several days was down dramatically from the same time last year, many pressed ahead with their holiday plans amid skyrocketing deaths, hospitalizations and confirmed infections across the U.S.

Some were tired of more than eight months of social distancing and determined to spend time with loved ones.

“I think with the holidays and everything, it’s so important right now, especially because people are so bummed out because of the whole pandemic,” said 25-year-old Cassidy Zerkle of Phoenix, who flew to Kansas City, Missouri, to visit family during what is traditionally one of the busiest travel periods of the year.

She brought snacks and her own hand sanitizer and said the flight was half full. She had a row of seats to herself.

“As long as you’re maintaining your distance, you’re not touching stuff and you’re sanitizing your hands, people should see their families right now,” she said.

The U.S. has recorded more than 12.7 million coronavirus infections and over 262,000 deaths. The country is still missing about eight infections for every one counted, according to a new government report Wednesday. Many people don’t get tests, especially if they don’t have symptoms.

More than 88,000 people in the U.S. — an all-time high — were in the hospital with COVID-19 as of Tuesday, pushing the health care system in many places to the breaking point, and new cases of the virus have been setting records, soaring to an average of over 174,000 per day.

Deaths have surged to more than 1,600 per day, a mark last seen in May, when the crisis in the New York area was easing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local authorities have begged people not to travel and urged them to keep their Thanksgiving celebrations small.

“That’ll make sure that your extended family are around to celebrate Christmas and to celebrate the holidays next year,” Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said.

But even Denver Mayor Michael Hancock flew to Mississippi to spend Thanksgiving with his wife and youngest daughter despite sending messages on social media and to city staff asking them to avoid traveling for the holiday. He apologized, acknowledging that he went against his own public guidance.

“I made my decision as a husband and father, and for those who are angry and disappointed, I humbly ask you to forgive decisions that are borne of my heart and not my head,” Hancock said.

About 900,000 to 1 million people per day passed through U.S. airport checkpoints from Friday through Wednesday, a drop-off of around 60% from the same time a year ago. Still, those were some of the biggest crowds since the COVID-19 crisis took hold in the U.S. in March. On Wednesday, the more than 1 million people screened at airports was the largest since the start of the pandemic.

Last year, a record 26 million passengers and crew passed through U.S. airport screening in the 11-day period around Thanksgiving.

More Americans drive than fly during the holiday, and AAA has projected those numbers are also likely to be lower this year.

Many states and cities have adopted precautions. Travelers to Los Angeles, either by plane or train, were required to fill out an online form acknowledging California’s request that people quarantine for two weeks after arrival in the state.

Thea Zunick, 40, boarded a flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Florida to see her 90-year-old grandmother and her parents.

“We’ve all kind of decided like it’s worth the risk,” Zunick said. “But I wanted to make sure that all the efforts that I’ve made to stay healthy isn’t undone by other people’s carelessness. And absolutely, I know that I’m taking a risk by flying. I know that, but sometimes it’s necessary.”

She isolated at home for days before the trip, got a COVID-19 test that came back negative and made sure to choose an early and direct flight. She also masked up and layered a face shield on top.

“I felt like an astronaut, to be honest,” Zunick said.

Once at the airport, Zunick said, she saw poor adherence to mask-wearing, loose enforcement of rules, long lines to check baggage and a disregard for social distancing in security lines.

Once she boarded her completely full flight, with middle seats occupied, she watched passengers eat and drink with their masks pulled down and sat next to a passenger wearing a loose bandanna, prompting her to call over a flight attendant, she said.

“I said to the stewardess, ‘Hey, the person next to me, is that permitted? Because it’s making me uncomfortable.’ They’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s fine.’ But it’s not,” Zunick said. “The bottom of it was open. And it was tied so loosely that it kept falling down throughout the flight and he kept messing with it and trying to make it tighter and pull it up.”

Anne Moore, a 60-year-old woman from Chicago, flew to Albany, New York, to be with her daughter for the holiday and then drive back to Illinois with her. Her daughter is a senior at Dartmouth College, and Moore and her husband were worried about her driving back by herself.

Before the spike, the family had planned to hold a Thanksgiving gathering of fewer than 10 people. But instead it will be just Moore, her husband and her daughter.

“I have friends who are alone. And I’m not inviting them. And I feel badly about that,” she said. “We’ll take a walk or something instead. But yeah, the three of us are isolating.”

High court blocks NY virus limits on houses of worship

By JESSICA GRESKO for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — With coronavirus cases surging again nationwide, the Supreme Court barred New York from enforcing certain limits on attendance at churches and synagogues in areas designated as hard hit by the virus.

The justices split 5-4 late Wednesday night, with new Justice Amy Coney Barrett in the majority. It was the conservative’s first publicly discernible vote as a justice. The court’s three liberal justices and Chief Justice John Roberts dissented.

FILE – In this May 3, 2020, file photo, the setting sun shines on the Supreme Court building in Washington. As coronavirus cases surge again nationwide, the Supreme Court late Wednesday, Nov. 25, temporarily barred New York from enforcing certain attendance limits at houses of worship in areas designated as hard hit by the virus. The court’s action won’t have any immediate impact since the two groups that sued as a result of the restrictions, the Catholic church and Orthodox Jewish synagogues, are no longer subject to them. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

The move was a shift for the court. Earlier this year, when Barrett’s liberal predecessor, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was still on the court, the justices divided 5-4 to leave in place pandemic-related capacity restrictions affecting churches in California and Nevada.

The court’s action Wednesday could push New York to reevaluate its restrictions on houses of worship in areas designated virus hot spots. But the impact is also muted because the Catholic and Orthodox Jewish groups that sued to challenge the restrictions are no longer subject to them.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said Thursday the ruling was “more illustrative of the Supreme Court than anything else” and “irrelevant from any practical impact” given that the restrictions have already been removed.

“Why rule on a case that is moot and come up with a different decision than you did several months ago on the same issue?” Cuomo asked in a conference call with reporters. “You have a different court. And I think that was the statement that the court was making.”

The Diocese of Brooklyn and Agudath Israel of America have churches and synagogues in areas of Brooklyn and Queens previously designated red and orange zones. In those red and orange zones, the state had capped attendance at houses of worship at 10 and 25 people, respectively. But the those particular areas are now designated as yellow zones with less restrictive rules neither group challenged.

The justices acted on an emergency basis, temporarily barring New York from enforcing the restrictions against the groups while their lawsuits continue. In an unsigned opinion the court said the restrictions “single out houses of worship for especially harsh treatment.”

“Members of this Court are not public health experts, and we should respect the judgment of those with special expertise and responsibility in this area. But even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten. The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty,” the opinion said.

The opinion noted that in red zones, while a synagogue or church cannot admit more than 10 people, businesses deemed “essential,” from grocery stores to pet shops, can remain open without capacity limits. And in orange zones, while synagogues and churches are capped at 25 people, “even non-essential businesses may decide for themselves how many persons to admit.”ADVERTISEMENThttps://ce28e406733ba25ff984ad2e189e24ce.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

Roberts, in dissent, wrote that there was “simply no need” for the court’s action. “None of the houses of worship identified in the applications is now subject to any fixed numerical restrictions,” he said, adding that New York’s 10 and 25 person caps “do seem unduly restrictive.”

“The Governor might reinstate the restrictions. But he also might not. And it is a significant matter to override determinations made by public health officials concerning what is necessary for public safety in the midst of a deadly pandemic,” he wrote.

Roberts and four other justices wrote separately to explain their views. Barrett did not.

The court’s action was a victory for the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Jewish synagogues that had sued to challenge state restrictions announced by Cuomo on Oct. 6.

The Diocese of Brooklyn, which covers Brooklyn and Queens, argued houses of worship were being unfairly singled out by the governor’s executive order. The diocese argued it had previously operated safely by capping attendance at 25% of a building’s capacity and taking other measures. Parts of Brooklyn and Queens are now in yellow zones where attendance at houses of worship is capped at 50% of a building’s capacity, but the church is keeping attendance lower.

“We are extremely grateful that the Supreme Court has acted so swiftly and decisively to protect one of our most fundamental constitutional rights — the free exercise of religion,” said Randy Mastro, an attorney for the diocese, in a statement.

Avi Schick, an attorney for Agudath Israel of America, wrote in an email: “This is an historic victory. This landmark decision will ensure that religious practices and religious institutions will be protected from government edicts that do not treat religion with the respect demanded by the Constitution.”

Two lower courts had sided with New York in allowing the restrictions to remain in place. New York had argued that religious gatherings were being treated less restrictively than secular gatherings that carried the same infection risk, like concerts and theatrical performances.

There are currently several areas in New York designated orange zones but no red zones, according to a state website that tracks areas designated as hot spots.

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Associated Press writer Deepti Hajela contributed to this report from New York.

Mysterious shiny monolith found in otherworldly Utah desert

By LINDSAY WHITEHURST for the Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Deep in the Mars-like landscape of Utah’s red-rock desert lies a mystery: A gleaming metal monolith in one of the most remote parts of the state.

The smooth, tall structure was found during a helicopter survey of bighorn sheep in southeastern Utah, officials said Monday.

This Nov. 18, 2020 photo provided by the Utah Department of Public Safety shows a metal monolith installed in the ground in a remote area of red rock in Utah. The smooth, tall structure was found during a helicopter survey of bighorn sheep in southeastern Utah, officials said Monday. State workers from the Utah Department of Public Safety and Division of Wildlife Resources spotted the gleaming object from the air and landed nearby to check it out. The exact location is so remote that officials are not revealing it publicly, worried that people might get lost or stranded trying to find it and need to be rescued. (Utah Department of Public Safety via AP)

A crew from the Utah Department of Public Safety and Division of Wildlife Resources spotted the gleaming object from the air Nov. 18 and landed to check it out during a break from their work.

They found the three-sided stainless-steel object is about as tall as two men put together. But they discovered no clues about who might have driven it into the ground among the undulating red rocks or why.

“This thing is not from another world,” said Lt. Nick Street of the Utah Highway Patrol, part of the Department of Public Safety.

Still, it’s clear that it took some planning and work to construct the 10- to 12-foot (3- to 4-meter) monolith and embed it in the rock.

The exact location is so remote that officials are not revealing it publicly, worried that people might get lost or stranded trying to find it and need to be rescued.

The monolith evokes the one that appears in the Stanley Kubrick movie “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Because it’s on federal public land, it’s illegal to place art objects without authorization.

Bureau of Land Management officials are investigating how long it’s been there, who might have created it and whether to remove it.

Ethiopian leader rejects international ‘interference’ in war

By CARA ANNA for the Associated Press

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Ethiopia’s prime minister is rejecting growing international consensus for dialogue and a halt to deadly fighting in the Tigray region as “unwelcome,” saying his country will handle the conflict on its own as a 72-hour surrender ultimatum runs out on Wednesday.

A Tigray refugee girl who fled the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, sits on aid she received from the UNHCR and WFP at Umm Rakouba refugee camp in Qadarif, eastern Sudan, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

“We respectfully urge the international community to refrain from any unwelcome and unlawful acts of interference,” the statement from Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office said as government forces encircled the Tigray capital, Mekele, with tanks. “The international community should stand by until the government of Ethiopia submits its requests for assistance to the community of nations.”

The government led by Abiy, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, has warned Mekele’s half-million residents to move away from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front leaders or there will be “no mercy” — language that the United Nations human rights chief and others have warned could lead to “further violations of international humanitarian law.”

But communications remain almost completely severed to the Tigray region of some 6 million people, and is not clear how many people in Mekele are aware of the warnings and the threat of artillery fire.

Diplomats on Tuesday said U.N. Security Council members in a closed-door meeting expressed support for an African Union-led effort to deploy three high-level envoys to Ethiopia. But Ethiopia has said the envoys cannot meet with the TPLF leaders.

“This conflict is already seriously destabilizing the region,” European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Tuesday after meeting with Ethiopia’s foreign minister.

“Both sides should immediately begin dialogue facilitated by the AU,” the national security adviser for U.S. president-elect Joe Biden, Jake Sullivan, tweeted.

The Tigray regional leader, Debretsion Gebremichael, could not immediately be reached Wednesday as tensions were high among Mekele’s residents.

The TPLF dominated Ethiopia’s government for more than a quarter-century, but was sidelined after Abiy took office in 2018 and sought to centralize power. The TPLF opted out when Abiy dissolved the ruling coalition, then infuriated the federal government by holding an election in September after national elections were postponed by COVID-19. Each side now regards the other as illegal.

One Ethiopian military official claims that more than 10,000 “junta forces” have been “destroyed” since the fighting began on Nov. 4, when Abiy accused the TPLF of attacking a military base. Col. Abate Nigatu told the Amhara Mass Media Agency that more than 15,000 heavy weapons and small arms had been seized.

The international community has urgently called for communications to be restored to the Tigray region so warring sides’ claims can be investigated, and so food and other desperately needed supplies can be sent as hunger grows. The U.N. says it has been unable to send supplies into Tigray and that people there are “terrified.”

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people have been killed in three weeks of fighting. More than 40,000 refugees have fled into Sudan. And nearly 100,000 Eritrean refugees at camps in northern Tigray have come close to the line of fire.

Misery continues for the refugees in Sudan, with little food, little medicine, little shelter, little funding and little or no contact with loved ones left behind in Tigray. “We are absolutely not ready,” said Suleiman Ali Mousa, the governor of Qadarif province.

“Help us so that we don’t die,” said one refugee, Terhas Adiso. “We came from war. We were scared we were going to die from the war and we came here, we don’t want to die of hunger, disease. If they are going to help us they need to help us quickly. That’s all I am going to say.”

Meanwhile, reports continue of alleged targeting of ethnic Tigrayans, even outside Ethiopia. Three soldiers serving with the U.N. peacekeeping force in South Sudan were ordered home over the weekend, the force said in a statement. The Associated Press has confirmed the repatriated soldiers are Tigrayan.

“If personnel are discriminated against because of their ethnicity or any other reason, this could involve a human rights violation under international law,” the statement said.

Abiy’s government has said it aims to protect civilians, including Tigrayans, but reports continue of arrests, discrimination, house-to-house searches and frozen bank accounts.

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Fay Abuelgasim in Umm Rakouba contributed.

With hope high for vaccine, Britain prepares to roll it out

By DANICA KIRKA for the Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — With major COVID-19 vaccines showing high levels of protection, British officials are cautiously — and they stress cautiously — optimistic that life may start returning to normal by early April.

FILE – In this undated file photo issued by the University of Oxford, a volunteer is administered the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. With major COVID-19 vaccines showing high levels of protection, British officials are cautiously — and they stress cautiously — optimistic that life may start returning to normal by early April. Even before regulators have approved a single vaccine, the U.K. and countries across Europe are moving quickly to organize the distribution and delivery systems needed to inoculate millions of citizens. (University of Oxford/John Cairns via AP, File)

Even before regulators have approved a single vaccine, the U.K. and countries across Europe are moving quickly to organize the distribution and delivery systems needed to inoculate millions of citizens.

“If we can roll it out at a good lick … then with a favorable wind, this is entirely hypothetical, but we should be able to inoculate, I believe on the evidence I’m seeing, the vast majority of the people who need the most protection by Easter,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday after vaccine makers in recent weeks have announced encouraging results. “That will make a very substantial change to where we are at the moment.”

The U.K. has recorded more than 55,000 deaths linked to COVID-19, the deadliest outbreak in Europe. The pandemic has prevented families from meeting, put 750,000 people out of work and devastated businesses that were forced to shut as authorities tried to control the spread. England’s second national lockdown will end Dec. 2, but many restrictions will remain in place.

The British government has agreed to purchase up to 355 million doses of vaccine from seven different producers, as it prepares to vaccinate as many of the country’s 67 million people as possible. Governments around the world are making agreements with multiple developers to ensure they lock in delivery of the products that are ultimately approved by regulators.

The National Health Service is making plans to administer 88.5 million vaccine doses throughout England, according to a planning document dated Nov. 13. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are developing their own plans under the U.K.’s system of devolved administration.

The first to be vaccinated would be health care workers and nursing home residents, followed by older people, starting with those over 80, according to the document, first reported by the London-based Health Service Journal. People under 65 with underlying medical conditions would be next, then healthy people 50 to 65 and finally everyone else 18 and over.

While most of the injections would be delivered at around 1,000 community vaccination centers, about a third would go to 40 to 50 “large-scale mass vaccination centers,” including stadiums, conference centers and similar venues, the document indicates.

The NHS confirmed the document was genuine but said details and target dates are always changing because the vaccination program is a work in progress.

Professor Mark Jit, an expert in vaccine epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said Britain has the advantage of having a well-developed medical infrastructure that can be used to deliver the vaccine.

But this effort will be unlike standard vaccination programs that target individuals one at a time.

“The challenge now is to deliver the biggest vaccine program in living memory in the U.K. and other countries around the world,” Jit said. “We’re not vaccinating just children or pregnant women like many other vaccination programs…. We’re trying to vaccinate the entire U.K. population. And we’re trying to do it very quickly.’’

Other European countries are also getting ready, as are the companies that will be crucial to the rollout.

For example Germany’s Binder, which makes specialized cooling equipment for laboratories, has ramped up production of refrigerated containers needed to transport some of the vaccines under development. Binder is producing a unit that will reach the ultra-cold temperatures needed to ship the Pfizer vaccine.

The German government has asked regional authorities to get special vaccination centers ready by mid-December. France, meanwhile, has reserved 90 million vaccine doses, but has not yet laid out its plan for mass vaccination. A government spokesman said last week that authorities were working to identify locations for vaccination centers, choose companies to transport vaccines and set the rules for shipping and storage.

In Spain, health workers will get priority, as will residents of elder care homes. Spain hopes to vaccinate some 2.5 million people in the first stage between January and March and have most of the vulnerable population covered by mid-year. The vaccinations will be administered in 13,000 public health centers.

But sticking syringes in people’s arms is just the last part of the enormous logistical challenge the worldwide mass vaccination campaign will pose.

First, drugmakers must ramp up production, so there is enough supply to vaccinate billions of people in a matter of months. Then they have to overcome distribution hurdles such as storing some of the products at minus-70 degrees Celsius (minus-94 Fahrenheit). Finally, they will need to manage complex supply chains reminiscent of the just-in-time delivery systems carmakers use to keep their factories humming.

“It will be the challenge of the century, basically, because of the volumes and everything else which are going to be involved … ,″ said Richard Wilding, a professor of supply chain strategy at Cranfield School of Management. “It’s just the absolute scale.″

Vaccines from three drugmakers are considered leading candidates. Pfizer and Moderna have released preliminary data showing their vaccines were about 95% effective. AstraZeneca on Monday reported interim results of its vaccine developed with Oxford researchers that were also encouraging. Dozens of other vaccines are under development, including projects in China and Russia.

Britain and other Northern Hemisphere countries may also get a boost from the weather, said Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer. Transmission of respiratory viruses generally slows during the warmer months.

“The virus will not disappear, but it will become less and less risky for society.”

But Johnson, who credited NHS nurses with saving his life after he was hospitalized with COVID-19 earlier this year, warned restrictions will continue for months and Christmas celebrations will be curtailed this year.

“We can hear the drumming hooves of the cavalry coming over the brow of the hill, but they are not here yet,” Johnson said.

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Associated Press writers David Rising and Geir Moulson in Berlin, Angela Charlton in Paris and Ciarán Giles in Madrid contributed.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Los Angeles to consider stay-home order as COVID cases rise

By BRIAN MELLEY and CHRISTOPHER WEBER for the Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Officials in the nation’s largest county will discuss a possible stay-home order just days before Thanksgiving after a spike of coronavirus cases surpassed a threshold set by Los Angeles public health officials to trigger one.

Pedestrians walk past a COVID-19-themed mural outside a boarded up business Monday, Nov. 23, 2020, in Santa Monica, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

An “impressive and alarming surge” of more than 6,000 new cases put Los Angeles County over a five-day average of 4,500 cases per day, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Monday. She declined to take action until county supervisors meet Tuesday.

If the county orders residents to stay home, it would be the first such action since mid-March when Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom followed the lead of several counties and issued a statewide order that closed schools and severely restricted movement, except for essential workers and for people buy groceries or pick up food.

Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have been rapidly rising across California in November. The state recorded its highest day of positive test results on Saturday with more than 15,000. It had more than 14,000 cases Sunday. Hospitalizations have increased 77% over the past two weeks.

“At this rate, our hospitals won’t have any spare beds by Christmas time,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti about the situation in his city.

Medical centers are prepared to increase capacity and the city has plans to set up field hospitals if necessary, Garcetti said.

Newsom has issued a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew for almost all state residents and urged residents to avoid nonessential travel during what is typically the busiest travel period of the year. Anyone entering California is advised to quarantine for two weeks.

If another stay-home order is issued, it could create conflict for people planning to spend Thanksgiving together. Officials have urged people not to meet with more than two other households and to celebrate outdoors and follow physical distancing rules.

Newsom on Monday said gathering at Thanksgiving is risky and Ferrer went a step further by urging people to only gather with members of their households.

Despite the advisory, millions of Californians are expected to travel on Thanksgiving, mainly by car. Flights at San Francisco International Airport were down 75% from the same period last year, airport spokesman Doug Yakel said.

In Los Angeles, the county of 10 million residents has had a disproportionately large share of the state’s cases and deaths. Although it accounts for a quarter of the state’s 40 million residents, it has about a third of the cases and more than a third of the deaths.

The rapid rise has taken public health officials by surprise, outpacing a troubling summer surge when average cases increased 43%.

“From October 31 through November 13, average daily cases increased 108% — which is a much more rapid surge in cases than what we saw in the summer,” Ferrer said.

A week ago, Ferrer said she was hopeful the county wouldn’t hit an average of 4,000 cases until early December and didn’t think that it was inevitable.

But newly confirmed cases passed that threshold on Sunday, triggering an order shutting down restaurant dining for three weeks starting Wednesday at 10 p.m. and further crippling an industry that has reeled from the virus.

Restaurant owners in Los Angeles who have had to adapt to ever-changing rules were trying to reinvent their businesses again to keep afloat with only delivery and take-out.

Owners said they were upset the county took the action when it seemed that infections were more likely coming from private gatherings.

“The same people desperate to go to bars are going to party in their houses,” said Brittney Valles, owner of Guerrilla Tacos in downtown Los Angeles. “You will never see them until they’re spreading coronavirus around willy-nilly. It’s insane.”

Valles said she broke down Saturday as she realized it could be the last time — at least for a while — that she would see some of her 68 employees. It will be the third time she’s had to furlough employees and she was trying to develop a plan to keep as many employed as possible.

She’s already opened a companion coffee shop that offers breakfast burritos.

Greg Morena, who had to close one restaurant earlier in the year and has two in operations at the Santa Monica Pier, said he was trying to figure out his next step but was mainly dreading having to notify employees.

“To tell you, ‘I can’t employ you during the holidays,’ to staff that has family and kids,” Morena said. “I haven’t figured that part out yet. It’s the heaviest weight that I carry.”

Business owners in some parts of the state have ignored rules requiring them to close or curtail operations. Others have challenged the orders in court.

A San Diego judge on Monday rejected a request to temporarily restore indoor service at restaurants and gyms in the state’s second-most populous county that were forced to move operations outside this month to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Two restaurants and two gyms sued on behalf of their sectors to have California’s four-tier system of business restrictions declared illegal. They wanted to restore indoor operations to 25% capacity for restaurants and 10% for gyms, the levels that were set prior to the recent surge in cases.

Superior Court Judge Kenneth Medel declined, saying there was scientific evidence to support Newsom’s sweeping public health orders to restrict business activity during the pandemic.

Restaurants in Los Angeles have said there’s a lack of evidence that serving food outdoors is contributing to the spike.

The California Restaurant Association planned to go to court Tuesday to seek an order barring a shutdown of in-person dining until Los Angeles County health officials provide medical or scientific evidence that it poses an unreasonable risk to public health.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who said she opposed another stay-home order, also challenged the wisdom of halting dining outside restaurants — the only way they’ve been able to serve food on-site since the earlier stay-home order.

Barger said only 10% to 15% percent of people infected have reported dining out with someone who tested positive, but 50% percent reported being at a private social gathering with someone who tested positive.

Ferrer, however, said that outbreaks during the first two weeks of the month doubled at food sites — including restaurants, processing plants, bottlers, grocery stores and related businesses.

“We are seeing a significant number of violations around the physical distancing protocols, including violations at restaurants, bars breweries and wineries,” Ferrer said.

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Associated Press writer Olga R. Rodriguez in San Francisco contributed to this report.

Biden set to formally introduce his national security team

By MATTHEW LEE and ALEXANDRA JAFFE for the Associated Press

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — President-elect Joe Biden is set to formally introduce his national security team to the nation, building out a team of Obama administration alumni that signals his shift away from the Trump administration’s “America First” policies and a return to U.S. engagement on the global stage.

FILE – In this Feb. 1, 2020, file photo Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden smiles as former Secretary of State John Kerry, left, takes the podium to speak at a campaign stop at the South Slope Community Center in North Liberty, Iowa. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

The picks for national security and foreign policy posts include former Secretary of State John Kerry, who will take the lead on combating climate change. They’re slated to join Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris at an in-person event in Wilmington, Delaware, Tuesday afternoon, where they’ll each deliver their first remarks as Biden’s nominees.

Outside the realm of national security and foreign policy, Biden is expected to choose Janet Yellen as the first woman to become treasury secretary. She was nominated by President Barack Obama to lead the Federal Reserve, the first woman in that position, and served from 2014 to 2018.

Biden’s emerging Cabinet marks a return to a more traditional approach to governing, relying on veteran policymakers with deep expertise and strong relationships in Washington and global capitals. And with a roster that includes multiple women and people of color — some of whom are breaking historic barriers in their posts — Biden is fulfilling his campaign promise to lead a team that reflects the diversity of America.

The incoming president will nominate longtime adviser Antony Blinken to be secretary of state; lawyer Alejandro Mayorkas to be homeland security secretary; Linda Thomas-Greenfield to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; and Jake Sullivan as national security adviser. Avril Haines, a former deputy director of the CIA, will be nominated as director of national intelligence, the first woman to hold that post.

Thomas-Greenfield is Black, and Mayorkas is Cuban American.

Those being introduced on Tuesday “are experienced, crisis-tested leaders who are ready to hit the ground running on day one,” the transition said in a statement. “These officials will start working immediately to rebuild our institutions, renew and reimagine American leadership to keep Americans safe at home and abroad, and address the defining challenges of our time — from infectious disease, to terrorism, nuclear proliferation, cyber threats, and climate change.”

In the weeks ahead, Biden could also name Michèle Flournoy as the first woman to lead the Defense Department. Pete Buttigieg, the former Indiana mayor and onetime presidential candidate, has also been mentioned as a contender for a Cabinet agency.

In making the choices public on Monday, Biden moved forward with plans to fill out his administration even as President Donald Trump refused to concede defeat in the Nov. 3 election, has pursued baseless legal challenges in several key states and worked to stymie the transition process.

Trump said later Monday that he was directing his team to cooperate on the transition but vowed to keep up the fight. His comment came after the General Services Administration ascertained that Biden was the apparent winner of the election, clearing the way for the start of the transition from Trump’s administration and allowing Biden to coordinate with federal agencies on plans for taking over on Jan. 20.

Biden’s nominations were generally met with silence on Capitol Hill, where the Senate’s balance of power hinges on two runoff races that will be decided in January.

The best known of the bunch is Kerry, who made climate change one of his top priorities while serving as Obama’s secretary of state, during which he also negotiated the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord. Trump withdrew from both agreements, which he said represented a failure of American diplomacy in a direct shot at Kerry, whom he called the worst secretary of state in U.S. history.

“America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat it is,” Kerry said. “I’m proud to partner with the president-elect, our allies, and the young leaders of the climate movement to take on this crisis as the president’s climate envoy.”

Blinken, 58, served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration. He recently participated in a national security briefing with Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and weighed in publicly just last week on notable foreign policy issues in Egypt and Ethiopia.

Blinken served on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration before becoming staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Biden was chair of the panel. In the early years of the Obama administration, Blinken returned to the NSC and was Biden’s national security adviser when Biden was vice president, then moved to the State Department to serve as deputy to Kerry.

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Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo in Washington, Bill Barrow in Atlanta and Alexandra Jaffe in Wilmington, Delaware, contributed to this report.

Puerto Rico policeman accused of theft while in uniform

From the Associated Press

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — A police officer has been charged with stealing more than $1,300 worth of goods from Home Depot while wearing his uniform, authorities said Tuesday.

The officer was identified as 46-year-old Fernando León Berdecía. It was not immediately known if he had an attorney.

Puerto Rico Police Chief Henry Escalera said León has been temporarily suspended from the department.

Officials said the alleged incident occurred Monday evening.

Pandemic has taken a bite out of seafood trade, consumption

By PATRICK WHITTLE for the Associated Press

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The coronavirus pandemic has hurt the U.S. seafood industry due to a precipitous fall in imports and exports and a drop in catch of some species.

FILE – In this March 25, 2020, file photo, a worker weighs and sorts pollack at the Portland Fish Exchange in Portland, Maine. The coronavirus pandemic has hurt the U.S. seafood industry due to a precipitous fall in imports and exports and a drop in catch of some species. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

Those are the findings of a group of scientists who sought to quantify the damage of the pandemic on America’s seafood business, which has also suffered in part because of its reliance on restaurant sales. Consumer demand for seafood at restaurants dropped by more than 70% during the early months of the pandemic, according to the scientists, who published their findings recently in the scientific journal Fish and Fisheries.

Imports fell about 37% and exports about 43% over the first nine months of the year compared to 2019, the study said. The economic impact has been felt most severely in states that rely heavily on the seafood sector, such as Maine, Alaska and Louisiana, said Easton White, a University of Vermont biologist and the study’s lead author.

It hasn’t all been doom and gloom for the industry, as seafood delivery and home cooking have helped businesses weather the pandemic, White said. The industry will be in a better position to rebound after the pandemic if domestic consumers take more of an interest in fresh seafood, he said.

“Shifting to these local markets is something that could be really helpful for recovery purposes,” White said. “The way forward is to focus on shortening the supply chain a little bit.”

The study found that Alaska’s catch of halibut, a high-value fish, declined by 40% compared to the previous year through June. Statistics for many U.S. fisheries won’t be available until next year, but those findings dovetail with what many fishermen are seeing on the water.

Maine’s catch of monkfish has dried up because of the lack of access to foreign markets such as Korea, said Ben Martens, executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association.

“The prices just went so low, they couldn’t build a business doing that this year,” Martens said.

The study confirms what members of the seafood industry have been hearing for months, said Kyle Foley, senior program manager for the seafood program at Gulf of Maine Research Institute. Foley, who was not involved in the study, said the findings make clear that the seafood industry needs more help from the federal government.

The federal government allocated $300 million in CARES Act dollars to the seafood industry in May. The government announced $16 billion for farmers and ranchers that same month.

“It helps to make the case for why there’s a need for more relief, which I think is our industry’s biggest concern across the supply chain in seafood,” Foley said.

The study concludes that “only time will tell the full extent of COVID-19 on US fishing and seafood industries.” Gavin Gibbons, a spokesman for the National Fisheries Institute in McLean, Virginia, said the short-term findings reflect the difficulties the industry has experienced this year.

“The closure of restaurant dinning has had a disproportionate effect on seafood and a pivot to retail has not made up for all of the lost sales,” Gibbons said.

3rd major COVID-19 vaccine shown to be effective and cheaper

By DANICA KIRKA and JILL LAWLESS for the Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Drugmaker AstraZeneca said Monday that late-stage trials showed its COVID-19 vaccine is highly effective, buoying the prospects of a relatively cheap, easy-to-store product that may become the vaccine of choice for the developing world.

In this undated photo issued by the University of Oxford, a researcher in a laboratory at the Jenner Institute in Oxford, England, works on the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca said Monday Nov. 23, 2020, that late-stage trials showed its coronavirus vaccine was up to 90% effective, giving public health officials hope they may soon have access to a vaccine that is cheaper and easier to distribute than some of its rivals. (University of Oxford/John Cairns via AP)

The results are based on an interim analysis of trials in the U.K. and Brazil of a vaccine developed by Oxford University and manufactured by AstraZeneca. No hospitalizations or severe cases of COVID-19 were reported in those receiving the vaccine.

AstraZeneca is the third major drug company to report late-stage data for a potential COVID-19 vaccine as the world waits for scientific breakthroughs that will end a pandemic that has pummeled the world economy and led to 1.4 million deaths. But unlike the others, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine doesn’t have to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures, making it easier to distribute, especially in developing countries.

“I think these are really exciting results,” Dr. Andrew Pollard, chief investigator for the trial, said at a news conference. “Because the vaccine can be stored at fridge temperatures, it can be distributed around the world using the normal immunization distribution system. And so our goal … to make sure that we have a vaccine that was accessible everywhere, I think we’ve actually managed to do that.”

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 in one of the dosing regimens tested; it was less effective in another. Earlier this month, rival drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna reported preliminary results from late-stage trials showing their vaccines were almost 95% effective.

While the AstraZeneca vaccine can be stored at 2 degrees to 8 degrees Celsius (36 degrees to 46 degrees Fahrenheit), the Pfizer and Moderna products must be stored at temperatures approaching minus-70 degrees Celsius (minus-94 Fahrenheit).

The AstraZeneca vaccine is also cheaper.

AstraZeneca, which has pledged it won’t make a profit on the vaccine during the pandemic, has reached agreements with governments and international health organizations that put its cost at about $2.50 a dose. Pfizer’s vaccine costs about $20, while Moderna’s is $15 to $25, based on agreements the companies have struck to supply their vaccines to the U.S. government.

All three vaccines must be approved by regulators before they can be widely distributed.

Oxford researchers and AstraZeneca stressed they weren’t competing with other projects and said multiple vaccines would be needed to reach enough of the world’s population to end the pandemic.

“We need to be able to make a lot of vaccine for the world quickly, and it’s best if we can do it with different technologies so that if one technology runs into a roadblock, then we’ve got alternatives, we’ve got diversity,″ professor Sarah Gilbert, a leader of the Oxford team, told The Associated Press. “Diversity is going to be good here, but also in terms of manufacturing, we don’t want to run out of raw materials.”

AstraZeneca said it will immediately apply for early approval of the vaccine where possible, and it will seek an emergency use listing from the World Health Organization, so it can make the vaccine available in low-income countries.

The AstraZeneca trial looked at two different dosing regimens. A half-dose of the vaccine followed by a full dose at least one month later was 90% effective. Another approach, giving patients two full doses one month apart, was 62% effective.

That means that, overall, when both ways of dosing are considered, the vaccine showed an efficacy rate of 70%.

Gilbert said researchers aren’t sure why giving a half-dose followed by a larger dose was more effective, and they plan to investigate further. But the answer is probably related to providing exactly the right amount of vaccine to get the best response, she said.

“It’s the Goldilocks amount that you want, I think, not too little and not too much. Too much could give you a poor quality response as well …,″ she said. “I’m glad that we looked at more than one dose because it turns out to be really important.”

The vaccine uses a weakened version of a common cold virus that is combined with genetic material for the characteristic spike protein of the virus that causes COVID-19. After vaccination, the spike protein primes the immune system to attack the virus if it later infects the body.

Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, said the finding that a smaller initial dose is more effective than a larger one is good news because it may reduce costs and mean more people can be vaccinated with a given supply of the vaccine.

“The report that an initial half-dose is better than a full dose seems counterintuitive for those of us thinking of vaccines as normal drugs: With drugs, we expect that higher doses have bigger effects, and more side-effects,” he said. “But the immune system does not work like that.”

The results reported Monday come from trials in the U.K. and Brazil that involved 23,000 people. Of those, 11,636 people received the vaccine — while the rest got a placebo.

Overall, there were 131 cases of COVID-19. Details on how many people in the various groups became ill weren’t released Monday, but researchers said they will be published in the next 24 hours.

Late-stage trials of the vaccine are also underway in the U.S., Japan, Russia, South Africa, Kenya and Latin America, with further trials planned for other European and Asian countries.

Researchers said they expect to add the half dose-full dose regimen to the U.S. trial in a “matter of weeks.” Before doing so they must discuss the changes with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The AstraZeneca trials were paused earlier this year after a participant in the U.K. study reported a rare neurological illness. While the trials were quickly restarted in most countries after investigators determined the condition wasn’t related to the vaccine, the FDA delayed the U.S. study for more than a month before it was allowed to resume.

AstraZeneca has been ramping up manufacturing capacity, so it can supply hundreds of millions of doses of the vaccine starting in January, Chief Executive Pascal Soriot said earlier this month.

Soriot said Monday that the Oxford vaccine’s simpler supply chain and AstraZeneca’s commitment to provide it on a nonprofit basis during the pandemic mean it will be affordable and available to people around the world.

“This vaccine’s efficacy and safety confirm that it will be highly effective against COVID-19 and will have an immediate impact on this public health emergency,” Soriot said.

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he felt “a great sense of relief” at the news from AstraZeneca.

Britain has ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine, and the government says several million doses can be produced before the end of the year if it is approved by regulators.

Just months ago, “the idea that by November we would have three vaccines, all of which have got high effectiveness … I would have given my eye teeth for,” Hancock said.

From the beginning of their collaboration with AstraZeneca, Oxford scientists have demanded that the vaccine be made available equitably to everyone in the world so rich countries can’t corner the market as has happened during previous pandemics.

Leaders of the world’s most powerful nations on Sunday agreed to work together to ensure “affordable and equitable access” to COVID-19 drugs, tests and vaccines.

“If we don’t have the vaccine available in many, many countries, and we just protect a small number of them, then we can’t go back to normal because the virus is going to keep coming back and causing problems again,” Gilbert said. “No one is safe until we’re all safe.”

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Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Heading into holidays, US COVID-19 testing strained again

By MATTHEW PERRONE and MARION RENAULT for the Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — With coronavirus cases surging and families hoping to gather safely for Thanksgiving, long lines to get tested have reappeared across the U.S. — a reminder that the nation’s testing system remains unable to keep pace with the virus.

The delays are happening as the country braces for winter weather, flu season and holiday travel, all of which are expected to amplify a U.S. outbreak that has already swelled past 11.5 million cases and 250,000 deaths.

FILE – In this Nov 18, 2020, file photo, motorists wait in long lines to take a coronavirus test in a parking lot at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. With coronavirus cases surging and families hoping to gather safely for Thanksgiving, long lines to get tested have reappeared across the U.S. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu, File)

Laboratories warned that continuing shortages of key supplies are likely to create more bottlenecks and delays, especially as cases rise across the nation and people rush to get tested before reuniting with relatives.

“As those cases increase, demand increases and turnaround times may increase,” said Scott Becker, CEO of the Association of Public Health Laboratories. “So it’s like a dog chasing its tail.”

Lines spanned multiple city blocks at testing sites across New York City this week, leaving people waiting three or more hours before they could even enter health clinics. In Los Angeles, thousands lined up outside Dodger Stadium for drive-thru testing.

“This is insane,” said 39-year-old Chaunta Renaud as she entered her fourth hour waiting to enter a so-called rapid testing site in Brooklyn on Tuesday. Renaud and her husband planned to get tested before Thanksgiving, when they will drive to pick up her mother for the holiday. “We got tested before and it wasn’t anything like this,” she said.

On the one hand, the fact that testing problems are only now emerging — more than a month into the latest virus surge — is a testament to the country’s increased capacity. The U.S. is testing over 1.5 million people per day on average, more than double the rate in July, when many Americans last faced long lines.

But experts like Johns Hopkins University researcher Gigi Gronvall said the U.S. is still falling far short of what’s needed to control the virus.

Gronvall said the current testing rate “is on its way, but it’s nowhere close to what’s needed to shift the course of this epidemic.” Many experts have called for anywhere between 4 million and 15 million daily tests to suppress the virus.

Trump administration officials estimate the U.S. has enough tests this month to screen between 4 million and 5 million people a day. But that doesn’t fully reflect real-world conditions. The tests used at most testing sites rely on specialized chemicals and equipment that have been subject to chronic shortages for months.

Adm. Brett Giroir, the U.S. official overseeing testing, downplayed reports of lines and delays earlier this week. In some cases, he said, lines are caused by a lack of scheduling by testing locations, which should stagger appointments.

“I’m sure that is going to happen from time to time, but we’re aggressively helping states in any way that we can if there are those kinds of issues,” Giroir said Monday.

Marguerite Wynter, 28, stood in line for more than two hours to get a test Monday at a Chicago site. She plans on flying to see her mother in Massachusetts for Thanksgiving and staying through Christmas. Massachusetts requires visitors to quarantine for two weeks or show proof of a negative test.

“It’s just more to be safe being around my family,” Wynter said. “It’s just to have peace of mind to know that I’m OK.”

In California, health officials have given mixed messages about whether residents should get tested before the holiday.

San Francisco’s Department of Emergency Management warned that people should not use a test to determine if they can travel. But Contra Costa County, across the bay, suggested anyone insistent on gathering with friends or relatives should get tested.

On Tuesday, federal regulators authorized the first rapid coronavirus test that can be done at home. It delivers results in 30 minutes and will cost roughly $50. But the test kit from Lucira Health will be available by prescription only, and it won’t be rolled out nationally until the spring.

As bad as the wait for testing has become, it is still better than in July, when the U.S. was almost entirely dependent on tests that often take two or more days for labs to process, even under ideal conditions. As cases surged past 70,000 per day, many people had to wait a week or more to learn their results, rendering the information almost worthless for isolating and tracking cases.

In recent months, federal health officials have distributed roughly 60 million rapid, point-of-care tests that deliver results in 15 minutes. Those have helped ease some of the pressure on large labs. But not enough.

Since Sept. 15, the daily count of U.S. tests has increased nearly 100%, based on a seven-day rolling average. However, the daily average of new COVID-19 cases has increased over 300%, to more than 161,000 as of Wednesday, according to an AP analysis.

This week, Quest Diagnostics warned that mushrooming demand for testing has increased its turnaround time to slightly more than two days.

The lab company said operations are being squeezed by shortages of testing chemicals, pipettes — the slender tubes used to measure and dispense chemicals — and other supplies. Those items are produced by a small number of manufacturers worldwide.

Facing supply constraints and spiking demand, many hospitals have been forced to send some COVID-19 tests out to large labs like Quest for processing, delaying results for patients.

“If I can do the COVID test in-house, we’re talking a small numbers of hours. If I have to send it to a reference lab, we’re talking about days,” said Dr. Patrick Godbey, laboratory director at Southeast Georgia Regional Medical Center.

Godbey emphasized a stark point that health officials have been making for months: The U.S. outbreak is too large to be contained by testing alone. Americans must follow basic measures such as wearing masks, social distancing and frequent hand-washing.

“You can’t test yourself out of a pandemic,” said Godbey, who is also president of the College of American Pathologists.

On Tuesday, in line outside a Brooklyn urgent care clinic — her second attempt to get tested that day — Monica Solis, 28, echoed that sentiment. “The lines are a reminder we’re still going through this and we don’t have a perfect response yet,” she said.

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Perrone reported from Washington. Associated Press data journalist Nicky Forster in New York contributed to this report, as did AP writers Stefanie Dazio and Brian Melley in Los Angeles; Sophia Tareen in Chicago; and Janie Har in San Francisco.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Isolated for months, island crew sees pandemic for 1st time

By CALEB JONES for the Associated Press

HONOLULU (AP) — Just as the coronavirus pandemic began to take hold, in February, four people set sail for one of the most remote places on Earth — a small camp on Kure Atoll, at the edge of the uninhabited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

In this June 23, 2020, photo provided by Charlie Thomas, seabirds fly over a field camp on Kure Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Cut off from the rest of the planet since February, four environmental field workers are back, re-emerging into a society changed by the coronavirus outbreak. (Charlie Thomas/Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources via AP)

There, more than 1,400 miles from Honolulu, they lived in isolation for eight months while working to restore the island’s environment. Cut off from the rest of the planet, their world was limited to a tiny patch of sand halfway between the U.S. mainland and Asia. With no television or internet access, their only information came from satellite text messages and occasional emails.

Now they are back, re-emerging into a changed society that might feel as foreign today as island isolation did in March. They must adjust to wearing face masks, staying indoors and seeing friends without giving hugs or hearty handshakes.

“I’ve never seen anything like this, but I started reading the book “The Stand” by Stephen King, which is about a disease outbreak, and I was thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, is this what it’s going to be like to go home?’” said Charlie Thomas, one of the four island workers. “All these … precautions, these things, people sick everywhere. It was very strange to think about.”

The group was part of an effort by the state of Hawaii to maintain the fragile island ecosystem on Kure, which is part of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, the nation’s largest contiguous protected environment. The public is not allowed to land anywhere in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Kure is the only island in the northern part of the archipelago that is managed by the state, with the rest under the jurisdiction of the federal government. A former Coast Guard station, the atoll is home to seabirds, endangered Hawaiian monk seals and coral reefs that are teeming with sea turtles, tiger sharks and other marine life.

Two field teams go there each year, one for summer and another for winter. Their primary job is removing invasive plants and replacing them with native species and cleaning up debris such as fishing nets and plastic that washes ashore.

Before they leave, team members are often asked if they want to receive bad news while away, said Cynthia Vanderlip, the supervisor for the Kure program.

“A few times a day, we upload and download email so people stay in touch with their family and friends. That’s a huge morale booster, and I don’t take it lightly,” Vanderlip said. “People who are in remote places … rely on your communication.”

Thomas, the youngest member of the team at 18, grew up in a beach town in New Zealand and spent much of her free time with seabirds and other wildlife. She finished school a year early to start her first job as a deckhand for an organization dedicated to cleaning up coastlines before volunteering for the summer season on Kure Atoll.

The expedition was her first time being away from home for so long, but she was ready to disconnect.

“I was sick of social media, I was sick of everything that was sort of going on,” she said. “And I thought, you know, I am so excited to get rid of my phone, to lose contact with everything … I don’t need to see all the horrible things that are going on right now.”

When Thomas left New Zealand for Hawaii, there were no virus cases nearby that she can recall. By the time she left Honolulu for Kure, the virus was starting to “creep a little closer” to the islands.

“We were just seeing stories on the television and that sort of thing,” she said. “But, you know, we’re off. We’re leaving. It wasn’t really a big concern for us.”

Once on Kure, getting a full picture of what was happening in the world was difficult.

“I guess I didn’t really know what to think because we were getting so many different answers to questions that we were asking,” she said.

Thomas is now in a hotel in quarantine in Auckland, where she lives with her parents, sister and a dog named Benny. She will miss hugs and “squishing five people on a bench to have dinner,” she said.

Joining her on the island was Matthew Butschek II, who said he felt most alone when he received news about two deaths.

His mother emailed to tell him that her brother had died. Butschek said his uncle was ill before the pandemic, and he was not sure if COVID played a role in his death. He could not grieve with his family.

Then Butschek, 26, received word that one of his best friends had been killed in a car accident.

“I remember reading that, thinking it was a joke and then realizing it wasn’t, so my heart started pounding and I was breathing heavily,” he said.

The isolation of Kure “felt strong” at that moment, but he said he tends to like his space when emotional.

“I drank a beer for him and just kind of thought about memories,” he said, describing sitting in his bunk house alone after a long day of fieldwork.

While in quarantine last week, Butschek looked out the window of his cabin in Honolulu and saw school-aged children playing on rocks and climbing trees — all wearing face masks. It reminded him of apocalyptic movies.

“It’s not normal for me. But everyone is like, yeah, this is what we do now. This is how we live,” he said.

Leading the camp on Kure was wildlife biologist Naomi Worcester, 43, and her partner, Matthew Saunter.

Worcester first visited the island in 2010 and has returned every year since. She’s a veteran of remote fieldwork in Alaska, Washington, Wyoming and the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Working on the atoll means getting information about the world slowly, and often not at all, Worcester said.

A few weeks ago, she departed Kure and arrived on Midway Atoll, where she and the rest of the crew stayed for several days before flying back to Honolulu. Midway has limited internet access and basic cable television. During a moment alone, she turned on a TV.

“I think I turned it on during the middle of the World Series,” she recalled. “And it’s like some people are wearing face masks and some people aren’t. And there is the thing about the guy that tested positive in the middle of the game or something. I was just like, click click, I don’t know, this is too much!”

Her focus for the coming months will be to start arranging the Kure trip for next summer. She also fears for the health and safety of her friends and family.

“If there was anything serious that happened when I was gone, they would have told me, but then again, maybe not,” she said.

She also worries about the pandemic’s cost in a larger sense.

“With so much uncertainty and so many emotions running high and, you know, our country is divided on so many things … there is kind of an underlying fear as far as what the future could hold and how people could respond.”

Saunter, 35, has worked on Kure since 2010, the same year he met and began dating Worcester. They have been partners in life and on the island for a decade.

In 2012, they began leading teams at the field camp.

After so many years at the camp, Saunter said, isolation isn’t much of a factor for him. He believes the leadership skills he’s learned in the wilderness will translate well to life in the pandemic.

To be successful on Kure, you have to tackle problems head-on and control your emotions, he said.

“You know people’s emotions are getting the better of them, and it’s kind of at the cost of everybody, so it seems very irresponsible,” he said. “If we had taken it more seriously and practiced more precautions, we could have squashed this thing.”

He remembers being on Kure when his sister called the outbreak a “pandemic.”

“I got an email from my sister and she used the word ‘pandemic,’” he said. “I thought to myself, huh, maybe we need to look that up, because what’s the difference between a pandemic and an epidemic?”

Now “it’s a word that’s in everybody’s vocabulary.”

Ethiopia’s multiple crises: War, COVID-19, even locusts

By CARA ANNA for the Associated Press

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Ethiopia could hardly bear another emergency, even before a deadly conflict exploded in its northern Tigray region this month. Now, tens of thousands of refugees are fleeing into Sudan, and food and fuel are running desperately low in the sealed-off Tigray region, along with medical supplies and even resources to combat a major locust outbreak.

Ethiopian refugees gather in Qadarif region, easter Sudan, Wednesday, Nov 18, 2020. The U.N. refugee agency says Ethiopia’s growing conflict has resulted in thousands fleeing from the Tigray region into Sudan as fighting spilled beyond Ethiopia’s borders and threatened to inflame the Horn of Africa region. (AP Photo/Marwan Ali)

The United Nations warns of a “full-scale humanitarian crisis.” Here’s why:Ethiopian refugees rest in Qadarif region, easter Sudan. (AP Photo/Marwan Ali)

WAR

No one knows how many people have been killed, including civilians, since the fighting began Nov. 4. Hundreds have been wounded. Ethiopia’s federal government and the heavily armed Tigray regional government regard each other as illegal after a falling-out when Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sidelined the once-dominant Tigray leaders amid sweeping political reforms. Thousands of Ethiopian refugees are streaming into Sudan daily, and the U.N. says authorities are overwhelmed.

COVID-19

Ethiopia this month surpassed 100,000 confirmed coronavirus infections, while health officials warn that Africa’s second surge in cases has begun. The Tigray conflict threatens a swifter spread of COVID-19 in the region as people flee their homes. Meanwhile, the U.N. says trucks laden with medical and other supplies are stuck at heavily defended borders. Hospitals say even basic items such as blankets are needed. There is no electricity in the Tigray capital, Mekele, a city of about a half-million people, and water is running low.Desert locusts swarm into Kenya by the hundreds of millions from Somalia and Ethiopia. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

LOCUSTS

The worst locust outbreak in decades has descended on Ethiopia and its neighbors, bearing billions of the voracious insects. They were destroying crops and threatening food insecurity well before the fighting. Researchers say some 80% of the Tigray region’s residents are subsistence farmers, and this time of year was already the lean season, with last year’s harvest eaten.

HUNGER

Food can’t get into the Tigray region of some 6 million people because of transport restrictions imposed after the fighting began. Humanitarian officials say long lines have appeared outside bread shops, prices have soared, and banks dispense only small amounts of cash. “At this stage there is simply very little left, even if you have money,” according to the internal assessment by one humanitarian group seen by The Associated Press. The U.N. has now set aside $20 million for “anticipatory action to fight hunger in Ethiopia.”

As schools reopen in Africa, relief is matched by anxiety

By RODNEY MUHUMUZA and TOM ODULA for the Associated Press

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — One cash-strapped parent asked to pay her child’s school tuition fees with bags of the rice she grows, leading headmaster Mike Ssekaggo to request a sample before he would agree. Eventually he did.

Many other parents in African countries, unable to pay in cash or kind, say their children will have to miss the new term as classes resume after months of delay caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

FILE – In this Monday, Oct. 12, 2020 file photo, schoolchildren joke around and play at the Olympic Primary School in Kibera, one of the capital Nairobi’s poorest areas, as schools partially re-opened to allow those students due for examinations which had been postponed to prepare, in Kenya. As schools reopen in some African countries after months of lockdown, relief is matched by anxiety over everything from how to raise tuition fees amid the financial strain wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic to how to protect students in crowded classrooms. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga, File)

Ssekaggo, headmaster of Wampeewo Ntakke Secondary School on the outskirts of Uganda’s capital, Kampala, has fielded complaints from parents scrambling to have their children enrolled for the first time since March.

Relief over the gradual reopening of schools is matched by anxiety over the financial strain caused by the pandemic and over how to protect students in often crowded classrooms from the coronavirus.

Only about half of 430 students had reported the day after he began admitting students for the new term, Ssekaggo told The Associated Press.

School officials worry some children might not return to class because their parents have not been working, Ssekaggo said.

In Uganda, authorities have set standards that schools must meet before they can admit students, most of whom could remain at home until as late as next year. Schools must have enough handwashing stations and enough room in classrooms and dorms for social distancing.

Although the pandemic has disrupted education around the world, the crisis is more acute in Africa, where up to 80% of students don’t have access to the internet and distance learning is out of reach for many.

Sub-Saharan Africa already had the highest rates of children out of school anywhere in the world, with nearly one-fifth of children between 6 and 11 and more than one-third of youths between 12 and 14 not in school, according to the U.N. culture and education agency.

Although schools now have reopened in many African countries that had imposed anti-COVID-19 lockdowns, the pandemic’s full impact on education in the world’s most youthful continent of over 1.3 billion people remains to be seen.

In some cases, the decision to reopen remains problematic, especially as the level of testing remains low.

“One of the things that we have been discussing is how do we monitor the situation in schools where we have large numbers of students,” said Dr. Rashid Aman, Kenya’s chief administrative secretary of health. “I think definitely we will require to be doing some level of testing in those populations to see whether there is transmission of asymptomatic cases.”

As in Uganda, Kenya is implementing a phased reopening of schools. Students taking exams to move to upper grade school, high school and college reported in October. The rest will return in January, but there is widespread concern that schools were reopened too early as some have reported outbreaks.

Similar challenges are reported in Zimbabwe, the cash-strapped southern African nation where more than 100,000 public teachers have been striking since schools reopened, demanding better pay as well as protective gear.

“Results of the disaster happening with unmonitored school children will be with us for a long time,” said Raymond Majongwe, secretary-general of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, warning parents against sending their children to school while teachers are on strike. “Prepare for a baby and drug boom,” he added.

The coronavirus had infected more than 1.9 million Africans and killed more than 45,000 as of Nov. 9. But up to 80% of Africa’s virus cases are believed to be asymptomatic, the World Health Organization’s Africa director said in September, citing preliminary analysis.

Authorities in Uganda and Kenya are not testing students for the virus before enrollment. John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters Thursday that while his group isn’t monitoring schools, “we naturally expect there will be infections.”

At Uganda’s Wampeewo Ntakke Secondary School, which had 1,800 students before the outbreak, officials at the gates took the temperatures of arriving students, who also were required to bring at least two masks. Later, a nurse briefed them about safety.

“I think we are safe as per now,” said student Sylvia Namuyomba, pondering the handwashing stations strategically placed across the green lawns.

A stern-looking teacher wearing a face shield patrolled the compound, rebuking students who even momentarily removed their masks.

In one classroom, the masked students sat one per desk instead of the usual three, a measure of the social distancing that will be hard to maintain when hundreds more report back to school early next year.

“We are just leaving it in prayer that by January there will be no COVID,” said Vincent Odoi, a teacher of business studies. “Otherwise we won’t manage.”

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Odula reported from Nairobi, Kenya. Farai Mutsaka in Harare, Zimbabwe, contributed.

Hurricane Iota now a Category 5 storm near Central America

From the Associated Press

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — Hurricane Iota rapidly strengthened Monday into a Category 5 storm that is likely to bring catastrophic damage to the same part of Central America already battered by a powerful Hurricane Eta less than two weeks ago.

Iota has intensified over the western Caribbean on approach to Nicaragua and Honduras. U.S. Air Force hurricane hunters flew into Iota’s core and measured maximum sustained winds of 160 mph (260 kph), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. It was centered about 100 miles (160 kilometers) east-southeast of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua and moving westward at 9 mph (15 kph).

A pregnant woman is carried out of an area flooded by water brought by Hurricane Eta in Planeta, Honduras, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. The storm that hit Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane on Tuesday had become more of a vast tropical rainstorm, but it was advancing so slowly and dumping so much rain that much of Central America remained on high alert. (AP Photo/Delmer Martinez)

Authorities warned that Iota would probably come ashore over areas where Eta’s torrential rains saturated the soil, leaving it prone to new landslides and floods, and that the storm surge could reach a shocking 12 to 18 feet (3.6 to 5.5 meters) above normal tides.

Evacuations were being conducted from low-lying areas in Nicaragua and Honduras near their shared border, which appeared to be Iota’s likely landfall. Winds and rain were already being felt on the Nicaraguan coast Sunday night.

Iota became a hurricane early Sunday and rapidly gained more power. It was expected to pass over or near Colombia’s Providencia island during the night, and the U.S. National Hurricane Center warned it would probably reach the Central America mainland late Monday.

The hurricane center said Iota was centered about 20 miles (35 km) off Isla de Providencia, Colombia, and 145 miles (235 km) southeast of Cabo Gracias a Dios on the Nicaragua-Honduras border, and moving westward at 10 mph (17 kph).

Iota is the record 30th named storm of this year’s extraordinarily busy Atlantic hurricane season. It’s also the ninth storm to rapidly intensify this season, a dangerous phenomenon that is happening increasingly more often. Such activity has focused attention on climate change, which scientists say is causing wetter, stronger and more destructive storms.

All of Honduras was on high alert, with compulsory evacuations that began before the weekend. By Sunday evening 63,500 people were reported to be in 379 shelters just in the northern coastal region.

Nicaraguan officials said that by late Sunday afternoon about 1,500 people, nearly half of them children, had been evacuated from low-lying areas in the country’s northeast, including all the inhabitants of Cayo Misquitos. Authorities said 83,000 people in that region were in danger.

Wind and rain were beginning to be felt Sunday night in Bilwi, a coastal Nicaraguan city where people crowded markets and hardware stores during the day in search of plastic sheeting, nails and other materials to reinforce their homes, just as they did when Hurricane Eta hit on Nov. 3.

Several residents of Bilwi expressed concern that their homes would not stand up to Iota, so soon after Eta. Local television showed people being evacuated in wooden boats, carrying young children as well as dogs and chickens.

Eta already wreaked havoc. It hit Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane, killing at least 120 people as torrential rains caused flash floods and mudslides in parts of Central America and Mexico. Then it meandered across Cuba, the Florida Keys and around the Gulf of Mexico before slogging ashore again near Cedar Key, Florida, and dashing across Florida and the Carolinas.

Iota was forecast to drop 8 to 16 inches (200-400 millimeters) of rain in northern Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and southern Belize, with as much as 30 inches (750 millimeters) in isolated spots. Costa Rica and Panama could also experience heavy rain and possible flooding, the hurricane center said.

Eta was this year’s 28th named storm, tying the 2005 record. Remnants of Theta, the 29th, dissipated Sunday in the eastern Atlantic Ocean.

Over the past couple of decades, meteorologists have been more worried about storms like Iota that power up much faster than normal. They created an official threshold for this rapid intensification — a storm gaining 35 mph (56 kph) in wind speed in just 24 hours. Iota doubled it.

Earlier this year, Hannah, Laura, Sally, Teddy, Gamma, Delta, Zeta and Iota all rapidly intensified. Laura and Delta tied or set records for rapid intensification.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climate and hurricane scientists studied the effect and found “a lot of that has to do with human-caused climate change.”

This is the first time on record that the Atlantic had two major hurricanes, with winds exceeding 110 mph (177 kph), in November, with Iota and Eta, according to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach. When Iota’s top winds reached 155 mph (250 kph), they tied with 1999’s Lenny for the strongest Atlantic hurricane this late in the calendar year.

The official end of the hurricane season is Nov. 30.

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Associated Press writer Marlon González in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, contributed to this report.

2nd virus vaccine shows overwhelming success in U.S. tests

By LAURAN NEERGAARD for the Associated Press

Moderna said Monday its COVID-19 vaccine is proving highly effective in a major trial, a second ray of hope in the global race for a shot to tame a resurgent virus that is now killing more than 8,000 people a day worldwide.

The company said its vaccine appears to be 94.5% effective, according to preliminary data from Moderna’s ongoing study. A week ago, competitor Pfizer Inc. announced its own vaccine appeared similarly effective — news that puts both companies on track to seek permission within weeks for emergency use in the U.S.

The results are “truly striking,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious diseases expert. Earlier this year, Fauci said he would be happy with a COVID-19 vaccine that was 60% effective.

A vaccine can’t come fast enough, as virus cases topped 11 million in the U.S. over the weekend — 1 million of them recorded in just the past week — and governors and mayors are ratcheting up restrictions ahead of Thanksgiving. The pandemic has killed more than 1.3 million people worldwide, over 245,000 of them in the U.S.

Stocks rallied on Wall Street and elsewhere around the world on rising hopes that the global economy could start returning to normal in the coming months. Moderna was up 7.5% in the morning, while companies that have benefited from the stay-at-home economy were down, including Zoom, Peloton and Netflix.

Dr. Stephen Hoge, Moderna’s president, welcomed the “really important milestone” but said having similar results from two different companies is what’s most reassuring.

“That should give us all hope that actually a vaccine is going to be able to stop this pandemic and hopefully get us back to our lives,” Hoge told The Associated Press. He added: “It won’t be Moderna alone that solves this problem. It’s going to require many vaccines” to meet the global demand.

The National Institutes of Health helped create the vaccine Moderna is manufacturing, and NIH’s director, Dr. Francis Collins, said the exciting news from two companies “gives us a lot of confidence that we’re on the path towards having effective vaccines.”

But “we’re also at this really dark time,” he warned, saying people can’t let down their guard during the months it will take for doses of any vaccines cleared by the Food and Drug Administration to start reaching a large share of the population.

Scientists not involved with the testing were encouraged by the early findings but cautioned that the FDA still must scrutinize the safety data and decide whether to allow vaccinations outside of a research study.

“We’re not to the finish line yet,” said Dr. James Cutrell, an infectious disease expert at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. “If there’s an impression or perception that there’s just a rubber stamp, or due diligence wasn’t done to look at the data, that could weaken public confidence.”

If the FDA allows emergency use of Moderna’s or Pfizer’s candidate, there will be limited, rationed supplies before the end of the year.

Both vaccines require people to get two shots, several weeks apart. U.S. officials said they hope to have about 20 million Moderna doses and another 20 million doses of the vaccine made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech to use in late December.

Exactly who is first in line is yet to be decided. But Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the hope is that enough doses are available by the end of January to vaccinate adults over 65, who are at the highest risk from the coronavirus, and health care workers. Fauci said it may take until spring or summer for enough for anyone who is not high risk and wants a shot to get one.

States are gearing up for what is expected to be the biggest vaccination campaign in U.S. history. First the shots have to arrive where they’re needed, and Pfizer’s must be kept at ultra-cold temperatures — around minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit. Moderna’s vaccine also starts off frozen, but the company said Monday it can be thawed and kept in a regular refrigerator for 30 days, easing that concern.

Another important message: Additional vaccines that work in different ways are still in testing — and despite the promising news about Moderna’s and Pfizer’s shots, more volunteers are needed for those studies.

Moderna’s vaccine is being studied in 30,000 volunteers who received either the real thing or a dummy shot. On Sunday, an independent monitoring board examined 95 infections that were recorded after volunteers’ second shot — and only five of the illnesses occurred among people given the real vaccine.

The study is continuing, and Moderna acknowledged the protection rate might change as more COVID-19 infections are detected. Also, it’s too soon to know how long protection lasts. Both cautions apply to Pfizer’s vaccine as well.

But Moderna’s independent monitors reported some additional, promising tidbits: All 11 severe COVID-19 cases were among placebo recipients, and there were no significant safety concerns. The main side effects were fatigue, muscle aches and injection-site pain after the second dose.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts, company’s vaccine is among 11 candidates in late-stage testing around the world, four of them in huge studies in the U.S.

Both Moderna’s shots and the Pfizer-BioNTech candidate are so-called mRNA vaccines, a brand-new technology. They aren’t made with the coronavirus itself, meaning there’s no chance anyone could catch it from the shots. Instead, the vaccine contains a piece of genetic code that trains the immune system to recognize the spiked protein on the surface of the virus.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla tweeted that that he was thrilled at Moderna’s news, saying, “Our companies share a common goal — defeating this dreaded disease.”

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

With GOP win in Alaska, control of Senate pushes to January

By LISA MASCARO for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Control of the Senate won’t be decided until the new year after Republicans won a seat in Alaska on Wednesday. Neither party can lock the majority until January runoffs in Georgia.

Incumbent Alaska GOP Sen. Dan Sullivan defeated Al Gross, an independent running as a Democrat.

Sen. Dan Sullivan, right front, R-Alaska, poses for a photograph with supporter Rolando Torralba at a campaign party Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/Michael Dinneen)

With Democratic President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, Republicans are still short of the 51 seats they need for majority control. They have a 49-48 hold on the Senate with the Alaska win, but two races in Georgia are heading to a Jan. 5 runoff.

The race in North Carolina remains too early to call. There, Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham has conceded to Republican Sen. Thom Tillis.

With Biden, the path to keeping Senate control is more difficult for Republicans. The vice president of the party in power, which on Jan. 20 will be Kamala Harris, is the tie-breaker. That means if Republicans only have 50 seats, Democrats control the Senate. Republicans would need 51 senators to overcome that.

The Georgia runoff elections, set for Jan. 5, are swiftly becoming a showdown over control of the chamber. The state is closely divided, with Democrats making gains on Republicans, fueled by a surge of new voters. But no Democrat has been elected senator in some 20 years.

GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler will face Rafael Warnock, a Black pastor from the church where Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached. And Republican Sen. David Perdue, a top Trump ally, will face Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff.

US hits record COVID-19 hospitalizations amid virus surge

By MIKE STOBBE for the Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. hit a record number of coronavirus hospitalizations Tuesday and surpassed 1 million new confirmed cases in just the first 10 days of November amid a nationwide surge of infections that shows no signs of slowing.

FILE – In this Oct. 28, 2020, file photo, a worker wearing gloves, and other PPE holds a tablet computer as he waits to check people at a King County coronavirus testing site in Auburn, Wash., south of Seattle. The latest surge in U.S. coronavirus cases appears to be larger and more widespread than the two previous ones, and it is all but certain to get worse. But experts say there are also reasons to think the nation is better able to deal with the virus than before, with the availability of better treatments, wider testing and perhaps greater political will. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

The new wave appears bigger and more widespread than the surges that happened in the spring and summer — and threatens to be worse. But experts say there are also reasons to think the nation is better able to deal with the virus this time around.

“We’re definitely in a better place” when it comes to improved medical tools and knowledge, said William Hanage, a Harvard University infectious-disease researcher.

Newly confirmed infections in the U.S. were running at all-time highs of well over 100,000 per day, pushing the total to more than 10 million and eclipsing 1 million since Halloween. There are now 61,964 people hospitalized, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

Several states posted records Tuesday, including over 12,600 new cases in Illinois, 10,800 in Texas and 7,000 in Wisconsin.

Deaths — a lagging indicator, since it takes time for people to get sick and die — are climbing again, reaching an average of more than 930 a day.

Hospitals are getting slammed. And unlike the earlier outbreaks, this one is not confined to a region or two.

“The virus is spreading in a largely uncontrolled fashion across the vast majority of the country,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious-disease expert at Vanderbilt University.

Governors made increasingly desperate pleas for people to take the fight against the virus more seriously.

In an unusual prime-time speech hours after Wisconsin set new records for infections and deaths, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers announced that he was advising people to stay in their houses and businesses to allow people to work remotely, require masks and limit the number of people in stores and offices.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, ordered bars and restaurants to close at 10 p.m., and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, said she will require masks at indoor gatherings of 25 or more people, inching toward more stringent measures after months of holding out.

While deaths are still well below the U.S. peak of about 2,200 per day back in April, some researchers estimate the nation’s overall toll will hit about 400,000 by Feb. 1, up from about 240,000 now.

But there is also some good news.

Doctors now better know how to treat severe cases, meaning higher percentages of the COVID-19 patients who go into intensive care units are coming out alive. Patients have the benefit of new treatments, namely remdesivir, the steroid dexamethasone and an antibody drug that won emergency-use approval from the Food and Drug Administration on Monday. Also, testing is more widely available.

In addition, a vaccine appears to be on the horizon, perhaps around the end of the year, with Pfizer this week reporting early results showing that its experimental shots are a surprising 90% effective at preventing the disease.

And there’s a change pending in the White House, with President-elect Joe Biden vowing to rely on a highly respected set of medical advisers and carry out a detailed coronavirus plan that experts say includes the kind of measures that will be necessary to bring the surge under control.

Biden pledged during the campaign to be guided by science, make testing free and widely available, hire thousands of health workers to undertake contact-tracing, and instruct the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide clear, expert advice.

“We are already seeing encouraging signs from President-elect Biden with regard to his handling of COVID-19,” said Dr. Kelly Henning, a veteran epidemiologist who heads the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ public health programs.

“I am relieved to see he’s already put some of the smartest scientific minds on his new coronavirus task force and that they are acting urgently to try and get the pandemic under control as quickly as possible,” Henning said.

While the first surge in the Northeast caught many Americans unprepared and cut an especially deadly swath through nursing homes, the second crest along the nation’s Southern and Western rim was attributed mostly to heedless behavior, particularly among young adults over Memorial Day and July Fourth, and hot weather that sent people indoors, where the virus spreads more easily.

The fall surge similarly has been blamed largely on cold weather driving people inside and disdain for masks and social distancing, stoked by President Donald Trump and other politicians.

Even in parts of the country that have been through coronavirus surges before, “you see people breaking out of it” and letting their guard down, Schaffner said.

“There really is COVID fatigue that is blending into COVID annoyance,” he said.

The short-term outlook is grim, with colder weather and Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s ahead. Generations of family members gathering indoors for meals for extended periods “is not a recipe for anything good,” Hanage said.

Other factors could contribute to the spread of the virus in the coming weeks: Last weekend saw big street celebrations and protests over the election. On Saturday night, an upset victory by Notre Dame’s football team sent thousands of students swarming onto the field, many without masks.

Meanwhile, the next two months will see a lame-duck Congress and a president who might be even less inclined than before to enact disease-control measures. Those voted out of office or no longer worried about reelection for at least two more years, “are not going to be motivated to do a fantastic job,” Hanage said.

Experts are increasingly alarmed about the virus’s resurgence in places like Massachusetts, which has seen a dramatic rise in cases since Labor Day, blamed largely on young people socializing.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker is warning that the health care system could become overwhelmed this winter, and he recently ordered restaurants to stop table service, required many businesses to close by 9:30 p.m., and instructed residents to stay home between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Brooke Nichols, a professor and infectious-disease mathematical modeler at Boston University School of Public Health, said the governor’s actions don’t go far enough.

“Right now because of the exponential growth, throw the kitchen sink at this, and then you can do it for not as long,” Nichols said.

Meanwhile, political leaders in a number of newer coronavirus hot spots are doing less. In hard-hit South Dakota, Gov. Kristi Noem has made it clear she will not institute a mask requirement and has voiced doubt in health experts who say face coverings prevent infections from spreading.

Even higher case and death rates have been seen in North Dakota, where many people have refused to wear masks. Gov. Doug Burgum has pleaded with people to do so, and praised local towns and cities that have mandated masks. But he has avoided requiring masks himself.

Both Noem and Burgum are Republicans and have taken positions in line with those of the president.

“It would be simplistic to say it’s a red-vs.-a-blue experience, but it does kind of go along party lines of whether people took it seriously, tried to prevent it and took painful measures, versus those who said, ‘Let it rip,’” said Dr. Howard Markel, a public health historian at the University of Michigan.

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Associated Press writer Alanna Durkin Richer in Boston contributed to this report.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Trump faces calls to work with Biden team on transition

By WILL WEISSERT for the Associated Press

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — President Donald Trump is facing pressure to cooperate with President-elect Joe Biden’s team to ensure a smooth transfer of power when the new administration takes office in January.

The General Services Administration is tasked with formally recognizing Biden as president-elect, which begins the transition. But the agency’s Trump-appointed administrator, Emily Murphy, has not started the process and has given no guidance on when she will do so.

President-elect Joe Biden speaks Monday, Nov. 9, 2020, at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

That lack of clarity is fueling questions about whether Trump, who has not publicly recognized Biden’s victory and has falsely claimed the election was stolen, will impede Democrats as they try to establish a government.

There is little precedent in the modern era of a president erecting such hurdles for his successor. The stakes are especially high this year because Biden will take office amid a raging pandemic, which will require a comprehensive government response.

“America’s national security and economic interests depend on the federal government signaling clearly and swiftly that the United States government will respect the will of the American people and engage in a smooth and peaceful transfer of power,” Jen Psaki, a Biden transition aide, tweeted Sunday.

The advisory board of the nonpartisan Center for Presidential Transition also urged the Trump administration to “immediately begin the post-election transition process and the Biden team to take full advantage of the resources available under the Presidential Transition Act.”

Biden, who was elected the 46th president on Saturday, is taking steps to build a government despite questions about whether Trump will offer the traditional assistance.

He is focusing first on the virus, which has already killed nearly 240,000 people in the United States. Biden on Monday announced details of a task force that will create a blueprint to attempt to bring the pandemic under control that he plans to begin implementing after assuming the presidency on Jan. 20.

Former Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, ex-Food Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. David Kessler and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, a Yale University associated professor and associate dean whose research focuses on promoting health care equality for marginalized populations, are its co-chairs.

Biden pledged in remarks Monday to work with “governors and local leaders of both parties” to craft a response to the coronavirus pandemic and called on Americans to “put aside the partisanship and the rhetoric that’s designed to demonize one another” and come together to fight the virus.

“It’s time to end the politicization of basic responsible public health steps, like mask wearing, social distancing,” he said. “We have to come together to heal the soul of this country so that we can effectively address this crisis as one country, where hardworking Americans have each other’s backs, and we’re united in our shared goal: defeating this virus.”

In his statement announcing the task force, Biden said that tackling the pandemic is “one of the most important battles our administration will face, and I will be informed by science and by experts.”

“The advisory board will help shape my approach to managing the surge in reported infections; ensuring vaccines are safe, effective and distributed efficiently, equitably and free; and protecting at-risk populations,” he said.

There are also 10 members, including two former Trump administration officials: Rick Bright, who said he was ousted as head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority after criticizing the federal government’s response to the coronavirus, and Luciana Borio, who until last year was a biodefense specialist on the National Security Council.

The remainder of the panel includes experts with expertise in a number of areas, including Eric Goosby, who was President Barack Obama’s global AIDS coordinator.

Biden was also launching agency review teams, groups of transition staffers that have access to key agencies in the current administration. They will collect and review information such as budgetary and staffing decisions, pending regulations and other work in progress from current Trump administration staff at the departments to help Biden’s team prepare to transition.

But that process can’t begin in full until the GSA recognizes Biden as president-elect. The definition of what constitutes a clear election winner for the GSA is legally murky, making next steps unclear, especially in the short term.

The GSA’s leadership is supposed to act independently and in a nonpartisan manner, and at least some elements of the federal government already have begun implementing transition plans. Aviation officials, for instance, have restricted the airspace over Biden’s lakefront home in Wilmington, Delaware, while the Secret Service has begun using agents from its presidential protective detail for the president-elect and his family.

George W. Bush, the only living Republican former president, called Biden “a good man, who has won his opportunity to lead and unify our country.”

But other Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, urged Trump to continue pursuing legal challenges related to the election, making a bumpy transition more likely.

Transition planning also may hinge on two Senate races in Georgia that have advanced to a Jan. 5 runoff. If Republicans hold those seats, they’ll likely retain the Senate majority and be in a position to slow confirmation of Biden’s top Cabinet choices and complicate his legislative goals, including calls for expanding access to health care and bolstering the post-pandemic economy with green jobs and infrastructure designed to combat climate change.

That could test Biden’s campaign pledge to move past the divisiveness of the Trump era and govern in a bipartisan manner.

While Biden’s aides acknowledged it would be easier for him to get his proposals enacted with Democrats controlling the Senate, Stef Feldman, the policy director on his campaign, said Biden has been known for working with Republicans to move legislation.

“The president-elect’s plan will remain the president-elect’s plans regardless of who wins the Senate majority, and he will work with colleagues across the aisle in order to get it done,” she said.

Those close to Biden say he will navigate the period ahead by harnessing his sense of empathy that became a trademark of his campaign. Biden often spoke of the pain he experienced following the deaths of his first wife and young daughter in a 1972 car crash, and son Beau’s 2015 death from brain cancer.

“My brother knows how to feel,” said Valerie Biden Owens, Biden’s sister and longtime top adviser. “Joe’s strength has been resilience and recovery, and that’s what we need as a country.”

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Associated Press writer Zeke Miller in Washington and Aamer Madhani contributed to this report.

Pfizer says COVID-19 vaccine is looking 90% effective

By LINDA A. JOHNSON and LAURAN NEERGAARD for the Associated Press

Pfizer said Monday that early results from its coronavirus vaccine suggest the shots may be a surprisingly robust 90% effective at preventing COVID-19, putting the company on track to apply later this month for emergency-use approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

FILE – This May 4, 2020, file photo provided by the University of Maryland School of Medicine, shows the first patient enrolled in Pfizer’s COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. On Monday, Nov. 9, 2020, Pfizer said an early peek at its vaccine data suggests the shots may be 90% effective at preventing COVID-19. (Courtesy of University of Maryland School of Medicine via AP, File)

The announcement, less than a week after an election seen as a referendum on President Donald Trump’s handling of the crisis, was a rare and major piece of encouraging news lately in the battle against the scourge that has killed more than 1.2 million people worldwide, including almost a quarter-million in the United States alone.

“We’re in a position potentially to be able to offer some hope,” Dr. Bill Gruber, Pfizer’s senior vice president of clinical development, told The Associated Press. “We’re very encouraged.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top-infectious disease expert, said the results suggesting 90% effectiveness are “just extraordinary,” adding: “Not very many people expected it would be as high as that.”

“It’s going to have a major impact on everything we do with respect to COVID,” Fauci said as Pfizer appeared to take the lead in the all-out global race by pharmaceutical companies and various countries to develop a well-tested vaccine against the virus.

Dr. Bruce Aylward, the World Health Organization’s senior adviser, said that Pfizer’s vaccine could “fundamentally change the direction of this crisis” by March, when the U.N. agency hopes to start vaccinating high-risk groups.

Still, Monday’s announcement doesn’t mean for certain that a vaccine is imminent: This interim analysis, from an independent data monitoring board, looked at 94 infections recorded so far in a study that has enrolled nearly 44,000 people in the U.S. and five other countries. Some participants got the vaccine, while others got dummy shots.

Pfizer Inc. cautioned that the protection rate might change by the time the study ends. Even revealing such early data is highly unusual.

Dr. Jesse Goodman of Georgetown University, former chief of the FDA’s vaccine division, called the partial results “extremely promising” but ticked off many questions still to be answered, including how long the vaccine’s effects last and whether it protects older people as well as younger ones.

Also, whenever a vaccine does arrive, initial supplies will be scarce and rationed, with priority likely to be given to health care workers and others on the front lines. Pfizer has estimated that 50 million doses of its two-shot vaccine could be available globally by the end of 2020, which could cover 25 million people.

Global markets, already buoyed by the victory of President-elect Joe Biden, exploded on the news from Pfizer. The S%P 500 surged 3.7% after the opening bell, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up more than 1,300 points. Pfizer jumped more than 9%. Other vaccine stocks were up as well.

Trump, who had suggested repeatedly during the presidential campaign that a vaccine could be ready by Election Day, tweeted: “STOCK MARKET UP BIG, VACCINE COMING SOON. REPORT 90% EFFECTIVE. SUCH GREAT NEWS!”

Biden, for his part, welcomed the news but cautioned that it could be many months before vaccinations become widespread in the U.S., and he warned Americans to rely on masks and social distancing in the meantime.

News of the possible breakthrough came ahead of what could be a terrible winter in the U.S., with tens of thousands more coronavirus deaths feared in the coming months. Confirmed infections in the United States were expected to eclipse 10 million on Monday, the highest in the world. Cases are running at all-time highs of more than 100,000 per day.

The timing of Pfizer’s announcement is likely to feed unsubstantiated suspicions from Trump supporters that the pharmaceutical industry was withholding the news until after the election. Donald Trump Jr. tweeted: “The timing of this is pretty amazing. Nothing nefarious about the timing of this at all right?”

Pfizer Chairman and CEO Albert Bourla said on CNBC that the election was always an artificial deadline and that the data was going to be ready when it was ready. The independent data monitors met on Sunday, analyzing the COVID-19 test results so far and notifying Pfizer.

“I am very happy,” Bourla said, “but at the same time, sometimes I have tears in my eyes when I realize that this is the end of nine months, day-and-night work of so many people and how many people, billions, invested hopes on this.”

He added: “I never thought it would be 90%.”

Scientists have warned for months that any COVID-19 shot may be only as good as flu vaccines, which are about 50% effective and require yearly immunizations. Earlier this year, Fauci said he would be happy with a COVID-19 vaccine that was 60% effective.

Pfizer opted not to join the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed, which helped a half-dozen drugmakers accelerate their vaccine testing and helped fund the work. Instead, Pfizer funded all its testing and manufacturing costs itself. The company said it has invested billions of dollars.

The president’s boasts that a vaccine could be ready before Election Day raised fears that the Trump administration might pressure regulators and scientists to cut corners for political gain. After the first presidential debate, Bourla told his employees he was disappointed their work was being dragged into political debates and pledged the company was “moving at the speed of science.”

The shots, made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, are among 10 possible vaccine candidates in late-stage testing around the world — four of them so far in huge studies in the U.S. Another U.S. company, Moderna Inc., also hopes to file an application with the FDA this month.

Volunteers in the final-stage studies, and the researchers, don’t know who received the real vaccine or a dummy shot. But a week after their second dose, Pfizer’s study began counting the number who developed COVID-19 symptoms and were confirmed to have the coronavirus.

Because the Pfizer study hasn’t ended, Gruber couldn’t say how many in each group had infections. But the math suggests that almost all the infections counted so far had to have occurred in people who got the dummy shots.

Pfizer doesn’t plan to stop its study until it records 164 infections among all the volunteers, a number that the FDA has agreed is enough to tell how well the vaccine is working. The agency has made clear that any vaccine must be at least 50% effective.

No participant so far has become severely ill, Gruber said. He could not provide a breakdown of how many of the infections had occurred in older people, who are at highest risk from COVID-19.

Participants were tested only if they developed symptoms, leaving unanswered whether vaccinated people could get infected but show no symptoms and unknowingly spread the virus.

Fauci said that the Pfizer vaccine and virtually all others in testing target the spike protein the coronavirus uses to infect cells, so the latest results validate that approach.

Public Citizen, the consumer advocacy group, called the release of the preliminary and incomplete data “bad science” and said that any enthusiasm over the results “must be tempered” until they are reviewed by the FDA and its independent experts.

“Crucial information absent from the companies’ announcement is any evidence that the vaccine prevents serious COVID-19 cases or reduces hospitalizations and deaths due to the disease,” the organization said.

FDA has told companies they must track half their participants for side effects for at least two months, the period when problems typically crop up. Pfizer expects to reach that milestone later this month.

Because the pandemic is still raging, manufacturers hope to get permission from governments around the world for emergency use of their vaccines while additional testing continues. That would allow them to get their vaccines to market faster, but it also raises safety concerns.

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AP writers Marilynn Marchione, Frank Jordans and Charles Sheehan contributed to this report.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Italy shuts down 4 regions as Europe tries lighter lockdowns

By COLLEEN BARRY for the Associated Press

MILAN (AP) — Luxury fashion boutiques, jewelry shops and most of Milan’s flagship department stores were shuttered Friday, as the center of Italy’s vibrant financial capital fell into a gray quiet on the first day of a partial lockdown in four regions aimed at stopping the coronavirus’s resurgence.

The new restrictions — which led to closures of a patchwork of nonessential businesses — allow a great deal more freedom than Italy’s near-total 10-week lockdown that started in March, but nonetheless brought recriminations from regional governments that feel unfairly targeted. In particular, the south, which was largely spared in the spring, chafed the most, despite concerns that its weaker health care system was especially vulnerable.

Italy’s move echoes those in many parts of Europe, where infections are rising again, but governments have been reluctant to impose the kind of nationwide shutdowns they did in the spring because of the terrible economic damage they did. For instance, many European countries have opted to keep schools open — making work easier for parents — while shutting bars and restaurants and many shops.

Even the lighter restrictions this time around, however, are drawing stiff criticism — especially in countries like Britain and Italy where they have exacerbated regional tensions.

Under Italy’s complicated 21-point formula, the northern regions of Lombardy, Piedmont and Valle d’Aosta and the southern region of Calabria, the toe of Italy’s boot, faced increased restrictions for the next 15 days, including the closure of all nonessential stores, take-out only for bars and restaurants, distance learning for students 12 and over and a ban on leaving hometowns except for work, health or other serious reasons.

Sicily and Puglia, two other southern regions, fell into a second tier of restrictions, while the rest of the country maintained more freedom of movement but with a 10 p.m. curfew and restaurants closings at 6 p.m.

In Rome, Italy’s health minister faced Parliament to defend the government’s handling of the new phase of the crisis amid concerns the government has too often bypassed lawmakers during the pandemic.

“In a great country like Italy, this cannot be the field of a political battle,” Roberto Speranza said, noting that the criteria being applied had been in place since April without dissent. “I say this with all my strength and from my heart: Enough. Don’t fuel polemics.”

Speranza said the lockdowns were a necessity as the number of confirmed infections skyrockets and deaths reach highs not seen since the spring.

The restrictions took effect the day Italy hit a new all-time high of single-day confirmed infections — 37,809 — and registered the highest number of deaths — 446 — since spring. Lombardy’s latest caseload surged to nearly 10,000, accounting for more than 25% of Italy’s new confirmed infections on Friday.

“Maybe people are getting used to seeing 400 dead. That number would have people petrified in front of their TV sets. Now people seem more indifferent,” Luca Zerbini, a lawyer drinking a take-out cup of coffee near the Duomo cathedral.

In Calabria, the governor vowed to fight the restrictions. And some mayors in the Lombardy in cities that suffered in the first lockdown but are less hard-hit now have pushed for restrictions to vary by province and not by the larger category of region.

Milan’s mayor, Giuseppe Sala, rejected such differential treatment within regions, which share a common health care system. “I invite Milanese to stay home as much as possible in these very difficult days,″ Sala said Friday.

All was quiet in the city, where even the lines that usually form in front of popular takeaway sandwich shops — still allowed to be open — were nowhere to be seen. The hodgepodge of shops considered “necessary” includes hairdressers, cosmetic and perfume stores, florists, and sweet shops alongside grocery stores — but not ice cream parlors or pastry shops. That created the odd situation where the flagship Rinascente department store was open only to customers wanting to access the ground floor for cosmetics, the 7th-floor food court or the penthouse hair salon.

That patchwork reflects efforts to balance slowing the virus’s spread with protecting the battered economy — and it can be seen across Europe. Many fear that businesses that suffered in the spring won’t survive new restrictions this time around.

In France, bookshops have been shut, and Paris’ landmark English-language store Shakespeare and Company appealed to readers for support. And it got it, receiving 5,000 online orders in one week, compared with the usual 100.

But even as politicians keep a wary eye on the economy, they are also concerned about pressure on their strained health systems.

Luca Zaia, governor of the northern Italian region of Veneto region, said that the deaths in his region were mostly among people over 70 while most infections were among the young, underlining the necessity for people to observe new rules even in one of the regions with the lightest restrictions.

“We are entering the most critical phase,” Zaia said, noting that if the situation worsens they will have to halt other medical procedures to find beds for COVID-19 patients.

Germany’s health minister has warned of hard times ahead unless the country can “break” the rising trajectory of coronavirus cases, which has doubled the number of patients in intensive care in just 10 days and set a new record of over 21,500 new confirmed cases on Friday.

And the French government is supplying quick virus tests to nursing homes around the country and to the nation’s biggest airport, Paris’ Charles de Gaulle. The tests are cheap and fast, but experts say they are also less accurate than the standard ones. Nursing homes in France, Spain and other European countries saw tremendous numbers of deaths in the first surge.

“The second wave is here, and it is violent,” French Health Minister Olivier Veran warned Thursday night, while urging people to respect a partial national lockdown.

In Denmark, meanwhile, more than a quarter-million people were put on lockdown in a northern region where a mutated variation of the coronavirus infected a mink farm. Although there was no evidence the mutation posed a threat to people, Danish authorities were taking no chances and ordered millions of the animals to be killed.

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Follow AP’s coronavirus pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/virus-outbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

Biden on cusp of presidency after gains in Pennsylvania

By JONATHAN LEMIRE, ZEKE MILLER, JILL COLVIN and WILL WEISSERT for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrat Joe Biden was on the cusp of winning the presidency on Friday as he opened up narrow leads over President Donald Trump in the critical battlegrounds of Georgia and Pennsylvania.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden removes his face mask to speak at The Queen theater, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Those put Biden in a stronger position to capture the 270 Electoral College votes needed to take the White House. The winner will lead a country facing a historic set of challenges, including a surging pandemic and deep political polarization.

The focus on Pennsylvania, where Biden led Trump by more than 9,000 votes, and Georgia, where Biden led by more than 1,500, came as Americans entered a third full day after the election without knowing who will lead them for the next four years. The prolonged process added to the anxiety of a nation whose racial and cultural divides were inflamed during the heated campaign.

Biden was at his home in Wilmington, Delaware, as the vote count continued and aides said he would address the nation in primetime. Trump remained in the White House residence as more results trickled in, expanding Biden’s lead in must-win Pennsylvania. In the West Wing, televisions remained tuned to the news amid trappings of normalcy, as reporters lined up for coronavirus tests and outdoor crews worked on the North Lawn on a mild, muggy fall day.

Trump’s campaign, meanwhile, was quiet — a dramatic difference from the day before, when it held a morning conference call projecting confidence and held a flurry of hastily arranged press conferences announcing litigation in key states.

With his pathway to reelection appearing to greatly narrow, Trump was testing how far he could go in using the trappings of presidential power to undermine confidence in the vote.

On Thursday, he advanced unsupported accusations of voter fraud to falsely argue that his rival was trying to seize power in an extraordinary effort by a sitting American president to sow doubt about the democratic process.

“This is a case when they are trying to steal an election, they are trying to rig an election,” Trump said from the podium of the White House briefing room.

The president pledged on Friday, in a statement, to pursue challenges “through every aspect of the law” but also suggested that his fight was “no longer about any single election.” Biden spent Thursday trying to ease tensions and project a more traditional image of presidential leadership. After participating in a coronavirus briefing, he declared that “each ballot must be counted.”

“I ask everyone to stay calm. The process is working,” Biden said. “It is the will of the voters. No one, not anyone else who chooses the president of the United States of America.”

Trump showed no sign of giving up and was was back on Twitter around 2:30 a.m. Friday, insisting the “U.S. Supreme Court should decide!”

Trump’s erroneous claims about the integrity of the election challenged Republicans now faced with the choice of whether to break with a president who, though his grip on his office grew tenuous, commanded sky-high approval ratings from rank-and-file members of the GOP. That was especially true for those who are eyeing presidential runs of their own in 2024.

Maryland GOP Gov. Larry Hogan, a potential presidential hopeful who has often criticized Trump, said unequivocally: “There is no defense for the President’s comments tonight undermining our Democratic process. America is counting the votes, and we must respect the results as we always have before.”

But others who are rumored to be considering a White House run of their own in four years aligned themselves with the incumbent, including Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who tweeted support for Trump’s claims, writing that “If last 24 hours have made anything clear, it’s that we need new election integrity laws NOW.”

Trump’s campaign engaged in a flurry of legal activity to try to improve the Republican president’s chances, saying it would seek a recount in Wisconsin and file lawsuits in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia.

Judges in Georgia and Michigan quickly dismissed Trump campaign lawsuits there on Thursday.

In Pennsylvania, officials were not allowed to process mail-in ballots until Election Day under state law. It’s a form of voting that has skewed heavily in Biden’s favor after Trump spent months claiming without proof that voting by mail would lead to widespread voter fraud.

Mail ballots from across the state were overwhelmingly breaking in Biden’s direction. A final vote total may not be clear for days because the use of mail-in ballots, which take more time to process, has surged as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Trump campaign said it was confident the president would ultimately pull out a victory in Arizona, where votes were also still being counted, including in Maricopa County, the state’s most populous area. The AP has declared Biden the winner in Arizona and said Thursday that it was monitoring the vote count as it proceeded.

“The Associated Press continues to watch and analyze vote count results from Arizona as they come in,” said Sally Buzbee, AP’s executive editor. “We will follow the facts in all cases.”

Trump’s campaign was lodging legal challenges in several states, though he faced long odds. He would have to win multiple suits in multiple states in order to stop vote counts, since more than one state was undeclared.

Some of the Trump team’s lawsuits only demand better access for campaign observers to locations where ballots are being processed and counted. A judge in Georgia dismissed the campaign’s suit there less than 12 hours after it was filed. And a Michigan judge dismissed a Trump lawsuit over whether enough GOP challengers had access to handling of absentee ballots

Biden attorney Bob Bauer said the suits were legally “meritless.” Their only purpose, he said “is to create an opportunity for them to message falsely about what’s taking place in the electoral process.”

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Weissert reported from Wilmington, Delaware. Associated Press writers Colleen Long and Alexandra Jaffe in Washington contributed to this report.

Judge rejects moving trial of ex-officers in Floyd’s death

By STEVE KARNOWSKI and AMY FORLITI for the Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A judge on Thursday rejected defense requests to move the trial of four former Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd’s death, and also ordered that all four will be tried together instead of separately.

FILE – This combination of file photos provided by the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office in Minnesota on June 3, 2020, shows, top row from left, Derek Chauvin, and J. Alexander Kueng, bottom row from left, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao. A judge on Thursday, Nov. 5 declined defense requests to move the trial of the four Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd’s death, and also ruled that all four would be tried in a single proceeding. (Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office via AP, File)

Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill ruled after defense attorneys had argued that pretrial publicity had made it impossible for the four men to get a fair trial in Minneapolis. They had also cited a Sept. 11 hearing in which the men and their attorneys were confronted by angry protesters outside the courthouse, saying it showed that holding the proceeding in the same area where Floyd died would be unsafe for participants. Defense lawyers had argued that witnesses could be intimidated, and jurors could be affected by chants from a crowd outside.

But Cahill said he was unpersuaded at the moment that moving the trial would improve security, and that he believes the jury can be protected from outside influences.

“No corner of the State of Minnesota has been shielded from pretrial publicity regarding the death of George Floyd. Because of that pervasive media coverage, a change of venue is unlikely to cure the taint of potential prejudicial pretrial publicity,” he wrote.

Cahill said he was willing to revisit the issue later if circumstances warrant. Moving the trial away from Minneapolis to a less diverse area of the state also likely would affect the makeup of the jury, though the judge didn’t address that issue. In a separate order, however, he said the names of the jurors will be kept confidential.

The judge also ruled in another order that the trial can be televised and streamed live from the courtroom.

Defense attorneys had also argued that the men should face separate trials, as each officer tried to diminish their own role in Floyd’s arrest by pointing fingers at the other. But Cahill rejected that too, saying the complications of separate trials were too great and that trying the officers together would “ensure that the jury understands … all of the evidence and the complete picture of Floyd’s death.

“And it would allow this community, this State and the nation to absorb the verdicts for the four defendants at once,” he concluded.

Floyd, a Black man in handcuffs, died May 25 after Derek Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck as he said he couldn’t breathe. Floyd’s death sparked protests in Minneapolis and beyond, and led to a nationwide reckoning on race. All four officers were fired. They are scheduled to stand trial in March.

Chauvin is charged with unintentional second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The three other former officers, Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao, are charged with aiding and abetting both counts.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office is prosecuting the case, said in a statement that the rulings “represent another significant step forward” in the pursuit of justice for Floyd and the community.

“The murder of George Floyd occurred in Minneapolis and it is right that the defendants should be tried in Minneapolis,” Ellison said. “It is also true that they acted in concert with each other and the evidence against them is similar, so it is right to try them in one trial.”

Greece imposes lockdown to avoid worst at hospitals

By ELENA BECATOROS and MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS for the Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — With a surge in coronavirus cases straining health systems in many European countries, Greece announced a nationwide lockdown Thursday in the hopes of stemming a rising tide of patients before its hospitals come under “unbearable” pressure.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that he acted before infection rates reached the levels seen in many neighboring countries because, after years of financial crises that have damaged its health system, it couldn’t afford to wait as long to impose restrictions as others had.

A medical staff member from the National Health Organization (EODY) conducts a rapid COVID test on a man, wearing a face mask with the Greek flag, in Athens, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has announced a nationwide three-week lockdown starting Saturday morning, saying that the increase in the coronavirus infections must be stopped before Greece’s health care system comes under “unbearable” pressure. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

“We must stop this wave,” Mitsotakis said. “I chose once again to take drastic measures sooner rather than later.”

Before the outbreak, Greece had one of the lowest rates of intensive-care beds per capita in Europe. It has since doubled the number to 1,013. But, of the 348 beds dedicated to coronavirus cases, only 128 remain unoccupied.

It’s unlikely that number would’ve been enough to cope with what Mitsotakis said could be 1,000 new hospital admissions over the next 10 days, of which about 150 would likely have required ICU treatment.

On Wednesday, Greece announced a record 18 daily deaths and 2,646 new cases bringing the total confirmed cases to just under 47,000 and deaths to 673 in this country of nearly 11 million. Greece’s rolling average of daily new cases is just over 17 per 100,000 people, as compared to 33 in the United Kingdom, about 47 in Italy and 68 in France. But the prime minister warned Greece also had less margin to respond.

Countries across Europe have imposed tighter restrictions in recent days, but some experts felt those measures were too slow in coming.

Britain’s own lockdown kicked in Thursday, shuttering restaurants, hairdressers and clothing stores until at least Dec. 2. The lockdown decision was an about-face for the government, which had earlier advocated a targeted regional response to the pandemic.

Italy, too, has held off on a nationwide closure, but the government announced that four regions will be put under “red-zone” lockdown for at least two weeks starting Friday, with severe limits imposed when people can leave home. Germany and France have also put some kind of shutdown into effect over the past week.

In Greece, Mitsotakis explained that he acted relatively earlier than others because he could not take the risk of waiting to see whether the effects of measures taken recently would work.

“It could be the case that the measures would have worked, but if they didn’t, then in 15 days the pressure that would have been exerted on the health system would be unbearable,” he said. “That is something that, I will say it again, I can in no way allow.”

The lockdown takes effect at daybreak on Saturday across the country and will last until the end of the month. People will only be allowed to leave their homes for work, physical exercise and medical reasons — and only after sending a text message to authorities.

Shops will shut, although supermarkets and other food stores will remain open. Restaurants will operate on a delivery-only basis.

The measures mirror Greece’s spring lockdown that was credited with keeping the number of infections, deaths and serious COVID-19-related illnesses low.

The main difference this time around is that that kindergartens, primary schools and all grades in special education schools will remain open. High schools will operate by remote learning. Borders will remain open, but anyone arriving from abroad will have to have proof of a negative coronavirus test, Civil Protection Deputy Minister Nikos Hardalias said.

The lockdown comes just ahead of the crucial Christmas shopping season, and Mitsotakis announced additional measures to buoy the economy.

He said workers suspended from their jobs will receive an 800-euro ($950) stipend — 300 euros more than what the government doled out in the spring. Mitsotakis also announced an extension of unemployment benefits.

Greek Finance Minister Christos Staikouras outlined other measures, with a total cost of 3.3 billion euros ($3.9 billion). They include the extension of payment deadlines for taxes and loans. Staikouras said measures taken to tackle the pandemic so far in Greece amount to more than 6% of gross domestic product.

Greece’s lockdown comes as daily infection rates in other European countries kept setting new records.

Germany, which this week enacted a monthlong partial lockdown, recorded nearly 20,000 new coronavirus cases in one day Thursday, its highest level yet.

Poland, Ukraine and the Czech Republic also registered new daily coronavirus infection records on Thursday.

“The situation is quickly changing from difficult to catastrophic. The outbreak is unfolding at the speed of a hurricane,” Ukrainian Health Minister Maksym Stepanov said on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, France is considering tightening a monthlong partial lockdown to stop fast-rising virus hospitalizations and deaths. Despite signs that the country’s infection rate is starting to dip, it remains very high. More disconcertingly, COVID-19 patients now occupy more than 80% of France’s ICU beds, according to the public health agency, a proportion that is still rising quickly.

Paris hospitals are at 92% capacity with 1,050 COVID patients in intensive care and another 600 patients in ICU with other ailments, Paris region health service chief Aurelien Rousseau told public broadcaster France-Info on Thursday.

“There is unprecedented pressure, on hospitals and medics,” Rousseau said. “We have reached the alert level, because to manage, every day we have to cancel a bit more activity” like pre-programmed surgeries.

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Hadjicostis reported from Nicosia, Cyprus.

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Follow AP’s coronavirus pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/virus-outbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

Eta lashes Nicaragua with rains, deadly mudslides

For the Associated Press

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — Tropical Storm Eta spun through northern Nicaragua Wednesday after lashing the country’s Caribbean coast for much of the past day, its floodwaters isolating already remote communities and setting off deadly landslides that killed at least three people.

The storm had weakened from the Category 4 hurricane that battered the coast, but it was moving so slowly and dumping so much rain that much of Central America was on high alert. Eta had sustained winds of 50 mph (80 kph) and was moving westward at 7 mph (11 kph).

A man walks through a flooded road in Okonwas, Nicaragua, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020. Eta weakened from the Category 4 hurricane to a tropical storm after lashing Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast for much of Tuesday, its floodwaters isolating already remote communities and setting off deadly landslides. (AP Photo/Carlos Herrera)

The long-term forecast shows Eta taking a turn over Central America and then reforming in the Caribbean — possibly reaching Cuba on Sunday and Florida on Monday.

Eta was located Wednesday morning 135 miles (215 kilometers) north-northeast of Managua.

Eta came ashore Tuesday afternoon south of Bilwi after stalling just off the coast for hours. The city of about 60,000 had been without power since Monday evening. Corrugated metal roofing and uprooted trees were scattered through its streets. Some 20,000 of the area’s residents were in shelters.

Inland, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) west of where Eta made landfall, two gold miners were killed when a mountainside unleashed tons of mud Tuesday morning. A third miner escaped the slide and sought help.

One body was recovered before rescuers had to suspend recovery efforts due to nightfall and there were fears that more slides could occur as the rain continued, said Lt. Cesar Malespin of the Bonanza Fire Department. Bonanza was getting lashed by strong winds and torrential rain, he said.

The storm also has been drenching neighboring Honduras with rain since at least Sunday, and the country reported its first storm-related death on Tuesday. A 12-year-old girl died in a mudslide in San Pedro Sula, the main population center in northern Honduras, said Marvin Aparicio of Honduras’ emergency management agency.

In Honduras, at least 559 people had to move to shelters or go to relatives’ homes to escape flooding, he said. At least 25 people had been rescued, he said. His agency reported at least six rivers causing significant flooding.

Forecasters said central and northern Nicaragua and much of Honduras could get 15 to 25 inches (380 to 635 millimeters) of rain, with 40 inches (1,000 millimeters) in isolated areas. Heavy rains also were likely in eastern Guatemala, southern Belize and Jamaica.

The quantities of rain expected drew comparisons to 1998’s Hurricane Mitch, one of the most deadly Atlantic hurricanes in history. The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Mitch led to the deaths of more than 9,000 people.

Nicaragua’s remote northeast where Eta made landfall was already isolated before the storm. Crossing the wide Wawa river to reach Bilwi, the main city in the region, requires riding a ferry, which had suspended operations as the storm approached, making driving to the impact zone impossible.

Cairo Jarquin, emergency response project manager in Nicaragua for Catholic Relief Services, said the immediate concern in northeastern Nicaragua after the storm’s passage would be getting water and food to those remote communities.

The majority of the region’s inhabitants are Miskito, who live through subsistence farming or fishing, Jarquin said. Most of their homes are simple wooden structures concentrated in riverside communities that likely suffered heavy damage. They depend on hand-dug wells for drinking water, which he feared would be contaminated by floodwaters.

As the storm continued west toward Nicaragua’s mountains and the border with Honduras concerns grew that it could have devastating impact on the country’s coffee crop — a key export — just as the harvest was set to begin.

Eta already led Honduras to cancel a long weekend that had been scheduled to begin Wednesday. The extra-long weekend was supposed to spur tourism and help the economy strangled by the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, Eta promised to bring several more days of rain to the region.

In the Pacific, Tropical Storm Odalys continued to move across the open ocean and posed no threat to land.

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Associated Press writers Marlon González in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and Christopher Sherman in Mexico City contributed to this report.

Retail therapy, last pints: England readies for new lockdown

By PAN PYLAS for the Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Last-minute shoppers in England were out in force Wednesday and thirsty drinkers planned their final freshly poured pints in a pub for the next month as Britain prepared to join large swathes of Europe in a coronavirus lockdown designed to save its health care system from being overwhelmed.

Shoppers walk along a very busy Oxford Street in London, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, as Britain prepared to join large swathes of Europe in a coronavirus lockdown designed to save its health care system from being overwhelmed. Pubs, along with restaurants, hairdressers and shops selling non-essential items will have to close Thursday until at least Dec. 2. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

All non-essential venues — which in England includes pubs, restaurants, hairdressers, golf courses, gyms, swimming pools, entertainment venues and stores selling items like books, clothing and sneakers — must close Thursday until at least Dec. 2. That ruling came after a sudden change of course last weekend by Britain’s government, which had for weeks been advocating a targeted regional response to the pandemic instead of another national lockdown.

Two changes from the U.K.’s spring lockdown is that this time schools and universities in England are remaining open, as are construction sites and factories.

With time running out to get things sorted out before the lockdown and of Christmas, all types of businesses were reporting brisk business, sometimes on an unprecedented scale.

“This has been the busiest day any of us can remember, but I’m not sure this is the right thing to do,” said Miri Buci, a 30-year-old barber at Dulwich Barbers in southeast London, which was staying open later than usual to cope with the increased demand. “What are we going to do if we don’t get a vaccine? Lock down every few months?”

Many lawmakers in Parliament, particularly from Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party, feel the same way and argued that the new lockdown is too draconian and will further devastate an economy that suffered one of the deepest recessions in the world during the first wave of the pandemic in the spring.

Still, Johnson easily won a vote on the new measures later Wednesday as most opposition lawmakers backed the lockdown.

“I don’t think any government would want to impose these measures lightly, or any parliament would want to impose these measures lightly on the people of this country,” Johnson said.

England’s lockdown follows similar restrictions elsewhere in the U.K., which recorded another 492 COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, the highest daily increase since May. Overall, the U.K. has Europe’s highest official virus-related death toll: 47,742.

It also follows fresh restrictions across the continent and clear signals that the number of people hospitalized — and subsequently dying — from the virus is increasing,

The World Health Organization said European countries recorded a 46% increase in virus deaths compared with the previous week and were responsible for about half the 1.7 million cases reported around the world last week.

In recent days, many European nations — including Belgium, Russia, France, Italy, Poland, Slovenia and the U.K. — have reported their highest daily virus death tolls in months, and sometimes ever. The pandemic has already caused more than 1.2 million confirmed deaths — over 270,000 of them in Europe, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Experts say the true toll, due to missed cases and limited testing, is much higher.

Italy, which suffered badly during the first wave of the pandemic, is also facing new curbs on freedom of movement from Thursday, including a nationwide overnight curfew and high schools placed on full-time distance learning.

The country is expected to be carved up into three zones of contagion with corresponding restrictions on movement, commercial activities and school openings depending on infection rates and hospital capacity. Travel restrictions will prohibit anyone from entering or leaving a hard-hit region and restaurants and shops will close, except for supermarkets and pharmacies.

The northern region of Lombardy, which bore the brunt of the pandemic earlier this year, is reeling under another surge, especially in its financial capital, Milan, and is expected to face harsher restrictions.

Yet elsewhere, earlier restrictions appeared to be producing some results.

Belgium, one of the most-affected nations in Europe, said Wednesday that new coronavirus infections and hospital admissions have started to stabilize after measures like closing pubs and restaurants were introduced weeks ago.

“The high-speed train is slowing down,” said virologist Steven Van Gucht of the Sciensano government health group.

But Van Gucht said it was important that people don’t let their guard down. Belgium has been recording around 1,750 cases per 100,000 people, triple the rates in Italy, Spain or the U.K.

“Let there be no doubt that the tough rules need to be maintained,” he said.

In the Netherlands, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said there were some signs that closing bars and restaurants was working but that further curbs were needed. Beginning Wednesday night, Dutch cinemas, theaters, museums and pools will be closed.

“It’s not going too bad but certainly not good enough,” Rutte told the country. “The infection numbers have to go down quicker.”

Pope Francis urged people to be “very attentive” to measures to prevent coronavirus infections as he switched his weekly general audience Wednesday back to his private library and livestreamed the event. The move seeks to better protect the 83-year-old pope after someone at a recent public audience tested positive.

Not all countries are going down the lockdown route. Russia has shunned a second lockdown, insisting that its health care system is able to cope with the recent surge. Still, Russia on Wednesday reported 19,768 new infections and 389 new deaths — both records.

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Associated Press writers around Europe contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s coronavirus pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/virus-outbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

US voters mark end of election like no other at the polls

By CHRISTINA A. CASSIDY and ANTHONY IZAGUIRRE for the Associated Press

Voters marked the end of an election like no other at the polls on Tuesday, casting the last of what will likely be a record number of ballots despite a global pandemic that has upended long-established election procedures and triggered hundreds of lawsuits.

Voters line up outside Vickery Baptist Church waiting to cast their ballots on Election Day Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Election officials warned that millions of absentee ballots could slow the vote count, perhaps for days, in some key battleground states. President Donald Trump threatened legal action to prevent ballots from being counted after Election Day.

Problems occur every election, and Tuesday was no different. There were long lines early in the day and sporadic reports of polling places opening late, along with equipment issues in counties in Georgia and Ohio. This was all expected given past experience, the decentralized nature of voting in the U.S. and last-minute changes due to the pandemic.

At least 98.8 million people had already voted before Election Day, about 71 percent of the nearly 139 million ballots cast during the 2016 presidential election, according to data collected by The Associated Press. Given that a few states, including Texas, had already exceeded their total 2016 vote count, experts were predicting record turnout this year.

“Come hell or high water,” said Kristen Clarke, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “It feels like that has been the attitude voters have needed to make sure their voices are heard this year.”

Those yet to vote headed to polling places despite another spike in COVID-19 cases that has hit much of the country. Among them were voters who may have wanted to vote by mail but waited too long to request a ballot or those who didn’t receive their ballots in time.

Kaal Ferguson, 26, planned to vote by mail but was concerned he hadn’t left enough time to send his ballot back. So he voted in person in Atlanta, despite worries that he could be exposed to COVID-19 by fellow voters.

“Obviously everybody has their right to vote,” he said. “But it’s kind of scary knowing that there’s not a place just for them to vote if they’d had it, so you could easily be exposed.”

Others were likely persuaded by the president’s rhetoric attacking mail voting or simply preferred to vote in person.

“I don’t want to see no mailman. I like to stand here, see my own people, wait in the line and do my civil duty,” said James “Sekou” Jenkins, a 68 year-old retired carpenter and mechanic who waited about 15 minutes before polls opened in West Philadelphia and voted for Democrat Joe Biden about an hour later.

With Democrats dominating the early vote, Republicans were expected to comprise a large share of Tuesday’s voting.

Federal authorities were monitoring voting and any threats to the election across the country at an operations center just outside Washington D.C. Officials there said there were no major problems detected early Tuesday.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” said Christopher Krebs, the director of the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. “Today, in some sense, is half-time. There may be other events or activities or efforts to interfere and undermine confidence in the election. So I’d ask all Americans to be patient, to treat all sensational and unverified claims with skepticism, and remember technology sometimes fails and breaks.”

Kathleen Thomas, 61, had to vote by paper ballot because of an issue with voting machines at her polling place in Atlanta. She was pleasantly surprised the process took less than an hour but would rather have used a machine.

“If I had a choice I would prefer to cast a ballot into the machine myself,” she said. “But I guess I have no choice. I can’t go to another precinct. I can’t take that chance. I have to vote.”

In the months leading up to Election Day, election officials had to deal with a pandemic that has infected more than 9 million Americans and killed more than 230,000, forcing them to make systemic changes largely on the fly and mostly without federal money. Meanwhile, Trump repeatedly sought to undermine the election with unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud.

He has particularly targeted the crucial battleground state of Pennsylvania, after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed — at least for now — a three-day extension for receiving and counting absentee ballots. Over the weekend, Trump said that as soon as the polls close there on Tuesday, “We’re going in with our lawyers.”

Misinformation about election procedures, concerns about confrontations at the polls and reports of mail slowdowns also clouded the run-up to Election Day.

The National Association of Secretaries of State worked with the National Association of State Election Directors to help states hammer out plans for protecting against foreign and domestic cyberattacks, countering misinformation and strengthening an election infrastructure tested by massive early voting and pandemic precautions.

Election officials across some 10,000 voting jurisdictions scrambled to purchase personal-protective equipment, find larger polling places, replace veteran poll workers who opted to sit out this year’s election due to health concerns and add temporary workers to deal with the avalanche of mail ballots.

Most states, even ones with broad mask mandates, stopped short of forcing voters to wear them at the polls. Instead, they urged voters to don masks while providing options for those who refused.

Lines already extended by social-distancing rules could get worse if large numbers of voters who requested a mail ballot show up at the polls after deciding they would rather vote in person.

In some states, those voters will be required to cast a provisional ballot — one that ultimately will be counted if the voter is eligible and did not previously vote. But this also triggers a lengthier check-in process, leading to delays. Millions of absentee ballots were still outstanding as of Monday, including 1.3 million in Florida and 700,000 in Pennsylvania.

Election officials have emphasized that while long lines are not acceptable, it does not mean there has been any sort of widespread failure. They also warned that isolated incidents of voter intimidation were possible given the level of political rancor this year, but that safeguards are in place and voters should not be concerned about casting a ballot in person.

___ Cassidy reported from Atlanta and Izaguirre from Lindenhurst, N.Y. Associated Press writers Nicholas Riccardi in Denver, Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio, Natalie Pompilio in Philadelphia, Ben Fox in Washington and Sophia Tulp in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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Associated Press coverage of voting rights receives support in part from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

Gunman who killed 4 in Vienna attack had sought to join IS

By PHILIPP JENNE and GEIR MOULSON for the Associated Press

VIENNA (AP) — A man who had previously tried to join the Islamic State group rampaged in Vienna armed with an automatic rifle and a fake explosive vest, fatally shooting four people before he was killed by police, Austrian authorities said Tuesday.

Police officers guard the scene in Vienna, Austria, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. Police in the Austrian capital said several shots were fired shortly after 8 p.m. local time on Monday, Nov. 2, in a lively street in the city center of Vienna. Austria’s top security official said authorities believe there were several gunmen involved and that a police operation was still ongoing. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

Witnesses described dozens of screaming people fleeing the sounds of gunshots Monday night in a nightlife district crowded with revelers enjoying the last hours before a coronavirus lockdown.

Others barricaded themselves inside restaurants for hours until they were sure the danger had passed. Video that appeared to be from the scene showed a gunman, dressed in white coveralls, firing off bursts seemingly at random as he ran down the Austrian capital’s dark cobblestone streets.ADVERTISEMENT

While the attack lasted just minutes, authorities said only on Tuesday afternoon that there was no indication of a second attacker — adding to tension in the capital as residents were urged to stay home.

Two men and two women died from their injuries in the attack — including one German woman, according to Germany’s foreign minister. Authorities said a police officer who tried to get in the way of the attacker was shot and wounded, along with 21 other people.

The suspect was identified as a 20-year-old Austrian-North Macedonian dual citizen with a previous terror conviction for attempting to join the Islamic State group in Syria. Police searched 18 properties as well as the suspect’s apartment, detaining 14 people associated with the assailant who are being questioned, Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said.

“Yesterday’s attack was clearly an Islamist terror attack,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said. “It was an attack out of hatred — hatred for our fundamental values, hatred for our way of life, hatred for our democracy in which all people have equal rights and dignity.”

The attacker, identified as Kujtim Fejzulai, was armed with a fake explosive vest, an automatic rifle, a handgun and a machete, according to Nehammer. Before the attack he posted a photograph on a social media account showing him posing with the rifle and machete, Nehammer said.

Fejzulai was sentenced to 22 months in prison in April 2019 but was granted early release in December.

“The fact is that the terrorist managed to deceive the judicial system’s deradicalization program” to secure his release, Nehammer said, adding that the system should be reevaluated.

He also said that an attempt to strip Fejzulai of his Austrian citizenship had failed for lack of enough evidence.

The Islamic State group on Tuesday claimed credit for the Vienna attack, calling the perpetrator a “soldier of the Caliphate.” The claim of responsibility was published through the militant group’s media arm, Aamaq. It didn’t elaborate on the attacker’s ties to IS and had similar wording to past, opportunistic claims by the group.

IS also released a video through Aamaq of what is said was the attacker, Fejzulai, whom it called Abu Dujana al-Albani — apparently a nom de guerre — showing him pledging allegiance to the Islamic State group. It wasn’t clear when the video was filmed.

In North Macedonia, police said a list of suspects sent by Austria included two others with dual Austrian and North Macedonian citizenship.

In Switzerland, police in the city of Winterthur said an 18-year-old and a 24-year-old were arrested in consultation with Austrian authorities. Investigators are now trying to determine the nature of the two men’s contact with the Vienna suspect.

Some of the circumstances of the Vienna shooting are reminiscent of the case of Usman Khan, who stabbed two people to death in 2019 in central London. Khan had been sentenced to 16 years in prison after being convicted for his role in a plot to bomb the London Stock Exchange. He was released in December 2018 after serving half his sentence, as are most prisoners in Britain. While in prison, Khan had begun working with a program that seeks to rehabilitate criminals through storytelling and workshops.

Nikolaus Rast, Fejzulai’s lawyer in the 2019 case, told public broadcaster ORF that his client had seemed “completely harmless” at the time.

“He was a young man who was searching for his place in society, who apparently went to the wrong mosque, ended up in the wrong circles,” Rast said.

Fejzulai’s family “wasn’t radical,” Rast added. “I still remember that the family couldn’t believe what had happened with their son.”

Authorities worked well into Tuesday to determine whether there were any other attackers, with some 1,000 police officers on duty in the city. People in Vienna were urged to stay at home if possible on Tuesday, and children did not have to go to school.

By mid-afternoon, investigators sifting through copious video evidence had found “no indication of a second perpetrator,” Nehammer said. “But because the evaluation is not yet concluded, we cannot yet say conclusively how many perpetrators are responsible for the crime.”

For the time being, an elevated security level will remain in place in Vienna, he said. The country held a minute of silence at midday Tuesday, accompanied by the tolling of bells in the capital, and the government ordered three days of official mourning, with flags on public buildings to be flown at half-staff.

The shooting began shortly after 8 p.m. Monday near Vienna’s main synagogue as many people were enjoying a last night of open restaurants and bars before a monthlong coronavirus lockdown, which started at midnight.

Nine minutes later, it was over, Nehammer said.

Alois Schroll, an Austrian lawmaker and the mayor of the town of Ybbs, said he had just arrived at a nearby restaurant when the shooting began. He said he “saw many, many people running with their hands up high, they were in a panic and screaming.”

Police “sealed off the entire restaurant,” Schroll, 52, told The Associated Press. “People inside the restaurant were in shock, there were several women who were crying. And it wasn’t until shortly before 1 a.m., that police finally let us out of the restaurant.”

Rabbi Schlomo Hofmeister said he saw at least one person shoot at people sitting outside at bars in the street below his window near the city’s main synagogue.

“They were shooting at least 100 rounds just outside our building,” Hofmeister said.

The attack drew swift condemnation and assurances of support from leaders around Europe, including from French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country has experienced three terror attacks in recent weeks. U.S. President Donald Trump also condemned “yet another vile act of terrorism in Europe.” Britain raised its terror threat level to severe, its second-highest level, following the attack in Austria and others in France.

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Geir Moulson reported from Berlin. Associated Press writers Frank Jordans, Kirsten Grieshaber and David Rising in Berlin, Danica Kirka in London, and Konstantin Testorides in Skopje, North Macedonia, contributed to this report.

Turkish rescuers pull girl from rubble 4 days after quake

By MEHMET GUZEL and SUZAN FRASER for the Associated Press

IZMIR, TURKEY (AP) — Rescuers in the Turkish city of Izmir pulled a young girl out alive from the rubble of a collapsed apartment building Tuesday, four days after a strong earthquake hit Turkey and Greece and as hopes of reaching survivors began to fade.

In this photo provided by the Turkish Gendarmerie, Ayda Gezgin is tended to by a member of rescue services in the rubble of her collapsed building, in Izmir, Turkey, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. Rescuers in the Turkish coastal city pulled Gezgin out alive from the rubble, some four days (91 hours) after a strong earthquake hit Turkey and Greece. The girl was taken into an ambulance, wrapped in a thermal blanket, amid the sounds of cheers and applause from rescue workers. (Turkish Gendarmerie via AP)

Wrapped in a thermal blanket, the girl was taken into an ambulance on a stretcher to the sounds of applause and chants of “God is great!” from rescue workers and onlookers.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca identified her as 3-year-old Ayda Gezgin on Twitter. The child had been trapped inside the rubble for 91 hours since Friday’s quake struck in the Aegean Sea and was the 107th person to have been pulled out of collapsed buildings alive.

After she was pulled from the rubble, little Ayda called out for her mother, in video of the rescue broadcast on television.

But Ayda’s mother did not survive. Her body was found amid the wreckage hours later. Her brother and father were not inside the building at the time of the quake.

Rescuer Nusret Aksoy told reporters that he was sifting through the rubble of the toppled eight-floor building when he heard a child’s scream and called for silence. He later located the girl in a tight space next to a dishwasher.

The girl waved at him, told him her name and said that she was okay, Aksoy said.

“I got goosebumps and my colleague Ahmet cried,” he told HaberTurk television.

Ibrahim Topal, of the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, or IHH said: “My colleague and I looked at each other like ‘Did you hear that, too?’ We listened again. There was a very weak voice saying something like ‘I’m here.’ Then we shut everything down, the machines, and started listening again. And there really was a voice.”

Health ministry officials said the girl was in good condition but would be kept under observation in the hospital for a while. She asked for for meatballs and a yoghurt drink on her way to the hospital, state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

Her rescue came a day after another 3-year-old girl and a 14-year-old girl were also pulled out alive from collapsed buildings in Izmir, Turkey’s third-largest city.

“We will not lose hope (about finding survivors) until our search-and-rescue efforts reach the last person under the wreck,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said following a Cabinet meeting.

Erdogan said around 6,700 people who lost their homes or were too frightened to return to them were being temporarily housed in tents. Authorities on Tuesday began assembling containers homes for the survivors, he added.

Meanwhile, the death toll in the earthquake climbed to 112, after emergency crews retrieved more bodies from toppled buildings in the city. Officials said 138 quake survivors were still hospitalized, and three of them were in serious condition.

The U.S. Geological Survey registered the quake’s magnitude at 7.0, though other agencies recorded it as less severe.

The vast majority of the deaths and some 1,000 injuries occurred in Izmir. Two teenagers also died and 19 people were injured on the Greek island of Samos, near the quake’s epicenter in the Aegean Sea.

The quake also triggered a small tsunami that hit Samos and the Seferihisar district of Izmir province, where one elderly woman drowned. The tremors were felt across western Turkey, including in Istanbul, as well as in the Greek capital of Athens. Hundreds of aftershocks followed.

In Izmir, the quake reduced buildings to rubble or saw floors pancake in on themselves and authorities detained nine people, including contractors, for questioning over the collapse of six of the buildings.

Turkey has a mix of older buildings and cheap or illegal constructions that do not withstand earthquakes well. Regulations have been tightened to strengthen or demolish older buildings, and urban renewal is underway in Turkish cities, but experts say it is not happening fast enough.

The country sits on top of two major fault lines and earthquakes are frequent.

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Suzan Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey.

San Francisco curbs virus but once-vibrant downtown is empty

By JANIE HAR and JOCELYN GECKER for the Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Before the pandemic, Señor Sisig food trucks were a common sight in downtown San Francisco, dishing out Filipino fusion tacos and burritos to long lines of workers who spilled out of office towers at lunch.

The trucks now are gone, forced into the suburbs because there’s practically no one around to feed in the city’s center.

With the Golden Gate Bridge in the background, walkers wear masks while strolling at Crissy Field East Beach in San Francisco on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. As the coronavirus pandemic transforms San Francisco’s workplace, legions of tech workers have left, able to work remotely from anywhere. Families have fled for roomy suburban homes with backyards. The exodus has pushed rents in the prohibitively expensive city to their lowest in years. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

As the coronavirus pandemic transforms San Francisco’s workplace, legions of tech workers have left, able to work remotely from anywhere. Families have fled for roomy suburban homes with backyards. The exodus has pushed rents in the prohibitively expensive city to their lowest in years. Tourists are scarce, and the famed cable cars sit idle.

The food trucks, like many other businesses, are wondering when things will bounce back.

“Is it ever going to get back to normal, is it ever going to be as busy as it was — and will that be next year, or in 10 years?” said Evan Kidera, CEO of Señor Sisig.

On Tuesday, more of San Francisco reopened for business after Mayor London Breed proudly declared last week that the city’s low virus case numbers allowed it to move into California’s most permissive reopening tier. That means more people can go back to the office, eat indoors at restaurants, visit museums and soon even enjoy a beer or cocktail — outdoors — at a bona fide drinks-only bar.

It is the only urban county in the state to hit this tier, joining a handful of sparsely populated rural ones.

In March, counties in the Bay Area jointly ordered their residents to stay at home, becoming the first region in the country to do so. And San Francisco itself was even slower than its neighbors to reopen restaurants, gyms and salons.

The result: San Francisco, which pre-pandemic had nearly 900,000 residents, has recorded just over 12,200 virus cases and 145 deaths, among the lowest death rates in the country. By contrast, the Southern California city of Long Beach is about half the size but has had about 900 more cases and 100 more deaths.

But the restrictions also played a role in shutting down critical elements of San Francisco’s vibrant economy — tourism, tech and the city’s main business and financial districts, packed with high-rise condos, office towers and headquarters for the likes of Twitter, Pinterest and Slack.

There are no hard figures on how many residents have left. It remains to be seen if the limited reopening will do much to repopulate the city.

“San Francisco can say, ‘Hey, it’s cool to open back up.’ But what’s changed?” tech executive Connor Fee said. “The virus is still there, and there’s no vaccine.”

Last week Fee, 38, and his partner moved out of their $4,000-a-month one-bedroom apartment. “We’re both extreme extroverts, so the working from home thing makes us miserable,” he said.

Figuring they could work their jobs remotely from anywhere, they bought a car, packed up the essentials — 24-inch monitors, chef’s knives, bikes and some clothes — and drove south to an Airbnb in San Diego. The plan is a string of trips and temporary stays across the country.

“When we left, we didn’t say goodbyes. We’re not planning to move forever,” Fee said. But their calendar is booked for several months at least.

Others left permanently for nearby suburbs, in search of more living space for less money.

“The spark of living in the city just kind of burned out a bit with everything being closed,” said Deme Peterson, 30, who moved across the bay to her hometown of Walnut Creek with her husband a few weeks ago. “We kind of didn’t see when it would come back to normal.”

The restaurant industry projects half the eateries in a city consumed with innovative dining may not survive the pandemic. Some already have closed. There will be no more eggs benedict, for example, served with a view at Louis’ Restaurant, which has had a prime perch on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean since 1937.

Companies in the nation’s tech capital, where Google, Facebook and Salesforce, the city’s largest employer, have extensive office space, were quick to embrace remote working and when the lockdown came, an estimated 137,500 tech workers seemingly vanished overnight.

San Francisco’s office vacancy rate has since nearly tripled compared with December to 14.1%, the highest since 2011, said Robert Sammons, a senior researcher with commercial real estate group Cushman & Wakefield who is eager to return to his own downtown office.

For Rent and For Sale signs began popping up this summer with increasing frequency — and offering steeply reduced prices. Residential rents that were among the highest in the country have plummeted, with the median price for a one-bedroom apartment dropping 20% to $2,800, according to rental listing platform Zumper. Moving trucks are a common sight on weekends.

Another telling indicator that people weren’t around? While other California cities showed big increases in online sales tax collections as more people ordered from home during the pandemic, that was virtually flat in San Francisco, according to a city report issued earlier this month.

“I don’t know if it’s an exodus, but a lot of people are leaving,” said city historian and author Gary Kamiya, who says the streets of his North Beach-Telegraph Hill neighborhood are full of furniture free for the taking.

Based on the quality and taste of the tables, chairs and works of art he’s seen, including the pair of end tables he grabbed for his daughter, Kamiya figures they were put out by young, “pretty highly paid people.”

Some of the change has been positive. Many of San Francisco’s eclectic neighborhoods are bouncing back, buoyed by pedestrian streets newly closed to vehicles and now filled with outdoor dining and kids on bikes.

But there have been many downsides, including rising break-ins and other types of crime, a worsening homelessness crisis and a spike in open drug use.

In the central Hayes Valley neighborhood, the streets have become so filthy that Kim Alter decided against seating people outdoors at her restaurant, Nightbird.

“I would love to do outdoor seating, but I’d have to worry about needles and feces,” said Alter, the restaurant’s chef and owner, who now regularly power-washes sidewalks outside to remove the stench.

Within a four-block radius, more than two dozen establishments have closed as business dries up and customers disappear, she said: “A lot of our regulars have already moved; they come to us and have their final meal — as takeout.”

For hair stylist Caitlin Boehm, 36, who grew up in San Francisco, the extended closure was the final straw. She’s moving next month to Austin, Texas, seeking a mix of warm weather, an artistic vibe similar to what San Francisco has long been known for and affordability undreamed of in her hometown.

At her new one-bedroom she’ll have a pool, gym, in-unit laundry and dishwasher, all for about $1,600 a month, none of which she had in her $2,700 rental back home.

“I may even be able to buy a house or open my own salon,” Boehm said. “I never allowed myself to even think that big when I was in San Francisco.”

With so many people working remotely, the central financial and retail districts have a long way to go to recapture their pre-pandemic bustle. Nearly 100,000 people riding packed commuter trains used to get off at downtown’s two busiest stops each weekday, most them from the suburbs. Now, Bay Area Rapid Transit ridership is down nearly 90%.

For Debi Gould, 67, who lives in the Rincon Hill neighborhood near the Bay Bridge, the moving trucks, vacant units and departing neighbors have become common.

But the retiree relishes having ample street parking where once there was none and walking her dog along formerly traffic-clogged streets turned calm. She does not miss the throngs of people crowding sidewalks, walking while staring at their smartphones.

“I don’t have to part the Red Sea through pedestrians walking toward me, who would see me and not move,” she said.

That may change somewhat with nonessential offices now allowed to bring a quarter of their workers back. Or at least that’s the hope of Leslie Silverglide, CEO and co-founder of Mixt, a popular chain of salad eateries.

She has managed to keep a few outlets open and acquired some new regulars — construction workers — but the shutdown has been hard, and at first she even found walking alone downtown to be scary at times.

“History will tell us, right?” Silverglide said of the city’s pandemic response. “I’ve felt like in some ways San Francisco has been more extreme than anywhere else in the country. But then you look at what’s happening across the country … case counts going up in so many states and things just spiraling out of control.”

Breed, other city officials and business leaders are adamant that the sacrifices are worth it, and public health director Dr. Grant Colfax said that attitude has been critical to its success, along with top-notch medical facilities, robust testing and memories of the devastation wrought in San Francisco by the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.

“In those days of HIV, there were all sort of issues and unknowns but in general the community came together,” Colfax said. “I think we’re seeing a similar response here.”

Until the pandemic hit, the city’s housing market was so tight that would-be renters lined up for viewings and arrived with thousands of dollars in cash, ready to sign a lease on the spot.

But now landlords are hard-up for tenants and some are offering several months free, said Coldwell Banker realtor Nick Chen, who recently rented out a one-bedroom for $3,150 that before would have easily gone for $4,300.

“San Francisco rents have been really inflated over the past couple years,” Chen said. “It will come back, but I think the question is: Will it come back to the level it was at previously? Maybe not.”

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Associated Press writer Juliet Williams contributed to this report.

Police on curfew patrol as Spain fights nightlife infections

By EMILIO MORENATTI, RENATA BRITO and JOSEPH WILSON for the Associated Press

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — At 10:00 p.m. each night, Barcelona’s professional crime fighters become wet blankets in uniforms.

Police officers fan out across the coastal city in northwestern Spain to break up clandestine parties and to clear the streets of young adults drinking alcohol, enforcing a nationwide curfew the Spanish government ordered to slow down the spread of coronavirus.

People are detained and inspected by Mossos D’Esquadra, the regional police of Catalonia, after curfew in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. Despite a large adherence to the recently re-imposed curfews in Spain, police patrolling Barcelona are still finding young people breaking the rules. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Associated Press journalists accompanied officers from the Mossos d’Esquadra, the police force for Spain’s Catalonia region, on curfew patrol. Compared to the killings, bar brawls or domestic violence calls the officers are used to handling, busting people for being out after hours is easy work.

Yet for European nations battling the resurgence of COVID-19, the assignment is critical.

“These measures save lives,” Catalonia police chief Eduard Sallent said. “We are enforcing a measure that is meant to prevent deaths and the collapse of our health care system.”

Without tourists around to clog Barcelona’s Ciutat Vella, the old town area known for its buzzy late-night scene, patrol cars weaved through labyrinth-like alleys in search of scofflaws with bottles of booze in hand. Officers looked past homeless people and the occasional dog walkers.

They focused on spotting youths who had sneaked out to share a bottle, since the city’s bars and nightclubs closed completely due to the virus, while also watching for anyone who might use the unusually empty streets as an opportunity to loot stores.

Uniformed officers, with some help from plainclothes agents, checked the identities of the people they found out and about and told them to go home. Most obeyed promptly.

Some decided to make a run for it. Officers chased them down and searched them. Young men who resisted were pushed to the ground and briefly handcuffed. One inebriated woman screamed about her rights being violated. Those under 18 were taken to the police station to be retrieved by parents.

Spanish officials cited the Spanish youth custom of gathering on park benches to drink cheap liquor mixed with soft drinks — a practice called “botellón,” Spanish for “big bottle” — as a potential source of infections when Spain first emerged from its strict spring home confinement.

Some of the outdoor get-togethers can reach the level of a “macrobotellón” — mega-big bottle — and attract hundreds of participants. With face masks off and social distance reduced to inches, the partiers are easy targets for the virus.

Catalonia’s regional interior minister, Miquel Sàmper said declaring a curfew across Spain on Oct. 25 was unavoidable after some groups ignored calls to keep personal contacts and opportunities for exposure to a minimum.

“The prohibiting of night-time movement has one goal,” Sàmper said. “For weeks, we have said that no one should go out at night, or meet with several people, or consume alcohol at these parties called ‘botellón.’ But it is obvious from images we have all seen that we have not been successful.”

Over 7 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and over 250,000 virus-related deaths have been reported across Europe since the start of the pandemic. In recent days, European nations from Britain to Italy have reinstituted restrictions ranging from reduced business hours and curfews to partial or near-total lockdowns to control the surge of infections sweeping the continent.

The conflict between reining in personal desires for the greater public good or giving in to individual pleasure is at the heart of Europe’s renewed struggle against the virus.

Spain isn’t the only place where hedonistic tendencies at night are being blamed. A big spike in cases in the northern Greek region of Serres was attributed to a party held to welcome first-year university students.

Residents in Marseille, France, alerted police to music from a nightclub that should have been empty due to virus restrictions but instead kept the party going.

On Saturday, police in London discovered a rave attended by 1,000 people. British police warned that properties rented on Airbnb and other short-term services were being used as pop-up party venues.

In August, police in Scotland broke up a party attended by more than 300 people at a mansion near Edinburgh. The owners said on Facebook that the young man who booked the house had seemed “very pleasant” and they were shocked to be told by a neighbor that “there was a huge rave and police were in attendance.”

Dozens of students have been fined for organizing illegal gatherings, including four undergraduates in the central England city of Nottingham who received the maximum 10,000 pound ($13,000) penalty after police broke up a house party.

“The very last thing we want to be doing as police officers is to be issuing these fines, but we have a responsibility to enforce the law and to keep people safe,” Nottinghamshire Police Assistant Chief Constable Kate Meynell said.

In Spain, most of the enforcement effort has involving nudging stragglers indoors after curfew. But there have been some extravagant exceptions.

Police raided a brothel in the autonomous community of La Rioja four times in eight days last month for violating health codes designed to control infections. The owner could be fined nearly 100,000 euros ($116,000).

In Madrid, police stopped the filming of a 50-person orgy. They said a pornographer arranged the event by making an open casting call with a pamphlet titled “Public Health Crime.”

The weekend before Spain’s curfew took effect, police in Madrid also busted over 300 parties that violated a prohibition on get-togethers of more than six people. Even with the curfew in place, police broke up over 100 such gatherings in apartments and 22 “botellones” on Friday night alone.

Madrid officials say 30% of the country’s new confirmed infections are in people ages 15-29 and that 80% of all known infections happen in groups of family members or friends.

Madrid’s regional vice president, Ignacio Aguado, pleaded with young people to consider the consequences of their good times.

“The party you go to today can become the funeral of your father or grandfather in seven days or less,” he said.

___

Jill Lawless contributed from London.

___

Trump threatens to fire Fauci in rift with disease expert

By ZEKE MILLER for the Associated Press

OPA-LOCKA, Fla. (AP) — President Donald Trump is suggesting that he will fire Dr. Anthony Fauci after Tuesday’s election, as his rift with the nation’s top infectious disease expert widens while the nation sees its most alarming outbreak of the coronavirus since the spring.

FILE – In this April 22, 2020, file photo, President Donald Trump listens as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Speaking at a campaign rally in Opa-locka, Florida, Trump expressed frustration that the surging cases of the virus that has killed more than 230,000 Americans so far this year remains prominent in the news, sparking chants of “Fire Fauci” from his supporters.

“Don’t tell anybody but let me wait until a little bit after the election,” Trump replied to thousands of supporters just after midnight Monday, adding he appreciated their “advice.”

Trump’s comments on Fauci less than 48 hours before polls close all but assure that his handling of the pandemic will remain front and center heading into Election Day.

It’s the most direct Trump has been in suggesting he was serious about trying to remove Fauci from his position. He has previously expressed that he was concerned about the political blowback of removing the popular and respected doctor before Election Day.

Trump’s comments come after Fauci leveled his sharpest criticism yet of the White House’s response to the coronavirus and Trump’s public assertion that the nation is “rounding the turn” on the virus.

Fauci has grown outspoken that Trump has ignored his advice for containing the virus, saying he hasn’t spoken with Trump in more than a month. He has raised alarm that the nation was heading for a challenging winter if more isn’t done soon to slow the spread of the disease.

In an interview with the Washington Post this weekend, Fauci cautioned that the U.S. will have to deal with “a whole lot of hurt” in the weeks ahead due to surging coronavirus cases.

Fauci said the U.S. “could not possibly be positioned more poorly” to stem rising cases as more people gather indoors during the colder fall and winter months. He says the U.S. will need to make an “abrupt change” in public health precautions.

Fauci added that he believed Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden “is taking it seriously from a public health perspective,” while Trump is “looking at it from a different perspective.” Fauci, who’s on the White House coronavirus task force, said that perspective emphasizes “the economy and reopening the country.”

In response, White House spokesman Judd Deere said Trump always puts people’s well-being first and Deere charges that Fauci has decided “to play politics” right before Tuesday’s election. Deere said Fauci “has a duty to express concerns or push for a change in strategy” but instead is “choosing to criticize the president in the media and make his political leanings known.”

Trump in recent days has stepped up his attacks on Biden for pledging to heed the advice of scientists in responding to the pandemic. Trump has claimed Biden would “lock down” the nation once again. Biden has promised to heed the warnings of Fauci and other medical professionals but has not endorsed another national lockdown.

Trump has recently relied on the advice of Stanford doctor Scott Atlas, who has no prior background in infectious diseases or public health, as his lead science adviser on the pandemic. Atlas has been a public skeptic about mask wearing and other measures widely accepted by the scientific community to slow the spread of the virus.

Other members of the White House coronavirus task force have grown increasingly vocal about what they see as a dangerous fall spike in the virus.

Trump’s aggressive approach to Fauci carries some risks this close to Election Day,

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll in September showed 68% of Americans have a great deal or a fair amount of trust in Fauci to provide reliable information on the coronavirus. That compares with 52% of Americans who trusted Biden to do that and just 40% for Trump.

Scientists remove 98 ‘murder hornets’ in Washington state

By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS for the Associated Press

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Workers from the state Department of Agriculture managed to destroy the first nest of so-called murder hornets discovered in the U.S. without suffering any stings or other injuries, the agency said Monday.

Sven Spichiger, Washington State Department of Agriculture managing entomologist, walks with a canister of Asian giant hornets vacuumed from a nest in a tree behind him Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. Scientists in Washington state discovered the first nest earlier in the week of so-called murder hornets in the United States and worked to wipe it out Saturday morning to protect native honeybees. Workers with the state Agriculture Department spent weeks searching, trapping and using dental floss to tie tracking devices to Asian giant hornets, which can deliver painful stings to people and spit venom but are the biggest threat to honeybees that farmers depend on to pollinate crops. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

The nest, located in Whatcom County near the Canadian border, created concern because the Asian giant hornets are large and their sting can be lethal, especially if a person is stung numerous times. The hornets also pose a huge threat to honey bees that pollinate many crops.

“No one was stung and no one was even attacked that I am aware of,″ said Sven-Erik Spichiger, an entomologist who directed the nest eradication Saturday near the town of Blaine.

Scientists recovered 98 hornets from the nest, including 13 that were captured alive in a net, the agency said.

“The WSDA is not selling any Asian giant hornet specimens,″ spokesman Karla Salp said in response to questions from the public. The captured specimens will be given to various researchers, she said.

Another 85 Asian giant hornets in the nest were vacuumed into a special container and died. The nest, high up in an alder tree, was sealed with foam and shrink wrap and hornets that remained inside were asphyxiated, Spichiger said. The queen hornet was not collected, although she is expected to be inside the nest, Spichiger said.

“This is only the start of our work to hopefully prevent the Asian giant hornet from gaining a foothold in the Pacific Northwest.″ he said, adding scientists will continue looking for a suspected one or two more nests in Whatcom County, near Blaine and Birch Bay.

Saturday’s operation began at about 5:30 a.m. with the team donning protective suits — purchased from Amazon — thick enough to prevent stingers from penetrating and setting up scaffolding around the tree so they could reach the opening of the nest, which was about 10 feet high. The team stuffed dense foam padding into a crevice above and below the nest entrance and wrapped the tree with cellophane, leaving just a single opening. This is where the team inserted a vacuum hose to remove the hornets from the nest.

Team members used a wooden board to whack the tree to encourage hornets to leave, the agency said.

When the hornets stopped coming out of the nest, the team pumped carbon dioxide into the tree to kill or anesthetize any remaining hornets. They then sealed the tree with spray foam, wrapped it again with cellophane, and finally placed traps nearby to catch any potential survivors or hornets who may have been away during the operation and returned to the tree. The work was completed by 9 a.m.

“We congratulate the Washington State Department of Agriculture for eradicating this nest,” said Osama El-Lissy, Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Plant Protection and Quarantine program. “Thanks to their expertise and innovation, this nest is no longer a threat to honey bees in the area. ‘’

Entomologists will now try to determine whether the nest had begun to produce new queens who could establish additional nests.

WSDA will continue setting traps through at least November in hopes of catching any more Asian giant hornets still in Whatcom County.

WSDA has been actively searching for Asian giant hornet nests since the first hornets were caught earlier this year. The first confirmed detection of an Asian giant hornet in Washington was made in December 2019 and the first hornet was trapped in July of this year. Several more were subsequently caught, all in Whatcom County, which is in the northwestern corner of the state.

Asian giant hornets, an invasive pest not native to the U.S., are the world’s largest hornet and a predator of honey bees and other insects. A small group of Asian giant hornets can kill an entire honey bee hive in a matter of hours. The honey bees pollinate many of the crops in Washington’s multi-billion-dollar agriculture industry.

Asian giant hornets can deliver painful stings to people and spit venom. Despite their nickname and the hype that has stirred fears in an already bleak year, the world’s largest hornets kill at most a few dozen people a year in Asian countries, and experts say it is probably far less. Meanwhile, hornets, wasps and bees typically found in the United States kill an average of 62 people a year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said.

The real threat from Asian giant hornets — which are 2 inches (5 centimeters) long — is their devastating attacks on honeybees, which are already under siege from problems like mites, diseases, pesticides and loss of food.

The invasive insect is normally found in China, Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Vietnam and other Asian countries. Washington state and the Canadian province of British Columbia are the only places the hornets have been found on the continent.

The nest was found after the state Agriculture Department trapped some hornets and used dental floss to attach radio trackers last week to some of them.

When they found the nest on the property of a resident, researchers were disturbed to see a children’s playset only about 30 feet away, Spichiger said.

It remains unclear if the hornets will establish a toehold in Whatcom County from which they could spread of many portions of the United States, Spichiger said.

“It still looks optimistic that we are ahead of this,″ he said. “We still can keep this out.″

“It is worth the battle,″ he said.

Protests flare in Philadelphia after police kill Black man

From the Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — More than a dozen people were arrested and more than 30 officers injured in protests stemming from the police shooting death of a Black man they say refused their orders to drop a knife in a confrontation captured on video, Philadelphia police said Tuesday.

The man, identified by city officials as Walter Wallace, 27, was shot before 4 p.m. Monday in an episode filmed by a bystander and posted on social media. Bystanders and neighbors complained that police fired excessive shots.

Sharif Proctor lifts his hands up in front of the police line during a protest in response to the police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr., Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, in Philadelphia. Police officers fatally shot the 27-year-old Black man during a confrontation Monday afternoon in West Philadelphia that quickly raised tensions in the neighborhood. (Jessica Griffin/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

Wallace’s father, Walter Wallace Sr., told The Philadelphia Inquirer that his son appeared to have been shot 10 times. He said his son was also a father, was on medication and struggled with his mental health.

“Why didn’t they use a Taser?” he asked.

Officers had been called to the predominantly Black Cobbs Creek neighborhood in west Philadelphia on reports of a man with a weapon, said Officer Tanya Little, a police spokesperson.

Officers said they found Wallace holding a knife and ordered him to drop the weapon several times. Wallace advanced toward the officers, who fired several times, Little said.

In the video, a woman and at least one man follow Wallace, trying to get him to listen to officers, as he briskly walks across the street and between cars. The woman, identified by family members as Wallace’s mother, screams and throws something at an officer after her son is shot and falls to the ground.

The video does not make it clear whether he was in fact holding a knife, but witnesses said he was.

Wallace was hit in the shoulder and chest, Little said, but she would not say how many times he was shot or the number of times officers fired. One of the officers drove him to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead a short time later, she said.

No officers or bystanders were injured in the initial confrontation, Little said. The names of the officers who fired the shots, and their races, were not immediately disclosed. Both were wearing body cameras and were taken off street duty during the investigation.

Neighbors and witnesses soon gathered Monday night on the block of Locust Street where the shooting occurred, yelling that police didn’t have to shoot Wallace and didn’t have to fire so many shots.

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw went to the scene Monday and spoke to neighbors, and both Mayor Jim Kenney, a Democrat, and Outlaw said they would hold a meeting soon to talk with the community about the shooting and other concerns.

“I heard and felt the anger of the community,” Outlaw said in a statement, adding that the video “raises many questions” and that “those questions will be fully addressed by the investigation.”

Hundreds of people later took to the streets in west Philadelphia into the wee hours of Tuesday, with interactions between protesters and police turning violent at times, the Inquirer reported. Video showed many yelling at officers and crying.

Dozens of protesters gathered at a nearby park and chanted “Black lives matter.”

Police cars and dumpsters were set on fire as police struggled to contain the crowds. More than a dozen officers, many with batons in hand, formed a line as they ran down 52nd Street. The crowd largely dispersed then.

Thirty officers were injured, most of them from thrown objects such as bricks and rocks, according to police. One officer had a broken leg and other injuries after she was struck by a pickup truck, police said. The other injured officers were treated and released.

The 52nd Street corridor was also the site of protests against police brutality at the end of May, after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police. Those protests have been the subject of City Council hearings, with protesters describing harsh and unnecessary tactics, including tear gas and projectiles fired by police.

San Francisco set to pass legislation about racist 911 calls

By By Janie Har for the Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — Fed up with white people calling 911 about people of color selling water bottles, barbecuing or otherwise going about their lives, San Francisco leaders are set to approve hate crime legislation giving the targets of those calls the ability to sue the caller.

The Board of Supervisors will vote Tuesday on the Caution Against Racial and Exploitative Non-Emergencies Act, also known as the CAREN legislation. It’s a nod to a popular meme using the name “Karen” to describe an entitled white woman whose actions stem from her privilege, such as using the police to target people of color.

In this July 7, 2020, file photo, Supervisor Shamann Walton, who introduced the legislation, speaks at a news conference in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)
In this July 7, 2020, file photo, Supervisor Shamann Walton, who introduced the legislation, speaks at a news conference in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

All 11 supervisors have signed on to the legislation, guaranteeing it will pass, despite some criticism that the name is sexist and divisive. It comes amid a national reckoning on race compelled by the police killings of Black Americans and instances where white people called for officers to investigate people of color.

In May, Amy Cooper, a white woman, called 911 from Manhattan’s Central Park, falsely claiming that a Black man — who had politely asked her to leash her dog — was threatening her. She’s been charged with filing a false police report.

In San Francisco, a white couple was criticized on social media after video was widely shared of them questioning a Filipino American stenciling “Black Lives Matter” on a retaining wall in front of his home in June. They later called police.

James Juanillo said he chose yellow chalk to match the color of the house. When the couple approached him, they repeatedly demanded to know if it was his home because he was defacing private property.

“They tried to cast it as a criminal scene,” he said. “It was me calmly applying chalk, not spray paint, not in the middle of the night but very deliberately. The only thing that was missing was a pinot grigio.”

Supervisor Shamann Walton, who introduced the legislation and is Black, said, “911 calls and emergency reports are not customer service lines for racist behavior. … People of color have the right to do everyday activities and should not be subject to being harassed due to someone’s racial bias.”

Supporters of the legislation say it is crushing to be confronted by police because someone saw you as a threat, possibly as a criminal or as not belonging. It’s especially terrifying for Black people, whose encounters with police could end in violence.

“This is not hyperbole,” said Brittni Chicuata, chief of staff for San Francisco’s Human Rights Commission. “This is an established pattern reflected in the disparate treatment of Black people and other people of color in our city and in our country.”

The legislation gives people the right to sue a 911 caller in civil court and supporters hope this will make some think twice before turning to police. The discrimination need not be only racial; it can also be due to the person’s sex, age, religion, disability, gender identity, weight or height.

The legislation does not spell out the standards needed to sue but notes that qualifying calls are those that caused the person to feel harassed or embarrassed; damaged the person’s reputation or business prospects; or forced the person from an area where they had a lawful right to be.

The board has received written complaints from eight people — several whose names have different spellings of Karen — saying they support the legislation but object to its moniker, which they call sexist and ageist.

Vic Vicari wrote that the insensitive use of the name “as a general purpose term of disapproval for middle age white women needs to stop.” Carynn Silva said she loves the name her mom gave her and called it a racist term against white women. Caren Batides asked if the supervisor would want his name mocked.

“Yes, I am named Karen, and I do speak up for injustices on a regular occasion,” wrote Karen Shane. “So could we attempt at coming up with some other acronym that doesn’t vilify a whole group of people named Karen/Caryn/Caren?”

Reached by phone, Shane, who lives in a San Francisco Bay Area suburb and describes herself as a middle-aged white woman, readily pokes fun at her first name and said she’s aware that even complaining about it is something that a “Karen” would do. But she feels the supervisor didn’t need to cheapen what she agrees is important legislation.

“By using the name CAREN, he’s just perpetuating a racial divide,” she said. “Granted it’s not a protected class, but it’s somebody’s name.”

Walton has dismissed the concerns, saying the legislation does not refer to any individual.

Pope reverts to mask-less old ways amid growing criticism

By NICOLE WINFIELD for the Associated Press

ROME (AP) — A day after donning a face mask for the first time during a liturgical service, Pope Francis was back to his mask-less old ways Wednesday despite surging coronavirus infections across Europe and growing criticism of his behavior and the example he is setting.

Pope Francis meets with bishops in the Paul VI hall on the occasion of the weekly general audience at the Vatican, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Francis shunned a face mask again during his Wednesday general audience in the Vatican auditorium, and didn’t wear one when he greeted a half-dozen mask-less bishops at the end. He shook hands and leaned in to chat privately with each one.

While the clerics wore masks while seated during the audience, all but one took his mask off to speak to the pope. Only one kept it on, and by the end of his tete-a-tete with Francis, had lowered it under his chin.

Vatican regulations now require facemasks to be worn indoors and out where distancing can’t be “always guaranteed.” The Vatican hasn’t responded to questions about why the pope wasn’t following either Vatican regulations or basic public health measures to prevent COVID-19.

Francis has faced sharp criticism even from his most ardent supporters and incredulousness from some within the Vatican for refusing to wear a mask.

Just this week, the Vatican expert and columnist, the Rev. Thomas Reese, wrote a blistering, tough-love open letter to the pope offering him six reasons he should wear a mask and urging like-minded faithful to troll the pope’s @Pontifex Twitter feed to shame him into setting a better example.

“You’re the boss; you should follow your own rules,” Reese wrote. “When the clergy hold themselves above the rules, we call that clericalism, a sin that you have loudly denounced.”

At the start of his audience Wednesday, Francis explained to the faithful why he didn’t plunge into the crowd as he usually would do. But he said his distance from them was for their own well-being, to prevent crowds from forming around him.

“I’m sorry for this, but it’s for your own safety,” he said. “Rather than get close to you, shake your hands and greet you, I greet you from far away. But know that I’m close to you with my heart.”

He didn’t address his decision to forego wearing a mask.

Francis did, however, wear a white face mask throughout an interreligious prayer service in downtown Rome on Tuesday, removing it only to speak. He had previously only been seen wearing one once before as he entered and exited his car in a Vatican courtyard on Sept. 9. Italian law requires masks indoors and out.

At 83 and with part of a lung removed when he was in his 20s due to illness, the pope would be at high risk for COVID-19 complications. He has urged the faithful to comply with government mandates to protect public health.

In the past week, 11 Swiss Guards and a resident of the hotel where Francis lives have tested positive. All told, the Vatican City State has had 27 cases, according to the Johns Hopkins University running tally.

In Italy, the onetime European epicenter of COVID-19, coronavirus cases are surging, with the Lazio region around Vatican City among the hardest hit. Lazio has more people hospitalized and in intensive care than any other region except Italy’s most populous and hardest-hit region, Lombardy.

Inside the Vatican auditorium Wednesday, the crowd wore masks as did the Swiss Guards. But Francis, his two aides and some of the protocol officials didn’t.

In his open letter to Francis, which Reese said was a “fraternal correction” from a fellow Jesuit, the American noted that Francis was trained as a scientist, and should know to trust the science on virus protection. He urged Francis to be a good Jesuit and obey doctors and the Vatican’s own mask mandates.

Saying Francis’ decision to forego a mask was a sin, Reese urged Francis to set a better example to others and avoid being lumped in the same camp as COVID-19 negationists and mask-averse U.S. President Donald Trump, with whom Francis has clashed.

“Do you really want to be in company with a man who builds walls rather than bridges, who demonizes refugees and immigrants, who turns his back to the marginalized?” Reese asked. “I don’t think so, but that is where you are as long as, like Trump, you do not wear a mask.”

Reese’s campaign was having an effect. Dutch Catholic theologian Hendro Munsterman tweeted his anger at @Pontifex, writing: “How do we tell our kids to protect themselves and others if you cannot even give an example?”

Nigeria protesters break curfew amid gunfire, chaos in Lagos

By SAM OLUKOYA and LEKAN OYEKANMI for the Associated Press

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Nigerians protesting against police brutality stayed on the streets in Lagos on Wednesday, breaking the government curfew following a night of chaotic violence in which demonstrators were fired upon, sparking global outrage.

Shots were fired Wednesday as young demonstrators set up barricades by the Lekki toll plaza in Lagos, where protesters had been fired upon Tuesday night, causing numerous injuries although officials said no deaths.

Protesters run away as police officers use teargas to disperse people demonstrating against police brutality in Lagos, Nigeria, Wednesday Oct. 21, 2020. After 13 days of protests against alleged police brutality, authorities have imposed a 24-hour curfew in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, as moves are made to stop growing violence. ( AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

Gunfire could be heard across Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city of 14 million, including on the highway to the airport, at a major bus station, outside the offices of a television station and at the Lekki tollgates. Smoke could be seen billowing from several points in central Lagos.

Demonstrations and gunfire were also reported in several other Nigerian cities, including the capital city, Abuja.

The nationwide #EndSARS protests against police brutality have rocked Nigeria for more than two weeks. They started after a video circulated of a man being beaten, apparently by officers of the police Special Anti-Robbery Squad, known as SARS.

In response to the protests, the government announced it would disband the SARS unit, which Amnesty International says has been responsible for many cases of torture and killings.

The demonstrators’ demands have widened to include calls for accountable government, respect for human rights and an end to corruption in Africa’s most populous nation of 196 million. Despite massive oil wealth and one of Africa’s largest economies, Nigeria’s people have high levels of poverty and lack of basic services, as a result of rampant corruption, charge rights groups.

Nigerians are reeling from several videos from Tuesday night at the Lekki toll plaza in which protesters could be heard singing the national anthem in the darkness. Shots are heard followed by sounds of people running away.

It’s not clear who was firing the shots heard in the videos, but Nigeria’s security forces have been blamed for at least 10 deaths during the protests by Amnesty International, which has accused the police and military of using excessive force against the demonstrators. There have also been widespread reports of the youthful protesters being attacked by armed gangs, who the demonstrators say sent by the police to break up the protests.

The Lagos governor Wednesday confirmed more than 20 injuries from the Lekki shootings, but said that no one had been killed. He said he went to hospitals and mortuaries throughout the city.

Speaking in a televised address, Lagos governor Obajide Sanwo-Olu said he has ordered an investigation into the actions of the military at Lekki plaza, an indication that the army may be responsible.

“For clarity, it is imperative to explain that no sitting governor controls the rules of engagement of the military. I have nonetheless instructed an investigation into the orders and the adopted rules of engagement employed by the officers and men of the Nigerian army that were deployed to the Lekki tollgate last night,” the governor said. “This is with a view to taking this up with a higher command of the military and to seek the intervention of Mr. President in his capacity as a commander in chief to unravel the sequence of events that happened yesterday night.”

“This is the toughest night of our lives as forces beyond our direct control have moved to make dark notes in our history, but we will face it and come out stronger. I’ve just concluded visits to hospitals with victims of this unfortunate shooting incident at Lekki,” the governor tweeted earlier Wednesday.

He had also warned on Twitter that the protests against police brutality had “degenerated into a monster that is threatening the well-being of our society.”

President Muhammadu Buhari has been largely silent on the protests and violence sweeping across the country.

Nigeria’s spiraling crisis has drawn international attention, including from U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden who on denounced the shootings.

“I urge President Buhari and the Nigerian military to cease the violent crackdown on protesters in Nigeria, which has already resulted in several deaths,” wrote Biden. “My heart goes out to all those who have lost a loved one in the violence. The United States must stand with Nigerians who are peacefully demonstrating for police reform and seeking an end to corruption in their democracy. I encourage the government to engage in a good-faith dialogue with civil society to address these long-standing grievances and work together for a more just and inclusive Nigeria.”

Before the shootings at Lekki, Nigeria’s police statement warned that security forces would now “exercise the full powers of the law to prevent any further attempt on lives and property of citizens.”

The reports of fatal shootings in Lekki come after two chaotic weeks of mounting protests leading to more widespread social unrest. On Tuesday, authorities said nearly 2,000 inmates had broken out of jail after crowds attacked two correctional facilities a day earlier.

The Inspector-General of Police said it was deploying anti-riot police across Nigeria and ordered forces to strengthen security around correctional facilities.

The curfew in Lagos began Tuesday afternoon and most businesses and shops are closed across the city but the demonstrators are erecting barricades in the streets. The curfew was announced after a police station was burned down in the city and two people were shot dead by police.

Lagos has been the center of the protests, with demonstrators at times blocking access to the airport and barricading roads leading to the country’s main ports.

A curfew also went into effect in Benin City after a pair of attacks on correctional facilities that left 1,993 inmates missing. Interior Ministry spokesman Mohammed Manga said large, armed crowds had attacked the two prisons, subduing the guards on duty. It was unclear what the prisons’ exact populations had been before the attack.

“Most of the inmates held at the centers are convicted criminals serving terms for various criminal offenses, awaiting execution or standing trial for violent crimes,” he said in a statement.

The protests began two weeks ago after a video circulated showing a man being beaten, apparently by police officers of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, known as SARS.

Young protesters marched in cities across Nigeria, under the banner #EndSARS. In response, the government announced it would ban the anti-robbery squad, which for several years human rights groups have blamed for widespread abuses, including torture and killings.

The demonstrators have not been satisfied with the disbandment of the SARS unit and are demanding an end to abuses and respect for human rights in all parts of the police force. The protests have stopped traffic in Lagos, the capital Abuja and many other large cities in Nigeria, a country of 196 million people.

Virus hits beach resort, as pandemic surges in Argentina

By ALMUDENA CALATRAVA for the Associated Press

MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina (AP) — Hundreds of Argentine flags dotted the sand of a beach at the Mar del Plata resort, a poignant memorial to the victims of the novel coronavirus in one of this South American country’s new virus hotspots.

A woman and child walk along the coast during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mar del Plata, Argentina, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020. The resort’s new reality is starkly visible: Its beaches and businesses are deserted at a time when Argentines normally would be booking lodging and renting beach gear for the fast-approaching Southern Hemisphere summer. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

When the flags were planted last week, they were a tribute to the more than 500 people who had died from COVID-19 over the previous seven months in Argentina’s top resort. Since then, about 100 more have died and Mar del Plata has become an epicenter in a coronavirus surge through Argentina’s interior that has given it the fifth-highest confirmed case total in the world.

The resort’s new reality is starkly visible: Its beaches and businesses are deserted at a time when Argentines normally would be booking lodging and renting beach gear for the fast-approaching Southern Hemisphere summer. In contrast, the Modular Hospital on the other side of town is busy with ambulances bringing COVID-19 patients and several days earlier had been on the verge of collapse.

“Today, from a health standpoint, Mar del Plata is in a very serious problem,” said Argentine Cabinet chief Santiago Cafiero.

When the pandemic emerged, Argentina was one of the first countries to take strict isolation measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus, winning plaudits from global health officials, and has had one of the world’s longest quarantines. But in recent months the number of confirmed cases has surged as Argentines weary of seven months of lockdown and pressured by a devastating economic crisis have stopped staying at home and obeying quarantine orders.

While the country’s initial outbreak was focused in Buenos Aires and surrounding areas, the new outbreak is taking place in Argentina’s provinces and cities like Mar del Plata on the coast and Rosario in the country’s east. Initially, up to 90% of the confirmed cases were in metropolitan Buenos Aires. Today, 65% of Argentina’s cases are in its provinces, authorities said.

Mar del Plata, which at the start of the pandemic reported one case a day or less, is now reporting an average of 300 confirmed coronavirus cases a day. Rosario, a city northwest of Buenos Aires with a population of more than 1 million, reported 1,250 confirmed cases in one day this week.

Mar del Plata’s outbreak especially concerns authorities because it normally receives hundreds of thousands of vacationers every year and they return to their home communities.

Dark clouds loom over “La Feliz,” or “The Happy Place,” as the tourist mecca is known as the rising number of cases stress its hospital system. Inside the Modular Hospital, which was built this year to treat those infected by COVID-19, The Associated Press saw a therapist busily treating five intubated patients in one small room.

“When the pandemic exploded in the metropolitan Buenos Aires area, we were in a honeymoon period,” said Verónica Martin, associate director of the Interzonal Hospital General de Agudos and the Modular Hospital.

Martin said the pandemic initially felt far away when it attacked Buenos Aires, but this feeling disappeared in August. She said Mar del Plata, south of Buenos Aires, and other cities outside the capital have limited hospital facilities and lack intensive care specialists.

In Mar del Plata “there is a floor of between 80% and 90% occupancy in intensive care units for COVID patients in the public (health care) system, while the private system has warned more than once that it does not have beds for coronavirus patients,” said Gastón Vargas, director of the Eighth Health-Care Region of Buenos Aires province. Provincial authorities have said they will supply 12 new intensive care beds and more therapists for the Modular Hospital.

Medical personnel say infections are soaring partly because restaurants, clubs and other establishments have been unwilling to stick to social isolation measures amid the devastating economic crisis.

Specialists say Mar del Plata is an example of how municipalities in Argentina’s provinces have not reacted properly to increases in COVID-19 cases and instead of restricting circulation, have allowed activities to continue to ease rising poverty and unemployment.

The beach resort has 26% unemployment, twice the national rate, partly as a result of seven months of lockdown measures. Faced with bankruptcy, local restaurant owners declared war against some measures, allowing diners to eat inside, which is currently prohibited, although there is a green light for consumption in outdoor spaces. Clubs held clandestine parties and construction projects continued.

All this took place under the gaze of local authorities who failed to levy fines because they were scared of the scale of the economic crisis.

“Those who open as a form of protest are not going to be sanctioned,” said Fernando Muro, Mara del Plata’s secretary for Productive Development and Innovation. He said the city should have a phase of “self-quarantine” that allows businesses to be active with adequate hygiene protocols.

“Nobody does this to be dishonest or clever or to hurt other people,” said Nicolás Parato, secretary of the Mar del Plata resort chamber. “There is a great need for work.”

Parato, who has a dessert shop and the concession for a recreational area with a pool and sun umbrellas with a view of the sea, recalled how during last year’s Oct. 12 holiday there were lines to get into his businesses and all the hotels were busy with people making reservations for their vacations.

“Today we are closing at 7 p.m. because there are no people,” said Parato, whose income is down more than 50% from last year.

Laura Bustos, a 54-year-old state worker who was chatting with a friend on the beach, said she was scared by the irresponsibility of some residents and said she was willing to accept stricter isolation measures.

A recent decree from President Alberto Fernández extended quarantine measures in Argentina yet again and Mar del Plata was one of the places ordered to remain in social, preventive and mandatory isolation at least until Oct. 25.

Bahía Blanca, Tandil and San Nicolás are other cities in Buenos Aires province that “show sustained transmission of the virus, sharp increases in the number of cases or tensions in the health system.” The situation is the same in municipalities in 16 other Argentine provinces. Only six districts enjoy greater openness.

With about 950,000 confirmed cases, Argentina has climbed to fifth place in the international ranking, behind the United States, India, Brazil and Russia, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Marcos Espinal, director of the Department of Communicable Diseases and Health Analysis at the Pan American Health Organization, lauded Argentina for being one of the first countries to implement isolation measures on March 20.

“Argentina has definitely taken good measures,” said Espinal, who noted that “what could have been improved” is the system for testing positive cases to proceed with faster and more effective isolations.

Eduardo López, an infectious disease specialist who advises President Fernández, agreed the country correctly applied an “early quarantine” because when the contagions broke out in Spain and Italy “we knew we had tourists there.”

“But in the interior jurisdictions, where the cases were few, there was an excess of confidence. They did not see the impact that the pandemic was going to have in the month of August” in the middle of the Southern Hemisphere winter, López said.

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AP journalist Gisela Salomon contributed to this report.

As virus flares globally, new strategies target hot spots

By JENNIFER PELTZ for the Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — After entire nations were shut down during the first surge of the coronavirus earlier this year, some countries and U.S. states are trying more targeted measures as cases rise again around the world, especially in Europe and the Americas.

New York’s new round of virus shutdowns zeroes in on individual neighborhoods, closing schools and businesses in hot spots measuring just a couple of square miles.

Pedestrians in protective masks pass a storefront on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, as restrictions on operations are imposed due to an increase in COVID-19 infections in the Far Rockaway neighborhood of the borough of Queens in New York. After shutdowns swept entire nations during the first surge of the coronavirus earlier this year, some countries and U.S. states are trying more targeted measures as cases rise again around the world. New York’s new round of shutdowns zeroes in on individual neighborhoods, closing schools and businesses in hot spots measuring just a few square miles. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Spanish officials limited travel to and from some parts of Madrid before restrictions were widened throughout the capital and some suburbs.

Italian authorities have sometimes quarantined spots as small as a single building.

While countries including Israel and the Czech Republic have reinstated nationwide closures, other governments hope smaller-scale shutdowns can work this time, in conjunction with testing, contact tracing and other initiatives they’ve now built up.

The concept of containing hot spots isn’t new, but it’s being tested under new pressures as authorities try to avoid a dreaded resurgence of illness and deaths, this time with economies weakened from earlier lockdowns, populations chafing at the idea of renewed restrictions and some communities complaining of unequal treatment.

Some scientists say a localized approach, if well-tailored and explained to the public, can be a nimble response at a complex point in the pandemic.

“It is pragmatic in appreciation of ‘restriction fatigue’ … but it is strategic, allowing for mobilization of substantial resources to where they are needed most,” says Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, who is following New York City’s efforts closely and is on some city advisory boards.

Other scientists are warier.

“If we’re serious about wiping out COVID in an area, we need coordinated responses across” as wide a swath as possible, says Benjamin Althouse, a research scientist with the Institute for Disease Modeling in Washington state.

In a study that has been posted online but not published in a journal or reviewed by independent experts, Althouse and other scientists found that amid patchwork coronavirus-control measures in the U.S. this spring, some people traveled farther than usual for such activities as worship, suggesting they might have responded to closures by hopscotching to less-restricted areas.

Still, choosing between limited closures and widespread restrictions is “a very, very difficult decision,” Althouse notes. “I’m glad I’m not the one making it.”

Early in the outbreak, countries tried to quell hot spots from Wuhan, China — where a stringent lockdown was seen as key in squelching transmission in the world’s most populous nation — to Italy, where a decision to seal off 10 towns in the northern region of Lombardy evolved within weeks into a nationwide lockdown.

After the virus’s first surge, officials fought flare-ups with city-sized closures in recent months in places from Barcelona, Spain, to Melbourne, Australia.

In the English city of Leicester, nonessential shops were shut down and households banned from mixing in late June.

The infection rate fell, dropping from 135 cases per 100,000 to around 25 cases per 100,000 in about two months.

Proponents took that as evidence localized lockdowns work. Skeptics argued that summertime transmission rates were generally low anyway in the United Kingdom, where the official coronavirus death toll of over 43,000 stands as Europe’s highest, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

With infection levels and deaths rising anew in Britain, scientists have advised officials to implement a national, two-week lockdown. Instead, the government on Monday carved England into three tiers of coronavirus risk, with restrictions ranging accordingly.

“As a general principle, the targeting of measures to specific groups or geographical areas is preferable to one-size-fits-all measures, because they allow us to minimize the damage that social distancing inevitably imposes on society and the economy,” said Flavio Toxvaerd, who specializes in economic epidemiology at the University of Cambridge.

The damage doesn’t feel so minimal to Steven Goldstein, who had to close his New York City men’s hat shop last week.

The 72-year-old business, Bencraft Hatters, is in one of a handful of small areas around the state with new restrictions. Authorities hope they’ll avert a wider crisis in a state that beat back the deadliest spike in the U.S. this spring, losing over 33,000 people to date.

Goldstein takes the virus seriously — he said he and his mother both had it early on — and he sees the economic rationale behind trying local restrictions instead of another citywide or statewide shutdown.

But he questions whether the zones are capturing all the trouble spots, and he’s rankled that the restrictions are falling on his shop after, he says, he faithfully enforced mask-wearing and other rules.

“I did my part, and a lot of other people did our part, and yet we’re being forced to close,” said Goldstein, 53, who tapped into savings to sustain the third-generation business through the earlier shutdown.

In New York’s most restricted “red zones,” houses of worship can’t admit more than 10 people at a time and schools and nonessential businesses have been closed. Those zones are ensconced in small orange and yellow zones with lighter restrictions.

Some researchers, however, say officials need to consider not just where people live, but where else they go. In New York City, people can escape restrictions entirely by taking the subway one or two stops.

“There’s room for improvement by taking into account some spillovers across neighborhoods,” says John Birge, a University of Chicago Booth School of Business operations research professor. He, colleague Ozan Candogan and Northwestern University graduate student Yiding Feng have been modeling how localized restrictions in New York City could best minimize both infections and economic harm; the research hasn’t yet been reviewed by other experts.

If hot spot measures can be strategic, they also have been criticized as unfairly selective.

In Brooklyn, Orthodox Jews have complained their communities are being singled out for criticism. In Madrid, residents of working-class areas under mobility restrictions said authorities were stigmatizing the poor. Restaurant and bar owners in Marseille, France, said the city was unfairly targeted last month for the nation’s toughest virus rules at the time. As of Saturday, several French cities, including Paris and Marseille, were subject to restrictions including a 9 p.m. curfew.

When an apartment complex housing mostly Bulgarian migrant farm workers was locked down in late June in the Italian city of Mondragone, the workers protested, and about a dozen broke the quarantine.

Other denizens of Mondragone feared infection would spread and, at one point, surrounded the buildings and jeered at the residents, one of whom tossed down a chair. Eventually, authorities called in the army to maintain the quarantine and keep the peace.

For hot spot shutdowns to work, public health experts say, the message behind the measures is key.

“Lead with: ‘Here’s a community in need. … We should be empathetic,’” said Rutgers University epidemiology and biostatistics professor Henry F. Raymond. “It’s not a criticism of those people’s behaviors. It’s just saying, ’These communities might need more attention.’”

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Associated Press writers Pan Pylas in London, Nicole Winfield in Rome, Sylvie Corbet in Paris and Aritz Parra in Madrid contributed.

Oakland, Portland sue over use of federal agents at protests

By GILLIAN FLACCUS for the Associated Press

The cities of Oakland and Portland, Oregon have sued the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department, alleging that the agencies are overstepping constitutional limits in their use of federal law enforcement officers to tamp down on protests.

The lawsuit, filed late Wednesday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, cites the deployment of U.S. agents this summer to quell protests in Portland and alleges the U.S. Marshals Service unlawfully deputized dozens of local Portland police officers as federal agents despite objections from city officials. The federal deputations have meant protesters arrested by local police could face federal charges, which generally carry stiffer penalties.

FILE – In this July 27, 2020, file photo, a bloodied demonstrator is arrested by federal police during a Black Lives Matter protest at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse in Portland, Ore. The cities of Oakland and Portland, Oregon sued the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, alleging that the agencies are overstepping constitutional limits in their use of federal law enforcement officers to tamp down on protests. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File

The use of federal agents in these ways is a major shift in policy and threatens the independence of local law enforcement, according to the lawsuit. The complaint cites the anti-commandeering doctrine of the Tenth Amendment, which says that the federal government cannot require states or state officials to adopt or enforce federal law.

In a statement Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security criticized the lawsuit.

“Yet again, dangerous politicians and fringe special interest groups have ginned up a meritless lawsuit. They aim to harm President Trump and distract from his law and order agenda,” the department said. “Department of Homeland Security have acted entirely lawfully. Instead of condemning the violence we are seeing across the country, these politicians focus on scoring cheap political points to the detriment of the American people.”

In the past, acting DHS secretary Chad Wolf has been a vocal defender of the administration’s response to the civil unrest in Portland

The Trump administration says the work of the federal agents is limited to federal property but the lawsuit says “the activities in cities such as Portland instead reveal a distinct and meaningful policy shift to use federal enforcement to unilaterally step in and replace local law enforcement departments that do not subscribe to the President’s view of domestic ‘law and order.’”

The allegations of constitutional overreach focus on the federal government’s actions in Portland but Oakland joined the lawsuit because of concerns that the Trump administration might send U.S. agents to Oakland or deputize police officers there as well, court papers show.

Protests over racial injustice and police brutality have roiled both U.S. West cities since the death of George Floyd and drawn attacks from President Donald Trump, who threatened to send federal resources to restore law and order.

In Portland, the Trump administration sent dozens of U.S. agents to the city in July to guard a federal courthouse that had become a target of protesters, but those agents clashed with protesters blocks from the courthouse on several occasions. The state of Oregon sued over allegations that federal agents swept up protesters in unmarked cars without identifying themselves.

U.S. Attorney for Oregon Billy J. Williams said in late September that more than 80 people had been charged with federal crimes related to the protests.

Last month, Portland agreed to have about five dozen of its police officers deputized as federal agents by the Marshals Service in advance of a rally planned in the city by the right-wing group Proud Boys. The city anticipated potential clashes between left- and right-wing protesters. Troopers from the Oregon State Police and a local sheriff’s department were also deputized.

City leaders have since said that they believed the police officers would only be federally deputized for that weekend and sought to cancel the agreement after the rally was over. But the U.S. Attorney for Oregon and the Marshals Service have refused to cancel the deputization, which officially expires on Dec. 31.

The lawsuit also alleges that the U.S. government has illegally erected a fence around the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse, which is federal property, against the city’s wishes. The fence blocks a major bike thoroughfare that is city property, according to Portland officials.

Thousands arrive in Hawaii on first day pre-travel testing

By CALEB JONES for the Associated Press

Honolulu (AP) — About 8,000 people landed in Hawaii on the first day of a pre-travel testing program that allowed travelers to come to the islands without quarantining for two weeks if they could produce a negative coronavirus test.

A beachgoer walks down Waikiki Beach, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, in Honolulu. A new pre-travel testing program will allow visitors who test negative for COVID-19 to come to Hawaii and avoid two weeks of mandatory quarantine goes into effect Thursday. The pandemic has caused a devastating downturn on Hawaii’s tourism-based economy and many are hoping the testing will help the economy rebound. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

Angela Margos was among the first passengers in San Francisco to get on a plane to Hawaii Thursday morning.

“Vacation, peace of mind,” said Margos, a nurse from San Carlos, California, of why she’s flying to Hawaii. “I need time to relax, unwind.”

The new testing program is an effort to stem the devastating downturn the pandemic has had on Hawaii’s tourism-based economy. Officials had touted the mandatory quarantine rule as an integral part of Hawaii’s early success in keeping the coronavirus at bay.

But gaps in the pre-travel testing program coupled with increasing cases of COVID-19 across the U.S. have raised questions about whether Hawaii is ready to safely welcome back vacationers.

And when local restrictions were eased before summertime holidays, community spread of the disease spiked to alarming levels, forcing a second round of stay-at-home orders for residents and closures for non-essential businesses.

Margos ran into hiccups with getting her test. She first did it at the hospital where she works, only to find out it wasn’t an approved site for United Airlines and the state of Hawaii. She then paid $105 for a drive-thru test, but she was later informed there was an error with that test.

Margos ultimately paid $250 for a fast-result test Thursday at the airport in San Francisco, which came back negative.

Opponents of the testing program have said a single test 72 hours before arrival — especially when coupled with the option to fly without a test and still quarantine — is not enough to keep island residents safe.

Kathleen Miyashita and her husband were among those who came to Hawaii Thursday without getting tested. They said they plan to quarantine at their family’s farm on Oahu.

“We chose to do the 14-day quarantine,” Miyashita said. “We have no issues with having food being brought in. It’s like a quarantining haven in terms of having fresh fruits and vegetables at home.”

She said she and her husband were “not at all” concerned about being asymptomatic carriers of the disease.

“We’ve been traveling, and we just take precautions,” she said, adding that they had already done one quarantine in Hawaii about two months ago.

Hawaii’s economy is almost entirely built around tourism, and local families who rely on the sector to survive need to return to work.

More than 100 of Hawaii’s approximately 4,000 restaurants, bakeries and caterers have closed permanently and more than 50% predict they will not survive the coming months, officials have said.

Monica Toguchi Ryan, whose family has owned and operated The Highway Inn restaurant on Oahu for over 70 years, said the lack of tourism has been crippling.

“The restaurant and service industry has suffered so much during this pandemic,” Toguchi Ryan said. “Restaurants have not received any federal relief since the spring and are struggling to pay their expenses. Some restaurants have closed entirely, unable to pay for their rent, food supplies and staff wages.”

Toguchi Ryan joined Democratic Gov. David Ige on Wednesday to talk about a new restaurant debit card that will give some unemployed Hawaii residents $500 to spend at local restaurants over the next 60 days. The $75 million program is being funded by federal CARES Act money and is aimed at stimulating the local economy.

“When restaurants like us have more customers, we buy more from our suppliers and we reinvest the money several times over in our local economy,” Toguchi Ryan said.

Hawaii, which has about 1.4 million residents, reported 10 additional coronavirus deaths and more than 100 newly confirmed cases on Wednesday. On Oahu, home to the famed Waikiki Beach and the state’s most populated island, the positivity rate was nearly 4%.

County mayors have criticized the state’s plan for a single test prior to flying and want a mandatory second test for all arriving passengers.

Kauai island Mayor Derek Kawakami said last week that his initial proposal for secondary testing was rejected by the governor.

Big Island Mayor Harry Kim said his county would opt out of the pre-travel testing program entirely and continue to require all arriving visitors to quarantine for two weeks. Both now have different plans.

The governor said this week that mayors could implement certain secondary testing measures on their respective islands, but the cost and logistics of running such programs would be left to the counties.

Maui and Kauai counties decided on voluntary secondary testing for visitors. The Big Island will require secondary rapid screening upon arrival for visitors to avoid quarantine. Oahu officials have said they want to put in place another layer of screening but do not yet have the testing capacity.

The mixed bag of county and state rules could create chaos for vacationers who have not properly prepared for the various screening requirements, especially those traveling to the Big Island.

“This second test upon arrival to Hawaii island will provide an extra layer of protection for our community,” Kim said in a statement Monday. “Virtually, all medical and coronavirus experts agree for the necessity of more than one test.”

Those arriving on the Big Island — home to Hawaii’s active volcanoes and the site of a 2018 eruption that wiped out entire neighborhoods — will take a mandatory rapid antigen test when they land.

Results will be available in about 15 minutes, and travelers who test negative will not be required to quarantine. People who test positive will be required to immediately get a more accurate PCR test and then quarantine until their results are available, usually within 36 hours.

People who test positive in the state, whether on vacation or at home, are required to isolate and cannot fly until they no longer have the virus.

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Associated Press journalist Haven Daley in San Francisco contributed to this report.

Thailand declares emergency after unprecedented protest

By GRANT PECK and CHRIS BLAKE for the Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s government declared a strict new state of emergency for the capital on Thursday, a day after a student-led protest against the country’s traditional establishment saw an extraordinary moment in which demonstrators heckled a royal motorcade.

Pro-democracy protesters flash three-fingered salute during a protest as they occupied a main road at the central business district in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Thailand’s government declared a strict new state of emergency for the capital on Thursday, a day after a student-led protest against the country’s traditional establishment saw an extraordinary moment in which demonstrators heckled a royal motorcade. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

After the pre-dawn declaration, riot police moved in to clear out demonstrators who after a day of rallies and confrontation had gathered outside Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s office to push their demands, which include the former general’s resignation, constitutional changes and reform of the monarchy.

Several top leaders of the protest movement were taken into custody, with one later declaring on his Facebook page that he had been denied access to a lawyer and was being forced onto a helicopter and taken to a city in the country’s north. Police said they had made 22 arrests.

Despite a new ban against large public gatherings, thousands of people rallied again in another area of the city later Thursday. The new gathering, which appeared to have drawn more than the 8,000 people police said had attended the previous night’s rally, lasted about six hours and began winding down shortly after 10 p.m.

Organizers announced they would gather again on Friday.

“It shows that no matter how many are arrested, new faces will join the protest,” Patsaravalee “Mind” Tanakitvibulpon, an engineering student and protest organizer, told the online publication The Standard.

The text of the emergency declaration said it was needed because “certain groups of perpetrators intended to instigate an untoward incident and movement in the Bangkok area by way of various methods and via different channels, including causing obstruction to the royal motorcade.”

The protest Wednesday in Bangkok’s historic district, not far from glittering temples and royal palaces, was the third major gathering by student-led activists who have been pushing the boundaries of what is considered acceptable — and legal — language by publicly questioning the role of Thailand’s monarchy in the nation’s power structure.

Thailand’s royal family has long been considered sacrosanct and a pillar of Thai identity. King Maha Vajiralongkorn and other key member of the royal family are protected by a lese majeste law that has regularly been used to silence critics who risk up to 15 years in prison if deemed to have insulted the institution.

The protest — held on the anniversary of a 1973 student-led uprising against a military dictatorship — was complicated by the presence of royalist counter protesters who had gathered both to show support for the government and to greet the royal family as they traveled to and from a religious ceremony in the area.

That led to a moment captured in photos and video that circulated widely on social media in which what appeared to be protesters gestured and shouted just meters (feet) from the royal motorcade. Such actions are unprecedented in Thailand, where those waiting for a royal motorcade regularly sit on the ground or prostrate themselves.

Some experts say a line may have been crossed.

“What seemed to be a low-boil stalemate that the Prayuth government was managing with reasonable success has now, following the incident involving the procession of the queen’s motorcade down a street in which an active protest was under way and the arrests of protest leaders, become a full-blown crisis,” said Michael Montesano, coordinator of the Thailand Studies Program at the ISEAS-Yusof Isak Institute in Singapore. “Unlike even 48 hours ago, the country is in dangerous territory now.”

Government spokesman Anucha Buraphachaisri announced Thursday morning that the prime minister had ordered police to take strict action against those who obstruct a royal procession or otherwise insult the monarchy.

One change is that police said they will install checkpoints around Bangkok for security purposes.

Keeping order will be facilitated by the new emergency decree for Bangkok, which bans unauthorized gatherings of more than five people and gives authorities other powers they deem needed to prevent unrest, including detaining people temporarily without charge. It also outlaws news that distorts information or could cause a “misunderstanding.”

Thailand is already under a national state of emergency as part of its efforts to fight the coronavirus, and it was not immediately clear how the new decree was different.

Protesters gathered again in a Bangkok shopping district Thursday afternoon and into the evening. The crowd grew big enough to block a major intersection flanked by upmarket malls and a famous shrine, where they were addressed by a series of speakers denouncing the government.

Police stood by while the crowd chanted rude slogans calling for the prime minister to step down. They also chanted “Free our friends,” in reference to the arrested leaders.

“I want to fight for my future. I want to fight for my friends. I want to fight for my democracy. My country must be democracy,” said 24-year-old NGO worker Aitarnik Chitwiset.

Deputy police spokesman Col. Kissana Phathanacharoen warned earlier that calling for such a protest or attending one was against the law.

The protest movement was launched in March by university students, but quickly put on hold as Thailand was gripped by the coronavirus pandemic. It came back in July, when the threat from the virus eased, and has since grown in size.

The movement’s original core demands were new elections, changes in the constitution to make it more democratic, and an end to intimidation of activists.

The protesters charge that Prayuth, who as army commander led a 2014 coup that toppled an elected government, was returned to power unfairly in last year’s general election because laws had been changed to favor a pro-military party. The protesters say a constitution promulgated under military rule and passed in a referendum in which campaigning against it was illegal is undemocratic.

The movement took another stunning turn in August, when students at a rally aired unprecedented criticism of the monarchy and issued calls for its reform. Using direct language normally expressed in whispers if at all, the speakers criticized the king’s wealth, his influence and that he spends much of his time in Germany, not Thailand.

Conservative royalist Thais accuse the protest movement of seeking to end the monarchy, an allegation its leaders deny.

Nevertheless, analysts say the incident with the royal motorcade may harden positions.

It “is not just unprecedented but will be shocking for many,” said Kevin Hewison, professor emeritus from the University of North Carolina and veteran Thai studies scholar. “Yet it is reflective of how a new generation of protesters sees the monarchy and military-backed regime as intertwined and that political reform demands reform of the monarchy as well.”

Possible safety issue spurs pause of COVID-19 antibody study

By MARILYNN MARCHIONE and LINDA A. JOHNSON for the Associated Press

Independent monitors have paused enrollment in a study testing the COVID-19 antiviral drug remdesivir plus an experimental antibody therapy being developed by Eli Lilly that’s similar to a treatment President Donald Trump recently received.

FILE – In this May 2020 photo provided by Eli Lilly, a researcher tests possible COVID-19 antibodies in a laboratory in Indianapolis. Antibodies are proteins the body makes when an infection occurs; they attach to a virus and help it be eliminated. (David Morrison/Eli Lilly via AP)

Lilly confirmed Tuesday that the study had been paused “out of an abundance of caution” and said safety is its top concern. The company would not say more about what led to this step.

The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which sponsors the study, would not immediately comment.

Antibodies are proteins the body makes when an infection occurs; they attach to a virus and help it be eliminated. The experimental drugs are concentrated versions of one or two specific antibodies that worked best against the coronavirus in lab and animal tests.

This study was testing a single antibody that Lilly is developing with the Canadian company AbCellera. Trump received an experimental two-antibody combo drug from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Lilly and Regeneron have asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to grant emergency use authorization for their drugs for COVID-19 while late-stage studies continue.

The paused study, called ACTIV-3, started in August and aims to enroll 10,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the United States, Denmark and Singapore. All are given remdesivir, which has been authorized in the U.S. as an emergency treatment for COVID-19, plus either the Lilly antibody or a placebo.

The main goals are reducing the need for extra oxygen and time to recovery. Deaths, relief of symptoms and other measures also are being tracked. All of the drugs are given through an IV.

Such pauses are not uncommon in long clinical studies. Unlike a study hold imposed by government regulators, a pause is initiated by the sponsor of the drug trial and often can be quickly resolved.

The pause in the Lilly study comes a day after a temporary halt to enrollment in a coronavirus vaccine study. Johnson & Johnson executives said Tuesday that it will be a few days before they know more about an unexplained illness in one participant that caused a pause in its late-stage vaccine study. Johnson & Johnson isn’t disclosing the nature of the illness.

“It may have nothing to do with the vaccine,” said Mathai Mammen, head of research and development for Janssen, Johnson & Johnson’s medicine development business.

Mammen said the company doesn’t know yet whether the ill participant received the experimental vaccine or a dummy shot. He says Johnson & Johnson gave information on the case to the independent monitoring board overseeing the safety of patients in the study, as the research protocol requires. It will recommend next steps.

The study of the one-dose vaccine will include up to 60,000 people from multiple countries. The company expects to complete enrollment in the study in two or three months.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Europe reels as it sets virus records, slaps on new rules

By GEIR MOULSON for the Associated Press

BERLIN (AP) — Fears rose Thursday that Europe is running out of time to control a resurgence of the coronavirus, as infections hit record daily highs in Germany, the Czech Republic, Italy and Poland. France slapped a 9 p.m. curfew on many of its biggest cities and Londoners faced new travel restrictions as governments imposed increasingly tough measures.

Medical staff takes a COVID-19 test at a coronavirus test center in Cologne, Germany, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. The city exceeded the important warning level of 50 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants in seven days. More and more German cities become official high risk corona hotspots with travel restrictions within Germany. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Newly confirmed cases have surged across Europe over recent weeks as the fall kicks in, prompting authorities to bring back measures that had been relaxed over the summer. The Czech Republic, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, France and Britain are among the countries causing particular concern.ADVERTISEMENT

The head of the World Health Organization’s Europe office urged governments to be “uncompromising” in controlling the virus. He said most of the spread is happening in homes, indoor spaces and communities not complying with protection measures.

“These measures are meant to keep us all ahead of the curve and to flatten its course,” Dr. Hans Kluge said, while wearing a mask. “It is therefore up to us to accept them while they are still relatively easy to follow instead of following the path of severity.”

European nations have seen nearly 230,000 confirmed deaths in total from the virus — more than the nearly 217,000 deaths reported so far in the United States, according to figures tallied by Johns Hopkins University that experts agree understate the true toll of the pandemic.

Europe’s financial markets fell sharply Thursday on concerns that the new restrictions on swaths of the region’s economy are already ending the nascent recovery from its sharpest recession in modern history. Major stock indexes were well over 2% lower in Europe.

While Germany, the European Union’s most populous nation, is still in comparatively good shape, alarm bells are ringing there too. On Thursday, the national disease control center reported over 6,600 cases over 24 hours — exceeding the previous record of nearly 6,300 set in late March, although testing has expanded greatly since then.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany’s 16 state governors — who are responsible for imposing and lifting restrictions — agreed Wednesday night to tighten mask-wearing rules, make bars close early and limit the number of people who can gather in areas where infection rates are high. But those decisions “probably won’t be enough,” Merkel’s chief of staff, Helge Braun, told ARD television.

“We must stop this exponential rise, the quicker the better,” Merkel said, noting that neighboring European countries are having to take “very drastic measures.”

This week has seen the Netherlands close bars and restaurants, and the Czech Republic and Northern Ireland shut down schools. The Czech Health Ministry confirmed more than 9,500 new virus cases on Wednesday, over 900 more than the days-old previous record. The government announced Thursday that the military will set up a virus hospital at Prague’s exhibition center.

“We have to build extra capacity as soon as possible,” Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said. “We have no time. The prognosis is not good.”

The governor of the German state of Bavaria said his region has received a request to treat Czech COVID-19 patients.

In France, which reported over 22,000 new infections Wednesday, President Emmanuel Macron put 18 million residents in nine regions, including Paris, under a 9 p.m. curfew starting Saturday.

France will deploy 12,000 police officers to enforce the curfew and will spend an additional 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion) to help businesses hit by the new restrictions.

“Our compatriots thought this health crisis was behind us,” Prime Minister Jean Castex said. “But we can’t live normally again as long as the virus is here.”

Just as Macron’s government tackles the resurgence of infections, French police on Thursday searched the homes of a former prime minister, the current and former health ministers and other top officials in an investigation into the government’s pandemic response. It was triggered by dozens of complaints over recent months, particularly over shortages of masks and other equipment.

Aurelien Rousseau, director of the Paris region’s public health agency, said nearly half of its intensive care beds are now occupied by coronavirus patients, with other hospital beds filling rapidly too.

“It’s a kind of spring tide that affects everybody simultaneously,” Rousseau said. “We had a blind spot in our tracking policies. It was the private sphere, festive events.”

The British government on Thursday moved London and a half-dozen other areas into the country’s second-highest virus risk level, meaning that millions will be barred from meeting people outside their households and will be asked to minimize travel.

“I know that these restrictions are difficult for people. I hate the fact that we have to bring them in,” said British Health Secretary Matt Hancock. “But it is essential that we do bring them in both to keep people safe and to prevent greater economic damage in the future.″

Italy on Wednesday recorded its biggest single-day jump in infections since the start of the pandemic. It added over 7,300 cases amid a resurgence that is straining the country’s contact-tracing system.

Poland registered a record of nearly 9,000 new cases on Thursday. Masks have been required outdoors since Saturday and strict limits have been imposed on the size of gatherings.

Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia also announced record daily case numbers.

Portugal moved to restrict social gatherings to a maximum of five people, while preparing to make masks mandatory outdoors and to impose fines on those disregarding the rules.

Even Sweden, which has chosen a much-debated approach of keeping large parts of society open, raised the prospect of tougher restrictions.

“Too many don’t follow the rules,” Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said. “If there is no correction here, we must take sharper measures.” He didn’t elaborate.

In Germany, Bavaria’s outspoken governor, Markus Soeder, hammered home the importance of taking action now, arguing that “everything that comes later will cost more.”

“I’ll even go so far as to say that Europe’s prosperity is at stake,” he said.

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Associated Press writers around Europe contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

300 ambulance service units to get disinfection sprayers

From the Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The 300 licensed ambulance service units in New Hampshire will soon have access to electrostatic sprayers to help with disinfection, state safety officials said.

The sprayers will help with faster turnaround times following EMS service calls, said Justin Romanello, New Hampshire Bureau of EMS chief. The lightweight, handheld device allows for 360-degree touchless disinfection and sanitizing, “ideal for the current pandemic,” safety officials said in a news release Wednesday.

Funding was made available through the Granite State Health Care Coalition.

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As virus surges anew, Milan hospitals under pressure again

By COLLEEN BARRY for the Associated Press

MILAN (AP) — Coronavirus infections are surging anew in the northern Italian region where the pandemic first took hold in Europe, putting pressure again on hospitals and health care workers.

At Milan’s San Paolo hospital, a ward dedicated to coronavirus patients and outfitted with breathing machines reopened this weekend, a sign that the city and the surrounding area is entering a new emergency phase of the pandemic.

A medical staffer takes swabs as she tests for COVID-19 at a drive-through at the San Paolo hospital, in Milan, Italy, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. Coronavirus infections are surging again in the Italian northern region where the pandemic first took hold in Europe, putting pressure again on hospitals and health care workers. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

For the medical personnel who fought the virus in Italy’s hardest-hit region of Lombardy in the spring, the long-predicted resurgence came too soon.

“On a psychological level, I have to say I still have not recovered,” said nurse Cristina Settembrese, referring to last March and April when Lombardy accounted for nearly half of the dead and one-third of the nation’s coronavirus cases.ADVERTISEMENThttps://961fe84b5cfcd4bd237b1bbf6757d29b.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

“In the last five days, I am seeing many people who are hospitalized who need breathing support,” Settembrese said. “I am reliving the nightmare, with the difference that the virus is less lethal.”MORE ON COVID-19:

Months after Italy eased one of the globe’s toughest lockdowns, the country on Wednesday posted its highest ever daily total of new infections at 7,332 — surpassing the previous high of 6,557, recorded during the virus’s most deadly phase in March. Lombardy is again leading the nation in case numbers, an echo of the trauma of March and April when ambulance sirens pierced the silence of stilled cities.

Increased testing is partially responsible for the high numbers, and many of the new cases are asymptomatic. So far, Italy’s death toll remains significantly below the spring heights, hovering around 40 in recent days. That compares with the high of 969 dead nationwide one day in late March.

In response to the new surge, Premier Giuseppe Conte’s government twice tightened nationwide restrictions inside a week. Starting Thursday, Italians cannot play casual pickup sports, bars and restaurants face a midnight curfew, and private celebrations in public venues are banned. Masks are mandatory outdoors as of last week.

But there is also growing concern among doctors that Italy squandered the gains it made during its 10-week lockdown and didn’t move quick enough to reimpose restrictions. Concerns persist that the rising stress on hospitals will force scheduled surgeries and screenings to be postponed — creating a parallel health emergency, as happened in the spring.

Italy is not the only European country seeing a resurgence — and, in fact, is faring better than its neighbors this time around. Italy’s cases per 100,000 residents have doubled in the last two weeks to nearly 87 — a rate well below countries like Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Spain and Britain that are seeing between around 300 to around 500 per 100,000. Those countries have also started to impose new restrictions.

This time, Milan is bearing the brunt, accounting for half of Lombardy’s daily cases, which spiked past 1,800 on Wednesday. Bergamo — which was hardest hit last time and has been seared into collective memory by images of army trucks transporting the dead to crematoria — had just 46.

The resurgence as the weather cools has so far been most strongly linked to vacations, both at home and abroad, as Italians flocked to beaches and crowded islands during a remarkably relaxed summer.

“The lockdown is a treasure that we scraped together with great effort and great sacrifice. We risk losing the results from a summer that in some ways was rather reckless,” Massimo Galli, the director of the infection disease ward at Milan’s Sacco Hospital, told The Associated Press. “The whole country acted as if they infections never existed, and was no longer among us.’’

His hospital is on the front lines of the pandemic, but he declined to say how many beds were occupied with coronavirus patients.

Dr. Anna Carla Pozzi, a family physician in a Milan suburb, said she feared that fatigue is weakening the public’s response to the virus’s resurgence. That’s creating a situation similar to the one in January and February, when the virus was circulating undetected in Italy, and nothing was being done, she said.

Dr. Pozzi sees her own patients acting surprisingly casually: Some disregard instructions to only come to her office with an appointment. One high school student called her on Tuesday to get a medical certificate to go back to school, saying she had spent a week at home recovering from flu-like symptoms. “Great that you’re feeling better,” the doctor told her, but she still needed a test before returning to class.

Dr. Pozzi was pleasantly surprised that she was able to book the patient in for one the next day — something unheard of in the winter and spring.

Testing is helping Italy stay on top of the curve. On Thursday, at least 100 cars were lined up for on-demand drive-through testing at the San Paolo hospital where Settembrese works.

Dr. Guido Marinoni, the head of the association of general practitioners in Bergamo, where 6,000 people died in one month, said people in the province were sufficiently frightened by what happened in the spring to continue to follow the rules. But that may not be so in other parts of Lombardy or the country.

“Six-thousand in one month. Do you know how many dead there were in five years that Milan was bombed during World War II, and it was targeted a lot: 2000,” Dr. Marinoni said. “What is worrying to see in other areas is the nightlife, people who are gathering in bars and partying. This is very dangerous.”

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Associated Press journalist Luca Bruno contributed to this report.

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This story has been updated to correct that the average daily death toll nationwide is hovering around 40, not 50.

Czech Republic tops record infection surge in Eastern Europe

By KAREL JANICEK for the Associated Press

PRAGUE (AP) — The Czech government announced further restrictions Thursday to contain the pandemic in the hardest hit-country in struggling Central and Eastern Europe, where a record surge of infections was also recorded in most other countries.

Healthcare workers attending to COVID-19 patients in an intensive care unit (ICU) at Na Bulovce hospital in Prague, Czech Republic, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020. A record surge of new coronavirus infections in the Czech Republic in September has been followed by a record surge of those hospitalized with COVID-19. The development has started to put the health system in the country under serious pressure for the first time since the pandemic hit Europe. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

Calling his country’s record spike “alarming,” Health Minister Roman Prymula said the Czech health care system has been facing a steep increase of people needing intensive care, while more COVID-19 patients have been dying.

“We have to limit those increases,” Prymula said.

The Czech Republic currently has more people testing positive daily than any other country in Central and Eastern Europe, even neighboring Germany whose population is eight times bigger.

Starting Monday, all theaters, cinemas and zoos will be closed for at least two weeks.

“We have to limit the numbers of people who meet each other outside their families,” Prymula said.

At the same time, all indoor sports activities will be banned. Outdoors, only up to 20 people will be allowed to participate in competitions, a measure that will badly hit professional sports such as soccer.

Prymula said planned outdoor international games will be allowed to go ahead without fans.

Fitness centers and indoor public swimming pools will be closed for at least two weeks, starting on Friday. Restaurants and bars will have to close at 8 p.m. and a maximum four people will be allowed per table.

All universities and most high schools will offer only remote teaching.

The new confirmed day-to-day increase reached a new record high of 5,335 on Wednesday, almost 900 more than Tuesday’s previous record.

Officials said they expect up to 8,000 could be testing positive daily later in October, for which month the overall number of new cases could reach 130,000.

So far 95,360 people have tested positive for the coronavirus, and there have been 863 deaths after a record 41 died on Wednesday. Out of 43,764 currently ill, 1,700 are in hospital. Officials expect up to 4,000 will be hospitalized by the end of the month with 1,000 of them in serious condition, reaching the limit of the health system

In Poland, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced Thursday face masks will be mandatory in all public spaces, including outdoors. The measure came after the country registered a new record high of 4,280 new cases in one day, with 76 people dying — also a record.

The virus situation has also been worsening in most Balkan and Eastern European countries, with Croatia, Slovenia, Romania, Slovakia, North Macedonia, Bulgaria and Bosnia reporting new record daily infections and officials urging citizens to respect protection measures. Others reported daily infection records on Wednesday.

Croatia has reported a surge in new infections since the end of the summer tourism season that saw hundreds of thousands of visitors flocking to the country’s Adriatic Sea coast. State HRT television says authorities are preparing a recreation area in the capital Zagreb to host people with COVID-19 who have nowhere to self-isolate.

Slovenia was the first EU country to declare itself free of COVID-19 early this summer, but a record 387 new infections were reported Thursday.

Bosnia reported 453. In neighboring Montenegro, high numbers have been reported for days, while Serbia has managed in the past weeks to keep the pandemic relatively under control after facing a major summer surge.

After registering record new infections Thursday, authorities in North Macedonia are planning new measures that include mandatory use of masks outdoors, a four-person cap on family meetings and a ban on public gatherings after 10 p.m. in parks, bars and restaurants.

In Hungary, a record of 932 tested positive on Wednesday. Another 21 died, bringing the number of deaths to 898.

Romania recorded Thursday a new all-time high of 3,130 new cases with 44 deaths. New measures include closure of indoor restaurants, cinemas, theatres, discos and gambling venues. Neighboring Moldova also reported Wednesday a record 1,063 new infections.

Bulgaria saw a record 436 infections and 11 deaths that brought the total death toll to 873. On Thursday, a refugee center in the outskirts of the capital, Sofia, was placed under quarantine because of an outbreak of coronavirus.

The Czech Republic’s neighbor Slovakia also reported a record 1,037 new infections.

Prime Minister Igor Matovic called the development “a serious moment for Slovakia.” Matovic said he will consider further tightening restrictions for travelers from the Czech Republic. The two country formed Czechoslovakia until its 1993 split.

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Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, Vadim Ghirda in Bucharest, Romania, Bela Szandelszky in Budapest, Hungary, Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Serbia and Konstantin Testorides in Skopje, North Macedonia contributed to this report.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Security guard jailed in deadly shooting at Denver protests

From the Associated Press

DENVER (AP) — A private security guard working for a Denver TV station is behind bars and accused in the deadly shooting of another man during dueling right- and left-wing protests, police said Sunday.

Matthew Dolloff, 30, was booked into jail for investigation of first-degree murder following the clash Saturday afternoon in Civic Center Park.

A man sprays mace, left, as another man fatally fires a gun, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020 in Denver. The man on the left side of the photo was supporting the “Patriot Rally” and sprayed mace at the man on the right side of the image. The man at right, then shot and killed the protester at left. A private security guard working for a TV station was in custody Saturday after a person died from a shooting that took place during dueling protests in downtown Denver, the Denver Post reported. (Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via AP)

Authorities have not identified the man killed, but his son told the Denver Post it was his father, Lee Keltner, a 49-year-old U.S. Navy veteran who operated a hat-making business in the Denver area.

“He wasn’t a part of any group,” Johnathon Keltner told the newspaper. “He was there to rally for the police department and he’d been down there before rallying for the police department.”

A man — appearing to be Keltner — participating in what was billed a “Patriot Rally” slapped and sprayed Mace at a man who appeared to be Dolloff, the Post reported, based on its photographs from the scene. The man identified by the newspaper as Dolloff drew a gun from his waistband and shot the other person, according to the Denver Post journalist who witnessed the episode.

A woman who said she was Keltner’s mother, Carol Keltner, wrote in a social media post that her son was killed after being shot in the head.

A decision on any charges will be up to the Denver District Attorney’s Office, police said. A spokesperson for District Attorney Beth McCann said Sunday that the arrest affidavit in the case remained sealed and referred further questions to the police.

It was not immediately clear if Dolloff had an attorney who could comment on his behalf.

Police Division Chief Joe Montoya said two guns were found at the scene, as well as a Mace can.

The shooting occurred beneath a city surveillance camera, and police said they have footage of the incident, KUSA-TV reported.

KUSA said it had hired the guard through the Pinkerton security firm.

“It has been the practice of 9NEWS for a number of months to hire private security to accompany staff at protests,” the station said.

The right-wing “Patriot Rally” was one of two demonstrations happening at about the same time that drew hundreds of people to the park. Protesters at a left-wing “BLM-Antifa Soup Drive” nearby held up flags and signs railing against Nazis and white supremacists.ADVERTISEMENT

Security guards in Denver are supposed to be licensed, with additional endorsements needed to carry a firearm or operate in plainclothes, according to rules for the industry adopted by the city in 2018.

In photos from Saturday’s shooting, Dolloff did not appear to be in uniform. His name does not show up on a city-run database that lists several thousand licensed security guards.

Representatives of Pinkerton did not immediately return email and telephone messages for comment.

Asia Today: China to test 9 million after new outbreak

From the Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese health authorities will test all 9 million people in the eastern city of Qingdao for the coronavirus this week after nine cases linked to a hospital were found, the government announced Monday.

The announcement broke a two-month streak with no virus transmissions reported within China, though China has a practice of not reporting asymptomatic cases. The ruling Communist Party has lifted most curbs on travel and business but still monitors travelers and visitors to public buildings for signs of infection.

People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus ride bicycle during the morning rush hour in Beijing, Monday, Oct. 12, 2020. Even as China has largely controlled the outbreak, the coronavirus is still surging across the globe with ever rising death toll. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Authorities were investigating the source of the infections in eight patients at Qingdao’s Municipal Chest Hospital and one family member, the National Health Commission said.

“The whole city will be tested within five days,” it said on its social media account.

China, where the pandemic emerged in December, has reported 4,634 deaths and 85,578 cases, plus nine suspected cases that have yet to be confirmed.

The last reported virus transmissions within China were four patients found on Aug. 15 in the northwestern city of Urumqi in the Xinjiang region. All the cases reported since then were in travelers from outside the mainland.

The ruling party lifted measures in April that cut off most access to cities with a total of some 60 million people including Wuhan in central China.

Qingdao is a busy port with the headquarters of companies including Haier, a major appliance maker, and the Tsingtao brewery. The government gave no indication whether the latest cases had contacts with travel or trade.

Travelers arriving from abroad in China still are required to undergo a 14-day quarantine.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— India has reported 66,732 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, driving the country’s overall tally to 7.1 million. The Health Ministry on Monday also reported 816 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking total fatalities to 109,150. India is seeing fewer new daily cases of the virus since mid-September when daily infections touched a record high of 97,894 cases. It’s averaging more than 70,000 cases daily so far this month. Health experts have warned that congregations during major festivals later this month and in November have the potential to spread the virus. They also caution that coming winter months are expected to aggravate respiratory ailments.

— Malaysia will restrict movements in its biggest city, Kuala Lumpur, neighboring Selangor state and the administrative capital of Putrajaya starting Wednesday to curb a sharp rise in coronavirus cases. Defense Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob says all schools in these areas will be shut and all religious, sports and social activities will be halted for two weeks. He says economic activities can continue but with strict health measures. The move comes just over four months after Malaysia lifted a three-month nationwide lockdown to control the pandemic. It has experienced a new wave of cases following increased travel for an election last month in eastern Sabah state, a hotspot on Borneo island. Several politicians, including a Cabinet minister, tested positive for the virus after returning from Sabah. Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin had to isolate himself for two weeks after coming into contact with the minister. The government earlier announced that Sabah will be placed under a restricted movement order from Tuesday. Ismail said inter-district travel is banned under the partial lockdown, except with approval. Other restrictions include a limit of two people leaving each household to purchase groceries. Malaysia has reported more than 16,000 cases with 157 deaths.

— Authorities in Indonesia’s capital have moved to ease strict social restrictions despite a steady increase in cases nationwide. Jakarta imposed large-scale social restrictions from April to June, then eased them gradually. The city brought back strict restrictions last month as the virus spread. Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan said his administration decided to ease the restrictions from Monday because the increase in infections has stabilized. The move came days after President Joko Widodo urged local administrations to refrain from imposing lockdown measures that could cause crippling economic damage in Southeast Asia’s largest economy.

— Sri Lankan officials say they have suspended the repatriation of citizens stranded overseas by the coronavirus because the country’s quarantine facilities are full. Army Commander Shavendra Silva, who heads the task force to control the virus, says a steep rise in COVID-19 patients in the past week has filled the quarantine facilities. Sri Lanka earlier announced it had successfully contained the virus, with no local infections reported for two months. But a cluster originating in a garment factory earlier this month has resulted in 1,307 new cases in just one week. The country has reported a total of 4,791 cases, including 13 deaths.

— South Korea has confirmed 97 new cases of the coronavirus, a modest uptick from the daily levels reported last week. The increase comes as officials ease social distancing restrictions after concluding that transmissions have slowed following a resurgence in mid-August. The figures released by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Monday brought the number of infections since the pandemic began to 24,703, including 433 deaths. South Korea relaxed its social distancing guidelines beginning Monday, allowing high-risk businesses like nightclubs and karaoke bars to open as long as they employ preventive measures. Spectators will also be allowed at professional sports events, although teams will initially be allowed to only sell 30% of the seats in stadiums.

England’s big northern cities braced for more lockdown curbs

By PAN PYLAS for the Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — The British government is mulling fresh restrictions on everyday life in England, potentially in the big northern cities such as Liverpool and Manchester, amid mounting fears that hospitals in coronavirus hot spots may soon be overwhelmed by growing numbers of patients.

With the number of people needing to go to the hospital with virus-related conditions rising, and in some areas in the north of England alarmingly so, the pressure on the government to do more is mounting.

A person is tested for COVID-19 at a drive-through testing centre in a car park at Chessington World of Adventures, in Chessington, Greater London, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020. Britain recorded 14,542 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, the highest daily total since the coronavirus outbreak began. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

“We are currently considering what steps we should take, obviously taking the advice of our scientific and medical advisers, and a decision will be made shortly,” British Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told the BBC on Thursday.

“In some parts of the country, the number of cases are rising very fast and we are taking that very seriously,” he added.

Because the virus has been accelerating at differing speeds around England, the government has opted for local restrictions to combat the spread. The differing rules though have stoked confusion and there is growing speculation the government will back a new simplified three-tier system for England soon, potentially coming into force as soon as next week.

Hot spots, notably in the big cities of northern England, such as Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle, could under this new system see restrictions tightened akin to the way they already have in Scotland.

Among measures coming into force in Scotland on Friday, pubs in the two biggest cities, Glasgow and Edinburgh, have been ordered to close for 16 days. Pubs in England only reopened in early July, having shut their doors to customers on March 20 as part of the wider national lockdown.

As elsewhere in Europe, restrictions have been reimposed in the U.K., which has witnessed the continent’s deadliest virus outbreak, with an official death toll of 42,515.

The spike had been widely predicted in the wake of the reopening of the hospitality sector, shops and places of learning.

In many areas of northern England, national measures, such as the closure of pubs and restaurants at 10 p.m. have been augmented by tighter local actions, such as banning contact between households.

However, there is growing evidence to show that those areas that have seen additional restrictions have not experienced a slowdown in the epidemic. In some areas, the number of new infections is 10 times higher than when the localized restrictions were announced.

Many local leaders are aghast at what they say has been a lack of communication from the Conservative government over further measures that may be in the offing.

Andy Burnham, the Labour mayor of Greater Manchester, is becoming increasingly aghast at the government’s lack of communication with him and the other regional leaders on the front line of the current outbreak.

“I am prepared to consider restrictions but they have to be number one, evidence-based, and they have to come with support,” he said on the BBC.

“They have to get rid of the contradictory measures that are in place; for instance, the 10 p.m. curfew, which I think contradicts local restrictions because it acts as an incentive for more gatherings in the home,” he said.

The daily figures provided by the government clearly show the numbers heading in the wrong direction, from new infections through to deaths.

The latest figures on Wednesday showed another 14,162 cases, which is double the amount that was being reported the previous week. The number of people being hospitalized increased by 508 and the daily death toll rose by 70. But behind the national numbers lurk huge regional variations, which has led to calls for more concerted local actions to be taken.

The enforced closure of businesses will undoubtedly cause further economic damage to hot spots, and unions are demanding that the government accompanies any lockdown changes with a financial support package to prevent mass unemployment.

The umbrella Trades Union Congress is urging the government to announce local job retention programs, whereby it steps in to pay the lion’s share of the salaries of those workers who have been forced to go idle. A national program that has helped keep a lid on unemployment in the country is due to end at the end of October.

“In areas facing high infection rates and further business closures, the government must act to preserve jobs and stop family firms going to the wall through a new local furlough scheme,” the TUC’s general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

‘Catastrophically short of doctors’: Virus wallops Ukraine

By MSTYSLAV CHERNOV and YURAS KARMANAU for the Associated Press

STEBNYK, Ukraine (AP) — Coronavirus infections in Ukraine began surging in late summer, and the ripples are now hitting towns like Stebnyk in the western part of the country, where Dr. Natalia Stetsik is watching the rising number of patients with alarm and anguish.

A nurse checks the temperature of a patient with coronavirus in Stebnyk, western Ukraine, on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020. As coronavirus cases increase, every bed in the hospital in this city in western Ukraine is in use and its chief doctor is watching the surge with alarm and anguish. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

“It’s incredibly difficult. We are catastrophically short of doctors,” says Stetsik, the chief doctor at the only hospital in the town of 20,000 people. “It’s very hard for a doctor to even see all the patients.”

The hospital is supposed to accommodate 100 patients, but it’s already stretched to the limit, treating 106 patients with COVID-19.ADVERTISEMENT

Early in the pandemic, Ukraine’s ailing health care system struggled with the outbreak, and authorities introduced a tight lockdown in March to prevent hospitals from getting overwhelmed.

The number of cases slowed during the summer but began to rise again quickly, prompting the government at the end of August to close Ukraine’s borders for a month. Despite that, the number of positive tests in the country reached a new peak of 4,661 a day in the first weekend of October.

Overall, COVID-19 infections in the country have nearly doubled in the past month, topping 234,000.

“The number of patients is rising, and an increasing share of them are in grave condition,” Stetsik told The Associated Press of the situation in Stebnyk, a quiet town in the Lviv region. “The virus is becoming more aggressive and more difficult to deal with.”

She said many of those doing poorly are in their 30s, adding that an increasing number of them need expensive medication.

“There is a similar situation across entire Ukraine,” she said, adding that hospitals have run out of funds to provide drugs, forcing patients in some areas to buy their own.

The World Health Organization warns that the number of infections in Ukraine could continue to grow and reach 7,000-9,000 a day.

The government wants to avoid imposing a new lockdown, but officials acknowledge that the rising number of infections could make it necessary. It has sought to introduce a more flexible approach to minimize the economic damage, dividing the country into various zones, depending on the pace of infections.

At a meeting Monday with officials in Kyiv, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy chastised them for failing to do enough to slow the spread and taking too long to provide necessary supplies.

“We spend weeks on doing things that must be done within days,” he said.

Zelenskiy specifically urged them to move faster on ensuring that hospitals have enough supplementary oxygen, noting that only about 40% of beds for COVID-19 patients have access to it.

Ukraine’s corruption-ridden economy has been drained by a six-year conflict with Russia-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country, and Zelenskiy’s administration inherited health care reforms from his predecessor that slashed government subsidies, leaving hospital workers underpaid and poorly equipped.

Last month, Zelenskiy ordered the government to increase wages for medical workers.

Official statistics show that 132 medical workers have died from the coronavirus, although the figure doesn’t include those who tested negative but had symptoms typical for COVID-19.

One of them was Ivan Venzhynovych, a 51-year-old therapist from the western town of Pochaiv, who described the challenges of dealing with the outbreak in an interview with the AP in May.

Venzhynovych died last week of double pneumonia, which his colleagues believed was caused by the coronavirus, even though he tested negative for it.

“He certainly had COVID-19,” said Venzhynovych’s widow, Iryna, a doctor at the hospital where he worked. “There are many infections among medical workers, some of them confirmed and others not.”

The government pays the equivalent to $56,000 to families of medical workers who die from the coronavirus. But Venzhynovych’s widow can’t receive the payment because he tested negative.

As the number of infections soars, many lawmakers and top officials are testing positive, including former President Petro Poroshenko, who was hospitalized in serious condition with virus-induced pneumonia.

Medical professionals want the government to bring back a sweeping lockdown, pointing to the scarce resources for the health care system.

“It’s possible that Ukraine would need to return to a tight quarantine like in the spring. The number of patients is really big,” said Dr. Andriy Gloshovskiy, a surgeon at the hospital in Stebnyk.

He blamed the new infections on public negligence.

“People are quite careless, and I feel sorry that they aren’t impressed by numbers,” he said.

Gloshovskiy said he had to switch to treating COVID-19 patients because of the personnel shortage.

“I had to change my specialty because my colleagues simply wouldn’t be able to cope with it without me,” he said.

Health Minister Maxim Stepanov acknowledged that the shortage of doctors and nurses is a big problem.

“We may increase the hospital capacity and improve oxygen supply, but we could just be simply short of doctors,” he said. “Every system has its limit.”

A tight lockdown would be a severe blow to the already weakened economy, Stepanov said, warning that authorities could be forced to do it anyway.

“If the situation takes a menacing turn, the Health Ministry would propose to return to tough quarantine measures,” he said.

At the Stebnyk hospital, some patients said they only realized the coronavirus threat after falling ill.

“I didn’t believe in its existence until I became infected,” said 43-year-old Natalia Bobyak. “When I got here I saw that people get sick en masse.”

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Karmanau reported from Kyiv, Ukraine.

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Peru bet on cheap COVID antibody tests; it didn’t go well

By CHRISTINE ARMARIO from the Associated Press

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, the harried health officials of Peru faced a quandary. They knew molecular tests for COVID-19 were the best option to detect the virus – yet they didn’t have the labs, the supplies, or the technicians to make them work.

FILE – In this April 15, 2020 file photo, a healthcare worker testing for the new coronavirus monitors the results of antibody tests, inside a home in Lima, Peru. Peru imported millions of COVID-9 antibody tests to detect infections, even though they are not designed to identify active cases. Some have been banned from distribution in the United States after being found faulty. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd, File)

But there was a cheaper alternative — antibody tests, mostly from China, that were flooding the market at a fraction of the price and could deliver a positive or negative result within minutes of a simple fingerstick.

In March, President Martin Vizcarra took the airwaves to announce he’d signed off on a massive purchase of 1.6 million tests – almost all of them for antibodies.

Now, interviews with experts, public purchase orders, import records, government resolutions, patients, and COVID-19 health reports show that the country’s bet on rapid antibody tests went dangerously off course.

Unlike almost every other nation, Peru is relying heavily on rapid antibody blood tests to diagnose active cases – a purpose for which they are not designed. The tests cannot detect early COVID-19 infections, making it hard to quickly identify and isolate the sick. Epidemiologists interviewed by The Associated Press say their misuse is producing a sizable number of false positives and negatives, helping fuel one of the world’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks.

What’s more, a number of the antibody tests purchased for use in Peru have since been rejected by the United States after independent analysis found they did not meet standards for accurately detecting COVID-19.

Today the South American nation has the highest per capita COVID-19 mortality rate of any country across the globe, according to John Hopkins University – and physicians there believe the country’s faulty testing approach is one reason why.

“This was a multi-systemic failure,” said Dr. Víctor Zamora, Peru’s former minister of health. “We should have stopped the rapid tests by now.”

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As COVID-19 cases popped up across the globe, low- and middle-income nations found themselves in a dilemma.

The World Health Organization was calling on authorities to ramp up testing to prevent the virus from spreading out of control. One particular test – a polymerase chain reaction exam – was deemed the best option. Using a specimen collected from deep in the nose, the test is developed on specialized machines that can detect the genetic material of the virus within days of infection.

If COVID-19 cases are caught early, the sick can be isolated, their contacts traced, and the chain of contagion severed.

Within weeks of the initial outbreak in China, genome sequences for the virus were made available and specialists in Asia and Europe got to work creating their own tests. But in parts of the world like Africa and Latin America, there was no such option. They would have to wait for the tests to become available – and when they did, the incredible demand meant most weren’t able to secure the number they required.

“The collapse of global cooperation and a failure of international solidarity have shoved Africa out of the diagnostics market,” Dr. John Nkengasong, director of the Africa CDC, wrote in Nature magazine in April as the hunt was underway.

Nations that got an early jump start in preparing or had a relatively robust health care system already in place fared best. Two weeks after Colombia identified its first case, the country had 22 private and public laboratories signed up to do PCR testing. Peru, by contrast, relied on just one laboratory capable of 200 tests a day.

For years, Peru has invested a smaller part of its GDP on public health than others in the region. As COVID-19 approached, glaring deficiencies in Peru became evident. There were just 100 ICU beds available for COVID-19 patients, said Dr. Víctor Zamora, who was appointed to lead Peru’s Ministry of Health in March. Corruption scandals had left numerous hospital construction projects on pause. Peru also faced a significant shortage of doctors, forcing the state to embark on a massive hiring campaign.

Even now, months later, Peru’s needs are vastly under met. To date, the country has less than 2,000 ICU beds, compared to over 6,000 in the state of Florida, which has 10 million fewer inhabitants, according to official data.

High levels of poverty and people who depend on daily wages from informal work complicated the government’s efforts to impose a strict quarantine, further challenging Peru’s ability to respond effectively to the virus.

When Zamora arrived, he said the government had already decided molecular tests weren’t a viable option. The nation didn’t have the infrastructure needed to run the tests but also acted too slowly in trying to obtain what little was available on the market.

“Peru didn’t buy in time,” he said. “Everyone in Latin America bought before us – even Cuba.”

Antibody tests – which detect proteins created by the immune system in response to a virus – had numerous drawbacks. They had not been widely tested and their accuracy was in question. If taken too early, most people with the virus test negative. That could lead those infected to think they do not have COVID-19. False positives can be equally perilous, leading people to incorrectly believe they are immune.

Antibody tests didn’t require high-skill training or even a lab; municipal workers with no medical education could be taught how to administer then.

“For the time we were in, it was the right decision,” Zamora said. “We didn’t know what we know about the virus today.”

Busy 2020 hurricane season has Louisiana bracing a 6th time

By STACEY PLAISANCE and REBECCA SANTANA for the Associated Press

MORGAN CITY, La. (AP) — For the sixth time in the Atlantic hurricane season, people in Louisiana are once more fleeing the state’s barrier islands and sailing boats to safe harbor while emergency officials ramp up command centers and consider ordering evacuations.

fill sandbags to protect their home in anticipation of Hurricane Delta, expected to arrive along the Gulf Coast later this week, in Houma, La., Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The storm being watched Wednesday was Hurricane Delta, the 25th named storm of the Atlantic’s unprecedented hurricane season. Forecasts placed most of the state within Delta’s path.

“This season has been relentless,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said, dusting off what has become his common refrain in 2020 – “Prepare for the worst. Pray for the best.”

So far, Louisiana has seen both major strikes and near misses. The southwest area of the state around Lake Charles, which forecasts show is on Delta’s current trajectory, is still recovering from Category 4 Hurricane Laura which made landfall on Aug. 27.

Nearly six weeks later, some 5,600 people remain in New Orleans hotels because their homes are too damaged to occupy. Trees, roofs and other debris left in Laura’s wake still sit by roadsides in the Lake Charles area waiting for pickup even as forecasters warned that Delta could be a larger than average storm.

New Orleans spent a few days last month bracing for Hurricane Sally before it skirted off to the east, making landfall in Alabama on Sept. 16.

Delta is predicted to strengthen back into a Category 3 storm after hitting the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula on Wednesday. The latest National Hurricane Center forecast anticipated landfall in Louisiana on Friday, with the sparsely populated area between Cameron and Vermilion Bay the first place to get hit.

Plywood, batteries and rope were flying off the shelves at the Tiger Island hardware store in Morgan City, which would be close to the center of the storm’s path.

“The other ones didn’t bother me, but this one seems like we’re the target,” customer Terry Guarisco said as a store employee helped him load his truck with the plywood he planned to use to board up his home for the first time of the hurricane season.

In Sulphur, just across the Calcasieu River from Lake Charles, Ben Reynolds was deciding whether to leave or not because of Delta. He had to use a generator for power for a week after Hurricane Laura.

“It’s depressing,” Reynolds said. “It’s scary as hell.”

By sundown Wednesday, Acy Cooper planned to have his three shrimp boats locked down and tucked into a southern Louisiana bayou for the third time this season.

“We’re not making any money,” Cooper said. “Every time one comes we end up losing a week or two.”

Lynn Nguyen, who works at the TLC Seafood Market in Abbeville, said each storm threat forces fisherman to spend days pulling hundreds of crab traps from the water or risk losing them.

“It’s been a rough year. The minute you get your traps out and get fishing, its time to pull them out again because something is brewing out there,” Nguyen said.

Elsewhere in Abbeville, Wednesday brought another round of boarding up and planning, Vermilion Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lynn Guillory said.

“I think that the stress is not just the stress of the storm this year, it’s everything – one thing after another. Somebody just told me, ‘You know, we’ve really had enough,’” Guillory said,

On Grand Isle, the Starfish restaurant plans to stay open until it runs out of food Wednesday. Restaurant employee Nicole Fantiny then intends to join the rush of people leaving the barrier island, where the COVID-19 pandemic already devastated the tourism industry.

“The epidemic, the coronavirus, put a lot of people out of work. Now, having to leave once a month for these storms — it’s been taking a lot,” said Fantiny, who tried to quit smoking two weeks ago but gave in and bought a pack of cigarettes Tuesday as Delta rapidly strengthened.

While New Orleans has been mostly spared by the weather and found itself outside Delta’s cone Wednesday, constant vigilance and months as a COVID-19 hot spot have strained the vulnerable city, which has a long hurricane memory due to the scars from 2005′s Hurricane Katrina.

The shift in Delta’s forecast track likely meant no need for a major evacuation, but the city’s emergency officials were on alert.

“We’ve had five near misses. We need to watch this one very, very closely,” New Orleans Emergency Director Collin Arnold said.

Along with getting hit by Hurricane Laura and escaping Hurricane Sally, Louisiana saw heavy flooding on June 7 from Tropical Storm Cristobal. Tropical Storm Beta prompted tropical storm warnings in mid-September as it slowly crawled up the northeast Texas coast.

Tropical Storm Marco looked like it might deliver the first half of a hurricane double-blow with Laura, but nearly dissipated before hitting the state near the mouth of the Mississippi River on Aug. 24.

And there are nearly eight weeks of hurricane season left to go, although forecasters at the National Weather Service office in New Orleans noted in a discussion Tuesday of this week’s forecast that outside of Delta, the skies above the Gulf of Mexico look calm.

“Not seeing any signs of any additional tropical weather in the extended which is OK with us because we are SO DONE with Hurricane Season 2020,” they wrote.

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Santana reported from New Orleans. Kevin McGill in New Orleans; Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Leah Willingham in Jackson, Mississippi; and Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.

‘Desperation science’ slows the hunt for coronavirus drugs

By MARILYNN MARCHIONE for the Associated Press

Desperate to solve the deadly conundrum of COVID-19, the world is clamoring for fast answers and solutions from a research system not built for haste.

The ironic, and perhaps tragic, result: Scientific shortcuts have slowed understanding of the disease and delayed the ability to find out which drugs help, hurt or have no effect at all.

Doris Kelley, 57, sits in her home on Monday, June 29, 2020 in Ruffs Dale, Pa. Kelley was one of the first patients in a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center trial for COVID-19. “It felt like someone was sitting on my chest and I couldn’t get any air,” Kelley said of the disease. (AP Photo/Justin Merriman)

As deaths from the coronavirus relentlessly mounted into the hundreds of thousands, tens of thousands of doctors and patients rushed to use drugs before they could be proved safe or effective. A slew of low-quality studies clouded the picture even more.

“People had an epidemic in front of them and were not prepared to wait,” said Dr. Derek Angus, critical care chief at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “We made traditional clinical research look so slow and cumbersome.”

It wasn’t until mid-June — nearly six months in — when the first evidence came that a drug could improve survival. Researchers in the United Kingdom managed to enroll one of every six hospitalized COVID-19 patients into a large study that found a cheap steroid called dexamethasone helps and that a widely used malaria drug does not. The study changed practice overnight, even though results had not been published or reviewed by other scientists.

In the United States, one smaller but rigorous study found a different drug can shorten recovery time for seriously ill patients, but many questions remain about its best use.

Doctors are still frantically reaching for anything else that might fight the many ways the virus can do harm, experimenting with medicines for stroke, heartburn, blood clots, gout, depression, inflammation, AIDS, hepatitis, cancer, arthritis and even stem cells and radiation.

“Everyone has been kind of grasping for anything that might work. And that’s not how you develop sound medical practice,” said Dr. Steven Nissen, a Cleveland Clinic researcher and frequent adviser to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Desperation is not a strategy. Good clinical trials represent a solid strategy.”

Few definitive studies have been done in the U.S., with some undermined by people getting drugs on their own or lax methods from drug companies sponsoring the work.

And politics magnified the problem. Tens of thousands of people tried a malaria medicine after President Donald Trump relentlessly promoted it, saying, “What have you got to lose?” Meanwhile, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, warned “I like to prove things first.” For three months, weak studies polarized views of hydroxychloroquine until several more reliable ones found it ineffective.

“The problem with ‘gunslinger medicine,’ or medicine that is practiced where there is a hunch … is that it’s caused society as a whole to be late in learning things,” said Johns Hopkins University’s Dr. Otis Brawley. “We don’t have good evidence because we don’t appreciate and respect science.”

He noted that if studies had been conducted correctly in January and February, scientists would have known by March if many of these drugs worked.

Even researchers who value science are taking shortcuts and bending rules to try to get answers more rapidly. And journals are rushing to publish results, sometimes paying a price for their haste with retractions.

Research is still chaotic — more than 2,000 studies are testing COVID-19 treatments from azithromycin to zinc. The volume might not be surprising in the face of a pandemic and a novel virus, but some experts say it is troubling that many studies are duplicative and lack the scientific rigor to result in clear answers.

“Everything about this feels very strange,” said Angus, who is leading an innovative study using artificial intelligence to help pick treatments. “It’s all being done on COVID time. It’s like this new weird clock we’re running on.”

Here is a look at some of the major examples of “desperation science” underway.

A MALARIA DRUG GOES VIRAL

To scientists, it was a recipe for disaster: In a medical crisis with no known treatment and a panicked population, an influential public figure pushes a drug with potentially serious side effects, citing testimonials and a quickly discredited report of its use in 20 patients.

Trump touted hydroxychloroquine in dozens of appearances starting in mid-March. The Food and Drug Administration allowed its emergency use even though studies had not shown it safe or effective for coronavirus patients, and the government acquired tens of millions of doses.

Trump first urged taking it with azithromycin, an antibiotic that, like hydroxychloroquine, can cause heart rhythm problems. After criticism, he doubled down on giving medical advice, urging “You should add zinc now … I want to throw that out there.” In May, he said he was taking the drugs himself to prevent infection after an aide tested positive.

Many people followed his advice.

Dr. Rais Vohra, medical director of a California poison control center, told of a 52-year-old COVID-19 patient who developed an irregular heartbeat after three days on hydroxychloroquine – from the drug, not the virus.

“It seems like the cure was more dangerous than the effects of the disease,” Vohra said.

Studies suggested the drug wasn’t helping, but they were weak. And the most influential one, published in the journal Lancet, was retracted after major concerns arose about the data.

Craving better information, a University of Minnesota doctor who had been turned down for federal funding spent $5,000 of his own money to buy hydroxychloroquine for a rigorous test using placebo pills as a comparison. In early June, Dr. David Boulware’s results showed hydroxychloroquine did not prevent COVID-19 in people closely exposed to someone with it.

A UK study found the drug ineffective for treatment, as did other studies by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization.

Boulware’s colleague, Dr. Rahda Rajasingham, aimed to enroll 3,000 health workers in a study to see if hydroxychloroquine could prevent infection, but recently decided to stop at 1,500.

When the study started, “there was this belief that hydroxychloroquine was this wonder drug,” Rajasingham said. More than 1,200 people signed up in just two weeks, but that slowed to a trickle after some negative reports.

“The national conversation about this drug has changed from everyone wants this drug … to nobody wants anything to do with it,” she said. “It sort of has become political where people who support the president are pro-hydroxychloroquine.”

Researchers just want to know if it works.

LEARN AS YOU GO

In Pittsburgh, Angus is aiming for something between Trump’s “just try it” and Fauci’s “do the ideal study” approach.

In a pandemic, “there has to be a middle road, another way,” Angus said. “We do not have the luxury of time. We must try to learn while doing.”

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s 40 hospitals in Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland and Ohio joined a study underway in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand that randomly assigns patients to one of dozens of possible treatments and uses artificial intelligence to adapt treatments, based on the results. If a drug looks like a winner, the computer assigns more people to get it. Losers are quickly abandoned.

The system “learns on the fly, so our physicians are always betting on the winning horse,” Angus said.

A small number of patients given usual care serve as a comparison group for all of the treatments being tested, so more participants wind up getting a shot at trying something.

Mark Shannon, a 61-year-old retired bank teller from Pittsburgh, was the first to join.

“I knew that there was no known cure. I knew that they were learning as they went along in many cases. I just put my trust in them,” he said.

Shannon, who spent 11 days on a breathing machine, received the steroid hydrocortisone and recovered.

Doris Kelley, a 57-year-old preschool teacher in Ruffs Dale, southeast of Pittsburgh, joined the study in April.

“It felt like someone was sitting on my chest and I couldn’t get any air,” Kelley said of COVID-19.

She has asthma and other health problems and was glad to let the computer choose among the many possible treatments. It assigned her to get hydroxychloroquine and she went home a couple days later.

It’s too soon to know if either patient’s drug helped or if they would have recovered on their own.

THE BUMPY ROAD TO REMDESIVIR

When the new coronavirus was identified, attention swiftly turned to remdesivir, an experimental medicine administered through an IV that showed promise against other coronaviruses in the past by curbing their ability to copy their genetic material.

Doctors in China launched two studies comparing remdesivir to the usual care of severely and moderately ill hospitalized patients. The drug’s maker, Gilead Sciences, also started its own studies, but they were weak — one had no comparison group and, in the other, patients and doctors knew who was getting the drug, which compromises any judgments about whether it works.

The NIH launched the most rigorous test, comparing remdesivir to placebo IV treatments. While these studies were underway, Gilead also gave away the drug on a case-by-case basis to thousands of patients.

In April, Chinese researchers ended their studies early, saying they could no longer enroll enough patients as the outbreak ebbed there. In a podcast with a journal editor, Fauci gave another possible explanation: Many patients already believed remdesivir worked and were not willing to join a study where they might end up in a comparison group. That may have been especially true if they could get the drug directly from Gilead.

In late April, Fauci revealed preliminary results from the NIH trial showing remdesivir shortened the time to recovery by 31% — 11 days on average versus 15 days for those just given usual care.

Some criticized releasing those results rather than continuing the study to see if the drug could improve survival and to learn more about when and how to use it, but independent monitors had advised that it was no longer ethical to continue with a placebo group as soon as a benefit was apparent.

Until that study, the only other big, rigorous test of a coronavirus treatment was from China. As that country rushed to build field hospitals to deal with the medical crisis, doctors randomly assigned COVID-19 patients to get either two HIV antiviral drugs or the usual care and quickly published results in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“These investigators were able to do it under unbelievable circumstances,” the journal’s top editor, Dr. Eric Rubin, said on a podcast. “It’s been disappointing that the pace of research has been quite slow since that time.”

WHY SCIENCE MATTERS

By not properly testing drugs before allowing wide use, “time and time again in medical history, people have been hurt more often than helped,” Brawley said.

For decades, lidocaine was routinely used to prevent heart rhythm problems in people suspected of having heart attacks until a study in the mid-1980s showed the drug actually caused the problem it was meant to prevent, he said.

Alta Charo, a University of Wisconsin lawyer and bioethicist, recalled the clamor in the 1990s to get insurers to cover bone marrow transplants for breast cancer until a solid study showed they “simply made people more miserable and sicker” without improving survival.

Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, former FDA scientists Drs. Jesse Goodman and Luciana Borio criticized the push to use hydroxychloroquine during this pandemic and cited similar pressure to use an antibody combo called ZMapp during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, which waned before that drug’s effectiveness could be determined. It took four years and another outbreak to learn that ZMapp helped less than two similar treatments.

During the 2009-2010 swine flu outbreak, the experimental drug peramivir was widely used without formal study, Drs. Benjamin Rome and Jerry Avorn of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston noted in the New England Journal. The drug later gave disappointing results in a rigorous study and ultimately was approved merely for less serious cases of flu and not severely ill hospitalized patients.

Patients are best served when we stick to science rather than “cutting corners and resorting to appealing yet risky quick fixes,” they wrote. The pandemic will do enough harm, and damage to the system for testing and approving drugs “should not be part of its legacy.”

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Marilynn Marchione can be followed on Twitter: @MMarchioneAP

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Police: Suspicious devices on Trump signs were theft alarms

From the Associated Press

EASTON, Md. (AP) — Several “suspicious devices” were found on Trump-Pence campaign signs around a Maryland city, but when bomb squads arrived, they realized those devices were small alarm systems.

Easton Police and the State Fire Marshal Bomb Squad said they were busy Sunday and Monday investigating the devices, which were found taped to the political lawn signs.

The first sign was found in Idlewild Park Sunday morning. Later, four more signs in and around Easton were found with similar devices on them.

Officials said the devices posed no threat to the public: They’re just audible alarms that sound when a pull pin, attached to a string, is tugged away.

The State Marshal’s office said their apparent purpose was to prevent the signs from being stolen or removed.

The campaign signs were placed in public areas, which is illegal. Campaign signs aren’t allowed on “public rights-of-way,” road shoulders, or on medians.

Officials have asked the public to alert police if other suspicious devices are found on the signs. Officials also asked residents to not remove the devices themselves.

White House staff, Secret Service eye virus with fear, anger

By JILL COLVIN, DEB RIECHMANN and COLLEEN LONG for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The West Wing is a ghost town. Staff members are scared of exposure. And the White House is now a treatment ward for not one — but two — COVID patients, including a president who has long taken the threat of the virus lightly.

President Donald Trump arrives back at the White House aboard Marine One, Monday evening, Oct. 5, 2020 in Washington, after being treated for COVID-19 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The president’s personal physician, Dr. Sean Conley, told reporters on Monday afternoon that Trump is not out of the woods yet, but that there is no care at the hospital that the president cannot get at the White House. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

President Donald Trump’s decision to return home from a military hospital despite his continued illness is putting new focus on the people around him who could be further exposed if he doesn’t abide by strict isolation protocols.

Throughout the pandemic, White House custodians, ushers, kitchen staff and members of the U.S. Secret Service have continued to show up for work in what is now a coronavirus hot spot, with more than a dozen known cases this week alone.

Trump, still contagious, has made clear that he has little intention of abiding by best containment practices.

As he arrived back at the White House on Monday evening, the president defiantly removed his face mask and stopped to pose on a balcony within feet of a White House photographer. He was seen inside moments later, surrounded by numerous people as he taped a video message urging Americans not to fear a virus that has killed more than 210,000 in the U.S. and 1 million worldwide.

White House spokesman Judd Deere said the White House was “taking every precaution necessary” to protect not just the first family but “every staff member working on the complex” consistent with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and best practices. He added that physical access to the president would be significantly limited and appropriate protective gear worn by those near him.

Nonetheless, the mood within the White House remains somber, with staff fearful they may have been exposed to the virus. As they confront a new reality — a worksite that once seemed like a bubble of safety is anything but — they also have been engaged in finger-pointing over conflicting reports released about the president’s health as well as a lack of information provided internally.

Many have learned about positive tests from media reports and several were exposed, without their knowledge, to people the White House already knew could be contagious.

Indeed, it took until late Sunday night, nearly three full days after Trump’s diagnosis, for the White House to send a staff-wide note in response. Even then, it did not acknowledge the outbreak.

“As a reminder,” read the letter from the White House Management Office, “if you are experiencing any symptoms … please stay home and do not come to work.” Staff who develop symptoms were advised to “go home immediately” and contact their doctors rather than the White House Medical Unit.

Even when Trump was at the hospital, his staff was not immune to risk.

Trump had aides there recording videos and taking photographs of him. On Sunday evening, he took a surprise drive around the hospital to wave to supporters from the window of an SUV. The Secret Service agents in the car with him were dressed in personal protective equipment.

“Appropriate precautions were taken in the execution of this movement to protect the president and all those supporting it, including PPE,” Deere said.

Trump campaign spokesman Hogan Gidley dismissed media concern about the agents’ safety as “absolutely stupid and foolish.”

“How do they think he’s going to leave? Is someone gonna toss him the keys to a Buick and let him drive home by himself? They’re always around him because that’s their job,” Gidley said on Fox News.

But agents told a very different story.

Several who spoke with The Associated Press expressed concern over the cavalier attitude the White House has taken when it comes to masks and distancing. Colleagues, they said, are angry, but feel there’s little they can do.

One, speaking after White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany tested positive on Monday, said it felt like he and some of his colleagues had been spared only by a measure of good luck.

Others noted the difference between facing outside threats they have trained for — a gun, a bomb or a biohazard — and being put at additional risk because of behavior they characterized as reckless at times. The agents spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid jeopardizing their jobs.

The Secret Service has refused to disclose how many of its employees have tested positive or have had to quarantine, citing privacy and security. But in the midst of the election, thousands of agents are on duty and anyone who tests positive can easily be subbed out, officials have said.

Secret Service spokeswoman Julia McMurray said the agency takes “every precaution to keep our protectees, employees and families, and the general public, safe and healthy.”

Trump has joined first lady Melania Trump, who also tested positive, in the residential area of the White House. It is typically served by a staff of roughly 100 people, including housekeepers, cooks, florists, groundskeepers and five or six butlers — who interact most closely with the president, said Kate Andersen Brower, who wrote the “The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House.”

During the pandemic, that staff has been reduced to a skeleton crew, with mask-wearing much more prevalent than in the West Wing, where few have worn them regularly.

Brower said she recently spoke with three former employees who expressed concern about the health of current workers, but were too afraid to speak publicly.

“The butlers always feel protective of the first family, but there’s just a concern about whether or not the staff would get sick,” Brower said. Most are older, she said, “because they work from one generation to the next. They are people who have been on the job for 20 to 30 years. They want to work to get their full pensions.”

Many of the White House residence staffers are Black or Latino, among the demographic groups showing higher rates of infection and death in the pandemic. Overall deaths among minorities have risen far higher than among white people, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show. Among the risk factors, some communities of color are likely to have lower incomes, less often have insurance to help fight sickness, and have jobs that are deemed essential and expose them to higher risk of infection.

For months now, cleaning staff have also privately voiced concerns about their safety, including lack of access to testing and inadequate protective gear.

Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s spokeswoman, said that “all precautions are being taken to ensure the health and safety of the residence staff,” but she declined to be specific.

While the White House has refused to implement new safety procedures — such as making masks mandatory — the building was noticeably emptier Monday, with more staffers now staying home on days when they are not needed on site.

On Monday morning, there was just a single staff member in the ground floor press office, where two medical staff members administered COVID-19 tests, surrounded by empty desks.

It’s not the first time a White House has had to contend with a virus. During the flu pandemic of 1918, President Woodrow Wilson was infected as were members of his family and White House staff, including his secretary and several Secret Service members, according to the White House Historical Association.

So were two sheep who spent their days grazing on the South Lawn. They were hospitalized but recovered.

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Associated Press writers Aamer Madhani, Zeke Miller, Michael Balsamo and Lauran Neergaard contributed to this report.

Justices reject South Dakota’s only death row inmate’s case

From the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court refused on Monday to take up an appeal from South Dakota’s only death row inmate, who pleaded guilty to taking part in a torture killing 20 years ago.

Anti-abortion activists with “Bound 4 Life” demonstrate at the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, as the justices begin a new term without the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The court did not comment in leaving in place the death sentence for Briley Piper, 39, of Anchorage, Alaska, who was one of three people convicted in the killing of Chester Allen Poage of Spearfish, South Dakota. One has been executed and the other is serving a life sentence in prison.

Prosecutors said the three men were high on methamphetamine and LSD when they decided to burglarize Poage’s home. The episode ended with the men stoning Poage to death. One of the defendants, Elijah Page, was executed in 2007. A third man, Darrell Hoadley, was convicted at trial and sentenced to life in prison.

The South Dakota Supreme Court upheld Poage’s sentence in 2019. Justices said the arguments from Piper were “untimely” and didn’t contest his guilt, Piper had argued in his appeal that his guilty pleas were not made voluntarily or intelligently, and he blamed his defense counsel for that.

South Dakota’s last execution was in November 2019, when Charles Russell Rhines died by lethal injection for the 1992 fatal stabbing of a doughnut shop worker.

Trump’s doctor’s comments on symptoms, care spark confusion

By LAURAN NEERGAARD for the Associated Press

For the second day in a row, the Navy commander in charge of President Donald Trump’s care left the world wondering: Just how sick is the president?

Dr. Sean Conley is trained in emergency medicine, not infectious disease, but he has a long list of specialists helping determine Trump’s treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Dr. Sean Conley, physician to President Donald Trump, and other doctors, arrive to brief reporters at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020. Trump was admitted to the hospital after contracting the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Conley said Sunday that Trump is doing well enough that he might be sent back to the White House in another day — even as he announced the president was given a steroid drug that’s only recommended for the very sick.

Worse, steroids like dexamethasone tamp down important immune cells, raising concern about whether the treatment choice might hamper the ability of the president’s body to fight the virus.

Then there’s the question of public trust: Conley acknowledged that that he had tried to present a rosy description of the president’s condition in his first briefing of the weekend “and in doing so, came off like we’re trying to hide something, which wasn’t necessarily true.”

In fact, Conley refused to directly answer on Saturday whether the president had been given any oxygen — only to admit the next day that he had ordered oxygen for Trump on Friday morning.

It’s puzzling even for outside specialists.

“It’s a little unusual to have to guess what’s really going on because the clinical descriptions are so vague,” said Dr. Steven Shapiro, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s chief medical and science officer. With the steroid news, “there’s a little bit of a disconnect.”

Conley has been Trump’s physician since 2018 — and already has experienced some criticism about his decisions. In May, Conley prescribed Trump a two-week course of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to protect against the coronavirus after two White House staffers had tested positive. Rigorous studies have made clear that hydroxychloroquine, which Trump long championed, does no good in either treating or preventing COVID-19.

This time around, Conley is being put to an even greater test, trying to balance informing a public that needs honesty about the condition of the president with a patient who dislikes appearing vulnerable.

Dr. Stephen Xenakis, a psychiatrist who retired from the Army medical corps as a brigadier general, said Conley would be obliged to follow Trump’s wishes regarding what information about his condition is released publicly, as is true in any doctor-patient relationship.

But Conley as a military medical officer is bound to adhere to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which prohibits lying, he said.

A number of current and former military officials declined to comment on the record, referring all questions to the White House. But several said they were concerned that Conley’s efforts to spin a more upbeat characterization of the president’s current health condition is raising flags within the Navy about his credibility and the reputation of the Navy’s medical team. They said his admission that he tried to give an optimistic description of Trump’s condition may lead the public to question future information he or the other doctors provide.

They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal conversations or because they are not part of the president’s medical team and therefore do not have details on his condition.

According to medical licensing records from Virginia, Conley graduated from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2006. Rather than having an M.D. degree, Conley is a D.O., or doctor of osteopathic medicine — a fully licensed physician but one that, according to the American Osteopathic Association, focuses more holistically on treating the “whole person.”

Conley went on to a residency in emergency medicine at the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Virginia, and served at a NATO trauma hospital at Kandahar airfield in Afghanistan.

A trauma expert isn’t required to be up to speed on respiratory viruses — but deciding to move Trump to Walter Reed meant Conley would be backed up by a team of critical care experts who specialize in pulmonary and infectious disease.

Several are Walter Reed staff, but the team also brought in Dr. Brian Garibaldi from nearby Johns Hopkins University, a well-known expert in acute lung injury who has cared for COVID-19 patients.

Garibaldi told a Hopkins publication over the summer that he had enrolled in a study testing if hydroxychloroquine could protect health workers — even as he said doctors must “resist the urge to give this medicine to everyone. We all want to do something to help our patients but sometimes doing something can be more harmful than doing nothing and I think we need to keep that in mind.”

What’s known about Trump’s current treatment: He was given an experimental antibody drug that most people could get only in a research study — along with a course of remdesivir, an antiviral, earlier than most patients.

Pittsburgh’s Shapiro, who is both a lung and critical care specialist, called those reasonable decisions: The idea is to help the body fight the virus early, before it triggers a lung-damaging inflammatory overreaction.

What Trump’s medical team hasn’t mentioned: Whether he’s getting blood thinners, which are being given to nearly all hospitalized COVID-19 patients to prevent virus-triggered blood clots that in turn harm the lungs and other organs.

And giving the steroid drug to a mildly sick patient disregards treatment guidelines from the National Institutes of Health and World Health Organization that say it’s only for people ill enough to need oxygen. For seriously ill people, research shows that once the virus has escaped the immune system, dexamethasone can tamp down the resulting inflammation and save lives.

“If they’re really talking about discharge tomorrow, and he really isn’t on oxygen,” Shapiro said, “then it’s more likely that the dexamethasone is just thrown in there as more one more thing that probably isn’t necessary and might not even be helpful.”

“The next few days are going to be key,” Shapiro noted.

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AP reporters Lolita C. Baldor and Brian Witte contributed to this report.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Armenia and Azerbaijan clash as Iran works on peace plan

By AVET DEMOURIAN for the Associated Press

YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Armenia accused Azerbaijan of firing missiles into the capital of the separatist territory of Nagorno-Karabakh on Monday, while Azerbaijan said several of its towns and its second-largest city were attacked.

People walk inside a building, destroyed by shelling by Armenian forces in Barda, Azerbaijan, Monday, Oct. 5, 2020. The fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces over the separatist territory of Nagorno-Karabakh resumed Monday, with both sides accusing each other of launching attacks. The region lies in Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since the end of a separatist war in 1994. (Unal Cam/DHA via AP)

Iran, which borders both countries, said it was working on a peace plan for the decades-old conflict, which reignited last month and has killed scores of people on both sides.

The region of Nagorno-Karabakh lies inside Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since the end of a separatist war in 1994.

Armenian military officials reported missile strikes in the territorial capital of Stepanakert, which came under intense attacks all weekend. Residents told the Russian state RIA Novosti news agency that parts of the city were suffering shortages of electricity and gas after the strikes.

Firefights of varying intensity “continue to rage” elsewhere in the conflict zone, Armenian Defense Ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanian said on Facebook.ADVERTISEMENThttps://c77fb6138da5cc176bc5d40439f31ba7.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said that while Nagorno-Karabakh’s army “confidently controls the situation” in some areas where fighting is going on, it is “very difficult” in other areas.

The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry, in turn, accused Armenian forces of shelling the towns of Tartar, Barda and Beylagan. Ganja, the country’s second-largest city far outside the conflict zone, also was “under fire,” officials said.

Hikmet Hajiyev, aide to Azeirbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, tweeted that Armenian forces attacked “densely populated civilian areas” in Ganja, Barda, Beylagan and other towns “with missiles and rockets.”

Armenia’s Foreign Ministry dismissed allegations of attacks being launched from Armenia’s territory as a “disinformation campaign” by Azerbaijan. Nagorno-Karabakh officials didn’t comment on the accusations, but warned on both Sunday and Monday that the territory’s forces would target military facilities in Azerbaijani cities in response to strikes on Stepanakert.

The fighting erupted Sept. 27 and has killed dozens, marking the biggest escalation in the conflict. Both sides have accused each other of expanding the hostilities beyond Nagorno-Karabakh.

According to Nagorno-Karabakh officials, about 220 servicemen on their side have died in the clashes since then. The state-run Armenian Unified Infocenter said that 21 civilians have been killed in the region and 82 others wounded.

Azerbaijani authorities haven’t given details about military casualties, but said 24 civilians were killed and 124 wounded.

Nagorno-Karabakh was a designated autonomous region within Azerbaijan during the Soviet era. It claimed independence from Azerbaijan in 1991, about three months before the Soviet Union’s collapse. A full-scale war that broke out in 1992 killed an estimated 30,000 people.

By the time the war ended in 1994, Armenian forces not only held Nagorno-Karabakh itself but also substantial areas outside the territory borders.

Aliyev has repeatedly said Armenia’s withdrawal from Nagorno-Karabakh is the sole condition to end the fighting.

Armenian officials allege Turkey is involved in the conflict on the side of Azerbaijan and is sending fighters from Syria to the region. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said “a cease-fire can be established only if Turkey is removed from the South Caucasus.”

Turkey’s government has denied sending arms or foreign fighters, while publicly siding with Azerbaijan.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated that Turkey will stand with its ally Azerbaijan until it reaches “victory.” He also maintained that it was the international community’s silence in the face of what he called past Armenian aggression that encouraged it to attack Azerbaijani territory.

“In truth, lending support to Azerbaijan’s struggle to liberate territories that have been occupied is the duty of every honorable nation. It is not possible for the world to reach lasting peace and calm without getting rid of bandit states and their bandit leaders,” Erdogan said in an address to the nation following a Cabinet meeting.

On a trip to Ankara, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the 30-country military alliance is “deeply concerned by the escalation of hostilities,” and urged Turkey to help end the fighting.

“I expect Turkey to use its considerable influence to calm tensions,” Stoltenberg told reporters after talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who reiterated calls for Armenia to withdraw from the region.

“Everyone, and especially NATO, must make a call for Armenia to withdraw from these territories, in line with international laws, U.N. Security Council resolutions and Azerbaijan’s territorial and border integrity,” Cavusoglu said.

The Foreign Ministry of Iran, which has nearly 760 kilometers (470 miles) of border with Azerbaijan and a short border with Armenia, said it is working on a peace plan.

Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh did not elaborate but said Iran is talking to all related parties.

“Iran has prepared a plan with a specific framework containing details after consultations with both sides of the dispute, Azerbaijan and Armenia, as well as regional states and neighbors, and will pursue this plan,” he said.

Khatibzadeh also warned both sides against expanding the hostilities into Iranian territory.

“Any aggression against the borders of the Islamic Republic, even inadvertently, is a very serious red line for the Islamic Republic that should not be crossed,” he said.

Since the beginning of the conflict, stray mortar shells have injured a child and damaged some buildings in rural areas in northern Iran, near the border with Azerbaijan.

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Associated Press writers Aida Sultanova in Baku, Azerbaijan; Daria Litvinova in Moscow; Nasser Karimi in Tehran; Lorne Cook in Brussels; and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed.

Winds rake US Northeast, leaving thousands without power

From the Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) — Winds close to hurricane strength swept across parts of the northeastern U.S. on Wednesday morning, toppling trees, downing power lines and leaving many thousands of residents without power.

David Haigh looks at a large tree fell fell on his home on in Pembroke, Mass on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020 after a storm passed the area. The National Weather Service reported that winds gusted as high as 72 mph near Boston at around 7 a.m. Wednesday before leveling off through the morning. (John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via AP)

The National Weather Service reported that winds gusted as high as 72 mph (155 kph) near Boston around 7 a.m. before leveling off through the morning. Power lines were down around the region.

More than 120,000 utility customers lost power in Maine, where a high wind warning was issued through the afternoon. Central Maine Power, the state’s largest utility, said gusts as high as 40 mph (64 kph) prevented crews from using bucket trucks to repair lines.

More than 65,000 customers in Massachusetts had lost power by 9 a.m., according to the state’s Emergency Management Agency, but within an hour the figure had dropped to about 45,000.

Rhode Island and Connecticut each had more than 20,000 customers without power, leading some schools to move classes online or cancel them entirely.

Toppled trees snarled traffic in parts of Massachusetts, including in Boston, where a large tree blocked the exit ramp from busy Storrow Drive to Massachusetts General Hospital. State Police said on Twitter that the ramp would be closed for an “extended period of time” while a contractor was called in to remove the tree.

Fire officials in Plympton, Massachusetts, said firefighters responded to calls for trees and wires down or on fire. In one case, a tree landed on a car with adults and children in it, the fire department said on Twitter. No injuries were reported.

The weather service issued wind advisories for much of New England through Wednesday morning, but the strongest winds were expected to pass through by midafternoon.

Flash in dark sky was probably random meteor, expert says

From the Associated Press

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A flash that lit up the skies over parts of Pennsylvania and Ohio in the wee hours of Wednesday was probably a random meteor, an expert said.

Many social media users around the Pittsburgh area reported seeing a streaking fireball shortly after 4 a.m. It remained in the skies for a short time before disappearing from view.

A security camera at a property owned by Mark and Rosemary Sasala in New Lyme, Ohio, northwest of Pittsburgh, captured a brief, bright flash partially obscured by clouds around 4:20 a.m.

The American Meteor Society, a nonprofit group, said it received more than 200 reports of a bright fireball over eastern Ohio. Robert Lunsford, a society official, said the fireball was most likely a random meteor not associated with any known meteor shower.

It takes an object only the size of a softball to create a flash as bright as the full moon, Lunsford said. This object was probably a bit larger, Lunsford said, but more analysis would be needed to determine its size.

The National Weather Service in Pittsburgh said it was aware of the reports but had no information. Officials at the University of Pittsburgh’s Allegheny Observatory did not immediately comment.

The Latest: Czech government declares state of emergency

By The Associated Press

An electoral staff member checks the temperature of a woman, wearing a face mask for protection against the COVID-19 infection, before allowing her in a voting station in Bucharest, Romania, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020. Some 19 million registered voters are choosing local officials, council presidents and mayors to fill more than 43,000 positions across the European Union nation. ( AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

PRAGUE — The Czech government has declared a state of emergency because of a record surge of coronavirus infections.

Health Minister Roman Prymula says it will be effective for 30 days, starting Monday.

The new restrictive measures include a limit on public gatherings for a two-week period. All public outdoor gatherings with more than 20 people are banned, along with more than 10 for indoor events. Theater performances and movie theaters are excluded from the bans.

Also, no fans at sports competitions and high schools at the most hard-hit regions will be closed for at least two weeks.ADVERTISEMENT

The Czech Republic has reported a total of 67,843 cases, with more than 43,000 testing positive in September. There’s been 636 confirmed deaths.

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HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK

— At virus milestone, Italian priest reflects on loss, lessons

— Israel approves law to curb protests during virus lockdown

— Planned surgeries suspended at hospital in Wales following virus outbreak

— U.S. restaurants are facing the new challenge of chilly weather amid a pandemic that’s expected to claim even more lives. New York reopens indoor dining, restricting capacity to 25%.

— Madrid, where a second coronavirus wave is expanding the fastest in all of Europe, is edging closer to stricter curbs on movement and social gatherings

— German leader Angela Merkel warns public not to ease up on anti-virus measures, says “we have a difficult time ahead of us in autumn and winter.”

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Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

ATHENS, Greece — Greece says it expects revenue from its tourism industry to drop by 80% on in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Government spokesman Stelios Petsas says third-quarter data showed an estimated 3.9 million tourists visited Greece from July through September, a drop of 88% from 2019.

The pandemic followed a record year for the Greek tourism industry with 34 million visitors and some 18 billion euros ($21 billion) in travel receipts in 2019.

The tourism industry is a key source of income for Greece’s $200 billion economy. Greece began reopening to tourism in mid-June after strict lockdown measures kept infection rates lower than in most other EU countries.

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TORONTO — The provinces of Quebec and Ontario have increased coronavirus cases and are adding restrictions to help limit the spread.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault says Montreal and Quebec City are included in the “red zone” lockdown. Legault says there should be no guests in homes with a few exceptions for help. He also says restaurants and bars will close except for delivery, and outdoor gatherings require two meters of spacing. The measures will last from Oct. 1-28.

Legault says the objective is to protect schools from closing again. Quebec reported 896 new cases on Sunday, the province’s highest single-day tally in months.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford calls the 700 new daily cases in his province extremely troubling. Of Monday’s cases, 344 were reported in Toronto.

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BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania has recorded the highest daily number of new coronavirus cases since the pandemic took hold in the country in late February.

The daily number of confirmed infections has hit 2,158 on Wednesday, taking the confirmed total to more than 127,500.

Romania, a country of 19 million, has confirmed more than 4,800 virus-related deaths.

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia’s government is declaring a state of emergency in the country after facing a recent record surge of coronavirus infections.

Prime Minister Igor Matovic says the state of emergency that gives his government extraordinary powers to curb the spike will be effective for 45 days, starting on Thursday.

Slovakia’s day-to day increase in confirmed coronavirus cases reached 567 on Tuesday, a new record. The previous record of 552 was set on Friday.

Slovakia has a total of 10,141 confirmed cases and 49 deaths, significantly lower than most other European countries.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Norway is easing up some of its restrictions by removing a ban on serving alcohol after midnight and allowing crowds of up to 600 people at outdoor events.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg says “this is not a total release but a new phase in the strategy to maintain control of the corona infection.”

The Scandinavian country had a previous limit of 200 people at indoor events. Abid Raja, the minister in charge of sports, says the changes apply Oct. 12 and “this will please many soccer fans.”

Norway has 13,914 confirmed cases and 274 deaths.

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KARACHI, Pakistan — Pakistan’s top health official has urged authorities to place high-risk areas of Karachi under lockdown following an increase in coronavirus cases.

Faisal Sultan spoke at the military-backed National Command and Operations Center in Islamabad to review the coronavirus situation.

As many as 365 new cases were reported in Karachi among the country’s single-day 774 infections in the past 24 hours.

It prompted health official to suggest a “smart lockdown” after identifying high-risk areas in Karachi, the capital of southern Sindh province. The latest increases have occurred after Pakistan reopened schools this month.

Pakistan has reported 312,264 confirmed cases and 6,479 confirmed deaths.

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LONDON — Planned surgeries are being suspended at a hospital in Wales following a coronavirus outbreak there.

The Royal Glamorgan Hospital, which is near the Welsh capital city of Cardiff and subject to local virus-related restrictions, says it has identified 82 cases of the virus, some linked to transmission within the hospital.

As a result, it has announced some temporary restrictions. Except for a small number of urgent cancer cases, the hospital has decided to suspend planned surgeries beginning Wednesday.

Paul Mears, chief executive of the local health board, says the restrictions have “not been taken lightly, and we understand that they will impact our patients, their families, our staff and partner organizations.”

Large parts of Wales have had an array of local lockdown restrictions imposed in recent weeks following a spike in coronavirus cases.

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BANGKOK — Thailand is preparing to receive the first group of foreign tourists since scheduled commercial passenger flights into the country were halted in April.

Phuket Gov. Narong Woonsiew on Wednesday inspected the international airport at the popular southern resort island, where a new system including coronavirus testing and transport facilities has been installed to welcome the first 150 Chinese from Guangzhou province on Oct. 8.

Minister of Tourism and Sports Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn says at least three groups of foreign tourists will arrive in October — two from China and one from Scandinavia. All will be subject to a 14-day quarantine and other restrictions on their movements.

The plan still needs final approval from the Cabinet. There has been speculation that the Oct. 8 start may be delayed, but Narong says Phuket is ready. Regular commercial air traffic remains limited.

Thailand has 3,564 confirmed coronavirus cases and 59 confirmed deaths.

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PRAGUE — Czechs are casting ballot from their cars for the first time, a measure forced by the coronavirus pandemic.

A total of 156 drive-in temporary ballot stations have been established by the armed forces across the country for those quarantined due to coronavirus infections.

Those who cannot use a car can ask for a visit of a special electoral committee with a ballot box in their homes.

Previously, those quarantined were not allowed to vote because of health concerns. But as their numbers rose, new legislation was passed to make sure their voting rights were respected.

The Czechs are voting in regional elections and the first round of elections for one third of the upper house of Parliament, the Senate, on Friday and Saturday. The second round of the Senate elections is scheduled for Oct 9-10.

The Czech Republic has 67,843 confirmed cases and 636 deaths.

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NEW DELHI — India recorded 80,472 new confirmed coronaviruses cases in the past 24 hours, showing a decline from a record high two weeks ago.

The Health Ministry raised India’s confirmed total to more than 6.2 million on Wednesday with 2.5 million in September alone. It also reported 1,179 deaths in the last 24 hours, raising the confirmed death toll to 97,497.

India’s Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu tested positive on Tuesday and was advised home quarantine. His office said in a tweet that Naidu, 71, is asymptomatic and in good health. Home Minister Amit Shah had tested positive last month and recovered in a hospital.

India’s recovery rate crossed 83% on Tuesday and the number of cases under treatment were less than 1 million. The daily testing covered more than 1 million people, the ministry said.

Meanwhile, a serological survey showed that the infections were more prevalent in urban centers with high population density. The survey by the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research also found that 6.6% of the population above age 10 have been exposed to the coronavirus.

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UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations chief says the COVID-19 pandemic has taken “an unprecedent toll” especially on the economies of many developing countries and the world has not responded with “the massive and urgent support those countries and communities need.”

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that in the United States, Canada, Europe and most of the developed world, governments have adopted packages valued in double-digits of GDP to help tackle the coronavirus crisis and its impact.

“The problem is to mobilize the resources to allow the developing countries to be able to do the same,” he told a joint press conference Tuesday with Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who have been jointly spearheading high-level meetings to try to raise the resources.

Guterres urged the international community to increase resources to the International Monetary Fund, including through a new allocation of special drawing rights and a voluntary reallocation of existing special drawing rights. He said many countries urgently need debt relief and called for the current debt suspensions to be extended and expanded to all developing and middle-income countries that need help. The private sector, including credit-rating agencies, also “must be engaged in relief efforts,” he said.

The U.N. chief said he is encouraged to see over 40 world leaders and the heads of the IMF, World Bank, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the African Union “coming together around these bold policies.”

He urged the international community to provide $35 billion — including $15 billion immediately — to fund “the ACT-Accelerator to ensure equitable access to diagnostics, treatments and vaccines” for all countries.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The University of North Carolina system reported its first coronavirus-related student death on Tuesday since several campuses reopened with at least partial in-person learning last month.

Chad Dorrill, a 19-year student at Appalachian State University who lived off campus in Boone and took all of his classes online, died on Monday due to coronavirus complications, officials said.

“Any loss of life is a tragedy, but the grief cuts especially deep as we mourn a young man who had so much life ahead,” said a statement from Peter Hans, chancellor of the system overseeing the state’s 16 public colleges and universities. “I ache for the profound sadness that Chad Dorrill’s family is enduring right now. My heart goes out to the entire Appalachian State community.”

The university reported a new high of 159 current coronavirus cases among students on Tuesday. Nearly 550 students have tested positive for the virus since in-person classes resumed last month. Appalachian State remains open for in-person instruction.

Three North Carolina colleges, including UNC-Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University and East Carolina University, have halted physical classes for undergraduate students, after reporting a series of coronavirus outbreaks shortly after students returned to campus.

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O’FALLON, Mo. — The number of people hospitalized for the coronavirus has nearly tripled in areas outside of Missouri’s two largest metropolitan areas since the state reopened for business in mid-June, according to state health department data Tuesday.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services’ COVID-19 dashboard shows the state’s northwest, southeast, southwest and central regions all reached record highs for virus-related hospitalizations on Monday, based on seven-day averages. All told, Missouri reported 1,094 hospitalizations, five fewer than a day earlier, when statewide hospitalizations peaked.

Excluding the St. Louis and Kansas City areas, hospitalizations have risen 186% in the 3½ months since Republican Gov. Mike Parson allowed Missouri to reopen on June 16. The seven-day average for hospitalizations outstate on June 16 was 161; on Monday it was 461.

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LIMA, Peru — Health workers for Peru’s social security system began a 48-hour walkout on Tuesday to demand higher pay and better working conditions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 9,000 doctors, dentists and pharmacists were taking part, prompting hospitals to suspend consultations and many surgeries, though emergency and intensive care facilities aren’t affected.

Teodoro Quiñones, secretary of the social security doctors union, said the government hasn’t kept its promises to raise salaries or pay bonuses during the pandemic.

Doctors in the public sector earn an average of $985 a month, though most supplement that with other jobs at private hospitals or offices.

The Peruvian Ombudsman’s Office said more than 4,000 health workers lack health, life and occupational risk insurance and don’t have the right to sick leave if they’re diagnosed with the virus.

A total of 166 doctors have reportedly died from COVID-19 in Peru. Overall, the country has reported 32,000 dead and more than 808,000 infected.

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Businesses in 89 of Tennessee’s 95 counties will no longer have to adhere to social distancing guidelines, Gov. Bill Lee announced Tuesday, even though cases of COVID-19 in the state have been persistently high.

The Republican governor said he would lift all virus-related limits on businesses and social gatherings for most of the state. The action, which takes effect Thursday, notably does not apply to Tennessee’s six populous counties with locally run health departments. Sullivan, Knox, Hamilton, Davidson, Madison and Shelby counties can continue implementing their own restrictions.

According to data kept by The Associated Press, there were about 287 new cases per 100,000 people in Tennessee over the past two weeks, which ranks 13th in the country for new cases per capita. The state has seen at least 2,389 virus-released deaths

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DENVER — Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is encouraging families to register students in online or in-person schools as the state experiences a decline in enrollment during the coronavirus pandemic.

Polis said the decline is based on anecdotal evidence, but it is widespread across the state, with the greatest decrease among preschool to third-grade students. At a news conference Tuesday, Polis and other officials warned about the “major deficit” that children who return to school after taking time off may face.

Other school districts across the U.S. have reported similar trends. Dr. Chris Rogers, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, says school is critical to the healthy development of children and adolescents.

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Dying winds give crews hope in Northern California fires

By JANIE HAR for the Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Easing winds gave California firefighters a break Tuesday as they battled a destructive wildfire that was driven by strong winds through wine country north of San Francisco and another rural blaze that killed three people.

Private firefighter Bradcus Schrandt, right, holds an injured kitten while Joe Catterson assists, at the Zogg Fire near Ono, Calif., on Sunday, Sep. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Ethan Swope)

Breezes replaced the powerful gusts that sent the Glass Fire raging through Napa and Sonoma counties Sunday and Monday, scorching more than 56 square miles (146.59 square kilometers).

More than 110 buildings have burned, including homes and winery installations.

The fire in wine country pushed through brush that had not burned for a century, even though surrounding areas were incinerated in a series of blazes in recent years.

As the winds eased Monday evening, firefighters were feeling “much more confident,” said Ben Nicholls, a division chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire.

“We don’t have those critical burning conditions that we were experiencing those last two nights,” he said.

The Glass Fire in wine country is one of nearly 30 wildfires burning around California. The National Weather Service warned that hot, dry conditions with strong Santa Ana winds could continue posing a fire danger in Southern California through Tuesday afternoon.

In a forested far northern part of the state, more than 1,200 people were evacuated in Shasta County for the Zogg Fire.

Three people have died in the fire, Shasta County Sheriff Eric Magrini said Monday. He gave no details but urged people who receive evacuation orders: “Do not wait.”

Numerous studies in recent years have linked bigger wildfires in America to climate change from the burning of coal, oil and gas. Scientists say climate change has made California much drier, meaning trees and other plants are more flammable.

Residences are widely scattered in Shasta County, which was torched just two years ago by the deadly Carr Fire — infamously remembered for producing a huge tornado-like fire whirl.

The Pacific Gas & Electric utility had cut power to more than 100,000 customers in advance of gusty winds and in areas with active fire zones. The utility’s equipment has caused previous disasters, including the 2018 Camp Fire that killed 85 people and devastated the town of Paradise in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

By Monday night, the utility said it had restored electricity to essentially all of those customers. However, PG&E said about 24,000 people remained without power in areas affected by two fires in Napa, Sonoma, Shasta and Tehama counties.

So far in this year’s historic fire season, more than 8,100 California wildfires have killed 29 people, scorched 5,780 square miles (14,970 square kilometers) and destroyed more than 7,000 buildings.

The Glass Fire began Sunday as three fires merged and drove into vineyards and mountain areas, including part of the city of Santa Rosa. About 70,000 people were under evacuation orders, including the entire 5,000-plus population of Calistoga in Napa County.

Some people were injured and Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies had to rescue people who ignored evacuation orders, officials said.

Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin, who lives in Santa Rosa, said she was stuck in two hours of heavy traffic Monday night to reach safety.

Gorin’s home was damaged in another fire three years ago and she was rebuilding it. She saw three neighboring houses in flames as she fled.

“We’re experienced with that,” she said of the fires. “Once you lose a house and represent thousands of folks who’ve lost homes, you become pretty fatalistic that this is a new way of life and, depressingly, a normal way of life, the megafires that are spreading throughout the West.”

Gorin said it appeared the fire in her area was sparked by embers from the Glass Fire.

Ed Yarbrough, a wildfire evacuee from St. Helena in Napa County, watched firefighters douse flames across from his house Monday.

“I can see in the distance that it looks like it’s intact,” he said but said spot fires were still being doused.

“So I know we’re not really out of the woods yet, and the woods can burn,” he said.

The fires came as the region approaches the anniversary of the 2017 fires, including one that killed 22 people. Just a month ago, many of those same residents were evacuated from the path of a lightning-sparked fire that became the fourth-largest in state history.

“Our firefighters have not had much of a break, and these residents have not had much of a break,” said Daniel Berlant, an assistant deputy director with Cal Fire.

Officials did not have an estimate of the number of homes destroyed or burned, but the blaze engulfed the Chateau Boswell Winery in St. Helena and at least one five-star resort.

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Associated Press reporters Christopher Weber and John Antczak in Los Angeles, Juliet Williams in San Francisco and Haven Daley in Santa Rosa, California, contributed to this report.

UK, Canada impose sanctions on Belarus president, officials

From the Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Britain and Canada imposed sanctions Tuesday on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, his son and other senior government officials following the disputed presidential election and a crackdown on protesters in Belarus.

A man in a mask hangs an old Belarusian flag on a light pole during an opposition rally to protest the official presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020. Hundreds of thousands of Belarusians have been protesting daily since the Aug. 9 presidential election. (AP Photo/TUT.by)

U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that the sanctions were introduced as part of a coordinated approach with Canada “in a bid to uphold democratic values and put pressure on those responsible for repression.”

The British measures include a travel ban and asset freeze on eight individuals from the Belarusian government, including Lukashenko, son Victor Lukashenko and Igor Sergeenko, the head of the presidential administration. Similar sanctions were imposed by Canada.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said Canada and the U.K. acted in concert to ensure the sanctions have a greater impact and “to demonstrate unity in our condemnation of the situation.”

“Canada stands in solidarity with the people of Belarus as they struggle to restore human rights and achieve democracy in their country,” Champagne said.

The British government said that Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for over 26 years, is the first leader to have been sanctioned under Britain’s new global human rights sanctions program, which was introduced in July.

“Today, the U.K. and Canada have sent a clear message by imposing sanctions against Alexander Lukashenko’s violent and fraudulent regime. We don’t accept the results of this rigged election,” Raab said in a statement.

“We will hold those responsible for the thuggery deployed against the Belarusian people to account, and we will stand up for our values of democracy and human rights.”

The political opposition in Belarus has challenged the results of the country’s Aug. 9 presidential election, which gave Lukashenko a sixth term with 80% of the vote. Protests demanding his resignation have continued for more than seven weeks. Opposition figures and some poll workers say the results were fraudulent.

During the first few days of demonstrations, police arrested more than 7,000 people and used violence on protesters. Since then, opposition activists have been jailed and threatened with prosecution.

Ammo inside burning home shoots out and injures fire chief

From the Associated Press

HINESBURG, Vt. (AP) — A fire chief suffered a minor injury when ammunition inside a burning home shot out and hit him, officials said.

Firefighters responded to the fire in Hinesburg, Vermont, shortly after 3:30 p.m. on Saturday. No one was home at the time, WCAX-TV reported.

The ammunition that caught fire and shot out of the house delayed crews from putting the fire out, the television station reported.

The fire also damaged a neighboring home.

Investigators believe that cigarette butts found in pine needles under pine shrub sparked the fire.

With anger at police high, officers face greater danger

By DON BABWIN for the Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) — A man walks up to a squad car and opens fire on two sheriff’s deputies sitting inside. Two police officers are shot after responding to sounds of gunfire during a protest.

The shootings — one in Los Angeles and the other 2000 miles (3,200 kilometers) away in Louisville, Kentucky, less than two weeks later — are stark reminders of the dangers law enforcement officers face at a time when anger toward them in the wake of police killings of Black Americans, such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, has boiled over.

FILE – Police stand guard on the perimeter of a crime scene after a police officer was shot, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, in Louisville, Ky. Recent shootings of police officers and protests that have left scores of officers injured are stark reminders of the dangers facing law enforcement around a country grappling with police killings of African Americans. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

“I think it’s more than a suggestion that people are seeking to do harm to cops,” Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown told reporters at a recent briefing.

The suspect who shot the deputies in Los Angeles has not been caught, so it’s not known why he opened fire. And authorities have not said why the suspect in Louisville, who was captured, targeted the officers. Those shootings came during protests of a grand jury decision not to charge police for Taylor’s killing.

It is unclear how many times officers across the country have been shot at or otherwise attacked this year; police departments say such statistics are not readily available.

But the few statistics available, such as those compiled by the FBI, show so far this year 37 law enforcement officers in the United States have been “feloniously killed” in the line of duty compared to 30 such deaths at this point last year. There are some 8,000 police agencies around the country, and tens of thousands of uniformed law enforcement officers.

Experts and law enforcement officials agree that it is no coincidence that such violence comes at a time when Floyd’s killing and the resulting nationwide protests have thrust law enforcement officers into the spotlight. Videos of Black Americans being killed or wounded by police have played out across the nation’s television screens, including one that showed the last moments of Floyd’s life under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer and another showing a Kenosha, Wisconsin, officer firing seven bullets into Jacob Blake’s back, leaving him paralyzed.

In the ensuing demonstrations, police have both been criticized by those who saw their response in many cities as heavy-handed and the target of several violent attacks. Officers have been shot at, run over, blinded and jeered at by angry crowds who have wished for their deaths.

The very role of police has been called into question and become a central theme in this year’s election. President Donald Trump and his supporters believe violence against police deserves more attention in the national debate centered on addressing racial inequality in the criminal justice system.

“Part of what we are seeing is the response to images of officers killing people in ways the public sees as undeserved (and) rulings like the one in the Breonna Taylor case where it looks like the courts are willing to hold the safety of officers above the safety of civilians when they are often asleep and unarmed,” said Delores Jones-Brown, a retired professor from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

There’s no question that police officers all over the country feel they are under siege.

“We’re hyper vigilant anyway as a profession, but when officers are shot here and another parts of the country, it makes us even more concerned about the safety of our officers,” said Brown, Chicago’s police superintendent.

According to the police department there, 66 officers have been shot at thus far this year, compared to 17 at this point last year. Ten were struck by the bullets and wounded. Last year at this time, three officers had been hit.

In a “Potential Activity Alert,” first reported on by ABC 7 in Chicago, the FBI warned the police department that a person had notified the federal agency that several street gangs had “formed a pact to ‘shoot on-site any cop that has a weapon drawn on any subject in public.’”

Marshall Hatch, a prominent minister on Chicago’s West Side, condemned the violence against police, both because it is wrong and because it might put people at even greater risk of police violence.

“It’s going to make it more dangerous for everybody when you have police who are kind of spooked,” he said. “They are going to be hair-triggered.”

Further, Hatch said the attacks could undermine the political goals of liberal activists who are demanding police reform. Trump has made questions of safety and security central to his reelection bid, and continued violence against police could help draw voters to his law-and-order message.

National Black Lives Matter organizers also say they do not encourage or condone attacks on law enforcement or police supporters.

In New York, where a few officers have been shot this year, a pace similar to that of recent years, the police department said the protests have taken their toll.

“Since May 28th, 2020, our officers have been shot at, stabbed, assaulted with rocks, bricks and other debris, have been struck by vehicles and have even had Molotov cocktails (thrown) at them and inside their vehicles,” Sgt. Jessica McRorie, a spokesperson for the New York Police Department, said.

In all, 472 officers suffered some form of injury during the protests, she said.

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Associated Press writer Michael R. Sisak contributed to this report from New York.

Nearly 1M who died of COVID-19 also illuminated treatment

By MARILYNN MARCHIONE for the Associated Press

The nearly 1 million people around the world who have lost their lives to COVID-19 have left us a gift: Through desperate efforts to save their lives, scientists now better understand how to treat and prevent the disease — and millions of others may survive.

This March 2020 photo provided by the family shows Ming Wang in Sydney, Australia. The 71-year-old was sickened in March on a cruise from Australia with his wife, a break after decades of running the family’s Chinese restaurant in Papillion, Neb. In the 74 days he was hospitalized, doctors desperately tried various experimental approaches, including enrolling him in a study of an antiviral drug that ultimately showed promise. Ming died on June 8. “It was just touch and go. Everything they wanted to try we said yes, do it,” said his daughter, Anne Peterson. “We would give anything to have him back, but if what we and he went through would help future patients, that’s what we want.” (Lu Wang via AP)

Ming Wang, 71, and his wife were on a cruise from Australia, taking a break after decades of running the family’s Chinese restaurant in Papillion, Nebraska, when he was infected. In the 74 days he was hospitalized before his death in June, doctors frantically tried various experimental approaches, including enrolling him in a study of an antiviral drug that ultimately showed promise.

“It was just touch and go. Everything they wanted to try we said yes, do it,” said Wang’s daughter, Anne Peterson. “We would give anything to have him back, but if what we and he went through would help future patients, that’s what we want.”

Patients are already benefiting. Though more deaths are expected this fall because of the recent surge in coronavirus infections in the U.S. and elsewhere, there also are signs that death rates are declining and that people who get the virus now are faring better than did those in the early months of the pandemic.

“Some of the reason we’re doing better is because of the advances,” Dr. Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, told The Associated Press. Several drugs have proved useful and doctors know more about how to care for the sickest patients in hospitals, he said.

We’re in the “stormy adolescence” phase of learning what treatments work — beyond infancy but not “all grown up either,” Collins said.

THE AWFUL TOLL

The nearly 1 million deaths attributed to the coronavirus in nine months are far more than the 690,000 from AIDS or the 400,000 from malaria in all of 2019. They’re trending just behind the 1.5 million from tuberculosis.

Wealth and power have not shielded rich countries from the awful power of the virus. The United States “has been the worst-hit country in the world” with more than 7 million coronavirus infections and more than 200,000 deaths, reflecting “the lack of success that we have had in containing this outbreak,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, told a Harvard Medical School audience earlier this month.

More than 40% of U.S. adults are at risk for severe disease from the virus because of high blood pressure and other conditions. It’s not just old people in nursing homes who are dying, Fauci stressed.

Dr. Jesse Goodman, a former U.S. Food and Drug Administration chief scientist now at Georgetown University, agreed.

“Nobody should make a mistake about this” and think they’re not at risk just because they may not personally know someone who has died or haven’t witnessed what the virus can do firsthand, he said.

OPTIMISTIC SIGNS

Although cases are rising, death rates seem to be falling, said Dr. Cyrus Shahpar, a former U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientist now at the nonprofit group Resolve to Save Lives.

The virus’s true lethality — the infection fatality rate — isn’t yet known, because scientists don’t know how many people have had it without showing symptoms. What’s often reported are case fatality rates — the portion of people who have tested positive and then gone on to die. Comparing these from country to country is problematic because of differences in testing and vulnerable populations. Tracking these within a country over time also carries that risk, but it can suggest some trends.

“The U.S. cumulative case fatality rate in April was around 5%. Now we’re around 3%,” Shahpar said.

In England, researchers reported that case fatality rates have fallen substantially since peaking in April. The rate in August was around 1.5% versus more than 6% six weeks earlier.

One reason is changing demographics: More cases these days are in younger people who are less likely to die from their infection than older people are.

Increased testing also is playing a role: As more people with mild or no symptoms are detected, it expands the number of known infections and shrinks the proportion that prove fatal, Shahpar said.

BETTER TREATMENTS

It’s clear that treatments also are affecting survival, many doctors said. People who have died from COVID-19, especially ones who took part in studies, have helped reveal what drugs do or do not help.

Dexamethasone and similar steroids now are known to improve survival when used in hospitalized patients who need extra oxygen, but might be harmful for less sick patients.

An antiviral drug, remdesivir, can speed recovery for severely ill patients, shaving four days off the average hospital stay. Two anti-inflammatory drugs, one used in combination with remdesivir — the drug Wang helped test — also have been reported to help although results of those studies have not yet been published.

The jury is still out on convalescent plasma, which involves using antibody-rich blood from survivors to treat others. No large, high-quality studies have tested this well enough to know if it works.

The value of rigorous, scientific studies to test treatments has become clear, Goodman said. “We certainly see what happens” when treatments are widely adopted without them as hydroxychloroquine was, he said. “That exposed a lot of people to a potentially toxic drug” and delayed the hunt for effective ones.

Aside from drugs, “the case fatality rate is actually improving over time as physicians get more adept at taking care of these very sick patients,” said Dr. Gary Gibbons, director of the U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

In hospitals, doctors know more now about ways to avoid using breathing machines, such as keeping patients on their bellies.

“We’ve learned about how to position patients, how to use oxygen, how to manage fluids,” and hospitals have increased their surge capacity and supplies, Dr. Judith Currier, a University of California, Los Angeles physician said at a recent webinar organized by the American Public Health Association and the U.S. National Academy of Medicine.

THE FUTURE

The best way to avoid dying from the coronavirus remains to avoid getting it, and experience has shown that the simple measures advocated by public health officials work.

“Prevention is the most important step right now as we’re waiting for a vaccine and we’re improving treatment,” Goodman said.

Wearing a face mask, washing hands, keeping at least 6 feet apart and disinfecting surfaces “clearly are having a positive effect” on curbing spread, Fauci said.

If more people stick with common-sense measures like closing bars, “we should improve our ability to manage this” and prevent more deaths, Shahpar said. “It should take longer to get to the next million if it ever happens.”

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Marilynn Marchione can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MMarchioneAP

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

India’s confirmed coronavirus tally reaches 6 million cases

By SHEIKH SAALIQ for the Associated Press

NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s confirmed coronavirus tally reached 6 million on Monday, keeping the country second to the United States in number of reported cases.

Commuters wearing masks wait at a traffic intersection in Kochi, Kerala state, India, Monday, Sept.28, 2020. India’s confirmed coronavirus tally has crossed 6 million cases, only second behind the United States, as the south Asian country continues to battle the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the world. (AP Photo/R S Iyer)

The Health Ministry reported 82,170 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, driving the overall total to 6,074,703. At least 1,039 deaths were recorded in the same period, taking total fatalities up to 95,542.

New infections in India are currently being reported faster than anywhere else in the world. The world’s second-most populous country is expected to become the pandemic’s worst-hit country in coming weeks, surpassing the U.S., where more than 7.1 million infections have been reported.

In the past week, nearly one in every three new infections reported in the world and one in every five reported coronavirus deaths were in India, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. While most of India’s deaths remain concentrated in its large cities, smaller urban centers across the country’s vast landscape are also reporting a surge in infections.

Yet even as infections mount, India has the highest number of recovered patients in the world.

The Health Ministry on Monday said more than 5 million people have recovered from COVID-19, giving the country a recovery rate of 82.5%.

Health experts have warned about the potential for the virus to spread during the upcoming religious festival season, which is marked by huge gatherings of people in temples and shopping districts.

Another potential risk is an election next month in eastern Bihar state, where about 72 million people will cast votes over three days.

But even as infections soar, most Indian states have completely opened up in an effort to repair an economy that is suffering its worst slump in decades after India imposed a draconian lockdown in late March.

The lockdown forced India’s 1.4 billion people to stay indoors, closed businesses and triggered an exodus of millions of informal workers who lost their jobs in the cities. Many made grueling journeys back to their hometowns on foot.

Along with the resumption of economic activity has come a noticeable disregard of social distancing measures in public places. Many people can be seen with their masks lowered over their chins or with no masks at all.

“People are not able to understand the situation we are in and are ignoring the rules and roaming about,” said Jarif Ahmed, a New Delhi resident.

The federal government, however, has been urging Indians to remain on guard.

On Sunday, health minister Harsh Vardhan stressed strict adherence to social distancing.

“We are far from having achieved any kind of herd immunity, which necessitates that all of us should continue following COVID-appropriate behavior,” Vardhan said on Twitter.

___ Associated Press videojournalist Shonal Ganguly contributed to this report.

Orcas knock into sailboats, force Spain to limit yachting

By JOSEPH WILSON for the Associated Press

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Spain has temporarily prohibited yachting across 100 kilometers (62 miles) of its northwestern coast after orca whales apparently got carried away while playing and damaged several sailboats.

Spain’s transport ministry issued the week-long prohibition for sailboats under 15 meters (49 feet) long starting Tuesday. It said the area covered by the ban meant to protect both boats and maritime mammals and could be extended to “follow the migration routes” of the whales.

Boats can leave port to go into the open sea between the capes of the Prioriño Grande and la Punta de Estaca de Bares, but they must not remain near the coast off the country’s northwestern tip.

The ministry said the first reported incident occurred Aug. 19. Since then, it said an unspecified number of sailboats have been damaged by orcas, with some needing assistance from Spain’s maritime rescue service after their rudders were wrecked.

Biologist Bruno Díaz of the local Bottlenose Dolphin Research Institute said the orcas were most likely just playing a bit too rough.

He said orcas, like other cetaceans such as dolphins, like to swim alongside boats. Running into hulls is rare, but he believed it was likely done by “immature teenage” orcas getting rowdy.

“We will never be in the mind of that individual animal, but based on experience, we think that there is absolutely nothing (threatening about their behavior). We are not their natural prey,” Díaz told The Associated Press by phone Wednesday. “They are having fun. And maybe these orcas have fun causing damage.”

Orcas are particularly attracted by sail boats due to their size, the waves they make, and the lack of pollution they produce compared to fishing boats, Díaz said. This stretch of water where the Iberian Peninsula juts out into the Atlantic Ocean is both rife with tuna for them to hunt and on their migration route.

Spanish television has shown footage taken by sailors of groups of orcas swimming extremely close to their boats. No injuries have been reported so far.

Even so, the close encounters have put a scare in some sailors and hurt their pocketbooks with repairs that were needed.

British sailor Mark Smith told Spanish state broadcaster TVE that he was “a little” frightened “because they were very big and we couldn’t stop them” from banging into his boat.

Coronavirus cases soar as Israel prepares tighter measures

By JOSEF FEDERMAN for the Associated Press

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel on Wednesday reported a new record level of daily cases of the coronavirus, shortly before government officials were to meet to discuss tightening a new nationwide lockdown.

The Health Ministry reported 6,861 new cases on Wednesday as a raging outbreak showed no signs of slowing. Israel, a country of some 9 million people, now has one of the world’s highest rates of coronavirus on a per capita basis, and health officials say hospitals are quickly approaching capacity.

A worker from “Hevra Kadisha,” Israel’s official Jewish burial society, prepares a body before a funeral procession at a special morgue for COVID-19 victims in the central Israeli city of Holon, near Tel Aviv, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. With Israel facing one of the world’s worst outbreaks, burial workers have been forced to wear protective gear and take other safety measures as they cope with a growing number of coronavirus-related deaths. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

The government last week imposed a nationwide lockdown that closed schools, shopping malls, hotels and restaurants. The coronavirus Cabinet was to meet later in the day to discuss further tightening the restrictions.

Ahead of the meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that in light of the rapid spread of the virus, he would seek a “a broad general closure and significant tightening of restrictions immediately,” including the closure of large parts of the economy, his office said.

Israel won international praise for its handling of the outbreak last spring, moving quickly to seal its borders and impose a lockdown that appeared to contain the virus. But the government reopened the economy too quickly, and a new outbreak has quickly spread throughout the summer. The economy, meanwhile, has not recovered from a serious downturn caused by the first lockdown, and the new lockdown has led to a new wave of layoffs.

A new poll released Wednesday by the Israel Democracy Institute, a respected think tank, found that only 27% of Israelis trust Netanyahu to lead the country’s effort against COVID-19. That compares with 57.5% who trusted him in early April. The survey interviewed 754 adults and had a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points.

The Health Ministry has instructed hospitals to delay non-essential surgeries and to open additional coronavirus wards as the number of serious cases continues to rise.

Beyond further limiting economic activity, officials have been discussing shuttering synagogues and clamping down on protests — both of which risk sparking a public backlash.

The limits would come at a time when Israeli Jews are celebrating the High Holidays and when weekly demonstrations have been held against Netanyahu and his handling of the coronavirus crisis.

The ongoing protests have bitterly divided the country, with religious leaders saying their public is being unfairly targeted by restrictions on public prayer while Netanyahu’s opponents continue to hold large public demonstration. Demonstrators say Netanyahu’s supporters are using the outbreak as an excuse to muzzle their democratic right to protest.

Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch said restrictions would have to be tightened in the near future.

“Educational institutions will be closed, the economy will be limited to essential work, synagogues will have no indoor prayers, with arrangements for outdoor prayer, and demonstrations will be allowed without protesters traveling between cities,” he told Channel 12 TV. “Everyone will demonstrate where he wants, will pray where he wants and will stay at home. That is what is required now.”

Finland deploys coronavirus-sniffing dogs at main airport

By JARI TANNER for the Associated Press

HELSINKI (AP) — Finland has deployed coronavirus-sniffing dogs at the Nordic country’s main international airport in a four-month trial of an alternative testing method that could become a cost-friendly and quick way to identify infected travelers.

Four dogs of different breeds trained by Finland’s Smell Detection Association started working Wednesday at the Helsinki Airport as part of the government-financed trial.

“It’s a very promising method. Dogs are very good at sniffing,” Anna Hielm-Bjorkman, a University of Helsinki professor of equine and small animal medicine, said.

“If it works, it will be a good (coronavirus) screening method at any other places,” she said, listing hospitals, ports, elderly people’s homes, sports venues and cultural events among the possible locations where trained dogs could put their snouts to work.

While researchers in several countries, including Australia, France, Germany the United States, are also studying canines as coronavirus detectors, the Finnish trial is among the largest so far.

Hielm-Bjorkman told The Associated Press that Finland is the second country after the United Arab Emirates – and the first in Europe – to assign dogs to sniff out the coronavirus. A similar program started at Dubai International Airport over the summer.

Passengers who agree to take a free test under the voluntary program in Helsinki do not have direct physical contact with a dog.

They are asked to swipe their skin with a wipe which is then put into a jar and given to a dog waiting in a separate booth. The participating animals – ET, Kossi, Miina and Valo – previously underwent training to detect cancer, diabetes or other diseases.

It takes the dog a mere 10 seconds to sniff the virus samples before it gives the test result by scratching a paw, laying down, barking or otherwise making its conclusion known. The process should be completed within one minute, according to Hielm-Bjorkman.

If the result is positive, the passenger is urged to take a standard polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, coronavirus test, to check the dog’s accuracy.

Timo Aronkyto,, the deputy mayor of Vantaa, the capital region city where the airport is located, said the program is costing 300,000 euros ($350,000) – an amount he called “remarkably lower” than for other methods of mass testing arriving passengers.

The four sniffer dogs are set to work at the airport in shifts, with two on duty at a time while the other two get a break.

“Dogs need to rest from time to time. If the scent is easy, it doesn’t wear out the dog too much. But if there are lots of new scents around, dogs do get tired easier,“ Anette Kare of Finland’s Smell Detection Association – also known as Wise Nose – said as she gently patted ET, her white shepherd.

UK’s Johnson warns new virus restrictions may last 6 months

By JILL LAWLESS and DANICA KIRKA for the Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned Britons on Tuesday that they should not expect to return to a normal social or work life for at least six months, as he ordered new restrictions that his government hopes will suppress a dramatic surge in coronavirus cases.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson waves at the media as he leaves 10 Downing Street, in London, to go to the Houses of Parliament to make a statement on new coronavirus restrictions Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020. Johnson plans to announce new restrictions on social interactions Tuesday as the government tries to slow the spread of COVID-19 before it spirals out of control. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Saying Britain must act now or face a huge second wave of COVID-19, Johnson announced a package of new restrictions that requires pubs, restaurants and other entertainment venues in England to close down between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. He also urged people to work from home wherever possible.

“We will spare no effort in developing vaccines, treatments and new forms of mass testing, but unless we palpably make progress, we should assume that the restrictions I have announced will remain in place for perhaps six months,” Johnson told lawmakers in the House of Commons.

The U.K. on Tuesday recorded 4,926 new virus cases in 24 hours, the highest daily number since early May and more than four times the figure of a month ago. There were 37 new COVID-19 deaths reported, up from single digits a few weeks ago.

The prime minister said if the new curbs did not slow the outbreak, “we reserve the right to deploy greater firepower, with significantly greater restrictions.”

Just weeks ago, Johnson had encouraged workers to go back into offices to keep city centers from becoming ghost towns and had expressed hope that society could return to normal by Christmas.

In a stark change of tone, he said Tuesday that “for the time being, this virus is a fact of our lives.”

The new restrictions came a day after the government’s top scientific and medical advisers said new coronavirus infections were doubling every seven days and could rise to 49,000 a day by mid-October if nothing was done to stem the tide. The U.K.’s alert level was raised from three to four, the second-highest rung, with government experts saying cases of COVID-19 were rising “rapidly and probably exponentially.”

The new restrictions require face masks to be worn in taxis as well as on public transportation and in shops. Weddings will be limit to 15 people instead of 30 and a plan to bring spectators back into sports stadiums starting in October is being put on hold.

Johnson did not reduce the number of people who can gather indoors or out, which remains at six.

The British government is also increasing the penalties for breaking the rules. People who breach orders to quarantine face fines of up to 10,000 pounds ($12,800) and businesses that break “COVID-secure” rules can be shut down.

The measures apply only to England. Other parts of the U.K. introduced similar curbs, but some went further in limiting social interactions.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who has often struck a more cautious note than Johnson during the pandemic, said with a few exceptions, people would be barred from visiting others’ homes and car-sharing would be discouraged.

Sturgeon said the measures would be reviewed every three weeks but “may be needed for longer than that.” She said she hoped it would be less than six months.

The new restrictions outlined by Johnson are less stringent than the nationwide lockdown imposed in March, which confined most of the population and closed most businesses. Britain eased its lockdown starting in June as cases began to fall, but that trend has now been reversed.

Still, some lawmakers from Johnson’s governing Conservative Party were uneasy about tightening restrictions on business and daily life, citing civil liberties and the impact on Britain’s already-reeling economy.

Businesses, especially in the hospitality, sports and arts sectors, said they urgently needed support, too. Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UKHospitality, said before the announcement that the restrictions would be “another crushing blow” for many businesses.

Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, said telling people to work from home was necessary but “comes at a serious price.” She urged the government to introduce new financial support for businesses in hard-hit city centers and for furloughed workers.

Most epidemiologists believe more restrictions are again necessary in Britain and even worry that the government’s plans may not go far enough.

Polls suggest a majority of people in Britain support lockdown measures to contain the virus. But they also show that trust in the Conservative government’s handling of the pandemic has declined after troubles with testing, mixed messages on reopening and the U.K.’s high death toll.

Britain has the highest confirmed virus death toll in Europe, at 41,877 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Experts say all such tallies underestimate the true number of deaths.

Amid concerns that some people who test positive for the virus are still going to work because they can’t afford to stay home, the government announced it would pay low-income workers 500 pounds ($639) if they are told to self-isolate for 14 days.

Jennifer Cole, a biological anthropologist at Royal Holloway University, said people’s behavior is “the biggest influence” on the spread of the virus.

“In essence, the government is saying, ‘Stay sober, stay sensible and the venues can stay open.’ It’s a carrot to encourage responsible behavior,” she said.

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Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

‘Unfathomable’: US death toll from coronavirus hits 200,000

By CARLA K. JOHNSON for the Associated Press

The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus topped 200,000 Tuesday, a figure unimaginable eight months ago when the scourge first reached the world’s richest nation with its state-of-the-art laboratories, top-flight scientists and stockpiles of medicines and emergency supplies.

“It is completely unfathomable that we’ve reached this point,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, a Johns Hopkins University public health researcher.

FILE – In this July 31, 2020, file photo, Romelia Navarro, right, is comforted by nurse Michele Younkin as she weeps while sitting at the bedside of her dying husband, Antonio, in St. Jude Medical Center’s COVID-19 unit in Fullerton, Calif. The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus topped 200,000 Tuesday, Sept. 22, a figure unimaginable eight months ago when the scourge first reached the world’s richest nation with its sparkling laboratories, top-flight scientists and towering stockpiles of medicines and emergency supplies. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

The bleak milestone, by far the highest confirmed death toll from the virus in the world, was reported by Johns Hopkins, based on figures supplied by state health authorities. But the real toll is thought to be much higher, in part because many COVID-19 deaths were probably ascribed to other causes, especially early on, before widespread testing.

The number of dead in the U.S. is equivalent to a 9/11 attack every day for 67 days. It is roughly equal to the population of Salt Lake City or Huntsville, Alabama.

And it is still climbing. Deaths are running at close to 770 a day on average, and a widely cited model from the University of Washington predicts the U.S. toll will double to 400,000 by the end of the year as schools and colleges reopen and cold weather sets in. A vaccine is unlikely to become widely available until 2021.

“The idea of 200,000 deaths is really very sobering, in some respects stunning,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert, said on CNN.

The U.S. hit the threshold six weeks before a presidential election that is certain to be in part a referendum on President Donald Trump’s handling of the crisis.

In an interview Tuesday with a Detroit TV station, Trump boasted of doing an “amazing” and “incredible” job against the scourge, adding: “The only thing we’ve done a bad job in is public relations because we haven’t been able to convince people — which is basically the fake news — what a great job we’ve done.”

And in a pre-recorded speech at a virtual meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, Trump lashed out at Beijing over what he called “the China virus” and demanded that it be held accountable for having “unleashed this plague onto the world.” China’s ambassador rejected the accusations as baseless.

For five months, America has led the world by far in sheer numbers of confirmed infections and deaths. The U.S. has less than 5% of the globe’s population but more than 20% of the reported deaths.

Brazil is No. 2 with about 137,000 deaths, followed by India with approximately 89,000 and Mexico with around 74,000. Only five countries — Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Spain and Brazil — rank higher in COVID-19 deaths per capita.

“All the world’s leaders took the same test, and some have succeeded and some have failed,” said Dr. Cedric Dark, an emergency physician at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston who has seen death firsthand. “In the case of our country, we failed miserably.”

Blacks, Hispanics and American Indians have accounted for a disproportionate share of the deaths, underscoring the economic and health care disparities in the U.S.

Worldwide, the virus has infected more than 31 million people and is closing in fast on 1 million deaths, with over 965,000 lives lost, by Johns Hopkins’ count, though the real numbers are believed to be higher because of gaps in testing and reporting.

For the U.S., it wasn’t supposed to go this way.

When the year began, the U.S. had recently garnered recognition for its readiness for a pandemic. Health officials seemed confident as they converged on Seattle in January to deal with the country’s first known case of the coronavirus, in a 35-year-old Washington state resident who had returned from visiting his family in Wuhan, China.

On Feb. 26, Trump held up pages from the Global Health Security Index, a measure of readiness for health crises, and declared: “The United States is rated No. 1 most prepared.”

It was true. The U.S. outranked the 194 other countries in the index. Besides its labs, experts and strategic stockpiles, the U.S. could boast of its disease trackers and plans for rapidly communicating lifesaving information during a crisis. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was respected around the world for sending help to fight infectious diseases.

But monitoring at airports was loose. Travel bans came too late. Only later did health officials realize the virus could spread before symptoms show up, rendering screening imperfect. The virus also swept into nursing homes, where infection controls were already poor, claiming more than 78,000 lives.

At the same time, gaps in leadership led to shortages of testing supplies. Internal warnings to ramp up production of masks were ignored, leaving states to compete for protective gear.

Trump downplayed the threat early on, advanced unfounded notions about the behavior of the virus, promoted unproven or dangerous treatments, complained that too much testing was making the U.S. look bad, and disdained masks, turning face coverings into a political issue.

On April 10, the president predicted the U.S. wouldn’t see 100,000 deaths. That milestone was reached May 27.

Nowhere was the lack of leadership seen as more crucial than in testing, a key to breaking the chain of contagion.

“We have from the very beginning lacked a national testing strategy,” Nuzzo said. “For reasons I can’t truly fathom we’ve refused to develop one.” Such coordination should be led by the White House, not by each state independently, she said.

Roberto Tobias Jr., a 17-year-old from Queens in New York City, lost his mother and father to COVID-19 a month apart in the spring. He and his sister also contracted the virus but recovered. Tobias is now applying to college, hoping to get into Columbia University and become a neurosurgeon.

“Because it’s just me and my sister, we sort of have to rely on each other,” he said. “We were the only blood left.”

The real number of dead from the crisis could be significantly higher: As many as 215,000 more people than usual died in the U.S. from all causes during the first seven months of 2020, according to CDC figures. The death toll from COVID-19 during the same period was put at about 150,000 by Johns Hopkins.

Researchers suspect some coronavirus deaths were overlooked, while other deaths may have been caused indirectly by the crisis, by creating such turmoil that people with chronic conditions such as diabetes or heart disease were unable or unwilling to get treatment.

Dark, the emergency physician at Baylor, said that before the crisis, “people used to look to the United States with a degree of reverence. For democracy. For our moral leadership in the world. Supporting science and using technology to travel to the moon.”

“Instead,” he said, “what’s really been exposed is how anti-science we’ve become.”

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Associated Press writer Kelli Kennedy in Miami contributed to this story.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Europe adopts tougher virus restrictions as infections surge

By DANICA KIRKA and SYLVIE CORBET for the Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — As the U.S. closed in on 200,000 coronavirus deaths Monday, the crisis deteriorated across Europe, with Britain working to draw up new restrictions, Spain clamping down again in Madrid and the Czech Republic replacing its health minister with an epidemiologist because of a surge of infections.

A local police stops a vehicle at a checkpoint in Madrid, Spain, Monday, Sept. 21, 2020. Police in the Spanish capital and its surrounding towns are stopping people coming in and out of working-class neighborhoods that have been partially locked down to stem Europe’s fastest coronavirus spread. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

The growing push to reimpose tough measures in Europe to beat back a scourge that was seemingly brought under control in the spring contributed to a sharp drop on Wall Street in the morning. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down more than 900 points, or 3.4%, and the S&P 500 fell 2.6%.

In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce a round of restrictions Tuesday to slow the spread of the disease. British Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty warned that cases are doubling every seven days, and the experience in other countries shows that that will soon lead to a rise in deaths.

The chief medical officers of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland raised the nation’s COVID-19 alert Monday from three to four, the second-highest level. Almost 3,900 new infections were reported Sunday, a level not seen since early May.

“We have, in a very bad sense, literally turned a corner,” after weeks of rising infections, Whitty said.

In France, where infections reached a record high the weekend with over 13,000 new cases in 24 hours, health authorities opened new testing centers in the Paris region to reduce lines and delays. Italy added Paris and other parts of France to its COVID-19 blacklist, requiring travelers from those regions to show proof of a negative test or undergo testing on arrival.

And the Norwegian capital of Oslo banned gatherings of more than 10 people in private homes after a spike in cases and strongly urged people to wear face masks when traveling on public transportation amid a strike by bus drivers that forced many commuters to take the tram.

“The situation in Oslo is serious. This development must be stopped, and we have to do it now,” Mayor Raymond Johansen said.

Police in the Spanish capital of Madrid and its surrounding towns began stopping people going in and out of working-class neighborhoods that have been partially locked down to combat Europe’s fastest coronavirus spread.

Authorities said that starting on Wednesday, an estimated 860,000 residents must be able to show that their trips out of their neighborhoods are justified for work, study or medical reasons or face fines. Parks are closed and shops and restaurants in the affected zones are limited to 50% occupancy.ADVERTISEMENT

The targeted locations have some of the highest transmission rates in Europe. The measure has been met with protests from people who think the restrictions are stigmatizing the poor.

The German city of Munich, with one of the country’s highest infection rates, will allow only up to five people or members of two households to meet, and will restrict private indoor gatherings such as birthday parties, weddings or funerals to no more than 25 people.

The Czech Republic also faces the possibility of new restrictions after the government appointed epidemiologist Roman Prymula as health minister.

In the spring, the country recorded a relatively low number of COVID-19 cases and deaths compared with hard-hit Western European countries such as Italy, Spain and Britain.

But after the government lifted most of its restrictions over the summer, confirmed cases began making a comeback and reached a record high last week. On Thursday, the day-to-day increase of new cases was higher than 3,000, almost the same number it was in the entire month of March.

Prymula said over the weekend that the loosening of restrictions was done too quickly.

Elsewhere, the U.S. was on the verge of hitting 200,000 deaths, with health authorities deeply worried about the resumption of school and college and the onset of cold weather, which will force more people indoors. A widely cited model from the University of Washington predicts the U.S. death toll will double to 400,000 by the end of the year.

India recorded nearly 87,000 new coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours. The nation of 1.3 billion people now has over 5.4 million reported cases, and within weeks is expected to surpass the U.S., which has 6.8 million reported cases. Nevertheless, the Taj Mahal reopened to tourists for the time in six months, though visitors will have wear masks and undergo temperature screening.

Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon, began its first day under a tightened lockdown because of a rise in cases. Only essential businesses can remain open.

But there were glimmers of good news: All virus restrictions are being lifted across much of New Zealand with the exception of Auckland, the largest city. Health authorities reported no new infections on Monday, and the number of active cases was put at 62. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said officials have “reasonable confidence we are on the right track.”

And in Africa, the surge in cases has been leveling off after the continent’s 54 countries joined an alliance praised as responding better than some richer countries, including the U.S. Over 33,000 deaths have been confirmed on the continent of 1.3 billion people.

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Corbet reported from Paris. Associated Press writers Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin; Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark; Karel Janicek in Prague; Aritz Parra in Madrid; Nicole Winfield in Rome; and Tammy Webber in Fenton, Michigan, contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Desert homes threatened by enormous California wildfire

From the Associated Press

JUNIPER HILLS, Calif. (AP) — An enormous wildfire that churned through mountains northeast of Los Angeles and into the Mojave Desert was still threatening homes on Monday, but officials said calmer winds could help crews corral the flames.

A woman watches as the Bobcat Fire burns in Juniper Hill, Calif., Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

At 165 square miles (427 square kilometers), the Bobcat Fire is one of the largest ever in Los Angeles County and it has burned for more than two weeks. It’s just 15% contained.

Evacuation orders and warnings are in place for thousands of residents in foothill and desert communities, where semi-rural homes and a popular nature sanctuary have burned. No injuries have been reported.

Erratic winds that drove flames into the community of Juniper Hills over the weekend had died down, said U.S. Forest Service fire spokesman Larry Smith.

“It’s slightly cooler too, so hopefully that will be a help to firefighters,” Smith said.

Officials said it could be days before teams determine the scope of the destruction in the area about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northeast of downtown Los Angeles.

Firefighters fought back against another flareup near Mount Wilson, which overlooks greater Los Angeles in the San Gabriel Mountains and has a historic observatory founded more than a century ago and numerous broadcast antennas serving Southern California.

The Bobcat Fire started Sept. 6 and has doubled in size over the last week as it ripped through forested areas that hadn’t burned in decades. The cause is under investigation.

The wildfire also destroyed the nature center at Devil’s Punchbowl Natural Area, a geological wonder that attracts some 130,000 visitors per year. A wildlife sanctuary on the property was undamaged, and staff and animals had been evacuated days earlier.

Nearly 19,000 firefighters in California are fighting more than two dozen major wildfires. At least 7,900 wildfires have burned more than 6,000 square miles (15,500 square kilometers) in the state this year, including many since a mid-August barrage of dry lightning ignited parched vegetation.

Officials were investigating the death of a firefighter at another Southern California wildfire that erupted earlier this month from a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device used by a couple to reveal their baby’s gender.

The death occurred Sept. 17 in San Bernardino National Forest as crews battled the El Dorado Fire about 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of Los Angeles, the U.S. Forest Service said in a statement. That blaze is 59% contained.

In Wyoming, officials warned that gusty winds on Monday could cause more growth of a wildfire burning toward cabins and an important water supply reservoir that’s a major source of water for the state’s capital city, Cheyenne. The fire in the Medicine Bow National Forest is burning in heavily forested, rugged terrain which would usually would be busy now with hunters at the start of elk hunting season.

And in Colorado, more evacuations were ordered on Sunday as winds caused the state’s largest wildfire to grow. Firefighters had to temporarily retreat from the massive Cameron Peak Fire near Red Feather Lakes. Flames later spread into flatter ground which gave crews a better chance to battle the blaze, fire managers said.

More than 9,000 firefighters continue to battle 27 large wildfires across Oregon and Washington, where thousands of residences have been destroyed, the Pacific Northwest Region of the Forest Service said.

As India’s virus cases rise, so do questions over death toll

By ANIRUDDHA GHOSAL and SHEIKH SAALIQ for the Associated Press

NEW DELHI (AP) — When Narayan Mitra died on July 16, a day after being admitted to the hospital for fever and breathing difficulties, his name never appeared on any of the official lists put out daily of those killed by the coronavirus.

Test results later revealed that Mitra had indeed been infected with COVID-19, as had his son, Abhijit, and four other family members in Silchar, in northeastern Assam state, on India’s border with Bangladesh.

Anindita Mitra, 61, flanked by her sons Satyajit Mitra, right and Abhijit Mitra, pose with portraits of her husband late Narayan Mitra, at her house in Silchar, India, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020. Narayan Mitra, wasn’t listed among those killed by the coronavirus that authorities put out daily because the test results confirming COVID-19 arrived after his death. In India, people who die with other preexisting conditions are often not counted as COVID-19 deaths, while only those who test positive for the virus before dying are included in the official tally in many states. (AP Photo/Joy Roy)

But Narayan Mitra still isn’t counted as a coronavirus victim. The virus was deemed an “incidental” factor, and a panel of doctors decided his death was due to a previously diagnosed neurological disorder that causes muscle weakness.

“He died because of the virus, and there is no point lying about it,” Abhijit Mitra said of the finding, which came despite national guidelines that ask states to not attribute deaths to underlying conditions in cases where COVID-19 has been confirmed by tests.

Such exclusions could explain why India, which has recorded more than 5.1 million infections — second only to the United States — has a death toll of about 83,000 in a country of 1.3 billion people.

India’s Health Ministry has cited this as evidence of its success in fighting the pandemic and a basis for relaxing restrictions and reopening the economy after Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a strict lockdown of the entire population earlier this year.

But experts say the numbers are misleading and that India is not counting many deaths.

“We are undercounting deaths by an unknown factor,” said Dr. T. Jacob John, a retired virologist.

The Health Ministry has bristled at past allegations of an undercount in fatalities, but it refused to comment this week on whether states were reporting all suspected and confirmed virus deaths.

Determining exact numbers during the pandemic is difficult: Countries count cases and deaths differently, and testing for the virus is uneven, making direct comparisons misleading.

In India, recording mortality data was poor even before the pandemic struck. Of the 10 million estimated deaths each year, fewer than a quarter are fully documented, and only one-fifth of these are medically certified, according to national figures.

Most Indians die at home, not in a hospital, and doctors usually aren’t present to record the cause of death. This is more prevalent in rural areas, where the virus is now spreading.

Dr. Prabhat Jha, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto who has studied deaths in India, said countries should err on the side of overestimating deaths if they want to make progress in fighting the virus.

“It is better to have no estimate than an underestimate,” Jha said.

The Health Ministry guidelines echo this concern, asking states to record all suspected virus deaths, including “presumptive deaths” — those who likely died of COVID-19 but weren’t tested for it.

But those guidelines are advisory, and many states don’t comply. In Mahrashtra, India’s worst affected state with more than 1 million cases, suspected deaths aren’t recorded in the tally, said Dr. Archana Patil, the state’s health director.

Other states, like Assam, have created panels of doctors who differentiate between “real virus deaths” and those from underlying illnesses. In some cities like New Delhi or Mumbai, these panels occasionally have added missed deaths to the tally.

But Dr. Anup Kumar Barman, who heads the panel in Assam, said the state is not including many fatalities where the virus was “incidental” and not the cause of death. In Narayan Mitra’s case, he had more symptoms of his underlying neurological disorder, Barman said.

Assam state was following the federal guidelines and was citing the virus only in those deaths due to respiratory failure, pneumonia or blood clots, Barman added. But the guidelines list these factors as instances of how the virus can kill and are not a restrictive checklist. Barman refused to answer any follow-up questions from The Associated Press.

Assam state has recorded over 147,000 infections but fewer than 500 deaths as of Wednesday.

In West Bengal state, a similar panel was shelved in May and the state said it would subsequently follow federal guidelines. Of the 105 deaths of those testing positive for COVID-19 in April, the panel found found that 72, or nearly 70%, weren’t caused by the virus.

P.V. Ramesh, who until July 8 headed COVID-19 management for Andhra Pradesh state in southern India, said coronavirus deaths “at home, in transit or while arriving at hospitals don’t get counted.”

The gaps in data also mean that India’s ability to identify spikes in deaths from natural causes from previous years is spotty. Problems in death counts have raised concerns in countries like South Africa.

Meanwhile, the courts have criticized some states, like Telangana, over transparency in sharing data about fatalities.

In addition, federal Health Ministry guidelines in May advised hospitals against conducting autopsies in suspected COVID-19 cases to prevent exposure to the virus. Although the guidelines say the certification can be done by doctors, experts said this also was leading to undercounting deaths.

The government’s emphasis on the low death toll despite the rising number of reported infections has resulted in people thinking the virus wasn’t necessarily fatal, leading to a “false sense of protection,” said Dr. Anant Bhan, who researches public health and ethics in the city of Bhopal. That has led to people letting their guard down by not taking precautions such as wearing masks or maintaining social distance, Bhan said.

Regional officials also felt pressure to play down deaths to show the health crisis was under control, said Dr. S.P. Kalantri, director of a hospital in Maharashtra’s rural Wardha district. Initially there were “subtle hints” from district officials to “play down the numbers” by listing some deaths as being caused by underlying diseases, he said.

Maharashtra state health director Archana Patil said this had been a problem in some districts at first, but officials since have been advised to report all deaths.

Workers at crematoriums, meanwhile, have reported an increase in receiving bodies — whether from the virus or not.

At a crematorium in Lucknow, the capital of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, worker Bhupesh Soni said 30 people were being cremated every day, compared with five or six before the pandemic.

A cremation normally takes about 45 minutes, but Soni said there have been days when he has worked for over 20 hours.

“It is an endless flow of bodies,” he said.

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Associated Press writers Biswajeet Banerjee in Lucknow, India, and Indrajit Singh in Patna, India, contributed.

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Follow AP pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

—-

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Gulf Coast braces for 2nd round of flooding in Sally’s wake

By JAY REEVES, ANGIE WANG and JEFF MARTIN for the Associated Press

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) — Homeowners and businesses along the soggy Gulf Coast began cleaning up Thursday in the wake of Hurricane Sally, even as the region braced for a delayed, second round of flooding in the coming days from rivers and creeks swollen by the storm’s heavy rains.

Workers look over a damaged ferry , Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, in Pensacola, Fla. Rivers swollen by Hurricane Sally’s rains threatened more misery for parts of the Florida Panhandle and south Alabama on Thursday, as the storm’s remnants continued to dump heavy rains inland that spread the threat of flooding to Georgia and the Carolinas.(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

In hard-hit Pensacola and surrounding Escambia County, where Sally’s floodwaters surged through downtown streets and lapped at car door handles on Wednesday before receding, authorities went door-to-door to check on residents and warn them the danger wasn’t over.

“We are not out of the woods yet,” said Escambia County emergency manager Eric Gilmore.

With the Florida Panhandle and Alabama on alert, Sally’s rainy remnants pushed farther inland across the Southeast, causing flooding in Georgia and threatening more of the same on Friday in North Carolina and Virginia. Forecasters said Georgia could get up to a foot (30 centimeters), and South Carolina 10 inches (25 centimeters).

Along the Gulf Coast, officials inspected shut-down highways and bridges for damage. A section of the main bridge between Pensacola and Pensacola Beach collapsed after it was hit by a barge that broke loose during the storm.

At least 400 people in Escambia County were rescued by such means as high-water vehicles, boats and jet skis, county Public Safety Director Jason Rogers said. At least one death, in Alabama, was blamed on the hurricane, and more than a half-million homes and businesses were without electricity on the morning after the storm in Florida, Alabama and Georgia.

A few people cleaned up in Bristol Park, a creekside neighborhood where as much as 4 feet (1.2 meters) of water filled brick homes north of Pensacola.

Susan Cutts’ parents fled rising water inside their home into the garage, where they desperately called for help on a dying cellphone until aid arrived.

“They were on top of their car when they got to them,” Cutts said.

At least eight waterways in southern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle were expected to hit major flood stage by Thursday. Forecasters warned that some of the crests could break records, submerge bridges and flood homes.

Flooding in central Georgia forced Robins Air Force Base south of Macon to close one of its entrances and delay the start of the workday for some employees. Elsewhere in Georgia, sheriffs reported numerous trees down and some highways and streets closed because of high water.

Sally blew ashore near Gulf Shores, Alabama, with 105 mph (165 kph) winds, unloading more than 2 feet (61 centimeters) of rain near Naval Air Station Pensacola before weakening into a tropical storm and then a depression. Pensacola streets looked like river rapids, and parked cars were swamped.

At a downtown marina, at least 30 sailboats, fishing boats and other vessels were found clumped together in a mass of fiberglass hulls and broken docks. Some boats rested atop sunken ones.

The hurricane also drove two large ferry boats into a concrete seawall and left them grounded. The boats had been purchased with BP oil spill money.

“This is kind of the initial salvo,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said of the hurricane’s onslaught, “but there is going to be more that you’re going to have to contend with.”

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Wang reported from Mobile, Alabama, and Martin, from Marietta, Georgia. Associated Press contributors include Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia; Sudhin Thanawala; Haleluya Hadero in Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Bobby Caina Calvan and Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Florida; David Fischer in Miami; Rebecca Santana and Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans; and Julie Walker in New York.

300 and counting: Push by feds to arrest in US protests

By MICHAEL BALSAMO, ALANNA DURKIN RICHER and COLLEEN LONG for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a private call with federal prosecutors across the country, Attorney General William Barr’s message was clear: aggressively go after demonstrators who cause violence.

FILE – In this Aug. 19, 2020, photo Attorney General William Barr participates in a roll call with police officers from the Kansas City Police Department in Kansas City, Mo. In a private conference call this week with his U.S. attorneys nationwide, Attorney General William Barr said he wanted prosecutors to be aggressive in charging demonstrators who cause violence. (AP Photo/Mike Balsamo, File)

Barr pushed his U.S. attorneys to bring federal charges whenever they could, keeping a grip on cases even if a defendant could be tried instead in state court, according to officials with knowledge of last week’s call who were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity. Federal convictions often result in longer prison sentences.

The Trump administration’s crackdown has already led to more than 300 arrests on federal crimes in the protests since the death of George Floyd. An AP analysis of the data shows that while many people are accused of violent crimes such as arson for hurling Molotov cocktails and burning police cars and assault for injuring law enforcement, others are not. That’s led to criticism that at least some arrests are a politically motivated effort to stymie demonstrations.ADVERTISEMENT

“The speed at which this whole thing was moved from state court to federal court is stunning and unbelievable,” said Charles Sunwabe, who represents an Erie, Pennsylvania, man accused of lighting a fire at a coffee shop after a May 30 protest. “It’s an attempt to intimidate these demonstrators and to silence them,” he said.

Some cases are viewed as trumped up and should not be in federal court, lawyers say, including a teenager accused of civil disorder for claiming online “we are not each other’s enemy, only enemy is 12,” a reference to law enforcement.

The administration has seized on the demonstrations and an aggressive federal response to showcase what President Donald Trump says is his law-and-order prowess, claiming he is countering rising crime in cities run by Democrats. Trump has derided protesters and played up the violence around protests, though the majority of them are peaceful.

Pockets of violence have indeed popped up in cities, including Portland, Oregon, where protests devolved into clashes with law enforcement for weeks on end. Nights of looting and other unrest have occurred elsewhere: Rochester, New York; Minneapolis, Louisville, Washington, D.C., and Chicago.

Federal officials were called into to Kenosha, Wisconsin, after large protests and unrest following the shooting of Jacob Blake and the gunning down of two protesters and later arrest of a 17-year-old in their deaths. Notably, that teenager has not been charged with any federal crimes. Neither was a man accused of shooting and killing a demonstrator in Louisville following the death of Breonna Taylor.

While Barr has gone after protest-related violence targeted at law enforcement, he has argued there is seldom a reason to open sweeping investigations into the practices of police departments. The Justice Department, however, has initiated a number of civil rights investigations into individual cases. Barr has said he does not believe there is systemic racism in police departments, even though Black people are disproportionately more likely to be killed by police, and public attitudes over police reforms have shifted.

During the call with U.S. attorneys, Barr raised the prospect that prosecutors could bring a number of other potential charges in unrest cases, including the rarely used sedition statute, according to the officials familiar with the call. Legal experts cautioned the use of that statute is unlikely, given its difficulty to prove in court.

Federal involvement in local cases is nothing new. Officials across the country have turned to the Justice Department for decades, particularly for violent crime and gang cases where offenders could face much stiffer federal penalties and there is no parole.

Police chiefs in several cities have pointed to the importance of their relationships with federal prosecutors to bring charges that can result in long prison sentences to drive down violent crime.

Even before the unrest earlier this year, the Justice Department was stepping in to bring charges in states where the government believes justice is not being fully pursued by local prosecutors. In January, for example, the department brought federal hate crime charges against a woman accused of slapping three Orthodox Jewish women in one of several apparently anti-Semitic attacks reported throughout New York during Hanukkah.

It is not clear whether protest-related arrests will continue apace. Demonstrations have slowed, though not necessarily because of the federal charges. Wildfires in the West and hurricanes in the South have lessened some of the conflict.

While many local prosecutors have dismissed dozens of low-level protest arrests, some are still coming down hard. A Pennsylvania judge set bail at $1 million for about a dozen people in a protest that followed the death of a knife-wielding man by police.

Even some Democrats, including District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser, have called for the Justice Department to pursue federal charges against violent demonstrators, going as far as accusing the administration of declining to prosecute rioters. Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department had arrested 42 people one August weekend after a protest left a trail of vandalism. But prosecutors said the arrest paperwork did not identify specific crimes tied to each suspect.

The federal confrontation with Bowser seemed counterintuitive, though Trump has a history of squaring off against the mayor.

About one-third of the federal protest-related cases are in Portland, for crimes such as assaulting a deputy U.S. marshal with a baseball bat, setting fires and setting off explosives at the federal courthouse and throwing rocks at officers.

Three purported “Boogaloo” members, who use the loose movement’s name as a slang term for a second civil war or collapse of civilization, were charged with possessing a homemade bomb and inciting a riot in Las Vegas.

An El Paso, Texas, man was accused of promoting hate speech, posting a video online with a racist epithet and making threatening comments to Black Lives Matter protesters while holding a military-style rifle at his feet. A Minnesota man was accused of helping burn down a police precinct headquarters there after Floyd’s death.

But other cases simply do not belong in federal court, lawyers say.

In Seattle, 35-year-old Isaiah Willoughby, who’s accused of setting fire to the outside of a police precinct, faces a mandatory minimum of five years in prison if convicted of arson in federal court. He could be looking at about a year behind bars in state court, where his lawyer said the case belongs.

“This is city property that has been destroyed and you have a local prosecutors office that is ready and willing and able to charge these cases in state court, but the federal government is attempting to emphasize these protest-related crimes for whatever agenda they are seeking to pursue,” said assistant federal public defender Dennis Carroll.

Carroll accused federal authorities of using the cases to try to make the protests seem more violent and disruptive than they really were.

Federal prosecutors this month agreed to dismiss the charge against a man who authorities said was found with a Molotov cocktail in his backpack after he and other protesters were arrested in May for blocking traffic in Jacksonville, Florida. Video showed that 27-year-old Ivan Zecher was wrongfully arrested because he was actually on the sidewalk — not in the street — meaning prosecutors could not pursue their case, Zecher’s attorney, Marcus Barnett said.

“There is absolutely an agenda here to blow these out of proportion, make these look more serious or more sinister than it is,” Barnett said of the pursuit of federal charges. “This is the Justice Department, from the top, furthering an agenda that has nothing to do with justice,” he said.

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Richer reported from Boston.

‘Nothing left in the bucket’: Wildfire resources run thin

By JAMES ANDERSON and MATTHEW BROWN for the Associated Press

Justin Silvera came off the fire lines in Northern California after a grueling 36 straight days battling wildfires and evacuating residents ahead of the flames. Before that, he and his crew had worked for 20 days, followed by a three-day break.

FILE – In this Sept. 7, 2020, file photo, a firefighter battles the Creek Fire as it threatens homes in the Cascadel Woods neighborhood of Madera County, Calif. This year’s fires have taxed the human, mechanical and financial resources of the nation’s wildfire fighting forces to a degree that few past blazes did. And half of the fire season is yet to come. (AP Photo/Noah Berger,File)

Silvera, a 43-year-old battalion chief with Cal Fire, California’s state firefighting agency, said he’s lost track of the blazes he’s fought this year. He and his crew have sometimes been on duty for 64 hours at a stretch, their only rest coming in 20-minute catnaps.

“I’ve been at this 23 years, and by far this is the worst I’ve seen,” Silvera said before bunking down at a motel for 24 hours. After working in Santa Cruz County, his next assignment was to head north to attack wildfires near the Oregon border.

His exhaustion reflects the situation up and down the West Coast fire lines: This year’s blazes have taxed the human, mechanical and financial resources of the nation’s wildfire-fighting forces to an extraordinary degree. And half of the fire season is yet to come. Heat, drought and a strategic decision to attack the flames early combined with the coronavirus to put a historically heavy burden on fire teams.

“There’s never enough resources,” said Silvera, one of nearly 17,000 firefighters in California. “Typically with Cal Fire we’re able to attack — air tankers, choppers, dozers. We’re good at doing that. But these conditions in the field, the drought, the wind, this stuff is just taking off. We can’t contain one before another erupts.”

Washington State Forester George Geissler says there are hundreds of unfulfilled requests for help throughout the West. Agencies are constantly seeking firefighters, aircraft, engines and support personnel.

Fire crews have been summoned from at least nine states and other countries, including Canada and Israel. Hundreds of agreements for agencies to offer mutual assistance have been maxed out at the federal, state and local levels, he said.

“We know that there’s really nothing left in the bucket,” Geissler said. “Our sister agencies to the south in California and Oregon are really struggling.”

Demand for firefighting resources has been high since mid-August, when fire officials bumped the national preparedness level to critical, meaning at least 80% of crews were already committed to fighting fires, and there were few personnel and little equipment to spare.

Because of the extreme fire behavior, “you can’t say for sure having more resources would make a difference,” said Carrie Bilbao, a spokesperson for the National Interagency Fire Center. Officials at the U.S. government operation in Boise, Idaho, help decide which fires get priority nationwide when equipment and firefighters run scarce.

Andy Stahl, a forester who runs Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, an advocacy group in Oregon, said it would have been impossible to stop some of the most destructive blazes, a task he compared to “dropping a bucket of water on an atomic bomb.”

But Stahl contends the damage could have been less if government agencies were not so keen to put out every blaze. By stamping out smaller fires and those that ignite during wetter months, Stahl said officials have allowed fuel to build up, setting the stage for bigger fires during times of drought and hot, windy weather.

That’s been exacerbated this year by the coronavirus pandemic, which prompted U.S. Forest Service Chief Vickie Christiansen to issue a directive in June to fight all fires aggressively, reversing a decades-long trend of allowing some to burn. The idea was to minimize large concentrations of firefighters by extinguishing blazes quickly.

Fighting the flames from the air was key to the strategy, with 35 air tankers and 200 helicopters being used, Forest Service spokesperson Kaari Carpenter said.

Yet by Aug. 30, following the deaths of some firefighters, including four aviators, and several close calls, fire officials in Boise warned that long-term fatigue was setting in. They called for a “tactical pause,” so fire commanders could reinforce safe practices.

Tim Ingalsbee, a member of the advocacy group Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics and Ecology, said the June directive from Christiansen returned the forest service to a mindset prevalent for much of the last century that focused on putting out fires as quickly as possible. He said allowing more fires to burn when they are not threatening life or property would free up firefighters for the most dangerous blazes.

With no end in sight to the pandemic, Ingalsbee worried the focus on aggressively attacking every fire could prove lasting.

“More crews, more air tankers, more engines and dozers still can’t overcome this powerful force of nature,” he said. “The crews are beat up and fatigued and spread thin, and we’re barely halfway through the traditional fire season.”

Cal Fire’s roughly 8,000 personnel have been fighting blazes from the Oregon border to the Mexico border, repeatedly bouncing from blaze to blaze, said Tim Edwards, president of the union for Cal Fire, the nation’s second largest firefighting agency.

“We’re battle-hardened, but it seems year after year, it gets tougher, and at some point in time we won’t be able to cope. We’ll reach a breaking point,” said Edwards, a 25-year veteran.

The immediate dangers of the fires are compounded by worries about COVID-19 in camp and at home.

Firefighters “see all this destruction and the fatigue, and then they’re getting those calls from home, where their families are dealing with school and child care because of COVID. It’s stressing them out, and we have to keep their heads in the game,” he said.

The pandemic also has limited the state’s use of inmate fire crews — either because of early inmate releases to prevent outbreaks in prisons or because many are under quarantine in those prisons, both Berland and Geissler said.

Aside from the human toll, the conflagrations in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, and now California and the Pacific Northwest have cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

California alone has spent $529 million since July 1 on wildfires, said Daniel Berlant, assistant deputy director of Cal Fire. By comparison, the state spent $691 million the entire fiscal year that ended June 30. The U.S. government will reimburse most state costs for the biggest disasters.

Back in the field, Silvera and his crew saved two people at the beginning of their 26-day duty tour. The two hikers encountered the crew after the firefighters themselves were briefly trapped while trying to save the headquarters building at Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

“We got in a bad spot, and there were a few hours there we didn’t know if we’d make it,” Silvera said. “Those people found us, and we wouldn’t have been in there.”

“That’s what you sign up for.”

Trump presides as Israel, 2 Arab states sign historic pacts

By DEB RIECHMANN, MATTHEW LEE and JONATHAN LEMIRE for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) —

Declaring “the dawn of a new Middle East,” President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed historic diplomatic pacts with Israel and two Gulf Arab nations that he hopes will lead to a new order in the Mideast and cast him as a peacemaker at the height of his reelection campaign.

President Donald Trump, center, with from left, Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump, and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, during the Abraham Accords signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Hundreds of people massed on the sun-washed South Lawn to witness the signing of agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. The bilateral agreements formalize the normalization of the Jewish state’s already thawing relations with the two Arab nations in line with their common opposition to Iran and its aggression in the region.

“We’re here this afternoon to change the course of history,” Trump said from a balcony overlooking the South Lawn. “After decades of division and conflict, we mark the dawn of a new Middle East.”

The agreements do not address the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While the UAE, Bahrain and other Arab countries support the Palestinians, the Trump administration has persuaded the two countries not to let that conflict keep them from having normal relations with Israel.

Trump’s political backers are looking for the agreements to boost his standing as a statesman with just seven weeks to go before Election Day. Until now, foreign policy has not had a major role in a campaign dominated by the coronavirus, racial issues and the economy. The pandemic was in the backdrop of the White House ceremony, where there was no social distancing and most guests didn’t wear masks.

The agreements won’t end active wars, but supporters believe they could pave the way for a broader Arab-Israeli rapprochement after decades of enmity and only two previous peace deals. Skeptics, including many longtime Mideast analysts and former officials, have expressed doubts about their impact and lamented that they ignore the Palestinians, who have rejected them as a stab in the back by fellow Arabs.

During the ceremony, Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the brother of Abu Dhabi’s powerful crown prince, thanked Israel for “halting the annexation of Palestinian territories,” although Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted that Israel has only temporarily suspended its plans to annex West Bank settlements.

“Today, we are already witnessing a change in the heart of the Middle East — a change that will send hope around the world,” al-Nahyan said.

Even the harshest critics have allowed that the agreements could usher in a major shift in the region should other Arab nations, particularly Saudi Arabia, follow suit, with implications for Iran, Syria and Lebanon. Other Arab countries believed to be close to recognizing Israel include Oman, Sudan and Morocco.

“We are very down the road with about five different countries,” Trump told reporters before the ceremony.

In addition to the bilateral agreements signed by Israel, the UAE and Bahrain, all three are signing a document dubbed the “Abraham Accords” after the patriarch of the world’s three major monotheistic religions.

“This day is a pivot of history,” Netanyahu said. “It heralds a new dawn of peace.”

“Despite the many challenges and hardships that we all face — despite all that, let us pause a moment to appreciate this remarkable day.”

The Palestinians have not embraced the U.S. vision. Palestinian activists held small demonstrations Tuesday inthe West Bank and in Gaza, where they trampled and set fire to pictures of Trump, Netanyahu and the leaders of the UAE and Bahrain.

A poll released Tuesday found that 86% of Palestinians believe the normalization agreement with the UAE serves only Israel’s interests and not their own. The poll, carried out by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, was carried out Sept. 9-12 and surveyed 1,270 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Even in Israel, where the accords have received widespread acclaim, there is concern they might result in U.S. sales of sophisticated weaponry to the UAE and Bahrain, thus potentially upsetting Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region.

Trump said he is OK with selling military aircraft to the UAE. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also welcomed the agreements but said she wants to learn details, specifically what the Trump administration has told the UAE about buying American-made F-35 aircraft and about Israel agreeing to freeze efforts to annex portions of the West Bank.

Bahrani Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani said Bahrain would stand with the Palestinians. “Today is a truly historic occasion,” he said. “A moment for hope and opportunity.”

And while the UAE and Bahrain have a history of suppressing dissent and critical public opinion, there have been indications that the agreements are not nearly as popular or well-received as in Israel. Neither country sent its head of state or government to sign the deals with Netanyahu.

Bahrain’s largest Shiite-dominated opposition group, Al-Wefaq, which the government ordered dissolved in 2016 amid a yearslong crackdown on dissent, said there is widespread rejection of normalization. Al-Wefaq said in a statement that it joins other Bahrainis who reject the agreement to normalize ties with the “Zionist entity,” and criticized the government for crushing the public’s ability to express opinions “to obscure the extent of discontent” at normalization.

The ceremony follows months of intricate diplomacy headed by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and the president’s envoy for international negotiations, Avi Berkowitz. On Aug. 13, the Israel-UAE deal was announced. That was followed by the first direct commercial flight between the countries, and then the Sept. 11 announcement of the Bahrain-Israel agreement.

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Associated Press writers Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Joseph Krauss in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

California fitness centers sue state over virus closures

From the Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — California fitness centers have filed a lawsuit alleging Gov. Gavin Newsom’s measures aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus unfairly target the industry and are demanding they be allowed to reopen.

The California Fitness Alliance, which represents nearly 300 businesses, filed the suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Scott Street, a lawyer for the group, said Tuesday.

The suit accuses state and Los Angeles County officials of requiring gyms to close without providing evidence that they contribute to virus outbreaks and at a time when staying healthy is critical to California’s residents. The prolonged closure is depriving millions of people the ability to exercise as temperatures soar and smoky air from wildfires blankets much of the state, said Francesca Schuler, a founding partner of the alliance.

“We are not looking for a fight,” said Schuler, who is chief executive of In-Shape Health Clubs. “We are committed to being as safe as possible. We are in the health business. That’s what we care about more than anything.”

The suit is one of many filed by California sectors walloped by closures due to the pandemic. Newsom’s administration let many businesses reopen in spring but shut them again in July as virus cases surged, and is allowing reopenings to take place in phases as counties see virus cases diminish.

Los Angeles County declined to comment on the litigation but said it has been “intensely committed to protecting the health and safety of its residents through an unprecedented crisis using science and data.”

A message seeking comment was sent to the California Department of Public Health.

Under state rules, fitness centers can reopen indoors at 10% of capacity when a county’s infections drop from widespread to substantial. In counties with minimal infections, gyms can reopen indoors at 50% capacity.

The closures have devastated the fitness industry, which could see between 30% and 40% of businesses close for good, Schuler said. They have also worsened the mental and physical health of residents who rely on gyms for exercise at a time when they are being urged to stay healthy to protect themselves against COVID-19, she said.

The alliance also questioned why fitness centers are facing more restrictive measures than restaurants when gym equipment can be spaced out and patrons required to wear masks.

Statewide, California’s coronavirus infection rate has dropped steadily for weeks. As of last Tuesday, however, 33 of the state’s 58 counties still had widespread infection levels, which require schools to only offer distance learning and most businesses to limit indoor operations.

‘Huge rainmaker’: Hurricane Sally threatens historic floods

By JAY REEVES and STACEY PLAISANCE for the Associated Press

ORANGE BEACH, Ala. (AP) — Hurricane Sally drifted in a slow crawl Tuesday toward the northern Gulf Coast, threatening dangerous storm surge and relentless rainfall that forecasters warned could trigger historic flooding as the storm was expected to hover in the area long after coming ashore.

Waves crash near a pier, at Gulf State Park, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Gulf Shores, Ala. Hurricane Sally is crawling toward the northern Gulf Coast at just 2 mph, a pace that’s enabling the storm to gather huge amounts of water to eventually dump on land. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbrt)

“It’s going to be a huge rainmaker,” Phil Klotzbach, a research scientist and meteorologist at Colorado State University. “It’s not going to be pretty.”

The National Hurricane Center expects Sally to remain a Category 1 hurricane, with top sustained winds of 80 mph (130 kph) when it makes landfall late Tuesday or early Wednesday. The storm’s sluggish pace made it harder to predict exactly where its center will strike, though it was expected to reach land near the Mississippi-Alabama state line.

By late morning Tuesday, hurricane warnings stretched from east of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, to Navarre, Florida. Rainfall of up to 20 inches (50 centimeters) was forecast near the coast. There was a chance the storm could also spawn tornadoes and dump isolated rain accumulations of 30 inches (76 centimeters).

In Orange Beach, Alabama, towering waves crashed onshore Tuesday as Crystal Smith and her young daughter, Taylor, watched. They drove more than an hour through sheets of rain and whipping wind to take in the sight.

“It’s beautiful, I love it,” Crystal Smith said. “But they are high. Hardly any of the beach isn’t covered.”

Capt. Michael Thomas, an Orange Beach fishing guide, was outside securing boats and making other last-minute preparations. He estimated up to 5 inches (13 centimeters) of rain had fallen in as many hours.

“I’m as prepared as I can be,” Thomas said.

A couple miles away in Gulf Shores, Alabama, waves crashed over the end of the long fishing pier at Gulf State Park. Some roads in the town already were covered with water.

Stacy Stewart, a senior specialist with the National Hurricane Center, said Tuesday that people should continue to take the storm seriously since “devastating” rainfall is expected in large areas. People could drown in the flooding, he said.

“This is going to be historic flooding along with the historic rainfall,” Stewart said. “If people live near rivers, small streams and creeks, they need to evacuate and go somewhere else.”

Donald Jones, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Louisiana, said Sally could unleash flooding similar to what Hurricane Harvey inflicted in 2017 when it swamped the Houston metropolitan area.

Along the I-10 highway that runs parallel to the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Florida, rain grew heavier Tuesday in places like Gautier and Pascagoula, Mississippi. Businesses along highway exits appeared to be largely closed.

In Gulfport, Mississippi, white plastic bags hung over some gas station pumps to signal they were out of fuel. Along a bayou that extended inland from the Gulf, three shrimp boats were tied up as shrimpers and others tried to protect their boats from waves and storm surge. Most boat slips at Gulfport’s marina were empty, and many businesses had metal storm shutters or plywood covering the windows.

In Alabama, officials closed the causeway to Dauphin Island and the commuter tunnel that runs beneath the Mobile River. An online video from Dauphin Island showed a few cars and SUVs stuck in a beachfront area, their tires sunk deep into wet sand.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey urged residents near Mobile Bay and low-lying areas near rivers to evacuate if conditions still permitted a safe escape. The National Hurricane Center predicted storm surge along Alabama’s coast, including Mobile Bay, could reach 7 feet (2.1 meters) above ground.

“This is not worth risking your life,” Ivey said during a news conference Tuesday.

The storm was moving at only 2 mph (4 kph) Tuesday afternoon, centered about 105 miles (165 kilometers) south of Mobile, Alabama, and 60 miles (95 kilometers) east of the mouth of the Mississippi River. Hurricane-force winds stretched 45 miles (75 kilometers) from its center.

Forecasters expected Sally to move slowly northward Tuesday, with the storm’s center bypassing the coast of southeastern Louisiana.

After making landfall, Sally was forecast to cause flash floods and minor to moderate river flooding across inland portions of Mississippi, Alabama, northern Georgia and the western Carolinas through the rest of the week.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared an emergency in the Panhandle’s westernmost counties, which were being pummeled by rain from Sally’s outer bands early Tuesday. The threat of heavy rain and storm surge was exacerbated by the storm’s slow movement.

President Donald Trump issued emergency declarations for parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama on Monday, and tweeted that residents should listen to state and local leaders.

The threat to Louisiana was easing as officials in some areas reversed evacuation orders that had been issued for areas that had been feared to be a risk of flooding from Sally. In New Orleans, government offices and public school operations were slated to reopen Wednesday.

The southwestern part of the state was pummeled by Hurricane Laura on Aug. 27 and an estimated 2,000 evacuees from that storm were sheltered in New Orleans, mostly in hotels.

Monday marked only the second time on record, forecasters said, that five tropical cyclones swirled simultaneously in the Atlantic basin. The last time that happened was in 1971. None of the others were expected to threaten the U.S. this week, if at all. One was downgraded to a low pressure trough Monday evening.

The extraordinarily busy hurricane season — like the catastrophic wildfire season on the West Coast — has focused attention on the role of climate change.

Scientists say global warming is making the strongest of hurricanes, those with wind speeds of 110 mph or more, even stronger. Also, warmer air holds more moisture, making storms rainier, and rising seas from global warming make storm surges higher and more damaging.

In addition, scientists have been seeing tropical storms and hurricanes slow down once they hit the United States by about 17% since 1900, and that gives them the opportunity to unload more rain over one place, as 2017’s Hurricane Harvey did in Houston.

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Plaisance reported from Waveland, Mississippi; Associated Press reporters Jeff Martin in Marietta, Georgia; Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia; Rebecca Santana and Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans; Seth Borenstein in Kensington, Maryland; Emily Wagster Pettus and Leah Willingham, in Jackson, Mississippi; and Kim Chandler in Montgomery, Alabama, contributed to this report.

Chicago starts hiring hundreds in $65M contact tracing push

From the Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago officials announced dozens of community organizations Monday that’ll help with the city’s effort to hire hundreds of contact tracers in the fight against COVID-19.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot first announced the $65 million initiative in May, saying the positions would be filled in August.

So far, roughly 100 people have been offered jobs in the effort as city officials insisted Monday they were “right on track.” Chicago will work with 31 community groups to hire 500 others for contact tracing and supervising positions that’ll pay either $20 or $24 hourly. Federal grants will pay for the program.

Contact tracing is a routine public health strategy to limit the spread of infectious diseases. Currently, the city’s Department of Public Health has been contacting those who’ve tested COVID-19 positive and worked with them to reach others they’ve had close contact with.

Lightfoot said the effort, noting the new jobs, marked a moment of optimism during the pandemic that’s killed 8,314 Illinoisans, including five reported Monday.

“This is really about a moment of hope,” Lightfoot said at news conference. “’It’s about making sure that we’re doing what we need to do and have the infrastructure to continue pressing in our response to COVID-19.”

State health officials reported 1,373 new confirmed cases Monday with 262,744 overall.

Anti-inflammatory drug may shorten COVID-19 recovery time

By MARILYNN MARCHIONE for the Associated Press

A drug company says that adding an anti-inflammatory medicine to a drug already widely used for hospitalized COVID-19 patients shortens their time to recovery by an additional day.

Eli Lilly announced the results Monday from a 1,000-person study sponsored by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The result have not yet been published or reviewed by independent scientists, but the government confirmed that Lilly’s statement was accurate.

FILE – The Eli Lilly corporate headquarters is pictured April 26, 2017, in Indianapolis. A drug company says that adding an anti-inflammatory medicine to a drug already widely used for hospitalized COVID-19 patients shortens their time to recovery by an additional day. Eli Lilly announced the results Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, from a 1,000-person study sponsored by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)

The study tested baricitinib, a pill that Indianapolis-based Lilly already sells as Olumiant to treat rheumatoid arthritis, the less common form of arthritis that occurs when a mistaken or overreacting immune system attacks joints, causing inflammation. An overactive immune system also can lead to serious problems in coronavirus patients.

All study participants received remdesivir, a Gilead Sciences drug previously shown to reduce the time to recovery, defined as being well enough to leave the hospital, by four days on average. Those who also were given baricitinib recovered one day sooner than those given remdesivir alone, Lilly said.

Lilly said it planned to discuss with regulators the possible emergency use of baricitinib for hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

If that’s approved, Lilly will propose that the drug be sold through usual commercial means. Based on current pricing, the government would pay $105 per patient per day, and for people with private insurance, hospitals would pay about $150 per day, Lilly said. What a patient ends up paying out of pocket depends on many factors.

It would be important to know how many study participants also received steroid drugs, which have been shown in other research to lower the risk of death for severely ill, hospitalized COVID-19 patients, said Dr. Jesse Goodman, former U.S. Food and Drug Administration chief scientist now at Georgetown University who had no role in the study.

Figuring out how to best use the various drugs shown to help “is something we’re going to have to work at,” he said.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Slow-moving Hurricane Sally carrying a deluge to Gulf Coast

By JANET MCCONNAUGHEY and REBECCA SANTANA for the Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Storm-weary Gulf Coast residents rushed to finish last-minute preparations Monday as Hurricane Sally chugged slowly through warm Gulf waters. Forecasters said the biggest threat is flooding, with as much as two feet of rain falling in some areas.

“The bottom line continues to be that Sally is expected to be a dangerous slow-moving hurricane near the coast of southeastern Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama during the next 2-3 days,” the National Hurricane Center said early Monday.