Category: Sirennet Blog

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