Category: Sirennet Blog

Trump nursing home plan limits supply of free COVID-19 tests

By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration’s plan to provide every nursing home with a fast COVID-19 testing machine comes with an asterisk: The government won’t supply enough test kits to check staff and residents beyond an initial couple of rounds.

A program that sounded like a game changer when it was announced last month at the White House is now prompting concerns that it could turn into another unfulfilled promise for nursing homes, whose residents and staff represent a tiny share of the U.S. population but account for as many as 4 in 10 coronavirus deaths, according to some estimates.

FILE – In this Wednesday, March 11, 2020 file photo, a technician prepares COVID-19 coronavirus patient samples for testing at a laboratory in New York’s Long Island. The Trump administration’s plan to provide every nursing home with a fast COVID-19 testing machine comes with an asterisk: the government won’t supply enough test kits to check staff and residents beyond an initial couple of rounds. A program that sounded like a game changer when it was announced last month at the White House is now prompting concerns that it could turn into another unfulfilled promise for nursing homes, whose residents and staff account for as many as 4 in 10 coronavirus deaths. Administration officials respond that nursing homes can pay for ongoing testing from a $5-billion federal allocation available to them. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

“I think the biggest fear is that the instruments may be delivered but it won’t do any good, if you don’t have the test kits,” said George Linial, president of LeadingAge of Texas, a branch of a national group representing nonprofit nursing homes and other providers of elder care.

The weekly cost of testing employees could range from more than $19,000 to nearly $38,000, according to estimates by the national organization. LeadingAge is urging the administration to set up a nationwide testing program to take over from the current patchwork of state and local arrangements.

The Trump administration responds that nursing homes could cover the cost of ongoing testing from a $5 billion pot provided by Congress, and allocated to the facilities by the White House.

Adm. Brett Giroir, the Health and Human Services department’s “testing czar,” recently told reporters that the government would only supply enough kits to test residents once and staff twice. But Giroir said officials have made arrangements with the manufacturers so nursing homes can order their own tests, for much less than they are currently spending.

Giroir acknowledged that the administration’s effort to provide at least one fast-testing machine to each of the nation’s 15,400 nursing homes is a work in progress, but said it’s a top priority nonetheless.

“This is not wrapped up with a bow on it,” Giroir told reporters on a recent call. “We (are) doing this as aggressively as possible.”

The program is on track to deliver 2,400 fast-test machines and hundreds of thousands of test kits by mid-August, Giroir said, with the devices and supplies first going to nursing homes in virus hot spots.

However, informational materials from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, say getting a machine to every nursing home could take 14 weeks. That would mean deliveries may not be completed until early November. In Texas alone there are more than 1,200 nursing homes, Linial said, and only a few dozen have gotten them.

“Part of the problem is resources and a lack of clarity about who pays for this in the future.” said Tamara Konetzka, a research professor at the University of Chicago, who specializes in long-term care issues. “Doing one round of testing doesn’t really solve the problem in a pandemic that could last months or years.”

Back in the spring, the first White House plan to test all nursing home residents for the coronavirus fell flat. It amounted to a call for states to carry out the testing, and some ignored it.

The stakes are higher now because the virus has rebounded in many communities and threatens to spread uncontrolled. Nursing home residents are particularly vulnerable. They’re older and many have underlying medical problems associated with more severe cases of COVID-19, even death. They live in close quarters, ideal conditions for the virus to spread.

Experts say the coronavirus probably gets into nursing homes via staffers, who unwittingly bring it from the surrounding community. Regular testing is seen as essential to protect people living and working in facilities, and the CMS agency is working on regulations to require weekly testing of staff in areas where the prevalence of the virus is 5% or greater.

The devastating toll among nursing home residents has become a politically sensitive issue for President Donald Trump, who is trying to hold onto support from older voters in November’s elections.

The machines the administration is sending to nursing homes perform antigen tests, which check for fragments of the virus protein in samples collected from a person’s nose. The tests take about 20 minutes to run, from start to finish.

The gold standard coronavirus test is different. Known as a PCR test, it identifies the genetic material of the virus.

Nursing homes have other concerns about the program, beyond costs.

For example, antigen tests can sometimes return a negative result when a person actually has the virus. A government guidance document for nursing homes says the tests “do not rule out” COVID-19.

Giroir said the antigen tests are being used for ongoing surveillance and monitoring, not to make a definitive diagnosis.

“We are not routinely repeating negative tests,” he said. “That kind of defeats the purpose.” The administration is working to clarify the guidance.

Nursing homes that have begun getting the machines may also be in the dark about how to operate them correctly.

“It’s not exactly as advertised,” said Steve Fleming, president of the Well-Spring Group, a retirement community in North Carolina that provides comprehensive retirement services. “It’s a complicated process to complete the test.”

The administration says the manufacturers of the machines are supposed to provide training and technical support.

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Associated Press writer Kelli Kennedy in Miami contributed to this report.

Tropical Storm Isaias drives wild weather up Interstate 95

By GERRY BROOME and SARAH BLAKE MORGAN for the Associated Press

SOUTHPORT, N.C. (AP) — Tropical Storm Isaias spawned tornadoes and dumped rain along the U.S. East Coast on Tuesday after making landfall as a hurricane in North Carolina, where it smashed boats together and caused floods and fires that displaced dozens of people. At least two people were killed when one of its twisters hit a mobile home park.

Nearly 12 hours after coming ashore, Isaias was still sustaining near-hurricane strength winds of 70 mph (110 kph) Tuesday morning, and its forward march accelerated to 35 mph (56 kph).

Boats are piled on each other at the Southport Marina following the effects of Hurricane Isaias in Southport, N.C., Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

“Potentially life-threatening urban flooding is possible in D.C., Baltimore and elsewhere along and just west of the I-95 corridor today,” the National Hurricane Center warned.

Forecasters also issued clear warnings earlier, as Isaias approached land, urging people to heed the danger of life-threatening storm surge along the coasts of North and South Carolina.

Nevertheless, some veterans of earlier storms were under the impression that their areas would be spared.

Royce Potter, a fifth-generation seafood purveyor and owner of Potter’s Seafood in Southport, said he rode out the storm on a boat docked near his business, which was damaged by the wind and water.

“They got this wrong,” Potter said, visibly shaken. “I’ve ridden storms out here for years.”

The storm surge and wind damage actually matched what the hurricane center predicted, leaving dozens of boats piled up against the docks and many decks facing the water smashed.

As Hurricane Isaias’ heaviest bands approached North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Monday evening, Dean Burris watched from the balcony of his family’s vacation rental.

“The water was crazy; the wind was up. The waves were coming up over the pier out there and people were walking, and we were scared for them,” he said.

Burris says a group of people were standing on Sea Cabin Pier taking photos but took off running for land just moments before a portion collapsed from the strength of the storm.

“Next thing you know, the water kept getting higher and higher. It overtook the pier and I’m shocked it’s still standing.”

Two people were killed and at least three others were unaccounted for after a tornado destroyed several mobile homes in Windsor, North Carolina, said Ron Wesson, the chairman of the Bertie County Board of Commissioners. He said as many as 15 others were taken to hospitals with injuries.

An aerial shot by WRAL-TV showed fields of debris where rescue workers in brightly colored shirts picked through splintered boards and other wreckage. Nearby, a vehicle was flipped onto its roof, its tires pointed up in the air.

“It doesn’t look real. It looks like something on TV. Nothing is there,” Bertie County Sheriff John Holley told reporters. “All my officers are down there at this time. Pretty much the entire trailer park is gone.”

The National Weather Service confirmed tornadoes in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey.

The hurricane’s eye moved over land near Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina, just after 11 p.m. Monday with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph (136 km/h). Many homes were flooded and at least five caught fire in the city, Mayor Debbie Smith told WECT-TV.

Forecasters expected the storm to hold its strength and spin off damaging winds on a path into New England on Tuesday night.

“We don’t think there is going to be a whole lot of weakening. We still think there’s going to be very strong and gusty winds that will affect much of the mid-Atlantic and the Northeast over the next day or two,” hurricane specialist Robbie Berg told The Associated Press.

As the rains grew stronger and steadier in the Philadelphia area Tuesday, emergency responders rescued a few people trapped in vehicles when roads suddenly became flooded and mostly impassable. No injuries were reported.

Isaias toggled between tropical storm and hurricane through its path to the U.S. coast, killing two people in the Caribbean and trashing the Bahamas before brushing past Florida.

Most of the significant damage seemed to be east and north of where the hurricane’s eye struck land.

Gov. Roy Cooper said Tuesday morning that Brunswick, Pender and Onslow counties, along North Carolina’s southeast coast, were among the hardest hit with storm surge, structure fires and reports of tornadoes. About two dozen shelters were open, he said.

Eileen and David Hubler were out early Tuesday cleaning up in North Myrtle Beach, where the storm surge topped 4 feet (1.2 meters), flooding cars, unhinging docks and etching a water line into the side of their home.

“When the water started coming, it did not stop,” she said. They had moved most items of value to their second floor, but a mattress and washing machine were unexpected storm casualties. Eileen Hubler said Isaias’ incoming wrath was downplayed, and she wishes she had followed her gut.

“We keep thinking we’ve learned our lesson. And each time there’s a hurricane, we learn a new lesson. The new lesson is you never trust that you’re going to have a 2-foot (0.6 meter) storm surge,” she said.

Coastal shops and restaurants had closed early in the Carolinas, where power began to flicker at oceanfront hotels and even the most adventurous of beachgoers abandoned the sand Monday night. The Hurricane Center warned residents to brace for storm surge up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) and up to 8 inches (20 centimeters) of rain in spots.

As the storm neared the shore, a gauge on a pier in Myrtle Beach recorded its third highest water level since it was set up in 1976. Only Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016 pushed more salt water inland.

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Morgan reported from North Myrtle Beach, S.C. Associated Press contributors include science writer Seth Borenstein in Kensington, Maryland; Jonathan Drew in Durham, North Carolina; Michelle Liu in Columbia, South Carolina; Bruce Shipkowski in Toms River, New Jersey; Shawn Marsh in Trenton, New Jersey.

Virus relief bill remains up in air as negotiations resume

By ANDREW TAYLOR for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Slow, grinding negotiations on a huge COVID-19 relief bill are set to resume Monday afternoon, but the path forward promises to be challenging and time is already growing short. Republicans are griping that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi won’t drop her expansive wish list even as concerns are mounting that the White House needs to be more sure-footed in the negotiations.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows speaks during a press briefing in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House, Friday, July 31, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Both the Trump administration negotiating team and top Capitol Hill Democrats remain far apart, and talks since Saturday — when the combatants announced modest progress — have yet to lend momentum. Both sides used television appearances over the weekend to showcase their differences.

Ahead of Monday’s talks, all sides predict a long slog ahead despite the lapse of a $600-per-week supplemental COVID-19 jobless benefitthe beginning of school season and the call of lawmakers’ cherished August recess. Several more days of talks are expected, if not more.

The White House is seeking opportunities to boost President Donald Trump, like another round of $1,200 stimulus payments and extending the supplemental jobless benefit and partial eviction ban. Pelosi, the top Democratic negotiator, appears intent on an agreement as well, but she’s made it clear she needs big money for state and local governments, unemployment benefits, and food aid.

Appearances by the principal negotiators on Sunday’s news shows featured continued political shots by White House chief of staff Mark Meadows at Pelosi for turning down a one-week extension of the $600 benefit in talks last week.

Meadows, however, is understaffed during the talks and seems to struggle with his read on Pelosi. He spent much of his time on CBS’ “Face The Nation” attacking her for opposing a piecemeal approach that would revive jobless benefits immediately but leave other items like food stamps and aid to states for later legislation. She is insisting on a complete package.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is so far playing a low-profile role. But he has been a constant in negotiations in four prior COVID-19 response bills, and he is facing time pressure as an antsy Senate yearns to exit Washington. The Democratic-controlled House has left for recess and won’t return until there is an agreement to vote on, but the GOP-held Senate is trapped in the capital.

Areas of agreement already include the $1,200 direct payment and changes to the Paycheck Protection Program to permit especially hard-hit businesses to obtain another loan under generous forgiveness terms.

But the terms and structure of the unemployment benefit remains a huge sticking point, negotiators said Sunday, and Meadows hasn’t made any concessions on the almost $1 trillion Pelosi wants for state and local governments grappling with pandemic-related revenue losses.

“We still have a long ways to go,” Meadows said, adding, “I’m not optimistic that there will be a solution in the very near term.”

Pelosi said she’d consider reducing the $600 benefit for states with lower unemployment rates. Republicans want to cut the benefit to encourage beneficiaries to return to work and say it is bad policy since it pays many jobless people more money than they made at their previous jobs.

“But in this agreement it’s $600,” Pelosi said on ABC’s ’This Week.″ “Yes, they might anecdotally have examples, but the fact is, is that they’re subjecting somebody who gets $600 to scrutiny they won’t subject some of the people that are getting millions of dollars” through the loan program for small businesses that keep employees on their payrolls.

Another sticking point is that Republicans want to give more school aid to systems that are restarting with in-school learning, even as Dr. Deborah Birx, Trump’s top coronavirus adviser, cautioned that schools in areas with spikes in cases should delay reopening

“In the areas where we have this widespread case increase, we need to stop the cases, and then we can talk about safely reopening,” Birx said on “This Week.”

The House passed a $3.5 trillion measure in May, but Republicans controlling the Senate have demanded a slower approach, saying it was necessary to take a “pause” before passing additional legislation. Since they announced that strategy, however, coronavirus caseloads have spiked and the economy has absorbed an enormous blow.

Outbreak hits Norway cruise ship, could spread along coast

By JAN M. OLSEN for the Associated Press

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — A Norwegian cruise ship line halted all trips and apologized Monday for procedural errors after a coronavirus outbreak on one ship infected at least 5 passengers and 36 crew. Health authorities fear the ship also could have spread the virus to dozens of towns and villages along Norway’s western coast.

The confirmed virus cases from the MS Roald Amundsen raise new questions about safety on all cruise ships during a pandemic even as the devastated cruise ship industry is pressing to resume sailings after chaotically shutting down in March. In response to the outbreak, Norway on Monday closed its ports to cruise ships for two weeks.

Norwegian cruise ship MS Roald Amundsen moored in Tromso, Norway, Monday Aug. 3, 2020. After 40 people, including four passengers and 26 crew members on the Norwegian cruise ship have been tested positive for the coronavirus, the operator says it was stopping for all cruises with its three vessels. The 40 people were admitted to the University Hospital of North Norway in Tromsoe, north of the Arctic Circle,  where the empty ship has docked. (Terje Pedersen/NTB Scanpix via AP)

The Hurtigruten cruise line was one of the first companies to resume sailing during the pandemic, starting cruises to Norway out of northern Germany in June with a single ship, then adding cruises in July to the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard.

The 41 people on the MS Roald Amundsen who tested positive have been admitted to the University Hospital of North Norway in Tromsoe, north of the Arctic Circle, where the ship currently is docked. The cruise line said it suspended the ship and two others — the MS Fridtjof Nansen and the MS Spitsbergen — from operating for an indefinite period.

“A preliminary evaluation shows that there has been a failure in several of our internal procedures,” Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam said in a statement. He added the company that sails along Norway’s picturesque coast between Bergen in the south and Kirkenes in the north is “now in the process of a full review of all procedures.”

It has contacted passengers who had been on the MS Roald Amundsen for its July 17-24 and July 25-31 trips from Bergen to Svalbard, which is known for its polar bears. The ship had 209 guests on the first voyage and 178 on the second. All other crew members tested negative.

But since the cruise line often acts like a local ferry, traveling from port to port along Norway’s western coast, the virus may not have been contained onboard. Some passengers disembarked along the route and may have spread the virus to their local communities.

A total of 69 municipalities in Norway could have been affected, Norwegian news agency NTB reported. Officials in the northern city of Tromsoe are urging anyone who traveled on the ship or had any contact with it to get in touch with health authorities.

Police in Norway are opening an investigation to find out whether any laws had been broken.

It’s not yet clear how the MS Roald Amundsen outbreak began. NTB reported that 33 of the infected crew members came from the Philippines and the others were from Norway, France and Germany. The passengers were from all over the world.

Skjeldam said cruise ship officials did not know they should have notified passengers after the first infection was reported Friday, adding that they followed the advice of the ship’s doctors.

But Line Vold of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health said its advice was to inform passengers and crew as soon as possible so they could monitor their health and go into quarantine or isolation, if needed.

“We have made mistakes. On behalf of all of us in Hurtigruten, I am sorry for what has happened. We take full responsibility,” Skjeldam said.

The Norwegian government announced Monday it was tightening the rules for cruise ships by banning ships with more than 100 passengers from docking in Norwegian harbors and disembarking passengers and crew for two weeks. The ban does not apply to ferries.

Health Minister Bent Hoeie said the situation on the Hurtigruten ship prompted the decision.

In Italy, the Costa Crociere cruise ship line said three crew members from two ships in Civitavecchia, near Rome, have tested positive for the coronavirus. The cruise company said two assigned to the Costa Deliziosa were hospitalized and a third, assigned to the Costa Favolosa, was in isolation on the ship.

The Italian cruise company, which is part of Carnival Corp. said the crews of both ships were being screened ’’in view of the possible relaunch of our cruises, as soon as the government gives the authorization.” The Cabinet was to meet on the matter Sunday.

Costa Crociere said that all crew members were tested for the virus before leaving their countries, then undergo a second test once they arrive in Italy, after which they are put under a two-week monitoring period.

In the South Pacific, some 340 passengers and crew were confined on a cruise ship in Tahiti on Monday after one traveler tested positive for the virus. The commissariat for French Polynesia said all those aboard the Paul Gauguin cruise ship are being tested and will be kept in their cabins pending the results.

The South Pacific archipelago started reopening to tourists last month, with a requirement that all visitors get tested before arriving and re-tested four days later.

Cruise lines stopped sailing in mid-March after several high-profile coronavirus outbreaks at sea. More than 710 people fell ill aboard Carnival’s Diamond Princess cruise ship while it was quarantined off Japan and 13 people died.

The Cruise Lines International Association, which represents more than 50 companies and 95% of global cruise capacity, said the resumption of cruises has been extremely limited so far. The voyages taking place must have approval from and follow the requirements of national governments, it said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control is not allowing cruise ships in U.S. waters at least through September.

The industry association said it is still developing COVID-19-control procedures based on advice from governments and medical experts and once they are finalized, member companies will be required to adopt them.

A German cruise ship last week set sail from Hamburg, testing procedures for how cruise ships can operate safely during the pandemic. The ship sailed with less than 50% capacity and only went on a four-day trip at sea with no stops at other ports.

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Colleen Barry in Milan, Angela Charlton in Paris and Dee-Ann Durbin in Detroit contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Isaias near hurricane strength as it crawls toward Carolinas

From the Associated Press

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (AP) — Isaias was forecast to strike land as a minimal hurricane on Monday in the Carolinas, where coastal residents were warned to brace for flooding rains and storm surge.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane warning from South Santee River, South Carolina, to Surf City, North Carolina. Isaias was still a tropical storm at 11 a.m. EDT with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph (110 kph), but it was expected to strengthen into a Category 1 hurricane later Monday, with winds of 74 mph (119 kph) or more.

Waves are driven by Tropical Storm Isaias crash over the jetty on the north side of the Palm Beach Inlet in Palm Beach Shores Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020. (Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post via AP)

“We are forecasting it to become a hurricane before it reaches the coast this evening,” senior hurricane specialist Daniel Brown said. “It’s forecast to produce a dangerous storm surge, of 3 to 5 feet (0.9 to 1.5 meters) in portions of North and South Carolina.”

Isaias — pronounced ees-ah-EE-ahs — could bring heavy rains, too — up to 8 inches (20 centimeters) in spots as it moves up the coast, Brown said — and “all those rains could produce flash flooding across portions of eastern Carolinas and mid-Atlantic, and even in the northeast U.S.”

Isaias killed two people in the Caribbean and roughed up the Bahamas but remained at sea as it brushed past Florida over the weekend, providing some welcome relief to emergency managers who had to accommodate mask-wearing evacuees in storm shelters. It remained well offshore as it passed Georgia’s coast on Monday.

Authorities were getting ready in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, ordering swimmers out of the water to avoid rough surf and strong rip currents. Still, many people were out enjoying the beach, walking dogs and getting their feet wet under overcast skies.

“We’re from Michigan, so we get snow and go through it all,” Aliyah Owens, who arrived in Myrtle Beach for a summer vacation Sunday, told WTBW-TV. “A little water isn’t going to hurt.”

The storm remained about 220 miles (354 kilometers) to the south-southwest of Myrtle Beach at 11 a.m., though conditions were expected to worsen as Isaias picked up speech and marched northward.

At the Caribbean Resort & Villas in Myrtle Beach, grounds manager Jeremy Philo was out before sunrise looking for loose objects that might be picked up and tossed like missiles by the storm’s winds. He tied down pool chairs and removed hanging baskets and patio furniture from hotel balconies.

“Anything that can move we tie down or bring inside,” Philo told The Sun News of Myrtle Beach.

Officials in frequently flooded Charleston, South Carolina, handed out sandbags and opened parking garages so residents in the low-lying peninsula that includes downtown could stow their cars above ground.

Though the center of Isaias was expected to pass Charleston offshore Monday evening, National Weather Service meteorologists said a major flood was possible if rainfall is heavy when the high tide arrives at about 9 p.m.

North Carolina’s ferry operators were wrapping up evacuations of tourists and residents from Ocracoke Island. The ferry division tweeted Sunday that its vessels had carried 3,335 people and 1,580 vehicles off of Ocracoke, which is reachable only by plane or boat. Officials on North Carolina’s Outer Banks were taking no chances after taking a beating less than a year ago from Hurricane Dorian.

At 11 a.m. Monday, the center of Isaias was passing about 90 miles to the east-southeast of Brunswick, Georgia, where state officials closed a towering suspension bridge out of concern that wind gusts of tropical-storm force could endanger motorists.

Isaiah’s passage is particularly unwelcome to authorities already dealing with surging coronavirus caseloads. The storm brought heavy rain and flooding to Florida, where authorities closed outdoor virus testing sights along with beaches and parks after lashing signs to palm trees so they wouldn’t blow away.

About 150 people had to keep masks on while sheltering in Palm Beach County, which has a voluntary evacuation order for people living in homes that can’t withstand dangerous winds, said emergency management spokeswoman Lisa De La Rionda.

Isaias was blamed for two deaths as it uprooted trees, destroyed crops and homes and caused widespread flooding and small landslides in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Then it snapped trees and knocked out power Saturday in the Bahamas, where shelters were opened on Abaco island to help people still living in temporary structures since Dorian devastated the area, killing at least 70 people in September 2019.

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Associated Press reporters Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia, Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina, Wilfredo Lee in Verona Beach, Florida, Danica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Curt Anderson in St. Petersburg, Florida and Cody Jackson in Palm Beach County, Florida, contributed.

3 Ga. inmates save deputy’s life

By Suzie Ziegler for the Associated Press via PoliceOne

GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — Three inmates at a Georgia county jail are being hailed heroes after they helped save a deputy who suffered a medical emergency. 

According to the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office, the deputy was supervising a housing unit when he lost consciousness and fell to the concrete floor, cracking his head open. The inmates, who had noticed he had appeared unwell, immediately began shouting for help, the sheriff’s office said in a Facebook post Tuesday. 

Three inmates at the Gwinnett County jail helped save a deputy who fell unconscious during a medical emergency. (Photo/Gwinnett County Sheriff's Office)
Three inmates at the Gwinnett County jail helped save a deputy who fell unconscious during a medical emergency. (Photo/Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office)

“The inmates whose rooms were close enough to see what was happening began pounding on their doors. Soon the entire unit was thundering with noise as many inmates pounded on the doors shouting for our deputy who lay unconscious and heavily bleeding on the floor,” the sheriff’s office wrote. 

The deputy later told officials he hadn’t realized he’d been unconscious. However, he said he became aware that the inmates were shouting his name. Thinking that someone needed help, the deputy managed to stand up and press the control panel to open cell doors. 

Three inmates rushed out of their rooms to the deputy, who had fallen unconscious again. They called for help with the deputy’s desk phone and radio, which came almost immediately, the sheriff’s office said. 

The sheriff’s office praised both the deputy and the inmates for their actions. 

“These inmates had no obligation whatsoever to render aid to a bleeding, vulnerable deputy, but they didn’t hesitate,” officials wrote. “We’re proud of our deputy, whose strong desire to serve gave him the strength to activate the door release when he believed an inmate needed his help. In doing so, he released his rescuers. We’re proud of them, too. Thank you.” 

The deputy survived the incident and is now recovering at home until he can return to duty, the sheriff’s office said.

Police agencies pulling out of DNC security agreements

From the Associated Press via PoliceOne

MILWAUKEE — More than 100 police agencies are withdrawing from agreements to send personnel to bolster security at next month’s Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee, in part because they’re concerned about a recent directive ordering police in the city to stop using tear gas to control crowds.

A citizen oversight commission last week directed Milwaukee’s police chief to publicly account for why the department used tear gas during protests in late May and early June after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and to change Milwaukee’s police policies to ban the use of tear gas and pepper spray. The Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission said in its order that Police Chief Alfonso Morales could be fired if he fails to comply.

In this July 26, 2016, file photo Timmy Kelly sings the national anthem before the start of the second day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Arena in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)
In this July 26, 2016, file photo Timmy Kelly sings the national anthem before the start of the second day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Arena in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

That order came amid intense scrutiny of police tactics at protests in Portland, Oregon, and elsewhere.

Since the Milwaukee order was issued, more than 100 law enforcement agencies in Wisconsin and across the country decided against coming to Milwaukee, Morales told WTMJ-TV on Tuesday. They were concerned with directives placed on the police department, including not allowing tear gas or pepper spray, he said.

Morales did not say which agencies would not be coming or how many officers were still expected. The original plan was to have 1,000 officers on hand from outside agencies to assist with security. Morales said utilizing the National Guard or enlisting federal assistance was under consideration.

The convention, scheduled for Aug. 17-Aug. 20 at the Wisconsin Center in downtown Milwaukee, has been scaled down to a mostly virtual event, with only about 300 people expected to attend in-person. Most of the speeches will be delivered online from other locations, though former Vice President Joe Biden has said he will be in Milwaukee to accept the nomination. Despite the event’s smaller scale, police are preparing for potentially large protests in and around the venue.

A spokeswoman for the convention did not immediately return a message seeking comment Tuesday. The Milwaukee police oversight commission also did not return a message seeking comment.

Fond du Lac Police Chief William Lamb told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the agreements were collapsing, saying he expects other agencies in the state to also withdraw. Lamb chairs the Wisconsin Police Executive Group, which is made up of police chiefs from cities with populations of more than 20,000 people.

Lamb sent a letter to Milwaukee police on July 6 outlining his organization’s concerns about limiting the use of tear gas and pepper spray. West Allis police first sent a letter to Morales with concerns in mid-June after Milwaukee’s Common Council temporarily halted the purchase of those chemicals.

“Our concern is that in the event protests turn non-peaceful, such a policy would remove tools from officers that may otherwise be legal and justifiable to utilize in specific situations,” West Allis Deputy Chief Robert Fletcher told the Journal Sentinel in an email.

Waukesha’s police chief said he was consulting with the city attorney’s office on how to withdraw from the agreement, which had promised about two dozen Waukesha officers.

Not all police departments withdrew because of the tear gas order. The Madison Police Department notified Milwaukee early this month that “an accelerating COVID-19 pandemic coupled with ongoing protests in Madison” had strained its resources, making it impossible to commit resources to the convention, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

Madison originally committed to providing 100 officers to Milwaukee for what was to have been a 10-day convention before it got shortened and postponed until August.

Associated Press

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Arizona train derailment causes bridge collapse and big fire

For the Associated Press

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — A freight train traveling on a bridge that spans a lake in a Phoenix suburb derailed Wednesday, setting the bridge ablaze and partially collapsing the structure, officials said.

Smoke fills the sky at the scene of a train derailment in Tempe, Ariz., on Wednesday, July 29, 2020. Officials say a freight train traveling on a bridge that spans a lake in the Phoenix suburb derailed and set the bridge ablaze and partially collapsing the structure. There were no immediate reports of any leaks. (AP Photo/Pool)

Video images showed huge flames and thick black smoke rising into the air and train cars on the ground near Tempe Town Lake.

None of the train’s crew members were hurt but there was a report of someone suffering from smoke inhalation, said Tim McMahan, a spokesman for Union Pacific Railroad.

Fire officials in the suburb of Tempe said the derailment happened at about 6 a.m. and that about 90 firefighters were at the scene.

Some of the train’s cars carried lumber and others were tanker cars. McMahan said he did not know what was inside the tanker cars but that there were no reports of any leaks.

The 2.5-mile (4-kilometer) Tempe Town Lake is is a popular recreation spot for jogging, cycling and boating and close to Arizona State University.

Alabama governor extends mask order, requires for students

By KIM CHANDLER for the Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday extended a state order requiring face coverings in public for another month and expanded it to include students in grade 2 and above in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19 as schools reopen.

Ivey’s action, announced during a Capitol news conference, added more than four weeks to an earlier order that had been set to expire on Friday. Hospital officials had pushed for an extension, saying the state’s intensive care units are nearly full because of the new coronavirus.

The mandate, which she announced on July 15, requires anyone older than 6 to wear a mask when in public and within 6 feet (2 meters) of someone who is not a relative. It makes exceptions for people who have certain medical conditions, are exercising or performing certain types of jobs.

State Health Officer Scott Harris said previously that it would take two, but preferably three weeks, to judge if the mandate was making a difference in transmission rates.

Hospital officials had urged Ivey to extend the order.

“We feel strongly that Governor Ivey should extend it for several more weeks,” Dr. Ricardo Maldonado with the East Alabama Medical Center said in a statement the hospital posted on Facebook. “Our COVID-19 census now is dangerously high.”

Maldonado said hospitals need to see their patient counts fall before the mask mandate is lifted.

Dr. Don Williamson, the former state health officer who now heads the Alabama Hospital Association, said the association also supports an extension.

He said the state in recent days has seen a slight decrease in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases, but he noted that as of Tuesday, 90% of the state’s intensive care beds were full, the highest number since the pandemic began.

“We have to continue until the disease is at a very low level and 1,100 (cases per day) is not a low level,” Williamson said. “If you do away with the mask order, more people get infected and we head right back up.”

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

Oregon governor says US agents will start leaving Portland

By GILLIAN FLACCUS and ANDREW SELSKY and JONATHAN LEMIRE for the Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Federal agents who have clashed with protesters in Portland, Oregon, will begin a “phased withdrawal” from Oregon’s largest city, Gov. Kate Brown said Wednesday.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said in a statement the plan negotiated with Brown over the last 24 hours includes a “robust presence” of Oregon State Police in downtown Portland.

Federal officers deploy tear gas and crowd control munitions at demonstrators during a Black Lives Matter protest at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse Tuesday, July 28, 2020, in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

“State and local law enforcement will begin securing properties and streets, especially those surrounding federal properties, that have been under nightly attack for the past two months,” Wolf said.

The agents will begin leaving the city’s downtown area on Thursday, Brown said.

Before departing Wednesday for a trip to Texas, President Donald Trump insisted federal troops would not leave Portland until local authorities “secured their city.”

“Either they’re gonna clean up Portland soon, or the federal government is going up, and we’re gonna do it for them. So either they clean out Portland — the governor and the mayor, who are weak — either they clean out Portland or we’re gong in to do it for them,” he said.

The U.S. Marshals Service and Department of Homeland Security had been weighing this week whether to send in more agents. The marshals were taking steps to identify up to 100 additional personnel who could go in case they were needed to relieve or supplement the deputy marshals who work in Oregon, spokesman Drew Wade said.

The nightly Portland protests began after George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police and have grown to include the presence of federal agents in Portland and other Democratic cities.

They often spiral into violence as demonstrators target the U.S. courthouse in Oregon’s largest city with rocks, fireworks and laser pointers. Federal agents respond with tear gas, less-lethal ammunition and arrests.

Protesters have tried almost every night to tear down a fence erected to protect the building, set fires in the street and hurled fireworks, Molotov cocktails and bricks, rocks and bottles at the agents inside. Authorities this week reinforced the fence by putting concrete highway barriers around it.

Demonstrators near the courthouse Wednesday were met before dawn with tear gas, pepper balls and impact munitions fired by agents, the Oregonian newspaper reported.

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Lemire reported from Washington. Selsky reported from Salem, Oregon. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller, Mike Balsamo and Colleen Long in Washington and Suman Naishadham in Atlanta also contributed to this report.

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Follow Gillian Flaccus on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/gflaccus and Andrew Selsky at https://twitter.com/andrewselsky.