Briefs: Make or break Thanksgiving holiday
The Associated Press
About 1 million Americans a day packed airports and planes over the weekend even as coronavirus deaths surged across the U.S. and public health experts begged people to stay home and avoid big Thanksgiving gatherings.
And the crowds are only expected to grow. Next Sunday is likely to be the busiest day of the holiday period.
To be sure, the number of people flying for Thanksgiving is down by more than half from last year because of the rapidly worsening outbreak. However, the 3 million who went through U.S. airport checkpoints from Friday through Sunday marked the biggest crowds since mid-March, when the COVID-19 crisis took hold in the United States.
Many travelers are unwilling to miss out on seeing family and are convinced they can do it safely. Also, many colleges have ended their in-person classes, propelling students to return home.
Laurie Pearcy, director of administration for a Minneapolis law firm, is flying to New Orleans to attend her daughter's bridal shower and have a small Thanksgiving dinner with her son.
"I don't want to unknowingly make anyone sick. But I also don't want to miss this special event for my only daughter," she said.
Stephen Browning, a retired executive from Tucson, Arizona, will be flying to Seattle for Thanksgiving with his sister. The celebration usually has up to 30 people; this year only 10 are coming, and everyone was asked to get a coronavirus test. He doesn't plan on removing his mask to eat or drink on the flight.
"This is my first flight since December 2019, so yes, I have concerns," he said. "But I think most airlines are acting responsibly now and enforcing masks on all flights."
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans not to travel or spend the holiday with people outside their household.
New cases of the virus in the U.S. have rocketed to all-time highs, averaging more than 170,000 per day, and deaths have soared to over 1,500 a day, the highest level since the spring. The virus is blamed for more than a quarter-million deaths in the U.S. and over 12 million confirmed infections.
"There is so much community transmission all over the United States that the chances of you encountering somebody that has COVID-19 is actually very, very high, whether it's on an airplane, at the airport or at a rest area," said Dr. Syra Madad, an infectious-disease epidemiologist for New York City hospitals.
The nation's top infectious-diseases expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told CBS' "Face the Nation" that people at airports "are going to get us into even more trouble than we're in right now."
Canceling Thanksgiving trips is painful for many families.
Kelly Kleber usually flies from Seattle to her hometown of Tucson, Arizona, to spend the holiday with her parents. They have a picnic to celebrate the life of her sister, who died on Thanksgiving in 2015. This year, Kleber is sending her parents a portrait of her sister and plans a video call on Thanksgiving.
"It's going to be hard being away from family this year," she said.
No masks? In Pennsylvania, if you're having friends over to socialize, you're supposed to wear a mask — and so are your friends. That's the rule, but Barb Chestnut has no intention of following it.
"No one is going to tell me what I can or not do in my own home" said Chestnut, 60, of Shippensburg. "They do not pay my bills and they are not going to tell me what to do."
As governors and mayors grapple with an out-of-control pandemic, they are ratcheting up mask mandates and imposing restrictions on small indoor gatherings, which have been blamed for accelerating the spread of the coronavirus. But while such measures carry the weight of law, they are, in practical terms, unenforceable, and officials are banking on voluntary compliance instead.
Good luck with that.
While many are undoubtedly heeding public health advice — downsizing Thanksgiving plans, avoiding get-togethers, wearing masks when they're around people who don't live with them — it's inevitable that a segment of the population will blow off new state and local restrictions and socialize anyway. Experts say that could put greater stress on overburdened hospitals and lead to an even bigger spike in sickness and death over the holidays.
Self care evolves in pandemic isolation
These days, with a pandemic raging, this is what life can look like:
Staring at your face on Zoom for hours instead of occasionally glimpsing it in the mirror. Living out the days in loungewear. Wearing minimal makeup because no one sees much of you. Considering an investment in home exercise equipment because gyms are closed or restricted.
The pandemic has forced people to spend more time with themselves than ever. Along the way, it has reshaped and broadened the way many think about and prioritize how they treat themselves — what has come to be called self-care.
The pandemic-era incarnation of self-care isn't about buying a signature outfit, wearing a trendy shade of lipstick or getting a perfect haircut. It has, for many, put the purpose and meaning of life front and center, reconfiguring priorities and needs as the virus-inflected months drift by. No longer are worries about longevity and fears of mortality mere hypotheticals. They are 2020's reality.
It is that daunting reality that has skyrocketed the importance of "me" time: stress-baking the latest viral creation, tending to a garden, learning a new skill, getting dressed like you're going out just to feel some semblance of normalcy.
Biden transition gets govt OK after Trump out of options
WASHINGTON — The federal government recognized President-elect Joe Biden as the "apparent winner" of the Nov. 3 election, formally starting the transition of power after President Donald Trump spent weeks testing the boundaries of American democracy. Trump relented after suffering yet more legal and procedural defeats in his seemingly futile effort to overturn the election with baseless claims of fraud.
Trump still refused to concede and vowed to continue to fight in court after General Services Administrator Emily Murphy gave the green light Monday for Biden to coordinate with federal agencies ahead of his Jan. 20 inauguration. But Trump did tweet that he was directing his team to cooperate on the transition.
The fast-moving series of events seemed to let much of the air out of Trump's frantic efforts to undermine the will of the people in what has amounted to a weekslong stress test for the nation's confidence in the political system and the fairness of U.S. elections. Those efforts haven't ended and are likely to persist well beyond his lame-duck presidency.
Murphy, explaining her decision, cited "recent developments involving legal challenges and certifications of election results."
She acted after Michigan on Monday certified Biden's victory in the battleground state and a federal judge in Pennsylvania tossed a Trump campaign lawsuit on Saturday seeking to prevent certification in that state.
Biden set to formally introduce his national security team
WASHINGTON — 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.
The picks for national security and foreign-policy posts include former Secretary of State John Kerry to take the lead on combating climate change. Kerry and several other people set to join the upcoming administration will be discussed by Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris during a Tuesday afternoon event.
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.
Spain's mortuary workers endure the daily march of death
BARCELONA, Spain — When Marina Gómez and her fellow mortuary worker enter a room at a nursing home to remove the body of a COVID-19 victim, they work methodically and in silence.
They disinfect the mouth, nose and eyes to reduce the risk of contamination. They wrap the body in the bed sheets. Two white body bags are used, one inside the other, and the zippers are closed in the opposite direction: the first bag is sealed head to foot; the second, foot to head.
The only sound in the room is from the whisper of the zippers, sealing the dead from view for the last time.
Gómez and her colleagues work for Mémora, the leading funeral service provider in Barcelona with homes throughout Spain and Portugal. They are part of a group of essential workers. Like nurses and doctors, they have seen and touched the march of death from the virus that has already killed some 1.4 million people around the world.
When arriving at a nursing home or rehabilitation center, Gómez and her partner Manel Rivera encourage caregivers to move a surviving roommate from the room while they collect the body.
Treasury's daunting challenges
WASHINGTON — Janet Yellen is in line for another top economic policy job — just in time to confront yet another crisis.
Yellen, President-elect Joe Biden's apparent choice for treasury secretary, served on the Federal Reserve's policymaking committee during the 2008-2009 financial crisis that nearly toppled the banking system.
She became Fed chair in 2014 when the economy was still recovering from the devastating Great Recession. In the late 1990s, she was President Bill Clinton's top economic adviser during the Asian financial crisis.
And now, according to a person familiar with Biden's transition plans, she has been chosen to lead Treasury with the economy in the grip of a surging viral epidemic. The spike in virus cases is intensifying pressure on companies and individuals, with fear growing that the economy could suffer a "double-dip" recession as states and cities reimpose restrictions on businesses.
Yet many longtime observers of the U.S. economy see Yellen as ideally suited for the role.
'We just ran': Ethiopians fleeing war find little relief
UMM RAKOUBA, Sudan — The baby was born on the run from war. Her first bath was in a puddle. Now she cries all night in a country that is not her own.
Wrapped in borrowed clothing, the child is one of the newest and most fragile refugees among the nearly 40,000 who have fled the Ethiopian government's offensive in the defiant Tigray region.
They have hurried into Sudan, often under gunfire, sometimes so quickly they had to leave family behind. There is not enough to feed them in this remote area, and very little shelter. Some drink from the river that separates the countries, and more cross it every day.
"We walked in the desert. We slept in the desert," said one refugee, Blaines Alfao Eileen, who is eight months pregnant and has befriended Lemlem Haylo Rada, the mother of the newborn. One woman is ethnic Tigrayan, the other ethnic Amhara. The conflict could have turned them against each other, but motherhood intervened.
That, and tragedy. "I do not know where my husband is and whether he's alive," Eileen said.
NYC's first African-American mayor, David Dinkins, has died
NEW YORK — David Dinkins, who broke barriers as New York City's first African-American mayor, but was doomed to a single term by a soaring murder rate, stubborn unemployment and his mishandling of a riot in Brooklyn, has died. He was 93.
Dinkins died Monday, the New York City Police Department confirmed. The department said officers were called to the former mayor's home in the evening. Initial indications were that he died of natural causes.
Dinkins' death came just weeks after the death of his wife, Joyce, who died in October at the age of 89.
Dinkins, a calm and courtly figure with a penchant for tennis and formal wear, was a dramatic shift from both his predecessor, Ed Koch, and his successor, Rudolph Giuliani — two combative and often abrasive politicians in a city with a world-class reputation for impatience and rudeness.
In his inaugural address, he spoke lovingly of New York as a "gorgeous mosaic of race and religious faith, of national origin and sexual orientation, of individuals whose families arrived yesterday and generations ago, coming through Ellis Island or Kennedy Airport or on buses bound for the Port Authority."
Lunar mission is latest milestone in China's space ambitions
WENCHANG, China — China's latest trip to the moon is another milestone in the Asian powerhouse's slow but steady ascent to the stars.
China became the third country to put a person into orbit 17 years ago and the first to land on the far side of the moon in 2019. Future ambitions include a permanent space station and putting people back on the moon more than 50 years after the U.S. did.
But even before the latest lunar mission lifted off before dawn Tuesday, a top program official maintained that China isn't competing with anyone.
"China will set its development goals in the space industry based on its own considerations of science and engineering technology," Pei Zhaoyu, deputy director of the Lunar Exploration and Space Engineering Center at the China National Space Administration, told reporters hours before the Chang'e 5 mission was launched.
"We do not place rivals (before us) when setting those goals," Pei said.