Briefs: One deadly holiday ... going for two?

Jamillette Gomes holds her two-year-old son, Avian, as he receives a COVID-19 test, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020, in Lawrence, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Associated Press

Dr. Deborah Birx says Americans must be strict for pandemic

The Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS — The White House coronavirus response coordinator says Americans must not gather indoors with outsiders or take off their masks at any time when they are outdoors -- even when they are eating and drinking.

Dr. Deborah Birx says people also have to observe social distancing and wash their hands to contain the coronavirus pandemic. She says some states are taking these measures, but in others it's "not happening at the level that they need to happen."

Birx says that even once vaccines are approved, it will take weeks to months before "the most vulnerable individuals in America" can be immunized. 

She made the comments after meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir at U.N. headquarters in New York on Thursday.

Data shows Americans couldn't resist Thanksgiving travel

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Americans couldn't resist the urge to gather for Thanksgiving, driving only slightly less than a year ago and largely ignoring the pleas of public health experts, who begged them to forgo holiday travel to help contain the coronavirus pandemic, data from roadways and airports shows.

The nation's unwillingness to tamp down on travel offered a warning in advance of Christmas and New Year's as virus deaths and hospitalizations hit new highs a week after Thanksgiving. U.S. deaths from the outbreak eclipsed 3,100 on Thursday, obliterating the single-day record set last spring.

Vehicle travel in early November was as much as 20% lower than a year earlier, but it surged around the holiday and peaked on Thanksgiving Day at only about 5% less than the pandemic-free period in 2019, according to StreetLight Data, which provided an analysis to The Associated Press.

"People were less willing to change their behavior than any other day during the pandemic," said Laura Schewel, founder of StreetLight Data.

Airports also saw some of their busiest days of the pandemic, though air travel was much lower than last year. The Transportation Security Administration screened more than 1 million passengers on four separate days during the Thanksgiving travel period. Since the pandemic gutted travel in March, there has been only one other day when the number of travelers topped 1 million — Oct. 18.

Dangerously viral: How Trump, supporters spread false claims

The cellphone video shot in the dark by a woman in a parked car appeared to show something ominous: a man closing the doors of a white van and then rolling a wagon with a large box into a Detroit election center. 

Within hours, the 90-second clip was being shared on news sites and conservative YouTube accounts, offered as apparent proof that illegal votes were being smuggled in after polls closed. Prominent Republicans, including Eric Trump, one of the president's sons, amplified the falsehoods on social media. Within a day, views of the video shot up past a million. 

That single video serves as a powerful emblem of the trafficking in false information that has plagued the presidential election won by Joe Biden. In other videos, photos and social media posts, supporters of President Donald Trump, and most notably the incumbent himself, have raised doubts about the outcome based on problems that did not occur.

Though the clip was quickly discredited by news organizations and public officials — the man depicted was a photojournalist hauling camera equipment, not illegal votes — to many viewers it had its intended effect. 

Eric Hainline, a UPS driver from Dayton, Ohio, watched the video and many like it, and said the images reinforced his suspicions that the election was stolen from Trump.

Trump loves to win but keeps losing election lawsuits

For a man obsessed with winning, President Donald Trump is losing a lot. 

He's managed to lose not just once to Democrat Joe Biden at the ballot box, but over and over again in courts across the country in a futile attempt to stay in power. The president and his allies continue to mount new cases, recycling the same baseless claims, even after Trump's own attorney general declared the Justice Department had uncovered no widespread fraud. 

"This will continue to be a losing strategy, and in a way it's even bad for him: He gets to re-lose the election numerous times," said Kent Greenfield, a professor at Boston College Law School. "The depths of his petulance and narcissism continues to surprise me." 

In an Associated Press tally of roughly 50 cases brought by Trump's campaign and his allies, more than 30 have been rejected or dropped. About a dozen are awaiting action. Trump has notched just one small victory, a case challenging a decision to move the deadline to provide missing proof of identification for certain absentee ballots and mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania.

Another legal blow came Thursday, the day after Trump posted a 46-minute speech to Facebook filled with conspiracies, misstatements and vows to keep up his fight to subvert the election. 

Biden adjusting agenda to reflect narrow divide in Congress

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden is adjusting the scope of his agenda to meet the challenges of governing with a narrowly divided Congress and the complications of legislating during a raging pandemic. 

Rather than immediately pursue ambitious legislation to combat climate change, the incoming administration may try to wrap provisions into a coronavirus aid bill. Biden's team is also considering smaller-scale changes to the Affordable Care Act while tabling the more contentious fight over creating a public option to compete with private insurers.

Biden is already working on an array of executive actions to achieve some of his bolder priorities on climate change and immigration without having to navigate congressional gridlock. 

The maneuvering reflects a disappointing political reality for Biden, who campaigned on a pledge to address the nation's problems with measures that would rival the scope of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal legislation. But Democrats acknowledge that big legislative accomplishments are unlikely, even in the best-case scenario in which the party gains a slim majority in the Senate. 

"Let's assume my dream comes true," Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin said, referring to a tight majority for his party. "I think we have to carefully construct any change in the Affordable Care Act, or any other issue, like climate change, based on the reality of the 50-50 Senate."

Hardships mount in Kentucky as COVID-19 relief talks drag on

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Paula and Anthony Hunter spun off their catering service into a restaurant serving Italian food with a "touch of soul" right before the coronavirus hit. Soon, both Louisville businesses slammed to a halt, and the couple relied on federal relief to help stay afloat.

They improvised to keep income flowing in, navigating a maze of food delivery mobile apps and prepping boxed lunches for health care workers toiling long hours at local hospitals. 

Now, hit with a recent statewide order closing restaurants to indoor dining until mid-December, the couple is hoping for another round of federal aid to hang on until a vaccine arrives.

"Just a few more months, you know, get us through this," said Paula Hunter, who owns the Black Italian restaurant along with her husband.

Kentucky's senior senator, Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is at the center of congressional negotiations on another relief package. Kentucky voters didn't punish McConnell for the long-stalemated talks, awarding him a lopsided victory as he secured a seventh term in last month's election. He spent the campaign boasting about the money he delivered for the Bluegrass State in the massive federal relief package passed early in the pandemic.

Jobs report will show how much pandemic is squeezing hiring

WASHINGTON — Friday's monthly U.S. jobs report will help answer a key question overhanging the economy: Just how much damage is being caused by the resurgent coronavirus, the resulting curbs on businesses and the reluctance of consumers to shop, travel and dine out?

Economists surveyed by the data provider FactSet have forecast that employers added 450,000 jobs in November. In normal times, that would be a healthy increase. But a gain that size would amount to the weakest monthly hiring since April. The unemployment rate is projected to drop one-tenth of a percentage point to 6.8%. 

The Labor Department will issue the November jobs report at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.

A loss of momentum in hiring would weaken the economy at a particularly perilous time. A multi-trillion-dollar aid package that Congress approved in the spring to ease the economic damage from the pandemic has largely run its course. Two enhanced unemployment benefit programs are set to expire at the end of this month — just as virus cases accelerate and colder weather shuts down outdoor dining and public events. The end of those programs would leave an estimated 9 million people without any jobless aid, state or federal.

U.S. deaths from the coronavirus topped 3,100 Wednesday, a new daily high, with more than 100,000 Americans hospitalized with the disease, also a record, and new confirmed daily cases topping 200,000. In the past month, at least 12 states have imposed new restrictions on businesses, according to an Associated Press tally. Health officials are urging Americans to avoid all but essential travel.

US intelligence director says China is top threat to America

WASHINGTON — China poses the greatest threat to America and the rest of the free world since World War II, outgoing National Intelligence Director John Ratcliffe said Thursday as the Trump administration ramps up anti-Chinese rhetoric to pressure President-elect Joe Biden to be tough on Beijing. 

"The intelligence is clear: Beijing intends to dominate the U.S. and the rest of the planet economically, militarily and technologically," Ratcliffe wrote in an op-ed published Thursday in The Wall Street Journal. "Many of China's major public initiatives and prominent companies offer only a layer of camouflage to the activities of the Chinese Communist Party."

"I call its approach of economic espionage 'rob, replicate and replace,'" Ratcliffe said. "China robs U.S. companies of their intellectual property, replicates the technology and then replaces the U.S. firms in the global marketplace."

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying dismissed the editorial as a further move to spread "false information, political viruses and lies" in hopes of damaging China's reputation and China-U.S. relations. 

"It offered nothing new but repeated the lies and rumors aimed at smearing China and playing up the China threat by any means," Hua said at a daily briefing on Friday. "It's another hodgepodge of lies being produced by the relevant departments of the U.S. government for some time." 

Quebec cancels holiday plans

MONTREAL — The Quebec government is cancelling its plan to allow gatherings over four days of the Christmas holidays.

Premier Francois Legault announced Thursday that the province will no longer permit multi-household gatherings of up to 10 people from Dec. 24 through Dec. 27 as had been planned.

Legault first announced the Christmas plan on Nov. 19, saying people could get together as long as they quarantined for a week before and a week after the holiday period. But coronavirus infections, COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths are on the rise and the province's health system is deemed fragile due to a lack of staffing.

Legault says it's not realistic to think the numbers will go down sufficiently by Christmas.

The French-speaking Canadian province reported 1,470 coronavirus cases Thursday.

North Carolina reports highest single-day COVID cases

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina on Thursday reported its highest single-day increase in coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, with more than 5,600 people testing positive for the coronavirus. The proportion of tests coming back positive has also risen sharply in recent days. On Sunday, the positivity rate surpassed 10% for the first time since April.

And for the first time ever, more than 2,100 people are currently hospitalized due to COVID-19. On Wednesday, the state reported a daily increase of 82 deaths, which is the most since the start of the pandemic.

At a time when all available metrics appear to show transmission at or near its worst levels yet, the state has shown strong reluctance to impose additional restrictions to help slow the spread. 

An executive order Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper signed last week included stronger language aimed at boosting enforcement of the statewide mask mandate. Ahead of Thanksgiving, he reduced indoor gatherings from a maximum of 25 people to 10 people.

Cooper's health secretary, Mandy Cohen, says an initial wave of nearly 85,000 Pfizer vaccine doses could arrive as early as Dec. 15.

Utah's vaccine plans

SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert says Utah plans to prioritize front-line health care workers after it receives its first round of coronavirus vaccine doses. 

They could arrive as early as mid-December. Hospital leaders say the first doses in Utah will go to front-line health care workers such as doctors and nurses in emergency departments. 

They will also be given to urgent care facilities and COVID-19 units as well as their housekeeping employees. Five hospitals that experienced the highest COVID-19 response will be first to receive doses. 

Each hospital is expecting to receive several thousand doses of Pfizer's vaccine. Officials did not say how many doses each hospital will receive.

Nevada hospitals strained

CARSON CITY, Nev. — Nevada reported 48 new deaths from the coronavirus on Thursday, marking the deadliest day since the onset of the pandemic as the state's COVID-19 surge shows few signs of slowing and death totals peak throughout the U.S. 

Case and death totals continue to rise more than a week after new restrictions were implemented as part of Nevada's statewide pause of activity. 

During the three-week period, the number of guests businesses can accept has been reduced to 25 percent of capacity. 

Hospitals continue to face strain and Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno is treating patients in an auxiliary unit in the parking garage.

Vaccine doses expected in Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY — The first shipment of a coronavirus vaccine is expected in Oklahoma in about 10 days with health care workers and long term care providers and residents receiving the first doses, state health commissioner Dr. Lance Frye said Thursday. 

Frye said 33,000 doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer is expected by Dec. 13 or 14 and a shipment of a second, required, dose is expected about three weeks later.

The plan follows a draft distribution plan released by the health department in October and places first responders such as paramedics, police officers and firefighters in addition to the elderly and those at high risk in the second phase of people to receive the vaccine.

School students teachers and staff are in the third phase of those to receive the vaccine, then the general public. The priority list was developed by a committee using guidelines provided by the federal Centers for Disease Control, Frye said.

The seven-day rolling average of new cases in Oklahoma rose from 2,727 per day on Nov. 18 to 2,571 on Monday and the positivity increased from 15.8 percent to 16.34 percent during the same time, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. 

The state health department on Thursday reported an additional 1,707 virus cases and 24 more deaths for totals of 204,048 cases and 1,836 deaths since the pandemic began in March. There were 1,734 people hospitalized due to the virus.

Former presidents to get vaccine

WASHINGTON — Three former presidents say they'd publicly take a coronavirus vaccine, once one becomes available, to encourage all Americans to get inoculated.

Barack Obama said during an episode Thursday of SiriusXM's "The Joe Madison Show" that he may be filmed getting vaccinated, "just so that people know that I trust this science." 

A spokesman for Bill Clinton suggested similar. George W. Bush's chief of staff told CNN that Bush was ready to do similar. Those comments come as the coronavirus surges nationwide and even though potential vaccines may not be widely available for months.

THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— U.S. reaches daily records with more than 3,100 deaths and 100,000 hospitalizations; tops 200,000 daily cases

— Russia vaccine available at 70 facilities in Moscow; hits record 28,145 daily cases

— Getting vaccine to right people could change course of pandemic in U.S.

— Britain is 5th nation to reach 60,000 coronavirus deaths

— Facebook says it will remove misinformation about coronavirus vaccines

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