Briefs: President disputes government's experts and promises mass vaccinations soon

Associated Press

Donald Trump also disputes the effectiveness of masks

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Openly contradicting the government's top health experts, President Donald Trump predicted Wednesday that a safe and effective vaccine against the coronavirus could be ready as early as next month and in mass distribution soon after, undermining the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and calling him "confused" in projecting a longer time frame.

Trump also disagreed with Dr. Robert Redfield about the effectiveness of protective masks — which the president recommends but almost never wears — and said he'd telephoned Redfield to tell him so.

Earlier in the day, the CDC sent all 50 states a "playbook" for distribution of a vaccine to all Americans free of cost when one is proven safe and effective — which is not yet the case. Redfield told a congressional hearing that health care workers, first responders and others at high risk would get the vaccine first, perhaps in January or even late this year, but it was unlikely to be available more broadly, again assuming approval, before late spring or summer.

Redfield, masked at times in a Senate hearing room, also spoke emphatically of the importance of everyone wearing protective masks to stop the pandemic, which has killed nearly 200,000 Americans. He floated the possibility that a vaccine might be 70 percent effective in inducing immunity, and said, "I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine."

Trump would have none of that from the CDC director.

COVID-19 danger continues to drive joblessness in US

WASHINGTON — The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell last week to 860,000, a historically high figure that reflects economic damage from the coronavirus outbreak. 

Before the pandemic hit the economy, the number signing up for jobless aid had never exceeded 700,000 in a week, even during the depths of the 2007-2009 Great Recession. Now they've topped 700,000 for 26 straight weeks. 

The Labor Department said Thursday that U.S. jobless claims fell by 33,000 form the previous week and that 12.6 million are collecting traditional unemployment benefits, compared with just 1.7 million a year ago.

The pandemic has delivered an colossal shock to the economy. Until the pandemic upended the operations of American companies, from factories to family diners, weekly jobless aid applications had never exceeded 700,000 in the U.S. 

The overall economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, collapsed at an annual rate of 31.7% from April through June, by far the worst three months on record, as millions of jobs disappeared. 

The economy and job market have recovered somewhat from the initial shock. Employers added 10.6 million jobs from May through August, but that's still less than half the jobs lost in March and April.

The recovery remains fragile, imperiled by continuing COVID-19 infections as schools begin to reopen, and the failure to deliver another economic rescue package in Washington.

An extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits ran out July 31, squeezing households that had depended on the beefed-up payments. President Donald Trump issued an executive order Aug. 8 providing a scaled-back version of the expanded jobless aid. Most states signed up for federal grants that let them increase weekly benefits by $300 or $400. 

That program is expiring.

As India's virus cases rise, so do questions over death toll

NEW DELHI — When Narayan Mitra died on July 16, a day after being admitted to the hospital for fever and breathing difficulties, his name never appeared on any of the official lists put out daily of those killed by the coronavirus.

Test results later revealed that Mitra had indeed been infected with COVID-19, as had his son, Abhijit, and four other family members in Silchar, in northeastern Assam state, on India's border with Bangladesh.

But Narayan Mitra still isn't counted as a coronavirus victim. The virus was deemed an "incidental" factor, and a panel of doctors decided his death was due to a previously diagnosed neurological disorder that causes muscle weakness.

"He died because of the virus, and there is no point lying about it," Abhijit Mitra said of the finding, which came despite national guidelines that ask states to not attribute deaths to underlying conditions in cases where COVID-19 has been confirmed by tests.

Such exclusions could explain why India, which has recorded more than 5.1 million infections — second only to the United States — has a death toll of about 83,000 in a country of 1.3 billion people.

After Sally: Rescue, recovery and a wary eye on rivers

PENSACOLA, Fla. — Rivers swollen by Hurricane Sally's rains threatened more misery for parts of the Florida Panhandle and south Alabama on Thursday, even as the storm's remnants were forecast to dump up to a foot of rain and spread the threat of flooding to Georgia and the Carolinas.

Coastal residents, meanwhile, looked to begin the recovery from a storm that turned streets into rivers, ripped roofs off buildings, knocked out power to hundreds of thousands and killed at least one person.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned residents and visitors in flooded areas that they would need to remain vigilant as water from the hurricane subsides, because heavy rains to the north were expected to cause flooding in Panhandle rivers in coming days.

"So this is kind of the initial salvo, but there is going to be more that you're going to have to contend with," DeSantis said.

At least one death was blamed on the hurricane. Orange Beach, Alabama, Mayor Tony Kennon told The Associated Press one person in the popular vacation spot died and another was missing as a result of the storm. He said he couldn't immediately release details.

Biden to join Senate Democrats online for lunch, questions

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden is set to join Senate Democrats for an online lunch, returning virtually to the place that fostered his political career as he fields questions from allies on the race for the White House and the down-ballot effort to wrest the Senate's majority control from Republicans.

The event Thursday will be a homecoming, of sorts, for the former U.S. senator now the party's presidential nominee. Yet it takes place at a grave moment with the COVID-19 crisis and economic distress ahead of an election like no other. While a welcome former colleague, Biden will likely face tough questions about his strategy to defeat President Donald Trump.

Biden is on offense this week over the president's handling of the coronavirus crisis. He will travel later in the day to Scranton, Pennsylvania, his boyhood hometown, for a CNN town hall after Trump's own town hall earlier this week on ABC. The nearly back-to-back forums have been considered tuneups ahead of three presidential debates, the first scheduled for Sept. 29.

Late Wednesday, Biden seized on Trump openly contradicting the nation's top health officials to claim a vaccine would be ready as early as next month, just before the election. "When I said I trust vaccines, and I trust the scientists, but I don't trust Donald Trump — this is what I meant," Biden tweeted.

Typically the lawmakers in Congress welcome the party leaders to Capitol Hill and the weekly closed-door Senate lunches are a long tradition. Trump occasionally stops by to meet with GOP senators, and Biden, as vice president, similarly joined his party for the private caucus lunches on the Hill.

Greek police begin moving asylum-seekers into new camp

KARA TEPE, Greece — A Greek police operation was underway on the island of Lesbos Thursday to move thousands of migrants and refugees who have been sleeping on a roadside after a fire destroyed their overcrowded camp into a new facility on the island. 

Police said the morning operation included 70 female police officers who were approaching asylum-seekers with the aim of persuading them to move to the new camp in the island's Kara Tepe area. No violence was reported as the operation began.

The U.N. refugee agency's local representative welcomed the move.

"As long as it is peaceful, we believe it is a good move, considering that here on the street it is a risk for security, for public health and it's not dignity which we need for everyone," said Astrid Castelein, head of the UNHCR's office on Lesbos.

The notoriously squalid Moria camp burned down last week in fires that Greek authorities said were deliberately set by a small group of the camp's inhabitants angered by lockdown restrictions imposed after a coronavirus outbreak.

Showdown set as US to declare UN sanctions on Iran are back

WASHINGTON (AP) — In defiance of overwhelming opposition, the United States is preparing to declare that all international sanctions against Iran have been restored. Few countries believe the move is legal, and such action could provoke a credibility crisis at the United Nations.

Virtually alone in the world, the Trump administration will announce on Saturday that U.N. sanctions on Iran eased under the 2015 nuclear deal are back in force. But the other members of the U.N. Security Council, including U.S. allies, disagree and have vowed to ignore the step. That sets the stage for ugly confrontations as the world body prepares to celebrate its 75th anniversary at a coronavirus-restricted General Assembly session next week.

The question is how the Trump administration will respond to being ignored. It already has slapped extensive sanctions on Iran, but could impose penalties on countries that don't enforce the U.N. sanctions it claims to have reimposed. A wholesale rejection of the U.S. position could push the administration, which has already withdrawn from multiple U.N. agencies, organizations and treaties, further away from the international community.

In the midst of a heated campaign for reelection, President Donald Trump plans to address Iran in a speech to the General Assembly on Tuesday. Officials say he will also touch on his brokering of agreements for Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to normalize relations in part to solidify a regional bulwark against Iran.

And, as he seeks to demonstrate statesmanlike credentials ahead of the election, Trump has injected another element of uncertainty into the mix by threatening to retaliate "1,000 times" harder against Iran if it attacks U.S. personnel overseas.

Report: Feds considered using 'heat ray' on DC protesters

WASHINGTON  — A military whistleblower says federal officials sought some unusual crowd control devices — including one that's been called a "heat ray" — to deal with protesters outside the White House on the June day that law enforcement forcibly cleared Lafayette Square.

In written responses to questions from a House committee, National Guard Maj. Adam DeMarco said the Defense Department's lead military police officer for the National Capital Region sent an email asking if the D.C. National Guard possessed a long-range acoustic device — used to transmit loud noises — or an "Active Denial System," the so-called heat ray.

DeMarco said he responded that the Guard was not in possession of either device. National Public Radio and The Washington Post first reported DeMarco's testimony. 

Use of either the acoustic device or the Active Denial System would have been a significant escalation of crowd control for the Guard members, particularly since the Defense officials ordered that the Guard troops not be armed when they went into D.C.

Law enforcement personnel were armed. And although active-duty military troops were sent to the region, they remained at bases outside the District in case they were needed but never actually entered the District.

Western wildfire smoke causes East Coast haze, vivid sunsets

The smoke from dozens of wildfires in the western United States is stretching clear across the country — and even pushing into Mexico, Canada and Europe. While the dangerous plumes are forcing people inside along the West Coast, residents thousands of miles away in the East are seeing unusually hazy skies and remarkable sunsets. 

The wildfires racing across tinder-dry landscape in California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington are extraordinary, but the long reach of their smoke isn't unprecedented. While there are only small pockets in the southeastern U.S. that are haze free, experts say the smoke poses less of a health concern for those who are farther away.

The sun was transformed into a perfect orange orb as it set over New York City on Tuesday. Photographs of it sinking behind the skyline and glinting through tree leaves flooded social media. On Wednesday, New Jersey residents described a yellow tinge to the overcast skies, and weather forecasters were kept busy explaining the phenomenon and making predictions as to how long the conditions would last.

On the opposite coast, air quality conditions were among some of the worst ever recorded. Smoke cloaked the Golden Gate Bridge and left Portland and Seattle in an ashy fog, as crews have exhausted themselves trying to keep the flames from consuming more homes and even wider swaths of forest.

Satellite images showed that smoke from the wildfires has traveled almost 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers) to Britain and other parts of northern Europe, scientists said Wednesday.

New companies face tough task overcoming pandemic, recession

NEW YORK (AP) — Julie Campbell had to rethink her new wallpaper business before she could sell her first sheet.

Campbell launched Pasted Paper in February, but soon after, the coronavirus forced the cancellation of the trade shows where she expected to introduce her wallpaper to prospective retail customers. Suddenly, the $30,000 she'd invested in creating the wallpaper was at risk, dependent on her transforming the company to sell directly to consumers. 

To save Pasted Paper, Campbell learned online selling and marketing — skills not immediately in her wheelhouse.

"I had so much inventory and I needed to sell it. I was forced to figure this out," Campbell says. 

A recession amid a pandemic may seem like the worst time to start a business. Despite millions of loans and grants from federal and state governments, it's estimated that hundreds of thousands of companies have already failed since the virus outbreak began. 

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