Briefs: Restaurant workers out of work again as virus surges anew

Summit County service industry workers march past the Gold Pan Saloon while protesting the prohibition of in-person dining at restaurants Monday, Nov. 23, 2020 in Breckenridge, Colo. (Jason Connolly/Summit Daily News via AP)

Associated Press

The cancellation of the beloved Norcatur Christmas Drawing has driven home how the global coronavirus pandemic has reached deep into rural America

The Associated Press

Waiters and bartenders are being thrown out of work — again — as governors and local officials shut down indoor dining and drinking establishments to combat the nationwide surge in coronavirus infections that is overwhelming hospitals and dashing hopes for a quick economic recovery.

And the timing, just before the holidays, couldn't be worse. 

Restaurant owner Greg Morena in Los Angeles County was trying to figure out his next step after officials in the nation's largest county banned in-person dining for at least three weeks, beginning Wednesday. But he was mainly dreading having to notify his employees.

"To tell you, 'I can't employ you during the holidays,' to staff that has family and kids, I haven't figured that part out yet. It's the heaviest weight that I carry," said Morena, who had to close one restaurant earlier in the year and has two operating at the Santa Monica Pier.

Randine Karnitz, a server in Elk River, Minnesota, said her boss laid her off last week after Gov. Tim Walz announced that bars, restaurants and gyms would close for four weeks as infections spiked to an all-time high and pushed hospitals to the breaking point.

"'Well, your last day is tomorrow. You don't have a job. You can thank your governor for that,'" Karnitz said her boss told her. 

She said her husband's hours also have been cut at his manufacturing job, forcing the family to postpone house repairs. 

Karnitz, though, said that she supports a shutdown and that people who didn't take the virus seriously bear much of the blame.

"I just think that if we all would've done our part to begin with, we wouldn't be in this predicament," she said. "Things are only going to get worse for the service industry before it gets better, unfortunately."

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on Tuesday said he is limiting the number of customers in restaurants, gyms, salons, casinos, malls and other nonessential businesses to 50% of their capacity as the state sees a third spike in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. Most bars will be restricted to takeout, delivery and outside seating.

Restaurant owners — most of whom underwent shutdowns in the spring and summer — are finding the new round of closings challenging as colder weather sets in. Many are offering curbside pickup but also trying to hold outdoor dining, even if it means setting up shelters or heaters.

But in Los Angeles County, restaurants and bars are prohibited from providing outdoor dining beginning Wednesday. They will be limited to takeout and delivery. 

Some are challenging shutdown orders in court, with little success.

On Tuesday, a judge rejected a request from a restaurant industry group to block the Los Angeles County outdoor dining ban. A day earlier, a California judge refused to temporarily restore indoor service at restaurants and gyms in San Diego County that were forced to move operations outside, saying there is scientific evidence to support Gov. Gavin Newsom's sweeping public health orders. 

A federal judge last week declined to halt a three-week ban on indoor dining in Michigan after an industry association complained that restaurants were being treated unfairly. The judge noted that restaurants are unlike other businesses in that their customers have to remove their masks to eat or drink.

The U.S. has seen more than 12.5 million confirmed infections and over 259,000 deaths from the coronavirus. Almost 86,000 people — an all-time high — were in the hospital in the U.S. with COVID-19 as of Monday.

On average, the U.S. is recording over 172,000 new cases per day. It is seeing more than 1,500 deaths per day on average — the highest level since May.

'America is back': Biden pushes past Trump era with nominees

WILMINGTON, Del. — Declaring "America is back," President-elect Joe Biden introduced his national security team, his first substantive offering of how he'll shift from Trump-era "America First" policies by relying on experts from the Democratic establishment to be some of his most important advisers.

"Together, these public servants will restore America globally, its global leadership and its moral leadership," Biden said Tuesday from a theater in his longtime home of Wilmington, Delaware. "It's a team that reflects the fact that America is back, ready to lead the world, not retreat from it."

The nominees are all Washington veterans with ties to the Obama administration, a sign of Biden's effort to resume some form of normalcy after the tumult of President Donald Trump's four years in office. Another sign that Biden will soon be in charge: He scheduled a Thanksgiving address to the nation for Wednesday afternoon, planning to focus his remarks on shared sacrifices during the holiday season and expressing confidence that Americans will get through the pandemic together.

There are risks to choosing experienced hands from the previous Democratic administration. Besides Republican attacks, progressives fret that Biden is tapping some officials who were too cautious and incremental the last time they held power.

Still, Biden's nominees were a clear departure from Trump, whose Cabinet has largely consisted of men, almost all of them white. Biden's picks included several women and people of color, some of whom would break barriers if confirmed to their new positions.

Analysis: Biden prioritizes experience with Cabinet picks

NEW YORK — Competence is making a comeback.

President-elect Joe Biden has prized staying power over star power when making his first wave of Cabinet picks and choices for White House staff, with a premium placed on government experience and proficiency as he looks to rebuild a depleted and demoralized federal bureaucracy.

With an eye in part toward making selections who may have to seek approval from a Republican-controlled Senate, Biden has prioritized choosing qualified professionals while eschewing flashy names. Even the most recognizable pick — John Kerry — lacks the showmanship that has defined the Trump era.

In sharp contrast to President Donald Trump, who openly distrusted the very government he led, Biden has showcased a faith in bureaucracy that was born out of his nearly five decades in Washington. He's made hires with the deliberate aim of projecting a sense of dutiful and, even boring, competency. 

Surrounding himself with longtime aides and veterans of the Obama administration, many of whom have already worked together for years, Biden has so far rolled out a team of careerists with bursting resumes and little need of a learning curve.

Ethiopian leader rejects international 'interference' in war

NAIROBI, Kenya — 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.

"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.

Duchess of Sussex reveals she had miscarriage in the summer

LONDON — The Duchess of Sussex has revealed that she had a miscarriage in July, giving a personal account of the traumatic experience in hope of helping others.

Meghan described the miscarriage n an opinion piece in the New York Times on Wednesday. She wrote: "I knew, as I clutched my firstborn child, that I was losing my second."

The former Meghan Markle and husband Prince Harry have an 18-month-old son, Archie.

The duchess, 39, said she was sharing her story to help break the silence around an all-too-common tragedy.

"Losing a child means carrying an almost unbearable grief, experienced by many but talked about by few," she wrote.

EXPLAINER: China's claims of coronavirus on frozen foods

BEIJING — China says it has detected the coronavirus on packages of imported frozen food, but how valid are its claims and how serious is the threat to public health?

Frozen shrimp imported from an Ecuadorian company was banned for one week on Tuesday in a continuing series of such temporary bans.

While experts say the virus can survive for a time on cardboard and plastic containers, it remains unclear how serious a risk that poses. Like so many issues surrounding the pandemic, the matter has swiftly become politicized. 

China has rejected complaints from the U.S. and others, saying it is putting people's lives first. Experts say they generally don't consider the presence of the virus on packaging to be a significant health risk. 

Christmas traditions axed as pandemic sweeps rural Kansas

BELLE PLAINE, Kan. — It's barely a town anymore, battered by time on the windswept prairie of northwest Kansas. COVID-19 still managed for find Norcatur.

Not much remains of the rural hamlet, save for service station, a grain elevator, a little museum, and a weekend hangout where the locals play pool, eat pizza and drink beer. The roof has collapsed on the crumbling building that once housed its bank and general store. Schools closed decades ago and the former high school building is used for city offices.

But for the 150 or so remaining residents, the cancellation of the beloved Norcatur Christmas Drawing has driven home how the global coronavirus pandemic has reached deep into rural America.

"Due to individuals who have COVID and refuse to stay home and quarantine it has been determined it is not safe for the citizens of Norcatur and the area to proceed," read the notice tucked in the town's newsletter and posted on its Facebook page. It blamed "negligent attitudes of lack of concern for others" for the cancellation.

In a decades-old tradition that evokes Norman Rockwell nostalgia, the whole town typically gathers for a potluck dinner at Christmastime. Its namesake drawing features a plethora of donated meats, crafts and other goodies so every family can go home with prizes. The local 4-H Club puts on its bake sale. Santa Claus comes riding the firetruck.

Transgender Pakistanis find solace in a church of their own

KARACHI, Pakistan — Pakistan's Christian transgender people, often mocked, abused and bullied, say they have found peace and solace in a church of their own.

Shunned by other churches, they can raise their voices high here. 

During a recent service, transgender women, flowing scarves loose over their long hair, conducted Bible readings and raucously sang hymns, accompanied by the rhythms of a drum played by a transgender elder in the church.

The church, called the First Church of Eunuchs, is the only one for transgender Christians in Pakistan. "Eunuch" is a term often used for transgender women in South Asia, though some consider it derogatory. The church's pastor and co-founder Ghazala Shafique said she chose the name to make a point, citing at length verses from the Bible saying eunuchs are favored by God.

In Pakistan's largest city, Karachi, on the Arabian Sea coast, it sits in the shadow of towering brownstone cathedral, where the congregation says they don't feel welcome.

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