Briefs: Texas tops 1 million COVID-19 cases

A medical worker stands at a COVID-19 state drive-thru testing site at UTEP on October26, 2020, in El Paso, Texas. The U.S. has recorded about 10.3 million confirmed infections, with new cases soaring to all-time highs of well over 120,000 per day over the past week. (Briana Sanchez/The El Paso Times via AP, File)

Associated Press

National security experts hope President Trump changes his mind about intelligence briefings for the president-elect

The Associated Press

Texas on Wednesday became the first state with more than 1 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, and California closed in on that mark as a surge of coronavirus infections engulfs the country.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said all restaurants, bars and gyms statewide will have to close at 10 p.m. starting Friday, a major retreat in a corner of the U.S. that had seemingly brought the virus largely under control months ago. He also barred private gatherings of more than 10 people.

Texas, the second-most populous state, has recorded 1.02 million coronavirus cases and over 19,000 deaths since the outbreak began in early March, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. California, the most populous state, has logged more than 995,000 cases.

The U.S. has recorded over 240,000 deaths and more than 10.3 million confirmed infections, with new cases soaring to all-time highs of well over 120,000 per day over the past week. Health experts have blamed the increase in part on the onset of cold weather and growing frustration with mask-wearing and other precautions.

Cases per day are on the rise in 49 states, and deaths per day are climbing in 39. A month ago, the U.S. was seeing about 730 COVID-19 deaths per day on average; that has now surpassed 970.

Unwelcome milestone: California nears million COVID-19 cases

LOS ANGELES — A month ago, Antonio Gomez III was a healthy 46-year-old struggling like so many others to balance work and parenting during the coronavirus pandemic. 

This week, he's struggling to breathe after a three-week bout with the virus. 

Gomez said he let down his guard to see his parents and contracted one of the nearly 1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in California. For months, the virus has hammered the economy, disproportionately affected the poor and upended daily life — and now the state and the rest of the country are trying to curb another surge of infections.

California will be the second state — behind Texas — to eclipse a million known cases. The grim milestone in a state of 40 million comes as the U.S. has surpassed 10 million infections. 

The timeline of COVID-19 in America often comes back to California. It had some of the earliest known cases among travelers from China, where the outbreak began. The Feb. 6 death of a San Jose woman is the first known coronavirus fatality in the U.S. That same month, California recorded the first U.S. case not related to travel and the first infection spread within the community.

Biden moves forward without help from Trump's intel team

WASHINGTON — The presidential race was hovering in limbo in 2000 when outgoing President Bill Clinton decided to let then-Gov. George W. Bush read the ultra-secret daily brief of the nation's most sensitive intelligence.

Clinton was a Democrat and his vice president, Al Gore, was running against Republican Bush. Gore had been reading the so-called President's Daily Brief for eight years; Clinton decided to bring Bush into the fold in case he won — and he did. 

President Donald Trump has not followed Clinton's lead. As he contests this year's election results, Trump has not authorized President-elect Joe Biden to lay eyes on the brief. 

National security and intelligence experts hope Trump changes his mind, citing the need for an incoming president to be fully prepared to confront any national security issues on Day One. 

"Our adversaries aren't waiting for the transition to take place," says former Michigan Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, who was chairman of the House intelligence committee. "Joe Biden should receive the President's Daily Brief starting today. He needs to know what the latest threats are and begin to plan accordingly. This isn't about politics; this is about national security."

Military wary that shakeup could upend its apolitical nature

WASHINGTON — The words spoken by America's top military officer carried a familiar ring, but in the midst of a chaotic week at the Pentagon, they were particularly poignant.

"We are unique among militaries," said Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "We do not take an oath to a king or a queen, a tyrant or a dictator. We do not take an oath to an individual."

Milley was speaking Wednesday at the dedication of an Army museum in a week that saw President Donald Trump fire Defense Secretary Mark Esper and install three staunch loyalists to senior Pentagon policy positions. The abrupt changes have raised fears about what Trump may try to do in his final two months of office — and whether the military's long held apolitical nature could be upended.

Milley's comments, made as he stood alongside Esper's successor, acting defense chief Christopher Miller, reflected a view he has long been passionate about: the military's unequivocal duty to protect and defend the Constitution — what he called the "moral north star" for everyone in uniform. 

But his message in a time of turmoil — Trump has refused to concede his election loss — was unmistakable: The military exists to defend democracy and is not to be used as a political pawn. "We take an oath to the Constitution," Milley said, adding that every service member "will protect and defend that document regardless of personal price."

World leaders talking to Biden about the virus, other issues

World leaders spoke to President-elect Joe Biden on Thursday about cooperating on the coronavirus pandemic, climate change and other issues, even as President Donald Trump's refusal to concede complicates the U.S. post-election transition.

In his conversations with key Asian allies, Biden seemed intent on easing their uncertainties about a less-engaged Washington, which built up during the four years of Trump's "America First" approach. 

Grief, anger, disbelief: Trump voters face Biden's victory

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — When Joan Martin heard that Joe Biden had been declared the winner of the presidential election, the retired nurse and avowed supporter of President Donald Trump was deeply unsettled. To steel herself, she thought about how her household weathered Hurricane Katrina when it battered her hometown of Picayune, Mississippi, in 2005.

As the storm blew toward the town, Martin rushed out into her yard to carry her 85 show chickens to safety. Outside, howling winds lashed her family's barn, lifting the edges of the roof off its moorings.

"The next day they (the chickens) were very concerned about the changes in the yard — we had trees down," said Martin, 79. "They were very eyes-wide. But within two days, they said, 'Oh, yeah, we can deal with this,' and they did. So I have to follow their lead."

Across the country, many of the 71.9 million people who voted for Trump — especially his loyal, passionate base — are working through turbulent emotions in the wake of his loss. Grief, anger and shock are among the feelings expressed by supporters who assumed he would score a rock-solid victory — by a slim margin, maybe easily, perhaps even by a landslide.

There is also denial. Many are skeptical of the results, saying they don't trust the media's race call for Biden, the way election officials counted the ballots, the entire voting system in America. Their views echo the unsupported claims Trump has made since Election Day.

In ruins, Syria marks 50 years of Assad family rule

BEIRUT — On Nov. 13, 1970, a young air force officer from the coastal hills of Syria launched a bloodless coup. It was the latest in a succession of military takeovers since independence from France in 1946, and there was no reason to think it would be the last.

Yet 50 years later, Hafez Assad's family still rules Syria.

The country is in ruins from a decade of civil war that killed a half million people, displaced half the population and wiped out the economy. Entire regions are lost from government control. But Hafez's son, Bashar Assad, has an unquestioned grip on what remains. 

His rule, half of it spent in war, is different from his father's in some ways —dependent on allies like Iran and Russia rather than projecting Arab nationalism, run with a crony kleptocracy rather than socialism. The tools are the same: repression, rejection of compromise and brutal bloodshed.

Like the Castro family in Cuba and North Korea's Kim dynasty, the Assads have attached their name to their country the way few non-monarchical rulers have done. 

Pacific isles, secretive states among last virus-free places

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — From Argentina to Zimbabwe, from the Vatican to the White House, the coronavirus has spread relentlessly. It's been confirmed on every continent but one and in nearly every country. Yet a few places have yet to report even a single case of infection. Some have been genuinely spared so far, while others may be hiding the truth. Here's a closer look: 

PACIFIC ISLANDS: The largest cluster of countries without the coronavirus is in the South Pacific. Tonga, Kiribati, Samoa, Micronesia and Tuvalu are among the small island nations yet to report a single case. They haven't been spared from the pandemic's effects, however.

Tonga managed to keep the virus out by stopping cruise ships from docking and closing the airport in March, says Paula Taumoepeau, the president of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He says the government even imposed a lockdown, even though there were no known cases. These days, only people who have first tested negative are allowed to return on occasional repatriation flights. He says he finds it hard to believe the confirmed death toll in the U.S. alone exceeds twice his entire nation's population of just over 100,000.

"I think the government has done a good job keeping COVID away from Tonga, but it has had a big impact on businesses, especially tourism and accommodation. It's very, very bad," Taumoepeau says. "None of the businesses have escaped." 

Indeed, many of the South Pacific islands rely on tourism as a major source of revenue and have seen unemployment spike and their economies struggle since the pandemic began. Much of the South Pacific is relatively poor and has basic health systems that would be ill-equipped to deal with major outbreaks.

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