Briefs: The patient-in-chief goes for a ride

In this image from video, President Donald Trump drives past supporters gathered outside Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020. Trump was admitted to the hospital after contracting COVID-19. (AP Photo/Phillip Crowther)

Associated Press

Headlines for October 5th

The Associated Press

BETHESDA, Md — Infected and contagious, President Donald Trump briefly ventured out in a motorcade on Sunday to salute cheering supporters, a move that disregarded precautions meant to contain the deadly virus that has forced his hospitalization and killed more than 209,000 Americans.

Hours earlier, Trump's medical team reported that his blood oxygen level dropped suddenly twice in recent days and that they gave him a steroid typically only recommended for the very sick. Still, the doctors said Trump's health is improving and that he could be discharged as early as Monday.

With one month until Election Day, Trump was eager to project strength despite his illness. The still-infectious president surprised supporters who had gathered outside Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, driving by in a black SUV with the windows rolled up. Secret Service agents inside the vehicle could be seen in masks and other protective gear.

The move capped a weekend of contradictions that fueled confusion about Trump's health, which has imperiled the leadership of the U.S. government and upended the final stages of the presidential campaign. While Trump's physician offered a rosy prognosis on his condition, his briefings lacked basic information, including the findings of lung scans, or were quickly muddled by more serious assessments of the president's health by other officials. 

In a short video released by the White House on Sunday, Trump insisted he understood the gravity of the moment. But his actions moments later, by leaving the hospital and sitting inside the SUV with others, suggested otherwise.

Virus spreads on panel handling Supreme Court nomination

WASHINGTON — Two Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have tested positive for the coronavirus, raising questions about the timing of Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett and whether additional senators may have been exposed. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared the confirmation process was going "full steam ahead."

North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis and Utah Sen. Mike Lee both said Friday that they had tested positive for the virus. Both had attended a ceremony for Barrett at the White House on Sept. 25 with President Donald Trump, who announced Friday that he had tested positive and was later hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. 

Lee, who did not wear a mask at the White House event, said he had "symptoms consistent with longtime allergies." Tillis, who did wear a mask during the public portion of the event, said he had "mild symptoms." Both said they would quarantine for 10 days — ending just before Barrett's confirmation hearings begin on Oct. 12. 

The positive tests come as Senate Republicans are pushing to quickly confirm Barrett in the few weeks they have before the Nov. 3 election. There is little cushion in the schedule set out by Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham and McConnell, who want to put a third Trump nominee on the court immediately in case they lose any of their power in the election. 

Democrats, many of whom have been critical of Barrett, seized on the virus announcements to call for a delay in the hearings. 

"We now have two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who have tested positive for COVID, and there may be more," tweeted Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer. "I wish my colleagues well. It is irresponsible and dangerous to move forward with a hearing, and there is absolutely no good reason to do so." 

Several other members of the Judiciary panel attended the White House ceremony, including Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn and Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo. Blackburn said she tested negative after the event. Crapo said he "recently" had a negative test and a spokeswoman said he would be getting another one as soon as it could be arranged. A spokeswoman for Hawley said he was being tested Saturday, and the senator tweeted later that his coronavirus test came back negative. 

Graham also suggested the possibility of remote hearings, saying on Twitter that "any senator who wants to participate virtually will be allowed to do so." In a statement Saturday, Graham said there would be "no change" in the hearings even if Senate floor votes were delayed. It is not unusual for committees to meet when there is no action on the floor. 

Senators cannot vote virtually, however, so Republicans would need a full slate of committee members to approve the nomination shortly after the hearings and all of their senators on the floor for a final confirmation vote, which they hope will happen the last week of October. 

Trump's doctor's comments on symptoms, care spark confusion

For the second day in a row, the Navy commander in charge of President Donald Trump's care left the world wondering: Just how sick is the president?

Dr. Sean Conley is trained in emergency medicine, not infectious disease, but he has a long list of specialists helping determine Trump's treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Conley said Sunday that Trump is doing well enough that he might be sent back to the White House in another day -- even as he announced the president was given a steroid drug that's only recommended for the very sick. 

Worse, steroids like dexamethasone tamp down important immune cells, raising concern about whether the treatment choice might hamper the ability of the president's body to fight the virus.

Then there's the question of public trust: Conley acknowledged that that he had tried to present a rosy description of the president's condition in his first briefing of the weekend "and in doing so, came off like we're trying to hide something, which wasn't necessarily true."

Trump seizes on small election issues to spread concern

WASHINGTON — Nine ballots discarded in Pennsylvania. A mail carrier who altered a handful of affidavit ballot applications. People being sent double ballots. 

In the run up to Election Day, President Donald Trump is seizing on small, potentially routine voting issues to suggest the election is rigged. But there is no evidence there is any widespread voter fraud as the president has suggested. 

Nevertheless, his comments have been amplified by his campaign, supporters and allies, including Attorney General William Barr, adding heft to the claims.

"Mail ballots, they cheat," Trump said last month. During the presidential debate last week, he insisted the election had already been "rigged," adding: "As far as the ballots are concerned, it's a disaster." 

But voter fraud has proved exceedingly rare. And even a panel commissioned by the Trump administration to explore the issue uncovered no evidence to support claims of widespread voter fraud.

3 win Nobel medicine award for hepatitis C virus discovery

STOCKHOLM— Americans Harvey J. Alter and Charles M. Rice, and British scientist Michael Houghton were awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology on Monday for the discovery of the hepatitis C virus.

Announcing the prize in Stockholm on Monday, the Nobel Committee noted that the trio's work helped explain a major source of blood-borne hepatitis that couldn't be explained by the hepatitis A and B viruses. Their work make possible blood tests and new medicines that have saved millions of lives, the committee said.

"Thanks to their discovery, highly sensitive blood tests for the virus are now available and these have essentially eliminated post-transfusion hepatitis in many parts of the world, greatly improving global health," the committee said.

"Their discovery also allowed the rapid development of antiviral drugs directed at hepatitis C," it added. "F or the first time in history, the disease can now be cured, raising hopes of eradicating hepatitis C virus from the world population."

The World Health Organization estimates there are over 70 million cases of hepatitis worldwide and 400,000 deaths each year. The disease is chronic and a major cause of liver inflammation and cancer.

Record-breaking California wildfires surpass 4 million acres

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — In a year that has already brought apocalyptic skies and smothering smoke to the West Coast, California set a grim new record Sunday when officials announced that the wildfires of 2020 have now scorched a record 4 million acres — in a fire season that is far from over.

The unprecedented figure — an area larger than the state of Connecticut — is more than double the previous record for the most land burned in a single year in California. 

"The 4 million mark is unfathomable. It boggles the mind, and it takes your breath away," said Scott McLean, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire. "And that number will grow."

So far, in this year's historic fire season, more than 8,200 California wildfires have killed 31 people and scorched "well over 4 million acres in California" or 6,250 square miles, Cal Fire said Sunday in a statement. The blazes have destroyed more than 8,400 buildings. 

The astonishing figure is more than double the 2018 record of 1.67 million burned acres (2,609 square miles) in California. All large fire years since Cal Fire started recording figures in 1933 have remained well below the 4 million mark — "until now," the agency said Sunday in a Tweet.

Facing a conservative turn, Supreme Court opens new term

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court opens a new term with Republicans on the cusp of realizing a dream 50 years in the making, a solid conservative majority that might roll back abortion rights, expand gun rights and shrink the power of government.

Eight justices are getting back to work Monday at a most unusual, politically fraught moment in American history. They're still mourning the death of their colleague Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the leader of the court's liberal wing. They're working in the midst of a pandemic that has forced the court to drastically change the way it conducts business. And the presidential election is less than a month away.

President Donald Trump's nominee for Ginsburg's seat, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, could be on the bench in time for one of the term's biggest cases, post-Election Day arguments in the latest Republican bid to strike down the Affordable Care Act, which provides more than 20 million people with health insurance.

Barrett's confirmation would cement a 6-3 conservative majority and diminish Chief Justice John Roberts' ability to moderate the court's decisions. That's because conservatives would have five votes even in cases where Roberts might side with the remaining three liberal justices.

"I would guess that on the whole we're going to see a considerable and perhaps quite rapid shift to the right," said Orin Kerr, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

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