Briefs: Virus deaths hit new record levels, while holiday season makes it likely to get worse

Associated Press

The Associated Press

Deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. have soared to more than 2,200 a day on average, matching the frightening peak reached last April, and cases per day have eclipsed 200,000 on average for the first time on record, with the crisis all but certain to get worse because of the fallout from Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's.

Virtually every state is reporting surges just as a vaccine appears days away from getting the go-ahead in the U.S.

"What we do now literally will be a matter of life and death for many of our citizens," Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday as he extended restrictions on businesses and social gatherings, including a ban on indoor dining and drinking at restaurants and bars.

While the impending arrival of the vaccine is reason for hope, he said, "at the moment, we have to face reality, and the reality is that we are suffering a very dire situation with the pandemic."

Elsewhere around the country, North Carolina's governor imposed a 10 p.m. curfew, and authorities in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley sent a mass cellphone text alert Tuesday telling millions about the rapid spread of the virus and urging them to abide by the state's stay-at-home orders.

Biden calls for action on virus as he introduces health team

WILMINGTON, Del. — President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday called for urgent action on the coronavirus pandemic as he introduced a health care team that will be tested at every turn while striving to restore the nation to normalcy.

Biden laid out three COVID-19 priorities for his first 100 days in office: a call for all Americans to voluntarily mask up during those 100 days, a commitment to administer 100 million vaccines and a pledge to try to reopen a majority of the nation's schools.

"I know that out of our collective pain, we will find our collective purpose: to control the pandemic, to save lives, and to heal as a nation," Biden said.

The president-elect also said he would use the power of the federal government to require people to wear masks in federal buildings and when traveling from state to state on planes, trains and buses. 

Mostly that would codify policies already in place. But Biden said he would urge governors and mayors to impose similar requirements.

Topping the roster of Biden's picks was health secretary nominee Xavier Becerra, a Latino politician who rose from humble beginnings to serve in Congress and as California's attorney general. Others include a businessman renowned for his crisis management skills and a quartet of medical doctors, among them Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious-disease specialist.

The usual feel-good affirmations that accompany such unveilings were overshadowed by urgency, with new cases of COVID-19 averaging more than 200,000 a day and deaths averaging above 2,200 daily as the nation struggles with uncontrolled spread.

Vaccines are expected soon. Scientific advisers to the government meet Thursday to make a recommendation on the first one, a Pfizer shot already being administered in the United Kingdom. Indeed, President Donald Trump held his own event Tuesday, to take credit for his administration's work to speed vaccine development.

But having an approved vaccine is one thing, and getting it into the arms of 330 million Americans something else altogether. Biden will be judged on how well his administration carries out the gargantuan task.

Alongside Fauci, the other medical doctors selected include infectious-disease specialist Rochelle Walensky to run the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Vivek Murthy as surgeon general and Yale epidemiologist Marcella Nunez-Smith to head a working group to ensure fair and equitable distribution of vaccines and treatments.

Participating by video, Fauci called Biden's 100-day plan "bold but doable, and essential to help the public avoid unnecessary risks and help us save lives."

Ever the straight talker, he admonished: "The road ahead will not be easy. We have got a lot of hard and demanding work ahead."

President-elect? GOP may wait for January to say Biden won

WASHINGTON — Americans waiting for Republicans in Congress to acknowledge Joe Biden as the president-elect may have to keep waiting until January as GOP leaders stick with President Donald Trump's litany of legal challenges and unproven claims of fraud.

Tuesday's deadline for states to certify their elections — once viewed as a pivot point for Republicans to mark Biden's win — came and went without much comment. Next week's Dec. 14 Electoral College deadline may produce just a few more congratulatory GOP calls to Biden.

Increasingly, GOP lawmakers say the Jan. 6 vote in Congress to accept the Electoral College outcome may be when the presidential winner becomes official. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has signaled Jan. 20 as the certain date when the country is "going to have the swearing-in of the next president." 

The result is a risky standoff like none other in U.S. history. The refusal to agree upon the facts of the election threatens to undermine voter confidence, chisel away at the legitimacy of Biden's presidency and restack civic norms in still-unknowable ways. 

Yet some GOP officials see the dragged-out process as their best shot at answering the fiery questions, calls and complaints of their constituents who voted for Trump and refuse to believe he legitimately lost the race to Biden. 

Former teachers union chief vying for education secretary

The former president of the nation's largest teachers union has received endorsements from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and dozens of national Hispanic organizations as she pursues the top job at the U.S. Education Department in the Biden administration.

Lily Eskelsen García, who was president of the National Education Association until September, has been calling members of Congress to build support for her candidacy. She has been courting Democrats and some Republicans, including Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, who is chairman of the Senate education committee and a former education secretary.

Her supporters have ramped up lobbying efforts on her behalf, urging President-elect Joe Biden to nominate her and, in doing so, appoint the first Latina to lead the Education Department.

Supporters of Eskelsen García say her nomination would fulfill Biden's promise to install an education chief with experience working in public education. Nominating the former president of a teachers union would win Biden favor with public school advocates, but it could risk alienating education reform advocates who see teachers unions as an obstacle to change.

High court rejects GOP bid to halt Biden's Pennsylvania win

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected Republicans' last-gasp bid to reverse Pennsylvania's certification of President-elect Joe Biden's victory in the electoral battleground.

The court without comment refused to call into question the certification process in Pennsylvania. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf already has certified Biden's victory over President Donald Trump and the state's 20 electors are to meet on Dec. 14 to cast their votes for Biden.

In any case, Biden won 306 electoral votes, so even if Pennsylvania's results had been in doubt, he still would have more than the 270 electoral votes needed to become president.

The court's decision not to intervene came in a lawsuit led by Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly of northeastern Pennsylvania and GOP congressional candidate and Trump favorite Sean Parnell, who lost to Pittsburgh-area U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, a Democrat.

"Even Trump appointees & Republicans saw this for what it was: a charade," Lamb said on Twitter.

UK, EU head for supper showdown over Brexit trade deal

BRUSSELS — Leaders of Britain and the European Union will meet Wednesday for a dinner that could pave the way to a post-Brexit trade deal — or tip the two sides toward a chaotic economic rupture at the end of the month.

Early-morning comments from both sides insisting that it was for the other to compromise only highlighted the difficult task ahead for U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Within just a few hours they would need to unstick negotiations that are deadlocked on key aspects of the future relationship.

British officials said they hoped political pressure from the top could break the logjam, but room was limited. 

"Unless we see some movement on the EU side, then it will be very difficult," U.K. Cabinet minister Michael Gove told Times Radio.

The bloc insists the U.K. needs to move to secure agreement.

Minneapolis eyes deep police cuts after Floyd's death

MINNEAPOLIS — Minneapolis City Council members who tried unsuccessfully to dismantle the police department in response to George Floyd's death are voting Wednesday on whether to shrink it, a move that could imperil the entire city budget because the mayor is threatening to use his veto to protect public safety amid soaring crime rates.

The plan, which supporters call "Safety for All," is the latest version of the "defund the police" movement that Minneapolis and other cities have considered since Floyd's May 25 death ignited mass demonstrations against police brutality and a nationwide reckoning with racism.

Eleven of the 13 council members have already cast committee votes in favor of the largest parts of the plan, signaling that passage is likely. It would cut nearly $8 million from Mayor Jacob Frey's $179 million policing budget and redirect it to mental health teams, violence prevention programs and other initiatives.

"I am actively considering a veto due to the massive, permanent cut to officer capacity," Frey said in a statement Monday night. Reducing the authorized size of the force by 138 officers before enacting alternatives is "irresponsible," he said.

Cities around the U.S., including Los Angeles, New York City and Portland, Oregon, are shifting funds from police departments to social services programs in an effort to provide new solutions for problems traditionally handled by police. Such cuts have led some departments to lay off officers, cancel recruiting classes or retreat from hiring goals.

Soccer players lay down 'marker' in fight against racism

Players have taken a knee, unfurled slogans and demanded tougher action only to find soccer — their working environment — remains infected with racism.

The tipping point might just have come, with elite players in Paris taking the extraordinary step of refusing to continue playing.

At the end of a year of striking gestures against racial injustice and discrimination, the Champions League produced one of soccer's most powerful shows of solidarity against racism on Tuesday when players from Paris Saint-Germain and Istanbul Basaksehir left the field and didn't return.

"The walk off by both Basaksehir and PSG together lays down a marker in Europe," Piara Powar, executive director of the anti-discrimination Fare network, told The Associated Press. "Many players are fed up with half measures to tackle racism and are more prepared than ever to exercise their right to stop a match."

The flashpoint came 14 minutes into the game when the fourth official — Sebastian Coltescu of Romania — was accused of using a racial term to identify Basaksehir assistant coach Pierre Webo before sending him off for his conduct on the sidelines. Webo is Black.


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