Briefs: Virus metric to watch is hospital stays

Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services for Health Adm. Brett Giroir speaks at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on a "Review of Coronavirus Response Efforts" on Capitol Hill in Washington. A day after White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said “we’re not going to control the pandemic,” a top Trump administration health official says Americans have already proven they can do that through basic safeguards shown to work. “I think we can control the pandemic,” Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Brett Giroir said Monday on a call with reporters. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

Associated Press

Nation is at “another critical point” in the response to the pandemic

The Associated Press

A member of the White House coronavirus task force says the increase in U.S. cases isn’t just because of more testing.

Admiral Brett Giroir says the proof of the increase is the uptick in hospitalizations and deaths nationwide from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

President Donald Trump has been saying the U.S. is “rounding the turn” on the pandemic. The president also contends the news media are spending too much time focusing on the health crisis.

Giroir, who was put in charge of coronavirus testing by Trump, says the nation is at “another critical point” in the response to the pandemic.

He is urging people to keep wearing masks, wash their hands and practice social distancing. Giroir says a safe and effective vaccine is “around the corner.”Anxiety 2020: Voters worry about safety at the polls

Tensions rising at many polling sites

WASHINGTON — Gary Kauffman says he does not scare easily. So when men waving President Donald Trump flags drive by his house in downtown Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, he stands on his front steps and waves a banner for Democrats Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. 

"Sometimes I yell at them. They yell back at me," says Kauffman, 54. 

Still, Kauffman is keeping a closer eye on who they are and what they're carrying as Election Day approaches. Tension has been rising in his town, known best as hallowed ground of the Civil War's bloodiest battle. Recently, it's become a hot spot of angry confrontations between Trump supporters and liberal protesters. Kauffman has seen some of the Trump supporters carrying weapons. 

"If there's guns, I'm a bit more cautious," he said on Monday. 

Americans aren't accustomed to worrying about violence or safety ahead of an election. It's a luxury afforded by years of largely peaceful voting, a recent history of fairly orderly displays of democracy. But after months filled with disease, disruption and unrest, Americans are worried that Election Day could become a flashpoint.

Trump to appeal to Nevada voters from neighboring Arizona

LAS VEGAS — President Donald Trump will make a crunch-time appeal to voters in Nevada. But he'll do so from Arizona.

The Republican president is under pressure Wednesday to prevent a repeat of a September rally in Nevada that attracted thousands of people: The airport that hosted that event was fined more than $5,500 for violating crowd restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

Rather than curb the crowds as virus cases spike across the U.S., Trump is simply shifting his event across the banks of the Colorado River to Bullhead City, Arizona. The move is the latest example of Trump's efforts to downplay the virus and condemn Democratic leaders in states such as Nevada who have imposed limits on gatherings to combat the worst public health crisis in more than a century.

That was a message Trump emphasized on Tuesday as he campaigned in Michigan and Wisconsin, critical battlegrounds with Democratic governors who have set restrictions to address the pandemic.

"Speaking of lockdowns, let's get your governor to open it up," Trump said in West Salem, Wisconsin.

'We need you': GOP hunts for new voters in Trump territory

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa.  — President Donald Trump's campaign has a bold theory for how he will win reelection: It can tap a universe of millions of supporters who did not vote for him in 2016 but will do so this time.

Supposedly, these voters are overlooked by polls that show Trump consistently trailing Democrat Joe Biden. They are mostly the white working class from factory towns, farms and mining communities that Trump has elevated to near-mythic status as the "forgotten Americans."

They are disaffected and disconnected from conventional politics. Yet they flock to the Republican president's rallies, plaster their yards with signs and have been filling up voter registration rolls, the campaign insists.

In few places will this strategy be tested as in Pennsylvania, a critical state that Trump carried by only 44,292 votes out of 6.1 million cast in 2016. A Democratic surge of votes in cities and suburbs could quickly erase that narrow lead. To hold onto Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes, the president needs to prove that a hidden groundswell of supporters exists — and will vote. 

But the math behind the theory is tight. Trump's plan requires blowout victories and historic turnout in conservative strongholds across the state, places where he outperformed traditional Republicans four years ago and he knows must do even better. His mission is made clear by his campaign stops in Pennsylvania this week — a tour through GOP areas like Latrobe, Lititz and Martinsburg, 

Divided Belgium turns into Europe's worst virus hot spot

BUIZINGEN, Belgium — Small, yet so divided, Belgium has been hit hard again by the pandemic, and now presents some of the most worrying statistics in a continent reeling under a coronavirus resurgence. 

If ever there was a common enemy for the rival Dutch- and French-speaking citizens and regions to fight, this would surely be it. But even now cooperation goes against the grain in Belgium, to the extent that the country's Roman Catholics bishops issued a call for all, in the name of the Lord, to show some unity.

"We can win the battle against the coronavirus only if we do it together," the bishops said in a joint letter ahead of Sunday's All Saints Day, highlighting the different rules imposed by the country's national and three regional governments, who are responsible for an area 300 kilometers (185 miles) at its widest reach. 

This week, news struck that the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control had recorded Belgium — shoehorned in between Germany, France and the Netherlands — as having the highest 14-day cumulative number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 citizens, just surpassing the Czech Republic. 

At 1,390.9 per 100,000 people, it far outstrips even hotbeds like France or Spain. Nearly 11,000 people have died so far, and experts say all such confirmed numbers undercount the true toll of the pandemic.

Zeta re-strengthens to a hurricane, takes aim at Gulf Coast

NEW ORLEANS — Zeta re-strengthened into a hurricane early Wednesday as Louisiana braced for the 27th named storm of a historically busy Atlantic hurricane season. 

Landfall is expected south of New Orleans with life-threatening storm surge and strong winds expected along portions of the northern Gulf Coast beginning around midday.

Zeta raked across the Yucatan Peninsula Tuesday, striking as a hurricane, before weakening to a tropical storm. 

Hurricane warnings stretched from Morgan City, Louisiana, along the Mississippi coast to the Alabama state line. The tropical storm warning along the coast of the Florida panhandle has been extended eastward to the Walton/Bay County Line. Early Wednesday, the storm had sustained winds of 85 mph (136 kph) and was centered 320 miles (514 kilometers) south-southwest of the Mississippi River's mouth.

The center of Zeta will approach the northern Gulf coast Wednesday and make landfall in southeastern Louisiana in the afternoon, according the National Hurricane Center. Zeta will move close to the Mississippi coast Wednesday evening, and move across the southeastern and eastern United States on Thursday.

Philadelphia victim's family sought ambulance, not police

PHILADELPHIA — The family of a Black man killed by Philadelphia police officers in a shooting caught on video had called for an ambulance to get him help with a mental health crisis, not for police intervention, their lawyer said.

Police said Walter Wallace Jr., 27, was wielding a knife and ignored orders to drop the weapon before officers fired shots Monday afternoon. But his parents said Tuesday night that officers knew their son was in a mental health crisis because they had been to the family's house three times on Monday. 

Cathy Wallace, his mother, said one of the times, "they stood there and laughed at us."

The Wallace family's attorney, Shaka Johnson, said the man's wife, Dominique Wallace, is pregnant and is scheduled to have labor induced Wednesday. Johnson said Wallace had nine children — two briefly spoke at a news conference late Tuesday, along with Walter Wallace's mother and father.

"When you come to a scene where somebody is in a mental crisis, and the only tool you have to deal with it is a gun ... where are the proper tools for the job?" Johnson said, arguing that Philadelphia police officers are not properly trained to handle mental health crises. Johnson said Wallace's brother had called 911 to request medical assistance and ambulance.

Satellite photos show construction at Iran nuclear site

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran has begun construction at its Natanz nuclear facility, satellite images released Wednesday show, just as the U.N. nuclear agency acknowledged Tehran is building an underground advanced centrifuge assembly plant after its last one exploded in a reported sabotage attack last summer.

The construction comes as the U.S. nears Election Day in a campaign pitting President Donald Trump, whose maximum pressure campaign against Iran has led Tehran to abandon all limits on its atomic program, and Joe Biden, who has expressed a willingness to return to the accord. The outcome of the vote likely will decide which approach America takes. Heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S. nearly ignited a war at the start of the year. 

Since August, Iran has built a new or regraded road to the south of Natanz toward what analysts believe is a former firing range for security forces at the enrichment facility, images from San Francisco-based Planet Labs show. A satellite image Monday shows the site cleared away with what appears to be construction equipment there. 

Analysts from the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies say they believe the site is undergoing excavation. 

"That road also goes into the mountains so it may be the fact that they're digging some kind of structure that's going to be out in front and that there's going to be a tunnel in the mountains," said Jeffrey Lewis, an expert at the institute who studies Iran's nuclear program. "Or maybe that they're just going to bury it there."

Israel looks to far-right figure to head Holocaust memorial

JERUSALEM — Israel plans to nominate a far-right former general and Cabinet minister who once called for the expulsion of Palestinians from the West Bank to head the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, officials said Tuesday.

Effie Eitam, a religious nationalist with a history of harsh rhetoric toward the Palestinians and Israel's Arab minority, is also a staunch advocate of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, which are widely seen as a violation of international law and an obstacle to peace.

Groups representing Holocaust survivors have expressed concern his appointment could tarnish one of the world's leading institutions for Holocaust remembrance and open it up to criticism from the Palestinian-led boycott movement as well as those who question or deny the Nazi genocide.

Higher Education Minister Zeev Elkin, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party, selected Eitam for the post, Israel's Haaretz daily reported. An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the appointment, which has not been made public, said Netanyahu supports his candidacy. A spokesman for Elkin did not respond to requests for comment.

In an interview, Eitam said Netanyahu offered him the job two months ago but said he has heard nothing since then. He indicated he would be interested in the post if the appointment becomes official and said he was unaware of any controversy surrounding his candidacy. A parliamentary committee would have to give final approval.

Fitting finale: Dodgers win title, Turner tests positive

ARLINGTON, Texas  — No large dogpile, no champagne and a mask on nearly every face — the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrated their first World Series title since 1988 in a manner no one could have imagined prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

They started the party without Justin Turner, too, after their red-headed star received word of a positive COVID-19 test in the middle of their clinching victory.

Turner was removed from Los Angeles' 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 6 on Tuesday night after registering Major League Baseball's first positive test in 59 days. He wasn't on the field initially as the Dodgers enjoyed the spoils of a title earned during a most unusual season.

He returned to the diamond about an hour after the game, hugging longtime teammate Clayton Kershaw and sitting front-and-center for a team photo next to manager Dave Roberts with his mask pulled down under his bushy beard. 

"Thanks to everyone reaching out!" Turner said on Twitter. "I feel great, no symptoms at all. Just experienced every emotion you can possibly imagine. Can't believe I couldn't be out there to celebrate with my guys! So proud of this team & unbelievably happy for the City of LA."

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