Evening News in Brief

This May 4, 2020, file photo provided by the University of Maryland School of Medicine, shows the first patient enrolled in Pfizer's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. Pfizer and BioNTech say they've won permission Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, for emergency use of their COVID-19 vaccine in Britain, the world’s first coronavirus shot that’s backed by rigorous science -- and a major step toward eventually ending the pandemic. (Courtesy of University of Maryland School of Medicine via AP, File)

Associated Press

Vaccine rollout, states' plans for vaccine, 100-day mask wearing, Wisconsin high court declines to hear Trump election lawsuit and more

Vaccine rollout could ease crisis, but who gets it first?

Getting a COVID-19 vaccine to the right people could change the course of the pandemic in the United States. But who are the right people?

As the decision looms for President-elect Joe Biden's incoming administration, a new analysis argues for targeting the first vaccines to the same low-income Black, Hispanic and Native American households that have disproportionately suffered from the coronavirus. But no one at the federal level has committed to the idea, which would be a significant shift from the current population-based method adopted by Operation Warp Speed.

"It's not just a math problem. It's a question of implementing a major social justice commitment," said Harald Schmidt, a medical ethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, who compared the strategies with colleagues from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Boston College. The Associated Press conducted an independent analysis of the findings and worked with the team to estimate how many disadvantaged people would benefit.

If the shots get to the right people, Schmidt argues, the benefits could extend to the entire nation: Fewer people would get sick, hospital capacity would improve and more of the economy could reopen. Lives would be saved.

In October, a panel advising the federal government suggested setting aside 10% of the vaccine supply to distribute as an extra boost to the states with greater shares of disadvantaged groups. But the idea from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has been largely ignored.

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States plan for vaccines as daily US virus deaths top 3,100

States drafted plans Thursday for who will go to the front of the line when the first doses of COVID-19 vaccine become available later this month, as U.S. deaths from the outbreak eclipsed 3,100 in a single day, obliterating the record set last spring.

With initial supplies of the vaccine certain to be limited, governors and other state officials are weighing both health and economic concerns in deciding the order in which the shots will be dispensed.

States face a Friday deadline to submit requests for doses of the Pfizer vaccine and specify where they should be shipped, and many appear to be heeding nonbinding guidelines adopted this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to put health care workers and nursing home patients first.

But they're also facing a multitude of decisions about other categories of residents — some specific to their states; some vital to their economies.

Colorado's draft plan, which is being revised, puts ski resort workers who share close quarters in the second phase of vaccine distribution, in recognition of the $6 billion industry's linchpin role in the state's economy.

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Among first acts, Biden to call for 100 days of mask-wearing

WASHINGTON (AP) — Joe Biden said Thursday that he will ask Americans to commit to 100 days of wearing masks as one of his first acts as president, stopping just short of the nationwide mandate he's pushed before to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The move marks a notable shift from President Donald Trump, whose own skepticism of mask-wearing has contributed to a politicization of the issue. That's made many people reticent to embrace a practice that public health experts say is one of the easiest ways to manage the pandemic, which has killed more than 275,000 Americans.

The president-elect has frequently emphasized mask-wearing as a "patriotic duty" and during the campaign floated the idea of instituting a nationwide mask mandate, which he later acknowledged would be beyond the ability of the president to enforce. 

Speaking with CNN's Jake Tapper, Biden said he would make the request of Americans on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20. 

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Wisconsin high court declines to hear Trump election lawsuit

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A divided Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday refused to hear President Donald Trump's lawsuit attempting to overturn his loss to Democrat Joe Biden in the battleground state, sidestepping a decision on the merits of the claims and instead ruling that the case must first wind its way through lower courts.

In another blow to Trump, two dissenting conservative justices questioned whether disqualifying more than 221,000 ballots as Trump wanted would be the proper remedy to the errors he alleged.

The defeat on a 4-3 ruling was the latest in a string of losses for Trump's post-election lawsuits. Judges in multiple battleground states have rejected his claims of fraud or irregularities. 

Trump asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to disqualify more than 221,000 ballots in the state's two biggest Democratic counties, alleging irregularities in the way absentee ballots were administered. His lawsuit echoed claims that were earlier rejected by election officials in those counties during a recount that barely affected Biden's winning margin of about 20,700 votes.

Trump's attorney Jim Troupis said he would immediately file the case in circuit court and expected to be back before the Supreme Court "very soon."

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Trump aide banned from Justice after trying to get case info

WASHINGTON (AP) — The official serving as President Donald Trump's eyes and ears at the Justice Department has been banned from the building after trying to pressure staffers to give up sensitive information about election fraud and other matters she could relay to the White House, three people familiar with the matter tell The Associated Press.

Heidi Stirrup, an ally of top Trump adviser Stephen Miller, was quietly installed at the Justice Department as a White House liaison a few months ago. She was told within the last two weeks to vacate the building after top Justice officials learned of her efforts to collect insider information about ongoing cases and the department's work on election fraud, the people said. 

Stirrup is accused of approaching staffers in the department demanding they give her information about investigations, including election fraud matters, the people said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter.

The effort came as Trump continues to level baseless claims that he won the election and alleges without evidence that massive voting fraud was responsible for his defeat to President-elect Joe Biden.

Stirrup had also extended job offers to political allies for positions at some of the highest levels of the Justice Department without consulting any senior department officials or the White House counsel's office and also attempted to interfere in the hiring process for career staffers, a violation of the government's human resources policies, one of the people said. 

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As some pandemic aid ends, what's next for hurting Americans

Americans who struggled through 2020 could face more hardship in the year ahead as pandemic related payments and protections come to an end.

Expanded unemployment benefits will cease by the end of the year, reducing much-needed income for as many as 12 million Americans. Federal eviction protection will expire as well. And student loan payments, which had been paused since March, are scheduled to resume in January. 

Meanwhile, the pandemic shows no signs of abating and broad distribution of any vaccine is likely months away. Both sides in Congress have shown interest a new relief package, they've been unable to reach an agreement and time is running short. 

Here's what you should know about the changes ahead and how to cope: 

VIRUS TODAY: State action on vaccine, virus relief package

Here's what's happening Thursday with the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.:

THREE THINGS TO KNOW TODAY

— States are crafting plans that decide who should be at the front of the line for a COVID-19 vaccine and where the doses should be shipped once the federal government provides emergency authorization, which could happen as early as next week. State officials are prioritizing groups such as nursing home residents and staff members, front-line health care workers and first responders.

— An analysis argues for targeting the first vaccines to the same low-income Black, Hispanic and Native American households that have disproportionately suffered from the coronavirus. The federal government is taking a different approach, allocating the vaccine to states based on population.

— House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell had a telephone conversation about an end-of-year virus relief package, providing a sign that a stalemate could be broken in gridlocked Washington.

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Wind fans wildfire in California canyons, residents flee

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Powerful gusts pushed flames from a wildfire through Southern California canyons on Thursday, one of several blazes that burned near homes and forced residents to flee amid elevated fire risk for most of the region that prompted utilities to cut off power to hundreds of thousands. 

The biggest blaze began late Wednesday as a house fire in Orange County's Silverado Canyon, where gusts topped 70 mph (113 kph). 

"When crews arrived it was a fully engulfed house and the winds were extremely strong and they pushed flames into the vegetation," said Colleen Windsor, a spokeswoman for the county's Fire Authority.

The fire grew to more than 11 square miles (29 square kilometers) and blanketed a wide area with smoke and ash. 

Crews struggled in steep terrain amid unpredictable Santa Ana winds that sent flames racing across major roads. Two firefighters were hospitalized after being treated on scene for injuries, said Fire Chief Brian Fennessy. He said their condition was not immediately known.

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In some parts of New York, vote count shrouded in secrecy

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Policies favoring secrecy over transparency have meant that New Yorkers will be among the last Americans to learn the final vote tallies in the 2020 election, with results in a few races still unknown one month after Election Day.

Several of the locally run elections boards responsible for processing a record 2 million absentee ballots cast in the state decided not to release any rolling updates on how their count of those mail-in votes was progressing until the very last vote was tallied.

While elections officials in battleground states like Pennsylvania, Arizona and Nevada updated the public daily on how their count of the mail-in vote was going, their counterparts in some parts of New York maintained radio silence, and refused all media requests for information as to how the vote was unfolding. 

"The country was looking down their noses at Pennsylvania, Georgia for taking so long," said Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris. "New York makes them look good. We are the last in the nation in terms of finishing our vote counts and it's an embarrassment that would have been more widely known were we at play in the presidential election."

New York City's Board of Elections kept information about its count of more than 662,000 absentee ballots secret until Tuesday. As of Thursday, Suffolk County, on the eastern end of Long Island, still hadn't given any public updates on its tally of more than 160,000 absentee ballots. 

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Theater uses its creativity to defy pandemic and stage shows

NEW YORK (AP) — There's theater on Broadway. You just have to adjust your sights.

More than a hundred blocks north of Manhattan's shuttered theater district but on that same famed thoroughfare, an actor recently read his lines from a huge stage.

But there was no applause. Instead, all that was heard was a strange command for the theater: "And cut!"

Tony Award-winner Jefferson Mays was performing multiple roles for a high-tech "A Christmas Carol" that was being filmed for streaming this month at the empty 3,000-seat United Palace.

The one-man show is an example of how many who work in theater are increasingly defying COVID-19 by refusing to let it stop their art, often creating new hybrid forms.

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