AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EST

States submit vaccine orders as coronavirus death toll grows

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — States faced a deadline on Friday to place orders for the coronavirus vaccine as many reported record infections, hospitalizations and deaths, while hospitals were pushed to the breaking point — with the worst feared yet to come.

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The number of Americans hospitalized with COVID-19 hit an all-time high in the U.S. on Thursday at 100,667, according to the COVID Tracking Project. That figure has more than doubled over the past month, while new daily cases are averaging 210,000 and deaths are averaging 1,800 per day, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Arizona reported more than 5,000 new COVID-19 cases for the second straight day Friday as the number of available intensive care unit beds fell below 10% statewide. Hospital officials have said the outbreak will exceed hospital capacity this month.

The state expects to get enough doses of new coronavirus vaccines by the end of the year to inoculate more than 383,000 health care workers and long-term care facility residents, the state’s health director said Friday. Next in line are teachers and other essential workers, followed by older Arizonans or people otherwise at higher risk of serious cases of COVID-19.

Nevada reported 48 new deaths from the coronavirus Thursday, marking the deadliest day since the onset of the pandemic as cases and deaths continued to rise more than a week after new restrictions were implemented on businesses. One hospital was so full it was treating patients in an auxiliary unit in the parking garage.

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Biden predicts 'bleak future' if Congress doesn't act on aid

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — President-elect Joe Biden is predicting a "bleak future" if Congress doesn't take speedy action on a coronavirus aid bill amid a nationwide spike in the virus that's hampering the country's economic recovery.

He also expressed concern that so far he’s seen "no detailed plan" from the Trump administration on how to distribute an approved coronavirus vaccine, but said he and his team are working on their own proposal to fill in the gaps.

Biden delivered remarks Friday afternoon reacting to November's national jobs report, which showed a sharp decrease in U.S. hiring even as the country is about 10 million jobs below pre-pandemic levels. The Democrat called the report "dire" and said it "shows the economy is stalling," but he said quick action from Congress can halt some of the damage.

"If we act now — I mean now — we can begin to regain momentum and start to build back a better future," he said. "There’s no time to lose."

Surging cases of the virus have led states and municipalities to roll back their reopening plans. And more restrictions may be on the way as lower temperatures and holiday travel lead to records for confirmed cases and deaths. Biden has said that while he doesn't support a nationwide lockdown, he plans to ask Americans to commit to 100 days of mask-wearing to help combat the virus as one of his first acts as president.

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EXPLAINER: 5 key takeaways from the November jobs report

WASHINGTON (AP) — Evidence was abundant in the November jobs report that the U.S. economy's tentative recovery is sputtering as coronavirus cases accelerate and federal aid runs out.

Hiring slowed sharply. Hundreds of thousands of people gave up looking for work. The proportion of the unemployed who have been jobless for at least six months rose.

All told, the Labor Department said Friday, employers added 245,000 jobs in November — the fewest since April, the fifth straight monthly slowdown and well short of the gain economists had been expecting.

Back in March and April when the virus slammed the economy, the United States lost a staggering 22 million jobs. It's been clawing them back ever since — but at an ever-diminishing rate: 4.8 million added jobs in June, 1.8 million in July, 1.5 million in August, 711,000 in September, 610,000 in October and 245,000 in November.

Total it all up and the American economy is still 9.8 million short of the jobs it had in February.

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House votes to decriminalize marijuana at federal level

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Democratic-controlled House on Friday approved a bill to decriminalize and tax marijuana at the federal level, reversing what supporters call a failed policy of criminalizing pot use and taking steps to address racial disparities in enforcement of federal drug laws.

Opponents, mostly Republicans, called the bill a hollow political gesture and mocked Democrats for bringing it up at a time when thousands of Americans are dying from the coronavirus pandemic.

"With all the challenges America has right now, (Republicans) think COVID relief should be on the floor, but instead, the Democrats put cats and cannabis" on the House floor, said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. "They’re picking weed over the workers. They’re picking marijuana over (providing) the much-needed money we need to go forward? to address the pandemic.

McCarthy’s comment about cats referred to a separate bill approved by the House to ban private ownership of big cats such as lions and tigers, a measure boosted by the Netflix series "Tiger King.? That bill, approved by the House on Thursday, would allow most private zoos to keep their tigers and other species but would prohibit most public contact with the animals.

Democrats said they can work on COVID-19 relief and marijuana reform at the same time and noted that the House passed a major pandemic relief bill in May that has languished in the Senate.

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COVID-19 relief: What's on the table as Congress seeks deal

WASHINGTON (AP) — After numerous fits and starts and months of inaction, optimism is finally building in Washington for a COVID-19 aid bill that would offer relief for businesses, the unemployed, schools, and health care providers, among others struggling as caseloads are spiking.

Under pressure from moderates in both parties, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have initiated late-game negotiations in hopes of combining a relief package of, in all likelihood, less than $1 trillion with a separate $1.4 trillion governmentwide omnibus spending bill. The duo were the architects of the $1.8 trillion CARES Act, the landmark relief bill passed in March.

Success is not certain and considerable differences remain over items such as aid to states and local governments, liability protections for businesses and universities reopening during the pandemic, and whether to issue a second round of $1,200 direct payments to most Americans.

But renewing soon-to-expire jobless benefits, providing a second round of "paycheque protection" subsidies, and funding to distribute vaccines are sure bets to be included in any deal.

Here are the top issues for the end-stage COVID-19 relief talks.

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Judge: Trump administration must take new DACA applications

NEW YORK (AP) — The Trump administration must accept new applications for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protects some young immigrants from deportation, a federal judge ruled Friday, in vacating a memo from the acting Homeland Security secretary that had suspended it.

U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis said the government had to post a public notice within three days — including on its website and the websites of all other relevant government agencies — that new DACA applications were being accepted.

The ruling follows one from November where Garaufis said Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf was unlawfully in his position.

On Friday, the judge said that invalidated the memo Wolf had issued in July suspending DACA for new applications and reducing how long renewals were valid from two years down to one year.

Wolf had issued his memo after the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in June that President Donald Trump failed to follow rule-making procedures when he tried to end the program.

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Biden officially secures enough electors to become president

California certified its presidential election Friday and appointed 55 electors pledged to vote for Democrat Joe Biden, officially handing him the Electoral College majority needed to win the White House.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla's formal approval of Biden's win in the state brought his tally of pledged electors so far to 279, according to a tally by The Associated Press. That’s just over the 270 threshold for victory.

These steps in the election are often ignored formalities. But the hidden mechanics of electing a U.S. president have drawn new scrutiny this year as President Donald Trump continues to deny Biden's victory and pursues increasingly specious legal strategies aimed at overturning the results before they are finalized.

Although it’s been apparent for weeks that Biden won the presidential election, his accrual of more than 270 electors is the first step toward the White House, said Edward B. Foley, a law professor at Ohio State University.

"It is a legal milestone and the first milestone that has that status," Foley said. "Everything prior to that was premised on what we call projections."

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Pressure mounts on Biden to make diverse picks for top posts

WASHINGTON (AP) — President-elect Joe Biden is facing increasing pressure to expand the racial and ideological diversity in his choices for Cabinet and other top jobs. A month and a half before he takes office, he's drawing rebukes from activists who fear he'll fall short on promises to build an administration that looks like the country it governs.

Of the nine major picks Biden has made so far, only two — Secretary of State choice Antony Blinken and chief of staff Ron Klain — are white men. That's a historic low that so far outpaces the historically diverse Cabinet that Barack Obama assembled in 2009.

But civil rights leaders are grumbling that none of the "big four" Cabinet positions – the secretaries of state, defence and treasury and the attorney general – has yet gone to a person of colour. And Biden is declining to commit to doing so.

"I promise you, it'll be the single most diverse Cabinet based on race, colour, based on gender that's ever existed in the United States of America," the president-elect said instead during a news conference Friday.

That came after Congressional Hispanic Democrats expressed dismay during a call with Klain and other Biden advisers on Thursday about the treatment of New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who reportedly removed her name from consideration to be the new administration's interior secretary. They urged that she remain a candidate to head the more prominent Department of Health and Human Services, but it's not clear she will.

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Niece says 'cruel and traitorous' Trump belongs in prison

President Donald Trump’s niece says her uncle is "criminal, cruel and traitorous" and belongs in prison after he leaves the White House.

Mary Trump, a psychologist, author and outspoken critic of her estranged relative, rejects the notion that putting a former president on trial would deepen the nation’s political divisions.

"It’s quite frankly insulting to be told time after time that the American people can handle it and that we just need to move on," Mary Trump told The Associated Press in an interview this week.

"If anybody deserves to be prosecuted and tried, it’s Donald," she added. "(Otherwise) we just leave ourselves open to somebody who, believe it or not, is even worse than he is."

Asked about her comments, a spokesperson for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign emailed a one-sentence response: "Did she mention she has a book to sell?"

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Scene from 'Elf' comes to life as Buddy meets dad in Boston

BOSTON (AP) — Just like a real-life movie, the story of Buddy the Elf meeting his biological father has come to life, just in time for the holidays.

Doug Henning wore a costume like the one actor Will Ferrell’s character wore in "Elf" while meeting his father face to face for the first time last week at Boston's Logan Airport. He even broke into the same awkward song from the 2003 movie — sample lyrics: "I’m here, with my dad. And we never met, and he wants me to sing him a song!"

"When he came out of the airport, he probably thought I was a lunatic," Henning, 43, of Eliot, Maine, told Boston.com. "It was a really good way to break the ice."

His biological father didn't get the joke because he hadn't seen the movie, which is about a man raised at the North Pole who meets his dad for the first time. But that didn't stop him from giving his son a big hug.

Henning said he was raised by "amazing" adoptive parents but he was excited when cousins he met through ancestry.com helped to put him in touch with his biological father. Just like the movie, the father didn't know about his son.

© Virden Empire-Advance

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