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‘I’m sorry, but it’s too late’

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An Alabama physician glumly says she is making “a lot of progress” in encouraging people to vaccinate – as she struggles to keep them alive.

Dr. Brytney Cobia, a hospitalist at Grandview Medical Center in Birmingham, wrote in a recent Facebook post she is treating a lot of young, otherwise healthy people for serious coronavirus infections.

“One of the last things they do before they’re intubated is beg me for the vaccine,” she wrote. “I hold their hand and tell them that I’m sorry, but it’s too late.”

In her post, Cobia wrote that when a patient dies, she hugs their family members and urges them to get vaccinated. She said they cry and tell her they thought the pandemic was a “hoax,” or “political,” or targeting some other age group or skin color.

“They wish they could go back. But they can’t,” Cobia wrote. “So they thank me and they go get the vaccine. And I go back to my office, write their death note, and say a small prayer that this loss will save more lives.”

Cobia was pregnant when she battled COVID-19 last summer, and she had a low-grade fever, sore throat, fatigue, congestion and sneezing. She spent a weekend with other family members – and eight of them ultimately tested positive for the virus, including her husband. Most suffered more severe symptoms than she did, she said.

“The fear that I feel for myself and my unborn baby is bad enough, but the guilt that I feel for exposing people that trusted me is what I want to focus on,” she wrote in a Facebook post at the time. “Don’t be me. Don’t wear a mask everywhere else in the world EXCEPT around your core.”

Also in the news:

►North Carolina children would need parental permission before they could receive COVID-19 vaccines authorized by federal regulators for emergency use in legislation that advanced through a Senate committee Wednesday.

►Dr. Anthony Fauci recommended parents follow the American Academy of Pediatrics guidance calling for everyone older than 2 to wear masks at school regardless of vaccination status. Fauci told “CBS This Morning” the CDC is reviewing its guidance calling for only unvaccinated children and adults to wear masks.

►Public health researchers called the rise in cases and hospitalizations in Arkansas a “raging forest fire,” and the state’s top health official warned he expects significant outbreaks in schools. Only 35% of Arkansans are fully vaccinated.

►Las Vegas employees are now required to wear masks indoors, but the mandate will not be extended to tourists strolling the strip or gathering in casinos, Clark County commissioners decided. The new mandate will remain in place until at least Aug. 17.

📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has had more than 34.1 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 609,600 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 191.7 million cases and 4.1 million deaths. Nearly 161.9 million Americans — 48.8% of the population — have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘What we’re reading: Amid fears over COVID cases in Congress, the White House and public health experts urge vaccinations.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s Coronavirus Watch newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

US to keep Mexican, Canadian borders closed through Aug. 21

The U.S. will continue to restrict non-essential travelers from Mexico and Canada via land and ferry at least through Aug. 21, according to documents to be published in the Federal Register. The previous border restrictions were set to end Thursday. Travelers from Canada and Mexico can still come into the U.S. by air with proof of a negative COVID test or recovery from COVID. The borders were first closed to leisure travelers in March 2020 due to the pandemic. The restrictions have been extended on a monthly basis ever since.

Canada announced Monday it would reopen its borders to fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents Aug. 9, with plans to allow fully vaccinated travelers from any country on Sept. 7.

The U.S. Travel Association estimates that each month the border is closed costs $1.5 billion. Canadian officials say Canada had about 22 million foreign visitors in 2019 – about 15 million of them from the U.S.

– Bailey Schulz and Morgan Hines

Frustration over spike in infections that is ‘largely preventable’

The latest national spike in coronavirus cases — new infections have nearly tripled in the U.S. over the last two weeks — is frustrating health care workers still reeling from the brutal winter surge.

“They are thinking this is déjà vu all over again, and there is some anger because we know that this is a largely preventable situation, and people are not taking advantage of the vaccine,” said Chad Neilsen, director of infection prevention at UF Health Jacksonville in Florida, where the number of COVID-19 patients at its two campuses skyrocketed from 16 in mid-May to 134.

On Wednesday, the seven-day average of daily vaccine doses administered nationally dipped below 300,000 for the first time since late December, when vaccines were scarce.

Not coincidentally, as one-third of the country’s eligible population remains unvaccinated and the delta variant continues to spread, the seven-day average for daily new cases rose over the past two weeks to more than 37,000 on Tuesday, up from less than 13,700 on July 6.

“It is like seeing the car wreck before it happens,” said Dr. James Williams, a clinical associate professor of emergency medicine at Texas Tech who’s seeing younger, overwhelmingly unvaccinated COVID-19 patients. “None of us want to go through this again.”

Johnson & Johnson vaccine may be less effective against delta variant

The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine may not be as effective against the delta variant as those with mRNA technology, according to a new study. The study, posted by bioRxiv, says that the 13 million people who received the one-shot J&J vaccine may need to receive a second dose, ideally of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

Although the study has not been peer-reviewed nor published, the findings align with studies of the AstraZeneca vaccine that concludes one dose of the vaccine is 33% effective against symptomatic disease of the delta variant and 60% effective against the variant after the second dose. The results contradict studies published by Johnson & Johnson that say a single dose of its vaccine is effective against the variant.

“The message that we wanted to give was not that people shouldn’t get the J&J vaccine, but we hope that in the future, it will be boosted with either another dose of J&J or a boost with Pfizer or Moderna,” Nathaniel Landau, a virologist at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine who led the study, told the New York Times.

Get hip to your HIPAA rights: Questions about vaccination status are OK

No matter what Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene says, she can be asked about her COVID vaccination status and businesses can require proof of inoculation.

The Georgia Republican, who was suspended from Twitter for 12 hours this week for spreading COVID misinformation on the online platform, invoked her “HIPAA rights” Tuesday in declining to tell reporters whether she has been vaccinated.

But the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 protects patients from having their private health information shared by health care professionals without permission – and experts say it has no bearing on who can ask or answer questions about health status outside a health care setting.

— Brett Molina and Kelly Tyko

Lambda variant arrives in Texas, may not be as transmissible as delta

A Houston-area hospital reported its first case of the lambda variant of the coronavirus, but public health experts say the variant is unlikely to take hold in the U.S. in the same way the delta variant has.

Dr. S. Wesley Long, Houston Methodist’s medical director of diagnostic biology, said the variant does not appear to be as easily transmissible as the delta variant. Lambda first spread in Peru; in the U.S., there have been fewer than 700 sequenced cases identified. While it does have some mutations similar to other variants that have raised concern, it isn’t spreading globally in a way that should raise the same alarm.

“I know there’s great interest in lambda, but I think people really need to be focused on delta,” Long said. “Most importantly, regardless of the variant, our best defense against all these variants is vaccination.”

Ryan W. Miller

US life expectancy sees largest drop since WWII

The United States saw the largest one-year drop in life expectancy since World War II during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Hispanic and Black populations saw the largest declines, according to government data released Wednesday.

Life expectancy at birth declined by 1.5 years in 2020 to 77.3 – the lowest level since 2003, the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics found. Between 1942 and 1943, during the Second World War, life expectancy in the U.S. declined 2.9 years.

“The numbers are devastating,” said Chantel Martin, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. “The declines that we see, particularly among Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black population, are massive.”

Health experts said the life expectancy data is further proof of the disproportionate effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color.

COVID-19 deaths contributed to about 74% of the decline in life expectancy among the general U.S. population, according to the data. Another 11% of the decline can be attributed to increases in deaths from accidents or unintentional injuries, including drug overdose deaths. Read more here.

– Grace Hauck

FEMA funeral assistance funds not easy to claim

Americans who lost loved ones to COVID-19 can apply for up to $9,000 in funeral assistance, but some are finding it hard to get the money. More than $710 million has so far been distributed to 107,000 people.

But some applicants said they struggled to prove to FEMA that their relative had died from COVID if another cause of death, such as underlying conditions like heart disease or diabetes, was listed on the death certificate – especially during the early days of the pandemic when testing was limited. FEMA says it is streamlining the paperwork, but Kalpana Kpoto says she submitted paperwork three times on the FEMA website after her mother died last year. Her documents were finally approved, but she has seen no money.

“I’m still waiting,” Kpoto said, “It’s a process.”

Desireé Williams

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: New infections nearly triple in two weeks: COVID updates



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Where have all the workers gone?

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The boss of Youngs Transportation says a lack of HGV drivers is made worse by a shortage to driver training test slots.

It’s not often that economies face the disruption we’ve endured in the last year, and none of us should be surprised that it’s taking the labour market a while to settle down.

But some are wondering whether Covid is triggering an historic rebalancing of power between the bosses and the workers.

No-one in their right mind would compare Covid to the Black Death, which wiped out enough of the workforce in the 14th Century for peasant labour to be in short supply, with the result that farm wages rose by several tens of percent over the following years. Covid has certainly not disrupted employment in anything so direct a fashion.

But pandemics can accelerate social and economic change. In particular, in the last year, Covid has prompted many foreign workers in the UK to return home to sit things out. We can’t be sure all will choose to come back.

Anna Janczuk, the founder of a large Polish community organisation in Ealing, west London, told me that most of her close friends had moved back to Poland: “What they value is the close contact with their family. They re-evaluated their choices and priorities.”

Add Brexit into the equation, and the old assumption that companies can just hire extra people from Eastern Europe to fill any gaps can no longer be taken for granted.

Jobs in surburbia

Anecdotally, Covid has also led to more than a few people to think about what matters to them and to retire early or to leave employment to start a business of their own. Economic “inactivity” has risen during the pandemic, as data from the Office for National Statistics highlights.

These are all developments that make life harder for employers, who would thus expect to pay more to find the workers they need – not just for the pandemic, nor for the pingdemic, but for ever after.

Minouche Shafik

Economist Minouche Shafik says furlough kept people in existing jobs, stalling moves to the jobs of the future.

James Reed, chairman of Reed, one of the UK’s biggest recruitment sites, told Radio 4’s PM programme that pay for jobs in hospitality and catering had gone up 18% on the jobs advertised on their sites, and 14% for all jobs paying £25,000 or less.

No wonder people have suggested that in a post-Brexit, post-Covid world, worker power is back.

However, there is another theory as to what has been going on: that we are simply in a temporary post-pandemic rut, and normal service will resume before long. On this account, we haven’t yet recovered from the spanner that Covid has thrown in the everyday workings of our labour market.

The argument goes like this: the pandemic has pulled the rug from certain kinds of activity, while pumping up demand elsewhere. It has switched demand for retail jobs to online shopping and delivery for example; it’s taken jobs from city centre sandwich shops and put them in to the suburbs where you find people working from home.

According to Baroness Minouche Shafik, former deputy governor of the Bank of England, this was evidence of a K-shaped recovery.

“Some sectors are growing fast and need to employ people – other sectors are in decline and are probably not going to rehire the people that they might have shed during the pandemic”, she said. “Furlough kept people in their current jobs as opposed to enabling people to move to where the jobs would be in future.”

Historic pivot?

While unusually large changes have occurred in working patterns, it’s easy to believe that furlough has put the labour market in suspended animation for much of the last year. The normal cogs that turn dying jobs into new ones have been thrown into a sticky syrup that has slowed everything down.

In an ordinary year, you might expect about one in ten workers to change jobs, with much more moving for the under-30s.

Who knows how many people who might have moved, felt it was better in 2020 to sit tight in a job – even on only 80% of normal pay in the Job Retention Scheme – than risking it and moving on elsewhere?

Mleczko Polish supermarket, South Ealing

London’s big Polish community spurred the opening food shops – but many people returned home during the pandemic.

If this account is right, it implies there will be shortages in the growing sectors, who can’t get the staff, while workers bide their time before moving on.

Right now, I think it does make sense to assume this is what is happening: Unless there is a large permanent change to migration, we are simply in the pains of a pandemic exit right now, rather than an historic pivot towards labour.

The example of Covid disruption that struck me most, was on visiting haulage firm Youngs Transportation and Logistics, at Purfleet, Essex, where I spoke to director Rob Hollyman about the shortage of HGV drivers.

He told me there have long been shortages of drivers. But right now, while it takes as little as two weeks to train, there is a Covid-caused backlog of test slots. So even if someone wanted to get the licence, they’d have to wait.

We might still find there is a permanent fall-out from the pandemic – there may even be a change in the political climate around pay and conditions.

But all we know now is that it is a bumpy old time out there while workers and employers find their feet.



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Arizona GOP’s ballot count ends, troubles persist

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PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona Republicans’ partisan review of the 2020 election results got off to a rocky start when their contractors broke rules for counting ballots and election experts warned the work was dangerous for democracy.

When the auditors stopped the counting and returned the ballots this week, it hadn’t gotten better. In the last week alone, the only audit leader with substantial election experience was locked out of the building, went on the radio to say he was quitting, then reversed course hours later. The review’s Twitter accounts were suspended for breaking the rules. A conservative Republican senator withdrew her support, calling the process “botched.” And the lead auditor confirmed what was long suspected: that his work was almost entirely paid for by supporters of Donald Trump who were active in the former president’s movement to spread false narratives of fraud.

All this came nearly 100 days into a process that was supposed to take “about 60 days,” according to the Senate Republicans who launched it. And it’s not over yet. Contractors are now producing a report on the findings that could take weeks or more to write.

The turmoil casts even more doubt on the conclusions of what backers describe as a “forensic audit” but what experts and critics say is a deeply flawed, partisan process.

“Not even a shred of being salvaged at this point,” said Sen. Paul Boyer, the first Republican state senator to publicly come out against the audit in May. “They’ve botched it at so many points along the way that it’s irrecoverable.”

Boyer’s opposition became less lonely last weekend when another Republican, Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, one of the Legislature’s strongest advocates for stricter voting laws, agreed that “the Trump audit” was “botched.” Along with all 14 Democrats, a majority of the Senate, which commissioned the audit, is now against it.

“I wanted to review our election processes and see what, if anything, could be improved,” Ugenti-Rita wrote on Twitter. “Sadly, it’s now become clear that the audit has been botched.”

The review includes a hand count of ballots, the analysis of voter data and a review of ballot-counting machines. It’s being led by Cyber Ninjas, a software security consultant with no election experience before Trump began trying to overturn the 2020 results. Its owner, Doug Logan, has supported the movement to spread false conspiracies about the vote count in battleground states.

On Wednesday night, Logan ended months of silence about who was paying him when he said a whopping $5.7 million had been contributed by political groups run by prominent Trump supporters including Michael Flynn, Sidney Powell, Patrick Byrne and correspondents from One America News Network. The figure dwarfs the $150,000 to be paid by the Senate.

Logan has said he was approaching the review objectively and his own views are irrelevant. Still, Logan appeared in “The Deep Rig,” a conspiratorial film claiming the election was stolen from Trump. The filmmakers were given access to restricted areas of the ballot-counting operation, including the secure area where ballots were stored.

The review’s integrity took another hit when former Secretary of State Ken Bennett, a Republican whose experience in elections lent credibility to the operation, found himself locked out of the building where the audit was underway because he’d given outside election experts data without authorization, he said.

Bennett told a conservative talk-radio host that he was quitting because he was expected to rubber-stamp the findings. Later the same day, he said he was not quitting after all. Senate President Karen Fann, a Republican, agreed Bennett “will have full access to all audit work spaces, procedures, and data.”

When the Cyber Ninjas’ hand count of ballots didn’t match the county’s official tally, a third count was ordered, this time using paper-counting machines to tally the number of ballots but not the winning candidates. The findings have not been released.

Meanwhile, the timeline for a final report, most recently expected in late July, has continued slipping.

Supporters of the effort blame stonewalling by Maricopa County. The county’s Republican leaders refuse to cooperate, saying “competent auditors” have everything they would need to fully review the vote count.

“It is unfortunate that the county has been recalcitrant,” Republican Sen. Warren Petersen, chair of the Judiciary Committee that issued subpoenas, said recently. “That doesn’t breed trust. It slows things down. It makes things difficult.”

Twitter this week suspended audit-related accounts, including the Arizona review’s official account and several others seeking similar reviews in other states. A Twitter spokesperson said the accounts were suspended “for violating the Twitter rules on platform manipulation and spam.”

The U.S. Justice Department has weighed in, warning any state that is looking to conduct an Arizona-style review that they will need to follow federal law that requires officials to retain and preserve election records, including ballot and ballot materials, for 22 months.

Earlier, Justice Department officials had alerted Arizona officials of the federal requirement. At this point, the Justice Department has not taken any public action beyond the letter. A Justice Department spokesperson this week declined to comment further.

“It’s being purported as though this effort is going to build confidence in our elections, when we know that that is not the motivation behind any of this,” said Tammy Patrick, a senior adviser at the Democracy Fund and a former Maricopa County elections official. “Because if that was the case, then they would tell the truth.”

The operation got off to a rocky start on day one. A journalist pointed out that workers were using blue pens in violation of a fundamental rule of election administration. Blue and black pens are strictly prohibited near ballots because those are the colors voters are told to use, creating the potential for workers to manipulate the count.

Days later, a former Republican state lawmaker who lost his reelection bid — and who would have been a Trump elector to the Electoral College had Trump won — was among the workers counting ballots. The auditors chased conspiracy theories, for a time shining ultraviolet lights to look for watermarks on ballots and taking high-resolution photographs to look for evidence, such as bamboo fibers in the paper, that fraudulent ballots from Asia were slipped into the stack.

“The audit process and its eventual results may be utilized to undermine popular confidence in our electoral system nationwide, thereby enabling the disenfranchisement of millions of Americans,” said Ralph Neas, a civil rights attorney and advocate who wrote a report on the audit’s flaws for The Century Foundation. “These are existential threats to our democracy and they have to be stopped in their tracks.”

___

Associated Press writer Christina A. Cassidy in Atlanta contributed to this report.



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At Tokyo Games beach volleyball, anything but business as usual

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TOKYO — “Love Rollercoaster” was blaring from the speakers at Shiokaze Park, but for American beach volleyball players Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil, it was another ride on the rollercoaster of weirdness as they took on a tough Brazilian team on a stiflingly hot Saturday morning.

Team USA’s youngest-ever beach volleyball team was able to dispatch Ana Patricia Silva Ramos and Rebecca Cavalcanti Barbossa Silva in three sets to win their third straight victory in the Tokyo Olympics and stay in medal contention.

But Tokyo is under a state of emergency because of a rise in Covid-19 cases, so there was only a smattering of applause when it was over. Most of the 12,000 seats were empty.

“Yes,” they answered in unison when asked if they find it jarring to compete to an audience of empty seats.

“We’ve gotten kind of used to it, but it’s still weird,” Claes, her skin glazed with sweat and sand, said after the match. “You can’t feed off their energy, so we have to feed off our energy.”

What’s worse, Sponsil said, is they can’t really cut loose and celebrate. They’re only allowed to spend two hours a day together because Claes, 25, is in quarantine until Sunday.

Image: Rebecca Silva, Ana Patricia Silva Ramos, Sarah Sponcil, Kelly Claes (Petros Giannakouris / AP)

Why? Because on the flight over to Japan Claes sat near a passenger who tested positive for Covid.

“We’re used to literally being joined at the hip, so that’s hard,” said Sponsil, 24.

Getting into the venue requires passing through a gantlet of security.

Reporters arriving to cover the competition had their temperatures checked not once but twice and had to empty their pockets as they passed through security. Those who brought drinks had to open the bottles and take a sip.

“You must drink,” a smiling but insistent security guard said.

And they had to take the empty bottles with them when they left, because for security reasons, the garbage and recycling cans were sealed with plastic wrap to prevent anybody from using them.

Inside the stadium, a very enthusiastic deejay was blasting a mix of disco, dance music and rock that would have revved up a crowd if there was one.

Some members of sand maintenance team, rakes in hand, were swaying and clapping along to the music. But not the small army of ushers and security guards who outnumbered the athletes and reporters — they were vigorously policing all the empty seats.

When a reporter dared leave his assigned seat for an empty seat in the shade, an usher quickly materialized and shooed him back.

Before Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared the state of emergency, fans were given a list of things they would not be allowed to do. One of them was cheering for the athletes because of fears that it could spread Covid.

That rule appeared to be in place on Saturday as the handful of Brazilians and Americans in the stands, mostly people traveling with the Olympic teams, largely refrained from outbursts, tthough, from time to time, there was some enthusiastic clapping by the Brazilians.

Image: Kelly Claes and USA's Sarah Sponcil (Loic Venance / AFP - Getty Images)

Image: Kelly Claes and USA’s Sarah Sponcil (Loic Venance / AFP – Getty Images)

Because of the high temperatures that have blanketed Tokyo through much of the Games, maintenance crews have been wetting down the sand at the beach volleyball venue after the competitors complained it was burning their feet.

But neither the Brazilians nor the Americans appeared to be bothered by the steamy conditions as they fought hard for every point.

“Woo,” a smiling Sponsil said after the match.

Claes wiped her brow when she emerged from the venue a few seconds later.

“We knew it was going to be a battle,” she said. “And it was.”



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Finger pointing starts after House fails to extend federal eviction ban

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Three U.S. agencies have extended federal foreclosure-related eviction moratoria in an effort to protect renters after the House failed to pass legislation that would extend the ban.

Driving the news: House Democratic leaders did not secure enough votes to pass the legislation on Friday, adjourning the chamber for a six-week recess the day before the ban is set to expire. As many as 15 million people could face evictions, per estimates from the Aspen Institute.

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State of play: Democrats were split on how far ahead the ban should be extended, with progressive members accusing more moderate colleagues of prioritizing vacation over evictees.

  • Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), who has been evicted three times in the past, sent a letter to her colleagues on Friday begging for more empathy.

  • “I know firsthand the trauma and devastation that comes with the violence of being evicted, and we have a responsibility to do everything we can to prevent this trauma from being inflicted on our neighbors and communities,” Bush wrote.

  • Some lawmakers also criticized the Biden administration for waiting until the last minute to request action.

  • President Biden caught them by surprise on Thursday when he urged Congress to extend the ban, according to the Hill.

  • He said his administration would no longer have the authority to unilaterally make the extension after the Supreme Court ruled that it can’t be extended beyond July 31 without congressional approval.

  • “That left House Democratic leaders scrambling to round up enough votes in their own caucus, given the widespread opposition from Republicans to extending the moratorium again,” the Hill writes.

  • Worth noting: Even if House Democrats managed to pass the bill, Senate Republicans would’ve likely killed it.

What they’re saying: “Really, we only learned about this yesterday. Not really enough time to socialize it within our caucus to build … the consensus necessary,” Pelosi told reporters on Friday. “We’ve had beautiful conversations with our members … when it comes, though, to the technicalities of legislation, we just need more time.”

  • “There were obviously some concerns about landlords getting payments, as well as the renters,” said Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

What’s happening now: After the House adjourned, the White House attempted to mitigate the situation.

  • The Agriculture Department, Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs and the Federal Housing Finance Agency announced extensions on their own moratoria.

  • The agencies urged owners and operators of rental housing to access Emergency Rental Assistance resources to avoid evicting a tenant for failure to pay rent.

  • “Helping our fellow Americans, including our Veterans, keep their homes will go a long way in making sure that they have one less thing to worry about as they rebuild their lives coming out of this crisis and try to keep their loved ones safe,” the agencies said in a statement.

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Baltimore Aunt Drove Car for a Year With Kids Stuffed in Trunk: Cops

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Baltimore County Police Department

For about a year, a Baltimore woman allegedly drove a car with a gruesome secret: the dead body of her 7-year-old niece stashed in a suitcase in the trunk. Then in May she allegedly cracked the trunk’s lid to dump the body of her 5-year-old nephew beside it.

It wasn’t until months later that police discovered the decomposing bodies of siblings Joshlyn Marie James Johnson and Larry Darnell O’Neal.

Baltimore County Police said in a statement Thursday night that they were grieving over the “unspeakable deaths” after discovering the kids’ bodies when they pulled 33-year-old Nicole Johnson over in a traffic stop late Wednesday.

Police say the brother and sister, weighing just 21 and 18 pounds respectively, were likely malnourished before their death, WBAL reported. Their fragile bodies were brought to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to determine a cause of death. Johnson was charged Friday in connection with neglect and abuse that caused the deaths.

Man Charged in Death of ‘Loving’ Toddler Poisoned With Cereal at Sleepover

“This truly was a devastating incident,” Chief Melissa Hyatt said on Friday afternoon, adding that it shocked the community and had a significant impact on the county’s patrol officers, forensic technicians, and detectives.

In charging documents obtained by local outlets, police allege Johnson told detectives that her sister, Dachelle Johnson, had asked her to look after the kids in 2019 when she was unable to care for them.

The documents allege Johnson said she had grown angry with Joshlyn more than a year ago, hitting her niece several times, resulting in the girl hitting her head. Johnson allegedly told police she put her niece’s body in a suitcase in her car in May 2020, where it has remained ever since.

She allegedly told police that Larry’s body was put in a bag alongside Joshlyn’s a year later, without providing details about how or when he died.

Johnson was charged with multiple counts of neglect and child abuse charges, as well as failing to report the deaths to authorities and unauthorized disposal of their bodies.

Summer Wells’ Mom Says She Fears Her Girl Was ‘Lured Away’

According to a probable cause statement obtained by the Baltimore Sun, Johnson was initially issued a citation to appear in court after cops noticed unauthorized tags and registration on her car, and found she had been driving without a license.

The car would be towed, an officer allegedly told Johnson.

It was then, the Sun reported, that Johnson told the officer: “It don’t matter, I won’t be here in five days.”

“Y’all going to see me on the news making my big debut,” she allegedly added.

The officer smelled the decomposing bodies while preparing the car to be towed, according to police documents. Johnson attempted to flee the scene when the officer opened the trunk and uncovered the first body in a suitcase before discovering a second in a plastic bag, the documents said. Johnson was then taken into custody.

One neighbor, Dani Medley, told WBAL that she hadn’t sensed anything was off.

“They always seemed happy. When the young lady dropped them off, they never seemed like something was wrong. They always seemed like happy kids with a lot of energy,” Medley said. “For someone who has been taking care of children for 20 some years, I can’t fathom, I couldn’t fathom.”

Police documents say Dachelle had repeatedly tried to reach her sister after leaving her son and daughter in their aunt’s care in 2019, but had been unsuccessful in finding them until she was told of their deaths, the Sun reported.

Baltimore police are still combing through the details of the case to determine what caused the kids to end up in their aunt’s trunk.

“Due to the nature of this case, it will take time to determine the exact circumstances that led to the children’s deaths,” Baltimore law enforcement said on Friday.

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Four vaccinated adults, two unvaccinated children test positive for COVID on Royal Caribbean ship

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Six passengers sailing on Royal Caribbean International’s Adventure of the Seas, which departed from Nassau Saturday, have tested positive for COVID-19, Lyan Sierra-Caro, spokesperson for Royal Caribbean, confirmed to USA TODAY Friday.

The tests came back as part of routine, end-of-cruise testing, which is offered as a courtesy by the cruise line since most passengers need to show proof of a negative test in order to return home. Travelers flying to the U.S. from international destinations are required to show proof of a negative COVID test or proof they recovered from the virus within the past three months.

“These guests were quarantined and then retested with a PCR test to confirm their diagnosis,” Sierra-Caro said. PCR and antigen tests were offered to passengers, depending on their destination. The tests that came back positive were rapid tests, and those passengers were retested Thursday or Friday with a PCR test, which is more reliable.

Not all passengers on board Adventure of the Seas have been notified of the COVID-19 cases on board. Close contacts, have been alerted and have been given a PCR test. Friday, the rest of the ship will be alerted through an announcement from the captain, according to Sierra-Caro.

The ship is currently docked in Freeport, Grand Bahama Island, where many passengers have disembarked for activities such as shore excursions. Typically, according to Sierra-Caro, an announcement like this will be made once passengers return to the ship before departing. The ship is scheduled to disembark in Nassau on Saturday, wrapping up a seven-night journey with stops at Royal Caribbean’s private island, Perfect Day at CocoCay, Cozumel, Mexico and Grand Bahama Island.

“Four of the guests, who are not traveling together, are vaccinated, three are asymptomatic and one has mild symptoms,” Royal Caribbean said in a statement provided by Sierra-Caro. “Two of the guests, who are in the same traveling party, are unvaccinated minors and asymptomatic.”

To sail on Adventure of the Seas, passengers 16 and older are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and to receive a negative test before boarding. Children under 16 must test negative before boarding, too. All crew on board are fully vaccinated.

The passengers who tested positive and their close contacts were quarantined immediately upon receiving test results. The six passengers and their traveling parties will be flown home from Freeport, where the ship is docked, on Friday.

Sierra-Caro noted the passengers will be medically evacuated and taken door to door from ship to home via private transport to a private plane and then home. The transportation will come at no cost to the passengers.

The cruise line instructs COVID-positive passengers to quarantine for 14 days at home and to speak with their doctors.

For others on board the ship, the cruise will remain normal with no quarantining requirement. The ship is carrying 1,182 passengers and 900 crew members on board, including this reporter.

“Our security team has already done all of that and reached out to any close contacts who met that criteria,” Sierra-Caro said. All close contacts tested negative with PCR test results delivered Friday morning.

Royal Caribbean has not yet confirmed whether the cases are of the highly transmissible delta variant but is investigating further, according to Sierra-Caro.

COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective, but they’re not 100% effective. That means a small percentage of people who are fully vaccinated will still get COVID-19 if exposed to the virus that causes it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, vaccinated people who have breakthrough infections are much less likely to get severely sick or die.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Royal Caribbean cruise: 6 passengers sent home after COVID positive



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DeSantis signs onto Supreme Court brief supporting Mississippi effort to toss out Roe v. Wade

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis joined ten other Republican governors Thursday in asking the Supreme Court to essentially let states ban abortion and regulate it in ways not currently allowed, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Why it matters: With the court’s newly-installed 6-3 conservative majority, this is the best chance Republicans have had in decades to take on abortion rights.

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What happened: The governors asked the court to reconsider its past decisions in 1973’s Roe v. Wade and 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

  • Those cases established and reaffirmed the national constitutional right to an abortion, though Casey also made it easier for states to regulate abortion.

  • ​​The brief DeSantis signed onto was filed in support of a 2018 Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks. Mississippi wants the court to overturn Roe and Casey.

  • Another brief filed by 228 congressional Republicans asked the same, writing that the rulings represent “a vise grip on abortion politics.”

The big picture: More abortion restrictions have been enacted across the U.S. this year than in any other, according to a new Guttmacher Institute report.

Local angle: Manatee County’s commissioner recently proposed a bill that would limit or ban abortions there, even though Manatee has no abortion facilities.

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