US virus cases nearly triple in 2 weeks amid misinformation

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — COVID-19 cases nearly tripled in the U.S. over two weeks amid an onslaught of vaccine misinformation that is straining hospitals, exhausting doctors and pushing clergy into the fray.

“Our staff, they are frustrated," said Chad Neilsen, director of infection prevention at UF Health Jacksonville, a Florida hospital that is canceling elective surgeries and procedures after the number of mostly unvaccinated COVID-19 inpatients at its two campuses jumped to 134, up from a low of 16 in mid-May.

“They are tired. 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.”

Across the U.S., the seven-day rolling 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, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Health officials blame the delta variant and slowing vaccination rates. Just 56.2% of Americans have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Louisiana, health officials reported 5,388 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday — the third-highest daily count since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020. Hospitalizations for the disease rose to 844 statewide, up more than 600 since mid-June.

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Tokyo Games boast equal gender participation for first time

Grace Luczak had left competitive rowing and taken a job in the private sector when a move toward gender equity at the Tokyo Games lured her back into a boat.

A women's rowing event was added to create a more inclusive Olympics, which meant four additional seats on the U.S. team and a spot for Luczak.

“It's really hard to make the decision to come back, to plan financially to be out of work for a year,” Luczak said. She thought a second consecutive Games wasn't possible for a veteran until the seats were added.

"There are four more seats. Four. And it's the first gender-equal Olympics. How can you not try?”

Most of the public attention goes to the big sports — gymnastics, swimming, track and field — but away from the spotlight, women from niche sports are being recognized and given an Olympics chance.

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50-year war on drugs imprisoned millions of Black Americans

Landscaping was hardly his lifelong dream.

As a teenager, Alton Lucas believed basketball or music would pluck him out of North Carolina and take him around the world. In the late 1980s, he was the right-hand man to his musical best friend, Youtha Anthony Fowler, who many hip hop and R&B heads know as DJ Nabs.

But rather than jet-setting with Fowler, Lucas discovered drugs and the drug trade at the height of the so-called war on drugs. Addicted to crack cocaine and involved in trafficking the drug, he faced decades-long imprisonment at a time when the drug abuse and violence plaguing major cities and working class Black communities were not seen as the public health issue that opioids are today.

By chance, Lucas received a rare bit of mercy. He got the kind of help that many Black and Latino Americans struggling through the crack epidemic did not: treatment, early release and what many would consider a fresh start.

“I started the landscaping company, to be honest with you, because nobody would hire me because I have a felony,” said Lucas. His Sunflower Landscaping got a boost in 2019 with the help of Inmates to Entrepreneurs, a national nonprofit assisting people with criminal backgrounds by providing practical entrepreneurship education.

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Infrastructure bill fails first vote; Senate to try again

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republicans rejected an effort Wednesday to begin debate on the big infrastructure deal that a bipartisan group of senators brokered with President Joe Biden. But supporters in both parties remained hopeful of a better chance soon.

Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York had scheduled the procedural vote that he described as a step to ”get the ball rolling” as talks progress. But Republicans mounted a filibuster, saying the bipartisan group needed more time to wrap up the deal and review the details. They sought a delay until Monday.

“We have made significant progress and are close to a final agreement," the informal group of 22 senators, Republicans and Democrats, said in a joint statement after the vote.

They said they were working to "get this critical legislation right” and were optimistic they could finish up “in the coming days.”

The nearly $1 trillion measure over five years includes about $579 billion in new spending on roads, broadband and other public works projects — a first phase of Biden’s infrastructure agenda, to be followed by a much broader $3.5 trillion second measure from Democrats next month.

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Wildfire smoke clouds sky, hurts air quality on East Coast

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Smoke and ash from massive wildfires in the American West clouded the sky and led to air quality alerts Wednesday on parts of the East Coast as the effects of the blazes were felt 2,500 miles (4,023 kilometers) away.

Strong winds blew smoke east from California, Oregon, Montana and other states all the way to other side of the continent. Haze hung over New York City, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The nation’s largest wildfire, Oregon’s Bootleg Fire, grew to 616 square miles (1,595 square kilometers) — just over half the size of Rhode Island. Fires also burned on both sides of California’s Sierra Nevada and in Washington state and other areas of the West.

The smoke blowing to the East Coast was reminiscent of last fall, when large blazes burning in Oregon’s worst wildfire season in recent memory choked the local sky with pea-soup smoke but also affected air quality several thousand miles away. So far this year, Seattle and Portland have largely been spared the foul air.

People in parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and elsewhere with heart disease, asthma and other health issues were told to avoid the outdoors. Air quality alerts for parts of the region were in place through Thursday.

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Unvaccinated staff eyed in rising nursing home cases, deaths

WASHINGTON (AP) — Lagging vaccination rates among nursing home staff are being linked to a national increase in COVID-19 infections and deaths at senior facilities, and are at the center of a federal investigation in a hard-hit Colorado location where disease detectives found many workers were not inoculated.

The investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of facilities in the Grand Junction, Colorado, area raises concerns among public health doctors that successes in protecting vulnerable elders with vaccines could be in peril as the more aggressive delta variant spreads across the country.

Nationally about 59% of nursing home staff have gotten their shots, about the same as the overall percentage of fully vaccinated adults — but significantly lower than the roughly 80% of residents who are vaccinated, according to Medicare. And some states have much lower vaccination rates of around 40%.

Some policy experts are urging the government to close the gap by requiring nursing home staffers get shots, a mandate the Biden administration has been reluctant to issue. Nursing home operators fear such a move could backfire, prompting many staffers with vaccine qualms to simply quit their jobs.

To be sure, the vast majority of fully vaccinated people who become infected with the delta variant suffer only mild symptoms.

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War's trauma apparent in portraits of Gazan children

Suzy Ishkontana, 7, clings to her new toys and clothes, but mostly to her dad.

For hours, they were separated under the rubble of their family’s home. Now she cannot bear to be apart.

More than two months have passed since rescue workers pulled the 7-year-old from the ruins, her hair matted and dusty, her face bruised and swollen. The sole survivors of the family, she and her father heard the fading cries of her siblings buried nearby.

Suzy’s mother, her two brothers and two sisters -- ages 9 to 2 -- died in the May 16 Israeli attack on the densely packed al-Wahda Street in Gaza City. Israeli authorities say the bombs’ target was Hamas tunnels; 42 people died, including 16 women and 10 children.

Altogether, Gaza’s Health Ministry says 66 children were killed in the fourth war on the Gaza Strip -- most from precision-guided Israeli bombs, though in at least one incident Israel alleges a family was killed by Hamas rockets that fell short of their target.

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Pelosi bars Trump allies from Jan. 6 probe; GOP vows boycott

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday rejected two Republicans tapped by House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy to sit on a committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, a decision the Republican denounced as “an egregious abuse of power.”

 

McCarthy said the GOP won't participate in the investigation if Democrats won't accept the members he appointed.

 

Pelosi cited the “integrity” of the probe in refusing to accept the appointments of Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, picked by McCarthy to be the top Republican on the panel, or Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan. The two men are outspoken allies of former President Donald Trump, whose supporters laid siege to the Capitol that day and interrupted the certification of President Joe Biden's win. Both of them voted to overturn the election results in the hours after the siege.

 

Democrats have said the investigation will go on whether the Republicans participate or not, as Pelosi has already appointed eight of the 13 members — including Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a Trump critic — and that gives them a bipartisan quorum to proceed, according to committee rules.

 

Pelosi said she had spoken with McCarthy and told him that she would reject the two names.

 

 

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