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AP News in Brief at 12:03 a.m. EDT

Last Updated Jul 22, 2021 at 12:11 am EDT

Biden says getting vaccinated ‘gigantically important’

CINCINNATI, Ohio (AP) — President Joe Biden expressed pointed frustration Wednesday over the slowing COVID-19 vaccination rate in the U.S. and pleaded that it’s “gigantically important” for Americans to step up and get inoculated against the virus as it surges once again.

Biden, speaking at a televised town hall in Cincinnati, said the public health crisis has turned largely into a plight of the unvaccinated as the spread of the delta variant has led to a surge in infections around the country.

“We have a pandemic for those who haven’t gotten the vaccination — it’s that basic, that simple,” he said on the CNN town hall.

The president also expressed optimism that children under 12 will be approved for vaccination in the coming months. But he displayed exasperation that so many eligible Americans are still reluctant to get a shot.

“If you’re vaccinated, you’re not going to be hospitalized, you’re not going to be in the IC unit, and you’re not going to die,” Biden said at the forum at Mount St. Joseph University. “So it’s gigantically important that … we all act like Americans who care about our fellow Americans.”

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China says ‘shocked’ by WHO plan for COVID origins study

BEIJING (AP) — A senior Chinese health official said Thursday he was shocked by the World Health Organization’s plan for the second phase of a COVID-19 origins study.

National Health Commission Vice Minister Zeng Yixin dismissed the lab leak theory as a rumor running counter to common sense.

The head of the WHO acknowledged last week that it was premature to rule out a potential link between the pandemic and a leak of the coronavirus from a Chinese lab.

Zeng said that the lab in the city of Wuhan has no virus that can directly infect humans. He said that China has made repeated clarifications and does not accept the WHO plan.

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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. New Orleans leaders urged people to resume wearing masks indoors.

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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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Experts: Spend opioid settlement funds on fighting opioids

As a $26 billion settlement over the toll of opioids looms, some public health experts are citing the 1998 agreement with tobacco companies as a cautionary tale of runaway government spending and missed opportunities for saving more lives.

Mere fractions of the $200 billion-plus tobacco settlement have gone toward preventing smoking and helping people quit in many states. Instead, much of the money has helped to balance state budgets, lay fiber-optic cable and repair roads.

And while the settlement was a success in many ways — smoking rates have dropped significantly — cigarettes are still blamed for more than 480,000 American deaths a year.

“We saw a lot of those dollars being spent in ways that didn’t help the population that had been harmed by tobacco,” said Bradley D. Stein, director of the RAND Corporation’s Opioid Policy Center. “And I think it’s critical that the opioid settlement dollars are spent wisely.”

Lawyers for states and local governments and the companies laid out key details of the settlement on Wednesday and said there are provision to make sure the money is used as intended.

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Violence flares in Haiti ahead of slain president’s funeral

QUARTIER-MORIN, Haiti (AP) — Hundreds of workers fled businesses in northern Haiti on Wednesday after demonstrations near the hometown of assassinated President Jovenel Moïse grew violent ahead of his funeral.

Associated Press journalists observed the body of one man who witnesses said was shot in the community of Quartier-Morin, which is near Trou-du-Nord, where Moïse was born. Roadblocks were set up between the two communities, temporarily barring cars from entering or leaving as two plumes of thick, black smoke rose nearby.

Many workers walked hurriedly in a single file along the main road that connects Quartier-Morin with Cap-Haitien, the city where events to honor Moïse were scheduled to start Thursday ahead of Friday’s funeral.

Fleeing people said they saw burning tires and men with weapons demanding justice for Moïse. One woman who was out of breath said the armed men told her, “Go! Go! Go!” as employees clad in uniforms of all colors obeyed and left the area. She declined to give her name, saying she feared for her life.

Abnel Pierre, who works at the Caracol Industrial Park, said he was forced to walk 45 minutes home because the bus that transports employees was stuck behind blockades. He declined further comment as he walked swiftly toward his house as the sky began to darken.

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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 618 square miles (1,601 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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AP FACT CHECK: Biden is too categorical on COVID vaccines

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden offered an uncategorical guarantee Wednesday that people who get their COVID-19 vaccines are completely protected from infection, sickness and death from the coronavirus. The reality is not that cut and dried.

The vaccines are extremely effective but “breakthrough” infections do occur and the delta variant driving cases among the unvaccinated in the U.S. is not fully understood.

Also Biden inflated the impact of his policies on U.S. jobs created in his first half-year in office, misleadingly stating his administration had done more than any other president. He neglects to mention he had population growth on his side in his comparison.

A look at his remarks in a CNN town hall:

PANDEMIC

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Olympic opening ceremony director fired for Holocaust joke

TOKYO (AP) — The Tokyo Olympic organizing committee fired the director of the opening ceremony on Thursday because of a Holocaust joke he made during a comedy show in 1998.

Organizing committee president Seiko Hashimoto said opening ceremony director Kentaro Kobayashi has been dismissed. He was accused of using a joke about the Holocaust in his comedy act, including the phrase “Let’s play Holocaust,” in one of his shows.

His dismissal comes the day before Friday’s opening ceremony of the pandemic-delayed Games.

Earlier this week, a composer whose music is expected to be used at the opening ceremony was forced to resign because of past bullying of his classmates, which he boasted about in magazine interviews.

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The Latest: US beats Canada 1-0 for 2-0 start in softball

The Latest on the Tokyo Olympics, which are taking place under heavy restrictions after a year’s delay because of the coronavirus pandemic:

The United States has beat Canada 1-0 for a 2-0 start in Olympic softball.

Monica Abbott pitched a one-hitter and center fielder Haylie McCleney and second baseman Ali Aguilar combined to throw out the potential tying run at the plate in the sixth inning.

The Americans are getting just enough offense as they try to regain the gold medal they lost to Japan in 2008.

Abbott struck out nine, walked three and needed 102 pitches to throw the Americans’ second consecutive one-hitter. Cat Osterman, at age 38 the Americans’ senior player, struck out nine over six innings and Abbott struck out the side in the seventh to finish an opening 2-0 win over Italy on Wednesday.

The Associated Press

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