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Biden Admin Urges States Not to Buy Vaccine Themselves

As multiple states across the country say they have run out of vaccines to administer and are left waiting on the federal government to get them additional doses, the incoming Biden team is pleading with them to hold out hope just a little longer.

In public press conferences Tuesday, officials from multiple states said they could not move more quickly to scale vaccination in their states until they received additional instructions on how to go about procuring the millions of additional doses needed to match the growing demand.

Officials in California, New Jersey, Kentucky and New York all told The Daily Beast that residents of their states have had their vaccination appointments canceled as a result of the low supply. Some said the breakdown in communication with the outgoing Trump administration over the last 10 days and the confusing process of navigating the transition to a new White House has forced them to consider purchasing the vaccine directly from Pfizer and Moderna. Some states have already inquired with the companies directly about the possibility of setting up future orders, according to multiple officials familiar with their state’s planning.

“We don’t have enough supply,” said Kentucky Gov. Andrew Beshear. “Supply is going to be our major issue … and it’s why we’re going to have patience. It’s why we can’t guarantee that every pharmacy across Kentucky gets vaccine.” Beshear said he requested from Operation Warp Speed that the federal government double the amount of vaccine the state receives each week.

In response to the growing concerns from states about their future vaccine supply and the ability to increase their vaccination rates more quickly, President-elect Joe Biden’s team is urging states to refrain from purchasing doses from the companies directly. According to two individuals familiar with the incoming administration’s plans, Biden’s team feels confident that the president-elect’s plan for COVID-19, laid out in a speech last week, will adequately address states’ concerns.

Exhausted hospital chaplains bring solace to lonely, dying

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Inside hospital rooms across America, where the sick are alone without family to comfort them, the grim task of offering solace falls to overworked and emotionally drained hospital chaplains who are dealing with more death than they’ve ever seen.

Last week nearly a dozen died on a single day at the 377-bed Providence Holy Cross Medical Center, a gleaming, modern medical facility that is tucked into the northwest corner of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. Three more passed — within a span of 45 minutes — the next day.

As he has each day for the past 11 months, Chaplain Kevin Deegan sits with the sick and dying, clad in a facemask, face shield, gloves and full body cover. He prays with them, holds their hands, gently brushes their foreheads and reassures them there is nothing to fear.

Grieving families, unable to enter the hospital because of the deadly virus, watch through the iPad he’s carried into the room with him.

“All right, Miss Leticia, it’s Chaplain Kevin. We’re going to say some prayers now. Ok, my dear?”

“She can hear you,” he tells her son, Jayson Lim, urging him to talk to her.

“Yo, Ma,” Lim manages to say before breaking down in tears and burying his head in his hands. Later he’ll pray with her.

Deegan, who ministered to people undergoing hospice and palliative care before joining Holy Cross two years ago, is no stranger to death. But still, he says, he and his fellow chaplains had seen nothing like this before COVID-19 struck last year and began to kill people by the hundreds of thousands. Close to 400,000 people have died in the U.S. alone.

Holy Cross is filled with so many COVID-19 patients that it has had to double up some people in intensive care rooms and put others in areas normally reserved for outpatient care and patient recovery. A makeshift area at the end of a hallway has even been turned into a hospital room.

Deegan and about a dozen other chaplains cover shifts that extend to 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

As Chaplain Anne Dauchy prays for a woman during her last moments, the patient’s loved ones watching through Dauchy’s iPad can be heard sobbing in the background and saying words like, “I love you so much, Mamma” and “Thank you for everything.'”

“We try to kind of reframe what a miracle is,” an exhausted Dauchy says afterward. “Sometimes it’s living another day, sometimes it’s a patient opening their eyes.

“Perhaps that’s the miracle, that she’s at rest and at peace and not suffering anymore,” she says of the woman who died.

When asked how he, Dauchy and the others manage to survive the turmoil emotionally, Deegan replies, “That’s a good question. I have to be honest. I don’t know.”

What he does know is when he saw doctors, nurses and other hospital staff risking their own lives to do everything they could to save others he felt he had to be there, right in the room with them, to offer comfort and be a surrogate for their loved ones who couldn’t be there.

He was sure he’d eventually be infected as COVID-19 patients began pouring into the hospital every day. So far he has not, and just last week he had his second dose of the vaccine.

“Who knew PPE really works,” he said with a chuckle during a rare lighthearted moment as he discussed the personal protective equipment he dons each day before work.

On that Monday when 11 people died, including three he personally ministered to, Deegan went home and, after he tried to fall asleep, saw the faces and again heard the voices of the people who had sobbed and screamed at him, “Why? Why? Why?”

Some families lash out at the chaplains, looking for someone to blame, said Monica Pantoja, a clerk at the hospital’s intensive care unit who has been isolating at home after becoming infected herself.

“They take a lot of heat and people don’t understand that they’re doing the best they can. I think their prayers mean more than anything to families,” Pantoja said, speaking from first-hand experience.

When her 72-year-old mother was hospitalized for three months with COVID-19, including several weeks on a ventilator, a chaplain called every day to put her on the iPad with her. Her mother is now recovering at a rehabilitation center.

There are other occasional victories as well.

As Deegan prayed with another patient last week he encouraged her loved ones to talk to her through the iPad, and when one shouted, “Hi Mom,” the woman, on oxygen, opened her eyes wider, raised her head slightly and tried to reply, although the words wouldn’t come. “Who is that?”, Deegan asked her. “Is that Marvin?” She nodded.

Later, when he stepped out of the hospital, he found Leticia Lim’s son Jayson waiting by the door to thank him as his mother continued her fight to live.

“It was painful and at the same time it was heartwarming because I had the chance to pray with my mom, with the pastor,” he said before turning to Deegan to tell him, ‘Thank you, God bless you.’”

“You’re bringing tears to my eyes, ” Deegan said as he removed his glasses to wipe the tears away before pausing to remember once again why he shows up every day.

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Associated Press photographer Jae Hong and Associated Press videographer Eugene Garcia contributed to this story.


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Asia Today: China sees virus outbreaks across its northeast

BEIJING (AP) — China was dealing with coronavirus outbreaks across its frigid northeast on Tuesday, prompting additional lockdowns and travel bans ahead of next month’s Lunar New Year holiday.

The country reported another 118 cases on Tuesday, with 43 of those in the province of Jilin. Hebei province just outside Beijing saw another 35 cases, while Heilongjiang province bordering Russia reported 27 new cases.

Beijing, where some residential communities and outlying villages have been placed under lockdown, reported just one new case.

A fourth northern province, Liaoning, has also imposed quarantines and travel restrictions to prevent the virus from further spreading, part of measures being imposed across much of the country to prevent new outbreaks during during February’s Lunar New Year holiday.

Authorities have called on citizens not to travel, ordered schools closed a week early and conducted testing on a massive scale.

Hebei’s provincial capital, Shijiazhuang, has been building a complex of prefabricated housing units to allow the quarantine of more than 3,000 people as it struggles to control more infections.

China has reported a total of 88,454 cases and 4,635 deaths since coronavirus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019. China does not include people who test positive but have no symptoms in its count.

A multinational team of investigators from the World Health Organization are currently in Wuhan undergoing two weeks of quarantine before beginning field visits in hopes of gaining clues into the origins of the pandemic that has now killed more than 2 million people.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— Travelers to New Zealand from most other nations will need to show negative pre-departure coronavirus tests from Jan. 25, officials announced Tuesday. New Zealand recently imposed the rule on travelers from the U.S. and the U.K. and is extending it to all other countries, with the exception of Australia and a handful of Pacific Island nations. Travelers returning from Antarctica are also exempt. COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said New Zealand has some of the strictest border measures in the world, which it needs to maintain its strategy of eliminating the virus. There is currently no community spread of the virus in New Zealand, with all known infections among travelers who have been put into quarantine at the border. Most travelers are required to spend two weeks in quarantine upon arrival.


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Palo Alto-based NIMBY think tank says Bay Area housing goals are wrong, others call it propaganda

PALO ALTO — As cities across California fight lofty state-mandated housing goals, many are relying on the research of a nascent housing policy think tank run by  Palo Altans with deep pockets and a record of donating to local slow-growth leaders.

From Pasadena and Santa Monica in Southern California to Marin County and affluent Peninsula cities, research by the Palo Alto-based Embarcadero Institute has been cited to counter the legislature’s demands for more housing amid a dire affordability crisis.

Though its founders reject that the institute has any political bent, pro-housing advocates say it is a vocal part of a NIMBY agenda attempting to restrict housing construction in suburban cities.

The state has asked more than 350 cities to prepare the way for more than 2 million homes by 2030 to accommodate population growth by focusing construction on “high opportunity areas” close to jobs, like Palo Alto and other Peninsula cities. The state says the Bay Area must build 441,000 homes in that time, about 10,000 of which will be built in Palo Alto.

But the Embarcadero Institute — founded by slow-growth political donors and Palo Alto residents Gab Layton and Asher Waldfogel — suggests the state’s math is wrong.

In its latest report, the institute says that SB828, a housing bill authored by Democrat Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco in 2018, inflated regional housing goals using incorrect data.

The report says the use of inaccurate vacancy rates and “double counting,” inspired by Wiener’s bill, caused the state to exaggerate the number of housing units needed in Southern California, the Bay Area and the Sacramento Area by over 900,000.

Layton and Waldfogel — who said they basically self-fund the institute — said it is the result of “politicizing data” and want to use accurate numbers to reach non-political conclusions.

“There’s no question there’s a shortage of affordable housing in California,” Waldfogel said. “But it’s important for the state methodology to be sound and agnostic of politics. It shouldn’t give artificially high or low results.”

But for Sen. Wiener, raising housing goals for cities like Palo Alto was exactly the bill’s point.

During an interview, Wiener said the bill was an attempt to reform the 50-year-old regional housing allocation process which gave cities goals that were “way too low” and “not in any way related” to future housing need.

Wiener also said the housing goals process had been politicized so that “wealthier cities could reduce their RHNA goals,” and cited the “extreme example” of Beverly Hills, which in its 2019 housing allocation was required to zone for just three housing units.

Wiener said he crafted SB828 to do two things: impose more accurate housing goals and put in place guardrails to prevent abuse.

And so far, Wiener said, the results have been “fantastic” with the Bay Area allocation going up 2.5-fold and the Southern California allocation three-fold. Beverly Hill’s allocation went from three units to over 2,000, a more accurate figure, Wiener said.

“The bill had the intended result,” Wiener said, so he did not find it surprising that slow-growth groups have coalesced to oppose it. He said fights around housing allocations are ultimately “political ones.”

“We’ve seen opponents to pro-housing legislation rely on analysis from the Embarcadero Institute to oppose housing bills,” Wiener said. “What’s happening now with the housing goals process is no different. They trot out what looks on its face to be credible analysis but of course it’s not credible.”

Wiener isn’t alone in contesting the institute’s data. University of California Davis professor Chris Elmendorf said in an interview the institute is akin to oil company-funded think tanks publishing anti-climate change research.

He explained that the institute relies on projected household growth to reach its conclusions, a forecast that “bakes in” the housing crisis: shortages of housing mean high rents which mean slow growth. With those projections, Elmendorf said, cities that haven’t grown in decades won’t have to grow in the future.

For Elmendrof, the bill’s core idea is that California housing targets should be adjusted to mirror the conditions of “healthy housing markets” elsewhere in the country that can produce housing middle-income families can afford.

“The state has been doing what’s it’s always done, it’s just that the legislature is saying what it has been doing is inadequate and we need bigger numbers,” Elmendorf said in an interview. “It shouldn’t seem like an accident or a surprised. Places like Palo Alto and Los Altos Hills are squarely in the legislature’s sights.”

Despite claiming no political bent, Waldfogel, Layton and their families have donated large amounts of money to “residentialist” candidates advocating slow-growth policies in Palo Alto.

In 2016, Gab Layton and her husband Thomas Layton gave $25,000 each to the campaigns of Arthur Keller and current councilwoman Lydia Kou. Though he was a Planning and Transportation Commissioner at the time, Waldfogel’s wife Helen MacLean also contributed $25,000 to both campaigns.

In 2020, the two founders also contributed to the campaigns of political allies Ed Lauing, current councilman Greer Stone — who is an advisor for the Embarcadero Institute — and current Vice Mayor Pat Burt.

Both Waldfogel and Layton rejected the notion that the Embarcadero Institute is a slow-growth or NIMBY organization. Most people who work with the institute are volunteers, the organization doesn’t have an office or land and it is is largely self-funded by its two wealthy founders along with contributions of over $185,000 from donors since 2015, according to documents from Pro Publica.

“We weren’t thinking of creating material that was somehow going to influence certain candidates,” Layton said. “The institute is separate from our personal interests. The goal of the institute was always to publish government data that support policy-making. I guess my hope is that the data, regardless of where you stand on the issues, will inform the decisions.”

Waldfogel said the institute isn’t promoting any agenda but they can “help identify the problems.” Layton said there’s no way cities can rezone to the level needed and that a dedicated source of state funding to build affordable housing should be identified.

“When you look at the numbers, it’s very clear we have a serious affordable housing deficit, no one can dispute that” Layton said. “It seems that’s the most pressing problem we have. I don’t think the state needs to create inflated metrics of market rate housing to fix the housing issue. It undermines the accuracy of the information we have.”


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Author: Aldo Toledo

State Capitols increase security before inauguration as authorities make more riot arrests

Protests at state Capitols across the country remained relatively calm this weekend, but the FBI is warning all 50 states to be on high alert for possible violence ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. Meanwhile, Capitol authorities ramp up arrests stemming from the riots on January 6. David Begnaud reports.


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Fresh protests in France against controversial security bill – Expat Guide to France | Expatica

Tens of thousands of protesters marched across France Saturday to denounce a security bill critics say would restrict the filming of police and posting images to social media, notably to document cases of police brutality.

Thousands marched in Paris and cities across France, many of them angry about they say was the “disproportionate” response by police when they broke up an illegal New Year’s rave in Brittany that attracted some 2,400 people.

Estimates of the turnout varied widely between the authorities and the activists: while police put the total turnout across the country at 34,000, organisers insisted it was closer to 200,000.

In Paris, the marchers came out despite a rare snowfall, carrying banners with slogans such as “Police everywhere, justice nowhere”, and “State of emergency, police state.”

“It’s a strange dictatorship, one asks how far they will go with this law,” said one marcher in the northern city of Lille, who identified himself only by his first name Francois.

“If this is the case in the country of the rights of man and freedom, then I’m ashamed to be French!” he added.

Police arrested 75 people across the country, 24 of them in Paris, said Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin, while 12 police officers and paramilitary officers were injured.

Police also intervened to break up an illegal rave near the Paris demonstration, Darmanin said in a tweet.

Footage of white police beating up an unarmed black music producer in his Paris studio on November 21 has amplified anger over the legislation, condemned by many as signalling a rightward lurch by President Emmanuel Macron.

Other recent incidents caught on camera have shown Paris police using violence to tear down a migrant camp.

The protesters are also against the use of ramped-up surveillance tools like drones and pedestrian cameras.

In the face of mounting protests, Macron’s ruling LREM party has announced it will rewrite the bill’s controversial Article 24 that deals with filming the police.

But left-wing protesters and rights groups insist the law should be completely withdrawn.

The “marches for freedom” have been called by an umbrella grouping that includes Amnesty International and several unions, including those gathering journalists and film directors.

The proposal, which has already been approved by the National Assembly, will be examined by the Senate, France’s upper parliamentary chamber, in March.

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California close to 3 million coronavirus cases

As hospitalizations continue to decline across the state, the number of new cases being recorded has dipped slightly as county health officials continue to fight the deadly coronavirus.

According to data compiled by this news organization, California counties reported 32,904 new cases and 418 new deaths for a total of 2,951,682 cases and 33,391 deaths.

The Bay Area had an about average day for the past week on Saturday as officials reported 4,628 new cases arose the nine-county area as well as 51 new deaths. The total number of cases stood at 334,505 in the Bay Area and 3,342 people have died from the virus.

Contra Costa County recorded the third most deaths recorded since the start of the pandemic with 16 deaths reported for a total of 446 deaths. So far 51,573 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in the county, 946 of whom were reported positive Saturday.

Though it reported no new deaths Saturday, San Mateo County officials on Friday recorded the most deaths ever since the start of the pandemic with 26 people dead for a total of 294 deaths. On Saturday officials said 554 new cases were recorded for a total of 31,204 cases.

Santa Clara County reported 20 new deaths from the virus for a total of 1,060 deaths and reported 1,483 new cases for a total of 91,466 cases. In San Francisco, 13 people were reported dead from the virus on Saturday meanwhile officials recorded 343 new cases. The total number of cases in the city is 28,221 and 254 people have died from the virus since the start of the pandemic.

Alameda County reported 919 new cases on Saturday and two new deaths for a total of 65,679 cases and 757 deaths.

The North Bay — which encompasses Sonoma, Solano, Marin and Napa counties — recorded no new deaths on Saturday and 383 new cases for a total of 66,362 cases and 531 deaths.

At the same time cases continued to go up, hospitalizations were down in California.

The number of patients hospitalized with confirmed cases was down 1.3% on Thursday from the preceding day to 20,998 patients. That’s down 2.8% from a week before, but still up 838 percent from three months ago, before the current surge started in early November.

The number of patients in ICU with confirmed cases was down 0.5 % on Thursday to 4,745. That’s up 2.4 % from a week ago and a 691 %increase from three months ago.

The Bay Area region has 3.4 % ICU availability, according to the California Department of Public Health. The San Joaquin Valley and Southern California regions are at 0 percent ICU availability. The Greater Sacramento region is at 6.4 % availability and the Northern California region at 24% availability.


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Author: Aldo Toledo

The Latest: Pro-Trump demonstrations begin at statehouses

The Latest on pro-Trump groups demonstrating Sunday at statehouses across the country.

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Small groups of pro-Trump demonstrators, some armed, have begun gathering outside statehouses, including in Michigan, Ohio and South Carolina.

In Lansing, Michigan, state police troopers walked around the Capitol grounds as a small group of demonstrators stood near a chain-link fence surrounding the 142-year-old building. Several National Guard vehicles were on a nearby street. One armed man falsely gave his name as Duncan Lemp, a Maryland man who was killed in a no-knock police raid and became a martyr for a loose network of gun-toting, anti-government extremists.

A supporter of President Donald Trump wore a red “Make American Great Again” hat while standing on the lawn with a “Don’t Tread On Me” flag. The back of his shirt read: “PATRIOT NOT RACIST NOT TERRORIST.”

In Columbus, Ohio, about two dozen people, several carrying long guns, gathered outside the Capitol as dozens of state troopers and National Guard members guarded multiple points around the Statehouse, including every entrance. Nearly every business around the downtown capital square was boarded up.

Several dozen people were gathering at the South Carolina Statehouse, some carrying American flags. It was not immediately clear if some in the group were also counter-protesters supportive of the incoming Biden administration.

A heavy law enforcement presence surrounded the government complex in downtown Columbia. The Capitol itself has been surrounded with metal barricades for several days, and state lawmakers have announced they will not hold their scheduled in-person session this week because of the possible unrest.


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