Tag Archives: protective

Senate Divided by Party Gives Harris Powerful Tiebreaker Role

U.S. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, wears a protective mask departs the Senate floor following a vote at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020. The Senate passed a giant year-end spending bill combining $900 billion in Covid-19 relief aid with $1.4 trillion in regular government funding and a bevy of tax breaks for businesses.
U.S. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, wears a protective mask departs the Senate floor following a vote at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020. The Senate passed a giant year-end spending bill combining $900 billion in Covid-19 relief aid with $1.4 trillion in regular government funding and a bevy of tax breaks for businesses. (Oliver Contreras/)

(Bloomberg) — Kamala Harris’s term as vice president will be defined from the start by the Senate’s partisan split, as the former lawmaker is pushed into a powerful role in a chamber that must decide whether to convict the outgoing president of inciting an insurrection.

After wins by Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in Georgia’s runoff elections, the upper chamber is divided 50-50 between Republicans and the Democratic caucus, meaning Harris can use her tie-breaking vote as president of the Senate to push through nominees and pass bills on which senators are split along party lines.

And it’s a cudgel she will likely have to use, even though President-elect Joe Biden’s team has said it hopes to secure Republican support for legislation, especially if Democrats don’t do away with the 60-vote rule on most legislation.

No sooner than Biden and Harris are sworn in, they’ll be working to pass their $1.9 trillion Covid-relief plan, which has elements that would likely appeal to enough moderate Republicans to gain some favor in the Senate but other parts that may spur partisan warfare.

Under current rules, Democrats can pass some items with just 51 votes through a process known as budget reconciliation. The rest will require the spirit of cooperation Biden had promised he can resurrect.

In the Mood?

Yet there’s no reason to believe Republicans will be in the mood to play along.

Their narrow defeats in Georgia, setting up the 50-50 split, mean Republican Leader Mitch McConnell will lose his power to dictate the agenda in Washington or block nominees. But as minority leader, he’ll still hold sway over his own caucus.

And the recent mob that stormed the Capitol, while uniting most members against the violence, also highlighted the deep political divides Biden’s administration will face.

The Senate may soon be turning to putting Trump on trial after the House impeached him last week for a historic second time.

The Supreme Court chief justice normally presides when a sitting president is tried, but Trump will be out of power by then. McConnell, in a memo to GOP senators, said it was unclear whether Chief Justice John Roberts would preside, and Roberts has declined to comment.

If he doesn’t, Harris likely would be the presiding officer, which would give Democrats a one-vote edge to settle disputes on issues such as evidence.

Taking on Good Will

Biden has suggested that Harris could be a dealmaker instead of a tie-breaker, potentially taking on some of the good will he earned with the few senators remaining from his 36 years in the Senate.

“I’ve never once misled any of my Republican colleagues. Not one single time. And they know they can trust Kamala as well. And we can figure out where we can cooperate. Where we can’t, we have our arguments,” Biden said on a December call with supporters.

But Harris’s ability to win over Senate Republicans may be limited. Her contact list of friendly Republicans is smaller than Biden’s. She’s not known for close relationships with McConnell or his leadership team. Nor has she gained a reputation as a participant in the various “gangs” of party moderates and compromisers.

In her four years in the Senate, Harris’s work put her consistently at odds with McConnell’s efforts with President Donald Trump to reshape the federal judiciary and pass the massive 2017 tax-cut bill with only GOP votes.

On the Senate Judiciary Committee, she used her high-profile seat to oppose Trump’s judicial nominees and was a particularly incisive questioner of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearings.

Narrow Majority

Still, the progressive senator has collaborated with some Republicans. She worked with Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a Trump loyalist, to reauthorize a preservation program for historically black colleges and universities. She also worked with Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma on legislation that sought to protect U.S. elections from foreign meddling by strengthening the cybersecurity of voting systems.

The narrow majority means party leaders will also have to accommodate Democrats from Republican-leaning or battleground states, such as West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Montana’s Jon Tester. Recently elected Democrat Mark Kelly won in Arizona as a moderate, and he’ll be back on the ballot in 2022 as a target for Republicans.

Democrats could craft a package that includes more stimulus checks, a progressive tax rewrite, a climate plan and an expansion of the Affordable Care Act. Trump used budget reconciliation to pass his tax cuts and attempted to use it to end the ACA, known as Obamacare, which was also passed in 2010 using budget reconciliation.

The process does have limits, and with only 50 votes plus Harris, Democrats have no wiggle room. Changes to Social Security, for example, aren’t allowed under reconciliation, nor are items with even an incidental impact on spending or taxes.

Other Democratic priorities such as gun control or increasing funding for agencies are also not allowed under reconciliation. Instead, those would be subject to a filibuster, a tactic the minority party can use to block action unless there are 60 votes in the Senate to proceed. That means incoming Majority Leader Chuck Schumer would have to find 10 Republicans to support the Democrats’ efforts.

“Where we can find common purpose and common ground, let’s do that. Let that be our priority,” Harris told ABC News last month. “As opposed to finding out where we disagree, let’s actually focus on where we might agree, and then get some work done.”


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Author: Newsroom Infobae

China Signals Action to Block Critics From Hong Kong Elections

A pedestrian wearing a protective mask walks past a Chinese national flag displayed outside a hotel on National Day in Hong Kong, China, on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam declared a return of stability, even as authorities deployed thousands of riot police and threats of arrests to deter protesters from returning to the streets in the Asian financial center. Photographer: Paul Yeung/Bloomberg
A pedestrian wearing a protective mask walks past a Chinese national flag displayed outside a hotel on National Day in Hong Kong, China, on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam declared a return of stability, even as authorities deployed thousands of riot police and threats of arrests to deter protesters from returning to the streets in the Asian financial center. Photographer: Paul Yeung/Bloomberg (Paul Yeung/)

(Bloomberg) — Chinese state media urged action to keep Hong Kong elections from becoming a “tool for anti-China and trouble-making forces,” raising the prospects for more measures to curb dissent in the Asian financial hub.

The People’s Daily newspaper, the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party, said in a commentary Tuesday that those found to be disloyal must not be allowed to seek office. Action could come as soon as next week, with the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress — the body that imposed a controversial security law on Hong Kong last year — also announcing a surprise meeting starting Jan. 20.

“Hong Kong is an administrative region of China,” the People’s Daily said. “‘Those who love the country and love Hong Kong should rule Hong Kong, those who are anti-China and trouble makers are out’ is a principle and bottom line that Hong Kong elections must follow.”

The commentary suggests that China’s efforts to rein in an opposition that it blames for a wave of historic and sometimes violent protests in 2019 are far from over. Besides imposing the security law in June, authorities have barred numerous candidates from office, arrested several former lawmakers and delayed an election that was planned for September.

All opposition lawmakers resigned from the local Legislative Council in protest against the actions. Earlier this month, the new national security unit of the Hong Kong police arrested 55 people in connection with an unofficial primary to choose candidates for the delayed election, an incident cited by the People’s Daily commentary as a reason for action.

China’s actions have drawn international condemnation and the U.K. and U.S. have accused Beijing of breaking its treaty obligations to preserve liberal institutions, such as legislative elections, in the former British colony. The NPC Standing Committee meeting will start the same day as U.S. President-elect Joe Biden will be inaugurated as president on a platform to preserve democracies around the world.

China’s leaders are considering an overhaul of the election committee that selects Hong Kong’s chief executive, the South China Morning Post newspaper reported last month. Authorities were planning to reduce the already-limited influence democracy advocates wield on a panel controlled by pro-China loyalists, with candidates needing to be approved by Beijing, the newspaper said.

Hong Kong media outlets have also reported that China’s legislature could move to disqualify some pro-democracy district councilors, many of whom took office after a landslide 2019 victory following the landmark protests. Opposition politicians had once hoped to use that momentum to ride to a majority in the more important Legislative Council before elections were delayed for a full year, ostensibly due to coronavirus risks.

State media reports on the upcoming NPC meeting made no mention of Hong Kong, with a draft revision of a law on animal epidemic prevention on the agenda. Still, the body has previously announced debate on issues related to Hong Kong at the last minute, such as when it took up and approved the national security law behind closed doors, with no local debate.

More recently, the body ruled that Hong Kong’s government could expel Legislative Council lawmakers who were deemed insufficiently patriotic, a move that prompted the mass resignation of the remaining opposition members. There’s also a chance the committee could use next week’s meeting to clarify certain aspects of the national security law, which Hong Kong lawyers, foreign governments and human rights groups have called worryingly vague and open to interpretation.


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Author: Newsroom Infobae

Chinese Court Sentences 10 Hong Kong Democracy Activists To Prison Terms

A woman wearing a protective face mask walks by the Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region office building in Beijing in June following the imposition of a national security law on Hong Kong. Ten Hong Kong fugitives were sentenced to prison Wednesday for illegally crossing international boundaries.

Andy Wong/AP


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Andy Wong/AP

A court on China’s mainland sentenced 10 Hong Kong pro-democracy activists to up to three years in prison Wednesday. In the closely watched case, the activists tried this summer to flee to Taiwan via speedboat — but they were intercepted at sea and detained in China.

The main charge against the group was that they sought to cross an international border illegally. But rather than return them to Hong Kong — where the police have deemed them fugitives — Chinese authorities opted to detain and prosecute the activists on the mainland.

The Yantian District People’s Court in Shenzhen imposed the toughest punishment on Tang Kai-yin and Quinn Moon, who were accused of organizing the trip. They are to serve three years and two years, respectively, along with a fine of up to around $3,000.

Eight other activists were ordered to spend seven months in prison and pay smaller fines. All of the sentences include the nearly four months the activists have already spent in custody, the South China Morning Post reports.

Two minors who were in the group of fugitives were returned to Hong Kong for trial, according to the South China Morning Post. The Global Times, a newspaper published by the Chinese Communist Party, said the trial would be closed to the public because of their age.

The sentencing comes after rights groups, the U.S. and other countries said China’s authorities had failed to ensure a fair legal process for the detainees, such as allowing them access to lawyers of their own choosing.

Most of the activists who fled were already facing criminal charges linked to pro-democracy street protests in Hong Kong, where Beijing has been tightening its control over the territory’s political and legal institutions. They left Hong Kong shortly after China’s central government imposed a tough new national security law on the territory.

The group who fled also includes two minors. Rather than being punished by the Chinese court, the pair on Wednesday were handed over to Hong Kong’s police, which said they face charges including arson.


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Author: Bill Chappell

Why The World Is Seeing Some Of Its Most Extreme Pandemic Lockdowns

A worker wearing personal protective equipment disinfects the Holy Redeemer Church in Bangkok after a Christmas Eve mass. Thailand is one of many countries now seeing a surge in cases.

Romeo Gacad/AFP via Getty Images


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Romeo Gacad/AFP via Getty Images

The last Sunday of 2020 was ushered in with both promise and apprehension on the global pandemic front.

The European Union began immunizing residents with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. “We are starting to turn the page on a difficult year,” said the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, in a video posted on Twitter. The E.U. she added has “secured enough doses for our whole population of 450 million people.”

At the same time, some of the year’s most severe lockdowns and travel restrictions are being implemented around the world, prompted by concerns that new variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, could lead to more rapid spread.

The U.K. variant, which is now the dominant strain in Britain, “may be more transmissible than previously circulating variants, with an estimated potential to increase the transmissibility of the virus by up to 70%,” according to a statement from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are similar concerns about a new strain from South Africa that may be circulating in other countries as well.

On the domestic front, travelers arriving in the U.S. from the U.K. are now required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test under new rules issued by CDC on Christmas day.

More than 40 other nations have gone even farther, blocking travelers from Britain entirely. Despite such measures, the new strain has already been detected in mainland Europe, Israel, Canada and Japan, among other places.

In response Japan is banning nearly all foreigners (the declaration lists nationals from 152 countries as personae non gratae at least until February) and is imposing new restrictions on Japanese citizens returning from any country that’s reported cases of the U.K. variant. The new Japanese rules also apply to places where the South African strain is circulating.

A surge in cases and concerns over the more highly transmissible forms of the virus prompted Israel to go into its third lockdown on Sunday. For at least the next two weeks, Israelis are prohibited from visiting someone else’s home or traveling more than 1,000 meters from their own home – a little more than half a mile. All non-essential businesses are shut. Restaurants can only offer take out.

Gatherings such as weddings and funerals in Israel will be limited to 10 people indoors and 20 outside. This is generous compared to Hong Kong, which has put in place a “prohibition of group gatherings of more than two persons.” On Sundays in Hong Kong foreign domestic workers traditionally have the day off. Groups of women from the Philippines and Indonesia gather in small groups in parks and on sidewalks all across the city. They often share soft drinks and snacks. Municipal officials are now calling for them to stay home at their employer’s apartments.

Hong Kong is also increasing quarantine requirements for incoming travelers. While some other places are shortening COVID quarantines from 14 days down to 10 or 7, Hong Kong is now requiring a mandatory 21 days. The quarantine is at the travelers own expense in a government-sanctioned hotel.

Thailand, which had kept its daily tally of reported COVID-19 cases in the single digits for much of the pandemic, is grappling with its worst surge to date. Since mid-December, the country has seen a sharp rise in cases linked originally to a seafood market, including 121 new infections on Sunday. The spike in cases in Thailand has not been tied to the U.K. variant. But it illustrates that even countries that appear to have the disease under control can’t let their guard down.

South Korea, which successfully contained two earlier waves of COVID-19, is facing record numbers of new cases and a spike in fatalities.

The United States, which already has the largest number of cases globally and regular reports of more than 200,000 new infections a day, is also bracing for grim numbers ahead. Over the weekend top health officials warned that travel and family gatherings during this holiday season are likely to lead to a further spike in cases.

“As we get into the next few weeks, it might actually get worse,” Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert told CNN on Sunday.

Even though the U.K. variant hasn’t yet been detected in the U.S., many top immunologists believe it may already be circulating here.

“I think it’s prudent and a good idea to do some form of testing, and not let somebody on the plane from the U.K. unless they have a documented negative COVID-19 test,” Fauci said. Given the high levels of transmission already occurring in the U.S., a more transmissible form of the virus could mean more even more dire numbers just as massive vaccine campaigns are starting.


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Author: Jason Beaubien

Notre Dame choir returns for first time since devastating fire for Christmas Eve concert

Paris — Wearing hard hats and protective suits, members of the choir of Notre Dame Cathedral sang inside the medieval Paris landmark for the first time since last year’s devastating fire for a special Christmas Eve concert.

Accompanied by an acclaimed cellist and a rented organ, the singers performed beneath the cathedral’s stained-glass windows amid the darkened church, which is transitioning from being a precarious hazardous clean-up operation to becoming a massive reconstruction site. The choir initially planned to bring in 20 singers but for safety reasons they were limited to eight.

ap-20358314100575.jpg
Restoration work on the Notre Dame cathedral has been continuing at night despite the curfew aiming at curbing the spread of the coronavirus. It’s seen here on December 23, 2020. 

Eliot Blondet/Abaca/Sipa USA via AP Images/Abaca Press


The choir members stood socially distanced to be able to take off their masks — which are required indoors in France to stem the spread of the virus — and sing.

The concert — including “Silent Night” in English and French, “The Hymn of the Angels,” and even “Jingle Bells” — was recorded earlier this month and broadcast just before midnight Thursday. The public was not allowed in and isn’t expected to see the inside of Notre Dame until at least 2024.

The diocese called it a “highly symbolic concert … marked with emotion and hope,” and a celebration of a “musical heritage that dates to the Middle Ages.”

FRANCE-HERITAGE-RELIGION-NOTRE-DAME-FIRE
Workers remove burnt scaffolding from the roof of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on November 24, 2020.

MARTIN BUREAU/AFP via Getty Images


The archbishop of Paris, Monsignor Michel Aupetit, held Thursday’s Christmas Eve services in Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois Church across from the Louvre Museum instead of Notre Dame.

The Notre Dame choir used to give 60 concerts a year inside the cathedral but has been itinerant ever since, moving among other Paris churches.

The April 2019 fire consumed the cathedral’s lead roof and destroyed its spire, and only earlier this month did workers finally stabilize the site enough to begin rebuilding.

Notre Dame choir returns for first time since devastating fire for Christmas Eve concert

Paris — Wearing hard hats and protective suits, members of the choir of Notre Dame Cathedral sang inside the medieval Paris landmark for the first time since last year’s devastating fire for a special Christmas Eve concert.

Accompanied by an acclaimed cellist and a rented organ, the singers performed beneath the cathedral’s stained-glass windows amid the darkened church, which is transitioning from being a precarious hazardous clean-up operation to becoming a massive reconstruction site. The choir initially planned to bring in 20 singers but for safety reasons they were limited to eight.

ap-20358314100575.jpg
Restoration work on the Notre Dame cathedral has been continuing at night despite the curfew aiming at curbing the spread of the coronavirus. It’s seen here on December 23, 2020. 

Eliot Blondet/Abaca/Sipa USA via AP Images/Abaca Press


The choir members stood socially distanced to be able to take off their masks — which are required indoors in France to stem the spread of the virus — and sing.

The concert — including “Silent Night” in English and French, “The Hymn of the Angels,” and even “Jingle Bells” — was recorded earlier this month and broadcast just before midnight Thursday. The public was not allowed in and isn’t expected to see the inside of Notre Dame until at least 2024.

The diocese called it a “highly symbolic concert … marked with emotion and hope,” and a celebration of a “musical heritage that dates to the Middle Ages.”

FRANCE-HERITAGE-RELIGION-NOTRE-DAME-FIRE
Workers remove burnt scaffolding from the roof of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on November 24, 2020.

MARTIN BUREAU/AFP via Getty Images


The archbishop of Paris, Monsignor Michel Aupetit, held Thursday’s Christmas Eve services in Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois Church across from the Louvre Museum instead of Notre Dame.

The Notre Dame choir used to give 60 concerts a year inside the cathedral but has been itinerant ever since, moving among other Paris churches.

The April 2019 fire consumed the cathedral’s lead roof and destroyed its spire, and only earlier this month did workers finally stabilize the site enough to begin rebuilding.


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Notre Dame choir returns for first time since devastating fire for Christmas Eve concert

Paris — Wearing hard hats and protective suits, members of the choir of Notre Dame Cathedral sang inside the medieval Paris landmark for the first time since last year’s devastating fire for a special Christmas Eve concert.

Accompanied by an acclaimed cellist and a rented organ, the singers performed beneath the cathedral’s stained-glass windows amid the darkened church, which is transitioning from being a precarious hazardous clean-up operation to becoming a massive reconstruction site. The choir initially planned to bring in 20 singers but for safety reasons they were limited to eight.

The choir members stood socially distanced to be able to take off their masks – which is required indoors in France to stem the spread of the virus – and sing.

The concert – including “Silent Night” in English and French, “The Hymn of the Angels,” and even “Jingle Bells” – was recorded earlier this month and broadcast just before midnight Thursday. The public was not allowed in and isn’t expected to see the inside of Notre Dame until at least 2024.

ap-20358314100575.jpg
Restoration work on the Notre Dame cathedral has been continuing at night despite the curfew aiming at curbing the spread of the coronavirus. It’s seen here on December 23, 2020. 

Eliot Blondet/Abaca/Sipa USA via AP Images/Abaca Press


The diocese called it a “highly symbolic concert … marked with emotion and hope,” and a celebration of a “musical heritage that dates to the Middle Ages.”

The archbishop of Paris, Monsignor Michel Aupetit, held Thursday’s Christmas Eve services in Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois Church across from the Louvre Museum instead of Notre Dame.

The Notre Dame choir used to give 60 concerts a year inside the cathedral but has been itinerant ever since, moving among other Paris churches.

The April 2019 fire consumed the cathedral’s lead roof and destroyed its spire, and only earlier this month did workers finally stabilize the site enough to begin rebuilding.


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Author:

Locked-down California runs out of reasons for surprising surge

OAKLAND, Calif. — California has had some of the toughest restrictions in the country to combat the coronavirus, from a complete ban on restaurant dining to travel quarantines and indoor gym closures.

It hasn’t been enough.

America’s most populous state has become one of the nation’s worst epicenters for the disease, setting new records for cases, hospitalizations and deaths almost every day. Things are so bad in Southern California that some patients are being treated in hospital tents, while doctors have begun discussing whether they need to ration care.

The turnabout has confounded leaders and health experts. They can point to any number of reasons that contributed to California’s surge over the past several weeks. But it is hard to pinpoint one single factor — and equally hard to find a silver bullet.

It couldn’t come at a worse time, given that the Christmas and New Year’s holidays have arrived, and officials fear that residents are even more likely to travel and congregate than during the Thanksgiving period that propelled the current trends.

“We are facing a very, very difficult and very dangerous time in our county, in our region and in our state. All of our numbers are going in the wrong direction, and our reality is rather grim at the moment,” Santa Clara County public health officer Sara Cody said Wednesday.

“If we have a surge on top of a surge,” she added, “we will definitely break.”

At more than 100 new daily cases per 100,000 residents, California’s case rate is second only to that in Tennessee, according to the nonprofit tracking site Covid Act Now — though it’s a state that does not mandate mask wearing and allows indoor gatherings of up to 10 people. The website Covid Exit Strategy shows a 97 percent rise in Covid throughout California, which has gone in the opposite direction from its West Coast counterparts, Oregon and Washington.

In Los Angeles, officials have said all along that people were gathering too often. They blamed celebrations and postseason viewing parties when the Dodgers and Lakers won championships this fall.

Some have blamed the strict rules themselves, saying that cooped-up Californians couldn’t take it any longer and decided they need to live their lives. Others have said congregant settings remain a severe concern in a housing-constrained state, especially in low-income communities where residents live in tight quarters and must continue to work in-person to survive.

The state hasn’t employed strict enforcement and has relied on its regulatory agencies to cite the worst-offending establishments in spot cases. But it has no real hammer against people gathering or engaging in everyday social activities, and many local law enforcement agencies have made a point of declaring they will not become the stay-at-home police.

“It’s a big state. We get big numbers when things go wrong,” said George Rutherford, professor of epidemiology and statistics at the University of California, San Francisco.

California has begun providing its initial vaccine allotments to health care workers, but immunizations are not expected to have a dramatic impact on infection spread for months, until broader distribution takes place.

In the meantime, the state is running out of levers to control the spread, leaving public health officers little choice but to implore residents to adhere to the rules.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has said all along that the state has to rely on social pressure to keep people apart. The state, with help from private donors, has spent tens of millions of dollars on billboards and advertisements urging responsible behavior. But Newsom himself erred in November when he attended a lavish dinner party with lobbyists — a faux pas that fueled resentment and resistance from residents already beleaguered by months of prohibitions.

California, with nearly 40 million residents, is nearing 2 million cases and more than 22,000 deaths. By any calculation, California’s outbreak numbers are stunning. With rapid, logarithmic growth, the virus has become so prevalent it’s simply become easier to spread.

In the biggest shopping month of the year, parking lots at malls and retail centers are packed. Such stores are among the few indoor operations allowed to stay open with stated capacity limits. Mobility data from Google suggests that Newsom’s December stay-home orders have barely made a dent in keeping people home compared to previous months, though the baseline doesn’t say whether it may have tamped down traffic compared to last December.

Rutherford doesn’t think the general population fully grasps the seriousness of the current surge. “People think they can negotiate with the virus,” he said. “Here’s a hint: They can’t.”

Critics have questioned the science behind the regional lockdown orders. Public and industry pressure has already convinced state health officials to reopen playgrounds and relax limits on grocery store capacity. A Los Angeles trial court judge also said the county’s prohibition on outdoor dining was “arbitrary” and that there was insufficient evidence showing it was a source of virus spread.

“Nationally, there has been a kaleidoscopic application of every imaginable type of lockdown order with California being the most restrictive and inflicting the most devastation on small businesses and the most economically vulnerable service workers. And still, we are none the better as far as COVID is concerned,” California Restaurant Association President and CEO Jot Condie said in a statement. “In fact in L.A. where indoor and outdoor dining are completely shut down, with indoor dining [closed] since July, the virus rages on.”

Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham (R-Templeton) argued that the state’s attempt to “shut down types of human interaction without seeing if that’s effective” was creating a backlash of sorts — “driving people to higher-risk activity” like gathering indoors at home, rather than places like restaurants.

“The public health officials have lost credibility with a huge section of the populace. They’re just tuning them out now,” Cunningham said. “The goalposts are moving all the time. … People are fed up with it and they don’t think it makes any sense, and they’re not wrong.”

There are small countervailing signs, however, that California can turn things around.

New case numbers stopped increasing dramatically this week, plateauing to less than 40,000 a day. It also remains debatable to what extent California’s wider test access is contributing to higher per capita numbers than elsewhere; the 12 percent positivity rate here, for instance, remains lower than many of the hardest-hit states. Meanwhile, only 16 states have a lower Covid-19 death rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most of the transmission is being driven by the Central Valley and Southern California regions — areas more populous than many U.S. states — and some health experts argue that California’s surge should be viewed as a multitude of separate outbreaks with unique causes. Most of Northern California still has ICU capacity above 10 percent, while the southern part of the state, by comparison, has shifted to its surge phase.

Still, even residents in the San Francisco Bay Area, which has had many of the strictest rules all year, have let down their guard to some degree and have seen numbers shoot upward. For some, the decision to ignore the orders may come down to the survival of their businesses and the ability to put food on the table. Many essential workers and people living in disadvantaged areas throughout the state have had few options but to continue working.

Andrew Noymer, a University of California, Irvine associate professor of population health and disease prevention, said people often look to California’s status as a deep blue state to suggest that left-leaning residents uniformly agree with lockdown protocols and believe in staying home. But that ignores a large share of residents who feel otherwise, even if they aren’t a majority.

“In politics, 40 percent doesn’t carry the day, but 40 percent can drive the epidemic,” Noymer said. “California is deep blue, but … from the virus’s perspective, we’re a lot more purple than people give us credit for.”

California on Wednesday reported a record 361 Covid-related deaths from the day earlier, but the seven-day statewide positivity rate has declined slightly in recent days. San Francisco health officials this week noted that the virus’s reproductive rate is starting to trend downwards — dipping to 1.24 as of Dec. 20 from 1.45 on Dec. 5 — a sign that the stay-at-home orders may have started to work in the city.

But Noymer takes a more pessimistic view. Considering that December has been the worst month of the pandemic even before the holidays, January could be worse, he said.

“We’re not through this crisis,” he said. “It’s too early for a postmortem analysis of what worked and what didn’t.”

Jeremy B. White contributed to this report.


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Author: Victoria Colliver

Despite COVID, Thousands Of Lawmakers Plan To Gather In State Capitols Next Month

Colorado state Rep. Julie McCluskie, a Democrat, is surrounded by protective plastic barriers in the House chambers at the Colorado State Capitol during an emergency legislative session on November 30. Lawmakers there are planning to move their 2021 session back by at least a month.

Helen H. Richardson/Denver Post via Getty Images


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Helen H. Richardson/Denver Post via Getty Images

It happens at the beginning of every year: elected officials, legislative staff, lobbyists, journalists and the public gather in large numbers in state capitol buildings around the country for a relentless few weeks — or months — of lawmaking.

In 2020, official business had wrapped in many states by mid-March when lockdowns began. In others, the spread of COVID-19 sent lawmakers home early.

Since then, lawmakers have gotten together in some states, though not to the degree the country will witness in 2021 when legislative sessions could include hundreds of people under one roof for weeks on end.

So 2021 is a test. How do the nation’s thousands of state legislators, desperate to perform their duties, safely assemble during a pandemic? That question is especially critical considering that there have already been some deaths among legislators, along with more than 150 infections, according to one tally.

We asked several of our public radio station reporters who work in capital cities around the country what to expect where they are.

New Hampshire

Openness and accessibility are points of pride at New Hampshire’s State House. Four hundred twenty-four lawmakers serve for $100 a year, every bill gets a hearing, and committee rooms can resemble a scrum, where lawmakers, citizens, lobbyists and reporters pack themselves into poorly ventilated spaces. When COVID-19 hit last spring, Democratic-leaders quickly closed the State House. Some legislative action migrated to Zoom, other business was conducted in-person but at a distance, including several House sessions held inside the hockey rink at the University of New Hampshire.

But when Republicans reclaimed the majority in the November elections, leaders said they hoped to renew in-person hearings and explore ways to “reoccupy” the capital, as incoming House Speaker Dick Hinch put it.

New Hampshire Republican House Speaker Dick Hinch speaks during an outdoor legislative session at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H. Hinch died Dec. 9, 2020, just a week after he was sworn in as leader of the state’s newly Republican-led Legislature. He was 71.

Elise Amendola/AP


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Elise Amendola/AP

But a week after winning the top seat in the House, Hinch died of COVID-19.

GOP Gov. Chris Sununu called Hinch’s death, which followed several Republican gatherings, “a tragic, cautionary tale.”

Last week, the New Hampshire House’s third-ranking Republican announced she had tested positive for the coronavirus. The state has since opened testing sites to accommodate lawmakers, state house staff and their families. But safety policies for the new year remain murky. The first step will be for the New Hampshire House to elect a new speaker. That vote, which will be held outdoors with lawmakers gathering in cars (like a drive-in movie) is slated for Jan. 6.

Montana

The decision to have lawmakers in the Capitol building in Helena was made solely by Republicans, who hold strong majorities in both the state Senate and House of Representatives. Republicans also voted down proposals from Democrats to postpone the session, require testing and mandate masks building-wide. They instead created a controversial COVID-19 response panel they say will deal with virus-related issues as they arise.

Lawmakers also say that public health rules from other entities — like Gov. Steve Bullock’s statewide mask mandate — do not apply to them when they conduct business in the Capitol building. That was determined by the Legislature’s code commissioner in order to maintain separation of powers.

Montana Capitol building in the snow.

Shayee Ragar/UM Legislative News Service


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Shayee Ragar/UM Legislative News Service

Montana Republicans have decided to allow for some to participate virtually, though. The decision came after pleas from Democrats, residents, local public health officials and lobbyists to hold an all-remote session.

Republican Sen. Jason Ellsworth defended the hybrid model saying, “I would imagine we are going to have members who are going to get sick. It’s a possibility there are members that die,” Ellsworth continued, “But the one thing we can do is come together and serve the great state of Montana.”

Utah

Republicans, the majority party in Utah, have taken a more cautious approach to the virus. During Utah’s session, lawmakers will continue to have the option of attending meetings and floor time remotely — or to participate in person. The legislature held a virtual special session in April, where all lawmakers debated and voted remotely, except for the House Speaker and Senate President. In subsequent special sessions and interim meetings, lawmakers have had the option to come into the Capitol building.

Lawmakers will get rapid COVID-19 tests twice a week if they want to enter the floors of their respective chambers. They are encouraged to wear masks on the floor, but not required. Plexiglass dividers have been installed between the lawmakers’ desks.

A protester holds a sign in front of the Utah State Capitol building during a protest in Salt Lake City on June 5.

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The Capitol building has been closed to the public throughout the pandemic, but it will reopen for the 2021 session. Visitors are required to wear masks and the legislature will designate “mask ambassadors” to remind people. The Utah Highway Patrol will ask people to leave if they refuse to wear a mask.

The public will also be allowed to comment during committee meetings in person, but are encouraged to do so online like they have been able to since May. Committee rooms have been altered to allow for social distancing in the audience.

Michigan

In Michigan, 11 state lawmakers and 37 legislative staffers have tested positive for the coronavirus this year. That number doesn’t include Democratic Rep. Isaac Robinson who was 44 when he died of suspected COVID-19 in March.

And despite the state’s occupational safety agency investigating the House of Representatives over alleged safety violations, incoming House leadership does not plan to make any changes for the coming year.

Protesters attend a “Count On Us” rally at the Michigan State Capitol building on November 04 in Lansing, Mich.

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The Michigan House became the subject of national scrutiny after holding an hourslong hearing with Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer, who may have been infected with the virus at the time. Remote testimony was not allowed for the gathering.

State Senator Mallory McMorrow, a Democrat, introduced a resolution in the state Senate back in April that would’ve allowed for remote meetings but Republicans, who control both chambers, have insisted on continuing to meet in person. Temperature checks and health screenings have not prevented coronavirus spread in the legislature, where some lawmakers still don’t wear masks.

“There are just so many people who are hanging on by a thread,” says state Sen. McMorrow of the Michiganders who she and her colleagues serve, “But there just does not seem to be any interest in modifying the rules to allow for virtual meeting.”

Colorado

In Colorado, it looks as though Democratic leaders have decided to delay the annual legislative session due to the pandemic and the perils of trying to conduct business in a crowded state capitol building.

The Democratically-controlled legislature is legally required to begin on January 13 each year and run for no more than 120 days. But Colorado’s declared state of emergency allows more flexibility within that timeline, though leaders of both parties are still working out the details.

The state supreme court ruled in the spring that lawmakers can temporarily pause their work and return later in the year. Incoming Speaker of the House, Alec Garnett, says he and others think that’s the safest option.

According to leadership, lawmakers will stay in session next month only as long as it takes to get the most urgent and necessary work done, such as swearing in their new members, then they’ll adjourn until at least mid-February.

Garnett says the goal for the break is to get to a point “that’s removed from the potential spike from Christmas and New Year’s and gives a little bit more time for the vaccine to circulate.”

The legislature met in person for two and a half days in early December for a special session to pass a COVID-19 relief package. It highlighted deep divides between lawmakers on issues of coronavirus safety, the effectiveness of mask-wearing and rapid testing.

The state requires masks to be worn in most indoor settings, but it’s not enforced for lawmakers inside the Capitol. Some Republican lawmakers declined to wear masks during the session and most did not get a rapid test available to them. About one-third of the legislature decided to participate remotely.

“The biggest thing is — how do we do things in the safest manner possible?” said Democratic Rep. Kyle Mullica, of returning to work at the Capitol. He’s an Emergency Room nurse and was the first state lawmaker to receive the coronavirus vaccine. “That’s our number one priority. We want to make sure people don’t get hurt.”


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Author: Shaylee Ragar

As COVID-19 Cases Soar, Overwhelmed California Hospitals Worry About Rationing Care

Physicians and nurses wear personal protective equipment while they attend to a COVID-19 patient in the ICU at Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana Medical Center in Tarzana, Calif. on December 18, 2020.

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California hospitals are stretched to their limits as intensive care units fill up and COVID-19 cases continue to soar, leaving some facilities facing the prospect of not being able to provide critical care for everyone who needs it.

On Friday, the nation’s most populous state recorded 43,608 new cases, while almost 17,400 people are currently hospitalized with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases, according to the California Department of Public Health. Over 3,500 of those cases are being treated in intensive care units, putting immense strain on hospitals.

Nearly all of California is under stay at home orders as ICU capacity statewide hovers around 2%. In Southern California and the 12-county San Joaquin Valley area, ICU capacity has been exhausted, leaving some facilities to go into “surge” mode, putting critical patients in other parts of the hospital like emergency rooms or operating recovery rooms.

Brad Spellberg, the chief medical officer of LA County USC Medical Center — one of the largest hospitals in the state — told NPR member station KPCC that means some patients are waiting hours for care as hospitals struggle to free up beds as quickly as possible.

“We are the safety net — that is the point,” Spellberg said. “The safety net itself is being stretched to the limit.”

Some hospitals are now preparing for the possibility of rationing care in the coming weeks, according a document obtained by the Los Angeles Times. The document, which was circulated among doctors at four hospitals run by Los Angeles County, outlined guidelines on how to allocate resources in a crisis situation, shifting from a goal of trying to save every patient to instead saving as many as possible. This would mean that those less likely to survive would not receive the same care that they would in a non-crisis situation.

“Some compromise of standard of care is unavoidable; it is not that an entity, system, or locale chooses to limit resources, it is that the resources are clearly not available to provide care in a regular manner,” the document reads, according to the Times.

In an email, L.A. County Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly told the Times that the guidelines were not in place as of Friday night.

“We have enough beds, supplies, and equipment for now, but we don’t have enough trained staff for the number of patients who need care. We have brought in new staff, retrained and redeployed staff from other areas of the system, and have requested additional resources from the state,” Ghaly wrote. “But these measures are not anticipated to be enough to meet the continuously escalating number of patients that are presenting across the county for care.”

Last week, California was forced to activate its “mass fatality” program, which coordinates mutual aid across several government agencies. According to the California Office of Emergency Services, a mass fatality is an incident in which more deaths take place in a period of time than can be handled by local coroner or medical emergency personnel.

The worsening crisis comes as residents across the state are preparing for a holiday season unlike any other. Under the state’s stay-at-home order, residents are prohibited from gathering with anyone outside their immediate household.

The order has also meant strict new guidelines for businesses amid the holiday shopping season. While retail stores are allowed to remain open, they’re limited to a 20% indoor capacity. Apple Inc. announced on Saturday that it would temporarily close all 53 of its stores in California in an effort to help curb the spread of the virus and encourage people to stay at home.

Still, it seems many are flocking to stores for last-minute gifts. On Saturday, NBC’s Los Angeles affiliate tweeted and aerial video of overflowing parking lots at the Citadel Outlets shopping mall.

The state’s COVID-19 restrictions have also forced major sporting events to change plans last minute. The Rose Bowl in Pasadena will no longer host this year’s College Football Playoff semifinals after the state said it would not make an exception for player guests at the game. The game will instead be held in Arlington, Texas. Meanwhile, the San Francisco 49ers recently announced that they will be spending the remainder of their season in Arizona.

The restrictions and spike in cases come as the first shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech began arriving this past week. Gov. Gavin Newsom said some 721,500 total doses are expected in the state by the end of this week — and while the vaccine does provide hope, he urged residents to continue to be careful and stay at home.

“This is a deadly disease, a deadly pandemic, and we’re in the middle of it right now,” Newsom said. “We’re near the end, but we’re in the middle of the most acute peak.”


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Author: Kat Lonsdorf