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AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EDT

June 12, 2020 - 8:05 PM

Some states hit pause, others press on amid spike in virus

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Utah and Oregon put any further reopening of their economies on hold amid a spike in coronavirus cases, but there was no turning back Friday in such states as Texas, Arkansas and Arizona despite flashing warning signs there, too.

One by one, states are weighing the health risks from the virus against the economic damage from the stay-at-home orders that have thrown millions out of work over the past three months.

And many governors are coming down on the side of jobs, even though an Associated Press analysis this week found that cases are rising in nearly half the states — a trend experts attributed in part to the gradual reopening of businesses over the past few weeks.

Texas hit highs this week for hospitalizations and new COVID-19 cases, prompting Houston's top county official, Lina Hidalgo, to warn that “we may be approaching the precipice of a disaster.” Meanwhile, the state went ahead with allowing restaurants to expand eat-in dining Friday to 75% of capacity, up from 50%.

“Oh, yeah, I’ve been concerned,” 32-year-old Renata Liggins said as she settled in front of a plate of brisket at Black’s Barbecue in Austin and the number of people now hospitalized with COVID-19 in Texas climbed to its highest level yet, at more than 2,100. But "it just feels I can finally breathe a little bit.”

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The Latest: Beijing has 7 locally transmitted virus cases

BEIJING — Officials in China’s capital are moving quickly to stem a new coronavirus outbreak after the discovery of seven cases the past two days.

The National Health Commission said six of the cases were confirmed in Beijing on Friday, a day after the first was reported. They are the first locally transmitted cases in the city in more than 50 days.

Chinese media said at least two of the infected people had visited a wholesale market dealing in fresh food. Authorities said all workers at the Xinfadi market were being tested for the virus and testing of food and environmental samples had been ordered for all Beijing’s wholesale food markets.

Earlier, the city said it was delaying the planned reopening of school Monday for first to third graders because of the new cases.

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Biden's VP list narrows: Warren, Harris, Susan Rice, others

WASHINGTON (AP) — Joe Biden’s search for a running mate is entering a second round of vetting for a dwindling list of potential vice-presidential nominees, with several black women in strong contention.

Democrats with knowledge of the process said Biden’s search committee has narrowed the choices to as few as six serious contenders after initial interviews. Among the group still in contention: Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kamala Harris of California, as well as Susan Rice, who served as President Barack Obama's national security adviser.

Those with knowledge declined to name other contenders and said the process remains somewhat fluid. Additional candidates may still be asked to submit to the extensive document review process now underway for some top contenders. Those familiar with Biden's search spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the process.

The campaign dismissed the idea of a shortened list as early speculation. “Those who talk don’t know and those who know don’t talk,” said Andrew Bates, a Biden spokesperson.

Biden, who has already said he will pick a woman as his running mate, is facing increased calls from Democrats to put a woman of colour on the ticket — both because of the outsize role that black voters played in Biden's road to the nomination and because of the reckoning over racism and inequality roiling the nation following the death of George Floyd. The black Minneapolis man died after a white police officer pressed his knee on his neck for several minutes, an episode that was captured on video.

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Trump administration revokes transgender health protection

Washington (AP) — In a move applauded by President Donald Trump's conservative religious base, his administration on Friday finalized a rule that overturns Obama-era protections for transgender people against sex discrimination in health care.

The Department of Health and Human Services said it will enforce sex discrimination protections “according to the plain meaning of the word ‘sex' as male or female and as determined by biology.” This rewrites an Obama-era regulation that sought a broader understanding shaped by a person's internal sense of being male, female, neither or a combination.

LGBTQ groups say explicit protections are needed for people seeking sex-reassignment treatment, and even for transgender people who need care for common illnesses such as diabetes or heart problems.

But conservatives say the Obama administration exceeded its legal authority in broadly interpreting gender.

The reversal comes in the middle of LGBTQ Pride Month. Activists and Democratic lawmakers noted that Friday was also the four-year anniversary of the mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in which 49 people were killed.

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Treasury chief refusing to disclose recipients of virus aid

WASHINGTON (AP) — Building ramparts of secrecy around a $600 billion-plus coronavirus aid program for small businesses, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has moved from delay to denial in refusing outright to disclose the recipients of taxpayer-funded loans.

Mnuchin told Congress at a hearing this week that the names of loan recipients and the amounts are “proprietary information.” While he claimed the information is confidential, ethics advocates and some lawmakers see the move as an attempt to dodge accountability for how the money is spent.

Businesses struggled to obtain loans in the early weeks of the program, and several hundred publicly traded companies received loans despite their likely ability to get the money from private financial sources. Publicly shamed, a number of big corporations said they would return their loans.

“Given the many problems with the program, it is imperative American taxpayers know if the money is going where Congress intended — to the truly small and unbanked small business,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Friday. “The administration’s resistance to transparency is outrageous and only serves to raise further suspicions about how the funds are being distributed and who is actually benefiting.”

The Small Business Administration — an agency with about 3,200 employees and an annual budget shy of $1 billion — is shouldering the massive relief effort for U.S. small businesses and their employees left reeling by the economic punch of the pandemic. A signature piece of Congress’ multitrillion-dollar coronavirus rescue, and touted by President Donald Trump, the unprecedented lending program is intended to help small employers stay afloat and preserve jobs in a cratering economy losing tens of millions of them.

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Q&A: What's next for Seattle protesters' 'autonomous zone'?

SEATTLE (AP) — For nearly a week, people opposing police brutality and racial injustice have turned a Seattle neighbourhood into ground zero for their protests, creating a carnival-like atmosphere with speakers and drum circles near a largely abandoned police station.

While protesters say it shows how people can manage without police intervention, it's drawn scorn from President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly threatened to “go in” to stop the “anarchists" he says have taken over the liberal city after officers withdrew to ease tensions.

Washington’s governor and Seattle’s mayor, both Democrats, have rebuked Trump and say local officials are trying to find a peaceful resolution following demonstrations that turned violent last weekend.

In the latest twist, a U.S. judge on Friday ordered Seattle police to temporarily stop using tear gas, pepper spray and flash-bang devices to break up largely peaceful protests.

A look at what’s going on in Seattle:

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Judge orders Seattle to stop using tear gas during protests

SEATTLE (AP) — A U.S. judge on Friday ordered Seattle police to temporarily stop using tear gas, pepper spray and flash-bang devices to break up largely peaceful protests, a victory for groups who say authorities have overreacted to recent demonstrations over police brutality and racial injustice.

The liberal city with a lengthy history of massive, frequent protests has taken hits from all sides — from demonstrators, some city officials, the president and now a judge — over the way it's responded to crowds taking to the streets following George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police. Those on the right say the mayor and police chief aren't being tough enough on protesters who have taken over part of a neighbourhood near downtown Seattle, while those on the left say police tactics have been far too harsh.

U.S. District Judge Richard Jones sided with a Black Lives Matter group that sued the Seattle Police Department this week to halt the violent tactics it has used to break up protests.

Last weekend, officers used tear gas, pepper spray and other force against crowds of protesters. Jones' order halts those tactics for two weeks, though demonstrations this week have been calm.

Mayor Jenny Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best have apologized to peaceful protesters who were subjected to chemical weapons. But Best has said some demonstrators violently targeted police, throwing objects and ignoring orders to disperse. Both have faced calls to resign, which they have rejected.

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CDC posts long-awaited tips for minimizing everyday risk

NEW YORK (AP) — Take the stairs, not the elevator, down from your hotel room. Encourage people to bring their own food and drinks to your cookout. Use hand sanitizer after banking at an ATM. Call ahead to restaurants and nail salons to make sure staff are wearing face coverings. And no high-fives — or even elbow bumps — at the gym.

These are some of the tips in long-awaited guidance from U.S. health officials about how to reduce risk of coronavirus infection for Americans who are attempting some semblance of normal life.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted the guidelines Friday, along with a second set for organizing and attending big gatherings such as concerts, sporting events, protests and political rallies.

But the guidelines are “not intended to endorse any particular type of event,” the CDC's Dr. Jay Butler said in a Friday call with reporters.

The staging and attendance of such events should be in accordance with what local health officials are advising, based on much the coronavirus is spreading in a particular community, he added.

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With the search for 2 kids at an end, a community mourns

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Within a few hours, a garden of mementos grew outside the rural crime scene. Pinwheels, flowers and stuffed animals dotted a fence near where police found remains believed to belong to two children in a bizarre case that has captured attention around the world.

For police, the grisly discovery this week marked a significant break in a monthslong investigation into what happened to Joshua “JJ” Vallow, who was 7 when he vanished in September along with his 17-year-old sister Tylee Ryan.

For relatives, who said the remains belong to the children, their heartbreak was magnified.

For cluster of small Idaho towns, it was the denouement of one mystery and the start of another: Where are JJ and Tylee? Right here, and yet irretrievably gone. Why are they gone? That may never be fully answered.

“I never thought it would come to this — I didn't think they were dead,” said Timanee Olsen, a specialty cookie baker who has closely followed the case and after hearing about the bodies, planned a vigil to mourn the kids who disappeared from Rexburg. “It’s just sparked a lot of sadness in our town."

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Kentucky panel votes to remove Davis statue from Capitol

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A Kentucky commission voted Friday to take down a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis from the state capitol, adding its voice to a global push to remove symbols of racism and slavery.

The Historic Properties Advisory Commission met remotely through video teleconferencing at the request of Gov. Andy Beshear and then voted 11-1 to move the 15-foot (4.5-meter) marble statue of Davis to a state historic site in southern Kentucky where the Confederate leader was born. The commission is responsible for statues in the state capitol.

“When I see the Jefferson Davis statue in my state capitol, and knowing our history, I can’t find a lot of reasons to honour this man in that way," said commissioner member Cathy Thomas, adding that he “enslaved human beings" and “rebelled against the United States of America."

Relocating the Davis statue means it will no longer share space in the ornate Capitol Rotunda with a statue of Abraham Lincoln, his Civil War adversary and the president who freed the slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation. Both were Kentucky natives.

State workers were seen doing prep work Friday for the statue's removal from the Rotunda, but it wasn't immediately clear when it would go.

News from © The Associated Press, 2020
The Associated Press

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