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

June 27, 2020 - 8:04 PM

As cases surge in US, rural areas seeing increases as well

For many states and counties in the U.S., the dark days of the coronavirus pandemic in April unfolded on their television screens, not on their doorsteps. But now, some places that appeared to have avoided the worst are seeing surges of infections, as worries shift from major cities to rural areas.

While much of the focus of concerns that the United States is entering a dangerous new phase has been on big Sunbelt states that are reporting thousands of new cases a day — like Texas and Florida — the worrying trend is also happening in places like Kansas, where livestock outnumber people.

In early June, Kansas looked to be bringing its outbreak under control, but its daily reported case numbers have more than doubled in recent weeks. On June 5, the seven-day average for daily new cases hovered at around 96; by Friday, that figure was 211. As cases rise, the U.S. Army commander at Fort Riley in the state's northeast ordered his soldiers to stay out of a popular nearby restaurant and bar district after 10 p.m.

Idaho and Oklahoma have seen similarly large percentage increases over the same three-week period, albeit from low starting points. In Oklahoma, the seven-day average for daily new cases climbed from about 81 to 376; Idaho’s jumped from around 40 to 160.

Many rural counties in states including California, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Texas and Florida have seen their confirmed cases more than double in a week, from June 19 to Friday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Lassen County, California, went from just nine cases to 172, and Hot Spring County, Arkansas, went from 46 cases to 415; both spikes were attributed to outbreaks at prisons. Cases in McDonald County, Missouri, more than tripled after Tyson Foods conducted facility-wide testing at a chicken plant there.

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What to wear: Feds' mixed messages on masks sow confusion

Forgive the American people if they're in a fog about face masks. President Donald Trump and the federal government have done a number on them.

First there was the don't-do-it phase. Then the nice-but-not-for-me dissonance. Followed by the local-rules-don't-apply exceptions. Topped off by Trump's stated suspicion that some people wear masks just to troll him.

It has all added up to a murky message about one of the critical tools in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. And the politicization of the to-wear-or-not-to-wear debate is clear in recent public polling.

To be clear: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people wear cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. Some states and local communities require them.

But the messaging disconnect from Washington was evident as recently as Friday, when Vice-President Mike Pence defended Trump's decision to stage two big mask-scarce gatherings in the past week in states with big surges in infections and, in one case, local rules requiring masks.

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Mississippi takes step toward dropping rebel image from flag

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Spectators at the Mississippi Capitol broke into cheers and applause Saturday as lawmakers took a big step toward erasing the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag, a symbol that has come under intensifying criticism in recent weeks amid nationwide protests against racial injustice.

“The eyes of the state, the nation and indeed the world are on this House," Republican Rep. Jason White told his colleagues.

On the other end of the Capitol, Sen. Briggs Hopson declared: “Today, you — Mississippi — have a date with destiny."

Mississippi has the last state flag with the Confederate battle emblem — a red field topped by a blue X with 13 white stars. Many see the emblem as racist, and the flag has been divisive for generations in a state with a 38% Black population.

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves said Saturday for the first time that he would sign a bill to change the flag if the Republican-controlled Legislature sends him one. He previously said he would not veto one — a more passive stance.

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Nurses, doctors feel strain as virus races through Arizona

PHOENIX (AP) — They saw the ominous photos: Crowded hospitals, exhausted nurses, bodies piling up in morgues. It was far away, in New York, northern Italy and other distant places.

Now, after three months of anxiously waiting and preparing, Arizona nurses and doctors are on the front lines as the coronavirus rips through the state, making it one of the world’s hot spots. The trickle of a few virus patients in March became a steady stream two weeks after Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey ended a stay-home order in mid-May and allowed most businesses to reopen, and is now a scourge with no end in sight.

An intensive care nurse in metro Phoenix said she cries when she thinks about all the people who have died from the virus in her hospital, or the times she clutched a frightened patient’s hands during an intubation. Medical staff describe crowded emergency rooms where patients are put on ventilators waiting for a spot in the intensive care unit to open up. There are tearful goodbyes through a patio window in Tucson.

Angela Muzzy, with 31 years experience, said she tells younger nurses they'll remember their role helping people during a historic national crisis.

“We’re caring for physicians who have contracted this, we’re caring for mothers. Last week we withdrew life support on a 48-year-old mother and I stood out there with her 17-year-old son as she passed away,” said Muzzy, a clinical nurse specialist at southern Arizona’s Tucson Medical Center, where all 20 of 36 ICU beds dedicated to virus patients are full.

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Man fires shots at business centre in northern California

RED BLUFF, Calif (AP) — Authorities shot a man who drove into a distribution centre Saturday south of Red Bluff and started shooting at people, local media reported.

The shooting by a man with “AR-type weapon” started about 3:30 p.m. at the Walmart distribution centre, emergency dispatchers told the Record-Searchlight newspaper.

There also was a fire at the site, and the suspect appears to have rammed a vehicle into the building, dispatchers said. There were about 200 workers inside the facility, some of whom locked themselves in a room , employees at the centre told the KHSL TV station.

The suspect was described as being in a white vehicle that had wedged into the building, the Sacramento Bee reported. The shooter was in the middle of the parking lot, dispatchers said.

The suspect had been shot in the chest by about 3:45 p.m., dispatchers told the newspaper.

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Biden slams Trump over reported bounties placed on US troops

WASHINGTON (AP) — Joe Biden attacked President Donald Trump on Saturday over a report that he said, if true, contains a “truly shocking revelation” about the commander in chief and his failure to protect U.S. troops in Afghanistan and stand up to Russia.

The New York Times reported Friday that American intelligence officials concluded months ago that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The report said the Russians offered rewards for successful attacks last year, at a time when the U.S. and Taliban were holding talks to end the long-running war.

“The truly shocking revelation that if the Times report is true, and I emphasize that again, is that President Trump, the commander in chief of American troops serving in a dangerous theatre of war, has known about this for months, according to the Times, and done worse than nothing,” Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, said during a virtual town hall.

The White House said neither Trump nor Vice-President Mike Pence was briefed on such intelligence. “This does not speak to the merit of the alleged intelligence but to the inaccuracy of the New York Times story erroneously suggesting that President Trump was briefed on this matter,” press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement.

Russia called the report “nonsense."

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Opposition wins historic rerun of Malawi's presidential vote

BLANTYRE, Malawi (AP) — The opposition has won Malawi’s historic rerun of the presidential election, the first time a court-overturned vote in Africa has led to the defeat of an incumbent leader.

Lazarus Chakwera’s victory late Saturday was a result of months of determined street protests in the southern African nation, and of a unanimous decision by the constitutional Court that widespread irregularities in the May 2019 election — including the use of correction fluid on ballots —could not stand.

President Peter Mutharika, who had sought a second five-year term, earlier Saturday called the rerun of the election “the worst in Malawi’s history.” He alleged his party’s monitors had been beaten and intimidated during Tuesday’s election, but the Malawi Human Rights Commission, an observer, called the vote peaceful and transparent.

Chakwera won with 58% of the vote, or 2.6 million votes out of 4.4 million cast. Mutharika received 1.7 million. Flag-waving supporters erupted in cheers as the results were read out, and some street celebrations began. Fireworks popped.

“I’m so happy I could dance all night,” Chakwera, former leader of the Malawi Assemblies of God church, told reporters. “This is a win for Malawians, a win for democracy."

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Princeton to remove Wilson name from public policy school

PRINCETON, N.J. (AP) — Princeton University has announced plans to remove the name of former President Woodrow Wilson from its public policy school because of his segregationist views, reversing a decision the Ivy League school made four years ago to retain the name.

University president Christopher Eisgruber said in a letter to the school community Saturday that the board of trustees had concluded that “Wilson’s racist views and policies make him an inappropriate namesake" for Princeton's School of Public and International Affairs and the residential college.

Eisgruber said the trustees decided in April 2016 on some changes to make the university “more inclusive and more honest about its history" but decided to retain Wilson's name, but revisited the issue in light of the recent killings of George Floyd and others.

Wilson, governor of New Jersey from 1911 to 1913 and then the 28th U.S. president from 1913 to 1921, supported segregation and imposed it on several federal agencies not racially divided up to that point. He also barred Black students from Princeton while serving as university president and spoke approvingly of the Ku Klux Klan.

Earlier this month, Monmouth University of New Jersey removed Wilson’s name from one of its most prominent buildings, citing efforts to increase diversity and inclusiveness. The superintendent of the Camden school district also announced plans to rename Woodrow Wilson High School, one of the district’s two high schools.

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Pence cancels some political events because of virus spikes

WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice-President Mike Pence called off campaign events in Florida and Arizona this coming week as the states experience a surge in new coronavirus cases.

Pence will still travel to those states, which have set records for new confirmed infections in recent days, the White House confirmed, saying he will meet with governors and their health teams.

Pence said Friday during a briefing by the White House’s coronavirus task force that he would be visiting Florida, Texas and Arizona to receive a “ground report” on spiking cases of COVD-19 across the region. The three states' Republican governors have come under criticism for pushing for aggressive reopening after virus-related lockdowns as cases in the states rise.

Pence is travelling to Dallas on Sunday to attend a “Celebrate Freedom Rally” at First Baptist Church Dallas before meeting with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. But planned political events later in the week have been pushed off.

On Tuesday, Pence was supposed to address a Trump-Pence campaign “Faith in America” event in Tuscon, Arizona, before meeting Gov. Doug Ducey in Yuma. The campaign event has been postponed.

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American jailed in Spain was unwitting drug mule, US says

WASHINGTON (AP) — Victor Stemberger wasn't about to ignore the emails inviting him into a multimillion-dollar business opportunity, so he pitched himself as perfect for the job. In a way he was — but for all the wrong reasons.

The 76-year-old Virginia man, whose family says he has cognitive issues, accepted the offer and boasted of his credentials as “an experienced businessman who does what he says he will do, and executes flawlessly, according to plan.”

He apparently did follow the plan, but the execution wasn't flawless.

Today Stemberger sits in a Spanish jail, one year after flying into the country with 2.4 kilograms (more than 5 pounds) of cocaine expertly sewn into bubble jackets in a bag. His family says he knew nothing about the drugs. Though Spanish authorities are dubious, the U.S. Justice Department has advised Spain that it believes Stemberger was duped into acting as a drug mule for a West Africa criminal network, and has asked the country for evidence it's gathered, according to correspondence obtained by The Associated Press.

Federal officials have for years warned about scams that lure elderly Americans or those with diminished mental capacity — Stemberger had a significant brain injury nearly 15 years ago — into becoming drug couriers. The frauds work by persuading victims they'll receive payouts if they travel or take some other requested action. The Department of Homeland Security said in 2016 that immigration and border authorities had worked with foreign partners to intercept dozens of unwitting couriers and that more than 30 were believed to still be jailed overseas.

News from © The Associated Press, 2020
The Associated Press

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