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

June 22, 2020 - 8:04 PM

Surging US virus cases raise fear that progress is slipping

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Alarming surges in coronavirus cases across the U.S. South and West raised fears Monday that the outbreak is spiraling out of control and that hard-won progress against the scourge is slipping away because of resistance among many Americans to wearing masks and keeping their distance from others.

Confirming predictions that the easing of state lockdowns over the past month and a half would lead to a comeback by the virus, cases surpassed 100,000 in Florida, hospitalizations are rising dramatically in Houston and Georgia, and a startling 1 in 5 of those tested in Arizona are proving to be infected.

Over the weekend, the virus seemed to be everywhere at once: Several campaign staff members who helped set up President Donald Trump's rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, tested positive, as did 23 Clemson University football players in South Carolina. At least 30 members of the Louisiana State University team were isolated after becoming infected or coming into contact with someone who was. Meatpacking plants were also hit with outbreaks.

“It is snowballing. We will most certainly see more people die as a result of this spike,” said Dr. Marc Boom, CEO and president of Houston Methodist Hospital, noting that the number of COVID-19 hospital admissions has tripled since Memorial Day to more than 1,400 across eight hospital systems in the Houston metropolitan area.

He warned that hospitals could be overwhelmed in three weeks, and he pleaded with people to cover their faces and practice social distancing.

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Trump: US doing 'too good a job' on testing

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Monday the United States has done “too good a job” on testing for cases of COVID-19, even as his staff insisted the president was only joking when he said over the weekend that he had instructed aides to “slow the testing down, please.”

The president’s comments at a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday brought quick rebukes from the campaign of likely Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden as well as scores of Democratic lawmakers.

In an interview with Scripps for its local TV stations, Trump was asked Monday whether he did indeed tell aides to “slow it down.” He did not directly answer the question.

“If it did slow down, frankly, I think we’re way ahead of ourselves, if you want to know the truth,” Trump said. “We’ve done too good a job,” adding that the reason the United States has more coronavirus cases is that it does more testing.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said any suggestion that testing has been curtailed is not rooted in fact, saying Trump made the slow-it-down comment “in jest.”

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SKorean activist floats leaflets to North amid high tensions

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A South Korean activist said Tuesday hundreds of thousands of leaflets had been launched by balloon across the border with North Korea overnight, after the North repeatedly warned it would retaliate against such actions.

The move is certain to intensify tensions between the Koreas, after the North abruptly raised its rhetoric against South Korean civilian leafleting and pushed to resume its psychological warfare against the South.

Police in the South Korean border town of Paju said Tuesday they were checking into details about the reported leafleting.

Activist Park Sang-hak said his organization flew huge balloons carrying 500,000 leaflets, 2,000 one-dollar bills and small books on North Korea from Paju on Monday night.

Park, formerly a North Korean who fled to South Korea, said in a statement his leafleting is “a struggle for justice for the sake of liberation of” North Korean residents.

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In Minneapolis, talk of changing PD means taking on union

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The fiery leader of Minneapolis' police union has built a reputation of defying the city, long before he offered the union's full support to the officers charged in George Floyd's death.

When the mayor banned “warrior training” for officers last year, Lt. Bob Kroll said the union would offer the training instead. When the city restricted officers from wearing uniforms at political events, he had T-shirts made to support President Donald Trump. He commended off-duty officers who walked away from a security detail after players on the state's professional women's basketball team, the Minnesota Lynx, wore Black Lives Matter T-shirts. And after Floyd's death, he didn't hold back as he called unrest in the city a “terrorist movement.”

As Minneapolis tries to overhaul its police department in the wake of Floyd’s death, city leaders will collide with a pugnacious and powerful union that has long resisted such change. But that union and Kroll are coming under greater pressure than ever before, with some members daring to speak out in support of change and police leaders vowing to negotiate a contract tougher on bad cops.

Other unions have publicly called for Kroll's removal, while public opinion polls show more Americans are shifting their views on police violence and believe offending officers are treated too leniently.

"People recognize that this just can’t just be half-baked measures and tinkering around the edges in policy reform. What we’re talking about right now is attacking a full-on culture shift of how police departments in Minneapolis and around the nation operate," Mayor Jacob Frey said.

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NASCAR rallies around Wallace as FBI investigates noose

Bubba Wallace steered the No. 43 to the front of pit road, NASCAR champion Kyle Busch pushing the famous car on one side and close friend Ryan Blaney pushing on the other.

The entire 40-driver field and their crew members followed. After the car came to a stop, Wallace climbed out, sat on the window ledge and sobbed. Richard Petty, his Hall of Fame team owner, gently placed a hand on Wallace's shoulder.

As federal authorities descended on Talladega Superspeedway on Monday to investigate the discovery of a noose in Wallace's garage stall, the entire industry rallied around the Cup Series' only Black driver.

“The news has disturbed us all and of course we want justice and know who and why,” said seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson. “And we want to stand with our friend.”

The 82-year-old Petty, at his first race since the coronavirus pandemic began and at Talladega on race day for the first time in more than 10 years, stood side by side with Wallace during the national anthem before Monday's rain-postponed event. Everyone stood behind the car while Brad Keselowski held the American flag at the front of the display of solidarity.

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Seattle will move to dismantle protest zone, mayor says

SEATTLE (AP) — Faced with growing pressure to crack down on an “occupied” protest zone following two weekend shootings, Seattle’s mayor said Monday that officials will move to wind down the blocks-long span of city streets taken over two weeks ago that President Donald Trump asserted is run by “anarchists."

Mayor Jenny Durkan said the violence was distracting from changes sought by thousands of peaceful protesters opposing racial inequity and police brutality. She said at a news conference that the city is working with the community to bring the “Capitol Hill Occupied Protest” zone, or CHOP, to an end and that police soon would move back into a precinct building they had largely abandoned in the area.

Durkan also vowed to address some of the protesters' demands, including investing more in Black communities, reimagining policing in co-operation with community leaders, and pushing for accountability measures and statewide reform of police unions.

The mayor did not give an immediate timeline for clearing out the occupation but said “additional steps” would be examined if people don't leave voluntarily. With scores of people camping in a park in the protest zone, Durkan said peaceful demonstrations could continue, but nighttime disorder had to stop.

“The cumulative impacts of the gatherings and protests and the nighttime atmosphere and violence has led to increasingly difficult circumstances for our businesses and residents,” Durkan said. “The impacts have increased and the safety has decreased.”

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Saudi Arabia to hold 'very limited' hajj due to virus

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi Arabia said Tuesday that because of the coronavirus only “very limited numbers” of people will be allowed to perform the annual hajj pilgrimage that traditionally draws around 2 million Muslims from around the world.

The decision comes after weeks of speculation over whether Saudi Arabia would cancel the pilgrimage altogether or allow the hajj to be held in symbolic numbers. It's unclear why the government waited until just five weeks before the hajj to announce its decision, but the timing indicates the sensitivity around major decisions concerning the hajj that affect Muslims around the world.

Saudi kings have for generations assumed titles as custodians of Islam's holiest sites, and their oversight of the hajj is a source of prestige and influence among Muslims globally. The hajj also generates around $6 billion in revenue for the government every year.

Saudi Arabia has never cancelled the hajj in the nearly 90 years since the country was founded.

The government said its decision to drastically limit the number of pilgrims was aimed at preserving global public health due to the lack of a vaccine for the virus or a cure for those infected, as well as the risks associated with large gatherings of people.

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Mail voting: Pence, aides embrace practice panned by Trump

WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice-President Mike Pence and a half-dozen other senior advisers to President Donald Trump have repeatedly voted by mail, according to election records obtained by The Associated Press. That undercuts the president’s argument that the practice will lead to widespread fraud this November.

More than three years after leaving the Indiana governor's residence, Pence still lists that as his official residence and votes absentee accordingly. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has permanent absentee voting status in her home state of Michigan.

Brad Parscale, Trump's campaign manager, voted absentee in Texas in 2018 and didn't vote in the general election two years earlier when Trump's name was on the ballot.

Two other senior Trump campaign officials — chief operating officer Michael Glassner and deputy campaign manager Bill Stepien — have repeatedly voted by mail in New Jersey. And Nick Ayers, a senior campaign adviser who was previously chief of staff to Pence, has voted by mail in Georgia since 2014.

In most election years, voting by mail is an unremarkable event. But this year is different because Trump has railed against state efforts to expand access to mail-in voting as an alternative to waiting in lines at polling places during a pandemic. He has argued without evidence that mail-in voting will lead to fraud and warned Monday that foreign countries could print ballots.

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MLB plans 60-game slate, shortest since 1878, as union balks

NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball plans to unilaterally issue a 60-game schedule for its shortest season since 1878 after the players' association rejected a negotiated deal of the same length, putting the sport on track for a combative return to the field amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Commissioner Rob Manfred and union head Tony Clark met last week and outlined plans that included expanding the playoffs from 10 teams to 16, widening use of the designated hitter to National League games and an experiment to start extra innings with a runner on second base. But the latest version of the deal proposed by MLB was rejected by the Major League Baseball Players Association’s executive board in a 33-5 vote on Monday.

Those innovations now disappear.

“Needless to say, we are disappointed by this development,” MLB said in a statement. “The framework provided an opportunity for MLB and its players to work together to confront the difficulties and challenges presented by the pandemic. It gave our fans the chance to see an exciting new post-season format. And, it offered players significant benefits.”

MLB's control owners approved going unilaterally with the 60-game schedule in ballparks without fans if the final arrangements can be put in place, a person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because no announcement had been made.

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Some New York news shows back, but many hosts work remotely

NEW YORK (AP) — The couch is still in storage, but the morning team on “Fox & Friends” returned for the first time Monday to the midtown Manhattan studio vacated in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

A few blocks west, there was a similar welcome for two-thirds of the “CBS This Morning” hosts, who had taken brief trips to Washington and a New York theatre before settling in at home after being chased out on March 18.

“I can't even tell you how good I feel today,” said CBS' Gayle King, who made little secret of her distaste for working at home.

Monday represented a key phase in New York City's reopening, with many offices bringing employees back for the first time. Despite the CBS and Fox moves, most news employees continue to work remotely, and the television programs that originate here have a patchwork of approaches that have quickly become familiar.

For instance, ABC's “World News Tonight” anchor David Muir has remained in his upper West Side studio, since he has no guests to interact with on-set. NBC “Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt works from home, while “CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O'Donnell works out of the network's Washington bureau.

News from © The Associated Press, 2020
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