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Central Gulf Coast Residents Drying Out After Tropical Storm Claudette

Sat, 06/19/2021 - 18:20

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“Oh my god this is everywhere! Look at this flooring,” Ashley James, a resident of Slidell, Louisiana said.

Residents along the U.S. Gulf Coast are trying to dry out after tropical storm Claudette brought heavy flooding into homes and businesses Saturday. 

Around the region residents are sharing videos and posting photos of submerged roads, yards and even living rooms.

The storm came ashore in southeastern Louisiana early Saturday, with 40 mph winds reported by mid-morning. 

The National Weather Service warned residents to be on alert for “heavy rainfall and life-threatening flash flooding across coastal Mississippi, Alabama and the western Florida Panhandle." The Associated Press reported that dozens of homes near the Alabama-Florida border sustained heavy damage.

The storm is expected to move northeast towards the North Carolina coast over the weekend. 

U.S. Health Officials Eye COVID-19 Booster Shots As Variant Spreads

Sat, 06/19/2021 - 14:34

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 "300 million shots in arms in under 150 days. That's an important milestone," President Joe Biden said.

As increasing numbers of Americans are vaccinated for COVID-19, health officials are exploring whether they will need booster shots in future.

"So, we want to be ahead of this booster question. We're making plans now, should we need them soon," said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control. "But we're actually actively looking at the science. This will be a topic of next week's advisory committee, to the immunization practices panel next week at CDC."

News of these plans comes as health officials warn of a highly contagious virus mutation, known as the Delta variant. It has already caused widespread infections and deaths in India and is spreading rapidly in the U.K. and elsewhere.

"The Delta variant is well on its way to becoming the dominant variant globally because of its significantly increased transmissibility,” Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist of the World Health Organization said.

In response to mounting cases, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that plans to relax COVID-19 restrictions will now be delayed for four weeks. 

"I think it is sensible to wait just a little longer," Johnson said.

In Russia,  a new daily infection record in Moscow has been attributed to the Delta variant. That's prompting a new round of COVID-19 restrictions for the city. 

Meanwhile in South America, funeral workers in Colombia can't keep up with newly spiking death rates. Nearly 600 people died there on Thursday alone. And in Argentina, doctors are protesting government rollbacks in pandemic restrictions. They say the risk is too great -- because deaths and hospital admissions are surging again.

Entire Portland, Oregon, Police Rapid Response Team Resigns

Fri, 06/18/2021 - 21:54

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The entire Portland Police rapid response team quit after an officer was indicted on an assault charge for allegedly using "excessive" and "unlawful" force during a protest last year.

The officer allegedly hit a woman on the head with a baton.

The rapid response team was made up of volunteer officers who also held regular assignments.

The bureau says they will remain in their other roles.

President Biden, Officials Sound Alarm On Delta COVID Variant

Fri, 06/18/2021 - 21:02

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Just as the threat from COVID seems to be fading in the U.S., President Biden and federal officials this week are sounding urgent alarms over a new variant.

"This is a more virulent strain. This is like COVID on steroids," former White House adviser Andy Slavitt warned in an interview on CNN. 

The CDC warns Delta will likely become the new dominant strain in the US. The highly contagious strain already makes up virtually every  new confirmed case in the U.K. and it's hitting young, unvaccinated people the hardest. Hospitalizations in the U.K. are peaking among 12-to-20-year-olds.

"We'll get advice from clinicians on the vaccination of children in the next couple of weeks. We'll look at that very carefully. But from now, since all adults can get the jab, that's what we need," U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said. 

Hospitals in areas of the U.S. with low vaccination rates are already seeing a surge in new cases, mostly delta. The CDC says Missouri is seeing the biggest surge right now, where Delta accounts for about 7% of new cases. 

Experts warn southern states could see outbreaks going into the fall. 

"We'll see these in amusement parks and and we'll see them in churches and we'll see them at weddings. We'll see them in places where people are not vaccinated," Slavitt said. 

President Biden announced the U.S. has reached 300 million shots in 150 days but urged Americans to get fully vaccinated in light of the threat of Delta. 

"So please, please, if you have one shot, get the second shot as soon as you can," President Biden said during remarks at the White House. 

U.S. Administers 300 Million COVID Vaccines In 150 Days

Fri, 06/18/2021 - 20:37

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The U.S. marks another milestone in the nationwide vaccination effort: President Biden said today 300 million shots have been administered in 150 days.

However, according to the CDC, only 53% of the total population has had at least one dose and just over 44% of Americans are fully vaccinated.

Canada Recommends Pfizer, Moderna As Second Dose After AstraZeneca

Fri, 06/18/2021 - 19:07

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A Canadian advisory committee says Canadians who got the AstraZeneca shot for their first vaccine dose should not get the second one.

It says they should get the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine for their second shot instead.

The vice-chair of the board says new evidence suggests responses are better when the AstraZeneca vaccine is followed by an mRNA vaccine and said the new guidance also takes into account the marginal risk of blood clots associated with AstraZeneca.

However, she said anyone who got two shots of AstraZeneca can feel confident they are protected.

U.S. Bishops To Draft New Guidelines For Communion

Fri, 06/18/2021 - 19:05

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“Does the body of bishops approve the request of the committee on doctrine?"

A controversial.. and divisive move from Catholic leaders in the U.S.

“The action passed … with a vote of 168 in favor.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops backed the drafting of new guidelines for the Eucharist, bringing the Church one step closer to denying Communion to high-profile leaders who openly support abortion. 

Top of the list in that category— President Joe Biden— just the second Catholic president in U.S. history. The move could also draw the line for others, like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, from taking part in the Eucharist. 

But it’s not a move the Vaticanthe Pope or the majority of U.S. Catholics agree with. Most think Pres. Biden should continue to receive the sacrament. 

And critics fear the decision comes at a time when church membership is already at an all-time low. Jamie L. Manson of Catholics for Choice  tells Newsy the move showcases the growing disconnect between Church leaders and the Catholic community as a whole. 

“They have bishops who are just treating this... they're using a taboo morality of absolutes that just don't reflect the complexities of human experience.”

Critics fear the move will widen division between Church leaders & Catholic community. 

When it comes to Catholic politicians though, the Bishops’ motion could very well wind up becoming just another non-starter. House Speaker Pelosi  shrugged it off before the vote was even cast.

“I think I can use my own judgment on that.”

And some priests and bishops are of the same mind. The Archbishop of Washington publicly stated months ago he had no plans to deny President Biden communion. 

“It’s a matter of the responsibility that I have as the Archbishop to be engaged, and to be in dialogue with him, even in those areas where we obviously have some differences.”

For the time being, the decision to deny communion ultimately will be left to those individual bishops.  That leeway sets the stage for even more disorder … on a subject that’s already lacking clarity.

“Different bishops will make different decisions. I think as long as we can do that while respecting each other's decision in the matter, it could minimize the sort of confusion that will be cast.” 

For Newsy, I’m Lauren Magarino.

Olympics Could Spike Infections In Japan

Fri, 06/18/2021 - 17:48

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 Japan's top medical experts warned hosting the Olympics could cause a rise in COVID infections and said doing it with no spectators was the best option. 

The head of the games' organizing committee recently said she wants to allow as many as 10,000 fans at venues. 

A final decision on domestic fans is set to be made as early as Monday. 

The games are scheduled to begin July 23rd. 

Kim Jong-Un: Prepared For Dialogue, Confrontation With U.S.

Fri, 06/18/2021 - 17:47

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered his government to be prepared for both dialogue and confrontation with the Biden administration, but more for confrontation, state media reported Friday, days after the United States and others urged the North to abandon its nuclear program and return to talks.

Kim's statement indicates he'll likely push to strengthen his nuclear arsenal and increase pressure on Washington to give up what North Korea considers a hostile policy toward the North, though he'll also prepare for talks to resume, some experts say.

During an ongoing ruling party meeting Thursday, Kim analyzed in detail the policy tendencies of the U.S. under President Joe Biden and clarified steps to be taken in relations with Washington, the Korean Central News Agency said. It did not specify the steps.

Kim "stressed the need to get prepared for both dialogue and confrontation, especially to get fully prepared for confrontation in order to protect the dignity of our state" and ensure national security, it said.

In 2018-19, Kim held a series of summits with then-President Donald Trump to discuss North Korea's advancing nuclear arsenal. But the negotiations fell apart after Trump rejected Kim's calls for extensive sanctions relief in return for a partial surrender of his nuclear capability. 

Biden's administration has worked to formulate a new approach on North Korea's nuclear program that it describes as "calibrated and practical." Details of his North Korea policy haven't been publicized, but U.S. officials have suggested Biden will seek a middle ground between Trump's direct meetings with Kim and former President Barack Obama's "strategic patience" to curb Kim's nuclear program. 

Earlier this week, leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy nations issued a statement calling for the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and "the verifiable and irreversible abandonment" of North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. They called on North Korea to engage and resume dialogue. 

Sung Kim, the top U.S. official on North Korea, is to visit Seoul on Saturday for a trilateral meeting with South Korean and Japanese officials. His travel emphasizes the importance of three-way cooperation in working toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the State Department said.

Kim Jong Un has recently threatened to enlarge his nuclear arsenal and build high-tech weapons targeting the U.S. mainland if Washington refuses to abandon its hostile policy toward North Korea. 

In March, Kim's military performed its first short-range ballistic missile tests in a year. But North Korea is still maintaining a moratorium on long-range missile and nuclear tests in an indication that Kim still wants to keep prospects for diplomacy alive. 

Kwak Gil Sup, head of One Korea Center, a website specializing in North Korea affairs, wrote on Facebook that Kim's statement suggested he's taking a two-track approach of bolstering military capability and preparing for talks. But he said Kim will more likely focus on boosting military strength and repeating his demand for the U.S. to withdraw its hostile policy, rather than hastily returning to talks.

Kim said last week North Korea's military must stay on high alert to defend national security.

Analyst Cheong Seong-Chang at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea said North Korea will likely return to talks but won't accept a call for immediate, complete denuclearization. He said North Korea may accede to a proposal to freeze its atomic program and partially reduce its nuclear arsenal in phased steps if the Biden administration relaxes sanctions and suspends its regular military drills with South Korea.

Cha Duck Chul, a deputy spokesman at South Korea's Unification Ministry, said it's closely monitoring the North's ongoing political meeting and wants to reemphasize the best way to achieve peace on the Korean Peninsula is through dialogue.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijiang called for renewed dialogue between North Korea and the U.S., saying that "We believe that the Korean Peninsula situation is facing a new round of tension."

Kim called the ruling Workers' Party's Central Committee meeting taking place this week to review efforts to rebuild the economy, which has been severely crippled by pandemic border closings, mismanagement amid the U.S.-led sanctions, and storm damage to crops and infrastructure last year.

On Tuesday, Kim opened the meeting by warning of potential food shortages, urging officials to find ways to boost agricultural production because the country's food situation "is now getting tense." He also urged the country to brace for extended COVID-19 restrictions, suggesting North Korea would extend its border closure and other steps despite the stress on its economy.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.