US sees virus resurgence
HOUSTON — Hospital administrators and health experts warned desperately Wednesday that parts of the U.S. are on the verge of becoming overwhelmed by a resurgence of the coronavirus, lamenting that politicians and a tired-of-being-cooped-up public are letting a disaster unfold. The U.S. recorded a one-day total of 34,700 new COVID-19 cases, the highest in two months, according to the count kept by Johns Hopkins University. The number of new cases per day is now running just short of the nation’s late-April peak of 36,400. While newly confirmed infections have been declining steadily in early hot spots such as New York and New Jersey, several other states set single-day records this week, including Arizona, California, Mississippi, Nevada, Texas and Oklahoma. Some of them also broke hospitalization records, as did North Carolina and South Carolina. The stock market slid sharply Wednesday as the virus’s resurgence clouded investors’ hopes for a relatively quick economic turnaround. The virus in the U.S. has been blamed for over 120,000 deaths — the highest toll in the world — and over 2.3 million confirmed infections. California, the most populous state, reported over 7,100 new cases, a record. Florida’s single-day count surged to 5,500, a 25% jump from the record set last week and triple the level from just two weeks ago. In Texas, which began lifting its shutdowns early on, on May 1, hospitalizations have doubled and new cases have tripled in two weeks.
$10.9B to settle Roundup case
BERLIN — Bayer will pay up to $10.9 billion to settle litigation over the subsidiary Monsanto’s weedkiller Roundup, which has faced thousands of lawsuits over claims it causes cancer, the German-based company said Wednesday. Bayer said it was also paying up $1.22 billion to settle two additional areas of intense litigation, one involving PCB in water, and one involving dicamba, another weedkiller. The company said the Roundup settlement involves about 125,000 filed and unfiled claims. Under the agreement, Bayer will make a payment of $8.8 billion to $9.6 billion to resolve current litigation, and $1.25 billion to address potential future litigation. Any future settlements are subject to approval by Judge Vince Chhabria of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the company said. Monsanto developed glyphosate — a key ingredient in Roundup — in the 1970s. The weedkiller has been sold in more than 160 countries and widely used in the U.S. The company has long maintained that it is safe. Bayer said last year that all government regulators that have looked at the issue have rejected a link between cancer and glyphosate. But the herbicide came under increasing scrutiny after the France-based International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the World Health Organization, classified it as a “probable human carcinogen” in 2015. Lawsuits against Monsanto followed. Monsanto has attacked the international research agency’s opinion as an outlier. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says glyphosate is safe for people when used in accordance with label directions. Bayer purchased St. Louis-based Monsanto in 2018.
‘Toughest Race’ to air from Fiji
LONDON — Bear Grylls said he was brought to tears by the determination of competitors on “World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji” as they raced through jungles and over mountains to the point of exhaustion and pain. The series’ new 10-episode season, hosted by Grylls and with 66 teams from 30 countries, will debut Aug. 14 on Amazon Prime Video, it was announced Wednesday. The episodes were taped last fall, before the coronavirus pandemic hit. The nonstop race with 330 competitors was held for 11 days and across more than 400 miles. It was difficult to see racers drop out after spending so much time and energy in preparation, Grylls said. “But at the same time, those that endured, whether or not they won, it wasn’t really about the winning,” he said. “This is an expedition with a stopwatch, is how I always kind of see this, and just to complete it is a huge achievement. I unashamedly wept at times, seeing the effort and what it meant to these people,” said Grylls, an adventurer who starred in the survival series “Man vs. Wild.” Grylls noted the field’s diversity, including the first fully African American team competing internationally. Another American squad includes Mark Macy, a past Eco-Challenge competitor who has since been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and his son, Travis. “That was a very emotional journey for them to race together, for the son to want to be alongside his dad,” Grylls said.
Inmates got virus relief checks
BOISE, Idaho — Hundreds of thousands of dollars in coronavirus relief payments have been sent to people behind bars across the United States, and now the IRS is asking state officials to help claw back the cash that the federal tax agency says was mistakenly sent. The legislation authorizing the payments during the pandemic doesn’t specifically exclude jail or prison inmates, and the IRS has refused to say exactly what legal authority it has to retrieve the money. On its website, it points to the unrelated Social Security Act, which bars incarcerated people from receiving some types of old-age and survivor insurance benefit payments. “I can’t give you the legal basis. All I can tell you is this is the language the Treasury and ourselves have been using,” IRS spokesman Eric Smith said. “It’s just the same list as in the Social Security Act.” Tax attorney Kelly Erb, who’s written about the issue on her website, says there’s no legal basis for asking for the checks back. “I think it’s really disingenuous of the IRS,” Erb said Tuesday. “It’s not a rule just because the IRS puts it on the website. In fact, the IRS actually says that stuff on its website isn’t legal authority. So there’s no actual rule — it’s just guidance — and that guidance can change at any time.” After Congress passed the $2.2 trillion coronavirus rescue package in March, checks of up to $1,200 were automatically sent in most cases to people who filed income tax returns for 2018 or 2019, including some who are incarcerated. A couple of weeks later, the IRS directed state correction departments to intercept payments to prisoners and return them. The IRS doesn’t yet have numbers on how many payments went to prisoners, Smith said. But initial data from some states suggest the numbers are huge: Kansas alone intercepted more than $200,000 in checks by early June. Idaho and Montana combined had seized over $90,000.
Woman not kidding around
ODESSA, Fla. — A Florida woman has filed a lawsuit seeking either a paternity test on her goats or a refund — and she’s not kidding. Kris Hedstrom filed the suit against her neighbor, Heather Dayner, last month seeking DNA for the goats she purchased. Hedstrom paid Dayner $900 for five Nigerian dwarf goats in December. According to the lawsuit, Hedstrom believed the goats — Bella, Gigi, Rosie, Zelda and Margoat — could be registered with the American Dairy Goat Association, a group that records goat pedigrees. Registered goats have higher values than unregistered goats. Dayner, who has been selling goats at Baxter Lane Farm for about 10 years, typically provides information to her clients so they can register their animals themselves. She said the father goat was registered, but the Tampa Bay Times reports the American Dairy Goat Association rejected Hedstrom’s application to register the babies because Dayner is not an active member. Proving paternity would require about 40 of the father goat’s hair follicles for a DNA test, so Hedstrom wrote Dayner a letter requesting the DNA in February. Dayner offered to refund the money in exchange for the goats. She said Hedstrom called police on her for three months straight and has trespassed on her farm. A Hillsborough County Sheriff’s deputy visited the property at least three times in the spring. Dayner said she didn’t hear anything else from Hedstrom until the lawsuit was filed.
Swimmer unhooks shark
LEWES, Del. — A swimmer in Delaware was caught on camera prying a shark’s mouth open with his hands this weekend in an effort to free it from a fishing hook. The video shows the man grabbing onto the shark at a beach in Cape Henlopen State Park. He went into the water to unhook it after another person caught it, the Daily Times of Salisbury reported Tuesday. “Everyone started yelling, ‘Shark, shark, get out of the water!'” said Delaware native Rachael Foster, who shared her video on social media. “It was so crazy, like a movie. Like Jaws.” State law prohibits people from keeping sand tiger and sandbar sharks if caught. People must release them immediately.
Two charged in romance scam
CAMDEN, N.J. — A couple helped run an international romance scam that used bogus profiles on dating websites to woo dozens of victims into giving up more than $6 million. Martins Friday Inalegwu and Steincy Mathieu both of Maple Shade, New Jersey, were charged Tuesday with conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud. Inalegwu, 31, made his initial court appearance later that day, but 24-year-old Mathieu remained at large Wednesday. The married couple and their conspirators, including several people who live in Nigeria, carried out the scheme from October 2016 through last month, prosecutors said. Authorities have identified more than 33 victims, who sent more than $6 million overall to the conspirators, including $3.1 million that was sent directly to Inalegwu and Mathieu. The couple spent the money on personal expenses, transferred money to other bank accounts they controlled and moved funds to bank accounts held by conspirators in Nigeria and Turkey. The conspirators made initial contact with victims through online dating and social media websites, then corresponded with them via email and phone, authorities said. They used fictitious identities and pretended to strike up a romantic relationship with them and asked the victims to send money to them, or their associates, for fictitious emergency needs. The conspirators also defrauded people by advertising properties they didn’t own and collecting application fees and security deposits on those properties.
Movement awash in donations
NEW YORK — A flood of donations following the death of George Floyd have left racial equality and social justice groups in a position they might never have expected to be in: figuring out what to do with a surplus of cash. The donations have come from all corners of the U.S. and the globe, including from prominent celebrities and huge companies as well as individual donors putting up anywhere between a few dollars to hundreds of millions. “Both individuals like Michael Jordan and corporations like Google across America are making much bigger commitments than they have in the past,” said Melissa Berman, President & CEO of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. “They are also increasingly willing to name the problem as racism and not use euphemisms.” At the same time, GoFundMe sites have generated millions in donations, mostly made up of very small dollar amounts from a large number of people. A GoFundMe for the mother of Ahmaud Arbery, who was fatally shot while jogging, has raised nearly $2 million from more than 60,000 donors. A fund for Breonna Taylor, who was shot in her home by police, has raised more than $6 million from more than 200,000 donors. And Floyd’s GoFundMe site had raised $14.5 million from more than 500,000 donations from 140 countries. There have been $2 billion in racial equity pledges and commitments since May 25, 2020. By contrast for the whole calendar year 2019, donations in the same category totaled $166.4 million. That’s according to Candid, a nonprofit which tracks donations. On the receiving end of that money are large organizations like the NAACP, Color of Change and ACLU as well as local community organizations that target issues like bail reform, according to Jacob Harold, executive vice president of Candid. But figuring out how best to distribute the bounty has sometimes been a challenge.
Toyota recalls gas-electric hybrids
DETROIT — Toyota is recalling about 752,000 gas-electric hybrid vehicles worldwide because the engines can lose power and stall. The recall covers certain 2013 to 2015 Prius and 2014 to 2017 Prius v hybrids. The company says the hybrids are designed to go into a fail-safe mode if there are faults in the hybrid system. But in rare instances, they may not go into fail-safe and the engines could lose power and stall. Toyota says that power steering and braking would stay on, but at higher speeds, the stalling could raise the risk of a crash. Dealers will update the hybrid software at no cost to owners. The recall covers about 267,000 vehicles in the U.S.
Probation in bail fraud scheme
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A Boston man who pleaded guilty to participating in a scheme to cheat senior citizens out of cash by pretending to be a relative who’s in jail and needs bail money has been sentenced to three years of probation, federal prosecutors said Tuesday. Julio Feliciano, 32, was also ordered to perform 150 hours of community service and repay his victims $31,500. Feliciano and his accomplices last year used fake names to contact older residents of North Carolina, Delaware, Illinois, Tennessee and other states to tell them that cash payments ranging from $7,000 to $9,500 were required to secure the release of their grandson, nephew or other relative from jail,. They asked the victims to send the packages containing cash to addresses in Rhode Island, including private homes, UPS stores and a pharmacy, where Feliciano would pick them up. He pleaded guilty in January to conspiracy to commit mail fraud.
Take note if traveling east
NEW YORK — New York, Connecticut and New Jersey will require visitors from states with high coronavirus infection rates to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, beginning Thursday, the three governors said. “We now have to make sure the rates continue to drop,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday at a video briefing with Govs. Phil Murphy of New Jersey and Ned Lamont of Connecticut, both fellow Democrats. “We also have to make sure the virus doesn’t come on a plane again.” What was presented as a “travel advisory” affects three adjacent Northeastern states that after time were able to check the spread of the virus this spring as New York City became a hot spot for the pandemic. And the governors are now warily eying other states with rising caseloads, trying to keep history from repeating itself. The states’ health departments will provide details of how the rule will work, Murphy said. Visitors to New York from affected states will be informed that they need to quarantine and that violators could face a mandatory quarantine and a fine, Cuomo said. The quarantine is voluntary but “urgent guidance,” Lamont said at a briefing in Hartford, noting it will be enforced differently in each state.