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CDC to states: Be ready on Nov. 1

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The federal government has told states to prepare for a coronavirus vaccine to be ready to distribute by Nov. 1. The timeline raised concern among public health experts about an “October surprise” — a vaccine approval driven by political considerations ahead of a presidential election, rather than science. In a letter to governors dated Aug. 27, Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said states “in the near future” will receive permit applications from McKesson Corp., which has contracted with CDC to distribute vaccines to places including state and local health departments and hospitals. “CDC urgently requests your assistance in expediting applications for these distribution facilities and, if necessary, asks that you consider waiving requirements that would prevent these facilities from becoming fully operational by November 1, 2020,” Redfield wrote. He wrote that any waivers will not compromise the safety or effectiveness of the vaccine. The Associated Press obtained the letter, which was first reported by McClatchy. The CDC also sent three planning documents to some health departments that included possible timelines for when vaccines would be available. The documents are to be used to develop plans for early vaccination when the supply might be constrained, according to one of the documents, which outlined a scenario in which a vaccine could be available as soon as the end of October.

But will the nation be ready?

Public health departments, which have struggled for months to test and trace everyone exposed to the novel coronavirus, are now being told to prepare to distribute COVID-19 vaccines as early as Nov. 1. In a four-page memo this summer, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told health departments across the country to draft vaccination plans by Oct. 1 “to coincide with the earliest possible release of COVID-19 vaccine.” The CDC’s director, Dr. Robert Redfield, also wrote to governors last week about the urgent need to have vaccine distribution sites up and running by Nov. 1. Redfield asked governors to expedite the process for setting up these facilities. McClatchy first reported Redfield’s letter. But health departments that have been underfunded for decades say they currently lack the staff, money and tools to educate people about vaccines and then to distribute, administer and track doses to some 330 million people. Nor do they know when, or if, they’ll get federal aid to do that. “There is a tremendous amount of work to be done to be prepared for this vaccination program and it will not be complete by Nov. 1,” said Dr. Kelly Moore, associate director of immunization education at the Immunization Action Coalition, a national vaccine education and advocacy organization based in St. Paul, Minnesota. “States will need more financial resources than they have now.”

22 elephants die, more expected

HARARE, Zimbabwe — The number of elephants dying in western Zimbabwe from a suspected bacterial infection, possibly from eating poisonous plants, has risen to 22, and “more deaths are expected,” a spokesman for the country’s parks agency said Wednesday. Most of the elephants dying in the Pandamasue Forest, located between the vast Hwange National Park and Victoria Falls, were young or weak, said Tinashe Farawo, spokesman for the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority. With food scarce, younger elephants that can’t reach higher tree branches “end up eating everything and some of the vegetation that they eat might be poisonous,” Farawo told The Associated Press. He said the problem could persist through the dry season. Zimbabwe has been facing successive climate-induced droughts in recent years, leaving animals with less water and vegetation for food, he said. Apart from possible bacterial infection, some of the animals could be dying due to the stress of walking long distances for food and water, said Farawo. Farawo said overpopulation had become “the biggest threat” to the survival of wildlife in the southern African country’s parks. The “animals are becoming a threat to themselves,” he said. The dead young elephants were found with their tusks still on their bodies, ruling out poaching. In recent years poachers in Zimbabwe have poisoned dozens of elephants with cyanide and then have taken their ivory tusks to sell them to illegal traders.

Black holes bigger than seen size

Black holes are getting stranger — even to astronomers. They’ve now detected the signal from a long ago violent collision of two black holes that created a new one of a size that had never been seen before. “It’s the biggest bang since the Big Bang observed by humanity,” said Caltech physicist Alan Weinstein, who was part of the discovery team. Black holes are compact regions of space so densely packed that not even light can escape. Until now, astronomers only had observed them in two general sizes. There are “small” ones called stellar black holes that are formed when a star collapses and are about the size of small cities. And there are supermassive black holes that are millions, maybe billions, of times more massive than our sun and around which entire galaxies revolve. According to astronomers’ calculations, anything in between didn’t quite make sense, because stars that grew too big before collapse would essentially consume themselves, leaving no black holes. Star collapses couldn’t create stellar black holes much bigger than 70 times the mass of our sun, scientists thought, according to physicist Nelson Christensen, research director of the French National Centre for Scientific Research. Then in May 2019 two detectors picked up a signal that turned out to be the energy from two stellar black holes — each large for a stellar black hole — crashing into each other. One was 66 times the mass of our sun and the other a husky 85 times the mass of the sun. The end result: The first ever discovered intermediate black hole, at 142 times the mass of the sun. Lost in the collision was an enormous amount of energy in the form of a gravitational wave, a ripple in space that travels at the speed of light. It was that wave that physicists in the United States and Europe, using detectors called LIGO and Virgo, captured last year. After deciphering the signal and checking their work, scientists published the results Wednesday in Physical Review Letters and Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Pelosi says hair salon set her up

SAN FRANCISCO — A testy Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday she takes responsibility for trusting the word of a San Francisco hair salon that it was OK to come in for a solo visit — even though the city still does not allow indoor beauty services because of the coronavirus pandemic. But the Democratic House Speaker called Monday’s visit a “set-up” and said the salon owes her an apology for misrepresenting city health orders. “I take responsibility for trusting the word of a neighborhood salon that I’ve been to over the years many times, and that when they said … we’re able to accommodate people one person at a time, and that we can set up that time, I trusted that,” Pelosi told reporters Wednesday. “As it turns out, it was a set-up. I take responsibility for falling for a set-up.” Pelosi is facing fierce backlash after Fox News Channel aired surveillance footage from the salon that showed her walking through the salon with her hair wet and with a mask around her neck rather than on her face. In the clip, a masked stylist follows her. Critics, including President Donald Trump, called her a hypocrite and asked why she did not know the coronavirus-related rules in her home city. Erica Kious, owner of ESalon SF in the city’s upscale Cow Hollow district, told Fox News that she rents chairs to stylists and one of them informed her in advance that Pelosi wanted a wash and blow dry. California guidelines on salons vary by county, but stringent San Francisco officials have not yet permitted indoor salons to open. Kious said she considered Pelosi getting her hair done “a slap in the face” to struggling business owners.

Nerve agent used on Navalny

BERLIN — Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was poisoned with the same type of Soviet-era nerve agent used in a 2018 attack on a former Russian spy, the German government said Wednesday, provoking outrage from Western leaders who demanded Moscow provide an explanation. The findings — which experts say point strongly to Russian state involvement — added to tensions between Russia and the West. German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Navalny’s poisoning attempted murder, meant to silence one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critics. The Berlin hospital treating the dissident said he remains on a ventilator though his condition is improving. It said it expects a long recovery and still can’t rule out long-term effects on his health from the poisoning. The German government said that testing by a German military laboratory showed “proof without doubt of a chemical nerve agent from the Novichok group.” British authorities identified Novichok as the poison used on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England. “There are very serious questions now that only the Russian government can answer, and must answer,” Merkel said.

Market’s biggest gain since July

The Dow Jones Industrial Average surged more than 450 points Wednesday as the stock market notched its best day in nearly two months. The S&P 500 rose 1.5%, it’s best day since July 6. The benchmark index and the Nasdaq composite each hit new highs, extending Wall Street’s milestone-setting run in recent weeks. Health care, technology and communications companies drove the rally. Technology stocks, which have led the market’s rebound this year, gained strength into the afternoon after a brief stumble in the morning. Treasury yields were little changed. They’ve remained very low in response to the Federal Reserve’s efforts to stabilize the economy and investors’ uncertainty about the recovery, which makes them less attractive compared to stocks. Speculation that negotiators in Congress and the White House will reach an agreement on a coronavirus relief package and optimism that a COVID-19 vaccine will become available this year helped put traders in a buying mood Wednesday, said J.J. Kinahan, chief strategist with TD Ameritrade. The S&P 500 gained 54.19 points to 3,580.84. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 454.84 points, or 1.6%, to 29,100.50. The Nasdaq composite recovered from an early slide, adding 116.78 points, or 1%, to 12,056.44. The benchmark S&P 500 index is up 10.8% so far this year following a five month streak of gains, while the Nasdaq is up 34.4%, driven by huge gains for technology giants like Apple.

‘Tiger King’ star will be dancing

Like all cool cats and kittens, Carole Baskin is going to “Dancing With the Stars.” The reality TV star who became a pop culture sensation with Netflix’s docuseries “Tiger King” is joining the new crop of celebrity dancers that includes TV and film actress Anne Heche, former NBA star Charles Oakley and Backstreet Boys singer AJ McLean. The new season premieres on ABC on Sept. 14. On the Netflix series “Tiger King”, Baskin, who owns a big cat refuge, sought to shut down Joseph Maldonado-Passage’s for-profit breeding of big cats. His nickname is “Joe Exotic” and her signature line is “cool cats and kittens.” Maldonado-Passage is serving a 22-year federal prison term for killing five tigers and plotting to have Baskin killed. In June, a federal judge awarded Baskin ownership of the private Oklahoma zoo run by Maldonado-Passage. Others slated to appear on the dancing show are cheer team coach Monica Aldama, “Bachelorette” star Kaitlyn Bristowe, NFL star Vernon Davis, actress Skai Jackson, actress Justina Machado, TV host Jeannie Mai, Jesse Metcalfe, rapper Nelly, TV host Nev Schulman, real estate agent Chrishell Stause and Olympian Johnny Weir. Supermodel and businesswoman Tyra Banks will host the new season after longtime co-host Tom Bergeron and Erin Andrews announced their exits from the series in July.

More charges in bribery scandal

BOSTON — Another wealthy parent was charged Wednesday with trying to bribe his child’s way into an elite university as a fake athletic recruit, a day after two former college coaches caught up in the nationwide admissions bribery scandal were hit with additional charges. Amin Khoury, 54, of Palm Beach, Florida, and Mashpee, Massachusetts, in May 2014 paid $200,000 to get former Georgetown University tennis coach Gordon Ernst to designate his daughter as a tennis recruit even though her “tennis skills were below that of a typical Georgetown tennis recruit,” the U.S. attorney’s office in Boston said in a statement. Khoury is the 57th person charged in the nationwide investigation. He’s charged with mail fraud and bribery. The charges against Khoury were announced the day after Ernst was charged in a superseding indictment with three counts of federal programs bribery and three counts of filing false tax returns, according to a statement Tuesday from the office of Andrew Lelling, the U.S. attorney for Massachusetts. In addition, Jovan Vavic, the former water polo coach at the University of Southern California, was charged Tuesday with conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery, the statement said. Ernst pleaded not guilty last year to a series of charges, including wire fraud and money laundering, for allegedly accepting $2.7 million in bribes from the scheme’s leader to designate at least 12 Georgetown applicants as tennis recruits. The new charges say he solicited and received bribes from three other prospective Georgetown applicants, then failed to report a significant portion of those payments on his federal tax returns, prosecutors said.

770-pound croc caught in Outback

DARWIN, Australia — Wildlife rangers have trapped a 4.4-meter (14.5-foot) saltwater crocodile at a tourist destination in Australia’s Northern Territory, the biggest caught in the area in years, a wildlife ranger said Monday. The 350-kilogram (770-pound) male was caught in the Flora River at a remote nature park 120 kilometers (75 miles) southwest of the Outback town of Katherine, said Katherine senior wildlife ranger John Burke. A larger 4.7-meter (15.5-foot) croc was trapped three years ago in the same wildlife management zone, but that one was caught in the Katherine River, which is closer to the sea, Burke said. He said he did not know of a larger croc caught in the Flora River. Crocodile numbers have been increasing across Australia’s tropical north since federal law made them a protected species in the early 1970s. “They certainly are increasing (in number), and that’s part of the reason we have the management zones — to reduce the numbers in high-visitation areas so there’s less chance of interaction between salties and people,” Burke said, referring to saltwater crocs. The captured croc had been taken to a crocodile farm to become part of a breeding program. Farmed crocodiles can be killed for their meat and leather. The crocs are trapped in large cages baited with wild pig and other meats and submerged in waterways.

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