J&J vax prevents severe COVID
WASHINGTON — Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine offers strong protection against severe COVID-19, according to an analysis released Wednesday by U.S. regulators that sets the stage for a final decision on a new and easier-to-use shot to help tame the pandemic. The long-anticipated shot could offer the nation a third vaccine option and help speed vaccinations by requiring just one dose instead of two. Food and Drug Administration scientists confirmed that overall the vaccine is about 66% effective at preventing moderate to severe COVID-19, and about 85% effective against the most serious illness. The agency also said J&J’s shot is safe. The analysis is just one step in the FDA’s evaluation. On Friday, the agency’s independent advisers will debate if the evidence is strong enough to recommend the shot. With that advice, the FDA is expected to make a final decision within days. Tests showed the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were 95% effective at protection against symptomatic COVID-19.
Pfizer vax passes real world test
A real-world test of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in more than half a million people confirms that it’s very effective at preventing serious illness or death, even after one dose. The published results, from a mass vaccination campaign in Israel, give strong reassurance that the benefits seen in smaller, limited testing persisted when the vaccine was used much more widely in a general population with various ages and health conditions. The vaccine was 92% effective at preventing severe disease after two shots and 62% after one. Its estimated effectiveness for preventing death was 72% two to three weeks after the first shot, a rate that may improve as immunity builds over time. It seemed as effective in folks over 70 as in younger people. “This is immensely reassuring … better than I would have guessed,” said the Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Gregory Poland.
Electronics chain Fry’s is no more
SAN FRANCISCO — Fry’s Electronics, the go-to chain for tech tinkerers looking for an obscure part, is closing for good. The company, perhaps even more well known for outlandish themes at some of its stores, from Aztec to “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” said Wednesday in an online posting that the COVID-19 pandemic had made it impossible to continue. Fans immediately took to Twitter to post images and memories (good and bad). The chain was concentrated on the West Coast, but had 31 stores in nine states. It was founded 36 years ago. Neil Saunders, managing director at GlobalData, called it “the end of an era, and a sad day” for an army of loyal customers. The pandemic has done heavy damage to retailers, but Fry’s was already getting hammered by online competition and a battle between heavy-hitters Best Buy and Amazon.com. The wild themes became more of a burden than an experience, Saunders said, and when the chain began to struggle, gaps began to appear on shelves in the the cavernous stores, making them a shell of what they once were. “Fry’s was really a business built for the 1980s electronics boom. During that era, it was a gathering place for enthusiasts of an industry that was on fire,” Saunders said. “However, those days have long since gone and now too has an icon that represented them.” Fry’s Electronics Inc. said its operations have ceased and the wind-down of locations will begin immediately. Customers with electronics being repaired in-store store are being asked to pick them up.
Presidential jet goes wanting
MEXICO CITY — Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s quixotic bid to sell off the presidential jet has now stretched into its third year, with no sign of a buyer in sight. Lopez Obrador has tried to lure corporations and business executives, and even pledged to raffle off the Boeing 787 jet, but with no takers. Ever since he took office on Dec. 1, 2018, the president has vowed to sell off the plane because it is too luxurious. Lopez Obrador prides himself on his austerity, flies commercial flights and has made only one trip abroad. But on Wednesday he acknowledged the jet is hard to sell because it is too specialized and made-to-order. While in the past, the president has talked glowingly of getting offers for the plane, on Wednesday he said “we have not been able to sell it,” because “they made it on special order.” The plane was purchased for $200 million and was used by the previous president, Enrique Pena Nieto. It has been difficult to sell because it is configured to carry only 80 people and has a full presidential suite with a private bath. Experts say it would be costly to reconfigure into a typical passenger jet that would carry up to 300 passengers. Lopez Obrador said last year that the government has received a $120 million offer in cash and medical equipment for the plane. He did not explain what happened to that offer.
Porch thief proposal postponed
COLUMBIA, S.C. — A small group of South Carolina lawmakers decided Wednesday to postpone voting on a proposal to create a new law specifically to handle people stealing packages from porches, even after the chief supporter admitted a five-year minimum prison sentence was a bit harsh. Instead, state Rep. Cezar McKnight suggested a range from probation to 15 years for anyone convicted of violating his proposed ” Defense Against Porch Pirates Act.” “I think that is a bit draconian,” McKnight said of his first thought of a five-year minimum prison sentence. Theft is already a crime, but passing the new law and making it a felony offense would emphasize how stealing from a porch violates the sanctity people should feel in their home, said McKnight, a Democrat from Kingstree.
Sheriff: Crash ‘purely an accident’
LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles County sheriff on Wednesday characterized the crash that seriously injured Tiger Woods as “purely an accident” and appeared to rule out any potential criminal charges even as authorities were still investigating. Deputies did not see any evidence that the golf star was impaired by drugs or alcohol after Tuesday’s rollover wreck on a downhill stretch of road known for crashes, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said. “He was not drunk,” Villanueva said during a livestreamed social media event. “We can throw that one out.” Woods was driving alone through coastal Los Angeles suburbs when his SUV struck a raised median, crossed into oncoming lanes and flipped several times. The crash caused “significant” injuries to his right leg, and he underwent a “long surgical procedure,” according to a post on the golfer’s Twitter account. Villanueva said investigators may seek search warrants for a blood sample to definitively rule out drugs and alcohol. Detectives also could apply for search warrants for Woods’ cellphone to see if he was driving distracted, as well as the vehicle’s event data recorder, or “black box,” which would give information about how fast he was going. Woods was driving his courtesy vehicle from the Genesis Invitational when he crashed.
McPhee, Foster welcome baby
NEW YORK– Katharine McPhee and David Foster may want to channel their musical talents into lullabies. The couple, who wed in 2019, have welcomed a baby boy. McPhee and Foster were friendly for years after meeting in 2006 when Foster was a mentor on “American Idol.” McPhee was the runner-up on season five to Taylor Hicks. She was also tapped to perform in Foster’s 2008 “David Foster & Friends” concert special alongside Celine Dion, Michael Buble, Josh Groban and Andrea Bocelli. This is the first child for McPhee, 36, and the first son for Foster, who is 71. He has five grown daughters from previous marriages. McPhee will co-star with Eddie Cibrian in the Netflix comedy “Country Comfort,” which debuts March 19.
Spiders shut down UM library
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Staff at a University of Michigan library temporarily closed the building after three venomous spiders turned up in a basement storage area. The Mediterranean recluse spiders were found in late January in the Shapiro Undergraduate Library on the school’s Ann Arbor campus. The library reopened Tuesday after being closed Sunday and treated Monday for spiders. The spiders were not in any public spaces, said university spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen, and staff closed the building due to a misunderstanding and out of an abundance of caution. Bites by the spiders can cause problems ranging from minor skin irritation to tissue death, according to University of Michigan-Dearborn professor Anne Danielson-Francois, who identified an adult male spider that was caught in a glue trap at the library. “You’re really unlikely to be in any kind of danger unless you have to be in close contact,” she told the Detroit Free Press. “But if you’re the plumber crawling through a crawl space that has a lot of these spiders, then you could be bit, and that would be concerning. But just walking around the library stacks, it’s a very, very low risk.” The Mediterranean recluse hitchhikes with people throughout the world and has been found in 22 states, Danielson-Francois told WJBK-TV. They like caves and can be found in basements and boiler rooms.
No flag tribute for Limbaugh
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Palm Beach County defied Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday, refusing to lower its courthouse flags to half-staff in honor of the late conservative broadcaster Rush Limbaugh — a move that the governor’s office called “petty.” The county’s courthouse flags remained at full staff, ignoring Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Tuesday afternoon order directing its U.S. and Florida flags to be flown at half-staff. He also ordered the Town of Palm Beach and the State Capitol in Tallahassee to fly their flags at half-staff from sunrise to sunset on Wednesday. Those flags were lowered. Palm Beach County would only say it followed “normal protocols” on Wednesday, but Commissioner Melissa McKinlay posted a statement on Twitter saying, “The lowering of flags should be a unifying gesture during solemn occasions, such as in remembrance of the young lives lost during the Parkland High School massacre or first responder line of duty deaths.” She was referring to the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in nearby Parkland that left 17 dead. McKinlay continued: “Although Rush Limbaugh was a significant public figure, he was also an incredibly divisive one who hurt many people with his words and actions.” The governor’s press office issued a statement late Wednesday saying, “It is unfortunate that Palm Beach County would rather engage in petty politics than honor the death of one of their county’s and state’s most prominent residents and a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient.”
China’s craft in parking orbit
BEIJING — China says its Tianwen-1 spacecraft has entered a temporary parking orbit around Mars in anticipation of landing a rover on the red planet in the coming months. The China National Space Administration said the spacecraft executed a maneuver to adjust its orbit early Wednesday morning Beijing time and will remain in the new orbit for about the next three months before attempting to land. During that time, it will be mapping the surface of Mars and using its cameras and other sensors to collect further data, particularly about its prospective landing site. That follows the landing of the U.S. Perseverance rover last Thursday near an ancient river delta in Jezero Crater to search for signs of ancient microscopic life. A successful bid to land Tianwen-1 would make China only the second country after the U.S. to place a spacecraft on Mars.
Released early, OK man accused
CHICKASHA, Okla. — An Oklahoma man who had been released early from prison in January as part of a mass commutation effort is now accused of three killings, including the death of a neighbor whose heart he cut out. A judge denied bail Tuesday for Lawrence Paul Anderson, who faces three counts of first-degree murder, one count of assault and one count of maiming for the attack this month in Chickasha, about 35 miles southwest of Oklahoma City. According to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, Anderson is accused of killing Andrea Lynn Blankenship, 41, and cutting out her heart. Authorities say Anderson brought the heart to his aunt and uncle’s house, cooked it with potatoes and tried to serve it to them before killing Leon Pye, 67, wounding the aunt and killing Kaeos Yates, the pair’s 4-year-old granddaughter. Anderson sobbed in court during an initial court appearance Tuesday, The Oklahoman reported. “I don’t want no bail, your honor. I don’t want no bail,” he said. Anderson’s attorney, Al Hoch, indicated that he will seek a mental evaluation to determine whether Anderson is competent to stand trial. Anderson had been sentenced in 2017 to 20 years in prison for probation violations on a drug case, the newspaper reported. Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt commuted the sentence last year to nine years in prison, and Anderson was released after serving a little more than three years.
Deaf worker won’t get award
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A deaf former employee of a South Florida Costco store won’t be collecting $775,000 a federal jury awarded her in a discrimination and wrongful termination case. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to reconsider a judge’s decision to overturn the 2018 verdict in favor of Christine D’Onofrio. An appellate court also declined to reinstate the award. D’Onofrio had worked for Costco for 24 years, and said she never had issues communicating with managers until one arrived who mumbled. She requested an interpreter or to have communications written down for her. Instead, Costco provided her with a video phone with online interpretation services. Managers then wrote her up for yelling too loudly into the phone. She sent a letter to the company’s CEO complaining about her treatment. Shortly after, she was suspended for a week, then terminated in October 2013, the lawsuit said. Jurors in the Fort Lauderdale trial agreed with D’Onofrio’s claim that Costco didn’t provide a reasonable accommodation as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, but decided she wasn’t terminated because of her disability and in retaliation for her complaints. Jurors awarded her $750,000 for mental anguish and $25,000 in punitive damages, the newspaper reported. U.S. District Judge William Zloch overturned the verdict, finding that “no reasonable jury could have found in favor of (the) plaintiff.” Zloch ruled that D’Onofrio had rejected the video phone and online interpretation services provided by Costco.
Springsteen avoids DUI charge
The government dropped drunken driving and reckless driving charges against Bruce Springsteen on Wednesday stemming from an incident in November, admitting that the rocker’s blood-alcohol level was so low that it didn’t warrant the charges. Springsteen pleaded guilty to a third charge, consuming alcohol in a closed area, the Gateway National Recreation Area. Better known as Sandy Hook, it is an Atlantic Ocean peninsula with views of the New York City skyline. Facing a judge and more than 100 onlookers in a video conference, Springsteen sat next to lawyer Mitchell Ansell and admitted he was aware it was illegal to consume alcohol at the park. “I had two small shots of tequila,” Springsteen said in response to questions from an assistant U.S. attorney. The case was heard in federal court because the park is considered federal land. U.S. Magistrate Anthony Mautone fined Springsteen $500 for the offense, plus $40 in court fees. “I think I can pay that immediately, your honor,” Springsteen told Mautone. According to a probable cause document written by park police at the time of the incident, Springsteen told a park officer he had done two shots in the previous 20 minutes but wouldn’t take a preliminary breath test before he was arrested. Mautone said Wednesday that the preliminary test is not required, and is not admissible in court. When he took a breath test at the park’s ranger station, Springsteen’s blood-alcohol came back .02, a quarter of the legal limit in New Jersey.
Biden plans major mask push
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden plans to distribute millions of face masks to Americans in communities hard-hit by the coronavirus beginning next month as part of his efforts to ensure “equity” in the government’s response to the pandemic. Biden, who like Donald Trump’s administration considered sending masks to all Americans, is instead adopting a more conservative approach, aiming to reach underserved communities and those bearing the brunt of the outbreak. Trump’s administration shelved the plans entirely. Biden’s plan will distribute masks not through the mail, but instead through Federally Qualified Community Health Centers and the nation’s food bank and food pantry systems.
Suits filed against auto insurers
LAS VEGAS — Class action lawsuits were filed in Nevada against 10 major auto insurance companies on Tuesday, contending that the companies charged excessive insurance premiums during the pandemic by failing to account for a drop in driving and crashes. The lawsuits acknowledge that some insurers provided discounts over the emptier roads and drop in accidents and claims, but the discounts did not offer “any meaningful relief that actually reflects the reduction in cars on the road and reduced driving during the pandemic,” according to the court filings. The rates that were charged violate state law against excessive premiums, the lawsuits contend. The lawsuits were filed on behalf of Nevada insurance customers against State Farm, USAA, Geico, Acuity, Liberty Mutual, Farmers, Progressive, Travelers, Nationwide and Allstate.
Supply chains to be reviewed
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is preparing to sign an executive order to review U.S. supply chains for large-capacity batteries, pharmaceuticals, critical minerals and semiconductors that power cars, phones, military equipment and other goods. The United States has become increasingly reliant on imports of these goods — a potential national security and economic risk that the Biden administration hopes to address with the planned 100-day review and the possibility of increased domestic production, according to administration officials who insisted on anonymity to discuss the order. However, Biden will also look to work with international partners to ensure a stable and reliable supply chain. The order being signed Wednesday will include sectoral reviews to be completed within one year for defense, public health and biological preparedness, information communications technology, energy, transportation and food production.