Beyond 100M: Biden team aiming for bigger vaccine numbers

WASHINGTON (AP) — It sounded so ambitious at first blush: 100 million vaccination shots in 100 days.

Now, one month into his presidency, Joe Biden is on a glide path to attain that goal and pitching well beyond it to the far more ambitious and daunting mission of vaccinating all eligible adults against the coronavirus by the end of the summer.

Limited supply of the two approved COVID-19 vaccines has hampered the pace of vaccinations — and that was before extreme winter weather delayed the delivery of about 6 million doses this past week. But the United States is on the verge of a supply breakthrough as manufacturing ramps up and with the expectation of a third vaccine becoming available in the coming weeks.

That means the act of delivering injections will soon be the dominant constraint, and it's prompting the Biden administration to push to dramatically expand the universe of those who will deliver injections and where Americans will meet them to get their shots.

“It’s one thing to have the vaccine, and it’s very different to get it in someone’s arms,” Biden said Friday as he toured Pfizer’s manufacturing plant in Portage, Michigan. The company is set to double its pace of vaccine deliveries in the coming weeks.


Power failure: How a winter storm pushed Texas into crisis

HOUSTON (AP) — Two days before the storm began, Houston’s chief elected official warned her constituents to prepare as they would for a major hurricane. Many took heed: Texans who could stocked up on food and water, while nonprofits and government agencies set out to help those who couldn’t.

But few foresaw the fiasco that was to come.

As temperatures plunged and snow and ice whipped the state, much of Texas’ power grid collapsed, followed by its water systems. Tens of millions huddled in frigid homes that slowly grew colder or fled for safety. And a prideful state, long suspicious of regulation and outside help, was left to seek aid from other states and humanitarian groups as many of its 29 million people grasped for survival.

At one hospital, workers stood outside to collect rainwater. Others stood in line at a running tap in a park. A mother of three took her children to shelter in a furniture store after she could see her breath forming in the family’s trailer. University professors fundraised so their students could afford meals.

Images of desperate Texans circulated worldwide. To some, they evoked comparisons to a less wealthy or self-regarding place. To others, they laid bare problems that have long festered.


FAA orders United to inspect Boeing 777s after emergency

Federal aviation regulators are ordering United Airlines to step up inspections of all Boeing 777s equipped with the type of engine that suffered a catastrophic failure over Denver Saturday. United says it is temporarily removing those aircraft from service.

The announcements come a day after United Airlines Flight 328 had to make an emergency landing at Denver International Airport after its right engine blew apart just after takeoff. Pieces of the casing of the engine, a Pratt & Whitney PW4000, rained down on suburban neighborhoods.

The plane with 231 passengers and 10 crew on board landed safely, and nobody aboard or on the ground was reported hurt, authorities said.

The Federal Aviation Administration FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a statement Sunday that based on an initial review of safety data, inspectors “concluded that the inspection interval should be stepped up for the hollow fan blades that are unique to this model of engine, used solely on Boeing 777 airplanes.”

The National Transportation Safety Board said in a separate statement that two of the engine's fan blades were fractured and the remainder of the fan blades “exhibited damage.” The NTSB did caution that it was too early to draw conclusions about how the incident happened.


US coronavirus death toll approaches milestone of 500,000

The U.S. stood Sunday at the brink of a once-unthinkable tally: 500,000 people lost to the coronavirus.

A year into the pandemic, the running total of lives lost was about 498,000 — roughly the population of Kansas City, Missouri, and just shy of the size of Atlanta. The figure compiled by Johns Hopkins University surpasses the number of people who died in 2019 of chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer’s, flu and pneumonia combined.

“It’s nothing like we have ever been through in the last 102 years, since the 1918 influenza pandemic,” the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said on CNN's “State of the Union.”

The U.S. virus death toll reached 400,000 on Jan. 19 in the waning hours in office for President Donald Trump, whose handling of the crisis was judged by public health experts to be a singular failure.

The first known deaths from the virus in the U.S. happened in early February 2020, both of them in Santa Clara County, California. It took four months to reach the first 100,000 dead. The toll hit 200,000 deaths in September and 300,000 in December. Then it took just over a month to go from 300,000 to 400,000 and about two months to climb from 400,000 to the brink of 500,000.


Hospitals confront water shortages in winter storm aftermath

HOUSTON (AP) — Hospitals across the South grappled with water shortages Sunday in the wake of a devastating winter storm as the region carried on with recovery efforts and the weather offered a balmy respite — temperatures as high as the mid-60s.

At the height of last week's storm, hospitals scrambled to care for patients amid record cold temperatures, snow and ice that battered parts of the country more accustomed to going through winter with light jackets and short sleeves. The icy blast ruptured water mains, knocked out power to millions of utility customers and contributed to at least 76 deaths — half of which occurred in Texas. At least seven people died in Tennessee and four in Portland, Oregon.

A rural hospital in Anahuac, Texas, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of Houston, lost both water and power.

William Kiefer, CEO of Chambers Health, which runs the hospital along with two clinics and a wellness center, said the facilities resorted to backup generators and water from a 275-gallon storage tank. They refilled it three times using water from a swimming pool in the wellness center.

When temperatures were in the teens last Monday, a woman about to give birth walked into the hospital after she could not make it through the ice and snow to her hospital in suburban Houston. Emergency room staff delivered the baby safely, Kiefer said.


Why some Texans are getting sky-high energy bills

After unusual icy weather left millions of Texans without power, some are facing another crisis: Sky-high electricity bills.

The surge in pricing is hitting people who have chosen to pay wholesale prices for their power, which is typically cheaper than paying fixed rates during good weather, but can spike when there’s high demand for electricity. Many of those who have reported receiving large bills are customers of electricity provider Griddy, which only operates in Texas.

Among them is Susan Hosford of Denison, Texas. On a typical February day, she pays Griddy less than $2.50 for power. But the one-day cost spiked to hundreds of dollars after the storm. In all, she was automatically charged $1,346.17 for the first two weeks of February, which was more than she had in her checking account, causing her bank to charge her overdraft fees and affect other bills.

“This whole thing has been a nightmare,” she said.

Here’s more on the soaring electricity bills:


UN nuclear chief says Iran to grant 'less access' to program

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran will begin to offer United Nations inspectors “less access” to its nuclear program as part of its pressure campaign on the West, though investigators will still be able to monitor Tehran's work, the U.N. atomic watchdog's chief said Sunday.

Rafael Grossi's comments came after an emergency trip to Iran in which he said the International Atomic Energy Agency reached a “technical understanding” with Tehran to continue to allow monitoring of its nuclear program for up to three months. But his remarks to journalists underlined a narrowing window for the U.S. and others to reach terms with Iran, which is already enriching and stockpiling uranium at levels far beyond those allowed by its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

“The hope of the IAEA has been to stabilize a situation which was very unstable," Grossi said at the airport after his arrival back in Vienna, where the agency is based. "I think this technical understanding does it so that other political consultations at other levels can take place and most importantly we can avoid a situation in which we would have been, in practical terms, flying blind.”

Grossi, the IAEA's director general, offered few specifics of the agreement he had reached with Iranian leaders. He said the number of inspectors on the ground would remain the same but that “what changes is the type of activity” the agency was able to carry out, without elaborating further. He stressed monitoring would continue "in a satisfactory manner.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who under President Hassan Rouhani helped reach the atomic accord, said the IAEA would be prevented from accessing footage from their cameras at nuclear sites. That came during a state TV interview Sunday even before his meeting with Grossi.


In Israel and beyond, virus vaccines bring political power

JERUSALEM (AP) — Forget about oil and arms. Coronavirus vaccines are emerging as the newest currency of choice in the Middle East.

Israel’s reopening of its economy, combined with a murky prisoner swap with Syria and the arrival of a batch of vaccines in the Gaza Strip, have all underscored how those with access to the vaccines have political power in the turbulent region.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been at the forefront of this trend, pinning his re-election hopes on the success of his campaign to vaccinate Israel’s adult population. At the same time, he has offered rewards to those who vaccinate and punishments to those who don't.

Israel has jumped out to the world’s fastest vaccination campaign, administering at least one dose to more than half its 9.3 million people and the required two doses to about a third in less than two months. In contrast to the long waits seen in Europe and the U.S., vaccines are plentiful and available almost on demand to anyone who wants one. Clinics have even offered free food and cappuccinos to help lure reluctant holdouts to come in and get the jab.

Netanyahu’s efforts finally seem to be bearing fruit, and the number of new coronavirus infections and serious cases is dropping. That enabled the government on Sunday to lift a number of restrictions, reopening stores, shopping malls, and many schools after a two-month lockdown. In the coming weeks, all schools and restaurants are expected to reopen, just in time for the March 23 election.


Snubbed as Obama high court pick, Garland in line to be AG

WASHINGTON (AP) — The last time Merrick Garland was nominated by the White House for a job, Republicans wouldn't even meet with him.

Now, the once-snubbed Supreme Court pick will finally come before the Senate, this time as President Joe Biden's choice for attorney general. Garland, an appeals court judge, is widely expected to sail through his confirmation process, which begins Monday before the Democratic-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee, with bipartisan support.

“Judge Garland’s extensive legal experience makes him well-suited to lead the Department of Justice, and I appreciated his commitment to keep politics out of the Justice Department,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said in a statement. “Unless I hear something new, I expect to support his nomination before the full Senate."

Biden’s choice of Garland reflects the president’s goal of restoring the department’s reputation as an independent body. During his four years as president, Donald Trump had insisted that the attorney general must be loyal to him personally, a position that battered the department’s reputation. Garland's high court nomination by President Barack Obama in 2016 died because the Republican-controlled Senate refused to hold a hearing.

Garland will inherit a Justice Department that endured a tumultuous time under Trump — rife with political drama and controversial decisions — and abundant criticism from Democrats over what they saw as the politicizing of the nation’s top law enforcement agencies.


139-year-old house rolls to new San Francisco address

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — After 139 years at 807 Franklin St. in San Francisco, a two-story Victorian house has a new address.

The green home with large windows and a brown front door was loaded onto giant dollies and moved Sunday to a location six blocks away.

Onlookers lined the sidewalks to snap photos as the structure rolled — at a top speed of 1 mph — to 635 Fulton St.

The house’s journey has been in the planning stages for years, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Veteran house mover Phil Joy told the newspaper he had to secure permits from more than 15 city agencies.

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