The official U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has passed a quarter of a million people as the virus rages out of control from coast to coast, with 172,000 infections and nearly 2,000 deaths reported on Wednesday alone. U.S. hospitalizations continue to shatter records — now at over 73,000 COVID-19 patients — and the average daily death toll is rising in 33 states. Columbia University epidemiologists estimate more than 3 million people across the U.S. are currently contagious with the coronavirus — nearly 1% of the population.
On Tuesday, Chicago’s public health commissioner, Dr. Allison Arwady, urged city residents to put off Thanksgiving holiday plans, warning as many as 180,000 residents are currently infectious.
Dr. Allison Arwady: “As many as one in 15 Chicagoans has active COVID-19 right now. And that is why the risk of gathering is significant.”
Here in New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio has canceled in-person classes for the city’s public school system — even as bars, restaurants and gyms remain open for limited service.
In the Midwest, over 900 employees of the Mayo Clinic hospital system have contracted COVID-19 in just the last two weeks. The infections led to a labor shortage at the Mayo Clinic campus in Rochester, Minnesota, where ICU beds are filled to capacity and over 1,000 healthcare workers are off the job due to COVID-19 exposure or diagnosis. Stat News reports hospitals in at least 25 states are critically short of nurses, doctors and other staff.
In a conference call with President-elect Joe Biden Wednesday, Minnesota Nurses Association president Mary Turner described the toll the outbreak is having on frontline healthcare workers.
Mary Turner: “The physical impacts of this virus have been devastating. I, myself, have held the hand of dying patients who are crying out for their family that they can’t see. I’ve taken care of co-workers as they fight for their lives on a ventilator.”
As the head of the Minnesota Nurses Association broke down, President-elect Biden also wiped away a tear, promising personal protective equipment and paid sick leave for frontline workers.
President-elect Biden said the Trump administration’s refusal to acknowledge the outcome of the election was preventing his transition team from accessing critical data about the U.S. outbreak and could slow the distribution of vaccines in 2021.
President-elect Joe Biden: “There’s a whole lot of things that are just — we just don’t have available to us, which unless is made available soon, we’re going to be behind, by weeks or months, being able to put together the whole initiative.”
In Washington, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Wednesday he won’t work with President-elect Biden’s transition team until the administrator of the General Services Administration, Emily Murphy, determines Biden won the election.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar: “When GSA makes a determination, we will ensure complete cooperative, professional transitions and planning.”
President Trump continues to refuse to concede to Joe Biden and has retreated from public view, with no public events on his calendar today for the 12th day since the election. On Twitter, Trump continues to promote baseless conspiracy theories about flipped votes and a stolen election.
In Arizona, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said her family has been subjected to “ongoing and escalating threats of violence” since Biden’s victory. She said in a statement, “There are those, including the president, members of Congress and other elected officials, who are perpetuating misinformation and are encouraging others to distrust the election results in a manner that violates the oath of office they took. It is well past time that they stop. Their words and actions have consequences.”
The head of the Australian military has apologized to the people of Afghanistan after a four-year probe found Australian special forces committed war crimes by murdering at least 39 noncombatants in Afghanistan. The probe reveals a practice known as “blooding,” where patrol commanders ordered junior soldiers to shoot a prisoner in order to achieve the soldier’s first kill. The military has now referred dozens of cases to the Australian Federal Police for criminal investigation.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has arrived in Israel, where he toured an illegal Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank. In a surprise move, Pompeo also said he would tour a settlement in the occupied Golan Heights — on Syrian land illegally annexed by Israel in 1981. It’s the first time a U.S. secretary of state has toured Israeli settlements, which violate multiple U.N. resolutions and the Geneva Conventions.
Speaking in Jerusalem alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Pompeo said the U.S. would label the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement “anti-Semitic.” The BDS campaign is a global nonviolent movement seeking to pressure the Israeli government over its treatment of Palestinians. Many of its leaders are Jewish peace activists.
In Central America, at least 30 people have died from Hurricane Iota, the strongest Atlantic hurricane of the year. Some 160,000 Nicaraguans and 70,000 Hondurans were forced to flee their homes. The Colombian island of Providencia was devastated, with 98% of its infrastructure ruined. The storm came just two weeks after Hurricane Eta devastated the region, killing at least 150 people.
New information has emerged about why U.S. prosecutors may have dropped all charges against Mexico’s former defense secretary, General Salvador Cienfuegos, who had been indicted for money laundering and drug trafficking. Vice News reports Mexico threatened to kick the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration out of the country and limit cooperation with the U.S. on drug investigations if the case proceeded. Mexico has vowed to open its own probe of Cienfuegos once he returns.
The federal government is scheduled to execute Orlando Hall today at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. Hall is an African American man who was sentenced to die by an all-white jury. He will be the eighth person to be executed by the federal government this year. On Wednesday, a federal appeals court refused to delay the execution of Hall after lawyers challenged the government’s lethal injection methods. Meanwhile, the United States is moving ahead with plans to execute Lisa Montgomery on December 8. She is set to become the first woman executed by the federal government in nearly 70 years. Her chances of receiving clemency have been dealt a setback after two of her attorneys became infected with COVID-19 after visiting her in prison.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has lifted an order that grounded all Boeing 737 MAX planes for 20 months following two fatal crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia that killed all 346 people on board. Boeing says it has made changes to the design, software and crew training for the 737 MAX, but the plane is still grounded in Europe, Canada, Brazil and China. Michael Stumo, whose daughter Samya died in the Ethiopian crash, criticized the FAA’s decision.
Michael Stumo: “My family and the crash families are very upset that this plane is going back in the air. We don’t have a final crash report from the Ethiopian authorities. They haven’t addressed the inherent instability of this aircraft, which is because of its actual configuration. The software — they’re keeping the software fixes and the hazard analysis and all the tests — they’re keeping it secret.”
Michael Stumo’s daughter Samya was the niece of consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who recently urged the FAA to never let the 737 MAX fly again because of its flawed design.
The Philadelphia City Council has formally apologized for the 1985 police bombing of the radical, Black liberation, anti-police-brutality group MOVE, which killed six adults and five children and destroyed over 60 homes. The City Council resolution acknowledges “the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of the MOVE Bombing.” May 13, the anniversary of the massacre, will be established as an annual day of “observation, reflection and recommitment.”
Activist and former professional football player Colin Kaepernick has come out in support of freeing renowned political prisoner and journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal. Kaepernick posted this video online.
Colin Kaepernick: “A political prisoner, who has since the age of 14 dedicated his life to fighting against racism, continues to be caged and lives his life on a slow death row. We’re in the midst of a movement that says Black lives matter. And if that’s truly the case, then it means that Mumia’s life and legacy must matter.”
The National Book Award for Nonfiction has been awarded to “The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X” by the late journalist Les Payne and his daughter Tamara Payne. It is based on decades of research by Les Payne, who died in 2018.