National News

COVID-19 live updates: Scale of education lost 'nearly insurmountable,' UNICEF warns

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(NEW YORK) -- As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe, more than 5.5 million people have died from the disease worldwide, including over 866,000 Americans, according to real-time data compiled by Johns Hopkins University's Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

About 63.4% of the population in the United States is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Jan 24, 10:27 am
General in charge of US Special Operations Command has COVID

Gen. Richard Clarke, the head of U.S. Special Operations Command, has tested positive for COVID-19 and is working from home, U.S. Special Operations Command spokesperson Col. Curt Kellogg said.

Clarke, who has been vaccinated and boosted, has "very mild symptoms," Kellogg said.

"Gen. Clarke has not been in the physical presence of senior DoD civilian leadership or members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff this month," Kellogg said.

-ABC News' Luis Martinez

Jan 24, 9:35 am
'Conditions are ideal for more variants to emerge,' WHO warns

The head of the World Health Organization warned Monday that although people across the globe must learn to live with COVID-19 "for the foreseeable future," we cannot "give this virus a free ride."

"There are different scenarios for how the pandemic could play out and how the acute phase could end," Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director-general, said in opening remarks at an executive board meeting in Geneva. "But it's dangerous to assume that omicron will be the last variant or that we are in the endgame."

"On the contrary, globally, the conditions are ideal for more variants to emerge," he added.

Tedros listed a slew of both achievements and concerns in global health over the past year, including increasing access to medicines and health produces, the declining use of tobacco and the burden of anti-microbial resistance. But he said "ending the acute phase of the pandemic must remain our collective priority."

Tedros insisted that "we can end COVID-19 as a global health emergency, and we can do it this year," though he admitted "we have a long way to go." He said it requires meeting the WHO's target to vaccinate 70% of the population of each country against COVID-19 by the middle of this year, with a focus on people who are most at-risk, as well as boosting testing and sequencing rates to track the virus and its emerging variants more closely.

"We can only do this with engaged and empowered communities, sustained financing, a focus on equity, and research and innovation," he said. "Let me put it plainly: If the current funding model continues, WHO is being set up to fail. The paradigm shift in world health that is needed now must be matched by a paradigm shift in funding the world’s health organization."

Jan 24, 7:45 am
Scale of education lost 'nearly insurmountable,' UNICEF warns

More than 635 million students around the world remain affected by full or partial school closures due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), which described the scale of education lost as "nearly insurmountable."

"In March, we will mark two years of COVID-19-related disruptions to global education. Quite simply, we are looking at a nearly insurmountable scale of loss to children’s schooling," Robert Jenkins, UNICEF chief of education, said in a statement Monday. "While the disruptions to learning must end, just reopening schools is not enough. Students need intensive support to recover lost education. Schools must also go beyond places of learning to rebuild children’s mental and physical health, social development and nutrition."

As Monday marks the International Day of Education, UNICEF warned that many schoolchildren, especially the younger and more marginalized, have lost basic numeracy and literacy skills since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. In low- and middle-income countries, learning losses to school closures have left up to 70% of 10-year-olds unable to read or understand a simple text, up from 53% prior to the pandemic, according to UNICEF.

In Ethiopia, primary school children are estimated to have learned between 30% to 40% of the math they would have acquired if it had been a normal school year, UNICEF said.

In South Africa, schoolchildren are between 75% and a full school year behind where they should be. Some 400,000 to 500,000 students reportedly dropped out of school altogether between March 2020 and July 2021, according to UNICEF.

Across Brazil, one in 10 students aged 10 to 15 reported they are not planning to return to classrooms once schools reopen. In several Brazilian states, around three in four children in second grade are off-track in reading, up from one in two children prior to the pandemic, UNICEF said.

Meanwhile, learning losses have also been observed across the United States. In Texas, for example, two-thirds of children in third grade tested below their grade level in math in 2021, compared to half of children in 2019, according to UNICEF.

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Police investigate homicide of six people found dead at Milwaukee home

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(MILWAUKEE) -- Six people were found dead at a home in Wisconsin's largest city in what police are investigating as a homicide.

Officers were conducting a welfare check at a residence in Milwaukee's Park West neighborhood on Sunday afternoon when they discovered the bodies of four men and one woman, according to the Milwaukee Police Department. The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office announced early Monday that the body of a fifth man was also found at the location.

During a press conference Sunday night, Milwaukee Police Assistant Chief Paul Formolo said all of the deaths are being considered homicides, though he did not provide a cause of death. The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office confirmed via Twitter overnight that the sixth body was also a homicide victim. Autopsies are expected to be conducted Monday, according to Formolo.

Investigators are still working to determine the identities of the deceased and for how long they were dead before officers arrived, Formolo said.

When asked whether a weapon was found in the home, Formolo told reporters that officers are actively searching the residence but did not give further information. He did not confirm if a suspect was among the deceased and could not comment on the relationships between the victims. However, he said there was no indication to suggest that the incident poses a threat to the community.

An investigation into the deaths is ongoing. A motive was unknown, according to Formolo.

Arnitta Holliman, director of the Milwaukee Office of Violence and Prevention, urged members of the community to contact the Milwaukee Police Department or Milwaukee Crime Stoppers if they think they have any relevant information.

"The community is tired, we are tired of seeing people's lives snuffed out too soon in preventable situations," Holliman told reporters. "Each and every one of us has to step up, speak up, stand up, do something."

"Milwaukee is great place and can continue to be one," she added, "but we cannot continue to see the kind of violence, level of violence, that we've been seeing."

Acting Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson released a statement on Sunday evening describing the deaths as "horrific."

"It is important not to feel numbed by the ongoing violence in our community," Johnson said. "A horrible crime has again occurred, and it is not a movie or a fictional account. These victims died in our city, in one of our neighborhoods."

ABC News' Jakeira Gilbert contributed to this report.

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Another violence interrupter killed in Baltimore as community reels from gun violence

Andre Chung for The Washington Post via Getty Images

(BALTIMORE) -- A man who worked on the front lines of preventing gun violence in Baltimore, Maryland, was shot and killed on Wednesday night in a quadruple shooting on E. Monument Street, in the McElderry Park neighborhood.

Baltimore native DaShawn McGrier, 29, worked as a violence interrupter for Safe Streets and is the third member of the organization to be shot and killed in the last year.

"[DaShawn] was passionate about his community, and was working hard to make that community safer for his family, friends and neighbors," said Meg Ward, Vice President of Strategic Growth and Community Partnerships at Living Classrooms -- a nonprofit that operates two of the 10 Safe Streets sites in the city, including McElderry Park. "He was a son, he was a father, he was a partner. He was a brother, he was a devoted and present father to his child."

According to Ward, McGrier was having a conversation with the other two victims while working at his post on Monument Street when the shooting occurred.

"Apparently, a tow truck came around the corner and they just shot up the block," Ward said.

BPD identified the other victims as 28-year-old Tyrone Allen and 24-year-old Hassan Smith. A spokesperson told ABC News Friday that "no arrests have been made at this time."

"We are dedicating every available resource to finding and apprehending the cowardly perpetrators of this act," Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said in a statement Wednesday.

When asked if this was a targeted shooting, police said the investigation is ongoing.

There have been more than 300 homicides in Baltimore each year for the past five years, with 338 in 2021 and 335 in 2020, BPD data shows.

Community members and Safe Streets workers gathered on E. Monument Street Saturday afternoon to honor McGrier and other victims of gun violence.

"What choices are we going to make? This is our community," said Safe Streets violence interrupter Alex Long in a passionate speech at the event. "These shootings gotta stop."

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott also attended the event and said that the city is "determined to honor DaShawn's legacy in the best way we can -- by expanding community violence interventions across the city."

"[Safe Streets Baltimore] is not just an organization, but a calling. DaShawn believed that we could build a better Baltimore. Let's show him that we can," Scott tweeted, along with photos of the event.

Ward said Safe Streets organizes shooting response events to "denormalize" gun violence -- especially in neighborhoods where shootings are common -- by creating an opportunity for the community to come together to honor the victims and send the message that, "This is not OK." And on Saturday, they honored one of their own.

Violence interrupters also connect individuals with resources such as job placement opportunities and financial support.

Ward said that McGrier had been working as a violence interrupter for a little over a month, but had been a part of the Safe Streets community for a long time. He was a "hard worker," she said, who was a welding student at the North American Trade School during the day and worked at the Safe Streets McElderry Park site at night to help mediate conflicts that could lead to shootings.

"The work that is being done to stop this from happening is really, really important. And it makes it that much more important when you lose one of your own," she said.

McGrier's killing came as the Safe Streets community continues to mourn the deaths of two beloved longtime members who were killed over the past year and who had dedicated their lives to reducing gun violence.

Dante Barksdale, a Safe Streets outreach coordinator, and Kenyell "Benny" Wilson, a Safe Streets violence interrupter, were shot and killed in separate incidents in January and July. Two days before McGrier was killed, the community gathered to honor Barklesdale on the anniversary of his death.

"We were devastated, it was very traumatizing. It's very difficult to say their names or to think of them, and to not feel that consistent void in our hearts, because they were definitely individuals who impacted the community in such an incredible way," Rashad Singletary, the associate director of gun violence prevention at MONSE told ABC News last year. "And for them to lose their lives to the same thing that we tried to save thousands of lives from, it was very, very disheartening and tragic."

How violence interrupter programs work

Safe Streets was launched in Baltimore in 2007 in the McElderry Park neighborhood. It is one of several violence prevention programs in the country that is based on a model that started in Chicago in the mid 1990s.

Violence interrupters also connect high risk individuals with resources that the organization offers, including job placement and financial support that could help alleviate some of the suffering -- conditions that lead some to resort to violence.

What the data shows

Recent studies have shown that Safe Streets programs have been effective at reducing gun violence in various neighborhoods.

A 2012 study published by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that Safe Streets workers were successful at reducing gun violence in three of four neighborhoods where the initial sites were established, Director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University Daniel Webster previously told ABC News.

Safe Streets workers mediated more than 2,300 conflicts in 2020, according to MONSE, and after gaining more funding from the city, the organization opened its tenth site in 2021.

"Safe Streets workers mediate the very types of conflicts we saw tonight," Harrison said in a statement Wednesday. "All the Safe Streets workers are to be applauded for their work in reducing gun violence and promoting a message of redemption and peace to the many young people of our city."

MONSE Director Shantay Jackson said that the mayor's office will be providing support to the family of the victims and the staff, including grief counseling.

"This is a reminder of the courageous, yet dangerous job our frontline staff does each day when working with those at the highest risk of being a shooter or the victim of a shooting," she said in a statement.

Ward said that the "tremendous loss" highlights the need for violence-prevention work in Baltimore.

"People are heartbroken," she said, "and at the same time, [the] feeling or sense is this is the reason to double down."

ABC News' Abby Cruz and Kendall Ross contributed to this report.

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'Multiple' dogs may have been sickened by rat-transmitted illness, NYC official says

WABC-TV

(NEW YORK) -- New York City dog owners are being warned after several pets may have been sickened by leptospirosis, a disease commonly associated with rats.

A city council member said this week his office had received "reports of multiple dog fatalities" in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg.

"The reports to our office indicate that dogs played at McCarren [Park] Dog Run before becoming sick," council member Lincoln Restler said in a social media post Wednesday, which advised dog owners about the potentially deadly bacterial disease that is spread through the urine of infected animals.

In an update Friday, Restler said his office had received a report about potential cases of leptospirosis "allegedly causing the death of four dogs" that had been to the park's dog run.

The city's health department told ABC News Saturday it has not confirmed reports of canine leptospirosis related to McCarren Park, but it is working with the city's parks department to inspect rat activity there.

"Dog owners who are concerned should consult their veterinarian about vaccination and seek vet care early if their dog is ill," the health department said in a statement. "We urge veterinarians who receive positive results of leptospirosis to report it to the Health Department as required by the NYC Health Code."

The parks department also said an "outbreak" of reported cases has been unconfirmed.

"We like our four-legged friends happy and healthy, and are sad to learn that some pups may have recently been impacted by leptospirosis," the parks department said in a statement to ABC News. "We are actively engaged with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and exploring options to mitigate any related risks."

On Friday, workers replaced trash cans with rat-resistant ones in the area and an exterminator conducted an inspection. Starting Monday, the park will also "work to refresh this area" including replacing wood chips.

An exterminator last treated the area for rats three weeks ago, the parks department said.

"We understand the cause for concern and urge dog owners to be vigilant and cautious when walking their pets," it added.

Restler said the concerns highlight the need to address "the rat infestation and underlying conditions to make sure dogs & our whole community are safe."

Dakarrie Garcia, a local dog trainer, told ABC New York station WABC he was concerned about conditions at the park.

"It's disgusting. If you look around the park, there's rat holes everywhere around the dog park," Garcia said.

NYC Parks said it received two complaints regarding rodents in McCarren Park in the past year.

The health department said it investigates about 15 cases of canine leptospirosis each year and that "clusters" of the disease are "very rare."

Symptoms of leptospirosis may include fever, chills, vomiting, muscle aches or diarrhea and usually appear one to two weeks after exposure. In some cases the disease may cause kidney or liver failure.

"Owners should not let their pets drink from puddles or other sources of water that may be contaminated with rat urine," the health department said.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Hazardous weather conditions after winter storm hits southeastern US with snow, ice

GETTY/Andrew Bret Wallis

(NEW YORK) -- The southeastern United States is weathering snow and ice yet again a week after the region was slammed with hazardous winter conditions.

Two to 4.5 inches of snow have been reported from South Carolina to east Virginia, as winter weather alerts were in effect Saturday morning from Georgia to Maryland as the storm moved out of the region.

Cold temperatures throughout the weekend will continue to make for hazardous road conditions.

In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper urged people to stay at home due to dangerous road conditions and widespread power outages. The governor had issued a state of emergency ahead of the winter storm.

North Carolina Highway Patrol troopers had responded to more than 1,500 calls for service and 945 collisions in affected areas since Friday afternoon, the governor's office said midday Saturday. Most were related to cars sliding off the roadway and becoming stuck or single-car collisions, the office said.

 

 

"With limited improvement and lows plummeting into the teens Saturday night, black ice will become a large hazard for the eastern half of the state," North Carolina Emergency Management said. "Additional melting is expected Sunday, but below normal temperatures [will] keep the potential for black ice into early next week."

Runways were also impacted by sleet and snow. At Raleigh-Durham International Airport, a Delta flight arriving from Washington, D.C., Friday night was taxiing off the runway when it slid into mud around 9 p.m. local time, airport officials said. There were no reported injuries, and the airfield reopened shortly following snow removal at an alternate runway.

Nearly 16,000 power outages were initially reported early Saturday in North Carolina, mostly in coastal counties, Cooper said, as utility crews were working to restore power. As of 10 a.m. some 4,000 outages remained, the governor said.

Authorities in South Carolina and Virginia also urged drivers to avoid impacted areas due to snow and ice conditions.

ABC News' Melissa Griffin contributed to this report.

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NYPD officer killed, 2nd officer and suspect in critical condition after shooting

GETTY/Alan Schein Photography

(NEW YORK) -- A rookie New York City officer is dead and another officer was in critical condition after they were shot responding to a domestic violence call in Harlem Friday night, police said.

Three officers responded to the scene of the call, West 135 Street, around 6:30 p.m., where a mother and her adult son, Lashawn McNeil, were fighting in a first-floor apartment, according to police.

The mother met police in the front of the apartment and when they went to a rear room to talk to McNeil, shots suddenly rang out, police said.

Officer Jason Rivera, 22, a rookie entered a hallway and was struck first, police officials with knowledge of the investigation told ABC News. Rivera, who was married, died from his injuries.

His partner, Officer Wilbert Mora, 27, tried to duck into the kitchen during the shooting, but was struck. Mora was listed in critical condition as of Saturday morning.

The third officer, a rookie who stayed with the mother in the front of the apartment, fired on McNeil, who was struck in the neck and shoulder, according to police sources.

The suspect was listed in critical condition as of Saturday morning.

A police body camera captured some of the shooting, police sources said.

"I am struggling to find the word to express the tragedy we are enduring," NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell said at a press conference Friday night. "We are mourning and we are angry. ... Our department is hurting, our city is hurting. it is beyond comprehension."

McNeil is believed to have had behavioral problems and posted anti-government and anti-police material on social media, according to police sources.

The suspect has five previous arrests, including one in New York City for felony narcotics possession in 2003. He was currently on probation for that arrest, police said.

Outside the city, McNeil was arrested for unlawful possession of a weapon in 1998, assaulting a police officer in 2002 and two other drug arrests in subsequent years.

He was staying with his mother to help her take care of her other son who has special needs, possibly a learning disability, the sources said.

When McNeil came up from Maryland in November, his mother ordered him not to bring guns into the house, because of his history with firearms, according to the source. She later told police she didn’t know he had the weapon, the sources said.

The mother called police Friday night asking for help with McNeil, saying that, “We’ve been having problems,” according to sources. Officers believed they were responding to a verbal domestic dispute since no weapons were mentioned, sources said.

The Glock. 45 used in the incident was reported stolen in Baltimore in 2017, police said. A licensed security guard said it was taken by her 13-year-old son, who sold it for money, according to investigators.

The teen was later arrested for the theft, but the gun was never recovered, police said.

Mayor Eric Adams called on the federal government to do more to stop the proliferation of guns in the city.

"We don't make guns here," Adams said Friday night. "How are we removing thousands of guns off the street and they are still finding their way into New York City?"

This has been a particularly violent week for the New York Police Department. Four NYPD officers have been shot in three incidents this week. The officers in the other shootings, which took place in the Bronx and Staten Island, did not suffer life-threatening injuries.

"It is our city against the killers," Adams said. "This was not just an attack on three brave officers, this was an attack on the city of New York. it is an attack on the children and families of New York. We are not going to win this battle by dividing lives. We must save this city together."

Attorney General Merrick Garland also spoke to Sewell Friday night and offered assistance from the Department of Justice or FBI if needed, according to DOJ spokesperson Anthony Coley.

"I am horrified by tonight’s tragedy in Harlem," New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement. "My thoughts are with the family who answered the phone to receive the news they've always dreaded: that their loved one, who had sworn to protect and serve New Yorkers by joining @NYPDnews will not be coming home."

President Joe Biden tweeted condolences to the NYPD officers and their families Saturday afternoon.

"We’re keeping them and their families in our prayers. Officers put on the badge and head into harm’s way every day. We’re grateful to them and their families for their extraordinary sacrifice,” he tweeted.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Worker shortages, flight delays contributing to slow delivery of rapid tests

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(NEW YORK) -- Rebeca Andrade had been waiting days for a shipment of COVID-19 rapid tests to help keep her school open. The superintendent of a school in Salinas, California, Andrade said she wanted to be testing kids once a week to slow the spread of the omicron variant and protect the community.

But even as rapid testing to keep schools open was being pushed at the highest levels of government, Andrade was coming up short.

That's because 350 miles away, some 17 million tests -- including some earmarked by the California Department of Public Health for schools like Andrade's, plus nursing homes, homeless shelters and childcare centers -- sat backlogged on giant pallets for days.

Like so many other vital goods, precious at-home rapid tests have been caught in the supply-chain snare, caused by a combination of workers calling out sick with omicron and bottlenecked warehouses that are already operating over capacity to handle the massive demand for tests.

The impacted tests are some of the test kits produced by iHealth, which are manufactured in China and have been purchased by at least 15 states.

"The delays that we've experienced during this time, I know that sometimes it's out of our control, but this is something that I would say is really critical and a priority for us to continue to offer in-person learning for each and every one of our students," Andrade told ABC News.

As of Thursday, the distribution company that handles the iHealth shipments from China, XChange Logistics, had worked through the millions of backlogged tests, only to face delays on three of iHealth's charter planes carrying roughly 25 million tests, the company told ABC News.

At the same time, the distribution company said it's still sending out 20 truckloads of tests per day from its Los Angeles warehouse, which is the biggest distributor of iHealth tests.

For iHealth, which received authorization for its at-home rapid tests from the Food and Drug Administration in December and can manufacture up to 200 million tests per month, producing the tests has turned out to be the easy part.

Getting them to customers is the challenge.

"I hope that one day the American people can get the test the same day," said iHealth COO Jack Feng, referring to the timeline of shipment from China and delivery in the U.S.

XChange Logistics said their warehouses were struggling at 200-300% over capacity last week.

And the stress of moving so many goods has been compounded by workers testing positive for COVID-19 -- which usually means that an additional 8-10 workers have to quarantine due to exposure, said Frank Filimaua, the company's general manager.

Over the past month, up to 30% of XChange Logistics' workforce has been out with COVID-19, Filimaua said.

"That certainly is impacting the lack of manpower and the shortage of the ground-handling agents," he said.

Under normal circumstances, without worker shortages and such a high-demand product, it would take 24-48 hours to get the tests from the planes onto trucks and on their way to customers.

But it was instead taking an average of five days, said Filimaua.

He estimated that it would take the company two more weeks to get back up to speed.

The supply chain backlog is the "biggest key factor as to why there's challenges in getting these kits to schools, to medical offices, hospitals, and to consumers," he said.

"Everybody has just been highlighting and showcasing the congestion at the ports and the container congestion," said Filimaua. "Nobody's really focusing on what's happening at the international airports. It's the same effect, but I would even say to a higher degree of challenges and impact to the supply chain and to the consumers."

After ABC News reached out this week to the White House about the millions of backlogged tests, iHealth said the Biden administration had stepped up its efforts to help the company, which has now also contracted with the government to supply 250 million tests to Biden’s efforts to give out 1 billion free tests to the public, Feng said.

Agencies like Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense have begun to help iHealth get its tests through customs faster using priority labels, and will help charter flights full of the tests from China beginning in the first week of February, Feng said.

"They are helping us a lot," said Feng.

Feng also said some states have also mobilized resources by sending ground teams to the warehouses to help move tests.

A Biden administration official told ABC News that the White House "continues to actively engage with manufacturers and distributors to help them expedite their timelines and help get tests to the American people."

The official said the government was coordinating chartered aircraft for the 250 million iHealth rapid tests it had contracted for Biden's plan, and was also working on "breaking through bottlenecks" at Los Angeles International Airport, where most shipments from China arrive, by working with the airport and with Customs and Border Protection to get each shipment "trucked out of the airport as soon as it lands."

The official also noted that the Biden administration had increased the monthly supply of overall at-home rapid tests in the U.S. four times over from fall through December.

Experts note that the supply chain issues facing iHealth are not unique to that testing company.

Some of the issues stem from "general supply challenges," said Mara Aspinall, head of the National Testing Action Program at the Rockefeller Foundation, which connects testing companies with state governments.

"But increasingly we're hearing that -- like all other essential businesses -- manufacturers, shipping companies and others have so many people out with COVID that they can't fully take advantage of the technological capacity, and therefore supplies are being slowed," she said.

While iHealth is one of the most prolific producers of rapid tests for the U.S., other companies are also critical to meeting the enormous demand. ABC News reached out to several other large suppliers of rapid tests, including Roche, Siemens, Abbott and Ellume, and those that responded said they were doing everything possible to meet demand, including opening new production lines to scale up production by tens of millions of tests per month.

"There are currently tens of millions of tests in various settings and supply chains," said Abbott spokesperson John Koval. "We build BinaxNOW in the U.S. because it hedges against unpredictable supply chains and is what enables us to produce at massive and reliable scale, which is what we're doing." As a result, Koval said, the company is aiming to be able to produce 100 million tests per month.

With more and more rapid testing products on the market, there's also more competition for distributors. That's been a particular challenge for iHealth, a new company that didn't have the connections of bigger pharmaceutical companies that had been around for years.

"I think it's hard to guarantee a consistent freight supplier for so many of these companies, because there's not a program where when you receive an EUA [emergency use authorization from the FDA], you receive immediate distribution assistance," said Andrew Sweet, managing director of COVID-19 Response and Recovery at the Rockefeller Foundation.

"That's in part why we're at where we're at," said Sweet. "It is really dependent on the individual manufacturer to have those relationships in order to get their product to market as quickly as possible." As a result, said Sweet, the companies that have existing relationships can "hustle."

"They're more successful than others," he said.

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'Critical missing' 11-year-old boy found safe, police say

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(DALLAS) -- Dallas police said an 11-year-old boy who was missing for two nights and last seen wearing only shorts and socks during frigid temperatures has been found safe.

Traveon Michael Allen Griffin left his home in southwest Dallas early Thursday, around midnight, according to police.

"He may be confused and in need of assistance," police said.

Police upgraded the missing person's case Thursday to "critical" due to the "victim's clothing attire and current below-freezing temperatures."

Friday afternoon, police said in an update on social media that Traveon had been "located and he is safe."

"Today is a good day," Dallas Police spokesperson Sgt. Warren Mitchell told reporters during a press briefing.

Mitchell said around 2 p.m. local time Friday, a homeowner flagged down a police officer driving through the neighborhood about a suspected burglar in his garage. When the officer investigated, he found Traveon hiding inside.

The homeowner gave the child, who was still just in shorts, some clothes and food, and Traveon was transported to an area hospital for observation, police said.

It's unclear how long Traveon had been in the garage, and if another child who lives at the home was helping hide him, Mitchell said. Officers had previously visited the home multiple times during their search for Traveon, he said.

"The parents did not know that he was inside the garage, and so we're just thankful that we were able to locate him and that he appears to be safe," Mitchell said.

Traveon left home following a "dispute" with a family member, according to Mitchell, but noted that "everybody's glad to be back together."

Since he was reported missing, police had been going door-to-door looking for Traveon, and were focused on a playground and pond near the child's home. The department also had been searching with mounted and canine units, drones and a helicopter. Police said volunteers also had joined search efforts.

Police had said in an earlier update Friday morning that they'd found no new leads, though noted there was no evidence of foul play.

Officers additionally planned to visit friends' homes and hospitals to search for Traveon, police told ABC Dallas affiliate WFAA-TV on Friday.

"We will not leave any stone unturned," Mitchell told WFAA-TV Thursday. "We will check every creek, every residence in this area, every alley, every backyard, until we can find him.

Mitchell had suspected the child might be trying to hide.

"But eventually, hopefully, we'll be able to find him," he said.

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NYPD officer killed, another seriously wounded in shooting

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(NEW YORK) -- A New York City officer is dead and another suffered life-threatening injuries after they were shot responding to a domestic call in Harlem, police said.

The officers responded to the scene where the unidentified suspect was in a back room, the police said.

The officers engaged with the suspect and all three were shot, according to the NYPD.

The suspect was taken into custody. Their condition is unknown.

This has been a particularly violent week for the New York Police Department. Four NYPD officers have been shot this week. The officers in the other two shootings, which took place in the Bronx and Staten Island, did not suffer life-threatening injuries.

Mayor Eric Adams' office said he was heading to Harlem Hospital later in the evening.

 

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Body found in search for missing college student Brendan Santo

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(NEW YORK) -- After a search of more than 80 days, authorities have recovered a body believed to be that of missing Grand Valley State University student Brendan Santo.

The body was recovered from the Red Cedar River at 12:30 p.m. Friday, approximately 1 1/2 miles downriver from where Santo was last seen. Identification is still pending, according to Michigan State University police.

The 18-year-old college student vanished Oct. 29, 2021, while visiting friends in East Lansing, Michigan, the weekend of the Michigan-Michigan State football game. Multiple agencies, along with family and a growing number of volunteer civilians, have been searching for the teen ever since, with a reward growing to over $30,000.

"Thank you so much for all your support and kindness to bring Brendan home. This is not the outcome we had hoped but we do have closure now," Brendan's family posted online.

"We are deeply saddened by this tragic loss and our thoughts and prayers go out to the Santo family and all those who knew Brendan," Michigan State University Police Department spokesperson Chris Rozman said in a statement.

Authorities will continue to investigate the circumstances and details surrounding this incident, Rozman told reporters in a press conference.

"We still have no reason to believe that foul play is involved, or that Brendon intended to harm himself," he said.

A significant log jam in the area made the portion of the river a point of interest. According to Rozman, the area was very complex and dangerous to search and required a lot of resources.

Divers came from all over the state of Michigan to assist. The operation required teams to clear brush and trees to create a point to get a boat into the river, and access the area of the log jam where they wanted to focus.

None of Brendan's personal items had been recovered before Friday, according to Michigan State University police.

"We have been committed from the very beginning to resolving this case, and I'm glad that we could at least bring some resolution today to the family and Brendan's loved ones," Rozman stated.

 

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Hostage incident at Texas synagogue a terrorist act and hate crime: FBI

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(NEW YORK) -- The FBI said on Friday that it's treating the recent hostage situation at a Texas synagogue as a terrorist act and hate crime.

An international federal investigation is ongoing after a rabbi and three members of his Dallas-Fort Worth-area congregation were taken hostage Saturday by an allegedly armed man who authorities said was demanding the release of a convicted terrorist.

The incident "underscores the continued threat violent extremists pose to religious institutions, particularly Jewish institutions and other Jewish targets," Matthew DeSarno, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Dallas field office, said during a press briefing.

"The FBI is and has been treating Saturday's events as an act of terrorism targeting the Jewish community," DeSarno continued. "It was committed by a terrorist exposing an antisemitic worldview."

The suspect "repeatedly demanded the United States release a convicted al-Qaida terrorist in exchange for the safe return of the hostages," which met the definition of terrorism under federal law, said DeSarno, adding that forcibly holding hostage the victims as they exercised their right to worship was a federal hate crime.

"We recognize that the Jewish community in particular has suffered violence and faces very real threats from across the hate spectrum, from domestic violent extremists to foreign terrorist organizations. And because of that, the FBI considers the enduring threats to the community to be among our very highest priorities," DeSarno said.

The suspect, who died in the incident when an FBI hostage rescue team breached the synagogue, was identified by authorities as Malik Faisal Akram, 44, a British citizen.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker was leading Shabbat services at the Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville on Saturday morning when, according to law enforcement officials, Akram interrupted the service and allegedly claimed he'd planted bombs in the synagogue.

Authorities believe the location was intentionally targeted because it was the closest synagogue to Carswell Air Force Base near Fort Worth, where the convicted terrorist is being held.

DeSarno did not identify the prisoner by name, though multiple law enforcement sources told ABC News the armed suspect was demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, who was convicted of assault and attempted murder of a U.S. soldier in 2010 and sentenced to 86 years in prison.

DeSarno said the suspect was aware that foreign terrorist organizations previously had tried to negotiate the release of the prisoner by exchanging American hostages. DeSarno said he doesn't know of any personal connection between the suspect and the convicted terrorist.

In the days since the incident, law enforcement officials have received a "high volume of leads" and have interviewed all those they believe Akram had interacted with since arriving in the U.S. on Dec. 29, according to DeSarno, who did not elaborate if any were considered accomplices. Authorities have not detained anyone locally in connection with the incident.

Investigators have been digging into the suspect's social media and personal devices to try and find out more about his travel and associates, as well as determine how he allegedly acquired a firearm, DeSarno said. No explosives were recovered at the scene.

The FBI is also working with international partners, including the U.K., as part of the investigation. Two men were arrested in England on Thursday morning as part of the investigation, British authorities said.

The 10-hour standoff ended with all four hostages safely escaping as the situation had gone from "bad to significantly worse," said DeSarno.

"The professionalism and expertise in the negotiation team combined with the composure and judgment of the hostages set the conditions for a successful resolution," he said.

Cytron-Walker said he had the cellphone number of Colleyville Police Department Chief Michael Miller and was able to text and communicate with him about the hostage situation as it unfolded.

"We were constantly looking for an opportunity to leave, and it was very, very hard to find an opportunity where we all could leave," Cytron-Walker told reporters Friday.

Hostage negotiators successfully negotiated the release of one of the hostages. As three remained, Cytron-Walker said he threw a chair at the hostage-taker so they could make their escape.

"I stand up here before you with great gratitude just to be alive," Cytron-Walker said. "With gratitude to God, with gratitude for all of those individual human efforts that allow us to be here today, I'm just overflowing with gratitude."

Cytron-Walker invited all those interested to pray with the congregation Friday night and Saturday morning through its Facebook Live program as the community tries to find a "sense of peace" after the harrowing incident.

"We all desperately, desperately need that sense of peace," he said. "And I would extend that not only to the Jewish community but extend that to all communities."

ABC News' Matthew Fuhrman contributed to this report.

 

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LA community gathers at vigil for 24-year-old slain at furniture store

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(LOS ANGELES) -- Los Angeles community members gathered for a vigil outside the furniture store where a 24-year-old employee was killed in the middle of the afternoon.

Brianna Kupfer was attacked with a knife while she worked alone at the store on Jan. 13. Kupfer had texted a friend that afternoon saying someone in the store was giving her a "bad vibe," Los Angeles Police Department Lt. John Radke said at a Tuesday news conference.

Community members brought flowers, candles and posters to a Thursday vigil for the slain 24-year-old, who, when not working at the Croft House furniture store, was taking design courses through UCLA Extension, a continuing education program.

"I'm the parent of a girl two years younger than her. It's shocking to me that this happened here or anywhere in our city," resident Sherry Gonzalez told Los Angeles ABC station KABC.

The suspect, 31-year-old Shawn Laval Smith, was apprehended in Pasadena on Wednesday. Police said the crime appeared to be random.

Smith was charged Friday afternoon with murder.

"Those who show no compassion for human life will face serious consequences," LA District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement. "The murder of Brianna Kupfer has left Los Angeles County devastated and my office is reaching out to her family to provide any services they may need."

 

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Brian Laundrie claims responsibility for killing Gabby Petito in notebook: FBI

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(NEW YORK) -- The FBI on Friday released new details in the investigation of Gabby Petito's death, saying that that Brian Laundrie wrote in a notebook that he killed her.

The FBI's Denver office had sent out a timeline of the investigation, saying that before discovering Laundrie's remains in a Florida wetland in October, agents had discovered a backpack, a gun and a notebook that all belonged to him.

"A review of the notebook revealed written statements by Mr. Laundrie claiming responsibility for Ms. Petito's death," the FBI said in a statement.

The agency said Petito's family met with agents as the case into the 22-year-old's disappearance and death soon will be closed.

"All logical investigative steps have been concluded in this case," Michael Schneider, FBI Denver Division special agent in charge, said in a statement. "The investigation did not identify any other individuals other than Brian Laundrie directly involved in the tragic death of Gabby Petito."

Steven Bertolino, an attorney representing the Laundrie family, released a statement Friday expressing condolences for both families.

"We can only hope that with today's closure of the case each family can begin to heal and move forward and find peace in and with the memories of their children," he said in a statement.

Petito went on a road trip with Laundrie, her boyfriend, through Colorado and Utah from July to August.

Utah Police said officers responded to a 911 call in August where the caller claimed he saw Laundrie slap Petito, and police stopped the couple for questioning on the side of the road. They were allowed to continue their trip because of "insufficient evidence" of any wrongdoing, police said.

Petito went missing around Aug. 27 and Laundrie returned home to Florida on Sept. 1, investigators said.

Two weeks later, he was named a person of interest in Petito's disappearance, but Laundrie was reported missing Sept. 17.

On Sept. 19, search crews discovered a body in Bridger-Teton National Park in Wyoming later revealed to be Petito's. An autopsy determined she died from strangulation.

Search crews combed the Florida wetlands where Laundrie was last seen, and on Oct. 20 found his remains in Carlton Reserve, near North Port.

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COVID-19 live updates: Breakthrough cases grew fourfold during omicron

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(NEW YORK) -- As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe, more than 5.5 million people have died from the disease worldwide, including over 863,000 Americans, according to real-time data compiled by Johns Hopkins University's Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

About 63.3% of the population in the United States is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Latest headlines:
-California lawmaker proposes letting kids 12 and older get vaccines without parental consent
-LA County sees highest death toll since March 2021
-In 1 month US records more than one-quarter of its total cases for the pandemic
-Breakthrough cases grew fourfold during omicron emergence: CDC

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern.

Jan 21, 2:54 pm
Biden has no authority to mandate vaccines for federal employees, judge rules

A federal judge in Texas shot down the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for federal workers.

A lawsuit was filed in December by Feds for Medical Freedom, compromised of government employees from various agencies and AFGE 918, a union which primarily represents employees from the Federal Protective Service and Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency.

Citing the Supreme Court’s most recent decision against OSHA, U.S. District Judge Jeffery Vincent Brown ruled there is a difference between public health measures and setting workplace and safety standards.

“The President certainly possesses ‘broad statutory authority to regulate executive branch employment policies,’” the judge wrote. “But the Supreme Court has expressly held that a COVID-19 vaccine mandate is not an employment regulation. And that means the President was without statutory authority to issue the federal worker mandate.”

Brown made clear that getting vaccinated is the best protection against COVID-19 and the lawsuit had to do with whether or not a president could issue such a sweeping order with the stroke of a pen.

The Justice Department will appeal the ruling, a spokesman said.

ABC News' Luke Barr

Jan 21, 1:40 pm
California lawmaker proposes letting kids 12 and older get vaccines without parental consent

California state senator Scott Wiener has introduced a bill lowering the vaccine age of consent from 18 to 12.

"California law already allows 12-17 year olds to access various forms of healthcare without parental consent, eg: HPV & hep B vaccines, abortion care, birth control, mental healthcare, domestic violence-related care," Wiener tweeted Friday. "Let’s let teens protect their health."

San Francisco's director of public health and youth advocates were among those who joined Wiener at a Friday news conference introducing the legislation.

One youth advocate, Nyla, a seventh-grader, said, "We're exposed to so much that we're old enough to have a say so when something will benefit us. … This bill gives me hope for kids whose parents don't always make decisions in their best interest even when they mean well."

ABC News' Izzy Alvarez

Jan 21, 12:38 pm
LA County sees highest death toll since March 2021

Los Angeles County reported 102 new deaths on Thursday, marking the highest daily death toll since March 10, 2021.

Daily deaths doubled in just one week, according to county officials.

Of Thursday's 102 fatalities, 90% were residents who tested positive for COVID-19 after Christmas Eve, which means they likely had omicron, county officials said in a statement.

"As deaths often lag behind surges in cases and hospitalizations, we may see an even higher number of deaths in the coming weeks," county officials warned.

Jan 21, 11:53 am
New York positivity rate at lowest point since Dec. 20

The positivity rate in New York state has dropped to the single digits for the first time since Dec. 20, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced on Friday, another indicator that the omicron surge is receding in the state.


The positivity rate now stands at 9.75%, down from over 23% on Jan. 2, which was the highest rate in New York during the omicron wave.

"This is still to be taken very seriously," Hochul stressed at a Friday briefing, noting that hospitalizations are still high.

ABC News' Will McDuffie

 

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Two years after COVID first hit the US, hundreds of thousands of Americans are still falling ill

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(NEW YORK) -- At the beginning of 2020, as the nation celebrated the start of a new year, many Americans were still unaware of the "mysterious pneumonia" that had sickened dozens of workers at a live animal market in Wuhan, China.

The illness, later identified as the "novel coronavirus", began spreading rapidly across the globe. Several studies have suggested that the virus had already been spreading in the United States, potentially as early as December 2019.

However, it was not until mid-January of 2020, when the virus would officially be recognized as present on U.S. soil.

Two years ago, on Jan. 21, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the first domestic case of coronavirus. The positive patient was a 35-year-old man from Washington state, who had recently returned from Wuhan, China.

Now, two years later, the U.S. has confirmed more than 69 million COVID-19 cases, and 859,000 deaths, the highest in the total for any country, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. And the nation, despite the wide availability of highly effective vaccines and novel treatments, is experiencing its most significant surge on record due to the highly transmissible omicron variant and tens of millions of eligible Americans remaining unvaccinated.

“These last two years have brought transformational advancements spanning vaccines, treatments and testing. Though these tools are having a clear impact on reducing poor outcomes, we are still seeing one of the worst surges to date,” said John Brownstein, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at Boston Children's Hospital and an ABC News contributor.

'Low' risk morphs into pandemic

Just days before the first case was confirmed two years ago, the CDC had implemented public health entry screening at several major airports including San Francisco International Airport, New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport.

At the time, the CDC reported that while the virus was originally thought to be spreading from animal-to-person, there were "growing indications" that "limited person-to-person spread" was taking place.

"This is certainly not a moment for panic or high anxiety. It is a moment for vigilance," Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee said during a news conference that same day. "The risk is low to residents in Washington."

Less than a week after the first domestic case was confirmed, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, which is a division of the CDC, stressed that the “virus is not spreading in the community… For that reason, we continue to believe that the immediate health risk from the new virus to the general public is low at this time.”

In late February, Messonnier said she ultimately expected to see community spread in the U.S. At the time, health officials noted that the virus may not be able to be contained at the border and that Americans should prepare for a "significant disruption" in their lives.

In the months to come, Life Care Center of Kirkland, a skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility in Seattle suburbs, would become the first epicenter of the virus' deadly journey across the country. The epicenter quickly then became New York City, which experienced hundreds of deaths a day at the peak of April 2020.

It would be another seven weeks until the World Health Organization would declare the global coronavirus a pandemic, subsequently forcing borders to close, and Americans to retreat to their homes for what some thought would be just a few weeks of "social distancing" and "stay-at-home" orders.

In the first months of pandemic, through April 2020, more than 1 million Americans were sickened and 65,000 died, when the virus was still largely mysterious, treatments and supplies were scarce and hospitals were overwhelmed in large urban areas like New York. Subsequent waves of the virus each had their own characteristics from the deadly winter surge of 2020 to 2021 and the delta variant surge, which upended the optimism that the pandemic would finally come to an end after mass vaccination.

In fact, in the last year alone, more than 450,000 Americans have been lost to the virus.

17 million cases in a month

Two years into the pandemic, federal data shows that hundreds of thousands of Americans are still testing positive for the virus every day, and more than 1,600 others are dying from COVID-19.

In the last month alone, there have been more than 17.1 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, and 44,700 reported virus-related deaths. In addition, more than a year into the U.S. domestic vaccine rollout, 62 million eligible Americans who are over the age of 5, about 20% of that group, remain completely unvaccinated.

“After 24 months and unprecedented medical innovation, the last month has brought millions of cases and tens of thousands of deaths. While many might declare victory on the pandemic, we are clearly very far from where want we want to be right now, especially with billions of people yet to be vaccinated,” Brownstein said, referring to the continued global crisis.

The U.S. is still averaging more than 750,000 new cases a day, about three times the surge from last winter in 2021. However, there is growing evidence to suggest that the latest omicron case surge may be beginning to recede in the parts of the country that were first struck by the variant.

Although preliminary global studies indicate that the omicron variant may cause less severe illness than prior variants, health officials say that the sheer numbers of infections caused by the new variant could still overwhelm the health care system.

Glimmers of hope

In New York, daily cases have dropped by 33% in the last week, and in New Jersey, new cases are down by 43.7%. In Massachusetts, wastewater samples indicate the state’s omicron surge is falling rapidly.

In the Southeast, daily cases in Florida are falling too -- down by 30% in the last week, though the state is still averaging more than 45,000 new cases a day.

However, health officials caution that overall, the latest COVID-19 surge across much of the country has yet to peak, and hospitals could still be faced with difficult weeks ahead.

Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday that the omicron surge has not yet peaked nationally.

"This is a very difficult time during this surge. We are seeing high case numbers and hospitalization rates... we're also seeing strain in many of our hospitals around the country," Murthy said. "The next few weeks will be tough."

More than 160,000 virus-positive Americans are currently hospitalized across the country, a pandemic high. It was just over two weeks ago that we hit 100,000 COVID-19 positive Americans hospitalized.

Half the country – 25 states and Puerto Rico – has seen their COVID-19 related hospital admission rates jump by at least 10% in the last week, and nationwide, an average of more than 21,000 virus-positive Americans are seeking care every day.

And nationally, 99% of U.S. counties are still reporting high transmission. Out of the 3,220 U.S. counties, just 16 counties are not reporting high transmission.

Earlier this week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the White House, said at the Davos Agenda, a virtual event held by the World Economic Forum, that it is an “open question” as to whether the omicron variant will lead the globe into a new phase of the pandemic.

“It's not going to be that you're going to eliminate this disease completely. We're not going to do that. But hopefully it will be at such a low level that it doesn't disrupt our normal, social, economic and other interactions with each other," Fauci said. “To me, that's what the new normal is. I hope the new normal also includes a real strong corporate memory of what pandemics can do.”

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