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SpaceX's 1st all-civilian crew returns to Earth after successful mission

Sundry Photography/iStock

(CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.) -- After three days in space, the first all-civilian flight into Earth's orbit splashed down successfully Saturday night.

The Dragon capsule returned to Earth just after 7 p.m. ET.

The capsule was traveling at 17,500 mph when it deorbited, slowed down to around 350 mph when the parachute deployed at 18,000 feet and slowed to 119 mph before it hit the ocean.

It splashed down in its preferred location in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Cape Canaveral. They had been prepared to pivot to the Gulf of Mexico, if needed.

SpaceX's Inspiration4 mission made history as the farthest any civilian has traveled from Earth -- 367 miles above it -- even farther than the International Space Station.

There is always risk launching into space and coming home. While the crew has been trained by SpaceX, they are not professional astronauts.

Saturday's splashdown was the third SpaceX Dragon-crewed capsule to splash down from orbit, but the first with no professional astronaut on board.

Billionaire Jared Isaacman, 38, an experienced pilot, is commanding the mission. He founded a payment process company called Shift4 Payments and purchased all four seats on the flight for an estimated $220 million.

Isaacman wanted this mission to benefit St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Before the launch he personally donated $100 million to help end child cancer.

He reserved one seat for 29-year-old St. Jude ambassador Hayley Arceneaux. Arceneaux was treated at St. Jude as a child and returned to work there as a physician assistant. She is now the youngest American to go to space as well as the first pediatric cancer survivor.

Dr. Sian Proctor, 51, the third occupant, made history as well as the fourth African American woman astronaut to travel into space.

Rounding out the crew was Chris Sembroski, 41, an Iraq war veteran and engineer with Lockheed Martin.

They all spoke with children currently being treated at St. Jude live from space on Friday.

"What kind of sleeping bag do you have?" one child asked Arceneaux.

"So if you've ever been camping, we pretty much have those same kind of sleeping bags," she said. "We were in our sleeping bags on top of our chairs, but we were floating on top of the chair and we had a seat belt around our sleeping bag. So we didn't fly away when we were sleeping."

"Can you take pictures in space?" another child asked Proctor.

"We absolutely can take pictures in space," she responded. "And we've been taking a lot of those pictures and video so we can capture this moment and share it with everybody when we come home."

Since liftoff, the mission has raised an additional $500,000 for the research hospital.

The crew has also been busy conducting experiments including using a portable ultrasound to measure their corneas and optic nerves for indications on intracranial pressure.

"We've also been taking several swabs of different parts of our body to evaluate the microbiome and how that changes in these three days in space," Arceanaux said.

ABC News' Gio Benitez and Gina Sunseri contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Latinos in sports are drawing on their heritage to inspire others


(NEW YORK) -- From the Olympics to practically every major league sport, 2021 has been a year where top Latino athletes have led their franchises to huge victories, winning world titles and gold medals.

When they're not competing, some Latino athletes have also worked to advocate for their communities, And through it all, on and off the field, they've represented their heritage with pride.

“As a Latino, the minute life starts making sense for you, you know that things are not going to be that easy,” said three-time Major League Baseball World Series champion and 10-time All-Star David “Big Papi” Ortiz. “In the Latin culture, hard work and motivation and getting to know that you have to fight to get things is a part of our culture. I was never the guy that had anything handed to me. And I think that comes along hand-in-hand with being Latino.”

Like Ortiz, who was born and raised in the Dominican Republic, many MLB players come from several Caribbean and Latin American countries, such as Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Mexico, and Cuba — making baseball their pathway to the American Dream. In fact, since the 2016 season, every team at the major league level has been required to have a Spanish-speaking translator on its staff. To date, close to 2,000 players of Latin American descent have made it to the major leagues making up 25% the league’s talent.

“Latinos, we are hard-working people. We are people that come here with a mentality of putting our family in a better situation,” said Ortiz. “I come from the very bottom, and I know what my people are all about. And whenever I see Spanish people doing well, representing, [it] is something that definitely makes me very proud.”

That same pride Ortiz has with representing his heritage is mirrored by Olympian Jasmine Camacho-Quinn, who chose to represent Puerto Rico during the 2021 Olympic Games.

Born and raised in South Carolina to an African American father and Puerto Rican mother, the hurdler made what became a controversial decision to compete in the Olympics for Puerto Rico instead of the U.S. Her decision caused some to criticize her on social media, and some former Olympians suggested Camacho-Quinn was unqualified to compete for the island. She ended up winning a gold medal in the 100-meter hurdle.

“I just felt like a lot of it was racism, and I wanted to say things, but I’m realizing I'm in the limelight right now, and I can't say certain things,” said Camacho-Quinn. “But I was like, 'You know what, this doesn't change the fact that Puerto Ricans were really with me.'”

Her hyphenated last name speaks to her identity. Along with her hair and skin tone, Camacho-Quinn identifies as an Afro-Latina, a descendant of Latin America with African roots. It's an identity reflected in her physical features, which she says she's not only proud of but honored to have. She encouraged other people from "mixed" backgrounds to be just as proud.

“Who you are is who you are, and nobody can change that — literally nobody,” she said. "You have a right to represent both sides because that’s exactly who you are and what you are made of. Don’t be afraid.”

Camacho-Quinn is only the second Olympian representing Puerto Rico to bring back a gold medal. After winning in Tokyo, she and her family did a victory lap around Puerto Rico. Not only did its residents accept her as one of their own, but they celebrated her win with a parade — something the island had not been able to do since the tragedy of Hurricane Maria. Her victory brought not only happiness but a sense of togetherness despite the criticism she received.

“It's still hitting me. Like, that’s something that cannot be taken away,” she said. “That right there is making history. It means a lot.”

Just like Camacho-Quinn, boxing world champion Canelo Álvarez understands not only his power in the ring but the importance of his voice outside the ring against injustice, especially for Latinos.

“I’m in the position to have the power to speak for the rest; to tell people not to treat Latino or Mexicans differently, and I’m proving that,” he said in Spanish.

Unlike Ortiz and Camacho-Quinn, Álvarez describes himself as light-skinned and is often mistaken for being European rather than Mexican. He said that as a kid, he was bullied for his red hair, earning him the nickname “Canelo,” which means cinnamon in Spanish. Whether Latinos come from the islands of the Caribbean or the lands of Central and South America, many of them still share one thing in common: their language.

“I’m 100% Mexican. Even if I don’t look like one, I’m 100% Mexican and I’m proud of being one — being able to represent my country,” he said. “No matter if you’re light- or dark-skinned, or another color, having money or not, we’re all the same.”

Álvarez said that like any great athlete, they each experience their share of hurdles when it comes to the difficulties that life sometimes brings.

In the form of a hurdle, a curveball or a knockout, challenges come from every angle in life regardless of one's race or identity. But one thing we all have in common is the will to not give up.

“Yes, life is not easy, right? It’s not easy for anyone," Álvarez said. "But you have to keep going. You have to keep fighting because, in the end, the one who fights — who stands up — is the one who makes history."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Police searching 'vast' preserve for Brian Laundrie, boyfriend of missing 22-year-old Gabby Petito

Courtesy of Nicole Schmidt and Joseph Petito

(NORTH PORT, Fla.) -- A police search is underway in a "vast" Florida preserve after the family of Brian Laundrie, the boyfriend of 22-year-old Gabby Petito, who went missing while the couple was on a cross-country trip, said his whereabouts are now unknown, too.

"Be advised that the whereabouts of Brian Laundrie are currently unknown," an attorney for the family said Friday. "The FBI is currently at the Laundrie residence removing property to assist in locating Brian. As of now the FBI is now looking for both Gabby and Brian."

Laundrie has not been seen since Tuesday, according to police and the family's lawyer.

North Port Police said Saturday morning that they are now currently searching for "the vast Carlton Reserve," a 24,565-acre preserve north of his home in North Port, for Laundrie.

"His family says they believe he entered the area earlier this week," police said. "More details when available."

The development was the latest in a case that has grabbed national attention as the couple had been traveling across the country since June in her 2012 Ford Transit van and documenting the trip on social media. Laundrie returned home to North Port, Florida, on Sept. 1 without his girlfriend, according to police.

Petito's parents reported her missing on Sept. 11 after not speaking with her for two weeks.

In response to the news Friday that Laundrie's whereabouts were unknown, a lawyer for the Petito family said in a statement: "All of Gabby’s family want the world to know that Brian is not missing, he is hiding. Gabby is missing."

Petito was last seen on Aug. 24 leaving a hotel room in Utah. The next day, she spoke to her mother, Nichole Schmidt, telling her that their next stops would be at Grand Teton and Yellowstone, Schmidt told ABC News this week.

Schmidt received two text messages from her daughter's phone in the days after speaking to her, but it was unclear whether they were actually sent by Petito.

Laundrie has been named a person of interest in the case, but he has so far refused to speak to police.

"Many people are wondering why Mr. Laundrie would not make a statement or speak with law enforcement in the face of Ms. Petito's absence," the attorney representing the Laundrie family, Steven P. Bertolino, said in a statement Wednesday. "In my experience, intimate partners are often the first person law enforcement focuses their attention on in cases like this, and the warning that 'any statement will be used against you' is true, regardless of whether my client had anything to do with Ms. Petito's disappearance. As such, on the advice of counsel, Mr. Laundrie is not speaking on this matter."

The North Port Police Department said Friday afternoon it had entered the family's home, where Brian was believed to be staying, to speak with the family "at their request."

The police later tweeted Friday, "The conversation at the Laundrie home is complete. Once we have the details, a statement will be made. We ask for calm! Please let us work through this and information will be forthcoming."

It was after that tweet that the family lawyer released the statement saying the location of Brian Laundrie was unknown.

"We've been trying to reach the family all week. This is the first time we've had communication with them, and now they're telling us that he's been gone for essentially the last four days," Officer Josh Taylor, a spokesman for the North Port Police, said in an interview with "Good Morning America" Saturday.

People had gathered outside the Laundrie home throughout the day Friday, some with bullhorns, chanting "Where is Gabby?" and calling on Brian Laundrie or the family to talk to authorities. Those people were moved from the lawn to the sidewalk as they chanted toward the house.

Brian's sister, Cassandra Laundrie, spoke to ABC News on Thursday night, saying she had spoken to police about Petito's disappearance but was mostly learning details from the news.

"Obviously, me and my family want Gabby to be found safe," she said. "She is like a sister and my children love her, and all I want is for her to come home safe and sound and this be just a big misunderstanding."

Earlier in the day, the Grand County Sheriff's Office in Moab, Utah, said Petito and Laundrie did not appear to be connected to the murders of two women at a campground in mid-August. The sheriff's office said on Thursday it had been in contact with Florida authorities about investigating a possible connection to the double murder.

The two women were last seen leaving a bar on Aug. 13, one day after authorities were called about a disagreement between Petito and Laundrie while they were traveling in Moab.

The couple's white van had been pulled over after a witness called police about an altercation between the two at the Arches National Park. The couple admitted to arguing and that Petito had slapped Laundrie, according to the report. Both told police that Laundrie had not hit Petito.

There was "insufficient evidence existed to justify criminal charges," Moab Police Department Chief Bret Edge said in a statement Tuesday.

ABC News' Alondra Valle, Julia Jacobo and Matt Foster contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Hostess assaulted at NYC restaurant after asking Texas patrons for proof of COVID-19 vaccination


(NEW YORK) -- A hostess in New York City was assaulted after asking patrons from Texas to show proof of their vaccination status when they entered a restaurant, authorities said.

New York City mandates that those 12 and older seeking to dine indoors show proof of having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, though enforcement of the policy has largely fallen on front-line hospitality workers.

The incident took place at Carmine's Italian Restaurant in the Upper West Side neighborhood of Manhattan on Thursday evening, according to the New York Police Department. Three women from Texas -- a 44-year-old and her 21-year-old daughter, as well as another 49-year-old -- tried to enter the restaurant when they were asked for proof of vaccination, according to the police department.

The women then assaulted the 24-year-old hostess and broke her necklace during the attack, police said. The victim refused medical attention.

Authorities have not released the names of the accused, each of whom was taken into custody and given a desk appearance ticket, the NYPD said. The investigation remains ongoing.

"Our goal is to serve our customers great food, offer excellent service and hospitality while keeping our employees and customers safe as we comply with the government-mandated COVID-19 protocols," a Carmine's Italian Restaurant spokesperson said. "It's a shocking and tragic situation when one of our valued employees is assaulted for doing their job -- as required by city policies -- and trying to make a living."

"Our focus right now is caring for our employee and the rest of our restaurant family," the statement added. "We are a family-style restaurant, and this is the absolute last experience any of our employees should ever endure and any customers witness."

The New York City Hospitality Alliance, a nonprofit trade group representing workers in the industry, called on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to increase awareness of the vaccine requirements for indoor dining, especially to visitors who may be unaware of it, and heighten penalties for noncompliance.

"Assaulting a restaurant worker for doing their job is abhorrent and must be punished," Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, said in a statement. "We're calling on the City and State of New York to immediately increase penalties for assaulting restaurant workers in New York City in conjunction with enforcement of Covid-19 protocols."

Like mask mandates throughout 2020, vaccine mandates have emerged as a hot-button issue in the U.S. even as a global pandemic rages. Despite the urging of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and assurances from health authorities that vaccines are safe and effective, many Americans are still refusing the jab -- decisions that likely have contributed to a recent resurgence of virus cases propelled by the highly contagious delta variant.

As of Friday, some 74.2% of the U.S. population 12 years of age and older had received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 63.5% were fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Just last week, the U.S. reached the a milestone: COVID-19 has killed 1 in every 500 Americans.

ABC News' Darren Reynolds contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Ohio man charged for bomb threat targeting reproductive health center


(WASHINGTON) -- The Justice Department has announced charges against an Ohio man accused of making threats against a local reproductive health services clinic.

Newly unsealed charging documents allege Carlos Manuel Rodriquez Brime, 25, of making two separate threats via telephone to the Your Choice Healthcare facility in Columbus on April 11.

"My girlfriend is a patient there and I'm going to bring the heat. If she kills my baby, I'm going to kill her," Brime allegedly said in the first call.

A little over two hours later, Brime called again and made a bomb threat, saying, "My organization will be bringing a bomb to your facility. I suggest you close your doors."

Brime was charged with one count of violating the FACE Act, which makes it a crime to threaten anyone receiving or providing reproductive health services.

In recent weeks, the Justice Department has vowed aggressive enforcement of the FACE Act in Texas against anyone who levies threats against those seeking abortions or reproductive health clinic workers, after the state's restrictive law banning most abortions took effect earlier this month.

Brime is also charged with two other counts making threatening statements and making a bomb threat. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, according to the DOJ.

He was arrested Thursday and ordered to remain detained pending further legal proceedings. He has not yet entered a plea in his case and his arraignment is scheduled for next Thursday.

A public defender listed as representing Brime did not immediately respond to a request for comment from ABC News.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

COVID-19 live updates: More than 10,000 new deaths reported in US in one week

Lubo Ivanko/iStock

(NEW YORK) -- The United States is facing a COVID-19 surge this summer as the more contagious delta variant spreads.

More than 670,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 while over 4.6 million people have died from the disease worldwide, according to real-time data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

Just 63.5% of Americans ages 12 and up are 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:

Sep 17, 5:32 pm
White House to hold virtual COVID-19 summit next week  

The White House is planning to hold a virtual COVID-19 summit with world leaders next week, officials announced Friday.

President Joe Biden will convene the summit Wednesday amid the U.N. General Assembly, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.

The meeting will focus on "expanding and enhancing our shared efforts to defeat COVID-19," according to Psaki, including equitable vaccine access and making therapeutics and tests more available.

More information will be available in the coming days, she said.

Sep 17, 4:33 pm
FDA panel votes 'yes' on boosters for people 65 and older or high risk

The FDA advisory panel on Friday voted 18-0 in favor of booster shots for anyone 65 and older or anyone at high risk of severe disease from COVID-19.

If the FDA agrees with the plan, which is likely, it’s possible that booster shots would roll out as early as next week to these populations. The CDC would weigh in first though with more specific recommendations on who exactly should take the third shots.

The 18-0 vote comes after the members voted "no" on the question of whether the current data supports a booster shot of the Pfizer vaccine for anyone 16 and older.

Sep 17, 3:54 pm
FDA panel declines to approve Pfizer boosters for all Americans

The independent FDA advisory committee voted no on Friday on the question of whether the current data supports a booster shot of the Pfizer vaccine for anyone 16 and older.

This was largely due to members’ discomfort with the vast age range this question includes. As members of the FDA's Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee outlined in Friday's meeting, there are still large gaps in safety and efficacy data for the younger age groups. But the members said they haven't ruled out third shots for older populations.

The advisory panel's nonbinding vote followed a full day of presentations, Q&A and debate.

Sep 17, 2:14 pm
Moderna vaccine appears to provide strongest protection against hospitalization

Moderna's two-shot vaccine seems to offer the strongest protection against hospitalization, though all three vaccines dramatically reduced the risk, according to a new analysis published in the CDC's weekly report MMWR.

The study used a model to estimate effectiveness against hospitalization among 3,689 adults hospitalized from March to August. According to the estimate, vaccine efficacy against hospitalization was: 93% for Moderna; 88% for Pfizer; 71% for Johnson & Johnson.

This study did not specifically analyze delta, did not include people under 18 nor did it include immunocompromised people. This study did look at antibody levels but didn't track a change in antibody levels over time.

-ABC News' Sony Salzman, Adela Wu

Sep 17, 1:51 pm
WH COVID team confident there won't be booster supply problems

White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said when boosters start rolling out he's confident there won't be a supply problem as there was when vaccinations began.

“We have plenty of supply of all three vaccines for boosters, obviously pending the FDA and the CDC recommendations," Zients said at Friday's White House COVID-19 Response Team briefing. "We have supply in inventory and we also have supply on order. So supply is in good shape for all Americans to get boosters."

At the briefing CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky announced a $1.2 billion dollar investment in building more resilient health care systems to battle COVID-19 and future illnesses over the next three years.

-ABC News' Matthew Vann

Sep 17, 12:40 pm
Over 126,000 Texas kids have tested positive

In Texas, 126,687 children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the school year started, according to state data. But there is a sharp decline in new cases in the last week. More than 5 million students are in Texas schools.

At least 24,476 staff members at Texas schools have tested positive, according to state data.

-ABC News' Gina Sunseri

Sep 17, 11:56 am
125 employees leave Indiana hospital system after refusing vaccine

Indiana University Health, the state's largest network of physicians, said 125 employees have left after choosing to not get vaccinated.

All workers were required to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 1. Those who didn't were given a two-week unpaid suspension ending Sept. 14, and those who still didn't agree to the shot by that point "left the organization," according to a statement by IU Health.

Sep 17, 11:21 am
Art exhibit commemorating COVID deaths opens to public

An art exhibit commemorating the Americans who died from COVID-19 is opening to the public on Friday.

The exhibit, which will run until Oct. 3, displays more than 660,000 white flags on the National Mall at the base of the Washington Monument.

This is the largest participatory art installation on the National Mall since the AIDS Memorial Quilt.

Sep 17, 10:56 am
Kentucky school district cancels all classes due to increase in cases

Newport Independent Schools in Kentucky has canceled all classes on Friday due to an increase in the number of sick or quarantined students, the district said.

Classes will be virtual on Monday and Tuesday. The district said it plans to return to in-person learning on Wednesday.

Sep 17, 10:44 am
More than 10,000 new deaths reported in US in 1 week

The U.S. recorded more than 10,100 confirmed COVID-19 related deaths in one week, according to federal data. States with some of the highest death tolls are Texas, Georgia and North Carolina.

The U.S. reported more than 1.02 million cases over the last week. This is a major step back in the fight against COVID-19; in June, the U.S. recorded just 80,000 new cases in one week.

Tennessee and West Virginia currently have the country's highest case rate, followed by Alaska, Wyoming, South Carolina, Montana and Kentucky, according to federal data.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

More than 600,000 flags on National Mall stand witness to America's COVID dead


(WASHINGTON) -- On one small, white rectangle is the name of a 29-year-old engineer, on another the name of a World War II veteran, and on a third, that of a 15-year-old -- just three of more than 600,000 flags on the National Mall reflecting the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on American lives and the country.

On the grassy expanse near the Washington Monument, the field of flags is being displayed as a part of a chilling exhibition called "In America: Remember."

Each represents a life lost to the pandemic, and each sits amid a sea of symbolic grief.

This is the second stunning exhibit based on a project trying to capture, the artist said, the "human dignity" behind the mind-numbing numbers.

Back in the fall of 2020, the first featured a then-unthinkable 200,000 flags near RFK Stadium in Washington.

Since then, the scope of the new project has more than tripled as the death toll continues to rise, coming ever closer to the number estimated to have died during the 1918 influenza pandemic, now at more than 667,000 -- or one in every 500 Americans.

The exhibit, being unveiled Friday, will stay on the National Mall until Oct. 3.

Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg, the artist, spoke with ABC News as more and more flags were being placed on Thursday.

"It's really hard to think about the grief that is just embodied by one flag," Firstenberg said. "And when as you walk amongst 660,000, it's unimaginable the pain that people have gone through."

Visitors can stop at a table and personalize a flag with the name of a loved one lost.

Many now also carry messages from across the country submitted on the project's website, messages to mothers, fathers, siblings and friends. Firstenberg said she hoped it could be cathartic for families not able to hold large funerals or be with family and other loved ones given pandemic restrictions.

Some are to strangers, but fellow Americans.

She recalled one emergency room doctor who traveled to Washington from New York last fall to add the names of 12 patients he lost to COVID.

He then turned around, she said, heading back to start a new shift.

Firstenberg said she hopes the flags, and the sound of them being pulled in the wind, will give visitors "a moment of pause."

"This is all of our art," she said, "because it's when people personalize flags and a complete stranger comes and meets that flag and feels something, senses the grief that is embodied by just that one flag, they created the art, too."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Alaska once had the highest vaccination rate. Now it's in a COVID-19 crisis.


(ANCHORAGE, Alaska) -- In January, Alaska had the highest per capita coronavirus vaccination rate in the nation. Now, hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, and the state’s largest hospital is rationing care.

Vaccine hesitancy and the delta variant have pushed the state’s fragile and limited hospital system to the breaking point.

Providence Alaska Medical Center, the state’s largest hospital, released a letter to the public Tuesday saying that more than 30% of its patients have COVID-19 and the hospital is rationing treatment.

"While we are doing our utmost, we are no longer able to provide the standard of care to each and every patient who needs our help," wrote Chief of Staff Kristen Solana Walkinshaw on behalf of the hospital’s Medical Executive Committee. "The acuity and number of patients now exceeds our resources and our ability to staff beds with skilled caregivers, like nurses and respiratory therapists."

Of Alaska's 120 ICU beds, 106 were filled as of Thursday -- leaving only 14 beds available statewide.

Alaska had a strong initial vaccine rollout, delivering doses to remote areas of the state by helicopters, planes, dog sleds and ferries, with additional support from the Indian Health Service and state tribal health system to vaccinate Alaska Natives. Due to the challenges posed by the state’s vast size, it received vaccine allocations monthly as opposed to weekly, giving it the ability to plan ahead and deliver many doses early on.

But, as in the rest of the country, vaccination rates slowly began dropping off over the summer, stagnating with 56.7% of Alaskans fully vaccinated as of Thursday, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard.

"In terms of why things went stagnant, it does seem like hesitancy is the main factor behind that," said Jared Kosin, CEO and president of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association. "It's not an access issue. The vaccine's widely available in Alaska anywhere."

Gov. Mike Dunleavy ended Alaska’s COVID-19 emergency declaration in the spring, and both the state legislature and Dunleavy’s administration have yet to reinstate one even at the pleading of hospitals and doctors.

In a spring mayoral race, Anchorage voters elected Dave Bronson, who has repeatedly said his administration will not enact citywide mask or vaccine mandates.

Bronson reiterated that commitment on Tuesday after an assembly meeting where hospital workers begged for action.

Cases in Alaska have been sharply increasing since August, and the state shattered its new daily case record with 1,068 infections reported Wednesday. As a result, hospitalizations have skyrocketed, reaching all time highs.

And health care experts warn this is only the beginning of a surge that could last weeks.

"It has brought us to the breaking point, and to be totally direct, in many respects we are broken," said Kosin. "The situation is extremely bleak."

Alaska runs on a "hub-and-spoke model" of health care, according to Kosin. "If you're in a more rural area, you're going to go to clinics, rural hospitals," he told ABC News. "The idea is, as you need a higher level of care or (have) more needs, you will transfer in, ultimately, to our biggest hub, which is Anchorage."

Anchorage, the state’s most populous city, is home to the state’s three largest hospitals -- some of which offer the only advanced neurological and cardiovascular care in the state. While many people live in rural and geographically isolated areas, those communities still rely on the specialty medical care that can only be found in the city.

As city hospitals have reached capacity and Anchorage residents are forced to remain in their cars or emergency room waiting areas until they can receive care, health care institutions must refuse transfer patients from rural communities, leaving them without what can be lifesaving treatment, Solana Walkinshaw said.

The nearest next option are hospitals in the contiguous U.S. like Seattle, Washington -- an over three-hour flight away. Seattle is also experiencing an influx of COVID-19 patients and is trying to help by taking patients from neighboring states like Idaho, which is coping with its most serious surge in cases since the beginning of the pandemic. That leaves very limited options.

Because city hospitals are inundated with COVID-19 cases, they are struggling to provide routine care and emergency services to patients who do not have the virus.

As of Tuesday night, Providence Alaska Medical Center had only a single available bed with 10 admitted patients in need of one, along with patients in the emergency room also waiting for an opening, Solana Walkinshaw said. Three of those patients needed an ICU bed, but the hospital had none available.

Between 80-85% of COVID-19 patients at the hospital are unvaccinated and the same is true of the COVID-19 patients who die, according to Providence Alaska Medical Center spokesperson Mikal Canfield.

The hospital began rationing care Saturday, leaving health care workers to decide which patients get care and which ones have to wait. The staff is demoralized, Solana Walkinshaw said, with some breaking down in tears, sad and frustrated over the situation they find themselves in.

"People are struggling, working as hard as they can and having to make these decisions is probably some of the hardest things people have done in their careers," she said.

While rural Alaska has experienced a stark increase in coronavirus cases, with some communities seeing the worst outbreaks on record, rural health providers are not being hit as hard with COVID-19 patients, Kosin said.

That's due to the smaller populations outside of the city, the fact that the COVID-19 patients in the most serious condition are sent to Anchorage and because some of the villages have very high vaccination rates.

The bigger problem for rural institutions is that they are being tasked with caring for non-COVID-19 patients they would typically transfer to Anchorage.

At Tuesday's city assembly meeting, a group of health care workers from hospitals across Anchorage pleaded for residents to wear masks and get vaccinated.

Leslie Gonsette, an internal medicine hospitalist at Providence Alaska Medical Center, came to testify at the meeting during her hospital shift. One of her patients, who does not have COVID-19 and is vaccinated, was in critical condition and in need of an ICU bed, she said.

"I called my colleagues in the ICU, and I explained, 'My patient is going to probably die. I need an ICU bed,'" she said. "And the answer I got was, 'We are doing our best. We do not have a bed.'"

Bronson’s office released a statement after the meeting.

"My administration has been clear since the beginning that we will not mandate masks or vaccines," it said. "If someone wants to wear a mask or get a vaccination that's their personal choice. But we will not violate the privacy and independent health care decisions of our citizens in the process."

Alaska's health care providers, however, are left worrying about the kinds of choices they will be left with.

"Rationing care will take on a whole new meaning than it does today," Kosin said. "I think it's going to lead to the types of decisions you can’t imagine a person having to make."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Louisiana residents frustrated by FEMA aid process weeks after Hurricane Ida


(WASHINGTON) -- When President Joe Biden visited Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, he promised a key form of federal aid to those dealing with the lingering effects of the storm, but weeks after landfall getting that financial help has been easier said than done.

The money would go straight into survivors' bank accounts "so that they can deal immediately with emergencies," Biden said Sept. 3.

Ida roared ashore near Port Fourchon as a Category 4 hurricane on Aug. 29, wiping out homes and flooding entire neighborhoods. At least 26 people died in Louisiana.

But access to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's critical needs assistance program, designed to provide $500 checks for individuals with lifesaving needs, has been difficult in many of the affected areas.

FEMA defines critical needs as "life-saving and life-sustaining items including, but not limited to: water, food, first aid, prescriptions, infant formula, diapers, consumable medical supplies, durable medical equipment, personal hygiene items and fuel for transportation."

But weeks after the storm, getting access to those items is still a challenge, and has left some residents who say they have urgent needs confused about why they have not received the federal aid mentioned by Biden.

Melinda Bernard, 34, is among the Ida survivors who has not received the $500 deposit, despite requesting it.

Her family stayed at their home in Houma, Louisiana, when Ida hit as they couldn't find safe lodging to accommodate them and their pets. They were without power for 15 days, she said.

"Everything was booked. We refused to leave our animals so we stayed home," she said.

Bernard said she wasn't anticipating the burden of Ida's lasting effects, and in an effort to be honest, marked "no'' on the FEMA application when asked if she was in immediate need. But as power outages lingered, Bernard was forced to run her generator to power her home, especially because her son, who has asthma, sometimes needs a nebulizer, particularly in hot weather.

Costs added up. Her generator failed and she was forced to replace it.

"Due to the difficulty of finding available gas, we chose to ration the fuel we had," she said.

In a phone call to a FEMA disaster assistance hotline, a representative told her she couldn't amend her application, and that she should visit a local food bank for assistance.

A Sept. 14 tweet from FEMA read, in part, "if you are not eligible, this program does not have an appeal process."

When asked to confirm whether an application marked ineligible can be appealed, FEMA Public Affairs Director Jaclyn Rothenberg said she stood by the agency's tweet.

Rothenberg said there had been more than 640,000 applications in Louisiana in connection with Ida, and 65% had received critical needs assistance funding.

"Most people are getting the funds they apply for," she said.

In the Louisiana parish of Tangipahoa, parish President Robby Miller said he applied for the $500 promoted by Biden in the wake of Ida, like many others there. He said on Sept. 15 that he still hadn't received it, and wasn't alone.

"I've only heard of a handful that have gotten it," he said.

Miller added that the process of applying for the various forms of aid offered by FEMA confounded him and other parish residents.

"I would say that the messaging and the communication of what is actually available to our citizens, when it will be available, has been rather confusing," he said.

Danielle Craig, 45, lives in Hammond, on the border of Tangipahoa and Livingston parishes, and was among those displaced by Ida. She and her husband fled their home for nearly two weeks. She said the damage to her community was "unlike anything I have ever seen."

The widespread destruction in Hammond included roofs ripped from buildings and downed trees lining the streets.

Craig's husband is diabetic, and needed refrigeration for his insulin, so they stayed with friends for nearly two weeks -- wherever they could find electricity.

Water leaked into their damaged home, then black mold began to line the walls and ceilings.

Craig said she tried to apply online for aid from FEMA, but couldn't confirm her address in its system. When she called, she said a representative told her their home would need to be inspected first. Nobody has showed up, Craig said.

And while she was told she'd receive the $500 promised by Biden, the money hasn't appeared. After hours on hold, a FEMA representative told her to be patient.

FEMA officials have committed to an equitable process in terms of the allocation of federal aid, and have encouraged applicants who were not offered critical needs assistance to explore other options, including individual assistance.

Rothenberg said FEMA is "improving access to disaster assistance for underserved communities," including by expanding the criteria for applicants to show they have expenses related to their homes.

Rep. Troy Carter, D-La., announced Sept. 10 that FEMA had granted a 10-day extension to the original deadline to apply for assistance after, his spokesperson said, constituents reported difficulty accessing aid due to long hold times on FEMA phone lines. The new deadline to apply for Critical Needs Assistance is Sept. 22.

But despite the extension, some, like Craig, are still waiting for aid they say they urgently need.

"You can only be so patient after weeks of damage and nobody's done anything," she said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

These vaccine mandates are already in place to attend school in the US


(NEW YORK) -- By early next year, all eligible students attending a Los Angeles public school will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The school district is the largest in the country to mandate the shot -- which joins a list of other vaccines already required to attend school that protect against highly contagious diseases.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia have vaccine requirements for children to attend school and child care facilities, including laws around allowable exemptions.

Massachusetts became the first state to enact a school vaccination requirement in the 1850s for the smallpox vaccine -- the first immunization developed against a contagious disease -- according to a publication by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other states followed suit, and by the 1980-1981 school year, all states had vaccination requirements for students entering the classroom, the CDC said.

Children in close proximity with poor ventilation and hygiene practices can lead to "transmission events," said Dr. John Brownstein, an epidemiologist at Boston Children's Hospital and an ABC News contributor.

"This is why vaccine mandates in schools have been super important," Brownstein said. "They create a safe environment where you can recognize that you will not have transmission of a wide range of infectious diseases like measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough."

The mandates have been "very successful" in preventing outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, he said.

Thanks to vaccination efforts, many highly contagious diseases that were once common, such as measles, mumps, whooping cough (aka pertussis) and chickenpox, are now rare, while polio and smallpox have been eradicated in the U.S. Routine child vaccination is estimated to prevent 936,000 premature deaths and 419 million illnesses in American children born between 1994 and 2018, according to the CDC.

Vaccine mandates for child care and schools vary by state. All require vaccines that protect against polio, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, measles and rubella, according to the Immunization Action Coalition (IAC), a vaccine education and advocacy organization. Nearly all states require vaccines that protect against mumps, chickenpox, hepatitis B and pneumococcal disease.

Vaccines that aren't widely required by states include ones for the flu, hepatitis A, rotavirus and HPV, according to IAC. The U.S. stopped routine vaccination for smallpox -- which has been eradicated globally -- in the 1970s.

"Precedents have been set that you can protect your community by requiring school vaccination requirements," L.J Tan, chief policy and partnerships officer for IAC, told ABC News.

For the 2019-2020 school year, about 95% of children in kindergarten in the U.S. had received the DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis), MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) and varicella (chickenpox) vaccines, according to the CDC, with roughly 5% exempt from or not up to date on certain doses.

The agency has observed a decrease in vaccination rates during the pandemic, as COVID-19 has disrupted school and routine well visits for many families. There was a 14% drop in public sector vaccine ordering in 2020-2021 compared to 2019, and measles vaccine ordering decreased by over 20%, the CDC reported.

The decline in routine pediatric immunizations has been very concerning for public health experts.

"Whenever we have a decrease in coverage, that could be an opportunity for these infections to reemerge and cause outbreaks -- and one of the most obvious, recent examples is measles," Dr. Flor Munoz, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Texas Children's Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, told ABC News.

In 2019, the U.S. saw its largest measles outbreak in 25 years, with 1,282 cases confirmed in 31 states, mostly among people not vaccinated against the virus, according to the CDC.

It's especially important that children stay up-to-date on vaccines as many return to in-person learning and routine activities, Munoz said.

"All of these other diseases that are vaccine-preventable can reemerge at any time," Munoz said. "Vaccination is the easiest way and the best way to prevent any of these potentially serious infections."

Pediatric COVID-19 rates have reached record levels in the U.S. as students return to school. In the last two weeks, nearly half a million children have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the latest report on pediatric coronavirus cases from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association.

Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine is authorized for people as young as 12 and approved by the Food and Drug Administration for those ages 16 and up. The pharmaceutical company has said it plans to submit vaccine safety data on 5- to 11-year-olds to the FDA by the end of September.

Currently, no state requires the COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12 and older for school entry, though some are mandating it for certain state employees and many colleges are requiring it for students.

The Los Angeles Unified School District's Board of Education last week approved a mandate that students ages 12 and up be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 10, 2022, to attend class in-person. At this time, the school district said it is not requiring booster shots, which the Biden administration is planning to be made available as soon as next week for the general public at least eight months after their second dose.

Beyond Los Angeles, nearby Culver City is mandating that public school students get the vaccine this school year, and two San Francisco Bay Area districts are considering the same. More school districts may likely follow suit, creating a "domino effect," Brownstein said, especially as younger children become eligible to get the vaccine.

"A safe vaccine that can prevent transmission, protect our kids and ensure that they can stay in in-person learning actually makes a lot of sense," he said. "And there's historical precedent for doing so."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Murdaugh murders and mysteries timeline: Key events in the South Carolina family's scandals and deaths

Hampton County Detention Center

(COLLETON COUNTY, S.C.) -- A string of bloody killings and mysteries involving a prominent South Carolina family has sent investigators on a wild chase full of twists and turns.

At the center of it is Alex Murdaugh, a 53-year-old South Carolina lawyer who comes from a legacy of prominent attorneys in the state where three generations of the family had been state prosecutors in the Hampton County area for more than a century.

The saga began when Murdaugh's wife, Margaret "Maggie" Murdaugh, 52, and their son Paul, 22, were found fatally shot in June.

Since then, there have been curveballs in the investigation including Alex Murdaugh's alleged money misuse that led to the suspension of his law license, and other allegations of an opioid addiction, an assisted-suicide attempt and a $10 million insurance fraud scheme.

Here's a timeline of the key events in the Murdaugh murders and scandals:

June 7, 2021: Margaret and Paul Murdaugh are found dead

Margaret and Paul Murdaugh were found dead on June 7 near dog kennels at the family’s home near Islandton, South Carolina, police said. The Colleton County sheriff’s department said both victims suffered multiple gunshot wounds.

Their bodies were discovered by Alex Murdaugh, police said. He told authorities he had been out at the time of the shooting and found his wife and son dead when he arrived home, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) said in a later news release.

At the time Paul Murdaugh was awaiting trial on a charge of allegedly boating under the influence after a crash in February 2019 that killed a 19-year-old woman, Mallory Beach of South Carolina. The wreck led to some questioning whether his family’s ties to the legal system in the area affected the investigation, local newspaper The Island Packet reported at the time.

Duffie Stone, the 14th circuit solicitor appointed in 2006, the first non-Murdaugh to hold the position since 1920, recused himself from the case because of personal connections.

June 17: Alex Murdaugh's brothers speak on Good Morning America

John Marvin Murdaugh and Randolph "Randy" Murdaugh IV spoke with Good Morning America about the deaths of Maggie and Paul, saying they didn't believe their brother was involved in their killings.

"My brother loved Maggie and loved Paul like nothing else on this earth, just like he loves Buster," Randy said, naming Alex's other son. "So there's no possible way he could have anything to do with this, I can assure you."

June 22: Authorities reopen probe into 2015 death of Stephen Smith

SLED announced it reopened an investigation into the death of a man named Stephen Smith, 19, after new evidence was gathered during the course of the investigation into the Murdaugh double homicide.

Smith was found dead in the middle of a road in Hampton County in 2015 and investigators believed he was hit by a vehicle but no suspects were ever apprehended, a local ABC affiliate in North Carolina, WTVD, reported.

June 25: Murdaugh family announce $100,000 reward for information

Alex Murdaugh and his son Buster announced a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of assailants involved in the murders of Maggie and Paul.

“I want to thank everyone for the incredible love and support that we have received over the last few weeks,” Murdaugh said in a statement at the time. “Now is the time to bring justice for Maggie and Paul. Buster and I, along with Maggie’s mother, father and our entire family, ask that anyone with helpful information should immediately call the SLED tip line or Crime Stoppers."

Sept. 3 : Alex Murdaugh resigns from law firm

Murdaugh officially resigned from the law firm Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth, & Detrick based in Hampton, South Carolina, on Sept. 3 but publicly announced his resignation days later.

Sept. 4: Murdaugh calls 911 saying he was shot

A major twist in the case came when Alex Murdaugh called authorities saying he was shot in the head in Hampton County on Sept. 4.

A family spokesperson told ABC News at the time that he was changing a tire when a car passed him. The vehicle turned around and “someone in the car shot him,” the spokesperson said to ABC News.

SLED said in a statement at the time that he was shot on Old Salkehatchie Road near Varnville, South Carolina. He was transported to a hospital in Savannah, Georgia, for “treatment of a superficial gunshot wound to the head,” SLED said.

The family’s spokesperson later offered a clarification regarding the shooting, saying, “Alex had an entry and exit wound, his skull was fractured and it was not a self-inflicted bullet wound. Alex pulled over after seeing a low-tire indicator light. A male driver in a blue pickup asked him if he had car troubles, as soon as Alex replied, he was shot."

Sept. 6: Murdaugh announces resignation, enters rehab

Alex Murdaugh publicly announced that he resigned from his law firm and will enter rehab.

“The murders of my wife and son have caused an incredibly difficult time in my life. I have made a lot of decisions that I truly regret. I’m resigning from my law firm and entering rehab after a long battle that has been exacerbated by these murders. I am immensely sorry to everyone I’ve hurt including my family, friends and colleagues. I ask for prayers as I rehabilitate myself and my relationships," he said.

Sept. 7: Law firm says Murdaugh left due to money misuse

Alex Murdaugh's former law firm, Peters Murdaugh Parker Eltzroth & Detrick, released a statement Sept. 7 saying Murdaugh formally resigned Sept. 3 and that “he is no longer associated with PMPED in any manner.”

“His resignation came after the discovery by PMPED that Alex misappropriated funds in violation of PMPED standards and policies. A forensic accounting firm will be retained to conduct a thorough investigation.”

The firm said that it contacted law enforcement and the South Carolina Bar.

Sept. 8: Brother “shocked” by Murdaugh allegations; Alex Murdaugh’s law license suspended

Alex Murdaugh’s older brother Randy Murdaugh, who is also still employed by the firm, released a statement saying he was “shocked” to learn of his brother’s “settling of money,” as well as “drug addiction.”

“I love my law firm family and also love Alex as my brother. While I will support him in his recovery, I do not support, condone, or excuse his conduct in stealing by manipulating his most trusted relationships. I will continue to pursue my client’s interests with the highest degree of honesty and integrity, as I always have,” he said.

The South Carolina Supreme Court also issued an order suspending Alex Murdaugh’s license to practice law in the state.

Sept. 13: SLED investigates missing money from law firm

SLED confirmed they are the law enforcement agency investigating the missing money from the law firm.

Sept. 14: Police charge man in Alex Murdaugh shooting

SLED announced the arrest of Curtis Edward Smith, 61, in connection with the shooting incident involving Alex Murdaugh on Sept. 4 in Hampton County.

Smith was charged with assisted suicide, assault and battery of a high-aggravated nature, pointing and presenting a firearm, insurance fraud and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud.

Sept. 15: Lawyers say Murdaugh set up his own shooting, police open criminal investigation into 2018 death of Gloria Satterfield

Alex Murdaugh enlisted Curtis Smith to shoot and kill him while in his mentally ill, drug addicted and grieving state, Murdaugh's attorneys Jim Griffin and Dick Harpootlian said in a statement on Sept. 15, a day after Smith was charged.

"On September 4, it became clear Alex believed that ending his life was his only option. Today, he knows that’s not true. For the last 20 years, there have been many people feeding his addiction to opioids. During that time, these individuals took advantage of his addiction and his ability to pay substantial funds for illegal drugs. One of those individuals took advantage of his mental illness and agreed to take Alex's life, by shooting him in the head," the statement said.

"Fortunately, Alex was not killed by the gunshot wound. Alex is fully cooperating with SLED in their investigations into his shooting, opioid use and the search to find the person or people responsible for the murder of his wife and son. Alex is not without fault but he is just one of many whose life has been devastated by opioid addiction," the lawyers' statement continued.

Also on Sept. 15, the sons of a former Murdaugh housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, filed a lawsuit against Alex Murdaugh, Corey Fleming and others for allegedly swindling them out of receiving settlement money.

Satterfield reportedly died after a falling accident in the Murdaugh family home in February 2018, the lawsuit states.

In the civil lawsuit, Satterfield’s surviving sons claimed Alex Murdaugh approached them after she died, proposing the sons sue him so they would get a life insurance settlement on their mother’s behalf, the complaint states.

The court papers said that Murdaugh personally introduced them to fellow attorney Corey Fleming with the recommendation that Fleming should represent them "in filing legal claims against Murdaugh for the wrongful death of their mother."

The alleged conspiracy led to a $505,000 settlement, but Satterfield’s sons claim they haven’t gotten any of that settlement money, which was agreed upon in December 2018, the lawsuit claimed.

SLED then said they were opening the investigation into Satterfield's death at the request of the Hampton County Coroner’s Office and due to information gathered during the course of other ongoing investigations involving Alex Murdaugh.

Sept. 16: Alex Murdaugh surrenders

Murdaugh turned himself in at the Hampton County Detention Center Thursday, Sept. 16.

He was arrested in connection to the Sept. 4 shooting incident "in which he conspired with Curtis Edward Smith to assist him in committing suicide for the explicit purpose of allowing a beneficiary to collect life insurance," SLED said in a statement.

The affidavit said Murdaugh provided a statement to SLED on Sept. 13: “Admitting to the scheme … for the purpose of his son collecting a life insurance policy valued at approximately $10 million.” A day later, Smith admitted to being present during the Murdaugh shooting and disposing the firearm afterward.

Murdaugh was charged with insurance fraud, conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, along with filing a false police report. The case will be prosecuted by the attorney general’s office.

“I can assure you that SLED agents will continue working to bring justice to anyone involved with any criminal act associated with these ongoing investigations,” said SLED Chief Mark Keel. “The arrests in this case are only the first step in that process.”

Earlier on Sept. 16, Curtis Edward Smith appeared in front of a Hampton County Judge for a bond hearing on charges where he agreed to a public defender and had his bond set at $55,000 for the attempted assisted suicide of Alex Murdaugh.

His next hearing was set for Oct. 25.

Sept. 18: $20,000 bond

In a bond hearing in Hampton County court on Thursday, Sept. 18. Alex Murdaugh was ordered held on a $20,000 personal recognizance bond. Murdaugh will return to rehab, according to his attorney, and will change to an out-of-state rehab facility afterwards. If he leaves the rehab facility, there will be a bench warrant issued for his arrest, Judge Tonja Alexander said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

COVID-19 live updates: US reports highest daily death toll in nearly 7 months


(NEW YORK) -- The United States is facing a COVID-19 surge this summer as the more contagious delta variant spreads.

More than 666,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 while over 4.6 million people have died from the disease worldwide, according to real-time data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

Just 63.3% of Americans ages 12 and up are 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:

Sep 16, 7:39 pm
Seattle to require proof of vaccination or negative test for indoor recreation, large outdoor events

The most populous county in Washington state will implement COVID-19 vaccine and testing requirements for indoor dining, large outdoor events and other activities.

Starting Oct. 25, proof of COVID-19 vaccination will be required for everyone ages 12 and up to enter indoor establishments, including restaurants, bars, gyms and movie theaters, and attend outdoor events with more than 500 people in King County, home to Seattle, officials announced Thursday.

Those who are not vaccinated must show proof of a negative PCR COVID-19 test in the last 72 hours or take a rapid test on site prior to entry.

"We are at a critical point in this pandemic, with high levels of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, and no certainty as to what will follow the Delta variant," King County Executive Dow Constantine said in a statement. "Vaccination is our best shield against this deadly virus."

Over 85% of King County residents have received at least their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to Constantine.

Lumen Field, home of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks, already required vaccination or a negative test, while the MLB's Seattle Mariners said last week they would institute the same guidelines should they make the playoffs.

Sep 16, 6:53 pm
24 state attorneys general warn Biden of potential legal action over vaccine mandate

Two dozen state attorneys general are threatening legal action against the federal government over a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for private businesses.

A week after President Joe Biden announced that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will create a rule that will require roughly 80 million workers nationwide to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing, 24 Republican state attorneys general warned in a [letter addressed to the president] () that they "will seek every available legal option" if the mandate is implemented.  

The letter, which called the plan "disastrous and counterproductive" and debated its legality, was signed by the attorneys general of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Earlier this week, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy defended Biden's vaccine plan in an interview with "This Week" anchor George Stephanopoulos.

"The requirements that he announced are not sweeping requirements for the entire nation," Murthy said. "These are focused on areas where the federal government has legal authority to act."

Sep 16, 5:05 pm
CDC predicts hospitalizations will drop this month

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s weekly ensemble forecast, an average of several models, predicts that the number of new daily hospital admissions will likely drop.

The ensemble forecast predicts "5,000 to 15,300 new confirmed COVID-19 hospital admissions likely reported on October 11." The current seven-day average is 11,165 new hospitalizations per day.

-ABC News' Brian Hartman

Sep 16, 3:59 pm
Pfizer CEO pens letter making the case for boosters

In an open letter, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla is making the case for his company's vaccine booster shot, one day before an FDA advisory committee meets to debate and vote on the issue.

Bourla underscored the "strong immune response after the booster dose" and vowed that Pfizer has "stayed true to our commitment of full transparency without selectively cherry-picking data."

Bourla also addressed international concerns over boosters for all potentially detracting from access to first doses in developing countries.

"Some people and organizations have raised concerns that the approval of boosters will divert doses dedicated to the low- and middle-income countries and redirect them to the high-income countries. And they use this argument to claim that boosters should not be approved. I disagree," Bourla wrote.

"No commitments already made by Pfizer to a country will change if boosters are approved," he wrote.

-ABC News' Sasha Pezenik

Sep 16, 3:20 pm
US reports highest daily death toll in nearly 7 months

The U.S. reported a staggering 2,000 COVID-19 related fatalities overnight, marking the highest single-day death total in nearly seven months, according to federal data. Although that large number could be partially due to data backlogs, it's still significant given that the pandemic has been ongoing for 18 months.

In the last five weeks, the U.S. has not seen a single day with less than 100,000 new cases, according to federal data. This is a massive step back in the fight against COVID-19; between Feb. 7 and July 29, 2021, there was never a day with 100,000 or more new cases.

Tennessee has the country's highest case rate followed by West Virginia, Wyoming, South Carolina, Alaska, Montana and Kentucky.

Nine states now have more patients in hospitals than at any point in the pandemic: Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington and West Virginia.

-ABC News' Arielle Mitropoulos

Sep 16, 2:47 pm
Idaho expands crisis standards of care statewide

Idaho is expanding its crisis standards of care plan to the entire state due to a surge in hospitalized patients that's exhausting resources.

"The situation is dire," Dave Jeppesen, director of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, said in a statement Thursday. "We don’t have enough resources to adequately treat the patients in our hospitals, whether you are there for COVID-19 or a heart attack or because of a car accident."

Crisis standards of care was first activated Sept. 6 in North Idaho.

"When crisis standards of care are in effect, people who need medical care may experience care that is different from what they expect," state officials said. "For example, patients admitted to the hospital may find that hospital beds are not available or are in repurposed rooms (such as a conference room) or that needed equipment is not available."

"Not all hospitals will move to that standard of care," state officials said Thursday. "Hospitals will implement as needed and according to their own CSC policies."

Sep 16, 2:25 pm
Italy votes to mandate COVID health pass for workplaces

A COVID Green Pass will be required for all workers in Italy, in both private and public sectors, beginning Oct. 15, the government announced Thursday.

The Green Pass proves a person is vaccinated, has recovered from COVID-19 or has had a negative test in the last two days.

Employees who go to work without the pass face a five-day suspension without pay.

-ABC News' Christine Theodorou

Sep 16, 12:20 pm
What to expect at Friday's panel on Pfizer booster shots

An FDA advisory panel will convene in open session Friday to debate the latest booster shot data submitted by Pfizer, and following a non-binding vote, the FDA is expected to formally amend its current vaccine approval for Pfizer.

Opening remarks are set for 8:30 a.m. ET. That's followed by introductions by the FDA, presentations from CDC representatives, discussion of booster protection and a presentation from Pfizer.

After a public hearing portion in the afternoon and a Q&A on the Pfizer and FDA presentations, the committee is expected to debate the issue for about two hours. A vote is expected at about 4:45 p.m. ET.

Next week, the matter heads to the CDC’s independent advisory panel whose members will discuss who should get a booster and when.

-ABC News' Sasha Pezenik

Sep 16, 10:46 am
Booster shots begin in England

Booster shots are now being administered in England.

Eligible people must be six months out from their last shot and include: adults ages 50 and over; people in residential care homes; frontline health care workers; social workers; people who are immunocompromised; and caregivers for the immunocompromised.

About 4.5 million people will be eligible for a booster in the next few weeks.

Sep 16, 9:01 am
Pope Francis discusses vaccine hesitancy

Pope Francis said Wednesday he found it "ironic" that a cardinal who was not vaccinated against COVID-19 had been hospitalized with the virus.

Speaking to reporters on his plane while returning to Rome after visiting Hungary and Slovakia, Francis discussed the hesitancy against COVID-19 vaccines and how it has divided people.

"It's strange because humanity has a friendly relationship with vaccines," the pope said. "As children, we got them for measles, for other things, for polio. All the children were vaccinated, and no one said anything. Then this happened."

"Even in the College of Cardinals, there are some anti-vaxxers," he added, "and one of them, poor man, is in hospital with the virus. But life is ironic."

Although Francis didn't identify the man by name, it appeared he was referring to American Cardinal Raymond Burke, one of the Catholic church's most outspoken conservatives who eschewed the COVID-19 vaccine and spent days on a ventilator after contracting the virus in August.

Francis noted that everyone in the Vatican, "except for a small group," has been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Sep 16, 7:17 am
China says it has vaccinated over 1 billion people

China said Thursday that it has vaccinated more than 1 billion people against COVID-19.

According to the Chinese National Health Commission, 2.16 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the country so far, fully vaccinating 1.01 billion people. That accounts for more than 70% of China's population.

China's COVID-19 vaccination rate is now among the highest in the world, above the United States and Europe. The inoculation drive, however, only used domestically-made vaccines, including Sinopharm and Sinovac Biotech, both of which were approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization but have faced growing scrutiny that they may not be very effective at curbing the spread of the virus, particularly the new variants.

Despite chasing zero cases with the strictest of suppression methods, China still suffers the occasional COVID-19 outbreak. A fresh outbreak of the more contagious delta variant has been growing in the southeastern province of Fujian. Chinese authorities said the source of the outbreak there was a father who returned from Singapore in early August and transmitted the virus to his child after quarantining. The father didn't test positive for COVID-19 until 38 days after he had returned to China.

Painting the threat of the virus coming in from abroad, China has no plans to reopen its borders for the foreseeable future. Even the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing in February Feb is expected to be held within a very strict bubble that will make the recent Tokyo Games seem lax.

Sep 15, 6:58 pm
NYC health officials investigating cases linked to Labor Day concert

New York City's Heath Department announced Wednesday it is investigating a cluster of COVID-19 cases that were linked to a Labor Day weekend concert.

At least 16 people have been identified as part of the cluster linked to the Electric Zoo music festival on Randall's Island, which is located in the East River, the department said.

Eight people have been also been identified who "though likely exposed prior to attending the concert," were in attendance while potentially contagious, according to the health department.

"Anyone who attended this festival should get tested immediately, regardless of whether or not they have been vaccinated. This is especially urgent if attendees are experiencing symptoms," New York City's health commissioner, Dr. Dave Chokshi, said in a statement.

The concert's organizers had strict rules for entrance.

Attendees had to show proof of vaccination that matched their photo ID. Unvaccinated ticket holders were allowed in if they showed proof of a negative test "no more than 3 days prior to each day of attendance," according to the concert's website.

Sep 15, 5:58 pm
CDC committee meeting to discuss booster shots

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) is planning to meet on Sept. 22 and 23 and is prepared to discuss COVID-19 vaccine boosters.

This will delay the potential start date of boosters until at least late next week, past the president's planned start date for boosters on Sept. 20.

The White House acknowledged that the start date is ultimately up to the CDC and Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA advisory panel is currently scheduled to hold a public hearing on boosters for the Pfizer vaccine and will have a non-binding vote later that day.

If the FDA approves, the ACIP will discuss and vote on recommendations, such as who should get the boosters and when.

The CDC director will make the ultimate decision on the boosters following the ACIP recommendations.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Utah police release body camera image of Gabby Petito after apparent fight with boyfriend

Courtesy of Nicole Schmidt and Joseph Petito

(MOAB, Utah) -- Police in Utah have released body camera images of Gabby Petito, a 22-year-old woman who went missing during a cross-country road trip, and her boyfriend during an incident Aug. 12.

The photos show Petito and her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, talking to an officer after her 2012 Ford Transit had been pulled over by Moab police.

Another image shows Petito, who appears to be crying, sitting in the back of a police vehicle.

On Aug. 12, police in Moab responded to an "incident" involving the couple, but "insufficient evidence existed to justify criminal charges," Moab Police Department Chief Bret Edge said in a statement Tuesday night.

Officers responded to a report of a domestic problem after a witness said the couple, involved in an altercation at the Arches National Park, drove off in a white van, according to a police report.

When officers located a van and pulled it over for a traffic stop, the couple admitted to arguing and that Petito had slapped Laundrie, according to the report. The couple also stated to police that Laundrie did not hit Petito.

Petito told police she suffers from severe anxiety and other medical conditions, which were redacted from the police report, and that the couple's argument had been building for days. Police labeled the incident as a "mental/emotional break" rather than a domestic assault, according to the report.

Police also are "actively looking" into a connection between Petito's disappearance and a double homicide of two women that occurred in Grand County, Utah, on Aug. 13, the Grand County Sheriff's Office announced Thursday.

Investigators searching for Petito have expressed frustration that Petito's boyfriend has not shed any light on her possible whereabouts.

In June, Petito and Laundrie left on a trip from the Florida home they shared with Laundrie's parents in Petito's van, North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison told reporters in a news conference Thursday afternoon. They intended to drive west, visiting state and national parks along the way, Garrison said.

"Two people went on a trip. One person returned," he said. "And that person that returned isn't providing us any information."

Petito's family said she maintained regular contact with them throughout the journey, and she and Laundrie documented their travels on Instagram and YouTube. Posts show them at the Mystic Hot Springs in Utah on July 26 and on a large rock structure at Arches National Park in Grand County, Utah, on Aug. 12, the same day police in Moab, Utah, responded to the incident involving an altercation between the couple.

Communication from Petito "abruptly stopped" toward the end of August, Garrison said, adding that investigators have not yet pieced together a complete timeline of Petito and Laundrie's travels.

Petito was last seen leaving a hotel in Utah with Laundrie on Aug. 24. The next day, she spoke to her mother, Nichole Schmidt, informing her that their next stops would be Grand Teton and Yellowstone, Schmidt told ABC News earlier this week.

"She sounded good and excited to continue her trip and excited to start her YouTube channel," Schmidt said in tears. "She seemed OK."

Schmidt received two text messages from Petito's phone since Aug. 25, but there were no photos or details from the trip, so it is unclear whether Petito actually sent those texts, Schmidt said.

Laundrie returned to Florida with Petito's van on Sept. 1, police said. Petito's family reported her missing on Saturday after they hadn't heard from her in more than two weeks.

Laundrie, named a person of interest in the case on Wednesday, has not made himself available to speak with investigators, despite numerous pleas from the police department and Petito's parents, authorities said.

The latest statement from the attorney representing the Laundrie family, Steven P. Bertolino, said he's advised Laundrie not to speak with authorities.

"Many people are wondering why Mr. Laundrie would not make a statement or speak with law enforcement in the face of Ms. Petito's absence," the statement read. "In my experience, intimate partners are often the first person law enforcement focuses their attention on in cases like this, and the warning that 'any statement will be used against you' is true, regardless of whether my client had anything to do with Ms. Petito's disappearance. As such, on the advice of counsel, Mr. Laundrie is not speaking on this matter."

The statement continued: "I have been informed that the North Port, Florida, police have named Brian Laundrie as a 'person of interest' in this matter. This formality has not really changed the circumstances of Mr. Laundrie being the focus and attention of law enforcement and Mr. Laundrie will continue to remain silent on the advice of counsel."

While police are still treating Petito's disappearance as a missing persons case, Garrison acknowledged that investigators have grown weary of Laundrie's refusal to speak to them, even if he is "exercising his constitutional rights" to remain silent.

"We share that frustration with the world," Garrison added.

During the press conference, Petito's father, Joseph Petito, made an emotional plea to Laundrie, his family and the public to help find his daughter.

"I'm asking for help from everyone here," he said. "I'm asking for help from everyone at home. I'm asking for help from the parents of Brian.

"There is nothing else that matters to me now. This girl right here. This is what matters."

ABC News' Will Gretsky and Bonnie Mclean contributed to this report.

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Nicholas slams Gulf Coast with dangerous flooding: Latest forecast


(NEW YORK) -- Nicholas is stalling over the Gulf Coast, dropping dangerous amounts of rain over areas still recovering from previous storms.

Flash flood watches are in effect through Friday in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

Ten to 11 inches of rain has already inundated Alabama and Mississippi with more rain on the way.

The heaviest rain will be from Mississippi to Alabama to Florida over the next 24 hours.

New Orleans will continue to see showers and a few thunderstorms with another 1 to 2 inches of rain possible.

Slow-moving Nicholas is an especially dangerous threat for Louisiana, which is still recovering from deadly Hurricane Ida and other devastating storms in 2021 and 2020.

As of Tuesday, about 87,000 customers in Louisiana were still without power from Hurricane Ida, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said.

Over 1,000 Louisiana residents remain at shelters in the wake of Ida, he said Tuesday.

The governor requested an emergency federal declaration, which was granted by President Joe Biden.

Before heading to Louisiana, Nicholas first struck the Houston area with over 6 inches of rain, shuttering schools.

In the Houston area, 460,000 customers were without power at the height of the storm early Tuesday, according to CenterPoint Energy. About 300,000 customers saw their power return by Tuesday evening.

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Derek Chauvin pleads not guilty in 2017 excessive force case involving 14-year-old Black boy

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(MINNEAPOLIS, Minn.) -- Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer convicted of murder in George Floyd's death, pleaded not guilty Thursday for allegedly violating the civil rights of a 14-year-old in 2017.

This indictment alleges that Chauvin deprived the teenager of his right to be free of unreasonable force. The indictment claims that Chauvin held the teen by his throat, hit him on the head with a flashlight and then kneeled on his neck and upper back as the teen was handcuffed and no longer resisting.

The restraint was similar to the one he used on Floyd and resulted in bodily injury for the teen, according to the indictment.

This teenager, like Floyd, is Black.

At least 18 complaints had been filed against Chauvin during his 19-year tenure with the Minneapolis police department, according to department records.

Floyd was killed in May 2020 after he was placed under arrest on the suspicion that he was using a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes at a convenience store.

In the Floyd murder trial, prosecutors presented evidence of Chauvin's history of restraining people by kneeling on their neck or upper back -- highlighting eight different incidences to the judge.

In Floyd's death, Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for pressing his knee against Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes. He was sentenced to 22 and-a-half-years in prison.

Judge Peter Cahill rejected Chauvin's request for a new trial in June.

Chauvin and his fellow former officers Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao have also been charged with violating Floyd’s constitutional rights in ways that “resulted in bodily injury to, and the death of, George Floyd,” according to the federal grand jury indictment.

They all pleaded not guilty.

Lane, Kueng and Thao also face a state trial on charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. They have also entered not guilty pleas on these charges.

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