Arkansas shaken by swarm of small earthquakes

Luke 21:11 “There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.”

Important Takeaways:

  • Swarm of earthquakes rattles Arkansas, geologists say. ‘Woken up by my bed shaking’
  • At least six quakes were detected within the same northeastern region, with the first kicking off just seconds after 2 a.m., USGS data show.
  • The first was a 2.4-magnitude earthquake, followed by a 2.3 about two minutes later, and a 1.9 after that — all 5 miles or less southeast of Williford.
  • Around 2:06 a.m., geologists detected a 1.7-magnitude quake, then a 2.1 magnitude southwest of Ravenden, by roughly 4 miles. Everything was quiet for a little over four hours, until a final 2.0-magnitude earthquake started at 6:30 a.m., 5 miles southeast of Williford, data show.
  • No damage was reported.

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Multiple Tornados Roll Through Texas

Important Takeaways:

  • Devastation in Texas as severe storms track through the South
  • Round Rock, Texas, was one of the hardest-hit areas by a violent outburst of severe weather, forecasters are warning that a serious tornado threat remains for the South
  • 66 tornado warnings issued across Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana
  • Officials confirmed one fatality and several injuries in Sherwood Shores, Texas, located north of Dallas, after a tornado ripped across the area and damaged homes and power lines.
  • To the south between Cooper and Crockett, Texas, three people were severely injured when two mobile homes were destroyed and roads blocked by fallen trees.

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Death toll now 74 from weekend tornadoes, expected to rise -Kentucky governor

(Reuters) – The death toll from a string of tornadoes that tore through six states rose to 74 with at least 109 people still missing, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said on Monday. He said the number of fatalities would likely rise in the coming days.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Chris Reese

 

By Gabriella Borter

MAYFIELD, Ky. (Reuters) – At least 64 people, including six children, lost their lives in Kentucky after a raft of tornadoes tore through six states, with power still out for thousands and strangers welcoming survivors who lost everything into their homes.

While the toll from the deadly twisters was lower than initially feared, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said he expects it to increase as searchers continue to sift through a flattened landscape of twisted metal, downed trees and homes reduced to rubble.

“It may be weeks before we have counts on both deaths and levels of destruction,” Beshear told reporters, adding that the victims ranged in age from 5 months to 86 years old, and that 105 people were still unaccounted for.

On Monday, Beshear said officials were working to confirm that eight people had perished when a candle factory in Mayfield, a town of about 10,000 in the southwestern corner of Kentucky, was hit in the storm.

Out of the 110 workers who had been toiling at the Mayfield Consumer Products LLC factory, 94 were believed to have made it out alive, according to the owners of the business, the governor said.

“We feared much, much worse,” he said. “I pray that it is accurate.”

In the hard-hit small town, the tornado destroyed not only the candle factory but also the police and fire stations. Homes were flattened or missing roofs, giant trees uprooted and street signs mangled.

Kentucky’s emergency management director, Michael Dossett also at the briefing, said 28,000 homes and businesses remained without power.

More than 300 National Guard personnel and scores of state workers were distributing supplies and working to clear roads so that mountains of debris can be removed in the aftermath of the disaster, the governor said.

He added that authorities were coordinating an “unprecedented amount of goods and volunteers,” and President Joe Biden was expected to visit the state but no date had been set.

Beshear, at times chocking up, said the search, rescue and recovery process in the swath of destruction has been an emotional roller coaster for all those involved, including him.

“You go from grief to shock to being resolute for a span of 10 minutes and then you go back,” he said.

Biden on Sunday declared a major federal disaster in Kentucky, paving the way for additional federal aid, the White House said.

While Kentucky was hardest hit, six workers were killed at an Amazon.com Inc warehouse in Illinois after the plant buckled under the force of the tornado, including one cargo driver who died in the bathroom, where many workers told Reuters they had been directed to shelter.

A nursing home was struck in Arkansas, causing one of that state’s two deaths. Four were reported dead in Tennessee and two in Missouri.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in Mayfield, Kentucky; Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago and Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Daniel Trotta and Maria Caspani; Editing by Robert Birsel and Lisa Shumaker)

In U.S. Supreme Court case, the past could be the future on abortion

By Lawrence Hurley

OXFORD, Miss. (Reuters) – Just months before she was set to start law school in the summer of 1973, Barbara Phillips was shocked to learn she was pregnant.

Then 24, she wanted an abortion. The U.S. Supreme Court had legalized abortion nationwide months earlier with its landmark Roe v. Wade ruling recognizing a woman’s constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy. But abortions were not legally available at the time in Mississippi, where she lived in the small town of Port Gibson.

Phillips, a Black woman enmeshed in the civil rights movement, could feel her dream of becoming a lawyer slipping away.

“It was devastating. I was desperate,” Phillips said, sitting on the patio of her cozy one-story house in Oxford, a college town about 160 miles (260 km) north of Jackson, Mississippi’s capital.

At the time of the Roe ruling, 46 of the 50 U.S. states had some sort of criminal prohibitions on abortion. Access often was limited to wealthy and well-connected women, who tended to be white.

With a feminist group’s help, Phillips located a doctor in New York willing to provide an abortion. New York before Roe was the only state that let out-of-state women obtain abortions. She flew there for the procedure.

Now 72, Phillips does not regret her abortion. She went on to attend Northwestern law school in Chicago and realize her goal of becoming a civil rights lawyer, with a long career. Years later, she had a son when she felt the time was right.

“I was determined to decide for myself what I wanted to do with my life and my body,” Phillips said.

U.S. abortion rights are under attack unlike any time since the Roe ruling, with Republican-backed restrictions being passed in numerous states. The Supreme Court on Dec. 1 is set to hear arguments in a case in which Mississippi is seeking to revive its law, blocked by lower courts, banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Mississippi has raised the stakes by explicitly asking the court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Such a ruling could turn back the clock in Mississippi, which currently has just one abortion clinic, and other states to the kind of environment on abortion access that Phillips experienced nearly a half century ago.

Large swathes of America could return to an era in which women who want to end a pregnancy face the choice of undergoing a potentially dangerous illegal abortion, traveling long distances to a state where the procedure remains legal and available or buying abortion pills online.

Mississippi’s abortion law is not the only one being tested at the Supreme Court. The justices on Nov. 1 heard arguments in challenges to a Texas law banning abortion at about six weeks of pregnancy, but have not yet ruled.

TRIGGER LAWS

Mississippi is one of a dozen states with so-called trigger laws that would immediately ban abortion in all or most cases if Roe is overturned, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.

Many are in the South, so a Mississippi woman would be unable to obtain an abortion in neighboring Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee or Alabama. The nearest states where abortion would remain legal, at least in the short term, would be Illinois and Florida.

The average distance a Mississippi woman would need to drive to reach a clinic would increase from 78 miles to 380 miles (125 to 610 km) each way, according to Guttmacher.

While some abortion rights advocates fear a return to grisly illegal back-alley abortions, there has been an important development since the pre-Roe era: abortion pills. Mississippi is among 19 states imposing restrictions on medication-induced abortions.

Mississippi officials are cagey on what a post-Roe world might look like. Republican Attorney General Lynn Fitch, who asked the court to overturn Roe, declined an interview request, as did Republican Governor Tate Reeves.

Mississippi Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Andy Gipson, who as a Republican state legislator helped shepherd the 2018 passage of the 15-week ban, called Roe v. Wade “antiquated, old law based on antiquated and old science.”

Gipson in an interview declined to answer questions about what Mississippi – or the southeastern United States – would be like without abortion rights, focusing on the specifics of the 15-week ban.

“It’s a false narrative to paint this as a picture of an outright ban throughout the southeast,” Gipson said, noting that the Supreme Court does not have to formally overturn Roe to uphold Mississippi’s law.

In court papers, Fitch said scientific advances, including contested claims that a fetus can detect pain early in a pregnancy, emphasize how Roe and a subsequent 1992 decision that reaffirmed abortion rights are “decades out of date.”

Abortion rights advocates have said any ruling upholding Mississippi’s law would effectively gut Roe, giving states unfettered power to limit or ban the procedure.

Phillips worries about a revival of dangerous, unregulated abortions that imperil women’s lives.

“I’m afraid that many more women and girls will be in back alleys,” Phillips said. “I’m worried we are going to find them in country roads, dead.”

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham and Scott Malone)

Delta variant pushes U.S. cases, hospitalizations to 6-month high

By Maria Caspani

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in the United States are at a six-month high, fueled by the rapid spread of the Delta variant across swathes of the country grappling with low vaccination rates.

Nationwide, COVID-19 cases have averaged 100,000 for three days in a row, up 35% over the past week, according to a Reuters tally of public health data. The surge of the disease was strongest in Louisiana, Florida and Arkansas.

Hospitalizations rose 40% and deaths, a lagging indicator, registered an 18% uptick in the past week with the most fatalities by population in Arkansas.

The intensifying spread of the pandemic has led to cancellation of some large high-profile events. One notable exception is an annual motorcycle rally in South Dakota which has been proceeding as planned.

Florida set records for hospitalizations for eight days in a row, according to the analysis. In that state, most students are due back in the classroom this week as some school districts debate whether to require masks for pupils.

The head of the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union on Sunday announced a shift in course by backing mandated vaccinations for U.S. teachers in an effort to protect students who are too young to be inoculated.

The number of children hospitalized with COVID-19 is rising across the country, a trend health experts attribute to the Delta variant being more likely to infect children than the original Alpha strain.

With the virus once again upending Americans’ lives after a brief summer lull, the push to vaccinate those still reluctant has gained fresh momentum.

States including California, New York and Virginia have mandated vaccinations or weekly testing for state employees, as well as several cities.

The administration of President Joe Biden set new rules late last month requiring federal workers to provide proof of vaccination or face regular testing, mask mandates and travel restrictions.

In the private sector, a growing number of companies are also mandating COVID-19 vaccinations. United Airlines, meatpacker Tyson Foods Inc and Microsoft are requiring employees get vaccinated.

STURGIS CROWDS

The evolving pandemic and the rapid community spread spurred by the Delta variant have already prompted the cancellation of some large-scale events. Last week, organizers canceled the New York Auto Show that had been set for later this month.

The New Orleans Jazz Fest was canceled for the second straight year as Louisiana fights a severe outbreak.

But fears about the Delta variant seem to not have dampened the mood in Sturgis, a small town in South Dakota that welcomes hundreds of thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts for the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

This year’s gathering, taking place Aug. 6-15, might already be attracting record crowds.

“It is one of the biggest crowds I have seen,” Meade County Sheriff Ron Merwin said in an email. “I think there will definitely be some spread.”

The city of Sturgis has partnered with health officials to provide COVID-19 self-test kits to rally-goes but the event does not require proof of vaccination or mask-wearing.

Last year, the rally became the super-spreader event that many feared it would become.

While cases and hospitalizations were relatively low in South Dakota when the event started on Aug. 7, 2020, three months later the state set a record for hospitalized COVID-19 patients and new infections.

In the month of November alone, the state lost 521 people to COVID-19, nearly three times the number of deaths reported in October, according to a Reuters tally.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani, Editing by David Gregorio)

Some U.S. nursing home residents face delays for COVID-19 vaccines despite extreme risk

By Lisa Baertlein and Deena Beasley

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A former Arkansas health official is sounding alarms about the pace of coronavirus vaccines being administered to residents of long-term care facilities under a U.S. plan that puts major pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreens in charge of many of the shots.

Fewer than 10% of doses allocated to those Arkansas seniors have been administered, according to the state health department. The two pharmacies are working with about 40% of the state’s facilities. Some of those were told that they were scheduled for February or March, said Dr. Joe Thompson, former Arkansas surgeon general and chief executive of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement

“This is not acceptable,” said Thompson. “We’re seeing a failure in deployment by CVS and Walgreens.”

Federal health officials in recent days have urged broadening vaccine eligibility to tens of millions of Americans to speed the national inoculation program rollout. Meanwhile, seniors at some long-term care facilities – who account for about 1% of the U.S. population but 40% of COVID-19 deaths and were supposed to be at the front of the line – continue to wait.

State and local officials and long-term care operators in states including Florida, California, Arizona, Indiana and Pennsylvania told Reuters they have turned to alternative providers for vaccinations for their residents or staff because the pharmacy chains were scheduling shots weeks out.

Some 75,000 long-term care facilities signed up to receive vaccines from CVS Health Corp and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc under the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Pharmacy Partnership Program.

“I think they face serious bandwidth issues in terms of scheduling,” said David Grabowski, a Harvard Medical School professor and healthcare policy expert. “I find it very distressing that we haven’t been doing this more rapidly. This is really a matter of life or death.”

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson in a statement on Thursday said the two pharmacy chains assured him that all long-term care residents assigned to them would be vaccinated by the end of this month.

Many states prioritized homes with patients requiring medical care, which contributed to delays at other long-term care facilities.

CVS said it plans to finish all shots at assigned facilities within nine to 12 weeks of the first dose. That means states like California, Florida, Arizona, Alabama, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania, which were among the last to activate the second-phase of facility vaccinations, may not be finished until April.

“State decisions on which facilities are activated when have a significant impact on timing,” CVS spokesman T.J. Crawford said, noting that the company has administered 1 million shots and is on track with its federal agreement.

Others hurdles included confirming vaccine availability, the winter holidays, vaccine hesitancy and fresh COVID-19 outbreaks, the companies said.

That resulted in “a little bit slower start than what we were hoping for. Now that we’ve gotten past the first of the year, you’re seeing a quick and rapid acceleration,” said Rick Gates, Walgreens’ senior vice president of pharmacy and healthcare. The company has done more than 500,000 shots and expects to be done by March.

‘OVERWHELMED BY THE SHEER VOLUME’

Meanwhile, central Florida’s Seminole County is deploying mobile clinics to some assisted living facilities.

“We went because they either have not been contacted by the private providers or they had concerns because of some type of issue,” said county emergency manager Alan Harris.

“CVS and Walgreens, I think, are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of long-term care facilities in Florida,” Harris said.

The state of Florida has hired health services firm CDR Maguire to take over vaccinations at about 1,900 assisted living facilities that CVS or Walgreens had scheduled on or after Jan. 24.

Los Angeles County opted out of the CVS-Walgreens partnership and is asking facilities that can to pick up and administer vaccine themselves. In Northern California’s Contra Costa County, nonprofit Choice in Aging joined John Muir Health and Kaiser Permanente in pitching in to help.

Choice in Aging is targeting facilities with six or fewer beds in historically underserved communities. “This is a population that is never prioritized,” said Choice in Aging CEO Debbie Toth.

The CDC on Thursday said 26% of the 4.7 million vaccine doses allocated for long-term care sites had been administered, lagging even the woeful 36% of the 30.6 million available nationwide.

West Virginia, which opted out of CDC Pharmacy Partnership, did extensive planning and tapped its existing network of long-term care pharmacies to quickly vaccinate nursing home residents in an all-hands-on-deck effort, said Dr. Michael Wasserman, former president of the California Association of Long Term Care Medicine.

“Community pharmacies absolutely should be involved,” said American Pharmacists Association CEO Scott Knoer. “I wish they would have been from the get-go.”

(Reporting By Lisa Baertlein and Deena Beasley; additional reporting by Carl O’Donnell in New York; Editing by Peter Henderson, Bill Berkrot and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. Supreme Court takes up Trump bid to revive Medicaid work requirements

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear a bid by President Donald Trump’s administration to revive pilot programs adopted by the states of Arkansas and New Hampshire that allow work requirements to be imposed on people who receive healthcare under the Medicaid program for the poor.

The justices took up the administration’s appeals of rulings by a lower court that found the programs unlawful.  Seventeen other states are pursuing similar policies.

The administration said in court papers that the appeals court rulings cast a legal shadow on the efforts in those other states to adopt work requirements for Medicaid, a state-federal program that provides medical insurance for the poor. New Hampshire and Arkansas filed court papers in support of the administration.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2018 approved those projects as part of a push to put a conservative stamp on Medicaid, which was expanded in 37 states and the District of Columbia following the 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, to help provide coverage to millions more Americans.

The department gave the go-ahead for states to carry out test projects requiring able-bodied people on Medicaid to work or do volunteer work.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Will Dunham)

Trump-appointed justice could signal major Supreme Court shift on abortion

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – With President Donald Trump poised to nominate a U.S. Supreme Court justice to fill the vacancy created by the death of liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a new 6-3 conservative majority could be emboldened to roll back abortion rights.

The ultimate objective for U.S. conservative activists for decades has been to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide. But short of that, there are other options the court has in curtailing abortion rights.

Republican-led states including Ohio, Georgia, Missouri, Arkansas and Alabama have passed a variety of abortion restrictions in recent years. Some that seek to ban abortion at an early stage of pregnancy are still being litigated in lower courts and could reach the justices relatively soon.

Abortion is one the most divisive issues in the United States. Conservative opposition to it has been a driving force behind Republicans, including Trump, making a high priority of judicial appointments in recent years.

“Roe v. Wade is on the line in a way it never has been before,” said Julie Rikelman, a lawyer with the Center for Reproductive Rights, which regularly challenges abortion restrictions.

Even if Roe is not overturned, “we could be in a situation where the court is upholding even more restrictions on abortion,” Rikelman added.

Trump has said he intends to announce his nomination on Saturday, with conservative appeals court judges Amy Coney Barrett and Barbara Lagoa considered the frontrunners to be named to succeed Ginsburg, who was a strong defender of abortion rights. Ginsburg died on Friday at age 87.

The leadership of the Republican-controlled Senate is poised to move forward with the nomination even as Trump seeks re-election on Nov. 3.

Even though the court had a 5-4 conservative majority before Ginsburg’s death, some activists on the right were concerned about Chief Justice John Robert’s incremental approach. Roberts angered conservatives by siding with the court’s liberals in June when the court ruled 5-4 to strike down a Louisiana abortion restriction involving a requirement imposed on doctors who perform the procedure.

Roberts, who wrote a separate opinion explaining his views, signaled he may back other abortion restrictions in future cases but said he felt compelled to strike down Louisiana’s law because the justices just four years earlier had invalidated a similar law in Texas.

Trump vowed during the 2016 presidential campaign to appoint justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade. He already has appointed conservatives Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the court. Both voted to uphold the Louisiana law.

Anti-abortion groups are pushing for Trump to pick Barrett, a conservative Roman Catholic who he appointed to the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017. Although she has not yet ruled directly on abortion as a judge, Barrett has twice signaled opposition to rulings that struck down abortion-related restrictions.

Abortion rights activists have voiced concern that Barrett would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.

STATE-BY-STATE EFFORTS

Broadly speaking, Republican-controlled states have enacted two types of abortion laws: measures that would impose burdensome regulations on abortion providers and those that would ban abortions during the early stages of pregnancy.

The latter laws in particular directly challenge Roe v. Wade and a subsequent 1992 ruling that upheld it. Those two rulings made clear that women have a constitutional right to obtain an abortion at least up until the point when the fetus is viable outside the womb, usually around 24 weeks or soon after.

Legal challenges to laws recently enacted in conservative states that directly challenge the Roe precedent by banning abortion outright or in early stages of pregnancy are still being litigated in lower courts.

One appeal pending at the Supreme Court that the justices will discuss whether to hear in the coming months is Mississippi’s bid to revive a law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

In a separate case the court could act upon at any time, the Trump administration has asked the justices to put on hold a federal judge’s decision to block during the coronavirus pandemic a U.S. Food and Drug Administration rule requiring women to visit a hospital or clinic to obtain a drug used for medication-induced abortions.

Clarke Forsythe, a lawyer with the Americans United for Life anti-abortion group that has urged Barrett’s appointment, said he expects the Supreme Court to “continue with an incremental approach” even if Trump’s nominee is confirmed, in part because of Roberts’ opinion in the Louisiana case.

But Jennifer Dalven, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, which backs abortion rights, said that with only four votes among the justices needed to take up a case, a newly emboldened conservative wing could force Roberts’ hand and take up a more direct challenge to Roe.

“Now,” Dalven said, “Chief Justice Roberts and his concern for the integrity for the court and his potential for being an incrementalist is not enough.”

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham and Scott Malone)

Walmart to test drone delivery of COVID-19 test kits

(Reuters) – Walmart Inc. said on Tuesday it would run a pilot project to deliver self-collection test kits for coronavirus through automated drones at customers’ doorsteps.

The U.S. retailer has partnered with Quest Diagnostics and drone services provider DroneUp, to test-deliver collection kits in north Las Vegas from Tuesday and plans to conduct a trial run in Cheektowaga, New York in early October.

Earlier this month, Walmart piloted drone delivery of grocery and household products in Fayetteville, North Carolina, as it accelerated the expansion of its pickup and delivery services with virus-wary consumers preferring home delivery.

The drones launched on Tuesday will drop the COVID-19 self-collection kits on driveways, front sidewalks or backyards of homes within a one-mile radius of designated Walmart stores.

Customers can self-administer the nasal swab and send back samples to Quest Diagnostics for testing.

Walmart has also teamed up with Zipline to make on-demand deliveries of select health and wellness products near its headquarters in northwest Arkansas.

(Reporting by Vishwadha Chander in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli)

New U.S. COVID-19 cases rise 17% in past week, deaths up 5%

(Reuters) – The weekly number of new COVID-19 cases in the United States rose last week for the first time after falling for eight straight weeks, an increase that health experts attributed to schools reopening and parties over the Labor Day holiday.

New cases rose 17% to about 287,000 for the week ended Sept. 20, while deaths rose 5.5% to about 5,400 people after falling for the previous four weeks, according to a Reuters analysis of state and county reports.

Thirteen states have seen weekly infections rise for at least two weeks, up from nine states the previous week, according to the Reuters tally. In Arizona, new cases doubled last week.

On average, more than 776 people a day died from COVID-19 last week, with deaths rising in Arkansas, Kansas and Virginia.

After weeks of declining test rates, an average of 812,000 people a day were tested last week. The country set a record of testing over 1 million people on Saturday.

Nationally, the share of all tests that came back positive for COVID-19 fell for a seventh week to 5.0%, well below a recent peak of nearly 9% in mid-July, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer-run effort to track the outbreak.

However, 26 of the 50 states still have positive test rates above the 5% level that the World Health Organization considers concerning. The highest positive test rates are in the Midwest at over 16% in Idaho, Wisconsin, Iowa and South Dakota.

(Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Graphic by Chris Canipe; Editing by Tiffany Wu)