Severe COVID-19 riskier than heart attack for young adults; antibiotic shows no benefit

By Nancy Lapid

(Reuters) – The following is a roundup of some of the latest scientific studies on the novel coronavirus and efforts to find treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

More young adults survive heart attacks than severe COVID-19

Among COVID-19 patients treated at 419 U.S. hospitals from April through June, only about 5% were ages 18 to 34. But that group had “substantial rates of adverse outcomes,” according to a report on Wednesday in JAMA Internal Medicine. Roughly one in five needed intensive care, one in 10 needed mechanical ventilation, and nearly 3% died. While the mortality rate is lower than in older adults, it is roughly double the death rate of young adults from heart attacks, the authors say. Obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes were tied to higher risk for adverse events. For young adults with more than one of these conditions, the risk of a bad outcome was similar to middle-aged adults without the risk factors. More than half of hospitalized young adults were Black or Hispanic, “consistent with prior findings of disproportionate illness severity in these demographic groups,” the authors said. “Given the sharply rising rates of COVID-19 infection in young adults, these findings underscore the importance of infection prevention measures in this age group,” the concluded.

Antibiotic fails to help hospitalized COVID-19 patients

The antibiotic azithromycin did not appear to provide any benefit to hospitalized COVID-19 patients who were having trouble breathing, according to a study in Brazil. At 57 hospitals, 243 COVID-19 patients who needed oxygen or mechanical ventilation were randomly assigned to receive azithromycin, while 183 similar patients did not get the antibiotic. All received other standard treatment, which in Brazil included hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug that other studies have shown provides little or no benefit. While azithromycin did not appear to do any harm, after 15 days it was not associated with any patient improvement nor did it reduce their risk of death. In an April survey of more than 6,000 physicians in 30 countries, azithromycin was the second most commonly prescribed treatment for COVID-19, the study investigators wrote in The Lancet medical journal. The absence of any benefit in this new study “suggests that the routine use of this strategy should be avoided,” they said.

Risk of catching COVID-19 while hospitalized can be low

Among nearly 8,500 patients admitted to a large Boston hospital between early March and the end of May, only two became sick with coronavirus infections that may have been acquired while they were hospitalized, doctors report. One likely was infected by a spouse who initially appeared well during daily visits but who developed symptoms while the patient was still hospitalized. That was before visitor restrictions and universal masking rules had been implemented. The other patient developed symptoms four days after leaving the hospital. The source of the infection is not known. According to a paper published on Wednesday in JAMA Network Open, infection control efforts at the hospital included dedicated COVID-19 units with airborne infection isolation rooms, personal protective equipment for staff and monitoring to make sure those were used correctly, universal masking, visitor restriction, and liberal COVID-19 testing of symptomatic and asymptomatic patients. These “robust and rigorous infection control practices may be associated with minimized risk” of COVID-19 spreading through hospitals, the authors conclude. Their findings, if replicated at other U.S. hospitals, “should provide reassurance to patients,” they said.

Longer-term COVID-19 lung damage can improve over time

COVID-19 lung damage persists long term but tends to improve, researchers reported on Monday at the European Respiratory Society International Virtual Congress. Researchers studied 86 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, 48% of whom had a smoking history and 21% of whom required intensive care. At 6 weeks after discharge, 47% of patients still reported feeling short of breath. By 12 weeks, that dropped to 39%. CT scans still showed lung damage in 88% of patients at six weeks, dropping to 56% at 12 weeks. “Overall, this study shows that COVID-19 survivors have persisting pulmonary impairment weeks after recovery. Yet, overtime, a moderate improvement is detectable,” lead researcher Dr. Sabina Sahanic, from University Clinic of Internal Medicine in Innsbruck, Austria, said during a press briefing. A related study featured at the meeting stressed the importance of early pulmonary rehabilitation after COVID-19 patients come off a ventilator. This should include balance and walking, muscle strengthening, respiratory exercises and endurance training. “The sooner rehabilitation started and the longer it lasted, the faster and better was the improvement in patients’ walking and breathing capacities and muscle gain,” coauthor Yara Al Chikhanie, from Grenoble Alps University in France, said in a statement.

(Reporting by Nancy Lapid; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

United Airlines bets on Florida, adding dozens of flights a day starting November

By David Shepardson

(Reuters) – United Airlines is adding up to 28 daily nonstop U.S. flights to Florida starting Nov. 6 as the Chicago-based airline bets on a rebound in leisure travelers heading to sunny skies.

The direct flights are from non United hub cities in Boston, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, New York/LaGuardia, Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio to four Florida destinations.

United said it is part of its “continuing strategy to aggressively, and opportunistically manage the impact of COVID-19 by increasing service to destinations where customers most want to fly.” But the carrier said it could reduce the number of flights if COVID-19 infections in Florida remain high.

New Florida flights will go to Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Orlando and Tampa.

Ankit Gupta, United’s vice president of domestic network planning, said the new flights represent “United’s largest expansion of point-to-point, non-hub flying and reflects our data driven approach to add capacity where customers are telling us they want to go.”

United can adjust up or down. Gupta said the added Florida flights could amount to more than 400,000 additional seats this winter season. He said many U.S. travelers are picking Florida instead of international destinations.

There are modest signs of improving air travel demand. The Transportation Security Administration said it screened 831,789 people on Sunday — the first time it screened more than 800,000 people since March 17. That is still down 70% over prior year figures.

Still, Florida has reported 542,792 coronavirus cases, the second most of any U.S. state behind only California, according to a Reuters tally, and more than 10% of all reported U.S. cases. If coronavirus cases in Florida remain high, “we will adjust our plans,” Gupta said.

Southwest Airlines chief executive Gary Kelly said at a Texas Tribune forum on Wednesday the airline is still trying to figure how many flights to offer as it works to reduce its $20 million a day losses. “It is pure guesswork at this point” Kelly said.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by David Gregorio)

Government health experts warn U.S. cities of ‘trouble ahead’

By Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House health experts are warning of an uptick in the percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 in U.S. cities including Boston, Chicago and Washington, urging local leaders to maintain health safety measures to avoid a surge.

“This is a predictor of trouble ahead,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Thursday.

Fauci was asked on CNN about comments made by his White House coronavirus task force colleague, Dr. Deborah Birx, identifying new areas of concern in major cities, even as authorities see encouraging signs across the South.

Baltimore and Atlanta remain at a “very high level,” as well as Kansas City, Portland, Omaha and California’s Central Valley, Birx told state and local officials in a telephone call Wednesday. A recording of the call was obtained by the journalism nonprofit Center for Public Integrity.

White House data shows small increases in the percentage of positive COVID-10 tests in Chicago, Boston and Detroit and those places need to “get on top of it”, Birx said.

Even in cities and states where most people are doing things right, Fauci said, a segment of people not wearing masks or following social distancing remains vulnerable to infection and can keep the virus smoldering in U.S. communities.

“Unless everybody pulls together, and gets the level way down over baseline, we’re going to continue to see these kind of increases that Dr. Birx was talking about in several of those cities,” Fauci said.

White House coronavirus experts have in recent days sent regular warnings to cities and states not to relax anti-coronavirus measures too much before the virus is under sufficient control.

On average, 1,000 people are dying each day nationwide from COVID-19. The U.S. death toll is now over 157,000, with 4.8 million known cases.

President Donald Trump, in contrast, has played down the staying power of the virus, saying on Wednesday “it will go away like things go away” as he urged U.S. schools to reopen on time for face-to-face lessons.

Trump also said children are “almost immune” from COVID-19, prompting Facebook Inc on Wednesday to take down a post by the Republican president containing a Fox News video clip in which he made the statement. Facebook said it violated its rules against sharing misinformation about the virus.

Chicago’s mayor said on Wednesday that school would be online-only in September, after the teachers’ union and many parents in the city objected to a plan to allow students the option of attending class twice a week in pods of 15.

Chicago is the third-largest school district in the United States behind New York and Los Angeles, with 350,000 students.

Los Angeles has already announced that students will be kept home, while New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he expects to have children attend classes part of the time.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

Utility to pay $53 million, plead guilty over Massachusetts gas explosions

By Nate Raymond

BOSTON (Reuters) – A utility operator blamed for catastrophic gas explosions in Massachusetts in 2018 will pay a $53 million fine and plead guilty to violating a federal pipeline safety law as part of a deal in which its parent NiSource Inc has agreed to sell the company and exit the state.

Federal prosecutors in Boston on Wednesday said Columbia Gas of Massachusetts will plead guilty to violating the Pipeline Safety Act to resolve a probe into to the disaster, which killed one person, injured 22 others and destroyed multiple buildings.

NiSource, as part of a deferred prosecution deal, also agreed to sell Columbia and exit Massachusetts, a condition U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said was meant to “vindicate” the outrage of residents of Lawrence, North Andover and Andover, where the blasts occurred.

“Clearly what happened here is this particular company couldn’t be bothered to maintain the safety of its customers,” Lelling said.

Merrillville, Indiana-based NiSource, which serves nearly four million natural gas and electric customers across seven states, said in a statement it took full responsibility for the “tragic events.”

Prosecutors said Columbia recklessly disregarded minimum federal safety standards, causing its gas pipelines to become over-pressurized, which led to the Sept. 13, 2018, explosions in the three communities northwest of Boston.

The blasts occurred while Columbia was replacing cast-iron pipes with plastic lines. They damaged about 131 homes and commercial buildings and prompted the evacuation of thousands of residents.

Prosecutors said Columbia failed to account for pressure detectors while workers replaced aging cast-iron pipes and failed to follow any plan to prevent the over-pressurization that resulted.

The allegations mirrored the findings of the National Transportation Safety Board, which in September said that “weak engineering management” did not adequately plan and oversee the project.

No individual employees will be charged, Lelling said, as the case was the result of not one person’s actions but a “complete organizational failure.”

The deal is separate from a $143 million settlement the company reached in July to resolve lawsuits brought by residents and businesses affected by the explosions and an $80 million accord it struck with the three communities.

Columbia also last year reached a settlement with the family of a teenager killed during the gas explosions.

Under the terms of Wednesday’s agreements, NiSource has agreed to forfeit to the government any profits from the sale of Columbia, whose operations will be subject to monitoring during a three-year probationary period.

NiSource shares were trading at $28.32 midday Wednesday, down 0.19%.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; additional reporting by David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Boston’s trauma to be dissected as marathon bomber appeals death sentence

By Tim McLaughlin

BOSTON (Reuters) – This city’s deepest wound – the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings that killed three and injured hundreds more – will be re-examined Thursday when lawyers for bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev seek to have his death sentence lifted because the jury pool was too traumatized to render a fair verdict.

The then-19-year old Tsarnaev and his 26-year-old brother Tamerlan sparked five days of panic in Boston that began April 15, 2013, when they detonated a pair of homemade pressure cooker bombs at the race’s packed finish line. The pair eluded capture for days, punctuated by a gunbattle with police in Watertown that killed Tamerlan and led to a daylong lockdown of Boston and most of its suburbs while heavily armed officers and troops conducted a house-to-house search for Dzhokhar.

Tsarnaev’s defense team, in briefs filed with the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, argued that the unprecedented shelter-in-place order biased the pool of potential jurors, including one actual juror who joined the unanimous vote for the death penalty.

The manhunt for the younger Tsarnaev, now 26, left an indelible mark on the city. Armored vehicles and thousands of National Guard troops cast a dragnet across the Boston suburb of Watertown. Just before a resident found a wounded Tsarnaev hiding in a boat parked in his backyard, a broadcast of a Boston police scanner channel attracted nearly 265,000 listeners.

“Even if a juror honestly believes before trial that he or she can objectively hear the evidence, when a community has been aroused to a fever pitch, the prospective juror may come to fear returning to neighbors with anything other than a guilty verdict and a death sentence,” Tsarnaev’s defense team wrote in a legal brief.

U.S. Justice Department lawyers disagreed, saying Tsarnaev received a fair trial. The department has noted a survey conducted for Tsarnaev’s own lawyers found 96.5% of respondents in Washington, his preferred venue for the trial, had heard of the bombings.

But legal experts say arguing that some jurors were tainted with bias may offer the defense team its best bet in winning relief from the court. The defense and prosecution each will get an hour to argue their side before an appellate panel of judges.

“Of course, (the defense) will throw in the kitchen sink, the bedroom furniture and everything else in hoping something sticks,” said Robert Bloom, a professor at Boston College Law School. “That is what you do in these cases.”

The defense team says the trial should not have been held in Boston, that some jurors made false statements before their selection, and that the jury should have heard that Tamerlan had been a suspect in a 2011 triple homicide.

A friend of Tamerlan admitted to the FBI having committed the murders with him, according to recently unsealed court documents. The jury did not hear about those murders during the trial.

The younger Tsarnaev was sentenced to death in 2015 after a jury found him guilty of killing three people: Martin Richard, 8; Chinese exchange student Lingzi Lu, 26, and restaurant manager Krystle Campbell, in the bombing; as well as murdering Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier, 26, three days later as the brothers attempted to flee the city.

Before the bombings, the younger Tsarnaev had no record of serious criminal offense. But Tamerlan was aggressive, domineering and likely homicidal before driving his younger brother to join him in carrying out the bombings, according to the defense team’s line of reasoning in court papers.

Tsarnaev’s defense team also says the jury’s foreperson falsely denied, during the selection process, calling Tsarnaev a “piece of garbage” on Twitter. That juror lived in Dorchester, the same neighborhood as the attack’s youngest victim, according to defense team legal briefs.

During the trial, Richard’s family asked U.S. prosecutors to consider taking the death penalty off the table. They said the death penalty could bring years of appeals and prolong reliving the most painful day of their lives, according to a letter published in the Boston Globe newspaper. A poll by the Globe also showed that about two-thirds of Massachusetts residents favored a life sentence for Tsarnaev.

(Reporting By Tim McLaughlin; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

Deadly storms leave thousands without power in eastern U.S

A view of clouds, part of a weather system seen from near Franklin, Texas, U.S., in this still image from social media video dated April 13, 2019. TWITTER @DOC_SANGER/via REUTERS

(Reuters) – Tornadoes, wind gusts of up to 70 mph and pounding hail remained threats early on Monday from eastern New York and into New England, as the remnants of a deadly storm push out to sea, the National Weather Service said.

More than 79,000 homes and businesses were without power in Virginia, according to the tracking site PowerOutage.US, with 89,000 more outages reported across Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Michigan, Maryland and New York.

The affected areas will get heavy rains, winds with gusts of up to 70 mph (110 kph) and the possibility of hail, NWS Weather Prediction Center in Maryland said.

“This is an ongoing threat,” said Brian Hurley, from the center.

“There are short spin-ups, pockets of heavy rain and damaging winds that can still hit before this pushes off shore.”

The weekend’s storm brought tornadoes that killed at least five people, including three children, in the U.S. South, officials said.

The massive storm system sped from Texas eastward with dozens of twisters reported as touching down across the South from Texas through Georgia into Pennsylvania.

Nearly 2,300 U.S. flights were canceled by Sunday evening, more then 90 percent of them at airports in Chicago; Houston, Texas; Charlotte, North Carolina; Pittsburgh; Columbus, Ohio and a dozen major airports on the Eastern Seaboard, according to FlightAware.com.

But no major flight delays were reported on the east coast before 6 a.m. Monday.

The storm’s cold front brought snow to Chicago on Sunday, with 1 to 3 inches (2.5-7.6 cm) reported in central Illinois.

Two children, siblings aged three and eight, were killed on Saturday when a tree fell on the car in which they were sitting in Pollok, Texas, said a spokeswoman for the Angelina County Sheriff’s Department.

A third child, Sebastian Omar Martinez, 13, drowned late on Saturday when he fell into a drainage ditch filled with flash floodwaters near Monroe, Louisiana, said Deputy Glenn Springfield of the Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s Office.

In another storm death nearby, an unidentified victim’s body was trapped in a vehicle submerged in floodwaters in Calhoun, Louisiana, Springfield said.

In Mississippi, Governor Phil Bryant said one person was killed and 11 injured over the weekend as tornadoes ripped through 17 counties and left 26,000 homes and businesses without electricity.

In addition, three people were killed when a private jet crashed in Mississippi on Saturday, although Bryant said it was unclear whether it was caused by the weather.

Soaking rains could snarl the Monday morning commute on the East Coast before the storm moves off to sea.

“The biggest impact rush hour-wise probably will be Boston, around 7 to 8 o’clock in the morning, and around New York City around 5 or 6 o’clock, before sunrise,” NWS meteorologist Bob Oravec said.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, and Barbara Goldberg and Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Alison Williams)

Late winter snow hammers U.S. northeast, icy conditions ahead

A worker cuts away a tree that fell across Riverside Drive during a snow storm in upper Manhattan in New York City, New York, March 4, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Segar

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York faced its biggest snowstorm of the winter on Monday as snow spread across the northeastern United States, infuriating commuters who juggled canceled planes and trains and faced icy travels ahead as temperatures plunge.

A band of winter weather stretching from Maryland to Maine dumped 15 inches (38 cm) of snow overnight on downtown Boston and 5 inches (13 cm) on New York’s Central Park, said meteorologist Marc Chenard of the National Weather Service.

A woman makes her way through the snow on cross country skis during a winter storm in Pallisades, New York March 4, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Segar

A woman makes her way through the snow on cross country skis during a winter storm in Pallisades, New York March 4, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Segar

That was enough for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio to take the rare step of shutting the nation’s largest public school system and for New Jersey Transit, the largest statewide public transportation system in the United States, to cancel about a dozen commuter trains.

“This is horrible!” said Steve Wesley, 56, as he shoveled snow from his driveway in Maplewood, New Jersey, a New York City suburb.

Wesley’s two-mile local commute by car was delayed nearly two hours by the four to six inches of snow. 

“This is not what I want to be doing,” said Wesley, a sales representative for a power equipment distributor. “I’m usually the first one into the office. And if I get there and the parking lot is not plowed, I’ll be shoveling that too.”

Nearly 1,000 U.S. flights were canceled, most at Boston Logan International and New York area airports, according to FlightAware.com.

Government offices and libraries in Boston were closed. In New Jersey, where Governor Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency ahead of the storm, state workers had a two-hour delay.

Commuting challenges may mount over the remainder of the work week as snows melt and then temperatures drop, icing over roadways.

“Each day is a little bit cooler,” said Chenard, noting the week’s highest temperatures for the Northeast will be in the low 30s. “You’ll get some melting during the day, especially when the sun is hitting the snow, and then at night, it’s going to be cold enough to refreeze. Any road surfaces that aren’t treated certainly could get icy at night into the morning.”

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky)

Widening snowstorm, freezing rain to snarl travel in eastern U.S.

Pedestrians walk down the sidewalk as snow falls in the Times Square neighborhood of New York, U.S., February 12, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A widening snowstorm with an encore of freezing rain iced over the U.S. Midwest on Tuesday and headed east, causing hundreds of flight cancellations and closing schools, and was expected to tangle New York and Boston’s evening rush hour.

As much as 1 foot (30 cm) of snow was predicted for inland parts of New England, as well as up to 4 inches (10 cm) in New York City and up to 5 inches (13 cm) in Boston before turning to freezing rain in the late afternoon, said meteorologist Dan Petersen with the National Weather Service in College Park, Maryland.

“The big cities along the coast are going to have a pretty quick changeover from snow to sleet and freezing rain and eventually rain,” Petersen said in a phone interview. “The danger of snow changing to freezing rain is people slip and slide quite a bit and that’s the cause of accidents when people lose control of their cars.”

The storm by early morning had iced over Illinois and Michigan and was moving through Wisconsin into northern Pennsylvania and southwestern New York state. The widening storm was expected to reach as far south as northern Delaware and Maryland, Petersen said.

More than 1,600 flights into and out of the United States were canceled on Tuesday, most of them at airports in Chicago, New York and Boston, according to FlightAware.com.

Ahead of the storm, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency, and hundreds of schools were closed for the day.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Gas explosions drive thousands from homes in Boston suburbs

A police officer stands outside a home where a man died in a series of gas explosions in Lawrence, Massachusetts, U.S., September 14, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By Ted Siefer

ANDOVER, Mass. (Reuters) – Some 8,000 people were prevented from returning home in Boston suburbs on Friday as investigators scrambled to find out the cause of dozens of gas explosions that killed at least one person and injured about 12 more.

The blasts on Thursday destroyed scores of homes and other buildings in Andover, North Andover and Lawrence, left more than 18,000 homes and businesses without power and forced thousands of people from their homes.

A fire engine is seen near a building emitting smoke after explosions in Lawrence, Massachusetts, United States in this September 13, 2018 still image from social media video footage by Boston Sparks. Boston Sparks/Social Media/via REUTERS

A fire engine is seen near a building emitting smoke after explosions in Lawrence, Massachusetts, United States in this September 13, 2018 still image from social media video footage by Boston Sparks. Boston Sparks/Social Media/via REUTERS

Investigators suspected “over-pressurization of a gas main” belonging to Columbia Gas of Massachusetts led to the series of explosions and fires, Andover Fire Chief Michael Mansfield said on Thursday.

Massachusetts State Police said around 70 fires, explosions or investigations of gas odor had been reported.

“This has been obviously an incredibly difficult day,” Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said in a news conference early on Friday.

Those driven from their homes “should expect that the restoration process will take several days or longer,” Andrew Maylor, the town manager of North Andover, said on Twitter.

National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt said it would likely take investigators some time to examine the pipeline’s design, maintenance, and upgrades.

“The truth of the matter is we really don’t have any factual information at this point to confirm,” Sumwalt said on Friday.

Columbia Gas, a unit of utility NiSource Inc, is investigating, NISource spokesman Ken Stammen said on Thursday. Before the explosions, Columbia Gas had said it would be upgrading gas lines in neighborhoods across the state, including the affected suburbs.

NiSource shares fell more than 9 percent on Friday morning.

A building burns after explosions in Lawrence, Massachusetts, United States in this September 13, 2018 photo from social media by Boston Sparks. Boston Sparks/Social Media/via REUTERS

A building burns after explosions in Lawrence, Massachusetts, United States in this September 13, 2018 photo from social media by Boston Sparks. Boston Sparks/Social Media/via REUTERS

SAFETY CHECKS

Firefighters raced for hours from one blaze to another and utility crews rushed to shut off gas and electricity to prevent further explosions on Thursday. Fire and utility crews were still going door to door on Friday to conduct safety checks and shut off gas meters, officials said.

Eighteen-year-old Leonel Rondon died when his car was crushed by a falling chimney, a spokeswoman for the Essex County District Attorney’s office said. Lawrence General Hospital said it had treated 13 people for injuries ranging from smoke inhalation to blast trauma.

Guilia Holland, a 35-year-old mechanic in a wheelchair, said she had just gotten off a bus returning home when she saw “a big flash of light” at the house where she had been renting a room for a month.

“Good thing I wasn’t home or I wouldn’t be talking about it,” she said outside an elementary school in Lawrence that the Red Cross had converted into a shelter for about 170 people.

South Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera urged residents to stay away from their homes.

“There could be still a gas leak in your home,” Rivera said. “You can’t see it and in some cases you won’t be able to smell it, and God forbid you go to sleep and don’t wake up.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said it was sending a team to support the state’s emergency response efforts.

“At this time, the focus remains on ensuring the public safety,” Baker said. “Once that’s complete, we will work with federal government and others to investigate how this occurred and hold the appropriate parties accountable for their actions.”

(Additional reporting by Ross Kerber and Nate Raymond in Boston; Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Makini Brice in Washington; editing by Larry King and Susan Thomas)

Snow storm pounds U.S. Northeast, closing schools, snarling commutes

A man takes shelter as snow falls in Times Square in Manhattan in New York City, New York, U.S., March 7, 2018. REUTERS/Amr Alfiky

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The second winter storm in a week will continue to dump wet, heavy snow on New England on Thursday, forcing schools to close and leaving hundreds of thousands without power as it promised to slow the morning commute across the region.

A foot (30 cm) of snow and fierce wind gusts of up to 55 miles per hour (88 km/h) were expected from eastern New York through northern Maine on Thursday after the storm slammed the region on Wednesday, the National Weather Service said in several watches and warnings.

Up to 2 feet of snow accumulation was expected in some inland parts of New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts and 18 inches was possible in Maine.

Boston public schools along with dozens of schools throughout New England canceled classes on Thursday as local officials and forecasters warned commuters of whiteout conditions and slick roads.

“With snow removal efforts underway, motorists are asked to stay off roads, stay home and stay safe,” the Boston Police Department said on Twitter.

Amtrak suspended passenger train services between New York City and Boston until at least 10 a.m. local time and canceled dozens of routes on Thursday.

Two dozen flights were already canceled early on Thursday morning after about half of all scheduled flights were canceled at the three major airports serving New York City on Wednesday.

The website said more than 2,100 flights had been delayed and 2,700 canceled, most of them in the Northeast, as of 8 p.m. local time on Wednesday.

The dense snow and strong winds downed trees and power lines, knocking power out for hundreds of thousands in New England and the Mid Atlantic, according to Poweroutage.us, a website that tracks outages.

“4am, no power (no heat), waiting for a text from work to say “we will be closed today”. Fingers crossed!” tweeted Jessica Squeglia in Peabody, Massachusetts.

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy ordered many state workers to head home early on Wednesday afternoon at staggered intervals to avoid traffic snarls on slippery roads.

The governors of New Jersey and Pennsylvania declared states of emergency, giving them access to support from the U.S. government if needed.

Last week’s storm brought major coastal flooding to Massachusetts, killed at least nine people and knocked out power to about 2.4 million homes and businesses in the Northeast.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Hugh Lawson)