Bird Flu has been confirmed in Minnesota 14.6 million have died or culled to reduce spread

Revelations 6:8 “And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.”

Important Takeaways:

  • BIRD FLU FOUND IN FLOCK IN NO. 1 TURKEY STATE
  • Avian Flu confirmed in Minnesota, the top turkey-producing state in the nation, said agricultural officials over the weekend. Some 14.6 million birds in domestic flocks have died of HPAI or in culling of infected herds to reduce the spread of the viral disease this year.
  • Minnesota was the 18th state with an outbreak of HPAI. Four other outbreaks were reported over the weekend, three on turkey and egg farms in South Dakota and one at an upland game farm in New York State

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Drought spreads in key U.S. crop states

By Karl Plume

(Reuters) – A harsh drought grew more severe across major parts of the U.S. farm belt this week, threatening recently planted corn, soybean and spring wheat crops in Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas, meteorologists and climatologists said on Thursday.

Rains forecast for the northern Midwest and Great Plains this weekend and next week will bring relief to some areas. But the severe moisture deficits suggest crop yields in key U.S. production areas remain at risk.

Drought has already scorched much of the U.S. West, prompting farmers in California to leave fields fallow and triggering water and energy rationing in several states.

Crop development in the central U.S. is highly watched this year as grain and oilseed prices hover around the highest in a nearly a decade and global supplies tighten.

“It’s certainly causing some stress there, especially to the spring wheat,” said Don Keeney, senior agricultural meteorologist with Maxar Technologies.

About 41% of Iowa, the nation’s top corn producer and No. 2 soybean state, was under severe drought as of Tuesday, up from less than 10% a week earlier, according to the weekly U.S. drought monitor published on Thursday.

Cooler weather this weekend and some rain through next week will bring some relief to crops in the western Corn Belt, although far northern areas may see less rain.

“Montana, Nebraska, Minnesota and even northern Iowa would still be a little shortchanged, especially the Dakotas,” Keeney said.

Conditions in North Dakota, the top producer of high-protein spring wheat that is used in bread and pizza dough, remained dire, with about two-thirds of the state under extreme or exceptional drought, the most severe categories.

October to April was the driest stretch in North Dakota history since record keeping began 127 years ago, Gov. Doug Burgum told a town hall meeting in Washburn, North Dakota, on Wednesday.

“We know that we’ve got a full-blown crisis in the state,” Burgum told the meeting.

More than 100,000 acres, or 156 square miles, of North Dakota have already burned in wildfires this year, up from about 12,000 for the entire fire season last year, Burgum said.

Farmer and North Dakota Grain Growers Association Director Cale Neshem called the heat and dryness a “double whammy” that will slash his wheat harvest.

“There’s not going to be much there,” he said.

Drought in the western Corn Belt has already likely trimmed the U.S. corn yield average by 2 to 4 bushels per acre, said Dan Basse, president of AgResource Co in Chicago.

However, conditions in July and August, critical months for corn and soybeans, respectively, will determine the extent of yield losses and the price response, he said.

Grain and soybean futures on the Chicago Board of Trade fell sharply on Thursday as rain in the near-term forecast triggered risk-off selling.

“If we don’t get the rain, it’s going to be something to behold on the upside (for prices) because the yields will fall off the table,” Basse said.

(Reporting by Karl Plume, Tom Polansek and Julie Ingwersen in Chicago; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Minnesota judge finds aggravating factors in George Floyd murder

(Reuters) – A Minnesota judge has ruled that aggravating factors were involved in the death of George Floyd, opening the possibility of a longer sentence for former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

Chauvin, a white former officer convicted in a Minnesota state court of murdering Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, during an arrest last May, is scheduled to be sentenced on June 25.

In a six-page ruling dated Tuesday, District Court Judge Peter Cahill found that prosecutors had proven Chauvin abused his position of trust and authority, treated Floyd with particular cruelty, committed the crime as a group and did so with children present, all aggravating factors.

“The slow death of George Floyd occurring over approximately six minutes of his positional asphyxia was particularly cruel in that Mr. Floyd was begging for his life and obviously terrified by the knowledge that he was likely to die but during which the defendant objectively remained indifferent to Mr. Floyd’s pleas,” Cahill wrote.

A jury convicted Chauvin, 45, of second- and third-degree murder and manslaughter on April 20 after hearing three weeks of testimony in a highly publicized trial.

Floyd’s death after he was handcuffed on a Minneapolis street with Chauvin’s knee on his neck for more than nine minutes prompted massive protests against racism and police brutality in many U.S. cities and other countries last summer.

Three other former officers who were at the scene have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death and are set to go on trial on Aug. 23.

Cahill, who presided over the trial, will also sentence Chauvin, who technically faces a combined maximum 75 years in prison if the sentences run consecutively. State guidelines, however, give judges leeway to impose sentences that are far less harsh.

Prosecutors on April 30 asked Cahill to consider several aggravating circumstances in Floyd’s death so that he could make “an upward sentencing departure” in the case.

While Cahill accepted most of the prosecutors’ arguments that aggravating circumstances were present, he rejected one of them, finding that they had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Floyd was “particularly vulnerable.”

Also pending before Cahill is a May 4 request for a new trial in which Chauvin’s lawyer argued that his client was deprived of a fair trial because of prosecutorial and jury misconduct, errors of law at trial and that the verdict was contrary to the law.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in Maplewood, New Jersey and Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Aurora Ellis and Howard Goller)

Minnesota, Virginia join U.S. states easing COVID-19 restrictions

By Barbara Goldberg

(Reuters) – The governors of two more U.S. states said on Thursday they were lifting most restrictions that were put in place to combat the spread of the coronavirus after sharp drops in infection rates and deaths.

Both Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and Virginia Governor Ralph Northam unveiled plans for easing or even completely erasing limits, saying all changes were hinged on vaccination numbers going up, which has helped to diminish COVID-19 case numbers.

Northam said Virginia would lift all restrictions on June 15, except for a mask mandate.

“If our COVID case numbers keep trending down and our vaccination numbers keep going up, we plan to lift our mitigation measures, capacity restrictions and social distancing requirements,” Northam told a news conference.

Walz unveiled a timeline to end all COVID-19 restrictions, saying limits on seating at entertainment venues, including outdoor stadiums, could be gone by Memorial Day weekend at the end of this month.

All limits will end by July 1, or sooner if 70% of Minnesota residents older than 16 get vaccinated, Walz said.

The increased freedoms in Minnesota and Virginia were disclosed just days after New York, New Jersey and Connecticut revealed on Monday that the tri-state area on May 19 would start lifting most coronavirus capacity restrictions on businesses, including retail stores, food services and gyms.

In sharing the good news, all of the governors stressed that a spike in COVID-19 cases could upend those plans. Infections have been declining in the United States as more people get vaccinated.

With 47,166 daily new infections reported on average, the United States is now 19% below a Jan 7 peak, according to data compiled by Reuters.

“Vaccines are working. They’re helping reduce the spread of this disease,” Northam said. “Fewer people e getting sick, fewer people are going into the hospital.”

Virginia’s face mask mandate was part of a state of emergency declared during the pandemic. It is due to expire on June 30, although Northam could extend it if there is a COVID-19 surge, officials said.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

New York nurse given COVID-19 vaccine as U.S. rollout begins

By Jonathan Allen and Gabriella Borter

NEW YORK (Reuters) -An intensive care unit nurse became the first person in New York state to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, marking a pivotal turn in the U.S. effort to control the deadly virus.

Sandra Lindsay, who has treated some of the sickest COVID-19 patients for months, was given the vaccine at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in the New York City borough of Queens, an early epicenter of the country’s COVID-19 outbreak, receiving applause on a livestream with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

“It didn’t feel any different from taking any other vaccine,” Lindsay said. “I feel hopeful today, relieved. I feel like healing is coming. I hope this marks the beginning of the end of a very painful time in our history. I want to instill public confidence that the vaccine is safe.”

Minutes after Lindsay received the injection, President Donald Trump sent a tweet: “First Vaccine Administered. Congratulations USA! Congratulations WORLD!”

Northwell Health, the largest health system in New York state, operates some of the select hospitals in the United States that were administering the country’s first inoculations of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine outside trials on Monday.

The vaccine, developed by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, won emergency-use approval from federal regulators on Friday after it was found to be 95% effective in preventing illness in a large clinical trial.

The first 2.9 million doses began to be shipped to distribution centers around the country on Sunday, just 11 months after the United States documented its first COVID-19 infections.

As of Monday, the United States had registered more than 16 million cases and nearly 300,000 deaths from the virus.

Health officials in Texas, Utah, South Dakota, Ohio and Minnesota said they also anticipated the first doses of the vaccine would be received at select hospitals on Monday and be administered right away.

LOGISTICAL CHALLENGE

The first U.S. shipments of coronavirus vaccine departed from Pfizer’s facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on Sunday, packed into trucks with dry-ice to maintain the necessary sub-Arctic temperatures, and then were transported to UPS and FedEx planes waiting at air fields in Lansing and Grand Rapids, kicking off a national immunization endeavor of unprecedented complexity.

The jets delivered the shipments to UPS and FedEx cargo hubs in Louisville and Memphis, from where they were loaded onto planes and trucks to be distributed to the first 145 of 636 vaccine-staging areas across the country. Second and third waves of vaccine shipments were due to go out to the remaining sites on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“This is the most difficult vaccine rollout in history. There will be hiccups undoubtedly but we’ve done everything from a federal level and working with partners to make it go as smoothly as possible. Please be patient with us,” U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams told Fox News on Monday, adding that he would get the shot as soon as he could.

The logistical effort is further complicated by the need to transport and store the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at minus 70 Celsius (minus 94 Fahrenheit), requiring enormous quantities of dry ice or specialized ultra-cold freezers.

Workers clapped and whistled as the first boxes were loaded onto trucks at the Pfizer factory on Sunday.

“We know how much people are hurting,” UPS Healthcare President Wes Wheeler said on Sunday from the company’s command center in Louisville, Kentucky. “It’s not lost on us at all how important this is.”

MORE DOSES ON THE WAY

More than 100 million people, or about 30% of the U.S. population, could be immunized by the end of March, Moncef Slaoui, the chief advisor to the U.S. government’s Operation Warp Speed coronavirus vaccine initiative, said in an interview on Sunday.

Healthcare workers and elderly residents of long-term care homes will be first in line to get the inoculations of a two-dose regimen given about three weeks apart. That would still leave the country far short of the herd immunity that would halt virus transmission, so health officials have warned that masks and social distancing will be needed for months to control the currently rampaging outbreak. Pfizer Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla told CNN in an interview on Monday that most of the 50 million vaccine doses the company will provide this year have been manufactured, adding that it plans on producing 1.3 billion doses next year. Approximately half will be allocated to the United States, he said. But Bourla said Pfizer is “working very diligently” to increase the amount of doses available because demand is very high. At the same time, he said, the company has not reached an agreement with the U.S. government on when to provide an additional 100 million doses next year. “We can provide them the additional 100 million doses, but right now most of that we can provide in the third quarter,” Bourla said. “The U.S. government wants them in the second quarter so are working very collaboratively with them to make sure that we can find ways to produce more or allocate the doses in the second quarter.” Slaoui said the United States hopes to have about 40 million vaccine doses – enough for 20 million people – distributed by the end of this month. That would include vaccines from both Pfizer and Moderna Inc. An outside U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel is scheduled to consider the Moderna vaccine on Thursday, with emergency use expected to be granted shortly after. On Friday, Moderna announced it had struck a deal with the U.S. government to deliver 100 million additional doses in the second quarter.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen, Gabriella Borter, Lisa Lambert, Lisa Baertlein and Brendan O’Brien; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Paul Simao)

‘Dial back’ or ’emergency brake?’ New lockdowns and the U.S. economy

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – The surge in new COVID-19 infections is driving a fresh wave of restrictions in cities and counties across the United States.

California’s “emergency brake,” Oregon’s “freeze,” Philadelphia’s “safer at home” and Minnesota’s “dial back” are among a new patchwork of rules adopted by states, cities and counties that are much less strict and far more narrow than measures imposed to stop the spread of the virus in the spring.

The overall economic bite will be smaller, too, compared to the downdraft that started earlier this year and which led to roughly 22 million people losing their jobs, a collapse in retail spending and a recession.

“I don’t see where you get a 30% hit to GDP,” said Tim Duy, an economics professor at the University of Oregon. “There’s not as much to take off the table … I’m having a hard time seeing where you are going to derail the recovery.”

Businesses that were fully shut in March, like medical offices, shops, factories, and even hair salons, will remain open in many areas this time around.

That’s in part because many Americans have changed their behavior, businesses from manufacturers to retail stores have added routine temperature checks, and face masks are more common and in many states mandated. Meanwhile, consumers have embraced online shopping and curbside delivery to keep spending.

High-frequency data backs that up: even after the latest explosion in case numbers, economic activity has not collapsed.

SURGICAL STRIKE

Many of the latest restrictions target activities where science shows the spread of the virus is the most pernicious – indoor pursuits, in close quarters, for extended periods of time, or with heavy or unmasked breathing.

That means they will hurt some already hard-hit sectors of the economy, including hospitality and entertainment. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday issued a strong recommendation against travel over the Thanksgiving holiday this month, though it did not ban it outright.

Many of the more than two dozen states that have issued new restrictions this week have closed or restricted indoor dining and gyms. California, the biggest state by economic output, is among that group.

At the same time, businesses shut during California’s lockdowns in the spring, including shopping malls, body waxing venues, and barber shops, can continue to operate, albeit with some limits to contain the spread of the virus.

Philadelphia’s ban on indoor dining goes into effect on Friday.

Stock Fishtown and Stock Rittenhouse, which are owned by Philadelphia-based restaurateur Tyler Akin, will shift to carry-out and delivery mode. On Monday new rules in Delaware will force him to reduce capacity at his Le Cavalier restaurant in Wilmington to 30%, down from the current 50%. Though better than being entirely closed down, as was the case in March, Akin may need to adjust staffing to fit revenue.

“We have some really hard conversations ahead of us,” he said.

Efforts to adapt business to the realities of the pandemic may allow some restaurants and bars to weather the worst effects of the restrictions. In Oakland, California, as in many cities around the country, restaurants and bars have built platforms decked out with tables, chairs and propane heaters to make customers more comfortable outside in chillier weather.

It’s “a way to keep our businesses afloat,” said Ari Takata-Vasquez, who leads a small-business alliance in Oakland that has raised money to build the outdoor dining areas for cash-strapped eateries.

She’s working on, or completed, five of them – and has 30 eateries and gyms on the waiting list.

In Minnesota, movie theaters and yoga studios will shut at midnight on Friday, along with indoor and outdoor service at eateries, pubs and gyms. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, like many of his counterparts across the country, is also telling families not to have household gatherings, and he acknowledged the new rules will be felt especially hard by small businesses.

“By closing your doors and putting your financial well-being at risk, you are protecting the lives of your neighbors,” he said this week.

LIGHTER LOCKDOWNS, LESS RELIEF

Many of the newly implemented restrictions are expected, at least for now, to last two to four weeks. But even though lockdowns will be more moderate – and in many places are simply sector-specific curfews rather than sweeping closures – business owners and employees, especially in the restaurant industry, are worried their own financial pain will be sharper.

That’s because Congress has shown little sign of delivering another round of fiscal relief, let alone the massive pandemic packages totaling some $3 trillion passed earlier this year.

The last of the extra government aid for the unemployed is due to run out at the end of this year. A bill with bipartisan support to rescue the restaurant industry is caught in limbo in Congress, as the outgoing Trump administration focuses on challenging the results of the Nov. 3 presidential election.

While households overall still have excess savings, built in part from prior government aid, for many families that money is likely to run out before a vaccine comes into widespread use.

(Reporting by Ann Saphir and Jonnelle Marte and Howard Schneider; Editing by Paul Simao)

Chicagoans told to stay home, Detroit moves school online as COVID-19 cases surge

By Brendan O’Brien and Maria Caspani

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Chicago issued a stay-at-home advisory and Detroit stopped in-person schooling on Thursday to staunch the coronavirus outbreak as more than a dozen states reported a doubling of new COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks.

Officials in the Midwestern cities along with New York, California, Iowa and other states were re-imposing this week restrictions that had been eased in recent months. The moves were driven by surging infection rates and concern that the onset of winter, when people are more likely to gather indoors, will worsen the trends.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday issued a 30-day advisory calling upon residents to stay at home and have no visitors, even during Thanksgiving festivities. The third- largest city in the United States could see 1,000 more COVID-19 deaths by the end of 2020 if residents do not change behaviors to stop the spread of the virus, Lightfoot said.

Lightfoot set a 10-person limit on gatherings, including indoor and outdoor events, and said travelers from out of the state needed to quarantine for 14 days or submit a negative coronavirus test.

“None of us can keep maintaining the status quo in the face of this very stark reality,” the mayor told reporters, noting the average number of cases have gone from 500 to 1,900 per day over the last month and the city’s positivity rate shot up to 15% from 5%.

Illinois has emerged as the pandemic’s new epicenter in the region as well as across the country. In the past two weeks, the state reported about 130,000 cases, the highest in the country and more than hard-hit Texas and California.

A Reuters tally showed coronavirus cases more than doubling in 13 states in the past two weeks.

In Michigan, the Detroit public school system – the state’s largest – said on Thursday it would suspend of in-person education until Jan. 11, with the infection rate in the city rising rapidly. The district will hold all classes online starting Monday.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Thursday that the country’s largest school system was preparing for a possible shutdown but closure might still be averted.

“We’re not there yet, and let’s pray we don’t get there,” de Blasio told reporters. De Blasio has said schools will close if the percentage of city residents testing positive, now at a seven-day average of 2.6%, surpasses 3%.

Total COVID-19 cases across the United States hit an all-time daily high for a second day in a row on Wednesday at 142,279 and crossed the 100,000 mark for an eighth consecutive day, Reuters data showed.

The number of people hospitalized with the virus surged to at least 64,939 by late Wednesday, the highest ever for a single day during the pandemic, increasing by more than 41% in the past two weeks. The death toll rose by 1,464 to a total of 241,809.

Vaccine developers have offered some good news this week, with Pfizer and BioNTech trumpeting successful early data from a large-scale clinical trial of a coronavirus vaccine.

Health experts are hopeful that a vaccine might become available in the coming months for the most vulnerable populations and for healthcare providers.

But with a more lengthy timeline for the general public, many are urging strict adherence to well-known virus mitigation measures like wearing a face covering, washing hands and maintaining a safe social distance.

“We hope that by the time you get into the second quarter, end of April, early May, May-June – somewhere around that time, the ordinary citizen should be able to get it,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top U.S. health official, told the ABC “Good Morning America” program on Thursday.

“What we need to do is what we’ve been talking about for some time now but really doubling down on it.”

(Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York and Anurag Maan in Bengaluru and Brendan O’Brien in Chicago, additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Howard Goller and Cynthia Osterman)

Factbox: Results of high-profile U.S. House of Representatives races

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats were projected to retain their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives in Tuesday’s election, but appeared to have failed in their goal of wresting more seats from Republicans.

Results were still coming in on Wednesday, but Democrats lost several of the most closely watched contests in sharp contrast to their convincing win in 2018.

Here are some of the most high-profile races in the 435-member House:

MINNESOTA’S 7TH DISTRICT

Long-time Representative Collin Peterson, one of only two House Democrats who opposed both articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump in 2019, was defeated by Minnesota’s former lieutenant governor, Republican Michelle Fischbach. The district in rural western Minnesota voted strongly for Trump in 2016.

SOUTH CAROLINA’S 1ST DISTRICT

Representative Joe Cunningham, who stunned Republicans in 2018 when he became the first Democrat to represent the coastal district in nearly four decades, lost to Republican Nancy Mace, the first female graduate of the Citadel military college.

GEORGIA’S 14th DISTRICT

Republican small business owner Marjorie Taylor Greene is a political newcomer who promoted online conspiracy theory QAnon in a 2017 video but later backtracked, saying it was not part of her campaign. She won a House seat in conservative rural northwest Georgia after her Democratic opponent dropped out.

TEXAS’ 21ST DISTRICT

Republican Representative Chip Roy defeated Wendy Davis, a Democratic former state senator who caught the national spotlight in 2013 by talking for over 11 hours to temporarily stop an anti-abortion bill. The central Texas district includes part of Austin.

NEW MEXICO’S 2ND DISTRICT

Freshman Democratic Representative Xochtil Torres-Small lost a rematch with Republican Yvette Herrell, who had been the loser two years ago and was endorsed by the conservative House Freedom Caucus’ political action committee. The district covers southern New Mexico including part of Albuquerque.

COLORADO’S 3RD DISTRICT

Republican Lauren Boebert, a pistol-packing gun rights activist who defied coronavirus restrictions to open her restaurant, spoke warmly of QAnon in May, but later said “I’m not a follower.” She defeated Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush, a university professor, in a largely rural district encompassing western Colorado.

These races remain undecided:

NEW JERSEY’S 2ND DISTRICT

Representative Jeff Van Drew, who was elected to Congress as a Democrat in 2018 but became a Republican after voting against impeaching Trump, faces a strong challenge from Democrat Amy Kennedy. She is a former schoolteacher who married into the famous U.S. political family. The district in southern New Jersey includes Atlantic City.

NEW YORK’S 2ND DISTRICT

Republican New York State legislator Andrew Garbarino is running against a Black combat veteran, Democrat Jackie Gordon, for the seat held for 14 terms by retiring Republican Representative Peter King. The largely suburban district on Long Island includes the eastern edges of the New York City metropolitan area.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell, Susan Heavey and Andy Sullivan; Editing by Scott Malone and Mary Milliken)

Polarized electorate, mail-in ballots could spark post-election legal ‘fight of our lives’

By Tom Hals

WILMINGTON, Del (Reuters) – U.S. Election Day on Tuesday has all the ingredients for a drawn-out court battle over its outcome: a highly polarized electorate, a record number of mail-in ballots and some Supreme Court justices who appear ready to step in if there is a closely contested presidential race.

The only missing element that would send both sides to the courthouse would be a razor-thin result in a battleground state.

“If it comes down to Pennsylvania and Florida I think we’ll be in the legal fight of our lives,” said Jessica Levinson, who teaches election law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

Election disputes are not unusual but they are generally confined to local or statewide races, say election law experts.

This year, in the months leading up to the Nov. 3 showdown between Republican President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden, the coronavirus pandemic fueled hundreds of legal challenges over everything from witness signatures, U.S. mail postmarks and the use of drop boxes for ballots.

“As soon as the election is over,” Trump told reporters on Sunday, “we’re going in with our lawyers.”

Two court rulings on deadlines for counting mail-in ballots have increased the likelihood of post-election court battles in the event of close outcomes in Pennsylvania and another crucial state, Minnesota, the experts said.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Oct. 29 that Minnesota’s plan to extend the deadline for counting mail-in ballots was an unconstitutional maneuver by Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat.

Minnesota officials were instructed to “segregate” absentee ballots received after Nov. 3.

Simon has said officials will not appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but further litigation in the lower courts will determine whether those ballots will be counted.

Meanwhile, on Oct. 28, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a ruling by Pennsylvania’s top court that allowed officials to count mail-in ballots that are postmarked by Election Day and received up to three days later.

The justices said there was not enough time to review the state court ruling. As in Minnesota, Pennsylvania officials will segregate those ballots, teeing up a potential court battle in the event of a close election.

If any post-election battles are heard by the Supreme Court, it will have a 6-3 conservative majority after Trump-appointed Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed on Oct. 26. Three of the justices were appointed by Trump.

The president said in September that he wanted his nominee confirmed because the election “will end up in the Supreme Court and I think it’s very important that we have nine justices.”

Election law specialists said the likelihood of the Supreme Court deciding the next president would require an outcome amounting to a tie in a state that would tip the election to one candidate or the other.

“Some of the president’s statements suggest he thinks the Supreme Court would simply be asked to decide who won the election,” said Adav Noti, senior director of trial litigation at Campaign Legal Center. “That’s not how election litigation works.”

Only one presidential election has been decided in the courts in the past 140 years. In 2000, Republican George W. Bush defeated Al Gore, a Democrat, who conceded after losing a decision at the U.S. Supreme Court over a recount in Florida.

Elections are governed by state laws and disputes generally play out in state courts where campaigns fight over recounts and the validity of voter registrations.

But in recent decisions, a minority of conservative Supreme Court justices appear to be setting the stage to aggressively review state courts when they are interpreting their own state’s constitutional voting protections.

On Oct. 26, the court kept in place Wisconsin’s policy requiring mail-in ballots to arrive by Election Day. Conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, a Trump appointee, wrote in an opinion accompanying the court’s action that “under the U.S. Constitution, the state courts do not have a blank check to rewrite state election laws for federal elections.”

Some scholars said the recent language could encourage campaigns to take an election challenge to the Supreme Court.

“It’s an invitation to challenge anything done to administer an election in a state that isn’t jot or tittle with what the legislature said to do,” Joshua Geltzer, executive director of Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy & Protection. “And that’s virtually everything.”

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Daniel Wallis)

As cold weather arrives, U.S. states see record increases in COVID-19 cases

By Lisa Shumaker

(Reuters) – Nine U.S. states have reported record increases in COVID-19 cases over the last seven days, mostly in the upper Midwest and West where chilly weather is forcing more activities indoors.

On Saturday alone, four states – Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana and Wisconsin – saw record increases in new cases and nationally nearly 49,000 new infections were reported, the highest for a Saturday in seven weeks, according to a Reuters analysis. Kansas, Nebraska, New Hampshire, South Dakota and Wyoming also set new records for cases last week.

New York is one of only 18 states where cases have not risen greatly over the past two weeks, according to a Reuters analysis. However, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Sunday he is moving to shut non-essential businesses as well as schools in nine neighborhoods, starting on Wednesday. The lockdown would require the governor’s approval.

Health experts have long warned that colder temperatures driving people inside could promote the spread of the virus. Daytime highs in the upper Midwest are now in the 50’s Fahrenheit (10 Celsius).

Montana has reported record numbers of new cases for three out of the last four days and also has a record number of COVID-19 patients in its hospitals.

Wisconsin has set records for new cases two out of the last three days and also reported record hospitalizations on Saturday. On average 22% of tests are coming back positive, one of the highest rates in the country.

Wisconsin’s Democratic governor mandated masks on Aug. 1 but Republican lawmakers are backing a lawsuit challenging the requirement.

North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin have the highest new cases per capita in the country.

Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson is one of several prominent Republicans who have tested positive for coronavirus since President Donald Trump announced he had contracted the virus.

Because of the surge in cases in the Midwest, nursing homes and assisted-living facilities operated by Aspirus in northern Wisconsin and Michigan are barring most visitors as they did earlier this year.

Bellin Health, which runs a hospital in Green Bay, Wisconsin, said last week its emergency department has been past capacity at times and doctors had to place patients in beds in the hallways.

The United States is reporting 42,600 new cases and 700 deaths on average each day, compared with 35,000 cases and 800 deaths in mid-September. Deaths are a lagging indicator and tend to rise several weeks after cases increase.

Kentucky is the first Southern state to report a record increase in cases in several weeks. Governor Andy Beshear said last week was the highest number of cases the state has seen since the pandemic started.

State health experts have not pinpointed the reason for the rise but point to fatigue with COVID-19 precautions and students returning to schools and colleges. Over the last two weeks, Kentucky has reported nearly 11,000 new cases and has seen hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients rise by 20%.

(Reporting by Lisa Shumaker in Chicago; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)