New U.S. COVID-19 cases rise in 27 states for two straight weeks

(Reuters) – The number of new COVID-19 cases in the United States has risen for two weeks in a row in 27 out of 50 states, with North Carolina and New Mexico both reporting increases above 50% last week, according to a Reuters analysis.

The United States recorded 316,000 new cases in the week ended Sept. 27, up 10% from the previous seven days and the highest in six weeks, according to the analysis of state and county data.

The nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told ABC News that the country was “not in a good place.”

“There are states that are starting to show (an) uptick in cases and even some increases in hospitalizations in some states. And, I hope not, but we very well might start seeing increases in deaths,” he said, without naming the states.

North Carolina reported a 60% jump in new cases to 13,799 last week, while New Mexico saw new infections rise 55% to 1,265. Texas also reported a 60% jump in new cases to 49,559, though that included a backlog of several thousand cases.

Deaths from COVID-19 have generally declined for the past six weeks, though still stand at more than 5,000 lives lost a week. Deaths are a lagging indicator and generally rise weeks after a surge in cases.

Testing in the country set a record of over 880,000 tests a day, surpassing the previous high in July of 820,000.

Nationally, the share of all tests that came back positive for COVID-19 held steady at about 5%, 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, 28 states have positive test rates above the 5% level that the World Health Organization considers concerning. The highest positive test rates are 26% in South Dakota, 21% in Idaho and 19% in Wisconsin.

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

Trump says sending federal agents to more U.S. cities to fight violent crime

By Jeff Mason and Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump announced a plan on Wednesday to send federal agents to more U.S. cities to crack down on violent crime as he emphasizes a “law and order” mantra going into the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Trump, joined by Attorney General William Barr, unveiled an expansion of the “Operation Legend” program to include cities such as Chicago and Albuquerque, New Mexico, in a further effort by federal officials to tackle violence.

“Today I’m announcing a surge of federal law enforcement into American communities plagued by violent crime,” said Trump.

Trump said “we have no choice but to get involved” with a rising death toll in some major cities.

“This bloodshed must end, this bloodshed will end,” he said.

The program involves deploying federal law enforcement agents to assist local police in combating what the Justice Department has described as a “surge” of violent crime.

A Justice Department official said the initiative is not related to the use of federal agents from the Department of Homeland Security to quell unrest in Portland, Oregon.

The Republican president has sharply criticized Democratic leaders for presiding over cities and states that are experiencing crime waves, using the issue as part of a “law and order” push he hopes will resonate with his political base. Trump is trailing Democrat Joe Biden in national opinion polls.

It is not unusual for federal law enforcement to work alongside local partners. The Justice Department official said “Operation Legend” would provide additional resources to cities suffering from “traditional” violent crime.

Trump has emphasized a robust policing and military approach to the protests across the United States about racial inequality after the death of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis police custody.

The White House has sought to focus on city crime even as Trump’s approval numbers plummet in response to his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The “Operation Legend” program involves federal agents form the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service and other agencies, partnering with local law enforcement.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has said federal intervention was not required to help with violence in New York City, and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has also urged Trump not to send unidentified federal agents to her city.

“Operation Legend” is named for LeGend Taliferro, a 4-year-old boy who was shot and killed while he slept early June 29 in Kansas City, Missouri, according to the Department of Justice’s website.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Sarah Lynch; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

Quarantine or not, tourists still flock to New Mexico

By Andrew Hay

RED RIVER, N.M. (Reuters) – In the New Mexico mountain resort of Red River, tourists from Texas stroll along Main Street, most disregarding Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s orders they quarantine and wear masks.

It’s the same in other New Mexican tourist towns such as Taos and Santa Fe, except nearly all their visitors wear face coverings – surrounded by signs warning of fines if they don’t.

Like governors in at least 15 states, Democrat Lujan Grisham has ordered out-of-state tourists to self-isolate, citing data that about one in 10 of New Mexico’s spiking COVID-19 cases comes from visitors.

Enforcing the orders is proving difficult, given the lack of a national plan, police reluctance to take on the massive task, and Americans’ penchant for driving hundreds or thousands of miles to vacation, even in a pandemic.

A U.S. road trip this summer means navigating through a patchwork of quarantine regulations across various states, most of them voluntary.

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut require travelers from 19 states with high COVID-19 infection rates to self-quarantine for two weeks upon arrival. New York imposes fines.

Hard-hit Florida requires travelers from those three states to self-isolate for 14 days whether arriving by plane or car, or face a $500 fine.

Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Vermont all have varying self-isolation rules.

‘TAKING AWAY OUR LIBERTY’

New Mexico published newspaper ads in neighboring Arizona and Texas, states respectively reporting 27% and 18% positive coronavirus test rates, urging their residents not to visit. Health experts consider a 5% rate to be worrisome.

But tourists keep coming.

“I think it’s bullshit. They’re saying the masks should work, so why should you be quarantined?” said Chris Fry, 59, a feed company manager from Dimmitt, Texas, staying in his cabin near Red River and stopping in town for ice before going fishing.

A 45-minute drive south in Taos Plaza, Louisiana tourist Christy Brasiel was frustrated the historic Native American community was closed to visitors and compared Lujan Grisham’s rules to “communism or socialism.”

“They’re taking away our liberty,” said Brasiel, 49, staying in an Airbnb rental to avoid her voluntary quarantine order enforced by local hotels that turn away out-of-state visitors.

As in cities across New Mexico, police in Red River have yet to issue citations for non-compliance to COVID-19 rules, said Mayor Linda Calhoun, a Republican, adding that she is encouraging businesses to require masks.

“We live off of tourists, that’s all we have, so it’s very difficult for us to enforce the order,” Calhoun said of the quarantine rule in her town nicknamed “Little Texas” for the number of visitors from that state.

Many locals in Taos County, where COVID-19 cases have doubled in the last month, are dismayed by the rule breaking.

“It doesn’t make any sense to be so selfish,” said lawyer Maureen Moore, 67.

“WE DON’T WANT YOU HERE”

Only three weeks ago, as outbreaks raged across the U.S. Sunbelt, New Mexico reported stable or declining daily cases.

A poor state with limited hospital capacity, New Mexico used early, tough restrictions to curb the pandemic.

But with its positive test rate rising above 4%, Lujan Grisham has scolded New Mexicans for letting down their guard since she eased restrictions on June 1, and on Monday re-closed indoor restaurant dining.

On a shortlist as a running mate to presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Lujan Grisham has also rounded on tourism, the state’s second-largest industry.

“We don’t want you here now,” she told potential visitors in a July 9 press briefing, taking special aim at Texans. “I want you to stay in Texas.”

Lujan Grisham said New Mexico State Police would “aggressively” enforce her quarantine and mask orders. The force has handed out 13 verbal warnings for mask violations but none for quarantine non-compliance, a spokeswoman said on Monday.

The rules are piling pandemic pain on businesses in the state. Standing outside his Red River supermarket, business owner Ted Calhoun said Lujan Grisham had gone too far.

“Ordering visitors to do a 14-day quarantine is killing the tourist industry of New Mexico,” said Calhoun, the mayor’s husband.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Red River, New Mexico; editing by Bill Tarrant, Tom Brown and Alistair Bell)

Four more states added to New York quarantine order, Cuomo says

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday ordered those arriving in New York from an additional four states to quarantine for 14 days to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The newly added states – Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio and Wisconsin – were all seeing ‘significant’ community spread of the virus, Cuomo said in a statement.

Delaware, previously on the list, has now been removed.

Travelers arriving in New York from a total of 22 U.S. states are now required to quarantine for 14 days, according to Cuomo’s order which was first issued in June.

On Monday, the governor announced a travel enforcement operation at airports across the state to ensure travelers are abiding by the quarantine restrictions.

New York reported five COVID-19 fatalities on Monday, and 820 hospitalizations. There were 912 positive test results, or 1.5% of the total, as Cuomo warned in a tweet that “infection rates are alarmingly rising among 20-somethings in NY.”

(Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York, additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Franklin Paul and Bernadette Baum)

Militia at violent New Mexico protest linked to white supremacy, domestic terror: mayor

By Andrew Hay

(Reuters) – Members of a heavily armed New Mexico militia blamed for sparking violence at a protest where a demonstrator was shot are trying to “prop up” white supremacy and may be connected to domestic terrorism, Albuquerque’s mayor said on Tuesday.

The peaceful protest calling for the removal of an Albuquerque statue of a Spanish conquistador turned violent on Monday after members of the New Mexico Civil Guard militia tried to keep demonstrators away from it, Albuquerque Police Commander Art Sanchez told a news briefing.

Among counter-protestors defending the statue was Steven Baca, 31, caught on video throwing a woman to the ground. Protesters then pursued him before he pulled out a handgun and shot a man, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller told the briefing.

Baca was not immediately available for comment and police declined to say whether he was part of the militia.

But Keller said vigilantes, militias and other armed civilians had for weeks menaced local protests over the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis. Protesters are demanding the removal of statues of New Mexico’s Spanish colonial rulers who killed and enslaved indigenous people.

“They have been there for quite some time attempting to prop up white supremacy, trying to intimidate those speaking out and they are armed with weapons,” Keller said of the groups, adding he was working with the FBI on their possible links to “domestic terrorism in our city.”

Keller said the sculpture of Juan de OƱate was removed on Tuesday for “public safety” after another statue of the colonial governor was taken down Monday in Alcalde, New Mexico.

Baca, a former city council candidate, was charged with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon for shooting Scott Williams, who was in critical condition, police said.

He won less than 6% of the votes in last year’s city council elections on a platform to encourage citizens to protect themselves with firearms, renegotiate federal restrictions on law enforcement and end sanctuary city policies.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Peter Cooney and Christopher Cushing)

Man shot in New Mexico protest over conquistador sculpture

(Reuters) – A man was shot and wounded on Monday during a protest near a museum in downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico, police said, where demonstrators were reported to be trying to tear down a sculpture of a 16th-century Spanish conquistador.

“The victim is reported to be in critical but stable condition,” the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) said in a tweet, adding that the incident had ended.

The Albuquerque Journal newspaper reported that the shooting erupted during a clash between protesters trying to pull down a statue of Juan de Onate and several heavily armed members of a civilian militia group called the New Mexico Civil Guard.

Police chief of Albuquerque, Michael Geier, said in a statement that police were receiving reports about vigilante groups possibly instigating the violence.

The confrontation occurred outside the Albuquerque Museum in the heart of the city’s Old Town district.

According to the Journal’s account, one man involved in a physical altercation with the protesters appeared to draw a gun and fire five shots after he was pushed onto the street, sending members of the crowd scurrying for cover as one person yelled, “Somebody got shot.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is currently assisting APD violent crime investigators as they interview individuals who were involved in the shooting, the tweet said.

“Police used chemical irritants and flash bangs to protect officers and detain individuals involved in the shooting. The individuals were disarmed and taken into custody for questioning.”

Video footage posted to social media from the scene appeared to show one man lying on the ground as several other people tried to render assistance. A separate clip showed three men lying face down and spread eagle on the pavement as police in riot gear stood over them, apparently making arrests. Another officer appeared to be on the ground as well.

Anti-racism protesters venting anger over last month’s death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis, have taken to destroying statutes honoring the U.S. Civil War’s Confederacy, as well as sculptures of imperialists, conquistadors and other historical figures associated with the subjugation of indigenous populations around the world.

The statue at the center of Monday’s protest in Albuquerque is part of a controversial sculpture called “La Jornada,” which depicts Onate, known for the 1599 massacre of a pueblo tribe, leading a group of Spanish settlers into what is now New Mexico.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additonal reporting by Aishwarya Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Michael Perry)

Fake flyers and face-mask fear: California fights coronavirus discrimination

By Andrew Hay and Maria Caspani

(Reuters) – A flyer in Los Angeles’ Carson area, with a fake seal of the World Health Organization, tells residents to avoid Asian-American businesses like Panda Express because of a coronavirus outbreak. A Los Angeles middle schooler is beaten and hospitalized after students say he is as an Asian-American with coronavirus.

And over 14,000 people sign a petition urging schools in the Alhambra area to close over coronavirus risks, even though there is only one case of the virus in Los Angeles County, with its population of 10.1 million.

These are some of the hoaxes, assaults and rumors Los Angeles authorities spoke out against on Thursday to stamp out anti-Asian bigotry bubbling to the surface in California, where over half of the 15 U.S. coronavirus cases are located.

Bullying and assaults of Asian-Americans are being reported from New York to New Mexico, sparked by unfounded fears that they are somehow linked to a virus that originated in China.

With by far the largest Asian-American population of any U.S. state, officials in California are aggressively trying to get ahead of such hate crimes before they spread.

“We’re not going to stand for hate,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis told reporters, flanked by law enforcement officials. She urged residents to report crimes to a special 211 number.

Existing prejudice against Asians has combined with media images from China to create fears that Asian-Americans are more likely to be virus carriers. The discrimination could get worse given chances the virus may spread in U.S. communities in the weeks and months ahead, said Robin Toma, head of the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission.

Face masks commonly warn by Asians to protect against germs or prevent their spread have become a flashpoint, with wearers insulted or attacked out of fears they have the virus, he said at the news conference.

“We need you to step up and speak out when you see it happening to others,” he said.

FACE MASKS A TRIGGER

Anti-Asian sentiment emerged in 2003 during the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, which also originated from China. That was before the emergence of social media platforms like Twitter, where racism, hoaxes and slurs get amplified.

The issue is not isolated to California.

New York City designer Yiheng Yu works in an office where many colleagues have recently returned from China and where she and others wear face masks as a precaution.

On one occasion when she wore a mask outside her office she was accosted by a woman.

“She started yelling, ‘Are you Crazy? Get the heck out of here,” said Yu, 34. “I realized it was because I was wearing a mask.”

Even coughs can provoke fear, said Ron Kim, a New York state assembly member representing a Queens district with a large Asian and Asian-American population.

“I had a staff member who was in the Albany train station and she was coughing a little bit and someone approached her asked if she had the virus,” said Kim, who on Feb. 7 established the Asian American Health Advisory Council to educate New Yorkers about the virus.

“We live in a very fear-driven society as it is, so if we add an extra layer it’s bound to happen, people are going to be ugly,” he added.

Manjusha Kulkarni, head of A3PCON, which represents Los Angeles County’s more than 1.5 million Asian-American and Pacific Islander residents, saw an urgent need for information to separate coronavirus fact from fiction.

“Businesses and restaurateurs have seen a steep decline in their patronage,” Kulkarni said of Asian proprietors. “We only have one case of the coronavirus here in LA.”

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in New Mexico and Maria Caspani in New York; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Leslie Adler)

New Mexico blast involving fireworks injures several firefighters

Smoke from an explosion is seen in Roswell, New Mexico, U.S., June 5, 2019 in this picture obtained from social media. Roswell Today/via REUTERS

(Reuters) – Several firefighters were injured on Wednesday, two seriously, in an explosion at a building in Roswell, New Mexico, where fireworks were being stored for the city’s annual July Fourth celebrations, police and city officials said.

The blast occurred shortly after noon at a building on the grounds of the Roswell International Air Center, a commercial airport on the southern outskirts of the town, said Todd Wildermuth, a spokesman for the city.

He said about a dozen firefighters were in and around the building “doing some preparation work” for the city’s upcoming July Fourth Independence Day fireworks display when the explosion occurred.

He said two firefighters suffered serious injuries and were taken to local hospitals. A number of others who sustained minor injuries were treated on the scene.

The cause of the blast was under investigation, he said. The fireworks storage building, at the far west end of the airport property, is far enough away from the airport itself that flight operations were not affected, Wildermuth said.

Roswell, a city of about 48,000 residents in southeastern New Mexico about 200 miles southeast of the state capital, Albuquerque, is perhaps best known for the reported crash of an unidentified flying object in 1947 near what was then known as the Roswell Army Air Field.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by David Gregorio and James Dalgleish)

New Mexico counties revolt against migrant releases

FILE PHOTO: New bollard-style U.S.-Mexico border fencing is seen in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, U.S., March 5, 2019. Picture taken March 5, 2019. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson - RC1FD8531B60/File Photo

By Andrew Hay

TAOS, N.M. (Reuters) – Two more New Mexico counties have declared their opposition to taking in migrants in a growing revolt against federal authorities dropping off a surge in Central American families in the state’s rural, southern communities.

The record influx of asylum seekers has overwhelmed border detention facilities and shelters, forcing U.S. immigration authorities to bus migrants to nearby cities and even fly them to California.

Las Cruces, New Mexico, has received over 6,000 migrants since April 12. Deming, population 14,183, gets 300 to 500 a day, according to City Administrator Aaron Sera.

Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has dismissed President Donald Trump’s claims of a border security crisis and advocated a humanitarian response. She is in Washington seeking federal funds to reimburse cities that give support.

But some New Mexico counties say they want nothing to do with sheltering migrants, with officials saying the governor’s approach may worsen the border crisis.

Sierra County, population 11,116, was one of two Republican-controlled New Mexico counties to pass resolutions on Tuesday evening opposing the relocation of migrants to their communities.

Sierra County also called on Trump to close the border to immigration to end the crisis.

“We have to take care of our veterans, our seniors, our residents, first and foremost,” said County Manager Bruce Swingle. “We’re a very impoverished county.”

Sierra County has a median annual household income of $29,690 and a 21 percent poverty rate, according to Data USA.

‘FEEDING PIGEONS’

To the east, Lincoln County passed a resolution that it was not prepared to spend taxpayer dollars on housing “illegal immigrants,” said Commissioner Tom Stewart.

“We have a tight budget and need to focus on a new hospital that we are building,” Stewart said. “As long as we continue to extend citizen benefits to unregistered aliens the flows will continue.”

The moves followed a similar May 2 resolution by neighboring Otero County.

County Commission Chairman Couy Griffin said sheltering migrants sent the wrong message to other Central Americans thinking of leaving their homes and would deepen the border crisis.

“If you begin to feed pigeons in the parking lot, pretty soon you have every pigeon in town,” Griffin said.

Lujan Grisham spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said there was no evidence humanitarian aid encouraged people to leave their homes.

“They are moving because they have no other choice and its frankly un-American to suggest we close our doors to people in need,” he said.

The border situation is taking a tragic toll on the migrants themselves. On Wednesday, the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees unaccompanied child migrants, said a 10-year-old girl from El Salvador died in its custody in September, bringing to six the number of children who have died in U.S. custody, or shortly after release, in the last eight months.

(Reporting By Andrew Hay; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

Self-driving trucks begin mail delivery test for U.S. Postal Service

The TuSimple self-driving truck is pictured in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters May 20, 2019. TuSimple/Handout via REUTERS

By Heather Somerville

(Reuters) – The U.S. Postal Service on Tuesday started a two-week test transporting mail across three Southwestern states using self-driving trucks, a step forward in the effort to commercialize autonomous vehicle technology for hauling freight.

San Diego-based startup TuSimple said its self-driving trucks will begin hauling mail between USPS facilities in Phoenix and Dallas to see how the nascent technology might improve delivery times and costs. A safety driver will sit behind the wheel to intervene if necessary and an engineer will ride in the passenger seat.

If successful, it would mark an achievement for the autonomous driving industry and a possible solution to the driver shortage and regulatory constraints faced by freight haulers across the country.

The pilot program involves five round trips, each totaling more than 2,100 miles (3,380 km) or around 45 hours of driving. It is unclear whether self-driving mail delivery will continue after the two-week pilot.

“The work with TuSimple is our first initiative in autonomous long-haul transportation,” USPS spokeswoman Kim Frum said. “We are conducting research and testing as part of our efforts to operate a future class of vehicles which will incorporate new technology.”

TuSimple and the USPS declined to disclose the cost of the program, but Frum said no tax dollars were used and the agency relies on revenue from sales of postage and other products. TuSimple has raised $178 million in private financing, including from chipmaker Nvidia Corp and Chinese online media company Sina Corp.

The trucks will travel on major interstates and pass through Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

The TuSimple self-driving truck is pictured in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters May 20, 2019. TuSimple/Handout via REUTERS

The TuSimple self-driving truck is pictured in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters May 20, 2019. TuSimple/Handout via REUTERS

“This run is really in the sweet spot of how we believe autonomous trucks will be used,” said TuSimple Chief Product Officer Chuck Price. “These long runs are beyond the range of a single human driver, which means today if they do this run they have to figure out how to cover it with multiple drivers in the vehicle.”

The goal is to eliminate the need for a driver, freeing shippers and freight-haulers from the constraints of a worsening driver shortage. The American Trucking Associations estimates a shortage of as many as 174,500 drivers by 2024, due to an aging workforce and the difficulty of attracting younger drivers.

A new safety law requiring truck drivers to electronically log their miles has further constrained how quickly and efficiently fleets can move goods.

TuSimple’s tie-up with the USPS marks an achievement for the fledgling self-driving truck industry, and follows Swedish company Einride’s entry into freight delivery using driverless electric trucks on a public road, announced last week.

The developments contrast with retrenching efforts by robotaxi companies such as General Motors Co unit Cruise, Uber Technologies Inc and startup Drive.ai, which have stumbled in building self-driving cars that can anticipate and respond to humans and navigate urban areas, an expensive and technologically challenging feat.

Price said self-driving trucks have advantages over passenger cars, including the relative ease of operating on interstates compared with city centers, which reduces mapping requirements and safety challenges involving pedestrians and bicyclists.

(Reporting by Heather Somerville in San Francisco; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)