Canada virus hotspot Manitoba flies patients out as infections surge

By Rod Nickel

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) -Canada’s latest COVID-19 hotspot of Manitoba said on Tuesday it was planning to fly additional critically ill patients to other provinces as infections multiply, even as Quebec and British Columbia announced plans to ease restrictions.

A third wave reached Manitoba later than other provinces, and pushed up its rate of daily cases to 233 people per 100,000 during the past week, the highest in Canada and triple the national average, mainly due to spread in the city of Winnipeg.

Manitoba has flown 18 critically ill COVID-19 patients to Ontario hospitals in the past few days, officials said. The provincial government is also talking with Saskatchewan and North Dakota officials about receiving patients, they said in a briefing, without providing a number.

No other province has taken such steps.

The province has scrambled to more than double its intensive care unit capacity by cancelling surgeries and occupying other spaces in hospitals.

“Our hospitals are being stretched to the limits right now,” Chief Provincial Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said. “There are hundreds of people struggling for their lives.”

A group of doctors urged the Manitoba government to impose a stay-at-home order and close non-essential businesses.

More than 25,000 people have died of COVID-19 in Canada since the pandemic began.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was looking at sending medical staff to Manitoba through the Canadian Red Cross and other support from the Canadian Armed Forces.

Quebec, Canada’s second-most populous province, will continue to ease restrictions and by June 7 all restaurants and gyms will be able to reopen, Premier Francois Legault said.

The Pacific coast province of British Columbia laid out its four-part reopening plan on Tuesday, with some restrictions being lifted immediately and a full reopening anticipated by September, Premier John Horgan said.

Limited indoor and outdoor dining with a maximum of six people, indoor gatherings of up to five people from outside a household and low-intensity fitness classes are now permitted, Horgan said.

The province expects to lift all group limits on indoor dining and reopen casinos and nightclubs with limited capacity on July 1.

Ontario, Canada’s most-populous province, plans to loosen restrictions starting June 14.

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Moira Warburton in Toronto; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Cynthia Osterman)

Explainer: The Dakota Access Pipeline faces possible closure

By Devika Krishna Kumar and Stephanie Kelly

(Reuters) – A U.S. court could order the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) shut in coming weeks, disrupting deliveries of crude oil, and making nearby rail traffic more congested.

WHAT IS DAPL?

The 570,000-barrel-per-day (bpd) Dakota Access pipeline, or DAPL, is the largest oil pipeline out of the Bakken shale basin and has been locked in a legal battle with Native American tribes over whether the line can stay open after a judge scrapped a key environmental permit last year.

A federal judge ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to update the court on its environmental review of the pipeline by May 3 and decide if it believes the line should shut during the process.

WHAT IS THE DISPUTE?

Native American tribes long opposed to DAPL say the line endangers Lake Oahe, a critical water source. Pipeline construction under the lake was finished in early 2017 and the line is currently operating. But a judge last year vacated a key permit allowing that service, raising the possibility that the line could close while a thorough environmental review was completed.

Dakota Access oil pipeline’s operators plan to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene, according to a court filing last week.

WHAT ARE THE CHANCES THAT THE LINE WILL CLOSE?

So far, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has not requested the line to be closed, even after the federal permit was canceled. It expects to complete the environmental review by March. Market analysts believe there is some chance the judge orders the line closed, and there is concern about the disruption that would cause.

WHAT WILL OIL PRODUCERS DO IF THE LINE IS CLOSED?

The U.S. shale boom created more demand for rail transport of crude in North Dakota, the second-biggest oil producing state in the country. Outbound rail traffic rose by almost 300% between 2002 and 2015, a North Dakota Department of Transportation report showed.

However, rail is expensive and takes longer to ship, making pipelines the preferred shipping method. If DAPL were to shut, producers would be pushed toward crude by rail again, BTU Analytics said.

WHAT COULD HAPPEN FOR FARMERS IF THE LINE IS SHUT?

If shippers divert oil shipments onto railcars, it will create transport bottlenecks in the region, especially in North Dakota, which relies on rail to transport over 70% of its agricultural production, economists and industry sources said.

“Probably more grain would be piled on the ground until the time it could be moved by rail,” said Jeff Thompson, a farmer in South Dakota and a director of the South Dakota Soybean Association, which supports DAPL.

In 2019, North Dakota led the nation in the production of all dry edible beans, canola, durum wheat, and spring wheat. The state is a captive rail market, which means there are no other economically viable options to deliver agricultural products, said Stu Letcher of the North Dakota Grain Dealers Association.

ARE RAILROADS PREPARED?

Railroads have improved load capacity over the last decade in response to past constraints, said Bill Wilson, professor at North Dakota State University and a member of the North Dakota Soybean Council.

“I would be surprised that, if DAPL was shut down, that the railroads were not capable of handling that added business,” Wilson said.

BNSF Railway, which operates the greatest number of route-miles in North Dakota, is prepared to handle any increase in rail traffic if the DAPL is shut, the company said.

The other major railroad serving the region, Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd, is committed to delivering for customers across all businesses, said spokesman Andy Cummings.

(Reporting by Devika Krishna Kumar and Stephanie Kelly in New York; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

BNSF says it can handle more crude-by-rail shipments if Dakota pipeline is shut

By Devika Krishna Kumar and Stephanie Kelly

NEW YORK (Reuters) – BNSF, the railroad unit of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc, is prepared to handle any increase in rail traffic if the Dakota Access oil pipeline (DAPL) is shut due to an ongoing legal dispute, the company told Reuters.

The operators of the 570,000 barrel-per-day line, led by Energy Transfer LP, have been locked in a battle to keep the line open after a federal judge last year scrapped a key permit and ordered an environmental review of the line. A U.S. District Court could issue a ruling as early as May on whether the line can stay open during the review.

Any closure of the line would divert most crude production in the region onto railcars and create transportation bottlenecks.

BNSF operates the greatest number of route-miles in North Dakota, the second-biggest oil producing state in the country and leading producer of agricultural products such as wheat and canola.

“We are confident in our ability to handle additional volume across our Northern Corridor, whether it comes from more agricultural products, consumer goods or industrial products, including energy,” spokeswoman Lena Kent said in a statement late Thursday.

The other major railroad serving the region, Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Before DAPL began operations in 2017, the booming Bakken shale basin relied on rail to transport barrels, which is typically more expensive than pipeline shipments. Volumes spiked, creating congestion on the railroads.

In 2014, BNSF invested more than $1 billion toward maintenance and expansion projects in that region, where the railway serves agricultural and energy customers, to alleviate congestion.

“A shutdown of the pipeline would be easily accommodated and would not adversely affect the movement of other products that move on our railroad,” Kent said.

(Reporting by Devika Krishna Kumar and Stephanie Kelly in New York; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

U.S. Army Corps allows Dakota Access pipeline to stay open during review

By Laila Kearney and Devika Krishna Kumar

NEW YORK (Reuters) -The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Friday said it will allow Energy Transfer’s Dakota Access oil pipeline to keep running during an environmental review, a blow to activists who wanted the line shut after a key environmental permit was scrapped last year.

The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) has been the flashpoint for a years-long legal battle between its operator, Energy Transfer LP, and several Native tribes that want it shut after opposing its construction. It is the most important artery for crude transport out of North Dakota, shipping up to 570,000 barrels of North Dakota’s crude production daily.

Energy Transfer shares were up 2.5% in afternoon trading.

Last year, native tribes led by the Standing Rock Sioux won a victory when Judge James Boasberg of the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia vacated a permit allowing the line to run under Lake Oahe, a key water source.

The Corps could have shut the line pending another review, but deferred to the judge. Boasberg gave operators of the pipeline until April 19 to make the case for keeping the line flowing before he issues a ruling.

The tribes opposing DAPL sought to shut the line, and frustrated tribal representatives decried what they called one in a series of decisions that abrogates the rights of Native Americans.

“It’s the continuation of a terrible history that we believed was going to change,” Earthjustice lawyer Jan Hasselman, who represents the Standing Rock Sioux, told the court. “So we are really disappointed to hear this news from the Army Corps.”

Energy companies said a shutdown would increase reliance on crowded rail lines and smaller pipelines and hamper transport of crude from the Bakken region, where more than 1 million barrels are produced daily.

The Army Corps is expected to produce an environmental impact statement (EIS) by March of 2022, said Corps attorney Ben Schifman.

“The Corps is proceeding with the EIS process … but at this time has not taken any additional action,” he said.

The Standing Rock Sioux and environmental groups have ramped up pressure on the White House to shut the line. President Joe Biden’s administration is trying to reduce U.S. carbon emissions and protect minority groups from pollution threats. It canceled a presidential permit for the unbuilt Keystone XL pipeline from Canada but has not shut an operating pipeline.

In 2016, tens of thousands of protesters flocked to the site to support tribes who said they had not been adequately consulted about the line’s construction.

(Reporting by Laila Kearney and Devika Krishna Kumar; editing by David Evans, David Gregorio and Grant McCool)

U.S. crosses 300,000 COVID-19 deaths as vaccine rollout begins

By Anurag Maan

(Reuters) – The number of coronavirus deaths in the United States crossed 300,000 on Monday, according to Reuters tally, as the hardest hit nation rolled out its first vaccine inoculations on Monday.

The staggering death toll comes as the nation begins a historic inoculation campaign using a vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE. Moderna Inc’s vaccine could get approval as soon as this week.

The vaccine comes as COVID-19 cases explode across the nation and hospital intensive care units run out of beds. Daily coronavirus cases and deaths have set records multiple times since Thanksgiving holidays with daily fatalities topping 3,000 for the second time last week on Friday, the same day the vaccine got approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

It took 27 days to go from 250,000 total U.S. COVID-19 deaths to 300,000 – the fastest 50,000-death jump since the pandemic began. Some models project that deaths could reach 500,000 before vaccines become widely available in the spring and summer.

In recent weeks, South Dakota and North Dakota have led the nation in deaths per capita. Overall, New Jersey and New York, early epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, lead the nation in per capita deaths.

The United States recently crossed 16 million confirmed cases – the most in the world.

According to Reuters analysis, the United States is reporting 91 deaths per 100,000 people, seventh worst in the world on a per capita basis and 2.5 times the rate in Canada.

The nation’s hospitals are flooding with COVID-19 patients, threatening to overwhelm healthcare systems and providers. There are over 108,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, the highest since the first coronavirus case was detected in the country in January.

(Reporting by Anurag Maan in Bengaluru and Lisa Shumaker in Chicago; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

U.S. posts sharpest weekly rise in COVID-19 deaths since August

(Reuters) – The United States recorded its biggest weekly rise in COVID-19 deaths since August, increasing 32% from the previous week to average about 1,500 people per day, according to a Reuters analysis of state and county reports.

New cases rose 13% in the week ended Nov. 22, or an average of more than 168,000 per day

Ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday this Thursday, at least 23 states have announced new restrictions to try to slow the spread of the virus but so far only New Mexico has issued a stay-at-home order.

Cases rose by 90% in New Mexico last week, the biggest percentage increase in the country, followed by Virginia at 62% and Arizona with a 50% increase.

In North Dakota, the hardest hit state on a per capita basis, nearly 73,400 tests have come back positive for the new coronavirus since the beginning of the outbreak. That is equivalent to 9.6% of the state’s population. North Dakota mandated masks starting Nov. 14 but another 14 states still do not require them.

Across the United States, 9.8% of tests came back positive for the virus for a second week in a row, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer-run effort to track the outbreak.

The World Health Organization considers positive test rates above 5% concerning because it suggests there are more cases in the community that have not yet been uncovered.

Out of 50 states, 26 had positive test rates above 10% last week, led by Iowa at 56%, South Dakota at 45% and Idaho at 40%.

(Graphic by Chris Canipe, writing by Lisa Shumaker, editing by Tiffany Wu)

U.S. COVID-19 cases cross 11 million as pandemic intensifies

By Roshan Abraham and Seerat Gupta

(Reuters) – The number of coronavirus cases in the United States crossed the 11-million mark on Sunday reaching yet another grim milestone, according to a Reuters tally, as the third wave of COVID-19 infections surged across the country.

Reuters data shows the pace of the pandemic in the United States has quickened, with one million more new cases from just 8 days ago when it hit 10 million, making it the fastest since the pandemic began. This compares with 10 days it took to get from 9 to 10 million and 16 days it took to reach 9 million from 8 million cases.

The United States, hardest-hit by the coronavirus, crossed 10 million COVID-19 cases on November 8 and is reporting over 100,000 daily cases for the past 11 days straight.

The latest 7-day average, shows the United States is reporting more than 144,000 daily cases and 1,120 daily deaths, the highest for any country in the world.

Texas and California have reported the highest number of COVID-19 infections across the United States, together accounting for about 2.1 million cases or about 19% of the total cases since the pandemic began, according to Reuters analysis.

As COVID-19 related hospitalizations continue to rise, crossing 69,000 on Saturday, U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s top advisers have stressed the need to control the pandemic, warning that local healthcare systems are at a tipping point.

The Midwest remains the hardest-hit region based on the most cases per capita with North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska the top five worst-affected U.S. states.

Illinois, which has emerged as the pandemic’s new epicenter in the region as well as across the country, reported a record 15,433 new cases on Friday, the most of any state in a 24-hour period, surpassing the previous all-time high of 15,300 set by Florida in July.

Several states this week re-imposed restrictions to curb the spread of the virus across the nation. North Dakota became the latest state to require that face coverings be worn in public, as it joins 39 other states this month in reporting record daily jumps in new cases.

State governors urged residents to stay home as much as possible, including Nevada Democrat Steve Sisolak, who said late on Friday that he became the fourth governor to become infected with the virus.

The United States accounts for about 20% of more than 54 million global cases and close to 19% of the 1.31 million deaths reported worldwide, according to a Reuters tally.

(Reporting by Roshan Abraham and Seerat Gupta in Bengaluru; editing by Diane Craft)

U.S. crosses 10 million COVID-19 cases as third wave of infections surges

By Anurag Maan and Shaina Ahluwalia

(Reuters) – The United States became the first nation worldwide since the pandemic began to surpass 10 million coronavirus infections, according to a Reuters tally on Sunday, as the third wave of the COVID-19 virus surges across the nation.

The grim milestone came on the same day as global coronavirus cases exceeded 50 million.

The United states has reported about a million cases in the past 10 days, the highest rate of infections since the nation reported its first novel coronavirus case in Washington state 293 days ago.

The country reported a record 131,420 COVID-19 cases on Saturday and has reported over 100,000 infections five times in the past seven days, according to a Reuters tally.

The U.S. latest reported seven-day average of 105,600 daily cases, ramped up by at least 29%, is more than the combined average for India and France, two of the worst affected countries in Asia and Europe.

More than 237,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 since the illness caused by the coronavirus first emerged in China late last year.

The daily average of reported new deaths in the United States account for one in every 11 deaths reported worldwide each day, according to a Reuters analysis.

The number of reported deaths nationwide climbed by more than 1,000 for a fifth consecutive day on Saturday, a trend last seen in mid-August, according to a Reuters tally.

Health experts say deaths tend to increase four to six weeks after a surge in infections.

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, who spent much of his election campaign criticizing President Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic, pledged on Saturday to make tackling the pandemic a top priority.

Biden will announce a 12-member task force on Monday to deal with the pandemic that will be led by former surgeon general Vivek Murthy and former Food and Drug Administration commissioner David Kessler. The coronavirus task force will be charged with developing a blueprint for containing the disease once Biden takes office in January.

The Midwest remains the hardest-hit region based on the most cases per capita with North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska the top five worst-affected U.S. states.

Illinois emerged as the new epicenter in the Midwest, with the state reporting over 60,000 COVID-19 infections in the last seven days, the highest in the country, according to Reuters data. The state reported more than 12,454 new cases on Saturday, the highest single-day number so far.

Texas, which accounts for 10% of total U.S. cases, is the hardest-hit state and became the first to surpass a million coronavirus cases in the United States on Saturday.

According to a Reuters analysis, the South region comprises nearly 43% of all the cases in the United States since the pandemic began, with nearly 4.3 million cases in the region alone, followed by the Midwest, West and Northeast.

New York, with over 33,000 fatalities, remains the state with highest number of deaths and accounts for about 14% of total U.S. deaths.

The United States performed about 10.5 million coronavirus tests in the first seven days of November, of which 6.22% came back positive, compared with 6.17% the prior seven-days, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer-run effort to track the outbreak.

(Reporting by Anurag Maan and Shaina Ahluwalia in Bengaluru; Editing by Diane Craft and Michael Perry)

U.S. COVID-19 deaths surpass 190,000; Iowa and South Dakota emerge as new hotspots

By Anurag Maan

(Reuters) – Coronavirus deaths in the United States topped 190,000 on Wednesday along with a spike in new cases in the U.S. Midwest with states like Iowa and South Dakota emerging as the new hotspots in the past few weeks.

Iowa currently has one of the highest rates of infection in the nation, with 15% of tests last week coming back positive. Nearby South Dakota has a positive test rate of 19% and North Dakota is at 18%, according to a Reuters analysis.

The surge in Iowa and South Dakota is being linked to colleges reopening in Iowa and an annual motorcycle rally last month in Sturgis, South Dakota.

Kansas, Idaho and Missouri are also among the top 10 states for positive test rates.

New coronavirus infections have fallen for seven weeks in a row for the United States with a death rate of about 6,100 per week from COVID-19 in the last month.

On a per capita basis, the United States ranks 12th in the world for the number of deaths, with 58 deaths per 100,000 people, and 11th in the world for cases, with 1,933 cases per 100,000 residents, according to a Reuters analysis.

U.S. confirmed cases are highest in the world with now over 6.3 million followed by India with 4.4 million cases and Brazil with 4.2 million. The U.S. death toll is also the highest in the world.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had forecast last month that the U.S. death toll will reach 200,000 to 211,000 by Sept. 26.

The University of Washington’s health institute last week forecasted that the U.S. deaths from the coronavirus will reach 410,000 by the end of the year.

(Reporting by Anurag Maan in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

COVID-19 cases rise in U.S. Midwest and Northeast, deaths fall for third week

(Reuters) – Several states in the U.S. Midwest and Northeast have seen new COVID-19 cases increase for two weeks in a row, though nationally both new infections and deaths last week remained on a downward trend, a Reuters analysis showed.

The United States reported more than 287,000 new cases in the week ended Sept. 6, down 1.4% from the previous week and marking the seventh straight week of declines. More than 5,800 people died from COVID-19 last week, the third week in a row that the death rate has fallen.

Nevertheless, 17 states have seen cases rise for at least two weeks, according to the Reuters tally of state and county reports. They include Missouri, North Dakota and Wisconsin, where between 10% and 18% of people tested had the new coronavirus.

In the Northeast, Delaware, New Hampshire, New Jersey and New York also reported increases in new cases for at least two weeks, though the positive test rate ranged from a low of 0.9% in New York to a high of 4.3% in Delaware — below the 5% level the World Health Organization considers concerning.

In some states, testing has increased as schools reopened. New York City, for instance, is testing 10% to 20% of students and staff every month. The University of Illinois is testing students twice a week.

Nationally, the share of all tests that came back positive for COVID-19 fell for a fifth week to 5.5%, well below a peak of nearly 9% in mid-July, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer-run effort to track the outbreak.

The United States tested on average 741,000 people a day last week, up 5% from the prior week, but down from a peak in late July of over 800,000 people a day.

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