U.S. sets COVID-19 death record for second week, cases surge

(Reuters) – The United States lost more than 22,000 lives to COVID-19 last week, setting a record for the second week in a row, as new cases also hit a weekly high.

California was the state with the most deaths at 3,315 in the week ended Jan. 10, or about eight out of every 100,000 people, up 44% from the prior week, according to a Reuters analysis of state and county reports.

Arizona had the highest death rate per capita at 15 per 100,000 residents, followed by Rhode Island at 13 and West Virginia at 12 deaths per 100,000 people.

On average, COVID-19 killed 3,239 people per day in the United States last week, more than the number killed by the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.

Cumulatively, nearly 375,000 people in the country have died from the novel coronavirus, or one in every 873 residents. The total could rise to more than 567,000 by April 1, according to a forecast from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).

The United States reported more than 1.7 million new cases of COVID-19 last week, up 17% from the prior seven days. Former U.S. Food and Drug Administration chief Scott Gottleib said new cases could start declining in February.

“By the end of this month, we’ll have infected probably about 30% of the American public and maybe vaccinated another 10%, notwithstanding the very difficult rollout of the vaccine,” Gottleib told CNBC on Friday. “You’re starting to get to levels of prior exposure in the population where the virus isn’t going to spread as readily.”

Across the United States, 13.4% of tests came back positive for the virus, down from 13.6% the prior week, according to data from the volunteer-run COVID Tracking Project. The highest rates were in Iowa at 59%, Idaho at 54% and Alabama at 45%.

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

Pfizer to start pilot delivery program for its COVID-19 vaccine in four U.S. states

(Reuters) – Pfizer Inc. has launched a pilot delivery program for its experimental COVID-19 vaccine in four U.S. states, as the U.S. drugmaker seeks to address distribution challenges facing its ultra-cold storage requirements.

Pfizer’s vaccine, which was shown to be more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 based on initial data, must be shipped and stored at -70 degrees Celsius (minus 94°F), significantly below the standard for vaccines of 2-8 degrees Celsius (36-46°F).

“We are hopeful that results from this vaccine delivery pilot will serve as the model for other U.S. states and international governments, as they prepare to implement effective COVID-19 vaccine programs,” Pfizer said in a statement on Monday.

It picked Rhode Island, Texas, New Mexico, and Tennessee for the program after taking into account their differences in overall size, diversity of populations, immunization infrastructure, and need to reach individuals in varied urban and rural settings.

The four states will not receive vaccine doses earlier than other states by virtue of the pilot, nor will they receive any differential consideration, Pfizer said.

The company expects to have enough safety data on the vaccine from the ongoing large scale late-stage trials by the third week of November before proceeding to apply for emergency use authorization (EUA).

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech SE have a $1.95 billion deal to supply 100 million doses of the vaccine to the U.S. government, which has an option to acquire up to an additional 500 million doses.

Earlier on Monday, rival Moderna Inc. said its experimental vaccine was 94.5% effective in preventing COVID-19 based on interim data from a late-stage trial, boosting hopes that vaccines against the disease may be ready for use soon.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use a new technology called synthetic messenger RNA to activate the immune system against the virus.

(Reporting by Shubham Kalia in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva and Richard Pullin)

Supreme Court takes up energy companies’ appeal over Baltimore climate suit

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear an appeal by energy companies including BP PLC, Chevron Corp, Exxon Mobil Corp and Royal Dutch Shell PLC contesting a lawsuit by the city of Baltimore seeking damages for the impact of global climate change.

The justices will weigh whether the lawsuit must be heard in state court as the city would prefer or in federal court, which corporate defendants generally view as a more favorable venue. The suit targets 21 U.S. and foreign energy companies that extract, produce, distribute or sell fossil fuels.

The outcome could affect around a dozen similar lawsuits by U.S. states, cities and counties including Rhode Island and New York City seeking to hold such companies liable for the impact of climate change.

Baltimore and the other jurisdictions are seeking damages under state law for the harms they said they have sustained due to climate change, which they attribute in part to the companies’ role in producing fossil fuels that produce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

The plaintiffs have said they have had to spend more on infrastructure such as flood control measures to combat sea-level rise caused by a warming climate. Climate change has been melting land-based ice sheets and glaciers.

The Supreme Court in 2019 declined the companies’ emergency request to put the Baltimore litigation on hold after a federal judge ruled that the case should be heard in state court. In March, the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the judge’s decision.

In the absence of federal legislation in the bitterly divided U.S. Congress targeting climate change, the lawsuits are the latest effort to force action via litigation.

The Supreme Court in a landmark 2007 ruling said that carbon dioxide is a pollutant that could be regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. Under Democratic President Barack Obama, the agency issued the first-ever regulations aimed at curbing greenhouse gases. But efforts in Congress to enact sweeping climate change legislation have failed.

The court took action in the case three days before it begins its new nine-month term short one justice after the Sept. 18 death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. President Donald Trump has nominated federal appeals court judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace Ginsburg.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. top court rejects challenge to California gun waiting period

Firearms are shown for sale at the AO Sword gun store in El Cajon, California, January 5, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake

By Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In a blow to gun rights activists, the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday turned away a challenge to California’s 10-day waiting period for firearms purchases that is intended to guard against impulsive violence and suicides.

The court’s action underscored its continued reluctance to step into the national debate over gun control roiled by a series of mass shootings including one at a Florida school last week. One of the court’s most conservative justices, Clarence Thomas, dissented from the decision to reject the case and accused his colleagues of showing contempt toward constitutional protections for gun rights.

The gun rights groups and individual gun owners who challenged the law had argued that it violated their right to keep and bear arms under the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment. The challengers did not seek to invalidate California’s waiting period for everyone, just for people who already owned guns and passed a background check.

In his dissent, Thomas scolded his colleagues. “If a lower court treated another right so cavalierly, I have little doubt this court would intervene,” Thomas wrote. “But as evidenced by our continued inaction in this area, the Second Amendment is a disfavored right in this court.”

The Supreme Court has not taken up a major firearms case since issuing important gun rulings in 2008 and 2010.

The United States has among the most lenient gun control laws in the world. With the U.S. Congress deeply divided over gun control, it has fallen to states and localities to impose firearms restrictions. Democratic-governed California has some of the broadest firearms measures of any state.

A series of mass shootings including one in which a gunman killed 17 people at a Parkland, Florida high school on Feb. 14 have added to the long-simmering U.S. debate over gun control and the availability of firearms.

In another gun case, the high court on Tuesday also declined to take up a National Rifle Association challenge to California’s refusal to lower its fees on firearms sales and instead use a surplus generated by the fees to fund efforts to track down illegal weapons.

Thomas said he suspected that the Supreme Court would readily hear cases involving potentially unconstitutional waiting periods if they involved abortion, racist publications or police traffic stops.

“The right to keep and bear arms is apparently this court’s constitutional orphan. And the lower courts seem to have gotten the message,” Thomas added.

Lead plaintiff Jeff Silvester, the Calguns Foundation and its executive director Brandon Combs, and the Second Amendment Foundation in 2011 challenged the 10-day waiting period between the purchase of a firearm and its actual delivery to the buyer, saying it violated the Second Amendment for individuals who already lawfully own a firearm or are licensed to carry one.

The waiting period gives a gun buyer inclined to use it for an impulsive purpose a “cooling off” period before obtaining it, which has been shown in studies to reduce handgun suicides and homicides, the state said in a legal filing. The waiting period also gives officials time to run background checks and ensure that weapons being sold are not stolen or being purchased for someone prohibited from gun ownership, the state said.

The states of California, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Illinois, Minnesota, Florida, Iowa, Maryland and New Jersey as well as Washington, D.C., have waiting periods that vary in duration and type of firearm, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence gun control advocacy group.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld California’s law in 2016, reversing a federal trial court that had ruled it unconstitutional.

Last year, the Supreme Court left in place a California law that bars permits to carry a concealed gun in public places unless the applicant can show “good cause” for having it.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

Windy rainstorm whips U.S. Northeast, cutting power to hundreds of thousands

Storm Summary has been initialized for the deep low pressure system which is bringing damaging winds, heavy rain across the Northeast, even some snow over West Virginia.

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Fierce winds and heavy rain downed trees and knocked out power across the U.S. Northeast, halting trains during the Monday morning commute and leaving neighborhoods from Boston to Washington in the dark.

Wind gusts of 82 miles (131.97 km) per hour were reported on Massachusetts’ Cape Cod, while steady rain from Sunday into Monday dumped up to 4 inches (10.16 cm) of water across New England, said National Weather Service meteorologist Marc Chenard.

“There has been quite a bit of wind, and when the ground gets wet like this, trees fall,” Chenard said.

Amtrak train service between Boston and New Haven, Connecticut, was suspended early on Monday as crews scrambled to clear branches and restore power, authorities said.

Connecticut commuters piled onto buses or sought alternative routes after Metro-North Railroad suspended service on its New Canaan line and on its Danbury line, which it said on Twitter was hampered by a mudslide and related signal problems.

More than 800,000 homes and businesses lost electricity overnight throughout the Northeast, including about 300,000 customers in Massachusetts, 270,000 in New Hampshire, 142,000 in Rhode Island, 30,000 on New York’s Long Island, 56,000 in Maine and 35,000 in Vermont, according to local media.

Early on Monday, traffic lights in parts of Washington remained dark due to power outages.

The storm hit the East Coast on the fifth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. That late-season hurricane killed at least 159 people in New York, New Jersey and other parts of the East Coast on Oct. 29, 2012, and damaged or destroyed more than 650,000 homes.

The National Weather Service said the heaviest rains and winds ended late on Monday morning, but lighter precipitation and some gusts would persist throughout the day.

“The biggest potential now is for more trees to come down and for minor-to-moderate river flooding in eastern New York and much of New England today into tomorrow,” Chenard said.

It was not immediately known how long it would be until power is fully restored.

 

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

 

Rhode Island doctor pleads guilty to opioid kickback scheme related to Insys

FILE PHOTO: A box of the Fentanyl-based drug Subsys, made by Insys Therapeutics Inc, is seen in an undated photograph provided by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Alabama. U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Alabama/Handout via REUTERS

By Nate Raymond

BOSTON (Reuters) – A Rhode Island doctor pleaded guilty on Wednesday to charges he participated in a scheme to obtain kickbacks in exchange for writing prescriptions for an addictive fentanyl-based cancer pain drug produced by Insys Therapeutics Inc.

The plea by Jerrold Rosenberg came amid ongoing investigations of Insys related to Subsys, an under-the-tongue spray that contains fentanyl, a synthetic opioid.

Rosenberg, 63, pleaded guilty in federal court in Providence, Rhode Island, to charges that he committed healthcare fraud and conspired to receive kickbacks to prescribe Subsys.

Prosecutors said that from 2012 to 2015, Rosenberg schemed to receive $188,000 in kickbacks in the form of speaker fees from Insys, which were a major factor in his decision to prescribe Subsys to patients.

He also fraudulently indicated that his patients suffered from cancer pain when they did not in order to secure insurance approvals for Subsys, prosecutors said.

Under a plea agreement, Rosenberg agreed to pay $754,736 in restitution to healthcare benefit programs. He faces a maximum prison sentence of 15 years and is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 16.

Rosenberg’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment. Chandler, Arizona-based Insys in a statement said it has “taken necessary and appropriate steps to prevent past mistakes from happening in the future.”

The investigations into Insys have come during a national epidemic of opioid abuse. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids were involved in more than 33,000 deaths in 2015. The death rate has continued to rise, according to estimates.

In December, federal prosecutors in Boston charged six former Insys executives and managers, including ex-Chief Executive Michael Babich, with engaging in a scheme to bribe doctors to prescribe Subsys and defraud insurers.

All six have pleaded not guilty. Federal charges have also been filed in several other states against other ex-Insys employees and medical practitioners who prescribed Subsys.

Insys has been in settlement talks with the U.S. Justice Department. It said on Wednesday it is working “with relevant authorities to resolve issues related to the misdeeds of former employees.”

Insys also faces lawsuits by attorneys general in Arizona and New Jersey. It previously paid $9.45 million to resolve investigations by attorneys general in Oregon, New Hampshire, Illinois and Massachusetts.

The case is U.S. v. Rosenberg, U.S. District Court, District of Rhode Island, No. 17-cr-00009.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

New York congregation owns oldest U.S. synagogue, court rules

By Chris Kenning

(Reuters) – A federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled that a New York Jewish congregation is the rightful owner of the nation’s oldest synagogue, in Rhode Island, along with a set of bells worth millions.

The decision by the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston marks the latest turn in a long-running legal battle that began when members of the Touro Synagogue in Newport tried to sell a set of ritual bells, called rimonim, worth some $7.4 million.

New York’s Congregation Shearith Israel attempted to block the deal, citing an 18th century agreement that named it a trustee.

A lower court last year placed ownership of the synagogue with the Rhode Island congregation that worships there, Newport’s Congregation Jeshuat Israel. The appeals court reversed that decision citing previous agreements.

“We hold that the only reasonable conclusions to be drawn from them are that CSI (Congregation Shearith Israel) owns both the rimonim and the real property,” the ruling said.

Louis Solomon, an attorney for Shearith Israel, said in a statement he was gratified by the ruling.

“We will continue in our historic role and look forward to putting this unfortunate litigation behind us,” he said.

Gary Naftalis, a lawyer for the Rhode Island congregation, said he was disappointed by the ruling and was exploring legal options.

The historic building was consecrated in 1763, when the town had one of the largest Jewish populations in the American colonies, including many who had fled the Spanish Inquisition. It was vacated in 1776 when most of the city’s Jewish population fled at the start of the Revolutionary War.

Members of the synagogue at that time shipped a pair of valuable silver bells used in rituals to the New York synagogue, and asked its leaders to act as trustees for the vacant temple. Worshippers returned by the 1870s and the New York group’s influence waned.

Shearith sued Newport’s Congregation Jeshuat Israel when it learned the Rhode Island group had reached a deal to sell the bells to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. The Touro congregation had planned to use the funds to create a reserve to pay for maintenance of the building, after its finances were hard hit by the 2008 credit crisis.

The New York congregation also claimed ownership of the bells and charged that the Newport group was violating Jewish tradition by selling ritual objects.

(Reporting by Chris Kenning; Editing by Dan Whitcomb, Cynthia Osterman and Michael Perry)

Christian Teachers Sue To Have Good Friday Off

The school district in Cranston, Rhode Island says that Good Friday is not a religious holiday and therefore teachers who are Christians cannot use one of their two designated personal days for religious events.

The teachers are saying that’s violating their rights.

The close to 200 teachers are suing the school district, saying that they should have the right to take the day and attend services at their local churches.  The school’s superintendent, Judith Lundsten, said that the contracts of the teachers specify they may take the holiday only if they are required to attend services and that Good Friday “has no required services.”

The teachers say the actions of the Superintendent violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

This year marks the first time in decades that Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah and Good Friday are not holidays in the school calendar.  The school committee voted to eliminate those holidays in June.

It has been a long, difficult winter for our parents, students and staff. We have already accumulated six additional days to our school year,” said Janice Ruggierei, chairperson of the Cranston School Committee.

“We should be focusing on finishing the school year by meeting our students’ academic calendar requirements.”

Least Bible Minded Cities Named

For the third straight year, Providence, Rhode Island and New Bedford, Massachusetts are the least Bible minded cities in the United States.

The opposite end of the survey named Birmingham, Alabama as the most Biblically minded city in the U.S.

The survey’s condition to be “Bible minded” was to have respondents state they had read the Bible in the last seven days and that they have a strong belief in the Bible’s accuracy.  Only 27 percent of the population nationwide has been considered Bible minded.

“This study provides us with a great starting point to understand where people are interacting with Scripture and what their views are of the Bible,” said Andrew Hood, managing director of communications at American Bible Society. “We want to help people continue to grow their engagement with the Bible. Ultimately, we want people to know that, whether they live in one of the most or least Bible-minded cities, the Bible can speak to their needs and challenges and help them make sense of life.”

The ten most Bible minded cities (in order):  Birmingham, AL; Chattanooga, TN; Tri-Cities, TN; Roanoke/Lynchburg, VA; Shreveport, LA; Springfield, MO; Jackson, MS; Charlotte, NC; Greenville/Spartanburg, SC; Little Rock, AR.

New York City made the list of least Bible minded cities for the first time at #91.  The rest of the bottom 10:  Phoenix, AZ; Buffalo, NY; Hartford/New Haven, CT; Las Vegas, NV; Cedar Rapids, IA; San Francisco, CA; Boston, MA; Albany, NY and Providence.

NOAA Confirms Tsunami On U.S. East Coast

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has issued a statement confirming a tsunami struck the East Coast of the United States on June 13.

More than 30 tide gauges along the East Coast plus Bermuda and Puerto Rico reported tsunami incidents. The highest peak of the waves were recorded in Newport, Rhode Island where the ocean rose one foot over sea level. Continue reading