Explainer: ‘Dueling electors’ pose risk of U.S. vote deadlock

By Tom Hals

(Reuters) – In the United States, a candidate becomes president by securing the most “electoral” votes rather than winning a majority of the national popular vote. Known as the Electoral College, the system allots electors to the 50 states and the District of Columbia largely based on their population.

It is theoretically possible for the governor and legislature, each representing a different political party, to submit two different election results, leading to so-called “dueling slates of electors.”

Below are details of how that might play out.

What are electors?

The U.S. president is selected by 538 electors, known as the Electoral College, with electors apportioned based on each state’s population. The popular vote in each state typically determines which candidate receives a state’s electoral votes.

The U.S. Constitution and the 1887 Electoral Count Act govern the counting of electoral votes and any related disputes. The electors will meet on Dec. 14 to cast votes, which are then counted by Congress on Jan. 6 in a process overseen by Vice President Mike Pence in his role as Senate president.

What are dueling electors?

States with close contests between Republican President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden could produce competing slates of electors, one certified by the governor and the other by the legislature.

The risk of this happening is heightened in the battleground states of Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which have Democratic governors and Republican-controlled legislatures.

Some election law experts are concerned that an unprecedented volume of mailed-in votes and legal challenges will delay the outcome of the election for weeks, creating an extended period of uncertainty.

Trump has repeatedly said the election is rigged and made unfounded attacks on mail-in voting, which tends to favor Democrats.

If early returns show a Trump lead, experts say the president could press Republican-controlled legislatures to appoint electors favorable to him, claiming the initial vote count reflects the true outcome.

Governors in those same states could end up backing a separate slate of electors pledged to Biden if the final count showed the Democratic candidate had won.

Both sets of electors would meet and vote on Dec. 14 and the competing results would be sent to Congress.

Which set of electors would prevail?

Both chambers of Congress could accept the same slate of electors, which would almost certainly put the matter to rest.

The chambers could also split, which is more likely if the Republicans retain control of the Senate and Democrats hold onto their House majority.

If lawmakers cannot agree on a set of electors, the country will find itself in uncharted territory.

The Electoral Count Act, often described by academics as “unintelligible,” seems to favor the slate of electors certified by the state’s governor, according to Ned Foley, a professor at Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

But Foley notes that some scholars and an analysis by the Congressional Research Service have rejected that conclusion.

Academics have sketched out several scenarios. Under one, Pence as president of the Senate could throw out both sets of a state’s electors. Another contemplates that the House of Representatives would end up choosing between Biden and Trump. There is even a scenario in which the Speaker of the House, currently Democrat Nancy Pelosi, could become acting president.

Would the U.S. Supreme Court get involved?

The Supreme Court may be called upon to interpret the Electoral College Act to break any deadlock.

A Supreme Court ruling helped resolve the 2000 election in favor of George Bush over Al Gore, but that case was about a recount in Florida and the decision was reached before electors met to cast their votes.

“I think there will be legal challenges,” said Jessica Levinson, director of Loyola Law School’s Public Service Institute. “But I could see a court saying this would really be better left up to Congress.”

Has this happened before?

In 1876, dueling electors in three states were deadlocked until a deal was brokered days before Inauguration Day.

The dispute was resolved after Republican Rutherford B. Hayes became president in exchange for withdrawing U.S. troops left over from the Civil War from Southern states.

“I hope it’s a very low probability event but 1876 is a reminder that it is not zero and we have come very close to falling over that cliff in our history,” Foley said.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Aurora Ellis)

U.S. coronavirus cases surpass eight million as infections spike nationwide

By Anurag Maan and Shaina Ahluwalia

(Reuters) – U.S. cases of the novel coronavirus crossed 8 million on Thursday, rising by 1 million in less than a month, as another surge in cases hits the nation at the onset of cooler weather.

Since the pandemic started, over 217,000 people have died in the United States.

The United States reported 60,000 new infections on Wednesday, the highest since Aug. 14, with rising cases in every region, especially the Midwest.

Health experts have long warned that colder temperatures driving people inside could promote the spread of the virus. They have not pinpointed the reason for the rise but point to fatigue with COVID-19 precautions and students returning to schools and colleges.

According to a Reuters analysis, 25 states have so far set records for increases in new cases in October.

All Midwest and Northeast states have reported more cases in the past four weeks than in the prior four weeks, with the number of new cases doubling in states like Wisconsin, South Dakota and New Hampshire.

In the Midwest, daily new cases hit a record on Wednesday with over 22,000 new infections. The positive test rate tops 30% in South Dakota and 20% in Idaho and Wisconsin.

Ten states on Thursday reported record increases in new cases, including Wisconsin with 4,000 new cases. “Our numbers are high and they’re growing rapidly,” state Health Secretary-Designate Andrea Palm told a news conference.

“We have now surpassed 1,000 COVID-19 patients who are in the hospital. In some regions of our state, our ICU beds are 90% or more full. Over the course of the past six weeks, our average daily deaths have more than tripled,” Palm added.

California remains the state with the most total cases followed by Texas, Florida, New York and Georgia. Those five states account for over 40% of all reported COVID-19 cases in the nation.

With both cases and positive test rates rising in recent weeks, New York City has closed businesses and schools in neighborhood hot spots despite protests from a small contingent of Orthodox Jews.

In addition to rising cases, hospitals in several states are straining to handle an influx of patients.

In the Midwest, COVID-19 hospitalizations hit a record high for a tenth day in a row on Wednesday. Nationally, the United States reported nearly 37,000 hospitalizations, the highest since Aug. 28.

Wisconsin, which reported record hospitalization on Wednesday, has opened a field hospital outside of Milwaukee to handle COVID-19 patients.

(Reporting by Anurag Maan, Shaina Ahluwalia and Chaithra J in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

New U.S. COVID-19 cases rise 11% last week, Midwest hard hit

(Reuters) – The number of new COVID-19 cases rose 11% in the United States last week compared to the previous seven days, with infections spreading rapidly in the Midwest, which reported some of the highest positive test rates, according to a Reuters analysis.

Deaths fell 3% to about 4,800 people for the week ended Oct. 11, according to the analysis of state and county reports. Since the pandemic started, nearly 215,000 people have died in the United States and over 7.7 million have become infected with the novel coronavirus.

Twenty-nine out of 50 states have seen cases rise for at least two weeks in a row, up from 21 states in the prior week. They include the entire Midwest except Illinois and Missouri, as well as new hot spots in the Northeast, South and West.

In Idaho, 23.5% of more than 17,000 tests came back positive for COVID-19 last week, the highest positive test rate in the country, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer-run effort to track the outbreak. South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin also reported positive test rates above 20% last week.

For a third week in a row, testing set a record high in the country, with on average 976,000 tests conducted each day last week. The percentage of tests that came back positive for the virus rose to 5.0% from 4.6% the prior week.

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

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

Cellphones in hand, ‘Army for Trump’ readies poll watching operation

By Jarrett Renshaw and Joseph Tanfani

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) – Republicans are mobilizing thousands of volunteers to watch early voting sites and ballot drop boxes leading up to November’s election, part of an effort to find evidence to back up President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated complaints about widespread voter fraud.

Across key battleground states such as Pennsylvania, Florida and Wisconsin, Republican poll watchers will be searching for irregularities, especially with regard to mail-in ballots whose use is surging amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to more than 20 officials involved in the effort. They declined to say how many volunteers have signed up so far; the campaign earlier this year said its goal was to recruit 50,000 monitors nationwide.

The mission, the officials said, is to capture photos and videos Republicans can use to support so-far unfounded claims that mail voting is riddled with chicanery, and to help their case if legal disputes erupt over the results of the Nov. 3 contest between Republican incumbent Trump and his Democratic opponent Joe Biden.

The campaign is already posting material of activity it claims is suspicious, including video of a Trump campaign observer being turned away from an early voting site in Philadelphia last month. The city says monitors are welcome in polling stations on Election Day but are not permitted in early voting facilities.

Some voting-rights activists are concerned such encounters could escalate in a tense year that has seen armed militias face off against protestors in the nation’s streets.

Poll watching by partisan observers is a normal feature in U.S. elections that dates back to the 18th century and is subject to various state laws and local rules.

Still, this year’s operation by the Trump campaign is highly unusual, voting rights advocates say, both in its focus on early voting and in its emphasis on finding evidence to support baseless assertions by the president and his supporters that Democrats plan to flood the system with phony mail ballots to steal the election.

In a recruitment video posted on Twitter in September seeking volunteers for this “Army for Trump,” the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., made the unfounded claim that Democrats plan to “add millions of fraudulent ballots” to rig the results. Trump repeatedly has refused to commit to accepting the outcome of November’s election. During the Sept. 29 presidential debate, he exhorted his supporters to “go into the polls and watch very carefully.”

Mail ballot requests are tilting heavily to Democrats in battleground states, which likely means Biden will be in the lead before in-person voting begins on Election Day.

In Florida, where Republicans have historically relied on mail ballots, nearly 2.5 million Democrats have requested them, compared with about 1.7 million Republicans. In Pennsylvania, more than 1.5 million Democrats have requested a mail-in ballot, nearly triple the requests from Republicans.

Republicans said they plan to monitor every step of mail voting, including setting up cameras to show people dropping off multiple ballots at drop boxes. Some states permit third-parties to drop off ballots, but the practice is banned in others, including Pennsylvania.

Pat Dion, head of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania’s Bucks County, a politically divided suburb near Philadelphia, predicted the process could get messy.

“There’s going to be lots of watchers, lots of cameras and lots of attorneys all across the country. It’s going to be chaotic,” said Dion, who said he nevertheless supports the effort.

Democrats and voting-rights advocates say Trump is trying to suppress the vote, not protect it.

“It’s an attempt to scare eligible Americans into thinking they are in danger if they go to vote,” said Myrna Perez, voting rights and elections director for the Brennan Center, a nonpartisan voting rights group.

Democrats say Trump’s team is also laying the groundwork for a challenge to mail ballots in the event he loses, possibly throwing the election to Congress or the courts to decide the outcome.

Trump campaign spokeswoman Thea McDonald said in a statement that “President Trump’s volunteer poll watchers will be trained to ensure all rules are applied equally. And if fouls are called, the Trump Campaign will go to court to enforce the laws.”

‘MAKE OUR REPUBLICAN PRESENCE KNOWN’

This is the first presidential election in nearly four decades that the Republican National Committee has been free to sponsor such “ballot security” operations without permission from a federal court. A 1982 consent decree restricted these activities after the party sent teams of gun-toting men to minority neighborhoods during a New Jersey election wearing uniforms saying “Ballot Security Task Force.”

That consent decree expired in 2018 and a federal judge declined Democratic attempts to renew it.

In Wisconsin, a state Trump won by less than a percentage point in 2016, volunteers will be posted in heavily Democratic counties around Milwaukee, Republican state party chairman Andrew Hitt told Reuters.

Pennsylvania, too, is shaping up to be a hotbed of activity. Trump won it by just over 44,000 votes in 2016. He has almost no path to securing a second term if he doesn’t win its 20 Electoral College votes again in November.

In Montgomery County, a formerly Republican bastion outside Philadelphia that is now reliably Democratic, the Republican Party is holding several virtual training sessions over the next two weeks for some 50 volunteers to monitor 11 proposed ballot drop boxes there, according to an email sent by the party to supporters and seen by Reuters. “It is critical that we make our Republican presence known, so voters know they cannot get away with fraud,” the email reads.

On the western side of the state near Pittsburgh, Trump supporter Bob Howard has volunteered to watch election offices where voters will be dropping off absentee ballots.

“We…need to make sure that all the rules are being followed, so people can trust the results,” the 70-year-old retiree said.

Democrats, meanwhile, are launching their own voter-protection efforts. But theirs is a more traditional approach that includes registered poll watchers and an army of attorneys.

In Pennsylvania, Biden’s campaign said it has launched the biggest such Democratic program there in history, with more than a thousand lawyers and volunteers. It would not provide details on whether its monitors will be deployed at drop boxes and other early voting locations alongside their Republican rivals.

LAWSUITS MULTIPLYING

Election experts said the explosion of mail balloting is testing voting laws designed around in-person balloting. There is no rule book for monitors that try to enter early polling sites or challenge voters trying to drop off their ballots, said Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin & Marshall college in Pennsylvania.

“It all comes down to county election officials, and what they agree can happen. All of this seems headed to a major court battle,” Madonna said.

Confrontations have already emerged in Philadelphia, home to about 20% of Pennsylvania’s registered Democrats.

Election administrators there defended their decision to turn away the Trump campaign operative who filmed himself attempting to enter an early voting site on Sept. 29.

“To be clear: the satellite offices are not polling places and the Pennsylvania Election Code does not create a right for campaign representatives to ‘watch’ at these locations,” Andrew Richman, chief of staff to the city solicitor, said in a statement.

The Trump campaign quickly filed a lawsuit seeking access for poll observers in early voting sites. That suit is pending.

In Northampton County in northeastern Pennsylvania, meanwhile, the Republican Party tried to get sheriff’s officers assigned to drop boxes to request identification from voters dropping off ballots, according to Frank DeVito, a Republican member of the Board of Elections.

Pennsylvania law does not require voters to show an ID to vote. The Democratic-controlled board of elections denied that request.

Undeterred, DeVito said volunteers will be watching those boxes closely.

“We are telling them to take a folding chair, take video, take photos,” he said.

(Jarrett Renshaw reported from Pennsylvania and Joe Tanfani reported from New Jersey. Editing by Soyoung Kim and Marla Dickerson)

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)

In battleground Wisconsin, some Latinos feel ignored by Biden

By Tim Reid and Dan Simmons

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) – Cesar Hernandez says he has made thousands of phone calls since June urging Latinos in the battleground state of Wisconsin to support Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

It’s a tough sell, admits Hernandez, especially where he lives on the South Side of Milwaukee, the heart of Wisconsin’s Latino community. He said Biden’s Spanish-language ads on Hulu and Facebook aren’t connecting with the neighborhood’s voters, many of whom would prefer a more personal touch.

“Latinos have seen almost nothing from Biden here,” said Hernandez, 25, who works for the Progressive Turnout Project, a national group working to mobilize Democratic voters. “There is very little enthusiasm for him.”

As the race to the Nov. 3 election enters the home stretch, appeals to Latino voters have taken on new urgency for Biden and incumbent Republican President Donald Trump. Both campaigns are pouring resources into the battleground states of Florida and Arizona, as well as increasingly competitive Nevada, whose large Latino populations could determine the outcome in those states.

Even in Wisconsin, where 87% of the population is white, the state’s 230,000 eligible Latino voters could prove critical. Trump won the state by just 22,000 votes in 2016.

A string of recent polls show Biden ahead in Wisconsin. The polling aggregation website RealClearPolitics has Biden leading Trump by an average of 5.5 percentage points from six polls conducted in September.

Trump has visited the state five times this year. His campaign has opened an office on Milwaukee’s South Side, where authentic taco outlets jostle with bilingual tax preparers and a Puerto Rican barber shop. The windows of the campaign storefront are plastered with Trump signs and its shelves bear merchandise such as “Latinos for Trump” hats.

The Biden campaign said in statements to Reuters that its outreach efforts to Latinos in Wisconsin and nationally were unprecedented in scale.

It said it had a full-time Latino outreach director in Wisconsin and dozens of staff organizing in predominantly Latino communities. It is running Spanish-language phone and text banks and has ads on multiple platforms, including Spanish-language radio and Spanish-language mailers. Dozens of virtual roundtables, rallies and other events targeting the Latino community have been held, the Biden campaign said.

“The campaign has communicated with tens of thousands of Latino voters about the clear choice in this year’s election,” said Jen Molina, Biden’s national Latino media director.

But Reuters interviews with 30 Latino residents and activists on Milwaukee’s South Side suggest those efforts may be falling short, reflecting what some call an “enthusiasm gap” for Biden among Latinos nationwide that has been noted by pollsters and analysts.

Several residents interviewed said the only contact they’ve had with the Biden campaign are phone texts in English soliciting donations. Fifteen of 24 Latino voters interviewed said they would vote for Biden, albeit with little fervor. Some said he was too old and seemed more focused on Black voters and their concerns about social justice.

“It’s like he’s not listening to us,” Hernandez said, adding that many feel Biden is taking them for granted. “We’re not being heard.”

Others blamed the novel coronavirus pandemic. With cases surging in Wisconsin, Biden’s team has stuck to a mostly virtual campaign; plans for a campaign office in Milwaukee’s South Side were scrapped, said Darryl Morin, a Biden campaign volunteer focused on turning out Latino voters.

Trump’s Wisconsin team, meanwhile, has continued door-to-door campaigning and in-person outreach, a strategy that Morin said resonates with Latino voters.

“I completely get why people feel there has been a lack of presence” from Biden’s campaign, Morin said. “Sometimes it’s frustrating the degree we are having to limit the operations. Only one side is continuing to go out in person – the Trump campaign.”

BATTLEGROUND STATE WORRIES

Nationally, Biden leads Trump among registered voters who identify as Hispanics: 53% said they would back the Democrat, while 30% said they would vote for Trump, slightly more than backed the Republican in 2016, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling in September.

But Biden’s 23-point advantage is smaller than the 39-point lead Clinton had over Trump among Hispanic voters on Election Day four years ago.

If his campaign fails to make up that ground, it could prove “disastrous” for Biden in closely contested states with significant Latino populations, said Jaime Regalado, an expert on Latino voters at California State University in Los Angeles.

Trump’s anti-immigrant policies and harsh rhetoric about migrants are widely unpopular with Latinos. Yet polls show many trust him on the economy. In Florida, a must-win state for Trump, he has made inroads with conservative Cuban-Americans with the false claim that Biden and the Democrats are “socialists.” In battleground Arizona, Trump held a “Latinos for Trump” roundtable with voters in Phoenix last month.

The Biden campaign says its virtual events in Wisconsin focused on the Latino community have involved high-profile officials, including Michelle Lujan Grisham, the first Latina Democratic governor of New Mexico. Last month, a virtual bus tour with Democratic members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus held an event in Wisconsin.

Biden’s running mate, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, met last month with representatives of Voces de la Frontera, Wisconsin’s biggest immigrant-rights group, which has endorsed the Democratic ticket. Voces says it has staff and volunteers working across the state to register 23,000 new voters by Election Day.

SOUTH SIDE MICROCOSM

The South Side of Milwaukee is a microcosm of Biden’s broader struggles.

Jose Vasquez, 71, a community leader, said it didn’t matter how many text messages, virtual events or phone calls the Biden campaign said it has made.

“You can hand out a thousand fliers, but if you’re not knocking on a single door or talking face-to-face with a single person, you have little impact,” he said in an interview.

Vasquez, a retired school principal, said he wants to see more from Biden on issues Latinos care about, such as a visit to Puerto Rico, which still needs massive aid after a 2017 hurricane, or a trip to the southern border with Mexico to discuss immigration reform.

Democrats had planned to hold Biden’s nominating convention in Milwaukee this summer but were forced to host the four-day event virtually because of the pandemic.

SWITCHING TO TRUMP

A third of the two dozen Latino residents interviewed by Reuters in Milwaukee were enthusiastic Trump supporters.

Among them is Mayra Gomez, 41, a lifelong Democrat. The Puerto Rico native said she began looking at the president after receiving an unsolicited Facebook message from a conservative group urging Latinos to break away from the Democratic Party.

Gomez said she was attracted to Trump’s law-and-order message and his economic policies. She said she’ll vote for him in November, and is urging family and friends to do the same.

“Remember, Trump’s not a politician. He’s a businessman,” Gomez said. “What he says may sound funny, but he’s actually speaking the truth.”

The Biden campaign says it is ramping up efforts as the election nears.

On Sept. 26, Todos con Biden, a national coalition of Latino organizers and volunteers working to elect Biden, held its first outdoor event in Wisconsin. At a park on Milwaukee’s South Side, it handed out 500 campaign yard signs.

(Reporting by Tim Reid in Los Angeles and Dan Simmons in Milwaukee; Additional reporting by Chris Kahn in New York. Editing by Ross Colvin and Marla Dickerson)

Wisconsin faces COVID-19 crisis, positive test rates rise in New York hot spots

By Jonathan Allen and Lisa Shumaker

NEW YORK (Reuters) – COVID-19 trends are all moving in the wrong direction in Wisconsin, where U.S. President Donald Trump will hold rallies over the weekend, while the pandemic’s early U.S. epicenter of New York state reported an uptick of positive coronavirus tests in 20 “hot spots” on Thursday.

New cases of COVID-19 rose in 27 out of 50 U.S. states in September compared with August, with an increase of 111% in Wisconsin, according to a Reuters analysis.

Wisconsin is also dealing with a troubling rise in serious COVID-19 cases that threaten to overwhelm hospitals.

“Our emergency department has had several instances in the past week where it was past capacity and needed to place patients in beds in the hallways,” Bellin Health, which runs a hospital in Green Bay, said in a statement. “Our ICU (intensive care unit) beds have also been full, or nearly full, during the past week.”

Health officials in the state said public gatherings have become even more dangerous than earlier in the pandemic, and Governor Tony Evers issued an emergency order easing licensing rules to increase the number of healthcare workers able to deal with the mounting crisis.

“We are seeing alarming trends here in Wisconsin, with today seeing our highest number of new cases in a single day, and yesterday seeing our highest death count,” Evers said in a statement.

Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer at the Wisconsin department of Health Services, said the state’s outbreak started in younger people and has now spread throughout the community.

“Public gatherings of any kind are dangerous right now, more so than they have been at any time during this epidemic,” he told CNN on Thursday.

In New York, which grappled with the world’s most rampant outbreak earlier this the year, officials said they were worried about clusters of cases in 20 ZIP code areas across the state, where the average rate of positive tests rose to 6.5% from 5.5% the day before.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy encouraged residents to download onto their smartphones a new voluntary contact-tracing app, COVID Alert, they launched on Thursday. The app uses Bluetooth technology to alert users if they have recently been near someone who later tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Many of New York’s 20 hot spots – half of which are in New York City – include Orthodox Jewish communities. Cuomo said he talked to community leaders about enforcing social distancing measures.

“A cluster today can become community spread tomorrow,” Cuomo said on a briefing call with reporters. “These ZIP codes are not hermetically sealed.”

He implored local authorities to increase enforcement measures. “If they’re not wearing masks, they should be fined,” Cuomo said.

Wisconsin health officials are urging residents to stay home and avoid large gatherings ahead of Trump’s weekend rallies in La Crosse and Green Bay in the run up to the Nov. 3 election.

An indoor Trump rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in July likely contributed to a subsequent rise in cases there, city health officials said.

“This spike we’re seeing in Brown County, Wisconsin should be a wakeup call to anyone who lives here that our community is facing a crisis,” Dr. Paul Casey, medical director of the emergency department at Bellin Hospital, told CNN.

Cases, hospitalizations, positive test rates and deaths are all climbing in Wisconsin, according to a Reuters analysis.

Over the past week, 21% of coronavirus tests on average came back positive and have steadily risen for five weeks in a row from 8% in late August.

The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has doubled in the last two weeks hitting a record of 646 on Wednesday, the same day Wisconsin reported its biggest one-day increase in deaths since the pandemic started with 27 lives lost.

Beyond the Midwest, western states were also facing spikes in coronavirus cases. Montana on Friday reported a record increase in cases for the second day in a row and had a record number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen and Maria Caspani in New York and Lisa Shumaker in Chicago; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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)

U.S. Midwest sees surge in COVID-19 cases as four states report record increases

By Anurag Maan and Lisa Shumaker

(Reuters) – Four U.S. states in the Midwest reported record one-day increases in COVID-19 cases on Saturday as infections rise nationally for a second week in a row, according to a Reuters analysis.

Minnesota reported 1,418 new cases, Montana 343 new cases, South Dakota reported 579 and Wisconsin had 2,902 new cases.

In the last week, seven mostly Midwest states have reported record one-day rises in new infections — Minnesota, Montana, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Minnesota and Utah reported record increases two days in a row.

The United States recorded 58,461 new cases on Friday, the highest one-day increase since Aug. 7. The United States is reporting nearly 46,000 new infections on average each day, compared with 40,000 a week ago and 35,000 two weeks ago.

All Midwest states except Ohio reported more cases in the past four weeks as compared with the prior four weeks, according to a Reuters analysis.

Some of the new cases are likely related to an increase in the number of tests performed. In the last week, the country has performed over 1 million coronavirus tests three out of seven days — a new record, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer-run effort to track the outbreak.

However, hospitalizations have also surged in the Midwest and are not influenced by the number of tests performed.

Wisconsin’s hospitalizations have set new records for six days in a row, rising to 543 on Friday from 342 a week ago. South Dakota’s hospitalizations set records five times this week, rising to 213 on Saturday from 153 last week.

“Wisconsin is now experiencing unprecedented, near-exponential growth of the number of COVID-19 cases in our state,” Governor Tony Evers said in a video posted on social media.

Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wyoming have also seen record numbers of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the past week.

Cases have also begun rising again in the Northeast, including the early epicenters of New York and New Jersey.

In New York, more than 1,000 people tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday for the first time since June 5, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Saturday.

The United States recently surpassed 200,000 lives lost from the coronavirus, the highest death toll in the world.

(Reporting by Anurag Maan in Bengaluru and Lisa Shumaker in Chicago; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

Teenager charged with killing two in Kenosha to fight extradition, lawyer says

By Nathan Layne

(Reuters) – Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager charged with killing two protesters and injuring another during demonstrations about race and justice in Kenosha, Wisconsin, will fight his requested extradition from Illinois, his lawyer told a court hearing on Friday.

Rittenhouse, 17, has been charged by Kenosha County’s district attorney with six crimes for shooting three people who tried to subdue or disarm him during protests on Aug. 25, killing 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, 26.

Rittenhouse participated in the hearing at the Lake County Circuit Court in Illinois via video link from the detention facility where he is being held. He was wearing a black sweatshirt and a gray mask covered his face.

“Good morning, your honor,” he addressed the judge in his only remarks in the hearing, which lasted just a few minutes.

John Pierce, one of Rittenhouse’s lawyers, said he planned to fight the request by Kenosha prosecutors that he be transferred to Wisconsin to face the charges.

“We intend to challenge extradition by writ of habeas corpus,” Pierce said. “And so we would ask that the procedures be put in place whereby extradition documents are in fact sent from Wisconsin so we can review them.”

The teenager had traveled to Kenosha on Aug. 25 from his home in nearby Antioch, Illinois, in a self-appointed role to protect the streets of Kenosha where the police shooting of Jacob Blake had sparked unrest during protests against police brutality and racism.

Rittenhouse’s legal team have said that he feared for his life when he fired his semi-automatic rifle and was acting in self-defense. Cellphone videos from the night show chaotic scenes, including one where Rittenhouse is chased and falls down before his encounter with Huber and another man, Gaige Grosskreutz.

Huber appeared to hit Rittenhouse in the shoulder with a skateboard and tried to grab his rifle before being shot, according to the criminal complaint. Rittenhouse then pointed the rifle at Grosskreutz, who had a hand gun. Grosskreutz was shot but survived.

Rittenhouse’s lawyers have also sought to portray the case as a referendum on the right to bear arms following a summer of sometimes violent protests in major U.S. cities.

“A 17-year-old American citizen is being sacrificed by politicians, but it’s not Kyle Rittenhouse they are after,” the narrator says in a video released this week by a group tied to his legal team. “Their end game is to strip away the constitutional right of all citizens to defend our communities.”

(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Leslie Adler and Alistair Bell)