AP News in Brief at 12:04 a.m. EST News Staff

Calls grow for US to rely on rapid tests to fight pandemic

WASHINGTON (AP) — When a Halloween party sparked a COVID-19 outbreak at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, school officials conducted rapid screening on more than 1,000 students in a week, including many who didn’t have symptoms.

Although such asymptomatic screening isn’t approved by regulators and the 15-minute tests aren’t as sensitive as the genetic one that can take days to yield results, the testing director at the historically Black college credits the approach with quickly containing the infections and allowing the campus to remain open.

“Within the span of a week, we had crushed the spread. If we had had to stick with the PCR test, we would have been dead in the water,” said Dr. Robert Doolittle, referring to the polymerase chain reaction test that is considered the gold standard by many doctors and Food and Drug Administration regulators.

With President Joe Biden vowing to get elementary and middle school students back to the classroom by spring and the country’s testing system still unable to keep pace with the spread of COVID-19, some experts see an opportunity to refocus U.S. testing less on medical precision than on mass screening that they believe could save hundreds of thousands of lives. As vaccines slowly roll out, they say the nation could suppress the outbreak and reopen much of the economy by easing regulatory hurdles to allow millions more rapid tests that, while technically less accurate, may actually be better at identifying sick people when they are most contagious.

“Our whole testing approach, which has failed, has tried to tackle this pandemic as though it’s a bunch of little medical problems,” said Dr. Michael Mina, a Harvard University testing specialist. “Instead, we need to take a big step back and say, ‘Wait, this isn’t a lot of medical problems, it’s an epidemic. And if we resolve the epidemic, we resolve the medical problems.’”

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Officials plead: Don’t let Super Bowl become superspreader

Kansas City Chiefs superfan Ty Rowton hugged strangers in the streets of Miami last year after watching his team win the Super Bowl and then joined hundreds of thousands of fans back home at a victory parade, thinking little of a mysterious virus that his buddies were beginning to talk about.

The championship seems like a lifetime ago. Now the Chiefs are preparing to play in the Super Bowl again, and the virus has morphed into a once-in-a-century pandemic that has health officials on edge as fans congregate at parties and bars for the game.

The nation’s top health officials sounded the alarm this week about the Super Bowl being a potential superspreader event, and they urged people to gather with friends over Zoom, not in crowds.

“I’m worried about Super Bowl Sunday, quite honestly. People gather, they watch games together. We’ve seen outbreaks already from football parties,” said Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “So I really do think that we need to watch this and be careful.”

The Super Bowl comes as the nation sees a dramatic drop in new virus cases — a sign that the infection spike from holiday gatherings is easing. The virus has killed more than 459,000 people in the U.S., but the seven-day rolling average for daily new cases went from 180,489 as of Jan. 22 to 125,854 as of Friday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

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As Trump prosecutor, delegate gets her say on impeachment

WASHINGTON (AP) — Stacey Plaskett couldn’t cast a vote last month when the House impeached former President Donald Trump. But she can help prosecute him.

The non-voting delegate from the Virgin Islands is among the impeachment managers selected by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to argue the case that Trump incited a deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. It’s an extraordinary moment that places Plaskett in the centre of just the fourth impeachment trial of an American president.

But there will also be a familiar dynamic when Plaskett walks into the Senate chamber, one that she’s experienced from elementary school through her legal career: being one of the only Black women in the room. Now that Kamala Harris has left the Senate to become vice-president, there are only three Black senators left, and they’re all men. The chamber remains overwhelmingly white despite growing diversity in the House.

Like most of the impeachment managers, Plaskett brings considerable legal experience to the case, including a stint in the Bronx District Attorney’s office and as a senior counsel at the Justice Department. She said being asked to join the team was an invigorating way to deal with the catastrophic events of Jan. 6, when she and her staff barricaded themselves in her office as the rioters descended on the Capitol.

“My method of handling things like this is to work,” Plaskett said, adding that receiving the unexpected call from Pelosi “really gave me a charge and something to do.”

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5 key questions for Trump’s Senate impeachment trial

WASHINGTON (AP) — Arguments begin Tuesday in the impeachment trial of Donald Trump on allegations that he incited the violent mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

A look at five key questions about what to expect when senators hear the case against the former president in the very chamber that was besieged by insurrectionists :

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WILL TRUMP BE CONVICTED?

It’s unlikely. While many Republicans were harshly critical of Trump for telling supporters to “fight like hell” and go to the Capitol, their criticism has since softened.

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California revises indoor church guidelines after ruling

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office on Saturday issued revised guidelines for indoor church services after the Supreme Court lifted the state’s ban on indoor worship during the coronavirus pandemic, but left in place restrictions on singing and chanting.

In the most significant legal victory against California’s COVID-19 health orders, the high court issued rulings late Friday in two cases where churches argued the restrictions violated their religious liberty. The justices said for now California can’t continue with a ban on indoor church services, but it can limit attendance to 25% of a building’s capacity and restrict singing and chanting inside.

The new state guidelines limit attendance at indoor services in areas with widespread or substantial virus spread to 25% of a building’s capacity. Indoor services in areas with moderate to minimum spread are limited to 50% capacity.

California had put the ban in place because the virus is more easily transmitted indoors and singing releases tiny droplets that can carry the disease.

Newsom’s office said those measures were imposed to protect worshippers from getting infected.

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Wyoming GOP censures Rep. Liz Cheney over impeachment vote

RAWLINS, Wyo. (AP) — The Wyoming Republican Party voted overwhelmingly Saturday to censure U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney for voting to impeach President Donald Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Only eight of the 74-member state GOP’s central committee stood to oppose censure in a vote that didn’t proceed to a formal count. The censure document accused Cheney of voting to impeach even though the U.S. House didn’t offer Trump “formal hearing or due process.”

“We need to honour President Trump. All President Trump did was call for a peaceful assembly and protest for a fair and audited election,” said Darin Smith, a Cheyenne attorney who lost to Cheney in the Republican U.S. House primary in 2016. “The Republican Party needs to put her on notice.”

Added Joey Correnti, GOP chairman in Carbon County where the censure vote was held: “Does the voice of the people matter and if it does, does it only matter at the ballot box?”

Cheney has said repeatedly she voted her conscience in backing impeachment for the riot, which followed a rally where Trump encouraged supporters to get rid of lawmakers who “aren’t any good, the Liz Cheneys of the world.”

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Thousands protest army takeover in Myanmar’s biggest city

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — About 2,000 protesters rallied against the military takeover in Myanmar’s biggest city on Sunday and demanded the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, whose elected government was toppled by the army that also imposed an internet blackout.

Protest crowds have grown bigger and bolder since Monday’s coup.

Labor union and student activists and members of the public chanted “Long live Mother Suu” and “Down with military dictatorship” at a major intersection near Yangon University.

Police in riot gear blocked the main entrance to the university. Two water cannon trucks were parked nearby.

The protesters held placards calling for freedom for Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, who were put under house arrest and charged with minor offences, seen by many as providing a legal veneer for their detention.

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Rodgers wins 3rd MVP, Donald gets 3rd top defensive player

A pair of Aarons pulled off an NFL hat trick Saturday night.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers earned his third Associated Press Most Valuable Player award, while Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald took his third top defensive player prize at NFL Honors.

Also taking home awards were two members of the Washington Football Team: quarterback Alex Smith was the Comeback Player of the Year in one of the most inspirational stories of 2020, and edge rusher Chase Young got the top defensive rookie.

Titans 2,000-yard rusher Derrick Henry won Offensive Player of the Year, and the offensive rookie honour went to Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert. Cleveland’s Kevin Stefanski was the Coach of the Year, and Buffalo offensive co-ordinator Brian Daboll earned assistant coach honours.

Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson won the Walter Payton Man of the Year award for his work in the community.

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Game changers: Manning, Woodson, Megatron headed to Hall

Though others have eclipsed him in some sections of the record book, Peyton Manning’s stamp on the NFL is very much a thing of 2021 and beyond.

Manning, the quarterback whose meticulous attention to detail helped turn the 21st-century gridiron into a chessboard on turf, was awarded his spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday in his first year of eligibility.

The son of Saints legend Archie and brother of two-time Super Bowl champion Eli will be joined later this year in Canton by another first-ballot lock, defensive back Charles Woodson, who beat out Manning for the Heisman Trophy in 1997, and then spent nearly two decades trying to stop him. Calvin Johnson — aka “Megatron” — was also a first-ballot selection, his mere nine years of playmaking excellence with the Lions more than enough to convince the panel.

Also making it were guard Alan Faneca, who made nine Pro Bowls and missed only one game over 13 seasons with the Steelers, Jets and Cardinals; and John Lynch, the hard-hitting safety who burnished his reputation in Tampa Bay, which plays Kansas City for the Super Bowl title Sunday.

Cowboys receiver Drew Pearson, Raiders coach Tom Flores and longtime Steelers scout Bill Nunn made it in the senior, coach and contributor categories, respectively.

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Former heavyweight champion Leon Spinks dies at 67

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Leon Spinks, who won Olympic gold and then shocked the boxing world by beating Muhammad Ali to win the heavyweight title in only his eighth pro fight, has died. He was 67.

Spinks, who lived his later years in Las Vegas, died Friday night, according to a release from a public relations firm. He had been battling prostate and other cancers.

His wife, Brenda Glur Spinks, and a few close friends and other family members were by his side when he passed away.

A lovable heavyweight with a drinking problem, Spinks beat Ali by decision in a 15-round fight in 1978 to win the title. He was unranked at the time, and picked as an opponent because Ali was looking for an easy fight.

He got anything but that, with an unorthodox Spinks swarming over Ali throughout the fight on his way to a stunning win by split decision. The two met seven months later at the Superdome in New Orleans, with Ali taking the decision this time before a record indoor boxing crowd of 72,000 and a national television audience estimated at 90 million people.

The Associated Press

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