Stocks fall, travel shares drop as Omicron concerns resurge


Stocks dropped on Tuesday as volatility resumed after a brief rebound earlier this week, with investors contemplating the impacts of a new coronavirus variant. 

The S&P 500, Dow and Nasdaq declined. The Dow, a proxy for cyclical stocks, underperformed against the other two major indexes, dropping more than 200 points, or nearly 0.8%, just after the opening bell Tuesday morning. U.S. crude oil prices (CL=F) dropped more than 2%. And shares of airlines, cruise lines and lodging companies considered to be some of the most exposed to virus-related disruptions each sank in early trading to reverse Monday’s gains. 

A host of less upbeat new commentary from major coronavirus vaccine-makers contributed to the selling pressure. Moderna (MRNA) CEO Stephane Bancel told the Financial Times that the company’s current COVID-19 vaccine would likely see a “material drop” in effectiveness against the Omicron variant, while noting more data was needed to see any extent of the decline. Separately, Pfizer’s (PFE) CEO Albert Bourla told CNBC he didn’t “think that the result will be the vaccines don’t protect,” but that “the result could be, which we don’t know yet, the vaccines protect less.” 

Both companies have already said they were collecting data on the Omicron variant and that more definitive information would be available in the coming weeks. Researchers have not yet determined whether the new variant is more easily transmitted, or responsible for more severe illness, than previous versions of the virus.

“Information is coming rapidly, it’s evolving in real-time. You can understand why investors [last week] were taking a little bit of a pause, particularly given the liquidity situation we had going into the U.S. holiday season,” Vivek Paul, BlackRock investment institution U.K. chief investment strategist, told Yahoo Finance Live on Monday. 

“We think on balance, it would make sense to be invested in the markets at this moment in time,” he added. “It’s all about understanding whether or not this is a delay, or a derailment, of the restart that we’ve seen. And it seems most likely at this moment — not withstanding more information to come— that it looks like a delay.”

The latest commentary on the variant at least momentarily overtook investors’ optimism over remarks Monday from the White House, when President Joe Biden said Omicron was “not a cause for panic.” Biden said he intended to announce the White House’s strategy for addressing coronavirus this winter later this week, and that this plan would not include lockdowns, but would instead emphasize vaccinations, boosters and testing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday updated its guidance to say all individuals aged 18 and older “should” get a booster coronavirus vaccine, strengthening this from previous language primarily aimed at getting those considered most at risk an additional dose of the shots. 

Prospects that widespread lockdowns would likely not come to the U.S. in the face of the latest variant helped fuel a broad risk-on rally on Monday. This came in sharp contrast with Friday’s moves immediately following the World Health Organization’s announcement of Omicron as a “variant of concern,” which sparked the Dow’s worst plunge since Oct. 2020. 

“This is not a repeat of March 2020,” Paul Schatz, Heritage Capital President, told Yahoo Finance Live on Monday. “This looks nothing like March of 2020, yet it’s so recent in our history, people immediately think, ‘Omicron is here, oh my gosh this is going to be a 30% decline, we’re going to go straight down’ … You need to equally weigh history, not weigh it based on how recent it was in your memory.”

Still, the sectors and individual stocks that outperformed on Monday were largely technology names, which have served as defensive trades throughout the pandemic as investors bet on more stay-in-place behavior among consumers. 

But at the same time, the emergence of the latest variant has also led a number of pundits to speculate that the Federal Reserve might take a more dovish approach to monetary policy to continue supporting the economy as it deals with ongoing virus-related concerns. That could in turn keep interest rates low for longer and support longer-duration growth stocks. 

“To take a step back, I think you had a global economy that in the fourth quarter [of 2020] through last week was looking incredibly strong … and then a new variant comes along,” Andrew Sheets, Morgan Stanley chief cross-assets strategist, told Yahoo Finance Live on Monday. “That would seem to work against a lot of the trades that work in that high-growth environment, and also seemed to disrupt this ‘do central banks need to act more aggressively’ narrative, because if there’s a new variant, then maybe we should be more cautious.”

10:04 a.m. ET: Consumer confidence misses estimates in November: Conference Board

Consumer confidence dropped by a greater-than-expected margin in November compared to October, according to the Conference Board’s closely watched monthly index Tuesday.

The headline confidence index dropped to 109.5 in November, the Conference Board said. This missed consensus expectations for a drop to just 110.9, according to Bloomberg data. October’s confidence index was also downwardly revised to 111.6, from the 113.8 previously reported.

The drop came as subindices tracking consumers’ assessments of both present situations and expectations deteriorated compared to October.

“Expectations about short-term growth prospects ticked up, but job and income prospects ticked down. Concerns about rising prices—and, to a lesser degree, the Delta variant—were the primary drivers of the slight decline in confidence,” Lynn Franco, senior director of economic indicators at the Conference Board, said in a statement. “Meanwhile, the proportion of consumers planning to purchase homes, automobiles, and major appliances over the next six months decreased.”

“The Conference Board expects this to be a good holiday season for retailers and confidence levels suggest the economic expansion will continue into early 2022. However, both confidence and spending will likely face headwinds from rising prices and a potential resurgence of COVID-19 in the coming months,” Franco added.

9:31 a.m. ET: Stocks open lower amid virus fears

Here’s where markets were trading just after the opening bell:

  • S&P 500 (^GSPC): -32.56 (-0.7%) to 4,622.71

  • Dow (^DJI): -275.17 (-0.78%) to 34,860.77

  • Nasdaq (^IXIC): -60.25 (-0.38%) to 15,723.28

  • Crude (CL=F): -$2.67 (-3.82%) to $67.28 a barrel

  • Gold (GC=F): +$11.20 (+0.63%) to $1,796.40 per ounce

  • 10-year Treasury (^TNX): -8.6 bps to yield 1.443%

9:07 a.m. ET: Home price growth slowed more than expected in the U.S. in September

U.S. home price growth cooled in September but still remained elevated by pre-pandemic standards, with low interest rates and rising rent costs still stoking home-purchase demand among buyers and pushing up prices. 

The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller national home price index rose by 19.5% in September over last year, ticking down from a 19.8% rise in August. The closely watched 20-City Composite index, which tracks home price changes across 20 major metropolitan areas in the U.S., rose by 19.1% year-on-year for September, also coming in below the 19.6 rise in August. And the 20-City Composite was also below analyst expectations for a 19.3% gain, according to Bloomberg consensus data. 

8:56 a.m. ET: Markets are ‘misreading Fed’s COVID reaction function’: Strategist

According to at least one market pundit, market participants are currently anticipating too much dovishness from the Federal Reserve in response to the latest concerns over the new Omicron variant. 

“I suspect that the rates market is misreading the Fed’s COVID reaction function,” Neil Dutta, head of economics at Renaissance Macro Research, wrote in a note Tuesday. “Since the pandemic, each COVID wave has had less of an impact of the economy. For example, during the COVID wave that peaked in January, there was a meaningful slowdown in restaurant traffic.”

“In the most recent wave, there wasn’t a slowdown. Moreover, during the spread of the Delta variant, the Fed ended up making a strong signal to commence tapering in November,” Dutta added. “Thus, I expect to see an unwind of these recent market moves and am skeptical that recent concerns over coronavirus will spill into deeper issues for the U.S. economy.”

7:41 a.m. ET Tuesday: Stock futures sink as Omicron concerns resurge

Here’s where markets were trading Tuesday morning: 

  • S&P 500 futures (ES=F): -34.5 points (-0.74%), to 4,616.50

  • Dow futures (YM=F): -306.00 points (-0.87%), to 34,177.00

  • Nasdaq futures (NQ=F): -64.50 points (-0.39%) to 16,326.25

  • Crude (CL=F): -$1.57 (-2.24%) to $68.38 a barrel

  • Gold (GC=F):+$7.70 (+0.43%) to $1,792.90 per ounce

  • 10-year Treasury (^TNX): -9.1 bps to yield 1.438%

6:15 p.m. ET Monday: Stock futures hold onto gains

Here were the main moves in markets as the overnight session kicked off: 

  • S&P 500 futures (ES=F): +9 points (+0.19%), to 4,660.00

  • Dow futures (YM=F): +78 points (+0.22%), to 35,155.00

  • Nasdaq futures (NQ=F): +29 points (+0.18%) to 16,419.75

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., November 29, 2021.  REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., November 29, 2021. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Emily McCormick is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter

http://finance.yahoo.com/





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Oil prices drop more than 10% as virus variant threatens blow to demand


Oil prices plunged more than 10 per cent on Friday as reports of a virulent new coronavirus variant sparked fears of more pandemic lockdowns and another blow to fuel demand, just as the US plans to release more supplies on to the market.

West Texas Intermediate, the American oil benchmark, dropped by 13 per cent to settle at $68.15 a barrel as US traders returned following the Thanksgiving holiday. The international benchmark Brent fell 12 per cent to settle at $72.72 a barrel.

Both of the oil markers had their biggest one-day declines since the WTI price briefly went negative in April 2020 at the height of the pandemic.

The falls in price came days after the White House, concerned about soaring petrol costs and widespread inflation, announced that it would release 50m barrels of crude from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve over the coming months — the biggest-ever drawdown of oil from the government stockpile — in conjunction with added contributions from five other countries.

The US announcement on Tuesday had little immediate effect on prices. But news of the B.1.1.529 Sars-Cov-2 variant, first identified in Botswana, has now overwhelmed sentiment.

Line chart of $ per barrel showing Steepest slide in oil prices since last year's sharp sell-off

“It obviously remains a wide-open question whether this new variant will truly pose a material threat to oil demand, with vaccination rates ratcheting steeply higher since the summer,” said Rory Johnston, managing director of Price Street, a research group. “But markets aren’t waiting to find out. Sell now, ask questions later.”

Last year’s lockdowns curtailed global demand by as much as 20 per cent during the worst phase. But the easing of restrictions, supply cuts by the Opec+ alliance of producing countries and heavy government stimulus spending has since sparked a recovery in oil prices, which have doubled since coronavirus vaccine breakthroughs were announced last November.

Other analysts said the sudden fall in oil prices could compel Opec+ to suspend planned supply additions — which have been unwinding the cuts made last year — when it meets next week.

The plunge in oil prices reflects “fear that the new variant will lead to widespread travel restrictions and lower oil demand”, said Neil Shearing of Capital Economics. “Opec are set to meet next week and these demand concerns could prompt them to delay or halt their planned gradual increase in supply.”

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Analysts at Opec+ have already forecast that the oil market will tip into surplus in the first months of 2022 — and the excess could swell by 1.1m barrels per day in January and February if the US and other countries go ahead and inject 66m barrels of oil into the market through their planned stockpile release.

Friday’s sell-off would reinforce Opec+ leader Saudi Arabia’s reluctance to add too much more supply, analysts said.

“The oil market is understandably sensitive to news about new [coronavirus] variants, especially given the experience of 2020 and the run-up that oil prices have already seen,” said Martijn Rats, chief commodities strategist at Morgan Stanley.

But data pointing to rising mobility outside Europe, supply restraint from Opec, and weak spending on production by oil companies would remain supportive forces once the market had found its feet, he said.



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Stocks and Oil Drop Amid New Coronavirus Variant


Mr. Lerner said a modest sell-off is hardly unexpected, given the heights at which stocks have been trading. “We are not making any changes to our investment guidance at this point,” he wrote, adding that consumers and companies are much more adept at dealing with virus restrictions now.

Futures of West Texas Intermediate oil, the U.S. crude benchmark, plummeted more than 13 percent to $68.04 a barrel, the lowest since early September. The price of oil has been especially sensitive to virus restrictions that keep people at home. The drop comes just three days after the United States and five other countries announced a coordinated effort to tap into their national oil stockpiles, to try to drive down rising gas prices.

Brent futures, the European benchmark, fell 11 percent to about $73 a barrel. But Mr. Ganesh said UBS forecasts that the price will rise to $90 a barrel by March, partly in the expectation that the fears about new virus restrictions will be temporary.

Demand for the relative safety of government bonds jumped, pushing their prices up and their yields down. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury plunged 15 basis points, or 0.15 percentage points, to 1.48 percent, the biggest single-day drop since March 2020. The yield on Germany’s bund, Europe’s benchmark bond, fell 9 basis points to minus 0.34 percent.

In an echo of the market fluctuations of last year, stocks that flourished under lockdowns and quarantines rose, including Zoom and Peloton. Companies vulnerable to travel restrictions, like Carnival, the cruise company, and Boeing, the plane maker, fell.

In Asia, the Nikkei 225 in Japan closed 2.5 percent lower and the Hang Seng Index in Hong Kong declined 2.7 percent.

In Europe, energy stocks led the markets lower. The Stoxx Europe 600 index closed down 3.7 percent. The FTSE 100 in Britain dropped 3.6 percent, while major stock indexes in France and Spain fell about 5 percent.



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Panthers Drop Contest to Demon Deacons


Site: High Point, N.C. (Qubein Center)

Score: High Point 50, Wake Forest 79

Records: High Point (2-3), Wake Forest (6-0)

HIGH POINT, N.C.—The High Point University women’s basketball team lost to Wake Forest 79-50 despite the first career double-double from freshman Nakyah Terell.  Terell had 21 points and 11 rebounds on the day.  Terell’s 21 points and 11 rebounds were both career highs for her and it was the first double-double of the season for a Panther.  Jenson Edwards also reached double digits with 10 points on the day.  

Chelsea Banbury: “Obviously us being short-handed hurts considering the last few games we’re playing the tallest teams that we’ll play all year. We’re trying to move some pieces around and work with what we have.”

Panther Particulars

The Panthers and Demon Deacons traded baskets early and HPU found themselves down 12-7 at the under-5 media timeout in the first quarter.  Laimani Simmons got her first start of the season and responded with a quick 4 points on two baskets in the paint.

The Panthers struggled from 3-point range in the first quarter as they went 0-8 from 3 and trailed 21-9 at the end of the first. 

The teams continued to battle back and forth in the second quarter.  Jenson Edwards scored on a driving layup and hit a couple of free throws as the Panthers found themselves trailing 30-15 with 4:06 remaining in the second quarter.  Terell finally broke the drought from 3-point range when she drilled the first of the day for HPU to cut the lead to 32-18 at the 3:54 mark.

The Panthers hit two additional three point baskets the rest of the half, one by Terell and one by Jenson Edwards.  The Panthers found themselves trailing 40-28 at halftime and Terrell led HPU with 12 points and 5 rebounds at the break. 

Wake Forest came out hot scoring the first 6 points of the third quarter before the first collegiate three pointer for HPU freshman Shakira Baskerville ended that run.  The Panthers found themselves trailing 49-33 at the midway point of the third quarter.

The Demon Deacons pulled away with a 15-5 run to end the third quarter and led 61-36.  The Panthers battled in the fourth quarter, but fell by a final margin of 79-50.    

 

UP NEXT: HPU will travel to Spartanburg, SC for a non-conference date with Wofford after Thanksgiving Break.  The Panthers will play on Tuesday, November 30th and tip-off is set for 5pm.  The game will be broadcast on ESPN+.   


#H3U x #GoHPU



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Gas prices drop ahead of busy Thanksgiving travel week | Local News


The statewide gas price average in Texas is $3.03 for a gallon of regular unleaded fuel, according to the AAA Texas Weekend Gas Watch. That price is four cents less than on this day last week and is $1.23 more per gallon compared to this day last year. 

Of the major metropolitan areas surveyed in Texas, drivers in El Paso are paying the most on average at $3.22 per gallon while drivers in Amarillo are paying the least at $2.87 per gallon. Drivers in Walker County are paying an average of $3.06 per gallon. 

The national average price for a gallon of regular unleaded is $3.41, which is one cent less when compared to this day last week and $1.29 more than the price per gallon at this same time last year.

AAA Texas anticipates near pre-pandemic levels of travel during the Thanksgiving holiday period next week. Millions of drivers across Texas will be paying approximately $1.15 to $1.25 more for a gallon of gas than they would have if they traveled for Thanksgiving in 2020. Many people stayed home last year, but that certainly won’t be the case this year. In fact, with millions more of Americans opting to travel again after getting the COVID-19 vaccine, demand for crude oil and gasoline has increased substantially over this time last year and throughout most of this year. The increase in demand comes as the world reopens and has led to higher crude oil prices and furthermore higher retail gasoline prices for much of 2021.

However, for the first time in months oil prices started to slip below $80 a barrel in recent days. On Thursday, the price of crude fell to six-week lows after the Biden administration requested that China, Japan and South Korea release their strategic oil reserves. While crude oil and gas prices had already started falling earlier in the week due to a slight drop in demand, it’s still too early to say if prices will continue to drop leading into the busy Thanksgiving travel period. The silver lining for Texas drivers—this is the first time the statewide gas price average experienced a weekly drop in seven weeks.

“Texas drivers can be thankful that retail gas prices are starting to drop, but we won’t see anything close to the prices from Thanksgiving 2020. However, there are some simple steps drivers can take get the most bang for their buck when filling up for their holiday road trip,” said AAA Texas spokesperson Daniel Armbruster. “One of the easiest ways to save is to maintain your car according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Regular service will ensure optimum fuel economy, performance and longevity.”

Gas Price Impact on Thanksgiving Travel

While gas prices will be much more expensive than last year, the higher prices are not expected to deter holiday travelers. AAA predicts an estimated 3.6 million Texans will drive 50 miles or more to their Thanksgiving destination. Furthermore, drivers in Texas are paying the 2nd lowest gas price average in the country, according to gasprices.aaa.com.





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Travel stocks rally and stay-at-home stocks drop as Covid-19 ends


As travel industry executives tout the rapid resurgence of tourism and entertainment, the pandemic stock portfolio is getting turned upside down.

Airlines stocks are rallying alongside online booking sites, ride-hailing companies and Airbnb, after earnings reports showed clear signs of a recovery in travel. At the same time, stay-at-home stocks are sagging as borders reopen and health experts indicate that an end to the Covid-19 pandemic could come sooner than expected.

“We’ve seen it everywhere,” Expedia CEO Peter Kern told analysts on an earnings call Thursday after his company reported a 97% jump in revenue from a year earlier. “Cities are picking up. International has picked up. Virtually every area has seen growth.”

Expedia shares soared 16% on Friday and rival Booking Holdings jumped over 7%. Airbnb surged 13% and closed out its best week since its IPO late last year, after the home-sharing company reported better-than-expected revenue and a 280% increase in profit.

Airlines are finally back. Delta had its best week in about a year, climbing 13%, as the U.S. prepares to lift international travel bans. American Airlines jumped 14% and Southwest Airlines rose more than 10% for the week.

The across-the-board rally in travel followed an announcement from Pfizer, which said on Friday that its Covid-19 pill, when combined with a common HIV drug, cut the risk of hospitalization or death by 89% in high-risk adults exposed to the virus. Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a Pfizer board member, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that Covid-19 could end in the U.S. by early January, when President Biden’s workplace vaccine mandate goes into effect.

“These mandates that are going to be put in place by Jan. 4 really are coming on the tail end of this pandemic,” said Gottlieb, who’s also a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. 

Meanwhile, Peloton had its worst day on the market since the home workout company’s IPO in 2019. Peloton reported a wider-than-expected quarterly loss late Thursday as it copes with waning demand from the reopening of gyms as well as supply chain constraints.

Peloton shares tumbled 35% on Friday to their lowest level since June 2020.

“We anticipated fiscal 2022 would be a very challenging year to forecast, given unusual year-ago comparisons, demand uncertainty amidst re-opening economies, and widely-reported supply chain constraints and commodity cost pressures,” Chief Executive Officer John Foley said in a letter to shareholders. 

During an all-hands meeting on Friday, Peloton halted hiring across all departments effective immediately, CNBC has learned.

While not as dramatic as Peloton’s plunge, Netflix dropped 6.5% this week, the worst stretch since April for the streaming-video company. Zoom, the video-chat company that headlined everyone’s pandemic portfolio as revenue in 2020 soared 326%, fell over 6% on Friday. Food-delivery provider Doordash, which became a household name last year, fell more than 4%.

Workers returning to the office and consumers going back to the movie theaters, concerts and restaurants could very well spell some trouble for Netflix, Zoom, Doordash and other stay-at-home companies. To get from place to place, people will need rides, which helps explain why investors are rotating into Uber and Lyft.

On Thursday, Uber reported 72% revenue growth from a year earlier, with the number of active mobility drivers increasing nearly 60%. Lyft, which has also invested millions into incentives, said drivers are coming back. Lyft shares jumped 17% this week and Uber climbed almost 8%.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said on the company’s earnings call that some of the supply and demand challenges that emerged during the pandemic are working themselves out. Surge pricing incidents have come down by roughly half, and wait times are averaging less than five minutes, he said.

“The rebound is unmistakable,” Khosrowshahi told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Friday, adding that airport and business travel are both coming back, though the magnitude of the rebound varies by geography. “The human condition of wanting to move, of wanting to travel, of wanting to get out of the house, it’s true for everyone and it’s universal.”

Broadway shows began reopening in September, while movie ticket sales are up and theaters and concert venues have thrown open their doors. Shares of Live Nation Entertainment surged 15% on Friday after the company reported strong third-quarter earnings, and Eventbrite rose more than 5%.

“Live music roared back over the past quarter,” said Michael Rapino, CEO of Live Nation, on the company’s earnings call. Rapino said ticket sales for major festivals were up 10% in the quarter from 2019 levels, and said “many of our festivals selling out in record time.”

WATCH: Pent up demand for entertainment is driving the sector



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Travel to the U.S. Continues to Drop


The numbers are in, and if you’re in the U.S. travel industry, they are not uplifting.

Inbound tourism numbers from overseas—foreign travelers coming to the U.S.—are down substantially.

That’s due in no small part to the optics associated with the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

America’s share of global long-haul travel has dropped from nearly 14 percent to 11.9 percent.

That translates into a substantial loss of revenue, tax base, and jobs.

Is there any good news? Yes, for Americans who want to travel overseas—discounted airfares will be available almost all year long.

What would have been foreigners’ return seats are now our outbound seats, and the law of supply and demand rules—lower airfares because there are fewer folks flying. Those lower airfares are expected to continue on foreign routes throughout this year.

For more travel news, check out:

Keep reading for more travel tips.





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Airlines see drop in travel demand as covid cases rise


Cancellations could also be driven by travelers postponing trips to popular destinations, such as Florida, that have become hot spots, as well as to places that are reimposing restrictions. Hawaii, which was one of the most popular destinations this summer, recently announced it will limit social gatherings and reduce indoor capacity for bars, restaurants and social establishments to 50 percent.



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The Latest: US to Drop 19-Month Ban on Nonessential Travel | World News


WASHINGTON — The Biden administration says the United States will reopen its land borders for nonessential travel next month, ending a 19-month freeze due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

New rules to be announced Wednesday will allow fully vaccinated foreign nationals entry to the U.S. regardless of the reason for travel.

That starts in early November, when a similar easing of restrictions is set to kick in for air travel. Senior administration officials previewed the new policy late Tuesday on the condition of anonymity to speak ahead of the formal announcement.

Vehicle, rail and ferry travel between the U.S. and Canada and Mexico has been largely restricted to essential travel, such as trade, since the earliest days of the pandemic. Both Mexico and Canada have pressed the U.S. for months to ease restrictions on non-essential travel that have separated families and curtailed leisure trips.

Political Cartoons on World Leaders

Political Cartoons

— Apostolic church leaders in Zimbabwe preach vaccines unrelated to Satanism

— US to reopen land borders in November to fully vaccinated vacation travelers

— Conservative state Republicans move to undercut private employer vaccine mandates

— Russia hits new record for COVID-19 deaths, resists lockdown

See all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

SEKE, Zimbabwe — The Apostolic church is one of Zimbabwe’s most skeptical groups when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines. It is also one of the southern African nation’s largest religious denominations.

But many of these Christian churches, which combine traditional beliefs with a Pentecostal doctrine, preach against modern medicine and demand followers seek healing or protection against disease through spiritual means like prayer and the use of holy water.

Some secluded Apostolic groups believe vaccines are linked to Satanism. To combat that, authorities have formed teams of campaigners who are also churchgoers to dispel misconceptions about the vaccines in their own churches.

Vaccine activist Yvonne Binda stands in front of a church congregation, all in pristine white robes, and tells them not to believe what they’ve heard about COVID-19 vaccines.

“The vaccine is not linked to Satanism,” she says. The congregants are unmoved. But when Binda, a member of an Apostolic church herself, promises them soap, buckets and masks, there are enthusiastic shouts of “Amen!”

While slow and steady might be best in dealing with some religious hesitancy, the situation is urgent in Africa, which has the world’s lowest vaccination rates. Zimbabwe has fully vaccinated 15% of its population, much better than many other African nations but still way behind the United States and Europe.

JUNEAU, Alaska–Two Alaska state senators have tested positive for COVID-19 and a third was not feeling well and awaiting test results, Senate President Peter Micciche said Tuesday.

He did not identify the lawmakers who had tested positive.

Lawmakers are in the second week of their fourth special session of the year. Six of the Senate’s 20 members attended Tuesday’s floor session, which was a so-called technical session where no formal business was taken up.

Micciche said along with the COVID-19 cases some senators had put off trips and were unable to be in Juneau Tuesday, prompting the technical session.

Masks are required at legislative facilities, including the Capitol, though individual lawmakers can decide if they want to wear masks in their respective offices. Legislators and legislative staff also are to participate in regular COVID-19 testing under a recently adopted policy.

SALT LAKE CITY — With the governor of Texas leading the charge, conservative Republicans in several states are moving to block or undercut U.S. President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates for private employers before the regulations are even issued.

The growing battle over what some see as overreach by the federal government is firing up a segment of the Republican Party base, even though many large employers have already decided on their own to require their workers to get the shot.

The dustup will almost certainly end up in court since GOP attorneys general in nearly half of the states have vowed to sue once the rule requiring workers at private companies with more than 100 employees to get vaccinated or tested weekly is unveiled.

The courts have long upheld vaccine mandates, and the Constitution gives the federal government the upper hand over the states, but with the details still unannounced and more conservative judges on the bench, the outcome isn’t entirely clear.

On Monday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order barring private companies or any other entity from requiring vaccines.

States weighing or advancing bills include Arkansas and Ohio, and there are calls for special sessions in Wyoming, Kansas, South Dakota, Indiana and Tennessee.

WASHINGTON — The Biden’s administration’s mandate that employers with 100 or more workers require coronavirus vaccinations or institute weekly virus testing has moved one step closer to enforcement.

On Tuesday, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration finalized the initial draft of the emergency order and sent it to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review. That’s according to the Department of Labor.

OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs will conduct a standard review of the regulation.

Officials did not immediately provide an estimate for the OMB examination. The agency has 90 days to review the rule or send it back to OSHA for revision. Text of the proposed order won’t be published until OMB completes its review.

Owing to the bureaucracy surrounding the rulemaking process, President Joe Biden has encouraged businesses to implement mandates ahead of the final rule being implemented.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico’s governor announced Tuesday that he would be lifting a curfew and a ban on alcohol sales as the U.S. territory reports a drop in the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths.

Current restrictions prohibit certain businesses from operating between midnight and 5 a.m. and also bar alcohol sales during that time, two measures that will be lifted Thursday.

However, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said other restrictions, including an indoors mask requirement, remain in place.

He noted that 70% of the island’s 3.3 million people are vaccinated, and that the positivity rate for coronavirus tests dropped to 3%, compared with 10% in August.

Puerto Rico has reported more than 150,500 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 3,000 deaths from COVID-19, the disease that can be caused by the virus.

LEWISTON, Maine — Staffing shortages at one of Maine’s biggest hospitals have forced it to halt pediatric and trauma admissions, sparking a renewed debate over the governor’s vaccine mandate for health care workers.

Citing “acute staffing shortages,” Central Maine Medical Center temporarily suspended but later reinstated heart attack admissions and will be reviewing trauma admissions on an ongoing basis, the hospital said in a statement Tuesday.

The neonatal intensive care unit is closing and the suspension of pediatric admissions will continue until further notice, the hospital said.

Earlier this month, the hospital’s chief medical officer said about 70 employees left due to the COVID-19 vaccine requirement. The deadline was Oct. 1 but state officials said they would not start enforcing it until Oct. 29.

Republican leaders in the Maine Legislature sent a letter to Democratic leaders urging lawmakers to return to session to include a testing option for health care workers who don’t want the vaccine.

SEATTLE — Boeing Co. has told employees they must be vaccinated against the coronavirus or possibly be fired.

The Seattle Times reports that the deadline for getting shots is Dec. 8.

The newspaper says an internal Boeing presentations says that employees failing to comply with the mandate “may be released from the company.” Employees granted exemptions “due to a disability or sincerely held religious belief” will have to be tested frequently for the virus and be ready to “present a negative test result upon request.”

The policy will apply to roughly 140,000 employees companywide, with about 57,000 of those in Washington state.

The white-collar union the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace says it is communicating with Boeing “to ensure implementation gives proper consideration to members’ concerns.”

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida has issued its first fine to a county it accuses of violating a new state law banning coronavirus vaccine mandates and for firing 14 workers who failed to get the shots.

The Florida Department of Health on Tuesday issued the $3.5 million fine for Leon County, saying the home to the state capital of Tallahassee violated Florida’s “vaccine passport” law that bars requiring people to show proof of vaccination.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says that “no one should lose their jobs because of COVID shots.”

The law is being challenged in court and conflicts with a Biden administration order that companies with more than 100 employees require their workers to be vaccinated or face weekly testing.

The Leon County administrator says the county believes its vaccination mandate is legally justifiable and necessary to keep people safe.

NEW YORK — NBA star Kyrie Irving can keep refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but he can’t play for the Brooklyn Nets.

The Nets announced Tuesday that Irving wouldn’t play or practice with the team until he could be a full participant, ending the idea he could play in only road games. Under a New York City mandate, professional athletes playing for a team in the city must be vaccinated against COVID-19 to play or practice in public venues.

Without mentioning his vaccination status, general manager Sean Marks said Irving has made a decision that keeps him from being a full member of the team. Irving hasn’t said he isn’t vaccinated, asking for privacy when he spoke via Zoom during the team’s media day on Sept. 27.

Marks said he and owner Joe Tsai together made the decision, adding it came through discussions with Irving and his associates. NBA players are not required to be vaccinated, but they face more testing and social distancing. The league had said that players wouldn’t be paid for games they miss because they are ineligible to play.

Marks said Irving will still be paid for road games.

WASHINGTON — Hunger and food insecurity across the United States have dropped measurably over the past six months, but the need remains far above pre-pandemic levels.

Specialists in hunger issues warn the situation for millions of families remains extremely fragile. An Associated Press review of bulk distribution numbers from hundreds of food banks across the country reveals a downward trend in the amount of food handed out by food banks across the country.

The decrease started in the spring as the COVID-19 vaccine rollout took hold and some closed sectors of the economy began to reopen.

However, Katie Fitzgerald of Feeding America says, “It’s come down, but it’s still elevated.” Feeding America is a nonprofit organization that coordinates 200 food banks across the country and provided the AP with the national distribution numbers.

Fitzgerald says despite the recent decreases, the amount of food being distributed by Feeding America’s partner food banks remained more than 55% above pre-pandemic levels.

Factors include the advancement of the delta variant, which has already delayed planned returns to the office for millions of employees and could threaten school closures and other shutdowns as the nation enters the winter flu season. Other obstacles include the gradual expiration of an eviction moratorium and expanded unemployment benefits.

BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania reported on Tuesday its highest number of coronavirus infections and deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Nearly 17,000 COVID-19 infections were confirmed Tuesday and 442 deaths, the first time the European Union country of 19 million has surpassed 400 virus deaths in a single day.

Romania’s intensive care units for coronavirus patients are stretched to capacity in what is the European Union’s second-least vaccinated nation. Only 34% of adults are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Romania has registered more than 1.3 million confirmed cases and 40,071 confirmed deaths.

NEW YORK — Many Americans who got Pfizer vaccinations are rolling up their sleeves for a booster shot. Meanwhile, millions who received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine wait to learn when it’s their turn.

Federal regulators begin tackling that question this week. On Thursday and Friday, the Food and Drug Administration convenes its independent advisers for the first stage in the process of deciding whether extra shots of the two vaccines should be dispensed and, if so, who should get them and when.

The final go-ahead is not expected for at least another week. After the FDA advisers give their recommendation, the agency will make an official decision on whether to authorize boosters. Then a panel convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will offer more specifics on who should get them.

The FDA meetings come as U.S. vaccinations have climbed back above 1 million per day on average, an increase of more than 50% over the past two weeks. The rise has been driven mainly by Pfizer boosters and employer vaccine mandates.

LONDON — The German biotechnology company CureVac says it has withdrawn its application for the approval of its coronavirus vaccine from the European Medicines Agency and will focus on making next-generation messenger RNA vaccines.

In a statement on Tuesday, CureVac says recent communications with the EU drug regulator suggested its COVID-19 vaccine might only be authorized in mid-2022. Earlier this year, the company described its initial vaccine results as “sobering,” after data suggested the shot was only about 47% effective.

CureVac says it will instead prioritize the development of second-generation mRNA vaccines with its partner GlaxoSmithKline and expects to be in “late-stage clinical development” by the middle of next year.

The EMA confirmed Tuesday it had ended the accelerated evaluation of the CureVac vaccine, a process started in February. COVAX, the U.N.-backed effort to share vaccines globally, had been waiting for possible doses from CureVac, which received funding from one of the COVAX partners.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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Low-income people saw smallest drop in travel during COVID-19


Low-income people were the least likely to reduce their local travel during the COVID-19 lockdown, probably because they still had to go to work, a case study in Columbus suggests.

In fact, their average travel distances increased during the pandemic, as they were often forced to find work further away from their homes.

Meanwhile, high-income people reduced their travel the most during the lockdown, most often leaving home for recreational and non-work purposes and taking shorter trips, The Ohio State University study showed.

Armita KarResearchers used cell phone location data to compare trips made by people living in high-, middle- and low-income areas of Columbus during the early days of the lockdown in Ohio (March 15 to April 30, 2020) with the same period in 2019.

Results showed that people living in low-income areas reduced their travel 41% during the lockdown – significantly less than the 51% reduction found for people living in high-income areas and 49% reduction for those from middle-income neighborhoods.

The findings reveal the stark differences between people whose jobs allowed them to work from home with those mostly lower-income residents who worked in person for essential businesses, said Armita Kar, lead author of the study and a PhD student in geography at Ohio State.

“The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted which socioeconomic groups could work from home and limit their trips to stay safe and which groups couldn’t avoid traveling to work,” Kar said.

Kar conducted the study with Huyen T.K. Le, assistant professor, and Harvey Miller, professor, both in geography at Ohio State. Their research was published yesterday (Oct. 4, 2021) in the Annals of the American Association of Geographers.

The researchers used cell phone data that allowed them to see travel flow between specific Columbus neighborhoods and destinations around the city.

Harvey MillerThey classified trips as originating in low-, middle- or high-income areas of the city based on U.S. Census data. Destinations were classified by the dominant business categories at each location, such as service jobs, arts and recreation, and accommodation and food services, among others.

There wasn’t just a change in the amount of travel during the pandemic lockdown, results showed. The nature of travel also changed, with the pandemic revealing how socioeconomic status affected where people needed to go or were able to go.

For high-income people, trips became shorter as they didn’t have to commute to work and they patronized businesses closer to home. They also showed increased travel during the lockdown to places like parks and outdoor recreation, which was not seen in the lower socioeconomic groups.

“Now instead of traveling because they had to, higher-income residents were traveling more because they wanted to, for discretionary and recreational purposes,” said Miller, who is also director of Ohio State’s Center for Urban and Regional Analysis, which supported this project.

“They had the work flexibility to seek stress relief at area parks and recreational facilities when they wanted to.”

In contrast, low-income people actually traveled greater distances during the lockdown than they did before. The results suggest that many residents in this category had to travel to multiple jobs to make ends meet during the pandemic, according to the researchers.

Huyen Le“We believe their job opportunities became more scattered and so they had to travel more to get to their jobs,” Kar said.

Results showed that low-income residents traveled more during the lockdown to areas with concentrations of fast-food restaurants. That was probably both because they were more likely to be working at these businesses and they had to rely more on them for their meals, according to the researchers.

Middle-income residents of Columbus didn’t reduce travel as much as high-income people did during the lockdown, probably because they had a wider variety of occupations that couldn’t work from home.

Some of them may have been construction workers, the researchers said, since these workers were considered essential by the state of Ohio, as well as other states.

The results of this study suggest that transportation planners and government leaders need to reconsider how they invest in travel infrastructure, Le said.

“We need to focus travel infrastructure more in the lower-income areas of the city,” Le said.

“Lower-income residents are the ones that don’t have a choice and will have to continue to travel to work when others can stay at home.”

Added Miller: “When we think of travel and travel demand, it is not one size fits all. Different social groups have different needs for travel and mobility. COVID-19 really exposed that.”

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