US coronavirus: Omicron concerns should spur millions of unvaccinated Americans to get their Covid shots, experts say


“I would hope that within the next week or two weeks, so many of those people will take advantage of the vaccine,” Dr. William Schaffner, a professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota on Friday. “That will help us in the immediate term. And I would anticipate that, as bad as Omicron might be, our vaccine still will be partially effective.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci echoed Schaffner’s stance on vaccination and boosters as mitigation tools.

“I’m saying this absolutely clearly that if ever there was a reason for unvaccinated people to get vaccinated and for those who have been vaccinated when your time comes up to go and get a booster shot,” Fauci told NBC News’ Lester Holt on Friday.

“The booster shots give you a very, very important edge,” he said, noting that boosters increase the level of antibodies that protect against the virus.

Data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 196 million Americans, or 59% of the US population, was fully vaccinated as of Friday. An additional 37.5 million have received booster shots, the data shows.
On Friday, the US moved to restrict travel from eight mostly southern African countries starting Monday as the World Health Organization deemed Omicron a variant of concern after it was first detected in South Africa. Travel into the US is restricted for those entering from Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Malawi and South Africa.
What we know about the Omicron variant

Omicron has raised concerns for health officials because there’s a possibility that it could be more contagious than the original coronavirus strain, and it also has a significant number of mutations, the WHO said.

There have been no indications so far that the variant has made its way into the US, Fauci told CNN on Friday.

The CDC said the US variant surveillance system has reliably detected new variants in the past.

“We expect Omicron to be identified quickly, if it emerges in the U.S.,” the agency said in a statement.

After a pandemic that has lasted nearly two years, experts and global leaders are anxious about the impact of Omicron and many nations issued travel bans. Besides South Africa, the newly identified variant has been detected in Botswana, Hong Kong and Belgium.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said Friday there was a “high to very high” risk the variant would spread to the Continent.

Vaccine makers are working to determine effectiveness against Omicron

Meanwhile, vaccine makers have disclosed they are taking action to address Omicron’s elevated risk.

Moderna said Friday that it’s working quickly to test the ability of its vaccine to neutralize Omicron, and data is expected in the coming weeks.

The strain includes mutations “seen in the Delta variant that are believed to increase transmissibility and mutations seen in the Beta and Delta variants that are believed to promote immune escape,” Moderna said in a news release.

“The combination of mutations represents a significant potential risk to accelerate the waning of natural and vaccine-induced immunity.”

Moderna explained that if its current vaccine and booster are insufficient against the variant, one possible solution is boosting people with a larger dose, which is undergoing testing.

Newly discovered Covid-19 variant B.1.1.529 is 'red flag' but US needs to learn more, Fauci says

The company is also evaluating two multivalent booster candidates to see if they provide better protection against Omicron — both of which include some of the viral mutations present in the variant.

Moderna said it is also testing an Omicron-specific booster.

“For several days, we have been moving as fast as possible to execute our strategy to address this variant,” Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in the news release.

Scientists at BioNTech, the German company that partnered with Pfizer to make its Covid-19 vaccine, are also investigating the impact of the variant on their shot, with data expected within the upcoming weeks.

A Johnson & Johnson spokesperson told CNN in a statement the company was also testing the effectiveness of its vaccine against Omicron.

Scientists work on the Covid-19 at the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Covid-19 travel restrictions aren’t all that effective, experts say

The Biden administration’s decision to curtail travel from eight countries is a precautionary measure as the US government learns more about the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

But some experts say travel restrictions aren’t as effective as they may seem.

“Travel bans are modestly effective. They can obviously influence travel directly from that country to the United States,” said Schaffner, the doctor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Travel doors slam shut as new Covid variant triggers alarm, stranding hundreds of passengers

“But obviously US citizens will be permitted to come back. They could bring the virus. And people could go from the country of interest, South Africa for example, and go to other countries that are not on the travel ban, and enter, if you will, by the side door. So travel bans are somewhat effective, but let’s not expect a miracle,” he said.

US citizens, lawful permanent residents and noncitizens who are the spouses of citizens or permanent residents are exempted from the new restrictions.

Dr. Megan Ranney, a professor of emergency medicine and Associate Dean of Public Health at Brown University, said universal vaccination requirements for all air travel would be more effective.

“Or having quarantines when people arrive in the U.S. from other countries. Neither of those are particularly politically palatable right now, but they would make a much bigger difference in the spread of this variant,” Ranney told CNN’s Jim Acosta on Friday.

CNN’s Jacqueline Howard, Virginia Langmaid, Michael Nedelman, Frederik Pleitgen and Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report.



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US hospitals prepare for influx of Covid patients as millions travel for Thanksgiving | US news


As cases begin surging once more in the US, millions of people are expected to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, and health workers and hospital systems are now preparing for an influx of Covid patients after having little time to recover from the summer surge.

Last year, there was a major surge in cases around the holidays. But this year, new tools could blunt the spread – if they are taken up quickly.

US scientific agencies on Friday recommended boosters for all adults six months after mRNA vaccination, and children over the age of five recently became eligible for vaccines.

Existing treatments like monoclonal antibodies are highly effective if given early, while two promising antiviral medications from Merck and Pfizer may be authorized in coming weeks. But the new treatments may come against a backdrop of rising cases during the holiday season.

“It is a race against time,” Kyle Enfield, the associate chief medical officer of critical care at University of Virginia Health, said.

More than 92,000 Americans are now testing positive for Covid-19 each day, and more than 1,000 people are dying from the virus every day, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cases are rising in a majority of states, with hotspots in the midwest, north-east and parts of the south-west.

There have already been more Covid deaths this year than there were in 2020, due to the more transmissible Delta variant and low vaccination rates across much of the country, and total deaths from Covid-19 in the US may reach 1 million by spring.

Even so, about 20 million passengers are expected to fly this Thanksgiving, the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced last week. These numbers are approaching the record-breaking travel seen around Thanksgiving in 2019, when 26 million people were screened for flights.

“We anticipate that travel may be very close to pre-pandemic levels this holiday,” David Pekoske, administrator of the TSA, said in a statement.

Given the cooler weather and upcoming holidays, “I do think that we are likely going to see an increase in cases over the next couple of weeks,” said Enfield. “Winter can be a busy time in the hospital because of the regular flu and pneumonia [cases] that people get, but this year, I think we’re going to add in ongoing Covid transmission.”

But it’s hard to predict how big the next wave will be, he said – and much of these calculations depend on vaccination rates as well as existing and potential medications.

Many hospitals in Massachusetts, a state seeing some of the fastest-growing cases and hospitalization rates in the country, are already at or over capacity, Emily Rubin, a pulmonary and critical care physician at Massachusetts General hospital, told the Guardian.

It’s not just Covid filling the wards. “We have a large number of ICU patients who are in the hospital with non-Covid illnesses,” she said. Part of the reason has to do with delayed care during the pandemic that leads patients to get sicker than they would have otherwise been.

Experts are hoping that even if Covid cases rise, the vaccines will help keep hospitalizations and deaths lower than last year.

“It gives me a little bit of hope that we’re seeing some breakthrough infections that are not as severe as the ones that we’ve seen in the past,” Enfield said. “But I think that the next couple of days and weeks are really going to be telling for what the real impact is going to be.”

In the meantime, hospitals are hiring as many nurses and clinicians as possible and increasing the number of patients who can receive monoclonal antibodies at infusion centers.

People experiencing Covid symptoms should be tested immediately, and those who test positive and are at high risk of severe illness should immediately undergo monoclonal antibody treatments.

But providing the monoclonal treatment is challenging, because it usually requires an hour-long infusion at a specialty center.

“We have increased capacity substantially over the past couple of months, and we are doing everything we can to extend that to keep up with demand. But the demand has grown substantially as we’ve seen the rising cases,” Rubin said.

Having enough staff for these centers has been difficult, Rubin said, as health systems across the country face worker shortages.

“Since the whole system is very stressed, every step along that chain can take some time,” Rubin said.

New antivirals could be much easier to give to patients, and the Biden administration has set aside billions for the new medications. First, however, they need to be authorized by the US Food and Drug Administration and then distributed throughout the country.

“We’re eager to see them. We’re also eager to see the data in more detail,” Rubin said. “We haven’t, of course, seen published, peer-reviewed data, but we will be eager to see those.”

Like monoclonals, the antivirals appear to work best early in the course of an illness, so getting test results quickly and then receiving the medication soon after would be key.

Easily accessible antivirals would also help in rural areas and places that don’t have infusion centers, helping address inequities that have plagued some communities – especially communities of color, which have been hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic.

With “all of these therapies, there’s concern that they are not being distributed equitably and that different communities of patients have differential access, and that’s a big concern”, Rubin said.

But if the pills are easy to take anywhere in the country and work well to prevent hospitalization and death, she said, “that would be sort of the holy grail”.

Medications for later in the course of illness – when patients usually show up at the hospital – still need to be developed.

In the meantime, Rubin and Enfield urge people to take as many precautions as possible: getting vaccinated against Covid and the flu, which may be particularly bad this year, as well as wearing masks and distancing. “There is a lot that every person in the public can do right now to help out,” Enfield said.

“All of us who’ve been doing this for a while are tired,” Enfield said. “We’re really hopeful that soon we’ll see the number of cases continue to go down and we’ll have a chance to breathe a sigh of relief.”



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Fuel demand could spike this week as millions prepare for Thanksgiving travel


The following is a news release from AAA Idaho.

BOISE – Falling crude oil prices could relieve some pain at the pump for Idaho drivers, but according to AAA, the effect may be tempered by a spike in demand as 53.4 million Americans set out on a Thanksgiving vacation.

Crude oil, which makes up half the price of finished gasoline, dropped as low as $76 per barrel late last week, after staying at or above the $80 mark since mid-October. The drop came in response to fears that a COVID-19 resurgence could impact economic activity in the U.S. and Europe this winter, and a request by the Biden Administration to coordinate a simultaneous release of crude oil reserves between the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, and India to drive prices down.

Today, Idaho’s average price for regular is $3.69 per gallon, which is a penny less than a week ago and three cents less than a month ago. The national average currently sits at $3.41 per gallon, which is the same as a week ago and three cents more than a month ago. This week, the Gem State fell to 9th place for most expensive fuel.

“On one hand, we project strong Thanksgiving travel numbers that will be just below pre-pandemic levels, including 290,000 Idahoans who will set out on a Turkey Day trip. In response, the price of crude oil is already up nearly a dollar today,” says AAA Idaho spokesman Matthew Conde. “But Austria recently announced a three-week travel lockdown due to rising COVID cases, and if similar situations crop up elsewhere, that could drive global demand down. The uncertainty is making oil and gas prices very shaky, and that’s a pattern that could continue through the end of the year.”

AAA says that gas prices could jump by as much as a nickel in some parts of the country this holiday weekend, as 90% of those who will travel for Thanksgiving will go by car. Nearly four million more Americans are expected to drive this year than a year ago.

Here’s a seven-year retrospective on Thanksgiving gas prices:

gas prices1
Courtesy AAA

According to AAA travel projections, Tuesday will be the busiest day at the airport this week, and drivers will face the heaviest traffic congestion on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon when travelers will share the road with evening commuters.

“We encourage travelers to do their homework. Check for adjusted hours and capacity at restaurants and popular attractions, both at your end destination and along your route,” Conde said. “You should also check weather and traffic reports so that you know what to expect when you hit the road.”

Masks are required at airports, on airplanes, and at train and bus stations, and may be required in other places like museums and movie theaters, depending on state and local requirements. For the latest information, travelers can review AAA’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map.

In addition to masks, those who make the decision to travel should bring hand sanitizer, wash their hands frequently, and pack disinfectant wipes to clean high-touch surfaces on airplane seats and in hotel rooms.

“As always, a safe road trip begins with an emergency kit that includes snacks and water, a first-aid kit, a flashlight with extra batteries, flares or reflectors, and basic tools,” Conde said. “And please remember, the latest safety features in your car can never take the place of an engaged driver.”

Here’s a look at Idaho gas prices, as of 11/22/21:

Boise – $3.79
Coeur d’Alene – $3.36
Franklin – $3.68
Idaho Falls – $3.62
Lewiston – $3.27
Pocatello – $3.72
Twin Falls – $3.82



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Two anchors of COVID safety net ending, affecting millions


Mary Taboniar, a housekeeper at the Hilton Hawaiian Village resort in Honolulu, looks over bills at her home in Waipahu, Hawaii, Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021. Taboniar went 15 months without a paycheck, thanks to the COVID pandemic. The single mother of two saw her income completely vanish as the virus devastated the hospitality industry.

Mary Taboniar, a housekeeper at the Hilton Hawaiian Village resort in Honolulu, looks over bills at her home in Waipahu, Hawaii, Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021. Taboniar went 15 months without a paycheck, thanks to the COVID pandemic. The single mother of two saw her income completely vanish as the virus devastated the hospitality industry. (Caleb Jones/AP)

WASHINGTON — Mary Taboniar went 15 months without a paycheck, thanks to the COVID pandemic. A housekeeper at the Hilton Hawaiian Village resort in Honolulu, the single mother of two saw her income completely vanish as the virus devastated the hospitality industry.

For more than a year, Taboniar depended entirely on boosted unemployment benefits and a network of local foodbanks to feed her family. Even this summer as the vaccine rollout took hold and tourists began to travel again, her work was slow to return, peaking at 11 days in August — about half her pre-pandemic workload.

Taboniar is one of millions of Americans for whom Labor Day 2021 represents a perilous crossroads. Two primary anchors of the government’s COVID protection package are ending or have recently ended. Starting Monday, an estimated 8.9 million people will lose all unemployment benefits. A federal eviction moratorium already has expired.

While other aspects of pandemic assistance including rental aid and the expanded Child Tax Credit are still widely available, untold millions of Americans will face Labor Day with a suddenly shrunken social safety net.

“This will be a double whammy of hardship,” said Jamie Contreras, secretary-treasurer of the SEIU, a union that represents custodians in office buildings and food service workers in airports. “We’re not anywhere near done. People still need help. … For millions of people nothing has changed from a year and a half ago.”

For Taboniar, 43, that means her unemployment benefits will completely disappear — even as her work hours vanish again. A fresh virus surge prompted Hawaii’s governor to recommend that vacationers delay their plans.

“It’s really scaring me,” she said. “How can I pay rent if I don’t have unemployment and my job isn’t back?”

She’s planning to apply for the newly expanded SNAP assistance program, better known as food stamps, but doubts that will be enough to make up the difference. “I’m just grasping for anything,” she said.

President Joe Biden’s administration believes the U.S. economy is strong enough not to be rattled by evictions or the drop in unemployment benefits. Officials maintain that other elements of the safety net, like the Child Tax Credit and the SNAP program (which Biden permanently boosted earlier this summer) are enough to smooth things over. On Friday, a White House spokesperson said there were no plans to reevaluate the end of the unemployment benefits.

“Twenty-two-trillion-dollar economies work in no small part on momentum and we have strong momentum going in the right direction on behalf of the American workforce,” said Jared Bernstein, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said he believed the country’s labor force was ready for the shift.

“Overall the economy is moving forward and recovering,” Walsh said in an interview. “I think the American economy and the American worker are in a better position going into Labor Day 2021 than they were on Labor Day 2020.”

Activists march across town towards New York Gov. Kathy Hochul's office, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021, in New York, during a demonstration to call on Hochul, Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousin to extend pandemic era eviction protections in the wake of a Supreme Court decision lifting the moratorium.

Activists march across town towards New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021, in New York, during a demonstration to call on Hochul, Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousin to extend pandemic era eviction protections in the wake of a Supreme Court decision lifting the moratorium. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

Walsh and others point to encouraging job numbers; as of Friday the unemployment rate was down to a fairly healthy 5.2%. But Andrew Stettler, a senior fellow with the Century Foundation, a left-leaning think tank, says the end of the expanded unemployment benefits is still coming too early.

Rather than setting an arbitrary deadline, Stettler says the administration should have tied the end of the protections to specific economic recovery metrics. He suggests three consecutive months with nationwide unemployment below 5% as a reasonable benchmark to trigger the end of the unemployment benefits.

“This does seem to be the wrong policy decision based on where we are,” Stettler said.

The end to these protections while the economic crisis persists could have a devastating impact on lower-middle class families that were barely holding on through the pandemic. Potentially millions of people “will have a more difficult time regaining the foothold in the middle class that they lost,” Stettler said.

Biden and the Democrats who control Congress are at a crossroads, allowing the aid to expire as they focus instead on his more sweeping “build back better” package of infrastructure and other spending. The $3.5 trillion proposal would rebuild many of the safety net programs, but it faces hurdles in the closely divided Congress.

The COVID-19 response has been sweeping in its size and scope, some $5 trillion in federal expenditures since the virus outbreak in 2020, an unprecedented undertaking.

Congressional Republicans had supported some of the initial COVID-19 outlays, but voted lockstep against Biden’s $1.9 trillion recovery package earlier this year as unnecessary. Many argued against extending another round of unemployment aid, and Republicans vow to oppose Biden’s $3.5 trillion package lawmakers are expected to consider later this month.

There are still multiple avenues of support available, although in some cases the actual delivery of that support has been problematic.

States with higher levels of unemployment can use the $350 billion worth of aid they received from the relief package to expand their own jobless payments, as noted by an Aug. 19 letter by Walsh and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

Federal rental assistance funds remain available, though the money has been slow to get out the door, leaving the White House and lawmakers pushing state and local officials to disperse funds more quickly to both landlords and tenants.

The investment bank Morgan Stanley estimated Thursday that the economy will grow at an annual pace of 2.9% in the third quarter, down sharply from its prior forecast of 6.5%. That decline largely reflects a pullback in federal aid spending and supply chain bottlenecks.

And the economy still faces hurdles. Union officials says sectors like hotel housekeepers and office janitorial staffs have been the slowest to recover.

“Our industry is the tip of the spear when it comes to COVID,” said D. Taylor, president of UNITE HERE, a union that represents hotel housekeepers — a field that is “primarily staffed by women and people of color.”

Many of those housekeepers never returned to full employment even as Americans resumed traveling and hotel occupancy rates swelled over the summer.

Taylor said several major hotel chains have moved to permanently cut down on labor costs by reducing levels of service under the guise of COVID. Taboniar’s hotel in Hawaii for example has shifted to cleaning rooms every five days unless the guest specifically requests otherwise in advance. Even as the hotel was at more than 90% occupancy in August, she was only employed for half her usual pre-pandemic number of days.

The delta variant of the coronavirus also poses a challenge, threatening future school closures and the delay of plans to return workers to their offices.

Walsh called the delta variant “an asterisk on everything.”

The sudden lapse of a crucial element of the pandemic safety net has fueled calls for a re-evaluation of the entire unemployment benefits system. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the chairman of the Finance Committee, said in an interview it’s crucial that Congress modernizes the unemployment insurance system as part of the package.

“It’s heartbreaking to know it didn’t have to be this way,” Wyden said.

One of the changes he proposes is to have jobless benefits more linked to economic conditions, so they won’t expire in times of need. “We got to take the unemployment system into the 21st century,” he said.

Associated Press writer Josh Boak contributed to this report.



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Two anchors of COVID safety net ending, affecting millions


WASHINGTON (AP) — Mary Taboniar went 15 months without a paycheck, thanks to the COVID pandemic. A housekeeper at the Hilton Hawaiian Village resort in Honolulu, the single mother of two saw her income completely vanish as the virus devastated the hospitality industry.

For more than a year, Taboniar depended entirely on boosted unemployment benefits and a network of local foodbanks to feed her family. Even this summer as the vaccine rollout took hold and tourists began to travel again, her work was slow to return, peaking at 11 days in August — about half her pre-pandemic workload.

Taboniar is one of millions of Americans for whom Labor Day 2021 represents a perilous crossroads. Two primary anchors of the government’s COVID protection package are ending or have recently ended. Starting Monday, an estimated 8.9 million people will lose all unemployment benefits. A federal eviction moratorium already has expired.

While other aspects of pandemic assistance including rental aid and the expanded Child Tax Credit are still widely available, untold millions of Americans will face Labor Day with a suddenly shrunken social safety net.

“This will be a double whammy of hardship,” said Jamie Contreras, secretary-treasurer of the SEIU, a union that represents custodians in office buildings and food service workers in airports. “We’re not anywhere near done. People still need help. … For millions of people nothing has changed from a year and a half ago.”

For Taboniar, 43, that means her unemployment benefits will completely disappear — even as her work hours vanish again. A fresh virus surge prompted Hawaii’s governor to recommend that vacationers delay their plans.

“It’s really scaring me,” she said. “How can I pay rent if I don’t have unemployment and my job isn’t back?”

She’s planning to apply for the newly expanded SNAP assistance program, better known as food stamps, but doubts that will be enough to make up the difference. “I’m just grasping for anything,” she said.

President Joe Biden’s administration believes the U.S. economy is strong enough not to be rattled by evictions or the drop in unemployment benefits. Officials maintain that other elements of the safety net, like the Child Tax Credit and the SNAP program (which Biden permanently boosted earlier this summer) are enough to smooth things over. On Friday, a White House spokesperson said there were no plans to reevaluate the end of the unemployment benefits.

“Twenty-two-trillion-dollar economies work in no small part on momentum and we have strong momentum going in the right direction on behalf of the American workforce,” said Jared Bernstein, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said he believed the country’s labor force was ready for the shift.

“Overall the economy is moving forward and recovering,” Walsh said in an interview. “I think the American economy and the American worker are in a better position going into Labor Day 2021 than they were on Labor Day 2020.”

Walsh and others point to encouraging job numbers; as of Friday the unemployment rate was down to a fairly healthy 5.2%. But Andrew Stettler, a senior fellow with the Century Foundation, a left-leaning think tank, says the end of the expanded unemployment benefits is still coming too early.

Rather than setting an arbitrary deadline, Stettler says the administration should have tied the end of the the protections to specific economic recovery metrics. He suggests three consecutive months with nationwide unemployment below 5% as a reasonable benchmark to trigger the end of the unemployment benefits.

“This does seem to be the wrong policy decision based on where we are,” Stettler said.

The end to these protections while the economic crisis persists could have a devastating impact on lower-middle class families that were barely holding on through the pandemic. Potentially millions of people “will have a more difficult time regaining the foothold in the middle class that they lost,” Stettler said.

Biden and the Democrats who control Congress are at a crossroads, allowing the aid to expire as they focus instead on his more sweeping “build back better” package of infrastructure and other spending. The $3.5 trillion proposal would rebuild many of the safety net programs, but it faces hurdles in the closely divided Congress.

The COVID-19 response has been sweeping in its size and scope, some $5 trillion in federal expenditures since the virus outbreak in 2020, an unprecedented undertaking.

Congressional Republicans had supported some of the initial COVID-19 outlays, but voted lockstep against Biden’s $1.9 trillion recovery package earlier this year as unnecessary. Many argued against extending another round of unemployment aid, and Republicans vow to oppose Biden’s $3.5 trillion package lawmakers are expected to consider later this month.

There are still multiple avenues of support available, although in some cases the actual delivery of that support has been problematic.

States with higher levels of unemployment can use the $350 billion worth of aid they received from the relief package to expand their own jobless payments, as noted by an Aug. 19 letter by Walsh and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

Federal rental assistance funds remain available, though the money has been slow to get out the door, leaving the White House and lawmakers pushing state and local officials to disperse funds more quickly to both landlords and tenants.

The investment bank Morgan Stanley estimated Thursday that the economy will grow at an annual pace of 2.9% in the third quarter, down sharply from its prior forecast of 6.5%. That decline largely reflects a pullback in federal aid spending and supply chain bottlenecks.

And the economy still faces hurdles. Union officials says sectors like hotel housekeepers and office janitorial staffs have been the slowest to recover.

“Our industry is the tip of the spear when it comes to COVID,” said D. Taylor, president of UNITE HERE, a union that represents hotel housekeepers — a field that is “primarily staffed by women and people of color.”

Many of those housekeepers never returned to full employment even as Americans resumed traveling and hotel occupancy rates swelled over the summer.

Taylor said several major hotel chains have moved to permanently cut down on labor costs by reducing levels of service under the guise of COVID. Taboniar’s hotel in Hawaii for example has shifted to cleaning rooms every five days unless the guest specifically requests otherwise in advance. Even as the hotel was at more than 90% occupancy in August, she was only employed for half her usual pre-pandemic number of days.

The delta variant of the coronavirus also poses a challenge, threatening future school closures and the delay of plans to return workers to their offices.

Walsh called the delta variant “an asterisk on everything.”

The sudden lapse of a crucial element of the pandemic safety net has fueled calls for a re-evaluation of the entire unemployment benefits system. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the chairman of the Finance Committee, said in an interview it’s crucial that Congress modernizes the unemployment insurance system as part of the package.

“It’s heartbreaking to know it didn’t have to be this way,” Wyden said.

One of the changes he proposes is to have jobless benefits more linked to economic conditions, so they won’t expire in times of need. “We got to take the unemployment system into the 21st century,” he said.

___

Associated Press writer Josh Boak contributed to this report.



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Millions travel for Labor Day weekend, despite surge in COVID cases | News


ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) — Whether you’re traveling by air or by roadways, expect the skies and the highways to be packed.

“Labor Day is big and it’s getting busy as you can see here the numbers will be high we expect to see 1.3 billion passengers from Thursday yesterday to Tuesday which is pretty substantial,” explained Director of Communications and Public Affairs for Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Andrew Gobeil.

Both Friday and Saturday they are expecting to see a total of 230,000 passengers, which was just an average day prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We did take a Covid test I’m not sure about everyone’s vaccination status though, “Passenger Angie Norman told CBS46 she’s going to Miami for a family wedding and will be staying inside as opposed to going out on the town…“because we are definitely not trying to catch corona,” Norman goes on to say.

Passenger Felisha Brown says with the number of those affected by covid-19 on the rise and the delta variant running rampant she is a little nervous about flying.

“This is a surprise trip for me so… I’m nervous but I’m excited as well at the same time,” Felisha said.

Her husband is encouraging everyone to do what is best for them.

“Everyone’s not going to feel comfortable I think you just got to do what’s best for you and yours,” said Felisha’s husband Brian Brown.

While the airport is maintaining COVID-19 protocol, requiring social distancing, mask, with access to more than 500 hand sanitizer stations.

The Georgia Department of Public Safety is ramping up patrols and conducting road checks participating in a campaign in effort to reduce the number of impaired drivers on the roadways.

Last year’s Labor Day ended with 17 fatal crashes reported resulting in 19 fatalities.

Georgia State Patrol investigated 13 of the fatal crashes, which included 15 deaths.

“Everything has just been so crazy these past almost 2 years now I’m hoping this pandemic can go away and we can go back to living life semi-normal,” said passenger Matthew Burns.

Copyright 2021 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.





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Henri heads Northeast as millions gird for high winds and flooding


Signs on the highway warn commuters not to travel on Sunday as Hurricane Henri approaches in Long Island, New York, U.S.

Caitlin Ochs | REUTERS

Henri was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm early Sunday, still packing wind gust of up to 75 mph as it began lashing the northeastern U.S. coastline.

Millions on New York’s Long Island and in southern New England braced for the possibility of flooding, toppled trees and extended power outages.

With the center of the storm projected to pass just off the eastern tip of Long Island by midday, hurricane warnings extended from coastal Connecticut and Rhode Island to the luxurious oceanfront estates of New York’s Hamptons.

The storm had maximum sustained winds of 70 mph (110 kph) in an 8 a.m. EDT update from the U.S. National Hurricane Center, just shy of hurricane status. The highest winds measured were 75 mph (121 kph) off the coast of Rhode Island.

Experts warned that the storm’s biggest threat likely won’t come from wind but from storm surge and inland flooding, caused by what are expected to be heavy and sustained rains. Some of the highest rain totals were expected inland.

Troy Buckner of Southampton, in eastern Long Island’s Hamptons, wouldn’t let the storm interrupt his near-daily routine of getting coffee with his dad at the Golden Pear, one of the few spots open on Main Street Sunday morning.

“Today we thought we’d still try to keep a little bit of normalcy, but we’re heading back home for the remainder,” Buckner said as the rain pelted down. “We plan for the worst. You just never know. We always anticipate Southampton could be the center, the bull’s eye.”

A lack of major roadways on the eastern end of Long Island makes mass evacuations untenable, East Hampton Mayor Jerry Larsen said.

Satellite image of Tropical Storm Henri as it hits the Northeast US on Aug. 22nd, 2021.

NOAA

“We have one lane of travel leaving the Hamptons so it’s a little difficult to order evacuations,” Larsen told The Associated Press. “So most people will shelter in place and, God willing, everyone will come through this OK.”

In preparation for the storm, officials in Providence, Rhode Island, and New Bedford, Massachusetts, closed giant hurricane barriers that were built in the 1960s, after devastating storms in 1938 and 1954.

Massachusetts’ Steamship Authority canceled all Sunday ferry service between the mainland and the popular vacation islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket after the U.S. Coast Guard shut down ports on Cape Cod and New Bedford. Tourists waiting in their cars, hoping for a last-minute ferry off the islands, were stranded until the worst of Henri passes.

The first thunderstorms bringing what could be up to half a foot (15 centimeters) of rain arrived late Saturday, and flash flooding began in some areas overnight. Bands of heavy rain overwhelmed storm drains and drivers plowed through foot-deep water in a few spots in New York City, and Newark and Hoboken, New Jersey.

Tropical storm-intensity winds were beginning to strike the coast Sunday morning. Rising tide threatened to produce dangerous storm surge.

People in the projected path spent Saturday scrambling to stock up on groceries and gasoline. Those close to the coast boarded up windows and, in some cases, evacuated.

Residents and visitors on Fire Island, a narrow strip of sandy villages barely above sea level off Long Island’s southern coast, were urged to evacuate. The last boats out left before 11 p.m. Saturday and officials warned there might be no way to reach people left behind.

Rafael Roman boards up a client’s home as Hurricane Henri approaches East Haven, Connecticut, U.S.

Michelle McLoughlin | Reuters

Approaching severe weather Saturday night also cut short a superstar-laden concert in Central Park.

Gov. Ned Lamont warned Connecticut residents they should prepare to “shelter in place” from Sunday afternoon through at least Monday morning as the state braces for the first possible direct hit from a hurricane in decades. Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee issued a similar warning.

President Joe Biden declared disasters in much of the region, opening the purse strings for federal recovery aid. The White House said Biden discussed preparations with northeastern governors and that New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who succeeds Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday, also participated.

Major airports in the region remained open as the storm approached, though hundreds of Sunday’s flights were canceled. Service on some branches of New York City’s commuter rail system was suspended through Sunday, as was Amtrak service between New York and Boston.

New York hasn’t had a direct hit from a powerful cyclone since Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc in 2012. Some of the most important repairs from that storm have been completed, but many projects designed to protect against future storms remain unfinished.

Regardless of its exact landfall, broad impacts were expected across a large swath of the Northeast, extending inland to Hartford, Connecticut, and Albany, New York, and eastward to Cape Cod, which is teeming with tens of thousands of summer tourists.

Storm surge between 3 and 5 feet (1 to 1.5 meters) was possible in much of Long Island Sound all the way to Chatham, Massachusetts, and slightly less on Long Island’s Atlantic coast, the hurricane center said. Flash flooding was possible in inland areas already saturated by recent rain.



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Memorial Day weekend: Millions of pent-up Americans ‘revenge travel’ in pandemic’s first maskless holiday


As New York, Chicago, D.C. and other cities have scheduled Memorial Day parades, which were nonexistent in 2020, people are also returning to beaches, national parks and stadiums. Rick Ueno, general manager of W South Beach hotel, told CNN that with the return of summer travelers, he is pushing his employees to get vaccinated so that they will not only be healthy but also benefit from the folks coming to South Florida with disposable income to spend.



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Scammers hitting millions of people waiting for passports, BBB warns


(NewsNation Now) — Passport scams are on the rise as the processing backlog allowing scammers to take advantage of impatient travelers ready for summer travel.

The Better Business Bureau said scams are increasing as the reported wait time for a passport is between 12 weeks and 18 weeks, even if you pay for expedited processing. That’s because of ripple effects from the coronavirus pandemic that caused extreme disruptions to the process at domestic issuance facilities and overseas embassies and consulates.

“Scammers, posing as passport expeditors are stepping in and convincing their victims for a higher fee they can get quickly get through the processing time, including the initial internal intake of the applications, and mailing,” said Steve Bernas, president and CEO of BBB of Chicago and Northern Illinois. “Along with money losses in these scams, passports contain critical personal information that unlocks identity theft for years to come.”

BBB provided a list of tips to protect Americans against passport scams:

  • Watch for spoofers pretending to be a government agency. It’s extremely easy for making phone calls, e-mails, texts, and even phony websites to look like their coming from a real agency.
  • Never trust an unsolicited phone call or email pretending to be the State Department or Passport Agency asking for personal information or payment of fees.
  • Always check out any company with BBB.ORG before you do business with them.
  • Any form of unusual forms of payments like gift cards, wire transfers, even bitcoin are “Tip off’s to the Rip off.”
  • If you have lost money or encountered a scam, please report it to the BBB Scamtracker and help protect other consumers and your community.

The State Department and Department of Homeland Security have already taken steps to ease issues related to Americans abroad with expired passports who are seeking to return home.

The departments announced in May that U.S. citizens who are currently overseas and whose passports expired on or after Jan. 1, 2020, would be able to use their documents to reenter the United States until Dec. 31, 2021. That provision does not apply to travel between third countries unless it is a transit stop.

Rachel Arndt, deputy assistant secretary of state for passport services, said the department is increasing COVID-19-reduced staffing throughout the United States as pandemic restrictions are eased. But she said last week Americans needing to apply for or renew a passport should do so at least six months ahead of when they plan to travel.

“We really encourage folks to apply for or renew their passport at least six months ahead of when you’ll need one to avoid any of those last-minute problems,” she told reporters.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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