There have now been more than 1.89 million reported cases of the coronavirus in Florida, with 30,624 deaths.
As of 2 p.m. Friday, the Florida Department of Health reported 1,898,223 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state, an increase of 5,922 from Thursday’s update.
The state also reported a single-day increase of 146 deaths.
There are now 408,096 total confirmed cases in Miami-Dade County and 193,560 total cases in Broward.
The total number of cases in Palm Beach County has now reached 119,911, and 5,799 total cases have been reported in Monroe County.
Health officials reported 79,021 hospital admissions statewide.
For a full breakdown of the cases in Florida, click here.
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava says sea level rise will be made a priority from now on.
“Well, here it is! It’s historic, yes it is,” the mayor said during a media conference on Friday morning.
Levine Cava held the event next to Miami’s Little River, announcing a countywide pledge to tackle the pressing problem.
“This is our existential challenge,” Levine Cava said. “This is the one that trumps them all. We must attend to our future, our resilient future, to continue to have all the success and enjoyment of paradise in our beautiful home.”
“It’s a measurable, trackable, relentless reality,” said Miami-Dade County Clerk of Courts Harvey Ruvin.
The mayor called the county’s pledge to tackle rising sea levels one of the most aggressive in the country.
The county identified communities that are most vulnerable and need to be adapted.
The adaptations are said to include major infrastructure improvements that leaders say will ensure safety and sustainability for years to come.
When asked about specific changes and strategies, Levine Cava referred to the plan as a roadmap for how the county will move forward.
“We’ve got a set of principles that will make sure that we’re safer, that it’s more equitable as we build, that we reduce environmental pollution, that we’re flexible to changing conditions [and] that we build with nature,” she said.
Task force leaders said the consequences of rising water levels are already clear across the county and more action cannot wait.
“Now is a new day in Miami-Dade County,” said Miami-Dade County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa. “Let’s move forward.”
Levine Cava said money has already been allocated for these type of projects and from now on, her administration will be ensuring that the money is used for sea level rise projects.
Grocery stores are becoming the newest vaccination sites for doses of hope, and slots for receiving these vaccines filled up quickly.
Registration to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at Publix pharmacies began at 7 a.m. and were quickly filled by 9 a.m.
“Step right in and we’ll get you your COVID-19 vaccine, thank you,” said a Publix employee as he guided a recipient.
Beginning Monday, if you’re 65 and older or a healthcare worker, you will be able to get your vaccine at Miami-Dade and Broward Publix pharmacies.
“It’s great for the neighborhood, especially for the senior citizens that can’t travel far,” one woman said.
Clara Chiong said she’s happy to hear the news and wants to get vaccinated once cleared by her doctor.
“So far, I made it through this year, but my husband and I have been very careful,” she said.
When it comes to access, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said that it will open up as the supply increases.
“I would say without question, barring any problems with vaccine distribution, you’re going to see the age lower at some time in March, for sure.”
Publix joined the growing list of South Florida pharmacies to offer the vaccine.
Earlier this week, all Navarro Discount pharmacies and CVS y Mas stores in Miami-Dade started offering appointments to South Florida seniors.
Starting next Wednesday, Miami-Dade College North Campus will become a federal mass vaccination site.
“It will be administering 2,000 vaccines each day on site and an additional 1,000 per day through mobile units that will travel directly to harder to reach communities,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.
Shots are already underway at the Broward College North Campus.
This new permanent vaccination site is one of three in South Florida.
Oak Grove Park in North Miami Beach and Overtown Youth Center are also offering 200 doses a day.
As the Department of Health reported just over 6,600 new COVID cases statewide on Thursday, DeSantis said he will soon be announcing when teachers and law enforcement will be OK’ed to get the shot.
“We’re looking at within the next 4-6 weeks, we’re looking at this potentially turning a corner just in terms of how ready access people have to it,” he said.
For those who were unable to register, registration reopens on Monday at 7 a.m.
Depending on vaccination availability, there could be appointments up for grabs in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
For more information or to make an appointment at Publix, click here.
A protester who took a rubber bullet to the face is speaking out after the officer involved was exonerated.
Last May, Latoya Ratlieff was struck in the face with a rubber bullet fired by a police officer in Fort Lauderdale. After an investigation, it was found that the officer was following procedure.
“I remember getting the message that he was going to be exonerated, and I remember my heart dropped,” she said.
On Friday, Ratlieff returned to the scene where she was injured, saying she expected the results.
“But to hear it, and to feel it, and to know that nothing is going to happen to an officer that could have blinded me,” she said.
Ratlieff was protesting the death of George Floyd when an unknown subject near her threw a tear gas canister at police.
The rubber bullet was fired in response which, the report said, is consistent with policies in training.
“The review involved taking nearly 30 sworn statements, reviewing hundreds of hours of body-worn camera footage,” said FLPD Interim Chief Patrick Lynn.
The report did find two officers who were heard cursing and laughing were in violation.
“Did you see that motherf****r?” one officer said while laughing. “I just got the one f****r.”
Ratlieff spoke out about a bill in the Florida legislature, which critics say will infringe on the right to protest.
“If HB1 had been the law on May 31, the organizers of that event could have been criminally liable, and even myself, as a victim, could have been criminally liable,” she said.
Supporters of the bill said it will take care of violent protesting and riots, but critics say it goes too far.
The search is on for a missing 15-year-old out of Parkland.
Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies are searching for Angelina Valko who left her home after a disagreement with her mother on Thursday.
The teen stands 5 feet, 3 inches tall and weighs 110 pounds.
Valko has black hair with gold highlights.
She was last seen wearing a gray hoodie and black spandex shorts.
Anyone with information on Valko’s whereabouts is urged to call BSO at 954-753-5050.
MIAMI (AP) — Almost three years after six people were killed when a pedestrian bridge collapsed at Florida International University, plans are moving forward for a new one in the same location.
In a meeting this week, the university’s board of trustees approved the transfer of $9.1 million to the Florida Department of Transportation, which will oversee the design and construction of the bridge, the Miami Herald reported.
The bridge was under construction when the 950-ton span collapsed onto a busy Miami highway on March 15, 2018, trapping cars that had been stopped at a traffic light underneath. One construction worker and five people sitting in their cars were killed.
The new bridge will span the same highway, connecting the university’s Modesto A. Maidique Campus to the downtown area of a Miami suburb.
The Herald reported the university got the $9.1 million from different sources, including $8.5 million from the settlement with the contractors on the failed bridge.
Last year, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis authorized the Florida Department of Transportation to “accept responsibility for completing the new bridge and administering the design and construction contracts,” according to the resolution approved Tuesday by the university’s board.
LANCEFIELD, Au. (WSVN) — Members of an animal sanctuary in Australia rescued an abandoned sheep and shaved off 78 pounds of matted wool.
A good Samaritan spotted the sheep in a forest and brought it to the attention of Edgar’s Mission — a non-profit sanctuary for rescued farm animals.
The sheep, dubbed “Baarack” is believed to have a previous owner as rescuers found that a tag had been torn from his ear.
Kelly Dinham said sheep need shearing at least once a year, according to FOX 13.
Though Baarack seemed to struggle due to the weight of his fleece, rescuers believe he survived “by eating grass and drinking water from puddles.”
“He was underweight, and due to all of the wool around his face he could barely see,” Dinham said. “The weight of the wool too had pulled so much on his lower eyelids that they had sagged… with grit and debris pooling in the gap between his cornea and the lid.”
Dinham said they believe Baarck holds the record for the second-highest recorded weight of fleece.
Baarack continues to recover at the sanctuary.
“He is doing so well today, surprising us really and becoming more trusting too,” Dinham said. “We truly believe that he understands what we have done for him has eased his life and turned it for the better.”
PINELLAS PARK, Fla. (WSVN) — A Port Richey man has been taken into police custody after he allegedly raped his 13-year-old granddaughter.
According to Pinellas Park Police, 51-year-old Terence Edwin Phillips was staying with the victim and her family after his Port Richey home lost power.
Fox 13 reports the teenager told detectives her grandfather came into her room and sexually battered her in her bed in the early morning hours on Saturday.
Police arrested Phillips on Thursday and have charged him with two counts of felony sexual battery.
He is currently being held on a $200,000 bond.
(CNN) — Hyundai will recall 82,000 electric cars globally to replace their batteries after 15 reports of fires involving the vehicles. Despite the relatively small number of cars involved, Hyundai’s recall is one of the most expensive in history, signaling how electric car defects could create hefty costs for automakers — at least in the near future.
The recall will cost Hyundai 1 trillion Korean won, or $900 million. On a per-vehicle basis, the average cost is $11,000 — an astronomically high number for a recall.
Replacing an entire battery is an extreme measure, requiring a similar amount of work and expense as replacing an entire engine of a traditional internal combustion-powered car. Very few recalls of gasoline powered cars require an entire engine to be replaced. One of the few exceptions was a 2014 recall of 785 of the Porsche 911 GT3 sports cars. Porsche did not release the cost of that recall, but it was certainly more expensive on a per-vehicle basis than this Hyundai recall.
Still, a recall costing more than $11,000 per vehicle is extremely rare. Precise figures are not available because most automakers do not disclose the cost of their recalls.
Because there are so many more gasoline-powered cars on the road than EVs, the total cost of those recalls can easily exceed the $900 million this recall is costing Hyundai. For example General Motors recently took a $1.2 billion charge for the cost of replacing Takata airbags, but that covered 7 million vehicles, meaning the recall cost less than $200 per vehicle. The average cost of an auto recall over the last 10 years was about $500 per vehicle, according to Mike Held, a director in the automotive and industrial practice at AlixPartners, a global consulting firm.
“Overall, battery safety and durability will be increasingly important if auto companies want to avoid some of the large battery-recall costs that have befallen the consumer-electronics industry,” he said.
The cost of Hyundai’s recall is another indication of just how expensive EV batteries are relative to the cost of the entire car. Until the cost of batteries comes down, through greater production worldwide and economies of scale, the cost of making electric vehicles will remain higher than comparable gasoline cars.
Once batteries do become less expensive, as is expected in the coming years, EVs could become much cheaper to build because they have fewer moving parts and require as much as 30% fewer hours of labor for assembly compared to traditional vehicles.
The fewer parts on the EVs could also mean that recalls should be less common than for internal combustion-powered cars. But in the near term, there could be significant costs if battery fire problems require battery replacements.Battery fires
No one was injured in any of the Hyundai fires, many of which took place after the cars were shut off and sitting empty. None of the fires took place in the United States. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated last October that there are 6,700 electric Hyundai Konas, the US version of the affected vehicles, on American roads.
Hyundai said an investigation into the fires showed the cars’ defective LG-made battery cells could short circuit.
The recall also covers the Ioniq EV, and Elec City vehicles in South Korea. The recall includes 27,000 Korean vehicles and 55,000 elsewhere in the world.
Fires involving EV batteries are not unique to these vehicles. GM is also recalling an earlier version its electric Chevrolet Bolt because of fire problems caused by its own LG battery, although a different model than the one triggering the Hyundai recall.
GM is not replacing the batteries in the 68,000 Bolts being recalled globally. Of that total, nearly 51,000 are in the United States. While the automaker isn’t saying how its problem will be addressed, it is likely to be handled with a software update.
Tesla also had a problem with battery fires early in its history, but that was tied to road debris kicking up and damaging the batteries. Most EV batteries are installed across the bottom of the car. Tesla dealt with the problem by adding more undercarriage shielding to protect the batteries.
Gasoline or diesel cars also present fire risks, typically after accidents when drivers and passengers are still in the vehicle, posing a greater safety threat.
Hyundai said it is still in talks with battery supplier LG Energy Solutions to determine which company will be responsible for the cost. The Korean Transport ministry seemed to blame LG for the fire problems in its statement on the recall, attributing them to a misaligned battery cell.
But LG’s statement, which said it will cooperate with the Korean Transport Ministry’s ongoing investigation, denied that was the reason for the fires.
“The fire was not recreated in the lab test, and the issue was an early mass production problem in Hyundai Motors dedicated line,” said LG’s statement. The company said it “will further strengthen safety in all processes from product plan to manufacture and inspection.”
We all have a favorite teacher — the ones who inspired us, motivated us and made learning fun.
Five terrific teachers from Broward County were nominated for “Teacher of the Year.”
“My philosophy is that we need to work to educate the whole child,” said Marc Horowitz. “It’s much more than academics.”
Horowitz is an instructional coach at Flamingo Elementary School in Davie and has been teaching for 23 years.
“Just being a part of their education each year for 180 days, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed and just a sense of self-pride to know that I’ve been able to be an impact and maybe provide that spark to get a student interested in a topic,” said Horowitz.
Monika Moorman has also been teaching for more than two decades and has spent the last few years in front of her fourth-grade classroom at Central Park Elementary School in Plantation.
“I’m so fortunate to be a teacher. I get to hang out with an amazing group of 22 students this year that are curious, who are assertive, who question things,” said Moorman.
Alicia Gaines-Holligan has been teaching for 10 years and spent the last five teaching fifth grade at Park Lakes Elementary School in Lauderdale Lakes.
“I’m inspired by being able to engage and encourage creative minds so I can spark the interest in a child who will grow up to be the next doctor, teacher, lawyer,” said Gaines-Holligan.
Fourth-grade teacher Allison Unger-Fink is in the running as well after returning to her roots at Hawkes Bluff Elementary School — where she herself was once a student.
“I think about the fact that I was a student in this particular classroom back in 2004-2005,” said Unger-Fink.
With a school year unlike any other, many teachers have been put to the test.
“Even though this may not be ideal now and I can’t go up and give a student a high five, what they remember from this year will be the skills and those relationships that we have built through class or through the screen,” said Unger-Fink.
This message was also felt by fellow candidate Sheldon McLean.
“I actually feel like a first-year teacher, because this is the first year I’ve had to teach like this,” he said.
McLean teaches band, music and performing arts at Dillard 6-12 School and has been hitting a high note with students there for the past seven years.
“What excites me the most is seeing what happens once they graduate from Dillard,” he said. “Seeing them go on and do whatever — college conservatory, military or they just have a plan, a master plan to take over the world is probably what excites me the most, and that’s what gets me to show up to work every day.”
A winner will be announced on Friday night at the school district’s Annual Teacher of the Year Award Ceremony.
Prince Harry revealed that Archie’s first word was “crocodile” during an appearance on James Corden’s Late Late Show.
The prince told the TV host that Archie is putting words together and singing songs.
The Duke of Sussex also mentioned what the Queen got Archie for Christmas — a waffle maker!
Harry said his son loves waffles and that’s what they have for breakfast most mornings.
COMPTON, Ca. (WSVN) — Firefighters have responded to a massive fire in Compton, California.
Rescue crews surrounded the area shortly after 5 a.m., Friday.
Aerial footage showed several buildings engulfed in flames in a mostly industrial area.
As of 9:15 a.m., no evacuations have been ordered for apartment buildings in the area.
No injuries have been reported.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
Please check back on WSVN.com for more details on this developing story.
(CNN) — Look up at the night sky tonight to catch a glimpse of February’s full moon, which will be 100% full on Saturday at 3:17 a.m. ET.
The full moon will be visible around the world, but poor weather may block the view for some. Moon gazers can watch a live stream of the full moon in Rome from The Virtual Telescope Project.
Native American tribes in the northeastern United States call February’s full moon the “Snow Moon” because of the heavy snowfall this time of year, according to the Maine Farmer’s Almanac.
Tribes across the United States have their own names for February’s full moon, according to the Western Washington University Planetarium website. The Arapaho in the Great Plains have the closest name to Snow Moon, which is “frost sparkling in the sun.”
Other tribes have names that are the opposite, like the Zuni Tribe in New Mexico who call it “onon u’la’ukwamme,” which means “no snow in trails.”
Some tribes named this full moon after animals. The Tlingit Tribe in the Pacific Northwest call it “s’eek dis” or “black bear moon.” The Haida Tribe in Alaska call it “hlgit’un kungáay” or “goose moon.”
This full moon is also significant in other cultures. It marks Māgha Pūjā, an important Buddhist festival that celebrates Buddha gathering his first 1,250 disciples.
Typical of a normal year, 2021 will also have 12 full moons. (Last year had 13 full moons, two of which were in October.)
Here are all of the full moons remaining this year and their names, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac:
Be sure to check for the other names of these moons as well, attributed to the different Native American tribes.
Here is what else you can look forward to in 2021.Meteor showers
There is a bit of a wait until the next meteor shower, the popular Lyrids in April. The Lyrids will peak on April 22 and will be best seen in the Northern Hemisphere — but the moon will be 68% full, according to the American Meteor Society.
The Eta Aquariids follow soon after, peaking on May 5 when the moon is 38% full. This shower is best seen in the southern tropics, but will still produce a medium shower for those north of the equator.
The Delta Aquariids are also best seen from the southern tropics and will peak between July 28 and 29 when the moon is 74% full.
Interestingly, another meteor shower peaks on the same night — the Alpha Capricornids. Although this is a much weaker shower, it has been known to produce some bright fireballs during the peak. And it will be visible for those on either side of the equator.
The Perseid meteor shower, the most popular of the year, will peak between August 11 and 12 in the Northern Hemisphere when the moon is only 13% full.
Here is the meteor shower schedule for the rest of the year, according to EarthSky’s meteor shower outlook.
This year, there will be two eclipses of the sun and two eclipses of the moon — and three of these will be visible for some in North America, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
A total eclipse of the moon will occur on May 26, best visible to those in western North America and Hawaii from 4:46 a.m. ET to 9:51 a.m. ET.
An annular eclipse of the sun will happen on June 10, visible in northern and northeastern North America from 4:12 a.m. ET to 9:11 a.m. ET. The sun won’t be fully blocked by the moon, so be sure to wear eclipse glasses to safely view this event.
November 19 will see a partial eclipse of the moon, and skywatchers in North America and Hawaii will see it between 1 a.m. ET and 7:06 a.m. ET.
And the year ends with a total eclipse of the sun on December 4. It won’t be seen in North America, but those in the Falkland Islands, the southern tip of Africa, Antarctica and southeastern Australia will be able to spot it.Visible planets
Skywatchers will have multiple opportunities to spot the planets in our sky during certain mornings and evenings throughout 2021, according to the Farmer’s Almanac planetary guide.
It’s possible to see most of these with the naked eye, with the exception of distant Neptune, but binoculars or a telescope will provide the best view.
Mercury will look like a bright star in the morning sky from February 28 to March 20, June 27 to July 16, and October 18 to November 1. It will shine in the night sky from May 3 to May 24, August 31 to September 21 and November 29 to December 31.
Venus, our closest neighbor in the solar system, will appear in the western sky at dusk on the evenings of May 24 to December 31. It’s the second brightest object in our sky after the moon.
Mars makes its reddish appearance in the morning sky between November 24 and December 31 and will be visible in the evening sky between January 1 and August 22.
Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, is the third brightest object in our sky. It will be on display in the morning sky between February 17 and August 19. Look for it in the evenings of August 20 to December 31 — but it will be at its brightest from August 8 to September 2.
Saturn’s rings are only visible through a telescope, but the planet itself can still be seen with the naked eye on the mornings of February 10 to August 1 and the evenings of August 2 to December 31. It will be at its brightest between August 1 to 4.
Binoculars or a telescope will help you spot the greenish glow of Uranus on the mornings of May 16 to November 3 and the evenings of January 1 to April 12 and November 4 to December 31 — but at its brightest between August 28 to December 31.
And our most distant neighbor in the solar system, Neptune will be visible through a telescope on the mornings of March 27 to September 13 and the evenings of September 14 to December 31. It will be at its brightest between July 19 and November 8.
(CNN) — US Food and Drug Administration vaccine advisers are scheduled to meet Friday to discuss the potential emergency authorization of a third coronavirus vaccine for the US, this one made by Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine arm Janssen Biotech.
It’s the next step in a process that could end with the new vaccine’s rollout early next week. As with the two currently authorized vaccines, advisers and federal agencies are meeting over a weekend to try to get the vaccines to the US public as soon as possible.
The FDA has already considered the advanced, Phase 3 clinical trial testing data presented by Janssen and says it shows the vaccine is safe and effective. The Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee or VRBPAC is made up of vaccine experts and other medical professionals, industry and consumer representatives who will consider presentations from FDA about its findings, as well as from Janssen.
They’ll also hear the latest from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the spread of the virus, including worrying new variants, and on the CDC’s surveillance for any safety worries from the currently authorized vaccines made by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.
The VRPBAC will vote Friday on whether to recommend FDA emergency use authorization (EUA), and the FDA will then take that vote into consideration in deciding whether to authorize the vaccine.
On Sunday, a second advisory group weighs in. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will look at all the same data and will discuss whether people should get the vaccine and if so who, and when. A vote is expected by 3 p.m. ET from ACIP. The CDC then takes the ACIP vote into consideration and the CDC director — who is currently Dr. Rochelle Walensky — will decide whether the vaccine has her agency’s OK.
After that, distribution can begin. The White House has promised to begin immediately, with 2 million doses going to states and the rest directly to pharmacies and community health centers. The federal government has said it expects to have up to 4 million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine on the first day. The company has promised to ramp up production to deliver 20 million doses by the end of March and 100 million doses by the end of June.
While Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines require two doses for full efficacy, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only one dose, although the company is testing at two-dose regimen to see if it works any better.
Johnson & Johnson’s data indicates its vaccine was 66% effective across all global trials in preventing moderate to severe Covid-19 disease 28 days after immunization. It was 85% effective in preventing severe disease. No one who got the vaccine died from Covid-19.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the Pfizer vaccine to be transported and stored at normal freezing temperatures.
The previous recommendation was for the doses to be stored at temperatures between -80 and -60 degrees Celsius.
Thursday’s announcement relieved some of the troubles with transporting and storing the shots.
ISTANBUL (AP) — A woman rescued her four children from a burning building in Istanbul by throwing them out of a window, and all of them are doing fine, Turkish media reported.
The mother threw the children from a third-floor window amid black smoke from the fire on Wednesday. Video captured each child falling as volunteers stretched out a blanket to catch them.
Bystanders were heard screaming amid sounds of alarms. Some shouted at the woman not to drop the children.
The children were carried to ambulances, and Turkish media reported they were uninjured. The mother was hospitalized as a precaution and then discharged, according to news reports.
The fire, which began in an electrical panel, was extinguished. Two other children and two older adults were also rescued.
Margate Police are seeking the public’s help in finding a missing teen.
The search is on for 16-year-old Lakeisha Scott.
Scott left her home on Thursday and was likely picked up by a vehicle.
She stands 5 feet, 9 inches tall and was last seen wearing a black hoodie, gray pants and black sandals.
If you have any information on Scott’s whereabouts, please contact Margate Police at 954-972-7111.
(CNN) — Next time you travel, make sure to leave your dead shark at home — that is, if you don’t want to make the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)’s list of top 10 catches of the year.
On the list of bizarre items TSA workers found during luggage inspections, a dead baby shark came in at number six, right after a live smoke grenade.
The shark was discovered by TSA agents at Syracuse Hancock International Airport in the fall, floating in a jar of liquid chemical preservative.
And it was this liquid chemical — not the shark — that TSA had a problem with.
“The chemical was deemed to be considered a hazardous material and as such, was not permitted to be carried through the checkpoint,” TSA said in a release.
The no. 1 item on the list is even more surprising
Other items on the list included a slingshot, a book holding concealed knives and an assault rifle.
TSA prohibits carrying guns, knives, bludgeons, self defense devices like pepper spray — and any replicas of these items — onto planes.
Closer to the top were other commonly known non-negotiables — drugs and explosives. Marijuana stashed in a shampoo bottle came in at number four, and a handmade solar panel with explosive potential made second.
But topping the 2020 list is a less traditional TSA catch.
At number one, two TSA canine handlers at Newark Liberty International Airport “caught” each other, and married in the presence of their Explosive Detection Canines, Obelix and Proto.
“The two canines not only detect explosives but also detect love when they see it,” TSA said in an Instagram post.
In 2020, love came out on top for TSA, leaving grenades and dead sharks in the dust.
Should you need to bring a shark on a plane, though, just make sure it’s swimming in water, not chemical solution, the TSA said.
And, as always, cartoon baby sharks are allowed.
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden will exercise his empathy skills Friday during a Texas visit with a dual mission: surveying damage caused by severe winter weather and encouraging people to get their coronavirus shots.
Biden and his wife, Jill, were traveling to Houston for the president’s first trip to a major disaster site since he took office a little over a month ago.
Severe winter weather across the South over Valentine’s Day weekend battered multiple states, with Texas bearing the brunt of unseasonably frigid conditions that caused widespread power outages and frozen pipes that burst and flooded homes. Millions of residents lost heat and running water.
At least 40 people in Texas died as a result of the storm and, although the weather has returned to more normal temperatures, more than 1 million residents were still under orders to boil water before drinking it.
Biden is expected to visit a food bank and meet with local leaders to discuss the storm, relief efforts and progress toward recovery. He is to be accompanied by Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
While in Houston, the Democratic president also planned to visit a mass coronavirus vaccination center run by the federal government. Biden on Thursday commemorated the 50 millionth COVID-19 vaccination since he took office, halfway toward his goal of 100 million shots by his 100th day in office. That celebration followed a moment of silence to mark the passage earlier this week of 500,000 U.S. deaths blamed on the disease.
The post-storm debate in Texas has centered on the state maintaining its own electrical grid and lack of storm preparation, including weatherization of key infrastructure. Some state officials initially blamed the blackouts on renewable energy even though Texas is a heavy user of fossil fuels like oil and gas.
The White House said Biden’s purpose in visiting would be to support, not scold.
“The president doesn’t view the crisis and the millions of people who’ve been impacted by it as a Democratic or Republican issue,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday. “He views it as an issue where he’s eager to get relief, to tap into all the resources in the federal government, to make sure the people of Texas know we’re thinking about them, we’re fighting for them and we’re going to continue working on this as they’re recovering.”
Psaki said policy discussions about better weatherization and preparation could come later, “but right now, we’re focused on getting relief to the people of the state.”
Biden has declared a major disaster in Texas and asked federal agencies to identify additional resources to aid the recovery. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has sent emergency generators, bottled water, ready-to-eat meals and blankets.
Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said in an interview that he didn’t know what more the federal government could do to help because the failures were at the state level. But Henry, a Republican who is the highest county official in the suburban Houston county, said that if Biden “thinks it’s important to visit, then come on down.”
Biden wanted to make the trip last week, but said at the time that he held back because he didn’t want his presence and entourage to detract from the recovery effort.
Biden, whose life has been marked by personal tragedy, is known for his ability to empathize with others and their suffering. His first wife and infant daughter were killed in a car collision in 1972. His son, Beau Biden, died of brain cancer in 2015 at age 46.
No Texas lawmakers were expected to hitch a ride home aboard Air Force One due to “limitations on space” on the plane, Psaki said.
It was unclear whether Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz would join Biden in the state. Members of Congress often tag along when a president visits their state.
The state’s other senator, Republican John Cornyn, planned to join Biden, a spokesman said.
Cruz, an ally of former President Donald Trump and one of a handful of GOP lawmakers who had objected to Congress certifying Biden’s victory, was scheduled to address the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, on Friday morning, a spokesman said.
Cruz was recently criticized for taking his family to Cancun, Mexico, while millions of Texans shivered in their unheated homes during the disaster. Cruz later said the trip was a mistake. Cornyn’s plans were unclear.
Coincidentally, Houston also was the destination for Trump’s first presidential visit to a disaster area in 2017 after Hurricane Harvey caused catastrophic flooding that August.
Trump, who is not known for displays of empathy, did not meet with storm victims on the visit. He returned four days later and urged people who had relocated to a shelter to “have a good time.”
NEW YORK (AP) — Another mutated version of the coronavirus has popped up in New York City, and experts reacted to the the news with a mixture of caution and concern.
The new variant first appeared in the New York area in late November, and has since cropped up in neighboring states, according to researchers at the California Institute of Technology, one of two teams to share their work this week.
But how problematic the variant may be isn’t known yet. Viruses are constantly mutating — or making typos in their genetic code — as they spread and make copies of themselves.
“Most are not of particular concern,” said Francois Balloux, director of the University College London’s Genetics Institute.
However, he added, “Noticing them early, flagging them, raising concern is useful.”
That’s because some genetic tweaks can be worrisome, especially if they help the virus spread more easily, make it more deadly or curb the effectiveness of vaccines. Scientists use genome sequencing and other research to figure out which are a potential problem.
New York City health officials and Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday sought to tamp down worries about the new variant, emphasizing that the new research is preliminary and little is known about the variant.
“Some variants are just that, they’re variants.” said Dr. Jay Varma, senior health adviser to the mayor.
WHAT DID THEY FIND IN NEW YORK?
Two research groups — at Caltech and Columbia University in New York — released papers this week describing their findings about the new variant. Neither paper has been published or reviewed by other scientists.
The Caltech researchers found that the new variant showed up in about a quarter of the 1,200 virus sequences they looked at this month. The variant has also shown up in New Jersey and Connecticut and has made “isolated appearances across the country,” said CalTech’s Anthony West, a co-author of the paper.
On Thursday, Columbia University researchers released their research that scrutinized about 1,100 virus samples from patients treated at the university’s medical center, dating back to November. During the second week of February, the new variant was identified in 12% of the samples, they reported. They also found patients infected with the mutated virus were more likely to be older and have been hospitalized.
Both groups noted that the new variant has a mutation that could potentially weaken the effectiveness of vaccines — a mutation seen in other worrisome variants.
“There is clearly something to keep an eye on,” Balloux said.
HOW MANY OTHER VARIANTS ARE THERE?
New variants have been showing up throughout the pandemic, but three are considered the most worrisome — they’ve been designated “variants of concern.” They were first detected in Britain, South Africa and Brazil but have spread to other countries.
The one identified in the U.K. late last year has since been found in 45 U.S. states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The strain is concerning because it has so many mutations, nearly two dozen. Some are on the spiky protein that the virus uses to attach to and infect cells — and that current vaccines and antibody drugs target.
One of the spike protein mutations is seen in the variants discovered early on in Brazil and South Africa, and, now, the new variant in New York.
A variant that has been spreading in California is also getting attention. It’s been found in 40% to 50% of samples examined by the Los Angeles Count Department of Public Health, according to Director Barbara Ferrer. But there isn’t enough rigorous research to determine what, if any, effect its mutations might have.
After what many described as a slow start, the federal government in recent weeks has ramped up its genetic sequencing to look for and study virus variants to figure out which ones might be a problem. In the meantime, Ana S. Gonzalez Reiche, a virologist at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, urged caution.
“Without evidence, we don’t need to alarm ourselves about every variant detected,” she said.
Studies are raising concern that first-generation COVID-19 vaccines don’t work as well against a variant that first emerged in South Africa as they do against other versions. In response, drug companies are already figuring out how to modify their vaccines.
Experts say that in the meantime, public health measures like social distancing and masks will reduce opportunities for the coronavirus to continue mutating and run rampant.
“Emerging of variants will occur,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, told NBC on Thursday. “The trick is when they do occur, to prevent them from spreading.”