In Brief: May 8, 2020

Experts worry CDC is sidelined in coronavirus response

NEW YORK — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has repeatedly found its suggestions for fighting the coronavirus outbreak taking a backseat to other concerns within the Trump administration. That leaves public health experts outside government fearing the agency’s decades of experience in beating back disease threats are going to waste.

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“You have the greatest fighting force against infectious diseases in world history. Why would you not use them?” said Dr. Howard Markel, a public health historian at the University of Michigan.

The complaints have sounded for months. But they have become louder following repeated revelations that transmission-prevention guidance crafted by CDC scientists was never adopted by the White House.

The latest instance surfaced Thursday, when The Associated Press reported that President Donald Trump’s administration shelved a CDC document containing step-by-step advice to local authorities on how and when to reopen restaurants and other public places during the current pandemic.

The administration has disputed the notion that the CDC had been sidelined, saying the agency is integral to the administration’s plans to expand contact tracing nationwide.

Justice Department dropping Flynn’s Trump-Russia case

WASHINGTON — In an abrupt about-face, the Justice Department on Thursday said it is dropping the criminal case against President Donald Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, abandoning a prosecution that became a rallying cry for the president and his supporters in attacking the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation.

The action was a stunning reversal for one of the signature cases brought by special counsel Robert Mueller. It comes even though prosecutors for the past three years have maintained that Flynn lied to the FBI in a January 2017 interview about his conversations with the Russian ambassador.

Flynn admitted as much, pleading guilty before later asking to withdraw the plea, and he became a key cooperator for Mueller as the special counsel investigated ties between Russia and Trump’s 2016 political campaign.

Thursday’s action was swiftly embraced by Trump, who has relentlessly tweeted about the “outrageous” case and last week pronounced Flynn “exonerated,” and it is likely to energize supporters of the president who have taken up the retired Army lieutenant general as a cause.

But it will also add to Democratic complaints that Attorney General William Barr is excessively loyal to the president, and could be a distraction for a Justice Department that has sought to focus on crimes arising from the coronavirus.

Father, son charged with killing black man Ahmaud Arbery

SAVANNAH, Ga. — Georgia authorities arrested a white father and son Thursday and charged them with murder in the February shooting death of a black man they had pursued in a truck after spotting him running in their neighborhood.

The charges came more than two months after Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was killed on a residential street just outside the port city of Brunswick. National outrage over the case swelled this week after cellphone video that appeared to show the shooting.

Those close to Arbery celebrated the news but also expressed frustration at the long wait.

“This should have occurred the day it happened,” said Akeem Baker, one of Arbery’s close friends in Brunswick. “There’s no way without the video this would have occurred. I’m just glad the light’s shining very bright on this situation.”

Gregory McMichael, 64, previously told police that he and his son chased after Arbery because they suspected him of being a burglar. Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, has said she thinks her son, a former football player, was just jogging in the Satilla Shores neighborhood before he was killed on a Sunday afternoon.

Official: Strict US border policy may remain as virus eases

WASHINGTON — The U.S, policy of quickly expelling migrants apprehended along the Mexican border may have to stay in place even after coronavirus quarantine restrictions ease around the country, a Trump administration official said Thursday.

Immigration advocates say the policy has deprived some people of the right to seek asylum. It is set to expire May 20, but the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Mark Morgan, said it may need to be extended to protect public health.

Morgan said U.S. health authorities should consider that the virus may not yet have peaked in Mexico and Central America, along with the potential for it to spread in Border Patrol detention facilities and beyond, before determining whether pre-outbreak enforcement can resume.

“Even if we talk about the United States opening up it’s a phased approach,” Morgan told reporters on a conference call to discuss statistics showing a steep drop in border apprehensions. “We’re not going to go zero to 60 and it’s going to go back to the way it was pre-COVID overnight.”

From wire sources

President Donald Trump has made reducing illegal immigration a signature issue. His opponents have accused him of using the pandemic as a pretext to adopt hard-line policies that appeal to his political base as he seeks a second term in the White House.

Hundreds evacuated as wildfires rage in Florida Panhandle

MILTON, Fla. — All day it had been sunny. Then it grew dark as the winds began to whip. Daniel Felder stepped out into the road to watch the acrid smoke billow toward him. Ash started raining from the sky like light snow drifting in twilight.

Then came the crackle of fire, and he knew it was time to run.

“Next thing you know, the fire was right there,” said Felder, 45, recounting the harrowing minutes Wednesday afternoon when a raging fire swept through his bucolic wooded neighborhood in Florida’s Panhandle.

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Unable to flee, Felder and his landlord waded into a nearby pond until the fire passed.

The house was spared, but the fire took down a barn and turned the surrounding trees into a charred forest of blackened trunks.

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