In Brief: March 13, 2021

COVID-19 deaths falling but Americans ‘must remain vigilant’

NEW YORK — U.S. deaths from COVID-19 are falling again as the nation continues to recover from the devastating winter surge, a trend that experts are cautiously hopeful will accelerate as more vulnerable people are vaccinated.

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While new coronavirus infections and hospitalizations have plummeted, the decline in deaths from a January peak of about 4,500 hasn’t been quite as steep. But, now, after weeks of hovering around 2,000 daily deaths, that figure has dropped to about 1,400 U.S. lives lost each day to coronavirus.

“I am encouraged by these data but we must remain vigilant,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at Friday’s White House briefing.

Public health experts say it’s too soon to say, definitively, what’s driving declines since the surge — but they suspect a post-holiday drop in traveling and indoor gatherings, widespread mask wearing and the vaccine rollout have all contributed.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” said Harvard Medical School researcher Jagpreet Chhatwal. “I think a message of optimism is fair.”

Stay or go? Fence, Guard pose Capitol security questions

WASHINGTON — Nobody, it seems, wants to keep the security fence around the U.S. Capitol anymore — except the police who fought off the horrific attack on Jan. 6.

Lawmakers call the razor-topped fencing “ghastly,” too militarized and, with the armed National Guard troops still stationed at the Capitol since a pro-Trump mob laid siege, not at all representative of the world’s leading icon of democracy.

“All you have to do is to see the fencing around the Capitol to be shocked,” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said in an interview Friday.

How to protect lawmakers, while keeping the bucolic Capitol grounds open to visitors has emerged as one of the more daunting, wrenching questions from deadly riot. Not since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has security been so elevated, and the next steps so uncertain, for the Capitol complex.

From wire sources

Five people died after the mob stormed the building trying to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s election over Republican Donald Trump. The former president was impeached by the House, and acquitted by the Senate, for inciting the insurrection.

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IRS says new round of COVID relief payments on the way

WASHINGTON — Along with daylight saving time, this weekend could bring some Americans fatter bank balances.

Officials at the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service said Friday that processing of the new round of stimulus payments has already begun, with the aim of having the first payments start showing up in bank accounts this weekend.

President Joe Biden signed the new $1.9 trillion rescue package on Thursday, the day after it won final passage in the House. The measure provides for payments to qualifying individuals of up to $1,400, with payments to a qualifying family of four of $5,600.

“The payments will be delivered automatically to taxpayers even as the IRS continues delivering regular tax refunds,” IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said in a statement.

It is estimated that 85% of Americans will be eligible for the payments and the goal is to have millions of the payments disbursed in the next few weeks.

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‘Gonna be sore:’ La. troopers boasted of beating Black man

Louisiana State Police troopers joked in a group text about beating a Black man after a high-speed chase last year, saying the “whoopin” would give the man “nightmares for a long time,” according to new court filings.

“He gonna be sore tomorrow for sure,” Trooper Jacob Brown, who was charged in the case and resigned Wednesday, texted three of his colleagues. “Warms my heart knowing we could educate that young man.”

The May arrest of 29-year-old Antonio Harris — who authorities say was beaten by troopers even after he “immediately surrendered” — bears a strong resemblance to the State Police pursuit a year earlier that ended in the still-unexplained death of another Black motorist, Ronald Greene.

Greene’s death was captured on body-worn camera footage the agency refuses to release and remains the subject of a federal civil rights investigation.

Brown, 30, who faces charges in two other excessive-force cases, had pulled Harris over for a minor traffic violation on Interstate 20 in Richland Parish when Harris reentered his vehicle and fled, State Police said.

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US resumes aid to Yemen’s rebel north as famine threatens

The United States announced a resumption of aid to Yemen’s rebel-held north on Friday to fight a looming famine as the country’s nearly six-year-old war grinds on. U.N. officials warned that a blockade of fuel deliveries to a main port was heightening the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The aid concern came as President Joe Biden’s envoy to Yemen expressed frustration at the country’s Houthi rebels, saying they were focusing on fighting to capture more territory while an international and regional diplomatic push was underway to end the conflict.

“Tragically, and somewhat confusingly for me, it appears that the Houthis are prioritizing a military campaign” to seize central Marib province, envoy Tim Lenderking said. He spoke in an online event sponsored by the Atlantic Council think tank, after his more than two-week trip in the region to push for a cease-fire and ultimately a peace deal.

The developments deepen the challenges for the Biden administration as it goes out on a limb to try to end the Yemen war through diplomacy, reversing previous U.S. administrations’ support for an inconclusive Saudi-led military offensive that tried to roll back the Iran-allied Houthi rebels. The rebels have shown no sign of relenting despite Biden’s diplomatic overtures, adding to tensions between the U.S. and its strategic partner Saudi Arabia.

Lenderking said the Houthis have had a cease-fire proposal before them for a “number of days” and urged them to respond positively.

AP study: Nearly 90% of esports scholarships going to men

Colleges and universities rushing to invest in the booming arena of varsity esports are overwhelmingly committing opportunities and scholarships to male players, according to data collected by The Associated Press.

Male gamers held 90.4% of roster spots and received 88.5% of scholarship funds in a sample of 27 public American schools surveyed by the AP during this school year. The glaring gender disparity exists even though 41% of U.S. gamers are female, according to the Entertainment Software Association, and in a realm where — unlike traditional sports — there are no physical barriers separating male and female competitors.

“It’s tremendously sad and tremendously not surprising,” said Grace Collins, an expert on gaming, education and gender.

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The AP requested roster and scholarship data from 56 public U.S. schools identified among the 192 participants in the National Association of Collegiate Esports, relying largely on public records requests.

Several schools responded that although their programs compete at the varsity level, they had not been sanctioned varsity status by the school. Their roster data was often incomplete, and those programs were held out of the sample. A handful of other schools either denied the AP’s request or did not respond to repeated messages.

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