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Experimental COVID-19 vaccine is put to its biggest test
 07.27.20

The biggest test yet of an experimental COVID-19 vaccine got underway Monday with the first of some 30,000 Americans rolling up their sleeves to receive shots created by the U.S. government as part of the all-out global race to stop the pandemic.

The glimmer of hope came even as Google, in one of the gloomiest assessments of the coronavirus’ staying power from a major employer, decreed that most of its 200,000 employees and contractors should work from home through next June — a decision that could influence other big companies.

Final-stage testing of the vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., began with volunteers at numerous sites around the U.S. given either a real dose or a dummy, without being told which.

“I’m excited to be part of something like this. This is huge,” said Melissa Harting, a 36-year-old nurse who received an injection in Binghamton, N.Y. Especially with family members in front-line jobs that could expose them to the virus, she added, “doing our part to eradicate it is very important to me.”

It will be months before results trickle in, and there is no guarantee the vaccine will ultimately work against the scourge that has killed over 650,000 people around the world, including almost 150,000 in the U.S.

“We’ve been sitting on the sidelines passively attempting to wear our masks and social distance and not go out when it’s not necessary. This is the first step of becoming active against this,” said Dr. Frank Eder of Meridian Clinical Research, the company that runs the Binghamton trial site. “There’s really no other way to get past this.”

As if to underline how high the stakes are, there were more setbacks in efforts to contain the coronavirus.

In Washington, the Trump administration disclosed that national security adviser Robert O’Brien has the virus — the highest-ranking U.S. official to test positive so far. The White House said he has mild symptoms and “has been self-isolating and working from a secure location off site.”

The move to restart the national pastime ran into trouble just five days into the long-delayed season: Two major league baseball games scheduled for Monday night were called off as the Miami Marlins coped with an outbreak — the Marlins’ home opener against the Baltimore Orioles, and the New York Yankees’ game in Philadelphia, where the Marlins used the clubhouse over the weekend.

As for relief from the economic damage done by the virus, Republicans on Capitol Hill rolled out a $1 trillion package that includes another round of $1,200 direct payments but reduces the extra $600 a week in federal unemployment benefits that are expiring for millions of Americans. Republicans proposed $200 a week, saying the generous bump discourages people from returning to work. Democrats call the added benefits a lifeline for those who have lost their jobs.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows worked through the weekend on the GOP proposal and have agreed to negotiate with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer. House Democrats passed a $3 trillion relief package a couple of months ago.

In Europe, rising infections in Spain and other countries caused alarm only weeks after nations reopened their borders in hopes of reviving tourism. Over the weekend, Britain imposed a 14-day quarantine on travelers arriving from Spain, Norway ordered a 10-day quarantine for people returning from the entire Iberian peninsula, and France urged its citizens not to visit Spain’s Catalonia region.

Scientists set speed records getting a made-from-scratch vaccine into massive testing just months after the coronavirus emerged. But they stressed that the public shouldn’t fear that anyone is cutting corners.

“This is a significant milestone,” NIH Director Francis Collins said after the very first test injection was given, at 6:45 a.m. in Savannah, Ga. “Yes, we’re going fast, but no, we are not going to compromise” on proving whether the vaccine is safe and effective.

“We are focusing on speed because every day matters,” added Stephane Bancel, CEO of Massachusetts-based Moderna.

After volunteers get two doses a month apart, scientists will closely track which group experiences more infections as they go about their daily routines, especially in areas where the virus is spreading unchecked.

The answer probably won’t come until November or December, cautioned Dr. Anthony Fauci, NIH’s infectious-diseases chief.

Among many questions the study may answer: How much protection does just one dose offer compared with the two scientists think are needed? If it works, will it protect against severe disease or block infection entirely?

Don’t expect a vaccine as strong as the measles vaccine, which prevents about 97% of measles infections, Fauci said, adding he would be happy with a COVID-19 vaccine that’s 60% effective.

Several other vaccines made by China and by Britain’s Oxford University began smaller final-stage tests in Brazil and other hard-hit countries earlier this month. But the U.S. requires its own tests of any vaccine that might be used in the country.

Every month through the fall, the government-funded COVID-19 Prevention Network will roll out a new study of a leading candidate, each with 30,000 volunteers.

The final U.S. study of the Oxford shot is set to begin in August, followed by a candidate from Johnson & Johnson in September and one from Novavax in October. Pfizer Inc. plans its own 30,000-person study this summer.

That’s a stunning number of people needed to roll up their sleeves for science. In recent weeks, more than 150,000 Americans filled out an online registry signaling interest, Collins said. But many more are needed.

NIH is working to make sure that the study isn’t just filled with healthy, younger volunteers but includes populations hit hardest by COVID-19, including older adults, those in poor health and African Americans and Latinos.

“We really are going to depend upon that sense of volunteerism for individuals from every different corner of society if we’re going to really find out how this vaccine, and its potential to end this terrible pandemic, is go to work in each of those groups,” Collins said.


National
AP
More federal agents dispatched to Portland
 07.27.20

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is sending more federal agents to Portland, where protesters and local officials say the aggressive tactics have inspired more violent clashes and re-energized protests in cities across the nation.

The U.S. Marshals Service decided last week to send more deputies to Portland, according to an internal email reviewed by The Washington Post, with personnel beginning to arrive last Thursday night. The Department of Homeland Security is also considering a plan to send an additional 50 U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel to the city, according to senior administration officials involved in the federal response who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal deliberations.

Such moves would mark a significant expansion of the federal force operating at the Portland federal courthouse — there were 114 federal agents there in mid-July — though it is unclear how many existing personnel could be sent home after the arrival of at least 100 reinforcements.

The Trump administration has responded to protests and vandalism in Oregon’s largest city with a shock-and-awe strategy, using a sudden escalation in force by camouflage-clad federal agents.

That may work as a campaign tactic if it provides Trump a way to sell himself as a law-and-order candidate, the antidote to chaos that developed on his own watch.

But as a policing tactic, it has failed to suppress the protests. The escalation has been followed by larger, better-equipped and more-aggressive crowds, and — as the new reinforcements showed — it exhausted federal resources before it exhausted the protesters.

“Every time we go out into this, we get better at it,” said Gregory McKelvey, 27, a community organizer in Portland. “When a flash bang first goes off in front of you, you run. But when you realize that one went off right in front of you and nothing happened to you, you’re less likely to run the next time. It makes people band together and say, ‘No, we’re not backing down.’”

As the nightly street battles in Portland have gotten more attention, they have triggered internal investigations into the conduct of federal agencies such as the Marshals Service and the CBP. Some federal law enforcement officials worry that agents in Portland may be losing control of the streets around the federal courthouse and losing the public debate over their handling of the unrest, according to three people familiar with the internal conversations who were not authorized to discuss them with reporters.

There is growing concern among federal law enforcement officials that some individuals in the crowds outside the courthouse have gotten more aggressive in recent days, and that the number of federal agents on site may not be sufficient to handle them. Protesters have injured federal agents with large commercial-grade fireworks while others have aimed lasers at their eyes, leading to several injuries, DHS officials said.

Now officials and demonstrators in other cities that have experienced ongoing protests against police violence fear that federal agents will bring the same tactics to them.

In Seattle, protesters who saw camouflage-clad officers standing in their streets at a distance on Sunday wondered whether they were the federal agents who were seen snatching protesters off the streets of Portland.

“We don’t even know who we’re dealing with,” said one protester, Madeline, who uses they and them pronouns and declined to give their last name because they feared police retribution. Federal officers have not been sent to Seattle, Trump has said.

Worried that this might change, a Seattle group has copied one strategy used in Portland: organizing a “Wall of Moms” to stand between protesters and police. Christine Edgar, one member of the Seattle group, said they have had mixed results inserting themselves between protesters and Seattle police.

“At several points, moms tried to get between police and protesters and were hurt doing that,” Edgar said. “Because we formed so quickly, we didn’t have a clear strategy on how to do that, but a lot of brave moms linked arms and did that whenever they could.”

In Aurora, Colo., Mayor Mike Coffman worried that his local police were facing protesters who had been radicalized by the clashes they had heard about in Portland. On Saturday, after a protest over the death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain in Aurora police custody, someone broke windows in the city’s municipal complex.

Coffman, a Republican, wrote on Twitter that provocateurs unaffiliated with the main protest had “sought to bait the police into a confrontation and to destroy as much public property as possible.”

“#Aurora cannot become #Portland,” Coffman wrote.

A protest in Austin, Texas, turned fatal on Saturday when a driver navigated his vehicle toward the marchers and fired at 28-year-old protester Garrett Foster, who had brought an assault rifle to a march, police said.

The driver — who was fired upon by a third armed man at the scene — was not injured, officials said, and police released him while their investigation continued.

On Sunday evening, other protesters remembered Foster, who had been a regular at past marches about police brutality. They said his death would inspire others to join the cause, chanting, “He didn’t die, he multiplied!”

But some worry that the shooting will lead to more guns at the protests, increasing the chances of violence.

“It’s hard to see how more weapons in a charged environment will help keep things safer when it seems to do more to escalate situations,” said Jimmy Flannigan, a member of the nonpartisan Austin City Council, who supports the protesters.

Portland has been the scene of long-running protests over police mistreatment of minorities, with demonstrators’ anger increasingly focused on a large federal courthouse downtown. Confrontations between the heavily armed federal agents and black-clad protesters have intensified in recent weeks, and Trump administration officials have pledged to defeat the “violent anarchists” who they say are trying to burn down the building.

The decision to boost the size of the federal force probably will anger local officials who have accused the Trump administration of making the situation worse and have called for the federal agents to leave the city. Congressional Democrats also have criticized the administration’s response, accusing the president of using conflict as a rallying point for his reelection.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., said the federal agents’ tactics had already worsened the unrest on Portland’s streets, and he was concerned that the president would continue to escalate the tensions.

“I’m worried that Trump will force things to get even more out of hand, and that will likely lead to worse violence,” Blumenauer said. “It doesn’t take much of a spark when you’ve got these extremes.”

Federal officials have also discussed creating a stronger fence around the courthouse that would be more resistant to nightly efforts to move or dismantle it, and would form a more secure area where protesters could not bring gas masks, shields or weapons, according to people familiar with the discussions. It’s unclear how seriously officials are considering this tactic.

Outside the current fence, it is easy to see evidence that protesters have adapted to the escalated use of force.

Along the base of the reinforced iron fence that surrounds the federal courthouse in downtown Portland, a line of shields — homemade plywood rectangles with handles made of rope drilled through the center — sit, waiting for their moment.

On some, black marker announces that they’re free for the taking. Another pile of plastic storage-bin lids and barrel bottoms encircled by pool noodles — to better repel batons and projectiles — sits in the park across the street from the courthouse.

On Saturday, the largest crowd Portland protests have seen since the earliest days of the demonstrations that followed George Floyd’s death gathered in the street, chanting, shouting, dancing to drum beats and bouncing a beach ball through the air. On the side of the Multnomah County Justice Center, which houses the county jail, demonstrators projected the words, “Fed goons out of PDX.”

Although many newcomers had arrived carrying little more than a sign and wearing a cloth face covering — because of the still-raging coronavirus — the more seasoned in the crowd had amassed a small arsenal of protective equipment: helmets, knee pads, motorcycle armor, gas masks, respirators, a snorkeling mask jury-rigged to withstand tear gas.

At one point, some people in the crowd began to shoot fireworks toward the broken windows of the federal courthouse. Federal agents burst through the plywood-reinforced doors of the building and rushed forward toward the fence line. They shot “less-lethal” munitions through dark squares cut into the boards.

Explosions burst into the night as protesters fell into a familiar choreography: Those without respirators fell back as tear gas clouded the air. Those who wore masks able to withstand the barrage of chemical agents ran forward, many carrying shields to press up against the fence and block federal officers from firing stun grenades, pepper pellets, rubber bullets and paintballs into the crowd.

Some began to shake the fence, pushing it back and forth to the beat of drums or chants. Others lobbed water bottles and other household objects — some of them still crying and coughing from the burn of the gas as they pulled their arms back to throw. Volunteer medics pulled retching, coughing people to safety back behind the tree line of the park, where someone had strung up six box fans to repel the gas.

After a short break, with protesters returning to passing a beach ball and blowing bubbles into the air, the pattern repeated.

About half a dozen people were arrested in downtown Portland on Saturday after police declared a riot and ordered those gathered to leave the area. About 18 more were charged with federal offenses after being arrested near the courthouse last week.

As people gathered on Sunday, they joined in a chant led by a demonstrator with a microphone standing on the steps of the Justice Center.

“Portland, you scared?” he called.

“Hell no,” the crowd yelled back. “I ain’t scared.”

In related news Monday:

• A top administration official said the militarized officers will remain in Portland until attacks on the federal courthouse cease. “It is not a solution to tell federal officers to leave when there continues to be attacks on federal property and personnel,” U.S. Attorney Billy Williams said. ”We are not leaving the building unprotected to be destroyed by people intent on doing so.”

• The mayors of Portland and five other major U.S. cities appealed Monday to Congress to make it illegal for the federal government to deploy militarized agents to cities that don’t want them. “This administration’s egregious use of federal force on cities over the objections of local authorities should never happen,” the mayors of Portland, Seattle, Chicago, Kansas City, Mo., Albuquerque, N.M., and Washington, D.C., wrote to leaders of the U.S. House and Senate.

• Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty called for a meeting with Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf to discuss a cease-fire and removal of heightened federal forces from Portland.


Coronavirus
Hard to find a snug fit: Demand for child-sized face masks grows amid mask requirements, an approaching school year
 07.28.20

Yakima County's new mask mandate and the possibility of at least some in-person classes in the fall have led many parents to seek out face coverings for their children – and hopefully ones that fit well.

The Office of Emergency Management only gives out adult-size masks, but a few options exist for free options for children. Those willing to pay can also find homemade choices if they don't want to order online or go to the store.

A standard children's cloth mask measures 5 by 10 inches, compared to 6 by 12 for the adult version. However, smaller children might need a smaller mask for a snug fit that still covers their mouth and nose.

Selah Auto Care's Mary Elizabeth LaTour has made thousands of masks for community members in recent months. Although her volunteer efforts initially included only adult masks, she understands well the importance of children's masks with four children of her own getting ready for seventh through twelfth grade this fall.

Over the past month, she said she's seen demand rise considerably and struggled to keep children's cloth masks on her shelves.

"I want them back in school," LaTour said. "I have elderly family members. I want them safe. I want to get this COVID over with."

The state made it clear students would be required to wear face coverings if they go back to school. Regional superintendent Kevin Chase ruled out a full return last week, but a hybrid schedule featuring two days of in-person classes and three days at home is still considered a possibility.

Chase said districts would supply masks if students return to class on campus, but said he wasn't sure if they would be child-sized.

That could vary by district.

In Yakima School District, children's masks will be available. They have been ordered for students in pre-kindergarten through Grade 5, said district communications director Kirsten Fitterer.

Across the county in the second-largest school district, each Sunnyside student will have their own mask, said communications director Jessica Morgan. One fabric mask has been ordered for each student in the district. They have the logo of the school each students attend on them – so a Pioneer Elementary School student will have a distinct look from a student at Chief Kamiakin Elementary School, for example.

The masks are broken down in size and age group, said Morgan. A small mask is available for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students, a youth size is available for students in first and second grade, and standard-sized masks are available for students third grade and up. She said she believed the standard masks had adjustable straps.

Off campus, parents must also ensure their children wear masks if they go into local businesses, according to the state's new mandate. Face coverings are optional for kids 2-5 years old and shouldn't be worn by kids under two, since the CDC said they could be a choking hazard.

LaTour said to keep up with demand she's outsourced some of her work to about 20 family and friends, most of whom cut the fabric before bringing it back to LaTour to sew. So far she's given away 3,500 two-layer cotton masks with lycra for the ear connections, and she's not sure how many of those were for children.

Those efforts often keep her working late into the night, but LaTour plans to keep producing masks until they're no longer needed.

Reporter Janelle Retka contributed to this story.


Update
Yakima County reports 81 new COVID-19 cases Monday
 07.27.20

The Yakima Health District reported 81 new COVID-19 cases Monday, and no new deaths.

The total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Yakima County since mid-March has reached 10,195. The death toll is 191.

A total of 37 people were hospitalized Monday, an increase of six from Sunday. The number of patients on ventilators dropped from four to three.

Health officials said 7,420 people have recovered from COVID-19, an additional 48 from Sunday.

The rate of new cases over the past two weeks is 407 per 100,000 in Yakima County. About 15% of people tested for COVID-19 over the past two weeks tested positive, according to the state Department of Health. While those two numbers aren’t yet close to meeting the state’s criteria for reopening, they have been declining over the past few weeks and are headed in the right direction.

Call 211 for community testing site information.


Stories
Feds launch first office on missing Indigenous cases
 07.27.20

MINNEAPOLIS — Ivanka Trump and Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt visited a Minneapolis suburb on Monday to open an office dedicated to investigating cold cases involving missing and murdered Indigenous peoples.

The new office in Bloomington, Minn., is part of the Operation Lady Justice Task Force created via executive order by President Donald Trump in November to address violence against Native Americans, particularly women and girls, which advocates say are often overlooked by law enforcement across the country. The task force, co-chaired by Bernhardt and U.S. Attorney General William Barr, aims to develop protocols for law enforcement to respond to missing and slain Native American persons cases and to improve data and information collection.

“Since his earliest days in office, President Trump has fought for the forgotten men and women of this country,” Ivanka Trump said. “Today is another fulfillment of that promise as this new office will work to ensure that the challenges American Indians and Alaskan Natives face do not go unseen or unresolved.”

The office will be led by a special agent-in-charge from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services, and will coordinate efforts by local, federal and tribal law enforcement personnel to solve cold cases.

Monday’s opening will be followed by Cold Case Task Force office openings in Rapid City, S.D., on Aug. 4; Billings, Mont., on Aug. 6; Nashville, Tenn., on Aug. 12; Albuquerque, N.M., on Aug. 18; Phoenix on Aug. 20 and Anchorage, Alaska, on Aug. 27.

Local connections

Of the more than 1,400 unresolved American Indian and Alaskan Native missing person cases nationwide, 136 are in Minnesota, according to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center.

A 2019 report from the Washington State Patrol said there were 56 missing Native women in Washington state, and 20 from Yakima County. The numbers may be higher — dozens of Native men and women are missing, murdered or have died mysteriously on the Yakama reservation. Some people have been missing for decades. Many cases remain unsolved.

Earlier this month, Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, who represents Central Washington, sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy urging that two pieces of legislation to address the violence against Indigenous women be considered by the House before its August recess. The two bills — Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act — passed unanimously in the House Judiciary Committee in March.

Protest

Dozens of protesters gathered Monday outside of the new office in Minnesota, waving an American Indian Movement flag and carrying signs that read “Trusting Trump = Death” and “No More Stolen Sisters.” State Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein, who is of Standing Rock Lakota descent, joined protesters outside the new office.

“Our women are not photo opportunities,” she told protesters. “Our women are not for show.”

Minnesota lawmakers last year established a state Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls task force of elected officials, law enforcement and tribal representatives to make recommendations for the Legislature. Minnesota Democrats said Monday the creation of the federal office is politically motivated and disingenuous, citing an attempt by the Trump administration to deny tribal nations COVID-19 relief funding.

Kunesh-Podein, a co-chair and author of the bill that established the state task force, said the Trump administration didn’t reach out to the task force or other Native American state officials before the visit Monday, and that she only learned of the cold case office after it was announced. The new office evokes “historic trauma” carried by Indigenous peoples of the federal government “setting things up and putting things in order for the good of the Indian people without taking into consideration their viewpoints, their wants and their needs,” she said.

“It sort of has the feeling of a pop-up department from the federal government, and without knowing exactly what it is about, it just feels very inauthentic,” she said.

Ivanka Trump did not take questions at the office opening. Bernhardt said state officials weren’t invited due to the small size of the venue and the focus on federal efforts, though he said they are open to working with the state task force.