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'Soul-crushing': US COVID-19 deaths are topping 1,900 a day

COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have climbed to an average of more than 1,900 a day for the first time since early March, with experts saying the virus is preying largely on a distinct group: 71 million unvaccinated Americans.

The increasingly lethal turn has filled hospitals, complicated the start of the school year, delayed the return to offices and demoralized health care workers.

“It is devastating," said Dr. Dena Hubbard, a pediatrician in the Kansas City, Missouri, area who has cared for babies delivered prematurely by cesarean section in a last-ditch effort to save their mothers, some of whom died. For health workers, the deaths, combined with misinformation and disbelief about the virus, have been "heart-wrenching, soul-crushing."

Twenty-two people died in one week alone at CoxHealth hospitals in the Springfield-Branson area, a level almost as high as that of all of Chicago. West Virginia has had more deaths in the first three weeks of September — 340 — than in the previous three months combined. Georgia is averaging 125 dead per day, more than California or other more populous states.

“I’ve got to tell you, a guy has got to wonder if we are ever going to see the end of it or not,” said Collin Follis, who is the coroner in Missouri’s Madison County and works at a funeral home.


House OKs debt and funding plan, inviting clash with GOP

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House voted late Tuesday to keep the government funded, suspend the federal debt limit and provide disaster and refugee aid, setting up a high-stakes showdown with Republicans who oppose the package despite the risk of triggering a fiscal crisis.

The federal government faces a shutdown if funding stops on Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year — midnight next Thursday. Additionally, at some point in October the U.S. risks defaulting on its accumulated debt load if its borrowing limits are not waived or adjusted.

Rushing to prevent that dire outcome, the Democratic-led House passed the measure by a party-line vote of 220-211. The bill now goes to the Senate, where it is likely to falter because of overwhelming GOP opposition.

“Our country will suffer greatly if we do not act now to stave off this unnecessary and preventable crisis,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said shortly before the vote.

Backed by the White House, the Democratic leaders pushed the package to approval at a time of great uncertainty in Congress. With lawmakers already chiseling away at the $3.5 trillion price tag of President Joe Biden’s broad “build back better” agenda, immediate attention focused on the upcoming deadlines to avert deeper problems if votes to shore up government funding fail.


Mexico buses, flies Haitians from remote area on US border

CIUDAD ACUNA, Mexico (AP) — Mexico has begun busing and flying Haitian migrants away from the U.S. border, authorities said Tuesday, signaling a new level of support for the United States as a giant refugee camp in a small Texas border town presented President Joe Biden with a humanitarian and increasingly political challenge.

Mexico has helped at key moments before. It intensified patrols to stop unaccompanied Central American children from reaching the Texas border in 2014, allowed tens of thousands of asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for hearings in U.S. immigration courts in 2019 and, just last month, began deporting Central American migrants to Guatemala after the Biden administration flew them to southern Mexico.

Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s foreign relations secretary, said Tuesday he had spoken with his U.S. counterpart, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, about the Haitians’ situation. Ebrard said most of the Haitians already had refugee status in Chile or Brazil and weren’t seeking it in Mexico.

“What they are asking for is to be allowed to pass freely through Mexico to the United States,” Ebrard said.

Two Mexican federal officials, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, confirmed Mexico's actions.


China, US unveil separate big steps to fight climate change

The two biggest economies and largest carbon polluters in the world announced separate financial attacks on climate change Tuesday.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said his country will no longer fund coal-fired power plants abroad, surprising the world on climate for the second straight year at the U.N. General Assembly. That came hours after U.S. President Joe Biden announced a plan to double financial aid to poorer nations to $11.4 billion by 2024 so those countries could switch to cleaner energy and cope with global warming’s worsening impacts. That puts rich nations close to within reach of its long-promised but not realized goal of $100 billion a year in climate help for developing nations.

“This is an absolutely seminal moment,” said Xinyue Ma, an expert on energy development finance at Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center.

This could provide some momentum going into major climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, in less than six weeks, experts said. Running up to the historic 2015 Paris climate deal, a joint U.S.-China agreement kickstarted successful negotiations. This time, with China-U.S. relations dicey, the two nations made their announcements separately, hours and thousands of miles apart.

“Today was a really good day for the world,” United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is hosting the upcoming climate negotiations, told Vice President Kamala Harris.


Afghanistan girls soccer team given asylum in Portugal

The girls on Afghanistan’s national soccer team were anxious. For weeks, they had been moving around the country, waiting for word that they could leave.

One wants to be a doctor, another a movie producer, others engineers. All dream of growing up to be professional soccer players.

The message finally came early Sunday: A charter flight would carry the girls and their families from Afghanistan — to where they didn't know. The buses that would take them to the airport were already on their way.

“They left their homes and left everything behind,” Farkhunda Muhtaj, the captain of the Afghanistan women’s national team who from her home in Canada had spent the last few weeks communicating with the girls and working to help arrange their rescue, told The Associated Press. “They can’t fathom that they’re out of Afghanistan.”

Since the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the girls, ages 14-16, and their families, had been trying to leave, fearing what their lives might become like under the Taliban — not just because women and girls are forbidden to play sports, but because they were advocates for girls and active members of their communities.


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Sequoia National Park's Giant Forest unscathed by wildfire

THREE RIVERS, Calif. (AP) — The ancient massive trees of Sequoia National Park’s famed Giant Forest were unscathed Tuesday even though a wildfire has been burning near them on the western side of California’s Sierra Nevada for nearly two weeks.

“As of right now we don’t have any damage to any of our trees,” said fire information officer Mark Garrett.

The KNP Complex, two lightning-sparked fires that merged, has spread over more than 39 square miles (101 square kilometers), feeding on other types of trees that also live on the high-elevation slopes of the mountain range.

Giant Forest is home to about 2,000 sequoias, including the General Sherman Tree, which is considered the world’s largest by volume and is a must-see for visitors to the national park.

The fire recently entered the perimeter of Giant Forest near a cluster of huge trees called the Four Guardsmen but their bases had been wrapped in fire-resistant material and crews had raked and cleared vegetation that could help spread the fire, Garrett said.


UN: Afghanistan's Taliban want to address General Assembly

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Who should represent Afghanistan at the United Nations this month? It's a complex question with plenty of political implications.

The Taliban, the country's new rulers for a matter of weeks, are challenging the credentials of their country's former U.N. ambassador and want to speak at the General Assembly’s high-level meeting of world leaders this week, the international body says.

The question now facing U.N. officials comes just over a month after the Taliban, ejected from Afghanistan by the United States and its allies after 9/11, swept back into power as U.S. forces prepared to withdraw from the country at the end of August. The Taliban stunned the world by taking territory with surprising speed and little resistance from the U.S.-trained Afghan military. The Western-backed government collapsed on Aug. 15.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres received a communication on Sept. 15 from the currently accredited Afghan Ambassador, Ghulam Isaczai, with the list of Afghanistan’s delegation for the assembly’s 76th annual session.

Five days later, Guterres received another communication with the letterhead “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” signed by “Ameer Khan Muttaqi” as “Minister of Foreign Affairs,” requesting to participate in the U.N. gathering of world leaders.


Toxic gas, new rivers of molten lava endanger Spanish island

EL PASO, Canary Islands (AP) — As a new volcanic vent blew open and unstoppable rivers of molten rock flowed toward the sea, authorities on a Spanish island warned Tuesday that more dangers lie ahead for residents, including earthquakes, lava flows, toxic gases, volcanic ash and acid rain.

Several small earthquakes shook the island of La Palma in the Atlantic Ocean off northwest Africa on Tuesday, keeping nerves on edge after a volcanic eruption on Sunday. The island, with a population of 85,000, is part of the Canary Islands archipelago, a key tourist destination for Europeans.

Authorities said the new fissure demonstrated that the area was unstable and unsafe, and kept people at least 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) away.

The rivers of lava, up to six meters (nearly 20 feet) high, rolled down hillsides, burning and crushing everything in their path, as they gradually closed in on the island's more densely populated coast. One was bearing down on Todoque, where more than 1,000 people live, and where emergency services were preparing evacuations.

So far, the eruption has destroyed around 190 houses and forced the evacuation of 6,000 people.


US sues to stop deal between American Airlines and JetBlue

The Justice Department and officials in six states have filed a lawsuit to block a partnership formed by American Airlines and JetBlue, claiming that it will reduce competition and lead to higher fares.

The Justice Department said Tuesday that the agreement will eliminate important competition in New York and Boston and reduce JetBlue's incentive to compete against American in other parts of the country.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said the lawsuit was about ensuring fair competition that lets Americans fly at affordable prices.

“In an industry where just four airlines control more than 80% of domestic air travel, American Airlines’ ‘alliance’ with JetBlue is, in fact, an unprecedented maneuver to further consolidate the industry," Garland said in a statement. “It would result in higher fares, fewer choices, and lower quality service if allowed to continue.”

American and JetBlue vowed to fight the lawsuit and to continue their alliance unless a court orders them to stop.


Report: Births decline in pandemic may have turned corner

While there has been a decline in births in the U.S. during the pandemic, a new report released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau suggests the drop may have turned a corner last March as births started rebounding.

The decline in births was most noticeable at the end of 2020 and beginning of 2021. In December 2020, births in the U.S. were down 7.7% from the previous year, and they were down 9.4% last January compared to the previous January.

Births continued to be down 2.8% in February from the previous year, but in March births barely declined, only 0.15%, compared to March 2020, when the new coronavirus was declared a national emergency.

“This trend suggests that some people who postponed having babies last year had them this year," said Anne Morse, a Census Bureau demographer in the report. “The winter decrease in births may have been prompted by couples who consciously chose to delay having children amid the uncertainty of the pandemic. It may also have been influenced by stress or limited physical interaction with a sexual partner."

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in May that U.S. birth rate fell 4% last year, the largest single-year decrease in nearly 50 years.

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