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AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EST

| November 16, 2020 8:33 PM

Governors ratchet up restrictions ahead of Thanksgiving

From California to Pennsylvania, governors and mayors across the U.S. are ratcheting up COVID-19 restrictions amid the record-shattering resurgence of the virus that is all but certain to get worse because of holiday travel and family gatherings over Thanksgiving.

Leaders are closing businesses or curtailing hours and other operations, and they are ordering or imploring people to stay home and keep their distance from others to help stem a rising tide of infections that threatens to overwhelm the health care system.

“I must again pull back the reins,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday as he restricted indoor gatherings to 10 people, down from 25. “It gives me no joy.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he is pulling the “emergency brake” on efforts to reopen the economy, saying the state is experiencing the fastest growth in cases yet, and if left unchecked, it will lead to “catastrophic outcomes." The move closes many nonessential indoor businesses and requires the wearing of masks outside homes, with limited exceptions.

The tightening came as Moderna Inc. announced that its experimental coronavirus vaccine appears to be over 94% effective, based on early results. A week ago Pfizer disclosed similar findings with its own formula.

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2nd virus vaccine shows striking success in US tests

A second experimental COVID-19 vaccine — this one from Moderna Inc. — yielded extraordinarily strong early results Monday, another badly needed dose of hope as the pandemic enters a terrible new phase.

Moderna said its vaccine appears to be 94.5% effective, according to preliminary data from an ongoing study. A week ago, competitor Pfizer Inc. announced its own vaccine looked 90% effective — news that puts both companies on track to seek permission within weeks for emergency use in the U.S.

The results are “truly striking,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government's top infectious-diseases expert. “The vaccines that we're talking about, and vaccines to come, are really the light at the end of the tunnel.”

A vaccine can’t come fast enough, as virus cases topped 11 million in the U.S. over the weekend — 1 million of them recorded in just the past week — and governors and mayors are ratcheting up restrictions ahead of Thanksgiving. The outbreak has killed more than 1.3 million people worldwide, over 246,000 of them in the U.S.

Stocks rallied on Wall Street and around the world on rising hopes that the global economy could start returning to normal in the coming months. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained more than 470 points, or 1.6%, to close at a record high of over 29,950. Moderna stock was up almost 10%.

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AP sources: Trump to order troop cuts in Afghanistan, Iraq

President Donald Trump is expected to cut a significant number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and a smaller number in Iraq by the final days of his presidency, U.S. officials said Monday. The plan would run counter to military commanders' advice over the past year, while still falling short of Trump's much-touted goal to end America's long wars.

The decision comes just days after Trump installed a new slate of loyalists in top Pentagon positions who share his frustration with the continued troop presence in the war zones. But the expected plans would leave 2,500 troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan, meaning that President-elect Joe Biden would be the fourth president to grapple with the still-smoldering conflicts launched in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

U.S. officials said military leaders were told over the weekend about the planned withdrawals and that an executive order is in the works but has not yet been delivered to commanders. Officials cautioned that there could always be changes, and Trump is known to make snap decisions based on media reports and online chatter. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

There are 4,500 to 5,000 troops in Afghanistan and more than 3,000 in Iraq.

As news broke about the plan, Republican leaders on Capitol Hill issued stark warnings about making any hasty exit from Afghanistan that could jeopardize the peace process and undermine counterterrorism efforts.

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'More people may die': Biden urges Trump to aid transition

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — President-elect Joe Biden on Monday warned of dire consequences if President Donald Trump and his administration continue to refuse to coordinate with his transition team on the coronavirus pandemic and block briefings on national security, policy issues and vaccine plans.

The remarks marked Biden's toughest comments to date on Trump's failure to acknowledge his election loss and cooperate with the incoming administration for a peaceful transfer of power.

“More people may die if we don’t coordinate,” Biden told reporters during a news conference in Wilmington, Delaware.

Biden and his aides — and a small but growing group of Republicans — have emphasized the importance of being briefed on White House efforts to control the pandemic and distribute prospective vaccines. The Trump administration is working on its own distribution plan, while Biden’s chief of staff indicated his transition team will proceed with their own planning separately because of the obstruction.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said it's “absolutely crucial that the apparent president-elect and his team have full access to the planning that has gone on” for vaccine distribution.

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Pandemic politics leave DC in gridlock as virus surges

WASHINGTON (AP) — With the nation gripped by a resurgent coronavirus and looking to Washington for help, President Donald Trump and lawmakers in Congress have a message for struggling Americans: Just keep waiting.

The urgency of the nationwide surge in virus cases, spiking hospitalizations and increasing death tolls has hardly resonated in the nation’s capital as its leaders are vexed by transition politics and trying to capitalize on the promise of a coming vaccine. The virus has killed more than 247,000 Americans this year and infected at least 11.1 million — some 1 million of them in just the past week.

Yet in Congress, where talks over economic relief bills stalled out months ago, lame-duck approval of aid is hardly front-of-mind. Across town at the White House, Trump is more focused on getting credit for the vaccine development push and blocking President-elect Joe Biden from getting the information needed to ensure the new administration can smoothly take over the fight against the pandemic.

“Another Vaccine just announced,” Trump tweeted Monday morning after Moderna announced that its candidate appeared in early testing to be 95% effective against the virus. “For those great ‘historians’, please remember that these great discoveries, which will end the China Plague, all took place on my watch!”

On a call Monday with governors, Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the White House coronavirus task force, struck a rosy tone and asked states to give their residents comfort that vaccines are coming and that “America and your state has never been more prepared.”

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Hate crimes in US reach highest level in more than a decade

WASHINGTON (AP) — Hate crimes in the U.S. rose to the highest level in more than a decade as federal officials also recorded the highest number of hate-motivated killings since the FBI began collecting that data in the early 1990s, according to an FBI report released Monday.

There were 51 hate crime murders in 2019, which includes 22 people who were killed in a shooting that targeted Mexicans at a Walmart in the border city of El Paso, Texas, the report said. The suspect in that August 2019 shooting, which left two dozen other people injured, was charged with both state and federal crimes in what authorities said was an attempt to scare Hispanics into leaving the United States.

There were 7,314 hate crimes last year, up from 7,120 the year before — and approaching the 7,783 of 2008. The FBI’s annual report defines hate crimes as those motivated by bias based on a person’s race, religion or sexual orientation, among other categories.

Some of the 2019 increases may be the result of better reporting by police departments, but law enforcement officials and advocacy groups don’t doubt that hate crimes are on the rise. The Justice Department has for years been specifically prioritizing hate crime prosecutions.

The data also shows there was a nearly 7% increase in religion-based hate crimes, with 953 reports of crimes targeting Jews and Jewish institutions last year, up from 835 the year before. The FBI said the number of hate crimes against African Americans dropped slightly to 1,930, from 1,943.

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Hurricane Iota's front edge pushing onto Nicaragua coast

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — The front edge of powerful Hurricane Iota began battering Nicaragua's Caribbean coast Monday night, threatening catastrophic damage to the same part of Central America already battered by equally strong Hurricane Eta less than two weeks ago.

Iota had intensified into an extremely dangerous Category 5 storm early in the day, but the U.S. National Hurricane Center said it weakened slightly by Monday night to Category 4, with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph (250 kph). It was centered about 30 miles (45 kilometers) south of the Nicaraguan city of Puerto Cabezas, also known as Bilwi, and moving westward at 9 mph (15 kph).

Iota was hitting the Caribbean coasts of Nicaragua and Honduras with torrential rains and strong winds while the western edge of the storm began battering the Nicaraguan coast.

Authorities warned that Iota would probably come ashore over areas where Eta’s torrential rains saturated the soil, leaving it prone to new landslides and floods, and that the storm surge could reach 15 to 20 feet (4.5 to 6 meters) above normal tides.

In Bilwi, business owner Adán Artola Schultz braced himself in the doorway of his house as strong gusts of wind and rain drover water in torrents down the street. He watched in amazement as wind ripped away the metal roof structure from a substantial two-story home and blew it away like paper.

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SpaceX capsule with 4 astronauts closes in on space station

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — SpaceX’s newly launched capsule with four astronauts closed in Monday on the International Space Station, their new home until spring.

The Dragon capsule was due at the orbiting lab late Monday night, following a 27-hour, completely automated flight from NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

This is the second astronaut mission for SpaceX. But it’s the first time Elon Musk’s company is delivering a crew for a full half-year station stay. The two-pilot test flight earlier this year lasted two months.

The three Americans and one Japanese astronaut will remain at the orbiting lab until their replacements arrive on another Dragon in April. And so it will go, with SpaceX — and eventually Boeing — transporting astronauts to and from the station for NASA.

This regular taxi service got underway with Sunday night's launch.

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About 90K sex abuse claims filed in Boy Scouts bankruptcy

NEW YORK (AP) — Close to 90,000 sexual abuse claims have been filed against the Boy Scouts of America as the Monday deadline arrived for submitting claims in the organization’s bankruptcy case.

The number far exceeds the initial projections of lawyers across the United States who have been signing up clients since the Boy Scouts filed for bankruptcy protection in February in the face of hundreds of lawsuits alleging decades-old sex abuse by Scout leaders.

“We are devastated by the number of lives impacted by past abuse in Scouting and moved by the bravery of those who have come forward,” the Boy Scouts said in a statement. “We are heartbroken that we cannot undo their pain.”

A few hours before the 5 p.m. EST deadline, the number of claims totaled 88,500, lawyers said.

Eventually, the proceedings in federal bankruptcy court will lead to the creation of a compensation fund to pay out settlements to abuse survivors whose claims are upheld.

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What does COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness mean?

What does COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness mean?

It refers to the likelihood that a coronavirus shot will work in people.

Two vaccine makers have said that preliminary results from their late-stage studies suggest their experimental vaccines are strongly protective. Moderna this week said its vaccine appears nearly 95% effective. This comes on the heels of Pfizer's announcement that its shot appeared similarly effective.

Those numbers raised hopes around the world that vaccines could help put an end to the pandemic sometime next year if they continue to show that they prevent disease and are safe.

Effectiveness numbers will change as the vaccine studies continue since the early calculations were based on fewer than 100 COVID-19 cases in each study. But early results provide strong signals that the vaccine could prevent a majority of disease when large groups of people are vaccinated.