'Tired to the bone': Hospitals overwhelmed with virus cases

Overwhelmed hospitals are converting chapels, cafeterias, waiting rooms, hallways, even a parking garage into patient treatment areas. Staff members are desperately calling around to other medical centers in search of open beds. Fatigue and frustration are setting in among front-line workers.

Conditions inside the nation’s hospitals are deteriorating by the day as the coronavirus rages across the U.S. at an unrelenting pace and the confirmed death toll surpasses 250,000.

“We are depressed, disheartened and tired to the bone,” said Alison Johnson, director of critical care at Johnson City Medical Center in Tennessee, adding that she drives to and from work some days in tears.

The number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 in the U.S. has doubled in the past month and set new records every day this week. As of Tuesday, nearly 77,000 were hospitalized with the virus.

Newly confirmed infections per day in the U.S. have exploded more than 80% over the past two weeks to the highest levels on record, with the daily count running at close to 160,000 on average. Cases are on the rise in all 50 states. Deaths are averaging more than 1,155 per day, the highest in months.


Biden approaches 80 million votes in historic victory

President-elect Joe Biden's winning tally is approaching a record 80 million votes as Democratic bastions continue to count ballots and the 2020 election cracks turnout records.

Biden has already set a record for the highest number of votes for a winning presidential candidate, and President Donald Trump has also notched a high-water mark of the most votes for a losing candidate. With more than 155 million votes counted and California and New York still counting, turnout stands at 65% of all eligible voters, the highest since 1908, according to data from The Associated Press and the U.S. Elections Project.

The rising Biden tally and his popular vote lead — nearly 6 million votes — come as Trump has escalated his false insistence that he actually won the election, and his campaign and supporters intensify their uphill legal fight to stop or delay results from being certified, potentially nullify the votes of Americans.

“It's just a lot of noise going on, because Donald Trump is a bull who carries his own china shop with him,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University. “Once the noise recedes, it's going to be clear that Biden won a very convincing victory.”

Biden currently has an Electoral College lead of 290-232. But that does not include electors from Georgia, where Biden leads Trump by 0.3 percentage points as officials conduct a hand tally. The AP has not called the race, but if Biden's lead holds he will win the Electoral College on 306-232 vote — the identical margin Trump won in 2016. Back then Trump described it as a “landslide.”


Trump targets vote certification in late bid to block Biden

WASHINGTON (AP) — Getting nowhere in the courts, President Donald Trump's scattershot effort to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s victory is shifting toward obscure election boards that certify the vote as Trump and his allies seek to upend the electoral process, sow chaos and perpetuate unsubstantiated doubts about the count.

The battle is centered in the battleground states that sealed Biden's win.

In Michigan, two Republican election officials in the state's largest county initially refused to certify results despite no evidence of fraud. In Arizona, officials are balking at signing off on vote tallies in a rural county.

The moves don’t reflect a coordinated effort across the battleground states that broke for Biden, local election officials said. Instead, they seem to be inspired by Trump’s incendiary rhetoric about baseless fraud and driven by Republican acquiescence to broadsides against the nation’s electoral system as state and federal courts push aside legal challenges filed by Trump and his allies.

Still, what happened in Wayne County, Michigan, on Tuesday was a jarring reminder of the disruptions that can still be caused as the nation works through the process of affirming the outcome of the Nov. 3 election.


Pfizer: COVID-19 shot 95% effective, seeking clearance soon

Pfizer said Wednesday that new test results show its coronavirus vaccine is 95% effective, is safe and also protects older people most at risk of dying — the last data needed to seek emergency use of limited shot supplies as the catastrophic outbreak worsens across the globe.

The announcement from Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, just a week after they revealed the first promising preliminary results, comes as the team is preparing within days to formally ask U.S. regulators to allow emergency use of the vaccine. Anticipating that, a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel is on standby to publicly debate the data in early December.

The companies also have begun “rolling submissions” for the vaccine with regulators in Europe, the U.K. and Canada and soon will add this new data.

Pfizer and BioNTech had initially estimated the vaccine was more than 90% effective after counting a group of the earliest infections that occurred in its final-stage testing. With the new announcement, they have accumulated more infections — 170 — and said only eight of them occurred in volunteers who got the actual vaccine rather than a comparison dummy shot. One of those eight developed severe disease, the companies said.

“This is an extraordinarily strong protection,” Dr. Ugur Sahin, BioNTech's CEO and co-founder, told The Associated Press.


Rape, abuses in palm oil fields linked to top beauty brands

SUMATRA, Indonesia (AP) — With his hand clamped tightly over her mouth, she could not scream, the 16-year-old girl recalls – and no one was around to hear her anyway. She describes how her boss raped her amid the tall trees on an Indonesian palm oil plantation that feeds into some of the world’s best-known cosmetic brands. He then put an ax to her throat and warned her: Do not tell.

At another plantation, a woman named Ola complains of fevers, coughing and nose bleeds after years of spraying dangerous pesticides with no protective gear. Making just $2 a day, with no health benefits, she can’t afford to see a doctor.

Hundreds of miles away, Ita, a young wife, mourns the two babies she lost in the third trimester. She regularly lugged loads several times her weight throughout both pregnancies, fearing she would be fired if she did not.

These are the invisible women of the palm oil industry, among the millions of daughters, mothers and grandmothers who toil on vast plantations across Indonesia and neighboring Malaysia, which together produce 85 percent of the world’s most versatile vegetable oil.

Palm oil is found in everything from potato chips and pills to pet food, and also ends up in the supply chains of some of the biggest names in the $530 billion beauty business, including L’Oréal, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Avon and Johnson & Johnson, helping women around the world feel pampered and beautiful.


Iota's devastation comes into focus in storm-weary Nicaragua

MACIZO DE PEÑAS BLANCAS, Nicaragua (AP) — The devastation caused by Hurricane Iota became clearer Wednesday as images emerged showing piles of wind-tossed lumber that used to be homes and concrete walls that were pounded into pieces by the second Category 4 storm to blast Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast in two weeks.

Nicaragua Vice President and first lady Rosario Murillo on Wednesday raised the nation's death toll to 16. The victims were spread across the country, swept away by swollen rivers or buried in landslides.

Rescuers searched at the site of a landslide in northern Nicaragua, where the local government confirmed four deaths and neighbors spoke of at least 16. A short video from the nation's emergency management agency showed a massive bowl-shaped mountainside shrouded in clouds that collapsed. Police blocked media access to the site on the Macizo de Peñas Blancas, a mountain in Matagalpa province, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) north of Managua.

There were seven confirmed dead at the mountain, and the search continued, Murillo said.

Miguel Rodríguez, who works on a ranch next to the site, said he saw at least seven bodies.


Report finds Australian troops unlawfully killed 39 Afghans

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — A shocking Australian military report into war crimes has found evidence that elite Australian troops unlawfully killed 39 Afghan prisoners, farmers and civilians.

Australian Defence Force Chief Gen. Angus Campbell said Thursday the shameful record included alleged instances in which new patrol members would shoot a prisoner in order to achieve their first kill in a practice known as “blooding.” He said the soldiers would then plant weapons and radios to support false claims the prisoners were enemies killed in action.

Campbell told reporters in Canberra the illegal killings began in 2009, with the majority occurring in 2012 and 2013. He said some members of the elite Special Air Service encouraged “a self-centered, warrior culture.”

The chief was announcing the findings of a four-year investigation by Maj. Gen. Paul Brereton, a judge and Army reservist who was asked to look into the allegations and interviewed more than 400 witnesses and reviewed thousands of pages of documents. Brereton recommended 19 soldiers be investigated by police for possible charges, including murder.

“To the people of Afghanistan, on behalf of the Australian Defence Force, I sincerely and unreservedly apologize for any wrongdoing by Australian soldiers,” Campbell said.


Catholics divided as bishops examine Biden's abortion stance

Catholics split almost evenly in supporting Donald Trump or Joe Biden in the presidential election. Now they’re sharply divided over a declaration by the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that the president-elect's support for abortion rights presents the church with a “difficult and complex situation.”

The USCCB’s president, Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, made that statement Tuesday near the close of the conference’s national meeting and announced the formation of a working group of bishops to assess the dilemma. Some experts said it's possible the group will discuss whether Biden — a practicing Roman Catholic — should be barred from partaking in Holy Communion.

Catholic anti-abortion activists hope the bishops follow through with tough words and action, making clear that Catholic politicians who support abortion are in breach of church teaching.

Biden’s policy agenda “is incompatible with the Catholic position on abortion and the protection of innocent human life,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a leading anti-abortion group.

But others criticized the USCCB as setting the stage for potential conflict with the president-elect just days after he received a congratulatory call from Pope Francis. Biden said he hopes to work with the pontiff on issues such as climate change, poverty and immigration.


Barack Obama memoir off to record-setting start in sales

NEW YORK (AP) — Former President Barack Obama's “A Promised Land” sold nearly 890,000 copies in the U.S. and Canada in its first 24 hours, putting it on track to be the best selling presidential memoir in modern history.

The first-day sales, a record for Penguin Random House, includes pre-orders, e-books and audio.

“We are thrilled with the first day sales,” said David Drake, publisher of the Penguin Random House imprint Crown. “They reflect the widespread excitement that readers have for President Obama's highly anticipated and extraordinarily written book.”

The only book by a former White House resident to come close to the early pace of “A Promised Land” is the memoir by Obama's wife, Michelle Obama, whose “Becoming” sold 725,000 copies in North America its first day and has topped 10 million worldwide since its release in 2018. “Becoming" is still so in demand that Crown, which publishes both Obamas and reportedly paid around $60 million for their books, has yet to release a paperback.

As of midday Wednesday, “A Promised Land” was No. 1 on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com. James Daunt, CEO of Barnes & Noble, said that the superstore chain easily sold more than 50,000 copies its first day and hoped to reach half a million within 10 days.


Wolves select Edwards with No. 1 pick in delayed NBA draft

Anthony Edwards paid tribute to his mother and grandmother. Onyeka Okongwu recalled his brother. Obi Toppin thought about coming home.

Tears flowed freely for those and many more players Wednesday night when their long-awaited, repeatedly delayed NBA dreams were finally realized.

Edwards was taken by the Minnesota Timberwolves with the No. 1 pick in an NBA draft delayed multiple times because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Commissioner Adam Silver announced the pick from ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut. The draft was originally scheduled for June 25 before multiple delays caused by the virus pushed it back out and out of its usual home at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Boxes of hats were shipped to the top prospects to put on the one they needed after their name was called.

Edwards watched while seated next to portraits of his late mother and grandmother. They both died of cancer and he was emotional after his name was announced.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.