National

School districts struggle to establish COVID-19 testing, frustrating parents

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(NEW YORK) -- Angela McCray left her job as a pharmacist to homeschool her three children as pandemic lockdowns closed public schools in Monroe, North Carolina. So when public schools in the region announced reopening plans, she was excited to return her daughter for in-class instruction.

But McCray became concerned when her school district -- Union County Public Schools -- didn’t announce any official plans to test students or even require masks to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

"I was being patient knowing that they would see the numbers increase and would change their mind," she said.

That never happened.

In fact, the school district decided to roll back its quarantine and contract-tracing requirements for students with positive cases, citing the need to ease the workload of school staff.

It was a move that shocked and angered parents.

"As a pharmacist, as a mother, I couldn’t stand by and continue to watch that happen," McCray said. "We had to start getting action in place to figure out how we can push our elected officials to step in and make some changes."

The district only reversed course on its quarantine requirements when the state threatened to sue. But it still has no plans to offer COVID-19 testing to students or to require masks, despite both being recommended by public health officials.

"Testing is not offered by the school system, and it is offered within the county," said Tahira Stalberte, assistant superintendent for communications and community relations at Union County Public Schools. "If anyone wants a test, they can call our local health department and they can get them a test."

Six months after President Joe Biden offered states $10 billion so schools could routinely test students and staff to prevent asymptomatic cases, the school year is being hindered by the virus.

Some 925,000 children have become infected since school began this fall, according to data collected by the American Academy of Pediatrics, a staggering spike that has pushed many more kids into quarantine.

Some states have rejected their share of the $10 billion in federal funds for COVID-19 testing in schools while others have been painfully slow in actually implementing virus mitigation plans.

A survey of the nation’s 100 largest school districts from the Center on Reinventing Public Education found that less than 15% of those schools are utilizing federal funding dollars to establish COVID-19 in-school screening programs.

A spokesperson for the Health and Human Services Department said the federal government has disbursed the funds. But when it comes to the utilization of those dollars, it’s up to the states to distribute the money to those that need it, including school districts.

The options for school districts range from working with the state government to stand up a screening program, outsourcing the testing and screening process to a third party vendor, or completely overseeing the student testing process themselves, which many school administrators -- particularly in smaller districts -- have described as an impossible task without additional support.

The challenges in implementing steady in-school testing and mitigation strategies have been particularly acute in the South and Midwest.

Texas has reported more than 125,000 positive COVID-19 cases in the first month since schools in the state reopened. Now with the spike in student caseloads, many Texas school districts are rethinking their testing strategies in the hopes that immediate changes will keep schools open and curb spread of the virus.

After two teachers working in the Connally Independent School District -- serving the Waco, Texas area -- died from coronavirus-related complications, masks were mandated for every student and staff member. The requirement placed the school district in direct opposition to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican who signed legislation banning mask mandates.

"With the loss of two beloved teachers, we know that concerns for physical and mental health are heightened," said Wesley Holt, Connally ISD superintendent, in a memo to parents. "We want to assure you that we are focused on measures to take care of our students and staff."

As matters like testing and mask-wearing remain fraught, highly politicized issues, school districts that find themselves in disagreement with their governors on these matters have had to adopt a go-it-alone approach.

Iowa’s Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds rejected $95 million in federal funds offered to the state for in-school coronavirus testing, complicating matters for school districts urgently looking for funding to establish testing.

"There is confusion about funds Iowa had available last year for testing and contact tracing supposedly being returned before school districts knew they were available," said Phillip Roeder, a Des Moines Public Schools spokesperson, of the state’s returned federal COVID-19 testing dollars.

In one of the nation’s wealthiest counties, Fairfax County in northern Virginia, officials have been slow to establish any kind of formal testing regimen for students and staff.

"We are exploring a public-private partnership to offer testing and vaccinations across schools and expect to have more soon," said a Fairfax County Public Schools spokesperson in a statement. "Our current layered mitigation strategy has meant that less than 0.2 % of our in-school student and staff population has been quarantined due to a COVID exposure."

Some school districts that have been slow to implement systematic testing have found themselves in the difficult position of choosing between overseeing the logistics of managing a COVID-19 screening programs at the beginning of a new school year or involving third-party vendors to manage them.

"In many states, there are a number of different testing vendors they [schools] can choose from," said Leah Perkinson, manager of the pandemics division at the Rockefeller Foundation. "One of the most unfortunate parts about all of this is that there is a ton of guidance out there, but there’s just not a lot of awareness about what the choices are."

The New Orleans Public School system utilizes a testing program through the Louisiana Department of Health, in which students and their families can go to more than 91 school-based sites to get free routine COVID-19 PCR tests and receive results in under 24 hours.

The school district, which serves over 44,000 students, gives schools the choice of opting into the testing program, but some schools within the district have decided it’s more appropriate to mandate testing. Overall, New Orleans school officials say participation in the testing program has shown promise, especially given an unnaturally busy hurricane season.

"We believe that following Hurricane Ida, it has actually boosted participation," said Morgan Ripski, COVID-19 testing coordinator for New Orleans Public Schools. "The vast majority of our schools were not yet reopened, but what they did was open their sites as testing centers so students and parents could get tested before returning to the classroom."

In the first few days after Hurricane Ida hit, more than 13,500 students were tested through the New Orleans Public School’s testing program in partnership with the Louisiana Department of Health. The COVID-19 positivity rate was 1%.

For parents who learn their child has been exposed to COVID-19 in a school district like Union County Public Schools that has no testing protocols, the fear of what might happen next is all-consuming.

Kenan Medlin’s son is immunocompromised and she was worried for days when she learned he was exposed to another student with COVID-19. Her son’s recovery from respiratory illnesses typically takes longer than for other children.

Medlin decided to pull her son out of class and homeschool him until the school district requires masks and offers testing.

"You should be able to go to public school and know that your child is going to be safe, cared for, and that the school will do everything they can to protect your children, but they’re just not doing that," she said. "This is backing parents into a lot of corners and putting them in impossible situations."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Mourners pack Gabby Petito's funeral as parents give emotional eulogies

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(New York) —  A large crowd of mourners packed a public funeral service for Gabby Petito, the slain 22-year-old travel blogger, on Sunday afternoon in Long Island, near where Petito grew up in Blue Point, New York.

The service was live-streamed online and showed the full length of a wall in a chapel at Moloney's Holbrook Funeral Home, decorated with photos of Petito. An altar at the front of the chapel was covered in flowers and memorial candles.

Petito's parents and relatives sat in the front row of the chapel accepting condolences from friends, family and strangers.

A prayer card handed out to mourners contained a poem title "Let it be," a phrase Petito had tattooed on her arm.

"Do not grieve for me for I am free. I am traveling a path the Lord has taken me," the poem reads. "Be not burdened with times of sorrow. I wish for you the sunshine of tomorrow. Perhaps my time seemed too brief. Do not lengthen it with undue grief. Lift up your hearts and share with me the memories that will always be.”

During the service, Petito's father, Joseph, and her stepfather, Jim Schmidt, former chief of the Blue Point Fire Department, spoke.

Joseph Petito described his daughter as having "ridiculously blue eyes" and told mourners that "her nature was always to smile and treat everybody kind.”

“I want you to take a look at these pictures, and I want you to be inspired by Gabby," Petito said. "If there’s a trip you guys want to take, take it now. Do it now while you have the time. If there is a relationship that you’re in that might not be the best thing for you, leave it now."

Jim Schmidt added that throughout his career as a firefighter he has had to arrange funerals and give eulogies but added, “not one of them has prepared me for this moment."

He pointed out a photo behind him of Petito as a little girl and said, "I still see Gabby as this."

"Parents aren’t supposed to bury their children. This is not how life is supposed to work," Schmidt said.

He added, "Gabby, at 22 years old, helped teach me that you can always make money but you can’t make up for lost time. Gabby loved life and lived her life every single day. She is an example for all of us to live by, to enjoy every moment in this beautiful world as she did. To love and give love to all like she did.”

Petito's mother spoke out the night before the funeral with a heartfelt message to supporters.

Nicole Schmidt posted a message on Facebook late Saturday night following a 12-day silence.

"As I scroll through all the posts, my heart is full of love," Schmidt wrote. "I wish I could reach out and hug each and every one of you!!! Your support has been so overwhelming, and we are so filled with gratitude."

Schmidt also posted a series of family photos of her daughter as well as images of Petito traveling, telling supporters, "Please know what you are all doing for us does not go unnoticed, and with all of you by our side, we will get #justiceforgabby."

Petito's body was discovered a week ago Sunday in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming after her family reported her missing on Sept. 11. She vanished while on a cross-country road trip with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, who authorities are still searching for and have named a "person of interest" in her death, which has been ruled a homicide.

An arrest warrant has been issued for Laundrie stemming from his alleged unauthorized use of a debit card to withdraw $1,000 during the period in which Petito was missing, according to the Associated Press. The FBI has not disclosed whose card Laundrie allegedly used.

Joseph Petito announced Saturday the creation of The Gabby Petito Foundation, which he said will provide resources and guidance to families of missing children.

"No one should have to find their child on their own," he wrote on Twitter, "we are looking to help people in similar situations as Gabby."

A vigil was held Saturday night in Florida for Petito.

People who were touched by her story gathered in North Port, Florida, outside the Laundrie home, attempting to convey a message to the family that they want justice for Petito.

Residents of Blue Point honored Petito on Friday night by lining streets in the city with thousands of memorial candles.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


3 dead in Amtrak train derailment in Montana

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(NEW YORK) — At least three people were killed and multiple others were injured when an Amtrak train derailed in remote northern Montana on Saturday, sending several cars toppling over, authorities said.

Eight cars on the train, Empire Builder 7/27, which was headed from Chicago to Seattle, derailed just before 4 p.m. local time near Joplin, Montana, according to Amtrak. The rail line confirmed there were injuries to passengers and crew members, but offered no more details.

The three deaths were confirmed by the Liberty County Sheriff’s Department. Officials did not say how many total were injured.

There were 146 passengers and 13 crew members on the train, Sarah Robbin, the disaster and emergency services coordinator for Liberty County, said at a news conference Sunday. She said multiple people were taken to area hospitals, where most were treated and released.

Robbin said five people remained hospitalized in stable condition.

Several passengers shared images of the front cars off the track, with some tipped on their sides.

One passenger, Megan Vandervest, told ABC News in a telephone interview early Sunday that she was taking a nap in a sleeper car near the front of the train when she was jolted awake.

"I woke up to the train derailing. It was very bumpy, like extreme turbulence and very loud noises, and it kind of smelled of smoke," Vandervest said. "And so my first thought was that we were derailing. And then I thought that was crazy. There was no way that we could possibly be derailing. That's insane."

She said the train slowly came to a stop, and she initially thought they had gone over a stretch of "bumpy track."

"Then we kind of looked out our car, and you could see that one of the cars, the car behind us, had been tilted so that (you) couldn't see down the hallway anymore," Vandervest said.

She said she and other passengers were evacuated within 10 minutes of the derailment.

"It wasn't until you really got out of the train fully that we knew the extent of what had happened. It was definitely like an incredible shock," Vandervest said.

She described a "chaotic" scene outside the train as passengers emerged from tipped-over cars dazed, confused and injured. She said one of the toppled cars was the observation car.

"The people who had been in some of the tipped-over cars that had gotten out were definitely just in shock and sitting there, and the rest of us were kind of just waiting for what would happen," Vandervest said.

She said passengers were taken by bus to a senior center in a nearby town, where she was able to call a cousin who lives in Montana to come and pick her up.

Vandervest said she spoke to passengers who were in the tipped-over cars and they described holding on for life.

"They held on really tightly. And others were less fortunate for the positions that they were. If they were by windows, it was more dangerous," she said. "One passenger I talked to, he had kind of gotten out of the observation car that had been completely tipped over that he was in and that there was another passenger outside that asked him to go back and check for someone else. He went back in and, unfortunately, they were pretty badly injured.”

Amtrak said in a statement that anyone with questions about friends or family who were traveling on the train can call (800) 523-9101.

"We are deeply saddened to learn local authorities are now confirming that three people have lost their lives as a result of this accident," Amtrak's statement reads.

It was not immediately clear what caused the derailment.

The National Transportation Safety Board said it is launching a "go team" to investigate the derailment.

Liberty County is an extremely rural part of northern Montana, with only a few thousand residents, despite being larger than the entire state of Rhode Island.

Great Falls is the largest nearby city, about 100 miles south of Joplin. The state capital of Helena is about three hours south of Joplin by car.

ABC News' Stefan Joyce and Matt Foster contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


6-year-old girl never strapped into seat before fatal amusement park ride: Report

Estifanos Family

(DENVER) — The 6-year-old girl who died on a ride at a Colorado amusement park earlier this month was never strapped into her seat -- and two operators failed to notice even after a monitor alerted them to a seatbelt safety issue -- before the ride plunged 110 feet, according to a state investigation.

Wongel Estifanos was visiting Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, located atop Iron Mountain in Glenwood Springs, with her family on Sept. 5 when she went on the Haunted Mine Drop ride, a free-fall drop down a pitch-black shaft.

After reviewing video surveillance and operating manuals, investigators with the Colorado Division of Oil and Public Safety determined that when Wongel got on the ride, she sat in a previously unoccupied seat on top of two already-locked seatbelts, and that "multiple operator errors" and "inadequate training" contributed to the fatal accident, according to a report released Friday.

The girl was only holding the tail of one seatbelt across her lap, but when checking her seat, a ride operator "did not notice that the seatbelts were not positioned across her lap," according to the report.

The ride's control panel alerted the operator to an error with one of the seatbelts on Wongel's seat, indicating that that seatbelt had not been properly unlocked after the previous ride cycle, according to the report. The operator returned "multiple times" to check the seatbelt and buckle it to no avail, but "did not believe the error because they were convinced the restraint had been cycled," the report stated.

A second ride operator then unlocked the seatbelts using a manual switch, clearing the error on the ride's control system, "without unloading passengers to determine what the issue was," the report stated. This decision did not resolve the problem -- that Wongel was not wearing the seatbelts -- and demonstrated that the operator "did not have a complete understanding" of the control system's safety indicators, according to the report.

The second operator also checked the girl's seatbelts but "did not notice that neither of the seatbelts were positioned across her lap," according to the report.

With no error on the control panel, the second operator was then able to dispatch the ride.

"Because Ms. Estifanos was not restrained in the seat she became separated from her seat and fell to the bottom of the [Haunted Mine Drop] shaft, resulting in her death," the report stated.

Operators were not formally trained to unbuckle all seatbelts following each ride, though it was common practice and one that the first operator performed "inconsistently" on earlier rides, according to the report.

The operators are supposed to buckle the seatbelts for each of the ride's six passengers and confirm the restraints are over their laps, per the manufacturer's operating manual, as "passengers cannot be expected to know or correctly execute the safety procedures for this ride," the report stated. Both operators failed to follow these procedures, according to the report.

The report also determined that the operators' training "did not appear to emphasize the inherent risks of the ride," and that the manufacturer's operating manual "does not instruct operators on how to properly address errors."

The Haunted Mine Drop is currently closed, and future plans for the ride are "undetermined," the amusement park said.

"Safety is, and always has been, our top priority," Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park founder Steve Beckley said in a statement following the release of the report. "Since opening our first ride just over 15 years ago, Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park has delivered more than 10 million safe and enjoyable rides."

"We have been working closely with the Colorado Division of Oil and Public Safety and independent safety experts to review this incident," he continued, noting that the amusement park will review the report "carefully for recommendations."

"More than anything, we want the Estifanos family to know how deeply sorry we are for their loss and how committed we are to making sure it never happens again," he added.

In a statement to Denver ABC affiliate KMGH-TV, Dan Caplis, an attorney for the Estifanos family, said that Wongel's parents had received the report and called on people who have "experienced problems" with the Haunted Mine Drop to come forward.

"Wongel's parents are determined to do everything in their power to make sure that no one ever dies this way again," said Caplis, who told the station he intends to file a lawsuit against the park on behalf of the family.

ABC News' Will McDuffie contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


COVID-19 live updates: US reaches vaccine milestone

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(NEW YORK) -- The United States has been facing a COVID-19 surge as the more contagious delta variant continues to spread.

More than 682,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 while over 4.7 million people have died from the disease worldwide, according to real-time data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The average number of daily deaths in the U.S. has risen about 20% in the last week, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The U.S. is continuing to sink on the list of global vaccination rates, currently ranking No. 45, according to data compiled by The Financial Times. Just 64.3% of Americans ages 12 and up are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the CDC.

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Sep 25, 2:08 pm

Judge temporarily blocks NYC school vaccine mandate

New York City has been temporarily blocked from enforcing a vaccine mandate for public school employees, days before the policy is set to go into effect.

A federal appeals court judge granted a temporary injunction Friday and referred the case to a three-judge federal panel for review on an expedited basis, court records show.

Several municipal unions sued the city earlier this month after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the mandate, which requires all public school employees to get at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by Monday.

In a statement to ABC New York station WABC-TV, the NYC Department of Education said it was "confident our vaccine mandate will continue to be upheld once all the facts have been presented, because that is the level of protection our students and staff deserve."

"Our current vax-or-test mandate remains in effect and we're seeking speedy resolution by the Circuit Court next week," the department said, while urging employees to get the vaccine by Monday's deadline.

Over 82% of public school employees have been vaccinated, the DOE said. The city's teachers and principals unions had warned that thousands of school employees might not be able to return to schools on Tuesday if the mandate was not delayed.

Sep 25, 10:24 am

No unemployment benefits if fired for refusing vaccine in this state

The New York State Department of Labor has issued guidance to clarify that workers who are fired for refusing to get vaccinated are not eligible for unemployment insurance unless they have a valid medical reason.

That announcement came as part of a multi-layered plan released by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Saturday in preparation of the state's vaccine deadline for health care workers and school employees to receive their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Monday or face termination and to prevent resulting staff shortages in hospitals and health care facilities.

Under her plan, New York would declare a state of emergency to increase the health care workforce including allowing health care professionals licensed in other states or countries, recent graduates and retirees to work in New York state.

Other facets of the plan include deploying medically trained National Guard members and federal disaster medical teams to assist local health care providers.

As of Sept. 22, 84% of all hospital employees in New York State were fully vaccinated, according to the press release. As of Sept. 23, 81% of staff at all adult care facilities and 77% of all staff at nursing home facilities in New York State were fully vaccinated.

"We are still in a battle against COVID to protect our loved ones, and we need to fight with every tool at our disposal," Hochul said. "I am monitoring the staffing situation closely, and we have a plan to increase our health care workforce and help alleviate the burdens on our hospitals and other health care facilities. I commend all of the health care workers who have stepped up to get themselves vaccinated, and I urge all remaining health care workers who are unvaccinated to do so now so they can continue providing care."

-ABC News' Ahmad Hemingway

Sep 25, 9:23 am

Ferret tests positive for COVID in US

The first ferret to test positive for COVID-19 in the United States has been confirmed by the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories.

A ferret in Slovenia was previously reported infected with COVID, according to the USDA.

"Samples from the ferret were taken after it showed clinical signs including sneezing and coughing. It is suspected that the ferret acquired the infection from a person with COVID-19," the USDA said Friday in a press release.

A small number of animals have tested postive for COVID-19, according to the USDA, which uses COVID's scientific term, SARS-CoV-2 when addressing the virus in the context of animal health. Some animals that have tested for SARS-CoV-2 include a tiger in a New York City zoo, white-tailed deer, cats, dogs, otters, non-human primates and farmed mink.

People with COVID-19 can spread the virus to animals during close contact, the USDA said.

Sep 24, 8:28 pm
Andrew Wiggins denied vaccine exemption, won't be able to play home games

Golden State Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins was denied Friday in his quest for a religious exemption by the NBA to San Francisco's vaccine requirement. It's not clear under what religious explanation Wiggins had appealed the mandate.

Wiggins has steadfastly refused to get the vaccine, according to a report this week from the San Francisco Chronicle. Since the city requires vaccination for everyone at large, indoor gatherings -- such as basketball games -- the veteran forward will not be able to play in any home games if he remains resistant to getting the shot. It's possible he won't be able to play at a number of road arenas that also require vaccination.

"The NBA has reviewed and denied Andrew Wiggins’ request for religious exemption from the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s order requiring COVID-19 vaccination for all participants age 12 and older at large indoor events," the NBA said in a statement Friday evening. "Wiggins will not be able to play in Warriors home games until he fulfills the city’s vaccination requirements."

In March, Wiggins told reporters of the vaccine, "I don't really see myself getting it any time soon, unless I'm forced to somehow. Other than that, I'm good."

Earlier this month, ESPN reported that the NBA will not require players to get vaccinated in order to play in the 2021-22 season. However, the league recently said about 85% of players had been fully vaccinated.

Wiggins, 26, is a big piece of the Warriors' team, scoring 18.6 points per game in his first full season in the Bay Area last year. He has two years remaining on a $147 million contract.

He was the No. 1 overall pick out of Kansas in 2014 by the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Sep 24, 6:12 pm
VA begins offering booster shots to veterans

The Department of Veterans Affairs said it is already doling out booster shots to veterans at its medical centers and clinics on Friday, just hours after Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky approved the third shots.

"These booster doses are an important step forward in the fight against COVID-19," VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. "With the authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech booster for eligible individuals, VA can provide Veterans an opportunity to maximize their protection, continuing our work to keep people safe and save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic."

The boosters, so far only authorized for the Pfizer vaccine, are to be administered six months after an individual receives their initial vaccines.

It also said in a statement that it continues to reach out to veterans who have not been vaccinated at all.

Sep 24, 4:37 pm
US reaches vaccine milestone

Seventy-five percent of those eligible (12 years and older) have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, the White House's COVID-19 data director Cyrus Shahpar posted on Twitter Friday.

Calling the statistic a "milestone," Shahpur also tweeted, "Let's add more!"

Sep 24, 3:51 pm
Millions of federal contractors must be fully vaccinated by Dec. 8

The White House said Friday millions of federal contractors must get fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by Dec. 8.

The announcement came in a document issued Friday by the White House’s budget office, the Office of Management and Budget, following up on an executive order President Joe Biden signed Sept. 9 that mandated vaccinations for federal contractors, Reuters reported.

The formal guidance also says that after Dec. 8 “all covered contractor employees must be fully vaccinated by the first day of the period of performance on a newly awarded covered contract.”

An OMB spokesperson told ABC News that “millions” of people would be covered but didn’t share more exact numbers.

Earlier this month, the White House said that federal government employees and contractors will now be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will create a rule for private businesses with 100 or more employees to require their employees to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing.

-ABC News' Ben Gittleson, Molly Nagle, Sarah Kolinovsky, and Justin Gomez

Sep 24, 3:34 pm
Nurses laud CDC decision to include front-line workers as eligible booster shot group

National Nurses United, the nation’s largest union of registered nurses, is lauding CDC director Rochelle Walensky’s inclusion of front-line and health care workers in her recommendations for who may now get a third Pfizer booster dose -- a decision which overruled the agency’s independent panel conclusion.

The CDC’s advisory group had rejected the idea of third Pfizer doses for “high risk” workers like nurses and teachers, saying that without further data it wasn’t comfortable with automatically adding younger, healthier people simply by occupation.

The nurses' union urged Walensky to bypass what her advisory panel had said -- which is what she ultimately did.

“Nurses across the country are beyond relieved today to wake up to the news that CDC Director Rochelle Walensky prioritized the health and safety of health care and other essential workers most at risk of contracting Covid-19,” NNU president Deborah Burger told ABC in a statement Friday.

“It takes courage to do the right thing, especially when it involves going against the CDC’s own advisory panel," Burger added. "We applaud this bold decision-making that prioritizes the health and safety of workers on the front lines of this ongoing crisis, and we know that her decision will absolutely save lives.”

Walensky however, insisted that she did not overrule the CDC’s advisory panel’s decision on booster shots for at-risk, front-line workers. She defended the decision as a “scientific close call” saying that she would advocate for the boosters if she was in the room.

"I want to be very clear that I did not overrule … the advisory committee," she said. “I listened to the votes. I listened to the comments on the vote and this was a scientific close call ... It was my call to make. If I had been in the room, I would have voted 'yes.'"

She also said that boosters were not a solution for ending the pandemic.

"I want to be clear we will not boost our way out of this pandemic. Infections among the unvaccinated continue to fuel this pandemic rise, resulting in a rising number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths where people are in vaccinated," Walensky said.

-ABC News' Sasha Pezenik and Matthew Vann

Sep 24, 2:28 pm
CVS says it will make Pfizer booster available today

On the heels of pharmacy retail chain Walgreens' announcement that it is now ready to give third booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine to newly eligible groups, CVS announced it too will be ready "later today."

"We are reviewing the CDC guidance and will be ready to provide the booster dose at CVS Pharmacy and select MinuteClinic locations that offer the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine later today. We strongly encourage customers to schedule an appointment in advance at to ensure they are able to access the correct vaccine at a convenient time and location," the drugstore chain said in a statement Friday.

-ABC News' Sasha Pezenik

Sep 24, 1:08 pm
COVID-19 outbreaks increase in school districts without masking policies: CDC study

School districts without a universal masking policy in place at the start of the school year saw a significant increase in COVID-19 outbreaks, according to three new studies released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Additionally, school districts in those counties saw more than double the number of pediatric COVID-19 cases during this same period, the studies, released Friday, also found.

The studies further emphasize that school mask requirements, along with other prevention strategies, are critical to reducing the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

Other key findings from the studies include:

- Schools in Arizona that opened without a school mask requirement had a 3.5 higher likelihood of having a COVID-19 outbreak than schools that opened with a school mask requirement.

-During the early part of the 2021-2022 academic school year, almost 2,000 schools have been closed and more than 900,000 students in more than 40 states have been impacted.

- Pediatric cases during the start of the 2021-2022 school year were about half in U.S. counties with school mask requirements than in counties without school mask requirements.

To prevent COVID-19 outbreaks in schools, the CDC recommends a multi-layered strategy including vaccination, universal indoor masking, testing and physical distancing.

-ABC News' Eric Strauss

Sep 24, 12:18 pm
Walgreens announces its doors are open for new Pfizer booster group

Walgreens announced Friday morning that its participating stores are ready to start giving third booster doses of Pfizer's vaccine to newly eligible groups.

The CDC green-lit Pfizer booster shots on Thursday.

As of Friday morning, those newly eligible groups can walk into any Walgreens location offering the Pfizer shot, the company said.

Also, as of Friday, people can begin scheduling appointments online or over the phone.

-ABC News' Sasha Pezenik

Sep 24, 12:11 pm
Pfizer booster shot available 'literally right now' in NYC: Mayor

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said a third Pfizer booster shot is available to eligible New Yorkers, "literally right now."

"As of now, as of this exact moment, New Yorkers in a number of categories are eligible for the 3rd booster shot, Pfizer only, for the COVID vaccine," the mayor told radio station WNYC Friday.

Eligible New Yorkers include anyone who got their second shot six months ago and are 65 or older; in a long-term care facility or nursing home; are between 18 and 64 years old with an underlying medical condition; or are between 18 and 64 years old and a front-line or health care worker doing direct work with the public, the mayor said.

On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  an independent advisory panel's recommendation for seniors and other medically vulnerable Americans to get a booster shot of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine six months after their second dose.

"Literally now you can go online, vax4nyc, either make an appointment right now for the coming days or you can get a list of all the city-run sites and you can walk in today if you are in those categories," de Blasio said.

-ABC News' Aaron Katersky

Sep 24, 6:23 am
CDC endorses Pfizer boosters for older and high-risk Americans

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has endorsed an independent advisory panel's recommendation for seniors and other medically vulnerable Americans to get a booster shot of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine, six months after their second dose.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, also partially overruled her agency's advisory panel in a notable departure by adding a recommendation for a third dose for people who are considered high risk due to where they work, such as nurses and teachers -- a group which the panel rejected in its recommendation. Some panelists said that without further data, they weren't comfortable with automatically including younger people because of their jobs.

In a statement announcing her decision late Thursday, Walensky pointed to the benefit versus risk analysis she had weighed, and data rapidly evolving.

"In a pandemic, even with uncertainty, we must take actions that we anticipate will do the greatest good," Walensky said. "While today’s action was an initial step related to booster shots, it will not distract from our most important focus of primary vaccination in the United States and around the world."

With Walensky's final sign-off, booster shots will now quickly become available for millions more Americans at pharmacies, doctors' offices and other sites that offer the Pfizer vaccine as soon as Friday.

Sep 23, 8:40 pm
Leaving nurses out of booster recommendation 'unconscionable,' union charges

The nation’s largest union of registered nurses pushed back against the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel's vote on COVID-19 booster shots, calling not including front-line workers like nurses in its recommendations "unconscionable."

National Nurses United is urging CDC Director Rochelle Walensky to bypass what the advisory panel, ACIP, recommended and add nurses and other health care workers to the list of eligible booster recipients.  

"Nurses and other health care workers were among the first to be vaccinated because of their high risk of exposure to the virus," Deborah Burger, the union's president, said in a statement. "Why leave them out of booster shots?"

“It is unconscionable that ACIP would not vote to keep us safer from death, severe Covid, and long Covid,” Burger continued. “We must do everything possible to ensure that the health of our nurses and other health care workers will not be put even more at risk."

ACIP voted Thursday to recommend a third Pfizer dose for people aged 65 and older, as well as those as young as 18 if they have an underlying medical condition.

In its authorization Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration did agree to make the shots available to front-line workers. But ACIP said there was not yet enough data to support providing booster shots automatically to young people because of their jobs.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Arrest warrant issued for Brian Laundrie in Wyoming as search presses on: Live updates

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(NORTH PORT, Fla.) -- A massive search is continuing in southern Florida for Brian Laundrie, the boyfriend of Gabby Petito, the 22-year-old woman who went missing on a cross-country trip and who authorities confirmed Tuesday as the body discovered on Sunday in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming.

The search for the 23-year-old Laundrie is centered around North Port, Florida, where investigators said Laundrie returned to his home on Sept. 1 without Petito but driving her 2012 Ford Transit.

Laundrie has been named by police as a "person of interest" in Petito's disappearance. Laundrie has refused to speak to the police and has not been seen since Tuesday, Sept. 14, according to law enforcement officials.

The search for Laundrie is the latest twist in the case that has grabbed national attention as he and Petito had been traveling across the country since June, documenting the trip on social media.

Petito's parents, who live in Long Island, New York, reported her missing on Sept. 11 after not hearing from her for two weeks.

Here are the latest developments. All times Eastern:

Sep 25, 12:13 pm

Vigils for Gabby Petito held in hometown ahead of funeral

As the investigation into Gabby Petito's death continues, several vigils were held in the Long Island, New York, native's honor Friday night.

In her hometown of Blue Point, residents lit candles and placed flowers at a vigil for the travel blogger.

Homes and buildings across the area also lit up in blue lights Friday night as part of the memorial event "Light the Night For Gabby Petito.”

Petito's funeral will be held Sunday afternoon at Moloney's Holbrook Funeral Home in Holbrook, New York, with the service open to the public, according to ABC New York station WABC-TV.

Sep 24, 7:53 pm
Florida search ends for the night, police say they don't know cost of effort

The search for Brian Laundrie in the Carlton Reserve, near North Port, Florida, ended Friday night due to darkness. After seven days of searching, police have yet to turn up any evidence of the missing 23-year-old who now has a warrant out for his arrest in Wyoming.

The North Port Police Department said it has been asked about the cost of the search as it continues into the second weekend.

"The question about costs have come up a lot today. We do not have that tallied up," the department said in a statement. "We are not paying other agencies, it's mutual aid. From our personnel standpoint, I would say we are working this case instead of other things. That has an impact of course. There will be some overtime mixed in there. Cost of fuel and vehicle maintenance too."

Late Friday, the police were also forced to dispel a rumor that there was a shooting outside the Laundrie house. The department said it was called for a report of gunshots, but there was no evidence any had been fired.

Sep 24, 2:26 pm
Nothing found so far in Friday search

North Port officials said nothing has been found so far in Friday’s search of Carlton Reserve. Details for a Saturday search are yet to be announced.

Police shared video from the search showing swamp buggies riding through dirt roads and around vast swamps.

North Port Police Commander Joe Fussell said Friday that the warrant issued Thursday for Laundrie’s arrest “doesn’t change anything for us.”

“We’re working as hard to find him now as we did on day one,” Fussell said. “We’re not wasting our time out here. We are doing our due diligence to find Brian in an area that intelligence has led us that he could possibly be in.”

Sep 24, 9:42 am
Search for Brian Laundrie continues at Carlton Reserve

The search for Laundrie at the Carlton Reserve near North Port, Florida, is back on after a search Thursday yielded no leads.

Various agencies have been scanning the area throughout the week for signs of Laundrie. Authorities said he was last seen on Sept. 14.

Sep 23, 6:59 pm
Florida police halt search for Laundrie for the day, back Friday

Police in North Port, Florida, have halted their ground search for Brian Laundrie in the Carlton Reserve after another fruitless day.

"Nothing found. We will be back at it Friday," North Port Police said on Twitter.

Authorities have been combing the massive preserve for any sign of Laundrie since Saturday.

Sep 23, 6:07 pm
Arrest warrant issued for Laundrie in Wyoming

An arrest warrant has been issued for Brian Laundrie in Wyoming following a federal grand jury indictment, authorities announced Thursday.

The U.S. District Court of Wyoming issued the warrant Wednesday "related to Mr. Laundrie's activities following the death of Gabrielle Petito," FBI Denver said.

The indictment alleges Laundrie "knowingly and with intent to defraud" used an unauthorized debit card and "obtained things of value aggregating to $1,000 or more" between Aug. 30 and Sept. 1.

The investigation into Petito's death is ongoing, authorities said. The FBI in particular is seeking information from anyone who was at the Spread Creek Dispersed Camping Area between Aug. 27 and Aug. 30 and may have been in contact with the couple or saw their car.

"We urge individuals with knowledge of Mr. Laundrie's role in this matter or his current whereabouts to contact the FBI," FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael Schneider said in a statement Thursday.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Culture thrives in America's most Hispanic, Latino state: New Mexico

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(MOSCOW) — As the Hispanic and Latino population grows throughout the U.S., New Mexico has established itself as a haven for people of Latin American and Hispanic descent.

That culture can be seen throughout the streets -- in the Pueblo- and Spanish-style architecture, the traditional santeros and the Mexican artistry.

"The Land of Enchantment" is the most Hispanic and Latino state in the country, with 49% of its population identifying as such, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But this population can't be so easily defined.

"We see ourselves as multicultural: Mexican, American, Latino, Chicano, Indigenous -- We're what we call 'mestizaje,' a mixture of blood and culture," said Denise Chavez, a Chicana writer and playwright. "There's no place quite like it."

This state has a turbulent history of colonialism that led to diverse traditions, a blend of cultures, a complicated clashing of identities.

Indigenous and Native communities have occupied now-New Mexico for centuries. It wasn't until the late 1500s that Spanish colonizers created their first settlements.

New Mexico's capital, Santa Fe, is the oldest in the U.S., since it was designated 400 years ago. It became the 47th state in 1912, about five weeks before Arizona gained statehood.

"Spanish is the first [European] language we spoke in what is today the United States, so it's not a foreign language," said Rob Martinez, a state historian.

With the region dominated by Spain before Mexico governed it the 1800s, those Indigenous roots run deep, Martinez explained.

"It's never pleasant to be on the receiving end of conquest and colonization," Martinez said. "I like to tell people: Our culture and our history are brilliant, they're magnificent, but history is also violent and scary, and you have to be brave to study your history."

This culture represented in the lively traditions seen throughout the streets.

Art is a major part of the culture -- Mexican retablos, paintings of saints on wood, and santeros, the painted and carved images of saints, can be seen at historical sites, churches and homes throughout New Mexico.

"This is a tradition from the late 1700s and early 1800s -- it's truly New Mexican," Martinez said. "It's a combination of Roman Catholicism and folk Catholicism. It's a very beautiful, very stark and straightforward art form. People love this religious and cultural expression.”

And when in New Mexico, Chavez said, visitors must have a dish featuring the state's prized vegetable: chile. It's used to add a pungent, smoky kick to stews, sauce, tamales, sandwiches and more -- and is a staple of New Mexican cuisine.

"We're just at the end of chile season, which is an incredible time in New Mexico," Chavez said. "The smell of green chile, the harvest, going out to the farms, getting your chile and roasting it … a lot of our traditions have to do with food."

Another integral, and controversial, piece of New Mexican culture is the Fiesta de Santa Fe.

The annual celebration commemorates the reconquest of Santa Fe in 1692, according to Martinez. The city was "founded" by Spanish colonists in 1610, but in 1680 Pueblo natives fought back, burning down the city and driving out the Spanish, who fled to present day Juarez, Mexico.

"They didn't want to get rid of their languages, they did not want to lose their religion, they did not want to lose their culture," Martinez said. "So there's a revolt -- the first revolution in what's today the United States."

In 1692, the king of Spain ordered a resettlement mission. The Spanish retook those lands and began oppressing the natives, said Patricia Marie Perea, the Hispanic and literary arts educator at the National Hispanic Cultural Center.

"There's always some tension between the Indigenous communities and those who are celebrating the Spanish and the conquest into New Mexico," said Perea. "It's such a hard thing to contend with."

For this reason, Perea said, celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month -- Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 -- can be a bit complicated.

"Hispanic" refers to people who descend from Spanish-speaking countries. Considering the state's long history of Spanish colonialism, many New Mexicans denounce the term.

And while the population has expanded to include so many people of many Latin American cultures, the state's history adds to the intensity and passion with which New Mexicans defend their roots.

"There is hope here," Chavez said, "and that's what makes New Mexico so wonderful -- the never-dying hope of its people."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Female US service member allegedly assaulted by male Afghan refugees at Fort Bliss

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(FORT BLISS, N.M.) — The FBI is investigating after a female U.S. service member reported she was assaulted by a group of male Afghan evacuees at Fort Bliss in New Mexico.

The woman, who was helping to support the evacuees brought from Afghanistan to the United States in the wake of the Taliban reclaiming the country, reported she was assaulted by a small group at the Doña Ana Complex on Sept. 19, according to Lt. Col. Allie M. Payne, the director of public affairs for Fort Bliss.

"We take the allegation seriously and appropriately referred the matter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation," Payne said in a statement. "The safety and well-being of our service members, as well as all of those on our installations, is paramount. We immediately provided appropriate care, counseling and support to the service member."

The base also said it is adding security measures, like increased lighting, safety patrols and enforcing a buddy system.

"We received the referral from Fort Bliss and our office is investigating the allegation," FBI El Paso said in a statement.

There were no further details about the incident.

The Doña Ana Complex, which is about a half hour north of Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, across the New Mexico border, is used as a firing range, but was converted into a sprawling, air conditioned tent city for incoming evacuees.

The Biden administration chose Fort Bliss two weeks ago when it granted access to the media to one of the facilities housing the tens of thousands of Afghan evacuees who were flown out of Kabul in a frenzied, chaotic process prompted by the Taliban reasserting control of the country much sooner than anticipated.

About 10,000 evacuees are staying at the facility until they can be processed and resettled, according to U.S. officials. All of the evacuees were subject to a thorough vetting process before they were flown to the U.S., according to U.S. officials.

News of the investigation of the assault on a female service member follows the arrests of two Afghan evacuees at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin this week.

Mohammad Haroon Imaad, 32, was charged with strangling and suffocating his wife in an incident that took place Sept. 7, according to the indictment, and Bahrullah Noori, 20, was charged with attempting to engage in a sexual act with a minor.

Court documents say 13,000 people related to the resettlement are being housed at Fort McCoy.

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Haitian migrants cleared from camp at Texas border but controversy continues

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(DEL RIO, Texas) -- After more than a week of growing controversy, immigration authorities in Del Rio, Texas, on Friday finished clearing out an encampment of mostly Haitian migrants that at one point expanded to about 15,000 people.

"As of this morning, there are no longer any migrants in the camp, underneath the Del Rio International Bridge," Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said at a White House briefing Friday afternoon.

Five flights departed Del Rio for Haiti on Thursday carrying 548 Haitians, officials said.

So far, more than a dozen flights have taken about 2,000 people back to Haiti, according to the Department of Homeland Security. About 3,900 have been moved from the camp for processing or expulsion.

The U.S. government has not accounted for all the migrants in the camp, but officials on Thursday said "several thousand" had returned to Mexico. Other government officials who spoke directly to ABC News but were not authorized to officially provide the information said "thousands" more have been placed in "removal proceedings" and released in the U.S.

Those proceedings can take time, officials said, in part because migrants in removal proceedings are legally allowed to make a claim of asylum. Asylum cases can take anywhere from six months and several years with the massive case backlog at immigration courts across the country.

The administration is also employing a controversial process of rapid removal or “expulsion" known as Title 42 -- a reference to a section of U.S. public health code that the government says requires them to immediately expel unauthorized migrants at the border.

Immigrant advocates have raised concerns about Title 42 cutting off access to legal means of obtaining asylum.

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Generational wealth implications: Black and Latino-owned homes are more likely to be undervalued

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(NEW YORK) -- A new study analyzing more than 12 million home appraisals between 2015 and 2020 found racial and ethnic disparities across the United States.

The research shows that Black and Latino homeowners are nearly twice as likely as white homeowners to have their homes undervalued.

Some experts, like Andre Perry, a senior fellow with the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, say this is a sign that racism in the real estate industry is a major factor in keeping Black and Latino families from accumulating wealth.

"When most people talk about structural racism and racism in general, they generally think of Klansmen in robes carrying torches … but where we still see pervasive discrimination that takes money out of people's pockets are in these everyday behaviors or practices that strip wealth," Perry told ABC News.

The report by mortgage giant Freddie Mac shows that 15.4% of appraisals in Latino neighborhoods and 12.5% in Black neighborhoods are valued less than the property's contract price. That number drops to 7.4% in majority-white neighborhoods.

As Black or Latino populations grow, the total of undervalued appraisals also rose, the study said.

Researchers accounted for many of the potential factors that could lead to a low home appraisal -- the home's structure, the neighborhood's features. Still, Black and Latino areas were disproportionately given lower appraisals.

Nationwide, 85% of appraisers at the end of 2018 were white, according to the Appraisal Institute.

“An appraisal falling below the contracted sale price may allow a buyer to renegotiate with a seller, but it could also mean families might miss out on the full wealth-building benefits of homeownership or may be unable to get the financing needed to achieve the American Dream in the first place," said Michael Bradley, senior vice president of modeling, econometrics, data science and analytics in Freddie Mac's Single-Family division.

Generational wealth represents the assets passed from one generation to the next. This can include things like stocks, investments, businesses and real estate.

Homeownership, Perry said, is one of the primary means of building wealth. Families lose money when their homes are valued lower, which can have a cumulative effect on their family for generations to come.

"If you have less equity in your home, you have less means to uplift yourself," Perry said. "The equity in people's homes determines so much. It's the money people use to send their kids to college, to start a business. Most people start the businesses using the equity in the home, to move to a better neighborhood. It's used when someone dies or gets married. It's significant."

The net worth of an average white family is nearly 10 times greater than an average Black family and eight times greater than an average Latino family. In 2016, those totals were $171,000, $17,150, and $20,600 respectively, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.

A Brooking Institute report also found that homes in predominately Black neighborhoods nationwide are valued $48,000 less than predominately white neighborhoods, which results in a cumulative loss of approximately $156 billion in equity.

These gaps in net worth highlight some of the ways housing discrimination and other forms of systemic racism impede the ability of Latino and Black to accumulate assets and invest in the future of their families.

Solving these gaps, Perry said, can help bridge the racial and ethnic disparities in other aspects of society.

"We don't want to lay the complete blame on the loss of home values on appraisers," said Perry. "They are certainly an important trigger but the same attitudes that appraisers have, so do [some] lenders, real estate agents and other people in various markets. So, this is a great first step in identifying the causes for the loss of value in homes and it is a key to understanding how we can restore value to people who've been robbed by racism over time."

Freddie Mac's Bradley says these problems are "pervasive" and hopes the survey is the latest step toward addressing equity in housing.

“Our research marks the beginning of a comprehensive effort to better understand the key drivers contributing to the appraisal gap," Bradley said in a statement. "Our goal is to develop solutions to this persistent problem, including appraisal best practices, uniform standards for automated valuation models, enhanced consumer disclosures, improved value processes, and revised fair lending exam procedures and risk assessments.”

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CDC director overrules panel on Pfizer boosters for frontline workers

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(ATLANTA) -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has endorsed an independent advisory panel's recommendation for seniors and other medically vulnerable Americans to get a booster shot of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine, six months after their second dose.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, also partially overruled her agency's advisory panel in a notable departure by adding a recommendation for a third dose for people who are considered high risk due to where they work, such as nurses and teachers -- a group which the panel rejected in its recommendation. Some panelists said that without further data, they weren't comfortable with automatically including younger people because of their jobs.

In a statement announcing her decision late Thursday, Walensky pointed to the benefit versus risk analysis she had weighed, and data rapidly evolving.

"In a pandemic, even with uncertainty, we must take actions that we anticipate will do the greatest good," Walensky said. "While today’s action was an initial step related to booster shots, it will not distract from our most important focus of primary vaccination in the United States and around the world."

With Walensky's final sign-off, booster shots will now quickly become available for millions more Americans at pharmacies, doctors' offices and other sites that offer the Pfizer vaccine as soon as Friday.

The CDC's independent advisory panel voted unanimously on Thursday to recommend Pfizer boosters for people aged 65 and older, along with long-term care facility residents and people as young as 18, if they have an underlying medical condition.

People younger than 49, however, should only get that third dose if the benefits outweigh the risks, the panel said -- a personal consideration to discuss with their doctor.

Walensky's endorsement at least in part buttons up what has become a seething scientific debate after the Biden administration announced "boosters-for-all" ahead of any reviews from the regulatory bodies, or their independent groups. While the White House's political appointees had endorsed Biden's timeline, some of their career scientists and advisers vehemently objected to the incomplete data they were being asked to assess.

Ahead of Thursday's vote, Walensky addressed the panelists and thanked them for "leaning in" to the complex issue at hand and "trying to put the pieces together."

"You're tasked with difficult decisions, weighing the risks and benefits extrapolating from sometimes a wealth and sometimes a paucity of data available," Walensky said, but reminded them that despite the complex and contentious debate they share the goal of pulling the nation out of the pandemic.

"We all recognize that the science and data of COVID-19 are moving faster than any data we've ever seen before. And while I recognize a tremendously heavy lift of the past year, we all know that the pace is unlikely to let up anytime soon," she added. "We will continue this dialogue, you will have more data to review and more recommendations to make and I will be here with you."

Not every panelist was excited about the idea of boosters, insisting the vaccines still provide remarkable protection and that it was unvaccinated Americans who remained most at risk.

"I feel like we're putting lipstick on hogs. This is not going to solve the pandemic," said Dr. Keipp Talbot, a voting panel member and infectious diseases professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

The panel's vote narrowed Wednesday's authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, which did agree to make the shots available to frontline workers.

The vote also followed weeks of a contentious back and forth among top health experts over who should get a booster dose and when -- and whether it's still premature to be asking the question.

Scientists agreed that while vaccine protection is waning slightly, on the whole, vaccines are still working to dramatically reduce the risk of hospitalization. And many feared endorsing booster doses for most would imply vaccines are no longer working.

"I feel that we're getting too much ahead of ourselves and that we have too much hope on the line with these boosters," said voting member Dr. James Loehr of Cayuga Family Medicine in Ithaca, New York. "Having said that, you shouldn't let the perfect be in the way of the good."

Panelists initially pushed back on the proposals that American adults, 18 to 64, who are at risk for severe COVID-19 infection due to underlying medical conditions, or due to their occupation and setting receive a Pfizer booster dose. Many members stressed that in order to truly "move the dial" on the pandemic, more people need to complete the initial vaccination series.

"I think two and three are fraught with peril," said member Dr. Oliver Brooks, chief medical officer of Watts HealthCare Corporation in Los Angeles, California. "They'll be superfluous and they'll create great inequities and problems within the implementation, so I'm really concerned about the data for boosters in general."

One repeated sticking point for the CDC's panelists during deliberations on Thursday: the still-open question over whether boosting with mixed vaccines might be permitted -- since for those who received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, there is no third dose protection currently available.

The FDA's vaccine chief, Dr. Peter Marks, addressed the CDC's panelists ahead of Thursday's vote and acknowledged their frustrations.

"I think we understand at FDA the relative urgency here of trying to have a solution for anyone who has been vaccinated with any of the authorized or approved vaccines," Marks said. "Unfortunately, we're not in a place right now which I can give you an exact timeline, but I can tell you that we will proceed with all due urgency to try to get there as rapidly as possible."

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Man attempts to storm cockpit, strangles and kicks flight attendant on JetBlue flight

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(WASHINGTON) -- Flight attendants testify on Capitol Hill on rise of in-flight confrontations
Members of Congress heard from flight attendants about the recent spike in air rage incidents.

A man attempted to storm the cockpit of a JetBlue flight on Wednesday evening and then proceeded to kick and choke members of the flight crew, according to an FBI affidavit.

With a little more than an hour left in the flight from Boston to San Juan, Puerto Rico, the man attempted to make a phone call and "became angry about the call's unsuccess," a flight attendant told the FBI. Thirty minutes later he allegedly rushed toward the cockpit, shouting in Spanish and Arabic to be shot.

A flight attendant was able to get the man "corralled" back into the passenger seating area until a pilot decided to open the flight deck door.

In the incident, first reported by The Daily Beast, the unruly passenger grabbed the flight attendant by their collar and tie with one hand, and placed his other hand on the overhead compartment in an attempt to gain leverage before kicking the flight attendant in the chest, according to the affidavit.

As he was allegedly attacking the crew, he shouted again for the pilot to shoot him.

"While he was yelling, he was still holding the JetBlue flight attendant by their tie," the affidavit said. "This resulted in the tie tightening and ultimately prevented the JetBlue flight attendant from breathing."

Eventually six or seven crew members were able to gain control of the man using flex cuffs. However, the man broke out of the first pair of flex cuffs and the crew needed to use four seat-belt extenders, a new pair of flex cuffs and a uniform neck tie to restrain him to a seat.

The plane landed safely in San Juan where the man was taken into custody. He now faces felony charges of interfering with a flight crew.

This year alone, more than 4,300 unruly passenger incidents have been reported to the Federal Aviation Administration.

JetBlue did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

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A century after arson decimated its Chinatown, San Jose to apologize for past racism and injustices

KGO-TV

(SAN JOSE, Calif.) -- Local lawmakers in San Jose, California, are expected to vote on a resolution next week that would apologize to Chinese immigrants and their descendants for the role the city played in "systemic and institutional racism" more than a hundred years after one of the city's thriving Chinatowns was burned by arsonists.

San Jose was once home to five Chinatowns built up by immigrants arriving to the U.S. in the late 1800s, according to a memorandum posted to the city's website that acknowledges the pain and unequal treatment suffered by these early Asian American communities.

"These early Chinese immigrants were met with virulent, systematic racism, xenophobia and the violence of anti-Chinese forces from early on and were regularly denied equal protection before the law," the memo states. "In addition to federal legislation such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, City policies, resolutions, and other actions of the City of San José and the City Council directly contributed to the xenophobic discrimination and racial violence faced by Chinese immigrants."

The public apology would come as biases related to the COVID-19 pandemic's suspected origins in Wuhan, China, have led to a new surge in anti-Asian hate incidents throughout the country.

The memo notes how one of the most well-known of San Jose's Chinatowns succumbed to arson in 1887 after the city council at the time declared the site a public nuisance and ordered it removed to make way for the construction of a new city hall. The blaze displaced some 1,400 people and destroyed homes and businesses.

A plaque erected in 1987 on the Fairmont Hotel -- which sits on the site of the former Chinatown -- acknowledges the atrocities, but the memo notes that there "has been no formal accountability" for the city's policies that led to the arson. The resolution seeks to change this.

A draft of the resolution chronicles the contributions Chinese immigrants made to the local economy, as well as the violence and racism they faced -- noting how the first church in 1869 to teach Sunday school to Chinese immigrants was burned to the ground and the minister at the time received death threats.

The resolution also acknowledges the still-persisting impacts of centuries of racist policy, stating, "the recent rise in anti-Asian violence and racial discrimination demonstrates that xenophobia remains deeply rooted in our society" and that "Asian-Americans are still considered perpetual foreigners."

It calls for the story of Chinese immigrants "and the dehumanizing atrocities committed against them in the 19th and early 20th century" to not be purged from the city's history.

"The City must acknowledge and take responsibility for the legacy of discrimination against early Chinese immigrants as part of our collective consciousness that helps contribute to the current surge in anti-Asian and Pacific Islander hate," it states.

The resolution seeks to apologize to all Chinese immigrants and their descendants, acknowledge the injustices and brutality, as well as recognize the contributions and resilience of the Chinese community.

Connie Young Yu, the author of "Chinatown, San Jose, USA," told ABC News in a statement the apology would have "great personal significance" since her grandfather was a teenage refugee from the 1887 fire and her father was born in the new San Jose Chinatown.

"The apology by the City of San Jose for anti-Chinese policies comes very late, but it is deeply meaningful for the Chinese American community and symbolically offers peace and reconciliation," she said. "The apology recognizes the hardships and struggles of our ancestors by the Chinese Exclusion Act which deprived Chinese naturalization to U.S. citizenship, inciting cities to drive out the Chinese by outlaw violence or legal methods."

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo told San Francisco ABC station KGO, "It's appropriate that every generation, we do this."

"That we remember this," Liccardo added, "because tragically, these lessons are lost from one generation to another. And even more tragically, history does repeat itself."

Local members of the Asian American community have welcomed the news. The Chinese Historical and Cultural Project of Santa Clara County in California, a nonprofit advocacy and historical preservation group, has a ceremony planned for next Wednesday to celebrate the adoption of the resolution, which is expected to take place on Tuesday.

Evan Low, who became the youngest Asian American legislator ever elected to the California State Assembly in 2014, told KGO that it's "critical we learn and know about our history and help further the education for our community."

"We need to also recognize that accountability helps to heal these wounds," Low added.

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With Julius Jones' execution date looming, family refuses to give up hope

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(OKLAHOMA) -- Julius Jones, who has spent the past 20 years on death row, has never been closer to freedom, despite the fact that last week, his execution date was set for Nov. 18.

The Oklahoma Parole Board voted 3-1 to commute Jones' sentence to life in prison with the possibility of parole, and now, the final decision on his fate remains in the hands of Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt.

Jones' mother, Madeline Davis-Jones, told "Nightline" the news is "magical."

"I'm still in shock, because it's not over, you know? We still have so much ground [to] cover," Jones' sister, Antoinette Jones, said. "I don't know. I can't explain it, but it was a good feeling."

Antoinette Jones said her brother was calm when he heard the parole board's recommendation, as he knows work still has to be done to secure his freedom.

"He said, 'I'm good. I'll be even better when I get out and I can hug y'all and we can start helping change the world,'" Antoinette Jones said. "It was a relief. I could breathe a little bit easier."

Jones' sister remains hopeful that he will be freed, and said she can picture justice for her brother.

"Julius being able to feel the sun on his skin, the natural sun on his skin. It looks like him having no chains [on] when he gets to go outside," she said. "It looks like freedom."

Julius Jones was 19 years old when he was arrested for the 1999 murder of Oklahoma businessman Paul Howell, and sentenced to death in 2002. What followed were decades of public scrutiny and relentless work from his legal team.

"We think Julius was wrongfully convicted and that Oklahoma is at risk of executing an innocent man," Jones' attorney, Amanda Bass, said.

Now 41 years old, Jones has spent most of his life behind bars. Even after so many years, his sister and mother have yet to give up hope.

Before he was in prison, friends and teachers knew Jones as a champion high school basketball player who attended the University of Oklahoma on an academic scholarship.

That all changed in 1999 when Howell, 45, was shot in his family's driveway after a car-jacking in the wealthy suburb of Edmond, Oklahoma.

Howell's GMC Suburban went missing and his sister, Megan Tobey, was the only eye-witness.

"Megan Tobey described the shooter as a young black man wearing a red bandana, a white shirt, and a stocking cap or skullcap. She was not able to identify the shooter's face because it was covered," Bass told ABC News in 2018.

Two days after Howell was killed, police found his Suburban parked in a grocery store parking lot. They learned later that a man named Ladell King had been offering to sell the car.

King named Chris Jordan and Julius Jones to investigators and said the two men had asked him to help them sell the stolen Suburban.

"Ladell was interviewed by the lead detectives in this case. He told the police that on the night of the crime, a guy named Chris Jordan comes to his apartment. A few minutes later, according to Ladell King, Julius Jones drives up," attorney Dale Baich told ABC News in 2018.

King accused Jordan of being the driver and claimed that he and Jones were looking for Suburbans to steal, but it was Jones who shot Howell.

"Both Ladell King and Christopher Jordan were directing police's attention to the home of Julius Jones' parents as a place that would have incriminating items of evidence," Bass said.

Investigators found a gun wrapped in a red bandana in the crawl space of Jones' family home. The next day, Jones was arrested for capital murder.

Jones' attorneys say the evidence police found could have been planned by Jordan. They say Jordan had stayed at Jones' house the night after the murder, but Jordan denied those claims during the trial.

In the years since, Jones' defense team has argued that racial bias and missteps from his then public-defense team played a role.

Jones' team has submitted files to the parole board that they said proved his innocence, including affidavits and taped video interviews with inmates who had served time in prison with Jordan. They said they allegedly heard Jordan confess to Howell's murder.

In a statement to ABC News, Jordan's attorney, Billy Bock, said that "Chris Jordan maintains his position that his role in the death of Paul Howell was as an accomplice to Julius Jones. Mr. Jordan testified truthfully in the jury trial of Mr. Jones and denies 'confessing' to anyone."

Jordan served 15 years in prison before he was released.

In 2020, Jones' story was thrown back into the spotlight when unlikely legal ally Kim Kardashian drew public attention to his case. Kardashian, who is studying to take California's bar exam, has been vocal on the issue of the death penalty and prison reform and has campaigned to free a number of men and women who were incarcerated.

"Kim Kardashian, I felt like maybe one of my sorority sisters … she was down to earth," Davis-Jones said.

Antoinette Jones said Kardashian put in the effort to help her brother.

"She sat down and she broke down my brother's case. That means that she actually did the work," Jones said. "She did the work to go back and check certain things, to point out certain things."

"The fact that she told me that she was able to go see my brother, it was almost like she took a piece of him and brought it to us and then we could feel like he was there with us," Jones added.

But despite all the efforts, Julius Jones' execution date is still in place.

His family said they have to just wait to see if Stitt will agree with the parole board's recommendation and commute Jones' November death sentence. Three members of the Pardon and Parole board were appointed by the governor, a fact that gives Davis-Jones some hope.

"I'd like for [Stitt] to do the right thing, because the truth will set you free," Davis-Jones said. "But most of all, being in leadership, I know sometimes it's hard … to make decisions, [but] you have to try to make the right decisions."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Gabby Petito case shines spotlight on other missing person cases

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(NEW YORK) -- The national spotlight on Gabby Petito's disappearance has given families of other missing persons hope that they too can amplify their stories and find loves ones.

Petito made headlines after she went missing on a cross-country road trip with her boyfriend earlier this month. A body found over the weekend near Grand Teton National Park was confirmed to be hers on Tuesday. The coroner said she died by homicide, but the cause of death is pending final autopsy results.

Petito is just one of thousands reported missing each year -- the FBI had over 89,000 active missing persons at the end of 2020.

Her case also highlighted racial disparities in coverage of such cases as 45% of missing persons last year were people of color, according to the FBI's National Crime Information Center.

The Petito case also has become a point of heartbreak for other families, including the sister of Maya Millete, a California mother missing since January.

"I know the circumstances of Gabby's case are different but it just brought back a lot of pain," Maricris Droualillet told ABC San Diego affiliate KGTV.

Michael Alcazar, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former New York Police Department detective, told ABC News the Petito case became a national frenzy because she seemed familiar to them.

"I think people see her as someone in their family, perhaps their child or they might see themselves as Gabby, a girlfriend or daughter," Alcazar said. "I think it's like a 'damsel in distress' syndrome. That's just the culture in America -- we want to protect the females."

Her case, Alcazar added, showed the "value of social media posts and how it propelled this case nationally," and how other people may jump on the trend to "put pressure on law enforcement to utilize their manpower to solve these cases that have been going on for months."

The pressure could prompt police to reprioritize cases or recruit more help, as in Petito's case, which got FBI assistance.

He pointed to the cracking of the case of a 4-year-old girl who was murdered in 1991. Dubbed Baby Hope for 22 years, she finally was identified as Anjelica Castillo. The case went cold but was reopened in 2013, finally solved through a tip.

"On his 20th anniversary, our Chief Joseph Reznick put up more posters regarding the Baby Hope case," Alcazar explained. "I think we might have posted it in our Crime Stoppers kit. That's how we finally were able to identify Baby Hope -- somebody 20 years later called in a tip. That was through social media."

Here's a snapshot of families pushing forward with their own missing cases, hoping to find a break:

Jelani Day

In Illinois, a search was launched for Jelani Day, a 25-year-old graduate student at Illinois State University last seen on Aug. 24, according to the Bloomington Police Department. A body found near the Illinois River was identified as Day on Thursday after this story was initially published, Bloomington Police announced.

"Currently the cause of death is unknown, pending further investigation, and toxicology testing," the police said in a statement.

He was reported missing Aug. 25 by his family and an ISU faculty member. He had not shown up to class the past several days before he disappeared, police said in a statement.

A missing persons post seeks Julian Day, a Illinois State University grad student.

Day was captured on surveillance footage entering a retail store called "Beyond/Hello" in Bloomington around 9 a.m. on Aug. 24, wearing a blue Detroit Lions baseball hat, a black T-shirt with a Jimi Hendrix graphic, white and silver shorts, and black shoes with white soles.

Police found his vehicle, a white 2010 Chrysler 300, two days later in a wooded area concealed by trees. Inside, cops found the clothing he was seen wearing in the video footage but no other sign of him.

Bloomington Police said in a Sept. 5 statement that a search team found an unidentified body off the south bank of the Illinois River. The LaSalle County Coroner's Office initially said the identification process could take a few weeks.

Day's heartbroken mother, Carmen Bolden Day, pleaded for him to be found.

"I shouldn't have to beg, I shouldn't have to plead, I shouldn't have to feel that there is a racial disparity ... I want these people that have their resources to realize this could happen to them," she said on "Good Morning America."

Anyone with information about Jelani Day is asked to contact BPD Detective Paul Jones at 309-434-2548 or at Pjones@cityblm.org

Daniel Robinson

A 24-year-old geologist, Daniel Robinson, went missing outside Buckeye, Arizona, three months ago. The Buckeye Police Department said in an update last week that the search is ongoing.

Robinson was last seen June 23 after leaving a job site near Sun Valley Parkway and Cactus Road, and he didn't tell anyone where he was going, police said.

His jeep was found turned over in a ravine on July 19, 4 miles from where he was last seen, officials said. The airbags in the car had deployed and initial evidence indicated Daniel was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident. Officials found clothes, his cell phone, wallet and keys.

A missing persons post seeks Daniel Robinson, a 24-year-old geologist who disappeared near Buckeye, AZ on June 23.

Later in July, a human skull was found south of where the Jeep was recovered, but it was determined that it didn't belong to Daniel, police said. No other remains were found.

Investigators have used ATVs, cadaver dogs and a drone and a helicopter to search for Robinson. His family has organized their own searches in the scorching desert.

Robinson's father, David Robinson, traveled 2,000 miles from South Carolina to Arizona to help search for his son.

"I'm not leaving," he told ABC Phoenix affiliate KNX. "I'm not leaving until I find my son."

Anyone with information that can help solve this case is urged to call the Buckeye Police Department non-emergency number at 623-349-6400.

Lauren Cho

Lauren Cho, a 30-year-old from New Jersey also known as "El", was last seen leaving a residence around 5 p.m. on June 28 in Yucca Valley in California, police said in a statement. She hasn't been seen or heard from since then.

She had moved to California from New Jersey eight months earlier.


A missing persons poster seeks Lauren Cho who went missing June 28 in Yucca Valley, Calif.

On Tuesday, the Morongo Basic Sheriff's Station announced that investigators from the Specialized Investigations Division, experts in homicides and suspicious deaths, are assisting in the search effort, investigating leads and working with Cho's family and friends.

Detectives with the Morongo Basin Station have executed a search warrant in the 8600 block of Benmar Trail, where she was last seen reportedly walking away from the residence, and conducted aerial searches of a remote mountain terrain nearby.

Anyone with information regarding the search for Ms. Cho is urged to contact Detective Edward Hernandez or Sergeant Justin Giles, Specialized Investigations Division, at (909) 387-3589. You may remain anonymous by contacting the We-Tip hotline at 800-78-CRIME (27463) or www.wetip.com.

Maya Millete

Meanwhile in California, family members of Maya Millete, a married Chula Vista mother of three, are still searching for her after more than eight months after she was last seen.

Millete, 39, disappeared on Jan. 7 without a trace.

Droualillet, Millete's sister, said the attention of the Petito case has become a painful reminder of Maya's unknown whereabouts.

"I know Chula Vista police are working very hard, but the urgency we see in this case is heartbreaking," Droualillet told KGTV.

A missing persons poster seeks Maya Millete, a mother-of-three who disappeared from Chula Vista California in January.

The Chula Vista Police Department is working with the San Diego County District Attorney's office, the FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

On July 22, Larry Millete, Maya's husband, was named a person of interest in the case.

The Chula Vista Police Department said its interviewed 79 individuals and written 64 search warrants for residences, vehicles, cell and electric devices, and social media data in the case in a statement published Sept. 9.

Anyone who may have any information regarding May's disappearance is asked to please contact San Diego County Crime Stoppers at 888-580-8477 or the CVPD at 619-691-5151.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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