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NYC’s Santacon Bar Crawl Canceled by COVID-19

FILE PHOTO: Revelers dressed as Santa Claus take part in the event called Santacon at Times Square in New York City, U.S., December 14, 2019. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz/File Photo

Santacon, an annual bar crawl in which thousands of young people dressed in Santa Claus costumes roam — or stagger — through the streets of Manhattan, has been canceled this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, organizers said.

The event, which had been scheduled for Dec. 12, is intended to raise money for charity, but more than a few locals may see the cancellation as an early Christmas present.

During Santacon, hordes of Santas usually move from bar to bar, downing shots. Complaints about rowdiness, inebriated participants and public urination typically follow.

“All of the reindeer got the ‘Rona so, the Elves have advised Santa to hold off on the in-person merriment,” organizers wrote on their website https://santacon.nyc earlier this week.

Instead the organizers encouraged readers to consider playing a drinking game at home or donating to a charity that provides food to workers on the front lines of the pandemic.

The decision was forced by emergency rules imposed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Cuomo has banned public gatherings of more than 10 people, shortened opening hours for bars and restaurants and required that alcohol only be served alongside a substantial serving of food.

The event traces its origins to San Francisco in 1994 as an effort to satirize Christmas-time consumerism. New York City hosts the largest Santacon offshoot, organizers say. The fate of similar events in other cities was unclear.

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2 NYPD Cops From Long Island Wounded in Shootout Released from Hospital

Photo by Nick Allen

Two New York City police officers from Long Island who were shot and wounded earlier this week while responding to a domestic dispute were discharged from hospital on Thursday in time to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with their families, the city’s police commissioner said.

Joseph Murphy and Christopher Wells departed the hospital in the city’s Queens borough in wheelchairs and were greeted with cheers from dozens of their fellow officers, according to video released by the commissioner, Dermot Shea.

“After being shot in the line of duty protecting a domestic-violence victim, Officers Wells & Murphy leave the hospital today to continue their recoveries at home with loved ones,” Shea wrote.

Both officers had been rushed to the hospital on Tuesday, one suffering a gunshot wound to the upper thigh and the other to the hands. They were in stable condition and had been expected to recover.

The incident started when the two officers accompanied a woman, who was not identified, to her house around midday after she filed the latest of several domestic violence reports at a local police precinct, Shea had said.

Shortly after the officers and the woman entered her home in a neighborhood of modest houses near John F. Kennedy International Airport, the gunman appeared and started shooting, according to Shea.

The officers returned fire and killed the suspect, who has been identified as 41-year-old Rondell Goppy. Goppy worked as a peace officer at City University of New York, had a firearms license and no criminal history, police said earlier this week. At least two handguns were recovered, they said.

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Cuomo Calls U.S. Supreme Court’s Religious Gatherings Ruling ‘Irrelevant’

FILE PHOTO: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks to the media while visiting the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center which will be partially converted into a hospital for patients affected by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Manhattan in New York City, New York, U.S., March 23, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday dismissed as “irrelevant” a U.S. Supreme Court decision blocking coronavirus restrictions imposed on religious gatherings, saying it related to specific areas that were no longer considered at high risk.

The court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, voted 5-4 late on Wednesday in favor of requests by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and two Orthodox Jewish congregations for an injunction to block the restrictions from being enforced.

The order marked one of the first consequential actions on the court involving President Donald Trump’s new appointee, conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who cast a deciding vote in favor of the religious groups. Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts dissented along with the court’s three liberals.

“HAPPY THANKSGIVING!” Trump tweeted on Thursday in response to the decision.

The case stemmed from an Oct. 6 decision by Cuomo, a Democrat, to shut down non-essential businesses in targeted areas where infections have spiked, including some neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

New York has categorized areas where coronavirus infections are increasing in severity as yellow, orange or red. Under Cuomo’s restrictions, houses of worship in red zones could remain open at 25% capacity up to a maximum of 10 people.

In a call with reporters on Thursday, Cuomo said the high court’s ruling would have no impact on the state’s virus control efforts because the red zone status for the area in question had expired last week.

“It’s irrelevant from any practical impact because the zone that they were talking about has already been moot,” the governor said. “I think this was really just an opportunity for the court to express its philosophy and politics.”

He also pointed out that the decision, which now goes to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, is not final and did not appear to affect New York state’s rules for mass gatherings.

The houses of worship argued the limits imposed by the state violated religious freedoms protected by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, and that their facilities were singled out for more stringent restrictions than essential businesses, such as food stores.

The Orthodox congregations Agudath Israel of Kew Garden Hills and Agudath Israel of Madison, as well as nationwide Orthodox Jewish group Agudath Israel of America, requested the injunction.

A federal judge in Brooklyn rejected separate requests made by the religious groups on Oct. 9. The New York City-based 2nd Circuit declined emergency requests filed by both sets of challengers on Nov. 9.

In two previous cases this year, the court, in 5-4 votes, turned away similar requests by churches in Nevada and California. Those votes occurred before the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and saw her and the other three liberal members of the court joined by Roberts in the majority.

Cuomo urged New Yorkers to “Mask up” in a tweet on Thursday, adding that nearly 7,000 people in the state had tested positive the day before while 67 died as a result of the virus.

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Supreme Court Blocks NY Coronavirus Cap on Religious Service Crowd Size

FILE PHOTO: A general view of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. July 2, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

By Lawrence Hurley

The U.S. Supreme Court late on Wednesday backed Christian and Jewish houses of worship challenging New York State’s latest restrictions in novel coronavirus hot spots.

The court on a 5-4 vote granted requests made by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and two Orthodox Jewish congregations.

The order marked one of the first consequential actions on the court of President Donald Trump’s new appointee, conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who cast a deciding vote in favor of the religious groups. Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts dissented along with the court’s three liberals.

An Oct. 6 decision by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo shut down non-essential businesses in targeted areas where infections have spiked, including some Brooklyn neighborhoods. It limited gatherings at religious institutions to 10 people in some areas and 25 in others.

The houses of worship say that the limits violated religious freedoms protected by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, and that their facilities were singled out for more stringent restrictions than essential businesses, such as food stores. The Orthodox congregations Agudath Israel of Kew Garden Hills and Agudath Israel of Madison, as well as nationwide Orthodox Jewish group Agudath Israel of America.

A federal judge in Brooklyn rejected separate requests made by the religious groups on Oct. 9. The New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined emergency requests filed by both sets of challengers on Nov. 9.

In two previous cases this year, the court on 5-4 votes turned away similar requests by churches in Nevada and California.

Those votes occurred before the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and saw her and her three liberal colleagues joined by Roberts in the majority.

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2 NYPD Cops From Long Island Wounded, Suspect Killed in Shootout

Photo by Nick Allen

Two New York City police officers from Long Island were shot and wounded on Tuesday before returning fire and killing the shooter as they tried to resolve a domestic dispute in a residential neighborhood in Queens, police said.

Both officers were rushed to a hospital where they were in stable condition, one with a gunshot wound to the upper thigh and the other to the hands, New York Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said.

Both officers will require surgery, Shea told reporters outside Jamaica Hospital Medical Center in Queens.

The incident started when the two officers accompanied a woman, who was not identified, to her house around midday after she filed the latest of several domestic violence reports at a local police precinct, Shea said.

Shortly after the officers and the woman entered her home in a neighborhood of modest houses near John F. Kennedy International Airport, the gunman appeared at around 12:46 p.m., he said.

“After about six minutes, he comes into the residence and starts shooting,” Shea said.

The suspect, whose relationship with the woman was not described at the briefing, was killed at the scene, he said.

The dead man, identified as 41-year-old Rondell Goppy, worked as a peace officer at City University of New York, had a firearms license and no criminal history, police said. At least two handguns were recovered, they added.

Shea said police are investigating why Goppy was permitted to have weapons after the domestic violence reports.

The deadly encounter came amid a spike in the city’s gun violence. The number of shooting victims has more than doubled so far this year to 1,667, according to New York Police Department data.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio hailed the officers as heroes.

“Here we have a situation where a woman was in danger and these officers went to protect her, only to find themselves in harm’s way immediately,” he said.

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U.S. Officials Worry About Holiday Spike As Coronavirus Surges

holiday spike
Brendan McDermid/Reuters

U.S. health authorities braced for further increases in COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths on Friday, capping a week in which the spread of the novel coronavirus accelerated ahead of next week’s Thanksgiving holiday.

The seven-day rolling average of new COVID-19 cases reached more than 165,000 on Thursday, while the seven-day average for deaths climbed to 1,359, more than any day since late May, according to a Reuters tally of public health data.

With hospitalizations rising across much of the nation, straining already exhausted medical staff, officials in more than 20 states have imposed restrictions to curtail the spread of the virus.

The White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, said the virus is spreading at a high rate across more than half the country and that Thanksgiving gatherings should be limited to immediate family members rather than a maximum number of people.

“I don’t like it to be any number… if you say it can be 10, and it’s eight people from four different families, then that probably is not the same degree of safe as 10 people from your immediate household,” Birx told CNN on Friday.

In a positive sign for combating the pandemic, Pfizer Inc <PFE.N> said it will apply to U.S. health regulators on Friday for emergency use authorization of its COVID-19 vaccine, the first such application in a major step toward providing protection against the virus.

Pfizer and German partner BioNTech SE <22UAy.DE> <BNTX.O> this week reported final trial results that showed the vaccine was 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 with no major safety concerns.

If the data is solid, “we literally could be weeks away from the authorization of a 95% effective vaccine,” U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar said on CBS’ “This Morning.”

California’s governor on Thursday imposed some of the most stringent restrictions on the vast majority of the state’s population, with a curfew on social gatherings and other non-essential activities that will start on Saturday night and end on the morning of Dec. 21.

“The virus is spreading at a pace we haven’t seen since the start of this pandemic, and the next several days and weeks will be critical to stop the surge,” Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said in a statement announcing the measure a week before the Thanksgiving holiday.

Similar restrictions took effect in Ohio this week, while Minnesota ordered a shutdown of restaurants, bars, fitness centers and entertainment venues from Friday until Dec. 18 at the earliest, as the state’s hospital intensive care units were stretched to capacity.

The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in the United States has jumped nearly 50% in the past two weeks, with more than 80,000 people being treated for the disease in hospitals across the country as of late Thursday, a Reuters tally showed, the most at any time during the pandemic.

Daily COVID-19 deaths surpassed the 2,000 mark for the first time since late June on Thursday.

THANKSGIVING FEARS

U.S. officials have pleaded with the public to avoid unnecessary travel and exercise caution as the winter holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas approach.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a “strong recommendation” on Thursday that Americans refrain from traveling for the holiday.

With cases and deaths increasing steadily in most states, the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation updated its widely cited model.

It now projects 471,000 coronavirus deaths by March 1, up from less than 440,000 in its previous forecast.

In Wisconsin, which has seen a record number of deaths and cases this week and where the seven-day average positivist rate is 33%, the state’s hospital association has implored lawmakers to address the growing crisis by providing more resources to health care workers and facilities.

“With few tools available right now to curb spread other than increasingly urgent public appeals, our COVID numbers are growing rapidly and predict, quite accurately so far, a health care crisis in Wisconsin that without significant, swift, and unified action will become a catastrophe,” Wisconsin Hospital Association President and CEO Eric Borgerding wrote in a letter to legislators and the governor on Thursday.

COVID-19 Global Tracker, United States: https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps/countries-and-territories/united-states/

(Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York and Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; additional reporting by Anurag Maan in Bengaluru, Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles, California; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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MTA To Borrow a Second Time from Fed Program

Commuters leave a Long Island Railroad train at Pennsylvania Station in New York July 15, 2014. (Reuters)

New York‘s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) on Wednesday authorized borrowing up to $2.9 billion from a U.S. Federal Reserve loan program to aid its coronavirus-battered budget.

The new borrowing, which follows a $450.7 million MTA loan from the Fed’s Municipal Liquidity Facility (MLF) in August, would allow the cash-strapped agency to end its current fiscal year with a balanced budget, officials said.

The MTA faces nearly $16 billion in projected deficits through 2024 due a sharp drop in ridership on its buses, subways and trains amid the pandemic and is considering fare and toll changes, massive service cuts, and the layoff of more than 9,300 workers.

“This is just ugly,” said MTA Chief Financial Officer Robert Foran. “This is something we must consider to survive.”

The nation’s largest public transportation network, which has been pushing for $12 billion in federal virus aid, is scheduled to vote on its fiscal 2021 budget next month.

The MTA and Illinois, which took out a $1.2 billion loan in June, were the only two users of the MLF as of the end of October. Illinois could also turn again to the MLF to help deal with a $3.9 billion budget deficit.

New Jersey, which considered the option of a MLF loan to fill a $4.28 billion revenue gap in its budget, instead sold $3.67 billion of bonds in the U.S. municipal market on Tuesday.

The $500 billion MLF, which the Fed authorized in April and which is scheduled to expire on Dec. 31, was designed as a backstop for the muni market by allowing states and local governments to access short-term, cash-flow loans.

It is one of around a dozen emergency credit facilities launched by the central bank this year to help ease the blow from the pandemic.

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NY Fines NRA, Bans Insurance Sales for 5 Years

FILE PHOTO: A general view shows the National Rifle Association (NRA) headquarters, in Fairfax, Virginia, U.S., August 6, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The National Rifle Association agreed to a five-year suspension of its insurance business in New York State and will pay a $2.5 million civil fine to settle charges it offered insurance to members without a license and concealed how it routinely kept some premiums for itself.

New York‘s Department of Financial Services announced the settlement on Wednesday, a little over three months after state Attorney General Letitia James sued to dissolve the NRA, the leading U.S. gun rights group, accusing it of widespread corruption.

The settlement resolved charges over the NRA’s two-decade relationship with insurance broker Lockton Cos, including the sale of 28,015 policies to New Yorkers and the NRA’s receipt of more than $1.8 million in associated royalties and fees.

Linda Lacewell, the state insurance superintendent, said Lockton’s NRA-branded “Carry Guard” program illegally offered policyholders coverage for criminal defense costs and the “intentional” use of firearms in shooting incidents.

She also accused the NRA of misleading gun collectors, dealers, instructors, clubs and shows by promising coverage at the “lowest possible cost,” when the group typically kept between 13.7% and 21.9% of premiums paid.

The NRA has said it did not underwrite its insurance programs, and that like “countless” affinity groups it relied on industry experts to market products to members.. It did not admit wrongdoing in agreeing to settle.

William Brewer, a lawyer for the NRA, said in a statement: “The DFS inquiry, which began with a roar, ends with a whimper.” He said the settlement has no effect on other litigation pending between New York state and the NRA.

The NRA has long battled with New York state officials, including in a May 2018 lawsuit where it accused Governor Andrew Cuomo of attempted “blacklisting” for pressuring banks and insurers to send business elsewhere.

“It would be highly unusual for a state to allow an insurance company to reimburse for an illegal activity,” Cuomo told CNN in August 2018. “They call it ‘murder insurance.'”

The financial services department fined Lockton $7 million in May 2018 over its involvement with Carry Guard.

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Where Are We in The COVID-19 Vaccine Race?

Small bottles labeled with "Vaccine" stickers stand near a medical syringe in front of displayed "Coronavirus COVID-19" words in this illustration taken April 10, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Drugmakers and research centers around the world are working on COVID-19 vaccines, with large global trials of several of the candidates involving tens of thousands of participants well underway.

The following is what we know about the race to deliver vaccines to help end the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed over 1.26 million lives worldwide:

Who is furthest along?

Moderna Inc is the second U.S. pharmaceutical company to release interim data showing that its vaccine worked in a large, late-stage clinical trial. The biotech firm said its vaccine was 94.5% effective.

One week ago, U.S. drugmaker Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech SE released interim data and said their shot was more than 90% effective at stopping COVID-19.

Interim late-stage trial results for Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine published on Nov. 11 showed the shot is 92% effective.

The next data release will likely be from AstraZeneca Plc with the University of Oxford in November or December. Johnson & Johnson says it is on track to deliver data this year.

What happens in these trials?

The companies are testing their vaccines against a placebo – typically saline solution – in healthy volunteers to see if the rate of COVID-19 infection among those who got the vaccine is significantly lower than in those who received the dummy shot.

What were pharma companies waiting for to release data?

The trials rely on subjects becoming naturally infected with the coronavirus, so how long it takes to generate results largely depends on how pervasive the virus is where trials are being conducted. Each drugmaker has targeted a specific number of infections to trigger a first analysis of their data.

Early in the trials, infection rates were low. With a surge in infections around the globe in October and November, trial participants became infected more quickly.

Moderna conducted its interim analysis after 95 participants developed COVID-19. Pfizer’s was done after 94 developed COVID-19 while Russia’s examination was conducted after 20 developed the disease.

AstraZeneca said two weeks ago that a slowdown in infections during the summer is delaying data analysis for its UK trial.

How well are the vaccines supposed to work?

The World Health Organization ideally wants to see at least 70% efficacy in trials. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration wants at least 50% – which means there must be at least twice as many infections among volunteers who received a placebo as among those in the vaccine group. The European Medicines Agency has said it may accept a lower efficacy level.

When will regulators rule on safety and efficacy?

Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech plan to submit applications seeking U.S. emergency use authorization (EUA) in the coming weeks after they have enough safety data, which they have said would be in the second half of November.

That means the earliest the U.S. Food and Drug Administration could make a decision is December. The FDA has asked companies to watch trial participants for side effects for two months after receiving a final vaccine dose.

Regulators for Europe, the United Kingdom and Canada are considering data as it becomes available. It is not clear when companies will submit efficacy data or when the agencies would make a decision.

Could these be the first widely available coronavirus vaccines?

Yes, although China launched an emergency use program in July aimed at essential workers and others at high risk of infection that has vaccinated hundreds of thousands of people.

At least four Chinese vaccines are far along including those from China National Biotec Group, CanSino Biologics, and Sinovac. Sinovac and CNBG have said to expect early trial data as soon as November.

Russia has also given the Sputnik V vaccine developed by the Gamaleya Institute to 10,000 members of the general population considered at high risk of contracting the virus.

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Cuomo Sets New Restrictions on Restaurants, Gyms, Gatherings Amid Uptick of COVID-19 Cases

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks in front of stacks of medical protective supplies during a news conference at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center which will be partially converted into a temporary hospital during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York City, New York, U.S., March 24, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar

By Peter Szekely and Maria Caspani

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday imposed a new round of restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus as the infection rate climbed and hospitalizations soared in the state that was the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak in its early stages.

Cuomo ordered bars, restaurants and gyms in the state to shut down on-premises services at 10 p.m. nightly, and capped the number of people who could attend private parties at 10.

The new measures, which take effect on Friday, came a day after California and several states across the Midwest tightened restrictions on residents on Tuesday to try to curb the rapid spread of the virus.

“This is our LAST chance to stop a second wave,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted on Wednesday, as he announced the city-wide seven-day average rate of coronavirus tests coming back positive had hit 2.52%.

The city’s public school system, the nation’s largest, would be shut to in-person learning if that figure reaches 3%.

“We can do it, but we have to act NOW,” de Blasio said.

As COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths surge across the United States, more signs emerged that a second wave could engulf areas of the Northeast, which had managed to bring the pandemic under control after being battered last spring.

The United States as a whole reported more than 1,450 deaths on Tuesday, the highest single-day count since mid-August, according to a Reuters analysis.

U.S. COVID-19 cases climbed for seven consecutive days to reach more than 136,000 as of late Tuesday, while hospitalizations crossed 60,000 for the first time since the pandemic began, threatening to overwhelm systems in many parts of the country.

In New Jersey, one of the early U.S. hotspots, a spike in cases in Newark, the state’s largest city, prompted Mayor Ras Baraka to implement aggressive measures, including a mandatory curfew for certain areas.

In Newark, the positivity rate hovered at 19%, more than double the state’s 7.74% seven-day average, Baraka said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Stricter measures are required in the city’s hotspots in order to contain the virus and limit the spread,” he said.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced some restrictions on Monday in response to a rise in COVID-19 cases in the state, and outbreaks among bartenders.

In Maryland, where the positivity rate stood at 5.6% on Wednesday, officials warned about rising COVID-19 hospitalizations.

More than 800 people were being treated for the coronavirus at state hospitals as of Wednesday, according to Mike Ricci, the communications director of Gov. Larry Hogan, the highest daily count since April.

A record number of people died of COVID-19 in several Midwest and western states on Tuesday, including in Alaska, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Officials in states hardest-hit by the virus pleaded with residents to stay home as much as possible and heed the advice of experts by wearing masks, washing their hands and social distancing.

“It’s not safe to go out, it’s not safe to have others over, it’s just not safe. And it might not be safe for a while yet,” Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers said during a primetime address on Tuesday. “So, please, cancel the happy hours, dinner parties, sleepovers and playdates at your home.”

Related Story: Long Island COVID-19 Cases at Highest Since Late May

Related Story: As COVID-19 Cases Rise, Suffolk Adds Contact Tracers

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