Two anchors of COVID safety net ending, affecting millions

WASHINGTON (AP) — Mary Taboniar went 15 months without a paycheck, thanks to the COVID pandemic. A housekeeper at the Hilton Hawaiian Village resort in Honolulu, the single mother of two saw her income completely vanish as the virus devastated the hospitality industry.

For more than a year, Taboniar depended entirely on boosted unemployment benefits and a network of local foodbanks to feed her family. Even this summer as the vaccine rollout took hold and tourists began to travel again, her work was slow to return, peaking at 11 days in August — about half her pre-pandemic workload.

Taboniar is one of millions of Americans for whom Labor Day 2021 represents a perilous crossroads. Two primary anchors of the government’s COVID protection package are ending or have recently ended. Starting Monday, an estimated 8.9 million people will lose all unemployment benefits. A federal eviction moratorium already has expired.

While other aspects of pandemic assistance including rental aid and the expanded Child Tax Credit are still widely available, untold millions of Americans will face Labor Day with a suddenly shrunken social safety net.

“This will be a double whammy of hardship,” said Jamie Contreras, secretary-treasurer of the SEIU, a union that represents custodians in office buildings and food service workers in airports. “We’re not anywhere near done. People still need help. ... For millions of people nothing has changed from a year and a half ago.”


Hospitals in crisis in least vaccinated state: Mississippi

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — As patients stream into Mississippi hospitals one after another, doctors and nurses have become all too accustomed to the rampant denial and misinformation about COVID-19 in the nation's least vaccinated state.

People in denial about the severity of their own illness or the virus itself, with visitors frequently trying to enter hospitals without masks. The painful look of recognition on patients' faces when they realize they made a mistake not getting vaccinated. The constant misinformation about the coronavirus that they discuss with medical staff.

“There’s no point in being judgmental in that situation. There’s no point in telling them, ‘You should have gotten the vaccine or you wouldn’t be here,’” said Dr. Risa Moriarity, executive vice chair of the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s emergency department. “We don’t do that. We try not to preach and lecture them. Some of them are so sick they can barely even speak to us.”

Mississippi's low vaccinated rate, with about 38% of the state's 3 million people fully inoculated against COVID-19, is driving a surge in cases and hospitalizations that is overwhelming medical workers. The workers are angry and exhausted over both the workload and refusal by residents to embrace the vaccine.

Physicians at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the only level one trauma center in all of Mississippi, are caring for the sickest patients in the state.


South Lake Tahoe residents can return as fire threat eases

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (AP) — Tens of thousands of people forced to flee South Lake Tahoe could begin returning to their homes after evacuation orders were downgraded to warnings Sunday afternoon as crews made progress against a massive wildfire.

The orders that sent 22,000 people in and around the resort fleeing last week were reduced to warnings as the fire virtually stalled a few scant few miles from the forest areas straddling the California-Nevada border.

California Highway Patrol officers began taking down roadblocks on State Route 50 at Stateline, Nevada, KCRA-TV reported. Members of the National Guard who had helped on the fire had left the area.

The threat from the Caldor Fire hasn't entirely vanished but downgrading to a warning meant those who wish could return to their homes in what had been a smoke-choked ghost town instead of a thriving Labor Day getaway location.

“So far it hasn't been a mad rush of cars," South Lake Tahoe Fire Chief Clive Savacool said at an evening briefing. “We're happy to see that people are slowly trickling in, just because the city does need time to get ready."


Taliban stop planes of evacuees from leaving but unclear why

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — At least four planes chartered to evacuate several hundred people seeking to escape the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan have been unable to leave the country for days, officials said Sunday, with conflicting accounts emerging about why the flights weren't able to take off as pressure ramps up on the United States to help those left behind to flee.

An Afghan official at the airport in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif said that the would-be passengers were Afghans, many of whom did not have passports or visas, and thus were unable to leave the country. He said they had left the airport while the situation was sorted out.

The top Republican on the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, however, said that the group included Americans and they were sitting on the planes, but the Taliban were not letting them take off, effectively “holding them hostage." He did not say where that information came from. It was not immediately possible to reconcile the accounts.

The final days of America's 20-year war in Afghanistan were marked by a harrowing airlift at Kabul's airport to evacuate tens of thousands of people — Americans and their allies — who feared what the future would hold, given the Taliban’s history of repression, particularly of women. When the last troops pulled out on Aug. 30, though, many were left behind.

The U.S. promised to continue working with the new Taliban rulers to get those who want to leave out, and the militants pledged to allow anyone with the proper legal documents to leave. But Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas told “Fox News Sunday" that American citizens and Afghan interpreters were being kept on six planes.


A hurricane-hardened city coping 'the New Orleans way'

NEW ORLEANS. (AP) — Shrimp and grits served for breakfast on the sidewalk at El Pavo Real. “Super Secret” seasoned pork and braised greens handed out at the door of the Live Oak Café. Spicy jambalaya dished out under a canopy erected on the empty sun-scorched streetcar tracks by a couple who just wanted to help.

The hearty fare is being served up from neighbor to neighbor, free for the asking and badly needed in a city where the lunchtime conversation topic is often the dinner menu and where camaraderie flourishes over Monday plates of rice and beans.

In New Orleans, food is just one of the many ways that residents help each other during hard times. And it's been no different in the days after Hurricane Ida, which flooded or destroyed homes, tore up trees and knocked out the entire city's power grid.

While chefs and amateur cooks alike piled plates high with comfort food, residents with generators charged their neighbors’ cellphones and revved up chain saws to clear downed trees, while volunteers at a local church handed out bags of cleaning supplies and boxes of diapers.

“In times of crisis ... we all join together,” said City Council member Jay Banks, one of several people at the Israelites Baptist Church who distributed donated goods in the low-income neighborhood of Central City on Thursday.


Until 2023? Parts shortage will keep auto prices sky-high

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Back in the spring, a shortage of computer chips that had sent auto prices soaring appeared, finally, to be easing. Some relief for consumers seemed to be in sight.

That hope has now dimmed. A surge in COVID-19 cases from the delta variant in several Asian countries that are the main producers of auto-grade chips is worsening the supply shortage. It is further delaying a return to normal auto production and keeping the supply of vehicles artificially low.

And that means, analysts say, that record-high consumer prices for vehicles — new and used, as well as rental cars — will extend into next year and might not fall back toward earth until 2023.

The global parts shortage involves not just computer chips. Automakers are starting to see shortages of wiring harnesses, plastics and glass, too. And beyond autos, vital components for goods ranging from farm equipment and industrial machinery to sportswear and kitchen accessories are also bottled up at ports around the world as demand outpaces supply in the face of a resurgent virus.

“It appears it’s going to get a little tougher before it gets easier,” said Glenn Mears, who runs four auto dealerships around Canton, Ohio.


Florida gunman killed 4, including mom still holding baby

A man wearing full body armor fatally shot four people, including a mother and the 3-month-old baby she was cradling, and engaged in a massive gunfight with police and deputies before he was wounded and surrendered, a Florida sheriff said Sunday. An 11-year-old girl who was shot seven times survived.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said during a press conference that even after 33-year-old Bryan Riley was arrested Sunday morning, he was so aggressive that he tried to wrestle a gun from police as he lay on his hospital gurney.

Judd said Riley, a former Marine who served as a sharpshooter in both Iraq and Afghanistan, seemed to have targeted his victims at random and appeared to be suffering from mental health issues. Judd said Riley's girlfriend told authorities Riley had been slowly unraveling for weeks and repeatedly told her that he could communicate directly with God.

“They begged for their lives and I killed them anyway,” Judd said Riley told them during an interrogation.

Investigators said preliminary evidence shows 40-year-old Justice Gleason just happened to be an unlucky stranger out mowing his lawn Saturday night when Riley drove by his home in Lakeland, about 30 miles (48.28 kilometers) east of Tampa, saying God told him to stop because Gleason’s daughter was going to commit suicide.


Soldiers detain Guinea's president, dissolve government

CONAKRY, Guinea (AP) — Mutinous soldiers in the West African nation of Guinea detained President Alpha Conde on Sunday after hours of heavy gunfire rang out near the presidential palace in the capital, then announced on state television that the government had been dissolved in an apparent coup d’etat.

The country’s borders were closed and its constitution was declared invalid in the announcement read aloud on state television by army Col. Mamadi Doumbouya, who told Guineans: “The duty of a soldier is to save the country.”

“We will no longer entrust politics to one man. We will entrust it to the people,” said Doumbouya, draped in a Guinean flag with about a half dozen other soldiers flanked at his side.

It was not immediately known, though, how much support Doumbouya had within the military or whether other soldiers loyal to the president of more than a decade might attempt to wrest back control.

The junta later announced plans to replace Guinea's governors with regional commanders at an event Monday and warned: “Any refusal to appear will be considered rebellion” against the country's new military leaders.


Divers identify broken pipeline as source of Gulf oil spill

WASHINGTON (AP) — Divers at the site of an ongoing oil spill that appeared in the Gulf of Mexico after Hurricane Ida have identified the apparent source as one-foot diameter pipeline displaced from a trench on the ocean floor and broken open.

Talos Energy, the Houston-based company currently paying for the cleanup, said in a statement issued Sunday evening that the busted pipeline does not belong to them.

The company said it is working with the U.S. Coast Guard and other state and federal agencies to coordinate the response and identify the owner of the ruptured pipeline.

Two additional 4-inch pipelines were also identified in the area that are open and apparently abandoned. The company’s statement did not make clear if oil was leaking from the two smaller pipelines, but satellite images reviewed by The Associated Press on Saturday appeared to show at least three different slicks in the same area, the largest drifting more than a dozen miles (more than 19 kilometers) eastward along the Gulf coast.

The AP first reported Wednesday that aerial photos showed a miles-long brown and black oil slick spreading about 2 miles (3 kilometers) south of Port Fourchon, Louisiana. The broken pipe is in relatively shallow water, at about 34 feet (10 meters) of depth.


Brazil-Argentina qualifier suspended in coronavirus dispute

SAO PAULO (AP) — A World Cup qualifier between Brazil and Argentina was suspended amid chaotic scenes after local health officials walked onto the pitch on Sunday in a bid to remove three players who didn’t comply with coronavirus restrictions.

The match featuring Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Brazil’s Neymar was stopped in the 7th minute because of the extraordinary interruption. The referee eventually suspended the game with the score at 0-0 after players, coaches, football officials and local authorities argued for several minutes on the field at NeoQuimica Arena.

Brazil’s health agency said three of Argentina’s England-based players should have been in quarantine instead of playing in the match. FIFA will have to determine what happens next with the qualifier.

Antonio Barra Torres, the president of Brazil's health agency, Anvisa, said four Argentina players would be fined and deported for breaching Brazil's COVID-19 protocols.

The four had been ordered to quarantine by Brazil’s health agency ahead of the match. Despite that order, three of the four started for Argentina.

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