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Texas Becomes Biggest State To Lift COVID-19 Mask Mandate

Texas Becomes Biggest State To Lift COVID-19 Mask Mandate


AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas is lifting its mask mandate, Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday, making it the largest state to end an order intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus that has killed more than 42,000 Texans.

The Republican governor has faced sharp criticism from his party over the mandate, which was imposed eight months ago, and other COVID-19 restrictions. It was only ever lightly enforced, even during the worst outbreaks of the pandemic.

Texas will also do away with limits on the number of diners that businesses can serve indoors, said Abbott, who made the announcement at a restaurant in Lubbock.

The decision comes as governors across the U.S. have been easing coronavirus restrictions, despite warnings from health experts that the pandemic is far from over. Like the rest of the country, Texas has seen the number of cases and deaths plunge. Hospitalizations are at the lowest levels since October, and the seven-day rolling average of positive tests has dropped to about 7,600 cases, down from more than 10,000 in mid-February.

Only California and New York have reported more COVID-19 deaths than Texas.

“The fact that things are headed in the right direction doesn’t mean we have succeeded in eradicating the risk,” said Dr. Lauren Ancel Meyers, a professor of integrative biology and director of the University of Texas COVID-19 Modeling Consortium.

She said the recent deadly winter freeze in Texas that left millions of people without power — forcing families to shelter closely with others who still had heat — could amplify transmission of the virus in the weeks ahead, although it remains too early to tell. Masks, she said, are one of the most effective strategies to curb the spread.

Abbott imposed the statewide mask mandate in July during a deadly summer surge. But enforcement was spotty at best, and some sheriffs refused to police the restrictions at all. And as the pandemic dragged on, Abbott ruled out a return to tough COVID-19 rules, arguing that lockdowns do not work.

Politically, the restrictions elevated tensions between Abbott and his own party, with the head of the Texas GOP at one point leading a protest outside the governor’s mansion. Meanwhile, mayors in Texas’ biggest cities argued that Abbott wasn’t doing enough.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announces an earlier reopening of more Texas businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic during a press conf



Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announces an earlier reopening of more Texas businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic during a press conference at the Texas State Capitol in Austin on May 18, 2020.

Most of the country has lived under mask mandates during the pandemic, with at least 37 states requiring face coverings to some degree. But those orders are increasingly falling by the wayside: North Dakota, Montana and Iowa have also lifted mask orders in recent weeks.

Ahead of the repeal in Texas, Democratic lawmakers urged Abbott to reconsider.

“Texas will experience more cases, more hospitalizations and more deaths,” state Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, a Democrat from the border city of Laredo, told Abbott in a letter Monday.

Laredo, whose population is predominately Latino, has endured some of the worst outbreaks of the pandemic, running out of beds in hospital intensive care units as recently as January. The international trade hub has been among Texas’ most aggressive cities in trying to blunt the spread of the virus, taking measures that have included curfews.

“Elected by the people, your most fundamental obligation is their health and safety. Please do not abrogate your duty,” Raymond said.



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Courteney Cox Shows She’s Without Doubt ‘A Monica’ In Viral Kitchen Video

Courteney Cox Shows She’s Without Doubt ‘A Monica’ In Viral Kitchen Video



Courteney Cox just proved she’s cut from the same cloth as her “Friends” alter ego, Monica Geller.

In an Instagram video shared Friday, Cox asked followers to “tell me you’re a Monica without telling me you’re a Monica.”

“I’ll go first,” she said, before showing off her immaculate kitchen storage ― reminiscent of her orderly-obsessed character in the hit sitcom.

Cox ended the clip with a familiar catchphrase, “I know!”

The clip went viral and has now been “liked” more than 1.5 million times.

Cox shared these responses to her request in her Instagram stories:

Cox’s kickstarting of what could be a new trend came after filming wrapped last week for the highly-anticipated “Friends” reunion.

Production on the show ― which David Schwimmer, who plays Monica’s brother Ross, says is not scripted ― has been pushed back multiple times because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Could we BE anymore excited!?” the show’s official account wrote on Instagram:



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Delaware Mulls Human Composting As Eco-Friendly Alternative To Burial, Cremation

Delaware Mulls Human Composting As Eco-Friendly Alternative To Burial, Cremation



DOVER, Del. (AP) — Democratic lawmakers in Delaware have introduced a measure that would allow composting of human bodies as an alternative to burial or cremation.

The bill introduced Thursday would permit a practice that is called “natural organic reduction” but also referred to as “human composting.”

The process involves putting a body into a large tank that also holds straw, wood chips or other natural materials for about 30 days.

The human remains and organic materials would mix with warm air and be periodically turned until the body is reduced to a soil-like material that can then be given to the dead person’s family.

Supporters of the bill say human composting is a more environmentally friendly alternative to cremation that uses less energy and doesn’t involve the use of formaldehyde or the release of carbon dioxide and mercury into the atmosphere.

A similar bill was introduced recently in Oregon.

Washington is currently the only state that allows human composting, with lawmakers approving the practice last year.



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Anderson Cooper Shares ‘The Sad Fact’ About Mass Shootings In The U.S.

Anderson Cooper Shares ‘The Sad Fact’ About Mass Shootings In The U.S.



“The sad fact is … that mass shootings have become so common it may soon be hard for one not to fall on the anniversary of another,” lamented the CNN anchor, while reflecting on Thursday’s mass shooting at a FedEx warehouse in Indianapolis in which eight people were killed.

“There is no way in good conscience to use the word ‘good evening’ tonight,” Cooper began the segment. “Although, there are many words to choose from. ‘Mournful,’ ‘tearful,’ and yes, as a country, ‘shameful.’ ‘Good’ is simply not one of them.”

“Countless more tonight are living the nightmare of losing someone close, and the toll extends beyond the victims and next of kin,” he continued. “This we know from experience. The shock waves, they ripple out over time and distance.”

Cooper then showed a map detailing mass shootings in the last month alone, reeling off the killings one by one. The map “doesn’t do justice to the story, doesn’t capture the horror, doesn’t capture wounds and the deaths of so many Americans,” he said, concluding that “barring drastic changes or a miracle” the warehouse shooting “will not be the last.”





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Hundreds Protest Police Killing Of 13-Year-Old Adam Toledo In Chicago

Hundreds Protest Police Killing Of 13-Year-Old Adam Toledo In Chicago



Hundreds poured into the streets in Chicago on Friday evening, protesting the police killing of 13-year-old Adam Toledo. 

The previous day, officials had released footage of the March 29 shooting, sparking outrage. Video showed the seventh-grader being pursued by police, then complying with orders by stopping and turning around with his hands in the air when Chicago police officer Eric Stillman shot him. 

Protesters gathered in Logan Square, carrying signs that said “Justice for Adam” and “CPD, stop killing our children.” People chanted in unison: “Adam, we love you. We will not stop until there is justice for you.” 

Earlier this week, prosecutors falsely said Toledo had been armed when he was shot, but later walked back the claim. Police bodycam video showed Toledo’s hands were empty and that he was holding them in the air when police shot him dead. Another video from a parking lot camera showed Toledo appearing to toss something behind a fence before putting his hands up. 

“I don’t think it matters whether Adam is a choir boy, whether he is involved in some other untoward activity — the fact of the matter is that he was walking in the street and he was shot unarmed,” Adeena Weiss-Ortiz, the Toledo family’s attorney, said at a press conference Thursday. “If you’re shooting an unarmed child with his hands in the air, it is an assassination,” the attorney added.  

The protests over the Latino child’s killing by police come just days after Daunte Wright, a Black 20-year-old, was shot dead by police in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, on Sunday, sparking demonstrations there. And throughout this week, former police officer Derek Chauvin has been on trial in Minneapolis. Chauvin killed George Floyd, a Black man, by kneeling on his neck for nine minutes last summer. 





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Mike Pompeo And Wife Violated Ethics Rules: State Dept. Watchdog

Mike Pompeo And Wife Violated Ethics Rules: State Dept. Watchdog



WASHINGTON (AP) — The State Department’s internal watchdog has concluded that former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife violated federal ethics rules by asking staffers to run personal errands and perform non-official work such as making restaurant reservations, shopping and caring for their dog.

In a report released on Friday, the department’s inspector general concluded that those requests were “inconsistent” with the regulations. But, because Pompeo is no longer a federal employee and not subject to federal disciplinary or other measures, it did not call for any action against the former secretary who left office on Jan. 20 at the end of the Trump administration.

Instead, it recommended that the State Department clarify its policies to better define tasks that are inappropriate for staffers under the ethics rules and make it easier to report alleged violations. The department accepted all of the recommendations in its response to the report.

Pompeo and his attorney strongly denied the allegations contained in the inspector general’s report, which said the former secretary and his wife, Susan, “made over 100 requests to employees in the office of the secretary to conduct work that appeared to be personal in nature.” Pompeo’s lawyer noted that the report identifies only a handful of questionable requests and that those did not amount to violations of the rules.

The report identified inappropriate tasks as including “picking up personal items, planning events unrelated to the department’s mission, and conducting such personal business as pet care and mailing personal Christmas cards.” Many of those requests were directed to a long-time assistant of the Pompeos who was hired by the State Department as a senior adviser to the secretary.

It said it had found evidence that Susan Pompeo had “on several occasions” instructed the adviser to plan events for groups with which the Pompeos had nongovernmental relationships. It said it had identified at least 30 instances in which either the secretary or his wife told staffers to make restaurant reservations for personal lunches and dinners.

The inspector general “found that such requests were inconsistent with department ethics rules and the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch,” the report said.

In an interview with investigators in late December, Pompeo said he had not paid that staffer or others separately for work that he either considered to be related to government business or to be minimal favors that long-time acquaintances would routinely do for each other, according to the report.

The inspector general, however, noted that there was no exception in the ethics rules for minimal personal favors. “Rather, the standards prohibit any use of a subordinate’s time to perform personal activities unless compensation is paid,” it said.

In a response appended to the report, the lawyer, William Burck, alleged that the report was biased and unfit for publication. Pompeo had shaken up the inspector general’s office by firing its former chief in a move that critics alleged was aimed at halting potentially embarrassing investigations into his tenure at the department.

“The poor quality of the report bespeaks not merely unprofessionalism in its drafting but also bias, which we are concerned may be politically motivated,” Burck said. He said the report was “not fit for publication” and demanded evidence to support the investigators’ claims that the Pompeos had made more than 100 inappropriate requests of staffers.

In its response to the report, the State Department made no judgement on the findings but did accept the recommendations.

“The department appreciates the work of the Office of Inspector General, and, as the report notes, concurs with all the recommendations and will proceed to implement them,” it said.



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‘Incoherent’: Democrats, Advocates Baffled By Biden Argument On Refugees

‘Incoherent’: Democrats, Advocates Baffled By Biden Argument On Refugees


President Joe Biden will make a final decision next month on how many refugees to admit into the country this year, the White House said late Friday, after hours of criticism from fellow Democrats and refugee resettlement groups who were furious with his decision to keep in place a historically low number set by his anti-refugee predecessor.

Their anger and surprise was matched only by their bafflement at the administration’s reasoning for the decisions, which linked refugee intake with an ongoing crisis on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, a connection many advocates and allies said made little sense and had more to do with politics than policy.

The Biden administration said Friday that the president walked back the decision because the damage former President Donald Trump did to the refugee system was far more extensive than they thought, and the wing of the Department of Health and Human Services charged with resettling refugees was overwhelmed with its responsibilities handling a surge of unaccompanied minors at the border. 

But on Friday afternoon, following heavy criticism from leading Democrats in both chambers of Congress, the administration suggested it would later increase the cap from Trump’s record low of 15,000. In a statement, White House press secretary Jen Psaki admitted there was “confusion” over the president’s decision and said the president would “set a final, increased refugee cap for the remainder of this fiscal year by May 15.”

“Given the decimated refugee admissions program we inherited, and burdens on the Office of Refugee Resettlement, his initial goal of 62,500 seems unlikely,” Psaki said in a statement. “While finalizing that determination, the President was urged to take immediate action to reverse the Trump policy that banned refugees from many key regions, to enable flights from those regions to begin within days; today’s order did that.”

It is immoral to pit vulnerable populations against one another, particularly in light of the fact that we have the capacity to do all of these things.
Meredith Own, the director of policy and advocacy at Church World Services

But the decision to leave Trump’s cap in place for the time being was disturbing to refugee resettlement groups, activists and Democrats. They quickly refuted White House reasoning for the decision, saying the refugee settlement agencies aren’t hindered by other backlogs, including the surge of asylum-seekers at the border. While the Office of Refugee Resettlement in the Department of Health and Human Services is partially responsible for both groups, migrants at the border seeking asylum are processed in an entirely separate system than refugees fleeing persecution overseas.

“It is immoral to pit vulnerable populations against one another, particularly in light of the fact that we have the capacity to do all of these things,” said Meredith Own, the director of policy and advocacy at Church World Services, one of the nine major resettlement agencies.

In a statement, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) called the decision to keep the refugee cap low “cruel” and “no more acceptable now than it was during the Trump Administration.”

“The asylum process at the southern border and the refugee process are completely separate immigration systems,” he continued. “Conflating the two constitutes caving to the politics of fear.”

Part of HHS, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) works with a wide array of vulnerable populations including refugees, asylum-seekers and trafficking and torture victims. In fact, ORR exhausted its $1.3 billion budget allocated for this fiscal year and has dipped into a budget meant for resettlement agencies to continue paying for more beds for unaccompanied minors.

Historically, the U.S. has been able to work with the various political situations, backlogs and surges from each of those vulnerable populations without an issue, said Owens. 

“The United States certainly has the investments and the capacity, and our communities have the will to do all of these things,” she added.

Melanie Nezer, senior vice president for public affairs at HIAS, an international Jewish organization that resettles and provides services to refugees, agreed and noted her agency had prepared for the higher cap since Biden’s presidential campaign.

When Biden became president, refugee resettlement organizations and refugees across the world were optimistic, particularly when he pledged in February to raise the cap to 62,500 refugees for this fiscal year and 125,000 for the next year. Despite the severe cuts made by Trump, refugee resettlement agencies began to prepare for more refugees, anticipating increased resources promised by the new president. 

The situation on the U.S.-Mexico border, which has seen an unprecedented surge in families and unaccompanied minors, has become a clear political problem for the administration. Republicans have focused much of their rhetorical firepower on the administration’s handling of the situation, and public surveys indicate even many voters who approve of Biden’s overall job performance have a negative view of his handling of the border. 

That’s left refugee advocates wondering if the vague nexus between two largely unrelated immigration issues has made more refugees’ admittances a political sacrificial lamb. 

“I think it’s an excuse to take advantage of the political moment,” said David Bier, a research fellow on immigration studies at the libertarian Cato Institute. “This idea that this wealthy nation does not have the private resources to resettle people is just ridiculous.”

A migrant boy from Central America waits with her mother for a bus after they are dropped off by the U.S. Customs and Border



A migrant boy from Central America waits with her mother for a bus after they are dropped off by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection at a bus station near the Gateway International Bridge, between the cities of Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoros, Mexico, on March 15 in Brownsville, Texas.

Even some Republicans have acknowledged the two issues have relatively little in common. 

“The refugee program is much more of an orderly and legal process that is entirely distinct,” Ohio Sen. Rob Portman told The Washington Post earlier this week. “I would increase the refugee’s cap from where it was in the Trump years, and I would make the asylum system work as it should.”

Refugee organizations were already frustrated with the Biden administration’s slow-walking on implementing policy changes. Nearly two months after announcing his intention to Congress, the president still hasn’t formally signed the presidential determination that would raise the refugee cap, a delay that upended hundreds of lives. Refugee resettlement agencies were left dealing with the aftermath of canceled flights and expiring health and security clearances without any answers from the White House.

“It’s so disappointing because we thought we would have this partner … there was an expectation based on that announcement that there would be a change,” said Nezer. 

“There is a resettlement infrastructure in place. We have held on for four long years, as the prior administration really thought to break the program, but it did not. We are still here and we are ready,” she added. 

White House officials emphasized the possibility of working with Congress to lift the cap later in this fiscal year ― which ends on Sept. 30 ― and said the administration remained on track to admit 125,000 refugees in the fiscal year 2022. 

“This is just the beginning,” Psaki wrote on Twitter earlier on Friday. “This step lifts the restrictions put in place by prior Administration on where refugees can come from.  We need to rebuild the resettlement program and we are committed to continuing to increase refugee numbers.”

But advocates said such an increase would be difficult without increasing the program’s capacity now.

“There’s no way that’s going to happen unless they’re going to increase the cap this year,” Bier said. “It’s the most incoherent explanation they could give. If you’re not going to increase admissions, then you’re not rebuilding the program.” 





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