DETROIT — Michigan health and safety officials are investigating the Michigan House of Representatives for possible violations of workplace COVID-19 regulations.

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Michigan Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, left, and Republican House Speaker Lee Chatfield, shown in May, have not adopted mask mandates in the statehouse or allowed remote work. David Eggert/Associated Press

Camara Lewis, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, said Tuesday the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration received an employee complaint and initiated an investigation.

Lewis said the Legislature is an employer that falls under the purview of MIOSHA rules but declined to provide additional details about the investigation.

The confirmed inquiry comes after Rudy Giuliani, an attorney for President Trump, was hospitalized because of COVID-19 only days after speaking for hours without a mask during a House committee hearing last week.

At least 11 Michigan lawmakers — three senators and eight representatives — have had confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic. On Monday, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, confirmed an additional 18 Senate staffers have also contracted the disease.

While Michigan Democrats have called on legislative leaders to mandate masks throughout the statehouse and allow remote work, Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, have not adopted these measures.

Michigan health and safety officials instituted emergency workplace safety requirements in October, after Michigan Supreme Court rulings invalidated executive orders by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The state workplace rules require employers have a COVID-19 safety plan, allow employees to work from home “to the extent that their work activities can feasibly be completed remotely” and mandate masks be worn by those who cannot work from home.

The workplace rules are separate from the COVID-19 restrictions the state initiated in November and extended on Monday. The state has fined numerous businesses for not adhering to these rules, while offering guidance on how best to follow them.

Second member of Trump’s legal team tests positive for virus

Jenna Ellis, a colleague of Rudy Giuliani, told the White House that she received a positive coronavirus test on Monday, Axios reported Tuesday. She refused to confirm the diagnosis or give an update on her condition.

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Jenna Ellis, a member of President Trump’s legal team, shown last month, has tested positive for COVID-19. Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

Meanwhile, Giuliani, President Trump’s personal attorney, tweeted Tuesday that he is feeling well and continuing to recover after being hospitalized with COVID-19 on Sunday.

Ellis attended a White House senior staff Christmas party on Friday, raising fears that she may have infected other officials or their families.

Like most Trump officials, Ellis shuns protective face masks and did not wear one at the event.

The diagnosis was the latest blow to Trump’s long-shot effort to overturn his loss to President-elect Joe Biden.

Along with Giuliani and far right-wing firebrand Sidney Powell, Ellis dubbed the team an “elite strike force” that would battle for Trump from coast to coast.

The group, which dumped Powell amid intramural squabbles, has suffered a humiliating string of dozens of legal setbacks, many inflicted by Trump-appointed judges.

Ellis has no experience arguing federal election law, and most of her courtroom experience involved mundane liability lawsuits.

‘We messed up’: Former state legislator’s final words before dying of virus were a warning

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Before his death from COVID-19 last week, former Alabama state senator Larry Dixon spoke to his wife of 53 years from his hospital bed and asked her to relay a warning.

“Sweetheart, we messed up. We just dropped our guard,” Dr. David Thrasher, a pulmonologist and friend of Dixon’s. recalled him saying.

“The last thing he told her was, ’Gaynell, I love you. We’ve got to tell people this is real,” Thrasher said.

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Former State Sen. Larry Dixon, R-Montgomery, 78, died Friday, Dec. 4, from complications of COVID-19. Before his death Dixon spoke to his wife of 53 years from his hospital bed and asked her to relay a warning of how easily the virus can spread at casual gatherings. Phillip Rawls/Montgomery Advertiser via AP, file

Dixon, 78, died Friday from complications of COVID-19. Thrasher said his longtime friend had been conscientious with masks and social distancing. But he did meet with friends at a local restaurant to catch up and smoke cigars, a social gathering the friends referred to as “prayer meeting.” Three people at the gathering became ill, Thrasher said.

Thrasher said he is telling his friend’s story with the family’s permission in the hopes that people can learn just how easily the virus can spread at casual gatherings. He said it is also important to seek medical care when they first get sick.

Alabama and much of the country is seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases following Thanksgiving gatherings. The state in the last two weeks has set records for the number of cases reported each day and the number of people in state hospitals with COVID-19.

The state health department has reported more than 276,000 confirmed and probable virus cases and at least 3,942 confirmed and probable virus deaths in Alabama. While the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms in most people, it can be deadly for the elderly and people with other, serious health problems.

The hope generated by the imminent arrival of the vaccine is tempered by what medical officials fear will be unchecked spread before it becomes widely available.

“I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I can also see the locomotive coming at me,” Thrasher said. “The next four months are going to see more devastation and catastrophic problems with public health than we’ve seen probably since 1918. It is going to be very, very bad.”

Dixon was the executive director of the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners from 1981 until his retirement in 2016. A Republican, Dixon was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 1978 and the Alabama Senate in 1983. He retired from the Alabama Legislature in 2010.

Los Angeles deputies break up underground party, arrest 158

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County deputies arrested nearly 160 people — many of whom were not wearing masks — who attended an illegal “super-spreader” party over the weekend despite surging coronavirus cases, authorities said Tuesday.

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Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villaneuva discusses the “massive underground party” broken up by deputies who arrested 158 people in the high desert city of Palmdale, at a news conference in Los Angeles on Tuesday. Officials said the people were at an illegal “super-spreader” party over the weekend despite surging coronavirus cases. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office via Associated Press

The Saturday night raid on a location in the high desert city of Palmdale came after Sheriff Alex Villanueva vowed to crack down on “super-spreader events” even as he instructs his deputies to avoid enforcement of the county and state health orders for restaurants and other small businesses.

The party, however, resulted in the arrests of 158 people, 35 of whom were juveniles. Authorities found six weapons at the home and were able to rescue a 17-year-old human trafficking victim.

“Even without the health order, these actions were criminal in nature,” Villanueva said Tuesday during a news conference.

The “massive underground party” occurred at a vacant home in a residential neighborhood without the owners’ knowledge. The sheriff said the organizers, who were also arrested and had reportedly also promoted previous parties in Pomona and Ontario, broke in and used a moving truck to bring in their equipment.

Villanueva said his department is tracking other underground parties, which typically happen weekly and could also be super-spreader events.

KTTV Fox 11 first reported the Palmdale party and arrests.

“It was what we call a super-spreader for COVID,” Sheriff’s Lt. Paul Zarris told KTTV.

Zarris told the TV station that deputies received intelligence about the party, and the people inside were not wearing masks. Sheriff’s officials said they want to send a message to other potential party promoters and attendees.

“We just want to make sure that this doesn’t happen, especially in our area. We’ll let them know that this is not acceptable,” Zarris said.

Villanueva has said his deputies would focus on education and voluntary compliance for county and state health orders.

The sheriff said his department would not enforce the orders at struggling businesses “where they’re deciding between complying with the orders and putting food on the table.”

Biden vows 100 million shots in his first 100 days in office

President-elect Joe Biden is promising to distribute a coronavirus vaccine to 100 million people during the first three months of his incoming administration, pledging “100 million shots in the first 100 days.”

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President-elect Joe Biden speaks during an event at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del., Tuesday, Dec. 8, to announce his health care team. AP Photo/Susan Walsh

At an event from Delaware to introduce his pandemic response team on Tuesday, Biden laid out his top three priorities for the start of his new government. He repeated his previous calls for all Americans to wear masks for 100 days to prevent the spread of the virus and said he’d mandate doing so in federal buildings and on public transportation, while also making the new promise to distribute 100 million vaccines shots over the same period.

Biden also said he believed that the virus can be brought under enough control to reopen “the majority of schools” within his first 100 days.

Those pledges came even as Biden struck a somber tone about the toll the coronavirus has already taken. He said that, after about nine months of living with the pandemic, the U.S. is “at risk of becoming numb to its toll on all of us.” The president-elect specifically noted the virus’s “disproportionate” effects on Americans of color, calling it a “mass casualty” for many minority groups.

Read the full story here.

‘Quite frankly shocking’: U.S. virus deaths hit record levels

Deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. have soared to more than 2,200 a day on average, matching the frightening peak reached last April, and cases per day have eclipsed 200,000 on average for the first time on record, with the crisis all but certain to get worse because of the fallout from Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.

Virtually every state is reporting surges just as a vaccine appears days away from getting the go-ahead in the U.S.

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Dr. Shane Wilson performs rounds in a portion of Scotland County Hospital set up to isolate and treat COVID-19 patients in Memphis, Mo. on Nov. 24. AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

“The epidemic in the U.S. is punishing. It’s widespread. It’s quite frankly shocking to see one to two persons a minute die in the U.S. — a country with a wonderful, strong health system, amazing technological capacities,” said Dr. Michael Ryan, the World Health Organization’s chief of emergencies.

The virus is blamed for more than 280,000 deaths and almost 15 million confirmed infections in the United States.

On Thursday, a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel is widely expected to authorize emergency use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, and shots could begin almost immediately after that. Britain on Tuesday started dispensing the Pfizer vaccine, becoming the first country in the West to begin mass vaccinations.

Still, any vaccination campaign will take many months, U.S. health experts are warning of a surge in the coming weeks, in part because of Americans’ disregard of warnings not to travel over Thanksgiving. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, said the upcoming holiday season could compound the crisis even more than Thanksgiving did.

“It’s a very critical time in this country right now,” he told CNN on Monday.

The WHO’s Ryan said that the U.S. is accounting for one-third of all world cases over the last several weeks and that the “brutal reality” is that holiday hugs are ill-advised.

Here are the final steps in U.S. approval of Pfizer vaccine

WASHINGTON — Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is entering the final phase of review before the U.S. government decides whether to allow millions to get the shots.

The Food and Drug Administration posted a positive review of the Pfizer vaccine on Tuesday and will hold a public hearing on Thursday. Next week, it will do the same thing for Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine candidate.

A look at the process:

The agency’s scientific review is a key step — not just for the U.S. — but for countries around the world weighing whether to begin using a vaccine. Teams of FDA scientists scrutinize tens of thousands of pages of technical data provided by the companies, focusing on vaccine effectiveness, safety, side effects and the manufacturing process needed to ensure the quality and consistency of the doses.

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A nurse administers the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Guy’s Hospital in London, Tuesday, Dec. 8. Frank Augstein/ Associated Press

Up until now, Pfizer and its partner BioNTech had only released minimal results about their vaccine’s safety and performance in company press releases. The details have yet to be reviewed and published in a medical journal.

Unlike most other regulatory agencies worldwide, the FDA reanalyzes raw company data to verify results. FDA’s vaccine director said the agency’s careful approach carries weight around the world.

“I’ve answered emails from three other continents today wanting to know what we’re doing because people trust us — they know we’re going to do a good job,” said Dr. Peter Marks, in an online event hosted by the American Medical Association

Next, a group of about two dozen outside experts weighs in on the FDA’s findings and gives their own assessment. The panelists have expertise in vaccines, infectious diseases and medical statistics. The FDA is not required to follow their advice, though it usually does.

The daylong event also gives the agency a chance to pull back the curtain on its review process and try to assure the public that the vaccine was independently vetted. That confidence will be critical for the country’s largest-ever vaccination effort. The meeting concludes with the panel’s non-binding vote on whether the vaccine should be authorized for use in the U.S.

How soon does the FDA make a decision? There is no deadline for a ruling, but FDA’s Marks said he hoped a decision on the Pfizer vaccine could come by the following week.

Importantly, if the FDA gives the thumbs-up, it would still only allow limited use in certain high-risk groups because final-stage studies are not yet complete. That comes under FDA’s “emergency use authorization,” which is used to speed up the availability of medical products during a health crisis. The decision amounts to a careful calculation between potential benefits and risks.

U.S. regulators confirm Pfizer vaccine strongly protective against COVID-19

WASHINGTON — Documents released by U.S. regulators Tuesday confirmed that Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine was strongly protective against COVID-19 — offering the world’s first detailed look at the evidence behind the shots.

The Food and Drug Administration posted its analysis online even as across the Atlantic, Britain on Tuesday began vaccinating its oldest citizens with the Pfizer-BioNTech shots.

But the U.S. judges experimental vaccines in a unique way: On Thursday, the FDA will convene what’s essentially a science court that will debate — in public and live-streamed — just how strong the data backing the shots really is.

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A nurse holds a phial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Guy’s Hospital in London, Tuesday, Dec. 8. AP Photo/Frank Augstein, Pool

A panel of independent scientists will pick apart the FDA’s first-pass review before recommending whether the vaccine appears safe and effective enough for millions of Americans. The FDA, which typically follows the committee’s advice, is expected to issue a decision in the days following the review. If given the green light, the first recipients would be health care workers and nursing home residents according to plans laid out by each state.

Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech previously reported the shots appear 95% effective at preventing mild to severe COVID-19 disease in a large, ongoing study. That’s based on the first 170 infections detected. Only eight of the infections were among volunteers given the real vaccine while the rest had received a dummy shot.

That was measured soon after study participants got their second dose. Still unknown is how long that protection lasts. “We’re looking at the best possible data,” Dr. Paul Offit of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and an FDA adviser recently cautioned. “People worry, reasonably, how about six months later?”

The other critical issue: Safety. Pfizer has reported no serious side effects. Some recipients experience flu-like reactions — including fever, fatigue or muscle aches — especially after the required second dose. It’s a sign the immune system is revving up, able to recognize and fight back if the real virus comes along.

Read the full story here.

Ninety-year-old retired shop clerk is first in UK to get COVID-19 vaccine

LONDON — A 90-year-old retired British shop clerk has received the first shot in the country’s COVID-19 vaccination program, signaling the start of a global immunization effort intended to offer a route out of a pandemic that has killed 1.5 million.

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Margaret Keenan, 90, is applauded by staff as she returns to her ward after becoming the first patient in the UK to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, at University Hospital, Coventry, England, Tuesday Dec. 8. The United Kingdom, one of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus, is beginning its vaccination campaign, a key step toward eventually ending the pandemic. Jacob King/Pool via AP

The U.K. is the first Western country to start a mass vaccination program after regulators authorized the use of the shot developed by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech. United States and European Union authorities may approve the vaccine in the coming days.

Britain’s program is likely to provide lessons for other countries as they prepare for the unprecedented task of vaccinating billions of people. Britain has received 800,000 doses of the vaccine. The first shots will go to people over 80 and nursing home staff.

Read the full story here.

UN proclaims Dec. 27 International Day of Epidemic Preparedness

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations General Assembly has approved a resolution proclaiming Dec. 27 as the International Day of Epidemic Preparedness to keep a global spotlight on the need to strengthen global measures to prevent pandemics like COVID-19.

The resolution adopted Monday by consensus by the 193-member world body expresses “grave concern at the devastating impacts of major infectious diseases and epidemics, as exemplified by the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, on human lives.”

Epidemics wreak havoc “on long-term social and economic development,” and create health crises that “threaten to overwhelm already overstretched health systems, disrupt global supply chains and cause disproportionate devastation of the livelihoods of people … and the economies of the poorest and most vulnerable countries,” the resolution said.

The assembly underlined the urgency of having robust health systems and expressed deep concern that without international attention “future epidemics could surpass previous outbreaks in terms of intensity and gravity.”

Florida officials raid home of data scientist fired after raising questions about state’s virus data

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida authorities investigating an alleged hack into the state’s emergency response system raided the home Monday of a woman fired earlier this year from her job as COVID-19 data curator.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement said that Rebekah Jones, who was fired for unauthorized public comments about the data in May, has been under investigation since early November when someone illegally accessed the state’s emergency alert health system.

Jones was fired from her post in May after she raised questions about Florida’s COVID-19 data. She had been reprimanded several times and was ultimately fired for violating Health Department policy by making public remarks about the information, state records show.

Since her firing, she has lit up social media with posts criticizing Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and his state agencies. For months, she has tried to promote herself as a victim who was fired for telling the truth, although there is no evidence that supports her claims.

Early in the pandemic, Jones wrote blog posts and reached out to media outlets and researchers sowing doubt about the credibility of the data now that she is no longer in that role. She said Health Department managers urged her to manipulate information to paint a rosier picture and that she pushed back. The data was crucial as the governor was trying to make highly controversial decisions on whether to reopen Florida’s economy.

State health officials strenuously deny any issue with the information’s accuracy.


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