Florida reported artificial decline in COVID-19 deaths as cases were surging | TheHill

Florida’s Department of Health changed the way COVID-19 deaths are counted in the state as the delta variant was spreading, which led to an “artificial decline” in deaths. 

The Miami Herald reported Monday that the state’s shift in how it reported deaths gave the appearance that the pandemic was declining, based on analysis of Florida data conducted by the newspaper along with el Nuevo Herald.

Until three weeks ago, according to the Herald, data collected by Florida and then posted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tallied deaths by the date they were recorded, which is reportedly common practice for showing daily statistics in many states.

On Aug. 10, however, the state changed its methodology and started counting daily new deaths by the date the person died instead of the day the death was registered. A handful of other states have also reportedly switched to such a process.

When recording COVID-19 deaths with the new method, which focuses on date of death, the numbers will generally appear to be on a recent downward slope, even during the current surge, the Herald reported, because it takes a certain amount of time to evaluate deaths and process death certificates.

The Herald laid out an example of the discrepancy between the two methods: the state’s death data would have exhibited an average of 262 deaths reported to the CDC in the previous week if the health department used the original reporting system, according to the newspaper’s analysis.

Instead, however, the new reporting system only tracked 46 new daily deaths over the last seven days.

Shivani Patel, a social epidemiologist and assist professor at Emory University, told the Herald that the shift was “extremely problematic,” and created an “artificial decline” in recent deaths without context.

She said it was especially troublesome because the shift came amid a spike in COVID-19 cases, giving off the appearance that “we are doing better than we are.”

The change in methodology, according to the Herald, was instituted one day after the Florida Department of Health Twitter account criticized the CDC’s COVID-19 tracker, claiming that its numbers were “incorrect.”

Weesam Khoury, spokesperson for the state Department of Health, told the Herald it worked with the CDC this week to address “data discrepancies that have occurred.”

“As a result of data discrepancies that have occurred, this week, [Florida Department of Health] worked quickly and efficiently with CDC to ensure accurate display of data on their website the same day,” Khoury said.

“To proactively ensure accurate data is consistently displayed, the Department will begin daily submission of a complete renewed set of case data to CDC, including retrospective COVID-19 cases,” she added.

The news comes amid increased scrutiny on Florida and its governor, Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisTrump to hold rallies in Iowa, Georgia The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by AT&T – Biden tested by Afghanistan exit, Ida’s wrath Anxiety running high as COVID-19 threatens to disrupt schools — again MORE (R), for their handling of the pandemic.

Florida became the epicenter of the virus earlier this month, with hospitalizations skyrocketing to levels not observed at previous points in the pandemic.

The Hill reached out to the Florida Department of Health for comment.

Gold Star father says Biden bristled when told to learn stories of fallen service members: Washington Post

A Gold Star father said President Joe Biden bristled and bluntly responded to his request that he learn the stories of his Marine son and the 12 other service members killed last week in Afghanistan, according to a report.

Mark Schmitz, the father of Marine Lance Cpl. Jared Schmitz, told the Washington Post about his tense encounter with the president, whom he said he glared at while Biden spoke to him and his ex-wife about their fallen son. 

To his chagrin, Schmitz said Biden spoke more about his son, Beau, who died of brain cancer in 2015, than Jared.

“Eventually, the parents took out a photo to show to Biden,” the Post’s Matt Viser reported. “I said, ‘Don’t you ever forget that name. Don’t you ever forget that face. Don’t you ever forget the names of the other 12,’” Schmitz said. “‘And take some time to learn their stories.’” Biden did not seem to like that, Schmitz recalled, and he bristled, offering a blunt response: “I do know their stories.”


Biden has long been lauded for his ability to empathize and connect with people in grief, given his history of family tragedy – in addition to the death of his son Beau, he lost his first wife and young daughter in a car accident in 1972.

However, accounts from Schmitz and other family members of the service members killed in the terrorist suicide attack near the Kabul airport have cut against that reputation. He’s also taken criticism for appearing to look repeatedly at his watch during the dignified transfer of the fallen troops. Biden has defended the chaotic troop withdrawal that saw the Taliban seize control of the country and the Islamic State suicide bombing that marked the worst day for U.S. military casualties in Afghanistan since 2011.


Cheyenne McCollum, the sister of Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum, told “Fox & Friends” that she wasn’t able to stomach talking with Biden during their meeting. She also said he spoke more about his own son than her brother.

TOPSHOT - US President Joe Biden looks down alongside First Lady Jill Biden as they attend the dignified transfer of the remains of a fallen service member at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware, August, 29, 2021, one of the 13 members of the US military killed in Afghanistan last week. 

TOPSHOT – US President Joe Biden looks down alongside First Lady Jill Biden as they attend the dignified transfer of the remains of a fallen service member at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware, August, 29, 2021, one of the 13 members of the US military killed in Afghanistan last week. 
(Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

“I was able to stand about 15 seconds of his fake, scripted apology and I had to walk away,” Cheyenne said.

Schmitz also talked about his son and the tense conversation with Biden on “Hannity” Monday.

“He talked a bit more about his own son than he did my son, and that didn’t sit well with me,” Schmitz said..

Fox News host Sean Hannity asked Schmitz if he saw Biden checking his watch during the ceremony to receive the 13 caskets of the fallen heroes.

“Yes I did,” he replied. “I leaned into my son’s mother’s ear and I said ‘I swear to God if he checks his watch one more time’ — and that was probably only four times in: I couldn’t look at him anymore after that.”


“Considering the time and why we were there, I found it to be the most disrespectful thing I’d ever seen.”

Residents scramble to evacuate as wildfire approaches Lake Tahoe

The resort area is in the path of California’s Caldor Fire, which is raging due to strong winds and dry conditions.

A huge firefighting force gathered Tuesday to defend Lake Tahoe from a raging wildfire that forced the evacuation of California communities on the south end of the alpine resort and put others across the state line in Nevada on notice to be ready to flee.

The streets of the popular vacation haven, normally filled with thousands of summer tourists, were all but deserted after the rapid growth of the Caldor Fire forced a mass evacuation on Monday and triggered hours of gridlocked traffic.

“It’s more out of control than I thought,” evacuee Glen Naasz said of the fire that by late Monday had been pushed by strong winds across two major highways, burning mountain cabins as it swept down slopes into the Tahoe Basin.

More firefighters arrived just after dark Monday and many were dispatched to protect homes in the Christmas Valley area, about 16km (10 miles) from the city of South Lake Tahoe.

Jim Mrazek standing outside his vehicle on Highway 50 while traffic was at a stand still in South Lake Tahoe, California amid a mass evacuation of residents [Noah Berger/AP Photo]

Thick smoke prevented aerial firefighting operations periodically last week. But since then, 23 helicopters and three air tankers dumped thousands of gallons of water and retardant on the fire, fire spokesman Dominic Polito said.

The National Weather Service warned of critical fire weather conditions through Wednesday due to strong gusts, very low humidity and extremely dry fuels.

Ken Breslin was stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic about 1.6km (one mile) from his home in the city of 22,000, with only a quarter-tank of gas in his Ford Escape. His son begged him to leave Sunday night, but he shrugged him off, certain that if an evacuation order came, it would be later in the week.

“Before, it was, ‘No worries … it’s not going to crest. It’s not going to come down the hill. There’s 3,500 firefighters, all those bulldozers and all the air support,’” he said. “Until this morning, I didn’t think there was a chance it could come into this area. Now, it’s very real.”

As flames advanced towards South Lake Tahoe, residents just over the state line in Nevada faced evacuation warnings.

Monday’s evacuation orders came a day after nearby communities were abruptly ordered to leave as the fire raged. South Lake Tahoe’s main medical facility, Barton Memorial Hospital, evacuated dozens of patients. The El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office transferred inmates to a neighbouring jail.

Two firefighters monitoring the Caldor Fire burning near homes in South Lake Tahoe, California [Jae C Hong/AP Photo]

“There is fire activity happening in California that we have never seen before. The critical thing for the public to know is evacuate early,” said Chief Thom Porter, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire. “For the rest of you in California: Every acre can and will burn someday in this state.”

The threat of fire is so widespread that the US Forest Service announced Monday that all national forests in California would be closed until September 17.

More than 6,800 wildfires have blackened an estimated 689,000 hectares (1.7 million acres) within California alone this season – much of it on Forest Service property – putting 2021 on pace to surpass last year’s record amount of landscape consumed by flames.

The Caldor blaze has emerged as one of the most destructive and disruptive this season, spreading across more than 71,740 hectares (177,000 acres) since August 14, with firefighters managing to carve containment lines approximately just 14 percent of its perimeter as of Monday.

The fire has destroyed at least 472 homes and other structures and led to injuries of five people, a mix of firefighters and civilians, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

These 7 Black Men Were Executed For An Alleged Rape. Now, They Have Been Pardoned

Actual newspaper clipping from the infamous Martinsville Seven rape case, in which seven black males convicted of raping a white woman were sentenced to death in 1949. They were executed in 1951 after exhausting their appeals.

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Actual newspaper clipping from the infamous Martinsville Seven rape case, in which seven black males convicted of raping a white woman were sentenced to death in 1949. They were executed in 1951 after exhausting their appeals.

Dan H./Flickr

Nearly 70 years after their unjust executions, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam granted posthumous pardons Tuesday to seven Black men known as the “Martinsville Seven,” who were executed for the alleged rape of a white woman in 1951 in Martinsville, Va.

Northam granted the pardons after a meeting with the descendants of the Martinsville Seven. He said the pardons do not address whether the men were guilty, but rather “serving as recognition from the Commonwealth” that they were tried without adequate due process.

“This is about righting wrongs,” Northam said in a news release. “We all deserve a criminal justice system that is fair, equal, and gets it right—no matter who you are or what you look like. While we can’t change the past, I hope today’s action brings them some small measure of peace.”

The history behind the Martinsville Seven

Seven Black men were executed in Feb. 1951 over the alleged rape of a white woman, Ruby Stroud Floyd, in 1949. They are Frank Hairston Jr., 18, Booker T. Millner, 19, Francis DeSales Grayson, 37, Howard Lee Hairston, 18, James Luther Hairston, 20, Joe Henry Hampton, 19, and John Claybon Taylor, 21.

On the evening of Jan. 8, 1949, Floyd accused 13 black men of raping her as she passed through a predominately Black neighborhood.

Floyd identified both Grayson and Hampton as her rapists but she had trouble identifying the others, according to BlackPast.org, an online reference center for Black history.

As temperatures drop below freezing, demonstrators march in front of the White House in Washington in 1951, in what they said was an effort to persuade President Harry Truman to halt execution of seven Black men sentenced to death in Virginia on charges of raping a white woman.

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As temperatures drop below freezing, demonstrators march in front of the White House in Washington in 1951, in what they said was an effort to persuade President Harry Truman to halt execution of seven Black men sentenced to death in Virginia on charges of raping a white woman.

Henry Burroughs/AP

After they were interrogated by local police officers, the Martinsville Seven initially confessed to committing or witnessing the crime. All seven men were charged with rape.

Their trials and electrocutions became a controversial issue shortly after the men were arrested.

The seven men were convicted and swiftly sentenced to death as the juries consisted of only white men, Northam’s office said.

Not all of the defendants were able to read the confessions they signed, and none of them had a lawyer with them as they were questioned.

Nearly two decades after their executions, the Supreme Court ruled that capital punishment for rape was cruel and unusual punishment.

The death penalty in Virginia

Studies have shown that a defendant is more than three times as likely to be sentenced to death if the victim of a crime is white, compared to crimes where the victim is Black.

Prior to abolishing the death penalty earlier this year, the Commonwealth had executed more people than any other state. All 45 of the prisoners executed for rape from 1908 to 1951 in Virginia were Black men, according to the governor’s office.

A bed is seen through the bars in one of the holding cells near the death chamber at Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Va., earlier this year.

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A bed is seen through the bars in one of the holding cells near the death chamber at Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Va., earlier this year.

Steve Helber/AP

Northam has granted 604 pardons during his time in office. His office said that’s more pardons than the last nine governors combined.

“Pardons should not have to be a part of the process to ensure a fair and equitable justice system, but unfortunately that’s been the case for far too long,” Virginia Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson said in a release.

An 80-Pound Cougar Is Removed From A New York City Apartment

This photo provided by New York’s Bronx Zoo shows an 11-month-old cougar that was removed from an apartment, in the Bronx borough of New York.

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This photo provided by New York’s Bronx Zoo shows an 11-month-old cougar that was removed from an apartment, in the Bronx borough of New York.

The Bronx Zoo via AP

NEW YORK — An 80-pound cougar was removed from a New York City apartment where she was being kept illegally as a pet, animal welfare officials said Monday.

The owner of the 11-month-old female cougar surrendered the animal on Thursday, Kelly Donithan, director of animal disaster response for the Humane Society of the United States, said in a news release.

The cougar, nicknamed Sasha, spent the weekend at the Bronx Zoo receiving veterinary care and is now headed to the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas, officials said.

The Humane Society coordinated with zoo officials, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the New York Police Department on the big cat’s removal.

“I’ve never seen a cougar in the wild, but I’ve seen them on leashes, smashed into cages, and crying for their mothers when breeders rip them away,” the Humane Society’s Donithan said. “I’ve also seen the heartbreak of owners, like in this case, after being sold not just a wild animal, but a false dream that they could make a good ‘pet.'”

Donithan said this cougar was relatively lucky because her owners, who live in the Bronx, recognized that a wild cat is not fit to live in an apartment and surrendered her.

“The owner’s tears and nervous chirps from the cougar as we drove her away painfully drives home the many victims of this horrendous trade and myth that wild animals belong anywhere but the wild,” Donithan said.

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said that while cougars “may look cute and cuddly when young, these animals can grow up to be unpredictable and dangerous.”

Bronx Zoo director Jim Breheny said the exotic pet trade makes no contribution to the conservation of endangered species.

“These animals often end up in very bad situations, kept by private individuals who don’t have the resources, facilities, knowledge, or expertise to provide for the animals’ most basic needs,” Breheny said. “In addition to these welfare concerns for the animals, the keeping of big cats by private people poses a real safety hazard to the owner, the owner’s family and the community at large.”

New York has seen other notable cases involving dangerous animals in private residences, including Ming, a 400-pound tiger that was removed from a Harlem apartment in 2003.

Ming’s owner, Antoine Yates, was arrested and sentenced to five months in prison for reckless endangerment. Ming died in 2019 at the Noah’s Lost Ark Exotic Animal Rescue Center in Ohio.

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said the cougar’s case “is currently under investigation and no further information is available at this time.”

Caldor Fire jumps highway amid evacuation order, scorches its way toward pristine Lake Tahoe

  • Another red flag warning Tuesday in Northern California could make conditions worse for firefighters.
  • The Caldor Fire jumped Highway 89 on Monday after a mass evacuation of South Lake Tahoe.
  • More evacuation orders were issued near the Dixie Fire, the state’s second largest in history.

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Bearing down on scenic Lake Tahoe, the Caldor Fire grew overnight after jumping a highway and prompting mass evacuations of the lakeside town, fire officials said Tuesday.

The Caldor Fire is scorching its way toward South Lake Tahoe, where residents on Monday frantically scrambled east toward Nevada on Highway 50 amid the evacuation order.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said the wildfire reached nearly 300 square miles on Tuesday as it remains active in an area south of South Lake Tahoe. The fire, which ignited Aug. 14, is 16% contained.

Conditions Tuesday were expected to fan the flames further, with a red flag warning remaining in effect across the region. Wind gusts up to 35 mph and single-digit humidity could cause fires to grow rapidly before being put out, the National Weather Service said.

Nearby casinos shut down Monday, a local hospital evacuated and tourists and residents jammed the streets of the typically relaxing lakeside vacation spot.

“This is a systematic evacuation, one neighborhood at a time,” South Lake Tahoe police Lt. Travis Cabral said on social media.

After the evacuation orders went into effect for the city’s 22,000 residents, the fire jumped Highway 89 and was moving north on a ridge into Meyers in South Lake Tahoe, a USA TODAY Network reporter observed. Crews were expected to begin structure protection on homes near the Christmas Valley community.

Parts of Douglas County to the east in Nevada were also warned late Monday to prepare for potential evacuations.

The Caldor Fire is one of 83 large fires and complexes burning more than 3,900 square miles across the West, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Cal Fire said winds near the Caldor Fire were creating spotting up three quarters of a mile from the fire line. The fire also threatened containment lines established along U.S. 50, Cal Fire said.

Tim Ernst, an operations chief for Cal Fire, said much of the western section of the fire remained well contained, and crews were mainly working to ensure no hot spots flared up. But there were still parts of the fire line along the northeastern edge of the fire that were not contained. 

Structure preparation and defense close to South Lake Tahoe remains the top priority for fire crews, Ernst added.

At a shelter in Carson City, Chelsea Cunningham of South Lake Tahoe said she was still in shock.

“Right now, we’re numb. It feels like you’re in this fog and your headlights aren’t working,” Cunningham said. 

She said she kept hearing firefighters were doing their best to keep the fire from reaching the basin. “So you’re holding on to that hope with blind optimism,” Cunningham said.

Monday, the worst case scenario unfolded.

“I think we’re still in shock, I think the reality will hit later. Especially if we go back and find out there’s nothing left,” she said. “The only keeping us going is focusing on what to do next.”

The fire has destroyed more than 480 homes and 182 other commercial or smaller structures. At least five people have been injured, and 3,784 firefighters were battling the flames, Cal Fire said. Additional strike teams to protect homes arrived late Monday, said fire spokesman Dominic Polito.

“Wherever there are structures, there are firefighters on the ground,” Polito added. 

Evacuation traffic backs up in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., as mandatory evacuations are announced due to the Caldor Fire on  Aug. 30, 2021. Thousands of people rushed to get out of South Lake Tahoe as the entire tourist resort city came under evacuation orders and wildfire raced toward the large freshwater lake of Lake Tahoe, which straddles California and Nevada.

Lake Tahoe’s pristine waters threatened; Sierra-at-Tahoe’s main building spared

With pristine blue waters and summer and winter activities abound, the Lake Tahoe area typically draws 15 million visitors a year.

Beyond the immediate concern for public safety and the thousands of homes at risk is the threat the fire poses to the clarity of and scenery around the world-renowned lake. 

Flames enveloped hillsides around Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort, which lost some minor structures but had its main building spared. Crews used snow-making machines to douse the ground.

Webcam footage appeared to show firefighters using a lift at Kirkwood Mountain Resort in their fight to keep the flames at bay.

Heavenly Ski Resort straddles the state line, with lifts and trails in both states. Monday’s evacuation orders included the area around its California operations.

On the Nevada side of the border, the state’s gaming control board said some resorts began shutting down certain portions of their gaming operations.

“We would presume that this could escalate over the coming hours,” Nevada Gaming Control Board Analyst Michael Lawton said in an email.

The four major casinos in the area include Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, Harvey’s, Hard Rock Lake Tahoe and Montbleu Casino Resort.

Dixie Fire prompts further evacuation orders

Meanwhile, further north in California around the Dixie Fire, sheriff’s offices in two counties expanded evacuation orders Monday as crews are trying to prevent the fire from reaching the Highway 70 corridor.

The Lassen County Sheriff’s Office told more residents to evacuate as the 7-week-old fire spread east of Butte Lake in the Lassen National Forest. Near the southern section of the fire, the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office told multiple communities to leave as the fire presses across the Genesee Valley and Grizzly Ridge and moving closer to Lake Davis in the Plumas National Forest.

A firefighter hoses down flames from the Dixie Fire in Genesee, Calif., on Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021.

The more than 1,260-square-mile blaze is the the second largest wildfire in state history, destroying 1,277 structures, including 685 houses, and threatening more than 13,600 more, according to Cal Fire. Firefighters have the flames almost 50% contained.

A red flag warning was also in effect in the area near the Dixie Fire.

Since its start on July 13, the Dixie Fire has consumed an estimated $1 billion of timber, with an additional $1 billion still threatened, according to Lassen National Forest’s outlook report.

Across California, 13 large wildfires are burning. Climate change has caused wildfires in the West to grow more frequent and intense in recent years, scientists agree.

The ongoing blazes caused forest officials to close all of the state’s national forests to visitors for at least two weeks in hopes of helping fire crews get a handle on spiraling crises. 

“We do not take this decision lightly but this is the best choice for public safety,” said Regional Forester Jennifer Eberlien.

Contributing: Christal Hayes, USA TODAY; Brian Duggan, Amy Alonzo, Kristin Oh, Ed Komenda, David Rodriguez, Reno Gazette Journal; Jessica Skropanic, Redding Record Searchlight; The Associated Press

Gas Prices Unlikely To Skyrocket As Oil Companies Assess Hurricane Ida Damage

Customers in LaPlace, La., learn that a station has ran out of gas after waiting in line for more than an hour on Monday.

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Customers in LaPlace, La., learn that a station has ran out of gas after waiting in line for more than an hour on Monday.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Although oil companies are still assessing the damage at the oil rigs, platforms and refineries that were struck by Hurricane Ida, signs point toward a limited impact on gasoline availability and prices.

AAA has warned of price volatility, and several analysts expect temporary price increases of several cents, but experts are not expecting a dramatic or prolonged disruption to the market.

“This is not Katrina,” says Richard Joswick, head of oil analytics at S&P Global Platts. After Hurricane Katrina made landfall — exactly 16 years earlier — gas prices immediately shot up by 45 cents and remained elevated for two months.

More than a million homes were left without power after Hurricane Ida made landfall Sunday night as a powerful Category 4 storm. The storm had strengthened rapidly, a phenomenon that is increasingly common for tropical storms as a result of global warming.

Oil companies checking for damages; Exxon is resuming normal operations

As Hurricane Ida approached, oil companies rushed to evacuate personnel and shut down operations in the Gulf of Mexico, as is standard practice for an approaching major storm.

On Sunday, the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement reported that 95.65% of oil production in the Gulf of Mexico had been temporarily closed down, as well as 93.75% of natural gas production.

Those are eye-popping percentages. But the key question for oil markets is whether any of the infrastructure was damaged. If not, Gulf producers could restart drilling and pumping in a matter of days. However, if equipment was broken by the storms, they could remain offline much longer.

Companies are in the process of checking for damage. ExxonMobil reports that its Hoover platform was undamaged and is in the process of resuming normal operations. Shell has confirmed that three platforms that were in the storm’s path are “all intact and on location,” although the company doesn’t have an estimate for when production will resume. Other operators, including BP and Equinor, say it is too soon to provide an update.

The energy data company Enverus says that in general, “early reports do not suggest that there has been severe long-lasting damage to oil infrastructure.” U.S. crude prices dipped slightly on Tuesday, indicating that markets are not worried about a lack of supply.

Refineries grappling with widespread power outages

In addition to the offshore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, a number of refineries along Louisiana’s Gulf Coast were affected by the storm. The Department of Energy reports that at least nine refineries have partially or fully cut production, with about 13% of U.S. refining capacity affected.

The storm’s most devastating winds passed just east of major refineries, but flooding damage remains a concern. And direct storm damage is not the only risk. Refineries also require electricity — and Hurricane Ida knocked out power for a large swath of Louisiana and Mississippi, with more than a million customers in the dark.

Damage assessments are still underway, and even if refineries make it through the storm unscathed, it’s not clear how long it will take to restore power to all the facilities. Some analysts are forecasting that it may take weeks, which could be a significant disruption to regional gasoline production.

The Environmental Protection Agency has issued a waiver for Louisiana and Mississippi, allowing winter gasoline to be sold in the area to address concerns about fuel supply. (Normally, the EPA requires the use of less-volatile, slightly more expensive fuel in the summer, because otherwise hot weather would create more dangerous fumes from gas.)

Impact on prices expected to be modest; U.S. is now less reliant on oil from the Gulf

Despite the substantial disruption to oil production and refining, most analysts anticipate a relatively limited impact to the market as a whole.

That’s not the same as no impact: Gasoline prices have already risen by several cents a gallon, and storm-influenced price fluctuations could continue for a few weeks. And gas prices were high this summer to begin with. But it’s a far cry from the intense, prolonged disruption that Hurricane Katrina memorably caused.

There are a few reasons for that. U.S. oil markets have changed dramatically over the last 16 years. The U.S. is less reliant on crude production in the Gulf of Mexico than it used to be, thanks to the rise of shale oil produced in Texas and New Mexico. The U.S. also exports more refined fuel products out of the Gulf now and, in a pinch, can redirect those exports to meet domestic needs.

Joswick, with S&P Global Platts, also says that the lengthy outages after Katrina had an impact on companies. “The refiners learned their lesson,” he says. “They hardened their facilities. They raised critical equipment up off the ground so it wouldn’t flood, for example.”

However, he notes, if a second storm strikes the area while production is still recovering, the damage could be far worse.

Climate change — caused by greenhouse gas emissions, a large portion of which come from burning petroleum products — is causing more damaging storms in the Gulf of Mexico. As the oil industry faces growing scrutiny for its contributions to climate change, producers are also having to grapple with the ongoing consequences.

COVID-19 live updates: Vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization drops slightly, CDC says

Mississippi has the country’s highest COVID-19 case rate, followed by Florida, Kentucky and Louisiana, according to federal data.

With more than 101,000 Americans now hospitalized with COVID-19, the U.S. is steadily approaching its hospitalization peak from early January, when more than 125,000 patients were hospitalized at one time, according to federal data.

A little over two months ago, less than 12,000 patients were in U.S. hospitals, according to federal data.

But there has been improvement when it comes to vaccinations.

One week after the FDA fully approved the Pfizer vaccine, initial data from an ABC News analysis indicates that the U.S. has seen a slight uptick in the average number of Americans going out to get their first vaccine dose.

In the week prior to the full approval, an average of about 404,000 Americans were initiating vaccination each day. Now, about 473,000 Americans are getting their first shot each day — a 17% increase.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

Post-Ida highway collapse kills two, injures up to 10 others

Two people are dead and as many as 10 others injured after a section of highway collapsed west of Lucedale, Mississippi, late Monday night, CBS Mobile, Alabama affiliate WKRG-TV reports. The collapse was caused by torrential rain, presumably from one-time Hurricane Ida, the Biloxi, Mississippi Highway Patrol told CBS News.

Troopers said both lanes of Highway 26 collapsed. Lucedale is a small city in extreme southeast Mississippi, across the state line from Mobile.

Rescue teams and emergency personnel were at the scene searching for more survivors, WKRG said.

First responders at the scene of a highway collapse outside Lucedale, Mississippi late on August 30, 2021 that killed at least two and injured at least 10 others.


Seven vehicles were involved, the highway patrol told CBS News, adding that three of the people who were hurt were in critical condition.

The patrol said the collapse is at least 50 feet long and 20 feet deep, making the highway “completely impassable,” and it will be closed until state engineers can determine how long repairs will take.

Will Newsom’s push to get out the vote save the California governor from getting recalled?

Progressive superstar Sen. Bernie Sanders is taking aim at the effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom of California as “a bold-faced Republican power grab” in a new TV commercial and digital ad supporting the embattled Democratic governor.

Sanders, longtime Vermont senator and runner-up in the 2016 and 2020 Democratic presidential nomination races, is the latest high profile leader on the left to lend Newsom a helping hand.

The new spot is running statewide in California with just two weeks to go until California’s Sept. 14 recall election, with the latest public opinion polls suggesting that those likely to cast ballots in the contest are divided on whether to recall Newsom.


State election officials two weeks ago began mailing ballots to California’s 22 million registered voters, as the Republican replacement candidates on the ballot stepped up their attacks on the Democratic governor and Newsom kicked into high gear his efforts to encourage supporters to cast ballots. 

Newsom and his allies acknowledge that they need a strong turnout to counter Republican voters motivated to cast ballots in hopes of ousting the governor.

The latest public opinion polls indicate those likely to vote in the recall contest are divided on ousting Newsom. The surveys also point to how crucial turnout will be in a state where registered Democrats greatly outnumber registered Republicans. One of the recent surveys, a UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies/Los Angeles Times poll conducted late last month, indicated that Republicans appear to be more motivated to cast ballots in the recall contest. Although Republicans only account for roughly a quarter of all registered voters in California, the poll suggested they made up a third of those most likely to vote in the recall election.

Voters are being asked two questions on the Newsom recall ballots. The first question is whether the governor should be removed from office. If more than 50% support removing Newsom, the second question offers a list of candidates running to replace the governor. If the governor is recalled, the candidate who wins the most votes on the second question – regardless of whether it’s a majority or just a small plurality – would succeed Newsom in steering California. 


Sanders, who won last year’s Democratic presidential primary in California, speaks directly to camera in his ad, emphasizing that “at this unprecedented moment in American history, when we’re trying to address the crisis of climate change, guarantee health care for all, and pass real immigration reform, the last thing we need is to have some right-wing Republican governor in California.”

Newsom’s recall campaign team, formally known as Stop the Republican Recall, also went up on Monday with a second TV commercial explaining to voters how to fill out the ballots they’ve received in the mail.

“Here’s what you need to know about the Sept. 14 recall,” says the narrator in the spot. “Voting yes elects an anti-vaccine Trump Republican. Voting no keeps Gavin Newsom fighting the pandemic based on science, compassion and common sense. And if you don’t vote, we could have an anti-vax Republican Governor of California.”

Sanders becomes the second leading progressive to star in a commercial taking aim at the recall and supporting Newsom. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, another 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, appeared in a similar spot in July.


Newsom’s vastly out raised the GOP replacement candidates – and dramatically outspent them to run ads, according to AdImpact, a leading national ad tracking firm/

“With two weeks until the California Gubernatorial recall, Governor Newsom maintains a spending advantage of $19.2M to $6.9M over his Republican adversaries from 8/1-9/14,” AdImpact’s Ben Taber told Fox News. “However, it remains to be seen if this will be enough to overcome a Democratic base that remains comparatively unengaged as his chief rivals cut into his spending advantage.”

Both of the new ads indirectly take aim at conservative talk radio host Larry Elder, who jumped into the race just six weeks ago. Most of the latest surveys indicate that Elder’s the front-runner among the 46 gubernatorial replacement candidates on the ballot. 

Woodland Hills, CA - August 24: California governor recall candidate Larry Elder meets supporters outside of the Warner Center Marriott Woodland Hills in Woodland Hills CA., Tuesday, August 24, 2021. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images)

Woodland Hills, CA – August 24: California governor recall candidate Larry Elder meets supporters outside of the Warner Center Marriott Woodland Hills in Woodland Hills CA., Tuesday, August 24, 2021. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images)
(Hans Gutknecht/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images)

The governor and his political team for months have framed the recall drive against him as an effort by the far right, Trump supporters, national Republicans and conservative media to oust him. So it’s no surprise they’ve been blasting Elder in recent weeks, sending out press releases, fundraising emails and social media posts highlighting Elder’s opposition to having any minimum wage and his downplaying of climate change and the nation’s issues with racial inequity.


Newsom said earlier this month that it’s “important to focus on Larry” because he argued that Elder’s “even more extreme than Trump in many respects.”

Elder returned fire at the governor in an interview on Fox News, stressing, “I think he’s in serious trouble and he knows it.” 

Some Democrats worried

The controversial radio talk show host isn’t the only one who thinks Newsom may soon lose his job.

“You just wonder if the governor and his team sounded the alarm soon enough,” a California Democratic strategist who asked to remain anonymous to speak more freely told Fox News.

“The governor and his team have made a very big bet to not say anything positive about Newsom in this campaign and focus only on turnout,” the strategist noted. “The guidance on question two was to leave it blank means that if he gets recalled, a very small number of right wing extremists will pick the next governor, which will be Larry Elder.”

Newsom won election as governor in 2018 in the very blue state of California by 24 points over Republican businessman John Cox, who’s one of the 46 replacement candidates on the ballot. And now-President Biden carried the state by a whopping 29 points last November.


“There’s so many Democrats here that there’s a world where Newsom wins by double digits and they look like geniuses. But there’s another world where this was pretty massive miscalculation,” the strategist warned. “They certainly should have been doing it at least a month ago… all of the energy’s been on the yes on the recall side.”

And the strategist noted that “I run in very Democratic circles with very Democratic friends and most of them didn’t even know that there was an election coming, that there was a recall on the ballot, or what they were supposed to do.”

How the recall started

The recall push was launched in June of last year over claims the governor mishandled the state’s response to the pandemic. The effort was fueled by the state’s COVID restrictions on businesses and houses of worship, school shutdowns and even opposition to the state’s high taxes. But the effort surged in the autumn after Newsom’s dinner at an uber-exclusive restaurant, which – at best – skirted rules imposed by the governor to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Republicans see the recall election as their best chance to topple a politician who has never lost an election during his years as San Francisco mayor, California lieutenant governor and now governor – and their first chance to win a statewide contest since the 2006 gubernatorial reelection victory by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was a moderate Republican.

Three years earlier, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis became the second governor in U.S. history to be successfully recalled and he was succeeded by Schwarzenegger, who won the recall election. Schwarzenegger captured nearly 50% of the vote on the second question, even though he was one of 135 candidates listed on the ballot.

Elder faces push back

Elder’s the front runner this time around among the replacement contenders, but he’s come under attack this month from some of his Republican rivals for past controversial comments about women and allegations from his ex-fiancée. Former two-term San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Caitlyn Jenner, the 1976 Olympic gold-medal-winning decathlete turned transgender rights activist and nationally known TV personality, called on Elder to drop out of the race.


State election officials reported early Tuesday that 3.8 million ballots had already been returned and accepted, meaning that roughly 17% of active registered voters in California had returned a ballot. Ballots need to be postmarked by Election Day on Sept 14 – or dropped in a secure ballot box by 8pm PT that day – to count.