A mysterious object temporarily orbiting Earth is a 54-year-old rocket, not an asteroid after all, astronomers confirmed Wednesday.
Observations by a telescope in Hawaii clinched its identity, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
The object was classified as an asteroid after its discovery in September. But NASA’s top asteroid expert, Paul Chodas, quickly suspected it was the Centaur upper rocket stage from Surveyor 2, a failed 1966 moon-landing mission. Size estimates had put it in the range of the old Centaur, which was about 32 feet (10 meters) long and 10 feet (3 meters) in diameter.
Chodas was proven right after a team led by the University of Arizona’s Vishnu Reddy used an infrared telescope in Hawaii to observe not only the mystery object, but — just on Tuesday — a Centaur from 1971 still orbiting Earth. The data from the images matched.
“Today’s news was super gratifying!,” Chodas said via email. “It was teamwork that wrapped up this puzzle.”
The object formally known as 2020 SO entered a wide, lopsided orbit around Earth last month and, on Tuesday, made its closest approach at just over 31,000 miles (50,476 kilometers). It will depart the neighborhood in March, shooting back into its own orbit around the sun. Its next return: 2036.
U.S. hospitals slammed with COVID-19 patients are trying to lure nurses and doctors out of retirement, recruiting students and new graduates who have yet to earn their licenses and offering eye-popping salaries in a desperate bid to ease staffing shortages.
With the virus surging from coast to coast, the number of patients in the hospital with the virus has more than doubled over the past month to a record high of nearly 100,000, pushing medical centers and health care workers to the breaking point. Nurses are increasingly burned out and getting sick on the job, and the stress on the nation’s medical system prompted a dire warning from the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The reality is December and January and February are going to be rough times. I actually believe they are going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation,” Dr. Robert Redfield said.
Governors in hard-hit states like Wisconsin and Nebraska are making it easier for retired nurses to come back, including by waiving licensing requirements and fees, though it can be a tough sell for older nurses, who would be in more danger than many of their colleagues if they contracted the virus.
Some are taking jobs that don’t involve working directly with patients to free up front-line nurses, McMillan said.
Iowa is allowing temporary, emergency licenses for new nurses who have met the state’s educational requirements but haven’t yet taken the state licensing exam. Some Minnesota hospitals are offering winter internships to nursing students to boost their staffs. The internships are typically offered in the summer but were canceled this year because of COVID-19.
Methodist Hospital in Minneapolis will place 25 interns for one to two months to work with COVID-19 patients, though certain tasks will remain off-limits, such as inserting IVs or urinary catheters, said Tina Kvalheim, a nurse who runs the program.
“They’ll be fully supported in their roles so that our patients receive the best possible, safe care,” Kvalheim said..
Landon Brown, 21, of Des Moines, Iowa, a senior nursing student at Minnesota State University, Mankato, recently accepted an internship at the Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato. He was assigned to the pediatric unit’s medical-surgical area but said he might come across patients with the coronavirus.
Brown’s resolve to help patients as a nurse was reaffirmed after his 90-year-old grandfather contracted the virus and died over the weekend.
“The staff that he had were great, and they really took a lot of pressure off of my folks and my family,” he said. “I think that if I can be that for another family, that would be great.”
The University of Iowa’s College of Nursing is also trying to get graduates into the workforce quickly. It worked to fast-track students’ transcripts to the Iowa Board of Nursing so they could get licensed sooner upon graduating, said Anita Nicholson, associate dean for undergraduate programs.
Nicholson said the college also scheduled senior internships earlier than normal and created a program that allows students to gain hospital experience under a nurse’s supervision. Those students aren’t caring for coronavirus patients, but their work frees up nurses to do so, Nicholson said.
“The sooner we can get our graduates out and into the workforce, the better,” she said.
Wausau, Wisconsin-based Aspirus Health Care is offering signing bonuses of up to $15,000 for nurses with a year of experience.
Hospitals also are turning to nurses who travel from state to state. But that’s expensive, because hospitals around the country are competing for them, driving salaries as high as $6,200 per week, according to postings for travel nursing jobs.
April Hansen, executive vice president at San Diego-based Aya Healthcare, said there are now 31,000 openings for travel nurses, more than twice the number being sought when the pandemic surged in the spring.
“It is crazy,” Hansen said. “It doesn’t matter if you are rural or urban, if you are an Indian health facility or an academic medical center or anything in between. ... All facilities are experiencing increased demand right now.”
Nurses who work in intensive care and on medical-surgical floors are the most in demand. Employers also are willing to pay extra for nurses who can show up on short notice and work 48 or 60 hours per week instead of the standard 36.
Laura Cutolo, a 32-year-old emergency room and ICU nurse from Gilbert, Arizona, began travel nursing when the pandemic began, landing in New York during the deadliest stretch of the U.S. outbreak last spring. She is now working in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and soon will return to New York.
She said she hopes her work will be an example to her children, now 2 and 5, when the crisis passes into history and they read about it someday.
“If they ask me, ’Where were you?′ I can be proud of where I was and what I did,” Cutolo said.
Doctors are in demand, too.
“I don’t even practice anymore, and I’ve gotten lots of emails asking me to travel across the country to work in ERs,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.
The outbreak in the U.S. is blamed for more than 270,000 deaths and 13.8 million confirmed infections. New cases are running at over 160,000 a day on average, and deaths are up to more than 1,500 a day, a level seen back in May, during the crisis in the New York City area. Several states reported huge numbers of new cases Wednesday, including a combined 40,000 in California, Illinois and Florida alone.
States are seeing record-breaking surges in deaths, including Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky in the middle of the country. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said the virus is “spreading like wildfire.”
A COVID-19 vaccine is expected to become available in a few weeks, and health care workers are likely to be given priority for the first shots. That could make it easier for hospitals to recruit help.
To make room for the sickest, hard-hit institutions are sending home some COVID-19 patients who otherwise would have been kept in the hospital. They are also canceling elective surgeries or sending adult non-COVID-19 patients to pediatric hospitals.
A hospital system in Idaho is sending some COVID-19 patients home with iPads, supplemental oxygen, blood pressure cuffs and oxygen monitors so they can finish recovering in their own beds. The computer tablets enable nurses to check in with them, and the oxygen monitors automatically send back vital information.
Across the U.S., hospitals are converting cafeterias, waiting rooms, even a parking garage to patient treatment areas. Some states are opening field hospitals.
But that does nothing to ease the staffing shortage, especially in rural areas where officials say many people aren’t taking basic precautions against the virus.
Dr. Eli Perencevich, an epidemiology and internal medicine professor at the University of Iowa, said health care workers are paying the price for other people’s refusal to wear masks.
“It’s sending everyone to war, really,” he said. “We’ve decided as a society that we’re going to take all the people in our health care system and pummel them because we have some insane idea about what freedom really is.”
Republicans attempting to undo President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in Pennsylvania asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday to take up their lawsuit, three days after it was thrown out by the highest court in the battleground state.
In the request to the U.S. Supreme Court, Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly of northwestern Pennsylvania and the other plaintiffs are asking the court to prevent the state from certifying any contests from the Nov. 3 election, and undo any certifications already made, such as Biden’s victory.
They maintain that Pennsylvania’s expansive vote-by-mail law is unconstitutional because it required a constitutional amendment to authorize its provisions.
Biden beat President Donald Trump by more than 80,000 votes in Pennsylvania, a state Trump had won in 2016.
Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court on Saturday night threw out the lawsuit, including an order by a lower court judge blocking the certification of any uncertified races.
Justices cited the law’s 180-day time limit on filing legal challenges to its provisions, as well as the staggering demand that an entire election be overturned retroactively.
In the state’s courts, Kelly and the other Republican plaintiffs had sought to either throw out the 2.5 million mail-in ballots submitted under the law — most of them by Democrats — or to wipe out the election results and direct the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature to pick Pennsylvania’s presidential electors.
COVID-19 infections were present in the United States as early as mid-December 2019, weeks before it was first identified in China and about a month earlier than the first case was officially confirmed in the United States, according to a new study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In the study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, CDC researchers tested blood samples from 7,389 routine blood donations collected by the American Red Cross from Dec. 13, 2019 to Jan. 17, 2020 for antibodies specific to the novel coronavirus, known as SARS-CoV-2.
The study aims to determine if SARS-CoV-2 reactive antibodies were present in sera prior to the first identified case in the United States on Jan. 19 this year.
The researchers found evidence of infection in 106 of 7,389 blood donations from residents in nine states across the United States.
Antibodies were found in 39 samples from California, Oregon and Washington state collected between Dec. 13 and Dec. 16, and 67 samples in Massachusetts, Michigan, Wisconsin or Iowa, and Connecticut or Rhode Island collected between Dec. 30 and Jan. 17.
The findings suggest that SARS-CoV-2 infections may have been present in the United States in December 2019, earlier than previously recognized, the authors wrote in the study.
The study also highlighted the value of screening routinely collected blood samples for evidence of viruses spreading in a population, said the researchers, adding the CDC is continuing to conduct ongoing surveillance using blood donations and clinical laboratory samples for SARS-CoV-2 infection in multiple sites across the country.
The results add to growing evidence that COVID-19 was circulating outside of China earlier than previously known.
The first COVID-19 infection in the United States was reported on Jan. 19, 2020 in a returned traveler from China, two days after domestic testing was initiated, according to the CDC.
Two other people who were subsequently diagnosed with COVID-19 in the United States also developed symptoms in mid-January.
Some reports have suggested the introduction of SARS-CoV-2 into the United States may have occurred earlier than initially recognized, though widespread community transmission was not likely until late February, according to the study.
President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday introduced top advisers he says will help his administration rebuild an economy hammered by the coronavirus pandemic, declaring, “I know times are tough, but I want you to know that help is on the way.”
Biden said he'd chosen a “first-rate team” that is “tested and experienced" to tackle the country's economic crisis. He picked liberal advisers who have long prioritized the nation’s workers and government efforts to address economic inequality.
Unemployment remains high as the COVID-19 outbreak widens the gulf between average people and the wealthiest Americans. The virus, which has claimed more than 269,000 lives nationwide, is resurgent across the country amid holiday travel and colder weather sending people indoors.
As he did frequently while campaigning, Biden promised that the U.S. would eventually emerge with an economy that is dramatically reshaped to better stamp out economic inequality.
“From the most unequal economic and job crisis in modern history, we can build a new American economy that works for all Americans, not just some,” Biden said as he introduced his choices for some of the government's top economic posts during a speech at a theater in Wilmington, Delaware, where he has led his transition to the presidency.
Tuesday also marked the president-elect's first appearance since breaking two small bones in his right foot while playing with one of his dogs over the weekend. He wore a black walking boot and moved gingerly but tried to keep things light. As he emerged from his motorcade, Biden pointed to his boot and lifted his leg briefly to show it off.
Asked about his foot by reporters, Biden responded only, “Good, thanks for asking.”
The injury, while not serious, again intensifies scrutiny on Biden’s age, given that he just turned 78 and is the oldest president ever to be in his first term. Still, his team has tried to keep the focus on building out its government and upcoming policy challenges, chief among them the pandemic and the economy.
Biden repeatedly evoked his work as vice president when the Obama administration oversaw the economic recovery following the 2008 financial crisis, noting that many of those on his newly formed economic team worked closely with him then.
Most of his choices will require confirmation from the deeply divided Senate, where some top Republicans have already begun voicing opposition. Biden said he hopes “that we will be able to work across the aisle in good faith, move forward as one country.”
Janet Yellen, Biden’s nominee for treasury secretary, served as chair of the Federal Reserve from 2014 to 2018, when she placed a greater emphasis than previous Fed chairs on maximizing employment and less focus on price inflation. Biden also named Cecilia Rouse as chair of his Council of Economic Advisers, and Heather Boushey and Jared Bernstein as members of the council.
Yellen called the economic havoc the pandemic has wrought “an American tragedy.”
“To the American people: We will be an institution that wakes up every morning thinking about you,” Yellen said of the Treasury Department, “Your jobs, your paychecks, your struggles, your hopes, your dignity and your limitless potential.”
If confirmed by the Senate, Yellen would be the first woman to serve as treasury secretary, after breaking ground as the first woman to chair the Fed.
“We might have to ask Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote a musical about the first secretary of the treasury, Hamilton, to write another musical about the female secretary of the treasury,” Biden joked.
Rouse would be the first Black woman to lead the CEA in its 74 years of existence. The president-elect also selected Wally Adeyemo to be Yellen’s deputy, which would make him the first Black deputy treasury secretary. Neera Tanden, Biden’s pick for director of the Office of Management and Budget, would be the first South Asian American in that job.
Rouse, Tanden and Adeyemo will all require Senate confirmation, and Tanden, in particular, is already drawing heavy Republican criticism.
“Budgets are not abstractions. They are a reflection of our values,” Tanden said during Tuesday's event.
All of Biden's picks are outspoken supporters of more government stimulus spending to boost growth — which Biden embraced on the campaign trail — though their proposals could face a difficult reception in Congress, which has stalemated on a new round of economic relief for months.
The prospects for a large-scale deal could hang on the outcome of runoff elections for both Georgia Senate seats. Victories in both would give Democrats control of the chamber — and its agenda —- by the slimmest of margins, but Republican victories will quickly test Biden and his team's ability to negotiate across the aisle to deliver on their promised relief for Americans.
As he has in recent weeks, Biden repeated calls for Congress to pass immediate pandemic relief funding even before he takes office.
“Right now, the full Congress should come together and pass a robust package for relief,” he said. But Biden added that any package passed during the lame-duck session before the end of the year is “likely to be at best just a start” and said his transition team is “already working on what I’ll put forward in the next Congress to address the multiple crises we’re facing.”
In the meantime, grim economic news is piling up. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said Monday that the pace of improvement in the economy has moderated in recent months with future prospects remaining “extraordinarily uncertain.”
And Steven Mnuchin, President Donald Trump's treasury secretary, announced last month that, over the objections of the Fed, he would not grant extensions for five lending programs being operated jointly by the Fed and the Treasury Department that are scheduled to expire on Dec. 31 — including backstops for corporate and municipal debt and the purchase of loans for small businesses and nonprofits.