Hurricane Idalia hits Florida with 125 mph winds, flooding streets, snapping trees and cutting power
Hurricane Idalia tore into Florida at the speed of a fast-moving train Wednesday, splitting trees in half, ripping roofs off hotels and turning small cars into boats before sweeping into Georgia and South Carolina as a still-powerful storm that flooded roadways and sent residents running for higher ground. "All hell broke loose," said Belond Thomas of Perry, a mill town located just inland from the Big Bend region where Idalia came ashore. Read : Messi scores early in 1st game outside Florida for Inter Miami at FC Dallas Thomas fled with her family and some friends to a motel, thinking it would be safer than riding out the storm at home. But as Idalia's eye passed over about 8:30 a.m., a loud whistling noise pierced the air and the high winds ripped the building's roof off, sending debris down on her pregnant daughter, who was lying in bed. Fortunately, she was not injured. "It was frightening," Thomas said. "Things were just going so fast. ... Everything was spinning." After coming ashore, Idalia made landfall near Keaton Beach at 7:45 a.m. as a high-end Category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 125 mph (205 kph). The system remained a hurricane as it crossed into Georgia with top winds of 90 mph (150 mph). It weakened to a tropical storm by late Wednesday afternoon, and its winds had dropped to 65 mph (100 kph) by Wednesday evening. As the eye moved inland, high winds shredded signs, blew off roofs, sent sheet metal flying and snapped tall trees. One person was killed in Georgia. No hurricane-related deaths were officially confirmed in Florida, but the Florida Highway Patrol reported two people dying in separate weather-related crashes just hours before Idalia made landfall. The storm was bringing strong winds to Savannah, Georgia, Wednesday evening as it made its way toward the Carolinas. It was forecast to pass over Charleston, South Carolina, early Thursday morning before turning east and heading out to the Atlantic Ocean. Idalia spawned a tornado that briefly touched down in the Charleston suburb of Goose Creek, the National Weather Service said. The winds sent a car flying and flipped it over, according to authorities and eyewitness video. Two people received minor injuries. Along South Carolina's coast, North Myrtle Beach, Garden City, and Edisto Island all reported ocean water flowing over sand dunes and spilling onto beachfront streets Wednesday evening. In Charleston, storm surge from Idalia topped the seawall that protects the downtown, sending ankle-deep ocean water into the streets and neighborhoods where horse-drawn carriages pass million-dollar homes and the famous open-air market. Preliminary data showed the Wednesday evening high tide reached just over 9.2 feet (2.8 meters), more than 3 feet (0.9 meters) above normal and the fifth-highest reading in Charleston Harbor since records were first kept in 1899. Florida had feared the worst while still recovering from last year's Hurricane Ian, which hit the heavily populated Fort Myers area, leaving 149 dead in the state. Unlike that storm, Idalia blew into a very lightly inhabited area known as Florida's "nature coast," one of the state's most rural regions that lies far from crowded metropolises or busy tourist areas and features millions of acres of undeveloped land. That doesn't mean that it didn't do major damage. Rushing water covered streets near the coast, unmoored small boats and nearly a half-million customers in Florida and Georgia lost power. In Perry, the wind blew out store windows, tore siding off buildings and overturned a gas station canopy. Heavy rains partially flooded Interstate 275 in Tampa and wind toppled power lines onto the northbound side of Interstate 75 just south of Valdosta, Georgia. Less than 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of where Idalia made landfall, businesses, boat docks and homes in Steinhatchee, Florida, were swallowed up by water surging in from Deadman's Bay. Police officers blocked traffic into the coastal community of more than 500 residents known for fishing and foresting industries. Read : Trump arrives in Florida as history-making court appearance approaches in classified documents case State officials, 5,500 National Guardsman and rescue crews were in search-and-recovery mode, inspecting bridges, clearing toppled trees and looking for anyone in distress. Because of the remoteness of the Big Bend area, search teams may need more time to complete their work compared with past hurricanes in more urban areas, said Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Department of Emergency Management. "You may have two houses on a 5-mile (8-kilometer) road so it's going to take some time," Guthries said. The National Weather Service in Tallahassee called Idalia "an unprecedented event" since no major hurricanes on record have ever passed through the bay abutting the Big Bend. On the island of Cedar Key, downed trees and debris blocked roads, and propane tanks exploded. RJ Wright stayed behind so he could check on elderly neighbors. He hunkered down with friends in a motel and when it was safe, walked outside into chest-high water. It could have been a lot worse for the island, which juts into the Gulf, since it didn't take a direct hit, he said. "It got pretty gnarly for a while, but it was nothing compared to some of the other storms," Wright said. In Tallahassee, the power went out well before the center of the storm arrived, but the city avoided a direct hit. A giant oak tree next to the governor's mansion split in half, covering the yard with debris. In Valdosta, Georgia, Idalia's fierce winds uprooted trees and sent rain flying sideways. Jonathon Wick said he didn't take the approaching hurricane seriously until Wednesday morning, when he awoke to howling winds outside his home. After rescuing his young nephews from a trampoline in their back yard where the water rose to his knees, he brought them to his car and was climbing into the driver's seat when a tree toppled right in front of the vehicle. "If that tree would have fell on the car, I would be dead," said Wick, who ended up getting rescued by another family member. One man was killed in Valdosta when a tree fell on him as he was trying to clear another tree out of the road Wednesday, said Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk. Two others, including a sheriff's deputy, were injured when the tree fell, Paulk said. Read : 9 injured in shooting near beach in Hollywood, Florida More than 30,000 utility workers in Florida were gathering to make repairs as quickly as possible in the hurricane's wake. Airports in the region, including Tampa International Airport, planned to restart commercial operations either Wednesday afternoon or Thursday. By midday Wednesday, more than 900 flights had been canceled in Florida and Georgia, according to tracking service FlightAware. At 8 p.m. EDT Wednesday, Tropical Storm Idalia was about 60 miles (95 kilometers) west of Charleston, South Carolina, the National Hurricane Center said. It was moving northeast at 21 mph (33 kph). Officials in Bermuda warned that Idalia could hit the island early next week as a tropical storm. Bermuda on Wednesday was being lashed by the outer bands of Hurricane Franklin, a Category 2 storm that was on track to pass near the island in the north Atlantic Ocean. President Joe Biden called the governors of Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina on Wednesday and told them their states had his administration's full support, the White House said.
Police in Florida said eight people were shot during an Martin Luther King Jr. Day event, with one of the victims listed in critical condition. The St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office confirmed all the victims in the Monday shooting in Fort Pierce were adults, WPBF-TV reported. The shooting occurred at Ilous Ellis Park at 5:20 p.m. during an MLK Car Show and Family Fun Day, which the sheriff’s office said was attended by more than 1,000 people, the TV station reported. “Multiple people were shot, it sounds like from our initial investigation here on scene there was a disagreement of some sort between two parties, and unfortunately, they chose to resolve that with guns,” St. Lucie County Chief Deputy Brian Hester said. Police said four people including a child sustained non-life-threatening injuries during the ensuing confusion, the station reported. “It was mass chaos, as you can imagine, when shots rang out,” Hester said. “There were a thousand plus people here at the event, and as the shots rang out, people were just running in all directions.” Read more: 9 killed in Walmart shooting in Virginia The sheriff’s office said two deputies at the event responded immediately and aided victims, WPBF-TV reported. Video obtained by the station showed people ducking, running and hiding behind cars, including a woman running to safety while holding a baby. “It’s really sad in a celebration of someone who represented peace and equality that a disagreement results in a use of guns and violence to solve that disagreement, and that’s what’s really sad to me about what happened here,” Hester said. “And then so many innocent people who were injured or hurt and were not part of the disagreement as well.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for all of Florida on Saturday as Tropical Storm Ian gains strength over the Caribbean and is forecast to become a major hurricane within days as it tracks toward the state. DeSantis had initially issued the emergency order for two dozen counties on Friday. But he expanded the warning to the entire state, urging residents to prepare for a storm that could lash large swaths of Florida. “This storm has the potential to strengthen into a major hurricane and we encourage all Floridians to make their preparations,” DeSantis said in a statement. “We are coordinating with all state and local government partners to track potential impacts of this storm.” President Joe Biden also declared an emergency for the state, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to coordinate disaster relief efforts and provide assistance to protect lives and property. The president postponed a scheduled Sept. 27 trip to Florida due to the storm. The National Hurricane Center said Ian was forecast to rapidly strengthen in the coming days before moving over western Cuba and toward the west coast of Florida and the Florida Panhandle by the middle of next week. The agency said Floridians should have hurricane plans in place and advised residents to monitor updates of the storm's evolving path. It added that Ian was forecast to become a hurricane on Sunday and a major hurricane by late Monday or early Tuesday. Ian on Saturday evening had top sustained winds of 45 mph (75 kph) as it swirled about 230 miles (370 kilometers) south of Kingston, Jamaica. John Cangialosi, a senior hurricane specialist at the Miami-based hurricane center, said it wasn't yet clear exactly where Ian will hit hardest in Florida. He said the state's residents should begin preparing for the storm, including gathering supplies for potential power outages. “Too soon to say if it's going to be a southeast Florida problem or a central Florida problem or just the entire state,” he said. “So at this point really the right message for those living in Florida is that you have to watch forecasts and get ready and prepare yourself for potential impact from this tropical system.” In Pinellas Park, near Tampa, people were waiting in line at a Home Depot when it opened at 6 a.m., the Tampa Bay Times reported. Manager Wendy Macrini said the store had sold 600 cases of water by the early afternoon and ran out of generators. People also were buying up plywood to put over their windows: “Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it,” Matt Beaver, of Pinellas Park, told the Times. The governor's declaration frees up emergency protective funding and activates members of the Florida National Guard, his office said. His order stresses that there is risk for a storm surge, flooding, dangerous winds and other weather conditions throughout the state. Elsewhere, powerful post-tropical cyclone Fiona crashed ashore early Saturday in Nova Scotia in the Atlantic Canada region. The storm washed houses into the sea, tore rooftops off others and knocked out power to the vast majority of two Canadian provinces with more than 500,000 customers affected at the storm's height. Fiona had transformed from a hurricane into a post-tropical storm late Friday, but it still had hurricane-strength winds and brought drenching rains and huge waves. There was no confirmation of fatalities or injuries.
The U.S. government's auto safety watchdog is sending investigators to another Tesla crash, this time one that killed two people along Interstate 75 in Florida. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration confirmed Friday that it sent a Special Crash Investigations team to probe the Wednesday crash into the back of a semi-trailer at a rest area near Gainesville. The agency would not say if the Tesla was operating on one of the company's partially automated driving systems. The 2015 model year Tesla was traveling on Interstate 75 about 2 p.m. Wednesday when, for an unknown reason, it exited into a rest area. It then went into the parking lot and hit the back of a parked Walmart Freightliner tractor-trailer, the Florida Highway Patrol said in a release. The driver and passenger, both from Lompoc, California, were pronounced dead at the scene. Highway Patrol Lt. P.V. Riordan said Friday night in an email that his agency will determine whether any partially automated features were in use. “That is a consideration that will be explored during our investigation,” he said. A message was left Friday seeking comment from Austin, Texas-based Tesla. NHTSA is investigating 37 crashes involving automated driving systems since 2016. Of those, 30 involved Teslas, including 11 fatal crashes that have killed a total of 15 people. Read: Tesla faces another US investigation: unexpected braking The agency also said in documents that it's investigating a fatal pedestrian crash in California involving a Tesla Model 3 that happened this month. It also sent a team to probe a Cruise automated vehicle crash in California that caused a minor injury in June. NHTSA also has been investigating Teslas on Autopilot crashing into parked emergency vehicles. In a separate probe, the agency is looking at Teslas on Autopilot braking for no apparent reason. Last week, newly confirmed NHTSA Administrator Steven Cliff told The Associated Press that the agency is intensifying efforts to understand the risks posed by automated vehicle technology so it can decide what regulations may be necessary to protect drivers, passengers and pedestrians. He also says automated systems such as automatic emergency braking have huge potential to save lives. In June, NHTSA released data from automakers and tech companies showing nearly 400 crashes over a 10-month period involving vehicles with partially automated driver-assist systems, including 273 with Teslas. The agency cautioned against using the numbers to compare automakers, saying it didn’t weight them by the number of vehicles from each manufacturer that use the systems, or how many miles those vehicles traveled. Automakers reported crashes from July of last year through May 15 under an order from the agency, which is examining such crashes broadly for the first time. Tesla’s crashes happened while vehicles were using Autopilot, “Full Self-Driving,” Traffic Aware Cruise Control, or other driver-assist systems that have some control over speed and steering. The company has about 830,000 vehicles with the systems on the road. Also read: Tesla Smartphone Model Pi: Leaked features, release date The next closest of a dozen automakers that reported crashes was Honda, with 90. Honda says it has about 6 million vehicles on U.S. roads with such systems. Tesla’s crash number may appear elevated somewhat because it uses telematics to monitor its vehicles and get real-time crash reports. Other automakers don’t have such capability, so their reports may come slower or crashes may not be reported at all, NHTSA said. Auto safety advocates said driver-assist and self-driving systems have potential to save lives, but not until NHTSA sets minimum performance standards and requires safety improvements to protect all road users.
Four space tourists safely ended their trailblazing trip to orbit Saturday with a splashdown in the Atlantic off the Florida coast. Their SpaceX capsule parachuted into the ocean just before sunset, not far from where their chartered flight began three days earlier. The all-amateur crew was the first to circle the world without a professional astronaut. The billionaire who paid undisclosed millions for the trip and his three guests wanted to show that ordinary people could blast into orbit by themselves, and SpaceX founder Elon Musk took them on as the company’s first rocket-riding tourists. “Your mission has shown the world that space is for all of us,” SpaceX Mission Control radioed. Read:China astronauts return after 90 days aboard space station “It was a heck of a ride for us ... just getting started,” replied trip sponsor Jared Isaacman, referring to the growing number of private flights on the horizon. SpaceX’s fully automated Dragon capsule reached an unusually high altitude of 363 miles (585 kilometers) after Wednesday night’s liftoff. Surpassing the International Space Station by 100 miles (160 kilometers), the passengers savored views of Earth through a big bubble-shaped window added to the top of the capsule. The four streaked back through the atmosphere early Saturday evening, the first space travelers to end their flight in the Atlantic since Apollo 9 in 1969. SpaceX’s two previous crew splashdowns — carrying astronauts for NASA — were in the Gulf of Mexico. Within a few minutes, a pair of SpaceX boats pulled up alongside the bobbing capsule. When the capsule’s hatch was opened on the recovery ship, health care worker Hayley Arceneaux was the first one out, flashing a big smile and thumbs up. All appeared well and happy. Their families were waiting near the scene of Wednesday night’s launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. This time, NASA was little more than an encouraging bystander, its only tie being the Kennedy launch pad once used for the Apollo moonshots and shuttle crews, but now leased by SpaceX. Isaacman, 38, an entrepreneur and accomplished pilot, aimed to raise $200 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Donating $100 million himself, he held a lottery for one of the four seats. Late Saturday, Musk tweeted he was donating $50 million, putting them over the top. For the last seat, Isaacman held a competition for clients of his Allentown, Pennsylvania payment-processing business, Shift4 Payments. Read:SpaceX launches 4 amateurs on private Earth-circling trip Joining him on the flight were Arceneaux, 29, a St. Jude physician assistant who was treated at the Memphis, Tennessee hospital nearly two decades ago for bone cancer, and contest winners Chris Sembroski, 42, a data engineer in Everett, Washington, and Sian Proctor, 51, a community college educator, scientist and artist from Tempe, Arizona. “Best ride of my life!” Proctor tweeted a few hours after splashdown. Strangers until March, the four spent six months training and preparing for potential emergencies during the flight — but there was no need to step in, officials said after their return. During the trip dubbed Inspiration4, they had time to chat with St. Jude patients, conduct medical tests on themselves, ring the closing bell for the New York Stock Exchange and do some drawing and ukulele playing. Arceneaux, the youngest American in space and the first with a prosthesis, assured her patients, “I was a little girl going through cancer treatment just like a lot of you, and if I can do this, you can do this.” They also took calls from Tom Cruise, interested in his own SpaceX flight to the space station for filming, and the rock band U2′s Bono. Even their space menu wasn’t typical: Cold pizza and sandwiches, but also pasta Bolognese and Mediterranean lamb. Before beginning descent, Sembroski was so calm that he was seen in the capsule watching the 1987 Mel Brooks’ film “Spaceballs” on his tablet. “What an amazing adventure!” he tweeted. Congratulations streamed in, including from the Association of Space Explorers to its four newest members. Read:4 will circle Earth on 1st SpaceX private flight Aside from trouble with a toilet fan and a bad temperature sensor in an engine, the flight went exceedingly well, officials said. Some of the four passengers experienced motion sickness when they reached orbit — just as some astronauts do. “It was a very clean mission from start to finish,” said Benji Reed, a SpaceX senior director. Reed anticipates as many as six private flights a year for SpaceX, sandwiched between astronaut launches for NASA. Four SpaceX flights are already booked to carry paying customers to the space station, accompanied by former NASA astronauts. The first is targeted for early next year with three businessmen paying $55 million apiece. Russia also plans to take up an actor and film director for filming next month and a Japanese tycoon in December. Customers interested in quick space trips are turning to Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. The two rode their own rockets to the fringes of space in July to spur ticket sales; their flights lasted 10 to 15 minutes. The 60-year scorecard now stands at 591 people who have reached space or its edges — and is expected to skyrocket as space tourism heats up.
SpaceX’s first private flight streaked into orbit Wednesday night with two contest winners, a health care worker and their rich sponsor, the most ambitious leap yet in space tourism. It was the first time a spacecraft circled Earth with an all-amateur crew and no professional astronauts. “Punch it, SpaceX!” the flight’s billionaire leader, Jared Isaacman, urged moments before liftoff. The Dragon capsule’s two men and two women are looking to spend three days going round and round the planet from an unusually high orbit — 100 miles (160 kilometers) higher than the International Space Station — before splashing down off the Florida coast this weekend. Read:4 will circle Earth on 1st SpaceX private flight It’s SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s first entry in the competition for space tourism dollars. Isaacman is the third billionaire to launch this summer, following the brief space-skimming flights by Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson and Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos in July. Only 38, Isaacman made his fortune from a payment-processing company he started in his teens. Joining Isaacman on the trip dubbed Inspiration4 is Hayley Arceneaux, 29, a childhood bone cancer survivor who works as a physician assistant where she was treated — St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Isaacman has pledged $100 million out of his own pocket to the hospital and is seeking another $100 million in donations. Arceneaux became the youngest American in space and the first person in space with a prosthesis, a titanium rod in her left leg. Also along for the ride: sweepstakes winners Chris Sembroski, 42, a data engineer in Everett, Washington, and Sian Proctor, 51, a community college educator in Tempe, Arizona. Once opposed to space tourism, NASA is now a supporter. “Low-Earth orbit is now more accessible for more people to experience the wonders of space,” tweeted NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, a congressman when he hitched a ride on a space shuttle decades ago. The recycled Falcon rocket soared from the same Kennedy Space Center pad used by the company’s three previous astronaut flights for NASA. But this time, the Dragon capsule aimed for an altitude of 357 miles (575 kilometers), just beyond the Hubble Space Telescope. Read: Space station supplies launched with a pizza delivery for 7 Across the country, SpaceX employees at company headquarters in Hawthorne, California, cheered wildly at every flight milestone, including when the spent first-stage booster landed upright on an ocean platform. French astronaut Thomas Pesquet rooted from the space station on Twitter: “No matter if you’re a professional or not, when you get strapped to a rocket and launch into space, we have something in common. All the very best from, well, space.” Isaacman noted upon reaching orbit that few people have been to space — fewer than 600 over 60 years. But he added, “Many are about to follow. The door’s opening now and it’s pretty incredible.” Their capsule has already been to orbit: It was used for SpaceX’s second astronaut flight for NASA to the space station. The only significant change is the large domed window at the top in place of the usual space station docking mechanisms. An accomplished pilot, Isaacman persuaded SpaceX to take the fully automated Dragon capsule higher than it’s ever been. Initially reluctant because of the increased radiation exposure and other risks, SpaceX agreed after a safety review. “Now I just wish we pushed them to go higher,” Isaacman told reporters on the eve of the flight. “If we’re going to go to the moon again and we’re going to go to Mars and beyond, then we’ve got to get a little outside of our comfort zone and take the next step in that direction.” Isaacman, whose Shift4 Payments company is based in Allentown, Pennsylvania, is picking up the entire tab for the flight, but won’t say how many millions he paid. He and others contend those big price tags will eventually lower the cost. “Yes, today you must have and be willing to part with a large amount of cash to buy yourself a trip to space,” said Explorers Club President Richard Garriott, a NASA astronaut’s son who paid the Russians for a space station trip more than a decade ago. “But this is the only way we can get the price down and expand access, just as it has been with other industries before it. Though the capsule is automated, the four Dragon riders spent six months training for the flight to cope with any emergency. That training included centrifuge and fighter jet flights, launch and reentry practice in SpaceX’s capsule simulator and a grueling trek up Washington’s Mount Rainier in the snow. Read: New Russian lab briefly knocks space station out of position Four hours before liftoff, the four met with Musk before emerging from SpaceX’s huge rocket hangar, waving and blowing kisses to their families and company employees, before they were driven off to get into their sleek white flight suits. Once at the launch pad, they posed for pictures and bumped gloved fists, before taking the elevator up. Proctor danced as she made her way to the hatch. Unlike NASA missions, the public won’t be able to listen in or watch events unfold in real time. Arceneaux hopes to link up with St. Jude patients, but the conversation won’t be broadcast live. SpaceX’s next private trip, early next year, will see a retired NASA astronaut escorting three wealthy businessmen to the space station for a weeklong visit. The Russians are launching an actress, film director and a Japanese tycoon to the space station in the next few months. “Someday NASA astronauts will be the exception, not the rule,” said Cornell University’s Mason Peck, an engineering professor who served as NASA’s chief technologist nearly a decade ago. “But they’ll likely continue to be the trailblazers the rest of us will follow.”
A swath of the Florida Panhandle was under a tropical storm warning after Tropical Storm Mindy made landfall Wednesday night. The storm touched down over St. Vincent Island, about 10 miles (15 km) west southwest of Apalachicola, according to the National Hurricane Center. Read:Ida deaths rise by 11 in New Orleans; Louisiana toll now 26 Mindy could cause as much as 6 inches (15 centimeters) of rainfall across the Florida Panhandle and portions of southern Georgia and South Carolina through Thursday morning, the National Hurricane Center said. Scattered flash, urban, and small-stream floods are possible. Mindy’s arrival occurred only a few hours after it had strengthened into a tropical storm Wednesday evening. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 45 mph (75 km/h) and was moving northeast at 21 mph (33 km/), forecasters said. The tropical storm warning is in effect from Mexico Beach, Florida, to the Steinhatchee River to the east. That area is about 300 miles (500 kilometers) east of southern Louisiana, where Hurricane Ida made landfall late last month. The region is still recovering from the deadly and destructive Category 4 storm. Read:Officials anticipate progress fighting fire near Lake Tahoe Mindy is the 13th-named storm of what has been another busy Atlantic hurricane season. According to a tweet from Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach, the average date for the 13th-named storm from 1991-2020 was Oct. 24.
The rapidly escalating surge in COVID-19 infections across the U.S. has caused a shortage of nurses and other front-line staff in virus hot spots that can no longer keep up with the flood of unvaccinated patients and are losing workers to burnout and lucrative out-of-state temporary gigs. Florida, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oregon all have more people hospitalized with COVID-19 than at any other point in the pandemic, and nursing staffs are badly strained. In Florida, virus cases have filled so many hospital beds that ambulance services and fire departments are straining to respond to emergencies. Some patients wait inside ambulances for up to an hour before hospitals in St. Petersburg, Florida, can admit them — a process that usually takes about 15 minutes, Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton said. One person who suffered a heart attack was bounced from six hospitals before finding an emergency room in New Orleans that could take him in, said Joe Kanter, Louisiana’s chief public health officer. Read:COVID vaccines to be required for military under new US plan “It’s a real dire situation,” Kanter said. “There’s just not enough qualified staff in the state right now to care for all these patients.” Michelle Thomas, a registered nurse and a manager of the emergency department at a Tucson, Arizona, hospital, resigned three weeks ago after hitting a wall. “There was never a time that we could just kind of take a breath,” Thomas said Tuesday. “I hit that point … I can’t do this anymore. I’m so just tapped out.” She helped other nurses cope with being alone in rooms with dying patients and holding mobile phones so family members could say their final goodbyes. “It’s like incredibly taxing and traumatizing,” said Thomas, who is unsure if she will ever return to nursing. Miami’s Jackson Memorial Health System, Florida’s largest medical provider, has been losing nurses to staffing agencies, other hospitals and pandemic burnout, Executive Vice President Julie Staub said. The hospital’s CEO says nurses are being lured away to jobs in other states at double and triple the salary. Staub said system hospitals have started paying retention bonuses to nurses who agree to stay for a set period. To cover shortages, nurses who agree to work extra are getting the typical time-and-a-half for overtime plus $500 per additional 12-hour shift. Even with that, the hospital sometimes still has to turn to agencies to fill openings. “You are seeing folks chase the dollars,” Staub said. “If they have the flexibility to pick up and go somewhere else and live for a week, months, whatever and make more money, it is a very enticing thing to do. I think every health care system is facing that.” Nearly 70% of Florida hospitals are expecting critical staffing shortages in the next week, according to the Florida Hospital Association. In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown announced Tuesday that state employees must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 or six weeks after a COVID-19 vaccine receives full federal approval, whichever is later. Her office planned to announce a statewide indoor mask requirement on Wednesday. “Oregon is facing a spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations — consisting overwhelmingly of unvaccinated individuals — that is quickly exceeding the darkest days of our winter surge,” Brown said. “When our hospitals are full, there will be no room for additional patients needing care.” Read:US now averaging 100,000 new COVID-19 infections a day Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday directed state officials to use staffing agencies to find additional medical staff from beyond the state’s borders as the delta variant overwhelms its present staffing resources. He also has sent a letter to the Texas Hospital Association to request that hospitals postpone all elective medical procedures voluntarily. Parts of Europe have so far avoided a similar hospital crisis, despite wide circulation of the delta variant, with help from vaccines. The United Kingdom on Monday had more than 5,900 COVID-19 patients in hospitals, but the latest surge has not overwhelmed medical centers. As of Tuesday, the government said 75 percent of adults have been fully vaccinated. The same was true in Italy, where the summer infections have not resulted in any spike in hospital admissions, intensive care admissions or deaths. About 3,200 people in the nation of 60 million were hospitalized Tuesday in regular wards or ICUs, according to Health Ministry figures. Italian health authorities advising the government on the pandemic attribute the relatively contained hospital numbers to the nation’s inoculation campaign, which has fully vaccinated 64.5% of Italians 12 years of age or older. The U.S. is averaging more than 116,000 new coronavirus infections a day along with about 50,000 hospitalizations, levels not experienced since the winter surge. Unlike other points in the pandemic, hospitals now have more non-COVID patients for everything from car accidents to surgeries that were postponed during the outbreak. That has put even more burden on nurses who were already fatigued after dealing with constant death among patients and illnesses in their ranks. “Anecdotally, I’m seeing more and more nurses say, ‘I’m leaving, I’ve had enough,’” said Gerard Brogan, director of nursing practice with National Nurses United, an umbrella organization of nurses unions across the U.S. “’The risk to me and my family is just too much.’” Hawaii is seeing more new daily virus cases than ever. In a Honolulu hospital’s emergency department, patients have had to wait for beds for more than 24 hours on gurneys in a curtained-off section because there’s not enough staff to open more beds, nurse Patrick Switzer said. “Somebody who’s been sitting in the emergency room for 30 hours is miserable,” he said. He described being “in this constant state of anxiety, knowing that you don’t have the tools that you need to take care of your patients because we’re stretched so thin.” Read:Shots give COVID-19 survivors big immune boost, studies show COVID-19 hospitalizations have now surpassed the pandemic’s worst previous surge in Florida, with no signs of letting up, setting a record of 13,600 on Monday, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. More than 2,800 required intensive care. At the height of last year’s summer surge, there were more than 10,170 COVID-19 hospitalizations. At Westside Regional Medical Center in Plantation, Florida, the number of COVID-19 patients has doubled each week for the past month, wearing down the already short staff, said Penny Ceasar, who handles admissions there. The hospital has converted overflow areas to accommodate the rise in admissions. Some staffers have fallen ill with COVID-19. “It’s just hard. We’re just tired. I just want this thing over,” Ceasar said.
The U.S. on Monday finally reached President Joe Biden’s goal of getting at least one COVID-19 shot into 70% of American adults -- a month late and amid a fierce surge by the delta variant that is swamping hospitals and leading to new mask rules and mandatory vaccinations around the country. In a major retreat in the Deep South, Louisiana ordered nearly everyone, vaccinated or not, to wear masks again in all indoor public settings, including schools and colleges. And other cities and states likewise moved to reinstate precautions to counter a crisis blamed on the fast-spreading variant and stubborn resistance to getting the vaccine. “As quickly as we can discharge them they’re coming in and they’re coming in very sick. We started seeing entire families come down,” lamented Dr. Sergio Segarra, chief medical officer of Baptist Hospital Miami. The Florida medical-center chain reported an increase of over 140% in the past two weeks in the number of people now hospitalized with the virus. Read:Delta variant: Fauci warns of more 'pain and suffering' ahead Biden had set a vaccination goal of 70% by the Fourth of July. That figure was the low end of initial government estimates for what would be necessary to achieve herd immunity in the U.S. But that has been rendered insufficient by the highly contagious delta variant, which has enabled the virus to come storming back. There was was no celebration at the White House on Monday, nor a setting of a new target, as the administration instead struggles to overcome skepticism and outright hostility to the vaccine, especially in the South and other rural and conservative areas. The U.S. still has not hit the administration’s other goal of fully vaccinating 165 million American adults by July 4. It is about 8.5 million short. New cases per day in the U.S. have increased sixfold over the past month to an average of nearly 80,000, a level not seen since mid-February. And deaths per day have climbed over the past two weeks from an average of 259 to 360. Those are still well below the 3,400 deaths and a quarter-million cases per day seen during the worst of the outbreak, in January. But some places around the country are watching caseloads reach their highest levels since the pandemic began. And nearly all deaths and serious illnesses now are in unvaccinated people. The surge has led states and cities across the U.S. to beat a retreat, just weeks after it looked as if the country was going to see a close-to-normal summer. Health officials in San Francisco and six other Bay Area counties announced Monday they are reinstating a requirement that everyone — vaccinated or not — wear masks in public indoor spaces. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said New York City airport and transit workers will have to get vaccinated or face weekly testing. He stopped short of mandating either masks or inoculations for the general public, saying he lacks legal authority to do so. Read:Florida breaks record with more than 21,000 new COVID cases Denver’s mayor said the city will require police officers, firefighters and certain other municipal employees to get vaccinated, along with workers at schools, nursing homes, hospitals and jails. Minnesota’s public colleges and universities will require masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. New Jersey said workers at state-run nursing homes, psychiatric hospitals and other such institutions must get the shot or face regular testing. North Carolina’s governor ordered state employees in the agencies under his control to cover up indoors if they are not fully vaccinated. And McDonald’s said it will require employees and customers to resume wearing masks inside some U.S. restaurants regardless of vaccination status in areas with high or substantial coronavirus transmission. The company didn’t say how many restaurants would be affected by the new mask mandate. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said a nationwide vaccination requirement “is not on the table,” but noted that employers have the right to take such a step. The U.S. Senate saw its first disclosed breakthrough case of the virus, with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina saying he has mild symptoms. In Florida, it took two months last summer for the number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 to jump from 2,000 to 10,000. It took only 27 days this summer for Florida hospitals to see that same increase, said Florida Hospital Association President Mary Mayhew. She noted also that this time, 96% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated and they are far younger, many of them in their 20s and 30s. Amid the surge, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis doubled down on his anti-mask, anti-lockdown stance, warning in a fundraising email over the weekend: “They’re coming for your freedom again.” Read:Biden lands win, but virus surge threatens to derail agenda While setting a national vaccination goal may have been useful for trying to drum up enthusiasm for the shots, 70% of Americans getting one shot was never going to be enough to prevent surges among unvaccinated groups. And when he announced the goal, Biden acknowledged it was just a first step. It’s the level of vaccinations in a community — not a broad national average — that can slow an outbreak or allow it to flourish. Vaccination rates in some Southern states are far lower than they are New England. Vermont has fully inoculated nearly 78% of its adult population. Alabama has just cracked 43%.
Florida reported 21,683 new cases of COVID-19, the state’s highest one-day total since the start of the pandemic, according to federal health data released Saturday, as its theme park resorts again started asking visitors to wear masks indoors. The state has become the new national epicenter for the virus, accounting for around a fifth of all new cases in the U.S. as the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus continues to spread. Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has resisted mandatory mask mandates and vaccine requirements, and along with the state Legislature, has limited local officials’ ability to impose restrictions meant to stop the spread of COVID-19. DeSantis on Friday barred school districts from requiring students to wear masks when classes resume next month. Read:Pentagon grappling with new vaccine orders; timing uncertain The latest numbers were recorded on Friday and released on Saturday on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. The figures show how quickly the number of cases is rising in the Sunshine State: only a day earlier, Florida reported 17,093 new daily cases. The previous peak in Florida had been 19,334 cases reported on Jan. 7, before the availability of vaccinations became widespread. The state reported 409 deaths this week, bringing the total to more than 39,000 since its first in March 2020. The state’s peak happened in mid-August 2020, when 1,266 people died over a seven-day period. Deaths usually follow increases in hospitalizations by a few weeks. DeSantis has blamed the surge on a seasonal increase — more Floridians are indoors because of the hot weather with air conditioning circulating the virus. About 60% of Floridians 12 and older are vaccinated, ranking it about midway among the states. The Florida Hospital Association said Friday that statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations are nearing last year’s peak, and one of the state’s largest health care systems, AdventHealth’s Central Florida Division, this week advised it would no longer be conducting nonemergency surgeries in order to free up resources for COVID-19 patients. Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld on Saturday became the latest theme park resorts in Florida to again ask visitors to wear masks indoors, with Universal also ordering its employees to wear face coverings to protect against COVID-19, which has been surging across the state. Read:Biden to launch vaccine push for millions of federal workers All workers at Universal’s Florida park on Saturday started being required to wear masks while indoors as the employees returned to practicing social distancing. The home to Harry Potter and Despicable Me rides also asked visitors to follow federal and local health guidelines by voluntarily wearing face coverings indoors. “The health and safety of our guests and team members is always our top priority,” Universal said in a statement. Health officials on Friday announced that coronavirus cases in Florida had jumped 50% over the past week with COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state nearing last year’s peak. SeaWorld on Saturday posted on its website that it was recommending that visitors follow recently updated federal recommendations and wear face coverings while indoors. The change in policy this week at the theme park resorts came after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that everyone wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. Read:Should vaccinated people mask up with COVID-19 cases rising? Crosstown rival Walt Disney World started requiring employees and guests older than 2 to wear masks on Friday, but it also went a step further. The Walt Disney Co. said in a statement that it will be requiring all salaried and non-union hourly employees in the U.S. who work on site to be fully vaccinated. Disney employees who aren’t already vaccinated will have 60 days to do so and those still working from home will need to show proof of vaccination before returning. Disney said it was discussing the vaccine requirements with the union, and added that all new hires will be required to be fully vaccinated before starting work at the company.