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U.S. health officials say Merck's experimental COVID-19 pill is effective but they raised questions about its safety during pregnancy. The Food and Drug Administration posted its review Friday ahead of a public meeting next week where outside experts will debate the drug's benefits and risks. If FDA authorizes the drug it would be the first pill for U.S. patients infected with the virus. All FDA-authorized drugs currently used against coronavirus require an IV or injection. The FDA will ask its experts whether the drug's benefits outweigh its risks.

AP
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The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits plummeted last week to the lowest level in more than half a century, another sign that the U.S. job market is rebounding rapidly from last year’s coronavirus recession. Jobless claims dropped by 71,000 to 199,000, the lowest since mid-November 1969. The drop was much bigger than economists expected. The four-week average of claims, which smooths out weekly ups and downs, also dropped — by 21,000 to just over 252,000, the lowest since mid-March 2020 when the pandemic slammed the economy. Seasonal adjustments around the Thanksgiving holiday contributed significantly to the bigger-than-expected drop. 

AP
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Investigators are looking into whether the SUV driver who plowed through a Christmas parade in suburban Milwaukee, killing at least five people and injuring more than 40, was fleeing a crime. That's according to a law enforcement official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition anonymity. The vehicle slammed into dancers, musicians and others in Waukesha on Sunday. A person was taken into custody after a police officer opened fire in an attempt to stop the vehicle. The person has been identified by two law enforcement officials as 39-year-old Darrell Brooks.

AP
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More than 90% of federal workers have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Monday’s deadline set by President Joe Biden. Biden announced in September that all federal workers were required to undergo vaccination, with no test-out option, unless they secured an approved medical or religious exemption. A U.S. official said the vast majority of federal workers are fully vaccinated, and that a smaller number have pending or approved exceptions to the mandate.The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the statistics before their official release later Monday.

AP
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Across much of the United States, it has become increasingly acceptable for Americans to walk the streets with firearms, either carried openly or legally concealed. The trend could be seen this past week in the Wisconsin city where Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted in two killings. Armed civilians patrolled the streets near the courthouse with guns in plain view. Meanwhile in Georgia, testimony in the trial of Ahmaud Arbery’s killers showed that armed patrols were commonplace in the neighborhood where the 25-year-old Black man was chased down by three white men and shot. Elsewhere, prohibitions on possessing guns in public could soon change if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down a New York law.

AP
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Pfizer and Moderna say U.S. regulators have opened up COVID-19 booster shots to all adults, letting them choose another dose of either vaccine. The move expands the government’s booster campaign to shore up protection and get ahead of rising coronavirus cases that may worsen with the holidays. There’s one more step: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must agree to expand Pfizer and Moderna boosters to even healthy young adults. Its scientific advisers are set to debate that on Friday. If the CDC agrees, tens of millions more Americans could have three doses of protection ahead of the new year.

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Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has followed through on his promise to veto the Republican-drawn redistricting plans, calling the maps “gerrymandering 2.0.” Evers, who is up for reelection next year, had said he would not sign the bills which only strengthen GOP majorities under maps that Republicans enacted a decade ago. There are lawsuits pending in both the Wisconsin Supreme Court and federal court. Now that Evers has vetoed the maps, attention will turn to the courts where the maps for the next decade ultimately will be determined. Evers vetoed the bills on Thursday.