Monoclonal antibody treatment orders rapidly increasing in COVID surge states

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(NEW YORK) — The use of monoclonal antibodies as a way to prevent people from getting very sick with COVID-19 is rapidly increasing — alongside the grim statistics on surging infection rates across the country.

Federal health officials have seen a “significant increase” in the ordering of monoclonal antibodies in recent weeks with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services telling ABC News orders have increased by more than 1,200%.

HHS said they are currently shipping about 120,000 patient courses of Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody treatment a week.

More than three-quarters of those orders are going to the regions in the country with low vaccination rates and states currently getting clobbered hardest by COVID’s surge — and where intensive care unit capacities are most strained.

Between July 1 and Aug. 17, more than 438,100 one-dose infusions of the treatment were ordered nationally.

In that same time frame, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina — designated by HHS as Region 4 — ordered about 198,000 patient courses, or roughly 45% of the national order.

New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana (Region 6) ordered roughly 144,000 — about 33% of the order.

Monoclonal antibodies are synthetic versions of the body’s natural line of defense against severe infection — a therapy designed to send reinforcements for the immune system.

The antibody treatment is meant for COVID-19 patients early in their infection and who are at high risk of getting even sicker, nipping infections in the bud before it puts people in the hospital.

It can be used for breakthrough COVID cases as well, regardless of symptoms. If a person has tested positive within the last 10 days, and they are at risk for getting sicker — like older Americans, patients with high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, asthma or obesity — the treatment is available.

The drug can also now be used for preventative use in some cases. The Food and Drug Administration expanded Regeneron’s authorization in late July, allowing for proactive prophylactic use for people who may have been exposed to COVID, and are at high risk of getting very sick because of health complications, being immunocompromised or because a person wasn’t fully vaccinated.

It can be administered through an intravenous infusion, or a subcutaneous injection, which is less time-consuming and labor-intensive, and more practical in an outbreak situation.

An HHS official told ABC News they are seeing new infusion sites springing up, and sites that had been inactive are coming back online and administering the treatment again.

This new uptick and interest in use of the monoclonals comes after months of mediocre uptake, what then-Operation Warp Speed head Moncef Slaoui lamented last winter as “disappointing.”

It also comes as Govs. Greg Abbott, R-Texas, and Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., have ordered the opening of more infusion centers, and touted the treatment’s promise. Abbott, who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week, said he is taking it himself.
 

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Tropical Storm Henri live updates: Now Category 1 hurricane

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(NEW YORK) — Tropical Storm Henri strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane Saturday morning.

Henri is currently located 200 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and 555 miles south of Montauk, New York.

Dangerous storm surge, hurricane conditions and flooding rain is expected in parts of the Northeast beginning late tonight.

Landfall is looking to occur tomorrow late morning on Long Island.

If Henri makes landfall as a hurricane on Long Island, it will be the first land falling hurricane there since Gloria in 1985.

Aug 21, 10:58 am
Henri strengthens into hurricane

Henri intensified into a Category 1 hurricane with winds of 75 mph Saturday morning around 10:45 a.m. as it continued on its track northeast.

Aug 21, 10:51 am
Connecticut declares state of emergency ahead of Henri

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont declared a statement of emergency on Friday due to the incoming storm, “to take any actions necessary to respond and protect the people of the state.”

He also requested 200 National Guard members pulled for active duty starting Saturday morning.

The storm is forecast to bring heavy rainfall, whipping winds, storm surge along the shoreline and potential flooding to the state.

“Right now, it’s a good idea for everyone to be prepared and expect to shelter in place by Sunday afternoon through at least Monday morning,” Lamont said.

A hurricane warning is in effect for New Haven, Middlesex and New London counties. A tropical storm warning is in effect for Fairfield County.

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How people in the US can help arriving Afghans

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(NEW YORK) — As Americans across the country watch the situation in Afghanistan grow more chaotic, many are likely wondering how to help the thousands of Afghan nationals who have fled their country.

Many of those fled with only a small suitcase or even just the clothing on their backs, leaving a major challenge settling into a new life.

There are many ways to help incoming refugees settle in the U.S., from donations of goods and services to volunteering time to give rides and provide for other needs. Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, the president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a nonprofit organization that aids refugee relocation, said that that there is need for basic necessities and cash assistance.

“Contributions of goods are so helpful as we provide those basic necessities to these families and children in the first few days and first few weeks on American soil,” O’Mara Vignarajah told ABC News. “You know some of these families have literally no connections here in the U.S.”

Aundrea Paulett, who works in external affairs at the U.S. Embassy of Afghanistan, said that the needs also go beyond the basics, citing the importance of volunteers to give refugees rides to appointments, to help translate and for help with legal services when it comes to navigating the immigration system.

Paulett also encouraged people “to be very patient” with refugees as they may face culture shock.

“They’re not going to know English, so patience is going to be the biggest key for them to feel safe here,” Paulett said.

But Paulett and O’Mara Vignarajah also noted that people should be cautious about where their donations go. O’Mara Vignarajah said that there are many established and well-vetted organizations that are able to navigate the complexities of settling refugee families. Paulett also said that local mosques are a good place to donate, as mosques may provide connections and support for recently settled refugees.

Beyond goods and services, groups are urging Americans to wield their political power and contribute through activism.

“At this critical moment, we also need public pressure on the Biden administration to keep America’s promise to protect Afghan allies,” Nisha Agarwal, the deputy executive director of the International Refugee Assistance Project, said in a statement to ABC News. “The U.S. government must secure Kabul airport and ensure continuous access to it to vastly expand evacuation of Afghan allies and refugees before it is too late.”

O’Mara Vignarajah said that it is an all-hands-on-deck effort to help refugee families get settled. A lot of that effort will come from community members who feel compelled to help, especially in states like California, Texas and Virginia, which are set to accept many of the refugees, according to Paulett.

One of those community members is Fatima Popal, one of the co-owners of a group that operates Washington, D.C., restaurants Lapis and The Berliner. Popal utilized social media to collect donations of supplies, including clothing, household supplies, toiletries and gift cards.

“As Afghans, we felt a little helpless sitting here, not being able to do anything for our homeland, for our people,” Popal said. “And so we decided we can’t just sit here idle and do nothing, so the best thing that we can do is try to help those that are resettling here in the … area, and try to make their transition a little bit smoother by getting all these donations.”

Popal teamed up with organizations such as the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and the International Rescue Committee to get donations where they were most needed. Popal said that the outpouring of “love and support” from the community has been inspiring.

“It’s just one of the most beautiful things, considering what is going on around the world, not just in Afghanistan, but everywhere else,” Popal said. “So you can see that humanity is still not lost and that’s the beauty of what I see today and from the people that are volunteering and donating.”

Here are some organizations that accept donations for Afghan refugees:

International Refugee Assistance Project
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
Women for Afghan Women
International Rescue Committee
Committee to Protect Journalists
Mercy Corps
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Afghanistan updates: Avoid Kabul airport, US Embassy tells citizens

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(KABUL, Afghanistan) — Chaos has enveloped Kabul after Afghanistan’s government’s collapsed and the Taliban seized control, all but ending America’s 20-year campaign as it began: under Taliban rule.

The U.S. has evacuated approximately 9,000 people since Aug. 14, according to a White House official, with 3,000 people evacuated Thursday and double that number slated to be flown out Friday. Pentagon officials have said their focus remains on maintaining the airport perimeter and increasing the number of evacuees out of Kabul.

President Joe Biden returned to Washington from Camp David on Wednesday and sat down with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos for an exclusive one-on-one interview at the White House, the president’s first interview since the withdrawal from Afghanistan. He addressed the nation on evacuation efforts Friday.

Here are the latest developments. All times Eastern: 

Aug 21, 8:55 am
US embassy tells citizens to avoid Kabul airport

The U.S. embassy in Afghanistan has advised American citizens to avoid traveling to Kabul airport due to “potential security threats.”

U.S. nationals should “avoid the gates to the airport at this time unless you receive individual instructions from a U.S. government representative to do so,” a notice posted on the embassy website says.

It adds: “U.S. citizens requesting assistance in departing the country who have Repatriation Assistance Request for each traveler in their group should do so as soon as possible. Spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens in Afghanistan who are awaiting immigrant visas should also complete this form if they wish to depart.”

Previous advice issued two days ago said the U.S. government “cannot ensure safe passage” but said that citizens “should consider travelling to Hamid Karzai International Airport when you judge it is safe to do so”.

-ABC News’ Guy Davies

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5 good reasons for the FDA to give full approval to COVID-19 vaccines: Analysis

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(WASHINGTON) — The Biden administration announced on Wednesday that it will roll out COVID-19 booster shots for many Americans starting in mid-September. But there’s another date that many are anticipating.

As early as this coming week, according to The New York Times, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to give full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine — the first COVID-19 vaccine expected to receive that endorsement.

The FDA’s approval might seem like a minor technical move to some. But full approval of all three COVID-19 vaccines is an important step that can make a difference in reducing COVID-19 infection and mortality rates, improving health care delivery and saving lives.

Here’s why:

1. The approval will empower health care professionals to address the myth of “experimental vaccines.”

All three vaccines currently have what’s called “emergency use authorization” (EUA), which the FDA uses as a means to quickly give people access to potentially lifesaving medicines during a national crisis. Somehow, “emergency use” has been confused with “experimental.”

As physicians and epidemiologists who have treated COVID-19 patients, it’s frustrating that what amounts to a rather minor, somewhat bureaucratic detail is being used by people as justification not to get a vaccine that can save their lives and the lives of the people around them. More than 358 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been safely administered in the U.S. — and the incidence of complications as a result of the vaccines is minimal.

The good news: According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) study, three in ten unvaccinated adults say they’d be more likely to get vaccinated if the vaccines currently authorized for emergency use were to receive full approval from the FDA. So if full FDA approval is what it takes for millions of people to put away their skepticism and get vaccinated, we’re all for it.

Furthermore, for those for whom FDA approval isn’t the real reason but a convenient excuse, clinicians may uncover more information about what is holding individuals back from getting vaccinated.

2. Approval of the vaccines will get more kids vaccinated.

Schools across the country are open. Millions of school-age children are now learning indoors. According to another KFF study, about one-quarter of parents of kids aged 12-17 say they’ll “wait and see” how the vaccine works before getting their eligible child vaccinated. One in five parents say that their child will “definitely not” get vaccinated.

Again, people’s objections stem largely from distrust of the vaccines and concerns about side effects. To empower educators and health professionals to both counter myths surrounding side effects and confidently enact vaccine requirements in schools, it’s essential that the FDA give full approval to the vaccines. While authorization may initially only apply to those 16 and over, approval could provide reassurance to parents of all children currently eligible for the shot.

3. Approval will provide us with longer-term safety data.

What’s the difference between emergency use and full approval? The simple answer is that for full approval, the FDA will require an additional four months of safety data. The FDA granted the COVID-19 vaccines’ emergency use authorization based on two months of safety data; with any vaccine, nearly all potential safety problems crop up almost immediately after injection, which is why the FDA deemed two months sufficient for emergency authorization. We have now accumulated at least six months of safety data about these vaccines, making them eligible for full approval.

For people with irrational fears of infertility, magnetism and other specious side effects of the vaccines, the extra data probably won’t mean much. But for people who really want to know more about the true long-term consequences of the vaccines, their reported diminished effectiveness over time, and common real-life side effects such as fevers and headaches, the extra information that goes into the full approval process will be yet another way to help them overcome hesitancy and get vaccinated.

4. Approval will provide employers with greater authority to mandate vaccines.

Many employers across the country have mandated that their employees get vaccinated. A number of these mandates have been challenged in court, and so far they’ve been upheld as legal. But Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, recently noted that if the vaccines receive full FDA approval, “then the legal ability to mandate becomes a lot stronger.”

No doubt many employers are waiting for full approval before enacting vaccine requirements, and the sooner they get the legal basis to do so, the better.

The idea of a workplace-based vaccine mandate may seem like a new concept, but these mandates are already common for other FDA-approved vaccines. For example, children are required to be vaccinated against diseases like measles and mumps before enrolling in public school. Travelers are required to be vaccinated against diseases like yellow fever before visiting countries where those illnesses are common. And health care workers are required to get annual flu shots to protect themselves and their patients.

5. Approval will allow the prescribing of vaccines for “off-label” use.

When physicians talk about using drugs “off label,” they mean using them for purposes other than those for which they were initially approved. For example, Metformin, which is approved for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, reduces appetite — so it’s often used to help patients who are trying to lose weight.

Off-label prescribing is legal — but only when drugs have received full approval by the FDA. Once this happens with COVID-19 vaccines, doctors will be able to further study their use in treating a variety of other illnesses.

Off-label use includes delivering booster shots outside of the FDA’s fully approved parameters — and while booster shots weren’t initially included in the COVID-19 vaccines’ application for full approval, companies can request an approved product be amended to include boosters. The FDA’s approval could thus make a third shot more palatable to the population.

Despite everything we know about the COVID-19 vaccines’ effectiveness and their ability to prevent serious illness and hospitalizations, just 60% of Americans ages 12 and up are fully vaccinated against the virus, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The most recent model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation indicates grave consequences if Americans don’t continue to get vaccinated and follow mask guidance.

Given that the delta variant has led to an uptick in infections and deaths, it’s crucial that Americans use every tool at our disposal to convince every person to get vaccinated. If full FDA approval of vaccines is one of those tools, then the decision can’t come fast enough.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

American thwarted on trip to ‘very dangerous’ Kabul airport said his family may wait for commercial flight

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(KABUL, Afghanistan) — With thousands of Americans and Afghan allies still waiting to be evacuated, an American stuck in the chaos described the area around Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul as “very dangerous” after he and his family were forced to turn back before securing a flight home.

While U.S. troops have taken control of the airport, Taliban soldiers have set up checkpoints in the area outside, and have repeatedly fired shots into the air and clashed with Afghans trying to flee. At least 12 people have died in the area since Sunday, Taliban and NATO officials told Reuters this week.

President Joe Biden’s administration has been heavily criticized for its handling of the evacuation flights.

David Fox, 39, runs a marketing firm in Kabul and has been desperately trying to get his wife, who his Afghan, and his son, out of the country since the Taliban took control of the city.

Fox set out for Kabul airport on Wednesday with his family, and with the family of an Afghan-American acquaintance, on the advice of a friend in the State Department, he said.

“When we got there, there was a crowd of several hundred, potentially even over a thousand, individuals, I mean, Afghans who are desperate to get into the airport,” he told ABC News. “I was trying to make eye contact with the U.S. Marines who were at the gate. At one point, I was about 10 feet away, which I felt like, with the big number of people that were there, felt like a football stadium’s length.”

On the outer perimeter, where Taliban soldiers inspect documents, Fox said one of them hit him with a “fan belt” as other militants jabbed people with weapons and fired warning shots.

As Fox’s group neared the gate where U.S. troops were, it became apparent the situation was deteriorating, he said.

“The Marines are just firing their weapons, firing warning shots in the air, throwing flash bangs. And every time they would do a series of volleys of warning shots, the whole crowd would surge back,” he said. “If we stayed there longer, there was the chance that we would, you know, pass out from exhaustion.”

A U.S. official told ABC News on Friday that there are now 5,800 troops at the airport, but the American Embassy in Kabul still issued a security alert saying the U.S. government “cannot ensure safe passage to the airport” as the soldiers aren’t pushing out into the city.

Recent reports have highlighted growing fears of Taliban reprisals against Afghans who worked with the U.S., despite Taliban leaders declaring an amnesty for those individuals.

Taliban fighters executed nine ethnic Hazara men in the Afghan city of Ghazni last month, according to Amnesty International, as reports continue to trickle in of human rights abuses during their lightning-quick capture of all but one of the country’s 34 provinces. Amnesty International said the killings “likely represent a tiny fraction of the total death toll inflicted by the Taliban to date.”

While the situation in Kabul remains as uncertain as ever, the chaos at the airport may mean that Fox will have to bide his time before he and his family can flee.

“For me as a father, I have to weigh the risk of [getting to] the airport — to me the airport is very dangerous,” Fox said. “The issue of the mob at the airport is that there is a belief in Afghan society that if you can get into that airport by hook or by crook, then you will get on a free flight to America … so we are going to wait until evacuation flights stop and commercial flights resume.”

ABC News’ Conor Finnegan and Luis Martinez contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Afghanistan updates: Biden vows to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies, says there may be ‘loss’

HOSHANG HASHIMI/AFP via Getty Images

(KABUL, Afghanistan) — Chaos has enveloped Kabul after Afghanistan’s government’s collapsed and the Taliban seized control, all but ending America’s 20-year campaign as it began: under Taliban rule.

On Thursday, protests broke out in Kabul with Afghan men and women waving the nation’s flag in defiance of the Taliban on Afghanistan’s Independence Day.

The U.S. has evacuated approximately 9,000 people since Aug. 14, according to a White House official, with 3,000 people evacuated Thursday and double that number slated to be flown out Friday. Pentagon officials have said their focus remains on maintaining the airport perimeter and increasing the number of evacuees out of Kabul.

President Joe Biden returned to Washington from Camp David on Wednesday and sat down with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos for an exclusive one-on-one interview at the White House, the president’s first interview since the withdrawal from Afghanistan. He is expected to address the nation on evacuation efforts Friday.

The Pentagon has said that 6,000 U.S. troops have been deployed to the country’s capital as the military races to evacuate people. Despite criticism, the Biden administration is sticking by its decision to withdraw troops from the country, though Biden told Stephanopoulos troops might stay beyond the original Aug. 31 date if it takes longer to get all Americans out of the country.

Here are some key developments. All times Eastern:

Aug 20, 3:52 pm
Pentagon says evacuation flights ‘steadily increasing’

There’s been “steady progress” on evacuations in Kabul, John Kirby, the Pentagon’s press secretary, said at a Friday press conference.

Officials stressed that the airport is secure and that evacuation flights are “steadily increasing” after they stalled for several hours on Friday due to capacity limits at the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, which is processing and housing Afghan evacuees. Flights from Kabul were paused for about six or seven hours, said Army Gen. William “Hank” Taylor.

“Flight operations have resumed,” Taylor added. “We are looking at additional locations for these initial flights to land. We are grateful for our allies, including Germany, where flights land today, who are cooperating with us in this global effort.”

Taylor said fewer than 10,000 people were affected by the backlog of flights.

Taylor said that 16 C-17s and one C-130 left Kabul over the last 24 hours, carrying some 6,000 passengers and a “couple of hundred” American citizens out of the country.

About 5,800 U.S. troops remain on the ground in Kabul.

Aug 20, 2:02 pm
Biden addresses the nation, says ‘Any American who wants to come home, we will get you home.’

President Joe Biden, in an address to the nation Friday amid the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, touted “significant progress” in evacuation efforts, saying the airport in Kabul has been secured.

“Let me be clear, any American who wants to come home, we will get you home,” he said.

He said the U.S. is still working to get a “strong number” of how many American citizens are in Afghanistan and where they are.

Biden noted more than 18,000 people have been evacuated since July and approximately 13,000 since the military airlift effort began Aug. 14th.

Biden has faced fierce criticism for the withdrawal from Afghanistan and has defiantly defended his decision to withdraw all troops by Aug. 31.

“The idea that somehow, there’s a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don’t know how that happens,” Biden told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos in an exclusive interview on Wednesday.

During that sitdown, he also said he’s committed to getting every American out of Afghanistan even if it means potentially extending the mission beyond the deadline he set.

Meanwhile, the situation in Afghanistan remains dire, with crowds clamoring to get out from the airport in Kabul and reports of Afghans being targeted by the Taliban

Aug 20, 1:14 pm
Reports of Afghans targeted by Taliban

“Taliban fighters massacred nine ethnic Hazara men after taking control of Afghanistan’s Ghazni province last month,” according to a press release posted Thursday by Amnesty International.

“On-the-ground researchers spoke to eyewitnesses who gave harrowing accounts of the killings, which took place between July 4-6 in the village of Mundarakht, Malistan district. Six of the men were shot and three were tortured to death, including one man who was strangled with his own scarf and had his arm muscles sliced off,” the group wrote on its website.

Meanwhile, a private Norwegian intelligence firm also sent evidence of the Taliban rounding up Afghans on a blacklist of people who worked for the Afghan government or with U.S. and NATO forces, according to a U.S. official and a source familiar with the report.

The U.N. provided the report to the U.S. and other countries Thursday, according to the U.S. official.

But the source familiar with the report noted that the U.N. did not commission the report and cannot verify its authenticity.

Aug 20, 1:12 pm
No US airlift flights out of Kabul for hours due to Qatar capacity

For several hours Friday, there were no C-17 evacuation flights out of Kabul’s airport because the evacuee facilities at the Al Udeid Air Base near Doha, Qatar, are at capacity due to the number of Afghan evacuees being processed and housed there, according to a U.S. official.

A White House official has now confirmed that the commander on the ground at the Kabul airport has issued an order to recommence evacuation flights.

Flights will begin traveling with U.S. citizens and Afghan allies to Uzbekistan, according to a State Department official.

It will be one of many new countries that the U.S. will now send flights to.

Aug 20, 12:14 pm
‘Dissent cable’ warned of Afghanistan government collapse

U.S. diplomats at the embassy in Kabul warned Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the department’s leadership that the Afghan government was at risk of collapse as the Taliban offensive swept across the country, a source familiar with the cable confirmed to ABC News.

The dissent cable, as such classified memos are called, was sent July 13 and called for the Biden administration to begin an airlift operation immediately for Afghans who helped the U.S. and to use sharper language to condemn Taliban atrocities, according to the source. The cable was immediately brought to Blinken’s attention, according to the source, who said Blinken responded.

The source declined to detail what he said, beyond encouraging use of the dissent cable channel — but told ABC News that the “thoughts of the drafters reflected much of the thinking at the department,” which is why the State Department started relocating Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants and families in late July.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price issued a statement about the cable, declining to comment publicly, but saying Blinken reads every dissent, approves the replies and welcomes and encourages the channel’s use.

Aug 20, 11:45 am
White House tries to spin Kabul airport, embassy evacuation as successful planning

White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield defended the government’s response to the Afghanistan crisis and touted the airport evacuations as a success.

“We have taken control of the airport. Flights are leaving regularly. I would say that’s not something that happens without planning. That’s not something that just happens,” she said on MSNBC Friday morning.

“The president planned for multiple contingencies, that’s why he prepositioned troops in the Gulf who are able to move in immediately after Kabul fell, take control of the airport and begin to set up flights to get people out of the country,” she added.

Bedingfield also touted the fact that the U.S. Embassy was cleared without loss of life, despite the fact that crucial documents for Afghan allies, like passports, were destroyed, according to a Democratic lawmaker’s office. The destruction of passports could make it more difficult for Afghan allies to get evacuated, putting them in even more danger.

“48 hours after the fall of Kabul we evacuated all of our embassy personnel to the airport without a shot fired,” Bedingfield said. “That’s not something that just happens, that requires foresight and planning and that’s what President Biden and his team did.”

Aug 20, 11:29 am
DHS personnel deployed to Qatar to help processing Afghans

Agents from Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and officers from Transportation Security Agency have been deployed to Doha, Qatar “to conduct processing, screening, and vetting, with the goal of bringing to the United States Afghans who have worked for and on behalf of the United States and other eligible vulnerable Afghans in coordination with Department of Defense and Department of State,” a CBP spokesperson told ABC News on Friday.

Aug 20, 11:10 am
Pentagon requests to ‘reprogram’ $400M to pay for transport, housing of Afghan refugees

The Pentagon submitted a request to the House and Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday to “reprogram” $400 million to pay for the transport and housing of Afghan refugees.

A House Armed Services Committee aide confirmed the news, which was first reported in Punchbowl News.

“The Committee has received and is in the process of reviewing the reprogramming request from the Department,” HASC spokesperson Monica Matoush told ABC News in a statement.

This request comes on top of the $1.1 billion already approved by Congress in the security supplemental package for the “Special Immigrant Visa” program.

“Chairman Smith has been following the developments in Afghanistan very closely and continues to believe that our current focus must be the rapid evacuation of U.S. personnel, Afghan nationals that have supported the military, as well as their families, and other Afghan nationals that may be in danger due to their work on humanitarian or human rights issues. The Committee will keep this priority in mind as the reprogramming request is evaluated,” Matoush added.

Aug 20, 10:33 am
Biden to brief nation Friday as 6,000 slated to be evacuated from Afghanistan

As chaos continues to unfold in Afghanistan, President Joe Biden will address the nation at 1 p.m. on evacuation efforts amid mounting pressure to get Americans and Afghans who have supported the U.S. out of the embattled country.

After about 3,000 people were evacuated Thursday, the State Department said another 6,000 are slated to be evacuated on 20 flights Friday. Between 5,000 to 7,000 people will have to be evacuated daily to beat the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline, Biden told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos Wednesday.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will meet with their national security team to be briefed on the evolving situation on the ground in Afghanistan on Friday before Harris departs on a foreign trip to Asia in the evening, and the House and Senate will also receive unclassified briefings at 2 p.m. and 3:15 p.m., respectively.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby will also hold a briefing with Maj. Gen Hank Taylor at 2 p.m.

Aug 20, 9:08 am
Biden administration grapples with slow Afghanistan evacuations

Members of Congress will get more details on the state of affairs in Afghanistan in unclassified briefings Friday amid bipartisan calls for Americans and Afghan allies to be evacuated from Kabul faster after the Taliban takeover.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley will speak with members of the House of Representatives. Senators will also receive a briefing.

The briefing comes after another chaotic day at Kabul’s airport. The State Department said Thursday that 6,000 people were cleared to be flown out on 20 flights on Friday — the max capacity for each.

The number evacuated will have to be 5,000 to 7,000 per day to beat the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline, President Joe Biden  Wednesday.

In order for that to happen, though, those looking to flee the ravaged nation need to be able to access the airport and there is currently no clear plan to resolve that. State Department spokesman Ned Price had a sobering message for those hoping for a safe route.

“At this point, we don’t have the resources to go beyond the airport compound,” Price told reporters Thursday.

While talks continue with the Taliban about allowing safe passage to the airport, no resolution has yet been reached.

Aug 20, 1:25 am
US evacuated about 3,000 people from Kabul on Thursday

The U.S. evacuated approximately 3,000 people from the airport in Kabul on Thursday as thousands clamor to get out of the country in the wake of the Taliban taking over the government.

The White House confirmed the latest number of evacuees early Friday, among them nearly 350 U.S. citizens. The others on the 12 C-17 flights were family members of U.S. citizens, special immigration visa applicants and their families and vulnerable Afghans, a White House official said.

The official said 9,000 people have been evacuated since Aug. 14 and 14,000 since the end of July.

Not included in those totals were 11 charter flights facilitated by the U.S. military, the official said.

President Joe Biden is scheduled to discuss the evacuations from Afghanistan in an address Friday afternoon.

Aug 19, 8:13 pm
Consular surge will only be as high as 40 people total: Sources

The State Department announced earlier this week that it is “surging” staff to the international airport in Kabul to assist with the massive efforts to evacuate as many as 15,000 U.S. citizens and tens of thousands of Afghans who helped the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.

But the total number of consular officials who will help process people will only be as high as 40 people in total, according to two sources familiar with the plans — raising questions about whether that is enough staff to process the tens of thousands left to evacuate.

The State Department declined to confirm how many consular officials would be based at Kabul airport, but referred questions to spokesperson Ned Price’s comments earlier on Thursday.

“We’re always going to be evaluating what we could be doing differently, what we could be doing more effectively. If it turns out that we need additional consular capacity in Kabul, we won’t hesitate to do that, but right now we are confident that … with the additional reinforcements, we’ll have what we need,” he told reporters.

In comparison, there are more than 5,200 U.S. troops on the ground, securing the airport and evacuating Americans and Afghans on military cargo aircraft. The military is able to airlift between 5,000 and 9,000 people per day, Gen. Hank Taylor told reporters Thursday, but they have not had that many evacuees ready to go.

Crowds are unable to access the airport, blocked by massive congestion and Taliban fighters beating back crowds. U.S. forces have also deployed tear gas and fired into the air to disperse crowds. Over the last 24 hours, Taylor said, only 2,000 passengers were taken out.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

COVID-19 live updates: Texas Lt. Gov. claims unvaccinated Black people driving spike in cases

CasPhotography/iStock

(NEW YORK) — The United States is facing a COVID-19 surge this summer as the more contagious delta variant spreads.

More than 623,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 while over 4.3 million people have died from the disease worldwide, according to real-time data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

Just 59.5% of Americans ages 12 and up are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Here’s how the news is developing Friday. All times Eastern:

Aug 20, 3:54 pm
US sees highest daily case total in nearly 7 months

The U.S. reported the highest single-day COVID-19 case total in nearly seven months overnight, with just under 158,000 new cases, according to federal data.

The daily case average in the U.S. has surged to approximately 133,000 a day, up by nearly 14% in the last week and more than 1,040% in the last two months, an ABC News analysis of data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.

The South has the highest case rates in the country, led by Mississippi and followed by Louisiana, Florida, Arkansas, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.

The national case total now stands at nearly 37.3 million, which means one in approximately every eight Americans has tested positive for the virus.

The U.S. is also experiencing its steepest increases in COVID-19-related hospitalizations since the winter of 2020. More than 93,000 patients are now hospitalized across the country with COVID-19, according to federal data.

The country’s average daily COVID-19 deaths stands at 640, an increase of 233% in the last six weeks and the highest in four months.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

Aug 20, 3:05 pm
University of Virginia disenrolls over 200 students who did not meet school’s vaccination policy

The University of Virginia has cut 238 students from its rolls after they failed to comply with the university’s vaccination policy, school officials confirmed to ABC news.

“We first announced this vaccination requirement on May 20 and the deadline for compliance was July 1,” Brian Coy, a spokesman for the university, told ABC News in an email.

“Since then, students received multiple reminders about this policy and the need to either be vaccinated or request a medical or religious exemption. Students who remained out of compliance after the deadline received multiple communications in the form of emails, texts, phone calls, and in some cases phone calls to their parents. The University’s vaccination policy was also covered extensively on our digital platforms, our daily news product, the student newspaper, and local media all over Virginia.”

The university has given the students until Aug. 25 to comply or they won’t be allowed to come back school in the fall.

-ABC News’ Will McDuffie

Aug 20, 11:39 am
200 million people have received at least 1 COVID vaccine dose, White House says

Two hundred million Americans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, the White House announced Friday. That figure includes more than 1 million doses administered in 24 hours on Thursday, 534,000 of which were first doses.

“Today we hit a milestone: 200M people w/ at least one dose!” Cyrus Shahpar, the White House’s COVID-19 data director, wrote on Twitter. “On avg., over 33,000 people have gotten their first dose, every hour of every day since mid-Dec 2020. Keep it up!”

Aug 20, 11:26 am
Boston indoor mask mandate goes into effect next week

Boston will require face masks in all indoor public settings beginning Aug. 27 at 8 a.m., Mayor Kim Janey announced in a Friday statement.

“We know that masks work best when everyone wears one,” Janey said. “Requiring masks indoors is a proactive public health measure to limit transmission of the Delta variant, boost the public confidence in our businesses and venues, and protect the residents of our city who are too young for vaccination.”

Aug 20, 10:48 am
Unvaccinated Black people ‘biggest group’ driving COVID spike: Texas Lt Gov

Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told Fox News Channel host Laura Ingraham that “African-Americans who have not been vaccinated” are the “the biggest group in most states” driving the spike in COVID-19 cases, during a Thursday interview.

Patrick doubled down on his comment, adding that “over 90% of them vote for Democrats and their major cities and major counties.”

“It’s up to the Democrats to get — just as it’s up to Republicans to try to get as many people vaccinated,” he said. “In terms of criticizing the Republicans for this, we are encouraging people who want to take it to take it, but they are doing nothing for the African-American community that has significant high number of unvaccinated.”

NAACP President Derrick Johnson pushed back in a statement: “Lt. Governor Dan Patrick lives in an alternate reality, where facts don’t matter,” Johnson said.

“He’s delusional. Black Texans are not the driving force behind the surge of COVID cases in Texas. His statement is not only baseless, it’s racist. Falsely casting blame on the Black community is one of the oldest tricks in the book, and we expect better from an elected official.”

Aug 19, 5:57 pm
Mississippi’s only pediatric hospital sees record COVID-19 patients

Children’s of Mississippi, the state’s only pediatric hospital, reported a record number of patients Thursday.

There are 28 children, all unvaccinated, with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19, the highest since the start of the pandemic, the hospital said on Facebook. Among those, eight children are in the intensive care unit, including five not yet old enough to receive the vaccine, the hospital said.

“The best way to protect ALL of Mississippi’s kids from COVID-19 is for everyone age 12 and up to get vaccinated,” said the hospital, which is part of the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.

Nearly 43% of Mississippi residents ages 12 and up are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data, one of the lowest rates in the country.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Tropical Storm Henri could be 1st hurricane to make New England landfall since 1991

ABC News

(NEW YORK) — Tropical Storm Henri is expected to become a hurricane on Saturday as it accelerates quickly up the East Coast toward southern New England.

Henri is predicted to touch down near Long Island and southeastern New England on Sunday afternoon, with winds nearing 75 miles mph.

Since the coastal Northeast is very close to the sea level, these areas are prone to flooding amid storm surge, which could reach as high as 4 feet in Queens and Long Island, as well as coastal Connecticut. In Rhode Island and southeast Massachusetts, the storm surge could reach 5 feet.

From Newport, Rhode Island, to Montauk, New York, wind gusts are forecast to reach up to 80 mph, and they may reach 60 mph in other coastal areas.

Hurricane watches have been issued for eastern Long Island, parts of Connecticut, Rhode Island’s coastal regions and southeast Massachusetts. Meanwhile, tropical storm watches have been issued for areas just north of New York City, including Westchester and Nassau counties.

It’s the first time in nearly 10 years that parts of New York have been issued a hurricane watch, according to the National Weather Service, which also noted that if Henri lands in New England as a hurricane, it’ll be the first direct hurricane landfall since 1991.

Fred, a tropical depression that passed by earlier this week, caused major flooding in parts of Connecticut and Massachusetts, areas that could see another 6 to 8 inches of rain from Henri.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Afghanistan updates: Biden addresses the nation

HOSHANG HASHIMI/AFP via Getty Images

(KABUL, Afghanistan) — Chaos has enveloped Kabul after Afghanistan’s government’s collapsed and the Taliban seized control, all but ending America’s 20-year campaign as it began: under Taliban rule.

On Thursday, protests broke out in Kabul with Afghan men and women waving the nation’s flag in defiance of the Taliban on Afghanistan’s Independence Day.

The U.S. has evacuated approximately 9,000 people since Aug. 14, according to a White House official, with 3,000 people evacuated Thursday and double that number slated to be flown out Friday. Pentagon officials have said their focus remains on maintaining the airport perimeter and increasing the number of evacuees out of Kabul.

President Joe Biden returned to Washington from Camp David on Wednesday and sat down with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos for an exclusive one-on-one interview at the White House, the president’s first interview since the withdrawal from Afghanistan. He is expected to address the nation on evacuation efforts Friday.

The Pentagon has said that 6,000 U.S. troops have been deployed to the country’s capital as the military races to evacuate people. Despite criticism, the Biden administration is sticking by its decision to withdraw troops from the country, though Biden told Stephanopoulos troops might stay beyond the original Aug. 31 date if it takes longer to get all Americans out of the country.

Here are some key developments. All times Eastern:

Aug 20, 2:02 pm
Biden addresses the nation, says ‘Any American who wants to come home, we will get you home.’

President Joe Biden, in an address to the nation Friday amid the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, touted “significant progress” in evacuation efforts, saying the airport in Kabul has been secured.

“Let me be clear, any American who wants to come home, we will get you home,” he said.

He said the U.S. is still working to get a “strong number” of how many American citizens are in Afghanistan and where they are.

Biden noted more than 18,000 people have been evacuated since July and approximately 13,000 since the military airlift effort began Aug. 14th.

Biden has faced fierce criticism for the withdrawal from Afghanistan and has defiantly defended his decision to withdraw all troops by Aug. 31.

“The idea that somehow, there’s a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don’t know how that happens,” Biden told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos in an exclusive interview on Wednesday.

During that sitdown, he also said he’s committed to getting every American out of Afghanistan even if it means potentially extending the mission beyond the deadline he set.

Meanwhile, the situation in Afghanistan remains dire, with crowds clamoring to get out from the airport in Kabul and reports of Afghans being targeted by the Taliban

Aug 20, 1:14 pm
Reports of Afghans targeted by Taliban

“Taliban fighters massacred nine ethnic Hazara men after taking control of Afghanistan’s Ghazni province last month,” according to a press release posted Thursday by Amnesty International.

“On-the-ground researchers spoke to eyewitnesses who gave harrowing accounts of the killings, which took place between July 4-6 in the village of Mundarakht, Malistan district. Six of the men were shot and three were tortured to death, including one man who was strangled with his own scarf and had his arm muscles sliced off,” the group wrote on its website.

Meanwhile, a private Norwegian intelligence firm also sent evidence of the Taliban rounding up Afghans on a blacklist of people who worked for the Afghan government or with U.S. and NATO forces, according to a U.S. official and a source familiar with the report.

The U.N. provided the report to the U.S. and other countries Thursday, according to the U.S. official.

But the source familiar with the report noted that the U.N. did not commission the report and cannot verify its authenticity.

Aug 20, 1:12 pm
No US airlift flights out of Kabul for hours due to Qatar capacity

For several hours Friday, there were no C-17 evacuation flights out of Kabul’s airport because the evacuee facilities at the Al Udeid Air Base near Doha, Qatar, are at capacity due to the number of Afghan evacuees being processed and housed there, according to a U.S. official.

A White House official has now confirmed that the commander on the ground at the Kabul airport has issued an order to recommence evacuation flights.

Flights will begin traveling with U.S. citizens and Afghan allies to Uzbekistan, according to a State Department official.

It will be one of many new countries that the U.S. will now send flights to.

Aug 20, 12:14 pm
‘Dissent cable’ warned of Afghanistan government collapse

U.S. diplomats at the embassy in Kabul warned Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the department’s leadership that the Afghan government was at risk of collapse as the Taliban offensive swept across the country, a source familiar with the cable confirmed to ABC News.

The dissent cable, as such classified memos are called, was sent July 13 and called for the Biden administration to begin an airlift operation immediately for Afghans who helped the U.S. and to use sharper language to condemn Taliban atrocities, according to the source. The cable was immediately brought to Blinken’s attention, according to the source, who said Blinken responded.

The source declined to detail what he said, beyond encouraging use of the dissent cable channel — but told ABC News that the “thoughts of the drafters reflected much of the thinking at the department,” which is why the State Department started relocating Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants and families in late July.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price issued a statement about the cable, declining to comment publicly, but saying Blinken reads every dissent, approves the replies and welcomes and encourages the channel’s use.

Aug 20, 11:45 am
White House tries to spin Kabul airport, embassy evacuation as successful planning

White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield defended the government’s response to the Afghanistan crisis and touted the airport evacuations as a success.

“We have taken control of the airport. Flights are leaving regularly. I would say that’s not something that happens without planning. That’s not something that just happens,” she said on MSNBC Friday morning.

“The president planned for multiple contingencies, that’s why he prepositioned troops in the Gulf who are able to move in immediately after Kabul fell, take control of the airport and begin to set up flights to get people out of the country,” she added.

Bedingfield also touted the fact that the U.S. Embassy was cleared without loss of life, despite the fact that crucial documents for Afghan allies, like passports, were destroyed, according to a Democratic lawmaker’s office. The destruction of passports could make it more difficult for Afghan allies to get evacuated, putting them in even more danger.

“48 hours after the fall of Kabul we evacuated all of our embassy personnel to the airport without a shot fired,” Bedingfield said. “That’s not something that just happens, that requires foresight and planning and that’s what President Biden and his team did.”

Aug 20, 11:29 am
DHS personnel deployed to Qatar to help processing Afghans

Agents from Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and officers from Transportation Security Agency have been deployed to Doha, Qatar “to conduct processing, screening, and vetting, with the goal of bringing to the United States Afghans who have worked for and on behalf of the United States and other eligible vulnerable Afghans in coordination with Department of Defense and Department of State,” a CBP spokesperson told ABC News on Friday.

Aug 20, 11:10 am
Pentagon requests to ‘reprogram’ $400M to pay for transport, housing of Afghan refugees

The Pentagon submitted a request to the House and Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday to “reprogram” $400 million to pay for the transport and housing of Afghan refugees.

A House Armed Services Committee aide confirmed the news, which was first reported in Punchbowl News.

“The Committee has received and is in the process of reviewing the reprogramming request from the Department,” HASC spokesperson Monica Matoush told ABC News in a statement.

This request comes on top of the $1.1 billion already approved by Congress in the security supplemental package for the “Special Immigrant Visa” program.

“Chairman Smith has been following the developments in Afghanistan very closely and continues to believe that our current focus must be the rapid evacuation of U.S. personnel, Afghan nationals that have supported the military, as well as their families, and other Afghan nationals that may be in danger due to their work on humanitarian or human rights issues. The Committee will keep this priority in mind as the reprogramming request is evaluated,” Matoush added.

Aug 20, 10:33 am
Biden to brief nation Friday as 6,000 slated to be evacuated from Afghanistan

As chaos continues to unfold in Afghanistan, President Joe Biden will address the nation at 1 p.m. on evacuation efforts amid mounting pressure to get Americans and Afghans who have supported the U.S. out of the embattled country.

After about 3,000 people were evacuated Thursday, the State Department said another 6,000 are slated to be evacuated on 20 flights Friday. Between 5,000 to 7,000 people will have to be evacuated daily to beat the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline, Biden told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos Wednesday.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will meet with their national security team to be briefed on the evolving situation on the ground in Afghanistan on Friday before Harris departs on a foreign trip to Asia in the evening, and the House and Senate will also receive unclassified briefings at 2 p.m. and 3:15 p.m., respectively.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby will also hold a briefing with Maj. Gen Hank Taylor at 2 p.m.

Aug 20, 9:08 am
Biden administration grapples with slow Afghanistan evacuations

Members of Congress will get more details on the state of affairs in Afghanistan in unclassified briefings Friday amid bipartisan calls for Americans and Afghan allies to be evacuated from Kabul faster after the Taliban takeover.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley will speak with members of the House of Representatives. Senators will also receive a briefing.

The briefing comes after another chaotic day at Kabul’s airport. The State Department said Thursday that 6,000 people were cleared to be flown out on 20 flights on Friday — the max capacity for each.

The number evacuated will have to be 5,000 to 7,000 per day to beat the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline, President Joe Biden  Wednesday.

In order for that to happen, though, those looking to flee the ravaged nation need to be able to access the airport and there is currently no clear plan to resolve that. State Department spokesman Ned Price had a sobering message for those hoping for a safe route.

“At this point, we don’t have the resources to go beyond the airport compound,” Price told reporters Thursday.

While talks continue with the Taliban about allowing safe passage to the airport, no resolution has yet been reached.

Aug 20, 1:25 am
US evacuated about 3,000 people from Kabul on Thursday

The U.S. evacuated approximately 3,000 people from the airport in Kabul on Thursday as thousands clamor to get out of the country in the wake of the Taliban taking over the government.

The White House confirmed the latest number of evacuees early Friday, among them nearly 350 U.S. citizens. The others on the 12 C-17 flights were family members of U.S. citizens, special immigration visa applicants and their families and vulnerable Afghans, a White House official said.

The official said 9,000 people have been evacuated since Aug. 14 and 14,000 since the end of July.

Not included in those totals were 11 charter flights facilitated by the U.S. military, the official said.

President Joe Biden is scheduled to discuss the evacuations from Afghanistan in an address Friday afternoon.

Aug 19, 8:13 pm
Consular surge will only be as high as 40 people total: Sources

The State Department announced earlier this week that it is “surging” staff to the international airport in Kabul to assist with the massive efforts to evacuate as many as 15,000 U.S. citizens and tens of thousands of Afghans who helped the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.

But the total number of consular officials who will help process people will only be as high as 40 people in total, according to two sources familiar with the plans — raising questions about whether that is enough staff to process the tens of thousands left to evacuate.

The State Department declined to confirm how many consular officials would be based at Kabul airport, but referred questions to spokesperson Ned Price’s comments earlier on Thursday.

“We’re always going to be evaluating what we could be doing differently, what we could be doing more effectively. If it turns out that we need additional consular capacity in Kabul, we won’t hesitate to do that, but right now we are confident that … with the additional reinforcements, we’ll have what we need,” he told reporters.

In comparison, there are more than 5,200 U.S. troops on the ground, securing the airport and evacuating Americans and Afghans on military cargo aircraft. The military is able to airlift between 5,000 and 9,000 people per day, Gen. Hank Taylor told reporters Thursday, but they have not had that many evacuees ready to go.

Crowds are unable to access the airport, blocked by massive congestion and Taliban fighters beating back crowds. U.S. forces have also deployed tear gas and fired into the air to disperse crowds. Over the last 24 hours, Taylor said, only 2,000 passengers were taken out.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.