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News Wrap: U.S. coronavirus deaths near 390,000

In our news wrap Thursday, coronavirus deaths in U.S. near 390,000, former Michigan officials charged in Flint water crisis, watchdog finds Justice Department knew President Trump’s border policy would separate children from parents, President-elect Biden taps deputy defense secretary David Norquist to temporarily lead the Pentagon, and 2020 essentially ties 2016 for hottest year on record.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    In the day's other news: Coronavirus deaths in the U.S. are nearing 390,000 tonight. That includes another 3,900 deaths reported just on Wednesday.

    Meanwhile, investigators from the World Health Organization arrived in Wuhan, China, today, where the outbreak began. The lead scientist cautioned this week that their work will take time.

  • Dr. Peter Ben Embarek:

    I don't think we will have clear answers after this initial mission, but we will be on the way. And, hopefully, in the coming months that will be completed by additional missions, additional studies.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Beijing has still not said if the WHO investigators will be allowed to gather evidence.

    Two former state health officials in Michigan were charged with involuntary manslaughter today in the Flint water crisis. It involves nine people who died of Legionnaires' disease from contaminated water. Former Governor Rick Snyder is facing misdemeanor counts of willful neglect.

    We will get details after the news summary.

    The U.S. Justice Department's inspector general says agency leaders knew their zero tolerance border policy would separate children from parents. Today's report says that officials implemented the policy anyway in 2018 without preparing for the consequences. It eventually led to more than 3,000 family separations.

    New York state sued New York City's police today, charging excessive use of force on racial justice protesters last spring. State Attorney General Letitia James said it's a longstanding problem.

  • Attorney General Letitia James:

    The NYPD has continuously engaged in similar unlawful excessive force and false arrest practices while policing large-scale protests. And even though the NYPD knew this, they still failed to put policies and procedures in place and to discipline officers to correct these egregious actions.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mayor Bill de Blasio said he agrees on the need for reforms, but said that a lawsuit is not the answer.

    In Uganda, a presidential election went ahead today after widespread violence aimed at the opposition. Military forces patrolled polling stations in Kampala, but voters waited in long lines and with little social distancing, despite the pandemic.

    President Yoweri Museveni has held power since 1986, and he is running for reelection.

    Back in this country, president-elect Biden tapped David Norquist to be acting defense secretary on a temporary basis. He is now the deputy secretary. The Associated Press reports the David Norquist will serve until retired Army General Lloyd Austin is confirmed as defense secretary by the U.S. Senate. Austin first needs a congressional waiver, because he's been retired less than seven years.

    The Trump administration is rolling back more environmental protections in its final days. This time, it involves the northern spotted owl. The Fish and Wildlife Service said today that millions of acres of Pacific Northwest forests will be opened to timber harvesting. That's more than a third of the owl's habitat.

    The Labor Department reports growing economic damage from the surge in COVID infections. Some 965,000 people filed unemployment claims just last week. That's the most since August.

    But in an online forum today, the chair of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, said that industrial output may recover soon.

  • Jerome Powell:

    The key thing there is, maybe we will be able to avoid a lot of — a lot of the damage to people's lives, what we call labor market scarring, but what it really amounts to people losing the life they have made in the workforce.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Powell also said again that the Fed does not expect to raise interest rates any time soon.

    And on Wall Street, stocks drifted lower, as investors waited for president-elect Biden's economic plan. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 69 points, to close at 30991. The Nasdaq fell 16 points, and the S&P 500 slipped 14.

    And it looks as though 2020 has essentially tied 2016 for the hottest year on record. NASA reports worldwide temperatures kept rising in 2020. That came despite the fact that greenhouse gas emissions dropped due to the pandemic.

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