News Headlines 2/22/21

U.S. ON BRINK OF 500,000 CORONAVIRUS DEATHS: The U.S. is on the brink of reaching 500,000 coronavirus deaths since the pandemic began, with data from Johns Hopkins University putting the grim tally at just under 498,900 as of early this morning (February 22nd). Reflecting on the half-million number, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, said on CNN yesterday, “It’s nothing like we have ever been through in the last 102 years, since the 1918 influenza pandemic.” It’s taken just over a year to reach 500,000 deaths, with the first U.S. deaths recorded in early February last year. It took four months to reach the first 100,000 dead, another three months to reach 200,000, another three months to reach 300,000, and then around a month to reach 400,000 and just over a month to go from 400,000 on January 19th to 500,000. The global death toll is nearing 2.5 million, according to Johns Hopkins’ data, but the real death toll is believed to be significantly higher.

ONE-THIRD OF TEXANS STILL HAVING WATER SUPPLY PROBLEMS, POWER MOSTLY RESTORED: In the wake of last week’s disastrous situation in Texas in which millions of people were left without electricity and heat in record low temperatures after a winter storm, and then millions came under boil water orders, about one-third of Texans were still having drinkable water supply problems by yesterday evening (February 21st), while most had their power back. Governor Greg Abbott said at a news conference Sunday afternoon that he expected power would be fully restored by later last night or today, and that more than three million bottles of water had been distributed as water services continued to be restored. As the weather warmed up into more normal Texas temperatures, people are dealing with broken pipes and flooding, and Abbott said yesterday that those without insurance could qualify for a FEMA reimbursement if their pipes had burst. Some Texans are also facing huge, unprecedented energy bills because of last week’s storm and freezing temperatures, soaring into the thousands of dollars, if they get electricity from a company that charges a market rate. Abbott said he’d held an emergency meeting with legislative leaders to, quote, “shield Texas families from unreasonable bills,” and that a moratorium had been issued on disconnecting customers for non-payment while they address the energy bills issue.

LEADER IN ALLEGED OATH KEEPERS CONSPIRACY IN CAPITOL ATTACK CLAIMS GIVEN VIP PASS TO RALLY, MET WITH SECRET SERVICE: Former Army Ranger Jessica Watkins, a leader in an alleged Oath Keepers conspiracy in the U.S. Capitol attack, is claiming she was given a VIP pass to the earlier rally then-President Donald Trump and others spoke at, met with Secret Service agents, and was providing security for rally speakers and for lawmakers and others, including for the walk over to the Capitol, according to a new court filing in her case. Attorneys for Watkins made the claims in the filing arguing for her release from jail on bond as she awaits trial. In response to Watkins’ claim, the Secret Service denied in a statement to CNN that private citizens were working with them to provide security on January 6th. The Justice Department indicted Watkins and eight other alleged members of the Oath Keepers militia group on several charges related to the attack. She has been jailed since being arrested last month.

ONE KILLED, FOUR WOUNDED IN AMERICAN LEGION CLUB SHOOTING: One person was killed and four others wounded, two of them critically, in a shooting at an American Legion club in Missouri early Sunday (February 21st). No arrests were immediately reported in the attack in the town of Kennett before 12:30 a.m. yesterday. Mayor Chancellor Wayne told the Delta Dunklin Democrat newspaper that a private party was being held Saturday night at the American Legion building, which is available to rent.

FAA ORDERS UNITED TO INCREASE BOEING 777 INSPECTIONS, GROUNDINGS RECOMMENDED AFTER PLANE’S ENGINE FAILS SATURDAY: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Sunday (February 21st) ordered United Airlines to increase inspections of all its Boeing 777 planes that have the type of Pratt & Whitney engine that failed and burst into flames during a flight a day earlier. United said it’s temporarily removing those planes from service, and Boeing is recommending grounding all aircraft with that model engine until the FAA sets an inspection protocol. United is the only U.S. airline with that model of engine on planes it operates. The moves came after United Flight 328 had to make an emergency landing at Denver International Airport on Saturday after one of its engines blew apart just after takeoff. None of the 241 passengers or crew were hurt, and noone on the ground was hurt either from pieces of the engine casing that fell to the ground.