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Coronavirus Thursday update: Outbreaks in schools, long-term care continue to climb

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Coronavirus Thursday update: Outbreaks in schools, long-term care continue to climb

Just two weeks into the school year, the number of Minnesota public schools with COVID-19 outbreaks is quickly on the rise and cases in long-term care also continue to grow.

There are 26 schools with confirmed outbreaks of five or more cases who were infectious while in the school building. That’s up from just six buildings with outbreaks a week ago.

School infections are almost certain to continue to grow. State health officials said Wednesday they were receiving 150 reports a day last week of cases tied to public schools.

This week, those reports grew to 500 to 600 a day. Health officials and local school leaders need to determine if those cases were in school while infectious before they are added to the state’s tally.

Schools across the state have a wide variety of coronavirus mitigation rules in place. There are currently state and local recommendations, but no mandates on how to deal with the pandemic in schools.

Infections in nursing homes and assisted living facilities with cases are also on the rise. There are 267 facilities with at least one case in a resident or staffer, up from 221 a week ago.

Long-term care facilities with infections had dropped to 21 in early July before the more contagious delta variant became the more dominate strain in the state.

LATEST NUMBERS

Minnesota reported 14 more COVID-19 deaths and 2,484 new infections Thursday. The latest fatalities range in age from their 20s to their 90s.

All of the fatalities happened in September with a dozen residing in private homes and two in long-term care. The death toll is 7,970 with 4,599 fatalities in nursing homes or assisted living.

There are 719 patients hospitalized with 208 in critical condition. An estimated 14,000 people with active cases are recovering at home.

Minnesota has diagnosed 678,978 coronavirus infections since March 2020 and 656,149 of those cases have recovered enough they no longer need to be isolated.

STATE’S VACCINE DETAILS

Health officials maintain that vaccines are the best way to avoid a severe case of COVID-19. Of the more than 3 million Minnesotans who are fully vaccinated, more than 99 percent have not reported a breakthrough infection.

However, breakthrough cases are on the rise and health officials recommend everyone where masks, social distance and stay home when sick in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Minnesota has administered more than 6.3 million doses of vaccine and 3.3 residents have gotten at least one dose. More than 71 percent of the eligible population, aged 12 and older, has gotten at least one shot.

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Woman rescued Saturday after roughly 30-foot fall from Bear Canyon Trail in Boulder

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Woman rescued Saturday after roughly 30-foot fall from Bear Canyon Trail in Boulder

A 74-year-old hiker was rescued Saturday afternoon after falling down a roughly 30-foot embankment on the Bear Canyon Trail, just west of Mesa Trail in Boulder.

According to a Boulder County Sheriff’s Office news release, authorities were notified of the hiker’s fall at 12:23 p.m.

A ranger from City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks was first to arrive and found the hiker on the hillside hanging on to a tree, the release said. The Rocky Mountain Rescue Group arrived and secured the hiker with a rope to keep her from sliding farther down the embankment, according to the release.

The woman was secured into a litter and carried back up the slope to the Bear Canyon Trail, where she was then carried a short distance to an American Medical Response ambulance and taken to a Boulder-area hospital. The rescue took approximately two hours.

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Alec Baldwin and his wife Hilaria need to stay off social media, except to honor Halyna Hutchins, crisis experts say

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Alec Baldwin and his wife Hilaria need to stay off social media, except to honor Halyna Hutchins, crisis experts say

UPDATE: Alec Baldwin briefly returned to social media late Friday night to  retweet an article with a headline about how he was “Told Prop Gun Safe Before Fatal Shooting.”

The article from Variety cites an affidavit filed by investigators, which said that the gun handed to Baldwin on the New Mexico set of the film “Rust,” and used in the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, was declared safe by the production’s assistant director.

Original story follows:

Alec Baldwin and his influencer wife, Hilaria Baldwin, have bolstered their careers by being extremely active on Instagram, with the highly opinionated actor regularly sharing his reflections on culture and politics and the couple constantly disseminating images of their happy life with their six young children.

But crisis management and public relations experts say that Baldwin and others close to him, especially Hilaria, face intense scrutiny in the coming weeks, due to Baldwin’s role in the shooting death Thursday of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the New Mexico set of the actor’s latest movie, “Rust.”

For that reason, the “30 Rock” star and his wife need to keep a low profile and to take care with any public statements or in how they are seen in public, said Evan Nierman, founder of the crisis management and P.R. firm Red Banyan.

“Every gesture, every part of his appearance, every public statement will be scrutinized,” said Nierman. “He needs to be very cautious and controlled. … He even needs to make sure he’s not photographed out having dinner with friends, or laughing at a joke, or even seen smiling. It would be easy for someone to take a photo or video of him and spin it and attack him. If you’re a mega-celebrity, one of the ways you take away opportunities for people to do that is to stay out of the public eye.”

Staying out of the public eye also means that Baldwin needs to suspend sharing his views on social media about other topics, or promoting upcoming projects or even posting cute family photos, as if life in the Baldwin household goes on, Nierman said. It’s also important that Alec and others close to him not say too much about any hardships he or his family are suffering in the wake of Hutchins’ death and Souza’s injury.

“If he starts talking about other issues, he runs the risk of being criticized for not paying enough attention to what’s happened or not being empathetic to Hutchins’ family or not understanding the gravity of what’s happened,”  Nierman continued.

This restraint also applies to Hilaria Baldwin, 37, who reportedly left the couple’s Manhattan apartment Friday morning, the New York Post reported. Baldwin was photographed Saturday at a Santa Fe hotel with Hutchins’ husband, Matthew Hutchins, and their 9-year-old son.

Hilaria Baldwin is known for regularly posting selfies, which show her executing yoga poses or trying to look alluring while breastfeeding one of their two babies. The Boston-born-and-reared Hilaria also continues to lament the way she’s been criticized on social media. Earlier this year, she was caught falsely presenting herself as “half-Spanish” for 10 years, likely to build a brand as a glamorous European immigrant.

About three hours before the shooting, Hilaria Baldwin shared an Instagram Story image of Baldwin on FaceTiming from New Mexico. The actor had had visible bags under his eyes and appeared drawn during the conversation.

“She reflects on his brand,” Nierman said. “It’s incumbent on her to adhere to those same practices. It would be advisable for her or him to do something on social media that expresses their grief for Hutchins, something very heartfelt that reflects the statement he put out on Twitter (Friday). Then let that be all the say for a time.”

In his two-tweet statement, Baldwin called the death of Hutchins on the set of the Western film “a tragic accident.” The actor, who has been a fixture in film, TV and theater since the 1980s, said there “are no words to convey my shock and sadness.”

Nierman praised Baldwin’s statement for being “short and sweet” and for also stating the fact that he’s fully cooperating with the police investigation. Nierman said that’s about all Baldwin or anyone close to him needs to say at this point.

Hutchins, 42, died Thursday after Santa Fe County Sheriff’s authorities say Baldwin fired a “prop gun” that also wounded the film’s director, Fremont native Joel Souza, 48. Souza was treated and released from a Santa Fe, New Mexico hospital.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Baldwin, also a producer on the film, was rehearsing a scene at the Bonanza Creek Ranch that involved a gun fight. The Times also reported that members of the camera crew had walked off the set to protest working conditions, which they said included complaints of long hours, long commutes and problems collecting their paychecks. Morever, crew members expressed concern about two accidental prop gun discharges that occurred days earlier.

In the coming days, weeks or months, Baldwin’s reputation and career depends heavily on what the investigation shows about what led to Hutchins’ death, said Eric Schiffer, chairman of the Los Angeles-based firm, Reputation Management Consultants.

“If this was a terrible accident, and Baldwin were my client, I would be advising him to keep a lower profile in the short term,” Schiffer said. “I would tell him to do what he can behind the scenes for the families and the crew who are shaken by this.”

Schiffer emphasized that “behind the scenes” means that neither Baldwin nor his wife should broadcast efforts he is making on behalf of Hutchins’ widower and family. It’s possible that these details could leak to the media, but Baldwin’s public efforts should come off “as authentic,” as if they “come from the heart,” Schiffer said.

On Friday, Hutchins’ widower, Matthew, declined to say much, but issued a statement to confirm that Baldwin had been in touch and was being “supportive,” the Daily Mail reported.

Schiffer said Baldwin also should do what he can to make sure that he’s as transparent as possible about his role in the shooting. Baldwin’s career is in a precarious, “debilitating” position, Schiffer said.

Having spent time on film sets, Schiffer is among many industry insiders who have expressed shock over how such an accident could happen in 2021, given all the strict safety protocols that are supposed to be in place when firearms are used on film and TV sets.

Schiffer, moreover, agreed that Baldwin is a polarizing figure in U.S. culture, known for his outspoken liberal politics, personal controversies, famous temper and fights with reporters. That means there’s a segment of the U.S. population that would be ready to pounce on any sign that Baldwin acted “outside the bounds” of proper procedures. As a producer of the film, he  may face added legal liability.

“If this was not an accident, or showed terrible judgement on his part, this will haunt him forever,” Schiffer said. “It will come down to whether producers and studios want to work with him again. I don’t think it will kill his career. But a pariah-set of clouds will follow him for some time. The incident will be tattooed to his forehead because it’s hard to unring the death of this person.”

But if authorities find that the shooting was an accident, Baldwin may become a hugely sympathetic figure, whose career could easily survive.

Nonetheless, Huchins’ death  is “a huge personal tragedy” for Baldwin, and it remains to be seen whether he will able to process the trauma enough that he can resume his career, Nierman added.

“If he doesn’t have a personal crisis or meltdown of his own, he will move past this,” Nierman said. “It ended a life but it won’t end his career.”

This story has been updated. 

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Race-blind redistricting? Democrats incredulous at GOP maps

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Race-blind redistricting? Democrats incredulous at GOP maps

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A decade ago, North Carolina Republicans redrew their legislative districts to help their party in a way that a federal court ruled illegally deprived Black voters of their right to political representation. A state court later struck down Republican-drawn maps as based on pure partisanship.

So, as the GOP-controlled legislature embarks this year on its latest round of redistricting, it has pledged not to use race or partisan data to draw the political lines. Still, the maps Republicans are proposing would tilt heavily toward their party. Several publicly released congressional maps dilute Democratic votes by splitting the state’s biggest city, Charlotte — also its largest African American population center — into three or four U.S. House districts and giving the GOP at least a 10-4 advantage in a state that Donald Trump narrowly won last year.

As the once-a-decade redistricting process kicks into high gear, North Carolina is one of at least three states where Republicans say they are drawing maps without looking at racial and party data. But those maps still happen to strongly favor the GOP.

Democrats and civil rights groups are incredulous, noting that veteran lawmakers don’t need a spreadsheet to know where voters of various races and different parties live in their state. Plus, under certain scenarios, the Voting Rights Act requires the drawing of districts where the majority of voters are racial or ethnic minorities.

“This is the first redistricting round I’ve ever heard of this,” said Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which is suing Texas Republicans over maps that the GOP said it drew without looking at racial data. “I suspect they’re trying to set up a defense for litigation. Because they know the race data — they know where the Black community lives. They know where the Latino community lives.”

Jason Torchinsky, general counsel to the National Republican Redistricting Trust, said ignoring racial data is proper in certain circumstances, as in the cases of North Carolina and Texas.

“It depends on where you are,” Torchinsky said.

The drawing of legislative lines is often a raw partisan fight because whichever party controls the process can craft districts to maximize its voters’ clout — and scatter opposing voters so widely they cannot win majorities.

In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal courts cannot overturn unfair maps on the basis of partisanship. But state courts still can void maps for being too partisan and race remains a legal tripwire in redistricting.

If mapmakers explicitly try to weaken voters’ power based on race, they may violate the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. But the Voting Rights Act requires them to consider race if the state has “racially polarized” voting, in which white people consistently vote against candidates backed by a minority racial or ethnic group. The mapmakers must then create a district in which that minority comprises a plurality or majority of voters so they can elect their preferred candidates.

Republicans complain they cannot win.

“It’s truly a conundrum and has been for the last decade for the GOP, because when we look at race, we were told we shouldn’t have, and those maps were struck down,” said North Carolina state Sen. Paul Newton, who co-chairs that state’s redistricting committee. “Now that we’re not looking at race, the Democrat Party is telling us, ‘Oh, you should be looking at race.’”

North Carolina’s redistricting legal fight is part of why the new race-blind approach caught on.

The Republican-controlled legislature has complete control of redistricting; its maps cannot be vetoed by its Democratic governor. A federal court in 2016 found North Carolina Republicans improperly crammed Black voters into two congressional districts to dilute African American votes elsewhere. It ordered the map redrawn. That updated map was the basis of the 2019 Supreme Court case.

But, barely two months later, a North Carolina state court found the GOP advantage in some of the redrawn state legislative maps still violated the state constitution. Based on this and other rulings, Republicans redrew the maps once again in late 2019, this time saying they weren’t looking at racial or partisan data, and they passed legal muster.

Then, in August, the legislature formally adopted a rule that it wouldn’t consider race or partisanship in its latest line-drawing that would begin after the U.S. Census Bureau released data on population changes over the past decade. Lawmakers noted that, during the epic litigation of the prior decade, a federal court had found the state didn’t have racially polarized voting and didn’t require special attention to racial data.

Democrats and civil rights groups strenuously objected. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice wrote Republicans a letter warning they would be disenfranchising Black and Latino voters. “They’re not listening,” said Allison Riggs, head of the group’s voting rights program.

Other GOP-controlled states have followed North Carolina’s example. For the past five decades, Texas has been found to have violated federal law or the U.S. Constitution in redistricting, including by shortchanging Black and Latino voters. This time, Republicans who control the state Legislature said they wouldn’t consider racial data and their lawyers said that was OK.

“I’ve stated it, and I’ll state it again — we drew these maps race blind,” Texas state Sen. Joan Huffman, a Republican who drew that state’s maps, said in one Senate hearing.

Although almost all of Texas’ population growth has come from Latinos, African Americans and Asian Americans, the maps do not create any new majority Black or Latino districts. That latter omission is at the heart of suits by Latino civil rights groups last week as Texas approved its maps.

“The only time that communities of color can get justice is going to the courthouse,” said Democratic state Rep. Rafael Anchia, chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.

Ohio Republicans are also enmeshed in litigation over their state legislative plan, which they said was drawn with no racial or partisan data. “It’s illegal to use race in drawing districts. That’s a violation of federal law,” Republican state Senate President Matt Huffman told reporters last month.

Ohio Republicans said that even though they didn’t use partisan data, they were targeted in a suit by several community and anti-gerrymandering groups for drawing a partisan map anyway.

“The way the map performs is to really skew partisan outcomes in Ohio,” said Freda Levenson, legal director of the ACLU of Ohio, one of the plaintiffs. “It’s very likely they did use partisan data.”

___

Riccardi reported from Denver. Associated Press writers Acacia Coronado in Austin, Texas, and Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.

___

Anderson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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