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Biden to give away 400 million N95 masks starting next week

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Biden to give away 400 million N95 masks starting next week

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration will begin making 400 million N95 masks available for free to Americans starting next week, now that federal officials are emphasizing their better protection against the omicron variant of COVID-19 over cloth face coverings.

The White House announced Wednesday that the masks will come from the government’s Strategic National Stockpile, which has more than 750 million of the highly protective masks on hand. The masks will be available for pickup at pharmacies and community health centers across the country. They will begin shipping this week for distribution starting late next week, the White House said.

This will be the largest distribution of free masks by the federal government to the public since the COVID-19 pandemic began. In early 2020, then-President Donald Trump’s administration considered and then shelved plans to send masks to all American at their homes. President Joe Biden embraced the initiative after facing mounting criticism this month over the inaccessibility — both in supply and cost — of N95 masks as the highly transmissible omicron variant swept across the country.

After facing similar criticism over a winter shortage of COVID-19 at-home test kits, Biden this week launched a website for Americans to order four rapid tests to be shipped to their homes for free, with the first tests to ship later this month.

The White House said the masks will be made available at pharmacies and community health centers that have partnered with the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday updated its guidance on face coverings to more clearly state that properly fitted N95 and KN95 masks offer the most protection against COVID-19. Still, it didn’t formally recommend N95s over cloth masks.

The best mask “is the one that you will wear and the one you can keep on all day long, that you can tolerate in public indoor settings,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said last week.

Details were not immediately available on the specifics of the program, including the sort of masks to be provided, whether kid-size ones will be available and whether the masks could be reworn.

The White House said that “to ensure broad access for all Americans, there will be three masks available per person.”

N95 or KN95 masks are more widely available now than at any other time during the pandemic, though they are often more costly than less-protective surgical masks or cloth masks.

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Grieving husband dies after wife is slain in Texas rampage

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Grieving husband dies after wife is slain in Texas rampage

By STEFANIE DAZIO

Irma Garcia’s family was already reeling from her death in the Texas school shooting that targeted her fourth grade classroom and killed her co-teacher and 19 students.

Then, a mere two days after the attack, her grieving husband collapsed and died at home from a heart attack, a family member said.

Joe Garcia, 50, dropped off flowers at his wife’s memorial Thursday morning in Uvalde, Texas, and returned home, where he “pretty much just fell over” and died, his nephew John Martinez told The New York Times.

Married for 24 years, the couple had four children.

Martinez told The Detroit Free Press that the family was struggling to grasp that while the couple’s oldest son trained for combat in the Marine Corps, it was his mother who was shot to death.

“Stuff like this should not be happening in schools,” he told the newspaper.

The Archdiocese of San Antonio and the Rushing-Estes-Knowles Mortuary confirmed Joe Garcia’s death to The Associated Press. AP was unable to independently reach members of the Garcia family on Thursday.

The motive for the massacre — the nation’s deadliest school shooting since the 2012 attack in Newtown, Connecticut — remained under investigation, with authorities saying the 18-year-old gunman had no known criminal or mental health history.

The rampage rocked a country already weary from gun violence and shattered the community of Uvalde, a largely Latino town of some 16,000 people about 75 miles (120 kilometers) from the Mexican border.

The Garcias loved to barbecue, 48-year-old Irma wrote in an online letter to her students at Robb Elementary School. Irma enjoyed listening to music and traveling to Concan, a community along the Frio River about 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Uvalde.

The couple’s oldest child, Cristian, is a Marine. The couple’s other son, Jose, attends Texas State University. Their eldest daughter, Lyliana, is a high school sophomore, while her younger sister is in the seventh grade.

The school year, scheduled to end Thursday, was Irma’s 23rd year of teaching — all of it at Robb. She was previously named the school’s teacher of the year and was a 2019 recipient of the Trinity Prize for Excellence in Education from Trinity University.

“Mrs. Irma Garcia was my mentor when I began teaching,” her colleague Allison McCullough wrote when Irma was named teacher of the year. “The wealth of knowledge and patience that she showed me was life changing.”

For five years, Irma co-taught with Eva Mireles, who also was killed.

The suspect, Salvador Ramos, was inside the classroom for more than an hour before he was killed in a shootout with law enforcement, authorities said.

“Welcome to the 4th grade! We have a wonderful year ahead of us!” Mireles wrote last year in an online letter to incoming students.

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Associated Press journalist Jamie Stengle in Dallas contributed to this report.

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More on the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas:

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Twins blow late lead to Kansas City, squander terrific start by Devin Smeltzer

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Twins blow late lead to Kansas City, squander terrific start by Devin Smeltzer

Minnesota sports fans, do you want the good news or the bad news first?

OK, the bad news is the Twins blew an eighth-inning lead on Thursday and lost, 3-2, to last-placed Kansas City to begin a four-game home stand against their American League Central rival. They have lost two in a row for the first time since getting swept by Houston May 10-12, and their 4½-game division lead on the Central was in danger of shrinking pending the White Sox’s game against Boston.

The good news was that spot starter Devin Smeltzer was terrific. Called up from St. Paul for his second stint with the big league team this season, Smetlzer did everything he could to convince the Twins to keep him around for a while.

A left-hander acquired in the trade that sent Brian Dozier to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2018 but in camp this spring as a non-roster invitee, baffled the Kansas City Royals for seven shutout innings in front of an announced crowd of 17,657 at Target Field.

Smeltzer left with a 2-0 lead after seven innings but the Royals quickly turned the tables, touching right-hander Tyler Duffey (2-3) for three runs on three hits and a walk in the top of the eighth.

Throwing a five-pitch mix — fastball, curve, changeup, sinker and slider — Smeltzer tied a career-high with six strikeouts and allowed only two hits while throwing a season-high 80 pitches. He walked one batter, Andrew Benintendo on four pitches to start the fourth inning, but erased him on a double play groundeder by the next batter, Bobby Witt Jr.

It was a master class in deception. Smeltzer’s four-seam fastball topped out at 90.7 mph, and his curveball was routinely in the 75 mph range. None of his three base-runners reached second base.

Smeltzer, 26, missed all of last season because of a herniated disc in his beck that caused him, among other things, to lose feeling in some of his fingers. Taken off the 40-man roster in November, he went to Fort Myers, Fla., as a non-roster invitee and nearly made the Opening Day roster. But he wasn’t called up until May 14.

He started games against Cleveland and Kansas City, going 1-0 with a 1.74 earned-run average. After Thursday’s start, he has allowed 8 hits and four walks in 17⅓ innings and lowered his ERA to 1.04.

Whit Merrifield hit a two-run double to center off Duffey to tie the game with one out in the eighth inning, and Witt Jr. singled him home for the go-ahead run. Ryan Jeffers and Gilberto Celestino drove in runs for the Twins.

The Twins loaded the bases with nobody out against right-hander Joel Payamps in their half of the inning. Gary Sanchez reached when third baseman Emmanuel Rivera dropped the ball after fielding his grounder, and Gio Urshela and Jose Luis Arraez followed with singles.

Royals manager then called for his high-leverage reliever, right-hander Scott Barlow. With the infield drawn in, Barlow struck out Miranda and pinch-hitter Nick Gordon, then got Max Kepler to ground out weakly to first to protect the lead. He pitched the ninth for his fifth save, stranding the potential tying run at third base.

The Twins outhit the Royals, 11-6, and left 11 men on base.

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More than 5,000 fans support new women’s soccer club in inaugural match

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More than 5,000 fans support new women’s soccer club in inaugural match

Minnesota Aurora president Andrea Yoch stood at the gates of TCO Stadium and watched fans of the new pre-professional women’s soccer team stream in for their inaugural match about an hour before kickoff Thursday.

“We just made this up,” Yoch said through a smile and in an orange romper and light green coat to match Aurora’s vibrant colors.

About 15 minutes before kickoff, Gene Wilder’s “Pure Imagination” played on the stadium’s speakers, and a community-owned club created out of the pandemic came to fruition with an announced crowd of 5,219 supporting the USL Women’s League.

Thursday’s attendance in Minnesota was on par with the average of seven pro-level National Women’s Soccer League crowds this season, including in Louisville, Seattle, San Diego, North Carolina, Orlando, Chicago and New Jersey.

Aurora benefited from a Green Bay Glory own goal early in the second half and Minnesota gave up an equalizing goal in the 89th minute to settle for a 1-1 draw.

Aurora, which has 3,500 season ticket holders, also took up another Minnesota soccer tradition: waiving scarves during corner kicks, a mainstay at Minnesota United games for years.

The crowd, which included MNUFC center back Michael Boxall, filled the stands at the Vikings’ field and lined the concourses, with the merchandise tent having lines for all 90 minutes.

Aurora’s supporters section chanted “No Glory” toward Green Bay and supported its own side in song. But there was also a small chorus of young girls chanting, “Let’s go, Aurora. Let’s go!” from the stadium’s grassy hill. On the concourse, another group of young girls were running around and one was overheard saying, “Sarah is my favorite.”

That was toward Aurora’s famous goalkeeper Sarah Fuller, showing signs of support were big and small.

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