Nation and world news briefs

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Pregnant women are at higher risk of severe COVID-19, CDC Says

WASHINGTON — Pregnant women with COVID-19 are at higher risk for being hospitalized and ending up in an intensive-care unit than women who aren’t pregnant, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The CDC is adding pregnancy to the list of health conditions that make COVID-19 patients more likely to suffer severe complications. A study by the agency found pregnant women were 5.4 times more likely to be hospitalized, 1.5 times more likely to be admitted to the ICU and 1.7 times more likely to receive mechanical ventilation. Pregnant women didn’t have a higher risk of death, according to the CDC’s findings.

As with the general population, Black and Latino pregnant women were disproportionately at a higher risk of severe complications.

The CDC said pregnant women might have a lower threshold for being admitted to the hospital. But ICU admission and use of mechanical ventilation are “distinct proxies for illness severity.”

Director Robert Redfield said on a call with reporters that the CDC recommends anyone at higher risk for COVID-19 complications limit contact with others as much as possible.

“We think it’s important to get the information out there that pregnant women need to take precautions,” Dana Meaney-Delman, CDC’s COVID-19 deputy incident manager, said.

The agency wasn’t able to assess the effects of the virus on the fetuses or babies born to those women since the pandemic hasn’t gone on long enough, but she said she “wouldn’t be surprised” if they are at higher risk for preterm birth.

—Bloomberg News

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Screening of unaccompanied minors amid pandemic questioned at Senate hearing

WASHINGTON — Nearly 2,000 unaccompanied minors have been turned away at the southern border since the Trump administration implemented a public health order amid the pandemic, according to a top Homeland Security official, who gave lawmakers conflicting answers Thursday on whether those children were first screened for signs of torture, trafficking or other types of abuse.

At a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, Mark Morgan, the acting Customs and Border Protection commissioner, testified that all of the children were screened to make sure they didn’t potentially qualify for asylum. But some lawmakers noted that contradicted what he submitted in written testimony before Thursday’s hearing.

In those remarks, Morgan said initial asylum screenings on unaccompanied minors have been conducted only on a case-by-case basis, “when it is not possible to return a minor to his or her home country or when an agent or officer suspects trafficking or sees signs of illness.”

But Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., noted that “the regulation is that all unaccompanied minors are screened,” not just when border agents see signs of abuse or torture.

Morgan did not say how many children have made it through initial screenings and who would then be processed into the care of a Health and Human Services agency that oversees detained minors. But Morgan said anytime a child traveling alone is turned back at the border, his agency works with other countries to ensure that minor is safe.

“CBP works extensively with the governments of the countries that they are being returned to, to make sure that they are returned in a safe and humane, compassionate way, and that they are actually reunited with their parents in their home country,” Morgan said.

However, he admitted that CBP does not track whether those minors make it back to their original home.

—CQ-Roll Call

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Dust cloud from the Sahara blankets southeastern US

It is, in fact, getting dusty in here.

A massive dust cloud that crossed the Atlantic Ocean from the Sahara Desert covered parts of the southeastern United States on Thursday and is expected to remain in the air into the weekend.

Technically known as the Saharan Air Layer, this phenomenon happens every year, but of course this year’s is the largest in 50 years. Some experts even referred to it as the “Godzilla dust cloud.”

Lake Charles, La., about halfway between Houston and New Orleans, recorded the worst air quality in the country Thursday, according to NPR. Mississippi, Alabama and other states along the Gulf of Mexico also received a fine dusting.

The dust cloud led to decreased air quality and people with respiratory issues were advised to stay inside. Experts say the cloud could create sunsets so pretty they’ll make you cry.

It also looks cool from space.

The dust cloud traveled over the Caribbean earlier this week, increasing temperatures and forcing people indoors.

It does not look as cool from the ground.

The dust can mess with weather, but experts say it actually makes hurricanes less likely and shouldn’t affect anything more severe than a thunderstorm.

Meteorologists expect the dust cloud to travel northeast over the weekend, following a similar path to hurricanes.

—New York Daily News

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Former Baltimore mayor en route to Alabama to report to prison Friday

BALTIMORE — Former Mayor Catherine Pugh will report to an Alabama prison on Friday to begin serving her sentence, her attorney confirmed.

Pugh was already en route Thursday to the federal correctional institution in Aliceville, said attorney Andrew White. Pugh was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to federal fraud charges related to the “Healthy Holly” children’s book scandal.

Last week, Pugh also pleaded guilty to state-level perjury charges for not disclosing income from the books on financial disclosure forms. She will not have to serve additional time for that case.

Pugh’s downfall began last year when The Baltimore Sun revealed she had entered into a no-bid deal with the University of Maryland Medical System, where Pugh sat on the board of directors, to buy 100,000 copies of her sloppily self-published “Healthy Holly” books for $500,000. She later resigned from that board and from her position as mayor amid multiple investigations into her finances and the book sales. In total, she netted more than $850,000, federal prosecutors say.

At the same time, she failed to print thousands of copies, double-sold thousands more and took many others to use for self-promotion, according to prosecutors. Investigators also asserted that she laundered illegal campaign contributions and failed to pay taxes.

Pugh could petition to be released early based on coronavirus concerns or under the First Step Act, but would still have to serve some portion of the sentence. Convicted former state Sen. Nathaniel Oaks was released this week to serve out the rest of his sentence on home confinement.

—The Baltimore Sun

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