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House approves short-term funding bill to avoid government shutdown

The House of Representatives on Thursday approved a short-term spending bill that would keep federal agencies running through Feb. 18, 2022 — just one day before the federal government was scheduled to run out of money. The vote was 221-212, with one Republican joining all Democrats to pass the bill.

The measure now heads to the Senate, where passing the bill remains in doubt.   A small group of conservative Republicans, who oppose vaccine-or-testing requirements for companies with at least 100 employees, have threatened to delay passage of the short-term funding bill, which could in turn lead to a short partial government shutdown. However, top leaders of both parties have stressed that a shutdown will not happen. President Biden needs to sign the legislation before the midnight deadline on Friday to avoid any lapse in funding.

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President Biden announces five-step strategy to fight COVID-19 with testing for travelers, coverage for home tests

President Joe Biden announced a five-step strategy Thursday to fight COVID-19 including rigid testing for travelers entering the United States and providing free at-home tests. The new strategy comes amid the threat of a new mutation, the Omicron variant, which scientists are still researching.

Biden made the announcement at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md, saying that the strategy includes encouraging booster shots for all adults, establishing family vaccine clinics where children and adults can get vaccinated together and an increase in surge response teams. Biden assured that the two cases of the Omicron variant that have been reported in the United States are cause for concern, but not panic, saying: “We have the best tools in the world. We will fight this with science and speed, not with chaos and confusion. We enter this winter with strength.”

Travelers entering the United States will be required to have a COVID-19 test within 24 hours of departure, and face mask requirements on domestic flights have public transportation has been extended until March 18.   The new strategy also included adding workplace protections to keep businesses open and employing rapid response teams in areas with a rise in positive cases.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers suspend WR Antonio Brown 3 games for COVID-19 violation

The NFL announced on Thursday that Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown has been suspended three games for violating the NFL-NFLPA COVID-19 protocols. The league and players’ union found that Brown was among three players who misrepresented their vaccination statuses. A former personal chef of Brown’s said earlier this month that the wide receiver had obtained a fake COVID-19 vaccination card over the summer. The league and players’ union said in a statement: “The NFL-NFLPA jointly reinforce their commitment and further emphasize the importance of strict adherence to the protocols to protect the well-being of everyone associated with the NFL.” According to the NFL, all three players accepted their discipline and will not appeal.

Buccaneers backup safety Mike Edwards, and free-agent wide receiver John Franklin III — whom Tampa Bay waived in August — were also suspended for three games. Brown’s and Edwards’ suspensions are without pay, and both will be eligible to return to the Buccaneers lineup for the team’s Dec. 26 game against the Carolina Panthers.

Brown’s attorney, Sean Burstyn, said in a statement that Brown is vaccinated and “continues to support the vaccine for any person for whom it is appropriate,” adding, “The NFL made its determination and, instead of going through the drawn out and distracting process of challenging the outcome, Mr. Brown wrapped this up promptly and he will make this most of this time by treating his ankle injury. Mr. Brown will be motivated, well rested, and in the best shape of his life when he returns in week 16.”

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Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander placed in NBA’s concussion protocols

The Oklahoma City Thunder announced guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was placed in the NBA’s concussion protocol after he suffered the injury during Wednesday’s loss to the Houston Rockets.

Per the NBA’s Concussion Policy, Gilgeous-Alexander will now begin the NBA-mandated Return-to-Participation Protocol. This process includes a series of steps designed to ensure an athlete exhibits symptom-free behavior before resuming basketball activities. There is no predetermined timetable to complete the protocol, as each injury and player is different and recovery time can vary in each case.

Gilgeous-Alexander leads the team in minutes and scoring, averaging 21.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game.

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Dr. Fauci announces the Omicron variant has been detected in U.S. for the first time, with confirmed case in California

Public health official and President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci confirmed on Wednesday that the first case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been identified in the United States.

Speaking during a White House press briefing, Fauci said the case was found in California, adding that the patient traveled from South Africa to San Francisco on Nov. 22 and tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday. Fauci said: “The individual is self-quarantining and all close contacts have been contacted and all close contacts, thus far, have tested negative. The individual was fully vaccinated and experienced mild symptoms, which are improving at this point. So this is the first confirmed case of COVID-19 caused by the Omicron variant detected in the United States.”

The World Health Organization designated the Omicron variant a “variant of concern” last Friday after it was first identified in South Africa. The organization said Omicron has a large number of mutations and may spread at faster rates than other variants. News of the variant’s spread prompted countries across the globe to shut down travel from certain areas of Africa, though it has been detected in European countries.

Biden on Monday sought to calm fears about the new variant, saying that current vaccines should be adequate to combat Omicron, and added that it was a “cause for concern, not a cause for panic.” Vaccine makers said that they are testing their COVID-19 vaccines against the new variant, saying it may require new boosters that can target the strain.

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Stacey Abrams announces bid for Georgia governor in 2022

Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams announced on Wednesday that she will launch a campaign for governor of Georgia in 2022. Abrams shared a video saying she would make another run for the office “because opportunity in our state shouldn’t be determined by zip code, background or access to power.”

Abrams, a former top Democrat in the Georgia House of Representatives, became a prominent voting rights advocate following her loss to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in 2018’s gubernatorial election. Abrams lost to Kemp, who was serving as Georgia’s secretary of state at the time, by 1.4 points. She declined to give a formal concession after she accused Kemp and state Republicans of suppressing the vote. The following year she delivered the Democratic response to former President Donald Trump’s 2019 state of the union and was credited with organizing voting efforts that helped Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock win their runoff Senate races, which gave the Democrats control of the chamber. Abrams said in her announcement video: “That’s the job of governor — to fight for one Georgia, our Georgia. And now, it is time to get the job done.”

Kemp responded to the news of Abrams’ announcement by criticizing her “far-left agenda” stating that “woke politics would be the law of the land” in the state if she were elected. He said: “Next November’s election for governor is a battle for the soul of our state. I’m in the fight against Stacey Abrams, the failed Biden agenda and their woke allies to keep Georgia the best place to live, work and raise a family.”

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Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo likely out at least 4 weeks due to thumb surgery

The Miami Heat franchise announced on Wednesday that star center Bam Adebayo will undergo surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right thumb. In a statement, the Heat said Adebayo suffered the injury during Monday’s 120-111 loss to the Denver Nuggets, and will have the procedure done this weekend.

The Heat also noted that a timetable on Adebayo’s return will be provided after the surgery, however ESPN reported that Adebayo is expected to be out for four to six weeks, and could likely miss between 15 to 20 games.

Through 18 games this season, the 24-year-old Adebayo has averaged 18.7 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.1 steals. In Adebayo’s absence, veteran Dewayne Dedmon will step into the starting lineup for the Heat. Dedmon is averaging 5.3 points and 4.9 rebounds through 21 games (three starts) this year.

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WTA suspends tournaments in China due to Peng Shuai allegations

The Women’s Tennis Association announced on Wednesday that it will not hold tournaments in China in response to the country’s handling of star player Peng Shuai’s sexual assault allegations. The suspension also applies to tournaments held in Hong Kong. Peng, a former world’s No. 1 doubles player, accused former Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault on social media platform Weibo on Nov. 2. Supporters expressed concern that she hadn’t been seen publicly after she made the accusation, however, China arranged for her to take part in a video call with International Olympic Committee head Thomas Bach on Nov. 21.

WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon accused Beijing of censoring Peng’s allegations and failing to fully investigate the alleged sexual assault, saying: “Unfortunately, the leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way. While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe and not subject to censorship, coercion and intimidation. The WTA has been clear on what is needed here, and we repeat our call for a full and transparent investigation — without censorship — into Peng Shuai’s sexual assault accusation.”

Simon added that ignoring allegations of sexual assault would cause an “immense setback” for the WTA:  “I don’t see how I can ask our athletes to compete there when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and has seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault. Given the current state of affairs, I am also greatly concerned about the risks that all of our players and staff could face if we were to hold events in China in 2022.”

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3 dead, 6 injured after shooting at Michigan high school

Sheriff’s officials have confirmed that at least three people were killed and six others injured on Tuesday after a shooting at a southeast Michigan high school. The Oakland County Sheriff’s Office said deputies arrested the suspected shooter — a 15-year-old sophomore student at the school — and recovered a handgun, adding that they don’t believe there were any other shooters involved. A statement from the sheriff’s office said: “There was no resistance during the arrest and the suspect has asked for a lawyer and has not made any statements as to a motive.” Undersheriff Mike McCabe said about 15 to 20 shots were fired during the shooting, and that the suspected shooter was not injured.

Officials received reports of an active shooter at Oxford High School in Oxford Township at 12:51 p.m. Oxford Township is located about 35 miles northwest of Detroit. The sheriff’s office said three people died in the shooting and six others, including a teacher, were injured. WXYZ-TV in Detroit reported that officials believe the dead were students, saying that multiple medical helicopters arrived on the scene, but it’s unclear if any transported victims to a local hospital.  Students were evacuated from the school and were reunited with parents and guardians at a nearby grocery store. Oxford Community Schools Superintendent Tim Thorne said: “Pray for our families here in Oxford and our students.” 

U.S. Rep Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., said she was en route to Michigan, adding in a statement: “This is a dark & painful day for Michigan. I send my deepest condolences to the families of the three students who have lost their lives — they have received the worst news any parent can ever imagine. We must continue to pray and hope for the additional students and teacher who have been injured, and for the students who are in shock right now. They will somehow have to make sense of one of their peers doing this to them.”

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Dr. Oz launches campaign for GOP Senate run in Pennsylvania

On Tuesday, TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz launched his campaign to become the next U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.   Dr. Oz made the announcement in a Washington Examiner op-ed, which sharply criticized how the government has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, asserting that “many” COVID deaths “were preventable.”  Oz wrote:  “During the pandemic, I learned that when you mix politics and medicine, you get politics instead of solutions. That’s why I am running for the U.S. Senate: to help fix the problems and to help us heal.” 

Oz’s television show is produced in New York City, but has been a longtime New Jersey resident. He recently registered to vote at his in-laws’ home in suburban Philadelphia. He also attended the University of Pennsylvania for medical school.

In a video released by his campaign, Oz said “Pennsylvania needs a conservative who will put America first.” He also criticized the federal government’s pandemic response, saying, “Washington got it wrong. They took away our freedom without making us safer.”  Oz joins several other candidates who are vying for the seat being vacated by retiring GOP Senator Pat Toomey. Trump-endorsed candidate Sean Parnell dropped out of the race last week, after losing a custody battle amid abuse allegations by his estranged wife..

Businessman Jeff Bartos, former U.S. ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands and conservative commentator Kathy Barnette are among those who are also seeking the GOP nomination. Bridgewater Associates CEO David McCormick, who is married to former President Trump’s deputy national security adviser Dina Powell, is considering a bid for the GOP nomination as well. On the Democratic side, U.S. Representative Conor Lamb, Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, state Senator Malcolm Kenyatta and Montgomery County Supervisor Val Arkoosh are all vying for the nomination.

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