(NEW YORK) -- The United States is facing a COVID-19 surge this summer as the more contagious delta variant spreads.
More than 612,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 and over 4.1 million people have died worldwide, according to real-time data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
Just 57.7% of Americans ages 12 and up are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC on Tuesday, citing new science on the transmissibility of the delta variant, changed its mask guidance to now recommend everyone in areas with substantial or high levels of transmission -- vaccinated or not -- wear a face covering in public, indoor settings.
Here's how the news is developing Friday. All times Eastern:
Jul 30, 7:09 pm
New Orleans to mandate indoor masking, city employee vaccinations
New Orleans officials reissued a mask mandate Friday, requiring that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask indoors in public spaces due to rising COVID-19 cases.
"Thanks to the delta variant, the COVID pandemic is once again raging out of control," Mayor LaToya Cantrell said during a press briefing, noting the daily average of new COVID-19 cases increased from 104 last week to 272 this week. "This is a very dangerous number. We have been here before. ... And what was once unpreventable, today is preventable, and is through our people getting vaccinated."
The mayor also announced that city employees and contractors will be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Over 71% of city employees are vaccinated, "but that is not good enough," the mayor said. "We want to get to 100%."
Jul 30, 7:02 pm
Austin facing 'dire' ICU bed shortage
In Austin, Texas, intensive care unit capacity has reached a "dire" point, the city's health department said Friday, with only 16 staffed beds available for over 2.3 million residents.
"We are running out of time and our community must act now," Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said in a statement. "Our ICU capacity is reaching a critical point where the level of risk to the entire community has significantly increased, and not just to those who are needing treatment for COVID. If we fail to come together as a community now, we jeopardize the lives of loved ones who might need critical care."
APH is urging the community to act as the situation becomes critical. The region is now facing the lowest staffed ICU bed capacity since the beginning of the pandemic with only 16 staffed available.
(NEWARK, N.J.) -- It's the most populous city in New Jersey with over 280,000 residents and regarded as one of its most dangerous. Crime has plagued the city for decades and in 1986, there were more than 40,000 index crimes, a trend that would continue into the 1990s. Meanwhile, through the early to mid-90s, each year, about 10,000 of those crimes were violent, according to New Jersey State Police Uniform Crime Reports. But Newark is trending downward, in a positive way, about 30 years later following those peak numbers.
Ras Baraka was elected as Newark's mayor in 2014 and taking over at a time when the city saw 112 murders the previous year, the most in 24 years. In addition to an increasing murder rate, the U.S. Justice Department issued a 49-page report of an investigation that began in May 2011, into abuse and misconduct within the Newark Police Department, just weeks after Baraka took office.
A DOJ press release stated that "NPD has engaged in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional stops, searches, arrests, use of excessive force and theft by officers in violation of the First, Fourth and 14th Amendments." The DOJ said the practices of officers in Newark also "had a disparate impact on minorities in Newark."
Perhaps the most infamous case of civil unrest fueled by racial disparities in policing came in 1967. There were five days of unrest, known as the "Newark rebellion," after police pulled over John William Smith, a black cab driver, removed him from his car, beat him and then arrested him. As a result, more than two dozen people were killed, thousands were either injured or arrested, and millions of dollars were tallied in property damage.
Almost half a century later, in 2016, the city of Newark and the DOJ came to a consent decree to reform its police department. With the agreement, comprehensive reforms were expected to include the use of in-car and body-worn cameras, de-escalation techniques and a civilian oversight entity to help address the concerns of residents, among other areas.
Before the agreement with the DOJ, however, Baraka had already begun taking steps to help improve the city's issues through a community outreach strategy, dubbed the Newark Community Street Team. Aqeela Sherrills, a Los Angeles native, was tasked with leading the new program due to his work in his own community.
"He knew about the work that we had done in L.A. and also in other cities across the country," Sherrill told ABC News. "He tapped me to come and build out the infrastructure for his community-based public safety initiative." In 1992, Sherrills helped organize a peace treaty between Blood and Crip gang members in the Watts neighborhood of L.A.
The NCST is primarily funded through grants, funds from the city, and with the help from investors like the Victoria Foundation.
In 2016, Baraka created the Department of Public Safety by merging Police, Fire and the Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, in an effort to simplify operations and reduce costs. Anthony Ambrose, a former Newark police officer before rising through the ranks to chief of detectives for the Essex County Prosecutors Office, was appointed the director of the newly created department before his retirement in March. Brian O'Hara, who previously served as Newark's deputy police chief, took over following Ambrose's retirement.
"Baraka came in… with a reformed mentality. He understood violence as a public health issue," Sherrills said. "When he was on the city council, he advanced that framework, and so when he became mayor… folks knew that he would be coming in to clean house."
"The sacred Rural Council was a body that he commissioned to basically coordinate public safety strategies in the city, that not only just with law enforcement at the table, but also with faith community-based organizations…other municipal agencies, because he understood that it was an ecosystem of services that actually reduce violence and crime, as opposed to just law enforcement," Sherrills continued.
Since the city saw over 3,200 violent crimes in 2015, Newark has seen those numbers decrease every year since, to a low of less than 1,500 violent incidents in 2020. Due to police reforms stemming from the consent decree, not a single gunshot was fired by police officers in Newark last year. Overall crime has also dipped every year since 2016, nearly 500 guns were taken off the streets of Newark in 2020, and more than 270 recovered to-date in 2021, according to local officials.
"I think that is one of the factors that provided a vehicle to try and, you know, move some of these reforms forward that had been happening, at least begun to happen on a community level and begun through our mayor in the city. And just provided like sort of like the backing to ensure that the appropriate investments were made in these areas to focus around reform," O'Hara told ABC News. "There was significant efforts around community engagement that had been going on here in the last few years."
In 2019, rape was down 13%, shooting victims down 14%, and homicides were down 26%, seeing its lowest number of murders since 1961. Baraka praised these numbers at the time, while ensuring the troubled areas are also being policed effectively, "There's always this idea that the police are not working in those areas and allowing things to happen, they only protect downtown. Well, these numbers prove that to be false."
However, Sherrills said it's important to remember the role that the NCST has played in crime reduction. The trained outreach workers are members of the community who provide mentoring for people aged 14-30 years old, life management skills, as well as a high-risk intervention team to help those people avoid incarceration by connecting them with counseling and more.
"I can't discount man, the community-based effort, pulling public safety out of the abstract and putting it into the hands of the people," Sherrills told ABC News.
The NCST also provides what's called "Safe Passage," deploying its outreach workers to schools where violence is considered more common, and step-in if they see a conflict brewing. This also allows the outreach workers to build up a rapport with kids and their parents.
While Public Safety Director Brian O'Hara agrees with Sherrills, he also believes the work isn't done, "I would not be talking about 2020. That's ancient history at this point." O'Hara would go on to tell ABC News, " We need to invest in certain communities, where there's concentrated poverty, we need to invest in education, we need to invest in folks with jobs and invest in social services, invest in different ways of addressing cycles of retaliatory violence, social workers and those types of things."
This story is part of the series Gun Violence in America by ABC News Radio. Each day this week we're exploring a different topic, from what we mean when we say "gun violence" – it's not just mass shootings – to what can be done about it. You can hear an extended version of each report as an episode of the ABC News Radio Specials podcast. Subscribe and listen on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.
(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Navy has filed charges against a sailor in connection with the fire that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard in San Diego last July, the service announced Thursday.
"Evidence collected during the investigation is sufficient to direct a preliminary hearing in accordance with due process under the military justice system. The Sailor was a member of Bonhomme Richard’s crew at the time and is accused of starting the fire," 3rd Fleet spokesperson Cmdr. Sean Robertson said in a statement.
Vice Adm. Steve Koehler, the 3rd Fleet commander, is considering court-martial charges, according to the statement.
The admiral has set a preliminary hearing before any trial proceedings, "including whether or not there is probable cause to believe an offense has been committed and to offer a recommendation as to the disposition of the case," Robertson said.
The accused sailor, a seaman apprentice, is being charged with aggravated arson and willfully hazarding a vessel under articles 126 and 110 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice but is not currently detained, Robertson told ABC News.
The Navy has not named the sailor.
Last November, U.S. officials told ABC News a sailor was being questioned by investigators about possible arson after allegedly starting the catastrophic ship fire. Robertson would not say whether this was the same person now being charged.
The Navy announced late last year it would scrap the aging amphibious assault ship.
The Bonhomme Richard was commissioned in 1998 at a cost of $750 million. Adjusted to 2020 dollars, that's $1.2 billion.
The damage to the ship from the days-long fire, that at times reached 1,000 degrees, was too much to repair for a ship that had already been in service for almost a quarter of a century, according to the Navy.
(WASHINGTON) -- Adding more insight into the CDC’s updated mask guidance, newly published details of the Provincetown outbreak raise concern that the now-dominant delta variant may be able to spread among fully vaccinated people.
Following multiple large gatherings in Provincetown, Mass., from July 3-17, investigators identified 469 COVID-19 cases, two-thirds of which were in fully vaccinated people. The delta variant was responsible for 90% of those cases. The breakthrough infections were among people vaccinated with Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. None of the vaccinated people died, but most had some symptoms.
During the outbreak investigation, researchers learned that the amount of virus in the noses of vaccinated people experiencing a breakthrough infection was the same as in an unvaccinated person -- a worrying sign vaccinated people can spread the virus.
"This finding is concerning and was a pivotal discovery leading to CDC’s updated mask recommendation," said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky in a statement.
"This is a very concerning outbreak -- pretty much a 'super spreader event,'" said Dr. Carlos Del Rio, executive associate dean and global health expert at the Emory School of Medicine.
Experts caution that more studies are needed to understand if what happened in Provincetown holds up in subsequent outbreak investigations. The CDC report noted the social gatherings were "densely packed." And breakthrough infections are still relatively uncommon, with the majority of cases driven by spread among unvaccinated people. Meanwhile, an internal CDC briefing first published by the Washington Post and confirmed by ABC News outlined additional new data suggesting that the delta variant is different from prior variants in other ways. Chiefly, this variant appears to be extraordinarily contagious -- possibly more so than Ebola, Spanish flu, chickenpox and the common cold. It's also possible delta leads to more severe illness, but for now this is only a possibility and not firmly established.
Taken collectively, these new revelations prompted the CDC to update its mask guidance Tuesday to recommend that vaccinated people once again don masks indoors, especially in high-transmission areas. And that includes schools this fall.
"The rules have changed," said Dr. Dan Barouch, director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "We have a different epidemic now that we did in May."
Throughout the spring and summer, the CDC based its guidance on scientific studies of prior COVID-19 variants, including the then-dominant alpha variant, which was first identified in the U.K. and swept the United States during the 2020-2021 winter surge.
But the delta variant -- which only just surpassed alpha as the dominant variant on July 6 -- is different. It hit the U.S. so fast that only in the past few weeks has sufficient data emerged to show scientists just how significant those differences were.
That means that throughout the summer, the nation’s public health guidance may have been based on alpha variant rules while the nation was living in a delta variant world.
It's a game of catch-up that's all-too-familiar to doctors and scientists who have dedicated their lives to preventing infectious disease.
"This is what I always say in a pandemic: I wish I knew today what I’m going to learn tomorrow," Del Rio said.
"When we released our school guidance on July 9, we had less delta variant in the country, we had fewer cases in the country,” said Walensky, speaking at a Tuesday press conference. "And importantly, we were really hopeful that we would have more people vaccinated, especially in the demographic between 12 to 17 years old," she said.
Now, Del Rio said, new data is telling us "that the virus has changed -- it’s a lot more transmissible, and it has been able to adapt."
Although it now seems that vaccinated people can pass the virus, "the great majority of transmissions is still coming from vaccinated people," Del Rio said. "That’s why you’re seeing mandates come left and right. People are saying, enough is enough."
Experts say this is still a pandemic largely of the unvaccinated, with a majority of cases among unvaccinated people, meaning it's more important than ever for anyone who is not vaccinated to get vaccinated.
Crucially, current vaccines appear to work just as well against delta to dramatically reduce the risk of severe illness and death. But they may not work as well at preventing mild infections.
"Current vaccines continue to provide strong protection against severe illness and death, but the delta variant is likely responsible for increased numbers of breakthrough infections -- breakthroughs that could be as infectious as unvaccinated cases," said John Brownstein, Ph.D., the chief innovation officer at Boston Children's Hospital and an ABC News contributor.
The CDC brief said one of the agency's biggest challenges moving forward is countering the public perception that vaccines don't work. But the fact that roughly half the nation is already vaccinated likely saved the United States from an even deadlier summer surge, experts agreed.
"If it were not for the vaccines, there likely would have been a massive overwhelming surge in this county," Barouch said.
Even still, large portions of the country -- including children -- remain unvaccinated. And what scientists are learning about the delta variant’s capacity to transmit between vaccinated people might mean we need to mask up again -- especially in those high transmission areas.
"We have to get the unvaccinated vaccinated. And in the meantime, masking is useful, but not sufficient so we have to also add testing to the mix of mitigation strategies," Del Rio said.
For now, the future remains uncertain. Many scientists worry about a winter surge, while others feel encouraged that the delta variant might fade away as suddenly as it arrived.
"There is some evidence -- first from India and now from the U.K. -- that the delta variant surges and then begins to dissolve,” Barouch said. "We don’t fully understand why the sparks catch fire, and we don’t fully understand why the flames go out."
ABC News' Sasha Pezenik, Anne Flaherty, Arielle Mitropoulos and Eric Strauss contributed to this report.
(NEW YORK) -- It's a simple device that can save lives and keep people out of emergency rooms.
But masks are once again a flashpoint after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended this week that everyone in areas with substantial or high levels of transmission, regardless of their vaccination status, return to wearing a mask in public, indoor settings and in schools, amid a concerning rise in the delta variant.
Despite a rise in cases and hospitalizations, several states are pushing back against the CDC's new guidelines -- which have changed dramatically over the past few weeks. Some governors have balked at what they've criticized as a whiplash reversion to overly draconian measures, vowing no mask mandate would succeed in their state.
The CDC's reversal comes just two months after it announced it would no longer recommend masking for vaccinated Americans, and just as the nation was breathing a collective sigh of relief at the precipitous fall of cases and hospitalizations due to the rollout of mass vaccinations.
Here are some of the states battling back against the changing guidance, and why.
No 'one size fits all'
"The time for government mask mandates is over," Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted after the CDC's announcement on Tuesday, adding that "now is the time for personal responsibility."
Texas' COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have seen a dramatic rise, with daily case averages roughly doubling in recent weeks. COVID-19 deaths in the state are also ticking up.
On Thursday, Abbott criticized President Joe Biden for the length of time it's taking the Food and Drug Administration to upgrade the vaccines to a permanent authorization from their current emergency authorization -- a concern often cited by those who are hesitant to get the shot.
For states like Texas and Iowa that have either passed laws or issued executive orders banning mask mandates, the latest CDC guidance is "counterproductive to vaccination efforts," said Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds.
Reynolds called the CDC's recommendation "not grounded in reality or common sense," and praised herself for leading one of several states that have passed laws restricting mask mandates
"I'm concerned that this new guidance will be used as a vehicle to mandate masks in states and schools across the country, something I do not support," Reynolds tweeted.
In Arizona, another state where mask mandates are banned by law, Gov. Doug Ducey used the CDC's recommendations to criticize Biden, saying that the new mask guidance is an example of the Biden administration's "inability to effectively control the COVID-19 pandemic."
Alabama officials also said they would not be following the CDC's updated guidance. A spokesperson for Gov. Kay Ivey said the current circumstances do not warrant a "blanket one-size-fits-all" approach.
"The state of emergency has ended, and Alabama is moving forward," the spokesperson told ABC News.
'The vaccine works'
Following the CDC's announcement this week, Biden said the decision was not a relapse but "another step on our journey to defeating the virus."
"Unlike 2020, we have both the scientific knowledge and the tools to prevent the spread of this disease," Biden said. "We are not going back to that."
But some states' leaders are pointing to the vaccines' efficacy as a reason not to re-enforce masking.
"The vaccine works," said Gov. Henry McMaster of South Carolina, where a state law prohibits school administrators from requiring students to wear a mask.
Health officials stress that while the vaccines are indeed safe and effective, many states still have a substantial number of residents who are unvaccinated -- and with the exponential spread of the highly transmissible delta variant, a mask is meant to protect both wearer and bystander.
In Maryland, a health department spokesperson told ABC News that the state isn't affected by the new CDC guidance because it's not among the areas showing "high or substantial community transmission." The spokesperson said that Maryland is one of the most vaccinated states in the country, and that "blunts the impact of the delta variant."
For health experts like University of Washington professor of global health Ali Mokdad, who believes the CDC was late in reversing its guidance, the political debate over masks is "hurting our ability to contain COVID-19."
"I do not understand how masks and vaccines could be a political statement," Mokdad said. "Look at the new admissions in Florida for COVID-19 confirmed patients -- if this will not make governors pause and take this virus seriously, what will?"
Some states, like California, New Mexico and New Jersey, have welcomed the latest mask guidance.
"It's clear that the nation is at a critical moment in this COVID crisis," said Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, lauding the CDC for "a hard look at where we are."
"Illinois will follow this guidance, as we always have," he said.
Left vs. right
Like other coronavirus issues, the updated mask guidance has divided parts of the country along largely political lines -- even within states.
The attorney general of Missouri, where coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to rage, has announced that the state government is suing St. Louis city and county for bringing back mask mandates. But that didn't stop Kansas City, on the other side of the state, from announcing Wednesday that it was also reinstating an indoor mask mandate.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, called the new CDC guidance "disappointing" and "concerning" Wednesday, adding that "it only serves to disrupt" the state's slow uptick in vaccination.
In Atlanta, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, a Democrat, on Wednesday issued an executive order requiring masks in public indoor spaces -- despite Gov. Brian Kemp's longstanding opposition to any mask mandate.
"We don't need mandates," Kemp, a Republican, told ABC affiliate WSB-TV this week. "We need to continue to share the data and the facts."
Georgia's cases and hospitalizations are both at more than 10% and rising.
In Florida, a spokesperson for Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, told ABC News that imposing mask mandates would discourage people from getting vaccinated.
But Miami-Dade, the state's most populous county, is pushing back against the governor's ban on masks after reporting 11,000 new coronavirus infections in one day.
"When the health care system is overwhelmed, that is extremely dangerous for all of us, so we must do our part to keep people out of the hospital," Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. a Democrat, said Wednesday.
Dr. Rich Besser, former acting CDC director and president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, told ABC News that the pandemic is far from over and that "we do need to do more."
"We're in a very fluid situation," Besser said. "You know, there are many who wanted to declare victory over this pandemic several months ago, but it's far from over."
"We will see the end of this pandemic," said Besser, who supports a "layered approach" out of the crisis. "But until that time, we are all at risk."
(EUGENE, Ore) -- Drew and Kayla Gottfried were heartbroken after they were told that their wedding video had been erased after they tied the knot in 2007.
In a fortunate twist this past spring, Drew Gottfried received a call from their church saying that an old VHS tape had been found in the basement. Astonishingly, it was their wedding video.
For two months, Gottfried kept the secret until July 27, the couple’s 14th anniversary.
On that night, the couple went out to dinner and a movie at a local theater in downtown Eugene, Oregon, where Gottfried surprised his wife with a private viewing of the recovered video.
Kayla Gottfried’s emotional response was caught on camera and has since been viewed 6.1 million times on TikTok.
“How do you have video of this?” Kayla Gottfried said when she was surprised with the video. She told “World News Tonight” that she was happy to have that memory back.
“Break out those old family videos and relive those special moment with your loved ones often,” she said.
Although he’s also happy to have the video back, Gottfried shared a message that the present is just as important as the past.
“Enjoy your life, the moment you’re in, with your families. Whatever they are -- birthdays, anniversaries, celebrations, get-togethers,” said Gottfried. “Just enjoy your time with your family. Be present and be there.”
(LOS ANGELES) — A Boeing 747 pilot near Los Angeles reported Wednesday night another "possible jet pack man in sight." It's the latest in a string of mysterious jet pack sightings near the City of Angels since last year.
"A Boeing 747 pilot reported seeing an object that might have resembled a jet pack 15 miles east of LAX at 5,000 feet altitude around 6:12 p.m. Wednesday," a spokesperson for the Federal Aviation Administration told ABC News. "Out of an abundance of caution, air traffic controllers alerted other pilots in the vicinity.”
Air traffic controllers could be heard directing pilots in the area to "use caution towards the jet pack." The FAA spokesperson said there were no "unusual objects" that had appeared on the radar around LAX around that time on Wednesday.
"We were looking but we did not see Iron Man," one person said on the air traffic recording.
The supposed jet pack sighting follows several others dating back to early 2020. In December 2020, a Southern California pilot captured a video of what appeared to be a person with a jet pack flying off the Palos Verdes Peninsula at around 3,000 feet.
Another sighting was reported in August 2020, after two different commercial airline pilots reported seeing a man in a jet pack hovering near LAX, ABC News reported.
“Reports of unmanned aircraft sightings from pilots, law enforcement personnel and the general public have increased dramatically over the past two years,” the FAA said on its website.
The agency says it receives more than 100 such reports each month.
Unauthorized operators flying around airplanes, helicopters and airports is illegal and may be subject to fines and criminal charges, including jail time, the FAA Says. The FAA spokesperson said the agency works with the FBI to investigate these sightings.
“The FAA has worked closely with the FBI to investigate every possible jet pack sighting report,” said the spokesperson. “We have not been able to validate any of the reports.”
ABC News’ Alex Stone and Mina Kaji contributed to this report.
(MT. LEBANON, Pa.) -- A horrific eruption of violence unfolded early Thursday in a Pennsylvania town when a 25-year-old man called police saying he killed his parents and wanted to surrender but then started a gunfight when officers arrived at his family's home, authorities said.
The deadly episode occurred in the Pittsburgh suburb of Mt. Lebanon. When it was over, the suspect was found dead and with a gunshot wound following a high-speed police chase that ended in a crash, police said.
Two officers were injured in the encounter, including one who was shot, officials said.
Just after midnight, a 911 dispatcher received a call from a man claiming to have killed his parents during a fight. When officers got on the phone with him, he told them he wanted to surrender, Deputy Chief Jason Haberman of the Mt. Lebanon Police Department said at an early morning news conference.
He said officers arrived at the man's house about 12:18 a.m. and confirmed both his parents were dead.
"He was very calm with the officers involved. They made phone contact with him. There was no indication he was not going to surrender," Haberman said.
Haberman said that even after officers initially arrived at the man's home, "there was no indication that he was going to turn this into a gunfight."
Without warning, the man, whose name was not immediately released, pulled a gun and started shooting at officers, hitting one from the neighboring Dormont Police Department, who was taken to a hospital and treated for non-life-threatening injuries, Haberman said.
Haberman said a second officer from the Mt. Lebanon Police Department suffered an unspecified non-shooting injury during the encounter and was treated at a hospital and released.
Officers from surrounding agencies set up a perimeter around the gunman's home, but the suspect somehow managed to get in a vehicle and breach the perimeter, Haberman said.
Haberman said officers were chasing the man south on Route 19 when he crashed. He said officers found the man dead in his vehicle and with a bullet wound.
Haberman said the man was not shot by police. He said Allegheny County police are investigating how the man was shot and whether that or the crash killed him.
The names of the suspect's parents were also being withheld, pending notification of relatives.
Haberman said Mt. Lebanon police had prior contact with the suspect and had gone to the family's home before to investigate reports of domestic violence.
"Thanks to the heroic acts of a number of officers involved and the assistance of a number of jurisdictions," Haberman said, "injuries were minimized and lives were saved."
(NEW YORK) -- As more people return to the skies, the largest flight attendant union in the U.S. is sounding the alarm on a rise in unruly passengers.
Eighty-five percent of the nearly 5,000 U.S. flight attendants The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO (AFA) surveyed said they had dealt with an unruly passenger in 2021.
Almost 60% said they had experienced not one, but at least five incidents this year, and 17% reported that the incident got physical.
Flight attendants recalled incidents in which visibly drunk passengers verbally abused them, "aggressively" challenged them for making sure passengers were in compliance with the federal mask mandate, shoved them, kicked seats, threw trash at them and defiled the restrooms.
More than half of the flight attendants reported that unruly passengers used racist, sexist and/or homophobic slurs.
"I've been yelled at, cursed at and threatened countless times in the last year and the most that has come out of it has been a temporary suspension of travel for the passenger," one flight attendant wrote in the survey. "We need real consequences if flight attendants are ever going to feel safe at work again.”
The AFA is doubling down on its call for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Department of Justice (DOJ) to "protect passengers and crew from disruptive, and verbally and physically abusive travelers."
The FAA is still enforcing its zero-tolerance policy for in-flight disruptions which could lead to fines as high as $52,500 and up to 20 years in prison. The agency has looked into more than 610 potential violations of federal law so far this year --- the highest number since the agency began keeping records in 1995.
When asked if any unruly passenger has paid the FAA's proposed fine, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson in late May didn't answer directly, saying only that the administration was still in the "very early stages" of enforcing the policy.
Last month, a coalition of airline lobbying groups and unions called on the Justice Department to go a step further and prosecute unruly passengers "to the fullest extent of the law."
"It is time to make the FAA ‘zero tolerance’ policy permanent," AFA-CWA President Sara Nelson said in a statement. "The Department of Justice to utilize existing statute to conduct criminal prosecution, and implement a series of actions proposed by our union to keep problems on the ground and respond effectively in the event of incidents."
"Let me be clear in underscoring something," Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said at a news conference in May. "It is a federal mandate that one must wear a mask in an airport, in the modes of public transportation, on the airplane itself — and we will not tolerate behavior that violates the law."
Seventy-one percent of surveyed flight attendants across 30 airlines said they "received no follow-up" when they filed an incident report with airline management and a majority said they "did not observe efforts to address the rise in unruly passengers by their employers."
Out of the 3,615 unruly passenger reports received by the FAA since January, the vast majority, 2,666, involved people who refuse to wear a mask.
"This is not just about masks as some have attempted to claim," Nelson said. There is a lot more going on here and the solutions require a series of actions in coordination across aviation."
(FRESNO, Calif.) -- It's 7:51 p.m. on a warm Friday night. Fresno, California, police officer Bret Hutchins and his two partners are checking on a burglary call. The 911 caller reported somebody broke into a garage and they can hear them banging around inside. The officers are having a hard time finding the burglary when their police radios come alive. Dispatch puts out the call of shots fired with a male victim down.
ABC News was riding along on this night. As the officers sprint back to their patrol SUVs, we ask, "What's going on?" After advising dispatch that he is responding, Hutchins says, "Victim of shooting, let's go." We jump in, slamming the patrol doors as Hutchins hits his lights and sirens and we scream off to the growling sound of the Ford Police Interceptor giving what seems like all of its horsepower.
Speeding through the streets of Fresno, onlookers standing to get into clubs watch and take pictures as we zoom by with sirens blaring to the latest act of violence in the city. On the police radio, another responding officer asks, "Did anybody see him get shot?" Dispatch relays that the caller found the man down.
As we pull up to the scene, Hutchins says aloud to himself the license plate numbers of every car pulling out to memorize them in case they could be a suspect fleeing the area who they will need to track down.
We arrive to a victim down, shot multiple times. Medics are still minutes away, so Hutchins and his partners grab medical kits from the back of their patrol vehicles and sprint toward the man who is unconscious and badly bleeding.
"Okay, I have one entry wound right here," Hutchins tells his partners as they begin CPR. "One, two, three, four, five, six ... " Hutchins counts as he begins doing chest compressions on what would become Fresno's 42nd murder of 2021. Shell casings litter the area. Who shot the man is unclear in the moment, but a search for a killer would get underway. In the hours that followed, homicide detectives would canvass the area for any tiny amount of evidence.
Like many American cities, Fresno is dealing with a sharp surge in gun crime. Fresno has a population of 525,000. Its population is bigger than Kansas City, Missouri, Pittsburgh or Cleveland, but operates with a fraction of officers of some smaller cities.
"What we're seeing, yes, is a peak in violent crime," Paco Balderrama, the city's new police chief, told ABC News. "And there's a lot of factors in that."
Balderrama became the chief of police in Fresno earlier this year after spending much of his career in Oklahoma and in Texas. Since arriving, he has been tasked with figuring out how to reduce the surging violence in his city. The vast majority of the gun violence is related to gangs and the guns are most often illegal.
"I'm talking about people who have been to prison who have no business carrying a gun. Active gang members. People who are intending to hurt somebody in a crime," Balderrama said.
At a time when many cities have seen their police budgets cut and amid calls to defund the police, Fresno is in a unique position in that it is rapidly trying to hire more officers to battle the crime. The city council and community groups have given support to the idea of bringing on more officers. Fresno is looking to hire 120 new officers in the next 18 months. Part of that effort is making up for attrition but others are additional positions to increase lagging police ranks.
"I think (120 officers) is a goal we can reach. We asked the city council for $125,000 in the budget toward recruiting for a new recruiting video, for billboards, for wraps for some of the cars," Balderrama said.
He knows the department needs to rapidly increase officer numbers in this time of high crime without lowering standards. Convincing people to become a police officer is a tough task right now due to a year of negative headlines, public perception, and pressure on police, he said.
In the meantime, Balderrama's department is looking for unique ways to end the violence with current staffing. One of those ideas is a program called Advance Peace or AP. Advance Peace is less than a year old in Fresno, partially funded by the city. Its mission is to interrupt gun violence before it happens.
Members of Advance Peace are sometimes former gang members and are close to the gang community. They get to know young gang members, foster relationships with them and try to give them other ways to get out their anger.
The group focuses on mainly young men who are prone to violence. "Before he commits a gun crime, he'll call us," Aaron Foster, who works for Advance Peace, told ABC News. "We try to get out in front of it."
Foster lost a son and a daughter to gang violence in Fresno in recent years. Now he works in the community to gain the trust of gang members.
"We know them mostly because we saw them grow up as a kid. When he was in junior high school, we knew this kid would be the next round of shooters," Foster said.
The staff at Advance Peace say they often get calls from young gang members they are mentoring who say they have just shot somebody and need advice on what to do next. The group will counsel them but, in order to keep their trust and credibility, does not turn them into police. Advance Peace lets police do their investigations without being a source of intelligence. Yet, when members believe there is a gang shooting coming they may tell police they should have units in a certain area beforehand to prevent violence.
Balderrama said he supports Advance Peace as one idea that might help reduce the violence in his city.
"When you build relationships you have influence. If you have no relationships you have no influence," Balderrama said. "Advance Peace gives us the ability to communicate and give people resources."
Advance Peace staff member Marcel Woodruff becomes emotional as he shows a shelf of pictures and funeral programs for those victims of gun violence the group has worked with in the past year. The list of names is long.
"There's nobody else actively seeking shooters who say 'Hey, I wanna take you to get some Popeye's Chicken,'" Woodruff said. "It is unique in that we are the only group saying we want those who have been deemed to be the most lethal in our city and want to build a relationship with them because we inherently know they've been the most unloved."
Leaders of Advance Peace say they are constantly defending themselves against critics of the program who believe the city is simply paying gang members to reduce violence. The organization works to justify its existence and relies on its own fundraising to keep much of the program up and running.
Across the country there is a long list of ideas on how to best reduce gun violence during this nationwide surge. California Assemblymember Marc Levine, a Democrat, is working on a bill that would place a 10% tax on guns and 11% tax on ammunition sales in California.
The money from the higher taxes would go toward gun violence prevention programs and is designed, like taxes on cigarettes, to maybe also deter some from buying guns and ammunition if they cost more money.
Levine said the amount of money raised through the gun tax would be substantial and would be put to good use. "These are proven programs to reduce gun violence in our communities. It would raise $100 million annually."
But critics of Levine's bill say it would not stop street crime in California cities because much of it is being done with stolen or so-called ghost guns that have been manufactured by an individual rather than a commercial gun manufacturer. Or, critics say, if somebody does want to buy a gun through a store or dealer they will just go to Nevada or Arizona to buy what they want through dealers that are willing to sell.
Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, believes such taxes and other laws punish legal gun owners.
"We have 400 million guns in private possession in America," Paredes said. "Any focus you put on reducing the number of guns in public is just not going to work. That horse has left the barn."
Police point out most of the guns they come in contact with are illegally obtained and harsher gun laws likely would not impact how they are bought and sold on the streets. Paredes argues the crime surge the U.S. is experiencing is a result of not enough police on the streets, lenient prosecutors and courts, and mental health issues.
"As long as they continue to look for solutions by controlling guns through laws only affecting law-abiding citizens, because they are the only ones who obey the laws, we are going to see an increase in the violent crime rate and use of firearms in commission of crimes," Paredes said.
Police say the increasing problem is homemade ghost guns, which are made using parts that can be purchased online or in stores and assembled in a home. They are primarily unregulated, unregistered and untraceable by typical means, police said.
Paredes counters that ghost guns aren't the problem police and the media make them seem to be and that ghost guns arguments are a way to ignore the bigger mental health problem suffered by those committing violence. "The whole issue of ghost guns are a red herring," Paredes said. "I believe it's elected officials deflecting."
Officer Hutchins in Fresno feels differently, though, as he is racing from call to call. "Lately, it's been the ghost guns that are the problem," said Hutchins.
Limiting access to guns being made in secret or illegal guns being passed around under the radar has proven to be tough to fix. Few seem to agree on the problem, let alone a solid solution. Marcel Woodruff at Advance Peace said gun laws won't fix the street crime problem. He believes it has to be a longer term solution by showing gang members how to live more fulfilling lives so they don't turn toward shootings to get what they want.
"So if we deal with the violence at the systemic and structural levels that are denying people access to things they need to move through life healthy, then we consequently reduce them using a firearm to make a way for themselves," said Woodruff.
For now Fresno police remain busy moving from shooting call to shooting call.
This story is part of the series Gun Violence in America by ABC News Radio. Each day this week we're exploring a different topic, from what we mean when we say "gun violence" – it's not just mass shootings – to what can be done about it. You can hear an extended version of each report as an episode of the ABC News Radio Specials podcast.
(WASHINGTON) -- New vaccine requirements for federal employees expected to be announced by President Joe Biden Thursday "very well" could mean troops will be required to get the shot, a senior Pentagon official told ABC News on Wednesday. But if not, it still may only be a matter of time.
Because COVID-19 vaccines are available to the military under the Food and Drug Administration's emergency use authorization (EUA), the shot has so far been strictly voluntary.
"It is not FDA approved, and therefore, it is still a voluntary vaccine," Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters earlier this month. "I would like to add that as we speak, almost 69% of DOD personnel have received at least one dose. That's not bad."
By last week, the proportion of fully vaccinated troops had risen past 70%, based on data from the Department of Defense. That's significantly higher than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's estimate of 49% for the U.S. population as a whole.
While the DOD can't independently decide to force service members to take a vaccine that isn't fully approved, the president "may under certain circumstances waive the option for members of the armed forces to accept or refuse administration of an EUA product," according to the FDA.
Biden said Tuesday that a federal mandate is "under consideration" and sources familiar with the discussion told ABC News the president is likely to announce federal employees will be required to be vaccinated, or else abide by "stringent COVID-19 protocols like mandatory mask wearing -- even in communities not with high or substantial spread -- and regular testing."
The president demurred on the issue when asked by ABC News White House correspondent Karen Travers as he arrived in Allentown, Pennsylvania, on Wednesday.
"I'm talking about made in America today, that's all I'm going to talk about," Biden replied. "Tomorrow I'll talk about whatever you want to talk about, including COVID."
If Biden doesn't include service members in a mandate for federal workers, one could still come later.
Pentagon officials have publicly said they would consider requiring COVID vaccinations, as is done with more than a dozen other vaccines, after the FDA fully approves the vaccines.
"I believe that when it's formally approved, which we expect pretty soon, we probably will go to that, and then that question will kind of be moot," Vice Adm. John Nowell told a sailor in a town hall question-and-answer video posted to Facebook last month.
On July 1 the Army Times reported it had obtained an internal Army memo that said commanders should "prepare for a directive to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for service members (on or around) 01 September 2021, pending full FDA licensure," the order said.
"As a matter of policy we do not comment on leaked documents. The vaccine continues to be voluntary," Maj. Jackie Wren, an Army spokesperson told ABC News. "If we are directed by DOD to change our posture, we are prepared to do so."
Mick Mulroy, former deputy assistant secretary of defense and ABC News analyst, said evidence should determine the issue.
"Readiness has always been a key component of any military, especially one as expeditionary as the U.S. Ever since the existence of vaccines they have been a part of the readiness capability," Mulroy said. "If the medical professionals in the CDC and the DOD determine it is safe and critical to protect our force from COVID and all its variants, then that should be dispositive on the issue."
So far, the Pentagon has not announced any official decisions for the future.
"There has been no change to our use of the vaccine as a voluntary measure of protection," Kirby said in a statement to ABC News Tuesday. "We continue to urge everyone in the department to get vaccinated."
A defense official confirmed on Wednesday that this stance has not changed.
ABC News' Luis Martinez, Molly Nagle and Chief White House Correspondent Cecilia Vega contributed to this report.
(NEW YORK) -- The Pacific Northwest is bracing for another heat wave as large wildfires continue to burn through the region.
While the spread of wildfires has slowed in recent days, that could soon change. Temperatures near Portland, Oregon, and Spokane, Washington, are expected to approach 100 degrees by Friday and dry lightning originating from the deadly monsoons in the Southwest could spark more fires.
Currently, dozens of uncontained wildfires are burning in the U.S., with the majority of them located in the West -- a region experiencing tinderbox conditions as a result of megadrought and climate change.
The Dixie Fire near the Feather River Canyon in Northern California has grown to nearly 218,000 acres, destroying more than a dozen structures, and was 23% contained. Crews are prepping for structure protection in Taylorsville, California. The fire is now the largest burning in the state and more than 8,000 people are under evacuation orders, according to the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services.
The Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon, currently the largest in the country and the third-largest in state history, has burned through more than 413,000 acres and was 53% contained by Tuesday.
The Tamarack Fire near Gardnerville, Nevada, has scorched more than 68,000 acres by Monday and was 59% contained.
A heat wave is blanketing much of the country outside the West as well.
The heat dome is continuing to build from the north and central Plains to New Orleans. Fifteen states are currently under heat warnings and advisories.
The humidity and high temps will make it feel more like 110 degrees for some areas. Some cities in the upper Midwest, such as Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Minneapolis, could break records as temperatures climb toward 100 degrees.
(MILWAUKEE, Wis.) -- A judge announced Wednesday that he has found probable cause to bring homicide charges against a Wisconsin police officer, five years after a local district attorney declared the officer was justified in his use of deadly force on a man he found sleeping in a car in a suburban Milwaukee park.
Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Glenn Yamahiro said at a hearing that there is probable cause that former Wauwatosa police officer Joseph Mensah committed the crime of homicide by negligent handling of a dangerous weapon when he killed 25-year-old Jay Anderson Jr. in 2016.
"This decision has not been taken lightly, nor was it predetermined. It is the result of a careful and extensive review of the evidence in this case," Yamahiro said.
Yamahiro came to his conclusion after holding a rarely used "John Doe hearing," which provides a forum and a procedure in Wisconsin for a citizen to ask a court to review a district attorney’s decision not to issue criminal charges in cases where the citizen believes one or more crimes have occurred.
“There is reason to believe, based on the testimony, that Officer Mensah created an unreasonable, substantial risk of death," Yamahiro said as he read his lengthy decision in a courtroom packed with Anderson's relatives.
Yamahiro said he will appoint a special prosecutor within 60 days to review the case and "decide which charge or charges, if any, they believe can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, a far higher standard than probable cause."
Anderson's loved ones, including his parents, burst into tears and applause upon hearing the judge's decision. Outside the courtroom, a large crowd of supporters cheered and began chanting Anderson's name.
"It's awesome, I can breathe," Anderson's mother, Linda Anderson, said after the hearing.
Anderson's father, Jay Anderson Sr., added, "We feel good. This is something that should have been done five years ago. This is justice, you guys, this is justice."
Now a Waukesha County, Wisconsin, deputy sheriff, Mensah left the Wauwatosa Police Department after fatally shooting 17-year-old Alvin Cole in 2020, an incident that sparked large protests in and around the Milwaukee area.
It was the third on-duty fatal shooting in five years that Mensah was involved in. His use of deadly force was justified by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm in each case, including the 2015 killing of 29-year-old Antonio Gonzales.
The Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office declined to comment on Yamahiro's ruling.
"What happened today is historic not just for the state of Wisconsin but for this country," said Kimberley Motley, an attorney for the Anderson family who requested the John Doe hearing.
Motley also represents the families of Gonzales and Cole.
Anderson's death unfolded just after 3 a.m. on June 23, 2016, when Mensah found him sleeping in a car in Madison Park.
“Approximately five and one-half minutes after Officer Mensah entered the park, Mr. Anderson was shot," Yamahiro said.
Mensah claimed he opened fire in self-defense when Anderson "lunged for a gun" that was in the passenger seat of the car he was in, according to evidence presented at the John Doe hearing Yamahiro held between Feb. 19 and May 19 of this year.
During Wednesday's hearing, Yamahiro said Mensah failed to activate his body-worn camera until after the shooting and did not turn on his squad car's emergency lights, which would have automatically switched on his vehicle's dashboard camera. Mensah's body-worn camera, however, activated automatically and recorded about 25 seconds of the incident without audio and captured the shooting.
"The court has also heard testimony that Officer Mensah failed to activate his emergency lights or recording equipment at the time Antonio Gonzales was shot in 2015," Yamahiro noted.
In an interview with Milwaukee Police Department investigators, the agency assigned to conduct an independent investigation of the shooting, Mensah claimed that when he approached the vehicle Anderson was in, he saw a handgun through the open passenger-side window lying on the passenger seat.
Mensah claimed that Anderson initially complied with orders to put his hands up, but during the encounter, he claimed Anderson appeared to reach for the gun with his right hand four different times before he lunged for the weapon, according to his statement to investigators.
During the John Doe hearing, two retired police homicide detectives testifying as expert witnesses claimed Mensah's story of how Anderson was shot conflicted with the physical evidence at the crime scene and the findings of an autopsy that showed Mensah was shot three times in the right side of his head and once in the right shoulder.
Ricky Burems, a retired Milwaukee Police Department detective who has investigated more than 1,000 homicides, testified that if Anderson had been lunging for the gun, he would have sustained wounds to the front of his body, the front of his head or his upper chest and even the top of his head. Burems also said there would have been blood on the passenger seat.
"All of the blood was on the driver's seat, the driver's floor, the roof of the driver's seat, the backrest, the pad or bottom where your legs and butt are and also the driver's headrest," Burems said, according to a transcript of his testimony that Yamahiro read in court Wednesday.
"So that tells me that when Mr. Anderson was shot, he was facing straight ahead. If Mr. Anderson had been lunging toward the passenger seat, that’s where his body would have been," Burems testified. "So there’s no way that he could be shot while extending or leaning or lunging toward the passenger seat and then afterward be upright in the driver's seat with his hands on his lap."
Yamahiro also said that before Milwaukee police investigators arrived at Madison Park, the crime scene was compromised by other Wauwatosa police officers who removed the gun from Anderson's car without first taking photos of the weapon and the position it was in when Anderson was shot.
“That is critical evidence that the Milwaukee Police Department didn’t get to, because Wauwatosa had already handled the gun and already moved it from the car, and already cleared it," Yamahiro said. “I don’t know if that means they unloaded it or if they looked and saw there were no bullets in it, to begin with."
Efforts by ABC News to reach Mensah on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
The Waukesha County Sheriff's Office, where Mensah now works, released a statement saying, "In light of Judge Glenn Yamahiro's decision regarding Joseph Mensah, Sheriff Eric Severson will be reviewing all of his options, and will have a more detailed statement and decision forthcoming."
Wauwatosa Police Chief James MacGillis, who has been on the job for just three days, read a statement during a brief news conference, saying, "The officers of the Wauwatosa Police Department continue their dedication to public safety for all citizens and understand that this is a time for community healing and trust-building."
MacGillis said he has contacted the Anderson family in private to express his condolences.
"Now is the time to process the judge's decision and then move forward," MacGillis said. "The legal process has played itself out, and it’s going to continue to play itself out. My role is to lead this department, look at processes, look at how we function as an organization."
(INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.) -- The FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit concluded that the shooter who killed eight at a FedEx facility in April carried out the shooting as "an act of suicidal murder."
"The shooter decided to commit suicide in a way which he believed would demonstrate his masculinity and capability of fulfilling a final desire to experience killing people," FBI Indianapolis Special Agent in Charge Paul Keenan said at a press conference announcing the results of the investigation Wednesday.
In April, Brandon Scott Hole allegedly opened fire outside the building and in a locker room area of the FedEx facility just outside of Indianapolis.
Hole was "indiscriminate" at who he shot at both inside and outside of the facility, adding that he was outside for a total of three minutes before walking back into the locker room and taking his own life, Craig McCartt, deputy chief of investigations for the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, said.
He was stopped from entering the facility by the physical security barriers put in place.
"It certainty could've been much worse had he gotten access to the back part of that facility where there was a lot of other employees," McCartt said.
Acting U.S. Attorney John Childress said Hole was "exacerbated by mental health issues."
The Behavioral Analysis Unit concluded that shooter "did not appear" to be motivated by the need to address any injustices, nor did the shooter "appear to have been motivated by bias, or desire to advance any ideology." Four of the victims of the shooting came from the area's Sikh community.
The FBI said that after examining over 175,000 files on his computer they found 200 files of "mainly German military, German Nazi things."
"But there was no indication that there was any animosity towards the Sikh community or any other group for that matter," Keenan said.
The FBI said there wasn't any evidence to suggest he targeted the FedEx facility other than that is a location he knew well. Also, the FBI said 73% of mass shooters carry out an attack at a place with which they are familiar. Hole had worked at the facility from August to October 2020.
"He also incorrectly believed he had identified a vulnerability which would have given him unobscured access to many potential victims," Keenan said.
McCartt also said that Hole's mother reported him to the IMPD in March 2020, saying he might want to carry out suicide by cop after which the department confiscated a shotgun belonging to Hole. A police report from that incident showed that officers also observed white supremacist material on Hole's computer.
"He never got that gun back in his possession, but then some months later he was able to buy more firearms," McCartt explained.
The FBI said Hole started acquiring guns that were used in the eventual shooting in July 2020.
The shooter simply just stopped showing up for work and that is why he lost his job, McCartt explained, adding Hole acted alone in his efforts.
"In talking with other employees and FedEx personnel, he had never had any kind of issue there," McCartt added.
(NEW YORK) -- New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday announced that all patient-facing health care workers in hospitals run by the state will be required to get vaccinated. He said, “There will be no testing option.”
Additionally, as of Labor Day, all state employees must either be vaccinated or get tested on a weekly basis.
Governor Cuomo said the decision was made due to the “dramatic action” needed to control a surge in COVID-19 cases linked to the Delta variant. He said school districts in areas of high transmission should also consider taking a more aggressive approach.
“I understand the politics, but I understand if we don’t take the right actions, schools can become super-spreaders in September,” Cuomo said.
Calling on private sector businesses, Cumo said they should incentivize vaccinations by only allowing vaccinated people in.
75% of adults in New York state have been vaccinated.