The nation’s overall death toll from Covid-19 has eclipsed 380,000, according to Johns Hopkins University, and is closing in fast on the number of Americans killed in World War II, or about 407,000. Confirmed infections have topped 22.8 million.
With the country simultaneously facing a political crisis and on edge over threats of more violence from far-right extremists, the US recorded 4,327 deaths on Tuesday by Johns Hopkins’ count. Arizona and California have been among the hardest-hit states.
The daily figure is subject to revision, but deaths have been rising sharply over the past 2 1/2 months, and the country is now in the most lethal phase of the outbreak yet, even as the vaccine is being rolled out. New cases are running at nearly a quarter-million per day on average.
More than 9.3 million Americans have received their first shot of the vaccine, or less than 3% of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is well short of the hundreds of millions who experts say will need to be inoculated to vanquish the outbreak.
The effort is ramping up around the country. Large-scale, drive-thru vaccination sites have opened at stadiums and other places, enabling people to get their shots through their car windows.
Also, an increasing number of states have begun offering vaccinations to the next group in line — senior citizens — with the minimum age varying from place to place at 65, 70 or 75. Up to now, health care workers and nursing home residents have been given priority in most places.
And the Trump administration announced plans Tuesday to speed up the vaccination drive by releasing the whole supply of doses, instead of holding large quantities in reserve to make sure people get their second shot on time.
Biden admin withdraws move to rescind work authorisation for H-1B spouses
Way back in February 2019, when the Trump administration began to take concrete steps towards rescinding this employment authorisation program, US Vice-President Kamala Harris (who was then a Senator) had tweeted, “This is outrageous and will force immigrant women who are doctors, nurses, scientists and academics among others to abandon their professional careers. I called on DHS last year to withdraw this proposal and will continue to fight this.” Nearly two years later, this fight comes to an end.
This is outrageous & will force immigrant women who are doctors, nurses, scientists & academics, among others, to a… https://t.co/gBvwDqpTmp
— Vice President Kamala Harris (@VP) 1550869727000
The proposed rule – ‘Removing H-4 dependent spouses from the class of aliens eligible for employment authorisation’ was under review by the Office of Management and Business (OMB). In other words, it was in its final stages of a roll-out.
Soon after the Biden administration stepped in, it stayed for a 60-day period, subject to further extensions, various proposed policies including the proposal to rescind the employment authorisation program. Now, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has formally withdrawn this proposed rule.
Spouses of H-1B workers are given an H-4 visa. Only in certain cases, such as where the H-1B visa recipient is on track for a green card or where the H-1B visa recipient has got an extension beyond the permitted six years, could the H-4 spouse apply for an employment authorisation document.
To take care of the decades-long green card backlog for certain sections, such as applicants from India, the Obama administration in 2015 had introduced the ‘H-4 Employment Authorization Document (EAD) rule.”
Given that the expected wait time for Indians caught in the backlog of the employment-based green card for EB-2 and EB-3 (skilled category) runs to 84 years, according to a CATO Institute study – the EAD program proved to be very useful, especially for families struggling to survive on a single income.
According to the latest available official data, up to December, 2017, nearly 84,360 Indian spouses (largely wives) held an EAD (this was 93% of the total EADs issued). The number of such Indian spouses is now estimated to be over a lakh.
The EAD program meant more than financial freedom by enabling them to take up jobs or be self-employed, as the work authorisation also enabled spouses to obtain a social security number, open a bank account and get a driving license.
SaveH4EAD, a group that started in December 2017, which currently has an outreach of several thousands has tweeted, “After years of advocacy, meeting Congress members, DHS/OMB and collecting irrefutable data on value-add of H4-EAD not only to economy but also to provide life of dignity to thousands of immigrants, we are pleased to announce that the new administration has withdrawn regulation to help #SaveH4EAD.”
After years of advocacy, meeting congress members, DHS/OMB & collecting irrefutable data on value add of H4EAD not… https://t.co/dbrmItHazw
— Save H4EAD (@SaveH4EADs) 1611703268000
TOI has in the past covered the efforts of this group and had narrated how the American dream for many families would be shattered, if the EAD program came to an end.
Plans to return or migrate elsewhere emerge for over 80,000 Indian families in US
The H4-EAD program has been involved in a long-drawn lawsuit filed by Save Jobs USA, which states that the EAD program takes away American jobs. Lately delays in getting the EAD extensions in a timely manner, has led to many H-4 visa holders filing lawsuits across the country.
The next step according to SaveH4EAD is to streamline the process so that no one loses their jobs owing to processing delays.
Todd Schulte, President of FWD.us, a bipartisan political organisation, whose founders include Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and others stated, “We commend the Biden-Harris Administration for taking immediate action to turn the page from the Trump-Pence Administration’s disastrous immigration policies, and to do right by more than 100,000 hardworking immigrants who are contributing to the United States every single day in the midst of a deadly pandemic. Allowing H-4 visa holders the ability to continue working and providing for their families has profound, life-changing effects for these individuals and our communities. Roughly 93 percent are women, and many are working in essential roles that are key to supporting our nation’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.”
“At the end of the day, there is no successful economic or public health recovery without bold action from lawmakers to protect immigrant essential workers and keep immigrant families safe and together. Congress must work together to immediately pass the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, which would formalize work authorization for H-4 visa holders, create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrant essential workers, and address the bureaucratic backlogs that plague our broken immigration system,” added Schulte.
#MeToo: Harvey Weinstein to pay sexual abuse victims $17 million
Weinstein, 68, was sentenced to 23 years in prison last year after being convicted of rape and sexual assault.
Delaware Judge Mary Walrath on Monday agreed to the Weinstein Company’s liquidation plan, which sets aside the payment.
She overruled the objections of several of Weinstein’s victims who complained that the settlement prevented them from pursuing other legal claims.
The money will be split between 37 women, meaning they are each likely to receive six-figure sums.
Lawyers representing some victims had earlier denounced the proposed settlement as insufficient.
Eight accusers who rejected the settlement will be able to sue the ex-Hollywood mogul later.
Weinstein was found guilty in February 2020 of a criminal sexual act in the first degree and rape in the third degree in a landmark verdict for the #MeToo movement.
His sentence capped a remarkable downfall for the “Pulp Fiction” producer who was accused of years of vile predatory behavior by almost 90 women, including Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayek.
The Weinstein Company declared bankruptcy in March 2018 after the avalanche of claims. Lantern Capital, later renamed Spyglass Media Group, bought its assets for $289 million.
Weinstein is also awaiting trial in Los Angeles on rape and sexual assault charges involving five women.
US to purchase additional 200 million coronavirus vaccine doses
After reviewing the current vaccine supply and manufacturing plans, Biden announced that his administration will increase overall weekly vaccination distribution to states and tribal territories from 8.6 million doses to a minimum of 10 million doses.
Starting next week, that’s an increase of 1.4 million doses per week, he said adding that these are being distributed to states based on population.
“We’ve got a long way to go, though,” he said in his address to the nation on the steps he is taking to address the coronavirus pandemic.
Reiterating his ambitious goal of 100 million shots in 100 days, he said the end goal is to beat Covid-19.
Biden said he is directing Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients to work with the Department of Health and Human Services and increase the supply of vaccines for the American people.
“We believe that we will soon be able to confirm the purchase of an additional 100 million doses for each of the two FDA authorised vaccines Pfizer and Moderna,” he said, adding this is 200 million more doses that the federal government had previously secured not in hand yet but ordered.
“We expect these additional 200 million doses to be delivered this summer,” he said.
Observing that there are enough vaccine doses to fully vaccinate 300 Americans by the end of the summer, he stressed that over 400,000 people in the country have already died from coronavirus in the past year.
“This is a wartime undertaking. It is not hyperbole, and as such, I directed the team to be ready to exercise all of the authorities I have under the Defense Production Act and expedite these vaccines, and we are using the Defense Production Act to launch full-scale wartime effort to address the supply shortages we inherited from the previous administration,” he said.
“These aggressive steps to increase vaccine supply come on top of the steps we took last week to get more people vaccinated for free, to create more places for them to get vaccinated and to mobilise more medical teams to get shots in people’s arms,” Biden said.
The president has also directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to stand up the first federally supported community vaccination centers. That work is under way, he said.
“We are working to make vaccines available to thousands of local pharmacies beginning in early February, a couple of weeks off, and that will enormously expand our reach,” he said