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COVID-19 hospitalizations in Texas continue to decline
  • Updated

Associated Press

DALLAS — The count of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Texas has continued to decline, even as state health official reported more than 1,600 new cases of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus Sunday.

The Texas Department of State Health Services reported 21 new fatalities from COVID-19 Sunday along with 1,465 confirmed cases of the virus and 219 probable cases.

There were 2,817 people in state hospitals with the disease Saturday, the most recent day for which data is available. That’s fewest since June of last year.

The lower hospitalization count comes as more than 15% of Texans have been fully vaccinated, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The federal Centers for Disease Control reports 27% of the state’s population has received at least one dose

Around one in twenty coronavirus tests administered in Texas over the last week have come back positive, according to the university data.

Texas is set to receive 2.5 million more doses of coronavirus vaccines this week, according to state health officials. All Texans 16 and older are eligible to receive the vaccine.

Hymns through masks: Christians mark another pandemic Easter
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VATICAN CITY — Christianity’s most joyous feast day was celebrated worldwide with the faithful spaced apart in pews and singing choruses of “Hallelujah” through face coverings on a second Easter Sunday marked by pandemic precautions.

From vast Roman Catholic cathedrals to Protestant churches, worshippers followed regulations on the coronavirus. In some European countries, citizens lined up on Easter for their turn to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

In the Lombardy region of Italy, where the pandemic first erupted in the West, a hospital gave a traditional dove-shaped Easter cake symbolizing peace to each person waiting to get vaccinated. Many who came were in their 80s.

A soccer team in Lyon, France, opened its stadium as a vaccination center for the long holiday weekend. Some 9,000 people were expected to receive their shots there over three days as the French government tries to speed up vaccinations amid a fresh outbreak of infections.

In the Holy Land, travel restrictions and quarantine regulations prevented foreign pilgrims from flocking to religious sites in Jerusalem during Holy Week, which culminates in Easter celebrations. Pope Francis lamented that the pandemic has prevented some churchgoers from attending services.

At St. Peter’s Basilica, the 200 or so faithful allowed to attend looked lost in the cavernous cathedral. Normally, thousands would be at the Mass celebrated by Francis, and more than 100,00 would sometimes assemble outside in St. Peter’s Square to receive his Easter blessing afterward.

But this year, as in 2020, crowds are banned from gathering in Italy and at the Vatican. Francis delivered his noon Easter address on world affairs from inside the basilica, using the occasion to appeal anew that vaccines reach the poorest countries.

The pontiff sounded weary as he noted that pandemic measures have affected religious holiday traditions and kept some faithful from public worship.

“We pray that these restrictions, as well as all restrictions on freedom of worship and religion worldwide, may be lifted and everyone be allowed to pray and praise God freely,’’ Francis said.

In Syria, where a national vaccination program has yet to begin, churchgoers in the Lady of Damascus Church prayed for a way out of the economic and political crisis, only worsened by the pandemic.

“We came to the church for Easter so we get rid of the pandemic that we are in,” said Bassam Assaf. “Of course, we are not scared of coronavirus. It is the reality that we face, but it cannot stop us from coming and praying to God to take us out of this ordeal and help the world.”

A service at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem was celebrated by the senior Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land. That is the site where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and rose from the dead. Israel’s successful vaccination campaign has allowed reopening of many places, including religious sites.

The pandemic kept Seville’s Brotherhood of the Holy Resurrection from sending its ornate Easter float, bearing a towering statue of Jesus, through the streets of the Spanish city. Instead, the Brotherhood posted videos and old photos from their last procession, two years ago.

Some Pentecostal Christians in South Africa canceled a three-day retreat starting on Good Friday. On the hills overlooking Soweto, a Johannesburg township, Apostolic Pentecostals gathered in small groups Sunday to mark Easter.

In South Korea, Yoido Full Gospel Church, the country’s biggest Protestant church, allowed only about 2,000 people to attend Easter service, or about 17% of the capacity of the main building. Masked worshippers sang hymns and prayed as the service was broadcast online and by Christian TV channels.

Intent on tamping down weeks of surging infections, the Italian government ordered people to stay home for the three-day weekend except for essential errands. Premier Mario Draghi’s government did allow one visit to family or friends per day in residents’ home regions over the weekend, which includes the national holiday on Monday.

Italy permits religious services in the pandemic if capacity is limited and masks are worn. But early on, the predominantly Roman Catholic country’s many churches were open only for individual prayer.

Hundreds of Catholics gathered in the mammoth Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota, for the Easter Vigil service Saturday evening. Every other pew was kept empty and masks were mandatory. Still, the solemn liturgy marked a new, hopeful beginning for the congregation after a turbulent year.

After all-virtual Easter services last year, St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City was at half-capacity for Sunday’s Mass. Worshippers spaced themselves out in the vaulted neo-Gothic cathedral, which can seat more than 2,000. The choir sang through masks.

In Detroit, Hartford Memorial Baptist Church opened for in-person Easter services for the first time in more than a year, with capacity limits and social distancing rules in place. The Rev. Charles Christian Adams told the Detroit Free Press that people need church, especially after the congregation lost at least 14 members to COVID-19.

Tonee Carpio said physically being in St. Vincent de Paul Church in Austin, Texas, meant a lot to her after services last year were offered only online. She said being in church helps keep her Filipino culture alive in her city, since some prayers are offered in her native Tagalog.

“When you’re inside a church, you become more solemn, you can focus on God,” she said.

In Florida, Eastgate Christian Fellowship in Panama City Beach hosted its annual sunrise service on the beach. The church had to scrap the service last year because all beaches were closed. Pastor Janelle Green estimated that about 400 people participated.

Robin Fox of Palm Bay, planned to spend Sunday driving her mother to Orlando to get a second dose of vaccine at a Federal Emergency Management Agency walk-up site.

“She’s getting that freedom on the same day that (people go to) church to celebrate Jesus being risen, so I said (to her), ‘it’s kind of like you’re being risen also,’” Fox said.

EXPLAINER: Legion of Chauvin prosecutors, each with own role
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Viewers watching the trial of a former Minneapolis officer charged with murder in George Floyd ‘s death may be struck by the array of prosecutors taking turns presenting their case. The choice of who does what is no accident.

While Derek Chauvin ‘s attorney, Eric Nelson, works alone, the prosecution is being handled by two assistant attorneys general, Matthew Frank and Erin Eldridge, and two outside lawyers, Jerry Blackwell and Steve Schleicher. Ten more are working behind the scenes, many for free.

Experts agree the roles played by prosecutors are based on the skill sets each brings, but appearances matter, too.

Why did Blackwell give the opening statement?

The undercurrent of racial tension — a white police officer accused of killing a Black man — can’t be ignored. Blackwell is a prominent Black civil rights attorney and one of the founders of the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers. Last year, he won a posthumous pardon for a Black man wrongly convicted of rape before the infamous Duluth lynchings of 1920.

But law professors following the case said it’s Blackwell’s unique ability to translate complicated legal jargon into information jurors can understand that made him the obvious pick to lay out the prosecution’s case.

“One of the things he’s known for is his ability to speak English rather than ‘legalese,’” said Joseph Daly, emeritus professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota. “It’s extremely important in this case just to try to explain what the elements of the crimes are that Mr. Chauvin is charged with.”

Assistant Attorney General Erin Eldridge questioned two of the youngest witnesses. Why?

Eldridge joined the Minnesota attorney general’s office in 2018. Before that, she served as a special assistant U.S. attorney in Nebraska and the Northern District of Iowa.

Jonathan Simon, a professor at University of California Berkeley School of Law, noted that our culture associates women with “being more caretaking toward children, toward juveniles.”

Using Eldridge as the questioner may help to “ease the witnesses’ experience and get their testimony as effectively as possible, but also to help the jury see this in the most sympathetic light,” Simon said.

Daly said Eldridge “was particularly adept at showing empathy and kindness and a certain softness, which I think is really important when you’re questioning children.”

When an 18-year-old witness, Alyssa Funari, began to cry, Eldridge told her to take her time and offered a tissue.

“Is this difficult for you to talk about?” Eldridge asked. “Do you need a minute?”

Is there a drawback

to using so many different prosecutors?

St. Louis University School of Law professor Sue McGraugh said she sought to make a personal connection with jurors when she was a prosecutor. She said she’s rarely seen a case with so many prosecutors, and that it carries some risk.

“It’s unusual because, as someone who has tried a lot of cases, you do want the jury to form some sort of attachment to someone on the legal team,” McGraugh said.

So, why so many?

It’s evidence of the stakes in the trial that Daly called “possibly one of the most important cases ever in the United States and possibly the world.”

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz appointed Attorney General Keith Ellison to handle the prosecution just days after Floyd’s death, and Ellison vowed to utilize whatever resources were necessary.

Frank and Schleicher have handled the lion’s share of questioning since the trial began. Frank is a 21-year veteran of the attorney general’s office and has led the criminal division for 14 years. Daly called Frank “the most experienced and skilled lawyer in the criminal division of the attorney general’s office.”

Schleicher is a veteran trial attorney and prosecutor who works for the law firm Maslon LLP. He spent 13 years in the U.S. attorney’s office and was a prosecutor in the case of Danny Heinrich, who confessed in 2016 that he killed 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling in 1989, and led authorities to his body.

What is the full

depth of the prosecution team?

The prosecution team has 13 lawyers, said John Stiles, Ellison’s spokesman, and a 14th acted as a jury consultant.

Ellison, Frank and Eldridge are the only ones who work in the attorney general’s office. The team also includes Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Joshua Larson and nine outside attorneys. Stiles said the outside attorneys are all working pro bono, or without pay.

The roster behind the scenes is deep. Perhaps the best-known player is Neal Katyal, former U.S. acting solicitor general who has argued dozens of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Katyal led a successful effort to get a third-degree murder charge reinstated against Chauvin after the judge initially ruled it didn’t fit the circumstances.

Stiles said in an email that about half of the outside attorneys are working full-time on the case.

What about

the defense?

Nelson is the lone defense attorney, aided in court by a legal assistant who is also an attorney but who hasn’t taken part in the courtroom arguments. The defense is funded through the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association’s legal defense fund. Though Chauvin was fired soon after Floyd’s death, he has the right to representation through his years as a member of his local union.

Nelson is an attorney with the Minneapolis firm Halberg Criminal Defense and one of 12 attorneys for the MPPOA who take turn handling officer-involved cases. While Nelson is alone in court, he can consult with the other 11 attorneys, the association said.

Still, the in-court optics are hard to ignore.

Judge Peter Cahill has said Nelson “does not have the same level of support” as the prosecution.

Amid outcry, states push mental health training for police
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The officer who Cassandra Quinto-Collins says kneeled on her son’s neck for over four minutes assured her it was standard protocol for sedating a person experiencing a mental breakdown.

“I was there watching it the whole time,” Quinto-Collins told The Associated Press. “I just trusted that they knew what they were doing.”

Angelo Quinto’s sister had called 911 for help calming him down during an episode of paranoia on Dec. 23. His family says Quinto didn’t resist the Antioch, California, officers — one who pushed his knee on the back of his neck, and another who restrained his legs — and the only noise he made was when he twice cried out, “Please don’t kill me.”

The officers replied, “We’re not going to kill you,” the family said. Police deny putting pressure on his neck. Three days later, the 30-year-old Navy veteran and Filipino immigrant died at a hospital.

It is the latest stark example of the perils of policing people with mental health issues. In response to several high-profile deaths of people with mental health issues in police custody, lawmakers in at least eight states are introducing legislation to change how law enforcement agencies respond to those in crisis.

The proposals lean heavily on additional training for officers on how to interact with people with mental health problems. It’s a common response when lawmakers face widespread outcry over police brutality like the U.S. saw last year following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. But none of the proposals appear to address the root question: Should police be the ones responding when someone is mentally ill?

In California, lawmakers introduced legislation on Feb. 11 that, among other things, would require prospective officers to complete college courses that address mental health, social services and psychology, without requiring a degree.

In New York, lawmakers in January proposed an effort to require law enforcement to complete a minimum of 32 credit hours of training that would include techniques on de-escalation and interacting with people who have mental health issues.

The proposal came nearly a year after Rochester, New York, officers put a spit hood over Daniel Prude’s head and pressed his naked body against the street until he stopped breathing. The victim’s family, like Quinto’s, said they had called 911 for help after Prude, who is Black, began having a mental health episode.

Similarly, in Utah, the mother of 13-year-old Linden Cameron called 911 in September because he was having a breakdown and she needed help from a crisis intervention officer. Salt Lake City police ended up shooting him multiple times as he ran away because they believed he made threats involving a weapon.

He was hospitalized, and no weapon was found. The officers were not crisis intervention specialists but had some mental health training.

Last month, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed legislation that will create a council to standardize training for police crisis intervention teams statewide.

At least 34 states already require officers to have training or other education on interacting with people who have physical or mental health conditions. But law enforcement experts say updated training is needed and agencies are far behind.

“The training that police have received for the past I’d say 25 years has not changed significantly, and it’s out of date, and it doesn’t meet today’s realities,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington-based think tank. “I mean the last thing a mother wants when they call the police is for an officer to use force. Especially in a situation that didn’t call for it because the officers weren’t trained in how to recognize a crisis.”

Some of the new legislation looks to strengthen or improve standards. But because mental health training is a mandate in a majority of states, some advocates and experts believe it may never fully prepare officers on how to respond.

The Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit dedicated to getting treatment for the mentally ill, concluded in a 2015 report those with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter than others.

“The solution that would have the most impact on the problem is to prevent people with mental illness from encountering law enforcement in the first place,” said Elizabeth Sinclair Hancq, co-author of the report.

Since that is not always possible, she said, another solution is to create co-responder programs where a social worker or other mental health professional assists officers on such calls.

That is what Philadelphia introduced in October, weeks before officers fatally shot Walter Wallace Jr., a Black man, within a minute of arriving at his address for the third time in a day while he was having a mental health crisis. Police said Wallace ignored commands to drop a knife.

Other cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, have similar programs.

For families of victims, who now say they regret calling 911 for help, required training and legislative reform are long overdue.

“In retrospect, it wasn’t the smartest idea to call the police,” said Isabella Collins, the 18-year-old sister of Quinto, who died in California. “But I just wanted him to be able to calm down, and I thought that they could help with that.”

Antioch police didn’t release details of Quinto’s death for more than a month. Police Chief Tammany Brooks has denied that officers used a knee or anything else to put pressure on Quinto’s head, neck or throat. An investigation and autopsy are underway.

The department didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Quinto’s family filed a wrongful-death claim against the city in February, claiming he “died as a direct consequence of the unreasonable force used against him.”

“I guess it was really naive of me to think that he wouldn’t get hurt,” Collins said.