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Asia Today: China sees virus outbreaks across its northeast

BEIJING (AP) – China was dealing with coronavirus outbreaks across its frigid northeast on Tuesday, prompting additional lockdowns and travel bans ahead of next month’s Lunar New Year holiday.

The country reported another 118 cases on Tuesday, with 43 of those in the province of Jilin. Hebei province just outside Beijing saw another 35 cases, while Heilongjiang province bordering Russia reported 27 new cases.

Beijing, where some residential communities and outlying villages have been placed under lockdown, reported just one new case.

A fourth northern province, Liaoning, has also imposed quarantines and travel restrictions to prevent the virus from further spreading, part of measures being imposed across much of the country to prevent new outbreaks during during February’s Lunar New Year holiday.

Authorities have called on citizens not to travel, ordered schools closed a week early and conducted testing on a massive scale.

Hebei’s provincial capital, Shijiazhuang, has been building a complex of prefabricated housing units to allow the quarantine of more than 3,000 people as it struggles to control more infections.

China has reported a total of 88,454 cases and 4,635 deaths since coronavirus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019. China does not include people who test positive but have no symptoms in its count.

A multinational team of investigators from the World Health Organization are currently in Wuhan undergoing two weeks of quarantine before beginning field visits in hopes of gaining clues into the origins of the pandemic that has now killed more than 2 million people.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

– Travelers to New Zealand from most other nations will need to show negative pre-departure coronavirus tests from Jan. 25, officials announced Tuesday. New Zealand recently imposed the rule on travelers from the U.S. and the U.K. and is extending it to all other countries, with the exception of Australia and a handful of Pacific Island nations. Travelers returning from Antarctica are also exempt. COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said New Zealand has some of the strictest border measures in the world, which it needs to maintain its strategy of eliminating the virus. There is currently no community spread of the virus in New Zealand, with all known infections among travelers who have been put into quarantine at the border. Most travelers are required to spend two weeks in quarantine upon arrival.

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Heat rally from 19 down, top Pistons 113-107 to end slide

MIAMI (AP) – The Miami Heat eventually showed up to a game already behind schedule.

Bam Adebayo had 28 points and 11 rebounds and the short-handed Heat got their biggest comeback win of the season, rallying from 19 down to beat the Detroit Pistons 113-107 on Monday night to snap a three-game slide.

Goran Dragic scored 22 points for the Heat, who got 18 apiece from Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn. Miami was again without Jimmy Butler and Avery Bradley (virus protocols), Tyler Herro (neck) and Meyers Leonard (shoulder).

Jerami Grant had 27 points for Detroit, but his layup that could have gotten the Pistons within three was blocked by Adebayo with 31 seconds left. Wayne Ellington made seven 3-pointers and scored 24 for the Pistons, who got 21 from Derrick Rose and 15 from Mason Plumlee.

Detroit’s Blake Griffin was shaken up in the final seconds and limped off the court after the final buzzer. He had five points in 36 minutes.

The game was supposed to start at 3 p.m. Eastern; it started at 8 p.m., delayed by the NBA to allow time for COVID-19 tests to be processed.

“We found out mid-morning when we already had our walkthrough, our breakfast and testing,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “So, it just changed the time that the bus left. … We can’t even leave the rooms anyway.”

Waiting all day didn’t seem to bother Detroit early.

It was 11-2 when Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called his first timeout after three minutes, and 12-2 when the timeout ended. A review of a jumper by Ellington showed it was a 3-pointer, not a 2-pointer, and just like that the Pistons were up 10.

Detroit’s lead was 28-9 after 7 minutes following another 3 by Ellington.

The Heat chipped away, briefly got the lead back late in the half, and used a 24-10 run to take a 12-point lead early in the fourth before needing to hang on at the end.

TIP-INS

Pistons: Detroit is one of two teams without back-to-back wins this season. The other is Miami. … Ellington got fouled twice on 3-pointers, making all three free throws on the first, missing after making the 3 on the second. … Grant is the 12th player in Pistons history to score 20 points in at least 12 consecutive games.

Heat: Miami has used nine starting lineups through 12 games, with Dragic starting Monday for the first time this season. Brooklyn and Cleveland have also used nine starting lineups so far; Utah is the only team to use only one. … Dragic’s first assist was the 4,000th of his career.

KING TRIBUTE

As part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration, a recording of the Black national anthem – “Lift Every Voice and Sing” – was played pregame, preceding “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The teams gathered at midcourt, holding a banner bearing King’s words “I Have A Dream.”

SCHEDULE QUIRK

The last five Heat-Pistons games have all been in Miami. The last time Miami went to Detroit was exactly two years ago Monday. Miami will visit the Pistons once in the season’s second half.

UP NEXT

Pistons: Visit Atlanta on Wednesday.

Heat: Visit Toronto in Tampa, Florida, on Wednesday.

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Stanford shutdown study shows ‘no clear significant’ benefit to lockdowns

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and other lockdown critics have been accused for months of ignoring the science on the novel coronavirus, but a recently released study by Stanford University researchers is providing an empirical boost to those who want to shut down the shutdowns.

A peer-reviewed article in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation found “no clear significant beneficial effect” from stay-at-home orders and business closures in eight nations, including the United States, versus voluntary measures adopted by South Korea and Sweden.

Published Jan. 5, the article offers what may be the strongest scientific challenge yet to more restrictive non-pharmaceutical interventions, or NPIs, prompting cheers from policymakers calling for the reopening of schools, restaurants, bars and gyms.

“Put simply, lockdowns DON’T work,” the Republican Ms. Noem tweeted with a link to the study. “See for yourself.”

Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, touted the research in a Friday blast, saying “the ‘experts’ and wannabe dictators, aka governors, were wrong, wrong, wrong and now they demand more bailouts.”

“This is a peer-reviewed study in a medical journal that says they studied 10 different countries, and what they found is that the mandatory lockdowns did no better than voluntary suggestions,” Mr. Paul, a physician, said on Fox News’ “The Ingraham Angle.” “So I’ve been saying this for a long time. I don’t think we’ve changed the trajectory of the virus at all with any of the things we’re told to do, and they’re never going to let up on this.”

In the paper, the researchers — Eran Bendavid, Christopher Oh, Jay Bhattacharya and John Ioannidis — said that “we fail to find strong evidence supporting a role for more restrictive NPIs in the control of COVID in early 2020.”

The Stanford-affiliated team examined the impact of the more-restrictive mandates on case growth rates in regions of eight nations — England, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, Netherlands, Spain and the United States — against case growth in Sweden and South Korea, which encouraged but did not require measures such as social distancing and reducing travel.

“In summary, we fail to find strong evidence supporting a role for more restrictive NPIs in the control of COVID in early 2020,” the article concluded. “We do not question the role of all public health interventions, or of coordinated communications about the epidemic, but we fail to find an additional benefit of stay-at-home orders and business closures.”

The authors acknowledged the study’s limitations, including the difficulty of cross-country comparisons and the variables associated with confirmed case counts, and added that the “data cannot fully exclude the possibility of some benefits.”

“However, even if they exist, these benefits may not match the numerous harms of these aggressive measures,” they concluded. “More targeted public health interventions that more effectively reduce transmissions may be important for future epidemic control without the harms of highly restrictive measures.”

Critics pointed out that three of the authors were well-known shutdown skeptics well before the study was published.

Early on, Dr. Bendavid, Dr. Bhattacharya and Dr. Ioannidis, all Stanford professors of medicine, disputed the need for restrictive orders to fight the pandemic. In addition, Dr. Bhattacharya was a co-author of the anti-lockdown Great Barrington Declaration released in October.

“I continue to believe that blind, draconian lockdowns are not the best solution, and they become less and less viable as a reasonable solution when they are further prolonged for longer periods of time,” Dr. Ioannidis told Greek Reporter in a Dec. 28 article.

He said the study, which had been accepted at that time by the journal, found that “analyses for lockdowns in the first wave have shown that these draconian measures did not do much to curtail the number of cases.”

“Given the nature of the data, one cannot exclude small benefits of lockdowns over more targeted measures in some countries or locations,” Dr. Ioannidis said, “but then these benefits would be too small to match the harms of draconian lockdowns.”

‘Mental and spiritual hardship’

Other scientific papers have defended the efficacy of lockdowns. A modeling study by Imperial College London published in June estimated that 3.1 million deaths in Europe had been averted by more restrictive policies such as stay-at-home orders, according to MedicalXpress.

“Our results show that major non-pharmaceutical interventions, and lockdown in particular, have had a large effect on reducing transmission,” said the study published in Nature Research.

An October paper by Stanford and Harvard University economists concluded that county lockdowns, including stay-at-home orders and business closures, from early March to mid-April reduced transmission rates by 9% to 14%, according to the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.

“If there were no lockdowns at all, we show in the paper that there would have been twice as many coronavirus cases by the end of April,” Stanford economist Matthew Gentzkow said. “But the magnitude of their effect is relatively modest compared to the social distancing that people are doing on their own, independently of policy.”

Enthusiasm for the lockdowns may be waning even among their erstwhile staunchest supporters, starting with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The Democrat did an about-face last week on his state’s tough pandemic restrictions in his State of the State address, saying that if New Yorkers wait for the vaccine to hit “critical mass” before reopening, “we are looking at months of shutdowns and the economic, mental and spiritual hardship they bring.”

“We need to begin to act now,” Mr. Cuomo said in his Jan. 12 speech. “If we don’t, dining will remain at levels too low for restaurants to survive, offices will remain empty, hurting the service businesses that depend on those office workers. Theaters and sports venues will sit empty. People will remain out of work.”

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Thursday that she would speak to Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker about reopening restaurants and bars, suggesting that it would be easier to reduce “risky behaviors” in public venues versus private gatherings.

Shutdown skeptic Alex Berenson, author of “Unreported Truths About COVID-19 and Lockdowns,” pointed to California, which has been hit by a severe case surge despite having some of the nation’s most stringent shutdown orders.

“California’s under a massive lockdown, and all you need to do is realize that cases there grew exponentially in November and December, and [most of] the state went into lockdown in early December, and it didn’t make any difference,” Mr. Berenson said on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”

Shutdowns may be more effective in places where they can be strictly enforced, such as in the People’s Republic of China, where 20 million people are now under lockdown orders, as per a Saturday report in the South China Morning Post.

“If you want to be an authoritarian government that locks down entire cities or region after a single case or a handful of cases, and imposes compulsory testing on millions of people, maybe you have a chance at stopping this virus that 998 or 999 out of 1,000 people survive,” Mr. Berenson said. “Otherwise, you have to live with this. Lockdowns don’t work.”

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AP Photos: Snow fills Kashmir resort with tourists again

GULMARG, India (AP) – Snow lies knee-deep in the pastoral town of Gulmarg, or “meadow of flowers,” on Indian-controlled Kashmir’s high plateau.

With its blanket of white, the idyllic hill station is seeing tourists again fill its hotels and ski, sledge and trek its Himalayan landscape.

The heavy influx of tourists is a dramatic change for the tourism industry in disputed Kashmir, which faced the double whammy of the coronavirus pandemic and harsh curbs on civil rights India imposed in the region in August 2019.

Gulmarg was developed as a resort by the British nearly a century ago, and the region’s eternal appeal with foreign visitors has made it a year-round destination. In summer, tourists meander through meadows, ravines and evergreen-forested valleys. In winter, they snowboard and trek on Asia’s largest ski terrain.

The 2019 end of Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status and an unprecedented security clampdown morphed Gulmarg into a ghost town, an illustration of the region’s economic ruin. The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries pegged the economic losses in the region at $5.3 billion and about half a million jobs lost till August last year.

But worse was yet to come. Last March, Indian authorities enforced a harsh lockdown to combat the coronavirus, all but halting foreign travel.

The pandemic, however, made Indians reconsider their own vacations. Once snow coated the hill station last month, they decided to travel to Gulmarg when otherwise they might have gone abroad. And for the first time in 15 months, hotels are sold out till the end of February.

“Nobody is worried about the virus. Everybody is feeling free,” said Meenu Nanda, 38, an Indian tourist.

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New Mexico governor postpones annual address to Legislature

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has delayed indefinitely her annual State of the State address amid the dangers and logistical challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.

Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett says the speech will not take place at the opening of the Legislature on Tuesday as it traditionally would.

Ordinarily, the governor of New Mexico delivers a speech about current events, recent government accomplishments and legislative priorities to a joint session of the House and Senate also attended by Cabinet secretaries and justices of the state Supreme Court.

Governors including Wisconsin’s Tony Evers this year have opted for remote, pre-recorded State of State speeches.

New Mexico is confronting unprecedented economic and public health challenges amid the pandemic’s devastation as the Legislature convenes for a 60-day session.

Precautions due to security threats are on prominent display with State Police and National Guard troops standing guard at roadblocks encircling the Statehouse.

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Browns, Mayfield expecting to build upon 2020 successes

CLEVELAND (AP) – On their wild ride of an unforgettable, almost unimaginable 2020 season when Zoom calls, masks and contact tracing were daily fixtures, the Browns discovered two things that point to a bright future for an awakened franchise.

They’ve got the right coach and the right quarterback.

After years of being beaten and beaten down, the Browns have climbed back.

While Sunday’s 22-17 loss in the divisional round to the Kansas City Chiefs – and Rashard Higgins’ costly fumble on a controversial play at the goal line – felt like so many other painful playoff moments and losses for the Browns and their fans, this one is different.

Not an ending but a beginning.

“We’ll be back,” quarterback Baker Mayfield claimed after the Browns, who won 11 games in the regular season and their first playoff game in 26 years, pushed the defending Super Bowl champions to the limit. “We aren’t done yet, and that is the best part.”

Mayfield’s maturity in his third NFL season, and first working with rookie coach Kevin Stefanski, gives the Browns reason to believe they have entered a period when they should contend for years.

Mayfield improved as much as any player in the league, ending any discussion about whether the Browns should commit to him long term.

“He’s continued to grow as a player and as a person and as a leader,” Browns center JC Tretter said Monday. “That’s what you need, and Baker’s growth is not yet done. He’s not a finished product and he’d be the first one to tell you that.”

The Browns are expected to exercise Mayfield’s fifth-year contract option this offseason, and the team will explore an extension over the next few months with the 25-year-old quarterback who finished with 30 touchdown passes, nine interceptions and 4,030 yards in 18 games.

Stefanski’s role in Mayfield’s development while guiding the Browns (12-6) through a season shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic, can’t be overstated.

One of his first objectives after coming to Cleveland was to connect with Mayfield, knowing the QB/coach dynamic is essential to success. Stefanski bonded with Mayfield right away and they grew tighter as the year progressed.

Stefanski brought out the best in his young QB, who threw 20 TD passes and only three picks in his last 12 games.

“Once he started getting comfortable with what we were doing and once I was using more concepts that he was comfortable with, he really started playing at a high level,” said Stefanski, among the leading candidates for Coach of the Year honors. “I am proud of the progress he made.”

Stefanski, perhaps knowing negotiations will be upcoming, stopped short of calling Mayfield a franchise QB.

“He did the things we asked him to do,” he said. “He definitely led this football team from Day 1. We have a bunch of ball games to look at with him and find out ways that he can get better, but in terms of the ‘franchise quarterback’ thing, I do not even know necessarily what that means.”

It means everything for a team that went through 29 starting QBs before Mayfield arrived.

Before landing Stefanski, the Browns cycled through six coaches in the past decade.

But the unflappable 38-year-old Stefanski seems perfectly suited for a team with young core stars – Mayfield; defensive end Myles Garrett; running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt; left tackle Jedrick Wills; and cornerback Denzel Ward are all 25 or younger – who appear primed to make a long run together.

In Cleveland, there’s hope, not hopelessness.

DEFENSIVE HOLES

The Browns’ defense needs an overhaul.

Coordinator Joe Woods spent the season plugging holes after injuries to rookie safety Grant Delpit (torn Achilles tendon) and cornerback Greedy Williams (shoulder) in training camp, and run stuffer Andrew Billings’ decision to opt out due to COVID-19, costing Cleveland three projected starters.

The linebacking corps needs an upgrade and end Olivier Vernon probably won’t be re-signed as a free agent.

Cleveland, which normally picks at the top of the draft, has the No. 26 selection to find help.

BECKHAM’S FUTURE

The Browns’ emergence and playoff run happened without star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who suffered a season-ending knee injury on Oct. 25 in Cincinnati.

While Beckham’s talent isn’t debatable, there’s no denying Mayfield played his best when Beckham wasn’t around. His $12.8 million salary for next season becomes guaranteed in March, so it may be tough for Cleveland to trade Beckham while he’s rehabbing.

For now, Stefanski made it sound like he wants OBJ in his offense in 2021.

“I’m excited to get him back here,” Stefanski said. “I know it was not easy for him being away from his teammates, especially as these games got bigger and into the playoffs. I know he definitely wanted to be a part of it.”

OTHER BUSINESS

Browns general manager Andrew Berry has some other decisions to make with several free agents, including defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, linebacker B,J. Goodson and Higgins.

The 30-year-old Vernon tore an Achilles tendon in the Browns’ regular-season finale and probably won’t return. Ogunjobi’s been solid, but the Browns have depth in the middle with Billings, Sheldon Richardson and rookie Jordan Elliott.

Goodson emerged as a leader in his first season with Cleveland. Then there’s Higgins, a fan favorite and go-to target for Mayfield. He had five catches for 88 yards on Sunday, but his fumble while reaching for the goal line before halftime was a major turning point in a game the Browns could have won.

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Garth Brooks to perform at Joe Biden inaugural

NEW YORK — Add Garth Brooks to the lineup of entertainers at the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

“This is a great day in our household,” the country music superstar said during a virtual press conference Monday, two days before Biden is to be sworn in. “This is not a political statement. This is a statement of unity.” 

Brooks, who joins Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez among others, performed during the inaugural celebration of President Barack Obama in 2009. He turned down a chance to play for President Donald Trump in 2017, citing a scheduling conflict.

Invited by incoming first lady Jill Biden, Brooks has known the Bidens for more than a decade, when Joe Biden was Obama’s vice president. 

Brooks said that for this week’s inaugural, he will perform solo doing “broken down, bare-bones stuff,” and hinted at covering material by songwriters from outside the U.S. 

He does not plan to sing his socially conscious “We Shall Be Free,” which he performed at the Obama inaugural.

Brooks praised the Bidens for being “hellbent on making things good” and said he welcomed the chance to help the country heal.

“I want to spend the next 10 years of my life not divided. I’m so tired of being divided,” he said.

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Column: Stewart balances personal bliss, professional angst

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – Tony Stewart is angry – what else is new? – and wants the record set straight regarding recent business decisions.

He also is in love – wait, who? Smoke? – and five months away from his 50th birthday finds himself happier in his personal life than ever before.

But even as he’s settled into a blissful routine with drag racer Leah Pruett, a relationship that began early in the pandemic when Stewart‘s hectic schedule was suddenly wiped clean, he can’t overlook the criticism being lobbed his way.

It was him, he insists, not NASCAR, who didn’t renew the Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway. And he tried to sign Kyle Larson to Stewart-Haas Racing but couldn’t get partner approval on the NASCAR driver suspended for most of 2020 for using a racial slur.

Publicly, fans left disgruntled comments on his social media posts. Privately, his beloved sprint car community whispered and wondered how Stewart blew two deals.

Stewart understands being rebuffed on signing Larson, even though that slammed the brakes on Stewart‘s attempt to help a friend resurrect his career while adding a top NASCAR talent to SHR’s four-car organization. Companies make tough business decisions and Larson, since signed by Hendrick Motorsports, still has to redeem himself to corporations that pay the racing bills.

But the Truck Series debacle is one Stewart can’t let go. He’s heard too many people say it was NASCAR that left Eldora, the Ohio dirt track Stewart owns, after an eight-year partnership. It was Stewart‘s group that got a dirt track placed on the NASCAR national schedule, invested in capital improvements at the facility and built one of the most popular events on the Truck Series schedule.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Stewart said his goal had always been to use the Truck Series event as proof that Xfinity and Cup can race on dirt and should race at Eldora. But two days before NASCAR released the Cup schedule in September, Stewart received a tip that Bristol Motor Speedway was going to transform its facility into a dirt track for its first 2021 Cup race.

“I felt like I’d been mule-kicked in the gut,” Stewart told the AP.

Incensed that not a single NASCAR executive had given him a heads-up, he immediately told his staff to tear up the sanctioning agreement he’d yet to sign for the 2021 Truck Series race.

A short dialogue with NASCAR finally began, and Stewart took the weekend to calm down. His staff looked at the numbers and, even though the trucks were profitable for the track, the race ranked only fourth on Eldora’s events – while requiring double the effort and sweat equity.

When he reconvened with NASCAR after a few days to think, Stewart said he was direct.

“I asked if Eldora was under consideration for an Xfinity or Cup race in the future, and I was told not at this time,” Stewart said. “So I said we were done.”

Some believe NASCAR pulled the race from Eldora or that NASCAR moved the Truck Race to Knoxville Speedway to spite Stewart, but he’s adamant neither is true.

“This was entirely our decision and people need to understand. I am extremely frustrated as a track owner that there was zero communication from NASCAR,” he said. “Nobody ever had any conversation with me about Eldora or Cup on dirt until the deal with Bristol was about to be announced.”

He added he was also ignored when he inquired about his eligibility for next month’s exhibition Busch Clash on the road course at Daytona International Speedway. Stewart said he absolutely wanted to run the race, but no one at NASCAR followed up with the three-time Cup champion.

Stewart, feted as a first-ballot inductee into the NASCAR Hall of Fame last January in one of the final industry-wide events before the pandemic, now feels snubbed by the series he’s been devoted to for more than two decades.

He has plenty on his plate, though, and has become the T-shirt and jeans version of Roger Penske with his motorsports portfolio. He’s got a full 2021 schedule of sprint car races that starts this weekend, full ownership of Eldora and partial ownership of Paducah (Ky.) International Raceway and Macon (Ill.) Speedway. Stewart also owns a World of Outlaws team and is the series owner of both the All Star Circuit of Champions and a grassroots racing series he renamed the All Star Circuit of Champions TQ Midgets.

This year will also mark a new venture with Hall of Fame crew chief Ray Evernham on the Superstar Racing Experience aimed at attracting all-stars no longer competing full-time. The six-race, short-track series will air on Saturday nights on CBS, with Stewart competing alongside Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Bobby Labonte, Mark Webber and other big names from various disciplines.

He scoffs at a false narrative spreading that Eldora was punished by NASCAR for Stewart‘s SRX involvement – “If people are worried about Ray Evernham, me and six races, they’ve got bigger things to worry about,” he said – and notes that SRX is racing at both Eldora and Knoxville, the lone dirt track on the Truck Series schedule.

All his business dealings, and next month’s start of SHR’s NASCAR season, have Stewart spread very thin when he’s trying to prioritize someone else in his life for the first time. He and Pruett were introduced in 2019 via FaceTime by drag racing legend Don Prudhomme. They didn’t meet in person until they wound up at the same motorsports event appearance, and their first date was the week before the pandemic shut down the country in March.

With nowhere to be for the first time in his life as a racer, Stewart accepted Pruett‘s invitation to spend four days with friends at Lake Havasu in Arizona. He stayed for four months, dragged her to short tracks across Oklahoma and Texas when his racing schedule resumed, then became a constant spectator at her events when NHRA began.

Stewart is adapting to life as the supportive spectator at Pruett‘s events, but his need to understand Pruett‘s form of racing led him to two recent sessions at Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School. The two are diligently working on a master calendar of all their events because Stewart hopes to attend the majority of her NHRA races.

His first conflict comes at NASCAR‘s season-opening Daytona 500, where he’s hoping COVID-19 procedures have relaxed enough to allow him into the garage and around his team. Stewart has not been inside the NASCAR bubble with SHR since the Las Vegas race last February. But the 500 is also Feb. 14 and he’s not sure how that will fly with Pruett on their first Valentine’s Day together.

“My personal life is the best it’s ever been, by far,” he said. “She gets me. And I enjoy going to her events and being the one doing the supporting. I mean, if she wanted me to support her at basket-weaving competitions I probably wouldn’t enjoy it, but I am very happy with this relationship and where my life is right now.”

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NY gov explores buying virus vaccine directly from maker

NEW YORK (AP) – Frustrated by the flow of coronavirus vaccine from the federal government, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday floated the idea of buying shots for New Yorkers directly from one of the vaccine makers, Pfizer.

The idea seemed far from a sure bet, with the pharmaceutical giant saying it would need federal approval to sell to state governments. If that were to happen, the cost and amount have yet to be be discussed.

Regardless, Cuomo said he felt compelled to broach the idea as his state, like many others, faces tough vaccine math. At the current pace of federal vaccine shipments to New York, it could take six months or more to get shots to the 7 million residents already eligible under federal guidelines, let alone the roughly 12 million other New Yorkers. Residents have been scrambling to try to get the shots, with many getting shut out and upset.

“My job as governor of New York is to pursue every avenue, and that’s what I’m doing,” the Democratic governor said at a virtual news conference as he released a letter he’d written to New York-based Pfizer about his idea. He told the company it “could help us save lives right here in New York.”

Pfizer Inc., which developed one of the current vaccines with German partner BioNTech, said in a statement that it appreciated Cuomo’s praise and was open to working with the federal Health and Human Services Department on getting the shots as quickly as possible to as many Americans as it could.

“However, before we can sell directly to state governments, HHS would need to approve that proposal,” the company said.

An inquiry was sent to HHS representatives about Cuomo’s proposal on Monday, the federal Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Under the current system, HHS allocates vaccine doses to states and ships them. The federal Food and Drug Administration’s emergency-based authorization for the Pfizer vaccine specifies that it will be supplied “as directed by the U.S. government.”

The federal government has been paying $19.50 per dose for the Pfizer vaccine and has ordered 200 million doses so far, enough to give the two-shot regimen to 100 million people. Other nations around the world have also placed orders.

Earlier in the pandemic, Cuomo complained last spring about U.S. states competing against one another, or being outbid by the federal government, for then-scarce protective gear and ventilators. At the time, he called on the federal government to nationalize medical supply acquisition of those items.

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Heat-Pistons game delayed to allow for additional testing

MIAMI (AP) – Monday’s game in Miami between the Heat and the Detroit Pistons was pushed back five hours, with the league and teams making that decision so additional COVID-19 testing could be processed.

The game was scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. EST and was pushed back to 8 p.m, the league announced Monday afternoon.

It’s the latest development, albeit a relatively minor one, as a wave of schedule changes in the NBA has now stretched into a second week. The league has postponed 13 games involving 18 teams since Jan. 10, including one matchup that was to have taken place on Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day game schedule – Cleveland at Washington.

Phoenix was scheduled to play Monday in Memphis, ending a weeklong unplanned break for the Suns. Phoenix had three games delayed because of virus-related issues, which can include players dealing with positive COVID-19 tests, inconclusive tests or having to quarantine because contact tracing indicated they could have been exposed to someone who tested positive.

There have been 14 games called this season for coronavirus-related reasons so far. In addition to the 13 in recent days, the other was a planned Dec. 23 matchup between Oklahoma City and Houston that was pushed back because the Rockets did not have enough eligible players.

Delaying the Heat-Pistons start time did not affect Detroit’s travel schedule. The team was already planning to remain in Miami until Tuesday.

Postponed games, when possible, will be made up in the second half of the season, which will take place from March 11 – the one-year anniversary of last season shutting down because of the pandemic – through May 16. The league has not yet released that half of the schedule and isn’t expected to do so until late February at the earliest.

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