National News


(NEW YORK) -- The beautiful and tranquil weather around the country is over on Thursday as several storms systems are expected to move from West to East with heavy rain, strong to severe thunderstorms, heavy snow and damaging winds.

In the West, a snowstorm hit Colorado overnight with Denver getting 6 to 12 inches of snow which caused numerous accidents, spinouts and stalled vehicles.

On Thursday morning, 10 states are on alert from California to Montana with damaging winds, heavy snow and avalanche danger as a winter storm warning continues for Denver early Thursday.

Gusty, damaging winds are even expected in southern California with local gusts of up to 50 to 70 mph possible in Los Angeles County.

In the Rockies and the Cascades, locally 1 to 3 feet of snow is possible over the next several days as these storms continue to move through.

A combination of gusty winds near 80 mph and heavy snow will continue to produce dangerous avalanche conditions, especially for the northern Rockies and the Cascades.

Some of this wild western weather will move into the South Thursday with heavy rain and a chance for strong to severe thunderstorms and a chance for damaging winds and hail.

Some of the strongest storms are expected to fire up Thursday from Dallas to Shreveport, Louisiana and into northern Mississippi.

Over the next several days, storms will continue to move through the South over the same areas, increasing chances for flooding and locally some areas could see up to a half a foot of rain from eastern Texas into northern Alabama and Tennessee.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


amphotora/iStockBy AARON KATERSKY, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- New York City's highest-ranking uniformed police officer, Terence Monahan, who memorably took a knee with George Floyd protesters in Washington Square Park, is retiring, a source familiar with the decision told ABC News.

An announcement is expected as soon as Thursday afternoon from Mayor Bill de Blasio's office.

Monahan's retirement as NYPD chief of department is expected to prompt another shakeup of top officials, including the elevation of Rodney Harrison from chief of detectives to chief of department.

Monahan joined the NYPD in 1982 and was named chief of department in January 2018.

He spearheaded the department's neighborhood coordination officer program, but recently came under fire in a report by New York Attorney General Letitia James over his treatment of protesters last summer.

At one point, though, he took a knee to indicate the NYPD's solidarity with demonstrations over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(NEW YORK) -- COVID-19 has killed more than 500,000 people in the United States -- an unimaginable toll that has had ripple effects across the country.

But some families have endured that loss multiple times over, with the virus taking parents, children and siblings, often in quick succession.

The deaths have come across the U.S., early on in the pandemic and later, and affected those of various ages and backgrounds.

Surviving family members -- some of whom were battling COVID-19 as they lost or mourned their loved ones -- are often left questioning why they lost so much to the virus. Many also suffer from deep, lingering grief and have forged a bond to help each other through this devastating time.

"It's not fair," Erika Martinez, of Fresno County, California, who lost her father and brother to COVID-19 this month, told ABC News. "Why did my dad and brother have to go? That's how I feel."

In Michigan, Kelly Styers' mother, father and brother died from the disease last spring.

"COVID's so wicked. It just, you know, hits everybody differently," she told ABC News. "That's a hard thing too, because why was our family so hard-hit? We don't want that for anybody else."

'Takes everything away'

At the beginning of the pandemic, sisters Cathrine Solomon and EmyLou Solomon Rodriguez, of New York, recalled not realizing how serious COVID-19 was.

Then their parents contracted the disease in mid-March, were both hospitalized and put on ventilators.

"They could not say their final goodbyes to each other, so it was very traumatic, very quick and sudden," Solomon Rodriguez, 43, told ABC News. "I don't know what the word is, but I think a lot of other families were going through the same thing that we were going through -- where it was slow, the symptoms were just slow-coming, and then all of a sudden, COVID turns your whole life upside down and takes everything away."

Their father, Antonio "Tony" Solomon, 71, died first on March 26. A dedicated public servant, he enlisted in the Navy and served for 23 years, then worked as a U.S. postal worker for 15 years before retiring.

His wife of 43 years, Estelita "Estie" Solomon, 72, died two weeks after him, on April 10. A retired nurse, she worked for 36 years at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn. Like her husband, she had immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines to pursue the American dream, "and I believe they achieved it," Solomon Rodriguez said.

COVID-19 struck the Solomon family again, when Antonio Solomon's younger brother, Nazario Solomon Jr., of Roselle, New Jersey, 67, died from the virus on April 17. Within a month, the sisters lost their parents and uncle.

"In our family, our grandparents live to the 90s," Solomon Rodriguez said. "We were expecting my parents to live out a long, fulfilling life. And if it wasn't for COVID, they would still be here today. Their life was cut short."

'Our life will never be the same now'

When her parents and eldest brother were hospitalized with COVID-19 last year, Kelly Styers didn't fear the worst.

"Never in a million years, even when the tests came back positive, I never thought they were gonna die, ever," Styers, 54, said. "That never crossed my mind."

But in a little over a week, all three would die from COVID-19. Her parents, Dan Cruz, 78, and Irene Cruz, 71, died on April 2 and April 7, respectively. Her brother, Keith Cruz, 46, died on April 11.

"Our life will never be the same now," Styers said.

Dan and Irene Cruz were married for 52 years and were devoted to their children and 11 grandchildren. They were a tight-knit Michigan family, said Styers, who would talk with her mother multiple times a day. Dan Cruz, a Vietnam veteran, worked at the Ford Motor Company, and Irene Cruz worked at Marshalls before they both retired.

Their dad could be counted on to fix anything, his son, Kevin Cruz, 42, told ABC News.

"Whenever we had a problem, you know, we just called him," he said.

Kevin Cruz and his brother were very close from a young age and would often go to baseball and football games. Keith Cruz, who also worked at Ford, was very proud of his four young children and had a "heart of gold," his sister said. He loved motorcycles, though never had a chance to ride his newest Harley-Davidson before he died.

In the months since their passing, the family has honored their parents and brother at every holiday and birthday. On Dan Cruz's birthday in December, they had his favorite foods -- tamales and Twinkies. The last time Styers saw her mother before she was hospitalized with COVID-19 was for her 71st birthday last March. Her upcoming birthday will be particularly hard because of that, Styers said.

"They're not physically there, but they're literally a part of everything that we do," Styers said. "They're in our heart all the time."

'My dad was my rock'

While the first wave of COVID devastated East Coast cities, California was hit with a crushing surge in the fall and winter months.

Earlier this month, Erika Martinez, of Clovis, Fresno County, lost her father and brother to the virus within hours of each other.

Her dad, Thomas Martinez, 57, died on Feb. 6, days after being hospitalized. About eight hours later, her oldest brother, Antonio Martinez Garcia, 33, died at his home, she said.

"I dropped my dad off at the hospital. I thought I was gonna pick him up again and I didn't, and that hurts," Erika Martinez said. "Our last conversation we had on text, he's like, 'I got 45 more years left in me.'"

Thomas Martinez had a special bond with each of his four children, his only daughter said.

"My dad was my rock," Erika Martinez, 29, said. "Whatever I wanted my dad did for us."

She already knew what song she and her dad would dance to one day at her wedding -- "You're a Big Girl Now" by the Stylistics.

Thomas Martinez was a "huge" Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Rams, she said, and shared that passion with his children.

Like his dad, Garcia was dedicated to his family. "He loved family," Erika Martinez said. Both Garcia and her dad had worked at Chukchansi Park, home to the Fresno Grizzlies.

The pandemic was already challenging as the family navigated restrictions, said Erika Martinez, before she had to plan her father's funeral.

"I really hate COVID," she said. "But the fact that it took my dad and brother from me, I hate it even more so."

'There's no escape'

As the number of COVID-19 deaths has continued to go up, now surpassing half a million people, families are confronted with their loss daily.

"You can't turn on the television or do anything without seeing stories about the virus," Styers said. "There's no escape."

The pandemic is creating what psychologists refer to as prolonged grief, according to Camille Wortman, a grief and bereavement expert.

"You grieve very intensely for a long time and you have a lot of symptoms -- depression, anxiety and so forth," Wortman told ABC News.

COVID-19 itself has also impacted the grieving process. Styers waited a couple of months before holding a funeral for her parents.

"When they die you grieve terribly," she said. "Then it feels like they died again."

Some, like Kevin Cruz, were by themselves when their family members were dying because they, too, had COVID-19.

"That was very rough, just being down here all by myself. All the stuff that's going on and I can't even get a hug from my wife or my kids or even see anybody because I'm stuck in the basement," he said. "Not being able to embrace anyone -- it's crazy how you make it through something like that."

Cathrine Solomon, 35, was suffering from COVID-19 as well while her parents were hospitalized. She went to the hospital herself three times but was afraid of what might happen to her there.

"I was scared that I was gonna get intubated and die," she told ABC News.

A COVID-19 long-hauler, she still has lingering effects of the virus.

When they buried their father, she and her sister had to socially distance themselves.

"We couldn't touch each other," Solomon Rodriguez said. "We had to stay 6 feet apart."

Finding support for grief during this time is key, Wortman said. The Cruz and Solomon families have become involved in COVID Survivors for Change, which holds weekly meetings for those impacted by the virus, providing an opportunity to meet others who know what they're going through. Martinez has found some solace through her church.

Solomon Rodriguez and her sister are also working to hold a memorial this spring to honor Queens, New York, residents, like their parents, who have died from COVID-19.

"Our parents were [not] just numbers," Cathrine Solomon said. "They were real people with good lives, who had so much life in them."

They want to share their parents' story to encourage others to take the virus seriously "so that we could stop the spread," Solomon Rodriguez said. "So that my parents didn't die in vain."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


nktwentythree/iStockBy MEREDITH DELISO, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- A new poll has found that more adults identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender than ever before.

According to a Gallup poll released Wednesday, 5.6% of United States adults identify as LGBT. That's up from 4.5%, based on the company's 2017 data. In 2012, when Gallup began tracking the measure, that number was 3.5%.

For the first time, Gallup also asked respondents to indicate their precise sexual orientation, as opposed to responding "yes" or "no" to whether they identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

The poll found that more than half of LGBT adults (54.6%) identify as bisexual, about a quarter (24.5%) as gay, 11.7% as lesbian and 11.3% as transgender. An additional 3.3% used a different non-heterosexual term to describe their sexual orientation, such as queer or same-gender-loving. Respondents could give multiple responses, bringing the total to over 100%.

Notably, the generational group that has the highest percentage of people who identify as LGBT is the youngest -- Generation Z (born 1997 to 2002) -- with 15.9%. That compares to 9.1% of millennials (born 1981 to 1996), 3.8% of Generation X (born 1965 to 1980), 2% of baby boomers (born 1946 to 1964) and 1.3% of traditionalists (born before 1946).

"One of the main reasons LGBT identification has been increasing over time is that younger generations are far more likely to consider themselves to be something other than heterosexual," Gallup said.

Most Gen Z adults who identify as LGBT say they are bisexual (72%), the poll found. That would mean 11.5% of Gen Z adults in the U.S. are bisexual, Gallup determined.

The increase in the nation's LGBT population was not surprising to Samantha Johnson, event manager of youth-focused events for NYC Pride, which organizes one of the largest annual pride marches in the world.

"We're breaking generational curses" like homophobia within the household and schools, Johnson told ABC News. "The visibility within media and events like NYC Pride -- these are all contributing factors to these numbers."

Johnson has witnessed firsthand a growing enthusiasm among LGBT youth. In 2017, NYC Pride began hosting Youth Pride, geared toward those ages 13 to 24, as part of its monthlong Pride festivities. That first year brought out 1,500 people, she said. The following year, there were 3,000. In 2019, the free event moved to Central Park, where more than 10,000 people attended.

Last year's NYC Pride was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Johnson is working on hosting Youth Pride virtually this year on June 26.

"We are here to provide a safe space for this generation to pass on to the next generation," she said.

The latest Gallup poll results were based on more than 15,000 interviews conducted in 2020 with Americans ages 18 and up and may be an underestimate due to "older Americans not wanting to acknowledge an LGBT orientation," it said.

"This poll confirms what we have long known -- that the LGBTQ community is powerful and a growing force in the United States, and around the world," Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David said in a statement. "Young adults, in particular, feel empowered to publicly claim their identities -- a compelling finding and validation for the past generations of LGBTQ advocates who have long fought for full equality."

Amid the findings, David called on Congress to pass the Equality Act "to secure consistent and explicit anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people across all areas of life."

The comprehensive legislation, which the Congressional Equality Caucus introduced in the House last week, protects LGBT people from discrimination in the workplace, housing, service and public accommodations.

President Joe Biden has also called on Congress to pass the bill.

"No one should ever face discrimination or live in fear because of who they are or whom they love," he said in a statement.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


real444/iStockBy MEREDITH DELISO, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- A teenage girl has died after saving her brother when they both fell into a frozen lake in Ohio, officials said.

An officer who responded to the drowning incident also died, authorities said.

The 16-year-old girl and 13-year-old boy fell through the ice near boat docks at Rocky Fork State Park in Hillsboro on Tuesday evening, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The 911 call came in around 6:30 p.m.

By the time the Paint Creek Joint EMS and Fire District arrived, the girl was under the ice, according to Lt. Branden Jackman. The water was 36 degrees, he said.

The boy was taken to the hospital in stable condition, but his sister was recovered by divers unresponsive, authorities said. She has not been identified publicly by authorities.

"She got him out, before she succumbed," Jackman told Cincinnati ABC affiliate WCPO-TV.

While at the scene, Ohio Department of Natural Resources Officer Jason Lagore suffered a medical emergency and was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead, the department said. It did not provide details on the medical emergency.

A 15-year veteran of the department, Lagore founded its first K-9 academy and led its Division of Parks and Watercraft K-9 training program.

"Our hearts are with the family and loved ones of Officer Jason Lagore, who died in the line of duty last night,” Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Mary Mertz said in a statement Wednesday. "Our law enforcement officers and their families carry a unique and challenging burden of responsibilities, and we are deeply grateful for their service."

Lagore is survived by his wife, two young sons and K-9 partner, Sarge, the department said.

On Wednesday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine ordered flags lowered on public buildings and grounds in Highland County and several other locations "in honor of his life and service."

Jackman had a message for Ohioans the day after the deadly incident.

"Don't go out on the ice," he told WCPO. "It caused a very bad tragedy last night."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(AUSTIN, Texas) -- As many struggle to get a vaccine appointment, two neighbors who met online found a way to help each other.

Grandmother Emily Johnson of Austin, Texas, was in need of open-heart surgery, but her doctor said she had to have one vaccination before the operation. After spending hours on the phone to set up a vaccination appointment, she reached out to her neighbors on the website Nextdoor.

“Hello Neighbors! I am a 68-yr-old female facing open heart surgery,” Johnson wrote on Jan. 7. “My doctors here in Austin have no access to the vaccine, so I have been spending up to an hour each morning, putting my name on lists and making dozens of phone calls. Has anyone out there heard anything or have a suggestion to make?”

A stranger came to her aid. Christy Lewis said Johnson could have her appointment.

“You need this much more than I do. If you can make this appointment, it’s yours,” Lewis shared in a message to Johnson.

“I was both stunned and obviously elated. I couldn’t believe that someone would be giving such a coveted thing to a complete stranger,” Johnson said.

On Jan. 8, Lewis, who has an autoimmune disease and is deemed a high-risk individual, and Johnson decided to go to the appointment together.

They said the supervisor listened to their story and vaccinated both of the women that day.

Johnson told “World News Tonight” she is now ready for surgery. She said she was overcome by Lewis’ kindness.

“What I realized through all this is that even though we hear all kinds of sad stories happening in our country, there are truly wonderful people amongst us committing incredible acts of kindness,” Johnson said.

Lewis said that she gave Johnson her appointment because it was the right thing to do.

“[Johnson] has a long road ahead of her,” Lewis said. “I was happy to help just a little bit.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Marilyn Nieves/iStockBy MEREDITH DELISO, ABC News

(PIERRE, S.D.) -- Nearly a week after the South Dakota attorney general was charged with three misdemeanors for fatally striking a pedestrian on a highway last year, the South Dakota governor has called on him to resign and released investigation interviews that detail the incident, and state lawmakers have begun impeachment proceedings against him.

Jason Ravnsborg, 44, was charged with operating a motor vehicle while using a mobile device, lane driving violation and careless driving stemming from the Sept. 12 crash. Ravnsborg was not on his cell phone at the time of the impact but was outside the lanes of travel, state attorneys said, when he hit the 55-year-old victim, Joseph Boever, on U.S. Highway 14, about a mile west of Highmore, South Dakota. The accident did not meet the conditions for manslaughter, they said.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem called on Ravnsborg to step down following the charges on Tuesday.

"Now that the investigation has closed and charges have been filed, I believe the attorney general should resign," she said in a statement.

Noem also released two interviews on Tuesday spanning over three hours total that law enforcement officials conducted with Ravnsborg in the days and weeks following the fatal incident. The governor said she reviewed the material and encouraged "others to review it as well."

During the interviews, Ravnsborg repeated that he did not know what he struck on the dark highway, but assumed it was a deer "because what else would there be." He said he called 911 and looked around a ditch with a cell phone flashlight, but didn't discover Boever's body until returning the following day to survey the debris.

The investigators pressed Ravnsborg on his cell phone use while driving along Highway 14 that night. They also informed the attorney general that a broken pair of Boever's glasses ended up inside his car, coming through the windshield, according to the interviews released by Noem.

"His face was in your windshield, Jason. Think about that," one of the investigators said.

A distressed Ravnsborg responded that that "pains me tremendously to hear."

The investigators also questioned how Ravnsborg could have overlooked Boever and his flashlight, which they said was still on the next day.

"It truly is hard to miss when you're out there," one said.

In response, Ravnsborg said, "I'm obviously not as observant as I should be."

An investigation completed a month after the crash initially determined that Ravnsborg was distracted when he struck Boever with his 2011 Ford Taurus. But last week, state attorneys said that at the time of impact, Ravnsborg was not a distracted driver based on an analysis of two cell phones he had on him.

In a statement, Ravnsborg's spokesperson said the attorney general "does not intend to resign."

"At no time has this issue impeded his ability to do the work of the office. Instead, he has handled some of the largest settlements and legislative issues the state has ever been through," the statement said. "As an attorney and a Lt. Colonel in the Army Reserves, AG Ravnsborg has fought for the rule of law and personal liberties and would hope that he is afforded the same right and courtesy."

While the state released the videos of the interviews, state lawmakers were also launching impeachment proceedings against the attorney general. The resolution, filed Tuesday and introduced on the House floor of the South Dakota State Capitol Wednesday, includes two articles of impeachment and charges that Ravnsborg be removed from office "for his crimes or misdemeanors in office causing the death of Joseph Boever."

Rep. Will Mortenson, who filed the resolution, said it was "the most difficult decision I've ever made."

"My heart breaks for all parties involved in this case, but it became time to do what is right, even if it is difficult and uncomfortable," he said on social media.

The resolution is now pending its first committee hearing. Ravnsborg's spokesperson told ABC News they haven't been able to review the full document yet.

Ravnsborg, who was elected in 2018, was not placed under administrative leave and continued to work after the crash.

The attorney general has a string of previous driving violations, according to state records. He pleaded guilty to speeding six times between 2014 and 2018 and paid fines between $19 and $79, according to state records.

ABC News' Karma Allen, Joshua Hoyos, Julia Jacobo, Jennifer Leong and Ivan Pereira contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) -- California committed $1.4 million toward helping Asian Americans report hate incidents and tracking the attacks after a slew of cases -- including the murder of an 84-year-old man -- has rocked the nation in recent weeks.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the larger AB85 pandemic budget bill, which includes $1.4 million earmarked for researchers at the Asian American Studies Center at the University of California Los Angeles and the Stop AAPI Hate website, into law Tuesday.

California's move to fund Asian-led community initiatives is markedly different than responses in other parts of the nation, such as New York City's pledge to ramp up policing.

The Stop AAPI Hate site was launched nearly a year ago by a coalition of advocacy groups as the COVID-19 pandemic and its suspected origins in Wuhan, China, led to a new surge in anti-Asian attacks and discrimination in the U.S.

The site tracks hate incidents and helps Asian Americans report them in a dozen languages. It has logged nearly 3,000 hate incidents in 2020 alone, though lawmakers believe this is a tiny fraction of the total, as many victims in Asian American communities may not report due to distrust of the government and law enforcement.

"I think that's only about one-tenth, or even fewer, of the actual hate crimes that are occurring, because most people don't even know the website exists or don't even know how to properly report a hate crime," California assembly member Phil Ting, who helped draft this portion of the legislation, told ABC News.

"We've seen a huge uptick in hate crimes against Asian Americans since the pandemic started," Ting said. "I know people are upset and angry and they're looking for people to blame, and unfortunately a few people are blaming the wrong individuals, and they're blaming Asian Americans."

"They've been getting attacked and getting murdered. They've been getting spit on," he added. "It's been pretty horrific."

Ting said the emphasis on aiding reporting and data collection could help galvanize more action to combat the hate crimes.

"Unless you have data, it's hard to say it's a problem," he said. "We all know individual acts of racism exist. Unless you can prove that it's more widespread than one incident on a corner or one incident in a store, it's very difficult to justify a larger response."

Ting lamented former President Donald Trump's use of "China virus" or "Kung flu," saying these words from the highest branch of government are directly linked to the uptick in anti-Asian racism.

"When you see an uptick in hate speech, and I consider that hate speech, there's always an uptick in hate crimes that go along with it," Ting said. "Because it just becomes OK to say hateful things towards Asian Americans who have nothing to do with this virus, and then it becomes okay to assault Asian Americans."

"The reason we're taking a strong stance on this is because hate crimes are not an attack against an individual, they're really an attack on a community," he said. "They're really meant to put fear into an overall community."

Ting implored victims to report the incidents on the Stop AAPI Hate website, which is attempting to break down some of the language barriers and other factors that may lead people not to report hate crimes, even if they have occurred multiple times.

"They just try to shrug it off and just say, 'Hey, this is just something I got to deal with, and I'm just going to move on,' even though it's fairly traumatic," Ting said of many in the AAPI community. "I think in most instances, we just have people who would like to just forget the whole situation happened and move on and do nothing. And I think that's really why we're urging our community to please report it."

Richard Pan, the chair of California's Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus, noted in a statement lauding the new legislation that anti-Asian racism in the U.S. did not start with the coronavirus pandemic.

Pan cited a long legacy of xenophobia in the U.S., from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.

"I am grateful that California will be funding data collection and research at UCLA to address racism and hate against the API community," Pan added.

The Stop AAPI Hate Coalition told ABC News that it has learned over the past year it is "absolutely critical" to invest in documenting, tracking and analyzing the attacks in order to draw attention to the crisis.

"The funding allocated to Stop AAPI Hate will support the coalition’s efforts to address the devastating impact of anti-Asian hate, including tracking and documenting incidents in order to proactively prevent future incidents from occurring," the coalition said in a statement.

"The funding will also allow the coalition to expand the resources it can offer directly to impacted community members and families, as well as establish new partnerships with organizations, businesses and governments to develop long-lasting policy and community-based solutions to hate and violence," the statement added.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(HOUSTON) -- Dr. Hasan Gokal defended his decision to give away COVID-19 vaccines that were on the verge of expiring even after he was fired from his job as medical director of the Harris County Public Health department in Texas over the decision.

The Houston doctor said he had an open vial with 10 doses of Moderna's vaccine that were ready to expire that day in December 2020 when, rather than wasting them, he rushed to find people who were eligible to take them. He was subsequently fired, charged with theft by a public servant and accused of breaking county protocols by the district attorney. A judge later dismissed the charges.

Gokal spoke to "The View" co-hosts on Wednesday to share his side of the story and discuss his reasoning behind the decision.

Moderna's vaccines have a shelf-life of six hours once the vials are opened. With time running out, Gokal said he went around asking his staff if anyone needed to be vaccinated, but nobody there wanted it or needed it.

"In the absence of having any other options, I contacted people who I thought would be eligible or would know somebody who would be eligible," he told "The View."

Gokal said he only arranged for people to receive the doses after "having a discussion" with "one of the directors of Harris County" to "make sure they knew" what he was going to do.

All of the people who were given doses fell within the eligibility guidelines, meeting various criteria from age to having health issues that could cause a more severe case of COVID-19, he said. The day after Gokal gave them the shots, he said he handed in the appropriate paperwork and explained what he did, but he was fired a week later.

"I didn't think it was real. I just thought there was a misunderstanding," Gokal said. "From a moral perspective, from the doing-the-right-thing perspective, I did what I believe was expected."

In a Jan. 21 press release from Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, she said that a week had passed before "he told a fellow Harris County Public Health employee, who then reported him to supervisors."

Gokal said that he wasn't only following his own intuition, but guidance from the Texas Department of State Health Services, too. He said the agency advised him not to waste any vaccine doses and "give it to any eligible people you can" when appropriate.

He also said that he administered the vaccine doses on the first day that Harris County began vaccinating the public.

"We didn't have any precedence of this," Gokal said. "However, as time has gone on, we have precedence. We know people are learning. They're doing the right thing all over the country."

"There's hope," he added. "We're learning and we're starting to do better with each day."

Among those who received the soon-to-expire doses of the vaccine was his wife, who has the lung disease pulmonary sarcoidosis. Gokal said it "was not an easy decision" to give her the dose and that he "had no intention of giving it to her to begin with."

"The 10 people that I had slated to get it that night were not family, not even friends," Gokal said. "They were acquaintances and people who knew them."

Gokal said he decided to give his wife a dose when he realized the last person slated to receive it didn't appear and about 20 minutes remained before the vaccine expired. Gokal felt like he "didn't have a choice," he said.

"Although I know that my wife was very much eligible -- actually probably more than many of the others that got it -- the reality was that I wanted to make sure that we did things the right way," Gokal said.

"I had every intention of getting her the vaccine at a time [that was] appropriate, through the appropriate channels," he added. "But look, I got a vaccine ... and I have somebody who is highly eligible for it here, even though it's my own wife."

Gokal said that his wife had been "in and out of the hospital" due to her condition and chest surgery.

When it came time to administer the vaccine, Gokal said his wife "looked back at me and said, 'Is this the right thing to do?' I said, 'Hon, this is actually absolutely the right thing to do.'"

Harris County’s District Attorney Kim Ogg has said her office still plans to bring his case before a grand jury, according to The New York Times.

“He abused his position to place his friends and family in line in front of people who had gone through the lawful process to be there,” Ogg said in the Jan. 21 press release. “What he did was illegal and he’ll be held accountable under the law.”

The Texas Medical Association and Harris County Medical Society issued a statement earlier this month in support of doctors like Gokal who are scrambling "to avoid wasting the vaccine in a punctured vial."

"There is much more to the story than just a doctor who's trying to take advantage of a situation and going to give it to friends and family," Gokal said. "That's not what happened."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Official White House Photo by Adam SchultzBy MOLLY NAGLE, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden's COVID-19 response team announced Wednesday it would make 25 million masks available to Americans at community health centers and food banks.

"We will deliver more than 25 million masks across the country. These masks will be available in more than 1300 community health centers, and at 60,000 food pantries nationwide. Any American who needs a mask will be able to walk into these health centers or food pantries and pick up high quality American made masks," White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said.

"These masks will be available at no cost. There'll be well-fitting cloth masks available in children's and adult sizes, and they can be washed for reuse," Zients said, with "all consistent with CDC guidance and all made in the USA."

"The action we're announcing today is a targeted step to help Americans respond to the president's challenge to mask up to protect themselves and their fellow Americans, as we encourage people to continue to mask up. We're focused on vaccinating people, quickly, and equitably," he said.

"Not all Americans are wearing masks regularly. Not all Americans have access and not all masks are equal. With this action, we are helping to level the playing field, giving vulnerable populations quality, well-fitting masks," he said.

Throughout his first month in office and before taking on the roll, Biden has urged Americans to continue mask use to curb the spread of the virus.

During a town hall with African American frontline workers Tuesday, Biden previewed the administration’s move, and lamented the politicization of masks during the Trump administration in light of the U.S. reaching the milestone of 500,000 COVID deaths.

"We could have saved literally an awful lot of lives if people had listened. We turned wearing masks into a political statement. If you were for this thing, you wore it. If you were for somebody else, you didn't wear it. When in fact, it's just plain basic science -- science," Biden said.

The masks will be delivered by Department of Health and Human Services, in partnership with the Department of Defense starting in March through May, the White House said in a press release.

“As a result of these actions, an estimated 12 to 15 million Americans will receive masks. More than 25 million masks total will be distributed,” the administration said in the release.

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comments MORGAN WINSOR, ABC News

(HOUSTON) -- Texas’ embattled power grid operator is facing lawsuits and resignations after more than 4 million customers lost electricity last week during a deadly winter storm.

Morgan & Morgan, a Florida-based national law firm with over 700 attorneys, filed a class-action lawsuit on Tuesday against the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), alleging that the nonprofit corporation "utterly failed" to plan for the cold weather despite multiple warnings, leading to the collapse of its electrical network and resulting in widespread blackouts.

"Despite receiving multiple unambiguous warnings, ERCOT’s alleged failure to ensure reliable generating capacity during anticipated conditions forced many of its customers to endure dangerous freezing temperatures for long periods of time," attorneys Mike Morgan and Rene Rocha said in a statement Tuesday. "This was not the first time ERCOT has failed to plan and prepare for cold weather. But instead of learning the lessons of its past failures, ERCOT yet again disregarded its duties to its customers. Over 70 people have died and millions of others have suffered emotional and physical trauma due to ERCOT’s alleged gross negligence."

ABC News has reached out to ERCOT for comment.

The lawsuit was filed in a district court of Texas' Harris County on behalf of a putative class that includes all current retail customers of ERCOT -- millions of Texans -- "who lost electric services or potable water services during the week of February 14, 2021 as a result of ERCOT’s failure to ensure adequate generating capacity," according to the complaint.

ERCOT, which manages the flow of electric power to more than 26 million customers in Texas, representing 90% of the state's electric load, allegedly received warning as early as Feb. 9 that an impending winter storm may jeopardize the integrity of its electrical network if reasonable measures were not taken, according to the complaint. Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott, who has been critical of ERCOT in the storm's aftermath, issued a disaster declaration in all 254 counties on Feb. 12 ahead of the severe weather, which the lawsuit argued "should have further emphasized the need for ERCOT to take appropriate measures to ensure system performance under the anticipated conditions."

The storm moved into Texas on Feb. 14, blanketing the Lone Star State in snow and ice. During a press briefing last Thursday, ERCOT president and CEO Bill Magness admitted that the Texas power grid had been just "seconds or minutes" away from a complete and catastrophic failure, as power demand increased and generators fell offline on the night the storm hit. By the morning of Feb. 14, more than 4.4 million customers were without power in Texas, according to data collected by PowerOutage.US.

The extended power outages combined with record-low temperatures caused freezing pipes to burst across the state, depleting water reserves. Millions of people were also under a boil-water advisory due to concerns about potential contamination as water treatment plants suffered power outages.

Mariaelena Sanchez, the named plaintiff in the lawsuit, was among those who lost electrical services and potable water for "several days" due to ERCOT's alleged failures to plan and prepare for the deep freeze, according to the complaint. Sanchez was forced to "huddle under blankets in her dark and freezing home and ration scarce supplies of bottled water. During that time, Sanchez had to use snow to preserve "the little food she had that was not spoiled by the outages," according to the complaint.

The lawsuit alleged that the "total state energy demand during the cold weather event peaked at around 69,000 megawatts -- significantly less than the total capacity of the ERCOT system or typical peak demands in summer." ERCOT allegedly failed "to reserve enough capacity to meet such foreseeable demands" as well as "to assess the integrity of its infrastructure, the environmental limitations of its power sources, and how abnormally cold weather may impact the availability of its power sources," according to the complaint.

Although winter storms are not as common in Texas as elsewhere in the United States, the complaint noted that the state has experienced a number of cold weather events over the past few decades. The lawsuit alleged that "ERCOT has repeatedly disregarded its responsibilities" throughout the years to plan and prepare for the effects of cold weather on its electrical grid. The complaint cited winter storms in 1989 and 2011 that caused ERCOT's systems to fail, resulting in widespread blackouts and human suffering.

The lawsuit is demanding a jury trial and is seeking class certification, injunctive relief, damages and litigation costs for the named plaintiff as well as all other class members proposed in the complaint.

This is not the only lawsuit to hit ERCOT in the wake of the historic cold snap. The family of an 11-year-old boy who died during last week's power outages in Conroe, about 40 miles north of Houston, filed a $100 million lawsuit against ERCOT and Entergy Texas, an electric power generation and distribution company.

Meanwhile, ERCOT's top board leaders announced Tuesday that they will step down amid outrage over the corporation's handling of the storm. Four board directors, including the chairwoman and vice chairman, submitted their resignations, which are effective Wednesday. A candidate for a board director position also said he was withdrawing his name from consideration. All five live outside of Texas, which only intensified scrutiny of ERCOT.

In a letter to ERCOT board members on Tuesday, the four departing leaders noted the "recent concerns about out-of-state board leadership."

"We want to acknowledge the pain and suffering of Texans during this past week," they wrote. "Our hearts go out to all Texans who have had to go without electricity, heat, and water during frigid temperatures and continue to face the tragic consequences of this emergency."

In a separate letter to the Public Utility Commission of Texas, which oversees ERCOT, the board director candidate said he was requesting the withdrawal of his name "to avoid becoming a distraction," citing "concerns regarding the propriety of out-of-state directors."

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(JACKSON, Miss.) -- The governor of Mississippi said he's dispatching the National Guard and more tanker trucks to the state's capital city to help bring an end to a water crisis that emerged following severe winter storms that crippled the community's aging infrastructure.

Many residents of Jackson, a city of more than 160,000 people, have been struggling for over a week to secure enough water to handle basic needs, officials said.

As he waited in line at a local high school to get water from a tanker truck, Alfred Anderson Jr. summed up the feelings that he said many Jackson taxpayers have: "This is pitiful and a shame."

"We pay all this money ... and we have got to come out here, most of these people, and wait on to try to get stuff to flush your toilets and, you know, do your hygiene stuff and whatever," Anderson told ABC affiliate station WAPT in Jackson.

Casandra Woody, another Jackson resident waiting in the same line for water, said the situation "is sad."

"I'm just fed up," Woody told WAPT as she watched residents fill up as many containers that could fit in their vehicles.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said help is on the way to the struggling residents of Jackson, where Reeves happens to live.

"We secured tankers tonight to provide non-potable water for Jackson to jumpstart the system and accelerate the fix," Reeves said in a Tuesday night Twitter post. "I have also activated the National Guard to complete the mission, and they will arrive early tomorrow (Wednesday). We will restore clean water for the people of Jackson!"

Reeves noted that Jackson is one of many Mississippi cities still recovering from electrical and water emergencies.

Charles Williams, the city's director of public works, told the Jackson City Council on Tuesday that water should be fully restored by the end of this week. But Williams said that as water pressure has been gradually increased a new problem has arisen -- busted water mains across the community. He said in recent days, city work crews have responded to fix at least 20 water main breaks.

"We had to buy some equipment in order to get where we are right now," Williams said. "A lot of our equipment froze up because we could not get above 32 (degrees)."

The city's water treatment plant was knocked offline when back-to-back winter storms swept through the South last week bringing snow and below-freezing temperatures causing widespread power outages.

Williams said that at one point last week, pressure in the city's water system fell to 32 pounds per square inch. On Tuesday, he said the water pressure in the system was up to 67 PSI and that he hopes workers can get the pressure up to 80 to 85 PSI by the end of Wednesday.

Residents have been asked to boil their water before drinking and the city is establishing more locations where residents can go to get clean water.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba has been the target of criticism from his constituents and city council members for his handling of the water crisis and for not getting the state moving fast enough to help fix the situation.

But Lumumba said the crisis was an "act of God" that exposed the city's crumbling infrastructure that he said has been neglected for decades.

Reeves agreed, saying at a news conference on Tuesday that the challenges to Jackson's water system "were born over literally 30, 40, 50 years of negligence and ignoring the challenges of the pipes and the system."

"That 50 years of deferred maintenance is not something that we're going to fix in the next six to eight hours," Reeves said.

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(NEW YORK) -- It is starting to feel like spring from California to New York and around the rest of the country.

Record high temperatures were broken on Tuesday in the San Francisco Bay area with Oakland reaching 84 degrees and Napa hitting 81.

In Dallas, Texas, temperatures reached 81 degrees after being below zero last week and it was the warmest temperature in Dallas since last November.

Kansas City reached 69 degrees which made it the warmest temperatures there since November.

Elsewhere, Washington, D.C. reached 60 degrees Tuesday which was the warmest temperature there since before Christmas.

Some of this warmth will move into the Northeast Wednesday with New York City reaching the 50s and it could be the warmest temperatures there since Christmas as well.

There will be mild weather for the Eastern U.S. Wednesday with 70-degree weather in Nashville, Tennessee and temperatures in the 50s in Indianapolis and Columbus, Ohio.

This mild weather will be on and off through the weekend for the Eastern U.S. with temperatures nearing 50 degrees by Saturday, even in recently frozen Chicago.

Meanwhile, in the Rockies and the Pacific Northwest, a wintry scene is unfolding with many areas getting feet of snow in the last few days.

An avalanche warning continues for Idaho and Montana for the combination of heavy snow and windy conditions which is making the snowpack unstable.

Snow will move into Colorado Wednesday with Denver seeing a few inches while up to 8 inches of snow is possible just south and west of the city -- and this is after Denver reached the 60s Wednesday.

Additional snow is also forecast in the Northwest where locally 1 to 2 feet of snow is expected in the Cascades of Washington and Oregon.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


TommyIX/iStockBy MINA KAJI, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- After an engine on a United 777 failed minutes after takeoff in Denver this past weekend, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is ordering operators to conduct high-tech inspections of all Boeing 777s powered by the same Pratt and Whitney engine that failed "before further flight."

More than 100 Boeing 777s are either temporarily grounded, banned or removed from service worldwide in response to the incident.

In the U.S., airlines like United will now be required to conduct a thermal acoustic image inspection of the engine's fan blades before the planes can return to the skies. This will allow inspectors to detect cracks on the inside of the large, hollow titanium blades that otherwise wouldn't be visible to the naked eye.

The agency is not increasing the frequency of these blade inspections yet, but the FAA said it will review the results on a rolling basis and it may revise the directive to set a new inspection interval.

"The FAA anticipates that further AD action will follow," the directive said.

During United Flight 328, one blade broke off mid-flight and struck another, causing significant damage to the front of the engine.

The National Transportation Board (NTSB) said Monday that the damaged blades showed signs of metal fatigue based on preliminary evidence. The NTSB has still not shared when this aircraft or engine was last inspected or how often it required inspection.

The FAA's order, called an “AD” or airworthiness directive, comes after multiple suspected similar failures. One occurred in 2018 when pieces of the same Pratt and Whitney series engine broke loose after a fan blade failure on a United 777. Another occurred in December 2020 when a fan blade broke in the same engine and debris hit the fuselage of a Japan Airlines 777.

Engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney released a statement late Tuesday explaining that the process requires the fan blades to be shipped to Pratt and Whitney's FAA-authorized repair station for inspection so it can confirm their airworthiness.

The company added it is "coordinating all actions with Boeing, airline operators and regulators."

Boeing said it supported the FAA's guidance and "will work with [their] customers through the process."

United Airlines, the only U.S. carrier affected by the order, said it will comply with the AD to "ensure all all 52 of the impacted aircraft in our fleet meet our rigorous safety standards."

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Schiller Park Fire Department/FacebookBy JON HAWORTH, ABC News

(CHICAGO) -- A woman is lucky to be alive after being trapped for more than 10 hours under an awning in her own backyard when it collapsed on top of her after being weighed down by heavy ice and snow.

The incident happened at approximately 12 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 22 in Schiller Park, Illinois, a suburban community in northwest Chicago, when an unnamed woman in her 50s had gone outside to shovel snow in her backyard and the awning of her home suddenly gave way and came down on top of her, according to the Schiller Park Fire Department.

"She was trying to call for help, but being her head was inside of the awning, nobody was able to hear her," Chief Michael Cesaretti of the Schiller Park Fire Department told ABC News’ Chicago station WLS-TV in an interview about the accident.

The woman spent more than 10 hours trapped by the awning and under several feet of ice and snow in temperatures hovering around the mid-40s, far warmer than a week previous when the temperatures were between 4 and 19 degrees Fahrenheit in the region.

Firefighters told WLS following the accident that if this had happened last week, the outcome could have been much more serious and that the warmer temperatures most likely saved the victim from injuries related to being out in the cold for an extended period of time.

The woman was finally discovered when a relative arrived at approximately 10:30 p.m. and found her, according to WLS.

“[The] Schiller Park Police and Fire Department quickly started rescue efforts to remove as much snow and ice from the awning to take some of the weight off her legs,” the Schiller Park Fire Department said in a statement. “[The] Fire Department then placed struts for stability, utilized cribbing and the multi-force air bag system to lift the awning and free the patient.”

"Most of the snow was on top of the awning, and it did create a bit of a void space under the awning so she was able to still communicate," Cesaretti said.

The woman remained conscious the entire time and was subsequently transported to Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Illinois, in stable condition.

Firefighters told WLS that they hope this incident will be a reminder to people to be aware of their surroundings.

"There may be no warning signs,” Cesaretti told WLS. “So we're just asking people to be aware, what's over your head."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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