TIME Infectious Disease

Deadly Middle East Virus in U.S. For First Time

Officials have confirmed a case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in Indiana, the first known incident of the virus in the U.S. There have been more than 400 cases worldwide, a third of which have been fatal, since the virus was first discovered in 2012

Update: May 3, 10:18 p.m.

A hospital in northern Indiana is treating a patient infected with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, marking the first time a case of the deadly virus has appeared in the U.S., state and federal health officials confirmed.

The Indiana State Department of Health said the patient at Community Hospital in Munster is a male health care provider who had recently returned from a trip to Saudi Arabia, where cases of the virus have been most prevalent since it was first identified in 2012.

Researchers have been largely stumped by the origin and transmission patterns of the virus, which looks like the flu, as it has gradually spread around the Middle East. It has been linked to both bats and, increasingly, camels but the reservoir remains elusive.

There have been more than 400 cases of the SARS-like virus scattered among a dozen countries, nearly a third of which have been fatal. Saudi Arabia has seen the bulk of the cases—more than 320 with some 94 deaths—but others have also appeared in Jordan, Britain, France and Italy.

Representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Indiana’s state health department released details about the case in a briefing with reporters on Friday after a positive laboratory result was confirmed.

The man had arrived in Chicago from Saudi Arabia and then took a bus to Indiana. (Public Health England later said it was advised of a passenger, now confirmed to have MERS, who was on British Airways Flight 262 when it arrived at London’s Heathrow Airport on April 24. The man then boarded American Airlines Flight 99 to Chicago.)

On April 27, the man began experiencing respiratory symptoms like shortness of breath, coughing and a fever. He went to the emergency room the next day and was admitted as a patient to Community Hospital, where he received immediate care and was placed in isolation.

Hospital officials said in a statement on May 3 the patient remained hospitalized “in good condition” and is improving each day. “The swift diagnosis and precautionary measures taken have undoubtedly greatly helped reduce the risk of this potentially serious virus spreading,” said State Health Commissioner William VanNess II.

Staff at the hospital who had direct contact with the man before he was isolated were taken off duty and placed in temporary home isolation, the statement added. They will be allowed to return to work once the incubation period is over—it could take up to two weeks for symptoms of MERS to appear—and their laboratory results are negative. No additional cases of MERS have been identified.

It remains unclear how the man became infected, how many people he was in close contact with and whether those people became ill. British and U.S. health officials said they had contacted other passengers on the flights but asserted the risk of infection between them appears low.

(MORE: A Deep Look Inside the Battle Against MERS)

Public health experts have warned for months that it could be only a matter of time before a case appeared in the states. “It’s something we’ve predicted and expected,” said Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, a New York-based organization that patrols the animal-human health border and has worked closely with researchers looking for MERS’ origin.

Daszak said he remains concerned the virus is widespread in camels in Saudi Arabia and that it’s likely more rampant across the region where camels are common. While the virus doesn’t pose a “high risk” to the public yet, he said, “people continue to get infected and travel with this virus. That’s the concern for something that may have the ability to evolve into a pandemic risk.”

Dr. Ian Lipkin, an epidemiology professor at Columbia University and a leading researcher in the hunt for the virus’ origin and pattern of transmission, said he wasn’t surprised either that a case has appeared in the U.S. and originated in Saudi Arabia.

Officials in Egypt just diagnosed their first case and other infected people have recently traveled from either Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates to the Philippines, Malaysia and Greece. But the caseload in the Kingdom jumped 89 percent in April, highlighting whether its Ministry of Health is doing enough to find the reservoir and warn the public about any threat.

In a rare move in late April, King Abdullah dismissed the health minister without an official explanation. The position was quickly filled by Labor Minister Adel Faqih, who immediately promised “transparency and to promptly provide the media and society with the information needed.”

Saudi Arabia has come under fire for its handling of MERS, as months pass with little or no progress made on nabbing its origin or how it spreads to people. “It’s a difficult place in which to work,” Lipkin said, “but there’s optimism that the change in leadership may be productive.”

TIME Crime

Teen Planned Columbine-Style Attack in Minnesota

Police say a tragedy was prevented in Minnesota when officers arrested a local teenager and stopped him from carrying his plans for mass murder.

Investigators say the 17-year-old detailed his plan to them and idolized the Columbine shooters. Originally, the teen planned on executing his attack on the anniversary of the Columbine killings. But becuase the anniversary fell on Easter sunday, the school was not in session.

The teen’s plan was to first kill his family and then set a diversionary fire in the town to distract first responders. While first responders were focused on the fire, he would attack the local high school and middle school.

TIME Crime

Alleged Prom Killer May Be Psychotic, Lawyer Says

Teen placed on suicide watch as he awaits trial for high school stabbing

A teenager charged with fatally stabbing a classmate on the day of their high school prom is showing signs of active psychosis, his attorney said Friday.

Christopher Plaskon made his first court appearance Friday after he allegedly stabbed Maren Sanchez to death in the hallway of Jonathan Law High School in Milford, Conn., last month. Police are investigating whether the stabbing was related to Sanchez’s refusal to be Plaskon’s prom date. The stabbing occurred on the morning of prom.

Plaskon’s attorney Richard Meehan said the boy may be psychotic. “I do believe he’s sick,” Meehan told the Associated Press. “Obviously what we don’t want to see another tragedy on top of the one that has already taken place here. We want to make sure that this young man is appropriately maintained while we do our job.”

Plaskon appeared to show no emotion in the hearing, and was wearing handcuffs and leg shackles, the AP reports. He will be sent to Manson Youth Institution in Cheshire, where he will be placed on suicide watch as he awaits his next court hearing. Witnesses saw Plaskon on top of Sanchez during the attack, and tried to pull him off her, authorities say. A bloodied Plaskon was taken to the principals office, where police say he told one officer: “I did it. Just arrest me.”

The teen will be prosecuted as an adult, and is being held on $3 million bail. He faces up to 60 yeas in prison if found guilty of murder. He is scheduled to enter a plea on June 4.

[AP]

 

TIME energy

Feds Stockpiling Gas For Next Hurricane Sandy

New York And New Jersey Continue To Recover From Superstorm Sandy
A girl holds jerry cans while waiting in line at a gas station in Hazlet township, N.J., Nov. 1, 2012. Andrew Burton—Getty Images

The federal government is creating a 1-million barrel gas reserve to protect the Northeast against supply disruptions like one caused by Hurricane Sandy. The storm wreaked havoc on the region's economy by damaging refineries and leaving gasoline stations without power

The federal government said Friday it would establish its first regional energy reserves in the Northeast to provide gasoline to homes and businesses in case of a supply disruption. The move signals the Department of Energy is reexamining its strategy after the havoc caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Two Northeast reserve locations, near New York Harbor and in New England, will be established, and they will store 500,000 barrels of gasoline each, which the Department of Energy says is enough to provide short-term relief in the event of a major supply disruption. The approximately $215 million project is intended to supply households through five hurricane seasons, officials said.

Hurricane Sandy damaged refineries, terminals and left gasoline stations without power, causing severe gasoline shortages across the region in 2012. Some gas stations were left without fuel for as long as 30 days, and officials said the new reserves would safeguard against a similar catastrophe.

“The sudden, massive gas supply shortage after Superstorm Sandy resulted in interminable line, panic and delivered a gut shot to the region’s economy,” New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer said in an Energy Department statement announcing the new reserves. “That’s why we called for regionally-placed reserves to ensure an uninterrupted fuel supply in the event of future storms like Sandy.”

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said the reserves were part of an Obama Administration effort to “better prepare for the effects of climate change we already see occurring here at home.”

As part of the government’s review of energy resources, the Energy Department will conduct a series of studies to analyze the vulnerability of energy supply in different parts of the country to weather-related natural disasters.

The government already has reserves of diesel fuel in the Northeast, but the new supply would presumably allow home- and auto-owners to get through a supply disruption. The reserves would not, however, address the widespread loss of electric power caused by Hurricane Sandy.

TIME Transportation

19 Injured in NYC Subway Derailment

Subway Train Derails Underground In Queens
An injured man is aided by New York City firefighters after being evacuated from an emergency staircase following an F train derailment in the Woodside neighborhood of the Queens, N.Y., May 2, 2014. Spencer Platt—Getty Images

Hundreds had to evacuate after the derailment in Queens, the cause of which was not immediately clear. Fifteen people sustained minor injuries and four were transported to area hospitals with potentially serious injuries, according to the City Fire Department

Nineteen people were injured and hundreds had to be evacuated through the sidewalk when a New York City subway derailed in Queens on Friday morning, officials said.

Fifteen people sustained minor injuries and four were transported to area hospitals with potentially serious injuries, Fire Department spokeswoman Elisheva Zakheim said. It took about an hour to evacuate the rest of the passengers from the train, through emergency exits and up through the sidewalk.

The train derailed near Broadway and 60th Street in the Woodside area of Queens.

The cause of the derailment was not immediately clear. Calls to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority were not immediately returned.

TIME Economy

The Bad News About the Good Job Numbers

Newly released jobs data shows things are getting better—but not much

Spring finally arrived in the job market. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that nonfarm payroll employment rose by 288,000 and the unemployment rate fell by 0.4 percentage points to 6.3% in April. That’s a strong number, reflecting both a rebound from the weather-challenged first quarter of the year, which curtailed industries such as construction and retailing. Job growth has averaged 190,000 per month over the last 12 months, according to BLS. April’s overachievement was widespread, led by gains in professional and business services, retail, restaurants, and construction.

But if the economy is blooming with the improving weather, it is certainly not booming. “The view from the outside is very positive, but there are an usual number of caveats in the report to suggest the inside picture of the labor markets is less pretty than that juicy +288K might otherwise suggest,” wrote Guy LeBas, Janney Montgomery Scott’s chief fixed income strategist.

The biggest of those caveats is the drop in the civilian labor force. The number of people in the workforce declined by 806,000 in April, after increasing 503,000 in March. It’s a disappointing drop, and lowered the labor force participation rate—the proportion of the adult population that is working or looking for work— by 0.4 percentage points to 62.8 % in April. Having fewer people active in the economy is not a recipe for growth.

That’s why the drop in the unemployment rate, while encouraging, is also distracting. “This one number is clearly not telling policymakers what it’s supposed to. It’s become a bad measure of the job market,” LeBas said. The unemployment rate dropped because people left the work force, not because they found work.

Another weakness: Job growth did not do much for wage growth. Hourly average wages for April were unchanged, and the average workweek held steady at 34.5 hours. So even though consumer spending rose last month—another spring rebound tied to the weather—workers aren’t getting the higher wages they need to increase spending. Remember, consumer spending is roughly two-thirds of the economy.

That weakness in workforce participation will continue to hold the attention of Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) as it wrestles with interest rates. Yellen is scheduled to report on the economic outlook to the congressional Joint Economic Committee next week. Part of the broader debate centers on whether keeping long-term interest rates low will help the long-term unemployed, or whether there’s a need to keep inflation on a leash as the economy expands. In other words, is there still slack in the labor market? The April data suggests there is.

Yet according to Rick Rieder, CIO of fundamental fixed income for investment firm BlackRock, companies remain risk averse and cost conscious despite the low rates, which will keep a ceiling on hiring. So will other problems, such as mismatches in skill sets and education levels. In fact, there are some economists who believe that many of the longterm unemployed will never rejoin the workforce, meaning there may not be as much slack in the labor market as you’d expect—and that rates should go up more swiftly to combat the risk of future inflation.

These factors signal a slow but steady growth in employment, but nothing like previous expansions. “Looking ahead, we continue to anticipate a trend of reasonable growth in the U.S. within a global economy whose growth rate can best be described as uninspiring, but growing nonetheless,” Rieder said.

In other words, while it’s been a warm spring in the labor market, don’t expect a hot summer.

TIME energy

Could It Be? Gas Prices May Have Already Peaked for 2014

We’re still weeks away from Memorial Day and the peak travel days of summer. But it looks like gas prices mercifully won’t go much higher in 2014.

The commonly held theory is that gas prices rise hand in hand with both temperatures and consumer demand. In other words, gas prices tend to inch up in spring and peak in the height of summer. Many years, this theory holds true. For instance, the priciest day ever for gas in the U.S. was in July 2008, when the national average spiked over the course of a few short weeks, eventually hitting $4.11.

In more recent years, however, the summer spike hasn’t been quite as reliable. In 2012, the national average for a gallon of regular reached a summertime low of around $3.35 in early July, before shooting to over $3.80 in mid-September, after the peak summer travel period had passed. And the peak time for gas prices in 2012 was actually reached in early April, when the average topped $3.90.

Last year, the trajectory was a little different. Gas prices rose in early winter, then took the nearly unprecedented step of retreating in March, remaining in the vicinity of 3.50 through mid-summer. In any event, prices at the pump didn’t inch up slowly and steadily as the days grew warmer and longer, like the theory holds.

Analysts say that 2014 is shaping up as yet another year that blows a hole in the theory. As a recent NPR story noted, warmer days are here, the nation’s peak road trip period is approaching, and “predictably, the price of gasoline is rising.” The national average for a gallon of regular shot from $3.53 in late March to around $3.70 a month later.

But drivers will be relieved to hear that gas prices have already plateaued. As of Friday, the AAA Fuel Gauge Report indicated that the national average was $3.683, which is 12¢ more than a month earlier, but also 1¢ less than a week ago.

Most importantly, the experts have reason to believe that, based on crude production and demand domestically and around the world, prices at the pump are only going to go down from here. The Energy Information Administration forecast calls for a national average of $3.57 through September, and an overall average for 2014 of $3.45, which would be lower than the last two years.

“Prices could inch higher another week, but we’re definitely near the top for the year,” Brian Milne, energy editor of industry tracker Schneider Electric, told USA Today.

Likewise, the experts at GasBuddy wrote this week that their best guess is that “we’re starting to see clearer signs that we’re closer to top,” and that “the rally that started in February is nearing its peak.”

For the sake of the family vacation budget this summer, let’s hope we already got there.

TIME nature

Beached Whale in New Jersey Becomes Frat Graffiti Mural

Atlantic City Whale
Bob Schoelkopf, right, director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, looks over a minke whale that washed up along with a common dolphin, in foreground, in Atlantic City, N.J., Thursday, May 1, 2014. Vernon Ogrodnek—AP

The corpse of beached whale in New Jersey appears to have been spray painted with graffiti letters of a fraternity that has chapters at nearby schools. It's not immediately clear what killed the animal, but it’s not uncommon for whale corpses to wash ashore in the area

The corpse of a beached Minke whale in New Jersey became a canvas for graffiti artists, Atlantic City police confirmed Thursday.

The whale was discovered Thursday morning covered in purple graffiti that appeared to be the Greek letters Tau Epsilon Phi followed by the number 94. Several schools in the area host fraternities named for the same Greek letters.

At more than 12 feet long, disposing of the whale is proving contentious in among Atlantic City’s beach community. The corpse was dragged from beneath the pier down the beach where authorities plan to bury it, which has some business owners worried about the stench of decomposing whale, the Press of Atlantic City reports. The whale washed up along with the corpse of a common dolphin. It’s not uncommon for the corpses of either animal to wash ashore in the area.

[Press of Atlantic City]

 

TIME nation

Watch a Street Collapse Swallow an Entire Block of Cars in Baltimore

No one was killed or injured

There was a harrowing scene in Baltimore Wednesday as a residential street collapsed. Cars slid onto railroad tracks, and several homes in the neighborhood had to be evacuated. There were no fatalities or injuries, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings said that afternoon.

Heavy rains have swept across Maryland this week, and residents told WJZ-13 that they were relieved that children were not walking across the street at the time because the elementary school was closed that day. Jim Zitzer, a retired engineer who lives in the area, told The Baltimore Sun, “My wife and I haven’t been parking on that side of the street for years because we knew it was going to happen.”

WATCH: Sinkhole Swallows Smart Car

WATCH: Massive Sinkhole in Chicago Swallows 3 Cars

TIME

Pictures of the Week: April 25 – May 2

From tornadoes and floods across the US to the canonization of two popes, to preparations for the Kentucky Derby and witches on a train, TIME presents the best photos of the week.

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