National Headlines

ABC NewsBY: DANIEL MANZO, ABC NEWS

(NEW YORK) — The warmest air in four months will spread across the Central and Eastern U.S. this week.

On Sunday afternoon, widespread temperatures in the 60s and 70s are expected across the much of the central U.S. and even northern locations like Minneapolis will reach 60 degrees or higher today when just 3 weeks ago, Minneapolis wasn’t getting above zero degrees.

The warmer weather will start to approach Chicago on Sunday as well, but even warmer weather will be arriving over the coming days.

Record highs will be possible on both Monday and Tuesday as temperatures soar to nearly 30 degrees above average in spots.

By Tuesday, parts of the Central and Eastern U.S. could approach or exceed 70 degrees and some parts of the Plains could reach 80 degrees or better.

Additionally, Minneapolis, Chicago and New York City will all be in the 60s and see lots of sun.

The warm and mild air will bring temperatures in the mid-60s and almost near 70 degrees in parts of the eastern U.S., including near Philadelphia and New York City by the end of the week.

The combination of the warmest air in months and sunshine will make for truly delightful weather this week for millions of Americans.

However, this does not mean winter has had its last gasp and there is an indication that a more turbulent weather pattern will return in the near future.

The West will remain unsettled for the next few days, with heavy and snow and rain expected on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Much of this rain and snow will head into California and into southern parts of the state and much of the region, but especially Los Angeles, could really benefit from this precipitation.

This storm will arrive in the central U.S. by next weekend and could potentially develop into a significant system that would bring snow to parts of the central U.S., heavy rain to the Ohio and Mississippi River valley, and perhaps our first shot of organized spring severe weather.

Behind this system, a cooler weather pattern will spread across the country as we head into the middle of the month.

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kali9/iStockBy MARLENE LENTHANG and NICHOLAS CIRONE, ABC News

(BOWLING GREEN, Ohio) -- A Bowling Green State University student is in critical condition after an alleged hazing incident involving alcohol.

The student has been identified as Stone Foltz, family attorney Sean Alto told ABC News.

Foltz was hospitalized after "alleged hazing activity involving alcohol consumption" at an off-campus Pi Kappa Alpha event in Bowling Green, Ohio, the university said in a statement.

He is currently in critical condition, according to the ProMedica Toledo Hospital. Doctors treating Foltz are going through the organ donation process, Alto said.

The Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity told ABC News in a statement they were "horrified and outraged" by the incident.

The fraternity erroneously said that Foltz had died in its initial statement.

"We extend our deepest and sincere sympathy to the student's family and friends and all of those affected by this tragic loss," the organization said. That statement was later updated to remove any reference to the student's death.

In response to the initial statement, Alto told ABC News, "It's insensitive and inappropriate to put out a statement that he has passed away when he hasn't. The info is still coming out, just wait and gather the facts. It's horrible to do this in advance of the family. They are solely focused on their son, their brother, their grandson."

The Delta Beta Chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha at BGSU has been placed on administrative suspension following the incident, per the international fraternity.

"As more details are confirmed, we will also pursue permanent suspension of Delta Beta Chapter as well as expulsion of all chapter members from the International Fraternity," the organization said.

The international fraternity said it will cooperate fully with authorities in the matter.

The university said it is aware of the incident and the fraternity would be placed on interim suspension as they work with law enforcement to investigate. "We want to express our care and support of our students and community affected," university spokesperson Alex Solis said.

ABC News' Jamie Aranoff, Mona Kosar Abdi and Joshua Hoyos contributed to this report.

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Courtesy of Linda MolinarBy SOO RIN KIM, ERIN SCHUMAKER,  MARK NICHOLS, and EVAN SIMON, ABC News

(PRESIDIO, Texas) -- Jorge Figueroa was willing to drive eight hours round trip.

He wasn't going on vacation or to visit a relative.

Instead, he was planning to get a lifesaving shot to protect him from COVID-19 -- a shot that many Americans can now conveniently access at their neighborhood pharmacy.

The 54-year-old father of four has been eager to get vaccinated because he has high blood pressure, which could increase his risk of severe illness from the coronavirus. But Figueroa lives in Presidio, Texas, a city of about 4,000 people on the U.S.-Mexico border where there's no hospital, no full-time doctor and no pharmacy.

It's an issue that millions of Americans also face.

After scouring social media for pop-up vaccine events and putting his name on waiting lists at local clinics, he eyed a vaccine hub in Odessa, some four hours away. But without a guaranteed appointment, an eight-hour drive and the possibility that he'd wait in line for hours, it was too big of a commitment for a risky trip from which he could come back empty handed.

On Saturday, his luck turned. After weeks of desperate searching, multiple follow-up calls with providers, and a last-minute scramble for an open spot, Figueroa got an appointment and his first shot at a clinic in Presidio that day.

With coronavirus deaths topping the grim 500,000 milestone in recent days and the case count inching towards the 30 million mark, many Americans are eagerly hoping the vaccines can bring some normalcy back to their lives.

Since vaccination began in mid-December, nearly 110 million doses have been delivered to various providers across the nation -- starting with big hospitals and local health centers and now expanding into mass vaccine hubs and big and small pharmacies.

Nearly 83 million of the doses have been put into people's arms so far.

But many health experts and community leaders worry about equity in access when the vaccination program expands to the wider public later this year because of disparities in the existing health care infrastructure and location of drugstores in underserved neighborhoods.

Even though 90% of Americans live within 3 miles of chain pharmacies, there are many others who live in so-called food and health care deserts, without a single grocery store or pharmacy in close range, said Dr. James Hildreth, president and CEO of Meharry Medical College and a member of Biden's COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force.

According to ABC News' analysis of pharmacy locations across the country, there are 150 counties where there is no pharmacy, and nearly 4.8 million people live in a county where there's only one pharmacy for every 10,000 residents or more.

Based on Census data, there are far fewer pharmacies per person -- especially chain pharmacies -- in rural parts of the country compared to in urban areas, especially in Southern and Plains states.

The drugstore disparity is particularly significant in majority-nonwhite rural neighborhoods, where there is on average one pharmacy per 9,888 people, compared to one pharmacy per 8,045 people in whiter rural neighborhoods.

The racial gap exists throughout the country, including in urban areas, where there are more pharmacies in whiter and wealthier neighborhoods per person than in poorer, predominantly nonwhite neighborhoods.

This means that residents in rural communities could have fewer options to get shots as the country moves to vaccinate the general public, health experts say, while pharmacies in underserved urban communities are set to be more crowded and inaccessible as they are expected to serve a far bigger population.

When ABC News asked major chain pharmacies about their plans to help ensure underserved communities had equal access to the vaccine, Walgreens pointed to a pilot program with Uber rolling out in coming months, which will offer free or discounted rides for vaccinations in cities like Chicago, Atlanta, Houston and El Paso.

CVS's partnerships with Lyft and nonprofit organizations like the YMCA will similarly offer free or discounted rides.

President Joe Biden has described equity in vaccine distribution as the "No. 1" priority for his administration. He has emphasized that millions of doses have been directed to community health centers specifically to target vulnerable populations, and boasted the federal government's partnership with more than 6,700 pharmacies across the country, saying "almost everyone" lives within the reach of a pharmacy. He also committed to providing mobile units to go into neighborhoods that are hard to get to.

But partnering with pharmacies isn't enough to ensure equal access to vaccines, experts say.

"While pharmacies represent a critical resource in communities for preventative care services including vaccines, their distribution is based on economic factors rather than population representativeness," said Dr. John Brownstein, an epidemiologist at Boston Children's Hospital and ABC News contributor.

"In order to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines, the rollout needs to ensure that geographic accessibility is not a barrier to access especially for those who would benefit the most," Brownstein said.

Rural areas 'need more help'


In Texas, more than two dozen of the state's 254 counties have no pharmacy at all, two of them -- Hudspeth and Culberson counties -- located in the vastly rural western border region between urban El Paso and Odessa, described by some as "miles and miles of nothing."

"It's almost desert-type climate and an interstate highway running through it, but not a lot of people and certainly not a lot of health care services," said John Henderson, the CEO and president of the Texas Organization of Rural and Community Hospitals, who coordinates allocation of doses in rural vaccine hubs in the state.

Just south of Hudspeth and Culberson counties is the city of Presidio, where Figueroa lives. The closest pharmacy is in Marfa, an hour drive away, and to find pharmacies that are equipped to vaccinate people one would have to drive further up to Alpine, in Brewster County, which is about an hour and a half away.

Figueroa, who lost his health insurance when he got laid off as a construction worker in August as the coronavirus was raging in the South, has been making four-hour trips across the border to Mexico to find cheaper health care and medicine when he has needed to seek medical attention.

There are local clinics and health centers in Presidio, Marfa and Alpine that have been vaccinating community members, but supplies have been limited.

Without existing relationships with local clinics and pharmacies -- which help them be aware of his medical conditions -- Figueroa said the process of trying to get on various vaccine waitlists with local providers was "frustrating."

For weeks, his numerous efforts to find a slot at local clinics in Presidio and Marfa didn't materialize, and Figueroa said he was "this close" to driving to a vaccine hub in Odessa over the weekend, until on Friday he finally managed to get an appointment for the following day at a local community clinic in Presidio.

Alan Morgan, CEO of the Rural Health Association, worries about rural communities like Presidio, as states turn to mass vaccination sites to ramp up distribution.

"You have an easy solution of just setting up these massive vaccination sites in urban areas," Morgan said. "We're going to have a huge health disparity as we move forward."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is opening five new mass vaccination centers in New York and Texas, with military medical teams providing the jabs.

The efforts will be centered around major cities, with a site at the NRG Center in Houston expected to be able to vaccinate 6,000 people a day, and the Fair Park Cotton Bowl Stadium and the AT&T Stadium and Globe Life Park in the Dallas area able to vaccinate 3,000 people a day.

But Presidio has none of that, and health care providers like Dr. Adrian Billings, 49, are doing their best to bridge the gap.

Billings is one of four doctors who makes the 90-mile drive from Alpine to Presidio to work at its community health center, a safety-net clinic for patients, most of whom are poor and primarily speak Spanish. Many are uninsured and don't have reliable cars. They walk to the clinic for care.

When vaccine doses arrive for Presidio from Alpine, often without more than a few hours notice, Billings said his team -- which services three different clinics in the region -- scrambles to call patients to schedule appointments.

Doses have to be kept cold for the hour and a half drive through the desert.

Billings said there's not enough staff to give vaccines and provide medical care simultaneously, so the clinic has to triage, and shuts down non-emergency medical services on days when they administer vaccines.

"I wish it was easier," Billings said.

He's still holding out hope that the National Guard takes over Presidio's vaccination effort, allowing the doctors to go back to treating patients. Then, they wouldn't have to choose between offering medical care and giving vaccines.

"We're doing the best we can, but we need more help," he said.

Linda Molinar, whose community clinics in Presidio, Marfa and Alpine have had to cut regular medical care services to vaccinate people, asked the question: "Who's taking care of the sick people?"

"Do I do vaccines, or do I see these people that are needing their insulin?" Molinar said. "I have people right now that are supposed to get allergy shots every other day, and we're the only clinic that does this. Where are they supposed to go?"

"COVID just made everything harder," Molinar added.

'Messy' and 'uneven'


Vaccine allocation in rural Texas has at times been "messy" and "uneven," Henderson of TORCH said.

At the beginning of January, 40% of rural hospitals still had not received a single dose for their front-line health care workers, he said, and finally, six weeks into vaccination, every rural hospital in Texas had received doses.

For Presidio and Marfa, Midland Memorial Hospital -- one of the closest vaccine hubs in the area -- has stepped up to share vaccine doses with those cities and to bring vaccines to the communities.

Doses are finally trickling down to smaller providers in rural towns.

In Marfa, the local health center has been receiving a weekly allocation of 500 doses since February. In Alpine, local drugstore Prescription Shop received 100 doses through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program just before a snowstorm hit the state last month.

Highland Drug, another local pharmacy in Alpine, was recently offered 1,100 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, but had to decline and wait for fewer doses of the Moderna vaccine because the store didn't have the ultra-freeze capability required for the Pfizer vaccine.

The store also didn't have the capacity to vaccinate that many people before the doses would expire, the pharmacy's owner and pharmacist Jill Jahn told ABC News.

Jahn, whose store serves patients from about 100 miles in every direction, including from Presidio and Marfa, said once her pharmacy receives vaccines, it will be open on weekends to vaccinate people in the community. She said she even plans to bring vaccines to her patients' homes in case they can't get to her pharmacy.

Presidio County has so far fully vaccinated a much higher percentage of its residents over the age of 16 than Dallas County or Harris County, according to data released by the state.

But Bob Fast, the owner and pharmacist at Prescription Shop in Marfa, said that he's more "anxious" about vaccinating the general public in the coming weeks and months.

"When that happens, that's going to be a lot of people," Fast said. "I don't know whether there's going to be more of a challenge, but there's going to be some uncertainty in the supply."

Keith Mueller, the director of the Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis at the University of Iowa, who has studied distribution of pharmacy locations across the country, said pharmacy closures over the years, exacerbated by the pandemic in the past year, have contributed to the spread of vaccine deserts across the country.

From 2010 to 2016 the number of independent pharmacies was on the rise, but a recent report by the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association says that between 2016 and 2019, there was a net loss of 83 independent pharmacies across the country (roughly 0.3% of all independent pharmacies) and a net loss of 1,583 chain stores (roughly 4% of chain stores).

In addition to Texas, states like Nebraska and Montana, which also have clusters of counties without pharmacies, could be especially vulnerable, Mueller said.

In northwest Nebraska, there are eight adjoining sparsely-populated rural counties where COVID-19 infection rates average 6,400 per 100,000 residents and there are at least nine deaths as of March 1. But not a pharmacy is in sight for vaccine shots in these counties.

According to vaccine location data, there's one vaccine provider registered in each of these eight counties, but state-released data suggests that these are satellite sites that will get limited, redistributed doses from vaccine hubs that are equipped with ultra-cold freezers and dry ice suppliers.

This means that many of Grant County's 700 residents -- in one of those vaccine desert counties -- will be forced to make at least an hour's drive to the nearest drugstore taking COVID-19 vaccination appointments -- a Safeway Pharmacy in Ogallala, a town in neighboring Keith County which was a one-time mail stop on the legendary Pony Express.

Disparities in cities, too


While urban areas have more pharmacies than their rural counterparts, there are stark racial and wealth disparities in terms of access.

In places like Chicago and Detroit, a pharmacy desert doesn't mean that residents have to drive an hour to find the nearest drug store, rather, it means that there are fewer available. This means pharmacies are slammed with serving more people and residents face longer wait times and other challenges, like transportation barriers.

Similar access disparities were found in Detroit and Chicago, even when taking other vaccine sites, like local clinics and health centers, into consideration.

In Chicago, at least a third of the population -- or nearly 1 million people -- lives in a pharmacy desert, or an area with less than one pharmacy per 10,000 residents, according to Dima Mazen Qato, an associate professor at the University of Southern California School of Pharmacy. Most of those pharmacy deserts are in Black and brown communities.

While there are 254 pharmacies on the city's wealthier, slightly less populated North Side, for example, the poorer South Side only has 141, according to pharmacy location data.

Juanita Love, 80, has lived in Auburn Gresham, a neighborhood on the South Side, for 50 years. There used to be a CVS pharmacy three blocks away, she said, which she could easily walk to.

When the local CVS shut, getting medication became a challenge for Love's older neighbors, for many of whom hopping on a public transportation to get to a pharmacy far away isn't always an easy option. "My neighbors don't have cars, a lot of them don't drive," Love said. "It's really difficult for them."

There's only one pharmacy for every 13,541 residents in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood, where 95% of the residents is black and the median household income is $36,767.

In comparison, the Ukrainian Village, the Wicker Park and the East Village neighborhoods, where majority of the residents are non-Hispanic white, and the median household income is nearly three times that of Auburn Gresham's, there's one pharmacy per just 4,441 residents.

To fill their prescriptions, Love's neighbors have leaned on family members, called Ubers and gotten help from the neighborhood block club. But even with help, those barriers still exist, and with very few pharmacies in the area, they're facing many hurdles to get vaccinated for COVID-19.

As of last week, 3.2% of the residents in Love's ZIP code were fully vaccinated, and 8.2% got their first shot, according to city data. In the wealthier, whiter Ukrainian Village/Wicker Park area, 9.3%, were fully vaccinated, and 16.6% got their first shot.

Love has a car, so she drove 15 minutes to another pharmacy for her first dose earlier this month. It's different without a neighborhood drug store, she explained. Seniors felt unaided and upset when their CVS shut down.

"It was convenient to us all," Love said.

'Shoe leather' efforts to get people vaccinated


Dr. Ali Khan, the executive medical director at Oak Street Health in Chicago, said at a macro level, there's a "perverse logic" in how the early vaccine distribution effort has played out so far. He said much of the early resources have gone to major institutions concentrated in wealthier, whiter parts of the city, when underserved communities were the ones hit harder by the pandemic.

So Khan's facility has partnered with the city of Chicago to actively bring vaccines to underserved communities, relying not just on online registration to reach people but also through "shoe leather" efforts like knocking on doors and engaging with community organizations such as faith-based organizations or housing access organizations.

In Detroit, where data shows fewer pharmacies serve larger populations in predominantly black neighborhoods compared to in whiter neighborhoods, the city is taking a similar approach.

In addition to a mass vaccination site at a convention center downtown, the Detroit Health Department has partnered with two of the city's largest churches, Fellowship Chapel and Second Ebenezer, to hold weekly "Senior Saturday" events to vaccinate up to 500 Detroit residents 65 years old or older -- an effort to directly infuse vaccines into communities most impacted by the pandemic.

"There are trusted community voices, trusted community partners that can be very well utilized in helping to attack vaccine hesitancy and provide a foundation of trust for those in the community and greater accessibility also for community residents," said Bishop Edgard Vann of the Second Ebenezer Church.

"The key word is 'trust,' not 'vaccine,'" said Bishop Vann, who also sits on the executive board of the Henry Ford Health System, which works with the city and the church to organize the "Senior Saturday" events.

Pamela Wilson, 61, shared that spirit when she took her 83-year-old mother to get vaccinated at the Second Ebenezer Church last month. She said she had the option of taking her mother to a different vaccine site further down in the city, but chose the church site for "extra blessing."

But the Detroit resident-exclusive vaccination opportunity at local churches was not available to Geri Withers, a 77-year-old resident of the township of Canton, just outside of Detroit. Withers had called, texted and emailed numerous big-chain pharmacies close to her home, but she ended up making a 30-minute trip to get vaccinated at a Meijier store in Southgate.

Hildreth said it's time to identify and empower trusted community messengers to reach the public.

"There are organizations that have the capacity, that are trusted to get this done, but we've never felt empowered to do so," Hildreth said. "And I think that's one thing that needs to be done -- to recognize other assets and bring all the assets to bear on the problem. We haven't yet done that. We need to do that."

ABC News' Ashley Louszko and Laura Coburn, and Boston Children's Hospital's Benjamin Rader contributed to this report.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated.

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kali9/iStockBy MEREDITH DELISO, ABC News

(SPRINGDALE, Utah) -- A 43-year-old man fell to his death while hiking at Zion National Park in southern Utah, officials said.

Jason Hartwell, of Draper, Utah, was found at the base of the Angels Landing summit Friday morning, the National Park Service said in a statement.

A search and rescue mission launched Thursday afternoon, following reports from park visitors that a person had fallen from Angels Landing, officials said.

Hartwell sustained injuries "consistent with a high-elevation fall," park officials said.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office is investigating.

Normal park operations have since resumed at Angels Landing.

This is the second fatal fall in two weeks at the park. On Feb. 19, park rangers located a body at the base of Moonlight Buttress, on the West Rim Trail near Angels Landing, while searching for an overdue hiker.

Authorities identified the man as Corbin McMillen, 42, of St. George, Utah. McMillen set out to hike the Angels Landing Trail the day before, and park rangers began searching for him when he never returned to his car, officials said.

McMillen sustained injuries consistent with a high-elevation fall, park officials said. The Washington County Sheriff’s Office is also investigating the incident.

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TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty ImagesBy MARLENE LENTHANG, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- The Javits Center in New York City is now open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, after the approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine a week ago.

The convention center in Manhattan is accepting appointments around the clock in a sweeping effort to inoculate New Yorkers as quickly as possible. The effort began at 9 p.m. Friday, with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine only being distributed overnight, from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Doses of the new vaccine, which only requires one shot unlike the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, arrived in New York during the week, according to ABC New York station WABC.

Yankee Stadium in the Bronx and the New York State Fair grounds in Syracuse are other sites giving out vaccines around the clock, also using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine overnight.

More than 3.3 million New Yorkers have received at least one vaccine dose, according to state data. Over 1.7 million people, or 8.8% of the state, is fully vaccinated.

Earlier this week, the convention center announced it had distributed 100,000 vaccinations since it first became an inoculation center in January. Nearly one year ago the Javits Center served as a COVID-19 field hospital when the coronavirus crisis first gripped the country.

About 17% of the U.S. population is partially vaccinated and 8.6% is fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. California has administered the most vaccines, followed by Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania, per the CDC.

Three different vaccines -- from Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna -- are in use in the U.S.

In clinical trials, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 85% effective in preventing severe/critical illness and 66% effective in preventing symptomatic illness 28 days after vaccination. Importantly, it was 100% effective in preventing hospitalizations and death from COVID-19.

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are 95% and 94.1% effective in preventing symptomatic illness, respectively, but they were tested before the new, more contagious variants emerged. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was tested against the new concerning variants and still performed well.

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ABC NewsBY: DANIEL MANZO, ABC NEWS

(NEW YORK) — A late winter cold blast is gripping parts of the Northeast Saturday morning.

Wind chills in the Northeast are in the teens and single digits.

In the interior northeast, wind chills are well below zero.

Lake effect snow will be possible Saturday and into Sunday for parts of upstate New York, where 1 to 2 inches of snow will likely accumulate in areas prone to lake effect snow.

Meanwhile, mild air in the 60s and 70s is building across the Central U.S. Saturday.

Temperatures Saturday afternoon are expected to rise up to 20 degrees above average.

Dry and windy conditions could cause grass fires across the high plains from eastern Colorado to western North Dakota.

Record highs will be possible across parts of the Central U.S. on Monday and Tuesday.

By Tuesday, temperatures into the 60s are likely across major American cities, including Minneapolis, Chicago and New York.

The mild air will stick around at least through the middle of the week.

This will be the warmest air since November from Minneapolis to New York City.

On the West Coast, some unsettled weather will persist through the weekend.

The main impact will be some heavy snow in mountains, especially in Northern California where over 10 inches of snow could fall.

Some flooding may occur across the Oregon and Washington coasts. It will remain rather quiet weather-wise across much of the country until at least the second half of next week.

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Courtesy of Thomas Built Buses BY: LEIGHTON SCHNEIDER, ABC NEWS

(NEW YORK) -- Maryland’s Montgomery County Public Schools has announced a contract to replace its diesel buses with electric ones, starting with 326 electric buses over the next four years. It marks the single largest purchase of electric school buses in North America, according to the release announcing the deal.

The county school board, which is located northwest of Washington D.C and operates more than 200 schools, approved the deal with Highland Electric Transportation, a Massachusetts-based start-up that delivers electric school buses to school districts. 

Although this contract only replaces about a quarter of the entire 1,400 bus fleet, the contract could be extended to replace the entire fleet, according to Todd Watkins, the Transportation Director for Montgomery County Public Schools.

“The reason we picked four years instead of the entire contract is that the whole school bus industry thinks that prices on electric vehicles are going to be going down significantly as we saw with Tesla...And everybody fully expects that to happen with school busses, too. And we didn't think it was very responsible to try to contract out further than four years,” says Watkins.

Watkins says the district got several proposals, but ultimately went with Highland Electric because they provided everything they wanted.

“We asked for use of the vehicle, design, installation, and maintenance of the charging infrastructure, we asked for the electric the busses run on and we asked for maintenance of the busses. ... We wanted every piece of it to be part of the contract so that we knew for sure what we were going to pay for those,” says Watkins. 

Nat Kreamer, CEO of Advanced Energy Economy, a national clean energy business group, applauded the announcement in a statement

“This leadership step taken by Montgomery County Public Schools shows that it’s possible today to electrify transportation at scale. Comprehensive solutions like Highland Electric’s can leverage private capital, meet the needs of fleet operators, and serve communities now without burdening ratepayers or taxpayers,” said Kreamer.

As part of the deal, Highland Electric will purchase the buses from Thomas Built Buses in North Carolina. It will be supplied and serviced by Annapolis, Maryland-based American Bus- a long-time provider for the school district. Thomas Built will use its all-electric Saf-T-Liner C2 Jouley school bus and it will be powered by Proterra batteries. The buses are capable of up to 135 miles range on a single charge. 

Highland Electric will also electrify all five of the MCPS bus depots and supply all the charging infrastructure, with the goal of purchasing 100% renewable energy to power them over time.

Duncan McIntyre, CEO of Highland Electric, says he believes the county chose the company because they were able to make the contract budget neutral. 

“We're looking at their capital that they've got available and their operating expenses that they expect to spend over the next 10 to 15 years to operate a diesel fleet. And we're sort of shifting that around and making the bet with our money. We're making the bet that electric busses are much cheaper to operate, and so there's a shift, we're willing to pay a lot more because we're making a bet that savings will materialize,” says McIntyre.

One common concern for customers is what the price of electricity will be down the road. McIntyre says they are the ones taking the risk of the costs when they bundle future prices into the annual contract. 

“For the district, it's a win-win. They get to wash their hands of it. What they know is they get sixteen thousand miles per year per bus, because that's how many miles they need to drive. And it's our obligation to power up the busses every night, [or the] middle of the day, and create an optimized strategy that gives them charge readiness for their routes,” says McIntyre. 

The company plans to deliver 25 buses this fall, before ramping up to 61 in 2020, then around 120 each of the next two years. Watkins says it will take 14 years to completely electrify the entire fleet. 

The move to electric buses also gets rid of dangerous carbon emissions, says Watkins.

“We get to have a vehicle that we know doesn't produce any tailpipe emissions at all. ...we know that whatever impact there is of diesel exhaust on students riding our busses, or being in school driveways, while those are much, much less than they were 20 years ago ... there's still some greenhouse gases. There's still some particulate matter and still burns fossil fuels,” says Watkins. 

When the buses are not in use, especially during the summer when school is out, the batteries [can] provide energy to the electrical grid. 

“We've been doing that for a few years and have a number of vehicle to grid projects that are primarily smaller. But we're making a bet that we can earn some income,” says McIntyre.

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Michael Anthony/iStockBy EMILY SHAPIRO, ABC News

(HOUSTON) -- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is opening up about his decision to end the state mask mandate, stressing that he still urges residents to take precautions, but Texans "no longer need government running our lives."

On March 10, Texas' mask order will end and businesses can reopen at full capacity, Abbott announced Tuesday.

In a Thursday interview with ABC Houston station KTRK, Abbott said the decision "was a product of the data that we have seen."

Thursday marked the lowest positivity rate and number of hospitalizations since October, Abbott said. Over 50% of Texans ages 65 and older have received at least one vaccine shot, he added.

"All the metrics are moving in the right direction," he told KTRK. "The numbers are adequate for people to be able to go back to work, open up and get back to a sense of normalcy, especially for our kids and schools, while at the same time making sure that people do follow the best practices."

"We are still urging people to continue to wear the mask," Abbott said.

In the face of backlash over his decision, including from President Joe Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci, Abbott conceded, "There's never going to be a uniform agreement on this."

The governor added, "If businesses don't feel safe opening, they should not be required to."

Abbott stressed, "We no longer need government running our lives. Instead, everybody must continue to assume their own individual responsibility to take the actions that they have already mastered to make sure that they will not be contracting COVID-19."

Biden on Wednesday called Abbott's ruling "Neanderthal thinking."

"I hope everybody has realized by now these masks make a difference," Biden told reporters in the Oval Office.

"The last thing we need is the Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime, 'Everything’s fine, take off your mask,'" Biden said.

Fauci said Abbott's decision was "quite risky."

"If you look at the amount of infection that is in the community right now, even though the slope is coming down sharply, if you look at the last seven day average, it’s plateaued," Fauci said Wednesday in a livestream with United Food and Commercial Workers International Union President Marc Perrone.

"That’s a dangerous sign because when that has happened in the past, when you pull back on measures of public health, invariably you’ve seen a surge back up," Fauci said.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves also said Tuesday that county mask mandates would be lifted and businesses could "operate at full capacity without any state-imposed rules." Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey took a more conservative approach, announcing Thursday that she was extending the state's mask mandate until April 9.

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katifcam/iStockBy MORGAN WINSOR, ABC News

(HOLTVILLE, Calif.) -- Authorities have begun to identify the victims of a deadly car crash that happened earlier this week in California, just north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

The incident was one of the deadliest border crashes on record and it's believed to be linked to a migrant smuggling operation.

The collision occurred Tuesday morning on California State Route 115 at an intersection near the city of Holtville, about 125 miles east of San Diego and about 10 miles from the country's border with Mexico. A 2011 Peterbilt tractor-trailer slammed into a 1997 Ford Expedition that was carrying 25 people. Thirteen occupants of the Ford Expedition, including the driver, were killed while the other 12 were injured, many of them severely. The driver of the tractor-trailer also suffered major injuries, according to the California Highway Patrol.

All 13 who lost their lives "are suspected to have entered the U.S. illegally," according to the United States Customs and Border Protection.

Mexico's foreign consulate in Calexico, California, said in a statement Tuesday that at least 10 of those killed in the accident were Mexican citizens.

On Thursday, the California Highway Patrol released the identities of the 12 injured passengers of the Ford Expedition. They range in age from 15 to 46, and all but one sustained major injuries in the crash. At least seven of them reside in Mexico and two live in Guatemala, while the residences of the other three were unknown.

All 12 remain hospitalized in Southern California, mostly in San Diego and Palm Springs, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Shortly before the accident happened, U.S. border patrol agents reported a "10-foot breach" in the international boundary fence between Mexico and the United States near Interstate 8. They reviewed surveillance footage that showed two different vehicles leaving the area in proximity of the hole in the fence, according to the United States Customs and Border Protection.

A red Chevrolet Suburban engulfed in flames was located near the intersection of Interstate 8 and California State Route 115 close to the city of Calexico, about 15 miles southwest of Holtville. Border patrol agents assisting with the incident encountered 19 individuals hiding in the brush nearby and determined that they had entered the country illegally through the opening in the border fence. They were taken into custody, according to the United States Customs and Border Protection.

The hole in the fence was about 30 miles east of the scene of the deadly crash. Border patrol agents did not attempt to stop or pursue the Chevrolet Suburban nor the Ford Expedition prior to the separate incidents involving those vehicles.

"Initial investigation into the origins of the vehicles indicate a potential nexus to the aforementioned breach in the border wall," El Centro Sector Chief Patrol Agent Gregory Bovino said in a statement Wednesday. "Human smugglers have proven time and again they have little regard for human life. Those who may be contemplating crossing the border illegally should pause to think of the dangers that all too often end in tragedy; tragedies our Border Patrol Agents and first responders are unfortunately very familiar with.”

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Oleksandr Filon/iStockBy MARLENE LENTHANG, ABC News

(JACKSON, Miss.) -- Water is slowly returning to homes in Jackson, Mississippi, but a boil water order remains for the city's more than 160,000 residents, officials announced.

The city is still struggling to restore water after the state was ravaged by winter storms three weeks ago. The storms crippled the city's water treatment plants due to freezing temperatures and led water pressure to drop when the plants went unused for so long.

On Thursday, city officials offered a message of hope, announcing the city's water pressure recovered overnight and water started flowing in the system again.

"Water is flowing in the system. Our tanks are being filled," city officials said in a statement shared with ABC News. "Residents that lost pressure yesterday have seen water return."

Jackson's public works director Charles Williams said the state's water system is at 85 psi, or pounds per square inch, compared to about 50 psi Wednesday. The goal is for the system to reach a consistent 90 psi, officials said.

Williams said in a city update Wednesday about a fourth of Jackson's customers remained without running water.

Jackson officials said they're working with "contractors and vendors to investigate solutions and triple check everything from hydrants to valves in order to get everyone fully restored and avoid any further setbacks."

Officials said the next step in the water recovery effort is to fill tanks enough to sample the water to determine if it's safe to remove boil water notices.

Mississippi declared a statement of emergency in wake of the storm. Gov. Tate Reeves deployed the National Guard and said Thursday that 526,098 water bottles and several tankers of non-potable water were delivered to Jackson residents in need.

The city hasn't released a timetable of when all water will be restored and running.

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ABC NewsBy MAX GOLEMBO, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Winter is back for the Northeast.

Upstate New York and New England are seeing below zero-degree wind chills Friday morning, as the I-95 corridor is seeing wind chills in the teens and single digits.

Winds have been gusty Friday morning, blowing at more than 40 mph.

The chilly weather will linger through the weekend for the Northeast, but a nice warm-up is expected by the middle of next week.

Meanwhile in the West, a winter storm brought snow to parts of the Rockies Thursday.

About 8 inches of snow fell in Colorado, where roads were covered in snow and ice. Some accidents and spinouts were even reported in Colorado Springs.

The Rockies snowstorm is now moving into the South with rain and a few thunderstorms.

In the West Coast, from California to Washington, a new storm will move in Friday, bringing a threat of flooding, heavy mountain snow and gusty damaging winds.

A winter weather advisory has been issued for Northern California, where up to a foot of snow may fall.

A flood watch has been issued for western Washington, where heavy rain could cause rivers to rise quickly, producing flooding.

Also, high wind alerts have been issued for Oregon and California, where winds could gust at up to 70 mph.

The storm will reach the San Francisco Bay Area late Friday evening, and heavy rain is possible to the north of the city. Flooding is unlikely.

Over the next 48 hours, 2 to 3 inches of rain may fall from Northern California to Washington, and up to a foot of snow may fall in the Cascades.

Also, most rivers in the Mid-South, including hard-hit Kentucky and West Virginia, will begin to recede Friday night and continue into this weekend.

Even though rivers are receding, there is still moderate and major flooding happening Friday. Many homes, roads and neighborhoods are still under water.

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jose1983/iStockBy MORGAN WINSOR, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Authorities believe they have found the body of a Kentucky man who disappeared at the Grand Canyon last week.

John Pennington, 40, of Walton, Kentucky, was thought to have entered the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona on or around Feb. 23, abandoning his vehicle at the South Rim near Yaki Point.

He was believed to be traveling alone, possibly on a yellow 2005 Suzuki motorcycle, according to the National Park Service.

After days of searching the area, National Park Service personnel spotted a body and a motorcycle on Wednesday, below the South Kaibab Trailhead, south of Yaki Point.

Park rangers recovered the body, which was located approximately 465 feet below the canyon rim, according to the National Park Service.

The body was flown by helicopter to the rim and was then transferred to the Coconino County Health and Human Services Medical Examiner's Office in Flagstaff.

"Based on evidence found with the body, the individual is believed to be missing person John Pennington," the National Park Service said in a statement Thursday.

An investigation into the incident is ongoing. No additional information was immediately available.

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Aaron M. Sprecher/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesBy HALEY YAMADA, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Bill Magness, CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, was fired on Wednesday in the wake of February's deadly blackouts that left millions without electricity and heat in freezing temperatures.

As power grid manager, Magness was given a 60-day termination notice by the company's board of directors. He has not released a statement yet on his termination, but he informed the board that he will not seek or accept severance pay, according to an updated employment agreement.

"The ERCOT Board is expected to begin an immediate search for a new President and CEO, and will continue to discuss the transition plan at future meetings during this time period," the agency said in a statement.

ERCOT, which oversees 90% of the state's power grid, came under fire for downplaying the severity of the winter weather, according to state legislators. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was among a group of state leaders who called for Magness to resign because of his role in one of the worst power outages in U.S. history.

"They downplayed the severity of it, at the same time telling me and the public that they were fully prepared for it," Abbott said at the Feb. 25 hearing. "Texans suffered last week in ways they shouldn't have to suffer."

Magness, who testified at the hearing, claimed that the scale of forced blackouts was necessary in preventing an even larger energy failure.

"We came dangerously close to losing the entire electric system," Magness said. "I'd say [ERCOT] worked from keeping us from going into a blackout that we'd still be in today -- that's why we did it."

Magness became the second senior official to leave his position at ERCOT while at least six board members have resigned in the aftermath of the blackouts.

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Goddard_Photography/iStockBy MARK OSBORNE, ABC News

(SAN DIEGO) -- The San Diego Zoo announced on Thursday it was in the process of inoculating many of its great apes after several of its gorillas became sick with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in January.

So far, four orangutans and five bonobos are in the process of being vaccinated, the San Diego Union Tribune reported. The zoo would only say "some of the members of the great apes" were being vaccinated.

Zoetis, a producer of medicine and vaccinations for animals, provided the shots, according to the zoo, and they were not for human use.

"Zoetis provided our veterinarians with a limited supply of recombinant purified spike protein vaccine, intended for use in protecting animals against SARS-CoV-2," San Diego Zoo said in a statement. "The vaccine doses originated from a supply strictly intended for nonhuman use."

These are the first known vaccinations of great apes, the zoo said.

The zoo said the animals were getting two shots three weeks apart -- just like the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines developed for humans -- and had begun receiving them in January. Officials said they have seen no adverse reactions to the injections.

Meanwhile, the troop of gorillas at San Diego Zoo Safari Park that was infected is on the mend.

"The gorilla troop at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park are doing well and appear to be on their way to a full recovery," officials said in a statement.

The gorillas will not be vaccinated "as they were exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and we assume their own immune systems have developed antibodies to the virus," the park said.

In February, Lisa Peterson, executive director of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, said the zoo was "so grateful for the outpouring concern and support we’ve received while the troop safely recovered."

Vaccines for the primates known as humans remain in short supply around the country, including California.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that the state had administered 9.3 million vaccines. He was presumably not counting humans' closest living relatives.

The gorillas are just some of the many wild animals to come down with the virus during the pandemic. At the Bronx Zoo, at least eight big cats -- five tigers and three lions -- came down with the virus last year.

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ABC Photo IllustrationBy NAM CHO and CATHERINE THORBECKE, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- A barrage of attacks on Asian Americans, reported to be fueled in part by biases pertaining to the coronavirus pandemic, have filled communities around the country with fear and rage.

But they have also exposed old wounds as advocates implore their fellow Americans to see and hear what they call a long-standing plight of invisibility.

"Our people are getting attacked, our people are getting harassed, spat on, beat up, you know, slashed," Rep. Grace Meng, D-NY, told ABC News. "Please, somebody pay attention, please notice us."

"Give me confirmation that -- I am American, too," the congresswoman said. "I just haven't been able to feel that in a long time."

The coronavirus pandemic and its suspected origins in Wuhan, China, is cited as having led to a new onslaught of Anti-Asian discrimination in the U.S. that has waged on for almost a year.


There have been nearly 3,000 hate incidents towards Asian Americans in 2020 alone, according to data from the Stop AAPI Hate coalition, which set up a website to help track the cases, some of which were not reported to police. The group, which says it started to operate last year in response to an increase in discrimination, does not have statistics for 2019, but for context, in that year, there were 158 incidents of reported anti-Asian bias crimes in the U.S., according to FBI hate crimes data.

Some lawmakers and advocates, however, believe this represents a tiny fraction of the total in any given year -- as many victims in Asian American communities may not report crimes due to distrust of the government or language barriers.

Until the very end of his term, former President Donald Trump repeatedly used the phrases "China virus" and "Kung flu" to describe COVID-19. Critics said racist rhetoric by Trump exacerbated anti-Asian xenophobia in the U.S., alienating people of Asian descent.

As a rash of recent attacks in California and a number of incidents -- including the murder of an 84-year-old man -- have been caught on video, many Asian Americans are speaking out to raise awareness, offer support to each other and affirm to all the "American" in the Asian American identity.

"Even though I and so many Asian Americans were born and raised in the United States of America, there are always instances where we are made to feel that we are foreigners," Meng said. "That we are just not good enough in some people's eyes to be American."

An unprovoked murder, caught on grainy video

On Jan. 28, 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee was taking his morning walk around his neighborhood in San Francisco, California, when he was violently shoved to the ground by a random passerby.

Ratanapakdee, who his family said was beloved as "grandpa" by his neighborhood, was taken to the hospital following the attack. He died two days later.

Monthanus Ratanapakdee tearfully remembered her father as a "family man" and a gentle soul. He had moved from Thailand to San Francisco four years ago to help care for his grandchildren.

"He was a good senior citizen," she told ABC News.

"I want him to stay alive and wake up … and come and see me again," she said. "But he will never wake up again."

A 19-year-old suspect, Antoine Watson, was arrested in connection to Vicha Ratanapakdee's death and has been charged with murder and elder abuse, though the incident is not being treated as a hate crime. He has pleaded not guilty.

The suspect's lawyer has insisted the attack was not racially motivated, but was due to a "break in the mental health of a teenager." The lawyer said that the suspect had "no knowledge" of Ratanapakdee's ethnicity because his face was covered with a mask.

San Francisco District Attorney Boudin told the New York Times that there is no evidence to suggest the assault was motivated by racial animus.

But in an earlier statement announcing the filing of charges against the suspect, Boudin said, "My heart goes out to the entire AAPI community for the harm and fear this tragedy has inflicted."

The victim's family, however, disagrees that the attack was not racially-motivated.

Eric Lawson, Ratanapakdee's son-in-law, told ABC News' Nightline, that he believes, "It's pretty obvious that it's a racist attack."

"He looked at a little Asian man and felt like he could take out his anger on him and it was justified somehow," he added. "He ran from all the way across the street downhill and slammed him into the garage, into the floor and broke his head open."

"We know that we've got to speak up and we can't be quiet about this because that's why this keeps happening," Lawson said.

Ratanapakdee's violent assault, which was caught on surveillance video, came amid a flurry of similar attacks against Asian Americans in Northern California.

The video sparked outrage and galvanized Asian American actors and public figures across the country to decry pandemic-related racism.

And though it is not a monolith, Asian America have seemed to come together.

'None of this is really new'

While many have recently pointed to the pandemic and the Trump administration's incendiary language as the root of the anti-Asian hate, historians note that the U.S. has a long legacy of xenophobia towards people of Asian descent.

"I would argue that none of this is really new," Dr. Nobuko Adachi, a professor of sociology and anthropology at Illinois State University, told ABC News. "This stereotype of 'foreigners' toward Asians and Asian Americans have been used throughout the history of the United States."

In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act barred the immigration of Chinese laborers and marked the first time in history that the U.S. placed broad restrictions on immigration, according to the U.S. Office of the Historian, which stated American objections to Chinese immigration stemmed in part from "ethnic discrimination."

More than a half century later in 1942, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 that paved the way for the forced incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. Some 112,000 people of Japanese descent were sent to "relocation center" camps.

The majority of those people (70,000) were American citizens.

"Since this is embedded into American mindset, people will easily forget that Asian Americans are really Americans," Adachi said.

Last month, President Joe Biden said he signed an executive action "to combat the resurgence of xenophobia, particularly against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, that we've seen skyrocket during this pandemic."

As videos circulate online of elderly Asian people being violently attacked, Adachi said, "We should now turn these tragedies as opportunities to vocalize to mainstream society that we do suffer racial bias and discrimination."

"We need to tell our children to learn our history of what happened in the past, so they understand that what is happening right now has a clear history," she said. "We need to deal with the issues instead of hiding our feelings inside, until we have a mental break down."

The importance of 'storytelling' and 'solidarity'

Amanda Nguyen, an activist and founder of the civil rights nonprofit RISE, told ABC News that in her experience, "Asians are often seen as an afterthought."

"The feeling that you don't belong, the feeling that you have to prove yourself consistently," she said. "And we shouldn't be."

"If you are anti-racist, you must acknowledge the Asian American experience," she said. "And if you care about diversity, you must include us at the table."

Nguyen called for more Asian American representation in the media and Hollywood, arguing that "storytelling" builds empathy.

"I implore mainstream media to cover our stories, to give credence to our existence to witness our pain," she said. "And not only to witness our pain, but also to cover Asian excellence, because that's the fabric of humanity."

Dr. Adachi echoed Nguyen's sentiments, saying it is imperative to break the silence and "let people know what's really happening right now."

"We live here. We are Americans. It's okay to talk about your feelings," Adachi said.

The police killing of George Floyd last May sparked protests in all 50 states condemning police brutality against Black Americans and systemic anti-Black racism in the U.S.

Congresswoman Meng said the national racial reckoning also sparked new conversations "about racial justice and why Black lives matter, why the movement is important not just for Black people, but for all Americans."

While the insidious legacy of racism in the U.S. continues to loom large, Meng expressed hope that the America her children grow up in will be a slightly better place.

"My kids are still a little young, but I think their generation will be able to understand the importance of solidarity and the importance of being there for each other's communities," she said.

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