Fire breaks out at townhouses under construction in Richmond Hill

Officials say townhouses under construction caught fire in Richmond Hill early Saturday, causing significant damage.

York Regional Police told Global News emergency crews were called to Glen Meadow Lane, near Bayview and 19th avenues, at 4:45 a.m.

Police said three townhouses were damaged, but no injuries were reported.

Images from the scene show at least one of the homes with significant damage to the top floor.

Roads are closed in the area as investigators look into what caused the blaze.

The Fire Marshal’s Office was called to the scene to investigate.

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Early morning Wednesday fire destroys elderly couple’s home in Cobourg, Ont.

Early morning Wednesday fire destroys elderly couple’s home in Cobourg, Ont.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Shadow schools? Class is in session — at the YMCA and roller rink

An aerial view of an elementary school playground in San Francisco.

The prolonged crisis has forced American communities into a late-summer frenzy to replace what schools provided on the ground. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

SACRAMENTO — A roller rink. The YMCA. Houses of worship. All are creating makeshift classrooms this fall as school campuses remain closed around the country because of the pandemic.

For working parents, it brings much-needed relief to the exhausting months since coronavirus began. But it also raises public health questions: If it’s not safe to open schools this fall, why would learning hubs be any different?


The prolonged crisis has forced American communities into a late-summer frenzy to replace what schools provided on the ground, especially for children who don’t have a safe or quiet place to learn at home. While affluent parents are forming multi-family “pods” with nannies and educators helping their children at home, cities, nonprofits and businesses are racing to fill the void with programs that can look like parallel schools — without teachers.

From California to North Carolina, YMCAs and Boys and Girls Clubs are creating all-day learning centers that make sure students stay on task during virtual classes with their actual schools while their parents are at work. In some cases, local governments are stepping in with subsidies and child care — New York City plans to provide 50,000 free daily slots for schoolkids whose campuses have staggered schedules.

The YMCA of Greater Houston even describes a scene that sounds a lot like school, with “peer interaction,” “engaging enrichment activities,” “onsite academic support” and even “a certified teacher” on site — all running from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Some school and city leaders are raising concerns that bringing students together will allow the disease to spread, defeating the purpose of campus closures.

But proponents of the in-person “hub” model argue that leaving children to fend for themselves at home carries its own physical, psychological and educational risks. Some backers say they provide an equitable answer for families who cannot afford child care or tutors.

“We cannot allow our highest need families not only to decline on the academic side but also on the social emotional side,” said Maria Su, executive director of San Francisco’s Department of Children, Youth, and Their Families, who is coordinating the city’s effort. “I’m a child psychologist. For me, learning isn’t just book learning. It’s building social peer interactions. Those are all equally as — if not more — important than the math and the science and the language arts.”

Few governments have moved as aggressively as San Francisco, which is hurriedly launching “learning hubs” staffed by city and nonprofit employees that can serve up to 6,000 elementary school-age children at locations within walking distance from their homes.

San Francisco’s health department is expected to issue an order in the coming days allowing the hubs to open by their target date of Sept. 14. While 6,000 children might sound like a large number, Su said, the school district has nearly five times as many children in grades K-12 who qualify for free or subsidized meals. Her team is bracing for the assignment process, she said, expecting it will be “painful.”

Across the Bay, Oakland is exploring a similar approach that would begin at two city parks, one on each side of town. The Natomas Unified School District in Sacramento this week agreed to open nine elementary schools to serve cohorts of 10 students wearing masks, prioritizing children of essential workers and the most at-risk students.

Elsewhere, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt this week announced the launch of 30 locations across the state to support children and their families with food, mental health counseling and the technology needed for virtual lessons.

“We just don’t want the learning loss to continue,” said Teena Belcik, CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Oklahoma County.

In California, the state’s teachers’ unions — which have blasted Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to allow certain elementary schools to open with waivers — have been relatively silent about in-person programs serving low-income children. But California Federation of Teachers President Jeff Freitas on Tuesday expressed safety concerns even as he praised such programs’ focus “on low income and underrepresented students.”

“We’re four days or five days out from record-breaking deaths in California,” Freitas said in an interview with POLITICO. “I think the numbers right now don’t lend themselves to do something safely like this.”

While the city of Sacramento is working with the Natomas school district on child care and has provided limited slots elsewhere for children of essential workers, Mayor Darrell Steinberg said the city has focused more on shoring up virtual programming. The city partnered on a pilot program in the spring with the local transit agency to repurpose buses as Wi-Fi hotspots in low-income neighborhoods and has expanded Wi-Fi in city parks.

“It’s not about the money, it’s not about the will,” he said in an interview last week. “People should not be gathering in large numbers here.”

Lakisha Young, who heads the Bay Area grassroots parent organization Oakland REACH, said groups disproportionately affected by Covid-19, such as Black and Latino families, may not be comfortable bringing their children to a group setting even if one is available.

Young’s organization has thrown its energy into connecting children and their families virtually, providing them with the internet hot spots and computers along with live instruction and extracurriculars like martial arts and urban farming. The effort — which she calls “the low-income parents’ version of a pod” — began in June. About 200 children participated in the fully-online program, she said, which will continue into the school year.

“We’re not waiting for the system to do right by our families,” Young said. “The hub was always designed so that when the fall came, this was not going to knock our families off their feet again.”

With California seeing a summer surge in cases, Newsom last month ordered schools to keep campuses closed if they are in counties on the state’s watch list, which tracks infection spread and hospital capacity, among other metrics. As of this week, 38 of the state’s 58 counties are on that list, accounting for more than 90 percent of the state’s population.

Learning hub proponents say unlike school districts, nonprofit and city programs can control how many children they enroll, allowing them to manage the numbers and group sizes in a way that most schools cannot.

In many areas, the hubs are opening as child care centers, which California still allows to operate under strict guidelines mandating small groups, social distancing and other protective criteria. San Francisco officials say they expect their local health department to issue different rules under which they could operate.

Belcik said her summer programs in Oklahoma have deployed HEPA filters, electrostatic disinfection, social distancing calculators, “airplane arms,” masks and every other measure recommended by local public health officials. The risk of Covid-19 transmission nevertheless looms, especially in states like California that have watched infection rates jump in recent weeks.

“If we can’t get this spike under control and things get worse in three to four weeks, it’s just the stress and the strain on our staff that’s a concern,” acknowledged Rob Connolly, president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco, which will be managing some of the learning hubs.

The program’s employees have “shown up in a really amazing way” throughout the pandemic, Connolly said. The plan is for them to be tested every two weeks.

Belcik said the academic backslide was “off the charts” for the children who participated in her clubs’ summer camps this year around Oklahoma City. And nationally, evidence of the pandemic’s uneven fallout is growing.

Harvard and Brown researchers analyzing students’ participation the online math program Zearn, used by many schools before and after the school shutdowns, found that children in low-income ZIP codes saw their participation drop by about 52.4 percent from January to May, compared to 30 percent in middle-income ZIP codes — and an increase by 4.5 percent in high-income ZIP codes.

It’s with such disparities in mind that Belcik and other civic leaders find themselves hovering over a giant map of their region, plotting potential sites for small groups of children to spend the school day when their regular classrooms are closed. They aim to offer them reliable internet service for their virtual lessons, along with meals, supervision, enrichment and social connection.

Across the country, youth-centric nonprofits are stretching after-school offerings into full-day affairs — in many cases, an outgrowth of their emergency child care and summer camp programs.

The YMCA of Superior California has already transformed fitness facilities into emergency child care for essential workers and held summer camps at a synagogue, a Waldorf school and a Baptist church. “This fall we are aiming to provide care at any campus or organization that will allow us to operate on site,” said its communications director Al Goldberg.

The reality that distance learning will be here for quite some time has also launched fee-based programs from businesses targeting a new market of panicked parents. The Sparkles roller rink in Georgia is offering “monitored virtual learning” during school hours for $165 per week; Roller Kingdom in Massachusetts is touting its “huge space, easy to social distance” offerings for $180 a week.

But the initiatives in San Francisco, Oakland and Oklahoma City are relying on philanthropy, CARES Act money or other public funding streams rather than parent fees. Su said she had heard from several cities in California and beyond that were thinking about replicating San Francisco’s model.

Belcik worries that demand will be off the charts.

“I’m just dreading this,” she said. “I’m so afraid we’re going to have 1,000 kids lined up at the door and only be able to take 70.”

Tanev goal 11 seconds into OT sends Canucks past Wild to seal qualifier series

The Vancouver Canucks are back in the NHL playoffs for the first time since 2015, but they didn’t do it the easy way.

The Canucks had to battle back from deficits three times Friday night to beat the Minnesota Wild 5-4 in overtime at Rogers Place in Edmonton to take their best-of-five qualifying series three games to one.

Defenceman Chris Tanev scored on a wrist shot from the blue line 11 seconds into the first overtime to clinch it.

Vancouver forward Bo Horvat said it’s been a long time in the playoff wilderness.

“It’s awesome,” said Horvat.

“This franchise has been through a lot these last four years not making the playoffs. We’ve taken it to heart and we wanted to come out and prove ourselves.

“It feels great but we’ve got a lot more work to do.”

WATCH | Tanev’s quick marker clinches series for Canucks:

Chris Tanev struck just 11 seconds into overtime to give the Vancouver Canucks a 5-4 series-clinching win over the Minnesota Wild. 1:14

Vancouver will now play one of the top four seeds: the Colorado Avalanche, St. Louis Blues, Dallas Stars or Vegas Golden Knights.

Rookie scoring sensation Quinn Hughes had a goal and assist to power the Canucks. Tanner Pearson, Brandon Sutter, and Bo Horvat also scored.

Eric Staal, Luke Kunin, Nico Sturm and Joel Eriksson Ek replied for Minnesota.

The Wild have now missed the post-season for two consecutive seasons, with first-round exits in each of three seasons before that.

Minnesota was hampered by the loss of top defenceman Ryan Suter, who did not dress after playing big minutes in the first three games. The league is not releasing injury information or any individual COVID-19 test results.

Staal said the loss was particularly painful given that the Wild pride themselves as a shutdown team.

“When you have a lead, especially with the type of group we have, you expect to get the job done and the right result at the end of the night,” said Staal.

“Credit [Vancouver]. They kept coming and kept attacking and were able to cash in on a couple of broken plays and a couple of good plays.”

Fighting the puck

Goalie Alex Stalock had 26 stops for Minnesota.

Vancouver goalie Jacob Markstrom, whose stellar play in the regular season made it possible for the Canucks to make the post-season tournament, stopped 24 of 28 shots but fought the puck all night, allowing two sharp-angle short-side goals and giving up juicy rebounds.

Minnesota opened the scoring about three minutes into the first period. Kunin, on the power play, took a pass on the end line from Mats Zuccarello, crashed the net, and jammed the puck over Markstrom’s pad.

Pearson tied the score at the 12:52 mark, corralling a perfect stretch pass from Tanev at the left face-off dot and releasing a wrist shot that banked off the far goalpost and in.

Minnesota responded 40 seconds later. Staal, standing below the face-off circle to Markstrom’s right, took a pass from Marcus Foligno, who was behind the net, and sniped a puck past Markstrom’s ear on the short side.

In the second period, the Wild went up 3-1. Eriksson Ek grabbed a rebound off a point shot and lifted the puck over Markstrom.

The Wild’s Ryan Hartman, right, and Canucks’ Jake Virtanen, left, fight during the first period. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

The Canucks immediately cut the lead to 3-2 when Hughes’s point shot got deflected high up in the air and landed behind Stalock, allowing Sutter to jam it over the goal line.

Hughes tied the game just over a minute later on the power play, wristing the puck from the high slot through heavy traffic and in.

Then Minnesota went ahead again.

With under a minute to go in the period, Sturm flew in on the left wing and fired a wrist shot near the end line that managed to elude Markstrom under the arm.

The Canucks tied the game late in the third period, when Pearson fought off a check behind the net and fed Horvat for a one-timer in the slot, setting the stage for overtime.

The series was a case of Hughes and the Canucks’ high-flying top six forwards against the smothering team defence of the Wild.

Hughes, the Calder Trophy nominee, led all rookies in scoring in the abbreviated regular season (eight goals, 53 points) and kept the hot hand in the playoffs with a goal and five assists.

WATCH | 9 takeaways from the NHL playoffs… in 90 seconds:

Rob Pizzo breaks down a very eventful first seven days of the NHL postseason. 2:09

Vancouver’s top six didn’t score a lot but they scored enough. Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat and Pearson each had two goals while Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller had one each.

Winger Tyler Toffoli didn’t play since Game 1, out with an apparent foot injury.

Vancouver lost the opener 3-0, but came back to win 4-3 and 3-0 before Friday’s clincher.

It was a close-checking, low-scoring series dominated by penalties that continued early in the game when Vancouver’s Jake Virtanen squared off and scrapped with Minnesota’s Ryan Hartman.

The 12 Western Conference teams have been playing at Rogers Place, with players in isolation to avoid contracting COVID-19. The Eastern Conference teams are doing the same in Toronto.

The tournament was created after the NHL prematurely ended the regular season in mid-March due to the COVID pandemic.

Trump wants to cut mail-in voting. The Republican machine is helping him.

This past spring, President Donald Trump began a full-fledged assault on voting by mail, tweeting, retweeting and railing about massive fraud and rigged elections with scant evidence.

Then the Republican apparatus got to work backing up the president.

In the weeks since, Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee have taken to the courts dozens of times as part of a $20 million effort to challenge voting rules, including filing their own lawsuits in several battleground states, including Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Nevada. And around the time Trump started musing about delaying the election last week, aides and outside advisers began scrambling to ponder possible executive actions he could take to curb mail-in voting — everything from directing the postal service to not deliver certain ballots to stopping local officials from counting them after Election Day.

The actions can only make so much difference before November — elections are mostly run at the state and local level, and are subject to congressional authority. And some fellow Republicans are warning the president privately and publicly that attempts to restrict mail-in ballots could actually hurt the GOP in November, scaring Republicans from voting remotely even if they also refuse to vote in person during a pandemic. New polling has fueled these concerns.

But the flurry of activity is buoying the president in other ways. Namely, it has allowed Trump to present himself as a fighter on an issue that many of his most fervent supporters have taken up in the last few months.

Trump fans, said John Fredericks, a conservative radio host who serves on the Trump campaign’s advisory committee, “think Trump is going to win legitimately, but the Democrats are trying to steal the election by manipulating mail-out ballots. They want the president to jawbone enough so there’s a level of outrage to get rid of these ballots.”

Just because Trump’s claims of rampant mail-in voting fraud aren’t supported by evidence doesn’t mean election experts aren’t concerned about problems holding a presidential election during a pandemic. It’s unknown whether the United States Postal Service can handle a surge of mail-in ballots in a timely fashion, and other officials have cautioned about long lines and a shortage of workers at in-person polling stations, which have been limited during the coronavirus outbreak.

Some have predicted the crush of remote voting could mean a final winner in the presidential race between Trump and Democrat Joe Biden won’t be known for days or even weeks. Democrats are pushing for $25 billion for USPS in the next coronavirus recovery bill to help address those concerns, but it remains a source of disagreement with Republicans.

There have already been some some notable delays in down-ballot elections during the pandemic, including one New York race this summer. Six weeks after a Democratic primary for a U.S. House seat, all of the ballots have yet to be counted.

“This is a rare case where the president is not overstating the case,” argued Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a conservative group that has sued in North Carolina and Pennsylvania over the accuracy of voting rolls. “Frankly he’s understating the problem that I think we are going to face on Election Day. The system is going to break.”

Trump and his team are trumpeting these fears.

The Trump campaign is holding events touting its legal actions on voting rules. And privately, the White House is debating possible further action, according to two people familiar with the situation. The White House declined to comment on whether Trump would be signing an executive order on the issue.

“All Americans deserve an election system that is secure and President Trump is highlighting that Democrats’ plan for universal mail-in voting would lead to fraud,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Matthews. “While Democrats continue to call for a radical overhaul of our nation’s voting system, President Trump will continue to work to ensure the security and integrity of our elections.”

Trump has spent months railing against mail-in voting as the pandemic raged and his poll numbers dropped nationally and in battleground states. Yet on Tuesday, Trump appeared to change his mind for one battleground state: Florida. He claimed that because the state’s two back-to-back Republican governors — Ron DeSantis and Rick Scott — had managed elections professionally. Sophia Lin Lakin, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project, dubbed Trump’s action “hypocritical.”

Voting specialists also note that five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington — already conduct elections entirely by mail with few problems. This fall, three additional states — California, Vermont and Nevada — plan to send ballots to registered voters because of the pandemic.

Voters in most other states can request an absentee ballot by mail without providing a reason. And numerous states are still reviewing their voting policies as coronavirus infections continue to rise.

Already, Democrats and left-leaning groups are pushing to make voting by mail easier and to educate voters about how to properly cast remote ballots. Republicans are fighting voting rule changes in 17 states, going to court 40 times, drawing on a recently doubled legal budget of $20 million. At the RNC and Trump campaign, 12 staff attorneys and several dozen more outside lawyers are working on the issue across the country, according to an RNC official.

Republicans have intervened to do just that in numerous states. In Iowa, they sued to prevent third parties from filling out personal information on absentee ballot requests. In Minnesota, they tried to prevent ballots from being sent to inactive voters. And in Nevada, the Trump campaign on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the state over a plan to send ballots to active registered voters this November.

“This unconstitutional legislation implements the exact universal vote-by-mail system President Trump has been warning against for months,” said Jenna Ellis, a senior legal adviser for the Trump campaign.

Republicans have already won some battles. A Democratic super-PAC and other left-leaning groups agreed to drop a lawsuit over voting rules in Florida after a judge refused to order changes immediately, including a request that the government cover postage costs for mail-in ballots. Another lawsuit seeking to extend the state’s absentee ballot deadline was dismissed in Pennsylvania

“All politicians are paranoid about potential fraud in their campaigns. And sometimes rightfully so,” said Pat McCrory, the former Republican governor of North Carolina, who blamed fraud when he lost his 2016 reelection bid by 10,000 votes out of more than 4.6 million ballots cast. “He knows states like Michigan and North Carolina — like last time — could be close.”

Republicans aren’t the only ones taking action on mail-in voting. Democrats and outside groups on both sides of the issue have similarly taken to the courts over voting rules — more than 160 lawsuits have been filed nationwide, according to election experts.

The potential problems with mail-in voting are varied and numerous. Voting rolls that determine who receives a ballot could be inaccurate, ballots could be sent to the wrong address or lost in the mail, or voters may have their ballot tossed out for not following directions, for not having a proper signature or for having a name that doesn’t exactly match information on file with election officials.

Democrats have argued these concerns can be addressed through funding, tweaks to the rules and voter education. Conversely, Republicans have cited them as reasons to limit mail-in voting.

“They’re absolutely exaggerating and overstating the fraud. It is not a rampant problem,” said Sean Morales-Doyle, deputy director at the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program, where he focuses on voting rights and elections. “It is not the existential threat that the president says it is.”

But states that allow voting by mail have spent years building the infrastructure necessary to handle both the outgoing and incoming ballots, said Hans von Spakovsky, who manages the conservative Heritage Foundation’s Election Law Reform Initiative.

“We’re only three months from the election,” said von Spakovsky, a former member of the Federal Election Commission. “To think states could do this by November is impractical.”

Trump, impatient with the slow nature of lawsuits, suggested last week that the November election be postponed, though he later claimed he was merely trying to highlight the possibility of fraud after he faced a backlash from even members of his own party. Only Congress can change the date of the election.

Since then, Trump has mused to aides about what executive orders, if any, he could sign to curb voting by mail.

“I have the right to do it,” Trump told reporters Monday. “We haven’t gotten there yet. We’ll see what happens.”

Yet even conservatives allies, including von Spakovsky, are skeptical Trump has the authority to intervene in elections. John Yoo, a senior Justice Department attorney under former President George W. Bush, agreed. Yoo has been advising the White House recently on unilateral actions Trump could take on immigration, health care and taxes. But he said it didn’t appear Trump could take significant executive action on mail-in voting

Some suggested Trump could try to stop local officials from counting remote ballots after Election Day and direct the Postal Service to not deliver certain ballots to voters using an emergency declaration, according to one of the people.

Paul Steidler, who studies the Postal Service at the right-leaning Lexington Institute, said the president can’t directly order the postmaster general to do anything, noting the Postal Service chief actually reports to a board of governors.

“He can’t order anything directly,” Steidler said. But others argued the postmaster general, a Trump ally and Republican fundraiser, might still be influenced by Trump’s statements.

Trump said Monday the Postal Service isn’t prepared for the onslaught of ballots. “How can the post office be expected to handle?” he asked. But Postmaster General Louis DeJoy told the Postal Service Board of Governors Friday the agency will do its job. “We will do everything we can to deliver election mail in a timely

Election experts said a more likely option for Trump would be sending federal officials into states under the guise of ensuring every vote is counted, citing the 15th Amendment or the Voting Rights Act.

Any of the moves would be immediately challenged in court.

“It would certainly be unprecedented to attempt to control any aspect of the election process,” said Richard Pildes, a professor of constitutional law at the New York University School of Law and leading expert on election law. “The courts would scrutinize any action closely.”

Top-10 players Svitolina, Bertens join No. 1 Barty in skipping U.S. Open

Two more top-10 women — Elina Svitolina and Kiki Bertens — will miss the U.S. Open, joining No. 1-ranked Ash Barty in skipping the Grand Slam tennis tournament during the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. Tennis Association also announced Friday that Barbora Krejcikova withdrew. She is ranked 115th in singles, eighth in doubles.

The fifth-ranked Svitolina, a Ukrainian who was a semifinalist at Flushing Meadows a year ago, posted Friday on social media that she doesn’t “feel comfortable to travel to US without putting my team and myself at high risk.”

No. 7 Bertens, who is Dutch, wrote on Instagram that one of her concerns is the need to be quarantined upon returning to Europe after the U.S. Open, which runs from Aug. 31 to Sept. 13 and will not have any spectators.

The French Open — where Bertens reached the semifinals in 2016 — is scheduled to begin Sept. 27. She also wants to play on the clay-court tournament in Rome before heading to Paris.

“The situation around COVID-19 is still that worrying and the health of everyone and the control over this virus is priority,” Bertens wrote.

Defending men’s champion Rafael Nadal also has said he won’t play at the U.S. Open, citing concerns about travelling during the pandemic. Also out of the field: Roger Federer, who is sitting out the rest of the season after two operations on his right knee.

Stan Wawrinka, Fabio Fognini and Gael Monfils are among other men not going to New York.

With Friday’s three withdrawals, Francesca Di Lorenzo), Natalia Vikhlyantseva and Viktoriya Tomova moved into the women’s singles draw.

Sachia Vickery gets the wild-card invitation that originally was awarded to Di Lorenzo.

The professional tennis tours went on hiatus in March because of the pandemic. The women’s circuit returned to action this week in Palermo, Italy; the men are scheduled to begin play later this month.

‘Like Groundhog Day’: Republicans fret over Trump’s fading fortunes

President Donald Trump is in an August, coronavirus-induced slump — and his team is feeling it.

The White House’s negotiations with Capitol Hill over a fourth economic stimulus package fell apart on Friday after three weeks of stalled talks, leaving aggrieved administration officials to suggest Trump just take unilateral action. The number of coronavirus deaths continues to rise, and Trump has yet to present a promised strategy to curb the spread of the virus. Trump and his team are having trouble settling on a daily message — or finding a way to effectively wound Joe Biden, the president’s presumptive 2020 rival.

It’s all added up to an ever-growing sense of doom and gloom about the president’s political future.

Recent national polls show Trump trailing Biden by anywhere from 3 to 10 percentage points, with swing states like Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania increasingly up for grabs. Some Republican donors and outside groups are even focusing their attention away from the White House to holding on to the Republican majority in the Senate, according to three Republicans close to the White House. Several Trump allies acknowledge if the election was held today, Trump would likely lose.

“It is kind of like Groundhog Day,” said one of the Republicans close to the White House. “You think it’s better, but then it is not.”

Trump’s allies and political advisers acknowledge the polling on Trump is not great but insist he can overcome the setback. A top Trump campaign official said the campaign was focused on its own internal polls, which the official said shows Trump either matched with or ahead of Biden in the 17 key states the campaign is monitoring. The official declined to offer more specifics.

One political adviser argued that If Trump can close the gap with Biden to just 4 percentage points in the coming months, he could win — even if it is by a small margin. The person noted Trump was similarly behind in the polls in August 2016 before prevailing in November.

“Trump is better at running behind than ahead because it makes him more aggressive. He won’t take it for granted,” said Dan Eberhart, a prominent Trump donor who runs an oil drilling company. “The lesson in 2016 supposedly was that the media and polling was wrong, but I throw away that line of thinking. The lesson I draw away from 2016 was Trump didn’t want to lose. He did not want to be a loser, so that motivated him.”

But with just three months until the presidential election, numerous Republicans and administration officials are not sure Trump will be able to pull off another upset win.

His administration’s handling of the coronavirus has hurt his standing with senior citizens, suburban voters, independents and women — and if schools do not reopen this fall, it will offer another illustration of how the U.S. has fallen behind other developed countries in combating the virus.

For months, top White House officials have battled over how to message the administration’s coronavirus work — arguing over the best language and debating over whether to hold Covid-19-specific briefings. Yet officials say the same level of attention has not been applied to the actual solutions associated with fighting a pandemic.

Several current and former senior administration officials said they feel the White House is obsessed with the president’s image at the expense of making meaningful policy decisions — on either fighting the virus or successfully working with Congress to pass another stimulus bill.

“They are so concerned with the optics right now, but where is the substance these days?” said one former senior administration official. “Who is working on the policy ideas we will tackle in the second term? Instead, we are too busy worrying about the messaging.”

One White House official said aides are working on the policy process for a second-term agenda, which will include continuing to respond to the coronavirus, rebuilding the economy, securing better trade deals and standing up for law and order — all while continuing to push policy priorities through executive orders.

The same aide added that stalled negotiations on the Hill are Democrats’ fault.

Morale inside the White House remains low — a throwback, officials say, to the early chaotic days under then-chief of staff Reince Priebus, when backbiting consumed officials’ time. These days, decisions are increasingly made by a tiny circle of top advisers, like Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law; Hope Hicks, the longtime Trump communications aide; and chief of staff Mark Meadows — leaving whole offices inside the White House sidelined.

The Office of Legislative Affairs, for instance, has largely been excluded from the negotiations playing out on Capitol Hill — even though its entire job consists of coordinating with lawmakers and their staff.

Several White House and administration officials have also started to reach out to other Republicans to try to find jobs in the private sector as quickly as possible — both because they feel their roles inside the White House have diminished and because there is consternation that they need to find new gigs in case Trump loses in November, drying up the market for Trump-connected aides.

“Anyone who underestimates or writes off President Trump does so at their own peril,” said White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere. “The president and his entire administration are focused every day on keeping the promises he’s made the American people, defeating the China virus, opening our economy safely and responsibly preparing for a second term that will ensure America is safer, stronger and more prosperous than ever before.”

A campaign official disputed the notion that anyone inside its headquarters feels a sense of pessimism about the president’s prospects.

“There are 86 one-day campaigns left in the race, and even fewer if you consider early voting,” said Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign communications director. “Every day there is a game-day mentality inside the campaign. If we win more days than Joe Biden wins, President Trump will be reelected. It’s as simple as that.”

Several Trump allies and aides are happy with the new team running the campaign, including campaign manager Bill Stepien and senior adviser Jason Miller. Together, the duo brings a tactical knowledge of individual battleground states, as well as a good sense of how to sell ideas to a mercurial Trump.

The Trump campaign is also starting to settle on its message to hit Biden, attempting to define him as a candidate who will do the far-left’s bidding if he wins the White House.

The campaign is focused on rolling out advertising in states like Georgia, Ohio and Florida — all early voting states, and an official said the team has been heartened by Trump’s continued and strong fundraising and the recent drop in unemployment. Advisers are hopeful Biden’s upcoming vice presidential pick will give them new fodder to attack the Democratic ticket as overly progressive or part of the “deep state.”

“We are in a better position now than we were two weeks ago, and there are still 17 weeks left,” said another Trump political adviser. “The minute Biden announces a VP, there is no more hiding. That is the best moment for the Trump campaign to talk about this presidential campaign and make the contrast.”

Other Republicans argue that unless Trump becomes a more disciplined candidate, he will continue to fall behind in the polls — and staying on message has never been Trump’s strong suit.

Some outside conservative groups and donors are increasingly turning their attention and money away from Trump and toward maintaining Republican control of the Senate. But longtime operatives say it will be impossible to divorce Trump’s policies, proclamations and tweets from the fate of Republican senators, several of whom now occupy vulnerable seats in Colorado, Maine and Iowa.

“Back in the winter and spring, donors poured everything into Trump,” said a second Republican close to the White House. “But now all they are thinking about is the Senate. The Senate is the Alamo right now.”

Li emerges to take lead at PGA Championship as favourites falter

Harding Park is renowned for producing champions who are among the best in golf, from Byron Nelson to Tiger Woods, and a long list of Hall of Famers and major champions in between.

Halfway through the PGA Championship, Li Haotong delivered his own footnote in history.

With five birdies through 10 holes, and eight tough pars down the stretch, Li had a 5-under 65 on Friday and became the first Chinese player to lead after any round of any major.

Surprised? So was he.

Li was in China as the pandemic shut down golf. He returned three weeks ago and missed the cut, and then tied for 75th in a 78-man field at a World Golf Championship.

“I didn’t even [think] I could play like this … got no confidence,” Li said. “Probably it helped me clear my mind a little bit.”

WATCH | Li in charge at PGA:

Haotong Li fired a 5-under 65 on Friday to take a two stroke lead into the weekend of the PGA Championship. 0:49

His credentials are all over the map. Li is one of six players to shoot 63 in the final round of a major. He also was so disengaged in his Presidents Cup debut that he was benched for two days.

Still young, often inconsistent, forever fearless, Li is capable of just about anything on a big stage in golf.

The 25-year-old full of energy and antics, he was bogey-free and posted an 8-under 132, giving him a two-shot lead over a large group that included — who else? — Brooks Koepka, the two-time defending champion.

Tiger scuffles

Much farther back was Woods, who found more fairways but struggled on the greens, ranking 131st in the key putting statistic against the 156-man field. He flirted with the cut line until a birdie on the 16th kept him safe, and his 72 put him eight shots behind.

Woods wasn’t alone in his struggles. Rory McIlroy ran off four straight birdies around the turn and gave nearly all of the away with a triple bogey on the 12th hole, three-putting from 7 feet once he finally got on the green. He had a 69 and was seven shots behind. Justin Thomas, the world’s No. 1 player, also had to rally to make the cut on the number.

Li got as much attention for the logo on his hat — WeChat, the Chinese social media company and one of his biggest sponsors. Li was in the spotlight at Harding Park one day after President Donald Trump signed executive orders on a vague ban of WeChat and TikTok in 45 days.

Just as unclear was whether Li was aware of the development.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Who knows?”

Koepka was more worried about a tight hip that a nagging left knee, and he had a trainer come out to stretch and twist him three times along the back nine. It loosened him up enough for Koepka to post a 68. It’s the fifth time in his last eight majors that he has gone into the weekend within three shots of the lead.

“I felt like I probably could be 10 (under) right now,” he said. “Hit a lot of good putts, just didn’t go in. … But driving it pretty well. Iron play, I’m pretty pleased with. You know, I like where I’m at.”

Also at 6-under 134 were former PGA champion Jason Day (69), former U.S. Open champion Justin Rose (68), Tommy Fleetwood (64), Daniel Berger (67) and Mike Lorenzo-Vera of France, who closed with a 15-foot bogey putt for a 68.

2 Canadians make cut

Adam Hadwin (71) of Abbostford, B.C., was tied for 31st at 1 under. Mackenzie Hughes (68) of Dundas, Ont., was tied for 60th at 1 over. Corey Conners of Listowel, Ont., and Nick Taylor, also from Abbotsford, both missed the cut.

Two dozen players were separated by five shots at the halfway point.

Li is a two-time winner on the European Tour, most recently in 2018 at the Dubai Desert Classic when he rallied down the stretch to beat McIlroy by one shot.

He was sensational in the final round of the 2017 British Open at Royal Birkdale — only five other players have 63 in the final round of a major. But he had a terrible week in his Presidents Cup debut at Royal Melbourne in December. When he first came to America, he made fast friends on the developmental tours with his constant laughter, engaging personality and aggressive play.

“He’s got the arsenal to take it low,” said Adam Scott, his teammate at Royal Melbourne. “But we don’t see that kind of consistency out of him, and that probably matches his personality a little bit. He’s young, though, and that’s the kind of golf he plays. He plays pretty much all guns blazing, and when it comes off, it’s really good.”

WATCH | Canada’s Sharp chips in eagle to make Marathon Classic cut:

Hamilton’s Alena Sharp made eagle on the 17th hole of the Highland Meadows Golf Club in Sylvania, Ohio, to finish her second round with a 4 under 67 at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic. 0:25

And when it doesn’t? He beat Koepka in the Match Play last year and reached the round of 16. But that was his last top 10 in America. And then there was the Presidents Cup.

Li brought his trainer to be his caddie, and the caddie got lost on the course during a practice round, gave up and headed for the clubhouse. Instead of finding him, Li played the rest of the round out of another player’s bag. International captain Ernie Els wound up benching him for two days, playing Li only when he had to. Li lost both matches he played.

“It’s been very tough on me, the Presidents Cup, because I didn’t play until Saturday,” Li said. “So not quite in the Presidents that way, actually. But anyways, good experience.”

Another one awaits.

Li was seen at the practice range and putting green much of the afternoon, although Golf Channel reported he had gone to rental home for lunch and a nap. True, there’s not much to do during health protocols in place for the pandemic. And he’s young enough that energy shouldn’t be a problem.

But it sets up Saturday as a critical day, for Li and for Koepka, for Woods and Dustin Johnson, for everyone chasing a major championship trophy that hasn’t been awarded since the British Open a year ago in July.

Trump antagonizes GOP megadonor Adelson in heated phone call

When President Donald Trump connected by phone last week with Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson — perhaps the only person in the party who can cut a nine-figure check to aid his reelection — the phone call unexpectedly turned contentious.

The 87-year-old casino mogul had reached out to Trump to talk about the coronavirus relief bill and the economy. But then Trump brought the conversation around to the campaign and confronted Adelson about why he wasn’t doing more to bolster his reelection, according to three people with direct knowledge of the call. One of the people said it was apparent the president had no idea how much Adelson, who’s donated tens of millions of dollars to pro-Trump efforts over the years, had helped him. Adelson chose not to come back at Trump.

When word of the call circulated afterward, Republican Party officials grew alarmed the president had antagonized one of his biggest benefactors at a precarious moment in his campaign. They rushed to smooth things over with him, but the damage may have been done.

Adelson’s allies say it’s unclear whether the episode will dissuade the Las Vegas mogul — long regarded as a financial linchpin for Trump’s reelection — from helping the president down the home stretch.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

The president needs the money. With less than three months until the election, he is overwhelmed by a flood of liberal super PAC spending that his party has failed to match. Since this spring, outside groups supporting Joe Biden have outspent their pro-Trump counterparts nearly 3-to-1, an influx that’s helped to erase the president’s longstanding financial advantage.

Now, Republican leaders are pleading to billionaires for help. Trump advisers are pining for new outside groups to form, and the White House is growing anxious to see what Adelson, who has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into Republican super PACs over the past decade, will do.

“It’s important that the word get out to donors that we need the super PACs and we need them to step up to the plate,” said Club for Growth President David McIntosh, whose group is poised to launch a $5 million TV campaign next week. “There hasn’t been the urgency on the super PAC side. But now we’re seeing that you’ve got to take care of that, too.”

The avalanche of spending on the left isn’t expected to end anytime soon. Pro-Biden groups have reserved over $70 million on the TV airwaves between now and the election, while Trump-allied groups have booked just $42 million, according to the media tracking firm Advertising Analytics.

The Trump-blessed America First Action has been outraised and outspent by the leading pro-Biden Super PAC Priorities USA, which has been running an array of blistering commercials hitting Trump over his response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Republicans point to an array of reasons for America First’s struggles. Some of the president’s aides point out that, much to their frustration, he has shown less interest in super PAC fundraising than Barack Obama did ahead of his successful 2012 reelection. He’s also shown a reluctance to do the kind of glad-handing, cold-calling, and grooming of billionaires needed to cultivate a well-funded super PAC.

Others say big Republican givers are holding back checks because of the potential business fallout of being a major Trump contributor. After word surfaced that fitness company executive Stephen Ross was hosting a Hamptons fundraiser for Trump, patrons at his Equinox and SoulCycle chains staged a boycott.

With Trump trailing badly, some donors are more interested in bankrolling efforts to save the GOP’s Senate majority. Among the contributors who’ve cut checks to the super PAC for Senate Republicans but not Trump’s are hedge fund manager Paul Singer, investor Charles Schwab, and real estate developer Mel Sembler.

Others say there is simply exhaustion with Trump and disgust at his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Dan Eberhart, a Republican donor who has contributed to America First Action, pointed to what he described as an “enthusiasm gap among super PAC donors.”

“We are getting clobbered,” he said. “The left-leaning super PACs are bringing a lot more air support to team Biden than the ones on the right are bringing to team Trump, unfortunately.”

The president’s advisers blame America First for its struggles. They point to its decision to wait until spring to take on Biden and to its $4 million investment on a TV commercial that spotlighted Vice President Mike Pence but made no mention of Trump. The move infuriated the president’s advisers; on the morning the commercial was launched, a Trump adviser reached out to a POLITICO reporter unprompted to blast the move.

America First Action President Brian Walsh said the organization’s nonprofit arm had chosen to feature Pence to highlight remarks he had made at an event it had hosted focused on the economic recovery.

“No other outside group has raised or spent more to help reelect Donald Trump. No other outside group has stood with our president since day one. Period,” Walsh said. “We have been on the air, online and in mailboxes since April and continue to be so today.”

While America First Action has the White House’s imprimatur, ongoing concerns about the group have triggered conversations about whether an alternative super PAC should form. While Adelson is unlikely to donate to America First Action, allies say, he is open to funding another pro-Trump outfit.

But some Republicans say that having multiple super PACs could cause confusion among donors about which outfit to support.

Christopher Ekstrom, a Dallas investor who backed Ted Cruz’s 2016 primary campaign, recalled that the Texas senator had an array of super PACs. Some potential givers, he recalled, wound up not giving to any of them.

“Team Trump was wise to centralize their super PAC after his victory and prevent their super PAC from being Balkanized,” said Ekstrom, who has given over $20,000 to pro-Trump causes this election cycle.

Republicans are confronting an array of liberal groups, ranging from Priorities USA to American Bridge to Future Forward, all of which have booked millions of dollars in TV spending. Even as Biden has struggled to keep pace with Trump on the fundraising front, there are concerns in Republican circles that the liberal organizations could do damage to the president.

Republican strategist Ken Spain noted that “neither candidate will lose because of lack of resources at this point,” but added: “The Democratic donor class has coalesced and built a rival apparatus to that of the Trump campaign and its allies.”

With both sides flush with cash, there will be no shortage of TV commercials from either side. Alex Castellanos, a veteran Republican ad maker who helped to steer a pro-Trump super PAC in 2016, said voters would be more focused on the individual performances of Trump and Biden.

“The most powerful media driver in a presidential [campaign] is the candidate. The candidate makes news and drives the agenda. That’s the good news for Donald Trump,” Castellanos said. “Sometimes, that’s the bad news for Trump, too.”

Seattle Kraken hire Everett Fitzhugh as 1st Black team broadcaster in NHL

The Seattle Kraken have hired Everett Fitzhugh as the club’s first broadcaster, the team announced Friday.

Fitzhugh is believed to be the first Black team broadcaster hired by an NHL franchise. He has spent the past five seasons as the director of media relations and broadcasting for the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL. Fitzhugh served as the play-by-play broadcaster for the club.

“As someone who’s worked in hockey for over a decade and who has a long-held passion for broadcasting hockey, to be named a part of the broadcast and content team for a brand-new NHL franchise — particularly one with an organization as strong as the Kraken — is a dream come true,” Fitzhugh said in a statement. “Getting to the NHL has always been my goal.”

Seattle CEO Tod Leiweke said Fitzhugh came highly recommended by those the team consulted with in making the hire. Fitzhugh’s exact role will be determined at a later date.

Fitzhugh was one of three front-office hires announced by the team. Seattle also hired Jonny Greco as the senior vice-president of live entertainment and game presentation, and Lamont Buford will serve as vice-president of game presentation.

New death linked to Misericordia outbreak as hospital reaches 1 month mark of being closed

Another death has been linked to the Misericordia hospital COVID-19 outbreak, Alberta Health announced Friday afternoon.

A woman in her 80s has died from complications of the novel coronavirus.

The death comes as the hospital marks one month since its emergency department was closed and it stopped accepting new patients.

“The lockdown is the right thing to do. It’s minimizing exposure as much as possible between people,” first VP of United Nurses of Alberta Danielle Larivee said.

Read more: 134 new cases of COVID-19 in Alberta on Friday as province passes 10,000 recoveries

Covenant Health said it is working with the province and Alberta Health Services to develop detailed plans on reopening the hospital through a phased approach when the full facility outbreak is finally lifted.

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A timeline for the reopening is unknown.

The United Nurses of Alberta says it represents nearly 1,000 registered nurses who work at the hospital. Many say it’s not easy to work amid the lockdown.

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“All of our members are concerned that going to work they could be exposed and take that home, certainly we have confirmation that healthcare workers have been affected,” Larivee said.

Health Matters: Baby boom at Edmonton maternity wards

Health Matters: Baby boom at Edmonton maternity wards

A total of 58 cases are linked to the outbreak. Twenty-four of those are staff members.

“Healthcare workers are at 12 times the risk of being infected, so it’s not a surprise sometimes in a situation where there’s an outbreak,” Larivee said.

Alberta Health Services says the closure has lead to all Edmonton area hospitals and health facilities taking on additional patients. To keep up with the demand, AHS said additional staff have been deployed where needed.

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Task force to investigate Misericordia Hospital COVID-19 outbreak after 6 deaths

Task force to investigate Misericordia Hospital COVID-19 outbreak after 6 deaths

All aspects the nurses union is mindful of as it works to protect its members.

“We’re all working together to do all of the possible things that we can in order to keep someone safe, at the same time knowing the potential risks,” Larivee said.

Read more: No new COVID-19 cases linked to Edmonton’s Misericordia Hospital since July 17

Covenant Health said there have been no new cases related to the outbreak since July 17.

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