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Biden seeks to move quickly and build out his administration

WILMINGTON, Del. — President-elect Joe Biden signaled on Sunday he plans to move quickly to build out his government, focusing first on the raging pandemic that will likely dominate the early days of his administration.

Biden named a former surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, and a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, David Kessler, as co-chairs of a coronavirus working group set to get started, with other members expected to be announced Monday.

Transition team officials said that also this week Biden will launch his agency review teams, the group of transition staffers that have access to key agencies in the current administration to ease the transfer of power. The teams will collect and review information such as budgetary and staffing decisions, pending regulations and other work in progress from current staff at the departments to help Biden’s team prepare to transition. White House officials would not comment on whether they would cooperate with Biden’s team on the review.

“People want the country to move forward,” said Kate Bedingfield, Biden deputy campaign manager, in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” and see Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris “have the opportunity to do the work, to get the virus under control and to get our economy back together.”

It’s unclear for now whether President Donald Trump and his administration will cooperate. He has yet to acknowledge Biden’s victory and has pledged to mount legal challenges in several closely contested states that decided the race.

Biden adviser Jen Psaki pressed for the Trump-appointed head of the General Services Administration to quickly recognize Biden as the president-elect, which would free up money for the transition and clear the way for Biden’s team to begin putting in place the transition process at agencies.

“America’s national security and economic interests depend on the federal government signaling clearly and swiftly that the United States government will respect the will of the American people and engage in a smooth and peaceful transfer of power,” Psaki said in a Twitter posting.

A GSA official said Sunday that step had not been taken yet.

A bipartisan group of administration officials from the Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton administrations on Sunday called on the Trump administration to move forward “to immediately begin the post-election transition process.”

“This was a hard-fought campaign, but history is replete with examples of presidents who emerged from such campaigns to graciously assist their successors,” members of the Center for Presidential Transition advisory board said in a statement.

The statement was signed by Bush White House chief of staff Josh Bolten and Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt as well as Bill Clinton-era chief of staff Thomas “Mack” McLarty and Obama Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.

Biden aides said the president-elect and transition team had been in touch with Republican lawmakers. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, one of Trump’s closest allies, opened a Cabinet meeting on Sunday by congratulating Biden, a former vice president and longtime senator.

“I have a long and warm personal connection with Joe Biden for nearly 40 years, and I know him as a great friend of the state of Israel,” Netanyahu said. “I am certain that we will continue to work with both of them in order to further strengthen the special alliance between Israel and the U.S.”

George W. Bush, the sole living Republican former president, also wished Biden well.

“Though we have political differences, I know Joe Biden to be a good man, who has won his opportunity to lead and unify our country,” Bush said.

Biden faces key staffing decisions in the days ahead. The always-frenzied 10-week transition period before Inauguration Day on Jan. 20 already has been shortened by the extra time it took to determine the winner of Tuesday’s election.

The second Catholic to be elected president, Biden started his first full day as president-elect by attending church at St. Joseph on the Brandywine near his home in Wilmington, as he does nearly every week. After the service, he visited the church cemetery where several family members have been laid to rest, including his late son, Beau.

Beau Biden, a former Delaware attorney general, died in 2015 from cancer. Before his death, he had encouraged his father to make a third run for the White House.

Joe Biden said Saturday in a victory speech that he would announce a task force of scientists and experts Monday to develop a “blueprint” to begin beating back the virus by the time he assumes the presidency. He said his plan would be “built on bedrock science” and “constructed out of compassion, empathy and concern.”

Murthy, who had advised Biden during the campaign, was named to a four-year term as surgeon general in 2014 by President Barack Obama. Murthy was asked to resign by Trump months into the Republican’s term. Kessler was appointed as FDA commissioner by President George H.W. Bush and served in the position through President Bill Clinton’s first term in the White House.

Biden senior adviser Ted Kaufman said the transition team will focus on the “nuts and bolts” of building the new administration in coming days.

Biden may not make top Cabinet choices for weeks. But he built his presidential run around bipartisanship and he has spent the days since Tuesday’s election pledging to be a president for all Americans. That suggests he could be willing to appoint some Republicans to high-profile administration positions.

Many former Republican officeholders broke with Trump to endorse Biden’s campaign. Biden’s selection of some of them to join the new government could appease Senate Republicans, who may have to confirm many of Biden’s choices for top jobs. The GOP could retain control of the chamber after two special elections in Georgia on Jan. 5.

Still, too much across-the-aisle cooperation could draw the ire of progressives. Some already worry that uncooperative Senate Republicans could force Biden to scale back his ambitious campaign promises to expand access to health care and lead a post-pandemic economic recovery that relies on federal investment in green technology and jobs to help combat climate change.

“I think there will be a huge misuse of the word ‘unity’ to imply that we need to water down the ideas that Joe Biden just campaigned on,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. He said the country was more united around bold solutions to big problems than small-scale efforts.

Biden’s efforts at bipartisan reconciliation could still be derailed by Trump’s refusing to concede the race.

Symone Sanders, a Biden campaign senior adviser, said that while several Republican lawmakers have been in contact with the president-elect in recent days, the campaign has yet to hear from White House officials.

“I think the White House has made clear what their strategy is here and that they are going to continue to participate and push forward these flailing and, in many — in many respects, baseless legal strategies,” Sanders said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said Trump had a right to pursue recounts and legal challenges. But he noted that those efforts will unlikely change the outcome and he urged the president to dial back his rhetoric.

“I think one has to be careful in the choice of words. I think when you say the election was corrupt or stolen or rigged that that’s unfortunately rhetoric that gets picked up by authoritarians around the world. And I think it also discourages confidence in our democratic process here at home,” Romney said on NBC.


Madhani reported from Chicago. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller in Washington and Steve Peoples in New York contributed to this report.

KATS offers Dial-A-Ride promotion for November

KINGSPORT — The Kingsport Area Transit Service is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act by offering a special discount throughout November.

Half-price Dial-A-Ride ticket books are now $12 (24 tickets per book).

“We want to thank our current Dial-A-Ride customers through this promotion, as well as attract new riders who can benefit greatly from the Dial-A-Ride service,” said KATS Director Chris Campbell. “This is definitely a situation where spending a little money up front will save a lot of money over time, as these tickets do not expire.”


Campbell said the 30th anniversary of the ADA is a time to reflect on a law that has made a positive impact on the lives of people with disabilities in our country. This anniversary is also a time to set goals and expectations for the future in order to create equal opportunities for disabled individuals.

Upon the act’s passage in 1990, Congress clearly stated its intent to ensure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.

All KATS vehicles are equipped with ADA lifts and ramps to support and ensure accessibility.


The Dial-A-Ride van service is an affordable, reliable, safe and efficient way for Kingsport residents to travel to numerous destinations. Eligibility requirements do apply.

The Dial-A-Ride half-price ticket book can be purchased at the KATS downtown terminal (900 E. Main St.) via cash, check, credit or debit. Tickets may also be purchased directly from the drivers. Cash and checks are the only form of payment accepted on the vehicles. Drivers do not carry cash and cannot make change.

For more information about KATS and the services it offers, visit kingsporttransit.org or call (423) 224-2613.

GATE CITY — The Rotary Club of Scott County has made going back to school a little easier for students in need.

No new COVID-19 deaths, 233 new cases reported in Northeast Tennessee

No new COVID-19 deaths and 233 new COVID-19 cases (confirmed and probable) were reported Sunday in Northeast Tennessee. The new cases brought the eight-county region’s pandemic total (confirmed and probable) to 16,533. The region’s death toll remained at 297.

New cases as reported by county: 88 in Sullivan; 57 in Washington; 23 in Hawkins; 23 in Carter; 16 in Johnson; 16 in Greene and 10 in Unicoi. Zero new cases were reported in Hancock County.

Statewide, five new deaths and 3,636 new cases brought Tennessee’s pandemic totals to 3,595 deaths (3,375 confirmed as COVID-19 and 220 probable) and 281,851 cases (264,340 confirmed as COVID-19 and 17,511 probable). Of the 281,851 total cases, 250,818 were listed as “inactive/recovered.”

New case numbers were based on 36,024 new test results statewide, compared to Saturday, with a positive rate of 9.63%.

The five new deaths reported statewide, by age group: one in the 81+ group; one in the 71-80 group; one in the 61-70 group; one in the 51-60 group; and one in the 31-40 group.

Total cases by county in Northeast Tennessee: 4,607 in Sullivan; 4,395 in Hawkins; 2,191 in Greene; 1,946 in Carter; 1,420 in Hawkins; 1,275 in Johnson; 571 in Unicoi; and 128 in Hancock.

Active cases by county in Northeast Tennessee, as of Sunday: 657 in Washington; 624 in Sullivan; 326 in Greene; 282 in Carter; 149 in Hawkins; 132 in Unicoi; 93 in Johnson; and four in Hancock.

Source: Tennessee Department of Health, daily COVID-19 report, Nov. 8, 2020.

COVID-19 in SWVA: Region tops 50 cases

Far Southwest Virginia saw 51 new COVID-19 cases, according to Sunday’s state health data.

The Virginia Department of Health (www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus) reported that the state had 1,302 new cases and three additional deaths in the prior 24 hours for pandemic totals of 192,175 cases and 3,707 deaths.

The LENOWISCO Health District saw 51 cases for totals of 2,125 and 31 deaths during the pandemic. Lee County saw 33 cases for totals of 671 and 11 deaths. Wise County had 16 cases for 870 and 11 deaths.

Scott County saw two cases for 523 and nine deaths, while Norton remained at 61 cases and no deaths.

The statewide testing rate for people with nasal swab and antigen tests in Sunday’s VDH report was 3,008,933 of 8.63 million residents, or 34.87%. For nasal swab testing only, 2,787,106 people have been tested to date, or 32.3%. In the LENOWISCO district, 20,812 of the region’s 86,471 residents have been tested via nasal swab sample for COVID-19, or 24.07%.

Pandemic-wide testing rates by locality were:

• Lee County, 6,539 of 23,423, or 27.92%.

• Norton, 2,020 of 3,981, or 50.74%.

• Wise County, 7,740 of 37,383, or 20.7%.

• Scott County, 4,513 of 21,566, or 20.93%.

Department of Corrections COVID-19 case numbers for Red Onion and Wallens Ridge state prisons and Wise Correctional Camp near Coeburn were not available Sunday.

The seven-day average rate of positive PCR test results in the LENOWISCO district in Sunday’s report dropped from 20.6% to 14.2%. The statewide positivity rate remained at 6%.

According to Sunday’s VDH pandemic measures dashboard, cases in the far southwest region of Virginia — including the LENOWISCO Health District — were ranked as rising after a 48-day increase in cases. The far southwest region ranking for percent positivity of COVID-19 testing results remained increasing based on a 28-day increase in that measure.

All four school systems in the LENOWISCO district — Wise, Lee and Scott counties and Norton — were ranked as highest-risk based on the 14-day case incidence rate in the district. Norton City Schools was ranked highest-risk for percent change in seven-day case incidences. Wise County Schools and Norton City Schools were ranked higher-risk. Wise County and Norton City schools were ranked highest-risk and Lee and Scott county schools lowest-risk.

Where to be tested

Do you think you might have COVID-19? Local health departments provide free testing.

The LENOWISCO Health Department, which covers Norton and Lee, Wise and Scott counties, posts regular updates on testing sites across the district and offers free COVID-19 tests at its county offices. Those seeking a test must call in advance for an appointment. Contact numbers for the county offices are:

• Lee County (Jonesville) — (276) 346-2011.

• Scott County (Gate City) — (276) 386-1312.

• Wise County and Norton (Wise) — (276) 328-8000.

Additional testing and COVID-19 precaution information can be found at the LENOWISCO Health District’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/Lenowisco.

The Health Wagon will partner with the Virginia Department of Health to offer 17 sessions of free drive-thru testing at Food City in St. Paul through Dec. 31. Call (276) 328-8850 for an appointment.

In Southwest Virginia, online resources are available to help evaluate whether residents might be infected and where to get a COVID-19 test. The Virginia Department of Health’s COVIDCHECK (https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/covidcheck/) can walk users through symptoms they may be experiencing and help direct them to their local health department office or other available testing sites.

Jimmie Johnson waves to the crowd during driver introductions prior to a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Phoenix Raceway, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, in Avondale, Ariz.