The Latest: Mexico hits another record for COVID-19 cases
Mexico posted a record spike in coronavirus cases on Friday, with 21,366 newly confirmed infections, about double the daily rate of increase just a week ago. The country also recorded 1,106 more deaths.
It was unclear if the spike was due to the presence of the U.K. virus variant, of which only one case has so far been confirmed in a visiting British citizen.
The country has now seen almost 1.61 million total infections and has seen registered over 139,000 deaths so far in the pandemic.
The country’s extremely low testing rate means that is an undercount, and official estimates suggest the real death toll is closer to 195,000. So little testing is done that 8% of all those who got a test later died during recent weeks; normally, only people with severe symptoms are tested..
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
Global deaths reach 2 million from coronavirus. Pfizer temporarily reduces European deliveries of vaccine. Desperate effort to bring oxygen supplies to the Brazilian rainforest’s biggest city. City in northern China builds 3,000-unit quarantine facility to handle anticipated overflow of COVID-19 patients.
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has unveiled $1.9 trillion plan for tackling the coronavirus pandemic and provide 100 million vaccines in 100 days. Spain insists it can stay open and still beat the virus while much of Europe is increasingly locked down.
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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
BEIJING — China on Saturday reported 130 new confirmed coronavirus infections and no deaths.
The National Health Commission said 90 of those confirmed cases were in Hebei province, adjacent to Beijing, where the country’s biggest recent outbreak occurred.
Another 23 cases were in Heilongjiang province in the northeast, the commission said.
There were 15 infections that were determined to have been contracted abroad.
China’s death toll stands at 4,635, with a total of 88,118 confirmed cases, the commission said.
SALEM, Ore. – Gov. Kate Brown said Friday that plans to vaccinate Oregon residents over 65 starting next week would have to be delayed and scaled back substantially as she accused the Trump administration of backtracking on a promise of more than 100,000 additional doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from the federal reserve.
State health officials announced this week that vaccine eligibility would be expanded to educators and seniors beginning Jan. 23. However, following news that there is “no federal reserve” of doses, Brown said she has limited vaccinations to educators beginning Jan. 25 and to people 80 or older on Feb. 8 — with a 12-week rollout to reach all seniors who are 65 and over.
“I am shocked and appalled that the federal government would set an expectation with the American people, on which they knew they could not deliver, with such grave consequences,” Brown said.
The governor said Friday that she was told late Thursday by Gen. Gustave F. Perna, the leader of the “Operation Warp Speed” federal vaccine effort, that states will not be receiving increased shipments of vaccines from the national stockpile next week “because there is no federal reserve of doses.”
MADISON, Wis. — Gov. Tony Evers blasted federal officials Friday for promising to release the remainder of their COVID-19 vaccine stockpile when it apparently was already exhausted, calling the pledge a “slap in the face.”
Evers has been taking pointed criticism from Republican legislators for weeks over the slow pace of Wisconsin’s vaccine rollout. He told reporters on a conference call on Friday that Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Health Services Secretary Alex Azar told governors this week that they planned to release whatever vaccines the federal government had been holding in reserve to speed inoculations.
But federal officials have since said the stockpile was exhausted when those promises were made and governors can’t expect any windfall shipments. The news has escalated tensions and uncertainty about the sluggish pace of inoculations and who’s responsible for it. Evers accused Pence and Azar of misleading governors.
“It was just plain old obfuscation,” Evers said. “I was told by the vice president, a couple days ago, and the secretary of health services that they’re opening the gates, we’re going to send you the remainder of what was stockpiled. I guess they may have been telling the truth because it’s zero.”
A total of 213,056 people had been vaccinated in the state as of Friday, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services said. That’s about 0.036% of the state’s population.
BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum on Friday said he will drop a statewide mask requirement as well as limits on the number of people who gather in restaurants, bars and event venues, citing a dramatic drop in active COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations due to the coronavirus.
The Republican governor said he will allow an executive order to expire on Monday, as scheduled.
“The fight is far from over but we can certainly see the light of the end of the tunnel from here,” he said.
Burgum issued the executive order on Nov. 13 and had extended it once.
Burgum earlier this month had eased restrictions on food service establishments that let them operate at 65% capacity.
North Dakota ranked among the worst states in the nation for coronavirus spread for several weeks this fall, but cases have been in decline for weeks.
WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden issued a rebuke of Republican lawmakers who refused to wear masks while sheltering in crowded rooms during last week’s violent insurrection on the Capitol.
“What the hell’s the matter with them?” Biden asked, adding that “it’s time to grow up.”
Dozens of lawmakers were ushered off the House floor to an undisclosed location as a mob of Donald Trump supporters descended on the Capitol last week to protest Biden’s election win. Democrats say Republicans refused to wear masks, with some even resisting when Delaware Democratic Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester tried to pass them out to the crowd.
Five members of Congress announced they tested positive for the coronavirus after being taken to a safe space when the riot began.
DENVER — Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Friday criticized false information given by the Trump administration regarding the existence of a federal vaccine reserve as “gross incompetence.”
“We’re glad that every dose was sent out, but the fact that on several calls with state governors, the White House lead us all to believe that there was a second dose that had been paired that would be released soon,” Polis said.
Colorado’s goal is to give vaccines to 70% of 70 and up population by the end of February. Polis said the additional supply would’ve allowed Colorado to expand its eligible vaccine group since it would’ve covered half of the 70 and up population in the state.
Polis said close to 40,000 Colorado residents 70 and older have received the vaccine.
“There was a lot of upside. We were hopeful that there would be a more aggressive timeline sooner for getting to others but I’m still confident we’ll meet our initial timeline because we did base that on the conservative figures of what we knew we could expect through the normal supply chain,” Polis said.
PARIS — French health authorities, who have been concerned over polls showing the majority of French were wary of vaccines against COVID 19, may have had a surprise with the number of people who have signed up for shots starting Monday, reserved for those 75 and older or with a high health risk.
The health agency reported more than 500,000 appointments scheduled for the first of two shots until Feb. 14, saturating the system. The agency said an internet site set up as one means to make appointments was receiving up to 20,000 connections a minute. More appointments can be scheduled after that date, with the progressive arrival of more vaccines.
France has been lagging far behind European neighbors in vaccinating because of a strategy to start in nursing homes with complex consent forms for each person. Officials defended the strategy, but got the message and are now setting up vaccination centers and providing daily figures about the number of people inoculated. Paris announced 19 centers opening Monday.
Authorities appear to have underestimated the wish of the people to get protection from the virus after early polls that showed up to 60% of the French were wary. Latest polls showed a drastic turn-around as deaths mount, with nearly 70,000 counted by Friday.
WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden will use the Defense Production Act to expand the production of the COVID-19 vaccine and vaccination supplies as part of a wide-ranging plan to deliver on his pledge to vaccinate 100 million people in his first 100 days.
Biden’s first and perhaps biggest challenge in getting there will be addressing vaccine shortages in health systems across America. He’s long advocated for the use of the Defense Production Act, which gives the government authority to direct private companies to meet national defense needs.
President Donald Trump had invoked the Defense Production Act to address various aspects of the COVID-19 public health crisis.
His plan also includes proposals to create federally funded community vaccination centers, make the vaccination available in pharmacies and launch mobile clinics to get the shot to underserved communities. And he’ll expand the health care workforce so there are more people qualified to deliver the vaccine to Americans.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California officials are rushing to help county coroners overwhelmed by a surge in coronavirus deaths.
California is now averaging 525 coronavirus deaths per day. In the last week, 3,675 people have died.
The California Office of Emergency Services said Friday it has secured 98 refrigerated trailers to serve as makeshift morgues.
Most were donated by the Illinois-based Hub Group and are being retrofitted to boost their capacity. The state sent 20 trailers to six counties, mostly in Southern California. That includes Los Angeles County, which has accounted for 40% of the state’s coronavirus deaths.
Office of Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci said it is important for people to know the state has a plan “to ensure that all of these folks are taken care of in the most respectful manner.”
UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations chief is urging the world to mark the “heart-wrenching milestone” of 2 million deaths from the coronavirus by acting with greater solidarity to ensure vaccines are available and affordable in all countries.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a video message Friday that governments have a responsibility to protect their people.
“Science is succeeding — but solidarity is failing,” he warned. “Vaccines are reaching high income countries quickly, which the world’s poorest have none at all.”
Guterres said the world’s leading economies have a special responsibility to support the World Health Organization’s COVAX program to buy and deliver coronavirus vaccines for the world’s poorest people.
He also urged rich nations to share excess doses of vaccines which “would help vaccinate all health care workers around the world on an urgent basis and protect health systems from collapse.”
New York has offered vaccinations to people 65 and over and the 71-year-old Guterres is scheduled to be vaccinated next week, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. Volkan Bozkir, the 70-year-old president of the 193-member U.N. General Assembly, says he’ll be vaccinated on Feb. 2.
RICHMOND, Va. — A spokeswoman for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam says reports the federal government has already depleted a reserve of vaccine promised to states are “astonishing.”
On Tuesday, governors “were told explicitly” that they’d be provided additional doses, Northam’s spokeswoman, Alena Yarmosky, said in a statement to The Associated Press.
Northam, a Democrat and a doctor, then moved quickly to announce the state would expand vaccine eligibility.
Yarmosky says Northam’s administration on Friday is “trying to gather as much information as possible” to understand the situation and plan accordingly.
NEW YORK — Health officials say by March, a new and more infectious strain of coronavirus — first found in the United Kingdom — will likely become the dominant strain in the United States.
The UK variant currently is in 12 states but has been diagnosed in only 76 of the 23 million U.S. cases reported to date. However, it’s likely that version of the virus is more widespread in this country than is currently reported, according to scientists at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While it’s considered more infectious than the virus that’s been causing the bulk of U.S. cases so far, there’s no evidence that it causes more severe illness or is transmitted differently. Therefore, mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing and other prevention strategies can still work, the CDC says.
GENEVA — The U.N. health agency’s emergencies chief says the impact of new variants of the coronavirus in places like Britain, South Africa and Brazil remains to be seen, and faults human behavior for some recent rises in case counts.
“It’s just too easy to lay the blame on the variant and say, ‘It’s the virus that did it,’” Dr. Michael Ryan, the emergencies chief at the World Health Organization, said Friday. “Well unfortunately, it’s also what we didn’t do that did it.”
That’s a reference to holiday gatherings and other social contacts as well as loosening adherence by some to calls from public health officials to respect mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing.
Ryan also pointed to new recommendations from the WHO’s emergency committee advising that countries shouldn’t require proof of vaccination by incoming travelers for now.
“If you look at the recommendation made by the committee around vaccination for travelers, it says ‘at the present time,’” Ryan said, noting that vaccine supply is not complete and that the science remains unclear if the COVID-19 vaccines now being deployed act to prevent transmission from a vaccinated person to others.