The Latest: Mississippi governor broadens mask mandate
JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI — Gov. Tate Reeves instituted mask mandates in 13 more Mississippi counties Tuesday but chose not to implement the measure statewide, a week after several prominent health care leaders called on him to do so.
During a press briefing, the Republican governor said he believes issuing mask requirements in counties with the highest number of new cases will encourage people to take the regulations more seriously than a blanket approach would. A total of 54 out of the state’s 82 counties now have a mask mandate.
“I almost feel like there are those out there who really, truly believe if I were to write an executive order, a statewide prohibition against hurricanes in 2021, that we won’t have any hurricanes,” Reeves said. “It just doesn’t work that way.”
Reeves instituted a statewide mask mandate in early August, but revoked the measure at the end of September when new coronavirus cases were declining in Mississippi. As cases have risen again in recent weeks, he has begun implementing mask mandates in individual counties.
Four health care leaders have said it’s time for Reeves to go a step further. They wrote a letter to Reeves on Nov. 24 calling for another statewide mask mandate.
“The statewide mask mandate, which was highly effective, needs to be reinstituted,” said a letter signed by Dr. LouAnn Woodward of the University of Mississippi Medical Center; Dr. Anita Henderson, president-elect of the Mississippi Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics; Dr. Claude Brunson, executive director of the Mississippi State Medical Association; and Dr. James Griffin Jr., president of the Mississippi Academy of Family Physicians.
Reeves said Tuesday that he would not comment on the letter, but said he believes a county-by-county approach is best for Mississippi currently.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— U.S. panel to decide who should get the first COVID-19 shots
— BioNTech and Pfizer ask European regulator for expedited approval of coronavirus vaccine
— Americans face new COVID-19 restrictions after Thanksgiving
— At tiny rural hospitals, exhausted medical workers t reat friends and family
— Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton tests positive for coronavirus
— A pop-up school has blossomed to teach reading, writing, math and art to Central American children living in a camp of asylum seekers stuck at America’s doorstep
Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Tuesday called for Congress to approve money for businesses and families struggling because of the coronavirus pandemic, but she said there are no plans to use available state funds as officials elsewhere have done.
Some legislatures including Colorado and New Mexico are considering allocating state funds as a stopgap measure until Congress agrees to additional federal relief.
Asked Tuesday whether she was considering calling lawmakers back into session to approve such a move, she said no.
“Unfortunately, there’s just not enough state funding to make everybody whole and that’s just a reality of what we’re dealing with,” Reynolds said. “This is something Congress needs to do. They need to step up and do their job.”
Iowa ended the fiscal year in September with a balance of $305.5 million in the general fund and cash reserves of more than $770 million.
The Iowa coronavirus infection rate showed signs of slowing Tuesday but the number of people hospitalized with illness and dying with COVID-19 remained high, according to public health data.
MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota is facing a surprising $641 million projected surplus in its current budget, which makes money available for a new coronavirus relief package, but officials cautioned Tuesday that the state is still facing a $1.3 billion shortfall for its next budget.
The not-so-bad projections from Minnesota Management and Budget came as a welcome turnaround from the agency’s last forecast, which was released in May as the coronavirus pandemic was taking hold. Back then, it projected a $2.4 billion deficit in the current budget cycle and a $4.7 billion shortfall in the next.
The new forecast is expected to spur negotiations among Gov. Tim Walz and legislative leaders from both parties on an aid package targeted at struggling small businesses — and possibly workers and families — that lawmakers could approve in a special session sometime later this month if all sides can agree on what should be in it.
MMB Commissioner Jim Schowalter and other budget officials said at a briefing that the updated projections are better than May’s partly because tax revenues are running higher than expected. Consumers are shifting their spending amid the pandemic away from services affected by social distancing that aren’t subject to the sales tax, and they’re buying more taxable goods such as electronics and furniture. And the blow to income tax collections was less than expected because lower-income workers, who don’t pay as much in taxes, suffered the most from the recession.
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Johnson & Johnson, one of the largest drugmakers developing a vaccine against COVID-19, on Tuesday began the process of applying for emergency approval of its vaccine from the European Medicines Agency and Health Canada.
In what’s called a rolling submission, J&J’s Janssen Pharmaceutical business sent regulators in the EU and Canada early testing data from its experimental one-dose vaccine for preventing COVID-19. Rolling submissions are used to speed up evaluation of crucial drugs by giving regulators data as it becomes available, and while human testing is still ongoing, rather than submitting reams of data at once after testing ends.
Johnson & Johnson said in a statement that the European Medicines Agency allowed the rolling submission mainly due to positive results from laboratory testing, which showed the vaccine triggered a robust immune response, creating antibodies that could fight the virus.
The New Brunswick, New Jersey-based company also talking with regulators in other countries around the world about starting rolling reviews with them.
J&J is now in the final phase of testing its one-dose vaccine on human volunteers. Meanwhile, it recently began a second study looking at whether two vaccine doses work better than just one.
The company has said it will provide its vaccine on a not-for-profit basis throughout the pandemic emergency.
MIAMI — Florida joined Texas and California in surpassing 1 million confirmed COVID-19 cases Tuesday as the governor has vowed not to adopt any further restrictions or impose closures like those enacted in the spring and summer.
Hospitalizations have also climbed in the state with 4,261 COVID-19 patients, up from 4,139 tallied on Monday.
The figure is still less than half what hospitals saw in late July, but it has steadily climbed since October after plateauing at about 2,000 hospitalizations daily for weeks following the summer surge of the virus.
The state’s health department on Tuesday reported 82 new virus deaths, raising the toll in the third-most populous state to at least 18,942 since the beginning of the pandemic.
While vaccines could arrive as early as this month, officials say it will be spring at the earliest before most people can receive the treatment.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday on Twitter that the priority for the allocation of the new vaccines should be to residents of long-term care facilities who are “by far the most likely demographic to die with COVID.”
SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco officials said Tuesday that they are considering more stringent restrictions on businesses and private gatherings as cases continue to spike.
Mayor London Breed said the speed with which the city’s rate climbed showed “how fast (COVID-19) can move.”
She acknowledged the sacrifices people have already made to tamp down two spikes in the spring and summer.
“If I’m honest, as someone who basically lives alone, it’s been a tough year for me personally. … I was so happy to tell everyone just a month ago that San Francisco has done such a good job with COVID that we were in the yellow” tier the state uses to measure case rates.
The city’s health director, Dr. Grant Colfax, said new orders could come as soon as Wednesday that may further limit outdoor dining, reduce capacity at local businesses and gyms and potentially impose a quarantine order like the one Santa Clara County adopted.
DENVER — Colorado Gov. Jared Polis joined the nation’s top infectious disease expert and urged people to wear masks and socially distance to prevent stay-at-home orders and overwhelmed hospitals as cases of the coronavirus surge during the holidays.
Dr. Anthony Fauci warned Tuesday that Colorado isn’t alone in seeing a spike in cases. He pleaded with people not to travel or gather in large groups.
He said the country will likely see “a surge upon a surge” of cases, based on the number of people who traveled for Thanksgiving. About one in 41 Colorado residents is believed to be contagious with the virus.
RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said on Tuesday that North Carolina will soon receive nearly 85,000 doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine from the federal government.
Frontline healthcare workers at hospitals will be the first to get vaccinated, followed by other health workers and vulnerable populations, such as people with at least two comorbidities.
Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, says North Carolina will receive a weekly allocation of vaccine doses from the federal government. Its first allotment of 84,800 doses could come as soon as Dec. 15.
Cooper said every resident in the state will be able to receive a free vaccine, regardless of whether they have health insurance.
BATON ROUGE, La. — The number of COVID-19 patients in Louisiana’s hospitals continues to grow, intensifying worries that coronavirus cases from Thanksgiving holiday gatherings will balloon the number further and could overwhelm hospitals.
Louisiana’s health department said 1,280 people in Louisiana were hospitalized Tuesday because of COVID-19. That’s an increase of more than 200 over the last week and more than double the 596 COVID-19 patients hospitalized a month ago.
Though hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients remain below Louisiana’s peak of nearly 2,000 in April during the first of the state’s three coronavirus surges, they have been steadily and sharply increasing since mid-October.
This prompted Gov. John Bel Edwards to toughen Louisiana’s coronavirus restrictions on businesses and gatherings ahead of Thanksgiving.
His chief public health adviser Dr. Joe Kanter warned that the strong uptick in Louisiana’s COVID-19 hospitalizations was happening at a rate “that our hospitals simply cannot stand” without running out of the staff needed to treat patients.
DENVER — Colorado’s Democrat-led Legislature is plowing ahead on special session legislation to provide limited state relief to businesses, students and others affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Democrats have overcome Republican objections to the scope of the aid and GOP attempts to limit the Democratic governor’s ability to decree public health orders.
The Senate on Tuesday unanimously passed bills to direct $5 million to help residents to pay utility bills; $50 million to assist landlords and tenants; and $100 million to the governor’s office for use in the public health emergency. The bills were immediately taken up by the House.
BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota lawmakers decided to require masks at the state Capitol. for the three-day organizational session.
The vote Tuesday is supported by legislative leaders but opposed by far-right members of the Republican-controlled Legislature.
House Majority Leader Chet Pollert and Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner told reporters Tuesday they support a mask mandate at Capitol legislative spaces to help protect lawmakers and the public.
Lawmakers are expected to finalize the rules Thursday for the upcoming session it convenes Jan. 5.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — A health official says Alabama hospitals treating a record number of COVID-19 patients are bracing for a “tidal wave” of additional cases linked to holiday gatherings.
Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo of the University of Alabama at Birmingham says health care systems could be overwhelmed within two or three weeks. The Alabama Hospital Association says only 11% of the state’s intensive care beds were available Monday. The remaining spaces could be filled as more patients are admitted than leave hospitals.
A statewide order requiring face masks in public expires Dec. 11, but it could be extended by Gov. Kay Ivey for additional weeks as in the past.
Nearly 253,000 people have contracted the coronavirus and more than 3,600 have died in Alabama.
JOHNSTON, Iowa — Public health data in Iowa shows the coronavirus infection rate is slowing, but the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 remains high.
Iowa’s positivity rate declined in the past two weeks but remains third in the nation at 41%, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Some of the ease in case positivity could be from reduced testing around the Thanksgiving holiday. Hospital officials were bracing for another surge in positive tests and illness because of Thanksgiving family gatherings.
Iowa posted 24 deaths and 1,906 new confirmed cases on Tuesday. Hospitals reported 1,172 patients with COVID-19, up 10 from the previous day.
HELENA, Mont. — A new counseling hotline is available to help Montana residents struggling with their mental health during the coronavirus crisis.
Gov. Steve Bullock announced the new hotline will be available for at least the next nine months. It’s funded by a $1.6 million federal grant.
The governor’s office says the new service is meant to aid health care workers, first responders, school officials, veterans, the elderly, Native Americans, and farmers and ranchers but is available to all residents.
More than 1,000 new coronavirus cases were reported Tuesday in Montana, bringing the confirmed total to more than 63,000.
CARSON CITY, Nev. — Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak has returned to his office after he was diagnosed with the coronavirus in mid-November.
He announced his return on Twitter. Sisolak, a Democrat, was isolating at the Governor’s Mansion in Carson City.
He announced on Nov. 13 that he had tested positive for the coronavirus. Three days later, he said he was only experiencing mild head congestion.
NEW YORK — An influential scientific panel is set to tackle one of the most pressing questions in the U.S. coronavirus epidemic: Who should get the first vaccines when they become available?
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will meet in an open-to-the-public, virtual meeting to vote on a proposal that would give priority to health care workers and patients in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. The two groups together represent around 23 million Americans out of a population of about 330 million.
About 2 million people live in nursing homes and other U.S. long-term care facilities. Those patients and the staff members who care for them have accounted for 6% of the nation’s coronavirus cases and a staggering 39% of the deaths, CDC officials say.
Later this month, the Food and Drug Administration will consider approval of two vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna.
Experts say the vaccines will probably not become widely available in the U.S. until the spring. There’s been more than 13.6 million confirmed cases and nearly 270,000 deaths in the U.S., the highest tallies in the world.