The Latest: NZealand mulls masks mandatory on public transit
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand’s government could soon make wearing masks mandatory on public transit in Auckland and on planes nationwide as it continues to investigate a new community case of the coronavirus.
Virus Response Minister Chris Hipkins says there are no plans at this point to raise the nation’s alert level after genome testing linked the latest case, a student who also works at a clothing store, with a military worker who caught the virus at a hotel where infected passengers returning from overseas are being quarantined.
Hipkins says he will recommend the mask mandate to the government Cabinet on Monday for its approval.
Health officials had asked workers in central Auckland to stay home on Friday while they investigated the case but say they can now return to work. Officials haven’t found a direct contact point between the military worker and the student, although they say the two were in close proximity in central Auckland at one point.
New Zealand has been largely successful in its efforts to stamp out community spread of the virus.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Dr. Fauci: Keep wearing masks, stay socially distant to avoid lockdown
— White House Coronavirus Task Force recommends masks for Oklahoma surge
— Missouri Gov. Parsons loosens school quarantine rules; allows exposed kids
— School systems in Detroit, Indianapolis, Philadelphia and suburban Minneapolis are giving up on in-person classes. Some governors are re-imposing restrictions on bars and restaurants or getting more serious about masks.
— New research confirms fever and symptom checks miss many coronavirus infections.
— Surge of coronavirus cases appears to be slowing in Germany and France, but still straining hospitals.
— Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported its biggest daily jump in COVID-19 cases in 70 days as the government began imposing fines for people who fail to wear masks in public.
The 191 cases added to the country’s caseload Friday represented the sixth consecutive day of over 100 and the highest daily increase since Sept. 4.
Most of the cases were from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, where officials have struggled to stem transmissions tied to various places, including hospitals, nursing homes, churches, schools, restaurants and offices.
The steady spread of the virus has alarmed government officials, who eased social distancing measures to the lowest level since October to soften the pandemic’s shock on the economy.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said the government could “seriously consider” tightening social distancing again.
South Korea has so far weathered its outbreak without major lockdowns, relying on an aggressive test-and-quarantine program and mask-wearing behaviors of the public.
From Friday, officials started to impose fines of up to 100,000 won ($90) for people who fail to properly wear masks in public transport and a wide range of venues, including hospitals, nursing homes, pharmacies, nightclubs, karaoke bars, religious and sports facilities and at gatherings of more than 500 people.
OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and his wife, Trudi, on Thursday urged the state’s residents to forego gatherings and holiday travel plans as COVID-19 cases spike across the state, and the governor said further measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus will be announced in the coming days.
Inslee’s remarks come just two days after state and county health officials warned of an acceleration of coronavirus cases, and pleaded with the public to take the pandemic more seriously heading into the winter holidays.
On Tuesday, state health officer Kathy Lofy said cases have been steadily increasing since September, but that the most dramatic increases have occurred over the past two weeks.
She said cases are rising among all age groups, indicating that transmission is widespread.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — U.S. Rep. Don Young announced Thursday that he has tested positive for COVID-19, a day after the 87-year-old won his 25th term in the U.S. House.
Young, the longest-ever Republican to serve in the House, made the announcement on Twitter.
“I am feeling strong, following proper protocols, working from home in Alaska and ask for privacy at this time,” Young wrote in a tweet. “May God Bless Alaska.”
A message sent to his spokesman wasn’t immediately returned.
“My friend and colleague Congressman Don Young is a fighter. I’m glad to hear he’s doing well and will be praying for his health and recovery, along with all those impacted by #COVID19,” Alaska’s senior U.S. senator, Lisa Murkowski, said in a tweet.
The diagnosis came after Young initially downplayed the seriousness of the virus at the onset, claiming it was overblown and fueled by the media. Last March, Young spoke to a group of senior citizens, referring to the coronavirus as the “beer virus.”
Young’s positive test came after he was campaigning for re-election in Alaska, which is experiencing a surge of cases. Alaska has had over 20,000 cases, including 477 new cases reported Thursday. There have been 96 deaths.
LOS ANGELES — California has become the second state to record 1 million confirmed coronavirus infections. Texas reached the mark earlier this week.
Data compiled by Johns Hopkins University showed Thursday that California surpassed the grim milestone. It comes nearly 10 months after the first cases were confirmed in the most populous state.
California was the first in the nation to implement a statewide stay-at-home order on its nearly 40 million residents in March.
After spiking in the summer, the rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases in California declined markedly into the fall but now is surging again, like much of the nation. This week, 11 counties had rates high enough that state restrictions were re-imposed on certain businesses and activities.
BEIJING — China’s government says it has helped facilitate the return home of more than 70,000 Chinese nationals from 92 foreign countries between the start of the coronavirus pandemic and Nov. 10.
Deputy Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui said some had returned home aboard chartered flights while others deployed separate means.
While local transmissions have been largely eliminated, the country remains on guard over imported cases, with Luo saying a rise of about 45 percent in infections detected at ports of entry had been recorded since September.
Most recently, China suspended five inbound international flights after significant numbers of COVID-19 sufferers were reported among the passengers.
About 3,600 total imported cases have been recorded among China’s total of 86,307 cases reported since coronarivus was first detected late last year in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. Just eight new cases were reported by the National Health Commission on Friday, all of them imported. China has reported a total of 4,634 deaths from COVID-19.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico on Thursday marked its highest daily count of confirmed COVID-19 cases and one of the highest daily death counts since the pandemic began.
Health officials reported an additional 1,753 cases to push the statewide tally to more than 60,770. Eighteen deaths were reported to push the total to 1,176.
“New Mexico has never been in a bigger crisis,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a tweet. She is scheduled Friday to address the situation and is expected to announce new public health restrictions aimed to curbing spread.
The state has been struggling in recent weeks, and health care officials have warned that many hospitals already are at or near capacity and that the current pace will be unsustainable as beds are filled and staff are stretched thin.
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama has about six weeks to spend almost $1 billion in remaining coronavirus relief funds or the money will revert to Washington, D.C., prompting concerns from advocacy groups the state will leave money on the table that could be used to help hurting Alabamians.
States have until Dec. 30 to spend their share of CARES Act dollars or the money must be returned. Alabama has so far spent about $850 million of its $1.7 billion allocation, according to a dashboard maintained by the state Department of Finance.
“We’re in the same situation as all the other states,” said Rep. Steve Clouse, who heads the House General Fund budget committee. Clouse said he is concerned the state might have as much as $400 million unspent by the end of the year, and added the state may not have a choice but to send the money back unless Congress extends the deadline.
More than 80 organizations, including advocacy groups for low-income families and people with disabilities, sent Republican Gov. Kay Ivey a letter suggesting ways to use the money. The groups noted Alabama was one of the poorest states in the country, with 800,000 residents living in poverty “before this pandemic devastated the economy.”
“These CARES Act funds provide our best hope to ensure the economic downturn does not force these families into long term, catastrophic conditions that will impact generations to come,” said the letter signed by Alabama Arise, Alabama Appleseed and other organizations.
JERUSALEM — Pfizer and BioNTech say they have reached a deal to supply eight million doses of their new coronavirus vaccine to Israel next year.
The companies announced the deal in a joint statement late Thursday. The deal, whose financial terms were not disclosed, is subject to clinical success and regulatory approval of the vaccine.
The two companies said this week, based on early and incomplete test results, their COVID-19 vaccine may be 90% effective. They hope to seek FDA approval later this month.
“Our goal remains to create a global supply of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine for many people around the world, as quickly as we can,” added Sean Marett, chief business and chief commericial officer at BioNTech.
The vaccines, which are administered in two doses, would be enough to treat almost half of Israel’s 9 million people.
Israel’s health minister, Yuli Edelstein, says the first vaccines are to arrive in January, with deliveries throughout the year. He says the deal will make Israel one of the first countries to offer the vaccine to its citizens.
Israel is also seeking vaccines from other sources and developing a vaccine of its own.
TOPEKA, Kan. – Public health officials in two of Kansas’ most populous counties have tightened restrictions on gatherings, and public schools in the state’s capital city have scrapped at least two weeks of in-person classes in favor online learning amid a statewide surge in coronavirus cases.
In Shawnee County, home to the state capital of Topeka, gatherings will be limited to 10 people whether they are held indoors or outdoors, starting Friday. An order from Dr. Gianfranco Pezzino, the county’s health officer, dropped the limits from 25 for indoor gatherings and 45 for outdoor gatherings and said bars and restaurants that can hold 100 or more people must operate at 50% of their capacities.
The limit on gatherings also will drop Friday to 15 from 45 in neighboring Douglas County, home to the main University of Kansas campus under an order issued by the county health officer, Dr. Thomas Marcellino.
With their orders, at least seven of the state’s 105 counties have issued more restrictive rules this week.
The Topeka public school district, with about 13,000 students and 2,400 staff, announced that it would suspend in-person classes for at least two weeks, starting Monday. The district, one of the largest in the state, had students splitting four days a week between in-person and online classes, with online classes Wednesdays.
BOSTON — Health officials in Massachusetts say confirmed coronavirus deaths have surpassed 10,000, and they’re cautioning that the actual toll is likely much higher because of fatalities not attributed to COVID-19.
Massachusetts has the sixth-highest death toll in the nation behind New York, Texas, California, New Jersey and Florida.
Massachusetts’ pandemic nightmare began in late February, when a cluster of cases blamed on a conference at a Boston hotel organized by the Biogen biotech company seeded not just the state but the nation with the virus.
As of Thursday, the state — a Northeast hot spot — also had 174,953 confirmed cases, with 661 people currently hospitalized.
The biggest caseloads and death counts have been in and around Boston, in places where the Black and Latinx populations are largest, including Lawrence, Chelsea, Everett and Revere. But worrisome rates of infection increasingly have been reported around the state.
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Thursday how the state will allocate about $70 million in federal aid as the state braces for months of rising coronavirus cases, including $20 million for personal protective equipment.
Maryland already is exceeding the state’s goal of a 90-day supply of PPE for the most critical resources, Hogan said, and he encouraged local governments to use the remaining federal funds to increase their stockpiles of equipment, especially gloves, gowns and masks.
“Unfortunately, we have more tough times ahead of us and it’s likely going to get worse before it gets better, but we truly are all in this together, and if we all do our part to rise to this challenge and to meet this moment we will get through this together,” the Republican governor said at a news conference.
Other allocations announced by the governor include: $15 million for the state’s labor department to ramp unemployment insurance staffing to help residents, $10 million for rental housing assistance for low-income residents, $10 million for syringes and supplies for distributing a vaccine when it becomes available and $10 million for food banks.
The state also is allocating $2 million to increase call capacity at the Maryland Department of Human Services and extend its hours, another $2 million for foster care assistance and $1 million for a wastewater sampling program to detect COVID-19 outbreaks in vulnerable populations like public housing or correctional facilities.
NORRISTOWN, Pa. — Don’t you dare close the schools.
That’s the impassioned message that dozens of parents and school administrators are sending to public health officials in Pennsylvania’s third-most populous county.
The Montgomery County Board of Health had been scheduled to vote Thursday on a proposed order mandating that all public and private K-12 schools in the offer fully virtual instruction for at least two weeks, and potentially for longer, because of a surge in virus cases.
The board delayed a vote after pushback from parents and school administrators.
Parents and school administrators denounced the proposal during the board’s public Zoom meeting, saying online-only education can’t meet children’s educational, social and emotional needs. Parents of special education students, in particular, said their children suffered when schools shut down in the spring.
JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi reported 1,271 confirmed coronavirus cases and 17 deaths on Thursday.
The state health department says Mississippi has a confirmed total of 130,600 cases and at least 3,514 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers says Mississippi has requested 183,000 doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and partner BioNTech.
Vaccine candidates are still in the trial phase and have not been approved. They must be safe and effective before approval for use by the Food and Drug Administration.