FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — President Joe Biden has called school district superintendents in Florida and Arizona, praising them for doing what he called “the right thing” after their respective boards implemented mask requirements in defiance of their Republican governors amid growing COVID-19 infections.
The White House said in a statement Saturday that the Democratic president had spoken with interim Broward Superintendent Vickie Cartwright in Florida and Phoenix Union High School District Superintendent Chad Gestson in Arizona. Biden thanked them for their leadership and discuss their shared commitment to getting all students back in safe, full-time in-person instruction this school year.
Biden’s phone calls of support come as tensions build over whether local school districts can and should require face coverings for students and school staff as in-person classes resume. In Texas, several school districts — along with the state’s most populous county — won temporary legal victories Friday in seeking to override Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates, which they argued is making the COVID-19 pandemic worse.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— Coronavirus claims more young victims in U.S. as deaths climb
— Protesters in France denounce COVID-19 health pass for 5th straight Saturday
— COVAX only goes so far as rich countries dominate global vaccine allotments
— Iran will impose 6-day ‘general lockdown’ against coronavirus
— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico health officials say an increase in hospitalizations across the state has prompted them to put out an urgent call for volunteer nurses to help boost the state’s medical work force.
The New Mexico Department of Health late Friday called on nurses or anyone with a medical license to volunteer to help because they believe hospitals could soon be overwhelmed with patients. They want recently retired health workers or anyone qualified to sign up for the state’s Medical Reserve Corps.
Hospitals in New Mexico and across the nation are seeing increased hospitalizations because of long-postponed surgeries and a surge in COVID-19 patients. The delta variant of the coronavirus is much more contagious than previous strains.
The state Friday reported 798 additional COVID-19 cases and five new deaths. They bring the count of confirmed New Mexico virus cases since the pandemic began in early 2020 to 218,569 and the number of deaths to 4,446.
State officials said their modeling predicts more than 1,000 new cases a day in the next several weeks.
“We ask our nurses, and anyone with a medical license, to once again volunteer with the Medical Reserve Corps,” Dr. David R. Scrase, the acting director of the state health department, said in a statement. “To get through this together, we need everyone who can provide patient care to work side by side with us during this critical time.”
The state’s Reserve Medical Corps has filled more than 139 requests during the pandemic, deploying 2,750 volunteers.
MINNEAPOLIS — The University of Minnesota System will join hundreds of colleges nationwide in requiring a COVID-19 vaccination for students and staff at its five campuses.
The mandate approved by the Board of Regents on Friday will take effect once the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gives final approval to a coronavirus vaccine and not just emergency use status. Full approval is expected in the coming weeks.
Faculty and staff at the Twin Cities, Duluth, Rochester, Crookston and Morris campuses must either get vaccinated or undergo regular COVID-19 testing.
The university will allow medical and religious exemptions to this mandate. The University of Minnesota campuses educate about 67,000 students and employ 26,000 people.
System leaders said they will soon share more details about the vaccination requirement, including how much time students will have to get the shots after FDA approval and any consequences for not complying with the mandate.
OLATHE, Kan. — The most populous county in Kansas is requiring its employees to submit to weekly COVID-19 testing if they aren’t vaccinated.
Johnson County Manager Penny Postoak Ferguson said that only 46% of county employees had reported being fully vaccinated as of Wednesday. Countywide, nearly 58% of eligible residents are fully vaccinated.
Beginning Aug. 23, government employees who are not fully vaccinated must get tested once a week. The Kansas City Star reports that employees who work in departments providing direct care to residents are subject to tests up to twice weekly. Similar requirements already have taken effect in school districts, businesses and cities elsewhere.
PARIS — Thousands of people, from families to far-right sympathizers, marched in cities across France for a fifth straight Saturday to denounce a COVID-19 health pass needed to enter restaurants and long-distance trains.
Some 1,600 police were deployed for three separate marches in Paris, a week after the health pass went into effect. “Liberty” was the slogan, with protesters saying the health pass limits their freedom.
Polls show most French people support the health pass.
The marches came as France is facing soaring numbers of new infections, driven by the more transmissible delta variant. In Montpellier, some 7,500 people marched. The city is in the region where the infection rate is above 600 per 100,000 people, among the highest in the country.
On Friday, 46.1 million people in France, nearly 68% of the population, had received at least one vaccine shot. More than 38.8 million, or 57%, had two shots.
NEW YORK — New York health officials say they’ll soon issue state guidance on giving additional COVID-19 vaccine doses to people with severely weakened immune systems, now that the federal government is allowing it.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker says the state’s vaccine task force met Friday to discuss the matter. Zucker says the group will complete its review quickly.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced transplant recipients and other similarly immune-compromised patients can get a third dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. It doesn’t apply to the general public.
New York, like some other states, has its own task force of scientists and health experts who review COVID-19 vaccines, a process the state says is meant to ensure New Yorkers’ confidence in the inoculations.
The FDA’s decision applies to an estimated 3% or less of U.S. adults, including organ transplant recipients. The CDC says others who could qualify include people with advanced or untreated HIV infections and cancer patients who are receiving certain chemotherapies.
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The number of COVID-19 deaths in Alabama are increasing after a case surge fueled by low vaccinations rates and the highly contagious delta variant.
State Health Officer Scott Harris says Alabama is reporting double-digit death numbers for the first time in months. The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in Alabama rose to 21 deaths per day on Aug. 11, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Harris says the reported deaths were expected to rise as the state experiences a surge in cases and hospitalizations.
“Deaths are a lagging indicator. Deaths happen last. We see case numbers go up, we see hospitalizations go up and then we see deaths go up,” Harris says.
On Friday, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a limited state of emergency aimed at giving medical providers flexibility on staffing and capacity decisions and easier shipment of emergency equipment and supplies. The Republican governor stressed she would not be issuing any closure orders or mask mandates.
DALLAS — Texas health officials reported 13,614 coronavirus cases and 144 deaths on Friday, the most deaths since Feb. 26.
State health officials registered 11,261 COVID-19 hospitalizations in Texas.
The state is quickly approaching its highest number of hospitalizations during the pandemic — 14,218 on Jan. 11, when it was in the throes of a winter surge.
Texas has totaled more than 2.7 million confirmed cases and 54,196 confirmed deaths since the start of the pandemic.
SEDALIA, Mo. — Mostly unmasked crowds packed into the Missouri State Fair this week as it opened in Sedalia amid soaring COVID-19 numbers.
Fair officials decided in the spring to bring back the full fair after replacing it with a much smaller youth livestock show last year because of safety concerns, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
State Fair Director Mark Wolfe says his staff anticipated up to 340,000 attendees before the event ends Aug. 22.
Unlike the state fair in neighboring Illinois, masks are optional. Among the unmasked was Brian Eggers, a 55-year-old farmer who lives outside Chillicothe. He lost a close neighbor as well as aunts and uncles to COVID-19 but says he hasn’t gotten around to getting vaccinated.
“I’m not anti-vaccine, but I haven’t gotten it myself yet,” he says, watching a youth livestock show, adding: “If God wants to take me, that’s his choice.”
Jessica Miller, who helmed the vaccination station at the fair, say five patients were immunized in the first 2.5 hours of operation. Some told Miller their jobs were requiring the vaccine.
LANSING, Mich. — Michigan has surpassed 20,000 deaths from COVID-19, with a top state health official encouraging people to take precautions.
State health officials reported Michigan had totaled 20,011 confirmed deaths since its first recorded death in March 2020.
Michigan Health and Human Services director Elizabeth Hertel says the state has seen “real devastation” from COVID-19. Health officials are preparing for a possible new wave of infections caused by the highly transmissible delta variant that is sweeping the country.
Michigan has identified delta variant infections in more than 50 counties and the city of Detroit.
Those 70 years and older have accounted for 69% of the total deaths in Michigan. Confirmed deaths among African Americans have accounted for about 22% of deaths, while Blacks comprise 14% of the state’s population.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s former vaccinations director plans to move out of state this fall amid growing tension about how to combat the coronavirus.
Dr. Michelle Fiscus was fired this summer amid Republican outrage over her recommendation to inoculate teenagers against the coronavirus.
Her husband, Brad Fiscus, told WPLN-FM about their move to northern Virginia. He says the move will give his wife more opportunities to work in public health.
He is a school board member in Williamson County, just south of Nashville. Protesters held signs at a board meeting Tuesday with messages saying, “I will not let you muzzle my child,” and “My child, my choice.” Some had to be escorted out by law enforcement.
Brad Fiscus says the move is bittersweet because they had planned to stay in their home in Franklin, Tennessee, until retirement.
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — Navajo Nation officials say the tribe continues to witness a surge in coronavirus cases.
On Friday, it reported 67 new cases and one additional death.
Health officials on the reservation reported no deaths and only a handful of cases for eight consecutive days from Aug. 1-8. But the Navajo Department of Health issued a health advisory notice for 19 communities because of the uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus this week.
On Thursday, the Navajo health department issued new emergency restrictions on businesses and schools and revised in-person gathering limits for certain events.
The latest numbers increased the totals to 31,821 confirmed cases and 1,387 confirmed deaths on the reservation since the start of the pandemic.
LONDON — Low-income countries were supposed to get COVID-19 vaccines through a shared international system instead of waiting at the back of the line for unreliable donations from rich countries.
It hasn’t worked out that way. Some rich countries bought up doses through the initiative known as COVAX despite already having vaccines. Britain received more than twice as many COVAX doses in June as the entire continent of Africa.
A tally by The Associated Press shows many poorer countries have landed in exactly the predicament the initiative was supposed to avoid.
Brook Baker, a Northeastern University law professor who specializes in access to medicines, says it’s unconscionable that rich countries would dip into COVAX vaccine supplies when more than 90 developing countries have no access. COVAX’s biggest supplier, the Serum Institute of India, stopped sharing vaccines in April to deal with its surge of cases.
Often rich countries don’t want to donate significant amounts before they finish vaccinating all their citizens. The U.S. never got any doses through COVAX, although Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are among those that did. Canada got so much criticism for taking COVAX shipments that it won’t request more.
Venezuela has yet to receive any doses from COVAX. Haiti has received less than half of what it was allocated, Syria about a 10th. In some cases, officials say, doses weren’t sent because countries didn’t have a plan to distribute them.
British officials confirmed the U.K. received about 539,000 vaccine doses in late June and has options to buy another 27 million shots through COVAX.
The COVAX initiative, run by the World Health Organization, has delivered less than 10% of the doses it promised so far. COVAX is also in partnership with the vaccine alliance Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, a group launched in 2017 to develop vaccines to stop outbreaks.
TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian state media says authorities will impose a six-day “general lockdown” in cities across the country.
The lockdown includes bazars, markets and public offices, as well as movie theaters, gyms and restaurants in all Iranian cities. The lockdown begins Monday and will last through Saturday. The national coronavirus taskforce, which issued the decision, also ordered a travel ban between all Iranian cities from Sunday to Friday.
Also Saturday, Iran reported 29,700 daily cases and 466 deaths. The pandemic totals stand at 4.3 million confirmed cases and 97,208 confirmed deaths.
Iran remains far behind other countries in vaccinations, with only 3.8 million of its more than 80 million people having received both vaccine doses.
Many front-line medical workers have been vaccinated with Iran’s locally produced shots, or the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine, which may be less effective than other inoculations.
Iran’s government announced its homemade vaccine provides 85% protection from the coronavirus, without disclosing data. Iran also imports Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, along with the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot through the U.N.-backed COVAX program.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in January called vaccines from the U.S. or Britain “forbidden.”
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