The Latest: N.C. senators OK bill to force schools to reopen

Health News

A medical worker wearing protective gear sprays disinfectant at a coronavirus testing site in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

RALEIGH, North Carolina — North Carolina state senators have approved a bill that would require K-12 public schools to reopen with at least partial in-person instruction for the state’s 1.5 million pupils.

The bill passed 29-15 on Tuesday and moved to the House.

Gov. Roy Cooper opposes the measure. He favors local control for deciding on school reopening.

Supporters of the bill argue parents would still be allowed to have their child learn remotely and say schools would have a couple of weeks to ensure safety standards are implemented before reopening.

Teachers worry about the safety of reopening since North Carolina is not currently allowing school workers to get vaccinated. School staff are classified as “frontline essential workers” and will be next in line for the vaccine.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

Spain surpasses 3 million coronavirus cases, seventh highest total in the world. The Biden administration says it will increase vaccine supply next week. WHO team: Coronavirus likely jumped tohumans from animals. Evidence is mounting that having COVID-19 may not protect against getting infected again with some of the new variants.

— Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma authorities say plans to open federal pods to provide up to 13,000 coronavirus vaccinations per day in the state are on hold after health officials learned the federal government will not be providing the vaccine.

Deputy Oklahoma health commissioner Keith Reed said Tuesday that no date has been set for opening the sites, which were announced last week.

The state health department reported the number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus in Oklahoma stood at 937 late Monday, below 1,000 for the first time since Nov. 3. There have been totals of 3,870 deaths and 406,064 virus cases since the pandemic began, the department reported.

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BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has received his first dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

His vaccination Tuesday came a day after he expanded access to the shots to include Louisiana government officials involved in pandemic response work.

The governor got his Pfizer shot along with Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin and several other state officials who are newly able under Louisiana’s latest eligibility criteria.

Meanwhile, Edwards announced he is maintaining Louisiana’s coronavirus restrictions and statewide mask mandate through March 3. The measures had been scheduled to expire Wednesday. The governor cited concerns about the spread of a more contagious variant of the coronavirus first identified in Britain.

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The U.S. has entered a tricky phase of the COVID-19 vaccination effort as providers try to ramp up the number of people getting first shots while also ensuring a growing number of others get second doses.

The need to give each person two doses a few weeks apart vastly complicates the country’s biggest-ever vaccination campaign. In some cases, local health departments and providers have said they must temporarily curb or even cancel appointments for first doses to ensure there are enough second doses for people who need them.

For about the past month, the U.S. has administered an average of 900,000 first doses each day, according to data from the CDC. Now many of those people are due for second doses, and the average number of Americans getting second shots hit an all-time high Tuesday — 539,000 per day over the past week.

So far, about 10% of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, About 3% has received both doses.

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SAN FRANCISCO — Counties in California and other places in the U.S. are trying to ensure they vaccinate people in largely Black, Latino and working-class communities that have borne the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic.

San Francisco is reserving some vaccines for seniors in the two ZIP codes hit hardest by the pandemic. In Southern California, Riverside County has partnered with an immigrant advocacy group to vaccinate farmworkers.

Nationwide, states are struggling to distribute vaccines equitably even as officials try to define what equity means.

California’s governor said Tuesday that mass vaccination sites in Oakland and Los Angeles will be for people living in working-class communities and warned wealthier people to stay away.

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Gov. Kate Brown announced Tuesday that 14 counties, including the Portland tri-county area, will be moving to a lower risk category as COVID-19 cases decrease in the state — allowing restaurants to open for indoor dining and gyms to increase capacity.

Every two weeks state epidemiologists assess each county’s risk levels, based on COVID-19 spread in the area, and assigns safety measures and restrictions based on that level.

Restaurants in certain counties will now be allowed to open for indoor dining and gyms can increase the amount of people inside. The capacity for both restaurants and gyms cannot exceed 25% maximum occupancy or 50 people, whichever is smaller.

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MADRID — Spain has surpassed 3 million confirmed coronavirus cases, the seventh highest total in the world.

The Health Ministry announced 16,402 new infections since Monday, one of the lowest daily increases of recent weeks. However, the ministry reported 766 deaths, the highest daily increase in the latest resurgence. Spain has totaled more than 63,000 deaths.

The U.S. leads the world with 27.1 million confirmed cases, followed by India (10.8), Brazil (9.5), Britain (3.9), Russia (3.9) and France (3.4).

Health Minister Carolina Darias says the high rate of ICU bed occupancy by coronavirus patients was “worrying,” but hoped this would descend next week. The occupancy percentage rate edged down Tuesday to 42%.

Spain also extended restrictions on passengers allowed on flights from Britain, Brazil and South Africa until March 2.

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ATHENS, Greece — Greece’s prime minister says a new lockdown in the greater Athens region will close all schools and most shops from Thursday through the end of February.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis says decision was dictated by an increase in hospitalizations in the area, which is home to about 4.5 million people, as well as the spread of coronavirus variants first detected in England and South Africa.

Health officials say hospital intensive care units for COVID-19 patients in the greater Athens area are at 71% capacity, up from 62% a week ago.

Health officials reported 1,526 new confirmed infections Tuesday — half in the greater Athens region — and another 20 deaths. The country of 10.5 million has nearly 17,000 total cases and a confirmed death toll surpassing 6,000 people.

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MADISON, Wis. — A second case of a new, possibly more contagious form of the coronavirus has been detected in Wisconsin, less than a month after the England variant was first discovered.

The variant was first detected on Jan. 12 and was identified again on Sunday by lab partners of the state Department of Health Services. Wisconsin chief medical officer Dr. Ryan Westergaard calls the development “concerning” and says there are likely “many more cases” in the state than has been detected.

The variant was first discovered in England in November and December. It’s since turned up across the United States and in other countries.

Wisconsin currently ranks 10th in the percentage of population receiving at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the CDC.

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NEW YORK — Players, on-field staff and non-playing personnel at ballparks must wear electronic tracing devices from the start of spring training or face discipline for violations.

The wristbands are part of upgraded health protocols agreed to by Major League Baseball and the players’ association to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Spring training starts Feb. 17 in Florida and Arizona. Players will be encouraged to get vaccines but are not required to get them. They’ll undergo PCR testing for a second straight season, mostly by saliva samples, but with a provision allowing nasal swabs.

Blood samples will be occasionally collected for serology or rapid antibody testing. PCR testing will take place at least every other day starting in spring training and continue as long as a player’s team advances until the postseason ends. There will be daily temperature and symptom screening.

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WASHINGTON — The White House is increasing the supply of coronavirus vaccines beginning next week, with an aim to ensure the equity of the distribution of doses.

Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, the chair of the White House’s COVID-19 equity task force, says that the federal government is devoting 1 million doses to begin distributing vaccines at 250 community health centers. It’s meant to be a first phase of a program to expand vaccinations to the more than 1,300 federally supported community health centers, which primarily care for low-income and uninsured populations.

COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients says, “Efficiency and equity are both central to what we’re doing.”

Zients also announced states will see their allocation of doses rise to 11 million per week beginning next week, up more than 2 million since President Joe Biden took office.

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TORONTO — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says starting next week any non-essential traveler arriving in Canada by land will need to show a negative PCR-based COVID-19 test or face a fine.

Trudeau says customs officers can’t send Canadians back to the U.S. if they don’t have a test because they are technically on Canadian soil but he says the fine will be up to $3,000 Canadian ($2,370) and they will also be subject to extensive follow up by health officials.

Canada already requires people arriving by air to show a negative test within three days of arriving. Last month, Trudeau also announced stricter restrictions on air travelers in response to new, likely more contagious variants of the virus. It’s mandatory for air travelers to quarantine in a hotel at their own expense.

But the government hasn’t yet announced when the mandatory hotel stays will start. The air traveler would stay at a government designated hotel until the results of a test.

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IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa public health officials have selected Microsoft to create an online COVID-19 vaccination scheduling system for a state that ranks 47th in administered doses.

The Iowa Department of Public Health posted a notice online Monday that it intends to award an emergency contract to Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft.

Microsoft will be responsible for an online registration system for eligible residents to schedule vaccination appointments with approved providers. Its contract is expected to last through the end of the year.

Many essential workers and people 65 and older became eligible for shots on Feb. 1. But the slow rollout has infuriated some public school teachers, including many whose class sizes will double next week when Gov. Kim Reynolds’ new mandate for daily in-person learning takes effect.

On Friday, the Republican governor lifted a statewide mandate to wear masks, social distancing requirements for bars and limits on gatherings. That’s despite the new highly contagious U.K. variant recently found in the state. Several municipalities say they will still enforce local mask ordinances.

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OKLAHOMA CITY — The number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus in Oklahoma has fallen below 1,000 for the first time in three months.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health late Monday reported 937 people hospitalized with the virus, including 286 in intensive care. The health department had reported more than 1,000 hospitalizations daily since first topping the number on Nov. 3.

Data from Johns Hopkins University shows the seven-day rolling averages of both new cases and deaths have declined during the past two weeks. The state health department has reported totals of 3,817 deaths and 404,994 virus cases since the pandemic began.

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OMAHA, Neb. — Nebraska officials expect nearly 70,000 doses of coronavirus vaccines to be available in the state this week as they continue to work to distribute more shots.

The state said 69,600 vaccine doses total should be released in Nebraska this week, up from 61,750 a week ago. Most of those vaccines are being distributed through local health departments, but nearly 6,000 doses will go to a new program that is just getting started to distribute vaccines directly through some retail pharmacies.

Across the state, officials have started to vaccinate people 65 and older and some workers who can’t do their jobs remotely.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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