The Latest: Alabama Gov. Ivey extends statewide mask order

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey is extending a statewide mask order that’s credited with reducing coronavirus cases in the state.

The Republican governor says the mask order, which was set to expire next week, will be extended until Oct. 2. Ivey will keep in place other health orders, such as reducing occupancy in stores and limiting table seating in restaurants.

“Folks, I understand you don’t want to wear the mask. I don’t either,” Ivey said at the Alabama Capitol. “When you wear a mask, you are protecting the people in your office, school, church and your vulnerable family and friends.”

Ivey has faced a mix of praise from health officials and criticism from some conservatives for the decision to issue the statewide mask order unlike some Southern governors.

State Health Officer Scott Harris says with increased mask usage, the state has seen a corresponding drop in hospitalizations and the percentage of positive tests.

Since mid-July, the average daily case count dropped from a peak of more than 1,500 cases per day to less than 1,000 this week. The percent of tests returning as positive dropped from a high of 16.5% last month to 8% last week.

Nearly 120,000 Alabamians have tested positive with nearly 2,000 confirmed deaths, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

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HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK

— Alabama Gov. Ivey extends statewide mask order after cases drop

— WHO says test, despite CDC’s recent flip flop on testing

— As virus rages, US economy struggles to sustain a recovery

— Teens step up during pandemic, helping others with delivering food, buying masks or teaching kids online.

— The Trump administration has sharply increased its use of hotels to detain immigrant children before expelling them from the United States during the coronavirus pandemic.

— The U.N. says it’s urgent to get kids back to schools. But some medical experts are urging caution as the virus is still raging in the U.S. and resurging from France to South Korea.

— Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is ordering all bars be closed in six of the state’s largest counties in response to surging numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases.

Reynolds ordered the action in Black Hawk, Dallas, Linn, Johnson, Polk and Story counties effective at 5 p.m. Thursday on a day when the state had nearly 1,500 confirmed cases, a new high that topped levels recorded in the spring.

In the last 24 hours, Iowa recorded 1,475 confirmed cases, surpassing the April 25 total of 1,284. During that period, there were 18 more deaths for a total of 1,079.

Reynolds says the increased cases are largely due to young people gathering, especially those returning to state universities.

In Story County, where Iowa State University is located, 28% of tests reported Wednesday were positive, according to state data. In Johnson County, home to the University of Iowa, it was 25%.

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PHOENIX — Gyms and some bars across metro Phoenix and Tucson can reopen with coronavirus numbers in several Arizona counties dropping to moderate levels.

Maricopa and Pima counties have decreased cases since the Arizona Department of Health Services published the guidelines for business re-openings this month.

Pina County failed to meet the metrics for reopening, a surprise because Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ said this week it had been expected to see a decrease in cases.

Six of 15 Arizona counties remain in the high category where gyms, bars, nightclubs and water parks can’t reopen without a state waiver.

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BALTIMORE — A Maryland man sold unregistered and misbranded pesticides falsely advertised as a government-approved disinfectant for the coronavirus, investigators say.

Marek Majtan, 35, of Frederick, was charged Tuesday in a criminal complaint that accuses him of repackaging pesticides with his own handmade labels and marketing it on the internet.

Majtan, who was not authorized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to manufacture or distribute any pesticides, used a false EPA registration number on his products, according to a special agent with the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division.

U.S. Attorney Robert Hur says it is “particularly egregious to seize on the ongoing pandemic to take advantage of the public.”

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LONDON — The World Health Organization says countries should actively test people to find coronavirus cases, even if they have mild or no symptoms.

That’s despite the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recently switched guidance to say asymptomatic contacts of cases don’t need to be tested.

Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead for the coronavirus, says when officials are investigating clusters of COVID-19, “testing may need to be expanded to look for individuals who are on the more mild end of the spectrum or who may indeed be asymptomatic.”

Van Kerkhove says countries were free to adapt their testing guidance for their individual needs and its critical how fast countries get results.

“What’s really important is that testing is used as an opportunity, to define active cases so that they can be isolated and so that contact tracing can also take place,” Van Kerkhove said. “This is really fundamental to breaking chains of transmission.”

Earlier in the pandemic, WHO recommend that countries focus on “testing, testing, testing.”

Van Kerkhove also says wearing masks alone to protect against the spread of the coronavirus isn’t enough, expressing concerns that people are growing too lax on maintaining physical distancing.

“So it’s not just masks alone. It’s not just physical distancing alone,” Van Kerkhove said. “It’s not just hand cleaning alone. Do it all.”

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LONDON — Britain’s transport secretary has added Switzerland, Jamaica and the Czech Republic to the U.K.’s quarantine list.

Grant Shapps says travelers arriving from those countries must quarantine for 14 days starting Saturday.

Like the rest of Europe, the U.K. has seen the number of coronavirus cases rise. On Thursday, official data showed the U.K. recorded 1,522 new confirmed cases of coronavirus in the past 24 hours — the largest number since around mid-June.

Overall, a total of 330,368 cases have been confirmed. The government says 41,477 people have died in the U.K. after testing positive for coronavirus, an increase of 12 from the previous day.

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UNITED NATIONS — A senior U.N. humanitarian official says reports of Syrian health care facilities filling up and increasing death notices and burials appear to indicate that actual coronavirus cases “far exceed official figures” of 2,440 cases confirmed by the government’s Ministry of Health.

Assistant Secretary-General for humanitarian affairs Ramesh Rajasingham told the U.N. Security Council on Thursday that “rising patient numbers are adding pressure to the fragile health system.”

He says many people “are reluctant to seek care at medical facilities, leading to more severe complications when they do arrive,” and “health workers still lack sufficient personal protective equipment and associated supplies.”

Of the more than 2,400 cases confirmed by the Ministry of Health, Rajasingham says, “the majority cannot be traced to a known source.”

He says several health facilities suspended operations this month because of capacity issues and staff becoming infected. That included Al Hol camp in northeast Syria, where 65,000 mainly women and children connected to Islamic State fighters are detained.

He says both field hospitals at the camp have since resumed operations.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesman says his country and China agreed to strengthen cooperation in developing a vaccine for the coronavirus.

The ministry spokesman Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri says Beijing has agreed to keep supporting Pakistan to overcome the impact of the coronavirus. He says this understanding was reached during a recent visit of Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi to China.

The announcement comes days after Pakistan’s drug regulatory agency approved final-phase testing of a Chinese-made vaccine against coronavirus. Pakistan reopened business in May and plans to reopen schools next month.

Pakistan has reported six new deaths and 445 new cases in the past 24 hours. The coronavirus has caused 62,74 confirmed deaths since February.

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BOISE, Idaho — Idaho’s public health officials are trying to decide whether they’ll officially adopt new CDC guidelines that no longer recommend coronavirus testing for people who have had close contact with infected people.

The CDC guidelines have drawn widespread criticism from scientists who say it runs counter to what is necessary to control the pandemic. It comes at a time when Idaho is at a particularly critical juncture, with many students starting classes across the state.

Idaho Department of Health and Welfare spokeswoman Niki Forbing-Orr says the department became aware of the new guidelines Tuesday and officials are discussing whether to adopt them.

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LONDON — The World Health Organization says hotels should consider reducing their occupancy rates if physical distancing measures cannot be maintained.

It recommends all staff and guests comply with basic coronavirus protective measures, like frequent hand washing and mask wearing.

In guidance issued this week, the U.N. health agency says because hotels and other accommodation facilities involve significant contact between guests and employees, certain safeguards should be in place.

WHO says hotels and related facilities should have a strategy if staff or guests become infected with the coronavirus.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The Danish government advised against traveling to France and Croatia.

Basing its decision on Danish health authorities, the Foreign Ministry in Copenhagen says the advice came because those countries have now passed the threshold of 30 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the past days. The figure for France was 31.3 and Croatia 32.6.

The other nations on the list within Europe were Andorra, Belgium, Luxembourg, Malta, Romania, Spain and Monaco.

Denmark has 16,627 confirmed cases and 624 deaths.

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MADRID — Masks will be mandatory for all students in Spain age 6 or older when returning to schools in September because of increased coronavirus cases, the government announced Thursday.

The measure will be adopted by the country’s 17 regions, which manage education autonomously. It’s part of a series of standardized guidelines agreed in a meeting with central authorities. Previously, masks were only required for students above age 12 by some Spanish regions.

Students will receive a daily body temperature check, must wash hands at least five times per day and classrooms will need frequent ventilation, the government said.

“Bubble-classrooms” where students only socialize with a limited number of peers, will be key to identifying contacts. That allows localized quarantines if there’s a positive test, rather than closing entire schools.

Parent and teachers have expressed concern, with new waves of outbreaks since the country emerged from a strict lockdown.

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YANGON, Myanmar — Schools throughout Myanmar have been temporarily closed by government order as the country experiences a surge in confirmed coronavirus cases.

Both public and private schools were closed Thursday under instructions from the Department of Basic Education. Students will continue their studies through home learning.

The closings were ordered after 70 new coronavirus infections were reported on Wednesday, the country’s highest single-day total since its first case was reported in March.

The surge of new cases mostly has been in the western state of Rakhine, which borders Bangladesh and hosts several major displacement camps due to years of civil conflict. The government instituted a “stay-at-home” program for the entire state to contain the coronavirus. It bans unnecessary and unauthorized travel.

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has officially reported 586 coronavirus cases and six deaths in a country of 53 million.

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BRUSSELS — The European Union has signed a contract with British pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca to provide a possible COVID-19 vaccine to its member states.

The EU Commission says the contract provides for the 27 EU nations to buy 300 million doses with an option for 100 million more. The contract also allows vaccines to be donated to poorer countries or redirected to other European nations.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says it was “an important step forward” in making sure any vaccine would be available to as many EU citizens as possible.

Vaccines typically take years to develop and more than a dozen are in the early stages of testing globally.

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GENEVA — The World Health Organization’s chief for Europe has warned COVID-19 is a “tornado with a long tail” and says increased case counts among young people could ultimately passed on to more vulnerable older people and cause an uptick in deaths.

Dr. Hans Kluge said younger people are likely to come into closer contact with the elderly as the weather cools in Europe.

“We don’t want to do unnecessary predictions, but this is definitely one of the options: That at one point there would be more hospitalizations and an uptick in mortality,” he said from Copenhagen, the WHO Europe headquarters.

Kluge said 32 out of 55 state parties and territories in WHO’s European region have seen a 14-day incidence rate increase of more than 10%, calling that “definitely an uptick which is generalized in Europe.”

But he also suggested health authorities and other officials are better positioned and more prepared than in February, when the continent was on the cusp of a huge surge in cases and deaths.

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Categories: National & International News