The Latest: Arkansas Gov: Biden vaccine order not the answer

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said President Joe Biden’s order that private businesses require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 is not the right answer for boosting vaccination rates.

“I have been consistent in the freedom of businesses to require their employees to be vaccinated, and I have opposed the government from saying businesses cannot exercise that freedom,” Hutchinson, a Republican who chairs the National Governors Association, said in a statement. “The same principle should protect the private sector from government overreach that requires them to vaccinate all employees.”

Some of Arkansas’ largest employers are already requiring workers to get vaccinated.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— In COVID-slammed Idaho, schools risk buckling hospitals

— WHO: Africa’s already thin vaccine supply to drop by 25%

— President Biden to lay out plans to boost vaccine uptake

— ‘Long COVID’ can affect children and teens as well as adults

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— See AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

HELENA, Mont. — Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte is calling a new vaccination mandate that could affect as many as 100 million Americans “unlawful and unamerican.”

Gianforte, a Republican, said in a Tweet on Thursday that he is “committed to protecting Montanans’ freedoms and liberties against this gross federal overreach.”

Montana is the only state in the U.S. with a law that makes it illegal for private employers to require vaccines as a condition for employment. That new requirement appears to clash with parts of the mandate, which tells all private businesses with 100 or more employees to require them to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or get tested weekly for the respiratory virus.

The Montana law was passed earlier this year by the Republican-dominated state Legislature despite pushback from the state’s hospital association and other medical groups straining under the weight of a new surge in COVID-19 infections.

A Montana Hospital Association spokesperson said in an email on Thursday that their legal counsel will evaluate the new mandate to determine how to comply with federal and state law.

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JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves sharply criticized President Joe Biden’s announcement that employers with at least 100 workers would have to require the workers to be vaccinated or tested weekly for COVID-19.

“The President has no authority to require that Americans inject themselves because of their employment at a private business,” Reeves wrote on Twitter. “The vaccine itself is life-saving, but this unconstitutional move is terrifying. This is still America, and we still believe in freedom from tyrants.”

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OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday that starting next week, the state’s indoor mask mandate will be expanded to include outdoor events with 500 or more attendees, regardless of vaccination status.

The new requirement — which takes effect Monday — comes days after a similar outdoor mask mandates took effect in the state’s two most populous counties, King and Pierce, due to rising COVID-19 cases.

An indoor mask mandate, regardless of vaccination status, has been in place in Washington since Aug. 23. Last month, Oregon was the first state to reinstitute a statewide mask requirement for outdoor public areas where people are close together.

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden has announced sweeping new federal vaccine requirements affecting as many as 100 million Americans in an effort to increase COVID-19 vaccinations and curb the surging delta variant.

Speaking at the White House Thursday, Biden sharply criticized the roughly 80 million Americans who are not yet vaccinated, despite months of availability and incentives.

“We’ve been patient. But our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us,” he said, all but biting off his words. The unvaccinated minority “can cause a lot of damage, and they are.”

The expansive rules mandate that all employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly, affecting about 80 million Americans. And the roughly 17 million workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid also will have to be fully vaccinated.

Biden is also signing an executive order to require vaccination for employees of the executive branch and contractors who do business with the federal government — with no option to test out. That covers several million more workers.

Biden announced the new requirements in a Thursday afternoon address from the White House as part of a new “action plan” to address the latest rise in coronavirus cases and the stagnating pace of COVID-19 shots that has raised doubts among the public over his handling of the pandemic.

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HARTFORD — Connecticut officials expressed concerns about inconsistent mask wearing and people shunning coronavirus vaccines after 37 people became infected in outbreaks at a summer camp, group home and a party.

Gov. Ned Lamont and acting state heath Commissioner Deidre Gifford said most of the people who became infected were not vaccinated and some of them spread the virus to relatives who did not go to those locations. All three outbreaks happened last month. Officials did not release the locations of the three outbreaks.

Also Thursday, the state Department of Correction reported that a 78-year-old state prison inmate died after contracting the coronavirus for a second time.

The male prisoner was detained at the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield and died early Wednesday morning. Officials said he had several underlying health issues and had recovered from his first coronavirus infection last December.

The inmate, who was serving a 40-year sentence for sexual assault and risk of injury to a minor, was the first state prisoner to die from COVID-19 since January and the 20th inmate to die during the pandemic.

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BOSTON — The U.S. Education Department has announced a new grant program for schools that get state funding withheld for defying state mask policies.

The measure aims to push back against governors in Iowa, South Carolina and other states attempting to block schools from requiring masks among students and teachers. Some states, including Florida, have withheld the salaries of school leaders who have required masks in defiance of state orders.

Those schools will soon be able to apply for federal grants under Project SAFE to make up for any money lost due to implementing public health measures backed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona says school officials should be thanked, not punished, for taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and “this program will allow them to continue that critical work of keeping students safe.”

The money will come from an existing pool of federal funding that the Education Department can use on a range of student safety initiatives. The agency says it will invite districts to apply in the coming weeks.

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ROME — Italy has sent two vaccination teams to the Sicilian island of Lampedusa to vaccinate newly arrived migrants against the coronavirus.

Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese has decreed that migrants arriving in the country must be inoculated. Italy’s virus czar, Gen. Francesco Figliuolo, said in a statement that starting Thursday two teams began work on Lampedusa alongside local health authorities and Italian Red Cross to administer the vaccines.

Lampedusa, a tiny island closer to Africa than the Italian mainland, is one of the main destinations of African-based migrants who pay Libyan or Tunisian smugglers to cross the Mediterranean in hopes of reaching Europe.

Some 40,000 migrants have arrived in Italy by boat so far this year, twice as many as in 2020 and nine times as many as 2019.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s health minister says the country’s first locally developed COVID-19 vaccine is close to seeking approval for emergency use.

Fahrettin Koca tells reporters that the nation aims to start mass producing Turkovac, which uses an “inactivated virus” technology, in October.

The vaccine was developed by Erciyes University. Late-stage trials began in June. Turkey also hopes to export Turkovac to other countries.

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LANSING, Mich. — Michigan health and business officials are renewing a plea for people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, citing hospital workforce shortages, unnecessary deaths and concerns that end-of-summer travel and the return to school could fuel a surge in cases.

About 59% of Michigan residents 12 and older have been fully vaccinated, and 65% have gotten at least one dose. Those figures trail behind the national rates of 62% and 73%.

Brian Peters, CEO of the Michigan Health & Hospital Association, says hospitals are near capacity as coronavirus caseloads rise and high numbers of non-COVID-19 patients seek care they delayed earlier in the pandemic.

Peters says that “our staffing is stressed to a level that we have not seen previously,” and “one of the ways to prevent that is to get the vaccine.”

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HONOLULU — An officer with the Honolulu Police Department says he has been suspended without pay and faces termination for not complying with the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Cpl. Mark Kutsy was on patrol this week when he was pulled off duty and forced to turn in his gun and badge.

Kutsy says he’s willing to submit to weekly testing. But Honolulu is in the only county in Hawaii not giving an option to test in lieu of vaccination.

State workers also have a vaccination mandate, but they can undergo weekly tests instead.

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FRANKFORT, Ky. — Gov. Andy Beshear says just 90 adult intensive care beds are available in Kentucky as strained hospitals confront the surging delta variant of the coronavirus.

Beshear says that’s a pandemic low, and “that means if you get COVID and need to be hospitalized, there has never been a greater likelihood that there’s not a bed for you or your family members, or your friends.”

Beshear adds that 60 of 96 hospitals in the state currently face a critical staffing shortage. The limited number of ICU beds also will put those in non-virus related emergencies in danger of not receiving care, such as car crash victims.

In the governor’s words, “Our hospital situation has never been more dire in my lifetime than it is right now.”

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BRUSSELS — Belgium’s vaccination task force says people with a weakened immune system will be offered an extra dose of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines next week.

The task force says the measure is for people over 12 who have reduced immunity due to a condition or a medical treatment. That includes cases of congenital immune disorders, cancer treatments or chronic dialysis.

The task force says “their bodies are less responsive to the vaccine and an additional dose is recommended for optimal protection against severe disease progression, hospitalization or even death.”

Up to 400,000 people among Belgium’s 11.5 million inhabitants will be eligible for an extra shot.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — The Sri Lankan health ministry inoculate young people ages 12 to 18 against COVID-19 soon, saying the move will help reopen the schools, which have been closed for more than six months.

Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella says about 2 million students will be vaccinated and classes for grades 7 to 13 could begin when that is finished.

The government imposed a lockdown Aug. 20 that runs through Sept. 13. The health ministry says 62% of the population above age 20 is vaccinated.

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WASHINGTON — Researchers say federal government data significantly understated the ravages of COVID-19 in nursing homes last year.

Official numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are missing about 12% of cases among nursing home residents and 14% of deaths. That’s according to new estimates published Thursday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Network Open, by a Harvard researcher and her team.

It translates to thousands of missing data points, suggesting more than 118,300 nursing home residents died of COVID-19 last year, or about 30% of all coronavirus deaths nationally.

The researchers attributed the data holes to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services not requiring nursing homes to report cases and deaths until May 2020, well into the pandemic. The new estimates rely on numbers from states that required fuller reporting.

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NAIROBI, Kenya — The World Health Organization’s Africa director says the continent will receive 25% fewer coronavirus vaccine doses by year-end than had been expected.

Matshidiso Moeti says that while the COVAX global vaccine initiative has delivered over 5 million vaccine doses to African countries in the past week, “three times as many doses have been thrown away in the United States alone” since March.

The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says just 3% of people across the continent have been fully vaccinated.

Moeti urges companies and countries to make vaccine equity a priority, saying, “Every dose is precious.”

African health officials are dismayed by Wednesday’s announcement that COVAX is again cutting its delivery forecast through the end of the year from 1.8 billion to about 1.4 billion.

The rollout of booster shots by some richer countries has caused alarm. WHO officials say the target of vaccinating 10% of people in Africa by the end of this month will be missed. The goal is to vaccinate 40% by the end of the year.

Moeti reported a decrease of nearly 25% in new cases in Africa last week and said it was the bigget drop in eight week

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PARIS — France has given citizenship to more than 12,000 health care workers, grocery cashiers and others who carried out essential work during the pandemic and repeated lockdowns.

A year ago the government offered a special accelerated citizenship procedure to front-line workers amid the virus crisis.

The minister in charge of citizenship issues, Marlene Schiappa, said Thursday in a statement that of 16,381 applicants, 12,012 “have become French.”

“Health workers, security and cleaning workers, childcare workers, cashiers, home aid workers, garbage collectors … the Republic is honored to welcome these new French citizens,” she said.

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TOKYO — Japan has extended a coronavirus state of emergency in Tokyo and 18 other areas until the end of September as health care systems remain under severe strain.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says serious cases are still high and are overwhelming many hospitals. Despite the prolonged emergency, the largely voluntary measures have become less effective as an exhausted public increasingly ignores them.

The extension covers a period when Japan’s government is in transition. Suga has announced he is not running in a Sept. 29 race for his party’s leadership, and his successor in that race likely will be the next prime minister. His government has faced sharp criticism over its handling of the virus.

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