The Latest: China makes parts of province high danger zones

BEIJING — China has designated parts of Hebei province near Beijing as a coronavirus high danger zone after 14 new cases of COVID-19 were found.

Eleven of those cases were in Shijiazhuang city, where some events for the 2022 Winter Olympics will be held. An additional 30 people tested positive for the virus without showing any symptoms, the provincial health authority said Tuesday.

The other three COVID-19 cases were in the city of Yantai. Parts of Shijiazhuang were designated high danger areas, meaning they will undergo stricter testing and isolation measures, while parts of Yantai were registered as medium risk areas. Medical investigators were looking into whether a single event such as a family gathering had been the origin of many of the Hebei cases.

China has recorded a total of 87,183 cases of COVID-19, with 4,634 deaths. People who have tested positive but not shown symptoms have been counted separately from its official COVID-19 tally.

Wary of another wave of infections, China is urging tens of millions of migrant workers to stay put during next month’s Lunar New Year holiday, usually the world’s largest annual human migration. Classes are also being dismissed a week earlier than usual and tourists are being told not to come to Beijing for holidays.



— UK takes big step on the vaccine front, starts giving out first coronavirus vaccine shots from Oxford-AstraZeneca

— Congress has convened for a new session, with strict COVID-19 protocols in place

— Fauci says faster vaccination rate offers a ‘glimmer of hope,’ says Biden’s pledge of 100 million shots in his 1st 100 days is achievable

— Vaccines are a distant thought in Somalia, where coronavirus is spreading with little being done to stop it

— Black California surgeon ‘walks the walk’ on virus vaccine

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MEXICO CITY — Mexico approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for emergency use Monday, hoping to spur a halting vaccination effort that has only given about 44,000 shots since the third week of December, about 82% of the doses the country has received.

Prior to this, the Pfizer vaccine was the only one approved for use in Mexico. Mexican regulators approved the AstraZeneca shot on Monday.

Assistant Health Secretariat Hugo López-Gatell said he erroneously reported approval for Chinese vaccine-maker CanSino, noting it had not yet submitted full study results for safety and efficacy.

Mexico has pinned much of its hopes on the inexpensive, one-shot CanSino vaccine. “It will makes things a lot easier for us,” López-Gatell said.


LOS ANGELES – Broadcast legend Larry King, who has been suffering from COVID-19, has been moved out of the intensive care unit at a Los Angeles hospital and is no longer receiving supplemental oxygen.

A spokesman for King’s production company reported the improved picture on Monday. King had been in the ICU since New Year’s Eve. Spokesman David Theall says King conversed with his three sons by video call.

The 87-year-old broadcaster is best known as the genial host of the “Larry King Live” interview show that ran in prime time on CNN from 1985 to 2010.


TOPEKA, Kan. – Gov. Laura Kelly says she’s “very comfortable” with how Kansas is distributing COVID-19 vaccines despite U.S. government data showing its inoculation rate is the lowest of any state.

The Democratic governor argued Monday that Kansas likely has a more efficient distribution system than other states and is getting vaccine doses more quickly to more communities. The state Department of Health and Environment has said the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows Kansas behind other states because of a reporting lag. Kelly told reporters the state has concentrated on “getting vaccinations in people’s arms.”

The CDC reported Monday that Kansas had administered 20,110 vaccine shots, or 690 for every 100,000 residents, making it the only state to inoculate fewer than 700 residents out of every 100,000.

The state health department has not published or posted online its own data for the number of shots given, and Kelly has faced criticism from top Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature over the CDC’s vaccination data.

House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., a Kansas City-area Republican, said Monday that Kansas residents “are tired of hearing excuses.”


JACKSON, MISS. — Officials in Mississippi announced a plan Monday to streamline access to coronavirus vaccines for vulnerable populations in the coming weeks.

“We want to make sure that as many doses as we get this week, we’re getting that many shots in arms,” Gov. Tate Reeves said during a news conference. “It doesn’t do us any good if it’s sitting on the shelf.”

The Republican governor said Monday that people over the age of 75 will have access to the vaccine, beginning next week, at private clinics and drive-through sites. The week after, those over 65 will become eligible for the vaccine.

“We know that we cannot afford delays in protecting those who are at the greatest risk,” Reeves said. “We must focus on saving lives.”

The Department of Health has 18 high-volume drive-through sites prepared for the vaccine rollout. Approximately 174 private clinics have also requested vaccines, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said. He did not immediately release the names of the 174 clinics.


LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County is likely to hit the tragic statistic of 1,000 coronavirus-related deaths a week soon if the current trends continue, officials said Monday.

More than 1 in 5 people are testing positive for COVID-19 and the county’s cases doubled between Nov. 30, at 400,000, and Jan. 2, to 800,000. It took more than nine months to reach 400,000.

County health officials fear the incoming Christmas and New Year’s surge. The additional Thanksgiving cases have swamped hospitals, forcing them to treat patients in hallways, ambulances and the gift shop, and forced an oxygen shortage.

The county on Monday reported 77 additional deaths, which include a reporting lag over the weekend, bringing the total to 10,850 in the nation’s most populous county.

Officials also reported 9,142 new cases — a lower figure due to testing sites being closed during the New Year holiday — to make a total of 827,498. The variant has not yet been detected in the county but officials believe it is here.

Nearly 7,700 people are hospitalized countywide for COVID-19 and 21% are in intensive care units.

“We’re likely to experience the worst conditions in January that we’ve faced the entire pandemic — and that’s hard to imagine,” county public health director Barbara Ferrer said at a briefing.


DENVER — Inmates in a Colorado jail will get daily temperature checks and those who test positive for COVID-19 will be regularly monitored by medical staff under a temporary deal negotiated by lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union and the sheriff and approved by a federal judge on Monday.

The ACLU sued El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder last month after his office acknowledged that inmates were not routinely given masks to wear to prevent the spread of infection until a large COVID-19 outbreak in the jail. Jail officials said they could not distribute masks initially during the pandemic because the only ones available had metal staples which they said created unspecified safety concerns.

Under the preliminary injunction approved by U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson, inmates will be given two cloth masks to use and deputies who do no wear masks will face discipline. Deputies will check inmates’ temperatures twice a day and anyone with a temperature over 99.4 degrees will be referred to medical staff.

Those who test positive will be checked by medical staff daily and given access to over-the-counter pain and cold medicine like Tylenol or Mucinex for free without having to submit a written request for it under the deal.


HELENA, Mont. — The 67th session of the Montana Legislature began Monday amid dueling protests outside the Capitol over state directives to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Many Republicans chose not to wear masks during their swearing-in ceremonies.

About a dozen members of the state Senate participated in the swearing-in via teleconference.

Republican leaders, who hold majorities in the House and Senate, have indicated they intend to ease restrictions put in place by former Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, including a statewide mask mandate and limits on the operating hours of restaurants, bars and casinos. They are bolstered by newly sworn-in Gov. Greg Gianforte, who has indicated he will support doing away with the mandates.

Dozens of conservatives gathered in front of the Capitol to protest mask wearing, carrying Trump flags and signs that read “Stop the steal” and “Masks spread fear.” On the opposite side of the building, pro-mask demonstrators held signs that read “Stop the spread” and “Real men wear masks.”


NEW ORLEANS — Public schools in New Orleans will go back to “distance learning” this week because of rising COVID-19 cases in the city.

The city’s school system said Monday that all pre-K through Grade 12 classes will go online by no later than Thursday. The public school system in New Orleans had implemented a return to in-class learning that began back in September.

Superintendent Henderson Lewis said a spike in positive cases in the city prompted the “unfortunate but necessary” decision to go back to distance learning.

The move comes a week after the city tightened virus-related restrictions on public gatherings and again ended indoor service at bars.


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The first five Florida hospitals to start inoculating their frontline workers three weeks ago began administering booster shots this week to those same employees.

Carlos Migoya, the president and CEO of Jackson Health System, who joined Gov. Ron DeSantis for a press conference in Miami on Monday, said some of his hospital workers — the first of about 5,000 associated with the Miami-based health care system — began receiving their booster shots earlier in the day.

“The focus right now has been health care workers and people over 65. Once we get to a big percentage of those populations, we’ll open it to the next at-risk population,” Migoya said.

“We are giving the vaccine as fast as we get it. We’re not holding back any vaccine because the supply is coming,” he said.


DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds appears to be prepared to push schools to return students to classrooms this month, reinforcing her plans to prioritize in-person learning even when a local school board believes it’s too risky.

The Des Moines school district’s request on Dec. 28 was the first to be rejected since August. Des Moines Superintendent Tom Ahart said in a letter requesting to go online that the school board is concerned about the safety and well-being of its students and employees based on local virus conditions.

Iowa Department of Education Director Ann Lebo rejected the request on Dec. 30. Lebo echoed Reynolds’ recent statements that students engaged in remote learning are falling behind academically and that schools are not primary drivers of spread of the virus.

Iowa reported 46 deaths on Monday for a total of 3,992. Iowa has the 15th highest per capita COVID-19 death rate at 125 deaths per 100,000 people.

The Iowa Department of Education reported no school districts were currently approved for temporary online learning as of Monday.


ALBANY, N.Y. — New York has found its first known case of a new variant of COVID-19 in upstate New York.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a Monday telephone call with reporters said a man in his 60s tested positive for the COVID-19 variant, which is more contagious than its previous variants. The governor said the man, who works at a jewelry store in Saratoga Springs, had COVID-19 symptoms but is “on the mend.”

Three other people linked to the jewelry store have tested positive for COVID-19, but Cuomo said it’s unknown if they have the variant. Anyone who was in the store from Dec. 18 through Dec. 24 is urged to get tested.

The governor said the state Wadsworth laboratory can test for the variant in 40 hours, and said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention takes two weeks. He said the state has run about 5,000 tests so far for the variant, which he warned could lead to even more infections and hospitalizations as amid a holiday season surge.

“I think it is must more widespread than people known,” Cuomo said.


BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia has become another European Union country to detect a new fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus originally found in Britain.

Health Minister Marek Krajci announced the discovery late Monday on Facebook. Krajci says the variant was detected in several samples from an unspecified number of people taken in the eastern county of Michalovce.

He has immediately not offered any further details.

Slovakia is one of the EU countries that has imposed a ban on all flights from Britain on Dec 21 due to the concerns over the more contagious -19 variant that rapidly spread through Britain.


OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahomans age 65 and older will begin receiving their vaccinations this week, and health officials announced Monday they plan to release a mobile phone application as early as Thursday that will allow residents to schedule an appointment to receive their vaccine.

The state has contracted with Microsoft to develop a mobile phone application that will allow people to schedule their appointment and track when they should receive their second dose of the vaccine, deputy health commissioner Keith Reed told reporters during a press conference.

Oklahoma has received nearly 175,000 doses and administered more than 50,000 first doses of the two-dose vaccine, Reed said. Oklahoma expects to begin receiving between 30,000 and 40,000 additional doses every week, said Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye.

“Our vaccine rollout can only go as quickly as we’re getting supplies from the federal government,” Frye said.

First responders and health care workers who provide outpatient care to COVID patients are also in Phase 2 and began receiving vaccinations last week. Adults of any age with underlying conditions and pre K-12 public school teachers also are in Phase 2, but those individuals have not started receiving their vaccines yet, Reed said.


NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans officials announced Monday that the city will borrow money to end periodic furloughs of police, firefighters and emergency medical service workers. Furloughs began as the city’s tourist-dependent economy suffered during the pandemic. Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s chief administrative officer, Gilbert Montano, said during a Monday news conference that about $16 million from a line of credit opened last year will be use to end the furloughs for the public safety employees. He said the move is being made in anticipation of future federal stimulus money and the eventual effects of vaccination efforts. New Orleans officials announced last fall that city employees would be furloughed one day every 14-day pay period.

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