The Latest: China nears full re-opening of schools
BEIJING — China began moving into its final weekend before a full re-opening of schools amid continuing measures to prevent any further spread of coronavirus.
The country reported just nine new cases on Friday, all brought from outside the country. Hospitals are treating 288 people for COVID-19 and another 361 are being monitored in isolation for showing signs of the illness or having tested positive for the virus without displaying symptoms.
China has recorded 85,013 cases since the virus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, with 4,634 dying from COVID-19.
The roughly 25 percent of students still out of school are due to return to classes on Monday.
Lessons are being held on a staggered schedule and mask wearing and social distancing required. College undergraduates are also due to return to campus next week, with Beijing ordering tests for all 600,000 taking up places at the city’s institutions.
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
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean officials are considering reducing the working hours of restaurants and cafes as the country counted its 15th straight day of triple-digit daily jumps in coronavirus infections.
The 371 new cases reported by the South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Friday brought the national caseload to 19,077, including 316 deaths. The country has added more than 4,300 to its caseload over the past 15 days, prompting concerns about overwhelmed hospital systems.
While government has recently banned large gatherings and shut down nightspots and churches nationwide, there are calls for elevating social distancing measures to the highest “Level 3,” which would prohibit gatherings of more than 10 and advise private companies to have employees work from home.
But Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said during a virus meeting Friday that the government wasn’t ready to implement Level 3 restrictions yet, citing concerns about hurting an economy that policymakers will likely shrink for the first time in 22 years. Chung said officials will instead explore other ways to improve distancing, such as limiting the working hours of restaurants and cafes.
SANTA FE, N.M. — Health officials are relaxing pandemic lockdown restrictions to allow larger public gatherings of up to 10 people and provide limited access to museums with static displays.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the changes Thursday at a video news conference. In-person classroom leaning is being delayed in counties with high average daily infections or high positivity on coronavirus tests.
Other changes that take effect Saturday will allow people to dine indoors at restaurants in limited numbers for the first time since mid-July. A self-quarantine requirement for out-of-state travelers remains in place.
HONOLULU — The Hawaii Tourism Authority says visitor arrivals to the islands in July fell by almost 98% when compared to the same month last year.
A report released Thursday says 22,562 visitors arrived by air last month, compared to the 995,210 travelers who arrived in Hawaii in July 2019.
Most of the visitors last month were from the U.S. mainland — only about 2,100 were from international locations.
For the first seven months of the year arrivals plummeted nearly 65%.
All arriving visitors are subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine, a measure that for months seemed to keep the coronavirus at bay in Hawaii.
But now, after the local economy began to reopen and restrictions eased earlier this summer, Hawaii is seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases, spurring yet another round of stay-at-home orders and business closures.
The restrictions, coupled with generally fewer vacationers amid the pandemic, have decimated the state’s tourist-based economy. Air service to the state was down about 87% in July. No cruise ships are operating.
NEW YORK — A top U.S. health official triggered a new round of confusion while trying to clarify a change to the coronavirus testing guidance.
The change posted this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was sharply criticized by public health experts.
The CDC previously had advised local health departments to test people who have been within 6 feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes. The guidance posted Monday said those people did “not necessarily need a test” unless they were more vulnerable to COVID-19. It also said a doctor or public health officials could still recommend a test.
After the change was attacked, CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield issued a statement Wednesday, attempting to explain it, saying “Testing may be considered for all close contacts of confirmed or probable COVID-19 patients.”
The statement said health officials are putting an emphasis on testing certain people, including those with symptoms and people who are most vulnerable for severe illness, like nursing home patients. But it also said testing should be emphasized for “individuals with a significant exposure.”
The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the CDC, insisted Thursday that Redfied’s statement wasn’t a “walk back” of the posted guidance, as some called it.
JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi election laws could force people to choose between their health and their constitutional right to cast a ballot, according to a lawsuit that voting-rights groups filed Thursday to challenge the state’s restrictions on absentee voting.
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Southern Poverty Law Center filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Jackson. The new lawsuit is similar to one filed Aug. 11 in state court.
Mississippi does not allow widespread early voting. Instead, state law says absentee voting is available to anyone who is 65 or older, or for voters of any age who are permanently disabled or will be out of their home county on Election Day.
Legislators tweaked the law this year with provisions that expire at the end of 2020. Those allow absentee voting by someone with a temporary or permanent disability that may include “a physician-imposed quarantine due to COVID-19” or by a person who is “caring for a dependent that is under a physician-imposed quarantine due to COVID-19.”
The lawsuit filed Thursday says that the new provisions fail to provide clear guidance about whether people may vote absentee if they have medical conditions that make them vulnerable to the new coronavirus.
HONOLULU — Most Hawaii public schools will continue at-home distancing learning through the first quarter, which ends in October.
Concerns about campus safety during the coronavirus pandemic prompted education officials to postpone the start of the school year by two weeks.
Most schools planned to offer hybrid instruction with students alternating between in-person and online classes. A few schools planned to open to in-person instruction.
However, right before the Aug. 17 start date, the Hawaii Department of Education announced most schools would provide distance learning for the first four weeks.
The teachers union complains schools aren’t ready to open safely.
LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Supreme Court has postponed arguments over Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s use of emergency powers until Sept. 9.
The one-week delay is necessary because of an illness on Justice Richard Bernstein’s staff. He said an “indispensable” aide is struggling with COVID-19.
“Because of my blindness, I depend on him to help me review and internalize thousands of pages of material. … The work he does with me takes extensive time and effort and cannot be done without him,” Bernstein said.
A federal judge hearing a dispute over Whitmer’s coronavirus restrictions has asked the Supreme Court for an opinion on her power to renew certain orders related to COVID-19.
Separately, the Republican-controlled Legislature has challenged Whitmer with its own lawsuit. The governor so far has won at the Court of Claims and the Michigan Court of Appeals.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas is reporting at least 411 students, teachers and staff at public schools are actively infected with the coronavirus as the state’s new cases continue to rise.
The state began releasing numbers from public school districts with more than five confirmed cases four days into the new academic year.
Arkansas’ public schools have about 480,000 students and more than 69,000 employees.
The Health Department has reported 722 new confirmed virus cases overall in the state, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 58,745. Of those, 6,632 are active cases that don’t include people who have died or recovered.
The number of people who have died from COVID-19 in the state rose by seven to 739. Active hospitalizations declined by two to 433.
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — Costa Rica has adopted a less strict method of counting people infected with the coronavirus, abruptly adding thousands of new cases to the country’s infection totals.
Under the new criteria, people are counted who show symptoms of the disease and had direct contact with someone who tested positive, even if they were not tested themselves.
That has added more than 3,000 cases to the country’s reported total of 36,307 infections as of Wednesday. There have been 386 reported deaths.
Those newly counted under the change are also required to quarantine at home for 14 days.
Health Minister Daniel Salas entered quarantine on Tuesday after his father tested positive, though Salas hasn’t reported suffering symptoms.
Announcing the new policy, Salas said it is “about practicality and finding the greatest effectiveness in what we’re doing with the resources that we have.”
TOPEKA, Kan. — Gov. Laura Kelly says Kansas will apply to participate in a federal program providing additional benefits to workers who’ve lost their jobs because of the pandemic.
Thursday’s announcement comes less than two weeks after the Democratic governor questioned the program’s legality and suggested it could be difficult to administer.
Kelly’s office says the state would use a portion of its $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds to cover part of the added benefits.
President Donald Trump issued an executive order this month offering an additional $300 a week in benefits to jobless workers and $400 a week if states chip in the additional $100. The federal government would have to approve Kansas’ proposal.
An earlier program providing an additional $600 a week expired at the end of July with no agreement in Congress on extending or replacing it.
Kelly said Thursday in a statement that she had hoped the GOP-led U.S. Senate would have approved a program before taking its August break.
Kelly said it’s “far from a perfect solution,” but “I could not sit by idly while many Kansans are still facing unemployment.”
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 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 state 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 other Southern governors.
State Health Officer Scott Harris links increased mask usage to a 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 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 state Department of Public Health.
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 5 p.m. 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 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%.
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 seen decreases since the Arizona Department of Health Services published 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 counties remain in the high category where gyms, bars, nightclubs and water parks can’t reopen without a state waiver.
BALTIMORE — Investigators say a Maryland man sold unregistered and misbranded pesticides falsely advertised as a government-approved disinfectant for the coronavirus.
Marek Majtan, 35, of Frederick, was charged in a criminal complaint accusing 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.”
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 it’s critical how fast countries get results.
Defining active cases so they may be isolated and to allow contact tracing “is really fundamental to breaking chains of transmission,” she says.
Van Kerkhove also says wearing masks alone isn’t enough to protect against the spread of the coronavirus, expressing concerns that people are growing too lax on maintaining physical distancing.
Masks, distancing and hand-washing — “Do it all,” she says.