The Latest: Fla. holds back school district funds over masks
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida officials have begun to make good on threats to withhold funding from school districts that defy Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on mask mandates despite a court ruling last week finding his order unconstitutional.
The state Department of Education announced Monday it has withheld an amount equal to monthly school board member salaries in Alachua and Broward counties. It says funds will continue to be withheld until the districts comply.
President Joe Biden has said if money was withheld, federal money would be used to cover any costs.
The Alachua and Broward districts are among 10 that require all students to wear masks unless they have a medical exemption in an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
DeSantis says the districts are violating parental rights by not allowing a parent or legal guardian to opt out their child.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— Hurricane Ida slams Louisiana hospitals brimming with virus patients
— Texas man who worked against COVID-19 measures dies from virus
— Once a beacon of safety, Hawaii is seeing a surge of coronavirus cases driven by delta variant
— Anxious tenants await assistance as evictions resume
— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronvirus-vaccine
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
LANSING, Mich. — Four female soccer players at Western Michigan University are challenging the school’s coronavirus vaccine requirement for athletes, saying it violates their Christian beliefs.
The lawsuit filed Monday came days after a Michigan State University employee sued to block that school’s mandate, which is broader and applies to all students, faculty and staff.
The players say Western Michigan ordered them to get a shot by the end of August or be removed from the team.
Western Michigan says it has a “compelling interest” in acting to avoid the “significant risk” of an outbreak due to unvaccinated athletes.
SEATTLE — Health officials in Washington state say the coronavirus pandemic is filling hospitals at an “alarming” rate and continuing to strain health care workers.
The executive medial director of women’s health at Swedish Health Services also said Monday that for the first time during the pandemic, hospitals are seeing large numbers of pregnant women ill with COVID-19. Dr. Tanya Sorensen noted that pregnant women are generally less likely to be vaccinated.
The Washington State Hospital Association says that as of Monday morning, the state’s hospitals and health care centers were treating 1,570 patients for COVID-19. Of those, 188 are on ventilators. Eleven days ago, the hospital association counted 1,240 patients with 152 on ventilators.
CHICAGO — An Illinois judge has reversed a ruling to bar a divorced mother from seeing her 11-year-old son because she isn’t vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Cook County Judge James’ Shapiro issued an order Monday vacating his Aug. 10 decision, though he offered no explanation.
Rebecca Firlit’s lawyer has said the judge, and not Firlit’s ex-husband, raised the issue during a child support hearing for the former couple who share custody of the boy.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported Sunday that Shapiro asked the mother if she was vaccinated. When she said no, the judge withdrew her rights to see the boy until she gets vaccinated.
Firlit said she has had adverse reactions to vaccinations and that her doctor advised her not to get a coronavirus shot.
ROYAL OAK, Mich. — Some animals are rolling up their fur for a coronavirus vaccine at the Detroit Zoo.
The zoo in suburban Detroit says its gorillas, chimpanzees, tigers and lions are getting a vaccine developed by Zoetis, a veterinary drug company, and authorized by the U.S. Agriculture Department. Other animals will follow.
The zoo’s chief life sciences officer, Scott Carter, says: “We’re both thankful and relieved a special vaccine is now available to protect against COVID-19. The animals routinely get other vaccinations.”
The zoo says no coronavirus infections have been found in its animals.
ATLANTA — Coronavirus infections and COVID-19 hospitalizations in Georgia are nearing the peaks set in January.
The state Department of Public Health says Georgia’s seven-day rolling average for cases was just below 9,591 Saturday, close to the high of 9,635 reached Jan. 11. About 5,600 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized Monday, just short of the 5,715 set Jan. 13.
Also on Monday, Gov. Brian Kemp signed an executive order calling up as many as 1,500 more National Guard soldiers to help short-staffed hospitals with nonmedical jobs. He previously authorized 1,000.
Also, teachers and state employees insured by the state health plan will qualify for a cash incentive to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The governor is focusing on voluntary vaccination as a solution to the pandemic and opposes other interventions such as mask mandates and, capacity reductions in public places.
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama has set a new high for the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care, although the total number of hospitalized COVID patients remains slightly below the winter peak.
There were 884 COVID-19 patients in intensive care Sunday, the most since the pandemic began, according to the Alabama Hospital Association. Dr. Don Williamson heads the organization and he said Monday that the previous high was 848 in January.
The total number of COVID-19 patients in state hospitals was 2,829 on Monday, still below the high of 3,087 set in January.
About 38% of the people in Alabama are vaccinated against the coronavirus, which is one of the lowest rates in the country.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The number of COVID-19 patients in West Virginia hospital intensive care units is approaching the high mark in the pandemic.
There are 203 virus patients in ICUs across the state, the most since Jan. 11. The record of 219 came on Jan. 6,
A total of 640 people are hospitalized for the illness that can be caused by the coronavirus, a fourfold jump in the past month. The record of 818 was set on Jan. 5.
Officials said at a news conference Monday that 82% of current virus hospitalizations and 74% of the statewide deaths over the past two months involved unvaccinated people.
PHOENIX — Health officials in Arizona’s most populous county are sounding the alarm about a growing number of coronavirus outbreaks in schools.
The medical director for the Maricopa County Department of Public Health told the county Board of Supervisors on Monday that the agency tracked almost three times the number of school outbreaks in August as during the pandemic’s peak in February.
Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine says that of 188 outbreaks this month, 166 continue — far more than at any other point during the pandemic.
She adds that more than one in four COVID-19 cases in the county are now among children, a rate “never seen before.” One in six of those cases are among children under age 12.
Maricopa County is home to nearly 60% of Arizona’s residents.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Mothers of two children with serious illnesses are asking a federal judge to block enforcement of Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s order allowing parents to opt out of pandemic mask requirements in schools. They argue that it endangers kids with health conditions and hurts their ability to attend in-person classes.
U.S. District Judge Sheryl H. Lipman heard testimony in Memphis on Monday as part of the lawsuit filed by the parents of two students in the Shelby County suburbs of Collierville and Germantown.
The school districts had been under a mask mandate issued by the county health department when the school year began earlier in August. However, the governor’s Aug. 16 order allows parents to send their children to school without masks, and hundreds of students have been attending classes without masks.
WASHINGTON — U.S. government advisers on Monday reiterated that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective for people 16 and older.
The vaccine was the first to win full approval in the U.S. for that age group last week. It also remains available for emergency use by 12- to 15-year-olds.
The full approval gave advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention a chance to look at all the extra evidence about safety since vaccinations first began last December. And data revealed Monday showed one serious side effect, heart inflammation, remains exceedingly rare after both the Pfizer vaccine and the similar Moderna shot.
The CDC has counted 2,574 cases of heart inflammation after hundreds of millions of doses of both vaccines. It mostly strikes males under 30 about a week after vaccination. CDC tracking shows the vast majority recover without lingering symptoms.
The CDC put the rare risk into sharper perspective. For every 1 million Pfizer vaccine doses administered to 16- to 17-year-old males, it estimated there would be 73 cases of the heart inflammation. But 500 COVID-19 hospitalizations among these teens would be prevented over the next four months.
MIAMI — The number of patients with the coronavirus in Florida hospitals is dropping as infection rates stay high. It’s a sign that while more people test positive for the virus, they are not necessarily developing severe illness.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services tallied 15,488 patients with COVID-19 in hospitals, an 8% decrease over the past week.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the more than 30,000 people have been able to get monoclonal antibodies at 21 state sites set up over the past two weeks and avoided worsening their symptoms.
OKLAHOMA CITY — The four largest hospitals in Oklahoma City on Monday said they either have no intensive care bed space available or no space for COVID-19 patients.
Mercy, Integris and SSM Health said they had no ICU beds available and OU Health had none for COVID-19 patients in the state’s largest city.
OU Health, the state’s only trauma center, must keep some ICU beds available for other critically ill or injured patients.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health, which reported 1,572 virus-related hospitalizations statewide Monday, including 422 in ICU, stopped providing daily hospital bed availability data in May when Gov. Kevin Stitt ended a COVID-19 emergency declaration. The department has said it will resume providing the data, but has not yet done so.
SSM Health spokesperson Kate Cunningham said the information provided by the hospitals is not in response to anything the state agency has or has not provided.
“The only motive for acting together in this is because of regular requests for information from reporters, and we want to be transparent to the public,” Cunningham said.
Disability rights groups and parents of children with disabilities are seeking an immediate halt to a South Carolina law banning school districts from requiring face masks.
Last week, the groups and parents represented by the American Civil Liberties Union filed for a temporary restraining order that would block the law from being enforced while their lawsuit challenging the measure proceeds.
The ban, they wrote, “needlessly and unconscionably exposes South Carolina school children and their families to a heightened risk of infection, hospitalization, and death.”
State officials have until Sept. 9 to respond to the request in court.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Fully vaccinated employees in Alaska’s largest school district will receive up to 10 extra days of paid time off if they test positive for COVID-19 but can’t work from home while quarantining.
A spokesperson for the Anchorage School District tells the Anchorage Daily News in an email that employees who are not fully vaccinated are not eligible for the leave.
The district said in an Aug. 23 memo that employees will have to show proof of vaccination to be eligible.
The district is not requiring people to be vaccinated, but Superintendent Deena Bishop encourages employees to do so. Masks must be worn inside school district buildings despite opposition on that policy by new Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson.
HONOLULU — Hawaii’s public school system is looking to the U.S. mainland for teachers to teach online classes as the islands struggle with a surge in COVID-19 cases.
As the highly contagious delta variant continues to infect more people, schools are seeing an increased demand for online instruction. Department guidelines say teachers doing telework must live in Hawaii.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports the state Board of Education is urging administrators to look at changing the residency requirement.
The new school year began this month and the department currently offers limited remote learning options.