The Latest: Florida school mask debate in new legal phase
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The battle over mask requirements in Florida schools is headed for a new legal phase following an appeal by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of a judge’s ruling that a blanket ban on mask mandates exceeds the state’s authority.
The case heads next to the 15 judges on the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee. The issue is whether the Parents Bill of Rights law means parents must decide if their child wears a mask or permits a school board to impose a broad mask requirement.
Under the DeSantis executive order, state education officials have been seeking to penalize defiant school boards by withholding salaries of board members. As of Friday, 13 districts representing more than half of Florida’s 2.8 million public school students had imposed mask mandates despite the governor’s order that a parental opt-out must be included.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— Florida school mask debate headed for appeals court battle
— Idaho hospitals nearly buckling in relentless COVID-19 surge
— North Korea’s Kim orders tougher epidemic prevention, turns down some vaccines
— Young African adults struggle to keep jobs, education during pandemic
— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronvirus-vaccine
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
NEW YORK — The NHL plans to punish unvaccinated players more harshly if they test positive for the coronavirus this season.
Teams can suspend unvaccinated players without pay if they cannot participate in hockey activities. A person with knowledge of the new rules confirmed them to The Associated Press on Friday.
If those who are fully vaccinated have a positive COVID-19 test, it will be treated as a hockey injury and they’ll still be paid. Coaches and other team staff who closely interact with players must be fully vaccinated. Unvaccinated players will have their movements restricted when on the road.
This summer, league officials estimated close to 90% of players would be fully vaccinated before training camps begin later this month.
Also Friday, the NHL announced it reached an agreement with the International Olympic Committee and International Ice Hockey Federation to participate at the Beijing Winter Olympics in February.
— By Stephen Whyno
WASHINGTON — America’s employers added just 235,000 jobs in August, a modest gain after two months of robust hiring at a time when the delta variant’s spread has discouraged some people from flying, shopping and eating out.
The unemployment rate dropped to 5.2% from 5.4% in July. The August job gains the government reported Friday fell far short of the big gains in June and July of roughly 1 million a month. Those increases were revised higher by a combined 134,000.
The gains in June and July followed widespread vaccinations that allowed the economy to fully reopen from pandemic restrictions.
BRUSSELS — The European Union and drugmaker AstraZeneca say they reached a deal to end a legal battle over the slow deliveries of the company’s COVID-19 vaccines.
The European Commission says AstraZeneca made a “firm commitment” to deliver a total of 300 million vaccine doses by March. The commission says it involves the pharmaceutical company providing 135 million doses by the end of this year plus another 65 million doses in the first quarter of 2022. Around 100 million have already been supplied.
The EU accused AstraZeneca of acting in bad faith by providing shots to other countries, notably former EU member Britain. It argued the company should have used its production sites in the U.K. to help fill the EU’s order.
AstraZeneca says, along with its partners, it has supplied more than 1.1 billion doses of vaccine to more than 170 countries and approximately two-thirds have gone to lower-income countries.
JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s Health Minister Joe Phaahla says the government will let businesses decide whether to make vaccinations mandatory for employees and clients.
He says restaurants, bars, grocery stores and other businesses must set their own policies on deciding if patrons must be vaccinated. He says the government plans to encourage people to get inoculated, with incentives such as allowing soccer matches and music concerts for vaccinated people.
Currently, such public gatherings are not permitted under COVID-19 restrictions. More than 13 million South Africans have received at least one vaccine dose, including 5.7 million who are fully vaccinated.
LONDON — Children across Europe are going back to school after 18 months of pandemic disruption.
But in many countries, there are concerns of a new surge in infections from the highly infectious delta variant of the coronavirus.
Unlike the U.K., Italy and Spain are maintaining social distancing and masks for students and staff. Italy also requires teachers to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative coronavirus test, along with Turkey and Greece.
In France, where students headed back to school Thursday, face masks must be worn by pupils 6 and up.
Britain, which lifted nearly all pandemic restrictions on business and socializing in July, has among the highest coronavirus rates in Europe, with upward of 30,000 new cases each day. Hospitalizations and deaths remain far lower than during previous surges, thanks to an inoculation campaign that has seen nearly 80% of people over 16 fully vaccinated.
But Britain is still averaging about 100 coronavirus deaths every day.
SINGAPORE — Singapore will offer booster shots to seniors above age 60 and those immunocompromised amid concerns about the delta variant of the coronavirus.
Authorities say they plan to offer booster shots to seniors this month to increase the level of immunity and “ensure that a high level of protection from severe disease is maintained across a longer period.”
Seniors are recommended to take a third dose between six to nine months after their second shot. Those who are immunocompromised are recommended to take the booster shot two months after their second dose of the vaccine.
The health ministry says with the delta variant, it’s unlikely countries will reach herd immunity without a high population vaccination rate of 90% and data has shown a waning vaccine efficacy over time.
Singapore has vaccinated 80% of its population, among the world’s most vaccinated countries.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Danish Health Minister Magnus Heunicke says residents in nursing homes will get a third shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, starting next week.
He says Denmark has seen an increase in cases in nursing homes, despite 96% of the people living there getting vaccinated.
“At the same time, they have the greatest risk of a serious course,” Heunicke wrote on Twitter.
The government acted on a recommendation by the Danish Health Authority, which says the “revaccination of residents in nursing homes starts now, as they are at increased risk of a serious course of COVID-19.”
AMSTERDAM — The European Medicines Agency says it’s examining whether there is a risk of a rare inflammatory syndrome in people who have received the coronavirus vaccine made by Pfizer-BioNTech.
In a statement on Friday, the EU drug regulator says it is assessing the case of a 17-year-old male in Denmark who developed multisystem inflammatory syndrome after receiving a dose. He has since recovered.
The EMA says several other instances of the syndrome had been reported elsewhere across Europe and a few cases have also been recorded in the U.S. The syndrome is a rare, serious inflammatory condition that affects multiple parts of the body and can include severe fever, tiredness, chest pain and breathing difficulties.
“At this stage, there is no change to the current EU recommendations for the use of COVID-19 vaccines,” the agency says. It adds it’s evaluating data from other countries to determine if the vaccine might be responsible for the rare syndrome. The EMA has previously noted the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is linked to a small number of people who have developed temporary chest and heart inflammation after receiving a dose. It says that the benefits of being vaccinated still outweigh the risks of immunization.
NICOSIA, Cyprus — A survey indicates 13% of Cypriots aren’t planning on getting vaccinated against COVID-19 soon and 6% of that percentage categorically state they won’t get a shot.
The two main reasons people who refuse to get vaccinated cited in the survey results released Friday are a lack of trust in the government’s handling of the pandemic and not being convinced vaccines will protect them from the coronavirus.
Of the 2,000 people surveyed, more than 9 of 10 over age 60 were in favor of vaccination. The same applied to 89% of people ages 41-60, 84% in the 31-40 category and 79% of ages 18-30.
At the end of August, 74.2% of Cyprus’ adult population was fully vaccinated, while 78.6% had received at least one shot.
The survey was conducted in recent weeks by IMR/University of Nicosia in cooperation with the Cyprus Federation of Patients’ Associations.
(This item has been corrected to 13% aren’t planning to get vaccinated instead of nearly one-quarter).
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka’s government has extended its COVID-19 lockdown by another week as the island nation grapples with an unprecedented surge of COVID-19 cases and deaths.
The lockdown was due to end Sept. 6, and a high-level committee chaired by President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa decided Friday to prolong it until Sept. 13, a presidential spokesperson said.
The government first imposed the lockdown on Aug. 20 but has allowed export-related factories and agriculture operations to run as usual. Essential services such as health, food distribution, communication and power also were exempt.
Doctors and trade unions have warned that hospitals and morgues are reaching their maximum capacities as Sri Lanka copes with the surge of infections that started in late July, fueled by the delta variant.
GENEVA — The U.N. weather agency says the world experienced a brief, sharp drop in emissions of air pollutants last year amid lockdown measures and travel restrictions put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The World Meteorological Organization, releasing its first air quality and climate bulletin on Friday, said the decline was especially noticeable in urban areas, but it cautioned that reductions in pollution were patchy.
WMO cited declines of up to nearly 70% in average levels of nitrogen oxides, which are largely emitted through transportation and burning of fossil fuels. It also noted up to 40% drops — the biggest ones in southeast Asia — of average levels of tiny particulate matter in the air during full lockdown measures last year, compared to the same periods from 2015 to 2019.
Nitrogen oxides also destroy ozone in the air. Partially as a result of the drop in nitrogen oxides, ozone levels — which vary depending on location — remained flat or slightly increased in some places. Carbon monoxide levels fell in all regions, especially South America.
Many parts of the world showed pollution levels that outpaced air quality guidelines, and some types of pollutants emerged at even higher levels, the Geneva-based agency said.
“A pandemic is not a substitute for sustained and systematic action to tackle major drivers of both population and climate change and so safeguard the health of both people and planet,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said.
(This item has been corrected to declines in nitrogen oxides, not nitrous oxides).
BERLIN — Schools, care homes and kindergartens in Germany can soon demand employees tell them whether they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19.
The country’s governing parties agreed late Thursday to endorse the authorization for employers, citing the need to protect particularly vulnerable sections of the population from infection.
Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said the agreement was “an important first step.” He urged the center-left Social Democrats to give up their opposition to expanding the measure to other employers.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea will extend coronavirus restrictions in the greater capital area for at least another month as the nation grapples with its worst surge a few weeks before its biggest holiday of the year.
Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol on Friday acknowledged the prolonged virus restrictions were hurting livelihoods but said the pace of transmissions was too “dangerous” for officials to consider easing distancing measures.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency reported 1,709 new cases, the 59th consecutive day it has confirmed more than 1,000. Only 38% of South Korea’s population of more than 51 million is fully vaccinated.
The Level 4 rules enforced in Seoul and nearby metropolitan areas are the highest level short of a lockdown and prohibit private social gatherings of three or more people after 6 p.m.
SANGEH, Indonesia — Hungry monkeys on the resort island of Bali have taken to raiding villagers’ homes in their search for something tasty while they are deprived of the bananas, peanuts and other goodies brought in by tourists.
About 600 long-tailed macaques live in a Bali forest sanctuary where they swing from tall nutmeg trees and leap about the famous Pura Bukit Sari temple. The monkeys are considered sacred.
With the coronavirus pandemic keeping visitors away, villagers say the macaques have been venturing out from the sanctuary to hang out on their roofs and await the right time to swoop down to snatch a snack.
Local residents are worried the sporadic sorties will escalate into an all-out monkey assault on the village, and they are taking fruit, peanuts and other food to the sanctuary to try to placate the primates.
Ordinarily, tourism is the main source of income for Bali’s 4 million residents, who welcomed more than 5 million foreign visitors annually before the pandemic.