The Latest: Georgia care workers alarmed by virus surge
ATLANTA — Georgia health care workers on Friday expressed increasing alarm and frustration with a surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the delta variant of the coronavirus amid continuing, scattered efforts to try to increase the state’s low vaccination rate.
“I can’t comprehend why — after fighting this war for 18 months, with people still dying and with critically ill patients filling our COVID units — we’re still having to work to convince people of the seriousness of what our tireless teams are dealing with every day,” Phoebe Putney Health System President and CEO Scott Steiner said in a statement.
The health system was caring for 133 coronavirus patients at its three hospitals in the Albany area and had exceeded its highest patient count from the state’s last major COVID-19 surge, which was over the winter.
Georgia’s case count continued to rise, with the seven-day rolling average climbing above 6,000 on Friday, the worst since Feb. 1.
The number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals was also rising rapidly, exceeding 4,000 on Friday even as many hospital executives have warned they don’t have enough beds and staff. More than 87% of the state’s ICU beds were in use.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— Moscow reports surge in deaths from coronavirus in July
— FEMA: Paid $1 billion to help cover coronavirus funerals
— Japan races to vaccinate after Olympics as coronavirus surges
— President Biden eyes tougher vaccine rules without provoking backlash
— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
HONOLULU — Two visitors from U.S. mainland were arrested for allegedly using fake vaccine cards to travel to Hawaii.
Officials with the Hawaii attorney general’s office arrested the visitors at Honolulu’s international airport, a spokesman for the agency said in a statement.
Investigators said the two violated state rules requiring travelers to produce either a negative coronavirus test or proof of vaccination to avoid quarantine upon entering the state.
Violating the state’s COVID-19 mandates, including falsifying a vaccination card, is a misdemeanor that can result in a fine of up to $5,000, up to a year in prison or both.
The agency said this is the first time it has arrested someone for allegedly falsifying a vaccination card.
COLUMBIA, S.C. — A South Carolina health system is rescheduling surgeries and reassigning nurses after two of its hospitals topped 100% capacity as the delta variant spurred a new wave of coronavirus cases in the state.
Tidelands Health says it’s also opening two temporary clinics to treat patients with COVID-19-like symptoms as a way to bring down emergency department volumes.
Elsewhere in the state, hospitals are limiting visitors and entire high school football teams are being quarantined as schools newly reopened for the fall semester grapple with outbreaks.
In Pickens County, school board members called an emergency session Friday after 534 students and 28 staff members were quarantined two weeks into the school year. Kershaw County School District, which also began classes last week, quarantined 701 of its 11,033 students by Friday.
Coronavirus cases are soaring toward rates not seen since the height of the pandemic last winter, before vaccines became widely available. On Friday, health officials confirmed 3,585 new cases and 15 deaths, and total daily case counts have risen above 2,000 for the last 12 days.
PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University says students will soon no longer be able to cite a “personal or philosophical” exemption to the school’s requirement that all who attend get a COVID-19 vaccine.
The university says those exemptions would be nixed once the Food and Drug Administration grants full approval to vaccines now allowed under an emergency authorization.
It wasn’t immediately clear what effect the school’s new policy would have on football coach Nick Rolovich, who has opted not to get a vaccine. “Discussions also are underway about changes to the faculty and staff vaccination policy,” the university said.
The more strict vaccine requirements are being implemented because of the delta variant of the coronavirus, which has caused spikes in cases and hospitalizations throughout Washington state. Classes begin at WSU on Aug. 23.
JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi broke its single-day record of new coronavirus cases three times this week.
There were more than 3,000 cases reported Tuesday, more than 4,000 Thursday and more than 5,000 Friday.
On Thursday, the state broke its records for patients hospitalized and in ICUs with COVID-19; the previous records were in January, before vaccinations were widely available.
On Friday, Neshoba County had the highest per capita coronavirus caseload in Mississippi and the 55th highest among all counties in the U.S., according to the Johns Hopkins University.
Neshoba General is not alone in the struggle with cases as the delta variant has proliferated in Mississippi since early July. Health officials say few intensive care beds are available anywhere in Mississippi.
On Friday, the state opened an air-conditioned tent as a field hospital in a parking garage at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. It’s staffed by health care workers sent by the federal government. Patients with COVID-19 can be transferred there from around the state.
Mississippi has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the U.S. at 36% , compared to 50% for the nation.
NEW YORK — U.S. health officials have acknowledged more than 1 million Americans got extra coronavirus vaccine doses before it was authorized for people with weakened immune systems.
About 1.1 million people who received the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccines got at least one additional dose on their own. About 90,000 people who got the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine received at least one more, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.
It’s not known how many of the people who got extra doses are immune-compromised. The Food and Drug Administration this week authorized an extra dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines in people with weakened immune systems to better protect them from the virus.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Most Arkansas public school students will be required to wear masks when classes begin statewide next week.
At least 60 public school districts and charter schools have approved the requirements in the week since a judge prevented the state from enforcing a law banning school districts and governmental entities from requiring masks.
The requirements will cover at least half of the state’s 473,000 public school students.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson didn’t issue a statewide mask requirement after the judge’s ruling and instead left the decision to local school boards. The state’s 10 largest districts have all approved some type of mandate.
The pace at which the mandates are being approved surprises even health experts, who say they’re needed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus as Arkansas’ cases and hospitalizations skyrocket.
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma City school district will require students and staff to wear masks starting next week, with provisions for an opt out of the requirement, the district’s superintendent announced Friday.
Also, school employees who provide proof of full vaccination by Nov. 15 will receive a $1,000 stipend, according to Superintendent Sean McDaniel.
McDaniel says he issued the requirement days after the start of school on Monday because the number of virus cases increased from four the first day of classes to 119 on Thursday. McDaniel adds he doesn’t believe the requirement violates a state law banning mask mandates in schools because he, not the school board, issued the directive.
McDaniel says he hasn’t discussed the matter with Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, who issued a statement supporting the district and Santa Fe South, a public charter school that adopted a similar mask requirement that includes opt-out provisions.
O’FALLON, Mo. — Missouri hospitals are filling to capacity with COVID-19 patients, along with the intensive care units with a record number of patients.
The state health department’s coronavirus dashboard shows 2,318 people hospitalized with the virus, 50 more than Thursday and the highest number in seven months.
Some 689 COVID-19 patients are in Missouri intensive care units, the most since the pandemic began, topping 685 ICU patients on Dec. 23. The state data indicates 384 people on ventilators.
ICU capacity is down to 15% statewide, and inpatient bed capacity is at 16% remaining.
TORONTO — The Canadian government will require all air travelers and passengers on interprovincial trains to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra says that includes all commercial air travelers, passengers on trains between provinces and cruise ship passengers. It’s expected to take effect sometime in the fall and no later than the end of October.
The government also will require vaccinations for all federal public servants in the country.
The Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic Leblanc noted the federal government is the largest employer in the country. Leblanc says it is the government’s duty to guarantee the safety of their employees and those they serve.
MOSCOW — Russia has reported a daily record of 815 COVID-19 deaths, the highest toll of the pandemic.
The Russian coronavirus task force on Friday also confirmed 22,277 cases.
Meanwhile, Moscow’s Health Department says deaths of all causes in the capital increased 60% in July compared to the same month a year earlier. They included 6,583 coronavirus-related deaths, which corresponds to a COVID-19 mortality rate of 3.95%.
Health officials blamed the increase on COVID-19 deaths on the more contagious delta variant and unusually hot weather that exacerbated coronavirus-induced complications. Russia’s vaccination drive has lagged other nations. As of a week ago, 20% of the population was fully vaccinated.
CHICAGO — Chicago Public Schools officials announced they’ll require all employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by mid-October unless they qualify for a medical or religious exemption.
The mandate — announced two weeks before the full-time in-person learning begins Aug. 30 — applies to all Chicago Board of Education workers, a group that includes teachers, staff, workers in the district’s central office, and regular vendors and network employees.
“Our Chicago Public School communities deserve a safe and healthy environment that will allow our students to reach their greatest potential,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday that California would become the first state to require all teachers and school staff to get vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing.
CPS says staffers must submit proof that they are fully vaccinated by Oct. 15, unless they have the approved exemptions. In the meantime, employees who have not reported they’re fully vaccinated will be tested at least once a week until Oct 15 or until they provide proof of vaccinations. Those employees who have approved exemptions must be tested throughout the school year.
PHOENIX — Arizona reported more than 3,000 additional virus cases for the first time in six months amid an escalation of legal wrangling over school districts’ mask-wearing restrictions.
The state’s coronavirus dashboard reported 3,225 cases and 23 deaths, increasing the state’s confirmed pandemic totals to 958,992 cases and 18,435 deaths.
The state’s seven-day rolling average of daily cases rose in the past two weeks from 1,507 on July 28 to 2,547 on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
A judge was scheduled Friday to hear arguments in a lawsuit challenging an Arizona school district’s decision to require students and staff to wear masks indoors.
With nine other districts adopting similar mask rules despite a state law prohibiting districts from requiring mask-wearing, the case against Phoenix Union is seen as a test case. Also, the Arizona School Boards Association and others have filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of that law.
WASHINGTON — The Federal Emergency Management Agency is reporting a grim milestone in its program to provide funeral assistance payments for people who have died from COVID-19.
Matthew Redding, FEMA’s Deputy Director of Individual Assistance, says the agency has paid more than $1 billion to 150,000 people who have applied for help covering coronavirus funeral expenses.
The government provides a maximum of $9,000 per deceased individual and up to $35,000 per application for U.S. citizens who can provide proof their family member died of COVID-19 and had qualified expenses not covered by some other source.
Redding says the U.S. government has no projected end date for the funeral assistance. “FEMA has sufficient resources to continue this mission as the nation continues to grapple with so much loss,” he said.
In some cases, there’s been assistance for multiple family members since the program launched nearly three months ago. FEMA has provided funeral assistance in the past but never on this scale.
More than 619,000 people have died in the U.S. from COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University.
MIAMI — Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on mask requirements in schools faces a challenge in a Tallahassee courtroom.
Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper is scheduled to hear the lawsuit Friday. Parents from several large school districts want the governor’s prohibition on mandatory masking lifted as children across Florida return to school.
DeSantis says parents should decide whether their children wear masks in classrooms. But with infections from the delta variant surging, some school districts are following guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that recommends staff and students wear masks. The lawsuit says the mask ban violates Florida’s constitution.
In Palm Beach County, officials said they ended the second day of classes with 440 students sent home to quarantine because of 51 cases detected among staff members and students.
Orange County’s school system reported 333 total cases after classes began this week, with 20 teachers and 39 students still quarantined.
LAS VEGAS — A coronavirus pandemic mask mandate in Nevada has drawn a federal lawsuit from attorneys seeking class-action status for claims that the constitutional rights of thousands of parents and children at Las Vegas-area schools are being violated.
The complaint filed Thursday against Gov. Steve Sisolak, state Attorney General Aaron Ford and the Clark County School District invokes rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
It seeks an immediate court order to invalidate a directive the governor enacted last week requiring K-12 students and school employees in the Las Vegas and Reno areas to wear masks on buses and inside school buildings, regardless of vaccination status. The CDC says masks help prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
Schools opened Monday in and around Las Vegas, where more than 300,000 students and about 18,000 teachers make the Clark County district the fifth largest in the nation.