The Latest: Governor bans city mask, shot rules on business

ATLANTA — Georgia’s Republican governor issued an executive order Thursday banning cities from requiring businesses to enforce local pandemic restrictions.

But what impact, if any, the measure would have on new mask requirements in Atlanta, Savannah and other cities was not clear.

At a news conference, Gov. Brian Kemp said his order will prevent local governments from forcing businesses to be the city’s mask and vaccine police. He said he was concerned about measures in Atlanta and Savannah. Both cities have mask requirements, but it was not immediately clear that either would be affected by the governor’s order.

The order comes amid an explosion in COVID cases in the state.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— U.S. schools open amid record coronavirus delta wave

— Maine Sen. Angus King tests positive for virus

— Africa WHO official knocks nations that ‘hoard’ vaccines

— 4 of Florida’s 5 largest school districts to require masks

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— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

TOPEKA, Kan. — Officials in some Kansas communities are battling a rise in COVID-19 cases by mandating masks for kids, issuing emergency orders and requiring vaccines.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Kansas has risen over the past two weeks from 605 new cases per day on Aug. 3 to 797 new cases per day on Tuesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

In the Lawrence area, Douglas County leaders approved a health order Wednesday that will require children ages 2 to 12 to wear masks while in indoor public spaces. The decision followed four hours of public comment that included jeering and interruptions from a largely maskless crowd, the Lawrence Journal-World reports.

In the Wichita area, hospital status was changed to critical Wednesday, as about 150 COVID-19 patients fill beds there, The Wichita Eagle reports.

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DENVER — Colorado U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper announced Thursday that he has tested positive for a “breakthrough” case of COVID-19.

The first-term Democrat issued a statement saying he tested positive after experiencing mild symptoms and is self-isolating at the direction of the attending physician for the U.S. Congress, Dr. Brian P. Monahan.

Infections and illnesses can happen even after being vaccinated. Experts say vaccination could help make any illnesses less severe. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that newer versions of the coronavirus could be a factor in “breakthrough” cases.

Hickenlooper, 69, is a former brewpub entrepreneur, Denver mayor and two-term governor who defeated incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in the 2020 election.

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CLAYTON, Mo. — A judge on Thursday issued an order barring St. Louis County from enforcing a mask mandate while a lawsuit against it is litigated.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page issued the mandate last month, prompting the County Council to vote to rescind it. Page maintained that the mask requirement nonetheless remained in effect.

Circuit Judge Ellen “Nellie” Ribaudo then issued a temporary restraining order, finding that the state was likely to prevail in its argument that current law gives the council the authority to terminate the mask requirement. That order was in effect only until a decision was made on a preliminary injunction.

Ribaudo was critical of some who had claimed victory after the temporary injunction was issued.

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee hospitals warned Thursday that the intensive care units are full in nearly every hospital in the state’s major metropolitan areas.

The Tennessee Hospital Association said in a statement that the hospitals with full ICUs are the same ones that normally accept transfers of sicker patients from smaller hospitals.

Hospital officials are pleading with Tennesseans to get vaccinated and wear masks.

Meanwhile, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona warned Tennessee in a letter sent Wednesday that Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order allowing parents to opt their children out of mask mandates might violate federal law.

Separately, a Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Vanderbilt School of Medicine report released Thursday found that hospitalizations have increased more than tenfold in a little more than a month, the fastest rate of increase seen during the pandemic.

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HILO, Hawaii — Big Island Mayor Mitch Roth is asking Hawaii’s governor to reinstate a pre-travel testing program for all visitors and residents flying into the islands, regardless of vaccination status.

Hawaii had previously required tests for all travelers to avoid a quarantine period upon arrival. But Gov. David Ige decided earlier this year to allow vaccinated travelers to skip the testing to help revive the state’s decimated tourism economy.

Now the islands are experiencing a surge in COVID-19 that has surpassed daily case records from earlier spikes in the pandemic.

Roth wrote in a letter to Ige Wednesday that the surge is putting an “unbearable strain” on island hospitals, noting that facilities on the Big Island are at capacity.

Hospitals on Oahu, the state’s most populous island, have been operating at or near capacity and have periodically run out of intensive care unit beds this week.

Roth is also considering cancelling the Ironman World Championship and closing beaches.

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina’s top prosecutor on Thursday sued the state’s capital city over a school mask mandate that officials allege violates state law.

The city of Columbia’s school mask order conflicts with a state budget requirement that went into effect July 1 and bans school districts from using appropriated funds to require face coverings, State Attorney General Alan Wilson said in a complaint filed with the South Carolina Supreme Court.

The lawsuit comes as average daily cases of COVID-19 have risen by more than 60% over the last two weeks, with hundreds of students across the state already required to quarantine for exposure to the virus.

Earlier this month, Columbia’s city council ratified an ordinance mandating the use of masks in the city’s elementary and middle schools for at least the beginning of the school year.

The Republican attorney general said days later that the emergency ordinance should be “rescinded or amended,” but city leaders said the mandate doesn’t violate state law because city, not state, funds are being used.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey will require all teachers, school administrators and other staff who have not been vaccinated to produce twice-weekly negative COVID-19 tests once schools reopen and resume in-person classes on Sept. 6, the president said.

Speaking following a Cabinet meeting Thursday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said universities would also demand regular PCR tests from unvaccinated students and teaching staff.

People who have not been vaccinated and want to travel on buses and planes or to go to concerts, theaters and cinemas will also face mandatory COVID-19 testing, Erdogan added.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said the tests would be conducted free-of-charge at state-owned hospitals.

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Gov. Kate Brown announced Oregon is expanding its COVID-19 vaccine requirement to include all teachers, educators, support staff and volunteers in K-12 schools.

Teachers are the latest to be added to the growing statewide vaccine mandate. It also includes health care workers and state employees be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 or six weeks after a COVID-19 vaccine receives full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Also, Brown announced weekly testing for health care workers will no longer be an option for those who want to avoid vaccination. The only opt-out of the requirement is either a medical or religious exemption.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill says unvaccinated students and those who don’t disclose their COVID-19 vaccination status will be required to get tested for the coronavirus twice a week.

In a message to the community, the university says 87% of students have attested they are fully vaccinated. Those who become fully vaccinated and report their status to the university will no longer have to face twice-weekly testing.

The move comes as the state witnesses its worst levels of transmission of the virus in months.

North Carolina on Thursday registered more than 7,000 daily COVID-19 cases, the highest in seven months. More than 3,000 people are hospitalized in the state with COVID-19, the most since Jan. 28.

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PHOENIX — A northwestern Arizona school district has banned employees from discussing vaccination status or mask- wearing with students.

The Mohave Daily News reports the governing board for the Colorado River Union High School District made the decision this week. The edict carries no repercussions for administrators, staff and teachers who violate it. That will be up to the district’s superintendent, who supported the motion.

The school board’s gag rule is rare. Vaccines and masks remain contentious topics across Arizona as students return to school.

On Thursday, the state reported 3,546 confirmed coronavirus cases and four more deaths.

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AUGUSTA, Maine — U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine tested positive for the coronavirus Thursday, a day after he began feeling ill, his office announced.

King, an independent, says he’s definitely “not feeling great” but doing better than if he hadn’t been vaccinated.

“I am taking this diagnosis very seriously, quarantining myself at home and telling the few people I’ve been in contact with to get tested in order to limit any further spread,” King said in a statement.

The 77-year-old King says throughout the pandemic, he’s worked to protect himself, family and staff through masks, social distancing, a “work-from-home mindset. ” He’s used Zoom meetings and, until recently, was driving instead of flying to Washington, D.C.

He urged people to follow guidance from health professionals and “get vaccinated if you haven’t been.”

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SEATTLE — Authorities say there are more people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Washington state than at any time during the pandemic.

Cassie Sauer, president of the Washington State Hospital Association. says there were 1,240 people with coronavirus in state hospitals. The previous highest number was about 1,100 in December.

Sauer says until the recent uptick in cases and hospitalizations due to the delta variant, the COVID-19 hospitalization rate in the state had been holding steady at 300 to 350 people. The numbers began increasing in early July and have been doubling about every two weeks.

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Four of the five largest school districts in Florida are defying an executive order by Gov. Ron DeSantis barring them from imposing strict mask mandates in schools.

Board members took action Wednesday after seeing the numbers in Hillsborough and Palm Beach counties. School began a week ago and already thousands of children have been sent home because teachers and classmates are infected with the delta variant of the coronavirus.

Veterans Affairs Dr. J. Stacey Klutts says it’s necessary to wear masks indoors and avoid large group gatherings. He says unprotected students sitting for hours in classrooms could rapidly spread infection.

Statewide, Florida reported 23,335 new infections for Tuesday, according to the CDC. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services dashboard reported 17,096 hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients.

DeSantis, a Republican, also is in an escalating power struggle with the Democratic White House. After President Joe Biden ordered possible legal action Wednesday, the U.S. Education Department raised the possibility of using its civil rights arm against Florida and other states that have blocked public health measures meant to protect students.

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JACKSON, Miss. — Republican U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi has tested positive for the coronavirus and is in isolation.

“Senator Wicker tested positive this morning for the COVID-19 virus after immediately seeking a test due to mild symptoms,” his communications director, Phillip Waller, said in a statement Thursday.

It says Senator Wicker is fully vaccinated, in good health and being treated by his Tupelo-based doctor.

“Everyone with whom Senator Wicker has come in close contact recently has been notified.”

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ORLANDO, Fla. — The number of U.S. tourists who came to Florida in the second quarter of this year has returned to pre-pandemic levels, though the international market is still lagging.

Figures released Thursday show 30.6 million domestic visitors came to Florida from April through June of this year. That’s a 6% increase over the same time in 2019, and a 216% rise from the same time last year during the height of pandemic closures.

Florida welcomed only 1.1 million visitors from overseas and Canada in the second quarter of this year, compared to 3.5 million visitors in the second quarter of 2019.

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WALTHAM, Mass. — Blood plasma from COVID-19 survivors didn’t help newly infected patients when tested against a dummy infusion, doctors reported.

The results of the experiment are the latest disappointment for a treatment known as convalescent plasma. The experimental treatment is not currently recommended in U.S. guidelines and it’s been difficult to study in a controlled way.

The new study, published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, ran a test in about 500 patients with COVID-19 symptoms in hospital emergency rooms. Half received antibody-rich plasma donated by recovered COVID-19 patients. Half received a dummy infusion.

Outcomes were about the same. About 30% in both groups got sick enough to come back to the hospital. Five patients in the plasma group died compared to one death in the other group.

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