The Latest: Israeli Cabinet to tighten coronavirus lockdown

JERUSALEM — The Israeli Cabinet has agreed to tighten a lockdown in hopes of slowing a raging coronavirus outbreak.

Most schools and businesses will be closed, public gatherings restricted and public transportation limited for a two-week period beginning at midnight Thursday night. Thousands of police are expected to be deployed to enforce the closure.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced the decision late Wednesday.

Israel has jumped out to a fast start in vaccinating its population, inoculating 15% of its 9 million people in just over two weeks. But at the same time, it is facing one of the world’s highest rates of coronavirus infections.

Israel’s Health Ministry has reported over 462,000 cases of the coronavirus, including more than 8,000 new cases on Wednesday. It also has reported over 3,500 deaths.



Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar says the government will begin allowing more drugstores to start giving shots to speed coronavirus vaccinations. Some governors and other politicians are turning up the pressure after a slow rollout of the coronavirus vaccines. Dr. Anthony Fauci believes the U.S. could soon give 1 million vaccinations a day. The U.S. reports 29 severe allergic reactions to the vaccines.

The European Union has given approval to the Moderna vaccine. The decision gives the 27-nation bloc a second vaccine to use against the coronavirus. The U.K. says it has vaccinated 1.3 million people and plans to have almost 1,000 vaccination centers operating by the end of this week.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper on Wednesday announced a three-week extension of a 10 p.m. curfew aimed at helping slow the spread of the coronavirus as some counties experienced a bumpy rollout of vaccines for residents over age 75.

As the state moved beyond healthcare workers and those in nursing homes and shifted to the new phase of vaccine distribution for certain elderly members of the general public, some sites quickly ran out of supplies or experienced long lines or crowds.

Not all counties had begun the new phase because key healthcare workers who regularly come into contact with COVID-19 haven’t all had the opportunity to get their first dose of a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

At a time when data from the state Department of Health and Human Services shows 96 of North Carolina’s 100 counties with substantial or critical community spread, Cooper warned residents to remain vigilant.

“No matter where you live, work, worship or play, COVID-19 remains a deadly threat, and we’ve got to treat it that way,” Cooper said.


ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Florida began converting one of its major testing locations into a vaccination site and Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday that residents over 65 should be soon able to receive a shot at other large-scale venues, churches, and even some grocery stores around the state.

DeSantis spoke at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, and some first responders were vaccinated. He called Wednesday a “soft opening” that will last a few days until the site opens to the regular public.

More than 329,000 people have been vaccinated in Florida — or about 1.5% of the population — almost all of them either health care workers, residents in care homes, or people over the age of 65.

“We believe putting seniors first is the right policy as a matter of public health,” DeSantis said.


The drugstore chains CVS and Walgreens both said Wednesday that they expect to finish delivering the first round of COVID-19 vaccine doses at nursing homes on schedule by January 25.

CVS said it was roughly halfway done as of Tuesday. It is working with 7,822 nursing homes nationwide and had completed nearly 4,000 first-dose clinics.

All told, CVS said it has administered 351,231 vaccines in nursing homes as of Tuesday, including nearly 30,000 in big states like California and Florida.

There are more than 15,000 nursing homes nationally, and the drugstore chains focused first on vaccinating at those locations in part because residents there are more vulnerable and require more care than people staying at other long-term care locations.

CVS and Walgreens also are expanding their vaccine delivery into those other locations, which include assisted living facilities. CVS said it has completed nearly 700 first-dose clinics at those locations and administered more than 26,000 shots.

But the drugstore chain said it was still waiting on eight states — Arizona, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wisconsin — to set start dates before it can begin working in those locations.


BOISE, Idaho — An 87-year-old south-central Idaho man has filed a federal lawsuit against Republican Gov. Brad Little and the state’s health department seeking to force the state to put people 65 and over at the front of the line for the coronavirus vaccination.

Richard Byrd of Rogerson in the lawsuit filed Monday says it’s a life-and-death issue for older people who tend to die at much higher rates than younger people if they get COVID-19.

Byrd contends denying him access to the vaccine immediately is a violation of his rights under the U.S. Constitution. The Idaho attorney general’s office declined to comment on the lawsuit.


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin was released from a hospital Wednesday after being treated for COVID-19 and planned to continue recovering from the illness and quarantining at home.

Woodfin, 39, was admitted to Princeton Baptist Medical Center on Monday with pneumonia in his left lung caused by COVID-19. He said a grandmother who died of the illness caused by the new coronavirus was being laid to rest as he was being discharged.

“That pains me. I can’t be there, and I miss her. She was 87 years old and she died of COVID-19,” he said in a statement. “If you don’t have to be out, don’t be out. Wash your hands. Wear your masks and practice social distancing.”

Woodfin received Remdesivir and convalescent plasma therapy during his stay in the hospital.

Woodfin fell ill at the same time three other Alabama mayors from Auburn, Decatur and Florence were fighting the illness.


Mission, Kan. — Kansas State University has warned that the spring semester could begin online because the coronavirus continues to rage in the surrounding community and statewide.

President Richard Myers said in a written statement that the COVID-19 indicators the university monitors to make decisions are “not moving in a positive direction.”

The number of cases in Kansas rose by 5,501 from Monday to 236,818, and the number of deaths jumped by 130 to 3,027.

Jon Rolph, a member of the Kansas Board of Regents who leads a state regional COVID-19 reporting effort, said intensive care unit beds in hospitals that can handle acute-care patients are “at a premium right now.”

At Labette Health in southeast Kansas, staff members are growing fatigued after months of fighting the virus and extra staff have been brought in to help, said CEO Brian Williams.

Williams, an Army veteran said the ICU sometimes resembles a front-line battlefield. “I think we naively in the beginning assumed we wouldn’t lose any COVID patients, that we were that good, our ICU nurses were that good,” he said. “I think it is hurtful when reality sets in.”


CHICAGO — Illinois will make COVID-19 vaccinations available to residents age 65 and older in the next inoculation phase.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker gave the update Wednesday as Illinois neared 1 million infections. The age is lower than a government advisory panel’s recommendation of 75.

Pritzker says it was lowered to make the process more equitable, citing data showing elderly Black and Latino residents die younger from COVID-19.

Currently, workers in health care and long-term facilities are eligible, representing roughly 850,000 people.

The next phase, expected to begin in weeks, includes elderly residents and essential workers. Roughly 3.2 million people will be eligible in that phase.


OKLAHOMA CITY — Registration began Wednesday in Oklahoma for residents to be notified when they are eligible for a coronavirus vaccination, according to the State Health Department, which later reported a one-day record increase in deaths due to COVID-19.

Those who register at online will be notified by email when an appointment is available, the department said in a news release.

The availability of appointments depends on the vaccine supply in each county, which changes weekly, health officials have said.

Beginning Thursday, Oklahoma residents 65 and older, health care workers and first responders will be able to schedule appointments on the site as part of phase 2 of the program.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health later reported 3,305 additional cases of the virus and 62 more deaths due to COVID-19, eight more than the previous daily high of 54 on Dec. 2.

Late Tuesday, the department reported a one-day record 1,994 hospitalizations.

There have now been 311,573 total virus cases and 2,633 deaths due to the illness caused by virus since the pandemic began in March.


NEW YORK — New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan Wednesday to offer coronavirus vaccines to most city police officers, only to have Gov. Andrew Cuomo say an hour later that the officers aren’t yet eligible for them.

De Blasio says the city hoped to offer the vaccines to 25,000 officers and to provide shots to 10,000 by Sunday.

Cuomo is trying to vaccinate health care workers in New York before moving onto the next round of vaccinations, which will be open to essential workers and individuals over age 75.

Cuomo says the 950,000 doses allocated so far to New York isn’t enough to vaccinate all health care workers. But his office hasn’t provided a breakdown of how many health care workers are on the front lines, compared to administrative workers.

He’s facing pushback against local officials calling for vaccines soon for teachers and first responders, including police and firefighters.

The New York Police Department has about 35,000 uniformed members, but only about 25,000 hold public-facing jobs. A smaller number are emergency service officers who might be considered vaccine-eligible front-line workers under Cuomo’s rules.


TRENTON, N.J. — Police officers and firefighters are eligible to get the coronavirus vaccine on Thursday.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy made the announcement on Wednesday. They’ll follow health care workers as the second wave of professionals eligible to get the shot. State Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli has said New Jersey has about 400,000 shots on hand, and more than 134,000 vaccines have been administered so far.

She added health care workers and those in long-term care homes continue to be a priority. Expanding vaccination eligibility to another group doesn’t mean earlier categories are closed to getting the shots, she says.

More than 450,000 people have signed up on the state’s new vaccine pre-registration website, Murphy says. They’ll get word when they’re eligible to get the shots.


TUCSON, Ariz. — The University of Arizona is ramping up its coronavirus testing program as it gears up for the Jan. 13 start of the spring semester that will again offer most classes online to students.

The university also started the fall semester by offering classes online under a re-entry plan that had only certain research labs and performing arts courses meeting in person.

According to the university, approximately 3,900 students are enrolled in those essential classes out of the total enrollment of approximately 46,000.

The university’s testing program will require weekly testing for students living in dorms for remote classes or attending in-person classes.

Testing begins Wednesday, one day before most dorm students move in. University President Robert C. Robbins says the university was asking students arriving from outside Tucson to self-quarantine for seven days even if they have tested negative for the coronavirus.


NEW YORK — U.S. health officials say they have reports of at least 29 people developing severe allergic reactions to the coronavirus vaccines, but they stress that the risk for most people is low.

The CDC on Wednesday released its latest count of side effects suffered by more than 5.3 million people who have been vaccinated. The 29 had suffered anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction that can be controlled through an epinephrine injection.

That’s a rate of about 5.5 cases per million people, which is roughly four times higher than the rate seen in a study of people who got flu shots.

The CDC also published a more detailed study of the first 1.9 million Americans vaccinated as of Dec. 23. Among that group, 21 of suffered the severe allergic reaction. CDC had full data on 20 of the cases, and none of them died, agency officials said. Nineteen got epinephrine and four were hospitalized.

Anyone who has a severe reaction to a first dose should not get a second dose of the vaccine, the CDC says.


WASHINGTON — Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar says the government will begin allowing more drugstores to start giving shots to speed coronavirus vaccinations.

Pharmacies from 19 chains had been on standby until vaccine supplies increased. Azar says allowing them to help with vaccinations would ease pressure on hospitals that have been the main vaccine providers.

Pharmacies would need to follow state plans for who gets in line first, and governors would decide how to divide supplies between the drugstores and other vaccination sites.

Azar says if health workers aren’t lining up fast enough, it’s OK to mix in other priority groups, and urged governors to make that clear.

The drugstore program is in addition to work by CVS and Walgreens to vaccinate nursing home residents and staff. Azar says eventually more than 40,000 pharmacy locations will be involved.


ROME — Italy’s coronavirus infections are creeping up with 20,331 new cases recorded and 548 deaths added to the official death toll.

The government is weighing revised measures after the current restrictions expire mid-month.

Within Europe, Italy currently trails only Germany in its coronavirus vaccination campaign, with 260,000 people inoculated. But officials say its capacity to administer shots must increase exponentially over the coming weeks as more vaccines become available.

Europe’s onetime virus epicenter has had more than 95,000 health care workers infected and 280 doctors died after testing positive.


COLUMBUS, Ohio — Teachers and other school employees, people older than 65, and individuals with severe medical disorders will be included in the second phase of coronavirus vaccine distribution in the state, to start in about two weeks, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine says.

About 2.2 million people are in this second group, and the state expects about 100,000 vaccines for the first week of what’s known as Phase 1B.

The governor says the goals are to save lives and allow children to return to school by March 1.

Vaccines will have been administered at four of every five nursing homes by the end of the week, DeWine says. He says he’s concerned only about 40% of nursing home workers are opting for the shot.


TUCSON, Ariz. — Catholic churches across metro Tucson are canceling indoor Mass for four weeks because of the rising number of coronavirus cases in Pima County.

Diocese of Tucson officials announced indoor mass celebrations and baptisms will be suspended starting Friday until Feb. 5. They say masses can be held outdoors and pastors may request permission from the bishop to hold an indoor mass.

Diocese officials say funerals and weddings can be held indoors, but they will be limited to 25 people while baptisms will be limited to 10 people. Gatherings before or after ceremonies will not be allowed on Diocese property.


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