The Latest: Judge: Masks OK in So Carolina school districts

COLUMBIA, South Carolina — School districts in South Carolina now have the authority to require masks, the state’s education chief said Wednesday.

The memo from Education Superintendent Molly Spearman confirmed for districts a federal court ruling on Tuesday siding with parents of disabled students. The parents said a state ban on masks was discriminatory and they didn’t feel safe sending them to public schools without required face coverings.

Gov. Henry McMaster and state Attorney General Alan Wilson promised to appeal.

U.S. District Judge Mary Geiger Lewis wrote her decision to side with the parents who sued the state with the help of The American Civil Liberties Union wasn’t a close call.

“It is noncontroversial that children need to go to school. And, they are entitled to any reasonable accommodation that allows them to do so. No one can reasonably argue that it is an undue burden to wear a mask to accommodate a child with disabilities,” Lewis wrote.

Lewis compared the General Assembly preventing mask requirements to telling schools they can no longer install wheelchair ramps.



— Boosters, plus more focus on unvaccinated in US

— AP-NORC poll: Virus fears linger for vaccinated older adults

— Slovenia police use water cannons at anti-COVID-19 pass protest

— Zimbabwe’s vaccine mandates face supply, hesitancy issues


See all of AP’s pandemic coverage at



DENVER — A judge on Wednesday dismissed an attempt by a group of Denver police officers to block the city’s vaccine mandate, a day before it’s set to take effect.

In a lawsuit filed last week, seven officers claimed the city didn’t have the authority to impose the mandate under a local disaster emergency declared by Mayor Michael Hancock at the start of the pandemic, noting that Democratic Gov. Jared Polis rescinded his statewide emergency pandemic order in July.

They claim the city should have followed the longer process laid out in state law to impose regulations. However, Judge Shelley Gilman ruled that law only applies to state agencies. Under city law, the officers should have appealed the vaccine mandate, first issued on Aug. 2, at the city level before filing a lawsuit, she said. Since they didn’t, Gilman said she had no jurisdiction to decide the case and dismissed it.

Under the Denver public health order, updated Sept. 1, all city employees, workers in public and private schools and people who work for private employers such as hospitals, homeless shelters, childcare centers, must show proof that they are vaccinated. City workers face dismissal if they don’t comply.


NEW YORK — A new survey finds that vaccinated older adults are far more worried about COVID-19 than the unvaccinated.

Those vaccinated older adults are likelier to take precautions of wearing a mask, avoiding crowds and travel despite the protection afforded by their shots. That’s according to a survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The survey finds growing numbers of the unvaccinated are planning travel, embracing group gatherings and returning to gyms and houses of worship.

Kathy Paiva is a 70-year-old retired bartender from Palm Coast, Florida. She and her 67-year-old sister both fell ill with the coronavirus. Paiva, who is vaccinated, survived. Her sister, who wasn’t, did not.

“I’m scared to go anywhere right now,” she said. “I’d like to go out to eat, too, but I’m not going to put anyone’s life in danger, especially my own.”

Oliver Midgette, a 73-year-old retired electronics salesman in Norfolk, Virginia, rarely dons a mask and eats in restaurants. He says he “grew up in the old days. I ate dirt. I drank water from a hose.”

Dr. Irwin Redlener, a public health expert and founding director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, said unvaccinated people’s concerns about the virus are lower because of their “disregard for science.”

Linda Wells, a 61-year-old retired high school administrator in San Francisco, says defiance about vaccines is “selfish” and a “stubborn point of view keeps them from resolving a health crisis.”


PORTLAND, Maine — More than 75% of Maine’s population age 20 and older is fully vaccinated against coronavirus, one of the highest rates in the country.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported about 65% of the state’s total population is fully vaccinated. The nationwide rate is closer to 55% for the total population.

Meanwhile, Maine is dealing with an early fall surge of new cases of the coronavirus among the unvaccinated. Deaths from the virus fell in the past two weeks.


JOHANNESBURG — A report into dealings by senior officials at South Africa’s health ministry during the coronavirus pandemic has revealed corruption, fraud and the misappropriation of millions of dollars meant to aid the fight against COVID-19.

The highly awaited report by the Special Investigating Unit was released by president Cyril Ramaphosa. It found wrongdoing by former health minister Dr. Zweli Mkhize and others.

The report said Mkhize, who resigned last month, interfered in the procurement process to have a COVID-19 communications contract worth $10 million awarded to close associates. It says the associates later made payments for the benefit of Mkhize and his family.


BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Coronavirus infections have been rising in Slovakia, reaching levels unseen for half a year.

The Health Ministry says the daily increase in new cases reached 1,459 on Tuesday, the highest number since April 7. It was 1,180 cases a week ago.

There were 14 reported deaths on Tuesday for a total of 12,620 in the nation of 5.5 million, the most since mid-June.

Also, the number of people needing hospitalization reached 531, the highest since May. The ministry says almost 85% are unvaccinated.

So far, 2.4 million people in Slovakia have received at least one shot of a vaccine, one of the lowest vaccination rates among European Union countries.


LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — Slovenia has suspended Johnson & Johnson vaccines while probing the death of a 20-year-old woman.

Health Minister Janez Poklukar on Wednesday said the suspension will be in place until all circumstances of the woman’s death are cleared. He says the woman died from a stroke two weeks after receiving the jab.

The woman’s death this week was the second serious case of adverse effects of the Johnson & Johnson jabs that have been administered to about 120,000 people in Slovenia, the official STA news agency reported.

However, Poklukar says the vaccine “benefits continue to outweigh the risks.”

The announcement is likely to fuel Wednesday’s protests in the capital, Ljubljana, against vaccination and coronavirus measures. Police used tear gas and water cannons on some protesters who tried to block a major highway.


BEIJING — A city in northern China has killed three housecats after they tested positive for COVID-19.

The authorities in Harbin say the action was taken because there was no available treatment for animals with the disease. The owner tested positive for the coronavirus on Sept. 21 and went into isolation after leaving food and water out for the three cats.

A community worker gave the cats coronavirus tests, which twice came back positive. Despite an online appeal by the owner, the cats were put down Tuesday evening.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk of animals spreading the coronavirus to people is “considered to be low.” It’s known to be transmissible from people to animals in some situations, especially when there is close contact.

“People with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 should avoid contact with animals, including pets, livestock, and wildlife,” the CDC says on its website.


MOSCOW — Russia is reporting record coronavirus deaths for the second day in a row, but authorities say they are not considering imposing nationwide restrictions.

Russia’s state coronavirus task force on Wednesday registered 857 deaths, the country’s highest daily number of the pandemic. The previous record of 852 COVID-19 deaths was reported Tuesday.

New cases also have risen in recent weeks, increasing from about 18,000 confirmed a day in mid-September to some 22,000 this week. On Wednesday, Russia reported 22,430 new confirmed cases.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the numbers are “a serious cause for concern” but nationwide restrictions aren’t currently being discussed. Peskov pointed out that regional governments are empowered to introduce their own measures and some regions are doing that in light of the surging infections.

In all, Russian authorities have reported over 7.4 million confirmed infections and more than 206,000 deaths. However, reports by the government’s statistical service Rosstat that tally coronavirus-linked deaths retroactively reveal much higher mortality numbers.


HANOI — Video footage of police officers in southern Vietnam violently escorting a women to take a COVID-19 test has gone viral as authorities requested an investigation of the case on Wednesday, local media reported.

In a video shown on the website of the state-owned Tuoi Tre newspaper, two riot police officers locked the woman’s arms behind her back in front of her crying child as they took her out of an apartment in Binh Duong province.

According to the newspaper, the officers broke the lock of the woman’s apartment after she refused to attend a routine coronavirus test at her condominium building on Tuesday.

The woman said she was busy with an online yoga class and did not want to go for the test because the testing site might be crowded, the newspaper reported.

The video shows the woman was taken to the site, where a police officer held her arms as a health officer took a swab sample.

Provincial authorities have ordered an investigation of the individuals involved in the incident, the newspaper said.

Under Vietnamese laws, people who resist procedures needed to contain contagious diseases and go on to spread the disease face up to five years in prison, but police cannot break into private household without a warrant.


MADRID — Open-air stadiums in Spain will be allowed to host spectators to their full capacity and indoor sports facilities up to 80% of their maximum capacity during October.

Audience attendance in sports’ events is currently capped to 60% outdoors and 40% in indoor facilities.

The new capacity guidelines will be in place from Oct. 1, the Health Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday. The revision was timed for the beginning of the Spanish soccer and basketball leagues.

The ministry says fans will need to wear masks at all times and keep 1.5 meters (5 feet) of social distance. Drinking will be allowed during games, but not eating or smoking.

A vaccination drive has reached 77% of Spain’s 47 million residents and largely credited for a sharp decline in coronavirus infections.


GENEVA — The World Health Organization reported that the global number of new coronavirus cases and deaths continued to fall in the past week, with an estimated 3.3 million new infections and about 55,000 deaths, marking a 10% drop in both.

In its regular assessment of the pandemic issued on Tuesday, the U.N. health agency said the biggest drops in new cases were seen in the Middle East, the Western Pacific and the Americas.

WHO first reported a substantial decrease in cases in mid-September at 4 million new cases, with declines seen in all areas of the world, the first time in more than two months that COVID-19 cases had fallen.

WHO said all regions reported more than a 15% decline in deaths, except for Europe, where the number of deaths was similar to the previous week and Africa, where there was about a 5% rise.

In Asia, the number of deaths dropped by nearly a quarter. WHO warned there would likely be more spikes of COVID-19 as the Northern Hemisphere enters winter. The disease spreads more easily during winter as people spend more time indoors. Social distancing restrictions also are being relaxed in many countries that have a relatively high level of vaccination.


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