The Latest: New Orleans urges, but doesn’t mandate mask use

NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans officials have issued an advisory “strongly recommending” that people resume wearing masks indoors amid a surge in coronavirus cases to levels not seen in months.

The city is hoping to avoid the kind of pandemic-related shutdowns that devastated its vital tourism economy in 2020, but Mayor LaToya Cantrell stopped short Wednesday of requiring mask wearing.

The mayor says the advisory “puts the responsibility on individuals themselves,” rather than have the city enforce a mandate.

The announcement came as New Orleans posted figures showing the seven-day average of new cases has risen 117, the highest since early February. It had fallen as low as eight in mid-June but began climbing sharply in early July.



— Russia says 23% of population has received at least 1 virus shot

— South African firm to produce Pfizer vaccine, a first for Africa

— Tokyo virus cases hit 6-month high, 2 days before Games open

— WHO says 3.4M global virus cases last week, up 12%; says virus risk inevitable at Tokyo Olympics


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ATHENS, Greece — Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters who gathered Wednesday in Athens to oppose coronavirus vaccination requirements proposed by the Greek government.

The demonstration in front of the parliament building took place hours after the government submitted legislation to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for employees at nursing homes and care facilities.

Under the draft bill, staff members could be suspended without pay starting in mid-August if they fail to comply.

Officers fired the tear gas and water cannons after protesters attempted to break through a police cordon.

Several thousand people also joined a protest rally in Greece’s second-largest city, Thessaloniki.


SALT LAKE CITY — Utah on Wednesday recorded its highest number of people hospitalized due to COVID-19 in five months as the virus surges among unvaccinated people.

State health officials renewed their pleas for people to get vaccinated as Utah intensive care units reached 81.5% capacity. There are 295 people who are hospitalized due to the virus in the state, the highest since February.

Utah has averaged about 622 confirmed cases per day over the last week, about triple the case rate the state was experiencing at its lowest point in early June.

State health data shows the recent surge is almost entirely connected to unvaccinated people. About 66% of adults in Utah have had at least one dose of the vaccine and 60% are fully vaccinated.


BISMARCK, N.D. — In North Dakota, where COVID-19 vaccination rates are among the lowest in the country, three doctors who specialize in reproductive health appeared in a virtual town hall Wednesday to dispel misinformation about the effects of vaccines on fertility and pregnancy. They vouched for the safety of vaccinations for couples who want to have a baby urged people to seek out their doctors or nurse practitioners with any questions.

“I can understand that people are scared, people are nervous,” said Dr. Stephanie Broadwell of Sanford Health in Fargo. “I think sometimes there can be information that can be helpful and some that can be misleading. We don’t have to 100 percent agree on everything we’re speaking but that counseling is very, very important.”


MISSION, Kan. — Coronavirus cases have tripled in the U.S. over two weeks amid an onslaught of vaccine misinformation. The spike in infections is straining hospitals, frustrating doctors and pushing clergy into the fray.

Across the U.S., the seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the U.S. rose over the past two weeks to more than 37,000 on Tuesday, up from less than 13,700 on July 6. That’s according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Health officials blame the delta variant and flattening vaccination rates. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 56.2% of Americans have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine.

Dr. James Williams is a clinical associate professor of emergency medicine at Texas Tech and says he has been treating more COVID-19 patients. He says patients are younger — many in their 20s, 30s and 40s — and overwhelmingly unvaccinated.

Williams says: “It is like seeing the car wreck before it happens.”


NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana health officials reported 5,388 new coronavirus cases Wednesday, the third-highest daily count since the start of the pandemic.

Hospitalizations for the disease rose to 844 statewide, up more than 600 since mid-June.

The numbers were announced as state officials stressed the need for vaccinations. There are 1.6 million people, about 36% of the state’s population, fully vaccinated.

In New Orleans, officials are considering a revival of previous virus restrictions. Mayor LaToya Cantrell and the city’s top health official, Dr. Jennifer Avegno, are expected to make an announcement about any changes.


MOSCOW — A total of 33.6 million Russians, or 23% of the country’s population, have received at least one shot of a coronavirus vaccine.

That’s according to Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, who says some 22.6 million, or 15%, have been fully vaccinated among the population of 146 million. On Wednesday, the coronavirus task force reported 23,704 new infections and 783 confirmed deaths.

The Russian authorities have struggled to ramp up the country’s low vaccine uptake as coronavirus infections surged in recent weeks. Russia’s daily number of cases more than doubled, going from about 9,000 in early June to more than 25,000 in mid-July.

Faced with the soaring infections and deaths, officials in more than 30 Russian regions made vaccinations mandatory for certain groups, such as those employed in health care, education, public transportation or the services sector.


LONDON — The leader of Britain’s main opposition Labour Party is the latest high-profile politician in the country to have to self-isolate after coming into close contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus.

A spokesman says one of Keir Starmer’s children tested positive at lunchtime, just hours after Starmer had tested negative. It will be the fourth time Starmer has entered quarantine since the start of the pandemic.

New infections across the U.K. are running near 50,000 a day. With expectations the case load could at least double, there are concerns among businesses that millions of people will have to quarantine for a period this summer.


GENEVA — The World Health Organization says there were more than 3.4 million new global cases of the coronavirus last week, a 12% increase from the previous week.

The U.N. health agency says the number of deaths is continuing to decline, with about 57,000 in the last week.

The WHO says that “at this rate, it is expected that the cumulative number of cases reported globally could exceed 200 million in the next three weeks.” WHO says the highest increases in cases were in the western Pacific and European regions.

WHO has urged countries to commit to vaccinating at least 40% of every country’s population by the end of the year. Of the more than 3 billion vaccine doses administered globally, only about 1% have gone to people in poorer nations.


NEW YORK — New York City’s mayor says workers in city-run hospitals and health clinics will be required to either get vaccinated or get tested weekly as officials face a rise in COVID-19 cases, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday.

Publicly employed nurses, doctors, social workers, custodians and registrars will be covered under the order from the city health commissioner.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday that he isn’t applying the same requirement yet to teachers, police officers and other city employees.

The number of vaccine doses given out daily in the city has dropped to less than 18,000 from a peak of more than 100,000 in early April. About 65% of all adults are fully vaccinated. However, the inoculation rate is around 25% among Black adults under age 45. About 45% of the workforce in the city’s public hospital system is Black.


JOHANNESBURG — A South African firm will begin producing the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, the first time the shot will be produced in Africa.

Pfizer said Wednesday that the Biovac Institute based in Cape Town will manufacture the vaccine for distribution across Africa, a move that should help address the continent’s desperate need for more vaccine doses amid a recent surge of cases.

Biovac will receive large batch ingredients for the vaccine from Europe and will blend the components, put them in vials and package them for distribution. The production will begin in 2022 with a goal of reaching more than 100 million finished doses annually. Biovac’s production of doses will be distributed among the 54 countries of Africa.


TOKYO — Tokyo’s coronavirus infections have surged to a six-month high with the Olympic host city logging 1,832 new cases just two days before the Games open.

Tokyo is currently under its fourth state of emergency, which will last until Aug. 22, covering the entire duration of the Olympics that start Friday and end Aug. 8. Fans are banned from all venues in the Tokyo area.

Japan Medical Association President Toshio Nakagawa says the surge has been expected regardless of the Olympics. Experts say cases among younger, unvaccinated people are sharply rising as Japan’s inoculation drive loses steam due to supply uncertainty. About 23% of Japanese are fully vaccinated.

Health experts on Wednesday warned that Tokyo’s infections will only worsen in coming weeks.


TOKYO — The head of the World Health Organization says the Tokyo Olympics should not be judged by the tally of COVID-19 cases that arise because zero risk is impossible.

WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tells the International Olympic Committee what matters more is how infections are handled.

Tedros wants Tokyo’s success to be judged by how “cases are identified, isolated, traced and cared for as quickly as possible and onward transmission is interrupted.”

The number of games-linked COVID-19 cases in Japan this month is now 79. More international athletes have tested positive at home and cannot travel.

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