The Latest: North Korea’s Kim urges ‘maximum alert’ on virus
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un urged officials to maintain “maximum alert” against the coronavirus pandemic, criticizing unspecified complacencies in the country’s anti-virus campaign that he said risked “unimaginable and irretrievable crisis.”
Despite the warnings, state media said Friday that Kim reaffirmed government claims that there hasn’t been a single case of COVID-19 in North Korea. Kim told a ruling party meeting that the country has “thoroughly prevented the inroad of the malignant virus and maintained stable anti-epidemic situation despite the worldwide health crisis.”
The North’s claim of being COVID-19 free has been questioned by outside experts, who say a major outbreak in the country could possibly have dire consequences because of its chronic lack of medical supplies and poor health care infrastructure.
Describing its anti-virus efforts as a “matter of national existence,” the country has shut down nearly all cross-border traffic, banned tourists, intensified screening at entry points and mobilized tens of thousands of health workers to monitor residents and isolate those with symptoms. Experts say the country’s self-imposed lockdown is also hurting an economy already battered by stringent U.S.-led sanctions over its nuclear weapons and missile program.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Four U.S. states — Arizona, California, Florida and Texas — reported a combined 25,000 new confirmed coronavirus cases heading into the July Fourth holiday weekend.
— California has gone from a coronavirus success story to a cautionary tale.
— US unemployment falls to 11%, but new shutdowns are underway
— Texas governor issues mask order to fight coronovirus
— Closing bars to stop coronavirus spread is backed by science.
Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Gov. Gavin Newsom urged Californians to turn to their “better angels” and use common sense by wearing masks and skipping traditional gatherings with family and friends during the holiday weekend.
California had been on a good trajectory with its virus efforts until mid-June, but infections and hospitalizations are now rising rapidly in many parts of the state.
Los Angeles and 18 other counties with the most troubling virus increases have been forced to shutter bars, forbid inside restaurant dining and close movie theaters.
Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s top health official, called the Fourth of July holiday weekend a “big deal” for efforts to contain the virus. He urged people to behave differently than they did on Memorial Day weekend, when many gathered socially. Authorities say that behavior helped spur the latest surge of cases.
“This is another time for Californians to pay attention to what happened over the last month and make a different set of decisions now,” he said.
BEIJING — China reported five newly confirmed cases of coronavirus, two of them in the capital Beijing and three brought from outside the country, according to the National Health Commission.
No new deaths were registered Friday, leaving the toll at 4,634 among 83,542 total cases of COVID-19 reported since the virus was first detected in the central city of Wuhan late last year. Another 103 people were in isolation being monitored as suspected cases or for having tested positive for the virus without showing symptoms.
Strict quarantine, social distancing and case tracing measures have helped radically bring down infections. Mask wearing is still universal in indoor spaces, while many venues also require proof on a mobile phone app that the person is healthy. Even with the opening of the economy, however, millions are faced with job losses and government assistance has been limited due to already massive levels of debt.
U.S. officials said airlines should consider limiting capacity on planes to promote social distancing, but they are not considering making the airlines do it.
The officials also recommended — but did not move to require — that travelers wear face coverings in airports and on planes. All leading U.S. airlines now require passengers to wear masks, but regulators have refused a request by the airlines to make it a federal rule.
The Transportation, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services departments made those and other recommendations in a report containing guidelines for reducing the risk of spreading the new coronavirus by air travel.
The agencies said airlines and airports should take steps to increase social distancing, clean surfaces touched by passengers, and ask passengers about their health to discourage people who may be ill from traveling.
The issue of limiting capacity on planes gained new urgency this week when American Airlines joined United Airlines in trying to fill every seat on every flight. The move was criticized by the government’s top expert on infectious diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas’ governor and its top public health official worry that the state won’t be able to reopen its K-12 schools for the new school year in August if it doesn’t reverse a recent surge in reported coronavirus cases.
Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly told legislative leaders Thursday that a desire to reopen schools is a key reason she issued an executive order requiring Kansas residents to wear masks in public and at their workplaces. The order takes effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday, with a fine of up to $2,500 possible for violators.
Kelly and other state officials don’t expect strict enforcement with decisions about pursuing violations left up to prosecutors in each of the state’s 105 counties. Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt can pursue violations but said he will leave them to local officials.
Also, counties can opt out of the order under a new pandemic law that took effect in June and resulted from a compromise between Kelly and lawmakers.
The governor and state health secretary and Dr. Lee Normans said the goal is to increase people’s use of masks to control the novel coronavirus’ spread. Norman told legislative leaders that Kansas could prevent more than 11,500 new coronavirus cases between now and Oct. 1 with a mask mandate.
CHICAGO — People traveling to Chicago from 15 states with increasing numbers of confirmed cases of the coronavirus will have to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival or face possible fines, city officials announced Thursday.
To comply with the order that takes effect Monday, travelers must stay at a single home or other dwelling for 14 days except to seek medical care or be tested for COVID-19.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said on Twitter that the order is intended to “preserve the gains Chicago had made.”
The city has reported 52,569 confirmed cases and 2,611 deaths since the start of the pandemic. Both categories have trended down in recent weeks and the city has allowed many businesses to reopen, including bars and restaurants with limits on customers.
The city’s Department of Public Health Commissioner said the specific states listed are based on the rate of new confirmed cases per 100,000 residents.
As of Thursday, that means people coming from Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah will be affected.
The order also applies to city residents returning from a visit to a designated state.
It wasn’t immediately clear how Chicago officials will enforce the order.
According to a website explaining the change, people could face fines of between $100 and $500 per day, totaling up to $7,000.
TAMPA, Fla. — Vice President Mike Pence met with Gov. Ron DeSantis to discuss the coronavirus situation on the same day Florida health officials reported a new single-day record total of 10,000 new cases.
Pence and DeSantis encouraged everyone, especially young adults, to wear masks in public spaces and avoid large gatherings. Both wore masks when not speaking.
“It is not an either/or choice,” Pence said Thursday. “We can slow the spread. We can flatten the curve, but it will take all of us to do it.”
Pence also said Republicans are “excited” about coming to Jacksonville in August for the Republican National Convention, noting that unspecified “sophisticated plans” are in the works to protect attendees.
Democrats criticized the White House and DeSantis for what they said was needlessly endangering lives by opening the economy too soon and not mandating masks. “They have put politics ahead of public health,” said U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala, President Bill Clinton’s Health and Human Services secretary.
ATLANTA — Georgia added nearly 3,500 confirmed coronavirus cases to its total count on Thursday, the largest single-day increase the state has experienced.
Georgia has seen a sharp increase in confirmed cases as well as people hospitalized in recent weeks.
Nearly 88,000 total confirmed cases of the virus have been recorded by the Georgia Department of Public Health. At least 2,849 people in Georgia have died.
There were 1,649 people hospitalized with the virus in Georgia Thursday, up from 1,135 a week earlier.
“We are in exponential growth with rapidly rising infections,” Dr. Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease expert at Emory University, tweeted Thursday. “I am very concerned of our trajectory as we head into the 4th of July weekend,” del Rio said as he urged people to wear a mask and practice social distancing.
AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered that face coverings must be worn in public across most of the state, a dramatic ramp up of the Republican’s efforts to control spiking numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.
Abbott, who had pushed Texas’ aggressive reopening of the state economy in May, had previously said the government could not order individuals to wear masks. His prior virus-related orders had undercut efforts by local governments to enforce mask requirements.
But faced with dramatically rising numbers of both newly confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus and the number of patients so sick they needed to be hospitalized, Abbott changed course with the statewide mask order on Thursday.
The order requires “all Texans to wear a face covering over the nose and mouth in public spaces in counties with 20 or more positive COVID-19 cases, with few exceptions.”
JOHANNESBURG — The World Health Organization says more than 6,000 health workers have been infected with the coronavirus in 38 countries across its Africa region since the pandemic began.
Hundreds of health workers already have been infected in the latest hot spot of South Africa’s Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg and the capital, Pretoria. Across South Africa, more than 2,000 health workers across have been infected. In Nigeria, nearly 1,000 have been sickened.
The WHO’s 47-country Africa region has the most severe health workforce shortage in the world, and concerns about adequate personal protective gear against the coronavirus are widespread. Already a handful of countries have seen more than 10% of their health workers infected as of Tuesday: Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Niger, Mozambique and Burundi.
UNITED NATIONS — France and Germany’s top diplomats are urging stepped-up action to quickly implement a new U.N. Security Council resolution demanding cease-fires in major global conflicts to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a virtual council meeting Thursday that “we now need to redouble our efforts,” pointing to conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Libya, Africa’s Sahel region and Afghanistan where “the situation remains extremely unstable and civilian populations continue to suffer the consequences.”
Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who chaired the council meeting, urged its often-divided members to implement the “long overdue” resolution by working together toward cease-fires in specific countries, which he stressed can lead to access for health and humanitarian workers and political talks.
Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, told the council that conflict zones are “the sharp end” of pandemics where people already live on a knife edge.
OKLAHOMA CITY — Coronavirus cases in Tulsa have been rising but officials say it’s too early to directly link the increase to a June 20 campaign rally held there by President Donald Trump.
The county has reported more than 1,300 confirmed cases of the virus in the 11 days since the rally drew about 6,200 people to a sports arena.
“Frankly (we) probably won’t see until next week just because of the lag from symptoms to testing to reporting,” Bruce Dart, the director of the Tulsa Health Department, said Thursday.
The incubation period for the virus is two to 14 days. Dart said previously health officials would be watching closely for six weeks for infections linked to the weekend of the president’s rally.
Dart said the increase has so far been traced to smaller gatherings such as at bars, gyms, restaurants, weddings and funerals. The Oklahoma State Department of Health on Thursday said there are a reported 14,539 cases statewide.
NEW ORLEANS — A study of New Orleans area residents infected with the coronavirus indicates 75 percent had no symptoms.
The study released Thursday by researchers at New Orleans-based Ochsner Health was done in May. It looked at testing of residents in New Orleans and neighboring Jefferson Parish. The study indicated a death rate among those infected of 1.63%, much more deadly than the flu.
Researchers selected 2,640 people, representing varied demographic groups from Orleans and Jefferson, from among 25,000 volunteers. They received nasal swab tests for the virus and blood tests for antibodies.
Another finding in the study: Infection rates were higher among Black residents (10.3%) than white residents (5.9%). The death rates of 1.72% and 1.58%, respectively, were not considered statistically significant.
Ochsner’s chief medical officer, Dr. Robert Hart, says the study demonstrated the need for masking and social distancing as the virus shows signs of resurgence in Louisiana and around the country.
“We need to assume that we could all potientially be carriers,” Hart said.
WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Sheriff’s deputies in the Southern California city of West Hollywood will issue citations to people who don’t wear masks in public, ramping up enforcement of a rule largely without penalties.
The West Hollywood station of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department says the increased enforcement would begin this month.
The non-criminal citations come with a fine of $250 for a first offense.
LONDON — The World Health Organization says it is still trying to understand how often people without symptoms of the coronavirus spread the disease.
WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, Maria Van Kerkhove, says it was clear some people not sickened by it were still spreading the virus.
“What we’re really trying to understand is the relative importance of when people transmit and how they transmit,” Van Kerkhove said. “This virus transmits through respiratory droplets, most often when they have symptoms, but it can happen just before they develop symptoms…And so that makes control measures that much more challenging.”
Van Kerkhove say WHO was concerned by a number of recent superspreading events, including in long-term living facilities, meat packing facilities, religious gatherings and expat dormitories.
HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania has reported 830 confirmed coronavirus cases, its highest one-day total since May.
Allegheny County, home to Pittsburgh and 1.2 million residents, reported more than 230 cases, its highest one-day total of positive tests.
Health officials in Philadelphia and Allegheny County attribute the rising numbers to people socializing in bars, returning from beach vacations and traveling to coronavirus hot spots in other parts of the U.S.
Officials say the statewide confirmed total cases is more than 88,000. It also reported another 25 coronavirus-related deaths for a statewide total of 6,712 since early March.
While the state’s hospitalizations for the virus continue to fall, officials say the percentage of people testing positive has been rising the last two weeks.
CORVALIS, Ore. — An Oregon State Trooper is on paid administrative leave after an employee of a coffee shop complained he didn’t wear a mask when entering the establishment.
It’s required under a statewide order by the governor to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The Oregonian/OregonLive reports the assistant manager Allan’s Coffee & Tea in Corvallis said the trooper on Wednesday told him Gov. Kate Brown had no authority to take away civil liberties and uttered a vulgarity directed toward the governor.
State police spokesman Capt. Timothy Fox said the trooper has been placed on leave and an internal investigation has begun.
ROME — Five Italian regions reported slight increases in coronavirus infections, for a total of 201 new confirmed cases, nearly two months after Italy began easing its lockdown.
Officials say the situation is under control and the new cases are being traced. Nationwide, the number of people hospitalized dipped below 1,000 for the first time in weeks.
Hard-hit Lombardy had the most new cases with 98. Lombardy accounted for 21 of 30 deaths nationwide. Lombardy’s welfare chief Giulio Gallera suggested the high day-to-day death toll might have been due to delayed reporting by hospitals and city offices.
Nationwide, Italy has 240,961 confirmed cases. The official death toll in the onetime epicenter of Europe’s outbreak stood at 34,818 on Thursday.
BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards says a member of his staff has tested positive for the coronavirus and is in self-quarantine, along with a dozen other governor’s office employees who were in close contact with the person.
Edwards’ office says the governor isn’t isolating because epidemiologists deemed he wasn’t at risk because he hadn’t recently been within 6 feet of the person for at least 15 minutes.
The Democratic governor says the employee confirmed to have COVID-19 disease is asymptomatic.
“We are monitoring our team and, should it become necessary, will be offering testing to our staff members and tracing their contacts to determine who needs to self-quarantine and who could be at risk,” Edwards said in a statement.
One of Edwards’ staff members, April Dunn, died from a coronavirus infection three months ago.
LONDON — The World Health Organization says the world is “lucky” there is a broad pipeline of experimental COVID-19 vaccines, with more than 150 at early stages of testing.
At the end of a two-day research meeting, the U.N. health agency says 17 vaccine candidates are in human trials and some might prove effective by the end of the year, although that the timeline of a licensed vaccine was still uncertain.
“We are very encouraged by the progression of these candidate vaccines and we are looking forward to have the results,” said Ana Maria Henao Restrapo, a vaccines expert at WHO.
She says the pharmaceuticals planning advanced tests in humans shared their protocols for proposed trials with the agency; all were randomized experiments. Several experimental vaccines, including one developed by Oxford University and made by AstraZeneca, are expected to soon move into large-scale trials that could provide data about whether they are effective.
“Whether or not we will have a vaccine in the anticipated timeline is still unknown,” Restrapo said.
MEXICO CITY — The governor of the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas says he’s tested positive for the coronavirus, becoming the fourth state leader in the country to be infected.
Gov. Francisco Cabeza de Vaca says on his official Twitter account that he’ll keep working and the area is passing through “a critical moment of infections.”
The state has recorded more than 6,000 confirmed cases and at least 356 deaths, though low rates of testing mean the actual number of infections is likely higher.
México has reported more than 231,000 confirmed cases and 28,510 deaths.