The Latest: Pennsylvania sees most confirmed cases in months

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania reported its highest number of confirmed coronavirus infections in more than five months on Thursday, with the governor expressing concern but adding the state is in a much better position now to handle the influx than it was at the beginning of the pandemic.

The Department of Health said another 1,376 people had tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, the second consecutive day that new infections rose above 1,300. Thursday’s statewide case count was the highest since April 30, when Pennsylvania recorded 1,397 new infections. The average daily number of new confirmed cases is up by more than 36% over the past two weeks, according to The COVID Tracking Project, and the percentage of people testing positive is also trending up.

Health officials cite increased spread among college and university students. Penn State University alone has reported nearly 3,000 positive virus tests at its main campus in State College, and surrounding Centre County currently leads Pennsylvania in the number of infected people per capita.

“I am very concerned” about the spike in infections, Gov. Tom Wolf said at a news conference Thursday, but “we’re at a different place in terms of how we can address it.”

He said hospitals have lots of capacity, the state has plentiful supplies of personal protective equipment, and testing and tracing has been expanded. He also asserted that more people are complying with a statewide mask mandate.



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PHOENIX — Arizona health officials on Thursday reported 863 additional known COVID-19 cases with 10 more deaths, increasing the state’s totals to 223,401 known cases and 5,743 reported deaths amid a recent gradual increase in hospitalizations.

Some COVID-19-related hospitalization metrics as of Wednesday released by the Department of Health Services showed continued higher numbers of inpatient hospitalizations and usage of intensive care beds since lows in late September.

The number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations stood at 728 on Wednesday, up from 468 on Sept. 27 and the most since 752 on Sept. 1. ICU bed usage totaled 156 on Wednesday, up from 115 on Sept. 29 and the most since 168 on Sept. 13.

However, the latest levels remained far below peaks experienced in mid-summer when Arizona was a national hotspot and hospitalizations peaked at 3,517 on July 13.

Meanwhile, seven-day rolling averages of daily new cases and daily deaths in Arizona both decreased in the past two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins University data analyzed by The Associated Press.

The average of daily new cases dropped by 768 on Sept. 23 to 576 on Wednesday as the average of daily deaths dropped from 22 to 12.


TOPEKA, Kan. — Students are urging Washburn University officials to reconsider their decision to cancel spring break in an effort to minimize COVID-19 transmission.

The Washburn Student Government Association passed a resolution calling on the administration to consider an alternative that would add three “mental health days” to the spring calendar, The Topeka Capital-Journal reports.

The student leaders said they were blindsided by last week’s announcement that students would go through 15 uninterrupted weeks of classes, with finals week one week earlier between May 1 and 7.

“We understand the need for safety, but we can’t sacrifice safety for mental health,” said student body president Victoria Smith.

JuliAnn Mazachek, vice president for academic affairs, said in an email late last week that spring break was being eliminated to protect the health and safety of faculty, staff and students.

“As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to grow both nationally and in our state, it is incumbent upon the university to design an academic schedule that minimizes opportunity for contraction and transmission of this virus,” Mazachek wrote.

The state Department of Health and Environment reported another 1,244 new confirmed and probable coronavirus cases from Monday to Wednesday to bring the pandemic total to 63,952.


BATON ROUGE, La. — Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday he’s keeping Louisiana’s current coronavirus restrictions on businesses and activities in place for another month, even though those rules have provoked the ire of Republican lawmakers who convened a special session hoping to undo many or all of them.

At a news briefing focused mainly on the impending arrival of Hurricane Delta, the Democratic governor announced he’s renewed the terms of his pandemic emergency order with few changes and is maintaining the statewide mask mandate through Nov. 6. The restrictions had been set to expire Friday if Edwards didn’t act.

The rules — described as a Phase 3 order — were enacted in September and were loosened from previous orders.

Restaurants, churches, gyms and most other businesses can operate at 75% of their capacity. Sports events such as high school and college football have crowd limits of 25%, which allows 25,000 fans in LSU’s Tiger Stadium, for example. One change in Edwards’ latest rules will allow alcohol sales again in some stadiums.

The virus has killed at least 5,416 people in Louisiana, according to the state health department. About 86% of the deaths have involved people aged 60 or older. The state’s death rate is the fifth highest per capita in the country.


COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has issued a warning against Ohioans gathering for big events like weddings and funerals, while defending a decision to boost the number of fans allowed to attend NFL games in the state. The governor also said Thursday that even as cases rise in the state, the economy won’t be shut down again. DeWine says 18 counties are considered “red” under the rating system for counties with high rates of the spread of the coronavirus. He says mass gatherings have happened in at least half those counties.

“In one example, there was a wedding where two grandfathers died due to COVID,” the governor said. “Examples like these are absolutely heartbreaking.” He blamed the new spread on people not taking precautions like mask-wearing and social distancing.

“This has just got to stop. These lives are valuable. These lives matter. We can do better than this,” DeWine said.

DeWine is under pressure from bars and restaurants to lift the ban on alcohol sales after 10 p.m., though he hinted Thursday he’s still reluctant to do that. But a few minutes later, he defended his decision to allow the Browns and Bengals to boost the number of spectators from 6,000 to 12,000 at their remaining home games. Each team submitted detailed plans to the Health Department for keeping spectators safe.

That decision was based on letting people “go ahead and live,” DeWine said.

“Allowing some more people to go root for the Bengals, go root for the Browns, is something that people feel very passionately about-—we think they can do it safely,” the governor said.


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri on Thursday reported an increase of more than 1,500 confirmed COVID—19 cases and the highest number of hospitalizations for confirmed or suspected cases since the pandemic began.

Data from the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services showed a total of 137,156 confirmed cases and 2,259 deaths since March. That was 1,505 more cases and 23 more deaths than reported Wednesday.

The department also reported 1,344 Missourians were hospitalized with confirmed or suspected COVID–19 cases on Wednesday — up from 1,241 the previous day. The state averaged 1,204.9 hospitalizations in the previous seven days.

One of the largest hospitals in southwestern Missouri has seen a big rise in hospitalizations. CoxHealth spokeswoman Kaitlyn McConnell said the Springfield hospital on Thursday was treating a record 93 COVID-19 patients.

“Because this surge came to the Midwest later than other parts of the country, we were able to prepare by aggressively gathering PPE and expanding our facilities, and are currently managing through this crisis,” McConnell said in an email. “However, we are distressed by the rising number of cases and what they mean in our community. We ask our community, and those across the country, to continue to take preventative measures against the spread of this virus.”

Missouri Hospital Association spokesman David Dillon said the nearly monthlong trend of spiking hospitalizations is troubling, and he noted that many people getting care in regional hubs like Springfield are from smaller towns around those hubs.


NASHVILLE, Tenn. — An outbreak of the new coronavirus at a Tennessee women’s shelter is forcing about 150 people to quarantine, a spokesman for Nashville’s Metro Public Health Department said Thursday.

A cluster of fewer than 20 people tested positive for the virus at the Nashville Rescue Mission’s facility for women and children, Brian Todd said. The outbreak includes residents and staff. Because those who tested positive were in close contact with other residents at the shelter, the entire facility was placed under quarantine, Todd said.

The Health Department is continuing to monitor the outbreak. The quarantine is set to expire on October 15.


RAMALLAH, West Bank — Saeb Erekat, a top Palestinian official, has been infected with the coronavirus.

The Palestine Liberation Organization announced the news on Thursday.

Erekat is a longtime senior adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas and served as the Palestinians’ chief negotiator in past peace talks.

Erekat has a history of health problems and underwent a lung transplant in the U.S. in 2017.

There have been over 54,000 cases of the coronavirus and 422 deaths reported in the Palestinian-administered areas of the Israeli occupied West Bank.


UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council has met in its chamber at U.N. headquarters in New York for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the city in March, and despite wearing masks and being separated by plexiglass dividers, U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft said “It was so great to be home.”

Germany’s U.N. Ambassador Christoph Heusgen, who started lobbying for the U.N.’s most powerful body to resume in-person meetings in its chamber when his country held the council presidency in July, agreed. “The Security Council is coming home, and it was wonderful to be there,” he said.

Like most businesses and organizations, the council was forced to meet virtually because of the pandemic, but the heart of diplomacy is face-to-face contact and as the months rolled by pressure grew to resume in-person meetings.

Heusgen succeeded in getting council members to meet in the much larger chamber for the 54-member Economic and Social Council on several occasions in July, and that practice has continued several times in the succeeding months.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, the current council president who strongly supported Germany’s push for a return to the council chamber, told reporters as he left Thursday’s meeting: “I think everybody was happy to come back home, finally.”

During Thursday’s meeting on Mali some ambassadors took their masks off when they spoke, and others left them on.


BOSTON — Boston public school teachers announced a legal challenge Thursday to the city’s decision to continue some in-person classes, which they allege is in violation of an agreement that requires all-remote learning if the city’s coronavirus positivity rate rises past 4%.

Mayor Marty Walsh announced Wednesday that the next phase of the schools’ reopening plan would be delayed by a week because the city positivity rate had climbed to 4.1%.

But students who had already returned to the classroom, including those with special needs, would continue with in-person instruction.

The Boston Teachers Union said Thursday that based on a memorandum of understanding, in-person work is now optional for all teachers.

The union also said it objected to a suggestion by Superintendent Brenda Cassellius that teachers could be disciplined for opting not to teach in person.

The mayor’s office said it interpreted the memorandum of understanding differently.


WASHINGTON — The Washington D.C. Department of Health has released an open letter appealing to all White House staff and those attending a Sept. 26 event in the Rose Garden to seek medical advice and take a coronavirus test.

The letter indicates a lack of confidence in the White House medical team’s contact tracing efforts for the virus outbreak that infected President Donald Trump, multiple senior staff members and two U.S. senators, among others.

Co-signed by nine other local health departments from neighboring jurisdictions in Maryland and Virginia, the letter says contact tracing on the outbreak has been insufficient and “there may be other staff and residents at risk for exposure to COVID positive individuals.”

The move highlights the public health dilemma faced by Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration regarding the current outbreak. The Trump White House has operated for months in open violation of several D.C. virus regulations, hosting multiple gatherings that exceeded the local 50-person limit and where many participants didn’t wear masks.


TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey added 1,300 new coronavirus cases overnight, the highest level since late May.

Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli says most of the positive cases in Ocean County stem from Lakewood, predominantly among white men ages 19-49 and could be related to religious services or celebrations that occurred in late September.

Hospitalizations also increased to 652, the highest level since early August.

Eleven more people died in the last day, bringing the statewide confirmed total to 14,373. The positivity rate for testing stood at 3.69%, while the rate of transmission fell to 1.22, down from 1.27.

The state has stockpiled personal protective equipment, ventilators and the therapeutic drug Remdesivir, Persichilli says.


MADRID — Spain’s health ministry is reporting 12,423 new coronavirus cases and 126 confirmed deaths Thursday, the day a court struck down a partial lockdown in hard-hit Madrid.

With 848,324 infections since the start of the pandemic, Spain has the highest caseload in Europe. The official death toll rose to 32,688, although limits on testing early in the year means the actual number of victims is likely much higher.

The country’s 14-day rate of 256 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants varies greatly from region to region, with Madrid’s 563 topping the charts. That’s five times the European average rate as of Sept. 27, according to data of the European CDC.

Fernando Simón is the top official in charge of Spain’s response to the pandemic. He says regardless of the court ruling, citizens should be responsible and “take into account the risk they inflict on others if they move around.”


DES MOINES, Iowa — The White House Coronavirus Task force told Iowa officials in its most recent report released Thursday that many virus-related deaths in the state were preventable. The report dated Oct. 4 was released to the media a day after Gov. Kim Reynolds said Iowans shouldn’t let the virus dominate their lives.

Average daily deaths have increased over the past two weeks to 10 per day. More than 250 people in Iowa have died in the past month alone.

“Community transmission has remained high across the state for the past month, with many preventable deaths,” the report dated Oct. 4 said.

Reynolds bristled Wednesday when asked why she hadn’t taken more steps to reduce virus spread, such as mandatory masks. Reynolds said she had taken action but she “has to balance a lot.”

Hospitalizations rose to 449 Thursday, a day after Reynolds acknowledged a new record of 444 and said the health care system could handle the increase.

State health data on Thursday showed 1,515 confirmed cases in the last 24 hours and five additional deaths, bringing the confirmed state death toll to 1,419.


ROME — Italy has added Belgium, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom to its list of countries at risk for the coronavirus.

Visitors from the four countries, as well as previous list members Spain and France, must be tested on arrival in Italy or show proof of a negative test in the past 72 hours.

Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza signed the ordinance on Thursday, the same day Italy’s new confirmed caseload passed 4,400, the highest levels since April.

Italy still has one of the lowest infection rates in Europe, at 52 cases per 100,000 residents over the last two weeks. By contrast, the Czech Republic counts 374 per 100,000, while Spain has 303, the Netherlands 285, France 257, Belgium 246, and the United Kingdom 201 per 100,000.


YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar reported 1,012 new cases of the coronavirus a day after setting a record daily total of 1,400.

Authorities implemented a tight lockdown measures in Yangon, the country’s largest city with the highest number of infections.

Myanmar’s leader, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, says the government had acquired antigen test kits to quickly detect positive cases. She acknowledged a shortage of beds in hospitals in some areas to treat patients but said the health ministry was arranging more facilities.

The country has reported 22,445 cases and 535 confirmed deaths, including 25 new deaths.

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