The Latest: S. Korea reports new daily high, mulls new steps

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported another high in daily coronavirus increases as health officials face growing pressure to enforce stricter social distancing to slow the spread in the capital area.

The 1,078 cases confirmed by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Wednesday brought the national caseload to 45,442. The death toll was 612 after 25 COVID-19 patients died in the past 48 hours, the two deadliest days since the outbreak began.

The agency said 226 among 11,883 active patients were in serious or critical condition, which was also the most since the start of the pandemic, as fears grow about a possible shortage in hospital capacities.

Senior Health Ministry official Yoon Taeho said authorities were discussing whether to elevate social distancing restrictions to the highest “Tier 3,” which could possibly including banning gatherings of more than 10 people, shutting non-essential businesses, and requiring companies to have more employees work from home.

“Tier-3 social distancing is the last and strongest measure that we could take, which would cause widespread damage to the self-employed,” he said. “We are hearing the opinions of experts, including those from central government agencies and regional governments … while deeply reviewing whether to elevate the measures.”

More than 770 of the new infections were reported from the Seoul metropolitan area, home to half of the country’s 51 million people, where new clusters are popping up from just about everywhere, including churches, hospitals, long-term care facilities, schools, restaurants, army units and prisons.

Critics say the country let its guard down by easing social distancing to the lowest in October out of concerns about sluggish economic growth rates despite warnings of a viral surge during the winter, when people spend longer hours indoors.



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— Poor countries face long wait for vaccines despite promises

— US vaccinations ramp up as 2nd COVID-19 shot nears

— After a punishing fall that left hospitals struggling, s ome Midwestern states are seeing a decline in new coronavirus cases.

— A scientist taking part in the World Health Organization’s mission track down the origins of the coronavirus says they plan to sift through samples and medical data from China to help determine where the bug came from.

— The four nations of the United Kingdom are facing mounting calls to scrap. or at least limit, a planned easing of coronavirus restrictions over Christmas following a spike in new infections.


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KANSAS — A western Kansas mayor announced Tuesday that she is resigning, effective immediately, because of threats she has received after she publicly supported a mask mandate.

Dodge City Mayor Joyce Warshaw said she was concerned about her safety after being met with aggression, including threats via phone and email, after she was quoted on a USA Today article on Friday supporting the mandate, The Dodge City Globe reported.

“I understand people are under a lot of pressure from various things that are happening around society like the pandemic, the politics, the economy, so on and so forth, but I also believe that during these times people are acting not as they normally would,” Warshaw said.

The commission voted 4-1 on Nov. 16 to impose a mask mandate, with several exceptions.

Ford County, where Dodge City is located, has recorded 4,914 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to the state health department. The county has about 33,600 residents.


BOISE, Idaho — A proposed public health order that would have included a mask mandate for Idaho’s most populated region was voted down on Tuesday as hundreds of protesters again gathered outside the Central District Health building in Boise.

A previous attempt to vote on the order was abruptly halted last week after Boise city police asked the board to end the meeting early amid protest-related safety fears.

During Tuesday’s meeting, three board members from Elmore, Valley and Boise counties — the more rural counties in the region — all voted against the mask mandate, saying they’d heard from constituents who were deeply opposed to the rule. But three board members from Ada County — the most populated county in the state — were in favor of the mask mandate, noting that Boise-area hospitals are reaching capacity because of an influx of COVID-19 patients, including many who are coming from neighboring counties.

The order lacked the required majority to pass.


SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California is distributing 5,000 body bags mostly to the hard-hit Los Angeles and San Diego areas and has 60 refrigerated trailers standing by as makeshift morgues in anticipation of a surge of coronavirus deaths.

The precautions come from hospitalizations that now are double the summertime peak and threaten to soon overwhelm the hospital system.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday that the number of average daily deaths has quadrupled from a month ago. The surge is forcing an urgent scramble for more staff and space, a crush that might not abate for two months despite the arrival of the first doses of vaccines this week.

In Orange County, health officials said they plan to send large tents to four hospitals to help handle their patient caseloads.


ATLANTA — The first coronavirus vaccines were administered Tuesday in Georgia as new infections continued to soar and many schools closed in-person classes for the remainder of the last week before Christmas.

Gov. Brian Kemp and Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey visited Savannah as the first four shots were administered to local health care workers.

The Republican governor warned the state is “not out of the woods.” The state is now averaging nearly 6,000 new infections a day, far above its summer peak. At least 14 Georgia school districts have sent all students home. Nearly 3,000 people are hospitalized statewide with confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Kemp continues to encourage people to maintain social distance, wear masks, wash hands and avoid large gatherings. But Kemp indicated again Tuesday that he will rely on voluntary compliance instead of trying to order businesses to close.

“As I’ve said from the beginning, no government mandate is going to make this virus go away,” he said.


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida’s largest hospital system said it was on track to immunize nearly 20,000 health care workers against COVID-19 as Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday announced a delay in hundreds of thousands of doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

But DeSantis said the first batch of the Moderna vaccine — 370,000 doses — could begin heading to his state as soon as this weekend and would allow wider distribution of the medicine to hospitals across the state, pending federal authorization.

Florida began receiving its share of the coronavirus vaccine on Monday, and the state was expected to get about 450,000 doses produced by Pfizer over the next two weeks. But production issues could prevent them from being delivered.

“We’re just going to have to wait. Obviously, it would be shipped relatively soon if we got it,” DeSantis said at a news conference in West Palm Beach. “We don’t know if we’re going to get any or not.”

The state will take what it can get, DeSantis said, as it attempts to take control of a pandemic that has infected more than 1.1 million Floridians since COVID-19 made its first appearance in the state in March.


WASHINGTON, D.C. — Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller was among the first Cabinet members to get the vaccine. He traveled to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., on Monday and was given the first dose of Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine.

While Miller was there, a number of the medical center’s front-line healthcare staff were also receiving the first of the two-shot regimen. It was the first day of the vaccine’s nationwide rollout.

Other high-ranking Pentagon military service leaders are expected to get the vaccine as soon as next week, in an effort to encourage the military force to also get shots, and to show that it is safe. Currently, getting the vaccine is voluntary within the military.

In a message to his force on Tuesday, Adm. Mike Gilday, chief of naval operations, urged service members to “strongly consider” getting the vaccine, not just for themselves but to help protect their shipmates. Saying he will receive the vaccine “shortly,” Gilday called the vaccine a “proven effective measure” to better protect the troops.


MONTREAL — Quebec’s premier is closing all non-essential businesses across the Canadian province from Christmas until at least Jan. 11.

Premier Francois Legault says that big box stores will be prohibited from selling any goods that are deemed non-essential. The premier is also forcing all office towers to empty starting Thursday and requiring employees to work from home until at least Jan. 11.

Legault says elementary and secondary schools will close Dec. 17 and can reopen at the earliest on Jan. 11. He says hospitals across the province are under too much pressure because of the COVID-19 pandemic to allow non-essential businesses to stay open during the holidays.

Quebec reported 1,741 COVID-19 infections on Tuesday.


SALT LAKE CITY — An intensive care nurse in Salt Lake City became the first person in Utah to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Utah hospitals began administering vaccinations to front-line healthcare workers with the highest risk of exposure. Hospital leaders expect about a total of 100 doses to be administered across the state on Tuesday.

Christy Mulder, a nurse at University of Utah Hospital, was the first person in the state to receive the vaccine.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn says she is thrilled that vaccines are finally being distributed in Utah. But she urges people to continue public health measures like wearing masks and social distancing.


CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The death toll from the coronavirus pandemic in West Virginia pushed past 1,000 with the announcement Tuesday of a record 34 deaths.

Health officials said the deaths broke the one-day mark of 31 deaths reported last Wednesday.

At least 1,012 people in West Virginia have died from the virus since the pandemic began. The number of deaths has more than doubled since early November, along with virus-related hospitalizations.

The number of virus patients in hospitals reached 774 as of Monday. That’s up 124, or 19%, in the past week alone. That includes a record 207 patients in hospital intensive care units, up from 180 a week earlier.

There are more than 21,000 active cases in the state, where officials began administering a vaccine for the virus on Monday.

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