The Latest: SC schools without mask mandates get virus wave

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina is setting records for COVID-19 hospitalizations, and new cases are approaching the peak levels of last winter.

Since ending South Carolina’s state of emergency on June 7, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster has maintained that parents alone should decide if children wear masks in schools, even as the state’s new cases soared from 150 a day on average to more than 5,000.

Now teachers, students and parents are struggling with the fallout as more young people contract the delta variant, forcing nearly two dozen schools and two entire districts back to online learning within a month of returning in person.

State health and education officials say the statewide mask ban in schools took away one of their best tools to stop the spread of COVID-19. The state hit nearly 2,600 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in early September, a record.

“We spiked the football too early. Instead of continuing to listen to medical professionals and interpreting the data, he has been guided by Republican Governors Association talking points,” Democratic state Sen. Marlon Kimpson of Charleston said.

Some lawmakers from both parties are pushing for a special session to repeal the rule and allow local governments to make decisions. The state Supreme Court is considering a lawsuit over whether the mask provision is legal.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— Schools without mask mandate get brunt of latest virus wave in South Carolina

— US panel backs COVID-19 boosters only for seniors, high-risk

— Crisis standards of care guide medical decisions in overwhelmed hospitals

— UN using honor system to check vaccinations for New York meeting

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— See AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

DUBAI — The capital of the United Arab Emirates has ended a policy requiring those coming in from other emirates to have a recent negative coronavirus test.

Abu Dhabi made the announcement Saturday, saying that people from the UAE’s six other emirates could enter the capital from Sunday without getting a test.

For months, oil-rich Abu Dhabi had restricted travel, even as neighboring Dubai rapidly opened itself up to tourists.

Abu Dhabi also has implemented a requirement that people prove their vaccination status to enter some public places — a stricter requirement than the country’s other emirates.

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NEW DELHI — India gave out 25 million doses during a special COVID-19 vaccination drive organized on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s birthday.

The campaign took place Friday as Modi turned 71. The Health Ministry said Saturday the special drive had raised India’s overall vaccinations to more than 790 million.

Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya called the feat “ a golden chapter … written in the history of the country and the world.”

Only China has administered more. The Chinese government said this week it had given more than 2.16 billion shots and that 1 billion Chinese people were fully vaccinated.

India, a country of nearly 1.4 billion people, has given at least one dose to more than 62% of eligible adults and two doses to about 21%. Health ministry officials say they plan to administer over a billion shots by mid-October.

India has reported more than 33 million coronavirus cases and 444,529 deaths. The country is recording over 30,000 new COVID-19 cases a day.

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Police used pepper spray to subdue protesters Saturday at an anti-lockdown rally in Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city.

About 1,000 demonstrators gathered in the suburb of Richmond after the location of the protest was changed at the last minute to evade authorities.

There were minor scuffles as well as a violent confrontation involving a handful of protesters. Several protesters were arrested.

Most of the demonstrators defied regulations by failing to wear masks.

Some 2,000 police officers were deployed at road checkpoints and barricades, and on roving patrols, to try to stop the rally going ahead in breach of public health orders.

Melbourne’s sixth lockdown began on Aug. 5. Melbourne is the capital of Victoria state, which on Saturday reported 535 new infections and one COVID-19 death in the latest 24-hour period.

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JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska — Military leaders on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson have declared a public health emergency in response to increasing COVID-19 cases in Alaska.

They also encouraged all personnel to avoid places that do not require masks or social distancing, officials said.

U.S. Air Force Col. Kirsten Aguilar said Friday that the declaration will remain in effect for 30 days, but could be shortened or extended based on cases and community transmission of COVID-19.

Hospitalizations and COVID-19 cases across the state have increased as a result of the highly contagious delta variant. Alaska on Friday reported more than 1,200 newly confirmed cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks.

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PAGO PAGO, American Samoa — American Samoa reported its first case of coronavirus on Friday.

The U.S. territory’s acting governor and health officials said the islands’ first case of COVID-19 was of a resident who returned to American Samoa from Hawaii this week.

The infected traveler flew in on Monday, the first day of newly resumed commercial flights from Honolulu to Pago Pago. The route had been suspended since March 2020.

Officials say the resident was fully vaccinated and had traveled to Hawaii and the U.S. mainland. They say the traveler tested negative for COVID-19 before boarding the flight back to American Samoa.

American Samoa requires all travelers to be vaccinated and to quarantine.

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BATON ROUGE, La. — A child is among the latest to die from COVID-19 in Louisiana, state health officials said Friday.

Heath department figures showed the state death toll from the illness grew by 52. One of the victims was a child between the ages of 5 and 11. Fifteen people younger than 18 have died in Louisiana since the pandemic began. And it’s the sixth pediatric death since a fourth surge began this summer.

Coronavirus hospitalizations continued to drop. They fell to 1,367 in Friday’s figures, 64 fewer than the previous day. Hospitalizations are down from a peak of more than 3,000 in August but still well above the pre-surge levels of mid-summer.

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WASHINGTON — The White House says President Joe Biden will host a virtual summit next week aimed at “calling the world to account” on defeating the COVID-19 pandemic.

The meeting, to take place on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly, is meant to encourage more countries to do more to vaccinate the world against COVID-19 and improve coronavirus treatments.

Press secretary Jen Psaki says Biden “will be asking participants to commit to of a higher level of ambition” on global vaccinations and therapeutics, along with preparing for the next pandemic.

The U.S. has committed to donating the more COVID-19 vaccine doses than any other nation to the rest of the world, and Biden is expected to ask other well-off nations to make bolder vaccine sharing commitments.

The White House says world leaders, philanthropists, industry representatives and non-governmental organizations will participate.

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WASHINGTON — After overwhelmingly rejecting a plan to give Pfizer booster shots against COVID-19 to most Americans, an influential federal advisory panel has approved the extra shots for those who are 65 or older or run a high risk of severe disease.

The twin votes Friday represented a blow to the Biden administration’s sweeping effort to shore up nearly all Americans’ protection amid the spread of the highly contagious delta variant. The decision was made by a committee of outside experts who advise the Food and Drug Administration.

The vote recommending the booster shots for older Americans and other high-risk groups helps salvage part of the White House’s campaign but is still be a huge step back from the sweeping plan proposed by administration a month ago to offer booster shots of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to nearly all Americans eight months after they get their second dose.

During several hours of vigorous debate Friday, members of the panel questioned the value of offering boosters to nearly everyone.

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