The Latest: Texas court blocks 2 counties’ mask mandates
AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Supreme Court has blocked mask mandates ordered by two of the nation’s largest counties that defied Republican Gov. Greg Abbott as COVID-19 cases surge and hospitals are stretched thin.
Sunday’s order by the state’s highest court — which is entirely comprised of elected Republican justices — halts mask requirements that county leaders in Dallas and San Antonio put in place as new infections soar and students begin returning to school. Texas reported more than 11,500 patients hospitalized with the virus Sunday, the most since January.
The ruling is temporary pending a court hearing, though the timing of a final ruling is unclear. Officials in Houston and Austin, as well as public school districts, had also imposed mask mandates despite Abbott prohibiting local governments from reverting back to pandemic restrictions.
White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients said last week that Texas and Florida accounted for nearly 40 percent of new virus hospitalizations nationwide.
The COVID-19 death toll has started soaring again as the delta variant tears through the nation’s unvaccinated population and fills up hospitals with patients, many of whom are younger than patients typically were during earlier phases of the pandemic.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— US mulls COVID vaccine boosters for elderly as early as fall
— Amid a limited supply of vaccines, tensions arise in Africa between those seeking first and second vaccine shots
— Public forums before local school boards and city councils are the latest source of misinformation about COVID-19
— Man stabbed at LA anti-vaccination protest leaves hospital
— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
EASLEY, S.C. — COVID-19 cases have prompted the largest South Carolina school district already back open to return to virtual lessons as students in more than 60 other districts prepared to return to class.
Pickens County school officials made the decision at an emergency meeting Friday, after nine days of in-class learning for its 15,000-plus students, the Greenville News reported.
“We don’t know if it’s safe to continue as is,” and other districts should pay attention, district spokesman Darian Byrd said during the meeting.
He said four staffers and one student are hospitalized and 142 students have tested positive for COVID-19. Last school year’s peak was 85 students in January of this year, Byrd said.
The county’s remote schooling will last at least this week, with the first two days giving students a chance to pick up laptop-like Chromebooks, officials said.
Byrd said the district will announce next week’s plans by Thursday. Most other districts’ openings are scattered from Monday to Thursday.
School leaders have said students and teachers are welcome to wear masks, but they can’t mandate them even with another spike in COVID-19 cases. They also can’t require vaccines for students who are eligible for the shots.
WASHINGTON — The director of the National Institutes of Health says the U.S. could decide in the next couple weeks whether to offer coronavirus booster shots to Americans this fall.
Dr. Francis Collins tells “Fox News Sunday” that federal health officials are looking at the U.S. numbers “almost daily” but no decision has been made because cases so far still indicate that vaccinated people remain highly protected from COVID-19, including the delta variant.
He acknowledges, though, that there is concern that the effectiveness of the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson regimen may wane “over months.” If so, Collins says that may necessitate a booster “maybe beginning first with health care providers, as well as people in nursing homes, and then gradually moving forward” with others, such as the elderly.
Collins says because the delta variant only started hitting hard in July, the “next couple of weeks” of case data will help the U.S. make a decision.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — The Sri Lankan government on Sunday banned all public gatherings, its latest move to contain a rapid surge of COVID-19 cases.
The ban will be effective from Sunday night and people are urged to avoid visiting public places as much as possible, according to a government statement.
Also, restaurants are now allowed to accommodate only 50 percent of their capacity and wedding receptions will be banned beginning Aug. 17.
Sri Lanka is witnessing an unprecedented surge of COVID-19 cases and deaths over the last two weeks. Doctors have warned that hospitals and morgues are reaching their maximum capacities. The government has ruled out an immediate lockdown because of the country’s ailing economy, despite repeated pleas from doctors.
Sri Lanka has so far reported 351,533 COVID-19 confirmed cases and 5,935 deaths.
BOSTON — The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Sunday that every county in the states of Connecticut and Massachusetts are the site of high or substantial transmission of the coronavirus.
The rise of transmission in the two states mirrors a nationwide and regional trend.
Some health authorities are recommending that even vaccinated people go back to wearing masks indoors in areas of high or substantial transmission. That includes almost all of New England. The CDC reported that every county in the six-state region was the site of high or substantial transmission on Sunday except Orange County, Vermont, and Kennebec County, Maine.
In Connecticut, New London, New Haven, Middlesex and Hartford counties were the site of high transmission and the other four counties in the state were listed in the substantial category. In Massachusetts, Suffolk, Nantucket, Dukes, Plymouth, Bristol, Essex, Hampden and Berkshire counties were the site of high transmission and the other six counties in the state were substantial.
MOSCOW — Daily coronavirus deaths in Russia exceeded 800 for the fourth straight day on Sunday, with the authorities reporting 816 new fatalities.
The daily tally surpassed 800 for the first time in the pandemic on Thursday and has remained at that level ever since.
Russia faced a surge of infections last month that officials have blamed on the spread of the delta variant. New confirmed cases soared from around 9,000 a day in early June to 25,000 a day in mid-July.
New infections have since decreased slightly to about 21,000 daily this week, but the daily death toll has remained high.
Officials are working to boost vaccine uptake, which has remained lower in Russia than in many Western countries. As of Aug. 6, more than 39 million Russians — or 26.7% of the 146-million population — had received at least one dose, while over 30 million, or 20%, was said to be fully vaccinated.
Russia’s state coronavirus task force has reported over 6.6 million confirmed coronavirus cases in the pandemic and 170,499 deaths. However, reports by Russia’s state statistical service Rosstat that look at coronavirus-linked deaths retroactively have revealed a much higher number.
KAMPALA, Uganda — At a COVID-19 vaccination site in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, tempers flared among those waiting for scarce AstraZeneca jabs, with some accusing others of trying to jump the queue.
Nurses intervened, telling them the accused had been waiting since the previous day and averting violence in what has become a tense atmosphere as Ugandans jostle for vaccinations.
In the aftermath of a brutal wave of infections driven by the delta variant, many Ugandans seeking a first dose of vaccine are competing with hundreds of thousands who have waited months for a second dose. But the country now has only 285,000 shots donated by Norway.
The delta surge has touched off a vaccination rush across Africa that the slow trickle of donated doses can’t keep up with, compounding the continent’s vaccine disadvantage compared with the rest of the world.
The urgency to obtain a second dose across much of the world’s least vaccinated continent contrasts sharply with rich countries now beginning to authorize third doses.
Dr. Alfred Driwale, the top official with Uganda’s immunization program, said the small number of doses will do little to remedy the situation as the 5 million Ugandans eligible for vaccination — everyone from soldiers to health workers — scramble for shots under a first-come, first-serve system.
“You can’t make a policy when there is no certainty of supply,” Driwale said.
SYDNEY — Poland has sent 1 million COVID-19 vaccines to Sydney where the delta variant continues to spread, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday.
The first of the Pfizer vaccines left Warsaw via the United Arab Emirates and will arrive in Sydney over Sunday night, Morrison said.
Australia bought the vaccines after weeks of negotiations between Morrison and his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki. Morrison did not reveal the price.
“A key factor in being able to secure these doses from our Polish friends has been that we have had a significant outbreak in our largest city,” Morrison said.
Sydney has been in lockdown since June 26 due to an outbreak first detected 10 days earlier. Surrounding New South Wales state was entirely locked down from Saturday because of recent infections detected in regional towns and virus found in wastewater in the state’s north and west.
Residents aged 20-to-39 in Sydney’s worst-effected areas would be given 530,000 of the new doses. This age group was responsible for most of the virus spread, Morrison said.
The remaining doses would be shared with other Australian states and territories.
Only 25% of Australians aged 16 and older had been fully vaccinated by Friday.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The Anchorage Daily News reports that the Foo Fighters rock band is requiring that people who attend their upcoming shows in Alaska be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or receive a negative test result 48 hours before attending.
The 12-time Grammy-winning-band plans to perform in Anchorage on Aug. 17 and 19 at the Dena’ina Center and in Fairbanks on Aug. 21 at the Carlson Center.
Negative test results or proof of vaccination must be provided before entering — — either the original card or copy of card with an ID to match, according to a statement Saturday from Ticketmaster.
PHOENIX — Arizona on Saturday reported over 3,000 additional COVID-19 cases for the second straight day.
The state’s seven-day rolling averages for cases and deaths also continued to rise along with virus-related hospitalizations. The state’s coronavirus dashboard reported 1,601 hospitalizations as of Thursday, along with 3,418 additional cases and 27 more deaths.
In another development, the superintendent of the Scottsdale Unified School District said increased spread of COVID-19 threatens to end in-person learning.
Also, the Salt-River Pima-Community Indian Community announced residents and visitors must help curb spread of COVID-19 by wearing masks while visiting government offices, businesses and schools on the tribe’s Phoenix-area reservation.
OLYMPIA, Wash. — The Washington Department of Health recommended a third dose of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for people with severely weakened immune systems.
The recommendation Saturday comes as the delta variant surges in the country. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday that immunocompromised Americans can get an extra dose of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for better protection.
The FDA’s announcement applies to about 3% of U.S. adults who are especially vulnerable because of organ transplants, certain cancers or other disorders. Several other countries, including France and Israel, have similar recommendations.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — President Joe Biden has called school district superintendents in Florida and Arizona, praising them for doing what he called “the right thing” after their respective boards implemented mask requirements in defiance of their Republican governors amid growing COVID-19 infections.
The White House said Saturday that the Democratic president had spoken with interim Broward Superintendent Vickie Cartwright in Florida and Phoenix Union High School District Superintendent Chad Gestson in Arizona. Biden thanked them for their leadership and discussed their shared commitment to getting all students back in safe, full-time in-person instruction this school year.
Biden’s phone calls of support come as tensions build over whether local school districts can and should require face coverings for students and school staff as in-person classes resume. In Texas, several school districts — along with the state’s most populous county — won temporary legal victories Friday in seeking to override Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates, which they argued is making the COVID-19 pandemic worse.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico health officials say an increase in hospitalizations across the state has prompted them to put out an urgent call for volunteer nurses to help boost the state’s medical work force.
The New Mexico Department of Health has called on nurses or anyone with a medical license to volunteer to help because they believe hospitals could soon be overwhelmed with patients. They want recently retired health workers or anyone qualified to sign up for the state’s Medical Reserve Corps.
Hospitals in New Mexico and across the nation are seeing increased hospitalizations because of long-postponed surgeries and a surge in COVID-19 patients. The delta variant of the coronavirus is much more contagious than previous strains.
The state Friday reported 798 additional COVID-19 cases and five new deaths. They bring the count of confirmed New Mexico virus cases since the pandemic began in early 2020 to 218,569 and the number of deaths to 4,446.
State officials said their modeling predicts more than 1,000 new cases a day in the next several weeks.
MINNEAPOLIS — The University of Minnesota System will join hundreds of colleges nationwide in requiring a COVID-19 vaccination for students and staff at its five campuses.
The mandate approved by the Board of Regents on Friday will take effect once the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gives final approval to a coronavirus vaccine and not just emergency use status. Full approval is expected in the coming weeks.
Faculty and staff at the Twin Cities, Duluth, Rochester, Crookston and Morris campuses must either get vaccinated or undergo regular COVID-19 testing.
The university will allow medical and religious exemptions to this mandate. The University of Minnesota campuses educate about 67,000 students and employ 26,000 people.
System leaders said they will soon share more details about the vaccination requirement, including how much time students will have to get the shots after FDA approval and any consequences for not complying with the mandate.