The Latest: Washington cuts classroom distancing requirement
OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday reduced the COVID-19 social distancing requirements for K-12 classrooms in the state from 6 feet to 3 feet as more schools in the state begin to open up.
At a news conference Inslee said the new guidance was consistent with direction from federal health authorities and that, for now, schools had the option to maintain the 6-foot rule. However the Democrat said by this summer and fall no classrooms should still be at the more stringent standard.
Inslee has for weeks been pushing to return students to the classroom, saying remote learning hasn’t worked for many children.
He had previously said all public schools in Washington will be required to offer students an in-person learning option by April — with school districts having to meet an average of at least 30% weekly in-class instruction by April 19.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
VACCINES: More than 87.3 million people, or 26.3% of the U.S. population, have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some 47.4 million people, or 14% of the population, have completed their vaccination.
CASES: The seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the U.S. increased over the past two weeks from 56,315 on March 10 to 57,531 on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.
DEATHS: The seven-day rolling average for daily new deaths in the U.S. decreased over the past two weeks decreased from 1,424 on March 10 to 977 on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.
— Biden doubles goal of COVID vaccines to 200 million doses
— Britain prolongs coronavirus emergency measures for six months
— Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
BUCHAREST, Romania — Romanian authorities announced Thursday that Easter celebrations in the deeply Christian country will go ahead in person this year, even though Romania is battling a surge of COVID-19 infections that is threatening to overwhelm its hospitals.
The announcement came after Prime Minister Florin Citu of the National Liberal Party met with religious representatives to discuss potential solutions for worshipers to observe Easter celebrations and attend church during the pandemic.
“The solution that we are going with is to adapt the timeframe of restrictions so believers can physically attend the Resurrection Service or the holidays of each religious group and still respect health and safety rules,” Citu said.
Romania is one of Europe’s most religious countries. About 85% of its more than 19 million people identify as Orthodox and around 4.5% are Catholic. Easter this year falls on May 2 for the Orthodox and April 4 for Catholics.
The Easter Service is one of the most important dates in the Christian calendar. On the night of the Resurrection, Romanian Orthodox worshipers attend a service at midnight when they receive the Holy Light.
The Easter announcement came as Romania this week reported its highest number of daily COVID-19 infections in three months and hospital intensive care units recorded their highest numbers of patients since the start of the pandemic. Romania has recorded over 22,700 deaths in the pandemic.
JUNEAU, Alaska — The state health department is floating the idea of providing COVID-19 vaccinations to travelers at Alaska’s busiest airports with the summer tourism and fishing seasons looming.
The department released a request for information Wednesday, seeking to determine interest among potential contractors to provide a one-dose vaccine to interested travelers in a secure section of the airports in Anchorage, Juneau, Fairbanks and Ketchikan.
The state health department request asks interested contractors to provide staffing plans and estimates for what they think it would cost to administer the program.
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma State Department of Health lacked sufficient contact tracing data to measure the spread of COVID-19 in the state and help communities make data-driven policy decisions, according to a draft report released Thursday by a legislative watchdog.
The 68-page report by the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency also found that data collected by the state “was either lacking in substance, withheld, misaligned, or never developed for public consumption.”
“OSDH contact tracing efforts failed to keep pace with the growing spread and exposure of COVID-19,” the report states. “From September 24th to December 23rd, contacts being monitored by OSDH decreased by 65% while number of positive COVID-19 cases increased by 205% during the same period.”
The goal of contact tracing is to alert people who may have been exposed to someone with the coronavirus, and prevent them from spreading it to others. Health experts say contact tracing is key to containing the virus and allowing places to reopen more safely.
In response to the report, Oklahoma’s Interim Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye acknowledged the challenge the agency faced responding to the pandemic was overwhelming.
“No doubt there were a multitude of challenges with contact tracing in Oklahoma, the United States and throughout the world over the course of the COVID-19 response,” Frye said. “Experts have noted that by May 2020, contact tracing cases were overwhelmed in the United States due to rising cases. To evaluate the state’s response based entirely on contact tracing ignores key components of our multifaceted public health response.”
RALEIGH, N.C. — The governor of North Carolina has announced all residents who are at least 16 years old will qualify for a COVID-19 vaccine starting April 7. Meanwhile, essential workers not yet vaccinated can get their shot starting March 31.
State health officials and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper bumped up the distribution timeline as lack of demand has prompted some counties to already administer doses to the general public. The state also received reassurances on Tuesday that it would soon see increased vaccine supply from the federal government.
The state Department of Health and Human Services said nearly 1 in 3 North Carolina adults have been at least partially vaccinated since the state first began administering doses in December 2020.
Over the next three weeks, North Carolina is adjusting its strategy to give more doses from its weekly supply to counties that have a smaller share of residents vaccinated. Distributions were previously shipped based on a county’s overall population size.
PHOENIX — The governor of Arizona is prohibiting government mask mandates and allowing bars and nightclubs shuttered for months to open their doors without restrictions.
Republican Gov. Doug Ducey’s move leaves in place few of the restrictions he implemented to curb the spread of the coronavirus. His order still allows businesses to enforce mask mandates if they want, but cities, towns and counties must lift theirs.
Restrictions on gatherings of 50 or more people also were lifted, but organizers are required to “encourage” safety precautions like social distancing.
Ducey cites rising vaccination rates and the opening of vaccine appointments to all adults, as well as a declining number of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.
SANTA ANA, Calif. — California is expanding vaccine eligibility to anyone 50 and over starting in April and anyone 16 and over on April 15.
Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state expects to receive 2.5 million doses a week in the first half of April and more than 3 million a week in the second half of the month. That’s a big jump from the roughly 1.8 million doses a week the state is currently getting.
The move comes as some California counties have veered away from the state’s vaccine eligibility criteria by opening up the shots for people with a broader range of medical conditions and at younger ages than the 65 and over required in most counties.
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is doubling his original goal on COVID-19 vaccines by pledging the nation will administer 200 million doses by the end of his first 100 days in office.
The administration had met Biden’s initial goal of 100 million doses before his 60th day in office — as the president pushes to defeat a pandemic that has killed more than 545,000 Americans and devastated the nation’s economy.
Biden can point to a surge in vaccine distribution, encouraging signs in the economy and the financial and other benefits Americans will receive from the sweeping stimulus package.
PHOENIX — Arizona on Thursday reported 138 confirmed coronavirus cases, the smallest daily increase reported in more than six months.
The cases and the 32 deaths reported increased Arizona’s pandemic totals to 837,907 confirmed cases and 16,874 confirmed deaths.
The state reported 81 cases on Sept. 8. The highest daily cases reached as high as 17,000 last year.
Arizona’s rolling average of daily new cases dropped from 1,239 on March 9 to 503 on Tuesday while the rolling average of daily deaths declined from 52 to 36 during the same period.
LONDON — British lawmakers have agreed to prolong coronavirus emergency measures for six months, allowing the Conservative government to keep powers to restrict U.K. citizens’ everyday lives.
The House of Commons voted to extend the powers until September and approved a road map for gradually easing Britain’s strict lockdown over the next three months.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s large majority in Parliament guaranteed success but some Conservative lawmakers say the economic, democratic and human costs of the restrictions outweighed the benefits.
The Coronavirus Act, passed a year ago as Britain went into lockdown, gives authorities powers to bar protests, shut businesses, restrict travel and detain people suspected of having the virus.
Britain has recorded more than 126,000 coronavirus deaths, the highest toll in Europe. The U.K. says its vaccination program has given at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to more than half the adult population.
GENEVA — The U.N.-backed program to ship COVID-19 vaccines worldwide has announced supply delays for up to 90 million doses from an Indian manufacturer.
It’s a major setback for the ambitious rollout aimed to help low- and middle-income countries fight the pandemic. Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, says the delays come as India is facing a surge of coronavirus infections that will increase domestic demands on the Serum Institute of India, a pivotal vaccine maker behind the COVAX program.
The move will affect up to 40 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines being manufactured by the Serum Institute that were to be delivered for COVAX this month, as well as 50 million expected next month.
Gavi, which runs COVAX jointly with the World Health Organization and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, has already distributed 31 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. There’s been 28 million from the Serum Institute and another 3 million from a South Korean contractor producing the vaccine.
NEW YORK — New York City is taking steps toward the reopening of the city’s theaters, creating vaccination and testing sites for stage workers in a bid to restore a key part of New York’s draw.
“It’s time to raise the curtain and bring Broadway back,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said during a virtual press conference Thursday. The mayor says the city will set up dedicated vaccination sites specifically for the theater community and the theater industry.
A statement from The Broadway League says, “vaccination and testing sites for theatre workers are a great step towards recovery.” De Blasio says the city needs state guidance on issues like whether audiences need to bring proof of vaccination.
BERLIN — Germany will require negative coronavirus test results from all travelers entering the country from abroad by plane, the health ministry announced Thursday.
Travelers will need to show the negative test result, no older than 48 hours, before boarding the airplane. If they refuse to get tested, airline carriers will no longer take the travelers to Germany. The new testing will start Sunday and last until May 12.
Only travelers arriving from regions Germany deemed as high-risk areas in the pandemic had been asked to show negative tests results. Now the test obligation expands to all plane travelers from aboard.
The blanket testing requirement doesn’t include travelers entering Germany by car or other means of transportation. There are currently different regulations depending on the infection rate of the country.
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodia says it will train dogs to detect the presence of the coronavirus in humans.
Heng Ratana, director general of the Cambodian Mine Action Center, said on his Facebook page that Prime Minister Hun Sen suggested his agency work with the Health Ministry on training the dogs. The initiative comes as Cambodia is fighting a third wave of coronavirus infections.
Heng Ratana says his agency’s trainers, with 22 years of experience handling dogs to sniff out land mines, would have no problem teaching dogs to sniff out the coronavirus.
Tests using dogs to detect the virus are reported to have a high success rate, often above 90%. Dogs have been used in pilot projects at airports in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and Helsinki, Finland.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida will open eligibility requirements to anyone 18 and older on April 5, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Thursday.
Starting Monday, the eligibility requirement for getting the vaccine will drop from 50 to 40, the governor said.
DeSantis urged people interested in getting the vaccine to pre-register online. There is also vaccine pre-registration phone number in each county for anyone who doesn’t have online access.
The vaccines are also available at most CVS, Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club locations, along with Winn Dixie and Publix pharmacies across Florida. The vaccine is expected to be available soon at statewide Walgreens pharmacies.
BANGKOK — Thailand’s health minister announced the country’s Food and Drug Administration has approved the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Anutin Charnvirakul, who is also a deputy prime minister, announced Thursday the approval for local emergency use on his Facebook page. The emergency approval shortcuts what would otherwise be a long evaluation process.
Anutin says three vaccines have now been approved in Thailand, along with Sinovac and AstraZeneca.
“I would like to invite other vaccine makers to register their vaccines here so Thais will have more options for inoculations,” he wrote.
Anutin and the Thai government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha came under intense criticism for allegedly making late and inadequate preparations for securing supplies of COVID-19 vaccine.
Thailand started its first vaccinations at the end of February, with 200 public health officials receiving the Sinovac vaccine from China. Anutin was given the first shot.