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Saturday October 24th, 2020 5:05AM

The Latest: Rural hospitals in Midwest face viral surge

By The Associated Press
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WESSINGTON SPRINGS, S.D. — Rural parts of the American Midwest that had previously escaped the worst of the coronavirus are now seeing a surge — and hospitals are struggling to keep up.

Counties across Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana sit among the top in the nation for new cases per capita over the last two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins researchers. In counties with just a few thousand people, the number of cases per capita can soar with even a small outbreak — and the toll hits close to home in tight-knit towns.

As the brunt of the virus has blown into the Upper Midwest and northern Plains, the severity of outbreaks in rural communities has come into focus. Doctors and health officials in small towns worry that infections may overwhelm communities with limited medical resources. And many say they are still running up against attitudes on wearing masks that have hardened along political lines and a false notion that rural areas are immune to widespread infections.

Even as outbreaks threaten to spiral out of control, doctors and health officials said they are struggling to convince people of the seriousness of a virus that took months to arrive in force.

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HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Britain’s Space Agency is backing a medical drone delivery service that aims to move virus samples, test kits and protective equipment between hospitals.

— A spike in cases in Europe deals a bitter blow to the economy.

— In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel warned of “difficult months” ahead as the nation posted another daily record of new cases Saturday.

— Iran announces its virus death toll has reached 30,000.

— AP PHOTOS: India holds digital fashion week amid pandemic.

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— Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

ROME — The Vatican says someone who lives in the same Vatican hotel as Pope Francis has tested positive for coronavirus, adding to the 11 cases of COVID-19 among the Swiss Guards who protect him.

The Vatican said Saturday that the resident of the Domus Sanctae Marthae has moved out temporarily and is in isolation, as are all the people who came into direct contact with him.

The hotel serves as a residence for Vatican-based priests as well as visiting clerics and lay people. Francis chose to live there permanently after his 2013 election, shunning the Apostolic Palace, because he said he needed to be around ordinary people. The hotel has a communal dining room and chapel where Francis celebrates Mass each morning.

The Vatican, a tiny city state in the center of Rome, has beefed up its anti-COVID-19 measures amid a resurgence of the outbreak in Italy. Protective masks are required indoors and out, but Francis has largely shunned them even when holding audiences with the public.

At 83 and with part of a lung removed when he was in his 20s due to illness, the pope would be at high-risk for COVID-19 complications.

Last week, the Vatican confirmed a cluster of 11 cases among the Swiss Guards, the tiny army of young Swiss men who serve as ceremonial guards at papal Masses, guard the Vatican City gates and protect the pope.

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia is acquiring 13 million rapid antigen tests for a mass testing of its population amid a record surge of coronavirus infections.

Prime Minister Igor Matovic says almost 6,000 testing sites will be established across the country for the testing that is scheduled to take place the next two weekends, starting with the three or four hardest-hit counties.

Matovic says it will be similar for citizens to going to cast ballots at elections. It’s unclear if the testing will be mandatory.

Antigen tests are less accurate than PCR tests, which are considered the gold standard, but have the advantage of producing faster results.

The nation of 5.4 million has been facing a record spike with the number of confirmed positive cases in one day surpassing 2,000 on Thursday.

The Slovak authorities have so far conducted a relatively low number of tests compared with other European countries. Just under 12,000 were carried out on Friday.

The country has a total of 28,268 confirmed cases and 82 people have died.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates has announced its highest single-day total of new cases of the coronavirus amid a spike in this Mideast nation home to Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

The country’s Health Ministry said tests found 1,538 new cases of the virus, pushing the overall number of cases to 114,387.

The ministry said another four people died from the virus, bringing the overall death toll to 459.

Recorded infections have soared again in recent weeks, as authorities have relaxed restrictions and resumed schools for in-person instruction. Dubai has reopened its airport for international travelers and embarked on an active campaign promoting itself as a tourism destination amid the pandemic.

The UAE is engaged in an aggressive testing campaign, with over 11 million tests conducted in a country home to over 9 million people.

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ROME — Italy’s northern Lombardy region, where the European coronavirus outbreak began in late February, has taken new measures to contain rebounding infections, limiting bar service and alcohol sales, banning contact sports and closing bingo parlors.

The regional government late Friday also called for high schools to adopt hybrid schedules with students alternating in-person with online learning.

The measures were taken after Lombardy, Italy’s most populous region, has once again become the most affected in the COVID-19 resurgence, adding more than 2,000 infections a day. Hospitals are coming under strain and intensive care units are filling up.

The new measures allow only table service for bars from 6 p.m., ban takeout alcohol sales from that time and prohibit all consumption of booze in public spaces, an effort to eliminate crowds from forming in piazzas with takeout drinks.

Italy’s other hardest-hit region, southern Campania, has taken similarly strict measures, including a shutdown of schools for two weeks. After parents protested, the regional governor backed off Friday and allowed day-care centers to remain open.

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PRAGUE — Coronavirus infections in the Czech Republic have surpassed 10,000 in one day for the first time, setting a new record high for the third straight day.

The Health Ministry says the day-to-day-increase of the new confirmed cases surged to 11,105 on Friday. It is almost 1,400 more than the previous record set a day earlier.

The country has registered a total of 160,112 cases, including 1,283 deaths.

After a series of new restrictive measures adopted by the government to slow down the surge, Health Minister Roman Prymula said he still expected a rise of those tested positive for about two weeks.

If the new measures fail to make an impact, the number of new cases could reach a quarter of million in the second half of October, the Health Ministry predicted.

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BEIJING — Qingdao, a coastal city in eastern China, has completed coronavirus testing for its 11 million residents following an outbreak and found no new infections so far.

As of Friday, the 10.9 million samples came back negative.

Xue Qingguo, Qingdao’s deputy mayor, told state broadcaster CCTV that the risk of community transmission “is basically eliminated.”

The citywide testing was ordered after 13 people were infected in China’s first locally transmitted cases in over two months.

The source of the outbreak was traced to two dock workers who had tested positive for the virus in September but did not exhibit any symptoms at first. They had visited a hospital in Qingdao and were sent to a CAT scan room, which was not disinfected properly afterward and led to the infection of other patients, according to health officials.

Health Commission Director Sui Zhenhua and Deng Kai, president of Qingdao’s thoracic hospital to which the cases have been linked, have been placed under investigation in connection with the outbreak.

On Saturday, the National Health Commission reported 13 new imported cases. China has reported 4,634 deaths among 85,659 confirmed cases.

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NEW DELHI — India reported 62,212 new cases in the past 24 hours, raising its total to more than 7.4 million and continuing a downward trend.

The Health Ministry on Saturday also registered 837 additional fatalities, taking the death toll to 112,998.

The worst-hit western Maharashtra state accounted for nearly 36% of total fatalities.

According to the Health Ministry, India’s average number of daily cases dropped to 72,576 last week from 92,830 during the week of Sept. 9-15, when the virus peaked. It is recording an average of around 70,000 cases daily so far this month.

But some experts say India’s figures may not be reliable because of poor reporting and inadequate health infrastructure. India is also relying heavily on antigen tests, which are faster but less accurate than traditional RT-PCR tests.

Health officials have warned about the potential for the virus to spread during the religious festival season beginning later this month. Health Minister Harsh Vardhan told reporters on Friday that the next two months were particularly crucial because of the winter season and festivals.

New Delhi is also bracing for high air pollution levels, making the coronavirus fight more complicated in upcoming months.

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Australia’s Victoria state has reported just one new case of COVID-19 and no deaths as the city of Melbourne moves closer towards the easing of some lifestyle restrictions.

The state’s coronavirus death toll remains at 816 and the Australian total is 904.

Melbourne residents are expecting COVID-19 restrictions to be eased on Sunday but it is unclear how much freedom will be regained.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews has indicated the changes would be more “in the social space,” prompting pleas from business operators for relief from restrictions that once included an overnight curfew.

Current restrictions include a two-hour exercise limit within 5 kilometers (3 miles) of work or home and mandatory face masks covering the mouth and nose when a person leaves their home.

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SALEM, Ore. -- The Oregon Health Authority reported 418 new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases and six additional deaths.

At the current rate of transmission, Oregon Health Authority officials project that new infections will increase “substantially” to 570 new reported cases a day and 40 hospitalizations.

In addition, Gov. Kate Brown announced Friday that Lane County has been added to the County Watch List.

Currently there are five counties on the watch list — Benton, Clatsop, Lane, Malheur and Umatilla. A county is placed on the watch list when COVID-19 is spreading quickly.

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SALT LAKE CITY — One of Utah’s largest hospitals had no beds left Friday in its regular intensive-care unit as the governor declared the state’s weekslong spike in coronavirus cases “unsustainable.”

The University of Utah Health had to set up extra ICU beds staffed by doctors and nurses working overtime to care for its critical patients this week as the unit hit 104% capacity, said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Russell Vinik.

“We’ve cut back where we can but it’s precarious,” he said. “We are very concerned about flu season, particularly if people don’t get vaccinated. We can’t take another hit.”

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