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Friday September 24th, 2021 6:01PM

The Latest: Louisiana gov OKs more fans at HS football games

By The Associated Press
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BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana will allow more high school football fans to attend games in open-air stadiums beginning Friday if the events are in parishes with low numbers of coronavirus cases in the last few weeks.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday that stadiums will be allowed to have crowds at 50% capacity in parishes where 5% or less of coronavirus tests have come back positive in the previous two weeks. Stadiums have been capped at 25% capacity.

The governor says 26 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes meet the criteria to boost crowd size.

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

— France extends curfew to 38 regions because of coronavirus surge

— African health officials expect WHO distribution of rapid virus tests

— Oxford vaccine trial continues amid death report

— Britain offering financial help for bars, pubs and restaurants struggling because of restrictions due to the coronavirus.

— Czech Republic enters second lockdown to avoid health system collapse. New measures include closing stores, shopping malls and hotels.

— Photographer in Dubai providing free photo shoots to laid-off expats forced to leave the skyscraper-studded Persian Gulf city because of the pandemic.

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

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth said Thursday that he remains opposed to mandatory mask orders despite being diagnosed with COVID-19, even though he encourages people to wear one.

The Republican lieutenant governor announced Wednesday that he tested positive for the coronavirus. He said he sought a test after learning someone in his Sunday school group had COVID-19.

“I have always encouraged mask-wearing, and I wear one in my daily life, Ainsworth said in a statement, adding that: “At the same time, I believe in personal responsibility and think everyone has the right to make their own choices regarding their health.”

Ainsworth has been critical of the state’s COVID-19 response under Republican Gov. Kay Ivey. In March, he criticized what he said at the time was the state’s slow response to prepare for a possible “tsunami of hospital patients.” But he has also been critical of the state’s mandatory mask order. He said last month that “masks should be voluntary, not mandatory.”

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida plans to more closely scrutinize deaths attributed to the coronavirus, as the state Department of Health notes some people listed as COVID-19 fatalities died months after testing positive.

The state will not backtrack to reexamine the more than 16,000 deaths attributed to the virus, but rather take a closer look at deaths going forward, said Fred Piccolo, a spokesman for Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, speaking Thursday.

And the state won’t immediately discount those who tested positive for coronavirus and died weeks afterwards, recognizing the virus may have caused damage that contributed to the death, he added.

Florida reported more than 5,500 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, raising the seven-day average in daily reported cases to about 3,300. That’s about 1,000 more per day since the beginning of the month.

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Gov. Kristi Noem has insisted South Dakota is excelling in its handling of the pandemic, although the state surpassed 9,000 active coronavirus cases and matched an all-time high for deaths reported in a day.

The state ranks second in the country in new infections per capita over the last two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins University data. There were about 1,036 new cases per 100,000 people in South Dakota, meaning that about one in every 97 people in the state has tested positive for the virus in the last two weeks. Health officials on Thursday also reported an all-time high of 973 new cases.

But the Republican governor has used her refusal to issue government mandates to vault to nationwide relevance among conservatives. She told Fox News on Wednesday night, “We’re doing really good in South Dakota. We’re managing COVID-19, but also our economy is thriving.”

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CHICAGO — Some Chicago businesses will have to close by 10 p.m. and residents are asked to limit gatherings to six people as the number of newly confirmed coronavirus cases among residents continues to rise, the city’s mayor announced Thursday.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot also announced that bars without food licenses must stop serving customers indoors and liquor sales citywide must end at 9 p.m. The curfew doesn’t apply to grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and other essential businesses.

All of the changes take effect Friday.

Lightfoot warned earlier this week that rising numbers of new confirmed cases could lead to reinstated restrictions on the city’s economy. As of Thursday, Lightfoot said the city was reporting an average of 645 new cases during the past seven days.

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A federal judge has exempted two churches in Colorado from safety guidelines intended to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The Gazette reports that Denver Bible Church in Wheat Ridge and Community Baptist Church in Brighton filed a complaint in August, challenging the state’s mandate on wearing masks and its limitations on indoor gatherings.

Both churches argued that the health orders “restrict or prevent religious speech.”

The Colorado attorney general’s office filed Monday an emergency motion for a stay, or suspension of the injunction, pending the outcome of an appeal. The decision is now up to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

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BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota remained as one of the worst spots in the nation for coronavirus spread on Thursday, with health officials reporting a record day of new infections.

North Dakota’s daily positivity rate topped 13%, with 1,038 new virus cases. Nine new deaths were reported, bringing the statewide death toll from the virus to 431.

Gov. Doug Burgum has resisted issuing an order to require a statewide mask mandate. Leaders in Fargo and Minot this week moved to require face coverings in most settings, though the mandates are not enforced. Leaders in Bismarck are considering a similar mandate next week.

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MISSION, Kan. — The coronavirus positivity rate in Kansas has topped 20%, among the highest in the country.

The 14-day rolling average of the positivity rate in Kansas rose from 15.04% on Oct. 7 to 20.64% on Wednesday, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project.

The seven-day average for new cases was a record 757 on Wednesday, with many cases in rural parts of the state.

More than 90 of the state’s 105 counties have opted out of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s mask order. She plans to speak with House and Senate leadership to work toward a bipartisan mask requirement with more teeth.

The state’s top public health official, Dr. Lee Norman, this month blamed the state’s worsening numbers on residents’ refusal to consistently follow public health guidelines for mask-wearing, social distancing and avoiding large public gatherings.

Some lawmakers have resisted imposing statewide restrictions, wanting the decisions left to local officials. Kelly says there will be legislative challenges, but the research is clear: Masks work.

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UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations chief is appealing for cease-fires in the world’s major conflicts, warning “the only winner is the pandemic.”

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in an interview with The Associated Press that he was renewing his March 23 call for an immediate halt to all conflicts to deal with the coronavirus crisis.

Guterres says “we need a massive support of the international community.” He says his initial appeal won support from 180 U.N. member states, more than 800 civil society organizations “and 20 armed groups that at least adopted some temporary truces.” However, some areas have not allowed a cease-fire, he says.

The secretary-general pointed to the newest conflict, between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, which lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces since a 1994 war.

“In the last two weeks, COVID cases have doubled in Armenia and increased 80% in Azerbaijan. Armenia is not winning. Azerbaijan is not winning. But COVID is winning. We need to stop.”

Guterres says the same holds true for conflicts in Libya, Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan and Africa’s Sahel region.

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PARIS — French Prime Minister Jean Castex extended curfews to 38 regions to help lower the spread of the coronavirus because “the second wave is here.”

He says a curfew ordered last week in eight regions, including Paris and its suburbs, will be extended on Friday at midnight to those new regions and Polynesia.

New daily cases have hovered around 30,000. The number of cases has doubled in France in the past 15 days. The extension means 46 million people among France’s population of 67 million will be under curfew.

The prime minister says the occupation of hospital beds has reached more than 44 percent, with more than half of UCI beds in four regions occupied by COVID-19 patients, including the Paris region.

More than 34,000 people have died in France since the start of the pandemic, the third-highest death toll in Europe behind Britain (44,000) and Italy (36,000).

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ROME — Italy’s daily coronavirus cases reached a record 16,000 on Thursday, despite several thousand fewer swab tests in the last 24 hours.

With 16,079 infections registered by the Health Ministry, Italy has tallied a total of 465,726 confirmed cases.

For a second-straight day, the northern region of Lombardy had more than 4,000 new cases, more than double any other region. Many of the cases in Lombardy’s surging outbreak have occurred in Milan, Italy’s financial capital.

On Thursday, an overnight curfew takes effect in the city as authorities try to slow the spread. Premier Giuseppe Conte this week said he’s prepared to apply stiffer restrictions if the situation worsens.

Italy’s confirmed death toll rose to 36,968 with the addition of 136 deaths on Thursday.

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MILWAUKEE — Coronavirus cases among American Indians in Wisconsin have tripled since Sept. 1.

Data from the state Department of Health Services showed 59 new cases and one additional death among American Indians in Wisconsin. That raised the total to 2,333 Native Americans testing positive, up from 775 cases on Sept. 1. Twenty-three American Indians have died due in Wisconsin to the coronavirus this year, the agency says.

Shannon Holsey, president of the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican tribe, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the numbers are “scary.”

Each of Wisconsin’s 11 tribes enacted orders aimed at stemming the outbreak. The numbers have increased in the fall, when cases surged throughout northern Wisconsin.

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GENEVA — Health officials in Africa say the roll-out of new rapid diagnostic tests on the continent could be a “game-changer” in the fight against the coronavirus.

African countries generally have had a drop or a plateau in cases in recent weeks, just as the United States and Europe have had surging case counts.

Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, says the region comprising sub-Saharan Africa plus Algeria has experienced a downward trend to a daily average of less than 4,000 cases in the last month after more than 15,000 cases in July.

Moeti says “preventing an exponential rise is absolutely critical.”

WHO announced last month it and leading partners agreed to a plan to roll out 120 million rapid-diagnostic tests to help lower- and middle-income countries make up ground.

The rapid tests look for antigens, or proteins found on the surface of the virus. The tests are generally considered less accurate, although much faster, than PCRs, which are higher-grade genetic tests. PCR tests require processing with specialty lab equipment and chemicals. Typically, test results to patients take several days.

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MADRID — Spain is mulling new restrictions and curfews to combat the resurgence of coronavirus cases, according to its health minister.

Spain has surpassed more than one million coronavirus infections.

With a 14-day rate of infection more than 1,000 cases per 100,000 residents, more than three times the country’s average, the northern Navarra region has ordered all bars and restaurants closed and for shops and businesses to close at 9 p.m. and banned all non-essential travel in and out of its regional borders.

Varying degrees of heightened restrictions are affecting almost every region in the country of 47 million.

“We are on the verge of winter, where most of the activities take place indoors, which favors the contagion and respiratory viruses,” health minister Salvador Illa told Spain’s Onda Cero radio, calling on the public not to lower their guard because the coming “five or six months are going to be tough, very tough.”

Spain has confirmed more than 34,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — A Norwegian cruise company with two coronavirus outbreaks on one of its ships along Norway’s coast in July is canceling its remaining Antarctica season.

The Hurtigruten cruise line was one of the first companies to resume sailing during the pandemic. But it says the coronavirus is “still affecting large parts of the world and travel restrictions and quarantine requirements are widespread and changing rapidly.”

The cruise company also says it will reduce capacity on the coastal service above the Arctic Circle along Norway’s coast where the cruise line often acts like a local ferry, traveling from port to port. It says the move was at the request of the Norwegian Transportation Ministry.

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LONDON — The University of Oxford says the late-stage trial of its COVID-19 vaccine in Brazil will continue following reports of a participant’s death.

The university says it can’t comment on specific incidents but an independent review found no reason for concern about the safety of the Brazilian trial.

It says an “independent review, in addition to the Brazilian regulator, have recommended that the trial should continue.”

The Oxford vaccine is being developed in conjunction with the international pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. Trials are underway in the United States and the U.K., as well as Brazil, to determine whether the potential vaccine is safe and effective in humans.

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