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Friday January 22nd, 2021 5:29AM

The Latest: Pence offers positive COVID-19 assessment in US

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence is offering an upbeat assessment of the status of the coronavirus in the U.S., despite a surge in cases, hospitalizations and more than a quarter of a million deaths.

Pence says President Donald Trump directed that Thursday’s briefing be held.

Pence is making his first appearance at the White House podium in many weeks in his role as head of the White House coronavirus task force.

Trump, himself, has been silent on the recent spread of the virus after falsely saying during the campaign that “we are rounding the turn” and that the virus would be little discussed after the Nov. 3 election.

Pence says America “has never been more prepared to combat this virus than we are today.”

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

— CDC urges Americans to avoid travel at Thanksgiving

— Oxford and AstraZeneca expect results on vaccine candidate by Christmas

— African hits 2 million confirmed coronavirus cases

— More Americans waiting for hours in long lines to get tested for the coronavirus, as U.S. cases surge nationwide and families hope to gather safely for the holidays.

— Lawyers for the estates of dead workers allege top official at Tyson Foods’ largest pork plant created a pool for managers in Iowa to bet on how many workers would get infected.

— The NFL is placing all teams in intensive protocol starting Saturday to help lower the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

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Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

CONCORD, N.H. — With the coronavirus pandemic intensifying, New Hampshire on Thursday joined three dozen other states in enacting a statewide mask mandate.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu issued an executive order requiring masks to be worn in public spaces, indoors or outside, when social distancing isn’t possible.

Previously, masks were required for certain people, including restaurant and retail workers with direct interaction with customers and those attending gatherings of more than 100 people.

Sununu had resisted calls for a statewide mandate, even as surrounding states enacted similar measures. But said on Thursday that it was appropriate given a recent surge in cases, hospitalizations and outbreaks.

More than 15,000 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in New Hampshire since the start of the pandemic, including 529 new cases announced Thursday. Two new deaths were announced, bringing the total to 506.

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Rhode Island’s governor says the state’s economy will go on a “two-week pause” the day after Thanksgiving in an effort to slow soaring coronavirus infection rates.

Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo says some businesses will be required to close and capacity at restaurants and houses of worship will be reduced starting Nov. 30. She says officials will reevaluate COVID-19 caseloads on Dec. 13, and if they haven’t eased, what she described as “a full state lockdown” will follow.

Raimondo also asked people to celebrate Thanksgiving only with members in their immediate household — even if that’s just dinner for one or a couple.

Rhode Island has reported nearly 47,000 confirmed cases and just under 1,300 deaths. Raimondo says hospitals are at 97% capacity.

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is ruling out another shutdown in Texas as cases soar and thousands of additional medical workers are rushed to overworked hospitals struggling to keep up.

Abbott said Thursday there is an “overestimation” of what shutdowns achieve and claimed that local leaders asking for stricter measures weren’t doing enough to enforce rules already in place. Abbott imposed a partial shutdown in Texas this summer during a similar surge but now says lockdowns don’t work, pointing to spread outside workplaces and businesses.

Abbott’s stance comes as other governors across the U.S. are retreating to lockdown measures as cases rise nationwide. The virus is blamed for more than 20,000 deaths in Texas, the second-most in the nation, and Texas hospitals are on the brink of surpassing 8,000 virus patients for the first time since summer.

Texas has deployed more than 5,400 additional medical staff, including doctors and nurse, to overworked hospitals across Texas — more than at any point in the pandemic.

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BATON ROUGE, La. — The White House’s coronavirus advisers are urging Louisiana to step up its restrictions to combat the spread of COVID-19, as the number of hospitalized virus patients in the state edged higher Thursday amid a third wave of infections.

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards continued to sound the alarm about the latest spike in virus cases, worrying that people won’t take precautions and will gather as usual in packed houses for Thanksgiving.

In its weekly report to states, the White House coronavirus task force said Louisiana’s efforts are currently “inadequate” and “must be increased.”

Hospitalizations reached 929 on Thursday, and have jumped by 250 over the last week and by 43 overnight, according to the Louisiana Department of Health. Hospitals aren’t overwhelmed yet, but Edwards has cautioned the current trajectory raises that risk. At least 5,951 people in Louisiana have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

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OMAHA, Neb. — A prominent Nebraska infectious disease expert sounded the alarm Thursday about the state’s surging coronavirus cases and called for a statewide mask mandate, a step Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts has repeatedly refused to take.

Dr. James Lawler, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said the pandemic has reached its most dangerous point since it began and described the recent increase in virus hospitalizations as unsustainable.

Nebraska hospitals are straining to cope with the spike in coronavirus patients, and officials are urging the public to wear masks and take other precautionary steps to slow the spread of the disease. The virus has been surging in Nebraska, with more than five times as many COVID-19 hospitalizations as of Wednesday than the 185 it had two months ago.

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Gov. Kim Reynolds announced she will provide $14 million in federal funds to Iowa’s long-term care centers to help them manage new outbreaks of the coronavirus at the facilities.

The federal virus relief money Reynolds announced Thursday will pay for additional testing and staffing at the long-term care centers, and it comes at a time when she said another 20 facilities are dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks. That means about a quarter of the state’s care homes now have outbreaks.

Infections at care centers can be especially devastating because older people are especially at risk of becoming seriously ill or dying of COVID-19. Reynolds noted that 74% of the people now being treated in hospitals for the virus are older than 60.

Iowa has had about 199,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including about 2,100 deaths since the pandemic started in March, officials said. In the last seven days, one of every 109 people in Iowa was diagnosed with COVID-19. Iowa has the nation’s third-highest number of new virus cases per capita in the past 14 days, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

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NEW YORK — The nation’s top public health agency is urging Americans not to travel for Thanksgiving.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday recommended spending the holiday with people in the same household. The advice comes as coronavirus infections, hospitalizations, and deaths are surging across the country.

The CDC’s Dr. Erin Sauber-Schatz cited more than 1 million new cases in the U.S. in the past week for the new guidance.

The CDC says hosting families should take added precautions if they include returning college students, military service members or others in a gathering. That means keeping 6 feet apart, wearing masks and one person serving the food. It recommends eating outdoors, if possible.

CDC scientists believe about 40% of infected people don’t have obvious symptoms but can still spread the virus.

The U.S. leads the world with 11.6 million cases and 251,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

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MILAN — Italy registered 36,176 new coronavirus cases on Thursday.

The Health Ministry Statistics says more than 250,000 tests were conducted, for a positivity rate of more than 14%.

There were 653 confirmed deaths, a slight decrease from more than 700 in recent days.

Infections continued to rise two weeks into a partial lockdown on hard-hit regions and a nationwide curfew. Officials are particularly concerned about hospitals, which added 106 new patients to reach 33,610. More than half of the country’s hospital beds are dedicated to treating COVID-19 patients.

Italy has reported 1.2 million cases and the confirmed death toll stands at 47,870, second to Britain in Europe.

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MADRID — Spain is making slow progress to contain a resurgence of the coronavirus pandemic.

Health authorities say the 14-day cumulative number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people stands at 436. A week ago, it was 504.

Emergency response chief Fernando Simón says the rate “is falling, but the numbers are still very high.”

He said COVID-19 patients are taking more than 30% of ICU beds, far lower than the peak levels seen last spring.

The Spanish Health Ministry reports 1.54 million total confirmed cases and nearly 42,300 deaths.

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OMAHA, Neb. — Nebraska reported nearly 3,000 new coronavirus cases.

The state had its second-highest daily total at 2,812 on Wednesday, reaching a statewide total of 106,617 cases. Nebraska added 10 deaths for a total of 826.

The number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus decreased slightly to 961 Wednesday from the previous day’s 978. But that total remains more than five times higher than it was two months ago when 185 people were being treated in hospitals.

The state said 21% of Nebraska’s hospital beds were filled with COVID-19 patients on Wednesday. Gov. Pete Ricketts has said he will impose more social distancing restrictions if that number reaches 25%.

State officials are encouraging Nebraskans to wear masks and maintain 6 feet of distance in public to help limit the spread of the virus. The Republican governor has declined to require statewide wearing of masks.

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BUDAPEST, Hungary — The first doses of a Russian coronavirus vaccine arrived in Budapest on Thursday, making Hungary the first country in Europe to receive samples of the drug, Hungary’s foreign minister announced in a Facebook post Thursday.

Peter Szijjarto says Hungary ordered 10 initial doses of Sputnik 5, the drug hailed in August by Russian president Vladimir Putin as the world’s first registered COVID-19 vaccine.

The drug hasn’t undergone advanced clinical trials and has not yet been assessed by the European Medicines Agency, the European Union’s medicines regulator.

Clinical trials on the Russian samples will begin in Hungary next month, and negotiations are ongoing between a Hungarian drug manufacturer and Russian partners on possible production of the drug in Hungary, Szijjarto said last week.

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WASHINGTON — U.S. doctors, nurses and hospital officials joined forces Thursday to urge scaled-back holiday gatherings to help keep Americans and overburdened hospitals safe during the coronavirus surge.

“In the strongest possible terms, we urge you to celebrate responsibly,” the American Hospital Association, American Medical Association and American Nurses Association said in an open letter to the U.S. public.

“We are all weary and empathize with the desire to celebrate the holidays with family and friends, but given the serious risks, we underscore how important it is to wear masks, maintain physical distancing and wash your hands,” the groups said.

Their advice echoes guidance from the federal CDC, which recommends virtual gatherings with distant relatives or friends, or limited in-person celebrations with social distancing, mask wearing and other precautions.

“We will get through this pandemic,’’ the letter said, “but the only way out is to follow the science and adhere to the public health steps we know work.’’

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MINNEAPOLIS — More than 900 staff members in the Mayo Clinic Health System in the Midwest have been diagnosed with the coronavirus in the last two weeks.

Dr. Amy Williams, executive dean of Mayo Clinic Practice, says the 905 newly diagnosed employees account for 30% of all staff that have contracted the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic. She says 93% of those with the coronavirus were exposed in the community, not at work.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and state health officials have been urging people to stay home as the virus soars across the state. On Wednesday, Walz announced a four-week shutdown of several businesses and activities, including indoor dining at bars and restaurants, fitness centers and organized amateur sports.

Walz says the restrictions are necessary to protect a health care system that is at a breaking point statewide.

Minnesota had a record 67 new COVID-19-related deaths on Wednesday, pushing the state’s toll to 3,010. There were 5,102 new confirmed cases, rising the state’s total to 242,053. State officials say they expected to top 300,000 cases next week.

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