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Friday December 4th, 2020 12:04AM

The Latest: South Korea leaders urges public to stay at home

By The Associated Press
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SEOUL, South Korea __ South Korea’s prime minister has urged the public to avoid social gatherings and stay at home as much as possible as the country’s coronavirus tally hovered above 300 for a third consecutive day.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Friday the 363 cases additionally reported in the past 24 hours took the country’s total to 30,017 with 501 deaths.

South Korea’s caseload has been on a steady rise after it relaxed its physical distancing rules last month. Local authorities on Thursday toughened distancing guidelines in the greater Seoul area, the southern city of Gwangju and some parts in the eastern Gangwon province to prevent a further viral spread.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said Friday the ongoing outbreak is serious because of cluster infections linked to social gatherings, swimming pools, public saunas, schools and offices.

He asked the South Korean people to minimize year-end parties and gatherings and businesses to let their employees work from home.

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

— Biden chides Trump for lack of cooperation on vaccine

— 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.

— 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:

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Health officials said Thursday that three more people have died of coronavirus complications linked to a series of convocation events at a North Carolina church last month, raising the death toll to 12.

Large crowds attended events at the United House of Prayer for All People in October in west Charlotte.

In that time, public health contact tracers and Mecklenburg County officials have connected 213 COVID-19 cases to the events, which includes attendees and people who came in close contact with participants, The Charlotte Observer reported.

Of the deaths, 10 were from Mecklenburg County and two were from Gaston County, officials said in a statement.

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SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico’s governor is calling a special legislative session next week in the hope of providing new economic relief to the unemployed and small businesses that are reeling from the coronavirus pandemic and aggressive emergency health restrictions.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham made the announcement Thursday as daily infections statewide surged to a new record of 3,675 positive COVID-19 tests.

The proposed $300 million package would funnel federal relief funds already assigned to New Mexico toward unemployment assistance, individual housing costs and grants to small businesses.

She said the plan includes a weekly $300 supplement to the unemployed. Democratic state House speaker Brian Egolf commented: “You can support your people while we have to take difficult but critical steps in public health.”

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CARSON CITY, Nev. -- Nevada health officials reported a record-high 2,416 new coronavirus cases on Thursday and six additional deaths as the virus continues to surge throughout the state.

The latest figures increased the state’s totals to 127,875 cases and 1,953 known deaths since the pandemic began. The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

The Nevada Hospital Association reported 1,288 confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized. Both the number of reported daily cases and total hospitalizations are the highest since the start of the pandemic in Nevada.

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SACRAMENTO — California is imposing an overnight curfew on most residents as the most populous state tries to head off a surge in coronavirus cases it fears could tax the state’s health care system, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday.

What officials are calling a limited stay-at-home order requires nonessential residents to stay home from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. starting Saturday.

It affects counties with the most severe restrictions, 41 of the state’s 58 counties that are in the “purple” tier under California’s color-coded system for reopening the economy. That covers 94% of the state’s nearly 40 million residents.

The move comes only days after the state imposed restrictions limiting business operations in those 41 counties, which have the most significant increases in virus cases.

“The virus is spreading at a pace we haven’t seen since the start of this pandemic and the next several days and weeks will be critical to stop the surge. We are sounding the alarm,” Newsom said in a statement.

The order will last one month, until Dec. 21, but could be extended if infection rates and disease trends don’t improve.

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EL PASO, Texas --Health care workers in the border city of El Paso, Texas, where the coronavirus pandemic has overwhelmed hospitals, are joining the nation’s top public health officials in urging people not to gather for Thanksgiving.

Surgical technologist Michelle Harvey said Thursday that personal protective equipment is in high demand at the hospital where she works. She and colleagues are frustrated that they often receive only one N95 respirator for 10- to 12-hour shifts and often have to reuse shoe covers.

There is a time-consuming process to request new equipment from locked storage units, Harvey said, and sometimes “the patient just doesn’t have enough time to wait for you to get new stuff.”

Harvey said she usually has 10 to 15 people in her home for the Thanksgiving holiday, but that this year she won’t.

“If you don’t take these precautions, this might be the last time,” said Harvey, 49. “This might be your last holiday with them.”

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SALEM, Ore. - The Oregon Health Authority reported three grim COVID-19 record high’s Thursday, the state’s largest daily number of confirmed cases, most daily deaths and people hospitalized for the virus.

There were 1,225 new confirmed COVID-19 cases increasing the state total to 60,873. There were 20 new deaths reported, surpassing the 800 death toll since the start of the pandemic.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Oregon is 414, the highest number since the pandemic began and a 142% increase since the beginning of November, according to state health data released Thursday.

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WASHINGTON -- Pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech will seek emergency government approval for their coronavirus vaccine, as the U.S. aims to begin administering doses by the end of the year.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the companies would seek an emergency use authorization Friday from the Food and Drug Administration. The application and clinical trial data will be reviewed by an independent board of scientists before approval is granted.

Azar says: “Hope and help are on the way.”

This week the companies said their vaccine was 95% effective.

Moderna is expected to file for emergency approval for its own vaccine candidate in the coming weeks.

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma’s Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt said Thursday he planned to attend a college football game over the weekend and spend Thanksgiving with his parents and family, even as the nation’s top public health agency pleaded with Americans not to travel for the holidays.

During a press conference with state health officials, Stitt said he planned to attend the University of Oklahoma-Oklahoma State University football game in Norman on Saturday and spend time with his family, including his parents, over the Thanksgiving holiday.

“I think Oklahomans should be with their loved ones over Thanksgiving,” Stitt said.

Stitt’s plans contradict guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday that encouraged Americans not to travel for Thanksgiving and not to spend the holiday with people from outside their household.

Stitt did on Monday impose the state’s first restrictions since May, ordering bars and restaurants to close in-person service by 11 p.m. and space tables six feet apart. And while he has opposed a statewide mask mandate, he did order state employees to wear masks when inside state buildings.

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LOUISVILLE, Kentucky — Kentucky reported a new daily record of 3,649 coronavirus cases Thursday amid warnings by Gov. Andy Beshear that the situation for many of the state’s hospitals and healthcare centers could become far more deadly because of the surge.

Brushing aside criticism of his heightened restrictions to fight the pandemic, Beshear noted that more than 1,300 health care workers have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past two weeks. He said restrictions are needed to prevent more deaths.

“It’s going to be hard, it’s going to continue to harm our lives ... we will not simply let people around us die without putting up a fight against this virus,” the Democratic governor said at a virtual news briefing. He encouraged Kentuckians to forgo Thanksgiving travel, practice social distancing and wear masks.

The Bluegrass state’s highest daily totals since the beginning of the pandemic have all been in the past week. Beshear also announced 30 new virus-related deaths, Kentucky’s second highest daily death toll.

All told, 427 school-aged children have tested positive, and more than 10,000 students are quarantined.

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WASHINGTON -- Vice President Mike Pence has concluded the White House’s first coronavirus task force briefing in months without taking questions or urging Americans not to travel at Thanksgiving as the virus rages.

Pence walked out Thursday and ignored shouted questions as to whether he acknowledged the election result and about whether not cooperating with the transition was endangering American lives by not delivering vital vaccine information to President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration.

Though the officials urged Americans to follow social distancing guidelines, they predominantly painted an optimistic portrait of the nation’s response to the pandemic, particularly touting the progress made on a vaccine. That stood in stark contrast to a more somber assessment offered by Biden at his own briefing minutes earlier.

President Donald Trump, who has not conceded the election, was not in attendance, nor was task force member Dr. Scott Atlas, who has expressed skepticism about masks. Drs. Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci returned to the White House podium for the first time in months.

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WASHINGTON-- Federal regulators have authorized emergency use of another COVID-19 treatment, the anti-inflammatory drug baricitinib, to be used in combination with a drug already used to treat severely ill, hospitalized patients.

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday cleared the new use for Eli Lilly’s pill baricitinib plus remdesivir for hospitalized adults and children two years and older requiring oxygen or ventilation therapy.

Remdesivir is the first and only drug approved by FDA to treat COVID-19. The emergency clearance for baricitinib acts as a preliminary approval until more data is available showing the drug works for COVID-19.

The FDA said the drug combination appeared to reduce recovery time in hospitalized patients, compared to patients who received only remdesivir.

The agency said ongoing research will be needed to confirm the benefit.

Indianapolis-based Lilly already sells baricitinib as Olumiant to treat rheumatoid arthritis, the less common form of arthritis that occurs when the immune system attacks joints, causing inflammation. An overactive immune system also can lead to serious problems in coronavirus patients.

The FDA based its decision on a 1,000-patient study in which patients were randomly assigned to receive the drug combination-- baricitinib plus remdesivir-- or remdesivir plus a placebo.

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BATON ROUGE, La. — Gov. John Bel Edwards sounded the alarm about the latest spike in Louisiana’s virus cases, saying at a grim news conference Thursday: “Make no mistake. Louisiana is in the third surge of this pandemic.”

The Democratic governor worried people will gather as usual in packed houses for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

“If you’re planning on a Thanksgiving that looks like previous Thanksgivings, where you bring extended family and friends around a common dinner table, you’re making a mistake ... We ought to love our loved ones enough to not want to expose them to the dangers of COVID,” Edwards said.

Edwards said he doesn’t intend to return Louisiana to a stay-at-home order but is willing to consider adding more restrictions. He and public health experts are warily watching the number of patients hospitalized with the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus.

Hospitals aren’t overwhelmed yet, but Edwards has cautioned the current trajectory raises that risk. Joining him at Thursday’s briefing was Dr. Christopher Thomas, who works in the COVID-19 unit of Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge.

Thomas described overworked hospital staff, some who have left the profession amid the pandemic. He said Louisiana can’t request additional health care workers from other states — like it did to help hospitals in previous surges — because nearly all states are struggling with overwhelmed resources.

___

WASHINGTON — Infection disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci says he “wants to settle” concerns about a coronavirus vaccine as he returns to the White House podium for the first time in months.

Fauci says the Food and Drug Administration will thoroughly study the data before it approves any emergency use of a vaccine and he wants to “put to rest any concept that this was rushed in an inappropriate way. This is really solid.”

Fauci says that while “help is on the way” with a vaccine, it’s time for the American people to wear a mask, avoid crowds and do things as much as possible outdoors rather than indoors.

Fauci is speaking as members of the White House coronavirus task force address concerns about a surge in positive COVID-19 cases around the country, leading to a spike in hospitalizations and more deaths.

___

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Republican Gov. Mike DeWine was unsuccessful in convincing lawmakers to not pass legislation that would limit the powers of his administration and health officials as the virus’ spread across Ohio reached new peaks.

The governor promised to veto the bill, saying he has a “moral obligation” to do so. The House would need 60 votes to override a governor’s veto.

DeWine also designated one of the state’s most populous areas, Franklin County, home to Columbus, as a purple zone on the state’s color-coded alert system.

The designation is the highest on the state’s system and indicates the area was flagged for hitting six indicators, including sustained increases in cases and in coronavirus-related hospital admissions.

___

BRUSSELS — The European Union’s top official said Thursday that two COVID-19 vaccines could receive conditional market authorization as early as the second half of December.

Speaking after a meeting of EU leaders, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer, which created its serum with German drugmaker BioNTech, could be approved by the end of the year by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) “if all proceeds now without any problem.” Von der Leyen added “this is the very first step to be able to be on the market.”

Von der Leyen said the EMA is in constant contact with the FDA to synchronize the assessment of the vaccines. The European commission has sealed deals with several pharmaceutical companies including BioNTech and Pfizer to buy millions of doses of vaccines on behalf of all EU Member States. Von der Leyen said earlier this week the commission hopes a deal with Moderna will be soon finalized.

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