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Saturday February 27th, 2021 10:50AM

The Latest: US acting defense secretary gets virus vaccine

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller was among the first Cabinet members to get the vaccine. He traveled to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., on Monday and was given the first dose of Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine.

While Miller was there, a number of the medical center’s front-line healthcare staff were also receiving the first of the two-shot regimen. It was the first day of the vaccine’s nationwide rollout.

Other high-ranking Pentagon military service leaders are expected to get the vaccine as soon as next week, in an effort to encourage the military force to also get shots, and to show that it is safe. Currently, getting the vaccine is voluntary within the military.

In a message to his force on Tuesday, Adm. Mike Gilday, chief of naval operations, urged service members to “strongly consider” getting the vaccine, not just for themselves but to help protect their shipmates. Saying he will receive the vaccine “shortly,” Gilday called the vaccine a “proven effective measure” to better protect the troops.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Poor countries face long wait for vaccines despite promises

— Over-the-counter home test for COVID-19 gets U.S. green light

— French theater, cinema workers protest against virus closure

— Pandemic backlash jeopardizes public health powers, leaders

— Sweden’s prime minister says health officials misjudged new infection wave

— U.S. COVID-19 deaths top 300,000 just as vaccinations begin

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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:

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida’s largest hospital system said it was on track to immunize nearly 20,000 health care workers against COVID-19 as Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday announced a delay in hundreds of thousands of doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

But DeSantis said the first batch of the Moderna vaccine — 370,000 doses — could begin heading to his state as soon as this weekend and would allow wider distribution of the medicine to hospitals across the state, pending federal authorization.

Florida began receiving its share of the coronavirus vaccine on Monday, and the state was expected to get about 450,000 doses produced by Pfizer over the next two weeks. But production issues could prevent them from being delivered.

“We’re just going to have to wait. Obviously, it would be shipped relatively soon if we got it,” DeSantis said at a news conference in West Palm Beach. “We don’t know if we’re going to get any or not.”

The state will take what it can get, DeSantis said, as it attempts to take control of a pandemic that has infected more than 1.1 million Floridians since COVID-19 made its first appearance in the state in March.

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MONTREAL — Quebec’s premier is closing all non-essential businesses across the Canadian province from Christmas until at least Jan. 11.

Premier Francois Legault says that big box stores will be prohibited from selling any goods that are deemed non-essential. The premier is also forcing all office towers to empty starting Thursday and requiring employees to work from home until at least Jan. 11.

Legault says elementary and secondary schools will close Dec. 17 and can reopen at the earliest on Jan. 11. He says hospitals across the province are under too much pressure because of the COVID-19 pandemic to allow non-essential businesses to stay open during the holidays.

Quebec reported 1,741 COVID-19 infections on Tuesday.

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SALT LAKE CITY -- An intensive care nurse in Salt Lake City became the first person in Utah to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Utah hospitals began administering vaccinations to front-line healthcare workers with the highest risk of exposure. Hospital leaders expect about a total of 100 doses to be administered across the state on Tuesday.

Christy Mulder, a nurse at University of Utah Hospital, was the first person in the state to receive the vaccine.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn says she is thrilled that vaccines are finally being distributed in Utah. But she urges people to continue public health measures like wearing masks and social distancing.

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The death toll from the coronavirus pandemic in West Virginia pushed past 1,000 with the announcement Tuesday of a record 34 deaths.

Health officials said the deaths broke the one-day mark of 31 deaths reported last Wednesday.

At least 1,012 people in West Virginia have died from the virus since the pandemic began. The number of deaths has more than doubled since early November, along with virus-related hospitalizations.

The number of virus patients in hospitals reached 774 as of Monday. That’s up 124, or 19%, in the past week alone. That includes a record 207 patients in hospital intensive care units, up from 180 a week earlier.

There are more than 21,000 active cases in the state, where officials began administering a vaccine for the virus on Monday.

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RENO, Nev. -- A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of two Nevada churches that say the state’s COVID-19 restrictions violate their First Amendment rights.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agrees with the churches in Las Vegas and rural Lyon County that the state’s limits are unconstitutional because they place harsher attendance limits on religious gatherings than casinos and other secular businesses.

The appellate court reversed earlier federal court rulings Tuesday that upheld Nevada’s hard cap on the size of worship services. It instructed the district judges to preliminary enjoin Nevada from imposing attendance limits for churches stricter than those for other gatherings or businesses.

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PHOENIX -- Arizona on Tuesday reported more than 60 additional deaths as the current coronavirus surge saw the rolling seven-day averages of additional cases and deaths more than double over the past two weeks.

The state on Tuesday reported 4,134 additional known cases and 64 deaths, increasing the state’s totals to 424,382 cases and 7,422 deaths. The rolling average of daily new cases rose from 3,499 on Nov. 30 to 7,772.1 on Monday while the rolling average of daily deaths rose from 25 to 58.3.

The number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations reached 3,702 on Monday, setting another record.

Arizona on Friday exceeded the summer surge’s peak of 3,517 hospitalizations.

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PIKEVILLE, Ky. — The new COVID-19 vaccine arrived at an Appalachian hospital in Kentucky, and medical workers received the first injections.

The Pikeville Medical Center was one of a handful of regional hospitals to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Tuesday.

Dr. Fadi Al Akhrass, Pikeville Medical’s infectious disease specialist, received the first injection during a live-streamed news conference Tuesday afternoon. Al Akrass urged the public to have confidence in the vaccine.

“I’m a true believer that this is going to be our only option, and it’s going to be an amazing option to turn around this pandemic,” he said.

The hospital, which was required to have facilities for ultra-cold storage, received 975 doses meant for medical workers. A Louisville hospital received the first Kentucky shipment of the vaccine on Monday.

Health care workers are first in line for the vaccine, but about 25,000 doses from the first batch to Kentucky will be dedicated to vaccinating people in long-term care facilities. Gov. Andy Beshear said he hopes to have the entire long-term care population vaccinated within two months.

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INDIANAPOLIS — A coalition of some of Indiana’s top hospital systems is warning that facilities are struggling to cope with the surge in COVID-19 patients — a sobering reminder that the coronavirus is still spreading quickly in the state despite the arrival of a vaccine.

With COVID-19 patient numbers hovering above 3,000 for nearly a month, Indiana hospitals are treating more than four times as many as they were in September and are worried they soon could get overwhelmed.

“Local hospitals are fast approaching crisis,” the Indianapolis Coalition for Patient Safety, which represents several central Indiana health-system systems, said Monday in a statement.

During an online news conference Monday, members of the hospital coalition painted a grim picture of what has been unfolding in their emergency rooms and intensive care units. They also pleaded with members of the public to continue wearing masks and socially distancing and to forgo in-person holiday gatherings.

The state Department of Health on Tuesday added another 129 COVID-19 deaths to the state’s death toll, pushing the overall figure of confirmed or presumed coronavirus deaths to 6,968 since the start of the pandemic.

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A registered nurse who does coronavirus testing and contact tracing got Wyoming’s first COVID-19 vaccination Tuesday.

Terry Thayn’s regular job is overseeing maternal and child health matters for the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department, but this year, she has been busy working to contain the virus.

“I was excited for the vaccine,” Thayn said after getting the shot at a health department news conference. “Whenever it was here, I was taking it.”

Thayn is set to get a follow-up shot of the Pfizer vaccine in three weeks.

Her initial dose came from a shipment of 975 in a box that arrived Monday at the health department. Small glass vials of the vaccine came packaged in a box within a box and were kept cold by dry ice.

Almost 35,000 people have tested positive for the coronavirus and 321 have died of the virus in Wyoming since the pandemic began, according to state health officials.

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WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence says he looks forward in the days ahead to receiving a vaccine for COVID-19 and will do so without hesitation.

Pence is speaking Tuesday at a Catalent Biologics plant in his home state of Indiana. The plant is producing a vaccine developed by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health.

He is trying to inject confidence in the vaccine a day after the rollout of Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus shots and as the Food and Drug Administration says in a preliminary report that the Moderna vaccine is also safe and effective.

Pence declared, “we have come to the beginning of the end of the coronavirus pandemic.”

Pence is also stressing the need for Americans to stay focused on limiting the spread of the virus before a vaccine is in widespread use. He says cases and hospitalizations are continuing to rise in many parts of the country. The death toll from the coronavirus topped 300,000 Monday.

“It’s been a marathon this year. It’s been a marathon of heartbreak for many American families,” he said.

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WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is urging elected officials to “step up” and encourage wary Americans to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Republican leader said that as a childhood polio survivor, he’s a “huge supporter” of being vaccinated.

“Whenever my turn comes, I’m going to be anxious to take the vaccine and do my part to reassure those who are doubtful about this,” McConnell said at a press conference in Washington, D.C.

For those who say they will resist the vaccine, he said it’s “not good news.”

“We really need to get the country vaccinated,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do for yourself, for your family and for the country.”

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NORFOLK, Va. — Healthcare workers in Virginia started receiving the state’s first doses of a coronavirus vaccine on Tuesday, kicking off what is likely to be a months long process of inoculating people from the potentially deadly disease.

The Ballad Health system broadcast live video of registered nurse Emily Boucher, who works in the hospital’s COVID-19 intensive care unit, getting her first shot of the vaccine.

“I will never stop trying to convince everyone about the reality of COVID-19,” Boucher said before pulling up her left sleeve at Johnston Memorial Hospital in Abingdon, an area in southwestern Virginia.

Several health care workers at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital in the eastern part of the state also received injections.

Healthcare workers are a priority as vaccines are distributed. And supplies will be limited for months to come. There likely won’t be enough for the average person to get a shot until spring.

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BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Gov. Brad Little will wait his turn in line to get a coronavirus vaccination.

A spokesperson for the 66-year-old Republican governor said Tuesday that the state’s limited supply of the vaccine is prioritized for front-line healthcare workers and the most vulnerable citizens. Marissa Morrison says the governor has never tested positive for the virus, and he intends to receive his vaccination when he’s eligible.

Healthcare officials say the virus has been surging in Idaho and fear delayed or no treatment for some if the system is overwhelmed with patients. State officials say the virus has infected more than 120,000 residents and killed nearly 1,200.

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ATLANTA — U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk has tested positive for COVID-19. That makes him the fourth Republican representative from Georgia to contract the virus.

Loudermilk said in a statement Tuesday that he’s quarantining at home and experiencing mild symptoms, but hopes to resume legislative duties soon.

He represents Georgia’s 11th District northwest of Atlanta. Georgia Republican Reps. Austin Scott, Rick Allen and Drew Ferguson previously tested positive for the virus.

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler briefly isolated after she tested positive for COVID-19 in November. But she later received two negative tests and quickly returned to in-person campaigning ahead of her Jan. 5 runoff against Democrat Raphael Warnock. Early in-person voting the runoff elections for Georgia’s two U.S. Senate seats began Monday.

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Health care workers began receiving the first vaccinations against the new coronavirus in Alabama on Tuesday as cases of the illness caused by the virus soared.

Cullman Regional Medical Center said a longtime nurse, Donna Snow, had received an initial dose of the two-step vaccine a day after the hospital, located north of Birmingham, received its first shipment.

“I’m hopeful that more people are able to take the vaccine so we can begin to see a decline in the number of critically ill patients and families impacted by this disease,” Snow, who works in critical care, said in a statement released by the hospital.

More than 300,000 people in Alabama have contracted the virus, and COVID-19 has killed more than 4,120 people statewide.

The Alabama Department of Corrections, which has one of the nation’s highest rates of inmate deaths from COVID-19, said three more elderly inmates had died of the illness caused by the coronavirus. All three men had serious health problems before contracting the virus, the agency said in a statement.

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BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana’s education superintendent is asking Gov. John Bel Edwards and state health leaders to prioritize childcare workers and school teachers, staff and bus drivers when divvying up future vaccine shipments.

Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley told Louisiana’s education board Tuesday that’s an estimated 166,000 employees at daycare centers, pre-K programs and K-12 schools.

Louisiana started coronavirus immunizations Monday for hospital workers. Next up are people who live and work at nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

Edwards has said he largely intends to follow the recommendations of scientific experts that advise the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That advisory group hasn’t set its second phase guidance yet.

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MADRID — One in ten residents in Spain had been infected by the coronavirus by mid-November and almost half that contagion occurred during the summer resurgence of outbreaks. That’s according to preliminary results of an official survey on the presence of antibodies.

The fourth and latest round of a national seroprevalence study found that 9.9% of the more than 51,400 people tested had developed antibodies at some point since the onset of the pandemic, officials from Spain’s main epidemiological study center, the Carlos III Health Institute, and the Health Ministry said Tuesday.

The study suggests that at least 4.7 million people have contracted the virus so far, although official Health Ministry figures have logged 1.75 million infections from laboratory tests as of Monday.

Spain has also confirmed 48,000 deaths for COVID-19, although excess mortality registries suggest a much higher real death toll.

Marina Pollán, director of the National Epidemiological Center, said that health workers and women taking care of the elderly, working as cleaners and in nursing homes showed the highest prevalence of antibodies.

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