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Monday May 17th, 2021 2:52PM

The Latest: As ICUs fill, Mississippi mulls pop-up centers

By The Associated Press
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JACKSON, Miss. - As intensive care units fill up at hospitals in Mississippi, state health officials are considering opening pop-up facilities to provide more beds for coronavirus patients. However, they say the quality of care at those facilities won’t be what people are used to.

“If we need sort of a mash-style hundred-bed facility, where we are putting patients, we will take the necessary steps to do that,” Gov. Tate Reeves said last week. “Keep in mind, the quality of care in those facilities is not going to be the same level as if you go to a level one facility in Mississippi today.”

On Monday, nine of Mississippi’s largest hospitals did not have any intensive care beds. At the peak of the virus, states like New York and New Jersey opened up additional facilities to house patients. Nearby, Georgia is looking to a convention center in Atlanta to house overflow patients.

State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs said Monday the numbers of hospitalizations - 961 coronavirus patients in ICUs as of last week - were “stable” for now. He attributed much of that to a 300-patient decrease in non-coronavirus patients statewide in Mississippi hospitals in the last week.

Health officials in Mississippi said they are going to try to find open space in hospitals for additional beds before moving patients elsewhere. The challenges of opening pop-up facilities would be addressing equipment and staffing logistics, among other things.

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

— President Donald Trump's national security adviser tests positive for COVID-19

— The world’s biggest COVID-19 vaccine study has begun

— WHO cites doubling of cases over the past six weeks

— White House, Senate GOP try again on $1 trillion virus aid

— President Donald Trump’s is hoping to get credit for his administration’s aggressive push for a coronavirus vaccine

— Two baseball games have been postponed due to virus concerns

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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:

BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana small businesses that have been hammered by the coronavirus outbreak and haven’t received federal aid can start applying Tuesday for grants of up to $15,000 to cover pandemic-related expenses.

State lawmakers created the $275 million, federally financed Main Street Recovery Program. The dollars are expected to run out quickly.

More than 450,000 businesses are estimated to be eligible, but fewer than 20,000 would be able to collect payments if they each receive the maximum grant.

Treasurer John Schroder is overseeing the program. He is encouraging businesses to file their paperwork in the opening days. The treasurer’s office set up a website at louisianamainstreet.com to take applications.

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WASHINGTON — U.S. health officials are warning Americans again to avoid a growing list of imported hand sanitizers that may be contaminated with the toxic chemical methanol.

The Food and Drug Administration said Monday there have been increasing reports of injury due to people using-- sometimes ingesting—the unauthorized sanitizers, which can lead to blindness, heart problems and death.

The active ingredient that kills germs in legitimate sanitizers is ethyl alcohol, which is consumable. But some Mexican companies have been replacing it with poisonous methanol, or wood alcohol, which is used in antifreeze.

The FDA first issued a consumer warning about the products last month.

Last week the agency issued a warning letter to Mexican manufacturer Eskbiochem SA de CV for marketing sanitizer containing more than 80% methanol and falsely claiming that it was “FDA approved.”

The FDA has posted a “do-not-use” list of more than 80 sanitizers on its website and blocked their importation. The agency said it is working with retailers to recall products remaining on U.S. store shelves. The illegitimate gels generally don’t list methanol as an ingredient on their packaging.

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee stands at the cusp at being able to significantly decrease new cases of the coronavirus and must take stronger steps to prevent its spread, warned White House COVID-19 task force leader Deborah Birx, who met with state and local health leaders Monday in Nashville.

Birx recently identified Nashville as one of 11 cities with a surge in coronavirus cases that need aggressive action while noting that many of the state’s rural areas have seen a worrisome outbreak.

“We’ve done a lot of modeling and we have found that if you all wear a mask — all Tennesseans — in every public area and you stop going to bars, and in fact close the bars,and limit your indoor dining, that we can have as big of an impact on decreasing new cases as we had with sheltering in place,” Birx told reporters.

“Tennessee is at that inflection point,” Birx said.

However, her remarks fell flat with Republican Gov. Bill Lee, who has vowed he won’t shut down the state’s economy again and has resisted repeated calls to issue a statewide mask mandate.

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LAS VEGAS — Health officials in Las Vegas have closed a busy drive-thru coronavirus testing site in a casino parking structure to replace it with an indoor operation at a city-owned conference hall.

Clark County and University Medical Center said Monday the Cashman Center site will open Aug. 4, replacing the Texas Station hotel-casino site. With testing operations at capacity and several-day waits for results, the hospital recently adjusted testing policies to give priority to people exhibiting symptoms or who have been exposed to of COVID-19.

Nevada health officials reported 997 new confirmed cases on Monday, but no additional deaths.

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MIAMI — Vice President Mike Pence visited Florida on Monday to hold a round table with University of Miami researchers to speak about the final-stage testing of the experimental COVID-19 vaccine.

Pence said the government would not rush the process to approve a vaccine. FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said the timeline for the vaccine trials had been compressed, and the agency was conducting real-time review of the data.

“We want to ensure we move at a safe and effective pace. I want to assure the people of Florida and people all across this country that we will cut no corners in the development of this or any vaccine,” Pence told reporters after the round table.

In Miami, 500 volunteers would be receiving a real shot and 500 others a dummy without being told which. Thousand other participants are receiving the shots in other sites around the country.

“It is remarkable to think 30,000 Americans are willing to step forward to participate in this phase 3 clinical trial,” Pence said. “They are doing more than their fair share to help our nation through these challenging times.”

Pence said he believed people at high-risk would be prioritized, while maintaining that “tens of millions” of doses would be available in the U.S.

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Maria Sulayman, an ICU nurse at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami who tested positive and just returned to work after being out sick for five weeks, said her fellow nurses are “completely overwhelmed, completely exhausted and desperate.”

“We need some leadership in mandating the masks because our health care systems are to the top. We cannot handle this if nothing is done. we can’t take it any more ... it’s getting pretty bad,” Sulayman said.

The nurses spoke during a virtual press conference Monday, urging Gov. Ron DeSantis to to put politics aside and order a statewide mask mandate. Meanwhile, the union launched a series of public health videos begging the public to wear masks to help frontline workers (edited)

“This is just science and our personal beliefs and our political beliefs have nothing to do with it,” said Dr. Dave Woolsey, who works in Jackson’s hard hit emergency room. “If we keep playing around and spreading it with each other, it’s only going to get worse. It’s not going to help the economy to have everyone sick at home and not be able to get out.”

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DOVER, Del. — Public health officials are encouraging people who attended two recent church conferences in Delaware to be tested for COVID-19.

Officials issued the advisory Monday after learning that at least three members of Destiny Christian Church in Dover had tested positive for the coronavirus. Officials noted that the church hosted a three-day “Prophetic Conference” on the weekend of July 18, and another three-day “Life Conference” this past weekend.

Officials said each event drew a few hundred people. State officials are working with church leaders to offer testing to congregation members and conference attendees on Tuesday at the church.

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NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenya’s president has extended the country’s curfew for 30 days, and alcohol sales in restaurants are banned, as he criticizes “reckless” behavior amid a surge in coronavirus infections.

President Uhuru Kenyatta spoke days after Africa’s top health official said confirmed cases are rising “very, very quickly” in East Africa’s economic hub. They now number more than 17,000.

Kenyatta suggested that Kenya’s relatively low case fatality rate of 1.6% has given people “false comfort that this is not a serious health risk.”

He appealed to economic concerns, warning there will be “little tourism, scarce investment and falling trade if our headlines start to match those of countries that have been hardest hit by the pandemic.”

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LONDON —The British government is now advising against all non-essential travel to all of Spain, including the Balearic and Canary Islands.

When it removed Spain from its list of safe countries on Saturday following a spike in coronavirus cases, the islands had been excluded.

Spain is traditionally the most popular summer holiday destination for British vacationers, with the islands particularly reliant on their tourism.

The decision by the government to alter its travel advice and insist that anyone returning from the country self-isolates for a period of 14 days has caused widespread dismay among British vacationers. Travel companies such as TUI and Jet2 have suspended flights in response.

British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps also said that he will curtail his holiday in Spain and return to the U.K. on Wednesday to deal with the fallout of the decision. He confirmed that he will self-isolate, like anyone else returning. His family will remain in Spain though.

The Spanish government has said the British government’s decision has been disproportionate.

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SOFIA, Bulgaria — Bulgaria’s prime minister plans additional measures aimed at helping businesses and people hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic.

The measures announced Monday by Prime Minister Boyko Borissov come amid week-long anti-graft protests demanding the government resign.

The measures include additional funds for medics, monthly bonuses for pensioners and more compensation for jobless people. Financial help will be allocated for children healthcare, for nursing homes for elderly and disabled people.

Borissov said the government will use reserves from the state budget to cover the spending.

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WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is imploring Republicans and the White House to come quickly to the negotiating table with Democrats over the next coronavirus relief package to prevent unemployment assistance and an eviction moratorium from expiring for millions of Americans.

Pelosi on Monday invited GOP leaders and White House negotiators to her office after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s planned Monday afternoon release of the Republican’s $1 trillion proposal.

The Republican leader is poised to try again to unveil his plan after last week’s effort came to an abrupt halt amid infighting with the White House. It’s a long-awaited GOP counter-offer to Pelosi’s $3 trillion effort passed in May.

But even as Senate Republicans push ahead, the White House is now suggesting a narrower relief package may be all that’s possible with Friday’s approaching deadlines.

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BRUSSELS — Belgium’s prime minister has unveiled a set of drastic social distancing measures aimed at avoiding a new general lockdown amid a surge of COVID-19 infections.

Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes said that from next Wednesday contacts outside family circles will be limited to the same five people over the next four weeks. Belgian residents are currently allowed to meet with 15 different people. The measures don’t apply to children under the age of 12.

Wilmes said the new measures — which also include lowering crowd limits at public events to 100 people indoors and 200 people outdoors — could be sufficient to avoid further restrictions and to ensure children can return to school en masse in September.

After a sharp decline of infections, Belgium has witnessed a surge in the number of confirmed cases over the past three weeks, especially in Antwerp province.

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DA NANG, Vietnam — About 80,000 people, mostly local tourists, are being evacuated from the popular Vietnamese beach city of Da Nang after more than a dozen people there were confirmed to have COVID-19.

The evacuations were announced Monday by the government.

Vietnam, widely seen as a success in dealing with the coronavirus, reimposed a social distancing order in Da Nang following confirmation of the cases.

A 57- year-old man was confirmed to be infected by the coronavirus on Saturday, the country’s first local case since April. The Ministry of Health says 14 additional cases have been confirmed since then.

The new outbreak sparked fear among tourists in the city, with many cutting their trips short.

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien has tested positive for the coronavirus — the highest-ranking U.S. official to test positive so far.

That’s according to two people familiar with the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss it by name.

The White House confirmed that O’Brien has mild symptoms and “has been self-isolating and working from a secure location off site.” The White House says there is “no risk of exposure to the President or the Vice President” and that the “work of the National Security Council continues uninterrupted.”

The news was first reported by Bloomberg News, which said O’Brien came down with the virus after a family event.

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MIAMI — Two major league games scheduled for Monday night are postponed after more than a dozen Miami Marlins players and staff members tested positive for the coronavirus in an outbreak that stranded the team in Philadelphia.

The Marlins’ home opener against Baltimore was called off, as was the New York Yankees’ game at Philadelphia. The Yankees would have been in the same clubhouse the Marlins used last weekend.

Nine Marlins players and five staff members received positive results in tests conducted Friday. That's according to a person familiar with the situation, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the results hadn’t been publicly disclosed.

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