Monday April 19th, 2021 2:39PM

The Latest: Hard hit Australian state sees new cases drop

By The Associated Press
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MELBOURNE, Australia — Australia’s hard-hit Victoria state has recorded its lowest daily tally of COVID-19 cases in nine days while the state premier is expressing hope that it is the start of a downward trend.

Victoria on Wednesday reported 295 new cases and nine deaths, seven of which were in aged care homes which are bearing the brunt of the pandemic. The state reported 384 new infections on Tuesday, down from a record 532 cases on Monday.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said a downward trend had not yet been established.

“It’s always pleasing when there are less numbers than more, but at the same time trends are not made in one day,” Andrews said. “I do hope ... that that becomes a trend that the data holds up.”

But Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said he had hoped for better results with Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, half way through a six-week lockdown.

He said the numbers of community-transmission cases, in which the sources of infection were unknown, “remained relatively stable.”

“Not great numbers, but not going down as much as I’d like,” Sutton said.



— Teachers’ union in U.S. supports striking if unsafe to return to school

— Florida reports more than 9,000 new virus cases

— Greece says it will allow cruise ship travel on Aug. 1.

— President Donald Trump is back to pushing unproven claims that an anti-malaria drug is an effective treatment for the coronavirus. He’s also lobbing new attacks on the credibility of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert.

— Britain’s effective ban on travel to Spain following an upswing in coronavirus cases in the country’s northeast has hammered home the l ack of a comprehensive, Europe-wide approach to suppressing the virus.

— Dr. Anthony Fauci says the Miami Marlins’ coronavirus outbreak could endanger the Major League Baseball season but he doesn’t believe games needs to stop now.

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



WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand’s government says it will rush through new laws to allow some people to be charged for their border quarantine costs.

New Zealand hasn’t had any community transmission of the virus for three months, and everybody who enters the country is required to spend two weeks isolated at a hotel. The cost of that is currently picked up by taxpayers and has already amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Under the new law, adults who leave or enter the country for short holidays or business trips will be required to pay about 3,100 New Zealand dollars ($2,100) toward their quarantine costs.

But there will be many exceptions to the new fees, and officials acknowledge it will affect less than 10% of travelers.

Minister Megan Woods said the government was carefully balancing the payments against the rights of New Zealanders to return home permanently.


BEIJING — China reported more than 100 newly confirmed cases of coronavirus on Wednesday as the country continues to battle an outbreak in Xinjiang.

The northwestern region accounted for 89 of the new cases, with another eight in the northeastern province of Liaoning and one in Beijing. Another three cases were brought from outside the country by returning Chinese citizens, bringing the daily total over the past 24 hours to 101, the highest number in weeks.

Outside of Xinjiang the virus has been largely contained with the death toll from COVID-19 remaining at 4,634 among 84,060 cases registered since the global pandemic first emerged from the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

Xinjiang’s outbreak has centered on the region’s capital and largest city of Urumqi, where authorities have isolated some communities, restricted public transport and ordered widespread testing.


ATLANTA — Many Georgia hospitals are groaning under the assault of COVID-19 infections, with total hospitalizations from the illness remaining above 3,000 statewide for the 10th day in a row.

As of Monday, 25 Georgia hospitals reported no critical care beds available. Nine reported no general inpatient beds, according to data obtained by The Associated Press from the state Department of Public Health.

Statewide on Tuesday, 88% of critical care beds were in use, tying the highest level since the pandemic began. Not all critical care patients have COVID-19, however.

In southeast Georgia, where cases are rising rapidly, officials at Southeast Georgia Health System’s main hospital in Brunswick told The Brunswick News on Monday that patients are sometimes being held in ambulances because no beds are available.

Chief Operating Officer Christy Jordan told the newspaper the hospital hopes to open up 32 beds by Wednesday as part of a renovation, but is trying to staff up rapidly.

Jordan said the hospital has turned to staffing agencies.


BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana’s revenue department says payments start going out this week to front-line workers who remained at grocery store checkouts, in health care facilities and on bus routes in the first months of the coronavirus outbreak.

Louisiana is offering $250 one-time payments to as many as 200,000 people who meet eligibility requirements set by state lawmakers. Approved applicants will receive payment through a check or direct deposit into a bank account.

The payments are financed with federal relief aid.

More than 205,000 people have applied, but not all have been deemed eligible. The Department of Revenue is urging people to continue registering for the one-time payment at frontlineworkers.la.gov.


SALEM, Ore. — Oregon officials say under new COVID-19 metrics, students in most Oregon counties may not be able to return to their classrooms this fall.

Gov. Kate Brown said Tuesday that in order for a school district to start any form of in-person learning, the county must have 10 or fewer new cases per 100,000 residents over seven days. In addition, the countywide and state test positivity rate must be 5% or less over the span of a week.

State Epidemiologist Dean Sidelinger said Oregon is not currently where it needs to be to safely reopen schools. In the past week, case rates across Oregon were about 50 per 100,000 people, and the state’s test positivity is approaching 5%.

Sidelinger says the current case rates are higher than they need to be and higher than they were in countries that have started to reopen schools. But, he said, Oregon can suppress COVID-19 and return to levels where schools are reopened.


MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Hospitals are urging Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey to extend a statewide face mask order as the state continues to see high numbers of coronavirus cases.

Ivey is expected to announce this week whether she will extend the face covering mandate and other health orders that are set to expire Friday. The current mandate, which she announced on July 15, requires anyone older than 6 to wear a mask when in public and within 6 feet (2 meters) of someone who’s not a relative.

The current face covering mandate, which makes exceptions for people who have certain medical conditions, are exercising or performing certain types of jobs, is set to expire before most public schools reopen.


ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota health officials say the number of newly confirmed coronavirus case slipped after several days of large case counts.

The Minnesota Department of Health reported 480 new COVID-19 infections on Tuesday, bringing the number of confirmed cases in the state to 52,281 since the pandemic began.

Minnesota reported its largest one-day case count on Sunday with more than 860 cases. That continued a four-day stretch where cases exceeded 700.

The drop in newly confirmed cases could be the result of a decrease in tests processed, the Star Tribune reported. About 9,000 diagnostic tests were reported Tuesday, down from nearly 13,600 reported on Monday. New case reports on Mondays and Tuesday are usually lower, reflecting lower testing volume over the weekends.

Health officials reported four additional deaths Tuesday, raising Minnesota’s total to 1,580. Three of the deaths were long-term care residents.


NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced Tuesday that reopening schools in-person is the “medically sound, preferred option,” but he said it’s dependent on quickly isolating those who are sick and quarantining their close contacts.

The Republican rolled out his K-12 school reopening plan the same week as the state has been warned by the White House that Tennessee is at a precipice of reaching new levels of infection.

“Our state is doing everything we can to work with local school districts and ensure that in-person learning is made available in a way that protects the health and safety of our students and educators, and this plan helps us accomplish that goal,” Lee said in a statement.

According to Lee’s new school guidelines, anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 must isolate for 10 days from the onset of their symptoms or isolate 10 days from the date they were tested for the virus.

Those who were within 6 feet of anyone who has COVID-19 for 10 minutes or longer must also quarantine for at least 14 days.

The day before, teachers within Nashville’s Metro Education Association led a caravan past the governor’s mansion with messages that included, “Dead Students Can’t Learn. Dead Teachers Can’t Teach.”


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas has reported a new one-day high deaths from the illness caused by the coronavirus, and the state’s virus cases have exceeded 40,000.

The Department of Health on Tuesday reported 20 more deaths from COVID-19, bringing the state’s total fatalities to 428. The state’s health secretary said six of those deaths were late reports and did not occur in the last 24 hours.

The state’s total confirmed virus cases rose by 734 since Monday to 40,181. The number of people hospitalized has increased by 12 to 501.

Before Tuesday, the largest number of deaths reported in a day in Arkansas was 12 on July 17.


FRANKFORT, Ky. -- Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear expressed hope that a fairly stable number of coronavirus cases reported in the state Tuesday signals his mask-wearing mandate might be “starting to kick in and help.”

Beshear reported 532 more confirmed virus cases in the state, up by 10 cases from the previous day but below the 10-day average. The state’s positivity rate — reflecting the average number of tests coming back positive for COVID-19 — dropped for the first time in four days, the governor said.

He also reported 10 more virus-related deaths, raising the state’s death count to 719.

The Democratic governor has taken several steps — which he says are backed by federal health officials — to try to slow a recent surge of virus cases. Those actions include a mandate he announced nearly three weeks ago that most people wear masks in public.

On Monday, Beshear ordered Kentucky bars to close and restaurants to scale back indoor service in what he hopes will be short-term steps to stop the spike in cases. The governor also reduced the number of people allowed at social gatherings from 50 to 10.


WILMINGTON, Delaware — Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said he personally had not been tested for the coronavirus, but did not elaborate on why he hasn’t sought such a screening protectively.

Speaking to reporters after giving a speech in his hometown of Wilmington on Tuesday, Biden also said President Donald Trump needs to appoint a federal official in charge of equitably distributing a vaccine when one is available, adding “the president should have put someone in charge” of that “three months ago.”

Biden used the speech to lay out how he will rebuild the economy in a way that promotes racial equality. He also accused the Trump administration of using coronavirus relief funds to allow large banks to enrich themselves through loans while “closing the door” on small businesses, especially those owned by African Americans.

“A change of ‘tone’ over a few days does not change the facts of the last four years,” Biden said, referring to the past few days, when Trump spoke about the coronavirus in somber terms. “Donald Trump fails the basic threshold test of being president — the duty to care about the entire country, not just himself. He has shown that he can’t beat the pandemic to keep you safe.”


NEW JERSEY — Three more states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have been added to the list of places whose residents traveling to New Jersey must quarantine for two weeks because of COVID-19.

Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said Tuesday that Illinois, Kentucky and Minnesota, along with the capital and the Caribbean island bring the total list of affected states and territories to 36.

The travel advisory calls for travelers from those places to quarantine for 14 days and applies to states with a positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents, or those with a 10% or higher positivity rate over a 7-day rolling average.

New Jersey’s positivity rate has been hovering around 2% or lower and has seen new hospitalizations fall 40% from two weeks ago, according to the governor’s office. New hospitalizations since the virus’s peak in April are down 97%. The state has 4.5 new cases per day per 100,000 residents, ranking 44th in the country, according to Murphy’s office.


RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced on Tuesday he’s curbing alcohol sales hours at restaurants later this week as a way to discourage the spread of COVID-19 during late-night gatherings.

Starting Friday, the eateries and other establishments offering drinks by the glass like distilleries and breweries will have to cut off sales at 11 p.m. State law usually allows sales until 2 a.m. It doesn’t apply to grocery stores that sell beer and wine.

Standalone bars have been shuttered since March. He said he’s been worried increasing numbers of positive cases of the coronavirus among young people, and points out reports of restaurants acting more like bars, with patrons hanging out without social distancing. Some local governments had already issued sales restrictions.

“We know that the ‘bar scene’ has been a place where we have seen increased transmission,” Cooper said at a media briefing. “We want to drive those numbers down.”

Cooper’s announcement came on the same day North Carolina reported another record number of current hospitalizations involving coronavirus patients at almost 1,250. But state Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said Tuesday that some case trends appear to be stabilizing.

More than 116,000 people in North Carolina have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began, with more than 1,800 deaths, Cohen’s department said.

NORFOLK, Va. --- The state of Virginia will enact new rules in the Hampton Roads region that will ban alcohol sales after 10 p.m. as well as gatherings of more than 50 people.

Gov. Ralph Northam said Tuesday that the emergency order is aimed at stopping the surge of coronavirus cases in cities near the coast.

The Democratic governor cited a rise in infections among young people in the Hampton Roads region as well as alcohol use. The restrictions take effect at 12 a.m. Friday.

They are Virginia’s latest effort to reign in a virus that has largely slowed its spread in much of the rest of the state.

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