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Wednesday July 28th, 2021 2:35AM

The Latest: Tennessee governor won't commit to using vaccine

By The Associated Press
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee is declining to say whether he would be vaccinated against the coronavirus when a vaccine becomes available.

The U.S. government has told public health departments to prepare to distribute vaccines as early as Nov. 1 and Lee said Thursday that Tennessee is working to develop a distribution plan.

But the governor also says being vaccinated is a personal choice. Lee says he will do what he wants all Tennesseans to do — to decide if the vaccine is “safe and effective” and to talk to their doctors.

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

— Nevada church resumes court battle over COVID-19 rules

— White House faces skepticism over prospects for a vaccine

— Gov. Cuomo won’t allow NYC to reopen restaurants

— Milwaukee’s health commissioner steps down, cites partisan obstacles

— An independent panel appointed by the WHO to review its coordination of the response to the coronavirus pandemic will have access to any internal U.N. agency documents, materials and emails.

— Growth in the U.S. services sector, where most Americans work, slowed in August after a big rebound in July, indicating lingering problems stemming from the coronavirus.

— Because of restrictions and bureaucratic hurdles, more than 1 million unemployed won’t receive a $300 check that President Donald Trump promised.

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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:

LANSING, Mich. — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says that gyms can reopen after 5 1/2 months of closure and that more organized sports can resume if face masks are worn. The move announced Thursday will lift some coronavirus restrictions that lasted longer in Michigan than in many other states.

The order takes effect next Wednesday and allows for the reopening of fitness centers and indoor pools in a swath of the state that is home to 93% of Michigan’s people. Face coverings will be required at all times inside gyms, including during exercise.

The governor also is allowing athletic competitions to resume in regions where they have been restricted. But her guidance recommends against sports involving more than fleeting contact, such as football, basketball, soccer, lacrosse and hockey.

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PHOENIX — Most counties in Arizona have been cleared to transition their schools to some form of in-person learning after improvements in coronavirus data.

The state Department of Health Services said Thursday that eight of Arizona’s 15 counties now meet the benchmarks required to do a hybrid of remote and in-person instruction if they choose to. In addition, two other mostly rural counties got the green light to switch to full-time, in-person classes.

For a county to offer hybrid instruction, it must have a decline in new cases or a rate of less than 100 new cases per 100,000 people in a two-week period, its test positivity rate must be below 7%, and its hospital visits for COVID-19-like illness be below 10%.

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CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu thinks it’s unrealistic to believe a coronavirus vaccine will be available by Nov. 1 but says his state will be prepared to distribute it if it is.

Federal health officials last week instructed states to be ready to begin distribution by Nov. 1 — two days before elections. The timing raised suspicion among public health experts about whether the Trump administration intends to rush approval for political gain.

Sununu said Thursday that he disagreed with that suspicion and called the letter “a smart move.” He says it's good to ensure everyone is ready just in case.

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ROME — Italian health experts have recommended that nursing homes and other residences where disabled and other ‘’fragile” people live gradually allow visitors again with strict rules to guard against the spread of the coronavirus.

Deaths in residences for the elderly figured prominently in the heavy fatality toll of the first months of the pandemic in Italy, where the outbreak began in Europe.

The Superior Health Institute, which advises Italy’s public health system and Health Ministry, published guidelines on Thursday which recognized that meeting with loved ones is an integral part of the residents’ well-being. Still, the recommendations call for “avoiding handshakes, kisses and hugs” between residents and visitors in encounters, preferably held outdoors.

If residents are confined to a bed, then only one visitor should be allowed. If the guidelines are adopted by the government, new residents could be admitted, including from hospitals.

But they would need coronavirus tests and must stay in a separate part of the facility, away from the current residents, for 14 days.

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NORMAN, Okla. — More than a dozen University of Oklahoma students gathered outside the university’s administration building Thursday to protest what they say is an inadequate response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Student Kellie Dick, a senior from Shawnee, told The Associated Press that students are violating the university and the city of Norman’s mask mandates at bars, restaurants and fraternity and sorority functions.

In her words: “We really need people to wear their masks. I don’t want this to kill any more people than it already has.”

The protesting students presented a list of 12 demands that include online classes for most subjects, twice-weekly free coronavirus testing for the university's students, faculty and staff, and the prohibition of social gatherings of more than 25 people.

The university's chief COVID-19 official earlier Thursday told the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education that there have been no known transmissions of the virus in classrooms, but that the virus spread occurs in areas OU cannot control.

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MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee’s health commissioner is quitting to take a new job, citing the partisan battles management of the coronavirus.

Jeanette Kowalik is joining a national health policy think tank in Washington, D.C. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports Kowalik noted obstacles to testing, public health orders, mask messaging during the pandemic response.

Republican lawmakers brought a successful lawsuit before the state Supreme Court this spring ending Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ “safer at home” order designed to slow the spread of the virus. A conservative law firm has filed a lawsuit seeking to end the Evers mask mandate, which the Republican Senate majority leader has denounced.

Milwaukee has reported more than 17,700 positive cases and more than 275 deaths. Wisconsin has reported 1,142 deaths, according to the state Department of Health Services.

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PITTSBURGH — Federal agents searched two nursing homes Thursday near Pittsburgh, one of which had the worst coronavirus outbreak of any in Pennsylvania and was already being investigated by the state on suspicion of criminal neglect.

U.S. Attorney Scott Brady says agents were at the Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center in Beaver County, as well as at the Mount Lebanon Rehabilitation and Wellness Center, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

More than 330 of the for-profit Brighton nursing home’s residents tested positive for the virus since the end of March and at least 82 died, the newspaper reported.

A spokesperson for the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office confirmed the office was involved in the warrant execution.

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MADRID — Spain on Thursday added nearly 9,000 new infections to a total of more than 488,500 since the start of the pandemic.

About 3,600 of the new cases were diagnosed in the past 24 hours, with the others in previous days but just reported.

The Madrid region, population 6.6 million, accounts for more than a third of the country’s new cases. About 16% of its hospital beds are currently devoted to treating COVID-19 patients, the highest rate in Spain.

With 40 new deaths recorded on Thursday, the total toll rose to 29,234. The figure doesn’t reflect those who have died without being tested for the virus.

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FURMAN, S.C. — A fraternity at a South Carolina university has been suspended for at least four years after it hosted a pair of parties that led to the spread of the coronavirus.

In a statement, Furman University says Kappa Alpha held parties at their fraternity house Aug. 21 and Aug. 22 and nearly 60% of those who attended -- at least 29 students -- tested positive for the coronavirus. Those who tested positive have been quarantined, the university says.

Meanwhile, Indiana University officials have requested all 40 fraternity and sorority houses at its Bloomington campus to shut down, saying their high rates of coronavirus infections made them unsafe. Testing at some houses found infection rates above 50 percent.

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NEW YORK — Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he won’t let New York City reopen its restaurants for indoor dining until the city has a plan to monitor and ensure they’re following regulations for coronavirus prevention.

The governor says he thinks restaurants should open in New York City, but the state doesn’t have enough personnel to monitor the city’s 27,000-plus eateries. The rest of the state outside New York City has allowed indoor dining at half capacity since June.

Cuomo is facing pressure from the restaurant industry, which has seen business plummet amid the pandemic and hundreds of workers seeking unemployment assistance. More than 300 restaurant owners who want to reopen have sued New York City and the state, seeking more than $2 billion, because of the continued ban on indoor dining.

New Jersey recently announced plans to allow indoor dining at 25% capacity starting Friday. Connecticut began allowing indoor dining at half capacity in June.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio had hoped the city was on track to allow indoor dining in late June when it entered the third phase of Cuomo’s gradual reopening plan.

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PHOENIX — Arizona health officials reported 1,091 new coronavirus cases and 65 deaths, increasing the state’s totals to 203,953 cases and 5,130 deaths.

It’s the first day the Department of Health Services reported more than 1,000 additional cases since Aug. 13, when 1,351 were reported.

Arizona was a national hot spot in June and July, but cases and deaths have trended downward since then. Seven-day rolling averages for daily new cases and daily deaths reported statewide continued to decrease through Wednesday.

The rolling average of new cases went from 873 on Aug. 19 to 486 on Wednesday, while the rolling average of daily deaths dropped from 41 to 28.

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BERLIN — Swedish prime minister Stefan Lofven pushed back against the idea that his country’s approach to the coronavirus pandemic was radically different from that of all other European nations.

Speaking Thursday after a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he says “there has been some exaggeration when it comes to the differences.”

Lofven says the Nordic nation had introduced a mix of legislation and recommendations for how people should behave that Swedes had largely followed.

Sweden, a country of some 10.2 million, has more than 84,700 confirmed coronavirus cases and 5,832 deaths, according to John Hopkins University.

Germany had about three times as many lab-confirmed cases and fewer than twice as many deaths, despite having a population eight times bigger. Germany, a country of 83 million, has more than 248,000 confirmed cases and 9,326 deaths.

While some in Germany have called for the government to adopt the more relaxed Swedish model, Merkel says the two countries had taken a similar approach.

“Compared to France or Spain or Italy, we also had relatively large amounts of freedom,” she says, noting Germany didn’t impose a blanket lockdown like those countries.

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LONDON — An independent panel appointed by the World Health Organization to review its coordination of the response to the coronavirus pandemic says it will have full access to any internal U.N. agency documents, materials and emails.

The panel’s co-chairs, former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, announced the 11 other members on Thursday. They include Dr. Joanne Liu, who was an outspoken WHO critic while leading Medecins Sans Frontieres during the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Also on the panel: Dr. Zhong Nanshan, a renowned Chinese doctor who was the first to publicly confirm human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus; Mark Dybul, who led the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and David Miliband, a former British foreign secretary who is CEO of the International Rescue Committee.

Clark says she and Johnson Sirleaf chose the panel members independently and WHO didn’t attempt to influence their choices.

“We must honor the more than 25.6 million people known to have contracted the disease and the 850,000 and counting who have died from COVID-19,” Johnson Sirleaf says.

The panel will meet Sept. 17 and every six weeks until April. It expects to brief WHO on the initial progress in November before presenting a final report next year.

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HONOLULU — Hawaii officials tested more than 1,700 Oahu residents on the state’s H-3 freeway and planned to do so again, risking a loss of federal transportation funds.

State officials say they expect to conduct a second round of tests on the H-3 Thursday. The Federal Highways Administration had denied Hawaii’s request to use the freeway for the event, citing the impact on traffic, commerce, safety.

The state receives $180 million in annual project funding from the highways agency, says Ed Sniffen, Hawaii Highways Division deputy director. Sniffen says, “it’s way too important for the public for us not to move forward with this testing.”

Democratic Gov. David Ige calls the freeway was “a safe testing site.”

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