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Thursday March 4th, 2021 11:38PM

The Latest: Boston testing lab suspended over virus results

By The Associated Press
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BOSTON — State officials in Massachusetts said a Boston-based coronavirus testing lab that counts dozens of nursing homes among its clients has been suspended by the state after it returned nearly 400 false positive tests.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health said in a statement Tuesday that it opened an investigation in early August after it became aware of an unusually high positive rate of COVID-19 tests reported by Orig3n Laboratory.

Retests found at least 383 false positives that were actually negative.

The state late last month notified Orig3n of “three significant certification deficiencies that put patients at immediate risk of harm,” including failure of the lab’s director to provide overall management and a failure to document the daily sanitizing of equipment used for coronavirus testing.

The department said the state issued the genetics lab a statement of deficiency last Friday, and the lab must now respond with a written plan of correction by Sept. 14.

Orig3n spokesman Tony Plohoros told Gannett New England, which first reported the story last week, that the false positives were due to “human error” and the lab is working with state health officials to correct problems at the facility.

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

— CEOs of companies making vaccines pledge safety for coronavirus vaccines

— Computer glitches disrupt classes as schools return online

— Retiree in Austria gets U.S. virus relief check, lived there 2 years in 1960s

— The British government facing pressure to act fast to keep a lid on coronavirus infections after a sharp spike in new cases across the U.K.

— Africa’s tourism sector is struggling to cope with the drop in international travel caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

— Organizers, IOC try to remove doubts about Tokyo Olympics. IOC member John Coates says the games will happen despite the pandemic.

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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:

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The California Highway Patrol chose not to break up an outdoor worship service at the state Capitol on Sunday in part because it said it would have taken too long and required too many officers to safely disperse the roughly 3,000 people in attendance.

The highway patrol, which controls access to the state Capitol grounds, said it issued an event permit because the organizer said he was expecting between 500 and 1,000 people, convincing officers that “proper physical distancing could be achieved” to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

But on Sunday, about 3,000 people attended the event.

The Highway Patrol noted most who attended “failed to socially distance,” despite reminders from both a permit officer on site and Sean Feucht, who hosted the event.

He describes himself on his website as “a missionary, artist, speaker, author, activist and founder of multiple worldwide movements.”

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OLATHE, Kan. — Students and teachers facing an already challenging new school year dealt with technology issues as more Kansas school districts reopened Tuesday with many students working online.

School officials said service was interrupted in Olathe Tuesday morning when nearly 50,000 users on separate devices tried to log on to the district’s online teaching system that is designed for 30,000 students.

The district’s middle and high school students were using only remote learning, while elementary students started with a hybrid of online and in-person classes.

Spokesman Cody Kennedy said the district had previously increased its bandwidth and after more servers were added, the disruption was cleared by mid-morning Tuesday. Kennedy declined to speculate on why traffic on the system was so unexpectedly heavy.

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OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Department of Corrections said a female state prison inmate treated for coronavirus has died.

The department said Monday that the inmate at the Eddie Warrior Correctional Center in Taft died Saturday at a hospital. The woman, whose name wasn’t released, also had undisclosed health issues.

The department said the state medical examiner will determine whether coronavirus was a factor in her death.

The state health department announced increases of 833 cases in the state and one additional death since Monday. It’s reported 65,053 total coronavirus cases and 854 confirmed deaths in Oklahoma.

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HOUSTON — Three of Texas’ largest school districts experienced technical problems on Tuesday as their students started the school year online because of the coronavirus.

In the Houston school district, the state’s largest with 209,000 students, a web hosting service went down. That caused problems for families trying to sign into the district’s main classwork portal. The problems were resolved by mid-day when families were given another link.

In Dallas and Fort Worth, the school districts said in a Tweet they were experiencing technical problems with phone lines and websites and working to fix them.

The problems came as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday extended the state’s disaster declaration in response to the pandemic. The state has more than 640,000 cases and nearly 13,500 deaths.

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TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel’s Health Ministry says the country’s top health officials will self-quarantine after contact with an infected person.

The country’s health minister Yuli Edelstein and coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu, who is leading the fight to stem Israel’s surging coronavirus cases, were among those set to self-isolate.

Gamzu has pushed for city-specific measures to contain the outbreak rather than a countrywide lockdown. He’s faced resistance from lawmakers in communities where cases are spiking.

Tightened restrictions on 40 cities and towns were announced Tuesday. The new measures include nighttime curfews, limiting gatherings to 10 people indoors and 20 outdoors and shutting down schools.

Israelis are girding for more restrictions amid the high Jewish holidays later this month.

Israel has one of the world’s worst outbreaks, adjusted for a population of 8.8 million. It has reported 135,288 coronavirus cases and 1,031 confirmed deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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ROME — Italy added another 1,370 coronavirus cases to its confirmed daily tally, while ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi remains hospitalized with the coronavirus.

Berlusconi’s personal doctor Alberto Zangrillo reported Tuesday that the patient was responding well to treatment and his condition was “reassuring.”

The 83-year-old Berlusconi tested positive for the virus on Sept. 2 and was hospitalized two days later with a lung infection.

The number of daily infections has topped 1,000 for several weeks and has reached 280,153. The Health Ministry reported 10 deaths in the past day, bringing Italy’s death toll to 35,563, the second highest in Europe after Britain.

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Graduate students who teach classes were on strike Tuesday at the University of Michigan over in-person instruction during the coronavirus pandemic and other issues.

The strikers chanted and held umbrellas while marching in the rain. “I do not want my students and colleagues to get a chronic illness because this university decided it was most important to collect tuition,” Surabhi Balachander wrote on Twitter.

The Graduate Employees’ Organization, which represents more than 1,000 instructors, has called for a four-day strike.

Most classes at the University of Michigan have shifted to online. But the union says the university isn’t doing enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It robust plans for testing, contact tracing, and campus safety. It wants plans for testing and contact tracing, allowing graduate employees to work remotely and a more flexible childcare subsidy.

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald says the strike is illegal under state law and the union contract, and the university plans to continue classes in the event of a strike.

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PRAGUE — Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis has reacted angrily to the local branch of World Health Organization voicing its opposition to his country’s possible plan to reduce contract tracing for the coronavirus.

The WHO says the situation in the Czech Republic “is concerning” and data shows “elevated and growing levels of transmission across many regions and districts.” It says the solution is not to stop tracing, but to rapidly scale up the service.

Babis tweeted the WHO should “keep quiet,” saying the country has one of the lowest death rates in Europe.

The Czech Republic has registered a surge of confirmed cases to record levels in recent days. Health authorities in Prague acknowledged they have reached their limit in contact tracing and up to 30% of contacts are not identified.

Health Minister Adam Vojtech says the plans is to make contact tracing more effective, not reduce it.

The Czech Republic has 28,716 confirmed cases and 437 confirmed deaths.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Danish health officials reported 243 new coronavirus cases Tuesday, mainly in the capital of Copenhagen and Odense, the third-largest city.

The cases were mainly in private homes and among young people. There were reports several public and private companies have asked employees to work from home.

On Monday, the government lowered the size of gatherings from 100 to 50 in greater Copenhagen, and announced bars and restaurants should close at midnight instead of 2 a.m.

Suburban Copenhagen police said Tuesday they’d increase patrolling to make sure people respect the rules. Overall, Denmark has 18,356 confirmed cases and 628 deaths.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey is requiring masks in all locations apart from homes, following a spike in the number of COVID-19 infections.

An Interior Ministry circular sent to the country’s 81 provinces on Tuesday says “citizens are obliged to wear masks without exception in all areas” excluding their residences.

Previously, the wearing of masks was mandatory in most public spaces, in shops and on public transportation, but not at workplaces.

On Monday, Turkey reported 1,703 new daily infections, the highest since mid-May.

Last week, Turkey barred social gatherings such as wedding and engagement parties and henna nights and restricted marriage ceremonies to one hour.

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LONDON — The British government is facing pressure to keep a lid on coronavirus infections after a sharp spike in new cases across the U.K.

The figures released Monday showed nearly 3,000 new coronavirus cases for the second day running. There is mounting speculation the British government is considering tightening some restrictions, such as reducing gatherings indoors in England from the current limit of 30.

The U.K. has Europe’s worst death toll from the virus, recording more than 41,500 deaths. The actual toll is believed to be far higher as the government tally doesn’t include those who died without having been tested.

On Monday, Britain processed around 175,000 tests. Although the higher cases can partly be attributed to more testing, it’s clear there’s been an uptick in the past few weeks -- daily infections are about double the level they were the previous week. In some places, local outbreaks in Britain have been so severe that many lockdown restrictions have been reinstated.

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NEW DELHI, India — India officials say Russia had approached it to conduct Phase 3 clinical trials for the experimental Sputnik V vaccine and for Indian companies to potentially manufacture it.

Russian scientists published results from early trials of the experimental Sputnik V vaccine on Friday. Developers say the vaccine appeared to be safe and prompted an antibody response in all 40 people tested in the second phase of the study within three weeks.

The vaccine received government approval last month but drew considerable criticism from health experts because the shots had only been tested on several dozen people.

Dr. V.K. Paul heads a government task force on vaccines and called the partnership a “win-win for India and the world.” He says Tuesday that Russia had asked for assistance to conduct more research, including Phase 3 clinical trials to assess the safety and efficacy of the vaccine in India.

Officials say some companies had already come forward.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Dutch public health institute says 5,247 people tested positive on Tuesday, an increase of 1,830 from the previous week.

There were 17 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, seven fewer than the previous week.

The increased infections came after schools reopened in recent weeks, but the health institute say there was “no significant increase” linked to transmissions at schools. It says a few clusters at schools involved mainly adults infecting other adults.

The health institute says the percentage of positive tests rose to 2.8% compared to 2.2% in the previous week.

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BERLIN -- A retiree in Austria says he received a U.S. government coronavirus relief check for $1,200, despite not having lived in America for over half a century.

The check, with President Donald Trump’s name on it, is part of a massive federal stimulus program. But the money also has been sent to people who aren’t eligible -- including deceased U.S. taxpayers.

Austrian public broadcaster ORF reports the 73-year-old man from Linz, who worked as a waiter in the United States for two years in the 1960s, was able to cash the check.

His wife, who never worked or lived in the United States, got one too.

ORF reports banks in Austria confirm they’ve cashed dozens of checks for residents of the Alpine country. It’s unclear how many were entitled to the money.

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