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Thursday April 15th, 2021 8:18PM

The Latest: NYC mayor awaits state OK for shots to elderly

By The Associated Press
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NEW YORK — New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is criticizing the state government for keeping the city from immediately vaccinating people older than 75 against the coronavirus.

He says the city has 270,000 doses that could be quickly administered. The sharp language from the mayor comes amid a public disagreement with Gov. Andrew Cuomo over who gets priority for the vaccine.

Cuomo has insisted on focusing on the state’s front-line health care workers as cases and hospitalizations surge this winter. There was no immediate comment from the Cuomo administration.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

President-elect Joe Biden plans to speed release of virus vaccines so more people can get first shot. The U.S. vaccine rollout hits snag as health workers balk at shots; US tops 4,000 daily deaths from the coronavirus. UK regulators OK use of a third vaccine against coronavirus.

Meanwhile, WHO approves expanding time between virus shots up to six weeks and asks countries for equitable access to vaccines. A Pfizer study suggests the vaccine works against the virus variant.

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Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Active-duty military medical personnel have been sent to a Southern California hospital swamped with a surge of COVD-19 patients.

Riverside County authorities issued a press release Friday saying approximately 20 physician assistants, nurses and respiratory care practitioners from the Army and Air Force arrived Thursday at Riverside University Health System-Medical Center.

The county says the Department of Defense team is part of a response to a state request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for federal support to medical facilities throughout California.

Officials say the 439-bed hospital normally has a daily average of 350 patients but is averaging 450.

Jennifer Cruikshank, chief executive officer at Riverside University Health System-Medical Center and Clinics, says the help is bringing “renewed energy and hope into our team” and will “support the acute health care needs of more people in our region during this critical time.”

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ROCKAWAY, N.J. — Gov. Phil Murphy and health officials have opened what’s being called a vaccine megasite at a former Sears store in Morris County.

Health officials hope to eventually vaccinate more than 2,000 people per day there. The 30,000-square-foot lower floor of the former Sears store at the Townsquare Mall in Rockaway features 20 vaccine stations. Some of them are behind curtains for privacy.

About 1,000 people per week will get the vaccine. Officials hope to see that number rise to about 2,400 per day in the next several weeks. However, it will depend on how many doses the state receives from the federal government.

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NEW YORK — Millions of U.S. business owners are about to get additional help weathering the coronavirus outbreak.

The Small Business Administration and the Treasury Department are reviving the Paycheck Protection Program five months after its first two rounds of funding ended. Businesses that received loans last year will be able to borrow up to $2 million if they have no more than 300 employees and suffered at least a 25% drop in quarterly revenue.

First-time borrowers with no more than 500 workers can borrow up to $10 million. The loans, which can be forgiven, will have five-year terms and carry an interest rate of 1%.

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MADRID — Spain’s Health Ministry registered 25,456 new coronavirus infections on Friday, a day after the nation surpassed the 2 million cases.

Spain reported 199 more deaths Friday to total nearly 52,000. Health Minister Salvador Illa called the situation “preoccupying” and recommended reducing mobility and contacts.

Illa says he remained hopeful about vaccinating 70% of the population – or 33 million people -- by the end of the summer. He believes that will require the approve of new vaccines.

Spain expects to distribute about 460,00 doses per week from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna in the next six weeks.

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PHOENIX — Arizona reported 11,000 coronavirus cases and nearly 200 deaths on Friday.

Arizona had one person of every 111 diagnosed with coronavirus from Dec. 31 to Thursday, the higest rate in the country.

With the surge stressing Arizona hospitals, 4,907 COVID-19 patients occupied inpatient beds on Thursday, including a pandemic record 1,122 in intensive care beds, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard.

Arizona’s vaccination program expanded eligibility, offering shots to police, teachers, childcare workers and people 75 or older. Those eligible in the first phase last month included health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities.

The state registered 11,658 cases and 197 deaths on Friday, increasing the pandemic totals to 596,251 cases and 9,938 deaths.

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WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden says he’ll speed release of coronavirus vaccines when he takes office Jan. 20.

His office says Biden will curtail the current practice of holding back vaccine doses to guarantee that people who get their first shot can also get a required second shot three weeks later.

Under the Trump administration’s approach, the government has been holding back a supply of vaccines to guarantee that people get the booster shot.

After an initial glow of hope when vaccines were approved last month, the nation’s vaccination campaign has gotten off to a slow start. Only 5.9 million of 29.4 million available doses have been distributed (27%), according to the CDC.

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GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization has appealed to manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccines and the wealthier countries to make them available to everyone in need.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says 42 countries are rolling out coronavirus vaccines -- mostly high-income and a few “middle-income” countries. He appealed to countries with more vaccine than needed to make them available to the COVAX facility, the U.N.-backed project to get vaccines deployed widely.

He’s urging “countries and manufacturers to stop making bilateral deals at the expense of COVAX.”

Tedros also asks manufacturers to make data about their vaccines available, which is needed for WHO to provide “emergency use listings” that can expedite their deployment.

The lack of such data “blocks the whole system of procurement and delivery,” he says.

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NEW YORK — New York City’s police commissioner has tested positive for the coronavirus.

The department’s top spokesperson says Commissioner Dermot Shea is feeling well and running the department remotely from home. Spokesperson Richard Esposito says Shea has remained in regular contact with the department’s senior staff.

The 51-year-old commissioner is among thousands of NYPD personnel to test positive for the virus since the pandemic hit New York. Six detectives, a police officer, a chief and 40 civilian employees have died from the coronavirus.

Shea’s diagnosis comes as de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo wrangle over the city’s plan to vaccinate 25,000 of the department’s 35,000 officers.

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LANSING, Mich. — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will encourage all K-12 schools in Michigan to reopen for in-person instruction by March 1 as the state starts offering the coronavirus vaccine to teachers, The Associated Press has learned.

Two education officials briefed on the governor’s planned announcement disclosed it to the AP. They spoke on the condition of anonymity ahead of an afternoon news conference.

Many schools have been fully remote during the pandemic. The governor won’t seek to require in-person classes — her unilateral emergency powers were curbed by a court ruling — but wants face-to-face instruction to be offered.

Whitmer recently lifted her administration’s ban on in-person learning in high schools after a surge in cases waned.

Under a 2020 law, Michigan schools that deem it safe to provide in-person classes during the virus outbreak must prioritize the option for K-5 students.

— By David Eggert

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NEW YORK — New research suggests the COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech can still work against a mutated coronavirus.

Two variants -- one discovered in Britain, the other in South Africa -- share a common mutation that’s believed to be the reason they are more contagious. Called N501Y, it is a slight alteration on one spot of the spike protein that coats the virus.

Most of the vaccines rolled out around the world train the body to recognize that spike protein and fight it. Pfizer teamed with researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston for laboratory tests to see if the mutation affected its vaccine’s ability to do so.

They used blood samples from 20 people who received the vaccine. Antibodies from those vaccine recipients successfully fended off the virus in lab dishes. That’s according to the study posted late Thursday on an online site for researchers. It hasn’t been reviewed by other experts.

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Holland America and Princess Cruises have announced pauses on planned sailings in Alaskan waters in response to health guidelines.

The trips scheduled have been postponed at least through the late spring.

Princess canceled six Alaska trips scheduled through May 15. Holland America canceled sailings of three Alaska-bound ships through the first week of June and of three others through mid-May.

Princess and Holland America say health rules imposed by the federal CDC and uncertainty around travel restrictions prompted the cancellations.

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LISBON, Portugal — Portugal reported more than 30,000 new cases in the past three days, nearly equaling the number over three months last summer.

The Health Ministry says 118 people died in the previous 24 hours -- the first time deaths have surpassed 100 -- and a record 10,176 cases were reported.

The number of people admitted to hospital reached a high of 3,451, with 536 in intensive care.

The strain being placed on the public health service has prompted the government to consult with opposition parties on the possibility of a full lockdown starting next week.

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NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus is returning to lockdown for the remainder of the month with daytime restrictions on movement and closing of schools.

Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou says intensive care units treating COVID-19 patients have reached their limits and restrictions are needed to prevent “people dying helpless because we don’t have available beds.”

The measures take effect Sunday. Although civil servants must work from home, private employees can work at offices, with a maximum of 20 workers.

Ioannou says infections have multiplied faster in the last few months, partly because of the new coronavirus variant detected on Cyprus. There have been 5,455 coronavirus cases between Dec. 20 - Jan. 2, a significant number for the island nation of 900,000 people.

Ioannou admitted the vaccination program needs to pick up the pace.

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NEW YORK — The U.S. has topped 4,000 daily deaths from the coronavirus for the first time, breaking a record set just one day earlier.

The tally from Johns Hopkins University shows the U.S. had 4,085 deaths Thursday. The U.S. had nearly 275,000 new coronavirus cases as well.

The numbers are another reminder of the worsening situation following travel for holidays and family gatherings, along with more time indoors during the winter months. There’s been a surge of cases and deaths in California, Arizona, Texas and Florida.

More than 365,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus.

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LONDON — Britain has authorized a coronavirus vaccine developed by Moderna, the third to be licensed for use in the country.

The Department of Health says the vaccine meets the regulator’s “strict standards of safety, efficacy and quality.” Britain has ordered 10 million doses of the vaccine, although they are not expected to be delivered to the U.K. until spring.

So far Britain has inoculated 1.5 million people with the Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccines. England is currently under a national lockdown, with hospitals overwhelmed by patients and medical personnel under unprecedented strain.

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — New data from the CDC shows Florida has nearly half the known cases in the U.S. of a mutated and likely more contagious strain of the coronavirus.

The news comes as Florida broke its single-day record of new cases again, reporting nearly 20,000 in a single day.

A CDC map shows that Florida had 22 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant that emerged in Britain. California has reported 26 cases, Colorado has two, and New York and Georgia have each reported one case.

The Florida Department of Health on Thursday reported 19,816 cases — surpassing the previous record set the day before of 17,783. On Friday, 7,329 people in Florida were hospitalized with the virus.

The state has registered 1.4 million cases, with a confirmed death toll of 22,400.

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GENEVA — World Health Organization experts have issued recommendations saying the interval between administration of two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can be extended to up to six weeks.

WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on immunization, known as SAGE, formally published guidance Friday. It says an interval of 21 to 28 days between the first and second doses is recommended.

But the U.N. health agency also noted “a number of countries face exceptional circumstances of vaccine supply constraints combined with a high disease burden,” and some have considered postponing the administration of second doses as a way to expand the number of people initially immunized.

WHO says this “pragmatic approach” is based on “currently available clinical trial data” and could be considered as a response to “exceptional epidemiological circumstances.” It says countries seeking to extend the interval should make sure vaccinated patients still have access to a second dose.

WHO says no data is available yet on the interchangeability of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine with other COVID-19 vaccines. It also cited a lack of evidence about whether vaccination reduces the risk of transmission of the virus to other people.

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