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Wednesday January 20th, 2021 6:27PM

The Latest: California counties ask for more virus vaccine

By The Associated Press
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LOS ANGELES — California counties are asking for more coronavirus vaccine as the state added a potential 4 million people to those eligible for the doses.

State public health officials followed federal guidance Wednesday by announcing that people 65 and older could get it. But Los Angeles County, the nation’s most populous with 10 million residents and an epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, says it can’t do that before inoculating some 800,000 health care workers first.

California received more than 2.4 million vaccine doses but only a third have been used. The state aims to administer 1.5 million doses by Friday.

Nearly 50 state lawmakers signed a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom asking for counties to receive supply updates and a “reliable” four-week forecast on expected vaccine quantities.

They also asked the governor to expand authorization for who can administer doses to include nursing students, retired medical workers, firefighters and National Guard members with medical training.

Newsom says the state’s priority is to deliver vaccines “as quickly as possible to those who face the gravest consequences.”

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

WHO team arrives in Wuhan to investigate pandemic origins. ‘At 6 p.m., life stops’: Europe uses curfews to fight virus. Lebanon begins all-day curfew as virus spins out of control

California counties wanted more coronavirus vaccine; the state added a potential 4 million people to those eligible. A coronavirus action plan from President-elect Joe Biden centers on a mass vaccination campaign and closer coordination among all levels of government.

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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:

NAIROBI, Kenya — A World Health Organization official says Africa should get the first coronavirus vaccine doses from the global COVAX effort in March.

The continent is recording about 30,000 new virus cases per day compared to 18,000 during the first surge months ago. Africa’s top public health official says that “unfortunately, our deaths are increasing very rapidly” this time.

The African Union chair on Wednesday said 270 million doses have been secured from Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca via the Serum Institute of India.

Some 600 million doses are expected to come from COVAX.

Doses will be allocated to countries based on population size and the severity of the outbreak, with health workers considered highest priority.

The continent of Africa has more than 3.1 million confirmed virus cases, including more than 75,000 deaths. South African leads with more than 35,000 deaths.

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STOCKHOLM — Sweden reported 351 more deaths, with the death toll surpassing 10,000.

Sweden, which approached the coronavirus pandemic by keeping large parts of the society open, has registered 518,783 cases.

Karin Tegmark Wisell of Sweden’s Public Health Agency says most deaths included people over 70.

Last year, Swedish authorities were criticized for failing to protect the country’s elderly and nursing home residents. An independent commission said elderly care in Sweden has major structural shortcomings and authorities have proved unprepared and ill-equipped to meet the pandemic.

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VATICAN CITY — The Vatican has confirmed Pope Francis received the first shot of the coronavirus vaccine on Thursday.

No photos of the 84-yer-old pontiff receiving the shot have been released. The pope has advocated that everyone should get the vaccine, calling it an “ethical option” performed not only for one’s own health but for the “lives of others.”

The Vatican has beefed up coronavirus restrictions amid a spike in cases in Italy. The pope, who is missing part of one lung since a surgery in his 20s, has been saying the traditional Angelus blessing from a library in the Apostolic Palace, and not a window overlooking St. Peter’s, in a bid to prevent gatherings.

The Vatican launched its vaccination program this week, administering the Pfizer vaccine. Vatican City has had at least 27 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, including a cluster among the Swiss Guards last fall.

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DAKAR, Senegal — The World Health Organization says a coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa has been confirmed in three other African countries.

Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, says Botswana, Gambia and Zambia have the new variant. It already has been confirmed in Europe, North America, Asia and Australia.

South African health officials have said the variant is possibly more transmissible.

South Africa, with a population of 60 million, has reported 1.2 million confirmed cases. That represents more than 30% of cases in Africa, which this week exceeded 3 million.

There have been more than 35,000 confirmed deaths in South Africa.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey became the latest country to roll out its COVID-19 vaccination program, starting with health care workers in hospitals across the country.

Thursday’s start of the nationwide inoculation program came a day after Turkish authorities gave the go-ahead for the emergency use of the vaccine produced by China’s Sinovac Biotech. Turkey’s health minister and members of the country’s scientific advisory council received the first shots live on television shortly after the regulator’s approval.

People over the age of 65 will be the next in line to be administered the vaccine in two doses.

Turkey received a first shipment of the Sinovac vaccine, consisting of 3 million doses, last month. The country is scheduled to get a total of 50 million doses of the vaccine.

Researchers in Brazil last week had pegged the vaccine as 78% effective at protecting against symptomatic illness — but this week they announced data showing overall effectiveness is just over 50%.

Researchers in Turkey and Indonesia had announced higher effectiveness rates but those studies were far too small to be conclusive. Global health authorities have said any vaccine that is at least 50% effective would be useful.

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BERLIN — Germany’s disease control agency has reported the highest single-day death toll from COVID-19.

The Robert Koch Institute said Thursday that 1,244 deaths from coronavirus were confirmed in Germany until midnight, taking the total number to 43,881 since the start of the pandemic.

Data showed there were also 25,164 new cases confirmed in Germany by midnight.

German officials are considering tougher restrictions to curb the continued rise in infections in the country.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Germany has risen over the past two weeks from 23.36 new cases per 100,000 people on Dec. 30 to 26.03 new cases per 100,000 people on Jan. 13.

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BEIJING — China is seeing a new surge in coronavirus cases in its frozen northeast, and has reported its first death attributed to COVID-19 in months.

Officials said Thursday that Heilongjiang province in the region traditionally known as Manchuria recorded 43 new virus cases, most of them centered on the city of Suihua. The northern province of Hebei just outside Beijing has seen China’s most serious recent outbreak and reported 81 more cases.

The new death raises the official toll for the pandemic to 4,635.

The relatively low figure is shown as evidence to the effectiveness of China’s strict health measures, but has also raised questions about the tight hold the government maintains on all information related to the outbreak.

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MEXICO CITY — Mexico has begun broad vaccination efforts as the country posts another new high in daily coronavirus infections.

Teams spread out to vaccinate front-line health care workers across Mexico on Wednesday, administering about 94,400 shots. That is compared to daily averages of about 4,000 shots in preceding days.

The country has a long way to go. There are 750,000 front-line health care workers, each of whom will require two doses.

The vaccination campaign ramped up a day after Mexico received a shipment of almost 440,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, its biggest shipment to date.

Officials reported a new high of 15,873 confirmed infections in the previous 24 hours, putting the country’s caseload for the pandemic above 1.57 million. There have been almost 137,000 deaths.

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JACKSON, Miss. — The Mississippi Health Department says the state cannot take any more appointments for coronavirus vaccinations because of a “monumental surge” in demand after Gov. Tate Reeves announced that more people are eligible for the shots.

Officials said Wednesday that all doses of the vaccine are matched with appointments that have been booked.

Reeves announced Tuesday that the state was making vaccinations available to anyone 65 or older or people of any age with underlying health conditions. Previously, doses were available for health care workers, people living in long-term care facilities and anyone 75 and older.

Officials hope Mississippi will receive a large shipment of vaccine in mid-February. That would allow new appointments to be made.

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NEW ORLEANS — An appeal by some Louisiana bar owners fighting to overturn pandemic closures has been rejected by a federal appeals court.

The three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld rulings by two lower court judges who last year refused to block the closure order.

The appellate panel rejected the argument that the closures are unfair because the rules allow other bars with food permits to remain open. The opinion says there is a plausible basis for the state’s position that businesses driven more by alcohol sales than food sales are more likely to spread the virus.

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LOS ANGELES — Faced with surging COVID-19 cases, the Los Angeles City Council is moving to ramp up enforcement of requirements that people wear masks in public to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

The council approved a motion Wednesday instructing city departments to prioritize issuing citations during normal duties to people not wearing masks.

Leaders also approved a request for the city attorney to draft an ordinance that, if approved, would set fines and penalties for refusing to wear a mask inside a public place when asked to do so by management or while invading someone’s personal space. For example, park rangers who come across unmasked basketball players or a building inspector who encounters unmasked construction workers might issue citations.

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AUSTIN, Texas — Coronavirus cases in Texas have now topped 2 million since the pandemic first struck the state in early March.

The 26,808 newly confirmed infections reported Wednesday raised the total case count to 2,022,635.

Texas officials also reported an unprecedented 405 deaths related to COVID-19 in their daily report, but said that number included a backlog of death certificates dating from Dec. 8 to Jan. 11. They said the high for deaths in a 24-hour period remains 278, recoreed July 23.

The newly reported deaths raised the COVID-19 death toll since the pandemic first struck Texas in early March to 30,624.

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HELENA, Mont. — Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte is removing pandemic mandates issued by his predecessor.

Gianforte said Wednesday that the restrictions are harmful to the state’s businesses.

Under the new rules that take effect Friday, restaurants, bars, breweries, distilleries and casinos will no longer be required to close at 10 p.m. They will also no longer be required to limit capacity to 50%.

Those requirements were put in place by former Gov. Steve Bullock in November as the state reached a peak in daily reported coronavirus infections.

A statewide mask mandate issued in July remains in place.

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LAS VEGAS — A Las Vegas hospital says it declared a capacity crisis over the weekend, citing a surge of COVID-19 patients that overfilled its intensive care unit.

With nearly half its 147 beds occupied by coronavirus patients, St. Rose Dominican Hospital’s San Martin campus in southwest Las Vegas canceled elective surgeries beginning Saturday. It also pressed other units into use for non-COVID-19 patients.

Hospital spokesman Gordon Absher said Wednesday that patients weren’t turned away and the capacity plan is set to stay in effect until Jan. 22. He told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that two other St. Rose hospitals in the area haven’t issued disaster declarations but also are strained.

Statewide, health officials have tallied nearly 254,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 3,500 deaths.

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