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Monday October 18th, 2021 10:55AM

The Latest: Florida fines county over its vaccine mandate

By The Associated Press
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida has issued its first fine to a county it accuses of violating a new state law banning coronavirus vaccine mandates and for firing 14 workers who failed to get the shots.

The Florida Department of Health on Tuesday issued the $3.5 million fine for Leon County, saying the home to the state capital of Tallahassee violated Florida’s “vaccine passport” law that bars requiring people to show proof of vaccination.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says that “no one should lose their jobs because of COVID shots.”

The law is being challenged in court and conflicts with a Biden administration order that companies with more than 100 employees require their workers to be vaccinated or face weekly testing.

The Leon County administrator says the county believes its vaccination mandate is legally justifiable and necessary to keep people safe.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— Food bank needs still above pre-pandemic levels in U.S.

— Russia registers another record in daily deaths at 973

— Report says UK’s slow virus lockdown cost thousands of lives

— NBA star Irving can't play until he meets New York City vaccine requirement

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See all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

NEW YORK — NBA star Kyrie Irving can keep refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but he can’t play for the Brooklyn Nets.

The Nets announced Tuesday that Irving wouldn’t play or practice with the team until he could be a full participant, ending the idea he could play in only road games. Under a New York City mandate, professional athletes playing for a team in the city must be vaccinated against COVID-19 to play or practice in public venues.

Without mentioning his vaccination status, general manager Sean Marks said Irving has made a decision that keeps him from being a full member of the team. Irving hasn’t said he isn’t vaccinated, asking for privacy when he spoke via Zoom during the team’s media day on Sept. 27.

Marks said he and owner Joe Tsai together made the decision, adding it came through discussions with Irving and his associates. NBA players are not required to be vaccinated, but they face more testing and social distancing. The league had said that players wouldn’t be paid for games they miss because they are ineligible to play.

Marks said Irving will still be paid for road games.

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WASHINGTON — Hunger and food insecurity across the United States have dropped measurably over the past six months, but the need remains far above pre-pandemic levels.

Specialists in hunger issues warn the situation for millions of families remains extremely fragile. An Associated Press review of bulk distribution numbers from hundreds of food banks across the country reveals a downward trend in the amount of food handed out by food banks across the country. It started in the spring as the COVID-19 vaccine rollout took hold and some closed sectors of the economy began to reopen.

However, Katie Fitzgerald of Feeding America says, “It’s come down, but it’s still elevated.” Feeding America is a nonprofit organization that coordinates 200 food banks across the country and provided the AP with the national distribution numbers. Fitzgerald says despite the recent decreases, the amount of food being distributed by Feeding America’s partner food banks remained more than 55% above pre-pandemic levels.

Factors include the advancement of the delta variant, which has already delayed planned returns to the office for millions of employees and could threaten school closures and other shutdowns as the nation enters the winter flu season. Other obstacles include the gradual expiration of several COVID-19-specific protections, such as the eviction moratorium and expanded unemployment benefits.

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BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania reported on Tuesday its highest number of coronavirus infections and deaths since the start of the pandemic started.

Nearly 17,000 COVID-19 infections were confirmed Tuesday and 442 deaths, the first time the European Union country of 19 million has surpassed 400 virus deaths in a single day.

Romania’s intensive care units for coronavirus patients are stretched to capacity in what is the European Union’s second-least vaccinated nation. Only 34% of adults are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Romania has registered more than 1.3 million confirmed cases and 40,071 confirmed deaths.

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NEW YORK — Many Americans who got Pfizer vaccinations are rolling up their sleeves for a booster shot. Meanwhile, millions who received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine wait to learn when it’s their turn.

Federal regulators begin tackling that question this week. On Thursday and Friday, the Food and Drug Administration convenes its independent advisers for the first stage in the process of deciding whether extra shots of the two vaccines should be dispensed and, if so, who should get them and when.

The final go-ahead is not expected for at least another week. After the FDA advisers give their recommendation, the agency will make an official decision on whether to authorize boosters. Then a panel convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will offer more specifics on who should get them.

The FDA meetings come as U.S. vaccinations have climbed back above 1 million per day on average, an increase of more than 50% over the past two weeks. The rise has been driven mainly by Pfizer boosters and employer vaccine mandates.

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LONDON — The German biotechnology company CureVac says it has withdrawn its application for the approval of its coronavirus vaccine from the European Medicines Agency and will focus on making next-generation messenger RNA vaccines.

In a statement on Tuesday, CureVac says recent communications with the EU drug regulator suggested its COVID-19 vaccine might only be authorized in mid-2022. Earlier this year, the company described its initial vaccine results as “sobering,” after data suggested the shot was only about 47% effective.

CureVac says it will instead prioritize the development of second-generation mRNA vaccines with its partner GlaxoSmithKline and expects to be in “late-stage clinical development” by the middle of next year.

The EMA confirmed Tuesday it had ended the accelerated evaluation of the CureVac vaccine, a process started in February. COVAX, the U.N.-backed effort to share vaccines globally, had been waiting for possible doses from CureVac, which received funding from one of the COVAX partners.

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MOSCOW — Russia has registered another record number of daily coronavirus deaths as it faces a rapid surge of contagion amid low vaccination rates.

The government coronavirus task force reported 973 coronavirus deaths Tuesday, the highest daily toll since the start of the pandemic. The country has continuously registered new coronavirus death records this month. Daily infections also have been hovering near all-time highs, with 28,190 new confirmed cases Tuesday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized Tuesday the importance of broad vaccination and urged lawmakers to help encourage the population to get the shots. The Kremlin has ruled out a nationwide lockdown, delegating the power to make decisions on tougher coronavirus restrictions to regional authorities.

“We must patiently and persistently work with people and explain all the advantages of prophylactics against that dangerous disease,” said Putin, noting the population must be persuaded to get the shots without resorting to administrative pressure.

About 33% of Russia’s nearly 146 million people have received at least one shot of a coronavirus vaccine and only 29%, are fully vaccinated, the government said Friday. In St. Petersburg, Moscow and many other Russian cities, businesses are operating as usual and mask mandates are loosely enforced. In Moscow, the authorities recently expanded free coronavirus tests in shopping malls.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistani authorities on Tuesday reported less than 700 coronavirus cases for the first time since June amid a steady decline in the infections from coronavirus.

There were 689 confirmed cases and 18 deaths reported in the past 24 hours, according to the country’s National Command and Operation Center.

The latest development comes weeks after Pakistan said unvaccinated people won’t be allowed to work in offices, enter shopping malls or attend schools. It forced many people to get vaccinated to avoid punitive measures. The country is offering free shots to teens and adults.

Pakistan has reported 1.2 million confirmed cases and 28,152 confirmed deaths since the start of the pandemic.

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LONDON — The British government’s failure to impose a lockdown in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic ranks among England’s worst public health errors, lawmakers concluded Tuesday in the country’s first comprehensive report on the pandemic.

The deadly delay led to thousands of unnecessary deaths and derived from the failure of government ministers to question the recommendations of scientific advisers, resulting in a dangerous level of “groupthink” that caused them to dismiss the more aggressive strategies adopted in East and Southeast Asia, the report said.

It was only when Britain’s National Health Service risked being overwhelmed by rapidly rising infections that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government finally ordered a lockdown in late March 2020.

“Accountability in a democracy depends on elected decision-makers not just taking advice, but examining, questioning and challenging it before making their own decisions,” the committees said. “Although it was a rapidly changing situation, given the large number of deaths predicted, it was surprising the initially fatalistic assumptions about the impossibility of suppressing the virus were not challenged until it became clear the NHS would be overwhelmed.”

Cabinet minister Stephen Barclay defended the government’s response. He says, “decisions were taken on the evidence and the scientific advice at the time.”

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UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations chief says the pandemic has forced more than 100 million people into poverty and left some 4 billion people with little or no social support, health care or income protection.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told an International Monetary Fund panel Monday that global solidarity “is missing in action” and people living in conflict-affected and poor countries are suffering the most.

Guterres said: “Vaccine inequality is a moral outrage that is condemning the world to millions more deaths and prolonging an economic slowdown that could cost trillions of dollars, hitting the poorest countries hardest of all.”

Guterres says indications the world is in a substantial economic recovery mask the huge divergence between the situations in rich countries and in the least developed nations.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina officials say nearly all of the 10,000 employees working in 14 state-operated health care facilities are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Officials said Monday that 6% of the workers got an approved medical or religious exemption or a special accommodation, while the remaining 94% are fully vaccinated.

Three-fourths of the workers had been vaccinated when the state health department announced the vaccine mandate in July. The remaining workers and those with just one of the two shots had until the end September to become fully vaccinated or secure an approved exemption.

The state says just 16 workers, or less than 0.2% of the total workforce, were fired for their refusal to comply with the directive.

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SEATTLE — Amazon says it will allow many tech and corporate workers to continue working remotely indefinitely as long as they can commute to the office when necessary.

The new policy was announced in a blog post. It’s a change from Amazon’s previous expectation that most employees would need to be in the office at least three days a week after offices reopen from the COVID-19 pandemic in January.

Most of Amazon’s more than 1 million employees worldwide cannot work remotely because they are in the company’s fulfillment and transportation division.

About 50,000 tech and office employees in Seattle work at the company’s headquarters campus. Their absence will hurt nearby businesses.

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California’s coronavirus death toll has reached 70,000 people.

The state is emerging from the latest infection surge with the lowest rate of new cases among all states. Last year at this time, cases in the state started ticking up and by January California was in the throes of the worst spike of the pandemic. Daily deaths approached 700.

The latest surge started in summer and was driven by the delta variant that primarily targeted the unvaccinated. At its worst during this spike, California’s average daily death count was in the low hundreds.

Data collected by Johns Hopkins University showed the state with 70,132 deaths by midday Monday. It’s the most in the nation, surpassing Texas by about 3,000 and Florida by 13,000.

California’s per capita fatality rate of 177 per 100,000 people ranks in the bottom third for the U.S.

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