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Sunday February 28th, 2021 11:06PM

The Latest: More vaccines head to California Central Valley

By The Associated Press
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Gov. Gavin Newsom says more vaccines are headed to California’s vast Central Valley, an agricultural region that’s been hit hard by coronavirus.

In the small farming city of Arvin on Monday, Newsom said that 11 mobile clinics will open in the region later this week. The facilities are designed to vaccinate people, mostly farmworkers, who don’t have transportation to larger vaccination sites or can’t navigate the state’s online signup portal.

He says the state is also sending 34,000 extra vaccine doses there from a pharmacy that wasn’t using them quickly enough.

The shift in allocations comes as California moves beyond inoculating health care workers to include food and farm workers and teachers.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Researchers in Scotland say its COVID-19 vaccination program has caused hospitalizations to plummet

— British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to lay out plan to ease coronavirus restrictions but pubs, gyms and hairdressers to stay closed for weeks

— Russia’s vaccine rollout picks up speed but experts say the campaign is still moving slowly

— Elementary schools and kindergartens reopen in over half of Germany's 16 states

— Every Democratic vote is needed on $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, but minimum wage and other issues will force choices

— Follow all of AP’s pandemic 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:

SEATTLE - Seattle Public Schools is delaying a return to the classroom for its youngest students during the coronavirus pandemic by at least a week because it has yet to reach an agreement with the teachers’ union.

In a statement Monday the district said it had not yet negotiated new working conditions with the Seattle Education Association. Previously the district had hoped to begin some in-person learning on March 8. That is now delayed until at least March 8.

Last week Gov. Jay Inslee urged more schools to open up to in-person instruction, saying the online classroom experience wasn’t adequate for many.

Seattle is the state’s largest district, with about 50,000 students. The district had hoped to give parents the option to have preschool, kindergarten, first grade and special education students return for some classroom instruction.

The Seattle teachers’ union said it wants specific language on COVID-19 safety protocols put in writing. The union said it was working to reach an agreement quickly, “but we’re unwilling to cut corners on safety precautions in order to meet arbitrary deadlines.”

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JACKSON, Miss. -- Mississippi saw a steep decline in COVID-19 vaccinations last week as several drive-thru vaccination sites were closed because of freezing temperatures and icy roads.

The state Department of Health said Monday that 32,540 vaccinations were given in the state during the week that ended Saturday. That is down from 106,691 the previous week, which was Mississippi’s busiest week for the vaccinations so far.

The department said it is automatically rescheduling appointments that had to be canceled at 21 drive-thru sites, and people are being notified by text or email.

More people than usual are being scheduled for COVID-19 vaccinations in the state this week, and some appointments will be during the weekend. The Health Department is asking people to arrive at least 15 minutes before their scheduled time and to be patient.

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WASHINGTON __ President Joe Biden says the number of lives lost to COVID-19 in the U.S. tops the combined death toll from World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War.

The number of U.S. deaths blamed on the coronavirus crossed the 500,000 threshold Monday.

Biden says it’s a “truly grim, heartbreaking milestone.”

Biden is urging Americans to resist becoming “numb to the sorrow” and “viewing each life as a statistic.” He says the people lost were “extraordinary.”

Biden also touched on the personal tragedy he’s experienced in losing his first wife and baby daughter in a car collision, and later losing an adult son to brain cancer.

Biden tells the nation’s he knows it’s hard but that “to heal, we must remember.”

He spoke before holding a moment of silence in the White House and inviting the public to join.

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HOUSTON — Authorities in Houston are opening a giant vaccination center that will serve an estimated 126,000 people over the next three weeks.

The federally funded site will fully open Wednesday at Houston’s NRG Park, near the home stadium of the NFL’s Houston Texans. Staff will distribute first doses seven days a week for three weeks, then transition to second doses.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the county’s chief elected official, says authorities will prioritize people who live in areas hardest hit by the coronavirus. Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner say their staffs have identified ZIP codes where people have been most affected and lack the same access as other places to medical care.

The site opens as Texans recover from a devastating winter storm that killed at least 35 people and left millions without power and water. While Houston and other cities have lifted boil orders on drinking water, many people are still affected by broken pipes and shutoffs of systems.

Says Hidalgo, “It’s been trauma after trauma, and people deserve some good news, some hope.”

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WASHINGTON-- Drugmaker Johnson & Johnson says it will be able to provide 20 million U.S. doses of its single-shot COVID-19 vaccine by the end of March, assuming it gets the greenlight from federal regulators.

J&J disclosed the figure in written testimony ahead of a Congressional hearing on Tuesday looking at the country’s vaccine supply. White House officials cautioned last week that initial supplies of J&J’s vaccine would be limited.

The company reiterated that it will have capacity to provide 100 million vaccine doses to the U.S. by the end of June. That supply will help government officials reach the goal of having enough injections to vaccinate most adult Americans later this year. On a global scale the company aims to produce 1 billion doses this year.

U.S. health regulators are still reviewing the safety and effectiveness of the shot and a decision to allow its emergency use is expected later this week. J&J’s vaccine would be the first in the U.S. that requires only a single shot.

Currently available vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna require two doses spaced several weeks apart. Executives from both companies and two other vaccine makers will also testify at Tuesday’s hearing.

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WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration said Monday that it won’t require huge, months-long studies if COVID-19 vaccines eventually need tweaking to better match a mutating virus -- small, short studies will suffice.

The vaccines now being rolled out do still protect against different variants of the virus, the FDA stressed. But viruses mutate constantly, and some new versions are starting to raise concerns. So FDA issued new guidelines for vaccines -- as well as for virus tests and treatments -- on steps that companies can start taking to get ready.

“We’re trying to be prepared in advance,” said Dr. Peter Marks, the FDA’s vaccines chief.

Already major manufacturers have started updating their vaccine recipes if regulators eventually decide that’s necessary.

Marks said the needed tests would include a few hundred people rather than thousands, and could take just two or three months. Volunteers would receive experimental doses of the tweaked vaccine and then have their blood checked to see if it revved up the immune system about as well as the original vaccines do.

Marks said the hope is that if vaccines have to be updated, they would work broadly enough to cover both the original virus and a new mutant version -- rather than requiring a combination shot like flu vaccines. Having to make multiple kinds of vaccine and then combine them would put a greater strain on already stretched production capabilities.

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WASHINGTON — The White House now says it expects to catch up by mid-week on deliveries of coronavirus vaccine doses that were delayed by severe weather.

Officials had said on Friday that they anticipated catching up by the end of this week. Some 6 million doses were delayed by snow and icy conditions.

But White House coronavirus response coordinator Andy Slavitt is attributing the improved timeline to an “all-out, round-the-clock” effort.

Slavitt says pharmaceutical distributor McKesson ran extended shifts over the weekend to pack vaccines with employees volunteering to work in the middle of the night to prepare shipments. UPS also participated.

Slavitt says 7 million doses -- a combination of those delayed by weather and the regular distribution -- were being delivered Monday as a result of those and other efforts.

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BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota’s Republican-led House endorsed a measure Monday that would prohibit state or local governments from mandating face coverings.

Representatives approved the measure 50-44. The bill also prohibits “making use of a face mask, shield, or covering a condition for entry for education, employment, or services.”

The bill now goes to the Senate.

Bill sponsor GOP Rep. Jeff Hoverson and others argued there was no proof that masks work to slow the spread of the coronavirus and they questioned the government’s role in mandating them.

The state health officer, backed by Gov. Doug Burgum, imposed a mask mandate in November after months of refraining from such an order, hoping to stem a coronavirus surge that had been among the worst in the U.S. and threatened to overwhelm the state’s hospitals.

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HARTFORD, Conn. - A major change to Connecticut’s vaccination schedule was announced Monday, with the state continuing with a mostly age-based system to make the rollout less complicated after seeing the challenges other states have faced in vaccinating essential workers and people with underlying health conditions.

“The lesson learned here from all these other states is, complexity is the enemy of equity and speed, which makes it the enemy of public health,” Max Reiss, spokesman for Gov. Ned Lamont, told The Associated Press.

Beginning March 1, anyone aged 55 to 64 will be allowed to get a COVID-19 vaccine. That group will be followed by people 45-54 on March 22; 35-44 years on April 12; and everyone else 34 years and younger on May 3.

Lamont previously said he would release details this week about which essential workers and people with underlying medical conditions could soon begin signing up for vaccinations.

Currently, only people ages 65 and older and medical workers are eligible. The previous group eligible for the vaccine included people 75 years and older.

Lamont said Friday he would release a list on Monday of the particular medical conditions that would make people eligible.

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma opened its second phase of coronavirus vaccinations on Monday, providing inoculations to public school teachers and staff and to adults of any age with illnesses that make them susceptible to the virus.

“Our goal is to make sure that every Oklahoma teacher and staff member who wants the COVID-19 vaccine can get it by spring break” in mid-March, said health commissioner Dr. Lance Frye at a vaccination clinic in Norman.

More than 681,000 Oklahomans had been vaccinated as of Friday, according to the state health department, and an estimated 60,000 more vaccinations were administered during the weekend, said deputy health commissioner Keith Reed.

State schools superintendent Joy Hofmeister said she expects a high percentage of public school staff to accept the vaccine.

“Teachers have been clamoring for the prioritization of having the vaccine,” Hofmeister said.

There have been 419,853 coronavirus cases and 4,203 deaths due to COVID-19 in Oklahoma since the pandemic began, the state health department reported.

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LONG BEACH, Calif. — More than 7.3 million Californians have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine but supplies are well below the amount that the state has the capacity to administer, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday.

“There’s not enough vaccines to accommodate the need and demand,” Newsom said during a stop in Long Beach on a tour of vaccination efforts around the state. “Sites all across the state of California are toggling back based up on limited supply. That’s a manufacturing issue.”

California anticipates receiving 1.4 million doses this week and 1.5 million next week, he said.

“It’s simply not what we’re capable of administering, we could do exponentially more, but nonetheless we are seeing modest improvement week to week,” he said.

Overall, there is a “bright light” at the end of the tunnel, the governor said.

The state’s seven-day test positivity rate was 3% as of Monday compared to 8.9% a month earlier, he said. Daily deaths totaled 233, well below the high of 764 a month earlier. Hospitalization and ICU counts were also significantly improved.

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden plans to order all U.S. flags lowered at federal buildings for the next five days in order to memorialize the deaths from the coronavirus.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki says the president will also make remarks later Monday to commemorate the grim milestone of roughly 500,000 people dying from COVID-19.

Psaki says Biden will be speaking from the White House and will ask all Americans to observe a moment of silence during a candlelight service at sundown.

___

MADRID — Coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths continue receding in Spain, but the top official guiding the country’s response to the pandemic is warning against relaxation of restrictions.

“We continue to have a high incidence that doesn’t allow us to relax measures of control,” says Fernando Simón, head of Spain’s health emergency coordination center.

Despite the warning, some regional governments on Monday joined others that have already reopened bars and restaurants, reduced the nighttime curfew or allow small gatherings of people who are not living together.

The two-week rate of infection continued dropping to 252 cases per 100,000 on Monday from a high of nearly 900 cases at the end of January.

The Health Ministry recorded 20,849 new infections and 535 deaths since Friday, bringing the pandemic’s confirmed totals to 3.1 million infections and 67,636 fatalities.

Spain has administered over 3 million vaccine doses, with nearly 1.2 million fully vaccinated, mostly residents in nursing homes, their caretakers and health workers.

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JUNEAU, Alaska — Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy is in quarantine at his home near Wasilla after learning he was in close contact with someone later found to be positive for COVID-19, his office said Monday.

Dunleavy learned of the close contact Sunday and went into quarantine after receiving a COVID-19 test, which came back negative on Monday, his office said.

Dunleavy shows no symptoms and will teleworking from home and receive additional tests “until it is certain he is free of the virus,” his office said. He will follow health guidelines and remain at home for at least seven days, the release states.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it endorses 14-day quarantines but says local public health authorities make the final decision for how long quarantine should last and lists as options possibly ending quarantine after the seventh day after a negative test result from a test taken on the fifth day or later.

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BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana's health department said Monday that the delayed Pfizer vaccine doses were received Friday and the state will continue to get the final doses from last week’s shipments by Tuesday.

The state’s Moderna doses from last week were expected to arrive Monday through Wednesday.

Louisiana’s network of hospitals, clinics, community vaccine sites and pharmacies will be getting double allocations of doses in some instances this week.

And those delayed doses come right as Gov. John Bel Edwards has expanded access to the shots for teachers, daycare workers, pregnant women and people age 55 to 64 who have certain preexisting conditions.

Kanter said he expects it could take the state a week or two to catch up on distributing its vaccine doses, after the disruptions caused by the icy weather last week.

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