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Saturday December 4th, 2021 9:14PM

The Latest: Montana teachers to receive vaccines next week

By The Associated Press
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HELENA, Mont. -- Educators in Montana will begin receiving COVID-19 vaccines next week through a federal partnership with pharmacies.

President Joe Biden announced the program earlier this week, with the goal of vaccinating all teachers and child care staff by the end of March. The federal vaccine program is open to Montana educators even as the state has not made its vaccine allotment available to teachers.

Montana was one of at least a dozen states that had not prioritized teachers as of Biden’s announcement.

The Missoulian reported Friday that in Missoula County, Granite Pharmacy has enough vaccine doses to vaccinate all 2,000 county teachers.

___

THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— A new national study adds strong evidence that mask mandates can slow the spread of the coronavirus, and that allowing dining at restaurants can increase cases and deaths.

— New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s health department confirmed reports of altered nursing home deaths

— AP-NORC poll: Americans largely back Biden’s virus response

— Canada OKs Johnson & Johnson shot, getting 4th vaccine for nation

— Pope urges Iraq to embrace its Christians on historic visit

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

___

HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

CHASKA, Minn. — Minnesota Health officials said Friday they are recommending a two-week pause on youth sports in Carver County, after the county has seen a recent outbreak of a variant of the COVID-19 virus.

Health officials said that since late January, the county has recorded at least 68 cases of the COVID-19 variant first identified in the United Kingdom. Those cases have been linked to sports including hockey, wrestling, basketball, alpine skiing and others. Health department data shows from Feb. 24 through Thursday, there was a 62% increase in COVID-19 cases in the county.

Health officials recommend a two-week, county-wide pause in youth school and club sports starting Monday.

Due to the risk that the outbreak has spread to other counties, health officials are also recommending that other youth sports participate in active screening, weekly testing of athletes and coaches, and hold no gatherings before or after games.

They also recommend strict enforcement of proper masking. ___

COLUMBIA, South Carolina — Gov. Henry McMaster lifted mandates Friday on face coverings in South Carolina’s government office buildings and restaurants, leaving it up to state administrative officials and restaurant operators to develop their own guidelines related to the coronavirus pandemic.

The executive order essentially reversed similar guidance from the governor issued in July, when McMaster made it a requirement that anyone entering a state office building, as per guidelines developed by the Department of Administration. At that time, McMaster also issued a similar edict for restaurant-goers and employees.

But, given South Carolina’s declining number of COVID-19 cases, as well as the rising number of residents who have been vaccinated against the virus, McMaster said it was time to begin loosening more mandates - while still maintaining his recommendation that all South Carolinians wear face coverings in public settings where social distancing isn’t an option.

The move is the latest in McMaster’s latest efforts to undo many of the restrictions instituted with the aim of curbing the pandemic. Late last month, he lifted restrictions on late-night alcohol sales and gatherings of more than 250 people, encouraging people “to make responsible decisions.”

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LAS VEGAS —- Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak is marking a year since COVID-19 was detected in the state as a “somber milestone and anniversary.”

The Democratic governor issued a statement to mark the anniversary of the first presumptive positive case of the coronavirus was detected in Nevada. In the year since, the state has reported 295,460 cases of the virus and 5,020 deaths.

Sisolak said that while the pandemic was one of the greatest challenges the state has ever faced, Nevada has not been broken and is working to overcome all the big challenges it faces, including the big hit to the state’s tourism industry.

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NEW YORK — A new national study adds strong evidence that mask mandates can slow the spread of the coronavirus, and that allowing dining at restaurants can increase cases and deaths.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the study Friday. It looked at counties placed under state-issued mask mandates and at counties that allowed restaurant dining — both indoors and at tables outside. The agency’s director says it shows decreases in cases and deaths when people wear masks. And it found increases in cases and deaths when in-person restaurant dining is allowed. The study was released just as some states are rescinding mask mandates and restaurant limits.

The scientists found that mask mandates were associated with reduced coronavirus transmission, and that improvements in new cases and deaths increased as time went on.

The reductions in growth rates varied from half a percentage point to nearly 2 percentage points. That may sound small, but the large number of people involved means the impact grows with time, experts said.

Reopening restaurant dining was not followed by a significant increase in cases and deaths in the first 40 days after restrictions were lifted. But after that, there were increases of about 1 percentage point in the growth rate of cases and — later — 2 to 3 percentage points in the growth rate of deaths.

Gery Guy Jr., a CDC scientist who was the study’s lead author, says the delay could be because restaurants didn’t reopen immediately and because many customers may have been hesitant to dine in right away.

___

NEW YORK — After growing cobwebs for nearly a year, movie theaters in New York City are reopening, returning film titles to Manhattan marquees that had for the last 12 months read messages like “Wear a mask” and “We’ll be back soon.”

As of Friday, cinemas in the city are operating at only 25% capacity, with a maximum of 50 per each auditorium. As in other places, mask wearing is mandatory, seats are blocked out and air filters have been upgraded.

For a theatrical business that has been punished by the pandemic, the resumption of moviegoing in New York — is a crucial first step in revival. Screens had been closed there for almost a year.

Less than half of movie theaters are open nationwide, but reopenings are quickening.

___

PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has lifted capacity restrictions at gyms, restaurants and other businesses, citing lower COVID-19 cases and increased vaccination.

His order Friday does not change mask mandates imposed by cities and counties, which remain in effect across most of the state.

The decision to lift capacity restrictions applies to gyms, restaurants, theaters, water parks, bowling alleys and bars providing dine-in services. Ducey again ignored the guidance issued by his own administration last year, which says those businesses should be closed altogether under the current “substantial” level of virus spread across most of Arizona.

“Today’s announcement is a measured approach; we are not in the clear yet,” Ducey said in a statement. “We need to continue practicing personal responsibility. Wear a mask. Social distance. Stay home when you’re sick and wash your hands frequently.”

Until Friday, gyms were required to operate at 25% of their typical capacity while restaurants, movie theaters and water parks could operate at up to 50%. Ducey’s order lifts those restrictions but maintains other requirements, including mask requirements while not eating and social distancing between parties.

The move was met with opposition from most of the state’s big hospital chains. “Now is not the time to relax our mitigation efforts; we must stay the course to ensure that our vaccination efforts can outpace the spread of the virus,” the Health System Alliance of Arizona wrote in a statement.

Sal DiCiccio, a conservative member of the Phoenix City Council, thanked Ducey “for opening up Arizona” and wrote on Twitter, “This is a major win towards full recovery.”

Baseball teams can play spring training games with a state-approved plan for safety protocols and physical distancing. The Cactus League and leaders of cities with stadiums in January asked MLB to delay spring training. COVID-19 case counts have dropped since then, and games began last week with limited fans.

___

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is issuing an executive order mandating that all public schools provide universal access to in-person learning by the month’s end for students up to fifth grade and by mid-April for older students.

The state’s coronavirus case numbers have fallen significantly and Oregon put teachers ahead of older residents in the line for the COVID-19 vaccine.

The order states that students in K-5 must have an in-person learning option by March 29. Students in grades six through 12 must have one by April 19. Students who prefer to remain in online class will also have the option.

___

ROME — Italy surpassed 3 million confirmed coronavirus cases on Friday, the third straight day this week that daily new caseloads exceeded 20,000 cases.

With the 24,036 new confirmed infections registered by the Health Ministry, Italy has reached 3,023,129 cases. The actual total is widely considered higher because testing wasn’t extensive early in the pandemic.

The virus variant first found in England is potentially fueling the increase, along with another variant, detected in Brazil. Italy registered 297 more deaths, raising the confirmed death toll to 99,271.

“We can’t wait for more vaccines and doses of vaccines to arrive,’’ said Dr. Gianni Rezza, a health ministry official, noting the slow delivery of shots.

In Italy, some 3.5 million people have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

___

GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization called for patent rights to be waived until the end of the coronavirus pandemic so vaccine supplies can be dramatically increased.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says countries with their own vaccine capacity should “start waiving intellectual property rights” as provided in special emergency provisions from the World Trade Organization.

“These provisions are there for use in emergencies,” Tedros said. “If now is not a time to use them, then when?” He said WHO would be meeting soon with representatives and the industry to identify bottlenecks in production and discuss how to solve them.

Tedros commended AstraZeneca for sharing its COVID-19 vaccine technology with companies, including the Serum Institute of India.

Tedros noted although the U.N. backed effort known as COVAX has delivered vaccines to more than 20 countries this week, the amounts are only enough to protect about 2 to 3% of each country’s population.

___

NEW YORK — Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s health department confirmed reports late Thursday that members of his COVID-19 task force altered a New York state Health Department report to omit the full number of nursing home patients killed by the coronavirus, but insisted the changes were made because of concerns about the data’s accuracy.

The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, citing documents and people with knowledge of the administration’s internal discussions, reported that aides including secretary to the governor Melissa DeRosa pushed state health officials to edit the July report so it counted only residents who died inside long-term care facilities, and not those who became ill there and later died at a hospital.

The state now acknowledges that at least 15,000 long-term care residents died, compared to a figure of 8,700 it had publicized as of late January that didn’t include residents who died after being transferred to hospitals.

___

WASHINGTON — The White House says two new mass vaccination sites will soon be open, in Atlanta and Cleveland, each with the ability to provide 6,000 daily coronavirus shots.

Coronavirus special adviser Andy Slavitt says the FEMA-supported centers will operate from Mercedes-Benz stadium in Atlanta, which is home to the NFL’s Falcons, and the Wolstein Center in Cleveland.

Slavitt says it brings the total of FEMA-supported sites to 18, with the capacity to provide 60,000 daily shots. There are 450 community vaccination centers already in operation.

More than 54 million Americans have received at least one shot. Nearly 28 million people, representing about 8% of the population, have completed their vaccinations.

___

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb received his COVID-19 vaccine shot Friday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the opening of the state’s first mass vaccination clinic.

Holcomb wore a face mask in the front passenger seat of an SUV while getting the shot of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the drive-through clinic.

Holcomb says his message is: “This is going to help us beat COVID-19. The more, the faster.”

The state health department says nearly 17,000 people had filled up four days of appointments for the speedway clinic held Friday through Monday. About 630,000 people, or nearly 10% of Indiana’s population, were fully vaccinated through Wednesday.

___

TORONTO — Canada is getting a fourth vaccine to prevent COVID-19, approving the Johnson & Johnson shot that works with just one dose.

Health experts are eager for a one-and-done option to help speed vaccination. Canada has also approved vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca. Health Canada is the first major regulator to approve four difference vaccines.

Canada doesn’t have domestic production and has struggled with a shortage of vaccines. The U.S. isn’t exporting locally made vaccines, so neighbors Canada and Mexico must get vaccines from Europe and Asia.

Canada has pre-purchased 10 million Johnson & Johnson doses, with options to buy another 28 million.

The U.S. approved the Johnson & Johnson vaccine last month. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says one dose was 85% protective against the most severe COVID-19 illness in a massive study that spanned three continents.

___

BERLIN — The head of Germany’s disease control agency is urging people to get vaccinated for the coronavirus when given the opportunity, no matter which vaccine is offered.

The comments Friday from Robert Koch Institute President Lothar Wieler come amid reports some have declined the AstraZeneca shot.

Germany’s independent vaccine committee on Thursday approved AstraZeneca for people 65 and over. Several countries, including Germany, initially restricted it to people under 65, or in some cases under 55, citing a lack of data on its effectiveness in older people.

Germany is also administering the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

“If you are offered a vaccine, please get yourself vaccinated. They are safe and effective,” Wieler says, adding that vaccinating large numbers of people is “the way out of the pandemic.”

___

WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s government plans to open temporary hospitals and impose partial localized lockdowns.

Health Minister Adam Niedzielski says the government will open more temporary hospitals on Wednesday because of a rise in infections. Niedzielski says it’s partly because of the British variant.

With nearly 16,000 new cases recorded Friday, Niedzielski says that level could rise to 18,000 new daily cases or more next week.

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