CHEYANNE, Wyo. — Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon says the state will join a handful of others that have lifted mask-wearing mandates to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The changes take effect March 16.
Also being lifted are requirements for bars, restaurants, theaters and gyms, where employees must wear masks and customers not seated in small groups have to keep 6 feet apart.
Gordon cites Wyoming’s declining number of COVID-19 cases and its success in distributing vaccines as reasons to lift the restrictions.
The statewide order in place since December was set to expire next week. States including Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota and Texas also have lifted mask mandates.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— CDC: Fully-vaccinated people can gather without masks
— From vote to virus, misinformation campaign targets Latinos in US
— UK schools reopen widely, backed by frequent virus testing
— Russia finds its Sputnik V vaccine in hot demand overseas but questions arise over whether it can produce the millions of vaccine doses ordered
— Vaccine rollout offers hope but also prompts envy, judgement and distrust
— 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:
HELSINKI — Estonia’s government has decided on further coronavirus restrictions due to a rapid rise in cases, especially the British variant of the pandemic, and the Baltic country will effectively enter lockdown as of Thursday.
Prime Minister Kaja Kallas unveiled the new measures in an interview with the Estonian public broadcaster ERR late Monday saying “the situation with COVID-19 in Estonia is extremely critical.”
Kallas said Estonia’s pandemic situation needs to be addressed quickly to avoid further escalation and hence “we have decided to lock the country in as much as possible.”
With exception of grocery and other essential stores such as pharmacies, all stores and restaurants throughout Estonia are required to remain closed and all indoor sport activities cease as of Thursday.
Restaurants will, however, be able to serve food for take-away and cater to customers in drive-in venues. Kallas said the new restrictions would be in places for several weeks and a minimum of one month.
Estonia, a nation of 1.3 million, has seen a rapidly increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the past few weeks as the pandemic has spread across the nation.
The country reported Monday 1,181 new confirmed cases putting total tally to over 76,183 cases with 667 deaths.
HONOLULU — Hawaii has detected a new COVID-19 variant in the islands, one that first emerged in South Africa.
The state Department of Health said Monday the virus, which has technical name B.1.351 was found in an Oahu resident with no travel history.
Some tests suggest the South African variant may be less susceptible to antibody drugs or antibody-rich blood from COVID-19 survivors, both of which help people fight off the virus.
But vaccination offers some hope.
Acting State Epidemiologist Sarah Kemble said in a statement that a study conducted in South Africa where the variant was predominant showed that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was effective in preventing serious disease requiring hospitalization and in preventing death.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that as of Sunday, 81 cases of the South African variant have been detected in 19 states and Washington, D.C.
The department’s State Laboratories Division sequences genomes of COVID samples from across the state to detect variant strains.
Hawaii has already detected eight cases of the U.K. or B.1.1.7 variant, including two more announced Monday. These were in an Oahu resident who traveled to the U.S. mainland and a household contact of this person.
HARTFORD, Conn. — The first Connecticut resident to be diagnosed with COVID-19 says he is still coping with health problems one year later, but the experience has brought a new optimism to his life.
Chris Tillett, a former Wilton, Connecticut, resident, tested positive for COVID-19 on March 8, 2020, and spent three weeks at Danbury Hospital, including 10 days in a coma and on a ventilator. Doctors used experimental treatments, including anti-malaria and anti-HIV drugs, in efforts to save his life.
Tillett, who was 45 years old at the time, a husband and father of 4-month-old twin boys, got sick after returning from a professional conference in California.
“This has been a tough year,” Tillett, who now lives in Virginia, told WVIT-TV. “I’m enjoying little aspects of life. Even when things go bad, I just choose to laugh at it now instead of letting it get me angry and upset, and like what is that gonna do for me, right? So I’ve just found, yes, definitely a new lease on life.”
Tillett told Connecticut Public Radio he continues to experience muscle pain, stiffness and swelling in his legs. He also had to begin taking blood pressure medication, and may have to for the rest of his life. He said red spots still cover his feet, a common lingering symptom of the virus.
Exactly one year after Tillett tested positive, more than 285,000 Connecticut residents have contracted the virus and more than 7,700 have died.
ATHENS, Greece – Greek authorities have registered the country’s youngest COVID-19 victim so far, a 37-day-old baby that had been in the hospital with the virus for the past three weeks.
Athens hospital officials said the baby boy died just before midnight Sunday. He had been brought to the hospital on Feb. 13 with a nose infection and a high temperature and tested positive for the coronavirus. He was taken to an intensive care unit for COVID-19 on Feb. 18 and intubated a day later.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis tweeted his condolences to the baby’s family Monday.
“Today, unfortunately, we had the youngest victim to the pandemic in our country,” he wrote. “The virus makes no distinctions, but today the sorrow is very hard to bear.”
GENEVA — A senior World Health Organization official said that so-called “vaccine passports” for COVID-19 should not be used for international travel because of numerous concerns, including ethical considerations that coronavirus vaccines are not easily available globally.
At a press briefing on Monday, WHO emergencies chief Dr. Michael Ryan said there are “real practical and ethical considerations” for countries considering using vaccine certification as a condition for travel, adding the U.N. health agency advises against it for now.
“Vaccination is just not available enough around the world and is not available certainly on an equitable basis,” Ryan said. WHO has previously noted that it’s still unknown how long immunity lasts from the numerous licensed COVID-19 vaccines and that data are still being collected.
Ryan also noted the strategy might be unfair to people who cannot be vaccinated for certain reasons and that requiring vaccine passports might allow “inequity and unfairness (to) be further branded into the system.”
CARSON CITY, Nev. — One year into the pandemic, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak is still attempting to strike the right balance between keeping the state’s tourism industry afloat while also containing the coronavirus.
Sisolak said in an interview with the Associated Press he plans to use Nevada’s safety protocols as a selling point to bring tourists, conventions and trade shows back to Las Vegas.
About one in 10 Nevada residents, including the governor, have tested positive for COVID-19 over the past year. More than 5,000 people have died, 63% of whom have been 70 or older.
Sisolak hopes vaccines will prevent future deaths, contain the virus and buoy the economy to pre-pandemic levels.
GENEVA — One of the Oxford University scientists who helped develop AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine disputed that simply making intellectual property rights freely available would significantly widen access to vaccines.
Agencies, including the World Health Organization, have called for pharmaceuticals to waive patent rights.
At a press briefing on Monday, Sarah Gilbert of Oxford University said freely available IP rights would not get the world “anywhere close to solving this problem” of limited vaccines, saying that “it’s not just the rights to the technology that’s needed.” Gilbert said other essential technical goods were needed, including cell banks and testing reagents.
Last year, WHO began a patent pool that asked companies to share their COVID-19 technology and know how for vaccines, treatments and diagnostics. Not a single company has yet joined and Gilbert said she had never heard of the initiative, despite Oxford University’s pledge to make its vaccine available to countries globally.
MILAN — Italy surpassed 100,000 dead in the pandemic, a year after it became the first country in Europe to go on lockdown in a bid to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The Italian Health Ministry on Monday said 318 people had died in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 100,103, the second highest in Europe after Britain.
Italy recorded its first virus death on Feb. 21, 2020, when 78-year-old retired roofer Antonio Trevisan from a winemaking town west of Venice who had been hospitalized with heart issues died.
Italy’s total virus cases surpassed 3 million last week, with a new surge powered by the highly contagious variant that was first identified in Britain.
Nearly 14,000 new positives were recorded Monday as the number of people in ICUs rose to 2,700 -- 95 more than a day earlier. Italy imposed a draconian nationwide lockdown last March 9, which continued for seven weeks and included a shutdown of all non-essential manufacturing.
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will deliver his first primetime address to speak to the nation on Thursday to mark the one-year anniversary of COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that Biden would note the sacrifices and losses suffered by Americans during the last 12 months. More than 525,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus.
It was March 11, 2020 when the pandemic hit home for many Americans and lockdowns began. That was the night the NBA suspended play, actor Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson announced they had tested positive and then-President Donald Trump addressed the nation.
The anniversary comes as the administration has bolstered vaccine supply, and some states have begun reopening even as worries remain about virus variants.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico on Monday expanded eligibility for vaccinations to all school teachers, early childhood educators and other staff with the goal of getting the group its first shots by the end of March.
The state is making the move as part of a directive by the Biden administration to get more schools reopened as the coronavirus pandemic continues. Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and state Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins said last week that the ability of New Mexico to meet the timeline will depend on the federal government increasing vaccine supplies.
Collins said the state was in discussions with the White House last week about how the directive would affect vaccinations for other groups in the state. Under the plan, the state will start with educators outside of the Albuquerque area this week. The second week will involve those in the metro area, likely at a mass vaccination site.
The state already has vaccinated more than 15,000 educators as some were eligible as part of New Mexico’s first phases of the vaccine rollout.
PHOENIX — Arizona is reporting a daily number of new COVID-19 cases below 1,000 for the first time in months along with no new deaths.
State health officials on Monday said there are 783 new confirmed cases of the virus. With that latest figure, the state’s pandemic total number of cases is now at 827,237. The death toll remains 16,328.
The number of vaccine doses administered around Arizona was up to 2.1 million with more than 1.3 million people having received at least one shot. That’s more than 19% of the state’s population.
The number of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients hospitalized statewide dipped to 919, the fewest since Nov. 1. The number of ICU beds used by COVID-19 patients fell to 256, the fewest since Nov. 6.
WASHINGTON — The Centers for Disease Control says vaccinated people can gather with those at low risk for the coronavirus without masks but should still cover their faces in public.
The long-awaited guidance from the CDC begins the process of providing clarity to Americans anxious to learn how the nation will begin returning to normalcy as vaccinations ramp up.
Under the guidelines, fully vaccinated people could gather in groups without masks or social distancing. Vaccinated people could also come together in the same way with people considered at low risk for severe disease, such as in the case of vaccinated grandparents visiting a healthy child and grandchildren.
The release comes as more than 30 million Americans have completed their COVID-19 regimens, with tens of millions more set to reach that milestone this month.
The CDC says people are not considered “fully vaccinated” until two weeks after receiving the last required dose of vaccine.
NEW YORK — New York City public high schools will reopen for in-person learning on March 22 after being closed since COVID-19 cases began rising in November, officials announced Monday.
The school system’s 488 high schools will open for the 55,000 students in grades 9 through 12 who have opted for in-person learning, said Danielle Filson, a city Department of Education spokesperson. The rest of the 282,000 students in those grades will continue to learn remotely.
About half the high schools will provide in-school instruction to all or most of their students five days a week, while the others will offer hybrid instruction, officials said.
New York City closed its public school buildings in November in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Elementary schools reopened on Dec. 7 for elementary school students whose parents had chosen in-person learning, and middle schools reopened on Feb. 25.
DETROIT — Students in Michigan’s largest school district returned to classrooms for in-person learning Monday for the first time in months.
Detroit schools stopped face-to-face learning in November because of rising COVID-19 infection rates in the city. High schools statewide were also told to suspend in-person learning at that time.
Despite the resumption of in-person classes, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said many teachers have declined to participate. Teachers who agree to work inside classrooms will get a quarterly bonus of $750.
Vitti said online learning has been a challenge for many students but still will be offered.
“Some are doing well but many have been disengaged, have become chronically absent, have disconnected completely,” he said.
The district has about 50,000 students.
WORCESTER, Mass. — Hundreds of nurses at a central Massachusetts hospital have walked off the job after failing to reach an agreement with management over pandemic staffing levels.
Nurses and their supporters gathered outside St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester at dawn Monday holding signs that said “Safe Staffing Now” and “Picketing for our Patients and our Community.”
The strike started after negotiations with Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare, which owns the hospital, broke down.
Nurse Marlena Pellegrino, co-chair of the local bargaining unit of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, says in a statement: “We are sad to see that Tenet holds so little value for our patients, yet we are resolved to do whatever it takes for as long as it take to protect our patients, as it is safer to strike now than allow Tenet to continue endangering our patients every day on every shift.”
The hospital has about 800 nurses.
LONDON — British children returned to school on Monday after a two-month closure, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying he aimed to get the country “ moving closer to a sense of normality.”
As part of the plan, millions of high school and college students coming back to U.K. classrooms will be tested for the first few weeks. Authorities want to quickly detect and isolate asymptomatic cases in order to avoid sending entire schools home.
“We are being cautious in our approach so that we do not undo the progress we have made so far,” Johnson said as he urged people to get vaccinated.
High schools and colleges could reopen in phases to allow for testing. The U.K. government has distributed nearly 57 million rapid “lateral flow” test kits to schools across the country, but there are concerns about the accuracy of the tests, which may result in pupils being forced to self-isolate unnecessarily.
But Susan Hopkins, a director at Public Health England, told the BBC that evidence from testing over the past eight weeks suggested less than 1 in 1,000 tests resulted in a false positive.
Britain has had Europe’s deadliest outbreak, with nearly 125,000 COVID-19 deaths.