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The Latest: SC nursing homes can open indoor visitation

By The Associated Press
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COLUMBIA, S.C. — A year into the coronavirus pandemic, more people can now spend time with family members and friends in South Carolina nursing homes and residential care facilities after state officials updated visitation guidelines Wednesday.

Most of the state’s nursing homes will have to allow in-person, indoor visitation after federal authorities approved the changed guidelines, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control announced.

“Too many South Carolinians have been prohibited from visiting their loved ones in long term care facilities because of overburdensome federal guidelines,” Gov. Henry McMaster said in a statement. “Prioritizing the physical health and safety of our most vulnerable citizens is critically important, but we must also protect their mental and emotional health.”

Under the new criteria, facilities must let visitors indoors if community spread of the virus is low in the county where the facility is located, no residents or staff have contracted COVID-19 in the past two weeks, and the facility is following other virus prevention measures.

These facilities will continue to require visitors to wear face masks and practice social distancing. They also must limit the number of visitors and the length of visits.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— What's inside the newly passed $1.9T relief bill for Americans

— Dr. Fauci: US virus shots ramping up toward immunity

— WHO report on Wuhan virus mission expected soon

— AP source: US to buy additional 100M J&J doses

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— Follow 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:

DES MOINES, Iowa — As Iowa ramps up vaccinations to include everyone between age 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions, state officials acknowledged Wednesday they would rely on an honor system with no validation required when someone claims to qualify for a shot due to a health issue.

The state is allowing adults to get vaccinated if they have any one of several conditions the U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention considers higher risk for severe illness if they get infected. The list includes cancer, heart conditions, lung disease, pregnancy, type 2 diabetes and obesity. Smokers also qualify.

Iowa Department of Public Health Director Kelly Garcia acknowledged Wednesday the system is relying largely on Iowans being honest about their health conditions when scheduling a vaccine.

Iowa has given 969,877 doses of vaccine as of Wednesday afternoon and will have vaccinated 1 million by the end of this week. Reynolds said 27% of the population has had a shot as of Tuesday, which places Iowa 10th in the

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MIAMI — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says that after the state makes people 60 and older eligible for the COVID vaccine next Monday, it will soon drop the age to 55 and then probably open it up to the rest.

DeSantis said the process may go quicker than expected because of the increase in supply of vaccines the state is receiving per week.

He said that each 5-year age group adds nearly 2 million people to population eligible for the life-saving vaccine.

But he says he still wants to prioritize access to those 55 and older because they are more at risk than younger adults.

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ATLANTA — Georgia will expand COVID-19 vaccine eligibility starting Monday to everyone 55 and older, plus younger adults with serious health conditions.

Gov. Brian Kemp made the announcement Wednesday as Georgia continued to post vaccination numbers that raise questions about the effectiveness of the state’s efforts to inoculate people against the respiratory illness.

State figures show more than 800,000 doses of vaccine have shipped but not been administered, and that fewer shots were given in the week ending March 7 than in the last week of February.

“We will continue to encourage all eligible Georgians not to wait to get their dose,” the Republican Kemp said. “This vaccine, as we have said many times, is safe, is effective, and it’s our ticket back to normal.”

Right now, people eligible in Georgia include those 65 and older, teachers, emergency workers, medical workers, employees and residents of long-term care facilities, intellectually disabled adults and caregivers of some children with medical conditions.

There have been signs in recent days that supply is exceeding demand for vaccines in Georgia, with some appointments at pharmacies going unclaimed.

Among adults younger than 55 who will qualify include those who have asthma, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease or kidney disease. Those who are overweight and obese will also qualify.

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CAIRO — Sudan has begun a vaccination campaign against the coronavirus, the U.N. children’s agency said on Wednesday.

The UNICEF said healthcare workers at an isolation center in the capital of Khartoum were the first to receive shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Earlier this month, Sudan received more than 800,000 doses-shipment of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the United Nations-backed COVAX initiative.

The shipment, produced by the Serum Institute in India, was part of 3.4 million doses Sudan is due to receive from COVAX.

Sudan, a country of around 43 million people, has reported more than

28,760 cases, including 1,915 deaths. However, the actual numbers of COVID-19 cases, like elsewhere in the world, are thought to be far higher, in part due to limited testing.

Sudan is one of over 90 countries that will receive vaccines for free through the initiative. Another 90 countries and eight territories have agreed to pay for their doses.

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TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday said restaurant, gym, salon and other indoor recreational businesses can increase capacities from 35% to 50% beginning on March 19.

Murphy also said outdoor gatherings could climb from a limit of 25 to 50 also on March 19.

Murphy, who’s running for re-election this, said the state’s COVID-19 trends are headed in the right direction, though they’ve been up a bit this week.

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WASHINGTON — Congress has sent President Joe Biden the landmark $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill.

Democrats claimed a triumph on a bill that marshals the government’s spending might against twin pandemic and economic crises that have upended a nation.

Most noticeable to many Americans are provisions to provide up to $1,400 direct payments this year to most adults and extend $300 per week emergency unemployment benefits into early September.

Included is hundreds of billions for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, schools, state and local governments and ailing industries from airlines to concert halls.

There are expanded tax credits over the next year for children, child care and family leave — some of them credits that Democrats have signaled they’d like to make permanent — plus spending for renters, feeding programs and people’s utility bills.

There’s aid for farmers of color, pension systems and student borrowers, and subsidies for consumers buying health insurance and states expanding Medicaid coverage for lower earners.

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MADRID — Spain’s health authorities will tighten restrictions during the upcoming Easter week to try to prevent another coronavirus spike.

Health Minister Carolina Darias says between March 26-April 9 travel will be prohibited between Spain’s peninsular regions. Meetings will be limited to four people in closed spaces and six people in open spaces, and the nightly curfew already in place must start by 11:00 p.m. from the current midnight.

Those same restrictions will apply to seven regions, including central Madrid, from March 17-21 for their celebration of the San José festival. Madrid’s region, Darias says, was the only one to vote against the order.

Spain’s rolling 14-day cases per 100,000 inhabitants lowered to 139 cases on Wednesday. Spain has confirmed 71,727 deaths from the coronavirus.

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ISTANBUL — Daily coronavirus infections have climbed to 14,556 in Turkey, more than a week after the government eased restrictions in dozens of provinces.

It’s the highest number of infections confirmed by the health ministry since late December. With 67 more deaths, the confirmed death toll has reached 29,227. The number of patients in need of critical care has also increased.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca says the more transmissible mutations of the virus were tracked. They included 41,488 cases of the U.K. variant in 76 provinces, 61 cases of the South African variant in nine provinces and one case of the Brazilian variant.

Nighttime curfews, introduced in late November, are still in place across the country but weekend lockdowns are fully applied only in “very high-risk” cities.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s governor says all adults in the state will be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines on April 1.

A spokeswoman for Governor Spencer Cox says state officials expect to have 1.5 million doses by April 10, when Utah’s statewide mask order will be lifted.

Mask orders will remain in place for schools and large gatherings. Utah also reported the first death of a child in the state because of COVID-19 on Tuesday. The state’s number of newly confirmed coronavirus cases and virus-related hospitalizations have continued to decrease since January.

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PHOENIX — Arizona on Wednesday reported 830 confirmed coronavirus cases and 78 deaths, following two days of no new deaths.

The latest figures reported by the Department of Health Services increased the state’s pandemic totals to 828,630 confirmed cases and 16,404 confirmed deaths.

The number of related hospitalizations continued to drop, with COVID-19 patients occupying 868 inpatient beds on Tuesday, down from 925 on Monday. The pandemic peak was 5,082 on Jan. 11.

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ATLANTA — A U.S. government report suggests the early substantial racial and ethnic gaps in COVID-19 case rates narrowed for some groups of young people late last year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the report Wednesday. It finds some groups of young people — Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islanders, American Indians, Alaska Natives and Hispanic people — continue to have higher rates of coronavirus compared to whites.

Large racial and ethnic COVID-19 disparities were seen early in the pandemic, possibly reflecting the demographics of essential workers who weren’t able to comply with stay-at-home orders. Living in multigenerational households also increases risk and is more common in some groups.

Disparities decreased among young people of all racial and ethnic minority groups during the year. In the latter part of the year, the incidence among young Black, Asian and multiracial people was lower than among young white people in the states studied.

The CDC analyzed cases among children and adults younger than 25. The data came from 15 states and Washington, D.C., and included nearly 700,000 cases where race and ethnicity were reported.

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BERLIN — The German government says it expects the supply of coronavirus vaccines to rise steadily in the coming month, hitting a peak of nearly 10 million doses a week in July.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert says models used by the government indicate the weekly supply could reach nearly 5 million by the end of April. Germany’s vaccine campaign has lagged behind countries such as Britain and the United States.

By Wednesday, about 5.6 million people in Germany had received at least a first dose of vaccine, compared with 22.6 million in Britain. Chancellor Angela Merkel has pledged all Germans will be offered a vaccine before the national election on Sept. 26.

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced an estimated 168 coronavirus deaths went unreported.

Justice says officials discovered that 70 deaths — mostly hospitals and nursing homes — weren’t reported to the state’s health department. The Republican governor on Monday had heralded a sharp drop in COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of the year, metrics health officials cited to support the governor easing restrictions on businesses.

“This is absolutely not acceptable,” Justice said. “I’m really sorry.”

Dr. Ayne Amjad, the state’s health officer, said officials are waiting to find out if there are more unreported deaths. She blamed it on facilities not filling out death reports online to the state’s health department in a timely matter.

The health department’s public data currently shows 2,330 total deaths — which does not include the 168.

Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations declined in the past two months according to state data, which led Justice to lift capacity restrictions on businesses and allow larger social gatherings last week.

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