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Saturday December 4th, 2021 11:43PM

The Latest: Amazon announces employees to return to office

By The Associated Press
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SEATTLE — Amazon plans to have its employees return to the office by fall as the tech giant transitions away from the remote work it implemented for many workers due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The company had previously given its return-to-office date as June 30, but questions remained as to whether the company would allow some of its 60,000 Seattle-area office employees to continue working from home part time.

The Seattle Times reports the company told employees Tuesday it is planning a “return to an office-centric culture as our baseline.”

Amazon and Microsoft were among the first large companies to mostly shutter their main offices in the Seattle area during the first COVID-19 outbreak in March 2020.

Amazon spokesperson Jose Negrete said the company will not require office workers to receive a COVID-19 vaccine before they return, but is encouraging employees and contractors to get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

VACCINES: More than 96 million people, or 28.9% of the U.S. population, have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some 53.4 million people, or 16.1% of the population, have completed their vaccination.

CASES: The seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the U.S. increased over the past two weeks from 54,799 on March 16 to 66,875 on Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

DEATHS: The seven-day rolling average for daily new deaths in the U.S. decreased over the past two weeks decreased from 1,275 on March 16 to 994 on Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

— COVID-19 pushed total US deaths beyond 3.3 million last year

— Pfizer says vaccine is safe in kids as young as age 12

— 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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JOHNSTON, Iowa — Facing an uptick in new coronavirus cases and a hesitancy among a significant portion of the population to get the vaccine Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is pushing to convince residents that getting a shot will help return life to normal.

Reynolds faces a state where virus activity has increased in recent weeks specifically among spring break travelers aged 18 to 29. About a third of the state’s adult population, roughly 800,000 people, will not commit to getting a vaccine which is prompting Reynolds to plead with them to consider it for everyone’s sake.

State health data shows 555 new positive cases in the past 24 hours and no additional deaths reported. Iowa has had 5,729 COVID-19 related deaths in the past year.

Reynolds said Iowa is expected to get nearly 161,000 vaccine doses next week, the largest weekly supply so far. That will enable the state to open vaccination appointments broadly to all adults beginning Monday although a few counties already have expanded their vaccination eligibility.

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Students lined up outside schools in Kansas City, Kansas, for the first time in more than a year as in-person classes resumed in one of the last districts in the state still learning mostly virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wednesday is the date lawmakers set for public schools to begin offering in-person classes in a bill that is awaiting Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s signature. Most Kansas schools already returned to in-person classes, but the Kansas City, Kansas, area was particularly hard hit by the pandemic.

The district moved up the date for the rest of the students to return from April 5 in part because of the legislation, although spokesman Edwin Birch said it already had been moving in that direction.

Some who filed through the doors of the 1,700-student Wyandotte County High School lost grandparents to the coronavirus, took on part-time jobs to support their families and came dangerously close to dropping out.

School Principal Mary Stewart said the school implemented measures to keep the virus at bay. Those included plastic shields on desks, assigned seating, staggered passing periods and rolling dismissals.

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The Rhode Island Department of Health reports more than 560 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus and a daily positivity rate from the previous day of about 2.5%.

The state also reported two more virus-related deaths pushing the total reported fatalities to 2,619.

Of the new cases, 500 were people who tested positive for the first time on Tuesday, the highest one-day total since early February. The remainder tested positive for the first time on previous days.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Rhode Island declined over the past two weeks, going from about 353 on March 15 to 347 on Tuesday, according to statistics from Johns Hopkins.

There have now been more than 137,000 known cases in the state.

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PHOENIX — Arizona reported 733 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases and 26 more deaths but officials said about 200 of the additional cases were from records cleanups involving cases occurring over the entire pandemic.

The state's coronavirus dashboard said pandemic totals increased to 841,811 cases and 16,967 deaths.

Department of Health Services spokesman Steve Elliott said of the 733 additional cases, 202 were cases newly reported for Apache and Navajo counties in northeastern Arizona after officials reviewed records provided by neighboring New Mexico where facilities tested or treated Arizona residents.

Arizona’s seven-day rolling averages of daily new cases dropped from 868.3 on March 15 to 547.7 two weeks later on Monday while the average of daily deaths dropped from 35.4 to 20.4 during the same period, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

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TRENTON, N.J. — Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said New Jersey will see a nearly 12% increase in the number of vaccines next week, from 494,000 to 551,000 doses.

Johnson & Johnson vaccines will see the biggest bump among the three shots being delivered, climbing from about 52,000 this week to 131,000 next week.

The increase coincides with what Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy had predicted would be “quantum leap” in the number of vaccines around Easter, which is Sunday.

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PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron announced a three-week nationwide school closure and a one month domestic travel ban to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

In a televised address to the nation Wednesday night, Macron says efforts are needed as “the epidemic is accelerating.” The move is a departure from the government’s policy in recent months, which has focused on regionalized restrictions. School closures were seen as a last resort.

Paris hospital officials warned they’d have to start refusing patients for lack of space. The total number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care in France surged past 5,000 on Tuesday, the first time in 11 months the figure has been that high.

Previous nationwide lockdowns in France were in March and October 2020.

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CHICAGO — Chicago officials are warning if the number of coronavirus cases keep climbing, they’ll stop letting baseball fans into Wrigley Field, along with limits on bars and restaurants.

The city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications made the announcement a day before Thursday’s Opening Day for the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Wrigley and Guaranteed Rate Field, home of the White Sox, can allow up to 25% of their capacity when they open for fans for the first time since 2019.

Illinois Department of Public Health officials on Tuesday reported 2,404 coronavirus cases, including 17 more deaths. More than 1.2 million residents have contracted the virus and there’s been 21,273 confirmed deaths.

Health officials say hospitalizations have increased almost daily since falling to a one-year low on March 12. Hospitalizations totaled 1,396 beds on Monday, the most since late February.

The state reported more than 2.1 million Illinois residents have been fully vaccinated, about 16.6% of the population.

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — South Dakota announced it will open COVID-19 vaccinations to anyone over age 16 on Monday.

Gov. Kristi Noem’s announcement came amid a recent uptick in cases statewide. Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by 34%, according to Johns Hopkins University.

State health officials say 43% of people have received at least one dose of a vaccine and about 65% are fully vaccinated.

As those over 16 become eligible, more than 400,000 people in the state can receive a vaccine.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s number of confirmed coronavirus cases reached 39,302, a record high for a second straight day.

The Health Ministry reported 152 more deaths, pushing the confirmed death toll to 31,537. The total number of confirmed infections stands at 3.3 million.

On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government re-imposed restrictions, including weekend lockdowns, amid a sharp increase in the number of infections less than a month after the measures were relaxed. The government has also announced restrictions over the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

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NEW YORK — A new report says U.S. deaths last year topped 3.3 million for the nation’s highest annual death toll, including about 375,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the report Wednesday. In 2020, COVID-19 was the third leading cause of U.S. deaths, after heart disease and cancer. Overall, the death rate was up nearly 16% compared to the previous year. The COVID-19 death rate was highest among Hispanic people.

There have been more than 551,000 coronavirus deaths in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic, the highest tally in the world.

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BERLIN — The European Medicines Agency says there is “no evidence” that would support restricting use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine in any population despite reports of rare blood clots associated with the shot.

The comments by the head of the European Union regulator contradict the advice given a day earlier by an expert panel in Germany that prompted the government there to restrict the use of the shot in people under 60.

EMA Executive Director Emer Cooke said the agency’s assessment was based on 62 cases of unusual blood clots, including 14 deaths, worldwide reported to EMA by March 22. She says her agency continues to study reports of new cases as they come in and will provide a further assessment next week.

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MEXICO CITY — Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador says he’ll be vaccinated against COVID-19 next week but doesn’t want it to become a “spectacle.”

The president had the coronavirus in January and says a recent blood test showed he still had antibodies in his system, but doctors recommended he get vaccinated.

The 67-year-old leader was criticized early in the pandemic for not conveying the gravity of the situation. He has consistently refused to push for strict lockdowns used in other countries, calling such tactics “authoritarian.”

Mexico aims to get everyone over age 60 vaccinated by April.

The country has recorded more than 202,000 test-confirmed coronavirus deaths, although the government puts the actual toll at more than 322,000.

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MADRID — Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias says the country is “at a critical moment” after a key contagion indicator reached a level deemed high risk by authorities.

Facing another serious outbreak since the start of the pandemic, Spain surpassed 150 infections per 100,000 inhabitants over 14 days, a level that authorities consider high risk.

Darias says the upswing in contagion was linked to the spread of the possibly more contagious variant first identified in Britain, which she says accounts for 60% to 70% of all cases.

Spain reported more than 8,500 cases and 154 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 since Tuesday. The coronavirus has officially claimed 75,459 lives in Spain.

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KYIV, Ukraine — The mayor of Ukraine’s capital is suspending most public transportation and school classes because of sharply rising coronavirus deaths.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko says schools would be closed Monday for two weeks. Over the past day, the city of 2.9 million recorded 1,100 new infections and 35 deaths.

Ukraine on Wednesday reported its highest single-day death toll of 407. Ukraine began vaccinations late February, but only about 230,000 people have received the shots due to widespread reluctance.

Overall, there’s been more than 1.6 million cases and 32,825 confirmed deaths.

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STOCKHOLM — The Swedish prime minister is urging citizens to avoid big gatherings over Easter to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven announced the government was extending current coronavirus restrictions on opening hours of bars and restaurants and urged local authorities to keep non-essential services closed.

The number of COVID-19 infections in Sweden has surpassed 800,000 as the country reported 8,431 new cases with 35 deaths in the past 24 hours. That’s increased the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases to 804,886 and 13,465 confirmed deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Sweden, unlike most other European countries, opted to keep its society open with few restrictions. However, the government has taken a harder stance in the past months and imposed several restrictions.

Sweden, a nation of 10 million, has vaccinated 1.1 million people with at least one COVID-19 vaccination shot.

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