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Thursday April 22nd, 2021 7:06AM

The Latest: Louisiana overpaid $405M in pandemic jobless aid

By The Associated Press
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NEW ORLEANS — The Legislative Auditor’s Office in Louisiana says the state labor department sent more than $405 million in state and federal unemployment insurance benefits to people who don’t appear to have been eligible for the relief during the pandemic.

Monday’s report estimates the money went to more than 97,500 people who were not eligible, based on their income.

The analysis was done using wage reports from employers. A footnote says the amount overpaid may be higher because it does not include complete data submitted by employers in August or data on self-employed workers who don’t report wages to the labor department.

The labor department isn’t disputing the report. It says the pandemic-related surge in applicants and legislative action giving employers more time to submit wage reports affected efforts to verify applicants’ self-reported income.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— A pandemic year in the life of seven New Yorkers

— Greece reopens stores despite virus surge

— India’s daily virus cases soar past 100,000 for first time

— Polish hospitals struggle with surge of virus patients

— China sees rise in coronavirus cases in city near Myanmar border

— Christians observe second Easter shaped by pandemic

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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:

NEW YORK — The nation’s top health agency is no longer recommending daily disinfection of schools to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance Monday, saying disinfecting chemicals like ammonia and bleach need be used only within 24 hours after an infected person has been there.

Last summer, the agency recommended strong disinfecting chemicals be used daily to prevent the spread of the virus in classrooms. Earlier this year, the CDC posted documents meant to de-emphasize disinfection on such a regular schedule, but Monday’s guidance more clearly erased the daily recommendation.

The updated guidance applies to homes, schools, and other settings that are not hospitals or health-care facilities.

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OKLAHOMA CITY — The Choctaw Nation has announced plans to provide coronavirus vaccines to the general public, becoming the latest Oklahoma-based tribe to expand vaccine distribution beyond just tribal citizens.

The Durant-based tribe also announced Monday that it is partnering with a new national database, Dr. B, that allows people to be put on standby to receive unused doses of the vaccine.

Native American tribes in Oklahoma have been receiving separate allocations of vaccines from the federal government, and the Chickasaw and Muscogee (Creek) nations have previously announced plans to make some of their allocation available to the general public.

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WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken has appointed a former veteran diplomat and humanitarian aid chief to be a special envoy for U.S. coronavirus vaccine and prevention efforts.

Blinken announced Monday that he had named Gayle Smith to be America’s Global COVID-19 coordinator as the Biden administration ramps up its efforts to combat the virus at home and abroad.

“She’s tested. She’s highly respected. She will hit the ground running,” Blinken said. “And I can say from having worked with Gayle and admired her for years, that no one will work harder, faster, or more effectively to get us to the finish line.”

Smith is a former director of the U.S. Agency for International Development and has held senior State Department and National Security Council positions focused on Africa. She was active in the Obama administration’s initiatives to eradicate the Ebola virus and was most recently the president of the ONE Campaign, the organization founded by U2 frontman Bono and others to combat extreme poverty and diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.

In her new job, Smith will be charged with overseeing U.S. programs to prevent, detect and respond to disease outbreaks, including COVID-19, abroad.

Also Monday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a White House briefing that U.S. “cases are increasing nationally, and we are seeing this occur predominately in younger adults.”

At the same time, she pointed to positive developments among the most vulnerable age group, saying senior citizens’ virus deaths have reached their lowest levels since the early fall.

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CHICAGO — An indoor event at a rural Illinois bar led to 46 cases of COVID-19, a school closure and one resident of a long-term care facility being hospitalized.

That’s according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released Monday. The Illinois Department of Public health was notified on Feb. 17 of an outbreak.

The Illinois Department of Public Health was notified on Feb. 17 of an outbreak in Douglas County, which is about 160 miles from Chicago. The positive cases include 26 bar patrons, three staff members and 17 secondary cases. The report doesn’t name the establishment.

A Douglas County Health Department spokeswoman hasn’t commented on the report.

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YAKIMA, Wash. — Washington state apple industry officials say the fruit’s exports have dropped substantially compared to recent figures.

Data from the Washington Apple Commission says the state exported 18.8 million 40-pound boxes of apples from the 2020-21 crop as of last week, which is down 20.5% from this time last year and down 16.4% compared to the 2018-19 shipping season.

While nearly 28% of state-produced apples were shipped abroad, the percentage of exports for the 2020 crop is expected to drop below 25%.

Exporting apples and other crops from the U.S. has remained a challenge as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and trade issues with other countries.

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UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations says the U.N.-backed program to provide COVID-19 vaccines to the world’s most vulnerable people has delivered more than 36 million doses to 86 poor and developing countries to date.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Monday that COVAX expects to allocate 201 million doses by the end of May. Still, he stressed that “the issue of vaccine inequity and unequal distribution of the vaccine remains clear for all to see and remains troubling.”

U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said on March 26 that “60% of the COVID vaccine supply was reserved by a handful of wealthy countries,” adding that “some developing countries may not receive the vaccine until 2024.”

Dujarric again urged greater financial support to the COVAX facility, which is part of the World Health Organization’s ACT-Accelerator program. The ACT-Accelerator said last month that despite donor contributions amounting to $11 billion, it needs an additional $22.1 billion in 2021 to fund the delivery of over 2 billion doses of vaccines, 900 million tests and up to 100 million new treatment courses.

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WASHINGTON — The White House was forced to scratch the annual White House Easter Egg Roll for the second straight year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but that didn’t stop President Joe Biden from giving a nod to the tradition.

The president on Monday delivered brief remarks from the White House to mark the holiday with his wife, Jill Biden, and the Easter Bunny by his side. The mythical creature was played by the president’s military aide, Air Force Lt. Col. Brandon Westling.

“We look forward to next year when the White House will ring with joy the season once again and there will be an Easter Egg Roll again, God willing,” Biden said.

The event, typically held the day after Easter, usually brings 30,000 children and parents to the White House grounds. This year the Bidens had to settle for sending out thousands of 2021 commemorative Easter Egg Roll eggs to vaccination sites and local hospitals.

President Rutherford B. Hayes started the White House egg roll tradition in 1878.

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MADRID — Spain’s coronavirus contagion rate and hospitalizations are gathering speed, but a top health official says the latest data may not be showing the full picture because of limited testing over the Easter holiday period.

Fernando Simón, who heads Spain’s response to the pandemic, said Monday that keeping contagion at bay is key now that Spain is receiving more supplies of virus vaccines. Over 1.2 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that Spain uses for immunizing the elderly were distributed to regional officials on Monday.

Simón said that 14% of Spain’s 47-million-strong population had received at least one dose of the jab.

The 14-day cumulative incidence — a key contagion metric monitored by experts and policymakers — increased to 163 cases per 100,000 from 151 on Thursday, the first day of bank holidays over the Easter period.

Spain has recorded 3.3 million coronavirus cases and at least 75,783 deaths for COVID-19 since the beginning of outbreaks in early 2020, 85 of them reported on Monday.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Starting Monday, any adult in Florida is eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine.

In addition, the state announced that teens ages 16 and 17 can also get the vaccine with parental permission.

The opening of vaccine eligibility comes days after Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order banning businesses from requiring customers to show proof they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to get service.

New Mexico, Iowa and Nebraska are also joining the growing list of U.S. states that are opening up coronavirus vaccine eligibility to any person 16 and older. Monday marked the start of expanded eligibility in New Mexico and Iowa. In Nebraska, all local public health districts now have the option to vaccinate residents who are at least 16 years old.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday that COVID-19 vaccine eligibility would open up to those 16 or older beginning April 19. Similarly, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced that all Maryland residents 16 and up would be eligible to get vaccinated at mass vaccination sites starting Tuesday.

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PARIS — France’s health minister warned Monday that the number of COVID-19 patients in the country’s intensive care units could reach levels seen during the first crisis a year ago.

France’s hospitals have already surpassed the number of virus ICU patients seen during the second surge in November, and Olivier Veran said on TF1 television that “it’s possible we could approach” the ICU saturation levels of April 2020.

At that point, French ICUs held more than 7,000 virus patients, many in temporary facilities because demand far outstripped the country’s pre-pandemic ICU capacity. As of Sunday night, French ICUs held 5,341 virus patients, and Veran said the country has 8,000 beds ready if needed.

Veran expressed hope that France’s new infections “could reach a peak this week,” thanks to new partial lockdown measures imposed to relieve hospitals and slow fast-growing cases of the more contagious virus variant first identified in Britain.

Even if infections subside, hospitalizations will continue to grow for another two or three weeks, he said. Still, he sought to remain optimistic, insisting, “We will manage.”

Internal projections by the Paris public hospitals authority last week suggested that ICUs in the region of 12 million people may soon have to find space for more critically ill patients than ever.

___

LONDON — The British government says all adults and children will be able to have routine coronavirus tests twice a week as a way to stamp out new outbreaks as the U.K. emerges from lockdown.

The lateral flow tests, which will be available by mail or from pharmacies, give results in minutes but are less accurate than the PCR swab tests used to officially confirm cases of COVID-19. The government insists they are reliable and will play an important role in opening up society.

The tests are being introduced as Prime Minister Boris Johnson announces the next steps in the country’s road map out of its three-month lockdown.

Johnson is unlikely to tell Britons when they will be able to go abroad on vacation — currently banned by law — though the government has said it will not be before May 17.

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