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Tuesday September 21st, 2021 1:54AM

The Latest: Vaccines won’t be required in Alabama schools

By The Associated Press
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. — With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations up sharply over the last month in Alabama but still far below when the pandemic was at its worst early this year, school officials have said vaccines won’t be required in the fall and local systems can decide on their own whether to require masks or other precautions.

While the American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending that schools require face masks for children older than 2 and all adults, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey disagrees, an aide said.

“Governor Ivey believes students need to be in the classroom without any type of mask requirement. She continues to encourage all eligible Alabamians to roll up their sleeves and get the vaccine to make COVID-19 a distant memory,” spokeswoman Gina Maiola said Monday.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— Olympic athlete tests positive in Tokyo days before 1st game

— Scientists, many Britons, apprehensive as ‘Freedom Day’ arrives in England

— French Holocaust survivor denounces anti-vaccination protesters comparing themselves to Jews during Nazi era

— Bangladesh lifts lockdown to celebrate Eid al-Adha, exasperating experts

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Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas’ hospitalizations due to the coronavirus jumped by 106 over the weekend as the state led the nation in new cases per capita.

The state Department of Health said virus hospitalizations increased to 787. Of those, 291 patients are in intensive care. There are 124 patients on ventilators. The state’s virus cases increased over the past three days by 2,552 to 365,132 total since the pandemic began. The state reported 15 new deaths.

The state’s surge in cases has been fueled by the delta variant and its low vaccination rate. Only 35% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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INDIANAPOLIS — A federal judge is allowing Indiana University to continue with its COVID-19 vaccine requirement for all students and employees.

A ruling from a judge in South Bend rejects a request from eight IU students who sought to block the requirement while they pursued a lawsuit claiming that the university’s policy violates their constitutional rights by forcing them to receive unwanted medical treatment.

The judge wrote in a ruling dated Sunday that evidence IU has pursued a reasonable policy in the “legitimate interest of public health for its students, faculty and staff.”

An attorney for the students said he would appeal the ruling.

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SALT LAKE CITY — In Utah, where COVID cases are steadily increasing, experts are raising the alarm as the state plans to reopen schools without masks in less than a month.

About 38% of Utah kids aged 12 to 17 have gotten at least one shot, a number that compares well with other states, but is still far below herd immunity.

“I’m very concerned. I think it’s highly likely that we’ll see substantial levels of in-school transmission outbreaks in schools, resulting school closures, quarantines of large numbers of individuals. And an even greater disruption that we saw last year and even greater disruption at younger levels,” said Adam Hersh, a University of Utah professor of pediatric infectious diseases.

Utah is one of several states that ban individual school districts from implementing their own mask mandates, a law that passed after anti-mask activists took over a suburban Salt Lake City school board meeting in May.

“Given the transmissibility of delta, given the fact that it’s in our communities as the predominant viral strain, we’re going to see very dense outbreak among children in schools if there aren’t protective measures in place,” said Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious diseases specialist at Intermountain Healthcare. “At this point we know what works ... namely that’s masking, ventilation, etc.”

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TORONTO — Canada announced Monday it will begin letting fully vaccinated U.S. citizens into Canada on Aug. 9, and those from the rest of the world on Sept. 7.

Canadian officials said the 14-day quarantine requirement will be waived as of Aug. 9 for eligible travelers who are currently residing in the United States and have received a full course of a COVID-19 vaccine approved for use in Canada.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said a date for the U.S. to allow fully vaccinated Canadians to cross the land border isn’t yet known. Any Canadian can currently fly to the U.S.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Dutch government says it is donating 745,000 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to countries in need that have appealed to the Netherlands for help.

The government announced Monday that Tanzania and Namibia will be among countries to receive shots. The Dutch government will arrange transport of the vaccines.

Most people getting vaccinated in the Netherlands get either the shot made by Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna.

The government still has stocks of AstraZeneca in cold storage and is using very little of the vaccine. Earlier Tuesday, the health ministry announced that people who have had one shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine can choose to have a second shot of Pfizer/BioNTech instead.

The government says that other vaccines the country has bought but not yet had delivered and which are not needed for the Dutch vaccination campaign will be sent directly from manufacturers to COVAX — the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility.

Authorities in the Netherlands expect to have donated 20 million doses to COVAX by the end of the year.

In the Netherlands about half of the adult population has been fully vaccinated and 82% of adults have had at least one shot.

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MADRID — Spanish officials are celebrating that half of Spain’s residents, or roughly 24 million people, have been fully vaccinated already, although they say that a steep increase in contagion is sending worrying numbers of patients into hospitals.

The occupation rate in Spanish hospitals climbed on Monday to 5.4% of all beds tending COVID-19 patients and 11.4% of the intensive care unit beds. Although there is still plenty of room, admissions have increased 65% in regular beds and 45% in ICUs only in one week, said María José Sierra, an official with the Health Ministry’s emergency coordination center during a weekly briefing.

“It’s true that the speed of contagion is slowing down, but we are in a very delicate moment,” the official said. “The virus continues to circulate in a widespread manner.”

Sierra said that hospitalizations would likely continue increasing but that officials expected that they would remain proportionally much lower than in previous contagion waves due to the high vaccination levels.

Spain is trying to deliver more shots to younger groups, which have been driving the recent outbreaks. The latest health ministry’s data showed that 50.7% of Spain’s 47 million residents were fully vaccinated by Monday and an additional 5 million are waiting for their second dose of the coronavirus jab.

Spain has recorded 23 new deaths since Friday to a total death toll of 81,119 since the beginning of the pandemic.

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NEW YORK — New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday he does not plan to reinstate a citywide mask mandate even as COVID-19 cases increase, opting instead to focus on vaccinating more residents.

There have been calls for New York City to follow the lead of Los Angeles County, which announced last week that it will require masks be worn indoors amid a sharp increase in virus cases.

But de Blasio insisted vaccinations are a better strategy for the nation’s most populous city.

“Masks have value, unquestionably, but masks are not going at the root of the problem. Vaccination is,” the mayor said during an livestreamed press briefing. “So we do not intend a mask mandate. We do intend to double down on vaccination.”

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LONDON — Anti-lockdown protesters scuffled with police and hurled bottles and outside Parliament in London on Monday, the day all remaining social restrictions were lifted in England.

Hundreds of demonstrators espousing a range of anti-mask, anti-vaccine and conspiracist views gathered in Parliament Square, chanting “freedom,” and moved into the road, blocking traffic.

A police officer put a lock on one of Parliament’s gates as protesters chanted “shame on police” and “arrest Boris Johnson.”

The Metropolitan Police force said officers had been “met with hostility” and 11 people had been arrested.

As of Monday, there are no mandatory mask-wearing or social-distancing rules in England, though the government is still advising people to wear face coverings in crowded indoor spaces.

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — With the delta variant causing a surge of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in southwestern Missouri, health officials have taken to going door-to-door in an effort to encourage vaccinations.

The Kansas City Star recently followed along as health officials knocked on doors in Springfield, handing out brochures. The effort was non-confrontational and the officials always took “no” for an answer, the newspaper reported, despite concerns raised by Gov. Mike Parson and other Republican leaders that the outreach would be heavy-handed.

Southwestern Missouri has seen an alarming rise in illnesses caused by COVID-19 in recent weeks. There was a tinge of good news Monday: The number of people hospitalized dipped slightly both in southwestern Missouri and across the state, according to Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services data.

After several days of more than 1,000 newly confirmed cases, the state reported 826 on Monday, bringing the total for the pandemic to 545,551. No new deaths were reported, keeping the total at 9,474.

Southwestern Missouri lags well behind the national average for vaccinations.

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ST PETERSBURG, Fla. — U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan said Monday he has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus even though he was fully vaccinated against the disease.

The Republican congressman’s announcement came as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said a “seasonal pattern” affecting mainly Sun Belt states is largely to blame for a recent spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Florida.

DeSantis, a Republican who opposes virus-related mandates, nonetheless said it’s important for people to get vaccinated.

Buchanan, who represents a Sarasota-based district, said in a news release he got the test recently after experiencing “very mild flu-like symptoms.” The congressman said he is quarantining at home.

“I look forward to returning to work as soon as possible,” said Buchanan, 70, who has served in Congress since 2007. “In the meantime, this should serve as a reminder that although the vaccines provide a very high-degree of protection, we must remain vigilant in the fight against COVID-19.”

The congressman’s announcement comes amid a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Florida and around the country. One statistic released by the White House estimated that 20% of new cases last week occurred in Florida.

DeSantis told reporters after appearing at an unrelated environmental event Monday that the increase was expected in Florida in mid-summer. DeSantis has insisted the state will impose no more virus-related lockdowns or mandates.

DeSantis added that he thinks it’s counterproductive to berate or ridicule people who have concerns about the vaccine or simply do not want it.

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PORTLAND, Maine — More than half of Maine’s teenagers and 12-year-olds have had at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

Maine has been ahead of most of the country in vaccinating residents for COVID-19. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday that about 51% of the state’s 12- to 19-year-old residents have had at least one dose, and about 47% have had a final dose.

The rollout of vaccines to adolescents has been much slower nationwide. Only about 14% of the U.S. population that is under 18 has had a first dose of coronavirus vaccine, according to data from the Mayo Clinic.

In Maine, the percentage of the total population that is under 20 and has had at least one dose is about 22%, Maine CDC reported. That includes people too young to receive a vaccine.

More than two-thirds of Maine’s population that is old enough to receive a coronavirus vaccine has received a second dose. That is one of the highest percentages in the country.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Caretaker Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is urging people to work from home again amid a recent spike in coronavirus infections in the Netherlands.

Dutch infection rates shot up shortly after the government relaxed almost all lockdown measures last month, including allowing nightclubs to reopen.

Rutte subsequently apologized, called the easing an “error of judgment” and ordered nightclubs and discotheques to close again until mid-August.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Netherlands soared over the past two weeks from just under 5 to nearly 59 new cases per 100,000 people on July 18.

Health Minister Hugo de Jonge says the daily number of new infections appears to be stabilizing, “but is, of course, too high.”

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