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Wednesday December 8th, 2021 11:52PM

The Latest: 2 new studies look at COVID safety in schools

By The Associated Press
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NEW YORK —- U.S. health officials say two new studies from California provide more evidence that schools can open safely if they do the right things.

One looked at COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles County. It found that during the winter pandemic peak, case rates in children and adolescents were about 3 ½ times lower than rates in the community. Officials say that’s because schools followed CDC guidance on masking, physical distancing, testing and other virus measures.

The second study pointed to what can happen if even one person does not follow guidelines. It focused on an outbreak at a Marin County school in May. One unvaccinated teacher got sick but taught for two days after showing symptoms, and she took off her mask to read to her class. Investigators said 26 other people were infected.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, discussed the studies Friday during a White House press briefing.

The studies looked at things that happened months ago, before the current surge of the delta variant. It spreads more easily from person to person than previous versions of the coronavirus. Walensky said there is no plan to change the agency’s school guidance, even with recently increasing cases and hospitalizations of children.

“Most of the places where we are seeing surges and outbreaks are in places that are not implementing our current guidance,” Walensky said

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— New Zealand wages high-stakes effort to halt virus outbreak

— COVID-19 surge pummels Hawaii and its native population

— More US states seeing record hospitalizations, rising toll on children

— Music industry weighs vaccine mandates, but politics collide

— Models forecast 100,000 more COVID-19 deaths unless US changes its ways

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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:

WASHINGTON —- Biden administration officials say that half of U.S. adolescents ages 12 to 17 have gotten at least their first COVID-19 vaccine.

“We have now hit a major milestone,” White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters at a Friday briefing. “This is critical progress as millions of kids head back to school.”

The vaccination rate among teenagers is growing faster than among any other age group, he added.

Among Americans of all age groups, 61% or nearly 203 million people, have received at least one shot. Vaccines are not yet authorized for children younger than 12.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the best way to protect the youngest children until they become eligible to get their shots is for the people around them to be vaccinated, “to effectively shield them.”

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CAIRO —- Sudan received on Friday a shipment of 218,400 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine as a donation from France, according to UNICEF.

The vaccines were delivered to the east African nation with UNICEF’s support and through COVAX, a U.N-backed initiative that aims at guaranteeing low and middle-income countries access to vaccines.

So far, Sudan has recorded more than 37,500 cases and 2,831 deaths. The actual numbers are believed to be much higher given the scarcity of tests.

Since March, the Sudanese government has vaccinated nearly 830,000 people out of the country’s population of 45 million.

“The vaccinations come at a critical time as the infection numbers are climbing while the country is preparing to re-open schools after three years of numerous interruptions,” UNICEF said in a statement.

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PHOENIX —- Arizona has now had more than 1 million confirmed coronavirus infection cases.

State health officials on Friday reported 3,707 additional COVID-19 cases, putting the state beyond the grim milestone.

Arizona is the 13th U.S. state to hit that level of cases after reporting its first case in January of last year. Arizona is 13th in the country in cases per 100,000 people.

Arizona on Friday also reported 63 more COVID-19 deaths. Hospitals and public health officials are urging people to wear masks and get vaccinated amid debates and court fights over requiring shots and mask wearing.

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ROME —- Italian Premier Mario Draghi says the uneven global economic recovery and the “grossly unequal” access to COVID-19 vaccines, especially in Africa, are making it harder to end the pandemic.

Draghi on Friday remotely addressed a meeting of the G-20 Compact with Africa. That’s an initiative begun in 2017 under the then-German presidency of the G-20, to promote private investment, particularly in infrastructure, in Africa.

Draghi noted that close to 60% of the population of high-income countries have received at least one dose of the vaccine, while in low-income nations, only 1.4% have.

“The global economy is just as uneven,’’ said Draghi, a former European Central Bank chief. He pointed out that emerging market and low-income countries have spent a far lower percentage of their GDP to boost growth after the pandemic’s economic shock.

“We must do more – much more – to help the countries that are most in need,” said Draghi.

The COVAX program in which wealthier nations provide COVID-19 vaccines to countries which haven’t been able to obtain them has so far shipped close to 210 million vaccines, while another initiative, the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team is about to distribute 400 million vaccines on that continent.

“Those figures must be only a start,’’ said Draghi.

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — More than 3,100 active coronavirus cases have been reported in Arkansas public schools among students and employees, according to newly released numbers from the state.

Most students returned to the classroom last week — and the majority of public school students attend districts that are requiring masks. The mask requirements emerged after a judge in Little Rock temporarily blocked a state law that bans mask mandates in schools and public places.

The Arkansas Department of Health’s latest report on schools, released Thursday, found 3,102 active cases in 173 school districts in the state. The Bentonville, Springdale, Rogers, Cabot and Fort Smith districts all reported more than 100 active cases among students, faculty and staff.

A week ago, the state reported just under 1,800 active cases at schools.

Meanwhile, a judge in Lonoke County was expected to rule Friday on a lawsuit by some parents challenging Cabot schools’ mask requirement. Arkansas ranks fifth in the country for new virus cases per capita, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

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LAGOS, Nigeria —- The U.K. has donated additional 592,880 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to Nigeria, the British High Commission in Abuja has said, raising the total number of the vaccine doses it has shared with Africa’s most populous country in August to 1,292,640.

The doses, which are part of the 100 million the U.K. has promised to donate to the rest of the world by June 2022, will be a boost for the West African nation where some hundreds of thousands who received the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine are still awaiting the second shot.

Acting British High Commissioner to Nigeria Gill Atkinson said the new supplies will help Nigeria meet its “urgent need for vaccines” for a population of more than 200 million out of which less than 1% have been fully vaccinated, according to Africa CDC.

Nigeria began the second phase of COVID-19 vaccination last week, but it has only been able to administer nearly 4 million doses so far, Africa CDC data shows.

The country continues to see an infection surge mainly driven by the Delta variant. Confirmed cases hit a record 25-week high in the second week of August, and over 70 percent of those cases were from the country’s commercial capital Lagos.

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BERLIN — Germany is dropping all of Spain from its list of “high-risk areas” for COVID-19, meaning that unvaccinated people arriving from popular Spanish tourist destinations will no longer need to go into quarantine.

Germany’s national disease control center said the parts of Spain still on the list, which currently include the vacation island of Mallorca, will be removed as of Sunday. The Lisbon area of Portugal also will taken off, leaving the coastal Algarve region as the only part of Portugal on the list.

Most people who haven’t been vaccinated or recently recovered from COVID-19 have to quarantine for 10 days upon arrival to Germany from “high-risk areas,” the lower of two German risk categories. Negative test results can be used to cut the quarantine period to five days.

A raft of countries remains on the “high-risk” list, including the United States, Britain and parts of France and Greece.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The Danish government will no longer consider COVID-19 as “a socially critical disease in Denmark,” citing the large number of vaccinations in the Scandinavian country.

“The epidemic is under control. We have record high vaccination rates,” said Health Minister Magnus Heunicke in a statement Friday.

Starting Sept. 10, “We can drop some of the special rules we had to introduce in the fight against COVID-19,” he said.

In practice, that will mean partially phasing out vaccination card requirements for some major events, like concerts, and in night clubs. On July 1, Denmark introduced a digital coronavirus passport that had to be shown when required.

“Although we stand in a good spot, we are not out of the epidemic. And the government will not hesitate to act quickly if the pandemic again threatens important functions in our society,” he added.

On Thursday, Heunicke said that 80% of all people over the age of 12 in Denmark have been vaccinated. Getting the shot in Denmark is voluntary and is available to people 12 and older.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka has extended its current lockdown until Sept. 6, as COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the island nation due to the rapid spread of the delta variant.

The current 10-day lockdown was set to end Monday. Sri Lankan health authorities and doctors have lamented that the lockdown hasn't been effective, with many people moving freely on the road and shops remaining opened.

Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella on Friday said the lockdown was extended because people were not adequately adhering to the restrictions.

Sri Lanka is witnessing an unprecedented virus surge, with over 407,000 confirmed cases and 7,948 confirmed deaths as of Thursday. Doctors and trade unions have warned that hospitals and morgues are reaching maximum capacities.

Under the Sri Lanka’s quarantine laws, those who violate quarantine rules could face a penalty of LKR 10,000 ($54), six months’ imprisonment or both.

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HONOLULU — As Hawaii grapples with a surge in COVID-19 cases, record high hospitalizations and stagnant vaccination rates, a public service announcement campaign is recalling a 19th century disease outbreak.

The campaign reminds Native Hawaiians that when Hawaii was a kingdom, its rulers pushed people to get vaccinated against smallpox in the 1850s. The state's indigenous people are being hit hard by the virus.

Hawaii was once seen as a beacon of safety during the pandemic because of stringent travel and quarantine restrictions and overall vaccine acceptance that made it one of the most inoculated states in the country.

But the highly contagious delta variant exploited weaknesses as residents let down their guard and attended family gatherings after months of restrictions.

Some Hawaiians say distrust of government stemming from the U.S.-backed 1893 overthrow of the monarchy is a big reason why vaccination rates are lagging.

A group of businesses and nonprofits launched the public service campaign Thursday that is aimed at reducing vaccine hesitancy among Native Hawaiians.

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand’s government has extended a strict nationwide lockdown through Tuesday as it tries to quash its first outbreak of the coronavirus in six months.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Friday the government expects to keep Auckland, where most of the cases have been found, in full lockdown for at least two more weeks. But she expects most other parts of the country can ease restrictions slightly from Wednesday.

The announcement came as health authorities reported 70 new daily cases, the most yet in the outbreak, which has grown to nearly 350 cases in total. Ardern said there was evidence the lockdown was working and new case numbers were beginning to level off. She said she remained committed to the strategy of eliminating the virus entirely.

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LAS VEGAS -- A man from the Las Vegas area won the $1 million grand prize Thursday to cap an eight-week coronavirus vaccination jackpot program.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak created the program to boost enthusiasm for COVID-19 shots.

The prize winners were introduced by their first name and last initial at a live event hosted by the governor at the Las Vegas Convention Center and aides at the Sierra Arts Foundation’s Riverside Gallery in Reno.

The program called Vax Nevada Days launched June 17 with $5 million in federal coronavirus relief funds. State health data showed the percentage of vaccinated state residents increased about 10% between the time the prize pool was announced in mid-June and when it ended Thursday.

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