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Sunday September 26th, 2021 3:21AM

The Latest: Montana AG: will fight vaccine mandate in court

By The Associated Press
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HELENA, Mt. -- Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen has promised to fight the new federal vaccine mandate in court.

The Republican said on Friday that once the full guidelines for the mandate are released, he will file a lawsuit to strike it down.

President Joe Biden announced Thursday the vaccine mandate that could affect as many as 100 million Americans, including all workers in businesses with 100 or more employees.

The new mandate appears to conflict with a Montana law passed earlier this year that makes it illegal for private employers to mandate vaccines as a condition for employment. But University of Montana law professor Anthony Johnston says federal law will take precedence over state law if there is a direct conflict.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— Virus claims Black morticians, leaving holes in communities

— Biden presses states to require vaccines for all teachers

— Court: DeSantis ban on school mask mandates back in force

— South Africa vaccinates some kids in test of Chinese vaccine

— Key parts of Biden’s plan to confront delta variant surge

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— See AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

DETROIT — A major health care provider in southeastern Michigan says 92% of its employees have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by a Friday deadline and another 3% have gotten a first shot.

Under Henry Ford Health System’s policy, employees will be suspended if they don’t get at least one dose by midnight or schedule an appointment. They will lose their jobs if they’re not fully vaccinated by Oct. 1. There are some exceptions.

Henry Ford Health says in a statement: “We remain confident that vaccination, along with masking, remains the most powerful tool we have against the pandemic.”

Separately, a lawsuit challenging the vaccine policy was suddenly dropped Friday ahead of a hearing in federal court.

The Detroit-based health system employs more than 30,000 workers and has five acute care hospitals, four in the Detroit area and one in Jackson. It has treated thousands of COVID-19 patients.

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama’s chief health officer says a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations appears to have stabilized but the state still faces a “real crisis” of an overwhelming number of patients needing intensive care, nearly all of whom aren’t vaccinated.

Dr. Scott Harris, head of the Alabama Department of Public Health reports that after threatening to reach an all-time high for coronavirus hospitalizations, state hospitals have seen a slight decline in recent days.

He says he’s thankful that there has been “a little bit of a plateau over the last week. ... The numbers aren’t great. But the numbers at least have not continued to go up,” he said.

Still, Harris says, demand for intensive care beds is exceeding the state’s capacity. Patients who normally would be treated in ICU wards are instead in emergency rooms, normal beds or even gurneys left in hallways.

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HONOLULU — Hawaii Gov. David Ige is requiring government contractors and visitors to state facilities to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.

State contractors must attest to their employees’ vaccination status or provide weekly tests for unvaccinated staff. Contractors also must wear masks and maintain physical distance while on state property.

The order also applies to visitors to state facilities, but not to beaches or outdoor state properties. Inmates at correctional facilities, patients at state hospitals and children under 12 or students attending state public or charter schools are exempt, as are travelers arriving at airports.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports that Ige’s executive order takes effect Monday.

Hawaii has had a recent record surge of new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The on-again, off-again ban imposed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to prevent mandated masks for Florida school students is back in force.

The 1st District Court of Appeal ruled Friday that a Tallahassee judge shouldn’t have lifted an automatic stay two days ago that halted enforcement of the mask mandate ban. The upshot is the state can resume its efforts to impose financial penalties on the 13 Florida school boards currently defying the mask ban.

The U.S. Department of Education has begun a grant program for school districts that lose money for implementing mandatory masks and other coronavirus safety measures.

DeSantis has argued the new Parents Bill of Rights law gives parents the authority to determine whether their children should wear a mask to school. School districts with mandatory mask rules allow an opt-out only for medical reasons, not parental discretion.

Charles Gallagher, attorney for parents challenging the DeSantis ban, says in a tweet, “students, parents and teachers are back in harm’s way.”

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SALT LAKE CITY — Thirteen Utah hospitals will postpone many non-emergency surgeries starting next week, citing health care workers overwhelmed by surging coronavirus cases.

Intermountain Healthcare announced Friday that the hospitals will postpone non-urgent procedures for several weeks starting Sept. 15. The announcement comes a week after state hospital leaders made emotional pleas for vaccinations and universal masking to stem a virus surge fueled by the delta variant.

There were 516 people hospitalized for COVID-19 and ICUs were 93% full in Utah on Thursday, according to state data. That’s nearing its previous peak in December when ICUs were 104% full and 606 people were hospitalized.

About 62% of Utah residents age 12 and older have been fully vaccinated. Utah reported 10 deaths on Thursday, bringing the confirmed total to 2,703.

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JACKSON, Miss. — Doctors who spread misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine could have their license to practice medicine suspended or revoked, according to a new policy adopted by the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure.

The policy says doctors have an “ethical and professional responsibility” to practice medicine in the best interest of their patients and share factual and scientifically grounded information with them.

“Spreading inaccurate COVID-19 vaccine information contradicts that responsibility, threatens to further erode public trust in the medical profession and puts all patients at risk,” it reads.

Mississippi ranks among the lowest in the country with just 38% of its 3 million residents fully vaccinated. The department of health reported 1,892 confirmed cases and 35 deaths on Friday.

Mississippi has registered at least 460,000 cases and 8,905 confirmed deaths.

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is calling some Republican governors “cavalier” for resisting new federal vaccine requirements he hopes will contain the surging delta variant.

Biden visited Brookland Middle School on Friday, just a short drive from the White House. He was making the case for new federal rules that could impact 100 million Americans.

All employers with more than 100 workers must be vaccinated or tested weekly for the virus, affecting about 80 million Americans. About 17 million workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid also must be fully vaccinated.

“I am so disappointed that particularly some Republican governors have been so cavalier with the health of these kids, so cavalier with the health of their communities,” Biden said during the visit. “This isn’t a game”

Republicans and some union officials say he’s overreaching his authority. Asked about potential legal challenges to the new vaccine requirements, Biden responded, “Have at it.”

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ATLANTA — Protests from faculty members continue at Georgia’s public universities, although leaders of the state's university system are not backing down from their position that schools can’t require masks or vaccines.

Acting Chancellor Teresa MacCartney says those policies aren’t going to change, noting the system will follow the lead of Gov. Brian Kemp and Republican lawmakers who control the university system’s purse strings.

“We are fulfilling our institutional missions to deliver higher education and services for students in a way that is best for them,” MacCartney said. “Those expectations have been made clear since before the semester started. It should be no surprise. There are consequences for those not following through and doing their jobs.”

The remarks earned a round applause from regents, who were mostly unmasked. They were surrounded by dozens of university presidents and administrators, who were mostly masked.

MacCartney spoke Thursday, the same day faculty groups at the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech and Georgia State University passed resolutions calling for mask and vaccine mandates.

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WASHINGTON — Senior Democratic senators are pressing Medicare to make information on nursing home COVID-19 vaccination rates easily accessible for consumers.

Although the Biden administration is requiring vaccination for all nursing home staff, Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania say it could take months. They’re asking Medicare to post vaccination rates among residents and staff of individual facilities on its Care Compare website.

“These data reside on entirely separate (government) websites,” the senators wrote Medicare head Chiquita Brooks-LaSure on Friday. “Even if a person could find these websites, the vaccination data for individual facilities are not prominently displayed, creating additional barriers.”

Medicare officials say they’re working on the problem.

The senators cited an Associated Press report on outbreaks attributed to unvaccinated staff. Wyden and Casey chair the Finance and Aging committees, respectively.

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PARIS — France has announced new restrictions for U.S. travelers who are not vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Starting Sunday, unvaccinated travelers from the U.S. who previously could enter with only a recent negative test must now show “pressing grounds for travel.”

These grounds also apply broadly to returning French citizens, legal residents, relatives of French citizens, foreign health professionals coming to assist in the fight against COVID-19, transportation and diplomatic workers, and people transiting through the country.

The restrictions do not apply to fully vaccinated travelers from the U.S.

The decision follows the European Union’s recommendation last week that its 27 nations reinstate restrictions on U.S. tourists because of rising coronavirus infections there.

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JOHANNESBURG — South Africa has started vaccinating children and adolescents as part of the global Phase 3 clinical trials of China’s Sinovac Biotech shot for children 6 months to 17 years.

The global study will enroll 2,000 participants in South Africa and 12,000 others in Kenya, the Philippines, Chile and Malaysia. The first children in South Africa were inoculated at the Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University in the capital Pretoria to kick off the trials.

The Sinovac company says others will get shots at six different sites across the country.

South Africa has recorded 6,270 infections and 175 confirmed deaths in the last 24 hours. The 2.8 million total infections account for more than 35% of cases in Africa. The nation has 84,327 confirmed deaths.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark’s high vaccination rate has enabled the Scandinavian country to become one of the first European Union nations to lift all domestic restrictions.

The return to normality has been gradual, but as of Friday, the digital pass — a proof of having been vaccinated — is no longer required when entering nightclubs, the last virus safeguard to fall.

More than 80% of people above age 12 have had the two shots. As of midnight, the Danish government no longer considers COVID-19 “a socially critical disease.”

Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said last month that “the epidemic is under control” but warned: “we are not out of the epidemic” and the government will act as needed if necessary.

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BERLIN — Germany’s standing committee on vaccination is recommending that pregnant women get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The committee said Friday that after evaluating the available evidence, it is issuing a draft recommendation that women from the second trimester of pregnancy onward and breastfeeding mothers get two doses of an mRNA vaccine.

It also recommended that all those of child-bearing age who haven’t yet been vaccinated get inoculated so they are protected from the coronavirus before any pregnancy.

About two-thirds of Germany’s population has received at least one vaccine dose and 61.9% have been fully vaccinated. The pace of vaccinations has slowed to a crawl recently, and officials are keen to encourage more people to get the shots before the winter.

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LONDON — A leading scientist behind the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine says booster shots may be unnecessary for many people.

Oxford University Professor Sarah Gilbert tells The Telegraph newspaper that immunity from the vaccine is holding up well, even against the delta variant.

She says that while older adults and those who are immune-compromised may need boosters, the standard two-dose regimen should protect most people.

Gilbert says the world’s priority should be to get more vaccines to countries with limited supplies.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, a panel of experts that advises the British government, is expected to make recommendations in the coming days on the scale of any booster program.

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CAIRO — Egypt’s daily reported cases of coronavirus have surpassed 400 for the first time in months.

The Health Ministry on Friday reported 413 cases and 12 deaths in the past 24 hours. Daily cases have been spiking in recent weeks since the more contagious delta variant was detected in the country in July.

The increase is alarming for Egyptian authorities as schools are scheduled to resume in-person classes next week.

Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country with 100 million people, has reported 291,585 coronavirus cases and 16,836 confirmed deaths. The true numbers are believed to be much higher since health authorities have done limited testing.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka is extending a lockdown for another week as it struggles with a surge in the coronavirus.

The COVID-19 committee chaired by President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa decided Friday to extend until Sept. 21 a lockdown that was to end Monday. It was first imposed on Aug. 20.

The government has allowed operations to continue in some areas such as exports and agriculture, in addition to essential services such as health, food distribution, communication and power.

Doctors and trade unions have warned that hospitals and morgues have reached capacity during the surge caused by the delta variant of the coronavirus.

Sri Lanka has confirmed 474,870 cases and 10,689 deaths.

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