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Sunday September 26th, 2021 2:12AM

The Latest: Biden administration gears up for legal clash

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s administration is gearing up for another major clash between federal and state rule over its sweeping new vaccine requirements that have Republican governors threatening lawsuits.

While many details about the rules remain unknown, some experts say Biden appears to be on firm legal ground to issue the directive in the name of protecting employee safety.

Republicans swiftly denounced the vaccine mandate that could impact million Americans as government overreach and vowed to sue.

Currently, the highly contagious delta variant is driving 1,500 deaths and 150,000 cases a day. Some 80 million Americans remain unvaccinated.

There are now about 300% more daily infections, two-and-a-half times the hospitalizations and nearly twice the deaths as the same time last year – before vaccines were available.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— Amid talk of boosters, global vaccine disparity gets sharper

— Crowded U.S. football stadiums create combustible mix this fall

— Biden presses states to require vaccines for all teachers

— Uganda takes vaccination drive to markets where people shop

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

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

CHALMETTE, La. — Some of the hardest-hit victims left in deadly Hurricane Ida’s wake are Louisiana residents already devastated by the pandemic. Many impoverished people, especially those of color, already lost livelihoods.

They were on the brink before Ida and don’t know how they’ll rebound. One such woman is Natasha Blunt. She lost her banquet-hall job and faced eviction. She’s suffered strokes. She moved from New Orleans to an apartment a few miles away and was getting settled when Ida hit.

Her home lost power; belongings were destroyed. Now she faces eviction again. She wants to leave Louisiana but doesn’t have the means. Advocates try to help Blunt and others like her but say it’s an uphill battle and systemic change is needed.

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INDIANAPOLIS — Health experts say this fall’s crowded college and professional football stadiums could create ripe conditions for COVID-19 to spread among unvaccinated fans.

Many football stadiums aren’t requiring fans to wear masks or be vaccinated. The chances of a fan being exposed will depend on where the stadium is and whether the game is outdoors, among other factors. Experts say the single biggest way to manage the risk before attending a game is to get fully vaccinated.

Most football stadiums hold from 65,000 to 100,000 fans.

“At any sort of large event like at a football stadium, without question there will be many infected people there,” said Ryan Demmer epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.

The NFL doesn’t have a blanket policy for masks or vaccination status for fans. That creates a patchwork of guidelines developed by each of the 32 teams. The Las Vegas Raiders requires proof of vaccination for all fans 12 and over. The New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks requires fans show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.

Wearing masks and using hand sanitizer at the game is also a good idea, said Dr. Sharon Wright, chief infection prevention officer at Beth Israel Lahey Health in Boston.

The highly contagious delta variant has triggered a summer surge in infections. The seven-day rolling average for daily cases in the U.S. sits at about 150,000 after starting September above 167,000, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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NAIROBI, Kenya -- Plans for COVID-19 booster shots in some Western countries are highlighting vast disparities in access to vaccines around the world.

Wealthier nations are awash in vaccines, while they are scarce in poorer countries, and many people are still waiting for their first shot.

Just over 3% of people across Africa have been fully vaccinated. Health officials and citizens in Africa often have little idea if vaccines will be available from one day to the next.

In Nairobi, Kenya, several hundred people line up daily outside the city’s largest hospital to wait for a shot. Halfway around the world in Atlanta, a clinic had only one person show up over a six-hour period Wednesday to get vaccinated.

The disparity comes as the U.S. is moving closer to offering booster shots to large segments of the population even as it struggles to persuade Americans to get vaccinated. About 53% of the U.S. population is vaccinated.

Margaret Herro, the Georgia director of relief organization CORE, says the group has seen an uptick in vaccinations at its pop-up sites in recent weeks amid the delta case surge and the FDA’s full approval of the Pfizer vaccine.

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JUNEAU, Alaska — Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy said President Joe Biden’s effort to require millions of U.S. workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 is “ill conceived, divisive, and un-American.”

“At a time in which we are called to work together, forced medical procedures run counter to our collective sense of fairness and liberty,” the Republican said in a statement. “My administration is aggressively identifying every tool at our disposal to protect the inherent individual rights of all Alaskans.”

The statement did not describe what that might entail.

Dunleavy has faced some criticism in Alaska for not mandating masks or not implementing a new disaster declaration to deal with a recent surge in coronavirus cases. He has instead asked lawmakers to act on legislation aimed at addressing staffing concerns raised by health care facilities.

In his statement Friday, Dunleavy says it's “clear from the data and empirical evidence over the last year that the vaccine is the most effective way to fight COVID-19. From what we are seeing in our hospitals, the very ill are mostly those who are unvaccinated.”

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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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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.”

Some 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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