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Sunday September 26th, 2021 12:14AM

Latest: New highs for infections, COVID cases in W. Virginia

By The Associated Press
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The number of coronavirus infections and people hospitalized for COVID-19 in West Virginia have set new highs as Gov. Jim Justice scolds residents who continue to balk at getting vaccinated.

At least 40% of the state’s people older than 12 have not received all doses.

The governor said Monday that “this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” He has balked at issuing either a vaccination or mask mandate.

Officials said Monday that confirmed virus cases statewide totaled about 8,860 last week, breaking the previous weekly high of about 8,200 set in early January. A record 852 people were in hospitals Monday for COVID-19, the disease that can be caused by the virus. The previous high of 818 was set Jan. 5.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— UK to vaccinate 12-to-15-year-olds despite opposition from some scientists

— School starts for 1 million New York City kids amid new vaccine rules

— Northern Idaho’s anti-government streak hampers COVID fight

— West Virginia sets 2 daily records for positive virus cases

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

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Gaza’s Hamas authorities say they are destroying 50,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine, blaming Israeli delays made the shots “invalid.”

The Hamas-run Health Ministry said Monday that the vaccine doses sent by the Palestinian Authority arrived at the coastal enclave via an Israeli commercial crossing Thursday.

The ministry says the single-dose version of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine was found to be “invalid and unfit for usage.” It accuses Israel of “leaving them waiting for long hours in improper shipping and cooling conditions.”

There has been no immediate comment from Israel, which had facilitated the delivery of previous vaccine shipments.

Gaza is home to nearly 2 million people, and the ministry says that so far a little over 354,000 are vaccinated,

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has threatened local governments with $5,000 fines per violation for requiring their employees to get vaccinated against the coronavirus that has overrun hospitals across the state.

DeSantis said Monday that local municipalities potentially face millions of dollars in fines for implementing a requirement that their employees get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Gainesville and Orange County officials say they still are going ahead with the vaccine requirements. Florida has been a national epicenter for the virus this summer, with COVID-19 deaths in Florida accounting for more than 20% of the virus-related deaths across the country last week.

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BANGOR, Maine — Maine is starting the week with more than a dozen outbreaks of COVID-19 in schools, and many schools are testing to mitigate the risk.

As of Friday, 384 of Maine’s 720 public and private schools had signed up with Concentric, a branch of Boston-based Ginkgo Bioworks, for pool testing of students.

The Bangor Daily News reports that the program calls for student tests to be pooled and sent to a lab in Massachusetts. If there’s a positive test for a school, then individual students will be tested.

The school outbreaks come amid a surge in infections tied to the delta variant, which is spreading in Maine.

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NEW YORK — Classroom doors are swinging open for about a million New York City public school students in the nation’s largest experiment of in-person learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

The start of the school year Monday coincides with several other milestones in the city’s pandemic recovery that hinge on vaccine mandates.

Nearly all of the city’s 300,000 employees will be required to be back in their workplaces as the city ends remote work. Most will either need to be vaccinated, or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing.

The city was also set to start enforcing rules requiring workers and patrons to be vaccinated to go indoors at restaurants, museums and entertainment venues.

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OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington state troopers, prison correctional officers, ferry workers and other public sector employees have filed a lawsuit to try to overturn Gov. Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

The Northwest News Network reports the lawsuit filed by more than 90 workers on Friday in Walla Walla County says the mandate is unlawful and unconstitutional. The lawsuit says the penalty of being fired for not getting the vaccine is “arbitrary and capricious,” especially for employees who can work from home or have natural immunity from having previously contracted COVID-19.

An Inslee spokesperson, Mike Faulk, said the office had not yet reviewed the lawsuit.

Inslee issued his vaccine mandate last month. It requires most state employees, on-site contractors and volunteers, as well as private health care and long-term care workers, to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18. Inslee later expanded the mandate to include workers in educational settings from preschool through higher education.

While Inslee did not offer a testing alternative in lieu of the vaccine, workers subject to the mandate can apply for religious or medical exemptions.

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BUCHAREST, Romania — Almost 3 million students returned to schools Monday in Romania after a summer break and face restrictions as COVID-19 infections rapidly rise in the country.

Authorities have mandated that children wear protective masks inside schools and implemented social distancing to try to curb the spread of the virus.

“The resumption of the school year takes place, unfortunately, under the spectrum of the pandemic,” President Klaus Iohannis said Monday. “It is important to strictly follow the measures set by the authorities to protect us and our loved ones.”

Throughout the pandemic, Romanian students have faced long, periodic schools closures with lessons moved online. While authorities want to avoid a repeat of remote learning, schools will be forced to move lessons online if an area surpasses an infection rate of 6 per 1,000 residents.

In recent weeks, daily COVID-19 infections in Romania — a country of 19 million, which has the second-lowest vaccination uptake in the European Union at 27% — have risen dramatically from around 300 a day a month ago to more than 2,500 infections a day last week.

Romania’s education ministry says about 61% of education workers have been vaccinated.

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ROME — Italy will begin administering a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to people who are considered at greater risk for exposure to the virus or at higher risk for developing a severe form of the illness.

The office of the Italian general leading the government’s COVID-19 vaccination program announced the decision after a meeting on Monday with the health minister. Those who have compromised immune systems will be the first group to receive the booster shots starting on Sept. 20. Which of the more fragile populations will next get a booster vaccine is being worked out with Italy’s regions.

A day earlier, the governor of Lazio, the region which includes Rome, said Lazio will shortly start contacting transplant recipients to get a third COVID-19 vaccine dose. As of Monday, some 74% of people in Italy 12 or older and thus eligible for COVID-19 vaccines are fully vaccinated.

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ROME — Some 4 million students in Italy have returned to the classroom after summer break, with the Italian government determined to avoid any replay of remote learning. Schools in 10 of the nation’s 20 regions began the academic year on Monday.

Students in the Alpine Alto Adige region started classes last week, and other regions, including Campania in the Naples area, begin the school year later this week.

Italian students in the last 1 1/2 years have seen relatively little in-classroom time. Starting this month, all teachers and administrative staff must have a Green Pass. That means they received at least one vaccine dose, have recovered from COVID-19 in the last six months or tested negative for the virus in the previous 48 hours.

Education Minister Patrizio Bianchi says school reopening went smoothly on Monday, with 93% of teachers presenting Green Passes, and some others provided certification that they cannot be vaccinated for health reasons.

One critical area is transport. Many regions and cities have warned there aren’t enough buses, including local public transport, to avoid crowding during the trips to and from school.

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LONDON — Britain’s chief medical officers say children aged 12 to 15 should be vaccinated against coronavirus, despite a ruling by the government’s vaccine advisors that the step would have only marginal health benefits.

England Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and his counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, said Monday that the children should be given a single dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. They have yet to decide on a second dose.

The government has said it will follow the medical officers’ recommendations. Expanded vaccinations are expected to be part of a “tool kit” for dealing with the coronavirus in the fall and winter that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to announce on Tuesday.

Earlier this month Britain’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization said the vaccine should be given to 12- to 15-year-olds with underlying health conditions. But it did not back a rollout to healthy children in that age group, saying the balance of benefit and risk was unclear.

However, it said there might be wider societal factors to consider, such as on education or children acting as sources of transmission.

Countries including the United States, Canada, France and Italy already offer coronavirus vaccines to people aged 12 and up.

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NICOSIA, Cyprus - The leader of Cyprus’ influential Orthodox Christian Church says he’ll withhold the monthly salary of any cleric who tells members of his congregation not to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or to avoid complying with health protocols.

Archbishop Chrysostomos II told the state broadcaster on Monday that he’ll ask his secretary to call each of these clerics and compel them to pledge that they’ll never do anything of the sort again and offer a clear apology or else he’d dock them their pay.

“We won’t spare anyone,” the archbishop said, adding that there’s only a few such clerics.

One senior cleric, Morphou Bishop Neophytos, who has openly opposed COVID-19 vaccinations and measures such as mask wearing, said he would keep his opinions to himself from now on after being warned.

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ROME — The pregnant mayor of Turin, Italy, has posted an image from a sonogram of her unborn son urging other expectant women to follow her example and get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Mayor Chiara Appendino in Twitter and Facebook posts wrote: “He’s Andrea, and when he will be born, he’ll already have antibodies for COVID-19.’’

The mayor added that she received the vaccine in her sixth month of pregnancy, followed by the second dose. “Two doses, no symptom after the first, a half-day of tiredness after the second. Today we’re in the eighth month and we’re doing fine.”

The mayor made the posts after an unvaccinated pregnant woman in the Naples area died of COVID-19 last week, shortly after her baby was safely delivered prematurely by cesarean section.

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LISBON, Portugal — Wearing face masks outdoors to help prevent COVID-19 infection is no longer mandatory in Portugal, though it is still recommended when social distancing is not possible.

The rule on outdoor mask-wearing came into force last October and ended on Monday. The easing of the rule comes as Portugal’s 14-day cumulative COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people has dropped to 240. At the end of January, it was 1,668.

Almost 80% of the Portuguese population is fully vaccinated.

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BERLIN — Health workers are visiting kebab stalls, hockey games and hardware stores across Germany in a push to reach people who have yet to get a coronavirus shot as the country’s vaccination sputters.

It is part of a special week-long vaccination drive during which people will be offered the shots without appointments at easily accessible sites listed on a national website and promoted on social media with the hashtag “Hier wird geimpft,” meaning “Vaccinations offered here.”

“It’s never been easier to get a vaccine,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said.

Germany wants 75% of the population to be immunized against the coronavirus, but so far only 62.2% have received all the necessary shots.

Health Minister Jens Spahn on Monday defended growing pressure on unvaccinated people, including an end to free testing next month and — in some German states — no more sick pay for people in quarantine.

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