The Latest: SKorea to extend distancing rules in Seoul area
By The Associated Press
SEOUL, South Korea —— South Korea says it’ll extend the toughest distancing rules imposed on the greater Seoul area for another two weeks, as it’s battling its worst coronavirus outbreak.
South Korea on Friday reported 1,630 new virus cases, marking a 17th straight day its daily caseload is above 1,000. About 70% of the recent cases have been detected in the Seoul area, where about half of South Korea’s 52 million people reside.
Interior and Safety Minister Jeon Hae-cheol says it’s inevitable that social gatherings and travel are restricted to suppress a widespread domestic outbreak linked to a variety of sources in daily lives.
The current government-imposed rules ban gatherings of three or more people after 6 p.m. and require high-risk facilities such as nightclubs to suspend operations. Weddings and funerals can be attended by only relatives, but capped at 49 people. Those rules were to expire on Sunday, but Jeon says they’ll be implemented two more weeks.
South Korea’s total caseload stands at 185,733, with 2,066 deaths from COVID-19.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— White House: Vaccinations rise in hard-hit virus states
— EU donating 200M doses of coronavirus vaccines to poorer nations
— Tokyo’s new virus cases near 2,000, day before Olympics open
— China rebuffs WHO’s terms for further COVID-19 origins study
Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
CHICAGO — Chicago Public Schools has announced its students, teachers and staff will be required to wear masks indoors when they return to classrooms in August.
In a letter to parents Thursday, Chief Executive Officer José Torres said the policy is based on feedback from local, state and federal public health experts and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Visitors to school buildings will be required to wear masks regardless of vaccination status. Torres says the masks can be removed while eating or drinking and while students are engaged with in outdoor activities.
Pediatricians recently said everyone older than 2 should wear a mask in schools, regardless of vaccination status.
However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said earlier this month fully vaccinated students, teachers and staff don’t need face coverings inside classrooms.
JUNEAU, Alaska — Officials in Juneau plan to impose restrictions aimed at curbing rising COVID-19 cases.
The new measures are set to take effect Friday and include limiting capacity at gyms and indoor service at bars to 50%. Indoor gatherings will be limited to 50 people with masks required, unless a COVID-19 mitigation plan has been approved by emergency operations leaders or everyone is fully vaccinated.
Officials also are recommending restaurants reduce capacity to ensure distancing between dining parties.
The city is poised to welcome the first large cruise ship of the season on Friday. State health department figures show about 74% of Juneau residents 12 or older are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
TOPEKA, Kan. — Gov. Laura Kelly is pinning Kansas’ hopes of keeping the COVID-19 delta variant in check on more people getting inoculated because it is spreading rapidly among the unvaccinated.
Kelly acknowledged Thursday that there’s not enough time before K-12 schools resume classes in mid-August to get all students ages 12 and older fully vaccinated. But she added that the state will focus on giving at least the first of two doses to as many as of them as possible.
She called more vaccinations the only thing that’s going to stop the fast-spreading delta variant. The number of confirmed delta variant cases in Kansas has tripled this month, to more than 1,100.
LANSING, Mich. — The Justice Department said Thursday it will not open a civil rights investigation related to COVID-19 deaths in Michigan’s nursing homes.
The notification to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer came nearly 11 months after the department’s Civil Rights Division during the Trump administration requested data from the Democratic governors of four states, including Michigan, and said it was considering whether to investigate under a federal law that protects the rights of people in public nursing homes. Most nursing homes are privately owned.
“We appreciate your cooperation with this matter,” Stephen Rosenbaum, chief of the special litigation section within the Civil Rights Division, wrote to Mark Totten, Whitmer’s chief lawyer.
Confronted with surging hospitalizations early in the pandemic, Michigan addressed the discharge of coronavirus patients no longer needing acute care but still in quarantine.
Whitmer ordered that nursing homes not prohibit the admission or readmission of residents based on COVID-19 testing results. Her office told the Justice Department, however, that the policy never went into effect because the state health department did not issue necessary guidance due to nursing homes’ concerns.
——— ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the state’s top health officials are closely monitoring the increase in COVID-19 cases.
The state Health Department reported Thursday that another 273 cases have been confirmed, marking one of the highest daily totals in months. That topped the 271 cases reported the day before.
The governor’s office said the numbers aren’t where anyone wants them to be. Many states are seeing similar upticks. There are no indications yet whether any public health restriction could be reinstated in New Mexico.
After dealing with some of the toughest restriction in the nation, New Mexico reopened July 1.
CORUNNA, Michigan — Elected officials in a Michigan county gave themselves $65,000 in bonuses with federal relief money related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The money, described as “hazard pay,” included $25,000 for Jeremy Root, chairman of the Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners.
The mostly rural county, between Lansing and Flint, has a population of 68,000.
Commissioners — all Republicans — last week voted to award more than $500,000 to dozens of county employees. It ranged from $25,000 for administrators to $2,000 for cleaning staff. All recipients got at least $1,000.
Besides Root, commissioners John Plowman and Brandon Marks each received $10,000, and the other four commissioners got $5,000 each.
Most commissioners are paid $10,000 a year for their part-time job, plus a stipend for meetings.
“I think that I earned it,” Commissioner Cindy Garber said of the bonus. “I work really hard at this job. I was here in-person all through this crazy year.”
Commissioner Marlene Webster said she was “mortified” when money appeared in her bank account and didn’t know she had voted to reward herself.
A message seeking comment from Root wasn’t immediately returned Thursday.
WASHINGTON — Federal health officials signaled Thursday they’re hunting ways to quickly learn if a third COVID-19 vaccine dose might better protect organ transplant recipients and other patients with weak immune systems.
While the vaccines are strongly effective in most people, many Americans with immune-suppressing health problems remain in limbo after immunization, uncertain how protected they really are. France and Israel already have begun offering an extra dose to transplant recipients and other immunocompromised people. In the U.S., those patients increasingly are pushing for — even lying to get — another shot, too.
Thursday, advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reviewed some small studies that hint, but don’t prove, a third dose might help at least some immunocompromised patients. The panel can’t formally recommend an extra dose without Food and Drug Administration permission, but several advisers asked if the government could allow worried patients to sign up for one as part of a study.
“We are actively looking into ways that could be done,” replied CDC’s Dr. Amanda Cohn. “Stay tuned. We are working through those issues.”
RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina Healthcare Association announced on Thursday that several of the state’s largest hospital systems will require employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine in order to continue working at their facilities.
The sites that will soon mandate vaccinations for workers include Duke University Health network and several UNC Health hospitals.
Other hospital systems that will compel staff to get the vaccine will include Charlotte-based Atrium Health, Greensboro-based Cone Health, Wake Forest Baptist Health and Winston-Salem based Novant Health.
“Hospital and health system employee vaccination against COVID-19 is vital to safely care for patients by protecting them from infection, and to mitigate the spread of the virus within healthcare facilities and among clinicians, patients and their families and friends,” the group wrote in a message to its 130 members.
The move comes as North Carolina decided on Wednesday to eliminate its statewide mask starting on July 30. The state has seen a surge in cases and hospitalizations fueled by the more lethal delta variant.
NEW YORK — Government advisers got their first close look at reports of a rare neurological reaction following the J&J vaccine and agreed the vaccine’s benefits far outweigh the risks.
The panel decided not to change its current endorsement of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. But at the same time, it urged officials to do more to make the public aware of reported side effects.
Last week, U.S. regulators last week added a new warning to J&J’s COVID-19 vaccine about links to Guillain-Barre syndrome, an immune system disorder that can causes muscle weakness and occasionally paralysis.
Federal officials said they had received 100 reports of the problem in people who had gotten the vaccine, during a period when more than 12 million doses of the vaccine were given. The rare reaction has also been linked to other vaccines, and it has also been tied to viral infections, including by the coronavirus itself.
Panel members said they feel the J&J vaccine should still be recommended, especially given a current surge in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths that has been linked to a newer variant of the coronavirus.
But some panel members also expressed concerns about a vaccine that also has been linked to rare but unusual blood clots in veins that drain blood from the brain, and in people with abnormally low levels of clot-forming platelets.
“I am concerned that these risks… are not benign,” and there may be some places where patients are not easily able to get the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, said Dr. Pablo Sanchez, a professor of pediatrics at Ohio State University.
WASHINGTON — The White House says there’s been no decision to change the COVID-19 guidance on wearing face masks.
Press secretary Jen Psaki insisted Thursday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and not the White House, makes the decisions about public health. Psaki says any change in the guidance would come from CDC.
The current guidance is that fully vaccinated individuals do not need to wear face masks while those who are unvaccinated should continue to wear them.
White House and public health officials have been discussing whether to update the mask guidance because of the surge in COVID-19 infections blamed on the highly contagious delta variant.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at a briefing Thursday that, while her agency is always reviewing the data, the recommendations haven’t changed.
MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin health officials say they’re expecting to see more COVID-19 cases as a result of big gatherings by fans of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Police estimated as many as 100,000 people, few of them masked, crowded into the “Deer District” area outside the Bucks’ arena on Tuesday as the team beat Phoenix to win the NBA championship. The city of Milwaukee hosted a parade on Thursday for the champions, with thousands lining downtown streets and the area near the arena.
Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary of the state Department of Health Services, predicted the two large gatherings would lead to more COVID-19 cases.
City officials in Milwaukee said they suggested that unvaccinated people mask up.
COVID-19 cases in both Wisconsin and Milwaukee County are not nearly as high as a year ago, but they have risen in recent weeks. Daily cases in Milwaukee County, where about 46% of residents have been fully vaccinated, have tripled in the past couple of weeks to about 80 a day.
SIOUX FALLS, S.D.— A dominant health system in the Dakotas that is also one of the largest health organizations in the country said Thursday it is making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for all its employees, citing the spread of more contagious variants of the virus.
Sanford Health is requiring all workers to get shots by Nov. 1. More than 90% of clinicians and 70% of nurses in the organization are already fully vaccinated, system officials said.
“This is the right thing to do for our patients and residents, people and communities,” said Bill Gassen, Sanford president and CEO. “As more contagious COVID-19 variants continue to spread and threaten our communities, we must do everything we can to protect each other and our loved ones.”
Sanford has 46 hospitals, 1,500 physicians and more than 200 Good Samaritan Society senior care locations in 26 states and 10 countries. It is based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota with additional major medical centers in Fargo and Bismarck, North Dakota, and Bemidji, Minnesota.
ROME — With daily COVID-19 cases sharply rising again, Italy will soon require people to have received at least one vaccine dose, have recovered from the illness in the last six months or have proof of a negative test performed in the last 48 hours to access venues like gyms, museums and indoor restaurants in a bid to avoid a return to pandemic lockdowns devastating for the economy.
The Italian government at a Cabinet meeting Thursday approved the measure requiring the certification, which is known as a “green pass.” Starting on Aug. 6, people must have a “green pass” to let dine at tables inside restaurants or cafes, go to movies, sports events, casinos, town fairs or other leisure venues.
Premier Mario Draghi told reporters “green pass’’ use is needed to “keep economic activity open.” Disappointing dance aficionados, however, the government didn’t allow discos to re-open, as many had hoped it would. Impromptu street celebrations by thousands of fans, after Italy won the Euro2020 soccer championship earlier this month has helped fuel an uptick in new infections.
PHOENIX — One of Arizona’s biggest hospital systems is renewing a call for people to get vaccinated, citing an increase in seriously ill COVID-19 patients in just a few weeks.
Dr. Michael White, of Valleywise Health, said those hospitalized are “predominantly those that have chosen not to be vaccinated for whatever reason.”
He says doctors were mostly treating people with moderate symptoms, but things changed two weeks ago. Now, patients are coming in acutely ill.
Valleywise is also discussing mandating its roughly 4,800 employees and 1,500 contracted workers be vaccinated. Arizona on Thursday reported 1,174 newly confirmed cases and 10 deaths.
HONOLULU — With less than two weeks before the start of a new school year, Hawaii’s Department of Education has posted a list of about 100 schools that will offer distance learning. Hawaii public school students return to classes Aug. 3.
Offering online instruction is a shift from last month, when Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said there would be no full distance-learning options.
The options come as Hawaii sees a rise in COVID-19 cases. Distance learning spots are limited. Students at schools that aren’t on the list may apply for geographic exceptions to participate in a different school’s online program.