The Latest: Governor extends Oregon’s state of emergency
By The Associated Press
SALEM, Ore. – Gov. Kate Brown on Thursday extended Oregon’s declaration of a state of emergency until May 2 as confirmed COVID-19 cases drop but hundreds of new cases continue to be reported daily.
The Oregon Health Authority on Thursday reported 553 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the state total to 154,554. The state’s death toll is 2,204.
The agency’s weekly COVID-19 report, which was released Wednesday, shows a sharp decreases in daily cases, hospitalizations and deaths from the previous week. The health authority reported a 35% decrease in cases and a 42% decrease in hospitalization.
The emergency declaration is the legal underpinning for the executive orders the governor has issued, including her orders surrounding reopening Oregon, childcare, schools and higher education operations.
Oregon Republican state senators refused to show up to Thursday’s floor session, objecting to the governor’s COVID-19 restrictions and handling of reopening schools, vaccine rollout and economic recovery
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
Pfizer is studying effects of third vaccine dose as booster. Dr. Fauci says take whatever vaccine is available. Drug companies can tweak vaccines to adapt to variants, a process that should be easier than coming up with the original shots. China approves two more virus vaccines for wider use to reach four total vaccines. Medical oxygen scarce for coronavirus patients in Africa, Latin America.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday said none of the state’s regions will revert back to more restrictive COVID-19 requirements under the state’s economic reopening plan.
Inslee announced the pause in potential rollbacks amid dropping case counts across the state. While all 39 counties are currently in the second phase of the plan — which includes limited indoor dining at restaurants — the governor has yet to provide information about what subsequent phases might look like.
Last month, Inslee announced that regions had to meet three of four metrics in order to advance and to stay in Phase 2: a 10% decreasing trend in case rates over a two-week period; a 10% decrease in coronavirus hospital admission rates in that same timeframe; an ICU occupancy rate that’s less than 90%; and a test positivity rate of less than 10%.
In the second phase, restaurants can offer indoor dining at 25% capacity, and indoor fitness center can open with the same limit.
Sports competitions can resume with limited spectators, and wedding and funeral ceremonies can increase their number of guests.
SAO PAULO — On the same day Brazil reached the grim milestone of 250,000 deaths by COVID-19, the country’s health ministry signed a deal with Indian pharmaceutical company Bharat Biotech for the purchase of 20 million doses of the Covaxin vaccine, which is yet to be approved by local regulators.
The administration of President Jair Bolsonaro said the first 8 million Covaxin shots, which will be made by Brazilian company Precisa Medicamentos, will arrive in March. A second batch of another 8 million doses is expected for April and in May, another 4 million doses will be available.
So far Brazil has vaccinated less than 4% of its population of 210 million people, with some cities stopping immunization campaigns last week due to shortages.
Neither Precisa nor Bharat confirmed the deal or the delivery dates.
HELENA, Mont. — The Montana House failed Thursday to advance a bill that would ban discrimination based on vaccination status and prohibit the use of vaccination status to grant or deny services or access to businesses.
The Republican-controlled House split on the bill in a 50-50 vote, with several Republicans joining Democrats in opposing the measure.
Under the bill, employers — including health care facilities — would have been banned from mandating vaccinations as a condition for employment. Public schools and child care facilities would be required to allow for medical and religious exemptions for all vaccination requirements.
The bill’s supporters say it would protect freedom and privacy regarding medical choices. Opponents say mandatory vaccinations ensure the health of children and prevent disease outbreaks.
The bill would also have prohibited the use of vaccine passports — or documents that prove an individual’s vaccination status.
Vaccine passports have not been implemented in Montana or by the U.S. federal government. They are being considered by several countries and airlines to allow those inoculated against COVID-19 to travel internationally.
WATERBURY, Conn. – Connecticut school districts around the state have begun organizing their own COVID-19 vaccination clinics, preparing for the official rollout of vaccines for teachers and other school staff on Monday.
Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary said a special vaccination appointment hotline for the roughly 4,000 eligible workers in his city’s school system will become available on Friday morning. He said there will be a special section at the mass vaccination clinic at Waterbury Arts Magnet School just for those employees.
“We’re going to get you done very, very quickly,” O’Leary said. “We are very excited to get you in, get your your shot, schedule your second shot. Let’s go.”
Waterbury is distributing the hotline number of school employees via email.
Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont, who appeared with the Democratic mayor and local officials at a news conference on Thursday, said Waterbury is the first school district in the state that has said it’s ready to begin vaccinations for teachers and other employees at public and private schools. He said he expects other will soon follow. Residents age 55 and older will be allowed to register for vaccination appointments on Monday as well.
NEW YORK — U.S. regulators are allowing Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to be shipped and stored at less-frigid temperatures, which should ease distribution and administration of one of the two vaccines authorized for emergency use in the country.
The Food and Drug Administration said Thursday that it’s allowing the additional option after reviewing new data from New York-based Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech.
The FDA said the vaccine, which is shipped in frozen vials, now can be transported and stored for up to two weeks at the temperatures of freezers commonly found in pharmacies. That’s after Pfizer provided the FDA with data on Feb. 19 that showed its vaccine remains stable for up to two weeks at those standard freezer temperatures.
Until now, the vaccine was required to be kept at ultra-cold temperatures — from minus 112 degrees to minus 76 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 80 degrees to minus 60 degrees Celsius) — so Pfizer ships the vials in a special thermal container packed with dry ice to maintain that temperature range. That requirement meant vaccination sites had to either obtain expensive ultracold freezers, keep adding dry ice to the shipping container to keep to the correct temperature range, or administer all the doses in each shipment quickly so none spoiled.
MISSOURI —— Missouri teachers and child care providers will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccination in mid-March, Gov. Mike Parson said Thursday.
Parson said during his weekly media briefing that the state plans to open up vaccinations to those in Phase 1B, Tier 3, effective March 15. That group involves an estimated 550,000 additional residents. The new date is about a month earlier than state leaders originally projected.
In addition to teachers and child care workers, those newly eligible will include school staff, water and waste employees, energy workers, critical manufacturing workers, and food and agricultural workers.
“While supply is still limited, we are expecting slow and steady increases, and activating Tier 3 on March 15 will allow us to continue making progress as supply expands,” the Republican governor said.
PRAGUE — The Czech government is planning to tighten the country’s lockdown amid a surge of a highly contagious coronavirus variant.
Prime Minister Andrej Babis says the plan includes a ban on travelling between counties for next three weeks in an attempt too “radically limit movement.” Among other measures, nursery schools, schools for children with disabilities and the first and second grades of elementary schools that have still been opened will close on Monday.
The government is set to discuss the plan with the opposition tomorrow morning. To make it possible to limit people’s movement, the opposition has to support a government request to extend the state of emergency in a vote in the lower house of Parliament scheduled for Friday.
More details of the restrictions will be announced on Friday. The government is also discussing with Germany and Poland an option to send Czech COVID-19 patients to their hospitals for treatment as the local clinics are reaching their limits.
The Czech Republic is one of the hardest-hit European Union countries.
The day-to-day increase in new confirmed cases reached 13,657 Wednesday, about 2,700 more than a week ago. The nation of 10.7 million had almost 1.2 million cases with 19,835 deaths.
SAN FRANCISCO — California Gov. Gavin Newsom is continuing his push to reopen more schools for in-class instruction with a plan broadly outlining how the state will allocate vaccines to education workers.
Last week the Democratic governor announced that at least 10% of the state’s vaccine supply would go to education workers. That translates roughly to 75,000 doses a week.
Newsom has come under increasing political pressure to get California’s public schools back open. The majority of the state’s 6 million K-12 public school students have not been inside a classroom since March 2020 due to the pandemic.
California’s powerful teachers unions have repeatedly said that getting teachers vaccinated is key to reopening classrooms. Newsom and lawmakers disagree.
Much of the supply in California remains dedicated for seniors 65 and older, although more counties are opening up appointments for educators, food and farm workers and other essential employees. The state had administered more than 8 million doses as of Thursday.
DES MOINES, Iowa — Gov. Kim Reynolds says she’s optimistic vaccinations of Iowans will accelerate due to the impending authorization of a new one-dose coronavirus vaccine and increased deliveries of the two-shot varieties.
Speaking at her weekly news conference on Thursday, Reynolds said 19.2% of eligible Iowans have received at least one dose of a vaccine, and nearly 53% of residents 65 and older have had a first dose.
Reynolds credited the federal government for increasing the production and delivery of vaccines to states.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that the progress we’re seeing now will only continue and I do appreciate the partnership of the federal government in making this possible,” she said.
She projected that by next week, 70% of first responders, health care workers in hospitals, K-12 teachers and staff and childcare workers will have received at least one dose.
By mid-March, she expects 70% of Iowans 65 and older to have received at least a first dose.
The next priority group expected to be eligible for vaccinations in March is essential workers, which will include people in meatpacking plants, food processing, agricultural production and manufacturing. People with disabilities living in home settings and staff at those facilities also should begin vaccinations in March.
PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron said he is confident European Union leaders will agree on common standards to allow international travels during the summer, including through introducing vaccine certificates amid other measures.
Macron spoke in a news conference following EU talks about whether and when to introduce vaccine certificates, which could help smooth a return to air travel and possibly avoid another disastrous summer holiday season.
“None of us will accept that to attract tourists, one country would have looser rules than others and would be taking risks by making people come from the other side of the world to fill up its hotels,” he said.
Southern European countries dependent on tourism, like Greece and Spain, support such a system, but their northern EU partners, like Germany, doubt whether the certificates would work.
Macron said vaccine certificates cannot be a condition for travelling in Europe this summer since a large part of the population won’t have access to vaccination yet. He said tests may be required for non-vaccinated people.
SALT LAKE CITY —— Utah Gov. Spencer Cox doubled down Thursday on his prediction that there will be gatherings without masks by the Fourth of July, contrary to predictions from the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Cox told reporters that he’s feeling optimistic about the nation’s vaccine rollout and expects mass gatherings could be held without masks this summer. His comments contradict predictions from Fauci who said earlier this week that Americans may still be wearing masks outside their homes in 2022.
“I’m not gonna be wearing this on the Fourth of July, and I’m gonna be in a parade somewhere,” Cox said holding a mask during his weekly COVID-19 briefing. “But if I’m wrong then I’ll come here and I’ll admit that I’m wrong and that we’re gonna do something different.”
Cox tweeted on Tuesday that he is “baffled” by pessimism coming from Washington and that he believes “we will be celebrating maskless in large groups” by the Fourth of July.
PARIS — French Prime Minister Jean Castex held out the possibility on Thursday of increased measures to fight the spread of the coronavirus in 20 regions, including Paris, where hospitals are under pressure, the infection rate is high and contagious variants make up in some cases more than 50% of new infections.
The regions are being placed under increased surveillance with a decision to take action by the weekend of March 6 if there is no improvement, Castex said on a national television.
“The virus has been gaining ground over the past week,” the prime minister said, noting Wednesday’s count of more than 30,000 new infections.
The Riviera city of Nice and surrounding region and the northern port of Dunkirk have been ordered under weekend lockdowns for at least two weeks, in addition to a national 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.
The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, is taking another tact. She wants to strong-arm the virus with a three-week full lockdown for the French capital. Deputy Mayor Emmanuel Gregoire said on FranceInfo radio that the Paris City Hall will put that option on the table in talks this weekend with regional health authorities and others then take it to the government which alone can decide.
France has had two full lockdowns since the pandemic began sweeping over Europe. More than 85,000 people have died from COVID-19.
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