The Latest: Florida’s bigger school districts require masks

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A health worker administers the Covaxin COVID-19 vaccine to a nun during a special vaccination drive at Saint Mary’s Basilica in Hyderabad, India, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Four of the five largest school districts in Florida are defying an executive order by Gov. Ron DeSantis barring them from imposing strict mask mandates in schools.

Board members took action Wednesday after seeing the numbers in Hillsborough and Palm Beach counties. School began a week ago and already thousands of children have been sent home because teachers and classmates are infected with the delta variant of the coronavirus.

Veterans Affairs Dr. J. Stacey Klutts says it’s necessary to wear masks indoors and avoid large group gatherings. He says unprotected students sitting for hours in classrooms could rapidly spread infection.

Statewide, Florida reported 23,335 new infections for Tuesday, according to the CDC. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services dashboard reported 17,096 hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients.

DeSantis, a Republican, also is in an escalating power struggle with the Democratic White House. After President Joe Biden ordered possible legal action Wednesday, the U.S. Education Department raised the possibility of using its civil rights arm against Florida and other states that have blocked public health measures meant to protect students.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— Africa WHO official knocks nations that‘hoard’ vaccines

— Gulf Coast among U.S. areas of COVID-19 trouble spots

— 4 of Florida’s 5 largest school districts to require masks

— What is being done to distribute COVID-19 vaccines globally?

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— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

JACKSON, Miss. — Republican U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi has tested positive for the coronavirus and is in isolation.

“Senator Wicker tested positive this morning for the COVID-19 virus after immediately seeking a test due to mild symptoms,” his communications director, Phillip Waller, said in a statement Thursday.

It says Senator Wicker is fully vaccinated, in good health and being treated by his Tupelo-based doctor.

“Everyone with whom Senator Wicker has come in close contact recently has been notified.”

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ORLANDO, Fla. — The number of U.S. tourists who came to Florida in the second quarter of this year has returned to pre-pandemic levels, though the international market is still lagging.

Figures released Thursday show 30.6 million domestic visitors came to Florida from April through June of this year. That’s a 6% increase over the same time in 2019, and a 216% rise from the same time last year during the height of pandemic closures.

Florida welcomed only 1.1 million visitors from overseas and Canada in the second quarter of this year, compared to 3.5 million visitors in the second quarter of 2019.

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WALTHAM, MASS. — Blood plasma from COVID-19 survivors didn’t help newly infected patients when tested against a dummy infusion, doctors reported.

The results of the experiment are the latest disappointment for a treatment known as convalescent plasma. The experimental treatment is not currently recommended in U.S. guidelines and it’s been difficult to study in a controlled way.

The new study, published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, ran a test in about 500 patients with COVID-19 symptoms in hospital emergency rooms. Half received antibody-rich plasma donated by recovered COVID-19 patients. Half received a dummy infusion.

Outcomes were about the same. About 30% in both groups got sick enough to come back to the hospital. Five patients in the plasma group died compared to one death in the other group.

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RICHMOND, Va. — A surge of COVID-19 cases is prompting U.S. federal courts to impose new restrictions and requirements for mask-wearing and vaccinations.

At the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, an order went into effect Monday requiring everyone who enters the court’s buildings to verify their vaccination status. Visitors who aren’t fully vaccinated will have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within the last three days, while those who work there and aren’t fully vaccinated must be tested at least once a week.

That is the same circuit where a three-judge panel in July ruled that Florida-based cruise ships didn’t have to adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 restrictions.

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ASHLAND, Mo. — A Missouri state lawmaker running for Congress has announced her husband died after the couple was diagnosed with COVID-19.

Republican State Rep. Sara Walsh, of Ashland, thanked everyone who had prayed for her husband, Steve Walsh, in announcing Thursday in a tweet that he had died. He was 63.

Sara Walsh, who is running for U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler’s 4th congressional district seat, said over the weekend she had recovered and was out of quarantine. Neither she nor her husband, who served as Hartzler’s press secretary, had been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Walsh said previously she didn’t get the vaccine because it has not been fully approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration and she was concerned about risk factors, although research has shown it is safe.

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BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania reported 595 coronavirus cases, its highest daily number in three months, amid one of the European Union’s slowest vaccination campaigns.

It was the third day in a row the country of more than 19 million recorded more than 500 infections per day, which compares to just a few dozen daily infections a day in mid-July.

So far Romania has vaccinated 26% of its population — the EU’s second-slowest vaccine campaign after Bulgaria — as concerns grow over vaccine hesitancy.

Beatrice Mahler, the manager at the Marius Nasta Institute of Pneumology in the capital Bucharest told The Associated Press that some people fear the vaccines because of “false information circulated on social media.”

“The difficulties (in hospitals) will be noticed at the start of September,” she told the AP. “I am referring to the increase in the number of cases that will require an increase in the number of beds allocated to COVID.”

Romania has registered nearly 1.1 million COVID-19 cases and 34,379 confirmed deaths.

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden and the first lady will get a COVID-19 booster shot, following their first two doses in December.

The president told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that it’s “past time” for him to get a booster. U.S. health officials announced Wednesday recommendations that Americans who received the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine get a booster shot eight months after their second dose.

U.S. health officials say it is “very clear” the vaccines’ protection against infections wanes over time. They announced plans to dispense COVID-19 booster shots to all Americans to shore up their protection against the surging delta variant.

The doses could begin the week of Sept. 20.

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LISBON, Portugal — Portugal’s health minister says the country has reached its target of 70% of the population fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Health Minister Marta Temido says Portugal hit the milestone on Wednesday, some two weeks earlier than anticipated. Now the government is mulling when to further relax restrictions on gatherings and movements.

The 70% goal, about 7 million people, was established for achieving herd immunity before the highly infectious delta variant appeared. Temido told the S.I.C television channel Thursday that the parameters for herd immunity now need to be adjusted.

Portugal reported more than 2,500 new cases Thursday. Its infection rate per 100,000 population over 14 days, a key pandemic metric, stands at 314. Hospital admissions for the coronavirus have remained at manageable levels.

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NAIROBI, Kenya — The Africa director for the World Health Organization sharply criticized the decisions by some richer countries to roll out COVID-19 booster shots.

Matshidiso Moeti says the decisions “threaten the promise of a brighter tomorrow for Africa.” She adds “as some richer countries hoard vaccines, they make a mockery of vaccine equity.”

The U.S. on Wednesday announced plans to dispense COVID-19 booster shots to all Americans. Moeti and the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had warned against booster shots as less than 2% of Africa’s population of 1.3 billion people is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The situation in Africa remains “very fragile” as the more infectious delta variant is dominant in most of the continent’s 54 countries, she says. Africa has reported than 7.3 million cases and more than 186,000 confirmed deaths.

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GULF SHORES, Ala. — The U.S. Gulf Coast is among the many COVID-19 trouble spots in the nation.

Alabama’s coastal counties lead the state in new cases, and some events have been canceled in Florida and Louisiana because of the latest surge.

Health officials believe the spike is due to a combination of some of the nation’s lowest vaccination rates, unabated tourism, a disregard for basic health precautions and the region’s carefree lifestyle.

They’re all occurring at a time when the mutated virus is more contagious and conservative states are balking at new health restrictions.

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TOKYO — Japan has reported a record for daily coronavirus cases at more than 25,000, which is likely an undercount in a nation where coronavirus testing hasn’t been widespread.

The Health Ministry on Thursday gave the total as 25,141, of which 1,223 cases were still being confirmed. Japanese media gave different tallies, but all surpassing 25,000.

Much of Japan, including Tokyo, is under a “state of emergency” that asks restaurants to close at night and people to stay home. Worries are growing about overcrowded hospitals. Japan has had more than 15,500 COVID-19-related deaths in the pandemic.

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JERUSALEM — The head of Israel’s medical association is calling on the government to postpone the planned start of the school year because of the country’s surging coronavirus infections.

Israel’s schools are set to open Sept. 1 following a summer vacation brought a fourth wave of coronavirus cases propelled by the highly infectious delta variant.

Israel Medical Association chair Zeev Feldman said the school year should be postponed by a month, until after the Jewish High Holidays, to help reduce the spread of the virus, Israeli public broadcaster Kan reported.

Despite a world-leading vaccination campaign, Israel has seen new COVID-19 cases skyrocket in recent weeks. The Israeli Health Ministry reported 7,856 new cases on Thursday.

Of the more than 6,726 virus-related deaths the country has reported since March 2020, 248 of them have been this month.

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HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s government says it has granted a quarantine exemption to an individual to perform “designated professional work” following reports that Hollywood actor Nicole Kidman did not have to spend time in quarantine when she arrived to film a TV series.

The government did not identify Kidman by name. She was spotted out and about in Hong Kong this week after reportedly flying into the city from virus-hit Sydney, Australia. Kidman is filming a new Amazon Prime Video series called “Expats.”

Her quarantine exemption comes as Hong Kong tightened entry restrictions, requiring those arriving from high-risk countries such as the U.S. to spend 21 days in quarantine and fully vaccinated travelers from medium-risk countries to spend 14 days starting Friday.

“The case in discussion has been granted permission to travel to Hong Kong with a quarantine exemption for the purpose of performing designated professional work, taking into account that it is conducive to maintaining the necessary operation and development of Hong Kong’s economy,” the government said in a statement.

The city previously allowed travelers from medium-risk countries to stay just seven days in quarantine at designated hotels if they are fully vaccinated and had a positive antibodies test.

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CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s two most populous states recorded new highs in COVID-19 cases.

New South Wales reported a record 681 cases in the latest 24-hour period, mostly in Sydney. The previous high was 633 on Wednesday.

Neighboring Victoria reported 57 new infections in its capital Melbourne. It was the highest daily tally since the final days of a second wave of infections in early September last year.

Melbourne and the entire state of New South Wales are in lockdown as authorities attempt to stamp out coronavirus spread as Australia had successfully done throughout the pandemic before the delta variant arrived on its shores.

Melbourne is in its 6th lockdown of the pandemic and Thursday marked the 200th day that Australia’s second-most populous city has been locked down.

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand will allow youths 12 to 15 to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. Previously, only those 16 and over were eligible.

The government announcement Thursday came as the nation remains in a strict lockdown as it deals with a new outbreak of the fast-spreading delta variant, its first virus outbreak in six months.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says there are 11 new infections, bringing the total in the outbreak to 21. She says the outbreak had been linked to a passenger who returned from Sydney earlier this month.

On Tuesday, the government imposed a lockdown of at least three days across the country and of at least seven days in in Auckland and Coromandel. New Zealand health workers are using only the Pfizer vaccine in their inoculation campaign.

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UNITED NATIONS — The United States is urging the more than 150 countries planning to send their leader or a government minister to New York to speak at the U.N. General Assembly next month to consider giving a video address instead to prevent the annual high-level week from becoming “a super-spreader event.”

A note from the U.S. Mission sent to the 192 other U.N. member nations also called for all other U.N.-hosted meetings and side events to be virtual, saying these parallel meetings that draw travelers to New York “needlessly increase risk to our community, New Yorkers and the other travelers.”

The U.S. note, obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, said the Biden administration is particularly concerned about Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the incoming General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid hosting high-level in-person events on climate change, vaccines, the 20th anniversary of the U.N. World Conference Against Racism, food systems and energy.

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden has ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students.

Biden’s order takes aim at Republican governors in Florida, Texas and other states that have barred schools from mandating masks in the classroom. He directed Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to “assess all available tools” against state that fail to protect students amid surging coronavirus cases.

“Some state governments have adopted policies and laws that interfere with the ability of schools and districts to keep our children safe during in-person learning,” Biden said in an executive order.

In response, the Education Department raised the possibility of using its civil rights arm to push back. The agency says state policies could amount to discrimination if they lead to unsafe conditions that prevent students from attending school.

Biden’s order amounts to the sharpest threat yet against states that so far have ignored admonishments from the White House during the surging pandemic.

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Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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