The Latest: LA County likely to hit 1,000 virus deaths soon – The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County is likely to hit the tragic statistic of 1,000 coronavirus-related deaths a week soon if the current trends continue, officials said Monday.

More than 1 in 5 people are testing positive for COVID-19 and the county’s cases doubled between Nov. 30, at 400,000, and Jan. 2, to 800,000. It took more than nine months to reach 400,000.

County health officials fear the incoming Christmas and New Year’s surge. The additional Thanksgiving cases have swamped hospitals, forcing them to treat patients in hallways, ambulances and the gift shop, and forced an oxygen shortage.

The county on Monday reported 77 additional deaths, which include a reporting lag over the weekend, bringing the total to 10,850 in the nation’s most populous county.

Officials also reported 9,142 new cases — a lower figure due to testing sites being closed during the New Year holiday — to make a total of 827,498. The variant has not yet been detected in the county but officials believe it is here.

Nearly 7,700 people are hospitalized countywide for COVID-19 and 21% are in intensive care units.

“We’re likely to experience the worst conditions in January that we’ve faced the entire pandemic — and that’s hard to imagine,” county public health director Barbara Ferrer said at a briefing.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

UK takes big step on the vaccine front, starts giving out first coronavirus vaccine shots from Oxford-AstraZeneca

Congress has convened for a new session, with strict COVID-19 protocols in place

Fauci says faster vaccination rate offers a ‘glimmer of hope,’ says Biden’s pledge of 100 million shots in his 1st 100 days is achievable

— Vaccines are a distant thought in Somalia, where coronavirus is spreading with little being done to stop it

— Black California surgeon ‘walks the walk’ on virus vaccine

— Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

DENVER — Inmates in a Colorado jail will get daily temperature checks and those who test positive for COVID-19 will be regularly monitored by medical staff under a temporary deal negotiated by lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union and the sheriff and approved by a federal judge on Monday.

The ACLU sued El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder last month after his office acknowledged that inmates were not routinely given masks to wear to prevent the spread of infection until a large COVID-19 outbreak in the jail. Jail officials said they could not distribute masks initially during the pandemic because the only ones available had metal staples which they said created unspecified safety concerns.

Under the preliminary injunction approved by U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson, inmates will be given two cloth masks to use and deputies who do no wear masks will face discipline. Deputies will check inmates’ temperatures twice a day and anyone with a temperature over 99.4 degrees will be referred to medical staff.

Those who test positive will be checked by medical staff daily and given access to over-the-counter pain and cold medicine like Tylenol or Mucinex for free without having to submit a written request for it under the deal.

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HELENA, Mont. — The 67th session of the Montana Legislature began Monday amid dueling protests outside the Capitol over state directives to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Many Republicans chose not to wear masks during their swearing-in ceremonies.

About a dozen members of the state Senate participated in the swearing-in via teleconference.

Republican leaders, who hold majorities in the House and Senate, have indicated they intend to ease restrictions put in place by former Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, including a statewide mask mandate and limits on the operating hours of restaurants, bars and casinos. They are bolstered by newly sworn-in Gov. Greg Gianforte, who has indicated he will support doing away with the mandates.

Dozens of conservatives gathered in front of the Capitol to protest mask wearing, carrying Trump flags and signs that read “Stop the steal” and “Masks spread fear.” On the opposite side of the building, pro-mask demonstrators held signs that read “Stop the spread” and “Real men wear masks.”

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NEW ORLEANS — Public schools in New Orleans will go back to “distance learning” this week because of rising COVID-19 cases in the city.

The city’s school system said Monday that all pre-K through Grade 12 classes will go online by no later than Thursday. The public school system in New Orleans had implemented a return to in-class learning that began back in September.

Superintendent Henderson Lewis said a spike in positive cases in the city prompted the “unfortunate but necessary” decision to go back to distance learning.

The move comes a week after the city tightened virus-related restrictions on public gatherings and again ended indoor service at bars.

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The first five Florida hospitals to start inoculating their frontline workers three weeks ago began administering booster shots this week to those same employees.

Carlos Migoya, the president and CEO of Jackson Health System, who joined Gov. Ron DeSantis for a press conference in Miami on Monday, said some of his hospital workers — the first of about 5,000 associated with the Miami-based health care system — began receiving their booster shots earlier in the day.

“The focus right now has been health care workers and people over 65. Once we get to a big percentage of those populations, we’ll open it to the next at-risk population,” Migoya said.

“We are giving the vaccine as fast as we get it. We’re not holding back any vaccine because the supply is coming,” he said.

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds appears to be prepared to push schools to return students to classrooms this month, reinforcing her plans to prioritize in-person learning even when a local school board believes it’s too risky.

The Des Moines school district’s request on Dec. 28 was the first to be rejected since August. Des Moines Superintendent Tom Ahart said in a letter requesting to go online that the school board is concerned about the safety and well-being of its students and employees based on local virus conditions.

Iowa Department of Education Director Ann Lebo rejected the request on Dec. 30. Lebo echoed Reynolds’ recent statements that students engaged in remote learning are falling behind academically and that schools are not primary drivers of spread of the virus.

Iowa reported 46 deaths on Monday for a total of 3,992. Iowa has the 15th highest per capita COVID-19 death rate at 125 deaths per 100,000 people.

The Iowa Department of Education reported no school districts were currently approved for temporary online learning as of Monday.

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ALBANY, N.Y. — New York has found its first known case of a new variant of COVID-19 in upstate New York.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a Monday telephone call with reporters said a man in his 60s tested positive for the COVID-19 variant, which is more contagious than its previous variants. The governor said the man, who works at a jewelry store in Saratoga Springs, had COVID-19 symptoms but is “on the mend.”

Three other people linked to the jewelry store have tested positive for COVID-19, but Cuomo said it’s unknown if they have the variant. Anyone who was in the store from Dec. 18 through Dec. 24 is urged to get tested.

The governor said the state Wadsworth laboratory can test for the variant in 40 hours, and said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention takes two weeks. He said the state has run about 5,000 tests so far for the variant, which he warned could lead to even more infections and hospitalizations as amid a holiday season surge.

“I think it is must more widespread than people known,” Cuomo said.

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia has become another European Union country to detect a new fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus originally found in Britain.

Health Minister Marek Krajci announced the discovery late Monday on Facebook. Krajci says the variant was detected in several samples from an unspecified number of people taken in the eastern county of Michalovce.

He has immediately not offered any further details.

Slovakia is one of the EU countries that has imposed a ban on all flights from Britain on Dec 21 due to the concerns over the more contagious -19 variant that rapidly spread through Britain.

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahomans age 65 and older will begin receiving their vaccinations this week, and health officials announced Monday they plan to release a mobile phone application as early as Thursday that will allow residents to schedule an appointment to receive their vaccine.

The state has contracted with Microsoft to develop a mobile phone application that will allow people to schedule their appointment and track when they should receive their second dose of the vaccine, deputy health commissioner Keith Reed told reporters during a press conference.

Oklahoma has received nearly 175,000 doses and administered more than 50,000 first doses of the two-dose vaccine, Reed said. Oklahoma expects to begin receiving between 30,000 and 40,000 additional doses every week, said Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye.

“Our vaccine rollout can only go as quickly as we’re getting supplies from the federal government,” Frye said.

First responders and health care workers who provide outpatient care to COVID patients are also in Phase 2 and began receiving vaccinations last week. Adults of any age with underlying conditions and pre K-12 public school teachers also are in Phase 2, but those individuals have not started receiving their vaccines yet, Reed said.

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NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans officials announced Monday that the city will borrow money to end periodic furloughs of police, firefighters and emergency medical service workers. Furloughs began as the city’s tourist-dependent economy suffered during the pandemic. Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s chief administrative officer, Gilbert Montano, said during a Monday news conference that about $16 million from a line of credit opened last year will be use to end the furloughs for the public safety employees. He said the move is being made in anticipation of future federal stimulus money and the eventual effects of vaccination efforts. New Orleans officials announced last fall that city employees would be furloughed one day every 14-day pay period.

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. military plans to soon offer the coronavirus vaccine to prisoners at the detention center on the American base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

U.S. Southern Command said Monday that medical authorities expect doses of the vaccine to arrive this month at the isolated base in southeastern Cuba.

Southern Command said in a statement that there will be enough doses to vaccinate all personnel assigned to the detention center. It also said that the vaccine would be offered to the prisoners but details on how many eventually receive it would not be released because of medical privacy regulations.

The U.S. has 40 prisoners at the detention center, which opened in January 2002 to hold men suspected of links to al-Qaida and the Taliban. Most of those held have never been charged with a crime.

There are just under 1,800 military and civilian personnel assigned to the detention center

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WASHINGTON — U.S. airlines, through their trade group, pushed Monday for global COVID-19 testing of international travelers in place of broad travel restrictions.

Nicholas Calio, CEO of Airlines for America, said broad testing as proposed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would increase safe travel “in a much more effective way than the blanket travel restrictions currently in place.”

In a letter to Vice President Mike Pence, Calio asked the Trump administration to lift restrictions on travelers from Europe, the United Kingdom and Brazil entering the U.S.

Air travel in the U.S. hit a pandemic high on Sunday, with more than 1.3 million people passing through airport security checkpoints. The U.S. averaged more than 1 million air travelers per day and tens of millions more traveled by car over the Christmas and New Year’s Day period, despite concern among public health officials that holiday travel and gatherings will lead to more people contracting the virus. However, U.S. air travel is down about 60% from a year ago because of the pandemic.

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CHICAGO — Some Chicago Public Schools teachers expected to report to the classroom ahead of preschool students’ anticipated return next week have stayed home over coronavirus concerns.

The nation’s third-largest district plans to bring students back in phases. Starting next week, preschool and some special education students can return or continue remote learning. Students in K-8 have the option starting Feb. 1. A date for high school students hasn’t been set.

The Chicago Teachers Union opposed the plan over safety. Dozens of aldermen also objected with concerns over health and racial equity.

Among those staying home is special education teacher Linda Perales. She told reporters during a Monday news conference that wearing a mask makes it harder to teach students proper letter sounds.

The Chicago Tribune reports roughly 5,800 teachers and staff were to return Monday, but it was immediately unclear how many showed.

A CTU spokeswoman says the union doesn’t have the data. CPS officials didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment. ___

TORONTO — Alberta’s premier has reversed course and is now punishing members of his government for vacationing outside Canada despite government guidelines urging people to avoid nonessential travel during the pandemic.

Premier Jason Kenney says he asked his chief of staff to resign and accepted the resignation of his Municipal Affairs minister.

Several other members of his United Conservative party in the Western Canadian province have also been demoted for traveling outside Canada.

Kenney said last week he would not punish members of his government after he said he learned of travel abroad by a number of people in his government.

He says over the weekend he listened to “Albertans who are sending a clear message that they want real consequences.”

Politicians traveling abroad for vacations during the pandemic became a big story in Canada last week after it became known that Ontario’s finance minister went to the luxury Caribbean island of St. Barts for weeks and seemingly tried to hide the fact by sending social media posts showing him in a sweater before a fireplace.

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — As seniors lined up at coronavirus vaccination sites and frustrations mounted over their inability to make appointments for life-saving injections, Gov. Ron DeSantis warned hospitals against stockpiling vaccinations and urged them to work more quickly to administer vaccines to Floridians who are 65 and older.

“The light’s at the end of the tunnel,” DeSantis said during a news conference in Orlando on Monday, adding that hospitals that don’t meet vaccination goals will see their allotment of vaccines reduced and redistributed to other providers.

“I do not want to see a vaccine sitting around not being used when you could be putting a shot in an arm,” he said.

DeSantis has ordered hospitals to inform state officials on how they plan to offer vaccinations to the public.

Mary Mayhew, the chief executive officer of the Florida Hospital Association, said the state’s hospitals were “working tirelessly” to serve the community and roll out the vaccinations.

“Hospitals are absolutely committed to efficiently administering the vaccines,” Mayhew said, noting that “the vast majority of the vaccine just arrived within the last week and a half prior to two holidays.”

As of Monday, more than 260,000 Floridians had been vaccinated, most of them health care workers and first responders — although an increasing number are seniors 65 years and older, who the governor has made a key demographic for vaccinations.

The state has received more than 960,000 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines — which means that some 700,000 doses are sitting in freezers waiting to be injected into the arms of Floridians.

Both vaccines require two doses — an initial inoculation and a booster shot weeks later. Some hospitals, out of caution, may be reluctant to immediately use their entire stockpile because of uncertainty over the future supply of the vaccines.

More than 82% of those who have died from the disease in Florida have been older than 65.

Florida has one of the nation’s oldest populations with 4.4 million of the state’s 21 million population 65 years or older.

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