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The Latest: US extends ban on cruise ships through October

October 1, 2020 GMT
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A group of five people have lunch together at the Newton Food Center Friday, June 19, 2020, in Singapore. Singaporeans can now wine and dine at restaurants, work out at gyms and get together with five people or less after most lockdown restrictions were lifted Friday. (AP Photo/YK Chan)
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A group of five people have lunch together at the Newton Food Center Friday, June 19, 2020, in Singapore. Singaporeans can now wine and dine at restaurants, work out at gyms and get together with five people or less after most lockdown restrictions were lifted Friday. (AP Photo/YK Chan)

WASHINGTON — Federal health officials are extending the U.S. ban on cruise ships through the end of October amid reports of recent outbreaks of the new coronavirus on ships overseas.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday that it was extending a no-sail order on cruise ships with the capacity to carry at least 250 passengers.

The CDC said surveillance data from March 1 through Sept. 29 shows at least 3,689 COVID-19 or COVID-like illnesses on cruise ships in U.S. waters, in addition to at least 41 reported deaths. It said these numbers are likely an underestimate.

It cited recent outbreaks as evidence that cruise ship travel continues to transmit and amplify the spread of the novel coronavirus, even when ships sail at reduced passenger capacities. It said it would likely spread the infection in the U.S. communities if operations were to resume prematurely.

“Recent passenger voyages in foreign countries continue to have outbreaks, despite cruise ship operators having extensive health and safety protocols to prevent the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 on board and spread to communities where passengers disembark,” the CDC said in a statement.

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HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK

— UK lawmakers grumble but renew sweeping govt virus powers

— Wisconsin hospitals filling with patients as virus surges

— Virus outbreak pushes NFL’s Steelers-Titans game to Monday or Tuesday

— Scientists are starting to unravel one of COVID-19′s scariest mysteries: Why are some people only mildly ill or have no symptoms and others rapidly die.

— The coronavirus pandemic has put a damper on student life across the globe. But in Brussels, the Belgian capital is using its famous Grand-Place square for graduation ceremonies of two universities.

— Scores of actors, technicians and theater staff marched through London’s West End to Parliament to the beat of showtunes, asking for plan to revive the arts.

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Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

SINGAPORE -- Singapore will allow entry to travelers from Vietnam and Australia, excluding its coronavirus hot spot Victoria state, beginning next week.

The tiny city-state last month welcomed visitors from Brunei and New Zealand, and is cautiously reopening its borders after a virus closure to help revive its airport, a key regional aviation hub.

The aviation authority has said there is a low risk of virus importation from the two countries. Travelers must undergo a virus swab test upon arrival, travel on direct flights without transit and download a mobile app for contact tracing.

The Vietnam and Australia changes start from Oct. 8.

Singapore’s move is unilateral and not reciprocated by the other four countries.

But Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said in a Facebook post Wednesday that “with each step of safe opening of our borders, we start to rebuild the bridges and resuscitate Changi Airport.”

Singapore has managed to control the pandemic after an earlier upsurge due to infections among foreign workers living in packed dormitories. It has confirmed more than 57,000 cases of infection with 27 deaths from COVID-19.

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SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea has reported 77 new cases of the coronavirus as officials called for citizen vigilance amid one of the biggest holidays of the year.

The figures released by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency Thursday brought the national caseload to 23,889, including 415 deaths.

Fifty-four of the new cases were reported from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, which has been at the center of a viral resurgence since mid-August. Ten of the new cases were tied to international arrivals, mostly passengers from Asian countries such as India, Uzbekistan, and Indonesia.

Health Minister Park Neung-hoo during a virus meeting Wednesday repeated a plea for people to stay home during the Chuseok harvest holiday that continues through the weekend, calling it a critical period may determine whether or not the country sees a major outbreak in autumn.

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PHOENIX -- Hospital officials and Arizona’s schools chief are urging local governments not to lift their mask mandates.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said Wednesday that schools are depending on continued efforts to control the coronavirus outbreak. An association representing large hospital chains said lifting mask mandates risks burdening the health care system.

The mayor of a western Arizona tourist destination on Monday lifted a citywide mask mandate originally ordered in July requiring facial coverings indoors when social distancing was not possible. The News-Herald reported that Lake Havasu City Mayor Cal Sheehy suspended the mandate on Monday after it was extended twice.

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SALT LAKE CITY — A new audit finds a multimillion-dollar coronavirus-testing contract the state of Utah signed with a startup company ended up costing significantly more per test because fewer people than expected took the tests.

The audit released Wednesday found the agreement with Nomi Health was for a flat fee and didn’t have a way to scale back if the number of tests was lower than planned. The company has similar contracts in Iowa and Nebraska.

The state said it was reviewing the audit. Nomi didn’t immediately comment on the findings, which were part of a wide-ranging review of state spending in its response to the pandemic.

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ATLANTA — Georgia’s governor is again extending his emergency rules regarding COVID-19 as the state surpasses 7,000 deaths from the respiratory illness.

Gov. Brian Kemp on Wednesday extended the underlying state of emergency that allows him to issue other orders until Nov. 9. The Republican pushed back the expiration of pandemic rules and guidelines until Oct. 15.

Georgia has recorded more than 318,000 cases of coronavirus overall. The state’s seven-day average of new cases has fallen below 1,200 a day. Georgia ranks 24th nationwide for new cases per capita in the last two weeks. It once was worst.

One complicating factor is the increasing usage of rapid antigen tests, which aren’t yet recorded in state figures. Department of Public Health spokesperson Nancy Nydam says the state has recorded more than 28,000 positives from those tests, but they are not yet routinely published.

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UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations chief and leaders from governments, the private sector, civil society and international organizations are pledging support for a global initiative to increase access to COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines, especially for developing countries.

At a virtual high-level event Wednesday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly’s annual meeting of world leaders, 16 major pharmaceutical companies promised to work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to scale up manufacturing and ensure all countries have access to affordable COVID-19 tests, therapies and vaccines.

Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky announced the company will allocate up to 500 million doses of its COVID vaccine, if it’s proven safe and effective, around the middle of next year for developing countries. Late-stage testing of the vaccine began last week.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged the international community to provide $35 billion to fund planned efforts by the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator. About $15 billion of that is needed by year’s end to fund research, manufacturing, purchase of medicines and vaccines, and distribution.

The ACT-Accelerator was launched five months ago by the World Health Organization, European Commission, France, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It has a goal of producing 2 billion vaccine doses, 245 million COVID treatments, and 500 million tests, and distributing them in low- and middle-income countries.

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FARGO, N.D. — A North Dakota marketing agency is rolling out a campaign meant to help stem the tide of rising COVID-19 cases in central North Dakota as the state ranks among the worst in the nation in new cases per capita.

Agency MABU was hired by a governor’s task force in two counties and has created messages designed to leverage North Dakotans’ strong sense of freedom. MABU president and CEO Mike Mabin says the ad campaign plays on personal choice, “letting people know that everyone is free to respond as to how they choose to protect themselves and others.”

The first video ad features three people who first express their skepticism about the virus before having a change of heart. By the end of the 30-second spot, each is wearing a mask and declaring that “COVID stops with me.”

The state will soon follow with a nearly $2 million campaign of its own that dwarfs MABU’s $76,800 media budget.

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MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge on Wednesday rejected a challenge by Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jason Lewis to Minnesota’s coronavirus restrictions, turning aside the former congressman’s arguments that the rules unconstitutionally limit his freedom to campaign.

U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank ruled that Democratic Gov. Tim Walz acted within his authority to respond to the public health crisis when he imposed restrictions on crowd sizes, travel and other measures meant to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has infected over 99,000 Minnesotans and killed more than 2,000 in the state.

The judge noted that some of the restrictions already have been relaxed or rescinded and said Lewis had failed to show that his rights were improperly violated. He dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice, meaning Lewis can’t file it again.

Lewis, a former conservative talk radio host who served one term in the U.S. House, has been campaigning against the state’s coronavirus restrictions since the early days of the pandemic. He says he plans to appeal and make the ruling an issue in the race.

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DES MOINES, Iowa — The Iowa Department of Public Health reported the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the state in the past day topped 1,000 with 18 more deaths.

In the 24 hours since 10 a.m. Tuesday, the state reported 1,048 new confirmed cases, bringing the total to 88,555. The 18 additional deaths reported Wednesday brought that total to 1,324.

The state also reported that an increase in people being treated at hospitals for the virus has continued, with the 390 people now hospitalized.

A White House coronavirus task force report dated Sunday found that Iowa last week had the nation’s sixth-highest rate of coronavirus infections per 100,000 people.

The task force again recommended the state institute a statewide mask requirement, but Gov. Kim Reynolds has said such a requirement is unnecessary.

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OMAHA, Neb. — The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Nebraska remains elevated as the state continues to report hundreds of new cases each day, but the number of hospitalizations is still below the peak set in the spring.

The state’s online virus tracker on Wednesday showed 215 people were hospitalized. Nebraska reported 466 new cases and six new deaths to give the state 45,044 cases and 478 deaths.

The number of people being treated in Nebraska hospitals remains below the peak of 232 set in late May, but that number hit 231 last Thursday. Hospitalizations were at their lowest in July when 95 people were being treated.

The state said Wednesday that 27% of the intensive care beds and 78% of the ventilators in Nebraska remained available.

The seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate in Nebraska has risen over the past two weeks from 9.4% on Sept. 15 to 13.01% on Tuesday, according to an Associated Press analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University.

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JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves announced he’s ending the statewide mask mandate, but the Republican governor said he will still require people to wear masks in school to curb the spread of novel coronavirus.

Mississippi’s statewide mask mandate has been in place since early August. Reeves has chosen to extend the mandate several times since. However, on Wednesday he said declining numbers of new cases of coronavirus and hospitalizations are positive developments that call for the lifting of some restrictions.

The new executive order ending the statewide mask mandate expires the week after the presidential election and also limits group gatherings where social distancing is not possible to 20 people indoors and 100 people outdoors.

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HONOLULU — A University of Hawaii student has died after contracting the novel coronavirus.

Jezreel Lowie B. Juan died on Friday the university said in a statement.

Juan had transferred to the West Oahu campus in 2019 as a junior after attending Honolulu Community College. A university spokeswoman on Wednesday said they did not have Juan’s age or hometown.

The statement said Juan was not on campus and did not expose the university community to the virus. The university statement also said Juan “took his studies very seriously and even in his last stages of fighting COVID-19 he worried about class assignments and constantly asked his father how he could make up for the work he was missing.”

Because of his student leadership, Juan was recently nominated to be a member of the National Society of Leadership and Success.

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FRANKLIN, N.C. — A North Carolina sheriff’s office has been identified as a COVID-19 cluster after a number of employees tested positive, a local health department said Wednesday.

The Macon County Health Department announced the cluster in a news release, but it didn’t say exactly how many workers at the sheriff’s office tested positive. The sheriff’s office would only say that “multiple employees” fell ill and were tested, and that some of the tests have come back positive.

All staff who could have been exposed to the sheriff’s office workers have been contacted and will be tested for the coronavirus, the health department said.

According to a news release from the sheriff’s office, some of the workers were on duty when they became ill but went home immediately when they started displaying symptoms. The sheriff’s office said symptoms have ranged from mild to severe, with some workers showing no symptoms at all.

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma remains among the worst states in the United States for positive coronavirus tests per 100,000 people and the number of new reported cases, according to a report from the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

Oklahoma is in the red zone for virus cases, meaning 101 or more new cases per 100,000 population, with a rate of 201 new cases per 100,000. That’s an increase of 15% from a week ago, according to the federal report dated Sept. 27 and released Wednesday by the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

The number of reported coronavirus cases in the state increased by 980 on Wednesday and there were 13 additional deaths due to COVID-19, the health department said. The department reported 87,199 total cases and 1,031 deaths compared to 86,219 cases and 1.018 deaths on Tuesday.

The report recommends increased testing to identify those with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, and to isolate those infected to limit the spread of the virus. It also calls for better messaging to help residents protect themselves, including the wearing of face masks.

The report does not call for a statewide mask mandate. Gov. Kevin Stitt has said he will not implement one.