The Latest: LA, San Fran opening business despite infections
LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles and San Francisco are reopening for more business under California’s least restrictive coronavirus safety rules, even though these counties have more infections than many others.
State data shows nearby Orange and San Bernardino counties have similarly low coronavirus case and positivity rates to Los Angeles but can’t reopen further because they aren’t conducting as much testing.
It wasn’t immediately clear why some counties were conducting so much more coronavirus testing and others, much less. But those that do are rewarded under the state’s color-coded tier system by being allowed to expand business activity.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— EU proposes joint approach to develop COVID-19 treatment drugs
— India hits another grim record, adding 400,000 new cases
— Support grows for intellectual property waiver on virus vaccines; snags remain
— Vatican health conference features Dr. Fauci, Pope Francis — and Aerosmith
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s prime minister said on Friday an India travel ban will end with three government-chartered flights to repatriate Australians by the end of May.
The government has resisted mounting pressure to lift the travel ban imposed last week until May 15 to reduce infections in Australian quarantine facilities.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the 900 Australians listed as vulnerable would be given priority among the 9,000 citizens registered with authorities as wanting to come home from India.
But Australians would have to provide a negative result to a rapid antigen COVID-19 test before they could board a flight.
“I’m sure that’s what all Australians would expect,” Morrison said.
The flights would end at a quarantine facility outside the northern city of Darwin. The government had yet to make a decision on when normal commercial flights from India would resume.
TACOMA, Wash. - Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is receiving criticism from lawmakers in his own party over his shifting economic reopening plan, with a group of Democrats from the state’s second most populous county threatening the possibility of a special legislative session.
The lawmakers from Pierce County, south of Seattle, are upset that Inslee paused the plan that left their county stuck in a phase with tighter COVID-19 restrictions.
The letter, sent Thursday afternoon, was signed by eight Democrats in the House and Senate and four House Republicans. It comes the same day that the Washington Hospitality Association launched a petition to follow California’s lead and fully reopen the state on June 15.
Dozens of other states have already set plans to fully reopen their economies, include including New York and New Jersey, which have set a May 19 goal.
The letter states that while they don’t dispute the rising numbers in Pierce County that have only recently started to level out, the decision to pause Pierce and three other counties with more restrictions while allowing counties that were set to roll back to continue to have more business activity “damages both our confidence and communities.”
TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas has requested less than 9% of its federal allocation of COVID-19 vaccine doses for this week, as Republican state lawmakers try to revive proposals to ban government vaccine passports and restore limits on tracing the close contacts of people exposed to the virus.
Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s office said Thursday that the state asked for fewer than 14,000 vaccine doses for the week, out of a federal allotment of almost 162,000. While the state sought its full allotment of 6,400 doses of a one-shot vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson, it requested only 7,510 doses of its allocation of 155,540 doses of two-shot vaccines manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna.
Kansas has seen its vaccination rate slow in recent weeks. It peaked at an average of 29,380 shots a day for the seven days ending April 6 and averaged only 11,872 for the seven days ending Wednesday, according to state Department of Health and Environment data.
Counties have been turning down vaccine doses as demand has waned, and while the department reported that more than 1.95 million shots had been administered as of Wednesday, there still were almost 647,000 more doses available. The health department in Sedgwick County, home to the state’s largest city of Wichita, has reduced the operations of its vaccine clinic by 10 hours a week because of falling demand, The Wichita Eagle reported.
NEW YORK — New York City wants to begin offering coronavirus inoculations to tourists by stationing vaccination vans at Times Square and other attractions, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday.
The city needs state approval to vaccinate visitors and hopes to get an OK as soon as this weekend. The state Health Department didn’t immediately comment on the proposal.
De Blasio called it “a positive message to tourists: ‘Come here. It’s safe, it’s a great place to be and we’re going to take care of you.’”
“It’s a show of goodwill. It’s a welcome,” but not a requirement, the Democratic mayor said. He said the city has no plans to track tourists’ vaccination status.
Besides Times Square, the vans would appear in such places as Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park and the High Line elevated park, de Blasio said. Visitors would get the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, so they wouldn’t have to follow up with a second shot.
CHICAGO — Illinois will further lift coronavirus pandemic restrictions this month including increasing capacity limits at museums, events and gyms.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Thursday that the changes will start May 14 with the goal of full reopening next month if cases continue to decline.
Capacity at museums, theaters, gyms, offices and stores will be increased to 60% from 50% currently. Pritzker says the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter.
The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 1,778 new COVID-19 cases, which is the the lowest in several weeks.
SAO PAULO — Brazil’s health minister Marcelo Queiroga on Thursday said that he is concerned about the possibility of waiving intellectual property rules for COVID-19 vaccines, as it could jeopardize efforts to purchase vaccines from pharmaceutical companies.
“My fear is that we do not have the conditions, even after waiving (restrictions), to produce these vaccines here in Brazil,” Queiroga said in testimony during the Senate’s investigation into the government’s pandemic response. “Our program is based on vaccines like Pfizer’s and Janssen’s, and that (would) interfere in a negative way with the purchase of vaccines for the national immunization program.”
ISLAMABAD — Many Pakistanis without wearing face masks thronged markets along with their children for Eid shopping ahead of a lockdown that will begin on the weekend as part of measures aimed at containing the spread of coronavirus.
The lockdown will be enforced from May 8 to 16 to force people to stay home during the Eid al-Fitr festival which is celebrated at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Markets, shopping malls and offices will remain closed during the lockdown across the country.
Pakistan is currently in the middle of a third wave which authorities say is worse than the previous ones.
Pakistan on Thursday reported 108 single-day deaths from coronavirus in the past 24 hours, one of the highest deaths in recent months.
Since last year, Pakistan has reported 18,537 deaths from COVID-19 among 845,833 cases.
NEW YORK — New York City plans to keep ordering as many doses as it can from the federal government.
While the average number of daily shots administered has dropped about 40% since peaking at over 95,000 at one point in mid-April, “we want to have a steady supply,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday.
The city aims to keep a reserve in case of supply interruptions, and it’s is trying various new strategies to get more people inoculated, he said.
Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said keeping up supply would allow the city to distribute more vaccine to doctors’ offices, neighborhood pharmacies and other smaller providers that may appeal to people who haven’t gone to mass vaccination sites.
The officials say doses are not going to waste, as they can last for months when properly frozen. They say tens of thousands of people a day are still coming in for second doses, as well as first.
NEW YORK — A new attempt to estimate the death toll of COVID-19 puts the number at 6.9 million deaths globally, or more than double official counts.
Dr. Christopher Murray, Director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine, announced the estimates on Thursday.
The estimates by researchers at the University of Washington also suggests the U.S. death count is more than 905,000. The official government count is about 575,000 American deaths.
Official COVID deaths statistics are undercounts, for a variety of reasons, health experts say. Governments may miss deaths that don’t occur in hospitals or where a confirming COIVID test wasn’t done on the patient.
The University of Washington researchers believe the largest undercounts are in India, which may have close to three times more deaths than the 221,000 official government death count, and in the Russian Federation, which they calculate had more than five times the 109,000 official government count.
“We basically have five countries with more than half a million people that have died,” Murray said. “The one that’s been the most under-recorded is the Russian Federation.”
The other countries in the top five are Brazil and Mexico.
The University of Washington estimates are based on a comparison of pre-pandemic death trends with all-cause deaths during COVID, but with adjustments to remove deaths that couldn’t be directly attributed to the virus.
MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota will lift nearly all its coronavirus restrictions just before Memorial Day weekend and drop its statewide mask requirement once 70% of residents age 16 and older get their first dose of vaccine, but no later than July 1.
Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, announced the moves Thursday, citing the state’s progress in vaccinating people.
The first step in his three-phase timeline starting Friday removes capacity limits for outdoor dining, events, and other get-togethers, and ends outdoor mask requirements except for large venues with more than 500 people. It also eliminates a mandatory closing time for bars and restaurants.
Remaining capacity limits will end May 28. Masks will be required indoors until the state hits the 70% target for vaccinations – or until July 1, whichever comes first.
About 59% of Minnesota’s population 16 years and older has received at least one vaccine shot, and nearly 46% have completed the series. The governor’s office says the state is on track to hit the 70% first-shot mark by the end of June.
MADRID — The health expert leading Spain’s response to the coronavirus pandemic says restrictions and vaccination efforts have helped keep the virus in check.
Fernando Simón, the director of Spain’s health emergencies and alerts coordination center, says “in the coming days we are going to see a continued decline in the number of infections.”
Spain is preparing for the end of a six-month state of emergency on Sunday. The extraordinary powers established by national authorities in the form of nightly curfews and restrictions on movement between regions will fall.
Each region will again be responsible for controlling the coronavirus with other measures, such as limiting the number of people in restaurants or other spaces. Some regions had asked for the national government to extend the state of emergency. Without it, they will need to get the backing of a court for each of the measures.
Spain set a goal of vaccinating 70% of its adult population -- some 33 million people -- by the end of August. Almost 13 million people Spain have gotten at least one shot.
NEW YORK — A new survey by The Actors Fund illustrates the depths of need created by the COVID-19 pandemic in the arts community. The Fund provides a national safety net for performing arts and entertainment professionals in the fields of film theater, television, music, opera, radio and dance.
The survey of 7,163 people helped by the organization found 76% of respondents lost income and 40% reported reduced food security. Some 28% fell behind in rent or mortgage and 20% were forced to change housing. Ten percent of respondents had to sell a large asset, such as a house or a car.
“We see the pandemic as having a long tail on its impact on performing artists and entertainment professionals, and especially people involved in live entertainment,” Joe Benincasa, CEO of The Actors Fund, said to The Associated Press.
Last year, the served more than 40,000 individuals, a 71% increase from 2019. It distributed more than $19 million in direct cash to about 15,000 individuals.
The median household income among all survey respondents was $34,186. The survey was conducted by Morey Consulting.
ROME — The Vatican is opening a three-day health conference featuring a star-studded lineup. It includes Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is leading the U.S. coronavirus response, soprano Renee Fleming, the CEOs of Pfizer and Moderna and the lead guitarist of Aerosmith.
The conference is addressing COVID-19 and other global health threats, and how science, solidarity and spirituality can address them. Fauci says the key to overcoming current vaccine hesitancy is pairing the right medical message with the right messenger.
“You have someone who’s a deeply religious person who will listen to their clergy. That’s different than me with a suit going into an area telling people to do something,” he said.
Organizers say the conference, which runs Thursday through Saturday, has taken on more relevance amid a growing appreciation of the need for global access to health care, advances in vaccine technology and greater understanding of mental health during the pandemic.
Pope Francis sent a special message of prayer to India amid its coronavirus surge. Francis says he is thinking especially of all those who have lost loved ones, and praying for “perseverance, strength and peace” for hospital workers, ambulance drivers and others tending to the sick.