The Latest: Tens of thousands on Vegas strip despite warning
LAS VEGAS — Tens of thousands of people were walking on the casino-lined Las Vegas Strip on New Year’s Eve by early evening despite a plea from Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak that people reconsider their plans to go out and celebrate.
While shopping, gambling, drinking yard-long frozen cocktails and gawking at the sights, most everyone out in Sin City was wearing a face mask, though not all had them covering their mouth and nose, as recommended by health experts.
Casinos have abided by state rules by spacing out chairs at slot machines and installing acrylic partitions separating people standing around craps and blackjack tables, but inside the casino corridors that snake past the gambling floors there were many areas where there were too many people strolling through to abide by social distancing guidelines.
Chanel Griggs and Layena Williams, two street performers costumed in black lingerie, tiaras and purple and white showgirl feathers, said New Year’s Eve is one of their most lucrative nights as they pose for photos with tourists and collect tips.
“It’s very busy and there’s a lot of people, like drunk people. They give us more money than they usually would. So that’s why we all come out,” Griggs said.
The tourist-dependent economy of Las Vegas has been pummeled this year because of the coronavirus, leaving officials like Sisolak urging people, especially locals, to stay home, while still trying to draw visitors to the glitzty city.
New Year’s Eve is typically one of the biggest parties the city sees all year, with more than 330,000 revelers, a choreographed fireworks show launched from the roofs of casinos, nightclub galas, concerts and other entertainment.
This year casinos are limited to 25% capacity, most nightclubs are closed and the fireworks show was canceled.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— NYC mayor aims for 1 million people vaccinated in January
— Warp Speed effort to vaccinate millions in US off to slow start
— Britain uses ads to urge residents to ‘see in New Year safely at home’
— 2020 is finally ending, but New Year’s Eve revelries around the world will be muted by the coronavirus
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
BEIJING — Two major airports in northeastern China are requiring departing passengers show a negative coronavirus test taken over the previous 72 hours before they can board their planes.
The requirements by the Shenyang and Dalian come amid a small but persistent growth in cases in the two cities located in Liaoning province just north of the capital Beijing.
Four new cases were announced Friday in Liaoning, along with another five cases in Beijing, where emergency testing was ordered for more than a million people following the detection of a small cluster in the northeastern suburbs.
Wary of another wave of infections, China is urging tens of millions of migrant workers to stay put during next month’s annual Lunar New Year holiday, usually the world’s largest annual human migration. Classes are also being dismissed a week earlier than usual and tourists are being told not to come to Beijing for holidays.
China on Friday reported a total of 19 new virus cases, including 10 that were brought from outside the country. Since the novel coronavirus was first detected in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019, China has reported a total of 87,071 cases and 4,634 deaths, although some question whether those figures underreport the full extent of the outbreak in China the country.
MIAMI — Florida health authorities late Thursday reported finding evidence of the latest U.S. case of the new and apparently more contagious coronavirus strain first seen in England, saying it was detected in a man with no recent travel history.
The case, disclosed in a Florida Health Department statement tweeted on its HealthyFla site, comes after reports in recent days of two individual cases of the United Kingdom strain of Covid-19 discovered in Colorado and California.
Florida’s health statement said the new virus variant was detected in a man in his 20s in Martin County, which abuts the Atlantic Coast above densely populated South Florida. The health department did not give further details, such as releasing the man’s medical condition or how the strain was detected.
California on Wednesday announced the nation’s second confirmed case of the new virus strain. The announcement came 24 hours after word of the first reported U.S. variant infection, which emerged in Colorado — in a Colorado National Guardsman who had been sent to help out at a nursing home struggling with an outbreak.
Scientists in the U.K. believe the variant is more contagious than previously identified strains. The cases have triggered questions about how the version circulating in England arrived in the U.S. and whether it is too late to stop it now, with top experts saying it is probably already spreading elsewhere in the United States.
LONDON — The coronavirus pandemic canceled London’s annual New Years’ Eve fireworks display, which usually draws tens of thousands of spectators.
But an unannounced light and fireworks display over the River Thames broadcast on BBC television just before midnight paid tribute to an extraordinary year, with tributes to health care workers, a reference to the Black Lives Matter movement and even a voice saying “you’re on mute” in reference to a bugbear of virtual work meetings.
The display ended with naturalist David Attenborough calling on everyone to work in 2021 to help our “fragile” planet. ___
LATHAM, N.Y. -- Officials in upstate New York say nine nuns at a convent have died of causes related to COVID-19 in just over a month.
An Albany County spokesperson says in a statement to the Times Union newspaper that officials are aware of the deaths among the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in Latham.
WNYT-TV reported earlier in December that 22 sisters had tested positive. The convent’s website says it is home to 140 nuns.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany says the convent is not ready to issue a statement.
TOPEKA, Kan. —- Kansas ranks last among states in its reported COVID-19 vaccination rate, according to U.S. government data, and state officials attribute it to a lag in reporting by providers of the shots.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 12,164 people had received the first of two vaccine doses in Kansas as of Wednesday, or 418 for every 100,000 of its 2.9 million residents. The CDC said Kansas had administered less than 11% of the vaccine doses it had received.
The figures sparked new criticism of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic from the Republican-controlled Legislature after months of conflict between her and top GOP lawmakers.
State health department spokeswoman Ashley Jones-Wisner said Thursday the vaccination numbers are not current because not all providers are fully trained on using a computer system for reporting inoculations.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Arkansas health secretary Dr. Jose Romero on Thursday extended the 11 p.m. closing time for bars, restaurants and clubs that serve alcohol for 30 days in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
An order issued Thursday by Romero says that in consulting with Gov. Asa Hutchinson it was deemed necessary to extend the 11 p.m. closing until Feb. 3 to help control COVID-19. The previous order issued in November was to expire Sunday.
The state health department reports that as of Wednesday there have been 222,430 total coronavirus cases and 3,637 deaths since the pandemic began.
GENEVA — The World Health Organization says it has cleared the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, meaning poorer countries may soon get access to the shot already available in Europe and North America.
Every country that has a drug regulatory agency will have to issue its own approval for any COVID-19 vaccine, but countries with weak systems usually rely on WHO to vet the shots.
The global body said late Thursday that the decision to issue its first emergency use validation for a COVID-19 vaccine “opens the door for countries to expedite their own regulatory approval processes to import and administer the vaccine.”
The U.N. health agency said its review found the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has already received clearance in the United States, Britain, the European Union and a dozen other countries, “met the must-have criteria for safety and efficacy set out by WHO.”
The BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine has to be stored at ultra-frozen temperatures, a big hurdle for developing countries where the required freezers and reliable electricity supply may not be available.
“This requirement makes the vaccine more challenging to deploy in settings where ultra-cold chain equipment may not be available or reliably accessible,” WHO said, adding that it was “working to support countries in assessing their delivery plans and preparing for use where possible.”
MIAMI — Health authorities are reporting the highest daily jump in COVID-19 cases ever detected in Florida, as the state known for attracting retirees grapples with overwhelming demand for the new vaccine among seniors.
The state’s Department of Health reported on Thursday 17,192 new confirmed cases and 133 new deaths, raising the toll to 21,857.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has asked anxious seniors for patience citing the vaccine is still in limited supply.
The top state official overseeing the vaccine distribution said the systems set up to sign up for the vaccine in the state “aren’t meeting the moment.”
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia is further tightening restrictive measures amid a record surge of new coronavirus infections.
Health Minister Marek Krajci says the new restrictions include a ban on meeting of people from different households, including relatives.
At the same time, ski resorts and churches in this Roman Catholic stronghold have to be closed. People also have to stay inside their counties if they go out and work from home if possible.
Krajci says the new measures become effective on the New Year.
The country of 5.4 million had 179,543 confirmed cases with 2,138 deaths. The day-to-day increase hit a record of 6,315 cases on Wednesday, over 2,000 more than the previous record set on Dec 24.
PARIS — Under fire for a glacially slow rollout of its first coronavirus vaccine shots, France’s government is pledging to pick up the pace, offering quicker inoculation to a broader array of health care workers from next week.
President Emmanuel Macron intervened in what is becoming an increasingly sharp debate about the French start of vaccinations, using his traditional New Year’s address to the nation on Thursday night to promise that he will personally ensure that the program does not drag its heels.
Before Macron spoke, his health minister tweeted that shots would be offered from Monday to health care workers aged 50 and over.
Only a few hundred people were vaccinated in the days after the first shot was injected Sunday into the arm of a 78-year-old in a long-term care facility. Consent requirements have slowed up the process.
Officials are also treading cautiously because of widespread skepticism in France around the safety of the rapidly developed vaccines.
NEW ORLEANS — People 70 and over will be able to get vaccinated against the coronavirus starting next week. Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Thursday as he detailed plans for distributing the state’s next shipment of vaccines using a network of pharmacies.
The announcement came one day after the state saw a record one-day total of new coronavirus infections.
Starting next week, a network of about 100 pharmacies will start to receive limited doses of the Moderna vaccine. Seniors 70 and older and certain health care workers will be able to make an appointment at one of the participating pharmacies to get the first of the two-shot vaccine.
Edwards says there are nearly 500,000 people aged 70 and older in the state and stressed that the process will take time.
LOS ANGELES — California has surpassed 25,000 deaths from coronavirus, the third state to reach the number.
New York has nearly 38,000 deaths and Texas has more than 27,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
A surge has swamped hospitals with COVID-19 patients in Southern California and the agricultural San Joaquin Valley. Hospitals are housing patients in hallways, conference rooms, a cafeteria and gift shops. Makeshift hospitals are being set up in tents, arenas and schools.
This week, Los Angeles County had 274 deaths in 24 hours for a record toll of 10,056 deaths. The nation’s most populated county has about 40% of California’s virus deaths.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The University of Michigan’s Big House has been transformed into The Big Vaccine Clinic.
A few hundred University of Michigan medical professionals and students who work in health care settings received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday at Michigan Stadium, one of the nation’s largest sporting venues.
The Michigan Stadium clinic is not open to the public. Those who visited on Thursday’s opening day did so by appointment only and fall into the vaccine priority group Phase 1A category. The university says its employees and students will receive a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine dose at the football stadium clinic, which hosted up to 100,000 people on football Saturdays and has plenty of parking.
The rollout of vaccines started earlier this month across the state.
Michigan reported more than 4,200 new virus cases Wednesday and 51 deaths. More than 12,000 residents have died since March.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee ends the year ranked first in coronavirus cases per capita.
There were 1,426 cases per 100,000 Tennesseans over the past two weeks, which ranks first in the nation for new cases per capita, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins University.
Those numbers coupled with delays in the state’s virus vaccination rollout are causing health leaders to stress diligence in social distancing and mask wearing in 2021.
Tennessee allowing people 75 and older to be immunized on Thursday and resulted in long lines.
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis skipped a New Year’s Eve thanksgiving prayer service because of back pain and acknowledged some might question why give thanks during a pandemic.
A Vatican cardinal stood in for the pope in St. Peter’s Basilica on Thursday evening and read aloud the homily that Francis had prepared before a bout of sciatica forced him to scrap the appearance.
Francis encouraged those trying to make sense of the COVID-19 pandemic, with all its death and suffering, to instead summon up compassion to take care of those in need. He offered thanks for doctors, nurses and volunteers on the front lines in caring for patients. Francis also expressed gratitude to school officials and teachers.
JOHANNESBURG — Many South Africans will light candles to mark New Year’s Eve amid coronavirus restrictions, including a nighttime curfew and a ban on liquor sales.
Instead of ushering in 2021 at packed events with dance music and fireworks, many South Africans are responding to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s call to light a candle to honor those who have died and the health workers who are on the frontline of battling the disease.
South Africa’s current resurgence of the coronavirus is fueled by a new, possibly more infectious variant. The country announced a record 17,710 new cases and 465 deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the total cumulative number of cases to more than 1 million and 28,033 confirmed deaths.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize will broadcast a candle lighting ceremony from a hospital in Durban. The mayor of Johannesburg will light a candle at the city’s Nelson Mandela bridge.