The Latest: Texas state judge upholds Austin’s mask mandate
AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas judge is allowing the City of Austin to continue to require face coverings in local businesses weeks after Gov. Greg Abbott ended a statewide mask mandate and other COVID-19 safety measures.
The ruling Friday by state District Judge Lora Livingston is at least a temporary victory for local leaders in the liberal state capital who have repeatedly clashed with Abbott over his handling of the pandemic.
Face coverings have only ever been loosely enforced in Texas, which earlier this month became the biggest state to drop COVID-19 restrictions.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is expected to appeal the ruling.
The roughly 3,400 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Texas is the lowest number since October. On Monday, Texas will begin making all adults eligible for coronavirus vaccinations.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
VACCINES: More than 89.5 million people, or 27% of the U.S. population, have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some 48.6 million people, or 14.7% of the population, have completed their vaccination.
CASES: The seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the U.S. increased over the past two weeks from 55,516 on March 11 to 58,617 on Thursday, according to Johns Hopkins University.
DEATHS: The seven-day rolling average for daily new deaths in the U.S. decreased over the past two weeks decreased from 1,371 on March 11 to 967 on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.
— China outlines COVID-origin findings, ahead of WHO report
— Mexico’s pandemic death toll passes 200,000
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
GENEVA — A leader of the U.N.-backed program to ship coronavirus vaccines to needy people in low- and middle-income countries has expressed disappointment about supply delays from a key Indian manufacturer, but says he hopes the United States can begin sharing shots soon.
Dr. Seth Berkley is the CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and he says doses for health care workers and other high-risk groups in such countries to be delivered through the COVAX program will be set back weeks.
He was elaborating Friday on an announcement a day earlier from Gavi and partners that as many as 90 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India will be delayed through the end of April as India’s government grapples with a spike in cases.
Berkley says that “we had hoped to reach all health care workers and high-risk groups by the end of March.”
He says talks continue with India’s government and SII “with the hope that we can get some of those doses freed up and be able to then move back into full swing scale-up later, in perhaps May.”
PRAGUE — The Czech Republic’s lower house of Parliament has voted to extend the state of emergency in one of the hardest hit European Union countries till April 11. The house’s approval enables the government to keep in place a tight lockdown through Easter that ends on April 5.
Among the restrictions that became effective on March 1, people have been banned from traveling to other counties unless they go to work or have to take care of relatives. They are part of the measures that are believed to contribute to slowing down the spread of a highly contagious virus variant first found in Britain.
The day-to-day increase of new cases reached 7,853 on Thursday. It was the lowest number for a week day since Feb 8, and about 25% less than the same day a week ago.
According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the 14-day case notification rate of new cases per 100,000 inhabitants was 1,328 in the Czech Republic, still the second highest in the EU after Estonia. The nation of 10.7 million had 1.5 million confirmed cases with 25,639 deaths.
JUNEAU, Alaska — The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development reported that the state had 22,300 fewer jobs last month than it did in February 2020, citing an ongoing economic toll from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The department said the biggest losses were in the leisure and hospitality sector, which had 7,300 fewer jobs last month than in February 2020. Oil and gas had 3,900 fewer jobs, and the transportation, warehousing and utilities sector had 1,800 fewer jobs.
The report showed 2,000 fewer local government jobs last month compared to February 2020, with losses primarily tied to K-12 education. There were 200 more jobs in state government compared to February 2020, which the report says is largely due to pandemic-related hires for work such as contract tracing and processing unemployment insurance claims.
The department says job losses remain “historically large,” with unemployment claims during the second week of last month nearly four times higher than the same week a year earlier.
PHOENIX — Health officials in Arizona announced an outdoor state-run COVID-19 mass vaccination site in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler will be replaced April 5 by a drive-thru operation inside a large business warehouse in Mesa in advance of approaching hot weather.
The Department of Health Services announced the vaccination site now run at Chandler-Gilbert Community College will use 30,000 square feet (2,787 square meters) of a 500,000-square-foot (46,451-square-meter) distribution center belonging to Dexcom Inc.
Republican Gov. Doug Ducey said the site switch will maintain the state’s vaccination program’s presence in southeastern Maricopa County while protecting staff, volunteers and people getting vaccinated.
The department said the 24-hour site at State Farm Stadium in Glendale will convert to overnight operations only and additional indoor sites are being sought in preparation for summer heat.
Department officials say people who received first doses at the Chandler-Gilbert facility on or after March 14 have been scheduled for their second doses at the Dexcom site, which will operate 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week.
ATHENS, Greece — Authorities in Greece said students and teachers will have to use self-test kits for COVID-19 in order to attend classes when schools reopen.
Greece is planning to make the test kits freely available on a weekly basis to every resident of the country with a social security number, starting next month. The program is designed to allow for the reopening of schools as well as restaurants and retail businesses which have remained mostly closed since the lockdown was imposed in early November.
Vassilis Kontozamanis, the deputy health minister, said a legislative amendment in parliament would be needed to make testing mandatory for school attendance.
Greece is currently grappling with a surge in coronavirus infections which has seen many hospitals run by the state health system reach capacity. The country’s center-right government says it plans to launch the tourism season in mid-May but has not yet given a date for schools and retail businesses to reopen. School children of all ages are currently attending compulsory online classes.
NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus’ Health Ministry says the spread of the U.K. variant of the coronavirus throughout the east Mediterranean island nation has marked an “alarming” increase, making up 95.5% of all new infections from Feb. 16 through Mar. 6.
The Ministry said statistics show that cases of the U.K. variant have more than doubled from the two-week period covering Feb. 1-Feb. 15.
It said various studies completed within several European countries have indicated that the U.K. variant is 50% more contagious. In Cyprus, it’s also appearing in younger COVID-19 patients which has resulted in more hospitalizations of younger people.
Between Mar. 10-Mar. 23, 5,093 new COVID-19 cases have been diagnosed. The 14-day cumulative diagnosis rate is 573.5 per 100,000 population.
As of Mar. 23, a total of 42,028 COVID-19 cases have been diagnosed on the island nation of around 900,000 people, of which 248 died due to COVID-19.
COLUMBIA, S.C. — The governor of South Carolina has opened up COVID-19 vaccination to all of the state’s residents ages 16 and up, saying the state could begin scheduling appointments next week and receive the vaccine starting March 31.
Gov. Henry McMaster’s decision moves ahead to an all-inclusive vaccination eligibility, which the state had been anticipating to implement in May. South Carolina joins at least a dozen states who have either opened vaccination eligibility to all residents age 16 and older.
As of this week, more than 1.1 million in South Carolina had gotten at least one vaccine dose, or about 27%, according to public health officials. Nearly 618,000 had been fully vaccinated, or about 15%.
TOPEKA, Kan. — The governor of Kansas has announced that the state is making everyone over the age of 16 eligible to get the coronavirus vaccine starting Monday.
“With the anticipated increase in supply from the federal government, we must get every dose of vaccine into arms quickly,” Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly said in a statement.
She added: “I strongly encourage every Kansan to get the COVID-19 vaccine so we can get back to school, back to work, and back to normal.”
Several other states also have made the vaccine available to all adults, including Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Utah, and West Virginia.
As of Friday, 35.1% of the adult population in Kansas had received at least one dose of the vaccine.
SALEM, Ore. — The governor of Oregon has said she will accelerate the state’s vaccine eligibility timeline by two weeks for residents over age 16 with underlying medical conditions, frontline workers and those living in multi-generational homes.
Democratic Gov. Kate Brown said those groups will now be eligible to sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine on April 5. Those over age 45 with underlying conditions become eligible for the vaccine on Monday and are already eligible in 22 counties that have already inoculated most of their older population.
Brown said all residents over the age of 16 will become eligible for vaccination no later than May 1. Brown said the number of counties ahead of schedule on vaccinating their population and increased vaccine supply from the federal government made it possible to speed up the timeline.
GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization is asking rich countries to donate at least 10 million coronavirus vaccines so the U.N. health agency can reach its goal of vaccination in all countries within the first 100 days of 2021.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says supply problems faced by the U.N.-backed effort COVAX, which aims to provide vaccines to all countries, means that about 20 countries are still awaiting their first doses of vaccines from the program.
Tedros says he’s also asking manufacturers to scale up their production so extra vaccines could be donated to poorer countries. He slammed the numerous private deals countries have struck with pharmaceuticals that have meant fewer vaccines for developing countries and warned COVAX would need many more hundreds of millions of vaccines in the coming months.
On Thursday, WHO’s COVAX partner Gavi, announced supply problems meant it would have to delay the delivery of about 90 million vaccines until about May.
BUFFALO, N.Y. — The latest federal coronavirus relief package includes $81 billion to help schools reopen quickly.
However, some parents want to keep their children home, and social distancing guidelines determined by states may mean schools can’t bring all students back at once.
Oregon’s Hillsboro district plans to introduce limited in-person learning for some students this month. Ohio’s Youngstown district doesn’t expect the money to change its numbers before the school year ends. And surveys in Virginia’s Fairfax County indicate many families in the state’s largest district may not want more time in classrooms.
PHOENIX — Arizona on Friday reported 571 new coronavirus cases and 24 deaths as the number of virus-related hospitalizations remained fairly stable.
There were 626 COVID-19 patients occupying hospitals on Thursday, down from 628 on Wednesday and only a fraction of the pandemic high of 5,082 on Jan. 11, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard.
The daily new cases rolling average dropped from 1,364 on March 10 to 483 on Wednesday. The daily deaths rolling average dropped from 46 to 33, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
The state’s pandemic totals increased to 838,558 confirmed cases and 16,898 confirmed deaths.