The Latest: Australia state to begin easing out of lockdown
SYDNEY — Parts of Australia’s New South Wales state will come out of lockdown Saturday and the government plans to ease restrictions in Sydney once 70% of its residents aged 16 and older are fully vaccinated.
The government on Thursday outlined plans to ease restrictions in Sydney, which has been locked down since June, but it also warned that COVID-19 hospitalizations won’t plateau until next month.
Coastal areas north of Sydney, the Murrumbidgee region south of the city and the Riverina to the west will be released from the statewide lockdown Saturday.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian says Australia’s most populous state will exit lockdown in a “cautious and staged” way as vaccination rates rise. In New South Wales, 43% of the population aged 16 and older is fully vaccinated.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— Idaho patients in hospital halls amid COVID rationed care
— Ida and COVID-19: ‘Twin-demic’ slams Louisiana hospitals
— WHO chief urges halt to booster shots for rest of the year
— COVID-19 surge in the US: The summer of hope ends in gloom
— Read AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
HONOLULU — The state of Hawaii is launching a program that will allow people to use their smart phones to prove they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The move comes shortly before Honolulu and Maui begin instituting vaccine requirements for patrons of restaurants and other businesses.
State officials say people who have been vaccinated in Hawaii will be able to upload a photo of their paper vaccination card to the Safe Travels Hawaii website to create a digital vaccination record. The website will crosscheck the information with data in the state’s vaccination database.
Diners may show the record to restaurants in lieu of their paper vaccination card.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand is buying an extra 250,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine from Spain as it tries to keep a surge in vaccination rates going during an outbreak of the coronavirus in Auckland.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the doses will arrive Friday and she has also got a second, larger deal in the works with another country.
New Zealand was slow to get its vaccination rollout going but has been catching up to other developed since the outbreak of the delta variant began last month. About 55% of New Zealanders have received at least one dose.
New daily community cases have been decreasing and were down to 13 Thursday. Auckland remains in a strict lockdown and health authorities try to extinguish the outbreak entirely.
CARSON CITY, Nev. — All 17 counties in Nevada will be subject to an indoor mask mandate by the end of the week.
Rural Eureka County is the state’s only jurisdiction currently not subject to such a requirement, but its report of high transmission of coronavirus infections for the second week in a row have triggered the mandate to take effect Friday.
The reintroduction of masks and the debut of vaccine requirements in venues like sporting events, conventions and some schools has been met with resistance across the state. In the Las Vegas area, Clark County School District Board of Trustees President Linda Cavazos has received death threats since the district approved a requirement for employees to get vaccinations.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California lawmakers have shelved bills aimed at requiring workers to either be vaccinated against the coronavirus or get weekly virus tests to keep their jobs.
One measure by Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks would have required all workers to either get the coronavirus vaccine or submit to weekly testing. Another bill by Assemblyman Evan Low sought to make sure state law protected businesses that choose to require their workers to be vaccinated.
Neither bill will advance this year.
On Wednesday, more than a thousand people gathered at the state Capitol to protest vaccine mandates. Organizers say they wanted to let lawmakers know they oppose the bills.
ATLANTA — Atlanta’s public safety net hospital is the latest to temporarily cancel elective surgeries, saying it is overrun with COVID-19 patients.
Grady Memorial Hospital CEO John Haupert said Wednesday that the hospital was “inundated” with patients over Labor Day.
Some other Georgia hospitals have already cancelled elective procedures due to the surge in pandemic cases. More than 5,900 people are in Georgia hospitals with COVID-19.
Gov. Brian Kemp has rejected urgings from two Georgia congressmen that he order elective surgeries be postponed in all Georgia hospitals.
Kemp says the congressmen could better help by persuading the federal government to limit how much staffing companies can charge to provide nurses and other workers to supplement hospital capacity. He also says they should demand clearer federal guidance on plans to provide COVID-19 booster shots.
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Some South Carolina cities are bringing back indoor mask requirements as the state’s coronavirus outbreak rivals the height of the pandemic last winter before vaccines were widely available.
The cities of Columbia, West Columbia and Cayce in central South Carolina have all adopted requirements that people wear masks in indoor public places except while eating and a few other exceptions.
South Carolina has never had a statewide mask mandate but it allowed local governments to do so in 2020. Most of the mandates faded away after Gov. Henry McMaster ended a 14-month COVID-19 state of emergency in June when the state was seeing about 150 new cases a day.
Now, South Carolina is seeing about 5,400 new coronavirus cases a day, similar to the pandemic’s peak in January.
JACKSON, Miss. -- Mississippi is closing its only remaining field hospital for treating COVID-19 patients during the delta variant surge, but it is still relying on out-of-state workers to help increase ICU capacity in state hospitals.
A state health officials said Wednesday that the field hospital set up by Christian relief charity Samaritan’s Purse is in the process of decommissioning. A field hospital on the University of Mississippi Medical Center campus set up with health care workers from the federal government was decommissioned last month.
The official says Mississippi is seeing a small improvement in hospital bed availability, but ICU capacity continues to be “very scarce.”
The state had 1,660 people hospitalized for COVID-19 on Aug. 18, compared with 1,285 on Tuesday.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia health officials say some rural hospitals have reached their critical bed capacities as coronavirus cases and deaths continue to surge statewide.
They are pleading with the public to avoid unnecessary ER visits to let hospitals focus their resources on treating COVID-19 patients.
There were 813 COVID-19 patients hospitalized statewide Wednesday, just below the record 818 on Jan. 5 when vaccination efforts were starting. There are 252 virus patients in ICUs and 132 patients on ventilators — both all-time highs.
The state’s coronavirus expert says “our hospitals are being stressed in ways that they haven’t been stressed before.”
In southern West Virginia, for instance, Princeton Community Hospital has no ICU beds available due to an increase in COVID-related patients.
BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana’s hospitals, crammed with coronavirus patients and Hurricane Ida-related emergency visits, are starting to see a bit of much-needed relief from the latest surge of COVID-19.
Hospitalizations from the coronavirus have been consistently falling over the last three weeks after breaking records and reaching 3,022 patients on Aug. 18.
The state health department reports that that number has now dropped to 1,895. It’s the first time it has been below 2,000 since the end of July.
Public health officials caution that hospitals continue to struggle with medical needs tied to cleanup and recovery from Ida.
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland is authorizing COVID-19 booster shots for all residents 65 and older who live in congregate care settings.
Gov. Larry Hogan says residents in nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, residential drug treatment centers and developmentally disabled group homes are eligible.
Hogan told a news conference Wednesday that “boosters can now be immediately administered.”
While the federal government has yet to say when most people should get booster shots, Hogan said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has approved them for people who are immunocompromised, and a Maryland study indicates many in those facilities are immunocompromised.
He said the state is “following CDC guidance but broadening the definition.”
DENVER — A Colorado county’s public health department director says officials took three mobile COVID-19 vaccination clinics off the streets after workers were harassed while providing inoculations over Labor Day weekend.
Jefferson County Public Health executive director Dawn Comstock says staff at a mobile vaccine clinic in Gilpin County were yelled at and threatened by people passing by, The Denver Post reports.
Comstock says a driver ran over and destroyed signs put up around the vaccine clinic’s tent.
In a separate incident, someone also threw an unidentified liquid at a nurse working a different mobile clinic in front of a restaurant.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A Florida judge has ruled the state cannot enforce its ban on mask mandates in public schools while an appeals court sorts out whether the ban is legal.
Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper lifted an automatic stay of his decision last week that Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and state education officials exceeded their authority by imposing the blanket ban through executive order.
Cooper says the overwhelming evidence before him in a lawsuit by parents challenging the ban shows wearing masks does provide some protection for children in crowded school settings — particularly those under 12, who are not yet able to get vaccinated.
“We’re not in normal times. We are in a pandemic,” Cooper said during a remote hearing. “We have a variant that is more infectious and dangerous to children than the one we had last year.”
The case next goes before the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee.
TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona’s second most populous county is prodding its workforce to get COVID-19 vaccinations by requiring employees who refuse the shots to pay more for their health insurance.
The Pima County Board of Supervisors voted to make unvaccinated employees lose discounts amounting to about $1,570 annually. Supervisor Steve Christy voted in opposition, saying the move was wrong and it’s illegal to penalize workers who choose to not get vaccinated.
The board previously authorized a $300 bonus plus three days of paid leave for county workers who have been vaccinated.
MADRID — Spanish health authorities have authorized the use of an additional shot of a COVID-19 vaccine only for people with suppressed immune systems, such as organ transplant recipients.
The government’s board of experts deemed it was too early to recommend a booster shot for the population at large. Health Minister Carolina Darias says authorities will be studying other groups that could benefit from a third shot.
Nearly 73% of Spain’s 34 million people are fully vaccinated.
WASHINGTON — The summer was supposed to mark America’s independence from COVID-19 but it’s ending with the U.S. firmly under the command of the coronavirus, with deaths per day back up to levels in March.
The delta variant is filling hospitals, sickening alarming numbers of children and driving coronavirus deaths in some places to the highest levels of the entire pandemic. School systems that reopened their classrooms are abruptly switching back to remote learning because of outbreaks.
The U.S. recorded 26,800 deaths and more than 4.2 million infections in August. The number of monthly positive cases was the fourth-highest total since the start of the pandemic.
The U.S. is averaging over 150,000 new cases per day, levels not seen since January. Deaths are close to 1,500 per day, up more than a third since late August. Overall, the outbreak is still well below the all-time peaks reached over the winter when deaths topped out at 3,400 a day and new cases at 250,000 per day.
The U.S. death toll stands at more than 650,000, with one major forecast model projecting it will top 750,000 by Dec. 1.
HONOLULU — A resort in the famed tourist mecca of Waikiki will be the first in Hawaii to require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for all employees and guests.
Starting Oct. 15, Alohilani Resort will require employees, patrons and guests to show proof they’re fully vaccinated. The requirement will be in place for the six other Waikiki properties owned or operated by the Highgate real estate investment and hospitality management company.
Hotel officials say it’s the right thing to do as Hawaii struggles with a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations because of the highly contagious delta variant.
There was an average of 706 newly confirmed daily cases across Hawaii between Aug. 30 and Sept. 5, according to the state Department of Health. Hawaii’s vaccination rate stands at 64%.