The Latest: Mexico sees near-record daily coronavirus deaths
MEXICO CITY — Mexico reported a near-record 1,707 confirmed coronavirus deaths Wednesday, as the country runs out of vaccines.
The Health Department reported Mexico’s COVID-19 deaths now total 161,240, and confirmed infections rose by 12,153 to nearly 1.89 million. Estimates based on excess-death statistics suggest the real death toll is over 195,000.
Mexico approved Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine Tuesday, but has not yet signed a purchase contract and does not have a firm date for its first delivery. The government had hoped to get 400,000 doses by the end of February.
Mexico has received about 766,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and has administered about 686,000 shots, with much of the remainder set aside for second doses. The next Pfizer shipment is not expected until mid-February.
Meanwhile, the government website set up to register people for vaccines when they do arrive was overwhelmed and inoperable for a second straight day.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
Spain surpasses 60,000 confirmed virus deaths. CDC: Schools can safely reopen without teacher shots; data indicates social distancing and wearing masks help prevent virus spread. Dr. Fauci suggests watching Super Bowl at home with household to avoid spreading coronavirus. Japan to enforce mandatory coronavirus orders with fines. British officials say Oxford study backs up their decision to delay second vaccine shot for up to 12 weeks. World Health Organization investigators visit Chinese virus lab that’s subject of speculation about coronavirus origins.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
TOPEKA, Kan. — The Kansas health department says a more contagious variant of the coronavirus first identified in Great Britain has arrived in the state.
The health department reported Wednesday evening that a case of the variant had been identified in Ellis County in northwestern Kansas. The department said officials are conducting an investigation to determine how the patient contracted the virus and whether other people were exposed. It did not release details about the patient.
Health department head and Dr. Lee Norman said the public health advice about avoiding large gatherings, wearing masks and maintaining social distancing has not changed.
The arrival of the variant comes with Kansas seeing an improvement in its COVID-19 case numbers. According to state health department data, Kansas averaged 914 new confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases a day for the seven days ending Wednesday, the first time the rolling seven-day average was below 1,000 since Oct. 28.
OKLAHOMA CITY -- About 11,500 doses of the coronavirus vaccine will be shipped to pharmacies across Oklahoma next week, state health officials said.
Deputy state health commissioner Keith Reed said the shipment is part of a plan by President Joe Biden’s administration to distribute 1 million doses to some 6,500 pharmacies nationwide. The pharmacies signed on to the federal distribution program and the state is not involved in allocation.
“We anticipate there’s probably going to be around 75 total pharmacies that will receive some level of vaccine inventory,” Reed said. “They’re going to have limited vaccine ... maybe 100 doses or 200 doses,” for the week.
The health department reported an additional 52 Oklahoma deaths due to COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, and 2,119 coronavirus cases for 3,654 deaths and 394,283 cases since the pandemic began.
Interim Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye said virus testing at Oklahoma State University may have also found the first case of a variant of the virus, but that the testing was not performed under standard research protocols.
“Yes, it has been identified, but they are doing further studies now to see ... the extent and if it’s really there,” Frye said. He did not say which variant.
TORONTO — Canada’s most populous province of Ontario will reopen all schools for in class learning this month despite the presence of new coronavirus variants and a high number of infections in Toronto and its suburbs.
The majority of schools will reopen Monday while those in Toronto and its suburbs will resume in-person learning on Feb 16. There are no plans to vaccinate teachers.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce says returning kids to school safely is crucial for their development and mental health. All students in Ontario began in January with online learning as part of a provincial lockdown. The Ontario government previously said that all students currently learning online would be able to return to classrooms by Feb. 10.
SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco has taken a dramatic step in its effort to get kids back in public schools, suing its own school district to try to force classrooms to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The lawsuit is the first of its kind in California and possibly the country, as school systems come under increasing pressure from parents and politicians to end online learning. With support from Mayor London Breed, City Attorney Dennis Herrera on Wednesday sued the San Francisco Board of Education and the San Francisco Unified School District.
Teachers unions in many large school districts, including San Francisco, say they won’t go back to classrooms until they are vaccinated.
“Not a single San Francisco public school student has set foot in their classroom in 347 days,” said City Attorney Dennis Herrera said at a news conference, calling it shameful and also unlawful. “More than 54,000 San Francisco schoolchildren are suffering. They are being turned into Zoom-bies by online school. Enough is enough.”
PORTLAND, Ore. — A judge has ordered all inmates in the Oregon prison system to be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccinations — a move that should make prisoners immediately eligible for inoculation.
The Oregonian/OregonLive reports the preliminary injunction issued Tuesday orders all Oregon Department of Corrections inmates be offered a vaccine as part of phase 1A, group 2, of Oregon’s COVID-19 vaccination plan — putting prison inmates in the same category as people living in nursing homes and other congregate care settings.
The order should make prisoners eligible for vaccines now, but it’s not clear if they’ll move ahead of teachers or the elderly. But given that the Oregon Health Authority dictates where vaccines are shipped, the state has the ability to redirect doses for prisons. The order will allow adults in custody to “stand in the same line” as others in congregate living facilities with a high risk of COVID-19 infection, Chavez said.
LONDON — People up and down the U.K. took to their doorstep to honor Captain Tom Moore with a national clap, a day after the 100-year-old died after testing positive for COVID-19.
The British World War II veteran walked into the hearts of the nation during the first coronavirus lockdown last April when he shuffled up and down his garden to raise an astonishing 33 million pounds ($40 million) for health care workers.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson had earlier urged the public to join in the clap “to show our appreciation for him and all that he stood for and believed in.”
Captain Tom’s family said they were “incredibly touched” by the gesture and took part outside their home in the village of Marston Moretaine in Bedfordshire.
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey says it has detected two cases of the COVID-19 variant that was first found in South Africa and one case of the Brazilian variant.
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said Wednesday that all three patients with the South Africa and Brazil variants are being kept in isolation in hospitals, along with people they had been in contact with. He did not provide further information on the patients.
Koca also raised to 196 the number of people who have been infected with the variant which was first detected in southeast England.
Turkey had temporarily suspended flights from Britain, Denmark, South Africa and Brazil in a bid to prevent the spread of the variants, which researchers believe to be more infections.
LONDON — Researchers from Oxford University say AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine does more than protect people from falling seriously ill, it also appears to reduce transmission of the virus.
The study released on Wednesday suggested a single dose of the AstraZeneca formula provides a high level of protection for 12 weeks.
The preliminary findings from Oxford University, a co-developer of the vaccine, could vindicate the British government’s controversial strategy of delaying the second shot so that more people can get a first dose. Up to now, the recommended time between the first and second dose has been four weeks.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert, dismissed deliberately delaying second shots. He says the U.S. will “go by the science” and data from the clinical trials. The doses of the Pifzer and Moderna vaccines used in the U.S. are to be given three and four weeks apart.
Britain is using vaccines by AstraZeneca and Pfizer. AstraZeneca has also been authorized by the 27-nation European Union.
Pfizer has not endorsed the British government’s decision to lengthen the time between doses.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California is joining with the federal government to open two new vaccination centers as test areas for President Joseph Biden’s effort to create 100 mass vaccination sites nationwide in 100 days.
Gov. Gavin Newsom says the sites at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum and California State University, Los Angeles, will be jointly run with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The move comes as California’s most deadly pandemic surge eases but as the state struggles with vaccine shortages in a race to vaccinate the most vulnerable. Newsom pitched the new sites as part of the larger effort to target communities that might otherwise be left behind.
California reported 13,134 confirmed cases on Tuesday. The state has registered nearly 42,000 total deaths, second behind New York with 44,000 confirmed deaths.
MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Nicaragua’s government says it has approved Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine for emergency use.
The government outlet El 19 Digital says, “Nicaragua is advancing in its negotiations with Russia to supply” the vaccine. It was the first vaccine approved in Nicaragua, which still awaits its first doses.
The government had said in January it had initiated efforts to acquire vaccines from various laboratories around the world and hoped to vaccinate 3.7 million people in an initial stage.
The government of President Daniel Ortega has been criticized for not implementing stricter health measures to slow the spread of the virus. Nicaragua has 170 confirmed deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
MADRID — The coronavirus pandemic has crushed Spain’s key tourism industry, with visitors dropping from 84 million to 19 million last year.
The decrease snapped a seven-year trend of annual records. The National Statistics Institute says income from tourism plunged to just 20 billion euros ($24 billion) in 2020, a 79% decrease.
It was estimated that tourism represented some 11% of Spain’s 1.1 trillion-euro GDP before the pandemic. It has long ranked among the top three tourism destinations, along with France and the United States.
Authorities hope Spain’s vaccination program will boost confidence among travelers.
Spain aims for 30% to 40% of its population vaccinated in the second quarter and 70% during the summer.
WASHINGTON — The Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says schools can safely reopen even if teachers are not vaccinated for the coronavirus.
As some teachers’ unions balk at resuming in-person instruction before teachers are inoculated, Dr. Rochelle Walensky says, “Vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools.” Walensky cited CDC data showing that social distancing and wearing a mask significantly reduce the spread of the virus in school settings.
White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients called on Congress to pass additional funding to ensure schools have the resources necessary to support reopening.
President Joe Biden has pledged to ensure nearly all K-8 schools will reopen for in-person instruction in the first 100 days of his administration.
Teachers are prioritized as “essential workers” under the CDC’s vaccination plans, though many have yet to receive doses as the nation continues to face a supply shortage of the vaccine.
MELBOURNE — All competition at six Australian Open tuneup events scheduled for Thursday was called off after a worker at one of the tournaments’ Melbourne quarantine hotels tested positive for COVID-19. Players preparing for the year’s first Grand Slam tournament must isolate at their hotels until they test negative for the illness caused by the coronavirus. The Australian Open is scheduled to begin Monday.
Any players, coaches or officials who quarantined at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Melbourne were deemed to be casual contacts of the 26-year-old infected man and required to remain in their hotels until they test negative.
The political leader of Victoria state called a late-night news conference to announce the case and urge anyone with symptoms in Melbourne to get tested. Daniel Andrews says he doesn’t expect any disruptions to the Australian Open.
TOKYO — Japan enacted legislation allowing officials to enforce coronavirus measures by punishing violators of mandatory orders with fines.
This comes as the country struggles to slow the latest wave of infections amid growing uncertainty about the distribution of COVID-19 vaccine considered key to holding the Olympics this summer.
The legislation was passed by the parliament and enacted into law the day after Prime Minister Yoshihide extended an ongoing non-binding state of emergency in Tokyo and nine other urban areas by one month until March 7.
Under the revised laws that take effect next week, restaurants, bars and other business owners that defy mandatory orders for shorter service hours or closures can be fined up to 300,000 yen ($2,860). Fines of up to 500,000 yen ($4,760) can be imposed on patients who refuse to be hospitalized, and up to 300,000 ($2,860) to those who refuse to cooperate with health authorities in contact tracing and other surveys.
Daily new cases have declined since January, but serious cases are still putting pressure on hospitals, experts say. The health ministry reports Japan had 393,836 confirmed cases and 5,912 confirmed deaths on Tuesday.
WASHINGTON — When it comes to Super Bowl parties during this pandemic year, Dr. Anthony Fauci’s says to “just lay low and cool it.”
President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser says during TV interviews Wednesday that now isn’t the time to invite people over for watch parties because of the possibility that they’re infected with the coronavirus and could sicken others.
He says big events like Sunday’s game in Tampa, Florida, between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are always a cause for concern. Fauci says the best thing people can do is watch the game on TV at home with the people in your household.
The NFL has capped the game attendance at 22,000 because of the pandemic and citywide coronavirus mandates.