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The Latest: Judge blocks Florida order to reopen classrooms

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- A Florida judge temporarily blocked Gov. Ron DeSantis and top education officials from forcing public schools to reopen brick-and-mortar classrooms amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, ruling that the state’s order “arbitrarily disregards safety.”

In his ruling, Leon County Judge Charles Dodson said the mandate to reopen schools usurped local control from school districts in deciding for themselves whether it was safe for students, teachers and staffers to return.

The Florida Education Association had sued the state after Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran issued an order earlier this summer mandating that schools reopen classrooms by Aug. 31 or risk losing funding.

“The districts have no meaningful alternative,” the judge wrote in his opinion.

“If an individual school district chooses safety, that is, delaying the start of schools until it individually determines it is safe to do so for its county, it risks losing state funding, even though every student is being taught,” he ruled.

State officials were reviewing the ruling and did not have an immediate comment.

As the outbreak began spreading across Florida last spring, state officials shuttered schools and teachers began providing instruction virtually to the state’s 2.9 million public school students.

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HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK

— Scientists say Hong Kong man got coronavirus a second time

— WHO says children aged 6-to-11 should wear masks at times, too

— Trump announces plasma treatment authorized for COVID-19

— Biden says he’d shut down U.S. economy if scientists recommended

— Emails show businesses held sway over reopening plans in U.S. states

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Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

TUSCALOOSA, Alabama — The mayor of Tuscaloosa announced Monday that the city is closing bars for the next two weeks after University of Alabama officials described an “unacceptable” rise in COVID-19 cases that could derail plans to continue the semester on campus.

Mayor Walt Maddox announced the closures along with the end of bar service at restaurants during a news conference with campus officials, who requested the action. Maddox said an unchecked spread of the virus threatens both the health care system and the local economy if students are sent home for the semester to do remote learning.

“The truth is that fall in Tuscaloosa is in serious jeopardy,” Maddox said.

The university did not immediately release case numbers, but school officials said there has been a rapid rise in cases, particularly among fraternities and sororities. The university on Friday had announced a moratorium on student gatherings both on and off campus.

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MIAMI — The Miami Dolphins will allow up to 13,000 socially distancing fans to attend their home opener against the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 20, a decision that divided political leaders and upset the visiting coach.

The same plan will be followed for the University of Miami’s home opener against UAB at the Dolphins’ stadium on Sept. 10.

Crowd size will be about 20% of the stadium’s 65,326-seat capacity, with the limitation imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Groups of spectators will be spaced 6 feet apart.

Fifteen of the NFL’s 32 teams have ruled out spectators to start the season. The Dolphins are one of at least eight teams hoping to have a limited number of spectators, and many teams haven’t announced plans.

At a news conference, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez applauded the Dolphins’ plan and safety upgrades.

DeSantis said the state’s virus numbers are trending in an encouraging direction. But South Florida remains a hot spot, and not all reaction to the Dolphins’ plan was favorable.

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ATHENS, Greece — Greek state school teachers angry at government plans to reopen schools next month have called a protest march in central Athens Tuesday with a string of demands – several of which the education ministry had addressed hours earlier.

The main high school teachers’ union said Monday it wanted fewer pupils per class, as well as extra teachers and classrooms to make that possible.

It also called for free masks and disinfectant, extra staff hirings and seminars on COVID-19 health measures — three things which the government had already said it would do.

The teachers’ union also demanded free and repeated tests for all school staff, the implementation of “all necessary measures to ensure the safety of pupils and teachers,” extra state education funding and a ban on virtual learning using a live link with real classrooms for children unable to attend class.

Hours earlier, the education ministry announced schools would reopen full time on Sept. 7 – with a possible delay if deemed necessary – with use of masks obligatory for schoolchildren and teachers.

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MIAMI — Florida’s coronavirus spread appears to be waning, with several key metrics on the decline.

State-provided statistics on Monday showed that the number of people being treated for COVID-19 in Florida hospitals stood at 4,655 late morning Monday — less than half of the peaks above 9,500 a month ago. A total of 72 new deaths were reported Monday, bringing the seven day average to 123 — the lowest rate in a month.

And the average daily increase in cases over the past week has declined to a level not seen since late June. Because of the declining cases, Gov. Ron DeSantis and South Florida officials announced that the Miami Dolphins football team will allow up to 13,000 socially distancing fans to attend their home opener against Buffalo on Sept. 20.

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MADRID — Fearing an even sharper surge in coronavirus infections with the opening of the school year in September, some Spanish regions moved Monday to impose new measures against the spread of the pandemic, including bans on large social gatherings.

On Monday, when Spain’s Ministry of Health reported figures for the previous three days, the country added more than 19,000 new cases to its epidemic tally of more than 400,000 since the beginning of the pandemic. The figure is the highest in Europe.

Dr. Fernando Simón, the epidemiology expert in charge of Spain’s response to COVID-19 , stopped short of describing the situation as that of a second wave, but admitted that contagion with no clear source of infection is now widespread across the country.

“There is a certain level of community transmission in all Spain, but in some regions is more than in others,” Simón said at a press conference. “The return to school is an opportunity for an easier transmission of the virus.”

The Health Ministry said that 2,060 of the new cases were diagnosed in the past 24 hours, with 34 new fatalities bringing the total death toll of 28,838. The figures are considered incomplete due to insufficient testing at the beginning of the pandemic, while daily data is often corrected as officials rein in a backlog of information reported by Spanish regions.

The Catalonia region announced Monday that it was extending a ban on social gatherings of more than 10 people to the region’s 7.6 million inhabitants. Murcia, in the country’s southern coast and with 1.5 million residents, restricted gatherings to a maximum of six people.

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MEXICO CITY — Millions of Mexican school children returned to classes, but not schools, on Monday as the government attempted to start a new school year despite the challenges of the pandemic.

A system cobbling together online classes, instruction broadcast on television channels and radio programming in Indigenous languages is meant to keep students from missing out in a country already defined by deep inequalities.

As other countries around the world have already discovered, there is no perfect replacement for in-person classes.

The Mexican government enlisted the country’s largest private television companies to dedicate channels to school programming around the clock. Education officials developed schedules giving students at each level multiple opportunities to watch their classes.

Education Secretary Esteban Moctezuma said officials decided to rely on television because it has a far greater penetration that the internet. Still, questions abound about how families, especially those with multiple children, will juggle the classes along with jobs that could force both parents out of the home — often taking their children along with them.

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NEW YORK — Museums across New York and gyms in some parts of the state outside of New York City can reopen starting Monday as coronavirus restrictions are cautiously eased.

Under guidelines announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, museums will face restrictions including timed ticketing and 25% occupancy. New York City museums that will open over the next few weeks include the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Aug. 29 and the American Museum of Natural History on Sept. 9.

Cuomo said gyms and fitness centers could open at 33% capacity starting Monday, but New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city’s gyms would stay closed until at least Sept. 2.

Cultural institutions and gyms across the state have been closed since March when nonessential businesses were forced to shut down to stop the spread of the coronavirus. New York was the epicenter of the U.S.’s outbreak during the spring but has so far succeeded in staving off a second wave of infections.

State health officials have reported an infection rate below 1% every day for more than two weeks.

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ROME — Testing on volunteers of an Italian candidate vaccine began in Rome on Monday at the National Infectious Diseases Institute at Spallanzani hospital.

Ninety people were selected out of some 7,000 who offered to be inoculated with the vaccine, known as GRAd-COV2, in Phase One. The vaccine is produced by ReiThera, a biotech company near Rome.

Half the participants are younger than 55 and half are older than 65. The institute’s health director, Francesco Vaia, told reporters that the aim is to “work well, also quickly, but above all well” in trying to achieve what would be Italy’s first vaccine against COVID-19.

Phase One will last 24 weeks and aims to test safety and tolerance. If all goes well, subsequent phases will involve higher numbers of volunteers and will also be conducted abroad, likely in Latin American countries, which currently are much harder hit by the coronavirus pandemic than Italy.

“Having an Italian vaccine means not being a slave or servant of other countries which will say ‘me, first,’’’ said Giuseppe Ippolito, Spallanzani’s scientific director.

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JERUSALEM — An Israeli Cabinet minister has tested positive for the coronavirus.

The Blue and White party on Monday confirmed the positive test of Pnina Tamano-Shata, the minister for immigrant absorption. It said two other Cabinet ministers and a lawmaker went into protective isolation due to possible exposure.

After moving quickly to contain the coronavirus last spring, Israel appears to have eased its lockdown restrictions too soon and is now battling a sharp spike in cases.

The country is coping with nearly 22,000 active cases and has reported 839 deaths.

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GENEVA — The World Health Organization says using plasma from the recovered to treat COVID-19 is still considered an “experimental” therapy and that the preliminary results showing it may work are still “inconclusive.”

President Donald Trump on Sunday announced the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency authorization of convalescent plasma for COVID-19 patients. It is not full FDA approval; numerous rigorous studies are underway to find out if the treatment really works.

WHO’s chief scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan said convalescent plasma therapy has been used in the last century to treat numerous infectious diseases, with varying levels of success. Swaminathan says WHO still considers convalescent plasma therapy to be experimental and said it should continue to be evaluated. She added that the treatment is difficult to standardize, since people produce different levels of antibodies and the plasma must be collected individually from recovered patients.

Swaminathan says that the studies have been small and provided “low-quality evidence.” She says countries can “do an emergency listing if they feel the benefits outweigh the risks” but that that’s “usually done when you’re waiting for the more definitive evidence.”

Dr. Bruce Aylward, a senior adviser to WHO’s director-general, said that convalescent plasma therapy can come with numerous side effects, from a mild fever and chills to more severe lung-related injuries.

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MADRID — Catalonia’s president has announced a ban on social gatherings of more than 10 people and widespread testing of half a million students in Spain’s northeastern region.

The new series of measures announced by Quim Torra on Monday aim to curb a wave of new coronavirus infections ahead of the re-opening of schools in mid-September, which officials and experts fear could become a vector for more contagion.

Torra said that the next three weeks are crucial in fighting not only the current incidence of the pandemic but how it will evolve in autumn and winter.

Spain as a whole leads Europe’s charts with more than 386,000 total reported infections since February.

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BERLIN — The Bavarian town of Rosenheim, near the border with Austria, says it is banning more than five people from different households from meeting in public to counter a spike in coronavirus infections.

Authorities said Monday that the number of new infections over the previous seven days exceeded the national threshold in Germany of 50 cases per 100,000 people.

Officials also banned private events with more than 50 people indoors or 100 outdoors.

Germany has seen a steady rise in new COVID-19 cases in recent weeks. On Saturday the number of new cases topped 2,000. On Sunday, when fewer labs report results, the number of newly registered infections fell to 782.

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TOKYO — The Japanese government spokesman has defended the nation’s GoTo campaign, which encourages travel within Japan by offering discounts at hotels and inns.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday that the government-backed campaign was a success, having been used by 2 million people in the last month.

He said only 10 cases of COVID-19 were found at hotels and other lodging during that monthlong campaign, and just one of those people had used the campaign discount.

The tourism business in Japan supports 9 million jobs, Suga said, adding: “Its importance to the economy can’t be emphasized enough.”

The campaign has come under fire as a risk for spreading the virus.

Japan, which has already sunk into recession, has confirmed more than 1,100 deaths and 62,000 coronavirus cases so far. Daily cases are rising gradually to about 1,000 people lately.

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