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The Latest: Australian hot spot extends state of emergency

MELBOURNE, Australia — Australia’s hot spot Victoria state on Wednesday extended its state of emergency for another six months as its weekly average of new COVID-10 infections dipped to 95.

The Victorian Parliament’s upper chamber passed legislation by a 20-19 vote to extend the state of emergency, which enhances the government’s powers to impose pandemic restrictions.

The government had wanted a 12-month extension.

The state health department reported 90 new infections and six deaths in the latest 24-hour period. There were only 70 new infections on Tuesday.

But the latest seven-day average has dropped into double-digits for the first time in weeks. The previous week’s average was 175 infections a day.

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

— US federal officials to ship rapid coronavirus tests for schools

— NYC delays start of school for more prep time for virus safety measures

— Virus or not, it’s time for class again across Europe

— Apple and Google want more U.S. states to adopt their phone-based approach for tracing and curbing the spread of the coronavirus, building more of the necessary technology directly into phones.

— The Big Ten Conference, already in court and under pressure from players and parents over its decision to cancel fall football, and its new commissioner are now hearing from President Donald Trump.

— Hungry and bored at home? A San Francisco nightclub will bring the food, booze and a drag show to you during the coronavirus pandemic.

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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:

HARRISONBURG, Va. — James Madison University in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley will transition at least temporarily to primarily online instruction after experiencing a “rapid increase” in cases of COVID-19 among students, the school’s president announced Tuesday night.

“As a result of a rapid increase in the number of positive cases of COVID-19 in our student population in a short period of time, the university is concerned about capacity in the number of isolation and quarantine spaces we can provide,” JMU President Jonathan Alger wrote in a letter posted on the school’s website Tuesday night.

The letter said in-person classes will shift online no later than Monday, by which time residential students will be asked to return home unless they seek an exemption to stay. University officials will notify the campus community by Sept. 25 about whether in-person instruction will resume on or after Oct. 5, according to the letter.

JMU, a public university, has about 20,000 undergraduate students. With Tuesday’s announcement, it joined a growing number of colleges around the U.S. that have reversed course or altered plans for in-person instruction due to the coronavirus pandemic.

___ BILLINGS, Mont. __ The Trump administration is seeking to fast track environmental reviews of dozens of major energy and infrastructure projects during the COVID-19 pandemic, including oil and gas drilling, hazardous fuel pipelines, wind farms and highway projects in multiple states, according to documents provided to The Associated Press.

The plan to speed up project approvals comes after President Donald Trump in June ordered the Interior Department and other agencies to scale back environmental reviews under special powers he has during the coronavirus emergency.

More than 60 projects targeted for expedited environmental reviews were detailed in an attachment to a July 15 letter from Assistant Interior Secretary Katherine MacGregor to White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow.

The letter, obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity through a freedom of information lawsuit, does not specify how the review process would be hastened. It says the specified energy, environmental and natural resource projects “are within the authority of the Secretary of the Interior to perform or advance.”

Included on Interior’s list are oil and gas industry proposals such as the 5,000-well Converse gas field in Wyoming, the Jordan Cove liquified natural gas terminal in Oregon, and the Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline in Virginia.

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- A private liberal arts college in Colorado says it is moving to online classes after hundreds of students went into quarantine just days into the semester.

At least 10 students at Colorado College have tested positive for the coronavirus. And more than 500 entered self-isolation on campus since dormitories opened to freshmen on Aug. 24.

The Gazette reports that all students are being urged to leave the Colorado Springs campus by Sept. 20, with some exceptions such as international students.

The announcement comes as college and university towns across the country consider renewed shutdowns because of too many COVID-19 infections among students.

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JUNEAU, Alaska -- The Alaska health department says a second resident of a state-supported elder-living center in Anchorage who tested positive for COVID-19 has died.

The department, in early August, announced that three residents of the Anchorage Pioneer Home and one staff member had tested positive for COVID-19.

As of Monday, the department said three of the five staff members who had to that point tested positive had been released from isolation. And it says 10 of the 14 residents who had tested positive had recovered.

The department says a second resident who had tested positive recently died but did not provide further details.

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UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council will hold a high-level summit during the annual meeting of world leaders at the General Assembly later this month to discuss “adjustments” to the current international system after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.

Niger’s U.N. Ambassador Abdou Abarry, who took over the rotating council presidency on Tuesday, told a virtual press conference that the virtual council meeting on Sept. 24 “on post-COVID-19 global governance in relation to the maintenance of international peace and security” will address traditional security threats such as conflicts but also crime and pandemics.

He said Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou, who will chair the meeting, is sending invitations to the leaders of the 14 other countries on the Security Council. Some countries, which he didn’t name, have already indicated their heads of state will attend, he said.

Abarry said a key issue after the coronavirus pandemic is: “Are we going to be able to structure a more resilient, a more just, a more fair world with less destruction of the environment among others, and that can enable and facilitate humanity to live in harmony, and with nature?”

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The number of deaths from the coronavirus continues to surge in West Virginia while confirmed cases hit a new daily record during the pandemic.

Health officials announced eight more virus-related deaths Tuesday, pushing the state’s total to at least 222. That’s up 91% since Aug. 1.

Despite an indoor mask mandate for public places issued July 6 by Gov. Jim Justice, daily positive cases have skyrocketed since then. Officials have blamed the increase in part on out-of-state travel.

According to the Department of Health and Human Resources’ website, the state reported 225 confirmed cases Sunday, topping the one-day record of 180 set on July 30. The state’s daily positive rate of 6.85% on Monday was its highest since reaching 6.95% on May 26. The overall total is at least 10,320 confirmed cases.

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WASHINGTON -- A group of medical experts advising the National Institutes of Health says there is not enough evidence to recommend for or against the use of plasma therapy for patients hospitalized with COVID-19.

The non-endorsement by government advisers comes a week after the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency authorization to the treatment. That decision followed threats from President Donald Trump about the slow pace of FDA’s review, raising concerns that the agency felt pressure to greenlight the therapy.

So-called convalescent plasma is taken from patients who have recovered from the coronavirus and is rich in disease-fighting antibodies. But its use against COVID-19 has not been studied in rigorous patient trials.

The NIH panel says the plasma shouldn’t be considered “standard of care” treatment, due to the lack of data confirming its safety and effectiveness.

The FDA granted its emergency use based on preliminary results gathered from tens of thousands of patients tracked by the Mayo Clinic. The decision merely means that the treatment’s potential benefits outweigh its risks.

But the Mayo study doesn’t have the type of controls needed to draw conclusions about clinical benefits, including overall survival. FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn was forced to backtrack last week after he overstated the potential life-saving effect suggested by the data.

NIH’s experts urged doctors and patients to enroll in proper studies of the plasma.

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NEW YORK — A handful of the dozens of experimental coronavirus vaccines in human testing have reached the last and biggest hurdle -- looking for the needed proof they really work.

A U.S. advisory panel suggested Tuesday a way to ration the first limited doses once a vaccine wins approval. AstraZeneca announced Monday its vaccine candidate has entered the final testing stage in the U.S. The Cambridge, England-based company said the study will involve up to 30,000 adults from various racial, ethnic and geographic groups.

Two other vaccine candidates began final testing this summer in tens of thousands of people in the U.S. One was created by the National Institutes of Health and manufactured by Moderna Inc., and the other developed by Pfizer Inc. and Germany’s BioNTech.

NIH Director Francis Collins tweeted his agency “is supporting several vaccine trials since more than one may be needed.”

There’s no guarantee that any of the leading candidates will pan out — and the bar is higher than for COVID-19 treatments, because these vaccines will be given to healthy people. Final testing, experts stress, must be in large numbers of people to know if they’re safe enough for mass vaccinations.

“The first vaccines that come out are probably not going to be the best vaccines,” Dr. Nicole Lurie, who helped lead pandemic planning under the Obama administration, said at a University of Minnesota vaccine symposium.

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WASHINGTON — A new member of the White House coronavirus task force says claims that he’s pushing herd immunity as a response to the pandemic are an “overt lie.”

Dr. Scott Atlas says in an interview on SiriusXM’s “The Michael Smerconish Program” that he has never advocated a herd immunity strategy to President Donald Trump or anyone in the administration or task force.

The Washington Post reported Monday that Atlas -- who recently was added to the task force -- has been urging Trump’s top medical advisers to adopt herd immunity as a strategy for fighting the virus.

Herd immunity would involve allowing most Americans to become infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 so people can build up their immunity to it.

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says he’ll lift the state ban on visiting nursing homes that’s prevented seniors from seeing family since mid-March because of the coronavirus.

DeSantis says he’s following recommendations from a nursing home task force that’s met in recent weeks.

The task force recommends the nursing homes allow family members to visit no more than two at a time and wear protective gear that includes masks. Facilities would need to go 14 days without any new cases of coronavirus among staff or residents to allow the visits.

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LONDON — Scotland’s leader has announced new lockdown restrictions for the country’s most populous city, Glasgow, following a spike in coronavirus infections.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says people in Glasgow, and the nearby local authorities of West Dunbartonshire and East Renfrewshire, shouldn’t host people from other households for two weeks.

She says the Scottish government could go farther if people don’t abide by the new limitations. The number of people affected is estimated at 250,000.

Sturgeon says in the three targeted areas, the infections have largely increased from household gatherings. She adds the new measures were “proportionate” with the impact on schools, jobs and the economy.

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WASHINGTON — Federal officials will begin shipping tens of millions of rapid coronavirus tests to state governors this month for use in reopening schools.

The Trump administration’s top testing official, Admiral Brett Giroir, laid out plans Tuesday to distribute some of the 150 million tests ordered from test maker Abbott Laboratories. The federal purchase was first announced last week.

Abbott’s rapid test, the size of a credit card, is the first that doesn’t require specialty computer equipment to develop. The test delivers results in about 15 minutes and is priced at $5, significantly lower than similar older tests.

Giroir says the “great majority” would go to U.S. governors for use in screening children at K-12 schools. The tests could be used to test first responders and other high-risk populations.

Tests will be shipped to 20,000 assisted living facilities. Unlike nursing homes, assisted living facilities are not overseen by Medicare. Because assisted living facilities also house a vulnerable population, they face some of the same risks as nursing homes.

Since the start of the pandemic, the U.S. testing has mainly relied on nasal swab tests sent to labs for processing. But supply shortages led to testing backlogs, delaying results and hindering efforts to track cases.

Health experts view rapid tests run outside the laboratory as key to expanding the number of tests ahead of the flu season. However, Abbott’s new test still requires a nasal swab by a health worker. In general, rapid tests like Abbott’s are less accurate than lab-developed tests. The FDA has said in some cases, negative results with Abbott’s test may need to be confirmed with a lab test.

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LAWRENCE, Kan. — The University of Kansas is requiring no fans at athletic events and Kansas State University is battling four new coronavirus outbreaks.

Kansas Department of Health and Environment is reporting 19 clusters tied to colleges and five tied to schools with younger students.

At the University of Kansas, entrance testing uncovered 474 positive cases. Infections were particularly prevalent among sorority and fraternity members, with 270 positives among 2,698 members tested, for a rate of 10%.

In the Manhattan, Kansas, health officials say the four newest outbreaks include 10 positive cases among the Kansas State football team. There are several cases tied to a fraternity and sorority.

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ROME — Italy registered fewer than 1,000 new coronavirus cases, even as the number of swab tests soared.

The Health Ministry says 978 coronavirus cases were confirmed in the last 24 hours, when some 81,000 tests were conducted. That is 22,500 more tests than the previous day when nearly the same number of cases were detected.

Health experts are encouraging Italy to boost testing and tracing of contacts of the newly infected ahead of schools opening on Sept. 14.

Italy has 270,189 confirmed cases, adding eight deaths to increase the known toll to nearly 35,500.

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NEW YORK — New York City is delaying the start of its school year until Sept. 16 to give teachers more time to prepare for the return of students amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the deal struck with unions representing teachers, staff and administrators. Instruction was supposed to begin on Sept. 10. All students will spend the first few days learning from home online before in-person instruction begins for some students on Sept. 21.

The city’s plan to restart schools includes mask-wearing, staggered schedules to reduce the number of students in rooms, supplying every school building with a nurse and asking all staffers to get tested shortly before school starts. A medical monitoring program will includes random virus testing for a sampling of students and staff each month.

The city used ventilation experts to check air flow in classrooms, and officials say they'll would work to make parks and streets available as teaching space, if needed.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew says the union’s independent medical experts signed off on the reopening plan. Delegates of the UFT were poised to vote on whether to authorize a strike.

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