The Latest: US officials mull sending masks to each American
WASHINGTON — Biden administration officials are weighing sending masks to every American as they hope to nudge individuals to do their part in lowering coronavirus transmission rates.
White House chief of staff Ron Klain said in an interview with NBC News that administration officials are looking at using mask supplies that the government already has in its stockpile.
Klain said that the administration hopes to make an announcement on a potential move “in the next few days or next week.”
Biden has pleaded for Americans to wear masks during the first 100 days of his administration. It’s a step he said could help save thousands of lives as Americans await their turn to be vaccinated.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
Health experts say the U.S. is behind in detecting dangerous coronavirus mutations. Study finds 21.4% of adults in India had coronavirus. WHO team in Wuhan says discussions open, meetings frank. Gulf Arab states launch new restrictions over virus fears. Many small businesses owners face a tough decision on whether and when to take on employees. The coronavirus has hit parts of east London much harder than most places in the U.K.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
BOISE, Idaho -- Legislation intended to speed up Idaho coronavirus vaccinations that includes a $5,000 fine for businesses that fail to report they’re hanging on to unused doses has been introduced.
The House State Affairs Committee on Thursday cleared the way for a public hearing for the bill sponsored by Democratic Rep. John Gannon and Republican Rep. Bruce Skaug.
The bill would require businesses to administer 70% of vaccination doses within two weeks of receiving them. Unused doses would be sent to a different entity that could use them.
Nearly 90,000 Idaho residents have received their first dose of the two-shot vaccine. More than 26,000 have received both doses.
ELKO, Nev. -- One of the rural Nevada counties Gov. Steve Sisolak has criticized for undermining COVID-19 restrictions has established a fund to raise private money to support businesses fined by state agencies for failing to follow the rules.
Elko County commissioners emphasized after they unanimously approved the fund on Wednesday that it won’t include any taxpayer money.
The Elko Daily Free Press reports county Republican Party Chairman Lee Hoffman told the commissioners he was ready to become the first contributor, pledging $100.
Commission Chairman John Karr said the ultimate goal is an easing of the restrictions that set capacity limits, require masks and social distancing.
The last Elko County business fined by Nevada OSHA for violating coronavirus restrictions was Owens Market & Ace Hardware in Carlin for $2,603 in November. In August, AutoZone was fined $9,694, and Russell Cellular $3,470.
MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has issued a new statewide mask order an hour after the Republican-controlled Legislature voted to repeal his previous mandate.
The Democrat Evers said in a video message Thursday that his priority is keeping people safe and that wearing a mask was the most basic way to do that.
Republicans who voted to repeal the order said Evers was exceeding his authority by issuing new public health emergencies rather than having the Legislature approve extensions. The repeal hadn’t even taken effect before Evers issued a new one.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court is weighing a case that could settle the issue.
LANSING, Mich. — A ban on popular high school winter sports was lifted Thursday by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration, days after frustrated parents and anxious teens rallied at the Capitol to try to persuade officials that basketball, wrestling and hockey could safely take place during the coronavirus pandemic.
Whitmer said science, not protests, made the difference. Nonetheless, many school officials said they believe she considered the pleas to revive the sports season.
Athletes must wear masks or, if that is unsafe, be regularly tested for COVID-19 under the revised order.
The ban began Nov. 18, when the state also prohibited in-person instruction at high schools and reinstated business closures and restrictions to address a resurgence in cases and hospitalizations.
A group called Let Them Play Michigan, a hockey league and the parents of five high school athletes had sued the state this week, days after a large weekend rally in Lansing.
NEW YORK — The New York health commissioner said no to New York City’s bid to start vaccinating more people against the coronavirus by using shots reserved for second doses.
Mayor Bill de Blasio argues the strategy would provide more people at least some protection, even if it meant delaying the second part of the two-shot regimen for some people.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker turned down the idea Thursday. He notes the federal Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention hasn’t recommended it and says it would create anxiety for people awaiting second doses.
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Some South Carolina senators, including the Republican leader, want teachers sent to the front of the line to get coronavirus vaccines so students can get back to full-time, in-school learning.
However, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster wants to keep the plan to prioritize people over 65.
The governor says it is unethical and immoral to ignore older people, who he says are more likely to die from the virus.
But the decision likely rests with the Legislature. Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey introduced a proposal Wednesday to get all teachers and other critical school employees the vaccine within 30 days, if they want it.
Two weeks later, every district in the state would have to offer students in-person classes five days a week. Just under half of the schools in South Carolina are currently a mix of in-school and online classes, with a small percentage remote only.
MADRID — Spain is reporting nearly 30,000 new coronavirus cases, closing in on 3 million total infections.
Spain has recorded more than 2.9 million confirmed cases. The health ministry on Thursday reported 432 deaths, increasing the total to just over 60,300.
Fernando Simón, the senior official in Spain’s emergency pandemic response, says the 14-day average infection rate per 100,000 population fell to 783 from 815 from the previous day.
He says, “The trend is favorable, but the situation is still very, very bad.”
Spain has administered 1.67 million vaccine doses, with more than 586,000 people getting both doses.
NEW YORK — Health experts say the U.S. is behind in detecting dangerous coronavirus mutations but trying to catch up.
President Joe Biden is proposing a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that calls for boosting federal spending on sequencing of the virus.
Viruses mutate constantly. Less than 1% of positive specimens in the U.S. are being sequenced to determine whether they have mutations. Other countries do better — Britain sequences about 10%.
After the slow start, public health labs in at least 33 states are doing genetic analysis to identify emerging coronavirus variants. The CDC believes 5,000 to 10,000 samples should be analyzed weekly in the U.S. to adequately monitor variants, said Gregory Armstrong, who oversees the agency’s advanced molecular detection work. The nation is now hitting that level, he says.
OMAHA, Neb. — Nebraska will receive 21% more doses of coronavirus vaccines this week as the state continues to work to speed up distribution of the shots.
The state says it is scheduled to receive 55,950 doses of the vaccines this week. That’s up from 46,400 a week ago. The increase in doses should help boost distribution of the vaccine statewide.
The 19 local health districts across Nebraska are finishing up the first phase of the campaign, focusing on health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities. Now they’re starting to vaccinate people 65 and older and some essential workers.
WASHINGTON — A majority of Americans say they have at least some confidence in President Joe Biden and his ability to manage the crises facing the nation, including the coronavirus pandemic.
That’s according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Overall, the survey shows 61% of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of his job in his first days in office. That includes about a quarter of Republicans who say they approve of how the Democrat has tackled the opening days of his presidency.
About three-quarters of Americans say they have at least some confidence in Biden’s ability to handle the pandemic, which has killed more than 450,000 people in the U.S.
He’s urgently pressing Congress to pass a $1.9 trillion relief package that would include funds for vaccine distribution, school reopening and state and local governments buckling under the strain of the pandemic.
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran has received its first batch of the Russian coronavirus vaccine.
The shipment consists of 500,000 doses of Russian-made Sputnik V vaccines, Fars news agency reported. They arrived at Tehran’s Imam Khomeieni International Airport on Thursday from Moscow. Iranian state TV quoted Tehran’s ambassador to Russia, Kazem Jalali, as saying Iran has ordered 5 million doses from Russia.
Last month, Iran announced it was banning the import of American and British vaccines and had started the human test phase of its homemade vaccine in December.
WUHAN, China — World Health Organization investigators looking for clues into the origin of the coronavirus in Wuhan say the Chinese side has provided a high level of cooperation but caution against expecting immediate results from the visit.
Along with the key Wuhan Institute of Virology, the WHO team that includes experts from 10 nations has visited hospitals, research institutes and a traditional market tied to the outbreak.
The team on Thursday spent 2 hours meeting with managers and residents at the Jiangxinyuan community administrative center in Wuhan’s Hanyang District. Official statistics shows there were at least 16 confirmed coronavirus cases in the community last year among nearly 10,000 people living there when the virus broke out.
Zoologist and team member Peter Daszak praised Wednesday’s meetings with staff at the Wuhan institute, including with its deputy director who worked with Daszak to track down the origins of SARS that originated in China and led to the 2003 outbreak.
MELBOURNE — The Australian Open tournament director expects the year’s first tennis major to start as scheduled on Monday.
That’s despite 160 players among the 507 people forced back into isolation after a hotel quarantine worker tested positive for COVID-19. Those at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Melbourne were deemed to be casual contacts of the 26-year-old infected worker.
Director Craig Tiley says “We will be starting on Monday and we have no intention of changing times.”
All matches in all six warmup events were postponed Thursday after the state government announced the new coronavirus case overnight.
Tiley says all 160 players would undergo testing and the tuneup tournaments will resume Friday. The Australian Open chartered 17 flights and used three hotels in Melbourne for the bulk of the players to quarantine for 14 days.
It provided other secure accommodation and facilities in Adelaide, South Australia state, for some of the biggest stars, including Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.
NEW DELHI — India’s third nationwide study of prevailing coronavirus infections found that 21.4% of adults had already been infected before vaccinations started in January.
Nearly one-third of the people living in India’s urban slums were found to have antibodies for the virus. The study estimated that in other urban areas, 26.2% of residents had been infected.
The survey also estimated that over one-quarter of all children between the ages of 10 and 17, and more than 25% of all health workers in India had been infected with the virus.
The results of the study were announced by India’s health ministry at a press briefing on Thursday.
Health ministry officials said the results indicate that a large section of India’s population of nearly 1.4 billion remains vulnerable. They say the study underlines the importance of vaccination and a continued focus on wearing masks and maintaining physical distance.
India has recorded the second-highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases after the U.S., over 10.7 million, and reported more than 150,000 deaths.
GENEVA — A top international Red Cross organization has announced a 100-million Swiss franc ($110 million) plan to help support the immunization of 500 million people worldwide against COVID-19 amid concerns about vast inequalities in the rollout of coronavirus vaccines between rich and poor countries.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, an umbrella organization of national groups, says the world’s 50 poorest countries have received only 0.1% of the total vaccine doses that have been administered worldwide so far — with 70% administered in the 50 richest countries.
The federation on Thursday warned such inequality “could potentially backfire to deadly and devastating effect” because areas of the globe that remain unvaccinated could allow the virus to spread and mutate.
The plan involves rolling out national vaccination campaigns, steps to build trust in vaccines and efforts to “counteract misinformation about their efficacy,” it added. The initiative is to begin with 66 national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and others are in talks with their respective governments.
LISBON, Portugal — The new head of Portugal’s COVID-19 vaccination task force is due to start work Thursday amid scandals over vaccine queue-jumping and frustration over a sluggish rollout similar to that seen in other European Union countries.
Rear Adm. Henrique Gouveia e Melo is taking charge a day after his predecessor resigned.
At the current rate of vaccination of just over 10,000 doses a day on average, Portugal will reach its target of 70% of vaccinated adults only by 2023. Its goal was to reach that milestone in late summer this year by inoculating around 50,000 people a day.
Portuguese officials note that they have received fewer vaccines than promised from manufacturers and say EU authorization of more vaccines will help accelerate the program.
The European Center for Disease Control, an EU agency, said in weekly data published Thursday that Portugal has received almost 387,000 vaccine doses.
The country of 10.3 million people has administered 310,000 inoculations, or around 80% of what it has received — the seventh-highest rate among the EU’s 27 member countries, it said.