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The Latest: Arkansas judge blocks state mask mandate ban

A worker disinfects the flooring outside the inflated cabins at the pop-up Huo-Yan Laboratory set up in an expo center to test samples for covid-19 virus in Nanjing in east China's Jiangsu province Wednesday, July 28, 2021. China's worst coronavirus outbreak since the start of the pandemic a year and a half ago escalated Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021, with dozens more cases around the country, the sealing-off of one city and the punishment of its local leaders. (Chinatopix Via AP)
August 06, 2021 - 10:06 AM

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — An Arkansas judge has temporarily blocked the state from enforcing a law that prevents schools and other governmental agencies from requiring masks.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox on Friday issued a preliminary injunction against the law Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed in April. Fox’s decision came shortly after Arkansas lawmakers left the ban in place, ending a session Hutchinson called to consider rolling it back for some schools.

Hutchinson said the change was needed to protect children under 12 who can’t get vaccinated as virus cases and hospitalizations skyrocket.

There had been growing calls to lift the ban before school starts statewide later this month. An east Arkansas school district has more than 800 students and staff quarantined because of a recent coronavirus outbreak.

Pediatricians and health officials have said masks in schools are needed to protect children as the delta variant and Arkansas’ low vaccination rate fuel cases.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— Some US schools reopen with mix of masks in classrooms

with mix of

— United Airlines will require US employees to be vaccinated

will require US

— Italy requires ‘Green Pass’ f or museums, indoor dining

‘Green Pass’ f

— In New York City, impending vaccination rules prompt concern

prompt concern

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— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemichttps://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

MCDONOUGH, Ga. — Schools have begun reopening in the U.S., with most states leaving it up to local schools to decide whether to require masks.

At one school in Atlanta’s suburbs where face coverings are optional, more than 60% of students were wearing them inside classrooms. Parents had mixed emotions. Some kept their children home in disagreement with the policy. California, Louisiana, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington state intend to require masks for all students and teachers regardless of vaccination status.

At the other end of the spectrum, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Utah have banned mask requirements in all public schools.

Outbreaks have hit some schools already, adding to calls for more mask requirements. In Marion, Arkansas, more than 800 students and staff members have been quarantined because of exposure since classes began last week in the 4,000-student district. Superintendent Glen Fenter urged lawmakers to overturn the state law banning masks.

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LISBON, Portugal — Authorities in Portugal say they have reached the milestone of 70% of people on the mainland receiving at least one COVID-19 shot.

The Health Ministry says in recent weeks, 80,000 people a day have been vaccinated. The number is expected to climb during August when some 3 million vaccines are due to arrive.

Portugal, like other European Union countries, got off to a slow start in its inoculation drive because of a shortfall in expected deliveries. It now aims to have 70% of people fully vaccinated by the end of the summer.

The country of 10.3 million, including the Azores and Madeira archipelagoes, has inoculated almost 60% of its population. At the end of June, it had vaccinated just 32%.

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MIAMI — Miami-Dade County will require weekly COVID-19 testing for all 29,000 employees unless they show proof of vaccination amid a surge of infections from the delta variant of the coronavirus.

Florida’s new case numbers have grown 10 times in the last six weeks alone. Starting Aug. 16, employees who wish to opt out of the testing can show proof of vaccination, Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said.

“We’ve endured too much and seen too many families hurting. We have the power to avoid what is truly preventable,” the mayor said in a tweet urging people to get the vaccine.

The county also hired Jared Moskowitz to be a special adviser on the county’s COVID response, she said. He oversaw Florida’s pandemic response as director of the state’s Division of Emergency Management until he stepped down in the spring.

Jackson Health System CEO Carlos Migoya said the hospital is rolling out a policy to encourage staff to get the vaccine. He’s said approximately 5,200 of the hospital’s 13,000 workers remain unvaccinated.

“They will not be allowed to enter any Jackson cafeteria, dining room or coffee shop, nor will they be able to take off their N95 masks to eat or drink inside of our facilities,” Migoya said.

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AMSTERDAM — The European Medicines Agency has recommended updating the information label for the coronavirus vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson, saying it should include warnings that a rare immune condition, tinnitus and dizziness are possible side effects.

In a statement on Friday, the EU drug regulator says a condition where the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys blood cells needed for clotting, or immune thrombocytopenia, is an “important identified risk” and health workers and people receiving the vaccine should be informed of this possible side effect.

The EMA’s expert group also analyzed more than 1,180 cases of people who reported dizziness and tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, after receiving the one-shot J&J vaccine and concluded they were linked to the vaccine’s administration.

The agency, which regulates drugs across 27 European countries, says its assessment of the J&J vaccine was unchanged and the benefits of protection from COVID-19 still outweigh the small risk of side effects.

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CHICAGO — United Airlines will require U.S.-based employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by late October, joining a growing number of corporations responding to a surge in coronavirus cases.

United has 67,000 employees in the U.S. It’s the first major U.S. airline to say it will require vaccinations for workers.

Company leaders called it a matter of safety and cited “incredibly compelling” evidence of the effectiveness of the vaccines. United CEO Scott Kirby says he knows some employees will disagree with the decision, but adds it’s clear that everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated.

The airline estimates up to 90% of its pilots and close to 80% of its flight attendants are already vaccinated.

The company told employees Friday they’ll need to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 25 or five weeks after the Food and Drug Administration grants full approval to any one vaccine — whichever date comes first. So far, the FDA has only granted emergency-use approval of the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Full approval is expected soon.

A United executive says the airline has no plans to require passengers be vaccinated, calling that a government decision. The CEOs of Delta and American have similarly ruled out a mandate for passengers.

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ROME — Visitors to Italy’s museums and theaters must show proof they’ve had a COVID-19 vaccine.

Or they can prove they’ve recovered from the coronavirus or recently tested negative.

A certification rule took effect nationwide on Friday. It also applies to gyms, inside restaurants, indoor swimming pools and crowded outdoor events such as concerts. The Italian government hopes requiring what it has dubbed a “Green Pass” will rein in a summer surge in coronavirus infections.

The Vatican is adhering to the rule and checking visitors to its museums have paper certificates or QR codes on their cellphones. Pompeii’s archeological park is offering free swab tests.

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BEIJING — Chinese President Xi Jinping has pledged that 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines would be supplied to the world through this year, increasing China’s commitment as the largest exporter of the shots.

Xi’s announcement was delivered late Thursday at a vaccine forum China hosted virtually.

The figure likely includes the 770 million doses China has already donated or exported already and it’s not clear if it includes a COVAX agreement for Chinese producers to supply 550 million doses.

Xi also promised to donate $100 million to the UN-backed COVAX program, which aims to distribute vaccines to low- and middle-income countries. Vaccine distributions have been starkly unequal, as wealthy countries now consider issuing booster shots to their citizens and poorer nations struggle to get enough vaccines for a first dose.

Hundreds of millions of Chinese shots, the vast majority of which are from Sinopharm and Sinovac, have already been administered to people in many countries across the world. However, there are concerns about whether they protect adequately against the highly transmissible delta variant.

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MANILA — Thousands of people have jammed coronavirus vaccination centers in the Philippine capital after false news spread that unvaccinated residents would be deprived of cash aid or barred from leaving home during a two-week lockdown.

Officials placed Metropolitan Manila under lockdown until Aug. 20 after a spike in COVID-19 infections that health officials say could be due to the highly contagious delta variant, which threatens to overwhelm hospitals.

The fake news reports spread a day before Friday’s lockdown start sent large crowds heading for vaccination centers in the cities of Manila, Las Pinas and Antipolo without prior registrations.

In Manila alone, up to 22,000 people showed up outside vaccination centers before dawn. Police were forced to stop vaccinations in at least one of the shopping malls and asked the crowds to return home.

Critics partly blamed President Rodrigo Duterte for the confusion. Duterte warned Filipinos last week that those who refuse to get vaccinated will not be allowed to leave their homes as a safeguard against the spread of the delta variant. He acknowledged there was no specific law for such a restriction.

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BEIJING — China recorded another 80 locally transmitted cases of COVID-19 on Friday, as the country seeks to control its widest flare-up since the original outbreak with a combination of lockdowns, mass testing and travel restrictions.

Of the new cases, 58 were found in the eastern city of Yangzhou in Jiangsu province, where the highly contagious delta variant spread among airport workers in the provincial capital of Nanjing. Other cases were found in six provinces from tropical Hainan in the south to Inner Mongolia bordering on Russia.

That has taken the number of cases linked to the Nanjing outbreak to more than 460 since the middle of last month, prompting renewed travel restrictions, community lockdowns and the sealing off of Zhangjiajie, a city of 1.5 million.

Such measures have been implemented with much success following local outbreaks under China’s “zero tolerance” approach to the pandemic, although they are being seen as taking a major toll on society and the economy, stirring speculation that a new approach may be needed that allows for the virus to circulate to some manageable degree.

China says it has administered more than 1.6 billion doses of vaccine, although questions have been raised about the efficacy of the domestic jabs.

Another 44 imported cases were reported on Friday and 1,370 people are currently being treated for COVID-19, 34 of them in serious condition, according to the National Health Commission.

China has reported 4,636 deaths out of 93,498 cases.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea says it will extend the toughest distancing rules imposed on the greater Seoul area for two more weeks as its worst COVID-19 outbreak at home has no immediate signs of abating.

South Korea on Friday reported 1,704 new cases over the past 24-hour period, taking the country’s total to 207,406, including 2,113 deaths from COVID-19. It’s the 31st day in a row for South Korea’s daily tally to be above 1,000.

Senior health official Lee Ki-Il said the average number of daily infections this week is 1,451, a decrease from last week’s 1,506. Lee still calls the size of the ongoing outbreak “big” and says it’s unclear if the outbreak will display a downward trajectory soon.

Lee says authorities will continue to place the Seoul area under the toughest distancing restrictions until Aug. 22. He says the second highest distancing guidelines enforced on non-capital regions will also be extended for two additional weeks.

In Seoul and nearby cities and towns, private gatherings of three or more people are banned after 6 p.m. High-risk facilities such as nightclubs are not allowed to operate, and weddings and funerals can be attended by up to 49 people. ___

TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey students from kindergarten to 12th grade will be required to wear masks in schools when the new year begins in a few weeks, Gov. Phil Murphy is set to announce Friday as COVID-19 cases rise in the state.

Murphy, a Democrat seeking reelection this year, will formally announce the decision Friday, according to spokesperson Mahen Gunaratna.

The decision to require masks is an about-face from just a few weeks ago when Murphy said it would take a “deterioration” of COVID-19 data to require masks.

The state’s figures, like many across the country, have been trending up in recent weeks. The seven-day rolling average of new cases climbed over the past two weeks from 512 on July 20 to 1,104 on Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The surging figures are part of a nationwide struggle with the contagious delta variant, which has been leading — along with vaccination holdouts — to higher hospitalization rates across the country.

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News from © The Associated Press, 2021
The Associated Press

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