The Latest: Australia also records new COVID-19 highs

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Pope Francis delivers his blessing as he recites the Angelus noon prayer from the window of his studio overlooking St.Peter’s Square, at the Vatican, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021. The pontiff said he shares “the unanimous concern for the situation in Afghanistan” and expressed his closeness to the people of Haiti following Saturday’s 7.2-magnitude quake. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s two most populous states on Thursday recorded new benchmark highs in COVID-19 infections.

New South Wales reported a record 681 cases in the latest 24-hour period, mostly in Sydney. The previous record for the most populous state was 633 cases set on Wednesday.

Neighboring Victoria reported 57 new cases in its capital Melbourne. It was the highest daily tally since the final days of a second wave of infections in early September last year.

Melbourne and the entire state of New South Wales are in lockdown as authorities attempt to stamp out coronavirus spread as Australia had successfully done throughout the pandemic before the delta variant arrived on its shores.

Melbourne is in its 6th lockdown of the pandemic and Thursday marked the 200th day that Australia’s second-most populous city has been locked down.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— AP Source: Biden to require vaccinesfor nursing home staff

— US health officials call for coronavirus booster shotsfor all

— WHO warns against boosters before 1st vaccines for other countries

— Mississippi opens second field hospital in Jackson amid surge

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

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand will now allow youths aged 12 to 15 to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. Previously, only those aged 16 and over were eligible.

The government announcement Thursday came as the nation remains in a strict lockdown as it deals with a new outbreak of the fast-spreading delta variant, its first virus outbreak in six months.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said there were 11 new infections, bringing the total in the outbreak to 21. She said the outbreak had been linked to a passenger who returned from Sydney earlier this month.

On Tuesday, the government imposed a lockdown of at least three days across the country and of at least seven days in in Auckland and Coromandel. New Zealand health workers are using only the Pfizer vaccine in their inoculation campaign.

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UNITED NATIONS — The United States is urging the more than 150 countries planning to send their leader or a government minister to New York to speak at the U.N. General Assembly next month to consider giving a video address instead to prevent the annual high-level week from becoming “a super-spreader event.”

A note from the U.S. Mission sent to the 192 other U.N. member nations also called for all other U.N.-hosted meetings and side events to be virtual, saying these parallel meetings that draw travelers to New York “needlessly increase risk to our community, New Yorkers and the other travelers.”

The U.S. note, obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, said the Biden administration is particularly concerned about Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the incoming General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid hosting high-level in-person events on climate change, vaccines, the 20th anniversary of the U.N. World Conference Against Racism, food systems and energy.

“The United States is willing to make every effort to make these important events on shared priorities successful in a virtual format,” the note said.

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California will tighten its rules for indoor events next month, requiring either proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test for gatherings of 1,000 people or more as new cases continue to climb because of the delta variant.

California already requires these things for indoor gatherings of 5,000 people or more, but that rule says people don’t have to show proof. The new rule, which takes effect Sept. 20, requires people to show proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test within 72 hours to attend the event. The testing requirement includes children under 12 and others who are not allowed to get the vaccine.

The new rule will last until at least Nov. 1. State officials say they will reevaluate it by Oct. 15 to decide whether to extend it.

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Hillsborough County school board, which oversees the nation’s 8th-largest district, voted 5-2 Wednesday to adopt a stricter, 30-day mask mandate with a medical opt-out for students, teachers and staff.

The vote came a week after classes began and amid a coronavirus outbreak in which more than 10,000 students have been quarantined due to virus exposure.

The decision could set up a clash with the administration of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and state education officials who argue such mandates are illegal and subject to punishment, said Hillsborough school board attorney Jim Porter. “There is a risk they will find us in non-compliance,” Porter said at a nearly five-hour meeting.

The main sponsor, board member Nadia Combs, said the virus outbreak poses “an immediate danger” to the school system and steps must be taken to contain it or the district might face a complete shutdown. “I am not on the board for political partisanship,” Combs said. “We have to keep our schools open. That is my goal.”

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JACKSON, MISS. — Mississippi health officials say almost 1,000 hospital beds that could be used to treat patients during the latest surge of coronavirus in the state are unstaffed because of a shortage of healthcare workers.

That’s while Mississippi is facing a record number of people hospitalized with the virus — 1,633 on Tuesday, according to the state Department of Health.

“We’re still nowhere near the staff we need for the beds we need,” said Jim Craig, senior deputy for the Mississippi Department of Health, during a virtual briefing with press Wednesday.

Craig said 73 hospitals in Mississippi requested over 1,451 staff members to treat patients. More than 250 people were waiting in Mississippi emergency rooms for beds Wednesday morning, according to health officials.

If those positions were filled, the state could staff 771 medical-surgical beds and 235 intensive care unit beds, Craig said.

Mississippi is one of the lowest-paying states for healthcare workers. State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said that is one reason why healthcare workers have left.

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The health department in Tennessee’s most populous county reinstituted a face mask requirement Wednesday for indoor public places such as restaurants, bars and other businesses as a surge in COVID-19 cases strains hospital resources and causes concern in schools.

A news release from the health department in Shelby County, which includes Memphis, said the mask requirement begins Friday and also applies to gyms, event venues and common areas of hotels and multi-residential buildings. The order also includes businesses such as retail shops, grocery stores and laundries, Shelby County Health Department spokeswoman Joan Carr said.

The move comes after strained Memphis-area hospitals sent a letter to government officials asking Shelby County to reimpose a mask mandate. Hospitals in Memphis and throughout Tennessee warned of a lack of staffing, and a dearth of intensive care and acute care beds, as the delta variant led to a surge in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, including among children.

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OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington state is expanding its COVID-19 vaccine mandate to include all public, charter and private school teachers and staff — plus those working at the state’s colleges and universities.

Those who are not fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 risk losing their jobs, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday.

Inslee’s office said the latest mandate also applies to college coaches, including Washington State football coach Nick Rolovich, who said he has declined to be vaccinated for personal reasons. Rolovich is one of two state employees scheduled to make more than $3 million this year along with Washington football coach Jimmy Lake.

Inslee on Wednesday also expanded the statewide indoor mask mandate in place for non-vaccinated individuals to include those who are vaccinated.

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LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to require city workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 unless they have a medical or religious exemption.

The ordinance sets Sept. 7 as the last day to receive the first dose of a two-dose vaccine and Oct. 5 for the second dose in order to be in compliance. The last day to receive the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine is Oct. 5.

Employees or contractors hired by the city on or after Oct. 20 will have a clause in their contracts requiring vaccination if they will be doing in-person work.

Petitions for medical or religious exemptions will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and those who receive exemptions will have to have weekly COVID-19 tests, according to a statement from the office of City Council President Nury Martinez.

“We are the largest employer in the City of Los Angeles and we need to set an example,” Martinez said. “How can we urge Angelenos to get vaccinated if we won’t demand that of our own employees? No resident should be nervous that the city worker helping them is unvaccinated and may get them sick.”

City employees will also be required to get booster shots when they become available.

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ST.. LOUIS — St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones on Wednesday ordered the city’s employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing.

Jones said in a statement nearly 6,000 civil service employees will be expected to get the vaccine by Oct. 15 or they will be required to submit to weekly testing by the city’s health department. She said there will be no exceptions from the weekly testing for people who aren’t fully vaccinated.

“St. Louis is joining the ranks of major public and private sector employers across the country who are requiring vaccination to protect public health,” Jones said. “By encouraging vaccinations, we help keep our hospitals running, protect our children, and save lives.”

The mayor cited a growing number of cases, particularly among those 19 and younger, which she said comprise nearly a quarter of newly reported COVID-19 cases. She said children younger than 10 make up about 12% of all new cases, which is greater than at any point in the pandemic.

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said that coronavirus booster shots will be available starting the week of September 20, pending approval by the FDA.

The shots will be free and will be provided to people eight months after they received their second shot of the vaccine, the president said.

The president downplayed criticism that Americans would be getting additional protection against COVID-19 while much of the world still waits for their first vaccination shots.

“There’s some world leaders who say America shouldn’t get a third shot until other countries got their first shot–I disagree,” Biden said in Wednesday remarks at the White House. “We can take care of America and help the world at the same time.”

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. — All workers at Maryland hospitals and nursing homes will be required to get vaccinated or submit to regular coronavirus testing, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday.

The requirement affects the state’s 227 nursing homes and all hospital systems, though some of the largest systems already imposed vaccine mandates.

Workers must get their first dose of the vaccine no later than Sept. 1 or undergo regular screening and testing for the virus, Hogan said.

Nursing homes that don’t comply will face doubled fines, higher civil penalties and tougher enforcement actions, he said.

About two weeks ago, Hogan announced that state employees at prisons, hospitals and other congregate settings would be required to get vaccinated or get tested regularly.

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OKLAHOMA CITY – Just 61 of about 30,000 Oklahoma City public school students have opted out of a newly adopted mask requirement, a district spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Santa Fe South charter school reported no opt-outs among its approximately 3,600 students.

Both districts announced masking policies last week with opt-out options for reasons such as medical or religious restrictions.

Oklahoma City district spokesperson Crystal Raymond said district officials declined to speculate on why fewer than 1% of students have chosen to opt out as of the end of the day Tuesday.

Santa Fe South Superintendent Chris Brewster said more parents may eventually choose to exempt their children from masking, but they currently see it as a good idea.

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LANSING, Mich. — Michigan’s top doctor said Wednesday she had told Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the state health director that reinstating a mask requirement in K-12 schools would likely lessen the spread of COVID-19, but she added there are other factors at play.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive and chief deputy health director, reiterated that she is “concerned” about the coronavirus’ potential impact on schools as the delta variant takes hold.

The state Department of Health and Human Services last week strongly recommended universal masking in schools regardless of vaccination status but stopped short of requiring it.

Many county health departments are recommending masks, but just three — Genesee, Kalamazoo and Allegan — have mandated them countywide, specifically for K-6 students, teachers and staff.

Republican lawmakers last week warned the health department in Kent, the state’s fourth-largest county and home to Grand Rapids, that requiring masks could cost it state funding.

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