The Latest: NJ governor to announce student mask requirement

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Members of the Korean Health Workers Union wearing protective gear shout slogans during a rally to call for an increase in the number of nurses assigned to Covid-19 treatment wards and for better treatment of medical personnel in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

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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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— Florida, Georgia, Louisiana account for nearly 40% of U.S. hospitalizations

— Moderna plans booster doses to help fight virus and delta variant

— Tokyo hits record 5,042 daily cases as infections surgeduring Olympics

— US plans to require COVID-19 shots for international travelers

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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:

CASPER, Wyo, — Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon says he will not issue another mask mandate for public schools and will instead leave it to local school boards to protect students’ health.

The Casper Star-Tribune reports the decision announced Wednesday was made without coronavirus transmission data from August and came the same day the state’s health officer issued a statement urging caution around coronavirus transmission.

Gordon’s announcement came as COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state mirror figures from early January and as vaccine rates have plateaued.

Vaccines have not been approved for children ages 11 and under.

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HARTFORD, Conn. – Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont on Thursday signed an executive order that allows municipal leaders to require both vaccinated and unvaccinated people to wear face coverings indoors at public places within their respective cities and towns.

This latest order lets municipal leaders move beyond Lamont’s current edict, which requires only unvaccinated people to wear masks while in indoor public places. It also requires everyone to wear them in specific settings, such as health care facilities, prisons, day care sites and public and private transit.

“There are some pockets of the state that are lagging behind others and some leaders in those areas have requested the option of requiring everyone to wear masks until they can get their vaccination rates higher,” the Democrat said in a written statement.

Also Thursday, Lamont signed an order that will ultimately enable Dr. Deidre Gifford, the acting public health commissioner, to require all unvaccinated nursing home staff to be tested weekly for COVID-19. This move comes as public health officials plan to visit every nursing home to check on the number of employees who’ve been vaccinated.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina’s legislature has given final approval to a bill that would require minors to get approval from their parents before being vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The measure cleared the state Senate unanimously earlier this week and it passed the House on Thursday with support from all but five Democrats. It now goes to Gov. Roy Cooper, who has declined to say whether he will sign it into law.

Americans who are at least 12 years old are currently eligible for vaccination against the coronavirus, though children are restricted to receiving the Pfizer vaccine.

State data indicate 262,236 North Carolina residents ages 12 to 17 have gotten at least one shot of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine. That is less than 33% of the state’s nearly 800,000 children in that age group.

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ATLANTA — One of Georgia’s largest school districts will require masks for most of its students, at least for now, as rising coronavirus infections continue to scramble school district plans across the state.

The Fulton County school district announced Thursday that students in all its schools except in the city of Atlanta will have to wear face coverings when classes start Monday. The district runs schools with almost 75,000 students in all of Fulton County, except for those in Atlanta

The district’s decision means more than 38% of Georgia’s public school students are now covered by a mask mandate, according to a count kept by The Associated Press. Twenty-seven other districts have also ordered mask use.

At least four Georgia school districts have delayed the start of classes because of coronavirus exposures.

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has announced new vaccination requirements for state employees who work in congregant settings with the vulnerable — or else face strict face-covering requirements and regular coronavirus testing.

The governor said Thursday that the requirements taking effect Sept. 1 apply to employees at 48 different state facilities. They include 11 state health care facilities and 12 facilities under the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services. They also include six detention centers and 18 correctional facilities as well as the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home.

Hogan adds that “we are also strongly urging the private operators of the state’s 227 nursing homes to institute similar vaccination requirements for their employees.”

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LIBERTY, Mo. — Six state senators have asked Missouri Gov. Mike Parson to call a special session to prevent private businesses in the state from requiring coronavirus vaccines.

The request drew a rebuke from the head of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, who said Thursday that federal and state law and the courts have upheld the rights of employers to require vaccines.

Some Missouri businesses, such as restaurants in St. Louis and Kansas City, have said they will require customers and workers to be vaccinated.

The senators’ letter to Parson focused on employees being required to get the vaccine. They suggested the requirement violates individuals’ freedom and liberty.

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SEATTLE — Amazon has pushed back its return-to-office date for tech and corporate workers until January as coronavirus infections rise nationally due to the more contagious delta variant.

Unlike its Seattle-area rival Microsoft and other tech giants, Amazon will not mandate employees receive a coronavirus vaccine before they return to the office. Instead, the company said Thursday that unvaccinated employees will be required to wear masks in the office.

The surge of cases has upended many companies’ plans to bring office workers back this fall, a drive already complicated by efforts to accommodate widespread employee preference for flexible remote work policies, and debates over how to handle vaccine and masking policies.

Other companies that have postponed reopening plans include Microsoft, Google, Twitter and Lyft.

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BALTIMORE — Baltimore is the latest U.S. city to return to indoor mask requirements as coronavirus infections rise.

Mayor Brandon Scott said Thursday that indoor masking regulations will take effect Monday, giving businesses and citizens a few days to adjust. The indoor mask rules are mandated for everyone, regardless of vaccination status.

The order came as the city health commission said new virus cases have increased 374% over the past month. As is the case across the nation, the delta variant is driving those infections.

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OKLAHOMA CITY — The number of hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Oklahoma has topped 900 for the first time since February, which a University of Oklahoma doctor says is his biggest concern due to a lack of nurses.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health said Thursday that there are 954 hospitalizations, with 274 patients in intensive care.

Dr. Dale Bratzler at University of Oklahoma Health says that “back in January, February, we handled the capacity with the big numbers of cases. We can’t do it now because we don’t have enough nurses and personnel to take care of all of those patients.”

OU Health has three hospitals plus clinics around the state and says its nursing staff is 19% below what is needed, with about 400 positions unfilled.

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PHOENIX — More than 150 Arizona doctors are urging Gov. Doug Ducey to mandate masks in public schools.

The physicians dialed up pressure on the governor Thursday as coronavirus cases rise and a growing number of school districts are requiring staff and students to wear masks.

The doctors say in a letter to the governor that highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus “has changed the fight.” They say scientists don’t yet know the long-term effects of the coronavirus on developing brains.

The legislature this year blocked schools from requiring masks, but at least six districts have done so anyway noting the law doesn’t take effect until the end of September.

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WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — One of Iowa’s largest health care provides has announced it will require its more than 33,000 employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus — or lose their jobs.

The West Des Moines-based system announced the vaccine requirement Thursday.

CEO and president Clay Holderman says the vaccination requirement is meant to protect the system’s employees and patients. The requirement applies to all employees, regardless of whether they provide direct patient care.

UnityPoint employees must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1. Those who refuse must resign or be fired.

Employees can request an exemption for medical or religious reasons, and pregnant employees — while strongly encouraged to get vaccinated — can request a temporary deferral.

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TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas’ most populous county has ordered masks worn by students and staff in elementary schools in hopes of checking the more contagious delta variant of the coronavirus.

The Johnson County Commission voted 5-2 Thursday to impose the requirement for schools from kindergarten through the sixth grade.

The commission faced criticism both from health care providers who urged members to go further and from parents and other residents who opposed a mask mandate.

Johnson County, in the Kansas City area, has six public school districts with about 96,000 students or 20% of the state’s total. The mandate affects roughly 50,000 students

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HELENA, Mont. —The U.S. Department of Education has approved Montana’s plan to use federal coronavirus relief funds, distributing $127 million to the state’s K-12 schools.

The most recent round of funding announced Thursday is the third and last delivering the $382 million allocated to Montana schools through the federal American Rescue Plan.

Montana’s Office of Public Instruction will allocate funds to school districts to identify and help students whose learning was affected by the pandemic. It will also support student enrichment programs and mental health resources.

The funding comes on top of $32 million given to schools for coronavirus testing.

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TAMPA, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis held a news conference at Tampa General Hospital to promote the use of monoclonal antibodies to treat COVID-19 cases.

The governor said: “I had hoped that the vaccine would just completely shut off any chance of infection and then you’d have big herd immunity and that obviously isn’t happening.”

DeSantis says he expects cases to rise during the summer.

Asked by a reporter about masks in schools, DeSantis repeated his stance that the decision should be made by parents, not school districts.

“What are the harmful effects of putting a kindergartener in a mask for seven hours? Have they talked about the emotional, the academic, the physiological? Why isn’t CDC studying that?” DeSantis said.

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MILAN — Italy will require a vaccination pass on long-distance transportation, including high-speed trains and ferries between regions, beginning Sept. 1.

Government ministers met Thursday to decide additional requirements for the so-called Green Pass, which will be required from Friday to access indoor dining, theaters, indoor swimming pools, gyms, museums and other gathering places.

Under the new restrictions, access will be granted to anyone who has had at least one dose of vaccine in the last nine months, who has recovered from COVID-19 in the last six months, or has tested negative in the previous 48 hours.

Ministers also say school will resume in September with all students present in classrooms, after a year and a half of at least part-time distance learning. All students over age 6 will have to wear masks and maintain social distancing.

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MIAMI — The CDC says there are more than 20,100 new coronavirus cases in the state of Florida, raising the seven-day average to a pandemic high of 18,120.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Thursday that the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 rose from 12,041 to 12,516 in the previous 24 hours,

More than 2,500 of those patients required intensive care, using about 40% of the ICU beds in the state, compared to less than 20% they were using two weeks ago.

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RIO RANCHO, N.M. — The head of a national teachers union is visiting New Mexico as part of a nationwide campaign to convince parents that it’s safe to send their kids back to public school.

The effort comes as more parents voice concerns over mask mandates, saying they aren’t being given a choice as school boards adopt state and federal guidance on the matter.

The school board that oversees New Mexico’s largest district ended its meeting early Wednesday amid parents protesting, and members of a rural school board in eastern New Mexico were suspended by state officials for deciding that masks would be optional this school year.

American Federation of Teacher President Randi Weingarten has said she believes masks are among the precautions that school districts can take to ensure students can safely return to in-person learning.

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RICHMOND, Va. — Most of Virginia’s state workers will have to be vaccinated or agree to regular coronavirus testing under a new requirement announced by Gov. Ralph Northam.

The governor’s office said Thursday that the order will take effect Sept. 1 and applies to more than 120,000 executive branch employees. It comes amid a national surge in coronavirus infections driven by the delta variant. Most cases involve the unvaccinated.

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