The Latest: Florida allows anybody 50+ to get COVID-19 shot

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FILE – In this Jan. 28, 2021, file photo, airport employees unload the first shipment of Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine after it arrived at the international airport in El Alto, Bolivia. Russia’s boast in August that it was the first country to authorize a coronavirus vaccine led to skepticism because of its insufficient testing on only a few dozen people. Now, with demand growing for the Sputnik V, experts are raising questions again, this time over whether Moscow can keep up with all the orders from countries that want it. (AP Photo/Juan Karita, File)

ORLANDO, Fla. — The number of Floridians eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine expanded on Monday as the state allowed anybody age 50 and up to get the shot, and the county that is home to the state’s biggest theme parks set the bar even lower by allowing anyone age 40 and up to get an injection.

With the loosening of the statewide qualifications, more than a third of Floridians were now eligible to get a vaccine solely based on age at all vaccination sites in the state.

Starting Monday, Orange County expanded the age eligibility a decade lower than the statewide requirement at its county-run facility at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. Reservations were required for the drive-thru site at the convention center, and 7,000 appointments were filled within 13 minutes, officials said.

In expanding the eligibility, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said last week there has been decreasing demand at the convention center site. He said he had notified the state and felt he had the authority to expand eligibility in the county.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of a mega-sized rest stop in Daytona Beach, DeSantis said he had concerns about Orange County “choosing to prioritize a healthy 40-year-old” over older residents. “It’s not authorized,” said DeSantis.

But Demings, a Democrat, said Monday that his goal was to get as many people in Orange County vaccinated, and he wasn’t intending to take a political or partisan position against the Republican governor.

“My goal here is not to make this a personal issue,” Demings said. “This is about the safety of the people in this community.”

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— AstraZeneca: US data shows vaccine effective for all ages

— Analysis finds faster is not necessarily better in US COVID-19 vaccine rollout

— Germany looks set toextend lockdown measures again

— Taiwan gives health workers island’s first AstraZeneca doses

— Teachers lament ‘chaotic’ virus rules in German schools

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Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas legislators have approved a measure that would give judges and prosecutors a little more than two years to clear a backlog of criminal cases that built up during the coronavirus pandemic.

The House voted 114-7 to pass a bill that would suspend until May 1, 2023, legal deadlines for criminal cases meant to protect defendants’ constitutional right to speedy trials. The bill goes next to Gov. Laura Kelly because the Senate approved it last week.

The law requires trials for jailed defendants to start within five months of them entering a plea, or six months if they are free on bond. Prosecutors fear that if the deadlines remain in effect with a backlog of some 5,000 cases, judges will be forced to release some defendants accused of violent crimes.

The House vote came just before the state health department reported that more than 1 million COVID-19 vaccine shots have been administered within the state.

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DENVER — Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Monday announced a statewide tour to hear from residents and gather ideas on how to spend the state’s portion of the federal government’s $1.9 trillion plan to support the U.S. economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Polis and bipartisan leaders from the state Legislature will be part of the Democrat called a “Build Back Stronger Statewide Listening Tour.”

They will hold in-person and virtual sessions in seven different parts of the state to hear from small business owners, local elected officials and sectors that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

Under the economic stimulus plan signed by President Joseph Biden this month, Colorado will receive about $3.9 billion in state funds, said Sen. Dominick Moreno, a Democrat who is a member of the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee.

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LANSING, Mich. — Starting Monday, hundreds of Michigan school districts had to offer at least 20 hours a week of in-person instruction to receive all of a minimum $450-per-student increase in emergency pandemic funding.

The provision affects 206, or 38%, of the state’s 537 traditional K-12 districts — those with higher numbers or percentages of children from middle-class and wealthy families.

Under federal law, the districts are due to receive a smaller share of nearly $1.5 billion in COVID-19 aid than are districts and charter schools with higher numbers or portions of poor students. The Republican-led Legislature allocated $136 million in state money to ensure hundreds of districts still get at least $450 more per pupil, but it added a string.

Those with five-day schedules must provide at least 20 hours of weekly face-to-face instruction to qualify for the supplemental dollars.

“It’s important for kids to be in school academically, socially and emotionally,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Thomas Albert, a Lowell Republican.

Districts that were not already providing 20 hours had less than two weeks to alter their schedules after the law was signed by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on March 9, frustrating school officials who had unsuccessfully asked GOP lawmakers for more time.

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MADRID — Spain’s health minister said the country will resume use of the AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19 by extending it to adults up to 65 years of age and that authorities will consider vaccinating older people with the shot after new studies revealed Monday that it provides strong protection to all.

AstraZeneca said Monday in a long-anticipated study that its vaccine was 79% effective overall at preventing symptomatic cases of COVID-19, including in older people, and that none of the more than 30,000 volunteers in the study were hospitalized or developed severe disease.

Health Minister Carolina Darias said that officials needed time to analyze the study before broadening use of the vaccine, which several regions and doctors had for weeks demanded.

Spain, like many European countries, halted administration of the AstraZeneca shot last week, but European drug regulators later declared the vaccine safe and with no obvious links to a few dozen cases of rare blood clots.

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PHOENIX — Arizona is opening coronavirus vaccine appointments to everyone 16 and older.

Gov. Doug Ducey said Monday that appointments will be available at state-run mass vaccination sites in Phoenix, Tucson and Yuma starting 8 a.m. on Wednesday. Ducey said the decision was made based on an anticipated increase in vaccine supply.

Arizona is among the first states to allow anyone to sign up for vaccine appointments. President Joe Biden has said he wants states to take that step by May 1 and seek to vaccinate everyone who wants a shot by the end of May.

State officials say about 2.9 million vaccine doses have been given to about 1.1 million people so far in Arizona.

The change applies only to state-run vaccination sites, which have distributed the bulk of the vaccines.

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GENEVA — A top U.N. health expert says the weekly global count of COVID-19 deaths is rising again, calling it a “worrying sign” after about six weeks of declines.

Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead on COVID-19 at the World Health Organization, says cases are rising in four of the WHO’s five regions worldwide.

Cases in Europe have increased by 12 percent in the last week, Van Kerkhove told a press conference. The rise was driven by the spread of a variant that first emerged in Britain and has spread to many other places including eastern Europe.

Southeast Asia tallied a 49 percent jump over the last week, and WHO’s Western Pacific region tallied a 29 percent rise, she said.

Meantime, the Americas and Africa registered declines.

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NEW YORK — Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday that the state is expanding eligibility for the coronavirus vaccine to everyone ages 50 and above.

The governor said newly eligible people can start signing up for vaccines on 8 a.m. Tuesday.

Previously, everyone ages 60 and older could get vaccinated, as well as certain essential workers and people with select health conditions.

Cuomo said the state can expand eligibility because of promises from the federal government that vaccine supplies will continue increasing. It’s unclear how many people are now eligible for vaccines in New York.

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MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota health officials reported no new deaths due to COVID-19 for the first time in nearly a year.

The Minnesota Department of Health also reported 1,152 new cases, putting the state at 506,376 cases and 6,782 deaths since the start of the pandemic a year ago. The Star Tribune reported that while Mondays tend to feature fewer deaths reported than average, the figure is the first time the state has reported no new deaths in a daily situation update since April 13.

Despite the good news on deaths, health officials have said in recent weeks they’re worried about the spread of coronavirus mutations — called variants — in different parts of Minnesota, which they say could derail the state’s progress in fighting the pandemic.

Officials said the state is in a race against the spread of the variants and reaching Democratic Gov. Tim Walz’s goal of 80% of the state’s population being fully vaccinated.

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GENEVA — The World Health Organization has a message for any countries that have stocks of AstraZeneca vaccines against COVID but are hesitant about using it: Give it to us, we have a lot of would-be takers.

Dr. Bruce Aylward, a special adviser to the WHO director-general, acknowledged the U.N. health agency received “a lot of questions” from AstraZeneca’s vaccine amid early concerns whether it might be linked to cases of a severe, rare blood clotting in some patients who received it.

Aylward told reporters that countries pressing ahead with a rollout of the AstraZeneca are “very keen” to receive it, including participants in the U.N.-backed COVAX program that aims to get vaccines to countries where they are most needed, whether rich or poor.

“The problem is not a lack of demand. It’s quite the contrary,” he said. “If there are any countries that do have concerns or are not fully utilizing a vaccine … make it available to the COVAX facility because we have a long list of countries that are very, very keen to use the AstraZeneca vaccine.”

“We simply cannot get enough of it,” he said. Positive results from clinical trials of the vaccine in the United States, Chile and Peru have “really given a new confidence and demand for that vaccine.”

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MADISON, Wis. — The governor of Wisconsin has signed a bill that allows dentists to administer COVID-19 vaccinations. The bill was signed the same day more than 2 million more people became eligible for shots.

The Republican-authored bill allows dentists who complete eight hours of training on vaccine protocols and record keeping to administer shots. Dentists in neighboring Minnesota and Illinois are already permitted to give the vaccine. About 3,500 dentists in Wisconsin could be enlisted to help vaccinate.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ administration announced earlier this month that people age 16 and up with certain pre-existing conditions would be eligible on Monday, a week earlier than previously announced.

State Department of Health Services Secretary Karen Timberlake urged people to be patient as they try to book vaccination appointments, warning some vaccinators may have waiting lists.

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PRAGUE — The Czech Republic is expanding its program of mandatory mass testing of employees to include the smallest companies.

Industry and Trade Minister Karel Havlicek says the firms with less than 10 people have to start to test them on a weekly basis. The non-governmental organizations will also have to do so as well self-employed people who are in personal contacts with their customers.

The minister says that with the inclusion of the new categories, a total of 500,000 tests of employees will be conducted daily.

The government has also decided to ask the Parliament to approve its plan to extend a state of emergency by another 30 days. The current state of emergency will expire on March 28. It would enable the government to keep in place a strict lockdown till at least April 5, the last day of Easter.

The nation of 10.7 million has almost 1.5 million confirmed cases with 24,810 deaths.

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SKOPJE, North Macedonia — Authorities in North Macedonia are extending a nationwide curfew for another two weeks. The 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew was first imposed March 10.

The Balkan country of 2.1 million recorded last week a 50% increase in infections over the previous two weeks. Hospitals are filling and most new patients have the U.K. virus variant.

Inoculations started among medical workers in mid-February from a batch of 4,680 doses of Pfizer vaccines donated by neighboring Serbia.

So far North Macedonia has recorded nearly 120,000 confirmed infections and more than 3,400 deaths.

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The governor of West Virginia announced the state will immediately open coronavirus vaccine eligibility to all residents aged 16 and older.

Republican Gov. Jim Justice said the state will continue prioritizing doses for residents 65 and over.

The state becomes one of the few in the nation to lift virtually all eligibility requirements way ahead of President Joe Biden’s goal of allowing all adults to get shots starting on May 1.

There are about 1.43 million people 18 and older in the state, according to census data.

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LISBON, Portugal — Portugal resumed administering AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, a week after temporarily halting its use.

Portugal was one of the European countries which last week suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine after a few dozen people in other countries who had the jab developed blood clots. The European Union’s drug regulatory agency concluded after a review it couldn’t rule out a direct link in those cases but said the benefits of using the vaccine outweigh the possible risks.

Authorities say Portugal’s vaccination program is running late due to a shortage of supply, but officials hope to speed up jabs in coming weeks by opening vaccination centers in large buildings, such as stadiums.

Portugal, a country of 10.3 million people, had administered almost 1.35 million jabs by Sunday. The health ministry does not publish a breakdown of which vaccines it is administering.

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PRISTINA, Kosovo — Kosovo’s outgoing health minister sent a letter of complaint to the international community for delaying delivery of the vaccine to the tiny Western Balkan country.

Minister Armend Zemaj said that “Unfortunately, despite our maximum commitment, we are the only country in Europe that has not received a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine.”

Kosovo’s only shots were made last weekend for a group of 500 medical personnel in neighboring Albania. Kosovar doctors and nurses traveled to Albania’s northeastern city of Kukes to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Vaccination has yet to start in Kosovo, which is expecting the first batch of vaccines from the Covax facility later this month. The government has ordered an overnight curfew and banned public gatherings of over 50 people.

Kosovo has reported 83,012 total confirmed cases and 1,776 confirmed deaths as of Monday.

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