The Latest: Washington state officials see encouraging signs

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A man walks his dog in the outskirts of Frankfurt, Germany, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020, the first day of a nationwide lockdown. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

OLYMPIA, Washington — Coronavirus infections remain rampant, but health officials in Washington state said Wednesday they’re seeing some encouraging signs in recent data, just as front-line workers begin receiving vaccinations.

Health Department Secretary Dr. John Wiesman and Dr. Kathy Lofy, the state health officer, said new cases and hospitalizations appear to be flattening a bit. However, they warned people to remain vigilant and to remain home for the holidays, because another surge on top of current case levels could swamp hospital capacity.

The state has not seen a jump in cases related to Thanksgiving gatherings. Lofy noted that hospital bed occupancy has even started falling in southwest Washington, but case numbers in the central part of the state have been more troubling.

Overall, just under 13% of the state’s acute-care beds are occupied by COVID patients; officials would prefer to see that number below 10%.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

A health worker in Alaska suffered a severe allergic reaction after receiving thePfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Doctors already knew to be on the lookout after Britain reported two similar cases last week of the vaccine made by Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech.

U.S. health officials have given the OK to another rapid coronavirus test that people can use at home with results in 20 minutes. Abbott Laboratories says the FDA authorized home use of the $25 test sold through an app. It plans to ship 30 million tests in the U.S. over the first three months of 2021.

— Tyson fires 7 at Iowa pork plant after COVID betting inquiry

— First coronavirus vaccinations underway at U.S. nursing homes, where the virus has killedupwards of 110,000 people.

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

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

O’FALLON, Mo. — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Wednesday lauded the rollout of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, but it appears the second-week supply will be thousands of doses smaller than anticipated.

Missouri received about 51,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week, and vaccinations of frontline health care workers began Monday. The state initially said it would get another 63,675 doses of the Pfizer vaccine next week, as well as 105,300 doses of the Moderna vaccine if that version receives federal clearance.

State health director Dr. Randall Williams said it now appears that Missouri’s next batch of the Pfizer vaccine will be 25% to 30% less than anticipated. He said the variance was “not unanticipated” given the vast rollout nationwide, but he’s still trying to determine from federal officials what changed.

Meanwhile, Parson, in response to a question at a news conference, seemed to indicate he wasn’t sure if he would get vaccinated, but his spokeswoman later clarified that he planned to do so.

Parson and his wife are among the 353,038 Missourians who have contracted the virus. Both were diagnosed in September, and neither required hospitalization.

“You know, I’ve had COVID-19 so I think my personal view would be I would want to make sure a lot of other people got it (the vaccine) before I have it,” Parson said. But as for himself, he added, “We’ll make that decision as we move forward as it comes more available.” It wasn’t clear if he meant he wanted more information about the value of a COVID-19 survivor getting vaccinated.

Parson’s spokeswoman, Kelli Jones, later said in an email that Parson “has full intentions of getting the COVID vaccine. Since he has already had COVID, however, he will wait until his age group is eligible to receive the vaccine according to the phases of Missouri’s vaccine plan.” Parson is 65.

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NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans bars won’t have to send patrons onto the street because city residents have heeded warnings the city might have to tighten coronavirus pandemic restrictions, city officials said Wednesday.

Numbers remain higher than they were six weeks ago and are still higher than officials would like, but don’t “cross the threshold that would close our bars to indoor seating,” said Dr. Jennifer Avegno, head of the city health department.

“In no way are we out of the woods at all,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell said during a livestreamed news conference with Avegno. However, she said, the percentage of positive tests — which had hit 5.2% — has fallen back below 5%.

Under Gov. John Bel Edwards’ statewide order, bars can have indoor seating only in parishes where the percentage of positive tests is below 5%.

Over the past week, Cantrell said, the figure was 4.7%.

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RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil’s number of confirmed COVID-19 cases surged past 7 million on Wednesday, with an all-time high of more than 70,000 cases, according to the health ministry’s daily bulletin.

The total remains the world’s third highest, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

The ministry also reported 936 deaths from the disease. Neither its newly reported deaths nor cases included data from Sao Paulo state, Brazil’s most populous and where the toll has been heaviest. In a text message, the health ministry cited “technical problems,” without elaborating.

The number of cases and deaths in Latin America’s largest nation has rebounded since local leaders eased restrictions and pandemic fatigue set in.

President Jair Bolsonaro, who has consistently undermined quarantine measures and downplayed the virus’ severity, said at a public event last week that Brazil is at “the tail end of the pandemic.”

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ATLANTA — A record number of people were in hospitals Wednesday in Georgia with confirmed COVID-19 infections, another signal that infections are now more widespread than at the previous summer peak, as public health authorities sought to raise the alarm that the coronavirus is spreading unabated across the state.

In Atlanta, COVID Survivors for Change set out 1,000 chairs near the state capitol in a cold rain to remember the people who have died in Georgia from the respiratory illness. That number rose Wednesday to 10,228 confirmed and suspected deaths.

“I caught COVID-19 back on March,” Marjorie Roberts said at the ceremony. “My first day of symptoms was March 26. Now, nine months later I’m still feeling the remnants. I also lost one of my lifelong friends to COVID-19. I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye. He died in a hospital all by himself. All alone.”

The state Department of Public Health, in a weekly report, warned about the continuing spread of infections. As of Wednesday, confirmed and suspected infections had averaged more than 6,100 over the previous week.

“They reflect our highest case numbers ever, and are not decreasing or leveling off day to day,” the department said.

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JUNEAU, Alaska — Health officials in Alaska reported a health care worker had a severe allergic reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine within 10 minutes of receiving a shot.

U.S. health authorities warned doctors to be on the lookout for rare allergic reactions when they rolled out the first vaccine, made by Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech. Britain had reported a few similar allergic reactions a week earlier.

The Juneau health worker began feeling flushed and short of breath on Tuesday, says Dr. Lindy Jones, the emergency room medical director at Bartlett Regional Hospital. She was treated with epinephrine and other medicines for what officials ultimately determined was anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction. She was kept overnight but has recovered.

Unlike the British cases, the Alaska woman has no history of allergic reactions.

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Planned payments of $400 to some Oklahoma residents who lost wages amid the coronavirus pandemic are being put on hold due to the potential approval of additional federal unemployment payments, Oklahoma Employment Security Commission director Shelley Zumwalt said Wednesday.

“If new federal legislation is passed and a new federal unemployment relief package reaches Oklahomans, it will be clear that OESC will return the funds,” said Zumwalt, who announced Dec. 10 that the payments would begin this week.

The governor’s office announced Wednesday that the state has received all of its initial allotment of coronavirus vaccine doses.

In addition to the more than 33,000 doses to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, more than 6,800 doses were sent to tribal nations by Indian Health Services and the Veterans Administration.

The Oklahoma National Guard has begun delivering the first doses of a coronavirus vaccine to health care providers throughout the state.

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas has reached another record one-day increase in COVID-19 deaths.

The state Health Department on Wednesday said 58 more people died from the illness caused by the virus. The increase brings the state’s total fatalities since the pandemic began to 3,074.

The state’s probable and confirmed cases rose by 2,306 to 191,504. Wednesday increase in deaths was the state’s highest since it reported 55 new deaths on Friday. The number of people hospitalized due to COVID-19 rose by nine to 1,079.

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LOS ANGELES — California reported a record 53,711 coronavirus cases and 293 deaths on Wednesday.

The continuing surge in the pandemic brings California’s death toll to 21,481, according to the state Department of Public Health. The previous daily high for deaths was 225, reported Saturday.

The state has 1.6 million confirmed cases of coronavirus. Hospitals are filling up so fast in California that officials are rolling out mobile field facilities. They’re also scrambling to hire more doctors and nurses to prepare for an expected surge in coronavirus patients.

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IOWA CITY, Iowa — Tyson Foods says it has fired seven top managers at its largest pork plant after an independent investigation into allegations that they bet on how many workers would test positive for the coronavirus.

The company says the investigation led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder revealed troubling behavior that resulted in the firings at the plant in Waterloo, Iowa. An outbreak centered around the plant infected more than 1,000 employees, at least six of whom died.

Lawyers for the families of four deceased Waterloo workers allege in lawsuits that plant manager Tom Hart organized a buy-in betting pool for supervisors to wager on how many employees would test positive for the coronavirus. The virus eventually tore through the broader Waterloo community.

Tyson Foods President and CEO Dean Banks says the “behavior exhibited by these individuals does not represent the Tyson core values, which is why we took immediate and appropriate action.” Banks traveled to the Waterloo plant on Wednesday to discuss the actions with employees.

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BERLIN — Berlin’s health office says Germany’s 16 states will begin vaccinations on Dec. 27, with the first shots going to nursing homes. That comes as Germany hit a record level of deaths from the coronavirus and enters a harder lockdown, closing shops and schools.

Germany on Wednesday recorded 179 virus-related infections per 100,000 residents over the last seven days, a new high.

It also passed its previous daily total, with the 16 states reporting 952 deaths from the virus, the agency says. The previous daily record was 598 on Friday, although included two days of figures from the hard-hit eastern state of Saxony.

While daily cases peaked in March at about 6,000, they are now more than four times that level, with 27,728 cases reported Wednesday by the Robert Koch Institute.

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PORTLAND, Ore. — The first coronavirus vaccines in Oregon were given to nurses, respiratory therapists, housekeeping staff and other health care workers on Wednesday.

Legacy Health and Oregon Health & Science University in Portland and Saint Alphonsus Hospital in Ontario, on the Oregon-Idaho border, vaccinated their first five staff members in the event broadcast live via Zoom, followed by the other hospitals. The first shipments of vaccine arrived Monday.

State officials have said they will receive 35,100 initial doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Another vaccine made by Moderna is expected to receive federal approval soon and Oregon officials estimate there will be enough of the two vaccines to initially immunize about 100,000 people in the state. Oregon has reported 1,214 deaths and 96,092 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic.

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CHICAGO — Roughly 30% of eligible Chicago Public Schools students plan to return to in-person classes when the nation’s third-largest school district begins reopening next month.

Chicago Public Schools announced last month that the district would resume in-person learning in phases in the New Year because remote learning wasn’t serving many students in the largely Black and Latino district. The district has required remote learning since March.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports district leaders says about 75,000 of eligible students from pre-kindergarten through 8th grade and in special education will return in January and February. A date for high school students hasn’t been set.

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BRUSSELS — The European Union plans to deploy anti-coronavirus shots across the 27-nation bloc using “supersonic fast procedure” once the EU regulator approves the BioNTech/Pfizer coronavirus vaccine.

The European Medicines Agency is expected to give its go-ahead next Monday Speaking at the European Parliament on Wednesday, EU commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas says if the EMA approves the vaccines on Dec. 21, “the commission is ready to provide the formal authorization of placing in the market in supersonic fast procedure.”

Schinas says “These vaccines will be the Christmas gift for all Europeans if everything goes well.”

The commission has secured around 2 billion doses of potential vaccines for the 27 member states. The EU’s executive arm has repeatedly said that once a vaccine is ready, all EU countries should have access to it at the same time.

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JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he will get the coronavirus vaccine on Saturday night, making him the first Israeli to be immunized.

Netanyahu says he wants to set an example for others to follow. Israel has procured hundreds of thousands of doses of Pfizer’s new vaccine and is set to begin a vaccination campaign next week.

“By the end of January, we will have millions of vaccines. I worked hard to bring them, and I ask you to use them,” he said.

Netanyahu is currently in isolation after contact with someone infected with the coronavirus. His office says he has tested negative for the virus.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s daily coronavirus death toll hit a record high on Wednesday, with the government announcing 240 deaths.

The government also announced 29,718 new confirmed cases in the country of 83 million, pushing the total to nearly 2 million. The confirmed total death toll stands at 17,121.

Turkey has become one of the worst-hit countries in the world, with the number of confirmed cases hovering around 30,000 per day.

The country has imposed evening curfews and lockdowns at weekends to combat the surge without impacting the economy. But medical groups and opposition parties say the measures will fail to curb the spread.

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia is tightening restrictive measures to contain a record surge of coronavirus infections.

Health Minister Marek Krajci says the government is imposing a round-the-clock curfew that becomes effective on Saturday at 5 a.m.

The aim is to limit people’s contacts before and during Christmas holidays. Krajci says during the curfew only people from two households can meet.

The exceptions include necessary trips to work, to do business or see doctors. People can do necessary food and medicine shopping in the stores closest to their homes. All other than nonessential stores will be closed.

The government has urged people to isolate at least for seven days or get tested before they see their relatives.

A record 58 people died of the coronavirus on Tuesday, with a second-highest 3,565 cases. The country of 5.4 million had 139,088 confirmed cases with 1,309 deaths.

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