The Latest: Sydney reports worst day of its current outbreak

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FILE - In this Thursday, July 22, 2021 file photo, a health care worker fills a syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The U.K. is to offer coronavirus vaccines to 16 and 17-year-olds it was announced Wednesday, Aug. 4 after the independent body of scientists that makes recommendations over the rollout changed its advice. The four nations of the U.K. all accepted the change in advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization for healthy 16 to 17-year-olds to be offered a first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, which has already been approved by Britains medical regulator for use for anyone aged 12 and over. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

SYDNEY — Australia’s most populous state is reporting the worst day of its outbreak of the coronavirus delta variant, with a record 262 new local infections and five deaths from COVID-19.

New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said Thursday that four of the dead had not been vaccinated and that one had received a single dose of AstraZeneca in late May.

Australian authorities have urged people in Sydney not to wait the optimal 12 weeks before getting their second AstraZeneca dose.

AstraZeneca and Pfizer are the only vaccines available in Australia.

There have been 21 COVID-19 deaths in Sydney since the latest outbreak began in June. Sydney and surrounding cities have been locked down since June 26.

Only 20% of Australian adults had been fully vaccinated by Wednesday, according to government figures.



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MIAMI — As Florida continues to lead the nation in hospitalizations for COVID-19, Gov. Ron DeSantis is holding to his anti-mask, anti-lockdown stance.

He repeated it strongly Wednesday night in a fundraising email that also takes a shot at President Joe Biden, who has singled out the governors of Florida and Texas for criticism of their opposition to lockdowns and other strict pandemic measures.

DeSantis says that in Florida, “we will continue to lift people up, not lock people down. Florida is a free state, and we will empower our people.”

The governor adds that “we will not allow Joe Biden and his bureaucratic flunkies to come in and commandeer the rights and freedoms of Floridians.”

“So,” DeSantis says in closing, “when Joe Biden tells me to get out the way, I’ve got news for him. I will always stand between power-hungry tyrants and the people of Florida.”


AUSTIN, Texas — Texas state health officials say new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the state are showing steeper jumps than past surges in the pandemic.

In a video conference Wednesday, a spokesman for the Department of State Health Services said the rolling seven-day average of new virus infections cases has increased 92% from last week, while hospitalizations rose 49% and deaths from COVID-19 grew by 15%.

The increases are blamed on the highly contagious delta variant.

The CDC estimates more than 80% of all new coronavirus cases in the U.S. involve the delta variant. The Texas state epidemiologist says preliminary data suggests that over 75% of the cases in Texas involve the delta variant.


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The number of students and staff at an east Arkansas school district who have quarantined because of a coronavirus outbreak has grown to more than 700.

Marion Superintendent Glen Fenter said Wednesday that 730 students and 10 staff members at his district have had to quarantine since classes began last week. He says 34 students and nine staff have tested positive for the virus.

The development comes as Arkansas lawmakers debate a proposal to lift the state’s ban on mask mandates by schools and other government entities. Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed the ban in April, but he called lawmakers into session this week urging them to roll it back for some public schools.


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A rural New Mexico school board has been suspended by the state Public Education Department for not going along with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s mask mandate for children as schools prepare for classes to resume.

The five-member Floyd school board voted last week to make masks and social distancing optional in the district, which has about 225 students. The board reaffirmed the decision in another vote Monday despite warnings from state officials that it could face suspension.

Education Secretary Ryan Stewart announced the decision Wednesday, saying the state agency has a responsibility to ensure a healthy environment for all staff and students.

Some of New Mexico’s largest districts already have imposed the state’s guidelines, but critics have raised concerns about parents not being given a choice.


RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia’s capital city is instituting a vaccine mandate for most of its several thousand employees.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney made the announcement Wednesday, saying it will ensure the health and safety of both city workers and the public at large. He says that “the vaccine is our greatest tool to save lives and truly beat this pandemic.”

The mandate will apply to about 3,600 workers. Vaccinated employees will have to prove their status. Workers who haven’t been gotten shots must begin the process so they are fully vaccinated by Oct. 1.

The city’s announcement says that who don’t comply “will be subject to disciplinary action,” though it adds that medical and religious exemptions will be considered.


NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana’s largest hospital system is seeing more pediatric COVID-19 patients as the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus spreads.

Ochsner Health said Wednesday the system had no pediatric COVID patients several weeks ago, but the number has been ranging from five to 15 the past two weeks.

However, Dr. William Lennarz who is head of pediatrics at Ochsner Hospital for Children says that doesn’t mean the delta variant is disproportionately affecting children. He says that “what is different is that children now make up the most susceptible population because children under 12 are 100% not vaccinated.”

Lennarz also says most of the hospitalized children aren’t critically ill with COVID-19. He says that is still a very rare occurrence for youngsters affected by the coronavirus.


LONDON -- Britain’s government is allowing holidaymakers to visit more European countries without the need to quarantine when they return as it further eases its international travel restrictions for the pandemic.

The government said Wednesday that beginning Sunday, its “green” travel list will be expanded to include Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Slovakia, Latvia, Romania and Norway. That means any Britons returning from those countries can avoid quarantine regardless of vaccination status.

France had been placed under a special restriction category because of worries about the beta variant of the coronavirus there. But from Sunday, fully vaccinated travelers coming from France will also no longer have to quarantine.


PORTLAND, Ore. -- Oregon health care workers will be required to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing.

Gov. Kate Brown announced Wednesday the new rule will apply beginning Sept. 30 — giving employers time to prepare for implementation and allow time for unvaccinated health care workers to become fully vaccinated.

As coronavirus infections surge across the country, leading health organizations in Oregon have been pressing state leaders to open the door for health care organizations to enact vaccination mandates.

Brown directed the Oregon Health Authority to issue the new rule applying broadly to personnel in health care settings who have direct or indirect contact with patients or infectious materials. The rule will require weekly coronavirus testing for personnel and can be waived with proof of vaccination.


ST. LOUIS — St. Louis area health leaders are asking adults to wear masks and get the COVID-19 vaccine to protect children as hospitals report admitting more young patients with the disease, including some in intensive care.

Spring Schmidt, deputy director of the St. Louis County health department, said Wednesday about one in five current total cases in county hospitals has been people under the age of 19.

Schmidt said the delta variant causing most of the current cases is as transmissible in children as it is in adults, unlike the alpha variant that drove most cases last year.


MADISON, Wis. — Anyone who gets vaccinated against COVID-19 at a clinic at the Wisconsin State Fair will get a free cream puff, Gov. Tony Evers said Wednesday.

AMI Expeditionary Healthcare will run the free clinic at the fair in West Allis, the governor said. The clinic will offer Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Anyone who gets a shot there will receive a voucher for a free cream puff redeemable at the Cream Puff Pavilion.

The incentive comes as COVID-19 cases are surging across the state, driven largely by the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus that causes the disease.

The fair begins Thursday and is scheduled to run through Aug. 15.


COSTA MESA, Calif. — A Southern California school board has announced plans to sue Gov. Gavin Newsom over a state mandate requiring K-12 students to wear masks in classrooms.

The Orange County Board of Education voted 4-0 in a closed session Tuesday in favor of filing a lawsuit against the Democratic governor over the coronavirus mandate.

The Orange County Register reports that the board says face coverings are harmful to children and the governor is abusing his power.

The board did not present any data as evidence of adverse effects of masking on children or acknowledge public health studies that have shown masking reduces the spread of the virus.

Last August, the same school board sued Newsom to reopen schools that had been closed due to COVID-19. A petition went to the state Supreme Court asking it to review the case, but was ultimately denied.


JACKSON, MISS. -- Healthcare systems across Mississippi are seeing a surge of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in individuals under 50, a shift from earlier in the pandemic when the virus was predominately impacting older adults.

Officials at Mississippi’s only level-one trauma center and teaching hospital said Wednesday that 90% of the new cases and hospitalizations they are seeing are among unvaccinated individuals.

More than 1,000 people were hospitalized with coronavirus in Mississippi Wednesday. University of Mississippi Medical Center Chief Administrative Officer Dr. Jonathan Wilson said there were only six available ICU beds in the entire state.

There have been moments when there are 60 people waiting for beds at the medical center, said Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs Dr. LouAnn Woodward.


RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina experts who released a frequently cited report showing minimal COVID-19 transmission within K-12 schools are growing alarmed as more districts defy public health recommendations and instead choose to make mask wearing optional for all students and staff.

Danny Benjamin and Kanecia Zimmerman, Duke University School of Medicine professors and co-chairs of the ABC Science Collaborative, warned in a virtual news conference with reporters on Wednesday that the 44 school districts that have decided to make masks optional may be flying blind as the delta variant surges. As a result, a several dozen children could die.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is urging districts to mandate mask wearing but is leaving up to local school boards to make their own decisions.

Benjamin said that the report he and his team wrote occurred when masking in classrooms was universal and before the more contagious delta variant began spreading rapidly.

COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and test positivity rates are at their worst levels in months


RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper on Wednesday announced his administration is still awaiting a response from a vaccine lottery winner who earned a $125,000 scholarship.

Audrey Chavous, an 18-year-old Winston-Salem resident and incoming Fayetteville State University freshman who works at a restaurant and axe throwing facility, won the pre-tax prize of $1 million.

The fourth and final winners of the scholarship and $1 million prize were chosen Wednesday and expected to be named next week.


PHOENIX — A Phoenix school district wants a lawsuit over its COVID-19 mask mandate, which could be a test case for other districts.

Attorneys for Phoenix Union High School District argued Wednesday at a preliminary hearing that a state law banning such policy isn’t in effect yet. They say the legislation that includes the ban doesn’t take effect until Sept. 29.

A biology teacher filed a lawsuit this week asking for a temporary restraining order on the measure, calling it unlawful. Both sides will give full arguments next week.

Since Phoenix Union’s decision, four more school districts have also gone against the law, including Tucson’s largest district.