TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas’ top public health official warned Friday that the state is “losing the battle” against the coronavirus as it reported another record increase in new cases.


Dr. Lee Norman, the top administrator at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, shown in July, said Friday, “Other states are doing bad, and we’re doing worst than most. We’re losing the battle right now.” John Hanna/Associated Press

The state Department of Health and Environment said Kansas reported 1,855 new confirmed and probable coronavirus cases since Wednesday, an increase of 2.9 percent, to bring the total for the pandemic to 65,807. The state also reported another 40 COVID-19-related deaths, increasing the pandemic total to 763. Twenty-six of those were reported Thursday in Shawnee County, where the local health department reviewed previous death certificates from the Topeka area.

“Other states are doing bad, and we’re doing worst than most,” Dr. Lee Norman, the head of the state health department, said during an interview. “We’re losing the battle right now.”

The state saw an average of 671 new cases a day for the seven days ending Friday, breaking the state’s previous record of 667 for the seven days ending Sept. 28. The state has seen that seven-day average hit or exceed 600 cases per day for five of the six reports it has issued in the past two weeks.

Norman blamed the increases on residents’ refusal to consistently follow public health guidelines for mask-wearing, social distancing and avoiding large public gatherings. He said people need to do all of them in tandem to check the virus’ spread.

Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, decried Norman’s pessimistic assessment, arguing that the state’s residents are “doing a great job protecting their friends and families.” She accused Gov. Laura Kelly’s fellow Democrats of “pandering for votes.”

“Frankly, I am getting tired of the constant fear-mongering,” she said in a text to The Associated Press.

But Dr. Beth Oller, a family physician along with her husband in Rooks County, said some people in the northwest Kansas county of about 5,000 still say the coronavirus is “not that big of a deal” and are angry at the idea of having to wear masks.

The state health department said Rooks County has seen its cases increase from 70 to 123 during the past two weeks, a jump of 10.77 cases per 1,000 residents, the 10th worst in the state. It has had seven COVID-19-reported deaths, and its rate of 1.42 deaths per 1,000 residents is the state’s third-worst.

UN announces new record as daily COVID-19 cases hit more than 350,000

GENEVA — The World Health Organization has announced a new daily record high in coronavirus cases confirmed worldwide, with more than 350, 000 infections reported to the U.N. health agency on Friday.


A medical team member is disinfected before leaving the COVID-19 ward at the Severo Ochoa hospital in Leganes, on the outskirts of Madrid, Spain, on Friday. Bernat Armangue/Associated Press

The new daily high of 350,766 cases surpasses a record set earlier this week by nearly 12,000. That tally includes more than 109,000 cases from Europe alone.

In a press briefing on Friday, the WHO emergencies chief, Dr. Michael Ryan, acknowledged that even as COVID-19 continues to surge across the world, “there are no new answers.”

He said that although the agency wants countries to avoid the punishing lockdowns that have devastated economies, governments must ensure the most vulnerable people are protected and that numerous measures must be taken.

“The majority of people in the world are still susceptible to this disease,” Ryan warned. He said countries should focus not just on restrictive measures, but on bolstering their surveillance systems, testing, contact tracing and ensuring populations are engaged.

As the virus continues to surge across Europe and elsewhere, he acknowledged that restrictive measures might be warranted at some point. British scientists reported this week that the COVID-19 outbreak is doubling every few weeks, French hospitals are running out of ICU beds and Spain declared a state of emergency in Madrid as coronavirus cases soar.

Ryan said lockdowns “may be unavoidable where the disease has got out of control again, but we shouldn’t accept that in every country, the return of cases should be seen with an immediate return of the need for lockdown restrictions.”

China joins international COVID-19 vaccine alliance

TAIPEI, Taiwan — China, which has at least four coronavirus vaccine candidates in the last stage of clinical trials, said Friday it is joining an international initiative to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to countries worldwide known as COVAX, a move that may help the country find an international market for its coronavirus shots.


A worker feeds vials for production of SARS CoV-2 Vaccine for COVID-19 at the SinoVac vaccine factory in Beijing last month. China said on Friday that it is joining the COVID-19 vaccine alliance known as COVAX. Ng Han Guan/Associated Press

The country signed an agreement with Gavi, the co-leader of the project, on Thursday, China’s foreign ministry said. Initially, China did not agree to join the alliance, after missing an early deadline to join in September.

“We are taking this concrete step to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines, especially to developing countries, and hope more capable countries will also join and support COVAX,” ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement. She added later at a daily news briefing that many Chinese vaccine companies expressed a willingness to join the partnership and that China would buy vaccines for about 1 percent of its population through COVAX.

The exact terms of the agreement and how China will contribute are not yet clear. Countries can choose to buy vaccines to cover up to 50 percent of their population but many developed countries are using COVAX as a type of insurance policy to obtain extra doses on top of any bilateral deals signed with pharmaceutical companies.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping previously said the country would make the vaccine a global public good and would distribute its shots in Africa — but only after China’s own immunization program had been completed.

The World Health Organization, which also leads COVAX, welcomed the announcement, saying in a statement that “the number of countries joining the COVAX facility grows every day, and we are pleased to see China formally join.”

The initiative is designed so that richer countries agree to buy into potential vaccines and help finance access for poorer ones, but critical questions remain about how its goal will be carried out. Many countries including Britain, the U.S., France, Germany, and others have directly negotiated their own deals with pharmaceutical companies to receive billions of doses, meaning that the vast majority of the world’s vaccine supply next year is already reserved.

Some experts point out that without significant efforts to quickly boost manufacturing capacity globally, Chinese vaccine producers may offer the best chance to supply the developing world. China’s decision to join COVAX might give the country an opportunity to sign multimillion dollar deals that Gavi and partners will need to enter to secure billions of vaccine doses.

The United States, the world’s largest economy, declined to join under President Trump, saying COVAX was “influenced by the corrupt WHO and China.” China has the second-largest economy in the world.

The the full story here.

Broadway shutdown extended again until May 30

NEW YORK — Fans of Broadway will have to wait a little longer for shows to resume — until at least late May.

Although an exact date for various performances to resume has yet to be determined, Broadway producers are now offering refunds and exchanges for tickets purchased for shows through May 30.

“We are working tirelessly with multiple partners on sustaining the industry once we raise our curtains again,” said Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League, which represents producers.


Broadway posters outside the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York on May 13, 2020. Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File

Broadway theaters abruptly closed on March 12, knocking out all shows — including 16 that were still scheduled to open — and scrambling the Tony Award schedule. Producers, citing health and city authorities, previously extended the shutdown to June 7, then again to Sept. 6 and again to Jan. 3.

The new timeframe may complicate a clutch of show that had planned to open in the spring, including “MJ,” “The Music Man,” “Flying Over Sunset,” “Caroline or Change,” “Plaza Suite,” “American Buffalo” and “The Minutes.”

Actors’ Equity Association, the national union that represents actors and stage managers, has urged lawmakers to include arts funding and loans to help those who work in the live performing arts.

The move by the Broadway League comes less than a month after the Metropolitan Opera said it will skip an entire season for the first time in its nearly 140-year history and intends to return from the pandemic layoff next September.

In London, producer Cameron Mackintosh has said his company’s West End productions of “Hamilton,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Mary Poppins” and “Les Miserables” won’t reopen until 2021 due to the pandemic. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., has canceled most previously announced performances and events through the end of 2020, as has the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston.

Broadway grossed $1.8 billion last season and attracted a record 15 million people. Producers and labor unions are discussing ways theaters can reopen safely.

Tensions rise as virus cases surge in Wisconsin, Dakotas

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A surge of coronavirus cases in Wisconsin and the Dakotas is forcing a scramble for hospital beds and raising political tensions, as the Upper Midwest and Plains emerge as one of the nation’s most troubling hot spots.

The three states now lead all others in new cases per capita, after months in which many politicians and residents rejected mask requirements while downplaying the risks of the disease that has now killed over 210,000 Americans.

“It’s an emotional roller coaster,” said Melissa Resch, a nurse at Wisconsin’s Aspirus Wausau Hospital, which is working to add beds and reassign staff to keep up with a rising caseload of virus patients, many gravely ill.


Nursing assistant Monica Brodsky, left, and nurse Taylor Mathisen work at a drive-through testing site for COVID-19 in the parking lot at UW Health Administrative Office Building in Middleton, Wis., on Monday. A surge of coronavirus cases in Wisconsin and the Dakotas is forcing a scramble for hospital beds and raising political tensions, as the Upper Midwest and Plains emerge as one of the nation’s most troubling hot spots. Amber Arnold/Wisconsin State Journal via AP

“Just yesterday I had a patient say, ’It’s OK, you guys took good care of me, but it’s OK to let me go,’” Resch said. “I’ve cried with the respiratory unit, I’ve cried with managers. I cry at home. I’ve seen nurses crying openly in the hallway.”

The efforts to combat the quickening spread of the virus in the Midwest and Plains states are starting to recall the scenes that played out in other parts of the country over the past several months.

In the spring, New York City rushed to erect field hospitals as emergency rooms were flooded with desperately ill patients. Then, as Northeastern states got a handle on the outbreak, it spread to Sun Belt states like Arizona, Texas and California over the summer. It then moved into the Midwest.

Read the full story here.

Task force’s Dr. Birx warns about ‘very different’ coronavirus spread in Northeast

HARTFORD, Conn. — Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House coronavirus task force said Thursday she’s concerned about the uptick in COVID-19 cases in the Northeast, noting how more people are becoming infected because of indoor family gatherings and social events.

Deborah Birx

The White House coronavirus response coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, warned Thursday that more people are becoming infected in the Northeast because of indoor family gatherings and social events as the weather cools. Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press

Birx acknowledged the rest of the country learned from the experiences of Connecticut and other northeastern states during the early days of the pandemic. The kind of spread that is happening now, she said, is “very different” from the spread of the coronavirus during March and April.

“The spread of the virus now is not occurring so much in the workplace as people have taken precautions. It’s happening in homes and social occasions and people gathering and taking their mask off and letting down their guard and not physically distancing,” said Birx, noting that was a lesson learned in the South during the hot summer months, when people went indoors for air conditioning.

She repeatedly stressed the need to wear face masks and social distance, as well as more testing for people who have the virus but aren’t showing symptoms and can unknowingly spread it.

Birx met Thursday with Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont, his public health staff, and faculty members, students and staffers from the University of Connecticut at the downtown Hartford campus to discuss the university’s efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19. She credited the university with having one of the highest percentages of students taking in-person classes in the U.S.

Her visit came the same day the Connecticut Department of Public Health issued a COVID-19 alert for New London, urging residents to stay home if they don’t feel well, avoid indoor gatherings with people they don’t live with, limit trips outside the home and wear masks anytime they leave the home.

Between Sept. 20 and Oct. 3, New London recorded at least 115 new cases, which increased the daily case rate to 30.5 per 1000,000. It’s one of the highest rates in the state.

The department issued a similar alert last week for nearby Norwich. Both communities are in a part of Connecticut that did not see large numbers of infections during the height of the pandemic.

Birx said indoor activities with the heat on are “particularly conducive to spreading events without your mask.” She suggested people increase ventilation with outside air, including cracking a window.

UNC delays spring semester and cancels spring break

RALEIGH, N.C. — The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will delay the start of the spring semester by nearly two weeks, school officials announced Thursday.


Miranda Darwin, who is from Raleigh and a freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill, center, gets help from her brother, Sam, and her mother, Stacy, while moving out of her room at Hinton James residence hall in Chapel Hill, N.C., in August. In-person undergraduate classes were halted in August, and now the university says it will delay the start of spring semester by two weeks. Ethan Hyman/The News &university Observer via Associated Press

In a message to the campus community, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and Provost Robert Blouin said the college will eliminate its traditional spring break so it can “limit any potential spread of the virus caused by travel during an extended break.”

UNC will instead offer five days of breaks during the semester either individually or in combined clusters.

“The schools and deans will make clear that these wellness days are intended as breaks from the semester – not for studying – so faculty will be instructed to avoid scheduling exams, quizzes and other major assignments on days following these breaks. The dates for the wellness days will be updated on the Registrar’s website soon,” Guskiewicz and Blouin wrote.

Classes will start on Jan. 19 and end on May 5. Commencement is scheduled for May 16.

In-person undergraduate classes were halted in August a week into the semester after a series of COVID-19 outbreaks struck campus.

Doctors and nurses frustrated by battles with virus skeptics

MISSION, Kan. — Treating the sick and dying isn’t even the toughest part for nurse Amelia Montgomery as the coronavirus surges in her corner of red America.

It’s dealing with patients and relatives who don’t believe the virus is real, refuse to wear masks and demand treatments like hydroxychloroquine, which President Donald Trump has championed even though experts say it is not effective against the scourge that has killed over 210,000 in the U.S.

Montgomery finds herself, like so many other doctors and nurses, in a world where the politics of the crisis are complicating treatment efforts, with some people even resisting getting tested.

It’s unclear how Trump’s bout with the virus will affect the situation, but some doctors aren’t optimistic. After a few days of treatment at a military hospital, the president tweeted Monday, “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life. … I feel better than I did 20 years ago!”


Anurse demonstrating in favor of business closures is surrounded by demonstrators against Gov. Tony Evers’ restrictions on daily life due to the coronavirus pandemic at the Capitol in Madison, Wis. in April. Doctors and nurses treating those sick and dying from the coronavirus said politics around social distancing and the lethality of the virus are complicating treatment efforts. Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP, File

After one tough shift on the coronavirus unit at Cox South Hospital in Springfield, Montgomery went onto Facebook to vent her frustrations about caring for patients who didn’t socially distance because they didn’t believe the virus was real. The hospital later shared her post on its website.

She complained that some people demand the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine and think the only patients who get really sick have underlying health problems.

“The majority of people don’t understand and can’t picture what we are seeing. That has been frustrating for all of us,” Montgomery said in an interview, adding: “It wears.”

Combating virus skeptics is a battle across the country.

In Georgia, at Augusta University Medical Center, visitors have tried to get around the mask requirement by wearing face coverings made of fishnet and other material with visible holes, something the hospital has dubbed “malicious compliance.” People also have shown up with video cameras in an attempt to collect proof the virus is a hoax, said Dr. Phillip Coule, the health system’s chief medical officer, who contracted the virus in July and has seen two staff members die.

“Just imagine that while you are caring for your own staff that are dying from this disease, and while you are trying to keep yourself safe, and you are trying to keep your family safe, and you are trying to deal with a disease that such little is known about, and then to have somebody tell you that it is all a hoax after you have been dealing with that all day,” he said. “Imagine the emotional distress that that causes.”

Read the full story here.

Some parts of England – but not others – brace for lockdown

LONDON — The British government is mulling fresh restrictions on everyday life in England, potentially in the big northern cities such as Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle, amid mounting fears that hospitals in coronavirus hot spots may soon be overwhelmed.

With the number of people needing to go to the hospital with virus-related conditions rising, and in some areas in the north of England alarmingly so, the pressure on the Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government to do more is mounting.

“We are currently considering what steps we should take, obviously taking the advice of our scientific and medical advisers, and a decision will be made shortly,” British Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told the BBC on Thursday. “In some parts of the country, the number of cases are rising very fast and we are taking that very seriously.”

Britain already has Europe’s deadliest outbreak, with over 42,600 dead. The latest daily figures published Thursday showed 17,540 new cases across the U.K., more than double the level of the previous week. The number of people being hospitalized increased by 609 while the death toll rose by 77.

Behind the national numbers lurk huge regional variations, which has led to calls for more concerted local actions.

“We are seeing a definite and sustained increase in cases and admissions to hospital,” said Dr. Yvonne Doyle, medical director for Public Health England. “The trend is clear, and it is very concerning.”

Because the virus has been accelerating at differing speeds around England, the government has opted for tighter local restrictions to combat the spread. But the differing rules have stoked confusion and there is growing speculation the government will back a new simplified three-tier system for England soon.

Hot spots, notably in the big cities of northern England, such as Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle, could see restrictions tightened to those taking effect Friday in Scotland, where pubs in the two biggest cities, Glasgow and Edinburgh, have been ordered to close for 16 days.

In many areas of northern England, it’s not clear the local restrictions have worked — in some areas, the number of new infections is 10 times higher than when the localized virus restrictions were announced.

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