MEXICO CITY — Mexico passed the 100,000 mark in COVID-19 deaths Thursday, becoming only the fourth country – behind the United States, Brazil and India – to do so.

Doctors Delia Caudillo, left, and Monserrat Castaneda put on protective gear as they prepare to conduct a COVID-19 test at a home in Mexico City on Thursday. Associated Press/Rebecca Blackwell

José Luis Alomía Zegarra, Mexico’s director of epidemiology, said there were 100,104 confirmed COVID-19 deaths as of Thursday. The milestone comes less than a week after Mexico said it had topped 1 million registered coronavirus cases, though officials agree the number is probably much higher because of low levels of testing.

Mexico’s living are bearing the scars of the pandemic along with their lost friends and loved ones. Many surviving coronavirus victims say the psychosis caused by the pandemic is one of the most lasting effects.

Mexico resembles a divided country, where some people are so unconcerned they won’t wear masks, while others are so scared they descend into abject terror at the first sign of shortness of breath.

With little testing being done and a general fear of hospitals, many in Mexico are left to home remedies and relatives’ care.

Read the full story here.

New Hampshire joins the rest of region in statewide mask mandate

CONCORD, N.H. — With the coronavirus pandemic intensifying, New Hampshire on Thursday joined three dozen other states, including the rest of New England, in enacting a statewide mask mandate.

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Veterans, wearing protective masks due to the COVID-19 virus outbreak, gather during a Veterans Day ceremony this week in Derry, N.H. Charles Krupa/Associated Press

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu issued an executive order requiring masks to be worn in public spaces, indoors or outside, when social distancing isn’t possible.

Previously, masks were required for certain people, including restaurant and retail workers with direct interaction with customers and those attending gatherings of more than 100 people. Sununu had resisted calls for a statewide mandate, even as surrounding states enacted similar measures. Maine and Massachusetts have gone further, requiring masks in public settings regardless of how far apart people stay.

“Masks are important. The message has to be there. They help. There’s no doubt,” Sununu said last week. “But an idea that a mask mandate is going to just solve the problem, that’s a comfort level that I don’t think the data bears out right now.”

On Thursday, he said a mandate was appropriate given the rising percentage of positive test results, the fact that the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has doubled in the last two weeks, new outbreaks at five nursing homes and an “incredibly alarming rate” of asymptomatic community transmission.

“Wearing a mask is really all about keeping friends, family, neighbors, critical workforce members and those they care for safe and allowing our economy to stay open,” he said.

The order, which expires Jan. 15, does not apply to students and staff in K-12 schools, those with certain medical conditions, those engaged in strenuous physical activity and in half a dozen other scenarios. It includes no mention of enforcement or penalties. Sununu said authorities would rely instead on education.

Denmark says mutated coronavirus strain that affected minks is now ‘most likely’ extinct

The Danish Health Ministry announced Thursday that a mutated strain of the novel coronavirus that led to the authorized killing of roughly 2.85 million farmed minks is likely to have been rendered extinct.

“No further cases of mink variant with cluster 5 have been detected since Sept. 15, which is why the State Serum Institute assesses that this variant has most likely become extinct,” the ministry said in a statement.

The announcement came just one day after Agriculture Minister Mogens Jensen resigned after conceding that he had lacked a legal basis for the mass culling of all of the country’s farmed minks.

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Minks in a pen on a farm near Naestved, Denmark. Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix via Associated Press

Jensen had given an order to kill all 15 million farmed minks in the country in early November after scientists at the State Serum Institute identified a new mutated strain of the virus in minks that had been spreading to humans.

The mutated strain was particularly worrying as it appeared that some patients infected with it showed less ability to produce antibodies, which could make it harder to fight the virus with a vaccine.

Less than a week later, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen halted the culling and said the government did not have the legal authority for the move. Opposition leaders are also calling for Frederiksen, who initially supported the killings, to resign.

In its statement Thursday, the Health Ministry said encouraging virus data from the northern part of Denmark meant restrictions would be lifted this week. The area is where most of Denmark’s mink farms are located.

NFL toughens coronavirus protocols as several Raiders players are placed in quarantine

The NFL toughened its coronavirus protocols Wednesday, as it attempts to complete its season amid deteriorating conditions nationally.

The announcement came as the Las Vegas Raiders continued to experience coronavirus-related issues, with a significant number of defensive players being placed on five-day quarantines that will keep them off the practice field this week in advance of Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Roger Goodell

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell at a February news conference in Miami. Associated Press

The league informed teams in a memo from Commissioner Roger Goodell that, beginning Saturday, it is implementing additional measures by making its intensive protocols applicable to all teams at all times. Those enhanced measures are designed to halt spread of the virus within teams’ facilities and have applied, to this point, only to those teams with positive coronavirus cases and those known to have been exposed to the virus.

The NFL said that teams operating under the enhanced protocols, which include additional mask-wearing requirements and provisions for team meetings to be held remotely, had reduced close contacts to individuals with the coronavirus by more than 50 percent.

“These sustained reductions and the resulting health and safety benefits make it appropriate to implement the Intensive Protocols on a mandatory, leaguewide basis,” Goodell wrote in Wednesday’s memo.

Read the full story here.

Isolated for months, island crew sees pandemic for 1st time

HONOLULU  — Just as the coronavirus pandemic began to take hold, in February, four people set sail for one of the most remote places on Earth — a small camp on Kure Atoll, at the edge of the uninhabited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

There, more than 1,400 miles from Honolulu, they lived in isolation for eight months while working to restore the island’s environment. Cut off from the rest of the planet, their world was limited to a tiny patch of sand halfway between the U.S. mainland and Asia. With no television or internet access, their only information came from satellite text messages and occasional emails.

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A field camp on Kure Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands photographed in June. Charlie Thomas/Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources via Associated Press

Now they are back, re-emerging into a changed society that might feel as foreign today as island isolation did in March. They must adjust to wearing face masks, staying indoors and seeing friends without giving hugs or hearty handshakes.

“I’ve never seen anything like this, but I started reading the book “The Stand” by Stephen King, which is about a disease outbreak, and I was thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, is this what it’s going to be like to go home?’” said Charlie Thomas, one of the four island workers. “All these … precautions, these things, people sick everywhere. It was very strange to think about.”

The group was part of an effort by the state of Hawaii to maintain the fragile island ecosystem on Kure, which is part of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, the nation’s largest contiguous protected environment. The public is not allowed to land anywhere in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Kure is the only island in the northern part of the archipelago that is managed by the state, with the rest under the jurisdiction of the federal government. A former Coast Guard station, the atoll is home to seabirds, endangered Hawaiian monk seals and coral reefs that are teeming with sea turtles, tiger sharks and other marine life.

Two field teams go there each year, one for summer and another for winter. Their primary job is removing invasive plants and replacing them with native species and cleaning up debris such as fishing nets and plastic that washes ashore.

Before they leave, team members are often asked if they want to receive bad news while away, said Cynthia Vanderlip, the supervisor for the Kure program.

Read the full story here.

Heading into holidays, U.S. COVID-19 testing strained again

NEW YORK — With coronavirus cases surging and families hoping to gather safely for Thanksgiving, long lines to get tested have reappeared across the U.S. — a reminder that the nation’s strained testing system remains unable to keep pace with the virus.

The delays are happening as the country braces for winter weather, flu season and holiday travel, all of which are expected to amplify a U.S. outbreak that has already swelled past 11.5 million cases and 250,000 deaths.

Laboratories warned that continuing shortages of key supplies are likely to create more bottlenecks and delays, especially as cases rise across the nation and people rush to get tested before reuniting with relatives.

“As those cases increase, demand increases and turnaround times may increase,” said Scott Becker, CEO of the Association of Public Health Laboratories. “So it’s like a dog chasing its tail.”

Lines spanned multiple city blocks at testing sites across New York City this week, leaving people waiting three or more hours before they could even enter health clinics. In Los Angeles, thousands lined up outside Dodger Stadium for drive-thru testing.

“This is insane,” said 39-year-old Chaunta Renaud as she entered her fourth hour waiting to enter a so-called rapid testing site in Brooklyn on Tuesday. Renaud and her husband planned to get tested before Thanksgiving, when they will drive to pick up her mother for the holiday. “We got tested before and it wasn’t anything like this,” she said.

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Student nurse Ryan Eachus collects forms as cars line up for COVID-19 testing at a testing site in Costa Mesa, Calif. on Nov. 16. With coronavirus cases surging and families hoping to gather safely for Thanksgiving, long lines to get tested have reappeared across the U.S. Associated Press/Jae C. Hong, File

On the one hand, the fact that testing problems are only now emerging — more than a month into the latest virus surge — is a testament to the country’s increased capacity. The U.S. is testing over 1.5 million people per day on average, more than double the rate in July, when many Americans last faced long lines.

But experts like Johns Hopkins University researcher Gigi Gronvall said the U.S. is still falling far short of what’s needed to control the virus.

Gronvall said the current testing rate “is on its way, but it’s nowhere close to what’s needed to shift the course of this epidemic.” Many experts have called for anywhere between 4 million and 15 million daily tests to suppress the virus.

Read the full story here.

At U.S. Capitol, the members of the House and Senate react differently to coronavirus exposure

WASHINGTON – The coronavirus is posing its most serious threat to Congress in months, sidelining the 87-year-old Senate president pro tempore, throwing a cloud over the end-of-year congressional agenda and raising sharp questions about public health precautions inside the Capitol.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell meets with reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday. Associated Press

Tuesday’s diagnosis of Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, came less than 24 hours after he had presided over the opening of the Senate, led the Pledge of Allegiance, delivered two speeches to a sparse audience – and later moved around the crowded Senate floor after casting a vote.

None of the fellow senators he encountered during his activities this week publicly announced plans to self-quarantine, though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., moved to recess his body Wednesday, a day earlier than planned, for an extended holiday break. That decision, GOP aides said, was prompted by the attendance issues surrounding the coronavirus threat.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said she saw no need for senators to quarantine “unless they have some sort of direct exposure” to Grassley. Ernst and Grassley were among a group of Senate Republican leaders who held their weekly meeting Monday evening inside the Capitol, albeit in a larger-than-usual space to allow for social distancing.

Capitol doctors advised that a quarantine “wasn’t necessary,” Ernst said.

The minimal response to Grassley’s infection diagnosis reflects a business-as-usual approach that has been on display all year inside the Capitol, particularly in the tradition-bound Senate – where McConnell has instituted basic social-distancing measures and urged mask-wearing but otherwise maintained the status quo.

Read the full story here.

WHO warns of deadly second wave of virus across Middle East

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates  — As winter nears and coronavirus cases surge across the Middle East, the regional director for the World Health Organization said Thursday that the only way to avoid mass deaths is for countries to quickly tighten restrictions and enforce preventative measures.

In a press briefing from Cairo, Ahmed al-Mandhari, director of WHO’s eastern Mediterranean region, which comprises most of the Middle East, expressed concern that countries in the area were lowering their guard after tough lockdowns imposed earlier this year.

The fundamentals of pandemic response, from social-distancing to mask wearing, “are still not being fully practiced in our region,” he said, adding that the result is apparent throughout the region’s crowded hospitals.

Noting that the virus had sickened over 3.6 million people and killed more than 76,000 in the region over the past nine months, al-Mandhari warned “the lives of as many people — if not more — are at stake,” urging action to “prevent this tragic premonition from becoming a reality.”

More than 60% of all new infections in the past week were reported from Iran, Jordan and Morocco, he said. Cases are also up in Pakistan and Lebanon, which went under lockdown earlier this week. Jordan, Tunisia and Lebanon have reported the biggest single-day death spikes from the region.

People wear protective face masks in downtown Tehran in October. Iran’s fatalities from COVID-19 are the highest in the Middle East. Associated Press/Ebrahim Noroozi

Worst off in the region has been Iran, where infections have soared in recent months, filling up hospitals and driving up the death toll. Iran shattered its single-day death toll six times in the last two weeks, bringing the total count of fatalities past 43,400 — the highest in the Middle East.

Surging deaths have pushed the Iranian government, long reluctant to impose a lockdown for fear of cratering its sanctions-hit economy, to tighten restrictions in the capital of Tehran and other major cities. But with little enforcement, the outbreak shows no sign of abating.

From Pakistan, Faisal Sultan, special assistant to the prime minister for national health services, told reporters the winter surge had arrived. Although Pakistan managed to control the outbreak with targeted restrictions earlier this year, the forecast turned more alarming as the country unlocked, he said.

“The second wave is just as risky if not more than the first,” Sultan said, adding that winter in Pakistan brings an increase in social interaction, with schools, events and wedding parties in full swing. “There is a sense of complacency and fatigue in compliance.”

Tunisia is another country that thought its worst virus days were in the past, only to see cases soar in recent weeks. It loosened restrictions in a bid “to cautiously coexist” with the virus, said Faycal Ben Salah, director general of health, after officials decided the lockdown was killing the economy and creating “catastrophic social consequences.”

While al-Mandhari cautiously welcomed news of viable vaccine candidates, he said the pandemic was far from over.

“We cannot — and should not — wait until a safe and effective vaccine becomes readily available for all,” he said. “We simply do not know when this will be.”

Germany reports slowdown in COVID-19 spread

BERLIN — Germany’s disease control agency says the coronavirus situation in the country remains serious but there are signs that lockdown measures are slowing the spread of the virus.

The Robert Koch Institute reported 22,609 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the past day, and 251 additional deaths.

Ute Rexroth, a senior official involved in the institute’s pandemic response, said the so-called reproduction number reflecting how many people are infected by every positive case has declined.

Germany introduced tighter restrictions at the beginning of November, shutting restaurants, bars and gyms but leaving open stores and schools.

The head of the RKI, Lothar Wieler, said the situation in Germany is still “very, very serious” and there’s a risk that hospitals may be overwhelmed by the continued high number of cases.

Samoa reports its first positive coronavirus test

Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi

Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi Associated Press/Frank Franklin II

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — The small Pacific nation of Samoa is reporting its first positive test for the coronavirus, although officials say a second test on the same patient came back negative.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi went on television and radio Thursday urging the nation’s 200,000 people to stay calm but remain vigilant with their virus precautions.

Samoa was among a dwindling handful of nations to have not reported a single case of the virus.

According to the Samoa Observer, officials say the patient is a sailor who has been in quarantine since flying in from New Zealand on Friday. The sailor tested positive four days after arriving, but a second test Thursday was negative.

The Cabinet was to meet to discuss the situation.

Denver schools to switch to remote learning until end of year

DENVER — Publics schools in Denver will go to fully remote learning for all grades for the rest of the semester as the coronavirus surges.

Officials said Wednesday that remote learning will begin for more than 90,000 students in Colorado’s largest school district on Monday and run through the end of winter break. The district’s decision also applies to special education students.

In September, the district reported about 13 new coronavirus cases weekly, mostly involving teachers and staff, when it first opened early childhood education classes. It says new cases now have surpassed 300 per week, causing teacher and staff shortages and forcing individual schools to close.

Florida mayors ask governor to change approach to virus

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Five Florida mayors are expressing concern about the rising number of coronavirus cases in the state, and are urging Gov. Ron DeSantis to change his approach to the pandemic.

Following a months-long decline from a huge summer spike in coronavirus infections, Florida has seen a mid-autumn climb in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Still, the governor has resisted a return to statewide restrictions in place earlier in the year.

The mayors of Miami Beach, Hialeah, Miami Shores Village, Sunrise and St. Petersburg called Wednesday for consistency in statewide regulations, implementation of a mask mandate and restoration of state testing sites to full capacity.

Kansas counties ordered to make mask rules as virus surges

TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly has issued a new mask mandate in hopes of lessening the spread of the coronavirus after the state again reported another record seven-day increase in new cases.

State law allows Kansas’ 105 counties to opt out of the order. Most did when Kelly issued a similar order in July. But the state’s rolling seven-day average for new coronavirus cases was more than nine times higher Wednesday than it was than when her first order took effect.

Kelly’s order takes effect Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving, and only in counties that don’t yet have their own mask mandates. That is a majority of the state’s counties.

The governor says she is giving counties a week to work out their own mask rules.

Denmark lifts restriction in mink farm area

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark is lifting the local restrictions in the northern part of the country where authorities found mink farms with infected animals, including some with a mutation in the virus that put seven municipalities in a lockdown.

Danish broadcaster DR said restaurants and cafes will reopen Friday and people in the region which has numerous mink farms, will be able to move freely across municipal borders — something that only health officials, emergency services and alike were allowed to do.

Meanwhile, the Danish prime minister’s traditional presentation of a new government to Queen Margrethe won’t happen because a member of Mette Frederiksen’s family has tested positive for COVID-19.

Frederiksen, who heads a Social Democratic minority government, said that “out of an extra precautionary measure (she) will not meet the Queen,” neither will the outgoing agriculture minister Mogens Jensen “who was with the prime minister yesterday.”

Instead, Frederiksen was expected to do it over the phone.

Sri Lanka says it will arrest ‘fake beggers’

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lankan police say they will start arresting people pretending to be beggars in the capital and its suburbs in a bid to contain the surging of COVID-19 cases.

Police spokesman Ajith Rohana said they have “observed a tendency of spreading COVID-19” due to begging at traffic lights and intersections in Colombo and its suburbs.

Rohana said intelligence units have found that the vast majority are “fake beggars conducting fraudulent activities” and a special operation will be conducted from Thursday to arrest.

Chinese president calls for international cooperation in sharing vaccine

BEIJING — Chinese President Xi Jinping is calling for closer international cooperation on making a vaccine for the coronavirus available.

Xi spoke Thursday in an address delivered via video at an event at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

Xi said: “To beat the virus and promote the global recovery, the international community must close ranks and jointly respond to the crisis and meet the tests.”

He said cooperation would include closer coordination on policies for development and distribution of a vaccine.

Chinese companies Sinovac and Sinopharm are in the late stages of testing vaccines, putting them among nearly a dozen companies at or near that level of development. That has introduced both commercial and political competition among countries and companies to be the first to offer a solution to the pandemic.

Oxford researchers expect to report vaccine results before Christmas

LONDON — A key researcher at the University of Oxford says scientists expect to report results from the late-stage trials of their COVID-19 vaccine by Christmas.

Dr. Andrew Pollard, an expert in pediatric infection and immunity at Oxford, said Thursday that research was slowed by low infection rates over the summer but the Phase III trials are now accumulating the data needed to report results.

He told the BBC, “I think we’re getting close, and it’s definitely going to be before Christmas based on the progress.”

Pollard discussed progress in the late-stage trials as Oxford released a study based on earlier research that found the vaccine was well tolerated and produced a strong immune response in people over age 70. Pollard said this is important because vaccines often don’t work as well in older people.

 


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