LOS ANGELES — Ambulances waited hours for openings to offload coronavirus patients. Overflow patients were moved to hospital hallways and gift shops, even a cafeteria. Refrigerated trucks were on standby, ready to store the dead.

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Medical workers remove a stretcher from an ambulance near medical tents outside the emergency room at UCI Medical Center, in Irvine, Calif., on Dec. 17. A variety of factors combined to bring California to a crisis point in the pandemic. Associated Press/Ashley Landis

For months, California did many of the right things to avoid a catastrophic surge from the pandemic. But by the time Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Dec. 15 that 5,000 body bags were being distributed, it was clear that the nation’s most populous state had entered a new phase of the COVID-19 crisis.

Now infections have been racing out of control for weeks, and California remains at or near the top of the list of states with the most new cases per capita. It has routinely set new marks for infections and deaths, and began the new year reporting a record 585 deaths in a single day.

Experts say a variety of factors combined to wipe out the past efforts, which for much of the year held the virus to manageable levels. Cramped housing, travel and Thanksgiving gatherings contributed to the spread, along with the public’s fatigue with regulations that closed many schools and businesses and encouraged – or required – an isolated lifestyle.

Another factor could be a more contagious variant of the virus detected in Southern California, although it’s not clear yet how widespread that may be.

Read the full story here.

Italy COVID-19 death toll now highest in Europe

MILAN — Italy added another 462 virus deaths on Friday for a known pandemic death toll of 74,621, the highest in Europe.

Italy’s daily death toll remains stubbornly high more than two months into restrictive measures and in the second week of a modified lockdown.

The number of new positives dipped by 5% from a day earlier, to 22,211, while 15% fewer tests were administered, according to Health Ministry statistics. Italy is launching its vaccine campaign and is first targeting residents of nursing homes and medical personnel.

Standing Rock Tribe prioritizes Dakota, Lakota speakers

FORT YATES, N.D. — The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota is prioritizing the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to those who speak Dakota and Lakota languages.

Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Mike Faith tells KXMB-TV it’s about keeping customs alive.

“It’s something we have to pass on to our loved ones, our history, our culture our language. We don’t have it in black and white, we tell stories. That’s why it’s so important,” Faith said.

The Standing Rock reservation straddles the North Dakota and South Dakota border and is home to about 8,000 people, more than half of whom live in North Dakota.

Faith said only about 300 people on the reservation are fluent in the language.

Frontline health care workers already have begun receiving he vaccine at the Fort Yates hospital, but starting next week priority will be for those who speak their native language.

Ravers attack police sent to shut them down

PARIS — Ravers at an underground, curfew-violating New Year’s Eve party that drew at least 2,500 people in western France attacked police units sent to shut them down, torching a vehicle and injuring officers with bottles and stones, officials said Friday.

Hundreds of vehicles carrying party-goers started converging on hangars in Lieuron, Brittany, on Thursday night, the regional government Friday said in a statement.

Gendarmes and their vehicles were attacked when they tried to stop the ravers from installing their party gear. Some officers suffered light injuries, the statement said. On Friday morning, 2,500 ravers from France and abroad were still partying, circled by a reinforced police presence.

First aid workers were distributing masks and hand gel to try to limit coronavirus infections.

Judge orders Michigan cafe shut down

CALUMET, Mich. — A judge has ordered the shutdown of a cafe in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where customers have been supporting an owner who has defiantly served indoor diners despite coronavirus restrictions.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration got a restraining order against Cafe Rosetta in Calumet, a small town in Houghton County.

Since November, bars and restaurants in Michigan have been limited to carry-out service or outdoor dining in an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

The restraining order was to be served by Thursday. The agriculture department filed the case in Ingham County, the seat of state government, bypassing a judge in the cafe’s home county.

Bangkok locking down venues as cases continue to spread

BANGKOK — The Thai capital is shutting down venues including schools and entertainment parks as coronavirus cases continue to spread.

Thailand reported 279 new cases on Friday including two deaths.

Seven provinces including Bangkok have been designated red zones where places including entertainment venues, boxing rings, gyms and flea markets are ordered closed. Restaurants are allowed to serve only takeouts.

The restrictions are in place until mid-January.

The new outbreak has spread from the country’s largest wholesale seafood market in Samut Sakhon south of Bangkok and the gambling den in Rayong, and both places continue to log the highest number of infections. Bangkok reported 180 cases in the last 24 hours.

A spokesman for the COVID-19 center, Dr. Taweesilp Visanuyothin, said that the Health Ministry had contacted Oxford-AstraZeneca to purchase a second batch of 26 million doses of the vaccine. The deal would double the number of doses to be supplied by the British vaccine manufacturer.

The first 2 million doses are expected in February and March and will be given to medical staff.

Chinese airports requiring negative tests

BEIJING — Two major airports in northeastern China are requiring departing passengers show a negative coronavirus test taken over the previous 72 hours before they can board their planes.

The requirements by the Shenyang and Dalian come amid a small but persistent growth in cases in the two cities located in Liaoning province just north of the capital Beijing.

Four new cases were announced Friday in Liaoning, along with another five cases in Beijing, where emergency testing was ordered for more than a million people following the detection of a small cluster in the northeastern suburbs.

Wary of another wave of infections, China is urging tens of millions of migrant workers to stay put during next month’s annual Lunar New Year holiday, usually the world’s largest annual human migration. Classes are also being dismissed a week earlier than usual and tourists are being told not to come to Beijing for holidays.

China on Friday reported a total of 19 new virus cases, including 10 that were brought from outside the country. Since the novel coronavirus was first detected in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019, China has reported a total of 87,071 cases and 4,634 deaths, although some question whether those figures underreport the full extent of the outbreak in China the country.

New strain found in Florida

MIAMI — Florida health authorities late Thursday reported finding evidence of the latest U.S. case of the new and apparently more contagious coronavirus strain first seen in England, saying it was detected in a man with no recent travel history.

The case, disclosed in a Florida Health Department statement tweeted on its HealthyFla site, comes after reports in recent days of two individual cases of the United Kingdom strain of Covid-19 discovered in Colorado and California.

Florida’s health statement said the new virus variant was detected in a man in his 20s in Martin County, which abuts the Atlantic Coast above densely populated South Florida. The health department did not give further details, such as releasing the man’s medical condition or how the strain was detected.

California on Wednesday announced the nation’s second confirmed case of the new virus strain. The announcement came 24 hours after word of the first reported U.S. variant infection, which emerged in Colorado — in a Colorado National Guardsman who had been sent to help out at a nursing home struggling with an outbreak.

Scientists in the U.K. believe the variant is more contagious than previously identified strains. The cases have triggered questions about how the version circulating in England arrived in the U.S. and whether it is too late to stop it now, with top experts saying it is probably already spreading elsewhere in the United States.

Pandemic cancels London’s fireworks

LONDON — The coronavirus pandemic canceled London’s annual New Years’ Eve fireworks display, which usually draws tens of thousands of spectators.

But an unannounced light and fireworks display over the River Thames broadcast on BBC television just before midnight paid tribute to an extraordinary year, with tributes to health care workers, a reference to the Black Lives Matter movement and even a voice saying “you’re on mute” in reference to a bugbear of virtual work meetings.

The display ended with naturalist David Attenborough calling on everyone to work in 2021 to help our “fragile” planet.

Nine nuns at convent die of COVID

LATHAM, N.Y. — Officials in upstate New York say nine nuns at a convent have died of causes related to COVID-19 in just over a month.

An Albany County spokesperson says in a statement to the Times Union newspaper that officials are aware of the deaths among the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in Latham.

WNYT-TV reported earlier in December that 22 sisters had tested positive. The convent’s website says it is home to 140 nuns.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany says the convent is not ready to issue a statement.

WHO clears another vaccine

GENEVA — The World Health Organization says it has cleared the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, meaning poorer countries may soon get access to the shot already available in Europe and North America.

Every country that has a drug regulatory agency will have to issue its own approval for any COVID-19 vaccine, but countries with weak systems usually rely on WHO to vet the shots.

The global body said late Thursday that the decision to issue its first emergency use validation for a COVID-19 vaccine “opens the door for countries to expedite their own regulatory approval processes to import and administer the vaccine.”

The U.N. health agency said its review found the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has already received clearance in the United States, Britain, the European Union and a dozen other countries, “met the must-have criteria for safety and efficacy set out by WHO.”

The BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine has to be stored at ultra-frozen temperatures, a big hurdle for developing countries where the required freezers and reliable electricity supply may not be available.

“This requirement makes the vaccine more challenging to deploy in settings where ultra-cold chain equipment may not be available or reliably accessible,” WHO said, adding that it was “working to support countries in assessing their delivery plans and preparing for use where possible.”


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