NEW YORK — Under fire over his management of the coronavirus’ lethal path through New York’s nursing homes, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday the state didn’t cover up deaths but should have moved faster to release some information sought by lawmakers, the public and the press.

“All the deaths in the nursing homes and hospitals were always fully, publicly and accurately reported,” the Democratic governor said, weeks after the state was forced to acknowledge that its count of nursing home deaths excluded thousands of residents who perished after being taken to hospitals. He explained the matter Monday as a difference of “categorization,” with the state counting where deaths occurred and others seeking total deaths of nursing home residents, regardless of the location.

“We should have done a better job of providing as much information as we could as quickly as we could,” he said at a virtual news conference. “No excuses: I accept responsibility for that.”

Cuomo, who has seen his image as a pandemic-taming leader dented by a series of disclosures involving nursing homes in recent weeks, said he would propose reforms involving nursing homes and hospitals in the upcoming state budget, without giving details.

But he continued to blame a “toxic political environment,” and “disinformation” for much of the complaints surrounding his administration’s handling of the issue.

The head of a major association of New York nursing homes, however, says the state erred by focusing too much on hospitals early in the pandemic and leaving nursing homes “scrambling to safeguard their residents and staff.”

“Policymakers and legislators must stop the blame game” and work more closely with nursing homes, said Stephen Hanse, CEO of the New York State Health Facilities Association and New York State Center for Assisted Living.

State lawmakers have been calling for investigations, stripping Cuomo of his emergency powers and even his resignation after new details emerged this week about why certain nursing home data wasn’t disclosed for months, despite requests from lawmakers and others.

Read the full story here.

New restrictions by Canada sting Minnesota border businesses

DULUTH, Minn. — Canadian officials on Monday began enforcing tighter restrictions on nonessential travel across its border, which many northern Minnesota business owners view as a move in the wrong direction.

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People line up for a vaccination at the Earle Brown Heritage Center last week in Brooklyn Center, Minn. The closure of the border by Canada has taken a toll on Minnesota resort owners who have been hoping for looser restrictions or some exemptions. Jim Mone/Associated Press

Canada has kept its border closed to nonessential visitors for nearly 11 months because of the coronavirus. New measures to require COVID-19 tests when entering the country are meant to discourage travel by Canadians to the U.S. and elsewhere.

“I would like to request all people who would consider nonessential travel: Now is not the time. Cancel your vacation plans,” Canada’s Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair said. “Our shared priority must be to keep each other safe.”

While some Minnesota border businesses have been saved by in-state residents heading north during the pandemic, the closure has taken a toll on resort owners who have been hoping for looser restrictions or some exemptions, the Star Tribune reported.

“Our Northwest Angle resorts are struggling,” said Joe Henry, executive director of Lake of the Woods Tourism. “Tourists going to Canada will often stay in Baudette hotels before crossing in the morning — that isn’t happening either, so we’ve lost that business.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber, whose border district includes a large swath of northeastern Minnesota, said he has heard from “a number of concerned constituents whose businesses and livelihoods have been suffering” since the border was shut down.

Fauci wins $1 million Israeli prize for ‘defending science’

TEL AVIV, Israel  — Dr. Anthony Fauci has won the $1 million Dan David Prize for “defending science” and advocating for vaccines now being administered worldwide to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

The Israel-based Dan David Foundation on Monday named President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser as the winner of one of three prizes. It said he had earned the recognition over a lifetime of leadership on HIV research and AIDS relief, as well as his advocacy for the vaccines against COVID-19.

In its statement, the private foundation did not mention former President Donald Trump, who undermined Fauci’s follow-the-science approach to the pandemic. But it credited Fauci with “courageously defending science in the face of uninformed opposition during the challenging COVID crisis.”

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, laughs while speaking in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House, Thursday, Jan. 21, in Washington. AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Fauci, 80, has served seven presidents and has been the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984.

In recent interviews, Fauci has acknowledged that it was difficult at times to work for Trump, who repeatedly played down the severity of the pandemic, dismissed the need for mask-wearing and often touted unproven scientific remedies, including injecting disinfectant.

Trump resented Fauci’s flattering press coverage and reveled in calls to “Fire Fauci!” at some of his rallies. But Fauci outlasted Trump, who lost the November election.

“It was very clear that there were things that were said, be it regarding things like hydroxychloroquine and other things, that really was uncomfortable because they were not based in scientific fact,” Fauci said at a recent White House briefing. He added that he took “no pleasure” in having to contradict the president.

Biden’s election, Fauci said, was “liberating.”

The Dan David Prize, established in 2000, gives $1 million awards in three categories each year for contributions addressing the past, present and future.

Fauci won the prize for achievement in the “present,” in the field of public health, the foundation said.

Professors Alison Bashford, Katharine Park and Keith Wailoo, working in the field of history and health medicine, won the “Past” category. The pioneers of an anti-cancer immunotherapy, professor Zelig Eshhar, Dr. Carl June and Dr. Steven Rosenberg won the “Future” category.

Foundation Director Ariel David, son of the prize founder, said this year’s laureates “have probed how humanity has dealt with sickness and pandemics throughout history; they have provided relief, guidance and leadership in dealing with current outbreaks … and they are at the forefront of discovering new treatments that give us hope for the future in the ongoing battle against cancer and other diseases.”

Previous recipients of the Dan David Prize include former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, novelist Margaret Atwood, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales and filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen.

With supply low, San Francisco pauses vaccines at major site

SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco is the latest California city to temporarily shutter a mass vaccination site due to lack of vaccine, joining Los Angeles in pausing inoculations amid a national shortage.

Mass vaccinations are on hold at the Moscone convention center for a week until supply ramps up, officials announced Sunday. They also said vaccinations at City College of San Francisco will stop this week, and restart Friday only for second dose appointments.

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Health care workers tend to people in cars at a drive-up vaccination center at City College of San Francisco on Feb. 1. AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File

San Francisco plans to go ahead with opening a third high-volume vaccination site this week in the hard-hit Bayview neighborhood but will do so with fewer appointments. Officials say they have delivered at least one dose to nearly half of city residents 65 and older.

“I’m frustrated because we’ve shown that SF can administer shots as soon as they come in,” Mayor London Breed said on social media. “We’re hoping for more info in the next few days. We’ll maintain enough doses to ensure second shots for people on schedule.”

Many cities and counties in California are crying for more vaccine, saying they have the ability to deliver it to residents.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom says he knows they can. Nearly 6 million doses have been administered throughout California. The state is receiving roughly 1 million doses a week, with a significant share reserved for second shots, Newsom said.

“Supply is the issue. That’s the constraint,” Newsom said last week. “So when you ask me, ‘what are we doing to vaccinate this group, that group, what about this group,’ it’s an issue now of scarcity, it’s an issue of supply.”

On Friday, after weeks of heavy lobbying, his administration opened up vaccine access to younger people with disabilities and certain medical conditions beginning in mid-March.

The hope is that vaccine supply will greatly expand with the Biden administration, which has started sending vaccine directly to pharmacies and to new mass vaccination sites in the state.

On Tuesday, two new large-scale vaccination sites will open in Oakland and in East Los Angeles as part of a partnership between the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The federal government will supply the vaccine, which could be as many as 6,000 shots a day at each location.

The locations were picked with an eye toward equity, said Newsom, and slots will be reserved for people in surrounding areas. Residents can use My Turn, a new statewide tool, to register and make appointments.

WHO gives emergency authorization for AstraZeneca vaccine

The World Health Organization has granted an emergency authorization to the coronavirus vaccine made by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, a move that should allow the company’s partners to ship millions of doses to countries worldwide as part of a U.N.-backed program to tame the pandemic.

In a statement Monday, the U.N. health agency said it was authorizing the AstraZeneca vaccines made by the Serum Institute of India and South Korea’s AstraZeneca-SKBio.

WHO’s green light for the AstraZeneca vaccine should trigger the delivery of hundreds of millions of doses to countries that have signed up for the U.N.-backed COVAX effort, which aims to deliver vaccines to the world’s most vulnerable.

Although WHO does not approve or regulate vaccines, it assesses their safety and effectiveness for developing countries that don’t have a strong regulatory system.

Seoul offered free COVID tests for pets and found its first case in a lethargic, vomiting cat

TOKYO – The Seoul government said it had found its first case of COVID-19 in a cat on Monday, shortly after offering free tests to pets in the South Korean capital.

Experts say there is no evidence cats or dogs can pass the novel coronavirus to humans, but they have nevertheless placed the cat in a 14-day quarantine. It was tested after having symptoms of vomiting and decreased activity, and after the family it lives with were all found to have contracted COVID-19, officials said.

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A social distancing sign is seen as passengers wait to board planes on the eve of Lunar New Year holiday at the domestic flight terminal of Gimpo airport in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. The signs read: “Keep together.” AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

The Seoul Metropolitan Government announced last week it would offer free coronavirus tests to symptomatic dogs and cats, shortly after a kitten at a religious facility in the southeast of the country was found to have contracted the virus.

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a few pets have been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, mostly after the animals were in close contact with infected humans, although globally such cases have been rare.

Since the beginning of the outbreak, scattered reports of animals contracting the disease have raised fears that pets or farmed animals such as mink could become a reservoir for the disease, prompting widespread culling in infected mink farms.

The CDC, however, says that “based on the limited available information, the risk of animals spreading the COVID-19 virus to people is considered low,” while most animals who had contracted the virus had experienced mild illness and fully recovered.

“There is no evidence that viruses can spread to people or other animals from a pet’s skin, fur or hair,” it says.

Seoul’s city government said it would provide tests only to animals that showed symptoms such as fever or breathing difficulties after coming into contact with infected humans.

The kitten found positive last month was placed into quarantine at a nearby animal shelter but did not show any symptoms, and so after 14 days was released, local health authorities said.

Read the full story here.

Lack of COVID-19 data on people with intellectual disabilities ‘comes with a body count’

Peter Prater’s family wasn’t thinking about COVID-19 when the call came that he had been taken to the hospital with a fever.

It was April, and the Tallahassee Developmental Center, where Prater lives, hadn’t yet had any COVID-19 diagnoses. Prater, 55, who has Down syndrome and diabetes, became the Florida center’s first known case, his family said. Within two weeks, more than half of the roughly 60 residents and a third of the staff had tested positive for the virus, according to local news reports.

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In this Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021 file photo, pharmacy technician Sochi Evans fills a syringe with a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Texas Southern University in Houston. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP, File)

“We thought we were going to lose him,” said Jim DeBeaugrine, Prater’s brother-in-law, who also works as an advocate for people with disabilities. “We weren’t aware of a correlation to Down syndrome and bad outcomes with COVID yet. He’s just a frail person, period.”

Prater survived after roughly seven weeks in the hospital. But five others from the center — three residents and two staffers — died. The center is working to follow federal and state pandemic guidelines, said Camille Lukow, regional director of the Mentor Network, which began operating the facility in December.

Early studies have shown that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have a higher likelihood of dying from the virus than those without disabilities, likely because of a higher prevalence of preexisting conditions. While some high-profile outbreaks made the news, a lack of federal tracking means the population remains largely overlooked amid the pandemic.

No one knows how many of the estimated 300,000 people who live in such facilities nationwide have caught COVID or died as a result. That creates a blind spot in understanding the impact of the virus. And because data drives access to scarce COVID vaccines, those with disabilities could be at a disadvantage for getting prioritized for the shots to keep them safe.

While facilities ranging from state institutions that serve hundreds to small group homes with a few people have been locked down throughout the pandemic, workers still rotate through every day. Residents live in close quarters. Some don’t understand the dangers of the virus. Those who need help eating or changing can’t keep their distance from others. Many facilities also have struggled to keep enough masks and staffers on hand.

The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities has repeatedly asked federal agencies to hold facilities where people with disabilities live to the same pandemic rules as nursing homes, which must report COVID-19 cases directly to national agencies.

Read the full story here.

Britain’s quarantine hotels open for business

LONDON — Britain’s newly established quarantine hotels have received their first guests as the government tries to prevent new variants of the coronavirus from derailing its fast-moving vaccination drive.

Passengers arriving at London’s Heathrow Airport on Monday morning were escorted by security guards to buses that took them to nearby hotels.

Britain has given a first dose of coronavirus vaccine to almost a quarter of the population, but health officials are concerned that vaccines may not work as well on some new strains of the virus, including one first identified in South Africa.

Under the new rules, people arriving in England from 33 high-risk countries must stay in designated hotels for 10 days at their own expense, with meals delivered to their door. In Scotland the rule applies to arrivals from any country.

Netherlands begins post-pandemic trial run for large-scale gatherings

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Some 500 people have gathered in a theater in the central Dutch city of Utrecht for the first in a series of test events aimed at charting a path toward a post-pandemic normality for large-scale gatherings.

Economic Affairs Minister Mona Keijzer says that, “returning to normal, whether it’s a conference with your colleagues, a sports match or a concert: everyone wants that.”

When that might be possible remains unclear. The Netherlands is in a tough lockdown until at least next month, with large-scale gatherings banned altogether, shops, bars, restaurants and museums closed and sports like professional soccer happening behind closed stadium doors.

Participants in Monday’s trial had to present a negative COVID-19 test result, had their temperatures taken on arrival and will have to undergo another test after attending the event.

The government says it will use data gathered at the event to help decide “how to work toward safe and responsible events” in the future.

The event came with Dutch infections on a gradual downward trend in recent weeks and vaccinations ramping up after a slow start that made the Netherlands become the last of the 27 European Union nations to begin its vaccination campaign.

EU warns against vaccine scammers

BRUSSELS — The EU’s anti-fraud office, OLAF, is urging member states to be vigilant against scammers offering to sell fake COVID-19 vaccines as the 27-nation bloc faces delays in the supply of shots.

In a statement Monday, OLAF said it was made aware of a number of reports of scammers offering to sell vaccines in a bid to defraud EU governments trying to speed up the pace of vaccination.

The EU has been criticized for a slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in comparison with other parts of the world, lagging behind the pace of countries like Britain or Israel. The EU commission has signed six contracts for more than 2 billion doses of various coronavirus vaccines, but only three of them have been approved for use so far and the delivery of shots has been disturbed by production delays.

Spanish police crack down on partying across the country

MADRID — Police across Spain have wrapped a weekend of cracking down on parties and boozing in public contravening restrictions to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

Large parties ignoring social distancing, mask wearing and existing curfews were closed down in Ibiza, northeastern Tarragona and many other parts of the country, which has only recently slowed down the sharp increase of contagion seen after the end-of-year celebrations.

In Madrid alone, police fined 450 people for street alcohol consumption in groups and busted 418 illegal parties in entertainment venues and private homes from Friday to Sunday, including a rave in a warehouse with 55 adults and 11 minors who were not wearing masks and were using drugs.

The National Police also found over 50 people in a small apartment rented for tourists in the center of the Spanish capital.

The parties are increasingly better organized to attract foreign visitors and avoid scrutiny, the local police say, with no cash exchanged and payments via phone. In contrast with much of Europe, where entertainment venues have been closed, bars and restaurants in Madrid are allowed to open until 9 p.m.

Spain has managed to lower its 14-day rate of infection per 100,000 residents, from nearly 900 cases in Jan. 27 to less than 500 on Friday, but experts are warning against relaxing restrictions too fast, given that COVID-19 wards in hospitals are still grappling with high occupation rates.

German officials try to bust Carnival celebration, revelers escape by ski

BERLIN — Officers trying to bust a clandestine Carnival celebration in eastern Germany were left red-faced when most of the revelers escaped police on skis.

German news agency dpa reported Monday that police in the town of Marienberg, near the border with the Czech Republic, received information that about 100 people were partying Sunday without abiding by the requirements to wear face masks or respect minimum social distancing.

Police were unable to determine how many people had broken the law, however, because their arrival prompted a hasty on-ski departure by most of the party-goers.

Saxony, where Marienberg is located, has the second-highest infection rate of Germany’s 16 states. Germany has restricted entry from the neighboring Czech Republic and Austria’s Tyrol state to prevent the spread of variant viruses from those countries.

Police across Germany have broken up numerous Carnival celebrations across the country in recent days.

New Zealand starts 3-day lockdown after 3 new cases discovered

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — As people in Auckland adjusted to a new lockdown on Monday, health officials said they’d found no evidence the coronavirus had spread further in the community, raising hopes the restrictions might be short-lived.

New Zealand’s largest city was hurriedly placed into a three-day lockdown Sunday after three unexplained virus cases were found. It’s the country’s first lockdown in six months and represents a setback in its largely successful efforts to control the virus.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the negative test results since the first three were found was an encouraging start, but cautioned a fuller picture of the outbreak wouldn’t emerge until Tuesday, when the results from an expanded testing regimen would be known.

New Zealand also announced its first batch of vaccine had arrived. Officials said the shipment of about 60,000 doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech would initially be prioritized on border workers.

Israeli study finds Pfizer vaccine helps prevent symptomatic infections

JERUSALEM — A large-scale Israeli study has pointed to the efficacy of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at preventing symptomatic infections with the coronavirus.

Clalit, the largest of Israel’s four health care providers, released a study Sunday that compared infections in 600,000 Israelis who had received the vaccine compared to 600,000 who were not immunized.

The study found a 94% drop in symptomatic infections and a 92% drop in serious cases of the disease among those vaccinated. It said “the efficacy of the vaccine is preserved in every age group,” particularly a week after the second dose of the vaccine.

The researchers said the preliminary findings of the ongoing research “is aimed at emphasizing to the population that has yet to vaccinate that the vaccine is highly effective and prevents serious illness.”

Israel launched its COVID-19 vaccine campaign in December. Since then, over a quarter of the population — 2.5 million people — have received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and over 42% have received the first shot, according to the Health Ministry.


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