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Sarah Palin tests positive for COVID, delaying trial; WHO says pandemic at 'critical' stage: Live updates

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Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's day in court over defamation claims against the New York Times was put on hold Monday after she tested positive for the coronavirus.

Federal Judge Jed Rakoff said the trial, which had been set to start Monday, can begin Feb. 3 if Palin has recovered.

"She is, of course, unvaccinated," Rakoff said in announcing three Palin tests came back positive for the virus. Palin, the Republican candidate for vice president in 2008, has urged people not to get vaccinated, telling an audience in Arizona last month that "it will be over my dead body that I'll have to get a shot."

She previously was infected last March.

“I think if enough of us rise up and say, ‘No, enough is enough,’ there are more of us than there are of them,” Palin said, although 75% of the nation has been jabbed at least once, and 63% are fully vaccinated.

Palin, 57, sued the Times in 2017, claiming the newspaper damaged her reputation with an opinion piece penned by its editorial board that falsely asserted her political rhetoric helped incite the 2011 shooting of then-Arizona U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords.

Also in the news:

►The Los Angeles Unified School District said it will prohibit students from wearing cloth masks, which are not effective against the omicron variant. Starting Monday, students must wear “well-fitted, non-cloth masks with a nose wire” at all times, including outdoors, said the district, which would make the masks available to students upon request.

►The Pacific island nations of Samoa and Kiribati, which had combined for a total of two coronavirus infections during the pandemic before this month, imposed lockdowns after recent outbreaks linked to international arrivals.

►Kentucky’s largest school district resumed in-person classes Monday after eight days of remote learning during a rise in COVID-19 cases among teachers and staff at Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville.

►China ended a monthlong lockdown in Xi’an that had isolated its 13 million residents.

►Masks became mandatory Monday in a Michigan school district after 58% of parents, guardians and staff in the Battle Creek-area's Pennfield district voted for them. The mandate runs through Feb. 18.

📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 71.2 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 867,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 353.2 million cases and over 5.6 million deaths. More than 210 million Americans – 63.4% – are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

📘 What we're reading: Amy Crosby was haunted by the fear of her baby catching COVID-19. For the South Dakota mom, it was "a nightmare that overplayed in my head that I hoped would never come true." After months of social distancing and caution, Crosby's nightmare still became a reality: Baby Crue began his battle with the coronavirus in December.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY's free Coronavirus Watch newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

WHO: Pandemic's 'critical juncture,' emergency could end this year

The COVID-19 pandemic has reached a "critical juncture," and if nations work together the global health emergency can end this year, the World Health Organization's director said Monday. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it is dangerous to assume that omicron will be the last variant, or that we're "in the endgame." Tedros said 85% of the African population has not received even one dose of a vaccine.

"Vaccines alone are not the golden ticket out of the pandemic," Tedros said. "But there is no path out unless we achieve our shared target of vaccinating 70% of the population of every country by the middle of this year."

The pandemic has shown that the world must elevate protecting and promoting health as a top priority, Tedros said.

"Health is not a by-product of development, an outcome of prosperous societies, a footnote of history," he said. "It’s the beat, the foundation, the essential ingredient without which no society can flourish."

Wealthy countries luring nurses from abroad worsen health inequity

Faced with a shortage of nurses amid the pandemic, wealthy nations have been luring them from poorer countries that couldn't spare them, the International Council of Nurses said, according to Reuters.

The U.S. is among the nations with an unmet demand for health care workers as burnout, sickness and other factors linked to the pandemic has thinned the workforce.

"We have absolutely seen an increase in international recruitment to places like the UK, Germany, Canada and the United States," said Howard Catton, CEO of the ICN, which represents 27 million nurses and 130 national organizations.

Better salaries and working conditions have helped attract nurses from sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, exacerbating already existing health inequity, Catton said.

"I really fear this quick-fix solution – it's a bit similar to what we've been seeing with (personal protective equipment) and vaccines where rich countries have used their economic might to buy and to hoard,” he said.

Exemption may allow Novak Djokovic to play in French Open

France's vaccine pass went into effect Monday, requiring people 16 and above to show proof of vaccination to enter public places such as bars, restaurants and cinemas.

France is registering Europe’s highest-ever daily coronavirus infection numbers, and hospitals are continuing to fill up with virus patients, even though the number of people in intensive care units has dropped in recent days.

The government has imposed few other restrictions amid the surge in the omicron variant, focusing instead on the vaccine pass, approved last week.

The law exempts those with proof they tested positive within the previous six months, raising the possibility that tennis star Novak Djokovic could play in the French Open starting in late May after he was barred from defending his title in the Australian Open this month because he's not vaccinated against the virus. Djokovic said he tested positive in mid-December.

7 school districts sue Virginia Gov. Youngkin over mask rules

Seven school districts in Virginia filed suit Monday challenging the constitutionality of Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin's updated school mask order. The districts, which represent over 350,000 students across the state, said in a statement they are defending the right of school boards to set policies that protect the health and well-being of students and staff.

The CDC recommends masks in schools for everyone over age 2, regardless of vaccination status. Youngkin took office Jan. 15 and almost immediately announced plans for a parental opt-out from school mask mandates. He has pledged to defend it against litigation.

The districts said in the joint statement that their lawsuit is not political.

"With COVID-19 transmission rates high, our hospitals at crisis level, and the continued recommendation of health experts to retain universal mask-wearing for the time being, this is simply not the time to remove this critical component of layered health and safety mitigation strategies," the joint statement said.

Hospitalizations decline in half of US states

There were 151,180 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in the U.S. on Sunday, down 4.1% from a week earlier. Half the states reported fewer COVID-19 hospitalizations than the previous week. The numbers are particularly encouraging because the latest surge has put yet another intense strain on hospitals across much of the nation. Although omicron has appeared to cause generally less severe illness than previous versions of the virus, the sheer number of infections driven by the easily transmissible variant has left many hospitals at or near capacity.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, speaking Sunday on ABC's "This Week," said the omicron-driven surge could soon wane across the nation. But he warned that coming weeks could bring "a bit more pain and suffering with hospitalizations" in parts of the country where a higher percentage of people have not been fully vaccinated or have not received a booster shot.

Mike Stucka

Strong relationships, physical activity helped kids in pandemic, study finds

Supportive relationships with family and friends – and healthy behaviors such as engaging in physical activity and better sleep – appeared to shield the mental health of adolescents ages 11-14 against the harmful effects of the pandemic, a new study finds. The study examined data from more than 3,000 adolescents from before and during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The research, published Monday in the Journal of Adolescent Health, was based on data from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study – the largest long-term study of brain development and child health ever conducted in the U.S.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense disruption to this sensitive stage in life,” said Nora D. Volkow, M.D., director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which supported the research.

Study: Graduation rates fell in at least 20 states after first year of pandemic

High school graduation rates dipped in at least 20 states after the first full school year disrupted by the pandemic, according to a new study. The education news site Chalkbeat analyzed data from 26 states and found the pandemic that left many students learning remotely last year continues to complicate teaching and learning. The declines may have ended nearly two decades of nationwide progress toward getting more students diplomas, an analysis shows.

The drops came despite at least some states and educators loosening standards to help struggling students.

COVID lab target of FBI search

The FBI on Saturday searched the headquarters of a nationwide string of coronavirus testing sites known as the Center for COVID Control. The company and its main lab, which has been reimbursed more than $124 million from the federal government for coronavirus testing, are under investigation by state and federal officials.

"The FBI was conducting court-authorized law enforcement activity in Rolling Meadows yesterday," Siobhan Johnson, a spokesperson for the FBI's Chicago office, told USA TODAY on Sunday.

A Center for COVID Control spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The search comes days after the Minnesota Attorney General's Office filed a consumer-protection lawsuit against the company and its primary laboratory, Doctors Clinical Lab. The complaint alleges the company and lab "provide inaccurate and deceptive" test results and has fraudulently reported negative test results.

Longtime entrepreneurs Akbar Syed, 35, and his wife, Aleya Siyaj, 29, run the center and, in recent months, have shared photos and videos on social media of their growing wealth. Syed has shared images of two Lamborghinis, Ferrari Enzo and a new $1.36 million mansion.

Grace Hauck

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID pandemic has now reached a critical juncture: WHO director