Latest: SKorea reports more than 2,000 new coronavirus cases

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SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea has reported more than 2,000 new cases of the coronavirus, nearing a one-day record set last month, continuing an alarming surge as the nation enters its biggest holiday of the year.

The 2,008 cases reported Friday was the 73rd consecutive day of over 1,000 despite officials enforcing the country’s strongest social distancing rules short of a lockdown in capital Seoul and other large population centers for the past 10 weeks.

More than 1,500 of the new case came from the greater Seoul area, home to half of a population of more than 51 million, where infections have surged as schools reopened and people returned from summer vacations in recent weeks.

There are concerns that transmissions will worsen nationwide the Chuseok holiday break, the Korean version of Thanksgiving that begins over the weekend and continues through next Wednesday. Millions usually travel across the to meet relatives during Chuseok.

“We plead once again that people who aren’t fully vaccinated not to visit their aging parents who are in their 60s or older,” Deputy Health Minister Lee Ki-il said during a briefing. “In the greater capital area, transmissions are continuously happening at indoor gyms, cram schools, churches and wherever there’s many people in confined spaces. Capital area residents should always keep in mind that they could get infected any where at any time, and be very careful.”

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— Small agency, big job: Biden tasks OSHA with vaccine mandate

— EXPLAINER: What are current COVID-19 guidelines for schools?

— World leaders must be vaccinated to speak at U.N. General Assembly meeting

— Long weekend holiday turns into 9-week lockdown for AP Vietnam reporter

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— See AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING: JUNEAU, Alaska — Alaska’s state epidemiologist says Alaska is experiencing “one of the sharpest surges” in COVID-19 in the country.

Dr. Joe McLaughlin added that it’s not clear when the situation might stabilize. He says a lot will depend on vaccination rates and measures such as masking and distancing.

Health officials says hospitals are stressed, with staffing and capacity issues. The state health department reports 20% of patients hospitalized in Alaska have COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau announced Thursday that as a condition of employment, staff must be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Dec. 15.

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RENO, Nev. -- Nevada officials believe some state employees may follow through on threats to quit their jobs if forced to get COVID-19 shots.

But they said Thursday they expect most will comply with Gov. Steve Sisolak’s mandate that workers at health care facilities and prisons be vaccinated by Nov. 1 or face administrative leave or reassignment.

DuAne Young, the governor’s policy director, says they are developing contingency plans in the event more people quit their jobs than expected and monitoring the situation closely.

He says they believe there will be some attrition, but in the end, most state employees will “step up and do what is right.”

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SEATTLE -- Seattle and King County officials have issued a health directive requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test to enter certain establishments and attend large outdoor events.

Public Health-Seattle & King County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin issued the order Thursday to go into effect Oct. 25. Duchin says high levels of preventable COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations and increased deaths driven by the highly contagious delta variant prompted the order.

The order applies to outdoor events with 500 or more people and indoor establishments such as museums, theaters, gyms, restaurants and bars.

The order does not affect outdoor dining, take-out orders and shopping in places including grocery stores.

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JACKSON, Miss. -- Mississippi has surpassed New Jersey as the state with the highest rate of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S., with roughly 1 of every 320 Mississippians having succumbed to the coronavirus.

The state’s top health official on Thursday warned that more deaths will come.

“We’re recording well over 2,500 (cases) a day, in recent days, far more than we’d like to see,” said State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs. “A lot of that’s going to translate into the tragedy.”

Since the start of the pandemic, at least 9,165 people in Mississippi have died of the virus. The state has a population of roughly 3 million and has had one of the worst vaccination rates in the country.

New Jersey was throttled in the spring of 2020 at the start of the pandemic, long before vaccines were available.

Of specific concern during the delta variant surge in Mississippi have been pregnant mothers, Dobbs said. Over the course of the pandemic, 15 pregnant women in Mississippi have died of coronavirus, according to the Department of Health. Eight of those deaths occurred between July 25 and Sept. 16.

The age range of the mothers who died was between 23 and 40, with the median age being 30. Dobbs said 60% were Black. None of the women were fully vaccinated. One woman had received her first shot.

As for health conditions, “some were overweight, but so are the majority of Mississippians, so I don’t think that that’s much of a surprise,” Dobbs said.

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HELENA, Mont. — A hospital in Helena was forced to implement crisis standards of care amid a surge in COVID-19 patients, hospital officials said Thursday.

Critical care resources are at maximum capacity at St. Peter’s Health hospital. Crisis standards of care are implemented when hospital resources are not sufficient to provide full care to all patients in the facility. Under such conditions, care providers must sometimes choose how to allocate scare resources including medications and beds.

St. Peter’s Health chief medical officer Dr. Shelly Harkins said the constraints in the hospital are worse than what was seen earlier in the pandemic.

“For the first time in my career, we are at the point where not every patient in need will get the care that we might wish we could give,” Harkins said. “By almost every single measure we are in a far worse position than we ever were in the winter of 2020, during our first surge.”

The hospital’s intensive care unit, advanced medical unit and morgue are full. A freezer truck in the parking lot of the hospital will be used because the morgue remains full.

Hospitals in Utah, Idaho, Washington and Texas have reached out to St. Peter’s Health looking for beds for patients who cannot be served in their home state. The news comes as facilities in Bozeman and Billings said this week that they are nearing the point of having to implement crisis standards of care.

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WASHINGTON-- U.S. health officials have authorized Eli Lilly’s COVID-19 treatment for a new use in preventing disease in people who have been recently exposed to the virus.

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday granted emergency use of the drug for adults and children older than 12 who may have an infection and are at high-risk for getting severe COVID-19. Previously the drug was authorized for high-risk patients with confirmed COVID-19.

Earlier this summer the FDA authorized preventative use for a similar antibody drug from competitor Regeneron Pharmaceuticals.

Antibody drugs are one of the only treatments proven to reduce the risk of death from COVID-19, especially for people who are not yet in the hospital. Demand for the drugs has boomed as the delta variant sends cases surging again across the U.S.

Federal officials have reported a 20-fold increase in orders for the drugs since mid-July.

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HONOLULU -- Some Hawaii schools are participating in a state Department of Health program that provides COVID-19 testing for students, teachers and staff.

The federally funded program is voluntary and open to private and public schools. So far, 161 public schools out of 257 have registered for the program and 59 schools started conducting tests.

The nasal swab tests are sent to a lab on the U.S. mainland. It will take about three days to get results.

Health department officials say students can be tested weekly.

If students develop COVID-19 symptoms at school, or come into contact with someone who tests positive, parents can have them tested at school.

Children 11 and younger are not yet eligible for the vaccine.

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HOUSTON — Two dozen Republican attorneys general are warning the White House of impending legal action if a proposed coronavirus vaccine requirement for as many as 100 million Americans goes into effect.

The letter sent Thursday is the latest in GOP opposition to sweeping new federal vaccine requirements for private-sector employees, health care workers and federal contractors announced by President Joe Biden earlier this month. The requirement, to be enacted through a rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is part of an all-out effort to curb the surging COVID-19 delta variant.

The prosecutors, led by Attorney General Alan Wilson of South Carolina, called Biden’s plan “disastrous and counterproductive.” They wrote: “If your Administration does not alter its course, the undersigned state Attorneys General will seek every available legal option to hold you accountable and uphold the rule of law.”

In addition to South Carolina, the letter was signed by attorneys general in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

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WAILUKU, Hawaii — Proof of vaccination is now required for patrons wanting to sit inside Maui bars and restaurants.

Vaccination cards must be shown for indoor dining and drinking as well as for communal areas in businesses such as gyms under Maui’s “Safer Outside” program.

The Maui News reports some businesses made changes to accommodate more people outside.

Several restaurants and bars closed indoor seating entirely.

A similar program began Monday on Oahu.

Unlike the “Safe Access Oahu” program, the Maui rule doesn’t allow for a negative test alternative. Some patrons say the measure makes them feel safer while others say people should be able to make their own vaccination decisions.

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HAVANA — Cuba on Thursday began a COVID-19 vaccination campaign for children between the ages of 2 and 10, saying it was necessary to curb the spread of the delta variant.

Cuba has two homegrown vaccines, Abdala and Soberana, that it says are safe and effective. Both require three shots. In previous weeks, the government started vaccinating people between 11 and 18 years old.

Cuba faces a persistent outbreak of COVID-19, putting heavy pressure on medical facilities and compounding economic problems. Hard-hit provinces such as Matanzas, Ciego de Ávila and Cienfuegos have received support from doctors from other areas of the country as well as international donations.

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WASHINGTON — The Occupational Safety and Health Administration doesn’t often make many headlines. Now the Labor Department agency has been tossed into the national debate over federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

President Joe Biden directed OSHA to write a rule forcing employers with at least 100 workers to require staff get vaccinated or produce weekly test results showing they are virus-free.

When Congress created OSHA 50 years ago to police workplace safety, 38 workers were dying on the job every day. Now that figure is closer to 15 — even though the American workforce has more than doubled. OSHA writes rules designed to protect workers from dangers such as toxic chemicals, rickety scaffolding and cave-ins at construction sites.

“The hazard in this case is the infectious worker,” says epidemiologist David Michaels, OSHA director in the Obama administration. “This rule will tell employers: You have to take steps to make sure potentially infectious workers don’t come into the workplace.”

The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 650,000 Americans.

The rule will take effect in 29 states where OSHA has jurisdiction, according to a primer by the law firm Fisher Phillips. Other states such as California and North Carolina, with their own federally approved workplace safety agencies, will have up to 30 days to adopt equivalent measures.

“Most employers in my view should greet this with relief,” says Celine McNicholas, former special counsel at the National Labor Relations Board. “This gives them a roadmap of exactly what they need to do.”

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ROME — Italian workers in both the public and private sectors must provide a health pass to access the workplace starting on Oct. 15.

That’s under a decree passed Thursday by Premier Mario Draghi’s broad-based coalition government. The Green Pass measures require proof of vaccination, a negative result on a recent rapid test or recovered from COVID-19 in the last six months.

Unions and right-wing parties are urging employers to provide free coronavirus tests to workers. Slovenia and Greece adopted similar measures this week.

Italy’s measures underscore the government’s determination that the nation won’t face another lockdown even as the numbers of new cases increase, mostly among the non-vaccinated.

The Green Pass requirement covers 14 million private sector workers and 3.4 million in state-supported jobs. Until now, only medical personnel needed to be vaccinated, while the Green Pass mandate was in place only for school employees.

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LONDON — The Scottish government has asked for military help to relieve long waits for ambulances and treatment.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense says it received a request and “we are working hard to identify where we can most effectively assist.”

Pressure on Scottish authorities grew after a 65-year-old Glasgow man died while waiting 40 hours for an ambulance. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon apologized “unreservedly to anyone that has suffered or is suffering unacceptably long waits.”

She says challenges to the emergency services were “mirrored in health services across the U.K. and indeed many parts of the world because of the realities of COVID.”

The military has been called in several times during the pandemic to bolster civilian health authorities. Scotland registered the highest per capital coronavirus rates in the U.K. in recent weeks, though the number of cases has started to level off.

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BEIJING — Chinese health officials say more than 1 billion people have been fully vaccinated in the world’s most populous country.

That represents 72% of its 1.4 billion people. A National Health Commission spokesperson says 2.16 billion doses have been administered and 1.01 billion people have been fully vaccinated.

The announcement comes as China faces a new outbreak of the delta variant in the southeastern province of Fujian, where 200 cases have been confirmed in the past six days.

Authorities have locked down affected neighborhoods, closed schools and entertainment venues and restricted travel out of Fujian in an effort to keep the virus from spreading.

China has largely stopped the spread by imposing restrictions and mass testing whenever new cases are found. It also limits entry to the country and requires people who arrive to quarantine in a hotel for at least two weeks.

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