The Latest: Azar expects virus vaccine ‘continuity’

The Latest: Azar expects virus vaccine ‘continuity’

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WASHINGTON — Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar is trying to tamp down concerns the stalled transition of power to President-Elect Joe Biden will scramble the government’s efforts to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine to Americans.

At a vaccine news briefing Wednesday, Azar says “in the event” of a transition, the vast majority of the HHS and Pentagon officials working on vaccine distribution are all career government employees and “there is really just total continuity that would occur.”

The Biden campaign has raised concerns that President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede defeat will only add to the suffering as the coronavirus spreads in many parts of the country.

Azar says HHS cannot begin the transition process until allowed by an obscure agency called the General Services Administration, headed by a Trump appointee.



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HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Pfizer seeks regulatory review of vaccine candidate within days

— Europe has half of world’s 4M new virus cases tallied last week

— FDA allows first prescription rapid coronavirus test that gives results at home


— Surge of coronavirus cases U.S. sends people back to stores to stockpile again, leaving shelves bare and forcing retailers to put limits on purchases.

— Health experts say masks are useful tool for arresting spread of the coronavirus. Studies show they help in multiple ways and work best when everyone wears one.

— Athletes at the postponed Tokyo Olympics won’t have the luxury of hanging around once they’ve wrapped up their event. No late-night parties or nights on the town.


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Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

RICHMOND, Va. — Gov. Ralph Northam on Wednesday urged Virginians to stay home for the Thanksgiving holiday, saying it would be “an act of love” to help keep people safe amid steadily rising coronavirus cases.

If people must get together, Northam said, they should keep gatherings small and celebrate outside.

The Democratic governor’s comments come a few days after he announced substantial new statewide restrictions on gatherings and certain businesses in an effort to slow rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.


The state’s cap on gatherings will be reduced from 250 people to 25, the mask requirement will be applied to younger children, the number of spectators allowed at athletic events will be reduced, and alcohol sales will be prohibited at dining and drinking establishments after 10 p.m.

In Virginia, case counts have been increasing with particular intensity in the state’s southwest, where cases were sparse early in the pandemic.

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In western Tennessee, The Jackson Sun newspaper reported that a key hospital in Madison County was no longer accepting patient transfers due to a rise in coronavirus patients.

Calling it a “sobering day,” West Tennessee Healthcare CEO James Ross said the hospital, which serves as the health care hub for the region, typically accepts 50 to 60 ambulance transfers outside of the county a day.

As of Wednesday, the hospital had reported 573 patients, approaching its maximum 642-bed capacity. More than 100 patients are being treated for COVID-19.

Tennessee has seen just over 4,000 COVID-19 related deaths to date, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. That death count is the 19th highest in the country overall and the 27th highest per capita at 59.0 deaths per 100,000 people.

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NEW YORK — New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says the city will close schools to try to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The mayor and the Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza say the nation’s largest public school system will temporarily halt in-person learning Thursday.

The city has said schools would close if the coronavirus positivity rate reached 3% citywide over a seven-day period. As the rate neared that point last week, de Blasio advised parents to prepare for a possible shutdown within days.

The city’s more than 1 million public school students will be taught entirely online. As of the end of October, only about 25% of students had gone to class in school this fall, far fewer than officials had expected.

Even as the school system stayed open, nearly 1,500 classrooms went through temporary closures after students or staffers tested positive. Officials began instituting local shutdowns in neighborhoods where coronavirus cases were rapidly rising.

More than 2,300 students or staff at public schools had tested positive since the start of the school year.

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BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana has surpassed 200,000 confirmed coronavirus cases.

The Louisiana Department of Health added another 8,900 cases on Wednesday, pushing the confirmed total to nearly 201,000.

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards cautions the current trajectory of cases raises the risk that hospitals could become overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

There have been more than 5,900 confirmed deaths from the virus.

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AMMAN, Jordan — Jordan has reported 7,933 new cases of the coronavirus, the highest daily amount since the start of the pandemic.

The numbers were pushed higher by an outbreak at a garment factory in southern Jordan, where 1,623 foreign workers tested positive for the virus.

Health Minister Nathir Obeidat says a “procedure was taken to isolate the factory.”

Jordan has reported a total of 163,926 confirmed cases. Obeidat says 60 more people have died, raising the confirmed death toll to 1,969.

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MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz plans to announce new coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday.

The plan will shut down indoor dining at bars and restaurants, close gyms and fitness centers, and put organized youth sports on hold for four weeks. Bars and restaurants will still be allowed to offer takeout, according to a person with knowledge of the governor’s plan. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak ahead of the governor’s Wednesday night announcement.

In a call with reporters Tuesday, Walz said the state is trying to ease the strain on hospitals. He said restrictions would be targeted and based on data.

There were 1,423 new cases per 100,000 people in Minnesota over the past two weeks, putting Minnesota seventh in the country for cases per capita. One in every 119 people in Minnesota tested positive in the past week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

There were 5,102 cases reported in Minnesota on Wednesday, along with 67 deaths. The state totals stand at more than 242,000 cases and 3,010 confirmed deaths.

— By Doug Glass

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NEW YORK — Vaccine maker Pfizer says it’s already in regular communication with the president-elect Joe Biden’s transition team as part of ongoing efforts to keep all interested parties updated on its coronavirus vaccine and its distribution.

“There is no room for politics in this process,” said Pfizer spokeswoman Sharon Castillo.

Last Sunday, Biden chief of staff Ron Klain said the transition team planned to meet with Pfizer and other vaccine makers, as President Donald Trump continues to stall the formal transition process to a new administration.

Castillo said Pfizer maintains ongoing communication with the Trump administration, state governors, and leading lawmakers of both parties in Congress. The Biden team is part of that effort.

“We’re in the middle of a transition and we’re communicating with both sides,” she said.

There’s no word yet on a formal meeting between Biden and the pharmaceutical chiefs.

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NEW YORK — Vaccine maker Pfizer says it’s already in regular communication with the president-elect Joe Biden’s transition team as part of ongoing efforts to keep all interested parties updated on its coronavirus vaccine and its distribution.

“There is no room for politics in this process,” said Pfizer spokeswoman Sharon Castillo.

Last Sunday, Biden chief of staff Ron Klain said the transition team planned to meet with Pfizer and other vaccine makers, as President Donald Trump continues to stall the formal transition process to a new administration.

Castillo said Pfizer maintains ongoing communication with the Trump administration, state governors, and leading lawmakers of both parties in Congress. The Biden team is part of that effort.

“We’re in the middle of a transition and we’re communicating with both sides,” she said.

There’s no word yet on a formal meeting between Biden and the pharmaceutical chiefs.

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The largest group representing South Dakota doctors is supporting a statewide mask mandate as several cities have moved to require masks in public.

The South Dakota State Medical Association has been urging people to voluntarily wear masks but updated its stance to “strongly support” a statewide mandate.

South Dakota is second in the nation in new cases per capita over the last two weeks.

There were 2,089 new cases per 100,000 people, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. That’s roughly one out of 48 people in South Dakota testing positive in the last two weeks.

Republican Gov. Kristi Noem has opposed statewide mask mandates, arguing they have not been proven to halt the spread of infections. She plans to give an update on the state’s coronavirus status later Wednesday.

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OMAHA, Neb. — More Nebraska cities are passing mask mandates as the number of virus cases continues to surge across the state.

However, Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts continues to reject the idea of a statewide mask mandate.

Kearney and Beatrice passed mask requirements Tuesday to join Lincoln and Omaha as Nebraska cities that require people to wear masks. Several other cities, including Grand Island and Hastings, are also considering approving mask rules, according to the Omaha World-Herald.

The number of people hospitalized with the virus set another record Tuesday, increasing to 978 from the previous day’s 938.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Nebraska has nearly doubled over the past two weeks from 1,160 new cases per day on Nov. 3 to 2,292 on Tuesday.

Nebraska officials say 2,204 new virus cases were reported Tuesday, increasing the state total to 103,805 cases. There were 19 more deaths, pushing the total to 816.

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BRUSSELS — Belgium leads the world with 129 deaths per 100,000 people, according to data by Johns Hopkins University.

Spain is next with 89, followed by Argentina (81), Brazil (79.5), Britain (79.4), Mexico (78), Italy (76.8) and the United States (76.0).

Belgium, a nation of 11 million people, has reported a daily average of 185 deaths, a slight decrease from its previous seven-day average.

Belgian virologist Steven Van Gucht says it’s a 5% decrease. He urged citizens to adhere to the government coronavirus advice and respect the rules of the partial lockdown in place across the nation.

The daily average of hospital admissions was 406 patients per day, a decrease of 24%.

Belgium has reported more than 504,000 total cases and 14,839 confirmed deaths.

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WASHINGTON — Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, the longest-serving Republican senator and third in the line of presidential succession, says he’s tested positive for the coronavirus.

The 87-year-old Grassley had been in quarantine awaiting test results after exposure to the virus. On Tuesday evening, he tweeted he’d tested positive.

Grassley says he looks forward to resuming his normal schedule soon. He hasn’t said how he was exposed but was in the Senate and voting Monday. By missing votes Tuesday, Grassley broke a 27-year streak of not missing a single Senate vote.

Grassley is third in line for the presidency, behind Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He is president pro tempore, the senator in the majority party who has served the longest. Grassley has been a senator for 40 years.

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LISBON, Portugal — Authorities in Portugal say 85% of intensive care beds set aside for COVID-19 patients are occupied.

Health Minister Marta Temido says 432 COVID-19 patients are in intensive care units, where a total of 506 beds are earmarked for pandemic patients.

She says the public health service can expand the number of intensive care beds for coronavirus patients to 960 beds, but it will impact treatment for other illnesses.

Portuguese hospital admissions have been climbing since the end of September.

Portugal’s 14-day cumulative number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 of population is 785, close to the numbers for Italy and France, according to the European Centre for Disease Control.

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