Alabama ICUs near capacity amid COVID-19 surge

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MONTGOMERY, Alabama — Alabama’s intensive care units are near capacity amid the state’s surge in COVID-19 cases.

The head of the Alabama Hospital Association says the state has 1,562 intensive care unit beds and 1,560 patients needing intensive care Monday. Dr. Don Williamson says that “this is the greatest demand on the ICU system we’ve ever had.”

Alabama has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus and the state’s low vaccination rate. Infections and hospitalization numbers are quickly approaching what they were at the winter peak of the pandemic.

Williamson says COVID-19 patients accounted for 48% of Alabama’s ICU patients Monday. He says the overwhelming majority of them are unvaccinated.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— Many Bible Belt preachers silent on shots as COVID-19 surges

— Fans will not be allowed at the Paralympics starting next week in Japan, which has extended its coronavirus emergency

— Virus claims more young victims as deaths climb yet again

— US mulls COVID vaccine boosters for elderly as early as fall

— Amid a limited supply of vaccines, tensions arise in Africa between those seeking first and second vaccine shots

Public forums before local school boards and city councils are the latest source of misinformation about COVID-19

— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Another local government in South Carolina is joining the state capital in requiring masks in schools despite a state budget proviso that bans districts from doing so without risking funding.

The Richland County Council voted Monday evening to mandate masks for students and for educators who work with children ages 2 through 14 in public and private schools and at day care centers. The ordinance says schools aren’t required to use public funds to provide face coverings.

Columbia’s city government already made masks mandatory for schoolchildren too young to receive the coronavirus vaccine. Columbia’s mayor has said the measure relies on local funds, not state appropriations.

Education groups are pushing for state lawmakers to repeal the state budget provision that went into effect July 1 and prohibits South Carolina educational institutions from using appropriated funds to mandate masks.

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ATLANTA — At least 10 Georgia school districts or charter schools have sent all students home because of exposure to the coronavirus, including Screven County, which announced its decision Monday.

Those districts have more than 26,000 students combined, about 1.5% of the statewide public school enrollment.

Some other districts have sent students home from individual schools, and thousands of students and teachers have been quarantined after two weeks of school for many Georgia districts.

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Wyoming’s governor says the state will not return to a statewide mask order or mandate vaccination against the coronavirus despite a resurgence of the virus.

Gov. Mark Gordon imposed a statewide mask mandate in December and lifted it in March. He said Monday that mandates can cause some people to resist wearing masks.

Gordon also says he doesn’t expect any shutdowns like the public health orders that forced many Wyoming businesses and public places to close or limit occupancy through much of 2020 and into 2021.

Coronavirus infections are back up to levels not seen in Wyoming since January. Becker’s Hospital Review says Wyoming has one of the nation’s lowest vaccination rates, about 37%.

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AUSTIN, Texas — Texas health officials say they asked for five mortuary trailers from the federal government as coronavirus infections and hospitalizations for COVID-19 reach the highest levels since January.

But the Texas Department of State Health Services also said Monday that no local officials so far have reached out with needs for extra mortuary space.

Texas reported more than 11,700 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 on Monday, a 17% increase from a week ago. The seven-day daily average of COVID-19 deaths is also back above 50 for the first time since spring.

The pandemic is blamed for more than 52,000 deaths in Texas.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina health officials say medically vulnerable residents with certain health conditions can get an additional dose of coronavirus vaccine, though some have already had a third shot after the FDA approved that last week.

The FDA signed off on the additional dose after emerging data suggested people with moderately to severely compromised immune systems do not necessarily build the same level of immunity as others.

Data from the state Department of Health and Human Services shows that coronavirus infections and hospitalizations for COVID-19 are at their worst levels in more than six months.

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HONOLULU — Some private schools in Hawaii are mandating coronavirus vaccination for students, faculty and staff.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser says Parker School in Waimea on the Big Island will require all employees and eligible students to be vaccinated by Oct. 1. The coeducational day school will test all students and employees for the virus before the school year. It plans to provide weekly testing while infection rates remain high on the Big Island.

In Honolulu, the ’Iolani School is requiring all eligible students, faculty and staff to be vaccinated or seek a health or religious exemption. A spokeswoman says the school’s faculty and staff already have a 99% vaccination rate, while eligible students in grades 7 to 12 are at 95%. Younger students aren’t eligible for the shots.

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JERUSALEM — Israel says more than 1 million people over age 50 have received a third dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

Israel began offering the boosters to its older population two weeks ago, becoming the first country in the world using a Western vaccine to do so.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Monday that more than half of the target population has now received a booster shot.

Israel was one of the world’s leaders in vaccinating its population early this year, using the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. But it has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks spread largely by the delta variant of the coronavirus.

Tthe World Health Organization has said it would be better to provide vaccines to poorer countries that have not yet inoculated their people.

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BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbia will start administering a third, or booster, dose of vaccines this week to people who previously were vaccinated at least 6 months ago, after cases of infections have surged in recent days.

Authorities on Monday said that citizens will receive text messages with invitations for booster shots. Initially, heath authorities will contact people with weakened immune systems, the elderly, medical workers and those whose jobs require frequent travel.

Serbia, a Balkan nation of around 7 million people, has vaccinated over 50% of its population.

The country loosened anti-virus rules during the summer which has led to a rise in confirmed new cases and hospitalizations mostly from the highly contagious delta variant.

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DALLAS — Some Texas counties and school districts remained defiant Monday and kept in place mandates requiring students and others to wear facial coverings despite rulings a day earlier by the Texas Supreme Court halting mask mandates in two of the largest counties in the nation.

However, other school districts and communities rescinded their mask mandates following Sunday’s court ruling, creating confusion for Texas students returning to in person classes this week.

The order by the state’s highest court halts mask requirements that county leaders in Dallas and San Antonio put in place as new infections soar and students begin returning to school.

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NEW YORK — New York City will begin requiring proof of coronavirus vaccinations Tuesday for anyone wanting to partake in much of public life including dining at an indoor restaurant, working out at a gym or strolling through a museum.

The list of public venues widened Monday as Mayor Bill de Blasio moved forward with an unprecedented move by the country’s largest city to goad more people into getting vaccinated and control a pandemic that has wrought havoc on the economy and people’s day-to-day lives.

While the new requirement goes into effect Tuesday, enforcement won’t begin until Sept. 13 to give the public and employees more time to receive at least the required first shot.

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MADISON, Wis. — Cardinal Raymond Burke, one of the Catholic Church’s most outspoken conservatives and a vaccine skeptic, says he has COVID-19 and his staff says he is breathing through a ventilator.

Burke tweeted Aug. 10 that he had caught the virus, was resting comfortably and was receiving excellent medical care.

“Please pray for me as I begin my recovery,” the 73-year-old Burke said in the tweet. “Let us trust in Divine Providence. God bless you.”

On Saturday, his staff tweeted that he had been hospitalized and was on a ventilator, but that doctors were encouraged with his progress.

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JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi’s only Level I trauma center is setting up a second emergency field hospital in a parking garage to treat some of the sickest COVID-19 patients as the virus continues to ravage the state.

Samaritan’s Purse will set up the mobile intensive care unit with a team of medical staff in a garage near Children’s of Mississippi, the state’s only pediatric hospital. Since the start of the pandemic, the Christian relief charity has set up five other emergency hospitals in areas of the world hard hit by the virus, including New York City and Los Angeles County.

Mississippi, one of least vaccinated states in the country, has seen numbers of new COVID-19 cases double in the past two weeks, surpassing records for hospitalizations all previous surges of the virus since the start of the pandemic.

After facing a shortage of beds and staff needed to treat patients, the University of Mississippi Medical Center set up an emergency field hospital in a different parking garage last week, with the help of the federal government.

In the coming days, an additional tent will be set up where people who are positive for COVID-19 can receive monoclonal antibody treatment, Woodward said.

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AMSTERDAM — The European Medicines Agency has started an accelerated review process to determine if a common arthritis drug might help people hospitalized with severe COVID-19, months after the drug was granted an emergency use authorization in the U.S.

In a statement Monday, the EU drug regulator said it was assessing an application to extend the use of tocilizumab for adults suffering from severe coronavirus in the hospital, who were already being treated with other steroids or required extra oxygen, including via a ventilator. Tocilizumab is an anti-inflammatory drug currently used to treat adults and children with severe arthritis.

In June, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted the drug an emergency use authorization and the World Health Organization recommended its use last month for people who are critically ill with COVID-19. The European regulator said it expected to make a decision by mid-October on tocilizumab, based on data from four large studies. The drug was first licensed in the EU in 2009.

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TOKYO — Japan’s coronavirus state of emergency will continue through Sept. 12 rather than finishing at the end of this month as initially planned, the government decided Monday

With the virus continuing to spread in the country, the state of emergency for Tokyo, Osaka, Okinawa, and three other regions which began in July will be extended and expanded.

The measures were enforced throughout the recently concluded Tokyo Olympics, which took place with no spectators from the general public at many events. With the latest extension, the emergency will remain in force during the Tokyo Paralympics, which open Aug. 24 and close on Sept. 5.

The emergency measures center on asking eateries and bars to close at 8 p.m. and not serve alcohol. They will be expanded to several more prefectures including Kyoto, Hyogo and Fukuoka, which are currently under a less severe cautionary “quasi-emergency.”

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka’s president on Monday removed the island nation’s health minister amid a surge of COVID-10 cases and deaths.

The cabinet reshuffle announced by the office of President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa on Monday came as the health ministry is facing mounting criticism over it’s failure to contain COVID-19, which is spreading fast across the Indian Ocean island nation.

Pavithra Wanniarachchi was removed from the Health Minster portfolio and was appointed as Minister of Transport. Media Minister and government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella was appointed as the new health minister.

Sri Lanka is witnessing an unprecedented surge of COVID-19 cases and deaths over the last two weeks. Doctors have warned that hospitals and morgues are reaching their maximum capacities. The government has ruled out an immediate lockdown, despite repeated pleas from doctors, because of an ailing economy.

The Associated Press

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