The Latest: Alaska activates emergency health protocols

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Alaska on Saturday activated emergency crisis protocols that allow 20 health care facilities to ration care if needed as the state recorded the nation’s worst COVID-19 diagnosis rates in the U.S. in recent days, straining its limited health care system.

The declaration covers three facilities that had already declared emergency protocol, including the state’s largest hospital, Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage.

Among the factors that led the state to activate the crisis of care standards include scarce medical resources within some facilities, limited staff and difficulty transferring patients to other facilities because of limited bed availability. Other factors included limited renal replacement therapy and oxygen supplies.

According to data collected by Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering, one person in every 84 in Alaska was diagnosed with COVID-19 from Sept. 22 to 29. The next highest rate was one in every 164 people in West Virginia.

Statewide, 60% of eligible Alaskans are fully vaccinated.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— COVID-19 deaths eclipse 700,000 in US as delta variant rages

— Russia: Antibody tests for COVID-19 remain popular, factor in low vaccine rate

— Far-right protesters in Romania reject virus restrictions

— California to require COVID-19 vaccines for schoolchildren

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See all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

ATLANTA — Four parents are suing the Cobb County school district on behalf of their children, saying the failure of Georgia’s second-largest school district to require masks means their students cannot safely attend in-person classes because of their disabilities.

The suit was filed Friday in federal court in Atlanta. It says the 107,000-student suburban Atlanta district is violating federal law governing how students with disabilities are treated in public schools. The lawsuit asks a judge to order the district to follow CDC guidelines on masks and other issues. The district has defended its stance amid repeated protests.

“Rather than using the known and available tools to mitigate the threat of COVID-19 and protect plaintiffs’ access to school services, programs, and activities, the district has acted with deliberate indifference to plaintiffs’ rights to inclusion, health, and education,” the complaint alleges.

The lawsuit asks that U.S. District Judge Timothy Batten Sr. order the district to follow CDC guidelines, including not only on masks but on issues like ventilation, physical distancing and contact tracing.

Whether to require masks in Cobb schools has been the focus of protest for months. Like many in Georgia, Cobb lifted its mask order at the end of last year. Many districts reimposed mask orders as school began this August, because of the rapid spread of the delta variant of COVID-19. Cobb, though, dug in saying that masks would only be strongly recommended.

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LAS CRUCES, N.M. — New Mexico State University says less than a third of its students submitted proof of vaccination for COVID-19 by a Thursday deadline to otherwise undergo weekly testing or leave the university.

While 72.3% of the university’s employees provided proof of vaccination, only 30% of students did, officials said Friday.

It’s not clear how many students who didn’t submit proof of vaccination by the deadline plan to submit weekly test results, officials said.

“We’re not where we want to be with our vaccinated students,” said Jon Webster, the school’s COVID-19 project manager. “We want to make sure we’re protecting all of our students.”

Failure to submit vaccination information or weekly test results can result in student suspension or staff termination, officials said.

Students can get vaccinated at any point in the semester and cease the weekly required testing once achieving full vaccination, Webster said.

He said the university was continuing to reach out to students through text message, email, social media and other channels.

Several students said Friday they were unaware of the mandate’s details, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported.

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden mourned “the painful milestone” of 700,000 American deaths from COVID-19, a day after the U.S. surpassed that mark on Friday.

The president says in a statement “the astonishing death toll is yet another reminder of just how important it is to get vaccinated.” He says the nation has “made extraordinary progress” in the fight against the coronavirus in the past eight months because of vaccines.

Biden says thanks to vaccines, “hundreds of thousands of families have been spared the unbearable loss that too many Americans have already endured during this pandemic.”

He notes more than three-quarters of all Americans age 12 and up have received at least one vaccine dose, including nearly 94% of all seniors.

Biden says: “If you haven’t already, please get vaccinated. It can save your life and the lives of those you love. It will help us beat COVID-19 and move forward, together, as one nation.”

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RENO, Nev. -- Employees at all public universities and colleges in Nevada are required to get COVID-19 vaccinations by Dec. 1 or face potential termination.

All new hires must prove their vaccination status under the new policy. Meanwhile, coronavirus case trends are improving in urban areas but have worsened in most rural parts of the state where vaccination rates are the lowest.

The Desert Research Institute has the highest vaccination rate at 87% followed by the University of Nevada Reno at 82%. UNLV reported 75%. Rural Elko-based Great Basin College had the worst rate at 66%.

On Wednesday, about 64% of all state employees had been fully vaccinated, in accordance with Gov. Steve Sisolak’s order in July that required shots or proof of negative coronavirus tests, says DuAne Young, the governor’s policy director.

Nearly 65% of residents age 12 and older have one vaccination and 56% are fully vaccinated, according to state data.

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SALT LAKE CITY — The president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints thanked members who have followed church guidance, which has been to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Church President Russell M. Nelson spoke Saturday at a conference taking place again without full attendance due to the pandemic. For the first time in two years, leaders were back at the faith’s 20,000-seat conference center, with several hundred people watching in person and others on television. The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square returned to the conference.

The Utah-based faith has repeatedly encouraged its 16 million members worldwide to limit the spread by getting vaccines and wearing masks. Last week, church officials announced masks will be required inside temples to limit the spread of the virus.

Utah experienced a summer surge among unvaccinated residents, causing hospital ICUs to reach near capacity in early September. Data from the Utah Health Department showed in late September that state residents who are unvaccinated are nearly six times more likely to die from COVID-19 and seven times more likely to be hospitalized than those who are vaccinated.

About 64% of Utah residents ages 12 and older were fully vaccinated.

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BUCHAREST, Romania — More than 5,000 far-right protesters have gathered in Romania’s capital of Bucharest to reject new pandemic measures following a surge of coronavirus infections.

Daily infections in the nation of 19 million have skyrocketed from approximately 1,000 cases a day a month ago to a record 12,590 new cases on Saturday.

That was Romania’s highest daily number of infections since the start of the pandemic. The increase is putting hospitals under pressure as intensive care units reach their capacity.

The mostly mask-less marchers blocked traffic, honked horns and chanted “Freedom!”

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PHOENIX — Arizona reported nearly 100 COVID-19 deaths on Saturday, a day after the state’s pandemic death toll passed 20,000.

The state coronavirus dashboard reported 95 deaths and 2,942 confirmed cases, increasing Arizona’s pandemic totals to 20,134 confirmed deaths and 1.1 million cases.

Arizona’s seven-day rolling average of daily deaths rose by a third in the past two weeks, increasing from 33 on Sept. 16 to 43 on Thursday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The rolling average of daily new cases declined during the same period, dropping from 2,742 to 2,621.

The state also reported the number of COVID-19 patients occupying hospital beds increased slightly to 1,798 on Friday.

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JACKSON, Miss. — The leader of a Mississippi pediatricians’ organization is urging school districts to keep mask mandates in place to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Anita Henderson of Hattiesburg is president of the Mississippi Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She says about 30% of youths ages 12 to 17 in the state are vaccinated, and “now is not the time to let our guard down.”

Mississippi has reported nine pediatric deaths from COVID-19. Some school districts are repealing mask mandates. Among them are the Madison County and Rankin County districts in central Mississippi and the Ocean Springs district on the Gulf Coast.

Mississippi had a significant surge in COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations starting in July. Numbers have slowly decreased in recent weeks. However, Mississippi is among the lowest vaccinated states in the nation.

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TOPEKA, Kan. — Data from the Kansas state health department shows mostly rural counties have youth coronavirus vaccination rates far below the national average.

A school pandemic workgroup received data from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment this week showing in about a quarter of the state’s counties, less than 20% of vaccine-eligible children ages 12 to 17 had received at least one dose as of Sept. 24.

Most of the low-vaccine counties are in western Kansas or other rural areas. U.S. regulators in May expanded the use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to children as young as 12.

The national vaccination rate for youth is 57%, according to a presentation by Marci Nielsen, a special adviser to Kelly.

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NEW YORK — Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor denied an emergency appeal from a group of teachers to block New York City’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for public school teachers and other staff from going into effect.

Sotomayor ruled on Friday, after the teachers filed for the injunction with her on Thursday to keep the mandate from going into effect.

Under the mandate, the roughly 148,000 school employees had until 5 p.m. Friday to get at least their first vaccine shot. Those who didn’t face suspension without pay when schools open on Monday.

An original deadline this week was delayed after a legal challenge, but a federal appeals panel said New York City could go ahead with the mandate in the nation’s largest school district.

In August, Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett also denied an emergency appeal from students at Indiana University to block that institution’s vaccine mandate.

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WARSAW, Poland — A gala concert on Saturday will open the 18th edition of the prestigious Frederic Chopin international piano competition that was postponed by a full year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Oct. 2-23 competition was scheduled for the fall of 2020, but authorities put off the popular event, expecting the coronavirus and social distancing would prevent the usual crowds from attending.

The 87 participants from around the world begin Sunday with the performance of Xuanyi Mao from China. The winner gets a gold medal and a prize of 40,000 euros ($45,000) and prestigious recording and concert contracts.

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The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has eclipsed 700,000, with 100,000 people dying in the past three months when vaccines were available to any American over age 12.

The milestone reached late Friday is deeply frustrating to doctors, nurses and public health officials and Americans who watched a pandemic that had been easing earlier in the summer take a dark turn.

Tens of millions of people in the U.S. have refused to get vaccinated, allowing the highly contagious delta variant to tear through the country and send the death toll from 600,000 to 700,000 in 3 1/2 months.

Florida suffered by far the most deaths of any state during that period, with the virus killing about 17,000 residents since the middle of June. Texas was second with 13,000 deaths.

The two states account for 15% of the country’s population, but more than 30% of the nation’s deaths since the nation crossed the 600,000 threshold.

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MOSCOW — Antibody tests to detect the proteins produced by the body to fight coronavirus infection are cheap, widely available and actively marketed in Russia. Yet Western health experts say the tests are unreliable for diagnosing the coronavirus or assessing immunity to it.

When Russians talk about the coronavirus over dinner or in hair salons, the conversation often turns to “antitela,” the Russian word for antibodies. President Vladimir Putin referred to them while bragging to Turkey’s leader about why he avoided infection even though dozens of people around him contracted the coronavirus.

But the antibodies the popular tests look for can only serve as evidence of a past infection, and scientists say it’s still unclear what level of antibodies indicates protection from the virus and for how long..

In Russia, it’s common to get an antibody test and share the results. Their use appears to be a factor in the country’s low vaccination rate even as the country reports record daily deaths and rising infections.

Both the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommend vaccination regardless of previous infection.

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American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and JetBlue are joining United Airlines in requiring employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, as the Biden administration steps up pressure on major U.S. carriers to require the shots.

The airlines provide special flights, cargo hauling and other services for the government. The companies say that makes them government contractors who are covered by President Joe Biden’s order directing contractors to require that employees be vaccinated.

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker told employees late Friday that the airline is still working on details, but “it is clear that team members who choose to remain unvaccinated will not be able to work at American Airlines.”

The pilot union at American recently estimated that 4,200 — or 30% — of the airline’s pilots are not vaccinated.

Earlier, White House coronavirus adviser Jeffrey Zients talked to the CEOs of American, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines about vaccine mandates.

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NEW YORK — The Broadway hit “Aladdin” is trying to keep COVID-19 contained. Disney Theatrical Productions said it will cancel all shows until Oct. 12 after “additional breakthrough COVID-19 cases were detected.”

The show reopened Tuesday following some 18 months of being shuttered due to the pandemic, but was forced to close Wednesday when breakthrough COVID-19 cases were reported within the musical’s company. There was a Thursday performance before Friday’s was canceled.

It was the first Broadway COVID-19 cancellation since shows resumed with Bruce Springsteen’s concert returning in July and “Pass Over” as the first play to debut in August.

So-called breakthrough infections are detected in vaccinated people and tend to be far less dangerous than those unvaccinated. In many ways, the temporary closure proves that the monitoring system is working.

“Aladdin” opened on Broadway in March 2014 and has become one of its highest grossing shows.

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HARTFORD, Conn. - A retired Connecticut physician and surgeon voluntarily surrendered her license to practice medicine on Friday after being accused of providing fraudulent medical exemption forms through the mail.

Dr. Sue Mcintosh had her license suspended last week by the Connecticut Medical Examining Board during an emergency hearing. A full hearing on the merits of the case was scheduled for Oct. 5.

State officials, who had received an anonymous complaint about the doctor, allege Mcintosh provided an unknown number of blank, signed forms exempting people from the COVID-19 and other vaccines, as well as mandatory mask-wearing and routine COVID testing to people who sent her a self-addressed envelope.

Mcintosh, who hadn’t treated the patients, signed a letter included in the packet of bogus forms with the phrase “Let freedom ring!” She didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Christopher Boyle, a spokesperson for the Connecticut Department of Public Health, said officials are considering whether to refer the case to state and federal law enforcement agencies.

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MINNEAPOLIS — A decline in COVID-19 cases across the United States over the past several weeks has given overwhelmed hospitals some relief, but administrators are bracing for yet another possible surge as cold weather drives people indoors.

Health experts say the fourth wave of the pandemic has peaked overall in the U.S., particularly in the Deep South, where hospitals were stretched to the limit weeks ago. But many Northern states are still struggling with rising cases, and what’s ahead for winter is far less clear.

Unknowns include how flu season may strain already depleted hospital staffs and whether those who have refused to get vaccinated will change their minds. An estimated 70 million eligible Americans remain unvaccinated, providing kindling for the highly contagious delta variant.

“If you’re not vaccinated or have protection from natural infection, this virus will find you,” warned Mike Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

Nationwide, the number of people now in the hospital with COVID-19 has fallen to somewhere around 75,000 from over 93,000 in early September. New cases are on the downswing at about 112,000 per day on average, a drop of about one-third over the past 2 1/2 weeks.

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