The Latest: Hawaii considering stronger virus restrictions

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HONOLULU —- As visitors continue to fly to Hawaii and locals go about their business, state officials say the islands may need to go into lockdown if a surge in COVID-19 delta variant cases continue to rise.

County mayors are asking for more restrictions, and Gov. David Ige told Hawaii News Now on Thursday that strict mandates are being considered.

If case counts continue to rise “and we push the hospitals across that line then we will have to go to more extreme measures, lockdowns and potentially shutting businesses,” Ige said.

Hawaii has had nearly 16,000 new infections in August amid a spike of cases that has repeatedly broken state records. Earlier this week, Ige asked that tourists stop coming to the islands, but stopped short of enacting any formal restrictions on travel.

Big Island Mayor Mitch Roth is expected to make an announcement Friday about new rules. The island recently postponed the Ironman World Championship that was slated to be held in Kailua-Kona in October.

Maui Mayor Michael Victorino is waiting for state approval for his newly proposed restrictions.

Victorino is asking residents to only do essential activities and is requesting that visitors voluntarily stay at their resorts and not visit the remote Hana coastline.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

New Zealand wages high-stakes effort to halt virus outbreak

— COVID-19 surge pummels Hawaii and its native population

— More US states seeing record hospitalizations, rising toll on children

— Music industry weighs vaccine mandates, but politics collide

— Models forecast 100,000 more COVID-19 deaths unless US changes its ways

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— 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:

BOSTON —- A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging a requirement that students at the University of Massachusetts campuses in Boston and Lowell be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus in order to return to campus.

Students at the schools sued in July, asking the judge to find the vaccination mandates to be unconstitutional. The UMass Boston student also alleged she was improperly denied a religious exemption.

U.S. District Judge Denise Casper said Friday the schools have a strong interest in reducing the spread of the disease. And she found that despite the students’ assertion that the policy is “arbitrary or not based in science,” the schools “based the decision upon both medical and scientific evidence and research and guidance and thus is at least rationally related to these legitimate interests.”

The judge also noted that students who refuse to get vaccinated may still take online classes or defer their enrollment a semester. But she said even if the policy meant they would be deprived of a UMass education, their argument still fails.

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BERLIN —- German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday that her country is more than doubling the number of coronavirus vaccine doses it is giving to poor countries this year.

Merkel told reporters that Germany will give the international COVAX initiative 70 million doses this year, up from 30 million previously announced.

Germany has seen a slump in demand for the shot, with just under 60% of the population fully vaccinated. Some doctors have reported having to throw away unused doses after they expired.

Speaking at a meeting with African leaders in Berlin, Merkel said it was important to resolve the “dramatic injustice” of vaccine shortages in Africa, where only 2% of the population is vaccinated.

South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa, said there was “a lot of unhappiness about this inequality” and called again for the suspension of intellectual property rights so vaccines can be produced in poor countries as well.

“Africa needs to be given the opportunity and the right to produce vaccines. It is a matter of life and death,” he said.

Merkel, who has opposed suspending such patents, said she believes “there will be a possibility to produce in Africa and also to transfer technology step by step,” citing projects for doing so in Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa.

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. —- A judge in Wyoming is offering defendants a break in their court fines if they agree to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Casper Star-Tribune reports that Natrona County Circuit Court Judge Steven Brown began offering the deal earlier this summer after seeing vaccination rates stagnate. Fewer than 40% of eligible people in Wyoming are fully vaccinated, putting it among the bottom five states in vaccination rate.

The city of Casper has a community service program that works with courts to offer a $10 reduction in fines per hour of work for local charities, nonprofits and other organizations.

Getting vaccinated is “just another form of community service,” Brown said Thursday.

One woman making an appearance in Circuit Court on Monday was offered a $200 reduction in her $560 fine if she was fully vaccinated within 30 days. Brown said he doesn’t require vaccination, just incentivizes it.

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LYNCHBURG, Va. —- Liberty University announced a temporary campus-wide quarantine Thursday amid a spike in COVID-19 cases.

News outlets report that the quarantine is set to begin Monday and last until Sept. 10. The university’s online COVID-19 dashboard showed 159 known active cases among students, faculty and staff as of Wednesday.

As the fall semester began this week, the university, which doesn’t require vaccination, lifted building capacity restrictions and distancing and masking requirements. The protocol changed late Thursday with the announcement of the campus-wide quarantine, moving classes online and suspending large indoor gatherings.

The university will encourage masking and social distancing and host vaccine clinics on campus, but it didn’t indicate it would mandate those measures.

Outdoor events will continue as scheduled. Worship services will move to the stadium.

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. —- School districts in Florida may impose mask mandates, a judge said Friday, ruling that Gov. Ron DeSantis overstepped his authority by issuing an executive order banning the mandates.

Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper agreed with a group of parents who claimed in a lawsuit that DeSantis’ order is unconstitutional and cannot be enforced. The governor’s order gave parents the sole right to decide if their child wears a mask at school.

Cooper said DeSantis’ order “is without legal authority.”

The judge’s decision came after a three-day virtual hearing. At least 10 Florida school boards have voted to defy DeSantis and impose mask requirements with no parental opt-out.

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WARSAW, Poland – Poland’s health minister says that starting Wednesday people with deficient immunity will be able to receive an additional dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Adam Niedzielski said Friday that the national Medical Council has allowed a third jab in individually assessed cases, but no sooner than 28 days after the second dose. The groups considered for the additional dose are cancer and transplant patients, those on medication that suppresses immunity, HIV patients and people who are on dialysis.

Regarding the wider population, the government is waiting for the decision of the European Medical Agency.

Some 18.6 million people in this nation of 38 million have been fully immunized and another 17.4 million have received the first jab. Almost 2.9 million got infected with the coronavirus and over 75,300 of them have died.

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NEW YORK —- U.S. health officials say two new studies from California provide more evidence that schools can open safely if they do the right things.

One looked at COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles County. It found that during the winter pandemic peak, case rates in children and adolescents were about 3 1/2 times lower than rates in the community. Officials say that’s because schools followed CDC guidance on masking, physical distancing, testing and other virus measures.

The second study pointed to what can happen if even one person does not follow guidelines. It focused on an outbreak at a Marin County school in May. One unvaccinated teacher got sick but taught for two days after showing symptoms, and she took off her mask to read to her class. Investigators said 26 other people were infected.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, discussed the studies Friday during a White House press briefing.

The studies looked at things that happened months ago, before the current surge of the delta variant. It spreads more easily from person to person than previous versions of the coronavirus. Walensky said there is no plan to change the agency’s school guidance, even with recently increasing cases and hospitalizations of children.

“Most of the places where we are seeing surges and outbreaks are in places that are not implementing our current guidance,” Walensky said.

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WASHINGTON —- Biden administration officials say that half of U.S. adolescents ages 12 to 17 have gotten at least their first COVID-19 vaccine.

“We have now hit a major milestone,” White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters at a Friday briefing. “This is critical progress as millions of kids head back to school.”

The vaccination rate among teenagers is growing faster than among any other age group, he added.

Among Americans of all age groups, 61% or nearly 203 million people, have received at least one shot. Vaccines are not yet authorized for children younger than 12.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the best way to protect the youngest children until they become eligible to get their shots is for the people around them to be vaccinated, “to effectively shield them.”

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CAIRO —- Sudan received on Friday a shipment of 218,400 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine as a donation from France, according to UNICEF.

The vaccines were delivered to the east African nation with UNICEF’s support and through COVAX, a U.N-backed initiative that aims at guaranteeing low and middle-income countries access to vaccines.

So far, Sudan has recorded more than 37,500 cases and 2,831 deaths. The actual numbers are believed to be much higher given the scarcity of tests.

Since March, the Sudanese government has vaccinated nearly 830,000 people out of the country’s population of 45 million.

“The vaccinations come at a critical time as the infection numbers are climbing while the country is preparing to re-open schools after three years of numerous interruptions,” UNICEF said in a statement.

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PHOENIX —- Arizona has now had more than 1 million confirmed coronavirus infection cases.

State health officials on Friday reported 3,707 additional COVID-19 cases, putting the state beyond the grim milestone.

Arizona is the 13th U.S. state to hit that level of cases after reporting its first case in January of last year. Arizona is 13th in the country in cases per 100,000 people.

Arizona on Friday also reported 63 more COVID-19 deaths. Hospitals and public health officials are urging people to wear masks and get vaccinated amid debates and court fights over requiring shots and mask wearing.

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ROME —- Italian Premier Mario Draghi says the uneven global economic recovery and the “grossly unequal” access to COVID-19 vaccines, especially in Africa, are making it harder to end the pandemic.

Draghi on Friday remotely addressed a meeting of the G-20 Compact with Africa. That’s an initiative begun in 2017 under the then-German presidency of the G-20, to promote private investment, particularly in infrastructure, in Africa.

Draghi noted that close to 60% of the population of high-income countries have received at least one dose of the vaccine, while in low-income nations, only 1.4% have.

“The global economy is just as uneven,’’ said Draghi, a former European Central Bank chief. He pointed out that emerging market and low-income countries have spent a far lower percentage of their GDP to boost growth after the pandemic’s economic shock.

“We must do more – much more – to help the countries that are most in need,” said Draghi.

The COVAX program in which wealthier nations provide COVID-19 vaccines to countries which haven’t been able to obtain them has so far shipped close to 210 million vaccines, while another initiative, the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team is about to distribute 400 million vaccines on that continent.

“Those figures must be only a start,’’ said Draghi.

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — More than 3,100 active coronavirus cases have been reported in Arkansas public schools among students and employees, according to newly released numbers from the state.

Most students returned to the classroom last week — and the majority of public school students attend districts that are requiring masks. The mask requirements emerged after a judge in Little Rock temporarily blocked a state law that bans mask mandates in schools and public places.

The Arkansas Department of Health’s latest report on schools, released Thursday, found 3,102 active cases in 173 school districts in the state. The Bentonville, Springdale, Rogers, Cabot and Fort Smith districts all reported more than 100 active cases among students, faculty and staff.

A week ago, the state reported just under 1,800 active cases at schools.

Meanwhile, a judge in Lonoke County was expected to rule Friday on a lawsuit by some parents challenging Cabot schools’ mask requirement. Arkansas ranks fifth in the country for new virus cases per capita, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

The Associated Press

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