The Latest: Navajo Nation reports 7 more COVID-19 deaths

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WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — The Navajo Nation is reporting 151 new coronavirus cases and seven more deaths related to COVID-19.

The latest figures were reported Tuesday by the Navajo Department of Health for the reservation that extends over parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. The Navajo Nation has reported 755 deaths since the pandemic hit.

The Health Department says the first doses of the recently approved vaccine made by Moderna have arrived at the Navajo Area Indian Health Service.

The Navajo Nation is in a three-week lockdown requiring all residents to stay home except for dealing with emergencies, shopping for essentials like food and medicine or travelling to an essential job.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

Congress has easily passed a $900 billion pandemic relief package. It would deliver long-sought cash to businesses and individuals and resources to vaccinate a nation confronting a frightening surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths. The bill has been sent to President Donald Trump for his signature, expected in the coming days. The effort comes at the end of a year that's become the deadliest in U.S. history. Preliminary data on U.S. deaths show the coronavirus pandemic contributing to a 15% or more increase in deaths over last year. U.S. deaths topped 3 million for the first time, and the percentage increase was the largest in a single year since 1918.

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

SYDNEY — Authorities in Australia have announced a temporary relaxation of pandemic restrictions for most of the Sydney area, allowing unlimited numbers of children to attend Christmas gatherings despite a cluster of coronavirus cases linked to the city’s northern beaches.

While Sydney residents will still be limited to 10 for gatherings, children under age 12 will not be counted in that number from Thursday through Saturday.

The northern beaches region at the heart of the virus cluster has been under stricter restrictions since Saturday. That region was divided in two Wednesday, with the lower part under a less severe lockdown.

New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian says the Christmas concessions are “very modest” and will be reviewed daily.

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson says two facilities will be constructed to provide over 100 additional hospital beds in case they are needed for COVID-19 patients.

The governor said Tuesday that while the state’s existing capacity has been able to manage the current caseload, there could be a spike in cases following the Christmas holiday, as there was after Thanksgiving. He says that “we have to be ready for whatever comes in January.”

He says the “alternative care sites” will provide a total of 124 new beds and cost $7.4 million.

Hutchinson says there are 1,103 people now hospitalized in Arkansas for COVID-19. He says the state has had 205,048 confirmed or suspected coronavirus infections so far, with 3,338 deaths.

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MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers says his administration has partnered with a medical testing company to provide free at-home coronavirus tests for people lacking health insurance coverage.

Officials are concerned that fewer people are getting tested, leading to a false picture of the virus’ prevalence in Wisconsin. Some 6,852 people were tested in the preceding 24 hours, compared to about 20,000 a day in mid-November.

The governor says the deal with Vault Medical Services takes effect immediately, and anyone can order an at-home saliva test through the Department of Health Services website . The person will take a sample as a Vault testing supervisor looks on via a Zoom connection and return the sample using a prepaid label. Results will take two to three days.

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BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards is extending pandemic restrictions on businesses and activities, and he’s warning the holidays threaten to exacerbate the states latest coronavirus surge.

The governor’s announcement Tuesday came as Louisiana reached its highest number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients since April.

Edwards’ rules were toughened in late November. They were set to expire Wednesday, but he is renewing them through Jan. 13.

He says that “it remains a very perilous situation for the state with respect to COVID.”

The state health department says at least 22,000 hospital workers and EMS employees in Louisiana have received their first of two vaccinations so far.

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TUNIS, Tunisia — Tunisia is extending its curfew until Jan. 15 to cover the New Year’s holiday and urging people not to hold end-of-year festivities or travel around the country to slow the virus spread.

Health Minister Faouzi Madhi announced the decision Tuesday, saying the country has seen an average of 50 virus-related deaths per day over the last quarter of this year. He blamed the infections on growing complacency toward masks and social distancing.

The head of the Pasteur Institute in Tunis, Hachemi Louzir, said that the country has not registered any cases of the new virus variant identified in Britain so far. Tunisia suspended all flights with Britain, South Africa and Australia this week because of new, apparently more contagious virus variants.

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ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp says the state will again use a convention centre for patient beds amid a surge in coronavirus cases that is straining hospital capacity.

The Republican governor said Tuesday the Georgia World Congress Center will have 60 beds and should be able to take patients starting next week. He expects the centre to serve as an overflow hospital through January.

Kemp said the virus remained a threat despite the rollout of a vaccine. He encouraged residents to meet virtually over the holidays or gather outdoors with just a few people in the same household.

The convention centre has served as a hospital before during the pandemic. In April, the state signed a contract to build a 200-bed health care facility at the site.

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BOISE, Idaho — The governor of Idaho says the state is in a race to get people vaccinated against the coronavirus while simultaneously limiting its spread long enough to avoid running out of healthcare capacity.

Republican Gov. Brad Little said Tuesday that the vaccination program is a high priority for him and Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen.

Little says the state on Tuesday received 28,000 doses of a recently approved vaccine from Moderna Inc. That is in addition to the 23,700 doses the state has been receiving from Pfizer-BioNTech.

The first round of vaccines is going to an estimated 130,000 front-line healthcare workers and people in long-term care facilities.

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BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia’s president says that Venezuelan migrants who are living in the country without residence permits won’t be given free COVID-19 vaccines when those arrive in the South American country — possibly leaving hundreds of thousands unvaccinated.

In an interview Monday with Blu Radio, President Ivan Duque said that giving free vaccines to undocumented immigrants could “unleash a stampede” of Venezuelans crossing into neighbouring Colombia to get vaccinated.

Duque said migrants who have regularized their status in Colombia would also be eligible for free vaccines as long as they fall into the categories that the Ministry of Health has outlined for who gets vaccinated first.

Columbian immigration authorities say more than 1.8 million Venezuelans currently live in Colombia and about 60% of them do not have a residence permit.

Duque’s comments were widely rejected by health experts and migrants’ rights groups, who said that leaving out a vulnerable group from a vaccination program would be counterproductive and unethical.

Dr. Juan Carlos Viloria, who leads an association of Venezuelan immigrants in Colombia, said not vaccinating everyone could put thousands of people at risk.

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FRANKFORT, Ky. — The governor of Kentucky and his wife received COVID-19 vaccinations Tuesday along with other top state lawmakers.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, joined by his wife, first lady Britainy Beshear, thanked the top two Republican legislative leaders, Kentucky House Speaker David Osborne and Senate President Robert Stivers, for joining him in “setting the right example for the people of Kentucky.”

Beshear said the head of the Kentucky national guard, lieutenant governor, and state police commissioner will receive vaccines on Wednesday.

About 7,000 Kentucky residents, the vast majority of them health care workers in hospitals, have been vaccinated since Dec. 14.

Kentucky reports 3,057 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 28 virus-related deaths Tuesday. The state’s test positivity rate is 8.48%, down slightly from Monday.

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WASHINGTON — Health officials have paused part of three global studies testing blood thinners in hospitalized COVID-19 patients, saying the treatment does not seem to be helping those most seriously ill and that they cannot rule out the chance it could be harmful.

Blood clots and inflammation plague many with COVID-19, and the studies are testing various medicines to see if they can prevent organ damage.

A statement from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which is involved in some of the studies, says independent monitors recommended pausing enrolment after seeing no benefit from blood thinners in critically ill patients needing intensive care.

The statement notes that increased bleeding is a common complication with these drugs but gives no details on whether or how often that occurred in these studies.

They are underway in many countries and are supported by health agencies in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and European nations.

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AUSTIN, Texas — The governor of Texas has joined the ranks of governors to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on live television in hopes of assuring the public that the inoculations are safe.

Republican Greg Abbott said after getting the vaccine Tuesday at a hospital in the state capital that federal health officials have urged governors to set an example. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey also received the first dose this week, while other governors have said they’ll wait.

A resurgence of the virus in Texas has put the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients back over 10,000 for only the second time during the pandemic. Nearly 11,000 people were hospitalized in July during a deadly summer outbreak.

But Abbott says this time he won’t impose new lockdown measures again as cases climb.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Dubai has approved the use of the Pfizer vaccine against the coronavirus and will launch an “extensive” inoculation effort starting Wednesday.

Authorities in Dubai, the financial hub of the United Arab Emirates, said the vaccine made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech would be offered to citizens and residents free of charge.

The announcement comes after the UAE issued the first government authorization of the Chinese vaccine Sinopharm, claiming it was 86% effective based on an “interim analysis” of Phase III trials without offering further details. Clinics across the federation of seven sheikhdoms have started administering the Chinese vaccine.

The UAE has recorded over 195,800 coronavirus cases and more than 600 deaths. Although the country has seen an uptick in cases in recent months, Dubai, with its economy heavily dependent on air travel and hospitality, has remained open for business and tourism.

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NEW YORK — A top federal health official has signed off on an advisory committee’s recommendation about who should be prioritized for limited doses of coronavirus vaccine.

The government earlier this month advised state vaccination campaigns to put at the front of the line health-care workers and residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield on Tuesday endorsed the committee’s recommendation and made official government guidance.

An expert committee voted on Sunday to recommend the next groups to be prioritized. They said the second group should be people age 75 and older, and people with certain jobs – like teachers, corrections officers, and grocery store workers – that put them in frequent contact with other people.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices listed the third group as other essential workers, people ages 65 to 74, and people 16 to 64 who have certain medical conditions that put them at risk for severe illness if they become infected.

The Associated Press