The Latest: White House says no change to mask mandate

Thursday, July 22, 2021 | The Associated Press


Muslims offer prayers during the first day of Eid al-Adha, outside the iconic Haghia Sophia in the historic Sultan Ahmed district of Istanbul, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. Thousands of Muslims attended dawn Eid al-Adha prayers in Istanbul. (AP Photo/Mucahid Yapici)

WASHINGTON — The White House says there’s been no decision to change the COVID-19 guidance on wearing face masks.

Press secretary Jen Psaki insisted Thursday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and not the White House, makes the decisions about public health. Psaki says any change in the guidance would come from CDC.

The current guidance is that fully vaccinated individuals do not need to wear face masks while those who are unvaccinated should continue to wear them.

White House and public health officials have been discussing whether to update the mask guidance because of the surge in COVID-19 infections blamed on the highly contagious delta variant.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at a briefing Thursday that, while her agency is always reviewing the data, the recommendations haven’t changed.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— White House: Vaccinations rise in hard-hit virus states

— EU donating 200M doses of coronavirus vaccines to poorer nations

— Tokyo's new virus cases near 2,000, day before Olympics open

— China rebuffs WHO’s terms for further COVID-19 origins study

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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:

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin health officials say they’re expecting to see more COVID-19 cases as a result of big gatherings by fans of the Milwaukee Bucks.

Police estimated as many as 100,000 people, few of them masked, crowded into the “Deer District” area outside the Bucks’ arena on Tuesday as the team beat Phoenix to win the NBA championship. The city of Milwaukee hosted a parade on Thursday for the champions, with thousands lining downtown streets and the area near the arena.

Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary of the state Department of Health Services, predicted the two large gatherings would lead to more COVID-19 cases.

City officials in Milwaukee said they suggested that unvaccinated people mask up.

COVID-19 cases in both Wisconsin and Milwaukee County are not nearly as high as a year ago, but they have risen in recent weeks. Daily cases in Milwaukee County, where about 46% of residents have been fully vaccinated, have tripled in the past couple of weeks to about 80 a day.

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D.— A dominant health system in the Dakotas that is also one of the largest health organizations in the country said Thursday it is making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for all its employees, citing the spread of more contagious variants of the virus.

Sanford Health is requiring all workers to get shots by Nov. 1. More than 90% of clinicians and 70% of nurses in the organization are already fully vaccinated, system officials said.

“This is the right thing to do for our patients and residents, people and communities,” said Bill Gassen, Sanford president and CEO. “As more contagious COVID-19 variants continue to spread and threaten our communities, we must do everything we can to protect each other and our loved ones.”

Sanford has 46 hospitals, 1,500 physicians and more than 200 Good Samaritan Society senior care locations in 26 states and 10 countries. It is based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota with additional major medical centers in Fargo and Bismarck, North Dakota, and Bemidji, Minnesota.

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ROME — With daily COVID-19 cases sharply rising again, Italy will soon require people to have received at least one vaccine dose, have recovered from the illness in the last six months or have proof of a negative test performed in the last 48 hours to access venues like gyms, museums and indoor restaurants in a bid to avoid a return to pandemic lockdowns devastating for the economy.

The Italian government at a Cabinet meeting Thursday approved the measure requiring the certification, which is known as a “green pass.” Starting on Aug. 6, people must have a “green pass” to let dine at tables inside restaurants or cafes, go to movies, sports events, casinos, town fairs or other leisure venues.

Premier Mario Draghi told reporters “green pass’’ use is needed to “keep economic activity open.” Disappointing dance aficionados, however, the government didn’t allow discos to re-open, as many had hoped it would. Impromptu street celebrations by thousands of fans, after Italy won the Euro2020 soccer championship earlier this month has helped fuel an uptick in new infections.

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PHOENIX — One of Arizona’s biggest hospital systems is renewing a call for people to get vaccinated, citing an increase in seriously ill COVID-19 patients in just a few weeks.

Dr. Michael White, of Valleywise Health, said those hospitalized are “predominantly those that have chosen not to be vaccinated for whatever reason.”

He says doctors were mostly treating people with moderate symptoms, but things changed two weeks ago. Now, patients are coming in acutely ill.

Valleywise is also discussing mandating its roughly 4,800 employees and 1,500 contracted workers be vaccinated. Arizona on Thursday reported 1,174 newly confirmed cases and 10 deaths.

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HONOLULU — With less than two weeks before the start of a new school year, Hawaii’s Department of Education has posted a list of about 100 schools that will offer distance learning. Hawaii public school students return to classes Aug. 3.

Offering online instruction is a shift from last month, when Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said there would be no full distance-learning options.

The options come as Hawaii sees a rise in COVID-19 cases. Distance learning spots are limited. Students at schools that aren’t on the list may apply for geographic exceptions to participate in a different school’s online program.

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma health officials say the number of reported coronavirus cases increased by 80% during the week ending July 17.

The seven-day average number number of cases has nearly tripled in the past two weeks. The Oklahoma State Department of Health in its weekly report late Wednesday said there were 4,840 new cases for the seven days ending on Saturday.

Health officials say the increase is likely due to the highly contagious delta variant of the virus moving into the state. Data from Johns Hopkins University shows the seven-day rolling average of new cases in the state increased from 260.6 on July 6 to 749.9 on Tuesday.

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A group of Democratic lawmakers in Arkansas, which has the nation’s highest COVID-19 rate, urged the governor and Republicans who control the Legislature on Thursday to lift the state’s ban on schools and government entities requiring people to wear masks.

The lawmakers from Little Rock and surrounding Pulaski County asked Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson to call a special session of the Legislature or for its GOP leaders to reconvene it themselves to consider the repeal.

The plea comes as the highly infectious delta variant causes rates to rise around the country, particularly in places where people have been most resistant to getting vaccinated.

The rolling average number of daily new cases in Arkansas has increased by 121% over the past two weeks, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University researchers. The state on Wednesday reported 1,459 new COVID-19 cases and 33 new hospitalizations from the disease.

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ISTANBUL — Turkey’s daily coronavirus infections topped 9,500 on Thursday, the highest rate since the third week of May.

The health ministry indicated 9,586 cases in the past 24 hours and 52 deaths, bringing the total confirmed death toll to 50,761. The seven-day average of daily cases hovers above 8,000.

Minister Fahrettin Koca tweeted about cases being the highest in recent weeks. Turkey is in a nine-day holiday for the Muslim Eid al-Adha and people have flocked to the seaside, with little masking and distancing precautions. International tourists have been encouraged to visit the country.

Health experts say Turkey could face another peak with the contagious delta variant and vaccination rates aren’t sufficient. Only about 26% of the country of 84 million people have been fully vaccinated, using China’s Sinovac and the Pfizer vaccines.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Hospitals in Utah are filling up again as the coronavirus surges among unvaccinated people.

On Wednesday, the state recorded the highest number of people hospitalized due to COVID-19 in five months.

State health officials renewed pleas for people to get vaccinated as Utah intensive care units reached 81.5% capacity. There are 295 people who are hospitalized from the virus in the state, the highest since February.

Utah has averaged about 622 confirmed cases per day in the last week, about triple the case rate the state was experiencing at its lowest point in early June.

State health data shows the recent surge is connected to unvaccinated people. About 66% of adults in Utah have had at least one dose of the vaccine and 60% are fully vaccinated.

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MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers urged anyone age 12 or older who will be attending school in the fall to get vaccinated as soon as possible for COVID-19.

Cases are surging in the state because of the more contagious delta variant. The call from Evers and the state’s top health official comes amid a growing concern in Wisconsin and nationally about growing numbers of COVID-19 cases.

In Wisconsin, the seven-day average of confirmed cases Thursday was 242, which was three times higher than two-and-a-half weeks ago.

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CONAKRY, Guinea — The West African country of Guinea has reversed a decision to pull out of the Olympics.

Guinea’s sports minister says the country will send a delegation of five athletes to the Tokyo Games. The country recently announced it wouldn’t participate, citing the coronavirus and its variants as the reason for its withdrawal.

Minister of Sports Sanoussy Bantama Sow says Guinea had received “guarantees from the health authorities” that athletes would be protected.

Guinea has participated in the Olympics 11 times but has never won a medal. North Korea is the only country to pull out of the Tokyo Olympics, also citing concerns related to COVID-19.

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JERUSALEM — Israel’s prime minister is calling upon hundreds of thousands of citizens who haven’t been vaccinated against the coronavirus to get the shot.

The appeal comes as new infections climbed precipitously in recent weeks. Naftali Bennett said in a televised address on Thursday “our challenge is clear: all Israelis who can get vaccinated, should go get vaccinated.”

The Health Ministry recorded 1,336 confirmed cases of coronavirus on Thursday. Most of the coronavirus cases are of the highly infectious delta variant.

Israel has witnessed new coronavirus cases rise in the past month, even though most of the population -- 56% of its 9.3 million people -- has received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

Israel’s coronavirus cabinet has approved travel bans to Britain, Turkey, Georgia and Cyprus to reduce the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus. The cabinet approved the decision Thursday. If authorized by the government, the travel bans will take effect on July 30.

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WASHINGTON — The White House says COVID-19 vaccinations are increasing in states hit hard by the delta variant.

Coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients says several states with the highest proportions of new infections are seeing residents get vaccinated at a higher rate than the nation as a whole.

Officials cited Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, and Nevada. The delta variant, which spreads more aggressively, now accounts for an estimated 83% of cases nationwide. It is the predominant coronavirus strain in every region.

Although health officials are warning the U.S. is at another critical juncture in the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not changed its guidance that vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks.

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — In the last two weeks, three Southeast Asian nations have surpassed India’s peak per capita death rate as a new coronavirus wave tightens its grip on the region.

Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous nation with some 270 million people, reported 1,449 deaths on Thursday, its deadliest day since the start of the pandemic. Malaysia’s national lockdown measures have not brought down infections. The country of some 32 million witnessed daily cases rise above 10,000 on July 13 for the first time and they have stayed there.

In Myanmar’s largest city, graveyard workers have been laboring day and night to keep up with the grim demand for new cremations and burials.

Health care systems struggling to cope and governments scrambling to implement new restrictions to slow the spread, fueled by the delta variant.

Vaccinations are sluggish but have been picking up. There are also growing concerns that China’s Sinovac jabs are less effective against the delta variant. Both Indonesia and Thailand are planning booster shots of other vaccines.

The vaccination rate in Malaysia remains low, with nearly 15% of the population now fully inoculated. The government hopes to have a majority vaccinated by the end of the year.

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