The Latest: COVID-19 outbreak at Vermont state prison grows

International

A health worker prepares to administer the Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to a health staff member at the Hospital UiTM in Sungai Buloh, outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Wednesday, March 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

MONTPELIER, Vt. — An outbreak of COVID-19 at the Vermont state prison in Newport has grown to 100 inmates and eight staff members, making it the largest outbreak at a Vermont correctional facility since the start of the pandemic, the commissioner of the Department of Corrections said.

“It’s all hands on deck for our response,” Corrections Commissioner Jim Baker said in a statement Tuesday, adding that the prison is being treated as though it were a hospital.

Officials are coordinating with the department’s medical contractor, regional hospitals, the State Emergency Operations Center and the Vermont Department of Health to ensure the well-being of the staff and inmates, he said.

The Vermont outbreak began after one staff member and 21 inmates tested positive for the virus on Feb. 23. The most recent cases were detected in testing conducted March 1.

The ACLU of Vermont is calling for the the state to reduce the number of people in prison and to prioritize vaccinations for incarcerated Vermonters. The prison has been on full lockdown since the first positive result Feb. 25. All other state prisons are on modified lockdown.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— CDC chief: Wear masks, follow federal guidelines

— Biden stands by timeline of vaccines for all US adults by May

— Drug maker says India vaccine is 81% effective

— European countries seek vaccine ‘overdrive’to catch up

— Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

OKLAHOMA CITY — The number of Oklahoma deaths due to the illness caused by the coronavirus jumped by about 2,500 Wednesday as the state health department began using the count reported by the federal Centers for Disease Control.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported 7,035 deaths using the CDC’s number that is based on death certificates. The health department on Tuesday had reported 4,534 COVID deaths.

There were 747 new virus cases for a total of 425,746 since the pandemic began, the department reported.

On Tuesday, the Oklahoma City Council extended the city’s mask ordinance until April 30, after hearing that the city could achieve herd immunity by June, an estimated 80% rate of vaccination in the population.

Council member David Greenwell said the mandate could be extended, if needed.

“We’ve been very flexible to have these extensions occur roughly every six weeks, just to take into account developments in terms of new information” about the virus, Greenwell said.

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HARTFORD, Conn. — More than 200 inmates at the federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut, have declined to get vaccinated against COVID-19, including numerous medically vulnerable prisoners who have been seeking release to home confinement due to concerns about the coronavirus, according to federal officials.

Federal prosecutors disclosed in a new court document filed Tuesday that nearly 550 of the approximately 800 inmates at the prison complex have been offered a COVID-19 vaccine and 336 have received at least the first of two doses. Another 212 inmates declined.

Some inmates may be worried or confused about the safety of the vaccines, or do not trust them, said Ariadne Ellsworth, a Yale Law School student and member of the legal team representing Danbury inmates who filed a class-action lawsuit accusing federal officials of not doing enough to protect them from the coronavirus.

“Our understanding is that, as more information has become available and individuals have had more opportunities to educate themselves about the vaccine, a number of class members who initially declined the vaccine have since informed the facility that they are now willing to take it,” Ellsworth said.

The Connecticut U.S. attorney’s office filed the new document as part of the class-action lawsuit, which was settled last July. The federal Bureau of Prisons agreed to promptly identify prisoners who are low security risks and are at higher risk of developing serious COVID-19 complication and release them to home confinement.

Prison officials say inmates who decline vaccinations without a documented medical reason will not be given further consideration for home confinement. Officials say they are continuing to consider home confinement for inmates who accept vaccinations, up until the time they are fully inoculated, usually two weeks after receiving the second dose.

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WASHINGTON — The Biden administration will partner with health insurance companies to help vulnerable older people get vaccinated for COVID-19.

White House coronavirus special adviser Andy Slavitt announced Wednesday the goal is to get 2 million of the most at-risk seniors vaccinated soon. Many older people live in relative isolation and some lack the internet access to make vaccination appointments.

Insurance companies have ties to Medicare recipients through businesses that range from Medicare Advantage private plans, to prescription drug coverage, to Medigap plans that seniors purchase for expenses that traditional Medicare doesn’t cover.

Slavitt says insurers will use their networks to contact seniors with information about COVID-19 vaccines, answer questions, find and schedule appointments for first and second doses and coordinate transportation. The focus will be on reaching people in medically underserved areas.

The two major industry trade groups, America’s Health Insurance Plans and the BlueCross BlueShield Association, separately announced their member companies will take part in the pilot program, which is being called Vaccine Community Connectors.

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WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is warning against virus fatigue and encouraging Americans to continue to wear a mask and practice social distancing despite many states easing restrictions.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the nation is “at a critical nexus in the pandemic,” and the next two months are “pivotal” in determining the remaining course of the pandemic.

While vaccinations are set to rapidly ramp up, Walensky warned deaths and new infections have plateaued at a “troubling” level after falling off their January highs.

She says: “Fatigue is winning and the exact measures we have taken to stop the pandemic are now too often being flagrantly ignored.”

Walensky says the CDC has been clear in opposing states’ moves to lift restrictions and encouraged Americans to follow federal guidelines.

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LA PAZ, Bolivia — Authorities say they have arrested eight people in connection with the death of seven students who fell to their deaths from a fourth-floor university balcony during a crowded meeting held in defiance of Bolivia’s pandemic restrictions.

The dead, all first-year students at the Public University of El Alto, fell about 56 feet when a balcony railing gave way during a meeting for candidates for Sunday’s local elections in Bolivia. A seventh student died on Wednesday, according to doctors.

Gov. Félix Patzi declared three days of mourning and prosecutor Marco Antonio Cossío said eight people had been arrested, some for violating the ban on public meetings during the pandemic.

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NEW DELHI, India — The interim analysis of results from an Indian vaccine maker’s late stage trials shows its COVID-19 vaccine to be about 81% effective in preventing illness from the coronavirus.

The Bharat Biotech vaccine was controversially approved by India in January without waiting for trials to confirm that the vaccine was effective. Since then 1.3 million of doses of the vaccine have been administered to people in India.

The interim results are based on 43 trial participants who were infected by the virus. Of these, 36 hadn’t received the vaccine, the company says. A second analysis will be conducted for 87 cases, and a final analysis 130 cases.

Health care workers have been reticent to take the shots and health experts are concerned the regulatory shortcut has amplified vaccine hesitancy.

Bharat Biotech has already signed an agreement with Brazil to supply 20 million doses of the vaccine by September.

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio’s mask mandate will continue until a “critical mass” has been reached of people who have received the coronavirus vaccine, a spokesperson for Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said.

Despite announcements that mask orders in Texas and other states are being lifted, DeWine believes it’s important to continue mask wearing and social distancing until that critical mass of vaccinations is met, DeWine press secretary Dan Tierney said Wednesday.

DeWine issued the state’s mask mandate in July.

While people who have been vaccinated have “great immunity” against severe forms of the coronavirus, including protection from being hospitalized or dying, they could still get the virus in a weakened form, Tierney said.

That means they could transmit the virus to people at risk of serious complications, he said.

“We need to wear the mask to protect ourselves and others from the virus spreading until we get that critical mass where the vaccine is doing that for us,” Tierney said.

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MIAMI — Florida began vaccinating residents under 65 at medical offices and pharmacies Wednesday if their doctor attests they have a high-risk medical condition.

Previously, only hospitals could administer such shots. It is up to the doctor to decide what qualifies as “high risk.” For the general population, Florida limits vaccines to residents 65 and older; teachers, police officers and firefighters who are 50 and older; and frontline medical providers of any age. Gov. Ron DeSantis has said he expects to lower the age from 65 soon.

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DETROIT — Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is expanding vaccinations to any resident factory worker, no matter their age or where they work.

Non-Detroit residents can also get a shot if they work in manufacturing in the city.

“We’ve had some illness in our plants and deaths. This is incredibly important. … It’s going to give them some peace of mind,” said Cindy Estrada, a vice president at the United Auto Workers, who bared her arm for a shot at the news conference.

More than 2.3 million vaccine doses have been administered so far in Michigan, mostly in the Detroit area, according to the state health department.

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BERLIN — Germany is extending strict checks on its borders with the Czech Republic and Austria’s Tyrol province by another two weeks until March 17.

The checks were introduced on Feb. 14, initially for a 10-day period, in a bid to reduce the spread of possibly more contagious coronavirus variants that have taken hold in those areas.

Germany is limiting entry to its own citizens and residents, truck drivers, health workers and cross-border commuters working in “systemically relevant sectors.” All must show a negative coronavirus test.

Interior Ministry spokesman Steve Alter says an extension is necessary because of a “worsened infection situation” in the Czech Republic and the situation in Tyrol.

He says Germany is “in intensive talks, in particular with Austria, to find solutions.”

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PRAGUE — The Czech Republic is negotiating with Germany and other European countries to treat its COVID-19 patients as hospitals fill up.

Interior Minister Jan Hamacek says 19 beds are ready for the Czech patients in neighboring Germany, which has offered to treat dozens. He says Switzerland has offered another 20 beds in its hospitals, including taking care of the transportation. Talks are also under way with Poland that could provide some 200 beds.

The Czech Republic is one of the hardest hit European Union countries. New confirmed cases reached 16,642 on Tuesday, the fourth highest since the start of the pandemic. There’s a record of more than 8,000 COVID-19 patients needing hospitalization.

Some hospitals in western Czech Republic near the German border and in the central Pardubice region cannot take more patients. The nation of 10.7 million had almost 1.3 million confirmed cases with almost 21,000 deaths.

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WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s biotechnology company Mabion S.A. says it signed a framework agreement with the U.S. vaccine development company Novavax.

It would produce an active component, an antigen, of the U.S. firm’s anti-COVID-19 vaccine. The agreement provides for a transfer of technology to Mabion, which is to make a technical series of the antigen.

If the tests prove successful and Novavax vaccine gets approval from European, the companies will discuss cooperation on large-scale production, also for Europe’s needs.

Poland’s state Development Fund is to support the trial stage with up to 40 million zlotys ($10.6 million.) Amid a sharp rise in new infections, Poland is seeking to increase its purchases of COVID-19 vaccines. Poland’s President Andrzej Duda spoke this week with Chinese President Xi Jinping about the possibility of buying the Chinese vaccine.

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PODGORICA, Montenegro — Montenegrin government says China has donated 30,000 Sinopharm vaccines to the small Balkan country.

A statement says the shipment arrived on Wednesday “illustrating friendly relations and great solidarity between our two countries.” Montenegro has previously acquired 5,000 Russian Sputnik V vaccines and Serbia has donated 2,000 of the same shots.

The small Balkan country of 620,000 people has reported more than 1,000 virus-related deaths and hundreds of new cases daily. Health authorities have appealed on the citizens to join the vaccination effort in large numbers.

Balkan countries have been turning to Russia and China for vaccines while still waiting to receive some through the international COVAX program. It’s designed to make sure less wealthy countries are not left behind in inoculation.

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TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says he is considering extending an ongoing state of emergency for the Tokyo region for about two weeks, amid concerns that infections have not slowed enough and are continuing to strain health systems in the region.

Suga had declared a month-long state of emergency in Jan. 7 for Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba, then extended the measure through to March 7. The measure issued for up to 10 other urban prefectures later in January was lifted last week, underscoring the government’s eagerness to allow businesses to return to normal as soon as possible.

“Our anti-infection measures are at a very important phase,” Suga told reporters Wednesday. “In order to protect the people’s lives and health, I think we need to extend (the state of emergency) for about two weeks.”

His comment comes after Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike and heads of the neighboring prefectures raised concerns that infections have not slowed enough and lifting restrictive measures this weekend could trigger a quick rebound of infections.

Daily new cases in Tokyo have significantly decreased after they peaked at around 2,000 in early January, but the slide has slowed recently. Tokyo on Wednesday reported 316 new cases, up from 232 the day before, for a prefectural total of 112,345. Nationwide, Japan has more than 434,000 cases and about 8,000 deaths as of Tuesday, the health ministry said.

Suga said medical systems in the region are still burdened with COVID-19 patients and that more hospital beds need to be freed up.

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STOCKHOLM — A top health official in the Swedish capital says a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic has hit Stockholm after a drop in cases after the New Year. Cases in the capital have been rising sharply for the past three weeks.

“We do not want to see a development where the need for health care increases sharply,” said Johan Bratt, the capital city’s health director.

The last week of February saw 6,336 new cases, almost double the 3,225 new cases recorded three weeks earlier.

Officials in neighboring Norway said restaurants and gyms in some areas would be closed after pockets of virus outbreaks in the capital Oslo and elsewhere. The move comes after more cases of the virus mutations have been reported in Norway. The changes apply as of Wednesday.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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