The Latest: Medical associations urge scaled-back US holiday


WASHINGTON — U.S. doctors, nurses and hospital officials joined forces Thursday to urge scaled-back holiday gatherings to help keep Americans and overburdened hospitals safe during the coronavirus surge.

“In the strongest possible terms, we urge you to celebrate responsibly,” the American Hospital Association, American Medical Association and American Nurses Association said in an open letter to the U.S. public.

“We are all weary and empathize with the desire to celebrate the holidays with family and friends, but given the serious risks, we underscore how important it is to wear masks, maintain physical distancing and wash your hands,” the groups said.

Their advice echoes guidance from the federal CDC, which recommends virtual gatherings with distant relatives or friends, or limited in-person celebrations with social distancing, mask wearing and other precautions.

“We will get through this pandemic,’’ the letter said, “but the only way out is to follow the science and adhere to the public health steps we know work.’’

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HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Oxford and AstraZeneca expect results on vaccine candidate by Christmas

— African hits 2 million confirmed coronavirus cases

— Germany reports slowdown in virus spread

— More Americans waiting for hours in long lines to get tested for the coronavirus, as U.S. cases surge nationwide and families hope to gather safely for the holidays.

— Japan’s daily virus cases surge past previous record high

— California struggles with how to enforce coronavirus orders

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

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

MINNEAPOLIS — More than 900 staff members in the Mayo Clinic Health System in the Midwest have been diagnosed with the coronavirus in the last two weeks.

Dr. Amy Williams, executive dean of Mayo Clinic Practice, says the 905 newly diagnosed employees account for 30% of all staff that have contracted the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic. She says 93% of those with the coronavirus were exposed in the community, not at work.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and state health officials have been urging people to stay home as the virus soars across the state. On Wednesday, Walz announced a four-week shutdown of several businesses and activities, including indoor dining at bars and restaurants, fitness centers and organized amateur sports.

Walz says the restrictions are necessary to protect a health care system that is at a breaking point statewide.

Minnesota had a record 67 new COVID-19-related deaths on Wednesday, pushing the state’s toll to 3,010. There were 5,102 new confirmed cases, rising the state’s total to 242,053. State officials say they expected to top 300,000 cases next week.

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PHOENIX — Arizona reported 4,123 confirmed coronavirus cases, the most in a single day since July.

The Department of Health Services on Thursday reported 19 more deaths from the coronavirus.

Arizona last topped 4,000 new cases in July during a summer surge that made the state a national hot spot. That rise came after Gov. Doug Ducey relaxed business closings and stay-at-home restrictions.

The virus surged again in October and into November. Officials cite school and business re-openings and public weariness with anti-virus precautions.

The COVID-19-related hospitalizations were just under 1,800 on Wednesday. That is about three times the number in September and about half the summer peak.

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LONDON — Researchers at Imperial College London say early results from a study suggest people critically ill with the coronavirus may benefit from an old arthritis drug.

However, they cautioned in a statement Thursday that more data is still necessary. Scientists at Imperial College analyzed results from more than 300 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Britain and the Netherlands. Patients were given either one of four immune system-boosting drugs: the arthritis drug tocilizumab, sarilumab, anakinra, interferon, or the standard drug treatment given to severely ill COVID-19 patients.

They reported patients given tocilizumab were more likely to do better than those who got the standard drugs. But the scientists couldn’t yet say how tocilizumab compared to patients given the three other immune-boosting drugs. They are expecting more data in the coming months.

The full study has not yet been released or peer reviewed. Dr. Peter Horby, of the University of Oxford and not involved in the study, called it “an encouraging result” and noted other studies examining tocilizumab have so far been mixed.

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PRAGUE — The Czech Parliament has agreed to extend its state of emergency.

The measure gives the government a legal framework to keep in place measures imposed in response to coronavirus infections. It runs through at least Dec 12.

The government has only partly eased its closure of schools, allowing the youngest school children to return to elementary schools on Wednesday. More students are scheduled to return to schools on Nov 30.

The Czech Republic had 475,284 confirmed cases and 6,740 deaths. However, 3,223 deaths have been registered in November.

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BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbia’s president says the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church is in critical condition in a Belgrade hospital after testing positive with the coronavirus.

President Aleksandar Vucic says the 90-year-old Patriarch Irinej has been intubated and doctors are “fighting for his life.”

He was hospitalized with the virus early in November, soon after attending the funeral of the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, Bishop Amfilohije, who died from complications caused by the COVID-19 infection.

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NAIROBI, Kenya — Africa has surpassed 2 million confirmed coronavirus cases as the continent’s top public health official warns that “we are inevitably edging toward a second wave” of infections.

The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the 54-nation continent with 1.3 billion people has more than 48,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths The infections and deaths make up less than 4% of the global total.

The Africa CDC director John Nkengasong recommends vigilance for prevention measures as countries loosen pandemic restrictions to ease economic hardship and more people travel.

WHO says nearly 20 countries in Africa have more than a 20% increase in cases in the past month. This time, the surge is driven not by South Africa, but by North African nations as temperatures fall there.

South Africa leads with more than 750,000 cases, followed by Morocco (300,000), Egypt (110,000) and Ethiopia (100,000).

While there’s early hope for promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates, African health officials are concerned about cold storage of the vaccine and richer countries buying up supplies.

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WAUSAU, Wis. — One of central Wisconsin’s largest health systems plans to send some coronavirus patients home to provide hospital beds for the “sickest of the sick.”

Aspirus CEO Matt Heywood says facilities at its Wausau hospital are nearly full and staff resources are strained. He says the hospital will move some patients who would otherwise be hospitalized into home care.

Heywood say they’ll rely on nursing calls and telecommunication and will ask patients’ family members to help provide care, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.

Wisconsin Hospital Association data showed 2,277 coronavirus patients were hospitalized across the state on Wednesday, the highest recorded during the pandemic.

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A coronavirus outbreak at Alaska’s largest prison has doubled in a week.

The Goose Creek Correctional Center reported 204 inmates tested positive as of Wednesday. The outbreak was first reported on Nov. 2, when the state Department of Corrections said 22 inmates and five staff members tested positive for the virus.

By last week, the number had ballooned to 110.

The correctional facility typically houses more than 1,000 pretrial and sentenced inmates.

The Anchorage Daily News reported transfers to and from the prison have been suspended. Alaska currently has the sixth lowest total cases for inmates in the country.

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ZAGREB, Croatia — Croatia’s health minister has tested positive for the coronavirus.

The ministry says Vili Beros is in stable condition with mild symptoms and will continue to perform his duties in isolation.

Officials say 3,164 coronavirus cases and 49 deaths were recorded in Croatia on Thursday, a slight drop from a record 3,251 cases confirmed on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic says the coronavirus situation in Croatia was serious and the national coronavirus response team is preparing new measures to reduce the spread.

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LONDON — The World Health Organization’s Europe director says there is a “small signal” the latest resurgence of coronavirus cases in the region is slowing.

There were 1.8 million coronavirus cases last week, a slight dip from more than 2 million cases the previous week.

Dr. Hans Kluge says, “we should all see light at the end of the tunnel, but it will be six tough months.”

Kluge says people could avoid stricter outbreak control measures if they were more willing to adhere to recommended measures.

“If mask wearing reached 95%, lockdowns would not be needed,” he said. “But with the current 60% or lower mask use, it is hard to avoid lockdowns.”

Kluge warned countries that release lockdowns too quickly without other measures in place could lead the coronavirus to rebound. He called for a tiered system that would spell out clear measures depending on transmission in the community.

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BERLIN — Germany’s disease control agency says the coronavirus remains serious but there are signs that lockdown measures are slowing the spread.

The Robert Koch Institute reported 22,609 new confirmed cases of coronavirus in the past day and 251 more deaths.

Ute Rexroth, a senior official involved in the institute’s pandemic response, says the reproduction number reflecting how many people are infected by every positive case has declined.

Germany introduced tighter restrictions in early November, shutting restaurants, bars and gyms but leaving open stores and schools.

The head of the RKI, Lothar Wieler, says the situation in Germany is still “very, very serious” and there’s a risk hospitals may be overwhelmed by the continued high number of cases.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark is lifting the local restrictions in the northern part of the country where authorities found mink farms with infected animals, including some with a mutation in the virus that put seven municipalities in a lockdown.

Danish broadcaster DR says restaurants and cafes will reopen Friday and people in the region, which has numerous mink farms, will move freely across municipal borders.

Meanwhile, the Danish prime minister’s traditional presentation of a new government to Queen Margrethe won’t happen because a member of Mette Frederiksen’s family has tested positive for coronavirus.

Frederiksen, who heads a Social Democratic minority government, says “out of an extra precautionary measure (she) will not meet the Queen,” neither will the outgoing agriculture minister Mogens Jensen “who was with the prime minister yesterday.”.

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BEIJING — Chinese President Xi Jinping is calling for closer international cooperation on making a vaccine for the coronavirus available.

Xi spoke Thursday in an address delivered via video at an event at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

Xi said: “To beat the virus and promote the global recovery, the international community must close ranks and jointly respond to the crisis and meet the tests.”

He said cooperation would include closer coordination on policies for development and distribution of a vaccine.

Chinese companies Sinovac and Sinopharm are in the late stages of testing vaccines, putting them among nearly a dozen companies at or near that level of development. That has introduced both commercial and political competition among countries and companies to be the first to offer a solution to the pandemic.

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LONDON — A key researcher at the University of Oxford says scientists expect to report results from Phase III trials of their COVID-19 vaccine by Christmas.

Dr. Andrew Pollard, an expert in pediatric infection and immunity at Oxford, told the BBC Thursday that research was slowed by low infection rates over the summer but the Phase III trials are now accumulating the data needed to report results.

In findings based on Phase II trial of 560 people, including 240 over age 70, early results suggest a strong immune response in people over 70. The results of the peer-reviewed study were published Thursday in the Lancet, an international medical journal.

Phase II vaccine trials provide important preliminary data but don’t prove whether they ultimately prevent people from getting sick. Oxford, which is developing its vaccine with AstraZeneca, awaits results of Phase III trials on thousands of people around the world to suggest whether their vaccine is safe and effective.

This week, drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna reported preliminary results from late-stage trials showing their vaccines candidates were almost 95% effective.

Pollard say it’s still the early stages of an effort to protect people against COVID-19. If vaccines are approved by regulators, drugmakers and public health officials still face the daunting task of producing billions of doses and administering them to people around the world.

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MOSCOW — Russia’s total number of confirmed coronavirus infections rose above 2 million and the country recorded its highest one-day death toll, the national coronavirus taskforce reported Thursday.

It says there were 23,610 new cases reported in the past day, bringing the total for the pandemic to 2,015,608. The taskforce says 463 people died, pushing the confirmed death toll to 34,850.

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NEW DELHI — India has recorded 45,576 new cases in the past 24 hours as authorities battle to slow down a surge of infections in its capital by increased testing.

New Delhi reported 7,486 new positive cases on Thursday with a record 131 deaths in the past 24 hours.

New Delhi’s top elected official, Arvind Kejriwal, says the government is adding 1,400 new intensive care unit beds to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. He has ruled out a new lockdown in New Delhi.

India’s new daily cases have declined to fewer than 50,000 for the past 12 days.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported more than 300 new coronavirus cases for a second consecutive day as authorities begin enforcing toughened social distancing rules in some areas to fight a resurgence of small-scale clusters of infections.

The 343 new cases announced Thursday raised the country’s case total to 29,654 for the pandemic. There have been 498 confirmed deaths.

On Thursday, elevated physical distancing rules took effective in the greater Seoul area, the southern city of Gwangju and some parts of Gangwon province. In those areas, no more than 100 people may attend rallies, concerts and other events, while sporting events and religious services are limited to 30-50% capacity. Dancing at nightclubs and drinking at karaoke rooms are prohibited.

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — The small Pacific nation of Samoa is reporting its first positive test for the coronavirus, although officials say a second test on the same patient came back negative.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi went on television and radio Thursday urging the nation’s 200,000 people to stay calm but remain vigilant with their virus precautions.

Samoa was among a dwindling handful of nations to have not reported a single case of the virus.

According to the Samoa Observer, officials say the patient is a sailor who has been in quarantine since flying in from New Zealand on Friday. The sailor tested positive four days after arriving, but a second test Thursday was negative.

The Cabinet was to meet to discuss the situation.

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