ATLANTA — Four tiny Georgia public school districts have temporarily shut down in-person instruction within days of starting school, saying high COVID-19 case counts among students and staff makes it unsafe to continue.
Other districts have closed individual schools or sent hundreds of students into quarantine after exposure to people with COVID-19.
The 1,100-student Macon County district on Wednesday became the fourth district to suspend in-person classes, following the smaller Taliaferro, Glascock and Talbot counties in recent days. The four districts combined serve a fraction of 1% of Georgia’s 1.7 million students.
“The difference now in this outbreak that we see than the outbreak that happened last school year is that this seems to be more centered on kids…rather than adults so that scares me to death,” Talbot County Superintendent Jack Catrett told WTVM-TV.
The moves show the difficulty of keeping schools open as COVID-19 surges in Georgia’s broader society, despite the determination of local school leaders to focus on in-person classes this year.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— California 1st state to require COVID-19 vaccine or test for teachers, staff
— CDC urges COVID-19 vaccines during pregnancy as delta surges
— US to deliver nearly 837K Pfizer vaccines to Caribbean nations
— WHO will test 3 current drugs for potential use against coronavirus
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
HOUSTON — Defiance of Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates continued on Wednesday as another Texas school district announced plans to require students to wear face coverings and another county scored a legal victory in its efforts to issue such mandates amid a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations throughout the state.
The Houston suburb of Spring became the latest to require its students, teachers and staff to wear masks. School districts in Austin, Dallas, San Antonio and Fort Worth have also issued mask mandates. The superintendent of Houston’s school district, the state’s largest, planned to ask his school board to approve a mask mandate during a Thursday meeting.
The mandates go against an executive order Abbott repeated last month banning mask mandates by any state, county or local government entity.
On Wednesday, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins signed an executive order requiring that masks be worn inside schools, county buildings and businesses. The action by Jenkins, the top elected official in Dallas County, came after a state district judge on Tuesday granted a temporary restraining order against Abbott’s executive order, allowing Jenkins to issue the mask mandate.
The legal ruling from Dallas County follows one from earlier Tuesday when another judge issued a different temporary restraining order, allowing officials in San Antonio and Bexar County to mandate masks in public schools.
Officials in Fort County, located just southwest of Houston, announced Wednesday afternoon they would also file a lawsuit seeking to override Abbott’s ban on mask mandates.
Renae Eze, a spokeswoman for Abbott, said in a statement that violating the governor’s executive orders “and violating parental rights—is not the way to do it.”
OTTAWA — Canada’s immigration minister says fully vaccinated Canadians will soon be able to get a government document that will certify their COVID-19 vaccine history for the purpose of international travel.
The document, expected to be ready by the fall, will be digital, with an option for those who cannot or do not want a digital certificate. Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino says it will include data on the type of vaccines received, the dates and the location.
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc says the program has to be done in cooperation with provinces and territories because they have the data that is needed. He says if provinces want to use the same passport within their province that could be an option.
Quebec is introducing a provincial passport next month that will be required for people who want to attend public events, go to the gym or frequent a restaurant or bar.
OKLAHOMA CITY — The superintendent of a public charter school in Oklahoma City said students and staff must begin wearing masks indoors, defying a state law that prohibits such mandates.
Superintendent Chris Brewster at Santa Fe South Schools, a 3,500-student, pre-K through 12 district in south Oklahoma City, also said in a letter on the district’s website that he is exploring whether to require vaccinations for school employees.
Brewster did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a law earlier this year prohibiting public schools, technology centers and colleges and universities from requiring vaccinations or masks unless there is a declared state of emergency. Stitt ended Oklahoma’s emergency declaration in May.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said she plans to meet with Stitt to discuss reinstating the emergency declaration. Stitt’s office didn’t immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment on whether he’s reconsidering a declaration.
While many districts have indicated they expect students and staff to wear masks, Santa Fe South is the first in Oklahoma to require them. Tulsa Public Schools planned a meeting Wednesday to consider possible litigation against Stitt over the mask prohibition.
Similar defiance to mask laws is occurring in other states that have imposed such bans.
PHOENIX — Arizona State University on Wednesday announced the school will require masks in certain indoor settings, such as classrooms and labs, regardless of vaccination status to help fight the spread of COVID-19.
A university policy statement posted Wednesday said other settings where masks will be required include “close-quarter environments where physical distancing may not be possible.” Those include facilities that serve the public, meeting rooms, workshops and any indoor areas designated by posted signage.
Arizona on Wednesday reported 1,970 new COVID-19 cases and six additional deaths. There were 1,513 hospitalized COVID-19 patients as of Tuesday.
JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi will open a 50-bed field hospital and the federal government will send medical professionals to help treat patients as COVID-19 cases continue surging in a state with one of the lowest vaccination rates in the U.S., officials said Wednesday.
Many Mississippi hospitals face space and staffing constraints. The temporary facility will be in a parking garage at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, and it could be open by Friday.
Dr. LouAnn Woodward, the head of UMMC, said the facility should help with an influx of patients, including some transferred from smaller hospitals. She described the field hospital as “a Band-Aid.”
“The big solution is, let’s get this surge under control, and let’s get the spread of this virus under control,” Woodward said. “And the way that we do that is by getting people vaccinated.”
MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota state employees will be required to prove that they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19 or agree to undergo weekly testing before they can return to the office, Gov. Tim Walz announced Wednesday.
State agency employees who work in person will be required to show their proof of vaccination and attest to their vaccination status by Sept. 8. Employees who haven’t been vaccinated by then will be required to test negative for the coronavirus at least once a week in order to work on site.
The Democratic governor noted that many other Minnesota employers, health systems and colleges have announced similar requirements for their workers and students. According to the governor’s office, at least seven states have vaccination requirements for their public employees.
O’FALLON, Mo. — The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Service’s COVID-19 dashboard shows the state is nearing a milestone - 10,000 deaths related to COVID-19.
As of Wednesday, officials had reported 9,982 COVID-19-related deaths of Missouri residents since the start of the pandemic.
The Springfield-Greene County Health Department announced Wednesday that 82 people have died from COVID-19 since July 1. The health department cited 67 deaths in July and 15 in the first nine days of August.
CoxHealth CEO Steve Edwards said his hospitals are seeing four to six deaths each day and “virtually all of them” would have been prevented by vaccinations.
State data showed 3,282 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, the biggest one-day count since January, and the seven-day average was 2,221. Meanwhile, 2,200 Missourians are hospitalized with the coronavirus. Statewide intensive care unit capacity is at 18%.
There was some good news in Springfield. Health Director Katie Towns said vaccinations in the county rose 40% in July compared to June, and the seven-day average for cases on Wednesday was 125, down nearly one-third from a week ago.
“But now is not the time to let our guard down,” Towns said at a news conference. “We need more people to get vaccinated.”
HONOLULU — Hawaii has reinstated restrictions on social gatherings amid a surge in new coronavirus cases.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige imposed the new restrictions Tuesday to help hospitals maintain care for a record number of COVID-19 patients and to curb widespread community transmission of the virus.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports the executive order took effect immediately and limits social gatherings to no more than 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors. Bars, restaurants, gyms, churches and other establishments must reduce their capacity to 50%.
Hawaii is averaging more than 500 new COVID-19 cases a day, double what it was in August 2020, when the state previously had its highest case counts.
PORTLAND, Ore. — Gov. Kate Brown has announced a statewide indoor mask requirement because of the spike in coronavirus hospitalizations and cases. She warns the state’s health care system could be overwhelmed.
Beginning Friday, everyone who is 5 years or older in Oregon, regardless of vaccination status, will be required to wear masks in indoor public spaces. Brown had urged local officials to implement their own mandates, but almost none did.
The new measure applies to all indoor public spaces, including businesses, grocery stores, indoor entertainment venues and gyms. In addition, people older than two years old will be required to wear masks on public transit.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The University of Arkansas system is requiring masks on its campuses after a judge temporarily blocked the state’s law banning mask mandates.
The board of trustees on Wednesday unanimously approved a resolution requiring campuses to develop face mask policies for indoor settings, regardless of vaccination status. The move comes days after a state judge issued a preliminary injunction against Arkansas’ law banning mask mandates by schools and other governmental entities.
At least three dozen school districts and public charter schools have approved mask mandates since that ruling. The University of Central Arkansas on Tuesday said it would require masks be worn indoors.
OKLAHOMA CITY — COVID-19 hospitalizations in Oklahoma topped 1,000 Wednesday for the first time since early February, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
There were 2,199 new COVID-19 cases, with 1,102 people hospitalized and 294 under intensive care, the department reported. The seven-day average of 2,031 new cases daily was up from 1,197 on July 26.
State health officials have said a shortage of nurses and the rising number of hospitalizations are pushing Oklahoma hospitals toward their capacity limits as COVID-19 cases surge from the highly contagious delta variant and a low COVID-19 vaccination rate.
Oklahoma ranked seventh nationally in the number of new cases per capita with 653.7, according to Johns Hopkins University research data. Meantime, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 41% of Oklahomans were fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, compared to a national average of 49.9%.
SAN FRANCISCO — California will become the first state in the nation to require all teachers and school staff to get vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing.
The statewide vaccine mandate for K-12 educators comes as schools return from summer break amid growing concerns of the highly contagious delta variant. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the new policy Wednesday as he visited a San Francisco Bay Area school that has already reopened after summer break.
Several large school districts in the state have issued similar requirements in recent days, including San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and the Long Beach Unified school districts.
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey is considering mandating regular negative PCR tests from vaccine-hesitant parents as the country prepares to return to face-to-face education.
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca says the government was determined to reopen schools on Sept. 6.
“Vaccination must become indispensable if we don’t want our education and business life to be uninterrupted,” Koca said in a televised speech. “Parents especially, will either complete their vaccinations or will have to regularly check that they don’t carry the disease.”
The announcement comes as the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths continued to rise.
On Wednesday, the country reported 27,356 new cases in past 24 hours, the highest number of daily infections since May 4. Deaths rose by 128 in the last 24 hours.
Earlier, the minister announced on Twitter that 50% of all adults in Turkey had been fully vaccinated.
PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron is warning the coronavirus crisis “is not behind us” after a government meeting focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Macron urged all French people who are eligible to get the vaccine. He says “the health crisis is not behind us, very clearly... We will live for several more months with this virus.”
About 56% of France’s population is fully vaccinated. But for several weeks, France has been facing an increasing number of daily infections, driven by the highly contagious delta variant, which now accounts for most cases.
France is sending medical help to French overseas territories in the Caribbean. The islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe are struggling with COVID-19 outbreaks.
NEW YORK — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging all pregnant women to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
The advice comes as hospitals in hot spots around the U.S. see disturbing numbers of unvaccinated mothers-to-be seriously ill with the virus. The CDC recommendation echoes recent guidance from top obstetrician groups.
The agency had previously encouraged pregnant women to consider vaccination. Pregnant women run a higher risk of severe illness from the coronavirus. But their vaccination rates are low, with only about 23% having received at least one dose, according to the CDC.
‘’The vaccines are safe and effective, and it has never been more urgent to increase vaccinations as we face the highly transmissible delta variant and see severe outcomes from COVID-19 among unvaccinated pregnant people,’’ CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.