The Latest: NCarolina virus numbers head in wrong direction

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina’s top public health official is warning that the state’s coronavirus numbers are heading in the wrong direction as the Democratic governor considers whether to tighten restrictions or reopen more of the economy.

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The governor’s decision, which is expected to be announced next week, comes at a time when the state has struggled to get those with COVID-19 to help reduce transmission by answering questions about who they’ve come into contact with.

“About half of folks are not responding to calls that we are making,” said Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, at a Thursday news conference.

President Donald Trump held a campaign rally in Greenville earlier in the day where, despite the fact that cases have continued to increase nationwide in recent weeks, Trump claimed the virus is “going to peter out.”

On Thursday, North Carolina saw its highest single-day COVID-19 case count yet, with 2,532 people testing positive for the virus. Hospitalizations earlier this week reached their highest levels in the last two months, and the percentage of cases coming back positive has slowly increased but remained relatively stable between 5% and 7%.

“We’re reporting our highest day of cases since this pandemic has begun,” Cohen said. “It doesn’t feel like petering out to me.”

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

— Dr. Fauci criticizes ‘herd immunity’; suggests people rethink Thanksgiving travel

— France sets curfew at 9 p.m. Friday; health workers march in Paris

— More Swiss Guards, who attend to the Pope, test positive at Vatican

— Coronavirus cases around world climb to all-time highs of more than 330,000 per day, with surges across Europe and outbreaks in U.S.

— Kamala Harris suspends in-person events until Monday after two people associated with the U.S. vice presidential nominee's campaign tested positive for coronavirus.

— Queen Elizabeth II carries out her first public engagement outside of a royal residence since early March.

— Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

EL PASO, Texas — Tighter virus restrictions are coming for the El Paso area in an effort to shrink the “unprecedented number” of newly reported COVID-19 cases, local officials said Thursday, making it the first major county in Texas to scale back since Gov. Greg Abbott loosened rules in September.

Visitors to facilities that care for the elderly will not be allowed, and businesses not considered essential must cut back to 50% of their capacity from 75%, El Paso Mayor Dee Margo said. Restaurants will be limited to take-out and drive-thru service after 9 p.m., and home gatherings also are temporarily banned.

Bars, which had not been allowed to reopen, will remain closed.

The number of new daily COVID-19 cases recorded in El Paso soared Thursday to a record-breaking 717. The 6,887 active infections in the area make up more than 20% of the total cases seen in El Paso since the pandemic began. El Paso’s hospitalization is now 28%, the highest so far.

“This unprecedented number of new cases has left us no other option than to implement restrictions to slow the spread of the virus,” Margo said in a tweet.

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HELENA, Mont. — The increasing number of cases of COVID-19 in Montana is stretching the state’s health care system, a hospital’s chief medical officer said Thursday, as she urged residents to take the virus seriously.

“I will put this very simply,” said Dr. Bridget Brennan with Benefis Health System in Great Falls. “We are experiencing a public health crisis. The number of positive COVID cases is rising so quickly that it is threatening to overwhelm the health care resources here in the state.”

In recent weeks, the state has experienced drastic increases in the numbers of COVID-19 positive patients and hospitals are reaching or exceeding the capacity of their intensive care units, Brennan said.

“At Benefis Health System we began to see an increase not only in the number of hospitalized patients from Great Falls and our usual region, but we were also seeing an increase in the number of patients transferred to us from other parts of the state where ICUs were full,” Brennan said.

Chief medical officers of the state’s largest hospitals are now holding daily conference calls to share information and work to use their resources more efficiently, she said.

Montana reported a record 735 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases on Thursday, raising the state’s total to nearly 21,000 in the past seven months. More than 300 people are hospitalized and 230 have died.

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HARTFORD, Conn. -- Connecticut prison officials on Thursday were monitoring a coronavirus outbreak at a Hartford jail where 56 inmates recently tested positive after two staff members contracted the virus.

All 56 inmates, who were not showing symptoms and are now separated from the general population, were detained in the units where the two employees worked, prison officials said.

“The facility is on lockdown status for deep cleaning,” Department of Correction spokeswoman Karen Martucci said in a statement.

The two employees reported testing positive for the virus recently, which prompted routine contact tracing that identified the 56 inmates who tested positive, Martucci said.

Connecticut has seen an uptick in virus cases in communities across the state over the past few weeks. But on Thursday, the statewide positive test rate dipped to 1.3%, down from 2% Wednesday and 2.4% Tuesday. More than 62,000 people in the state have contracted the virus and more than 4,500 have died since the pandemic began. More than 190 people were hospitalized, the highest number in several months.

In prisons across the state as of Thursday, there were 80 inmates who had the coronavirus including eight who were experiencing symptoms. Twenty-nine staff are currently recovering from the virus. More than 1,600 inmates have tested positive since the pandemic began and seven have died.

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- State senators in Ohio moved Thursday to lift a 10 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales at bars and restaurants, aiming to boost an industry devastated by the coronavirus pandemic even as daily reported cases of COVID-19 set a new record.

A bill to repeal the curfew imposed on July 31 was introduced in the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate with strong bipartisan support. It is championed by Senate President Larry Obhof and his No. 2, Sen. Bob Peterson, and co-sponsored by 22 of 33 senators.

The move came the same day that Republican Gov. Mike DeWine said the state set a new record for reported virus cases in a single day, 2,178 compared to the earlier record of 2,172 set April 16.

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — South Dakota on Wednesday broke its record for coronavirus hospitalizations and new cases, and the state has already had more deaths from the disease less than halfway through October than it had in any other month.

Despite the grim prognosis — South Dakota had the nation’s highest rate of positive tests over the last 14 days, according to the COVID Tracking Project — Republican Gov. Kristi Noem has resisted pressure to step up the state’s response to the disease, explaining Tuesday that the surge in case numbers was “expected” because the state was conducting more tests.

Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon said she thinks the state is doing a good job conducting enough tests to detect outbreaks.

However, the COVID Tracking Project says South Dakota’s 14-day average positivity rate of nearly 24% is more than four times the national average of 5.1%.

State Epidemiologist Josh Clayton said that the increase in testing led to more positive cases being identified. But he also acknowledged that infections are spreading in communities across the state.

The state’s hospitals are feeling the effects, with some seeking backups. Roughly 34% of general care beds and 39% of intensive care units statewide remain available, according to the Department of Health.

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CIUDAD DEL ESTE, Paraguay — Brazil and Paraguay reopened their borders Thursday after more than six months shut due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Brazil’s Foreign Relations Ministry said in a statement that international traffic on the Friendship Bridge between Foz do Iguacu in Brazil and Paraguay’s Ciudad del Este is the first step in a gradual plan to lift restrictions.

Foz do Iguacu saw some 5,700 jobs lost as a result of the pandemic-driven border closings, while 18,000 positions were furloughed or had reductions in salaries or hours, according to the city’s commercial and business association.

“Thank God they reopened the bridge,” said Maicon Santana, a Brazilian tourist in Ciudad del Este. “Each country depends on the other, and we hope they never close again.”

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa set a record Thursday for people being treated in hospitals for the coronavirus, but Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds said the health care system was managing well and there was no need for new actions to slow the virus' spread.

The number of people hospitalized rose to 482 as the state reported 1,410 new confirmed cases over the past 24 hours. There were 13 more deaths, raising the state’s death toll to 1,505 since the pandemic began.

Despite the increasing hospitalization numbers and persistently high number of cases, Reynolds said hospitals hadn’t sought additional help and that she doesn’t plan to re-impose restrictions that she has eased in recent months.

Reynolds took questions from reporters a day after participating in an outdoor rally for President Donald Trump at the Des Moines airport. Thousands of supporters packed closely together for several hours, and while masks were given to participants, many didn’t appear to wear them.

The governor said she wore a mask most of the time but occasionally removed it.

Asked why she would promote and attend an event that appeared to violate her own health emergency proclamation against large gatherings, Reynolds said her orders were never intended to keep people from exercising their First Amendment rights to peaceably gather.

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MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin hit a new daily high for confirmed coronavirus cases on Thursday for the second time this week, a surge that the state’s chief health officer called a crisis.

There were 3,747 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases reported Thursday, breaking the record of 3,279 set on Tuesday. To date, the state has had more than 162,000 confirmed cases and 1,553 deaths from the disease since the start of the pandemic. Hospitalizations were at a daily high of 1,017 on Wednesday, the same day the state opened a field hospital outside of Milwaukee to handle overflow patients.

Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm said the field hospital had yet to admit anyone as of Thursday.

Wisconsin’s surge began in early September when the seven-day average of new cases was around 700. Palm said two weeks later, that had doubled and it is now 2,927.

Wisconsin’s death toll is the nation’s 29th highest and the 42nd highest per capita. Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by nearly 22%. There were nearly 625 new cases per 100,000 people in Wisconsin over the past two weeks, which was the fourth-highest of any state.

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ATLANTA — Election officials said nearly a quarter of the workers in a warehouse where election supplies are kept and voting equipment is readied for Georgia’s most populous county have tested positive for the coronavirus.

But Fulton County Elections Director Rick Barron said Thursday that the positive COVID-19 tests for 13 of the 60 workers at the county election preparation center shouldn’t delay election operations.

Barron said the county is working to hire replacement staff and implement more mitigation measures, including daily rapid testing.

The state Department of Public Health said Georgia had 1,686 cases and 23 deaths reported Thursday.

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JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi reported more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases Thursday for the first time since mid-August, after Gov. Tate Reeves instituted a statewide mask mandate.

The day of high case numbers comes just two weeks after the Republican governor repealed that same statewide mask mandate, citing declining numbers of virus cases.

For most of the last two months, Mississippi has seen lower infection numbers, ranging between around 200 to 800 cases a day. In mid-to-late July, the state was regularly reporting between 1,000 and 1,500 cases a day on average.

The count has slowly been rising again. The state health department reported more than 1,300 new cases Thursday. Mississippi has had more than 108,000 virus cases and at least 3,152 virus-related deaths.

COVID-19 hospitalizations were also rising slightly, with 500 people reported to be hospitalized in the state on Tuesday, compared to 393 on Oct. 3. Mississippi’s state health officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said Monday that six hospitals have no beds available in their intensive care units.

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OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission reported Thursday that the state's four-week average of unemployment claims has fallen below 100,000 for the first time since the jobless rate skyrocketed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The rolling average for the week ending Oct. 10 was 90,445, down from 100,464 the previous week and the unadjusted number of initial claims was 4,840, down by 940 from the prior week’s revised total 5,780.

A record of more than 182,000 continuing claims were reported in late June as the state reopened following Gov. Kevin Stitt’s shutdown of many businesses to stem the spread of the virus.

The state health department on Thursday reported 1,221 additional virus cases and 11 more deaths due to COVID-19, the illness caused by the disease, for a total of 103,836 cases and 1,143 deaths since the pandemic began.

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O’FALLON, Mo. — The number of people hospitalized for the coronavirus in Missouri reached another record Thursday, and the seven-day average positivity rate was more than triple the benchmark suggested by the World Health Organization.

The state health department’s COVID-19 dashboard showed other alarming numbers, too: 1,875 new confirmed cases and 22 deaths. According to the dashboard, Missouri ranks fourth nationally in reported deaths over the past seven days, and eighth in the number of new cases. All told, Missouri has reported 150,554 confirmed cases and 2,442 deaths since the pandemic began.

The state’s seven-day positivity rate was 17.9%. Johns Hopkins University data shows the national seven-day positivity rate was at 5.1%. The WHO has set 5% as the benchmark.

Meanwhile, 1,443 people were hospitalized in Missouri on Wednesday, setting a new record for the third straight day. Hospitalizations have risen dramatically since the state loosened restrictions in mid-June. On June 16, 626 people were hospitalized, and that number dropped to 375 on July 7. It has nearly quadrupled since then.

Dr. Marc Larsen, who oversees the COVID-19 response at Kansas City-based St. Luke’s Health System, said the system’s rural hospitals are seeing surges just as bad as the hospital on the Plaza in Kansas City.

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MADRID — Spain added more than 13,000 coronavirus cases on Thursday.

Spain’s health ministry reported 6,603 new infections diagnosed in the previous 24 hours. The other cases were diagnosed in recent days but not reported until now by regional officials.

The government’s top virus expert, Fernando Simón, says while “no province is where we want it to be” in terms of infections, “we have the sensation that we are in a process of stabilization.”

Spain leads Europe with 921,374 confirmed cases. It’s recorded 33,553 deaths. However, health experts believe the actual number is higher due to a shortage of tests early in the pandemic.