The Latest: SKorea reports highest new virus total in months

SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea has reported 441 new cases of the coronavirus, its highest single-day total in months, as fears grow that lockdown-like restrictions are becoming inevitable as transmissions slip out of control.

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The country has added nearly 4,000 infections to its caseload while reporting triple-digit daily jumps in each of the past 14 days, prompting health experts to warn about possible shortages in hospital capacities.

The 441 cases reported Thursday was the biggest daily increase since the 483 reported on March 7.

The National Assembly in Seoul was shut down and more than a dozen ruling party lawmakers were forced to isolate Thursday following a positive test of a journalist covering the parliament.

If the viral spread doesn’t slow, health authorities have said they will consider elevating social distancing measures to the strongest “Level 3,” which could include banning gatherings of more than 10 people and advising private companies to have their employees work from home.

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

— U.S. health officials have sparked a wave of confusion after posting guidelines that coronavirus testing is not necessary for people who have been in close contact with infected people.

— World Economic Forum becomes digital Davos next summer

— Authorities in Greece are using free on-the-spot tests for ferry passengers and nightlife curfews on popular islands to stem a resurgence of the coronavirus.

— Latin America’s evangelical churches hard hit by pandemic. Some 400 men and women gather to pray through face masks for the health of friends and relatives suffering from the novel coronavirus.

— 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:

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — A New York state university suspended 43 students Wednesday after a party on Lake Champlain, the latest school to clamp down on students for ignoring coronavirus restrictions.

Officials at SUNY Plattsburgh said the students violated campus health and safety policies when they gathered at the closed Sailor’s Beach park Friday. Police said students failed to socially distance and very few, if any, wore face coverings.

The suspended students are required to leave their dorms and will not be permitted on campus until further notice. They cannot attend class or go to campus facilities.

The state school near the Canadian border will conduct a separate campus judicial process to determine the future status of the students.

Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., recently suspended 15 students who attended an off-campus party and did not follow coronavirus precautions. Syracuse University last week suspended 23 students following a large on-campus gathering. ___

MADISON, Wis. — A group of private religious schools wants the Wisconsin Supreme Court to nullify a Dane County order barring in-person classes for most students.

The conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty filed a petition Wednesday on behalf of 14 parents and five religious schools as well as interest groups for the state’s school-voucher program and religious schools.

The petition challenges the authority of Janel Heinrich, director of Public Health Madison and Dane County, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. Heinrich issued an order allowing schools to offer in-person instruction to grades three through 12 only under certain conditions.

The order, which took effect Monday, applies almost entirely to private schools, since public schools in Dane County already decided to start the year online for almost all students in almost all grades.

In the petition and a separate one filed on behalf of Fitchburg mother Sara Lindsey James on Tuesday, attorneys argue Heinrich doesn’t have authority under state law to close schools and that the Public Health order runs counter to the decision the state Supreme Court made in May striking down the statewide stay-at-home order.

Public Health denied to comment on the lawsuits.

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OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma State Department of Health is working to revise the state’s COVID-19 alert system, which some state health officials have said is not “helpful” for areas at high risk due to the coronavirus pandemic, health department spokesperson Rob Crissinger said Wednesday.

Planned changes in the alert system, first reported by the Tulsa World, are being made so local and state health officials can work more closely, according to Crissinger.

“They can work in tandem with the updated hospital surge plan and be a better resource for everyone,” from the state to the local level, Crissinger said.

The reported number of coronavirus cases in Oklahoma is approaching 55,000 and there are 19 additional deaths due to COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, the Oklahoma State Department of Health said Wednesday. The department reported 54,838 virus cases and 763 deaths, up from 54,172 confirmed cases and 744 deaths reported Tuesday.

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CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts — A small group of older adults given Moderna Inc.’s experimental COVID-19 vaccine showed encouraging early results, the company said Wednesday.

The vaccine, created by the National Institutes of Health and made by Moderna, already has begun final testing in a study that is seeking 30,000 volunteers, including older ones.

But Moderna offered a first public peek of the earlier test results -- in 10 people ages 56 to 70, and 10 over 70 -- at a meeting of advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The vaccine revved up the older adults’ immune systems similarly to earlier vaccine tests in adults younger than 55, the company data shows. Side effects likewise were similarly mild among the age groups.

U.S. health officials say they hope to start offering vaccinations around the end of the year, but scientists caution there are no guarantees.

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WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department is seeking data from the governors of four states about “orders which may have resulted in the deaths of thousands of elderly nursing home residents.”

Officials say Wednesday the Justice Department’s civil rights division is evaluating whether to initiate investigations under a federal law that protects the rights of people in state-run nursing homes and other facilities.

Prosecutors are trying to determine whether state orders requiring admission of COVID-19 patients to nursing homes could have led to deaths. The letters were sent Wednesday to the governors of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband says the federal government must ensure vulnerable nursing home patients “are adequately cared for with dignity and respect and not unnecessarily put at risk.”

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BOSTON — A cluster of COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts has been traced to a bachelorette party in Rhode Island, health officials said.

Nineteen guests — 17 from Massachusetts — were infected, said Ann Scales, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. They had rented a house in Rhode Island for the party in late July, she said.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker referred to to the event at a news conference Tuesday as he discussed the importance of face coverings, social distancing and proper hygiene.

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ZAGREB, Croatia — Croatia has reported the highest number of daily new infections from the coronavirus since the start of the outbreak.

The health authorities say 358 people have tested positive in the past 24 hours. So far, 8,888 are confirmed infected in Croatia and 175 people have died in the country of 4.2 million.

A recent spike in infections in Croatia has sent tens of thousands of tourists home to avoid being subject to restrictions when they get back. Long lines of cars have formed in the past week at the border of Slovenia and Austria of people returning from Croatia.

Tourism remains key for Croatia’s economy, which is among the weakest in the European Union.

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RALEIGH, N.C. -- North Carolina State University on Wednesday told students remaining in university housing to go home, acknowledging a rising number of coronavirus clusters on and off campus.

Randy Woodson says starting Thursday, students living on campus should schedule a time to move out. The school moved to online classes for undergraduates on Monday.

N.C. State has reported 21 coronavirus clusters since classes began Aug. 10, with four of the clusters in residence halls, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported. There have been 546 positive cases reported since March, including 46 students on Tuesday, according to the school.

The school’s COVID-19 dashboard says there are 111 students in quarantine in university housing, and another 1,234 in quarantine off-campus.

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BERLIN — An Austrian lawyer representing people who fell ill with the coronavirus after visiting a ski resort says he plans to sue authorities for alleged failures in tackling the outbreak.

Peter Kolba told The Associated Press on Wednesday that his consumer protection association has been contacted by about 6,000 people affected by the outbreak in Ischgl in the Paznaun Valley.

About 10 will join a civil suit Kolba plans to file next month seeking damages of up to 100,000 euros ($118,000) for those sickened or the relatives of people who died as a result of a coronavirus infection contracted in Ischgl.

Kolba says most of the plaintiffs come from Germany, but others from the Netherlands, Iceland, Ireland and the United States.

He says authorities had enough information by March 7 to warn new arrivals about the virus but failed to do so. When the government imposed a regional quarantine on the Paznaun Valley on March 13, some 10,000 foreign tourists were told to leave Austria. Officials only collected contact details for 2,600.

Kolba claims that’s “the reason why the virus spread across Europe.”

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UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. envoy for Iraq says the coronavirus pandemic has made things worse in the country, with a 10% increase in poverty and 3 million people who can’t afford to buy enough food.

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert told the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday the pandemic has also disrupted studies for over 11 million school and university students across Iraq and led to the doubling of reported incidents of gender-based violence “amid dwindling options for victims to seek assistance and find shelter.”

On the economic front, she says Iraq is expected to experience a 9.7% decline in GDP, mainly as a result of the steep crash in oil prices since the pandemic began, which has cut oil revenues nearly in half.

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WASHINGTON — White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows says he’s looking forward to the U.S. having a vaccine for COVID-19 by the fall, a faster timeline than top government scientists have sketched out.

Meadows told Politico he’s “optimistic that one of the seven or eight candidates that we have will actually get approved. And hopefully be able to be deployed by this fall.”

Last month, Dr. Anthony Fauci said at a congressional hearing he was “cautiously optimistic that we will have a vaccine by the end of this year and as we go into 2021.” He suggested health workers and medically vulnerable people will go first.

Meadows didn’t directly say whether the Food and Drug Administration would authorize emergency use of a vaccine, which it did recently for donated blood plasma from people who recovered from COVID-19.

Meadows says, “We’re going to make sure it’s good science and the efficacy and the safety of those vaccines are well tried.”

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GENEVA — The World Economic Forum is delaying its annual gathering in Davos, Switzerland, until next summer out of health concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Davos is generally held the week of Jan. 25. Instead, the forum will digitally host “Davos Dialogues” to explore the state of the world at an unspecified date next summer.

Managing Director for Public Engagement Adrian Monck says it was a difficult decision because many world and civic leaders had hoped to use the meeting to help shape what the forum calls the “Great Reset” after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Monck says, “the advice from experts is that we cannot do so safely in January.”

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Alaska state health data indicates Pacific Islanders and Alaska Natives are more likely to contract the coronavirus and be hospitalized with the illness.

Alaska Public Media reported culture and economics can contribute to the disparity.

Pacific Islanders in Alaska have contracted COVID-19 at about eight times the rate of the rest of the population. Alaska Natives are more than one-and-a-half times as likely to contract the coronavirus. Officials say the groups are more likely to live in crowded, multi-generational housing where the virus can easily spread and customary community gatherings can contribute to infections.

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AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s annual spring celebration of maple syrup will finally take place this fall.

Maine Maple Sunday was scheduled to take place in March, when the pandemic was intensifying around the country.

The Maine Maple Producers Association say the event will be held Oct. 9 to 11. The association say the weekend will include virtual elements and traditional in-person visits to the state’s sugar houses.

Maine is the third-largest maple producer in the country, after Vermont and New York. Maple association president Scott Dunn says the industry has taken a hit from the pandemic.

Maine Maple Sunday typically happens when sap buckets are a common sight on maple trees around the state. Fall harvest festivals in Maine tend to be more about apples or pumpkins than syrup.

Maine has more than 4,300 reported cases of the virus and 131 deaths.

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HONOLULU — Officials say some nonviolent inmates released from jail by court order have been isolated or quarantined at Honolulu hotels.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports the state Department of Health says the former inmates include those who have tested positive for the coronavirus, await test results or have been in contact with someone who tested positive.

Health department officials say those in the hotels must show they cannot quarantine or isolate in residences without assistance. Officials wouldn’t say how many former inmates from the Oahu Community Correctional Center are quarantined at the hotels.

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MANILA, Philippines — The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the Philippines surged past 200,000 Wednesday. The country has the highest number of infections in Southeast Asia.

The Department of Health reported a daily tally of 5,277 recent infections, the majority in Manila. That brings the country’s confirmed total to 202,361 and 3,137 deaths.

President Rodrigo Duterte has faced growing criticisms over the alarming spread of infections. Vice President Leni Robredo said in televised remarks on Monday: “It’s as if no one is at the helm, no direction, no clear horizon as to when and how this pandemic will be addressed.”

Duterte said Robredo didn’t back up her allegations of government shortcomings with evidence, and her criticisms came amid public desperation. He said, “Please do not add fuel to the fire. You will just destroy the government.”

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SALT LAKE CITY — Three high school seniors joined Gov. Gary Herbert at a briefing Wednesday and pleaded with parents to stop fighting Utah’s mask mandate for schools.

The students from Enterprise High School in southern Utah said they are willing to wear masks to keep their school open and prevent any further disruptions to their education. They voiced frustration with parents and other community members who recently planned a no-mask protest in St. George.

“We shouldn’t be throwing away the opportunity to be in extracurriculars and to be in person and socialize over something as small as wearing a mask,” said Dallee Cobb.

The Republican governor said wearing a mask is a minimal sacrifice that nearly all students are willing to make.