PORTLAND, Maine — Maine’s rural areas need better access to COVID-19 testing, the head of the state’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention said.
The percent positivity rate in some of Maine’s rural counties is much higher than it is in more densely populated areas such as Cumberland County. Federal data show the percent positivity rate in Cumberland is about 2% while in rural Somerset County it’s more than 9%.
Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Nirav Shah said Thursday that’s a product of a lack of testing. He said the state is working to get more tests to rural corners of the state. Maine has the lowest population density in New England.
The Maine Department of Health and Human Services also said Thursday that Maine child care facilities can now access pooled testing for children and staff through a federal program that provides the testing for free to some community organizations and schools. The agency said Walgreen is also expanding testing options at almost all of its Maine locations.
“Not enough testing happening in those parts of the state. We’re focusing on making community level testing more accessible,” Shah said.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— It’s flu vaccine time, even if you’ve received COVID-19 shots
— UK families see hard times ahead as coronavirus programs end
— Singapore strategy of living with virus raises concern, hope
— Woman who survived 1918 flu, World War II succumbs to virus
— See all of AP's pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday said it wouldn’t allow the state to enforce its ban on mask mandates by schools and other government bodies, keeping in place a judge’s ruling temporarily halting the law.
Justices denied the request by the state to stay the August decision blocking enforcement of Arkansas’ mandate ban.
More than 100 school districts and charter schools have approved mask requirements since the ruling against the law. The requirements cover more than half the state’s public school students.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who signed the law but later said he regretted that decision, had separately asked the court to deny the request to stay the ruling.
ATLANTA — Gov. Brian Kemp on Thursday warned unvaccinated Georgians to not assume that COVID-19 is over, saying that the state could risk a fifth surge of the respiratory illness over the winter, even as cases decline steeply from a fourth surge that peaked a month ago.
“Today I want to emphasize the importance of not waiting until the next wave of COVID cases to get vaccinated,” Kemp said. “Given that our increase in cases and hospitalizations in 2021 was similar in timing to surges seen in 2020, we can only assume that a winter increase is also possible.”
Kemp says he still opposes federal plans to require employers with 100 or more workers to mandate vaccination and will explore legal action with state Attorney General Chris Carr.
Georgia’s vaccination rate has improved somewhat, with state data showing 47% of all residents are now fully vaccinated. Kemp and Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey said that Georgia isn’t seeing a shortage of monoclonal antibodies for COVID-19 therapy because demand is declining.
AMHERST, Mass. — All eligible students in Massachusetts’ Amherst Regional school district will be required to get a coronavirus vaccine that has full federal approval by Dec. 1 to continue attending classes, the school committee voted.
The Amherst Regional School Committee voted 7-0 at its meeting Tuesday to mandate vaccinations, according to The Daily Hampshire Gazette.
The vote came after the Amherst Board of Health on Sept. 9, based on a request from the public schools, added COVID-19 vaccines with full federal approval to the list of immunizations students are required to have. Medical and religious exemptions are allowed.
Amherst is believed to be the first district in the state to require its eligible students to get a COVID-19 vaccination. So far, the only coronavirus vaccine with full Food and Drug Administration approval is Pfizer’s, and only for people ages 16 and older.
The mandate applies mostly to students at Amherst Regional High School and Amherst Regional Middle School, which also serve children from the towns of Pelham, Shutesbury and Leverett.
HAVANA — Beaches and recreation centers have reopened in Cuba’s capital after authorities announced it is time to resume outdoor activities, including strolling on the Malecon coastal promenade that has long been a gathering place for Havana.
Officials say Thursday’s reopening was possible because 90% of the city’s residents are vaccinated against the coronavirus and the number of new cases has been declining. Some people were quick to take advantage of the announcement and headed to the beach to enjoy the sun and sand.
The Malecon filled up with people Wednesday night, with groups of young people with guitars and even street vendors for the first time since access was closed at the beginning of the year. The city announced last week that restaurants and bars can allow customers back in.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The mayor of Alaska’s largest city has criticized a proposed mask mandate before the Anchorage Assembly and defended the use of yellow Stars of David that are being worn by people who oppose the proposal.
The Anchorage Daily News reports the proposal would require wearing masks in indoor public spaces and outdoors at large event. The multi-day was scheduled to resume Thursday.
Mandate opponents have been wearing yellow Star of David stickers, like the patches that Holocaust victims wore. Mayor Dave Bronson says the stars in Jewish culture mean “never again” and calls their use by mask opponents a credit to Holocaust victims.
DALLAS — United Airlines officials say nearly half the employees facing dismissal for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19 have gotten their shots.
That cuts the number of airline workers facing termination from 593 to 320. An airline spokeswoman Leslie Scott says the declining number of potential firings shows the company’s policy of requiring vaccinations is working.
“In less than 48 hours, the number of unvaccinated employees who began the process of being separated from the company has been cut almost in half.”
United announced the vaccine requirement in August. The airline says about 99% of its workers either got vaccinated or applied for a medical or religious exemption.
Chicago-based United has the toughest vaccination policy among major U.S. airlines. Delta Air Lines is requiring vaccination or weekly testing and will begin charging unvaccinated workers on the company health plan a $200 monthly surcharge starting in November.
American and Southwest have offered incentives for employees to get vaccinated. They haven’t indicated how they’ll comply with President Joe Biden’s order that employers with more than 100 workers require vaccination or weekly testing. Both airlines are based in Texas.
PHOENIX — Advocates for Phoenix’s homeless population say a surge in COVID-19 cases requires more medical workers.
The Arizona Republic reports Circle the City and Maricopa County have been operating the Phoenix Inn since May 2020, but it had rarely been full. However, it has reached full capacity of 90 patients several times in recent weeks.
Circle the City, which provides health care services for the homeless, says it needs at least 50 more nurses, physician’s assistants, security guards and other support staff. It hopes to recruit more health care workers with incentives, including signing bonuses and a 401(k) match.
Marty Hames, Circle the City spokeswoman, says the cases are mostly people who are unvaccinated. The organization is hosting vaccine events for the homeless and offering shots at its clinic.
About 58% of Arizona’s eligible population has received one dose of vaccine.
BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania recorded 12,032 coronavirus cases on Thursday, its highest daily infections since the start of the pandemic.
In the last month, Romania’s infections have risen from about 1,000 cases a day to the record of more than 12,000 reported Thursday. There are 1,364 COVID-19 patients in intensive care, close to the ICU capacity at a national level.
Romania has the European Union’s second-lowest vaccination rate, with just 34% of all adults fully vaccinated. Data published by health authorities indicated between Sept. 20-26, nearly 75% of reported cases and 92% of deaths occurred among unvaccinated people.
Romania, a nation of 19 million, has registered more than 1.2 million confirmed cases and 37,041 confirmed deaths.
ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota Department of Corrections has been more successful getting inmates immunized against the coronavirus than its own employees.
About 80% of prisoners in Minnesota have been fully vaccinated, while the immunization rate for corrections employees is just over 65%, according to the department.
Fewer than 60% of staff at Moose Lake and St. Cloud have gotten the shot. At Rush City, it’s fewer than half, Minnesota Public Radio News reported.
A mandate took effect this month that requires all Minnesota state employees working in the office or on site be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing.
Paul Schnell, state corrections commissioner, says his department is testing about 1,400 unvaccinated staff members on a weekly basis. He says the number of positive cases is impacting the staff levels needed to operate the prisons.
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Primetta Giacopini’s life began and ended with pandemics.
The 105-year-old California woman was 2 years old when she lost her mother to the flu in Connecticut in 1918. A foster family took her back to their ancestral home in Italy, where she worked as a seamstress until she was forced to flee in 1941 during World War II as Benito Mussolini purged the country of Americans.
She returned to Connecticut, where she worked in a factory grinding steel for the U.S. war effort. She moved to San Jose in the 1970s, remarried and had a daughter, living there until she contracted COVID-19 this month.
She struggled with the disease for a week before she died Sept. 16.
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- Malaysia will make COVID-19 vaccination compulsory for all federal government workers.
Vaccination is voluntary in the nation, but the Public Service Department says all federal staff must be vaccinated to ensure smooth delivery of public services.
It says it’s in line with plans to return to full operations following a lockdown since June. The department says nearly 98% of federal government staff have been inoculated. About 1,700 workers, accounting for 1.6% of the total, are unvaccinated.
It says all staff must complete their vaccination by the end of October, unless they are exempt due to medical reasons.
Nearly 62% of the nation’s 33 million people are fully vaccinated. New daily infections have dipped by nearly half from its peak of more than 24,000 last month. Malaysia has registered 2.23 million confirmed infections and more than 26,000 confirmed deaths.
HELSINKI — Finland will ease coronavirus restrictions on bars and restaurants in selected areas, including extending hours of alcohol service until midnight, effective Friday.
Minister of Family Affairs and Social Affairs Krista Kiuru tweeted Thursday the ban on singing and dancing in bars and restaurants will be lifted Friday.
However, bars and pubs in Finland are still under certain coronavirus restrictions, including using half of seating capacity and restaurants using 75% of maximum capacity.
Last week, regional authorities in southern Finland announced the remaining gathering restrictions in the southern Uusimaa region, including capital Helsinki, will end Friday.
NAIROBI, Kenya — The World Health Organization says just 15 of Africa’s 54 countries have reached the global target of fully vaccinating 10% of their population by the end of this month.
Half of African countries have fully vaccinated 2% or less of their populations. The WHO says almost 90% of high-income countries have met the 10% target set by the World Health Assembly this year.
While vaccine deliveries to African countries have increased 10-fold since June, WHO Africa immunization official Richard Mihigo says deliveries need to more than double by the end of the year to reach the WHO target of fully vaccinating 40% of the population by then.
Mihigo says about 900 million doses are needed. He says African countries have received more than 200 million vaccine doses so far and administered over 70% of them. Just 4% of Africa’s population of 1.3 billion people have been fully vaccinated.
NEW YORK — A survey of Americans on President Joe Biden’s plan to require most workers to get either vaccinated or regularly tested for COVID-19 finds a deep and familiar divide: Democrats are overwhelmingly for it, while most Republicans are against it.
With the highly contagious delta variant driving deaths up to around 2,000 per day, the poll released Thursday by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed that overall, 51% say they approve of the Biden requirement, 34% disapprove and 14% hold neither opinion.
Sixty-four percent of vaccinated Americans say they approve of the mandate, while 23% disapprove. Among unvaccinated Americans, just 14% are in support, while 67% are opposed. Most remote employees approve, but in-person workers are about evenly divided.