Live updates: Mardi Gras returning — but shorter parades

NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans is shortening parade routes for the upcoming Mardi Gras season because there are fewer police officers, medics and other first responders to handle the crowds, officials said Tuesday.

The city canceled Mardi Gras parades this past February because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and 2020 parade crowds are considered a big reason that New Orleans was an early pandemic hot spot.

“The big news and the best news is that Mardi Gras is returning to the city of New Orleans and to the world in 2022,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell said.

Weeks of Carnival season parades lead up to Fat Tuesday, which will be on March 1.

The mayor said parade krewes will have to follow city pandemic restrictions.

Cantrell also noted that “if things go wrong in our city,” she might have to change its plans for Carnival and Mardi Gras. But she said she is confident the city can make it through the omicron variant, flu season and the holiday season.

With 80% of its residents fully vaccinated, New Orleans is a national leader, she said.

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HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC:

— Biden pivots to home tests to fight omicron surge as Christmas nears

— Explainer: Boosters key to fight omicron, lot still to learn

— Feeling powerless, families bring elderly home in pandemic

— Britain to give financial support to businesses hurt by the omicron surge

Go to https://APNews.com/coronavirus-pandemic for updates throughout the day.

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING TODAY:

LIMA, Peru — Some Latin American countries are beginning to reimpose coronavirus restrictions to avoid the spread of the omicron variant over the holiday season despite seeing few reported cases so far.

Ecuador and Peru on Tuesday announced some capacity limits at public places, like restaurants and movie theaters. Both countries have more than 60% of their population fully vaccinated.

Peruvian authorities closed land borders to visitors and imposed a curfew from 11 p.m. Christmas Eve to 4 a.m. on Dec. 25 — and the same for New Year’s Eve. The government said public places will be limited to 60% of capacity in Lima, the capital, and anybody over 18 years old will have to show proof of being fully vaccinated to fly or take an intercity bus within the country.

Peru has officially reported 12 cases of the omicron variant.

In neighboring Ecuador, authorities also announced the suspension of mass events and said anybody over 12 will have to present a vaccination card to enter to enter public offices. Restaurants and movie theaters will limited to 50%. capacity.

Ecuador has reported 22 cases of the omicron variant.

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma health officials announced Tuesday they have detected the state’s first confirmed case of the omicron COVID-19 variant.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health didn’t release any information about where the case originated or whether the person had been vaccinated.

“Early research is indicating that the mitigation methods we’ve been using to combat COVID-19 are still the best way to detect and prevent severe illness from the omicron variant,” interim Commissioner of Health Keith Reed said in a statement. “Getting your COVID-19 shot is the best way to protect yourself and others, even from new variants like this one.”

Oklahoma was among the last states to confirm the presence of omicron. Federal health officials said Monday that omicron is now the dominant version of the coronavirus in the U.S., accounting for 73% of infections last week.

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SEATTLE – University of Washington officials said Tuesday they will use remote learning during the first week of the winter quarter in January because of growing concerns about the rapidly spreading omicron variant.

The university told students, staff and faculty that most classes will be held online Jan. 3 through Jan. 9 as they track infections.

Several other schools across the country are taking similar measures in the face of the variant, including DePaul, Harvard and Stanford universities.

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Citing a nursing shortage caused by the coronavirus pandemic, West Virginia will use $48 million in federal stimulus funding to aggressively recruit and train nurses over the next four years, Gov. Jim Justice said Tuesday.

Justice said about 1,700 nurses declined to renew their state licenses last year. He said 68% of those who left the field cited being “just plain tired“ and ”pushed to the very limit” from the strains of the pandemic.

The Republican governor said nursing programs will be expanded next fall at three colleges. The funding comes from $126 million remaining to be spent by the state from the federal CARES Act.

The initiative will fund nursing scholarships, develop a nursing faculty loan repayment program, and increase both LPN and RN training program capacity, said Cynthia Persily, senior director of health sciences for the state Higher Education Policy Commission.

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The Anchorage School Board has reversed the superintendent’s decision to make masking optional when students return from winter break and will instead keep the current mask requirement in place until at least Jan. 15.

Board members cited the rapid rise of the omicron variant of COVID-19 for the move.

Andy Holleman, the member who proposed the motion, said he would be happy to get rid of the masking requirement if low virus transmission trends continue. But he said it was important that the school district have enough mitigation measures in place when students return on Jan. 3.

Superintendent Deena Bishop announced last week that masks would be optional in the school district starting Jan. 3. In a letter to parents, she cited low transmission rates in the school district and the municipality.

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LAS VEGAS — Health officials in Nevada are charting jumps in key coronavirus measurements, including more than 3,800 new cases of COVID-19 in Clark County during the last week.

The Las Vegas area surpassed 6,400 deaths attributed to the coronavirus since the pandemic began, or 77% of the more than 8,300 people who have died statewide.

The Southern Nevada Health District on Tuesday reported 974 new cases and 15 deaths in Clark County since Monday. State health officials on Monday also confirmed three new cases of the fast-spreading omicron variant — including two in Las Vegas and surrounding Clark County. That’s five omicron cases in Nevada since the first one was detected last week.

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Rhode Island’s pandemic death toll has surpassed 3,000, prompting Democratic Gov. Daniel McKee to order state flags at all state facilities and buildings to be flown at half-staff as a solemn sign of respect.

McKee said in a statement Tuesday: “We’ve lost 3,000 mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, grandparents, friends, and neighbors who will be missed — especially during this holiday season.”

He urged the unvaccinated to get a shot, and the vaccinated to get their boosters and for people to wear a mask in public places.

Flags will remain at half-staff until sunset on Wednesday. The State House will be lit blue and gold on Tuesday night in memory of those who have died.

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BARCELONA, Spain — Despite vaccination rates that make other governments envious, Spain and Portugal are facing the hard truth that with the new omicron variant running rampant, these winter holidays won’t be a time of unrestrained joy.

Portugal on Tuesday announced a slew of new restrictions over Christmas and the New Year, making working from home mandatory and shutting discotheques and bars beginning Saturday night. A negative test result must be shown to enter cinemas, theaters, sports events, weddings and baptisms until at least Jan. 9.

Portugal will impose exceptional measures on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, as well as New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, including having a negative test result to enter restaurants and public celebrations.

That is happening despite almost 87% of Portugal’s population being fully vaccinated, due to the omicron variant, which is racing across Europe.

Spain, too, had hoped for a relaxed festive Christmas, since 80% of its population of 47 million were vaccinated.

But Catalonia, home to the northeastern city of Barcelona, is prepared to become the first Spanish region to reinstate serious limitations and put a damper on the holiday cheer. One in four of everyone hospitalized in Spain with COVID-19 is in Catalonia.

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JERUSALEM — A government advisory panel of health experts has recommended that Israel begin administering a fourth shot of the coronavirus vaccine to protect against the fast-spreading omicron variant.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett praised Tuesday’s decision and said he had already instructed health officials to begin preparations.

The campaign is to begin with people over 60 and health care workers. But based on past vaccination efforts, it could quickly include other segments of the population.

Bennett’s office said the campaign, which still requires bureaucratic approvals, is expected to begin in the coming days.

Israel was one of the first countries to vaccinate its population early this year and then carried out the world’s first booster campaign over the summer.

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CHICAGO — Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday the nation’s third-largest city will require proof of coronavirus vaccination at restaurants, bars, gyms and other indoor venues, as the rapidly spreading omicron variant drives a spike in COVID-19 infections.

Lightfoot said the requirement will take effect Jan. 3, and will apply to places where food and beverages are served — including sport and entertainment venues — and to fitness centers. It doesn’t apply to people getting take-out, who stay in a businesses for 10 minutes or less.

Lightfoot said the measure is necessary because of a surge in cases and hospitalizations, with Chicago seeing numbers at levels similar to those before vaccines were available. Chicago is reporting an average of about 1,700 cases per day, up from about 300 per day just weeks ago, she said.

“To be clear, I have not been this concerned about COVID-19 since the early days of the pandemic in 2020,” Lightfoot said. She also urged people to get vaccinated, saying it’s the only way for life to return to some kind of normalcy and the best way to save lives.

On Monday, Illinois reported about 12,330 new COVID-19 cases — the highest daily total in more than a year. Much of that increase has been driven by the omicron variant, prompting fears of a winter surge.

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ATLANTA — Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on Tuesday reinstated a mask requirement inside stores and other businesses in the city due to rising COVID-19 infections and the emergence of the extraordinarily contagious omicron variant, which has quickly become the dominant version of the virus in the U.S.

“The CDC has designated Fulton and DeKalb counties as areas of high transmission for the COVID-19 virus,” the mayor said in a statement. “Given this recent surge across the Atlanta area, and based upon the counsel from public health professionals, I am reinstating the citywide mask mandate.”

People who fail to wear a mask indoors could face a fine of $50 for a second offense. Bottoms had lifted the previous mask mandate last month.

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JERUSALEM — Israeli health officials are reporting what is believed to be the country’s first death from the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Soroka Hospital, located in the southern city of Beersheba, said a man in his 60s died Monday, two weeks after he was hospitalized.

It said the man had suffered from pre-existing health issues but gave no further details.

Israel has greatly restricted air traffic in and out of the country and is considering a series of restrictions on the public to prevent the spread of the highly contagious variant.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Tuesday that he was waiting “impatiently” for approval from health authorities to approve a fourth booster shot for older citizens and people with serious illnesses.

Israel was one of the first countries to widely vaccinate its population early this year and became the first to offer boosters over the summer.

Israel, a country of 9.3 million people, has reported over 8,200 deaths from COVID-19.

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Intel has told workers that unvaccinated people who don’t get an exemption for religious or medical reasons will be on unpaid leave beginning in April.

The California-based semiconductor company told employees last month they had a Jan. 4 deadline to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or seek an exemption, citing a government mandate for federal contractors. The constitutionality of broad government mandates is up in the air.

The Oregonian/OregonLive reports Intel is leaving its policies in place for now. Intel will review employees’ exemption requests until March 15.

Employees who don’t receive an exemption will begin unpaid leave on April 4 for at least three months but “will not be terminated.”

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MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has tested positive for COVID-19, along with his wife and teenage son, the governor’s office announced Tuesday.

In a statement, Walz said all three tested positive on Monday after his son began experiencing mild symptoms over the weekend. The governor and first lady Gwen Walz remain asymptomatic.

All three are vaccinated. Walz received the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine in March and the Moderna booster in October.

In a video posted to Twitter, the governor said they will quarantine for 10 days, and urged Minnesotans to get the booster shot and get tested if they experience any symptoms.

Minnesota hospitals remain strained, with nearly 1,500 people hospitalized with complications due to COVID-19 as of Monday, including 355 in intensive care.

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