ALBANY, N.Y. — New York has found its first known case of a new variant of COVID-19 in upstate New York.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a Monday telephone call with reporters said a man in his 60s tested positive for the COVID-19 variant, which is more contagious than its previous variants. The governor said the man, who works at a jewelry store in Saratoga Springs, had COVID-19 symptoms but is “on the mend.”
Three other people linked to the jewelry store have tested positive for COVID-19, but Cuomo said it’s unknown if they have the variant. Anyone who was in the store from Dec. 18 through Dec. 24 is urged to get tested.
The governor said the state Wadsworth laboratory can test for the variant in 40 hours, and said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention takes two weeks. He said the state has run about 5,000 tests so far for the variant, which he warned could lead to even more infections and hospitalizations as amid a holiday season surge.
“I think it is must more widespread than people known,” Cuomo said.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— UK takes big step on the vaccine front, starts giving out first coronavirus vaccine shots from Oxford-AstraZeneca
— Congress has convened for a new session, with strict COVID-19 protocols in place
— Fauci says faster vaccination rate offers a ‘glimmer of hope,’ says Biden’s pledge of 100 million shots in his 1st 100 days is achievable
— Vaccines are a distant thought in Somalia, where coronavirus is spreading with little being done to stop it
— Black California surgeon ‘walks the walk’ on virus vaccine
— Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia has become another European Union country to detect a new fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus originally found in Britain.
Health Minister Marek Krajci announced the discovery late Monday on Facebook. Krajci says the variant was detected in several samples from an unspecified number of people taken in the eastern county of Michalovce.
He has immediately not offered any further details.
Slovakia is one of the EU countries that has imposed a ban on all flights from Britain on Dec 21 due to the concerns over the more contagious -19 variant that rapidly spread through Britain.
OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahomans age 65 and older will begin receiving their vaccinations this week, and health officials announced Monday they plan to release a mobile phone application as early as Thursday that will allow residents to schedule an appointment to receive their vaccine.
The state has contracted with Microsoft to develop a mobile phone application that will allow people to schedule their appointment and track when they should receive their second dose of the vaccine, deputy health commissioner Keith Reed told reporters during a press conference.
Oklahoma has received nearly 175,000 doses and administered more than 50,000 first doses of the two-dose vaccine, Reed said. Oklahoma expects to begin receiving between 30,000 and 40,000 additional doses every week, said Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye.
“Our vaccine rollout can only go as quickly as we’re getting supplies from the federal government,” Frye said.
First responders and health care workers who provide outpatient care to COVID patients are also in Phase 2 and began receiving vaccinations last week. Adults of any age with underlying conditions and pre K-12 public school teachers also are in Phase 2, but those individuals have not started receiving their vaccines yet, Reed said.
NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans officials announced Monday that the city will borrow money to end periodic furloughs of police, firefighters and emergency medical service workers. Furloughs began as the city’s tourist-dependent economy suffered during the pandemic. Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s chief administrative officer, Gilbert Montano, said during a Monday news conference that about $16 million from a line of credit opened last year will be use to end the furloughs for the public safety employees. He said the move is being made in anticipation of future federal stimulus money and the eventual effects of vaccination efforts. New Orleans officials announced last fall that city employees would be furloughed one day every 14-day pay period.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. military plans to soon offer the coronavirus vaccine to prisoners at the detention center on the American base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
U.S. Southern Command said Monday that medical authorities expect doses of the vaccine to arrive this month at the isolated base in southeastern Cuba.
Southern Command said in a statement that there will be enough doses to vaccinate all personnel assigned to the detention center. It also said that the vaccine would be offered to the prisoners but details on how many eventually receive it would not be released because of medical privacy regulations.
The U.S. has 40 prisoners at the detention center, which opened in January 2002 to hold men suspected of links to al-Qaida and the Taliban. Most of those held have never been charged with a crime.
There are just under 1,800 military and civilian personnel assigned to the detention center
WASHINGTON — U.S. airlines, through their trade group, pushed Monday for global COVID-19 testing of international travelers in place of broad travel restrictions.
Nicholas Calio, CEO of Airlines for America, said broad testing as proposed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would increase safe travel “in a much more effective way than the blanket travel restrictions currently in place.”
In a letter to Vice President Mike Pence, Calio asked the Trump administration to lift restrictions on travelers from Europe, the United Kingdom and Brazil entering the U.S.
Air travel in the U.S. hit a pandemic high on Sunday, with more than 1.3 million people passing through airport security checkpoints. The U.S. averaged more than 1 million air travelers per day and tens of millions more traveled by car over the Christmas and New Year’s Day period, despite concern among public health officials that holiday travel and gatherings will lead to more people contracting the virus. However, U.S. air travel is down about 60% from a year ago because of the pandemic.
CHICAGO — Some Chicago Public Schools teachers expected to report to the classroom ahead of preschool students’ anticipated return next week have stayed home over coronavirus concerns.
The nation’s third-largest district plans to bring students back in phases. Starting next week, preschool and some special education students can return or continue remote learning. Students in K-8 have the option starting Feb. 1. A date for high school students hasn’t been set.
The Chicago Teachers Union opposed the plan over safety. Dozens of aldermen also objected with concerns over health and racial equity.
Among those staying home is special education teacher Linda Perales. She told reporters during a Monday news conference that wearing a mask makes it harder to teach students proper letter sounds.
The Chicago Tribune reports roughly 5,800 teachers and staff were to return Monday, but it was immediately unclear how many showed.
A CTU spokeswoman says the union doesn’t have the data. CPS officials didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment. ———
TORONTO — Alberta’s premier has reversed course and is now punishing members of his government for vacationing outside Canada despite government guidelines urging people to avoid nonessential travel during the pandemic.
Premier Jason Kenney says he asked his chief of staff to resign and accepted the resignation of his Municipal Affairs minister.
Several other members of his United Conservative party in the Western Canadian province have also been demoted for traveling outside Canada.
Kenney said last week he would not punish members of his government after he said he learned of travel abroad by a number of people in his government.
He says over the weekend he listened to “Albertans who are sending a clear message that they want real consequences.”
Politicians traveling abroad for vacations during the pandemic became a big story in Canada last week after it became known that Ontario’s finance minister went to the luxury Caribbean island of St. Barts for weeks and seemingly tried to hide the fact by sending social media posts showing him in a sweater before a fireplace.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — As seniors lined up at coronavirus vaccination sites and frustrations mounted over their inability to make appointments for life-saving injections, Gov. Ron DeSantis warned hospitals against stockpiling vaccinations and urged them to work more quickly to administer vaccines to Floridians who are 65 and older.
“The light’s at the end of the tunnel,” DeSantis said during a news conference in Orlando on Monday, adding that hospitals that don’t meet vaccination goals will see their allotment of vaccines reduced and redistributed to other providers.
“I do not want to see a vaccine sitting around not being used when you could be putting a shot in an arm,” he said.
DeSantis has ordered hospitals to inform state officials on how they plan to offer vaccinations to the public.
Mary Mayhew, the chief executive officer of the Florida Hospital Association, said the state’s hospitals were “working tirelessly” to serve the community and roll out the vaccinations.
“Hospitals are absolutely committed to efficiently administering the vaccines,” Mayhew said, noting that “the vast majority of the vaccine just arrived within the last week and a half prior to two holidays.”
As of Monday, more than 260,000 Floridians had been vaccinated, most of them health care workers and first responders — although an increasing number are seniors 65 years and older, who the governor has made a key demographic for vaccinations.
The state has received more than 960,000 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines — which means that some 700,000 doses are sitting in freezers waiting to be injected into the arms of Floridians.
Both vaccines require two doses — an initial inoculation and a booster shot weeks later. Some hospitals, out of caution, may be reluctant to immediately use their entire stockpile because of uncertainty over the future supply of the vaccines.
More than 82% of those who have died from the disease in Florida have been older than 65.
Florida has one of the nation’s oldest populations with 4.4 million of the state’s 21 million population 65 years or older.
BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana has unveiled a list of 107 pharmacies that will begin offering the coronavirus vaccine this week to people aged 70 and older.
Demand is certain to outstrip the limited supply, and interest is running so high the state website crashed within minutes of the information’s release Monday.
Pharmacies report being inundated with calls from people seeking appointments.
The Louisiana Department of Health quickly reworked the website to get the list back online. The agency stressed that appointments are required.
An estimated 640,000 people in Louisiana are newly eligible for the Moderna vaccine, but this week’s shipment to the state’s pharmacies includes only about 10,000 doses.
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Kaiser Permanente says one employee is dead and dozens of workers are infected with the coronavirus after a staffer appeared at one of its Northern California medical centers wearing an inflatable holiday costume on Christmas Day.
Irene Chavez, senior vice president and area manager at Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center, said 44 staff members in the emergency department have tested positive for the virus since Dec. 27.
Inflatable costumes usually rely on battery-operated fans to suck air in and keep its shape.
COVID-19 spreads through droplets in the air, which is why investigators are looking into the functioning of the fan.
NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus’ Health Ministry says that a new variant of COVID-19 has been detected among confirmed coronavirus infections on the island nation.
The ministry said on Monday the country’s Institute of Neurology and Genetics identified the variant VOC 202012/01 in one of 24 samples collected from individuals who had contracted COVID-19 in the last week of December.
The ministry said due to the small number of samples, it’s unclear how widespread the variant is within the community and that more checking will be required to determine that.
On Sunday, the ministry said that the new variant had been identified in 12 of 19 samples from COVID-19 infected persons who had arrived to Cyprus from the United Kingdom between Dec. 6-20.
U.K. health officials are struggling to control the spread of the new variant that is more contagious than previous variants.
Cyprus, with a population of around 900.000 on Monday announced 665 new COVID-19 infections out of nearly 13,500 tests, raising the overall tally to 24,639 cases. Deaths as a result of the coronavirus have reached 133.
SANTA FE, N.M. — More than 230,000 New Mexicans have signed up since the state launched its vaccination registration website two weeks ago, state officials said Monday.
The New Mexico Department of Health said the site has been updated to allow people to complete a comprehensive profile that includes personal medical conditions, employment information and other data.
The site was created to help manage distribution once more vaccines become available. Those who register will be notified when they become eligible and shots are available in their area.
State officials believe it’s the only system of its kind in the country.
New Mexico also plans to launch a call center to provide additional support for those who want to register or ask questions about the process.
“Our highest priorities remain the same: ensuring that vaccine goes to those who are most exposed to infected people or infectious materials, and preventing vaccine from going to waste,” Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins said in a statement issued Monday.
MADRID — Spain is reporting 30,579 new coronavirus infections and 241 confirmed deaths following a 4-day data reporting hiatus over an extended holiday.
Health Minister Salvador Illa said Monday that despite distortions for slower reporting during the New Year and the weekend, Monday’s figures confirm a sharp contagion trend that is also being felt in new hospitalizations.
Spain has recorded nearly 2 million infections and more than 51,000 deaths for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic.
Fearing that the country will follow the sharp increase that other European nations are seeing, authorities in several Spanish regions have been recently tightening restrictions on movement, business activity and social gatherings.
Northeastern Catalonia, home to 6.6 million, will ban all but essential travel out of its municipalities during 10 days starting on Thursday, closing shopping centers and allowing only sales of essential goods on weekends. These are in addition to existing restrictions on the activities of bars and restaurants, as well as on cultural events.
More restrictions have also spread to other areas in the south of the country, around the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, where authorities are trying to confirm if a spike in cases could be related to a new coronavirus variant first identified in the U.K.
Illa said that, barring more logistical problems, authorities are confident that vaccination levels will reach “cruising speed” by next week, once the holiday period is over. Spain has received nearly 720,000 vaccine doses from Pfizer and BioNTech and has so far administered just over 80,000.