MELBOURNE, Australia — An epidemiologist told an inquiry on Tuesday that almost all of a second wave of coronavirus infections in Australia’s hard-hit Victoria state can be traced back to returned travelers in two Melbourne hotels.
Department of Health and Human Services epidemiologist Charles Alpren was testifying at a state government-appointed inquiry into failures in a quarantine system that required Australians returning from overseas to isolate in Melbourne hotels for two weeks.
Alpren said “99%” of Victoria’s current coronavirus infections were linked to the Rydges on Swanston and Stamford Plaza hotels.
He said the Rydges outbreak started with a family of four who returned from overseas on May 9.
Some 46 workers from the Stamford Plaza and their close contacts were found to have caught COVID-19 from a man who returned from overseas on June 1 and a couple who returned on June 11, Alpren said.
Melbourne has been locked down for a second time due to the second wave of infections that has resulted in as many as 725 new cases and 25 deaths in a day.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Japan’s economy shrinks at record rate, slammed by pandemic
— New Zealand delays election by four weeks after virus outbreak in Auckland
— South Koreans urged to stay home as cases jump
— Federal virus money slow to trickle to local public health in the U.S.
— Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
MANILA, Philippines — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has decided to ease a mild lockdown in the capital and four outlying provinces to further reopen the country’s battered economy in a high-risk gamble despite having the highest number of coronavirus infections in Southeast Asia.
Duterte’s decision, which he announced late Monday, would allow most businesses, including shopping malls and dine-in restaurants, and Roman Catholic church services to partially resume on Wednesday with restrictions, including the wearing of face masks and keeping people safely apart.
Duterte shifted metropolitan Manila and the nearby provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal, a region of about 25 million people, back to a mild lockdown two weeks ago after leading groups of doctors warned hospitals were being overwhelmed again by COVID-19 patients and pleaded for a “time out.” They also asked the government to recalibrate its response to the pandemic.
The Philippines has reported more than 164,000 of confirmed cases, including 2,681 deaths.
Duterte’s administration has been under intense pressure to revive the economy after it fell into a recession in the second quarter and millions lost their jobs.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported 246 new cases of the coronavirus, its fifth consecutive day of a triple-digit increase, as the virus continues to spread quickly in the greater capital area where churches have emerged as major clusters.
The figures announced by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday pushed the five-day total to 959 and the national caseload to 15,761, including 306 deaths.
The KCDC said 202 of the new cases were reported from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, home to half of South Korea’s 51 million population, where health workers have been struggling to track transmissions stemming from church gatherings, restaurants, schools and workers.
A northern Seoul church led by a bitter critic of South Korean President Moon Jae-in has emerged as a major cluster of infections, with health workers as of Monday afternoon detecting more than 300 infections linked to its members.
MELBOURNE — Australia’s coronavirus hot spot Victoria state on Tuesday reported its lowest tally of new infections in a month.
Victoria’s Health Department reported 222 news cases, the lowest daily tally since 217 were recorded on July 18.
The state also reported 17 deaths following a daily record of 25 fatalities on Monday.
Infections have been trending down after a second lockdown came into force in the state capital Melbourne in early August that included a curfew and mandatory mask-wearing.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said Monday that he believes voters will be safe going to the polls in person in November for the U.S. presidential elections amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Reeves said those who work in the polls will be required to wear PPE, and voters will need to wear masks and social distance.
In Mississippi, those over the age of 65 can vote with absentee ballots and those who have a tested positive for coronavirus can get an absentee ballot, provisions that cover the most vulnerable people who will be voting in the election, Reeves said.
“Just simply saying, ‘I don’t want to go vote in person this year’ is not a reason,’” Reeves said of why someone might apply for an absentee ballot.
On Sunday, when asked on CBS’s “Face the Nation” if he is confident all mail-in ballots in the state of Mississippi will be counted in November, Reeves said he’s confident that the ballots that are “legally cast” will be counted.
During a press briefing Monday, Reeves said he understands “it’s kind of the neat thing” among national media to “focus on this fight about the U.S. Postal Service, and to attack President Trump because he is opposed to mail-in voting, universal mail-in voting.”
“I simply meant that Mississippi has election laws, and I anticipate that those election laws will be followed – nothing more, nothing less. If you legally cast a ballot in the state of Mississippi under the laws of our state, I have every belief that our circuit clerks along with our secretary of state and our state elections board, will count every ballot that is legally cast,” he said.
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota health officials on Monday reported six newly confirmed deaths from COVID-19, raising the state’s death toll to 1,712 since the pandemic began.
Of the new deaths, five were in private homes and one in a nursing home or assisted-living facility. All of those deaths were people 60 or older.
The Minnesota Department of Health also reported 567 newly lab-confirmed infections of the coronavirus. That raises the total of confirmed infections in the state to 65,716.
Health officials also reported 286 patients were hospitalized Monday, with 155 of them in intensive care. The Star Tribune reports total hospitalizations in Minnesota dropped below 300 for the first time this month on Sunday.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — President Donald Trump’s top coronavirus adviser says families and friends holding parties is helping fuel the virus’ spread, issuing the warning as some colleges are dealing with outbreaks tied to parties.
Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, urged people to wear masks and socially distance after visiting with Gov. Asa Hutchinson and state health officials, pointing to the gatherings as a particular concern.
“We’re finding that the majority of community spread right now is happening from parties, either indoors or outdoors, where people are with their families or friends and believe there’s no one there … (who) has COVID,” Birx told reporters outside the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion. “And yet there is someone there that has the virus and they don’t know they have the virus because a significant number are asymptomatic.”
JACKSON, MISS. – The state of Mississippi is expanding access to free coronavirus testing for teachers and school-based emergency telehealth coverage after more than 70 of the state’s 82 counties have reported outbreaks during their first few weeks back in the classroom.
The Mississippi State Department of Health has reported 245 cases of coronavirus in teachers and 199 in students since some districts began returning to school in mid-July. More than 2,000 students and around 600 teachers at the start of this week are in quarantine after being exposed to the virus, Mississippi’s state health officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said.
To curb the spread of the virus, Dobbs announced Monday that K-12 teachers in the state will now have access to free testing, whether or not they have symptoms or know they’ve been exposed. They will be able to be tested at the state’s two community testing sites, as well as 16 new regional mobile testing sites to be set up early next week.
Additionally, the Mississippi Division of Medicaid said that it has expanded its coverage to allow schools without nurses or school-based clinics to access telehealth services. That change began Aug. 1 and will continue through the end of the pandemic, officials said.
Republican Gov. Tate Reeves said the two measures will ensure that Mississippi’s schools “will remain safe,” adding that he hopes expanding testing for teachers, in particular, will give educators confidence and “peace of mind” about returning to school.
Mississippi has seen declining cases in recent weeks after a surge of new cases and deaths in July. On July 29, the state’s seven-day average peaked at 1,390 cases. On Monday, the state’s seven-day average was below 700.
AUSTIN, Texas — Texas has surpassed 10,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths as the lingering toll of a massive summer outbreak continues.
Texas on Monday joined New York, New Jersey and California as the other states to reach the grim milestone. Florida is also close behind.
Roughly four in every five of those deaths in Texas were reported after June 1. Texas embarked on one of the fastest reopenings in the country in May before an ensuing surge in cases forced Republican Gov. Greg Abbott to backtrack and impose a statewide mask order.
August has seen an improving outlook, including a sharp decline in hospitalizations. But Texas officials are now concerned that not enough people are seeking tests.
Health experts have also expressed concerns that recent encouraging trends could be fragile as Texas schools begin reopening for 5 million students across the state.
HELENA, Mont. — Actress Sharon Stone is criticizing the availability of COVID-19 testing in Montana, where her sister and brother-in-law are hospitalized with the respiratory virus.
Stone posted a video on Instagram Sunday expressing frustration that there aren’t enough tests for front-line workers and people who have had direct contact with someone who has COVID-19, “like my mother, who’s had two heart attacks, five stents and a pacemaker in the past five months.”
Her mother wasn’t tested because she wasn’t symptomatic, despite her underlying health conditions, Stone said.
Stone’s sister, Kelly Stone, also has lupus, “and is not doing well,” the actress said. Kelly Stone has been posting videos on Instagram from her hospital bed, where she is on oxygen.
Sharon Stone has not said where her sister is hospitalized.
NEW ORLEANS — A federal judge in New Orleans has refused to block the state from closing bars amid the coronavirus pandemic.
U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman issued his ruling Monday afternoon, handing a defeat to 10 bar owners in southeast Louisiana.
Even as his ruling was issued, a similar lawsuit in southwest Louisiana was being argued in Lafayette.
Gov. John Bel Edwards issued the closure order last month. He was expected to testify in that hearing, where 11 bar owners were challenging the closure order.
At the heart of the arguments has been whether statistics support the closures of on-site consumption at bars while restaurants that contain bars are not closed.
CHAPEL HILL, North Carolina — The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill says it’s switching all undergraduate classes to remote learning after the coronavirus spread in the first week since classes began.
University leaders posted online that all undergraduate classes will shift to online learning starting on Wednesday.
The university said that it was working on plans to transition students who want to leave out of campus housing. University leaders said in the statement: “We expect the majority of our current undergraduate residential students to change their residential plans for the fall.”
The statement added: “We have emphasized that if we were faced with the need to change plans – take an off-ramp – we would not hesitate to do so, but we have not taken this decision lightly.”
On Monday, UNC-Chapel Hill reported 130 new positive cases among students and 5 among university employees for the week ending Sunday.
HARRISBURG, Penn. — Pennsylvania plans to launch a coronavirus exposure-notification app in early September in an effort to more quickly break chains of transmission by using the new technology to notify people who may have been exposed, officials said Monday.
The state has a $1.9 million contract, using federal grant dollars, to deploy and maintain the app with software developer NearForm Ltd, the Ireland-based company whose app there has been downloaded by more than one-fourth of that country’s residents.
The app is based on smartphone technology developed by Apple and Google, and will undergo a pilot project next week, using state government employees and public health students, staff and faculty, officials told The Associated Press in an interview.
The app will be interoperable with the state of Delaware’s app, and it also is expected to be interoperable with those of two other states, although Pennsylvania state officials declined to name those states because they are still in discussions with the app developer.
OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma’s Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Monday that he has submitted an application for unemployed Oklahomans to receive an additional $300 in federal unemployment benefits.
Once the Federal Emergency Management Agency approves the state’s grant application, the federal government will fund the $300-per-week benefit and Oklahoma will fulfill the 25% state match through existing unemployment benefits, Stitt said.
“As we are months ahead of other states in our recovery and Oklahoma is open for business, many Oklahomans have returned to work or are in training to take on a new career,” Stitt said in a statement. “However, we also want to continue to help those who are still working to secure employment.”
For months, on top of their state benefit, unemployed Americans also collected $600 a week in federal jobless aid, but that expired at the end of July, and negotiations in Congress to extend it collapsed.
Earlier this month, President Donald Trump issued an executive order that would provide $300 a week to replace the expired $600.
CHICAGO — Illinois public health officials have launched a COVID-19 hotspot map for travelers to check before leaving the state.
The online map of the United States shows which states have an average daily case rate of at least 15 cases per 100,000 people, which are considered higher risk areas.
The Illinois Department of Public Health says the idea is to help people assess their risk before they travel outside the state.
Health officials announced 1,773 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 12 additional deaths.
QUEEN CREEK, Ariz. — The first day of school, a normally happy ritual, was fraught with conflict Monday at some schools opening in Arizona, echoing debates across the country over the risks of holding all in-person instruction amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In some districts, worried teachers resigned or called in sick. While Queen Creek Unified School District opened its doors, J.O. Combs Unified School District in neighboring Pinal County canceled its planned reopening Monday after an overwhelming number of staff said they planned to be absent.
The school board in the town of Queen Creek, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) southeast of Phoenix, voted last week to offer in-person instruction full-time. Jacob Frantz, a chemistry teacher at the high school and head of the local education association, resigned soon after the vote. Frantz said he knows of a dozen others who quit since the vote and said roughly 30 others have left since June, when the district first proposed doing all in-person instruction.
Stephanie Ingersoll, a spokeswoman for the district, said media reports have inaccurately reported the number of teachers resigning. She said “a small number” gave notice after the school board vote