The Latest: South Korea enforces tough measures in prisons

World

In this photo provided by Turkish Health Ministry, officials unload the first batch of COVID-19 vaccine, CoronaVac, a so-called inactivated vaccine developed by Chinese biopharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech, at Esenboga Airport, in Ankara, Turkey, early Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020. Turkey has signed a deal for 50 million doses of the vaccine with Sinovac Biotech. (Turkish Health Ministry via AP)

SEOUL, South Korea __ South Korea has enforced its toughest physical distancing rules at correctional facilities across the country after a major cluster of coronavirus infections flared at a Seoul prison.

The Justice Ministry says that 792 people — 771 inmates and 21 staff — at Seoul’s Dongbu Detention Center have tested positive for the virus since one of center officials was found infected on Nov. 27. One of the infected inmates has died.

The Dongbu cluster infection comes as South Korea is struggling to contain a recent viral resurgence tied to a variety of other sources such as nursing homes, churches, army bases and family gatherings. Earlier Thursday, South Korea reported 967 new virus cases, taking the country’s total to 60,740 with 900 deaths.

The Vice Justice Minister Lee Yong-gu said Thursday the government has imposed the highest-level distancing rules, called “Tier-3,” on all correctional facilities in South Korea for two weeks to guard against COVID-19. Other parts of South Korea are under lower-levels of distancing rules.

The new curbs will ban visitors and let inmates connect people on the outside by video or phone, while trials and summoning involving inmates will be minimized. In-prison educational classes will be halted, planned paroles of some inmates will be implemented early and prison staff are prohibited from engaging in outside activities.

Lee says investigations are under way to find exactly how the cluster infection happened at the Dongbu facility. But he says overcrowded cells, poor ventilation systems and a high-rise building-like structure of the prison are believed to among the reasons.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— A Colorado National Guardsman who has a new variant of the coronavirusthat may be more contagious says he had not traveled.

— Internal documents obtained by The AP show that top Chinese officials quietly ordered strict controls on all COVID-19 research in the country, cloaking the search for the originsof the virus in secrecy.

— Newly elected Congressman Luke Letlowdies from COVID-19 complications at age 41, just days before swearing into office.

— Britain approves vaccine by Oxford-AstraZeneca. The UK-based vaccine allows easier storage and the rollout is expected Jan. 4.

— Pan Cluckers: Coronavirus pandemic feeds demand for backyard chickens.

— Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

GRAFTON, Wis. — A Wisconsin health system said Wednesday that 500 doses of coronavirus vaccine that had to be discarded after they were left unrefrigerated now appear to have been deliberately spoiled by an employee.

Aurora Medical Center first reported on the spoiled doses on Saturday, and said they had been accidentally left out overnight by an employee at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton.

In a statement late Wednesday, Aurora said the employee involved “today acknowledged that they intentionally removed the vaccine from refrigeration.”

Aurora’s statement said they had fired the employee and referred the matter to authorities for further investigation. Their statement said nothing about a possible motive for the action, and health system officials didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking more information.

“We continue to believe that vaccination is our way out of the pandemic. We are more than disappointed that this individual’s actions will result in a delay of more than 500 people receiving their vaccine,” the statement said.

Aurora declined to provide additional information, but said they would provide more details Thursday.

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TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly has received the first of two COVID-19 vaccine shots.

A registered state health department nurse stuck Kelly in the left arm Wednesday evening in a room inside a Kansas National Guard Armory in Topeka.

Kelly designated herself and 10 other state officials as eligible to start vaccinations this week in an effort to protect state government’s “continuity of operations” during the coronavirus pandemic. The others are the lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state treasurer, insurance commissioner and Kansas Supreme Court chief justice and four Republican leaders in the GOP-controlled Legislature.

The legislative leaders and the state’s Republican attorney general passed, for now, because not all health care workers and nursing home residents have received theirs.

The governor also said Wednesday that “hundreds” of other, non-elected state officials have been made eligible for early vaccines by their agencies.

“We’re putting them in line so that we can ensure that state government can continue to function,” Kelly said during a pre-shot Statehouse news conference.

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LOS ANGELES __ Los Angeles County, the nation’s most populous, has surpassed 10,000 coronavirus deaths, officials announced Wednesday.

Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director, called it a “terrible milestone” during a media briefing. Typically, about 170 people county wide die each day of various causes. The average number of deaths from COVID-19 alone is now 150 people a day.

“Most heartbreaking is that if we had done a better job of reducing transmission of the virus, many of these deaths would not have happened,” Ferrer said.

Officials on Wednesday reported 274 deaths and 10,392 new cases countywide. There are currently 7,415 people hospitalized, 20% of whom are in intensive care units.

The county’s daily test positivity rate is 20%, Ferrer said.

“This upcoming year offers us the opportunity to rebuild a more just world after the pandemic,” Ferrer said, urging people to say home for New Year’s. “We have a chance to make it right.”

The new COVID-19 variant has not yet been found in testing samples in LA County, Ferrer said, but that does not mean it is not circulating within the population already.

The county had administered more than 78,000 vaccine doses at acute care hospitals as of Tuesday, officials said. Nearly 1,400 paramedics and emergency medical technicians had also received their first doses, as well as more than 3,100 staffers at skilled nursing facilities.

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. —Indiana’s governor and top health officials are calling for patience while early doses of vaccine against COVID-19 are administered to health care workers and residents inside long-term care facilities.

Indiana’s chief medical officer, Dr. Lindsay Weaver, said nearly 76,000 residents have received their first dose of vaccine as of Tuesday morning. More than 110,000 more Hoosiers have scheduled appointments to get shots through next Monday.

As of this week, CVS and Walgreens have started administering an additional 40,000 doses set aside for long-term care residents and staff, Weaver continued. By the end of the week, Indiana will have received 146,250 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 152,500 doses of the Moderna vaccine.

Weaver said state officials are continuing to focus vaccination efforts on frontline health workers and residents in long-term care facilities. Indiana health officials hope to have updated guidelines next week indicating who will be next in line for vaccines.

Still, if hospitals have extra vaccines, Weaver advised to “go ahead and get the vaccine into people” — even those outside of the current eligibility hierarchy.

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DOVER, Del. — State public health officials have finalized recommendations for the second phase of COVID-19 vaccine distribution in Delaware.

Public health director Dr. Karyl Rattay said Tuesday that second-phase recipients will include front line essential workers and persons 65 and older.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, or ACIP, defines front line essential workers as first responders such as police and firefighters, school and child care staff, prison staff, and workers in grocery stores, food and agriculture, manufacturing and public transit.

A State Ethics Advisory Group voted last week to follow ACIP’s recommendations to target front line essential workers and people 75 years and older in the second round of vaccine distribution.

But the Division of Public Health opted to lower the eligibility age in Phase 1b from 75 to 65 based on statewide COVID-related deaths. Officials noted that while the median age for deaths among white and Asian people is 82 and 83 respectively, the median age for deaths among Blacks is 74, and 66 for Hispanics.

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TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey high schools will be allowed to begin winter sports seasons this weekend, Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday.

Winter sports seasons were put on hold at the end of November as coronavirus cases in New Jersey surged. Murphy said Wednesday that teams can begin playing on Jan. 2, with restrictions.

Teams will be exempt from the state’s current 10-person limit on indoor gatherings, but spectators won’t be allowed to attend if the number of players, coaches and officials meets or exceeds the limit. That amounts to a de facto ban on spectators.

“We recognize that any continuance of the pause would likely mean that many sports seasons would have to be scrapped entirely,” Murphy said Wednesday. “We do not wish to see that happen. As long as folks play it straight, they play it right and they do the right thing, we’re open for business again.”

A ban on interstate hockey competitions has been extended a month, to Jan. 31, Murphy announced along with the governors of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

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LANSING, Michigan — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed a bill Wednesday that would kill emergency public health orders after 28 days unless the Legislature approved, another shot in the power struggle between the Democratic chief executive and Republican lawmakers over how to manage the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill “would recklessly undermine” efforts by the Department of Health and Human Services to stop the spread of COVID-19, Whitmer said.

“Unfortunately, epidemics are not limited to 28 days. We should not so limit our ability to respond to them,” the governor said.

Whitmer has turned to her health department to set many virus-related rules in Michigan, including masks, gathering sizes and a ban on indoor restaurant dining, since losing a court case in October. The state Supreme Court said a 1945 law that served as the foundation for months of unilateral orders was unconstitutional.

Republicans who control the House and Senate have repeatedly complained that Whitmer has ignored them in making COVID-19 policies and ordered too many one-size-fits-all remedies.

The state, meanwhile, reported more than 4,200 new cases Wednesday and 51 deaths. More than 12,000 Michigan residents have died since March.

“We all want this pandemic to be over. Let’s do what needs to be done now so we can return to a strong economy and normal day-to-day activities,” Whitmer said in her veto letter.

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NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana reported a record one-day total of new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, while New Orleans canceled New Year’s fireworks and told its bars and breweries that state pandemic restrictions mean they must close indoor seating.

“Just as with other holidays this year, we’ve had to significantly adjust what New Year’s celebrations will look like in New Orleans,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell said in a news release. “That means no large parties, no riverfront fireworks, and no spectators at the fleur-de-lis drop. Please stay at home and ring in the New Year safely with the members of your immediate household.”

A tweet from the Louisiana Department of Health said 6,754 positive tests were reported since Tuesday. That includes 4,339 genetic tests, which are the most reliable and find active infections, and 2,540 which are described by the state as probable cases of COVID-19 and are reported as positive tests for antibodies to the virus.

The total is more than 50% above what the department gave as the previous record total — 4,339 on Dec. 9.

The previous daily record for positive genetic tests was 3,948 on December 1, Department of Health spokesman Sean Ellis said in an email.

The state said more than 7,000 people have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, 1,717 are hospitalized and 210 of them are on ventilators.

TOPEKA, Kan. – Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly is preparing Wednesday to get the first of two COVID-19 vaccine shots while some top Republican officials are passing, for now, because not all health care workers and nursing home residents have received theirs.

Kelly planned to get her first shot Wednesday evening at a Kansas National Guard armory in Topeka. Her decision to make shots available early to state officials came after her staff said repeatedly she would wait until “her turn.”

Kelly designated herself and 10 other state officials as eligible to start vaccinations this week in an effort to protect state government’s “continuity of operations” during the coronavirus pandemic. The others are the lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state treasurer, insurance commissioner and Kansas Supreme Court chief justice and four Republican leaders in the GOP-controlled Legislature.

But the legislative leaders and GOP Attorney General Derek Schmidt said they would wait. Most of those Republicans said they didn’t want to jump in line ahead of health care workers, nursing home residents or other vulnerable Kansans.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina is making substantial changes to its coronavirus vaccine distribution plan, paving the way for all adults 75 years or older to be prioritized under the first phase of distribution.

Mandy Cohen, the state’s top public health official, said in a Wednesday news conference that residents in that age group can expect to get their first dose of a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine as early as next week, even if they don’t have any underlying medical conditions that make them particularly vulnerable should they get infected.

Most health care providers won’t start offering vaccines to people 75 years or older until the week of Jan. 11, Cohen said.

The announcement comes as North Carolina sees a sharp decline in the number of doses it is getting from President Donald Trump’s administration.

When Pfizer’s vaccine was first made available in North Carolina the week of Dec. 14, the state received nearly 85,000 doses. North Carolina got more than 175,000 doses of Moderna’s vaccine the following week. Now, North Carolina expects to get 60,000 weekly doses of each vaccine through the end of January.

The pace of vaccine rollout will remain slow as the state sees its worst levels of transmission yet.

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Gov. Gavin Newsom has announced the first known case of the new and apparently more contagious variant of the coronavirus in the nation’s most populated state, following the first reported U.S. case in Colorado.

Newsom said he had just learned of the finding in a Southern California case Wednesday. He announced it during an online conversation with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert.

Fauci said the finding is not surprising and that it was to be expected.

Newsom did not provide any other details about the person who was infected.

The Colorado and California cases have triggered a host of questions about how the mutant version circulating in England arrived in the U.S. and whether it is too late to stop it now.

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LOS ANGELES — Dawn Wells, who played the wholesome Mary Ann on the 1960s sitcom “Gilligan’s Island,” has died.

Her publicist says Wells died Wednesday morning in Los Angeles of causes related to COVID-19 at age 82.

Besides TV, film and stage acting credits, her other real-life roles included teacher and motivational speaker.

Born in Reno, Nevada, Wells represented her state in the 1959 Miss America pageant and quickly pivoted to an acting career. Her early TV roles came on shows including “77 Sunset Strip,” “Maverick” and “Bonanza.”

Then came “Gilligan’s Island,” a goofy, good-natured show that became an unlikely but indelible part of popular culture.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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