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The Latest: Nevada has 1st confirmed case of SAfrica variant

·13 min read

RENO, Nev. — Nevada health officials have confirmed the state’s first known case of a coronavirus variant that was originally identified in South Africa.

The Nevada State Public Health Laboratory said Thursday the mutated version of the virus was confirmed a day earlier in a sample traced to a person who travelled from South Africa and began showing symptoms of COVID-19 when arriving in Reno.

Experts say it’s another reason Nevadans need to be sure to keep their masks on and not to let their guard down as the state relaxes restrictions on businesses and public gatherings.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the South African variant has been detected in 10 states thus far, not including Nevada’s case.

Dr. Mark Pandori, the director of Nevada’s public health lab, said Thursday vaccines may be less effective on the new strain but it is not yet known if the strain causes a more severe illness. He said the new strain is not believed to be more lethal than the original COVID-19 strain.

Nevada has also reported six known cases of a more contagious coronavirus variant that first originated in the United Kingdom.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— U.S. life expectancy drops by a year in pandemic, the most since World War II

— Crippling winter weather in U.S. hampers vaccine deliveries, distribution

— New York's governor faces mounting pressure over COVID deaths at nursing homes

— One Good Thing: When coronavirus lockdowns shut down classes in a youth prison, a Greek math teacher created a DIY TV channel that broadcasts lessons 24 hours a day

— Follow all of AP’s pandemic 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:

HARTFORD, Conn. - Gov. Ned Lamont announced Thursday he plans to lift some restrictions on youth sports in Connecticut as the state’s COVID-19 metrics continue to improve.

The Democrat said athletes will be allowed to compete in previously banned indoor sports, including cheerleading and competitive dance. Lamont said he expects to ease restrictions soon on some outdoor sports considered high-risk for infection, such as lacrosse.

The governor said the number of fans allowed at youth sporting events will also be increased. The state will institute a cap at 25% capacity and 200 fans, whichever is the lower number.

“Look, I used to love watching my kids play hockey and basketball and I know that has been limited over the last few months, so I think we’re going to lift that cap to some degree, still erring on the side of caution,” he said.

Lamont said he also plans to open the state’s borders on March 1 to allow interstate athletic competitions and tournaments. Colleges, meanwhile, can make their own decisions on allowing fans into venues in consultation with the state Department of Public Health, he said.

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ATLANTA -- Georgia is opening up four mass vaccination sites to inoculate people against COVID-19, with locations chosen to try to increase the lagging share of Black and Latino residents who are getting the shots.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said at a news conference Thursday the sites will be up and running on Monday. They will be in Albany, Macon, Habersham County and at the Delta Flight Museum near Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta.

The state is also rolling out a registration website , myvaccinegeorgia.com, that will let people register for the sites. The state is currently limiting the vaccine to medical workers, emergency workers, nursing home residents and people 65 and older, but people outside those categories can also sign up on the website to be notified when it’s their turn.

The initial goal is for the sites to administer a combined 22,000 vaccines a week, with the ability to increase capacity when additional supplies become available.

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SANTA FE, N.M. -- The Albuquerque school board has rejected a proposal aimed at partially returning students to the classroom during the coronavirus pandemic as part of a hybrid learning model.

The board voted 4-3 against hybrid learning, keeping the district virtual through the end of the year with limited in-person groups. The board also approved a measure to allow some groups in-person instruction, including students at risk of failing or seniors who need additional help.

In Las Cruces, school officials rolled out their plan this week. It allows high school students who opted to return to attend class in person two days a week as early as Monday.

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BELLEVILLE, Ill. — More mass COVID-19 vaccination sites are opening in southern Illinois this week. State officials say two sites in Carbondale, including at Southern Illinois University will open Friday.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker toured a similar mass vaccination site Thursday in Belleville, which has administered 10,000 doses since opening this month.

Other mass vaccination sites include the Illinois State Fairgrounds and the Tinley Park Convention Center.

Pritzker’s visit comes as Illinois has administered nearly 2 million vaccine doses. Also Thursday, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported 1,966 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 and 72 related deaths.

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ALGIERS, Algeria — President Abdelmadjid Tebboune says Algeria will start producing Russia’s Sputnik-V coronavirus vaccine in six or seven months.

The announcement came Thursday in a televised address. Health Minister Abderahmane Benbouzid said earlier this week that the vaccine will be produced by state laboratory Saidal. They did not provide details about production plans.

Algeria, a longtime Russian ally, used Sputnik to launch its vaccination campaign last month.

But some doctors have complained that initial deliveries of 50,000 doses of Sputnik and 50,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine fall far short of need.

Algeria is also expecting deliveries of China’s vaccines and is eligible to receive vaccines through the COVAX global program for developing countries.

New infections in the country have stabilized in recent weeks, and the government slightly relaxed curfew rules last week to let hairdressers, gyms and some stores to reopen.

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Multiple vaccination locations in the Portland area have been forced to close Friday and Saturday because of snowy and icy weather.

That means about 10,000 appointments must be rescheduled. In addition, COVID-19 shipments to the state have been delayed due to weather.

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GAITHERSBURG, Md. — Vaccine developer Novavax has agreed to provide 1.1 billion doses of its experimental COVID-19 vaccine for use in more than 190 low- and middle-income countries.

The company said Thursday it has reached agreement with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to provide the doses to the COVAX Facility, a project led by Gavi, the World Health Organization and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

They’re working with groups including UNICEF, the World Bank and charities to guarantee equitable access to vaccines against the coronavirus to all countries.

Novavax Inc., of Gaithersburg, and the Serum Institute of India, a top maker of vaccines for poor countries, will manufacture and distribute the Novavax vaccine. It’s still in two late-stage studies, one in the U.S. and Mexico and the other in the UK.

Novavax said testing has found the shot works against the original COVID-19 strain and two variants first identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa and now circulating widely.

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BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana will expand coronavirus vaccine access next week to another half-million people.

Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Thursday that he’s allowing teachers, child care workers and older people with certain medical conditions to get the shots.

The full list of who will be newly eligible starting includes K-12 school teachers, administrators and support staff; employees at day care centres , early learning facilities and other sites that provide child care; pregnant women; and people age 55 to 64 who have one of a dozen preexisting conditions.

With those additions, more than 1.6 million of Louisiana’s 4.6 million residents will have access to the vaccine if they can get appointments.

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RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia's health department says the commonwealth is seeing delays in this week’s COVID-19 vaccine shipments because of severe winter weather.

Multiple vaccination events scheduled in the coming days have been postponed due to weather conditions in Virginia, parts of which were covered in sleet, ice and snow Thursday.

The department said that if additional events are cancelled due to weather or shipment delays, providers will contact individuals about updated appointments.

It warned that additional delays could be possible for vaccine orders placed this week, also due to weather.

Virginia had been expecting about 120,000 doses this week.

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NEW YORK — Drugmaker Pfizer and German partner BioNTech have begun a nine-country study of the safety and effectiveness of their COVID-19 vaccine in pregnant women.

The companies said Thursday that the first volunteers have received shots in the study, which is to enrol about 4,000 healthy pregnant women aged 18 and older.

Women in the United States, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mozambique, South Africa, Spain and the UK will be included.

Dr. William Gruber, Pfizer’s head of vaccine clinical research and development, said in a statement that “pregnant women have an increased risk of complications and developing severe COVID-19,” and “it is critical that we develop a vaccine that is safe and effective” for them.

The study will assess effects on the infants for about six months, checking for safety and whether they received potentially protective antibodies from their mothers.

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CARSON CITY, Nevada — Health officials have confirmed the first known case in Nevada of a coronavirus variant that was first identified in South Africa.

The Nevada State Public Health Laboratory said Thursday that the mutated version of the virus was confirmed a day earlier in a sample traced to a person who travelled from South Africa and began showing symptoms of COVID-19 after arriving in Reno.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said the variant has been detected in 10 states thus far, not including Nevada’s case.

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia’s government has failed to agree on a plan to acquire Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine to speed up the vaccination program in one of the hardest-hit European Union nations.

Prime Minister Igor Matovic says one of the four partners in his coalition government, the centre -right For People party, vetoed such a move on Thursday.

Matovic says the plan called for Slovakia to receive 160,000 doses of Sputnik V next week.

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MADRID — Spanish health authorities say they expect the curve of coronavirus contagion to continue flattening after the two-week incidence rate dropped Thursday to 320 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, from a peak of nearly 900 at the end of January.

Spain has logged 3.1 million confirmed virus cases overall and more than 66,000 deaths, including 14,515 new cases and 388 new fatalities in the previous 24 hours.

Fernando Simón, who heads the country's pandemic response, says authorities estimate that a new variant first detected in Britain makes up 20% to 25% of all new cases.

He says “that reflects the expected progression according to what we are seeing in other countries.”

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PARIS — France's health minister says the coronavirus variant dominant in Britain accounts for about 36% of infections in his country and a majority of cases in some areas, and other variants account for 5% of new cases.

Olivier Veran tells reporters that as a result, the government will extend its recommended quarantine period for people who test positive from seven days to 10 days.

He said Thursday that the growing proportion of more contagious variants may be why France’s 12-hour-a-day curfew and other restrictions aren’t bringing overall infections and hospitalizations down.

“We need to hang on together. We need to get out of the danger zone,” Veran said. “It’s not the time to relax our efforts, it’s not over.”

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NEW YORK — Carnegie Hall will miss an entire season for the first time in its 130-year history.

The storied Manhattan concert venue has cancelled performances from April 6 through July, extending a closure that started last March 13 due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Carnegie hopes to reopen in October for its 2021-22 season.

The pandemic also caused the Metropolitan Opera to miss a season for the first time, and Broadway theatres have been closed since March. The arts shutdowns have contributed to a major hit to New York City’s economy.

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ROME — Officials have postponed a main event commemorating the first anniversary of the start of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak after clusters of new infections traced to the variant first detected in Britain forced localized lockdowns in hardest-hit Lombardy and around the country.

Brescia’s public hospital, which was overwhelmed during the initial outbreak, had planned a daylong conference Saturday on lessons learned from the pandemic. It was to feature the intensive care doctor who diagnosed Italy’s first locally transmitted case, as well as the opening of a commemorative art exhibit dedicated to health care workers worldwide.

But the hospital announced Thursday that it was postponing the event “considering the rapid evolution of the epidemiological situation.”

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BOSTON — With delivery of COVID-19 vaccines earmarked for Massachusetts being disrupted by winter storms, Gov. Charlie Baker says he would consider sending the National Guard to southern states to collect shipments.

The Republican governor says the state “may have some real issues with supply delivery this week,” and “we have been told it would be a few days late, based on some of the issues around weather in other parts of the country.”

Baker says he needs to make sure the federal government would allow Guard troops to be used this way.

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LONDON — A major study suggests coronavirus infection rates in London have plunged by 80% in the past month as lockdown measures curb the spread of the virus.

Imperial College London researchers tested 85,000 people across England Feb. 4-13. The study found that about 1 in 200 people were infected, a drop of two-thirds from the month before.

The decline varied across the country and was steepest in London, where a new and more contagious strain of the virus was identified late last year. In January an estimated 1 in 30 people in London had the virus. That has now fallen to about 1 in 185.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock says the decline is “encouraging … but we must not drop our guard.”

Britain has recorded more than 118,000 deaths from the coronavirus and is in lockdown as a mass vaccination program pushes ahead at the fastest rate in Europe. So far some 16 million people have received a first dose, about a quarter of the population.

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ROME — The Vatican is taking Pope Francis’ pro-vaccine stance very seriously: Any employee of the Holy See who refuses to get a coronavirus shot without a valid medical reason risks being fired.

A Feb. 8 decree signed by the governor of the Vatican City State sparked heated debate Thursday, since its provisions go well beyond the generally voluntary nature of COVID-19 vaccinations in Italy and much of the rest of the world.

The decree cited the need to protect employees, as well as guidelines by Francis’ own COVID-19 commission of advisers who said there is a moral obligation since “refusing a vaccine can constitute a risk for others.”

The Vatican employes about 5,000 people and operates independently of Italian law and Italian labour protections. Francis has received the vaccine.

The Associated Press