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MIAMI — Hospital admissions of coronavirus patients continue to soar in Florida with at least two areas in the state surpassing the previous peaks of last summer’s surge, prompting calls by local officials for the governor to declare an emergency.A large hospital system in Jacksonville said its hospitals were at maximum capacity, its emergency centers also at a critical point as the state grappled with the new and more infectious delta variant of the COVID-19 virus.In Brevard County, two hospitals began setting up treatment tents at its emergency departments. And at a Fort Lauderdale park, a long line of cars snaked around a testing site, recalling the first weeks of the pandemic last year.Florida hospitals reported more than 8,900 patients with COVID-19 on Thursday, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Florida Hospital Association said the state peaked at 10,179 cases last July.The patient number on Thursday was five times higher than a month ago, and it quickly climbed from about 5,500 in just one week.”What’s extraordinary is the speed at which we are currently seeing new cases,” said Dr. Vincent Hsu, executive director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiologist at AdventHealth in Orlando. “The slope is pretty steep, and we haven’t seen the end of it. This is still coming.”AdventHealth said Thursday it had reached a new high on Thursday since the pandemic began with about 1,000 COVID-19 hospitalized patients across its system in central Florida. Twelve hospitals in the state are reporting critical staffing shortages to the federal government.The state reported to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention an additional 17,500 cases — making one fifth of the national new caseload — and 56 new deaths, raising the total death toll for the state to nearly 38,900.The rapid rise in hospitalizations and cases has prompted officials in Miami-Dade and Orlando to issue new orders requiring masks at indoor county buildings. The mayor of Orange County, home to Walt Disney World, is forcing all nonunion county employees to get vaccinated by August.And Walt Disney World also announced this week that it would again be requiring the use of masks indoors.Just 48 percent of the state’s population is fully vaccinated, and hospitals say the vast majority of the patients with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.Despite calls for him to declare an emergency, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has vowed not to reinstate any pandemic restrictions. In early June the state stopped providing daily figures of cases and deaths, switching to weekly reports.He signed a law in May a measure that invalidated local COVID-19 orders and gave him power to nullify future ones.On Wednesday, the governor mocked new federal guidelines recommending use of masks even for those vaccinated against COVID-19. He also took aim at Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, who recently said the U.S. is in an “unnecessary predicament” of soaring cases fueled by unvaccinated Americans and the virulent delta variant.DeSantis said Florida would “choose freedom over Fauci-ism.”“I think it’s very important we say, unequivocally, ‘No to lockdowns, no to school closures, no to restrictions, no to mandates,’” DeSantis said. “We’ll be holding the line. We will not back down.”His words drew enthusiastic applause during his appearance in Salt Lake City, Utah, before the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that pushes conservative policies in Republican-controlled state legislatures.DeSantis said he opposes those measures because they were ineffective and “had catastrophic consequences” for the economy.The governor’s stance against lockdowns, mask mandates and vaccine passports is a key component of his reelection campaign. The campaign is selling koozies with the phrase “How the hell am I going to drink a beer with a mask on?” and T-shirts reading: “Don’t Fauci My Florida.”Charlie Crist, a Democrat challenging DeSantis next year, condemned his speech in Utah in a statement sent Thursday. Crist served as a Republican governor from 2007 to 2011, before joining the Democratic party. He has served in the U.S. House since 2017.“Our hospitals are being overrun by sick patients, families are losing their loved ones, and our children are facing another difficult and confusing school year. But where’s Governor DeSantis? He’s profiting from selling merchandise that demonizes our nation’s top doctor” he said.
First lady Jill Biden is undergoing a medical procedure to remove an object that became lodged in her foot while walking on a beach in Hawaii last weekendByThe Associated PressJuly 29, 2021, 9:26 PM• 1 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleWASHINGTON — First lady Jill Biden is undergoing a medical procedure on Thursday to remove an object that became lodged in her foot while walking on a Hawaiian beach, her spokesperson said.President Joe Biden is joining her at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, for the removal.The incident occurred last weekend before her two official events in Hawaii, where she went after attending the start of the Olympics in Tokyo, spokesperson Michael LaRosa said.During her time in Hawaii, she visited a pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Waipahu on Sunday and later joined military families for a barbecue at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.The president was asked by a reporter Thursday how his wife’s foot was feeling.“We’re going to find out in a minute,” he said.
JERUSALEM — Israel’s prime minister on Thursday announced that the country would offer a coronavirus booster to people over 60 who have already been vaccinated.The announcement by Naftali Bennett makes Israel, which launched one of the world’s most successful vaccination drives earlier this year, the first country to offer a third dose of a Western vaccine to its citizens on a wide scale.“I’m announcing this evening the beginning of the campaign to receive the booster vaccine, the third vaccine,” Bennett said in a nationally televised address. “Reality proves the vaccines are safe. Reality also proves the vaccines protect against severe morbidity and death. And like the flu vaccine that needs to be renewed from time to time, it is the same in this case.”The decision comes at a time of rising infections and signs that the vaccine’s efficacy dwindles over time.Anyone over 60 who was vaccinated more than five months ago will be eligible. Bennett said the country’s new president, Isaac Herzog, would be the first to get the booster on Friday. It will also be offered to the general public.Bennett, who is 49, said his first call after the news conference would be to his mother to encourage her to get her booster shot.Neither the U.S. nor the EU have approved coronavirus booster shots. It’s not yet proven if a third dose helps and, if so, who needs one and when.But Bennett said that a team of expert advisers had agreed overwhelmingly, by a 56-1 margin, that it made sense to launch the booster campaign. He said the recommendation was made after “considerable research and analysis” and that its information would be shared around the world. Preliminary studies in Israel have indicated the vaccine’s protection against serious illness dropped among those vaccinated in January.“The findings show that there is a decline in the body’s immunity over time, and the purpose of the booster is to re-strengthen it, thus significantly reducing the chances of infection and serious illness,” Bennett said.Israel has used the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine on its population. Previously, boosters were used in some countries with the Chinese and Russian vaccines.Early this year, Israel carried out one of the world’s most aggressive and successful vaccination campaigns, reaching a deal with Pfizer to purchase enough vaccines for its population in exchange for sharing its data with the drug maker.Over 57% of the country’s 9.3 million citizens have received two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, and over 80% of the population over 40 is vaccinated.The vaccination program allowed Israel to reopen its economy ahead of other countries. But Israel has seen a spike in cases of the new delta variant, even among people who are vaccinated. Bennett urged unvaccinated Israelis, especially younger people who have been hesitant, to get vaccinated immediately.Earlier this month, Israel started giving individuals with weakened immune systems a third shot to increase their resilience against COVID-19.Pfizer said Wednesday that the effectiveness of the vaccine drops slightly six months after the second dose. Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech have said they plan to seek authorization for boosters in August.Most studies — and real-world data from Britain and the U.S. — so far show that the Pfizer vaccine remains powerfully protective against serious illness. Just Wednesday, Pfizer released data from its long-running 44,000-person study showing that while protection against any symptomatic infection declined slightly six months after immunization, protection against severe COVID-19 remained at nearly 97%. Earlier this month, Israel’s Health Ministry announced that protection against severe disease was around 93%.The World Health Organization said earlier this month that there is not enough evidence to show that a third dose is needed.The agency’s officials have appealed for wealthier countries to share vaccines with poorer nations that have yet to immunize their people, instead of using them as boosters. Israel itself has come under criticism for not sharing more of its vaccines with the Palestinians.The Israeli Health Ministry recorded at least 2,165 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, following an accelerating rise in infections over the past month. Serious cases of COVID-19 have grown from 19 a day in mid-June to 159 as the highly infectious delta variant has spread.Thanks to its successful vaccination campaign, Israel lifted almost all of its coronavirus restrictions this spring. But with new cases back on the rise, the country has tried to halt the spread of the highly infectious delta variant by re-imposing limitations on gatherings, restoring a “green pass” system for vaccinated people to enter certain enclosed spaces, and an indoor mask mandate.———Associated Press correspondent Isaac Scharf in Jerusalem contributed to this report.
U.S. regulators have taken action that will make it easier to get a cheaper and similar version of a brand-name insulin at the drugstoreBy LINDA A. JOHNSON AP Medical WriterJuly 28, 2021, 10:41 PM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleU.S. regulators took action Wednesday that will make it easier to get a cheaper, near-copy of a brand-name insulin at the drugstore.Doctors now have to specifically prescribe what’s called a biosimilar or OK substituting it for a more expensive brand-name insulin.Wednesday’s move by the Food and Drug Administration will allow pharmacists to automatically substitute the cheaper version, just as they do with generic pills for other kinds of drugs.It’s the FDA’s first approval of an “interchangeable” biosimilar, a near-copy of an injected biologic medicine that’s manufactured inside living cells. It could save diabetics and health plans millions of dollars annually and encourage other drugmakers to create more biosimilar medicines. Health data firm IQVIA projects U.S. savings from increasing use of biosimilars from 2020 through 2024 will top $100 billion.The FDA agreed that Viatris Inc.’s Semglee was interchangeable with widely used Lantus, a fast-acting insulin.Approval of a second such interchangeable biosimilar of a long-acting insulin appears imminent from the same developers, Pittsburgh-based generic giant Viatris and its partner, India’s Biocon.Mylan N.V., one of two companies that merged to create Viatris last December, launched Semglee in the U.S. last summer.Red tape, lengthy patents and pushback from brand-name drugmakers have limited U.S. sales of biosimilars to far below levels in Europe.“These products are highly similar but much more affordable,” said Sean McGowan, head of biosimilars at AmerisourceBergen, a top drug wholesaler.Only 20 of 29 FDA-approved biosimilars — for cancer and immune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis — are sold in the U.S. so far, he said.Depending on the pharmacy, Semglee injector pens cost about $150 to $190 without insurance for a typical month’s supply, compared to $340 to $520 for the same supply of brand-name Lantus.———Follow Linda A. Johnson on Twitter: @LindaJ—on Pharma———The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Attorneys for major drug distributors made their final pleas to a federal judge Wednesday to absolve them while placing the blame elsewhere for a prescription pill health emergency in a part of West Virginia.Defense attorneys tried to find holes in assertions by the plaintiffs and their witnesses as two-day closing arguments wrapped up in the bench trial of a lawsuit against distributors AmerisourceBergen Drug Co., Cardinal Health Inc. and McKesson Corp.In a state that has had the nation’s highest fatal opioid overdose rate, Cabell County and the city of Huntington are seeking more than $2.5 billion from the distributors that would go toward abatement efforts. A verdict isn’t expected for at least three weeks.Some 81 million pills were sent to the community of about 100,000 along the Ohio River from 2006 to 2014. The lawsuit accused the companies of creating a “public nuisance” with the onslaught and ignoring the signs that the area was being ravaged by addiction.The companies have placed the responsibility on doctors writing prescriptions and say poor communication and pill quotas set by federal agents also were to blame.Cardinal Health attorney Enu Mainigi tried to minimize the company’s involvement during her nearly two-hour closing argument, saying that over 32 days at trial, the court heard little about its conduct.“None of the evidence shows Cardinal Health’s conduct was unreasonable,” Mainigi said. “There’s no witness that has given the court a basis to find that we were a direct cause.”She also said distributors are not responsible for the diversion of pills from patients into others’ hands, whether that medication is sold, stolen or given away.“That’s a crime,” she said. “And Cardinal Health can’t stop any of that from happening.”According to testimony, there were nearly 6,500 overdoses in Huntington and Cabell County from 2015 to 2020, while there were 1,151 drug-related deaths from 2001 to 2018. About 2,500 babies have been born exposed to drugs and 8,252 people suffer from opioid use disorder — or about 10% of the current population.Like Mainigi, McKesson attorney Timothy Hester tried to downplay his company’s role, saying that 76% of McKesson’s pill shipments went to a veterans hospital in Huntington.“McKesson did not distribute 81 million pills,” Hester said.He said higher pill volumes in the county were driven by an increase in prescriptions, and he echoed Mainigi in saying the plaintiffs’ claim of harm was caused by pill diversion. However, no evidence was given by the plaintiffs that pills were diverted from VA shipments, Hester said.“The key players who contributed to this volume of prescription opioids are not parties here,” including doctors, drug dealers, pill manufacturers, pharmacies and three pill distributors in the area who are bigger than McKesson but are not part of the case, Hester said.Plaintiff attorney Paul Farrell, representing Cabell County, said he took “great offense” at some of the defense’s comments, including a notion that the distributors had no responsibility to control the supply of pills. If that were the case, the pills shouldn’t need a registration as required with the federal government.”They should just be in delivery trucks,” Farrell said.Farrell said the distributors had a duty to block larger orders that were deemed suspicious. “If the number of pills that came into Huntington and Cabell County, West Virginia, isn’t suspicious, I don’t know what is,” he said.“We had 81 million pills,” Farrell said. “And it wasn’t by accident.”Similar lawsuits have resulted in multimillion-dollar settlements, but this is the first time allegations have wound up at federal trial. The result could have huge effects on similar lawsuits that have been filed across the country.Last week, lawyers for state and local governments announced a potential $26 billion settlement over the toll of opioids with AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson as well as drugmaker Johnson & Johnson. After full details are shared, each state will have 30 days to decide whether to join. And local governments will have five months after that to decide. If governments don’t opt in, the settlement total would go down.In separate, similar lawsuits, the state of West Virginia reached a $37 million settlement with McKesson in 2019, and $20 million with Cardinal Health and $16 million with AmerisourceBergen in 2017.
New guidance from the federal government set off a cascade of mask rules across the nation Wednesday as cities, states, schools and businesses raced to restore mandates and others pushed back against the guidelines at a time when Americans are exhausted and confused over constantly shifting pandemic measures.Nevada and Kansas City, Missouri, were among the locations that moved swiftly to re-impose indoor mask requirements following Tuesday’s announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But governors in Arizona, Pennsylvania and South Carolina said they would resist reversing course.The federal recommendations quickly plunged Americans into another emotionally charged debate over the face coverings meant to curb easy transmission of the deadly coronavirus.In Florida, a Broward County School Board meeting devolved into a screaming match between irate parents and board members on Tuesday. Some protesters even took to burning face masks outside the building.In suburban Atlanta, Jamie Reinhold said she would pull her kids from school if the district stuck to the CDC’s guidance, which the 52-year-old believes takes the country “backward” and damages confidence in the vaccines.“If you believe in the masks, go ahead, but don’t try to tell me what to do for my child’s health and safety and immune system,” she said. “It’s my child. It’s my choice.”And in New Orleans, Lisa Beaudean said she was not convinced mask mandates would inspire the unvaccinated — who account for most new infections — to take the virus seriously and get inoculated.“I’m very frustrated,” the St. Louis woman said as she strolled the French Quarter without a mask. “For the last 18 months, I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do, and there are no repercussions for those who haven’t done what they’re supposed to do.”Elsewhere, Ford Motor Co. said it would reinstate mask protocols for all employees and visitors at its Missouri and Florida facilities. The two states are among the hardest hit by the summer surge in which the U.S. is now averaging more than 60,000 new cases a day, driven by the highly contagious delta variant.Google also postponed a planned Sept. 1 return to the office for most of its more than 130,000 employees until mid-October, following a similar move by Apple. Google said Wednesday that it will also eventually require everyone on staff to be vaccinated, a mandate that President Joe Biden said he’s also weighing for federal employees.Other government leaders, meanwhile, said they will hold off reinstating mask rules for now.Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said he’s not considering imposing a mask mandate in schools or statewide, arguing that such orders were necessary before there was a vaccine.“People have the ability to make the decision to get a vaccine,” the Democrat told a Pittsburgh radio station Tuesday. “If they do, that’s the protection.”The CDC’s new guidance applies to places with at least 50 new cases per 100,000 people in the last week, which is roughly 60% of all U.S. counties, federal officials said. Nearly all of the South and Southwest is subject to the guidance, but most communities in the Northeast — with the exception of major metro areas like New York City and Boston — are exempt for now, according to the CDC’s COVID tracker.The stark partisan divide over mask wearing set up the potential for a patchwork of regulations within states and counties.In Florida’s Miami-Dade County, Mayor Daniella Levine Cava imposed an indoor mask mandate Wednesday at county facilities.The Democrat’s announcement, which does not apply to businesses or restaurants, comes after Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a new law in May giving the state the power to invalidate local pandemic measures, including mask mandates and limits on business operations.“We have all come too far. We have all sacrificed too much in this past almost year and a half. We cannot turn back now,” Levine Cava said.In Missouri, the St. Louis County Council voted Tuesday to reverse the county’s mask mandate, just a day after it became one of the first reinstated in the country.But Democratic County Executive Sam Page insisted Wednesday that the mandate remained in effect and blamed the pushback on politics.On the other side of the state, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, a Democrat, reinstated a similar indoor mask mandate for Missouri’s largest city.State Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who is running for the U.S. Senate as a Republican, has sued to block the St. Louis-area mandate and has vowed to do the same for Kansas City’s requirement, saying on Twitter that the mandates are “about politics & control, not science.”The CDC’s updated guidance was prompted by new data suggesting vaccinated people can pass on the virus in rare cases.But the agency’s director, Rochelle Walensky, stressed that the vaccines are working by preventing greater levels of hospitalization and death. Unvaccinated people account for the vast number of new infections. Two-thirds of the vaccine-eligible population in the U.S. has received at least one dose.“I know this is not a message America wants to hear,” Walensky told CNN on Wednesday. “With prior variants, when people had these rare breakthrough infections, we didn’t see the capacity of them to spread the virus to others, but with the delta variant, we now see that you can actually now pass it to somebody else.”In Provincetown, Massachusetts, where officials earlier this week re-imposed an indoor mask requirement following a surge in COVID-19 cases this month, store owner Patrick Patrick says he doesn’t mind asking customers to mask up once more.The owner of Marine Specialties, a long running Army-Navy store, had been leery of the decision to drop nearly all virus safety mandates ahead of the busy summer season. He even tried to impose his own in-store mask mandate before relenting last month.“If we’d stuck with masks all along, I don’t think we’d be having this conversation,” Patrick said. “We wore them all last summer, and we didn’t have a single case in Provincetown. Now see where we’re at.”As of Wednesday, the town had reported more than 800 cases associated with the most recent cluster, which started around the busy July 4th holiday.The business drop-off has been significant, Patrick said. But he hopes the return of masks helps brings visitors peace of mind.“I don’t see masks as bad for business,” he said. “If it gets people back out and feeling safe, it’s worth it. We take care of public health and safety, the dollars and cents will take care of themselves.”———Marcelo reported from Boston. Associated Press writers Kelli Kennedy in Miami, Stacey Plaisance in New Orleans, Sudhin Thanawala in Atlanta and Heather Hollingsworth in Mission, Kansas, contributed to this report.
The World Health Organization says the number of coronavirus deaths globally jumped by 21% in the last weekBy The Associated PressJuly 28, 2021, 10:05 AM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleGENEVA — The World Health Organization says the number of coronavirus deaths globally jumped by 21% in the last week.Most of the 69,000 deaths were reported in the Americas and Southeast Asia. The U.N. health agency also noted that COVID-19 cases rose by 8% worldwide and that there are now nearly 194 million infections.WHO said that “if these trends continue, the cumulative number of cases reported globally could exceed 200 million in the next two weeks.” It added that the number of COVID-19 deaths increased in all regions except for Europe. The biggest numbers of cases were reported in the U.S., Brazil, Indonesia, the U.K. and India.MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:— White House strongly considering requiring vaccinations for federal employees— CDC changes course on indoor masks in some parts of the US— Tokyo governor urges younger people to get vaccinated to slow area’s virus surge— Man charged with sending emails threatening to kill Fauci, NIH director and their families— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine———HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:BERLIN — Germany says that half of its population has now been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, a milestone in a campaign that has slowed markedly in recent weeks.Official figures released Wednesday showed that the number reached nearly 41.8 million, or 50.2%, of the population on Tuesday. And more than 50.8 million, or 61.1% of the population, had received at least one vaccine dose.But the numbers are moving higher at a much more leisurely pace than they were several weeks ago. Nearly 436,000 shots have been administered per day on average over the past week. That figure was over 800,000 in mid-June.That is worrying officials at a time when infections are creeping up from a very low level as the more contagious delta variant of the coronavirus has become dominant.Chancellor Angela Merkel last week appealed to reluctant citizens to get vaccinated.———SYDNEY — Australia’s largest city Sydney will remain in lockdown for another month.The New South Wales state government said the lockdown of the city of 5 million would last at least until Aug. 28 after reporting on Wednesday 177 new infections in the latest 24-hour period. It was the largest daily tally since the cluster was discovered in mid-June.State Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters that “I am as upset and frustrated as all of you that we were not able to get the case numbers we would have liked at this point in time but that is the reality,”More than 2,500 people have been infected in a cluster that began when a limousine driver tested positive on June 16 for the contagious delta variant. The driver had been infected by a U.S. aircrew he transported from Sydney airport.The death toll from the cluster reached 11 on Wednesday with a woman in her 90s dying in a Sydney hospital.———SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea is reporting a new daily high for coronavirus cases a day after authorities enforced stringent restrictions in areas outside the Seoul capital region seeking to slow a nationwide spread of infections.The 1,896 cases announced Wednesday took the country’s total for the pandemic to 193,427, with 2,083 deaths from COVID-19.It was the highest daily jump since the pandemic began and surpassed a previous record of 1,842 announced last Thursday.The Seoul area has been at the center of the outbreak. The government on Tuesday put much of the non-Seoul regions under the second highest distancing guidelines to guard against a nationwide viral spread.———BEIJING — Drivers seeking to leave eastern China’s Jiangsu province will have to show a negative coronavirus test taken in the last 48 hours or be forced to turn around as infections in the province continue to rise.The provincial transport department said Wednesday that 93 checkpoints have been set up on highways in the province whose capital of Nanjing is the epicenter of China’s latest outbreak. Drivers must remain in their vehicles and wear masks while health workers carry out the checks.The National Health Commission reported 48 new cases in Jiangsu over the previous 24 hours. That brings its total to 154 over recent days. Authorities say the illnesses are being caused by the highly contagious delta variant.The coronavirus continues to spread despite China having administered more than 1.5 billion doses of vaccine.