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
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
BOSTON — The rollout of the coronavirus vaccines in Massachusetts has gone largely as planned with just a few minor glitches along the way.
Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday that about 78,000 doses of the vaccine have been administered statewide as of Tuesday, and an estimated 20,000 people who live and work at long-term care facilities should be vaccinated at one of 50 vaccination clinics by the end of this week.
“The progress obviously in this respect shows that while it is lumpy and bumpy, which we said it would be, it’s moving forward and it speaks well with what’s ahead with respect to 2021,” he said.
The initial rollout includes inoculating residents and staff at two state-run, long-term care facilities for veterans, both of which were ravaged by the coronavirus in the spring.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced a plan Wednesday to reopen public schools to in-person learning for younger students.
The announcement comes as West Virginia ends the year with more than 1,300 deaths from the virus. The number of people hospitalized with the virus hit a record 797 on Tuesday.
All middle and elementary schools statewide will reopen Jan. 19, regardless of virus infection rates in their counties. Justice said one-third of students are receiving failing grades in at least one core class, and that virtual-only learning models do not work for most students. He also said virus infection rates in classrooms among younger students are miniscule.
The governor also announced plans to offer coronavirus vaccines to residents age 80 and older and to teachers and school personnel over age 50.
He also pushed back of the winter high school sports season, including boys and girls basketball, to March 1.
OLYMPIA, Wash. — Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday extended restrictions on businesses and social gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic for another week.
Inslee said the restrictions are now due to expire Jan. 11.
“This choice is not easy,” Inslee said via Twitter. “Next week I’ll be announcing more details about our new plan to safely reopen.”
In mid-November Inslee, in response to rising case numbers, announced a host of businesses must close their indoor services, including fitness facilities and gyms, bowling centers, movie theaters, museums, zoos and aquariums.
Retail stores — including grocery stores — were told to limit their indoor capacity to 25%. Also, indoor social gatherings with people from more than one household are prohibited unless attendees have either quarantined for 14 days before the gathering or tested negative for COVID-19 and quarantined for seven days.
ATLANTA — U.S. health officials say the lack of reported travel history in a Colorado National Guardsman with a more contagious version of the coronavirus suggests the new variant is already spreading in the United States.
Dr. Henry Walke of the CDC says the arrival of the variant known as B.1.1.7 “was expected” given travel patterns between the U.S. and England, where the variant was first seen.
Walke says it’s still unclear how widely the variant has spread in the United States, or whether another concerning variant first seen in South Africa may have arrived.
Dr. Greg Armstrong of the CDC says he’s aware that several states, including California, Massachusetts and Delaware, are analyzing suspicious virus samples to look for the variant. He says the CDC is working with a national lab that gets samples from around the country to broaden that search, with results expected within days.
The U.S. lags behind other nations in performing full genome sequencing on the virus, but CDC officials on Wednesday mentioned several efforts to ramp up that type of complicated lab analysis, which can track and spot genetic changes in the virus that causes COVID-19.
LONDON — The Irish government says the country must go back into lockdown for at least a month to curb a resurgent coronavirus outbreak.
Prime Minister Micheal Martin says a new, fast-spreading strain of the virus may make “the numbers will deteriorate further over the coming days” and “we must apply the brakes to movement and physical interaction across the country.”
He says starting Wednesday people should stay at home except for work, education, exercise or “other essential purposes.” Non-essential shops and gyms will close at the end of business on Thursday.
Ireland has extended a ban on air travel from the U.K., where the new variant was first identified, until at least Jan. 6.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Gov. Gavin Newsom encouraged schools to resume in-person education next year, starting with the youngest students, and promised $2 billion in state aid to promote coronavirus testing, increased ventilation of classrooms and personal protective equipment.
The recommendation was driven by increasing evidence that there are lower risks and increased benefits from in-person instruction particularly for the youngest students, he says.
Newsom called for a phased approach focusing first on those in transitional kindergarten through second grade, as well as children with disabilities, those who have limited access to technology at home and those who he said “have struggled more than most with distance learning.”
Other grades would be phased in during the spring. But remote learning would continue if parents and students wish and for those who have health issues.
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma State Department of Health has announced plans for coronavirus vaccine distribution locations in the state as it moves into phase 2 of vaccinations that will begin with first responders and health care workers who are not in a hospital setting.
The department will establish “PODS,” or Points of Dispensing Sites, at places such as schools, community centers and fairgrounds statewide for those in the second tier, which also includes people 65 and older, according to a statement from the department on Tuesday.
The vaccines are currently being administered to frontline health care workers, residents and staff at long-term care facilities, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, and pharmacy staff who administer the vaccine in long-term care facilities.
The health department says 29,725 vaccine doses have been administered as of Saturday.
JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi is reporting more than 3,000 new coronavirus cases. The figures Wednesday are a daily high in the state. State epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers is urging people to avoid large social gatherings for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
Byers says Mississippi has distributed about 120,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine and about 17,000 vaccinations have been given. The department says it is working with the University of Mississippi Medical Center to open drive-thru sites to give COVID-19 vaccinations to health care workers starting Monday. Appointments are required, and the department’s website shows which counties will have sites open on certain days.
The state Health Department reported Wednesday that Mississippi had 3,023 new confirmed cases. The department also reported 29 deaths, which occurred between Dec. 22 and Tuesday.
DES MOINES, Iowa – The positivity rate of the coronavirus has ticked higher in Iowa.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University say the seven-day average of the positivity rate in Iowa has risen over the past two weeks from 35% on Dec. 15 to 36% on Monday.
Iowa has the 12th-highest per capita death rate at 120.8 deaths per 100,000 people.
The state reported about 1,600 new cases and 10 deaths on Wednesday. Hospitalizations fell slightly, though the number of people in intensive care was up.