The United Nations General Assembly has approved a resolution proclaiming Dec. 27 as the International Day of Epidemic Preparedness to keep a global spotlight on the need to strengthen global measures to prevent pandemics like COVID-19.
The resolution adopted Monday by consensus by the 193-member world body expresses “grave concern at the devastating impacts of major infectious diseases and epidemics, as exemplified by the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, on human lives.”
Epidemics wreak havoc “on long-term social and economic development,” and create health crises that “threaten to overwhelm already overstretched health systems, disrupt global supply chains and cause disproportionate devastation of the livelihoods of people … and the economies of the poorest and most vulnerable countries,” the resolution said.
The assembly underlined the urgency of having robust health systems and expressed deep concern that without international attention “future epidemics could surpass previous outbreaks in terms of intensity and gravity.”
It asked the U.N. World Health Organization to facilitate the observance of the International Day of Epidemic Preparedness to ensure the transmission and exchange of information, scientific knowledge and best practices on preventing and responding to epidemics locally, nationally, regionally and internationally.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Health officials warn Americans not to let their guard down
— UK gears up for coronavirus vaccination program watched around the world
— Citing low virus rates in schools, New York City reopens schools again
— Biden picks Calif. Attorney General Xavier Becerra to lead HHS, pandemic response
— Senator says Trump, McConnell likely to back COVID-19 relief
— Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani in hospital after positive COVID-19 test
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
BEIJING — Authorities have ordered mass coronavirus testing and locked down some locations in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu following the detection of two new virus cases there.
Chengdu health officials identified the cases as a 69-year-old woman, who’s condition is listed as serious, and her 71-year-old husband who has yet to show symptoms.
Officials at a Monday night news conference said they are still investigating the source of the infection in Sichuan province’s capital and largest city that has been relatively unscathed by the pandemic. However, samples taken at the couple’s apartment showed the presence of the virus in seven different locations, including on door knobs, light switches and food in the refrigerator, indicating a “high degree of contamination,” Zhu Xiaoping, heady of the provincial coronavirus task force was quoted as saying in a government news release.
Five locations in Chengdu’s Ludu district have been sealed off, including a hospital, a school and a wholesale market and more than 21,000 people tested as of Monday evening, the government said.
China reported a total of 12 new cases on Tuesday, including the two in Chengdu and 10 brought from outside the country, bringing China’s total to 86,646 with 4,634 deaths. Hospitals are treating 280 people for COVID-19 while another 219 people are being monitored in isolation after testing positive for the virus without showing symptoms.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida authorities investigating an alleged hack into the state’s emergency response system raided the home Monday of a woman fired earlier this year from her job as COVID-19 data curator.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement said that Rebekah Jones, who was fired for unauthorized public comments about the data in May, has been under investigation since early November when someone illegally accessed the state’s emergency alert health system.
Jones was fired from her post in May after she raised questions about Florida’s COVID-19 data. She had been reprimanded several times and was ultimately fired for violating Health Department policy by making public remarks about the information, state records show.
Since her firing, she has lit up social media with posts criticizing Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and his state agencies. For months, she has tried to promote herself as a victim who was fired for telling the truth, although there is no evidence that supports her claims.
Early in the pandemic, Jones wrote blog posts and reached out to media outlets and researchers sowing doubt about the credibility of the data now that she is no longer in that role. She said Health Department managers urged her to manipulate information to paint a rosier picture and that she pushed back. The data was crucial as the governor was trying to make highly controversial decisions on whether to reopen Florida’s economy.
State health officials strenuously deny any issue with the information’s accuracy.
Agents served the search warrant on her Tallahassee home after receiving a complaint from the Department of Health regarding unauthorized access to its emergency alert system, according to a statement from FDLE.
“Agents believe someone at the residence on Centerville Court illegally accessed the system,” spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said in a statement.
ALABAMA – Alabama on Monday set a record of more than 2,000 COVID-19 patients in state hospitals as some facilities began to postpone non-emergency procedures amid staff shortages.
There were 2,079 patients in state hospitals with COVID-19 — the first time the number topped 2,000 since the pandemic began, according to state numbers from the Alabama Department of Public Health. Dr. Don Williamson, the former state health officer who now heads the Alabama Hospital Association, said at least three hospitals have begun to postpone non-emergency procedures amid staff shortages.
“My real concern is I still don’t see anything to break the spread between now and getting through Christmas. That’s my real concern, and frankly I’m increasingly frustrated about why it is so difficult for individuals to be willing to wear masks,” Williamson said.
“The election’s over. It should no longer be political. People are dying, and we can do better than this.”
Williamson said staffing availability is a major concern. He said some facilities have as many as 100 staff members out with COVID-19.
HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf warned Monday that the coronavirus is running rampant throughout the state and could soon force overwhelmed hospitals to begin turning away patients.
Wolf calls it a “dangerous, disturbing scenario” that will become reality if people don’t take steps to slow the spread. He said additional pandemic restrictions might be on the way but did not elaborate on what his administration might be considering while also acknowledging the ones already in place have not worked.
Wolf said the unchecked spread of the virus in all regions of the state means that resource-sharing agreements among hospitals could soon begin to break down and force them to begin rationing care.
Still, the governor all but ruled out a return to the kinds of statewide restrictions he imposed in the spring, when schools were closed, thousands of businesses deemed non-essential were shut down, and all 12.8 million Pennsylvanians were under a stay-at-home order.
ATLANTA — The number of confirmed and suspected coronavirus infections has soared more than 70% in Georgia in the week ended Monday as hospitals continue to sound alarms about their ability to absorb new COVID-19 patients and a few schools give up in-person instruction for the remaining two weeks before Christmas holidays begin, with all students learning at home until 2021.
The last week has seen a rapid takeoff in new infections, with the state averaging more than 5,000 confirmed and suspected cases each day as of Monday. Even just the confirmed cases, based off molecular PCR tests, are now above the high set on July 24.
More than 2,500 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized Monday statewide. That’s below the summer peak of 3,200, but more than double the most recent low point in mid-October.
Despite the rapid rise, Georgia still ranks only 44th among the states for the most new cases per capita in the past 14 days, because cases are spreading so rapidly everywhere else. Still, the Georgia Department of Public health rates 60% of Georgia’s counties as having high transmission.
Georgia is likely to record its 10,000th confirmed or suspected death from COVID-19 sometime this week. On Monday, the death total stood at 9.851. The state passed 500,000 confirmed or suspected infections on Sunday.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Tennessee lawmaker has been hospitalized with COVID-19 after attending a House Republican caucus meeting nearly two weeks ago.
Rep. David Byrd was flown by helicopter over the weekend to a Nashville hospital. The 63-year-old lawmaker attended the House GOP caucus meeting with nearly 70 lawmakers on Nov. 24 and also participated in a House GOP overnight retreat the weekend prior.
Byrd is at least the second lawmaker to be hospitalized after contracting the virus. Republican Rep. Mike Carter was hospitalized earlier this year for COVID-19.
Byrd had attracted scrutiny for more than a year over allegations by three women of sexual misconduct three decades ago when he was a high school teacher and their basketball coach. He was never charged.
LAS VEGAS — Officials have reported that the number of people hospitalized in Nevada with COVID-19 has more than doubled over the last month.
The Nevada Hospital Association reported Monday that hospitalized coronavirus patients increased to 1,617 statewide from Nov. 6 to Dec. 6 as the state continues experiencing a surge. That’s up from 692, a rise of more than 230%.
Nevada COVID-19 response director Caleb Cage says officials expect the number of reported cases to continue rising because of gatherings over Thanksgiving. Cage says that will likely increase the number of hospitalizations.
Nevada has reported 170,587 COVID-19 cases and 2,319 deaths during the pandemic.
JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office has announced plans for a nighttime curfew during the upcoming Hanukkah holiday to contain a COVID-19 outbreak.
The curfew is set to go into effect on Wednesday, on the eve of Hanukkah. It says commercial activities will be banned and intercity travel will be limited.
An announcement Monday night said the measure, approved by the advisory coronavirus cabinet, still requires approval from the Cabinet.
Israel has already imposed two lockdowns this year and is still emerging from the latest set of restrictions imposed in September. In recent days, the number of daily confirmed cases has sharply climbed.
Also Monday, President Reuven Rivlin said the first doses of the coronavirus vaccine are expected to arrive in the country in the coming days.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced plans Monday for a series of community meetings across Arkansas to address the growing surge of coronavirus cases.
Hutchinson’s office said that the governor will have meetings this week in Benton, Springdale and Jonesboro, followed by additional meetings in other cities next week. The governor also planned to give a speech Thursday night for a statewide audience.
Hutchinson said last week that he’s considering requiring state approval for smaller indoor events. Under the state’s current COVID-19 restrictions, indoor events with more than 100 people expected must have a plan approved beforehand by the state.
But overall, the Republican governor has resisted calls for widespread restrictions, such as stricter capacity requirements on indoor dining, which has been recommended by the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
Arkansas’ rolling average number of daily new virus cases has increased by 21% over the past two weeks, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. One in every 205 people in Arkansas tested positive in the past week, researchers said.
BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana’s health department has loosened its coronavirus quarantine guidance for schools and workplaces to match the latest recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The guidelines suggest people who’ve come in close contact with someone infected with the novel coronavirus can resume normal activity after 10 days if no symptoms have emerged, or seven days if they test negative. That’s down from 14 days.
The state Department of Education is expected to give public school systems the green light to follow the relaxed quarantine rules.
But the health department is sticking to a 14-day recommendation for prisons and nursing homes where people live together in tight quarters.
NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans may be in store for stricter coronavirus restrictions next week.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell said in Monday social media posts that cases are on the rise in the city. Cantrell said that if the numbers don’t look better in one week, more restrictions will be needed.
There’s been a sharp increase in the percentage of tests with positive results. The seven-day average, as reported by the city, has gone from around 1% in early November to 3.6% as of Sunday.
Cantrell didn’t provide details on what the tighter rules might entail.
Restrictions are already tight in a city famous for its hospitality industry and night life. Indoor social gatherings are limited to 75 people and outdoor gatherings to 150 people. Restaurants are limited to half their indoor capacity and bars to 25%, and alcoholic beverage sales end at 11 p.m. Indoor live entertainment remains off-limits.
COLUMBIA, S.C. — With new COVID-19 cases reaching record levels in South Carolina, a teacher group is asking districts to go back to all virtual teaching until this second spike in the virus can be flattened.
The plea was given more emotional weight over the weekend after the death of 50-year-old third grade teacher Staci Blakely from COVID-19. Her family asked the school district to announce her death publicly to remind people how serious the disease can be, District Superintendent Greg Little said in a statement.
Blakely was a 28-year teaching veteran who was diagnosed with the novel coronavirus on Nov. 11. No one else in her classroom has been infected, the district said.
At least four school districts in South Carolina have returned to all virtual learning. Nearly a quarter of the state’s districts are teaching in person every day.
When averaged out over seven days, South Carolina is seeing about 2,300 new COVID-19 cases a day. That’s more than during the July peak that saw the state among the nation’s leaders in coronavirus spread.
BERLIN — A panel of medical experts in Germany is recommending that nursing home residents, people over 80 and certain medical personnel in acute and elderly care should receive coronavirus vaccines first when they become available.
A draft recommendation released Monday defines some 8.6 million people who would receive a vaccine first. That’s over 10% of the German population.
According to the 62-page document, only once those groups have been immunized and if vaccines are still limited should other high risk groups receive the shot.
The draft, which still needs to be approved, has a total of six categories grouped according to their risk of serious illness from COVID-19 and the likelihood they might expose others. Teachers belong to the fourth category, while people working in key positions of government, in critical infrastructure and in small stores are in the fifth.
All other healthy individuals under 60 — an estimated 45 million people in the country of 83 million — would be last in line for a vaccine.
The expert panel says people who have recovered from confirmed infection with COVID-19 do not need to get immunized.