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.
CDC officials called for renewed commitment to wearing masks, avoiding crowds and washing hands.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— A Colorado National Guardsman who has a new variant of the coronavirus that 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 origins of the virus in secrecy.
— Newly elected Congressman Luke Letlow dies 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:
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.
Ireland, with a population of almost 5 million, has recorded more than 2,200 coronavirus-related deaths.
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.
State health officials reported 3,249 new confirmed cases of coronavirus on Wednesday and 48 deaths. That brings the total number of confirmed infections to more than 287,000 and the confirmed death toll to 2,453.
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.
Mississippi has reported 213,055 confirmed cases and 4,747 confirmed deaths from it since the start of the pandemic.
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.
TORONTO — The Canadian government is requiring passengers arriving to Canada to have a negative coronavirus test taken within three days before arriving into the country.
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc made the announcement Wednesday. Canada already requires those entering Canada to self-isolate for 14 days. Public Safety Minister Bill Blair noted just 2 percent of coronavirus cases in Canada have originated outside Canada.
The announcement comes as the premier of Ontario said he ordered his finance minister to end a Caribbean vacation, saying he is “extremely disappointed” the official went abroad as the government urged people to avoid nonessential travel.
DENVER — A Colorado man in his 20s has been reported as the first in the U.S. with the more contagious variant of the coronavirus.
He’s from a mostly rural expanse outside the Denver area and recovering in isolation, according to state officials. His condition was not disclosed.
The new, mutated version was first identified in Britain and found in several other countries.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis says officials will “closely monitor this case, as well as all COVID-19 indicators, very closely.”
The variant is probably still rare in the U.S., but the lack of travel history in the first case means it is spreading, perhaps seeded by visitors from Britain in November or December, said scientist Trevor Bedford, who studies the spread of COVID-19 at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.
MILAN — Italy added 575 coronavirus deaths and 16,202 new positives in the last 24 hours.
Italy’s death toll remains high two months into restrictive measures, which included a modified nationwide lockdown during most of the holiday period.
The scientific director of the Spallanzani hospital for infectious diseases in Rome, Giuseppe Ippolito, says the number of coronavirus deaths has been three times higher than seasonal flu deaths, and hospitalizations are at least double. Even with the vaccine campaign getting under way, Ippolito says citizens should expect to live under restrictions through the first quarter of 2022.
A total of 73,604 coronavirus deaths have been confirmed since February, the highest number in Europe.
PHOENIX — Arizona reported more than 5,000 coronavirus cases and 78 deaths on Wednesday, while hospitalizations statewide continued to set records.
The Department of Health Services reported 5,267 cases. The statewide totals reached 512,489 confirmed cases and 8,718 confirmed deaths.
Hospitalizations for the coronavirus reached a record 4,526 on Tuesday, the latest in a string of records set this month and more than 1,000 higher since the summer peak.
The 1,076 COVID-19 patients in intensive care beds also reached a record and occupied 61% of all ICU beds, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard.
Some Arizona hospitals with a crush of COVID-19 patients this week resorted to turning down patients through ambulance runs or transfers from other hospitals while accepting walk-in patients needing emergency care
Arizona had the third-highest coronavirus diagnosis rate in the past week, behind California and Tennessee.
LONDON — The British government has extended its highest tier of restrictions to three-quarters of England’s population, saying a fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus has reached most of the country.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock says the top Tier 4 would be extended beyond London and the southeast to large swaths of central, northern and southwest England.
Under the measures, people are advised to stay home, household mixing is banned, nonessential shops are closed and restaurants and bars can only offer takeout.
Hancock says the authorization of a new vaccine for use in the U.K. was good news, but “sharply rising cases and the hospitalizations that follow demonstrate the need to act where the virus is spreading.”
BEIJING — China is encouraging tens of millions of migrant workers not to travel home during February’s Lunar New Year holiday to prevent spread of the coronavirus.
The call issued by the National Health Commission is extraordinary because the Lunar New Year is China’s most important traditional holiday. It’s the only time of the year when many workers can travel home to see their families.
China has limited local transmission of the coronavirus, but authorities remain on high alert about a possible resurgence. Already, schools are scheduled to begin the Lunar New Year vacation a week early and tourists have been told not to visit Beijing during the holiday.
Millions of Chinese use the occasion to take vacations at home and abroad. During the roughly six-week travel period, Chinese can take upward of 3 billion trips. Also, Chinese authorities are carrying out a campaign to vaccinate 50 million people before the Lunar New Year holiday.
China has recorded 4,634 deaths among 87,027 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, a figure considered likely far lower than the actual number.
LONDON — The British regulatory agency that approved the rollout of a second coronavirus vaccine says it and a previously approved vaccine can be given to pregnant and breastfeeding women, in consultation with their doctors, and people with food allergies.
That changes its previous guidance thanks in part to feedback from the growing numbers of people already inoculated. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency had previously recommended against the use of the first vaccine, made by Pfizer and German firm BioNTech, for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. It also had said that vaccine should not been given to people who have allergic reactions to food, other vaccines or medicines.
But as it green-lighted a second vaccine, developed by Oxford University and U.K.-based drugmaker AstraZeneca, the regulator also indicated that both vaccines are now considered suitable for people with food allergies.
June Raine, who heads the regulatory agency, says people with known allergies to any of the ingredients in the vaccines should not use them.
BERLIN — The head of the World Health Organization says a program to help get coronavirus vaccines to all countries needs $4 billion “urgently” to buy vaccines.
In a video message marking Thursday’s anniversary of the first report of a cluster of cases of “pneumonia of unknown cause” that turned into the coronavirus pandemic, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says “we must ensure that all people at risk everywhere, not just in countries who can afford vaccines, are immunized.”
The Geneva-based WHO is co-leading the COVAX initiative. Tedros says in Wednesday’s message “there is light at the end of the tunnel, and we will get there by taking the path together.”
LONDON — Britain has authorized use of a second COVID-19 vaccine, becoming the first country to greenlight an easy-to-handle shot that its developers hope will become the “vaccine for the world.”
The government says the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency has made an emergency authorization for the vaccine developed by Oxford University and UK-based drugmaker AstraZeneca.
AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot says “today is an important day for millions of people in the U.K. who will get access to this new vaccine. It has been shown to be effective, well-tolerated, simple to administer and is supplied by AstraZeneca at no profit.”
Britain has purchased 100 million doses of the vaccine. Health Secretary Matt Hancock told told Sky News the “rollout will start on Jan. 4” and will “accelerate into the first few weeks of next year.”
Hundreds of thousands in the U.K. have already received the vaccine made by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and German firm BioNTech.