The Latest: WH task force suggests masks for Oklahoma surge

OKLAHOMA CITY — The White House Coronavirus Task Force has again recommended a statewide mask mandate for Oklahoma amid a surge of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.

Oklahoma’s seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has risen from 1,185 to 2,080, according to data from Johns Hopkins University on Thursday. The task force report, released Wednesday by the Oklahoma State Department of Health, says urgent action is needed.

Gov. Kevin Stitt has opposed a statewide mandate. The task force recommended restaurants be limited to 50% capacity with reduced hours and masks be worn by K-12 students and teachers.

The Oklahoma State Board of Education on Thursday again declined to require local school districts to implement a mask mandate.

Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest called it “a complete lack of leadership with potentially grave consequences for our students, educators, support professionals and communities.”

There were 2,357 cases reported Thursday, bringing the confirmed total to 144,691, according to the health department. More than 1,200 people are hospitalized.

With 11 more deaths, the confirmed total is 1,481 deaths in Oklahoma.

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HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Dr. Fauci: Keep wearing masks, stay socially distant to avoid lockdown

— White House Coronavirus Task Force recommends masks for Oklahoma surge

— Missouri Gov. Parsons loosens school quarantine rules; allows exposed kids

— School systems in Detroit, Indianapolis, Philadelphia and suburban Minneapolis are giving up on in-person classes. Some governors are re-imposing restrictions on bars and restaurants or getting more serious about masks.

— New research confirms fever and symptom checks miss many coronavirus infections.

— Surge of coronavirus cases appears to be slowing in Germany and France, but still straining hospitals.

— Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

LONDON — Britain hit a new daily high of 33,470 confirmed coronavirus cases on Thursday.

That’s an increase of 10,520 more positives reported Wednesday and pushed the total number of cases in the U.K. to nearly 1.3 million.

Britain on Wednesday reported 595 deaths, raising the death toll to more than 50,000.

The government has imposed a one-month national lockdown on England through Dec. 2.

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PARIS — One in four deaths in France is linked to COVID-19, according to the prime minister.

There are more virus patients in French hospitals than during the country’s peak in the spring, says Prime Minister Jean Castex. He warned people shouldn’t plan big Christmas or New Year’s parties.

Restaurants, bars, gyms and tourist sites will remain closed until at least Dec. 1.

France has 1.9 million confirmed cases, more infections than any European country, and 42,960 virus-related deaths.

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NEW ORLEANS — A Louisiana judge rejected an effort by Republican state House members to force an end to Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ statewide mask mandate and other coronavirus-related restrictions.

A petition signed by 65 GOP members of the House essentially wanted Edwards to rescind a proclamation ordering the restrictions. The petition was issued under an obscure section of a 2003 state law allowing a majority in either the House or the Senate to sign a petition forcing the governor to end a public health emergency declaration.

Judge William Morvant of Baton Rouge says the Edwards proclamation has the force of law and couldn’t be blocked by an action of one legislative body.

Last week, Edwards renewed his latest round of restrictions, including a mask mandate and limits on public gatherings and bar and restaurant capacity.

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PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A provincial chief justice in northwest Pakistan has died after being tested positive for coronavirus.

Justice Waqar Ahmed Seth, who was chief justice at the Peshawar High Court, died Thursday night at a hospital in Islamabad.

The announcement about Seth’s death came hours after the country’s former prime minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and Mohammad Afzal, chairman of the National Disaster Management Authorities tested positive for the virus.

Although Pakistan last week imposed a partial lockdown in more than 4,000 residential areas across the country, deaths and new cases have increased.

On Thursday, Pakistan reported 1,808 coronavirus cases and 34 deaths.

The country has 349,992 confirmed cases and 7,055 deaths since its first case in February.

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O’FALLON, Mo. — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson announced new guidance aimed at keeping more kids, teachers and staff in school, even those who have been exposed to the coronavirus.

The Republican governor says quarantines interrupt learning and create staff shortages.

Currently, those in a K-12 setting who is directly exposed to the coronavirus must quarantine for 14 days. The new guidance doesn’t require quarantining if both the infected person and the person exposed wore masks.

Those in contact with an infected person at a school without a mask mandate should quarantine at home for 14 days. The new guidance still requires the person who tests positive to isolate at home.

But the change was quickly dismissed by officials in Kansas City and St. Louis County, saying schools should continue to require quarantines for anyone with direct contact with someone with the coronavirus.

The change comes as coronavirus numbers surge in Missouri. On Thursday, there were 4,603 confirmed new cases, 16 more deaths and a record 2,248 people in hospitals.

The positivity rate of 22.4% is more than four times the recommended benchmark by the World Health Organization.

Missouri has no statewide mask mandate, and the state doesn’t require masks in schools, although some districts do. The state allows districts to provide learning options, which includes hybrid learning — at school and at home.

Missouri has 225,371 confirmed cases and 3,339 total deaths.

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Republican Gov. Mike DeWine’s statewide address has urged Ohioans to take the coronavirus more seriously.

The speech on Wednesday included threats to close bars, restaurants and gyms for a second time. But it stopped short of the type of severe crackdowns implemented in the spring.

The speech followed record numbers of coronavirus cases in recent weeks. DeWine also announced the state would take over monitoring businesses’ compliance with the statewide mask order.

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ROME — Italy’s daily coronavirus cases reached nearly 38,000 on Thursday.

A day after total cases surpassed 1 million, another 37,978 infections were reported by the Health Ministry.

Nearly 90 additional ICU beds were occupied with COVID-19 patients since the previous day, for a total of 3,170. Doctors say while Italy added thousands more intensive care beds capacity during the pandemic, there aren’t enough anesthesiologists and other ICU specialists to care for more than 5,000 patients at once.

Ambulances parked for hours outside hospitals in the Naples area and elsewhere in Italy because emergency rooms don’t have space for the patients.

Commissioner Domenico Arcuri says he expects, if a safe and effective vaccine is available, “we can vaccinate the first Italians by the end of January.” Italian health experts have said medical personnel, nursing home staff and the vulnerable will be among the first to receive vaccinations.

Italy has 1.06 million cases and a confirmed death toll of 43,589, with 636 more deaths on Thursday.

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PORTLAND, Maine — Maine Gov. Janet Mills joined governors of six other states across the region in suspending interstate youth hockey games amid a surge in coronavirus cases.

Six New England states and New Jersey will suspend interstate competitions for public and private schools and youth hockey programs starting Saturday through the end of the year.

The six New England states involve Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont and Maine.

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BISMARCK, N.D. — The North Dakota Nurses Association says it doesn’t support a move to allow health care workers who have tested positive for the coronavirus but don’t have symptoms to remain on the job.

Gov. Doug Burgum supports the idea to ease stress both on hospitals and medical personnel amid skyrocketing coronavirus cases in North Dakota. Burgum says hospital administrators asked for the action and interim State Health Officer Dirk Wilke amended an order to allow it to take effect.

The nurses’ association says guidance from the CDC says the decision should be left to the positive nurse whether to work. The association says other measures, such as mask wearing, should be used to reduce the demand on the health care system before implementing this strategy.

Burgum, a Republican, has not supported a statewide mask mandate. Instead, he’s stressed personal responsibility.

North Dakota has the highest number of new coronavirus cases per capita in the nation, according to Johns Hopkins data, with one in every 83 residents testing positive in the past week.

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DETROIT — Michigan’s largest school district will suspend in-person classes next week, joining other districts shifting to online classes with the surge of coronavirus cases.

Detroit Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says he can’t ignore a climbing infection rate that reached nearly 5% last week. The suspension will last until Jan. 11.

Vitti faced criticism from some teachers and activists for offering an in-person option for the district’s roughly 50,000 students. He said families deserved choices.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer plans to speak about the coronavirus later Thursday. In a separate event, officials from major hospitals plan to speak about the impact of rising coronavirus cases.

The state reported 6,008 new infections Wednesday and 42 more deaths.

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MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota’s largest school district will close its elementary schools because the coronavirus is leaving it short on staff and bus drivers.

The Anoka-Hennepin district will transition to remote learning. Elementary students have been attending in-person classes two days a week since Sept. 15.

Anoka-Hennepin’s middle and high schools switched from a hybrid schedule to remote learning Nov. 4, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.

State guidelines recommend districts consider closing all schools when new case rates in the county exceed 50 per 10,000. The district said its two-week new case rate among employees is 86 per 10,000.

The district serves nearly 38,000 students. It hasn’t set a date for closing the elementary schools.

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WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci says he doesn’t believe the United States will need to go into lockdown to fight the coronavirus if people double down on wearing masks and social distancing.

The nation’s top infectious disease expert says “the cavalry is coming” in the form of vaccines. He says, “Help is really on the way.”

Fauci told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Thursday that vaccines being developed “are going to have a major positive impact” if they prove to be safe and effective. He says they may be deployed in December and early into next year. He says he hopes by April, May and June “the ordinary citizen should be able to get” a vaccine.

In the meantime, Fauci says there are fundamental things Americans can do to stem the spread of the deadly virus. They include “universal” wearing of masks, avoiding crowds, keeping social distance and washing hands. He says that sounds simple against a very difficult challenge but “it really does make a difference.”

Fauci’s message echoes that of President-elect Joe Biden, who this week signaled strongly that fighting the raging pandemic will be the immediate priority of his new administration.

The U.S. leads the world with more than 241,000 deaths and 10 million coronavirus cases.

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