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The Latest: Mississippi child younger than 5 dies from COVID

JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi health officials said Wednesday that a child younger than 5 has died from COVID-19.

Dr. Paul Byers, the state epidemiologist, said it was the sixth pediatric death from the virus in Mississippi since the pandemic began. He said the Health Department would not provide any identifying information, including where the child lived.

State Health Department spokeswoman Liz Sharlot also said Wednesday that law enforcement officers are investigating threats against the state health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs. He has been imploring people for months to get vaccinated, but Mississippi still has among the lowest vaccination rates in the United States.

Dobbs wrote Tuesday on Twitter that he has received threatening phone calls from people promoting false “conspiracy theories” about his family. Dobbs said one lie is that his son, who is also a physician, receives a World Bank-funded kickback when Dobbs urges people to get vaccinated.

“I get zero $ from promoting vaccination,” Dobbs wrote.

— Treasury Department reports only 11% of rental assistance distributed

HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon will deploy “crisis teams” of hundreds of nurses, respiratory therapists, paramedics and nursing assistants to regions of the state hardest hit by a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations that have stretched hospitals to the limit.

Gov. Kate Brown said Wednesday that up to 500 health care providers from a medial staffing company will head to central and southern Oregon, as well as 60 additional nurses under a different contract provider.

State health officials say COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased 990% in Oregon since July 9.

The personnel will head to Bend, Redmond, Medford, Ashland, Grants Pass and Roseburg and can move around the state as conditions require.

CHICAGO — Chicago officials say all city employees must be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 by mid-October.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the rule Wednesday, saying employees will have to submit proof of vaccination via an online portal by Oct. 15.

The city has already required employees in public schools, including teachers and principals, to be vaccinated by the same deadline. City officials say employees can apply for a religious or medical exemption, which will be individually reviewed.

Lightfoot says getting vaccinated is the best way to make it possible to recover from the pandemic.

NEW ORLEANS — A child under age 1 is among the latest reported COVID-19 deaths in Louisiana.

The state health department didn’t provide the child’s exact age or where the death occurred. The child’s death was one of 110 in the Wednesday report, which said 85 of the deaths were listed as “confirmed” COVID-19 deaths and 25 as “probable.”

“We last reported a COVID death in a child 6 months ago,” the health department said on Twitter. “In total, 11 children younger than 18 have died from COVID in Louisiana.”

The department reported more than 6,619 confirmed and probable cases on Wednesday. Statewide hospitalizations dropped by 12 to 2,844.

The disease is blamed for more than 12,000 confirmed deaths in Louisiana.

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin’s top education official is urging everyone headed into school buildings to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and wear masks.

Jill Underly says those steps will help ensure schools don’t have to shut down amid a spike in new cases. The state superintendent of schools wrote an editorial Wednesday urging a united front against the virus. She noted the situation was different from last year thanks to the availability of vaccines.

Many schools in Wisconsin didn’t open in-person learning in the fall of 2020, taking a hybrid approach for at least part of the year.

Wisconsin’s two largest districts, Milwaukee and Madison, were both looking into a vaccine mandate for teachers, something Democratic Gov. Tony Evers says he supports. Evers is a former teacher, school administration and state superintendent for education.

A recent poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research indicates a majority support nationwide for mask and vaccine requirements in schools.

ST. PAUL — Minnesotans who get their first COVID-19 vaccine dose at the State Fair can walk away with a $100 Visa gift card.

Democratic Gov. Tim Walz announced the State Fair edition of the state’s $100 reward program Wednesday. The first 3,600 Minnesotans to get their first dose at the fair can immediately claim their gift cards. The fair opens Thursday and runs through Labor Day.

The State Fair deal follows a $100 incentive program where nearly 80,000 Minnesotans claimed gift cards.

Anyone 12 or older who needs their first or second dose can get vaccinated at the fair clinic, which offers both the two-shot Pfizer and single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Only Minnesotans receiving their first dose qualify for the reward.

NEW YORK — Pfizer is seeking U.S. approval of a booster dose of its two-shot COVID-19 vaccine.

The drugmaker announced Wednesday it has started the approval process for a third dose of its vaccine for Americans ages 16 and older. The company says it expects to complete its application with the Food and Drug Administration by the end of this week.

U.S. health officials announced last week plans to dispense COVID-19 booster shots to all Americans to shore up their protection amid the surging delta variant of the coronavirus. Pfizer’s vaccine received full regulatory approval this week.

While health officials say vaccine protection against coronavirus infection wanes over time, the three vaccines used in the U.S. made by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are still providing strong protection against hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.

Earlier this month, U.S. regulators said transplant recipients or others with weakened immune systems can get an extra dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

ATLANTA — More than half of all Georgia public school students are required to wear masks in class, according to district announcements tracked by The Associated Press.

At least 55 of Georgia’s 180 traditional school districts are requiring masks in at least some schools, up from only a handful of districts before class started in August. The rules cover at least 945,000, or about 55%, of Georgia’s 1.7 million public school students.

The shift began in late July, when Atlanta and Gwinnett County schools joined DeKalb and Clayton counties in saying they would require masks. But many other districts tried to open their doors as mask-optional in early August. Some switched positions within days, while others held out for weeks.

During that time, infections leaped. More than 1% of school-age children in Georgia have tested positive for the coronavirus in the past two weeks. Children between the ages of 5 to 17 are now more likely than adults as a whole to test positive. The state Department of Public Health reported more than 30 infection clusters in schools statewide, the highest since the start of the epidemic.

BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana’s higher education leaders say coronavirus vaccinations among college students are increasing as the state offers $100 cash cards for those who get the shots amid campus immunization requirements.

Presidents of Louisiana’s four public college systems spoke Wednesday at the Board of Regents meeting. They praised the governor’s “Shot for $100” campaign that has persuaded more than 2,000 students to get immunized against COVID-19.

Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed says those numbers are only expected to increase as 12 campuses started classes this week.

All of Louisiana’s four-year universities are requiring students get vaccinated, though the state has broad exemptions.

LONDON — The international scientists dispatched to China by the World Health Organization to find out where the coronavirus came from say the search has stalled and warned the window of opportunity for solving it is “closing fast.”

In a commentary published in the journal Nature, the WHO-recruited experts say the origins investigation is at “a critical juncture” requiring urgent collaboration but has instead come to a standstill.

They noted among other things that Chinese officials are still reluctant to share some raw data, citing concerns about patient confidentiality.

In their analysis, published in March, the WHO team concluded the virus likely jumped to humans from animals, and they described the possibility of a laboratory leak as “extremely unlikely.”

But the WHO experts say their report was intended only as a first step, adding further delays “will render some of the studies biologically impossible.”

ALBANY, N.Y. — New Gov. Kathy Hochul promised more government transparency on her first day in office.

By day’s end her administration had quietly delivered it by acknowledging nearly 12,000 more deaths in the state from COVID-19 than had been publicized by her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo.

New York now reports 55,395 people have died of COVID-19 in New York based on death certificate data submitted to the CDC, up from the roughly 43,400 that Gov. Cuomo had reported to the public as of Monday, his last day in office.

Federal prosecutors previously launched a probe examining his administration’s handling of data around deaths among nursing home patients. The state, under Cuomo, had minimized its toll of nursing home residents’ deaths by excluding all patients who died after being transferred to hospitals.

Cuomo used those lower numbers last year to erroneously claim that New York was seeing a much smaller percentage of nursing home residents dying of COVID-19 than other states.

BOSTON — Only 11% of the tens of billions of dollars in federal rent assistance meant to help tenants around the country avoid eviction has been distributed, according to the Treasury Department.

The latest data from the department that oversees the program shows the pace of distribution increased in July over June and nearly a million households have been helped.

But with landlords challenging a federal eviction moratorium in court, there’s concern a wave of evictions will happen before much of the assistance has been distributed. Lawmakers approved $46.5 billion in spending on rental assistance and most states are now distributing the first portion of $25 billion.

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Johnson & Johnson says a booster shot of its COVID-19 vaccine appears to produce “a rapid and robust” increase in antibodies needed to fight the coronavirus.

The drugmaker says researchers saw an increase in antibodies nine-fold higher than levels seen about a month after the first dose of the vaccination was administered. The company cited early results from studies looking at people who received the booster after getting an initial dose of J&J’s single-shot vaccine.

J&J says researchers saw increases in antibodies in people ages 18 to 55 and in study participants 65 and older who received a lower booster dose.

U.S. health officials announced last week plans to dispense COVID-19 booster shots to all Americans to shore up protection amid the surging delta variant of the virus. Officials say the protection against infections wanes over time among various vaccines but remains strong at preventing hospitalizations and deaths.

J&J says it is talking with regulators in both the U.S. and Europe about booster shots.

BERLIN — Germany says it has administered more than 100 million doses of coronavirus vaccine, while the delta variant has increased infections to the highest levels since May.

Germany’s national disease control center reported 11,561 new cases on Wednesday, the first time in three months more than 10,000 cases have been reported in a day.

Health Minister Jens Spahn hailed the vaccination “milestone” on Twitter Wednesday and described it “one of the greatest logistical achievements in our country’s history.”

Official figures showed 53.5 million people — or 64% of the population — have received at least one vaccine dose. And 49.4 million people, or 59%, are fully vaccinated.

While the vaccination drive has slowed, authorities are trying to persuade reluctant people to get shots.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Just over half of Florida’s 2.8 million public school students face mandates to wear masks in classrooms.

More districts are defying Gov. Ron DeSantis amid a courtroom battle over the Republican’s efforts to leave such decisions to parents. The Orange County County School Board voted to tighten its mask mandate through October. That makes at least 10 of Florida’s largest districts who say they’re following federal public health recommendations to reduce coronavirus infections.

Meanwhile in Tallahassee, a three-day hearing is wrapping up on a lawsuit by parents who want strict mask rules to keep their kids safe.

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