The Latest: S. Korea increases hospital, nursing home tests

Health Minute

A waiter closes a bar terrace in Paris, Saturday Oct. 17, 2020. French restaurants, cinemas and theaters are trying to figure out how to survive a new curfew aimed at stemming the flow of record new coronavirus infections. The monthlong curfew came into effect Friday at midnight, and France is deploying 12,000 extra police to enforce it. (AP Photo/Lewis Joly)

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported 76 new cases of the coronavirus as officials begin testing tens of thousands of employees at hospitals and nursing homes to prevent transmissions at live-in facilities.

The figures released by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Monday brought the national caseload to 25,275, including 444 deaths.

Thirty-seven of the new cases were from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, home to about half of the country’s 51 million people, where health workers have scrambled to track infections linked to various places and groups, including hospitals, churches, schools and workers.

Fifteen cases were reported from the southern port city of Busan, where more than 70 infections so far have been linked to a hospital for the elderly.

Health officials from Monday will start a process to test 130,000 employees and 30,000 patients at hospitals, nursing homes and welfare centers for senior citizens in the greater capital area in part of efforts to prevent outbreaks at these facilities.

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

— New infections and deaths are hitting records in Russia,but Vladimir Putin’s government appears determined to avoid unpopular restrictions.

— Uganda’s ‘ taxi divas’ rise from COVID’s economic gloom.

— Some in North Dakota want tougher virus approach from governor.

— France’s 9 p.m. virus curfew leaves an eerie quiet on streets of Paris, eight other cities

— The U.S. can now screen millions daily for the new coronavirus, thanks to a growing supply of rapid tests. But the boom comes with a new challenge: keeping track of the results.

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Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

ROME — Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte has announced new measures aimed at halting the spread of coronavirus as infections continue to hit new daily highs, moving into vulnerable populations and putting fresh pressure on hospitals.

The restrictions announced Sunday stop short of a curfew like those imposed in Paris and other major French cities. But Italian mayors can close public squares and other gathering places after 9 p.m., permitting access only to reach homes or businesses. Restaurants and bars are restricted to table service only after 6 p.m., three hours earlier than the previous measures allowed, but can maintain the current midnight closing time.

Local festivals have been banned. Gyms and public swimming pools may remain open — but Conte said they would be closed in a week if they don’t do a better job of following restrictions.

Rome clashed with regional governments over schools, refusing to budge on allowing more distance learning. But there are allowances for high schools to open later, and hold afternoon shifts, to ease pressure on local transport.

Authorities are loath to see new lockdowns, after the 10-week closure that successfully impeded the virus’ spread, but at a cost of 47 billion euros a month to the economy. New confirmed infections in Italy have doubled in a week to more than 10,000 a day amid increased testing.

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CHICAGO — Gov. J.B. Pritzker says President Donald Trump and his allies in Illinois are partly to blame for a surge in coronavirus cases in the state.

Pritzker spoke on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday, the same day health officials announced 4,245 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 22 deaths.

Pritzker says Trump is “modeling bad behavior” by often not wearing a mask in public and hosting rallies where it’s not encouraged. The first-term Democrat says Trump’s local allies are encouraging people not to follow COVID-19 restrictions. Illinois set a new record-high for cases on Friday.

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MEXICO CITY — As the U.S. counts down toward its presidential election, voters south of the border in two Mexican states were putting on masks and slathering on hand gel to cast ballots in local elections on Sunday.

The border state of Coahuila, just south of Texas, was choosing a new state legislature while the central state of Hidalgo was electing 84 mayors. The vote there had been set for June, but was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

National Electoral Institute head Lorenzo Córdova circulated a video appeal for people to cast ballots, saying, “You can be sure that we will receive you with very strict and precise health measures and protocols.”

No more than two voters were allowed at at a time at each polling spot and voters were asked to bring their own pens.

Mexico has recorded at least 86,000 COVID-19 deaths and more than 840,000 detected infections with the new coronavirus, including Navy Adm. Rafael Ojeda, one of the closest collaborators of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. He’d been seen — unmasked — at an event with the president on Friday.

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EL PASO, Texas — The El Paso area has reported its highest number of hospitalizations due to the coronavirus since the pandemic began, officials said on Sunday.

A record high 449 hospitalizations were reported for Saturday, with 129 of those patients in intensive care, according to El Paso health officials.

In the El Paso area, only seven ICU beds are available, according to the Texas Department of Health and Human Services. Hospitalizations have been steadily increasing in the area since early September, prompting officials last week to implement tighter restrictions to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

The number of new daily COVID-19 cases recorded in El Paso soared Thursday to a record-breaking 838. That number dipped to 684 on Saturday.

The increase in cases in the El Paso area has prompted Republican Gov. Greg Abbott to send doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and PPE to support hospitals there.

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Public health officials in North Carolina say at least nine cases of COVID-19 could be connected to a Charlotte church’s convocation events last weekend.

Mecklenburg County said its health department urges anyone who attended the events at the United House of Prayer for All People just outside of downtown to get tested for the coronavirus, the Charlotte Observer reported. Free COVID-19 testing was being offered in the area on Sunday.

Church officials could not immediately be reached for comment by the newspaper.

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WASHINGTON — Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar is urging Americans to stick with safeguards against COVID-19 such as mask-wearing even as President Donald Trump continues to shun the practice and infections spike higher in several parts of the U.S.

Azar told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that many people may be feeling “mitigation fatigue” from a seven-month-old pandemic, but there is “much promise in the weeks and months ahead” with the expected arrival of safe and effective vaccines.

His comments came as Trump has been holding campaign rallies in which face masks were not required and many people at the events were not wearing them. Coronavirus infections are spiking in Europe and public health officials are raising alarm that the infection rate in the U.S. is climbing toward a new peak.

Azar asked people to “hang in there” because “we are so close.” He said the continued practice of safety guidelines of washing hands, social distancing and wearing masks will be a “bridge” to the day vaccines can become widely available.

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MILAN — The number of confirmed positive cases of coronavirus in Italy continued to rise to new records on Sunday, hitting 11,705 in the last 24 hours.

Many more tests are being carried out than during the March-April peak, when only the very ill were tested, but doctors have warned that the virus again is infecting more vulnerable patients and hospitals are increasingly under stress.

A total of 750 patients were being treated in intensive care Sunday, up 45 from a day earlier, while more than 7,000 people were hospitalized, according to Health Ministry statistics.

Pressure was especially acute in Lombardy, where 110 ICU beds were filled and more than 1,000 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized. Italy has recorded a total of 36.543 deaths in the pandemic, 69 in the last 24 hours.

The government was expected to announce additional restrictions, having already made masks mandatory outdoors, banned casual pick-up sports and mandating closure of bars and restaurants at midnight in a bid to stop the contagion.

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BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota’s daily positivity rate for COVID-19 topped 10% for the sixth time in the last seven days as health officials on Sunday reported 716 new cases, including three counties with more than 100 positive tests.

The state of about 760,000 residents has now surpassed 400 deaths.

The update lifted the total number of the coronavirus cases statewide to nearly 32,000 since the pandemic began. There were about 1,069 new cases per 100,000 people in North Dakota over the past two weeks, which ranks first in the country for new cases per capita, according to figures compiled Saturday by Johns Hopkins University researchers.

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — The South Carolina State Fair is coming to Columbia, but like so much during the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be drive-thru. There won’t be an admission fee.

Winning animals, art, flowers and photography will be displayed along one route for vehicles from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday.

People will be able to buy fair food Tuesday through Saturday in a different part of the fairgrounds. Visitors will also remain in their vehicles, ordering from a short list of foods like turkey legs, Fiske Fries, funnel cakes and a few other items.

Employees will come up the the vehicle window to take orders. They will take both cash and cards.

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PRAGUE — Czech police used tear gas and a water cannon to disperse hundreds of violent protesters who attacked them after a rally Sunday in Prague against government restrictions to slow the spread of coronavirus infections.

Police rescue services said at least 20 injured in the clashes, which erupted after a couple thousand people, including soccer and ice hockey fans, rallied at Old Town Square to condemn the restrictions that include the ban of sports competitions and closure of bars and restaurants.

Public gatherings of more than six are also banned but up to 500 people are allowed to demonstrate if they are divided into separated groups of 20 and wear face masks.

Many of the demonstrators had no face coverings. After police said their number surpassed 500, the organizers ended the rally.

But some protesters remained and the square, throwing flares, beer bottles, stones and various other objects at riot police.

The Czech Republic has been facing a record surge in coronavirus infections in recent weeks, making it one of the hardest hit countries in Europe.

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BERLIN — Switzerland is introducing new restrictions across the country to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, which has been growing at a record pace in recent days.

At a special meeting Sunday, the government decided to broaden a mask mandate, saying “the rapid rise in coronavirus cases in the last few days is a cause for great concern.”

As of Monday, face and nose coverings will be required in all publicly accessible indoor areas, including all railway stations and airports, and at bus and tram stops. The rule also extends to schools, child-care facilities, shopping malls, libraries, places of worship and hotels, among other places.

Gatherings of more than 15 people are not permitted in public, and new regulations were put on private events of more than 15 people.

The number of new cases in the Alpine nation of 8.5 million people has been increasing rapidly recently, hitting a new daily record of 3,105 on Friday. Overall Switzerland has reported 74,422 infections and 1,823 deaths.

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MILAN — As the Italian government considers yet more restrictions to try to curb the resurgence of coronavirus, the 179 Italian doctors who have died in the COVID-19 crisis were remembered Sunday in a ceremony in the northern Italian town of Duno, north of Milan.

Their names were inscribed in marble at a sanctuary in the Lombardy region, which has been the hardest-hit area in the country. The names include Dr. Roberto Stella, the first-known Italian physician to die of COVID-19. His death at 67 on March 11 death shocked the Italian medical establishment and underlined the risk that the coronavirus pandemic to family doctors.

Italy, the first country outside of Asia to detect local transmission of the virus, has seen new confirmed positive cases surge above 10,000 a day in recent days. That is higher than the virus’ most lethal peak in March and April, when only the most seriously ill were being tested in Italy.

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JERUSALEM — Israeli authorities have granted senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat permission to enter Israel for medical treatment following his infection with the coronavirus.

Erekat’s condition has deteriorated in recent days, and he requested and received authorization to be hospitalized at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital, people familiar with the Palestinian official’s condition said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Erekat made the request despite the fact the Palestinian Authority severed ties with Israel earlier this year over the Trump administration’s Mideast plan, which would allow Israel to annex large parts of the West Bank.

Erekat is a longtime senior adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and served as the Palestinians’ chief negotiator in past peace talks. Erekat has a history of health problems and received a lung transplant in the U.S. in 2017.

There have been over 58,000 cases and 474 deaths reported in the Palestinian-administered areas of the Israeli occupied West Bank.

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