NEW ORLEANS — Costumed revelers will mark the beginning of New Orleans’ annual Carnival season this week with a ride on a historic streetcar — carrying out a cherished tradition despite recent surges in COVID-19 infections.
A Monday announcement from the Phunny Phorty Phellows organization says participants “will be wearing masks covering their mouths as well as their eyes” when their streetcar rumbles down the tracks on Thursday night.
Carnival season begins each year on Jan. 6, the 12th night after Christmas. It ends with nearly two weeks of opulent parades that culminate on Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, which falls on March 1 this year.
Festivities, including major parades that bring thousands to the streets, were largely canceled in 2021.
There had been concerns that the 2020 Mardi Gras celebration had been an unintended “super spreader” of coronavirus in the early days of the pandemic.
This year, city officials are moving ahead with plans for major parades in February, with precautions including vaccine or testing requirements for float riders and customers of bars, restaurants and other public places.
Louisiana’s governor said last week that the state is setting records for new COVID-19 diagnoses, and the omicron variant surge is just beginning.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC:
— How will pandemic end? Omicron clouds forecasts for endgame
— Fauci says CDC may add test requirement for infected people ending isolation
— Pentagon chief Austin says he has tested positive for COVID
— British government rushing tests to schools
Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING TODAY:
TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas has reported a record seven-day average for new confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases.
State health department data released Monday showed that Kansas reported an average of 3,134 new COVID-19 cases a day for the seven days ending Monday. That’s 13% higher than the previous record of 2,767 cases per day for the seven days ending Nov. 18, 2020.
Kansas has now reported more than 534,000 cases for the pandemic or more than one for every six of its 2.9 million residents.
The state also averaged 38 new COVID-19 hospitalizations and 11 new reported deaths a day for the seven days ending Monday. The new numbers came as the state starts to see reports of the omicron variant spreading.
While the average for new hospitalizations isn’t a record, hospitals are still under stress, both because of new patients and infections among employees.
PHOENIX — Arizona health officials on Monday reported the highest number of new COVID-19 cases in a year.
The 14,192 new cases were the most ever tallied in a day except for Jan. 3, 2020, when more than 17,000 cases were counted.
The state Health Services Department said the new case count was boosted by lower than normal reporting on Sunday, when just 701 new cases were reported. However, the state said there has been a steep upward trend of cases in recent days.
According to Johns Hopkins University data, the seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Arizona has risen sharply over the past two weeks from 2,945 new cases per day on Dec. 18 to 5,051 new cases per day on Jan. 1.
The state reported no new deaths on Monday and just one on Sunday, bringing the total number of people who died from the virus in Arizona since the pandemic began in early 2020 to 24,355.
WASHINGTON — Congress’ top doctor urged lawmakers on Monday to move to a “maximal telework posture,” citing surging numbers of COVID-19 cases at the Capitol that he said are mostly breakthrough infections of people already vaccinated.
The seven-day average rate of infection at the Capitol’s testing center has risen from less than 1% to more than 13%, Brian P. Monahan, the attending physician, wrote in a letter to congressional leaders obtained by The Associated Press.
Monahan said there has been “an unprecedented number of cases in the Capitol community affecting hundreds of individuals.” In what he said was limited sampling as of Dec. 15, about 61% of the cases were the new, highly contagious omicron variant while 38% were the delta variant.
Providing no figure, he said “most” of the cases are breakthroughs.
While such cases have not led to any deaths or hospitalizations among vaccinated lawmakers or congressional staff, Monahan said even mild infections can lead to six to 12 months of “long COVID.” A “reasonable estimate” is that 6% to 10% of cases could end up that way, he added.
Monahan urged congressional offices to “reduce in-person meetings and in-office activities to the maximum extent possible.”
MISSION, Kan. — One of Kansas’ largest hospitals is straining to treat an influx of COVID-19 patients even as the surging virus sidelines hundreds of doctors and nurses.
At the University of Kansas Hospital, more than 500 employees out of a staff of more than 13,000 are sick or awaiting test results, said Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer at University of Kansas Health System in Kansas City, Kansas, during a media call Monday.
The illnesses come as the hospital is treating 108 COVID-19 patients, up from 40 on Dec. 1.
“We’ve had to scale back on some elective surgeries and clinics and things like that and all hospitals in our area are having to take similar measures because you’ve got to keep your staff safe. You may not have quite enough people to be able to do all the work,” Stites said.
He said vaccination would have prevented all but a handful of the COVID-19 patients from being hospitalized, freeing up beds for other patients.
“I think what we have to remember is that COVID-19, when you’re unvaccinated, just doesn’t affect the unvaccinated,” Stites said. “It affects everyone because it takes the hospitalizations and it fills up the hospital so much and staff get so sick that it means we don’t have enough people here to take care of everybody, which means we have to scale things back. And that’s the level we’re all at.”
NEW ORLEANS — A new vaccine and testing requirement is kicking in for children from the ages of 5 to 11 in New Orleans to battle the coronavirus.
Local media report that children in those age groups must now be vaccinated or show proof of a recent negative coronavirus test to visit certain locations in the city such as restaurants.
The new mandate comes as coronavirus cases have skyrocketed across the country, driven by the highly contagious omicron variant.
The mandate was announced in December by Mayor LaToya Cantrell. It already applies to adults and children 12 and up.
Starting on Feb. 1 the coronavirus vaccine will also be included in the list of required vaccines for children to attend school, although there is an option for families to opt out of the requirement.
PARIS — France’s lower house of parliament is voting Monday on a government plan to require full vaccination to enter restaurants, tourist sites, sports facilities and other venues.
Critics, primarily from the far right and far left, denounced it as discriminatory, and lambasted the government for repeated missteps throughout the pandemic. They also argued it would be ineffective amid record infections across France driven by the omicron variant.
The government says the vaccine pass is the best way to protect hospitals from a surge in critically ill patients, without resorting to an economically crippling lockdown. Health Minister Olivier Veran told the chamber that the draft law wasn’t intended to restrict individual liberties, and he noted that most virus patients in French ICUs are unvaccinated.
Lawmakers have proposed hundreds of amendments to the bill, which goes later this week to the Senate. President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party has a majority in the lower house, which has the final say on the bill. The government wants it to enter force Jan. 15.
Under the government’s draft, the vaccine pass would also be required on domestic flights and inter-regional trains and buses, cinemas and theaters.
Currently unvaccinated people can get the “health pass” required to enter such sites if they test negative for the virus or recently recovered. More than 90% of French adults are vaccinated, but several million have not been inoculated.
TORONTO — All schools in Canada’s most populous province will be shut down and move to online learning because of a record number of coronavirus infections fueled by the ultra-contagious omicron variant, Ontario’s premier announced Monday.
Premier Doug Ford also announced the closure of indoor dining. Gyms and cinemas will also close. Ontario is seeing record new infections and there are concerns about hospital capacity.
“I know online learning is not ideal,” Ford said. “The fact is omicron spreads like wildfire.”
The reopening of schools has been delayed until at least Jan. 17. Just last week, the government announced schools would open on Wednesday.
Schools shut down for in-person learning last April because of record cases driven by the delta variant but had since resumed. Hospitals have also been told to pause all non-urgent surgeries and procedures in order to preserve critical care.
LISBON, Portugal — A senior Portuguese health official says almost 90% of COVID-19 patients in intensive care have not been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Deputy Health Minister António Lacerda Sales said Portugal’s high vaccination rate, which has covered about 87% of the population, has enabled it to avoid the worst consequences of COVID-19 despite a recent surge in infections due to the omicron variant.
He said that compared with a year ago, Portugal is recording fewer than a third of the patients in hospital, fewer than a quarter in ICUs and fewer than one-fifth of deaths.
He said Monday the government is not planning to postpone the scheduled return of schoolchildren to classes next Monday.
ROME — At least 100 passengers aboard a cruise ship in the Mediterranean have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Italian news reports.
Italian state TV’s RaiNews24 said that the passengers testing positive numbered 150 aboard the MSC Grandiosa, which docked on Monday in Genoa, and that most of them of were Italian.
Genoa daily Il Secolo XIX reported that about 40 of those who tested positive got off the cruise liner in Genoa, while others would be disembarked in Civitavecchia, a port that serves Rome, or in Palermo, Sicily.
The cruise company didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.
The newspaper said there were nearly some 4,000 passengers in all aboard the ship, which reached Genoa after sailing from Marseille, France.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea says it has confirmed its first death related to the new omicron variant.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said on Monday that the deceased was in their 90s and living at a nursing home in the southern city of Gwangju. It says the person received a second dose of COVID-19 vaccine in October.
A total of 21 people in the facility have tested positive for COVID-19 — three of them with the omicron variant — since the first case was reported there on Dec. 24.
The agency says the patient was posthumously found to have contracted the omicron variant. Health authorities were examining whether another person who died at the Gwangju facility had also been infected with the variant.
South Korea has so far confirmed 1,318 cases of the omicron variant. Experts say it will likely soon replace the delta variant to become dominant in South Korea.
ROME — The Italian government has set prices for the more protective Ffp2 masks at 75 euro cents apiece now that they are required to access public transport, museums, cinemas and many other indoor activities.
The office of Italy’s virus czar announced Monday that a deal had been reached with key Italian pharmaceutical and drug store associations. Italian-made Ffp2 masks generally run upwards of 2 euros apiece or more.
The government last month imposed an outdoor mask mandate overall and the requirement that Ffp2 masks be worn in certain indoor activities in a bid to stem the latest surge in cases.
Italy, where the European outbreak erupted in February 2020, had a critical shortage of surgical and more protective masks in the first wave of the pandemic. After supplies increased, the government fixed the price for surgical masks at 50 cents apiece in April 2020.
MILWAUKEE — Wisconsin’s largest school district, Milwaukee Public Schools, will switch to online teaching for at least a week because of an increase in staff testing positive for COVID-19.
The district said in a statement on Monday that its goal is to return to in-person learning on Jan. 10.
Students and staff who want to be tested for COVID-19 can do so at six schools. The district says that when in-person learning resumes, testing will be available for students and staff at each school.
More than 75,000 students attend Milwaukee public schools.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Wintry weather combined with the pandemic to frustrate air travelers whose return flights home from the holidays were canceled or delayed in the first days of the new year.
More than 2,500 U.S. flights and more than 4,100 worldwide were grounded Sunday, according to tracking service FlightAware.
That followed Saturday’s mass cancelations of more than 2,700 U.S. flights, and more than 4,700 worldwide. Saturday’s single-day U.S. toll was the highest since just before Christmas, when airlines began blaming staffing shortages on increasing COVID-19 infections among crews.
A winter storm that hit the Midwest on Saturday made Chicago the worst place in the country for travelers throughout the weekend as the region’s airports continued to recover Sunday morning. About a quarter of all flights at O’Hare Airport were canceled Sunday.
American Airlines said most of Sunday’s canceled flights had been canceled ahead of time to avoid last-minute disruptions at the airport.
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