The Latest: New Zealand extends virus lockdown

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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gestures during her COVID-19 response and vaccine update in Wellington, New Zealand, Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021. By early next week, New Zealanders should know if their government's strict new lockdown is working to stamp out its first coronavirus outbreak in six months. A successful effort could again make the nation's virus response the envy of the world. (Mark Mitchell/Pool Photo via AP)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand’s government has extended a strict nationwide lockdown through Tuesday as it tries to quash its first outbreak of the coronavirus in six months.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Friday the government expects to keep Auckland, where most of the cases have been found, in full lockdown for at least two more weeks. But she expects most other parts of the country can ease restrictions slightly from Wednesday.

The announcement came as health authorities reported 70 new daily cases, the most yet in the outbreak, which has grown to nearly 350 cases in total. Ardern said there was evidence the lockdown was working and new case numbers were beginning to level off. She said she remained committed to the strategy of eliminating the virus entirely.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— U.S. may reach 100,000 more COVID-19 deaths by Dec. 1.

— AP-NORC poll: Half of US workers favor vaccine, mask mandate in workplaces

— Illinois Gov. Pritzker requires educators, health workers to get vaccine

— U.S. virus surge breaks hospital records amid rising toll on kids

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— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

LAS VEGAS -- A man from the Las Vegas area won the $1 million grand prize Thursday to cap an eight-week coronavirus vaccination jackpot program.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak created the program to boost enthusiasm for COVID-19 shots.

The prize winners were introduced by their first name and last initial at a live event hosted by the governor at the Las Vegas Convention Center and aides at the Sierra Arts Foundation’s Riverside Gallery in Reno.

The program called Vax Nevada Days launched June 17 with $5 million in federal coronavirus relief funds. State health data showed the percentage of vaccinated state residents increased about 10% between the time the prize pool was announced in mid-June and when it ended Thursday.

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FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky’s governor said Thursday that the latest wave of grim COVID-19 statistics would have triggered a statewide mask mandate indoors if he still wielded the authority to take such action.

But the Kentucky Supreme Court recently shifted pandemic-related decisions on masking and other issues to the Republican-dominated legislature, Gov. Andy Beshear said. So the Democratic governor used his bully pulpit to continue urging people to mask up when indoors, away from home.

The Bluegrass State has reached “uncharted territory” with the prolonged escalation of virus infections, hospitalizations and patients in intensive care, he said at a news conference.

On Wednesday, Kentucky reported 65 virus-related deaths. It also notched its third-highest daily number of new COVID-19 cases as the highly contagious delta variant overwhelms many hospitals.

On Thursday, Beshear reported new record highs in Kentucky, with 2,115 virus patients hospitalized, including 590 in intensive care and 345 on ventilators. The state suffered 27 more virus-related deaths and had 5,401 new COVID-19 cases, its second-highest daily total of the pandemic.

The escalation caused more than 10,000 COVID-19 infections reported statewide in the past two days, and 4,600 children tested positive for the virus in the last three days, he said.

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LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska’s hospitals are even more crowded now than they were at the height of the coronavirus pandemic in November, Gov. Pete Ricketts said Thursday as he announced a “staffing emergency” to try to address a severe shortage of health care workers.

The state’s hospitals were treating a 3,162 patients as of Wednesday, up from 3,074 on Nov. 20, when the number of known cases was at its all-time high.

Most of the recent hospitalizations aren’t virus-related, however, and Ricketts said the increase was driven by patients seeking treatment for other medical problems. According to state data, hospitals are currently treating 337 virus patients — about 11% of total hospitalizations. In November, the hospitals counted 987 virus patients, accounting for 32% of hospitalizations.

Ricketts said he declared the emergency after consulting with the state’s hospital administrators. But he stopped short of calling it a “COVID-19” emergency, which would allow the state to once again disclose daily case information.

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The president of CEO of the Memphis-based St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital said in a letter Thursday that parents should protect their children by insisting that they wear masks in the classroom.

In his letter, Dr. James Downing mentioned Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s recent executive order allowing parents to opt out of mask mandates issued by school districts. Many school systems are complying with the Republican governor’s order, but Shelby County Schools in Memphis and the school district in Nashville are defying it and still requiring students and staff to wear masks in school buildings.

Some parents have protested mask mandates outside schools and at board meetings, arguing that mask-wearing by their children should be their choice. Downing wrote that masks are safe to wear and they help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“Protesting mask mandates puts an agenda before children’s health,” Downing wrote. “This stance is not rational. Stop the arguments and the protests. Stand up as a community and do what is right to protect children."

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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — A federal prosecutor is accusing Argentine President Alberto Fernández of apparently violating his own pandemic restrictions decree by joining a dozen other people at his wife’s birthday party.

The action by prosecutor Ramiro González means Fernández could face a criminal investigation.

The party was held last year at the presidential residence at a time when the government had banned social gatherings to impede the spread of COVID-19.

Investigators began looking into the case when a photo circulated this month showing Fernández together with his wife Fabiola Yáñez and other unmasked people standing around a table with with remnants of a party.

The government acknowledged that the photograph was taken on July 14, 2020, at a moment when restrictions were in place. The president publicly apologized.

While the president is in no risk of going to prison for such an offense, it has dented his image ahead of November’s legislative elections.

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Alabama is seeing a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases in school-age children, with more than 5,000 cases reported last week — an increase officials say is likely fueled by the highly contagious delta variant and is causing some schools to temporarily switch to remote learning.

The Alabama Department of Public Health said last week, 5,571 children ages 5 to 17 were reported to have COVID-19. That compares to 702 cases in school-aged children during the same week last year, a time when more than half of students were studying remotely and a less contagious variant was circulating.

State Health Officer Scott Harris pointed to delta variant as “the most likely explanation.”

“The numbers are staggering,” Harris said of the increase “We want to remind people that everyone needs to be vaccinated who is eligible, that is everyone 12 and up. We strongly recommend universal masking in schools.”

Hospitalizations and deaths in children remain relatively rare, according to state numbers. Of the nearly 2,900 patients in state hospitals with COVID-19 on Thursday, fewer than 50 were children, according to the Alabama Hospital Association.

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O’FALLON, Mo. — Missouri is opening antibody treatment centers in several counties in the hopes that they’ll keep some high-risk patients with COVID-19 from dying or becoming critically ill.

Monoclonal antibody infusion treatment will be available for 30 days at sites in Jackson, Pettis, Scott, Butler and Jefferson counties. Two more sites will be added later in the St. Louis area. The state is spending $15 million on the centers and believes they could treat up to 4,000 people over the next month.

The initial site was set up last month in southwestern Missouri, a region hit hard by the delta variant surge. Health officials said 588 people have been treated at an infusion center in Springfield. Katie Towns, the health director for Springfield and Greene County, said in a news release that the treatment “has undoubtedly saved lives in our community.”

The drugs are lab-made versions of virus-blocking antibodies that help fight off infections. Antibody treatments are among the few therapies that can lessen the effects of COVID-19, and they are seen as an option for those with mild-to-moderate cases who aren’t yet in hospitals.

On Thursday, the state’s COVID-19 dashboard showed that hospitalizations rose by 84, to 2,352. The state cited 2,161 newly confirmed cases, bringing its pandemic total to 622,081. The state also has reported 10,409 COVID-19 deaths since the onset of the pandemic.

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DETROIT — The head of the 397,000-member United Auto Workers union says it’s against requiring members to be vaccinated against the virus that causes COVID-19.

New President Ray Curry says if any of the 700 companies that employ union members wants to impose such a requirement, it would be subject to bargaining with union officials.

Curry told reporters Thursday that the union encourages members to get vaccinations and consider boosters when they are available. But the union respects members’ wishes if they don’t want to be vaccinated for religious, medical or personal reasons, he said.

The UAW would be against mandates even if infected workers could endanger fellow employees, Curry said. “We also believe that the employers and the employees that we represent in those locations still have a voice, and we will have to take those things under consideration,” he said.

No employers have contacted the union about requiring vaccines or imposing additional health care costs on employees who aren’t vaccinated, Curry said.

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MOSCOW — Russia reported a one-day record of 820 coronavirus deaths.

The national coronavirus taskforce says the number of new daily infections reached 19,630. That follows a consistent ebb since the beginning of the month when 22,800 cases were reported.

The previous record for deaths was 819 on Aug. 14.

Russia has reported more than 6.8 million confirmed cases and 179,243 confirmed deaths.

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NEW ORLEANS — A Louisiana teenager has died of COVID-19.

The coroner in East Baton Rouge Parish on Thursday confirmed the death of 14-year-old Patrick Sanders III from the city of Baker. Baton Rouge media report that Sanders, who died Wednesday, was a football player at Baker High School. Sanders’ death came days after the state reported the death of an infant.

Children under 18 made up about 30% of cases reported Thursday in Louisiana. The state reported more than 5,100 new probable and confirmed coronavirus cases Thursday and 72 confirmed deaths.

Hospitalizations statewide stand at 2,729, down from more than 3,000 earlier this month. Vaccinations in Louisiana are increasing, with nearly 60,000 doses administered since Monday. First shots have been given to about 49% of the state’s population.

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FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky and Texas have joined a growing list of states that have surpassed their record for hospitalized coronavirus patients.

The two states on Wednesday reported the most COVID-19 patients in their hospitals since the start of the pandemic. At least six other states — Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Hawaii, Mississippi and Oregon — have already surpassed their records amid a national surge in the virus.

The latest spike is fueled by the highly contagious delta variant of the virus among those who are unvaccinated. In areas with low vaccination rates, doctors have pleaded with their communities to get inoculated to spare overburdened hospitals. They have also sounded the alarm about the growing toll of the delta strain on children and young adults.

Nationwide, COVID-19 deaths are averaging more than 1,100 a day, the highest level since mid-March. New cases per day are averaging over 152,000, turning the clock back to the end of January.

As of this week, the number of people in the hospital with the coronavirus was around 85,000, a level not seen since early February.

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NEW YORK — The U.S. is projected to reach nearly 100,000 more COVID-19 deaths by Dec. 1.

That’s the prediction from the nation’s most closely watched forecasting model. But health experts say that toll could be cut in half if nearly everyone wore a mask in public spaces.

Some behavior changes already may be flattening the curve in a few places in the South where the coronavirus has raged this summer. An Associated Press analysis shows the rate of new cases is slowing in Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana and Arkansas.

The projection from models at the University of Washington indicates deaths will rise to nearly 1,400 a day by mid-September, then decline slowly.

Deaths are currently averaging 1,100 a day in the U.S., turning the clock back to mid-March. The projection is an additional 98,000 Americans will die by the start of December, for an overall U.S. death toll of nearly 730,000.