The Latest: Pediatrician: Keep masks in Mississippi schools

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FILE — In this March 1, 2021 file photo Alaska Airlines planes are shown parked at gates with Mount Rainier in the background at sunrise, at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle. Alaska Air Group has told its 22,000 employees they will be required to get a COVID-19 vaccination. There are some exceptions to the policy, which has shifted since last month, the The Seattle Times reported. In an email Thursday evening to all Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air employees, the Seattle-based company said employees will now be required to be fully vaccinated or approved for a reasonable accommodation. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren,File)

JACKSON, Miss. — The leader of a Mississippi pediatricians’ organization is urging school districts to keep mask mandates in place to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Anita Henderson of Hattiesburg is president of the Mississippi Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She says about 30% of youths ages 12 to 17 in the state are vaccinated, and “now is not the time to let our guard down.”

Mississippi has reported nine pediatric deaths from COVID-19. Some school districts are repealing mask mandates. Among them are the Madison County and Rankin County districts in central Mississippi and the Ocean Springs district on the Gulf Coast.

Mississippi had a significant surge in COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations starting in July. Numbers have slowly decreased in recent weeks. However, Mississippi is among the lowest vaccinated states in the nation.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— US virus deaths hit 700,000; unvaccinated frustrate health care providers

— Russia: Antibody testsfor COVID-19 remain popular, factor in low vaccine rate

— Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor allows NYC school vaccine plan

— Pediatrician: Keep mask mandates inMississippi schools

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See all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

TOPEKA, Kan. — Data from the Kansas state health department shows mostly rural counties have youth coronavirus vaccination rates far below the national average.

A school pandemic workgroup received data from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment this week showing in about a quarter of the state’s counties, less than 20% of vaccine-eligible children ages 12 to 17 had received at least one dose as of Sept. 24.

Most of the low-vaccine counties are in western Kansas or other rural areas. U.S. regulators in May expanded the use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to children as young as 12.

The national vaccination rate for youth is 57%, according to a presentation by Marci Nielsen, a special adviser to Kelly.

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NEW YORK — Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor denied an emergency appeal from a group of teachers to block New York City’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for public school teachers and other staff from going into effect.

Sotomayor ruled on Friday, after the teachers filed for the injunction with her on Thursday to keep the mandate from going into effect.

Under the mandate, the roughly 148,000 school employees had until 5 p.m. Friday to get at least their first vaccine shot. Those who didn’t face suspension without pay when schools open on Monday.

An original deadline this week was delayed after a legal challenge, but a federal appeals panel said New York City could go ahead with the mandate in the nation’s largest school district.

In August, Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett also denied an emergency appeal from students at Indiana University to block that institution’s vaccine mandate.

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WARSAW, Poland — A gala concert on Saturday will open the 18th edition of the prestigious Frederic Chopin international piano competition that was postponed by a full year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Oct. 2-23 competition was scheduled for the fall of 2020, but authorities put off the popular event, expecting the coronavirus and social distancing would prevent the usual crowds from attending.

The 87 participants from around the world begin Sunday with the performance of Xuanyi Mao from China. The winner gets a gold medal and a prize of 40,000 euros ($45,000) and prestigious recording and concert contracts.

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The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has eclipsed 700,000, with 100,000 people dying in the past three months when vaccines were available to any American over age 12.

The milestone reached late Friday is deeply frustrating to doctors, nurses and public health officials and Americans who watched a pandemic that had been easing earlier in the summer take a dark turn.

Tens of millions of people in the U.S. have refused to get vaccinated, allowing the highly contagious delta variant to tear through the country and send the death toll from 600,000 to 700,000 in 3 1/2 months.

Florida suffered by far the most deaths of any state during that period, with the virus killing about 17,000 residents since the middle of June. Texas was second with 13,000 deaths.

The two states account for 15% of the country’s population, but more than 30% of the nation’s deaths since the nation crossed the 600,000 threshold.

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MOSCOW — Antibody tests to detect the proteins produced by the body to fight coronavirus infection are cheap, widely available and actively marketed in Russia. Yet Western health experts say the tests are unreliable for diagnosing the coronavirus or assessing immunity to it.

When Russians talk about the coronavirus over dinner or in hair salons, the conversation often turns to “antitela,” the Russian word for antibodies. President Vladimir Putin referred to them while bragging to Turkey’s leader about why he avoided infection even though dozens of people around him contracted the coronavirus.

But the antibodies the popular tests look for can only serve as evidence of a past infection, and scientists say it’s still unclear what level of antibodies indicates protection from the virus and for how long..

In Russia, it’s common to get an antibody test and share the results. Their use appears to be a factor in the country’s low vaccination rate even as the country reports record daily deaths and rising infections.

Both the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommend vaccination regardless of previous infection.

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American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and JetBlue are joining United Airlines in requiring employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, as the Biden administration steps up pressure on major U.S. carriers to require the shots.

The airlines provide special flights, cargo hauling and other services for the government. The companies say that makes them government contractors who are covered by President Joe Biden’s order directing contractors to require that employees be vaccinated.

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker told employees late Friday that the airline is still working on details, but “it is clear that team members who choose to remain unvaccinated will not be able to work at American Airlines.”

The pilot union at American recently estimated that 4,200 — or 30% — of the airline’s pilots are not vaccinated.

Earlier, White House coronavirus adviser Jeffrey Zients talked to the CEOs of American, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines about vaccine mandates.

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NEW YORK — The Broadway hit “Aladdin” is trying to keep COVID-19 contained. Disney Theatrical Productions said it will cancel all shows until Oct. 12 after “additional breakthrough COVID-19 cases were detected.”

The show reopened Tuesday following some 18 months of being shuttered due to the pandemic, but was forced to close Wednesday when breakthrough COVID-19 cases were reported within the musical’s company. There was a Thursday performance before Friday’s was canceled.

It was the first Broadway COVID-19 cancellation since shows resumed with Bruce Springsteen’s concert returning in July and “Pass Over” as the first play to debut in August.

So-called breakthrough infections are detected in vaccinated people and tend to be far less dangerous than those unvaccinated. In many ways, the temporary closure proves that the monitoring system is working.

“Aladdin” opened on Broadway in March 2014 and has become one of its highest grossing shows.

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HARTFORD, Conn. – A retired Connecticut physician and surgeon voluntarily surrendered her license to practice medicine on Friday after being accused of providing fraudulent medical exemption forms through the mail.

Dr. Sue Mcintosh had her license suspended last week by the Connecticut Medical Examining Board during an emergency hearing. A full hearing on the merits of the case was scheduled for Oct. 5.

State officials, who had received an anonymous complaint about the doctor, allege Mcintosh provided an unknown number of blank, signed forms exempting people from the COVID-19 and other vaccines, as well as mandatory mask-wearing and routine COVID testing to people who sent her a self-addressed envelope.

Mcintosh, who hadn’t treated the patients, signed a letter included in the packet of bogus forms with the phrase “Let freedom ring!” She didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Christopher Boyle, a spokesperson for the Connecticut Department of Public Health, said officials are considering whether to refer the case to state and federal law enforcement agencies.

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MINNEAPOLIS — A decline in COVID-19 cases across the United States over the past several weeks has given overwhelmed hospitals some relief, but administrators are bracing for yet another possible surge as cold weather drives people indoors.

Health experts say the fourth wave of the pandemic has peaked overall in the U.S., particularly in the Deep South, where hospitals were stretched to the limit weeks ago. But many Northern states are still struggling with rising cases, and what’s ahead for winter is far less clear.

Unknowns include how flu season may strain already depleted hospital staffs and whether those who have refused to get vaccinated will change their minds. An estimated 70 million eligible Americans remain unvaccinated, providing kindling for the highly contagious delta variant.

“If you’re not vaccinated or have protection from natural infection, this virus will find you,” warned Mike Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

Nationwide, the number of people now in the hospital with COVID-19 has fallen to somewhere around 75,000 from over 93,000 in early September. New cases are on the downswing at about 112,000 per day on average, a drop of about one-third over the past 2 1/2 weeks.

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WASHINGTON — U.S. health officials are preparing to consider more COVID-19 vaccine boosters for adults and the first vaccine shots for children younger than 12.

The Food and Drug Administration said its panel of outside vaccine experts will meet Oct. 14 and 15 to consider whether to recommend booster doses for adults who received the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. The FDA is not required to follow the panel’s advice, though it often does.

If the FDA authorizes third doses of the vaccines a separate panel of advisers to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will make specific recommendations on who should get them.

The FDA and CDC signed off on booster shots of Pfizer’s vaccine last month for key Americans who face higher risks from COVID-19.

Additionally, the panel will hear presentations on the safety and effectiveness of mixing different vaccine brands when giving booster shots.

The FDA also set an Oct. 26 panel meeting to consider Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccines for children 5 to 11 years old. Currently the vaccine is authorized for children 12 and older.

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SAN FRANCISCO — California has announced the nation’s first coronavirus vaccine mandate for school children.

Gov. Gavin Newsom says the mandate won’t take effect until the COVID-19 vaccine has received final approval from the U.S. government for various grade levels.

The government has given final approval for the vaccine for anyone 16 and older. Once final approval comes for anyone 12 and older, the state will mandate vaccines for students in seventh through 12th grades.

The state will mandate the vaccine in kindergarten through sixth grades once the federal government gives final approval for anyone 5 and older.

The state’s vaccine mandate would take effect the semester after the federal government grants final approval. If it comes in January, then the mandate would take effect in July.

Students would be granted religious and medical exemptions, but the rules for how the state would apply those exemptions have not been written yet.

In August, California became the first state in the U.S. to require all teachers and staff in K-12 public and private schools to get vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing.

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WASHINGTON — Biden administration officials say a new pill that could provide an easier, effective way to treat COVID 19 is good news, while adding vaccination remains the key to controlling the pandemic.

Officials at drugmaker Merck say they’ll soon seek regulatory approval for the experimental pill, which reduced hospitalizations and deaths by half in people recently infected with the coronavirus.

Dr. Anthony Fauci calls it “very good news” and Merck’s data on its medicine “impressive.”

White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients says vaccination will remain the government’s main strategy for controlling the pandemic.

“We want to prevent infections, not just wait to treat them when they happen,” says Zients at the briefing on Friday.

If it’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the government has contracted to buy 1.7 million doses of Merck’s medication.

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