MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday issued a state of emergency as state hospitals face a surge in COVID-19 cases, an order that came the same day the state tied a record low for available intensive care unit beds.
Ivey issued a limited state of emergency aimed at giving medical providers flexibility on staffing and capacity decisions and easier shipment of emergency equipment and supplies. The Republican governor stressed she would not be issuing any closure orders or mask mandates.
”I want to be abundantly clear: there will be absolutely no statewide mandates, closures or the like. This state of emergency is strategically targeted at removing bureaucracy and cutting red tape wherever we can to allow our doctors, nurses and hospital staff to treat patients that come through their doors,” Ivey said in a statement.
The order came as medical providers described a “tidal wave” of COVID-19 cases that is putting severe stress on Alabama hospitals. The state on Friday tied the record low for available intensive care unit beds with just 39 vacant beds statewide, said Dr. Don Williamson, the former state health officer who now heads the Alabama Hospital Association.
“The system is slowly becoming overwhelmed,” Williamson said.
Of the state’s 1,567 intensive care unit beds, 689 are filled with COVID-19 patients and just 39 are empty.
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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
HONOLULU — A new wave of the coronavirus pandemic has Hawaii in “crisis” mode, with the state recording its highest single bump in cases and hospitals putting together overflow plans, Gov. David Ige said.
Nearly 1,170 new infections were reported Friday, he said at a news conference. That includes a small number of cases from previous days that were delayed because of a technical glitch, but still represents the largest single increase since the start of the pandemic.
“Friday the 13th has never been so frightening. It is real and it is terrifying,” Ige said. “And tragically, it’s preventable.”
The vast majority of new cases are among unvaccinated people, officials said.
“Our behavior can save us,” Ige said in urging people to get vaccinated and avoid gatherings. “The actions we take each and every day can make a difference in the battle against COVID.”
Hawaii saw an average of 729 new cases over the past three days, Ige said. It has a population of nearly 1.5 million people. The seven-day state positivity rate is now 7.4%.
Ige said hospitals filling up and preparing for things to get worse.
“They are treating younger and younger people,” the governor said. “Yesterday, tragically, we reported a death of a man in his 30s.”
PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon’s governor says she will deploy up to 1,500 National Guard troops to hospitals around the state to support healthcare workers as the COVID-19 surges amid the rapid spread of the Delta variant.
Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, says starting Aug. 20 she will send an initial 500 Guard members to serve as equipment runners in hospitals and help with COVID-19 testing, among other things.
There are 733 people hospitalized with the virus in Oregon, including 185 in intensive care units. Hospitals have warned they are near capacity as the state endures a fourth wave of the outbreak.
SALT LAKE CITY — Coronavirus patients are filling Utah hospitals beyond capacity.
Officials with the state’s largest health care system said Friday that intensive care units are at 102% capacity.
Intermountain Healthcare doctors say about 90% of the hospitalized coronavirus patients are not vaccinated.
Infectious disease physicians say the surge driven by the highly contagious delta variant is especially concerning as the new school year begins without a mask mandate for children who cannot yet be vaccinated. Officials worry about school outbreaks that could spread to kids’ families. The latest surge has also taken a heavy toll on healthcare workers’ morale.
NASHVILLE — The Tennessee governor’s office is pushing back on COVID-19 vaccine misinformation that goes as far as claiming cows are being vaccinated to inoculate unwitting people who eat meat.
The confusion over an assortment of outlandish claims illustrates the hurdles that face a state in the bottom 10 for vaccination rates amid a virus resurgence stretching hospitals thin.
In an email Thursday to lawmakers, a top deputy of Republican Gov. Bill Lee debunked “several conspiracy theories” about a recent executive order. The email says some components that are being most frequently misinterpreted were included in previous executive orders during the pandemic. Lee’s office said lawmakers seeking information for constituents and constituents themselves have reached out about the claims.
The push to debunk shows how prevalently misinformation is swirling among unvaccinated circles, even as hospitals of all sizes have begun running out of staffed beds. Vanderbilt University Medical Center said its adult hospital and emergency department are “completely full,” as it is limiting elective procedures and declining transfer requests from many hospitals. More than 90% of COVID-19 hospitalizations there are unvaccinated people, while vaccinated patients are also severely immunocompromised, the hospital said.
The rumors deemed “FALSE” in the governor’s office email are that his executive order creates “quarantine camps”; that the National Guard will round up unvaccinated people and take them to locations to be quarantined or vaccinated, or forcibly vaccinate them in their homes; that the executive order lays the groundwork for permanent lockdowns; and that COVID-19 vaccines are being given to livestock to vaccinate people through meat consumption.
HONOLULU — Two visitors from U.S. mainland were arrested for allegedly using fake vaccine cards to travel to Hawaii.
Officials with the Hawaii attorney general’s office arrested the visitors at Honolulu’s international airport, a spokesman for the agency said in a statement.
Investigators said the two violated state rules requiring travelers to produce either a negative coronavirus test or proof of vaccination to avoid quarantine upon entering the state.
Violating the state’s COVID-19 mandates, including falsifying a vaccination card, is a misdemeanor that can result in a fine of up to $5,000, up to a year in prison or both.
The agency said this is the first time it has arrested someone for allegedly falsifying a vaccination card.
COLUMBIA, S.C. — A South Carolina health system is rescheduling surgeries and reassigning nurses after two of its hospitals topped 100% capacity as the delta variant spurred a new wave of coronavirus cases in the state.
Tidelands Health says it’s also opening two temporary clinics to treat patients with COVID-19-like symptoms as a way to bring down emergency department volumes.
Elsewhere in the state, hospitals are limiting visitors and entire high school football teams are being quarantined as schools newly reopened for the fall semester grapple with outbreaks.
In Pickens County, school board members called an emergency session Friday after 534 students and 28 staff members were quarantined two weeks into the school year. Kershaw County School District, which also began classes last week, quarantined 701 of its 11,033 students by Friday.
Coronavirus cases are soaring toward rates not seen since the height of the pandemic last winter, before vaccines became widely available. On Friday, health officials confirmed 3,585 new cases and 15 deaths, and total daily case counts have risen above 2,000 for the last 12 days.
PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University says students will soon no longer be able to cite a “personal or philosophical” exemption to the school’s requirement that all who attend get a COVID-19 vaccine.
The university says those exemptions would be nixed once the Food and Drug Administration grants full approval to vaccines now allowed under an emergency authorization.
It wasn’t immediately clear what effect the school’s new policy would have on football coach Nick Rolovich, who has opted not to get a vaccine. “Discussions also are underway about changes to the faculty and staff vaccination policy,” the university said.
The more strict vaccine requirements are being implemented because of the delta variant of the coronavirus, which has caused spikes in cases and hospitalizations throughout Washington state. Classes begin at WSU on Aug. 23.
JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi broke its single-day record of new coronavirus cases three times this week.
There were more than 3,000 cases reported Tuesday, more than 4,000 Thursday and more than 5,000 Friday.
On Thursday, the state broke its records for patients hospitalized and in ICUs with COVID-19; the previous records were in January, before vaccinations were widely available.
On Friday, Neshoba County had the highest per capita coronavirus caseload in Mississippi and the 55th highest among all counties in the U.S., according to the Johns Hopkins University.
Neshoba General is not alone in the struggle with cases as the delta variant has proliferated in Mississippi since early July. Health officials say few intensive care beds are available anywhere in Mississippi.
On Friday, the state opened an air-conditioned tent as a field hospital in a parking garage at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. It’s staffed by health care workers sent by the federal government. Patients with COVID-19 can be transferred there from around the state.
Mississippi has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the U.S. at 36% , compared to 50% for the nation.
NEW YORK — U.S. health officials have acknowledged more than 1 million Americans got extra coronavirus vaccine doses before it was authorized for people with weakened immune systems.
About 1.1 million people who received the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccines got at least one additional dose on their own. About 90,000 people who got the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine received at least one more, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.
It’s not known how many of the people who got extra doses are immune-compromised. The Food and Drug Administration this week authorized an extra dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines in people with weakened immune systems to better protect them from the virus.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Most Arkansas public school students will be required to wear masks when classes begin statewide next week.
At least 60 public school districts and charter schools have approved the requirements in the week since a judge prevented the state from enforcing a law banning school districts and governmental entities from requiring masks.
The requirements will cover at least half of the state’s 473,000 public school students.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson didn’t issue a statewide mask requirement after the judge’s ruling and instead left the decision to local school boards. The state’s 10 largest districts have all approved some type of mandate.
The pace at which the mandates are being approved surprises even health experts, who say they’re needed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus as Arkansas’ cases and hospitalizations skyrocket.
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma City school district will require students and staff to wear masks starting next week, with provisions for an opt out of the requirement, the district’s superintendent announced Friday.
Also, school employees who provide proof of full vaccination by Nov. 15 will receive a $1,000 stipend, according to Superintendent Sean McDaniel.
McDaniel says he issued the requirement days after the start of school on Monday because the number of virus cases increased from four the first day of classes to 119 on Thursday. McDaniel adds he doesn’t believe the requirement violates a state law banning mask mandates in schools because he, not the school board, issued the directive.
McDaniel says he hasn’t discussed the matter with Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, who issued a statement supporting the district and Santa Fe South, a public charter school that adopted a similar mask requirement that includes opt-out provisions.
O’FALLON, Mo. — Missouri hospitals are filling to capacity with COVID-19 patients, along with the intensive care units with a record number of patients.
The state health department’s coronavirus dashboard shows 2,318 people hospitalized with the virus, 50 more than Thursday and the highest number in seven months.
Some 689 COVID-19 patients are in Missouri intensive care units, the most since the pandemic began, topping 685 ICU patients on Dec. 23. The state data indicates 384 people on ventilators.
ICU capacity is down to 15% statewide, and inpatient bed capacity is at 16% remaining.
TORONTO — The Canadian government will require all air travelers and passengers on interprovincial trains to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra says that includes all commercial air travelers, passengers on trains between provinces and cruise ship passengers. It’s expected to take effect sometime in the fall and no later than the end of October.
The government also will require vaccinations for all federal public servants in the country.
The Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic Leblanc noted the federal government is the largest employer in the country. Leblanc says it is the government’s duty to guarantee the safety of their employees and those they serve.
MOSCOW — Russia has reported a daily record of 815 COVID-19 deaths, the highest toll of the pandemic.
The Russian coronavirus task force on Friday also confirmed 22,277 cases.
Meanwhile, Moscow’s Health Department says deaths of all causes in the capital increased 60% in July compared to the same month a year earlier. They included 6,583 coronavirus-related deaths, which corresponds to a COVID-19 mortality rate of 3.95%.
Health officials blamed the increase on COVID-19 deaths on the more contagious delta variant and unusually hot weather that exacerbated coronavirus-induced complications. Russia’s vaccination drive has lagged other nations. As of a week ago, 20% of the population was fully vaccinated.
CHICAGO — Chicago Public Schools officials announced they’ll require all employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by mid-October unless they qualify for a medical or religious exemption.
The mandate — announced two weeks before the full-time in-person learning begins Aug. 30 — applies to all Chicago Board of Education workers, a group that includes teachers, staff, workers in the district’s central office, and regular vendors and network employees.
“Our Chicago Public School communities deserve a safe and healthy environment that will allow our students to reach their greatest potential,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday that California would become the first state to require all teachers and school staff to get vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing.
CPS says staffers must submit proof that they are fully vaccinated by Oct. 15, unless they have the approved exemptions. In the meantime, employees who have not reported they’re fully vaccinated will be tested at least once a week until Oct 15 or until they provide proof of vaccinations. Those employees who have approved exemptions must be tested throughout the school year.