NEW YORK — A top U.S. health official triggered a new round of confusion while trying to clarify a change to the coronavirus testing guidance.
The change posted this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was sharply criticized by public health experts.
The CDC previously had advised local health departments to test people who have been within 6 feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes. The guidance posted Monday said those people did “not necessarily need a test” unless they were more vulnerable to COVID-19. It also said a doctor or public health officials could still recommend a test.
After the change was attacked, CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield issued a statement Wednesday, attempting to explain it, saying “Testing may be considered for all close contacts of confirmed or probable COVID-19 patients.”
The statement said health officials are putting an emphasis on testing certain people, including those with symptoms and people who are most vulnerable for severe illness, like nursing home patients. But it also said testing should be emphasized for “individuals with a significant exposure.”
The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the CDC, insisted Thursday that Redfied’s statement wasn’t a “walk back” of the posted guidance, as some called it.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK
— Alabama Gov. Ivey extends statewide mask order after cases drop
— WHO says test, despite CDC’s recent flip flop on testing
— As virus rages, US economy struggles to sustain a recovery
— Teens step up during pandemic, helping others with delivering food, buying masks or teaching kids online.
— The Trump administration has sharply increased its use of hotels to detain immigrant children before expelling them from the United States during the coronavirus pandemic.
— The U.N. says it’s urgent to get kids back to schools. But some medical experts are urging caution as the virus is still raging in the U.S. and resurging from France to South Korea.
— Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi election laws could force people to choose between their health and their constitutional right to cast a ballot, according to a lawsuit that voting-rights groups filed Thursday to challenge the state’s restrictions on absentee voting.
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Southern Poverty Law Center filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Jackson. The new lawsuit is similar to one filed Aug. 11 in state court.
Mississippi does not allow widespread early voting. Instead, state law says absentee voting is available to anyone who is 65 or older, or for voters of any age who are permanently disabled or will be out of their home county on Election Day.
Legislators tweaked the law this year with provisions that expire at the end of 2020. Those allow absentee voting by someone with a temporary or permanent disability that may include “a physician-imposed quarantine due to COVID-19” or by a person who is “caring for a dependent that is under a physician-imposed quarantine due to COVID-19.”
The lawsuit filed Thursday says that the new provisions fail to provide clear guidance about whether people may vote absentee if they have medical conditions that make them vulnerable to the new coronavirus.
HONOLULU — Most Hawaii public schools will continue at-home distancing learning through the first quarter, which ends in October.
Concerns about campus safety during the coronavirus pandemic prompted education officials to postpone the start of the school year by two weeks.
Most schools planned to offer hybrid instruction with students alternating between in-person and online classes. A few schools planned to open to in-person instruction.
However, right before the Aug. 17 start date, the Hawaii Department of Education announced most schools would provide distance learning for the first four weeks.
The teachers union complains schools aren’t ready to open safely.
LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Supreme Court has postponed arguments over Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s use of emergency powers until Sept. 9.
The one-week delay is necessary because of an illness on Justice Richard Bernstein’s staff. He said an “indispensable” aide is struggling with COVID-19.
“Because of my blindness, I depend on him to help me review and internalize thousands of pages of material. … The work he does with me takes extensive time and effort and cannot be done without him,” Bernstein said.
A federal judge hearing a dispute over Whitmer’s coronavirus restrictions has asked the Supreme Court for an opinion on her power to renew certain orders related to COVID-19.
Separately, the Republican-controlled Legislature has challenged Whitmer with its own lawsuit. The governor so far has won at the Court of Claims and the Michigan Court of Appeals.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas is reporting at least 411 students, teachers and staff at public schools are actively infected with the coronavirus as the state’s new cases continue to rise.
The state began releasing numbers from public school districts with more than five confirmed cases four days into the new academic year.
Arkansas’ public schools have about 480,000 students and more than 69,000 employees.
The Health Department has reported 722 new confirmed virus cases overall in the state, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 58,745. Of those, 6,632 are active cases that don’t include people who have died or recovered.
The number of people who have died from COVID-19 in the state rose by seven to 739. Active hospitalizations declined by two to 433.
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — Costa Rica has adopted a less strict method of counting people infected with the coronavirus, abruptly adding thousands of new cases to the country’s infection totals.
Under the new criteria, people are counted who show symptoms of the disease and had direct contact with someone who tested positive, even if they were not tested themselves.
That has added more than 3,000 cases to the country’s reported total of 36,307 infections as of Wednesday. There have been 386 reported deaths.
Those newly counted under the change are also required to quarantine at home for 14 days.
Health Minister Daniel Salas entered quarantine on Tuesday after his father tested positive, though Salas hasn’t reported suffering symptoms.
Announcing the new policy, Salas said it is “about practicality and finding the greatest effectiveness in what we’re doing with the resources that we have.”
TOPEKA, Kan. — Gov. Laura Kelly says Kansas will apply to participate in a federal program providing additional benefits to workers who’ve lost their jobs because of the pandemic.
Thursday’s announcement comes less than two weeks after the Democratic governor questioned the program’s legality and suggested it could be difficult to administer.
Kelly’s office says the state would use a portion of its $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds to cover part of the added benefits.
President Donald Trump issued an executive order this month offering an additional $300 a week in benefits to jobless workers and $400 a week if states chip in the additional $100. The federal government would have to approve Kansas’ proposal.
An earlier program providing an additional $600 a week expired at the end of July with no agreement in Congress on extending or replacing it.
Kelly said Thursday in a statement that she had hoped the GOP-led U.S. Senate would have approved a program before taking its August break.
Kelly said it’s “far from a perfect solution,” but “I could not sit by idly while many Kansans are still facing unemployment.”
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey is extending a statewide mask order that’s credited with reducing coronavirus cases in the state.
The Republican governor says the order, which was set to expire next week, will be extended until Oct. 2. Ivey will keep in place other health orders, such as reducing occupancy in stores and limiting table seating in restaurants.
“Folks, I understand you don’t want to wear the mask. I don’t either,” Ivey said at the state Capitol. “When you wear a mask, you are protecting the people in your office, school, church and your vulnerable family and friends.”
Ivey has faced a mix of praise from health officials and criticism from some conservatives for the decision to issue the statewide mask order unlike some other Southern governors.
State Health Officer Scott Harris links increased mask usage to a drop in hospitalizations and the percentage of positive tests.
Since mid-July, the average daily case count dropped from a peak of more than 1,500 to less than 1,000 this week. The percent of tests returning as positive dropped from a high of 16.5% last month to 8% last week.
Nearly 120,000 Alabamians have tested positive with nearly 2,000 confirmed deaths, according to the state Department of Public Health.
DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is ordering all bars be closed in six of the state’s largest counties in response to surging numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases.
Reynolds ordered the action in Black Hawk, Dallas, Linn, Johnson, Polk and Story counties effective 5 p.m. on a day when the state had nearly 1,500 confirmed cases, a new high that topped levels recorded in the spring.
In the last 24 hours, Iowa recorded 1,475 confirmed cases, surpassing the April 25 total of 1,284. During that period, there were 18 more deaths for a total of 1,079.
Reynolds says the increased cases are largely due to young people gathering, especially those returning to universities.
In Story County, where Iowa State University is located, 28% of tests reported Wednesday were positive, according to state data. In Johnson County, home to the University of Iowa, it was 25%.
PHOENIX — Gyms and some bars across metro Phoenix and Tucson can reopen with coronavirus numbers in several Arizona counties dropping to moderate levels.
Maricopa and Pima counties have seen decreases since the Arizona Department of Health Services published guidelines for business re-openings this month.
Pina County failed to meet the metrics for reopening, a surprise because Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ said this week it had been expected to see a decrease in cases.
Six of 15 counties remain in the high category where gyms, bars, nightclubs and water parks can’t reopen without a state waiver.
BALTIMORE — Investigators say a Maryland man sold unregistered and misbranded pesticides falsely advertised as a government-approved disinfectant for the coronavirus.
Marek Majtan, 35, of Frederick, was charged in a criminal complaint accusing him of repackaging pesticides with his own handmade labels and marketing it on the internet.
Majtan, who was not authorized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to manufacture or distribute any pesticides, used a false EPA registration number on his products, according to a special agent with the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division.
U.S. Attorney Robert Hur says it is “particularly egregious to seize on the ongoing pandemic to take advantage of the public.”
LONDON — The World Health Organization says countries should actively test people to find coronavirus cases, even if they have mild or no symptoms.
That’s despite the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recently switched guidance to say asymptomatic contacts of cases don’t need to be tested.
Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead for the coronavirus, says when officials are investigating clusters of COVID-19, “testing may need to be expanded to look for individuals who are on the more mild end of the spectrum or who may indeed be asymptomatic.”
Van Kerkhove says countries were free to adapt their testing guidance for their individual needs and it’s critical how fast countries get results.
Defining active cases so they may be isolated and to allow contact tracing “is really fundamental to breaking chains of transmission,” she says.
Van Kerkhove also says wearing masks alone isn’t enough to protect against the spread of the coronavirus, expressing concerns that people are growing too lax on maintaining physical distancing.
Masks, distancing and hand-washing — “Do it all,” she says.
LONDON — Britain’s transport secretary has added Switzerland, Jamaica and the Czech Republic to the U.K.’s quarantine list.
Grant Shapps says travelers arriving from those countries must quarantine for 14 days starting Saturday.
Like the rest of Europe, the U.K. has seen the number of coronavirus cases rise. On Thursday, official data showed the U.K. recorded 1,522 new confirmed cases in the past 24 hours — the most since around mid-June.
UNITED NATIONS — A senior U.N. humanitarian official says reports of Syrian health care facilities filling up and increasing death notices and burials appear to indicate that actual coronavirus cases “far exceed official figures” of 2,440 cases confirmed by the government’s Ministry of Health.
Assistant Secretary-General for humanitarian affairs Ramesh Rajasingham told the U.N. Security Council on Thursday that “rising patient numbers are adding pressure to the fragile health system.”
He says many people “are reluctant to seek care at medical facilities, leading to more severe complications when they do arrive,” and “health workers still lack sufficient personal protective equipment and associated supplies.”
Rajasingham says most of the cases confirmed by Syria’s Ministry of Health “cannot be traced to a known source.”
He says several health facilities suspended operations this month because of capacity issues and staff becoming infected. That included Al Hol camp in northeast Syria, where 65,000 mainly women and children connected to Islamic State fighters are detained.
He says both field hospitals at the camp have since resumed operations.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesman says his country and China agreed to strengthen cooperation in developing a vaccine for the coronavirus.
Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri says Beijing will keep supporting Pakistan to overcome the pandemic’s impact. He says this understanding was reached during a recent visit of Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi to China.
The announcement comes days after Pakistan’s drug regulatory agency approved final-phase testing of a Chinese-made vaccine. Pakistan reopened businesses in May and plans to reopen schools next month.
The country has reported six new deaths and 445 new cases in the past 24 hours. The coronavirus has caused 62,74 confirmed deaths since February.
BOISE, Idaho — Idaho’s public health officials are trying to decide whether they’ll officially adopt new CDC guidelines that no longer recommend coronavirus testing for people who have had close contact with infected people.
The CDC guidelines have drawn widespread criticism from scientists who say it runs counter to what is necessary to control the pandemic. It comes at a time when Idaho is at a particularly critical juncture, with many students starting classes across the state.
Idaho Department of Health and Welfare spokeswoman Niki Forbing-Orr says the department became aware of the new guidelines Tuesday and officials are discussing whether to adopt them.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The Danish government is advising against travel to France or Croatia due to upticks in coronavirus cases in those countries.
The Foreign Ministry says those countries recently passed a threshold of 30 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants — 31.3 for France and 32.6 for Croatia.
Other European nations on the list are Andorra, Belgium, Luxembourg, Malta, Romania, Spain and Monaco.
Denmark has 16,627 confirmed cases and 624 deaths.
MADRID — Masks will be mandatory for all students in Spain age 6 or older when returning to schools in September because of increased coronavirus cases.
The rule announced Thursday will be adopted by the country’s 17 regions, which manage education autonomously. It’s part of a series of standardized guidelines agreed to in a meeting with central authorities. Previously masks were required only for students above age 12 by some regions.
Students will receive daily temperature checks and must wash their hands at least five times per day, and classrooms will need frequent ventilation.
“Bubble-classrooms” where students socialize with a limited number of peers will be key to identifying contacts. That allows localized quarantines if there’s a positive test, rather than closing entire schools.
Parent and teachers have expressed concern over the return to classes with new outbreaks since the country emerged from a strict lockdown.