The Latest: FEMA: Paid $1B to help cover virus funerals

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National Disaster Medical System medical professionals listen as University of Mississippi Medical Center officials speak as to their temporary duties during a news conference and walk-thru of a COVID-19 mobile field hospital erected in a parking garage at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Miss., Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021. NDMS will help staff the field unit which will have a mixture of inpatient and outpatient services and will serve as a resource for the entire state, not just UMMC. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

WASHINGTON — Matthew Redding, FEMA’s Deputy Director of Individual Assistance, says the agency has paid more than $1 billion to 150,000 people who have applied for help covering coronavirus funeral expenses.

The government provides a maximum of $9,000 per deceased individual and up to $35,000 per application for U.S. citizens who can provide proof their family member died of COVID-19 and had qualified expenses not covered by some other source.

Redding says the U.S. government has no projected end date for the funeral assistance. “FEMA has sufficient resources to continue this mission as the nation continues to grapple with so much loss,” he said.

In some cases, there’s been assistance for multiple family members since the program launched nearly three months ago. FEMA has provided funeral assistance in the past but never on this scale.

More than 619,000 people have died in the U.S. from COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— Japan races to vaccinate after Olympics as coronavirus surges

— In Yemen’s north, Houthis face virus with outright denial

— President Biden eyes tougher vaccine rules without provokingbacklash

— US authorizes extra COVID-19 vaccine for people with weak immune systems

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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:

MIAMI — Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on mask requirements in schools faces a challenge in a Tallahassee courtroom.

Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper is scheduled to hear the lawsuit Friday. Parents from several large school districts want the governor’s prohibition on mandatory masking lifted as children across Florida return to school.

DeSantis says parents should decide whether their children wear masks in classrooms. But with infections from the delta variant surging, some school districts are following guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that recommends staff and students wear masks. The lawsuit says the mask ban violates Florida’s constitution.

In Palm Beach County, officials said they ended the second day of classes with 440 students sent home to quarantine because of 51 cases detected among staff members and students.

Orange County’s school system reported 333 total cases after classes began this week, with 20 teachers and 39 students still quarantined.

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LAS VEGAS — A coronavirus pandemic mask mandate in Nevada has drawn a federal lawsuit from attorneys seeking class-action status for claims that the constitutional rights of thousands of parents and children at Las Vegas-area schools are being violated.

The complaint filed Thursday against Gov. Steve Sisolak, state Attorney General Aaron Ford and the Clark County School District invokes rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It seeks an immediate court order to invalidate a directive the governor enacted last week requiring K-12 students and school employees in the Las Vegas and Reno areas to wear masks on buses and inside school buildings, regardless of vaccination status. The CDC says masks help prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

Schools opened Monday in and around Las Vegas, where more than 300,000 students and about 18,000 teachers make the Clark County district the fifth largest in the nation.

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TOKYO — The Tokyo Olympics have ended, but cases are still rising amid calls to limit gatherings.

On Friday, Tokyo reported 5,773 new cases, surpassing the previous record of 5,042 set last week. Yet many people are ignoring government requests to avoid travel and are gathering at bars and restaurants even as the coronavirus spikes.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga hopes vaccinations will slow the infections. It’s a race between the fast-spreading delta variant of the virus and inoculation rates that are making better progress than expected.

Japan’s daily coronavirus cases have topped 10,000 for more than a week, hospitals are filling up, and thousands of people infected are isolating at home. About 36% of Japan’s population has been fully vaccinated.

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BELIZE CITY — The Belize Tourism Board says 27 people aboard a Carnival cruise tested positive for the coronavirus just before the ship made a stop in Belize City.

The positive cases it reported Wednesday were among 26 crew members and one passenger on the Carnival Vista, which is carrying over 1,400 crew and nearly 3,000 passengers. All 27 were vaccinated, have mild or no symptoms, and are in isolation.

The Washington Post reports Carnival says it announced last week there were positive cases on board, but the cruise line had not given specific numbers. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says on its website that it has investigated the ship and it remains under observation.

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NICOSIA, Cyprus — Lekulutu Nsima said he’s a “lucky man” after receiving his first Pfizer vaccine shot against COVID-19. The 33-year-old asylum seeker says in his native Democratic Republic of Congo, the government only procured a handful of vaccine doses for one of Africa’s most populous nations, and those are often reserved for the country’s elites.

Nsima was one of hundreds of other foreign nationals who stood in line on Friday under Cyprus’ searing mid-summer sun at the capital’s walk-in vaccination center geared toward vaccinating free of charge and without an appointment those who aren’t covered under the country’s national health program.

On the center’s first day a week ago, 2,555 people received a shot. More than 1,000 were in line to be vaccinated on Friday.

The Cypriot government requires the mandatory display of a ‘SafePass’ certificate for entry into places where people gather in numbers, including restaurants, bars, shopping malls and supermarkets. The certificate proves the holder has received at least once shot, been tested for the virus in the previous 72 hours or has recently recovered from the disease.

Official figures indicate nearly 70% of Cyprus’ adult population have been fully vaccinated, while 76.3% have received at least their first shot.

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JERUSALEM — Israel is expanding its coronavirus booster shot program to people over age 50.

Israel was one of the world’s leaders in vaccinating its population early this year. But in recent weeks, it has seen a surge in cases involving the more transmissible delta variant, even among individuals who were thought to be fully vaccinated.

Israel last month began offering a booster shot to people over 60, becoming the first country in the world that uses a Western vaccine to do so. The campaign was expanded on Friday to people over 50 and front-line health care workers.

Health officials in the United States and Europe have not yet recommended booster shots.

World Health Organization officials have urged nations to refrain from administering extra shots, saying it is more important to inoculate the unvaccinated in poorer countries.

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LAGOS, Nigeria — Nigeria’s diplomatic mission in London says it is shutting down for 10 days after two of its officials tested positive for the coronavirus.

One of the infected diplomats was diagnosed while visiting the U.K.’s Home Office on Thursday, according to the Nigerian High Commission. That prompted a mass testing of staffers, which led to the detection of the second case.

“In line with COVID-19 regulation and the need to adhere to the rules and regulation of the host country, the mission will close down for the next 10 days, in order to observe the mandatory isolation of those who were in contact with the affected officials,” the commission statement said.

A commission spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on whether the infected officials or their close contacts have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

The U.K. Department of Health and Social Care announced this week that starting Monday, people who have been fully vaccinated will no longer be legally required to self-isolate if they come in contact with a positive case.

The Nigeria High Commission resumed operations in April as the U.K. started lifting its national lockdown restrictions. It said it had a backlog of 18,000 passport applications, some from as far back as December 2019.

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BEIJING, China — China has vaccinated 777 million people, or 55% of its population, as of Thursday, a health official says.

National Health Commission spokesperson Mi Feng gave the information during a press briefing on Friday.

The country is in the middle of battling its widest outbreak since the December 2019 one in the city of Wuhan, where scientists believe the coronavirus pandemic started.

Chinese officials say the latest outbreak, driven by the more transmissible delta variant. can be traced to an international airport in the coastal city of Nanjing and the first cases were found in fully vaccinated individuals.

Provinces are locking down cities and conducting multiple rounds of mass testing on millions of people in an attempt to stop the transmission of the virus.

China has seven vaccines in use, using multiple technologies, though the most common vaccines are the domestically developed Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines. However, it’s unknown how effective Chinese vaccines are against the delta variant.

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WASHINGTON — U.S. health regulators have authorized an extra dose of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines in people with weakened immune systems to better protect them from the virus.

The announcement Thursday by the Food and Drug Administration applies to millions of Americans who take immune-suppressing medicines because of organ transplants, cancer or other disorders. The decision doesn’t apply to otherwise healthy individuals.

Health authorities are closely monitoring if and when the general population will need a booster shot but say for now, the vaccines continue to be highly effective in most healthy people.

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MADRID — COVID-19 cases in Spain have fallen to their lowest level in a month as the country faces a weekend spent largely indoors due to a heatwave.

The Health Ministry says Spain’s 14-day incidence rate fell to 483 cases per 100,000 people, while 61.6% of the population has been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Spanish health authorities have faced criticism for suggesting that unvaccinated care home workers should be reassigned to non-contact roles to prevent infections among residents. Care home representatives called the proposal unworkable.

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CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s capital Canberra will remain locked down until there are no more COVID-19 infections in the city, a government leader said on Friday.

The Australian Capital Territory, which comprises Canberra and two villages, locked down for a week after a man tested positive on Thursday.

The tally of infections rose to six on Friday, with more than 1,800 people identified as close contacts of the original case since he became infectious, officials said.

Australian Capital Territory Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the lockdown would last until all new cases had been in isolation throughout their entire infectious period.

“We would want to see no additional community transmission, we want to go back to zero,” Barr said.

The recent infections are the first cases of community transmission in the city of 460,000 since July 10 last year.

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SYDNEY – The government of Australia’s most populous state on Friday reported a daily record 390 new locally-acquired COVID-19 infections and warned that the high infection rate would continue for days.

Two people had died overnight, bringing the death toll in New South Wales from an outbreak of the delta variant first detected in Sydney in mid June to 38.

The previous highest infection tally was 356 reported on Tuesday.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said at least 60 of the new cases had been infectious in the community before they were isolated.

“I anticipate, given the large number of cases we’ve had in the last few days, that unfortunately this trend will continue for at least the next few days,” Berejiklian said.

Sydney has been in lockdown since June 26 and the government had hoped that the spread would be halted by Aug. 28.

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ATLANTA — Fights over masks in schools continue to tear at Georgia communities even as hospital leaders again warned of shrinking bed space amid rising COVID-19 cases.

More than 100 protesters gathered Thursday at the Cobb County school board headquarters in Marietta. Most of them were trying to push Georgia’s second largest school district, with 110,000 students to mandate masks.

The district, which has a sharp division on its school board, has stuck to its mask-optional policy, like the majority of other Georgia school districts, even as infections led the district to send the fifth grade home at one of its elementary schools earlier this week.

Djenaba Pershay, who lives in Mableton, said she chose to send her daughter back to school in person this year because the Cobb County district required masks. It dropped that requirement shortly afterward.

But there were counter-protesters Thursday holding signs saying “My body, my choice.” In Monroe County, between Atlanta and Macon, school board members voted 6-0 on Wednesday to roll back a mask mandate that had been in place for only 24 hours.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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