The Latest: Biden plans to get face masks to hard-hit areas

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden plans to distribute millions of face masks to Americans in communities hard-hit by the coronavirus.

It’s part of his effort to ensure equity in the government’s response to the pandemic. Biden is aiming to reach underserved communities and those bearing the brunt of the outbreak. His plan will distribute masks not through the mail, but through Federally Qualified Community Health Centers and the nation’s food bank and food pantry systems.

The White House announced it expects more than 25 million American-made cloth masks in both adult and kid sizes will be distributed.

Biden has asked everyone to wear face masks for the first 100 days of his term. He’s also required mask-wearing in federal buildings and on public transportation.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

Dr. Anthony Fauci says National Institutes of Health will study symptoms in “long-haul” COVID-19 patients. CVS, Walgreens to give shots in more states this week. Johnson & Johnson single-dose COVID-19 shot poised for FDA decision. South Africa to spend $172 million on mass vaccination drive.

— Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

WASHINGTON — Muriel Bowser, the mayor of Washington D.C., is declaring a day of remembrance as the nation’s capital passes 1,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

On Wednesday night at 6 p.m., houses of worship across the city are encouraged to honor the lives lost.

Bowser says: “This tragic milestone is a reminder that this pandemic has forever changed families and communities. Even when the pandemic ends, for many, the pain and loss will still be there.”

Earlier this week, Bowser order all flags in the District of Columbia flown at half-staff to commemorate the U.S. death toll surpassing 500,000. Bowser’s declaration credited the “tremendous sacrifices” made by Washington residents to help contain the spread of the virus.

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A coronavirus variant originally traced to Brazil has been discovered in Alaska.

The variant was found in a specimen of an Anchorage resident who developed COVID-19 symptoms, the Anchorage Daily News reported. The person had no known travel history.

Dr. Joe McLaughlin, an epidemiologist with the state health department, says there is some evidence to suggest the P.1 variant is more transmissible than the original virus.

The person ate at an Anchorage restaurant with at least one other person in late January and didn’t wear a mask. The infected person developed symptoms four days later and tested positive on Feb. 8.

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ROME — Italy registered 16,424 coronavirus cases, the highest number in six weeks.

Italy’s vaccination program recently was forced to slow, after a quick initial start, when vaccine manufacturers didn’t deliver all the doses according to the original timetable.

Italy’s total confirmed cases rose to 2.8 million. With 318 more deaths, the known total rose to 96,666, Europe’s second-highest confirmed death toll after Britain.

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SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Bosnia’s foreign minister says all the preparations for the arrival of vaccines through the World Health Organization’s COVAX program were done but no shots have arrived.

Officials with COVAX, the program designed for poorer countries, says the promised batch of the vaccines haven’t t been dispatched because Bosnia’s authorities haven’t met Pfizer’s ultra-cold storage requirements.

Foreign minister Bisera Turkovic says the “cold chain” has been met, money has been paid for the vaccines and the non-arrival problem is on COVAX and Pfizer.

Bosnia, a country of 3.3 million, expects 1.2 million vaccines through COVAX. The program has faced delays in the global vaccine distribution because of problems with deliveries from suppliers.

The Serb-run half of the state has received about 2,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. Its health workers have been receiving shots in neighboring Serbia, which managed to make direct deals with China, Russia, Pfizer and AstraZeneca.

On Wednesday, Ghana has become the first country to receive COVID-19 vaccines through COVAX.

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TORONTO — Canada’s largest city, Toronto, has cancelled all outdoor events until July 1 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Toronto Mayor John Tory says that includes Canada Day celebrations and Pride parade. He says it’s too soon to say whether events after that date will be cancelled as well.

The provincial Ontario government says they won’t start vaccinating people 80 years or above until the third week of March and won’t start with those 60 and above until July 1.

Canada has had a shortage of vaccines until this week but expects to get 6 million vaccines before the end of March and 29 million by July for a population of 37 million people.

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WASHINGTON — The National Institutes of Health is launching research to understand the causes and consequences of the lingering brain fog, breathing problems and malaise reported by many recovering COVID-19 patients.

Dr. Anthony Fauci says some studies have shown up to 30% of patients report symptoms that can endure for months, complicating their return to normal routines and work, and plunging many recovering patients into depression.

Fauci noted at a White House coronavirus briefing on Wednesday that work at NIH started this week thanks to more than $1 billion provided by Congress for COVID-related medical research. Government scientists are looking to enlist doctors and research institutions around the country in the effort to learn about “long-haul” COVID-19.

Fauci says a critical issue is whether COVID-19 predisposes some patients to other medical problems later, such as conditions affecting the heart or brain.

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JOHANNESBURG — South Africa plans to spend $712 million to vaccinate some 67% of its 60 million people and help the economy to rebound.

Finance Minister Tito Mboweni says the vaccination drive will help South Africa’s economy, the most developed in sub-Saharan Africa, to rebound by 3.4% this year.

Mboweni says the vaccines would be given to all South Africans free of charge. Last week South Africa launched the first phase of its vaccination campaign in which it is inoculating an estimated 500,000 front-line health care workers with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, as a large-scale observational study.

The J&J vaccine is authorized for testing purposes in South Africa but has not yet been approved for general use.

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WARSAW, Poland — Poland will require surgical masks nationwide on Saturday and ban scarfs, shawls or headgear as substitutes.

Headgear can only be worn together with a mask, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said Wednesday. The decision comes after an increase in coronavirus cases to more than 12,000 Wednesday, from a daily average of about 7,000 the previous week.

Because of high COVID-19 incidence in neighboring Czech Republic and Slovakia, all people entering Poland from those countries need a 10-day quarantine, unless they show a negative test taken no more than 48 hours prior to arrival. More than 2.8 million people have been vaccinated, half with the second dose.

A nation of 38 million, Poland has registered nearly 1.7 million infections and almost 43,000 confirmed deaths.

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WOONSOCKET, R.I. — CVS and Walgreens drugstores will start doling out COVID-19 vaccinations in more states on Thursday.

The drugstore chains say they have received additional vaccine doses from the federal government after they used up their initial allotment. Both companies started giving out vaccines on Feb. 12 to eligible customers at stores in several states.

CVS Health Corp. says it will add stores in six states, including Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania to a list of 11 that includes big markets like California, New York and Texas. The company received another 570,000 doses from the government.

Walgreens said late last week that it will receive an additional 480,000 doses to distribute at its stores. The company started in 15 states and territories and is expanding drugstore vaccines into 10 more states, including California, Oregon and Virginia.

A third national drugstore chain, Rite Aid Corp., also started delivering doses to customers this month at stores in the Northeast and California. With the latest expansion, at least one of the three national drugstore chains in the U.S. is administering vaccine doses at drugstores in 36 states and two territories under the federal distribution program. Customers must schedule appointments before they can receive the vaccines.

Major drugstore chains also are partnering with some states on additional distributions. Several independent drugstores are doling out vaccinations, along with retailers with pharmacies such as Walmart.

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BERLIN — Germany’s health minister says home tests for COVID-19 may help the country “regain a bit more freedom” after authorities approved the first such tests for personal use on Wednesday.

Jens Spahn says the tests, already widely used in other countries such as neighboring Austria, could provide “an important contribution” to people’s sense of security going forward.

Spahn told lawmakers that Germany is already seeing the positive effect of vaccinations in those over 80, who received the shots first. But he’s concerned about the spread of other variants.

Germany’s disease control agency reported more than 8,000 new cases in the past day and 422 confirmed deaths. Since the start of the pandemic, Germany has registered more than 2.4 million infections and 68,740 confirmed deaths.

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GENEVA — Switzerland’s government will reopen shops, museums and libraries and allow more people to gather at sports and cultural events starting next week.

Confirming plans laid out last week, President Guy Parmelin acknowledged public frustration and pressure for a faster re-opening but called for “discipline” in the face of new variants spreading in the country. He says a reopening of restaurants and bars is planned for April 1 but could be moved forward “if the situation continues to improve.”

He noted vaccinations and tests were increasing, “so there are reasons to remain confident.”

Health Minister Alain Berset pointed to a drop in COVID-19 hospitalizations, deaths and case counts in recent days, but noted about 60 percent of new cases were of a new variant.

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WASHINGTON — An analysis by U.S. regulators say Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine protects against COVID-19.

The report Wednesday confirmed the vaccine is about 66% effective overall at preventing moderate to severe COVID-19.

On Friday, a panel of experts to the Food and Drug Administration will debate if the evidence is strong enough to recommend the vaccine. The FDA is expected to make a final decision within days.

If the FDA clears the J&J shot for U.S. use, it won’t boost vaccine supplies significantly right away. Only a few million doses are expected to be ready for shipping in the first week.

J&J tested its single-dose option in 44,000 people in the U.S., Latin America and South Africa. J&J previously announced the vaccine worked better in the U.S. — 72% effective against moderate to severe COVID-19, compared with 66% in Latin America and 57% in South Africa.

Still, in every country it was highly effective against the most serious symptoms, and early study results showed no hospitalizations or deaths starting 28 days after vaccination.

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BUDAPEST — Hungary became the first country in the European Union to begin using a COVID-19 vaccine produced in China and expects to inoculate up to 275,000 people by the end of the week.

Medical staff around the Central European country were instructed to administer the shots, developed by Chinese state-owned company Sinopharm, to elderly patients. The Sinopharm shot brings the number of vaccines currently in use in Hungary to five, more than in any other country in the EU.

“Today is an important day, because we are starting to administer the Chinese vaccine,” Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in a video on Facebook on Wednesday, who plans to get the shot next week.

Hungary has agreed to purchase 5 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine in the next four months, enough to inoculate 2.5 million people with the two-round shot in the country of 10 million.

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CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. — Two predominantly Latino cities in neighboring states have had diverging fates in the global rollout of the coronavirus vaccine.

Central Falls, Rhode Island, and Chelsea, Massachusetts, have been the hardest-hit communities in the states. Rhode Island has opened up vaccinations to all Central Fall residents 18 or older, and city officials say they’re on pace to inoculate most residents by the summer.

Massachusetts hasn’t done the same for Chelsea or other hard-hit communities of color. Public health experts, civil rights groups and immigrant activists have said for months the state, led by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, isn’t doing nearly enough to ensure that Black and Latino residents are inoculated.

White residents have so far received 66% of all doses in the state while Black residents have received about 5% and Latino residents 4%, according to state data. Meanwhile, Black and Latino residents are dying from the virus at three times the rate of whites in Massachusetts, by some measures.

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BEIJING — China is moving ahead with two more COVID-19 vaccines in the regulatory process, one from state-owned company Sinopharm and another from a private company CanSino.

Both vaccines have submitted been to regulators for approval this week. CanSino said that Chinese regulators are reviewing its application for its COVID-19 vaccine, in a stock filing on Wednesday. Sinopharm’s subsidiary the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products announced Wednesday that it had submitted an application Sunday and that regulators were reviewing it.

China already has approved two vaccines that it has been using in a mass immunization campaign. One of them is also from Sinopharm, but it was developed by its Beijing subsidiary. The other is the Sinovac vaccine.

The Wuhan shot from Sinopharm is 72.51% effective, the company said. Both shots from Sinopharm rely on inactivated viruses, a traditional technology.

CanSino’s vaccine is a one-dose shot that relies on a harmless common cold virus, called an adenovirus, to deliver the spike gene of the virus into the body. The technology is similar to both Astrazeneca and Johnson & Johnson’s vaccines, which rely on different adenoviruses.

CanSino’s vaccine is 65.28% effective, the company said Wednesday. Neither company has published its trial data in peer-reviewed scientific journals yet.

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ACCRA, Ghana — Ghana has become the first country in the world to receive vaccines acquired through the U.N.-backed COVAX initiative, with a delivery Wednesday of 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India.

The vaccines shots, delivered by UNICEF, arrived at Accra’s Kotoka International Airport and are part of the first wave of COVID-19 vaccines that COVAX is sending to several low- and middle-income countries.

Ghana is among 92 low-and middle-income countries that are receiving vaccines for free through COVAX program, which aims to ensure wider access to vaccines around the world. Another 90 countries and eight territories have agreed to pay to receive vaccines through COVAX.

The West African nation of 30 million has recorded 81,245 coronavirus cases and 584 deaths in the pandemic.

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