By The Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has tested positive for COVID-19, along with his wife and teenage son, the governor’s office announced Tuesday.
In a statement, Walz said all three tested positive on Monday after his son began experiencing mild symptoms over the weekend. The governor and first lady Gwen Walz remain asymptomatic.
All three are vaccinated. Walz received the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine in March and the Moderna booster in October.
“My family and I are isolating, and I will continue to work from home until I feel better and test negative for the virus,” Walz said in a statement. “In the meantime, I encourage every Minnesotan to get tested before the holidays, and to roll up their sleeves and get their vaccine and their booster to ensure they, too, have strong protection against COVID-19.”
In a video posted to Twitter, the governor said they will quarantine for 10 days, and urged Minnesotans to get the booster shot and get tested if they experience any symptoms.
Minnesota hospitals remain strained, with nearly 1,500 people hospitalized with complications due to COVID-19 as of Monday, including 355 in intensive care.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC:
— Biden to urge Americans to get vaccinated as Christmas nears
— Explainer: Boosters key to fight omicron, lot still to learn
— Feeling powerless, families bring elderly home in pandemic
— Britain to give financial support to businesses hurt by the omicron surge
— German military gives hospital an edge in treating COVID-19 patients
Go to https://APNews.com/coronavirus-pandemic for updates throughout the day.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING TODAY:
LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he won’t impose any new coronavirus restrictions before Christmas — but new measures could be coming after the holiday if omicron continues to surge.
Johnson said Tuesday that given uncertainty about the strain’s severity, the U.K. hospitalization rate and the impact of booster vaccines, “we don’t think today that there is enough evidence to justify any tougher measures before Christmas.”
In a video message, he said “we continue to monitor omicron very closely and if the situation deteriorates we will be ready to take action if needed.”
Earlier this month, Johnson’s government reinstated rules requiring face masks in shops and ordered people to show proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test before entering nightclubs and other crowded venues.
He said people could go ahead with Christmas plans, but added: “I would urge everyone to exercise caution, to keep protecting yourselves.”
Omicron is spreading rapidly in Britain and has displaced delta as the dominant virus variant.
NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus is tightening up measures to curb a steady rise in COVID-19 infections with the re-introduction of compulsory testing for all employees so that they’re allowed to return to their workplace irrespective of whether they’ve been vaccinated or not.
Only employees who have received a third, booster shot are exempt from the measure that was among several Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantela announced on Tuesday after consultations with a team of health experts advising the government on COVID-19.
As of the end of next month, the validity of certificates for those who recovered from COVID-19 which enable them to access public and other areas will be halved to three months.
Kids between 12 and 17 will be permitted entry to malls, theaters, cinemas, restaurants, hotels, sports stadiums and other venues only if they present a PCR or rapid test they’ve undergone in the previous seven days and if they’re accompanied by a vaccinated adult.
People are also urged to get tested ahead of visits to private homes for holiday celebrations which are capped to 20 people at most.
LANSING, Mich. — People who haven’t been vaccinated for COVID-19 are taking up too many beds at Michigan’s strained hospitals as the state prepares for the rapid spread of omicron variant, the governor said Tuesday.
The omicron variant is already the dominant strain in the U.S. and is expected to spread rapidly through Michigan in the near future, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said at a news conference in Grand Rapids where health officials also spoke.
“I have come to appreciate the fact that because this virus is mutating and it’s spreading so quickly, every one of us is likely going to have some exposure at some point,” Whitmer said. “What is our goal? To stay out of the hospital and to stay alive. And the best way to do that is through vaccination and through being boosted.”
Elizabeth Hertel, director of the state health agency, said that although the state’s positivity rate has decreased to 16.2%, that is still too high. During the seven-day period that ended Dec. 9, Michigan recorded 756 COVID-19 deaths.
Hertel said that from Jan. 15 through Dec. 3, people who were unvaccinated or weren’t fully vaccinated made up 85.1% of the state’s recorded COVID-19 cases, 88.1% of its coronavirus-related hospitalizations and 85.5% of its deaths from the disease.
Whitmer didn’t say whether the state could expect a return of mask mandates like those seen earlier in the pandemic, but she encouraged people to wear them and Hertel suggested people should upgrade the quality of the ones they wear.
PARIS — The French government is grappling with ways to slow the surging omicron variant, while French travelers and families are flocking to virus testing tents ahead of the holidays.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex spent the day Tuesday meeting with mayors and lawmakers to persuade them to support tougher vaccine rules.
France’s virus hospitalization numbers have shot up in recent weeks, with some 16,000 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 and 60% of the country’s ICU beds occupied by virus patients. Confirmed weekly virus infections are at the highest level in France since the pandemic began.
Most are infected with the delta variant but more than one in three new cases in the Paris region is the fast-spreading omicron variant, French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said.
The French government wants a law passed by the end of next month requiring vaccination to enter restaurants and many public venues. Currently a “health pass” is required to enter all such spaces in France, but people can get the pass with either a vaccination certificate, a negative virus test or proof of recent recovery from COVID-19.
France is ramping up vaccination and booster efforts, with doses made available to all children 5-11 starting Wednesday. More than 89% of French people 12 and over have had at least two doses, and about a third have had three doses.
PORTLAND, Maine — Maine’s status of having one of the lowest burdens of COVID-19 cases in the country is being challenged by a surge in cases.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Maine has risen over the past two weeks from about 624 new cases per day on Dec. 5 to about 915 new cases per day on Dec. 19. The state has one of the highest immunization rates in the country at more than 70%, but public health authorities have said lower rates in rural areas have led to outbreaks.
The state has been the site of more than 137,000 positive cases of the virus since the start of the pandemic. There have also been more than 1,400 deaths, and 22 more deaths were recorded on Tuesday, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said.
LONDON — Scotland is effectively barring spectators from professional soccer matches and canceling Edinburgh’s big New Year’s bash as part of tighter restrictions to slow the spread of the omicron variant.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says that for three weeks starting Dec. 26, public events will be limited to 200 people indoors and 500 outdoors. She said that means pro sports will be “effectively spectator-free.”
It also means the cancellation for a second year of Hogmanay, Edinburgh’s New Year’s Eve street party.
Sturgeon says social distancing and table service-only rules will return to bars and alcohol-serving restaurants Dec. 27.
The rapid spread of omicron means Britain is spending its second Christmas under restrictions. Sturgeon told Scottish lawmakers that “although it might not feel like it, we are in a much stronger position than last year.”
The four parts of the U.K. — England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — set their own health policies and have slightly different restrictions in place.
NEW YORK — The omicron variant is creating havoc on Broadway, with more shows temporarily shutting their doors during the busy Christmas week and one giving up for good.
“Jagged Little Pill,” a musical built on Alanis Morissette’s landmark rock album, will not reopen after it suspended performances when COVID-19 cases were recently detected within the company.
Producers cited the virus in part for the decision to permanently shut down the show, noting “extreme uncertainty ahead of us this winter.” Since individual musical and plays do not currently reveal box office data, it is hard to tell how much the virus is to blame or a dip in interest.
“Aladdin,” “Hamilton,” “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Ain’t Too Proud,” “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” and “MJ The Musical” have all announced multi-day cancellations due to the virus. Previews of “Skeleton Crew,” a play by Dominique Morisseau, have been pushed back into next week and the off-Broadway musical “Trevor” canceled its last two weeks of performances.
BOSTON — Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced Tuesday he will activate up to 500 members of the National Guard to support understaffed hospitals across the state facing a surge of COVID-19 patients and to bolster non-emergency medical transportation needs.
Up to 300 Guard members will begin training this week to provide nonclinical support at 55 acute care hospitals and 12 ambulance service providers, the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services said. They will be deployed Dec. 27.
The goal is to ensure that hospitals have sufficient capacity to care for both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients.
The Guard members will provide support in five critical areas identified by hospitals and ambulance services: non-emergency transportion between health care facilities; observing patients at risk for harming themselves; security and helping to maintain a safe workplace; moving patients within hospitals, such as bringing them from their rooms to tests; and delivering meals to patients in their rooms.
In addition, the state Department of Public Health on Tuesday directed all hospitals effective Dec. 27 to postpone or cancel all nonessential elective procedures.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The director of the European Union’s drug regulator says that the COVID-19 situation “remains extremely worrying across Europe” with high levels of transmission of the delta variant and the swift spread of the omicron mutation and it remains to be seen if vaccines will have to be tweaked to deal with omicron.
European Medicines Agency director Emer Cooke said Tuesday that “there’s no answer yet on whether we will need an adapted vaccine with a different composition to tackle this or any other emerging variants.”
Over the past year, the Amsterdam-based agency has given the green light to five vaccines for use in the 27-nation bloc.
Cooke says the agency issued guidance in February to drug makers in case they need to alter vaccines and has changed legislation to speed up evaluation of any newly tweaked vaccines, should they become necessary to tackle the pandemic.
She says, “we as regulators were well aware that viruses mutate and this is a situation that we are prepared for from a regulatory perspective.”
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Sweden on Tuesday said patrons must be seated in bars and restaurants and tables must be separated by one meter (over 3 feet).
“This means that there will be no nightclub partying on Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve,” Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson told a press conference as she announced 10 new restrictions that begin Thursday.
She added that they also will be rules to prevent congestion in shops, a maximum of 50 people at private gatherings and urged people to work from home when possible. The government also said participation in sports tournaments and camps is not recommended until Jan. 16.
Sweden has previously stood out among European nations for its comparatively hands-off response to the pandemic.
In neighboring Norway, Health Minister Ingvild Kjerkol said 86% of those aged over 65 have gotten the booster shot and said the “good news” means they are “well protected should they be infected.”
Norway has seen the number of virus cases quadruple in recent days.
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