The Latest: Funds set for EU cross-borders patient transfers

BRUSSELS — The president of the European Commission said it will make 220 million euros available to help EU member states organize the cross-borders transfer of COVID-19 patients.

Speaking Thursday after a video conference of EU’s 27 leaders, Ursula von der Leyen urged European countries to better cooperate in their fight against the deadly virus, which has killed more than 210,000 people across the continent.

Confronted to a massive surge of infections, many EU countries have reintroduced partial lockdowns as they try to avoid reaching a saturation point in their hospitals. Belgium, for instance, has warned the capacity of the country’s intensive care units could be reached in the next two weeks if the pace of new infections is not slowed, meaning patients could need to be transferred abroad.

“If we have more data sharing on ICU capacity, and where capacity is lacking, we can increase the cross-border patient care and it can be organized early enough,” Von der Leyen said. “The good use of the money requires good information exchange.

Von der Leyen also insisted on the necessity of improving the tracing of COVID-19 cases via mobile applications, and to quickly validate at EU level the so-called antigen tests, which are less reliable than the PCR tests but produce results in about 15 minutes.

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HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— WHO says Europe has reached 10 million coronavirus cases

— Spain to keep state of emergency until May 2021

— Pope Francis ends general public audiences amid virus surge in Italy

— U.S. public health experts say the nation’s response to the crises has been marked by grave missteps and missed opportunities.

— ‘Difficult winter’: Europe divided on lockdowns as cases soar. EU leaders try to coordinate their approach to virus testing, tracing and vaccines.

— Advertising executive feeds downtrodden Venezuelans from his bicycle seat. Every day, he hands out corn flour patties known as arepas to the hungry.

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— Follow AP’s coronavirus pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

HARTFORD, Conn. — Connecticut has designated more cities and towns as hot zones for COVID-19.

New data released Thursday show about a 70% of residents now live in communities experiencing spikes in coronavirus infections. That prompted Gov. Ned Lamont allow more municipal leaders to revert back to the state’s second phase of reopening where there were more restrictions.

They’re also encouraged to test nursing home staffers. Lamont, a Democrat, acknowledges being dismayed to see the state’s positivity rate climb since Wednesday.

He calls it a “gut punch” for a state that has worked hard to control the spread of the virus.

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MISSION, Kan. — A nursing home where every resident has tested positive for the coronavirus in a rural Kansas county with the state’s highest infection rate has been removed from the Medicare program, putting its funding at risk.

A scathing report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services cited a lack of masks as a main driver in the outbreak at the Andbe Home in Norton, Kansas. Sixty-one residents and about three dozen staff members have been infected at the home, and 12 have died.

That outbreak, along with one at a nearby state prison, has brought Norton County to the point where 106 out of every 1,000 residents have contracted the virus.

The federal report said infected residents were kept in the same rooms with those who were not sick, with only a sheet separating them. Communal dining continued for two days after residents began showing symptoms, and even then the facility waited a week before testing all its residents.

Amid the outbreak, the report said, six different staff members also were observed with their masks removed. The report said the failures “placed all residents in immediate jeopardy.

The agency said the facility faces $14,860 in fines and that it will lose its Medicare funding effective Nov. 18, although its temporary manager, Mission Health Communities, hopes to make adequate changes before then.

Mission Health, which took over the facility on Wednesday, is working to help restore compliance — an effort that will involve boosting testing and infection control precautions, ensuring adequate person protective equipment and restricting visitors, said Cheri Kauset, the company’s vice president of customer experience and communications.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said protestors were at her home Thursday morning after her personal information was leaked online.

Dunn said it was “scary and wrong” that anyone would feel comfortable sharing her personal information. It was unclear which group organized the protest and why they were protesting.

“It’s taken a really big toll on my family and myself,” Dunn said when asked about the protest during the governor’s weekly COVID-19 briefing. “I think it’s really unfortunate we live in a state where people feel that it is OK to harass civil servants,”

Gov. Gary Herbert criticized those who went to Dunn’s home, adding that protesting there was “probably not the best use of their time.”

“I know we’re asking a lot of the people of Utah to be patient,” he said. “We know that their time is valuable. I would hope that they would put that in a constructive effort.”

Dunn said the protestors were planning to return to her home Thursday evening.

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LONDON — Another 2 million people in England are being placed under the government’s highest level of restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus, as case numbers rise and measures are gradually tightened across the country.

Civic leaders in the West Yorkshire region of northern England say it will be placed under Tier 3 restrictions — the highest of three levels — starting Monday. Under the measures most pubs and some other businesses must close and people are barred from meeting indoors with members of other households.

The area, which includes the cities of Leeds and Bradford, joins a large swath of northern England that is already under the restrictions.

The British government hopes its regional approach can avoid the need for a new nationwide lockdown.

But its scientific advisers say that may be the only way to stop a resurgent virus. A large, ongoing study into the COVID-19 epidemic in England estimated Thursday that there are about 96,000 new cases every day and that the outbreak is doubling in size every nine days.

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PARIS — French people will be confined to 1 kilometer (half a mile) from their homes for the next month, unless they’re buying food or going to school or a few other exceptions, as the government tries to wrestle down fast-climbing numbers of virus infections and deaths.

Violators will be fined 135 euros ($162). All non-essential businesses will close, and working from home will be required wherever physically possible, government ministers announced Thursday, just a few hours before the measures take effect at midnight.

“The situation will be difficult in the weeks to come,” Prime Minister Jean Castex said. “There are no other solutions” to protect hospitals facing increasing strain.

COVID patients now occupy more than 62% of France intensive care beds, and the country reported another 235 virus-related deaths Thursday – levels not seen since May.

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ROME — Italy has authorized pediatricians and general practitioners to perform up to 100,000 rapid virus tests each day to try to identify new infections amid an eight-fold increase in confirmed new cases in the past three weeks.

Italy’s commissioner for the COVID-19 emergency, Domenico Arcuri, announced the expanded testing Thursday as he pleaded for Italians to stay home to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed as they were in northern Lombardy in the first phase of the outbreak.

He said intensive care units weren’t yet overflowing, but that some emergency rooms and sub-intensive wards already are.

Italy added a record number of new confirmed cases Thursday at more than 26,000. Arcuri said at that rate, tracing contacts becomes “a gigantic and probably impossible to realize” feat.

Italy can currently only process about 200,000 virus tests per day through its public health system.

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MADRID — Spain has reported 23,580 daily confirmed infections as health authorities tighten restrictions to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Spain’s health ministry says 9,395 cases were diagnosed in the past 24 hours. The remainder were diagnosed in recent days but not immediately reported to central authorities.

Spain’s caseload since the pandemic began reached 1.1 million, second only to France in Europe.

More than 25% of Spain’s intensive care units are occupied by patients with the virus.

Spain’s Parliament on Wednesday endorsed an extension of the state of emergency declared by the government until May 9. The measure puts into place a nightly curfew and allows regions to impose more restrictions.

Spain has more than 35,000 confirmed deaths.

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LONDON — The World Health Organization says Europe had a record 1.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases in the last week and has reached 10 million of the 44 million global cases.

WHO’s European director Dr. Hans Kluge says, “hospitalizations have risen to levels unseen since the spring” and deaths have sharply risen by more than 30%.

“Europe is at the epicenter of this pandemic once again,” Kluge told European health ministers.

He says testing systems haven’t kept up with widespread levels of transmission. He adds “test positivity levels have reached new highs,” with most European countries exceeding 5%.

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TOPEKA, Kan. — A nursing home where every resident has tested positive for the coronavirus in a rural Kansas county with the state’s highest infection rate is losing its federal Medicare funding.

A scathing report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services cited a lack of masks as a main driver in the outbreak at the Andbe Home in Norton, Kansas. Sixty-one residents and about three dozen staff members have been infected at the home, and at least 10 have died.

That outbreak, along with one at a nearby state prison, has brought Norton County to the point where 106 out of every 1,000 residents have contracted the virus.

The federal report said infected residents were kept in the same rooms with those who were not sick, with only a sheet separating them. Communal dining continued for two days after residents began showing symptoms, and even then the facility waited a week before testing all its residents.

Amid the outbreak, the report said, six different staff members also were observed with their masks removed.

The agency said the facility faces $14,860 in fines and that it will lose its Medicare funding effective Nov. 18.

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PHOENIX — Arizona health officials reported 1,300 daily coronavirus cases.

The Department of Health Services registered 13 more deaths, increasing the state’s totals to 242,480 confirmed cases and 5,918 deaths.

Arizona’s seven-day rolling average of daily cases rose from 728 per day on Oct. 14 to 1,036 on Wednesday. The average daily deaths increased from 6 to 7.3, and the positivity average went from 7.2% to 9.8%.

Arizona was a national hot spot in June and July. Coronavirus cases and related hospitalizations fell off before gradually increasing in September.

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MADRID — Spain’s parliament has voted to keep the country’s state of emergency in place until May 2021 to try to rein in the resurging coronavirus pandemic.

The government and parliament agreed Thursday to vote again in March on possibly ending the state of emergency.

Spain announced its second nationwide state of emergency Sunday, imposing an 11 p.m.-6 a.m. nationwide curfew, except in the Canary Islands. It allows the country’s 17 regions to set more restrictions, such as regional border closures.

Last week, Spain became the first European country to surpass 1 million officially recorded coronavirus cases. The death toll is at least 35,000. Health experts say the true figure could be three times higher because of a lack of testing and reporting.

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WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s prime minister says he’ll try to avoid a national lock-down as long as possible despite a steep spike in infections.

Mateusz Morawiecki spoke a new temporary hospital for up to 1,200 COVID-19 patients that’s been readied at the National Stadium in Warsaw but is not in use yet.

Morawiecki appealed to all citizens to strictly observe distancing and hygiene rules to help prevent the hospitals from filling up.

Poland reached more than 20,100 new daily cases of infection on Thursday, raising the total to nearly 320,000 in the central European nation of 38 million.

All of Poland is a “red zone” since Saturday, meaning that masks must be worn outdoors, shops have limits of clients, restaurants can only do takeout food and fitness centers are closed.

Morawiecki appealed to people demonstrating against a recent tightening of the abortion law to refrain from more street protests because they may spread the virus.

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LONDON — Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says restrictions are working to limit the resurgence of the coronavirus.

While announcing a new five-tiered system for restrictions in the country, Sturgeon says the “early” decision to impose restrictions are reducing the growth of new infections.

She told Scottish lawmakers in Edinburgh there were “some encouraging signs,” with new cases increasing by only 4% on a weekly basis compared with 40% two weeks ago.

The Scottish government closed pubs and restaurants across central Scotland on Oct. 9, including in the two biggest cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh.

The other nations of Britain — England, Wales and Northern Ireland — also have tightened restrictions.

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MADISON, Wis. — The University of Wisconsin-Madison will resume enrolling patients for a coronavirus vaccine trial next week.

Thirty-six people had received the first of two shots before the study at the School of Medicine and Public Health was paused in September.

The study is for a coronavirus vaccine produced by Oxford University and the British pharmaceutical manufacturer AstraZeneca, which announced last Friday that testing would resume after it got clearance from the Food and Drug Administration.

Testing of AstraZeneca’s vaccine candidate was paused after a study volunteer developed a serious health issue. Such temporary halts of drug and vaccine testing are relatively common. It allows researchers time to investigate whether an illness is a side effect or a coincidence.

The school will resume enrolling volunteers, Wisconsin Public Radio News reported.

On Wednesday, the state reported 3,800 new coronavirus cases and 45 deaths, bringing the death toll to 1,897 in Wisconsin. The positivity rate for the most recent seven-day period was the state’s highest at 27.2%.

There were a record 1,439 people hospitalized with the virus in the state Wednesday, including 339 patients in intensive care.

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VATICAN CITY — The Vatican is ending Pope Francis’ general audiences with the public amid a surge in coronavirus cases in Italy and a confirmed infection at last week’s encounter.

The Vatican says Francis would resume livestreaming his weekly catechism lessons from his library in the Apostolic Palace, as he did during the Vatican’s coronavirus lockdown during the spring and summer.

Francis resumed his Wednesday general audiences on Sept. 2 in a Vatican courtyard with limited numbers of faithful.

Francis’ decision to not wear a mask during his audiences has drawn criticism on social media, especially when he would greet prelates at the end of the audience. The Vatican said Thursday that someone who attended the Oct. 21 audience tested positive, though it didn’t say if that person was among those who greeted the pontiff.

Categories: AP National News