LOS ANGELES -- Health officials say the most common COVID-19 variant of concern circulating in Los Angeles County is now a variant discovered in the U.K.
Previously, two California variants were dominant, but in the past week 53% of 40 specimens analyzed by a public health laboratory were the U.K. variant and none were California variants, the county Department of Public Health said Saturday. Variants discovered in Brazil and South Africa also were detected.
The department says the findings highlight the need for continuing precautions, especially by those who are not vaccinated against COVID-19. It says research shows that the available vaccines are highly effective against the variants circulating in the county.
Once staggering under COVID-19, the county of 10 million residents on Saturday reported 14 new deaths and 265 new cases. There were 330 people hospitalized and 24% were in intensive care units. Statewide, more than 36 million doses of vaccine have been administered and 16.5 million people are fully vaccinated.
California is planning to reopen on June 15, no longer requiring social distancing and allowing full capacity for businesses.
MORE ON THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Climbing guide says at least 100 virus cases on Everest
— New vibe at White House: Hugs are in; masks are (mostly) out
— EXPLAINER: Why ‘world’s pharmacy’ India is short on shots
— Alabama city throws ‘Tardy Gras’ parade as virus cases ebb
HERE'S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
NEW YORK — New coronavirus cases in the U.S. have decreased to rates not seen since June.
It’s sparking optimism that vaccination campaigns are stemming both severe COVID-19 cases and the spread of the virus.
The seven-day average for new cases dropped below 30,000 per day this week. CDC director Rochelle Walensky says cases haven’t been this low since June 18.
The average number of deaths over the last seven days also dropped to 552, a rate not seen since July.
Health experts credit the rollout of vaccines to a dramatic turnaround since January. But they also caution that not enough Americans have been vaccinated to completely extinguish the virus. President Joe Biden is trying to convince people to sign up for shots by reminding them that vaccines offer a return to normal life.
More than 60% of people over 18 have received at least one shot, and almost half are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. Alabama’s vaccination rate — 34% of people have received at least one dose — is one of the lowest in the country. Health experts are concerned some areas with low vaccination rates, such as a swath of Southern states, could give rise to new virus variants that may be more resistant to vaccinations.
WASHINGTON — Standardized tests are returning to the nation’s schools, but with lower stakes and an option to opt out for many families.
States are adopting a patchwork of testing plans after the Biden administration offered new flexibility during the pandemic. Some are shortening tests or delaying them, and many are lowering the stakes.
Officials in some states say tests are the last thing students need right now, but the Biden administration ordered tests to resume to assess the impact of the pandemic.
Some testing supporters are frustrated by the scattered approach, saying it will make it difficult to get a clear national picture of learning setbacks.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Dutch high schools will be allowed to fully reopen starting May 31 as coronavirus infections decline in the Netherlands.
After months of closure, students started going to class for one day a week from March 1. The government on Saturday announced a full return to school with infection rates and hospitalizations dropping sharply over the last two weeks.
Students won’t have to observe social distancing but must administer self-tests twice a week and keep a safe distance from school staff.
Education Minister Aire Slob paid tribute to schools for setting up remote learning but added, “nothing beats lessons at school.”
With the country’s vaccination campaign gathering pace, the seven-day rolling average of daily cases in Netherlands decreased in the past two weeks from 41 to 25 per 100,000 people.
BUDAPEST — People in Hungary are no longer required to wear masks in public areas after 5 million people received at least a first dose of vaccine.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced Saturday the latest round of lifted restrictions includes the end of mask requirements in public areas and on the street. Masks in shops and on public transportation are still required.
Orban says overnight curfews in place since November will end, along with restricted opening hours of shops and limits on some gatherings.
Hungary has vaccinated more than 55% of its population, the second-highest rate in the European Union, using vaccines from Russia, China and the European Union. A nation of less than 10 million people, Hungary has registered 29,475 confirmed deaths.
WASHINGTON — There’s a new vibe at the White House of late — hugs are in. Masks are mostly out.
The recent relaxation in federal guidance about wearing masks and distancing comes after more people have been vaccinated.
The White House is taking on the look and feel of pre-pandemic days. More West Wing staffers have been turning up for work there and, soon, so will more reporters. The administration is sending a message that a return to normal is possible with vaccinations.
“We’re back,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki declared at Friday’s daily briefing. “I can confirm we’re a warm and fuzzy crew and we like to hug around here.”
The president seemed happy to announce the relaxed mask guidance when he appeared in the Rose Garden on May 13 without a mask, just hours after the CDC said those who are fully vaccinated don’t need to wear masks or stand 6 feet apart in most settings.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan is offering free vaccinations, but so far people have not showed an overwhelming response to government appeals for shots.
Vaccinations are open for people age 30 and above. So far Pakistan has vaccinated about 4.9 million in a country with 220 million people.
Pakistan’s federal authorities on Saturday reported more than 4,000 new coronavirus cases and 88 confirmed deaths.
A lockdown was lifted last week. But in southern Sindh province, authorities decided Saturday to continue with restrictions for another two weeks because of surge in virus cases in commercial hub Karachi and the second-largest city, Hyderabad.
Pakistan has registered nearly 900,000 cases and 20,177 confirmed deaths.
KATHMANDU, Nepal — An expert climbing guide says a coronavirus outbreak on Mount Everest has infected at least 100 climbers and support staff.
That’s the first comprehensive estimate amid official Nepalese denials of a COVID-19 cluster on the world’s highest peak. Lukas Furtenbach of Austria says his estimate is based on confirmations from rescue pilots, insurance providers, doctors and expedition leaders, among others.
He spoke with The Associated Press in Kathmandu on Saturday, a week after halting his Everest expedition due to virus fears. He says one of his foreign guides and six Nepali Sherpa guides have tested positive. He saw people sick at base camp and heard people coughing in their tents.
A total of 408 foreign climbers were issued permits to climb Everest this season, aided by several hundred Sherpa guides and support staff who’ve been stationed at base camp since April. In late April, a Norwegian climber became the first to test positive at the Everest base camp. The climbing season closes at the end of the month.
Nepal reported 8,607 new infections and 177 deaths on Friday, bringing the totals since the pandemic began to more than 497,000 confirmed infections and 6,024 confirmed deaths.
KATHMANDU, Nepal — The Swiss government has flown $8 million in equipment and medical supplies to combat COVID-19 to help Nepal, which is struggling with a failing health system and acute shortages of hospital beds, medication and oxygen for patients.
The aid was handed over to Nepal’s Health Minister Hridayesh Tripathi at Kathmandu airport on Saturday. The Swiss embassy in Nepal says the shipment contained 40 ventilators, oxygen concentrators, 1.1 million coronavirus test kits, face masks, gloves and protective suits.
Nepal has been appealing for help from the international community since the COVID-19 situation worsened sharply this month. A lockdown has been imposed in most parts of the country since last month to curb the spiking cases.
Nepal has recorded nearly 500,000 COVID-19 confirmed cases and 6,024 people have died.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka halted passenger trains and buses for four days as authorities imposed a fresh travel ban across the country, in its latest efforts to curb the escalating number of COVID-19 infections and deaths.
The ban is effective from Friday night until Tuesday morning. However, it will not apply to those engaged in essential services such as the health, food and power sectors, and those seeking medical treatment.
The move comes as the island’s key medical associations demand the government lockdown the country for two weeks. The associations say the actual number of coronavirus infections is more than three times the number detected.
Sri Lanka has already banned public gatherings, parties, weddings and closed schools and universities.
MOBILE, Ala. -- Alabama’s port city of Mobile has put on a Mardi Gras-style parade, what seemed at least a little like the Carnival celebrations canceled earlier this year because of the pandemic.
Plastic beads and other trinkets flew as nearly 30 floats from Mardi Gras groups snaked through downtown Mobile on Friday night.
Thousands of people turned out in a county and state where only about a quarter of the population is fully vaccinated. Many went without masks, though health officials had urged personal responsibility.
The parade marks the commissioning of the Navy’s new ship USS Mobile, a shallow-water combat vessel manufactured in Mobile.
BATON ROUGE, La. — A medical center in Louisiana says it has identified the state’s first two cases of a COVID-19 variant first identified in India.
Britain and the World Health Organization consider it a variant of concern because experts think it may spread more easily than the original virus, LSU Health Shreveport said Friday.
The health system says the two samples were among more than 2,600 for which its Center for Emerging Viral Threats has decoded the genome. That represents 56% of all viral genomic surveillance data from Louisiana, the news release said.
At least two other variants have shown up in Louisiana — the one first identified in the United Kingdom and the one first found in Brazil.
LSU Health Shreveport said its lab found that the one first found in England remains dominant in North Louisiana, as in the rest of the United States.
PHOENIX — Health officials say children in Arizona as young as 12 can get a COVID-19 vaccine when receiving other immunizations.
State Department of Health Services director Dr. Cara Christ says pediatricians, per CDC guidance, can administer the Pfizer vaccine alongside other childhood vaccines. Previously, the CDC had recommended children wait two weeks in between vaccinations. Vaccine demand has been low statewide.
The hours and days of operations at some state vaccine pods will be modified. More than 5.6 million vaccine doses have been given out in Arizona.
The state on Friday reported 577 new cases and 22 more deaths.
SALEM, Ore. — Oregon officials are betting that the desire to win $1 million in a lottery will boost the percentage of Oregonians who are vaccinated against the coronavirus.
With only half of the people living in Oregon either fully or partly vaccinated, Oregon Lottery officials approved a plan Friday to hold a lottery. Those who have been vaccinated by June 27 will be eligible.
“It’s never been easier to get a vaccine, so don’t miss your shot to enter,” Gov. Kate Brown said.
She says its an effort to raise the percentage of adult Oregonians who get vaccinated to 70% in order to fully reopen the state. The Oregon Health Authority says 50% of Oregonians are vaccinated, with 39% having completed the series and 11% in progress.
If Oregonians have received at least a first dose of Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson, they are automatically entered to win through the state’s vaccine database. Other states trying this tactic include New York, Maryland and Ohio.
BERLIN — Germany will require people arriving from the U.K. to go into quarantine for 14 days, starting on Sunday. The decision is a response to the spread of a coronavirus variant first detected in India.
The announcement by the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s national disease control center, that Britain is being classified as a “virus variant area” comes a week after it went back on a list of “risk areas,” which has few consequences under current rules. Starting Sunday, airlines and others will only be able to transport German citizens and residents from Britain.
Under current German rules, all people arriving from “virus variant areas” — which also include India itself and Brazil — must spend 14 days in quarantine at home after their arrival. They cannot cut that period short by testing negative.
People arriving from “risk areas” can avoid a 10-day quarantine by showing a negative test result, and fully vaccinated people arriving from those countries don’t need either to test or quarantine.