AUSTIN, Texas -- The number of deaths in Texas due to the illness caused by the coronavirus increased by more than 200 on Saturday while the number of people hospitalized with the virus declined, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
There were an additional 227 COVID-19 deaths, more than 4,900 new cases and 7,535 hospitalizations, a decline of 222 people hospitalized, the department reported.
Texas has had more than 2.5 million coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, and more than 42,000 deaths due to COVID-19, the third highest death count in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Pope Francis and Italy’s president mark new annual day to honor doctors, nurses and other health care workers
— Governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Gavin Newsom of California are embroiled in political woes from the pandemic
— Powdering sleeping beauty’s nose: Virus eases Louvre works
— Airlines plan to ask passengers for contact-tracing details
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
LOS ANGELES -- A skateboarding world champion is among five people prosecutors in Southern California have charged with organizing parties that were possible superspreader events amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Los Angeles Times reports Nyjah Huston, a four-time world skateboarding champion, and Edward Essa, the owner of a home in the Fairfax District, held a party last month with at least 40 people that was shut down by police after receiving a complaint.
Huston and Essa were both charged with creating a nuisance, a misdemeanor.
Neither could be reached for comment.
OKLAHOMA CITY -- More than 681,000 Oklahomans have now received the coronavirus vaccine, including more than 204,000 who have received both required doses, according to an Oklahoma State Department of Health report.
The state ranked 12th in the nation on Saturday with 14.3% of the population having received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control, and the state health department has scheduled vaccination clinics during the weekend to replace those canceled because of a winter storm.
There have been a reported 418,318 total virus cases and 4,155 deaths due to COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, since the pandemic began, increases of 973 cases and 23 deaths since Friday, according to the health department.
JERUSALEM -- Israel unveiled a plan on Saturday to allow people who have been vaccinated against the coronavirus to attend cultural events, fly abroad and go to health clubs and restaurants.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the plan at a news conference on Saturday night, saying those who have been vaccinated will be able to download the “green badge” in the coming days.
“The green badge is gradually opening up the country,” Netanyahu said.
Israel has conducted the world’s speediest vaccine campaign over the past month and a half, inoculating nearly half of its 9.3 million people. But with the coronavirus still spreading rapidly among the unvaccinated, the country only recently began emerging from a two-month lockdown.
On Sunday, retail stores, shopping malls, gyms, some middle school grades and other public services for limited crowd sizes are set to start back up.
Netanyahu said the government could not keep unvaccinated residents from places like medical clinics, pharmacies and supermarkets. But he said other services would be allowed only for those who have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Israel’s main international airport, for instance, remains closed to nearly all air traffic because of concerns of foreign variants of the virus entering the country.
PODGORICA, Montenegro — Tiny Montenegro has launched vaccinations against the coronavirus with doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccines that were donated by neighboring Serbia.
Health authorities said the first person to receive a shot on Saturday was a 66-year-old resident of a care home in the coastal town of Risan. Two doctors working at the same nursing home came next.
A nation of some 620,000 people, Montenegro has reported more than 70,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 939 known deaths.
Montenegrin authorities say they plan to acquire supplies of China’s Sinopharm vaccine and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
MEXICO CITY — The official leading Mexico’s response to the pandemic says he has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Assistant Health Secretary Hugo López-Gatell tweeted Saturday that he had light COVID-19 symptoms on Friday night and an antigen test came out positive. He was awaiting the results of a PCR test, which takes longer to process and is generally more accurate..
“I’ll be working from home,’’ López-Gatell said, adding that he was involved in Mexico’s vaccination program.
Some 200,000 doses of China’s Sinovac vaccine arrived in Mexico from Hong Kong on Saturday, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Twitter. A total of 10 million Sinovac vaccines are expected.
Mexico has approved several other coronavirus vaccines and has administered 1.5 million shots so far.
HONOLULU -- The Hawaii Department of Health says it has temporarily extended the window incoming travelers have to get a pre-arrival coronavirus test that comes back negative.
The state says travelers can now take the tests up to 96 hours before their scheduled flights instead of 72 hours because of winter storms that have ravaged the continental U.S.
The tests still have to be conducted by a state-approved provider.
Hawaii News Now reports the extension will be in effect through Sunday.
Alternatively, visitors can quarantine for 10 days after arriving in Hawaii.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Alaska public health officials say 3,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine will arrive later than expected because of a winter storm that has ravaged the continental U.S.
The state’s immunization program manager, Matt Bobo, said some vaccine appointments may be postponed until next week.
The doses were supposed to reach 21 different providers.
Another state vaccine official says the delay occurred at a somewhat fortuitous time — a part of the month for which the state had already anticipated a smaller vaccine shipment.
State officials say they have been communicating with officials at the White House and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control about the delay.
LAS VEGAS -- Before the coronavirus pandemic, tourist-dependent Nevada had a notorious attraction: It was the only place in America where someone could legally pay for sex. These days, even in the state known for sin, the business is taboo.
Legal brothels have been shuttered for nearly a year, leaving sex workers to offer less-lucrative alternatives like online dates or nonsexual escort services.
While the business of legal bordellos may seem incompatible with social distancing, sex workers and brothel owners say they should be allowed to reopen with protective measures like other close-contact industries, including massage therapy and dental services.
A state task force that makes recommendations on coronavirus restrictions hasn’t responded to pleas from brothel owners seeking a way to reopen.
Gov. Steve Sisolak recently said brothels, along with other adult entertainment like nightclubs and strip clubs, would stay closed at least through May 1. After that, the state may let counties decide whether to allow those businesses to open, as long as COVID-19 infections aren’t surging.
PHOENIX -- Enrollment at U.S. community colleges dropped 0% from fall 2019 to fall 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic.
That’s according to The National Student Clearinghouse, which says community colleges were hit the hardest among all types of colleges in terms of enrollment drops.
Four-year universities in the U.S. fared better than many had expected, seeing only slight enrollment decreases.
There are myriad reasons for the community college downturn. Fewer freshmen are enrolling and some are delaying college until campuses fully reopen.
But the pandemic has also taken a heavy toll on older adult students. Many lost jobs or have no time for their own schooling as they supervise their children’s online classes.
More Americans typically turn to community college education amid economic downturns, seeking to learn new job skills or change careers. But education experts say the pandemic seems to have upended usual trends.
PHOENIX — Arizona's Maricopa County plans to close two of its six regional COVID-19 vaccination sites in coming weeks as public health officials put increased emphasis on smaller sites and events to give more shots.
The county’s site in north Phoenix, operated by Honor Health, will last operate on Feb. 28. and the site run by Dignity Health in Chandler will close in early March.
Officials say current appointments will be honored at both locations. Arizona on Saturday reported 2,047 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases and 59 deaths, increasing the state’s pandemic totals to 806,163 cases and 15,480 deaths.
LONDON - The British government has announced a small step out of lockdown -- allowing nursing home residents to have a single friend or family member visit them indoors.
Residents and their visitors will be able to hold hands, but not hug. The change takes effect March 8. For months, nursing home residents have only been able to see loved ones outdoors or through screens.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he will announce a “road map” out of lockdown on Monday. The government has stressed that reopening will be slow and cautious, with store reopenings or outdoor socializing unlikely before April, though children will go back to school from March 8.
Johnson’s Conservative government has been accused of reopening the country too quickly after the first lockdown in the spring. Britain has had about 120,000 coronavirus deaths, the highest toll in Europe.
The new measures apply in England. In other parts of the U.K., nursing home visiting rules vary, with Scottish residents able to have two visitors from March 8.
HELSINKI — Denmark has temporarily closed some border crossing points with Germany and stepped up checks at others due to a spike in COVID-19 cases and a rise in virus variants in the the northern German town of Flensburg, just off the Danish border.
The Danish justice ministry said late Friday that an increasing number of infections and virus mutations have been detected in Flensburg, just some seven kilometers (4 miles) from the border with Denmark.
The Danish justice ministry said officials police will significantly intensify border controls at the Danish-German border. Local authorities in Germany said Saturday on Flensburg’s webpage that the town’s coronavirus incidence rate was running at 193 per 100,000 people.
Dozens of cases of mutated coronavirus, mostly the variant first detected in Britain, have been detected in Flensburg, a town with some 90,000 inhabitants, in the past days.
UNITED NATIONS — Britain has circulated a draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council demanding that all warring parties immediately institute a “sustained humanitarian pause” to enable people in conflict areas to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The proposed resolution reiterates the council’s demand last July 1 for “a general and immediate cessation of hostilities” in major conflicts from Syria and Yemen to Central African Republic, Mali and Sudan and Somalia, an appeal first made by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on March 23, 2020, to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
The draft, obtained Friday by The Associated Press, “emphasizes the need for solidarity, equity, and efficacy and invites donation of vaccine doses from developed economies to low- and middle-income countries and other countries in need, including through the COVAX Facility,” an ambitious World Health Organization project to buy and deliver coronavirus vaccines for the world’s poorest people.
The British draft stresses that “equitable access to affordable COVID-19 vaccines, certified as safe and efficacious, is essential to end the pandemic.”
It would recognize “the role of extensive immunization against COVID-19 as a global public good for health in preventing, containing, and stopping transmission, in order to bring the pandemic to an end.”
The draft follows up on British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab’s appeal to the 15-member Security Council on Wednesday to adopt a resolution calling for local cease-fires in conflict zones to allow the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines.
MEXICO CITY — Mexico says it will get its first shipment of the Chinese Coronavac vaccine Saturday and by Monday will receive its first lot of the Russian Sputnik V shot. Both shipments are expected to consist of about 200,000 doses.
Health officials say the first shipments of the Chinese and Russian vaccines will be used in low-income neighborhoods of Mexico City or its suburbs.
Mexico is currently using the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines and has applied almost 1.6 million doses of those.
The country will now be faced with the logistical challenge of handling four different vaccines, all of which require two doses. In addition, the Sputnik first shot is different from the second and is not interchangeable.
LOS ANGELES -- The University of Southern California expects to reopen campuses this fall, joining the state’s major public universities in planning to resume on-campus life curtailed by COVID-19.
USC President Carol Folt issued an online letter Friday that said she is “cautiously optimistic” because virus cases are down and vaccinations are ramping up. USC and other universities nationwide were forced to switch to online learning last March.
Both the University of California and California State University systems also have said they plan to reopen their campuses this fall if conditions permit.
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — President Alberto Fernández asked Argentina’s health minister to resign after a well-known local journalist said he had been given a coronavirus vaccination preferentially after requesting one from the minister, a government official said Friday.
The president “instructed his chief of staff to request the resignation of health minister” Ginés González García, who is in charge of the government’s COVID-19 strategy, said the official, who was not authorized to release the information and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. He did not say who would replace González García as health minister.
The scandal erupted when journalist Horacio Verbitsky, whose stories and columns on a website and on the radio are seen as pro-government, said he called the minister to request a vaccinination and González García summoned him to the Health Ministry where he received a Sputnik V vaccine shot Thursday.
“I decided to get vaccinated. I started to find out where to do it. I called my old friend Ginés González García, whom I have known long before he was a minister,” Verbitsky told a local radio station. “I went to the ministry and the team of vaccinators was there.”
Fernández’s government has been harshly criticized for Argentina’s slow vaccination operation.