The Latest: US tops 30 million confirmed cases of COVID-19

The U.S. has now surpassed 30 million confirmed cases of COVID-19

The U.S. has now surpassed 30 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.

Coronavirus cases nationwide reached 30,001,245 on Wednesday, nearly three months after the country hit 20 million.

COVID-19 related deaths now total more than 545,000.

The federal government is dramatically ramping up vaccine production and several states have already expanded vaccination eligibility to people age 16 and up.

More than 124 million cases have been confirmed worldwide.

———

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah’s mask mandate will end April 10 after the Republican governor signed a bill that lays out a new timeline for lifting some of the state’s COVID-19 restrictions.

Masks orders will remain in place for schools and gatherings of more than 50 people. Businesses can also choose to require them.

Gov. Spencer Cox signed the measure on Wednesday, the same day that vaccinations opened to all people aged 16 and older.

———

THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

VACCINES: More than 85.4 million people, or 25.7% of the U.S. population, have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some 46.3 million people, or 14% of the population, have completed their vaccination.

CASES: The seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the U.S. decreased over the past two weeks from 56,045 on March 9 to 53,308 on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

DEATHS: The seven-day rolling average for daily new deaths in the U.S. decreased over the past two weeks decreased from 1,557 on March 9 to 940 on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

— Dr. Fauci: Positive signs with vaccinations, but U.S. not turning corner yet on coronavirus

— Bono, Penélope Cruz, David Oyelowo star in animated series on vaccine importance

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

———

HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

TOPEKA, Kan. — Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly has signed legislation rewriting state laws for managing the coronavirus pandemic and future emergencies even though she believes it could hinder disaster response efforts.

The measure Kelly signed Wednesday extends the state of emergency for the pandemic until May 28 instead of letting it expire March 31. Kelly cited the extension in announcing her action.

The measure also leaves counties in charge of mask mandates and other restrictions. But in the state’s second most populous county of Sedgwick County, the county commission ended its remaining COVID-19 restrictions. Commissioners had said the measure signed by Kelly makes it more likely it would lose lawsuits over such restrictions.

The measure says anyone aggrieved by local restrictions during a pandemic or other emergency can file a lawsuit challenging them and the case must be heard within 72 hours.

———

TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas says it will be receiving only a fraction of the 100,000 doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine for COVID-19 that it had expected next week.

The state Department of Health and Environment said Wednesday that it will receive 16,500 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine when it had expected 100,000 doses.

The department said production issues mean that the promised doses might not be ready to ship to Kansas until the second or third week of April.

———

SAO PAULO, Brazil — Brazil has reached 300,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths and become the second nation to top that figure. The United States hit the same milestone on Dec. 14, but it has a larger population.

On Tuesday, Brazil hit a single-day record of 3,251 COVID-19 deaths and authorities fear that April could be as grim as March in the country’s overwhelmed hospitals.

Brazil added 100,000 deaths to its tally in only 75 days, a spike health experts have blamed on a lack of political coordination, new variants that spread more easily and a disregard for health protocols in many parts of the country.

———

WARSAW, Poland – Amid a spike in new COVID-19 cases, Poland’s health and Catholic Church authorities have appealed to all parish priests to strictly observe an attendance limit and distancing at church services, especially during the Easter holiday.

Health Minister Adam Niedzielski and Secretary General of Poland’s Episcopate, Bishop Artur Mizinski, said in Wednesday's appeal that they were driven by concern for the “life and health of all Poles.”

“We must not remain indifferent in the face of the rising number of new infections,” they said and stressed the need to “strictly observe the rules and sanitary requirements.”

They said that was the necessary condition to avoid new restrictions that would be tougher than the current lockdown of hotels, shopping malls, theaters and sports centers.

On Wednesday, the nation of 38 million inhabitants recorded its highest daily number of new COVID-19 cases in the pandemic, reaching almost 30,000. There were 575 deaths.

There have been reports that not all churches are observe pandemic rules. Photos have circulated of ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski and other officials failing to observe the required distance at a memorial Mass for Kaczynski’s late mother in a church in Starachowice in central Poland.

Easter, this year on April 4-5, and the week leading to it, are a time when Poles throng churches for prayers and Mass.

———

BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana will end its limits Monday on which adults can receive the coronavirus vaccine, giving access to anyone 16 and older who wants to schedule an appointment.

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards made the announcement as vaccine supplies grow and immunization appointments go unused. Louisiana is joining a growing list of states that are throwing open vaccine access to any adult interested in a shot.

Edwards says Louisiana also will significantly ramp up its large community vaccination events to try to reach more people and make it easier for them to obtain the immunizations.

———

BOISE, Idaho — The governor of Idaho has said COVID-19 vaccine eligibility will be open to all Idaho residents 16 and up starting April 5.

Republican Gov. Brad Little made the move three weeks ahead of schedule. He also said people with at least one medical condition will be able to get the vaccine starting Monday, about two weeks ahead of schedule.

Currently eligible for the vaccine are those 55 and older, healthcare workers, long-term care facility staff and residents, first responders, K-12 teachers and school staff, and frontline essential workers.

———

WAILUKU, Hawaii — A hospital on Maui had to throw out nearly 1,400 vaccine doses after a refrigerator thawing the vials did not properly seal.

Vaccines are locked in a freezer before being transferred to the low-temperature refrigerator to be thawed. The doses were put in the refrigerator on Friday in preparation for this week’s vaccinations. Staff members discovered the door was not sealed on Monday.

Hawaii has distributed 832,800 coronavirus vaccines, or about 58,819 for every 100,000 residents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 16% of the state's population has completed their vaccination.

———

BERLIN — Austrian authorities plan to close nonessential shops and businesses such as hairdressers in three eastern regions from April 1 to April 6 over Easter as they attempt to flatten a rise in coronavirus infections.

Health Minister Rudolf Anschober said that the aim is a “cooling-down phase” in the capital, Vienna; the surrounding province of Lower Austria; and neighboring Burgenland province, on the Hungarian border.

The three eastern provinces are a cause of particular concern because of the rapid spread of a more contagious virus variant first detected in Britain.

Austria has an overall infection rate of 247 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past week. The rate is closer to 300 in the eastern provinces. The national rate is more than twice that in neighboring Germany, where authorities initially decided on a five-day nationwide shutdown over Easter but then abandoned the idea because of logistical and legal concerns.

———

NEW YORK — More than three months into the U.S. vaccination drive, 70% of Americans 65 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Also, COVID-19 deaths have dipped below 1,000 a day on average for the first time since November. Dozens of states have thrown open vaccinations to all adults or are planning to do so in a matter of weeks.

More than 43% of Americans 65 and older — the most vulnerable age group, accounting for an outsize share of the nation’s more than 540,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths — have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. The number of older adults showing up in emergency rooms with COVID-19 is down significantly. Vaccinations overall have ramped up to 2.5 million to 3 million shots per day.

The outlook in the U.S. stands in stark contrast to the deteriorating situation in places like Brazil and Europe. At the same time, public health experts such as Dr. Anthony Fauci in the U.S. are warning it’s too early to declare victory and relaxing social distancing and other measures could easily lead to another surge.

———

MADRID — Spain’s top health official has warned the country is at risk of another spike in coronavirus infections that has already struck many parts of Europe.

“We are facing a decisive moment,” Health Minister Carolina Darias said after meeting with Spain’s regional health chiefs on Wednesday. “We must invert this tendency. We have to intensify our efforts.”

Darias says the spread of the more contagious variants is pushing up infections across Spain. A nightly curfew and other restrictions on movement had put a cap on infections until two weeks ago, when the figures started to increase.

Darias made her appeal alongside Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska, who said police will be extra vigilant to enforce bans on travel between regions and unauthorized social gatherings for next week’s Easter holidays.

“Our goal is to save lives,” says Grande-Marlaska. Also Wednesday, thousands of Spaniards lined up to get AstraZeneca shots again, the latest country to restart the vaccine after its credibility suffered a series of recent setbacks.

Spain reported more than 7,000 infections in the past 24 hours and 320 deaths, increasing the confirmed death toll to more than 74,000.

———

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey has received approximately 1.4 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine and will begin administering shots next week.

Turkey’s health minister Fahrettin Koca announced on Twitter that Turkey received delivery of some 750,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine on Tuesday and 700,000 more arrived on Wednesday. Turkey is set to receive a total of 4.5 million doses of the vaccine.

Turkey rolled out its vaccination program in January after authorities approved the emergency use of the vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac company. More than 14 million shots have been administered so far. Some 6 million people have received their two doses.

The country of 83 million aims to provide vaccines to 50 million people by the fall.

———

WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci isn’t ready to say the nation has turned the corner on the coronavirus pandemic, despite about 2.5 million Americans getting vaccinated each day.

The government’s top infectious disease expert says he often gets asked that question. His response: “We are at the corner. Whether we or not we are going to be turning the corner remains to be seen.”

At the White House coronavirus briefing on Wednesday, Fauci says the main challenge remains a stubbornly high level of new daily cases in the country. It’s hovering around an average of 55,000 and up slightly in recent days. While that is clearly much better than the 250,000 daily cases at the peak of the winter wave, it’s uncomfortably close to levels seen during the COVID wave of last summer.

“When you are at that level, I don’t think you can declare victory and say you have turned the corner,” Fauci adds.

On the plus side, along with the growing level of vaccinations, Fauci is underscoring recent studies that show negligible rates of coronavirus infection among fully vaccinated people. There’s also been a significant drop in the number of people 65 and older going to the emergency room with COVID-19. That’s the age group most vulnerable to the disease.

———

BRUSSELS — Belgium is reintroducing strict lockdown measures in response to a surge of new coronavirus infections.

The government announced schools would be closed on Monday and residents would have limited access to non-essential businesses starting Wednesday night.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo says the virus variant first identified in Britain is likely taking a heavy toll on the health of the country’s people. Confirmed cases increased 40% in the last week and hospital admissions rose 28% following a long stable period.

Under the new rules, non-essential shops can remain open but customers will need to book appointments. Hairdressers and beauty parlors must close until April 25.

———

PARIS — France’s culture minister has been hospitalized for COVID-19, the latest senior official to be infected as the nation faces a third surge of infections.

Roselyne Bachelot announced last weekend that she had tested positive and her hospitalization was made public Wednesday. The latest surge has been likely propelled by the highly contagious virus variant first seen in Britain.

ICUs in the Paris region as well as in northern and southeastern France are filling up.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who was infected months ago but never hospitalized, on Tuesday announced an acceleration of the country’s vaccination campaign. Now all people over 70 are eligible to get a vaccine shot.

———