Live updates: Biden near staffer who later tested positive

International News

Shoppers wearing face masks to protect against COVID-19 walk along the Grand Bouvard in Paris, Monday, Dec. 20, 2021. Nations across Europe have moved to reimpose tougher measures to stem a new wave of COVID-19 infections spurred by the highly transmissible omicron variant. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

WASHINGTON — The White House says President Joe Biden had close contact with a staff member who later tested positive for the coronavirus and is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.

Press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Monday night that the staff member tested positive earlier in the day. Psaki says the staff member spent about 30 minutes around the president on Air Force One on Friday during a trip from Orange, South Carolina, to Philadelphia.

Psaki says the staff member is fully vaccinated and boosted and tested negative before boarding Air Force One. She says the staffer began experiencing symptoms Sunday night.

Psaki says the 79-year-old Biden is tested regularly for the virus and has had two negative tests since Sunday. She says he will be tested again Wednesday.

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HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC:

— British nurses warn the health care system at a breaking point as omicron cases soar

— German military gives hospital an edge in treating COVID-19 patients

— Omicron prompts World Economic Forum to delay Davos meeting until summer 2022

— Austria ends 20-day lockdown, considers move a success as virus cases plummet

Go to https://APNews.com/coronavirus-pandemic for updates throughout the day.

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING TODAY:

HOUSTON — An unvaccinated man with health issues has become the first person in the Houston area whose death has been linked to COVID-19 caused by the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced the death of the man in his 50s during a news conference Monday.

One Houston hospital system has reported the omicron variant is accounting for 82% of new COVID-19 cases it is treating.

The medical director of diagnostic microbiology at Houston Methodist Hospital said in a tweet Sunday that the omicron variant became the “cause of the supermajority” of new Houston Methodist cases in less than three weeks. In comparison, the delta variant took three months during the summer before it was the cause of more than 80% of cases.

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ATLANTA — The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 has risen almost 50% in Georgia in the last month, and the number of infections detected continues to accelerate.

More than 1,200 patients were hospitalized statewide Monday with the respiratory illness. That’s well below the record of roughly 6,000 that was reached in early September at the peak of Georgia’s fourth surge of virus cases. But it is well above the recent low of 824 patients recorded on Nov. 22.

Among those who have tested positive for the virus is Atlanta-mayor elect Andre Dickens, who has put himself in self-isolation though he reports feeling well with mild symptoms. Dickens, says he is fully vaccinated.

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EUGENE, Ore. — As the highly transmissible omicron variant spreads across the country, University of Oregon students, faculty and staff will be required to get a coronavirus booster shot as soon as they are eligible.

Currently the university and the state’s six other public universities require vaccinations for those on campus.

As of Monday afternoon, the University of Oregon is the only public university in the state to publicly announce a booster requirement.

University President Michael Schill says in a letter posted online that “boosters are the next step in the evolving public health strategy in which we have adapted and responded as a community during the pandemic,”

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina’s governor has issued his strongest public health warning yet heading into the Christmas holidays.

Gov. Roy Cooper said Monday that officials expect the omicron variant of the coronavirus to soon severely strain hospitals and lead to the highest daily case counts since the pandemic hit the state in March 2020.

Cooper also says he will not reimpose any statewide mandates or roll out any financial inducements for residents to get a booster shot of coronavirus vaccine. In place of mandates, North Carolina will rely on additional resources for at-home test and an informational campaign to encourage the roughly 62% of vaccinated residents to get a booster shot.

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BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana is starting to see growing numbers of COVID-19 cases months after emerging from a fourth surge of the coronavirus outbreak, with the state at risk of another spike as the omicron variant spreads.

Data released Monday by the Louisiana Department of Health shows the number of new coronavirus cases reached more than 2,300 since Friday — and more than 4,800 over the last week. That’s more than double the amount of new cases from the prior week.

And the health department warned those numbers are expected to balloon as dozens of cases of the fast-spreading omicron variant have been confirmed in Louisiana.

Still, the number of people hospitalized in Louisiana with COVID-19 remains low so far, reported at 241 patients Monday. That continues to be among the lowest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations since March 2020 and well below the state’s peak of more than 3,000 in August.

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BOISE, Idaho — State health officials have deactivated crisis guidelines for rationing care at northern Idaho hospitals as COVID-19 cases have dropped.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare said Monday that the number of COVID-19 patients remains high but no longer exceeds available health care resources.

The crisis standards for the state’s five most northern counties had been in place since Sept. 7.

Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen says the situation remains precarious because of the omicron variant that appeared in Idaho last week. Jeppesen says getting vaccinated, getting booster doses and wearing masks in crowded areas could help prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed again.

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NEW YORK — “Hamilton” and “Aladdin,” two of Broadway’s biggest musicals, are shuttering their doors during the busy Christmas week after finding breakthrough COVID-19 cases in their companies.

All matinee and evening performances of “Aladdin” from Tuesday through Friday were canceled. Performances are scheduled to resume Sunday. “Aladdin” had previously canceled its Dec. 19 performance.

“Hamilton” canceled shows on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday and performances are scheduled to resume Dec. 27. The production had previously canceled its Dec. 17 through Dec. 19 performances, as well as its Dec. 15 show due to the detection of positive results.

The two hit shows join “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “MJ” and “Ain’t Too Proud,” among others, in announcing multi-day cancellations due to the virus. Shows often add performances around Christmas week and the holidays are usually the most lucrative shows of the year.

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MISSION, Kan. — Rural Kansas hospitals are struggling to transfer patients as COVID-19 numbers surge, with some patients left stranded in emergency rooms for a week while they wait for a bed.

Space also was in short supply last winter and again over the summer when the delta variant first hit the state. The situation improved slightly this fall, but according to Motient, a company contracting with Kansas to help manage transfers, the situation now is worsening again.

And it isn’t just rural hospitals looking for beds. Overwhelmed hospitals as far away as Minnesota and Michigan have been calling looking for beds in larger Kansas hospitals. Often there simply isn’t room.

Dr. Richard Watson, founder of Motient, said Friday that the long-distance transfers and long waits for beds are sadly becoming commonplace as the pandemic ends its second year.

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CONCORD, New Hampshire — Health officials say a child who was “too young to have been vaccinated” against COVID-19 is the first person under 18 from New Hampshire to have died from complications related to the virus.

The Department of Health and Human Services said in a news release that the death happened in September in another state and was identified after COVID-19 was listed as a cause of death on the death certificate, which was recently finalized.

“We are all saddened by this loss and give our condolences to the family,” said Dr. Benjamin Chan, state epidemiologist. “It continues to be important for us all to take steps to protect those who are not yet able to be vaccinated, and those who are vulnerable and at risk for severe COVID-19.”

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QUEBEC CITY — Quebec is closing bars, cinemas, gyms and spas because of a record number of coronavirus cases in the Canadian province.

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said restaurants must close by 10 p.m.

The province last week went to 50% capacity at restaurants and bars but is now announcing more restrictions. Quebec reported 4,571 COVID-19 cases Monday, a new single-day record since the beginning of the pandemic.

Elementary schools and high schools will close after Monday and in-person learning will resume Jan. 10, but schools will remain accessible until the holiday break for vaccinations or distributing rapid tests to students.

Spectators will not be permitted to attend professional or amateur sporting events.

Remote work, which before was recommended by authorities, will now be mandatory.

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LONDON — Queen Elizabeth II has decided not to gather the royal family for Christmas at the royal Sandringham estate in eastern England, amid concerns about the fast-spreading omicron variant.

The royal palace said Monday that the 95-year-old queen will spend the holidays at Windsor Castle, west of London, where she has spent most of her time during the pandemic.

Other members of the royal family are expected to visit over the Christmas period, with precautions taken against spreading the virus.

For years members of the extended family have spent the holidays at Sandringham, attending the local church as a group on Christmas Day.

The queen has cut down on travel and work in recent months since spending a night in hospital in October and being told to rest by her doctors.

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Additional Ohio hospitals are announcing the postponement of elective surgeries as COVID-19 cases continue to fill up hospital beds in the state.

The decisions are in line with the crisis highlighted by Gov. Mike DeWine last week when he ordered more than 1,000 members of the Ohio National Guard into hospitals to help overwhelmed staff.

The Ohio State University medical center and the Columbus-based OhioHealth system both say they’re postponing new elective surgeries as the number of coronavirus cases spike. Ohio State’s policy, covering procedures that require an overnight stay, takes place Jan. 3 but doesn’t affect currently scheduled procedures.

Hospital systems in northeastern Ohio including the Cleveland Clinic announced similar postponements earlier this month. The word “Help” dominated a full-page ad in The Plain Dealer Monday in which six Cleveland-area health systems urged people to receive the vaccine.

State Health Director Bruce Vanderhoff said last week the vast majority of people being hospitalized in Ohio aren’t vaccinated.

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MISSION, Kansas — A Missouri health official says the delta variant still accounts for 98% to 99% of the roughly 600 samples that are sequenced each week.

Over the past seven days, the state confirmed 14,156 new COVID-19 cases.

COVID-19 hospitalizations are on the rise in Missouri. The state’s Department of Health and Senior Services data shows the seven-day average hitting 1,972 on Thursday, up from 1,058 on Nov. 9, but still well below the peak of the summer surge.

Dr. James Stewart, the chief medical officer for North Kansas City Hospital, says the hospital has more than four times as many COVID-19 patients with active infections now as it did on Nov. 1.

Stewart says that if this continues, the hospital will surpass its previous peak.

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LOS ANGELES — The New Year’s Eve party planned for downtown Los Angeles’ Grand Park will not have an in-person audience due to the recent increase in COVID-19 cases in LA County, organizers said.

The “NYELA Countdown to 2022” event will instead be streamed, as it was last year.

Organizers originally planned to have an invite-only audience of LA County frontline workers and first responders.

The program will feature the band Kinky and other musical performances starting at 11 p.m. on Dec. 31.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reported more than 3,500 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday as the number of daily new cases tripled over the week.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Kuwait has mandated that everyone who has been vaccinated against the coronavirus at least nine months ago receive a booster shot.

The Gulf Arab state says that booster shots will become compulsory starting Jan. 2 as the omicron variant courses across the region. Kuwait detected its first omicron case earlier this month.

The tiny sheikhdom has seen cases gradually trend upward this week after hitting record lows of under 50 infections a day. The government also urged all citizens and residents to avoid travel.

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