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The Latest: Dallas judge says masks required in courthouses

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Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

FILE - In this Tuesday, June 8, 2021, file photo, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference in Austin, Texas. Abbott, who faces a contested reelection primary next year, is pushing looser gun laws than he ever previously embraced and proposing unprecedented state actions, including promises to build more walls on the Mexican border. Similar scenes are playing out in campaigns in other red states including Arkansas and Idaho, where ultra right-wing challengers are tapping into anger among Republicans over Trumps election loss and coronavirus-related lockdowns. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

DALLAS — An administrative court judge has ordered that anyone entering a Dallas County courthouse must be wearing a mask to be admitted.

The order Friday by Administrative District Judge Maricela Moore requires masks to be worn in the common areas of the George Allen Courthouse, which houses the county’s civil courts; the Frank Crowley Courthouse, which houses its criminal courts; and the Henry Wade Building, which houses its juvenile courts. Those refusing could be barred from entering the buildings.

The order comes after Gov. Greg Abbott repeated his order banning any mask mandates by any state, county or local government entity. However, it cites as its authority a Texas Supreme Court order “that confirms the judiciary’s authority to take reasonable actions to avoid exposing court proceedings and participants to the threat of COVID-19.”

Also cited is an opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office upholding broad judicial authority to control orderly court proceedings.

The order is effective starting Monday. A message to Abbott’s office seeking comment was not immediately returned.

The order came as COVID-19 was on a renewed rampage across the state, fueled by the highly contagious delta variant. The Texas Department of State Health Services reported 15,893 new cases Friday, the most since Feb. 3. Of those, 726 new cases came from Dallas County. Over the past two weeks, the rolling average of daily new cases has risen by 183% to 5,100.

As of Thursday, the most recent day reported by state health officials, 5,846 people were in Texas hospitals with COVID-19, the most since Feb. 26. Fifty-seven new COVID-19 deaths were reported Friday, five of them in Dallas County.

Texas had almost 44% of its population fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Friday, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s well below the national average of 57.2%.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— CDC team: ‘War has changed’ as delta variant dangers emerge

— US passport delays lead to long lines of would-be travelers

— Walmart mandates vaccines for home office workers

— Like Phantom: Broadway requires masks at theaters

— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

HONOLULU — Hawaii officials announced 622 new COVID-19 cases, the highest number of confirmed infections since the start of the pandemic.

The total included cases from lab reporting delays from the past three days, officials said, but the number is still a significant spike for the state of about 1.4 million people. The seven-day positivity rate is now 5.1%, and officials said the average daily case count over the past three days is now over 300.

Previously, the record high total for confirmed cases in a single day was 355 set in August 2020.

Officials said the surge is associated with the highly contagious delta variant. Just over 60% of Hawaii residents are fully vaccinated.

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ATLANTA — Local officials in Georgia are scrambling to increase vaccination rates even as more schools continue telling students and employees to wear masks in the face of rising COVID-19 infection rates.

At least 23 districts statewide, covering nearly a third of the public school population, now say they will require everyone to wear a mask. Dooly County had already started class on Wednesday, and someone at the 1,200-student district’s high school tested positive for the respiratory illness, prompting a mask mandate.

The Montgomery County school district on Friday delayed its start date by a week until Aug. 10, saying it had a staff shortage because too many teachers had been quarantined after exposure to COVID-19.

Districts have been shifting policy after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week advised universal mask use in schools.

Some parents are protesting mask mandates. Dozens of opponents gathered outside the administration building on Friday in Gwinnett County, Georgia’s largest school district.

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DENVER — Gov. Jared Polis has announced that state employees who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 will have to be tested twice a week for the coronavirus and continue to wear masks indoors in public spaces.

The Colorado Sun reports Polis made the announcement Friday, citing the rise of the extremely contagious Delta variant of the virus and similar direction for federal workers announced by President Joe Biden on Thursday.

State workers who are or get fully vaccinated won’t be required to get the twice-weekly tests, Polis said in a statement. Employees who are tested must submit the results to human resources officials.

“I have heard from state employees who are terrified that their unvaccinated co-workers will give them COVID-19 and want vaccination mandated, and from other state workers who have hesitation towards the vaccine,” the Democratic governor said in emphasizing he was seeking a middle ground.

The new policy is effective Sept. 20. It covers about 30,000 state government employees who fall under the authority of the executive branch. It does not apply to judicial branch workers.

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NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell is implementing a mandatory indoor mask mandate regardless of vaccination status and requiring that all city employees and city contractors be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The mayor and top officials sounded the alarm during a quickly called Friday afternoon news conference, noting the alarming spike in coronavirus infections in a city that was an early hot spot for the pandemic.

“All of our people need to mask up when they are indoors,” Cantrell said.

The city has a little over 4,000 employees, and all will be required to get vaccinated, effective immediately, she said. Contractors wanting to work for the city must also get vaccinated.

Officials said the average daily case count in the city has nearly tripled, and six people have died in the last week. Especially concerning were the number of children falling ill, officials said.

“This touches everyone in our community,” said Cantrell. “Our children are dying.”

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CHICAGO — There is now an indoor mask advisory in Chicago for everyone over 2 years old.

The action taken Friday comes as the Centers for Disease Control recommended people, even if vaccinated, wear masks indoor in areas where there is a high transmission of COVID-19.

Chicago’s health department has announced the city surpassed 200 new coronavirus cases per day on Friday.

Public health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady says the step advising indoor mask use was made to prevent further spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.

The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 2,348 new confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19, the second time in three days the tally has topped 2,000.

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NEW ORLEANS -- Vaccinations and masks are both needed to slow a skyrocketing rate of new COVID-19 infections that is stressing health care facilities in Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Friday, but Edwards stopped short of ordering a statewide mask mandate.

Having recommended statewide masking last week, Edward said he and state health officials would pore over the latest federal data before making a decision on a mandate, adding that an announcement would likely come Monday.

“But, to a very large extent, whether it s a mandate or a recommendation, the people of Louisiana ought to be doing this,” Edwards said at a news conference with state health officer Dr. Joseph Kanter.

Looming over his decision will be new findings from a big COVID-19 outbreak in Massachusetts. Scientists who studied the outbreak concluded that vaccinated people who got so-called breakthrough infections carried about the same amount of the coronavirus as those who did not get the shots.

Officials still stress that vaccines help protect against infections and, when infections occur, against serious illness requiring hospitalization.

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TORONTO — The Public Health Agency of Canada says two travelers who arrived in Toronto from the U.S. have been fined close to CDN$20,000 (US$16,029.37) for providing fake COVID-19 proof of vaccination documents and lying about pre-departure tests.

The pair also didn’t comply with requirements to stay at a government-authorized hotel or to get tested upon arrival, the agency said in a new release Friday.

The travelers arrived last week and were handed four fines totaling CND $19,720 ( US$15,804.96) each.

“For all travelers coming to Canada, it is important to be informed and to plan in advance,” the release said. “It is the traveler’s responsibility to ensure they are eligible to enter Canada and that they meet all of the mandatory requirements.”

Canada eased quarantine requirements on July 5 for fully vaccinated Canadians and foreign nationals with an exemption to enter the country, but they must upload their proof of vaccination documents to the ArriveCAN app before entry.

Those who are not fully vaccinated are still required to stay for three days at a government-approved hotel, quarantine for 14 days and undergo tests pre-departure, post-arrival and eight days later.

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis barred school districts Friday from forcing students to wear masks when classes resume next month even as the state’s coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to skyrocket toward levels not seen since before vaccines became widely available.

The Republican governor said parents should decide whether their child should be masked, saying he has seen no studies that show mask-wearing lowers the chance of outbreaks in schools.

DeSantis is seeking re-election next year and has been positioning himself nationally for a possible 2024 presidential bid.

His decision comes after the Broward County school board this week voted to require masks and other districts and colleges around the state were considering it. The state’s confirmed coronavirus cases have grown nearly tenfold over the last month as the more contagious delta variant spreads.

Florida is responsible for about 20% of the new cases reported nationwide over the last three weeks, even though it makes up 6.5% of the population.

On a per capita basis, Florida is second nationally in both new cases, behind Louisiana, and hospitalizations, behind Nevada. While rare, pediatric hospitalizations for COVID-19 are also increasing statewide, studies show.

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MADRID — Spain announces a drop in the 14-day accumulated caseload of COVID-19 cases as part of prevailing downward trend in new infections, while the percentage of the Spanish population fully vaccinated hits 56.8%.

The health ministry reported Friday it had registered 326,127 new cases in the last 14 days, reflecting an incidence rate of 687 cases per 100,000 people.

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced the nation has also ordered 3.4 million extra Pfizer vaccines, with the aim of vaccinating 70% of the population by the end of August.

The new data comes as some Spanish regions push for vaccine certificates or negative COVID-19 tests to enter bars and restaurants, though they are facing legal challenges.

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem says she has no plans to ratchet up her messaging to urge people to get a COVID-19 vaccine, even as Republican leaders across the country try to persuade vaccine skeptics to roll up their sleeves and take the shots in response to a new, more contagious variant that has sent caseloads soaring in some parts of the country.

The Republican governor told The Associated Press this week she believes her messaging has reached “a saturation level where people start to tune you out.”

South Dakota’s Department of Health is trying a targeted approach to reach groups where vaccine uptake has been low. But it has been months since the governor used her position to encourage the vaccine, even with infections rising again in the state after a steep decline in the spring and early summer.

Noem’s rise as a potential contender for the 2024 GOP presidential ticket has been mostly fueled by her hands-off approach to the pandemic.

The governor acknowledged the delta variant poses a new risk.

“We might need to really step up our communication so that people understand how the variant is different,” she said. “You might see more communication from us if we start seeing cases dramatically increase.”

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PHOENIX — Arizona has reported 1,965 new COVID-19 cases, the most in a single day since early March.

It comes as virus-related hospitalizations continued to climb. The additional cases and 24 deaths reported Friday come as health officials in Arizona and across the country cite low vaccination rates and the fast-spreading delta variant for increasing numbers.

Meanwhile, the Arizona Department of Health Services director spoke more about her departure next month during an interview on KTAR-FM.

She denied there was any rift between her and Gov. Doug Ducey and plans to take a senior position with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona.

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BATON ROUGE, La. — Two staffers in Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards’ office have tested positive for the coronavirus.

The announcement Friday from Edwards’ office says both are at home, in isolation, in accordance with state and federal health guidelines.

The release gave no details on their condition of the staffers. It says both had been vaccinated and noted “breakthrough” cases of vaccinated people “typically do not result in serious illness.”

The governor, a Democrat, has previously been vaccinated and isn’t in quarantine.

Coronavirus infections and hospitalizations in Louisiana are soaring amid urgent requests by government officials and health care providers for residents to get vaccinated.

Earlier, Edwards’ administration announced it is requiring Louisiana’s executive branch employees and visitors to state office buildings to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status.

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LOS ANGELES — Frustrated would-be travelers are overwhelming U.S. offices as easing COVID-19 travel restrictions have unleashed a pent-up demand for passports.

At the West Los Angeles Federal Building, hundreds of passport applicants camped out overnight this week for same-day appointments — only to be told that walk-ins were no longer being taken.

Wait times for new passports and renewals are now up to 18 weeks, causing many to seek expedited appointments at understaffed agencies for travel in the next few weeks. But even expedited appointments can take up to 12 weeks. Officials encouraged those without immediate travel plans to renew their passports by mail.

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has no plans to offer $100 incentives to Iowans to get the coronavirus vaccine.

Reynolds spokesman Pat Garrett says the governor doesn’t plan to follow up on President Joe Biden’s offer to states to spend $100 in federal funds for each newly vaccinated person to help slow the spread of the coronavirus delta variant.

While many states and some Iowa counties have offered incentives for citizens to get a COVID-19 vaccination, Iowa’s governor continues to call for citizens to get vaccinated, repeating it’s their choice.

Iowa had 49.5% of the population fully immunized Thursday, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. That ranks Iowa 21st in the nation.

Vaccination rates have fallen rapidly in Iowa since the spring, from a seven-day average of 17,000 people becoming fully vaccinated in May to 1,402 in recent days.

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ORLANDO, Fla. — A large hospital network in Florida announced it will postpone elective procedures due to the sharp rise in admissions.

Dr. Neil Finkler, chief clinical officer at AdventHealth in central Florida, says the network currently has 1,060 patients with COVID-19 of the 9,300 currently hospitalized in the state.

“We have peaked above any previous wave, and it is straining our system, our physicians and all of our clinicians and team members,” he said. “Throughout the week, we hoped we would see a sign of slowing down. Unfortunately, we have not.”

Dr. Finkler says he’s imploring to the community to get vaccinated this weekend.

“It really is remarkable, over 90% of our COVID inpatients are unvaccinated,” he said. “None of these patients thought they would get the virus. But the delta variant has proven to be so highly contagious that even the young and the healthy, including pregnant patients, are now starting to fill up our hospitals.”

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NEW YORK — Vaccinations for COVID-19 and masks will be required for all Broadway audience members when theaters reopen in the coming weeks.

The Broadway League announced audience members must wear face coverings and show proof they’re fully vaccinated when they enter the theaters. There’ll be exceptions to the vaccine rule for children under 12 and for people with a medical condition or religious belief that prevents vaccination. Those individuals will need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test.

Vaccinations will be required for performers, crew members and theater employees. The move comes a day after Actors’ Equity Association, the union which represents nearly 52,000 actors and stage managers, said it would require cast and crew members to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Company members who are not vaccinated must wear masks, practice physical distancing and undergo testing at least twice a week. The protocols apply to both Broadway productions and Equity-backed shows across the nation.

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says he’ll issue an executive order barring local school districts from forcing students to wear masks when classes resume next month.

That’s despite skyrocketing coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in the state. The Republican governor says it should be up to parents to decide whether their child should be masked. He says he has seen no studies that show mask-wearing lowers the chance of outbreaks in schools. He didn’t say when he would issue the order.

This week, the Broward County school district in Fort Lauderdale voted to require masks. Other districts and colleges around the state were considering masks as the confirmed cases have grown nearly tenfold in the last month.

Florida is responsible for about 20% of the new cases reported nationwide in the last three weeks, although just 6.5% of the total population.

On a per capita basis, Florida is second nationally in new cases (behind Louisiana), and hospitalizations (behind Nevada). While rare, pediatric hospitalizations for COVID-19 are also increasing statewide, studies show.