The Latest: Alaska governor positive for coronavirus

JUNEAU, Alaska — Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy has tested positive for COVID-19 and has mild symptoms, his office announced Wednesday.

Dunleavy, a 59-year-old Republican, is currently at home in the Wasilla area, north of Anchorage.

On Sunday, Dunleavy was identified as a close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID-19. He felt well and tested negative but went into quarantine to reduce possible exposure to others.

Dunleavy felt well until Tuesday night, the statement said. A second test Wednesday morning confirmed he tested positive for the virus.

Because Dunleavy was in quarantine during his infectious period, his office says currently there are no known close contacts.

The state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, and Dunleavy’s personal physician are monitoring the governor and will “provide the public with updates as needed,” the release said.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

Dr. Anthony Fauci says National Institutes of Health will study symptoms in "long-haul" COVID-19 patients. CVS, Walgreens to give shots in more states this week. Johnson & Johnson single-dose COVID-19 shot poised for FDA decision. South Africa to spend $172 million on mass vaccination drive.

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Follow all of AP's pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

RALEIGH, N.C. — With cases and other key metrics trending downward in North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper on Wednesday announced the state will ease gathering and occupancy restrictions and end its 10 p.m. statewide curfew starting Friday.

For the first time since early into the coronavirus pandemic, the Democratic governor is allowing bars and taverns to offer indoor service. His new executive order also increases alcohol sale cutoff times by two hours from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. and lets those businesses operate at 30% capacity or up to 250 people. If they follow state health guidelines, such as mask wearing and physical distancing, night clubs, conference spaces, indoor amusement parks, movie theaters and sports and entertainment venues may also operate with the same capacity.

Larger sports venues able to seat over 5,000 people can host up to 15% of their fans, provided they adhere to additional safety restrictions as well.

Shortly after the news, the Hurricanes announced the team will begin hosting fans for its March 4 game against the Detroit Red Wings.

Cooper’s directive goes into effect at 5 p.m. Friday and expires at the same time on March 26. Restaurants, breweries, wineries, gyms, bowling alleys, swimming pools, museums, outdoor amusement park areas, hair salons and retailers are given a 50% capacity limit.

The governor’s directive also allows more people to congregate, boosting the indoor gathering limit from 10 to 25. Outdoor gatherings remain limited to 50 people.

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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Moderna announced Wednesday it has brewed experimental doses of its COVID-19 vaccine that better match a mutated version of the virus, ready for tests to tell how the update works.

Health authorities say first-generation COVID-19 vaccines still protect against variants of the virus that are emerging in different parts of the world. But in case the vaccines eventually need to be updated, manufacturers are working on how to tweak their recipes.

The variant sparking the most concern currently is one that first emerged in South Africa. Moderna said it has made doses of vaccine specifically targeted to that variant and shipped them to the National Institutes of Health for a study.

U.S. regulators say a revamped vaccine wouldn’t need to be studied for months in thousands of people. But it would need testing in several hundred people, to see if their immune systems react similarly to the updated shot as to the original.

Moderna said it also has begun testing whether simply giving a third dose of the original vaccine would offer an extra immune boost that could guard against variants, even if it’s not an exact match.

In a separate announcement, Moderna also said it plans to manufacture 700 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine globally this year, up from 600 million. The company also said it was making new manufacturing capacity investments that could yield 1.4 billion doses in 2022.

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WASHINGTON — The sister of Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has died from complications related to COVID-19. Bowser’s office announced Wednesday that Mercia Bowser had died at the age 64 from “COVID-19 related pneumonia.”

“Mercia was loved immensely and will be missed greatly, as she joins the legion of angels who have gone home too soon due to the pandemic,” said Bowser in a statement.

The youngest of six siblings, Bowser, 48, asked the public for “the time and space we need to mourn the loss of Mercia.”

Hours prior to her sister’s death, Bowser had already declared Feb. 24 a day of remembrance to mark the nation’s capital passing 1,000 COVID-19 deaths.

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden plans to distribute millions of face masks to Americans in communities hard-hit by the coronavirus.

It’s part of his effort to ensure equity in the government’s response to the pandemic. Biden is aiming to reach underserved communities and those bearing the brunt of the outbreak. His plan will distribute masks not through the mail, but through Federally Qualified Community Health Centers and the nation’s food bank and food pantry systems.

The White House announced it expects more than 25 million American-made cloth masks in both adult and kid sizes will be distributed.

Biden has asked everyone to wear face masks for the first 100 days of his term. He’s also required mask-wearing in federal buildings and on public transportation.

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A coronavirus variant originally traced to Brazil has been discovered in Alaska.

The variant was found in a specimen of an Anchorage resident who developed COVID-19 symptoms, the Anchorage Daily News reported. The person had no known travel history.

Dr. Joe McLaughlin, an epidemiologist with the state health department, says there is some evidence to suggest the P.1 variant is more transmissible than the original virus.

The person ate at an Anchorage restaurant with at least one other person in late January and didn’t wear a mask. The infected person developed symptoms four days later and tested positive on Feb. 8.

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ROME — Italy registered 16,424 coronavirus cases, the highest number in six weeks.

Italy’s vaccination program recently was forced to slow, after a quick initial start, when vaccine manufacturers didn’t deliver all the doses according to the original timetable.

Italy’s total confirmed cases rose to 2.8 million. With 318 more deaths, the known total rose to 96,666, Europe’s second-highest confirmed death toll after Britain.

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SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Bosnia’s foreign minister says all the preparations for the arrival of vaccines through the World Health Organization’s COVAX program were done but no shots have arrived.

Officials with COVAX, the program designed for poorer countries, says the promised batch of the vaccines haven’t t been dispatched because Bosnia’s authorities haven’t met Pfizer’s ultra-cold storage requirements.

Foreign minister Bisera Turkovic says the “cold chain” has been met, money has been paid for the vaccines and the non-arrival problem is on COVAX and Pfizer.

Bosnia, a country of 3.3 million, expects 1.2 million vaccines through COVAX. The program has faced delays in the global vaccine distribution because of problems with deliveries from suppliers.

The Serb-run half of the state has received about 2,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. Its health workers have been receiving shots in neighboring Serbia, which managed to make direct deals with China, Russia, Pfizer and AstraZeneca.

On Wednesday, Ghana has become the first country to receive COVID-19 vaccines through COVAX.

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TORONTO — Canada’s largest city, Toronto, has cancelled all outdoor events until July 1 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Toronto Mayor John Tory says that includes Canada Day celebrations and Pride parade. He says it’s too soon to say whether events after that date will be cancelled as well.

The provincial Ontario government says they won’t start vaccinating people 80 years or above until the third week of March and won’t start with those 60 and above until July 1.

Canada has had a shortage of vaccines until this week but expects to get 6 million vaccines before the end of March and 29 million by July for a population of 37 million people.

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WASHINGTON — The National Institutes of Health is launching research to understand the causes and consequences of the lingering brain fog, breathing problems and malaise reported by many recovering COVID-19 patients.

Dr. Anthony Fauci says some studies have shown up to 30% of patients report symptoms that can endure for months, complicating their return to normal routines and work, and plunging many recovering patients into depression.

Fauci noted at a White House coronavirus briefing on Wednesday that work at NIH started this week thanks to more than $1 billion provided by Congress for COVID-related medical research. Government scientists are looking to enlist doctors and research institutions around the country in the effort to learn about “long-haul” COVID-19.

Fauci says a critical issue is whether COVID-19 predisposes some patients to other medical problems later, such as conditions affecting the heart or brain.

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JOHANNESBURG — South Africa plans to spend $712 million to vaccinate some 67% of its 60 million people and help the economy to rebound.

Finance Minister Tito Mboweni says the vaccination drive will help South Africa’s economy, the most developed in sub-Saharan Africa, to rebound by 3.4% this year.

Mboweni says the vaccines would be given to all South Africans free of charge. Last week South Africa launched the first phase of its vaccination campaign in which it is inoculating an estimated 500,000 front-line health care workers with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, as a large-scale observational study.

The J&J vaccine is authorized for testing purposes in South Africa but has not yet been approved for general use.

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WARSAW, Poland — Poland will require surgical masks nationwide on Saturday and ban scarfs, shawls or headgear as substitutes.

Headgear can only be worn together with a mask, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said Wednesday. The decision comes after an increase in coronavirus cases to more than 12,000 Wednesday, from a daily average of about 7,000 the previous week.

Because of high COVID-19 incidence in neighboring Czech Republic and Slovakia, all people entering Poland from those countries need a 10-day quarantine, unless they show a negative test taken no more than 48 hours prior to arrival. More than 2.8 million people have been vaccinated, half with the second dose.

A nation of 38 million, Poland has registered nearly 1.7 million infections and almost 43,000 confirmed deaths.

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WOONSOCKET, R.I. — CVS and Walgreens drugstores will start doling out COVID-19 vaccinations in more states on Thursday.

The drugstore chains say they have received additional vaccine doses from the federal government after they used up their initial allotment. Both companies started giving out vaccines on Feb. 12 to eligible customers at stores in several states.

CVS Health Corp. says it will add stores in six states, including Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania to a list of 11 that includes big markets like California, New York and Texas. The company received another 570,000 doses from the government.

Walgreens said late last week that it will receive an additional 480,000 doses to distribute at its stores. The company started in 15 states and territories and is expanding drugstore vaccines into 10 more states, including California, Oregon and Virginia.

A third national drugstore chain, Rite Aid Corp., also started delivering doses to customers this month at stores in the Northeast and California. With the latest expansion, at least one of the three national drugstore chains in the U.S. is administering vaccine doses at drugstores in 36 states and two territories under the federal distribution program. Customers must schedule appointments before they can receive the vaccines.

Major drugstore chains also are partnering with some states on additional distributions. Several independent drugstores are doling out vaccinations, along with retailers with pharmacies such as Walmart.

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BERLIN — Germany’s health minister says home tests for COVID-19 may help the country “regain a bit more freedom” after authorities approved the first such tests for personal use on Wednesday.

Jens Spahn says the tests, already widely used in other countries such as neighboring Austria, could provide “an important contribution” to people’s sense of security going forward.

Spahn told lawmakers that Germany is already seeing the positive effect of vaccinations in those over 80, who received the shots first. But he’s concerned about the spread of other variants.

Germany’s disease control agency reported more than 8,000 new cases in the past day and 422 confirmed deaths. Since the start of the pandemic, Germany has registered more than 2.4 million infections and 68,740 confirmed deaths.

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