The Latest: Sturgis rally impacts virus cases in 5 states

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Health officials across five states have linked 178 virus cases to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

In the three weeks since the rally kicked off, South Dakota health officials have reported 63 cases among rallygoers so far. The epicenter of the rally, Meade County, is reaching a per capita rate similar to the hardest-hit states of the South. Health officials in North Dakota, Wyoming, Minnesota and Wisconsin all reported cases among people who attended the 10-day rally that attracted more than 500,000 people.

Health experts are worried that large gatherings across the Upper Midwest will feed a new wave of the virus.

“This coronavirus forest fire will keep burning any human wood it can find,” said Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. “It will find you, and it’s so infectious.”

The Black Hills region’s largest hospital system, Monument Health, says hospitalizations from the virus rose from five to 78 this month. The hospital was bracing for more COVID-19 patients by converting rooms to intensive care units and reassigning staff.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— UK prepares to vaccinate youth ages 12-15 before school starts

— US intelligence agencies still divided on origins of the coronavirus

— COVID-19 deaths straining some hospital morgues in Florida

Asian tourism sees ups, downs in 2nd year of pandemic

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— 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:

LANSING, Mich. — At least half of Michigan’s public K-12 students are required to wear masks in school.

Several counties, including six of the 10 most populated ones, mandate face coverings for students, teachers and staff indoors regardless of vaccination status. Health officials point to a rapid increase in coronavirus cases from the more contagious delta variant, saying masks helping to reduce the virus spread. They note kids under 12 cannot be vaccinated.

Policies vary at schools in 76 counties where health departments have recommended, but not required, masking.

The office of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says about 54% of students in traditional public schools are subject to face covering requirements.

The state Department of Health and Human Services, in collaboration with the University of Michigan School of Public Health, has used outside research to estimate how long it would take for there to be a greater than 50% chance of transmission if one infectious child attends a class of 25 elementary students.

With complete masking, it is 120 hours. It drops to 24 hours with imperfect masking and 3 hours with no masking.

Dr. Sarah Lyon-Callo, the state’s top epidemiologist, says masking reduces the chance of being infected in school by 40% to 75%.

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BERLIN — Thousands turned out in Berlin to protest the government’s coronavirus measures, despite bans against several planned gatherings.

Police banned nine planned demonstrations for Saturday, including one from the Stuttgart-based Querdenker movement, the most visible anti-lockdown movement in Germany. A court ruled in favor of allowing one protest, planned for 500 people, on Saturday and Sunday.

More than 2,000 police officers were stationed around the city to respond to those who showed up despite the bans.

Meanwhile, a counter-protest called the “Love Train,” complete with techno music, drew a large crowd of its own. Those demonstrators support government restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The Saturday protests come amid debates in Germany about how and whether to impose restrictions for unvaccinated people, a question taking on more urgency as coronavirus case numbers rise.

Similar protests took place in Berlin in early August, which ended in clashes with police and hundreds of people detained.

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LONDON — The British government says it is preparing to vaccinate children ages 12-15 against the coronavirus, even though the inoculation campaign has not yet been approved by the country’s vaccine advisors.

The Department of Health said it wants “to be ready to hit the ground running” once approval comes and be in position to deliver shots in schools when the new academic year starts in most of the country. The return of children to class in September is expected to drive up Britain’s already high coronavirus infection rate.

Britain is currently giving coronavirus vaccinations to people 16 and up, as well as those between 12 and 15 with underlying health conditions or who live with vulnerable adults.

Britain’s medicines regulator has approved the use of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for the 12 to 15 age group. But the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, which sets policy, has not signed off on shots for most adolescents that young.

The United States, Canada and several European countries are already vaccinating people who are at least 12 years old.

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TOKYO — Tokyo City Hall has apologized for “confusion” amid its vaccination rollout targeting young people, after crowds looking to get the shot were turned away from a facility in the Shibuya district.

Health authorities on Saturday switched to a reservation system instead of first come, first served. But more than 2,200 people showed up to get vaccine appointment vouchers, some waiting in line since dawn, and 354 were selected by lottery to receive shots, Japanese media reported.

Inoculations for those ages 16 through 39 began Friday.

Japan, which has one of the slowest COVID-19 vaccine rollouts in the developed world, has prioritized giving shots to elderly people and then gradually working its way down by age group.

The latest development appears to counter critics who had suggested young people wouldn’t be interested in getting vaccinated.

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MIAMI — A teenager in a Florida county that leads the state in COVID-19 cases per capita has died. Jo’Keria Graham died in Columbia County just days before she planned to start her senior year of high school. The 17-year-old was in isolation at her Lake City home after testing positive for the coronavirus.

The high schooler loved taking care of younger children and called her grandparents daily to check on them or help at their office. She had seemed to be on the mend and asked her grandparents to bring her breakfast. They were on their way to drop off the food when the girl collapsed in the bathroom earlier this month.

“She was saying, ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe’,” her grandmother, Tina Graham, said Friday, noting the teen was buried in her cap and gown.

“We thought she was doing fine. Both of my sons had it, and one of my sons was really really sick and she wasn’t near as sick as he was,” Graham said.

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LONDON — A new British study suggests people who get COVID-19 from the extra-contagious delta variant are about twice as likely to be hospitalized than those who caught an earlier version of the coronavirus.

The delta variant spreads much more easily than the alpha variant that previously was widespread in much of the world. But whether it also causes more severe disease is unclear, something hard to tease out — in part because delta took off just as many countries relaxed their pandemic restrictions even as large swaths of the population remained unvaccinated.

Researchers with Public Health England examined more than 40,000 COVID-19 cases that occurred between March and May, when the delta variant began its surge in Britain, to compare hospitalization rates. The results were similar to preliminary findings from a Scottish study that also suggested delta triggered more hospitalizations.

Importantly, less than 2% of all the cases tracked in the newest study were among the fully vaccinated.

The findings were published Friday in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

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MOSCOW — Russian news reports say a fire in a hospital killed three patients who were on ventilators while being treated for COVID-19.

State news agencies Tass and RIA-Novosti said the fire took place in Yarsolavl, about 250 kilometers (150 miles) north of Moscow.

Unnamed officials cited in the reports gave various causes for the fire, saying either that a mattress caught fire or that it began in a ventilator apparatus.

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KINSHASA, Congo — Authorities have arrested Congo’s former public health minister following allegations he misappropriated more than $1 million in funds allocated by the World Bank to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Eteni Longondo has maintained his innocence, but he was taken to the central prison of Makala following an hours-long court proceeding in Kinshasa, according to Inspector General of Finance Jules Alingeti.

It was not immediately known what specific charges Longondo faced or whether he had retained a lawyer.

The alleged acts of mismanagement had come to light during investigations carried out at the Ministry of Health and the Central Bank of Congo, Alingeti said.

Longondo had been appointed to the health minister position in 2019 and managed the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Congo prior to being replaced in April.

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MEXICO CITY — Hundreds of parents in Mexico have resorted to filing for court injunctions to get coronavirus vaccines for their children after the government refused to consider vaccinating those under 18.

In the U.S. and other countries, childhood vaccinations are already underway, but Mexican officials have downplayed the risk for minors. That is despite the 613 deaths and 60,928 confirmed COVID-19 cases among people under 18 in Mexico to date.

About 15 parents have won the injunctions and got their children shots as the government presses schools to return to in-person classes Monday.

Alma Franco, a lawyer in the southern state of Oaxaca, was one of the first to seek vaccination for her children through the constitutional appeals known in Mexico as “amparos.” Such appeals ask a judge to strike down, freeze or reverse a government action that may violate the plaintiff’s rights.

Franco won the appeal and got a vaccine shot for her 12-year-old son, and then posted a copy of the appeal on social media so others could essentially copy and paste it and file their own.

She said an estimated 200 parents have followed her path to try to win vaccines.