Topic: COVID-19

Let’s developments about the 2019-nCoV coronavirus.

Lebanon OKs law to import vaccines as virus hits new record

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon’s parliament approved a draft law allowing imports of coronavirus vaccines as the tiny nation hit a new record in case numbers Friday and more hospitals reported they were at full capacity. The new daily toll of 6,154 cases and 44 deaths came on the second day of a nationwide 11-day curfew that the government and doctors hope will reign in the dramatic surge of the virus. Lebanon, a tiny Mediterranean country of about 6 million people, has witnessed a sharp increase of cases in recent weeks, after some 80,000 expatriates flew in to celebrate Christmas and New Year.During the holiday season, restrictions were eased to encourage spending by expatriates amid a suffocating economic and financial crisis, the worst in Lebanon's modern history.On Friday, the American University Medical Center, one of Lebanon’s largest and most prestigious hospitals, said in a statement that its health care workers were overwhelmed. The hospital's ICUs and regular coronavirus units have reached full capacity and so did the emergency room, it said.“We are unable to find beds for even the most critical patients,” the hospital said, urging people in Lebanon to help by taking extreme precautionary measures to “overcome the catastrophe we are facing.” Mazen El Sayed, an associated professor in the department of emergency medicine, described the situation as “tragic,” anticipating that the next two weeks would be even more dire.In southern Lebanon, the Ragheb Harb Hospital also said that its COVID-19 units were now. “We are working beyond our capacity. The situation is very dangerous,” the hospital said in a statement. The curfew, which began Thursday, is the strictest measure Lebanon has taken since the start of the pandemic. But many have expressed concern the measures have come too late — many hospitals have already reached maximum capacity for coronavirus patients, some have run out of beds, oxygen tanks and ventilators while others have halted elective surgeries.Lebanon was able to contain the virus in its early stages but the numbers started climbing after measures were eased in early July and following the massive deadly blast at Beirut's port in August.Following bureaucratic delays, the country now is putting hopes on vaccines that are expected to start arriving next month.Parliament's approval opens the way for imports of vaccines from around the world, including the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.Health Minister Hamad Hassan, who is hospitalized with the coronavirus, had said that once the draft law is approved, the first deliveries of vaccines should start arriving in February.Lebanon has reserved 2.7 million doses of vaccines from multiple international companies and 2.1 million to be provided by Pfizer, Diab’s office says.Lebanon has registered nearly 243,000 coronavirus cases and some 1,825 confirmed deaths.

Browns Pro Bowl guard Bitiono back for playoffs after COVID

CLEVELAND (AP) — Joel Bitonio's long playoff wait with the Browns is over.The Pro Bowl left guard has was activated from the COVID-19 list Friday after missing last week’s wild-card win over Pittsburgh.Cleveland’s longest tenured player, Bitonio had to isolate at home and missed his first career postseason game — and the Browns' first since the 2002 season. It was a devastating development for Bitiono, who had endured so much losing with the Browns before this turnaround season.But he’ll get his long-awaited chance to play in the postseason this week. The Browns, who stunned the Steelers in the wild-card round, face the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday in the AFC divisional round.Bitonio was one of several Browns players and coaches to be sidelined over the past three weeks with the coronavirus.Bitonio's return is a huge boost for Cleveland's solid offensive line, which has had to adjust numerous times over the past few weeks because of injuries and COVID-19.Last week, Michael Dunn, who barely played all season, started in Bitonio's spot and played exceptionally before suffering a season-ending calf injury. He was replaced by Blake Hance, who had just been signed off the New York Jets' practice squad and first met Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield in the locker room before the game at Heinz Field.Another worry this week for the Browns is All-Pro right tackle Jack Conklin. He's missed the past two days of practice with a hamstring injury sustained early in the win over Pittsburgh.The Browns have slowly been getting key pieces back this week.On Wednesday, coach Kevin Stefanski returned in person to the team after also missing last week's game with COVID-19. He prepared the team virtually for the Steelers but then watched the win over the Steelers from his basement at home.Top cornerback Denzel Ward and cornerback Kevin Johnson both were activated from the COVID-19 list, and they're needed more than ever against Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and his arsenal of offensive threats.___More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

VIRUS DIARY: Unpacking one vaccination day, step by step

WASHINGTON (AP) — The line stretched nearly a block long. Nobody was grumbling about the wait.Those gathered at a senior wellness center in Washington, D.C., viewed it as a matter of life or death. The nation's capital had just opened up coronavirus vaccines to people 65 and older because of their increased risk. I was among those who had a shot within reach.In the nation's capital, along with the rest of the country, coronavirus cases have surged since the holidays. More than 32,800 positive cases have been recorded overall in the city. Nearly 850 people have died. And now add fears that the mob insurrection at the Capitol earlier this month could turn into a superspreader event, adding to the totals.People were on edge.As I waited for my shot, I wondered if I should be there. The district had offered the vaccine first to health care workers, but were there others who should have come before me, people like teachers and workers in grocery stores and other businesses providing essential services during the pandemic? What about the older old — people over 75?Yes, journalists are considered essential, and I also am a teacher at the college level. But equally important to me, I haven't seen my grandson and his parents in California for more than a year — half his life — and l long to get on a plane to visit. And I do fit the new criteria for vaccines, people 65 and older.So I was all in.The city started offering appointments to the over-65 crowd Monday. I called up the website, filled in the questionnaire and looked for a location. The site closest to my home had no times available so I widened my search, finally choosing a senior center about 3 miles away.Later, I checked my neighborhood listserv. It was filled with complaints from residents who found the whole process unwieldy and were furious that all the available appointments had been booked. A D.C. council member acknowledged that “the rollout came with a significant number of frustrations and challenges" but said there would be other opportunities for seniors to get the vaccine.It's an issue of supply and demand. There are just under 85,000 D.C. residents 65 and older who qualify for shots, but only 6,700 appointments were available the first week. I was one of the lucky ones.It was cold, but the length of the line at the wellness center didn't bother me. I was grateful that we were outside for much of the wait, and that people were voluntarily self-distancing. That was enforced once we moved inside. Everyone wore a mask. Some people who were visibly frail were moved to front of the line. No one complained.And while I waited, I worked. In a bit of irony, that meant consulting with a colleague on a story about the Trump administration's push to expand vaccination to more people, including those over 65. The District of Columbia, it turns out, was ahead of the curve.Ninety minutes after I arrived, I was given the Moderna vaccine, administered by a Safeway pharmacy manager brought in from Rehoboth, Delaware. After we talked about her hometown — a favorite beach vacation spot for my family — and other vaccinations I might need, she told me how to sign up for the second dose. Then I was sent to wait in another room to make sure I didn't have a serious allergic reaction to the shot. I didn't.I get my second dose Feb. 10. I've already started thinking about booking that flight to California. There's only one negative — now everyone knows my age.___Virus Diary, an occasional feature, showcases the coronavirus pandemic through the eyes of Associated Press journalists around the world. Follow Washington-based AP news editor Carole Feldman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/CaroleFeldman

Milan opens 1st fashion week with no VIP guests due to virus

MILAN (AP) — Italy’s fashion chamber is opening on Friday the first Milan Fashion Week that won't have VIPS populating runway front rows, as the reality of Italy's persistent resurgence of the coronavirus has forced an all-virtual format for presenting menswear previews. The National Fashion Chamber maintained a live element during the July and September fashion weeks in Milan. But after planning to stage live shows with guests during this round, Fendi, Etro and outdoor brand Kway announced their events will be livestreamed from behind closed doors. Dolce & Gabbana canceled its runway show entirely, citing restrictions in place due to COVID-19. The other 36 participating fashion houses on the pared-down calendar -- including Zegna and Prada -- will all have digital-only presentations. “We did everything to preserve some runway shows, but the anti-COVID norms in this moment don’t allow us to have guests, and therefore, the runway shows will be closed-door,” fashion chamber president Carlo Capasa said. The organizers of Paris Fashion Week plan to hold audience-free men’s and haute couture shows later this month. Prospects for Milan's February shows of mostly womenswear previews remain unclear; the Italian government on Friday announced a new round of virus-control restrictions through Feb. 15 that extend a ban on traveling between regions. Capasa acknowledged that closed-door shows deprive fashion of some of its energy. But the pandemic, which has all but shut down global travel and closed retail stores for long periods , has made fashion houses quickly update their digital communication strategies and e-commerce platforms, he said. There is some evidence the investments are paying off, with one-quarter of online luxury sales last year to consumers who went high-end for the first-time, Capasa said. The Italian fashion chamber found that 45 million people streamed Milan Fashion Week shows in September, a number that Capasa said was beyond his wildest dreams a year ago.Still, the fashion industry is in dire financial straits. The Italian industry recorded a 25% drop in revenues to 50.5 billion euros ($61.2 billion) in 2020 compared with 2019, with exports down 22% to nearly 43 billion euros ($52.1 billion). A more drastic decline was avoided thanks to so-called “revenge shopping” in China, with eager consumers returning to luxury shopping as soon as lockdowns expired, and moves toward e-commerce and a bump in global luxury sales in October, Capasa said. In Europe, where governments have ordered new lockdowns, the market remained weakest. Capasa said the industry, one of the biggest generators of Italy's gross domestic product, is seeking a share of the government’s recovery funds to help improve innovation and to keep small artisanal businesses from failing. He said he hopes to see a gradual return to normality in fashion show calendars and travel this summer, as vaccines reduce the threat of the coronavirus. “For now, we need to do the best we can, in the moment we are living,’’ Capasa said.

Greece to hike fines for violation of COVID-19 restrictions

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s prime minister says the country’s retail sector might begin to gradually reopen next week, if scientists advising the government on the coronavirus pandemic recommend it is safe to do so today. Speaking in Parliament Friday during a debate on the government’s handling of the pandemic, Kyriakos Mitsotakis also said fines for violating measures imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus will increase to 500 euros ($600), from the current 300 euros. Lockdown restrictions were imposed nationwide in Greece in early November to tackle a surge in coronavirus infections, shutting down restaurants, bars, cafes, retail stores, schools, entertainment venues and anything not considered an essential business.Primary schools and kindergartens reopened this week, but high school lessons are being held online only. People are allowed to leave their homes only for a limited number of specific reasons, and must send a telephone text message to authorities or carry a self-declaration in order to do so. Mitsotakis said pressure on the country’s health system is beginning to ease, with more than 400 intensive care unit beds now free, allowing for restrictive measures to be gradually relaxed.But, he said, the generally improving situation in Greece should not lead to complacency, and some protective measures would have to stay in place.“I want to be absolutely clear, every opening of economic activity harbors the danger of an increase in (COVID-19) cases,” Mitsotakis said. “As long as this increase in cases is moderate and controlled and as long as it doesn't put pressure on the health system, it is something we can bear. These are the delicate balances we must find."Mitsotakis said each month of lockdown was costing the Greek economy more than 3 billion euros.“That is why it is perhaps time ... if the experts recommend it, to carefully -- I stress this -- take the risk of gradually restarting the economy,” Mitsotakis said.One option for the partial reopening retail stores as of Monday is a system of purchases by appointment, or customers picking up purchases from stores after having placed the orders online or by telephone, a system that was used in December in the run-up to the Christmas holidays.“The government is ready, if there is a positive recommendation, to implement this policy as of Monday. Always while adhering to protective measures, with increased checks,” Mitsotakis said.The panel of scientists advising the government on the pandemic was reportedly recommending a partial reopening of the retail sector, with announcements expected by the government on Friday evening. The country of about 11 million has reported a total of nearly 150,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 5,387 deaths since the start of the pandemic. ___Follow AP coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at:https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemichttps://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccinehttps://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

The Latest: Germany passes 2 million mark for COVID cases

BERLIN — Germany has passed the mark of 2 million confirmed COVID infections since the start of the pandemic.The country’s disease control agency said Friday that there were 22,368 newly confirmed cases over the past 24-hour period, taking the total to 2,000,958.The Robert Koch Institute said there have been 44,994 deaths linked to the coronavirus, an increase of 1,113 in a day.German news agency dpa reported that newspapers carried significantly more death notices during the period until October 2020 than in the previous year.The Saechsische Zeitung daily, which covers the eastern state of Saxony now badly affected by the outbreak, had three instead of the usual two obituary pages.___THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:Desperate effort to bring oxygen supplies to the Brazilian rainforest’s biggest city.While much of Europe is increasingly locked down, Spain insists it can stay open and still beat the virus.President-elect Joe Biden unveils $1.9 trillion plan for tackling the coronavirus pandemic. ___Follow AP’s 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:BRUSSELS — Belgium is strengthening its rules for travelers entering the country by train or bus in a bid to limit the spread of a more contagious variant of the coronavirus first detected in Britain.In a statement Friday, Belgium’s Interior ministry said travelers arriving from a country outside the European Union or the Schengen space with a high contamination rate will now be submitted to the same rules as those coming by boat or plane. The ministry said the measures are precautionary.According to virologist Marc Van Ranst, who spoke to local broadcaster VRT on Friday, about 100 cases of people infected by new variants of the virus have been registered so far in Belgium. He said that figure could probably be multiplied by 100 for the true number.More than 20,000 people have died of COVID-19-related causes in Belgium, a country with 11.5 million inhabitants. Health authorities said Friday that there were 17,966 additional deaths in the country in 2020 compared with the previous year.___ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s education minister says authorities will start reopening schools in phases from Jan. 18 despite a steady increase in deaths and infections from the coronavirus.Schools were closed in November when data showed that the country’s positivity rate had jumped to about 7 percent.The rate has since come down to 5.9 percent, which is still high, according to experts.Education minister Shafqat Mahmood said Friday officials decided to reopen schools in phases because the government doesn't want to stop the learning process for children.His remarks at a televised press conference came hours after Pakistan reported 2,417 new cases and 45 more deaths .Pakistan has reported 514,338 infections and 10,863 deaths since the pandemic began in February.___BEIJING — China says it is now treating more than 1,000 people for COVID-19 as numbers of cases continue to surge in the country’s north.The National Health Commission said Friday that 1,001 patients are under care for the disease, 26 of them in serious condition. It says 144 total new cases were recorded in the previous 24 hours.The province of Hebei, just outside Beijing, accounted for 90 of the new cases, while Heilongjiang province farther north reported 43 new cases.While there have been no reports of hospital bed shortages, Hebei has begun constructing a new quarantine center outside the provincial capital of Shijiazhuang in case it is needed.Shijiazhuang and the cities of Xingtai and Langfang are under virtual lockdown, confining more than 20 million people to their homes.___WILMINGTON, Del. — President-elect Joe Biden says he knows his $1.9 trillion coronavirus plan “does not come cheaply” but he says America can’t afford to fail to pass the plan.Biden said Thursday night that by investing now “boldly, smartly and with unwavering focus on American workers and families,” the plan will strengthen the economy, address inequity and set America on a more sustainable financial course.Biden’s plan faces an uncertain future. Democrats have narrow margins in both chambers of Congress and the legislation would be paid for with borrowed money, adding to trillions in debt the government has already incurred to fight the pandemic.___WILMINGTON, Del. — President-elect Joe Biden is calling the Trump administration’s rollout of coronavirus vaccines a “dismal failure” and says he will unveil his own plans on Friday to speed up inoculations.In unveiling a $1.9 trillion plan for dealing with the pandemic, Biden said Thursday night that “this will be on the most challenging operational efforts we have ever undertaken as a nation.”He says that “we will have to move heaven and earth to get more people vaccinated.”The Trump administration announced earlier this week that it will release all available vaccine doses. It said it will direct states to immediately begin vaccinating every American 65 and older as well as tens of millions of adults with health conditions that put them at higher risk of dying from the virus.___WILMINGTON, Del. —President-elect Joe Biden says his priority is effectively combatting the twin crises of a pandemic and the sinking economy.Biden said during a speech Thursday night that “we have to act now” to help the “millions of Americans, through no fault of their own,” who have lost “the dignity and respect that comes with a job and a paycheck.”He discussed the framework of his $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan,” which includes $1,400 checks for most Americans and would extend a temporary boost in unemployment benefits and a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures through September.The proposal also includes plans to speed up the vaccine rollout and provide financial help to individuals, states and local governments and businesses struggling with the prolonged economic fallout.

Spain rejects virus confinement as most of Europe stays home

MADRID (AP) — While most of Europe kicked off 2021 with earlier curfews or stay-at-home orders, authorities in Spain insist the new coronavirus variant causing havoc elsewhere is not to blame for a sharp resurgence of cases and that the country can avoid a full lockdown even as its hospitals fill up.The government has been tirelessly fending off drastic home confinement like the one that paralyzed the economy for nearly three months in the spring of 2020, the last time Spain could claim victory over the stubborn rising curve of cases.Infection rates ebbed in October but never completely flattened the surge from summer. Cases started climbing again before the end of the year. In the past month, 14-day rates more than doubled, from 188 cases per 100,000 residents on Dec. 10 to 522 per 100,000 on Thursday.Nearly 39,000 new cases were reported Wednesday and over 35,000 on Thursday, some of the highest daily increases to date.The surge is again threatening intensive care unit capacity and burdening exhausted medical workers. Some facilities have already suspended elective surgery, and the eastern city of Valencia has reopened a makeshift hospital used last year.Unlike Portugal, which is going on a month-long lockdown Friday and doubling fines for those who don't wear masks, officials in Spain insist it will be enough to take short, highly localized measures that restrict social gatherings without affecting the whole economy.“We know what we have to do and we are doing it,” Health Minster Salvador Illa told a news conference Wednesday, ruling out a national home confinement order and advocating for "measures that were a success during the second wave.”Fernando Simón, the government's top virus expert, has blamed the recent increase in cases on Christmas and New Year's celebrations. “The new variant, even if it has an impact, it will be a marginal one, at least in our country," he said this week.But many independent experts disagree and say Spain has no capacity to conduct the widespread sequencing of samples to detect how the new variants have spread, and that 88 confirmed and nearly 200 suspected cases that officials say have largely been imported from the U.K. are underestimating the real impact.Dr. Rafael Bengoa, former director of Healthcare Systems at the World Health Organization, told The Associated Press the government should immediately enact "a strict but short” four-week confinement.“Trying to do as little as possible so as not to affect the economy or for political reasons doesn’t get us where we need to be,” said Bengoa, who also oversaw a deep reform in the Basque regional health system.The situation in Spain contrasts starkly with other European countries that have also shown similar sharp leaps in cases, increasingly more of them blamed on the more contagious variant first detected in the U.K.The Netherlands, which has been locked down for a month, has seen the pace of infections starting to drop. But with 2% to 5% of new COVID-19 cases from the new variant, the country is from Friday requiring air passengers from the U.K., Ireland and South Africa to provide not only a negative PCR test taken a maximum of 72 hours before departure but also a rapid antigen test result from immediately before takeoff. France, where a recent study of 100,000 positive tests yielded about 1% of infections with the variant, is imposing curfews as early as 6 p.m., and Health Minister Oliver Veran has not ruled out a stay-at-home order if the situation worsens.Existing lockdowns or the prospect of mandatory confinement have not been questioned or turned into a political issue in other European countries.Ireland instituted a complete lockdown after widespread infections were found to be tied to the new variant. Italy has a color-coded system that activates a strict lockdown at its highest — or red — level, although no areas are currently at that stage.In the U.K., scientific evidence of the new variant has silenced some critics of restrictions and spurred Prime Minister Boris Johnson to impose measures that are strict but slightly milder than the nation's first lockdown. People have been ordered to stay home except for limited essential trips and exercise, and schools have been closed except for some exceptions.In Germany, where the 7-day rolling average of daily new cases has recently shot up to 26 per 100,000 people, many high-ranking officials are arguing that the existing strict confinement order needs to be toughened and extended beyond its current end-of-January expiration.Nordic countries have rejected full-on mandatory lockdowns, instead instituting tight limitations on gatherings and certain activities. Residents have been asked to follow specific recommendations to limit the spread of the virus.In Sweden, the issue is both legal and political, as no law exists that would allow the government to restrict the population's mobility. While urging residents to refrain from going to the gym or the library, Swedish Prime Stefan Lofven said last month, “we don’t believe in a total lockdown,” before adding, “We are following our strategy.”Policymakers in Spain seem to be on a similar approach, although it remains to be seen if the results will prove them wrong. On Thursday, they insisted that vaccinations will soon reach “cruising speed.”But Bengoa, the former WHO expert, said vaccinations won't fix the problem immediately.“Trying to live with the virus and with these data for months is to live with very high mortality and with the possibility that new variants are created,” he said, adding that the new variant of the virus widely identified in the U.K. could make the original version start to seem like "a good one.”Dr. Salvador Macip, a researcher with the University of Leicester and the Open University of Catalonia, says the combination of spiraling infections and the uncertainty over the new variants should be enough for a more restrictive approach, but that pandemic fatigue is making such decisions more difficult for countries like Spain, with polarized politics.“People are fed up with making sacrifices that take us nowhere because they see that they will have to repeat them," Macip said.—-Associated Press writers across Europe contributed.—-Follow AP coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at:https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemichttps://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccinehttps://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

China builds new quarantine center as virus cases rise

BEIJING (AP) — A city in northern China is building a 3,000-unit quarantine facility to deal with an anticipated overflow of patients as COVID-19 cases rise ahead of the Lunar New Year travel rush. State media on Friday showed crews leveling earth, pouring concrete and assembling pre-fabricated rooms in farmland outside Shijiazhuang, the provincial capital of Hebei province that has seen the bulk of new cases. That recalled scenes last year, when China rapidly built field hospitals and turned gymnasiums into isolation centers to cope with the initial outbreak linked to the central city of Wuhan. China has largely contained further domestic spread of the coronavirus, but the recent spike has raised concerns due to the proximity to the capital Beijing and the impending rush of people planning to travel large distances to rejoin their families for country’s most important traditional festival. The National Health Commission on Friday said 1,001 patients were under care for the disease, 26 of them in serious condition. It said that 144 new cases were recorded over the past 24 hours. Hebei accounted for 90 of the new cases, while Heilongjiang province farther north reported 43.Nine cases were brought from outside the country, while local transmissions also occurred in the southern Guangxi region and the northern province of Shaanxi, illustrating the virus’ ability to move through the vast country of 1.4 billion people despite quarantines, travel restrictions and electronic monitoring.Shijiazhuang has been placed under virtual lockdown, along with the Hebei cities of Xingtai and Langfang, parts of Beijing and other cities in the northeast. That has cut off travel routes while more than 20 million people have been told to stay home for coming days.In all, China has reported 87,988 confirmed cases with 4,635 deaths.The spike in northern China comes as World Health Organization experts prepare to collect data on the origin of the pandemic after arriving Thursday in Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first detected in late 2019. Team members must undergo two weeks of quarantine before they can begin field visits. The visit was approved by President Xi Jinping’s government after months of diplomatic wrangling that prompted an unusual public complaint by the head of WHO. That delay, along with Beijing's tight control of information and promotion of theories the pandemic began elsewhere, added to speculation that China is seeking to prevent discoveries that chisel away at its self-proclaimed status as a leader in the battle against the virus. Scientists suspect the virus that has killed more than 1.9 million people since late 2019 jumped to humans from bats or other animals, most likely in China’s southwest. Former WHO official Keiji Fukuda, who is not on the team, cautioned against raising expectations for any breakthroughs from the visit, saying that it may take years before any firm conclusions can be made. “China is going to want to come out avoiding blame, perhaps shifting the narrative, they want to come across as being competent and transparent,” he told The Associated Press in an interview from Hong Kong.For its part, the WHO wants to project the image that it is “taking, exerting leadership, taking and doing things in a timely way," said Fukuda.___Associated Press journalist Emily Wang contributed to this report.

Mentors wanted: Virus limits vet-rookie time away from rink

Colorado defenseman Ian Cole has taken a young kid under his wing as he starts his 11th season in the NHL, dining with him often and going the extra mile to make sure his needs are met.Of course, this is Cole's infant son, who was born over the summer. Someday, maybe Cole will serve again as a full-blown mentor for an NHL rookie. For now, in this COVID-19 climate, that's harder to do.Bonding between veterans and youngsters has been a time-honored tradition in hockey, with older players routinely inviting rookies to live with them during their first season to help them get settled in. Building that kind of off-ice camaraderie is far more challenging now because of the pandemic.“The directive that we’re getting is don’t hang out with anyone outside the rink. Don’t go to dinner. Don’t have dinner parties. Don’t do anything like that. Don’t see anybody,” Cole explained. “It's tough to build that chemistry away from the rink.”Veterans across the league credit those unofficial rookie-year mentorships as instrumental in launching their careers. That was the case for Cole, who was guided by Barret Jackman while both were in St. Louis. Jackman was married with a family. Cole was young and living alone. Still, they built a strong relationship that translated into better on-ice performance.“It’s not like we would hang out and go bar hopping by any means,” Cole said. “We built that chemistry at the rink and we were able to do it. I think that now may be more challenging but not impossible.”The league rules are explicit and include: Avoiding close, social contact with non-family members; staying away from restaurants, bars, and clubs during road trips; and not eating meals with anyone outside the household. The recent world junior championships provided Matt Dumba the perfect opportunity to reach out to rookie Kirill Kaprizov, his new teammate with the Minnesota Wild.Kaprizov took some friendly razzing after he arrived at Dumba’s home as Canada beat Russia in the semifinals between their home countries, but the visit — as they tried to be as virus-safe as possible — served a greater purpose. Dumba recalled his early years when blue line partner Jordan Leopold was the one looking out for him.“I’d be over at his house all the time chasing around the kids, having a good, home-cooked meal,” Dumba said. “To have that early in my career, guys who have my best interests in mind and just wanted to help me through it and just build my confidence, that’s how a team works.”The St. Louis Blues brought their younger players to camp early for a head start on team-building in this unusual season. Like everyone, they're adapting.“You don’t get your normal situations where you’re checking out restaurants. You don’t do as many things together, but we still are doing our best,” Blues captain Ryan O'Reilly said. Team building doesn't always have a veteran in the mix: Ottawa center Tim Stuetzle, the third pick in the 2020 draft and still a teenager, was invited to live not with a graybeard but with a pair of 21-year-old American teammates, Brady Tkachuk and Josh Norris. “It’s a very nice way for them to ask me to live with them,” said Stuetzle, who is German. “It’s going to be much easier for me to get to know everybody really good.”That’s the way it was for Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar, who bunked with the family of teammate Matt Calvert when he first arrived during the '18-19 playoffs. Makar didn't have to worry about where to get a good meal or how to get to the practice rink.“It definitely took some stressors off,” said Makar, the '19-20 Calder Trophy winner. “Calvy was amazing with it. It really helped me out.”This season, though, is just different. Dinner parties are on hold. Movie excursions might not take place on the road. The best team-building opportunities might have to be through video games.“On the ice, you spend time with them,” Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “Away from the rink, it’s a lot different, just like the rest of the world. "No doubt everyone has had to make adjustments in their every day life. Same thing with NHL rookies and bonding with NHL veterans. We’re finding ways and I’m sure once we get playing we’re going to see enough of each other at the rink." This season will hardly be the usual introduction to the NHL for these rookies, but skill is skill and there will be plenty of impact made and highlights created.First overall draft pick Alexis Lafreniere will slide right into the lineup for the New York Rangers. Stuetzle is expected to be an instant contributor for Ottawa. Kaprizov has made a strong first impression in Minnesota. “Kirill is a good kid, man. He’s awesome," Dumba said. "I love his energy. He’s one of those guys that, even though there is a language barrier, he tries to fight through it and he doesn’t really care what kind of spews out. It’s nice to have a guy like that because then you can work with him.”Kaprizov smiled as he spoke last week about the way the Wild have welcomed him.“They’re very helpful," he said through his Russian interpreter. "Every time I got a question, even though they can’t fully communicate, whether I’m showing something on my hands or trying to explain something, they’re always finding a way to communicate and help me out, instead of just kind of sending me on my way."___More AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL

Biden unveils $1.9T plan to stem COVID-19 and steady economy

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — President-elect Joe Biden has unveiled a $1.9 trillion coronavirus plan to end “a crisis of deep human suffering” by speeding up vaccines and pumping out financial help to those struggling with the pandemic’s prolonged economic fallout. Called the “American Rescue Plan,” the legislative proposal would meet Biden's goal of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his administration, and advance his objective of reopening most schools by the spring. On a parallel track, it delivers another round of aid to stabilize the economy while the public health effort seeks the upper hand on the pandemic.“We not only have an economic imperative to act now — I believe we have a moral obligation,” Biden said in a nationwide address Thursday. At the same time, he acknowledged that his plan “does not come cheaply.”Biden proposed $1,400 checks for most Americans, which on top of $600 provided in the most recent COVID-19 bill would bring the total to the $2,000 that Biden has called for. It would also extend a temporary boost in unemployment benefits and a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures through September. And it shoehorns in long-term Democratic policy aims such as increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, expanding paid leave for workers, and increasing tax credits for families with children. The last item would make it easier for women to go back to work, which in turn would help the economy recover.The political outlook for the legislation remained unclear. In a joint statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer praised Biden for including liberal priorities, saying they would move quickly to pass it after Biden takes office next Wednesday. But Democrats have narrow margins in both chambers of Congress, and Republicans will push back on issues that range from increasing the minimum wage to providing more money for states, while demanding inclusion of their priorities, such as liability protection for businesses.“Remember that a bipartisan $900 billion #COVID19 relief bill became law just 18 days ago,” tweeted Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. But Biden says that was only a down payment, and he promised more major legislation next month, focused on rebuilding the economy.“The crisis of deep human suffering is in plain sight, and there’s not time to waste," Biden said. “We have to act and we have to act now.”Still, he sought to manage expectations. “We’re better equipped to do this than any nation in the world," he said. “But even with all these small steps, it’s going to take time.”His relief bill would be paid for with borrowed money, adding to trillions in debt the government has already incurred to confront the pandemic. Aides said Biden will make the case that the additional spending and borrowing is necessary to prevent the economy from sliding into an even deeper hole. Interest rates are low, making debt more manageable. Biden has long held that economic recovery is inextricably linked with controlling the coronavirus. That squares with the judgment of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the most powerful business lobbying group and traditionally an adversary of Democrats. “We must defeat COVID before we can restore our economy and that requires turbocharging our vaccination efforts,” the Chamber said in a statement Thursday night that welcomed Biden's plan but stopped short of endorsing it.The plan comes as a divided nation is in the grip of the pandemic’s most dangerous wave yet. So far, more than 385,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the U.S. And government numbers out Thursday reported a jump in weekly unemployment claims, to 965,000, a sign that rising infections are forcing businesses to cut back and lay off workers.Under Biden's multipronged strategy, about $400 billion would go directly to combating the pandemic, while the rest is focused on economic relief and aid to states and localities.About $20 billion would be allocated for a more disciplined focus on vaccination, on top of some $8 billion already approved by Congress. Biden has called for setting up mass vaccination centers and sending mobile units to hard-to-reach areas. With the backing of Congress and the expertise of private and government scientists, the Trump administration delivered two highly effective vaccines and more are on the way. Yet a month after the first shots were given, the nation’s vaccination campaign is off to a slow start with about 11 million people getting the first of two shots, although more than 30 million doses have been delivered.Biden called the vaccine rollout “a dismal failure so far" and said he would provide more details about his vaccination campaign on Friday.The plan also provides $50 billion to expand testing, which is seen as key to reopening most schools by the end of the new administration's first 100 days. About $130 billion would be allocated to help schools reopen without risking further contagion.The plan would fund the hiring of 100,000 public health workers, to focus on encouraging people to get vaccinated and on tracing the contacts of those infected with the coronavirus.There's also a proposal to boost investment in genetic sequencing, to help track new virus strains including the more contagious variants identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa.Throughout the plan, there's a focus on ensuring that minority communities that have borne the brunt of the pandemic are not shortchanged on vaccines and treatments, aides said.With the new proposals comes a call to redouble efforts on the basics.Biden is asking Americans to override their sense of pandemic fatigue and recommit to wearing masks, practicing social distancing and avoiding indoor gatherings, particularly larger ones. It's still the surest way to slow the COVID-19 wave, with more than 4,400 deaths reported just on Tuesday.Biden's biggest challenge will be to “win the hearts and minds of the American people to follow his lead,” said Dr. Leana Wen, a public health expert and emergency physician. The pace of vaccination in the U.S. is approaching 1 million shots a day, but 1.8 million a day would be needed to reach widespread or “herd” immunity by the summer, according to a recent estimate by the American Hospital Association. Wen says the pace should be even higher — closer to 3 million a day.Biden believes the key to speeding that up lies not only in delivering more vaccine but also in working closely with states and local communities to get shots into the arms of more people. The Trump administration provided the vaccine to states and set guidelines for who should get priority for shots, but largely left it up to state and local officials to organize their vaccination campaigns.It's still unclear how the new administration will address the issue of vaccine hesitancy, the doubts and suspicions that keep many people from getting a shot. Polls show it's particularly a problem among Black Americans.“We will have to move heaven and earth to get more people vaccinated,” Biden said.Next Wednesday, when Biden is sworn in as president, marks the anniversary of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the United States.___Associated Press writers Josh Boak and Alan Fram contributed to this report.