LENOIR, N.C. (AP) — Chris Rutledge peels an N-95 mask off her tired face, revealing the silhouette it leaves behind. Her name and a tiny heart are drawn on the face covering in black marker so her patients know who she is.“I look terrible when it comes off,” she jokes as she takes a break during her ninth straight day of 12-hour shifts inside a temporary field hospital in Lenoir, North Carolina.Rutledge, a 60-year-old retired nurse from Lisbon, Iowa, is one of dozens of health care workers who have been treating coronavirus patients inside 11 massive white medical tents set up in the parking lot of Caldwell Memorial Hospital.The tents became necessary in late December when the virus began surging through this rural community in the Carolina foothills, overwhelming the hospital's capacity. The tents were set up earlier this month.“We doubled the number of COVID patients in a matter of days,” said Caldwell CEO Laura Easton, who added that the hospital thought it had seen its cases peak over the summer. “And we doubled our hospital census.”The tents and care givers have been provided by Samaritan's Purse, an international Christian relief charity led by evangelist the Rev. Franklin Graham that is based in Boone, North Carolina. The 30-bed field hospital comprises four medical wards and a pharmacy for patients who have been discharged from the hospital’s intensive care unit and do not need ventilators. Four other hospitals besides Caldwell are sending patients here so they can use hospital beds for more serious cases.“The tent is a scary place for a person that’s never been in it,” Rutledge said, referring to the patients as she washed her hands for the fifth time in just a few minutes. “Some of them are very tearful and some of them are actually sobbing.”But Rutledge calls her work a blessing. Three years ago, she left her full-time nursing job to join short-term medical missions with Samaritan’s Purse. When the organization mobilizes its Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), Rutledge can be on a plane within hours.This is not the first time Samaritan's Purse has provided aid during the pandemic. The organization, which has partnerships in more than 100 countries, opened its first COVID-19 field hospital on March 16, 2020, in Cremona, Italy, when the virus first began to surge in the U.S. and around the world. Two weeks later, Samaritan’s Purse tents were pitched in New York City’s Central Park, where Rutledge and others on its medical team treated hundreds of patients in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state of New York. The charity also recently erected a field hospital in Lancaster, California.While the work is physically and emotionally grueling, Rutledge said she has no regrets.“People asked me if I would do it again after the New York experience and I said I would do it in a heartbeat,” she said.Rutledge is grateful for a supportive husband who cheers her on from their home in Iowa. She said her religious faith sustains her during most of the long days — along with moments of hope that seem to present themselves when she needs them most.She smiles recalling the elderly couple who celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary while battling the coronavirus together, and how she walked the husband to his wife’s ward to visit. Rutledge said she cried the first time she saw the couple reunited. She wept again when they were cleared to go home, virus-free.“It was wonderful,” she said.___Follow Morgan at https://twitter.com/StorytellerSBM
MISSION, Kan. (AP) — Mortuary owner Brian Simmons has been making more trips to homes to pick up bodies to be cremated and embalmed since the pandemic hit.With COVID-19 devastating communities in Missouri, his two-person crews regularly arrive at homes in the Springfield area and remove bodies of people who decided to die at home rather than spend their final days in a nursing home or hospital where family visitations were prohibited during the pandemic.He understands all too well why people are choosing to die at home: His own 49-year-old daughter succumbed to the coronavirus just before Christmas at a Springfield hospital, where the family only got phone updates as her condition deteriorated. “The separation part is really rough, rough rough,” said Simmons. “My daughter went to the hospital and we saw her once through the glass when they put her on the ventilator, and then we never saw her again until after she died.” Across the country, terminally ill patients — both with COVID-19 and other diseases — are making similar decisions and dying at home rather than face the terrifying scenario of saying farewell to loved ones behind glass or during video calls.“What we are seeing with COVID is certainly patients want to stay at home,” said Judi Lund Person, the vice president for regulatory compliance at the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. “They don’t want to go to the hospital. They don’t want to go to a nursing home."National hospice organizations are reporting that facilities are seeing double-digit percentage increases in the number of patients being cared for at home.The phenomenon has played out Carroll Hospice in Westminster, Maryland, which has seen a 30% to 40% spike in demand for home-based care, said executive director Regina Bodnar. She said avoiding nursing homes and coronavirus risks are the biggest factor behind the increase.”Lisa Kossoudji, who supervises nurses at Ohio’s Hospice of Dayton, pulled her own mother, now 95, out of assisted living and brought her home to live with her after the pandemic hit. She had gone weeks without seeing her mother and was worried that her condition was deteriorating because she was being restricted to her room as the facility sought to limit the potential for the virus to spread.Her mother, who has a condition that causes thickening and hardening of the walls of the arteries in her brain, is now receiving hospice services. Kossoudji is seeing the families she serves make similar choices.“Lots of people are bringing folks home that physically, they have a lot physical issues, whether it is they have a feeding tube or a trachea, things that an everyday lay person would look at and say, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t do this,’” she said. “But yet they are willing to bring them home because we want to be able to be with them and see them.”Before the pandemic, hospice workers cared for patients dying of heart disease, cancer, dementia and other terminal illnesses in long-term care facilities and, to a lesser extent, home settings. Many families hesitated to go the die-at-home route because of the many logistical challenges, including work schedules and complicated medical needs.But the pandemic changed things. People were suddenly working from home and had more time, and they were more comfortable with home hospice knowing the alternative with lack of visitation at nursing homes. “What happened with COVID is everything was on steroids so to speak. Everything happened so quickly that all of a sudden family members were prepared to care for their loved ones at home,” said Carole Fisher, president of the National Partnership for Healthcare and Hospice Innovation. “Everything accelerated.”“I have heard families say, ‘I can care for my aged mother now very differently than I could before because I am working from home,’” she added. “And so there is more of a togetherness in the family unit because of COVID.”Dying at home isn't for everyone, however. Caring for the needs of a critically ill relative can mean sleepless nights and added stress as the pandemic rages. Karen Rubel recalled that she didn’t want to take her own 81-year-old mother to the hospital when she had a stroke in September and then pushed hard to bring her home as soon as possible.She is president and CEO of Nathan Adelson Hospice in Las Vegas, which has designated one of its in-patient facilities for COVID-19 patients. “I get where people are coming from," she said. “They are afraid."
BERLIN (AP) — The secretary general of the United Nations on Friday stressed that as wealthy nations roll out the coronavirus vaccine for their citizens, the world also needs to ensure it is available for “everyone, everywhere.” In an address to Germany's parliament, Antonio Guterres praised the researchers from Germany's BioNTech who teamed up with U.S. giant Pfizer and beat rivals in the race to put the first thoroughly vetted vaccine on the market.He said that every German should be “very proud of their achievements.” “Our challenge now is to ensure that vaccines are treated as a public good — accessible and affordable to everyone, everywhere," he said according to his prepared remarks.“A people's vaccine.”He said the U.N. was also committed to providing news and advice people can trust and working to build confidence in the vaccine “guided by science, grounded in facts” to combat what he called the “virus of misinformation.”“Across the globe we have seen how populist approaches that ignore science have misled the public,” Guterres said. “Coupled with false news and wild conspiracies, things have become manifestly worse.”He also heaped praise on Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying her “no-nonsense, steady, compassionate and wise guiding hand” had helped steer Germany through the pandemic.“I commend your early and decisive steps driven by science, local data and local action that suppressed transmission of the virus and saved lives,” he said.
BEIJING (AP) — Chinese leaders are shifting focus from the coronavirus back to long-term goals of making China a technology leader at this...
SAN DIEGO (AP) — San Diego County has suspended enforcement of COVID-19 restrictions on restaurants and live entertainment establishments after a judge extended his order protecting two strip clubs from a state shutdown order and indicated the ruling applied more broadly.County officials said in a statement Wednesday evening that they and state officials were analyzing the scope of the ruling, which took effect immediately, and discussing next steps, including seeking clarity from the court.“Until we have clarity, we have suspended enforcement activities against restaurants and live entertainment establishments,” the county said. Citing the “record number of new infections, deaths and ICUs at capacity,” officials, nonetheless, urged people not to gather and to socially distance, wear face coverings and wash their hands. Restaurants, meanwhile, were trying to sort out whether they can seize the opportunity to reopen to diners.Chad Cline, co-owner of the Waterfront Bar & Grill in Little Italy and a number of other nightlife venues and restaurants, said he was unsure what the judge's wording meant.“It kind of says that restaurants can reopen but the caveat there may be that someone has to be stripping, which seems so wild to me,” Cline told the San Diego Union-Tribune. ”If that’s what it takes for us to reopen our businesses — taking off our clothes, I’ll do it.”The scope of the preliminary injunction appeared to extend far beyond the two strip clubs that sued the county and state. If so, it could lift restrictions on thousands of restaurants in the county of more than 3 million people.San Diego County Superior Court Judge Joel Wohlfeil said his ruling applies to “San Diego County businesses with restaurant services,” including the strip clubs. The injunction exempts them from shutdowns and “any related orders” that bar live adult entertainment and go beyond protocols “that are no greater than essential” to controlling the spread of COVID-19.The judge noted that before being ordered to close in October the clubs, Pacers Showgirls International and Cheetahs Gentlemen’s Club, operated for five weeks during the pandemic under their own safety measures — including keeping strippers 15 feet (4.6 meters) from tables, allowing no more than one stripper per stage and requiring them and other employees to wear masks.Michael Workman, a spokesman for San Diego County, said county attorneys were meeting “to decipher the ruling and determine what’s next. Stay tuned.” County supervisors last week vowed to appeal any extension of the exemption for strip clubs, which the judge initially granted Nov. 6.The state attorney general’s office referred questions to Gov. Gavin Newsom, whose office said in a statement that its legal team was “reviewing options to determine next steps" and was disappointed in the court's decision, though “we remain steadfast in our commitment to protecting the health and safety of all Californians." Some restaurants were planning to reopen by the weekend. Angie Weber, the owner of Cowboy Star and and Butcher Shop in downtown San Diego, said she was waiting to see if officials appeal. “For us at Cowboy Star we are waiting to see what happens with that before we ask all of our team to come back to work and place all our orders," Weber said Thursday. “For now we are very hopeful that the ruling will be upheld and we’ll be able to reopen with all of the safety protocols that we had previously put in place."Weber’s business was among two San Diego restaurants and two gyms that sued on behalf of their industries, asking that California’s four-tier system of pandemic restrictions be declared illegal. The judge in that case denied their request to resume indoor activity. Steve Hoffman, an attorney for Cheetahs, said he was “very pleased” with Wednesday's ruling and had no comment on whether it extended to other strip clubs and restaurants.“Cheetahs and Pacers will continue to operate in a manner that takes all appropriate and essential measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while at the same time providing a means for their staff to earn a livelihood,” he wrote in an email. The ruling came after Newsom’s Dec. 3 stay-at-home order barred indoor and outdoor dining and prohibits social gatherings in response to a surge of coronavirus cases that has hammered hospitals across the state.The judge's ruling followed a spirited argument about whether the shutdown violates the 1st Amendment, which protects naked dancing as free expression.“What’s going to happen next when there is some greater emergency? Are we all going to be under house arrest? Are we going to even have a Constitution?” said lawyer Jason Saccuzzo, who represents Pacers. Patti Li, an attorney for the state, highlighted the extreme scarcity of intensive-care unit beds and growing waits in hospital emergency rooms to justify what she emphasized were temporary measures.“It really is about the entire community, the entire state,” Li said. “This is the most serious moment of this pandemic in the state, in the nation so far.”___Associated Press writer John Antczak contributed to this report from Los Angeles.
BRUSSELS — More than 10,000 elderly people living in Belgian rest homes have died from COVID-19 since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Yves Van Laethem, a spokesman at Belgium’s coronavirus crisis center, told a news conference on Friday that the death of 10,270 rest home residents accounts for 56 percent of all the victims. In a report published last month, Amnesty International said Belgian authorities “abandoned” thousands of elderly people who died in nursing homes and did not seek hospital treatment for many who were infected, violating their human rights. One of the hardest-hit countries in Europe, Belgium has reported more than 618,000 confirmed virus cases and 18,371 deaths linked to the coronavirus. During the first wave of the epidemic last spring, the European nation of 11.5 million people recorded a majority of its COVID-19-related deaths in nursing homes. Van Laethem said the situation has improved, but remains “precarious and difficult.” ___THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:French President Emmanuel Macron is riding out the coronavirus in a presidential retreat at Versailles. The Food and Drug Administration plans to approve second vaccine after panel endorsement.U.S. officials debate who should be next in line for the vaccine.___Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak___HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:LONDON — Paul McCartney says he’s keen to get vaccinated against COVID-19.In an interview Friday with the BBC, the ex-Beatle also downplayed the likelihood he’d go on tour next year to support his latest album released this week, “McCartney III,” saying it depends on how successful virus countermeasures are.When asked if he would get a coronavirus vaccine, the 78-year-old McCartney said, “Yeah, I will yeah. And I’d like to encourage people to get it too, because with this it’s much more serious, and yeah, if I’m allowed to get it, I will.” He said he’d love to play at Britain’s Glastonbury music festival in 2021, though he was skeptical organizers could stage it, noting that it would likely involve 100,000 people closely packed together, with no masks. “You know, talk about a superspreader,” he said.___WASHINGTON — The justices on the U.S. Supreme Court are being provided with doses of the coronavirus vaccine.That is according to a letter by Capitol Physician Brian Monahan, which says the court, along with Congress and executive branch agencies are being given a limited supply of doses “for continuity of government operations.”The doses are being provided under a directive by President Donald Trump that established continuity of government as a reason for vaccine prioritization. The Supreme Court and the other branches of government are supposed to be treated “in parallel.”____SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported 1,062 new cases of coronavirus infections, its third straight day above 1,000 as the virus continues to slam the greater capital area where hospital beds are in short supply.The cases reported Friday brought the national caseload to 47,515. There have been 645 deaths from COVID-19.More than 760 of the new cases were in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, where health workers are struggling to stem transmissions.Health officials have raised alarm about a looming shortage in hospital beds and intensive care units.The viral resurgence has put pressure on the government to raise social distancing restrictions to maximum levels, something policymakers have resisted for weeks out of economic concerns.___SYDNEY — Australian officials say the number of coronavirus infections from a cluster in Sydney’s northern coastal suburbs is continuing to grow.The chief health officer for New South Wales state says testing on Thursday and early Friday found 28 new infections. Several had been at the Avalon Beach R.S.L. Club on Dec. 11 and a nearby lawn bowling club called Avalon Bowlo on Dec. 13.More than 250,0000 residents of Sydney’s Northern Beaches Local Government Area were advised Thursday to work from home and remain at home as much as possible for three days. Others were advised to avoid traveling to the area. ___RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil’s Supreme Court says coronavirus vaccination can be made mandatory, delivering a blow to the nation’s nascent anti-vaccine movement. However, the court also says Brazilians may not be vaccinated against their will. A court statement says Thursday’s ruling does pave the way for state and municipal governments to approve laws imposing fines or restrictive measures for anyone refusing to take a vaccine.President Jair Bolsonaro has repeatedly said he will not take any vaccine and opposes mandatory immunization. He has also sown skepticism about potential side effects. Opinion polls have indicated a growing resistance to vaccination, with about one-fifth of Brazilians surveyed by pollster Datafolha this month saying they don’t intend to get a shot. That is more than double the percentage four months earlier.Brazil’s health regulator Anvisa has yet to approve any shot for mass immunization.
HOUSTON (AP) — Houston's season opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night has been postponed after coronavirus cases and James Harden's violation of the NBA's COVID-19 protocols left the Rockets without the league-mandated eight players available.The NBA announced the postponement in a release that said three Rockets players had returned tests that were either positive or inconclusive and that four other players were quarantined because of contract tracing. The release also said that Harden was unavailable for the game because of a violation of health and safety protocols after video of the disgruntled star surfaced on social media where he was without a mask at a crowded party in a private event space Tuesday night. Rumors have swirled for months that Harden wants to be traded, but the superstar has refused to address the situation. A ninth player was unavailable for the game because of an injury, leaving the Rockets without enough players to play Wednesday night. Houston's injury report released Wednesday morning that Ben McLemore and rookie KJ Martin were not with the team and were self-isolating and that DeMarcus Cousins was questionable because of a sprained right ankle.
NEW YORK (AP) — The 2021 Grammy Awards will no longer take place this month in Los Angeles and will broadcast in March due to a recent surge in coronavirus cases and deaths.The Recording Academy told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the annual show would shift from its original Jan. 31 broadcast to an unspecified date in March. The Grammys will be held in Los Angeles at the Staples Center. Los Angeles County, the epicenter of the crisis in California, has surpassed 10,000 COVID-19 deaths and has had 40% of the deaths in California. It is the third state to reach the 25,000 death count. An average of six people die every hour from COVID-19 in Los Angeles County, which has a quarter of the state’s 40 million residents. County health officials fear the incoming Christmas and New Year’s surge.“The Daily Show” host and comedian Trevor Noah is set to host the 2021 Grammys, where Beyoncé is leading contender with nine nominations. Taylor Swift, Dua Lipa, Roddy Ricch, Jhené Aiko, Post Malone, Renée Zellweger, Billie Eilish and her producer-brother Finneas also scored nominations. First-time nominees include The Strokes, Megan Thee Stallion, Harry Styles and Blue Ivy Carter.Performers will be announced at a later date.
LOS ANGELES (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom is back in a precautionary coronavirus quarantine for the second time in two months as surging COVID-19 cases swamp the state’s hospitals and strain medical staffing.Newsom will quarantine for 10 days after one of his staffers tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday afternoon, the governor’s office said. Newsom was then tested and his result came back negative, as did the tests of other staffers who were in contact.Last month, members of the governor’s family were exposed to someone who tested positive for the virus. Newsom, his wife and four children tested negative at that time.As of Sunday, more than 16,840 people were hospitalized with confirmed COVID-19 infections — more than double the previous peak reached in July — and a state model that uses current data to forecast future trends shows the number could reach 75,000 by mid-January.More than 3,610 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care units. All of Southern California and the 12-county San Joaquin Valley have exhausted their regular ICU capacity, and some hospitals have begun using “surge” space. Overall, the state’s ICU capacity was just 2.1% on Sunday.The explosion of cases in the last six weeks has California’s death toll climbing. Another 161 fatalities reported Sunday raised the total to 22,593.In hard-hit Los Angeles County, Nerissa Black, a nurse at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital, estimated she’s been averaging less than 10 minutes of care per patient every hour. That includes not just bedside care, but donning gear, writing up charts, reviewing lab results and conferring with doctors, she said.“And the patients who are coming in are more sick now than they’ve ever been, because a lot of people are waiting before they get care. So when they do come in, they’re really, really sick,” Black said Sunday.The governor has said California is experiencing “some of the darkest days of our COVID-19 surge,” but there was some light Sunday as a group of experts endorsed a second vaccine, this one from Moderna. The step clears the way for the drug to be distributed throughout California and other Western states. Doses of the first vaccine, by Pfizer, are already being administered to California medical workers.Until vaccinations become widespread, hospitals are preparing for the possibility of rationing care. A document recently circulated among doctors at the four hospitals run by Los Angeles County calls for them to shift strategy: Instead of trying everything to save a life, their goal during the crisis is to save as many patients as possible. That means those less likely to survive won’t get the same kind of care offered in normal times.“Some compromise of standard of care is unavoidable; it is not that an entity, system, or locale chooses to limit resources, it is that the resources are clearly not available to provide care in a regular manner,” the document obtained by the Los Angeles Times reads.The county’s Health Services director, Dr. Christina Ghaly, said the guidelines were not in place as of Friday night but that they were essential to develop given that the surge has arrived and “the worst is yet to come.”Many hospitals already have implemented emergency procedures to stretch staff and space.Corona Regional Medical Center southeast of Los Angeles has converted an old emergency room to help handle nearly double the usual number of ICU patients. It’s using space in two disaster tents to triage ER patients because the emergency room is filled with patients who need to be hospitalized.In hard-hit Fresno County, a new 50-bed alternate care site opened recently near the community Regional Medical Center. The beds for COVID-19-negative patients will free up space in area hospitals, where just 13 of some 150 ICU beds were available Friday, said Dan Lynch, the county’s emergency medical services director.Lynch said he expects they will have to use the Fresno Convention Center, which can accommodate up to 250 patients.Fresno and three neighboring counties also have taken the unprecedented step of sending paramedics on emergency calls to evaluate people. They won’t be taken to the emergency room if they could go to an urgent care facility or wait a few days to talk to their doctors, Lynch said.Some hospitals have canceled non-essential elective surgeries, such as hip replacements, that might require beds that may soon be needed for COVID-19 patients. Others are increasing staff hours or moving patients to free up space.___AP reporter John Antczak contributed to this report.
LISBON, Portugal (AP) — The pressure appears to be getting to Portugal’s government after almost two weeks at the top of the world rankings of daily new COVID-19 cases and deaths by size of population.Recent flubs include mixed government messages on mask types and online teaching, regular pandemic news conferences discontinued without explanation, scant official information on what foreign help is coming and scandals over queue-jumping for vaccines. Then there's the recent disarray in parliament over which lawmakers will get the jab early, as well as a health chief’s sharp retort that finding fault with government pandemic planning is “criminal.” Those episodes have combined to put the Portuguese government politically on the ropes in recent days, just as the country takes stock of last month’s devastating pandemic surge.In January, Portugal recorded more than 5,000 deaths -- close to half of its official pandemic total so far. Over the month, hospitalizations grew by 136% and patients in ICUs by 78%, pushing the public health system close to collapse.Amid criticism that it has been caught flat-footed, the government has accepted help from Germany. On Wednesday, 26 German army medics, including eight doctors, nursing staff and a hygiene team along with medical equipment, are due in Lisbon to help out at hospitals.But the Portuguese public found out about that from a detailed statement by German authorities. The Portuguese government was less than forthcoming about German help, only briefly confirming the news several hours later.Requiring foreign help is a sensitive political issue for Portugal, recalling a 78-billion-euro ($94 billion) international bailout the country needed in 2011 amid Europe’s financial crisis. That was viewed as a national embarrassment.The Socialist government is already smarting from accusations it was slow to react in the January surge. A fast-spreading variant first identified in southeast England in December quickly spread in Portugal in the wake of a four-day easing of restrictions over Christmas, but U.K. flights were banned only on Jan. 23. Authorities, meanwhile, have vowed to crack down on cases of alleged queue-jumping for vaccines, with almost a dozen cases involving low-level regional officials under official investigation. In the latest case Tuesday, the mother of the head of a social care institution in northern Portugal, and the institution’s seamstress, received the inoculation last month under allegedly questionable circumstances.Vaccines have so far been given only to residents and staff of elderly care homes where there is no outbreak, frontline health workers and security forces. The health ministry says 70,000 people have received both doses of the vaccine and 270,000 have had the first dose.From Wednesday, the vaccination program is being expanded to some 900,000 people who are more than 80 years old or are over 50 with underlying health problems.Health Minister Marta Temido says Portugal ranks seventh in the European Union for the number of people vaccinated in relation to population.Temido admitted last week that the current level of stress on the public health system “was never even imaginable in hospitals’ disaster preparedness.”But she told public broadcaster RTP that questioning whether the government was guilty of poor planning is “criminal for those people who each day, across (government) services, makes a huge effort to get things ready.”