- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 29, 2020

BATON ROUGE, La. - Luke Letlow, who was to have been Louisiana’s newest Republican member of the U.S. House, has died from complications related to COVID-19 only days before being sworn into office. He was 41.

Letlow spokesman Andrew Bautsch confirmed the congressman-elect’s death Tuesday at Ochsner-LSU Health Shreveport. The spokesman says that “the family appreciates the numerous prayers and support over the past days.”

Letlow had won a December runoff election and was set to take office in January. He was admitted to a Monroe hospital on Dec. 19 after testing positive for the coronavirus. He was later transferred to the Shreveport medical center and placed in intensive care.

Letlow is survived by his wife, Julia Barnhill Letlow, and two children.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

- 91-year-old Margaret Keenan, gets 2nd shot after 1st Brit to get vaccine

- Alabama cases surge, ICUs 91% full last week

- Belarus, Argentina start vaccinations with Russian shots

- Hospitalizations in England exceed peak in spring

- Follow AP’s 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:

SAN FRANCISCO - California’s top health official says hospitals in hard-hit Los Angeles County are turning to “crisis care” and bracing for the coronavirus surge to worsen in the new year.

Dr. Mark Ghaly’s comment came Tuesday as he extended strict stay-home orders in areas where intensive care units have few beds.

Ghaly says Southern California and the agricultural San Joaquin Valley have virtually no ICU capacity to treat COVID-19 patients. He says some overwhelmed hospitals don’t have space to unload ambulances or get oxygen to patients who can’t breathe.

The state’s “crisis care” guidelines allow for rationing treatment when staff, medicine and supplies are in short supply.

California reported more than 31,000 new coronavirus infections Tuesday and 242 deaths. Nearly 25,000 people in the state have died from COVID-19 during the pandemic.

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DENVER - Colorado Gov. Jared Polis says the state has recorded the first reported U.S. case of the coronavirus variant that has been seen in the United Kingdom.

State health officials said Tuesday that the variant was found in a man in his 20s who is in isolation southeast of Denver and has no travel history.

The Colorado State Laboratory confirmed the virus variant, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was notified.

Scientists in the U.K. believe the new virus variant is more contagious than previously identified strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Health officials have said the vaccines being given now are thought to be effective against the variant.

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NEW YORK - Drugmaker Pfizer and partner BioNTech say they will be supplying an additional 100 million doses of their coronavirus vaccine to the European Union next year.

The European Commission is exercising its option to buy those additional doses under the initial contract it signed with the two drugmakers last month.

New York-based Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech said Tuesday the additional supply will give the EU’s 27 member states a total of 300 million doses, enough to give 150 million people the two-dose vaccine.

Nearly all the EU member countries started their vaccination campaigns Sunday.

The two companies have said they could provide up to 1.3 billion doses of the vaccine worldwide by the end of 2021, but manufacturing constraints could reduce that amount.

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PHOENIX — Arizona’s largest hospital chain says some hospitals have stopped accepting patients brought to them by ambulance runs and transfers as they scramble to address a backlog of sick people amid a surge of COVID-19 cases.

Banner Health says 10 hospitals diverted ambulances and transfers to other medical facilities late Monday and six were still doing so early Tuesday.

Arizona has the second highest coronavirus infection rate in the nation. California has the highest.

State officials announced Tuesday that Arizona will include people aged 75 and older in the second phase of vaccinations against the coronavirus in a move to keep hospitals from getting further overwhelmed.

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MOSS BLUFF, La. - A former Louisiana state lawmaker and his wife died from COVID-19 on the same day.

The family’s obituary says Vic and Terry Bass Stelly died within hours of each other on Saturday from complications brought on by the coronavirus. A memorial ceremony will be held Thursday at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Lake Charles.

Daughter Toni Stelly Hebert wrote on Facebook that after 60 years together, her parents could not be without each other.

“You don’t see marriages like that too often anymore,” state Sen. Ronnie Johns, a Republican from Sulphur, told The Advocate. “At first it shocked me that they both died the same day, but as I looked back at how they lived their lives and how they felt about each other, it doesn’t surprise me at all.”

Vic Stelly served 16 years in the state House and later was a member of Louisiana’s higher education policy board. He was 79. Terry Bass Stelly was 80.

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OKLAHOMA CITY - The Oklahoma City fire department says a firefighter, whose nephew became the first department employee to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, died of the virus after being infected while responding to a call.

Fire Chief Richard Kelley, fighting back tears, said Monday that Maj. Andy Davis died Christmas Eve, declining to elaborate on details of when or how Davis was infected.

Deputy Chief Mike Walker said Davis’ nephew, firefighter A.J. Davis, was the first fire department employee to receive the vaccine on Saturday.

“We just thought it was the fitting thing to do in light of the passing of Andy,” Walker said. “So, we reached out to him and he was willing to step up and be the first one.”

Battalion Chief Benny Fulkerson said a second department employee, 45-year-old Robert Saudia, died Monday after suffering from COVID-19, but Saudia’s cause of death has not been determined.

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COLUMBIA, S.C. - Beleaguered leaders in the region of South Carolina hardest hit by the coronavirus rebuked residents who plan to party in large crowds for New Year’s Eve with hospitals already reaching the breaking point.

In the Upstate area of the state, COVID-19 infection rates continue to outpace every other part of South Carolina. But some event organizers are still selling tickets to New Year’s Eve celebrations. Greenville officials said Tuesday they had received multiple complaints from residents about the planned festivities, adding that city has denied several requests for special permits to hold large events.

“It’s horribly unfair and irresponsible to the men and women in the health care community, the nurses and doctors who are fighting this on the front lines,” Greenville Mayor Knox White told reporters.

Greenville law enforcement officials say they will be patrolling downtown on New Year’s Eve to ensure people and businesses are complying with state regulations.

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WILMINGTON, Del. - President-elect Joe Biden is criticizing the Trump administration for the pace of distributing COVID-19 vaccines, saying it is “falling far behind.”

Biden says “it’s gonna take years, not months, to vaccinate the American people” at the current pace.

He is vowing to ramp up the current speed of vaccinations five to six times to 1 million shots a day, but acknowledges it “will still take months to have the majority of Americans vaccinated.”

The president-elect, who takes office Jan. 20, says he has directed his team to prepare a “much more aggressive effort to get things back on track.”

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - New Mexico officials have fined two Albuquerque churches for violating the state’s public health orders aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19 after both venues held large gatherings for Christmas.

The New Mexico Department of Health fined Legacy Church and Calvary Church $5,000 each on Monday after photos and video showed both churches violated orders limiting occupancy, mandating masks and practicing social distancing.

Tripp Stelnicki, a spokesman for Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, said the leaders and congregation at the two churches violated state regulations.

Legacy Church officials accused the state of trampling on their constitutional rights. Calvary Church’s pastor said they urged people to follow guidelines, blocked every other row to practice social distancing, provided outdoor seating and gave masks to guests who were not wearing one.

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PARIS - The French Health Minister says authorities are planning to extend the country’s night curfew in regions where the coronavirus is circulating more, in eastern France near the border with Germany, Switzerland and Italy.

Health Minister Olivier Veran says the extended curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. will start on Jan. 2 “where it’s needed,” he says. Veran ruled out any national or local lockdown in the coming days.

In other regions, the curfew in place since mid-December will be maintained from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Restaurants and bars will remain closed at least until Jan. 20.

So far, France’s vaccination campaign has been limited to a few dozen people since Sunday, compared with at least 18,000 people in neighboring Germany.

Veran says France has the same number of vaccine doses as Germany in proportion to its population and will get the “same results.” But he acknowledged the approach to vaccine first people in nursing homes and get written consent from them or their family slowed down the process.

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - A South Dakota lawmaker says she will participate in the upcoming legislative session remotely until she receives a coronavirus vaccine.

Rep. Linda Duba, a Sioux Falls Democrat, informed legislative leadership she’ll stay away from the Capitol building out of concern for her health, the Argus Leader reported. The 64-year-old lawmaker says she wouldn’t attend meetings in-person until she receives two doses of a vaccine.

South Dakota’s Legislature is set to convene in Pierre on Jan. 12 for a two-month session. Rules and protocols for the session have not been set but may allow lawmakers to participate remotely due to the pandemic.

Duba told legislative leaders in an email she believes proposed rules in the Capitol are not in line with CDC guidelines on indoor gatherings.

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CONCORD, N.H. - Up to 400 New Hampshire lawmakers are expected to attend an upcoming legislative session modeled on a drive-in movie theater.

The House released plans Tuesday for what acting Speaker Sherm Packard calls “the most risk-mitigated session of the House yet during this pandemic.”

Lawmakers will park in front of a large screen at the University of New Hampshire in Durham and will remain in their cars for the duration of the session on Jan. 6.

Since the pandemic began, the House has met indoors at university arena and outside on an athletic field. House Speaker Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack, died of COVID-19 on Dec. 9, a week after being sworn in during the outdoor gathering.

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DES MOINES, Iowa - Coronavirus vaccinations began this week in Iowa’s nursing homes.

Officials say although it will take weeks to complete, the vaccination drive gives hope to the isolated residents that they can resume contact with their families.

Three pharmacy companies signed contracts with the government to go into nursing homes and give the vaccines to residents and staff. They began Monday. In Iowa, there are about 31,000 residents and 37,000 staff members in 445 nursing homes and 258 assisted living facilities, said Brent Willett, CEO of the Iowa Health Care Association, a trade group those communities.

It will take several weeks to administer the first dose and it must be followed with a second booster, so the homes won’t be reopened to visitors immediately.

Iowa nursing home residents make up about 1.5% of the state’s population but about 2.5% of all coronavirus cases and 30% of deaths. Current public health data shows 1,138 deaths in nursing homes out of the state’s total 3,812 confirmed deaths.

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LONDON - Some people in Britain have received their second and final dose of coronavirus vaccine as the country’s immunization program rolls on.

Margaret Keenan, 91, who became the first person in the U.K. to get a vaccine on Dec. 8, had the follow-up injection Tuesday at a hospital in the central England city of Coventry.

Hospital chief executive Andy Hardy says: “We were delighted to welcome Margaret Keenan back to Coventry’s University Hospital today to safely receive the second dose of the vaccination after she became the first person in the world to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 (vaccine) following its clinical approval.”

The vaccine developed by Pfizer and German firm BioNTech is given in two doses three weeks apart. Its developers say it conferred 95% immunity in clinical trials.

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