Florida surpasses 50,000 COVID deaths after battling delta wave

Overall, about one in every 400 Florida residents who were alive in March 2020 has since died of COVID-19. (AFP)
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Updated 17 September 2021

Florida surpasses 50,000 COVID deaths after battling delta wave

  • Florida has the 11th worst per-capita death rate among the 50 states

MIAMI: Florida surpassed 50,000 coronavirus deaths since the pandemic began, health officials reported Thursday, with more than one fourth of those succumbing this summer as the state battled a fierce surge in infections fueled by the delta variant.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tallied 50,811 deaths after adding more than 1,500 COVID-19 deaths provided Thursday by the state’s health department. Those reported deaths occurred over various dates in recent weeks.
Florida has the 11th worst per-capita death rate among the 50 states, the CDC says. New Jersey, Mississippi and New York have had the worst, but Florida has risen from the 17th spot in the past two weeks.
Overall, about one in every 400 Florida residents who were alive in March 2020 has since died of COVID-19. Only cancer and heart disease have killed more Floridians during that period, according to state health department statistics. Those have each killed about 70,000 Floridians.
Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke somberly when asked about surpassing 50,000 COVID-19 deaths during a Fort Lauderdale news conference promoting the use of monoclonal antibodies, a treatment for people infected with the disease that reduces death and hospitalization if given early.
“It has been a really tough year and a half,” DeSantis said.
The Republican governor, who has advocated against mask and vaccine mandates, said the most recent wave, which began in June, has struck younger and healthier people. Numerous police officers and firefighters have died from the disease.
“It is affecting families in ways that we are not used to, so it has been really, really rough,” DeSantis said. Out of about 50 people present at the news conference, DeSantis was the only one who did not wear a mask when not speaking. He has promoted vaccination and has been inoculated, but did not receive his shot publicly as many elected officials did.
Epidemiologists say the state’s rates of vaccination outpaced the national average, but it was not enough to keep the highly contagious variant at bay because of its outsized population of elderly people and low vaccination rates among younger groups they interact with.
On a per-capita basis, rural and semi-rural counties in central and north Florida were hit the hardest. Most of those counties have vaccination rates that are at or below the statewide average of 63 percent of residents 12 and older. Florida counts someone as vaccinated if they have received at least one dose, even though both the Pfizer and Moderna versions both require two doses to be fully effective.
Monroe County, which consists mostly of the Florida Keys, has seen the fewest deaths per capita — one for every 1,115 residents and one of the highest vaccination rates. Another tourist mecca, Orange County, home to Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando, had the third-lowest per capita death count.
Alachua County, home to the University of Florida, and Leon County, home to the state capital Tallahassee and Florida State University, have been the second- and fourth-least deadly places.
Now, weeks since infections peaked, the state has seen steep drops in hospitalizations and infections. The number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals finally dropped below the 10,000 mark on Thursday with 9,917 patients, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. That number reached more than 17,000 COVID-19 people on Aug. 23.
The number of new cases per day is now averaging 12,200, down from 21,700 in mid August.
Deaths are expected to continue to climb for late August and early September because of the way they are logged in Florida and the lags in reporting.


Greece tourism rebounds but still suffers from Covid

Updated 22 October 2021

Greece tourism rebounds but still suffers from Covid

  • Foreign tourists seeking sun and sand are the driver of Greece's tourism industry
  • Pandemic travel restrictions kept most away in 2020 and battered the sector

ATHENS: The number of foreign tourists arriving in Greece has rebounded strongly this year, central bank data released Friday showed, but the key tourism sector still remains far below pre-pandemic levels.
Foreign tourists seeking sun and sand are the driver of Greece’s tourism industry, which accounts for a fifth of the overall economy, but pandemic travel restrictions kept most away in 2020 and battered the sector.
Greek central bank data showed that the number of tourist arrivals has jumped 80 percent this year to over 8.6 million.
Meanwhile, spending by tourists during the first eight months of the year has shot up by over 135 percent to nearly 6.6 billion euros ($7.7 billion), the Bank of Greece said in a statement.
But those figures are still far off the level in 2019, before the pandemic, when some 21.8 million tourists spent 13.2 billion euros.
Ahead of the peak summer tourism season, Greece ran a major campaign to voluntarily vaccinate most residents if its Aegean islands, its most popular travel destinations, to help lure back foreign tourists.
Most of the arrivals came from Germany, Britain, France and the United States.
Greece’s economy contracted by 9.0 percent in 2020, due in no small part to the drop in tourists.
The government expects the economy to rebound 6.1 percent this year and grow by 4.5 percent in 2022.


Pfizer says COVID-19 vaccine more than 90 percent effective in kids

Updated 22 October 2021

Pfizer says COVID-19 vaccine more than 90 percent effective in kids

  • Shots could begin in early November with the first children in line fully protected by Christmas if regulators give the go-ahead
  • FDA was expected to post its independent review of the company's safety and effectiveness data later in the day

DUBAI: Kid-size doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine appear safe and nearly 91 percent effective at preventing symptomatic infections in 5- to 11-year-olds, according to study details released Friday as the US considers opening vaccinations to that age group.
The shots could begin in early November — with the first children in line fully protected by Christmas — if regulators give the go-ahead.
Details of Pfizer’s study were posted online. The Food and Drug Administration was expected to post its independent review of the company’s safety and effectiveness data later in the day.
Advisers to the FDA will publicly debate the evidence next week. If the agency ultimately authorizes the shots, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will make the final decision on who should receive them.
Full-strength Pfizer shots already are authorized for anyone 12 or older, but pediatricians and many parents are anxiously awaiting protection for younger children to stem rising infections from the extra-contagious delta variant and help keep kids in school.
More than 25,000 pediatricians and primary care providers already have signed up to get the shots into little arms.
The Biden administration has purchased enough kid-size doses — in special orange-capped vials to distinguish them from adult vaccine — for the nation’s roughly 28 million 5- to 11-year-olds. If the vaccine is cleared, millions of doses will be promptly shipped around the country, along with kid-size needles.
A Pfizer study tracked 2,268 kids in that age group who got two shots three weeks apart of either a placebo or the low-dose vaccine. Each dose was one-third the amount given to teens and adults.
Researchers calculated the low-dose vaccine was nearly 91 percent effective, based on 16 COVID-19 cases in youngsters given dummy shots versus three cases among vaccinated children. There were no severe illnesses reported among any of the youngsters, but the vaccinated ones had much milder symptoms than their unvaccinated counterparts.
In addition, young children given the low-dose shots developed coronavirus-fighting antibody levels just as strong as teens and young adults who got regular-strength vaccinations.
That’s important information considering that hospitalizations of mostly unvaccinated children reached record levels last month.
The CDC reported earlier this week that even as the delta mutant surged between June and September, Pfizer vaccinations were 93 percent effective at preventing hospitalizations among 12- to 18-year-olds.
Pfizer’s study of younger kids found the low-dose shots proved safe, with similar or fewer temporary side effects such as sore arms, fever or achiness that teens experience.
The study isn’t large enough to detect any extremely rare side effects, such as the heart inflammation that occasionally occurs after the second dose, mostly in young men.
While children run a lower risk of severe illness or death than older people, COVID-19 has killed more than 630 Americans 18 and under, according to the CDC. Nearly 6.2 million children have been infected with the coronavirus, more than 1.1 million in the last six weeks as the delta mutant surged, the American Academy of Pediatrics says.
Moderna also is studying its COVID-19 shots in elementary school-age youngsters. Pfizer and Moderna are studying even younger children as well, down to 6-month-olds. Results are expected later in the year.


Four dead as hurricane-force winds batter Poland

Updated 22 October 2021

Four dead as hurricane-force winds batter Poland

  • Fire services reported more than 10,000 incidents and 930 buildings were damaged
  • In Wroclaw, police said that two people were killed when a tree fell on their car

WARSAW: Four people were killed and 18 injured in a storm that battered Poland with hurricane-force winds on Thursday night, authorities said, damaging properties and felling trees across western and central areas of the country.
Fire services reported more than 10,000 incidents and 930 buildings were damaged, private broadcaster TVN24 reported, with the western region of Lubuskie and the central Lodzkie region hardest hit.
“The storm was terrible, it broke the sheet metal and took it from one part of the roof to the other side of the house,” Krzysztof Kolczynski, whose house in the village of Maszkowice in central Poland was damaged in the storm, told TVN24.
“It’s good that there were chimneys, otherwise it would have torn off the entire roof.”
In the south-western city of Wroclaw, police said that two people were killed when a tree fell on their car.
“Wroclaw police received a report about a tree that fell on a moving vehicle,” said police officer Pawel Noga. “Unfortunately, it was confirmed on the spot that two people in the car were killed in the incident.”
The Polish meteorological office issued fresh storm warnings for Friday evening, with the north of the country expected to face the strongest winds.


Alec Baldwin fires prop gun on movie set, killing cinematographer

Updated 22 October 2021

Alec Baldwin fires prop gun on movie set, killing cinematographer

  • Baldwin shot Halyna Hutchins, the photography director of ‘Rust,’ and Joel Souza, the film’s director
  • Baldwin was seen ‘distraught and in tears’ as he spoke on the phone outside the sheriff’s office in Santa Fe

Hollywood actor Alec Baldwin fatally shot a cinematographer and wounded a director when he discharged a prop gun on a movie set in New Mexico on Thursday, authorities said.
Baldwin shot Halyna Hutchins, the photography director of “Rust,” and Joel Souza, the film’s director, at the Bonanza Creek Ranch, a production location south of Santa Fe, according to the Santa Fe Sheriff’s Department.
Hutchins was transported by helicopter to the University of New Mexico Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
Souza was taken by ambulance to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical center to undergo treatment for his injuries. The severity of his injuries could not immediately be determined.
Actress Frances Fisher said on Twitter that “Souza texted me that he’s out of hospital.” Asked whether Souza had been discharged, medical center spokesperson Arturo Delgado said he was not allowed to release information about patients.
The Sheriff’s office said that no charges have been filed and they are investigating the shooting and interviewing witnesses.
“The investigation remains open and active,” the Sherrif’s office said in a statement.
Entertainment news site cited a source in the Sheriff’s office as saying that Baldwin was questioned by investigators and later released.
Baldwin went to the sheriff’s office willingly and provided a statement to investigators, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported, citing spokesperson Juan Rios.
Deputies were still trying to determine whether what happened was an accident, the newspaper added. Rios did not immediately respond to requests for information from Reuters.
Baldwin’s representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Earlier on Thursday, news magazine People reported that a spokesperson for Baldwin had said there was an “accident” involving the “misfire of a prop gun with blanks.”
Baldwin was seen “distraught and in tears” as he spoke on the phone outside the sheriff’s office headquarters on Thursday, the Santa Fe New Mexican wrote.
Baldwin, 63, is a co-producer of “Rust,” a Western movie set in 1880s Kansas, and plays the eponymous character who is an outlaw grandfather of a 13-year-old boy convicted of an accidental killing.
Production of the film had been halted for an “undetermined period,” several news outlets quoted the film’s production company, Rust Movie Productions LLC, as saying.
An email to an address for the film production, which was listed on a New Mexico government statement, went unanswered.
The shooting evoked memories of an on-set accident in 1993 when US actor Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee, died aged 28 after being fatally wounded by a prop gun filming “The Crow.”
“Our hearts go out to the family of Halyna Hutchins and to Joel Souza and all involved in the incident on ‘Rust’. No one should ever be killed by a gun on a film set. Period,” said a tweet from Lee’s account, which is handled by his sister.
Earlier on Thursday, Baldwin posted a picture of himself on Instagram sporting a grey beard and dressed in Western cowboy-style attire in front of trailers. He appeared to have a fake blood stain on his shirt and jacket.
“Back to in person at the office. Blimey ... it’s exhausting,” he wrote. The post was deleted late on Thursday night.
Known for his impersonations of former US President Donald Trump on NBC’s comedy sketch show “Saturday Night Live,” Baldwin has a long history in film and television, including roles in “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “30 Rock.”
Baldwin was charged in 2018 after a fight over a New York parking spot. He pleaded guilty to second-degree harassment and agreed to participate in an anger management program.
In 2014, he was given a summons for disorderly conduct after an argument with police who stopped him from riding his bike down a one-way street in New York. And in 2011, he was thrown off a plane for refusing to stop playing the game “Words with Friends” before take-off.
Hutchins, 42, who was originally from Ukraine and grew up on a Soviet military base in the Arctic Circle, once worked as an investigative reporter in Europe, according to her website.
She graduated from the American Film Institute in 2015 and was selected as one of American Cinematographer’s Rising Stars of 2019, according to her website biography.
She described herself as a “Restless Dreamer” and an “Adrenaline junkie” on her Instagram page.
Her last post, two days ago, shows her grinning under a wide-brimmed hat as she rides a horse. “One of the perks of shooting a western is you get to ride horses on your day off:)” she captioned the video.
April Wright, a writer, director and producer, paid tribute to her on Facebook.
“I’m in disbelief,” wrote Wright. “So young, vibrant, and talented. Such a wonderful soul. My heart goes out to her son and family.”
Representatives for Hutchins did not immediately respond to a request for information about her death.
Souza, 48, lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and two children, according to the IMDB website. His LinkedIn page credits him as the “writer/director” of action film Crown Vic and comedy Christmas Trade.
“This is still an active investigation and we do not yet have all the facts,” said SAG-AFTRA, which describes itself as the world’s biggest labor union representing performers and broadcasters.
“We will continue to work with production, the other unions, and the authorities to investigate this incident and to understand how to prevent such a thing from happening again.”


Queen Elizabeth II back at castle following hospital visit

Updated 22 October 2021

Queen Elizabeth II back at castle following hospital visit

  • The queen underwent the tests after she canceled a scheduled trip to mark 100 years since the creation of Northern Ireland
  • She is due to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee — 70 years on the throne — next year

LONDON: Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II was back at Windsor Castle on Friday and in good spirits after revelations that she spent the night in a London hospital earlier this week.
Buckingham Palace said the 95-year-old British monarch went to the private King Edward VII’s Hospital in London on Wednesday for “preliminary investigations.” She returned to her Windsor Castle home at lunchtime on Thursday and was understood to be back at her desk by afternoon, undertaking light duties.
The queen underwent the tests after she canceled a scheduled trip to mark 100 years since the creation of Northern Ireland, and the palace said she had “reluctantly” accepted medical advice to rest for a few days. The matter was not related to COVID-19.
The palace does not normally offer a running account of the monarch’s health, citing her privacy. However, in this case it confirmed the queen’s hospital stay after The Sun newspaper reported the news.
On the whole, there is a rule of thumb is that if a senior member of the royal family undergoes a procedure or an operation, there is a medical bulletin, royal expert Robert Hardman told the BBC. But that doesn’t apply to tests.
The attention paid to the development merely reflects the great affection the global community has for the monarch, said Hardman, author of “Queen of the World,” which chronicles the monarch’s influence and stature around the globe.
“She hates people making a fuss of her in general but particularly to do with health,” he told the BBC. “And I think there’s a concern to sort of maintain the dignity of the office, and I know that one reason why nothing was said about yesterday’s trip to hospital was that they sort of didn’t suddenly want sort of huge banks of cameras and 24-hour news setting up outside the hospital.”
There has been some disquiet this week about Elizabeth’s health. Only days ago, she was seen using a walking stick at a Westminster Abbey service marking the centenary of the Royal British Legion, an armed forces charity. Though she had used a cane in 2003, it was after she underwent knee surgery.
Focus then turned to her hectic schedule, which has in recent days included audiences with diplomats, a reception at Windsor Castle for global business leaders, and attending the horse race at Ascot Racecourse.
In less than two weeks she is due to host world leaders at the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland — a big engagement cited as one reason why she might want to rest up in advance.
Though Elizabeth has enjoyed robust health throughout her life, she is Britain’s longest-lived and longest-reigning monarch. She is due to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee — 70 years on the throne — next year.
Elizabeth has ruled since 1952 and was widowed this year when Prince Philip died at age 99 in April. She has cut back on her workload in recent years but still keeps a busy schedule of royal duties.
She recently declined the honor of being named “Oldie of the Year” by The Oldie magazine. Her office said that “Her Majesty believes you are as old as you feel, as such The Queen does not believe she meets the relevant criteria to be able to accept.”