WASHINGTON — The U.S. is on pace to have about 200 million at-home COVID-19 rapid tests available per month beginning in December, about four times more than earlier this year.
The White House says the supply boost is the result of a new $1 billion federal investment, on top of the $2 billion committed to increasing the availability of the convenient diagnostic tests in September. It’s also due to the Food and Drug Administration’s authorization of a new test from ACON labs this week.
More than 18 months into the pandemic, the U.S. trails other nations in supplies of at-home tests, which are widely used overseas as part of regular testing programs to catch asymptomatic infections. While less accurate than PCR tests, at-home kits are cheaper and faster, allowing for serial screening of schoolchildren, long-term care residents and office workers.
The White House says it is also working to double the number of local pharmacies offering free coronavirus testing to 20,000 in the coming weeks to improve access to testing.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— AP: Flush with COVID-19 aid, schools steer funding to sports
— Coronavirus deaths in Russia surpasses 900 a day for 1st time
— Los Angeles poised to enact strict vaccination mandate
— Zimbabwe reopens bars, but only for vaccinated drinkers
See all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
IOWA CITY, Iowa — A growing number of school districts in the U.S. are using federal pandemic funding on athletics projects. One school district in Wisconsin is spending $1.6 million on new synthetic turf fields. One district in Iowa is spending $100,000 on a weight room renovation.
School officials argue the projects support students’ physical and mental health, but critics tell The Associated Press the spending clashes with the intent of the pandemic relief. Education experts say the funding should go toward tutoring and other costs to help students recover learning loss.
The funding is part of the American Rescue Plan signed in March by President Joe Biden that sent money to schools, giving larger shares to those with higher poverty. It’s the latest of several rounds of funding Congress funneled to the states to address education needs. The AP has tracked more than $157 billion distributed so far to school districts nationwide.
Schools have wide flexibility in how they use the money but only three years to spend it, a deadline that has led some to look for quick purchases that won’t need ongoing funding after the federal money is gone.
BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania hit a record of 328 coronavirus deaths on Wednesday, a day after reaching more than 15,000 confirmed cases.
Romania is the second-least vaccinated country in the EU with just 35% of adults fully vaccinated. Government data indicates that more than 90% of the 328 who died were unvaccinated against COVID-19.
President Klaus Iohannis on Wednesday called the unfolding coronavirus situation a “catastrophe.”
Romania, a country of 19 million, has confirmed more than 1.3 million cases and 38,260 confirmed deaths.
HELSINKI — Latvia has reported 1,671 coronavirus cases, the second-highest number since the start of the pandemic.
Latvian health officials said Wednesday that 16 deaths were reported. A record of more than 1,800 cases were registered on Dec. 31, 2020.
The cumulative 14-day number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 population stands at 68, according to health officials. In the past two weeks, 12,884 people have tested positive.
Latvia, a nation of 1.9 million, has registered 164,810 confirmed cases and 2,773 confirmed deaths.
MOSCOW — Russia’s daily coronavirus death toll has surpassed 900 for the first time in the pandemic.
The record reported Wednesday comes amid a low vaccination rate and the government’s reluctance to impose tough restrictions to control new cases.
Russia’s state coronavirus task force reported 929 new COVID-19 deaths and 25,133 new confirmed infections on Wednesday.
The Kremlin has blamed the surge on too few Russians getting vaccinated. Almost 33% of Russia’s 146 million people had received at least one shot of a coronavirus vaccine and 29% are fully vaccinated.
Russian officials have rejected the idea of imposing a lockdown and say regional authorities would take local steps to stem the spread of the virus. On Tuesday, the presidential envoy in the Ural Mountains district -- a part of central Russia that encompasses six regions -- said 95% of the hospital beds for COVID-19 patients have been filled.
“The situation is very dire,” Vladimir Yakushev was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
Overall, Russia’s coronavirus task force has reported over 7.6 million confirmed cases and more than 212,000 confirmed deaths. However, reports by Russia’s state statistical service Rosstat suggests that’s an undercount.
STOCKHOLM — Swedish health authorities decided Wednesday to suspend the use of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for those born in 1991 and later, saying it was a precautionary measure related to heart inflammation.
The Swedish Public Health Agency says the reason is “signals of an increased risk of side effects such as inflammation of the heart muscle or the pericardium. ” That’s the double-walled sac containing the heart and the roots of the main vessels. The agency added the risk is very small.
U.S. and European regulators have cautioned about Moderna and Pfizer vaccines and an extremely rare reaction in teens and young adults of chest pain and heart inflammation. The Swedish agency says the vaccine from Pfizer is recommended for these age groups instead. Its decision to suspend is valid until Dec. 1.
In Denmark, people under 18 won’t be offered the Moderna vaccine out of precaution, according to the Danish Health Authority on Wednesday. The agency says data, collected from four Nordic countries, show there is a suspicion of an increased risk of heart inflammation when vaccinated with Moderna. It adds the number of cases of heart inflammation remains very low.
PRAGUE — Czechs are casting ballots from their cars in the parliamentary election, a novelty forced by the coronavirus pandemic.
A total of 82 drive-in temporary ballot stations have been established by the armed forces across the country for those ordered to quarantine due to coronavirus infections or those who need to self-isolate.
Those who cannot use a car can ask for a visit of a special electoral committee with a mobile ballot box at their homes. The measure was first tested a year ago at the regional elections.
Besides the vote in cars on Wednesday, the rest of the Czechs will select a new lower house of Parliament in a ballot on Friday and Saturday.
The nation of 10.7 million has nearly 30,500 confirmed deaths.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Abu Dhabi’s powerful crown prince has declared that life is returning to normal in the United Arab Emirates, as virus cases decline and the oil-rich sheikhdom emerges from the pandemic.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed made the remarks Wednesday as his regular Abu Dhabi “majlis,” the royal gathering space, resumed in-person. The majority of the officials at the traditional meeting were seen without masks, even as a strict, long-standing mask mandate still prevails in the UAE.
Sheikh Mohammed says: “I bring you good news. The health situation in the United Arab Emirates is good.”
Coronavirus infections in the Emirates have plunged to under 200 a day, their lowest level since the start of August 2020. Inoculations have accelerated, with over 84% of people fully vaccinated.
Dubai is now hosting the delayed 2020 World Expo, a massive in-person extravaganza with concerts, events and showcases that aims to draw millions of visitors from around the world over six months.
GENEVA — The World Health Organization says the number of newly reported coronavirus cases fell in the last week, continuing a declining global trend that first began in August.
In its latest assessment of the pandemic, the U.N. health agency reported Tuesday that there were 3.1 million new COVID-19 cases, a 9% fall, and about 54,000 deaths in the last week, roughly similar to the week before. WHO said there were declines in case numbers in all world regions except for Europe, where the number was about the same as the previous week.
COVID-19 cases fell by about 43% in Africa, by about 20% in both the Middle East and Southeast Asia and 12% in the Americas and the Western Pacific. The largest decline in deaths was seen in Africa, where numbers decreased by about a quarter.
WHO also said nearly a third of African countries managed to vaccinate at least 10% of their populations by the end of September. The WHO chief has repeatedly urged rich countries to pass on giving booster doses until at least the end of the year.
On Monday, the European Medicines Agency gave its endorsement to EU countries offering a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot to people 18 and over.
BERLIN — Germany’s health minister urged people to get vaccinated against flu this year, to avoid a surge in hospitalizations amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Jens Spahn says vulnerable people in particular should get the flu shot, adding that Germany has ordered 27 million doses of influenza vaccine this year.
Germany’s independent vaccine panel has said both the shots against flu and the coronavirus can be administered at the same time. Germany often has low vaccination rates against flu compared to other developed countries, and is also lagging in Europe when it comes to the COVID-19 shot.
Official figures show 65% of the population is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. The government says its aiming for 75%.
Germany’s disease control agency, the Robert Koch Institute, reported 11,547 newly confirmed infections Monday, and 76 deaths. Since the start of the outbreak, almost 94,000 people have died.
MADRID — Spain’s Public Health Commission has authorized a third vaccine dose for those over age 70 six months after their second shot.
Spain has administered two doses to more than 36 million people, with vaccination rates exceeding 98% among those over 70.
The move follows a recommendation by the European Union’s drug regulator to use booster shots in adults. The European Medicine Agency says the decision was based on evidence that antibody levels rise in people age 18 or older once they are given an extra dose at least six months after their last one.
COVID-19 test kit maker Ellume is recalling some at-home tests after learning that they were reporting a higher-than-expected rate of false positive results indicating someone has the virus when they do not.
The Australian company has said the tests were shipped to U.S. retailers and other distributors from April through August. It published a list on its website of the lot numbers on test packages affected by the recall.
The company said about 427,000 tests are in the lots identified in the recall, and nearly 200,000 are unused. Ellume said tests from those lots may provide false positive results at a rate higher than researchers saw during clinical testing.
Ellume said it will email customers who used one of those test kits and received a positive result in the last two weeks. It recommended that people who have not scheduled another test to confirm the result should immediately do so.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday in a separate statement that people who got a positive result from one of the tests should contact a care provider or urgent care location and ask for a molecular diagnostic test.
The problem was tied to a manufacturing issue, and it does not appear to affect negative results from the tests.
Ellume said about 42,000 affected tests have been used and produced positive results, both accurate and false. That represents about 1% of the 3.5 million tests the company has shipped to the U.S.
COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina districts can continue to require face coverings in the state’s schools under an appellate court’s decision.
On Tuesday, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied state Attorney General Alan Wilson’s request that South Carolina’s law prohibiting school mask mandates be allowed to take effect while a lawsuit over the measure goes forward.
Last month, a federal judge suspended the state from enforcing its rule banning school districts from requiring masks for students. Wilson and Gov. Henry McMaster, both Republicans, had appealed that temporary restraining order, asking the 4th Circuit to restore the ban to avoid changing mask policies across the state now that students are back at school.
The back-and-forth stems from a lawsuit filed by parents of disabled children, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, arguing that South Carolina’s ban discriminated against medically vulnerable students by keeping them out of public schools as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
According to state health data, about 75,000 students, teachers and school staff have been infected with COVID-19 this school year, and nearly 200,000 have had to quarantine because of close exposure.