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The Latest: U.S. Rep. Troy Nehls tests positive for COVID-19

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Medical staff prepare to receive vaccine customers at the SSE Arena in Belfast, Northern Ireland, during the The Big Jab Weekend, Sunday Aug. 22, 2021. Walk-in vaccination centres have opened again in Northern Ireland, for the Big Jab Weekend, amid concerns over the high number of Covid cases in the region. (Niall Carson/PA via AP)

HOUSTON — U.S. Rep. Troy Nehls of Texas says that he’s tested positive for COVID-19 and has moderate symptoms.

Nehls, a Republican from the Houston area, said Saturday that he is fully vaccinated and hopes the symptoms pass soon. “All Americans are free to make their own health decisions, but I strongly encourage getting vaccinated,” he wrote on Twitter Saturday. “It is scientifically proven to drastically reduce the risk of severe illness & death from COVID.”

Nehls, the former sheriff of Fort Bend County who was elected to Congress last year, had said on Wednesday that a close family member had tested positive. Nehls said he has been quarantining at home and will continue to do so for at least the next 10 days.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— Lockdowns or vaccines? 3 Pacific nations try diverging paths

U.S. mask, vaccine conflicts descend into violence and harassment

Pandemic fiction: Fall books include stories of the virus

— The Rev. Jesse Jackson, wife Jacqueline, hospitalized for COVID

— Hurricane Henri thwarts Central Park concert hailing NYC virus rebound

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Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The school superintendent in Florida’s capital city announced Sunday that masks will be required for students in prekindergarten through eighth grade, becoming the seventh district to defy Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on such COVID-19 mandates.

Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna said the district has seen positive tests for the coronavirus skyrocket since school opened Aug. 11 in Tallahassee and its immediate suburbs. He said parents who don’t want their elementary or middle school student to wear a mask will need to get a signed note from their child’s physician or psychologist by Friday.

Leon, which has 32,000 students, initially had backed off on such a mandate after DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said districts could only impose a mask mandate if parents can opt out their children on their own. They have threatened to cut funding from districts that impose stricter mandates and impose sanctions against their elected officials.

Hanna said he is “in total favor of individual rights and freedom and the rights of parents,” but that does not include the right to endanger the health of others.

“I don’t believe that masks are necessarily the end-all, be-all, but we know they make a difference. The vast majority of health care experts tell us they make a difference,” Hanna said in a statement broadcast on Facebook.

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WASHINGTON -- U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy says he wouldn’t be surprised if the Food and Drug Administration’s full approval of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine comes soon and he expects that it will spur more vaccine mandates by schools and businesses.

Murthy said Sunday he didn’t want to get ahead of the FDA’s announcement but didn’t disagree it could happen this week. He cited a wealth of data showing Pfizer’s two-dose regimen is safe and effective.

Currently the vaccine is being distributed under the FDA’s emergency use authorization. Murthy said he believes that once the agency completes its full review and issues approval, more Americans will be persuaded to get the shots.

He also anticipated more vaccine requirements, including for teachers and staff, describing mandates as a “reasonable” thing to do to create a safe environment for children and others.

Murthy said that given the highly transmissible delta variant, “We have got to take every step we can” when health and well-being is “on the line.”

He spoke on CNN’s “State of the Union,” ABC’s “This Week” and “Fox News Sunday.”

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AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says he has tested negative for COVID-19 just four days after testing positive.

“I’m told that my infection was brief and mild because of the vaccination that I received,” Abbott said in a video clip posted on his Twitter account on Saturday. “So I encourage others who have not yet received the vaccination to consider getting one.”

When the Republican governor announced Tuesday that he had tested positive for the virus, his office said he was in good health and experiencing no symptoms. Abbott said Saturday that he will continue to quarantine as recommended by doctors.

Abbott, who was vaccinated in December, has refused calls to reinstate mask mandates as the highly contagious delta variant surges in Texas. He tested positive for the virus a day after appearing indoors near Dallas without a mask while speaking to a crowded room of GOP supporters, most of whom were older and unmasked.

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TEHRAN — Iran has reported its highest single-day COVID-19 death toll of the pandemic, according to state media.

The official IRNA news agency said Sunday that 684 people had died of the disease since Saturday, while more than 36,400 new cases were confirmed over the same 24-hour period.

Iran’s previous daily record for COVID-19 deaths was recorded Aug. 16. The country reported its highest number of daily cases the next day, with more than 50,000.

A five-day lockdown in the country ended on Saturday.

The current wave of infections is Iran’s fifth of the pandemic and fueled by the highly contagious delta variant. The country also is struggling to vaccinate its population against the coronavirus. Some 7% of Iranians have been fully vaccinated.

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Japan, Australia and New Zealand all got through the first year of the coronavirus pandemic in relatively good shape but are taking diverging paths in dealing with new outbreaks of the fast-spreading delta variant.

The discovery of a single local COVID-19 case in New Zealand was enough for the government to put the entire country into strict lockdown this past week.

Elsewhere around the Pacific, though, Japan is resisting such measures in the face of a record-breaking surge, instead emphasizing its accelerating vaccine program. And Australia has fallen somewhere in the middle.

The different approaches could have far-reaching consequences for the economies of those nations and the health of their citizens.

Professor Michael Baker, an epidemiologist at New Zealand’s University of Otago, said countries around the world are struggling to adapt to the highly contagious variant.

“With the delta variant, the old rules just don’t work,” he said.

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A conservative talk radio host from Tennessee who had been a vaccine skeptic until he was hospitalized from COVID-19 has died. He was 61.

Nashville radio station SuperTalk 99.7 WTN confirmed Phil Valentine’s death in a tweet on Saturday.

Valentine had been a skeptic of coronavirus vaccines. But after he tested positive for COVID-19, and prior to his hospitalization, he told his listeners to consider, “If I get this COVID thing, do I have a chance of dying from it?” If so, he advised them to get vaccinated. He said he chose not to get vaccinated because he thought he probably wouldn’t die.

After Valentine was moved into a critical care unit, his brother Mark said the talk radio host regretted that “he wasn’t a more vocal advocate of the vaccination.”

“I know if he were able to tell you this, he would tell you, ’Go get vaccinated. Quit worrying about the politics. Quit worrying about all the conspiracy theories,” Mark Valentine told The Tennessean on July 25.

“He regrets not being more adamant about getting the vaccine. Look at the dadgum data,” Mark Valentine said.

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CHICAGO —Civil rights leader and two-time presidential candidate Jesse Jackson and his wife, Jacqueline, have been hospitalized after testing positive for COVID-19, according to a statement Saturday.

The Rev. Jackson, 79, is vaccinated against the coronavirus and received his first dose in January during a publicized event as he urged others to receive the inoculation as soon as possible. He and his wife, 77, are being treated at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

“Doctors are currently monitoring the condition of both,” according to the statement from Jesse Jackson’s nonprofit, the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.

“There are no further updates at this time,” the statement said. “We will provide updates as they become available.”

A protégé of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jackson was key in guiding the modern civil rights movement on numerous issues, including voting rights.

Despite having been diagnosed for Parkinson’s disease, he has remained active and has advocated for COVID-19 vaccines for Black people, who lag behind white people in the United States’ vaccination drive.

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FRANKFORT, Ky. — The Kentucky governor’s efforts to combat COVID-19 have suffered a landmark legal defeat.

The state’s high court on Saturday cleared the way for laws reining in his emergency powers to take effect. The state Supreme Court ordered a lower court to dissolve an injunction blocking the new Republican-backed laws limiting Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s emergency powers.

The ruling revolves around a dispute between Beshear and the GOP-led legislature over the scope of the governor’s executive authority in times of emergencies. It comes as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are surging in Kentucky.

The governor lifted most of his pandemic restrictions in June. But with COVID-19 cases spiking due to the delta variant, he signed a recent executive order imposing an indoor mask mandate in K-12 schools, child care and pre-kindergarten programs across Kentucky.

One of the contested laws limits the governor’s executive orders in times of emergency to 30 days unless extended by lawmakers.

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PARIS — Thousands of protesters marched again in cities and towns across France against a COVID-19 health pass required to enter restaurants and cafes, cultural and sports venues.

For a sixth straight Saturday, opponents denounced what they see as a restriction of their freedom. Many have criticized the measure, claiming the French government was implicitly making vaccines obligatory.

In Paris, four demonstrations were organized by different groups. Elsewhere in the country, over 200 protests were taking place.

Despite the protests, polls have shown the majority of French people support the health pass. More than 40.5 million people in France, or 60%, are fully vaccinated.

Since last month, France is registering a high number of infections — about 22,000 each day.