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Coronavirus Update: Federal judge deals blow to Texas ban on face masks in schools, and Europe struggles to contain rising COVID-19 cases and deaths

A federal judge dealt a blow to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s effort to ban schools from mandating face masks, ruling that the ban violated a law that protects disabled students’ access to education.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel made the ruling in Austin in response to a suit brought by nonprofit advocacy group Disabled Rights Texas, who argued that Abbott’s ban prohibited accommodations for disabled children particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, s the Associated Press reported.

Yeakel prohibited Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton from suing school districts that require students to wear masks as a safety measure. Paxton already had sued 15 school districts to overturn those local mask mandates.

The news is expected to be welcomed by parents who have fretted about children returning to school in person, before most were eligible for vaccination.

Don’t miss: White House says 900,000 5- to 11-year-olds were vaccinated during first week of eligibility for scaled-down dose

Children aged 5 to 11 started getting their first doses of Covid-19 vaccines Wednesday after the CDC recommended use of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot for that age group. Some parents said they were eager for kids to get vaccinated and return to normal life. Photo: Maddie McGarvey/WSJ

The U.S. is still averaging about 1,200 COVID deaths a day, according to a New York Times tracker, and while cases are falling in most places, they are still averaging almost 77,000 a day while more than 46,000 people are being hospitalized on average.

California, Colorado and New Mexico remain hot spots where cases are rising faster than in the rest of the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker is showing that 194 million people living in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, equal to 58.5% of the population, a number that has barely moved in weeks.

In Europe, the only region where COVID fatalities and cases are still rising on weekly basis, according to the World Health Organization on Wednesday, there was a flurry of grim news.

In the Netherlands, a panel of experts has recommended a partial lockdown that would be the first in Western Europe since the summer, Reuters reported.

Steps under consideration include canceling events, closing theaters and cinemas, and earlier closing times for cafes and restaurants, the NOS report said. Schools would remain open. The Netherlands has a high vaccination rate of almost 85%, but hospitals are being filled mostly with unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people.

Neighbor Germany, also struggling with rising cases caused by unvaccinated people, is considering a set of new measures after it counted a record high of more than 50,000 new COVID cases on Thursday, the AP reported. Infections have risen so quickly in recent days that hospitals in especially affected regions canceled planned surgeries again so medical personnel could focus on COVID-19 patients.

One of the country’s top virologists, Christian Drosten, warned Wednesday that another 100,000 people could die in coming months if the country’s vaccination rate didn’t accelerate quickly.

See: Unvaccinated people will hear you out on the COVID-19 shot — as long as you don’t work for the government

But the worst caseloads and death tolls are still being recorded in Eastern Europe, led by Russia, which counted another 1,237 COVID deaths on Thursday and 40,759 new cases, as The Moscow Times reported. Russia has been struggling to contain the spread of virus among its mostly unvaccinated population. Less than 35% of the Russian people are fully inoculated, despite the country repeatedly setting one-day death toll records for weeks.

In Romania and Bulgaria, also hurting from low vaccination rates, morgues are rapidly filling, the Guardian reported.

Catalin Cirstoiu, the head of the Bucharest university emergency hospital, where the morgue is filled to overflowing with coronavirus victims, told the AP the system is near breaking point because of one thing: “the population’s inability to comprehend the need to get vaccinated.” Romanians and Bulgarians have little trust in their governments and are being bombarded with misinformation about vaccines.

Read now: Viewers of these news outlets are most likely to believe COVID-19 falsehoods

One western European country is now considering a drastic step — locking down the unvaccinated. Austria’s Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg is threatening that very move in an effort to curb new cases and pressure people to get their shots, ABC News reported.

Travelers who meet certain requirements will be allowed to enter the U.S. beginning Nov. 8. WSJ’s Allison Pohle explains what these new rules mean. Photo: Seth Wenig/Associated Press

Latest tallies

The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness climbed above 251.6 million on Thursday, while the death toll edged above 5.07 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. continues to lead the world with a total of 46.8 million cases and 759,065 deaths.

 India is second by cases after the U.S. at 34.4 million and has suffered 462,189 deaths. Brazil has second highest death toll at 610,036 and 21.9 million cases.

In Europe, Russia has the most fatalities at 247,000 deaths, followed by the U.K. at 142,772.

China, where the virus was first discovered late in 2019, has had 110,458 confirmed cases and 4,809 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively understated.

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