The Latest: US health officials to release new COVID-19 data
NEW YORK — U.S. health officials are expected to release new data about the spread of COVID-19 on Friday that led to their decision to recommend that vaccinated people wear masks in some situations, a reversal of previous guidance.
The report, to be released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, comes from a recent investigation of a coronavirus outbreak in Provincetown, Massachusetts, according to a federal official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the plan.
Earlier this week, the CDC changed its masking guidelines, recommending that even vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where the delta variant of the coronavirus is fueling surges in new cases.
Citing new – but unreleased — information about the variant’s ability to spread among vaccinated people, the CDC also recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors at schools nationwide, regardless of vaccination status.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— President Biden pushing federal workers to get vaccinated
— Brazil begins mass vaccine study in poor Rio neighborhood
— Israel to offer 3rd Pfizer booster shot to older citizens
— Global leaders pledges $4B to repair COVID-19 education damage
— Conservative 31-year-old Missouri man in hospital: Will get vaccine
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia will begin offering some fully vaccinated people free tests to measure antibody levels against the coronavirus, a move to study whether some elderly and immunocompromised individuals should receive a third booster shot.
State officials said they are following the lead of Israel, which announced Thursday that the country would offer a third COVID-19 booster shot for fully vaccinated people over the age of 60.
West Virginia officials said the state will offer antibody testing for residents age 60 and over, particularly those living in nursing homes, who received their final vaccine dose at least six months ago.
If the results show their antibody levels are low, a booster shot may be recommended to shore up the body’s protection against the virus. The move comes as the more contagious delta variant takes a hold in the United States, leading to the return of mask mandates in some parts of the country.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas’ Republican governor is calling lawmakers back to the Capitol to lift the state’s ban on mask requirements in public schools.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Thursday said he’ll call the majority-Republican Legislature into session likely next week to amend a state law that prohibits state and local government entities from requiring face masks. Hutchinson said he’ll propose giving local school boards the power to decide whether to require masks in K-12 schools.
“This is not a debate about mask mandates for those that can make their own decisions and have the means to get vaccinated,” Hutchinson said a news conference at the state Capitol. “This is a discussion about the school environment where schools can make decisions about the public health for their school environment and the children they have responsibility to protect.”
Arkansas’ coronavirus cases have skyrocketed in recent weeks because of the delta variant and the state’s low vaccination rate. Hutchinson also reinstated an emergency declaration because of the virus, two months after he lifted the declaration he issued at the state of the pandemic last year. The state reported more than 2,800 new cases on Thursday.
___ ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota will join in the Biden administration’s plan to provide $100 incentives to residents who get COVID-19 vaccinations by mid-August, Gov. Tim Walz announced Thursday.
President Joe Biden announced the rewards as part of sweeping new pandemic requirements for millions of federal workers as he denounced an “American tragedy” of rising-yet-preventable deaths among unvaccinated people.
Starting Friday, unvaccinated Minnesotans 12 and older who get their first shot by Aug. 15 will get a $100 Visa gift card to spend however they choose. Beginning Wednesday, Minnesotans can verify their first dose and claim their $100 at: mn.gov/covid19. All Minnesotans qualify for free COVID-19 shots through health care providers, pharmacies and other sources.
“We have made so much progress to combat this virus,” Walz said in a statement. “We cannot give up ground now, especially with students returning to the classroom this fall. Getting paid $100 to keep your family safe is a pretty good deal — all you have to do is roll up your sleeves.”
Walz said he will authorize up to $2.5 million in federal coronavirus relief funding to launch the program and will seek legislative approval for more money to sustain it.
ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp sought to shift blame to President Joe Biden for Georgia’s poor vaccination rate Thursday as COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations continued to sprint upward.
The Republican, speaking to reporters, blamed the Democratic president for not doing enough to push the Food and Drug Administration to upgrade their emergency authorization for the vaccines to a permanent authorization. Kemp said urging people to use masks again is a “mixed message” that could discourage vaccination.
The governor reiterated his call for people to get vaccinated against the disease, saying he would only seek other solutions if Georgia hospitals began to get overwhelmed. Georgia ranks in the bottom 10 states for vaccination rates.
“We know that the vaccines work,” Kemp said. “I want to encourage people to get vaccinated if you’re comfortable doing that.”
Democratic State Sen. Michelle Au, an anaesthesiologist with a master’s degree in public health, said Kemp’s approach to increasing vaccination rates is unimaginative and passive.
Georgia recorded more than 4,800 positive tests for COVID-19 on Thursday, the worst number since Feb. 5. The state peaked on Jan. 8, with nearly 13,000 recorded cases.
TOPEKA, Kan. — A COVID-19 surge in Kansas fueled by the faster-spreading delta variant is filling up hospitals in some areas.
A survey from the Kansas Hospital Association said four times as many patients with confirmed COVID-19 infections were hospitalized this week as were hospitalized in early June. The association said that 116 Kansas hospitals surveyed this week reported having 399 hospitalized COVID-19 patients. For early June, 125 hospitals reported having 99.
For about a month, the Salina Regional Medical Center has sometimes has been near full capacity and its chief medical officer says it has struggled to find beds for patients who have needed a higher level of care.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — State employees will receive $100 for getting the coronavirus vaccine and their spouses will receive $25 if they also get vaccinated, under a new incentive program offered by Gov. Mike DeWine.
The Republican governor announced the offer Wednesday as state vaccination efforts stall amid spiking case numbers and hospitalizations.
Only about 5.4 million people or 46% of the population have completed the vaccination process as of Thursday, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Ohio has risen over the past two weeks from 319.43 new cases per day on July 13 to 874.57 new cases per day on July 27, according to data collected by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.
Also Monday, the Health Department’s chief medical officer said that while Ohio doesn’t plan to mandate masks in schools this fall, health officials strongly recommend that students and staff wear face coverings if they aren’t vaccinated against COVID-19.
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is announcing new requirements for federal workers and some contractors who do not attest to being fully vaccinated.
President Joe Biden is set to declare that any unvaccinated federal workers are subject to universal masking, getting tested weekly or twice weekly, physical distancing from employees and visitors, and restrictions on official travel.
The guidelines are aimed at boosting sluggish vaccine rates among the millions of Americans who draw federal paychecks and setting an example for employers around the country.
Rather than mandating that federal workers receive vaccines, the Biden administration’s plan would make life more difficult for those who are unvaccinated to encourage them to get the shot.
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is asking states and localities to offer unvaccinated residents $100 to get their COVID-19 shots.
The cash reward for vaccination was one idea in Biden’s latest plan to boost lagging vaccination rates in many parts of the nation. Rolled out Thursday, the core of his new plan is a requirement for federal workers to disclose their vaccination status to their agencies.
Biden is pointing to anecdotal evidence that a $100 reward will get results. The White House says the Kroger grocery store chain tried it and saw vaccination rates jump to 75% from 50% among employees. New Mexico, Ohio and Colorado have also experimented with the idea.
Biden says states and localities can use money from his COVID relief law to pay for the incentive programs.
HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania’s Department of Health will carry out a text messaging campaign to encourage roughly 254,000 people in the state to follow through and get the second shot of the two-shot COVID-19 vaccine that they never received, officials said Thursday.
The campaign will begin early next week as the resurgent coronavirus in the form of the highly contagious delta variant is skyrocketing cases in Pennsylvania and across the nation.
The text message will tell the recipient that the “delta variant is here” and encourage them to check vaccines.gov to find a provider nearby. Those receiving the text will have gotten their first shot between Dec. 14 and May 14, said the state’s acting health secretary, Alison Beam.
Beam said the second dose will provide stronger protection against the delta variant. It’s not too late to get it, and it’s not necessary to start over with the first shot, she said.
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is telling the Pentagon to determine how and when the COVID-19 vaccine will be made mandatory for members of the U.S. military.
Until now, defense leaders have said that the vaccine will remain voluntary for troops around the world until the Food and Drug Administration gives final approval to the drug. The White House on Thursday said Biden will tell the Defense Department to look at when the COVID-19 shot will be added to the list of vaccines already required for military service members.
Biden announced that every federal government worker and onsite contractor prove they are vaccinated or wear masks, stay socially distant and submit to testing once or twice a week. Those not vaccinated also would be subject to travel restrictions. Of the more than 4 million federal employees, nearly half are members of the military. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has said at least 70% of the force has gotten at least one dose.
SALEM, Ore. — The state of Oregon will require students and staff in K-12 schools to wear masks indoors come fall.
Governor Kate Brown’s announcement Thursday follows this week’s updated national mask guidance in schools and a spike in COVID-19 cases in Oregon, due to the highly transmissible delta variant.
In a statement from the Oregon Department of Education officials say they are working to create a rule requiring face coverings in all indoor school settings — both public and private — for all individuals two years and older. This includes students, staff, contractors, volunteers and visitors.
Officials say the rule will take effect upon adoption, but the exact date is unclear.
RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday decided to reverse course from guidance he issued last week and will now urge all K-12 public school students and staff to be masked, even if they have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19.
The Democratic governor and the state’s top public health official, Dr. Mandy Cohen, pinned much blame on unvaccinated people and renewed calls for them to get the shot.
But at a time when nearly all available metrics show spread of the virus at its worst levels in months, Cooper said he’ll let the statewide mask mandate expire on Friday.
Cooper on Thursday announced that cabinet workers will be asked to show proof they got a COVID-19 vaccine.
Unvaccinated officials will be required to wear a mask and get tested every week, he said.
“This order directs state government cabinet agencies to verify whether their employees are vaccinated,” Cooper said. “Unvaccinated employees will be tested at least once a week and required to wear a mask.”
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — More than a dozen vaccinated southwest Missouri patients have died of COVID-19 amid a surge of cases that has led the University of Missouri to reinstate a mask mandate and some St. Louis restaurants to only permit the immunized to eat indoors.
“High risk, immune compromised and sadly couldn’t muster an immune response,” tweeted Steve Edwards, president and CEO of CoxHealth, in announcing Thursday that there had been six COVID-19 pneumonia deaths among vaccinated patients at its hospitals in southwest Missouri.
Another eight fully vaccinated Mercy Springfield patients have died since June 1, spokeswoman Sonya Kullmann said in a text. She said seven of the patients were over the age of 75 and one was over the age of 65.
“They all had other serious health conditions,” she wrote. “For context, we’ve had 68 total deaths in that same time frame. 88% were in unvaccinated individuals.”
Officials at both health systems have pushed hard to get people vaccinated, saying the vast majority of patients aren’t immunized.
Just 47.7% of Missouri residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, far lower than the national rate of 57.1%, state and federal data shows. Many counties in southwest Missouri have vaccination rates that are less than less than half the state average.
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will announce strict new testing, masking and distancing requirements for federal employees who aren’t vaccinated.
He’s hoping to boost sluggish vaccine rates among the millions of people who draw federal paychecks and set an example for private employers around the country.
The move by the federal government — the nation’s largest employer — comes in a week when major corporations and some local governments are implementing new requirements. But most have not, despite surging coronavirus rates in the U.S.
Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University Law School, thinks the new requirement might work.
“People would much rather roll up their sleeves and get a jab, than undergo weekly testing and universal masking,” he says. “In many ways, this is really not a mandate, it’s giving workers a choice.”
According to the Office of Personnel Management, the executive branch employed more than 2.7 million civilians in 2020, with some of the most significant numbers in Republican-led Southern states including Texas and Florida, where substantial vaccine resistance remains.
About 60% of American adults have been fully vaccinated. Biden had set a July 4 goal to get at least one shot in 70% of adults, and it’s currently at 69.3%.