The director-general of the World Health Organization called for a moratorium on coronavirus vaccine booster shots to allow vaccine access to countries struggling to obtain jabs as the global total of COVID-19 cases surpassed 200 million Wednesday.
“We call on everyone with influence – Olympics athletes, investors, business leaders, faith leaders and every individual in their own family and community – to support our call for a moratorium on booster shots… until at least the end of September,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
Tedros said the goal was to focus on enabling at least 10% of the population of every country to be vaccinated.
Top U.S. health officials have said there is not yet enough data to support booster shots, even for the elderly and immunocompromised, though Israel is now recommending them for those groups. But WHO’s call for a booster moratorium comes as infections are surging across the U.S. – driven by the highly contagious delta variant – where vaccine is plentiful but vaccine hesitancy remains a serious concern.
More than 90% of new coronavirus infections across the U.S. are from the delta variant, according to the latest data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The primary delta strand accounted for 83.4% of infections in the two-week period that ended July 31, the CDC says. Other delta strands represented another 10%.
Current vaccines have shown effectiveness in protecting against or at least minimizing the damage from a delta infection, and the vast majority of infections and hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated.
Also in the news:
►Barack Obama turned 60 on Wednesday, but his birthday bash has been scaled back because of virus concerns. Spokesperson Hannah Hankins said the former president will now be celebrating the milestone moment with family and close friends in place of the large outdoor party he had planned.
►Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, who suggested last year that the desert’s heat would keep the coronavirus at bay, said she tested positive and quarantined for 10 days.
►If you’ve lost your COVID vaccination card, this is how you can get a new one.
►Carnival Cruise Lines said it will require masks for all passengers regardless of vaccination status in certain areas indoors onboard its ships, as well as mandatory pre-cruise COVID-19 testing.
►Genesis Healthcare, the nation’s largest nursing home operator with nearly 400 facilities, told its 70,000 employees this week they will have to get COVID-19 vaccinations to keep their jobs.
📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has had more than 35.3 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 614,700 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 200 million cases and 4.25 million deaths. More than 165.3 million Americans – 49.8% of the population – have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
📘What we’re reading: After more than 18 months of a pandemic, with 1 of every 545 Americans killed by COVID-19, a substantial chunk of the population continues to assert their own individual liberties over the common good. Read the full story.
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As the school year approaches in most of the country, there’s increasing evidence — both numerical and anecdotal – of children’s vulnerability to the coronavirus and its highly transmissible delta variant.
The American Academy of Pediatrics said that as of July 29, almost 4.2 million children have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began, nearly 72,000 of them in the last week. That’s almost twice as many as the 39,000 infections from the previous week. For perspective, about 79,000 Americans of all ages tested positive in a week of late June.
Spring Schmidt, deputy director of the St. Louis County health department, said Wednesday about one in five current total cases in county hospitals have been people under 19, some of them in intensive care.
Ochsner Health, Louisiana’s largest hospital system, said it had no pediatric COVID patients several weeks ago, but the last two weeks the number has ranged from five to 15. Dr. William Lennarz, head of pediatrics at Ochsner Hospital for Children, said that doesn’t mean the delta variant is disproportionately affecting children.
“What is different is that children now make up the most susceptible population because children under 12 are 100% not vaccinated,” he said.
Nearly all foreign visitors will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before entering the U.S., according to a plan the Biden administration is working on, The Associated Press reported.
The requirement would come as part of the administration’s phased approach to easing travel restrictions for foreign citizens to the country. No timeline has yet been determined, as interagency working groups study how and when to safely move toward resuming normal travel.
The administration has kept in place travel restrictions that have severely curtailed international trips to the U.S., citing the spread of the delta variant of the virus.
Officials in the city of Los Angeles are considering a proposal that would require people to show proof they’ve been vaccinated to enter restaurants, museums, gyms and other public spaces, following in the footsteps of New York City, which became the first in the country to require proof of the COVID-19 vaccine to enter many indoor public spaces this week.
“Hard-working Angelenos, their customers and the general public deserve to be safe in public spaces,” said City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, who introduced the proposal alongside council President Nury Martinez.
“It’s incredibly important that we take every step we can to incentive people who haven’t gotten the vaccine to get it. It’s also crucial that people who have followed public health advice and gotten the shots, that they be able to move as freely as possible,” said mayoral candidate L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer, who wrote a letter to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, urging it to take action county-wide.
New York’s requirement will go into effect on Aug. 16 after being announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday and endorsed by President Joe Biden.
As part of Denver’s mandate that all city employees and private-sector workers in high-risk settings get vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of September, school personnel will be required to get the shots. That makes Denver Public Schools the first large district to issue such a mandate. The district has about 92,000 students and more than 10,000 workers.
Mayor Michael Hancock’s public health order issued this week has some teeth, considering it comes with the threat of termination for those who don’t comply. The only exemptions will be for medical or religious reasons.
“There might be some folks who may lose their jobs behind this,” he said, according to the Denver Post.
Other large school districts, including New York City’s, have said school staff need to be vaccinated or otherwise undergo regular testing for the virus. But in Denver, school employees who don’t want to be vaccinated won’t have that option.
Denver’s mandate applies to staff at all the city’s education institutions, including public and private K-12 schools, colleges and universities.
Dan Domenech, the executive director of the School Superintendents Association, said Denver may be the first to issue such a requirement of school staff, but it won’t be the last. “I’m sure others will follow,” he said.
– Alia Wong
Remember all the hand-wringing about the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally being held amid a pandemic last year? Well, the massive annual gathering of bikers in South Dakota is back this year, now with the highly infectious delta variant threatening to turn the event into a superspreader of huge proportions.
About 700,000 people are expected to attend the rally, which starts Friday and has become a haven for people eager to escape coronavirus precautions. Those hardly deterred participants last August, when roughly 460,000 attended. Masks were mostly ditched as bikers crowded into bars, tattoo parlors and rock shows.
Contact tracers reported 649 infections from every corner of the country linked to the 2020 rally, including one death. A team from the CDC concluded in a published study that the gathering “had many characteristics of a superspreading event.”
“The rally is a behemoth and you cannot stop it,” said Carol Fellner, a Sturgis resident who worried that this year’s event would cause a fresh outbreak of cases. “I feel absolutely powerless.”
Despite the risk the delta variant poses to the unvaccinated, it’s the people inoculated against COVID-19 who are more concerned about the highly contagious version – and more likely to change their behavior, according to a new poll released Wednesday. Vaccinated adults are nearly twice as likely to worry that new variants such as delta will worsen the pandemic nationally and locally, according to the latest tracking poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The telephone survey of 1,517 adults was conducted from July 15-27, before the CDC said vaccinated people should mask up indoors in areas with “substantial” levels of COVID-19 transmission. About one in five unvaccinated adults said variants have made them more likely to get vaccinated.
“Seeing their friends get sick and local hospitals fill up again with COVID patients may speed them along,” foundation CEO Drew Altman said.
– Maureen Groppe
The delta variant has driven a sharp surge in U.S. infections and hospitalizations that has educators across the nation wary as the new school year approaches. The U.S. Department of Education’s road map for return to school includes guidance for wearing masks that in many school districts is pitting educators against state officials.
In Florida, Duval County Public Schools will have a mask mandate with an opt-out option, even as Gov. Ron DeSantis threatens district funding if schools issue one. In Tennessee, Shelby County Schools will keep a mask mandate in place, even start school remotely depending on cases this fall. The state’s House speaker has threatened to call a special session prohibiting it.
And a contingent of Democratic lawmakers from Oklahoma is calling for a special legislative session to repeal a new law that prevents school districts from imposing mask mandates unless a state of emergency is in effect. Tulsa Public Schools expect but don’t require masks at all times for students and staff, regardless of vaccination status.
“What has to happen before we take COVID seriously?” Democratic House Minority Leader Emily Virgin said. “We have children in ICU.”
As COVID-19 cases surged in the U.S. last weekend, Chicago’s downtown was a sea of mostly unmasked humanity as hundreds of thousands crowded together for the outdoor music festival Lollapalooza. More than 385,000 people packed the four-day event. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot defended the decision to hold the festival, citing pandemic precautions that required concertgoers show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test and to wear a mask. Lollapalooza said 90% of attendees on the first day of the event proved they were vaccinated. Lightfoot said hundreds were turned away.
Still, some experts sounded an alarm. Tina Tan, a Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine professor, called the festival “a recipe for disaster.”
“You’re less able to transmit COVID in an outdoor space, but that doesn’t mean that you can pack 100,000 people into a small, enclosed space where they’re on top of each other and expect nobody’s going to transmit,” Tan said. “That’s not how it works.”
– Adrianna Rodriguez and Christine Fernando
A fourth wave of COVID-19 is threatening to overwhelm U.S. hospitals in regions where large swaths of unvaccinated people provide little resistance to the highly contagious delta variant. Nowhere is the strain more apparent than Florida, which reached a new peak Tuesday of 11,515 people hospitalized with COVID-19, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Hospitals in Jacksonville and Orlando last week crashed through their pandemic peaks, and hospitals in Miami-Dade County are at or approaching record coronavirus hospitalizations this week, said Mary Mayhew, CEO of Florida Hospital Association. And cases continue to surge: 110,477 residents tested positive for COVID-19 for the week ending July 29, foreshadowing more people needing hospital care in the weeks ahead.
“The delta variant is ripping through the unvaccinated,” Mayhew said.
– Ken Alltucker
Contributing: Associated Press