Some of the states hardest hit by the pandemic – Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Oklahoma – are administering vaccinations at a rate not seen since April, White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said Thursday during a briefing.
Over the last 24 hours, there were a total of 864,000 vaccines administered, the highest since early July, Zients said. During the same period, 585,000 people received their first shot, an encouraging sign as the delta variant runs rampant through the unvaccinated.
“For the fourth week in a row, we’ve increased the daily average numbers of Americans newly vaccinated,” Zients said. “And importantly, we’re seeing the most significant increase in the states with the highest case rates.”
Those in the briefing believe the uptick in people headed to get inoculated is because the states hardest hit by the virus are seeing how the delta variant poses a larger risk to people.
In the states with the highest case rates, Zients said the number of people newly vaccinated each day over the past three weeks more than doubled. The comments come after President Joe Biden also reached his goal to vaccinate 70% of adults in the U.S. this week, one month past his initial deadline.
“Clearly, Americans are seeing the impact of being unvaccinated and unprotected,” Zients said. “And they responded by doing their part, rolling up their sleeves and getting vaccinated.”
Also in the news:
►United Airlines will require employees in the U.S. to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by late October, making it the first major U.S. airline to do so.
► UnityPoint Health, a major Midwestern hospital system with 33,000 employees across Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois, will require employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, the company announced Thursday.
►California will require COVID-19 vaccines for all workers in health care settings, an estimated 2.2 million people, effective Sept. 30. The state’s order allows for medical and religious exemptions, but those who get them will have to wear masks and get tested at least once a week.
►Thursday, Hawaii Gov. David Ige announced all state and county employees must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or take weekly tests. Those who don’t could be fired. Puerto Rico, Virginia and Maryland also set similar requirements.
► Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged late Thursday to deliver 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to the world through this year, increasing China’s commitment as the largest exporter of the shots.
►Cases inside nursing homes climbed by 38% between July 25 and Aug. 1, according to the CDC. During the same time frame, deaths rose from 163 to 281 nationwide among nursing home residents.
►States with relatively low vaccination rates and high infection rates – mostly those in the South and West – have seen slower job and economic growth this summer, according to two reports out this week.
📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has had more than 35.4 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 615,400 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 201.2 million cases and 4.2 million deaths. More than 165.6 million Americans — 49.9% of the population — have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
📘What we’re reading: My brother is one of millions who won’t get the COVID-19 vaccine. I asked why. Here are his reasons and my responses.
Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s Coronavirus Watch newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.
A judge on Friday temporarily blocked Arkansas from enforcing its ban on mask mandates signed into law by Gov. Asa Hutchinson in April.
The ban was being challenged by two lawsuits, including one from an east Arkansas school district where more than 900 staff and students are quarantining because of a coronavirus outbreak.
Pediatricians and health officials have said masks in schools are needed to protect children, as the delta variant and Arkansas’ low vaccination rate fuel the state’s spiraling cases. The state on Monday reported its biggest one-day increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations since the pandemic began, and the Department of Health on Thursday said only 36 intensive care unit beds were available in the state.
But Hutchinson faced heavy opposition from fellow Republicans. Opponents of lifting the ban who testified before the Legislature repeatedly cited false and discredited claims about the virus.
Hutchinson said this week he regretted signing the mask mandate ban, telling reporters that “in hindsight, I wish that had not become law.”
All K-12 students in New Jersey will be required to wear masks in schools again this fall as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to increase while vaccination rates fall, an official in Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration announced Friday.
“This is not an announcement that gives any of us or me personally any pleasure,” Murphy said at a Friday news conference. “But as the school year approaches and the numbers rapidly increasing it is the one we need to make right now.”
The mandate applies to all students, teachers, staff and visitors to any school in New Jersey, and covers all public, private and parochial schools. Students will be exempted if they have documented disabilities preventing them from wearing a mask, and while they are engaged in “rigorous” activity in gym class, playing a musical instrument or eating indoors. The order only applies to indoor spaces.
Murphy said the order will not be permanent and will be lifted “as soon as conditions allow.”
– Stacey Barchenger and Scott Fallon, NorthJersey.com
Jimmy Pomerance and his wife Tobi were among those Palm Beach County residents who got COVID-19 vaccine shots as soon as they could; Jimmy in January and Tobi in March. Tobi had to wait because she was not yet 65.
The couple had hoped the shots would keep them from getting the virus and felt confident that a mostly outdoor vacation would surely be safe. So, in July, they boarded a plane and set their sights on a week in Park City, Utah.
Upon their return, they both tested positive for the virus. And while they are now negative, they continue to deal with the nasty effects of the virus.
So do the Pomerances regret getting the vaccine? Not at all. In fact, in a lengthy commentary on his Facebook page, he urged people to get vaccinated. Jimmy believes it might have saved his life since he has health issues that make him medically compromised.
“My doctors truly believe that if I hadn’t had the two doses of the vaccine, there’s a very strong probability I wouldn’t be sitting here posting this important message to my friends,” he said.
– Mike Diamond, The Palm Beach Post
The massive annual gathering of bikers in South Dakota starts Friday and the highly infectious delta variant threatens to turn the event into a superspreader of huge proportions.
About 700,000 people are expected to attend the rally, which 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.”
Large outdoor gatherings are safer than large indoor gatherings, but experts still warn that COVID-19 can be transmitted outside, especially in crowds.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended last month that fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors in some areas – rolling back previous guidance that vaccinated individuals could forego masks in most public places.
The move came as COVID-19 cases have spiked across the country as the delta variant spreads. But health officials have emphasized that vaccinated people are still widely protected from the virus, especially severe infections.
Elizabeth Stuart, vice dean for education in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told USA TODAY, “It’s not that you can’t have a party or shouldn’t have a party, but let’s give strategies to think through how to make it as safe as possible.”
So if you’re attending a friend’s wedding in the fall or hosting a game night next week, here’s what you need to know about the safest ways to gather for yourself and your family. Read more here.
– Marina Pitofsky
Starting Oct. 1, six Cincinnati area hospital systems will require their thousands of workers and volunteers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as hospital leaders urged other large employers to take the same step to defeat the coronavirus pandemic.
As a more infectious variant puts more people in hospitals, the chief executive officers and medical leaders said the time had come to require the vaccine to protect their workers and to assure patients that hospitals are safe.
UC Health, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, and the Christ Hospital Health Network said they would start the mandate by Oct. 1. Bon Secours Mercy Health and St. Elizabeth Healthcare in Edgewood said they will require the shot by early fall.
– Anne Saker, Cincinnati Enquirer
A week after Gov. Ron DeSantis promoted a tough policy banning mandatory masks at Florida schools, state education leaders Thursday looked poised to endorse a softer stand in the face of an uprising by some school districts.
Hope Scholarship vouchers would be made available to parents who don’t want their children wearing masks in school districts that require them, under a proposed policy set for review Friday by the state Board of Education.
With the scholarship, parents who want to avoid mask mandates could transfer their kids to another public school, or get taxpayer-funded seats in a private school where they wouldn’t have to wear face coverings.
The move by the DeSantis administration seems to acknowledge he may not have the authority to reverse recent action by school boards in Duval, Broward and Alachua counties to require masks, and a push by Leon County School Superintendent Rocky Hanna to mandate masks when students return to class next week.
– John Kennedy, Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Contributing: The Associated Press