While the Food and Drug Administration on Monday issued full approval for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, America’s delta-driven surge of COVID-19 has entered a deadlier phase.
Cases are rising in 42 states, the lowest such number in six weeks. But deaths are now increasing in 43 states – the worst tally since December, before America’s deadliest month of the pandemic, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows.
U.S. deaths in the week ending Monday totaled 7,225. By comparison, about 5,400 Americans died in the Pearl Harbor and 9/11 attacks combined.
The face of who is dying is also changing quickly. Deaths are increasingly centered among white non-Hispanic people, a USA TODAY analysis of National Centers for Health Statistics data shows.
Most other racial and ethnic groups now have a smaller share of deaths, but white non-Hispanics, which represent about 61.1% of all deaths during the pandemic, made up 68.8% of the deaths reported so far in July and August.
Meanwhile, the share of deaths among young people is jumping, too: Those in their 30s and people 18 to 29 have roughly tripled their share of deaths in July and August, preliminary Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tallies show.
People in their 50s and early 60s have represented fewer than 1 of every 6 victims in the pandemic, but in July and August they make up more than 1 of every 4.
– Mike Stucka
Also in the news:
►Massachusetts will require all school teachers and students in grades K-12 to wear masks through at least Oct. 1.
►Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a class action lawsuit Tuesday trying to stop school districts from enforcing mask mandates, citing the low death rate from COVID-19 among school-aged children. For information on vaccine and mask mandates in every state, click here.
►Starting Friday, Oregon will require masks to be worn in most public outdoor settings where physical distancing is not possible, regardless of vaccination status.
►LSU, ranked 13th in the USA TODAY college football coaches preseason poll, said Tuesday that fans 12 and older attending home games this season will have to present proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative test.
►Florida’s Walt Disney World will require its workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to keep their jobs at the theme park, starting Oct. 22.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has had nearly 38 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 629,800 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 212.8 million cases and 4.44 million deaths. More than 171.3 million Americans – 51.6% of the population – have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
📘What we’re reading: After the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine received full approval Monday from the FDA, millions of Americans were left with a confusing, difficult task: How in the heck do you pronounce Comirnaty? That’s the brand name for the companies’ COVID-19 vaccine. Here’s how you say it.
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There’s growing evidence about the need for COVID-19 vaccine booster shots, possibly sooner than later.
A CDC study released Tuesday shows protection from the vaccines may decline over time as the wildly contagious delta variant surges across the country. Once delta became the dominant strain in the U.S., vaccine effectiveness against infection decreased from 91% to 66%.
A second CDC study found that a quarter of COVID-19 infections between May and July in Los Angeles were breakthrough cases, but hospitalizations were significantly lower for those who had been inoculated. Unvaccinated people were more than 29 times more likely to be hospitalized than vaccinated people, and about five times more likely to be infected. Read the full story.
– Jeanine Santucci
Amid the continued push for Americans to get vaccinated against COVID-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci also called Tuesday for increased used of another intervention that can serve as both treatment and prevention.
Fauci, who is President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, said monoclonal antibodies have been “much underutilized’’ even though they can reduce the risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19 by 70%-85%. He emphasized that level of effectiveness hinges on early treatment after infection.
“We want people out there, including physicians as well as potential patients, to realize the advantage of this very effective way of treating early infection,’’ Fauci said.
Monoclonal antibodies can also be used to prevent infection among those exposed to the virus, Fauci said, adding that current studies are looking at the effectiveness before exposure. There are three brands available under FDA emergency use authorization and they work by targeting the coronavirus’ spike protein.
President Donald Trump was treated with monoclonal antibodies when he was infected in October 2020, and more recently Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also received the therapy when he had a breakthrough infection. Demand for the drugs increased five-fold last month to nearly 110,000 doses; the majority is going to states with low vaccination rates.
“This is a very effective intervention for COVID-19,’’ Fauci said. “It is underutilized, and we recommend strongly that we utilize this to its fullest.’’
For the second day in a row, a Southern state is deploying the National Guard to help hospitals overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Tuesday called in more than 100 National Guard personnel, who will be sent to 20 hospitals across the state. The 105 medically trained Guardsmen and women will help staff at hospitals in Atlanta, Macon, Savannah, Brunswick, Albany and other cities across the state, Kemp said in a statement.
On Monday, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said National Guard teams will be sent to lend assistance as the state deals with some of its largest caseloads of the pandemic.
“COVID is burning through our population here in Kentucky,” Beshear said.
Will the FDA’s full approval of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine persuade the nearly 30% of eligible Americans still declining to get the shot?
Certainly not all will come around willingly, but those who remain unconvinced will face increased challenges, starting with the growing number of employers that will now require inoculations. That includes the 2.1 million members of the U.S. military and National Guard, in addition to federal workers and employees for many companies and government entities.
The FDA’s clearance will also prompt more businesses like bars, restaurants and sports teams to require proof of vaccination for admittance.
“Full approval will be a much bigger deal than people think,” said Dr. Robert Murphy, executive director of the Institute for Global Health at Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University.
Leading pediatricians said loudly and in unison Monday that doctors should not prescribe COVID-19 vaccines to children under 12.
With the FDA’s full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, such “off-label” use is now legal. But it’s definitely not a good idea, a number of experts said.
“We don’t have the data on young children. So that really ought to be a no-no,” said Dr. Jesse Goodman, an infectious disease expert at Georgetown University.
Yet while the American Academy of Pediatrics agreed children should not yet get vaccinated, the group is also calling on the FDA to accelerate the process of authorizing shots for children under 12 by relying on early trial data rather than waiting for more complete results.
– Karen Weintraub
Health officials are warning against using a drug called ivermectin for unapproved use as a medicine to prevent or treat COVID-19. The drug, which has been approved only as an anti-parasitic treatment for humans and animals, such as livestock and horses, has been the subject of a spike in calls to the Mississippi Poison Control Center.
The drugs produced for humans are different than what’s made for livestock, which is “highly concentrated and is toxic to people, and can cause serious harm,” the Mississippi State Department of Health said in an alert Monday. At least two people have been hospitalized with potential ivermectin toxicity after ingesting the drug produced for livestock, the state’s poison control center said Monday.
Interest in the drug is rising as the delta variant of the coronavirus has spurred higher COVID-19 transmission rates and increased concern among the vaccinated about becoming infected.
Multiple reports of patients treated or hospitalized after “self-medicating with ivermectin intended for horses” led the FDA to issue a warning Friday. “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it,” the agency said on Twitter.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige is urging tourists not to visit the popular vacation destination through October because of a surge in COVID cases that has the state’s hospitals at capacity.
“It’s not a good time to travel to the islands,” he said at a news conference Monday.
That doesn’t mean travelers cannot visit Hawaii, as the state did not tighten its entry requirements. Since October, travelers have been able to visit by presenting a negative COVID test to bypass the state’s strict quarantine. In July, the testing requirement went away for vaccinated travelers.
There has been speculation the testing requirement would return because of the spike in COVID cases from the delta variant, but Ige said that is difficult to do because the CDC says domestic travel is safe for vaccinated travelers.
Dorothy Oliver runs a General Store out of a white trailer in in Panola, Alabama, the only place to shop for miles. She’s not afraid to ask her customers about their vaccination status and help ease their concerns. When the COVID-19 vaccine became widely available, the nearest clinics offering them were about a 40-minute drive away.
Oliver said she wanted to make the process easy, so she volunteered to help schedule appointments and drive her customers to and from the sites. “A lot of them had a lot of doubts, and then I had a lot of them that were excited that they had somebody who could help them,” Oliver said.
There are about 350 people in the Panola area, and according to Oliver’s records, only about 20 adults in the community are left unvaccinated. She keeps a slowly dwindling list of them. Read more about Oliver’s efforts here.
Contributing: The Associated Press