A number of conservative governors across the U.S. are vowing to fight President Joe Biden’s newly announced vaccine mandate plan, which will require businesses with more than 100 employees to require inoculation or weekly COVID-19 testing.
The move, predictably, was both applauded and condemned by Americans, political leaders and union heads. It will be enacted through a forthcoming rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that carries penalties up to $14,000 per violation, an administration official said.
Republican governors criticized the mandate and many – including the governors of Arizona, Indiana, Georgia, Montana, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas – vowed to fight it. The Republican National Committee said it would file a lawsuit against the Biden administration when the requirement goes into effect.
Biden said Friday he was “disappointed” in the governors who said they plan to challenge his new requirements, adding that they have been “so cavalier” about the health of children and their communities.
During a visit with first lady Jill Biden to Brookland Middle School in Washington, the president was asked what his message was to Republicans who decry the vaccine mandates as federal overreach and plan to challenge them in court.
“Have at it,” Biden said following remarks in the school’s courtyard. “We’re playing for real here. This isn’t a game.”
The plan, which Biden announced Thursday as part of a new six-part strategy, is expected to affect about 100 million workers in the country.
“Many of us are frustrated with the nearly 80 million Americans who are still not vaccinated,” Biden said Thursday when announcing the new strategy. “This is not about freedom from personal choice, it’s about protecting yourself and those around you.”
– Courtney Subramanian, USA TODAY
Also in the news:
►A major health care provider in southeastern Michigan says 92% of its employees have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by a Friday deadline and another 3% have gotten a first shot.
►Senior Democratic senators are pressing Medicare to make nursing home COVID-19 vaccination rates easily accessible for consumers.
►France is joining the list of European travel destinations tightening restrictions on U.S. tourists as COVID-19 cases surge due to the delta variant.
►Brazil has reported more than twice as many COVID-19 deaths so far this year than it did in all of 2020, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows. Brazil has reported more deaths since Jan. 1 than any other country.
►Washington state expanded its mask mandate in public spaces to include outdoor venues hosting at least 500 people, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday.
►Biden directed the Transportation Security Administration to double fines for travelers who refuse to wear masks in airports, increasing fines to $500 to $1,000 for first offenders and $1,000 to $3,000 for repeat offenders.
►Tennessee High schooler Grady Knox was ridiculed and laughed at during a school board meeting when he said his grandmother died of COVID-19 after being exposed to a person without a mask, a scene which has drawn national attention.
📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 40.6 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 655,800 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 223 million cases and 4.6 million deaths. More than 177.8 million Americans — 53.6% of the population — have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: Biden’s announcement this week that the federal government will order COVID-19 vaccines for large employers has renewed interest in the legal case for mandates, as well as a 116-year-old Supreme Court decision that supporters say settles the question of whether such requirements are constitutional. Read more.
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Health care associations applaud the Biden administration vaccine requirment for all health care workers, but they’re worried it could exacerbate workforce shortages amid a surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
This unintended consequence could hit rural hospitals especially hard, said Alan Morgan, chief executive officer of the National Rural Health Association.
“Right off the back, vaccines are safe and effective and it’s imperative that all rural health care workforce providers and staff need to be vaccinated,” he said. “But we also know that there are higher rates of hospital workers that are unvaccinated and have no intention of getting vaccinated in the rural context … this is a significant concern.”
A handful of hospitals across the country were already in the process of requiring COVID-19 shots before Thursday’s announcement. Houston Methodist – one of the first hospital systems to implement a vaccination policy – lost 153 workers who were either terminated or resigned after the mandate, a spokesperson for Houston Methodist Hospital system told The Associated Press.
Larger hospitals may be able to handle the loss, but Morgan said losing more than 150 employees would be a huge blow to a rural hospital. Read more.
– Adrianna Rodriguez
Two new studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Friday suggest vaccine effectiveness may be waning slightly in older populations.
A study of more than 1,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations at five Veterans Affairs Medical Centers found vaccines remained effective against hospitalization but that effectiveness is waning for those who are 65 and older. While vaccines were 95% effective in preventing COVID-19-related hospitalization among adults 18–64, they were 80% among adults 65 and over.
A second study analyzed over 32,000 encounters in urgent care centers, emergency rooms and hospitals in 9 states found protection against hospitalization remains high for those younger than 75 but is beginning to drop for those 75 and older. While vaccines were 89% effective in preventing COVID-19–related hospitalizations among people 18-74, they were 76% effective among people 75 and older.
“This moderate decline should be interpreted with caution and might be related to changes in SARS-CoV-2, waning of vaccine-induced immunity with increased time since vaccination, or a combination of factors,” the authors wrote.
A CDC study out Friday provides further evidence that risk of infection, hospitalization and death from COVID-19 is substantially higher among people who are not fully vaccinated compared to those who are.
The study, in 13 states and large cities from April through mid-July, found people who were unvaccinated were about 4.5 more likely to get COVID-19, over 10-times more likely to be hospitalized, and 11-times more likely to die from the disease.
Hospitalization and death rates were higher in older age groups, regardless of vaccination status, according to the study.
“The bottom line is this: We have the scientific tools we need to turn the corner on this pandemic,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the CDC, said Friday. “Vaccination works and will protect us from the severe complications of COVID-19. It will also protect our children and allow them to stay in school for safe in person learning.”
An appeals court Friday reinstated Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on school mask requirements at least temporarily, while a ruling overturning the prohibition is being reviewed by judges.
Tallahassee-based Circuit Judge John Cooper, who earlier threw out the mask restriction, took the unusual step of removing an automatic stay this week that kept the ban in place while DeSantis challenged the underlying ruling before the 1st District Court of Appeal.
DeSantis immediately appealed Cooper’s decision and Friday the court agreed with the governor. Judges also cast doubt on Cooper’s decision to overturn the mask prohibition.
“Upon our review of the trial court’s final judgment and the operative pleadings, we have serious doubts about standing, jurisdiction and other threshold matters,” the court wrote, although it stopped short of any further action.
DeSantis has ordered that counties allow parents to opt out of mask requirement for their children. But in response to a lawsuit brought by parents from a half-dozen Florida counties, Cooper ruled that school boards are empowered to mandate that all students wear face coverings, unless they get a medical exception.
– John Kennedy, USA TODAY NETWORK
The prevalence of two newer variants of the coronavirus in the U.S. is still “extremely low,” and the best way to prevent their spread is to get vaccinated, Dr. Anthony Fauci said in a White House coronavirus task force briefing Friday.
Late last month, the World Health Organization marked the mu variant as a “variant of interest,” and Fauci said U.S. health officials were “keeping a very close eye on it.” It makes up less than .5% of U.S. cases, Fauci said Friday.
Another, the C.1.2 variant, has yet to be assigned a Greek letter. International health agencies don’t list it as a “variant of concern” or “variant of interest,” but it garnered attention after a pre-print study last month highlighted mutations seen in other variants of concern. It has yet to be detected in the U.S., Fauci said.
“We will continue to closely monitor these and other emerging variants, but the most important thing we can do to protect against any variant – be it delta, mu or C.1.2 – is to get vaccinated,” Fauci said.
The delta variant makes up 99% of U.S. coronavirus infections, Fauci said. It made up approximately 13% of U.S. cases in June.
Under pressure to make COVID-19 vaccines available to children under 12 amid a surge of pediatric cases and hundreds of school closures, top U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials released a statement Friday saying the agency will “follow the science” and “not cut any corners” on vaccines for young children.
Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock and Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Research and Evaluation, acknowledged “many parents are anxious about the pandemic and protecting their children.” But they urged parents not to vaccinate their young children prematurely, outside of the FDA-authorized or approved uses.
The officials said they could not offer a specific timeline for pediatric COVID-19 vaccines but “very much hope” to have them “available in the coming months.”
“Just like you, we are eager to see our children and grandchildren vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as possible. We have to let the science and data guide us,” the officials said.
The officials said some vaccine manufacturers are still enrolling participants in clinical trials, and some are still administering doses or following participants. That process is expected to include a follow-up period of at least two months, according to the officials, for safety monitoring.
Once the clinical trials are complete, manufacturers must analyze their data and request an emergency use authorization. The officials said the FDA will “be prepared to complete its review as quickly as possible, likely in a matter of weeks rather than months.”
Mississippi health officials reported 72 fetal deaths associated with pregnant people who had COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.
These deaths, which occurred past 20 weeks of gestation, “is twice the background rate of what would be expected,” Mississippi State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs said during a press conference Wednesday. Dobbs added that eight unvaccinated pregnant people in the state have died of COVID-19 since Aug. 1 and their babies were born premature.
“It is a tragic and difficult circumstance,” Dobbs said. “The vaccine is very helpful and remarkably successful in preventing these outcomes in pregnant women.”
He reiterated that monoclonal antibodies and vaccination are approved and recommended for pregnant women, noting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists back both.
Mississippi, with 38% of residents fully vaccinated, lags behind the nation’s current average of 53%.
– Sarah Haselhorst, Mississippi Clarion Ledger and N’dea Yancey-Bragg, USA TODAY
The Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education voted Thursday to require all students 12 and older to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to attend in-person classes by January.
Los Angeles is the first major school system to mandate vaccines for students in the country. The district is the second-largest in the country. The district was already one of the first to put COVID safety measures in place such as required vaccinations for teachers.
The move is likely to face opposition from families who are hesitant to get their kids vaccinated. There is no vaccine with full FDA approval for children ages 12 to 15; Pfizer was recently approved for ages 16 and up. Children over age 12 can receive vaccines under an emergency use authorization.
According to county data, about 58% of students ages 12 to 18 within the district are already at least partially vaccinated.
— Jeanine Santucci, USA TODAY
In a “significant” deployment, more than 300 Kentucky National Guard members are headed to 21 hospitals around the state to assist overworked health care workers, including in Louisville, Gov. Andy Beshear announced Thursday.
The 310 soldiers, split into teams of between 10 and 30 for each hospital, will help facilities with non-clinical work — such as administrative and logistical support — for up to two weeks, starting Monday.
This comes as Kentucky has the lowest number of adult beds available in intensive care units — only 90 are free, Beshear said, adding that 60 out of the state’s 96 hospitals are facing critical staffing shortages.
— Sarah Ladd, Louisville Courier Journal