New York City, the Department of Veteran Affairs and the state of California announced plans Monday to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for many of their employees, a shift in how the country is seemingly dealing with vaccine hesitancy after months of campaigning to the public then offering money and prizes when vaccination levels dipped.
In New York and California, the mandate comes with the option of wearing a mask and receiving testing at least once a week if a worker does not want to be vaccinated. The VA did not offer another option for its medical employees.
The announcements, including in the most populated city and state in the country, came as the more infectious delta variant continues its spread across the country, leading to spikes, outbreaks and the reinstallment of some COVID restrictions in certain areas.
New York City will require teachers, police officers and the rest of the 340,000 city employees to get coronavirus vaccines by mid-September or face weekly testing, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.
California became the first state in the country to unveil a vaccine verification program Monday for all state and health care employees, requiring evidence of vaccination from employees by Aug. 2 or mandatory testing.
The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs announced an even stricter order, saying vaccines would be mandatory for its health care workers because of concerns about the delta variant. The annoucement marked the first federal agency to enlist such a mandate and came as coronavirus infections have more than doubled in the past month at Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities, a USA TODAY review found.
Also in the news:
►The United States has no plans to lift travel restrictions given the rise of the delta variant, the White House says. The restrictions block entry from most of Europe and several other nations.
► Phil Valentine, 62, an outspoken vaccine skeptic and prominent radio host at WTN-FM in Nashville, Tenn. remained in critical condition after almost two weeks in the hospital battling COVID-19. Doctors suggested Valentine sing in a last-ditch effort in hopes of clearing his lungs.
►Savannah, Georgia, has reimposed a requirement that people wear masks in public. Mayor Van Johnson cited a “steep and alarming rise” in cases.
►Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., has contracted COVID-19 for the second time, saying this bout has been “far more challenging.” Higgins hasn’t said whether he has received a COVID-19 vaccine, but he has been vehemently opposed to masking and was a constant critic of mitigation mandates.
►Tokyo Olympic organizers announced 16 new positive tests among people connected to the Games, bringing the total to at least 148 – 16 of them athletes.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has had more than 34.4 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 610,900 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 194.4 million cases and 4.16 million deaths. More than 163 million Americans – 49.1% of the population – have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
📘What we’re reading: Florida leads the nation in new cases, recording more this week than California, Texas, New York and Illinois combined. And like elsewhere, the unvaccinated make up nearly all of the hospitalized and the dead. But residents, including many health care workers, are still wary of the shot. Read more.
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Norwegian Cruise Line is back in action. Norwegian hadn’t sailed with passengers for 500 days, according to the company, and the Norwegian Jade became the cruise line’s first ship to resume service when it sailed Sunday from Athens, Greece. Norwegian Jade will sail to the Greek Isles on voyages from Athens to Crete, Mykonos, Rhodes and Santorini through November. The ship is the first of the 17-ship Norwegian fleet to recommence voyages. On Aug. 7, Norwegian Encore will be the first ship to return to cruising in U.S. waters after the long COVID-19 hiatus with Alaska cruises from Seattle.
“Welcoming our guests and crew on board has been one of the most memorable moments of my over 30-year career,” Norwegian CEO Harry Sommer said in a statement.
– Julia Thompson
The United States is again reporting more than 50,000 new cases daily on a rolling 7-day average. In the week ending Sunday, the United States averaged just under 52,000 cases per day. The United States last hit that mark three months ago, when cases were falling as vaccines took hold of the pandemic. Cases are surging now as the Delta variant weeps through communities where vaccine uptake stalled.
On a rolling 7-day average, cases are almost four time higher than they were June 22. Even with most Americans at least partially vaccinated, the country is already reporting cases at more than three-quarters of the pace of the worst week last summer, when about 67,000 cases per day were reported.
– Mike Stucka
More than 50 major American health care and medical groups called for employers of health and long-term care workers to mandate COVID-19 vaccines. The joint statement Monday included the American Medical Association, American College of Physicians and American Academy of Pediatrics and said mandating vaccines is “the logical fulfillment of the ethical commitment” of health care workers to put the needs of patients and residents of long-term care facilities first.
“We stand with the growing number of experts and institutions that support the requirement for universal vaccination of health workers,” the statement said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is weighing revising their COVID-19 guidelines to recommend that even fully vaccinated individuals wear masks in public. Fauci, the nation’s top government infectious disease official, told CNN’s “State of the Union” that he’s taken part in conversations about altering the guidelines, something he described as being “under active consideration.” In the last two weeks, COVID-19 cases have increased 171% nationally, fueled by the delta variant. The death rate is up 19% over the week before.
With 49.1% of the nation fully vaccinated, the U.S. is a long way from herd immunity, made more difficult by the rapid spread of the Delta variant, now accounting for 83% of cases nationwide.
A USA TODAY Network analysis of federal and state vaccination data found one quarter or less of residents are fully vaccinated in approximately 120 counties that are home to more than 3.6 million people across nine southern states.
Lawmakers in Congress have introduced the Minor League Baseball Relief Act to help the minor league teams hurting economically from the pandemic. The bill would provide up to $550 million in federal relief funding. Eligible teams could get up to $10 million, with allowable expenses such as payroll costs, rent, utilities, worker protection expenditures and payments to independent contractors.
“For many working families, catching a weekend minor league baseball game … is an affordable and fun family outing,” said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. “Baseball isn’t just America’s pastime, it also represents an economic lifeline for many communities.
Elected officials in a Michigan’s Shiawassee County who gave themselves bonuses totaling $65,000 with federal COVID-19 relief aid are returning the money. The commissioners acted after the prosecutor said the payments were illegal, The Argus-Press reported. The Michigan Constitution bars additional compensation for elected officials “after services had already been rendered,” prosecutor Scott Koerner said.
The commissioners, all Republicans, voted on July 15 for the plan to give $557,000 to 250 county employees as “hazard pay” for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. The smallest amounts for recipients were $1,000 to $2,000. But County Board Chairman Jeremy Root got $25,000. Two more commissioners received $10,000 each, while four others received $5,000 each.
The easing pandemic and reopening economy have set off an unprecedented reshuffling of the U.S. workforce. Americans are quitting jobs in record numbers, typically to take another position. They’re on the move mainly to make the most of a historic burst of job openings, often at higher wages, according to a survey by Joblist for USA TODAY. Many are changing jobs because they’re burned out after working so hard during the pandemic or finally beginning job searches that they put off during the health crisis, according to results of the survey by Joblist, which provides online tools to job seekers.
Mark Meadors was putting in more than 70 hours a week at four jobs, a full-time HR position and part-time gigs at a grocery store, boat dealership and in the Air Force Reserves. He quit the HR, grocery store and boat dealer positions recently to take a more secure human resources job at a university and continue his duties in the Air Force Reserves.
“It was a relief,” Meadors said. “I’ve got to attend to the needs of my family and I’ve got to be there for them.”
– Paul Davidson
A South Korean study found evidence of increased antibody levels when people received a mixed vaccination schedule of an AstraZeneca shot then the Pfizer vaccine, Reuters reported. The study follows one from the U.K. with similar results when mixing AstraZeneca then Pfizer, rather than two doses of AstraZeneca. The FDA has not yet authorized the AstraZeneca vaccine in the U.S.
Public health officials have asked whether a “mix-and-match” vaccine schedule would be safe and effective. There have also been questions over whether a booster dose will be needed for those who received two shots of Moderna or Pfizer or one shot of Johnson & Johnson in the U.S as coronavirus variants spread.
Soumya Swaminathan, the World Health Organization’s chief scientist, however, called the mixed approach a “dangerous trend” earlier this month, adding that it could lead to people deciding for themselves which vaccines to combine and how many doses to receive.
Humans are not the only ones catching COVID-19 during the surge. An unvaccinated snow leopard at the San Diego Zoo has contracted the coronavirus, according to a statement from the zoo. The 9-year-old snow leopard named Ramil tested positive for the virus on Friday after a wildlife care specialist noticed he had a cough and nasal discharge, the statement said.
The snow leopard appears to be doing well with no other symptoms, according to the statement. Ramil shared the same habitat as a female snow leopard and two Amur leopards who may have also been exposed. It is assumed that they have been exposed and are currently under quarantine as veterinarians monitor their symptoms.
In January, three gorillas tested positive for COVID at the San Diego Zoo, the first known case in apes. The San Diego Zoo announced on July 6 that animals at the zoo and safari park would be receiving COVID-19 vaccines for some of their animals, including wild cats and mustelids. The doses from Zoetis, a New Jersey-based veterinary pharmaceutical company, require two vaccines three weeks apart, similar to the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.
– Steven Vargas
A conservative Tennessee-based talk radio host has changed his previously skeptical messaging on vaccines after being hospitalized with COVID-19, his family said.
Phil Valentine, who has posted on social media dissuading his audience from getting vaccinated if they aren’t “in danger of dying” from COVID, has been hospitalized in the critical care unit and is receiving supplemental oxygen, but is not on a ventilator, according to his brother.
Valentine told listeners after being diagnosed – but before being hospitalized – that he chose not to get a COVID vaccine because he thought he probably wouldn’t die from the disease.
His brother, Mark Valentine, said on WWTN-FM in Nashville this week that his brother has never been an “anti-vaxxer,” but was “pro-information” and “pro-choice” regarding the vaccine.
“First of all, he’s regretful that he wasn’t a more vocal advocate of the vaccination,” Mark Valentine said. “For those listening, I know if he were able to tell you this, he would tell you, ‘Go get vaccinated. Quit worrying about the politics. Quit worrying about all the conspiracy theories.’”
– Jeanine Santucci
Contributing: Karen Weintraub, USA TODAY; The Associated Press.