Half of the states have reported at least 500,000 COVID-19 cases, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows, and 11 have reached the 1 million mark as the pandemic reasserts its grip on the U.S.
The states with that have crossed the seven-figure threshold include California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Ohio, North Carolina, New Jersey and Michigan. Oklahoma and Kentucky recorded their 500,000th infections Monday.
Florida, Arkansas and Louisiana have more people hospitalized with COVID-19 than at any other point in the pandemic, causing a shortage of nurses and other healthcare personnel.
Kentucky had a few hundred COVID hospitalizations in early July, but the total skyrocketed to 1,139 by Monday. Numbers of patients in intensive care and on ventilators also have risen steadily.
In Oklahoma, the seven-day average of new daily cases now tops 2,000. The last time the state’s rate of daily cases was higher was in early February.
During a news conference at the downtown fire station, emergency response authorities said Oklahoma City is among cities around the nation enduring a shortage of qualified emergency medical technicians and paramedics who provide pre-hospital treatment, care and transportation.
“When we look at the confluence of a busy summer in Oklahoma City, we are in the midst of not just a pandemic, but by all scientific evidence, the fourth wave of this pandemic in the United States,” EMSA Medical Director Jeffrey Goodloe said.
– Mike Stucka, USA TODAY and Josh Dulaney, Oklahoman
Also in the news:
►Iowa has thrown out more than 81,000 doses of expired COVID-19 vaccines because of lack of demand, and the figure could reach 217,000 by the end of August.
►British health officials say more than three-quarters of adults in the U.K. have received both doses of a coronavirus vaccine, a milestone that Prime Minister Boris Johnson described as a “huge national achievement.” Almost 90% of adults are at least partially vaccinated.
►After a request from the Mexican government, the U.S. is sending its southern neighbor 8.5 million more doses of COVID-19 vaccine as the delta variant drives Mexico’s third wave of infections.
►The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has raised its travel advisory for France, Israel and Thailand to level four, which discourages visiting those countries because of extended COVID-19 transmission.
►Most state workers in Washington, as well as private health care and long-term care employees, will be required to show proof of vaccination by Oct. 18 or will lose their jobs.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has had more than 35.9 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 617,500 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 203.6 million cases and 4.3 million deaths. More than 166.6 million Americans – 50.2% of the population – have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: Staff and faculty at colleges across the country are raising concerns about returning to on-campus work, particularly as the delta variant causes a surge in cases nationwide. Read the full story.
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School districts defy governors’ bans on mask mandates
The Republican governors of two of the country’s most populous states are getting pushback against their ban on school mask mandates from local officials.
The superintendent of the school district in Florida’s capital, Tallahassee, said he will mandate use of masks, even as Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an order suggesting punishments for school districts that require masks in classrooms.
Superintendent Rocky Hanna of Leon County – where Tallahassee is located – told school officials at a meeting Monday, “You can’t put a price tag on someone’s life, including my salary.”
Several other Florida counties – including Broward, Duval, Hillsborough, Orange and Palm Beach – are also defying DeSantis’ order.
In Texas, two of the state’s largest school districts, Dallas and Austin, have announced mask requirements in defiance of Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order banning such mandates.
“We’re in a situation that has gotten significantly more urgent,” Dallas Independent School District Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said in announcing the district would be the first in the state to require masks for students and teachers.
Austin Superintendent Stephanie S. Elizalde said late Monday the district will require face masks amid a surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations from the highly contagious delta variant. And Houston ISD Superintendent Millard House II is expected to seek approval for a mask mandate from the school board of the largest school district in the state this week.
Florida, Texas COVID-19 cases strain emergency services
New COVID-19 cases filling up Florida hospital beds are straining the state’s emergency services, including ambulances and fire departments. In St. Petersburg, patients may wait in ambulances for up to an hour before they’re admitted into a hospital, Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton said.
Burton said the most serious cases still get prompt attention, and the county is working with fire rescue officials to find more ambulances and extra staff. But “that really taxes an already overstressed fire and rescue staff,” he said.
COVID-19 hospitalizations in Florida have surpassed the worst previous surge in July 2020 and set a record with 13,600 Monday.
In Texas, Houston is experiencing a similar strain as some hospitals operate under “internal disaster” codes, meaning ambulances are being diverted because its emergency department has too many acutely ill patients, ABC 13 reported.
School boards face ongoing battle over mask requirements
In districts across the country, school board meetings have become the battlegrounds of unruly debates over mask mandates in schools. Fueled by misinformation campaigns against masks, tensions have heightened in schools, turning once sparsely attended school board meetings into shouting matches.
Most recently, anger over mask requirements boiled over in North Carolina when a group of unruly parents opposing Buncombe County’s mask requirements “overthrew” the current board and instated themselves into the positions. Roughly 30 people signed a loose-leaf paper claiming themselves “witnesses” of the new school board.
“They acted as a dictatorship, and so therefore, the people then take it into our own hands to abolish that governance and reelect new members right then and there,” said the group’s leader, Stephanie Parsons.
Buncombe County Schools attorney Dean Shatley said the group’s actions “unequivocally” do not mean the current school board is out of office.
Other school board meetings across the country have been rescheduled because of rowdy anti-masking protests, one of which led to charges filed in July against 11 people who interrupted a Utah school board meeting.
Vaccine trial volunteers left waiting for FDA authorization
Months after Troy Petenbrink received the Novavax vaccine as part of a clinical trial, he’s still waiting for the biotech company to apply for authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. And while other fully vaccinated people are going to gyms, movie theaters and bars, Petenbrink is struggling to convince strangers that he’s protected.
A freelance travel writer, Petenbrink had to turn down an assignment because the cruise line only accepts the three authorized vaccines, from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. He recently tried to go to a bar with his partner but was turned away because he hadn’t received one of the three FDA-authorized vaccines.
“No one along the way explained any of this as a possibility,” he said of the clinical trial.
About 50,000 Americans are in the same situation, having volunteered for either the Novavax or AstraZeneca vaccine trials.
Both vaccines have shown strong effectiveness and safety data. AstraZeneca’s vaccine has been distributed across the U.K., Europe and other parts of the world. But both companies have yet to submit their vaccines for authorization in the U.S.
– Karen Weintraub, USA TODAY
Florida children returning to school amid spike in infections
Most Florida children are returning to school in areas where COVID-19 outbreaks are far more intense than they were when school started last year.
In most counties, cases are at least four times higher than a year ago, a USA TODAY Network analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows. Five counties report a more than tenfold increase.
Cases among children are also surging, raising questions about the health consequences of students returning to campuses and a state ban on school mask mandates while vaccines are available for only some of the schoolchildren.
Public health experts and pediatricians said last fall that the most important factor to consider when deciding whether to start classes in-person was the amount of viral spread in the community at large. With cases so much higher than last year, districts are going against those recommendations by welcoming students to campus and limiting online learning options.
– Jayme Fraser and Mike Stucka, USA TODAY
CDC study shows vaccine boosts immunity in people who have had COVID-19
Two Republican members of Congress from Kentucky – Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Thomas Massie – have steadfastly refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine, saying they have natural immunity because they had the viral infection.
But a new study from the CDC, based on data from people in Kentucky who contracted COVID-19 a second time, says the vaccine boosts immunity in people who have had the virus.
Unvaccinated people who contracted COVID-19 are more than twice as likely to become infected again than those who got vaccinated after contracting the virus, the study said.
The study shows “COVID-19 vaccines offer better protection than natural immunity alone and that vaccines, even after prior infection, help prevent reinfection,” the CDC said in a news release announcing the results. Read more here.
— Deborah Yetter, Louisville Courier Journal
Fake COVID-19 vaccination cards worry college officials
As the delta variant of the coronavirus sweeps across the United States, a growing number of colleges and universities are requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination for students to attend in-person classes. But the new mandate has opened the door for those opposed to getting the vaccine to cheat the system, according to interviews with students, education and law enforcement officials.
Both faculty and students at dozens of schools interviewed by The Associated Press say they are concerned about how easy it is to get fake vaccine cards. Across the internet, a cottage industry has sprung up to accommodate people who say they won’t get vaccinated.
An Instagram account with the username “vaccinationcards” sells laminated COVID-19 vaccination cards for $25 each. A user on the encrypted messaging app Telegram offers “COVID-19 Vaccine Cards Certificates” for as much as $200 apiece.
According to a tally by The Chronicle of Higher Education, at least 675 colleges and universities now require proof of COVID-19 inoculations. The process to confirm vaccination at many schools can be as simple as uploading a picture of the vaccine card to the student’s portal.
Contributing: Shelby Harris, Asheville Citizen Times; Arika Herron and MJ Slaby, Indianapolis Star; The Associated Press.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Florida, Texas schools mandate masks; 11 states report 1M COVID cases