This article was updated Dec. 2, 2021, 4:30 p.m. ET.

The United States leads the world in cases of COVID-19. We'll provide the latest updates on coronavirus cases, government response, impacts to our daily life, and more.

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Germany Imposes New Restrictions on the Unvaccinated

Dec. 2, 2021, 4:30 p.m. ET.

Facing a new surge in COVID-19 cases and the arrival of the Omicron variant, German leaders on Thursday put into place new restrictions on unvaccinated people.

People who are not vaccinated are barred from all but a few essential businesses, such as supermarkets and pharmacies, outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel and her successor, Olaf Scholz, announced at a news conference. 

Only vaccinated people will be allowed in shops, restaurants, movie theaters, and museums, reported Deutsche Welle (DW), a major German news outlet. Masks will be required in schools and attendance at outdoor sporting events will be capped at 15,000 people, with indoor event attendance capped at 5,000.

Other restrictions could be imposed, depending on a region’s hospitalization rate.

Merkel and Scholz said that the national legislature will vote in 2022 on whether to make COVID vaccinations mandatory for Germans. 

"The situation is very serious," Merkel said. "The number of infections has stabilized, but on a far too high a level."

About 69% of Germany’s population is fully vaccinated – one of the lowest rates in western Europe, DW said.

The number of COVID-related deaths is lower than last winter, but the current number of infections is higher. About 74,000 new cases were reported Thursday. However, there are signs the surge is flattening, with the daily seven-day rate dropping for the third straight day to 439.2 per 100,000 residents, DW said.

Scholz will become chancellor this week. Merkel has led the nation since 2005.

Neighboring Austria approved similar restrictions last month.

Fauci: Enjoy the Holidays With Family If You’re Vaccinated

Dec. 2, 2021, 3:32 p.m. ET.

Despite the arrival of the Omicron variant in the United States, Americans should be able to safely spend time with family during the holidays – if they’re vaccinated against COVID-19, Anthony Fauci, M.D. says.

"Just as I said and I'll say it again, if you have a vaccinated situation, enjoy the holidays with your family in a family setting," Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at a CNN Global Town Hall on Wednesday.

The Omicron variant is so new that scientists don’t know for sure if current vaccines provide good protection against it. But vaccines already offer protection against the Delta variant and the original COVID strain, so the same success may be seen with Omicron, Fauci said.

"That's where we're hoping we'll see with the Omicron variant, that if you get your levels high enough it'll spill over and get cross-protection against that variant," Fauci said.

People who haven’t gotten their booster shot should go ahead and do so, Fauci advised, noting that it’s not clear yet if people will need booster shots yearly or more frequently.

"Get that extra boost now," Fauci said. "The level of antibodies that rise and go up following a boost is much, much higher than the peak level that you get after your second dose of a two-dose vaccine."

Vaccinated people should be able to travel safely if they wear face masks, especially in airports and other congregate settings, Fauci said. Masks are required on commercial aircraft.

If you find yourself in an indoor setting and you don’t know the vaccine status of other people, it would be a good idea to wear a mask, Fauci recommended.

"And one of the things that’s very clear is that if you have to be in an indoor congregate setting in which you’re unsure of what the vaccination status is of the people around you, wear a mask," he said. 

The first confirmed case of the Omicron variant in the United States was identified in California on Wednesday in a fully vaccinated person who experienced mild symptoms. A second case was reported Thursday in Minnesota.

Omicron was first detected in South Africa. The United States and other nations have instituted travel restrictions on people from eight nations in Southern Africa in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus.

Amazon Underreported COVID Cases in Workplace, Unions Say

Dec. 1, 5:43 p.m.

A coalition of labor unions says that Amazon vastly misrepresented the number of its employees who contracted COVID-19 on the job.

The Strategic Organizing Center says it examined reports Amazon filed with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in which the company contended about 20,000 of its employees came down with COVID by Sept. 19, 2020.

But in those OSHA reports, the company said only 27 employees caught the virus in the workplace during all of 2020, the SOC said in a 13-page paper outlining its complaints.

“The available information is screaming for an investigation,” said Eric Frumin, SOC’s health and safety director, according to Bloomberg Law. “How is it possible for the company to say it had 20,000 cases and only 27 were transmitted at work? That defies science and logic.”

In its paper, SOC says Amazon put workers’ lives at stake and undermined OSHA’s ability to identify COVID safety problems, which the agency is required to do by law. Filing false reports with OSHA is a criminal violation of federal law, SOC says.

Amazon disputed the SOC’s conclusions, saying OSHA acknowledges it’s difficult to prove where a person caught COVID, according to Bloomberg Law.

“These claims are intentionally misleading to try and paint a false picture,” Amazon spokesman Kelly Nantel told Bloomberg Law. “While we know we aren’t perfect, we’re working hard every day to listen to the experts and keep our teams and communities safe, which has included incurring more than $15 billion in costs for things like extensive contact tracing, on-site vaccine clinics and testing.”

Amazon’s business boomed during the pandemic with much of the American population locked down for long periods. The company came under scrutiny for its treatment of employees, especially in the warehouses.

Amazon was investigated by the California attorney general and agreed to improve communications with employees and health departments about COVID outbreaks, as well as pay a $500,000 fine, Bloomberg Law said.

New York’s attorney general is investigating Amazon for not following workplace safety rules during the pandemic and retaliating against complaining workers.

SOC says it has about 4 million members from four unions: Service Employees International Union, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Communications Workers of America and United Farmworkers of America.

Fauci, COVID Among the Trendiest Pet Names for 2021

Dec. 1, 4:25 p.m. ET.

The COVID-19 pandemic has come to dominate every part of American life, so it’s inevitable it would affect how we name our pets.

Fauci, Covid, Zoom, and Pfizer were among pet names that gained popularity in the United States during 2021, according to a list released by Rover, an online marketplace for pet care.

Fauci first hit the pet name list in 2020 but was used as a pet name 270% more often in 2021, Rover said. Covid was used 35% more often and Zoom 443% more often. Some people even named their dogs Pfizer, but Rover didn’t specify how often.

"The names we choose for our pets often reflect the things that matter most to us, from our passions and interests to what’s happening in the world around us," a statement from Rover.com said.

"With soaring pet adoption rates and extra time spent at home over the past year, a lot of dogs and cats were given new names in 2021 that showcase the personalities of both the pet and pet parent."

Though trending, COVID-inspired names didn’t crack the top-10 list.

The top names for female dogs were Bella, Luna, Lucy, Daisy, Zoe, Lily, Lola, Bailey, Stella, and Molly. The top names for male dogs were Max, Charlie, Milo, Buddy, Rocky, Bear, Leo, Duke, Teddy, and Tucker. 

Tops names for female cats were  Luna, Bella, Lily, Lucy, Nala, Kitty, Chloe, Stella, Zoe, and Lola. Top names for male cats were Oliver, Leo, Milo, Charlie, Max, Simba, Jack, Loki, Ollie, and Jasper.

Man Who Bought Lamborghini with COVID Aid Sentenced to Prison

Nov. 30, 5:14 p.m.

A Texas man accused of using federal COVID relief funds on a Lamborghini and visits to strip clubs was sentenced Monday to more than nine years in prison, the U.S. Justice Department says.

Lee Price III, 30, of Houston applied for $2.6 million in loans from the Paycheck Protection Program and actually received $1.6 million, the Justice Department said in a news release.

He misrepresented the number of employees and payroll expenses in the loan applications, submitted fraudulent tax records, and in one case applied for a loan in the name of a dead person, the release said.

“After he received the PPP loan funds, Price spent the money on, among other purchases, a Lamborghini Urus, a Ford F-350 truck, a Rolex watch, and to pay off a loan on a residential property. The Department of Justice, along with law enforcement partners, seized over $700,000 of the funds Price fraudulently obtained,” the news release said.

Price pleaded guilty in September to charges of wire fraud and money laundering. He was sentenced Monday in federal court to 110 months in prison.

“Mr. Price hopes that others will learn from his reckoning that there is no easy money,” said the defendant’s lawyer, Tom Berg, according to the Associated Press. “He has the balance of the 110-month sentence to reflect, repent and rebuild his misspent life.”

Paycheck Protection Program loans are guaranteed by the Small Business Administration under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. The federal government has prosecuted more than 150 people for illegally obtaining money under the CARES Act and seized more than $75 million in cash proceeds, along with real estate and luxury items, the release said.

U.S. Steps Up Airport Screening for Omicron Cases

Nov. 30, 4:40 p.m.

The federal government has increased surveillance at four international airports in the United States to detect cases of the Omicron variant that might be brought into the country by international travelers.

The enhanced screening will be put into place at airports in New York, Atlanta, Newark, and San Francisco, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said Tuesday, according to The New York Times

“This program allows for increased Covid testing for specific international arrivals, increasing our capacity to identify those with Covid-19 on arrival to the United States,” she said.

Walensky said other steps may be taken to screen travelers, such testing for the virus closer to departure of a traveler’s flight and requiring extra testing and quarantining after a traveler arrives, The Times said.

The CDC is also working with airlines in case the variant is discovered and contact tracing is needed.

So far, no cases of the variant, first found in South Africa, have been detected in the U.S., but Walensky and other health officials have said it’s inevitable it will show up. 

The federal government recently banned incoming foreign nationals who have been in one of eight southern African nations in the last 14 days.

Scott Becker, chief executive of the Association of Public Health Laboratories, told Reuters that increasing the use of  technology to distinguish Omicron cases from Delta variant cases is crucial.

Becker said a molecular test can detect a genetic mutation that indicates the sample is not from the Delta variant and therefore should undergo further sequencing, he said. Belgium and Israel are already using such technology, he said.

"It gives us a signal, and then those specimens that have it will immediately go for sequencing," Becker told Reuters.

Becker said some public labs performing COVID sequencing are already using this technology. He said about 93,000 COVID tests are run weekly in the United States, with public labs performing 15,000-20,000 of those tests.

Federal Judge Blocks Vaccine Mandate for Health Care Workers

Nov. 29, 5:20 p.m.

A federal judge ruled Monday that the Biden administration cannot enforce a rule requiring virtually all health care workers in 10 states to become vaccinated against COVID-19.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Schelp of Missouri issued a preliminary injunction that will remain in place while the vaccine mandate works its way through the court system, likely ending up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced Nov. 4 that workers in health care facilities that receive funding from Medicare and Medicaid must be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4 or face losing their jobs. The requirement covers 76,000 providers and more than 17 million health care workers, the CMS said in a news release. Health care workers were supposed to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4.

Attorneys general for Missouri, Nebraska, Arkansas, Kansas, Iowa, Wyoming, Alaska, South Dakota, North Dakota, and New Hampshire immediately filed a lawsuit, saying only Congress had that power to issue such a requirement.

The judge, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, agreed with that argument, calling the CMS action a “politically and economically vast, federalism-altering, and boundary-pushing mandate.”

“CMS seeks to overtake an area of traditional state authority by imposing an unprecedented demand to federally dictate the private medical decisions of millions of Americans. Such action challenges traditional notions of federalism,” Schelp wrote in his order.

The plaintiffs also contended the CMS rule would cause millions of health care workers to lose their jobs and create a shortage of health care workers in rural areas. 

The Biden administration did not immediately respond to the judge’s order, but in the past has said it would appeal all such rulings. 

Other lawsuits have been filed over similar vaccine mandates. A three-judge panel in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an injunction blocking the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s mandate for organizations and companies with 100 or more employees. OSHA said it would not administer the mandate while judicial review is under way.

Merriam-Webster Names ‘Vaccine’ Word of the Year

Nov. 29, 4:24 p.m.

The COVID-19 pandemic dominated our lives -- and our vocabulary -- in 2021. Dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster has named “vaccine” its word of the year.

“This was a word that was extremely high in our data every single day in 2021,” Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s editor-at-large, told The Associated Press.

“It really represents two different stories. One is the science story, which is this remarkable speed with which the vaccines were developed. But there’s also the debates regarding policy, politics, and political affiliation. It’s one word that carries these two huge stories,” he said.

Lookups for the word increased 601% from 2020, Merriam-Webster said in a news release, and went up 1048% from 2019 to 2021. Political conflict, not just a need for information, drove interest in the word.

“The promising medical solution to the pandemic that upended our lives in 2020 also became a political argument and source of division,” Merriam-Webster said. “The biggest science story of our time quickly became the biggest debate in our country, and the word at the center of both stories is vaccine.”

“Pandemic” had the most lookups last year and “was the gun going off and now we have the aftereffects,” Sokolowski said.

Interest in “vaccine” was so high that Merriam-Webster expanded the definition to include new terminology related to the pandemic, such as messenger RNA.

The Associated Press said Merriam-Webster has been naming a word of the year since 2008 and bases its selection on lookup numbers after weeding out evergreens.

Other top words for 2021 were insurrection, infrastructure, perseverance (the name of NASA’s Mars rover), and nomad (for the movie “Nomadland.”)

More Countries Report Cases of New Omicron Variant

Nov. 28, 2021, 10:30 a.m. ET.

The United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, and Australia reported their first cases of the new Omicron variant during the weekend, joining a growing list of countries that have confirmed cases among travelers returning from southern Africa, according to NBC News.

The U.S. hasn’t detected the variant yet, but it’s possible that it could already be spreading across the country, Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Saturday.

“When you have a virus that is showing this degree of transmissibility and you’re already having travel-related cases…it almost invariably is ultimately going to go essentially all over,” he told “Weekend TODAY.”

The World Health Organization labeled Omicron, known scientifically as B.1.1.529, as a “variant of concern” on Friday, meaning that there could be a higher risk of transmission, severe disease and evasion from vaccines. Omicron has a large number of mutations, which could make it more contagious and less treatable, Fauci said.

“These are all maybes, but the suggestion is enough,” he said. “This is something we’ve got to pay really close attention to and be prepared for something that’s serious. It may not turn out that way, but you really want to be ahead of it.”

On Sunday, Australia and Denmark were the latest countries to confirm Omicron cases. Australian officials said the variant was detected among two travelers who were fully vaccinated and had no symptoms, NBC News reported. In Denmark, the variant was found among two travelers who recently arrived from South Africa.

Dutch health officials said on Sunday that at least 13 cases of the Omicron variant were detected in 61 passengers who had positive COVID-19 tests, according to The New York Times. They were among more than 500 people who arrived on two flights from South Africa to The Netherlands and have been quarantined.

Two cases were identified in the U.K. on Saturday among two people who traveled to southern Africa, NBC News reported. Germany also confirmed two cases on Saturday among travelers who entered the country at the Munich airport. Italy reported that a case had been detected in a passenger who arrived from Mozambique.

In response, the European Union is restricting travel to and from seven countries in southern Africa — Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. The U.S. and South Korea have announced travel restrictions to those countries, as well as Malawi.

In Israel, which has confirmed one Omicron case and has several suspected cases, officials announced the strictest travel ban so far, barring foreign travelers from all countries for 14 days, The New York Times reported.

Omicron cases have also been reported in Belgium, Botswana, Hong Kong, and South Africa. As of Sunday morning, 125 Omicron cases had been reported to GISAID, a global database for the genomic sequencing of viruses.

Scientists have urged caution, saying that little is known about the variant so far. Some variants of concern, such as the Delta variant, have been more contagious and spread globally, but others have had limited effects. Existing vaccines likely offer some protection, The New York Times reported.

Fauci emphasized on Saturday that people shouldn’t panic but that they should continue to take precautions such as wearing masks, following physical distancing guidelines and avoiding large indoor gatherings.

“It is absolutely essential that unvaccinated people get vaccinated and that vaccinated people get boosters,” he told TODAY. “We know now clearly that when you get a booster shot…you dramatically increase the level of protection.”

N.Y. Governor Declares State of Emergency as COVID Cases Increase

Nov. 27, 2021, 11:45 a.m. ET

With COVID-19 cases on the rise and the Omicron variant threatening, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday declared a state of emergency that boosts hospital capacity and addresses staffing shortages. While the variant has not yet been found in New York, she warned in a tweet, “It’s coming.”

Hochul said she wanted to postpone all elective surgeries ahead of a potential winter surge in cases. The new protocols go into effect Dec. 3 and will be reevaluated Jan. 15 when the latest data on COVID cases is available, she said in a news release.

“We continue to see warning signs of spikes this upcoming winter, and while the new Omicron variant has yet to be detected in New York State, it's coming," Hochul said in the news release. "In preparation, I am announcing urgent steps today to expand hospital capacity and help ensure our hospital systems can tackle any challenges posed by the pandemic as we head into the winter months.”

The limitations on surgery apply to hospitals with limited capacity, defined as having available staffed bed capacity of 10% or less.

Hochul also plans to make vaccinations sites more numerous and accessible, get shots into more children aged 5-17, provide incentive programs, combat misinformation, set up pop-up campaigns in low-vaccination areas, and implement vaccine requirements for healthcare workers.

During the early days of the pandemic, New York City was a hotspot. Now, with the vaccination program almost a year old, the areas outside the city – especially upstate counties -- are the places reporting high positivity rates and low vaccination rates, according to data from the New York Department of Health.

As of Saturday, New York City’s seven-day positivity rate is 1.65% compared to 9.67% in the Buffalo/Western New York region, 8.85% in the Finger Lakes, 7.82% in the North Country/Adirondacks, and 6.96% in the Albany area, DOH data shows. The state’s overall positivity rate of 3.84%.

In New York City, at least one dose of vaccine has been given to 97.1% of adults in Queens, 94% in Manhattan, 86.5% in the Bronx, 84.5% in Staten Island, and 83% in Brooklyn. The rate is under 70% in 18 upstate counties, including 52.9% in Allegheny County and 57.5% in Tioga County. The state’s overall vaccination rate is 90%.

“The virus is still lurking among us,” Ayman El-Mohandes, MD, dean of the CUNY School of Public Health, told The New York Post. “The low vaccination rates and high positivity rate upstate is very concerning.”

WHO Classifies New Omicron Variant as ‘Variant of Concern’

Nov. 26, 2021, 1:45 p.m. ET.

The WHO classified the new variant from South Africa as a “variant of concern,” which means it could be more contagious, cause more severe disease and reduce the efficacy of vaccines and treatments.

The WHO convened an independent group of experts on Friday to assess the new variant based on the rapid increase in COVID-19 infections in South Africa this week. Known scientifically as B.1.1.529, the variant was named Omicron.

“Omicron has some concerning properties. This variant has a large number of mutations, and some of these mutations have some worrying characteristics,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on the coronavirus pandemic, said in a video statement.

“Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other [variants of concern],” the WHO said in a statement. “The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa.”

Scientists in South Africa began tracking the variant this week after a jump in COVID-19 cases and reported the variant to the WHO on Wednesday. The first known confirmed infection was from a sample collected on Nov. 9, the WHO said.

Several labs have found that one widely used test could be a reliable way to detect the new variant. The WHO’s virus evolution advisory group has started “a number of studies” to evaluate Omicron and will announce new findings as needed, Van Kerkhove said Friday.

Based on the evidence so far, the WHO advised countries to enhance their surveillance and genomic sequencing efforts to better understand the variant. The WHO also requested that countries submit genomic sequences to public databases, such as GISAID. On Friday, 66 sequences of the B.1.1.529 variant had been reported to GISAID, including 58 in South Africa, six in Botswana and two in Hong Kong.

The WHO also asked countries to conduct field investigations and lab analyses about the severity of the variant, as well as immune responses, antibody neutralization and effectiveness of public health and social measures.

“Individuals are reminded to take measures to reduce their risk of COVID-19, including proven public health and social measures such as wearing well-fitting masks, hand hygiene, physical distancing, improving ventilation of indoor spaces, avoiding crowded spaces and getting vaccinated,” the WHO said.

New Variant Prompts Travel Restrictions as WHO Urges Caution

Nov. 26, 2021, 12:25 p.m. ET. 

Several countries imposed travel restrictions for South Africa and its neighboring countries on Friday to guard against a concerning new coronavirus variant.

As South African scientists met with WHO officials to discuss the new variant, at least a dozen countries moved ahead with measures to block it from crossing borders.

“This is a clear reminder to everyone that this pandemic is not over, and we all have a responsibility to do what we can to limit transmission and reduce the infection rate and prevent the emergency of new variants,” Jenny Harries, chief executive of the U.K. Health Security Agency, said in a statement.

The U.K. declared the new variant, now known as Omicron (formerly B.1.1.529), a “variant under investigation” and introduced travel restrictions for six African countries — South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe. At the same time, the WHO urged caution against harsh travel bans because health officials are still learning about the variant.

“At this point, implementing travel measures is being cautioned against,” Christian Lindmeier, a spokesperson for the WHO, said at a briefing.

The new variant has a “very unusual constellation of mutations” with more than 30 on the spike protein and 10 mutations on the ACE2 protein that allows the virus to infect human cells, which is more than the contagious Delta variant, according to The New York Times.

However, there’s no evidence yet that the variant can escape vaccines, the newspaper reported. It could take weeks to determine how contagious the variant is and whether vaccines are effective, Lindmeier said Friday.

BioNTech, the vaccine partner to Pfizer, has begun investigating the variant and expects data within coming weeks to determine whether the current vaccines need to be reworked, according to Reuters.

“We expect more data from the laboratory tests in two weeks at the latest,” the company said in a statement. “These data will provide more information about whether B.1.1.529 could be an escape variant that may require an adjustment of our vaccine if the variant spreads globally.”

During the past two days, scientists in South Africa discovered the variant after noticing an increase in COVID-19 infections around the country’s economic hub near Johannesburg, The New York Times reported.

Hong Kong reported its first sequence from someone traveling from South Africa, Reuters reported. Belgium identified the first case in Europe, and Botswana and Israel reported their first cases as well.

As of Friday morning, 66 sequences had been reported to GISAID, a global genomic sequencing database, with 58 in South Africa, six in Botswana and two in Hong Kong.

Israel imposed a travel ban covering most of Africa after discovering its first case in someone who had recently traveled from Malawi.

A growing list of countries halted or restricted flights, including Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Malta, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Singapore.

“We are currently at the threshold of an emergency situation,” Naftali Bennett, the prime minister of Israel, said in a statement.

“I ask everyone to be prepared and to fully join in the work around the clock,” he said.

The U.S. hasn’t yet made a decision on travel bans, Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN. The U.S. hasn’t detected any cases of the new variant yet, he added.

“Right now, we’re getting the material together with our South African colleagues to get to a situation where you could actually directly test it,” Fauci said. “So, right now you’re talking about … a red flag that this might be an issue — but we don’t know.”

Global officials and health experts expressed a range of concerns on Friday, either urging people not to panic since little is known about the new variant or pushing for stricter measures to contain the spread of the virus.

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU Commission, posted on Twitter early on Friday that the commission would propose an “emergency brake” to stop air travel from the southern African region. Within hours, she held a news briefing about the new variant.

“The news about the new COVID variant is very concerning. I have talked to scientists and vaccine manufacturers today. They share the concern,” she said in another Twitter post.

“Please get vaccinated as soon as possible, if not done yet,” she added. “And follow the known rules to protect yourself.”

Automakers, UAW Agree to Make Vaccinations Voluntary for Union Workers

Nov. 24, 2021, 4:25 p.m.

The Big Three automakers and the United Auto Workers say unionized workers will not be required to have COVID-19 vaccinations.

The statement from the COVID-19 Joint Task Force of UAW, Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler’s parent company, Stellantis, said workers are encouraged but not mandated to get vaccinated.

“In addition to encouraging members to disclose their vaccination status, the Task Force continues to urge all members, coworkers, and their families to get vaccinated and get booster vaccinations against COVID-19, while understanding that there are personal reasons that may prevent some members from being vaccinated, such as health issues or religious beliefs,” the statement said.

Masking will still be required on worksites.

“While it is understood that masks can be uncomfortable, the spread of the Delta variant and recent data outlining the continued high rate of transmission in some geographic areas continue to be a serious health threat,” the statement said.

The stance by the autoworkers and the auto companies conflicts with the Biden administration, which wants companies with more than 100 employees to mandate vaccinations. 

That policy has been put on hold while it faces legal challenges that are likely to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

The UAW has more than 400,000 active members and 580,000 retired members in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico.

Stellantis last week ordered non-union, salaried workers in the U.S. to disclose vaccination status by Dec. 4 and be fully vaccinated by Jan. 5, The Detroit News reported. Ford issued a similar mandate for "most" salaried workers. General Motors has not instituted a mandate yet on its salaried U.S. workforce.

All three auto companies have mandated vaccines for autoworkers in Canada.

Unvaccinated 14 Times More Likely to Die From COVID, CDC Head Says

Nov. 24, 2021, 3:15 p.m.

“Infections among the unvaccinated continue to drive this pandemic, hospitalizations, and deaths — tragically, at a time when we have vaccines that can provide incredible protection,” Walensky said Monday at a White House news briefing.

Unvaccinated people are about six times more likely to test positive than vaccinated people, nine times more likely to be hospitalized, and 14 times more likely to die from COVID-related complications, Walensky said.

Though vaccine booster shots for all adults were authorized last week, Walensky said that “we are not losing sight of the goal to vaccinate all who are eligible with their primary vaccine series.  Forty-seven million eligible American adults and more than twelve million teens are still not fully vaccinated and remain at highest risk of disease.”

Major COVID statistics keep turning upward, Walensky said. 

The seven-day daily average of cases is about 92,800 per day, an 18% increase over the previous week, and about 5,600 people per day are being hospitalized with COVID, a 6% increase over last week, she said. The seven-day average of daily deaths is 1,000 per day.

Walensky said COVID vaccines are making it possible for people to safely gather for Thanksgiving celebrations, unlike last year.

“If you or your family members are not yet vaccinated, please consider the benefits of vaccination,” she said. “Roll up your sleeves and get protected or boosted, especially if you will be around those who are at higher risk or children under the age of five who are not yet eligible for vaccination.” 

The CDC says 69.5% of the U.S. population received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine 59% is fully vaccinated and 18.7% has received a booster shot.

Age, Underlying Conditions Main Factors in Breakthrough Hospitalizations, Analysis Says

Nov. 22, 6:15 p.m.

A Wall Street Journal analysis found that among fully vaccinated people, the ones most likely to be hospitalized with breakthrough infections of COVID-19 are the elderly and those with specific underlying medical conditions.

“In particular, people with diabetes, chronic lung disease, kidney disease and compromised immune systems were at risk of serious outcomes from breakthrough cases,” The Journal reported.

Overall, fully vaccinated people accounted for 1.89 million breakthrough cases, 72,000 hospitalizations, and 20,000 deaths in the United States this year, The Journal said.

While unvaccinated people account for most of the COVID-19 hospitalizations, health officials have noted that a growing number of fully vaccinated people who haven’t gotten a booster shot are being hospitalized with breakthrough cases.

The Journal analysis gets specific about which groups are most vulnerable.

Because the CDC doesn’t publish a raw tally of breakthrough cases, Journal reporters examined medical data of 21 million fully vaccinated people and state reports to reach its conclusions, often using data from private firms.

For instance, fully vaccinated people with diabetes, chronic lung disease, and chronic kidney disease were about twice as likely to be hospitalized with breakthrough COVID as vaccinated people without these conditions, The Journal said, citing a data aggregation firm, Truveta Inc., that accessed medical records of 1.7 million fully vaccinated people.

Not all breakthrough cases result in hospitalization, but some conditions make it more likely.

Among breakthrough patients with chronic kidney disease, a quarter of them were hospitalized, Truveta said. In comparison, among fully vaccinated people without underlying conditions, only 7.5% of breakthrough cases resulted in hospitalization, The Journal said.

The elderly are especially vulnerable to breakthrough cases because old age weakens a person’s immune system.

About 80% of deaths in breakthrough cases are in people 65 and older, The Journal reported, citing data from the Epic Health Research Network. Epic analyzed data from the medical-record software company Epic Systems Corp.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines a breakthrough case as occurring when a person tests positive at least two weeks after becoming fully vaccinated.

CVS, Walgreens Offering Booster Shots to Everybody 18 and Up

Nov. 20, 2021, 10:05 a.m. ET.

Reacting to the CDC’s expansion of the COVID-19 vaccine program, the nation’s two largest pharmacies, CVS and Walgreens, announced they are now offering booster shots to fully vaccinated people over the age of 18.

In an online statement, CVS said that nearly 10,000 pharmacy locations in the U.S. are taking appointments to administer the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna booster dose to people over 18.

Walgreens said 9,000 pharmacies are now offering the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson boosters to that age group.

“Expanding eligibility for booster doses provides yet another tool to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, especially at a time when many people are gathering for the holidays,” Kevin Ban, M.D., chief medical officer for Walgreens, said in the company’s online announcement. 

People should get the Pfizer and Moderna boosters six months after receiving a second dose and the J&J booster two months after the first shot.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that everyone over the age of 18 should be allowed to receive a booster of their COVID-19 vaccines. Previously, boosters were recommended for people 65 and older and younger people who have underlying health conditions or work in high-risk situations. 

Children 5-17 can receive the Pfizer vaccine but the government has not authorized boosters for that age group yet.

The CDC says that around 33.5 million people in the United States have received a booster dose of vaccine. That’s about 17.1% of the fully vaccinated population.

Fauci, Walensky Say Hospitalizations Among the Vaccinated are Rising

Nov. 18, 2021, 5:55 p.m. ET.

Two top U.S. health officials say a growing number of fully vaccinated people who haven’t gotten a booster shot are being hospitalized with breakthrough cases of COVID-19.

“What we’re starting to see now is an uptick in hospitalizations among people who’ve been vaccinated but not boosted,” Anthony Fauci, MD, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease, said Tuesday in an interview with NBC News. “It’s a significant proportion, but not the majority by any means.”

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, speaking Wednesday at a White House news briefing, noted that many of the vaccinated people showing up in emergency rooms are over age 65. Vaccine effectiveness is waning for that age group, which was among the first to be vaccinated, she said.

Walensky and Fauci both stressed that booster shots help keep people – especially the elderly – out of the hospital.

Fauci, citing data from Israel, said booster shots help keep people from becoming severely ill. One such study reported a twentyfold reduction in severe disease among people over 60 who got booster shots. 

​​“That’s where we get back to the importance of getting a boost,” Fauci said. “It will dramatically diminish the likelihood that if you do get infected with a breakthrough infection that you’ll wind up in the hospital.” 

Walensky cited research on long-term care facilities from the CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network that compared COVID rates between people who are fully vaccinated and those who got extra doses.

“The rate of disease is markedly lower for those who received their booster shot, demonstrating our boosters are working,” she said. “We want to reinforce the importance of people who are eligible getting boosted now, especially those at highest risk for severe disease.”But the unvaccinated are still most vulnerable to COVID-19.

"Studies show that those who are unvaccinated continue to be more likely to be infected, more likely to be in the hospital and more likely to have severe complications from Covid-19," Walensky said.

Walensky said the seven-day daily average of cases was about 83,600 cases per day and the seven-day average of hospital admissions was around 5,300 per day. The seven-day average of daily deaths was about 1,000 per day.

Disney Cruise Line to Require Kids 5 and Up to Be Fully Vaccinated

Nov. 17, 5:25 p.m.

Disney Cruise Line updated its COVID protocols on Wednesday, saying all children 5 and up must be fully vaccinated to board a ship starting Jan. 13, 2022.

Disney already requires all passengers 12 and up to provide proof they’re fully vaccinated before boarding.

Before Jan. 13, all passengers 5-11 must provide a negative result on a COVID test taken between 3 days and 24 hours before departure, according to the Disney Cruise Line website.

Passengers under 4 must keep providing a negative result for a COVID test.

Forbes reported that most major cruise lines have vaccination requirements for passengers who are age-eligible for the vaccine but few other than Disney have extended the requirement to young children. Norwegian Cruise Lines requires all passengers and crews to be fully vaccinated.

The Disney Cruise Line policy change reflects the Nov. 2 decision by the federal government to grant emergency use authorization to the Pfizer vaccine for children 5 and up.

Cruise ships were hotspots for COVID outbreaks during the early days of the pandemic and the industry shut down during the latter part of 2020. 

Since resuming operations this summer, cruise ships have followed the CDC’s “conditional sail order” that requires COVID-19 prevention measures and a simulation cruise to test safety protocols before allowing passengers on board.

The CDC says it won’t enforce those COVID-prevention rules as of Jan. 15, meaning it will be up to cruise lines to decide what rules to impose on passengers, Forbes said.

OSHA Suspends Implementation of Vaccine Mandate

Nov. 17, 4:15 p.m. ET.

Responding to a federal court order, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration is suspending implementation and enforcement of its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for organizations with 100 or more employees.

The OSHA website now carries this statement about the agency’s COVID mandate, officially called the Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard: “While OSHA remains confident in its authority to protect workers in emergencies, OSHA has suspended activities related to the implementation and enforcement of the ETS pending future developments in the litigation.”

The website noted the federal court ordered OSHA "take no steps to implement or enforce" the mandate "until further court order."

On Nov. 4, OSHA unveiled the rule requiring organizations with 100 or more employees to mandate workers be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or require workers to submit to weekly testing. The deadline for compliance was Jan. 4, 2022.

But the rule was blocked Nov. 12 by a three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in response to a lawsuit filed by the attorneys general for five states, plus several companies affected by the rule. 

One of the plaintiffs’ main arguments was that the power to issue such a mandate belonged to Congress, not a branch of the administration like OSHA.

The Fifth Circuit won’t hear further arguments in the OSHA case. All legal challenges to administration vaccine mandates have been consolidated and will be heard in the Appeals Court for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati, Ohio, The New York Times reported.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation randomly picked that court to hear more than 30 lawsuits filed against the administration’s mandates, The Times reported.

However the Sixth Circuit rules, the case will probably end up at the U.S. Supreme Court, The Times said.

CDC Puts 4 More European Nations on Highest-Risk List

Nov. 16, 5:07 p.m.

As a new wave of COVID-19 sweeps parts of Europe, the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention on Monday added Iceland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and the English Channel island of Guernsey to its list of highest-risk travel destinations for Americans.

Those nations are now in the Level 4 risk category because they’ve recorded more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days. 

The CDC urges Americans to avoid traveling to those nations and to be fully vaccinated if they do go. The CDC warns that even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk and should wear masks and social distance.

More than 70 nations are on the Level 4 list, including much of Europe. Only a week ago the CDC added Luxembourg, the Cayman Islands, the Faroe Islands, and the Netherlands.

The World Health Organization announced Nov. 4 that Europe had seen a more than 50% jump in COVID-19 cases during the past month.

The 53-country WHO region, which stretches as far as the former Soviet republics in Central Asia, tallied nearly 1.8 million new cases last week – the fifth straight week case counts have risen. It is the only WHO region where cases are increasing.

The United States recently opened up its borders to many international travelers if they show proof of full vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test taken within 3 days of travel.

The new update opens access to travelers from 33 countries that have been prohibited from traveling directly to the U.S. since the pandemic began. The Biden administration’s rules apply to air travel and land borders with Canada and Mexico.

Federal Court Upholds Stay on Biden Vaccine Mandate

Nov. 15, 6:07 p.m.

The Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for big companies is still on hold.

A three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a decision on Friday that upholds the panel’s own temporary injunction. That pauses the mandate indefinitely while the case works its way through the judicial system.

The judges harshly criticized the concept of the mandate, with one judge calling it “a one-size-fits-all sledgehammer.”

“From economic uncertainty to workplace strife, the mere specter of the Mandate has contributed to untold economic upheaval in recent months,” Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt wrote, noting that the issue was not just economic.

“The public interest is also served by maintaining our constitutional structure and maintaining the liberty of individuals to make intensely personal decisions according to their own convictions—even, or perhaps particularly, when those decisions frustrate government officials.” 

The New York Times reported that the Justice Department said it would appeal and issued this statement: “Today’s decision is just the beginning of the process for review of this important (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) standard. The department will continue to vigorously defend the standard and looks forward to obtaining a definitive resolution following consolidation of all of the pending cases for further review.”

On Nov. 4, OSHA unveiled the rule requiring organizations with 100 or more employees to mandate workers be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or require workers to submit to weekly testing. The deadline for compliance is Jan. 4, 2022 

The attorneys general for Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Utah, along with several companies affected by the mandate, sued. One of their main arguments was that the power to issue such a mandate belonged to Congress, not a branch of the administration like OSHA. 

The three-judge panel issued a temporary stay on Nov. 6 and heard arguments from both sides, with the Biden administration arguing OSHA did have authority to issue such a rule. 

The panel on Friday voted to keep the injunction in place while the mandate goes through further judicial review. The Times said the case will probably reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

New York Announces 10 Mass Vaccination Sites Now Open for Ages 5-11

Nov. 14, 2021, 11:15 a.m. ET.

Ten of New York’s mass COVID-19 vaccination sites across the state are now open to children between ages 5-11.

More than 50,000 children in New York have received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine since the CDC approved the shot for the newly eligible group.

“Parents have been waiting for the ability to protect their young children from COVID-19, and we are doing everything we can to make that possible,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement on Saturday.

“Since this 5- to 11-year-old age group became eligible, we have been encouraging parents to reach out to their pediatricians and local health providers to set up vaccine appointments,” she said. “Now I’m directing our state mass vaccination sites to open their doors to the youngest and most recently eligible New Yorkers.”

The pediatric vaccines, which are the same formulation as the adult vaccine but one-third of the dose, are being administered primarily at doctor’s offices, local health departments, pharmacies, and health centers. Now Hochul has asked the state’s mass vaccination sites to acquire pediatric doses as well.

The 10 mass vaccination sites span across the state, with locations in Albany, Buffalo, Syracuse, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and elsewhere. Parents and guardians can schedule appointments online.

Nationwide, more than 20,000 pharmacies, clinics, and physicians’ offices are offering the pediatric vaccine to younger kids, according to The Associated Press.

About 28 million U.S. kids between ages 5-11 are now eligible for the pediatric vaccine. Nearly 1 million kids under age 12 have received their first shot since the pediatric dose was authorized in early November, according to the latest CDC data.

Those who get their first dose by the end of this week will be fully vaccinated by Christmas, the AP reported.

Oklahoma National Guard Chief Defies Pentagon Vaccine Mandate

Nov. 13, 2021, 11:10 a.m. ET 

Another state-federal battle over COVID vaccine mandates has broken out, this time in Oklahoma.

The new commander of the Oklahoma National Guard says he won’t enforce a mandate from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) that all of the nation’s military personnel – including members of state National Guards -- have to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Army Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino sent out a memo Thursday saying that people serving in the Oklahoma National Guard and Oklahoma Air National Guard are not required to be vaccinated and that ​​"no negative administrative or legal action will be taken" against guard members who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine, The Oklahoman reported.

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said the DOD knew about Mancino’s opposition to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s COVID vaccine mandate and will respond “appropriately.”

“That said, Secretary Austin believes a vaccinated force is a more ready force,” Kirby said. “That is why he has ordered mandatory vaccines for the total force, and that includes our National Guard, who contribute significantly to national missions at home and abroad.”

Under the DOD mandate, National Guard troops face a June deadline to be vaccinated against COVID unless they can present a medical or religious exemption.

Control of National Guards falls into “a legal gray area,” Air Force Maj. Matthew Murphy, a National Guard Bureau spokesperson, told Stars & Stripes.

Guardsmen are under a governor’s control while on state duty, which is most of the time. But when they’re “federalized,” as in an overseas assignment, they’re under DOD control, Murphy said.

Mancino was appointed this week by Gov. Kevin Stitt to replace Maj. Gen. Michael C. Thompson, who had encouraged troops to get vaccinated, The Oklahoman said. Stitt, a Republican, opposes vaccines mandates and had asked the DOD to lift the vaccine requirement for National Guard troops in the state, though he’s been vaccinated himself and contracted COVID in 2020.

Stitt’s office denied Thompson’s advocacy of the COVID vaccine played a part in his removal as commander, saying the change of command had been in the works since October, The Oklahoman reported,

About 10,000 people serve in Oklahoma’s National Guard and Air National Guard, The Washington Post said. The Post, citing an Oklahoma National Guard senior official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said a survey showed about 13% of National Guard members in the state had not been vaccinated.

Top Health Officials Push for COVID-19 Boosters for All Adults

Nov. 12, 2021, 5:55 p.m. ET.

Top health officials in the Biden administration are pushing for COVID-19 vaccine booster shots for all adults as cases surge in Europe and numbers begin to increase in the U.S. again, according to The Washington Post.

At the same time, not all health officials support the idea. Rochelle Walensky, MD, director of the CDC, has expressed caution about making the additional shots widely available, the newspaper reported.

Earlier this week, Pfizer submitted a request to the FDA to authorize extra shots ages 18 and older who completed their two-dose vaccine series at least six months ago. If the FDA grants the request, the CDC’s vaccine advisory committee would need to approve the request, and then Walensky would sign off on the final decision, the newspaper reported.

During a meeting of high-ranking officials earlier this week, Walensky said that she and other top advisers want to analyze the drug company data.

“She wants to see the data so she can formulate her decision,” an official told the newspaper. “Someone took that as her reservation. That’s not her reservation. She was pointing out that they might not go along. She knows no matter what, the decision is hers.”

Some CDC officials have noted that young, healthy people may not need additional protection yet, the newspaper reported. They’ve also said that focusing on booster shots may distract from the effort to get unvaccinated people to start their vaccine series.

“CDC officials will await FDA regulatory action before announcing next steps,” Kristen Nordlund, a CDC spokeswoman, told reporters this week.

Even so, many senior health officials have voiced their support. Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Vivek Murthy, MD, the U.S. surgeon general; and David Kessler, MD, chief science officer for the White House COVID-19 Response Team, have previously talked about their strong support of booster shots for all adults.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Fauci said he backs broader access to boosters “given that we are starting to see plateauing, and even in certain states, an actual increase in cases.”

“I have always been and still am in favor of boosters,” he added. “Exactly who gets the boosters is up to the FDA and up to the CDC.”

Current CDC recommendations say that people are eligible for an additional shot if they are at least 65 years old or face high risks due to medical conditions, exposure at work, or certain living environments.

The FDA is reviewing the data and plans to conduct a risk-benefit analysis before making a final decision. The agency will likely grant authorization, the newspaper reported, which could come by the end of the month. The FDA and CDC may then discuss details, such as the age range or certain conditions for those who are eligible for boosters.

In the meantime, some states aren’t waiting for federal approval. On Wednesday, public health officials in California encouraged all adults who are six months past their last vaccination to get a booster, according to NPR.

“Do not turn a patient away who is requesting a booster,” Tomas Aragon, director of the California Department of Public Health, wrote in a letter to health care providers on Thursday.

“Allow patients to self-determine their risk of exposure,” he wrote.\

Colorado also expanded eligibility this week to all adults in the state. Gov. Jared Polis signed an executive order on Thursday, citing the need to reduce transmission, preserve hospital capacity, and reduce stress on health care workers.

“We want to ensure that Coloradans have every tool they need to protect themselves from this deadly virus and to help reduce the stress on our hospitals and health care workers,” Polis said in a statement.

A growing number of countries have authorized booster shots for all adults, including Canada, Germany, and the United Arab Emirates, according to The Washington Post. Israel has authorized extra shots for ages 12 and older, and China is encouraging citizens to get a booster shot before the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

As the winter holidays approach in the U.S. and daily cases surpass 75,000 again, health officials are making the case for broad booster access. Rachel Herlihy, Colorado’s state epidemiologist, noted this week that giving adults an extra shot could reduce cases and hospitalizations during the colder months.

“We can potentially at our peak avoid several hundred hospitalizations,” she told the newspaper. “And that…could mean the difference for us here in Colorado between exceeding and not exceeding our hospital bed capacity.”

10 States Sue Over Vaccine Mandate for Health Care Workers

Nov. 11, 9:20 p.m.

Another lawsuit has been filed against the Biden administration over vaccine mandates, this time focusing on the rule by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that almost all health care workers must be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Ten states filed the suit Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, saying the CMS vaccine mandate could create “an impending disaster in the health care industry.”

“The CMS vaccine mandate threatens with job loss millions of healthcare workers who risked their lives in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic to care for strangers and friends in their communities,” the lawsuit says. “Critically, the CMS vaccine mandate also threatens to exacerbate an alarming shortage of healthcare workers, particularly in rural communities, that has already reached a boiling point.”

CMS announced Nov. 4 that workers in health care facilities that receive funding from Medicare and Medicaid must be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4 or face losing their jobs. The requirement covers 76,000 providers and more than 17 million health care workers, the CMS said in a news release.

CMS issued a statement defending the vaccine mandate, saying, “there is no question that staff in any health care setting who remain unvaccinated pose both direct and indirect threats to patient safety and population health,” The New York Times said.

The lawsuit was filed by the attorneys general of Missouri, Nebraska, Arkansas, Kansas, Iowa, Wyoming, Alaska, South Dakota, North Dakota, and New Hampshire. 

Employees of nursing homes, where so many deaths and infections occurred during the early days of the COVID pandemic, are among the health care workers required to get vaccinated. The New York Times, citing federal data, said about 73% of nursing home workers are vaccinated.

Other lawsuits have been filed over the mandate. 

Last week, five states sued to stop the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for organizations and companies with 100 or more employees. On Saturday, a three-judge panel for the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily blocked implementation of the mandate while the case is considered.

The key question in that lawsuit is whether the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has the authority to issue a vaccine mandate or whether that job belongs to Congress.

Similar lawsuits against the vaccine mandate were filed in federal court in Kentucky by Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee, and in federal court in Missouri by Arizona, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Arkansas, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Alaska, New Hampshire, and Wyoming.

Mom Says Her Son Got COVID Vaccine Without Her Consent

Nov. 10, 4:45 p.m.

A California mother says she’s angry because her 16-year-old son received the COVID-19 vaccine at a CVS pharmacy without her consent.

“He’s 16 years old. I completely understand that, but I, in no way, shape or form gave consent for him to get the vaccine and I was not present when it happened,” Amanda Arroyo of Yolo County told TV station KOVR. “I want the pharmacist to be held responsible for her actions and her negligence.”

KOVR said California state law allows parents or guardians to give vaccine consent for minors in three ways: By taking the children to get the shot, filling out and signing a consent form, or giving verbal consent over the phone or by video. Arroyo said she did none of those.

Fox News said CVS said in a statement, "As part of the online registration process, patients are asked to attest that all information provided during appointment set up is truthful and accurate. This includes acknowledgment that parental consent is needed if the patient is a minor. We're committed to complying with all vaccination regulations." 

Arroyo said her son went online and made the appointment in July, showed up at the pharmacy in Davis, and got vaccinated. Now she’s asking to see the forms her son filled out on the pharmacy website.

Arroyo said she didn’t even know her son had been vaccinated until he complained about arm pain.

“He was like, ‘My arm hurts,’ and I said, ‘What happened?’ ” Arroyo said. “And he was like, ‘I had my COVID shot,’ and I was like ‘Wait, what?’ ”

Arroyo said she’s worried the same thing could happen to other teens.

​“There is a law in place, there are procedures that are not being followed,” she said, adding that she was “really concerned at the fact that I don’t know what this is going to do to him.”

U.S. to Spend $1 Billion More on Merck COVID-19 Pills

Nov. 10,  4:05 p.m.

The U.S. government is investing more in experimental antiviral pills designed to help people who catch COVID-19.

The pharmaceutical company Merck announced Tuesday that the government will spend an additional $1 billion to purchase 1.4 billion courses of its pill, molnupiravir.

In June the government agreed to buy 1.7 million courses of molnupiravir for $1.2 billion. The  contract gives the government the option to buy an additional 2 million courses, the company said in a news release.

The deals are conditional on the drug being granted emergency use authorization or approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Merck filed for an EAU on Oct. 11. The company says the FDA’s Antimicrobial Drugs Advisory Committee will discuss the application Nov. 30.

The capsule, made by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, is designed to treat mild to moderate COVID-19 in adults who are at risk of having severe COVID-19 or hospitalization. 

"Molnupiravir, if authorized, will be among the vaccines and medicines available to fight COVID-19 as part of our collective efforts to bring this pandemic to an end," Frank Clyburn, president of Merck's human health business, said in the news release.

On Oct. 1, Merck and Ridgeback released interim data from its phase III clinical trial, which showed that molnupiravir reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by about 50%. About 7% of patients who received the drug were hospitalized within 30 days in the study, as compared with 14% of patients who took a placebo, the company said.

The government has also agreed to purchase 1.7 million courses of the treatment of the Pfizer antiviral pill with an option for 3.3 million more treatments, Reuters reported.

Pfizer says the pill, Paxlovid, cuts a person’s chance of hospitalization or death by 89% if taken within three days of the start of symptoms. Pfizer says it plans to file for an EAU soon.

Both antiviral treatments would be expensive, costing about $700 for a course of therapy, Reuters said.

Pfizer Seeks Authorization for COVID Booster for People 18 and Older

Nov. 9,  3:55 p.m.

Pfizer and its European partner BioNTech on Tuesday asked the U.S. government to expand emergency authorization to allow everybody over 18 to receive their COVID-19 booster shots, The Associated Press reported.

If the request is approved, the broader use of Pfizer boosters would be a step toward President Biden’s goal of boosters for all adults. He announced the goal last August but backed off after some scientists said younger people may not need boosters, especially with large parts of the world unvaccinated. 

Pfizer is submitting a study of booster effects on 10,000 people to make its case, The AP reported.

This would be Pfizer’s second attempt. In September, an FDA advisory panel turned down Pfizer’s idea of booster shots for everybody over 18.

However, the committee recommended Pfizer booster shots for people 65 and over, essential workers, and people with underlying health conditions. 

The FDA and the CDC authorized the Pfizer booster for those other groups and later authorization was granted for the same groups with Moderna and Johnson & Johnson boosters. People who got the two-shot Pfizer or Moderna vaccines should get a booster six months after the second dose and people who got the one-dose J&J vaccine should get a booster two months later.

The pro-booster argument has strengthened because new data has come in from places like Israel that confirms boosters provide protection as vaccine effectiveness wanes over time, The Washington Post reported. Also, health officials are worried about a post-holiday surge and because COVID case counts and deaths are not dropping in every part of the country, though they are declining overall, The Post said.

The regulatory path for a booster-for-all application is unclear. The Post, citing two unnamed officials, said the FDA probably won’t send the Pfizer application to the FDA advisory committee this time because the committee has already had extensive discussions about boosters. If the FDA gives the green light, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, would have to make updated recommendations on boosters, The Post said.

Federal Workers Seeking Religious Exemptions as Vaccine Deadline Nears

Nov. 8, 6:20 p.m.

Thousands of federal workers have applied for religious exemptions instead of getting a COVID-19 vaccination.

Under President Biden’s sweeping vaccine mandate, unvaccinated workers without an exemption could end up losing their jobs, though it wouldn’t happen right away, The Associated Press reported.

They would receive counseling, be given five days to get a shot and might be suspended for two weeks. The process could take months, and processing all the requests would be a burden for administrators.

Complicating matters further, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says that religious objections to vaccines don’t have to stem from an organized religion, The Washington Post reported. The objections can be beliefs that are new, uncommon or “seem illogical or unreasonable to others.”

Federal workers have until Nov. 22 to show proof of full vaccination under Biden’s mandate.

With a two-week waiting period between getting a final shot and achieving full vaccination status, workers would need to get a second dose of the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine by Monday, The Washington Post said.

It’s not known exactly how many workers are seeking religious exemptions. The Post said some federal employees have decided to resign or retire rather than get vaccinated.

The ones remaining are often seeking the religious exemptions. Citing union officials, The Post said the number ranges widely from agency to agency, from about 60 at the Education Department to thousands at the Bureau of Prisons.

The Associated Press said law enforcement agencies appear to have lower vaccination rates. 

The leader of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association said about 60% of the group’s members were vaccinated. Homeland Security, which has about 240,000 employees, was 64% fully vaccinated at the end of October, The AP said. 

Brandon Judd, president of a union for Border Patrol agents, told the AP that 49% of agents say they’re fully vaccinated and about 7% reported not being vaccinated.

“When it comes down to losing your livelihood or getting vaccinated, I think the vast majority are going to ultimately get vaccinated,” Judd said. “We are going to lose people. How many? I really couldn’t predict that.”

Gap in COVID Deaths Growing Between Red, Blue Areas

Nov. 8, 6:05 p.m.

There are more COVID-related deaths per 100,000 people in politically conservative areas than in places on the other side of the political spectrum, according to a New York Times analysis of data.

And for five straight months, the partisan gap has been widening, the analysis says.

In October, 25 out of every 100,000 residents in counties that went heavily for Donald Trump died of COVID-related reasons, compared to 7.8 deaths per 100,000 residents in counties that went heavily for Joe Biden, the Times said. 

The arrival of COVID-19 vaccines appears to be the difference-maker. 

At the end of 2020, before vaccines were available, there was virtually no difference in the COVID-19 death toll in red and blue states, the Times said. 

The federal government granted emergency use authorization to the two-shot Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines in late December and the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine in February. 

While it’s been known for months that Republicans have more vaccine hesitancy than Democrats, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey confirmed it.

The KFF reported in late October that around 90% of Democrats said they’d received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, vs. 68% of Independents and only 58% of Republicans. Democrats are much more likely to say they will definitely or probably get a booster shot.

The New York Times analysis said the partisan gap in COVID deaths may shrink soon, partly because the red areas’ vaccine hesitation and higher infection rates have resulted in a buildup of natural immunity. Also, antiviral treatments will likely help reduce death rates.

Judges Pause Biden Vaccine Mandate

Nov. 7, 2021, 10:28 a.m. ET.

A federal appeals panel on Saturday blocked implementation of the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for organizations with 100 or more employees.

The three-judge panel for the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals acted on an emergency lawsuit filed by state attorneys general opposing the mandate. In a four-paragraph order, the federal judges said they issued a temporary stay because they found “cause to believe there are grave statutory and constitutional issues with the Mandate…”

The judges gave the Biden administration until Monday to respond and explain why a permanent injunction against the mandate should not be issued.

The key question is whether the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has the authority to issue a vaccine mandate, or whether that job belongs to Congress, The New York Times reported. If the judges put a permanent injunction in place, the case could go to the U.S. Supreme Court, The NYT Times said.

On Thursday, the Biden administration, through OSHA, unveiled the rule requiring organizations with 100 or more employees to mandate workers be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or require workers to submit to weekly testing. A Jan. 4 deadline was set. 

On Friday, the attorneys general for Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Utah, along with several companies affected by the mandate, filed a lawsuit in opposition with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is based in New Orleans. 

“The Biden Administration’s new vaccine mandate on private businesses is a breathtaking abuse of federal power,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement. “OSHA has only limited power and specific responsibilities. This latest move goes way outside those bounds.”

After the court ruling on Saturday, Paxton tweeted: “The fight is not over and I will never stop resisting this Admin’s unconstitutional overreach!”

The Department of Labor, of which OSHA is a part, said it was prepared to argue its side in court, The NYT said.

“The Occupational Safety and Health Act explicitly gives OSHA the authority to act quickly in an emergency where the agency finds that workers are subjected to a grave danger and a new standard is necessary to protect them,” the Labor Department’s chief legal officer, Seema Nanda, said in a statement. 

A similar lawsuit against the vaccine mandate was filed by the attorneys general of Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee.

Some COVID-19 Vaccine Appointments for Kids Available Online

Nov. 6, 2021, 11:00 a.m. ET.

Once the CDC cleared the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine for ages 5-11 this week, local health departments, pharmacies and doctor’s offices began setting up appointments and vaccine clinics for parents to bring their children to get a shot.

However, some areas across the country have faced delays in the initial rollout, and parents have reported staying up until the early morning to book an appointment online.

The Biden administration hopes its federal vaccine finder website will help. The site — Vaccines.gov —  now allows parents to search by location for the Pfizer vaccine for ages 5-11, which is a lower-dose, 10-microgram vaccine only intended for younger children.

“More and more sites are coming online,” Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said during a news briefing on Wednesday.

“Packing and shipping will continue over the weekend and into next week, with doses arriving at thousands of vaccination sites in every state, tribe and territory,” he said.

By Monday, the nationwide vaccination program for kids should be “fully up and running,” he added, with about 20,000 doctor’s offices and clinic sites available across the country.

On Vaccines.gov, parents can search for locations within a particular ZIP code and radius. The site displays locations that are open to the public, so some private doctor’s offices may not show up unless they host a vaccine clinic open to the public.

More than 28 million children between ages 5-11 are now eligible for vaccination, Zients said. Until the pediatric vaccination program is fully running next week, parents may need to search for appointments in a variety of places — through the federal vaccine site, national and local pharmacies, county and state health department clinics, and individual websites for local children’s hospitals or doctor’s offices.

Some pediatricians and family doctors began rolling out appointments to administer shots to kids earlier this week.

Retail pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens are posting appointments online as well. More than 1,700 CVS locations have opened up timeslots, which are scheduled to begin on Sunday. The CVS scheduling tool will only display appointments that have the pediatric vaccine once the patient’s age is entered.

Thousands of Walgreens stores also have pediatric doses of the vaccine available, the newspaper reported. Parents can enter the location and date of birth to find an open appointment.

“Please be patient with us and other vaccine providers,” Jimena Loveluck, the health officer for Washtenaw County in Michigan, told the Detroit Free Press..

“More and more opportunities for these vaccinations are coming as we and others finalize plans and announce dates,” she said.

Cities, States Offer to Pay Kids to Get Vaccinated

Nov. 5, 5:22 p.m. 

As millions of children between ages 5-11 became eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine this week, several cities and states are including them in vaccine incentive programs that offer cash and giveaways, according to CNN.

In New York City, for instance, children can claim $100 if they receive their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine at a city-operated vaccine site. As an alternate choice, they can receive tickets to city attractions such as the Statue of Liberty or the Brooklyn Cyclones baseball team.

“We really want kids to take advantage, families take advantage of that,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday.

“Everyone could use a little more money around the holidays,” he said. “But, most importantly, we want our kids and our families to be safe.”

In Chicago, health officials are offering $100 gift cards to children who get vaccinated at public health events or clinics. The Chicago school district is also closing on Nov. 12 for Vaccination Awareness Day so students can get shots, CNN reported.

“It is rare that we make a late change to the school calendar, but we see this as an important investment in the future of this school year and the health and well-being of our students, staff and families,” Pedro Martinez, the CEO for Chicago Public Schools, said in a message to parents.

The CDC cleared the COVID-19 shot for children as young as age 5 on Tuesday, making most Americans eligible for the vaccine. Ages 5-11 receive one-third of the dose given to adults and teens.

Other states and cities are offering incentives as well:

  • San Antonio, Texas: Parents and guardians who take their children to get vaccinated at a Metro Health clinic can receive a $100 gift card for H-E-B grocery stores.
  • Louisiana: As part of the “Shot for $100” program, anyone who receives their first shot is eligible for $100. Children between ages 5-11 can receive the cash incentive but require parental consent to get the vaccine.
  • Minnesota: As part of the “Kids Deserve a Shot!” program, ages 12-17 can receive a $200 gift card and the opportunity to enter a raffle for a $100,000 college scholarship.

Europe Becomes COVID-19 Epicenter Again, WHO Says

Nov. 5, 5:15 p.m. 

COVID-19 cases are surging again in Europe, and the region has become the epicenter of the pandemic once more, according to Bloomberg News.

WHO officials announced Thursday that Europe had seen a more than 50% jump in COVID-19 cases during the past month.

The 53-country WHO region, which stretches as far as the former Soviet republics in Central Asia, tallied nearly 1.8 million new cases last week.

The 6% increase from the previous week marks the fifth consecutive week that cases have risen across the continent, making it the only world region where COVID-19 cases are still increasing, WHO officials said.

In addition, Europe and Central Asia accounted for nearly half of the world’s reported COVID-19 deaths last week, and hospitalizations more than doubled in a week.

“According to one reliable projection, if we stay on this trajectory, we could see another half a million COVID-19 deaths in Europe and Central Asia by Feb. 1 next year,” Hans Kluge, the WHO’s regional director for Europe, said during a media briefing on Thursday.

“Europe is back at the center of the pandemic, where we were one year ago,” he said.

The outbreak in Europe has accelerated during the past four weeks as colder temperatures prompted more indoor gatherings and many countries lifted coronavirus restrictions, Bloomberg reported.

However, the WHO has emphasized that the pandemic isn’t over and that governments should keep public health measures in place, including masks.

In another meeting on Thursday, WHO officials called on European authorities to “close the gap” in vaccinations to prevent the spread of the virus, according to The Associated Press.

“There may be plenty of vaccine available, but uptake of vaccine has not been equal,” Michael Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies chief, said during the press briefing.

Also on Thursday, the European Medicines Agency urged people to get vaccinated, the AP reported.

“The epidemiological situation in Europe is very concerning now as we head into the winter with increases in infection rates, hospitalizations, and we can also see the increases in fatalities,” Fergus Sweeney, the agency’s head of clinical studies and manufacturing task force, said during a news briefing.

“It’s very important that everybody gets vaccinated or completes their dose of vaccination if they’ve already had a first dose but not a second dose,” he said. “It’s really important that we’re all vaccinated because we are not all protected until everyone is protected in that respect.”

LA Mayor Tests Positive at Climate Conference

Nov. 4, 4:55 p.m.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday while attending an international conference on climate change in Glasgow, Scotland.

"Mayor Garcetti tested positive for COVID-19 earlier today. He is feeling good and isolating in his hotel room. He is fully vaccinated, the mayor’s office’s Twitter account said.

Garcetti spoke at events Monday and Tuesday at the COP26 conference but skipped events Wednesday after testing positive, The New York Times reported. He was attending the conference as the chair of C40, a group of mayors from different nations working to make a difference in climate change.

Garcetti’s press secretary, Harrison Wollman, told The New York Times that Garcetti had a positive PCR test on Wednesday in preparation for taking a flight back to Los Angeles. 

The mayor, 50, plans to return to Los Angeles Nov. 13, according to a letter his interim chief of staff sent to Council President Nury Martinez, The Los Angeles Times reported.

“As some of you who have gotten COVID know, this is a beast of a virus, but I am feeling pretty good — just some fever and head cold symptoms for now, probably a reflection of the strength of the vaccine I got earlier this year,” Garcetti wrote in the email, according to The Los Angeles Times.

The COP26 conference was attended by about 20,000 people, including world leaders and environmental activists. The conference required attendees to submit results of a rapid test and a PCR test when they arrived in Scotland.

They have to take a rapid test and come up with a negative to attend events in the conference’s Blue Zone – the space where the major public events were scheduled.

Arizona Court Allows Schools to Require Face Masks

Nov. 2, 5:35 p.m.

The Arizona state legislature violated the state constitution when it approved bills that banned school mask mandates, the state’s Supreme Court decided Tuesday.

The practical effect of the Arizona Supreme Court’s ruling is to allow the state’s K-12 public schools the option of requiring students to wear face masks, The Associated Press reported.

The court upheld a Sept. 27 judgment by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper that said the legislature violated the state constitution’s “single-subject rule” when it rolled the mask ban into unrelated budget bills.

The “single-subject rule” says legislation must be about one issue and clearly titled.

The Associated Press said at least 29 public school districts had issued mask mandates before the state rule banning mask mandates was supposed to take effect Sept. 29. Cities and counties can now pass their own mask rules.

The Supreme Court issued a terse order on Tuesday after hearing oral arguments. The order said the court didn’t adopt the lower court’s reasoning “in its entirety” but did affirm the court’s ruling. A full order will be issued later.

The Arizona School Boards Association and other advocacy groups filed a lawsuit to oppose the laws passed in July 2021 by the Republican-dominated legislature.

The Arizona Mirror said the Supreme Court ruling also blocks other legislative initiatives, including bans on the teaching of critical race theory in K-12 schools, “vaccine passports” for local governments, and vaccine requirements in colleges.

Vice President Gets Her Booster Shot

Nov. 1, 6:05 p.m.

Vice President Kamala Harris publicly received her Moderna booster shot on Saturday and urged other Americans to follow suit.

"I got the booster shot, and I want to encourage everyone to do the same when you are eligible," Harris said, according to United Press International.  "And as we have said from the beginning the vaccines are free, they're safe and they will save your life."

The White House said Harris, 57, needed the booster because she travels a lot and interacts with a large number of people. She got her first dose of the vaccine Dec. 29 and her second dose not long after Inauguration Day, UPI said.

Harris got the booster at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington. She warned that not getting vaccinated increases a person’s health risks.

“We've all seen the videos of folks who are in the ICU bed, who were not vaccinated, with tears, begging people -- including their family member -- to get vaccinated," Harris said. "And what we know at this point in our country is the vast majority -- I'm told well over 90% of the people -- who are in the ICU or are dying from COVID are unvaccinated."

President Joe Biden got his booster shot Sept. 27 and took questions from journalists before and after.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 192.6 million people in the United States are fully vaccinated and 19.2 million have received a booster dose.

COVID Cases, Hospitalizations Keep Dropping in the U.S.

Nov. 1, 2021, 5:45 p.m.

Statistically, things are looking up for the United States in the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. reported about 72,000 new COVID-19 cases per day over the last week, a 58% decrease from the average daily case count of Sept. 13, CNBC reported, citing data from Johns Hopkins University. 

COVID-related hospitalizations have also dropped to a seven-day average of around 51,000 per day, less than half the number of hospitalizations in early September.

COVID-related deaths are down to around 1,400 per day compared to 2,100 per day on Sept. 22, CNBC reported.

“Personally, I’m optimistic that this may be one of the last major surges, and the reason for that is because so many people have been vaccinated, and also because a lot of people have had Covid,” Arturo Casadevall, MD, chair of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told CNBC. “We now have a lot of immunity in the population.”

But there are reasons to remain cautious.

The winter holidays are approaching. Since the coronavirus pandemic began, an uptick in cases has followed a national holiday. U.S. Covid cases and deaths peaked after the 2020 holiday season, CNBC said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  has loosened up its holiday guidance compared to last year, saying Americans can safely celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve if they emphasize vaccination and masking.

While cases are dropping in the U.S., they’re on the upswing in Europe. Pandemic trends in the U.S. often follow those in Europe, as with the Delta variant.

The World Health Organization said cases went up last week by 18% in Europe, The Associated Press reported, while other WHO regions reported drops. Europe also reported a 14% increase in COVID-related deaths.

“A lot of times, what we see in Europe is sort of the harbinger of what we see in the U.S. And so it concerns me that cases there are on the rise,” Barbara Taylor, MD, an associate professor of infectious diseases at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, told CNBC.

COVID-19 Vaccines Provide 5 Times the Protection of Natural Immunity, CDC Study Says

Oct. 31, 11:27 a.m. 

Unvaccinated people who had a recent infection were five times more likely to be reinfected with the coronavirus compared to those who were fully vaccinated and didn’t have a prior infection, according to a new study published Friday in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The research team concluded that vaccination can provide a higher, stronger, and more consistent level of immunity against COVID-19 hospitalization than infection alone for at least six months.

“We now have additional evidence that reaffirms the importance of COVID-19 vaccines, even if you have had prior infection,” Rochelle Walensky, MD, director of the CDC, said in a statement.

“This study adds more to the body of knowledge demonstrating the protection of vaccines against severe disease from COVID-19,” she said. “The best way to stop COVID-19, including the emergence of variants, is with widespread COVID-19 vaccination and with disease prevention actions such as mask wearing, washing hands often, physical distancing and staying home when sick.”

Researchers looked at data from the VISION Network, which included more than 201,000 hospitalizations for COVID-like illness at 187 hospitals across nine states between Jan. 1 to Sept. 2. Among those, more than 94,000 had rapid testing for the coronavirus, and 7,300 had a lab-confirmed test for COVID-19.

The research team found that unvaccinated people with a prior infection within 3 to 6 months were about 5-1/2 times more likely to have laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 than those who were fully vaccinated within 3 to 6 months with the Pfizer or Moderna shots. They found similar results when looking at the months that the Delta variant was the dominant strain of the coronavirus.

Protection from the Moderna vaccine “appeared to be higher” than for the Pfizer vaccine, the study authors wrote. The boost in protection also “trended higher” among older adults, as compared to those under age 65.

Importantly, the research team noted, these estimates may change over time as immunity wanes. Future studies should consider infection-induced and vaccine-induced immunity as time passes during the pandemic, they wrote.

Additional research is also needed for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, they wrote. Those who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are currently recommended to receive a booster shot at least two months after the first shot.

Overall, “all eligible persons should be vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as possible, including unvaccinated persons previously infected,” the research team concluded.

Supreme Court Lets Maine’s Vaccine Mandate Stand

The U.S. Supreme Court has turned down a request from nine Maine health care workers who wanted to stop the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate from going into effect on Friday.

The health care workers argued Maine was an “extreme outlier” compared to other states because its vaccine mandate lacks a religious exemption while having a medical exemption.

“Almost every other state has found a way to protect against the same virus without trampling religious liberty—including states that have smaller populations and much greater territory than Maine,” the health care workers said in their motion to the Supreme Court.

The vote on Friday was 6-3, with Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., and Neil M. Gorsuch dissenting. 

“This case presents an important constitutional question, a serious error, and an irreparable injury,” Gorsuch wrote in his dissent. “Where many other States have adopted religious exemptions, Maine has charted a different course. There, healthcare workers who have served on the front line of a pandemic for the last 18 months are now being fired and their practices shuttered. All for adhering to their constitutionally protected religious beliefs. Their plight is worthy of our attention. I would grant relief.”

The case was heard on the emergency docket, meaning the health care workers could still argue their case through the court’s regular appeals process, The Washington Post reported.

The six justices in the majority did not give a reason for their votes, but Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote that she wasn’t sure this kind of case should be decided without a full briefing and oral arguments.

Maine has required health care workers to be vaccinated against contagious diseases such as measles since 1989 and previously had a religious exemption. In 2019, the state eliminated the religious exemption for health-care workers, day-care employees, schoolchildren and college students, The Post said.

The Maine attorney general, Aaron Frey, said dropping non-medical exemptions was only designed to increase the overall vaccination rate. 

When the state added the COVID vaccine to the list of required vaccinations this year, some health care workers complained, saying the vaccines in use were derived from fetal cells. The nine workers sued to stop the mandate and the case worked its way through lower courts before ending up with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills applauded the high court’s decision. “This rule protects healthcare workers, their patients, and the stability of our health care system in the face of this dangerous virus,” Mills said in a statement. “Just as vaccination defeated smallpox and vaccination defeated polio, vaccination is the way to defeat Covid-19.”

TSA Increases Fines for Travelers Not Wearing Masks

Oct. 29, 7:00 p.m. 

The Transportation Security Administration said Thursday that it is ramping up fines for travelers who don’t wear masks at airports and other transportation hubs, according to Reuters.

The TSA has proposed nearly $86,000 in fines for 190 mask violators. More than 5,000 incidents have been reported since February, and the TSA has issued warnings to more than 2,200 people.

On Monday, two lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives disclosed that the TSA had issued $2,350 in fines to 10 passengers through mid-September, despite the thousands of reported mask-related incidents. In contrast, the FAA has fielded complaints about more than 3,500 mask-related incidents and has issued more than $1 million in proposed fines.

Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Bonnie Watson Coleman, chairwoman of the House transportation subcommittee, urged the TSA to implement “enhanced penalties to curb the rising number of mask-related disruptive passenger incidents.”

“We further urge you to widely publicize TSA’s efforts to give visibility to the steep consequences violators face as a warning to potential offenders,” they wrote in a letter to TSA administrators.

The TSA said Thursday that nearly 200 people have faced criminal penalties, Reuters reported. In July, the agency had reported more than 85 physical assaults against TSA officers since the beginning of the pandemic.

The TSA also said it has “taken steps to make enforcement and compliance more meaningful, including by increasing the penalties, reducing the processing time from receipt of incident reports to the issuance of enforcement actions, and frequent and routine interaction with air carriers to improve incident reporting.”

Last month, the TSA announced that it would double penalties for violating mask mandates, issuing $500 to $1,000 fines for first offenders and $1,000 to $3,000 fines for second offenders.

The TSA first imposed mask requirements in early February, which has caused tension on U.S. airlines, Reuters reported. In August, the agency extended mask requirements at transportation centers such as airports and bus stations. The requirements were extended through January 2022 to address COVID-19 risks.

“Wearing a mask protects the traveling public and all of the personnel who make the travel experience safe, secure, and comfortable,” Alejandro Mayorkas, the secretary of homeland security, said in a statement.

“We will continue to enforce the mask mandate as long as necessary to protect public health and safety,” he said.

 

Oakland Schools Require Older Students to Get Vaccinated by Jan. 1

Oct. 29, 6:52 p.m. 

Public school students age 12 and older in Oakland, California, must be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 1, or they may be transferred to an independent study school or dropped from enrollment, according to The New York Times.

The district is one of the first big school districts to outline specifics for its vaccine mandate. On Wednesday night, the school board approved a new policy that says non-exempt, unvaccinated students will be offered a transfer to Sojourner Truth, the district’s independent study school.

Those who don’t accept the transfer will be unenrolled “after having been provided with sufficient information and opportunities to access the COVID-19 vaccine as well as progressive warnings,” the policy says.

The Oakland Unified School District voted on Sept. 22 to require ages 12 and older who attend in-person school to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The mandate allows for medical, religious, and personal belief exemptions.

“Bottom line is that if anybody has an exemption, they will be allowed to attend school,” John Sasaki, a spokesman for the district, told NBC Bay Area.

District officials noted that the policy would likely affect groups with lower vaccination rates, including Black, Latino, and multiracial students, with a greater proportion of those students likely excluded from in-person school, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Among the 35,000 students in the district, more than 44% are Latino, 22% are Black, and 6% are multiracial.

The district is now working on expanding the independent study program and contacting families of unvaccinated children to let them know about the vaccine mandate. District officials said they will continue to host weekly vaccine sites at different schools to get kids vaccinated.

About 57.5% of eligible students in the school district have received at least one shot, as compared with 88% in the city of Oakland and 69% across California, according to ABC 7 News.

Since September, other school districts in California, including Los Angeles, Piedmont, San Diego, and Berkeley, have approved vaccine mandates for students aged 12 and older, The New York Times reported. California Gov. Gavin Newsom said that students of all ages could be required to get vaccinated to attend school next fall, once the FDA gives full approval for the age group.

COVID Leading Cause of Death in Arizona, Study Says

Oct. 28, 5:56 p.m. 

COVID-19 was the leading cause of death in Arizona during the coronavirus pandemic, while it’s only the third leading cause of death in two states with similar populations and the United States as a whole, says a study by the Arizona Public Health Association.

The APHA study said Arizona recorded more than 20,000 COVID-related deaths from March 2020 to mid-October 2021. Previously, heart disease had been the leading cause of death.

Arizona has a population of about 7.2 million. Washington state, which has a similar population, recorded about 8,200 COVID-related deaths. Colorado, which has about 1.5 million fewer people than Arizona, recorded about 7,900 COVID-related deaths, the report said.

The three states had similar rates for other causes of death, according to a story about the report in The Arizona Mirror.

An APHA official says Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s failure to embrace strict COVID mitigation policies contributed to Arizona having more COVID deaths than Colorado and Washington state. Governors in those states enacted state mask mandates, and Washington state now requires all public employees to be vaccinated.

“You can split hairs on the demographics, but the big differences are the policy changes,” Will Humble, executive director of APHA, told The Arizona Mirror. He said Colorado and Washington state “have thoughtful governors who put forward evidence-based policies.”

Ducey’s office did not respond to The Arizona Mirror’s request to comment on the story.

Steve Elliot, communications director for the Arizona Department of Health Services, defended the state’s efforts, noting that the ADHS consistently advocated masking and other mitigation efforts “as per CDC guidance.” 

“Arizona enacted strong measures involving high-risk businesses such as gyms, bars, movie theaters, and water parks,” Elliott told the Arizona Mirror. “Bars that couldn’t operate as dine-in restaurants had to remain closed until conditions warranted lifting those restrictions. Masks and occupancy restrictions were some of the mitigation measures required for these high-risk establishments, with ADHS maintaining a complaint and inspection system to follow-up on reports of noncompliance.”

Ducey has been slow to embrace masking rules and other efforts to curb the spread of the virus, The Mirror reported, and threatened legal action against cities that enacted masking mandates of their own.

He dropped a state masking rule for schools in April, drawing criticism from the state school superintendent who called the decision an example of Arizona’s “embarrassing response” to the pandemic. In March, Ducey lifted capacity limits for gyms, restaurants, and several other types of businesses, a move criticized by big hospital chains in the state as being premature.

Vaccinated People Can Get Long COVID, UK Study Says

Oct. 28, 5:45 p.m. 

COVID-19 vaccines don’t always keep people from getting long COVID in breakthrough cases, especially if they’re over 60, a study says.

Scientists in the United Kingdom studied the health records of about 20,000 people, mostly in the United States, according to a non-peer reviewed study published in medRxiv

The study confirmed that vaccination greatly lowers a person’s risk of death, ICU admission, and health problems such as respiratory failure, the need for oxygen treatment, psychotic disorders, and hair loss in breakthrough cases.

“On the other hand, previous vaccination does not appear to be protective against several previously documented outcomes of COVID-19 such as long-COVID features, arrhythmia, joint pain, type 2 diabetes, liver disease, sleep disorders, and mood and anxiety disorders,” the study said.

Two doses of an mRNA vaccine offered much more protection than one dose, the study said. It noted that the finding about long COVID is concerning because of the burden suffered by people who have it.

Age seems to play a big part in how much a person benefits from a vaccine. People under age 60 received “large and robust” protection from vaccines, whereas the protection for people over 60 was “smaller and not statistically robust,” the study said.

That’s an important distinction because older people “are at higher absolute risks of most adverse outcomes after infection,” the study said.

Researchers wrote that the public should not forget that vaccines help protect people from getting COVID in the first place, including those over 60.

“However, our results highlight that some post-acute outcomes of SARS-CoV-2 (and notably long-COVID presentations) are likely to persist even after successful vaccination of the population, so long as breakthrough infections occur,” the study said.

The study had several limitations, such as researchers not knowing if records were complete or the socioeconomic and lifestyle status of the people studied. 

People with long COVID may have lingering symptoms of COVID for weeks or months after they start recovering. Previous research shows that about 10% of people between ages 18 to 49 who have COVID-19 get long COVID. The odds go up to 22% for those age 70 or older. 

Immunocompromised People May Need a 4th COVID Shot, CDC Says

Oct. 27,  5:01 p.m.

Some people with moderately or severely compromised immune systems may need a fourth dose of mRNA COVID-19 vaccine six months after a third shot, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection said this week in updated guidance.

It was only last August that the CDC authorized a third dose of vaccine for moderately and severely immunocompromised people, noting that they may not develop a full immune response from just two doses. Immunocompromised people who are fully vaccinated make up “a large proportion” of breakthrough cases needing hospitalization, the CDC says.

“Moderately and severely immunocompromised people aged ≥18 years who completed an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine primary series and received an additional mRNA vaccine dose may receive a single COVID-19 booster dose (Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, or Janssen) at least 6 months after completing their third mRNA vaccine dose,” the CDC said in its updated guidance. “In such situations, people who are moderately and severely immunocompromised may receive a total of four COVID-19 vaccine doses.”

The CDC is not making a recommendation on a fourth “additional” dose -- which differs from a booster shot -- but urges people to discuss the possibility with their health care providers. 

The CDC says severely or moderately immunocompromised people make up about 3% of the U.S. population. Falling under that definition are people receiving active cancer treatment for tumors or cancers of the blood, diagnosed with advanced or untreated HIV infection, undergoing active treatment with high-dose corticosteroids or other drugs that may suppress the immune response, and organ transplant and stem cell recipients. 

The fourth-dose guidance doesn’t apply to people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which doesn’t use mRNA technology. Immunocompromised people who got the one-shot J&J vaccine should get a second shot of any approved vaccine at least two months after the first shot, the CDC says.

The CDC differentiates between “additional” shots and “booster” shots.

“An additional dose is administered to people with moderately to severely compromised immune systems,” the CDC says. “This additional dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine is intended to improve immunocompromised people’s response to their initial vaccine series. A booster shot is administered when a person has completed their vaccine series, and protection against the virus has decreased over time.”

The CDC does not recommend immunocompromised people receive an additional dose plus a booster shot.

How many people have been diagnosed with the virus worldwide, and how many have died?

According to Johns Hopkins University, there are more than 249 million cases and more than 5.03 million deaths worldwide.

How many cases of COVID-19 are in the United States?

There are more than 46.4 million cases in the U.S. of COVID-19 and more than 752,930 deaths, according Johns Hopkins University.

WebMD Health News

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