This article was updated Sept. 26, 2021, at 11:45 a.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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New York Health Care Facilities Prepare for Staff Shortages as Vaccine Mandate Starts

Sept. 26, 11:45 a.m. 

New York officials are bracing for staff shortages as the COVID-19 vaccination mandate for health care workers begins on Monday, according to CBS News.

Gov. Kathy Hochul is considering a variety of options, including a state of emergency declaration to bring in licensed health care professionals from other states and health care workers from the National Guard.

“I am monitoring the staffing situation closely and we have a plan to increase our health care workforce and help alleviate the burdens on our hospitals and other health care facilities,” she told CBS News.

“I commend all of the health care workers who have stepped up to get themselves vaccinated, and I urge all remaining health care workers who are unvaccinated to do so now so they can continue providing care,” she said.

About 84% of hospital employees in New York were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Wednesday, CBS News reported. In adult care facilities, 81% of staff were fully vaccinated, along with 77% of staff at nursing home facilities.

Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in August that all health care workers are required to receive their first vaccine dose by Sept. 27. The regulation applies to out-of-state and contract medical staff as well.

Those who are fired because they don’t get vaccinated won’t be able to receive unemployment insurance without a valid medical exemption, CBS News reported.

“People who will not get vaccinated are the only reason that this country and these communities and our cities have not been able to be fully engaged in a state of normalcy,” Hochul said.

Several groups have filed lawsuits to challenge the vaccine mandate, including the Civil Service Employees Association and members of the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association.

On Friday, a federal judge delayed a vaccine mandate for New York City teachers that was slated to also start on Monday, according to The Associated Press.

A panel of judges will review the mandate on Wednesday, which city officials hope to resolve quickly. The education department told principals on Saturday morning that they should prepare for the possibility of the vaccine mandate going into effect later this week.

“We’re confident our vaccine mandate will continue to be upheld once all the facts have been presented because that is the level of protection our students and staff deserve,” Danielle Filson, a spokeswoman for the department, told the AP.

About 82% of education department employees are vaccinated, including 88% of teachers, the AP reported. Unions representing New York City principals and teachers have warned that the mandate could lead to staff shortages.

However, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday that the city is ready.

“We’ve been planning all along. We have a lot of substitutes ready,” he said. “We are ready, even to the tune of, if we need thousands, we have thousands.”

CDC: Schools Without Mask Rules Have More COVID Cases

Sept. 25, 2021,  9:30 a.m. ET.

Schools that didn’t have masking requirements at the start of the school year reported far more COVID-19 cases and outbreaks than schools that did have mask rules, according to studies released Friday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One study conducted in Arizona found that schools without mask rules were 3.5 times as likely to have a coronavirus outbreak than schools with those rules.

Researchers examined data from 1,020 K-12 schools in Maricopa and Pima Counties, where the majority of Arizona’s population lives, from July 15-August 31. School started in July there.

A total of 191 outbreaks occurred -- 113 (59.2%) in schools without mask requirements, 16 (8.4%) in schools that had mask requirements when classes started, and 62 (32.5%) in schools that decided to require masks after the start of the school year.

The CDC defined a school-associated outbreak as occurring when two or more laboratory-confirmed cases occurred among students or staff within a 14-day period after the start of school. A school was considered to have a mask requirement when everybody was required to wear a mask indoors in school, regardless of vaccination status. 

A second study found that counties without school masking rules reported much higher increases in overall pediatric COVID cases than counties that had such rules.

Researchers looked at data from 520 counties gathered between the week before school started and the second week of school. The number of pediatric infections went up by 35 per 100,000 population in counties without mask requirements and 16 per 100,000 in counties that had mask rules.

So far this school year, about 1,800 schools have had to close because of COVID-19 outbreaks, affecting 933,000 students, the CDC said in a third report issued Friday.

“To prevent COVID-19 outbreaks in schools, CDC recommends multicomponent prevention strategies, including vaccination, universal indoor masking, screening testing, and physical distancing,” the CDC said.

Biden Administration Reimburses Florida School District that Defied Mask Mandate Ban

Sept. 24, 5:20 p.m. 

The Biden administration will reimburse a Florida school district that lost state money for requiring masks in schools and defying a statewide order that banned mask mandates, according to Yahoo! News.

The U.S. Department of Education said Thursday that it would award Alachua County Public Schools nearly $148,000 to cover costs. The school district is losing around $13,000 per month.

“We should be thanking districts for using proven strategies that will keep schools open and safe, not punishing them,” Michael Cardona, the U.S. education secretary, said in a statement.

“We stand with the dedicated educators in Alachua and across the country doing the right thing to protect their school communities,” he said.

In July, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order that banned mask mandates in schools. A dozen Florida districts, including Alachua, voted to require masks in schools anyway.

As classes began in August, DeSantis threatened to penalize school board members who voted in favor of mask mandates. The state then moved forward by withholding state funds equivalent to the monthly salaries of school board members in Alachua County and Broward County.

Alachua is the first school district in the country to receive a reimbursement for following CDC guidelines of universal indoor masking in schools, according to NPR.

The funds came from Project SAFE, a federal education department fund created in September to give additional funding to school districts that “have funds withheld by their state or are otherwise financially penalized for implementing strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Florida’s mask mandate ban has bounced around courts throughout September, being knocked down by a state judge and then reinstated by a federal judge, according to The Associated Press. In a separate case, a state court ruled in favor of the ban.

The cases could move to another appeals court or to the Supreme Court, but for now, state officials can continue to enforce the ban and impose financial penalties on school districts.

Pandemic Created Teacher, Staff Shortages in Schools

Sept. 23, 5:55 p.m. 

The stress of teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic caused a spike in resignations and retirements among educators and school workers across the United States. This has left a growing number of school districts scrambling for ways to fill the vacancies as children return to classrooms.

The Los Angeles Unified school district had more than 500 vacancies, five times more than the year before, a system spokeswoman told the Associated Press. The Houston Independent School District had 700 vacancies at one time over the summer, a number cut to 300 by early September, The Texas Tribune said. Normally, Houston has fewer than 100 vacancies.

Even smaller districts have shortages. The problem is pronounced in special education. The U.S. Department of Education said that 48 states expected a shortage in special education teachers for the 2021-2022 school year, Fox News reported.

“This is the most acute shortage of labor we have ever had,” Tony Wold, associate superintendent at the West Contra Costa Unified School District in California, told the AP. “We opened this year with 50 — that’s five-zero — teaching positions open. That means students are going to 50 classrooms that do not have a permanent teacher.”

Some systems have gone back to virtual learning -- and not because of COVID cases. In Michigan, Eastpointe Community Schools switched its middle school classes back to online learning when it started the year with 43 vacancies -- a quarter of its teaching staff, the AP said.

Teachers and administrators are having to do more, such as handle prep periods that normally were handled by others or fill in as crossing guards. Plus, teachers are dealing with students suffering learning loss and their own emotional problems.

“We are absolutely strained. This has been an incredibly stressful start to the year,” Hasmig Minassian, a ninth-grade teacher at Berkeley High in California, told the AP. “It doesn’t feel like there are enough adults on these campuses to keep kids really safe. We feel short-staffed in a way we’ve never felt before.”

Signing bonuses for teachers are becoming commonplace. The West Contra Costa School District pays a $6,000 bonus, with a third paid the first month and the rest when the teacher starts their third year.

The Mount Diablo school district in California pays $5,000 bonuses for speech pathologists and $1,500 for paraeducators who work with special needs students, the AP said. Fox News said the Wake County system in North Carolina was offering a $3,500 incentive for new special education teachers.

The National Education Association foresaw the teacher shortage last June. That’s when it released a survey of 2,690 members, 32% of whom said the pandemic led them to plan to get out of teaching earlier than they expected. The year before, only 28% said they planned to leave or retire early. Among teachers of color and those with more than 20 years of experience, the numbers were higher.

Moderna Executive Says Pandemic Could End in a Year

Sept. 23, 5:15 p.m. 

The COVID-19 pandemic could effectively be over in a year because enough vaccine will be manufactured and distributed by that time, Moderna Chief Executive Stéphane Bancel said in an interview with a Swiss newspaper.

"If you look at the industry-wide expansion of production capacities over the past six months, enough doses should be available by the middle of next year so that everyone on this earth can be vaccinated,” Bancel told Neue Zurcher Zeitung, according to Reuters. “Boosters should also be possible to the extent required." 

Asked if that meant a return to normal in the second half of next year, he said: "As of today, in a year, I assume."

Bancel said people who don’t get vaccinated could develop natural immunity to COVID-19.

"Those who do not get vaccinated will immunize themselves naturally, because the Delta variant is so contagious. In this way we will end up in a situation similar to that of the flu. You can either get vaccinated and have a good winter. Or you don't do it and risk getting sick and possibly even ending up in hospital,” he said.

Booster shots might contain less vaccine than the first shots, he said, because "with half the dose, we would have 3 billion doses available worldwide for the coming year instead of just 2 billion." 

Bancel said Moderna is developing “Delta-optimized variants” in clinical trials that will likely be used for boosters in 2022.

The Washington Post and other media outlets said Bancel’s prediction will not come true unless more vaccine is extended to poor nations. About 80% of the population in the world’s wealthy nations have received at least one dose of vaccine, compared to 20% of people in low-income nations, The Post said.

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres this week criticized rich countries for hoarding and sometimes wasting vaccines instead of sharing more readily with poor countries, The Post said.

New COVID Strain Has Reached the U.S.

Sept. 22, 5:57 p.m.

A strain of COVID-19 first reported in Japan surfaced at a Kentucky nursing home in the spring.

Deadline, citing a CDC report, said 26 residents and 20 workers tested positive for COVID-19 at a skilled care nursing home. The facility has 83 residents and 116 employees.

On March 1, 28 specimens that had been subjected to whole genome sequencing were found to have “mutations aligning with the R.1 lineage,” Deadline said.

About 90% of the facility’s residents and 52% of the staff had received two COVID vaccine doses, the CDC said. Because of the high vaccination rate, the finding raises concerns about “reduced protective immunity” in relation to the R.1 variant, the CDC said.

However, the nursing home case appears to show that the vaccine keeps most people from getting extremely sick, the CDC said. The vaccine was 86.5% protective against symptomatic illness among residents and 87.1% protective for employees.

“Compared with unvaccinated persons, vaccinated persons had reduced risk for SARS-CoV-2 infection and symptomatic COVID-19,” the CDC said. The vaccination of nursing home residents and health care workers “is essential to reduce the risk for symptomatic COVID-19, as is continued focus on infection prevention and control practices,” the CDC said.

Since being reported in Kentucky, R.1 has been detected more than 10,000 times in the United States, Forbes reported, basing that number on entries in the GISAID SARS-CoV-2 database.

Overall, more than 42 million cases of COVID have been reported since the start of the pandemic.

Deadline reported that the R.1 strain was first detected in Japan in January among three members of one family. The family members had no history of traveling abroad, Deadline said, citing an NIH report.

The CDC has not classified R.1 as a variant of concern yet but noted it has “several mutations of importance” and “demonstrates evidence of increasing virus transmissibility.”

Health Care Company Suspends 375 Workers Who Violated Vaccine Policy

Sept. 22,  4:14 p.m.

Novant Health, a North Carolina-based health care system, has suspended and may terminate about 375 employees who haven’t complied with the company’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy.

The policy says employees must have received at least one dose of COVID vaccine by now, or have been granted a religious or medical exemption, the company said in a news release

The 375 out-of-compliance workers at 15 hospitals and 800 clinics and hundreds of outpatient facilities “are not able to report to work,” the news release said.

“They will have an opportunity to comply over a five-day, unpaid suspension period. If a team member remains non-compliant after this suspension period, he or she will have their employment with Novant Health terminated,” the release said.

The company said 98.6% of more than 35,000 employees complied with the company’s vaccine policy. Workers getting two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines must have their second dose by Oct. 15 to comply.

Novant announced its vaccination policy earlier this summer. Workers granted exemptions must wear N95 face masks and undergo weekly testing, the company said.

Other medical workers have left their jobs because their employers’ vaccine mandates.

CNN reported that at least 125 part-time employees at Indiana University Health system left their jobs for not complying with the vaccine requirements.

President Joe Biden said earlier this month that health care workers at facilities receiving Medicare funding must be vaccinated, CNN reported.

Doctor Who Told Patients Masks Could Cause Carbon-Dioxide Poisoning Loses License

Sept. 20, 5:50 p.m.

The Oregon Medical Board has revoked the license of a doctor who didn’t follow COVID-19 guidelines in his office and even told some patients that wearing face masks could lead to carbon-dioxide poisoning.

Steven Arthur LaTulippe’s advice to patients about face masking amounted to “gross negligence” in the practice of medicine and was grounds for discipline, the medical board said in a report.

LaTulippe, who had a family practice in Dallas, was fined $10,000, Insider reported. The board also said he’d overprescribed opioids for some patients.

The medical board report said LaTulippe and his wife, who ran the clinic with him, didn’t wear  face masks while treating patients from March to December of 2020. 

LaTulippe told elderly and pediatric patients that mask wearing could hurt their health by exacerbating COPD and asthma and could contribute to heart attacks and other medical problems, the report said.

"Licensee asserts masks are likely to harm patients by increasing the body’s carbon dioxide content through rebreathing of gas trapped behind a mask,” the report said.

The report noted that “the amount of carbon dioxide re-breathed within a mask is trivial and would easily be expelled by an increase in minute ventilation so small it would not be noticed.”

The report said LaTulippe told patients they didn't have to wear a mask in the clinic unless they were "acutely ill," "coughing," or "congested," even though the CDC and the Oregon governor had recommended masks be worn to prevent the spread of the virus.

Before coming into the office, patients weren’t asked if they’d had recent contact with anybody who was infected or showed COVID symptoms, the report said.

The medical board first suspended his license in September. He said he would not change his conduct concerning face masks.

“Licensee has confirmed that he will refuse to abide by the state’s COVID-19 protocols in the future as well, affirming that in a choice between losing his medical license versus wearing a mask in his clinic and requiring his patients and staff to wear a mask in his clinic, he will, ‘choose to sacrifice my medical license with no hesitation’” the medical board’s report said.

LaTulippe told the medical board that he was “a strong asset to the public in educating them on the real facts about this pandemic” and that “at least 98 percent of my patients were so extremely thankful that I did not wear a mask or demand wearing a mask in my clinic.”

The medical board found LaTulippe engaged in eight instances of unprofessional or dishonorable conduct, 22 instances of negligence in the practice of medicine, and five instances of gross negligence in the practice of medicine.

Chris Rock Has COVID Breakthrough Case

Sept. 20, 2021, at 4:40 p.m.

Comedian Chris Rock went on Twitter Sunday to say he’s got COVID-19.

“Hey guys I just found out I have COVID, trust me you don’t want this. Get vaccinated,” Rock tweeted Sunday.

Rock, 56, evidently suffered a breakthrough infection. In May, he went on “The Tonight Show” and told host Jimmy Fallon that he’d been vaccinated with the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

"That's the food stamps of vaccines," he joked, according to NBC News.

He said he used his celebrity fame to get a shot.

“You know, I skipped the line,” he told Fallon. “I didn’t care. I used my celebrity, Jimmy. I was like, ‘Step aside, Betty White. Step aside, old people … I did Pootie Tang. Let me on the front of the line.’”

NBC News said Rock told Gayle King in January that he was eager to get vaccinated.

"Let me put it this way: Do I take Tylenol when I get a headache?” he said. “Yes. Do I know what's in Tylenol? I don't know what's in Tylenol, Gayle. I just know my headache's gone. Do I know what's in a Big Mac, Gayle? No. I just know it's delicious."

The details of Rock’s condition were not immediately known.

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

According to Johns Hopkins University, there are more than 231.63 million cases and more than 4.74 million deaths worldwide.

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

There are more than 42.90 million cases in the U.S. of COVID-19 and more than 687,760 deaths, according Johns Hopkins University.

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