The U.S. passed 760,000 deaths from COVID-19 on Friday as the nation enters into an uncertain phase of the pandemic, with the holidays approaching and steep upticks possible.
Vermont on Thursday set a record case count and 23 states are reporting rising cases, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data.
“Delta and waning immunity — the combination of these two have set us back,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington. “This virus is going to stick with us for a long, long time.”
Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays could bring another surge, according to data from experts. That’s primarily because mask use has been subsiding and family reunions and holiday dinners put people close together around tables, often without masks. The virus that causes COVID-19 thrives in cool, dry air, and when people gather indoors, especially unmasked, they are more likely to transmit it.
But even for those who track cases, it is hard to predict where the virus is going.
“It’s hard to know what’s coming next with this virus,” said Linsey Marr, a Virginia Tech researcher who studies airborne spread of the coronavirus. “We thought we knew, but delta really surprised us. We thought the vaccine would help end this, but things are still dragging on.”
Meanwhile, in Europe, cases rose over 10% in the past week as the World Health Organization said the continent was “back at the epicenter of the pandemic.”
Some countries are considering stricter social restrictions as lockdown measures are no longer in place in many nations. The Dutch government is widely expected to announce a partial lockdown Friday, Austria is considering imposing a lockdown on unvaccinated people and Denmark reintroduced a digital pass showing vaccination status to enter restaurants, bars and large outdoor events. But health experts hope the combination of vaccines and better therapeutics will make European countries better positioned compared to previous outbreaks.
“I think the era of locking people up in their homes is over because we now have tools to control COVID — the testing, vaccines and therapeutics,” Devi Sridhar, University of Edinburgh’s chair of global public health, said. “So I hope people will do the things they have to do, like put on a mask.”
Also in the news:
► President Joe Biden plans to nominate former Commissioner Robert Califf as his head of the Food and Drug Administration. The choice was reported by the Associated Press and other media outlets and confirmed to USA TODAY by a source familiar with the decision.
► Johnson & Johnson said Friday it would break into two companies, separating its retail products business from prescription drugs and medical devices.
► Five people — two California Highway Patrol officers and three Golden Gate Bridge workers — were injured when an SUV collided with a street sweeper during an anti-vaccination mandate protest on the San Francisco bridge.
► The Food and Drug Administration said more than 2.2 million COVID-19 home tests from Australian manufacturer Ellume are being recalled because of an unacceptable rate of false positives.
► Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed an executive order Thursday allowing any resident 18 or older to receive a COVID-19 booster shot, deviating from national recommendations.
► Nearly 50% of workers in the U.S. say they would take up to a 5% pay cut to continue to work remotely at least part-time post-pandemic, according to a new survey.
📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 46 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 759,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 251 million cases and 5 million deaths. More than 194 million Americans – 58% of the population – are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is now available for children ages 5 and older. But, will schools require it? Read the full story.
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For millions of Americans with disabilities, COVID-19 was a stress test that exposed gaping shortfalls in the health care system, according to a new report assessing the U.S. pandemic response.
People with disabilities “died in large numbers” because of policies that bypassed the community when it came to protective equipment, vaccine rollouts and hospital care, according to the 200-page review by the National Council on Disability, a federally appointed watchdog. The group urged reforms before the next health crisis.
“The general, overarching theme is the historic lack of attention to some of the systems that people with disabilities rely upon to keep them safe and healthy,” council Chairman Andres Gallegos said in an interview this week. “They have been ignored, and the vulnerability of people with disabilities was exposed during the pandemic.”
The global emergency “exposed extreme disability bias” and “failures in modifying policies to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities,” Gallegos added in a letter sent to President Joe Biden along with the Oct. 29 report.
– Gene Myers, The (North Jersey) Record
Tennessee’s governor on Friday signed a sweeping legislative package curtailing the authority public schools, local health agencies and businesses have over COVID-19 restrictions.
The legislation had emerged during a whirlwind special session in October, called by lawmakers themselves for only the third time in state history to push back against COVID-19 restrictions many Republicans felt infringed on personal freedom.
Lawmakers passed a series of legislation, the largest of which was an omnibus bill with a host of provisions that will:
- Ban government entities and public schools from requiring masks, unless severe conditions arise
- Ban government entities, public schools and many private businesses from vaccine requirements, but with exceptions
- Allows those who quit their job because of COVID-19 vaccine requirements to collect unemployment benefits
- Allow health care professionals to use independent judgement to prescribe monoclonal antibody treatments
- Ban use of public funds for COVID-19 mandates
— Melissa Brown and Duane W. Gang, Nashville Tennessean
School districts across the nation are temporarily closing or switching back to remote learning as school administrators struggle with empty classrooms, driverless buses and understaffed cafeterias caused by widespread teacher exhaustion stemming from the COVID-19 crisis.
Michigan has in recent weeks seen at least eight schools shut down or return to online learning because of staff shortages. In Florida, Brevard Public Schools said Wednesday it would extend its Thanksgiving break, while public schools in Seattle and Portland, Oregon, gave teachers and students an extra day off for Veterans Day.
Administrators acknowledge the last-minute schedule changes are forcing parents to scramble their own plans, and it’s the latest obstacle for students trying to make up missed learning following widespread pandemic school closures. Experts say missing more school means some kids, particularly those from low-income families, will fall even further behind their peers.
— Trevor Hughes, USA TODAY
The last three school districts in Florida that required at least some students to wear masks are dropping their mandates for student facial coverings.
Friday, grade school students in Miami-Dade schools can opt out of wearing a mask if they have their parents’ permission. Masks already had been optional for high school and some middle school students.
In neighboring Broward County, all students can go without masks starting Monday, Nov. 21. No opt-out form from parents is required, though the school district is strongly encouraging students to wear facial coverings, according to the Miami Herald. Masks already were optional for high school and technical college students.
In Alachua County, home to the University of Florida, masks will be optional provided parents have given their consent starting in early January when students return from winter break, The Gainesville Sun reported.
The three school districts were among eight Florida districts that had implemented mask mandates in defiance of the administration of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. The state’s health department imposed a rule ordering districts to allow the parents the choice of whether their children wear masks.
— Associated Press
Contributing: The Associated Press