British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday joined calls for further investigation into claims that COVID-19 originally leaked from a Chinese lab but said at the moment he doesn’t believe that’s what sparked the global pandemic.
Johnson, speaking at the end of the Group of Seven summit in southwest England, said the world needs to “keep an open mind.” The hypothesis that COVID-19 leaked accidentally from the Wuhan Institute of Virology is drawing increased interest globally and is now under a new U.S. investigation ordered by President Joe Biden. Biden said he and the U.S. intelligence community have yet to reach a determination on the claim.
“At the moment, the advice that we have had is that it doesn’t look as though this particular disease of zoonotic origin came from a lab,” Johnson said.
Also in the news:
►As the number of COVID-19 cases have fallen and restrictions have been dropped in New Hampshire, drug overdoses are on the rise in some cities. Overdoses decreased during the pandemic since more people were inside, authorities said.
►Chicago bus driver Dan O’Conor who jumped into Lake Michigan for a 365th straight day on Saturday said he started jumping at Montrose Harbor to relieve stress from the pandemic.
►A recently discovered note marked the “apocalyptic, surreal” moment a pilot parked a jet in storage at the beginning of the pandemic. The “time capsule” is serving as a reminder of how much has changed in the past year.
► Starting Tuesday, Walt Disney World will no longer require guests who have been fully vaccinated to wear face masks in most areas. All guests, however, must continue to wear their masks while on Disney transportation, including Disney buses, monorails and the Disney Skyliner aerial gondolas.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 33.4 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 599,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: over 175 million cases and over 3.7 million deaths. More than 143 million Americans have been fully vaccinated – 43.1% of the population, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: Scientists say biology tells us why it has been so much easier to vaccinate against COVID-19 when other medical problems remain intractable.
A federal judge threw out a lawsuit filed by employees of a Houston hospital system over its requirement that all of its staff be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The Houston Methodist Hospital system suspended 178 employees without pay last week over their refusal to get vaccinated. Of them, 117 sued seeking to overturn the requirement and over their suspension and threatened termination.
“This is not coercion. Methodist is trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them the COVID-19 virus,” U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes wrote in his order. “It is a choice made to keep staff, patients and their families safer.”
Hughes also deemed lead plaintiff Jennifer Bridges’ contention that the vaccines are “experimental and dangerous” to be false and otherwise irrelevant. He also found that her likening the vaccination requirement to the Nazis’ forced medical experimentation on concentration camp captives during the Holocaust to be “reprehensible.”
Hughes also ruled that making vaccinations a condition of employment was not coercion, as Bridges contended.
Jared Woodfill, a Houston lawyer representing Bridges and the other clients, promised an appeal.
Dr. Marc Bloom, CEO and president of Houston Methodist, shared in a statement that the hospital is nearly 100% compliant with the mandate following the suspension of non-compliant employees.
“We can now put this behind us and continue our focus on unparalleled safety, quality, service and innovation,” Bloom said. “Our employees and physicians made their decisions for our patients, who are always at the center of everything we do. They have fulfilled their sacred obligation as health care workers, and we couldn’t ask for a more dedicated, caring and talented team.”
School districts across the United States are hiring additional teachers in anticipation of what will be one of the largest kindergarten classes ever as enrollment rebounds following the coronavirus pandemic. Educators are also bracing for many students to be less prepared than usual because of lower preschool attendance rates. One report found that the number of 4-year-olds participating in preschool fell from 71% before the pandemic to 54% during the pandemic, and low-income children were much less likely to attend in-person.
“The job of the kindergarten teacher just got a lot harder,” said Steven Barnett, a co-author of the report and senior co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University.
Virtual onboarding, which gained traction as lockdowns and shuttered offices drove workers online, could thrive well after the pandemic staggers into history. Why? Because traditional orientation methods apparently hadn’t been working well for new hires even before COVID-19, according to a 2020 Gartner recruiter survey. Only 44% of recruiting staff say their organization’s onboarding process effectively integrated new hires into the company culture, the survey said.
“Most companies are exploring hybrid models where some people work at least part time from home,” says Andy Challenger, senior vice president of the outplacement and business and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “So virtual onboarding is almost certainly going to continue.”
– Terry Collins and Charisse Jones
COVID-19 variants could lead to a fall surge in U.S. cases after months of decline if more people don’t get vaccinated. That’s the warning in a recent briefing from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which has published an influential virus model throughout the pandemic. The briefing also says vaccines will need to effectively fight the variants for the U.S. to escape a seasonal surge in the fall.
“Cases and deaths should remain low until mid-September. At that point, we expect … increasing transmission,” the model says.
The model projects about 67% of U.S. adults are likely to be vaccinated – the same number USA TODAY is predicting could be at least partially vaccinated by July 4 at the current pace. The World Health Organization has warned that there is also a high risk of a deadly resurgence in Europe this autumn. And globally, the WHO warned that the Group of Seven promise of 1 billion vaccine doses was good news but “we need more, and we need them faster.”
A judge in Houston has dismissed a lawsuit by hospital employees suspended and facing termination after declining a COVID-19 shot – a decision that could have a ripple effect across the nation. The case involved Houston Methodist, the first hospital system in the country to require that all its employees get vaccinated. Federal Judge Lynn Hughes ruled Saturday that federal law does not prevent employers from issuing that mandate. After months of warnings, Houston Methodist had put more than 170 of its 26,000 employees on unpaid suspension Monday. They were told they would be fired it they weren’t vaccinated by June 21.
The hospital had made it clear it meant what it said: It fired the director of corporate risk – Bob Nevens – and another manager in April when they did not meet the earlier deadline for bosses.
– David Heath
The head of the World Health Organization has welcomed the vaccine-sharing announcements coming out of the Group of Seven summit but says “we need more, and we need them faster.”
“The challenge, I said to the G-7 leaders, was that to truly end the pandemic, our goal must be to vaccinate at least 70% of the world’s population by the time the G-7 meets again in Germany next year,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters Saturday at the summit in southwest England.
“To do that, we need 11 billion doses,” Tedros said, adding that it was “essential” for countries to temporarily waive intellectual property protections for coronavirus vaccines.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the summit’s host, has said the group would pledge at least 1 billion doses; half that number will come from the United States and 100 million from Britain over the next year.
Tedros reiterated his target of vaccinating 30% of the population of every country by the end of 2021. He said that reaching the goal requires 100 million doses in June and July, and 250 million more by September.
The Transportation Security Administration on Friday screened more than 2 million people for the first time since the onset of the pandemic, a major milestone for the travel industry. The agency screened 2,028,961 people that day, about four times the number screened on the same day in 2020 and 74% of the travel volume in 2019. Before the pandemic, the TSA screened 2 million to 2.5 million people per day on average.
The number is a strong signal for the return of travel this summer, which has been one of the industries hit hardest by the pandemic. Experts expect a healthy amount of leisure travel this summer as vaccination rates continue to climb in the U.S. and pent-up demand pushes Americans to book trips.
“The growing number of travelers demonstrates this country’s resilience and the high level of confidence in COVID-19 counter measures, to include ready access to vaccines,” TSA acting administrator Darby LaJoye said in a Saturday news release. “TSA stands ready to provide a safe and secure screening process as part of the overall travel experience.”
The lowest pandemic-era screening volume at the TSA was on April 13, 2020, when 87,534 people were screened.
Contributing: The Associated Press