After several previous sparring sessions with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, this time Dr. Anthony Fauci took the gloves off.
The government’s top infectious-disease expert appeared before Congress again Tuesday, and once again got into a heated discussion with Paul, who accused him of lying at a prior hearing about the National Institutes of Health funding a Wuhan lab that Paul suggested contributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.
When Fauci explained that the project Paul was referencing did not qualify as gain-of-function research, which could include increasing the transmissibility of viruses, the senator interrupted and insisted. Fauci rebuked him sharply.
“Sen. Paul, you do not know what you are talking about, quite frankly,” Fauci said. “And I want to say that officially. You do not know what you are talking about.”
After an exchange in which they cut each other off, Paul said, “You’re trying to obscure responsibility for 4 million people dying around the world from a pandemic,” Paul said.
Paul was told to let Fauci speak, and the White House’s chief medical adviser responded, “You are implying that what we did was responsible for the deaths of individuals. I totally resent that, and If anyone is lying here senator, it is you.”
— Jordan Mendoza
Also in the news:
►A White House official and an aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, both fully vaccinated, have tested positive for the coronavirus after attending an event together.
►Costco will continue to hold special operating hours for members 60 and older and vulnerable shoppers, reducing them to two days a week.
►The U.S. upgraded its travel warnings for Britain, Indonesia and three other destinations, advising against visiting those countries because of surging coronavirus infections.
►Canada will reopen to fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents starting Aug. 9.
►Officials in Spain are celebrating that half of the country’s population, or about 24 million people, have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, although they say a sharp increase in infections is sending worrying numbers of patients into hospitals.
📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has had more than 34.1million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 609,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 191 million cases and 4.1 million deaths. More than 161.4 million Americans — 48.6% of the population — have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
📘What we’re reading: At a time when the infection rate has doubled, many remain unvaccinated and the delta variant is vastly more contagious than the original, it’s important to recognize vaccines aren’t flawless.
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The overwhelming prevalence of the delta variant came into sharper focus Tuesday when the head of the CDC said it represents 83% of the new infections sequenced in the U.S. That figure stood at 50% as recently as July 3, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told a congressional committee.
“This is a dramatic increase,” she said. “In some parts of the country the percentage is even higher, particularly in areas of low vaccination rates.”
That has allowed the highly contagious variant to spread quickly, Walensky said, noting that almost two-thirds of the counties in the country have yet to fully vaccinate even 40% of their populations.
Vaccines have proven effective against the delta variant, which helps explain why more than 99% of recent COVID deaths are among the unvaccinated. But with vaccination efforts stalling amid hesitancy or outward refusal to get the shot, and one-third of the eligible population still unvaccinated, the virus has many hosts left to infect.
“Each death is tragic and even more heartbreaking when we know that the majority of these deaths could be prevented with a simple, safe, available vaccine,” Walensky said.
COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective but not foolproof. Now, with the delta variant spreading, there’s a higher chance for so-called breakthrough infections among the fully vaccinated merely because the virus’ prevalence has increased.
The vast majority of those suffering the harsh effects of the illness these days, though, are the unvaccinated, who account for more than 99% of the recent COVID deaths.
“The efficacy of the vaccines in preventing hospitalizations and death is unbelievable,” said Carlos del Rio, an epidemiologist and distinguished professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. “It’s not 100%. But nothing in this world is 100%.”
— Elizabeth Weise and Karen Weintraub
Growing push to ‘vax it and mask it’
Even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said vaccinated individuals did not need to wear masks indoors two months ago, experts now are calling for people to “vax it and mask it.”
Los Angeles County this weekend mandated masks indoors, though the county sheriff announced he wouldn’t enforce it. Other California counties also recommended masks indoors. Arkansas, Missouri and New York are weighing mask mandates as cases spike in those states.
And the American Academy of Pediatrics issued recommendations Monday for the 2021-22 school year that include everyone older than 2 years of age wearing masks, regardless of vaccination status.
“Instead of vax it OR mask it, the emerging data suggest CDC should be advising to vax it and mask it in areas with (rising) cases and positivity until we see numbers going back down again,” former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said on Twitter.
The weekly rolling average for cases in the United States has nearly tripled in the last month. The pace of deaths also is up sharply — 24.7% from its low point two weeks ago.
Survey: 78% of adults believe vaccines are effective
A new survey from the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania reveals growing public confidence in the safety and effectiveness of COVID vaccines.
Out of the 1,719 U.S. adults surveyed, 78% believe it is definitely or probably true that vaccines are effective — an increase from 74% in April. Meanwhile, 76% of respondents believe it is definitely or probably true that it is safer to get the vaccine than to get COVID-19.
The survey also showed public trust in U.S. health authorities is holding steady, with 76% of respondents expressing confidence in the CDC and 68% in Dr. Anthony Fauci, the face of the country’s virus response.
But there’s good and bad news, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, said in a statement. The survey also found people who rely on conservative media are more likely to have less confidence in Fauci and in the vaccines, as well as more likely to believe misinformation about both.
“Those who trust health authorities are more likely to seek vaccination,” Jamieson said. “Deceptive messages that undermine trust in a health expert such as Dr. Fauci are deeply worrisome.”
New cases linked to the highly infectious delta variant are on the rise and disproportionately affecting unvaccinated populations, creating a precarious situation across several Southern states. In many of these states, health workers continue to battle rampant vaccine hesitancy and misinformation that have resulted in some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.
In the last two weeks, health officials across the region have issued warnings to alert the public about the prevalent spread of the delta variant, which is more contagious.
“It feels very reminiscent of where we were in an early part of the pandemic,” said Mississippi’s state epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers. “It feels like we’re in the same situation now with the delta variant.” Read more here.
— Maria Clark, Melissa Brown and Sarah Haselhorst, The American South
Health officials say misinformation continues to hinder vaccination efforts, and they’re calling on social media companies to do more to address it.
“They’re killing people,” President Joe Biden said when asked by NBC News what his message is to platforms such as Facebook. “The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated. And they’re killing people.”
In a statement, Facebook said the company won’t be “distracted by accusations which aren’t supported by the facts.” Biden clarified Monday his comments were directed at those spreading falsehoods about the vaccine on social media platforms.
Health experts agree more needs to be done to combat misinformation online, and they debunked some of the biggest social media myths about the COVID-19 vaccines. Read more here.
— Adrianna Rodriguez
Dominic Cummings, a former top aide to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson accused Johnson of dismissing the threat of COVID-19 last year.
Since leaving his job in November, Cummings has launched attacks on his former boss through blog posts, tweets and testimony to lawmakers, accusing Johnson of failing to act quickly against the coronavirus and causing thousands of unnecessary deaths.
The latest accusations came in a Tuesday BBC interview during which Cummings said Johnson’s attitude in fall 2020 “was a weird mix of, partly, ‘It’s all nonsense and lockdowns don’t work anyway,’ and partly, ‘Well this is terrible but the people who are dying are essentially all over 80 and we can’t kill the economy just because of people dying over 80.”’
Johnson’s office did not deny Cummings’ allegations but said “since the start of the pandemic, the prime minister has taken the necessary action to protect lives and livelihoods, guided by the best scientific advice.”
Contributing: The Associated Press.