President Joe Biden on Thursday signed an executive order requiring most federal workers and contractors to be vaccinated, a tightening of the previous policy announced in July that encouraged – but didn’t mandate – vaccinations for many federal workers.
The executive order affects employees working for the executive branch, about 90% of the federal workforce. The change will be one of the new steps to take control of the pandemic that Biden is set to announce Thursday afternoon, a source familiar with the plans told USA TODAY.
Some federal health workers, including those who work for the Veterans Department, must already get vaccinated. Members of the U.S. military are also required to have a dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
But other civilian federal employees and contractors have only had to reveal their vaccination status and, if not inoculated, get tested regularly, socially distance, wear masks and be subject to restrictions on most work travel.
– Maureen Groppe
Also in the news:
►The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell last week to 310,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The total is a pandemic low and a sign that the surge in coronavirus cases has yet to prompt widespread layoffs.
►Severe coronavirus breakthrough infections are rare, and mostly happen in older people with other underlying health conditions, a new Yale University study revealed.
► Popular podcaster and UFC commentator Joe Rogan is criticizing media coverage, specifically from CNN, on how he was treating his COVID-19 diagnosis.
► At least 10 people died in North Macedonia in a fire that started at a makeshift hospital for COVID patients on Wednesday, public health officials said. The cause of the fire was not immediately known.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 40.4 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 652,600 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 222.6 million cases and 4.5 million deaths. More than 177.1 million Americans – 53.3% of the population – have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: After lying low for months since the Capitol insurrection Jan. 6, members of the far-right street gang the Proud Boys have been showing up at protests against mask mandates and coronavirus vaccine requirements. How the Proud Boys are offering muscle at anti-mask rallies.
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The rise in COVID-19 cases from the delta variant is hurting airline bookings and hampering the travel industry’s recovery, multiple airlines reported Thursday. American Airlines said a slowdown that started in August has continued into September, and the airline lowered its outlook for third-quarter revenue. United Airlines said its flying and revenue are both weaker than previously expected, and it is cutting its schedule for later this year to match the lower demand. United forecast a pretax loss in the third quarter that could extend into the fourth quarter if the virus outbreak continues.
Delta Air Lines said it still expects to post an adjusted pretax profit for the third quarter, but revenue will be toward the lower end of its previous forecast.
The U.S. coronavirus infection rate being driven by the delta variant is more than 10 times the rate needed to end the pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci says. Fauci, in an interview with Axios, said the nation is struggling with about 160,000 new cases a day – “not even modestly good control” – and won’t get appreciably better until more Americans are vaccinated, he said.
“The endgame is to suppress the virus,” Fauci said. “In a country of our size, you can’t be hanging around and having 100,000 infections a day. You’ve got to get well below 10,000 before you start feeling comfortable.”
More vaccinations won’t completely end infections, but ” you’re not going to have it as a public health threat,” he said. He said current variants, while troublesome, remain controllable with current vaccines. And, the longer it takes to end the pandemic, the more likely a “monster variant” will emerge that eludes vaccines, he said.
Pfizer’s vaccine contains only a fraction of a key active ingredient found in Moderna’s jab and also produces a lower antibody response, according to a study.
The study of 1,600 Belgian health workers published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine produced twice as many antibodies as Pfizer’s at six to 10 weeks after vaccination.
Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine has 30 micrograms of mRNA, while Moderna’s has 100 micrograms. Philip Dormitzer, Pfizer’s chief scientific officer, told the Financial Times this week that Pfizer and its codeveloper BioNTech used the minimum dose level to get an immune response. A higher dose risked more side effects, he said.
“If you look at what’s going on with all the COVID-19 vaccines out there, the derailer has often been adverse events that have cropped up,” Dormitzer said. The vaccines, however, produce similar side effects, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A new study by Minnesota researchers indicates that COVID vaccinations do not increase the chances of a miscarriage. The study, published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reviewed data from more than 100,000 pregnancies. The data was drawn from eight major health systems – Kaiser Permanente: Washington, Northwest, Northern California, Southern California and Colorado; Denver Health; HealthPartners; and Marshfield Clinic, Wisconsin – from December 2020 through June 2021.
The results were similar for all the vaccines approved or authorized by the Food and Drug Administration.
Some states are nearing a point of having to ration care in hospitals as COVID hospitalizations surge. At Kootenai Health hospital in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, a conference center has been transformed into a field hospital with patients being treated with ventilators in classrooms. At the nearby hospital, COVID patients in emergency rooms are overflowing into hallways. On Tuesday, there were only nine intensive care beds available in the entire state, officials said. The state has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country: Only 40% fully vaccinated.
Kentucky, too, is rapidly approaching a crisis standard of care, its governor said Wednesday. More than two-thirds of hospitals are experiencing a critical staffing shortage, he said. Gov. Andy Beshear told CNN the state is “right at” or “quickly approaching that point” at which hospitals will have to begin rationing care.
“So we are at a very precarious situation,” he said.
The Biden administration says the U.S. has the capability to offer booster shots to its residents and share the vaccine to other nations, after the head of the World Health Organization called for a moratorium boosters until the end of the year.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that low-income countries cannot be “the second or third priority” for COVID-19 vaccines, saying their health workers, older people and other at-risk groups have the same right to be protected as those in wealthier countries.
But White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday said this was a “false choice.” Psaki said the U.S. has shared 140 million doses with over 90 countries to date. Boosters are expected to become available in the U.S. beginning Sept. 20 to those who have received two doses of an mRNA vaccine at least eight months prior.
“The president and this administration has a responsibility to do everything we can to protect people in the United States, in this country,” she said. .. Our view is we can do both.”
A Florida judge Wednesday blocked Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on mandatory masks at schools from remaining in effect while he appeals an earlier ruling that struck down his order.
Circuit Judge John Cooper approved a request by lawyers for parents suing DeSantis over masks, endorsing their position that keeping the ban in place would create a potential health risk in schools.
Throwing out the automatic stay of his earlier order is unusual, Cooper conceded. But he added, “We’re not in normal times. We’re in a pandemic.”
DeSantis had ordered that counties allow parents to have their children simply opt out of mask requirements. But Cooper ruled that school boards are empowered to mandate that all students wear face coverings, unless they obtain a medical exception.
-John Kennedy, Capital Bureau, USA TODAY Network-Florida
Contributing: The Associated Press