(NEW YORK) — The United States is facing a COVID-19 surge this summer as the more contagious delta variant spreads.
More than 623,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 while over 4.3 million people have died from the disease worldwide, according to real-time data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
Just 59.4% of Americans ages 12 and up are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Here’s how the news is developing Wednesday. All times Eastern:
Aug 18, 5:11 pm
Biden will issue memo to block Republican anti-mask efforts in schools
President Joe Biden plans to issue a memo to Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona Wednesday to counter the Republican governors who have blocked mask mandates in their states.
“Some state governments have adopted policies and laws that interfere with the ability of schools and districts to keep our children safe during in-person learning, with some going as far as to try to block school officials from adopting safety protocols aligned with recommendations from the CDC,” according to a fact sheet released by the White House Wednesday.
Biden’s memo will ensure the department of education “is doing everything it can to prevent anything from standing in the way of local leaders and school leaders taking steps to keep all students safe in full-time, in-person learning, without compromising students’ health or the health of their families or communities,” the fact sheet continues.
-ABC News’ Justin Gomez
Aug 18, 5:16 pm
Biden to announce nursing homes must require employee vaccination to get federal funding
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services plans to require nursing homes participating in Medicare or Medicaid to have all workers be vaccinated for COVID-19, a Biden administration official confirmed to ABC News Wednesday.
The new rule, which will impact more than 15,000 nursing homes and 1.3 million workers, will go into effect in late September. Nursing homes that don’t comply could lose federal funding.
-ABC News’ Cheyenne Haslett
Aug 18, 2:33 pm
NYC restaurant owners sue city over indoor vaccine mandate
A group small businesses in New York City is suing the city on the grounds that its new indoor vaccine mandate will severely impact their “business, life savings, and livelihood,” according to a lawsuit filed in Richmond County Supreme Court Tuesday.
The plaintiffs also took issue with the fact the the mandate does not permit medical or religious exemptions to COVID-19 vaccination.
New York City’s first-in-the-nation mandate, which went into effect Tuesday, applies to everyone 12 and older and includes nearly every public indoor activity, from gyms to bowling alleys to movie theaters to concert venues and more, according to the city.
The plaintiffs include Deluca’s Italian Restaurant in Staten Island, Pasticceria Rocco in Brooklyn and Staten Island Judo Jujitsu.
Aug 18, 12:36 pm
All but 2 states reporting high community transmission
All but two states — New Hampshire and Vermont — are reporting high community transmission, according to federal data.
U.S. hospitalizations are now at the highest point in over six months, with more than 91,000 COVID-19 patients currently in hospitals, according to federal data. More than 11,200 patients are being admitted to the hospital each day, the most since January.
Pediatric COVID-19 related admissions per capita have climbed to the highest point of the pandemic and are now nearly six times higher than on July 4.
-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos
Aug 18, 11:53 am
Delta likely contributed to vaccine’s waning protection: Murthy
U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy announced at Wednesday’s White House briefing, “Having reviewed the most current data, it is now our clinical judgment that the time to lay out a plan for COVID-19 boosters is now.”
Murthy said protection against mild disease has decreased, likely a combination of waning vaccine protection over time and the strength of the delta variant, and that the administration is “concerned” that protection could continue to erode.
“Even though this new data affirms that vaccine protection remains high against the worst outcomes of COVID, we are concerned that this pattern of decline we’re seeing will continue in the months ahead, which could lead to reduced protection against severe disease, hospitalization and death,” Murthy said.
“That is why, today, we are announcing our plan to stay ahead of this virus by being prepared to offer COVID-19 booster shots to fully vaccinated adults 18 years and older,” Murthy said. “They would be eligible for their booster shot eight months after receiving their second dose of the Pfizer or Modern mRNA vaccines.”
The boosters are set to begin Sept. 20, but Murthy emphasized that this is pending FDA authorization and also reiterated that does not yet apply to J&J recipients.
-ABC News’ Cheyenne Haslet
Aug 18, 11:27 am
How New York City botched COVID-19 response: Report
New York City botched its COVID-19 response, according to an investigation conducted by Scott Stringer, the city’s comptroller, who released findings from his inquiry Wednesday.
According to Stringer, key emergency response agencies, including the health department and the NYPD, were intentionally excluded from communications and decision-making “when time was of the essence.”
The comptroller also described persistent confusion about the chain of command between agencies and a significantly delayed response to the pandemic.
Officials waited until late February to even begin planning for a worst-case scenario, despite knowing about the impending crisis in January. Stringer called on the mayor, as well as the future mayor, to conduct a thorough review of the city’s emergency planning process.
“We cannot erase the mistakes of the past,” he said. “But we can make sure we are prepared for future emergencies.”
-ABC News’ Aaron Katersky
Aug 18, 11:14 am
mRNA vaccine efficacy dropped ‘significantly’ among nursing home residents: CDC
A new CDC analysis found that Pfizer and Moderna vaccine efficacy dropped “significantly” among nursing home residents from March to July, as the delta variant became the predominant strain in the United States.
Researchers analyzed weekly reports from thousands of nursing home facilities in the U.S. and found that mRNA vaccines were roughly 75% effective against preventing any infection in late winter/early spring of 2021, early in the mass vaccination rollout and prior to the emergence of the delta variant. By summer of this year, effectiveness against any infection had dropped to 53%.
Crucially, this doesn’t mean vaccines aren’t working for nursing home residents, but the significant drop in effectiveness from March to July may support the use of booster doses for them, according to the CDC report.
A second analysis found that the mRNA vaccines are holding up well against hospitalizations for COVID-19. The research, which was conducted across 21 U.S. hospitals, found that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines remained between 84% and 86% effective against potential hospitalizations from March to July of this year. A third analysis, conducted in New York State, found that all three authorized vaccines remained more than 90% effective at preventing hospitalization from early May to late June.
-ABC News’ Sony Salzman, Eric Strauss
Aug 18, 11:06 am
Leading public health officials lay out plan for boosters
The U.S. is prepared to offer booster shots for all Americans beginning the week of Sept. 20, top health officials announced Wednesday. Starting eight months after a person’s second dose, they are eligible for a booster.
“At that time, the individuals who were fully vaccinated earliest in the vaccination rollout, including many health care providers, nursing home residents, and other seniors, will likely be eligible,” Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC; Janet Woodcock, acting FDA commissioner; Dr. Vivek Murthy, surgeon general; Francis Collins, director of the NIH; and Anthony Fauci, director of the NIAID, said in a joint statement.
The data behind the decision is expected to be released at 11 a.m. EST during the White House COVID briefing, but public health officials said it’s clear that vaccines are waning over time and “we are starting to see evidence of reduced protection against mild and moderate disease.”
With regard to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, officials stressed that more data will be released in the next few weeks. “We will keep the public informed with a timely plan for J&J booster shots,” they said.
-ABC News’ Cheyenne Haslett
Aug 18, 10:09 am
El Paso mask mandate goes into effect after judge blocks Abbott
A mask mandate in El Paso, Texas, which, took effect at 12:01 Wednesday, requires people 2 and older to cover their faces in indoor public spaces. Failure to comply with the new rule is a misdemeanor carrying a fine of $500.
The mandate comes after a judge blocked Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order late Tuesday night, which had forbid masks mandates in the state of Texas. The news comes also within hours of Abbott, who is fully vaccinated, testing positive for COVID-19.
Aug 18, 8:33 am
CDC advisory committee to discuss extra vaccine doses, booster shots
An advisory committee to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will meet next week to discuss additional doses of COVID-19 vaccines, including booster shots.
The meeting is scheduled for Aug. 24.
Aug 18, 5:21 am
New Zealand confirms 1st case of delta variant in growing cluster
New Zealand’s first instance of COVID-19 transmission in six months has been identified as the highly contagious delta variant.
“We are dealing with a delta variant,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced during a press conference in Wellington on Wednesday. “Our case has originated in Australia.”
The case, which was detected in the community on Tuesday, prompted New Zealand to immediately impose a nationwide lockdown. More community cases have emerged since then, with the cluster growing to 10 by Wednesday afternoon, according to data from New Zealand’s Ministry of Health.
Ardern said genomic sequencing has linked the initial case to an outbreak of the delta variant in neighboring Australia’s New South Wales state.
“Now, the job we have is to work through how and when it got here,” she said.
It’s the first time that the island nation of 5 million people has confirmed the presence of the delta variant, which was initially identified in India last October. At least 148 countries around the globe have reported cases of the delta variant, according to the World Health Organization.
It’s also the first time in more than a year that New Zealand has had a snap level four lockdown, the highest level of restrictions.
In total, the country has reported 2,936 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, including 26 deaths, according to health ministry data.
Aug 18, 3:55 am
Chicago reinstates indoor mask mandate amid rising cases
Everyone in Chicago who is 2 years of age and older must wear a face mask indoors starting Friday, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Chicago health officials announced the reinstatement of the indoor mask mandate on Tuesday, after the Windy City saw its daily average of newly diagnosed COVID-19 cases surpass 400 — a metric that moves the city from “substantial risk” to “higher risk.”
“With the highly transmissible delta variant causing case rates to increase, now is the time to re-institute this measure to prevent further spread and save lives,” Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said in a statement. “We continue to track the data closely and are hopeful this will only be temporary and we can bend the COVID curve, as we’ve done in the past.”
During a press conference Tuesday, Arwady noted that other COVID-19 metrics, such as the city’s test positivity average and hospitalizations, remain at “lower risk.”
“A high case count does not automatically translate to a high hospitalization count and a high death count,” she told reporters, “and we’re hopeful that having the mask in place for everybody will get us through delta while we keep working on getting folks vaccinated.”
Masks will be required citywide in all indoor public settings, including bars, restaurants, gyms, hair salons, private clubs and common areas in residential buildings. As with previous mask mandates, the face coverings can be temporarily taken off for certain activities that require their removal, such as eating and drinking or for facials and beard shaves.
Masks can also be removed by employees in settings that are not open to the public, such as office cubicles, so long as the individuals are static and maintaining at least 6 feet from others. The face coverings remain mandatory on public transportation as well as in educational, health care, correctional and congregate settings.
The new mandate does not include capacity limits at public places, and masks will remain optional in outdoor settings.
“We are not anticipating, at this point, adding additional business restrictions. However, we’re watching what happens with these metrics,” Arwady told reporters. “Our goal is to remain open but careful.”
Aug 17, 11:40 pm
‘What we’re dealing with now is completely different,’ says pulmonologist who lost 3 patients in week
An Alabama doctor is seeing young, healthy patients die from COVID-19 amid the surge of the delta variant.
Dr. Jenna Carpenter, a pulmonary care physician at Marshall Medical South in Guntersville, Alabama, has lost three patients under the age of 40 in the past week from complications related to COVID-19, she told ABC Huntsville, Alabama, affiliate WAAY.
“The young man I lost this week was perfectly healthy,” she said. “He wasn’t overweight. He did not have any known medical issues and that was a tragedy.”
The worst phone call the physicians have to make is to inform family members that their loved one has taken a turn for the worst, Carpenter added.
“In our heart we know this is going to be the last time these folks talk to their families,” she said.
The state currently has more ICU patients than beds, and frontline workers are also getting sick from the highly contagious variant, WAAY reported.
“Last week we were down to 35 or 40 ICU beds. Now we are down at the single digits,” Dr. Don Williamson, a former state health officer who is now the president and CEO of the Alabama Hospital Association, told the station. “It doesn’t matter if it is six or two, we could even be negative ICU beds.”
Aug 17, 9:26 pm
Mass vaccine site for booster shots opens in Detroit
Detroit has opened a mass vaccine site for boosters at its convention center.
The TCF Center has played an integral role for Detroit residents during the pandemic, first acting as a mass testing site, a field hospital and eventually a mass vaccination site.
It is currently the only location in the city to get a third booster shot.
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