New infections drop more than 50% nationwide; FDA panel OKs Pfizer vaccine for kids, who are increasingly infected: COVID-19 updates

·9 min read

New coronavirus infections are down 56.8% nationwide since the delta variant surge peaked in the first week of September, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows.

Cases are down in every region – the South, Mid-Atlantic, most of New England, the Midwest, the West. Some of the states hit hardest in the delta wave – Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, South Carolina and Tennessee – are reporting cases at a rate about one-sixth of where they were less than two months ago. Arkansas and Louisiana cases have fallen by more than three-quarters since then, too.

But there are some warning signs from states, mostly in colder climes and often with low vaccination rates in some communities. Compared to the week of Sept. 4, the pace of new cases is up about 85% in Alaska, 63% in Michigan and 56% in Montana. They're even up 39% in Vermont, which was an early leader in vaccination.

The U.S. has seen sharp declines in the past, only to see cases rise again. Winter could drive social gatherings indoors, where infections can spread more easily.

Melissa Nolan, an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health, remains cautiously optimistic.

"Our models continue to predict a decline and stabilization of cases through the rest of the calendar year," Nolan said. "That is assuming we do not see another new variant take hold in our population."

Mike Stucka

Also in the news:

►An order barring the president of the Chicago police union from making public statements encouraging members to disobey the city’s vaccine mandate expired after a judge denied a request to extend it.

►The North Dakota Department of Health on Tuesday switched off comments on its social media accounts, saying it was doing so to combat the spread of misinformation. The comment ban “will be applied to all posts, and not be specific to any particular topic,” the agency said.

►Maine health care centers are facing a staffing crunch, but vaccination mandates are not the cause, the chief of the state's largest health network said Tuesday. Maine Health CEO Andrew Mueller blamed an aging workforce and employees leaving the industry because of the stress of working during the pandemic.

►Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams, who ranks second in the NFL in catches and third in receiving yards, tested positive for COVID-19 and will likely miss Thursday's game against the unbeaten Arizona Cardinals. Adams says he's vaccinated.

📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 45 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and nearly 738,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 244 million cases and 4.96 million deaths. More than 190 million Americans – 57% of the population – are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘 What we're reading: Research during the pandemic has shown those with mental health disorders are more vulnerable to COVID-19, but it wasn't until last week that the CDC added them to the list of underlying medical conditions associated with a higher risk of severe disease

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY's Coronavirus Watch newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

FDA panel's OK of Pfizer vaccine for kids 5-11 a major step

After a discussion where it was pointed out more than 40% of American children ages 5-11 had contracted COVID-19 by the end of June, a panel of Food and Drug Administration advisers voted 17-0 Tuesday to authorize the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for kids that age.

The resounding support for the vaccine is a major move toward making those school-age children eligible for inoculation, likely by next week. Still, three other steps remain. The FDA will have to sign off, an independent CDC advisory panel will review the data, and then the CDC director would have to give her clearance.

The FDA committee of vaccine experts and pediatricians said that, while concerns remain about the unknowns, the data was sufficient to support using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in this age group because its benefits outweigh the risks.

The news figures to be welcome by parents eager to get their kids a high level of protection against the coronavirus. Pfizer-BioNTech reported 10 micrograms of their vaccine, a third of the dose administered to adults, is 90.7% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID, a growing concern for children.

One study presented by the CDC found that 42% of children ages 5-11 in the U.S. had been infected with COVID-19 as of the end of June. The highest hospitalization rates for children occurred in September, so many kids remained susceptible after the summer, the CDC's Dr. Fiona Havers told the committee.

-- Karen Weintraub and Elizabeth Weise

Embattled Florida surgeon general defends refusal to wear mask

Florida's new surgeon general, under fire for his refusal to wear a mask for a meeting with a state legislator who has cancer, is trying to defend his actions as he takes more flak.

Dr. Joseph Ladapo was told by Sen. Tina Polsky that she had a serious medical condition -- later revealed to be breast cancer -- and was concerned about COVID-19 transmission. He refused to wear a mask and offered instead to meet Polsky outside, which she declined.

In a Twitter post Tuesday, Ladapo tried to explain his thinking, writing: "Having a conversation with someone while wearing a mask is not something I find productive, especially when other options exist. It is important for me to communicate effectively with people. I can't do that when half of my face is covered."

His stance runs counter to the CDC and other medical experts who have advised using masks to prevent spread of the coronavirus.

Also Tuesday, the Rev. Dr. R.B. Holmes Jr., a Black Republican minister who's leading a statewide effort to get people of color vaccinated, said of Ladapo: "For that top doctor to not wear a mask is disrespectful and dishonorable.''

COVID more dangerous than flu for kids, but RSV may be worse

COVID-19 isn’t the only viral disease children are catching this year. Influenza, which sends thousands of children to a hospital each season, is predicted to ramp up in the coming months. USA TODAY analyzed data and spoke to pediatric specialists around the country to understand the risks of COVID-19 in children relative to other common viral diseases.

Dr. David Buchholz, a professor of pediatrics at Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center, says the flu, which is dormant through the summer, is not a simple comparison to COVID-19, which infects year-round. What's clear, he says, is that the risk of COVID-19 outweighs that of the flu during a typical season. Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is particularly dangerous, killing 100 to 500 children a year, he said.

“If you have an infant or toddler you should be a lot more worried about RSV than COVID,'' Buchholz said. "A lot more children die of RSV than COVID, particularly children under 2.”

Councilwoman says Lyft driver pulled gun on her husband over mask issue

A St. Louis County councilwoman says a Lyft driver pulled a gun on her husband when he asked the driver to wear a mask. Councilwoman Lisa Clancy tweeted at Lyft saying, “one of your drivers just cocked a gun on my husband when he asked him to wear a mask (which is your policy).” Clancy said her husband wanted to report the incident, but the driver canceled the trip and erased records of the transaction.

"Lyft is working with police and also has suspended the driver," she tweeted and Lyft and police confirmed. "We are satisfied with how Lyft is handling this."

Alabama governor says she won't enforce federal vaccine mandate

In response to Auburn University's recently announced vaccine mandate for all employees, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued an executive order of her own Monday, instructing all state agencies to not enforce the federal vaccine mandate issued by President Joe Biden that applies to companies employing 100 or more people.

In a tweet, Ivey said: "The federal government's overreach has given us no other option." Auburn announced Friday that all university employees have to be vaccinated by Dec. 8.

First-year Auburn football coach Bryan Harsin, who contracted COVID in August and missed 10 days of preseason practice, declined to answer reporters' questions Monday on whether he was vaccinated. The university said as of Oct. 21, at least 82% of employees with university-sponsored benefits were fully or partially vaccinated.

– Bennett Durando, Montgomery Advertiser

Unvaccinated Americans will face tougher rules for reentry into US

Unvaccinated Americans reentering the country will face stricter rules beginning Nov. 8, when the U.S. will again open its doors to foreign travelers – as long as they're fully vaccinated against COVID-19. American citizens without proof of vaccination "will have to produce documentation of a negative test within one day of departure" to be allowed back in the U.S., the White House said Monday. The current rule allows the test to be conducted within three days of travel.

Fully vaccinated Americans will still have a three-day window for COVID-19 testing with negative results as long as they can show proof of vaccination.

– Bailey Schulz and Eve Chen

Long-term side effect of coronavirus, includes 'brain fog,' study says

Long-term COVID-19 side effects could include memory loss and other cognitive dysfunctions commonly labeled as "brain fog," according to a study that examined 740 patients in the Mount Sinai Health System. The study was published in the peer-reviewed medical journal JAMA Network Open.

Another study that documented "brain fog" was published by Oxford University and the National Institute for Health Research earlier this month. Cognitive symptoms were seen in about 8% of patients and are more common among the elderly. The study also found common lingering symptoms, such as trouble breathing, abdominal ailments, fatigue, pain, anxiety and depression.

– Michelle Shen

Gov. DeSantis wants $5K bonuses to lure unvaccinated police to Florida

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is pushing for the state Legislature to authorize $5,000 bonuses and other incentives to lure police officers from other states. More specifically, DeSantis is aiming to recruit those from jurisdictions with vaccine requirements who don't want to comply, encouraging them to relocate to the mandate-less Sunshine State. In many parts of the nation, police officers and their unions have steadfastly resisted the requirement. DeSantis has raised his national profile, particularly among the Republican base, by fiercely opposing mask and vaccine mandates throughout the pandemic.

"In the next legislative session, I'm going to hopefully sign legislation that gives a $5,000 bonus to any out-of-state law enforcement that relocates in Florida," DeSantis said Sunday in a Fox interview. "So NYPD, Minneapolis, Seattle, if you're not being treated well, we'll treat you better here.''

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: New infections drop more than 50% as delta wave wanes: COVID updates

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