Severe breakthrough infections mostly on elderly, sick; WHO calls for moratorium on booster shots: COVID-19 updates

The head of the World Health Organization called Wednesday for a moratorium on using coronavirus booster shots until the end of the year — or longer.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that low- and lower-middle 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.

"I will not stay silent when the companies and countries that control the global supply of vaccines think the world’s poor should be satisfied with leftovers," Tedros said.

He acknowledged that third doses may be necessary for the most at-risk populations, where there's evidence of waning immunity – such as immunocompromised people who didn't respond sufficiently to their initial doses or are no longer producing antibodies.

"But for now, we do not want to see widespread use of boosters for healthy people who are fully vaccinated," Tedros said.

Also in the news:

►California legislators have shelved bills aimed at requiring workers to either be vaccinated against the coronavirus or get weekly virus tests to keep their jobs.

►United Airlines says more than half its employees who weren’t vaccinated against COVID-19 last month have gotten their shots since the company announced inoculations would be required by Sept. 27.

►The public health director of Colorado's Jefferson County says officials took three mobile COVID-19 vaccination clinics off the streets after workers were harassed while providing inoculations over Labor Day weekend.

►COVAX, the U.N.-backed program to get vaccines to the neediest nations, has scaled back its target, projecting about 1.4 billion doses will available through the end of the year. The goal had been 2 billion.

►Pima County, the second most populous county in Arizona, will try to prompt its workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine by requiring those who decline to pay up to $1,570 a year more in health insurance. The county previously offered a $300 bonus and three days of paid leave for workers who have been vaccinated.

📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 40.4 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 652,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 222.3 million cases and 4.59 million deaths. More than 177 million Americans — 53.3% of the population — have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘 What we're reading: Officials in India are racing to contain a virus outbreak that has claimed the life of a 12-year-old boy and is deadlier than COVID-19 — the Nipah virus. Here's more on the virus, which might have a similar origin to the coronavirus.

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Severe breakthrough infections happen mostly among the elderly, infirm, study

Severe coronavirus breakthrough infections are not only rare, they mostly happen on older people with other underlying health conditions, a new Yale University study reveals.

Yale researchers looking into nearly 1,000 cases of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 between March 23 and July 1 of this year found 54 were fully vaccinated, and 14 had severe or critical illness (almost half had no symptoms and went to the hospital for an unrelated condition).

The median age among the group of 14 was 80.5, and 12 of them had heart disease. Other comorbidities among them included excess weight, diabetes and lung disease. Three of the patients died.

The analysis was conducted while the delta variant circulated in the U.S. but before it became the dominant strain.

“The majority of fully vaccinated patients experience mild or no symptoms if infected with SARS-CoV-2,” Hyung Chun, a Yale associate professor and senior author of the study, told Yale News. “This research identifies those who suffered more severe disease, and we need a better understanding of how to best manage these patients.”

Florida judge rejects ban on school mask mandates

A Florida judge ruled Wednesday that the state cannot enforce a ban on public schools mandating the use of masks to guard against the coronavirus – at least while an appeals court sorts out whether the ban is ultimately legal. Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper said the overwhelming evidence before him in a lawsuit by parents challenging Gov. Ron DeSantis' ban is that wearing masks does provide some protection for children in crowded school settings, particularly those under 12 for whom no vaccine has been authorized.

“We’re not in normal times. We are in a pandemic,” Cooper said during a hearing held remotely.

13 staffers at Miami-Dade schools have died since mid-August

Thirteen school staffers in Florida's Miami-Dade County have died in the last three weeks, none of them vaccinated, school authorities say. The deaths come as almost all schools across the nation have returned for the 2021-22 school year. Classrooms and hallways are packed with students and staff, often without mask or vaccination mandates.

In Miami-Dade, fatalities include four teachers, one security monitor, one cafeteria worker and seven school bus drivers, United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernandez-Mats told CNN on Tuesday. It was not clear how the staffers became infected. New teachers began reporting to county schools Aug. 11; classes began Aug. 23.

All of the staffers who died were Black, and Hernandez-Mats said only 30% of African Americans in the county are vaccinated.

"The loss of any of our employees is one that is always profoundly felt as every member of this organization is considered a part of Miami-Dade County Public Schools family," the district said in a statement.

Proud Boys rallying again after quiet months since Jan. 6

After staying under the radar for months since the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, members of the far-right street gang the Proud Boys have been showing up at protests against mask mandates and coronavirus vaccine requirements.

In recent weeks, Proud Boys have been spotted at rallies against masks and vaccines in at least five states. From Los Angeles to Columbus, Ohio, members have scrapped with counterprotesters after gathering for events branded as pro-freedom, pro-patriot or anti-COVID restrictions.

"They've been piggybacking on other people's events," said Jared Holt, a fellow at the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab. "They go where they believe the culture war is being fought, because they see themselves as potentially violent enforcers in a broader culture war." Read more here.

– Will Carless, USA TODAY

Texas district reopens after 2 teacher deaths – but with mask mandate

A Texas school district that shut its doors after two teachers died has reopened this week with a mask mandate. The Connally Independent School District in and around Waco said it will provide masks to students who do not have one when they arrive at school.

The first day of school was Aug. 13. David McCormick, a seventh-grade social studies teacher, died 11 days later. Natalia Chansler, a sixth-grade social studies teacher at the same school, died Aug. 28, according to the school district. Campuses were closed Aug. 31 for "deep cleaning," the district said.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has banned mask mandates despite a surge in new cases. Efforts to enforce the ban with other districts requiring masks have been hung up in litigation.

Hundreds of websites spread debunked COVID claims

More than 500 websites have promoted misinformation about the coronavirus, including debunked claims about vaccines, according to a firm that rates the credibility of sites.

NewsGuard announced Wednesday that, of the more than 6,700 websites it has analyzed, 519 have published false information about COVID-19. Some of the sites publish dubious health information or political conspiracy theories, while others were "created specifically to spread misinformation about COVID-19," the company says on its website.

"It's become virtually impossible for people to tell the difference between a generally reliable site and an untrustworthy site," Gordon Crovitz, co-founder of NewsGuard, told USA TODAY. "And that is why there is such a big business in publishing this information."

Daniel Funke, USA TODAY

Idaho to ration health care; hospitals overwhelmed amid surge

Idaho is allowing health care facilities to ration care due to the surge of COVID-19 cases that has more people needing treatment than institutions can handle.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare quietly enacted the move Monday and publicly announced it in a statement Tuesday — warning residents that they may not get the care they would normally expect if they're hospitalized.

The move came as the state’s confirmed coronavirus cases rose sharply in recent weeks. Idaho has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the U.S. with 744,460 of its 1.78 million residents — or about 42% of its total population — fully vaccinated.

Hospitals will be allowed to allot scarce resources, such as intensive care unit rooms, to patients most likely to survive, and make other dramatic changes to the way they treat patients. While others will still receive care, patients may be placed in hospital classrooms or conference rooms rather than traditional hospital rooms, or go without some medical equipment.

CDC says two prime tourist spots are at 'high risk' of COVID-19 transmission

The traditional summer travel season ended with Labor Day weekend, and maybe that's just as well considering the shrinking number of safe places to visit. The CDC on Tuesday added Jamaica and Sri Lanka to the list of places it recommends people don't travel to due to a high rate of transmission of COVID-19. The CDC says even those who are vaccinated "may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants."

The CDC had already placed Puerto Rico and the Bahamas on that same list the previous two weeks. France, Switzerland, Israel, Aruba, Thailand, Greece and Ireland also became non-advisable destinations in August, according to the CDC.

Spain, Costa Rica, the United Kingdom and Portugal have also landed Level 4 designations by the CDC, meaning a virus transmission rate of more than 500 per 100,000 people in the previous four weeks.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Severe breakthrough infections mostly on elderly, sick: COVID updates