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Whether it's because of incentives such as cash and college scholarships, or out of fear of the delta variant, vaccinations are starting to pick up in some states where COVID-19 cases are soaring, White House officials said Thursday.
At the same time, some hospitals are getting strained and nearing full capacity as the pace of new cases rises again, more than tripling in the last month. Deaths appear to be trending upward as well, though not as fast.
White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients said several states with the highest proportions of new infections have seen residents get vaccinated at higher rates than the nation as a whole. Officials cited Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri and Nevada as examples.
“The fourth surge is real, and the numbers are quite frightening at the moment,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said on a New Orleans radio show. COVID hospitalizations in the state are up from 242 on June 19 to 913 in the latest report.
In Missouri, which is second only to Arkansas and Louisiana in the number of new cases per capita over the past 14 days, officials have rolled out a vaccine incentive program that includes $10,000 prizes for 900 lottery winners. The state lags about 10 percentage points behind the national average for people who have received at least one shot.
About 60% of the adult population and nearly 50% of the entire U.S. population are fully vaccinated, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The highly infectious delta variant is fueling the latest spike, and public health officials and government leaders are pleading for the vaccine-hesitant to get the shots.
“We are yet at another pivotal moment in this pandemic,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said. “We need to come together as one nation.”
Also in the news:
►Atlanta Public Schools, whose students return to classrooms Aug. 5, will require masks for all students and teachers in school and on buses.
►The European Union said Thursday it will donate more than 200 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to middle- and low-income countries before the end of the year.
►An infected Indonesian man boarded a domestic flight disguised as his wife, wearing a veil and carrying fake IDs and a negative PCR test result, authorities said. A flight attendant discovered the ruse when the man changed clothes in the lavatory.
►Tokyo hit another six-month high in new COVID-19 cases Thursday, one day before the Olympics begin. Four more residents of the Olympic Village have tested positive, including skateboarder Candy Jacobs of the Netherlands and table tennis player Pavel Sirucek of the Czech Republic.
►Children under 12 years old could start getting vaccinated for the coronavirus within a few weeks, President Joe Biden says. But it likely will be longer.
📈Today's numbers: The U.S. has had more than 34.2 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 609,900 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 192.2 million cases and 4.1 million deaths. More than 162 million Americans — 48.8% of the population — have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
📘What we're reading: A Houston hospital has its first case of the lambda variant of the coronavirus, but public health experts say it remains too soon to tell whether the variant will rise to the same level of concern as delta. What to know.
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NFL threatens forfeits, loss of paychecks for games canceled due to unvaccinated players
The NFL is putting financial and competitive pressure on players to get vaccinated.
The league told clubs Thursday in a memo that they would risk forfeiting games that have to be postponed because of COVID outbreaks among unvaccinated players. The NFL also said players from both teams would not get paid for those games that are postponed and can't be rescheduled during the season.
As opposed to last year, when the league had contingency plans for an extra week of play for postponed games but did not need it, the NFL's memo says, "We do not anticipate adding a ‘19th week’ to accommodate games that cannot be rescheduled within the current 18 weeks of the regular season.”
-- Mike Jones
Outbreak at New York state sleepaway camp: 31 children under 12 test positive
The effectiveness of COVID vaccines and the vulnerability of those who have not been inoculated -- especially now with the delta variant raging -- is illustrated by an outbreak at a boys and girls camp in Columbia County, New York.
Jack Mabb, director of the county's public health department, told the New York Times that 31 of the 550 campers have tested positive for the coronavirus as of Thursday morning. They're all under 12, and therefore not eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
About half of the participants at the sleepaway camp are ages 12-17, and none have tested positive. Mabb said all but a handful have been vaccinated. Though none of the campers infected with the virus have gotten seriously sick, Mabb said he's worried about what this outbreak portends for the upcoming school year.
“I think that when the kids go back to school, we could see this, and I’m concerned about that,” he told the newspaper.
Is it a cold or COVID? Testing is the only way to know
Last year's flu season was nearly nonexistent, thanks in large part to the masking and social distancing required by the coronavirus pandemic. Now that restrictions have been lifted across the country, health experts are seeing a surprising rise in cold cases that are more typical of the fall and winter months.
Colds and COVID-19 have several symptoms in common — fever, runny nose, sore throat, a cough and general fatigue — which may lead some people to conclude they've contracted the coronavirus.
The only real way to know is to get tested, but regardless of the diagnosis, the strategy for both is the same.
“Stay home and take care of yourself and reduce the exposure,” said Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist and internist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
-- Adrianna Rodriguez
China rejects plan to study origin of virus
China on Thursday rejected the World Health Organization's plan for the second phase of a study into the origins of COVID-19, dismissing a theory that the virus might have leaked from a Chinese lab as a scientifically unsupported rumor. A previous joint investigation including WHO and China found it "extremely unlikely" the virus escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology lab. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last week unveiled a plan to revisit labs and markets in Wuhan, the city where the first cases were identified. Tedros also called for greater transparency from Beijing.
“It is impossible for us to accept such an origin-tracing plan,” Zeng Yixin, vice minister of the National Health Commission, said at a news conference.
The U.S. and some allies claim China has not been forthcoming about details of the early days of the pandemic. Former Vice President Mike Pence, who led President Donald Trump's virus response team, last week claimed evidence strongly suggests the coronavirus "leapt out of the Chinese lab."
China accuses critics of politicizing an issue that should be left to scientists.
New infections have more than tripled in a month
Coronavirus cases hit a low point in the United States on June 22. In the month since, new weekly cases have more than tripled, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows. The U.S. had been reporting about eight cases every minute. Now it's about 28. The nation has already reported about 164,000 more cases in July than in all of June. Cases have been rising in almost every state. Some of the changes echo the dark days from earlier in the pandemic. From June 22, the pace of new cases is up 762% in Alabama, 666% in South Carolina and 603% in Louisiana.
Recurring themes behind the increases: vaccine hesitancy and the delta variant.
Some hospitals have been besieged. The number of likely COVID-19 patients tripled in Nevada on July 17 from a month earlier, a USA TODAY analysis of U.S. government data shows. COVID patient counts almost doubled in Arkansas and Mississippi. Alaska went from 13 hospitalized COVID patients to 64.
The pace of deaths has traditionally fallen a few weeks behind case reports. COVID-19 was killing about 217 Americans a day at the low point a couple of weeks ago. Now it's killing about 245.
– Mike Stucka
Hospital association: Require healthcare workers to get vaccinated
The nation's largest hospital association is calling for all healthcare workers to get vaccinated as cases rise around the country. “To protect all patients, communities and personnel from the known and substantial risks of COVID-19, the American Hospital Association strongly urges the vaccination of all healthcare personnel,” the organization said in a policy statement. “The AHA also supports hospitals and health systems that adopt mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies for healthcare personnel, with local factors and circumstances shaping whether and how these policies are implemented.”
The AHA — which represents nearly 5,000 hospitals — is the largest healthcare group to endorse mandatory vaccine requirements for health workers. Health officials said the best protection remains vaccination, noting the shots reduce the risks of serious illness, hospitalization and death.
“The vaccines are very robust,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told USA TODAY. “What we’re seeing now in the United States, as the CDC director said, is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. That’s where the risk is.”
On Thursday, the head of the Henry Ford Health System in Michigan defended the organization's decision to require its employees to get vaccinated, saying it is "the right thing to do for the health and safety of our patients, our workforce and the communities we serve.''
US beach volleyball player tests positive, likely out of Olympics
American beach volleyball player Taylor Crabb tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving in Japan and is unlikely to compete at the Tokyo Olympics, according to reports Wednesday. The Orange County Register and an NBC affiliate in Los Angeles each reported that Crabb, 29, recorded a positive test over the weekend, which would likely preclude him from competing in his first scheduled match with partner Jake Gibb on Sunday.
Crabb would be the first U.S. athlete to be ruled out of competing at the Olympics after testing positive for COVID-19 in Japan.
USA Volleyball confirmed in a statement that one of its members tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival but declined to provide any other additional details, including the identity of the person.
"In alignment with local rules and protocols, the athlete has been transferred to a hotel,'' the organization said. "Out of respect for the individual’s privacy, we cannot provide more information at this time."
- Tom Schad, USA TODAY
Contributing: Associated Press.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL pushes players to get vaccinated; White House sees vaccine uptick