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Hospitals filling with unvaccinated patients in COVID hot spots; California mandates vaccines for healthcare workers: COVID-19 updates

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Florida, Georgia and Louisiana account for almost 40% of all hospitalizations in the country, straining their health care systems as the delta variant runs rampant through the unvaccinated.

In Florida, where nearly 2,500 of the 12,000-plus patients hospitalized with COVID-19 are in intensive care units, elective surgeries are getting suspended and beds are being placed in conference rooms, an auditorium and a cafeteria.

In Georgia, at least 25 medical centers have had to turn people away for lack of space as the number of hospitalizations for COVID-19 has risen to 2,600 statewide. There were about 2,350 COVID-19 patients in Louisiana hospitals as of Thursday, and one of them had to postpone an organ transplant.

Louisiana and Georgia have some of the lowest vaccination rates in the nation, with around 38% of their residents fully inoculated. Florida is closer to the national rate at 49%.

“We are seeing a surge like we’ve not seen before in terms of the patients coming,” said Dr. Marc Napp, chief medical officer for Memorial Healthcare System in Hollywood, Florida. “It’s the sheer number coming in at the same time. There are only so many beds, so many doctors, only so many nurses.”

The number of people hospitalized with the virus in the U.S. has more than tripled over the past month, from an average of roughly 12,000 to almost 43,000, according to the CDC. That is still about one-third of the nearly 124,000 in hospitals at the peak of the winter surge in January, but health experts say this wave has risen more swiftly and includes a larger share of young adults.

The vast majority of the affected have not been inoculated against the virus, frustrating exhausted health care workers and prompting President Joe Biden to call the current surge "a pandemic of the unvaccinated.''

Also in the news:

►CNN said it has fired three employees who went into the office unvaccinated, violating the company's safety rules.

►The U.S. rate of vaccinations has been rising in recent weeks, and White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said Thursday that 864,000 doses were administered in the last 24 hours, the highest total since July 3.

►Virginia's 122,000 state employees will be required to show proof of COVID vaccination by Sept. 1 or test negative every week, Gov. Ralph Northam said Thursday. Northam also wants businesses and local governments in the state to impose the same requirement.

►The Food and Drug Administration plans to have a plan in place for COVID-19 vaccine booster shots by early September, the Wall Street Journal reported.

►As Florida reached a new peak hospitalizations this week, Gov. Ron DeSantis openly defied President Joe Biden on Wednesday, saying he would “stand in the way” of any federal COVID-19 restrictions that he believed would hurt businesses or take away Floridians’ rights to choose.

►Texas state health officials say new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the state are showing steeper jumps than past surges in the pandemic. In a video conference Wednesday, a spokesman for the Department of State Health Services said the rolling seven-day average of new virus cases has increased 92% from last week, while hospitalizations rose 49% and deaths from COVID-19 grew by 15%.

📈Today's numbers: The U.S. has had more than 35.3 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 615,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 200.6 million cases and 4.26 million deaths. More than 165.6 million Americans — 49.9% of the population — have been fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

📘What we're reading: Chicago's Lollapalooza is a "recipe for disaster," experts warn. Should more music festivals be canceled amid COVID-19?

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.

California mandates vaccines for all workers in healthcare settings

California's public health department issued an order Thursday mandating COVID-19 vaccines for all workers in healthcare settings as the state sees the number of cases surge due to the delta variant.

The order says all healthcare workers, including those working at hospitals and nursing home facilities, must be fully vaccinated by Sept. 30. The order applies to anyone who works at those facilities regardless of whether they have contact with patients, an estimated 2.2 million workers.

"Recent outbreaks in health care settings have frequently been traced to unvaccinated staff members," Tomás J. Aragón, director of the state's health department, said in a release.

The order allows for medical and religious exemptions, but those who get them will have to wear masks and get tested at least once a week.

Late last month, California became the first state in the country to unveil a vaccine verification program for all state and healthcare employees, requiring evidence of vaccination from employees by Aug. 2 or mandatory testing. More states and businesses have followed.

California's public health department said these guidelines were altered for healthcare workers because of the delta variant, which has caused the "fastest increase in COVID-19 cases during the entire pandemic with 18.3 new cases per 100,000 people per day."

-- Christal Hayes

Flu shot may help mitigate harsh COVID outcomes, study finds

Getting a flu shot may help prevent some of the adverse effects of contracting the coronavirus, according to a new study published in the journal Plos One.

Researchers analyzed the records of more than 74,000 patients, split between those who had been vaccinated against the flu up to six months before testing positive for COVID and those had not.

They found patients who did not get the flu shot were at 58% higher risk of going to an emergency room with COVID and 20% more likely to wind up in an ICU.

"Significant findings favoring influenza vaccination mitigating the risks of sepsis, stroke, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), emergency department (ED) & Intensive Care Unit (ICU) admissions suggest a potential protective effect that could benefit populations without readily available access to SARS-CoV-2 vaccination,'' the scientists wrote.

Infections among children nearly double in a week

As the school year approaches in most of the country, there's increasing evidence — both numerical and anecdotal — of children's vulnerability to the coronavirus and its highly transmissible delta variant.

The American Academy of Pediatrics said that as of July 29, almost 4.2 million children had tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began, nearly 72,000 of them in the last week. That's almost twice as many as the 39,000 infections from the previous week. For perspective, about 79,000 Americans of all ages tested positive during a week in late June.

Two children with COVID-19 died over the weekend at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

"It's important for everyone to know that we're seeing sicker kids, we're seeing more kids be admitted that are sick with actual COVID illness, and that those kids, some of them are in our intensive care unit and some of them are intubated," said Le Bonheur's Dr. Nick Hysmith, a pediatric infectious disease specialist.

More than 700 quarantining in Arkansas school district

The Marion School District in Arkansas is asking the state legislature to allow schools to mandate masks after more than 700 students and staff had to quarantine just two weeks after classes started.

"I can't teach our kids if they are quarantined," Marion School District Superintendent Glen Fenter said to the Arkansas House of Representatives Tuesday afternoon. "We simply need the ability to protect our students as best we can.''

Fenter said 34 students and nine staff members in the school district tested positive for COVID-19 as of Tuesday, leading to 730 students and 10 workers quarantining.

"If all students and teachers had been wearing a mask appropriately, then today's 15 positive cases would be isolated, but there would be no resulting quarantines for anyone else," Fenter said.

– Dima Amro, Memphis Commercial Appeal

'Delta plus' variant is 'not a problem,' experts say

"Delta plus" is a sublineage of the highly contagious delta variant, which is storming across the country and causing COVID-19 case numbers to climb.

Dr. Daniel Rhoads, section head of microbiology at the Cleveland Clinic, said the coronavirus added a few mutations to the original delta variant to create the "delta plus" strain, classified by scientists as AY.1. It initially rang alarm bells because it contained the K417N mutation, which affects the virus' spike protein.

Another sublineage of the delta variant, AY.2, also contains this mutation. Theoretically, a mutation to the spike protein can impact how the vaccines work.

While little is known about the sublineage and its mutations, health experts say it’s not spreading efficiently in the U.S. and Americans shouldn’t add it to their pandemic worry list.

“If something has a bunch of mutations but it doesn’t start taking off, then it is by definition not a problem,” said William Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Read more here.

Moderna says its COVID vaccine is still effective after 6 months

Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine is 93% effective six months after full vaccination, the company said Thursday. The announcement comes after Pfizer-BioNTech said last week their vaccine remains 84% effective six months after the second dose.

Moderna also announced it has tested three potential booster shots that demonstrated "robust antibody responses to COVID-19 variants of concern."

The Food and Drug Administration aims to fully approve the Pfizer vaccine by the start of next month, according to The New York Times. Moderna also announced Thursday it expects to complete its submission to the FDA for full licensing of its vaccine this month.

Amid climbing COVID cases and community efforts, racial disparity in vaccinations appears to be narrowing

Months into the nation’s unprecedented COVID-19 vaccination effort, disparities in vaccinating underserved populations have been stark, with data showing white people getting the shot at faster rates than Black and Hispanic people. But experts say that could be changing, as fears mount amid the new case surge and grassroots vaccination efforts begin to pay off.

Over the past two weeks, people of color have been vaccinated with a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine more than white people when compared to their shares of the population, according to the latest CDC data. Though race and ethnicity information is only available for about 60% of the U.S. population, it shows a glint of promise, experts say.

While Latino people make up 17% of the nation's population, they totaled more than a quarter of those who initiated vaccination in the past two weeks. Similarly, Black people, who make up about 12% of the U.S. population, accounted for 15% of those receiving a first dose.

– Nada Hassanein

Heart problems associated with U.S. vaccines are uncommon, research shows

For every one million Americans vaccinated against COVID-19, only 60 developed heart problems, according to a new study published in JAMA Wednesday. The study found the complications were short-lived.

Myocarditis associated with vaccination was primarily prevalent among younger male individuals within a few days after the second vaccine, the study said.

“We see that these adverse events are leading to very short and unremarkable hospital stays,” Dr. Jeremy Faust, an emergency medicine physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston who wasn't part of the study, told The New York Times. “The same can’t be said of hospitalizations for COVID-19 in this or any age group so far.”

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: California mandates COVID vaccines for healthcare workers

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