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New York must allow religious exemptions to the state's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for medical workers, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
U.S. Northern District Justice David Hurd of Utica granted a preliminary injunction temporarily barring New York state and employers from enforcing the COVID-19 vaccine mandate against medical workers claiming a legitimate religious exemption. Last month, Hurd issued a temporary restraining order blocking enforcement of the mandate in relation to religious beliefs.
The mandate requires most medical workers statewide to get the first COVID-19 vaccine dose by Sept. 27, or lose their jobs. It prodded about 55,000 workers to get the shot, but left the fate of at least 35,600 other workers refusing shots uncertain.
Many of the medical workers who had claimed religious exemptions had been placed on suspensions pending the outcome of the court battle. These workers, potentially numbering in the thousands, could now return to jobs as some hospitals and nursing homes face staffing shortages.
– David Robinson
Also in the news:
►Florida is investigating dozens of local governments, performing arts centers, the Miami Marlins, a law enforcement counter-terrorism unit and a concert by singer Harry Styles for violating a law that bans requiring proof of vaccination.
►The FDA's independent advisers convene Thursday to begin weighing whether booster shots for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines should be dispensed and who should get them. Final approval is not expected for at least another week.
► United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the pandemic has forced more than 100 million people into poverty and left over 4 billion people with little or no social support, health care or income protection.
►Russia registered a record 973 daily coronavirus deaths Tuesday as it faces a rapid surge of contagion amid low vaccination rates.
📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 44.5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 714,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 238.5 million cases and 4.86 million deaths. More than 187.7 million Americans – 56.8% of the population – are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
📘 What we're reading: COVID-19 vaccines offer the best protection against severe illness and death. New antibody and antiviral treatments offer "interlocking benefits," experts say. Read more here.
White House says Gov. Abbott playing politics with Texans' health
The White House charged Tuesday that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was motivated by politics and not public health concerns when he issued an executive order Monday banning COVID-19 mandates for employees or consumers across the state.
“It’s pretty clear when you make a choice that's against all public health information and data out there that it's not based on what is in the interests of the people you are governing,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. “It's perhaps in the interest of your own politics.”
Abbott's executive order expands on a prior order limited to government entities. Abbott also asked lawmakers to tackle the issue during the current special legislative session, ensuring that "no entity in Texas can compel receipt" of the vaccine.
Asked if the White House plans to sue to stop the ban, Psaki said the administration intends to enforce the vaccine requirements that President Joe Biden announced in September.
Biden ordered employers with 100 or more workers to ensure their workforce is entirely vaccinated or face weekly COVID testing. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is expected to issue new rules in the coming weeks that would make the mandate enforceable.
– Michael Collins
Brooklyn Nets ban unvaccinated star Kyrie Irving from games, practices
Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving, a seven-time All-Star who has refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19, won't play or practice with the club “until he is eligible to be a full participant,” general manager Sean Marks said Tuesday.
Irving had been practicing with the Nets but is ineligible to play in home games because of New York City's vaccination mandate. Marks made it clear Tuesday the team won't settle for a part-time player, although he said Irving would continue to be paid for road games. Irving stands to lose more than $381,000 for every home game he sits out.
The Nets are considered among the favorites for the NBA title thanks to a loaded roster that includes former MVPs Kevin Durant and James Harden, along with Irving, who has averaged 22.8 points a game for his career.
The NBA players union has said more than 90% of its members are fully vaccinated. Irving is the most prominent among the holdouts. The Golden State Warriors faced a similar quandary with forward Andrew Wiggins because of San Francisco vaccination requirements, but he eventually relented and got the vaccine less than two weeks ago.
Unvaccinated kids may face less risk than some vaccinated adults
The risk of serious illness from COVID could be smaller for unvaccinated children than it is for some vaccinated adults. The New York Times looked at statistics from the Seattle area and found that unvaccinated children get hospitalized at about the same rate as vaccinated people in their 50s. British data shows kids under 12 appear to be at less risk than vaccinated people in their 40s – if not 30s.
"Covid is a threat to children," tweeted Dr. Alasdair Munro, a pediatric infectious-disease specialist at the Britain's University of Southampton. "But it’s not an extraordinary threat. In fact, it’s very ordinary."
Illinois VA nursing home didn't follow guidelines. 11 residents died.
Leaders and staff at a federal veterans’ nursing home in Illinois mismanaged a coronavirus outbreak that killed 11 residents in fall 2020, well after employees had been put on notice about the danger the pandemic posed to its elderly population, a government investigation found. A staff member exposed at home was denied a test and told to just wear a mask while finishing a shift caring for residents. The employee tested positive the next day. Testing was inconsistent, even after the virus started to spread within the Veterans Affairs complex in Danville. Isolation of exposed individuals was haphazard, the investigation found.
“Direct care staff described chaos and a lack of awareness of what to do,” the inspector general at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said in a report released last month. Read more here.
– Donovan Slack
More virus treatments expected soon
Several new COVID-19 treatments are likely to become available within the next few months. Each drug fills a slightly different role, but together they could change the course of the illness, at least in the United States. An experimental antiviral from Merck and a monoclonal antibody from AstraZeneca, along with a handful of other drugs making their way through the development process, could make COVID-19 a much less fearsome disease.
"We're at the point where if we could use these medications all to their interlocking benefits … we could really begin to control the impact this virus has on us, and in particular on the health care system," said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease physician at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville.
– Karen Weintraub
Moderna doesn't intend to share its COVID-19 vaccine recipe
Moderna has no plans to share the recipe for its COVID-19 vaccine because executives have concluded that scaling up the company's own production is the best way to increase the global supply, the company’s chairman said. The United Nations health agency has pressed Moderna to share its vaccine formula.
Moderna chairman Noubar Afeyan said the company analyzed whether it would be better to share the messenger RNA technology and determined instead it could expand production and deliver billions of additional doses in 2022.
“Within the next six to nine months, the most reliable way to make high-quality vaccines and in an efficient way is going to be if we make them,” Afeyan said. Asked about appeals from the World Health Organization and others, he contended that such pleas assumed ”that we couldn’t get enough capacity, but in fact we know we can.” The COVID-19 vaccine is Moderna’s only commercial product.
Health workers, educators see high vaccination rates with mandates
Almost all of Washington and North Carolina's state health workers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while 99.99% of Cincinnati Public School employees have complied with the district's mandatory vaccination policy. The high vaccination rates come after mandates from the federal government, states and local school districts. The White House released a report last week contending that vaccine mandates would lead to millions more Americans getting vaccinated.
The report found that businesses instituting vaccine mandates have seen their number of fully vaccinated workers rise above 90%.
California coronavirus death count tops 70K as cases fall
California’s coronavirus death toll reached another once-unfathomable milestone – 70,000 people – on Monday as the state emerges from the latest infection surge with the lowest rate of new cases in the nation. Last year at this time, cases in California started ticking up and by January the state was in the throes of the worst spike of the pandemic, becoming the country's epicenter for the virus. Daily deaths approached 700.
The latest surge started in summer and was driven by the delta variant, which primarily targeted the unvaccinated. But at its worst during this spike, California’s average daily death count was in the low 100s.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: New York must allow religious exemptions to vaccine mandate: COVID now