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US deaths nearly double in two weeks, rise in 42 states; California school district mandates student vaccines: Latest COVID-19 updates

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Despite the huge spike in coronavirus cases across the nation, some analysts believed the number of deaths – a lagging indicator – would not soar nearly as swiftly because of the protection from severe disease provided by vaccines.

The increase has indeed been less dramatic, but no less worrisome – and it's picking up.

Deaths are rising in 42 states, the worst tally seen since December. In the week ending Wednesday, the U.S. reported 5,742 deaths, nearly double the total from two weeks earlier. The 10,991 Americans who died of COVID-19 in the first 18 days of August are already more than all the fatalities in June or July.

The nearly 2.2 million U.S. cases in those first 18 days make this the fifth-worst month in the pandemic, blowing past the highest monthly totals of the 2020 spring and summer surges, with case counts rising in 44 states.

And while infections have climbed by 47% in the last two weeks, deaths have more than doubled that figure at 97%, according to the New York Times database. At the current pace, 34 Americans die of COVID-19 every hour.

New daily caseloads have surpassed 150,000 nationwide, still about half the total from the pandemic's most horrific point in January, and the current weekly average of about 800 deaths a day remains one-quarter of the fatalities at that time.

But with the delta variant continuing to spread wildly, the trends are going in the wrong direction.

– Mike Stucka

Also in the news:

►Organizers of the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii have postponed the event until February as the state’s seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases hit 713, up 56% from two weeks ago.

►Despite a major surge of infections in Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp issued an executive order Thursday banning cities from requiring businesses to enforce local pandemic restrictions.

►Gov. Kate Brown said Oregon is expanding its COVID-19 vaccine requirement to include all teachers, educators, support staff and volunteers in K-12 schools. For a state-by-state look at school vaccine and mask mandates, click here.

►South Carolina’s top prosecutor sued the state’s capital city of Columbia over its school mask mandate, which officials allege violates state law.

►The U.S. is urging more than 150 countries planning to send their leader or a government minister to New York to speak at the U.N. General Assembly next month to consider giving a video address instead to prevent the annual high-level week from becoming “a superspreader event.”

📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has had more than 37.2 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 624,800 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 209.8 million cases and 4.4 million deaths. More than 169.5 million Americans — 51.1% of the population — have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘 What we're reading: If schools are to have any hope of catching kids up from COVID absences, they’ll need to know who missed the most school during the pandemic — and why. Read the full story.

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.

Report: Vaccination status could determine which patients get ICU beds in Texas hospitals

COVID-19 vaccination status may be considered as one of the factors in deciding which patients get ICU beds in north Texas hospitals in case of scarcity amid the current spike in infections, the Dallas Morning News reported.

The newspaper said it obtained a copy of an internal memo sent to members of a task force in charge of recommending guidelines for hospitals in the region.

The memo points out vaccinated patients have a better chance of surviving a severe infection and says that should be taken into account, but only as one of the considerations when gauging the chances for survival.

Three more US senators have breakthrough infections

Three U.S. senators who are fully vaccinated have tested positive for the coronavirus, joining Lindsey Graham of South Carolina as members of the Senate with breakthrough infections.

Angus King of Maine, John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Roger Wicker of Mississippi announced separately Thursday that they've contracted the virus.

King, an independent, said he’s “not feeling great” but doing better than if he hadn’t been vaccinated. “I am taking this diagnosis very seriously, quarantining myself at home and telling the few people I’ve been in contact with to get tested in order to limit any further spread,” King said in a statement.

Hickenlooper, a Democrat, tweeted Thursday that he “feels good” and is "grateful for the vaccine (& the scientists behind it!) for limiting my symptoms.”

Wicker’s office said the Republican congressman has “mild symptoms” and is isolating in “good health.”

California school district mandates vaccines for students

A Southern California school district is requiring all eligible students be vaccinated – likely one of the first COVID-19 vaccine mandates for school children in the country.

The Culver City Unified School District, near Los Angeles, announced the move this week online and in an email to parents before students returned to school Thursday, saying the new policies were enacted in hopes of keeping teachers and students safe as the delta variant spurs a new surge of infections across the country. School staff also must be vaccinated.

“We will begin gathering vaccine status data immediately,'' the district said in an email to parents. "The deadline for providing the proof of vaccine is Friday, November 19, 2021, to give everyone the opportunity to make their vaccine plans.”

The district has more than 7,000 students and includes 11 schools. Children 12 and older are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

California has already issued a mandate that all school employees be vaccinated or take weekly COVID-19 tests, though some districts have started mandating a vaccine without the option of testing.

– Christal Hayes

US deaths would be close to 800,000 without vaccines, report says

The enormous death toll the coronavirus pandemic has taken on the U.S. – 625,000 and counting, the world's highest total – would be closer to 800,000 if it weren't for the vaccines, according to a new study published in the journal Health Affairs.

The analysis, conducted by Indiana University and RAND – a nonprofit research organization – found the country's vaccination campaign prevented almost 140,000 deaths and 3 million infections through the second week of May. COVID vaccines first became available in the U.S. on a limited basis in mid-December.

Adjusting for population, the researchers said New York – the hardest-hit state early in the pandemic – benefited the most from the vaccines, with 11.7 fewer COVID-19 deaths per 10,000 adults. Hawaii had the smallest reduction with 1.1 fewer deaths per 10,000 adults. The national average was 5.

Pandemic took heavy toll on Black, Indigenous people in 2020

Black and Indigenous people had the highest excess death rates from all causes throughout the pandemic for the groups under 25 and up to 65 years of age, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis released Thursday. Overall, Black and Indigenous people had the highest age-adjusted death rates throughout 2020, the excess deaths report found.

Among seniors 65 and older, Black and Hispanic people experienced the highest excess deaths rate. Hispanic deaths among seniors remained high at different phases of the pandemic, peaking in April, July and December 2020.

About one-third of excess deaths among Hispanics younger than 25, and more than one-third of Indigenous people excess deaths in the same age group, were due to COVID-19, according to the analysis. Among seniors, 85% of excess Hispanic deaths and 80% of Asian deaths were due to COVID-19.

"These findings underscore the disproportionate prevalence of excess mortality during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 among racial/ethnic minority groups of all ages in the United States," wrote the authors, who analyzed National Vital Statistics death data in all 50 states. They noted Asian, Indigenous and Hispanic populations might be undercounted because of misclassification.

– Nada Hassanein

Breakthrough COVID-19 cases are increasing

While COVID-19 vaccines were delivered in record time, the promise of vaccine salvation was upended by entrenched hesitancy, waning immunity and a wildly contagious mutation of the virus that causes the disease.

Three studies released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention underscore the new reality: Breakthrough infections are occurring more frequently than previously reported.

“Recent data makes clear that protection against mild and moderate disease has decreased over time,” U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said. “This is likely due to both waning immunity and the strength of the widespread delta variant.”

There’s no way to know exactly how common breakthrough infections are across the country, for several reasons. Many cases are asymptomatic or mild enough for people to forgo testing, and the United States doesn't track post-vaccination infections in any organized way.

– Adrianna Rodriguez, Elizabeth Weise and Joel Shannon

'Mask wars' heat up in Texas school districts amid COVID surge

Ongoing and tense debates over mask rules and mandates have taken place in schools across Texas since Gov. Greg Abbott, who tested positive for the coronavirus on Tuesday, signed an executive order last month banning mask mandates in schools.

Hostilities over masks in schools peaked when a Texas parent had an altercation with a teacher and ripped off her mask, according to a Tuesday email from the Austin school district.

Meanwhile, a school district in Paris, Texas, found a creative way to get around Abbott’s mask ban. The Paris Independent School District of about 4,000 students has made masks part of the dress code policy for all schools in the district.

In a statement, the districts' board of trustees says it “believes the dress code can be used to mitigate communicable health issues.”

Washington implements strict teacher vaccine mandate

Washington state is expanding its COVID-19 vaccine mandate to include all public, charter and private school teachers and staff — plus those working at the state's colleges and universities. Those who are not fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 risk losing their jobs, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday.

The policy is the strictest vaccine mandate announced to date for teachers. In other sectors, San Francisco, New York and New Orleans are all requiring vaccines to get into venues.

Deer in 4 states have been exposed to coronavirus, USDA study shows

A study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture has found that white-tail deer, the kind some people will see in their backyards, are being exposed to COVID-19.

The study, not yet peer-reviewed, showed that 40% of deer tested across four states in 2021 were positive for antibodies, meaning they had been exposed to the virus at some point. The positive tests do not necessarily indicate deer had active infections.

The findings raise questions about whether deer are transmitting the virus among themselves and how their interactions with humans could affect spread.

"At the moment, there’s no immediate cause for concern but justification for precaution. Just as we socially distance from people who could be infected, we also have to think about socially distancing from some animals who could potentially be infected," Peter Rabinowitz, a physician who specializes in zoonotic diseases and co-directs the University of Washington Alliance for Pandemic Preparedness, told USA TODAY. Read the full story.

– Jeanine Santucci

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: US deaths nearly double in 2 weeks, rise in 42 states: Updates

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