More school districts are mandating masks for students and staff to return to in-person classrooms as the delta variant continues to complicate U.S. recovery efforts amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall on Friday issued a mask mandate for schools, using emergency powers to prevent the state’s largestcity “from going down the tragic and dangerous path many others are already on,” she said. Mendenhall is a Democrat.
But the effort to protect kids through mandated universal masking is not going without backlash from parents and conservative community leaders, much less mandated vaccines. Mendenhall said she heard from city council members who feared backlash after overturning a school mask order for kids under 12 that was issued by the county’s top health official.
“Unfortunately, and despite all the evidence that masks protect children and the adults who care for them, this issue has become politicized to the point that elected bodies across the country, and in the State of Utah, worry about retaliation if they take stand as an organization,” Mendenhall wrote.
In some Republican-led states, governors have implemented anti-mask mandate bans, prohibiting school administrators for requiring masks. Schools in Texas, Florida and other states are defying those orders.
In Florida counties that have required masks, including Broward and Miami-Dade, the State Board of Education has warned they must reverse their decisions within 48 hours or face consequences. Gov. Ron DeSantis threatened to withhold pay from administrators who defy the order.
School mask, vaccine mandates:Which states have them? Do they work?
“We cannot have government officials pick and choose what laws they want to follow,” said Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran in an emailed statement.
Meanwhile, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona is urging administrators to hold on, and assuring them that federal COVID relief funding can go toward making up any lost salary as a result of the mask mandates, NBC News reported.
As students head back to school this fall, the delta variant now makes up about 90% of new infections among kids. Thousands of children and staff are under quarantine in school districts after being exposed to COVID-19, just as school is starting around the nation.
Also in the news:
►Apple will delay the return of its employees to its offices until at least January 2022, the Washington Post reported.
►New Zealand will extend its nationwide lockdown for four days, CNN reported. The lockdown began Tuesday when a single case was identified. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern initially said the nationwide lockdown would be for three days while the city where the man lives and where he visited would go into full lockdown for seven days.
►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.
►The Archdiocese of Philadelphia rejected religious exemptions for vaccination, becoming the latest district of the Catholic Church to do so. It joins at least five other dioceses that have given priests similar guidance.
►The Biden administration will not reinstate enhanced weekly $300 unemployment benefits, which are set to expire on Sept. 6. It’s instead urging states that want to continue the extra payments to use their share of COVID-19 rescue funds.
►Much of Japan kicked in its government “state of emergency” to curb COVID-19 infections Friday, as well as a less stringent “quasi-emergency,” although worries remained about their effectiveness.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has had more than 37.3 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 625,800 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 210.4 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: HIPAA was enacted 25 years ago. Today it’s wrongly being used to justify keeping COVID status secret. Read more here.
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Americans are experiencing the highest level of anxiety over the spread of the coronavirus since winter, according to an AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll released Friday.
The survey showed that more than in 10, 41%, are “extremely” or “very” worried about themselves or a family member being infected. The level of anxiety is about equal to levels in January, before vaccines were widely available, when 43% answered the same. Levels dipped in June, when just 21% said they were extremely or very worried.
The poll also showed that most Americans favor vaccine mandates for public events such as concerts, sporting events or movies, 56%; restaurants and bars, 51%; and travel on airplanes, 57%.
More than 200 students at the University of Virginia were removed from enrollment because they did not receive COVID-19 vaccinations by a deadline required under the university’s vaccination policy, ABC News reported.
Students had a deadline of July 1 to comply with the new vaccine requirement, and 238 did not comply.
“Since then, students received multiple reminders about this policy and the need to either be vaccinated or request a medical or religious exemption. Students who remained out of compliance after the deadline received multiple communications in the form of emails, texts, phone calls, and in some cases phone calls to their parents,” said Brian Coy, a university spokesperson.
Students will now have until Aug. 25 to comply or they will not be allowed back for the fall term.
The mayor of Orlando has asked residents to stop watering their lawns and washing their cars for at least a week as the surge of patients with COVID-19 has required the prioritization of liquid oxygen-treated water for hospitals.
“We acknowledge that the No. 1 priority for the liquid oxygen should be for hospitals,” Mayor Buddy Dyer said.
Orlando Utility Commission Chief Customer and Marketing Officer Linda Ferrone said 40% of the city’s potable water is used for irrigation purposes, so cutting back on lawn watering and other unnecessary uses will reduce strain on the water supply.
“If worse came to worse, we would have to look at a boil water alert,” she said.
COVID tests becoming harder to find
As the highly contagious delta variant accelerates cases, hospitalizations and deaths, the demand for COVID-19 tests is also accelerating.
When COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations plummeted in late spring, many large, government-run testing sites switched to vaccinations or shut down.
Now Americans are getting checked for COVID-19 at a pace of more than 1 million tests each day, according to Johns Hopkins University. But some experts say it’s harder to find testing appointments than last winter, when large, drive-thru sites fueled more than 2 million daily tests. At-home testing kits are also flying off of shelves as antigen test makers hustle to meet rising demands after scaling back manufacturing in spring.
As COVID-19 positivity rates surge, some worry the high percentage of positive tests in the U.S. means too many people are foregoing testing because it’s too hard to get an appointment.
AstraZeneca will seek regulatory approval for an antibody drug after a study showed it significantly reduces the risk of developing COVID-19 symptoms, according to a Friday statement from the company.
The drug, called AZD7442, reduced the risk of developing symptomatic COVID-19 by 77%, according to the study, which has not yet been submitted to a peer-reviewed journal. No patient who received the treatment developed severe symptoms or died.
The medicine is the first antibody treatment shown to prevent COVID-19 in a clinical trial, AstraZeneca said.
“We are very encouraged by these efficacy and safety data in high-risk people, showing our long-acting antibody combination has the potential to protect from symptomatic and severe disease, alongside vaccines,” Mene Pangalos, an AstraZeneca executive vice president, said in the statement.
The Department of Homeland Security announced that border restrictions on nonessential travel have been extended yet again, this time through Sept. 21, as the U.S. works to curb its COVID-19 case count. The restrictions had previously been extended through Saturday.
“In coordination with public health and medical experts, DHS continues working closely with its partners across the United States and internationally to determine how to safely and sustainably resume normal travel,” DHS tweeted Friday.
The restrictions have been extended every month since they were first implemented in March 2020, when DHS and its Canadian and Mexican counterparts closed the borders to leisure travelers to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
– Bailey Schulz
Louie Lopez showed up at the downtown Jacksonville Main Library Conference Center in the early afternoon for a Regeneron therapy appointment. His primary care doctor recommended it after Lopez tested positive for COVID-19 and was experiencing moderate to severe symptoms.
While waiting in line for his turn, two other people got in the line behind Lopez. Both of them, he says, sat down on the floor immediately. They eventually laid down “sick and moaning.” Lopez, 59, told The Florida Times-Union, part of the USA TODAY Network, that the woman pictured in yellow was dragging herself on the floor as the line slowly moved forward.
Lopez took a photo and sent it to his wife.
The therapy treatment is for people in the early stages of COVID-19 and the makeshift clinic where Lopez took the photo is not meant to serve as a full-fledged hospital. But amid rising COVID infections and increased worry, some people in more advanced stages of COVID have opted to go to makeshift clinics instead of hospitals due to potentially long waits. Read the full story.
– Katherine Lewin, Florida Times-Union
Contributing: Ken Alltucker, USA TODAY; Associated Press
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