A number of conservative governors across the U.S. are threatening to fight President Joe Biden's newly announced vaccine mandate plan, which will require businesses with more than 100 employees to require inoculation or weekly COVID-19 testing.
The move, predictably, was both applauded and condemned by Americans, political leaders and union heads. It will be enacted through a forthcoming rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that carries penalties up to $14,000 per violation, an administration official said.
The governors of Arizona, Montana, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas vowed to fight the mandate, and the Republican National Committee said it would file a lawsuit against the Biden administration when the requirement goes into effect.
Biden said Friday he was "disappointed" in the governors who said they plan to challenge his new requirements, adding that they have been "so cavalier" about the health of children and their communities.
During a visit with first lady Jill Biden to Brookland Middle School in Washington, the president was asked what his message was to Republicans who decry the vaccine mandates as federal overreach and plan to challenge them in court.
"Have at it," Biden said following remarks in the school's courtyard. "We're playing for real here. This isn't a game."
The plan, which Biden announced Thursday as part of a new six-part strategy, is expected to affect about 100 million workers in the country.
"Many of us are frustrated with the nearly 80 million Americans who are still not vaccinated," Biden said Thursday when announcing the new strategy. "This is not about freedom from personal choice, it's about protecting yourself and those around you."
– Courtney Subramanian, USA TODAY
Also in the news:
►Brazil has reported more than twice as many COVID-19 deaths so far this year than it did in all of 2020, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows. The country has reported 585,174 deaths this year, second only to the United States. But with about 390,000 deaths this year so far, Brazil has reported more deaths since Jan. 1 than any other country.
►Washington state expanded its mask mandate in public spaces to include outdoor venues hosting at least 500 people, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday.
►Biden directed the Transportation Security Administration to double fines for travelers who refuse to wear masks in airports, increasing fines to $500 to $1,000 for first offenders and $1,000 to $3,000 for repeat offenders.
►Tennessee High schooler Grady Knox was ridiculed and laughed at during a school board meeting when he said his grandmother died of COVID-19 after being exposed to a person without a mask, a scene which has drawn national attention.
📈Today's numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 40.5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 654,400 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 223 million cases and 4.6 million deaths. More than 177.4 million Americans — 53.4% of the population — have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
📘 What we're reading: Government counts of the devastation from coronavirus among the most vulnerable elderly likely missed more than 16,000 COVID-19 deaths in U.S. nursing homes during the early months of the pandemic, according to a study. Read more.
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The prevalence of two newer variants of the coronavirus in the U.S. is still "extremely low," and the best way to prevent their spread is to get vaccinated, Dr. Anthony Fauci said in a White House coronavirus task force briefing Friday.
Late last month, the World Health Organization marked the mu variant as a "variant of interest," and Fauci said U.S. health officials were "keeping a very close eye on it." It makes up less than .5% of U.S. cases, Fauci said Friday.
Another, the C.1.2 variant, has yet to be assigned a Greek letter. International health agencies don’t list it as a "variant of concern" or "variant of interest," but it garnered attention after a pre-print study last month highlighted mutations seen in other variants of concern. It has yet to be detected in the U.S., Fauci said.
"We will continue to closely monitor these and other emerging variants, but the most important thing we can do to protect against any variant – be it delta, mu or C.1.2 – is to get vaccinated," Fauci said.
The delta variant makes up 99% of U.S. coronavirus infections, Fauci said. It made up approximately 13% of U.S. cases in June.
France is joining the list of European travel destinations tightening restrictions on U.S. tourists as COVID-19 cases surge due to the delta variant.
Beginning Sunday, only vaccinated visitors will be allowed to visit for vacation, the French embassy confirmed Friday. Unvaccinated travelers can only visit for essential reasons and need a negative COVID-19 test. They also must isolate for seven days upon arrival. Currently, unvaccinated tourists just need to show a negative COVID-19 test to enter France.
The moves come after the European Union's decision on Aug. 30 to remove the United States from its list of safe countries due to a spike in COVID-19 cases, essentially recommending a ban on nonessential travel such as vacations. It is only a recommendation, with individual countries setting their own travel policies. Read more.
– Dawn Gilbertson, USA TODAY
Under pressure to make COVID-19 vaccines available to children under 12 amid a surge of pediatric cases and hundreds of school closures, top U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials released a statement Friday saying the agency will "follow the science" and "not cut any corners" on vaccines for young children.
Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock and Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Research and Evaluation, acknowledged "many parents are anxious about the pandemic and protecting their children." The officials said they could not offer a specific timeline for pediatric COVID-19 vaccines but "very much hope" to have them "available in the coming months."
"Just like you, we are eager to see our children and grandchildren vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as possible. We have to let the science and data guide us," the officials said.
The officials said some vaccine manufacturers are still enrolling participants in clinical trials, and some are still administering doses or following participants. That process is expected to include a follow-up period of at least about two months, according to the officials, to allow for proper safety monitoring.
Once the clinical trials are complete, manufacturers must analyze their data and request an emergency use authorization. The officials said the FDA will "be prepared to complete its review as quickly as possible, likely in a matter of weeks rather than months."
The agency urged parents and others who interact closely with children under 12 to get vaccinated, wear masks, and follow other recommended precautions.
Mississippi health officials reported 72 fetal deaths associated with pregnant people who had COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.
These deaths, which occurred past 20 weeks of gestation, "is twice the background rate of what would be expected," Mississippi State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs said during a press conference Wednesday. Dobbs added that eight unvaccinated pregnant people in the state have died of COVID-19 since Aug. 1 and their babies were born premature.
"It is a tragic and difficult circumstance," Dobbs said. "The vaccine is very helpful and remarkably successful in preventing these outcomes in pregnant women."
He reiterated that monoclonal antibodies and vaccination are approved and recommended for pregnant women, noting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists back both.
Mississippi, with 38% of residents fully vaccinated, lags behind the nation's current average of 53%.
– Sarah Haselhorst, Mississippi Clarion Ledger and N'dea Yancey-Bragg, USA TODAY
The Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education voted Thursday to require all students 12 and older to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to attend in-person classes by January.
Los Angeles is the first major school system to mandate vaccines for students in the country. The district is the second-largest in the country. The district was already one of the first to put COVID safety measures in place such as required vaccinations for teachers.
The move is likely to face opposition from families who are hesitant to get their kids vaccinated. There is no vaccine with full FDA approval for children ages 12 to 15; Pfizer was recently approved for ages 16 and up. Children over age 12 can receive vaccines under an emergency use authorization.
According to county data, about 58% of students ages 12 to 18 within the district are already at least partially vaccinated.
— Jeanine Santucci, USA TODAY
In a "significant" deployment, more than 300 Kentucky National Guard members are headed to 21 hospitals around the state to assist overworked health care workers, including in Louisville, Gov. Andy Beshear announced Thursday.
The 310 soldiers, split into teams of between 10 and 30 for each hospital, will help facilities with non-clinical work — such as administrative and logistical support — for up to two weeks, starting Monday.
This comes as Kentucky has the lowest number of adult beds available in intensive care units — only 90 are free, Beshear said, adding that 60 out of the state's 96 hospitals are facing critical staffing shortages.
— Sarah Ladd, Louisville Courier Journal