COVID cases drop a bit in US as country torn over vaccines, masks

COVID vaccine and mask protest
COVID vaccine and mask protest

GoToRon / Flickr cc

The summer surge of COVID-19 cases, which began shortly after the Fourth of July and was instigated by the highly transmissible Delta (B1617.2) variant, is showing signs of waning.

Yesterday, the nation reported 33,807 new COVID-19 cases yesterday and 279 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker.

The 7-day average of new daily cases is 147,356, according to the Washington Post tracker. In the past week, new daily cases fell 8.5%, hospitalizations fell 4.2%, and deaths rose 5.5%.

But despite the sense of a tide turning, the country remains deeply divided when it comes to vaccine mandates and masking in schools, and health officials and government regulators are at odds on how and if to offer booster doses to already vaccinated Americans.

Country split on proof of vaccination

A new CNN poll shows Americans are split on requiring proof of vaccination for everyday activities, with 51% in support and 49% opposed. But the poll shows more support for requiring vaccination for office workers (54%), students (55%), and patrons attending sporting events or concerts (55%).

The idea of proof of vaccination, or vaccine passports, has gained more traction in the days following President Joe Biden's announcement that two-thirds of the American workforce will be required to be vaccinated in the coming weeks.

In the CNN poll, 63% of respondents said all children attending school in-person should be required to wear face masks in the classrooms, with just 37% opposed.

In Texas, home of one of the biggest summer outbreaks and one of the many red states that have prohibited mask mandates in schools, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced Friday that he's suing six school districts that have defied Gov. Greg Abbott's statewide ban on mask mandates, Axios reports.

And in New York City, the first hot spot in the American pandemic, almost 1 million children returned to classrooms today, many for the first time since March 2020, the New York Times reports. 

"Over a year ago, the city that we knew shut down," Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted today. "Today, we begin a brand new chapter. Schools are OPEN, our workforce has RETURNED to the office, 11 million #COVID19 vaccine doses have been administered, and we’re BACK full force this fall! Never bet against New York City."

Patients, healthcare groups want vaccine mandates

Healthcare associations tell USA Today they support the Biden administration's requirement that all healthcare workers in hospitals receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding be vaccinated but are worried that it could exacerbate workforce shortages, especially at hospitals in rural areas.

And a new study from the University of Michigan suggests that older patients also support the idea of mandatory vaccines among healthcare providers. In new poll, 61% of people aged 50 to 80 say the vaccine should definitely be required for all healthcare workers. An additional 19% say it should probably be required.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID Data Tracker shows 53.8% of Americans are fully vaccinated, and 63.1% have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. 

FDA to discuss booster doses this week

On Friday, members of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA's) Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) will meet to discuss third doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccines.

In August, the Biden administration announced Americans would be getting booster vaccine doses by Sep 20, pending FDA and CDC recommendations. The administration said ample supply, plus data showing a third dose boosted waning levels of antibodies, made a booster dose feasible in the face of the Delta variant.

But top Biden COVID-19 officials are increasingly clashing with the CDC as the administration pushes to begin distributing booster shots by Sep 20, according to Politico. Senior officials say the CDC is withholding critical data needed to develop the booster plan.

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