Three US senators test positive; South Africa registers 13,672 new cases

A young protester gives the three-fingers salute in front of a fire during the anti-government gathering at the Democracy Monument on 19 August 2021 in Bangkok, Thailand. (Photo: Sirachai Arunrugstichai / Getty Images)
By Bloomberg
19 Aug 2021 0

South Africa registered 13,672 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 2,652,652. A further 317 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total official deaths to 78,694. A total of 10,167,749 people have been vaccinated.

More disruption lies ahead as US schools reopen. A single Florida county has almost 12,000 students in isolation or quarantine. Oregon mandated, a day after Washington State, that all teachers and school personnel must get vaccinated. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy was expected to make a similar announcement, reported. 

Three US senators tested positive for Covid-19 despite being vaccinated, bringing to at least six the number of members of Congress to report recent infections.

International Business Machines is temporarily closing its offices in New York City amid rising Covid-19 cases, but the company stopped short of delaying plans to reopen other US locations by September. Intel, the world’s largest chipmaker, is offering employees $250 if they get vaccinated by the end of the year.

President Joe Biden defended his push to give booster shots to all Americans, countering criticism that the move is unfair to other nations that are still struggling to procure a first dose of vaccine. 

Key developments

Florida county quarantines 12,000 students

Florida’s Hillsborough County Public Schools has 11,959 students in isolation or quarantine for Covid-19 infection or exposure, up from 10,384 on Wednesday, according to spokeswoman Tanya Arja.

The district, which includes Tampa, has about 208,000 students who started school last week. After the rocky start to classes, the school board voted on Wednesday to mandate masks for everyone except those who provide a doctor’s note. Previously, parents were able to unilaterally opt out of the mask requirement.

Some parents and school board members who spoke at the public meeting Wednesday said they hoped the new mask mandate would keep more kids in school. The number of kids in quarantine or isolation has more than doubled just since Monday morning, when the number stood at 5,283.

Three senators have breakthrough cases

Three US senators tested positive for Covid-19 despite being vaccinated, bringing to at least six the number of members of Congress to report recent infections.

GOP Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, independent Angus King of Maine and Democrat John Hickenlooper of Colorado revealed getting positive tests Thursday.

A spokesperson for Wicker (70) said the senator was tested on Thursday after experiencing “mild symptoms”. The spokesman, Phillip Waller, said in a statement that Wicker in “good health,” is being treated by his family physician and is isolating.

King, 77, said he has taken “all precautions necessary” against the virus – including getting vaccinated, wearing masks and social distancing.

Georgia bars local restrictions

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed an executive order on Thursday prohibiting local governments from requiring masks or other Covid-19 protection measures at private businesses. He said the order was prompted by mask mandates in Atlanta and Savannah, both of which have been in place for weeks. Savannah Mayor Van Jones has also said he is considering limiting indoor crowd sizes.

“Small business should not be punished by local governments just because they are trying to save their businesses and pay their workers,” Kemp said in a press briefing.

Cases have been surging in Georgia: On Wednesday, hospital officials held a press conference to beg Georgians to get vaccinated, saying beds and ICUs were filling up, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Intel offers $250 for a shot

Intel, the world’s largest chipmaker, is offering employees $250 in cash as a thank you if they get vaccinated against Covid-19 before the end of the year. Contract workers will get $100, CEO Pat Gelsinger said in a letter to employees sent out on Thursday.

While it’s not mandating vaccination, the company said business travel and attendance at external events will be approved for vaccinated employees.

Some 47,000 vaccines have been administered or are in the process to be administered at Intel’s sites, said the memo, seen by Bloomberg. 

New York City mayor faces pressure on schools decision

Pressure is mounting on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to reverse his stance on a virtual option for students. 

City schools, the largest district in the country, are set to reopen on September 13 fully in-person, five days a week, without the remote offering provided to kids last year. De Blasio has said the city will not offer a remote option and does not have a Plan B to offer virtual schooling in case rising coronavirus cases shutter schools again. 

“We are dealing with an evolving pandemic and we have younger students currently ineligible for the vaccine,” said Mark Treyger, chairman of the City Council education committee, who is leading the effort to push the mayor’s office on a more flexible alternative.

Oregon mandates teacher vaccinations

All Oregon teachers, support staff and volunteers must be vaccinated by October 18, or within six weeks of full vaccine approval by the US Food and Drug Administration, whichever is later, Governor Kate Brown said on Thursday. 

“There are those who will disagree with the actions I am taking today,” Brown tweeted. “Our kids need to be protected. And I’m willing to take the heat for it.”

On Wednesday, neighboring Washington State announced it would require all teachers and school employees to be vaccinated. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy is expected to announce a similar requirement, reported. 

US records more than one million daily shots

The US recorded more than one million Covid-19 shots on Thursday, topping that level for the first time in almost seven weeks, a White House official said. Of the 1.02 million doses, 562,000 were given to people who were getting their first shot.

The vaccination rate in the country has ticked up recently, following an increase in infections and deaths driven by the Delta variant. Still, almost 85 million Americans who are eligible to receive a vaccine haven’t yet done so, President Joe Biden said on Wednesday.

Colorado hospitalisations below peak

While Idaho, Wyoming and other western states are stressed, Colorado has “significant surge capacity” at its hospitals, said Scott Bookman, Covid-19 incident commander at the state Department of Public Health and Environment. More than 72% of the state’s population has received at least one vaccine, among the highest in the region.

There are currently 600 people hospitalised in Colorado versus peak levels around 1,800, Bookman said at a Thursday online briefing. Medical surgical unit capacity is about 78% and intensive care unit capacity is about 80%, he said. An estimated 98% of new cases in Colorado are the Delta variant.

Lesotho probing deaths after J&J shot

Lesotho is probing the deaths of five people who had received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in its northern district of Leribe, according to Health Minister Semano Sekatle.

Lesotho’s National Expert Committee on adverse events following immunisation and the WHO had picked specialists to investigate the deaths, he told reporters on Thursday. No definite link has been drawn between the vaccinations and the deaths. 

Tennessee running out of ICU beds

Tennessee intensive care beds are full in most metropolitan areas because of the wave of Covid-19 patients, state hospital officials said on Thursday. 

“These are the hospitals that normally accept transfers of the sickest patients from other hospitals and healthcare providers, so when these facilities are full, it affects the healthcare system statewide,” the Tennessee Hospital Association said in a statement. 

The association said that Covid hospitalisations rose almost eightfold between July 1 and August 15, from fewer than 300 patients to more than 2,300. Almost all patients are unvaccinated, the statement said. 

Humana to require shots after FDA nod

Humana will require workers to be vaccinated once the Food and Drug Administration fully approves a Covid-19 vaccine. The mandate will apply to Humana employees and some contractors who work outside their homes, the health insurer said in an email to staff. That includes people who see patients directly, those who work in Humana facilities, and attend in-person meetings. 

Starting in September, workers who are unvaccinated will have to be tested regularly if they’re working outside their homes, the company said. 

“We’re not the first to require vaccination and expect others to follow in reducing the devastating impacts of this pandemic,” the company said in an email shared with Bloomberg News. The move follows an announcement yesterday by Cigna to require immunisations.

Michigan, Tennessee lead US new cases

US cases jumped the most in Michigan, Tennessee and Minnesota during the week that ended Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. While those states recorded the biggest percentage increases, their cases relative to population remain well below the prevalence in Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida, the top states in that category.

Missouri, an early hotspot of the Delta variant, recorded an 8% decline in cases over the period, according to the CDC’s community spread report published on Thursday.

Hospital admissions for Covid-19 nationwide increased 16% during the week through Monday compared to the previous week, and the number of intensive-care cases rose 25%, according to the report.

Floridians support school masking, fewer mandates

A majority of Floridians agree that public school students and staff should wear masks, but many also believe that parents should have the ultimate right to choose, according to a new poll from Florida Atlantic University.

About 66% of those surveyed said they sided with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in recommending facial coverings in schools, according to the August 12-16 poll of 500 people by the Florida Atlantic University Business and Economics Polling Initiative. About 30% disagreed and 4% were unsure.

But 51% also said parents should make the final decision, according to the survey, which has a 4.4 percentage point margin of error. Some 40% were against parental choice and 9% were uncertain.

Boosters make ‘mockery of vaccine equity’

The roll-out of Covid-19 booster shots by a growing number of wealthy nations makes a “mockery of vaccine equity”, WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti said. 

“High-income countries have already, on average, administered more than 103 Covid-19 vaccine doses per 100 people, whereas in Africa that number stands at six,” Moeti said. Nations from Israel to the US have either started administering booster shots or plan to, while less than 2% of Africans are fully vaccinated against the virus.

Biden defends booster-shot push

President Joe Biden defended his push to give booster shots to all Americans, countering criticism that the move is unfair to other nations that are still struggling to procure a first dose of coronavirus vaccines.

In an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that aired on Thursday, Biden said he and first lady Jill Biden would soon get their booster shots: “We got our shots all the way back in, I think, December. So it’s – it’s past time.”

Biden’s health team announced on Wednesday that, beginning in September, all Americans would be eligible for a booster eight months after their second shot of either of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. 

Austria observes high vaccine effectiveness

Vaccines helped prevent symptomatic coronavirus infections for 91 out of every 100 vaccinated Austrians. Out of more than 150,000 symptomatic cases recorded this year, fewer than 2,900 were among the fully vaccinated, implying the 91% rate, the Austrian Agency for Health Food and Safety said in a report.

The data largely match evidence from clinical trials on vaccines’ effectiveness in preventing more serious illness and deaths from the coronavirus. DM 

With assistance from Marton Eder, Josh Wingrove, Carla Canivete, John Tozzi, Vincent Del Giudice, Vivek Shankar, Ian King, Margaret Newkirk and Jonathan Levin.


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