July 29, 2021 US coronavirus news

By Melissa Mahtani, Melissa Macaya, Meg Wagner, Veronica Rocha and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 10:52 PM ET, Thu July 29, 2021
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7:22 p.m. ET, July 29, 2021

CDC will release data supporting its mask guidance Friday

From CNN's John Bonifield and Maggie Fox

People walk through the Oculus Mall in Manhattan, New York on July 29. Numerous stores in the mall have required guests to start wearing masks again as the Delta variant spreads through New York City.
People walk through the Oculus Mall in Manhattan, New York on July 29. Numerous stores in the mall have required guests to start wearing masks again as the Delta variant spreads through New York City. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it will release a study Friday that supports this week’s decision to change mask guidance.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Tuesday the agency was changing guidelines for fully vaccinated people because of new science.

She said even fully vaccinated people should wear masks indoors in areas where transmission of the virus is substantial or high.

Walensky said new data indicated that people who get breakthrough infections involving the Delta variant of the virus can be as likely to infect someone else as unvaccinated people are. And she promised that data would be released soon. 

6:23 p.m. ET, July 29, 2021

Los Angeles schools will require weekly Covid-19 testing for students and staff 

From CNN's Alexandra Meeks

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) will require weekly Covid-19 testing for all students and employees returning to in-person learning, regardless of vaccination status, school officials announced in a news release Thursday.

"All students and employees, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, returning for in-person instruction must participate in baseline and ongoing weekly COVID testing," the district said. "This is in accordance with the most recent guidance from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health."

LAUSD is the second-largest school district in the country with more than 600,000 students. Testing for all students and employees begins on Aug. 2, officials said. Full return to in-person instruction across most LAUSD campuses begins on Aug. 16.

The district's preparations for the start of the new school year also include mandatory masking indoors for all students, staff, and visitors, officials said.

Legal guardians of students will be required to schedule the ongoing Covid-19 testing appointments. All results will be emailed and shared with appropriate scientists, administrators, and health authorities, officials said.

"Ultimately, the greatest protection against COVID and the Delta variant is vaccination," said Megan Reilly, LAUSD interim superintendent. "We encourage everyone who is eligible to be vaccinated."

CNN has reached out to United Teachers Los Angeles, the union which represents LAUSD teachers, for comment.

6:25 p.m. ET, July 29, 2021

Nevada health officials prepare for mask mandate to resume Friday

From CNN’s Andy Rose

Candice McDaniel, Division of Welfare and Supportive Services
Candice McDaniel, Division of Welfare and Supportive Services (Nevada Health Response)

As most of Nevada prepares for an indoor mask mandate to resume Friday, state health officials say it’s their best option right now to slow the Delta variant.

“We also understand the frustration many of you may feel over having to put a mask back on,” Candice McDaniel, who's with the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services, said in a telebriefing Thursday. “We don’t like it either.”

Officials said the number of people getting their first Covid-19 vaccine has increased over the past two weeks, signaling that more people are taking the rise in cases seriously.

But McDaniel said it’s still a bigger challenge to convince people to get vaccinated than it was when shots were in short supply.

“Now we are working on a smaller scale in neighborhoods, connecting with people and answering questions,” she said.

6:20 p.m. ET, July 29, 2021

House majority leader says all members of Congress should be vaccinated or face regular testing

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

House Majority Leader Steny Hoye
House Majority Leader Steny Hoye (CNN)

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said every member of Congress should be vaccinated or submit to regular tests to ensure they are not carrying the virus. 

"Every member ought to be vaccinated or in the alternative, certainly we're requiring now every member to wear a mask," he told CNN's Jake Tapper today.

Those who are not vaccinated "ought to have to be tested on a relatively regular basis to make sure they're not bringing virus into the chamber," added Hoyer. 

Earlier today, many House Republicans purposefully defied mask rules reinstated by Capitol Attending Physician Dr. Brian Monahan, appearing on the floor maskless.

This is the latest sign of the deep divide and tension between Republicans and Democrats in the House on how to handle the Covid-19 pandemic and various other issues, with it even festering at the top, between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

6:01 p.m. ET, July 29, 2021

Texas governor says residents can decide whether to wear masks

From CNN’s Raja Razek

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has issued an executive order that would provide what he called "clarity and uniformity" in the state's Covid-19 response, adding that the path forward relies on "personal responsibility rather than government mandates."

Abbott said in news release issued by the governor's office, that Texans "have the individual right and responsibility to decide for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks, open their businesses, and engage in leisure activities."

"To further ensure that no governmental entity can mandate masks, the following requirement shall continue to apply: No governmental entity, including a county, city, school district, and public health authority, and no governmental official may require an person to wear a face-covering or to mandate that other person wear a covering," the executive order said.

State-supported living centers, government-owned hospitals and government-operated hospitals may continue to use "appropriate policies regarding the wearing of face coverings," according to the order.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the Texas Juvenile Justice Department and any county and municipal jails "may continue to use appropriate policies regarding the wearing of face coverings." 

Additionally, to "preserve livelihoods," the order stated, " there are no Covid-19-related operating limits for any business or other establishment."

In areas where Covid-19 transmission is high, people are encouraged to follow safe practices. However, "no person may be required by any jurisdiction to wear or to mandate the wearing of a face covering." 

6:00 p.m. ET, July 29, 2021

Biden says federal government vaccine mandate for all Americans "still a question"

From CNN's DJ Judd

During a brief Q&A following his remarks from the White House East Room, President Biden told reporters Thursday that while he’d like to see private entities continue to mandate vaccines in employees, “It's still a question whether the federal government can mandate the whole country” and require vaccines.

“I had asked the Justice Department to determine whether that is, they're able to [pass vaccine mandates] legally,” Biden said, “and they can — local communities can do that, local businesses can do that. It's still a question whether the federal government can mandate the whole country. I don't know that yet.”

The President made clear that the administration was not considering lockdowns based on guidance at hand, telling reporters in the East Room, “If tomorrow I could wave a wand and every American was vaccinated, then, in fact, we'd be out in the woods. Now, can something else happen a year from now, can there be a different virus, can there be something? It’s possible. And I'm talking about Covid and the existing variants have come forward so far.”

Biden reiterated that at this time, “a booster shot is not needed,” but acknowledged, “Now it's possible that it will be needed later — I don't know, they don't, science hasn't dictated that yet.” 

Pressed on if he’d like to see a vaccine mandate take effect in the Department of Defense before the vaccine gets final approval from the US Food and Drug Administration, Biden was less committal, telling reporters that final FDA approval “usually takes a lot of a lot of work to get there.”

“I made a commitment I would not tell anyone in the Justice Department who they should prosecute, and I would not tell the health industry that they should be — government health entities what they should say and do, but my expectation is, they're going to reach that conclusion in the early fall.”

5:38 p.m. ET, July 29, 2021

Here's a recap of the new measures Biden announced today to incentivize Covid-19 vaccinations

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez and DJ Judd

(Susan Walsh/AP)
(Susan Walsh/AP)

In nearly 30 minutes of remarks, President Biden outlined a series of new efforts from his administration aimed at increasing vaccination rates, touting them as incentives “to encourage unvaccinated Americans to get vaccinated."

Here are some of the measures:

  • Expanding paid leave for employees who take time off to get themselves and their family members vaccinated. Biden said employers would be reimbursed.
  • The Treasury Department said Biden will also be calling on states, territories, and local governments to do more to incentivize vaccination, including offering $100 to Americans getting vaccinated, paid for with American Rescue Plan funding.
  • The President called on school districts nationwide to host at least one pop-up vaccination clinic over the coming weeks to get more kids 12 and older vaccinated.

Biden also announced he would "impose requirements on key groups, to make sure they're vaccinated."

Here's a look at those steps:

  • Biden said every federal government employee and on-site contractor will be asked to attest to their vaccination status. Employees who have not been vaccinated "will be required to wear a mask on the job no matter their geographic location, physically distance from all other employees and visitors, comply with a weekly or twice weekly screening testing requirement, and be subject to restrictions on official travel," Biden said. The federal employee vaccination requirement is not a mandate, officials have insisted, and most federal employees who do not get vaccinated will not lose their jobs as a result, CNN previously reported.
  • The President also announced that he is asking the Department of Defense "to look into how and when they will add Covid-19 to the list of vaccinations that our armed forces must get."

How some groups are responding: Several groups representing federal workers across the government are already raising concerns about the requirement, including groups representing federal law enforcement officers, IRS managers and members of the US Border Patrol, among others. Others groups, like the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, have come out in support.

Read more about Biden's announcement here.

5:51 p.m. ET, July 29, 2021

Biden: Vaccinated Americans don't need Covid-19 boosters right now, but government prepared if that changes

From CNN's DJ Judd

President Biden said Thursday that, despite rising cases and the prevalence of the Delta variant in the US, there remains no need for booster shots for vaccinated Americans. 

“I also know many of you are wondering if you need a booster shot to add another layer of protection, as my medical advisors say the answer is no,” Biden said in remarks from the White House. “No American needs a booster now. But if the science tells us there's a need for boosters, then that's something we'll do, and we’ve purchased the supply, all the supply we need to be ready if that was called for.”

Any decision on a booster dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in the US is still awaiting more data, a prominent member of the US Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory committee told CNN on Thursday.  

“It depends on the data,” Dr. Paul Offit told CNN.

The President also tried to reassure Americans concerned about the threat of breakthrough cases, acknowledging that while, “Yes, some fully vaccinated people still test positive, and some will also show symptoms of Covid-19, that's expected for almost every vaccine there is for other diseases-- but breakthrough cases remain rare in almost all our mild cases.” 

“In fact, virtually all hospitalizations and deaths are among the unvaccinated,” Biden said.

5:52 p.m. ET, July 29, 2021

Biden: "We can and we must open schools this fall, full-time" with proper safety measures

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

(Susan Walsh/AP)
(Susan Walsh/AP)

President Biden said the country "must open" schools in the fall with proper safety measures and protocols, including masking indoors.

"I also want to speak to families with children in school. We can and we must open schools this fall, full-time. It's better for our children's mental and emotional well-being, and we can't afford another year out of the classroom. Every school should be open, and we're giving them the tools to be able to do so safely, even in those areas where... they have a higher rate of Covid. Through the American Rescue Plan we provided schools billions of dollars to implement safety measures, better ventilation, social distancing and other measures," the President said in remarks from the White House.

Biden noted that vaccination rates among teachers are high and promoted the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mask guidelines for students.

"Almost 90% of educators and school staff are now vaccinated. Additionally, the CDC has provided clear guidance on how all schools can safely protect the kids and bring them back to the classroom. Every student wear a mask. It's that simple. So we funded safety measures at schools. We've vaccinated teachers and staff, and we can mask up our kids for further protection. Once again, there's one more thing we need to do. Get more adolescents, ages 12 and up, vaccinated now that they've been cleared," the President said.

Biden also said the government is prepared to provide vaccinations to children 12 and under once the vaccines are "deemed safe for them."

Some more background: The CDC recommended on Tuesday that localities encourage all teachers, staff, students, and visitors in schools to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status.

Previously, the CDC updated its Covid-19 guidance for schools earlier this month, noting that fully vaccinated people did not have to wear masks, and then about a week later the American Academy of Pediatrics issued stricter guidance recommending that everyone older than 2 wear a mask in schools, regardless of their vaccination status.

CNN's Jacqueline Howard contributed reporting to this post.