US Covid-19 cases rise as Delta variant spreads

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

Updated 8:03 p.m. ET, July 30, 2021
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7:37 p.m. ET, July 30, 2021

CDC director says new mask guidance "weighed heavily" on her

From CNN's Lauren Mascarenhas

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Friday that she did not expect the American people to welcome the agency’s new mask guidance.

She urged people to get vaccinated and mask up for now to avoid the need for continued masking. 

“This was not news that I expected the American people to welcome,” Walensky said in an appearance on Fox News. “This weighed heavily on me to have to do this.” ­­

The CDC recommended Tuesday that fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors in areas with "substantial" or "high" transmission of Covid-19 – more than half of all US counties. The agency cited the rapid spread of the Covid-19 Delta variant, which in some cases has been transmitted by fully vaccinated people.

“I have no interest in continuing mask guidance, and the best way to stop a new variant from spreading is to have less virus out there, and the best way to do that is to get people vaccinated and to mask up until they are,” she said.

6:54 p.m. ET, July 30, 2021

Biden says US will "in all probability" see more restrictions due to rise in Covid-19 cases

From CNN's DJ Judd

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

President Biden said the US will “in all probability” see more guidelines and restrictions following rising Covid-19 cases and the emerging spread of the Delta variant.

“And by the way, we had a good day yesterday,” Biden said, before departing the White House for Camp David. “Almost a million people got vaccinated, about half a million of those people for the first time, and for the second shot, and so I’m hopeful that people are beginning to realize how essential it is to move.”

When asked if the US was headed for more lockdowns due to rising cases, White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre dismissed the concern, telling reporters at the briefing, “the way we see this is that we have the tools in our tool belt to fight this ... variant,” adding, “we are not going to head towards a lockdown.”

“Our goal is to make sure that we are we are not headed towards that, that is not going to be the direction that we take, because we have the tools to prevent that,” Jean-Pierre said, pointing to the availability of free vaccines across the country.

6:46 p.m. ET, July 30, 2021

Florida governor signs executive order to prevent mask mandates in schools

From CNN's Deanna Hackney

Joann Marcus of Fort Lauderdale, left, cheers as she listens to the Broward School Board's emergency meeting, Wednesday, July 28, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. A small but vocal group spoke vehemently against masks, saying their personal rights were being eroded and their children were suffering socially. 
Joann Marcus of Fort Lauderdale, left, cheers as she listens to the Broward School Board's emergency meeting, Wednesday, July 28, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. A small but vocal group spoke vehemently against masks, saying their personal rights were being eroded and their children were suffering socially.  (Marta Lavandier/AP)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has issued an executive order that directs the state's health and education departments to issue emergency rules that prevent the implementation of a mask mandate in schools. 

A news release from the governor's office said that executive order 21-175 was issued "in response to several Florida school boards considering or implementing mask mandates in their schools after the Biden administration issued unscientific and inconsistent recommendations that school-aged children wear masks."

It added that this was done "to protect parents’ freedom to choose whether their children wear masks." 

The executive order states that if the State Board of Education finds a school district board unwilling or unable to comply, they are able to withhold the transfer of state funds,  discretionary grant funds, or discretionary lottery funds until they do. They may also declare the school ineligible for competitive grants.

The latest data: DeSantis' order comes after the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention unveiled guidance earlier this week that people in areas with "high" or "substantial" Covid-19 transmission should resume wearing masks indoors. Over 75% of the US population live in these areas.

The CDC released a new study Friday that shows the Delta Covid-19 variant produced similar amounts of virus in vaccinated and unvaccinated people if they get infected.

The finding that the Delta variant resulted in similar viral loads "was a pivotal discovery leading to CDC's updated mask recommendation," Walensky said Friday.

"The masking recommendation was updated to ensure the vaccinated public would not unknowingly transmit virus to others, including their unvaccinated or immunocompromised loved ones," the CDC director said.

6:01 p.m. ET, July 30, 2021

Fauci says latest CDC data on Delta variant demonstrates the importance of getting vaccinated

From CNN's Sarah Braner

New evidence about the contagiousness of the Delta variant shows it’s more important than ever to get vaccinated, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a study earlier Friday showing that three-quarters of people infected during an outbreak in Provincetown, Massachusetts, were vaccinated. Most cases involved the Delta variant. And infected people who were vaccinated had just as much virus in their bodies as unvaccinated patients did.

“What we did know was how transmissible the virus was among unvaccinated people,” Fauci told NPR. “So it was very clear that when you compare the Delta variant with, for example, the Alpha variant, it was clearly, considerably more transmissible. The new data show that it is so transmissible that even a vaccinated person who has a breakthrough infection can now transmit it. That is the new data.”

The Provincetown study prompted the CDC to change its guidance on mask use and advise vaccinated people to resume mask use indoors in areas of sustained or high transmission of the virus.

“There's a difference between knowing that is transmissible in general versus it's also transmissible when you have a breakthrough infection of a vaccinated person,” Fauci said.

“I think the simplest way to get people to understand is that we are dealing with a different virus,” he added. “The Delta virus has characteristics that's different than the Alpha variant and other variants we've dealt with. So when someone says the war is changed, what it really means [is that] the virus has changed. And we have got to keep up in our understanding, and what our policies are related to the fact that we're dealing now with a more formidable virus.”

Some background: The Alpha, or B.1.1.7 variant, dominated the US until early summer. Now Delta, also known as B.1.617.2, accounts for more than 80% of cases, according to the CDC. It’s driven a fresh surge of infections.

“The solution to all of this is to get as many people vaccinated as we possibly can,” Fauci said. “There’s a really, really good reason to get vaccinated, and that is to save yourself from getting a severe infection that would lead to hospitalization and deaths."

“There's one striking number that people who choose to remain unvaccinated should remember: in the United States… look at all of the Covid deaths, 99.5% of them occur among unvaccinated people, and 0.5% occur among vaccinated people. So if ever there was a statistic that's striking, to tell you the difference between a vaccinated and unvaccinated person, that's it," Fauci added.

5:39 p.m. ET, July 30, 2021

Arkansas attorney general warns of price gouging during Covid-19 emergency declaration

From CNN's Kelsie Smith

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is warning consumers to be aware of potential price gouging on goods, products, and services following Gov. Asa Hutchinson's Covid-19 public health emergency declaration. 

“Just as we saw in 2020, some people will exploit a crisis by charging astronomical amounts for items like toilet paper and hand sanitizer, but this illegal activity will not be tolerated on my watch,” said Rutledge in a news release. “Unfortunately, during emergency declarations, we must be diligent and report businesses charging prices for items that appear beyond legal limits.”

Rutledge released tips in a news release to avoid price gouging, including knowing the average price for goods like hand sanitizer, soap and non-perishable food items before purchasing. 

The state's price gouging law bans businesses from excessive and unjustified increases in the prices charged for essential goods and services during emergencies. Arkansas businesses may legally charge a higher price if they can show that the higher price is directly attributable to additional costs incurred by the retailer, its supplier or as the result of additional costs for labor or materials.

5:16 p.m. ET, July 30, 2021

Walt Disney Company sets Covid-19 vaccinations rules for employees

From CNN's Rob Frehse

Fireworks go off at the Magic Kingdom Park in Walt Disney World Resort on July 1,  in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
Fireworks go off at the Magic Kingdom Park in Walt Disney World Resort on July 1, in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Liao Pan/China News Service/Getty Image)

The Walt Disney Company is requiring full Covid-19 vaccinations for all salaried and non-union hourly employees working at sites in US, the company said in a statement Friday.

The company will give employees who aren’t vaccinated and working on-site 60 days to get vaccinated, according to the statement. Employees working from home will need to provide verification of vaccination before returning to work, the company said, with limited exceptions. 

All new hires will be required to be fully vaccinated before beginning employment, the company said.

Discussions with unions representing employees under collective bargaining agreements have also begun, the company said.

“Vaccines are the best tool we all have to help control this global pandemic and protect our employees,” the company said.
4:19 p.m. ET, July 30, 2021

Vaccinations in New York state jump over last 24 hours

From CNN's Laura Dolan

More than 84,400 vaccination doses were administered over the last 24 hours in New York state, according to a news release from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office. 

This is higher than the daily average during the month of July, which was just over 31,900.   

The seven-day positivity average for Covid-19 cases remains over 2% in the state. The highest rate is in the capital region at 3.21%, according to the release.

The rise in vaccinations comes after Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced certain vaccine requirements for state and city workers this week.

To note: The July vaccination average of 31,907 was computed by adding up all of the daily vaccine doses reported by the New York State Department of Health via the governor’s press office and dividing by total number of days.

3:46 p.m. ET, July 30, 2021

The FDA is pulling in extra help to speed full approval of Covid-19 vaccines

From CNN's Virginia Langmaid

The US Food and Drug Administration is pulling in extra help from across the agency to speed final approval of Pfizer/BioNtech’s coronavirus vaccine, an agency spokesperson told CNN Friday.

“We have taken an all-hands-on-deck approach, including identifying additional resources such as personnel and technological resources from across the agency and opportunities to reprioritize other activities, in order to complete our review to help combat this pandemic surge,” the FDA’s Abby Capobianco told CNN in an email.

“Our ongoing review of the biologics license application for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is moving forward as rapidly as possible in keeping with the high-quality complete assessment that the public expects from the FDA,” she added.

The three vaccines in current use in the United States — Pfizer’s, Moderna’s and Johnson & Johnson’s — have emergency use authorization. Pfizer has filed for full approval in a process known as biologics license application or BLA. 

“We recognize that for some, the FDA approval of COVID-19 vaccines may bring additional confidence and encourage them to get vaccinated,” Capobianco said. She said acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock was helping reassign people and other resources.

“FDA staff will conduct a thorough review process, while balancing the incredible sense of urgency necessary, both of which are needed to ensure that any vaccine that is authorized or approved meets our rigorous standards for safety, effectiveness, and quality. In this regard, Dr. Woodcock has reiterated her appreciation for the diligence and integrity to this process and offered all agency resources to the team to make this happen.”

3:41 p.m. ET, July 30, 2021

White House says a national vaccine requirement "not under consideration at this time"

From CNN's DJ Judd

(Andrew Harnik/AP)
(Andrew Harnik/AP)

The White House is not considering a national vaccine requirement at this time, principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters at Friday’s press briefing.

Jean-Pierre declined to say whether President Biden has asked the Department of Justice if a federal vaccine mandate was possible, telling reporters Friday, “I don't have any more to add to that,” but pointed to the President’s remarks Thursday during remarks from the East Room.

“I had asked the Justice Department to determine whether that is, they're able to [pass vaccine mandates] legally,” Biden said Thursday, “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.”