The latest on the Covid-19 pandemic in the US

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

Updated 8:00 p.m. ET, August 6, 2021
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6:39 p.m. ET, August 6, 2021

Florida's Orange County Public Schools issues mask mandate and allows parents to opt out

From CNN’s Rosa Flores and John Couwels

Florida's Orange County Public Schools issued a mask mandate for the upcoming school year, according to a news release issued by the district late Friday. 

This comes after the district was notified about a new rule by the Florida Department of Health which, according to the release, said parents must be given the option to opt out of the mask requirement for their children.

“Out of an abundance of caution for the safety of our students and employees, and after consultation with our health experts and school board members, I am implementing required face masks for all students unless the parent chooses to opt-out of the requirement,” the district’s release said.

Opting out means sending a student to class with a signed note saying they would like to opt out of wearing a face mask, according to the district. 

According to the district, the mask mandate for students goes into effect on Aug. 10, the first day of school, and is effective for 30 days. 

Orange County Public Schools will also require employees, visitors, volunteers and parents to wear masks starting the first day of school.

5:33 p.m. ET, August 6, 2021

Arkansas judge blocks state law banning mask mandates in schools

From CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro and Elizabeth Stuart

An Arkansas judge temporarily blocked the enforcement of the state's law banning mask mandates in schools in response Friday to two lawsuits — one from a school district, and one from parents — who want schools to be able to require masks if they so choose.

The preliminary injunction was issued by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox, after the state's general assembly held a special session on the matter on Thursday without amending the state's law.

With the injunction in place, school districts can now enforce mask requirements, while the suits continue.

The law "cannot be enforced in any shape, fashion or form," Fox said during the hearing on Friday.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson called on the state's legislature earlier this week to amend the law that he himself signed in April, indicating that in hindsight, he wished he had not signed it.

"The local school districts should make the call,” Hutchinson said Wednesday. “And they should have more options to make sure that their school is a safe environment during a very challenging time for education.”

In a statement to CNN Friday, the governor said the judge's decision ended with the result he intended.

"While the Arkansas General Assembly did not amend Act 1002, my objective has been achieved by the court’s decision today of Judge Fox who ruled that Act 1002 is unconstitutional," Hutchinson said. "This ruling provides flexibility for school districts to make decisions on how to best protect their students.”

Officials from Marion School District filed the suit. The district has more than 900 students and a dozen staff members in quarantine due to positive Covid-19 cases during just the first two weeks of school.

Marion School District Superintendent Glen Fenter said in a statement to CNN the district is "pleased" with the judge's ruling today.

"When it comes to students wearing facemasks, we believe that local boards, who are closest to the situation, are in the best position to determine whether or not facemask requirements are appropriate," Fenter said.

Fenter said the district is now considering how best to move forward.

"We will be spending the coming days visiting with our lawyers and exploring what the best option will be for students in the Marion School District. We will work with our school board to enact a suitable policy."

5:32 p.m. ET, August 6, 2021

Florida reports record high number new Covid-19 cases this week

From CNN's Deidre McPhillips

A healthcare worker administers a Covid-19 swab test at a testing site at Tropical Park in Miami, Florida, on Friday, August 6.
A healthcare worker administers a Covid-19 swab test at a testing site at Tropical Park in Miami, Florida, on Friday, August 6. Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Florida reported more Covid-19 cases over the past week than any other seven-day period during the pandemic. 

Data published Friday by the state health department reported 134,506 new Covid-19 cases over the past week, for an average of 19,215 cases each day.

The previous record high was on Jan. 8, with 125,937 total cases reported over seven days, for an average of 17,991 cases each day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

This week’s total is about 22% higher than last week, when the state reported 110,477 total cases, for an average of about 15,782 new cases each day.

Over the past couple of weeks, about one in five new Covid-19 cases have been reported in Florida. But the state accounts for less than 7% of the US population overall, according data from the US Census Bureau.

With this latest update, Florida has the second highest rate of new cases per capita, with about 90 new cases per 100,000 people each day over the past week. The US overall is averaging about 30 new cases per 100,00 people each day.

Other states with the highest per capita case rates are Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama.

Over the past week, Florida reported 175 deaths and a new case positivity rate of 18.9%, according the state health department’s Covid-19 Weekly Situation Report.


4:54 p.m. ET, August 6, 2021

Share your story: Are you returning to an office, classroom or college campus for the first time?

People across the country will be returning this fall to a physical office, workplace, college or school for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic started.

What will be different? What are you excited about? What are you concerned about? 

We want to hear about your plans for a potential story.

4:53 p.m. ET, August 6, 2021

Amazon will require all warehouse workers to wear masks beginning Monday

From CNN's Brian Fung

An Amazon fulfillment center in seen in Bessemer, Alabama, on March 27.
An Amazon fulfillment center in seen in Bessemer, Alabama, on March 27. Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images

All of Amazon's US warehouse employees will again be required to wear masks indoors beginning on Monday, whether they are vaccinated or not, the company confirmed to CNN Friday. 

The decision marks yet another corporate titan that is tightening Covid-19 policies in response to the rise in infections linked to variants of the coronavirus.

“In response to the concerning spread of new COVID-19 variants in the U.S. and guidance from public health authorities and our own medical experts, we are requiring face coverings indoors regardless of vaccination status," said Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokesperson, in a statement to CNN. "We are monitoring the situation closely and will continue to follow local government guidance and work closely with leading medical healthcare professionals, gathering their advice and recommendations as we go forward to ensure our buildings are optimized for the safety of our teams.”

Amazon had relaxed its mask requirement on May 24 for fully vaccinated US warehouse workers, at least in areas where local regulations did not continue to require them.

The company had been criticized early on in the pandemic after some workers said the company had not provided sufficient protective gear or adequately sanitized its warehouses, leading to protests and lawsuits. 

Friday's announcement was first reported by The Wall Street Journal. 

4:22 p.m. ET, August 6, 2021

Biden administration will extend pandemic student debt relief through January 2022

From CNN's DJ Judd and Phil Mattingly

The Biden administration will extend the pandemic pause on student debt until January 2022, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement.

"The payment pause has been a lifeline that allowed millions of Americans to focus on their families, health, and finances instead of student loans during the national emergency," Cardona said.

The statement said that as the economy starts to bounce back, the extension will give students and borrowers "the time they need to plan for restart and ensure a smooth pathway back to repayment."

“It is the Department’s priority to support students and borrowers during this transition and ensure they have the resources they need to access affordable, high quality higher education," the statement said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Rep. Ayanna Pressley released a statement in support of the extension shortly after the announcement from the White House.

Some context: Federal student loan borrowers would have had to resume payments on Oct. 1 after an unprecedented 19-month suspension. The freeze was initially put in place by Congress and then extended by both the Trump and Biden administrations.

Borrowers’ balances have effectively been frozen since March 2020. Interest stopped adding up, saving the average borrower about $2,000 over the first 12 months – and collections on defaulted debt have been on hold.

Biden earlier suspended collections on defaulted student loans made by private lenders, which had previously been excluded from the protection.

The interest pause alone has provided $72 billion in relief.

4:23 p.m. ET, August 6, 2021

Mississippi Supreme Court issues emergency order implementing Covid-19 safeguards in all courts

From CNN’s Rebekah Riess

The Mississippi Supreme Court has issued an emergency order implementing Covid-19 safeguards in all courts in the state, giving individual judges discretion to adopt safety measures, according to a release from the court on Friday.

Judges have the discretion to postpone jury trials scheduled through Sept. 10, according to the release.

“If not otherwise prohibited, all courts are urged to limit in-person, courtroom contact as much as possible by utilizing available technologies, including electronic filing, teleconferencing, and videoconferencing,” Chief Justice Mike Randolph said in the emergency order.

The order also strongly encourages judges to refer to guidance issued by the Mississippi State Department of Health for preventing the spread of Covid-19, including recommendations for social distancing, capacity limitations on gatherings and masks.

“Unfortunately, circumstances have precipitously deteriorated, especially with respect to the Delta variant of Covid-19,” Randolph said, adding that the worsening pandemic requires changes to safeguard the public.

4:23 p.m. ET, August 6, 2021

Peloton delays office reopening until October

From CNN's Matt Egan

A Peloton office sign is seen ion New York in July 2020.
A Peloton office sign is seen ion New York in July 2020. Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Peloton is the latest company to postpone its office reopening amid concerns about the Delta variant.

The New York-based fitness company told CNN on Friday that it is pushing its staggered return to office from September to October.

“We are excited to invite Peloton team members back to the office but the safety of our teams is a top priority,” the company said in a statement.

Peloton added that once its office does reopen, the company plans to offer flexible work options to all corporate employees. The fitness company employed about 6,600 people as of the end of March.

Some context: Over the past 48 hours, major companies including Wells Fargo, BlackRock and ViacomCBS have pushed back their plans to reopen offices in September by at least a month. Amazon is delaying its return to office until January 2022.

4:01 p.m. ET, August 6, 2021

CDC vaccine advisers scheduled to meet next Friday

A meeting of vaccine advisers to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been announced for Aug. 13, according to an update to the agency's website Friday.

An agenda has not been posted, but the event is described as "a virtual COVID-19 meeting" that begins at 11 a.m. ET. The Washington Post is reporting the focus will be on giving additional doses to immunocompromised people, which may then inform whether and how the US Food and Drug Administration modifies its policies regarding the vaccines' authorization.

CNN has reached out to the CDC for more information.

At a previous meeting of the group – known as the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, or ACIP – experts discussed the types of people who might fall under this category, such as organ transplant recipients and people undergoing certain cancer treatments. It's estimated that around 3% of the adults in the US are immunosuppressed.

According to current CDC guidance, "data suggest immune response to COVID-19 vaccination might be reduced in some immunocompromised people." The agency recommends that they continue taking steps as though they were not vaccinated – such as wearing masks, physical distancing and avoiding crowds.