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The latest on the Covid-19 pandemic in the US

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What we covered here

  • Half of the US population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, according to a White House official.
  • The Delta variant accounts for an estimated 93.4% of Covid-19 cases in the US, according to CDC numbers.
  • US Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths are likely to increase over the next four weeks, according to a CDC ensemble forecast.
  • Meanwhile, coronavirus cases continue to rise across much of the world with Covid-19 deaths hitting a record peak in Africa, according to the WHO.

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

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.

Arkansas judge blocks state law banning mask mandates in schools

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.”

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

A healthcare worker administers a Covid-19 swab test at a testing site at Tropical Park in Miami, Florida, on Friday, August 6.

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.

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.

Amazon will require all warehouse workers to wear masks beginning Monday

An Amazon fulfillment center in seen in Bessemer, Alabama, on March 27.

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. 

Biden administration will extend pandemic student debt relief through January 2022

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.

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

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.

Peloton delays office reopening until October

A Peloton office sign is seen ion New York in July 2020.

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.

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.

Covid-19 vaccine booster might just be a one-time shot, not a yearly one, leading FDA researcher says

Syringes with doses of the Johnson and Johnson Covid-19 vaccine are readied at a vaccination clinic in Culver City, California, on August 5.

A booster dose of Covid-19 vaccine might just be part of the completion of immunization, not an annual requirement to revaccinate, Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the US Food and Drug Administration, said Tuesday.

“I don’t think that we want to think that these vaccines have somehow failed us,” Marks said at a discussion hosted by the Covid-19 Vaccine Education and Equity Project. 

“It may simply be that to get the kind of really good immunity against Covid-19 that we get with some other vaccines, it may take a series of three vaccinations, much the same way that Hepatitis B for adults and multiple childhood vaccination primary series, you need to get a vaccination, you know, zero, one; or zero, two and four; or zero, two and six months,” he said.

Marks also distinguished between two ways of considering third doses — one to aid people without an effective immune response, and one to address continuing circulation of the virus.

“There is the third dose of vaccine as part of the upfront series for people who don’t make a good immune response – that’s one type of third dosing. And then there may be a third dose, or a booster, depending on how you look at it, that will be given to make sure we have good immunity against the circulating strains of Covid-19,” Marks said. “I think we need to make sure we present this correctly.”

More than 900 students in quarantine after second week of school in one Arkansas district

More than 900 students and 12 teachers are in quarantine as the second week of school comes to an end in Marion, Arkansas, as the district grapples with an outbreak of Covid-19 cases.

Forty-seven students and eight staff members tested positive for Covid-19 this week alone, causing the jump in students needing to be quarantined. An additional 54 students and five staff members were able to avoid quarantine because they are vaccinated.

The latest Covid numbers are being tracked on the district’s online dashboard, which says the district is “committed to being transparent about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on our school community.”

CNN previously reported that the district has not been able to put a mask requirement in place due to the law signed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson in April. Hutchinson said earlier this week that he wished that had not become a law.

The district, which is just west of Memphis, Tennessee, said that if a mask mandate was in place, the number of students in quarantine would be drastically lower.

“Again, if all students and teachers had been wearing a mask appropriately — then [Thursday’s] 9 positive cases would be isolated — but there would be no resulting quarantines for anyone else,” the district’s website said.

Georgia's largest school system confirms 253 cases of Covid-19

Gwinnett County Public Schools confirmed at leas 253 cases of Covid-19 for the first three days of classes on Friday.  

“Many of the cases are from communal spread because they [people reporting cases of Covid-19] haven’t been in our buildings yet to have contracted it,” said Bernard Watson, director of community and media relations for Gwinnett County Public Schools. “Now that we’re back in school, we know we’re going to get cases.”

Watson said that out of the system’s 141 schools, 59 of them have no cases.  

“In order to really handle this and deal with this we need the cooperation of and partnership with our parents and students,” said Watson. “Fortunately, we haven’t had to quarantine as of yet.”

Gwinnett County Schools mandated masks on all campuses and encouraged anyone eligible for a vaccine to get one.

“If you’re sick or you feel sick don’t come to school, don’t come to work,” Watson said. 

The first day of school for Gwinnett County was Wednesday.

Gwinnett County, in the metro Atlanta area, is the largest school system in Georgia. It has about 180,000 students and close to 12,000 teachers.  

The schools where Covid-19 is spreading are not following mitigation measures, CDC director says

Schools and summer camps where Covid-19 has spread are the ones that have not been closely following mitigation measures, such as wearing masks, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Friday during a town hall event in Boston.

“We follow every jurisdiction, and we look for outbreaks that are happening in camps and schools,” Walensky said. “The places that are having a problem, the places that are having disease that is transmitted in the schools, are the places that are not taking prevention strategies. The places that aren’t masking. The places where you see kids in the hospital, the places where you see footage of kids in the hospital, are all places that are not taking mitigation strategies to keep our children safe.”

Walensky added that, as an example, Florida does not require masks in schools.

“If you’re masked and you’re doing all of the prevention mitigation strategies, it won’t be transmitted in the school. It will be contained,” Walensky said.

“It is possible to do this safely,” she added. “We’ve seen it done safely even in areas of high transmission – and where you’re seeing all of the challenges are in places that are not implementing mitigation strategies.”

JPMorgan sticks by office reopening but reinstates employee mask mandate

An office worker enters the JPMorgan Chase & Co. headquarters in New York on July 22.

JPMorgan Chase told employees on Friday they will be required to wear masks in common areas, on elevators and in lobbies to help prevent the spread of Covid-19, but America’s largest bank will keep offices open for now.

The company is now requiring non-vaccinated employees to be tested twice a week. However, unlike Wells Fargo and other Wall Street firms, JPMorgan is sticking by its return-to-the-office schedule even as Covid-19 cases rise. 

“It has been gratifying to see so many of you back in the office over the past several weeks,” JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon and other senior executives wrote in the memo. “We deeply appreciate your efforts and will continue with our previously stated return to the office schedule as we learn more about how hybrid working may work for our company.”

JPMorgan announced in late April that it would open its US offices to all employees on May 17, subject to a 50% occupancy cap. All US-based employees were expected to return to the office by early July on a consistent rotational schedule, subject to that same 50% cap.

JPMorgan executives said the new mask rules are being implemented out of “an abundance of caution” and due to the recently-updated mask guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We are aware of current conditions and are disappointed to see the rise in Covid-19 cases in the US, and we know that it is a cause of increasing anxiety for many,” the bank said in the memo.

White House says US is not headed toward lockdown despite Delta variant surge

White House press secretary Jen Psaki answers questions during the daily briefing on August 6.

The White House said the US is not headed for another lockdown to stop the spread of Covid-19 despite the highly contagious Delta variant spreading throughout the country. 

“This is not March 2020, or even January 2021. We’re not going to lock down our economy or our schools because our country’s in a much stronger place than when we took office thanks to the President’s leadership in vaccinating the American people and getting economic relief to those who need it,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Friday. “We’ve been preparing like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts for this moment and the potential that there would be ups and downs in our recovery.”

Psaki added: “We are not going back. We are not turning back the clock.”  

Earlier Friday: President Biden said more work needs to be done to vaccinate the rest of the country amid the Delta variant surge.

But he said the national vaccination program, which has so far resulted in 50% of the country getting fully vaccinated, has protected the population from the worst of the Delta variant. 

White House says there's no plan to renew enhanced unemployment benefits in September

White House press secretary Jen Psaki answers questions during the daily briefing on August 6.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Friday there’s been no decision made whether or not to extend enhanced unemployment benefits when the program lapses in September.

“At this point they’re expiring at the beginning of September, nothing has changed on that front, but a final decision has not been made,” Psaki told reporters at Friday’s briefing. 

The $300 boost, as well as two other pandemic programs that provide benefits to independent contractors and others who don’t typically qualify and to those who’ve run out of their regular state benefits, is scheduled to last until early September in the states that are continuing the programs.

In a follow up, CNN’s Phil Mattingly pressed on if there’s still a chance the administration may still decide to extend the enhanced unemployment insurance benefits.

“Well, it’s planning to end – it’s supposed to end, at this point, at the beginning of September, so he hasn’t made a decision to extend it, he also hasn’t made a decision not to, so I suppose that’s, that’s correct,” Psaki said.

Florida's Board of Education just passed these rules about Covid-19 school protocol

School buses are seen parked at a school in Winter Springs, Florida, in August 2020.

The Florida Board of Education unanimously passed two rules — one regarding school attendance as it relates to Covid-19 and another about the use of scholarship funds to help kids being harassed for mask use.

The rules will go into effect immediately for the upcoming start of the school year.

Friday’s emergency meeting was called as parental concerns grow around Covid-19 protocols.

The first rule presented by the Florida School Board of Education states that in the event that school districts implement quarantine orders for students who could be exposed or could become infected, attendance rules should change as to not impact the education of children. Since “these directives will result in learning loss for students unless plans are enacted to continue learning during ‘stay-home’ days,” according to the document presenting the emergency rule. 

Board of Education General Counsel Michael Mears stipulated during Friday’s emergency meeting that “even though they won’t be physically present under this rule, they’ll be able to continue their education and get credit for those days of schools outside of the physical school building.”

Mears urged school districts to implement procedures so children could continue learning at home.

During the time set aside for public comment, several parents complained that virtual schooling was no longer an option in their school districts forcing them to send their healthy kids into schools.

“I also like to point out that all children in Florida do have a virtual option. If they want to send their student to a virtual school, they should reach out to their own district. They can also access the Florida Virtual School and obtain a virtual education,” school board chair Tom Grady replied.  

The second rule set forth pertained to using Hope Scholarship funds for parents who felt their kids were being harassed because of their personal choice of mask use. The funds, in the form of a voucher, can be used to switch schools. As explained during the emergency session, the money comes from Floridians who chose to make donations to the program when they buy motor vehicles. According to the board, “it is not money that was appropriated to the districts.”

During the hour-long conference call, vice chair Ben Gibson explained further that “this rule allows a parent to access a scholarship that they could use to go to a different public school, they could use to cross to a different district if you happen to live near a line. You could go to another school district, or you could access a private school that accepts state scholarships and the funding would follow, but it’s not taking money from the district.” 

“Those funds are then available to help parents get their child out of a situation that’s 100% in keeping with the right of a parent to direct the education and health of their children,” Gibson added.  

An outraged parent chimed in during the public comment session, “I urge you to look beyond the false platitudes of parental rights and personal freedoms that this rule espouses. It is in fact, extremely one sided,” the Leon County parent said. “What about my constitutional parental rights to a safe public education for my child? This bill defunds school districts and you’re writing a blank check of taxpayer money to private school.” 

“We’re not going to hurt kids. We’re not going to pull funding that’s going to hurt kids in any way,” Gibson said.

New Jersey governor announces statewide mask mandate in schools

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy talks to reporters on June 8.

Students, educators, staff and visitors – regardless of Covid-19 vaccination status – will be required to wear face masks while inside school buildings across New Jersey during the 2021-2022 academic year, Gov. Phil Murphy announced in a news conference Friday afternoon.

The decision was made due to the recent and rapid spread of the Delta variant, because no child under the age of 12 is eligible for vaccination, and the reality that many older students and their parents remain unvaccinated, he said.

Covid-19 vaccination rates are lower among adults with disabilities, according to Census Bureau survey data

The Covid-19 vaccination rate among adults with disabilities is lower than among those without disabilities, according to data from the US Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey and published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the latest survey data, about 77% of adults with a disability had received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine, compared to 82% of adults without a disability.

This survey data differs from the official vaccination data published the CDC, which shows that about 70% of adults have received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine.

But the gap in reported vaccination rates from the survey – a difference of about five percentage points – highlights the relative disparity.

A gap exists across age groups, but is largest among adults ages 50-64, with about 78% of people with a disability who have had at least one dose compared to about 87% of those without a disability.

Vaccination rates among Black people with and without a disability are about even, but are largest among those individuals who identify as multiracial or a race or ethnicity other than White, Black, Hispanic or Asian.

Responses for the latest Household Pulse Survey were collected between June 23 and July 5. They are weighted to be representative of the total adult population in the United States.

Vaccination more than halves your chance of Covid-19 reinfection, study suggests

A nurse prepares a dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine on July 29 in Wilmington, California.

For adults previously infected with Covid-19, a new study shows that vaccines do a better job at protecting you from reinfection than natural immunity on its own.

The study, published Friday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suggests that people who got Covid-19 in 2020 and didn’t get a Covid-19 vaccine were more than twice as likely to be reinfected in May or June 2021, compared with people who also had Covid-19 but were later fully vaccinated.

“If you have had COVID-19 before, please still get vaccinated,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement Friday. ”Getting the vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and others around you, especially as the more contagious Delta variant spreads around the country.”

The CDC has long recommended that people who have been previously infected also get vaccinated. The agency notes that reinfection risk “is low in the months after initial infection but may increase with time due to waning immunity.” There is no minimum time to wait between recovering from Covid-19 and getting vaccinated.

The authors note that scientists are still unraveling how long and how robust natural immunity to Covid-19 is. A number of earlier studies have shown evidence of lasting immunity in some people with previous Covid-19 – but scientific consensus has maintained that vaccines do an even better job.

With the Delta variant driving a surge in cases, the study also noted that “the emergence of new variants might affect the duration of infection-acquired immunity, and laboratory studies have shown that” those antibodies from natural infection might be weaker against certain variants of concern.

Meanwhile, studies of vaccinated people have continued to show high levels of protection, particularly when it comes to severe outcomes, including hospitalization and death.

The new study of hundreds of people in the state of Kentucky did not assess severity of reinfections, and it noted that vaccinated people may be less likely to get tested, thus potentially skewing the numbers.

Half of US population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19

A healthcare worker administers a dose of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine during an event hosted by the Miami Heat at the FTX Arena in Miami, Florida, U.S., on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021. 

Half of the US population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, according to White House Data Director Dr. Cyrus Shahpar.

In a tweet on Friday, Shahpar said that more than 821,000 doses had been reported administered over the previous day’s total, including about 555,000 people who got their first shot.

The first dose of Covid-19 vaccine was administered about nine months ago, on December 14. It took about four months – until late March – to fully vaccinate a quarter of the US population, and another four and a half months to reach half, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC’s COVID-19 Data Tracker has not yet officially updated with this data, but it is expected to this afternoon. 

According to the latest data available from the CDC dashboard, an average of 699,261 doses have been administered each day over the past seven days, and an average of 464,778 people initiated vaccination each day over the past seven days. 

Covid-19 vaccinations in the US reached a record high in mid-April, with an average of more than 3 million shots administered each day and about 2 million people initiating vaccination each day.

Unvaccinated Americans are causing a "needless toll" on the US

Vials and syringes of the Johnson and Johnson Janssen Covid-19 vaccine are displayed at a Culver City Fire Department vaccination clinic on August 5, 2021, in California. 

President Joe Biden said that while vaccinations and other efforts against the Covid-19 pandemic will help make the Delta variant wave “very different” than previous waves in the US, it’s still taking a “needless toll.”

“Cases are going to go up before they come back down. It’s a pandemic of the unvaccinated. And it’s … taking a needless toll on our country,” he said.  

As of today, 193 million Americans have gotten at least one vaccine dose and 165 million Americans are fully vaccinated, according to Biden.

“Today, about 400 people will die because of the Delta variant in this country. A tragedy, because virtually all of these deaths were preventible if people had gotten vaccinated,” he said.

Biden credits pandemic recovery plan as nearly 950,000 jobs were added in July

President Joe Biden speaks about the July jobs report during an event in the East Room of the White House, Friday, Aug. 6, 2021, in Washington.

President Biden said while there will continue to be “ups and downs along the way as we continue to fight the Delta surge of Covid,” the administration’s plan to bring by jobs and jump start the economy is working.

The US economy added 943,000 jobs in July and the unemployment rate fell to 5.4% — a new low of the pandemic era — the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday.

It was the biggest job gain since August last year, when more than 1 million positions were added back — and more than the 870,000 economists had expected.

“What is indisputable now is this – the Biden plan is working. The Biden plan produced results and it is moving the country forward,” the President said on Friday.

“We are now the first administration in history to add jobs every single month on our first six months in office. And the only one in history to add more than 4 million jobs during the first six months. Economy growth is the fastest in 40 years. Jobs are up. The unemployment rate is the lowest since the pandemic hit,” he said, pointing to the fact that the necessary tools are in place to allow that growth to happen.

Since May 2020, America has added back 16.7 million jobs. But remember: it’s still 5.7 million short of its pre-pandemic level.

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One dose of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine may be enough for those previously infected, study finds

A vial of the Pfizer/BioNTech Comirnaty vaccine against Covid-19 at a mass vaccination center on July 1, 2021 in Leipzig, Germany.

New data published Friday suggest that people with a previous Covid-19 infection may have a sufficient immune response to the virus when vaccinated with just one of Pfizer’s mRNA Covid-19 vaccine doses. 

In the study, published Friday in JAMA Network Open, researchers from Rush University compared antibody levels after one and two doses of Pfizer’s vaccine in people previously infected with Covid-19 to levels in those without a previous infection. 

“We observed higher SARS-CoV-2 antibody levels in previously infected individuals after 1 dose of BNT162b2 compared with infection-naive individuals after 2 doses,” the study authors wrote. 

The researchers said a second dose in this population did not “significantly increase” antibody levels, meaning one dose may be enough for the previously infected. 

Of the group with a previous infection, four had a positive PCR test for Covid-19 but did not develop antibodies to the virus. In these people, vaccine response was more similar to that of people without a previous infection, meaning that a PCR test alone may not be enough to determine the number of vaccine doses needed, the study authors wrote. 

Pelosi says vaccine mandate on Capitol Hill could change with full approval

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks at her weekly news conference at the Capitol building on August 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. 

Asked about calls from some House Democrats for a vaccine mandate for members and staff, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “We are guided and have to be guided by the guidance of the Capitol Physician,” but suggested the dynamic might change once full approval is granted.

“Now in a matter of maybe days or weeks the full approval will be given to the vaccines and that I think will make a difference in terms of what we can do,” she said at her weekly press conference.

Pelosi also thanked President Biden for the administration’s move to announce a new targeted eviction moratorium.

“Thank you Mr. President for the courage and the initiative that you took to extend the moratorium,” she said, adding, “It was very clear the Senate was not going to take any action. We needed a presidential moratorium.”

Challenge to Indiana University vaccine mandate reaches Supreme Court

The US Supreme Court is seen in Washington, DC on July 1, 2021.

A lawyer representing Indiana University students asked the Supreme Court to block the school’s vaccine mandate that is set to take effect this fall, while the appeals process plays out. 

The filing Friday marks the first time the justices have been asked to weigh in on the issue as private and public entities are increasingly requiring vaccines in the wake of a new surge of the virus caused by the Delta variant.

The university requires students to be vaccinated unless they qualify for exemptions. If they are exempted, they must wear masks and undergo testing twice a week.

“IU is coercing students to give up their rights to bodily integrity, autonomy, and of medical treatment choice in exchange for the discretionary benefit of matriculating at IU,” James Bopp, a lawyer for the students, told the Supreme Court in an emergency petition asking the justices to act by Aug. 13.

Bopp said the students’ refusal is “based on legitimate concerns including underlying medical conditions, having natural antibodies, and the risks associated with the vaccine.”

Lower courts have ruled against the students, citing a Supreme Court decision from 1905 which held that a state may require vaccines against smallpox. 

A panel of judges on the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals, all Republican appointees, said that vaccination requirements “have been common in this nation” and stressed that the IU policies allow exemptions for those who have medical issues related to the vaccine or religious objections. 

“These plaintiffs just need to wear a mask and be tested, requirements that are not constitutionally problematic,” the court held, and added that vaccination is a condition for attending the university. 

Those who do not want to be vaccinated may “go elsewhere.” 

“A university will have trouble operating when each student fears that everyone else may be spreading diseases,” the court held. “Few people want to return to remote education – and we do not think that the Constitution forces the distance-learning approach on a university that believes vaccination (or masks and frequent testing of the unvaccinated) will make in-person operations safe enough.”

The Supreme Court will likely ask the university for its response. 

Last week, IU spokesperson Chuck Carney told CNN that it “remains confident” that it will ultimately prevail because of a legitimate public health interest in assuring the safety of our students, faculty and staff.”

United Airlines unions urging workers comply with corporate vaccinate mandate

A United Airlines jetliner taxis down a runway for take off from Denver International Airport in Denver on July 2, 2021.

Unions representing United Airlines employees are urging workers get vaccinated or face getting fired by the company this fall.

In a Friday memo, the chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association representing United pilots said that 90% of its members are already vaccinated thanks to incentives already offered by the company, but “we recognize that a small number of pilots do not agree with this new Company policy.”

While the union said “the vaccine requirement represents an employment change we believe warrants further negotiations,” it cautioned that court cases have upheld corporate vaccinate mandates.

The airline joins a growing list of companies including Google, Microsoft and Facebook mandating workers get vaccinated. United has said workers who do not want to get vaccinated by Oct. 25 must show a valid religious reason or face separation.

The union representing United mechanics told CNN that it is “educating” members about the virus. 

“We encourage vaccinations, but we are not imposing a mandate on our membership,” said Richard Johnson of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

The United chapter of the Association of Flight Attendants said it has seen a “notable uptick” of positive coronavirus tests over the last two weeks, mostly by workers who are unvaccinated. In a statement, it said 80% of United flight attendants are vaccinated, but “now is not the time to let our guard down.”

Union president not pushing for a vaccine mandate for teachers

Randi Weingarten during her interview with John Berman.

The president of the second largest teachers union in the country stopped short of saying she supports a vaccine requirement for teachers in schools.

President of the American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten said her union is looking at all the options on the table, during an interview with CNN’s John Berman Friday morning.

“We have supported everything that our employers have actually put in front of us to date, meaning, we have supported vaccines or testing,” Weingarten said, indicating plans like the one in New York City, which says that unvaccinated teachers must be tested weekly for Covid-19.

Weingarten emphasized that her union wants all schools to be open and safe environments for all students.

“Educators have stepped up. 90% of them have actually gotten the vaccine, and that was back in April,” she said. “I’ve been on the road for the last seven days. I’m seeing firsthand like everyone else the surging Delta [variant.] And that’s the reason why we are revisiting and looking at other alternatives about how we get the last 10% vaccinated.”

If states or cities try to impose a vaccination requirement for teachers, Weingarten said her union will “be bargaining over those policies” to make sure that people who have medical or religious exemptions would be able to opt out.

She said the voluntary approach has worked with teachers so far, but said full FDA approval of the vaccines would mark a point where mandatory vaccination might be acceptable.

“Would it be this month if the FDA goes give full approval?” Berman asked.

“Yes. Yes,” said Weingarten.

Emirates seeing "huge surge" in queries by customers "desperate" to travel

An Emirates Airlines plane at Dubai International Airport on February 1, 2021.

Dubai’s flagship airline, Emirates, welcomed the decision by the UK to move the United Arab Emirates to the “amber” list, saying in a statement that they have been receiving a huge surge in queries from customers “desperate to travel to see their families.” 

“Since the UK’s announcement, we’ve seen a huge surge in queries from customers desperate to travel to see their families, planning their kids’ return for the new school term, as well as their postponed business or holiday travel,” Emirates Chief Commercial Officer Adnan Kazim said in a statement on Friday. 

In a promotional video posted on Emirates’ social media, an actress dressed as an Emirates employee stood on top of Burj Khalifa, the highest building in the world, holding signs saying “moving the UAE to the UK amber list has made us feel on top of the world.”

The British government moved India, Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE from the “red” list to the “amber” list, meaning that travelers arriving from those countries will no longer need to quarantine if they test negative for Covid-19 and are fully vaccinated with a vaccine approved by the UK. 

Travel is popular between the UK and the UAE, with British tourists making up a significant percentage of visitors to Dubai. The total percentage of British tourists to Dubai in 2019, a year before the pandemic, stood at 7%, the third highest after India and Saudi Arabia, according to governmental statistics. 

Thousands of British residents currently live in the UAE, while for Emiratis, the UK remains the most popular travel destination in Western Europe, the UK’s national tourism agency said on its website.    

A UK-UAE travel corridor had initially been set up in 2020, allowing residents and tourists to travel between both countries freely, however as coronavirus cases persisted in the UAE, the UK placed the country on the “red list,” stopping Britons from traveling to the Gulf nation. 

British residents in the UAE trying to travel home have been planning stopover holidays in “green list” destinations.