The latest on the Covid-19 pandemic in the US

By Mike Hayes, Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani, Meg Wagner and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 8:03 p.m. ET, August 9, 2021
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11:02 a.m. ET, August 9, 2021

South Carolina governor says school mask mandates have "negative consequences"

From CNN’s Camille Furst

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster speaks at an event in Columbia, South Carolina, on July 30.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster speaks at an event in Columbia, South Carolina, on July 30. Tracy Glantz/The State via AP

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster held firm in his opposition to mandating masks in schools. At a news conference Monday morning he said that although "masking would help," it's "not necessary" and there are "negative consequences for all that."

Instead, McMaster said the decision "ought to be up to the parents."

McMaster signed an executive order on May 11 that restricted school districts from mandating masks for students.

He said that even though cases are on the rise, Covid-19 hospitalizations and ICU patient numbers are down from where they were at the peak of the pandemic.

"At this point, it's clear it's not like it was last year. We know how to handle a virus now. It's a completely different situation," McMaster said.

Although he didn't urge people to get vaccinated, he urged those who are eligible to "make that decision."

McMaster said, "If you are going to get a vaccination, now is a great time to do it."

10:00 a.m. ET, August 9, 2021

Orange County wastewater shows significant increases of Covid-19 virus

From CNN's Natasha Chen and Kevin Conlon 

The Orange County, Florida, Utilities department said it has recently detected significantly higher concentrations of Covid-19 virus in the wastewater. The testing of wastewater is done as part of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Department of Health and Human Services' National Wastewater Surveillance System.

As of Aug. 2, the Northwest wastewater service area in particular, saw a 1,255% increase in about a 9-week timeframe, according to a statement from the Orange County Utilities department.

According to the statement, as of August 5, the detected viral concentration in the Eastern wastewater service area had increased 775% in about a 13-week timeframe. In the Southern wastewater service area, the increase was about 588% in the same timeframe.  

An Orange County Utilities spokesperson shared a statement from the department, saying that the Eastern and Northwestern wastewater service areas “are primarily residential areas, which alerts us that the virus is spreading rapidly in our community as residents infect others in their local neighborhoods and surrounding areas. By contrast, although our Southern wastewater service area, which includes the tourism district, is also seeing a spike, sampling shows a slower increase in virus remnants. The difference in rate of increase may be reflective of varying vaccination rates in the wastewater areas, including special health requirements for travel.”

The concentrations reflect both symptomatic and asymptomatic residents, alerting authorities to spikes in infections 4 to 10 days before positive case numbers would reflect changes within the community, according to the Orange County Utilities department.

The county’s reclamation facilities serve about 870,000 people. A spokesperson for Orange County utilities said staff will closely monitor these levels as the school year begins.

10:18 a.m. ET, August 9, 2021

Norwegian Cruise Line can require proof of Covid-19 vaccination in Florida, federal judge rules 

From CNN'S Liz Stark 

The Norwegian Encore cruise ship is seen during its inaugural sailing in 2019 from PortMiami in Florida.
The Norwegian Encore cruise ship is seen during its inaugural sailing in 2019 from PortMiami in Florida. Richard Tribou/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Norwegian Cruise Line can require proof of Covid-19 vaccination for passengers and crew members, a federal judge ruled Sunday, after the cruise line operator had challenged Florida’s ban on vaccine passports. 

US District Judge Kathleen Williams granted Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings’ request for a preliminary injunction to Florida's law that prohibits companies from requiring customers and employees to provide documentation of Covid-19 vaccination status. 

The complaint, filed last month in the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida, named Florida’s Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees in his capacity as "the responsible state official."

In April, Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order banning the use of Covid-19 passports in the state. The order prohibited any government entity from issuing vaccine passports and blocks businesses from requiring any such documentation. State lawmakers passed legislation codifying the order that was signed into law on May 3. 

Offices for DeSantis and the Florida surgeon general did not immediately respond to CNN requests for comment. 

The lawsuit sets up a key showdown between state laws and the ability for companies to mandate vaccines to their customers. 

The company said it plans to resume cruises on August 15, with the Norwegian Gem departing from Miami – its first from Florida since the pandemic disrupted operations more than a year ago.

Frank Del Rio, Norwegian Cruise Line’s president and chief executive officer, praised the judge’s ruling said in a statement Sunday.

“We want nothing more than to sail from Miami, the Cruise Capital of the World, and from the other fabulous Florida ports and we welcome today’s ruling that allows us to sail with 100% fully vaccinated guests and crew which we believe is the safest and most prudent way to resume cruise operations amid this global pandemic,” he said.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. operates three cruise lines: Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises

10:14 a.m. ET, August 9, 2021

Covid-19 vaccines are applying for full approval. Here's why it could convince people to get a shot.

From CNN's Jen Christensen

A nurse holds a vial of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine in Chicago on December 17.
A nurse holds a vial of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine in Chicago on December 17. Scott Olson/Getty Images

Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine is currently only authorized for emergency use in the United States, but its full approval by the US Food and Drug Administration could happen within weeks.

The ramifications could alter the course of the pandemic in several ways.

First, full approval of a Covid-19 vaccine could persuade more people to get vaccinated.

More than 30% of the eligible population in the United States still hasn’t gotten a vaccine.

To qualify for emergency use authorization, Covid-19 vaccine makers submitted about three months of clinical trial data. This included at least 2 months of safety data on fully vaccinated participants, since most vaccine side effects occur 2-3 months after the vaccination.

For some Americans, that hasn’t been enough data to convince them to get the shot.

Full approval of a Covid-19 vaccine requires much more data, including safety and efficacy data generated in the real-world, outside of a clinical trial. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been tracking real-world data on the vaccines and more than 165 million people in the US are now vaccinated against the virus.

The extra data may help convince more people that the vaccines are not dangerous.

Three in ten unvaccinated adults said they would be more likely to get vaccinated if one of the vaccines moves to full approval, according to a survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Dr. Michael Wolf, the Associate Vice Chair for Research, Department of Medicine at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine expects approval would get about 5-10% more individuals worried about safety to get vaccinated.

“I think from the standpoint of the public, it really shouldn’t matter,” Offit said. “It’s been given to half of the American population. We have more than 300 million doses out there. This is far from experimental. We have a tremendous safety and efficacy portfolio on these vaccines – I mean, it’s more than most licensed products that are out there now.”

And yet he recognized that, at least for some, it does matter. He said the FDA knows that, too.

“I think they realize that at least there’s a psychological issue with how these vaccines are viewed, in terms of whether they’re a licensed product or just approved through EUA,” Offit said.

Mandates: Full approval of a Covid-19 vaccine could also make workplace mandates easier. Many unvaccinated people would face a financial reason to get one — they’ll need it to keep their jobs.

“FDA approval alone is not going to make many individuals run out and get it now, but you’re going to start seeing health systems and employers feel more emboldened to require them,” Wolf said. “There’s precedent for mandatory vaccinations and immunizations.”

Workplaces already have the legal authority to mandate the Covid-19 vaccine, according to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. But full approval could give any legal challenge less potency.

9:06 a.m. ET, August 9, 2021

You might start hearing about the Lambda variant. Here's what we know about it so far.

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, infections caused by the Lambda variant have been emerging in the United States, including in Texas, where Houston Methodist Hospital last month reported its first case.

There is a lot left to learn about Lambda, but here's what we know so far:

So far, it's rare in the US: The variant is not nearly as worrisome as the Delta variant in the US, which has been driving a rise in cases nationwide, but early studies suggest that it has mutations that make it more transmissible than the original strain of the coronavirus.

“Lambda has mutations that are concerning but this variant remains quite rare in the US despite being around for several months,” Dr. Preeti Malani, chief health officer in the division of infectious diseases at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, wrote in an email on Friday.

We're not sure how transmissible it is: it “It’s difficult to know for certain how transmissible Lambda is and how well vaccines work. So far, it seems that Lambda is more transmissible than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus,” which is similar to Delta and other variants, wrote Malani, an expert with the Infectious Diseases Society of America. SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

“Thankfully studies suggest that the currently available vaccines remain protective. We have learned during the pandemic that things can change quickly, so controlling spread of COVID-19 in general will help manage Lambda,” Malani wrote. “As long as there is uncontrolled spread of SARS-CoV-2, we will see more variants in the future. The only way out is widespread vaccination to control spread and prevent further mutation of SARS-CoV-2. It’s a race between getting enough of the world vaccinated and the development of new variants that are less responsive to counter measures.”

About vaccines: So far, data remain split on how well vaccines protect against the Lambda variant, and scientists say they need to study this more.

In July, researchers wrote in a lab study that they found some evidence that people who got the single-dose Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine might benefit from a booster dose to better protect them from new variants of the coronavirus, including the Lambda variant. The study was done in the lab and does not reflect real-world effects of the vaccine – and it’s published online as a preprint to the server biorxiv.org, meaning it was not subject to careful peer review.

Nathaniel Landau of the New York University Grossman School of Medicine and colleagues said their tests of blood taken from vaccinated volunteers shows that at least some of the newly emerging variants may evade the protection offered by a single dose of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine. A boost of a second dose of J&J vaccine, or even with Moderna’s or Pfizer’s, might help, the researchers reported.

In the study, the variants Beta, Delta, Delta plus and Lambda showed only “modest” resistance against antibodies elicited by the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna coronavirus vaccines, suggesting the vaccines still work.

8:16 a.m. ET, August 9, 2021

There could be more dangerous variants if more people don't get vaccinated, Fauci says

From CNN's Madeline Holcombe

Covid-19 vaccines are protecting more than half the US population from current strains, experts say. But if too few people get vaccinated, the virus will be allowed to continue to spread – and the result could be an even more dangerous variant, Dr. Anthony Fauci said.

“Then all of us who are protected against delta may not be protected against zaida (zeta),” the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said in a Q&A with USA Today published Sunday.

If an overwhelming majority of the population is vaccinated, the virus will disappear in the country, Fauci said. But having only a partially vaccinated population means that smoldering levels of infection will carry into the fall, be confused as the flu in the winter and pick back up in the spring, Fauci told USA Today.

And if the rest of the world isn’t vaccinated over the next couple of years, more circulation could mean more variants, Fauci warned.

Already, states are struggling to fend off the Delta variant, a strain believed to be significantly more transmissible than others. In 47 states, the seven-day average of new cases is surging by at least 10% more than the previous week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. And the US is averaging more than 100,000 new Covid-19 cases every day – the highest in almost six months, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Read more here.