The latest on the Covid-19 pandemic in the US

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

Updated 3:43 AM ET, Wed August 11, 2021
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1:36 p.m. ET, August 10, 2021

White House's message to Florida governor over masks in schools: "Get out of the way"

From CNN's Jasmine Wright

(Pool)
(Pool)

White House press secretary Jen Psaki issued a message on Tuesday to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is threatening to withhold salaries of superintendents who impose mask mandate in schools.

“If you're not interested in following the public health guidelines to protect the lives of people in your state, to give parents some comfort as they're sending their kids to school,” Psaki said.

“Then get out of the way and let public officials, let local officials, do their job to keep students safe,” Psaki added when asked what the White House says directly to DeSantis.

Psaki told reporters that the White House and federal government are continuing to look for ways to support local school districts and educators, “as they try to follow the science do the right thing and save lives.”

She added that the funds made available to Florida had not yet been distributed on a state level.

“So, the question is, why not? And those can be used to cover expenses that come up in this period of time,” she said. “They're under federal discretion, so they just need to be distributed to the schools — we're looking into what's possible.”

Psaki said later that paying for salaries could be a part of that, and the Department of Education is looking at options. Withholding funds is not the intention, she said.

And she thanked the leaders in the state working to impose guidelines, potentially against the will of the governor.

“I do want to call out the courage and the boldness of a number of leaders in Florida, including in Miami-Dade County — people who are stepping up to do the right thing to protect students and keep schools safe and open,” Psaki said.

“This is serious. And we're talking about people's lives, and we know based on public health guidelines that even though kids under a certain age are not yet eligible masks can have a huge impact," she continued.

1:16 p.m. ET, August 10, 2021

Florida governor says masking is "about parental choice, not government mandate"

From CNN’s Gregory Lemos

WFOR
WFOR

As cases of Covid-19 continue surging in the state of Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis defended his ban on school mask mandates saying, for him, “it is about parental choice, not government mandate.” 

DeSantis said “a lot of parents” have come to him and complained that masking is hard on their children in a learning environment.

“Ultimately my view is, it’s a parent’s decision. If you believe in the masking during the school, you can do it. You are free to do it. No one is saying you can’t do it. But if you are somebody who is concerned about it, that thinks that may not be the right thing for your child, then I think you should have the right to make that ultimate decision. I don’t think government should override that,” DeSantis said during an event Tuesday honoring the first responders of the Champlain Towers South collapse in Surfside, Florida.

DeSantis said “it is totally reasonable” for a parent to send their child to school without a mask.

DeSantis said when it comes to younger children in particular, they can’t be expected to wear their mask properly anyway.

“Do you honestly think these young kids are doing that? So I don’t think it’s really doing much. And so as a parent, I think parents should look to say it’s doing more harm than good,” DeSantis said.

1:11 p.m. ET, August 10, 2021

3 in 4 adults in the UK have received both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine

From CNN’s James Briggs

A patient waits to receive a Covid-19 vaccine dose at Heaven night club in London on August 8.
A patient waits to receive a Covid-19 vaccine dose at Heaven night club in London on August 8. Alberto Pezzali/AP

More than three quarters of adults in the UK have now received two doses of a Covid-19 jab, according to the Department of Health and Social Care.  

A total of 86,780,455 vaccine doses have been administered in the UK, with 47,091,889 people receiving a first jab and 39,688,566 people receiving both, according to data released on Tuesday. 

Public Health England have said the vaccines are highly effective at preventing hospitalization and deaths, with an estimated 60,000 deaths avoided. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement, “Our incredible vaccine rollout has now provided vital protection against the virus to three quarters of all UK adults. This is a huge national achievement, which we should all be proud of.” 

The milestone moment in the vaccine program comes amid the government’s rollout of its "grab a jab" strategy, where people are able to get vaccinated at pop-up vaccine sites across the country including nightclubs, football stadiums and festivals across the UK. 

“Getting two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine is the key to enjoying a host of new freedoms safely – whether that be to enjoy a trip abroad with family or a night out with friends – as we continue to build our wall of protection," Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said in a statement.

The minister also urged all those who have not already been jabbed to come forward and get one “as soon as possible." 

10:29 a.m. ET, August 10, 2021

US to donate 8.5 million Covid-19 vaccines to Mexico, official says

From CNN's Karol Suarez

A health worker administers a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Mexico City on August 4.
A health worker administers a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Mexico City on August 4. (Leonardo Montecillo/Agencia Press South/Getty Images)

The US will donate 8.5 million more vaccines to Mexico, according to Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard on Tuesday. 

Following a conversation between US Vice President Kamala Harris and Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador late Monday afternoon, the US affirmed they would donate another 3.5 million Moderna vaccines and 5 million AstraZeneca vaccines, according to Ebrard, as Mexico faces a surge in cases amid a third wave of Covid-19.

Ebrard said he hoped for the vaccines "very soon, in August." 

"We are in a good moment in the relationship with the United States, the issues that we have raised have been addressed, and this is how a relationship is built, with respect from both parties," he added.

Ebrard also said they welcomed the Tuesday visit of White House Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and National Security Council Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere Juan Gonzalez to Mexico City, during which discussions on possibly reopening the border to nonessential travel would continue. 

Ebrard said, “we will talk to Secretary Mayorkas to determine when we can open the border for activities that they – the US – consider non-essential."

10:12 a.m. ET, August 10, 2021

"I have a time bomb in my neck": A cancer patient cannot get surgery as Covid-19 patients fill hospitals

From CNN's Aditi Sangal

Las Vegas resident Michael Kagan was recently diagnosed with stage-three cancer, and a surgery was scheduled on Aug. 4 to remove the cancerous lymph nodes in his neck. But the hospital pushed it back: With the recent rise in Covid-19 cases, the hospital would not have a recovery bed for him.

“I am just living with a time bomb and we’re just letting it tick down basically, because I’m not getting any treatment,” he told CNN on Tuesday.

Mentally dealing with cancer was one thing, but the delay in his treatment has been hard to adjust with, Kagan said. Finding out that most hospital beds are taken up by mostly unvaccinated Covid-19 patients makes Kagan hope that more people hear his story and get vaccinated.

“I don’t want to shame anybody. I do not want to express any anger on anybody. I just want people to not get sick. I am already sick …. And the way to avoid that is to get vaccinated,” he said.

Now his surgery has been pushed to Aug. 18, but Kagan says he has been told there is no guarantee that will happen.

“I am on pins and needles this week, and I will be really until they check me into the hospital,” he said. “The reality is that we do not have a plan B …. You always hear that with cancer, early detection matters. That is because early treatment matters. I am not getting any treatment,” he added.

10:22 a.m. ET, August 10, 2021

"Fighting an un-winnable war": ICU nurse quits her job as cases surge in Mississippi

Mississippi health officials say there are no more ICU beds available in several of the state's top hospitals. The rise of Covid-19 patients and deaths in the community became overwhelming for Nichole Atherton, an ICU nurse at Singing River Ocean Springs Hospital.

After working through the pandemic, Atherton resigned from her job last week.

"We've had to watch a lot of people die," she told CNN on Tuesday. "As a nurse, you're called to save people and to help people get better and sometimes it feels like we're fighting a losing battle."

She said Mississippi has a high hospitalization rate and a low number of people getting vaccinated. This makes it feel like health care workers are "fighting an un-winnable war," she said.

Atherton said of the 12 people in the 12-bed ICU she works in, all of them are sick with Covid-19 and all of them are unvaccinated.

She said one of the most heartbreaking stories she has seen recently was a new mother who had to meet her baby for the first time on a video call.

"We held the phone up so she could see the baby for the first time and that's heartbreaking," Atherton said.

"We're trained to deal with death, as a nurse, and to help people die with dignity when that time comes, but seeing this much death day in and day out for this extended period of time – it becomes unbearable and the trauma that it gives you, it's not something that will easily go away," she added.

Atherton said that she wants people to choose to wear masks and get the vaccine because veteran nurses won't be able to cope with this level of trauma indefinitely. As a result, the nursing staff taking care of patients will become less and less experienced, something she said will be "extremely unsafe."

"To call us heroes but not do what you can to protect yourself and to protect us, it's just words and words don't save lives, actions save lives," she said.

"Those people that don't believe it or choose not to get vaccinated, when they can't breathe they still show up at the hospital and we still care for them and treat them with absolute respect and do not want them to feel judged for for the decisions they've made around their health. But I want them to understand they are jeopardizing our lives as well and we have children to go home to," Atherton said.
10:23 a.m. ET, August 10, 2021

Florida mother of son with Down syndrome says DeSantis' executive order is endangering students

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Judi Hayes on CNN's New Day.
Judi Hayes on CNN's New Day. (CNN)

Judi Hayes is one of several parents in Florida suing Gov. Ron DeSantis over his executive order requiring the state's health and education departments to create rules based on parents' rights to make health care decisions for their children.

Her 10-year-old son has Down syndrome and is a part of general education classes, and she said that it "terrifies" her to send him to school right now with other students who may not be wearing masks.

"If we don't have enough kids wearing masks, that effectively makes it unsafe for my child to go to school at all. And if he can't go to school in person, he can't just pivot to digital learning like most kids could, because he wouldn't have access to the educational supports. So not having a mask mandate just completely deprives him of the opportunity to be educated along with his typical peers," Hayes said on CNN's "New Day."

Her attorney and litigation director for the Disability Independence Group, Matthew Dietz, said that the Americans with Disabilities Act guarantees that "any child has the ability to go to school or to go to any place like any other person, and they are entitled to have reasonable accommodations, including to be in a safe place."

Hayes said DeSantis is not keeping students' safety in mind with his fight over mask mandates.

"I feel like this is yet another culture war that Gov. DeSantis is lodging against the people of Florida. Parents like me are terrified. School starts in an hour and a half and we have no options, we have no idea what we're supposed to do, and it's almost as though he's actively trying to harm our children," she said.

9:53 a.m. ET, August 10, 2021

9-year-old who lost officer father to Covid-19 gets police escort on first day of school

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

After fourth-grader Noah Swanger's dad died of complications from Covid-19 earlier this summer, his father's colleagues at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department escorted him to his first day of school.

"It was overwhelming, and since I had a lot of nerves, it ... calmed my nerves down," Noah said on CNN's "New Day."

The 9-year-old said he wore a tie to school "because I'm the man of the house now."

Noah's mom, Christa Swanger, said the squad has shown incredible support for her son, including delivering a patrol car full of gifts to Noah on his birthday, which helps ease the pain they feel without her husband.

"It is a whole new life, you know, not having him here and not being able to share all of the special moments, like the first day of school, his birthday ... a whole year of new firsts that we'll have that he's not going to be a part of," she said.

Watch:

8:52 a.m. ET, August 10, 2021

Nearly all Americans live in areas with "high" or "substantial" levels of Covid-19 spread

From CNN’s Michael Nedelman

A total of 98.2% of the US population — around 325 million people — live in counties considered to have “high” or “substantial” Covid-19 transmission, according to CNN’s analysis of data published Monday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Three quarters of the population, or 250 million people, live in “high” transmission areas alone.

That means the latest CDC guidance, which advises even fully vaccinated people to mask up indoors in areas with substantial or high transmission, would apply to all but six million Americans.

Only 0.2% of the population — fewer than 600,000 people — live in areas with “low” transmission. Another 1.6% are in areas with “moderate” transmission

The CDC considers a county to have “high” transmission if there have been 100 or more cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 residents in the past week, or a test positivity rate of 10% or higher during the same time frame. For “low” transmission, those numbers must be fewer than 10 new cases per 100,000 or a test positivity rate under 5%.