The latest on the Covid-19 pandemic in the US

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

Updated 8:02 p.m. ET, August 12, 2021
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10:30 a.m. ET, August 12, 2021

HHS will require more than 25,000 health care staff and volunteers be vaccinated against Covid-19

From CNN's Jeremy Diamond and Devan Cole

Alastair Pike/AFP/Getty Images
Alastair Pike/AFP/Getty Images

Covid-19 vaccinations will be required for the more than 25,000 health care staff and volunteers working at the Department of Health and Human Services, Secretary Xavier Becerra announced Thursday.

"Staff at the Indian Health Service (IHS) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) who serve in federally-operated health care and clinical research facilities and interact with, or have the potential to come into contact with, patients will be required to receive the Covid-19 vaccine," Becerra said in a statement.

The secretary said the vaccination requirement will apply to "employees, contractors, trainees, and volunteers whose duties put them in contact or potential contact with patients at an HHS medical or clinical research facility."

US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy also announced Thursday that members of the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps must also be vaccinated. Those public health officials are included in the 25,000 figure, an HHS official said.

An HHS official said the requirement is expected to go into effect by the end of September.

The announcements add to a growing list of vaccine requirements instituted by various federal departments and agencies for their employees in recent days. On Monday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he was moving to have all active-duty members of the US military vaccinated against the virus, and last month, President Joe Biden announced that all federal employees must attest to being vaccinated against Covid-19 or face strict protocols.

The statement from HHS noted that "IHS, NIH and the Commissioned Corps already require such personnel to receive the seasonal influenza vaccine and other routine vaccinations, with processes for medical and religious exemptions."

"As President Biden has said, we are looking at every way we can to increase vaccinations to keep more people safe, and requiring our HHS health care workforce to get vaccinated will protect our federal workers, as well as the patients and people they serve," Becerra said.

10:27 a.m. ET, August 12, 2021

Here's a possible timeline for vaccinating young children in the US

From CNN's Jen Christensen and Alyssa Kraus

Although the vast majority of children don't end up in the hospital for Covid-19, as of Saturday, the number of children who were newly hospitalized saw a 21% increase week over week, according to the CDC.

Parents and pediatricians alike are eager to have children vaccinated as schools reopen, but the process may take awhile longer.

The FDA asked Pfizer and Moderna to double the number of children ages 5 to 11 in clinical trials, while also asking for six months of follow-up safety data. For adults, the FDA only required two months of follow-up data.

Many experts have criticized the FDA for this decision, such as Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, who claims families "don't have the luxury of being able to sit back and wait for additional data like this to roll in."

Due to this timeframe, data for children ages 5 to 11 could come sometime in September. Depending on the results, Pfizer told CNN it could ask the FDA to authorize the vaccine that same month.

Meanwhile, data for 2-to-5-year-olds could arrive soon after. For the youngest children, Pfizer said it could potentially get data in October or November, and shortly thereafter ask the FDA to authorize emergency use.

However, authorization from the FDA can take several weeks, meaning a vaccine for younger children likely won't be available until late fall or even next year.

Moderna told CNN it expects data later this year or toward the beginning of 2022. There may also be interim data at various stages in the trial, but that timeline is hard to predict.

Additionally, Johnson & Johnson told CNN that it has used its small trial with 16- and 17-year-olds from earlier in the year to design four late stage studies for younger children, and the company is in "active discussions with regulatory authorities regarding our development plan and trial designs." The company anticipates those trials will start in the fall.

Read more about a possible timeline for vaccinating children here.

10:29 a.m. ET, August 12, 2021

Hospital system in New York City will require all staff be vaccinated with first shot by Sept. 13

From CNN's Taylor Romine

Mount Sinai Health Systems, a private hospital system in New York City, told CNN that they will require staff and faculty to get vaccinated with at least one Covid-19 shot by Sept. 13, given the rapid spread of the Delta variant.

Limited exceptions will be made for those with medical or religious exemptions, and vaccinations will not be required for those who already have a contract that allows for working fully remote, according to an email sent to all employees this morning and shared by system spokesperson Lucia Lee.

Those with medical or religious exemptions will be required to get weekly testing.

The health system said that those who do not get vaccinated or have an exemption will be "subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination."

Lee told CNN that the hospital currently has 101 Covid-19 inpatients, which is "another reason" why vaccinations are crucial at this time. 

"As a hospital, a school, and a health care provider, we have responsibilities not only to each other, but to the communities we serve," the email reads. "And the right thing to do for our communities — and our Mount Sinai family — is to make sure we are all vaccinated against COVID-19. Vaccines are simply the best protection we have against this virus, and our patients deserve the best."

The new policy will be required for all Mount Sinai locations, including corporate offices. 

10:09 a.m. ET, August 12, 2021

West Virginia college will charge $750 fee for unvaccinated students

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Steve Heap/Shutterstock
Steve Heap/Shutterstock

West Virginia Wesleyan College will not mandate Covid-19 vaccines, but the school will charge unvaccinated students $750 to attend.  

“This is about cost recovery,” the university’s President Joel Thierstein said on CNN’s “New Day.” 

“We have a collaborative decision-making process at our college — faculty and staff and students all weigh in on the processes … and eventually the policies that we issue," he said.

“We got together this summer and decided that rather than spread the cost of testing and what have you across the entire campus, we would apply it to those who have decided not to get vaccinated,” Thierstein continued. 

Ninety percent of staff and 80% of the school’s students are already vaccinated. 

“Obviously, when you make a decision, some people are happy, some are not. The general consensus is that this is the right thing to do,” he said about feedback on the decision. 

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said on Wednesday that for the first time since Feb. 8, there are over 100 Covid-19 patients in hospital intensive care units across the state. The daily positivity rate is 6.35%, according to Justice. 

"I'm trying to give a lot of leeway to our local officials, but if this thing continues the way it's going... we will have to adjust and we probably will end up having to move in this direction," Justice said about possible requirements.  

CNN's Melissa Alonso contributed additional reporting to this post.

9:40 a.m. ET, August 12, 2021

Interim Florida superintendent says she will continue to defy DeSantis' order on masks

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Broward County Public Schools Interim Superintendent Vickie Cartwright.
Broward County Public Schools Interim Superintendent Vickie Cartwright. CNN

Broward County Public Schools Interim Superintendent Vickie Cartwright said that her school board is sticking with its decision to uphold a mask requirement, despite Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' executive order on masks.

DeSantis is threatening to withhold school officials' salaries if they defy his order directing the state's health and education departments to issue rules preventing the implementation of school mask mandates.

"My core value is students first. No amount of personal financial loss will cause me to go against this value. No amount of money can compare to a person's life or the impact that this virus may have on a person or their family," Cartwright said on CNN's "New Day."

The Broward County School Board voted Tuesday to maintain the school district's mask mandate.

"Local decisions such as this allow for responsiveness and the immediate needs for local and very real situations. It wasn't an easy decision for them to make, but I know at the heart of every one of our board members that they are making a decision that they feel is right to keep the health and safety of our students and our community," she said.

9:47 a.m. ET, August 12, 2021

Parents want to vaccinate their children — and they're growing impatient

From CNN's Jen Christensen and Alyssa Kraus

With the more contagious Delta variant, Covid-19 cases among children have been on the rise since early July and parents are eager to vaccinate their children. But with no vaccine authorized for people younger than 12, parents want to know: what is taking so long?

Currently, there's a 2,000-person waiting list to get into a Covid-19 vaccine trial at Children's National Hospital led by infectious disease specialist Dr. Bud Weidermann.

"I certainly understand where people are coming from. I think we're dealing with the Delta variant, which is a different ballgame than we've had before with Covid-19 and school is just around the corner," Wiedermann said. "So things are starting to ramp up and parents and kids are getting anxious about that."

The American Academy of Pediatrics understands parents' anxiety and impatience. AAP President Dr. Lee Savio Beers said there needs to be more urgency around the authorization of the Covid-19 vaccine for young children in the US.

Last month, the FDA asked Pfizer and Moderna to double the number of children ages 5 to 11 in clinical trials. The FDA also asked for six months of follow-up safety data, instead of the two months it asked for with adults.

However, the AAP argued the FDA should authorize vaccines for kids ages 5 to 11 based on the initial trial data already available. Two months of safety data should also be enough, according to a letter from the AAP.

"Waiting on a 6-month follow-up will significantly hinder the ability to reduce the spread of the hyper infectious Covid-19 delta variant," the letter said.

US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said yesterday the FDA will "move fast" to evaluate data from vaccine companies once it's ready, and it's possible a Covid-19 vaccine will be available for kids under the age of 12 before the end of 2021.

"Make no mistake, the FDA will move quickly on this because they recognize what's at stake. It's the health of our children, and there's really nothing more important than that," Murthy told CNN.

Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, a Stanford professor of pediatric infectious diseases who was on the AAP committee that helped draft the letter, is concerned the FDA is slowing down authorization unnecessarily. She fears the FDA is listening too closely to its critics.

"We don't have the luxury of being able to sit back and wait for additional data like this to roll in," Maldonado said.

However, some doctors have backed the FDA's timeframe on vaccines for children. While the Covid-19 vaccines have been proven to be safe for millions of people, scientists can't just extrapolate that out to younger children.

Update: "Kids aren't just miniature-sized adults, their immune systems are different," said Dr. Katherine Luzuriaga, professor of molecular medicine, pediatrics and medicine at UMass Medical School, who is working on the Moderna pediatric trial. "The way they respond can sometimes be different."

Read more about Covid-19 vaccines for children here.

9:35 a.m. ET, August 12, 2021

If the rate of Covid-19 cases keeps up, it will be a "disaster," says Texas hospital system president

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, CEO and President of Harris Health Systems in Houston, Texas.
Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, CEO and President of Harris Health Systems in Houston, Texas. CNN via Cisco Webex

Houston’s Harris Health Systems President and CEO Dr. Esmaeil Porsa says the Covid-19 situation is “terrible” in his hospitals.

“My hospitals are full … What is concerning is the rate by which our Covid-positive patients are increasing,” Porsa said on CNN’s “New Day.” 

In just five weeks, the health system admitted the same number of Covid-19 patients that previously took months to reach during the previous surge, he said.

“Five weeks from now, if this continues to go at the rate it is right now — and again, I emphasize that I don't see any intervention, any mitigating interventions being put in place to try to slow this down — this will be a disaster,” he said. 

Porsa called it “truly a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” as 98% of the system’s Covid-19 cases since Jan. 1 have been unvaccinated patients. 

“We don't live in isolation. This is not about personal freedom or individual choice. One person's personal freedom should not infringe on other people's freedom and rights to being healthy and out of the hospital. A person's freedom to drink and drive does not negate our laws against drunk driving. Your personal freedom to smoke does not negate our ban on public smoking. Your personal freedom to wear a seat belt does not negate our seat belt laws and does not prevent parents from having to apply seat belts to their children who are unable to do so," he said.

“So this is beyond a personal freedom and individual choice conversation. This is about us as a community doing the right thing,” Porsa continued. 

He said that two weekends ago, one of the system’s hospitals, Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital, had 130 people in its waiting room. It is designed to hold at most 70 people, he said. Tents have been set up to ease the congestion. 

8:36 a.m. ET, August 12, 2021

CDC advisers will vote Friday on need for additional Covid-19 vaccine doses

From CNN’s Lauren Mascarenhas

A healthcare worker fills a syringe with a Covid-19 vaccine at a community vaccination event in Los Angeles, California, on August 11.
A healthcare worker fills a syringe with a Covid-19 vaccine at a community vaccination event in Los Angeles, California, on August 11. Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Vaccine advisers to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will discuss additional doses of Covid-19 vaccine, including booster doses, on Friday, and a recommendation vote is scheduled, according to the Federal Register.

A vote has not yet been added to the draft agenda for the meeting. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices agenda does include updates regarding additional vaccine doses for immunocompromised people and consideration for booster doses of Covid-19 vaccines.

The US Food and Drug Administration is expected to announce that it is authorizing additional doses for immunocompromised people within the next 48 hours.

The additional dose would be for immunocompromised people who did not have a good initial response to vaccination. The booster doses, on the other hand, would likely be for healthy people who did have a good initial response to vaccination, but now the effectiveness of their vaccine is waning.

8:30 a.m. ET, August 12, 2021

Doctor says he was called a traitor after speaking in favor of mask mandate at school board meeting

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Dr. Britt Maxwell, a Tennessee internal medicine specialist who has been treating Covid-19 patients during the entire pandemic, said he was called a “traitor” by fellow parents at a school board meeting that turned heated over a mask mandate.

Maxwell spoke out in favor of mask requirements during the Williamson County Board of Education meeting, but he and his wife decided to leave after the public-speaking portion of it because the “energy in that room was hot, and I knew that things were going to get a lot worse,” he said on CNN’s “New Day.”

“At the time we walked out, there was a crowd outside. They were chanting. They responded to us when we walked out. And it was intense. Before we walked out, we had to brace ourselves. I took my wife's arm and I said, ‘just remember, no matter what they say, these are the lives we're trying to save.’ And we walked out,” Maxwell said. 

“And I was approached and someone put their hand in my face and called me a traitor, which I don't see how … anyone can say that when I've been on the front lines of this pandemic since the beginning, treating patients in rooms — unvaccinated for the vast majority of it — hoping I wouldn't take it home to my family. And for someone to say that, it’s mind-blowing,” he said. 

Maxwell added that he hopes the rage that spilled out of the meeting “was the product of a lot of bottled anger and a few people who lost control of their emotions.” 

Maxwell said he spoke out at the meeting for his kids. 

“I felt at risk at the beginning [of the pandemic], and now my children are at risk. And that's why I went to this meeting the other night, because my kids are too young to get the vaccine. They don't have the choice to take this vaccine. And their health depends on the people around them. And the safest way to have school and to keep school in session is for people to mask up,” he said.