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The latest on the Covid-19 pandemic as Olympics approach

71 cases of Covid-19 linked to Olympic games in Tokyo

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It will be easier to mandate Covid-19 vaccination when vaccines are fully approved, NIH director says

Once Covid-19 vaccines receive full approval, it will be easier to mandate Covid-19 vaccination in the US, National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins said Wednesday.

“If it was approved with the full approval from FDA – which we all anticipate may be coming pretty soon, maybe in the next couple of months – then the legal ability to mandate becomes a lot stronger,” Collins told CNN’s Jim Acosta. 

Collins noted that some colleges are already mandating Covid-19 vaccines for children, including the schools his grandchildren will be attending in the fall.

“I’m personally glad to see that,” he said. “It’s so straightforward here to try to keep us from having outbreaks on college campuses with vaccines that are safe and effective.”

“What’s not to be in favor of?” Collins added.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci recently said it is likely that Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine will receive full approval by the end of August.

How the White House plans to disclose positive Covid cases of officials deemed to be in close contact

The White House will disclose positive Covid-19 cases from any White House official who is deemed to have been in close contact with a principal by the White House medical unit, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday, in a slight revisions to the policy she outlined previously

“What we’re going to be providing moving forward, are updates on any White House official who test positive for Covid-19 that the White House medical unit deemed as having close contact with the President, vice president, first lady, or second gentlemen. That will be up to the White House medical unit based on the criteria of the CDC,” Psaki said aboard Air Force One on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Psaki said the White House would release information for any positive case only if it was that of a “commissioned officer.”

“There have been. I will say that we, according to an agreement we made during the transition to be transparent and make information available, we committed that we would release information proactively if it is commissioned officers,” Psaki said during Tuesday’s White House press briefing when asked if there had been other breakthrough cases among White House staff.

A White House “commissioned officer” is any official who has a version of “assistant to the President” in their title. According to a July report to Congress on White House personnel, there are over 130 staffers at that level.

Psaki said there are approximately 2,000 people who work on White House campus each day, though of course not all of those individuals would come in close contact with a principal.

The press secretary said statistically, breakthrough cases will occur at the White House, just as they have across the country, but that the White House is prepared for that. In addition, Psaki said the breakthrough cases are proof the vaccines work as those cases are typically mild or asymptomatic and generally do not lead to severe illness or hospitalization. 

Psaki said an email from the White House’s Covid-19 operations protocol team was sent to White House staff today informing them of the new policy and added that at no point has the President been forced to self-quarantine or change his habits due to a close contact with an individual who has tested positive for Covid-19.

CNN reported earlier Tuesday that a White House official and a senior aide in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, who are both fully vaccinated, have tested positive for Covid-19. Axios was first to report the breakthrough cases.

Psaki later clarified the White House official who tested positive was not a commissioned officer, but declined to say what office the official worked in, citing privacy concerns. None of the other positive cases were commissioned officers, either, she said, explaining that the White House would have proactively released that information. Psaki declined to say how many breakthrough cases had been recorded, or what level of staff was affected.

On masking, Psaki said the White House remains committed to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

“We abide by public health guidance by the CDC. The CDC guidelines currently are if you are vaccinated you do not need to wear a mask. If you are not vaccinated, you should wear a mask. That’s the guidelines we continue to give to members of the White House staff,” Psaki said. 

British researchers find more evidence two-dose vaccines protect well against Delta variant of coronavirus

A healthcare worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in Boston, Massachusetts, on June 17.

Researchers in Britain reported Wednesday they had found more evidence that two doses of Pfizer’s and AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccines protect people well against the Delta variant of coronavirus.

But a single dose of either vaccine provides very little protection against Delta, also known as B.1.617.2, the researchers reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The team looked at overall vaccine efficacy in England first when the Alpha variant, known also as B.1.1.7, was the predominate variant, and then when Delta took over.

The vaccines being given in England are Pfizer’s two-dose vaccine and AstraZeneca’s two dose vaccine.

“Effectiveness after one dose of vaccine was notably lower among persons with the Delta variant than among those with the Alpha variant; the results were similar for both vaccines,” Dr. Jamie Lopez Bernal of Public Health England and colleagues wrote.

Against Delta, a single dose of either vaccine was only about 30% effective, they found.

“With the BNT162b2 (Pfizer/BioNTech) vaccine, the effectiveness of two doses was 93.7% among persons with the Alpha variant and 88.0% among those with the Delta variant. With the ChAdOx1 (AstraZeneca) nCoV-19 vaccine, the effectiveness of two doses was 74.5% among persons with the Alpha variant and 67.0% among those with the Delta variant,” they added.

“Only modest differences in vaccine effectiveness were noted with the Delta variant as compared with the Alpha variant after the receipt of two vaccine doses,” it continued.

England’s complete database of medical records helped the team do the research.

“The large scale of testing and whole-genome sequencing in the United Kingdom, as well as the recording of vaccination status in a national vaccination register, allowed us to analyze vaccine effectiveness within a few weeks of the Delta variant first emerging in the United Kingdom,” they wrote.

White House says it's not relying on other countries when deciding to lift travel restrictions

The White House says it will rely on its own health experts — and not the actions of other countries — when determining when to lift restrictions on foreign travelers.

“We rely on the guidance of our health and medical experts, not on the actions of other countries,” press secretary Jen Psaki said aboard Air Force One.

After Canada announced this week it would reopen to vaccinated Americans, the US said Wednesday it was extending the closure of its northern and southern borders through Aug. 21. It has similarly kept in place restrictions on travelers from Europe, despite the EU lifting restrictions on Americans.

Biden has come under pressure to lift the rules, including from allies and travel industry representatives, who argue they aren’t in line with current science.

After being pressed on the issue last week by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Biden told reporters: “I’ll be able to answer that question to you within the next several days — what is likely to happen.”

He hasn’t said anything since then.

“He gets regular updates from his Covid team. That’s what he was referring to,” Psaki said.

Vaccine inequity is "not acceptable, by any stretch of the imagination," World Trade chief says

Director-general of the World Trade Organization Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala speaks during the press conference in Venice, Italy on July 9.

Current inequity in vaccine access is “not acceptable, by any stretch of the imagination,” Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, director-general of the World Trade Organization, told CNN’s Richard Quest.

She said that while vaccine production is increasing rapidly, only a small fraction of doses are going to Africa and low-income countries.

“There’s a dawning on everyone, including rich countries and including manufacturers, that it’s in our own self-interest, it is in the self-interest of rich countries to support poor countries to get better access. So we are hoping that this dawning will lead to changes,” she said.

At least four US athletes will not compete in the Olympics due to Covid-19

The Olympics are set to begin this Friday, but several athletes from around the globe have withdrawn from the Games due to positive Covid-19 tests. From Team USA, at least four US athletes will not be competing due to the virus.

Here’s what we know about the US athletes who tested positive:

  • Taylor Crabb: Crabb, a member of the US men’s beach volleyball team, will not be participating in the Tokyo Olympics after testing positive, according to NBC News. “The health and safety of our athletes, coaches and staff is our top priority. We can confirm that a member of Team USA tested positive upon their arrival into Japan,” USA Volleyball said in a statement today. Crabb is expected to be replaced by Tri Bourne, according to California newspaper The Orange County Register
  • Kara Eaker: Eaker, a member of the US gymnastics team, tested positive for Covid-19 on Sunday, according to her father. Despite being asymptomatic and vaccinated, the 18-year-old alternate tested positive for multiple coronavirus tests after arriving in Japan, her father said. Eaker will now be isolating in a hotel for 10 days before returning home to the US. In addition, a second alternate on the gymnastics team is in isolation after having close contact with Eaker, USA Gymnastics said in a statement.
  • Cori “Coco” Gauff: Gauff, a women’s tennis player, will miss the Tokyo Olympics after she tested positive for Covid-19. The 17-year-old athlete, currently the 25th ranked woman in the world, announced the news on Twitter on Sunday. “It has always been a dream of mine to represent the USA at the Olympics, and I hope there will be many more chances for me to make this come true in the future,” Gauff tweeted. “I want to wish TEAM USA best of luck and a safe games for every Olympian and the entire Olympic family.”
  • Katie Lou Samuelson:  Samuelson, a member of the US Olympic 3x3 women’s basketball team, announced on Instagram that she will not be able to compete in the Games after being diagnosed with Covid-19. The 24-year-old athlete said she was “heartbroken” to come down with Covid-19 because she was fully vaccinated. “I am devastated to share that after getting sick with COVID-19, I will not be able to go and compete in Tokyo,” Samuelson wrote. “Competing in the Olympics has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl and I hope that someday soon, I can come back and fulfill that dream.” Samuelson has had her roster spot filled by Jackie Young.

CNN’s Alyssa Kraus, Homero De la Fuente, Amir Vera, Kevin Dotson, Dan Moriarty and Chie Kobayashi contributed to this post.

UK government increases pay rise for pandemic health workers after public outcry

Healthcare workers and supporters take part in a protest march from University College Hospital to Whitehall on July 3, in London.

National public health care workers in the UK will receive a 3% pay rise to recognize “their pandemic contribution,” according to the Department of Health, more than the 1% increase promised in March that stirred public consternation. 

The pay rise will backdate to April 2021 for staff including nurses, paramedics, consultants, dentists, and salaried general practitioners. However on Tuesday, a petition with more than 800,000 signatories was delivered to Downing Street that called for a 15% pay increase for all NHS staff. 

Initially offered a 1% pay rise in March this year, NHS staff, unions, and the general public argued the proposal was an unfair reflection of health workers’ contribution during the pandemic. 

According to a statement from the Department of Health and Social Care on Wednesday, the government has accepted the recommendations of the independent NHS Pay Review Body (NHSPRB) and the Review Body for Doctors’ and Dentists’ Renumeration (DDRB) and is “committed to providing NHS staff with a pay uplift in recognition of the unique impact of the pandemic on the NHS.” 

For the average nurse, this will mean an additional £1,000 ($1,371) a year, while many porters and cleaners will receive around £540 more, the government said. 

“NHS staff are rightly receiving a pay rise this year despite the wider public sector pay pause, in recognition of their extraordinary efforts. We asked the independent pay review bodies for their recommendations and I’m pleased to accept them in full, with a 3% pay rise for all staff in scope, from doctors and nurses to paramedics and porters,” Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said.

Russian swimmer to miss Summer Olympics following positive Covid-19 test

Russia's Ilya Borodin reacts after winning the final of the Mens 400m Individual Medley Swimming event during the LEN European Aquatics Championships at the Duna Arena in Budapest on May 23.

Russian swimmer Ilya Borodin will not take part in the upcoming Summer Olympics as planned due to testing positive for Covid-19, according to the Russian Swimming Federation.  

Russian officials stated Wednesday that Borodin tested positive before leaving for Japan.  

According to the official Tokyo 2020 Olympics site, the 18-year-old was originally outlooked to swim in the men’s 200-meter and 400-meter individual medley events. 

Borodin won the men’s 400-meter individual medley at the European Aquatics Championships in May.

The federation statement reads: 

“Unfortunately, during the final training camp in Vladivostok, one of the leaders of the Olympic team, European champion Ilya Borodin tested positive for Covid-19, which is why he will not take part in the Olympic Games in Tokyo. The team’s specialists followed all the isolation rules in accordance with the requirements of Rospotrebnadzor (Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing). All athletes, coaches and specialists have tested negative for coronavirus.” 

CNN’s Gena Somra contributed to this report.

Only 15% of Latin America, Caribbean fully vaccinated against Covid-19, health official says

A nurse of the Health Secretariat prepares a Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19 at the Jose Cecilio del Valle civic centre in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on June 2

Only 15% of the population in Latin America and the Caribbean have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, as “more and more disease trends are showing a region divided by vaccine access,” the Pan American Health Organization’s (PAHO) Director Carissa Etienne said on Wednesday.

“Unfortunately, across Latin America and the Caribbean, only 15% of the people have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, and several countries, like Honduras and Haiti, have yet to reach even 1%,” Etienne said during PAHO’s weekly news briefing on the effects of the pandemic.

According to Etienne, in countries with adequate vaccine supply – such as Costa Rica, Uruguay, Chile, and Argentina – infections are decreasing. Whereas in places where vaccine coverage is still low, infections remain high.

“Honduras is seeing an increase in Covid cases in states along its border. In the Caribbean, Covid cases and deaths are spiking in Cuba, where many provinces are reporting dramatic increases in new infections. The situation is especially acute in the province of Matanzas,” Etienne added.

While vaccine donations are on their way, “vaccine coverage remains dangerously low in many more countries across our region,” Etienne said, adding that “Covid-19 cases are accelerating in most Central American countries, with Guatemala reporting high infections and hospitalizations.”

“These trends illustrate how Covid-19 remains entrenched within our region, particularly in countries with low vaccination coverage. And the spread of variants only makes matters worse. So far, 47 countries and territories in our region have detected at least one ‘variant of concern’ and 11 have detected all four of today’s most concerning variants: alpha, beta, gamma, and delta,” according to Etienne.

New York City health care workers required to get vaccine or weekly testing starting in August, mayor says

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during a press briefing in New York on July 21.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city’s requirement for health care workers to get vaccinated or undergo Covid-19 testing weekly will begin on Aug. 2 and that those who refuse both options will be suspended without pay.

The requirement will apply to all staff in the city’s public “Health + Hospitals” (H+H) health care system and all clinical workers with the city’s health department, including doctors, nurses, administrative staff, and custodians. H+H is the largest public municipal health system in the United States with 11 hospitals across New York City.

“This is about keeping people safe and stopping the Delta variant,” de Blasio said Wednesday. The mayor added that city authorities felt it was important to begin instituting requirements for the city’s health care workers, but that they would continue to look at potential similar options for other city workers, such as police officers or teachers, in the future.

New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said they are planning to extend this safety requirement to additional health department staff in the weeks ahead.

Health + Hospitals CEO Dr. Mitchell Katz said that around 60% of H+H staff are currently vaccinated and he believes the new requirement will increase their vaccination rates. While Katz declined to speak for various health care worker unions, Katz said he believes there is appreciation that the requirement gives workers a choice between testing and vaccination, and that easy access to Covid-19 testing will be offered at H+H facilities. 

Some context: To date, New York City has administered 9,773,399 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine. Around 4.9 million New Yorkers (about 58% of the city’s total population) have received at least one dose, city statistics show.

City data shows that new Covid-19 cases in New York have been steadily increasing over the past two weeks. On Wednesday, the city reported 597 new Covid-19 cases.

Alabama "at the beginning of a wildfire" as Covid-19 cases rise, infectious disease expert says

Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo speaks during an interview on July 21.

An infectious diseases expert in Alabama issued a stark warning about the Covid-19 situation in her state:

“Our daily case number right now just hit over 1,000. That’s an increase over the last 14 days of over 730%. Our vaccination rate in the population as a whole is only 34%. So we are literally at the beginning of a wildfire,” said Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“We have to get on the same page scientifically. And in terms of recognizing that, if we don’t get young people vaccinated, we’re all going to be at risk for a really awful fall ahead. We don’t want to repeat what we did last year,” she said to CNN’s Kate Bolduan. 

Marrazzo said the situation in the state is changing rapidly. Alabama is one of five undervaccinated clusters in the US.

“We do know in our ICUs, we’re seeing younger people intubated who are very sick or who are on the floors and are very sick. That should be a gigantic wake-up call,” she said. 

“Remember, even if you don’t get really sick with this virus, many people suffer long-term consequences. I’ve talked to a number of athletes who continue to have dysfunction in their performance characteristics. They don’t have the energy. They also can have trouble with smell and taste,” she said. “… You really don’t want that when you’re 35. You don’t want it at at any time, but you especially don’t want it if you’re a young person trying to perform at peak capacity and enjoy your life.”

Marrazzo said she would like to see full approval of the vaccines from the US Food and Drug Administration, as she thinks that would help allay fears among the vaccine-hesitant. 

WHO chief: By the end of the Olympics, more than 100,000 people worldwide will die of Covid-19

World Health Organization (WHO) Head Tedros Ghebreyesus cautioned that although the Olympics are usually a symbol of hope, we are “now in the early stages of another wave of infections and deaths.”

Speaking at an International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session in Tokyo Wednesday, Tedros called the pandemic a test that the “world is failing” and that “by the time the Olympic flame is extinguished on the 8th of August more than 100,000 more people will perish.”

He spoke of vaccine inequality, saying it is “good news” that 3.5 billion vaccine doses have been administered globally, but adding that most have gone to the privileged.

“75% of vaccines have been administered in just 10 countries. In low-income countries, only 1% of people have received at least one dose, compared with more than half of people in high income countries… The global failure to share vaccines, tests and treatments, including oxygen, is fueling a two-track pandemic. The haves are opening up while the have-nots are locking down,” he said.

He added that the discrepancy is a “moral outrage” and cautioned that if it continues, the pandemic will “drag on and so will the social and economic turmoil it brings.”

Global number of Covid-19 cases could exceed 200 million in the next 3 weeks, WHO says 

The cumulative global number of Covid-19 cases could exceed 200 million in the next three weeks if cases continue at the same rate, according the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Weekly Epidemiological Update, published Wednesday. 

From July 12 to 18, over 3.4 million new cases were reported globally, the update says – that’s a 12% increase compared to the week before. Global Covid-19 weekly case incidence increased with an average of around 490,000 cases reported each day over the past week compared with 400,000 daily cases reported the week before. 

Cumulatively, the global number of cases reported is over 190 million, the report says, and “at this rate, it is expected that the cumulative number of cases reported globally could exceed 200 million in the next three weeks.”

Other than the regions of the Americas and Africa, all WHO regions reported an increase in case incidence over the last week, with the Western Pacific Region recording the largest increase, followed by the European Region. 

“Despite efforts to extend vaccination coverage, many countries across all six WHO Regions continue to experience surges in Covid-19 cases,” said the update. The highest numbers of new cases were reported from Indonesia, the United Kingdom, Brazil, India and the United States. 

On variants: Cases of the Alpha variant have been reported in 180 countries, the Beta variant in 130 countries, the Gamma variant in 78 countries and the Delta variant in 124 countries. In the past week, six new countries reported the Alpha variant, seven new countries reported the Beta variant, three new countries the Gamma variant and 13 new countries reported the Delta variant. 

The update says that increases in transmission appear to be driven by these four factors:

  • Circulation of more transmissible variants of concern
  • Relaxation of public health social measures
  • Increases in social mixing
  • A large number of people who remain susceptible to infection as a result of inequitable vaccine distribution globally. 

CDC ensemble forecasts project Covid-19 deaths and hospitalizations likely to increase over the next 4 weeks

Ensemble forecasts from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published Wednesday project that new Covid-19 deaths and hospitalizations will likely increase over the next four weeks, while the number of new cases will likely remain stable or have an uncertain trend.

The forecast predicts between 615,000 to 625,000 Covid-19 deaths reported in the US by Aug. 14, 2021.  

The previous ensemble forecast, published July 14, projected up to 619,000 deaths reported by Aug. 7. 

For the second projection in a row, the CDC’s weekly ensemble forecast projects an increase in hospitalizations. Previously, US Department of Health and Human Services data showed them on a steady decline since late April. 

The ensemble forecast predicts there will be 3,800 to 14,000 new confirmed Covid-19 hospital admissions likely reported on Aug. 16, 2021. 

Team USA volleyball player will miss Olympics after testing positive for Covid-19

Taylor Crabb stands on the court during the AVP Gold Series Championships at Oak Street Beach on September 1, 2019, in Chicago.

US men’s beach volleyball player Taylor Crabb has tested positive for Covid-19 and will not participate in the Tokyo Olympics, according to NBC News. Crabb is now the fourth US athlete to test positive for Covid-19.

“The health and safety of our athletes, coaches and staff is our top priority. We can confirm that a member of Team USA tested positive upon their arrival into Japan,” USA Volleyball said in a statement today.

Crabb, 29, joins Coco Gauff, Katie Lou Samuelson and Kara Eaker as US athletes who will not participate in the Tokyo Olympics after testing positive for the virus.

Crabb is expected to be replaced by Tri Bourne, according to California newspaper, The Orange County Register. Bourne will join four-time Olympian Jake Gibb for Team USA’s opening match against Italy at Shiokaze Park on Sunday.

CDC vaccine advisor fears widespread spread of coronavirus in schools 

Dr. Jose Romero, chair of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, speaks during an interview on July 21.

Dr. Jose Romero, chair of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, told CNN that one of his major fears for his home state Arkansas is that there will be widespread of coronavirus in school settings. 

“We’re seeing outbreaks in sites that we didn’t see last year, so we’re seeing closures in daycares, we’re seeing closures in summer camps, and all that leads me to believe that in a setting where you don’t have strict mitigation, that it will spread very, very quickly, like our schools,” said Romero, who is also Arkansas Secretary of Health. 

“The reason I’m saying this is that, because we know now from experience, from watching it over the last five or six weeks, that this virus is highly transmissible,” he added.

Doctors in the state are publicly pleading on social media for people to get vaccinated as hospitals yet again become full. 

Romero said Arkansas hospitals are now seeing young, healthy and unvaccinated people sicker than they’ve ever seen.

He said that he believes the reason that they are not being vaccinated is multifactorial. First, they don’t see it as a serious illness that can affect them because they’re young and healthy, and second is the misinformation “that is being propagated through social media at this time.” 

Some background: Arkansas is one of at least nine states that have banned districts from requiring masks in schools, according to a CNN analysis and is the state with the third lowest rate of vaccination of its population.

According to the most recent data, just over 35% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated – nationally, nearly 49% of the total US population has been fully vaccinated. The state currently has the highest number of new cases per capita in the country, with the latest daily average being 38 cases per 100,000 people each day. 

J&J projects $2.5 billion in Covid-19 vaccine sales, but faces "uncertainty" due to boosters and variants

A dose from a vial of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is drawn at an event in Thornton, Colorado, on March 6, 2021.

Johnson & Johnson projects $2.5 billion in annual global sales of its Covid-19 vaccine for 2021 alone, as it continues to expand its manufacturing capabilities for the vaccine at 10 sites that will handle various stages of production, according to Joe Wolk, J&J’s executive vice president and chief financial officer. He spoke Wednesday on the Johnson & Johnson second quarter 2021 earnings conference call.

Since its authorization J&J’s Covid-19 vaccine has been plagued by manufacturing problems and delays, largely due to contamination issues at Emergent BioSolutions, the contracted plant that makes the drug substance that goes into its vaccine.

“We continue to work with health authorities on the approval of additional drug substance manufactured at Emergent,” Wolk said. He added that the US Food and Drug Administration has so far authorized the release of five batches of drug substance made at the Emergent facility in Bayview.

Wolk added that it is not clear what 2022 will look like for the Covid-19 vaccine.

“It is simply too early to provide specific information on a 2022 outlook for our COVID-19 vaccine given the uncertainty on the need for boosters and new variants,” Wolk said. He added that the company defers to health officials on when, or if, there was a need for a booster.

Clinical data, published in the New England Journal of Medicine last week suggests that a single dose of its vaccine protected well against the Delta variant, with protection lasting at least eight months.

“We do like the durability of at least eight months for our vaccine,” Wolk said. “We think that’s better than some of the other vaccines that are out there, not to disparage them in any manner whatsoever.”

Tuesday, researchers said they found some evidence that contradicts the New England Journal of Medicine and other study results and concluded that people who got the single-dose J&J vaccine might benefit from a booster dose to protect them from new variants of the virus. 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, meaning it was not subject to careful peer review.

Austin Public Health officials urge masking indoors  

People stand in Valhalla Esports Lounge on March 2 in Austin, Texas.

Austin Public Health officials are urging people in the community to wear masks indoors and get vaccinated if they haven’t yet, warning that Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations are continuing to increase in Travis County, Texas.  

Austin-Travis County has exceeded “30 new hospital admissions on the 7-day moving average,” the health department reported in a news release, meaning “moving into Stage 4 of the Austin Public Health (APH) Risk-Based Guidelines is now imminent.”

“We know the Delta variant is here and is running rampant in our community,” said Dr. Desmar Walkes with the Austin-Travis County Health Authority. “It will continue to cause a surge in cases and hospitalizations if we don’t come together to stop it. Do your part – wear a mask indoors and get vaccinated if you haven’t already.” 

Health officials also “strongly encourage” children over the age of 2 to wear masks in order for “students to be able to safely return to in-person classes in the fall.”

“Protecting children from the virus and its variants is critically important to break the chain of transmission, prevent the spread of disease and additional mutations,” Austin Public Health said in a statement.

NYC mayor calls initiative to vaccinate or test healthcare workers weekly "fair" 

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during an interview on July 21.

Starting in August, workers at New York City hospitals and health clinics will be required to either get vaccinated or take weekly Covid-19 tests, a decision New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called “fair.”

“I understand why a lot of people are hearing misinformation and being affected by it, but enough is enough,” de Blasio told CNN. “We need our health care workers to be vaccinated and it’s getting dangerous with the Delta variant.”

De Blasio said he hopes the initiative will convince health care workers who are on the fence regarding the vaccine to get vaccinated or push others to choose the vaccine over the hassle of weekly testing. 

“I think it’s time to do something different, and New York City is ready to lead the way. We’re saying, get vaccinated, or get tested weekly. And that’s fair,” he said.

However, de Blasio said he didn’t mandate the vaccine for all health care workers because the voluntary approach “did get us a substantial distance” but added that now “it’s time to up the ante, say ‘no longer a choice, you got to do one or the other.’”

De Blasio said he hopes to see initiatives like this one all over the country. In addition, he said he’d consider this approach for other professions, such as police officers and teachers.

However, when asked if he’d consider reissuing the mask mandate, as Los Angeles County did this past weekend, de Blasio said “a mask is a pea shooter and the vaccine is a cannon.”

“The thing that will make a difference is the vaccine,” said de Blasio. “The thing that stops the Delta variant, the thing that turns the tide and saves lives is the vaccine.”



Singapore reports more than 150 Covid-19 daily caseload for 3rd consecutive day

Singapore reported at least 179 local and 2 imported Covid-19 cases as of noon on Wednesday, the Health Ministry said in a press release. 

According to the ministry, 130 of the new cases were linked to the Jurong Fishery port cluster.

It’s the third consecutive day of more than 150 new cases were reported in the country, according to the Ministry’s data.

About 48% of Sinagpore’s population has received two doses of coronavirus vaccines, and 71% has received one dose. 

US diver says athletes are following Covid-19 restrictions inside Olympic Village

A bus leaves the Tokyo Olympics Village on July 19 in Tokyo.

Jordan Windle, a diver for Team USA, said that athletes inside the Olympic Village are taking Covid-19 guidelines seriously as more than 70 coronavirus cases tied to the 2020 Summer Games have been identified.

“Overall, you know, everyone is a little, you know, wary about where they’re going and what we’re doing obviously. We’re restricted on where we can go. We can’t leave the Village. We have to keep our distance obviously, keeping everyone safe and following Covid guidelines within our teams,” he said.

“So overall, you know, everyone is doing a great job and we’re following the rules and we’re going to keep it going, so hopefully have a great Olympics,” he said.

Windle said the Olympics atmosphere is “definitely different” without the support of spectators and loved ones.

“It was difficult because I wanted it to be a normal Olympics. I wanted to have the atmosphere, you know, the roar of the crowd when someone hits a big dive. But also it gives off less pressure to a lot of the athletes, which makes it a little easier … No matter what, I think this is a great experience for me and I’m going to give it my all,” he said.



Indonesia is now the epicenter of Asia's Covid-19 crisis

Covid-19 patients get treatment in an emergency tent at Bekasi General Hospital on July 18 in Bekasi, Indonesia.

For much of last year, it seemed like Indonesia had managed to keep its Covid-19 outbreak largely under control.

Now, the island nation – home to about 270 million people – has become Asia’s new epicenter of the pandemic, reporting more daily cases and deaths than hard-hit India as a devastating second wave rips through the archipelago.

With tens of thousands of infections being recorded daily, experts say the country’s health care system could be pushed to the brink of disaster if the spread of the virus continues unabated.

Infections started rising toward the end of May, following the Eid Al-Fitr holidays to mark the end of the Islamic fasting month – and soon grew exponentially.

According to health experts, the crisis is being fueled by the spread of the more infectious Delta variant, first identified in India.

“Every day we are seeing this Delta variant driving Indonesia closer to the edge of a Covid-19 catastrophe,” Jan Gelfand, head of the Indonesian delegation of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said in late June.

Experts have blamed the government for its slow response in not implementing strict lockdowns last year after cases were first reported in the country, and its alleged failure to invest in efficient testing and tracing systems.

As of July 20, Indonesia had recorded nearly 3 million total cases and more than 76,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. But experts fear the figures underestimate the real spread in the country due to a lack of testing.

A World Health Organization (WHO) report in July said inadequate testing continues to be a problem, with more than 50% of provinces reporting a testing rate below the recommended benchmark.

“Without appropriate testing, many provinces are unable to isolate confirmed cases on time,” the report said.

Indonesia’s Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin told CNN in early July that authorities at first did not realize how quickly the virus had been spreading during this latest wave.

The islands of Java and Bali were placed under emergency lockdown on July 3 along with other cities across the archipelago. Domestic travel is not restricted, though it is dependent on a negative Covid-19 test.

On July 20, Indonesia extended Covid-19 restrictions to July 25.

Usually busy streets in downtown Jakarta on July 15, 2021, as the highly infectious Delta variant rips across Indonesia

The second wave has affected every age group, according to experts. However, the number of children dying from the virus in Indonesia has quadrupled in recent weeks, according to the country’s pediatric society.

More than 550 children have died since the start of the pandemic – about 27% of whom died in the first few weeks of July.

Parents often mistake the symptoms for a common cold and don’t get children tested, according to Aman B. Pulungan, president of the Indonesian Society of Paediatrics.

“When they realize this is Covid-19, the condition is already bad,” Aman said. “When they take the children to the hospital, sometimes we do not have enough time to save the children. This is happening a lot.”

Frontline workers have also been affected by the surge. In early July, more than 350 doctors and medical workers in Java caught Covid-19 despite being vaccinated with Chinese-made Sinovac. Most of the workers were asymptomatic and self-isolating at home, but dozens were hospitalized with high fevers and falling oxygen-saturation levels.

Read more about the Covid-19 crisis in Indonesia here.

CNN’s Amy Sood contributed reporting.

Vaccinations accelerate in France after Macron's "health pass" announcement

People wait to receive a dose of a Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Perpignan, France, on July 18.

The number of people signing up to get vaccinated in France has picked up after President Emmanuel Macron announced measures pushing French people to get vaccinated, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said on TF1 on Wednesday. 

“The President of the Republic spoke on July 12th, there has been more than 3 million additional appointments bookings since. It is true that it had slowed down quite a lot in June, but it has picked up again very strongly,” Castex said.   

Last week marked a record in terms of appointment bookings, with around, 3.7 million French people signing up to get vaccinated, according to a tweet from medical booking site Doctolib on Monday. 

Overall, since the announcement, around 4.3 million people booked an appointment to get their first dose, according to a CNN calculation of numbers from Doctolib.

Some background: On July 12 Macron announced that all health care workers — in hospitals, nursing and retirement homes, even home-care nurses — must be fully inoculated against Covid or, quite simply, they won’t be paid after September 15.

And beginning August 1, nobody will be allowed in any French bar, restaurant, shopping mall, concert hall, or any long-distance train or airplane without a “sanitary pass” attesting to full vaccination or a recent negative Covid test. Violators could face fines up to 45,000 euros ($53,000) and a year in jail.

Macron further incentivized this push toward vaccination by announcing that government reimbursement for most Covid tests are ending, making it increasingly expensive to keep current the now all but mandatory health pass.

US continues to limit non-essential travel to Canada and Mexico

Vehicles enter a border checkpoint at the US Customs and Border Protection San Ysidro Port of Entry at the US Mexico border on February 19 in San Diego, California.

The Biden administration is extending non-essential travel restrictions for the US northern and southern borders until August 21, according to a federal register notice set to publish Thursday. 

The US has been limiting non-essential travel along both borders since the start of the pandemic and extending those restrictions on a monthly basis. The restrictions don’t apply to cross-border trade, US citizens and lawful permanent residents, as well as people traveling for medical purposes or to attend school, among others.

But over recent weeks, the administration has come under fire for continuing to keep restrictions in place, more than a year into the pandemic, and after Canada announced it was reopening to vaccinated Americans.  

In the notices, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas notes that there have been “positive developments in recent weeks,” citing the millions of vaccines doses administered in the United States and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moving Canada and Mexico to Covid-19 Level 4 (Very High) to Level 3 (High) “in recognition of conditions that, while still requiring significant safeguards, are improving.” 

Still, DHS found that the outbreak and continued transmission and spread of Covid-19 both in the US and globally posed a risk. 

The restrictions go into effect Thursday and remain in effect until August 21, “unless amended or rescinded prior to that time.”

It may be time to put masks back on, expert says

As the Delta variant continues to spread across the US and Covid-19 cases are on the rise, particularly for the unvaccinated, it may be time for people to put their masks back on, an expert said.

This advice from Dr. Leana Wen comes after Los Angeles County reinstated a mask mandate this past weekend, requiring masking indoors regardless of vaccination status.

“We are at a very different point in the pandemic than we were a month ago,” Wen, a CNN analyst, said. “And therefore, we should follow the example of LA County and say that if there are places where vaccinated and unvaccinated people are mixing, then indoor mask mandates should still apply.”

However, according to Wen, there are two exceptions to the occasions people should wear masks indoors in public: when everyone is vaccinated and has provided proof or if there is a very high level of community vaccination.

Nearly 22% of the US population, or nearly 73 million people, are located in counties with “high” Covid-19 transmission, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Similarly, only 48.7% of the US population is fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. This statistic is far below the  70 to 85% health experts have estimated it would take to slow or stop the spread.

Therefore, it may be time to press the “reset button” and encourage masks while leaders push for vaccination rates to increase, Wen said.

Paralympian who withdrew from Games after request to bring mom was denied says she feels "worthless"

Becca Meyers, left, and her mother, Maria, are interviewed on New Day on July 21.

Becca Meyers, a deaf and blind Paralympic swimmer who withdrew from the Tokyo Games after she said she was denied a request to bring her mother to serve as her personal care assistant, said the decision has “torn her apart.”

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee refused her request for her mother to serve as her personal care assistant in Tokyo, Meyers said.

“I’ve always been known as Becca the swimmer and not Becca the deaf-blind person. And now I feel very worthless as a person. For someone who trained five years for this moment, especially an extra year with the pandemic, it makes it all seem like it was for nothing,” she said on CNN’s “New Day.”

Meyers said that at the 2016 Games in Rio, she “fell apart” without her mom or a personal care assistant there. 

The USOPC is providing a single personal care assistant for 33 American Paralympic swimmers, including nine who are visually impaired, according to Meyers.

“The bottom line is no one on that team is trained or certified to deal with blind or visually impaired swimmers, especially in my case as a deaf-blind athlete,” she said. 

Her mother, Maria Meyers, said that Becca needs a one-on-one assistant to help her navigate the airport, dining halls and other venues. 

“I’m there to just whisper in her ear, you know, ‘it’s on your left, it’s on your right, just to guide her and take care of her.’ I don’t have anything to do with the pool. That’s all her and the coaches. But they really have to have staff that knows how to orient and take care of these kids,” Maria Meyers said. 


Czech table tennis player will miss the Olympics because of Covid-19

Czech Republic's Pavel Širuček competes in the ITTF World Tour in Budapest, Hungary, on February 21, 2020.

Czech table tennis player Pavel Širuček has tested positive for Covid-19 in Tokyo and will not be able to compete at the Games, the Czech Olympic Committee said in a statement on Wednesday.

Širuček, who is a first-time Olympian, is the latest positive result and brings the total number of cases within the Czech delegation to four.

Beach volleyball player Ondřej Perušič tested positive on Monday. He was followed by the coach of the women’s beach volleyball team, Simon Nausch, on Tuesday

An unnamed staff member tested positive after arriving to Tokyo last week.

The Czech team’s head Martin Doktor said that he was worried these kind of “sport tragedies” would happen.

“Unfortunately, none of us can completely stop the virus from spreading, despite protecting ourselves as much as we can,” Doktor said in the statement.

The statement added that several other Czech athletes who have come into contact with those who tested positive have now been tested again.

At least two other athletes are awaiting the results of PCR tests.