Forty-two states saw an increase in COVID-19 cases last week from the week before, a sign that the pandemic is not yet over in the United States.
Only Alaska, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota and West Virginia saw a decline in cases from the previous week over the seven-day period that ended Saturday.
The rate of vaccinations has slowed, and less than half of all Americans, 47.9%, are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said more than 99% of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. in June were among unvaccinated people. In addition, preliminary data indicates that over the past six months, nearly all of the COVID-19 deaths in various states have occurred in unvaccinated people, she said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top Biden administration adviser, said Sunday that it was “horrifying” to see people at the Conservative Political Action Conference cheering because the government has not been able to get more of the country vaccinated.
“They are cheering about someone saying that it’s a good thing for people not to try and save their lives,” Fauci said. “It’s almost frightening.”
Also in the news:
►As many adolescents and young adults prepare to return to the classroom in the fall term amid the spread of the delta variant, the lagging vaccination rate among Generation Z is raising concerns among experts.
►The bar scene is returning in full force to New York and other cities as partiers reemerge and ditch COVID precautions.
►The mayors of two Tokyo islands, Oshima and Hachijo, have asked the metropolitan government to take the planned Olympic torch relay off public roads amid a surge in coronavirus cases. The torch relay in Tokyo, which started Friday, was already taken off all public roads except for those on islands because of rising cases in the Japanese capital.
►The Navajo Nation’s largest casino is preparing to reopen Monday for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began. The Twin Arrows Resort Casino east of Flagstaff, Arizona, has been closed since March 2020.
►CONMEBOL said guests at the Copa America final on Saturday brought false COVID-19 tests to Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. The South American soccer governing body said in a statement it detected “a considerable amount of fraudulent PCR tests” brought by accredited guests.
📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has had more than 33.8 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 607,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: more than 186.6 million cases and more than 4 million deaths. Nearly 159 million Americans — 47.9 % of the population — have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
📘What we’re reading: The CDC has updated its mask guidelines for schools. Some states will listen, some won’t. Read more here.
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Pfizer and U.S. health officials to discuss booster shots this week
Representatives from Pfizer and federal health officials, who sent out conflicting signals about the need for vaccine booster shots Thursday, are planning to meet this week. Reuters reported that the gathering would take place Monday.
Last week, the American pharmaceutical giant and its partner BioNTech said they would pursue U.S. and European regulatory approval for a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine, given the spread of variants and data they said showed diminished vaccine potency six months after the initial shots.
In a joint statement late Thursday, the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emphasized that people who have been fully vaccinated do not need booster shots yet.
Pfizer and BioNTech said a third dose, given six months after the second, increases neutralizing antibodies five to tenfold against the original virus and the Beta variant, first identified in South Africa.
White House calling out critics of door-to-door vaccine push
For months, President Joe Biden’s administration refrained from criticizing Republican officials who played down the importance of coronavirus vaccinations or sought to make political hay of the federal government’s all-out effort to drive shots into arms. Not any longer. With the COVID-19 vaccination rate plateauing across the country, the White House is returning fire at those they see as spreading harmful misinformation or fear about the shots. When South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster tried this week to block door-to-door efforts to drive up the vaccination rate in his state, press secretary Jen Psaki did not mince words in her reaction.
“The failure to provide accurate public health information, including the efficacy of vaccines and the accessibility of them to people across the country, including South Carolina, is literally killing people, so maybe they should consider that,” she said.
India’s horrible 2021: Twice as many infections as in all of last year
India has already reported more than twice as many COVID-19 cases in 2021 as it had all of last year, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows.
India passed the mark early Sunday. Of the 30.8 million cases India has reported, two-thirds have come in the less than 6 1/2 months of 2021. India’s COVID deaths, widely believed to be drastically undercounted, have added up to 259,302 this year, compared with 148,738 in 2020.
Only the United States has reported more cases than India, by a margin of about 3 million. At the current rate, India would surpass the U.S. total in about 19 weeks. India’s pace has plummeted in the last two months after a massive spring surge, while infections in the U.S. have jumped in the last two weeks.
The U.S. also has the most recorded COVID deaths in the world with upward of 607,000, and Brazil ranks second at nearly 533,000. At recent rates, Brazil would pass the U.S. death toll in about 10 weeks, though the pace of reported deaths in the South American country has fallen by more than half in the last three months, while the pace of U.S. deaths has stopped declining.
— Mike Stucka
Couples flock to Las Vegas to tie the knot as pandemic wanes
Thousands of couples are flocking to Las Vegas as the coronavirus pandemic wanes in a boom that has the local wedding industry in high demand. With COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings loosened, Las Vegas wedding chapels, venues and planners said they’re about as busy as ever.
After 30 years of marriage, Don and Cindy Couse made the cross-country trip from New York to renew their wedding vows at the Graceland Wedding Chapel. Friends and family back home watched and cheered through Zoom during the ceremony. The two met nearly five decades ago in Albany, New York, during kindergarten class and have had a bond ever since. The trip came at a good time for the couple, who are both 51 and work in IT. After over a year of quarantine, they were in need of a getaway. “Really, it was just great to be back out doing things,” she told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Contributing: Mike Stucka, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Infections up in 42 states; CPAC attendees cheer low vaccination rate
Minnesota wildfire doubles in size, creates its own weather
A wildfire in northeastern Minnesota more than doubled in size Tuesday, growing to more than 19,000 acres, after it produced pyrocumulous clouds that generated lightning and even raindrops, fire officials said.
The Greenwood Fire’s growth, most of which happened Monday afternoon, prompted firefighters to leave McDougal Lake, about 80 miles south-southwest of Duluth, officials said. Authorities fear that structures might have been destroyed or damaged.
“We had crews embedded, and as this fire took off, it was quite an effort to communicate with forces on the ground so they could get out,” said federal fire incident spokesman Clark McCreedy.
The pullout was a success, and no injuries were reported. However, downed trees and necessary cleanup mean crews have been unable to assess damage around the lake, McCreedy said.
In addition to the firefighter pullout, 159 dwellings were evacuated Monday, according to an update from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Cabins, homes and recreational sites remain under threat, the group said.
Patrick Prochaska, a Minneapolis resident who built a cabin near McDougal Lake in 2012, told NBC affiliate KARE that he watched via security camera as flames mostly bypassed his property Monday, causing minor damage.
“I was feeling very scared,” he said. “At the same time, I could see that it was not doing anything to the house, and it was kind of reassuring.”
The fire in and north of Superior National Forest has mostly performed according to the weather, fire officials said. On Monday, with dry fuel on the ground and temperatures in the high 80s, it was an expanding inferno punctuated by strobes of lightning.
“The winds were drawn into the fire from all directions,” the incident’s fire behavior analyst, Michael Locke, said in a video update Tuesday. “It created what we call pyrocumulous clouds. And really high in the atmosphere … you’d see a thunderstorm, and in fact they went high enough to produce a few sprinkles of rain and even some lightning.”
Temperatures dipped into the mid-70s Tuesday, and the blaze mellowed. “The real story was cloud cover and cooler temperatures,” McCreedy said.
More of the same, and possibly rain, was in the forecast, giving officials hope that they might be able to close the book on an unusually active and dry fire season in Minnesota.
Experts have said climate change has set the stage for extreme weather, including an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere.
Firefighters — 426 were assigned to the Greenwood event — have been confronted with “prolonged, severe drought,” making parts of Minnesota look like the fire-prone West this summer, McCreedy said.
The Greenwood Fire, which was detected Aug. 15, is believed to have been sparked by lightning.
So far, firefighters have scored no containment, and areas including McDougal Lake, Sand Lake and the Highway 2 corridor have been under mandatory evacuation orders. The federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was closed Saturday “due to active and increasing fire activity, extreme drought, limited resources,” the National Forest Service said in a notice.
Officials set a goal of Sept. 1 for full containment.
“We’re probably going to get more of that moderating weather for the rest of the week,” McCreedy said. “That opens the door for fire crews to make progress on the ground.”
Hiker survives grizzly bear attack at Denali National Park
A tourist from Indiana was attacked and injured by a grizzly bear at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska on Monday night, park officials said.
The 55-year-old tourist, whose name was not released, was hiking alone in dense fog in the Thoroughfare Pass area when a mother bear and multiple cubs charged him from nearby bushes, the National Park Service said in a statement Tuesday.
He had puncture wounds to a calf, his left ribs and his left shoulder, the agency said.
The victim used bear spray that might have cut the attack short, the park service indicated. He walked 1.5 miles to a visitor’s center where “medical personnel” vacationing at Denali treated him as a park bus driver called 911, it said.
The hiker was taken to a medical center near the park before he was transferred to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, about 120 miles away, park officials said. He was stabilized at the Fairbanks hospital, they said.
“Due to the apparent defensive nature of this attack, there are no plans to locate the bear involved,” the park service said. “Female bears with cubs are naturally defensive of their young, especially when surprised. There is no indication that this bear is unusually dangerous.”
Grizzly bears are federally protected as a threatened species in the lower 48 states. According to the National Wildlife Federation, fewer than 1,500 grizzlies are left in the lower 48, but they thrive, comparatively, in Alaska, where they have a population of about 31,000.
The backcountry area of the attack is closed for one week as a precaution, the park service said.
House passes John Lewis voting rights bill, sends measure to Senate for tougher fight
House Democrats on Tuesday passed a sweeping voting rights bill named after Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the late civil rights icon.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was approved 219-212. All Republicans voted against the legislation.
The bill is part of congressional Democrats’ broader campaign to strengthen voting laws at the federal level to fight restrictive voting laws passed in Republican-led states, such as Texas and Georgia. However, it faces steep opposition in the Senate, where Democrats hold a wafer-thin majority.
The House returned from its recess this week to take up the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a resolution for Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget package, which includes funding for much of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. The procedural motion used to pass the multitrillion-dollar resolution paved the way for the House to vote on the voting rights bill, which was re-introduced last week by Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala.
The legislation would require states with recent histories of discrimination to get federal “preclearance” to change their voting laws, which directly addresses the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. The ruling gutted the preclearance system in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which civil rights advocates argue was successful in blocking proposed voting restrictions in states and localities with histories of racial discrimination.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement last week that Congress had “not only an ironclad Constitutional mandate, but a moral responsibility” to pass the bill.
Shortly before its passage, Pelosi said on the House floor that the bill would honor Lewis’ legacy.
“We should have the right to vote and shouldn’t be diminished by anyone. It is unpatriotic to undermine the ability of people who have a right to vote, who have access to the polls,” she said. “As John knew, this precious pillar of our democracy is under attack from one of the worst voter suppression campaigns since Jim Crow.”
It isn’t the first time House Democrats have tackled election law. In March, House Democrats passed the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that seeks to change campaign finance, voting and ethics laws.
The bill would expand access to the ballot box by creating automatic voter registration across the country by registering eligible voters whenever they interact with government agencies, restoring the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated, expanding early voting and modernizing the country’s voting systems.
However, Senate Republicans filibustered the voting rights legislation in June, and the vote to advance an amended version of the For the People Act split along party lines 50-50, short of the 60 votes needed. All Democratic-aligned senators voted to begin debate, and Republicans unanimously voted to block the bill.
Passage of the voting measure was the final vote of the week for the House, whose members are leaving Washington and won’t return until Sept. 20.
Haley Talbot contributed.
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