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Google, Facebook mandate vaccines to employees; states react to CDC mask guidance change; virus deaths over 2,000 per week: COVID-19 news

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 7/29/2021 Jorge L. Ortiz, Ryan W. Miller and Elinor Aspegren, USA TODAY
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For the first time in a month, COVID-19 deaths in the United States are once again over 2,000 per week, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data found. New cases are also averaging more than 60,000 per day for the first time in more than three months.

The delta variant of the coronavirus has caused a concerning new wave of the pandemic as unvaccinated people bear the brunt of its effects. While breakthrough cases are possible in vaccinated individuals, the unvaccinated account for virtually all hospitalizations and deaths.

The worrying trend comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new mask guidance Tuesday recommending fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors in public in areas with high transmission.

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'New science is worrisome': CDC recommends wearing masks indoors, again. What that means for vaccinated Americans.

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In response, California recommended that everybody in the state regardless of vaccination status wear a mask at indoors public settings. Similarly, the governors of New York and New Jersey urged indoor use of masks but did not require it. 

Nevada issued an emergency order requiring people — vaccinated or not  — in 12 of 17 counties to wear masks in public indoor spaces. In Kansas, where 80% of the counties have high or substantial spread, Gov. Laura Kelly said her administration intends to follow the CDC's guidance.

a man holding a phone: A medical worker gives an injection of Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to a woman in Tbilisi, Georgia, Tuesday, July 27, 2021. The US has donated half a million doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to Georgia, which arrived in the capital on Saturday, July 18, 2021. Georgia has registered more than 395,000 COVID-19 infections with over 5,500 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. (AP Photo/Shakh Aivazov) © Shakh Aivazov, AP A medical worker gives an injection of Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to a woman in Tbilisi, Georgia, Tuesday, July 27, 2021. The US has donated half a million doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to Georgia, which arrived in the capital on Saturday, July 18, 2021. Georgia has registered more than 395,000 COVID-19 infections with over 5,500 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. (AP Photo/Shakh Aivazov)

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said a special session to revisit the state’s ban on mask mandates in schools is an option as the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state surpassed 1,000.

Michigan and Pennsylvania, on the other hand, likely won't issue a mask mandate or any other new COVID-19 pandemic orders in the immediate future.

Here are the mask mandates by state.

Globally, the pandemic remains in a critical period. The World Health Organization said the number of COVID-19 deaths jumped by 21% in the last week. "If these trends continue, the cumulative number of cases reported globally could exceed 200 million in the next two weeks," the WHO said.

Also in the news:

►Starting Thursday, Apple will require customers to wear masks in COVID hotspots or in areas that have local or state mandates, accounting for about half its U.S. stores.

►The Nationals’ baseball game at Philadelphia on Wednesday was postponed because of a COVID-19 outbreak involving four Washington players and eight staffers. On Tuesday, All-Star shortstop Trea Turner tested positive for the coronavirus.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday state employees must be vaccinated by Labor Day or face weekly testing. Patient-facing healthcare workers will be mandated to be vaccinated without a testing option. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a $100 incentive for all people who get vaccinated starting Friday at city sites.

►President Joe Biden said Tuesday his administration is weighing the possibility of requiring all federal workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as infections surge across the nation. Biden is expected to announce the requirement, with the alternative of regular testing, on Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported.

►The pandemic has pushed up prices for new and used vehicles, and many people with outstanding leases are cashing in or turning in their cars early with no penalty.

📈Today's numbers: The U.S. has had more than 34.6 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 611,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 195.7 million cases and 4.18 million deaths. More than 163.5 million Americans — 49.3% of the population — have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘What we're reading: The CDC's decision Tuesday to reverse course and urge even fully vaccinated Americans to wear masks indoors in areas of high coronavirus transmission isn't likely to crush community spread, experts say – but it might ratchet up pressure on the unvaccinated and encourage businesses and schools to implement mask mandates. Read the full story. 

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY's Coronavirus Watch newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Google requires vaccines, delays return to office

Google on Wednesday became the first major tech company to require COVID vaccinations of employees working at the company's facilities. Shortly afterward, Facebook also said it will make vaccines mandatory for U.S. employees who work in offices. Both companies said they would consider exceptions for medical and other reasons. 

In a message to Google's 130,000-plus workers worldwide, CEO Sundar Pichai said the policy would go into effect in the U.S. in the coming weeks and abroad in the following months, and it would be dependent on vaccines being widely available. 

While celebrating the sight of some employees back at Google campuses, Pichai also said the voluntary work-from-home policy would be extended through Oct. 18 because of the emergence of the delta variant.

"Even as the virus continues to surge in many parts of the world, it’s encouraging to see very high vaccination rates for our Google community in areas where vaccines are widely available,'' Pichai wrote. "... Getting vaccinated is one of the most important ways to keep ourselves and our communities healthy in the months ahead.''


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Breakthrough cases after vaccine can lead to long-haul symptoms

A new Israeli study found that nearly 3% of medical workers contracted COVID-19 even though they were vaccinated, and 19% of them still had symptoms six weeks later.

The study was published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. It followed about 1,500 Israeli health care workers for four months after they received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Anyone who tested positive more than 11 days after the second dose was considered a breakthrough case. 

Thirty-nine people – 2.6% of the total – were diagnosed with the virus. One had a weakened immune system; the rest were healthy, including nurses, maintenance workers and a few doctors.

Although the vaccines were never expected to be perfect, the findings raise questions about their protection and suggest that even vaccinated people could experience long-term symptoms such as such as fatigue, brain fog and shortness of breath. Most of the people in the study who got sick had mild symptoms, and none were hospitalized.

-- Karen Weintraub

Is delta variant more deadly? Evidence is mixed

The increasing impact of the delta variant on American lives has raised the question of how much more dangerous it is than previous versions of the coronavirus.

By some estimates, the delta is twice as contagious as the original strain because it kept some of the most successful mutations from earlier variants and developed new genetic changes. That allows it to spread faster and infect more people, including some who are fully vaccinated.

But is it more likely to cause severe disease or death? That question continues to baffle experts.

"The evidence really is mixed on whether delta is more virulent,'' said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health and a frequent contributor to CNN. "I can point you to some studies that argue that it is and other studies that argue that it isn't, but none of them are particularly definitive and therefore it remains in my mind an honest, 'I don't know.'"

Workers search for answers amid uncertainty created by latest surge

Google and Apple are only two of the companies delaying plans to bring workers back to the office amid the fast spread of the delta variant.

Many employers that intended to reopen work spaces sometime in September are having second thoughts as coronavirus infections surge again and the CDC says even vaccinated people could transmit the virus.

All the uncertainty leaves employees with a number of questions, among them whether they'll be compelled to return to the office. Here are some answers.

England relaxes travel restrictions for vaccinated Americans, who will no longer have to quarantine

Fully vaccinated Americans can visit England without quarantining beginning Monday, a long-awaited change for travelers.

"We're helping reunite people living in the US and European countries with their family and friends in the UK,'' Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on Twitter.

The lifting of the England quarantine requirement comes just a week after the CDC and the U.S. State Department recommended against travel to the United Kingdom due to rising COVD case counts.

U.S. citizens have been allowed to travel to the U.K. during the pandemic but faced travel restrictions, including coronavirus testing requirements and quarantine. Under the relaxed rules for vaccinated Americans and Europeans, visitors will still be subject to COVID testing requirements.

– Dawn Gilbertson

States cut taxes, avoid rate hikes after Biden's COVID relief plan

A USA TODAY review of how states are starting to spend the $195 billion in direct aid included in a March coronavirus relief package found many are using large chunks of the help to avoid hiking taxes on businesses, drivers and others.

In addition, the massive amount of federal aid of various kinds since the pandemic started has boosted the economy and put many states in a strong enough budget position that they've been able to cut taxes.

“One of the sad lessons of the Great Recession was we passed one stimulus bill and then all these state, local governments had all these problems still going on,” said Richard Auxier, a senior policy associate in the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. “They became an actual drag on the economy as they had to cut programs or raise taxes to get back out of the hole that they had dug. And we didn't want to repeat that.” 

– Maureen Groppe

16 more positive tests at the Olympics as Tokyo sets record high for daily cases

Olympics organizers say an additional 16 people accredited for the Tokyo Games have tested positive for COVID, bringing the total to 174 since July 1.

The total includes 20 athletes, though there were no new positive tests among athletes in the cases announced Wednesday. Tens of thousands of people are accredited for the Games.

Tokyo also reported a record daily high of 3,177 COVID-19 cases Wednesday, up from a previous high of 2,848 on Tuesday.

– Associated Press

Louisiana has major surge in hospitalizations

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and the state Department of Health are urging residents to get vaccinated as the state this week experienced its largest one-day increase in hospitalizations since March 2020.

As of Monday, 1,390 people have been hospitalized with COVID-19 in Louisiana, an increase of 169 patients from just the day before. Only three days in March 2020 saw faster growth in hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

"This surge is on us, and that means it is up to each of us to do our part to bring it to an end,'' Edwards said in a statement. "It’s within our power. Getting vaccinated is the best way to stay safe and healthy during this pandemic. It is the best way to put it behind us."

– Andrew Capps, Lafayette Daily Advertiser

'New science is worrisome': CDC recommends wearing masks indoors, again. What that means for vaccinated Americans.

Contributing: Karen Weintraub, USA TODAY; The Associated Press.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Google, Facebook mandate vaccines to employees; states react to CDC mask guidance change; virus deaths over 2,000 per week: COVID-19 news

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