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90,000 deaths since June were preventable with vaccination; US to reopen land borders to vaccinated tourists: COVID-19 updates

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 10/14/2021 Jorge L. Ortiz and John Bacon, USA TODAY
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About 90,000 Americans likely died from June through September for failure to get vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Kaiser Family Foundation analysis that says the disease was the country's second-leading cause of death last month.

The high number of preventable fatalities was caused by insufficient vaccination rates, a spike in coronavirus infections fueled by the delta variant and the loosening of social distancing restrictions, the analysis found. It used 

Even though COVID-19 has been waning in the fall, it claimed the lives of 49,000 Americans in September, the report estimates. That trails only heart disease among the nation's leading killers, and it was actually No. 1 in the 35-54 age group, which has a lower vaccine uptake than seniors.

Bradley Sharp, of Saratoga, New York, gets the Johnson & Johnson vaccine from registered nurse Stephanie Wagner in New York. © Mark Lennihan, AP Images Bradley Sharp, of Saratoga, New York, gets the Johnson & Johnson vaccine from registered nurse Stephanie Wagner in New York.

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"COVID-19 killed more people age 25-34, 35-44, and 45-54 in August and in September than it did in any other month prior, despite the widespread availability of vaccines,'' the study says.

COVID briefly became the country's No. 1 killer early in 2021 during the horrid winter surge, but dipped to No. 7 in July as vaccines became widely available. However, with some 60-70 million eligible Americans still unvaccinated, the disease keeps finding vulnerable hosts.

"The overwhelming majority of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths continue to be preventable,'' the analysis concludes.

Also in the news:

►In a survey by the journal Nature of more than 300 scientists who have talked to the media about COVID-19, 22% said they had received threats of physical or sexual violence and 15% said they got death threats.

►More than 800 of Boston's 18,000 city workers have been suspended without pay for failing to comply with the city’s coronavirus vaccine mandate. Boston employees are required to either show proof of vaccination or submit to regular testing.

►The head of the Chicago police officers’ union has called on its members to defy the city’s requirement to report their COVID-19 vaccination status by Friday or be placed on unpaid leave. 

►Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals reversed course and announced proof of vaccination is no longer required to attend the California events. 

►A Rhode Island man was sentenced to 70 months in prison for COVID-19 stimulus-funds fraud. He received close to $600,000 in stimulus money from three different banks and spent the money on trips to Las Vegas and New Hampshire, a Camaro, home renovations and online gaming.

📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 44.6 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 719,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 239 million cases and 4.87 million deaths. More than 187 million Americans – 56% of the population – are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘 What we're reading: Leaders and staff at a federal veterans’ nursing home in Illinois mismanaged a coronavirus outbreak that killed 11 residents in fall 2020, well after employees had been put on notice about the danger the pandemic posed to its elderly population, a government investigation found. Read more here.

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.

J&J study of booster shot includes data from just 17 people after 6 months

While 8.5 million people who got the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine have received a booster shot, those inoculated with Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines continue to wait  for the companies' boosters to be authorized.

A federal advisory committee will meet for two days this week to discuss the safety and need for those boosters, but its members won't have much data to go on for the J&J extra shot.

Information posted by the Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday showed about 8,000 people had been studied after receiving a J&J booster two months after getting the first dose of the single-shot vaccine, and only 17 were tracked after getting a second shot at six months. It's not clear whether that will be enough data for the FDA panel to grant its approval.

“The hope was that we would get a resolution of this issue and that J&J would get their emergency use authorization for a booster," said Dr. William Schaffner, medical director for the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. "Now things have gotten a little more complicated." 

– Karen Weintraub and Elizabeth Weise

Vaccinated global tourists will be allowed to cross land borders into US

Starting next month, the United States will allow fully vaccinated foreign visitors to cross its land borders for non-essential purposes such as tourism or seeing friends and family. The change would allow foreigners to enter the U.S. through land or ferry ports for the first time since March 2020. Government officials have not yet announced a date for the policy change but said it will take place in "early November," in tandem with the country's updated international air travel rules.  

“This is an important step that will further enhance the safety of international travel and the safety of Americans at home,” senior administration officials said. “These new vaccination requirements deploy the best tool we have in our arsenal to keep people safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Unlike air travel, for which proof of a negative COVID-19 test is required before boarding a flight to enter the U.S., no testing will be required to enter by land or sea, provided the travelers meet the vaccination requirement.

Vehicle, rail and ferry travel between the U.S. and Canada and Mexico has been largely restricted to essential travel, such as trade, since the earliest days of the pandemic. By mid-January, even essential travelers seeking to enter the U.S., such as truck drivers, will need to be fully vaccinated.

Boeing to require shots for 125,000 US workers

Boeing says it will require its 125,000 U.S. employees to get vaccinated by Dec. 8 to meet requirements of an executive order issued by President Joe Biden affecting federal employees and contractors.

Boeing, which builds commercial planes as well as military aircraft for the U.S. government, said in a statement that exemptions will be approved for "disability or sincerely held religious belief.”

Chicago-based Boeing has major operations throughout the U.S. – including Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order this week banning businesses from enforcing COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Federal contractors have until Dec. 8 to be fully vaccinated under guidance issued by the federal Safer Federal Workforce Task Force. The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) issued a statement saying it is talking to employers to ensure "implementation gives proper consideration to members' concerns, health issues and abides by the provisions of our negotiated contracts."

Cases and deaths falling in US and globally, but CDC chief warns about high transmission

New coronavirus infections in the U.S. fell 12%, hospitalizations 11% and deaths 5% last week over the week before, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday. In addition, the World Health Organization said the global number of new cases and deaths dropped 7% and 10% respectively, continuing a downward trend that began in late August.

However, Walensky pointed out an average of 1,400 Americans died each day over the seven-day period that ended Tuesday, and much work remains in the battle against the pandemic.

"Most cities across the country are still experiencing substantial to high levels of community transmission," she said at a White House briefing. "We are certainly not in a place where our cases are under control."

Mom whose child recently died: 'COVID is not over'

A Virginia mother whose 10-year-old daughter died of COVID spoke at a school board meeting this week, warning that “COVID is not over” and pleading for people to “do everything we can to protect our children.” Nicole Sperry, a teacher from Suffolk, Virginia, spoke at the Chesapeake Public Schools’ board meeting. Her daughter's funeral service was Sunday. 

Sperry alleged in a post on Facebook that daughter Teresa Sperry was required by a teacher to walk sick classmates to a nurse’s office at Hillpoint Elementary School before testing positive for COVID-19. Teresa died days later. 

“My message for you and all that are listening is that COVID is not over, no matter what people who have been standing up here have said,” Sperry said. 

Marina Pitofsky

Florida county faces $3.57M state fine for vaccine requirement

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has made good on his threat to fine local governments that require employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, giving Leon County until Nov. 5 to pay a $3.57 million penalty. In mid-September, DeSantis said he would not let Floridians be fired because of a vaccine mandate and announced he would begin leveling $5,000 fines per employee. After Leon County Administrator Vince Long made vaccines a requirement of employment, all 714 employees had to get vaccinated or fall under a select few exemptions by Oct. 1. In all, 14 employees were fired because they declined to do so.

Democratic lawmakers representing Tallahassee claimed the decision to impose a fine was an overreach by the governor’s office.

“The governor has gone too far,” said Rep. Ramon Alexander D-Tallahassee. “Local governments cannot just sit on their hands and should have the ability to issue emergency standards. Vaccines are an important tool that is helping us control this pandemic.”

– Karl Etters, Tallahassee Democrat

Brooklyn Nets ban Kyrie Irving from team activities until he's vaccinated

The Brooklyn Nets took a drastic step to compel All-Star guard Kyrie Irving to get the COVID-19 vaccine. NBA star Kyrie Irving won’t play or practice with his team “until he is eligible to be a full participant,” Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks said in a statement Tuesday. The NBA has tried to get players vaccinated through education and health and safety protocols that will make the season easier for vaccinated players and more onerous for unvaccinated players.

New York City has a vaccine mandate that states Irving, who isn't vaccinated, and other Nets and New York Knicks players must be vaccinated to play at Barclays Center or Madison Square Garden.

The Nets faced a scenario in which Irving would play road games but not home games –a suboptimal situation for any team, especially one with the talent (Kevin Durant, James Harden) to win an NBA championship – and ultimately opted to play without the point guard unless he becomes vaccinated.

— Jeff Zillgitt, USA TODAY 

Southwest, American Airlines among Texas businesses defying governor

Two of the nation's largest airlines – Southwest and American – said Tuesday that they plan to follow looming federal guidelines and require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, despite an order from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott that attempts to block such mandates. Dallas-based Southwest Airlines last week ordered all of its estimated 55,000 employees to be vaccinated against COVID 19 by Dec. 8. That followed a directive from President Joe Biden, who in September said all private companies with more than 100 workers must require employees to be vaccinated or conduct weekly tests for the coronavirus.

Southwest said in a statement Tuesday that the president's executive order “supersedes any state mandate or law,” adding that the company is required to adhere to it despite Abbott’s action “to remain compliant as a federal contractor.”

– Austin American-Statesman staff

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 90,000 deaths since June were preventable with vaccination; US to reopen land borders to vaccinated tourists: COVID-19 updates

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