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'An American tragedy': Biden offers incentives, mandates to get 90 million holdouts to vaccinate. COVID-19 updates.

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 7/30/2021 Jorge L. Ortiz and Ryan W. Miller, USA TODAY
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President Joe Biden announced Thursday several measures to convince holdout Americans to get vaccinated against COVID-19, some in the form of incentives and others as mandates.

The latter includes new requirements for all civilian federal employees and contractors to reveal their vaccination status and, if not inoculated, get tested regularly, socially distance, wear masks and be subject to restrictions on most work travel.

As part of the inducements, Biden is asking states and cities to use federal rescue funds to offer $100 for residents to get their shots, and a program that would reimburse employers for providing paid time to allow their workers and their families to receive the vaccine.

a person sitting on a table: A health care worker fills a syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. © Mary Altaffer, AP Images A health care worker fills a syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

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Biden called the current health crisis "a pandemic of the unvaccinated,'' pointing out those inoculated are almost entirely protected against severe disease and death, and yet about 90 million eligible Americans have not gotten the shots.

"This is an American tragedy,'' Biden said. "People are dying and will die who don't have to die. If you're out there unvaccinated, you don't have to die.''

The president referenced instances of people on their dying beds wishing too late they got the vaccine.

"It's heartbreaking, and it's complicated even more because it's preventable,'' he said.

Two days after the CDC issued new mask guidance encouraging even those who are vaccinated to cover up indoors in some areas, momentum continued to build for measures to contain the explosion in COVID cases across the nation fueled by the emergence of the delta variant and waning vaccination rates.

California, New York state and the Department of Veteran Affairs have announced plans to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for most of their employees or face testing. After the guidance Tuesday, both states and several others recommended that everybody, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask at indoor public settings. Los Angeles County and Washington, D.C., are among the jurisdictions imposing mask mandates again, and New York City is considering one. 

Private employers are taking action as well, as tech giants Google and Facebook along with streaming platform Netflix on Wednesday said they would require their workers to vaccinate against the coronavirus.

COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. are once again over 2,000 per week, and new cases are averaging more than 60,000 per day for the first time in more than three months after dropping to around 11,000.

Also in the news:

►Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer told CNBC that employees and indoor customers of his Union Square Hospitality Group establishments would be required to show proof of vaccination against COVID.

►President Joe Biden said Thursday that he expects the FDA to grant full authorization to the COVID vaccines in the early fall. Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, explains what's taking so long.

►The Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest in the nation, will require  all students and employees to get tested weekly for the coronavirus during the fall term regardless of vaccination status.

►The FDA is allowing a Baltimore factory to resume production after it shut down in April because of contamination problems that forced the company to throw out the equivalent of tens of millions of doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Manufacturer Emergent BioSolutions didn’t say when production will resume.

►The mayor of Atlanta has decreed that face masks must be worn in all indoor public spaces including private businesses in Georgia’s largest city. Are masks required in your area? See our state-by-state list. 

📈Today's numbers: The U.S. has had more than 34.7 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 611,900 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 196.2 million cases and 4.19 million deaths. More than 163.8 million Americans – 49.4% of the population – have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘What we're reading: The CDC is recommending fully vaccinated Americans wear mask indoors if they’re in an area of substantial or high coronavirus transmission. These county-level maps will show you if that means your area is affected.

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.

Los Angeles schools to require testing for all students and employees

The Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest in the nation, said Thursday that it will require “baseline and ongoing” weekly COVID testing for all students and employees returning for in-person instruction, regardless of their vaccination status. The move, which comes amid rising COVID-19 infection rates across the country, is a reversal from earlier directives that only unvaccinated people would have to undergo regular testing.

The required testing, which begins August 2, is in accordance with recent guidance issued by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, according to a memo sent out to parents by interim superintendent Megan K. Reilly. Other prevention measures include universal masking, upgraded air filtration systems and vaccination outreach. 

Other districts nationwide have been bolstering their safety plans for the fall as the delta variant continues to spread and drive the surge in case numbers. Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance recommending universal masking at schools, a u-turn from its earlier suggestion that vaccinated students and employees need not wear masks. 

Possible link between long COVID and dementia raises concerns

The physical manifestations of COVID are bad enough. What researchers are now learning about the mental ones is increasingly troubling.

In several trials made public Thursday, scientists have found changes in brain biology after hospitalization with COVID-19, problems lingering months after infection, and a link between smell loss and mental sharpness in older adults. They're concerned about the possibility that lingering brain symptoms might lead to dementia years or decades later.

"Is this part of that puzzle of things that may contribute to your (dementia) risk? We don't know yet, but we need to understand that," said Heather Snyder, vice president for medical & scientific relations at the Alzheimer’s Association, an advocacy group.

– Karen Weintraub

Social pressure prompts some to get vaccinated in disguise

The social pressure against COVID vaccination is so intense in some parts of the country, residents of at least one state are wearing disguises when they go get their shots.

Dr. Priscilla Frase, a hospitalist for Ozarks Healthcare in Missouri, Hospitalist, said patients have voiced concerns about how their family members, friends and co-workers will react if they get vaccinated, and they’ve asked her to keep their inoculation quiet.

"Nobody should have to feel that pressure to get something that they want. We've got to stop ridiculing people who do or don't want to get the vaccine," Frase said in a video produced by the hospital. 

– Gabriela Miranda

Biden calls on Congress to extend expiring protection from eviction

President Joe Biden urgently asked Congress on Thursday to extend a nationwide moratorium on evictions, saying a Supreme Court ruling had left him unable to act on his own.

The eviction freeze, which is set to expire Saturday, was put in place last September by the CDC to protect Americans who have fallen behind on their rent during the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden extended the moratorium through the end of July and would have “strongly supported” another extension, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement, particularly as the delta variant drives a spike in new COVID-19 infections. But the Supreme Court indicated the moratorium could only be extended until the end of the month.

Millions of Americans are behind on rent and policy experts and analysts said more needs to be done to avoid the largest housing crisis in more than a decade.

– Michael Collins 

Pfizer says its vaccine's effectiveness decreases by 12% over six months but is still highly protective

The Pfizer vaccine’s effectiveness wanes after six months, but experts say it still doesn’t mean booster shots are needed, according to data released by Pfizer and its partner BioNtech.

The study, posted on medrxiv.org Wednesday, hasn’t been peer-reviewed or published yet. It found that the vaccine's effectiveness at preventing symptomatic illness fell gradually from about 96% to about 84% over six months but still "had a favorable safety profile and was highly efficacious in preventing COVID-19.'' The vaccine's efficacy against severe disease remained at 97% for the entire six months. 

A different set of data by Pfizer also found that levels of antibodies that can target the delta variant grow fivefold in ages 18 to 55 for those who get a third dose of the vaccine, while for people ages 65 to 85 it can increase elevenfold. The antibody levels are much higher against the original coronavirus variant and the beta variant with a third dose. 

Mitch McConnell campaign buying radio ads urging Kentuckians to take COVID-19 vaccine

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is using unspent campaign funds to buy air time for radio ads across Kentucky in which he urges people to get vaccinated and "take advantage of this miracle."

While some Republican elected officials and conservative media pundits have aired heavy skepticism about the vaccine, McConnell for months has urged people to vaccinate to help end the pandemic.

In the 60-second ad, a transcription of which was obtained by The Louisville Courier Journal, McConnell references his bout with polio as a child and the decades it took to develop a vaccine for the disease – contrasting that with the unique opportunity to act fast on COVID-19. 

"If you haven’t been vaccinated, do the right thing for you – for your family – and get vaccinated right now," McConnell says.

– Joe Sonka, Louisville Courier Journal

Disney World says guests must mask up indoors, on transportation starting July 30

Headed to Walt Disney World soon? Pack a mask – you’ll need to wear one at all Disney parks starting Friday.

The company announced Wednesday night that guests ages 2 and older will have to don face coverings for all indoor attractions and on Disney transportation. Face masks will remain optional outdoors.

The park had lifted its indoor mask mandate on June 15. While proof of vaccination was not required, masks were recommended for those who are not vaccinated. Now, they'll be mandatory for all, except outside.

"Face coverings are required for all guests (ages 2 and up) while indoors and in Disney buses, monorail and Disney Skyliner, regardless of vaccination status," said an update on the Disney website. "This includes upon entering and throughout all attractions."

Britt Kennerly, Florida Today

Netflix to implement vaccine mandate on all US productions

Netflix will implement a vaccine mandate on all its U.S. productions, according to a report from Deadline.

It is the first major Hollywood studio to require vaccination for production. The mandate applies to all cast and crew members who come into contact with the actors, also referred to as “Zone A,” the report said.

In the production of "Gaslit," a limited series produced by Starz/UCP, leading actor Sean Penn refused to return to work on the series until everyone involved got vaccinated, Deadline reported July 22.

Netflix aims to limit exceptions to medical, religious and age-related reasons, Deadline said.

Contributing: The Associated Press.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'An American tragedy': Biden offers incentives, mandates to get 90 million holdouts to vaccinate. COVID-19 updates.

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