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Amid surge, US COVID-19 vaccinations continue to rise

Boosters, breakthrough cases, and the impending school year continue to be top of mind as the US COVID-19 surge reaches some sobering milestones as deaths so far in August top the numbers seen in all of last month and workers scramble to get vaccine into arms.

In the week ending Aug 18, the country reported 5,472 COVID-19 deaths, nearly double the total from 2 weeks earlier, according to USA Today. The 10,991 Americans who died of COVID-19 in the first 18 days of August number more than all the COVID-19 fatalities in June or July.

Hospitals are reaching capacity, and soon some may be forced to make tough decisions: Yesterday, a memo surfaced saying that north Texas doctors may consider prioritizing vaccinated COVID-19 patients over unvaccinated ones for intensive care unit beds, according to Forbes. The Dallas Morning News broke the story, but late yesterday, it added an update saying Mark Casanova, MD, spokesperson for the task force behind the memo, has now said vaccinations should not be a factor in critical care triage decisions.

Overall, the United States reported 138,472 new COVID-19 cases and 908 deaths yesterday, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker.

Rising vaccinations, postponed booster discussion

More than 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine were administered yesterday—the first time since early July that the country hit that mark, according to CNN. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) COVID Data Tracker shows 51.1% of Americans are fully vaccinated and 60.2% have received at least one COVID-19 shot.

Even as more people are getting vaccinated, federal health officials are investigating reports that the Moderna vaccine may be linked to a higher risk of myocarditis than previously thought in younger adults, especially males under 30, according to the Washington Post.

Breakthrough infections were reported in Senators Angus King, I-Maine, Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., yesterday, and all said they were experiencing mild symptoms and isolating themselves, according to the Wall Street Journal. Post-diagnosis, two have posted on Twitter advocating for vaccinations, with Hickenlooper writing, “I’m grateful for the vaccine (& the scientists behind it!) for limiting my symptoms. If you haven’t gotten your shot—get it today! And a booster when it’s available too!”

While the White House announced a plan for Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech boosters, the CDC’s Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP) has postponed its meeting to discuss the matter from Aug 24 to Aug 30 and 31, according to Bloomberg. The White House plan is pending the US Food and Drug Administration’s evaluation as well as the ACIP’s recommendations, reminded Jeff Zients, White House COVID-19 response coordinator, during a press briefing yesterday.

If the booster is approved, it may be the last, said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, according to CNBC yesterday. “This virus has been humbling, so I don’t want to say never, but we are not necessarily anticipating that you will need this [booster] annually,” she said. “It does look like after this third dose, you get a really robust response, and so we will continue to follow the science both on the vaccine side but also on the virus side.”

Back-to-school vaccines, masks

Oregon and Connecticut are the latest states to require vaccination for school employees. KGW says Oregon is requiring all staff for kindergarten through high school to be fully vaccinated by Oct 18, or 6 weeks after FDA approval (whichever is first), and Connecticut staff for preschool through grade 12 need to receive at least one dose by the end of September, according to the state governor’s office.

As for masks, the Texas Education Agency said yesterday that it will temporarily stop enforcing Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates until litigation has resolved, according to the New York Times. Already, seven counties and 48 school districts have defied the ban.

And the Medical Board of California is dealing with a different problem: Earlier this week it issued a warning to doctors who are giving students fake mask exemptions, reports MedPage Today.

Finally, employees in a northwestern Arizona school district are no longer permitted to talk about mask-wearing or vaccination status with students in a motion unanimously approved by the local school board, according to the Associated Press. Disciplinary actions were not included in the motion, but violators will be dealt with by Superintendent Monte Silk. The school district covers almost 300,000 students and 450 schools.

Other US headlines

  • The United States is extending its nonessential travel ban to Canada and Mexico until Sep 21, according to CNN.
  • More than 3,000 fake COVID-19 vaccination cards from China were confiscated at an Anchorage airport yesterday, according to the Associated Press.
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