WASHINGTON — The Biden administration will require that nursing home staff are vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition for those facilities to continue receiving federal Medicare and Medicaid funding.
Biden will announce the move Wednesday afternoon in a White House address. A senior administration official confirmed the announcement on the condition of anonymity to preview the news before Biden’s remarks.
The administration continues to look for ways to use mandates to encourage vaccine holdouts to get shots. The new mandate, in the form of a regulation to be issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, could take effect as soon as next month.
Hundreds of thousands of nursing home workers are not vaccinated, according to federal data. That’s despite those facilities bearing the brunt of the early COVID-19 outbreak and their workers being among the first in the country eligible for shots.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana’s top school board ended debate about whether Gov. Bel Edwards’ mask mandate for schools should be challenged after a raucous crowd of angry parents packed the hearing room and refused to put on face coverings.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education warned the hundreds of people assembled Wednesday that they must wear masks to comply with Edwards’ order, which covers state buildings. But the audience continued to resist, shouting “no more masks.”
In response, the board voted 8-2 to adjourn the hearing. The crowd erupted into shouting about recall efforts for board members.
The executive order by Edwards, a Democrat, has resulted in debate in some school districts.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Students in Florida’s Broward County went back to school under a mask mandate Wednesday, even as their school board faces threats of penalties for defying Gov. Ron DeSantis, who says parents should decide whether their children wear masks.
School officials in Tampa and Miami plan to address the public health measure later Wednesday. And in Gainesville, the Alachua County board extended its mask mandate for another two months Tuesday night, hoping to reduce infections in classrooms. All this after the Florida Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to consider taking away funding and removing school board members who defy the governor’s order.
In Miami, Florida’s largest school district with 334,000 students, a task force of medical experts recommended students be required to wear masks when they return to classrooms next week.
In Broward County, the state’s second-largest district with 261,000 students, two teachers and an assistant teacher died from COVID-19 last week. In Miami, a 13-year-old student and four district employees have died from the virus in recent weeks.
PHOENIX — The union representing Tucson police officers is challenging the city’s decision to require employees to get the coronavirus vaccine.
The Arizona Daily Star reports that the lawsuit filed by the Tucson Police Officers Association alleges the policy breaches its labor contract “by unilaterally enacting the ordinance without first bargaining in good faith over the change in working conditions” and asks a court to declare the mandate to be illegal.
In a 6-1 vote Friday, the council decided to make vaccinations mandatory for nearly 4,500 city employees, including about 760 in the police department.
The new ordinance will require all unvaccinated employees to provide proof of at least their first vaccine dose by Aug. 24 or face a five-day suspension. However, the mandate won’t go into effect if 750 unvaccinated employees submit proof of at least their first vaccination by Aug. 20.
In addition to the five-day suspension, unvaccinated employees could be subject to weekly testing requirements, more stringent mask-wearing guidelines, travel restrictions and eligibility restrictions for certain assignments.
ORLANDO, Fla. — Walt Disney World is tweaking its face mask policy.
Starting Thursday, the theme park resort in Florida will allow visitors to chose whether or not to wear face coverings in outdoor lines, outdoor theatres and outdoor attractions. They previously had been required.
Face coverings will remain optional in outdoor common areas. They will still be required for visitors age 2 and up at all indoor locations, such as restaurants, theaters and transportation with the exception of ferry boats.
MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota State Fair officials strongly urged fairgoers to mask up both inside and outside but stopped short of imposing any mandates.
Fair officials issued updated health guidance urging masks indoors for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people; outdoors in crowded settings, especially for the unvaccinated; and at some booths where vendors will require everyone inside to wear a mask. They acknowledged that the new guidance could put a dent in attendance, which normally tops 2 million.
“We ask that those who attend do so because they are willing to follow our health guidance – not because it’s mandated, but because it’s the right thing to do,” according to the guidance.
The statement noted that the majority of new cases in Minnesota are among unvaccinated people. The fair isn’t requiring proof of vaccination or recent negative coronavirus tests. Visitors can get a free COVID-19 shot at North End Event Center during the fair. The Minnesota State Fair opens Aug. 26, and runs through Labor Day.
OLATHE, Kan. — The sheriff and a local school board in Kansas’ most populous county have set COVID-19 policies conflicting with county rules on testing and masks.
Johnson County in the Kansas City area is requiring unvaccinated employees to undergo weekly testing starting Monday, but the sheriff’s department is exempt. The Kansas City Star reports that Sheriff Calvin Hayden is not requiring his nearly 600 employees to abide by the testing policy.
A spokesman says the sheriff believes his employees can determine what’s best for them and their families.
Meanwhile, the Spring Hill school board in southern Johnson County is allowing parents to claim an exemption for their children from the county’s mandate to wear masks inside elementary schools. Previously, a health care provider had to sign off on an exemption.
Board member Ali Seeling says the board is giving parents “the freedom to make health decisions for their own children.”
COLUMBIA, S.C. — More South Carolina colleges and universities are requiring students and educators to mask up to limit the spread of the coronavirus after the state Supreme Court ruled the schools can do so.
Coastal Carolina University will require face coverings in all campus buildings except for private offices and assigned living areas, the school announced Wednesday.
Clemson University, the College of Charleston and the University of South Carolina instituted similar mask rules following the high court’s Tuesday ruling. South Carolina State University officials also announced their mask mandate.
NEW ORLEANS — A federal court says a medical college in north Louisiana cannot force students to get COVID-19 vaccinations as a condition of enrollment.
Three students at the Edwards Via College of Osteopathic Medicine in Monroe filed a lawsuit earlier this month, objecting to getting the vaccine on religious grounds. The college is a private institution but it operates on the campus of the University of Louisiana at Monroe.
A federal judge ruled that the medical college’s collaborative agreement with the public state university makes it subject to the state’s law against religious discrimination.
And it said the private college violated that law with its vaccination policy.
GENEVA — The chief scientist of the World Health Organization is warning of “even more dire situations” worldwide in the coronavirus pandemic if high-income countries start administering vaccine boosters ahead of poorer countries without vaccines.
With the U.S. health officials recommending booster shots for all Americans who have already been vaccinated, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan expressed concern that leaving billions of people in the developing world unvaccinated could foster emergence of new variants, like the delta variant, that is driving new cases in the United States and beyond.
“We believe clearly that the data does not indicate that boosters are needed,” Swaminathan said at a news conference in Geneva. She expressed more understanding for a recent U.S. decision to administer boosters to people with weaker immune systems.
WHO officials have repeatedly expressed concerns that variants will continue to crop up in areas where the virus goes unchecked and called for vaccine equity and “solidarity” among countries.
Dr. Michael Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies chief, said: “If we think about this in terms of an analogy, we’re planning to hand out extra life jackets to people who already have life jackets, while we’re leaving other people to drown without a single life jacket.”
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, says 10 countries have administered 75% of all vaccine supply, while low-income countries have vaccinated “barely 2 percent of their people.” He says, “vaccine injustice is a shame on all humanity.”
BERLIN — Germany has recorded an increase in newly reported coronavirus infections, even as the last of the country’s 16 states announced Wednesday that more than half its population has been vaccinated.
The Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s disease control agency, says 8,324 cases of coronavirus were reported Tuesday, two-thirds more than a week earlier.
Berlin, Hamburg and North Rhine-Westphalia — Germany’s most populous state — all have high infection rates, particularly among younger adults and children. The agency blamed the rise in cases on lagging vaccination rates and summer vacation travel.
Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday called on Germans to get vaccinated, saying doing so “is a good deed, not just for yourselves but also for our society.”
The eastern state of Saxony became the last to report that more than 50% of its population are fully vaccinated. Nationwide, the share of the population that’s fully vaccinated stands at 58%.
MADISON, Wis. — A high-ranking Catholic cardinal who has COVID-19 is in serious condition on a ventilator and sedated. Cardinal Raymond Burke, who spoke out against mandatory vaccinations, tweeted on Aug. 10 that he had the coronavirus.
Officials at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which Burke founded in La Crosse, Wisconsin, issued a statement Tuesday saying Burke is in serious but stable condition at an undisclosed location. It says he has received sacraments from priests nearby and several relics have been placed in his room.
Burke has built a reputation as a fiercely conservative cleric and one of Pope Francis’ staunchest critics.
NEW YORK — U.S. health officials are recommending all Americans get COVID-19 booster shots.
The plan, as outlined by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other top health authorities, calls for booster doses eight months after people get their second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. The booster doses could begin the week of Sept. 20.
“Our plan is to protect the American people, to stay ahead of this virus,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.
Health officials say people who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine also probably need extra shots because some effectiveness of vaccines wanes over time. But they say they’re awaiting more data and have yet to work out the details.
The overall plan awaits a Food and Drug Administration evaluation of the safety and effectiveness of a third dose, the officials say.
PARIS, Texas — A Texas school district is amending its dress code to require masks in hopes of sidestepping Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order banning mask mandates.
The Paris Independent School District’s board of trustees voted to require masks as part of its dress code when classes begin Thursday. The district, which has about 3,800 students, is located about 100 miles northeast of Dallas.
The board said in a statement: “The board believes the dress code can be used to mitigate communicable health issues.”
Abbott’s order barring mask mandates has been challenged in court, and several larger school districts have imposed mask requirements despite the order.
Meanwhile, at least four school districts in the state have temporarily closed campuses because of coronavirus cases among staff and students.
The Paris board’s decision came the same day the governor tested positive for the coronavirus and statewide hospitalizations reached their highest level since late January.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka is closing swimming pools, gymnasiums and children’s parks, along with stricter rules for people going out of their homes, in an effort to control soaring coronavirus cases.
The rules, effective Wednesday, allow only one person to leave home other than for work. Indoor sport facilities will be closed, beach gatherings and musical shows are prohibited. State, private offices and businesses can operate with limited personnel and customers.
Sri Lanka is facing a rise in coronavirus cases, with health officials warning that hospital facilities and morgues have reached their full capacity. The government announced Wednesday it has approved the import of an additional 360,000 liters of liquid oxygen. However, it has ruled out a full lockdown because of the impact on the economy.
Sri Lanka has reported 365,683 cases and 6,434 confirmed deaths.
JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi, one of the nation’s least vaccinated states, has opened its second field hospital to treat a surge of coronavirus patients.
The Christian charity relief group Samaritan’s Purse arrived in Jackson, Mississippi, with more than 50 medical professionals, setting up tents with 32 beds in a garage at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Recently, an emergency field hospital with federal backing was set up elsewhere on the medical center campus.
Health officials say the surging delta variant is overwhelming the state’s hospital system. On July 27, some 726 people were hospitalized with the coronavirus. By Aug. 16, that figure stood at 1,623. Only 34% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated.
Mississippi’s State Health Officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs says this wave is impacting younger, unvaccinated people just as schools are resuming. More children are hospitalized, and one died last week.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers says about 20,000 Mississippi students are currently quarantined for COVID-19 exposure — 4.5% of the public school population.
The medical center’s leader, LouAnn Woodward, renewed pleas for people to get vaccinated. She says unlike the natural disaster in Haiti, the situation in Mississippi is a “disaster of our own making.”
“We as a state, as a collective, have failed to respond in a unified way to a common threat, we have failed to use the tools that we have to protect ourselves,” she says.
There’s been a total of 392,300 cases and 7,880 confirmed deaths in a state of 3 million people.