Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today
The partisan divide over school mandates widens.,
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Pennsylvania’s governor said he would require masks in schools.
New Zealand set up checkpoints to keep people from moving between regions with different coronavirus rules.
The political battle over mandates
The fight over masks and vaccines is heating up — especially between President Biden and the governors who hope to defeat him in 2024. Many Republicans see the rules as a threat to their personal freedom that is more dangerous than the coronavirus itself.
In Florida, Ron DeSantis has prevented local governments and school districts from requiring masks. In Texas, Greg Abbott renewed his ban on compulsory vaccines. And in South Dakota, Kristi Noem has made her blanket opposition to lockdowns and mandates a key selling point for her potential presidential bid.
DeSantis has become a symbolic face of the battle. On Monday he made good on a threat to withhold funding from local school boards — Alachua County’s and Broward County’s — that made students wear masks.
But school budgets may not be affected, because the Biden administration has offered to use federal stimulus funds to make up the difference. The Biden administration is also investigating five Republican-led states that won’t let schools require masks to determine whether this violates federal protections for students with disabilities.
A partisan split
The actions of Republican governors reflect how the views of the party’s base have hardened when it comes to curbing Covid. Ever-rising death tolls are seen as less politically damaging than imposing coronavirus rules of almost any stripe.
Sixty percent of Florida residents supported universal masking in schools in a recent poll. But 72 percent among Republicans opposed it. A plurality of Republicans in the state also opposed a mask requirement for health care workers.
“Many Republicans are out on an island by themselves,” said Whit Ayres, a veteran G.O.P. pollster. “It may be a safe political place for some primary electorates at the moment. But ultimately you have to win a general election.”
Another Republican strategist privately lamented, only half-jokingly, that vaccine hesitancy could ultimately kill off part of the party’s own base.
The risks of unvaccinated unmasking
The highly contagious Delta variant has shown itself to be highly effective at spreading in unprotected settings and populations.
A detailed new study from the C.D.C. found that an unvaccinated elementary school teacher in Marin County, Calif., spread the coronavirus to half of her 24-student class in May and June when she lowered her mask to read aloud, in violation of the district’s rules.
Twelve of her students, who were masked but too young to be vaccinated, subsequently contracted the virus. The Delta variant outbreak subsequently spread to at least 26 people.
“I thought I respected its contagiousness,” Dr. Lisa Santora, deputy health officer the Marin Health and Human Services and an author of the report, said of the Delta variant. But its efficiency in overtaking the classroom “surprised and humbled” her.
E.U. vaccinations hit a milestone
Around 70 percent of adults in the European Union have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, which puts the bloc among the world’s leaders in vaccinations despite a sluggish start.
While the vaccination rate slowed this month, it has yet to reach a ceiling that some experts and officials feared would arrive over the summer. Taking children and teenagers into account, more than 55 percent of the overall E.U. population has been fully vaccinated, compared with 52 percent in the United States, 61 percent in Israel and 64 percent in Britain.
But there are wide differences between member countries, because each runs its own vaccination campaign.
Understand Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.
- Vaccine rules. On Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and up, paving the way for an increase in mandates in both the public and private sectors. Private companies have been increasingly mandating vaccines for employees. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
- Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
- College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
- Schools. Both California and New York City have introduced vaccine mandates for education staff. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.
- Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.
- New York City. Proof of vaccination is required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, although enforcement does not begin until Sept. 13. Teachers and other education workers in the city’s vast school system will need to have at least one vaccine dose by Sept. 27, without the option of weekly testing. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
- At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
While more than 80 percent of adults have been fully inoculated in Belgium, Denmark and Portugal, and more than 75 percent in Spain and the Netherlands, the figure falls to 45 percent in Latvia, 31 percent in Romania and 20 percent in Bulgaria.
In Bulgaria, disinformation, poor trust in institutions and a lack of a communication strategy have plagued efforts, including among older people. Romania got off to a fast start in urban areas, Euronews reported, but it has struggled to vaccinate its rural population, of which it has the highest share in the European Union. Since its campaign slowed, Romania has sold and donated doses to avoid wasting them.
What else we’re following
States are pulling back on Covid data, Kaiser Health News reports.
Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York announced new measures, including $65 million for the rollout of booster shots.
A New Jersey woman was charged with a conspiracy to sell hundreds of fake coronavirus vaccination cards over Instagram.
Ireland’s Cabinet agreed to end most Covid restrictions by late October, The Irish Times reported.
Israel recorded a record number of coronavirus cases and vaccine booster shots, Haaretz reported.
Two senior F.D.A. officials who oversee vaccine applications are resigning, CNBC reported.
The New England Patriots cut quarterback Cam Newton after several Covid-related disruptions.
What you’re doing
I have to write/journal the things I want to tell my patients without expressing the frustration I feel when they refuse to get vaccinated: “You trust us giving you your chemotherapy and helping you manage the uncomfortable side effects. You trust us helping bring your new baby into this world. You trust us providing comfort to your loved ones when they are dying. You trust telling us when you are mistreated. Trust us when we say get vaccinated, it can save your life.” — Dorene Boydston, NP, Idaho
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