Common respiratory viruses are on the rise; Tennessee restarts vaccine outreach after GOP pressure: Latest COVID-19 updates

·10 min read

Common respiratory viruses are making a comeback, and a particularly severe flu season could be on the horizon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday.

Most common respiratory viruses – influenza viruses, common human coronaviruses, rhinoviruses and more – circulated at historically low levels in 2020, likely due to COVID-19 mitigation measures such as wearing face masks and social distancing, the CDC said in its weekly update.

But now, as those measures relax, some viruses have begun circulating at increased levels at an unusual time of the year, the CDC said.

"Reduced circulation of influenza viruses during the past year might affect the severity of the upcoming influenza season given the prolonged absence of ongoing natural exposure to influenza viruses," the CDC wrote. "Lower levels of population immunity, especially among younger children, could portend more widespread disease and a potentially more severe epidemic when influenza virus circulation resumes."

Not sure how to tell the difference between COVID-19 symptoms and the common cold? Check out our guide here.

Also in the news:

►Friday's opening ceremony marked the official start of an unprecedented and long-awaited Olympics amid the coronavirus pandemic. About 100 U.S. athletes still have not been vaccinated against COVID-1

►Minnesota Vikings offensive line coach/run game coordinator Rick Dennison is out of a job after refusing the COVID-19 vaccine, ESPN's Courtney Cronin reported Friday.

►As Georgia sees a surge in new cases in the past few weeks, Gov. Brian Kemp said the state will not be implementing restrictions and encouraged people to get vaccinated.

►Florida’s COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases again jumped significantly this week. About 5,300 Floridians are now hospitalized, a 65% jump since last week, the Florida Hospital Association said. Officials have said more than 95% of those hospitalized were not vaccinated.

►The delta variant is one of the most infectious respiratory diseases scientists have ever seen, said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, according to CNBC. "The delta variant is more aggressive and much more transmissible than previously circulating strains," Walensky told reporters at a briefing Thursday. "It is one of the most infectious respiratory viruses we know of, and that I have seen in my 20-year career."

►Nine firefighters battling the largest wildfire in the nation, the Bootleg Fire in the Fremont-Winema National Forest in Southern Oregon, have tested positive for COVID-19. They are being quarantined away from the fire camp.

►Students, teachers and staff at Chicago Public Schools will be required to wear masks indoors when school begins in August, officials said.

📈Today's numbers: The U.S. has had more than 34.3 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 610,200 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 192 million cases and 4.1 million deaths. More than 162 million Americans — 48.8% of the population — have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘What we're reading: Panicked cities, states and towns pressed President Joe Biden on rescue funds during the COVID-19 pandemic. Months later, some are slow to spend the money. 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.

St. Louis to require masks indoors, again

In St. Louis and St. Louis County, every person five years and older – including those who are vaccinated – will be required to wear face masks in indoor public places and on public transportation beginning Monday, officials announced Friday.

"We’ve lost more than 500 St. Louisans to COVID-19, and if our region doesn’t work together to protect one another, we could see spikes that overwhelm our hospital and public health systems," Dr. Fredrick Echols, acting director of health for the City of St. Louis, said in a statement.

"The City and County health departments are taking this joint step to save lives, make sure hospitals can provide the care residents rely on, and protect our children so they can enjoy a full range of educational opportunities this year."

US to buy 200M more doses of Pfizer vaccine 'to prepare for every contingency'

The federal government is buying 200 million more doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to prepare for future needs, such as boosters and shots for kids under 12.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration wants to have "maximum flexibility" to address changing conditions, and it’s "going to prepare for every contingency." The additional doses will be delivered between this fall and spring of next year.

It’s unclear whether booster shots will be needed for fully vaccinated people, but breakthrough infections attributed to the rapidly spreading delta variant have sparked a discussion. Most new coronavirus cases in vaccinated people have been mild or asymptomatic.

Iowa may have to toss out tens of thousands of expiring COVID-19 vaccine doses

Iowa might have to throw out tens of thousands of doses of coronavirus vaccine over the next six weeks unless public demand for the shots rebounds.

The Iowa Department of Public Health said Friday that 38,730 of the state's doses are set to expire by the end of July, and another 178,651 could expire by the end of August. Sarah Ekstrand, a spokesperson for the health department, said clinics and county health departments are trying to limit the number of doses that would have to be thrown out.

"Our local partners have been diligent in their administration methods, ensuring they use on-hand supply before placing additional orders," Ekstrand wrote in an email. "Counties have also worked collaboratively to redistribute doses within the state to meet the needs of Iowa communities."

Iowa demand for vaccine has continued to sag in recent weeks, despite rising case numbers and hospitalizations blamed on the highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus. Hospital leaders have said more than 90% of Iowans recently hospitalized for COVID-19 have been unvaccinated. Read more.

– Tony Leys, Des Moines Register

83% of US Olympians are vaccinated

About 83% of the U.S. Olympic delegation, which includes 613 athletes, have been vaccinated, said Jonathan Finnoff, chief medical officer of the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee. The International Olympic Committee has said it would urge participants to get vaccinated but not require it.

Since the Olympics were postponed, the coronavirus has been a constant shadow over the Summer Games, altering the landscape of the event and prompting concerns that it will increase the spread of the coronavirus in Japan before distributing it around the world. Others urge the Olympics could bring a hint of joy and relief after a difficult year for so many across the globe.

The Olympics have consistently made headlines for positive COVID-19 tests in the Olympic Village. "In the short term, excitement might occur and people will enjoy watching TV, cheering the athletes, and it might have a bit of an Olympic atmosphere," said Shinsuke Kobayashi, managing director of the Olympic and Paralympic news office for Japan’s Kyodo News agency, in an interview this week. "But I am worried about what will come afterward."

The arriving athlete delegations are expected to be smaller after organizers asked that athletes arrive no earlier than five days before their first day of competition to avoid overcrowding. The move is part of a set of COVID-19 countermeasures that will now be tested during the opening ceremony.

But public health experts have raised concerns about the effectiveness of the countermeasures, which have been planned for months and laid out in playbooks for participants.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey says 'it's time to start blaming the unvaccinated'

Alabama's Republican Gov. Kay Ivey drew fire on Friday after saying it was "time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks" for a spike in her state's COVID-19 cases, with critics charging she has failed to show leadership in tackling the pandemic.

Asked Thursday what it would take to lift Alabama's low vaccination rate, Ivey snapped to a reporter: "I don't know, you tell me!"

"Folks are supposed to have common sense," Ivey continued. "But it’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down."

Her remarks come as the U.S. vaccination effort is flagging and cases are surging because of the more contagious delta variant. Alabama has reported more than 11,000 new COVID-19 infections over the last 14 days, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. The state reported a positivity rate of 11.7% at the end of last week, up from 7.6% the week before. Read more.

– Taylor Avery

Tennessee to restart vaccine outreach after pausing over political pressure

Tennessee's state government will resume all forms of vaccine outreach, with the narrow exception of social media posts aimed specifically at children, after halting many forms of vaccine advocacy this month in response to conservative political pressure, the state's top health official said Friday.

Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said the agency would resume outreach recommending vaccines for children and once again hold vaccination events on school property. Some events at schools will occur as early as next week, Piercey said.

The Tennessee Department of Health drew nationwide attention this month after exclusive reporting by The Tennessean, part of the USA TODAY network, revealed the agency had dramatically scaled back efforts to promote the coronavirus vaccine to minors. The changes came after conservative state lawmakers lambasted the agency for promoting the vaccine to minors and proposed dissolving the entire agency to make the outreach stop. Read more.

— Brett Kelman, the Tennessean

3 states contribute to over 40% of positive cases

As the number of COVID-19 cases across the country is rising, three states have contributed to over 40% of all recent positive cases, according to the White House on Thursday.

White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said Florida, Texas and Missouri were contributing the highest number of cases, with Florida accounting for one in five positive cases for the second week in a row. Those states also have some of the lowest rates of vaccination, Zients said, adding that "within communities, these cases are primarily among unvaccinated people."

But in Florida and other states with high case numbers, he said, such as Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Nevada, people are also becoming vaccinated at greater rates than the rest of the country, an encouraging trend. "People in these states are feeling the impact of being unvaccinated and are responding with action," Zients said.

Nearly half the country has been fully vaccinated, according to the latest CDC data, but a rise in case numbers is being attributed to the highly spreadable delta variant. While breakthrough infections do occur among the vaccinated, Zients said 97% of hospitalizations and deaths have been among unvaccinated individuals.

COVID-19 booster shot could help immunocompromised people, experts say

People who are severely immune-compromised should consider getting a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, several members of a federal advisory committee said Thursday. The committee members added immunocompromised people should take other precautions like wearing masks and making sure those around them are vaccinated.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which doesn't have the regulatory authority to recommend a third shot, presented data at its meeting Thursday that suggested a booster shot was unlikely to cause harm and might benefit someone who is significantly immunocompromised because of cancer or who is on powerful medication to prevent autoimmune reactions or organ rejection.

"There is sufficient data to suggest that an additional dose would be helpful," said Dr. Grace Lee, a committee member and professor of pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine in California. Read more.

— Karen Weintraub

Italy to require health passes for public activities

The Italian government on Thursday approved a measure that will require individuals participating in public life to present health passes containing information about their COVID-19 status beginning Aug. 6.

The "green" passes will be issued to those who can prove they have received at least one vaccine dose in the last nine months, recovered from COVID in the last six months or tested negative in the last 48 hours.

People will be required to have passes to access public spaces like restaurants, movie theaters, gyms and sports events.

Contributing: Christine Brennan and Rachel Axon, USA TODAY; The Associated Press.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tennessee restarts vaccine outreach; CDC says flu, viruses on the rise

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