New York mandates vaccination for all city workers, but offers $500 to comply; FDA backs Moderna, J&J boosters: COVID-19 updates

·11 min read

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is offering a carrot to go along with the vaccination mandate stick.

De Blasio on Wednesday announced that all 160,000 city employees would have to be vaccinated by Oct. 29 or risk being placed on unpaid leave, but said those who comply will get a $500 bonus.

To be eligible for the bonus, workers will have to receive at least their first vaccine dose by Friday of next week. Approximately 46,000 city employees, nearly 29% of the total, have yet to get their shots.

Vaccination has been required for city health care and schools employees since late September. The mayor said vaccination rates for those departments are 95% or higher. Other city workers also faced the same requirement but could get tested regularly for the virus instead. That's no longer an option.

“There is no greater privilege than serving the people of New York City, and that privilege comes with a responsibility to keep yourself and your community safe,” de Blasio said.

Also in the news:

►Former NFL wide receiver Kenbrell Armod Thompkins pleaded guilty in Miami to stealing identities to fraudulently obtain coronavirus-related unemployment insurance benefits in California. He faces up to 12 years in prison at his scheduled Jan. 6 sentencing.

►The Brazilian Senate is expected to recommend that President Jair Bolsonaro be indicted on criminal charges for allegedly bungling Brazil’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. A Senate report calls for Bolsonaro to be indicted on nine charges ranging from charlatanism to crime against humanity.

►The owner of a Louisiana livestock business has pleaded guilty to stealing more than $76,000 from a federal aid program to help compensate farmers and ranchers for losses from the coronavirus pandemic. Burnell Gabriel Zachary has agreed to repay the money as part of his plea agreement with federal prosecutors.

►Conservative radio host Dennis Prager, 73, says he contracted COVID-19 on purpose after months of trying to get infected. The host of “The Dennis Prager Show” told listeners he hopes to "achieve natural immunity and be taken care of by therapeutics.”

📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 45.1 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 729,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 241.8 million cases and 4.91 million deaths. More than 189.4 million Americans – 57.1% of the population – are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘 What we're reading: Almost two years after the start of the coronavirus pandemic, many employers and businesses are requiring the vaccine. But what happens to those who refuse? Some have been fired or benched. Others quit. Those who did include football coaches, Broadway stars and news reporters. Read about them 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.

FDA OKs mixing COVID vaccine boosters, backs Moderna, J&J boosters

More Americans would be eligible for booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines and could get any brand of vaccine they choose, according to an authorization Wednesday from the Food and Drug Administration.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still needs to sign off before booster shots of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines become available. A vaccine advisory panel, meeting Thursday, will consider the same authorization, which would then need approval from the CDC's director.

Plenty of booster doses will be available for people who want them, the White House has said.

The FDA wants the same groups of people to be eligible for a booster shot of Moderna as can already get a third dose of the very similar Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The Moderna booster dose would be half the original dose, at 50 micrograms.

Under the FDA’s recommendation, people who got Moderna shots originally would become eligible for boosters six months after they finish the initial two-dose series if they are over 65 or at high risk for COVID-19 because of health problems, jobs or living conditions.

With J&J, the FDA said, a second dose of the vaccine will bring protection up to the level provided by the other two vaccines. Everyone who got the J&J vaccine can get a second dose two months after their initial dose with no restrictions.

The new recommendations would also allow anyone to choose which brand they want for a booster dose, rather than sticking with the vaccine they got originally.

— Karen Weintraub and Elizabeth Weise

Florida fire chief terminated after failing to discipline workers over vaccine mandate

A Florida battalion chief who was fired for refusing to discipline workers who hadn’t complied with a county requirement to get vaccinated against COVID-19 was trying to protect them from a wrongful punishment, the firefighters union said.

Orange County Fire Rescue battalion chief Stephen Davis was fired Tuesday for failure to follow a direct order and issue disciplinary actions earlier this month, said Lisa McDonald, a spokeswoman for the fire department in metro Orlando.

But a union representing firefighters told WFTV in Orlando that Davis didn’t issue the sanction because the workers on his list were mistakenly identified as unvaccinated or hadn’t gotten in their requests for religious exemptions on time.

“He didn’t do what he was asked to do because he realized some people on the spreadsheet that he received were fully vaccinated and had religious exemptions at the time,'' firefighter Jason Wheat told the TV station, which said Davis and dozens of other fire department employees have sued the county over its vaccine mandate.

White House to distribute 15M doses in first week once vaccine for kids 5-11 gets OK

The Biden administration said Wednesday that it has obtained enough coronavirus vaccine and is ready to quickly and equitably distribute doses for the nation’s 28 million children ages 5-11 once federal officials authorize it.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds could win authorization in a couple of weeks, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said at a briefing Wednesday. He said 15 million vaccines would then be shipped in the first week alone.

Vaccines for children will be the focus of the Food and Drug Administration’s independent advisory committee meeting Tuesday and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s independent panel meeting Nov. 2-3.

"Our planning efforts mean that we will be ready to begin getting shots in arms in the days following a final CDC recommendation," the White House said in a statement.

The statement said 25,000 pediatrician and primary care offices, more than 100 children's hospitals, tens of thousands of pharmacies and hundreds of schools and community-based clinics will be providing the shots.

85% of businesses that closed during COVID back up and running

The vast majority of businesses that temporarily closed during the COVID-19 pandemic have reopened, according to a new Yelp report. Eighty-five percent of the businesses that shuttered from March 2020 through the third quarter are up and running, Yelp said, citing data on enterprises listed on its popular customer review site. Many restaurants, shops and other outlets still aren’t running at full capacity amid workers shortages and volatile consumer demand because of recent COVID spikes triggered by the delta variant. But they have survived.

“For a vast majority of those businesses to reopen during the pandemic is a true testament to the perseverance and adaptability of those business owners,” says Justin Norman, Yelp’s vice president of data science.

Paul Davidson

30% of Maryland COVID deaths are among fully vaccinated

Nearly all COVID-19 deaths in Maryland have been among people who are unvaccinated, but as the percentage of fully vaccinated residents in the state grows, fully vaccinated residents are making up a higher percentage of all people dying from the disease in the state.

Andy Owen, a spokesperson for the Maryland Department of Health, said that from Sept. 1 to Oct. 15, about 30% of Marylanders who died of confirmed COVID-19 were fully vaccinated. Many had other health issues that made them more vulnerable.

More than 60% of the state population is fully vaccinated, and the rate of their deaths remains far lower than among those who are not vaccinated.

"In the last two months, unvaccinated people were more than 3.5 times more likely than fully vaccinated people to die from COVID-19, Owen said, who also pointed out the importance of eligible residents getting booster shots.

– Grace Hauck

Rescue money targeting affordable housing, but red tape abounds

Replacing lost revenue to avoid budget cuts is the most common use of COVID-19 rescue funds, a USA TODAY review of plans submitted by U.S. cities to the Treasury Department found. But when it comes to new investments, nothing appears to get more attention than affordable housing and programs for the homeless. Yet housing advocates want more lasting federal funding than one-time money. And they're looking for execution, not just plans. Cities and states have been slow to spend the rescue money because of lengthy public input processes and federal guideline issues.

"Certainly, there's a huge opportunity here because there is $350 billion on the table that can be used for housing," said Sarah Saadian, vice president of public policy at the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Read more here.

Joey Garrison

In-N-Out restaurant defiant after being shut down over COVID mandate

California burger chain In-N-Out had a San Francisco restaurant briefly shut down for failing to follow a city requirement that employees check customers for proof of vaccination to eat in the restaurants.

The chain said the restaurant had signs explaining the vaccination requirements but was not checking for vaccination cards. The city Health Department shut down the restaurant briefly on Thursday, though it quickly reopened for grab-and-go only.

"We refuse to become the vaccination police for any government," the company said in a statement. The city Health Department responded that "vaccination is particularly important in a public indoor setting where groups of people are gathering and removing their masks, factors that make it easier for the virus to spread."

Deaths, new case rates down sharply from recent peak

COVID-19 is killing about 20% fewer Americans now than during the recent peak of deaths four weeks ago, and cases are being reported at less than half the pace they were during an earlier part of the delta variant-driven wave.

Johns Hopkins University data shows states reported 11,725 deaths in the week ending Tuesday, down from more than 14,500 per week less than a month ago. In the week ending Tuesday the United States reported 569,445 new cases, compared with about 1.15 million about a month and a half ago.

The higher numbers came amid America's first big encounter with the highly contagious delta variant. The high counts came months after free, effective vaccines became widely available to American adults and teens.

Mike Stucka

Fox News Channel's Neil Cavuto tests positive, urges vaccination

Fox News Channel anchor Neil Cavuto says he has tested positive for COVID-19 and that, while he was stunned by the news, "doctors tell me I’m lucky as well." Cavuto wasn't on air for "Your World with Neil Cavuto" Tuesday after learning of his test results following Monday's episode. Cavuto said in a statement that his condition "would be a far more dire situation" if he had not been vaccinated because of "all my medical issues."

Cavuto, 63, had open-heart surgery in 2016, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1997 and was treated for cancer in the 1980s. The Fox News anchor said he hopes "anyone and everyone gets that message loud and clear" following his diagnosis: "Get vaccinated, for yourself and everyone around you."

Community transmission of virus easing across nation

More than one-quarter of Americans are now living in a county that no longer has high levels of community transmission of coronavirus, a USA TODAY analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows. That's a major change from earlier in the most recent pandemic wave. The CDC defines "high" as 100 cases or more per 100,000 people per week.

The United States isn't out of the woods – another 82.5 million Americans live in a "substantial" county and 7.5 million are in a "moderate" county. About 560,000 are in a "low" counties. The lowest rates were found in Hawaii, Florida, California and Maryland, where fewer than one-third of residents lived in places with high levels of coronavirus. The best place on record is Puerto Rico, where about 71,000 people – just 2.1% of the population – are living in an area of high community transmission.

Washington sees fallout from state worker vaccine mandate

More than 1,800 Washington state workers have been fired, resigned or retired because of the state’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate, according to data released Tuesday. The latest numbers released by the governor’s Office of Financial Management show that about 3% of the state’s approximately 63,000-person workforce that was covered by the mandate have left their jobs, and the cases of another 4.6% – or 2,887 – are pending because they are either in the process of receiving a job accommodation, are planning to retire, are getting vaccinated or are awaiting separation from their agency.

Of the 1,887 who are no longer employed, 1,696 were fired, 112 resigned and 79 retired.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: New York mandates COVID vaccination for all city workers, offers bonus

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