Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky on Tuesday urged parents to vaccinate their children now that federal officials have authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech shots for people as young as 12.
In testimony before a Senate committee, Walensky encouraged children to ask for the vaccine if their parents are hesitant. Experts have said vaccinating children may be necessary for the United States to reach herd immunity, a point at which the coronavirus would be much easier to contain.
Correction: A previous version of this report misstated the first name of Los Angeles County’s public health director. Is it Barbara. This version has been corrected.
Los Angeles County health officials predicted Monday that the county could achieve herd immunity from the coronavirus by mid- to late July, a striking prediction after a winter in which the region’s hospitals rationed oxygen amid crippling infection rates.
Health officials have increasingly expressed concern that vaccine hesitancy will keep the United States from achieving herd immunity, the level of protection at which the coronavirus would be much easier to contain. With 46 percent of the population fully immunized, demand for the shots is waning.
Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County’s public health director, told reporters that the county has been vaccinating about 400,000 people per week and needs to administer 1.5 million to 2 million more shots before 80 percent of residents age 16 and older are inoculated. While scientists do not know exactly what percentage of people need to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity, Ferrer said she estimates it is 80 percent.
If the current rate of vaccination holds, she said Los Angeles County — the most populous in the country — will arrive at herd immunity in the summer.
“At the rate we’re going, we expect that we can reach this level somewhere in mid- to late July,” Ferrer said. “And that assumes that we continue to at least have 400,000 people vaccinated each week. That will include both first doses that people need, as well as their second doses.”
Los Angeles County reported an average of 258 new infections Monday, down from a high of more than 15,000 in January, according to The Washington Post’s tracking of data. The average number of covid-related deaths stood at 11 after previously peaking at 241.
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Summer trips all booked up? Don’t forget about the big cities.
The summer beach houses have been booked for months. Rental car prices are through the roof — if you can even find one. National parks are as hot as ever. Much of the rest of the world is reopening slowly and with considerable hassle.
With 44 percent of adults in the United States fully vaccinated and more than 58 percent with at least one dose, the number of travelers is climbing in the country. According to a forecast released Tuesday, AAA expects more than 37 million people to travel over Memorial Day weekend — a sharp increase from last year that the group calls a “strong indicator for summer.”
The attending physician of Congress said Tuesday that lawmakers can now take off their face masks while speaking on the House floor, in the latest step toward relaxing restrictions that have been put in place during the coronavirus pandemic.
Brian P. Monahan, the Capitol physician, said in a memo that the guidelines allow “a person speaking at a microphone, following recognition by a Chair or Presiding Officer, to briefly remove their masks and replace it at the conclusion of their remarks following recognition by a Chair or Presiding Officer.”
Even though the use of masks has been recommended by public health experts, some Republican lawmakers have fiercely opposed the restrictions over the past year and have turned the issue into a partisan battle. Now, as more Americans are becoming vaccinated, the federal guidelines on when and where to wear a mask are changing, as well.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters earlier Tuesday that he was planning to take part in more discussions this week on easing rules for members and their staffers to allow more of them to work from their offices.
“It’s clear we see some lights at the end of the tunnel, which is very good news for all Americans,” Hoyer said. “Everybody’s talking about when we’re going to get back to normal. … I’ll be discussing with the speaker and with the Capitol physician, but we haven’t had those discussions yet. But I expect to have them this week.”
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With Pfizer coronavirus vaccine authorized for adolescents, some parents scramble to make appointments while others are wary
Judy Fisher has been trying frantically to get a coronavirus vaccine appointment for her twin 12-year-olds. She has downloaded apps for every drugstore chain in New York City, is strategizing on multiple text chains and looking into out-of-state appointments, hoping to get her daughter and son fully vaccinated so they can see their friends and go to summer camp.
“I’m foaming at the mouth to get them vaccinated so they can have some semblance of a normal summer,” Fisher said. “I cry when I think about all they have missed already.”
After a year of stifling confinement and missed schooling, children ages 12 to 15 have been cleared to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine under emergency use. The decision that the two-shot regimen is safe and effective for younger adolescents had been highly anticipated by many parents and pediatricians, particularly with the growing gap between what vaccinated and unvaccinated people may do safely.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster issued an executive order Tuesday allowing parents to opt their children out of a school’s face mask requirement, undercutting health experts’ suggested best practices to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The Republican governor argued that the widespread availability of vaccines and the relatively low amount of virus transmission in schools makes his order safe, sensible and necessary. However, South Carolina has among the lowest vaccination rates in the country: 38.1 percent of adults there have received at least one dose, in comparison with the nationwide average of 46.2 percent.
And although studies have indeed shown schools to be low-risk, that declaration comes with a key qualification: schools see scant spread when proper precautions — especially mask-wearing — are in place, researchers have said.
“With every adult in our state having the opportunity to receive a vaccine, it goes against all logic to continue to force our children — especially our youngest children — to wear masks against their parents’ wishes,” McMaster said in a statement announcing his order. “Whether a child wears a mask in school is a decision that should be left only to a student’s parents.”
The move, which effectively ends universal mask mandates in South Carolina schools, also contradicts the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has published an extensive guide for operating schools safely. In a “key points” section, the report says that institutions “should prioritize universal and correct use of masks and physical distancing.”
“Most students, including those with disabilities, can tolerate and safely wear a mask,” the guide says, making exceptions for some students who have disabilities that render face coverings unsafe.
McMaster’s move has also angered teachers, who say they will now be less safe in their classrooms.
“How to tell teachers you don’t give a damn about them in 280 characters or less,” tweeted Emily Mayer, a public school teacher in Bluffton, in response to the governor’s post about his directive.
The executive action also ends all local mask mandates tied to McMaster’s pandemic emergency declaration, forcing cities and counties either to abandon their orders or craft new ones.
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Governors, Biden discuss best practices to increase vaccine rates
A bipartisan group of governors updated Biden on Tuesday on what is going well in their states’ attempts to get as many people vaccinated as possible. The six governors shared some of their “best practices” in the hope that other states can adopt similar tactics.
“I think you’re seeing governors continue to push out and go to where people are,” Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) said on the virtual talk. “We have some health departments literally out knocking on doors. We have mobile clinics going around, and we want to reach people exactly where they are.”
On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration cleared the first coronavirus vaccine for emergency use in children as young as 12 — something that is expected to significantly increase vaccine rates in states with large populations of young people.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R) joked about the impact that expanding vaccine eligibility will have in his state, given its sizable percentage of young people, in part due to the significant number of large Mormon families.
“We’re very excited for you now to allow younger people to get vaccinated because it has more of them than anywhere else,” he said. “Mr. President, we’re really good at having kids here. So we’re excited to have that opportunity.”'
Reports of high vaccine hesitancy among communities of color have been common, but New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) said partnering with health providers in the Native and Hispanic communities has been key to decreasing anxiety among those populations.
“I want to tell you, for a multicultural, incredible minority-majority state, 23 sovereign nations in New Mexico, they’re going to have 70 percent or more of their population with two shots by July Fourth and probably earlier,” she said. “And we have some sovereign nations that have a 95 percent, two shots in arms, fully vaccinated population. And it has been a very effective partnership” between the sovereign nations and the Indian Health Service.
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Travel bookings to Cancún are on the rise — and so are the coronavirus cases
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Mexico has remained one of the most popular travel destinations for Americans. According to flight-booking data from Skyscanner, at the heart of that interest is Cancún, which regularly ranks as a top destination. Its main airport, Cancún International, reported more than 692,000 passenger arrivals in March — exceeding its March 2019 traffic by 5 percent.
But as interest in Cancún stays strong, the city and surrounding regions of the state, Quintana Roo, have reinstated coronavirus restrictions in response to a recent rise in cases.
On May 3, Gov. Carlos Joaquín moved Quintana Roo from medium-risk yellow to high-risk orange on the state government’s four-tier Traffic Light Monitoring System, matching its standing on the federal stoplight map, Mexico News Daily reported.
Top state officials in Virginia are urging local school systems and private schools to hold vaccination clinics once the Pfizer-BioTech vaccine is approved for 12- to 15-year-olds, which could happen as soon as Wednesday.
Public health officials said having local health departments vaccinate youths at school would reduce equity and access issues and allow parents to give written consent ahead of time, without having to make a special trip to have their children vaccinated.
Fully vaccinated youths will not have to quarantine after an exposure to the coronavirus, eliminating missed school days, sports and other after-school activities, said Dena Potter, the spokeswoman for vaccine distribution in Virginia.
During a virtual meeting with public school superintendents, some private schools and local health departments, Potter said, Superintendent of Public Instruction James F. Lane and vaccine coordinator Danny Avula encouraged schools to launch clinics quickly so students can get both doses of the Pfizer vaccine, 21 days apart, before the end of the academic year.
Scribner’s Catskill Lodge in Hunter, N.Y., was one in a nationwide sea of hotel establishments to temporarily close last year when the pandemic wiped out tourism and travel.
While researching novel disinfecting methods, Kate Lala, director of operations, stumbled across an air purifier brand that promised to do what most others couldn’t — suck the coronavirus in and kill it, rather than collecting the germs and possibly recirculating them.
The hotel invested, buying one for each of its 38 rooms and additional units for its common areas. Guests and staff are still required to wear masks in public spaces, but Lala has confidence in the air purifiers. “This is probably going to be the way of the world for some time, and safe air is probably going to be a priority for travelers for some time to come, and we wanted to be able to provide that,” she said.
Pia Decarsin, who has dual French and American citizenship, moved this summer from Northern Virginia to Provence, France, with her husband and two children. Inside French classrooms, Decarsin’s 7-year-old daughter has rocketed to a third-grade reading level. Meanwhile, day care for her 2-year-old costs half what it did in the United States.
The Decarsins originally viewed their relocation as temporary, a stopgap solution meant to fill time until Arlington Public Schools started offering face-to-face instruction. But now, like many who moved during the pandemic, the Decarsins are rethinking their plans.
Even as U.S. vaccinations proceed apace and most American school districts promise they will offer full, in-person learning next fall, some transplanted families feel conflicted. They have grown attached to new homes, new friends — in some cases new cultures, foods and languages they’re beginning to master.
As one academic year draws to a close — and registration looms for the next — many are faced with a choice. Do they return to their former life? Or embrace one radically different from anything they ever envisioned?
In the throes of the pandemic, a Southern California businessman said he needed government help to support his struggling companies.
Mustafa Qadiri submitted multiple loan applications in search of federal funds to help his mortgage and advertising businesses, according to court records.
His Paycheck Protection Plan applications were approved and the government deposited roughly $5 million into multiple bank accounts controlled by Qadiri so the 38-year-old could pay his workers and cover other business-related expenses, court records state.
But the money never made it to the businesses he claimed to operate, federal prosecutors said.
Instead, Qadiri spent the money on himself, splurging on a Lamborghini, a Ferrari and a Bentley, according to the government. He also spent some of the PPP funds on “lavish vacations” and other personal expenses, federal prosecutors said.
Ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft plan to offer free rides to coronavirus vaccination sites under a program expected to launch soon, the Biden administration announced Tuesday.
People will be able to use the companies’ apps to choose a vaccination location and follow simple directions to redeem their ride, the White House said in a statement. The partnership is scheduled to begin in the next two weeks and last through July 4.
“By helping Americans get a free ride to a vaccination site, Lyft and Uber are eliminating a potential barrier and driving America closer to the President’s goal of getting 70% of the U.S. adult population with at least one shot by July 4th,” the White House said.
While demand for Uber and Lyft trips has plummeted during the pandemic, the companies said rides have picked up in recent weeks, leading to a shortage of drivers. The vaccination effort could reintroduce passengers to the services they shied away from at the height of the crisis.
CDC director encourages parents to get their children vaccinated
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky encouraged parents to get their children vaccinated during testimony Tuesday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
The Food and Drug Administration cleared the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for emergency use in children as young as 12 on Monday, expanding access to the vaccine ahead of the next school year. Walensky said she knew some parents wanted to wait and see how the administration of shots to children goes, but urged children to ask for the vaccine if their parents were hesitant.
“I would encourage all parents to get their children vaccinated. I know many parents are enthusiastic and have been texting me,” Walensky said. “Some parents want to be first, but I’m also encouraging children to ask for the vaccine. I have a 16-year-old myself, and I can tell you he wanted to get the vaccine. He wants his life back. These kids want to go back to school.”
Health officials also said they were prepared to ship up to 60 million doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca’s vaccine overseas, but that the Food and Drug Administration was still reviewing issues with Emergent BioSolutions’ Baltimore plant, which produced coronavirus vaccines for Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca. Peter Marks, who heads the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said his agency was working to clear the doses as quickly as possible.
“The FDA feels it’s imperative that before vaccine can be shipped to any other partner, it has to meet the quality standards that it would meet for any American, as well,” Marks said.
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