Texas governor orders ban on company vaccine mandates; California death count tops 70K: COVID-19 updates


New York must allow religious exemptions to the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for medical workers, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

U.S. Northern District Justice David Hurd of Utica granted a preliminary injunction temporarily barring New York state and employers from enforcing the COVID-19 vaccine mandate against medical workers claiming a legitimate religious exemption. Hurd issued a temporary restraining injunction last month that blocked the enforcement of the mandate regarding religious beliefs.

The mandate requires most medical workers statewide to get the first COVID-19 vaccine dose by Sept. 27, or lose their jobs. It prodded about 55,000 workers to get the shot, but left the fate of at least 35,600 other workers refusing shots uncertain.

Many of the medical workers who had claimed religious exemptions had been placed on suspensions pending the outcome of the court battle. Many of these workers could be in the thousands as many hospitals and nursing homes are facing staff shortages.

David Robinso

Also in the news:

>Southwest Airlines and its pilots union steadfastly denied that workers walked off the job to protest a federal vaccine mandate after thousands of flights were canceled this weekend.

>Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves has again extended the state’s COVID-19 emergency declaration, as the state continues to recover from the pandemic.

Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 44.4 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 714,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 238.4 million cases and 4.8 million deaths. More than 187 million Americans – 56% of the population – are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

What we’re reading: COVID-19 vaccines offer the best protection against severe illness and death. Experts say that new antiviral and antibody treatments have “interlocking advantages”. 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.

Texas Gov. Abbott expands ban on vaccine mandates

Gov. Greg Abbott has issued an executive order prohibiting COVID-19 vaccinations mandates for employees or consumers across the state, an expansion of a prior order limited to government entities. Abbott asked Texas lawmakers to address the issue during the special legislative session. This is an expansion of a prior order that was only applicable to government entities.

“The COVID-19 vaccine is safe, effective, and our best defense against the virus, but should remain voluntary and never forced,” Abbott said in a statement.

Abbott, who was previously vaccinated and also later tested positive for COVID-19, has urged Texans to get vaccinated throughout the pandemic but had already banned school districts, cities, counties and government agencies from requiring the shots. The Legislature passed earlier this year a law prohibiting “vaccine passports”. This means that private businesses can’t require patrons to wear masks. However, companies could mandate vaccinations for employees until Monday.

– Madlin Mekelburg, Austin American-Statesman

Illinois VA nursing home didn’t follow guidelines. 11 residents died.

Leaders and staff at a federal veterans’ nursing home in Illinois mismanaged a coronavirus outbreak that killed 11 residents in fall 2020, well after employees had been put on notice about the danger the pandemic posed to its elderly population, a government investigation found. One staff member who was exposed at home was refused a test and told that he would wear a mask after completing a shift caring to residents. The employee was confirmed positive the following day. Even after the virus spread to Danville Veterans Affairs Complex, testing was inconsistent. The investigation revealed that isolation of the exposed was not a systematic process.

“Direct care staff described chaos and a lack of awareness of what to do,” the inspector general at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs concluded in a report released last month. Read more here.

Donovan Slack

More virus treatments expected soon

Several new COVID-19 treatments are likely to become available within the next few months. Although each drug serves a different purpose, they can all help to change the course of the disease, at least in the United States. An experimental antiviral from Merck and a monoclonal antibody from AstraZeneca, along with a handful of other drugs making their way through the development process, could make COVID-19 a much less fearsome disease.

“We’re at the point where if we could use these medications all to their interlocking benefits … we could really begin to control the impact this virus has on us, and in particular on the health care system,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease physician at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville.

Karen Weintraub

Moderna has no plans to share its COVID-19 vaccine recipe

Moderna has no plans to share the recipe for its COVID-19 vaccine because executives have concluded that scaling up the company’s own production is the best way to increase the global supply, the company’s chairman said. Moderna has been pressed by the United Nations health agency to share its vaccine recipe. Afeyan said the company analyzed whether it would be better to share the messenger RNA technology and determined that it could expand production and deliver billions of additional doses in 2022.

“Within the next six to nine months, the most reliable way to make high-quality vaccines and in an efficient way is going to be if we make them,” Moderna chairman Noubar Afeyan said. Asked about appeals from the World Health Organization and others, he contended that such pleas assumed “that we couldn’t get enough capacity, but in fact we know we can.”

The COVID-19 vaccine is Moderna’s only commercial product. Last week, the company announced plans to open a vaccine facility somewhere in Africa. Afeyan stated that he hopes that a decision on the exact location will be made soon. It could still take many years before the plant is up and running.

Health workers, educators see high vaccination rates with mandates

Almost all of Washington and North Carolina’s state health workers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while 99. 99% of Cincinnati Public School employees have complied with the district’s mandatory vaccination policy. High vaccination rates are a result of mandates from the federal government and states, as well as local school districts. Last week, the White House published a report claiming that mandated vaccines would result in millions more Americans being vaccinated.

The report found that businesses instituting vaccine mandates have seen their number of fully vaccinated workers rise above 90%.

California coronavirus death count tops 70K as cases fall

California’s coronavirus death toll reached another once-unfathomable milestone – 70,000 people – on Monday as the state emerges from the latest infection surge with the lowest rate of new cases among all states. The state was experiencing an epidemic of the virus last year. By January, the number of cases was on the rise. Daily deaths approached 700.

The latest surge started in summer and was driven by the delta variant that primarily targeted the unvaccinated. At its worst during this spike, California’s average daily death count was in the low 100s.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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