A surge of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. is being fueled by unvaccinated Americans as officials increasingly say vaccine misinformation is leading too many people to forgo the potentially life-saving shots.
President Joe Biden told reporters Friday that social media platforms like Facebook, where vaccine misinformation has spread, are “killing people.” Biden’s comment follows the release of an advisory by U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy Thursday, in which Murthy called health misinformation “a serious threat to public health.”
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows U.S. vaccinations have steadily fallen since their high in late May. After millions rushed to get their shots in early 2021, the supply of vaccines now vastly outpaces demand.
Dr. Leana Wen, former Baltimore health commissioner, said that misinformation “has led people to forgo masks [and] doubt vaccines,” while Andy Slavitt, a former adviser to the Biden administration on COVID-19, said on Twitter that misinformation has wrongly convinced “just enough US communities that a vaccine was worse than COVID.”
Fact check: Viral meme makes false claim about delta variant
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, called out the destructiveness of vaccine misinformation being spread by figures on the political right.
“We have these — these talking heads who have gotten the vaccine and are telling other people not to get the vaccine,” Cox said, according to the Washington Post. “That kind of stuff is just, it’s ridiculous; it’s dangerous, it’s damaging and it’s killing people. I mean, it’s literally killing their supporters, and that makes no sense to me.”
Also in the news:
►Three Texas House Democrats have tested positive for COVID-19 in Washington, D.C., according to Texas House Democratic Caucus leadership. They’re among nearly 60 lawmakers who fled the state Monday to break quorum in the House, part of an effort to block the passage of a GOP-led elections bill. Most members are staying in the same hotel.
►COVID-19 hospitalizations in Florida jumped 73% from mid-June, ending months of steady decline that began when widespread vaccinations became available.
►The British government still plans to lift all remaining legal restrictions on social contact, as well as other public health measures on Monday, despite the U.K. recording more than 50,000 new COVID-19 cases for the first time in six months and a dire warning from the British government’s top medical adviser.
►Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who is in charge of Britain’s coronavirus response, has tested positive for COVID-19 and is self-isolating while he awaits the results of a second test. Javid, who’s been fully vaccinated, said in a video message that he’s only experienced mild symptoms so far.
►Canada has now surpassed the U.S. in its percentage of fully-vaccinated residents, with the Canadian government reporting 50.04% of residents 12 and older now fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
►Thousands of protesters marched through France on Saturday in opposition of President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to include required vaccinations for health workers and a COVID-19 free certificate to enter public places.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has had more than 34 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 608,800 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: more than 189 million cases and more than 4 million deaths. More than 160.6 million Americans — 48.4% of the population — have been fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
📘 What we’re reading: Border Patrol agents are facing a COVID-19 crisis as President Joe Biden considers relaxing border rules. “We didn’t take a break,” U.S. Border Patrol Rio Grande Valley Sector Chief Brian Hastings told USA TODAY. More here.
Arkansas leads nation in COVID-19 case rate as vaccinations lag
Cases of COVID-19 have doubled in the U.S. in the past two weeks, and Arkansas is becoming a case study in how low vaccination rates can fuel the spread of the virus.
Arkansas continues to be the nation’s top state for new cases per capita, and only 35% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus appears to be largely sparing vaccinated people from the most severe illness.
“Of all of our critically ill COVID positive patients at Baptist Health facilities, none have been fully vaccinated,” said Stephanie Whitaker, chief nursing executive for Baptist Health, a major healthcare provider in the state.
Arkansas has a history of a lax pandemic response and was one of only seven states that did not issue a stay-at-home order for nonessential activities in March and April 2020 in response to the pandemic.
Meanwhile, cases rose in all 50 states for the week ending Friday, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data.
Mask up indoors in Los Angeles and Las Vegas – even if you’re vaccinated, officials say
Health officials from popular tourist destinations like Los Angeles and Las Vegas are asking more people to mask up indoors.
The Southern Nevada Health District is now recommending people wear masks in crowded indoor public places – including Las Vegas casinos – regardless of vaccination status, according to a Friday statement.
The announcement comes one day after Los Angeles County announced that it would reinstate an indoor masking policy due to a recent surge in new COVID-19 cases. More counties in California followed with mask recommendations Friday.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he and his deputies “will not expend our limited resources” to enforce the order. Villanueva also criticized the reinstated mandate for contradicting CDC guidance and not being “backed by science,” according to an ABC News affiliate in Los Angeles.
– Bailey Schulz
Tokyo 2020 organizers report first positive COVID-19 case at Olympic Village
The Tokyo 2020 organizing committee reported the first positive case of COVID-19 in the Olympic Village on Saturday. The unidentified person, who is listed by organizers only as “Games-concerned personnel,” tested positive for the disease Friday and is now quarantining at a hotel.
Toshiro Muto, the CEO of the organizing committee, said in a news conference that he did not have any information about whether the person had been vaccinated. And Seiko Hashimoto, the committee’s president, said organizers are doing everything in their power to ensure that the Olympic Village – like all venues and facilities – is as safe as possible.
The unnamed Olympic Village resident is one of 44 people affiliated with the Games who have tested positive for COVID-19 since July 1, according to organizers. Fourteen of those cases were reported Saturday. Twenty-eight of the 44 positives have involved Tokyo 2020 contractors. Read more.
– Tom Schad
New study touts benefits of second shot
In two-dose COVID vaccines, the benefits of a second shot “far exceed those of the first shot,” according to Stanford researcher Bali Pulendran.
Pulendran co-authored a study on how the mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna worked. The study was published in an early form by “Nature” on July 12.
The second shot’s benefits went beyond the “easy” measure of a successful immune response: The introduction of neutralizing antibodies, Pulendran said in a release. The shot “stimulated a manifold increase in antibody levels, a terrific T-cell response that was absent after the first shot alone, and a strikingly enhanced innate immune response,” Pulendran said.
COVID-19 has become ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated’
All 50 states reported more COVID-19 cases in the most recent 7-day period than in the week before, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data showed.
The data marks a concerning trend for public health officials as the country enters its fourth wave of cases, with a nearly 70% spike overall in the average number of daily cases this past week compared to the week prior, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While the number of cases is increasing, the most concerning outbreaks continue to occur in areas with low vaccination rates, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, said at a news conference Friday.
“This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Walensky added. The average number of hospitalizations and deaths has also increased in the past seven days, rising roughly 36% and 26%, respectively, per the CDC.
Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator, said four states accounted for more than 40% of all new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. last week, with 1 in 5 cases occurring in Florida. Zients didn’t name the other three, but CDC data shows Arkansas, Missouri, Florida and Louisiana with the highest case rates per 100,000 people – each averaging over 150 in the past seven days.
Cases will continue to increase in the coming weeks and will be centered in unvaccinated communities, Zients said. “If you’re unvaccinated, please get vaccinated now,” he added.
Contributing: Abbi Ross, Fort Smith Times Record; The Associated Press