Coronavirus LIVE: Louisiana Reports its Third-Highest Daily COVID-19 Case Count Since Pandemic Start

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Politicians and public health officials across the U.S. are scrambling to respond after a major spike in the number of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

The Delta variant has gained a foothold throughout all 50 U.S. states, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The average number of daily cases last week hit 32,278, up 145 percent on the rate a fortnight ago.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said the number of hospitalizations increased by 50 percent in the past two weeks to about 24,923 a day.

More than 97 percent of people hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky warned at a briefing Friday.

Additional to the worries about the unvaccinated, new data has shown that the Johnson & Johnson jab is less effective against the emerging variant.

COVID-19 Cases Texas
A man sits with his head down while waiting to depart the Houston Methodist Hospital on July 16, 2021 in Houston, Texas. As of mid-April, the Houston Methodist Hospital has identified and treated the Delta variant; a mutation of COVID-19. The Houston metropolitan area has seen an upward increase of Delta infections, and research is showing the Delta variant to be 60% more contagious then its predecessor the Alpha variant, also known as COVID-19. Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Follow the Newsweek liveblog throughout Wednesday for all the latest.

Louisiana reported its third-highest daily COVID-19 case count

Across several states, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are surging among unvaccinated people.

Louisiana reported its third-highest daily COVID-19 case count since the beginning of the pandemic.

State health officials reported 5,388 new cases and 844 coronavirus-related hospitalizations Wednesday.

Only 36 percent of the state population is fully vaccinated.

It's not that hard to understand... https://t.co/YHnSdmw5Jg pic.twitter.com/OVo5cJv7OK

— Walter M. Kimbrough (@HipHopPrez) July 21, 2021

Louisiana Governo John Bel Edwards said Friday that 97 percent of the state's coronavirus cases and deaths since February have been in unvaccinated people.

"Numbers like this are avoidable, and we should be doing better," he tweeted Wednesday.

At Baton Rouge General, there are currently 54 COVID-19 patients, up from 24 last week. Forty percent of those patients are under the age of 50.

The Louisiana Department of Health credits the spread of the Delta variant for the rise in cases and hospitalizations among unvaccinated people.

COVID cases and hospitalizations are surging among the unvaccinated as the more contagious Delta variant takes hold in Louisiana. Vaccination remains the single best way of protecting yourself, your family, and your community against COVID-19 and its severe outcomes. https://t.co/MIA7UmfD0Q

— Louisiana Department of Health (@LADeptHealth) July 21, 2021

Only 15% of people in Latin America, Caribbean are fully vaccinated

Only 15 percent of the population in Latin American and the Caribbean is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

"Unfortunately, across Latin America and the Caribbean, only 15 percent of the people have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and several countries, like Honduras and Haiti, have yet to reach even 1 percent," PAHO Director Carissa Etienne said during a weekly news briefing Wednesday.

Etienne said low vaccine coverage in the region is leading to high infection rates.

Over the last week, the PAHO reported 967,000 new cases and 22,000 deaths in its region, a slight decrease from the previous week.

In countries with an adequate vaccine supply, such as Costa Rica, Uruguay, Chile and Argentina, COVID-19 cases are down. However, in places with low vaccine coverage, infections remain high.

Honduras, Guatemala and Cuba have seen a spike in cases and deaths, Etienne said.

"These trends illustrate how COVID-19 remains entrenched within our region, particularly in countries with low vaccination coverage. And the spread of variants only makes matters worse," she said.

According to Etienne, 47 countries and territories have reported at least one "variant of concern." Eleven have detected all four "most concerning" variants: Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta.

We urge donors and international agencies around the world to help our region secure the vaccines 💉 it needs to save lives and bring this virus 🦠 under control as soon as possible. @DirOPSPAHO #COVID19

— PAHO/WHO (@pahowho) July 21, 2021

NYC health care workers will need vaccines or weekly COVID-19 tests

New York City healthcare workers will now need to be vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced at a news conference Wednesday.

"The delta variant continues to make more and more trouble, and we've got to fight back," de Blasio said. "We need a strong, clear approach – that every single one of our workers gets vaccinated or tested weekly."

The new rule will go into effect on August 2 and applies to all employees at 11 public, city-run hospitals and clinical workers for the health department.

This includes doctors, nurses, social workers, custodians and registrars, City Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi said.

De Blasio said that this new policy is not a vaccine mandate, as each employee can choose to provide a negative COVID-19 test each week.

"Every single one of those employees has a choice," he said, noting that a vaccination was the better of the two options. "This is about keeping people safe and stopping the delta variant."

About 70 percent of hospital workers in New York City are vaccinated, just below the statewide average of 74 percent, according to the state health department.

WHO predicts global COVID-19 cases to hit 20 million in the coming weeks

Global coronavirus cases could exceed 200 million in the next three weeks, according to the World Health Organization's COVID-19 Weekly Epidemiological Update, published Wednesday.

Over 3.4 million new cases were reported globally between July 12 and July 18, a 12 percent increase from the week before.

There are over 190 million cases and over 4 million deaths reported globally, the report said. However, "at this rate, it is expected that the cumulative number of cases reported globally could exceed 200 million in the next three weeks."

The number of cases continues to climb, despite efforts to roll out vaccinations.

"Despite efforts to extend vaccination coverage, many countries across all six WHO Regions continue to experience surges in Covid-19 cases," the update said.

Indonesia, the United Kingdom, Brazil, India and the United States are reporting the highest number of cases.

The report also said that increases in transmissions are driven by the spread of more contagious variants, relaxed public health restrictions, increase social mixing and inadequate vaccine distribution.

Texas hospital records its first case of the Lambda variant

Houston Methodist Hospital reported its first case of the Lambda COVID-19 variant.

The lambda variant was first detected in Peru in December 2020, according to the World Health Organization.

It makes up about 80 percent of COVID-19 cases sequenced in the country since April 2021, according to a June WHO report.

"We're seeing an alarming spike in the number of COVID-19 cases across the Houston area, with the steepest increase happening over the weekend," Houston Methodist said in a statement. "The increased hospitalizations add stress to many of our hospitals that are nearing capacity."

This discovery comes as the country is currently fighting against the highly contagious Delta variant.

"I don't think there's sufficient evidence at this point that we should be more concerned about lambda than delta, I still think delta is the primary concern for us," Dr. Wesley Long, medical director of Diagnostic Microbiology at Houston Methodist, told ABC News. "There's a lot more evidence that we have that delta is much more contagious, the viral loads are much higher."

About 50 percent of the Texas population is fully vaccinated. The hospital said the majority of the 185 people admitted with coronavirus were unvaccinated.

Three more Olympic athletes test positive for COVID-19

Three more Olympic athletes have tested positive for COVID-19 in their home countries.

A shooter from Britain and two baseball players from Mexico were said the be asymptomatic.

"There are no words to describe how I'm feeling right now," Amber Hill, Britain's top-ranked shooter, said. "I don't have any symptoms, I will now isolate as per the government guidance."

Hill will be unable to attend the Games in Tokyo.

Baseball players Héctor Velázquez and Sammy Solís have been isolated in their rooms at the team hotel in Mexico City.

Read the full story here.

World Health director said Olympics success means slowing COVID spread

The head of the World Health Organization said the Tokyo Olympics should not be judged by the number of COVID-19 cases reported, but by how the infections are handled.

"The mark of success is making sure that any cases are identified, isolated, traced and cared for as quickly as possible and onward transmission is interrupted," WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a speech to an International Olympic Committee meeting.

"The mark of success in the coming fortnight is not zero cases," Ghebreyesus added. "There is no zero risk in life."

According to the Associated Press, there are 79 Games-related COVID-19 cases in Japan this month. Additionally, many international athletes tested positive at home and are unable to travel.

Pfizer and BioNTech to start vaccine manufacturing in South Africa

Pfizer and BioNTech will start manufacturing their COVID-19 vaccine in South Africa.

In a joint statement, the companies said they signed a letter of intent with the Biovac Institute in Cape Town to immediately start on-site development, including transferring technology and installing equipment.

The companies said their annual vaccine production would exceed 100 million doses when the facility is fully operational.

"From day one, our goal has been to provide fair and equitable access of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to everyone, everywhere," Albert Bourla, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Pfizer, said in a statement. "Our latest collaboration with Biovac is a shining example of the tireless work being done, in this instance to benefit Africa.

Our first manufacturing partner within the African Union has just been announced! @biovac_inst is a Cape Town based biopharmaceutical company which will support the production of more than 100m doses of our #COVID19 vaccine as well as the distribution.https://t.co/owl0iuDFsi pic.twitter.com/7dZ5HUdpiW

— BioNTech SE (@BioNTech_Group) July 21, 2021

Vaccination rates across Africa remain low.

According to the World Health Organization, only 1.5 percent of Africa's 1.3 billion people are fully vaccinated.

"It is great and welcome news that must be celebrated in the context of this pandemic as every action counts," John Nkengasong, the director of the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN. "I see this as a part of the collective action to address technology transfer and intellectual property."

U.S. Olympic volleyball player tests positive for COVID

Team USA confirmed Wednesday that Taylor Crabb is self-isolating after contracting the virus. The 29-year-old Olympian from Oahu, Hawaii was set to play his first match alongside teammate Jake Gibb on Sunday against Italy.

He is the second U.S. athlete to have tested positive while in Japan, alongside Gymnast Kara Eaker, in addition to dozens of others due to a possible outbreak at the Olympic Village.

While organizers continue to push ahead, there are strong hints the Games could be scrapped altogether at the last minute if the COVID outbreak in Tokyo spikes.

Republican House members lose face mask fines battle

Three GOP Reps. have lost appeals over $500 fines for not wearing a face covering on the floor of the House. The U.S. House Ethics Committee released statements saying Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Ralph Norman of South Carolina had failed in their appeals, which they launched in June.

Greene labelled the fine "arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, and otherwise not consistent with law or with principles of fairness."

Congress may also be mandating face coverings as it contends with an outbreak of the Delta COVID variant, with a memo Tuesday suggesting clusters had been "detected in Washington, DC and in the Capitol building."

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COVID on Capitol Hill

Legislators have been rattled after the virus managed to infiltrate offices in the House, Congress, Senate and White House in the past two weeks.
Florida Rep. Vern Buchanan announced Monday that he had tested positive for the virus after being vaccinated. "I look forward to returning to work as soon as possible," he said in a statement.

"In the meantime, this should serve as a reminder that although the vaccines provide a very high-degree of protection, we must remain vigilant in the fight against COVID-19."

Meanwhile, a White House staffer, also a press aide to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, also went off ill with COVID. They tested positive after meeting with a group of Texas legislators, six of whom have also contracted the virus.

Which states are considering mask mandates?

State, county and city-wide mask mandates are making a return to counties across, reigniting the controversial debate about effectiveness and personal choice. Several states, however, have maintained their mandates throughout the pandemic, making small exceptions as their populations get vaccinated. The majority, however, continue to enforce the rule in schools.

Arkansas leads the country with the highest infection rate - and one of the lowest vaccination rates. But Governor Asa Hutchinson signed a ban on state-wide or city-wide mask mandates in April. The law isn't due to take effect until the end of this month, however - it is unknown if that will still go ahead.

In California, an indoors and public transit mandate is in place if a person is not yet vaccinated. But a full mandate has been reintroduced in Los Angeles County, where the rate of new cases increased 300 percent and hospitalizations doubled since July 4. "This is a pandemic overwhelmingly and disproportionately of those that have not been vaccinated," Governor Gavin Newsom said.

A heated debate is ongoing in New York City about the reintroduction of the mandate, with Mayor Bill de Blasio firmly against reimposing the measures. "No. Simple answer is no," he said according to a New York Times report. "Masks have value, unquestionably. But masks are not going at the root of the problem. Vaccination is."

READ MORE: New York Among Top 10 States For New COVID-19 Cases

Good morning and welcome to the Newsweek liveblog

As the Delta variant continues to spread rapidly across the U.S., public health officials and politicians are scrambling to boost vaccination numbers.

Stick with Newsweek throughout Wednesday for all the latest.

Study Finds Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Much Less Effective Against Delta Variant

A study released Tuesday found that the single dose Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine was much less effective against the Delta variant of the virus.

"The message that we wanted to give was not that people shouldn't get the J.&J. vaccine, but we hope that in the future, it will be boosted with either another dose of J.&J. or a boost with Pfizer or Moderna," said Nathaniel Landau, a N.Y.U. Grossman School of Medicine virologist who led the study.

While the study has received neither peer review nor publication in a scientific journals, its conclusion align with previous findings that the similar single dose AstraZeneca vaccine is only around 33% effective in preventing symptomatic cases of the variant, the New York Times reported.

Arkansas COVID and Hospitalization Rise a 'Raging Forest Fire': Public Health Researchers

As Arkansas leads the country in new COVID infections per capita and lags with vaccinations, public health researchers called a surge of cases and hospitalizations in the state a "raging forest fire."

A daily average of 1,039 new cases are estimated to emerge over the course of the next week, according to a model by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences' Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health.

Infections among children under the age of 17 are also projected to increase, with estimates of 169 new cases per day, according to the model.

Dr. Jose Romero, Arkansas' health secretary, warned against additional outbreaks when schools resume session this fall since legislation was enacted that prohibits schools from requiring masks and vaccination, the Associated Press reported.

"I expect to see this year significant outbreaks within the school system," Romero said during a virtual conversation on vaccine reluctance hosted by U.S. News & World Report. "What's already telling me that's going to happen are the number of day care closures that have occurred because of outbreaks occurring, and camp exposures and closures occurring."

Mask Requirement May Be Resumed for Congress

Congress may reinstate a mask requirement after several lawmakers and staffers contracted the COVID-19 Delta variant, according to Brian P. Monahan, the attending physician for the Capitol.

In a memo sent to congressional staff Tuesday, Monahan revealed that the highly contagious variant was "detected in Washington, DC and in the Capitol buildings."

A senior aide for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tested positive for the virus Monday, a spokesperson for Pelosi told Forbes. Florida Rep. Vern Buchanan announced he had contracted the virus and was quarantining the same day.

For now, masks will remain optional in the Capitol, Monahan said, but the mandate may resume in the future if needed.

Las Vegas school district will not require masks for all students next fall

The Las Vegas school district, the fifth-largest in the nation, will continue with its plan to only require face masks for students in the fall.

Clark County School District will require face masks for fourth and fifth graders but make them optional for students in preschool through third grade.

Students in sixth through twelfth grade and teachers who are vaccinated do not have to wear a mask.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is now recommending that schools require face masks for children older than 2 years old, regardless of vaccination status.

The White House's COVID-19 Team labeled Clark County a "sustained hotspot" for new infections. County officials recommend people wear masks in crowded indoor places whether they are vaccinated or not.

#BREAKING: Las Vegas area remains a "sustained hotspot" for COVID-19 transmission, according to new White House report. Jacksonville, Orlando and Miami surpass metro area on list of "select high burden" areas. pic.twitter.com/8JKnUoZf2R

— David Charns (@davidcharns) July 20, 2021

Alabama health official calls COVID-19 crisis a "self-inflicted wound"

As hospitals fill up with COVID-19 patients in Alabama, one health official said the state is suffering from a "self-inflicted wound."

"There's just a sense of frustration," Dr. Donald Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association and former head of the Alabama Department of Public Health said. "The fact that cases are rising is a self-inflicted injury."

Almost 500 people are being treated for coronavirus across the state, up more than 300 from last month, according to state data.

In addition to a lack of face masks and social distancing, only 31 percent of the people in the state are fully vaccinated and only 38 percent have received at least one vaccine dose.

Williams said only 50 people would be in the hospital currently is everyone who is eligible for a vaccine had gotten one.

"This is the plague of our generation, and certainly of our lifetime," he said. "And now it could be so easily averted, but we're failing to do that."

While hospitalizations are down from the pandemic's height in January, Williams said the rise of the Delta variant threatens to worsen the situation in the state.

Kentucky Governor urges young people to get vaccinated: "Kids can get COVID"

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said Monday that the Delta variant is taking hold in his state as vaccine hesitancy grows.

"The Delta variant is serious and it is even a deadly threat to non-vaccinated Kentuckians," Beshear said. "Vaccines are still offering significant protection against serious illness and death, including against the Delta variant. But we are seeing more cases among vaccinated Kentuckians because of the Delta variant."

Dr. Steven Stack, the commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health, said every death from this point forward "is preventable."

"Delta is maybe 2.5 times more transmissible," Stack said. "It's spreading like wildfire."

Today, 41 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Northern Kentucky (cases reported are through yesterday, July 19). We’ve come too far and worked too hard to go back now. Get your FREE COVID-19 vaccine today. #ShotOfHopeNKY pic.twitter.com/qo2vB6wOjq

— NKY Health Dept (@nkyhealth) July 20, 2021

Beshear said younger residents are increasingly getting the Delta variants because they are the group less likely to get vaccinated. Vaccines in Kentucky are available for people 12 and older.

"Let's make sure that we break through a myth: Kids can get COVID," he said. "They do get COVID. And they're contracting COVID at basically the same rate or generally the same curve, at least, as all other unvaccinated Kentuckians."

Vaccine rates for all age groups have plateaued, however. Only about 2.25 million people in the state have received at least one dose. As people continue to hold large gatherings indoors and outside, cases and hospitalizations have increased for three straight weeks.

Beshear and Stack are encouraging all Kentuckians who are unvaccinated or work in a job with constant contact with others to wear a mask.

Yesterday, Dr. @StevenStackMD and I provided an update on the delta variant in Kentucky and encouraged unvaccinated Kentuckians and Kentuckians in jobs that require consistent contact with the public to take additional precautions.

Read more: https://t.co/xxwkyiE6UF pic.twitter.com/bDJdGtZTfB

— Governor Andy Beshear (@GovAndyBeshear) July 20, 2021

COVID-19 cases rise in four states, as health officials credit Delta spread

COVID-19 cases have surged in four states as the Delta variant continues to spread.

Alaska, Florida, Mississippi and Arkansas have all seen a substantial upward trend in new cases over the past two weeks, according to data from Johns Hopkins.

A spokesperson from the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) confirmed to Newsweek that officials believe the Delta variant is contributing to the state's increase of cases.

A report from the ADH last week found that the Delta variant accounts for 31.4 percent of Arkansas' COVID-19 cases.

The vaccination rates in Alaska, Florida, Mississippi and Arkansas are some of the lowest in the country, with only 38 percent of people in Mississippi having received at least one dose of the vaccine.

In Arkansas, 44 percent of residents have received at least one dose, while 51 percent of Alaskans and 56 percent of Floridians are at least partially vaccinated.

Read the full story here.

Dr. Fauci and Senator Rand Paul Spar of COVID-19 origin theory

During a Senate hearing Tuesday, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci and Senator Rand Paul spared over the theory that the coronavirus was started in a lab in Wuhan, China

Paul quested Fauci's earlier statements that the National Institute of Health (NIH), which Fauci oversees, never funded gain-of-function research.

Gain-of-function research involves altering organisms or diseases as a way to increase transmissibility in order for scientists to better predict infectious diseases and develop vaccines.

"On May 11, you stated that the NIH has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research to the Wuhan Institute of Virology and yet, gain-of-function research was done entirely to the Wuhan Institute by Dr. Shi [Zhengli] and was funded by the NIH," Paul said.

Fauci was quick to defend himself.

"Senator Paul, I have never lied before the Congress and I do not retract that statement," Fauci said. "This paper that you are referring to was judged by qualified staff up and down the chain as not being gain-of-function."

Fauci added, "Senator Paul, you do not know what you are talking about."

RAND PAUL: Knowing it's a crime to lie to Congress, do you wish to retract your statement where you said the NIH never funded gain of function research in Wuhan?

FAUCI: I've never lied before Congress & I don't retract that statement ... you don't know what you're talking about pic.twitter.com/UtWoO2KHsb

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 20, 2021

Read the full story here.

Delta variant accounts for 83% of U.S. coronavirus cases

Health officials said Tuesday that the Delta variant now accounts for an estimated 83 percent of all U.S. COVID-19 cases.

"The best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 variants is to prevent the spread of disease, and vaccination is the most powerful tool we have," Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a U.S. Senate hearing Tuesday.

The Delta variant only accounted for about 50 percent of all coronavirus cases during the week of July 3.

CDC Director Walensky tells Congress that the Delta variant now makes up 83 percent of sequenced cases in the US, "a dramatic increase" that she warns is likely higher in areas with low vaccination rates.

— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) July 20, 2021

"The message from CDC remains clear: The best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 variants is to prevent the spread of disease, and vaccination is the most powerful tool we have. We must continue to expand vaccine coverage by building trust and confidence in COVID-19 vaccines," Walensky said.

Read the full story here.