New infections drop more than 50% nationwide; FDA panel OKs Pfizer vaccine for kids, who


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New coronavirus infections are down 56.8% nationwide since the delta variant surge peaked in the first week of September, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows.

Cases are down in every region – the South, Mid-Atlantic, most of New England, the Midwest, the West. Some of the states hit hardest in the delta wave – Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, South Carolina and Tennessee – are reporting cases at a rate about one-sixth of where they were less than two months ago. Arkansas and Louisiana cases have fallen by more than three-quarters since then, too. 

But there are some warning signs from states, mostly in colder climes and often with low vaccination rates in some communities. Compared to the week of Sept. 4, the pace of new cases is up about 85% in Alaska, 63% in Michigan and 56% in Montana. They’re even up 39% in Vermont, which was an early leader in vaccination.

The U.S. has seen sharp declines in the past, only to see cases rise again. Winter could drive social gatherings indoors, where infections can spread more easily. 

Melissa Nolan, an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health, remains cautiously optimistic. 

“Our models continue to predict a decline and stabilization of cases through the rest of the calendar year,” Nolan said. “That is assuming we do not see another new variant take hold in our population.”

Mike Stucka

Also in the news:

►An order barring the president of the Chicago police union from making public statements encouraging members to disobey the city’s vaccine mandate expired after a judge denied a request to extend it.

►The North Dakota Department of Health on Tuesday switched off comments on its social media accounts, saying it was doing so to combat the spread of misinformation. The comment ban “will be applied to all posts, and not be specific to any particular topic,” the agency said.

►Maine health care centers are facing a staffing crunch, but vaccination mandates are not the cause, the chief of the state’s largest health network said Tuesday. Maine Health CEO Andrew Mueller blamed an aging workforce and employees leaving the industry because of the stress of working during the pandemic.

►Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams, who ranks second in the NFL in catches and third in receiving yards, tested positive for COVID-19 and will likely miss Thursday’s game against the unbeaten Arizona Cardinals. Adams says he’s vaccinated.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 45 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and nearly 738,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 244 million cases and 4.96 million deaths. More than 190 million Americans – 57% of the population – are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: Research during the pandemic has shown those with mental health disorders are more vulnerable to COVID-19, but it wasn’t until last week that the CDC added them to the list of underlying medical conditions associated with a higher risk of severe disease

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 panel’s OK of Pfizer vaccine for kids 5-11 a major step

After a discussion where it was pointed out more than 40% of American children ages 5-11 had contracted COVID-19 by the end of June, a panel of Food and Drug Administration advisers voted 17-0 Tuesday to authorize the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for kids that age.

The resounding support for the vaccine is a major move toward making those school-age children eligible for inoculation, likely by next week. Still, three other steps remain. The FDA will have to sign off, an independent CDC advisory panel will review the data, and then the CDC director would have to give her clearance.

The FDA committee of vaccine experts and pediatricians said that, while concerns remain about the unknowns, the data was sufficient to support using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in this age group because its benefits outweigh the risks.

The news figures to be welcome by parents eager to get their kids a high level of protection against the coronavirus. Pfizer-BioNTech reported 10 micrograms of their vaccine, a third of the dose administered to adults, is 90.7% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID, a growing concern for children. 

One study presented by the CDC found that 42% of children ages 5-11 in the U.S. had been infected with COVID-19 as of the end of June. The highest hospitalization rates for children occurred in September, so many kids remained susceptible after the summer, the CDC’s Dr. Fiona Havers told the committee.

— Karen Weintraub and Elizabeth Weise

Florida’s new surgeon general, under fire for his refusal to wear a mask for a meeting with a state legislator who has cancer, is trying to defend his actions as he takes more flak.

Dr. Joseph Ladapo was told by Sen. Tina Polsky that she had a serious medical condition — later revealed to be breast cancer — and was concerned about COVID-19 transmission. He refused to wear a mask and offered instead to meet Polsky outside, which she declined.

In a Twitter post Tuesday, Ladapo tried to explain his thinking, writing: “Having a conversation with someone while wearing a mask is not something I find productive, especially when other options exist. It is important for me to communicate effectively with people. I can’t do that when half of my face is covered.”

His stance runs counter to the CDC and other medical experts who have advised using masks to prevent spread of the coronavirus.

Also Tuesday, the Rev. Dr. R.B. Holmes Jr., a Black Republican minister who’s leading a statewide effort to get people of color vaccinated, said of Ladapo: “For that top doctor to not wear a mask is disrespectful and dishonorable.”

COVID-19 isn’t the only viral disease children are catching this year. Influenza, which sends thousands of children to a hospital each season, is predicted to ramp up in the coming months. USA TODAY analyzed data and spoke to pediatric specialists around the country to understand the risks of COVID-19 in children relative to other common viral diseases.

Dr. David Buchholz, a professor of pediatrics at Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center, says the flu, which is dormant through the summer, is not a simple comparison to COVID-19, which infects year-round. What’s clear, he says, is that the risk of COVID-19 outweighs that of the flu during a typical season. Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is particularly dangerous, killing 100 to 500 children a year, he said.

“If you have an infant or toddler you should be a lot more worried about RSV than COVID,” Buchholz said. “A lot more children die of RSV than COVID, particularly children under 2.”

A St. Louis County councilwoman says a Lyft driver pulled a gun on her husband when he asked the driver to wear a mask. Councilwoman Lisa Clancy tweeted at Lyft saying, “one of your drivers just cocked a gun on my husband when he asked him to wear a mask (which is your policy).” Clancy said her husband wanted to report the incident, but the driver canceled the trip and erased records of the transaction. 

“Lyft is working with police and also has suspended the driver,” she tweeted and Lyft and police confirmed. “We are satisfied with how Lyft is handling this.”

A panel of Food and Drug Administration advisers will vote Tuesday on whether to authorize the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for use in children 5 to 11. Once the advisory committee has approved the vaccine, three steps remain before it would be available to children: The FDA will have to sign off, an independent CDC advisory panel will review the data, and then the CDC director would have to sign off. Children are far less likely than adults to be hospitalized with COVID-19 or suffer long-term consequences from the disease, putting a higher burden on the vaccines to prove safe and effective to justify their risks.

Meanwhile, Moderna announced Monday that its vaccine for children ages 6 to 11 shows a “robust” immune response in a study of more than 4,500 youths. Moderna said it plans to submit the data to the FDA “in the near term.”

One study presented by the CDC found that 42% of American children ages 5-11 had been infected with COVID-19 by the end of June. The highest hospitalization rates for children occurred in September, so many children remained susceptible after the summer, the CDC’s Dr. Fiona Havers told the committee.

In response to Auburn University’s recently announced vaccine…



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