August 3, 2021 US coronavirus news

By Melissa Mahtani, Mike Hayes, Meg Wagner and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 4:07 p.m. ET, August 9, 2021
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9:18 a.m. ET, August 3, 2021

NIH director: CDC mask recommendations meant to keep vaccinated from getting sick and from infecting others

From CNN’s Naomi Thomas

Dr. Francis Collins
Dr. Francis Collins (CNN)

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told CNN’s John Berman that the new mask recommendations from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are meant to both keep those who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 from getting sick and also to stop them transmitting the virus to the unvaccinated. 

“Certainly we know the main benefit of masks is that they prevent somebody who’s carrying the virus from actually spreading it to those around them. That’s the reason why we’ve been wearing masks for this last year or so,” he said on CNN's New Day Tuesday. “But there is also some protection for the mask wearer against virus that might be floating in their vicinity.” 

While the likelihood of someone who is fully vaccinated getting the virus is pretty low, it’s even lower when they have a mask on, Collins said. 

“The main reason is, once again, we’ve got a lot of community spread,” he said. “We have people in indoor settings, where some are vaccinated, some are not. If we want to try to tamp down this terrible Delta variant outbreak, the best thing we can do is get everybody vaccinated and get people to wear masks in those settings.” 

He said that he knows people are tired of this, and that they think it “seems like a flip flop,” but the data changed. 

“We are not making this recommendation now just for random reasons,” he said. “We have new evidence that the masks really are going to be important to get us through this if you’re indoors.” 

9:06 a.m. ET, August 3, 2021

Qantas airline group "stands down" 2,500 staff after Australia announces internal travel restrictions

From CNN's Mia Alberti

Qantas planes sit lined up at Melbourne's International Airport on February 22.
Qantas planes sit lined up at Melbourne's International Airport on February 22. (Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images)

The Qantas group, owner of Qantas and Jetstar airlines, will temporarily "stand down" 2,5000 employees for two months, as Australia battles a Covid-19 outbreak which has prompted internal travel restrictions.

"The stand down is a temporary measure to deal with a significant drop in flying caused by COVID restrictions in Greater Sydney in particular and the knock-on border closures in all other states and territories", the company said in a statement.

Qantas said the "decision will directly impact domestic pilots, cabin crew and airport workers, mostly in New South Wales" but that "no job losses are expected."

The company says it will stop paying employees in mid-August and refers to the Australian government income support as an alternative for its staff.

“This is clearly the last thing we want to do, but we’re now faced with an extended period of reduced flying and that means no work for a number of our people", Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said. 

The aviation company says it has reduced its domestic operations from 100% in May to less than 40% in July. In 2020, Qantas stood down 20,000 employees during the first wave of the pandemic.

Qantas says it is hopeful the vaccine rollout and the success of the current lockdown will allow the company to resume its operations soon, without specifying when.

9:02 a.m. ET, August 3, 2021

Covid-19 vaccine booster shots are not necessary right now in the US, NIH director says

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins said he and top health officials in the US assess the possibility of needing Covid-19 vaccine booster shots "virtually every day."

"At the present time, though, the data in the United States does not indicate that that's necessary. ... If we change that based upon the concerns about whether immunity wanes over time, then we're prepared to start offering boosters particularly to high-risk individuals. But right now, looking at that data, we're not quite there, so people should be pretty reassured," Collins said on CNN's "New Day."

Collins said the current vaccines are highly effective in protecting against the Delta variant.

"The big message today is if you're not already vaccinated, then by all means get started," he said.

Israel will start to offer third doses to people over 60, and Germany will begin offering booster shots to at-risk people starting in September.

8:57 a.m. ET, August 3, 2021

Americans’ pessimism about the Covid-19 pandemic outweighs their optimism, poll finds

From CNN's Ariel Edwards-Levy

Americans’ concerns about coronavirus are again on the rise after previously hitting their lowest point in the pandemic, according to two surveys released Monday.

Still, worries remain far lower than they were through much of last year, and in many cases, those already vaccinated express more acute concerns than those who have yet to get a shot.

Just 45% of Americans now say the coronavirus situation in the US is getting better, a new Gallup poll finds, significantly down from the 89% who thought things were improving in June. The results mark the first time this year that Americans’ pessimism about the pandemic outweighed their optimism, although belief that the situation is improving remains higher than it was in any of Gallup’s polling on the question last year. In June, just 17% of the public expected disruption to travel, school, work and public events in the US to continue into 2022; now, 42% does.

Americans’ personal concerns about Covid-19 have also risen, the survey finds, although less dramatically. Just 29% say they’re even somewhat worried about getting the virus, up from 17% last month but far below the majorities that said the same through most of last year.

The findings come amid a new rise in cases driven by the rapid spread of the Delta variant, which has sent a surge of largely unvaccinated patients to hospitals and spurred a return to mask mandates in some locales. The pace of new vaccinations has also rebounded in the past two weeks.

Notably, the survey finds “little evidence that people are altering their behavior” from earlier this summer to avoid the virus, with the shares of the public currently isolating themselves, avoiding crowds or public places, opting out of small gatherings, and staying off mass transit all similar in late July to where they stood in June. In the most recent survey, for instance, 40% say they’re avoiding events with large crowds, virtually identical to the 39% who were staying away from those events the month before.

Although the virus poses far more danger to the unvaccinated than those who’ve had the vaccine, a third of vaccinated Americans currently say they’re at least somewhat worried, compared with 20% of those who are not vaccinated.

You can read more about the poll's findings here.

8:58 a.m. ET, August 3, 2021

The CDC added 16 more places to its "very high" Covid-19 travel risk list

From CNN's Virginia Langmaid and Marnie Hunter

People walk at central Athens square on June 24.
People walk at central Athens square on June 24. (Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images)

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added 16 destinations to its "very high" Covid-19 risk level on Monday, including Greece, Ireland and the US Virgin Islands.

According to the CDC, a risk designation of "Level 4: Covid-19 Very High" means people should avoid travel to these locations. Those who must travel should be fully vaccinated first.

In its overarching guidance, the CDC recommends against all international travel until you are fully vaccinated.

"Fully vaccinated travelers are less likely to get and spread Covid-19. However, international travel poses additional risks, and even fully vaccinated travelers might be at increased risk for getting and possibly spreading some Covid-19 variants," the agency says.

Destinations that fall into the "very high" risk category have had more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days, according to CDC parameters.

Direct travel of non-citizens from Ireland and Greece to the United States has been suspended since Jan. 25, under an executive order limiting travel from multiple countries. The White House recently said those restrictions would remain in place amid surging cases from the Delta variant

The following 16 destinations moved to the CDC's "Level 4: COVID-19 Very High" category on August 2: Andorra, Curaçao, Gibraltar, Greece, Guadeloupe, Iran, Ireland, Isle of Man, Kazakhstan, Lesotho, Libya, Malta, Martinique, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Martin and US Virgin Islands.

You can find the CDC's risk level of any destination on its travel recommendations page.

8:36 a.m. ET, August 3, 2021

A third of all US Covid-19 cases reported in the past week were in these 2 states

From CNN's Madeline Holcombe

One-third of all US Covid-19 cases reported in the past week were in just two states – Florida and Texas – according to White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients.

The cases are mainly in areas where vaccination rates remain low, Zients said at a briefing Monday.

“In fact, seven states with the lowest vaccination rates represent just about 8 1/2% of the US population, but account for more than 17% of cases, and one in three cases nationwide occurred in Florida and Texas, this past week,” Zients said.

In the past two weeks, daily case rates have gone up fourfold, according to Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.

The increase comes as the Delta variant spreads and the percentage of fully vaccinated Americans hovers around 49.7%, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hospitals are once again filling up with patients as the virus tears through the unvaccinated population.

“There are still about 90 million eligible Americans who are unvaccinated,” Zients said. “And we need them to do their part, roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated. Each and every shot matters.”

A “silver lining” of the surge in Covid-19 cases caused by the Delta variant is that more Americans appear to be at the tipping point of understanding the importance of Covid-19 vaccinations, Collins said Sunday on CNN.

“People are waking up to this,” he said. “That’s what desperately needs to happen if we are going to get this Delta variant put back in its place, because right now it is having a pretty big party in the middle of the country.”

And according to Zients, vaccination rates have more than doubled in the states with the highest case rates.

“The eight states with the highest current case rates have seen an average increase of 171% in the number of people newly vaccinated, each day over the past three weeks,” he said.

“Louisiana has seen a 302% increase in the average number of newly vaccinated per day, Mississippi 250%, Alabama 215%, and Arkansas 206%,” Zients said.

Zients said this increase means people are understanding the risks of going unvaccinated.

“This increase in vaccination rates in states that have been lagging is a positive trend. Americans are seeing the risk and impact of being unvaccinated and responding with action. And that’s what it’s going to take to get us out of this pandemic,” he said.

More than 99.99% of people fully vaccinated against Covid-19 have not had a breakthrough case resulting in hospitalization or death, according to the latest data from the CDC.

8:32 a.m. ET, August 3, 2021

A Louisiana hospital is running out of beds as Covid-19 cases surge

From CNN's Madeline Holcombe

Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center
Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center CNN

The ICU of Louisiana’s largest hospital is stretched to its limit with Covid-19 patients while others experiencing symptoms were waiting for a bed Monday, an official said.

Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Catherine O’Neal said there were 23 names on the list of those waiting for space to open up in the ICU.

“You have people with chest pain sitting in an ER right now while their families sit in the waiting room, and they are wringing their hands, and they are calling everybody they know,” to get into an ICU, O’Neal said during a news briefing Monday.

A little more than two weeks ago, the Baton Rouge hospital had 36 Covid-19 patients, O’Neal said. That number is now 155.

“No one diagnosis should take up one quarter of your hospital,” O’Neal said. “We no longer think we’re giving adequate care to anybody, because these are the darkest days of the pandemic.”

O’Neal said the best way to slow the spread of Covid-19 is vaccination, but that’s not happening fast enough so people should be wearing masks as well.

Louisiana is one of five states – along with Florida, Texas, California and Missouri – that make up nearly half of the new cases reported in the past week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. As the more transmissible Delta variant spreads and cases are rising, hospitals are once again filling up with Covid-19 patients all over the country. In many, patients are younger and sicker than before, doctors say.

The seven-day average of daily new coronavirus cases is up by more than 40% over the previous week, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Monday.

“While we desperately want to be done with this pandemic, Covid-19 is clearly not done with us. And so our battle must last a little longer,” Walensky said.

With vaccination rates rising but still below where they need to be to slow or stop the spread of the virus, many local leaders are turning back toward masks to protect their populations.

The CDC updated its guidance last week, advising even fully vaccinated people to mask up in areas with substantial or high transmission.

That guidance covers more than 90% of the US population – about 300 million people, according to a CNN analysis of data published Monday by the CDC.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards temporarily reinstated the state’s mask mandate for all people age 5 and older, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, when they are indoors and in public. The mandate goes into effect Wednesday.

“Nobody should be laboring under the misapprehension that this is just another surge. We’ve already had three of these, this is the worst one we’ve had thus far,” Edwards said.

State Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter said he anticipates Louisiana will hit its highest number of hospitalized Covid-19 patients at any point of the pandemic Tuesday.

“If we intend to prioritize the things that are important to us, like keeping our kids back in school and in-person, and maintaining our growing economy by keeping businesses open – masking is the best way to ensure that. So please take this masking order seriously, both in your personal lives, and your professional lives,” Kanter said.