The latest on the Covid-19 pandemic in the US

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

Updated 0817 GMT (1617 HKT) August 12, 2021
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4:05 p.m. ET, August 11, 2021

Global Covid-19 cases could surpass 300 million in early 2022, WHO director-general says 

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

Global Covid-19 cases could surpass 300 million in early 2022 if they continue at the current trajectory, said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization. 

Although there are several effective vaccines available for Covid-19, deaths and cases continue to rise, Tedros said. 

“Last week, the 200 millionth case of Covid-19 was reported to WHO, just six months after the world passed 100 million reported cases,” Tedros said during a news briefing in Geneva Wednesday. “And we know that the real number of cases is much higher.” 

“Whether we reach 300 million, and how fast we get there, depends on all of us,” he continued. “At the current trajectory, we could pass 300 million reported cases early next year. But we can change that. We’re all in this together, but the world is not acting like it.” 


4:08 p.m. ET, August 11, 2021

Oklahoma charter school district announces mask mandate in defiance of state law

From CNN’s Mallory Simon

Santa Fe South Schools has announced that they will require masks at school beginning Thursday, defying a state law the Oklahoma legislature passed a law last year which says they cannot do so unless the governor issues an emergency declaration for their area.

“Exemptions will be made only for those who have a physician’s documentation stating that wearing of a mask is not recommended for that individual,” Superintendent Chris Brewster said in a letter posted on the district website.

The requirement applies for any guests and all activities, according to the school district.

“We will strictly enforce this at all times. Again, this is a requirement, and should not be considered optional for anyone at any time, unless they have confirmation from their physician that mask-wearing is not required.”

Stewart said those who refuse to wear masks will have a virtual option for instruction.

Santa Fe South Schools is home to 3,500 charter school students who live in the Oklahoma City area.

On Monday, Democrats filed their own legislation to try and overturn the statewide mask mandate ban, saying it “cripples” the ability of localities to control Covid-19 spread.

“Needs across Oklahoma are different, and schools need to be able to make decisions about safety based on local data rather than waiting for the Governor to declare a state of emergency,” State Rep. Melissa Provenzano, a Democrat from Tulsa, said in a statement. “I’ve been contacted by more parents than I can count asking how to keep their kids safe at school when they return. So many of us have witnessed the awful reality of Covid up close and personal. Enough is enough. It is time to protect our children.”

Some school districts in Arizona, Texas and Florida are currently in the middle of battles with their governors with regards to their ability to mandate masks in schools.

3:59 p.m. ET, August 11, 2021

United Airlines CEO says vaccine mandate unlikely for domestic travel

From CNN's Pete Muntean

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby speaks during a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol on September 22, 2020, in Washington, DC.
United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby speaks during a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol on September 22, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby says he does not anticipate a vaccination requirement for travel within the United States, but said it is possible for some international travel.

When asked by CNN’s Victor Blackwell if passengers will need to get vaccinated as a condition to fly Kirby said “it’s a government question, but I suspect that it won’t happen domestically.”

President Biden on Wednesday met with Kirby and other executives from companies that are mandating that workers get vaccinated. United announced Friday that all its 67,000 employees in the United States would need to get vaccinated by Oct. 25 or face getting fired. 

Kirby says through increased employer mandates, he thinks that the United States could see an 80% to 90% vaccination rate. Kirby said Biden “asked us to do everything we could with fellow CEOs or anyone we were in contact with to encourage others to do the same thing.”

4:00 p.m. ET, August 11, 2021

US intelligence officials draft classified report as they near finish of 90-day Covid-19 investigation 

From CNN's Kylie Atwood, Natasha Bertrand, Zachary Cohen and Katie Bo Williams

Intelligence officials are nearing the end of a 90-day investigation into the origins of Covid-19 that was ordered by President Biden, and have drafted a classified report that is now in the preliminary review process, according to three sources familiar with the probe. 

Sources familiar with the initial report say that after three months of poring over data and raw intelligence, the intelligence community is still divided over two theories — one suggesting the virus originated from a lab in Wuhan, China, and the other suggesting it jumped naturally to humans from animals, the sources said. The report as it stands now contains "nothing too earth shattering," one source explained.

In May, Biden told US intelligence agencies to "redouble" their efforts to investigate how the virus originated, including the possibility that it emerged from a lab accident. Biden ordered the investigation after receiving an earlier report on the origins and asking for follow-up information, he said in a statement. The 90-day clock that Biden set for this investigation will be up in late August. 

It's possible that the draft report could undergo significant revisions during the remaining review process. Biden also tasked the intelligence community with declassifying as much of the report as possible, a process now underway as it undergoes initial reviews. 

The intelligence community's inability to present one theory with high confidence after three months of intense work underscores just how hard it is to probe the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The National Security Council did not return requests for comment.

Last week, CNN reported that intelligence agencies had gotten their hands on a trove of genetic data drawn from virus samples at the lab in Wuhan that some officials believe could have been the source of the outbreak. It's unclear whether officials have finished analyzing that data. 

Intelligence officials have also taken a fresh look at signals intelligence, like intercepted communications and satellite imagery, that could provide clues.  

But ultimately, China's refusal to share information from the early days of the outbreak and the country's lack of transparency has been a major hurdle, and officials had been broadly pessimistic about finding a smoking gun during the 90-day push. 

The report — which was done without any Chinese participation — is now being reviewed by the intelligence community and outside experts for feedback before it is finalized later this month, the three sources said. Once the classified version is finalized, an unclassified version will also be developed so that the Biden administration can share something with the public, one source explained.


3:39 p.m. ET, August 11, 2021

Arkansas University will require masks indoors on campus

From CNN’s Rebekah Riess and Jennifer Henderson.

The Old Main building is seen at the University of Arkansas on September 15, 2012, in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
The Old Main building is seen at the University of Arkansas on September 15, 2012, in Fayetteville, Arkansas. (Lance King/Replay Photos/Getty Images)

The University of Arkansas (UA) Board of Trustees has passed a resolution directing all UA campuses to implement masking policies for students, faculty, staff, and guests, regardless of vaccination status, in indoor public settings where physical distancing cannot be assured “in accordance with CDC guidance,” due to the Covid-19 Delta variant.

According to the resolution, the policies include “reasonable exceptions” for certain settings and activities that follow guidance established by public health agencies or by external governing bodies, like the NCAA.

The university’s new policy will remain in effect as long as the use of face coverings continues to be recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and may be adjusted as more public health guidance comes out, the resolution said.

3:32 p.m. ET, August 11, 2021

NYSE to require full Covid-19 vaccination for access to trading floor starting Sept. 13

Fromm CNN's Richard Davis

Traders work on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange in New York, on July 29.
Traders work on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange in New York, on July 29. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

The New York Stock Exchange announced it will require full Covid-19 vaccination for anyone entering the trading floor starting Sept. 13, according to a memo obtained by CNN. 

The exchange said that exemptions would be made for medical or religious reasons but that anyone granted an accommodation needs to present a negative test within the previous 48 hours and wear an N95 equivalent or surgical mask at all times while on the trading floor.  

The NYSE also announced, effective immediately, an expansion of its onsite random testing program to include vaccinated employees. 

In the memo, the NYSE said the decision was made based on recent shifts in public health conditions as well as recommendations from federal, state, and local authorities. 

2:09 p.m. ET, August 11, 2021

Florida superintendent says some students feel stuck in debate between schools and parents on masks

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools Carlee Simon
Superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools Carlee Simon CNN

Carlee Simon, superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools in Florida, said that some students feel caught in the middle of following the rules set by their parents and school policies on masks.  

“On the large scale, our students are very used to mask mandates,” Simon said to CNN’s John King. “… We do have some students, and unfortunately they tend to be many of our younger students in the elementary-school age, where their parents are telling them to refuse to wear a mask and the school district has a policy that requires a mask. And I think many of these young children really don't know what to do. I mean, they want to obey their parents, but they also understand that they are in a school setting and they want to follow the rules of the school. I think it's unfortunate, because I think they're really put in a challenging position.”

Educators are trying to work with parents to make sure they understand that masks can protect all students, she said. 

“We haven't even been open two days. In the day and a half that we have been open, we're seeing infection rates that are increasing in our staff, and we're also seeing the same situation in our students,” Simon said. 

On Monday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office announced that the state board of education could move to withhold the salaries of superintendents and school board members who disregard DeSantis’ executive order that effectively prohibits mask mandates in school districts. Alachua is one of several districts defying the order. 

“I have received a letter from the commissioner of education saying that this would be something that they'd do. I had to respond yesterday; it was due at 5 p.m. It was a little bit after 5 that I got it in to him. Actually, our staff attorney went home sick and did test positive for Covid. And she's been vaccinated and she did allow me to share this. We are trying to do business as well as respond to the governor. And so we told him we're going to continue to stay the course, because we do believe this is what we need in place in order to continue to function as a school system,” she said. 

12:57 p.m. ET, August 11, 2021

Biden won't nominate permanent FDA chief until "he's found exactly the right person," White House says 

From CNN's Betsy Klein

The White House again defended not having a permanent Food and Drug Administration commissioner amid a global pandemic. Press secretary Jen Psaki said it remains a “priority,” but President Biden is waiting to find “exactly the right person,” over 200 days into his term.

“He wants to name someone who's qualified, who's ready to lead the FDA. It is a priority for him. He's also not going to take a step to put forward a nominee before he's found exactly the right person,” Psaki said at Wednesday's briefing.

She continued, “I will note that it is a place that is filled with talented experienced scientists, data experts, career staff who are certainly running the FDA effectively.”

As CNN's Kaitlan Collins reported in March, Biden has left the agency without permanent leadership as it plays a critical role in the pandemic response, including overseeing the development and authorization of coronavirus vaccines. In February, six former FDA commissioners urged Biden to select someone soon. 

The agency is currently being run by Dr. Janet Woodcock, who was named acting commissioner in January.

Psaki’s comments come after Biden told reporters Tuesday, “We're working on that very hard to make sure we can get it passed.”

1:01 p.m. ET, August 11, 2021

White House pushes back against Florida governor, says won't send ventilators without state interest

From CNN's DJ Judd

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, on August 11.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, on August 11. (Susan Walsh/AP)

White House press secretary Jen Psaki pushed back against comments from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suggesting his state had not requested a tranche of additional medical supplies amid rising Covid-19 cases, telling reporters in the briefing Wednesday, “I would note that as a policy we don't send ventilators to states without their interest in receiving the ventilators.”

“I think the most important question here is, why would you oppose receiving ventilators when you clearly need those in your state, given the percentage of hospitalizations that are occurring in Florida?” Psaki added

CNN’s Kaitlan Collins reported Tuesday the Biden administration sent hundreds of ventilators to Florida in recent days as the state responds to a dramatic new increase in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations. Despite that, DeSantis told reporters Tuesday that he was unaware of the request for the medical supplies.

"I would honestly doubt that that's true, but I'll look because we have a lot of stuff that we stockpiled over the last year and a half through the Department of Emergency Management," DeSantis said when asked by a reporter about a request from the state for the additional supplies.

He continued, "I've not had any requests across my desk. I have not been notified of that. But they are in contact with the hospitals, I'm personally in contact with CEOs of a lot of the major hospitals."

Pressed by Collins, Psaki said she’d seen DeSantis’ comments Tuesday. Asked if it was possible the governor was unaware of the request for supplies, Psaki told Collins, “I think that's really a question for the governor and his team.”