Majority of COVID-19 cases at large public events were among vaccinated -U.S. CDC study

(Reuters) – A new study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that three-quarters of individuals who became infected with COVID-19 at public events in a Massachusetts county had been fully vaccinated.

The study, published on Friday, showed that three-quarters of those infected were fully vaccinated, suggesting the Delta variant of the virus is highly contagious.

A separate CDC internal document, first reported by the Washington Post on Friday, described the Delta variant as being as transmissible as chickenpox and cautioned it could cause severe disease.

The new study’s authors recommended that local health authorities consider requiring masks in indoor public settings regardless of vaccination status or the number of coronavirus cases in the community.

The study identified 469 people with COVID-19, 74% of whom were fully vaccinated, following large public events in the state’s Barnstable County. Testing identified the Delta variant in 90% of virus specimens from 133 people.

The viral load was similar in people who were fully vaccinated and those who were unvaccinated, the CDC said.

High viral loads suggest an increased risk of transmission and raised concern that, unlike with other variants, vaccinated people infected with Delta can transmit the virus, it said.

The finding of the report “is concerning and was a pivotal discovery leading to CDC’s updated mask recommendation,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.

On Tuesday, the CDC reversed course on guidance for mask wearing, calling for their use in areas where cases are surging as a precaution against the possible transmission of the virus by fully vaccinated people.

“The masking recommendation was updated to ensure the vaccinated public would not unknowingly transmit virus to others, including their unvaccinated or immunocompromised loved ones,” Walensky said in a statement.

(Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Editing by Howard Goller)

U.S. capital city issues sweeping mask requirement

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Masks will be required indoors in Washington, D.C., for everyone 2 years and older starting Saturday, Mayor Muriel Bowser said on Thursday, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.

The mandate will put the nation’s capital in line with updated guidance that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released this week in an effort to contain the rapid spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

Many federal government institutions in Washington and its suburbs have already implemented similar mask requirements and President Joe Biden is expected to announce additional measures for the federal workforce later on Thursday.

In addition, the Smithsonian said it would reimpose mask requirements at its museums that line the National Mall and other indoor venues for visitors 2 years and older beginning on Friday “regardless of vaccination status.” Face coverings may be removed while eating or drinking in designated areas, it said in a statement on Thursday.

By the beginning of July, Washington had hit its lowest rate of community spread of COVID-19 since the global pandemic began a year and a half ago. Over the course of the month, the daily case rate has increased fivefold, at the same time that the test positivity rate rose, LaQuandra Nesbitt, director of the city’s health department, said at a public briefing before Bowser announced the new mandate.

Current estimates indicate more than half the city’s residents have been fully vaccinated, according to public health agency data.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

Biden asks Congress to extend COVID-19 eviction ban set to expire this week

By David Shepardson and Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden asked Congress on Thursday to extend a moratorium on evictions to protect renters and their families that is set to expire this week amid a deadly rise in coronavirus infections, the White House said.

Biden also asked the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, and Veterans Affairs to extend their respective eviction bans through the end of September, the White House said, to protect Americans living in federally insured, single-family properties.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said last month it would not extend the eviction moratorium past July 31. The CDC did not immediately comment on Thursday.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to leave in place the CDC’s ban on residential evictions imposed last year to combat the spread of COVID-19 and prevent homelessness during the pandemic.

“In my view, clear and specific congressional authorization (via new legislation) would be necessary for the CDC to extend the moratorium past July 31,” wrote Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was one of five justices who voted to leave the moratorium in place.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said “given the recent spread of the Delta variant, including among those Americans both most likely to face evictions and lacking vaccinations, President Biden would have strongly supported a decision by the CDC to further extend this eviction moratorium.”

But she added “unfortunately, the Supreme Court has made clear that this option is no longer available.

(Reporting by David Shepardson and Doina Chiacu;Editing by Alistair Bell)

U.S. CDC recommends vaccinated Americans wear masks indoors in many cases

By David Shepardson and Julie Steenhuysen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Americans fully vaccinated against COVID-19 should go back to wearing masks in indoor public places in regions where the coronavirus and especially the Delta variant are spreading rapidly, U.S. authorities said on Tuesday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommended all students and teachers at kindergarten through 12th grade schools wear masks regardless of vaccination status. The CDC said children should return to full-time, in-person learning in the fall with proper prevention strategies.

The changes mark a reversal of the CDC’s announcement in May that prompted millions of vaccinated Americans to shed their face coverings.

The United States leads the world in the daily average number of new infections, accounting for one in every nine cases reported worldwide each day. The seven-day average for new cases has been rising sharply and stands at 57,126, still about a quarter of the pandemic peak.

“In areas with substantial and high transmission, CDC recommends that fully vaccinated individuals wear a mask in public indoor settings to help prevent spread of Delta and protect others,” the agency said.

The CDC said that 63% of U.S. counties had high transmission rates that warranted mask wearing. The Delta variant is highly transmissible.

In May, the agency advised that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks outdoors and can avoid wearing them indoors in most places, guidance the agency said would allow life to begin to return to normal.

Dr. David Doudy, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, said the CDC guidance was motivated by a change in infection patterns. “We’re seeing this doubling in the number of cases every 10 days or so,” he said.

‘A NECESSARY PRECAUTION’

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten praised the new CDC mask guidance in a statement, saying it was needed “to deal with the changing realities of virus transmission.”

She called it “a necessary precaution until children under 12 can receive a COVID vaccine and more Americans over 12 get vaccinated.”

The new CDC recommendations are not binding and many Americans, especially in Republican-leaning states, may choose not to follow them. At least eight states bar schools from requiring masks.

Dr. Isaac Weisfuse, a medical epidemiologist and adjunct professor at Cornell University Public Health, said resistance was likely among some people. “I think we will get blowback because I think people might view it as backtracking,” he said.

On Monday, the Biden administration confirmed it will not lift any existing international travel restrictions, citing the rising number of COVID-19 cases and the expectation that they will continue to rise in the weeks ahead.

Masks became a political issue in the United States under former President Donald Trump, who resisted mandating face coverings. President Joe Biden has embraced masks and mandated them for transit hubs days after taking office.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Additional reporting by Nandita Bose; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien, Bill Berkrot and Cynthia Osterman)

Exclusive-U.S. will not lift travel restrictions, citing Delta variant -official

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States will not lift any existing travel restrictions “at this point” due to concerns over the highly transmissible COVID-19 Delta variant and the rising number of U.S. coronavirus cases, a White House official told Reuters.

The decision, which comes after a senior level White House meeting late Friday, means the long-running travel restrictions that have barred much of the world’s population from the United States since 2020 will not be lifted in the short term.

“Given where we are today with the Delta variant, the United States will maintain existing travel restrictions at this point,” the official told Reuters, citing the spread of the Delta variant in the United States and abroad.

“Driven by the Delta variant, cases are rising here at home, particularly among those who are unvaccinated and appear likely to continue to increase in the weeks ahead.”

The announcement almost certainly dooms any bid by U.S. airlines and the U.S. tourism industry to salvage summer travel by Europeans and others covered by the restrictions. Airlines have heavily lobbied the White House for months to lift the restrictions.

The United States currently bars most non-U.S. citizens who within the last 14 days have been in the United Kingdom, the 26 Schengen nations in Europe without border controls, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil.

The extraordinary U.S. travel restrictions were first imposed on China in January 2020 to address the spread of COVID-19 and other countries have been added since then — most recently India in early May.

Last week, the U.S. Homeland Security Department said U.S. land borders with Canada and Mexico will remain closed to non-essential travel until at least Aug. 21 — even as Canada said it would begin allowing in fully vaccinated American tourists starting Aug. 9.

Asked on July 15 at a joint appearance with German Chancellor Angela Merkel about when the United States would lift European travel restrictions, Biden said he would “be able to answer that question to you within the next several days — what is likely to happen.”

Merkel said any decision to lift restrictions “has to be a sustainable decision. It is certainly not sensible to have to take it back after only a few days.”

Since that press conference, U.S. cases have jumped.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Rochelle Walensky said Thursday the seven-day average of new cases in the United States was up 53% over the previous week. The Delta variant, which was first found in India, now comprises more than 80% of new cases nationwide and has been detected in more than 90 countries.

The White House official also cited the fact that last week, the CDC urged Americans to avoid travel to the United Kingdom, given a jump in cases.

But the official added: “The administration understands the importance of international travel and is united in wanting to reopen international travel in a safe and sustainable manner.”

The restrictions have brought heavy criticism from people prevented from seeing loved ones.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Friday said international travel is “something we would all like to see — not just for tourism, but for families to be reunited.”

But Psaki added “we rely on public health and medical advice on when we’re going to determine changes to be made.”

The Biden administration has refused to offer any metrics that would trigger when it will unwind restrictions and has not disclosed if it will remove restrictions on individual countries or focus on enhancing individual traveler scrutiny.

Reuters reported last week the White House was discussing the potential of mandating COVID-19 vaccines for international visitors, but no decisions have been made, the sources said.

The Biden administration has also been talking to U.S. airlines in recent weeks about establishing international contact tracing for passengers before lifting travel restrictions.

The White House in early June launched interagency working groups with the European Union, Britain, Canada and Mexico to look at how eventually to lift travel and border restrictions.

In January, the CDC imposed mandatory COVID-19 testing requirements for nearly all international air travelers.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

U.S. life expectancy falls to lowest level in almost 20 years due to COVID-19 – CDC

By Dania Nadeem

(Reuters) – Life expectancy in the United States fell by a year and a half in 2020 to 77.3 years, the lowest level since 2003, primarily due to the deaths caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a U.S. health agency said on Wednesday.

It is the biggest one-year decline since World War Two, when life expectancy fell 2.9 years between 1942 and 1943, and is six months shorter than its February 2021 estimate, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.

“Life expectancy has been increasing gradually every year for the past several decades,” Elizabeth Arias, a CDC researcher who worked on the report, told Reuters. “The decline between 2019 and 2020 was so large that it took us back to the levels we were in 2003. Sort of like we lost a decade.”

Deaths from COVID-19 contributed to nearly three-fourths, or 74%, of the decline and drug overdoses were also a major contributor, the CDC said.

The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) last week released interim data showing that U.S. drug overdose deaths rose nearly 30% in 2020.

The latest CDC report is based on provisional mortality data for January through December of 2020.

Racial, gender and ethnic disparities worsened during the period, the report said. Life expectancy for Black people fell by 2.9 years to 71.8 in 2020, the lowest level since 2000. Life expectancy for Hispanic males dropped 3.7 years to 75.3, the largest decline of any group.

Disparity in life expectancy between men and women also widened in 2020, with women now expected to live 80.2 years, or 5.7 years longer than men – six months more than foreseen in 2019.

The data represents early estimates based on death certificates received, processed, and coded but not finalized by the NCHS.

(Reporting by Dania Nadeem; Additional reporting by Trisha Roy in Bengaluru; editing by Caroline Humer and Steve Orlofsky)

CDC recommends masking indoors for unvaccinated students, teachers in U.S. schools

(Reuters) – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday updated its guidance to help reopen schools in the fall, including recommending masking indoors for everyone who is not fully vaccinated and three feet of distance within classrooms.

The CDC in its latest guidance said all kindergarten through grade 12 schools in the United States should continue to mandate wearing masks indoors by all individuals who are not fully vaccinated.

The agency said that if localities decide to remove prevention strategies in schools based on local conditions, they should remove them one at a time. Schools should monitor closely for increases in COVID-19 cases before removing the next prevention strategy.

“Because of the importance of in-person learning, schools where not everyone is fully vaccinated should implement physical distancing to the extent possible within their structures, but should not exclude students from in-person learning to keep a minimum distance requirement,” the new guidance said.

A study by the CDC also released on Friday showed that half of unvaccinated adolescents and parents of unvaccinated adolescents reported being uncertain about getting a COVID-19 vaccine, or did not intend to get one at all.

(Reporting by Mrinalika Roy in Bengaluru; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Delta variant already dominant in U.S., CDC estimates show

By Mrinalika Roy

(Reuters) – The Delta variant is already the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the United States, according to data modeling done by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

According to the health agency’s estimates the Delta variant became dominant in the country over the two weeks ended July 3, with 51.7% cases linked to the variant that was first identified in India.

The proportion of cases linked to the Alpha variant which was first identified in Britain and had been dominant in the United States so far, fell to 28.7%.

The data, which shows the estimated biweekly proportions of the most common SARS-CoV-2 lineages circulating in the United States, is based on sequences collected through CDC’s national genomic surveillance since Dec. 20, 2020.

The Delta variant, which is becoming dominant in many countries, is more easily transmitted than earlier versions of the coronavirus and may cause more severe disease, especially among younger people. It has now been found in every U.S. state, health officials have said.

On Tuesday, U.S. President Joe Biden encouraged Americans who have not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19 to get their shots to protect themselves from the widely spreading, highly contagious variant.

So far, preliminary data has shown that vaccines made by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Moderna are largely protective against Delta, with the concentration of virus-neutralizing antibodies being somewhat reduced.

(Reporting by Mrinalika Roy in Bengaluru; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Heart inflammation after COVID-19 shots higher-than-expected in study of U.S. military

By Carl O’Donnell

(Reuters) – Members of the U.S. military who were vaccinated against COVID-19 showed higher-than-expected rates of heart inflammation, although the condition was still extremely rare, according to a study released on Tuesday.

The study found that 23 previously healthy males with an average age of 25 complained of chest pain within four days of receiving a COVID-19 shot. The incident rate was higher than some previous estimates would have anticipated, it said.

All the patients, who at the time of the study’s publication had recovered or were recovering from myocarditis – an inflammation of the heart muscle – had received shots made by either Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE or Moderna Inc.

U.S. health regulators last week added a warning to the literature that accompanies those mRNA vaccines to flag the rare risk of heart inflammation seen primarily in young males. But they said the benefit of the shots in preventing COVID-19 clearly continues to outweigh the risk.

The study, which was published in the JAMA Cardiology medical journal, said 19 of the patients were current military members who had received their second vaccine dose. The others had either received one dose or were retired from the military.

General population estimates would have predicted eight or fewer cases of myocarditis from the 436,000 male military members who received two COVID-19 shots, the study said.

An outside panel of experts advising the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said last week that reports of myocarditis were higher in males and in the week after the second vaccine dose than would be anticipated in the general population. A presentation at that meeting found the heart condition turned up at a rate of about 12.6 cases per million people vaccinated.

Eight of the military patients in the study were given diagnostic scans and showed signs of heart inflammation that could not be explained by other causes, the study said. The patients in the study ranged from ages 20 to 51.

The CDC began investigating the potential link between the mRNA vaccines and myocarditis in April after Israel flagged that it was studying such cases in people who received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine there, and after a report that the U.S. military had also found cases.

Health regulators in several countries are conducting their own investigations.

(Reporting by Carl O’Donnell; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Biden administration extends residential eviction ban until end of July

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration on Thursday said it was extending the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) COVID-19 residential eviction moratorium until July 31.

Reuters first reported the expected extension on Tuesday. The national ban on residential evictions was first implemented last September and was extended in March until June 30. A CDC statement Thursday extending it to July 31 said “this is intended to be the final extension of the moratorium”.

The CDC said the “the COVID-19 pandemic has presented a historic threat to the nation’s public health. Keeping people in their homes and out of crowded or congregate settings — like homeless shelters — by preventing evictions is a key step in helping to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

On Tuesday, a group of 44 U.S. lawmakers had called for the extension, citing an estimate that about “6 million renter households are behind on their rent and at risk of eviction”.

The Supreme Court has yet to act on a petition by landlord groups which argued the CDC exceeded its authority when it halted evictions to help renters during the pandemic. The CDC imposed the ban to combat the spread of COVID-19 and prevent homelessness during the pandemic.

Lawyers for the landlord groups cited the Reuters story Wednesday reporting the expected extension in asking the Supreme Court to take immediate action to halt the ban.

The landlords said earlier that property owners “have been losing over $13 billion every month under the moratorium”. One group estimated that 40 million Americans were behind on rent in January, with $70 billion of missed payments by the end of 2020.

The moratorium covers renters who expected to earn less than $99,000 a year, or $198,000 for joint filers, or who reported no income, or received stimulus checks.

Renters also had to swear they were doing their best to make partial rent payments, and that evictions would likely leave them homeless or force them into “shared” living quarters.

Congress has approved $47 billion in relief for renters but much of that money has not yet been distributed.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Philippa Fletcher)