U.S. Supreme Court blocks Biden vaccine-or-test policy for large businesses

Proverbs 29:2 When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.

By Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked President Joe Biden’s pandemic-related vaccination-or-testing mandate for large businesses at a time of escalating COVID-19 infections while allowing his administration to enforce its separate vaccine requirement for healthcare facilities.

The court acted after hearing arguments last Friday in the legal fight over temporary mandates issued in November by two federal agencies aimed at increasing U.S. vaccination rates and making workplaces and healthcare settings safer. The cases tested presidential powers to address a swelling public health crisis that already has killed more than 845,000 Americans.

The court was divided in both cases. It ruled 6-3 with the six conservative justices in the majority and three liberal justices dissenting in blocking the broader workplace ruling. The vote was 5-4 to allow the healthcare worker rule, with two conservatives, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, joining the liberals in the majority.

The federal workplace safety agency issued a rule affecting businesses with at least 100 workers requiring vaccines or weekly COVID-19 tests – a policy applying to more than 80 million employees. Challengers led by the state of Ohio and a business group asked the justices to block the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rule after a lower court lifted an injunction against it. Companies were supposed to start showing they were in compliance starting this past Monday.

The other mandate required vaccination for an estimated 10.3 million workers at about 76,000 healthcare facilities including hospitals and nursing homes that accept money from the Medicare and Medicaid government health insurance programs for elderly, disabled and low-income Americans.

The court’s unsigned ruling regarding larger businesses said that the OSHA rule was not an ordinary use of federal power.

“It is instead a significant encroachment on the lives – and health – of a vast number of employees,” the court said.

The court’s majority downplayed the risk COVID-19 specifically poses in the workplace, comparing it instead to “day-to-day” crime and pollution hazards that individuals face everywhere.

“Permitting OSHA to regulate the hazards of daily life -simply because most Americans have jobs and face those same risks while on the clock – would significantly expand OSHA’s regulatory authority without clear congressional authorization,” the court said.

In dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote on behalf of the liberal justices that the decision “stymies the federal government’s ability to counter the unparalleled threat that COVID-19 poses to our nation’s workers.”

The United States leads the world in COVID-19 deaths and infections.

The high court blocked a Dec. 17 decision by the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that had allowed the mandate to go into effect.

The court’s order blocking enforcement while litigation continues in a lower court likely signals doom for the administration’s attempt to boost vaccination numbers by harnessing federal powers to protect workplace health and safety.

‘DO NO HARM’

In the healthcare facilities case, the court’s differently comprised majority concluded that the regulation “fits neatly” within the power Congress conferred on the government to impose conditions on Medicaid and Medicare funds, which includes policies that protect health and safety.

“After all, ensuring that providers take steps to avoid transmitting a dangerous virus to their patients is consistent with the fundamental principle of the medical profession: first, do no harm,” the court said.

The justices lifted orders by federal judges in Missouri and Louisiana blocking the policy in 24 states, allowing the administration to enforce it nearly nationwide. Enforcement was blocked in Texas by a lower court in separate litigation not at issue in the case before the Supreme Court.

Workers must be vaccinated by the end of February under the mandate.

The White House has said the two mandates will save lives and strengthen the U.S. economy by increasing the number of vaccinated Americans by the millions. U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar told the justices that the pandemic poses a particularly acute workplace danger, with employees getting sick and dying every day because of their exposure to the coronavirus on the job, with outbreaks across all industries.

The challengers argued that the two federal agencies overstepped their authority in issuing the mandates without specific authorization by Congress.

The Supreme Court’s consideration of the challenges to the mandates underscored how divisive the issue of vaccination has become in the United States, as in many nations. Many Republicans have been critical of vaccine mandates imposed by governments and businesses.

The pandemic has presented an ongoing test for Biden since he took office in January 2021, having promised to improve the federal response to the crisis after an approach by his predecessor Donald Trump that critics called disjointed. But like many other countries the United States is still struggling to overcome the pandemic and is facing an upswing in COVID-19 cases driven by the fast-spreading Omicron coronavirus variant.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Flights cut as 3,000 workers call out sick

Luke 21:11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.

Important Takeaways:

  • United cuts flights as about 3,000 workers call out sick from Covid
  • JetBlue Airways was the first carrier to cut back its January schedule because of a surge in infection rates among crews
  • American Airlines said it would do the same this week as Covid rates climbed among regional carriers.
  • United and Southwest are among the airlines offering pilots extra pay to pick up trips in January.
  • “Just as an example, in one day alone at Newark, nearly one-third of our workforce called out sick”

Read the original article by clicking here.

Breakdown of services due to Omicron explosion

Luke 21:11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.

Important Takeaways:

  • Omicron explosion spurs nationwide breakdown of services
  • First responders, hospitals, schools and government agencies have employed an all-hands-on-deck approach to keep the public safe, but they are worried how much longer they can keep it up.
  • In Kansas’ Johnson County, paramedics are working 80 hours a week.
  • Pharmacies have been slammed by staffing shortages, either because employees are out sick or have left altogether.
  • In Los Angeles, more than 800 police and fire personnel were sidelined because of the virus
  • In New York City, officials have had to delay or scale back trash and subway services

Read the original article by clicking here.

Concerns about public safety in L.A.

Luke 21:11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.

Important Takeaways:

  • More than 1,000 L.A.-area police officers, firefighters, paramedics ill or home quarantining due to COVID
  • More than 500 employees of the Los Angeles Police Department — including 416 sworn officers
  • The Los Angeles Fire Department had 201 employees out due to the coronavirus
  • Sheriff’s Department had 552 employees out, including 389 sworn deputies
  • A spokesman for L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti called it an “unprecedented surge”

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Report new variant of COVID

Luke 21:11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.

Important Takeaways:

  • New COVID-19 variant found in France nicknamed IHU: report
  • The ‘IHU’ variant, or B.1.640.2, has 46 mutations
  • The first patient identified with the variant returned to France from visiting Cameroon
  • Infected individuals in the southern Alps region in the country.

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During Covid Freedom is Suppressed

Rev 6:7, 8 NCV When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!”8 I looked, and there before me was a pale horse. Its rider was named death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill people by war, by starvation, by disease, and by the wild animals of the earth.

Important Takeaways:

  • How These Western Countries Suppressed Freedom During COVID-19 Pandemic
  • Dennis Prager “Looking at the government overreach and abuses of power in virtually every other Western nation, one can only conclude that America truly is the last free man standing.”
  • Canada – Canada is one of the only countries in the world that bans the unvaccinated from all public transportation—airplanes, trains, and buses. And no Canadian home can entertain more than three non-household visitors—a ban that prevented families and friends from getting together for Christmas.
  • Europe – most European countries introduced the so-called health pass or “European COVID-19 Pass.”
  • Netherlands – anti-lockdown protest was banned by the mayor of Amsterdam, Femke Halsema, because people would “not be adhering to social distancing rules.” Thousands of people nevertheless showed up. They were met with drones, water cannons, and huge numbers of police. Footage capturing a police dog biting down on a peaceful protester’s arm has gone viral.
  • France – Starting next week, working from home will become compulsory for those who can. So, too, wearing a mask is compulsory throughout the country for everyone aged 11 and over in enclosed spaces and on public transport, on pain of a fine.
  • Australia – Australia placed most of its citizens under house arrest for much of 2021. Melbourne, the country’s second-largest city, described by the Voice of America on Oct. 21 as “officially the world’s most locked down city,” was locked down 260 days.  Residents were prohibited from traveling more than 5 kilometers from their homes. Schools were, and remain, closed, and international travel was, and remains, prohibited. Needless to say, all shops, bars, and restaurants were closed.

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Some COVID-positive essential workers to continue working in Canada’s Quebec -minister

(Reuters) – Quebec, the second most populous Canadian province, has “no choice” but to allow some essential workers to continue working even after testing positive for COVID-19 to prevent staff shortages from impeding its healthcare services, Health Minister Christian Dube said Tuesday.

Quebec, which has been setting daily records since the Omicron variant started a new wave of rapidly rising infections, recorded 12,833 new cases on Monday – the highest one-day count of any region in Canada during the pandemic.

“Omicron’s contagion is so exponential, that a huge number of personnel have to be withdrawn – and that poses a risk to the network capacity to treat Quebecers,” Dube told reporters at a briefing.

“We made the decision that under a certain condition positive staff will be able to continue working according to a list of priority and risk management,” he said, adding that more information would be provided in the coming days.

Dube said Quebec would also offer a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to everyone above the age of 18 from Jan. 4.

Last week, Quebec ordered bars, gyms and casinos to shut and directed people to work only from home. It also limited the size of gatherings at private homes and restaurants to six people.

(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru; Editing by Alistair Bell)

CDC cuts quarantine time for all Americans with COVID-19 to 5 days

(Reuters) -U.S. health authorities on Monday shortened the recommended time for isolation for asymptomatic Americans with COVID-19 to five days from the previous guidance of 10 days.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also said the people who test positive after quarantining should follow five days of wearing a mask when around others.

Omicron accounts for 73% of U.S. coronavirus infections, the federal CDC had said last week.

Breakthrough infections are rising among the fully vaccinated population, including those who have had a third booster shot. However, Omicron appears to be causing milder symptoms in those people, some of whom have no symptoms at all.

Reducing the CDC’s 10-day quarantine recommendation would help asymptomatic people return to work or school, with proper precautions, White House medical adviser Anthony Fauci had told CNN last week.

The CDC on Monday also gave guidance for people who are unvaccinated or are more than six months out from their second mRNA dose or more than two months after the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and not yet boosted. It recommended quarantine for them for five days followed by strict mask use for an additional six days.

Individuals who have received their booster shot do not need to quarantine following an exposure should wear a mask for 10 days, the CDC said.

(Reporting by Dania Nadeem in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel)

Fauci suggests air travel vaccine mandate as Omicron grounds U.S. flights

By Gabriella Borter and Aishwarya Nair

(Reuters) -Skyrocketing COVID-19 cases hobbled U.S. airline staff on Monday, causing hundreds of flight cancellations, and prompted the country’s top infectious disease expert to suggest the government consider a vaccine mandate for domestic air travel.

Monday’s air travel woes capped a glum Christmas weekend for thousands of stranded passengers waiting in airport queues and on customer service phone lines to re-book flights, often days after originally planned.

Rising infections from the Omicron variant forced airlines to cancel flights as pilots and cabin crew fell sick and needed to quarantine.

A total 1,130 flights into, within or out of the United States were canceled by Monday afternoon, according to the flight tracking website flightaware.com. Airlines said the virus and bad weather both were to blame.

The average number of new COVID-19 cases in the United States has risen 55% to over 205,000 per day over the last seven days, according to a Reuters tally.

Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top U.S. infectious disease expert, on Monday recommended the federal government consider a vaccine mandate for domestic air travel.

“That is just another one of the requirements that I think is reasonable to consider,” Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease official and a member of the White House COVID-19 response team, told MSNBC in an interview.

U.S. President Joe Biden, speaking to reporters on Monday, declined to say whether he endorsed a vaccine mandate for domestic air travel.

He did say he was open to reducing quarantine times for other Americans after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last week said healthcare workers could isolate for seven instead of 10 days.

In another instance of Omicron-induced travel misery, the CDC said on Monday it was investigating 68 cruise ships after reports of COVID-19 cases on board.

SEVEN-HOUR HOLD TIME

On Monday, snowy weather in the Pacific Northwest was also part of the reason for more than 90 canceled flights that were due to land at Seattle-Tacoma Airport.

A representative for Alaska Airlines, which canceled more than 140 flights on Monday due partly to snowy conditions in Seattle, told a passenger on Twitter that it would be hours before someone from customer service could speak by phone, signaling the extent to which airline phone lines were overwhelmed with frustrated passengers.

“The hold time is about 7 hours. I am so sorry,” Alaska Airlines wrote on Twitter in response to a customer complaint.

Harley Garner, a 27-year-old creative strategist from Portland, and his brother from Seattle were staying with their parents in Pahrump, Nevada, over the holidays and had planned to fly home on Sunday evening. Both brothers’ respective flights -to Portland via Alaska Airlines and to Seattle via Allegiant Airlines – were canceled on Sunday afternoon. Both managed to book seats on later flights – Garner’s brother got one late Sunday night, and Garner booked one for 6 a.m. on Monday.

Then their second flights were canceled. They decided to drive and got on the road shortly after 3 a.m. on Monday. Garner’s father was driving his sons to Bakersfield, California, where they planned to rent a car and then drive up to Portland and Seattle, totaling some 17 hours on the road.

Garner said the most frustrating part of the travel nightmare, which Alaska Airlines said was weather-related, although Portland was not experiencing severe weather on Monday, was the last-minute notification of cancellations.

“If you know a plane isn’t going to leave one place and that’s a connector flight, then just cancel that flight,” he said. “Don’t play these games like you don’t know that there’s a staff shortage because of the coronavirus.”

Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines said on Monday that their cancellations were due to weather. Delta Airlines said in a statement that its 200 Monday cancellations were due to weather and the Omicron variant. JetBlue said crew shortages were behind its dozens of Monday flight cancellations.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter, Aishwarya Nair, Jonathan Allen and Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Dan Grebler and Howard Goller)

France’s COVID-19 cases reach national record while deaths also rise

PARIS (Reuters) -France had its worst-ever day in terms of new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, with more than 91,000 new cases being recorded while the number of deaths also climbed, as the country battles against a fifth wave of the virus.

“Today’s figures are not good,” said Health Minister Olivier Veran.

Veran had earlier told reporters that the case number would stand at around 88,000 for Thursday, but the final official tally from the health ministry showed 91,608 new cases.

Veran had already warned earlier this week that France would soon be at 100,000 new COVID-19 cases per day.

Data from the health ministry also showed that France registered a further 179 COVID-19 deaths in hospitals over the last 24 hours, while the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units reached 3,208, up by 61 from the previous day.

President Emmanuel Macron is hoping France’s COVID-19 vaccine booster campaign will help to contain the fifth wave of the coronavirus to hit the country.

He is aiming to avoid imposing tough, new restrictions, although the French government has said all options will be considered to tackle any rapid deterioration in France’s COVID-19 situation.

(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Juliette Jabkhiro, editing by Mark Heinrich, Barbara Lewis and Aurora Ellis)