Biden to outline plan to curb coronavirus Delta variant as cases grow

By Steve Holland and Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON/ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE (Reuters) -President Joe Biden on Thursday will present a six-pronged strategy intended to fight the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus Delta variant and increase U.S. COVID-19 vaccinations, the White House said on Tuesday.

The United States, which leads the world in COVID-19 cases and deaths, is struggling to stem a wave of infections driven by the variant even as officials try to persuade Americans who have resisted vaccination to get the shots. Rising case loads have raised concerns as children head back to school, while also rattling investors and upending company return-to-office plans.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters traveling with Biden aboard Air Force One that he will lay out the six-pronged strategy “working across the public and private sectors to help continue to get the pandemic under control.”

Asked about possible new mandates, Psaki said the White House would offer more details later about the plan and acknowledged that the federal government cannot broadly mandate that Americans get vaccinated.

“We need to continue to take more steps to make sure school districts are prepared and make sure communities across the country are prepared,” Psaki added.

On Wednesday, Biden is scheduled to meet with White House COVID-19 advisers.

The United States has recorded roughly 650,000 COVID-19 deaths and last week exceeded 40 million cases. Reuters data shows that more than 20,800 people have died in the United States from COVID-19 in the past two weeks, up about 67% from the prior two-week period.

Hospitalizations have grown, with seven U.S. states – Alaska, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Tennessee and Washington – reporting records this month.

Biden previously announced plans to offer booster shots more widely, pending regulatory approval. His chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci on Tuesday said officials are still aiming to do so starting the week of Sept. 20.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisers are scheduled to meet on Sept. 17 to consider a possible third shot of Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE’s two-dose vaccine, the only COVID-19 vaccine yet to receive full approval from the agency.

Fauci told CNN Pfizer’s third shot appears likely to be rolled out first, with Moderna Inc’s version “close behind.” Moderna has sought full FDA approval of its two-dose vaccine.

Booster doses are already approved by U.S. regulators for people with compromised immune systems.

U.S. officials have said they expect vaccines to be approved for children younger than 12 this winter. With U.S. students already starting a new school year, battles over public health efforts including mandates that pupils wear masks erupted in many places across the country.

In the private sector, increasing numbers of U.S. employers have imposed vaccine mandates for employees. The Biden administration has hailed efforts by businesses, universities and others to bolster vaccinations.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 62.3% of Americans have received at least one vaccine dose and 53% – 176 million people – are fully vaccinated. Counting the population eligible for vaccines – people 12 and older – 72.9% have received at least one dose and 62% are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

(Reporting by Steve Holland in Washington and Nadita Bose aboard Air Force One; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. job growth takes giant step back as Delta variant hits restaurants

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. economy created the fewest jobs in seven months in August as hiring in the leisure and hospitality sector stalled amid a resurgence in COVID-19 infections, which weighed on demand at restaurants and hotels.

But other details of the Labor Department’s closely watched employment report on Friday were fairly strong, with the unemployment rate falling to a 17-month low of 5.2% and July job growth revised sharply higher. Wages increased a solid 0.6% and fewer people were experiencing long spells of unemployment.

This points to underlying strength in the economy even as growth appears to be slowing significantly in the third quarter because of the soaring infections, driven by the Delta variant of the coronavirus, and relentless shortages of raw materials, which are depressing automobile sales and restocking.

“It is important to keep the right perspective,” said Brian Bethune, professor of practice at Boston College. “Given the supply chain constraints and the ongoing battle to lasso COVID-19 to the ground, the economy is performing exceptionally well.”

The survey of establishments showed nonfarm payrolls increased by 235,000 jobs last month, the smallest gain since January. Data for July was revised up to show a whopping 1.053 million jobs created instead of the previously reported 943,000.

Hiring in June was also stronger than initially estimated, leaving average monthly job growth over the past three months at a strong 750,000. Employment is 5.3 million jobs below its peak in February 2020. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast nonfarm payrolls increasing by 728,000 jobs in August.

Though the Delta variant was the biggest drag, fading fiscal stimulus was probably another factor. The response rate to the survey is lower in August and the pandemic has made it harder to adjust education employment for seasonal fluctuations.

The initial August payrolls print has undershot expectations over the last several years, including in 2020. Payrolls have been subsequently revised higher in 11 of the last 12 years.

“The August payroll figures have historically been revised higher in the years since the Great Recession, sometimes significantly, and there’s a good chance this effect will occur again this time,” said David Berson, chief economist at Nationwide in Ohio.

Employment in the leisure and hospitality sector was unchanged after gains averaging 377,000 per month over the prior three months. Restaurants and bars payrolls fell 42,000 and hiring at hotels and motels decreased 34,600, offsetting a 36,000 gain in arts, entertainment and recreation jobs. Retailers shed 29,000 jobs.

Construction lost 3,000 jobs. There were gains in mining, financial services, information and professional and business services as well as transportation and warehousing.

Manufacturing added 37,000 jobs, led by a 24,100 increase in the automobile industry. Factory hiring remains constrained by input shortages, especially semiconductors, which have depressed motor vehicle production and sales.

General Motors and Ford Motor Co announced production cuts this week.

Motor vehicle sales tumbled 10.7% in August.

That, together with raw materials shortages, which are making it harder for businesses to replenish inventories, prompted economists at Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan to slash third-quarter GDP growth estimates to as low as a 3.5% annualized rate from as high as a 8.25% pace. The economy grew at a 6.6% pace in the second quarter.

Government payrolls fell by 8,000 in August as state government education lost 21,000 jobs. August is the start of the back-to-school season, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which compiles the employment report cautioned that “pandemic-related staffing fluctuations in public and private education have distorted the normal seasonal hiring and layoff patterns.”

Stocks on Wall Street were mixed. The dollar slipped against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury prices fell.

SILVER LININGS

Details of the smaller household survey from which the unemployment rate is derived were fairly upbeat.

Household employment increased by 509,000 jobs, enough to push the unemployment rate to 5.2%, the lowest since March 2020 from 5.4% in July. The jobless rates, however, continued to be understated by people misclassifying themselves as being “employed but absent from work.” Without this problem, the jobless rate would have been 5.5%.

Even so, a broader measure of unemployment, which includes people who want to work but have given up searching and those working part-time because they cannot find full-time employment, dropped to a 17-month low of 8.8% from 9.2% in July.

Though the participation rate was steady at 61.7%, about 190,000 people entered the labor force last month. Even more encouraging, the number of permanent job losers declined 443,000 to 2.5 million. The number of long-term unemployed dropped to 3.2 million from 3.4 million in the prior month.

They accounted for 37.4% of the 8.4 million officially unemployed people, down from 39.3% in July. The duration of unemployment fell to 14.7 weeks from 15.2 weeks in July.

Economists did not believe the pullback in hiring was enough for the Federal Reserve to back away from its “this year” signal for the announcement of the scaling back of its massive monthly bond buying program, given strong wage growth.

“For the Fed a taper announcement is still likely coming in either November or December,” said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan in New York.

The 0.6% jump in average hourly earnings after a 0.4% rise in July boosted annual wage growth to 4.3% in August from 4.0% in the prior month. The increase, led by lower-paying industries, is the result of worker shortages caused by the pandemic. There were a record 10.1 million job openings at the end of June.

There is cautious optimism that the labor pool will increase because of schools reopening and government-funded benefits expiring on Monday. But the Delta variant could delay the return to the labor force by some of the unemployed in the near term.

About 41,000 women, 20 years and older, dropped out the labor force. The number of number of people saying they were unable to work because of the pandemic increased 497,000 in August, the first rise since December. There was also a slight rise in the number of people working from home.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Andrea Ricci)

Pennsylvania governor issues mask mandate for schools, child care facilities

By Brendan O’Brien

(Reuters) -Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf on Tuesday issued a mask mandate for all K-12 school and child care facilities to protect against the spread of COVID-19, three weeks after the Democrat said he would leave the decision to individual districts.

The order, which goes into effect Sept. 7, comes amid a surge in COVID-19 cases due to the highly-contagious Delta variant of the virus.

Since July, Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 case load has increased from less than 300 a day to more than 3,000 a day, according to the state’s health department.

“With case counts increasing, the situation has reached the point that we need to take this action to protect our children, teachers and staff. The science is clear,” the state’s acting Health Secretary Alison Beam said in a statement.

The decision comes as millions of public education students head back to schools across the United States. School districts, state education agencies and governors across the nation are grappling with masking and vaccination requirements.

In South Carolina, for example, the state’s supreme court heard arguments on Tuesday in two cases involving mask mandates in city of Columbia schools.

The order in Pennsylvania requires students, teachers and staff to wear masks in all public and private K-12 schools. The order also applies to child care providers and early learning programs. The order does not apply to school sports or outdoor activities.

In early August, Wolf said he intended to leave the decision to require masks in schools up to individual districts.

“Unfortunately, an aggressive nationwide campaign is spreading misinformation about mask-wearing and pressuring and intimidating school districts to reject mask policies that will keep kids safe and in school,” he said.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Chris Reese and Bill Berkrot)

More contagious Delta variant makes people sicker; oral drug shows promise in treating COVID-19 pneumonia

By Nancy Lapid

(Reuters) – The following is a summary of some recent studies on COVID-19. They include research that warrants further study to corroborate the findings and that have yet to be certified by peer review.

Delta variant makes people sicker

The Delta variant of the coronavirus is known to be more easily transmissible than earlier versions, and now a large UK study suggests it also makes people sicker. Researchers analyzed data on 43,338 patients infected with either the Alpha or the Delta variant. Overall, roughly three quarters were unvaccinated, and half were under age 31. After accounting for patients’ underlying risk factors, researchers found that unvaccinated patients were 132% more likely to be hospitalized if they were infected with Delta than with Alpha. Vaccinated patients may also be more likely to require hospitalization with a Delta infection, but data for those patients was less clear, according to a report published on Friday in The Lancet Infectious Diseases. The results “suggest that outbreaks of the Delta variant in unvaccinated populations might lead to a greater burden on healthcare services than the Alpha variant,” the researchers concluded.

Oral drug shows promise against COVID-19 pneumonia

Severely ill patients with COVID-19 pneumonia who received the experimental oral drug opaganib developed by RedHill Biopharma required less extra oxygen and were able to leave the hospital sooner than patients receiving a placebo in a small randomized trial, researchers reported on Sunday on medRxiv ahead of peer review. Within 14 days after enrolling in the study, 50.0% of patients taking opaganib no longer needed oxygen, compared to 22.2% of patients in the placebo group. In addition, 86.4% of opaganib-treated patients had been discharged, versus 55.6% in the placebo group. On Thursday, RedHill announced that opaganib strongly inhibits the Delta variant of the coronavirus in test tube experiments. The drug is believed to exert its antiviral effect by inhibiting sphingosine kinase-2 (SK2), a key enzyme in cells that may be recruited by the virus to support its replication, the company said. Based on the initial 42-patient trial conducted last year, RedHill Biopharma launched a much larger randomized trial in patients hospitalized with severe COVID-19 pneumonia. The last of the 475 patients in that late-stage study has now completed treatment and some of the data should be available soon, the company said last week.

Seizure in children may signal COVID-19

Seizures may be the only symptom of COVID-19 in some children, a new report cautions. Children tend to get sick from COVID-19 far less often than adults, and their symptoms are usually not severe, mainly consisting of fever and mild respiratory issues, although more have become ill with emergence of the Delta variant. Among 175 children who came to an Israeli emergency room and were diagnosed with COVID-19, 11 were brought to the hospital because of seizures, researchers reported on Saturday in the medical journal Seizure. Only seven had previously been diagnosed with a neurological disorder, and only six had fever. All 11 made full recoveries. While seizures have not been a frequently reported problem in adults with COVID-19, they “may be the main manifestation of acute COVID-19 in children,” even without fever and without a history of epilepsy, the study authors said. In some hospitals, they point out, only children with flu-like symptoms or close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 patient get tested for the coronavirus. Medical personnel should be aware that children with seizures should be tested, too, they said.

(Reporting by Nancy Lapid; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Missouri attorney general sues school districts that mandate masks

(Reuters) – Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against school districts in his state that have required masks for students and teachers, calling the practice in a statement “arbitrary and capricious.”

The lawsuit filed in Boone County Circuit Court named Columbia Public Schools, its school board and its superintendent as defendants but also includes other schools that have issued such mandates.

Columbia’s school district, with about 19,000 pupils in the center of the Midwestern state, issued a mask mandate this month for all students, teachers and staff to protect against a surge in COVID-19 cases.

“We filed this suit today because we fundamentally don’t believe in forced masking, rather that parents and families should have the power to make decisions on masks, based on science and facts,” Schmitt said in a statement.

The lawsuit asked the court to rule the mask mandate is unlawful and to block the district from carrying it out.

The lawsuit is one of several court battles being waged in the United States over masking and COVID vaccinations as educators, parents and lawmakers grapple with another coronavirus surge just as students head back to the classroom.

In Florida, the state Board of Education on Friday ordered two school districts to provide parents with a way to opt out of a requirement that their children wear masks or face having some of their state funding withheld. On Tuesday, the Broward County School Board, which oversees a system of 261,000 students, said it rejected the order.

Columbia Public Schools officials were not available for comment on Tuesday. On Aug. 13, when the district announced the masking requirement, it cited a high rate of transmission of the Delta variant in the community.

“We know not everyone will agree with this decision,” the district said in a statement. “This decision is not a forever decision, but it is a decision that is currently necessary.”

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Chris Reese and David Gregorio)

Oil up 3% on stronger demand outlook; Mexican oil rig outage

By Jessica Resnick-Ault

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Oil prices rose 3% on Tuesday, extending sharp gains on a bullish demand outlook after U.S. regulators issued their first full approval for a COVID-19 vaccine and Mexico suffered a large production outage due to a fire on an oil platform.

Brent crude oil futures were up $2.25, or 3.3%, at $71.00 a barrel by 2:20 p.m. ET (1720 GMT) while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) gained $1.92, or 2.9%, to $67.56.

Last week, both benchmarks notched their biggest weekly losses in more than nine months. On Monday, both jumped more than 5%, boosted by a weaker dollar.

A resurgent pandemic has fueled health system concerns; however, “economically harmful containment measures seem rather unlikely,” said Julius Baer analyst Norbert Rucker, citing the effectiveness of vaccines.

On Monday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued full approval for the Pfizer/BioNTech two-dose vaccine, having authorized it for emergency use last December. Officials hope to convince unvaccinated Americans the shot is safe and effective.

Analysts said China’s apparent success in fighting the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus also boosted demand sentiment, with no cases of locally transmitted infections in the latest data.

“Concerns are easing that we will not see a global shutdown due to the Delta variant,” said Gary Cunningham, director of market research at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut.

Also supporting oil prices was a fire on an oil platform off Mexico on Sunday that has cut state-run Pemex’s oil production by about 25% since then. Five workers died and the fire halted 421,000 barrels per day of production.

Prices of heavy sour crude oil grades are rising on the U.S. Gulf Coast, traders said, as the market braces for a disruption of supplies from Mexico.

“The market is getting a tailwind from the PEMEX fire, which has greenlighted this rally,” said Bob Yawger, director of energy futures at Mizuho in New York.

Still, Yawger cautioned that the market could reverse course if U.S. government data on Wednesday shows gasoline inventories increased. Analysts polled by Reuters expect gasoline inventories to fall, but Yawger expects a gain, which could signal a demand lull.

Data from trade group the American Petroleum Institute is expected Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. ET (2030 GMT), with official data from the Energy Information Administration released on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. ET (1430 GMT).

The U.S. Department of Energy on Monday said it would sell up to 20 million barrels of crude from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) oil stocks to comply with legislation, with deliveries to take place between Oct. 1 and Dec. 15.

Meanwhile, Indian refiners’ crude throughput in July bounced to its highest in three months as fuel demand rebounded and buoyed prices.

(Additional reporting by Jessica Jaganathan in Singapore and Ahmad Ghaddar in London; Editing by John Stonestreet, David Goodman, David Gregorio and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. data show rising ‘breakthrough’ infections among fully vaccinated

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Some 25% of SARS-CoV-2 infections among Los Angeles County residents occurred in fully vaccinated residents from May through July 25, a period that includes the impact of the highly transmissible Delta variant, U.S. officials reported on Tuesday.

The data, published in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s weekly report on death and disease, shows an increase in so-called “breakthrough” infections among fully vaccinated individuals.

The CDC is relying on data from cohorts, such as the Los Angeles County study, to determine whether Americans need a third dose of COVID-19 vaccines to increase protection. Government scientists last week laid out a strategy for booster doses beginning on Sept. 20, pending reviews from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the CDC.

The new data released on Tuesday involved more than 43,000 reported infections among Los Angeles County residents aged 16 and older. Of them, 10,895, or 25.3%, occurred in fully vaccinated persons, 1,431, or 3.3%, were in partially vaccinated persons, and 30,801, or 71.4%, were in unvaccinated individuals.

The vaccines did, however, protect individuals from more severe cases. According to the study, 3.2% of fully vaccinated individuals who were infected with the virus were hospitalized, just 0.05% were admitted to an intensive care unit and 0.25% were placed on a ventilator.

Among the unvaccinated who fell ill, 7.5% were hospitalized, 1.5% were admitted to an intensive care unit and 0.5% required breathing support with a mechanical ventilator.

In addition to the LA County data, the CDC on Tuesday released an update on the HEROES cohort study among healthcare workers that showed a significant drop in vaccine effectiveness among vaccinated frontline workers in eight states who became infected with the coronavirus.

Vaccine efficacy during the period of the study when Delta was predominant fell to 66% from 91% prior to the arrival of the Delta variant, according to the report.

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen, Editing by Mark Porter)

Vietnam deploys troops to enforce COVID lockdown in largest city

HANOI (Reuters) -Vietnam deployed soldiers on Monday to help enforce a strict COVID lockdown in Ho Chi Minh City, its biggest urban area and current epicenter of its worst coronavirus outbreak to date.

Vietnam implemented movement restrictions in Ho Chi Minh City in early July, but announced its harshest curbs last week as infections have continued to surge. Authorities have said enforcement of recent curbs has not been sufficiently strict.

After containing COVID-19 for much of last year, Vietnam has recorded 358,456 infections and at least 8,666 fatalities. Ho Chi Minh City has recorded over 180,000 infections – half the country’s total – and 7,010 deaths, making up about 80% of the nation’s fatalities, according to the health ministry.

Most of those cases have been recorded in Ho Chi Minh City and its surrounding industrial provinces, where the Delta variant of the virus has sent numbers soaring since late April.

The government said on Friday a tighter lockdown would begin on Monday, prohibiting people from leaving their homes, even for food, and said the military would step in to help.

The announcement, later amended so that people in some areas could still shop for food, was subsequently reverted to a total ban, triggering confusion and panic-buying at supermarkets in the city over the weekend.

Witnesses said soldiers were delivering food to residents of the city on Monday and images broadcast by state media showed armed soldiers manning checkpoints and checking documents.

Vietnam has over recent weeks sent 14,600 additional doctors and nurses to the city and its neighboring provinces to support its overwhelmed medical system, the ministry said.

Patients with mild or no symptoms have been told to self isolate at home.

The government said on Friday it would send 130,000 tonnes of rice from state stockpiles to Ho Chi Minh City and 23 other cities and provinces. People in the city’s Phu Nhuan and Go Vap districts told Reuters they had received packages of rice, meat, fish and vegetables from the military.

Vietnam received two shipments of 501,600 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses from Poland and 200,000 Sinopharm doses donation from China on Monday, the government said.

In total, the country has secured over 23 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines but just 1.8% of its 98 million people have been fully vaccinated – one of the lowest rates in the region.

(Writing by James Pearson; Editing by Ed Davies, Ana Nicolaci da Costa and Bernadette Baum)

Israel finds COVID-19 vaccine booster significantly lowers infection risk

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A third dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine has significantly improved protection from infection and serious illness among people aged 60 and older in Israel compared with those who received two shots, findings published by the Health Ministry showed on Sunday.

The data were presented at a meeting of a ministry panel of vaccination experts on Thursday and uploaded to its website on Sunday, though the full details of the study were not released.

The findings were on par with separate statistics reported last week by Israel’s Maccabi healthcare provider, one of several organizations administering booster shots to try to curb the Delta coronavirus variant.

Breaking down statistics from Israel’s Gertner Institute and KI Institute, ministry officials said that among people aged 60 and over, the protection against infection provided from 10 days after a third dose was four times higher than after two doses.

A third jab for over 60-year-olds offered five to six times greater protection after 10 days with regard to serious illness and hospitalization.

That age group is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and in Israel was the first to be inoculated when the vaccine drive began in late December.

In recent weeks, the health ministry has said immunity has diminished over time for seniors and younger people as well. Most vaccinated people who fell severely ill in Israel were over 60 and with underlying health conditions.

Israel started administering third jabs to over 60-year-olds on July 30. On Thursday it dropped the age of eligibility for a booster to 40, and included pregnant women, teachers and health care workers below that age. Third doses are given only to those who received their second shot at least five months ago.

The United States has announced plans to offer booster shots to all Americans, citing data showing diminishing protection. Canada, France and Germany have announced booster campaigns.

Fighting an outbreak of the Delta variant since June, Israel presently has one of the world’s highest infection rates per capita. Close to 1.5 million people out of the country’s 9.3 million population have taken a third jab.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller and Maayan Lubell; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

NYPD orders police officers to get a jab or mask up while on duty

By Tyler Clifford and Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York City’s 36,000 police officers now have a simple choice: either get vaccinated against coronavirus or wear masks at all times while on duty.

The department issued the bulletin spelling out the order earlier this week, said Sergeant Edward Riley, an NYPD spokesman. The order came in response to a lagging vaccination rate among NYPD officers at a time when the Delta variant has fueled a surge of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations across the country.

Among New York police officers, the current vaccination rate is about 47%, Riley said in an emailed response to questions from Reuters. That falls well short of the 68% rate for all adult New Yorkers who are fully vaccinated, according to city data.

“Since vaccinations became available we have encouraged our employees, especially those who have contact with the public, to get vaccinated,” Riley said, adding that the order also applies to civilian employees of the department.

All members of the force are required to wear a face covering when interacting with the public, regardless of vaccination status, the order said.

Several officers, all unmasked, were seen patrolling outside an NYPD precinct in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan just before noon on Thursday. They declined to comment to Reuters when asked for their thoughts on the order.

Two of the officers stood about a dozen feet away from a masked civilian who was airing grievances about property that was allegedly confiscated.

The NYPD bulletin said “appropriate disciplinary action will be taken for unvaccinated members found not wearing a face covering when required.” But it did not specify possible punishments.

Police unions that represent NYPD members, including the Police Benevolent Association of the City of New York, did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

The United States recorded more than 1,000 coronavirus deaths on Wednesday, the second time in as many days the daily tally has crossed that threshold, according to data compiled by Reuters. The country last reported that many daily deaths in March.

With Wednesday’s count, the United States has averaged more than 800 deaths daily in the past seven days, a stretch not seen since April. Hospitalizations are at the highest since February.

The NYPD, which has had 59 police officers die of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, is not the only police department that is requiring vaccinations for its officers.

In Denver, Mayor Michael Hancock set a deadline of Sept. 30 for full vaccination for all city employees, including police officers. Masks are optional only for those granted a medical or religious exemption, Kelli Christensen, Denver Department of Public Safety spokeswoman, said in an email.

In the small Midwest town of Venice, Illinois, population 1,890, the entire police force has been infected with the virus and all six full-time officers are quarantining, KMOV4 reported.

“My chief even has COVID-19 and he’s sounding terrible,” Mayor Tyrone Echols told the news station.

The Venice Police Department declined to comment to Reuters and the Madison County Sheriff’s Department, which is reportedly covering the area while the local officers are in quarantine, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Tyler Clifford and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler)