New York must allow religious exemptions to vaccine mandate, judge rules: Latest COVID-19 updates – USA TODAY

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Here’s when the new COVID-19 antiviral pill could become available

A new experimental antiviral drug has proven to cut COVID-19 infections in half and is effective against variants Gamma, Delta, and Mu.

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New York must allow religious exemptions to the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for medical workers, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

U.S. Northern District Justice David Hurd of Utica granted a preliminary injunction temporarily barring New York state and employers from enforcing the COVID-19 vaccine mandate against medical workers claiming a legitimate religious exemption. Last month, Hurd issued a temporary restraining order blocking enforcement of the mandate in relation to religious beliefs. 

The mandate requires most medical workers statewide to get the first COVID-19 vaccine dose by Sept. 27, or lose their jobs. It prodded about 55,000 workers to get the shot, but left the fate of at least 35,600 other workers refusing shots uncertain.

Many of the medical workers who had claimed religious exemptions had been placed on suspensions pending the outcome of the court battle. These workers, potentially numbering in the thousands, could now return to jobs as some hospitals and nursing homes face staffing shortages.

David Robinso

Also in the news:

►Southwest Airlines and its pilots union steadfastly denied that workers walked off the job to protest a federal vaccine mandate after thousands of flights were canceled this weekend. 

►Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves has again extended the state’s COVID-19 emergency declaration, as the state continues to recover from the pandemic.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 44.4 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 714,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 238.4 million cases and 4.8 million deaths. More than 187 million Americans  – 56% of the population – are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: COVID-19 vaccines offer the best protection against severe illness and death. New antibody and antiviral treatments offer “interlocking benefits,” experts say. Read more here. 

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s Coronavirus Watch newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Gov. Greg Abbott has issued an executive order prohibiting COVID-19 vaccinations mandates for employees or consumers across the state, an expansion of a prior order limited to government entities. Abbott also asked lawmakers to tackle the issue during the current special legislative session, ensuring that “no entity in Texas can compel receipt” of the vaccine.

“The COVID-19 vaccine is safe, effective, and our best defense against the virus, but should remain voluntary and never forced,” Abbott said in a statement.

Abbott, who was previously vaccinated and also later tested positive for COVID-19, has urged Texans to get vaccinated throughout the pandemic but had already banned school districts, cities, counties and government agencies from requiring the shots. The  Legislature passed a law earlier this year prohibiting so-called “vaccine passports,” meaning private businesses cannot require patrons to wear masks, but until Monday companies were allowed to mandate vaccines among employees.

– Madlin Mekelburg, Austin American-Statesman

Leaders and staff at a federal veterans’ nursing home in Illinois mismanaged a coronavirus outbreak that killed 11 residents in fall 2020, well after employees had been put on notice about the danger the pandemic posed to its elderly population, a government investigation found. A staff member exposed at home was denied a test and told to just wear a mask while finishing a shift caring for residents. The employee tested positive the next day. Testing was inconsistent, even after the virus started to spread within the Veterans Affairs complex in Danville. Isolation of exposed individuals was haphazard, the investigation found.

“Direct care staff described chaos and a lack of awareness of what to do,” the inspector general at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs concluded in a report released last month. Read more here.

Donovan Slack

Several new COVID-19 treatments are likely to become available within the next few months. Each drug fills a slightly different role, but together they could change the course of the illness, at least in the United States. An experimental antiviral from Merck and a monoclonal antibody from AstraZeneca, along with a handful of other drugs making their way through the development process, could make COVID-19 a much less fearsome disease.

“We’re at the point where if we could use these medications all to their interlocking benefits … we could really begin to control the impact this virus has on us, and in particular on the health care system,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease physician at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville.

Karen Weintraub

Moderna has no plans to share the recipe for its COVID-19 vaccine because executives have concluded that scaling up the company’s own production is the best way to increase the global supply, the company’s chairman said. The United Nations health agency has pressed Moderna to share its vaccine formula. Afeyan said the company analyzed whether it would be better to share the messenger RNA technology and determined that it could expand production and deliver billions of additional doses in 2022.

“Within the next six to nine months, the most reliable way to make high-quality vaccines and in an efficient way is going to be if we make them,” Moderna chairman Noubar Afeyan said. Asked about appeals from the World Health Organization and others, he contended that such pleas assumed ”that we couldn’t get enough capacity, but in fact we know we can.”

The COVID-19 vaccine is Moderna’s only commercial product. The company announced plans last week to open a vaccine plant somewhere in Africa. Afeyan said he hopes a decision will be made soon on an exact location. Still, it could take years to get the plant up and running.

Almost all of Washington and North Carolina’s state health workers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while 99.99% of Cincinnati Public School employees have complied with the district’s mandatory vaccination policy. The high vaccination rates come after mandates from the federal government, states and local school districts. The White House released a report last week contending that vaccine mandates would lead to millions more Americans getting vaccinated.

The report found that businesses instituting vaccine mandates have seen their number of fully vaccinated workers rise above 90%.

California’s coronavirus death toll reached another once-unfathomable milestone – 70,000 people – on Monday as the state emerges from the latest infection surge with the lowest rate of new cases among all states. Last year at this time, cases in the state started ticking up and by January California was in the throes of the worst spike of the pandemic and was the nation’s epicenter for the virus. Daily deaths approached 700.

The latest surge started in summer and was driven by the delta variant that primarily targeted the unvaccinated. At its worst during this spike, California’s average daily death count was in the low 100s.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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