In an open letter published by NBC News, Biden wrote that “your entire nation is cheering you on — and we are so grateful for what you’ve given us.”
“In these moments, we are more than our cities or states or backgrounds. We are more than our jobs or our political parties. We are united. We are all, first and foremost, Team USA,” she added.
Biden said the athletes “bring us together in a way that little else can.”
“You remind us that with dedication, hard work, courage and teamwork, incredible things are possible,” she continued. “What a gift you give. What an honor it is to watch you soar.”
“So, thank you for your hard work. Thank you for the tears and sweat that you’ve given to be here today. Thank you for representing our nation to the world,” said Biden. “Go Team USA!”
Biden is leading the U.S. delegation in Tokyo for her first solo international trip as first lady. She has met with Japanese Emperor Naruhito at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, had dinner with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and met virtually with American Olympians.
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As Delta COVID Variant Spikes, Vaccine Mandates Surge from the Ground Up
In San Francisco, the owners of nearly 300 bars now demand proof of vaccination before customers may enter. A growing number of Los Angeles restaurateurs require diners to prove they’ve been vaccinated or produce a recent negative test. Broadway patrons won’t be seeing a New York show unless they’ve got proof of vaccination. Private businesses and hundreds of colleges are telling employees and students they can’t show up if they haven’t been jabbed.
The irony cannot be lost on governing bodies who still resist the idea of large-scale COVID-19 vaccine mandates: They’re happening anyway. The mandates are simply occurring in a patchwork, haphazard sort of way, rather than following governmental top-down guidance.
People shop at a grocery store enforcing the wearing of masks in Los Angeles on July 23, 2021. – With the Delta variant pushing US Covid cases back up and governing bodies reluctant to demand vaccines, more and more small businesses require proof of vaccination. CHRIS DELMAS/AFP via Getty Images
Nationally, 58.2 percent of those over age 12 are fully vaccinated against COVID, although the surge of the Delta variant appears to have prompted an uptick in the numbers over the past week. For the population at large, the figure is 49.7 percent. (No vaccine is approved for those 12 and under.) Incentives ranging from cash to cannabis have largely failed to persuade the vaccine-hesitant to get a shot. And state and local governments have shied away from large scale requirements to get inoculated, even though the U.S. Supreme Court upheld their ability to enforce mandatory vaccinations more than 100 years ago.
Instead, the movement toward higher vaccination rates is happening from the ground up. In many cases, it starts with food and drink establishments that have everything to lose if runaway COVID rates once again force mass lockdowns on the public or on businesses like theirs.
“We haven’t fought this hard, for this long, to let it go awry now,” owners of the Los Angeles restaurant Osteria La Buca wrote in an Instagram post announcing that all guests at both of its locations show proof of vaccination beginning Aug. 2. “If you are not vaccinated, please do not argue. This policy will not be broken for anyone.”
“It was done in order to keep our staff, our community, our musicians safeand hopefully to prevent another shutdown,” said Jay Bordeleau, owner of an indoor-only jazz venue in San Francisco.
If you live in a smaller town, as I do, you may have seen both sides of the situation play out in real time. A local bar, fearful of being shut down, opts for either a strict mask mandate or for proof of vaccination to avoid an outbreak among patrons or staff—but by doing so, it opens itself up to argument and blowback, even if only from a disgruntled minority.
Having a higher authority make a policy of such requirements might provide businesses with some cover when dealing with unhappy customers, but that has proved elusive. A notable exception occurred Tuesday, when Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced that New York will require vaccines of both workers and customers at indoor dining, gyms, performances and entertainment venues, making it the first U.S. city to do so.
With case rates rising dramatically, Los Angeles County last month reinstated an indoor mask mandate regardless of vaccination status. But neither the county’s top health officials nor its supervisors have acted to require that its own 100,000 employees either be vaccinated or face regular testing, which would set a powerful example for the county’s estimated 4 million unvaccinated people. (A proposal may come at the supervisors’ next meeting, scheduled for Aug. 10.)
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, meanwhile, has not initiated even an indoor mask requirement statewide. The closest Newsom has come is his administration recommending that folks mask up, and that came a day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had largely issued similar advice. A statewide vaccine mandate is not on the table.
Private businesses have the right—and the obligation—to keep their workplaces safe, legal experts say. As long as they make an allowance for someone who is medically unable to take a vaccine or has a specific religious objection, most employers can require that their workers become inoculated.
Masking remains a valuable tool to prevent the spread of COVID—”The data we have on masks is incredibly reassuring,” Dr. Jeanne Noble, who directs COVID response at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, told Capital & Main. But the most effective deterrent to the spread of the virus is vaccination. That brings the conversation back to businesses and employers, even those at the federal level.
“The Justice Department has made it clear that it is legal to require COVID-19 vaccines,” President Joe Biden said in announcing that all federal employees and contractors must be vaccinated or face workplace restrictions and weekly testing. “Local communities can do that, local businesses can do that. It’s still a question whether the federal government can mandate the whole country.”
Facing a recall election next month, California Governor Gavin Newsom has not initiated even an indoor mask requirement statewide. Newsom on March 2, 2021 in Palo Alto, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
That question likely won’t be answered any time soon—another reason why this pandemic is being fought on the ground. The three vaccines in the U.S. (Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson) are currently being administered under emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration, as opposed to final approval. But experts say businesses, employers and state governments still generally have the authority to mandate them.
That’s what is happening in California, as companies and storefronts come to the same conclusion: Staying open and productive is the only path forward. If it takes a hyperlocal vaccine requirement to make that happen, businesses are increasingly willing to consider it. And some larger corporations don’t disagree: Both Google and Facebook said last week that all U.S. employees must be vaccinated before returning to those companies’ offices, with Google CEO Sundar Pichai noting, “Getting vaccinated is one of the most important ways to keep ourselves and our communities healthy in the months ahead.”
It’s also good business. After a year of often staggering financial loss, the arrival of the vaccines has coincided with a crying need for places to open again—and stay open. “Let’s be clear here: We’re doing this because we need to protect our staff and their families and our customers,” Ben Bleiman, founder of the San Francisco Bar Owner Alliance, told the Washington Post. “We know how to control this virus.”
US Hits 100,00 Covid-19 Cases, Highest Since Before Vaccine Rollout
The US had topped 100,000 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday — its highest daily total since before the vaccine rollout, federal data show.
This is the highest rate of infections nationwide since the winter wave, which at its peak saw over 250,000 cases per day in January. Cases leveled out in June at just around 11,000 per day, The Associated Press reported.
It had taken the US nine months from the outbreak to reach 100,000 daily cases in November.
Hospitalizations and deaths are increasing — but still remain far below the pre-vaccine peak in January, when over 120,000 were hospitalized. More than 44,000 Americans were hospitalized with COVID-19, according to the latest data from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That represents a 40 percent increase in one week and a 400 percent increase since June, the data show.
Nearly 500 people are dying related to the virus a day, according to weekly averages as of Friday. That’s up from 270 deaths two weeks ago, according to Johns Hopkins University. Deaths peaked at 3,5000 per day in January.
Nurses treat a COVID-19 patient at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in LA last month.Mario Tama/Getty Images
Cases and hospitalizations have seen the most significant increases in South, particularly in Florida, where over 135,000 residents tested positive for the virus in the last week. That averages to nearly 20,000 per day, accounting for 20 percent of the nation’s new cases.
Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky now represent 41 percent of the nation’s new hospitalizations, according to the CDC.
Florida’s hospitalizations also reached their highest point in the pandemic this week, with more than 12,864 confirmed COVID-19 patients as of Friday, the state’s Department of Health and Human Services reported. That’s a daily average of 1,837 hospitalizations per day.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis pledged not to shut down businesses or impose a new mask mandate last week, predicting that the current spike is a seasonal outbreak — and adding that lockdowns “have failed time and time again throughout this pandemic.”
The governor, who has encouraged residents to get the vaccine, has also passed legislation banning local K-12 school districts from requiring masks for students and staff.
DeSantis has traded verbal blows with President Joe Biden all week over the handling of the virus.
Biden AdministratioExtends Pandemic Relief for Student Loans Until Jan 2022
“The payment pause has been a lifeline that allowed millions of Americans to focus on their families, health, and finances instead of student loans during the national emergency,”
The pause on student loan repayment has been extended until January 31, 2022, the U.S. Department of Education announced Friday.
The moratorium applies to federal student loan interest, repayment and collections. Students have not had to worry about interest compounding or repayment bills since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The payment pause has been a lifeline that allowed millions of Americans to focus on their families, health, and finances instead of student loans during the national emergency,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.
The department allowed the pause to be extended one last time to give borrowers enough time to plan for repayment. The goal is to “reduce the risk of delinquency” after payments are once again required.
“As our nation’s economy continues to recover from a deep hole, this final extension will give students and borrowers the time they need to plan for restart and ensure a smooth pathway back to repayment,” Cardona said.
The moratorium was issued in March 2020 and has been extended multiple times. The latest extension was due to expire on September 30.
Borrowers will be notified of the extension in the coming days, according to the department. As the January 2022 deadline approaches, more information will be provided on ways to plan for repayment.
Cardona said in a press release that it’s the department’s priority to make this a smooth transition and provide students and borrowers with the “resources they need to access affordable, high quality higher education.”
The extension comes as a relief for struggling students and borrowers, but some advocates for student debt cancellation are calling on President Joe Biden to do more.
Natalia Abrams, executive director of Student Debt Crisis, is urging the president to sign an executive order before January 31, 2022 arrives. Student Debt Crisis is a nationwide advocacy group for student debt reform.
“We remain firm in our call for the president to cancel student debt for all Americans,” Abrams said. “Debt cancellation is the best long-lasting solution that empowers individuals, and the economy, to build back stronger than before.”
“While today’s announcement provides some financial security for borrowers and their families as they recover from job losses, reduced hours, or shut down businesses, the reality is that the President can do much more,” she added.
U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), who is vocal about student loan forgiveness, commended the extension but would also like an “outright” cancelation.
“Thousands of families will sleep easier tonight. Now let’s #CancelStudentDebt outright, Mr. President,” Pressley tweeted.
Biden has forgiven nearly $1.5 billion in student loan debt, according to the Department of Education, reaching about 92,000 borrowers who were victims of fraud from for-profit colleges. He said soon after taking office that he would cancel $10,000 in student loan debt for each borrower, but efforts on that cancelation have slowed.
Jen Psaki Accuses Ron DeSantis Of ‘Fundraising’ Off Dangerous Anti-Mask Stance
“I want public health officials to make decisions about how to keep my kids safe, not politicians,” the White House press secretary told reporters.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki slammed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) for his dangerous stance against face masks amid skyrocketing COVID-19 cases in his state, and accused the governor of cynically using the divisive issue for “fundraising.”
Psaki was responding to a question Friday from Peter Doocy of Fox News, who mentioned DeSantis’ threat to stop funding to Florida schools that require masks to help stem the spread of the coronavirus. Doocy asked if President Joe Biden shouldn’t also consider leaving the mask issue up to students’ parents.
Psaki replied: “I will say, as a parent myself — I have two young children — that I want public health officials to make decisions about how to keep my kids safe, not politicians. And not only is Governor DeSantis not abiding by public health decisions, he’s fundraising off of this.”
She said parents in Florida and the rest of the nation should be able to know that their children are going to school in safe environments. “That shouldn’t be too much to ask,” Psaki said.
DeSantis’ campaign team has sought to capitalize on the conspiratorial hostility that some voters harbor for scientists and public health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert. DeSantis’ team is selling T-shirts and beverage coolers that read “Don’t Fauci My Florida.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meanwhile, have recommended masking at schools as the highly contagious delta coronavirus variant continues to spread.
PETER DOOCY: On the jobs report, if the economy is so great–
JEN PSAKI: Wouldn't you say over 900,000 jobs created is pretty good? pic.twitter.com/3ZQ9ul7s18
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) August 6, 2021
Florida is now the epicenter of the U.S. in terms of COVID-19 spread, accounting for at least 20% of the nation’s cases the past few weeks.
The state reported 134,506 new COVID-19 cases over the last week on Friday, more than any other seven-day period during the pandemic, according to CNN. Florida reported an average of 19,215 cases each day during that time, according to data released Friday by the state Health Department. The week’s total was about 22% higher than the previous week.
The previous record high was set Jan. 8, with 125,937 cases reported over seven days, for an average of 17,991 cases each day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, CNN noted.
Yet DeSantis is ignoring the skyrocketing number of cases, insisting it’s a matter of parents’ freedom of choice to allow their children to go unmasked.
“We can either have a free society or we can have a biomedical security state, and I can tell you, Florida, we’re a free state,” DeSantis said at a Wednesday news conference.
He also said that he won’t let his own young children wear masks, because he wants to see them “smiling.”
The sharpest uptick in Florida COVID-19 infections over the past month has been among children under the age of 12, who can’t yet receive any of the three vaccines available in the U.S., according to a Miami Herald analysis of weekly COVID-19 cases.
Ronald Ford, chief medical officer for Memorial Healthcare System’s Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, Florida, said the emergency rooms in children’s hospitals in the region are seeing far more symptomatic cases among kids than during previous COVID-19 waves.
“This is different,” Ford told the Miami Herald. “There’s a much higher percentage of pediatric patients becoming infected and symptomatic.”
As of Friday evening, DeSantis hadn’t responded to Psaki’s comments.
GOP Governor Says It’s Time To ‘Blame The Unvaccinated’ For Pandemic Surge
“Media, I want you to start reporting the facts,” she said. “The new cases of COVID are because of unvaccinated folks. Almost 100 percent of the new hospitalizations are with unvaccinated folks. And the deaths are certainly occurring with the unvaccinated folks.”
Although she didn’t name names, Fox News hosts, such as Tucker Carlson, have attempted to cast doubt on the effectiveness of the coronavirus vaccines. Carlson said the notion that the U.S. was now in a pandemic of the unvaccinated was “simply untrue” and “a lie.”
One Alabama ER doc recently shared the haunting tales of dying coronavirus patients who begged for the vaccine that they had previously refused.
“I hold their hand and tell them that I’m sorry, but it’s too late,” Dr. Brytney Cobia wrote on Facebook.
Alabama has seen a 311% jump in cases over the past two weeks, according to The New York Times, and a 92% increase in hospitalizations. The state’s rate of 23 new cases per 100,000 people was tied for the ninth highest in the nation. Alabama is also tied for the lowest vaccination rate in the U.S.
Ivey has not exactly helped her case. Last week, she rejected a plan by President Joe Biden in which community-based volunteers would go door to door to encourage COVID-19 vaccination and offer help to those who need it.
She also signed a bill banning “vaccine passports” in her state. That same law also banned businesses from requiring vaccination or even asking about vaccination status and banned schools, including colleges, from requiring the vaccine despite the fact that Alabama schools currently require multiple shots, with certain exemptions allowed.
Delta Variant Will ‘Find Everybody Not Immune,’ Warns Mayo Clinic Vaccine Expert
One of the leading vaccine experts in the nation has a dire warning for Americans: The powerful, fast-spreading delta variant of the coronavirus will “find everybody who is not immune.”
There is “no question that we are going to see a surge,” Dr. Gregory Poland of the prestigious Mayo Clinic told WCCO-TV in Minnesota.
Poland, who wears a mask indoors and outside in crowded conditions, warned the unvaccinated: “Do not be deceived that ‘I got this far and I’m OK.’ This is a very different variant. It will find you. This virus will find everybody who is not immune.”
He added: “This is a serious, current and present danger to you and your families’ health if you are not vaccinated.”
Though the major risk is to the unvaccinated, continuing numbers of those who don’t get the protection present a risk to everyone, he warned.
“The longer we go with large numbers of people unvaccinated, the greater and greater the risk that a new variant will develop that will evade vaccine-induced immunity. So we are our own worst enemies here,” Poland told KARE-11 TV. in Minneapolis.
Poland is especially worried about children too young to get the vaccine — as well as for teens whose parents are on the fence about vaccinations, especially because “we are seeing rises in severe disease and hospitalization among young people,” he said.
He strongly agrees with the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics this week that children should wear a mask when they return to school, whether they’re vaccinated or not.
“A mask is not a political symbol. It is a medical symbol of taking care of yourself and others,” he said.
The significantly more transmissible delta variant now makes up about 83% of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S., with the majority of deaths occurring in unvaccinated people. The variant is driving cases up in every state in the nation.
Over the week ending Tuesday, the U.S. has averaged 239 deaths per day from the virus — which is nearly a 48% increase from the prior week.
Check out a clip of Poland’s interview with WCCO-TV below. An extended interview with KARE-11 TV is up top.
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