It's too soon to determine whether families can gather for Christmas; 90% vaccination rate might be needed: Live COVID updates

·5 min read

It's too soon to say whether the pandemic has eased enough for families to gather for Christmas this year, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday.

Fauci, making the Sunday talk show rounds, said on CBS News' "Face the Nation" that Americans first need to focus on lowering the number of new infections and hospitalizations. The best way to do that: Vaccination and booster shots, he said.

"We've just got to concentrate on continuing to get those numbers down and not try to jump ahead by weeks or months and say what we're going to do at a particular time," Fauci said. "Let's focus like a laser on continuing to get those cases down."

Speaking on ABC's "This Week," Fauci noted that coronavirus-related hospital admissions and average daily new cases have dropped by more than 30% over the last month.

"We certainly are turning the corner on this particular surge," Fauci said. "But we have experienced over now close to 20 months surges that go up and then come down, and then go back up again."

Amanda Gomes, left, receives her COVID-19 vaccine from family nurse practitioner Temperance Taylor during a clinic set up in Bethel AME Church Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in Providence, R.I.
Amanda Gomes, left, receives her COVID-19 vaccine from family nurse practitioner Temperance Taylor during a clinic set up in Bethel AME Church Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in Providence, R.I.

Also in the news:

► New Mexico State University says less than one-third of its students submitted proof of COVID vaccination by this week's deadline, though it is not clear how many plan to submit to weekly testing. By contrast, about 70% of the university's employees complied. Failure to receive the vaccine or be tested weekly can lead to suspension.

► Alaska now has three hospitals operating in crisis mode amid a surge of COVID-19 patients. The protocols allow the hospitals to ration care and resources that are being stretched thin.

► A pill to treat COVID-19 has shown it is effective in trials, according to drugmaker Merck. The company says it plans to submit its findings to regulatory bodies, including the FDA soon. If approved, it would be the first COVID-19 treatment in pill form.

► American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and JetBlue are the latest to announce they will require employees to become vaccinated against COVID-19. The airlines provide services to the government and consider themselves government contractors covered under President Joe Biden's vaccine mandate.

📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 43.6 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 700,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 234.7 million cases and 4.79 million deaths. More than 185.1 million Americans – 55.8% of the population – are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

📘 What we're reading: When the clock ticked down to zero on 2020, the nation watched the ball drop in Times Square and said good riddance to a year marked by a brutal pandemic. So far, 2021 has brought little relief. Friday, the United States passed the dark threshold of 700,000 coronavirus deaths. Will the pandemic ever end?

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.

70% vaccination goal may not do it; 90% may be needed

The nation's 70% vaccination goal, once touted as a level crucial to ending the pandemic, may not be nearly enough because of the extremely contagious delta variant, some health officials say.

“Now we need 85 to 90% vaccinated against delta,” said Dr. Eric Topol, vice president for research at Scripps Research in La Jolla, California, and a national expert on the use of data in medical research.

Tom McCarthy, the executive director of the Rhode Island Department of Health COVID Response Unit, says the delta variant's infection boom has been a game-changer in his region. New England is home to the five states with the highest percentage of a fully vaccinated population. Yet hospitalizations and deaths hover near pre-vaccination levels.

“What we’ve learned with delta and looking beyond delta, is ... to give you that true population-level protection, you need to be in excess of 90%,” McCarthy said.

Herd immunity? Maybe we settle for manageable

The optimistic expectation for COVID-19, experts say, is that the pandemic will die down, and the virus will become one of the world's many endemic viruses that continue to circulate but cause much less disease and death. It's predicted to become an infection that still sweeps through the adult population in the winter, sickening some but generally delivering serious illness only to the very old, those with compromised immune systems, and pregnant women who are unvaccinated, said Dr. Gregory Poland, editor in chief of the journal Vaccine.

“Once we get to the point where everybody has been exposed or vaccinated and if – and it’s a big if – COVID does what other respiratory illnesses do, it may be a disease that’s manageable,” said Jeffrey Shaman, an epidemiologist at Columbia University.

Elizabeth Weise

New York hospitals oust workers in preview of 50-state mandate

New York is giving the nation an early glimpse of what the Biden administration's 50-state vaccine mandate for health care workers might look like. The Empire State's hospitals dismissed or suspended dozens of workers for failing to meet last week's deadline requiring them to get at least their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Anticipating service disruptions from front-line health workers quitting or getting fired, health systems from New York City to upstate delayed non-emergency operations, cut clinic hours and paid travel nurses up to $200 an hour to fill vacant shifts. The dismissals represented a small percentage of workers at large health systems.

President Joe Biden last month announced all hospitals that take Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement must vaccinate their workers. The agency that oversees those federal health programs has yet to announce details on when the national mandate will take effect. Read more.

– Ken Alltucker, USA TODAY

Judge slams suit opposing hospitals' COVID-19 vaccine rule

A federal judge in Cincinnati sharply criticized attorneys seeking to block COVID-19 vaccine mandates at five local hospital systems, saying they made false claims and espoused "unsupported conspiracy theories." Judge Timothy Black refused to block the hospital groups from requiring that employees receive the vaccine. The mandate went into effect at two of them on Friday. Black said data shows COVID-19 continues to devastate the community. He noted that in the seven days ending Thursday in Hamilton County, there were 2,304 confirmed cases, 172 new hospitalizations and 10 deaths.

“Those deaths may well have been preventable. Next month’s deaths still are,” Black said. “Against this objective data, plaintiffs allege unsupported conspiracy theories.”

– Kevin Grasha, Cincinnati Enquirer

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Christmas with the family? Too soon to say, Dr. Fauci says: COVID news

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