NEW YORK, Sept. 10 (Xinhua) -- The federal government of the United States introduced a new action plan on Thursday to accelerate vaccination and give impetus to its belated fight against the novel coronavirus, whose Delta variant has been fiercely devouring the country's weak groups and medical resources, forcing corporations to abandon their return-to-office plans and leaving unvaccinated children basically forlorn on campuses.
U.S. President Joe Biden outlined a broad plan on Thursday to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates in his country as cases plateau at a high number, pressuring private employers to immunize their workforce as well as mandating the shots for federal workers, contractors and employees of health-care facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding.
"Despite having an unprecedented and successful vaccination program, despite the fact that for almost five months, free vaccines have been available at 80,000 different locations, we still have nearly 80 million Americans who have failed to get the shot," he said in a speech from the White House.
The president particularly announced a new requirement for federal employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine, with no option for regular testing. The executive order will extend to contractors that work with the U.S. government, impacting a total of 2.1 million employees.
Including a "six-pronged strategy" focused on containing the Delta variant and boosting vaccination rates in hesitant corners of the country, the speech "is a tacit acknowledgement that efforts have so far fallen short of Biden's campaign promise to bring the pandemic under control," reported USA Today.
The president's speech came at a critical point when the White House can refocus its strategy on restricting life for the unvaccinated and clearly lay out how it plans to bring the pandemic to an end after 18 months. "While Biden has had to juggle a hyper-partisan pandemic response, resistance to a federal vaccine requirement and a focus on the return to normalcy set up unrealistic expectations," said the report.
At least 75 percent of adults in the United States have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, but tens of millions of Americans remain unvaccinated, "threatening to continue disrupting classrooms, vacations and even plans for the holidays, a frustrating reality after a summer that saw the pandemic wane before a return to mask mandates and delayed return-to-office timelines," it added.
NO GOOD CONTROL
Coronavirus infections are more than 10 times higher than they need to be in order to end the pandemic, U.S. news website Axios on Thursday quoted Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to the U.S. president, as saying.
There are currently roughly 150,000 new infections a day in the United States, and "that's not even modestly good control," said Fauci, adding that "in a country of our size, you can't be hanging around and having 100,000 infections a day. You've got to get well below 10,000 before you start feeling comfortable."
According to Fauci, only about 0.5 percent of the new cases in the United States are showing as the lately emerging Mu variant, with 99.3 percent testing as Delta, which has such an "extraordinary ability" to transmit that it won't likely lose its global dominance in the immediate future.
Delta, so far the wildest COVID-19 variant, "is similarly severe to earlier versions of the virus, probably with only modest differences in one direction or the other. While Delta is certainly more contagious, and its contagiousness does call for some new precautions, like more frequent mask wearing, its severity does not appear to be fundamentally different," reported The New York Times (NYT) on Thursday.
The question is especially relevant to children and vaccinated adults. In both groups, earlier versions of COVID-19 were usually manageable. For the vast majority of people, the virus resembled a typical flu, rarely causing serious illness, it added.
The 7-day average of confirmed cases of the pandemic stood at 148,538 nationwide on Wednesday, with its 14-day change seeing a 4-percent fall. COVID-19-related deaths were 1,537 on Wednesday, with a 32-percent rise in the 14-day change, according to the NYT.
Microsoft said Thursday that it will indefinitely delay the reopening of its headquarters in Redmond, Washington, and its other U.S. offices as the coronavirus continues to proliferate in the country. The software and hardware maker did not provide a new date to replace the Oct. 4 target it had announced in early August.
"The decision, which will affect more than 103,000 Microsoft employees in the U.S., reflects the cautious approach large technology companies are taking to bringing employees back to facilities following a rise in hospitalizations and deaths tied to COVID-19," reported CNBC.
In August, with cases of the Delta variant mounting, Amazon said corporate workers in the United States and some other countries will start returning to offices in January 2022. Around that time, Microsoft said it had pushed back its reopening plan from Sept. 7 to Oct. 4. Now, Microsoft is being less specific.
Meanwhile, the United Airlines has decided that any employee who has been given a religious exemption from getting a coronavirus vaccine will be placed on temporary, unpaid personal leave starting from October.
The policy, which takes effect on Oct. 2 and applies to customer-facing roles such as pilots, flight attendants and customer service agents, will remain in place until "specific safety measures for unvaccinated employees are instituted," Kirk Limacher, the airliner's vice president of human resources, said in a memo to employees.
"There are close to 100,000 people in the hospital, and an average of 1,500 people are dying from COVID-19 every day. All these statistics apply almost exclusively to the unvaccinated," said Limacher. "Given the dire statistics listed above, we can no longer allow unvaccinated people back into the workplace until we better understand how they might interact with our customers and their vaccinated co-workers."
The U.S. college football season is coming back. "For many, it's a welcome return of a fall tradition, but for some, the scenes of tens of thousands of fans packed into stadiums, all against the backdrop of a pandemic that is still raging across the country, fuels more anxiety than exhilaration," reported NBC on Wednesday.
With the Delta variant still causing increases in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths in parts of the United States, experts have said that these big events and the enormous crowds they attract may be coming at a bad time, even if they occur outdoors, where the risk of infection is typically minimized.
It is part of what some researchers are calling a frustrating "gray area" more than a year and a half into the pandemic. "There is no simple answer to just how much risk there is to a mass gathering like an outdoor college football game. A variety of factors play into the risk level: local infection rates, whether a stadium requires vaccination or a proof of a negative test and even what people do before and after the game," said NBC.
In another development related with the problem of big crowds, American stand-up comedian, actor and screenwriter Patton Oswalt has canceled his multiple shows in Florida and Utah after venues refused to require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for entry.
"This difficult decision was made due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases," CNN on Thursday quoted Oswalt as saying. "And also because I have an ego but my ego is not big enough to think that people should die to hear my stupid comedy."
On Thursday, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the second largest school system in the United States, announced the requirement of all eligible students aged 12 and older to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
In a special meeting, the LAUSD school board decided by unanimous vote that a mandate was appropriate based on the sudden surge of the virus brought about by the Delta variant and data showing lower rates of infection and hospitalization among those who are vaccinated. Thus, the LAUSD became the nation's first major school district to adopt such a mandate.
The announcement requires all eligible students 12 years of age and older to receive their first COVID-19 vaccine doses by no later than Nov. 21, and to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 19. Students who participate in in-person extracurricular activities, including sports, face an earlier deadline of Oct. 3 for a first dose of the vaccine and a second dose no later than Oct. 31.
In Missouri, as schools welcomed students late last month, the choice to mandate masks fell to individual districts, leaving parents feeling like they had to decide on their own whether or not it was safe to send their children back. "The fact that the public health measure has become so divisive is a vexing issue for many struggling with how best to keep their kids safe," reported the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) on Wednesday.
Over the summer, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education issued school reopening guidance, effectively allowing hundreds of school districts to decide whether or not to mandate masks and making Missouri one of more than 20 states to adopt such a policy.
Nearly two dozen school districts in Missouri have reported more than 41 new COVID-19 cases among children aged 5 and older in the last two weeks. Since the start of the pandemic, the state has seen nearly 780,000 cases in total and more than 11,000 deaths, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services. Enditem