Pediatricians warn of virus' impact on kids, urge parents to vaccinate them; weekly new infections again surpass 600,000: COVID-19 updates – USA TODAY

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For parents who decline to vaccinate their children against the coronavirus because they believe COVID-19 only affects older people, pediatric specialists present some stark statistics:
More than 6.6 million minors have contracted the virus, 23,000 have been hospitalized and about 750 have died.
With the emergence of the delta variant, hospitalization rates among children and adolescents nearly quintupled from late June to mid-August. Among kids under 5 years of age, the rate increased tenfold.
Beyond the numbers, there are the heartbreaking stories of children struggling to breathe as desperate parents lament not getting them vaccinated even when eligible.
Dr. Kenneth Alexander, chief of infectious diseases at Nemours Children’s Health in Orlando, Florida, said the hospital has not treated many kids with the most serious form of COVID – acute viral pneumonia – but just a few instances leave a deep impression.
“When these kids come to our hospital, they’re not getting enough oxygen; they’re gasping, they’re miserable,’’ Alexander said. “At best, they’re going to be in a hospital bed for five days on oxygen. But it’s those kids that end up in our intensive care unit on ventilators and with breathing tubes. They get blood clots in their lungs. It’s very, very scary.’’
Alexander joined Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and other experts Thursday in a media session organized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to promote COVID vaccines for children, which are now authorized for those age 5 and older.
Their message: The benefits of vaccines outweigh many times over any small risks they may carry.
“While as a parent your primary concern is understandably the well-being of your child, it’s also important to know that vaccines have the power to stop epidemics,’’ said Dr. Lee Savio Beers, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Children make up a significant part of our population, and vaccinating children will help control this virus so it can’t continue to spread.’’
Also in the news:
►Disney Cruise Line will require all guests ages 5 and older to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before setting sail starting Jan. 13, the company said.
►The Detroit school district said it will switch to online learning on Fridays in December in response to rising COVID-19 cases and the need for mental health relief.
►Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who just returned from quarantine overseas after developing COVID-19 in Scotland, warned that a holiday season coronavirus surge was likely and urged vaccinations to keep infections and hospitalizations down.
►German lawmakers approved new measures Thursday to rein in record coronavirus infections after the head of the country’s disease control agency warned Germany could face a “really terrible Christmas.”
►Coronavirus deaths in Russia hit 1,251 Thursday, breaking the record of 1,247 deaths from Wednesday. However, new daily cases appeared to be on a downward trend.
📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 47 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 767,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 255 million cases and 5 million deaths. More than 195 million Americans – nearly 59% of the population – are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
📘What we’re reading: The pandemic has spurred many workers to reevaluate their lives and the role work plays in them, leading some to set fresh boundaries, find new jobs or maintain the side hustles that got them through the shutdowns and layoffs. Some workers shared their stories with USA TODAY.
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.
America’s recovery from the delta variant surge dropped the pace of new infections to under 500,000 per week in late October. Now cases are above 600,000 per week and are rising in 34 states, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows. 
The numbers are not close to January, when weekly infections peaked at 1.7 million. But the recovery from one wave has reversed into another wave, more than six months after free, safe, effective vaccines became widely available to all adults. The United States is again reporting an average of more than 1 case every second. 
Unvaccinated people remain at highest risk for infection. The good news: 80% of Americans 12 and over have had at least one coronavirus vaccine shot.
Melissa Nolan, an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health, told USA TODAY that seasonal flu infection increases risk in winter.
“Sadly, this virus will never leave our society,” Nolan said. “To help mitigate spread as we go into this next winter respiratory disease season, it is vitally important that Americans get both their booster shot and their flu shot.”
More than 60 health care organizations and public health experts on Thursday urged the business community to support the federal requirement that employees for companies with at least 100 employees be vaccinated for COVID. The American Medical Association and former CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden were among those signing the statement.
“Instead of wasting time in court trying to overturn these mandates, business leaders should be focused on how to protect their employees from COVID through vaccination,” said Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, vice provost for global initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania, who organized the statement. “That’s the only way we’ll be able to return to normal and stabilize our economy.”
Obstacles to Emanuel’s plan, however, include governors and lawmakers in many states that are backing lawsuits to block the requirement and putting forward legislation that would prevent k firms from requiring vaccination.
The U.S. government will pay Pfizer $5.29 billion for 10 million treatments of its COVID-19 drug if regulators approve it. Pfizer asked the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday to authorize the experimental pill, which has been shown to significantly cut the rate of hospitalizations and deaths among people with coronavirus infections. The FDA is already reviewing a competing pill from Merck and will hold a public meeting on it later this month.
“We look forward to continuing discussions with governments around the world to help ensure broad access for people everywhere,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said.
With Republicans touting their defense of personal freedom and Democrats condemning the special session called by Gov. Ron DeSantis as a political stunt, Florida lawmakers have approved measures aimed at blocking any kind of COVID vaccine or test mandates. The Republican-controlled state legislature finished work Wednesday night on a package of bills that both defy the Biden administration’s vaccine-or-test requirements for larger businesses and stop local governments from enacting such standards. DeSantis signed the bills into law Thursday.
DeSantis called lawmakers back to the Capitol primarily to fight the White House in what Democrats condemned as a political ploy to enhance the governor’s national image and affirm his support among Floridians who refuse vaccinations. Republicans disagreed.
“Today we’re doing something to protect people’s rights,” said Rep. Cord Byrd, R-Neptune Beach. “We are a legislature and governor who believe in individual rights, including liberty. It’s not a charade. It’s not a stunt.”
– John Kennedy, Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee released a video trying to persuade officers to join the state’s highway patrol because it doesn’t have any coronavirus-related mandates. During the 71-second video released to YouTube, Lee said the Tennessee Highway Patrol “won’t get between you and your doctor,” adding THP is offering to cover all moving expenses for any officer who leaves another state to join its force.
Earlier this month, Lee signed a new state law banning vaccine mandates and curtailing when mask mandates can be enacted. Lee specifically mentioned New York City and Los Angeles in the video. New York requires police officers and sheriff deputies to be vaccinated against COVID-19; Los Angeles does provide a testing option. 
Adam Friedman, Nashville Tennessean
The Food and Drug Administration is expected to authorize as soon as today a COVID-19 booster shot for anyone who wants one and is at least six months past their initial vaccination. Vaccines do a great job of preventing hospitalization and death, but their protection against infection starts to fade at about six months – even in young, healthy people. That’s why booster doses may be recommended for all adults – or at least those over 30. 
Ted Ross, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Georgia in Athens who recently got a booster shot himself, said the U.S. government bought so many doses so long ago that many will go to waste if they aren’t used soon.
“The thing boosters might help with is to help dampen the surge or increase we’re going to see this winter,” as people travel and spend more time indoors, Ross said. “That peak or that slope will hopefully not be as steep.”
Karen Weintraub
Vaccine-or-test work rules are proving to be a costly compromise for governments. Virginia’s Department of Corrections requires unvaccinated employees who work in crowded settings to get tested every three days, and the rest every seven days. It cost the department nearly $7,000 to test 442 staff members over two days in October. The state is tapping federal COVID relief funds to pay for the testing.
Securing scarce testing supplies also can be difficult. The Virginia State Police had to wait more than a month to start a testing program in part because of delays in delivery.
Some experts say the option just isn’t as effective as mandating vaccines anyway.
“A vaccine-and/or-testing policy is second best,” said Jeffrey Levi, a professor of health management and policy at George Washington University. “A testing policy catches a problem early. It doesn’t prevent a problem, whereas the vaccination requirement helps to prevent it.”
Amanda Michelle Gomez and Phil Galewitz, KHN
Nearly 100 Maryland elementary school students received an incorrect dose of the coronavirus vaccine at a clinic last week, health officials said. Officials were notifying the parents of 98 students at South Lake Elementary School that doses of vaccine administered at a clinic at the Montgomery Village school on Nov. 10 were diluted more than recommended, the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services said in a news release. Students were given additional doses at a clinic Wednesday. Acting county Health Officer Dr. James Bridgers said staff already received more training on children’s doses.
Over the weekend, a health clinic in the San Francisco Bay Area city of Antioch gave 14 children under age 12 the wrong dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, raising a furor among parents.
Contributing: Mike Stucka, USA TODAY; The Associated Press


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