Coronavirus Update: Face mask fights escalate in Texas and Florida as delta variant of COVID forces Louisiana to send ambulances to other states

United States

The war of words over orders implemented by the governors of Florida and Texas seeking to ban school districts from requiring students wear face masks as protection against COVID-19 when they return to classes in person has escalated into a series of lawsuits from concerned parents.

In Florida, a judge in Leon County is due to hear a suit Friday that argues Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order violates parts of the state’s constitution, the Washington Post reported.

In Texas, two court rulings earlier this week favored local leaders who oppose Gov. Greg Abbot’s ban and will allow them to at least temporarily require face masks.

The first was in Bexar County, which is home to San Antonio, the second was made by a district judge in Dallas, who said the ban was preventing officials from protecting residents during an emergency, the Times reported.

“The citizens of Dallas County have and will continue to be damaged and injured by Gov. Abbot’s conduct,” said the ruling by Judge Tonya Parker.

On Thursday, Harris County said schools would defy Abbot’s ban.

Even the U.S. Supreme Court has been drawn into the fight, with Justice Amy Coney Barrett rejecting a plea from eight students at Indiana University to block that school’s vaccination requirement.

The disputes continue as the highly transmissible delta variant of the virus continues to push COVID-19 cases higher across the U.S., filling hospitals and ICU beds in states with low vaccination rates, as experts continue to lament the politicization of public safety measures during a global pandemic that has killed more than four million people across the world.

Media reports of parents being pitted against protesters in many school districts proliferate, with some even resorting to physical blows and threats of violence against doctors and school personnel.

President Biden added his voice to the debate on Thursday.

“I know there are lot of people out there trying to turn a public safety measure — that is, children wearing masks in school so they can be safe — into a political dispute,” Biden said in remarks from the White House. “This isn’t about politics. This is about keeping our children safe.”

As the Delta variant sweeps the globe, scientists are learning more about why new versions of the coronavirus spread faster, and what this could mean for vaccine efforts. The spike protein, which gives the virus its unmistakable shape, may hold the key. Illustration: Nick Collingwood/WSJ

Louisiana, one of the states with the highest daily case numbers, is experiencing severe stress on its hospitals and is even sending ambulances to Texas, the Guardian reported Friday. Roughly 90% of COVID patients in the state are unvaccinated and increasingly younger people are succumbing to the virus and getting sicker than previous patient groups.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine for people with weakened immune systems late Thursday, for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. Those are both based on the same mRNA technology, and will benefit those who have had organ transplants or certain immunodeficiencies.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee is scheduled to meet Friday to discuss the booster issue, at a meeting which will be webcast.

Meanwhile, experts continue to urge the unvaccinated to get their shots and stop putting themselves at risk of getting a potentially lethal illness.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker is showing that 167 million Americans, or 50.4% of the population, have been fully vaccinated, meaning they have had two shots of the Pfizer/BioNTech PFE, +1.81% BNTX, -0.22% or Moderna MRNA, +0.49% vaccine, or one shot of Johnson & Johnson’s JNJ, +0.33% one-dose regimen.

Among adults 18 years and older, 61.3% are fully vaccinated and 71.5% have had at least one shot, but rates vary widely from state to state.

The seven-day average of new cases stood at 125,894 on Thursday, up 76% from two weeks ago, according to a New York Times tracker. Daily case numbers have climbed 10-fold since late June. Hospitalizations are up 80% from two weeks ago at a daily average of 71,540, the most since February.

Elsewhere, Russia suffered yet another one-day record death toll of 815, Reuters reported. Sydney, Australia’s most populous city has imposed travel restrictions on residents, who are expected to remain in lockdown beyond an Aug. 28 deadline, also from Reuters.

See: Moderna study shows its COVID-19 vaccine holds up against several variants after six months

Israel has become the first country to offer COVID vaccine booster shots to people over the 50 years of age, The Times of Israel reported. Medical staff and those with underlying illness, as well as prisoners and wardens, will also be eligible for the booster.

Meanwhile, in Denmark, the Ministry of Transport has announced that passengers on public transport no longer need to wear face masks, making that move two weeks earlier than expected, according to local media. The requirement still applies at airports and on planes, as that is subject to an international agreement. 

In the U.K., a watchdog will probe the high cost of COVID tests required for travelers, the Guardian reported, after discovering air passengers have spent a total of at least £500m on PCR Covid-19 tests from private companies since mid-May.

Read: Google, United Airlines tell employees to get vaccinated before returning to work

See also: As the more contagious delta variant circulates, public health experts say herd immunity has become an even more distant goal

Latest tallies

The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness headed above 205.6 million on Friday, while the death toll climbed above 4.33 million according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. leads the world with a total of 36.3 million cases and in deaths with 619,094.

India is second by cases at 32.1 million and third by deaths at 430,254 according to its official numbers, which are expected to be undercounted.

Brazil is second in deaths at 566,896, but is third in cases at 20.3 million. Mexico has fourth-highest death toll at 246,811 but has recorded just 3.0 million cases, according to its official numbers.

In Europe, Russia continues to pull ahead of the U.K. by deaths at 165,996, while the U.K. has 131,016, making Russia the country with the fifth-highest death toll in the world and highest in Europe.

China, where the virus was first discovered late in 2019, has had 106,353 confirmed cases and 4,848 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively underreported.

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