Scientists say leak from lab “extremely unlikely” as COVID-19 origin
Scientists explore every option as they try to track down the origin of COVID-19.
Associated Press, USA TODAY
Missouri requested help from new COVID-19 federal response teams as the delta variant continues to spread, with surging case numbers and hospitalizations throughout the state.
The “surge response teams,” announced in a White House press conference Thursday, will be dispatched to emerging COVID-19 hotspots around the country, where vaccination rates remain low. They’ll aim to boost testing and vaccinations, as well as track down and treat those who have fallen ill.
Missouri reported 4,271 new COVID-19 cases in the past week, and 945 people throughout the state are hospitalized. Of those hospitalized, 265 are in the intensive care unit and 121 are on ventilators, according to state data.
Southwest Missouri emerged in recent weeks as a hotspot for the delta variant – a more infectious strain of COVID-19. The results have strained hospitals, made national headlines and frustrated health care leaders.
Steve Edwards, president and CEO of CoxHealth in Springfield, posted the hospital’s daily virus report — a 32% symptomatic positive case rate — alongside a message of frustration Thursday.
“If you are making wildly disparaging comments about the vaccine, and have no public health expertise, you may be responsible for someone’s death,” Edwards wrote. “Shut up.”
Also in the news:
► Despite only accounting for 2% of cases in the early days of the pandemic, children now make up more than 24% of new COVID-19 weekly infections, even though they only make up 16% of the population.
► The rapid spread of the delta variant of COVID-19 across Africa is fueling the continent’s third wave of the pandemic, with the coronavirus mutation driving up new cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
► President Joe Biden hosted the World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers at the White House on Friday, making the Dodgers the first team to be honored at the White House since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
► Cases of the delta variant of COVID-19 rose 46% in a week in the U.K, following a nearly quadruple increase in new cases of the variant in the last month.
📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 33.7 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and at least 605,500 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 183.1 million cases and more than 3.9 million deaths. More than 156.2 million Americans have been fully vaccinated – 47.1% of the population, according to the CDC.
📘What we’re reading: Dazzling fireworks lit up the dark sky over Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom Thursday, marking the first nightly fireworks show the park has hosted since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
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Six people working Surfside condo collapse test positive for COVID-19
Six people from a task force working on scene after a Miami area condo building collapsed last week tested positive for COVID-19, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky said at a Saturday news conference.
That task force has since left the site. On-site teams did contact tracing and tested 424 Florida task force members. “We’ll continue to monitor as well,” Cominsky said.
– Christine Fernando
Experts question if WHO should lead pandemic origins probe
As the World Health Organization draws up the latest plans to probe how the coronavirus pandemic started, an increasing number of scientists say the U.N. agency isn’t up to the task and shouldn’t be the one to investigate.
Numerous experts, some with strong ties to WHO, say political tensions between the U.S. and China make it impossible for an investigation by the agency to find credible answers. They say what’s needed is a broad, independent analysis closer to what happened in the aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
“We will never find the origins relying on the World Health Organization,” said Lawrence Gostin, director of the WHO Collaborating Center on Public Health Law and Human Rights at Georgetown University. “For a year and a half, they have been stonewalled by China, and it’s very clear they won’t get to the bottom of it.”
The first phase of WHO’s mission required getting China’s approval not only for the experts who traveled there, but also for their entire agenda and the report they ultimately produced.
Jeffrey Sachs, a professor at Columbia University, said the U.S. must be willing to subject its own scientists to a rigorous examination and recognize that they might be just as culpable as China.
“The idea that China was behaving badly is already the wrong premise for this investigation to start,” Sachs said. “If lab work was somehow responsible (for the pandemic), the likelihood that it was both the U.S. and China working together on a scientific initiative is very high.”
No lockdown plans in Russia as virus deaths hit new record
Despite record-breaking new deaths and soaring daily COVID-19 infections, the Russian government insists there are no plans for a national lockdown in the works.
Russian authorities reported 679 new coronavirus deaths on Friday, a fourth day in a row with the highest daily death toll in the pandemic. Daily new infections have more than doubled over the past month, climbing from around 9,000 in early June to over 20,000 this week. On Friday, Russia’s state coronavirus task force reported 23,218 new contagions.
Yet the authorities are not discussing a lockdown, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday.
Russian officials have blamed the rise in cases on Russians’ lax attitude toward taking precautions, the growing prevalence of more infectious variants and slow vaccination rates. Although Russia was among the first countries to announce and deploy a coronavirus vaccine, just over 23 million people — or 15% of its 146 million population — have received at least one shot.
Russia had only one, six-week nationwide lockdown last spring, and the authorities have largely shunned tough restrictions that would require shutting down businesses ever since. Only one Russian region — the Siberian republic of Buryatia — has since had two local lockdowns, with the latest one in effect since Sunday.
Russia’s coronavirus task force has reported more than 5.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases in the pandemic and 136,565 deaths.
More travelers on freer Fourth of July raises pandemic concerns
Americans enjoying newfound liberty are expected to travel and gather for cookouts, fireworks, concerts and beach outings over the Fourth of July weekend in numbers not seen since pre-pandemic days.
And there are fears the mixing of large numbers of vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans at a time when the delta variant is spreading rapidly could undo some of the progress made against the scourge. AAA forecasts more than 47 million people will travel by car or plane this weekend in the U.S., a return to 2019 levels and 40% higher than last year. That includes 3.5 million airline passengers.
Nashville is expecting as many as 400,000 people to stream into the city for its July Fourth celebration featuring country star Brad Paisley. Beaches and lakefronts are expected to be packed as well. In Southern California, Huntington Beach is planning one of the biggest celebrations on the West Coast, a three-day festival that could bring in a half-million people.
President Joe Biden has welcomed the holiday as a historic moment in the nation’s recovery from a crisis that has killed over 600,000 Americans and led to months of restrictions that are now almost gone. He plans to host more than 1,000 people at the White House — first responders, essential workers and troops — for a cookout and fireworks to mark what the administration is calling a “summer of freedom.”
“I’m going to celebrate it,” Biden said Friday ahead of the holiday. “There’s great things happening. … All across America, people are going to ballgames, doing good things.” But he also warned that “lives will be lost” because of people who didn’t get vaccinated.
Young people plan ‘wild’ summers to make up for lost time during pandemic
Many young people are over-compensating for the lack of socializing during the pandemic with booming social calendars, and they want to let loose with a wild summer.
When Carolyn Xenalis moved to New York City for her internship, she made it a priority to explore the city, meet new people and make it the best summer of her life. Xenalis has one motto for this summer: never say no to an invite — whether it’s a walk through the park or drinks on a Tuesday night. Even something as mundane as a Monday night has turned into a weekly “Bachelorette Mondays” at a local bar for Xenalis.
“Living through a global pandemic has made me truly not take for granted the time I have to interact with others, visit new places and make new memories,” the Westbrook, Connecticut native said.
Others, like Erica Huang, are in no rush to jump back into the of pre-pandemic social life.
“The pandemic helped me realize that superficial activities like excessive partying and drinking aren’t so important after all,” Huang says. Instead, she’s been “treating herself” by creating DIY art, going for relaxing bike rides and reading.
— Jenna Ryu
Contributing: Galen Bacharier, Springfield News-Leader; The Associated Press