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US forced into head-on combat with COVID-19 as cases hike in holiday season

Xinhua | Updated: 2021-11-25 10:18
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A sign advertises coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday at Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts, US, Nov 22, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

NEW YORK - As families prepare to gather over the Thanksgiving holiday, COVID-19 cases are once again rising in most parts of the United States after a steady decrease since mid-September, with new cases hiking by 25 percent nationally in the past two weeks and 40 percent or more in 14 most-affected states.

"Some of the biggest spikes have been in the Midwest, a region where COVID-19 cases hit an all-time high around this time last year. Michigan and Minnesota, which had only modest waves during the late-summer surge, are now seeing the most cases per capita in the country," reported The New York Times (NYT) on Wednesday.

"Some hospitals across the country are being overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases and staffing shortages, and surges tied to holiday gatherings could make it worse. Hospitals in the cold Upper Midwest, especially Michigan and Minnesota, are also filled with COVID-19 patients who are mostly unvaccinated," reported USA Today on Wednesday.

For the holiday, "We would encourage people who gather to do so safely after they've been fully vaccinated, as we've been saying for months now," said Rochelle Walensky earlier this week, who is director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The overall vaccination rate is higher in the United States now than it was during the summertime wave, meaning more people are protected from severe disease, but waning immunity could also play a role, Lauren Ancel Meyers, an epidemiologist at The University of Texas, told NYT.

"We may have higher levels of immunity in many US communities, acquired through a combination of primary vaccines, booster doses and recent infections," said Meyers. "However, waning immunity means that people who were infected early in the pandemic or received their last dose of vaccine more than six months ago may once again be vulnerable to severe infections."

Other senior health officials are also repeatedly calling for Americans to get vaccinated, and get their booster shots, as cases tick back up across the country and the approaching holiday season brings with it more indoor, maskless gatherings, reported The Washington Post (WP) on Wednesday.

Anthony Fauci, US President Joe Biden's chief medical adviser, said on Tuesday in an interview that the "overwhelming majority" of vaccinated Americans should receive a booster dose, adding the definition of a full vaccination could expand to include three doses of an mRNA vaccine such as those from Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, or two doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

As of Wednesday morning, 230,669,289 people had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, making up 69.5 percent of the whole US population. Fully vaccinated people stood at 195,973,992, accounting for 59 percent of the total. A total of 36,640,102 people, or 18.7 percent of the fully vaccinated group, according to CDC data.

The Biden administration on Tuesday filed an emergency court motion that sought the immediate reinstatement of its rules requiring many employers to ensure their workers are vaccinated or tested weekly against COVID-19, a counter attack with much hope to help change the bleak pandemic picture during this holiday season.

The Justice Department filed the request with the Sixth US Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, which last week was designated as the court that would decide legal challenges filed around the country to the vaccine-or-testing rules.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) earlier this month formally issued the requirements, which apply to businesses with 100 or more employees. The rules cover roughly 84 million workers and are scheduled to take effect on Jan 4.

The rules reflected "OSHA's judgment that these measures are necessary to mitigate COVID-19 transmission in the workplace, and the grievous harms the virus inflicts on workers," the Justice Department said in Tuesday's court filing.

The mandate is expected by OSHA to save more than 6,500 worker lives and prevent more than 250,000 hospitalizations over the course of the next six months. However, Republican lawmakers and governors, some employers, as well as labor unions across the country, look determined to take on the White House insistence.

"Many lawsuits challenging the rules, including from Republican-led states and some employers, argue OSHA is engaged in unlawful government overreach. Other challenges, including from labor unions, are based on a belief that the mandate doesn't go far enough to protect workers," reported The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.

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