Maine, Michigan and and Indiana are among the latest states to request and receive aid from the National Guard in combatting the coronavirus pandemic threatening to overwhelm their hospitals.
This week, about 75 National Guard members were deployed in Maine to help amid a pandemic high of 400 patients hospitalized with COVID. The state reported 6,740 cases in the week ending Friday, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows. In New York, 120 Army medics and Air Force medical technicians were deployed to nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
In Michigan, Dr. Paolo Marciano, chief medical officer at Beaumont Hospital, called Defense Department assistance a “tremendous lifeline,” as state health officials say cases and deaths are both on the rise and hospitals are at or over capacity.
“It allowed us to be able to care for the COVID patients and at the same time still maintain the level of care that cancer patients require or people with chronic illnesses,” Marciano told The Associated Press.
Health officials are meanwhile urging residents to get vaccines, booster shots and to wear masks in indoor public settings.
“We’re really at a critical place in this pandemic and it’s really time for everyone to do their part,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, the state’s chief medical executive.
Also in the news:
►Amid a cold-weather surge in COVID-19 cases, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Friday that masks will be required in all indoors public spaces unless the business implements a vaccine requirement instead.
►A federal judge in Nashville on Friday temporarily blocked Tennessee from preventing schools from issuing mask mandates and from stripping local health and school officials of their ability to set COVID-19 quarantine policies.
►Northern Arizona University is suspending its requirement that employees get vaccinated against COVID-19 in response to a federal judge temporarily blocking enforcement of the mandate for federal contractors.
► New COVID-19 restrictions came into effect Friday in the U.K., including once again requiring face masks indoors, as the country tries to prevent the omicron variant from taking hold and delta from spreading further.
📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 49.8 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 796,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 269 million cases and 5.3 million deaths. More than 200 million Americans — 60% of the population — are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
📘What we’re reading: Misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic – and vaccines to fight it – existed long before the omicron variant arrived to the United States, but it appears to be fueling new and old claims.
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Navy commander fired after refusal to get COVID vaccine
A Navy commander has been fired from his job as the executive officer of a warship because he refused to get a COVID-19 vaccine and refused to be tested for the coronavirus, Navy officials said Friday.
Officials said he was the first naval officer to be fired for refusing the vaccine, which the Pentagon has made mandatory for all service members.
Cmdr. Lucian Kins was relieved of his duties as second in command of the USS Winston Churchill by Navy Capt. Ken Anderson.
Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Jason Fischer declined to give the precise reason why Kins was relieved of command, citing privacy concerns. Fischer, who is spokesman for the Naval Surface Force Atlantic, said the reason for the firing was that Anderson lost confidence in Kins’ ability to perform his duties after he failed to obey a lawful order.
Other officials, however, said the firing came because Kins refused the order to get the vaccine, and refused testing to ensure he did not have the virus.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel issues. One official said Kins requested a religious exemption, which was denied. Kins is appealing that denial.
Navy personnel had until late November to get the vaccine or request exemptions as per the Pentagon’s requirements. Thousands of service members have asked for religious exemptions, but so far none have been approved.
Fischer said Kins has been reassigned to the staff of Naval Surface Squadron 14.
— The Associated Press
California Medical Association condemns harassment of board president
California Medical Board President Kristina Lawson has been stalked and harassed by “anti-vaccine extremists,” according to California Medical Association President Robert E. Wailes.
Lawson detailed being “followed and confronted” by a group she said spreads misinformation on the coronavirus pandemic in a Twitter thread. According to Lawson, members of the group parked near her home, flew a drone over her house and watched her and her family members. They then followed her to work and confronted her with cameras at the end of her work day.
“(T)hey ambushed me in a dark parking garage when they suspected I would be alone,” she said. “The private investigator traveling with them told law enforcement they are producing a video about me that will include footage of my house and neighborhood, and, of course, me.”
Wailes said in a statement that more must be done to stop the “dangerous escalation” from COVID misinformation groups.
“I will continue to do this work even when it is hard, and notwithstanding that there is an organized effort to scare me away from it,” Lawson said.
CDC releases omicron data
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday provided new information on the omicron coronavirus variant and the dozens of early cases in the U.S. The initial data shows most detected cases have been in fully vaccinated people and led to mild symptoms.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House health briefing Friday afternoon that data on the first 43 omicron variant cases in the U.S. shows nearly 80% of the cases were in fully vaccinated people. Nearly everyone who has been found to be infected by the variant has experienced mild symptoms, she said, noting that was to be expected in vaccinated people who have some resistance to the disease.
Only one person was hospitalized with omicron and no deaths have been recorded, she added. The variant has been detected in 25 states as of Friday.
About half of those infected by the omicron variant were between the ages of 18 to 39 and one-third had traveled internationally before testing positive.
The CDC says a booster shot of the vaccine appears to offer protection against the variant — and especially severe disease. While 14 known US cases include people who were boosted, Walensky said some had only recently received their third shot and my not have yet reached peak protection.
“Although we don’t have all the answers on the omicron variant, initial data suggests that COVID-19 boosters help to bolster protection against omicron,” Walensky said, adding that to date, almost 99% of current cases in the U.S. are being caused by the delta variant.
Contributing: The Associated Press