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Los Angeles County Reinstates Indoor Mask Mandate Amid Rising Cases

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The renewed restrictions for the nation’s largest county come as coronavirus infections have been spiking across America, with new cases doubling in the last two weeks.


L.A. County Masks Up, Again

Starting Saturday, Los Angeles County will require people to wear face masks indoors again regardless of vaccination status as the nation’s most populous county grapples with a surge of COVID-19 cases.

In a press conference Thursday, L.A. County health officials pointed to low vaccination rates, a steady climb in new infections, and the rapid spread of the highly transmissible delta variant as driving factors behind the decision.

“We’re not where we need to be for the millions at risk of infection here in Los Angeles County, and waiting to do something will be too late given what we’re seeing now,” county Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis said. “This is an all-hands-on-deck moment.”

Without providing full details, Davis said there would be some exceptions to the restrictions, including people being allowed to take off their masks while eating and drinking at restaurants.

The move comes as community transmission in the county has skyrocketed since June 15, when California reopened its economy and ended capacity limits, along with social distancing guidelines.

For the week-long period ending on that date, L.A. County had averaged 173 new coronavirus cases a day. Exactly one month later, those numbers have increased by nearly 580%, with the county reporting an average of 1,176 infections a day for the seven-day period ending July 15.

On Thursday, officials logged over 1,537 more cases — the highest figure since early March. Around 70% of COVID samples in the county from June 27 to July 3 were identified as delta variants.

Notably, the vast majority of those impacted have not been vaccinated against the coronavirus. According to reports, between Dec. 7 and June 7, unvaccinated people made up 99.6% of L.A. County’s COVID cases, 98.7% of hospitalizations, and 99.8% of deaths.

Only five million of the more than 10 million residents in the county have been inoculated against the virus.

Cases Surge Across U.S.

L.A. County is not the only locality that has seen a spike in COVID cases, though it is one of the few that has taken firm action.

New cases largely driven by the delta variant, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says now accounts for nearly 60% of all infections in the U.S., have more than doubled in the last two weeks, according to The New York Times tracker.

The 14-day average has risen dramatically from 12,799 on July 1 to 28,315 on July 15.

According to The Times, 49 states have seen at least a 15% increase over the past 14 days, and 19 of those states are reporting double or more the number of new infections. Full outbreaks, largely concentrated in the South, have emerged in a number of states with low vaccination rates.

In the last two weeks, Arkansas, which is currently reporting the highest per capita COVID cases in America, has seen increases of 120% for new cases and 77% for hospitalizations. Florida and Tennesee have seen the most significant 14-day spikes in terms of population percentage, reporting surges of 232% and 373% respectively.

Some states and counties have begun to make additional safety recommendations. Officials in Mississippi, where cases have risen over 70% since July 1, have urged both vaccinated and unvaccinated senior residents to avoid large indoor gatherings.

Health officials in California’s Sacramento and Yolo counties also issued voluntary warnings this week for all residents to wear masks while indoors.

However, it remains to be seen whether more localities will reimpose mandatory requirements or restrictions as cases continue to swell and the delta variant proliferates. 

Rising cases in the U.S. and abroad also pose a more long-term threat to global efforts to fight the pandemic. On Thursday, the World Health Organization warned that the influx of new cases in many parts of the world will enhance the likelihood of more severe variants emerging that will be difficult to control with vaccinations.

The WHO also urged wealthier countries like the U.S. — where just over 50% of people are vaccinated despite the existence of supplies for all those eligible  — to send more jabs overseas.

See what others are saying: (The Los Angeles Times) (The New York Times) (The Associated Press)

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Medical Workers Sign Letter Urging Spotify to Combat Misinformation, Citing Joe Rogan

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The letter accused Spotify of “enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research.”


Doctors and Medical Professionals Sign Letter to Spotify

A group of 270 doctors, scientists, and other medical workers signed an open letter to Spotify this week urging the audio platform to implement a misinformation policy, specifically citing false claims made on the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast. 

Rogan has faced no shortage of backlash over the last year for promoting vaccine misinformation on his show, which airs exclusively on Spotify. Most recently, he invited Dr. Robert Malone on a Dec. 31 episode that has since been widely criticized by health experts. 

Dr. Malone was banned from Twitter for promoting COVID-19 misinformation. According to the medical experts who signed the letter, he “used the JRE platform to further promote numerous baseless claims, including several falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines and an unfounded theory that societal leaders have ‘hypnotized’ the public.”

“Notably, Dr. Malone is one of two recent JRE guests who has compared pandemic policies to the Holocaust,” the letter continued. “These actions are not only objectionable and offensive, but also medically and culturally dangerous.”

Joe Rogan’s History of COVID-19 Misinformation

Rogan sparked swift criticism himself in the spring of 2021 when he discouraged young people from taking the COVID-19 vaccine. He also falsely equated mRNA vaccines to “gene therapy” and incorrectly stated that vaccines cause super mutations of the virus. He took ivermectin after testing positive for the virus in September, despite the fact that the drug is not approved as a treatment for COVID.

“By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions, Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals,” the doctors and medical workers wrote. 

“We are calling on Spotify to take action against the mass-misinformation events which continue to occur on its platform,” they continued. “With an estimated 11 million listeners per episode, JRE is the world’s largest podcast and has tremendous influence. Though Spotify has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform, the company presently has no misinformation policy.”

Rolling Stone was the first outlet to report on the letter from the medical professionals. Dr. Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois Chicago, was among the signees. She told the magazine that Rogan is “a menace to public health.”

“These are fringe ideas not backed in science, and having it on a huge platform makes it seem there are two sides to this issue,” she said. “And there are really not.”

Spotify had not responded to the letter as of Thursday.

See what others are saying: (Rolling Stone) (Deadline) (Insider)

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Data Shows Omicron May be Peaking in the U.S.

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In some cities that were first hit by the surge, new cases are starting to flatten and decline.


New Cases Flattening

After weeks of recording-breaking cases driven by the highly infectious omicron variant, public health officials say that new COVID infections seem to be slowing in the parts of the country that were hit the hardest earlier on.

Following a more than twentyfold rise in December, cases in New York City have flattened out in recent days. 

New infections have even begun to fall slightly in some states, like Maryland and New Jersey. In Boston, the levels of COVID in wastewater — which has been a top indicator of case trends in the past — have dropped by nearly 40% since the first of the year.

Overall, federal data has shown a steep decline in COVID-related emergency room visits in the Northeast, and the rest of the country appears to be following a similar track.

Data from other countries signals the potential for a steep decline in cases following the swift and unprecedented surge.

According to figures from South Africa, where the variant was first detected, cases rose at an incredibly shocking rate for about a month but peaked quickly in mid-December. Since then, new infections have plummeted by around 70%.

In the U.K., which has typically been a map for how U.S. cases will trend, infections are also beginning to fall after peaking around New Year’s and then flattening for about a week.

Concerns Remain 

Despite these recent trends, experts say it is still too early to say if cases in the U.S. will decline as rapidly as they did in South Africa and the parts of the U.K. that were first hit. 

While new infections may seem to be peaking in the cities that saw the first surges, caseloads continue to climb in most parts of the country. 

Meanwhile, hospitals are overwhelmed and health resources are still strained because of the high volume of cases hitting all at once.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Wall Street Journal)

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COVID-Driven School Closures Top Record Highs, But Many Remain Open

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While some districts have implemented protective measures, many teachers say they fall short.


Schools Respond to Omicron Surge

U.S. COVID cases, driven by the omicron variant, are continuously topping new record highs, posing difficult questions for schools resuming after winter break.

According to Burbio, a data firm that tracks school closures, at least 5,409 public schools canceled classes or moved to remote learning by the end of last week due to COVID — more than triple the number at the end of December.

That is still only a fraction of the nation’s 130,000 schools, and many of the biggest school districts in the country are still insisting that students come into the classroom.

Los Angeles, which is home to the second-biggest district, is requiring that students at least test negative before they return to school this week.

In the biggest district of New York City, classes have already resumed following winter break. Although the city has said it will double random tests and send home more kits, students were not required to provide negative results.

Teachers Protest In-Person Learning

Teachers in other major districts have protested the local government’s decisions to stay open.

One of the most closely watched battles is in Chicago, where students on Monday missed their fourth consecutive day of school due to a feud between the Chicago Teachers Union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D).

Last week, the union voted to return to remote learning in defiance of a city-wide order mandating they teach in-person, citing inadequate COVID-19 protections. Lightfoot claimed the conditions were fine and that students were safe, despite record surges, instead opting to cancel classes altogether while the fight plays out.

On Sunday, the union said it was “still far apart” from making any kind of agreement with public school officials after Lightfoot rejected their demands.

Lightfoot, for her part, has said she remains “hopeful” a deal could be reached, but she also stirred up the union by accusing teachers of staging an “illegal walkout” and claiming they “abandoned their posts and they abandoned kids and their families.”

Meanwhile, teachers in other school districts have begun to emulate the tactics in Chicago.

On Friday, teachers in Oakland, California staged a “sick-out,” promoting 12 schools serving thousands of students to close.

See what others are saying: (The Chicago Tribune) (CNN) (The New York Times)

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