Common colds rising as pandemic restrictions ease; Southern Baptist Convention sparks small COVID cluster: Live COVID-19 updates – USA TODAY

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After a historically mild flu season, a resurgence of common colds and other viruses in New Jersey signals what might be in store for the rest of the country as pandemic restrictions continue to be eased.

While influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) dipped to record lows during the pandemic, the state health department in New Jersey said the overall level of respiratory viruses has been “higher than would typically be expected for this time of year.”

“We’re in a different world now,” said Dr. Ashwin Jathavedam, an internist with Leonia Medical Associates and chief of infectious diseases at Englewood Health. “Most of these are mild infections, things that, pre-pandemic, you wouldn’t have thought twice about.”

Increased testing to rule out COVID-19 has detected viruses that previously might have been shrugged off. And the relaxation of social-distancing requirements and reduction of mask-wearing have brought back conditions that enable viruses to flourish. 

New Jersey is not alone: last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention alerted health officials in southern states about reports of increasing RSV infections outside the normal fall and winter season.

Also in the news:

► Carnival Cruise Line is providing an alternative to unvaccinated cruise-goers. Beginning July 31, unvaccinated individuals over the age of 12 who are departing from Florida will only have to show proof of a travel insurance policy in order to board ships.

► Asian countries experiencing their first major surges of the coronavirus – Thailand, South Korea, Vietnam – announced or imposed tough measures Friday that they hope can slow the spread of COVID-19 before their health care systems are overwhelmed. 

► Arizona reported its biggest daily increase in COVID-19 cases in two months on Friday, as the coronavirus continues to spread mainly among unvaccinated people. 

► Kansas reported its biggest surge in COVID-19 cases in more than three months on Friday, as the faster-spreading delta variant becomes a growing public health issue within the state. 

The theme park Legoland New York officially opened to the public on Friday, after its initial opening was delayed last summer due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Middle-class Californians are still awaiting a second set of COVID-19 stimulus checks announced by Gov. Newsom back in May, and so far, there hasn’t been much word on when they’ll be getting them.

►Indonesia is running out of oxygen as it endures a devastating wave of coronavirus cases, and the Southeast Asian government is seeking emergency supplies from other countries, including Singapore and China. 

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 33.8 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 606,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: more than 186.1 million cases and more than 4 million deaths. More than 158.6 million Americans — 47.8% of the population — have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: As many adolescents and young adults prepare to return to the classroom in the fall amid the spread of the delta variant, the lagging vaccination rate among Generation Z is raising concerns among experts.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s Coronavirus Watch newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Southern Baptist Convention sparks small COVID-19 cluster in Nashville

A small but worrisome coronavirus cluster has been linked to a Baptist convention’s annual meeting in Nashville, the first large-scale conference held in the city after it lifted restrictions on gatherings, according to the Metro Public Health Department.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting, a two-day event at which Baptist churchgoers elected leaders and debated controversial topics, drew more than 15,000 attendees to Music City Center starting on June 15.  

About eight to 10 infections have been detected among attendees since the event in mid-June, which is enough to be classified as an COVID-19 cluster, said Metro Health epidemiologist Leslie Waller. The cluster is almost certainly larger but difficult to measure because most attendees live outside of Tennessee, Waller said.

Read more.

— Brett Kelman and Holly Meyer, Nashville Tennessean

White House calling out critics of door-to-door vaccine push

For months, the Biden White House refrained from criticizing Republican officials who played down the importance of coronavirus vaccinations or sought to make political hay of the federal government’s all-out effort to drive shots into arms. Not any longer.

With the COVID-19 vaccination rate plateauing across the country, the White House is returning fire at those they see as spreading harmful misinformation or fear about the shots.

When South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster tried this week to block door-to-door efforts to drive up the vaccination rate in his state, White House press secretary Jen Psaki did not mince words in her reaction.

“The failure to provide accurate public health information, including the efficacy of vaccines and the accessibility of them to people across the country, including South Carolina, is literally killing people, so maybe they should consider that,” she said Friday.

While 67% of American adults have gotten at least one dose, officials are increasingly worried about vast geographic disparity in vaccination rates, and the emergence of what some experts warn could be two dramatically different realities for the country in the coming months: high vaccine uptake and lower caseloads in more Democratic-leaning parts of the country, and fresh hot spots and the development of dangerous variants in more GOP-leaning areas.

— Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

CDC mask guidelines for schools won’t end nation’s patchwork of rules 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidance Friday saying vaccinated teachers and students no longer must wear masks inside school buildings to protect against the transmission of COVID-19.

The guidance, issued amid falling infection rates and hospitalizations, recommends unvaccinated individuals, including children, should still wear masks and maintain 3 feet of social distancing.

Schools and state officials have been waiting weeks for updated CDC guidance, rolling out a patchwork of tentative and contradictory rules for their own teachers and students. The CDC guidelines are more lenient than what some localities have established, yet fly in the face of anti-mask legislation passed in some conservative states.

Some local officials are likely to change their standards again in response to the CDC’s ruling. And others will stand firm against mask requirements – worrying parents concerned about their children’s risk of contracting COVID-19.

Read more.

— Taylor Avery, USA TODAY

Health officials halt vaccine events for teens, emails say

After Tennessee lawmakers chastised state health officials for encouraging teenagers to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, the Department of Health instructed its county-level employees to halt vaccination events focused on adolescents and stop online outreach to teens, according to department emails obtained by The Tennessean.

Dr. Tim Jones, the department’s chief medical officer, wrote in an email to colleagues last week the agency should not advertise vaccine events to anyone besides the “general population” and “should not have any pop-up events ‘for adolescents.’”

In the same email chain, Dr. Jill Obremsky, one of the department’s medical directors, wrote the agency can continue to vaccinate adolescents but its pro-vaccine social media posts “should not be directed specifically at this group.” Read more.

— Brett Kelman, Nashville Tennessean

Contributing: Lindy Washburn, NorthJersey.com; The Associated Press