States, counties consider mask mandates; US upgrades travel warnings for Britain, Indonesia: COVID-19 updates – USA TODAY

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Even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended vaccinated individuals did not need to wear masks indoors two months ago, experts now are calling for people to “vax it and mask it.”

Los Angeles County this weekend mandated masks indoors, though the county sheriff announced he wouldn’t enforce it. Other California counties also recommended masks indoors. Arkansas, Missouri and New York are weighing mask mandates as cases spike in those states.

And the American Academy of Pediatrics issued recommendations Monday for the 2021-22 school year that include everyone older than age 2 wearing masks, regardless of vaccination status.

“Instead of vax it OR mask it, the emerging data suggest CDC should be advising to vax it and mask it in areas with (rising) cases and positivity until we see numbers going back down again,” former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said on Twitter.

The weekly rolling average for cases in the United States has nearly tripled in the last month. The pace of deaths also is up sharply — 24.7% from its low point two weeks ago. 

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said on NBC News that there may be contexts in which local officials need to make decisions different from national ones.

“There are areas of this country where about a third of people are vaccinated. They have low vaccination rates. And there are areas that have more disease,” Walensky said. 

“Those masking policies are not to protect the vaccinated, they’re to protect the unvaccinated,” she said.

Also in the news:

►Twitter said Monday it suspended the account of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene for 12 hours for violating its policy after posting two misleading tweets about COVID-19.

►Costco will continue to hold special operating hours for members 60 and older and vulnerable shoppers, reducing them to two days out of the week.

►The United States upgraded its travel warnings for Britain, Indonesia and three other destinations.

►Florida Rep. Vern Buchanan tested positive for COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated earlier this year, according to a release from his office Monday. The Republican is quarantining at home after experiencing “mild flu-like symptoms,” according to the release.

►A federal judge is allowing Indiana University to continue with its COVID-19 vaccine requirement for all students and employees. Eight IU students sought to block the requirement.

►With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations up sharply over the last month in Alabama but still far below when the pandemic was at its worst early this year, school officials said vaccines won’t be required in the fall and local systems can decide whether to require masks or other precautions.

Canada will reopen to fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents starting Aug. 9.

📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has had more than 34.1million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 609,233 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 190.8 million cases and 4 million deaths. More than 161.4 million Americans — 48.6% of the population — have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘What we’re reading: At a time when the infection rate has doubled, many remain unvaccinated and the delta variant is vastly more contagious than the original, it’s important to recognize vaccines aren’t flawless.

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.

Low vaccination rates, delta variant fuel surge in cases across the South

New cases linked to the highly infectious delta variant are on the rise and disproportionately affecting unvaccinated populations, creating a precarious situation across several Southern states. In many of these states, health workers continue to battle rampant vaccine hesitancy and misinformation that have resulted in some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.

In the last two weeks, health officials across the region have issued warnings to alert the public about the prevalent spread of the delta variant, which spreads more easily.

“It feels very reminiscent of where we were in an early part of the pandemic,” said Mississippi’s state epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers. “It feels like we’re in the same situation now with the delta variant.” Read more here.

— Maria Clark, Melissa Brown and Sarah Haselhorst, The American South

Americans struggle to pay medical bills during pandemic

Americans increasingly struggled to pay their medical bills during the pandemic because of being infected with COVID-19, losing income or losing employer health insurance coverage, a new survey shows.

More than a third of insured adults and half of uninsured adults said they had an issue paying for a medical bill. The national survey conducted by the Commonwealth Fund between March and June 2021 asked 5,450 working-age adults about how the pandemic affected their health insurance coverage and medical debt. 

“They suffered ruined credit ratings. They were unable to afford basic life necessities like food, heat or their rent,” said lead author Dr. Sara Collins, Commonwealth Fund’s vice president for health care coverage, access, and tracking.

This trend has become a chronic problem in the U.S. health system, she said. Read more here.

— Taylor Avery

These are the biggest COVID vaccine myths spreading online

Health officials say misinformation continues to hinder vaccination efforts and are calling on social media companies to do more to address it. 

“They’re killing people,” President Joe Biden said when asked by NBC News what his message is to platforms such as Facebook. “The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated. And they’re killing people.”

In a statement, Facebook said the company won’t be “distracted by accusations which aren’t supported by the facts.” Biden clarified Monday his comments were directed at those spreading falsehoods about the vaccine on social media platforms.

Health experts agree more needs to be done to combat misinformation online and debunked some of the biggest myths about the COVID-19 vaccine circulating on social media. Read more here.

— Adrianna Rodriguez

Former top aide accuses Boris Johnson of mishandling COVID-19 threat last year

Dominic Cummings, a former top aide to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson accused Johnson of being dismissive of the threat of COVID-19 last year.

Since leaving his job in November, Cummings has launched attacks on his former boss through blog posts, tweets and testimony to lawmakers, accusing Johnson of failing to act quickly against the coronavirus and causing thousands of unnecessary deaths.

The latest accusations came in a Tuesday BBC interview during which Cummings said Johnson resisted a second lockdown in fall 2020 because “the people who are dying are essentially all over 80.”

Cummings said Johnson’s attitude in fall 2020 “was a weird mix of, partly ‘It’s all nonsense and lockdowns don’t work anyway’ and partly ‘Well this is terrible but the people who are dying are essentially all over 80 and we can’t kill the economy just because of people dying over 80.’”’

Johnson’s office did not deny Cummings’ allegations but said “since the start of the pandemic, the prime minister has taken the necessary action to protect lives and livelihoods, guided by the best scientific advice.”

What to know about breakthrough infections

A positive case of a virus after vaccination against that virus is called a “vaccine breakthrough case.” They’re rare, but they’re expected. 

The vaccines developed against COVID are effective, but they’re not 100%.

According to the CDC, the effectiveness of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are 94-95% after the second shot, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 66.3% effective at preventing infection. Even in a best-case scenario, that’s at least 5 out of every hundred vaccinated people potentially vulnerable to infection. 

There is some evidence that vaccination may make illness less severe in people who get vaccinated but still get sick, according to the CDC.

If you are around people who are immunocompromised or children too young to be vaccinated or live or travel in an area with low vaccination rates, you may want to hang on to your mask for a while longer.

Read a full explainer on breakthrough infections. 

— C.A. Bridges, Palm Beach Post

Why did the Dow drop 700 points Monday?

Resurgent pandemic worries knocked stocks lower from Wall Street to Tokyo on Monday, fueled by fears that faster spreading variants of the coronavirus may upend the economy’s strong recovery.

Increased worries about the virus may seem strange to people in parts of the world where masks are coming off, or already have, thanks to COVID-19 vaccinations.

But the World Health Organization said cases and deaths are climbing globally after a period of decline, spurred by the highly contagious delta variant. And given how tightly connected the global economy is, a hit anywhere can quickly affect others on the other side of the world. Read more here.

Contributing: The Associated Press.