(NEW YORK) -- The United States has been facing a COVID-19 surge as the more contagious delta variant continues to spread.
More than 682,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 while over 4.7 million people have died from the disease worldwide, according to real-time data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The average number of daily deaths in the U.S. has risen about 20% in the last week, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The U.S. is continuing to sink on the list of global vaccination rates, currently ranking No. 45, according to data compiled by The Financial Times. Just 64.3% of Americans ages 12 and up are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the CDC.
Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern:
Sep 25, 2:08 pm
Judge temporarily blocks NYC school vaccine mandate
New York City has been temporarily blocked from enforcing a vaccine mandate for public school employees, days before the policy is set to go into effect.
A federal appeals court judge granted a temporary injunction Friday and referred the case to a three-judge federal panel for review on an expedited basis, court records show.
Several municipal unions sued the city earlier this month after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the mandate, which requires all public school employees to get at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by Monday.
In a statement to ABC New York station WABC-TV, the NYC Department of Education said it was "confident our vaccine mandate will continue to be upheld once all the facts have been presented, because that is the level of protection our students and staff deserve."
"Our current vax-or-test mandate remains in effect and we're seeking speedy resolution by the Circuit Court next week," the department said, while urging employees to get the vaccine by Monday's deadline.
Over 82% of public school employees have been vaccinated, the DOE said. The city's teachers and principals unions had warned that thousands of school employees might not be able to return to schools on Tuesday if the mandate was not delayed.
Sep 25, 10:24 am
No unemployment benefits if fired for refusing vaccine in this state
The New York State Department of Labor has issued guidance to clarify that workers who are fired for refusing to get vaccinated are not eligible for unemployment insurance unless they have a valid medical reason.
That announcement came as part of a multi-layered plan released by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Saturday in preparation of the state's vaccine deadline for health care workers and school employees to receive their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Monday or face termination and to prevent resulting staff shortages in hospitals and health care facilities.
Under her plan, New York would declare a state of emergency to increase the health care workforce including allowing health care professionals licensed in other states or countries, recent graduates and retirees to work in New York state.
Other facets of the plan include deploying medically trained National Guard members and federal disaster medical teams to assist local health care providers.
As of Sept. 22, 84% of all hospital employees in New York State were fully vaccinated, according to the press release. As of Sept. 23, 81% of staff at all adult care facilities and 77% of all staff at nursing home facilities in New York State were fully vaccinated.
"We are still in a battle against COVID to protect our loved ones, and we need to fight with every tool at our disposal," Hochul said. "I am monitoring the staffing situation closely, and we have a plan to increase our health care workforce and help alleviate the burdens on our hospitals and other health care facilities. I commend all of the health care workers who have stepped up to get themselves vaccinated, and I urge all remaining health care workers who are unvaccinated to do so now so they can continue providing care."
-ABC News' Ahmad Hemingway
Sep 25, 9:23 am
Ferret tests positive for COVID in US
The first ferret to test positive for COVID-19 in the United States has been confirmed by the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories.
A ferret in Slovenia was previously reported infected with COVID, according to the USDA.
"Samples from the ferret were taken after it showed clinical signs including sneezing and coughing. It is suspected that the ferret acquired the infection from a person with COVID-19," the USDA said Friday in a press release.
A small number of animals have tested postive for COVID-19, according to the USDA, which uses COVID's scientific term, SARS-CoV-2 when addressing the virus in the context of animal health. Some animals that have tested for SARS-CoV-2 include a tiger in a New York City zoo, white-tailed deer, cats, dogs, otters, non-human primates and farmed mink.
People with COVID-19 can spread the virus to animals during close contact, the USDA said.
Sep 24, 8:28 pm
Andrew Wiggins denied vaccine exemption, won't be able to play home games
Golden State Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins was denied Friday in his quest for a religious exemption by the NBA to San Francisco's vaccine requirement. It's not clear under what religious explanation Wiggins had appealed the mandate.
Wiggins has steadfastly refused to get the vaccine, according to a report this week from the San Francisco Chronicle. Since the city requires vaccination for everyone at large, indoor gatherings -- such as basketball games -- the veteran forward will not be able to play in any home games if he remains resistant to getting the shot. It's possible he won't be able to play at a number of road arenas that also require vaccination.
"The NBA has reviewed and denied Andrew Wiggins’ request for religious exemption from the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s order requiring COVID-19 vaccination for all participants age 12 and older at large indoor events," the NBA said in a statement Friday evening. "Wiggins will not be able to play in Warriors home games until he fulfills the city’s vaccination requirements."
In March, Wiggins told reporters of the vaccine, "I don't really see myself getting it any time soon, unless I'm forced to somehow. Other than that, I'm good."
Earlier this month, ESPN reported that the NBA will not require players to get vaccinated in order to play in the 2021-22 season. However, the league recently said about 85% of players had been fully vaccinated.
Wiggins, 26, is a big piece of the Warriors' team, scoring 18.6 points per game in his first full season in the Bay Area last year. He has two years remaining on a $147 million contract.
He was the No. 1 overall pick out of Kansas in 2014 by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Sep 24, 6:12 pm
VA begins offering booster shots to veterans
The Department of Veterans Affairs said it is already doling out booster shots to veterans at its medical centers and clinics on Friday, just hours after Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky approved the third shots.
"These booster doses are an important step forward in the fight against COVID-19," VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. "With the authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech booster for eligible individuals, VA can provide Veterans an opportunity to maximize their protection, continuing our work to keep people safe and save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic."
The boosters, so far only authorized for the Pfizer vaccine, are to be administered six months after an individual receives their initial vaccines.
It also said in a statement that it continues to reach out to veterans who have not been vaccinated at all.
Sep 24, 4:37 pm
US reaches vaccine milestone
Seventy-five percent of those eligible (12 years and older) have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, the White House's COVID-19 data director Cyrus Shahpar posted on Twitter Friday.
Calling the statistic a "milestone," Shahpur also tweeted, "Let's add more!"
Sep 24, 3:51 pm
Millions of federal contractors must be fully vaccinated by Dec. 8
The White House said Friday millions of federal contractors must get fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by Dec. 8.
The announcement came in a document issued Friday by the White House’s budget office, the Office of Management and Budget, following up on an executive order President Joe Biden signed Sept. 9 that mandated vaccinations for federal contractors, Reuters reported.
The formal guidance also says that after Dec. 8 “all covered contractor employees must be fully vaccinated by the first day of the period of performance on a newly awarded covered contract.”
An OMB spokesperson told ABC News that “millions” of people would be covered but didn’t share more exact numbers.
Earlier this month, the White House said that federal government employees and contractors will now be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will create a rule for private businesses with 100 or more employees to require their employees to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing.
-ABC News' Ben Gittleson, Molly Nagle, Sarah Kolinovsky, and Justin Gomez
Sep 24, 3:34 pm
Nurses laud CDC decision to include front-line workers as eligible booster shot group
National Nurses United, the nation’s largest union of registered nurses, is lauding CDC director Rochelle Walensky’s inclusion of front-line and health care workers in her recommendations for who may now get a third Pfizer booster dose -- a decision which overruled the agency’s independent panel conclusion.
The CDC’s advisory group had rejected the idea of third Pfizer doses for “high risk” workers like nurses and teachers, saying that without further data it wasn’t comfortable with automatically adding younger, healthier people simply by occupation.
The nurses' union urged Walensky to bypass what her advisory panel had said -- which is what she ultimately did.
“Nurses across the country are beyond relieved today to wake up to the news that CDC Director Rochelle Walensky prioritized the health and safety of health care and other essential workers most at risk of contracting Covid-19,” NNU president Deborah Burger told ABC in a statement Friday.
“It takes courage to do the right thing, especially when it involves going against the CDC’s own advisory panel," Burger added. "We applaud this bold decision-making that prioritizes the health and safety of workers on the front lines of this ongoing crisis, and we know that her decision will absolutely save lives.”
Walensky however, insisted that she did not overrule the CDC’s advisory panel’s decision on booster shots for at-risk, front-line workers. She defended the decision as a “scientific close call” saying that she would advocate for the boosters if she was in the room.
"I want to be very clear that I did not overrule … the advisory committee," she said. “I listened to the votes. I listened to the comments on the vote and this was a scientific close call ... It was my call to make. If I had been in the room, I would have voted 'yes.'"
She also said that boosters were not a solution for ending the pandemic.
"I want to be clear we will not boost our way out of this pandemic. Infections among the unvaccinated continue to fuel this pandemic rise, resulting in a rising number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths where people are in vaccinated," Walensky said.
-ABC News' Sasha Pezenik and Matthew Vann
Sep 24, 2:28 pm
CVS says it will make Pfizer booster available today
On the heels of pharmacy retail chain Walgreens' announcement that it is now ready to give third booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine to newly eligible groups, CVS announced it too will be ready "later today."
"We are reviewing the CDC guidance and will be ready to provide the booster dose at CVS Pharmacy and select MinuteClinic locations that offer the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine later today. We strongly encourage customers to schedule an appointment in advance at to ensure they are able to access the correct vaccine at a convenient time and location," the drugstore chain said in a statement Friday.
-ABC News' Sasha Pezenik
Sep 24, 1:08 pm
COVID-19 outbreaks increase in school districts without masking policies: CDC study
School districts without a universal masking policy in place at the start of the school year saw a significant increase in COVID-19 outbreaks, according to three new studies released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Additionally, school districts in those counties saw more than double the number of pediatric COVID-19 cases during this same period, the studies, released Friday, also found.
The studies further emphasize that school mask requirements, along with other prevention strategies, are critical to reducing the spread of COVID-19 in schools.
Other key findings from the studies include:
- Schools in Arizona that opened without a school mask requirement had a 3.5 higher likelihood of having a COVID-19 outbreak than schools that opened with a school mask requirement.
-During the early part of the 2021-2022 academic school year, almost 2,000 schools have been closed and more than 900,000 students in more than 40 states have been impacted.
- Pediatric cases during the start of the 2021-2022 school year were about half in U.S. counties with school mask requirements than in counties without school mask requirements.
To prevent COVID-19 outbreaks in schools, the CDC recommends a multi-layered strategy including vaccination, universal indoor masking, testing and physical distancing.
-ABC News' Eric Strauss
Sep 24, 12:18 pm
Walgreens announces its doors are open for new Pfizer booster group
Walgreens announced Friday morning that its participating stores are ready to start giving third booster doses of Pfizer's vaccine to newly eligible groups.
The CDC green-lit Pfizer booster shots on Thursday.
As of Friday morning, those newly eligible groups can walk into any Walgreens location offering the Pfizer shot, the company said.
Also, as of Friday, people can begin scheduling appointments online or over the phone.
-ABC News' Sasha Pezenik
Sep 24, 12:11 pm
Pfizer booster shot available 'literally right now' in NYC: Mayor
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said a third Pfizer booster shot is available to eligible New Yorkers, "literally right now."
"As of now, as of this exact moment, New Yorkers in a number of categories are eligible for the 3rd booster shot, Pfizer only, for the COVID vaccine," the mayor told radio station WNYC Friday.
Eligible New Yorkers include anyone who got their second shot six months ago and are 65 or older; in a long-term care facility or nursing home; are between 18 and 64 years old with an underlying medical condition; or are between 18 and 64 years old and a front-line or health care worker doing direct work with the public, the mayor said.
On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention an independent advisory panel's recommendation for seniors and other medically vulnerable Americans to get a booster shot of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine six months after their second dose.
"Literally now you can go online, vax4nyc, either make an appointment right now for the coming days or you can get a list of all the city-run sites and you can walk in today if you are in those categories," de Blasio said.
-ABC News' Aaron Katersky
Sep 24, 6:23 am
CDC endorses Pfizer boosters for older and high-risk Americans
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has endorsed an independent advisory panel's recommendation for seniors and other medically vulnerable Americans to get a booster shot of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine, six months after their second dose.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, also partially overruled her agency's advisory panel in a notable departure by adding a recommendation for a third dose for people who are considered high risk due to where they work, such as nurses and teachers -- a group which the panel rejected in its recommendation. Some panelists said that without further data, they weren't comfortable with automatically including younger people because of their jobs.
In a statement announcing her decision late Thursday, Walensky pointed to the benefit versus risk analysis she had weighed, and data rapidly evolving.
"In a pandemic, even with uncertainty, we must take actions that we anticipate will do the greatest good," Walensky said. "While today’s action was an initial step related to booster shots, it will not distract from our most important focus of primary vaccination in the United States and around the world."
With Walensky's final sign-off, booster shots will now quickly become available for millions more Americans at pharmacies, doctors' offices and other sites that offer the Pfizer vaccine as soon as Friday.
Sep 23, 8:40 pm
Leaving nurses out of booster recommendation 'unconscionable,' union charges
The nation’s largest union of registered nurses pushed back against the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel's vote on COVID-19 booster shots, calling not including front-line workers like nurses in its recommendations "unconscionable."
National Nurses United is urging CDC Director Rochelle Walensky to bypass what the advisory panel, ACIP, recommended and add nurses and other health care workers to the list of eligible booster recipients.
"Nurses and other health care workers were among the first to be vaccinated because of their high risk of exposure to the virus," Deborah Burger, the union's president, said in a statement. "Why leave them out of booster shots?"
“It is unconscionable that ACIP would not vote to keep us safer from death, severe Covid, and long Covid,” Burger continued. “We must do everything possible to ensure that the health of our nurses and other health care workers will not be put even more at risk."
ACIP voted Thursday to recommend a third Pfizer dose for people aged 65 and older, as well as those as young as 18 if they have an underlying medical condition.
In its authorization Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration did agree to make the shots available to front-line workers. But ACIP said there was not yet enough data to support providing booster shots automatically to young people because of their jobs.
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