Arkansas leads nation in COVID-19 case rate as vaccinations lag; study touts benefits of second shot: Live updates – USA TODAY

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Cases of COVID-19 have doubled in the U.S. in the past two weeks, and Arkansas is becoming a case study in how low vaccination rates can fuel the spread of the virus.

Arkansas continues to be the nation’s top state for new cases per capita, and only 35% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus appears to be largely sparing vaccinated people from the most severe illness.

“Of all of our critically ill COVID positive patients at Baptist Health facilities, none have been fully vaccinated,” said Stephanie Whitaker, chief nursing executive for Baptist Health, a major healthcare provider in the state.

The state’s Department of Health said there are 240 COVID-19 patients in the state’s ICUs and 118 on ventilators. Only 4% of the state’s intensive care unit beds are available.

Arkansas has a history of a lax pandemic response and was one of only seven states that did not issue a stay-at-home order for nonessential activities in March and April 2020 in response to the pandemic. 

Meanwhile, cases rose in all 50 states for the week ending Friday, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data.

Also in the news:

Andy Slavitt, a former adviser to the Biden administration on COVID-19, said said on Twitter that misinformation has wrongly convinced “just enough US communities that a vaccine was worse than COVID.” He said U.S. access to vaccines is the “envy of the world.”

Vaccinated ESPN host and analyst Jay Williams won’t be broadcasting the remainder of the NBA Finals after testing positive for COVID-19.

President Joe Biden and the White House pointed the finger at social media companies for the recent surge of COVID-19 among the unvaccinated, accusing them of allowing misinformation about vaccines to spread online.

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Florida jumped 73% from mid-June, ending months of steady decline that began when widespread vaccinations became available.

Republicans in the Idaho Senate are declining to reconvene the state legislature amid calls for legislation to prevent employers from requiring workers to get COVID-19 vaccinations, lawmakers said Friday.

The British government still plans to lift all remaining legal restrictions on social contact, as well as other public health measures on Monday, despite the U.K. recording more than 50,000 new COVID-19 cases for the first time in six months and a dire warning from the British government’s top medical adviser.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has had more than 34 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 608,800 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: more than 189 million cases and more than 4 million deaths. More than 160 million Americans —  48% of the population — have been fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

📘 What we’re reading: Border Patrol agents are facing a COVID-19 crisis as President Joe Biden considers relaxing border rules. “We didn’t take a break,” U.S. Border Patrol Rio Grande Valley Sector Chief Brian Hastings told USA TODAY. More here.

Mask up indoors in Los Angeles and Las Vegas – even if you’re vaccinated, officials say

Health officials from popular tourist destinations like Los Angeles and Las Vegas are asking more people to mask up indoors.

The Southern Nevada Health District is now recommending people wear masks in crowded indoor public places – including Las Vegas casinos – regardless of vaccination status, according to a Friday statement.  

The announcement comes one day after Los Angeles County announced that it would reinstate an indoor masking policy due to a recent surge in new COVID-19 cases. More counties in California followed with mask recommendations Friday. Read more.

– Bailey Schulz

Tokyo 2020 organizers report first positive COVID-19 case at Olympic Village

The Tokyo 2020 organizing committee reported the first positive case of COVID-19 in the Olympic Village on Saturday. The unidentified person, who is listed by organizers only as “Games-concerned personnel,” tested positive for the disease Friday and is now quarantining at a hotel.

Toshiro Muto, the CEO of the organizing committee, said in a news conference that he did not have any information about whether the person had been vaccinated. And Seiko Hashimoto, the committee’s president, said organizers are doing everything in their power to ensure that the Olympic Village – like all venues and facilities – is as safe as possible.

The unnamed Olympic Village resident is one of 44 people affiliated with the Games who have tested positive for COVID-19 since July 1, according to organizers. Fourteen of those cases were reported Saturday. Twenty-eight of the 44 positives have involved Tokyo 2020 contractors. Read more.

– Tom Schad

New study touts benefits of second shot 

In two-dose COVID vaccines, the benefits of a second shot “far exceed those of the first shot,” according to Stanford researcher Bali Pulendran.

Pulendran co-authored a study on how the mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna worked. The study was published in an early form by “Nature” on July 12.

The second shot’s benefits went beyond the “easy” measure of a successful immune response: The introduction of neutralizing antibodies, Pulendran said in a release. The shot “stimulated a manifold increase in antibody levels, a terrific T-cell response that was absent after the first shot alone, and a strikingly enhanced innate immune response,” Pulendran said.

Yankees, Rockies deal with COVID-19 surges after All-Star break

For the first time in months, COVID-19 is creating chaos around Major League Baseball. The Yankees and Rockies are dealing with coronavirus outbreaks sidelining a total of 10 players and two coaches, including New York slugger Aaron Judge and Colorado manager Bud Black, as baseball attempts to resume play following its All-Star break.

Judge, third baseman Gio Urshela and catcher Kyle Higashioka were added to the COVID-19 injured list Friday, joining pitchers Jonathan Loaisiga, Nestor Cortes Jr. and Wandy Peralta. Loaisiga went on the injured list last weekend when New York was in Houston, and Cortes and Peralta were added Thursday.

Black, first base coach Ron Gideon and four players were not available for Colorado’s home game Friday night against the Los Angeles Dodgers, but the clubs still planned to play. Right-handers Antonio Senzatela, Yency Almonte and Jhoulys Chacín and outfielder Yonathan Daza were added to the COVID-19 injured list.

The virus surges come as teams try to resume play following a break for Tuesday’s All-Star Game in Denver. It’s a step backward for a league that hadn’t postponed a game over virus concerns in nearly three months.

COVID-19 has become ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated’

All 50 states reported more COVID-19 cases in the most recent 7-day period than in the week before, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data showed.

The data marks a concerning trend for public health officials as the country enters its fourth wave of cases, with a nearly 70% spike overall in the average number of daily cases this past week compared to the week prior, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While the number of cases is increasing, the most concerning outbreaks continue to occur in areas with low vaccination rates, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, said at a news conference Friday.

“This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Walensky added. The average number of hospitalizations and deaths has also increased in the past seven days, rising roughly 36% and 26%, respectively, per the CDC.

Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator, said four states accounted for more than 40% of all new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. last week, with 1 in 5 cases occurring Florida. Zients didn’t name the other three, but CDC data shows  Arkansas, Missouri, Florida and Louisiana with the highest case rates per 100,000 people – each averaging over 150 in the past seven days. 

Cases will continue to increase in the coming weeks and will be centered in unvaccinated communities, Zients said. “If you’re unvaccinated, please get vaccinated now,” he added.

Contributing: Abbi Ross, Fort Smith Times Record; The Associated Press