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Virus Surge Hits New England Despite High Vaccination Rates

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Despite having the highest vaccination rates in the country, there are constant reminders for most New England states of just how vicious the delta variant of COVID-19 is.

 

 

Hospitals across the region are seeing full intensive care units and staff shortages are starting to affect care. Public officials are pleading with the unvaccinated to get the shots. Health care workers are coping with pent-up demand for other kinds of care that had been delayed by the pandemic.

 

 

“I think it’s clearly frustrating for all of us,” said Michael Pieciak, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation who monitors COVID-19 statistics for the state. “We want kids to be safe in school, we want parents not to have to worry about their child’s education and health.”

 

 

 

Even though parts of New England are seeing record case counts, hospitalizations and deaths that rival pre-vaccine peaks, largely among the unvaccinated, the region hasn’t seen the impact the delta variant wave has wrought on other parts of the country.

 

 

 

According to statistics from The Associated Press, the five states with the highest percentage of a fully vaccinated population are all in New England, with Vermont leading, followed by Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. New Hampshire is 10th.

 

 

 

According to the AP data, full vaccination rates across the six New England states range from a high of 69.4% in Vermont to 61.5% in New Hampshire.

 

 

 

Despite the relatively high vaccination rates — the U.S. as a whole is averaging 55.5% — there are still hundreds of thousands of people across the region who, for one reason or another, remain unvaccinated and vulnerable to infection.

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Now, a Rhode Island official said he didn’t think the 70% vaccination goal, once touted as the level that would help end the pandemic in the state, is enough.

 

 

 

“What we’ve learned with delta and looking beyond delta, is because that’s where our focus is as well, to really reach those levels of vaccination, to give you that true population level protection, you need to be in excess of 90%,” said Tom McCarthy, the executive director of the Rhode Island Department of Health COVID Response Unit.

 

 

“We have it in our power to end this needless suffering and heartbreak; a way to protect our health and that of the people we love; a way to give our heroic doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals a much-needed break; a way to protect our children – please get vaccinated today,” Maine’s Democratic Gov. Janet Mills said recently.

 

 

 

Yet the head of UMass Memorial Health, the largest health system in central Massachusetts, said recently that regional hospitals were seeing nearly 20 times more COVID-19 patients than in June and there isn’t an ICU bed to spare.

 

 

 

In Connecticut, the Legislature just extended the governor’s emergency powers to make it easier to cope with the latest wave of the pandemic.

 

 

 

Case counts in Vermont, which has continually boasted about high vaccination and low hospitalization and death rates, are the highest during the pandemic. Hospitalizations are approaching the pandemic peak from last winter and September was Vermont’s second-deadliest month during the pandemic.

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On Sept. 22, Maine had nearly 90 people in intensive care units, a pandemic peak for the state. Maine also recently passed 1,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

 

 

 

Dr. Gretchen Volpe, an infectious disease specialist at the 48-bed York Hospital in Maine, said the delta surge has made it harder to find care for patients who need more assistance.

 

 

“The physicians who are transferring people have commented to me that they keep having to go farther and call more places to achieve that goal, Volpe said.

 

 

On Friday, the United States crossed the threshold of 700,000 deaths from COVID-19. The deaths during the delta surge have been unrelenting in hotspots in the South. New England has been at the other end of the spectrum, but the region is still coping with the same surge that has ravaged other parts of the country.

 

 

 

Vermont’s Republican governor, Phil Scott drew near-universal praise for his early handling of the pandemic, when his calm demeanor and reliance on the science kept his state among the safest.

 

 

 

But recently, he’s faced criticism by some, including Democratic leaders of the state Legislature and more than 90 employees of the Vermont Health Department who in August signed a letter urging him to do more to combat the delta wave.

 

 

 

Scott lifted Vermont’s state of emergency in June, when the state became the first to see 80% of its eligible population get at least the first shot.

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He is now recommending that schools require masks and he’s urging people to wear masks in crowded indoor locations. But he won’t reinstitute required mitigation measures that were in place during the state of emergency.

 

 

“We can’t be in a perpetual state of emergency,” Scott said this week.

 

 

 

Dr. Tim Lahey, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington, said he felt it was important to look at the situation more optimistically.

 

 

Unlike some others in the region his Vermont hospital is busy, not overwhelmed. People still need to be cautious, but they are not locked down and outside life has a semblance of normality.

 

 

“We all hate the word ‘delta’ now, but has vaccination made it so we can withstand the brunt of delta with losing fewer of our neighbors while still having the quality of life that we enjoy in Vermont?” he said. “Yeah.”

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Record 1.7 Million Migrants Arrested At U.S.-Mexico Border

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U.S. authorities arrested 1.7 million migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border this fiscal year, the most ever recorded, according to a U.S. government source, underscoring the stark political and humanitarian challenges the Biden administration faces on immigration.

 

 

The Washington Post reported that current numbers for the 2021 fiscal year, which began last October, topped a previous high in 2000.

 

 

 

Adding to concerns was an influx of thousands of mostly Haitian migrants last month who crossed the Rio Grande River from Mexico and set up a makeshift camp under an international bridge in Del Rio, Texas.

 

 

 

President Joe Biden, who took office in January, reversed many of the hard-line immigration policies of his Republican predecessor, President Donald Trump, promising a more “humane” approach to immigration policy.

 

 

 

Democrats and immigration advocates have slammed Biden for his swift expulsions of many of those migrants back to Haiti, a country that has been devastated by violence, political crises and natural disasters.

 

 

The administration also launched an investigation into the tactics of border patrol agents on horseback photographed and filmed in Del Rio trying to push back Haitian migrants along the river bank.

 

 

 

Many of the Haitians were returned under one sweeping Trump policy that Biden has kept in place. Known as Title 42, it was implemented in March 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to curb infections and allows most migrants to be quickly expelled without a chance to seek asylum.

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Many of the arrests this fiscal year were repeat crossings, with some people expelled to Mexico turning around and trying again.

 

 

 

A federal court has also ordered the Biden administration to reinstate another Trump-era policy known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, which forced thousands of asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for U.S. immigration court hearings. The administration said it is taking steps to restart the program in November, pending agreement from Mexico.

 

REUTERS

 

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White House Details Plans to Vaccinate 28M Children Age 5-11

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Children ages 5 to 11 will soon be able to get a COVID-19 shot at their pediatrician’s office, local pharmacy and potentially even their school, the White House said Wednesday as it detailed plans Vaccinate for the expected authorization of the  Pfizer shot for elementary school youngsters in a matter of weeks.

 

 

 

Federal regulators will meet over the next two weeks to weigh the safety and effectiveness of giving low-dose shots to the roughly 28 million children in that age group.

 

 

 

Within hours of formal approval, which is expected after the Food and Drug Administration signs off and a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel meets on Nov. 2-3, millions of doses will begin going out to providers across the country, along with the smaller needles needed for injecting young children.

 

 

Within days of that, the vaccine will be ready to go into arms on a wide scale.

 

 

“We’re completing the operational planning to ensure vaccinations for kids ages 5 to 11 are available, easy and convenient,” White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said. “We’re going to be ready, pending the FDA and CDC decision.”

 

 

The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses three weeks apart and a two-week wait for full protection to kick in, meaning the first youngsters in line will be fully covered by Christmas.

 

 

 

Some parents can hardly wait.

 

Dr. Sterling Ransone said his rural Deltaville, Virginia, office is already getting calls from people asking for appointments for their children and saying, “I want my shot now.”

 

 

“Judging by the number of calls, I think we’re going to be slammed for the first several weeks,” said Ransone, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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Justin Shady, a film and TV writer in Chicago, said his 6-year-old daughter, Grey, got nervous when he told her she would be getting the shots soon. But he is bribing her with a trip to Disney World, and “she’s all in.”

 

 

 

The family likes to travel, “we really just want to get back in the swing of seeing the world,” Shady said.

 

 

 

As for youngsters under 5, Pfizer and Moderna are studying their vaccines in children down to 6 months old, with results expected later in the year.

 

 

 

The Biden administration noted that the expansion of shots to children under 12 will not look like the start of the country’s vaccine rollout 10 months ago, when limited doses and inadequate capacity meant a painstaking wait for many Americans.

 

 

 

The country now has ample supplies of the Pfizer shot to vaccinate the children who will soon be eligible, officials said, and they have been working for months to ensure widespread availability of shots. About 15 million doses will be shipped to providers across the U.S. in the first week after approval, the White House said.

 

 

 

More than 25,000 pediatricians and primary care providers have already signed on to dispense the vaccine to elementary school children, the White House said, in addition to the tens of thousands of drugstores that are already administering shots to adults.

 

 

 

Hundreds of school- and community-based clinics will also be funded and supported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help speed the process.

 

 

 

In addition to doctors’ offices, schools are likely be popular spots for the shots.

 

 

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In Maryland, state officials have offered to help schools set up vaccination clinics. Denver’s public schools plan to hold mass vaccination events for young children, along with smaller clinics offering shots during the school day and in the evenings. Chicago’s public health department is working closely with schools, which have already been hosting vaccination events for students age 12 and older and their families.

 

 

 

The White House is also preparing a stepped-up campaign to educate parents and children about the safety of the shots and the ease of getting them. As has been the case for adult vaccinations, the administration believes trusted messengers — educators, doctors and community leaders — will be vital to encouraging vaccinations.

 

 

 

Dr. Lisa Reed, medical director for family medicine at MAHEC, a western North Carolina safety net provider that serves patients from rural Appalachia and more urban communities such as the tourist town of Asheville, said it is going to take effort to get some families on board.

 

 

Reed said she lives “in a community that has a lot of vaccine hesitancy, unfortunately.”

 

 

“Some have lower health literacy or belong to ethnic groups that are more hesitant in general” because of a history of mistrust, she said. And Asheville, she said, has a sizeable population of well-educated adults who are longtime vaccine skeptics.

 

 

 

While children run a lower risk than older people of getting seriously ill from COVID-19, at least 637 people age 18 or under have died from the virus in the U.S., according to the CDC. Six million U.S. children been infected, 1 million of them since early September amid the spread of the more contagious delta variant, the American Academy of Pediatrics says.

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Health officials believe that expanding the vaccine drive will not only curb the alarming number of infections in children but also reduce the spread of the virus to vulnerable adults. It could also help schools stay open and youngsters get back on track academically, and contribute to the nation’s broader recovery from the pandemic.

 

 

 

“COVID has also disrupted our kids’ lives. It’s made school harder, it’s disrupted their ability to see friends and family, it’s made youth sports more challenging,” U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told NBC. “Getting our kids vaccinated, we have the prospect of protecting them, but also getting all of those activities back that are so important to our children.”

 

 

 

Murthy said the administration, which is imposing vaccine mandates for millions of adults, is leaving it up to state and local officials to decide whether to require schoolchildren to get vaccinated. But he said such measures would be “a reasonable thing to consider.”

 

 

 

“It’s also consistent with what we’ve done for other childhood vaccines, like measles, mumps, polio,” he said.

 

 

 

The U.S. has purchased 65 million doses of the Pfizer pediatric shot, which is expected to be one-third the dose given to adults and adolescents, according to officials. They will be shipped in smaller packages of about 100 doses each, so that more providers can deliver them, and they won’t require the super-cold storage that the adult version did at first.

 

 

About 219 million Americans age 12 and up, or 66% of the total population, have received a COVID-19 shot, and nearly 190 million are fully vaccinated.

 

Tanner reported from Three Oaks, Michigan.

__AP

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INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Democrats May Pass Their Agenda After All

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All of a sudden, it appears that the Democrats’ two-bill strategy to pass as much of their agenda as possible is … working as planned? Lots of caveats apply, nothing is agreed to until everything is, and the whole thing could still come apart.

 

 

But Senate Democrats are talking about reaching a deal this week, with Bernie Sanders meeting with Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema and no apparent deal-breakers identified at this point. That’s only the Senate, of course, but all along it’s been hard to believe that House Democrats would reject anything that Sanders and Manchin both supported.

 

Let’s take a step back. What was always hard about this approach was that the party’s agenda was ambitious and the gap between the most and least liberal Democrats was large. That meant that all wings of the party, and especially the most liberal group, were going to have to give up a lot of things they strongly cared about.

 

 

The size of the bill also meant that there were going to be a lot of potential landmines, some of them buried deep in the text. Those could still blow things up; all that Senate Democrats are hoping to get done this week is an overall agreement (a “framework”), with the details to be filled in later — leaving room for someone to object once a final deal is reached. And as always, there’s almost no room for error given the party’s narrow majorities.

 

But two big factors suggest eventual passage is likely.

For one, in contrast with the bipartisan infrastructure deal that passed the Senate in August, everyone negotiating this bill is a Democrat. And given the way elections work these days, with presidential popularity more important to a lawmaker’s re-election than his or her own popularity, all those Democrats have a stake in making President Joe Biden look good.

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The other thing? The two bills address issues — such as health care, climate, child care and so on — that Democrats have compromised on numerous times in the past. Seriously: Does anyone think that New York and New Jersey Democrats will ultimately vote against the entire Democratic agenda if relief for state and local taxes isn’t included? Sure, that’s what they’re saying now. And sure, they’ll fight for their districts’ interests. But surely when push comes to shove they’ll accept commitments for the future or some other verbiage from leadership. After all, their districts will benefit from items in both bills, even if they don’t get exactly what they want.

 

 

It’s even possible that the public focus on the total cost of the bill, which everyone seems to agree was a communications nightmare, is playing a helpful role. If there’s one thing that legislators can do, it’s find a compromise between two numbers; that’s a lot easier than haggling over the programs generating the numbers. Meanwhile, since almost no one knows what’s supposed to have been in the bills, Democrats can start talking up whatever they pass, rather than making excuses for what they didn’t.

 

Again: There’s no agreement yet; all they’re working on is a framework, not the full legislative language with all the details; and things could easily still collapse. But I’ve been saying for a while that the eventual outcome to these negotiations is a complete unknown, and I don’t think that’s the case any more.

 

 

Now the most likely outcome is that both bills pass and are signed into law. If that happens, the total size is going to be a lot lower than originally proposed, and a lot of Democratic priorities won’t be included, but it would still cap off an impressive legislative start to Biden’s presidency.

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Jonathan Bernstein

 

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