Hospitals teeming again
Information for this article was contributed by Heather Hollingsworth and Jim Salter of The Associated Press; and by Amanda Coletta and Tony Romm of The Washington Post.
MISSION, Kan. — During an onslaught of vaccine misinformation, covid-19 cases have nearly tripled in the U.S. over two weeks, straining hospitals, exhausting doctors and nurses, and pushing clergy into the fray. “Our staff, they are frustrated,” said Chad Neilsen, director of infection prevention at UF Health Jacksonville, a Florida hospital that is canceling elective surgeries and procedures after the number of mostly unvaccinated covid-19 inpatients at its two campuses jumped to 134, after a low of 16 in mid-May. “They are tired. They are thinking this is deja vu all over again, and there is some anger because we know that this is a largely preventable situation, and people are not taking advantage of the vaccine.” Across the U.S., the seven-day rolling average for daily new cases rose over the past two weeks to more than 37,000 Tuesday, up from less than 13,700 July 6, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Just 56.2% of Americans have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Louisiana, health officials reported 5,388 new covid-19 cases Wednesday — the third-highest daily count since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020. Hospitalizations for the disease rose to 844 statewide, up more than 600 since midJune. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell urged people to resume wearing masks indoors, hoping to avoid the kind of virus-related shutdowns that devastated the city’s tourism economy in 2020, but stopped short of requiring masks. She said the advisory “puts the responsibility on individuals themselves.” Utah reported having 295 people hospitalized because of the virus, the highest number since February. The state has averaged about 622 confirmed cases per day over the past week, about triple the infection rate at its lowest point in early June. Health data shows the surge is nearly all connected to unvaccinated people. “It is like seeing the car wreck before it happens,” said Dr. James Williams, a clinical associate professor of emergency medicine at Texas Tech, who has recently started treating more covid-19 patients. “None of us want to go through this again.” As lead pastor of one of Missouri’s largest churches, Jeremy Johnson has heard the reasons congregants don’t want the covid-19 vaccine. He wants them to know it’s not only OK to get vaccinated, it’s what the Bible urges. “I think there is a big influence of fear,” said Johnson, whose Springfield church also has a campus in Nixa and another about to open in Republic. “A fear of trusting something apart from scripture, a fear of trusting something apart from a political party they’re more comfortable following. A fear of trusting in science. We hear that: ‘I trust in God, not science.’ But the truth is science and God are not something you have to choose between.” Now many churches in southwestern Missouri, like Johnson’s Assembly of God-affiliated North Point Church, are hosting vaccination clinics. Meanwhile, about 200 church leaders have signed onto a statement urging Christians to get vaccinated, and Wednesday announced a follow-up public service campaign. Opposition to vaccination is especially strong among white evangelical Protestants, who make up more than onethird of Missouri’s residents, according to a 2019 report by the Pew Research Center. “We found that the faith community is very influential, very trusted, and to me that is one of the answers as to how you get your vaccination rates up,” said Ken McClure, mayor of Springfield. The two hospitals in his city are teeming with patients, reaching record and near-record pandemic highs. Steve Edwards, who is the CEO of CoxHealth in Springfield, tweeted that the hospital has acquired 175 traveling nurses and has 46 more scheduled to arrive by Monday. “Grateful for the help,” wrote Edwards, who previously tweeted that anyone spreading misinformation about the vaccine should “shut up.” Jacob Burmood, a 40-yearold Kansas City, Mo., artist, said his mother has been promoting vaccine conspiracy theories even though her husband — Burmood’s stepfather — is hospitalized on a ventilator in Springfield. “It is really, really sad, and it is really frustrating,” he said. Burmood recalled how his mother had recently fallen ill and “was trying to tell me that vaccinated people got her sick, and it wasn’t even covid. I just shut her down. I said, ‘Mom, I can’t talk to you about conspiracy theories right now.’ … You need to go to a hospital. You are going to die.” His mother, who is in her 70s, has since recovered. STIMULUS PROGRAMS Some of the federal stimulus programs that kept families and businesses afloat financially throughout the worst of the coronavirus pandemic are soon expiring or already depleted, raising fresh economic fears at a time when another wave of infections is sweeping the country. The growing caseloads from the delta variant ravaging undervaccinated states threaten once again to crimp travel and tourism, reduce traffic to stores and restaurants, and displace workers from their jobs. The U.S. economy has added millions of jobs so far this year, but the delta variant’s rise has given pause to a number of experts, who worry about what might happen if a resurgent pandemic grips the nation at a time when some federal aid programs are inactive. Since the pandemic began, Congress has authorized about $6 trillion in assistance to help stave off an economic downturn that in some ways rivaled even the Great Depression. No state has announced the sort of major restrictions on travel or commerce that Americans nationwide experienced last spring. The federal government has also set aside other assistance in recent months, including a $350 billion pot for cities and states that they theoretically can use to offset any additional financial blow from a worsening pandemic. Some however, like Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., expressed alarm at the fact that “hospitals are running out of beds and ventilators, while more and more people who are unvaccinated are dying.” Bush said the stimulus aid that Democrats supported this spring had made a significant difference, but she added in a statement Monday that there is more work to be done. “As elected officials, we must do everything within our power to protect the health, safety, and well-being of every community until this pandemic is over,” Bush said. Hoping to cushion the blow in the early days of the pandemic, Congress approved the first part of what ultimately would become the nearly $800 billion Paycheck Protection Program, which offered forgivable loans to businesses that retained their workers. The Biden administration said in June that the effort helped keep 8.5 million businesses afloat. Even though the program was extended and augmented several times since its March 2020 inception, the program closed to new applications in May. About $29 billion set aside for restaurants as part of the American Rescue Plan was distributed in a matter of weeks this spring, forcing the Small Business Administration to announce an end to applications. Restaurants still face a shortfall of about $43 billion, according to Erika Polmar, executive director of the Independent Restaurant Coalition, which represents tens of thousands of owners and operators. “Many people have moved beyond this,” added Polmar, whose group Monday called on Congress to set aside more money. “We’re barely out of the woods as it is.” BENEFITS EXPIRATION Meanwhile, unemployed workers stand to see the loss of their enhanced federal benefits in about six weeks, troubling labor experts who had tried to warn Congress against setting a rigid cutoff date in the first place. In some of the hardest-hit states, including Florida, GOP governors have canceled these benefits early — leaving some advocates fearful that the decisions could backfire if the pandemic worsens. Along with unemployment aid, Congress approved about $46 billion since the start of the pandemic to help renters who are falling behind on their monthly payments. While the aid remains plentiful, it has been slow to arrive — a problem at a time when federal eviction protections are set to lapse at the end of this month. Still another key deadline arrives at the end of September, when a federal pause on student loan payments is set to lift. The fast-approaching date prompted roughly 60 House and Senate Democrats to urge the Biden administration last month to extend its deferral program into 2022, citing the potential financial hardships that resumed pay ments — and the loss of other federal aid — might create. Some of the potential economic disruptions could be addressed through other stimulus programs, including the fund that Congress set aside as part of President Joe Biden’s rescue package for state and local governments. Federal lawmakers gave these states, cities and counties great latitude for how to spend their allocations, according to the White House official. Any aid beyond that, however, could be a tough sell on Capitol Hill, where Republicans voted overwhelmingly against the American Rescue Plan, saying its additional spending was unnecessary. Some Republicans still hope to claw back the dollars for other uses, including infrastructure projects. CANADIAN BORDER The U.S. on Wednesday renewed its pandemic curbs on nonessential travel at the U.S.-Canada land border for at least a month, marking a split with its northern neighbor and close ally on the restrictions, and fueling rancor on both sides of the frontier. The Department of Homeland Security said in a tweet that the extension of the measures, which also apply at the U.S.-Mexico land border — set to expire Aug. 21 — was motivated in part by a desire to decrease the spread of the highly transmissible delta coronavirus variant. “[The department] is in constant contact with Canadian and Mexican counterparts to identify the conditions under which restrictions may be eased safely and sustainably,” the agency said. The announcement comes several days after Canada said it would begin to open up its borders to some foreigners for discretionary travel, beginning with fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents living in the U.S. on Aug. 9; and fully vaccinated people from elsewhere Sept. 7. Canada and the U.S. agreed to impose the curbs on nonessential travel at their land border at the pandemic’s onset in March 2020, renewing them in one-month increments since. The measures have had limited effects on trade and the movement of some cross-border workers, but they have kept families apart, battered the tourism industry and altered life in close-knit border communities in ways big and small. Canadians have been able to fly to the U.S. for nonessential purposes, while Canada has kept its air, land and marine borders shut to tourists. In recent months, lawmakers, business groups, cross-border mayors and some travelers have asked Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to ease the restrictions. Some had called on Biden to act unilaterally and lift the measures. Now, it’s Canada that is going one way, acting unilaterally to roll back some of the curbs, while the U.S. is keeping them in place. Seventy percent of people in Canada have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine and 52% are fully vaccinated, compared with 56% and 48% in the U.S., respectively, according to Oxford University’s Our World in Data.