3 times as many people died in August; Florida to issue $5,000 fines for anyone requiring proof of vaccination: Latest COVID-19 updates – USA TODAY

The delta variant-driven COVID-19 surge made August one of the worst months of the entire pandemic.

The U.S. reported almost 4.22 million new coronavirus cases in August alone, making it the fourth-worst month for infections. And 26,805 Americans died of COVID-19, more than three times the July total. The last week of August was deadlier than all of July.

At the latest pace, an American is dying of COVID every 1 minute, 5 seconds. Every minute, another 111 Americans are testing positive, nearly two per second. Compared to the last week of July, there were 105% more cases and 268% more deaths in the final week of August.

Among the states with their worst month ever for cases: Alabama, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oregon and Washington, in addition to the U.S. Virgin Islands:

  • Hawaii’s cases grew by 232% compared to its previous highest month.
  • Louisiana saw 62% more cases.
  • Mississippi had 49% more cases in August than the previous worst month.
  • Oregon was 47% worse.

Meanwhile, Florida reported its worst month of deaths in the pandemic, reaching 4,900 fatalities in August.

Also in the news:

►Virginia Tech disenrolled 134 students for not following COVID-19 vaccine requirements by failing to submit documentation of their vaccination or receive medical or religious exemption, several local media outlets reported.

►Spain has reached its initial goal of fully vaccinating 70% of its population against COVID-19, including 92% of those 40 and older.

►Several inmates at a northwest Arkansas jail said they weren’t told a medication they were given to treat COVID-19 was actually the anti-parasite drug ivermectin, which federal health officials have warned should not be used to treat the coronavirus.

►The CDC has added two U.S. territories to its list of destinations with “very high” COVID-19 risk, advising Americans against traveling to Puerto Rico and Guam.

►Kiss front man Paul Stanley tested positive for COVID-19 last week, forcing the band to postpone a string of shows over subsequent days. On Tuesday, Kiss announced that bassist Gene Simmons has also tested positive.

📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 39.2 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 641,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 218 million cases and 4.52 million deaths. More than 174.6 million Americans – 52.6% of the population – have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: Hospitalization rates have increased across the country. These charts show how and where it’s happening. Read more.

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.

Florida to issue $5,000 fines for requiring proof of vaccination

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is not only doubling but tripling down against those trying to impose measures to fight off the coronavirus in the state.

Two days after the DeSantis administration followed through on his threat to withhold funds from school districts that defied his ban on mask mandates, the Republican governor’s office confirmed that Florida will start issuing $5,000 fines to businesses, schools and governments that require proof of COVID-19 vaccination.

DeSantis signed a bill in May that banned vaccine passports, and last week the state’s Department of Health established how it would be enforced. The fines will start Sept. 16.

DeSantis is also engaged in a legal fight against Norwegian Cruise Line, which sails out of Florida ports, and its requirement that passengers show proof of vaccination.

Florida is only now starting to emerge from a huge summer surge in infections and still leads the nation in hospitalizations and deaths per capita. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has reported more than 15,000 patients are currently hospitalized in Florida, up from about 1,800 in June.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat who plans to challenge DeSantis for governor next year, tweeted her opposition to the fines, saying, “Once again, Governor DeSantis is retaliating against Floridians who are trying to protect themselves and their communities from COVID-19.”

Misspelling in fake vaccination card helps land woman in jail

An Illinois woman’s misspelling landed her in jail. Well, that and her alleged attempt to defraud Hawaiian authorities.

The 24-year-old woman submitted a fake COVID-19 vaccination card to visit Hawaii and bypass its 10-day traveler quarantine, according to court documents. They also show she uploaded a vaccination card to the state’s Safe Travels program for her Aug. 23 arrival in Honolulu.

Two issues raised the suspicions of airport screeners: The vaccine’s name was spelled “Maderna” instead of Moderna, and she supposedly got inoculated in Delaware instead of Illinois. A Delaware official confirmed there was no vaccination record for the woman under her name and birth date.

She was charged with two misdemeanor counts of violating Hawaii’s emergency rules to control the spread of COVID-19 and was in custody on $2,000 bail until a judge released her at a hearing Wednesday and scheduled another hearing in three weeks.

Oklahoma court outlaws bans on mask mandates in schools but requires opt-out

Oklahoma on Wednesday joined the growing list of states where bans on mask mandates in public schools have been overturned by courts, though with a twist in this instance: students or their parents can opt out of the masking requirement.

Judge Natalie Mai said she will issue a temporary injunction that will go into effect next week when she details her ruling. Mai said she is blocking the Oklahoma law because it applies only to public schools, adding that schools adopting a mask mandate must allow parents or students to opt out.

The ruling had the rare effect of pleasing opposing sides, drawing praise from Gov. Kevin Stitt, who signed the law, and Dr. Mary Clarke, president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, which joined the lawsuit brought by four parents who oppose the law.

Other states previously outlawed mask mandates, but the policies were overturned by courts in Florida, Texas and Arkansas. The U.S. Department of Education on Monday announced an investigation into Oklahoma and four other Republican-led states – Iowa, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah – that banned or limited mask requirements in schools.

San Diego County declares health misinformation a public health crisis

San Diego County has become what is believed to be the first county in the U.S. to declare health misinformation a public health crisis amid surging COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations nationwide.

After an hours-long, tense meeting, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved the measure Tuesday with a 3-2 vote. Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher said the county is the first to make such a declaration.

“If this passes tonight our county will be on record calling out misinformation for what it is,” he said at the meeting, during which several protesters shouted at supervisors and booed statements in support of the measure.

The measure calls for creating platforms for local medical experts to label and counter health misinformation, documenting sources of misinformation and examining gaps in accurate health information, Fletcher said.

Fletcher said misinformation in the county has led to vaccine refusal and the use of unproven treatments. He added that the measure doesn’t include penalties for those who spread misinformation and assured meeting attendees the county’s efforts would not threaten free speech.

CDC director urges unvaccinated people not to travel Labor Day weekend

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging Americans to reconsider their Labor Day travel plans, particularly if they aren’t vaccinated, amid one of the worst COVID-19 surges of the pandemic.

“First and foremost, if you are unvaccinated, we would recommend not traveling,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House COVID-19 Response Team briefing Tuesday.

The CDC says the reason for the recommendation is that “travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19.” Additionally, anyone who is sick with coronavirus symptoms is urged to stay home, even if they’ve been vaccinated.

The CDC has said fully vaccinated Americans can travel while wearing face masks.

– Eve Chen

Why antibody tests can’t confirm if you’re protected against COVID-19 after vaccination

Experts warn that taking an antibody test isn’t a good way to find out if a COVID-19 vaccine is protective enough or if a previous infection will keep people safe from contracting the disease. 

Antibody tests “were never developed and designed to detect or tell us anything about vaccine-induced protective immunity,” said Dr. Elitza Theel, director of the Infectious Diseases Serology Laboratory at the Mayo Clinic.

The level of antibodies needed to provide protection isn’t known. There are nearly 90 different antibody tests on the market, most of which measure something slightly different.

That means it’s anyone’s guess what the tests actually show about how protected someone is against COVID-19. Taking a test could give people a false sense of security, health experts said, or create unnecessary anxiety. Read more here. 

— Adrianna Rodriguez

Hospitals again preparing for oxygen shortages

Despite recent gains in the U.S. in vaccination rates and a slight decline in reported cases in some of the hardest-hit states, the latest COVID-19 surge has some hospitals back where they were early in the pandemic – strapped for crucial oxygen.

Hospitals in Tulsa, Oklahoma; Augusta, Georgia; and Lexington, Kentucky, among others, are talking about what to do if they run out of oxygen and ventilators.

In Tulsa, Dr. Jeffrey Goodloe, the chief medical officer for the EMS system that serves Tulsa and Oklahoma City, told The Associated Press that one hospital came within hours of running out of oxygen and had to call 911 for an emergency transfer of a patient on high-flow oxygen.

“If it can happen to one hospital, it can happen to any hospital,” Goodloe said.

80% of Californians at least partially vaccinated

California has hit an encouraging milestone in the effort to combat the coronavirus: 80% of eligible residents have now received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday the state’s vaccinated rate has been increasing: An average of 600,000 doses were administered in the last two weeks. “But again, 80% is not where we need to go. We still need to reach out to those that are on the fence,” Newsom said.

Newsom has required all state employees, teachers and health care workers to either get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing, likely prompting an increase in vaccinations.

The U.S. is averaging 900,000 vaccinations per day, up from 500,000 in mid-July, the White House said Tuesday. The pace of first shots is accelerating, too: The U.S. administered more than 14 million first shots in August – almost 4 million more than in July.

– Jeanine Santucci

Tennessee underreported COVID-19 hospitalizations

The coronavirus sent about 5,100 more Tennesseans to a hospital than previously reported over the past 14 months – an increase of more than 20% over prior totals – according to newly backfilled data from the state department of health.

Hospitalizations were underreported by anywhere from one patient to dozens on nearly every day since the start of summer 2020, according to the new data. The largest share of the unreported hospitalizations occurred during the winter surge.

Tennessee’s revised hospitalization total, including the backfilled data, is 29,694.

Sarah Tanksley, a spokesperson for the health department, said the unreported hospitalizations were revealed because the agency incorporated a new data source from the Tennessee Hospital Association into its COVID-19 tracking efforts.

– Brett Kelman, The Nashville Tennesseean

Contributing: The Associated Press