Nearly 75% plan to keep holiday gatherings to household, poll shows; New York City allows boosters for all adults: COVID-19 updates – USA TODAY

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Going into a second holiday season amid the coronavirus pandemic, Americans have a better sense for how to celebrate safely with their loved ones — and better tools to do it.

However, caution remains high when it comes to holiday gatherings, according to a new survey commissioned by Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.  

Almost three-fourths (72%) of the poll respondents said they plan to limit their celebration to members of their household, and 51% said they will request that guests wear masks. The latter is down from 67% last year, but it still reflects a high level of concern about a virus that has infected more than 47 million and killed 760,000-plus in this country. 

Dr. Iahn Gonsenhauser, chief quality and patient safety officer at the Wexner Medical Center, said the emergence of widely available and effective COVID-19 vaccines actually allows those wishing to get together to lower their guard a bit — provided everyone in attendance has been inoculated and doesn’t have major health risks.

“You can have a safe gathering without a lot of additional precautions,” Gonsenhauser said. “With all guests vaccinated, you don’t need to use masks or force the celebration outdoors. You can have a normal holiday as you would any other year.

“Unvaccinated individuals really pose the greatest threat, and that’s when it becomes necessary to put some rules and precautions in place, even though those conversations can be a little bit awkward.”

The subject of COVID vaccines has become politicized in the U.S. and can be the source of rifts between friends and families, but 50% of the poll respondents said they would inquire about their guests’ vaccination status. In addition, 46% would ask unvaccinated guests to test negative before attending.

The survey of 2,042 participants was conducted by Harris Poll from Oct. 29-Nov. 1.

Also in the the news:

►Amid an increase in coronavirus cases in Colorado, people will be asked to show proof of vaccination to attend indoor, unseated public events with more than 500 people in the Denver area starting Friday.

►Dozens of sanitation workers in New York City were suspended without pay amid an investigation into fraudulent use of COVID vaccinations cards at the department, the New York Times reported

Reported COVID-19 cases were rising in 30 states in the week ending Sunday compared with the week before, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows.

►British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned Monday of a “blizzard” of new coronavirus infections coming into the U.K. from continental Europe, as his government extended the vaccine booster program to younger people in an effort to bolster waning immunity levels during the winter months.

►Former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration allegedly hindered the state’s COVID-19 pandemic response by blocking its Department of Health from collaborating with local health officials, a former top state health official testified.

📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 47 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 764,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 253.7 million cases and 5.1 million deaths. More than 195 million Americans – 58.8% of the population – are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: In classrooms across the country, the first months of school this fall have laid bare what many in education feared: students are way behind in skills they should have mastered already.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s Coronavirus Watch free newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

New York City joins three states in allowing boosters for all adults

New York City on Monday expanded availability for vaccine booster shots to everyone 18 and older, joining California, New Mexico and Colorado among jurisdictions taking similar measures.

All require waiting at least six months after the second Pfizer or Moderna shot and two months after the Johnson & Johnson shot, but they’re still less restrictive than the CDC and FDA guidelines. Those call for the boosters to be made available to everyone age 65 and above, the immunocompromised and people at higher risk of virus exposure.

The differing restrictions have led to some confusion as well as difficulty scheduling the booster shots at providing locales that may still be following federal guidelines in states that have loosened them. 

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, whose executive order last week freed all adult residents of the state to pursue a booster, said Sunday on CBS that he’s “very frustrated” with the messaging from the CDC and FDA. The agencies are considering Pfizer’s request to expand booster authorization to all U.S. adults.

Meatpacker Smithfield settles with feds over outbreak at South Dakota plant

Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, whose pork-processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, was the site of one of the nation’s worst coronavirus outbreaks last year, has settled a contested citation with federal regulators. Under the deal, Smithfield Foods will develop a plan to prevent infectious diseases at meatpacking plants nationwide and pay a $13,500 fine.

Four workers from the Sioux Falls plant died of COVID-19 and almost 1,300 tested positive by midway through June 2020, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said.

The agency claimed Smithfield didn’t do enough to space workers out or provide other safety measures such as face coverings or physical barriers, but the company defended its actions at a time when safety precautions against COVID-19 were not clear.

White House blames inflation on pandemic

Facing mixed economic signals and growing public criticism, top White House economic officials tied rising inflation to the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizing that the economy will stabilize if normalcy returns.

“There’s no doubt inflation is high right now. It’s affecting Americans’ pocketbooks. It’s affecting their outlook,” Brian Deese, national economic adviser, said Sunday in an interview on NBC News.

“We have to finish the job on COVID. We have to return to a sense of economic normalcy by getting more workplaces COVID-free, getting more kids vaccinated, so more parents feel comfortable going to work.”

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a CBS News interview: “I think it’s important to realize that the cause of this inflation is the pandemic. It shut down our economy. It boosted unemployment to almost 15%, and we’ve been opening up in fits and starts.”

Yellen said that if the pandemic is contained, she expects prices to return to normal “sometime in the second half of next year.”

— Matthew Brown, USA TODAY 

Despite lack of data, officials try to reach children in communities of color

Vaccine hesitancy among communities of color — some of which have historic reasons for distrusting the government — has been a significant obstacle in combating a pandemic that has highlighted the country’s racial and ethnic inequalities.

Lack of information only increases the challenge.

As the campaign to vaccinate elementary-age children against COVID-19 rolls out, health systems are releasing little data on the racial breakdown of youth vaccinations, and community leaders fear that Black and Latino kids are falling behind.

In the few places that do report child COVID-19 vaccines by race, the breakdowns vary. In Michigan, Connecticut and Washington, D.C., white children got vaccinated at much higher rates than their Black counterparts. But in New York City, white children 13 to 17 are vaccinated at lower rates than Black, Latino and Asian kids.

Aware of the disparities and hesitancy, public health officials have been reaching to communities of color and emphasizing the importance of the vaccine, going into schools, messaging in multiple languages and deploying mobile vaccine units to bring the shots to those who may not have easy access to them.

Austria locks down its unvaccinated population 

Austria took what its leader called the “dramatic” step Monday of implementing a nationwide lockdown for unvaccinated people who haven’t recently had COVID-19, perhaps the most drastic of a string of measures being taken by European governments to get a massive regional resurgence of the coronavirus under control.

“We really didn’t take this step lightly and I don’t think it should be talked down,” Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg told Oe1 radio. “This a dramatic step — about 2 million people in this country are affected.”

The move, which took effect at midnight, prohibits people 12 years old and older who haven’t been vaccinated or recently recovered from leaving their homes except for basic activities such as working, grocery shopping, going for a walk – or getting vaccinated.

About 65% of the population is fully vaccinated, and on Sunday the country recorded 849.2 new cases per 100,000 residents over the previous seven days

The lockdown is initially being imposed until Nov. 24 in the Alpine country of 8.9 million. It doesn’t apply to children under 12 because they cannot yet officially get vaccinated – though the capital, Vienna, on Monday opened up vaccinations for under-12s as part of a pilot, and reported high demand.

Officials have said that police patrols will be stepped up and unvaccinated people can be fined up to 1,450 euros ($1,660) if they violate the lockdown.

– Associated Press

Contributing: The Associated Press