September is already the 3rd deadliest month this year; New York health commissioner resigns: Latest COVID-19 updates – USA TODAY

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With more than a week of reporting to go, September is already this year’s third-deadliest month for COVID-19 and the sixth-deadliest month for the entire pandemic, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows.

With 40,095 cases reported through Wednesday, September has had thousands more deaths than all of July and August — combined.

Many of September’s reported deaths are because of high case levels in late August and early September. Case counts have been falling lately, though, and September may end up with about as many cases as August reported.

  • West Virginia has already reported more cases in just part of September than it did in August, July, June and May combined.
  • Alaska appears to be on track to break its record for cases in a month.
  • Hawaii’s September death tally already makes it the worst month of the pandemic.
  • Florida’s death tallies aren’t as clear because the state is reporting some numbers only weekly, but so far in September its reported deaths are 53% above the worst month of deaths in previous waves of coronavirus.
  • Washington state appears to be on track to set a record for deaths.

Mike Stucka

Also in the news:

► The United States has reported its 680,000th death to COVID-19, Johns Hopkins University data shows. Half the deaths have been since early January.

► The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee announced it will require every member of its delegation at the 2022 Beijing Olympics to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a new policy posted on Team USA’s web site.

► New Mexico State University professor David Clements, a staunch opponent of COVID-19 mask and vaccine mandates, is facing termination as well as three complaints filed against him with the state Supreme Court’s disciplinary board.

► More in 2021, according to data released by the Iowa Department of Public Health on Wednesday.

► Portugal is closing in on its goal of fully vaccinating 85% of the population against COVID-19 in nine months.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 42.5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 681,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 230 million cases and 4.7 million deaths. More than 182 million Americans — 54.9% of the population — have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: COVID-19 vaccines for kids may be just around the corner. So, when can little ones get the vaccine? We answered your questions.

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.

COVID-19 is spurring mental health crises in kids

COVID-19 is driving both physical and mental health crises among kids, according to the leader of Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

A surge of pediatric COVID-19 hospitalizations in recent weeks further strained a staff already operating at or near capacity for the last six months, said president Dr. Meg Rush.

But she also noted another alarming trend: Kids facing behavioral and mental health crises. She called it a “parallel epidemic” to COVID-19 during a congressional hearing Wednesday.

“Children and families across the country face substantial disruptions to their daily lives due to COVID-19,” Rush said. “I have consistently had equally, if not more, numbers of children admitted to my hospital in the last six weeks with a behavioral health primary diagnosis as I have (for) COVID.” Read more here.

– Rachel Wegner, Nashville Tennessean

Pfizer-BioNTech booster shots near final approval with CDC vote

The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday authorized booster doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for people 65 and older and those whose jobs put them at high risk for exposure to COVID-19. 

The boosters can’t be made available to the public until a critical Centers for Disease Control and Prevention committee votes on how to implement that expanded access. That is expected Thursday, after which CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky is likely to quickly sign off, making boosters available to more people within a few days. 

Wednesday’s FDA authorization comes almost six weeks after the FDA authorized extra doses of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for people who are severely immunocompromised. 

It also includes individuals 18 and up who are at high risk for severe COVID-19. And the high-risk jobs include “health care workers, teachers and day care staff, grocery workers and those in homeless shelters or prisons, among others,” said acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock. 

— Elizabeth Weise and Karen Weintraub, USA TODAY

New York health commissioner resigns

New York state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker, a central figure in COVID-19 related scandals that plagued former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has submitted his resignation, according to Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Zucker will remain as the top state health official until a replacement for the commissioner job is chosen, Hochul said Thursday during a media briefing in Manhattan, adding there are several candidates being considered for the job.

Hochul said she agreed with Zucker’s decision to resign, calling him a dedicated public servant.

Zucker was connected to several controversial COVID-19 policy decisions, including a measure that pressed nursing homes to accept COVID-positive residents at the height of the pandemic last year. Zucker was also connected to the Cuomo administration withholding the true COVID-19 death toll for nursing homes for months. Read more here.

– David Robinson, USA TODAY Network

Evictions skyrocket as states sits on COVID-19 rental assistance

Tchontiniqua Williams of Indiana has lived out of her car with her 7-year-old daughter since she was evicted from their mobile park home in June. She pleaded for her landlord to let them stay, but the company said no.

Families in need are being evicted while mountains of federal dollars, earmarked specifically to help people like Williams, sit untouched in the state’s coffers. Like Williams, 83% of Indiana households behind on rent have not received rental assistance, according to an analysis by the Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition. 

In an unprecedented act of direct federal-to-state assistance to help renters tide through the pandemic-induced rent crisis, the federal government gave Indiana $447.9 million in December 2020 to distribute to households in need of emergency rental assistance. It gave Indiana another $397 million in a second round of payments in March 2021.

The kicker? The state has only given out about 29% of the first round of funds to households in need of assistance. And it’s not just Indiana. As of late last month, about 89% of federal rental assistance approved by Congress remained unspent.

– Ko Lyn Cheang, Indianapolis Star

Middle school student dies of COVID-19 in Kansas

A Kansas education official says a middle school student has died of COVID-19, making it the first reported COVID-19 death of someone age 10 to 17 in Kansas and only the third reported for someone under 18 in the state.

Nationally, more than 550 kids under 18 have died from COVID-19, according to CDC data.

Education Commissioner Randy Watson said Wednesday that state health officials told him the child died this week. State health officials said they are investigating the report.

Meanwhile, state health officials reported 11 new COVID-19 clusters at schools. Data from the department showed there are now 72 active school outbreaks across Kansas, resulting in 537 coronavirus cases and one hospitalization.

COVID-19 measures may have unintended benefit at schools: limiting lice

Long the bane of parents and school health providers, head lice has typically been viewed as an undesirable, itchy insect that spreads like wildfire within schools. But new safety measures put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are upending those assumptions, according to The National Association of School Nurses.

Those safety measures also help limit the spread of lice, and school nurses are optimistic that cases will be lower this year.

“We have social distancing, doing a lot of hygiene, kids aren’t sitting on top of each other on the floor anymore,” Linda Mendonça, president of the National Association of School Nurses, told USA TODAY. “They’re trying to keep kids separated.”

Those practices are showing that, contrary to popular belief, lice need close contact to spread. They cannot fly or jump, they can only crawl. And, Mendonça says, are more likely spread through actions like sharing a hairbrush. Read more here.

– Keira Wingate, USA TODAY

Quarantine now optional for students exposed to COVID-19 in Florida

Florida’s new surgeon general, Dr. Joseph Ladapo, an outspoken critic of lockdowns and COVID-19 mandates, signed new protocols Wednesday allowing students exposed to COVID-19 not to quarantine if their parents choose.

Students who are asymptomatic after being exposed to someone who tested positive can remain in school, the new state guidance says. Previous guidance required students to quarantine at least four days away from school after being exposed.

“Quarantining healthy students is incredibly damaging for their educational advancement,” Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said. “It’s also disruptive for families. We are going to be following a symptoms-based approach.”

The CDC recommends that students quarantine for 14 days if they are unvaccinated, and seven days if they test negative after exposure. Children under 12 years old are not currently eligible for a vaccine.

Contributing: The Associated Press