Unemployment claims jumped to 419,000 last week, a sudden increase reflecting an unsettled labor market

Unemployment claims jumped last week, as the delta variant of the coronavirus sparked rising caseloads around the country and renewed fears about the potential for more restrictions and business closures.

The number of new claims grew to 419,000 from 368,000, the third time in six weeks that they had ticked up, according to data from the Department of Labor.

Economists said the uptick was concerning but cautioned that it was too early to tell whether it was a one week aberration or telegraphed a more concerning turn for the labor market.

“The unexpected bump in claims could be noise in the system, but it’s also not hard to see how the rise of the covid-19 delta variant could add thousands of layoffs to numbers that already are double what they were pre-Covid,” said Robert Frick, corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union.

Overall, unemployment numbers have been falling gradually from the peaks at other stages of the pandemic, but they are still well above pre-pandemic averages.

The jobless numbers have provided a jarring catalogue about the economic devastation wrought by the pandemic — spiking to records as the pandemic unfolded in March 2020, and remaining at historic high levels throughout most of 2020.

The coronavirus surge last fall helped precipitate a rise in claims that saw the labor market, as seen in the monthly jobs report, slide backward too.

But until recently, the last few months been marked by strong jobs growth and a sense of optimism as vaccinations picked up, giving economists hope that the country was back on track to recovering the nearly 7 million jobs it is still down from before the pandemic.

Now, the delta variant is driving an alarming increase in covid-19 cases around the country, according to public health officials: the number of new cases increased more than 40 percent in the last week, sending jitters through the stock market, and is raising questions about whether state and local health authorities will reinstitute restrictions to slow the virus’ spread.

A new mandate in Los Angeles county to wear masks indoors has sparked protests and anger from local officials, as other counties where cases are increasing mull similar actions.

Frick said that the report showed the potential for unemployment claims to start trending upward after months of steady declines.

“There’s definitely a correlation, however loose, that the rise in covid does cause a rise in claims,” he said. “My fear is that the rise in the delta variant could cause claims to go back up…Certainly one week doesn’t show that. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see claims rise.”

Texas for example, where cases have grown 54 percent in the last week, lead the way with an increase of 10,000 new claims.

However, there are also lots of signs that the economy continues to rebound despite rising caseloads.

The more than 2.2 million people that the Transportation Security Administration said it screened at airports on Sunday was the most since late February 2020 — and nearly three times the amount it was on the same day last year.

Restaurant dining has largely rebounded in recent months, at times surpassing the levels from before the pandemic — on Saturday the number of diners was 1 percent higher than the same day in 2019, according to data from Open Table.

Last week, some 12.5 million claims were filed for unemployment insurance overall, according to the most recent numbers — down from 32.9 million filed at the same point last year.

Nevada, Rhode Island and California topped the list of states with the highest number of people on unemployment, the Labor Department said.

Economic concerns in recent months have been more focused on the ways that workers are still held back from filling some of the more than 9 million job openings in the country, than unemployment, with high hopes that school re-openings in the fall will help many parents get back into the labor force.

Florida, Missouri and Texas now account for 40% of new coronavirus cases in U.S.

https://www.yahoo.com/news/florida-missouri-and-texas-now-account-for-40-percent-of-new-us-coronavirus-cases-172032337.html

NEW COVID-19 HOT SPOTS EMERGE AS DELTA VARIANT CIRCULATES

Just three states are now driving the pandemic in the United States, as the divide between vaccinated and unvaccinated regions of the country becomes ever more stark, as the more transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus spreads.

Forty percent of all new cases this week have been recorded in Florida, Texas and Missouri, White House pandemic response coordinator Jeff Zients revealed at a press briefing Thursday.

Florida alone accounts for 20 percent of all new cases nationally, Zients pointed out, a trend that has stretched into its second week.

Zients added that “virtually all” hospitalizations and deaths — a full 97 percent — are among unvaccinated people. “The threat is now predominantly only to the unvaccinated,” he said. A few vaccinated people do experience so-called breakthrough infections, but they tend to experience only mild COVID-19 illness, or no illness at all.

Encouragingly, Zients said the five states that have experienced the most significant rise in infections — Arkansas, Louisiana, Florida, Nevada and Missouri — all also saw vaccination rates beat the national average for a second week in a row. But because immunity takes two weeks to develop, and the Delta variant spreads so rapidly, the benefits of the increased uptake of vaccinations may not be evident right away.

Singling out the three states where infections are now spiking could have the effect of putting pressure on elected officials there to do more to encourage vaccinations.

Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, is a Donald Trump loyalist who is widely expected to seek the presidency in 2024. His handling of the pandemic is coming under new scrutiny with the recent rise in cases.

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, also a GOP presidential aspirant, has recently said he will not impose new mask mandates. Both he and DeSantis have also signed measures striking down requirements that people produce proof of vaccination.

As the pandemic has surged back in parts of the country, other Republicans have deviated from that approach. The governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson — a Republican who, like DeSantis and Abbott, is rumored to have presidential ambitions of his own — has recently pushed for more vaccinations in his state.

Rep. Steve Scalise, a member of Republican leadership in the House of Representatives and a close Trump ally, rolled up his sleeve last Sunday and was vaccinated. Scalise represents a district in Louisiana, another state with a low rate of vaccination that is experiencing a surge in new cases.

There were 46,318 new cases of the coronavirus reported nationwide on Tuesday, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said at Thursday’s briefing. That is a marked increase from the lows of late May and early June. Hospitalizations and deaths are also rising, after plummeting earlier this summer.

“If you are not vaccinated,” Walensky said, “please take the Delta variant seriously.”

After a Steep Plunge in Virus Cases, Every State Is Seeing an Uptick

https://www.yahoo.com/news/steep-plunge-virus-cases-every-120859155.html

After a Steep Plunge in Virus Cases, Every State Is Seeing an Uptick

The number of new coronavirus cases is increasing in every state, setting off a growing sense of concern from health officials who are warning that the pandemic in the United States is far from over, even though the national outlook is far better than during previous upticks.

The 160 million people across the country who are fully vaccinated are largely protected from the virus, including the highly contagious delta variant, scientists say. In the Upper Midwest, the Northeast and on the West Coast — including in Chicago, Boston and San Francisco — coronavirus infections remain relatively low.

But the picture is different in pockets of the country where residents are vaccinated at lower rates. Hot spots have emerged in recent weeks in parts of Missouri, Arkansas and Nevada, among other states, leaving hospital workers strained as they care for an influx of coronavirus patients. Less than a month after reports of new cases nationally bottomed out at around 11,000 a day, virus cases overall are increasing again, with about 26,000 new cases a day, and hospitalizations are on the rise.

The country is at an inflection point, and experts said it was uncertain what would come next. While nationwide cases and hospitalization numbers remain relatively low, more local hot spots are appearing and the national trends are moving in the wrong direction. Many of the oldest, most vulnerable Americans are already inoculated, but the vaccine campaign has sputtered in recent weeks.

“This will definitely be a surge,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “It won’t be as big as what happened in January. But we still have 100 million people in the United States who are susceptible to COVID-19.”

Intensive care beds in hospitals have become scarce in parts of Missouri, where officials in Springfield on Wednesday asked for an alternative care site. In Mississippi, where cases are up 70% over the past two weeks, health officials have urged older adults to avoid large indoor gatherings even if they have been vaccinated. And in Los Angeles County, officials said Thursday that masks would once again be required indoors, regardless of vaccination status, because of the spread of the delta variant.

The slowdown of the vaccination effort has amplified concerns. About 530,000 people are now receiving a vaccine each day, a sharp decrease from 3.3 million shots a day in April. Less than half of the United States population has been fully vaccinated.

Still, the country’s prognosis remains better than at previous points in the pandemic. The vaccines are widely available, cases and hospitalizations remain at a tiny fraction of their peaks and deaths are occurring at some of the lowest levels since the early days of the pandemic.

Yet daily case numbers have increased in all 50 states, including 19 states that are reporting at least twice as many new cases a day.

Mayor Quinton Lucas of Kansas City, Missouri, where cases are increasing but remain far below levels in other parts of the state, said he worried that the outbreak in southwestern Missouri would keep spreading, given low vaccination rates there. He said strong recommendations for mask wearing — or even new mandates — may become necessary if his city’s outlook continued to worsen.

“I think when you start to see Springfield-level hospitalizations here in the Kansas City metro, then we’ll have to very seriously consider whether it’s time to return to previous restrictions,” Lucas said.

In a string of news conferences this week, public health officials pleaded with people who have not gotten shots to change their minds, urging them to consider that coronavirus vaccines are safe, free and available to anyone ages 12 and older.

“To any who have been hesitating about being vaccinated, please, I implore you to hesitate no longer,” Dr. Kiran Joshi, the senior medical officer for the Cook County Department of Public Health, which serves suburban Chicago, said Thursday.

Even in places in the United States that have not yet seen a significant uptick in infections, governors and public health officials worried that their states were vulnerable to an outbreak.

“I hope and pray that it doesn’t come to West Virginia and just absolutely runs across our state like wild,” said Gov. Jim Justice, whose state has recorded relatively few cases recently but has a low vaccination rate. “But the odds are it will.”

Few places are more worrisome than in Missouri, where a surge among unvaccinated people has left hospitals scrambling to keep up.

Just two months ago, when there were only 15 active coronavirus cases in his southwestern Missouri county, Larry Bergner, the director of the Newton County Health Department, had hoped the end of the pandemic might be in sight.

That has not happened.

As the delta variant has spread across the country, it has sent case totals spiking in Newton County, where less than 20% of residents are fully vaccinated. Bergner’s county now has a higher rate of recent cases than any state.

“It does give, I guess, some depression to think that we thought we were coming out of it, now here we go again, how high are we going to get,” Bergner said.

In Milwaukee County, where 48% of residents are fully vaccinated, the health department has tried to push the number higher by setting up a vaccine site outside the Fiserv Forum, where the Milwaukee Bucks are playing in the NBA Finals. Fewer than two dozen people have received a vaccine each day the site was in place, said Dr. Ben Weston, the director of medical services for the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management.

“In March, people flooded to our vaccination sites — all we had to do was open a door,” Weston said. “Now we have to go out and find people.”

As case numbers slowly rise, a sense of worry has begun to creep in for some Americans, even those who are fully vaccinated.

Vince Palmieri, 89, who gets around Los Angeles on public transportation, said he worried when he saw fellow riders not wearing masks as required. Though per capita case rates remain relatively low in Los Angeles County, they have grown sharply in recent weeks. The county is averaging about 1,000 new cases a day, up from fewer than 200 a day in mid-June.

“Once you get on a bus or a train you’re in no man’s land,” said Palmieri, who continues to wear a mask. “Their sneeze could take somebody out, but I’m frightened to talk up about the disease because people get ugly.”

Debora Weems, 63, who lives in New York City, has been following the case numbers closely. Her anxiety about the virus has risen alongside cases. New York City, which averaged fewer than 200 new cases a day in late June and early July, is now averaging more than 400 a day, far below past peaks.

“I’m just afraid we’re going to have to shut down again,” Weems said. Both she and her mother, who is 85, are vaccinated, but now she worries that their protection is not enough.

When the case numbers were at their lowest, she moved through the city more freely, with less thought about whether people nearby were vaccinated. But now she is trying to avoid leaving her neighborhood, and recently put up a new sign on her apartment door with a request: She and her mother are not receiving visitors because of COVID-19.

US’s largest registered nurses union calls on CDC to bring back universal mask guidelines

Nurses' Union Condemns C.D.C.'s New Mask Advice - The New York Times

The largest union for registered nurses in the U.S. called on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to bring back recommendations for universal masking in public regardless of people’s vaccination status. 

The National Nurses Union (NNU) in a Monday letter to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky requested that the agency reinstitute guidelines for all people to wear masks in public and in close proximity to those outside their household.

NNU Executive Director Bonnie Castillo pointed to a 16 percent uptick in U.S. COVID-19 cases from last week, according to CDC data, as well as rises in case counts in more than 40 states and hospitalizations in more than 25 states as reasons to return to previous, stricter guidelines.

“NNU strongly urges the CDC to reinstate universal masking, irrespective of vaccination status, to help reduce the spread of the virus, especially from infected individuals who do not have any symptoms,” Castillo wrote in the letter. “Our suggestions are based on science and the precautionary principle and are made in order to protect nurses, other essential workers, patients, and the public from Covid-19.”

The union also cited the World Health Organization’s (WHO) call for vaccinated people to continue wearing masks in public amid the spread of the highly transmissible delta variant. Several U.S. officials and experts have said the WHO’s guidance reflects the state of the pandemic worldwide, which overall has seen lower vaccination rates than the U.S.

Castillo acknowledged that COVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness and death but noted “no vaccine is 100 percent effective, and the emergence and spread of variants of concern may reduce vaccine effectiveness.”

The NNU in its letter also appeals for the CDC to update its guidance to “fully recognize aerosol transmission,” mandate tracking and reporting of cases among health care and essential workers, and keep records of cases, including mild and asymptomatic infections, among fully vaccinated people to measure the shots’ effectiveness. 

The CDC did not immediately return a request for comment on the letter, but officials have consistently defended the updated mask guidance, saying fully vaccinated individuals are protected against the virus.

The NNU vocally opposed the CDC’s current mask guidance updated in May to permit fully vaccinated individuals to go maskless in virtually all settings. The union has argued that the change in recommendations endangered patients, front-line workers and nurses as the pandemic continues.

In the Monday letter, the union wrote that the CDC’s relaxation of mask guidance “failed to account for” the possibility of fully vaccinated people contracting and spreading the virus. It also said the agency’s guidelines do not protect people, including children, who cannot get the vaccine.

The NNU sent the letter days after the CDC urged schools to reopen for full in-person learning in the fall, saying that fully vaccinated teachers and students do not need to wear masks.

It also comes after Los Angeles County and St. Louis County recommended their residents to wear masks in public indoors.

New COVID-19 cases up 94 percent in two weeks: NYT

Overnight Health Care: New COVID-19 cases up 94 percent in two weeks |  Nurses union calls on CDC to bring back universal mask guidelines | Texas  sued over law that lets citizens

The average number of new daily COVID-19 cases has increased 94 percent over the past two weeks, according to data from The New York Times, as worries over outbreaks climb nationwide.

The U.S. recorded a seven-day average of more than 23,000 daily cases on Monday, almost doubling from the average two weeks ago, as less than half of the total population is fully vaccinated.

Monday’s count of 32,105 newly confirmed cases pushed the seven-day average up from its Sunday level of more than 19,000 new cases — a 60 percent increase from two weeks prior.

All but four states — West Virginia, Maine, South Dakota and Iowa — have seen increased daily averages in the past 14 days, and the average in 16 states at least doubled in that period.

This comes as the highly transmissible delta variant was declared the dominant strain in the U.S. last week.

At the same time, vaccinations have stalled, with the daily rate reaching its lowest point during President Biden’s tenure on Sunday at slightly more than 506,000. Monday saw a small uptick in the average rate to more than 527,000 per day, according to Our World in Data.

The rise in case counts comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says just 48 percent of the total population is fully vaccinated. Officials have said fully vaccinated people are protected from the virus, while unvaccinated people are at much higher risk for serious illness and death. 

This leaves a majority of Americans still vulnerable to the virus, particularly children under 12 years old, who are not authorized to get the vaccine. More than 56 percent of the eligible population aged 12 and older is fully vaccinated. 

The Biden administration has strived to boost vaccination numbers over the past few months and signaled a new strategy focused on grassroots campaigning to promote the vaccine last week. The country fell short of the president’s goal to get 70 percent of adults at least one dose by the Fourth of July.

Increases in COVID-19 cases have previously signaled during the pandemic an upcoming rise in hospitalizations and deaths. The Times data shows that average deaths are still decreasing, but average daily hospitalizations are climbing, with a 16 percent increase from two weeks ago.

Still, case counts are much lower than the devastating peak that hit the U.S. in January, and experts say the country will not reach that level of infection again, as vulnerable populations have gotten vaccinated. Seventy-nine percent of those aged 65 and older are considered fully vaccinated.

Delta spreads 225% faster than original virus — this may be why

Why The Delta Variant Is So Contagious: A New Study Sheds Light : Goats and  Soda : NPR

Mounting evidence suggests the delta variant is the most contagious strain in the world, spreading about 225 percent faster than the original version of the virus. A small study published online July 7 may help explain why, NPR reported.

The delta variant, first identified in India, grows faster in people’s respiratory tracts and to much higher levels, according to researchers at the Guangdong Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention in China.

They analyzed virus levels in 62 people infected during China’s first delta variant outbreak between May 21 and June 18. They compared their findings to virus levels in 63 patients infected in 2020 by an earlier version of the virus.

On average, viral load was about 1,000 times higher for people infected with delta, compared to those infected with the earlier strain, researchers found. It also took about four days on average for delta to reach detectable levels in study participants, compared to six days for the other strain. This finding suggests people with delta likely become infectious sooner and are spreading the virus earlier in the course of their infection, researchers said. 

To view the full study, click here.

CDC presses for schools to reopen with precautions

https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/538646-cdc-releases-guidelines-for-reopening-schools?userid=12325

Image result for CDC presses for schools to reopen with precautions

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday released long-awaited guidance on safely reopening schools, emphasizing the importance of having schools open as long as proper safety precautions are followed.

The guidance states it is “critical for schools to open as safely and as soon as possible,” given the benefits of in-person learning.

The top recommendations for doing so safely are universal wearing of masks by students, staff and teachers as well as distancing so that people are six feet apart.

Vaccination of teachers should be prioritized, the agency said, but “should not be considered a condition” of reopening schools.

Schools can adjust whether they are fully in-person or hybrid depending on the level of spread in the surrounding community and mitigation measures in place.

Schools are encouraged to use “podding” to separate students into smaller groups to help make contract tracing easier.

What happens after a year without the flu?

https://mailchi.mp/85f08f5211a4/the-weekly-gist-february-5-2021?e=d1e747d2d8

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Doctors and scientists have been relieved that the dreaded “twindemic”—the usual winter spike of seasonal influenza superimposed on the COVID pandemic—did not materialize.

In fact, flu cases are at one of the lowest levels ever recorded, with just 155 flu-related hospitalizations this season (compared to over 490K in 2019). A new piece in the Atlantic looks at the long-term ramifications of a year without the flu. 

Public health measures like masking and handwashing have surely lowered flu transmission, but scientists remain uncertain why flu cases have flatlined as COVID-19, which spreads via the same mechanisms, surged.

Children are a much greater vector for influenza, and reduced mingling in schools and childcare likely slowed spread. Perhaps the shutdown in travel slowed the viruses’ ability to hop a ride from continent to continent, and the cancellation of gatherings further dampened transmission.

Nor are scientists sure what to expect next year. Optimists hope that record-low levels of flu could take a strain out of circulation. But others warn that flu could return with a vengeance, as the virus continues to mutate while population immunity declines. 

Researchers developing next year’s vaccines, meanwhile, face a lack of data on what strains and mutations to target—although many hope the mRNA technologies that proved effective for COVID will enable more agile flu vaccine development in the future. 

Regardless, renewed vigilance in flu prevention and vaccination next fall will be essential, as a COVID-fatigued population will be inclined to breathe a sigh of relief as the current pandemic comes under control.

How soon can we achieve immunity through vaccinations?

Over the weekend I realized that my son Henry, born in June 2019, has lived more than half of his life in the pandemic era. He’s too young to be cognizant of it, of course, but my wife and I are acutely conscious of the experiences his older brother had already enjoyed by the time he was Henry’s age, things that are impractical or impossible in the moment.

He’s not alone in that, of course. Most Americans are experiencing some ongoing deprivations because of the pandemic. (Most of those for whom the pandemic is not imposing unusual restrictions are, ironically, probably contributing to the pandemic’s extent and duration.) Just about everyone in the United States is eagerly scanning the horizon for signs of normalcy — as we have been for months, occasionally spotting oases that too often turn out to be mirages.

So when will we return to some semblance of normal? It’s hard to say with certainty. The best tool we have to reach that point, though, is the broad deployment of the vaccines approved for emergency use by the government. But even the existence of those vaccines can’t completely answer the question.

For example, the rate at which the vaccines are deployed makes a massive difference. A pace of 2 million shots per day as opposed to 1 million seems like a subtle distinction but, obviously, means achieving immunity for recipients twice as fast.

What level of immunity is necessary is a question of its own. Do we need 70 percent of the country to have been immunized? Or, as infectious-disease expert Anthony S. Fauci has recently said, is the figure closer to 80 or 85 percent?

When doing this calculation, do you include the 26 million Americans who have already had coronavirus infections? What about young people? The vaccine trials included only those age 16 and over. Those younger have constituted about a 10th of the total infections. And what vaccine are we talking about? The Pfizer and Moderna iterations require two shots; the vaccine from Johnson & Johnson requires only one.

All of these factors affect how we can figure out when the country might hit the herd-immunity mark. If we assume that young people will be included among those needed to be vaccinated — a complicated question on its own — the calculator below will allow you to figure out when immunity might be achieved at various immunization rates.

At this rate, the country would reach 70 percent herd immunity through vaccinations by Nov. 10

How we calculate this:
There are about 330 million Americans, meaning that we need 231 million to be resistant to the virus to hit 70 percent immunity. We can take out the 5.8 million Americans who’ve already been vaccinated. That leaves 211.3 million people to be vaccinated.

From there the math is straightforward: doing two-shot vaccinations at a rate of 1.5 million shots per day means it will take 282 days to complete the job.

Bear in mind that sliding the little bar to determine how quickly shots are administered is far easier than actually scaling up the infrastructure to do so. President Biden’s original target for daily vaccinations was 1 million; he recently increased it to 1.5 million. At that rate, we’re still months from resolution. But because administering the vaccine is more complicated and requires more tracking than vaccinations such as that for the seasonal flu, it’s necessarily trickier to scale up.

At this point, the more urgent concern is the efficacy of the vaccine against any variants of the virus that might emerge. Manufacturers have already noted that the vaccine works less well against a virus variant first identified in South Africa, though the vaccines are still broadly effective, particularly at protecting the recipient from severe illness or death after infection.

Well, that and the fact that a fifth of Americans said in a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll that they won’t get the vaccine or would do so only if it was required. Happily, more Americans are now saying they’re eager to get a vaccine.

The faster we get people immunized, the better we protect against the emergence of new mutations that prove less able to be controlled by the vaccines. The faster we get shots in arms, as the phrasing has it, the faster we get back to normal.

Which would be nice for all of us, including my 1-year-old.

Cartoon – Specimens used for Covid-19 Testing and Experimentation

Letters to editor for Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020