Americans locked down for a year or more are finally getting out, and a lot of them are headed to national parks — so many that some parks are setting up reservation systems, such as those controlling the flow at California’s Yosemite National Park and Maine’s Acadia National Park.
In 2020, the National Park Service received 237 million recreation visits, down more than 90 million visits (27.6%) from 2019. The decrease was due largely to temporary park closures in response to the pandemic. Visitation was the lowest since 1980.
Now the parks are booming again. Yellowstone National Park’s website emphasizes “if you don’t have a reservation, the nearest campsite or hotel room may be hours away.”
Great Falls National Park outside Washington, D.C., warns that “on weekends, if the park fills and parking not available, the entrance will close. … You may not enter until we reopen.”
Also in the news:
►France is easing mandatory mask-wearing outdoors and will halt an eight-month nightly coronavirus curfew on Sunday.
►The Food and Drug Administration has authorized for use another batch of vaccine produced at Johnson & Johnson’s troubled Emergent BioSolutions facility. Multiple media organizations including The Hill reported that the batch totals 14 million doses.
►North Korean leader Kim Jong Un warned about possible food shortages and urged the country to brace for extended COVID-19 restrictions.
►The British government is planning to make vaccination mandatory for nursing home workers, the BBC and other media report. Staff are expected to be given 16 weeks to have the jab or face being redeployed away from frontline care or lose their jobs.
►Maryland’s state of emergency will end July 1, more than 15 months after the virus made its first appearance in the state. All remaining health restrictions will end on that date, Gov. Larry Hogan said.
📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 33.4 million confirmed coronavirus cases and at least 600,200 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 176.57 million cases and more than 3.81 million deaths. More than 145.76 million Americans have been fully vaccinated — 43.9% of the population, according to the CDC.
📘What we’re reading: Effective COVID-19 vaccines were developed in under a year. But a half-century after the country declared war on cancer, and 40 years after the first reported case of HIV/AIDS, there remains no way to prevent either disease or many more. Read the full story.
Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates. Want more? Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates to your inbox and join our Facebook group.
Two major St. Louis employers to require vaccinations for workers
Washington University and BJC HealthCare, two of the largest employers in the St. Louis area, have announced they will require employees to be fully vaccinated by fall. The university, which employs more than 17,000 people, said it would mandate the jabs for all faculty, staff and students. BJC, with 30,000 employees, said its decision to make vaccination mandatory for employees was “consistent with long-standing practices requiring health care workers to be vaccinated against serious infectious diseases for the safety of patients and staff.”
Last week a Houston judge dismissed a lawsuit by employees at Houston Methodist who declined vaccination and were told they would be fired.
EU adds US to list of nations that should not face travel restrictions
The European Union is expected to recommend that member countries start lifting restrictions on tourists from the United States. EU members agreed Wednesday to add the United States to the list of countries from which restrictions on non-essential travel should be lifted. The move was adopted during a meeting in Brussels of permanent representatives to the 27-nation bloc. The recommendation is non-binding, and national governments have authority to require test results or vaccination records and to set other entry conditions. Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said this week a careful and phased-in approach should remain the rule.
“Let’s look at science and let’s look at the progress. Let’s look at the numbers and when it’s safe, we will do it,” De Croo said. “The moment that we see that a big part of the population is double-vaccinated and can prove that they are safe, travel will pick up again. And I would expect that over the course of this summer.”
Moscow to require vaccination for retail, education, health care workers
Authorities in Moscow and the surrounding region on Wednesday made COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for those working in retail, education, health care, public transport and other trades that provide services to a large number of people. The Kremlin said there were no plans for making vaccination mandatory across the nation. In Moscow, however, public health officials ordered businesses and institutions to ensure that 60% of staff get at least one shot of a coronavirus vaccine by July 15 and are fully vaccinated by August 15.
“We simply must do everything to carry out mass vaccination in the shortest time possible and stop the terrible disease,” Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said.
Expedition vaccinates Indigenous communities in Brazilian Amazon
A team of physicians, nurses and frontline workers sponsored by the U.S.-based non-profit Health In Harmony is wrapping up a three-week expedition to vaccinate Indigenous communities along the Xingu River in the Brazilian Amazon. The team traveled in two boats filled with ice and 1,400 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.
Establishing accessible and affordable healthcare is crucial for survival of rainforest communities, forests, and “ultimately, all of us,” said Dr. Érika Pellegrino, a Brazil program coordinator for Health In Harmony. By equipping these communities – which protect the rainforest – with vaccine, these groups won’t need to leave their land, which would otherwise be left vulnerable to deforestation by cattle ranchers and loggers, Pellegrino said.
“There is a direct connection between the health of these communities, and the climate and nature crisis,” Pellegrino said. “They can’t just take a short trip to the nearest health center and get vaccinated.”
Japan expected to ease restrictions in Tokyo ahead of Olympics
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is expected to downgrade the state of emergency when it expires Sunday in Tokyo and other regions. The Olympic Games scheduled to open July 23. Daily cases have declined significantly, and Suga says he is determined to host a “safe and secure” games. Health experts, however, say it is crucial to accelerate the vaccine rollout in one of the least vaccinated developed countries. As of Tuesday, only 5.6% of Japanese were fully vaccinated.
Still to be determined: Crowd size. Under current rules, 34,000 spectators would be allowed at the 68,000-capacity National Stadium where the opening ceremonies will be held.
US purchases 200M more vaccine doses from Moderna
Moderna announced that the federal government has purchased an additional 200 million doses of vaccine, primarily for vaccinating children or for use as a booster for people already vaccinated.
The government has bought 500 million doses including 110 million doses expected to be delivered in the fourth quarter of 2021 and 90 million expected to be delivered in the first quarter of 2022, the Massachusetts-based company said in a statement.
CEO Stéphane Bancel said Moderna remains “focused on being proactive as the virus evolves … to stay ahead of emerging variants.”
Vast majority of hospitalized COVID-19 patients are not vaccinated
Falling rates of COVID-19 across the United States mask a harsh reality – the overwhelming majority of those getting sick and being hospitalized are unvaccinated. Hospitals in states with the lowest vaccination rates tend to have more COVID-19 patients in intensive care units, according to hospital data collected in the past week by the Department of Health and Human Services and vaccination rates published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The people who say, ‘It’s my body, my choice?’ Well, it’s not all about you,” said Dr. Gerald Maloney, chief medical officer for hospital services at Geisinger health network, which runs nine hospitals in Pennsylvania. “It’s also about the people that you’re around.” Read more here.
– Elizabeth Weise and Aleszu Bajak
Delta variant a ‘concern’ as it quickly spreads across US
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have now classified the delta variant of the coronavirus, first discovered in India, as a “variant of concern” as it now accounts for 10% of cases in the U.S. The variant previously raged in India and is currently making its way through the U.K., prompting a delay in reopening.
“It’s doubling every two weeks,” former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said on “Face the Nation”. “And I think the risk is really to the fall that this could spike a new epidemic heading into the fall.”
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are about 88% effective against the delta variant after two shots, according to research. Research indicates that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is less effective, but more information is needed.
“The light at the end of the tunnel is in sight, but it doesn’t bring back any of those lives or bring solace to the grieving families,” said Dr. Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University. “My other worry is that, for too many Americans and politicians, the rush for life to ‘get back to normal will lead to complacency about the problems that made us vulnerable to COVID in the first place.”
Study: Almost 25% who get COVID-19 develop long-term symptoms
A new report by FAIR Health shows that almost a quarter of coronavirus patients develop long-lasting symptoms or Long COVID. The study found that some symptoms were more prevalent in certain age groups or demographics. Older patients had a higher chance of developing high cholesterol, while younger patients were more likely to develop gastrointestinal issues after diagnosis.
The journal analyzed nearly 2 million private health care claim records of patients with COVID-19, excluding those with chronic conditions such as cancer and HIV.
– Steven Vargas
Contributing: The Associated Press.