Los Angeles County to require masks indoors – regardless of vaccination status; COVID-19 infections rise in 48 states: Live updates

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Los Angeles County, the most populated county in the U.S., will once again require people to wear masks indoors – regardless of vaccination status – due to a recent surge in new COVID-19 cases.

The startling change, announced exactly a month after California became one of the last in the country to reopen and drop coronavirus mandates, aims to stunt an uptick in new cases combined with the spread of the highly infectious delta variant. It will go into effect at 11:59 p.m. Saturday.

“This is an all-hands-on-deck moment,” the county‘s health officer, Dr. Muntu Davis, said during a Thursday afternoon press briefing.

The news out of California comes asthe U.S. is once again reporting more than 1,000 new coronavirus infections every hour, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data for the week ending Wednesday.

The nation is averaging about 25,300 new cases per day, more than double the rate of the week of June 22. The total rose in 48 states – all but Iowa and South Dakota. Still, the totals represent only about 10% of the numbers reported in the U.S. in its worst week in January. 

Deaths also rose in most states, and deaths and infections are also once again rising globally. The World Health Organization reported deaths climbed last week after nine straight weeks of decline. It recorded more than 55,000 lives lost, a 3% increase from the week before. Cases rose 10% last week to nearly 3 million, WHO said.

Low vaccination rates, the relaxation of mask rules and other precautions, and the swift spread of the more-contagious delta variant are blamed. Sarah McCool, a professor of public health at Georgia State University, said the combination amounts to a “recipe for a potential tinderbox.”

Izzy Galvan, 20, wears a face mask while visiting the Griffith Observatory overlooking downtown Los Angeles, in July.

Also in the news:

►Joining a growing list of medical centers across the country, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital will require all employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, the hospital confirmed in an email Thursday.

►The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits has reached its lowest level since the pandemic struck last year.

►Rich Eisen, who anchors special event coverage for the NFL Network, is quarantining with COVID-19 despite having received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine in February, according to an Instagram post Thursday.

►USA Basketball national team guard Bradley Beal, one of the NBA’s leading scorers, has been placed in health and safety protocols just days before the start of the Olympics, a person familiar with the development told USA TODAY Sports. His availability for the games was uncertain.

►Coronavirus infections in the Britain hit another six-month high Thursday, while the number of COVID-19 deaths was the highest since late March. The government warned that 100,000 daily infections may be possible this summer.

►Nebraska will resume reporting coronavirus statistics after dropping the practice a week ago after public health experts widely criticized the decision. The updates will be weekly rather than daily. 

►New coronavirus cases leaped in New York in the week ending Sunday, rising 66%, state and national records show.

►The U.S. is shipping more than 3.2 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine to the Philippines.

►Australia’s second-largest city, Melbourne, began a five-day lockdown on Thursday night due to growing COVID-19 clusters.

►Italy is sending more than 25 tons of ventilators, masks, surgical gowns, disposable gloves and hand gel to Tunisia. Last month, Tunisia had one of the highest per capital infection rates in Africa. Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s Africa director, says some hospitals across the continent of 1.3 billion people are at the breaking point.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has had more than 33.9 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 608,300 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: more than 188.7 million cases and more than 4 million deaths. More than 160.4 million Americans — 48.3% of the population — have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: Internet dead zones and thick homework packets took an emotional toll on Navajo students during the COVID-19 school year. But they didn’t give up.

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.

Naturopathic physician sold fake COVID-19 vaccine cards, DOJ says

A naturopathic physician in California has been arrested and charged after federal prosecutors said she sold fake COVID-19 immunization treatments and fraudulent vaccination cards that made it seem like customers received Moderna vaccines.

Juli A. Mazi, 41, of Napa, was charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of false statements related to health care matters, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement Wednesday.

The case is the first federal criminal fraud prosecution related to homeoprophylaxis immunizations and fraudulent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 vaccination cards, the department said.

WHO chief says it was ‘premature’ to rule out COVID-19 lab leak

The head of the World Health Organization acknowledged it was premature to rule out a potential link between the COVID-19 pandemic and a laboratory leak, and he said Thursday he is asking China to be more transparent as scientists search for the origins of the coronavirus.

In a rare departure from his usual deference to powerful member countries, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said getting access to raw data had been a challenge for the international team that traveled to China earlier this year to investigate the source of COVID-19. The first human cases were identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Tedros told reporters that the U.N. health agency based in Geneva is “asking actually China to be transparent, open and cooperate, especially on the information, raw data that we asked for at the early days of the pandemic.”

He said there had been a “premature push” to rule out the theory that the virus might have escaped from a Chinese government lab in Wuhan – undermining the WHO’s own March report, which concluded that a laboratory leak was “extremely unlikely.”

Fauci says Missouri’s COVID-19 fight is expected, but can be curbed

Dr. Anthony Fauci called Missouri’s renewed struggle with COVID-19 “entirely predictable” but urged vaccination through local and community initiatives in the Show-Me State to quell rising case loads and hospitalizations. 

In a Thursday interview with the Springfield News-Leader, part of the USA TODAY Network, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and president’s chief medical advisor cited the state’s lagging vaccination rate as a key indicator for the delta virus variant’s surge.

Missouri continues to lag behind the national vaccination rate average, with 39.9% of the population fully vaccinated as of Thursday, according to state data. Springfield and southwest Missouri have seen the brunt of rising infections and hospitalizations within the state in recent weeks, with hospitals straining close to capacity and the Springfield/Greene County Health Department requesting an alternate care site from the state this week. Read more.

– Galen Bacharier, Springfield News-Leader

COVID-19 cases surge to six-month high in Tokyo a week before Olympics

New coronavirus cases surged to 1,308 in Tokyo on Thursday, a six-month high, as fears rise of a possible dramatic increase that could flood hospitals during the Olympics that start in eight days.

Tokyo is under a fourth state of emergency, which began Monday and requires restaurants and bars to close early and not serve alcohol through the Olympics, which start July 23. Read more.

Artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg stands among thousands of white flags planted in remembrance of those who have died of COVID-19 in the U.S.

Artist to blanket National Mall with 600K white flags for COVID victims

More than 600,000 white flags will cover the National Mall this fall in a public art installation honoring of the victims of COVID-19 in the U.S.

Maryland artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg announced the “In America: Remember” project Thursday to create “a national opportunity to reflect upon the enormous toll of the pandemic of 2020 and 2021.”

“This fall as employers bring workers back to office buildings and students return to school, it will be too easy to ‘go back to normal,'” Brennan Firstenberg said in a press release. “But for one in three American families, there is no normal.”

The installation will run from Sept. 17 to Oct. 3. Visitors will be allowed walk through the 3.8 miles of paths and dedicate a flag for a loved one. People who cannot visit in person can dedicate a flag online to appear in physical form on the Mall.

Brennan Firstenberg first installed the project last fall at a site at D.C.’s Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, where she placed more than 267,000 flags before the exhibition ran out of space.

Surgeon general calls health misinformation an ‘urgent threat’

Dr. Vivek Murthy issued his first advisory as President Joe Biden’s surgeon general on Thursday, warning of the “urgent threat of health misinformation” during the pandemic.

In the advisory, Murthy said misinformation and disinformation has contributed to a decline in COVID-19 vaccinations and an increase in violence against health officials and others enforcing social distancing protocols. About two-thirds of U.S. adults have gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to CDC data

The advisory also lays out various steps individuals, families, educators, health professionals, journalists and tech companies, among others, can do to combat misinformation.

Indonesia becomes Asia’s new virus hot spot, surpassing India case counts

Indonesia reported more than 54,000 new coronavirus cases for the first time Wednesday, surpassing recent daily infections in India, whose disastrous outbreak is declining, and becoming Asia’s new virus hotspot.

Officials fear that the more highly transmissible delta variant is now spreading from the islands of Java and Bali, where outbreaks prompted a partial lockdown that closed places of worship, malls, parks and restaurants. The Health Ministry reported 54,517 new cases Wednesday; a month ago daily cases were running at about 8,000.

Contributing: Christal Hayes and Mike Stucka, USA TODAY; The Associated Press.