US hits 70% vaccination rate -- a month late, amid a surge

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Associated Press 02 August, 2021 - 04:38pm 67 views

US vaccination rate hits the highest pace in weeks

PBS NewsHour 02 August, 2021 - 05:20pm

Updated 2:35 PM ET, Mon August 2, 2021

CNN's Deidre McPhillips contributed to this report

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Is it legal to mandate Covid vaccines? In many circumstances, yes

CNN 02 August, 2021 - 05:20pm

Updated 4:18 PM ET, Mon August 2, 2021

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U.S. employers ratchet up the pressure on the unvaccinated with mandates

KTLA Los Angeles 02 August, 2021 - 12:51pm

A proof of vaccination sign is posted at a bar in San Francisco on Thursday, July 29, 2021. Until now, many employers had taken a passive approach to their unvaccinated workers, relying outreach and incentives. But that has been shifting, with vaccine mandates gaining momentum. (AP Photo/Haven Daley)

For months, most employers relied on information campaigns, bonuses and other incentives to encourage their workforces to get the COVID-19 shot. Now, a growing number are imposing rules to make it more onerous for employees to refuse, from outright mandates to requiring the unvaccinated to undergo regular testing.

Among employers getting tougher are the federal government, the state governments of California and New York, tech giants Google and Facebook, the Walt Disney Co. and the NFL. Some hospitals, universities, restaurants, bars and other entertainment venues have also started requiring vaccines.

But the new measures are unlikely to affect many of the millions of unvaccinated Americans.

Many of the companies that are requiring shots have mostly office workers who are already largely vaccinated and are reluctant to work alongside those who aren’t.

In contrast, major companies that rely on low-income blue-collar workers — food manufacturers, warehouses, supermarkets and other store chains — are shying away from mandates for fear of driving away employees and worsening the labor shortages such businesses are facing.

Tyson Foods, for instance, said about half of its U.S. workforce — 56,000 employees — has received shots after the meat and poultry processor hosted more than 100 vaccination events since February. But the company said it has no plans to impose a mandate to reach the other half.

Walmart and Amazon, the country’s two largest private employers, have also declined to require its hourly workers to get vaccinated, continuing to rely on strategies such as bonuses and onsite access to shots. But in a potentially powerful signal, Walmart said employees at its headquarters will be required to get vaccinated by Oct. 4.

The biggest precedent so far has come from the federal government, the nation’s largest employer. President Joe Biden announced last week that all federal employees and contractors must get vaccinated or put up with weekly testing and lose privileges such as official travel.

The federal government has said it will cover the costs of the weekly tests. As for other employers, insurance may pay for such testing at some workplaces but not others.

Biden’s decision could embolden other employers by signaling they would be on solid legal ground to impose similar rules, said Brian Kropp, chief of research at consulting firm Gartner’s human resources practice.

But Kropp said some companies face complicated considerations that go beyond legalities, including deep resistance to vaccines in many states where they operate.

Retailers like Walmart might have a hard time justifying vaccine requirements for their workers while allowing shoppers to remain unvaccinated, Kropp added. Stores have mostly avoided vaccine requirements for customers for fear of alienating them and because of the difficulty in trying to verify their status.

In surveys by Gartner, fewer than 10% of employers have said they intend to require all employees to be vaccinated.

But a shift is building amid frustration over plateauing vaccination rates and alarm over the spread of the more contagious delta variant.

On Monday, the U.S. finally reached Biden’s goal of dispensing at least one shot to 70% of American adults — but a month late and amid a fierce surge that is driving hospital caseloads in some places to their highest levels since the outbreak began. The president had hoped to reach his target by the Fourth of July.

The Union Square Hospitality Group, a group of New York City restaurants and bars founded by Danny Meyer, is now requiring employees and customers to be vaccinated by Sept. 7.

The San Francisco Bar Owner Alliance, a group of about 300 bars, made a similar decision following a meeting where “the thing that stood out was anger and frustration” toward vaccine holdouts, said founder Ben Bleiman.

While some companies fear vaccine mandates will drive workers away, the pandemic itself is also causing absenteeism. Bleiman said he recently had to close his bar for a night after his bartender, who was fully vaccinated, tested positive and a replacement couldn’t be found.

Some employers are concluding that requiring vaccines is simpler than trying to come up with different rules on masks and social distancing for the small number of unvaccinated employees.

BlackRock, the global investment manager, is allowing only vaccinated workers into its U.S. offices for now and said people will be free to go maskless, as local health guidelines allow, and sit next to each other and congregate without restrictions. The firm said 85% of its U.S. employees are vaccinated or in the process of getting shots.

Matthew Putman, CEO of New York-based high-tech manufacturing hub Nanotronics, said he agonized over his decision to impose a vaccine mandate on his more than 100 employees. As it turned out, nearly all of them were already vaccinated, though he dreads the prospect of having to fire any holdouts.

“I hate the thought. But if it has to happen it has to happen,” Putman said. “I lost a ton of sleep over this but not as much sleep as I’ve lost over the fear of infection.”

Other mandates could provide a clearer test of the potential for employee backlash.

Hospitals and nursing home chains, for instance, are increasingly requiring the vaccine. So far, such mandates have survived legal challenges. More than 150 employees at a Houston hospital system who refused to get the COVID-19 shot were fired or resigned after a judge dismissed an employee lawsuit over the requirement.

Atria Senior Living, which operates more than 200 senior living communities across the country, was among the first to mandate vaccines for its staff in January.

It worked. Nearly 99% of Atria’s 10,000 employees are vaccinated, and only a tiny fraction quit over the requirement, said CEO and Chairman John Moore.

“Our residents deserve to live in a vaccinated environment. Our staff deserves to work in a vaccinated environment,” Moore said.

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The library system began a phased reopening of its branches with limited operating hours in mid-April.  

The fire, dubbed the Rincon Fire, erupted about 1:30 p.m. in the Prado Basin near the northbound 71 Freeway, north of the 91 Freeway, Cal Fire reported in a tweet.

Authorities have lifted evacuation orders but warned they could be reinstated at any time and that people should be ready to go.

With Haiti in turmoil, Catholic agencies trying to help face enormous difficulties

U.S. News & World Report 02 August, 2021 - 03:00am

President Jovenel Moïse's assassination on July 7 was the most visible signal of the social and political turmoil that has been challenging Haiti, long the least developed country in the Americas.

Amid widespread insecurity and a humanitarian crisis caused by poverty, Catholic leaders and agencies are trying to help Haitians and give them a sense of hope. But the difficulties are tremendous.

"Over the past couple of years, the church simply was not able to give any structured response to the people's problems," Holy Cross Fr. Firto Régis, who lives in Carrefour, a town west of capital Port-au-Prince, told NCR.

"There is no time to reflect and propose systemic alternatives," said Régis. "Each new situation is urgent and needs to be immediately addressed."

Indeed, Haitians have been facing crisis after crisis since the 2010 earthquake, which killed some 250,000 people and left more than 1.5 million people homeless. Moïse's last two years in office were especially turbulent, with increasing rates of poverty and violence. The country's GDP contracted by 1.7% in 2019 and by 3.8% in 2020, according to the World Bank.

Moïse's tenure should have ended in February 2021, but he claimed that the political instability that postponed the beginning of his administration to 2017 gave him one extra year in office.

In January, Moïse dissolved Congress and planned a referendum to change the country's constitution. In February, when he refused to leave office, demonstrations were organized in Port-au-Prince. The protests were repressed by the military, and dozens of people were arrested.

Moïse was allegedly killed by a group of 28 foreign mercenaries. Retired Colombian military officers and two Haitian Americans are part of the accused group. The Florida-based Haitian doctor Christian Emmanuel Sanon was accused by the Haitian police of being one of the masterminds of the crime and was arrested a few days later.

On July 20, Ariel Henry was appointed as prime minister. Elections are scheduled to be held in September.

Haitian Catholic agencies and leaders said that the president's murder has not sparked a popular uprising, as many feared.

Along with another nun, Rêgo works at a Port-au-Prince slum called Corail-Cesselesse, formed by people that had been displaced by the 2010 earthquake.

"More recent residents occupy tin-roofed tents. High temperatures inside are excruciating. There is no water to use or to drink," she said.

Rêgo's mission has been supporting about 300 families. Mothers who cannot feed their babies are part of a nurturing program. Unemployed women attend a program that teaches them to cook, sew, embroider and perform other activities that can generate income. Teenagers are taught arts and crafts, and elderly people have a space to gather during the day.

Rêgo said that she had never experienced so much violence as in the last months of Moïse's administration. "The country is totally controlled by gangs," she said.

"It's a daily effort to show the people that, despite all that, God is walking with us every day," she declared.

Régis, the priest, faces the same kind of dilemma at the school where he works in Carrefour. One of his activities is to speak with teenage students who are about to graduate about their aspirations, their life projects, their mission as citizens and Catholics.

"Those events used to be joyful moments. Over the past couple of years, the atmosphere has changed. They know that they will face terrible hardships," Régis said.

The route from Régis' school in Carrefour to a university in Port-au-Prince has been cut off by gangs. The political instability in the country results in repeated closings of the university, so the number of effective days of study has dropped to only 90. The psychological pressure over the young students is unbearable, Régis said.

"Many of them are traumatized after seeing the victims of kidnapping and murder," he said.

Over the past few months, several people of the school community have been directly or indirectly victimized by the violence. "An 8-year-old student was kidnapped as he was coming to the school. The other children cried all day long. We had to close the school for three days," said Régis.

The Catholic Church has been a frequent target of kidnappers. In the past months, several members of the clergy and nuns have been held hostage.

'I worked in the past with poor communities in Brazil, but nothing compares to the Haitian reality. It's an indescribable misery.'

Joseph said that activists like himself do not have the means to help the poor, although they would like to do so.

"Small growers have been living in poverty," he said. "Famine is everywhere. They want too much from me, but I cannot really help them."

Haitians living abroad have been following the events with anguish. In Brooklyn, where more than 90,000 Haitians live, people have reacted with great pain to the recent political events, said Fr. Jomanas Eustache, a Haitian living in New York.

"Our families live there, and we know there is violence everywhere," said Eustache, who has been working with Haitians in Brooklyn for about five months. "Nobody can feel in peace about this situation."

In Brazil, which was the destination for at least 130,000 Haitians since 2010, people have been feeling "frustrated" since Moïse's killing, said the Haitian-born Scalabrinian Fr. James-son Mercure, who now lives in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

"People are afraid and want to help their families there. But the economic crisis in Brazil has made things difficult. Newly arrived immigrants are not able to get a job and send money to their relatives," he said.

Many Haitians have been leaving Brazil and trying to get to the United States, where they hope they will have more work opportunities, Mercure added.

"There was a neighborhood in Porto Alegre that used to concentrate many Haitians. Now it is rare to see one," he said.

Eustache said he hoped Catholics agencies in Haiti might help the people not become disheartened — or give up.

"Haiti is the country of hope," he said. "We will never lose that, no matter what."

Eduardo Campos Lima holds a degree in journalism and a doctorate in literature from the University of São Paulo, Brazil. Between 2016 and 2017, he was a Fulbright visiting research student at Columbia University. He has written for major news outlets, such as Reuters and the Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo.

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