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(NEW YORK) — The United States has been facing a COVID-19 surge as the more contagious delta variant continues to spread.

More than 681,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 while over 4.7 million people have died from the disease worldwide, according to real-time data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The average number of daily deaths in the U.S. has risen about 20% in the last week, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The U.S. is continuing to sink on the list of global vaccination rates, currently ranking No. 45, according to data compiled by The Financial Times. Just 64% of Americans ages 12 and up are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the CDC.

Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Sep 23, 12:40 pm

CDC advisory panel expected to vote on Pfizer booster within hours

The CDC’s independent advisory panel is set to vote around 3 p.m. ET on which Americans are eligible now for a Pfizer booster.

After the vote, CDC director Rochelle Walensky is expected to weigh in with her official endorsement. The CDC is not bound by the panel’s recommendations but usually follows it. State officials may also implement their own criteria.

The FDA granted authorization Wednesday to the following groups: Anyone 65 or older as well as people as young as 18 if they have a medical condition that puts them at risk of severe COVID-19 or if they work a frontline job that makes it more likely that they would get infected. After authorization Wednesday night, the FDA’s acting commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said some of the groups that could be classified as front-line workers are health care employees, teachers and grocery store staffers, as well as people in prisons and homeless shelters.

Sep 23, 10:49 am

West Virginia, Montana case rates doubled in last month as Alaska sees record highs

Alaska currently has the country’s highest case rate, followed by West Virginia, Wyoming, Kentucky, Montana and South Carolina, according to federal data.

West Virginia and Montana have seen their case rates double over the last month. In Alaska, case metrics are at record highs, according to federal data.

Hospital admissions are down by about 12.5% in the last week, with improvements in Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana, according to federal data.

Seven states, however, have less than 10% ICU availability: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Texas.

Even highly vaccinated states are experiencing shortages. One central Massachusetts health system, UMass Memorial Health, is running low on critical care beds following the admission of an influx of COVID-19 patients in recent weeks.

Sep 23, 8:21 am
Team USA to require COVID-19 vaccination at future Olympic and Paralympic Games

The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee said it will require every member of its delegation to be vaccinated against COVID-19, starting this year.

According to a new policy posted on Team USA’s website, a COVID-19 vaccine mandate will take effect on Nov. 1 for “all employees, athletes, contractors and others,” unless they obtain a medical or religious exemption prior to accessing U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee facilities.

On Dec. 1, that mandate will “extend to all Team USA delegation members or hopefuls for future Games.” Individuals on the long list for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing must submit proof of full COVID-19 vaccination by this date or have received an exemption in order to participate in the upcoming Games, according to the policy, which was dated Sept. 21.

“The health and well-being of our Olympic and Paralympic community continues to be a top priority,” Team USA says on a webpage detailing the new requirement. “This step will increase our ability to create a safe and productive environment for Team USA athletes and staff, and allow us to restore consistency in planning, preparation and optimal service to athletes.”

Sep 23, 6:38 am
COVID-19 hospitalizations reach another all-time high in Iowa for 2021

More people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in Iowa than at any other point
this year so far, according to weekly data released by the Iowa Department of Public Health on Wednesday.

The data shows that there are now 638 people hospitalized with the disease statewide, up from 578 last week. Although the figure is nowhere near Iowa’s peak of more than 1,500 in mid-November last year, it’s the highest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations that the Hawkeye State has recorded since December.

Sep 22, 7:48 pm
FDA authorizes Pfizer booster dose for those who are 65 and up, high-risk

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized a third booster dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for people who are 65 and older or at high risk of severe COVID-19, the agency announced Wednesday.

The dose is authorized to be administered at least six months after the second shot. High-risk recipients must be at least 18 years old.

The announcement comes days after a similar recommendation from FDA advisers.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advisory board is scheduled to vote on booster recommendations Thursday.

Sep 22, 6:04 pm
Florida letting parents choose whether to quarantine asymptomatic, close-contact children

The Florida Department of Health issued an emergency rule Wednesday that lets parents choose whether to quarantine their children if they are deemed a close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

In such cases, parents can let their children “attend school, school-sponsored activities, or be on school property, without restrictions or disparate treatment, so long as the student remains asymptomatic,” the emergency rule stated.

The move is the state’s latest to empower parents when it comes to coronavirus measures in schools. In July, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order giving parents the choice of whether to send their kids to school with masks, setting off an intense back-and-forth between the state and districts that mandated masks in the weeks since.

DeSantis touted the new “symptoms-based approach” during a press briefing Wednesday.

“Quarantining healthy students is incredibly damaging to their educational advancement,” he said. “It’s also incredibly disruptive for families all throughout the state of Florida.”

At least one superintendent in Florida has spoken out against the new quarantine rule.

“I find it ironic that the new state rule begins with the phrase ‘Because of an increase in COVID-19 infections, largely due to the spread of the COVID-19 delta variant,'” Carlee Simon, superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools, said in a statement posted to Twitter Wednesday.

“In fact, this rule is likely to promote the spread of COVID-19 by preventing schools from implementing the common-sense masking and quarantine policies recommended by the vast majority of health care professionals, including those here in Alachua County,” she added.

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