US companies can mandate vaccinations, federal agency says; Vietnam says new variant is highly contagious. Today’s COVID-19 updates


U.S. companies can mandate that employees must be vaccinated against COVID-19, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced in a Friday statement.

Politics central in push to find COVID-19 origin

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Federal EEO laws do not prevent employers from requiring that all employees physically entering a workplace be vaccinated as long as employers comply with the reasonable accommodation provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws, according to the statement.

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Employers may also offer incentives to employees to get vaccinated, “as long as the incentives are not coercive,” the statement said.

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“Because vaccinations require employees to answer pre-vaccination disability-related screening questions, a very large incentive could make employees feel pressured to disclose protected medical information,” according to the statement.

“The updated technical assistance released today addresses frequently asked questions concerning vaccinations in the employment context,” EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows said in the statement. “The EEOC will continue to clarify and update our COVID-19 technical assistance to ensure that we are providing the public with clear, easy to understand, and helpful information.”



a group of people sitting and looking at the camera: Natalia Dubom, of Honduras, gets the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine on Friday at Miami International Airport. The vaccine will be offered to all arriving passengers through Sunday as part of a Florida Emergency Management Agency program.


© Marta Lavandier, AP
Natalia Dubom, of Honduras, gets the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine on Friday at Miami International Airport. The vaccine will be offered to all arriving passengers through Sunday as part of a Florida Emergency Management Agency program.

Also in the news:

► The Department of Veterans Affairs lifted all restrictions on gathering sizes, as well as mask and social distancing requirements, for fully vaccinated people at national veterans cemeteries ahead of Memorial Day weekend.

Carnival Cruise Line, Carnival Corp.’s flagship line, may soon be able to set sail with passengers on board. The cruise line is the latest to receive the green light from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on portions of its restart plans as it prepares to set sail in U.S. waters after forming agreements with three home ports.

► CVS is offering a chance to win a trip to the Super Bowl, a Bermuda vacation, or cash prizes to bring in more customers for COVID-19 vaccinations. Kroger is also offering customers, workers, or individuals who get the shot the chance to win $1 million or free groceries for a year.

► President Joe Biden started the Memorial Day weekend by visiting a rock climbing gym in northern Virginia as the state lifted all COVID-19 distancing and capacity restrictions at private businesses.

The European Union’s medicines agency has approved the Pfizer vaccine for 12 to 15-year-old children, making it the first vaccine allowed for this age group in the EU.

Eli Lilly paused distribution of its monoclonal antibody treatments for COVID-19 in eight states over concerns that it is not as effective against virus variants. The pause is not related to the safety of the treatment.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 33.2 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 593,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: Over 169.5 million cases and 3.5 million deaths. More than 133.5 million Americans have been fully vaccinated — 40% of the population.

📘 What we’re reading: A year after experiencing one of the deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks in the nation, Navajo Nation leaders are keeping mask restrictions and social distancing despite a high COVID-19 vaccination rate and CDC recommendations. 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.

Tennessee hat shop under fire for Star of David ‘Not Vaccinated” patch

A Nashville, Tennessee, hat seller removed an Instagram post after fueling social media controversy for selling a patch that looks like the Jewish Star of David.

HatWRKS, run by hatmaker Gigi Gaskins, posted a photo of a woman wearing a bright yellow star sticker with the words: “Not Vaccinated.”

Social media users responded with the hashtag #HateWorks, calling the patch anti-Semitic and “disgusting.” The original Instagram post had thousands of comments before being taken down.

Approximately 6 million Jewish people were killed in the Holocaust, when Nazis forced Jews to identify themselves by wearing a yellow six-pointed star.

The business responded with an Instagram statement defending the move: 

“People are so outraged by my post? But are you outraged with the tyranny the world is experiencing? If you don’t understand what is happening, that is on you not me. I pay much more respect to history by standing up with the fallen than offering silence and compliance.”

— Sandy Mazza, Nashville Tennessean

Vietnam says new variant is highly contagious

Vietnam has detected a new coronavirus variant that lab tests say might spread more easily than other virus variants, Vietnamese Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long said Saturday.

Scientists who examined the genetic makeup of the virus say the variant is a hybrid of strains first found in India and the UK, Long said.

Long said the new variant may be responsible for a surge in cases in Vietnam as the country has confirmed more than 3,500 new cases and 12 deaths in the last few weeks. The surge has prompted nationwide bans on religious events and other large gatherings, as well as the closing of public parks and non-essential businesses such as restaurants, bars, clubs and spas.

It is common for viruses to develop small genetic changes as they reproduce. The World Health Organization has listed four global “variants of concern” – the two first found in the U.K. and India, plus ones identified in South Africa and Brazil.

Vaccinations help fuel Memorial Day travel spike

Americans hit the road in near-record numbers at the start of the Memorial Day weekend, as their eagerness to break free from coronavirus confinement overcame higher prices for flights, gasoline and hotels.

More than 1.8 million people went through U.S. airports Thursday, and the daily number was widely expected to cross 2 million at least once over the long holiday weekend, which would be the highest mark since early March 2020.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas warned people to expect long lines at airports and appealed for travelers to be patient.

The rise in travel appears to be fueled by an increase in COVID-19 vaccinations as well as an improving economy. The U.S. Commerce Department said consumer spending increased in April, although not as much as in March, showing how consumers are driving a recovery from last year’s pandemic recession.

— Associated Press

South Dakota conference could undermine vaccine efforts, experts fear

The Advanced Medicine Conference opened Friday at the Sioux Falls Convention Center in South Dakota – and the state’s medical professionals aren’t happy about it.

Here’s why: The four-day convention features social media health influencers who critics say are responsible for peddling pseudoscience and COVID-19 conspiracy theories that could further jeopardize virus control measures.

“We are on the threshold of potentially moving forward and going back to our normalcy with COVID-19 vaccines,” said Dr. Santiago Lopez of Immunize South Dakota, a coalition of health care professionals, advocates, scientists, parents and community members. “So these types of meetings and conferences where they make false statements about the safety and efficacy of vaccine can lead toward people not getting vaccinated … and not getting herd immunity.”

The conference, expected to draw about 1,200 attendees, features dozens of speakers who have been identified as originating sources for various myths and untruths about the coronavirus pandemic and the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.

The AMC had previously hosted its annual event in Charlotte, North Carolina, but moved this year to South Dakota “which does NOT oppose our belief systems, philosophies and ability think and will allow us to have an event free of political rhetoric, medical myths, unscientific extrapolations and biased conclusions,” according to its website. Tickets range from $120 to $2,300.

Another drug may join list of FDA-authorized COVID treatments

Biopharmaceutical company Humanigen submitted their drug Lenzilumab to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization to treat hospitalized patients with COVID-19, the company announced Friday.

If authorized, the drug will join a growing list of treatments authorized by the FDA for COVID-19. Lenzilumab focuses on preventing and treating an overactive immune response commonly known as a “cytokine storm,” which causes the immune system to kill both healthy and diseased tissue. 

In a Phase 3 study, the drug improved the likelihood of survival without ventilation by 54% in newly hospitalized patients. Survival improved by 92% in patients who also took certain steroids and remdesivir. 

“There is a need for hospitalized patients who require supplementary oxygen,” said Dr. Cameron Durrant, Humanigen’s chief executive officer. “Treatments can be lifesaving; despite vaccinations, infections and significant breakthrough disease will continue.”

– Adrianna Rodriguez

Return to normalcy means colds and sore throats are back

There’s a downside to returning to pre-COVID-19 hygiene habits. Normalcy has also brought the return of colds, sore throats and the sniffles, doctors say.

“People are taking off their masks, they’re no longer socially distancing, they’re not washing their hands as much, and they’re getting sick again,” said Dr. Aaron Glatt, CEO of Mount Sinai hospital in South Nassau, New York. 

Getting back to normal “comes at a price,” said Glatt, who is also a fellow with the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

After a year of almost no colds, no runny noses and no watery eyes, the minor viruses kept in control by COVID-19 restrictions are making a comeback. 

Of most importance was influenza, which was at an all-time low this year. The flu season ends in April or May, so it’s not likely to rear up during the summer. But other annoying, though less dangerous viruses, are still out there.

— Elizabeth Weise

Contributing: Joe Sneve, Sioux Falls (S.D.) Argus Leader; The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: US companies can mandate vaccinations, federal agency says; Vietnam says new variant is highly contagious. Today’s COVID-19 updates

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