Coronavirus weekly need-to-know: Biden vaccine mandate, flu season, ECMO & more

·7 min read

Each week, we offer you a roundup of our noteworthy coronavirus coverage.

More than 41.7 million people in the United States have tested positive for the coronavirus as of Friday morning, Sept. 17, according to Johns Hopkins University. That includes more than 670,000 people who have died nationwide.

Globally, there have been more than 227.1 million confirmed cases of the highly infectious virus, with more than 4.6 million reported deaths.

More than 180 million Americans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Sept. 16 — about 54% of the total population, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracker shows. About 65% of adults and 63% of people aged 12 and older are fully vaccinated in the U.S.

Here’s what happened between Sept. 10 and Sept. 16.

Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate ‘raises more questions than it answers’

Workers at companies with more than 100 employees will be required to get a COVID-19 vaccine or submit to weekly testing under President Joe Biden’s new rule — but is it feasible? The rule applies to over 80 million workers in the private sector and falls under Biden’s six-part plan to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Employment law experts speculated in interviews with McClatchy News on whether the president has the power to implement such an expansive decree — one called it a “real stretch” — and what it might look like.

But they agreed a legal challenge was likely. What to know.

Biden’s COVID vaccine mandate ‘raises more questions than it answers.’ What to know

What are the differences between COVID-19 and flu?

COVID-19 and the flu — both illnesses that attack the respiratory system but are caused by different viruses — are expected to spread simultaneously beginning this fall. And yes, you can be infected with both at the same time.

It’s difficult to predict how the flu season will fare this year, but some experts say it may be worse and begin earlier than in 2020 when COVID-19 preventive measures kept other respiratory viruses, including the flu, at bay. Flu season typically runs October to May.

Doctors and scientists are still learning about the coronavirus and how it behaves, but here is how COVID-19 and the flu compare given the “best available information,” according to the CDC.

What are the differences between COVID and flu? What to know as influenza season nears

COVID-19 patients struggle to find lifesaving ECMO machines

From masks, to tests, to hospital beds, to ventilators. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to strain medical resources and personnel like never before. Now, another life-support machine is in limited supply, and the shortage is sending desperate patients thousands of miles across the country and forcing loved ones to make hundreds of calls to nearby hospitals in the hopes of getting their hands on one.

ECMO, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, is a machine that replaces the function of the heart and lungs by sucking blood out of the body, pushing it through an artificial lung that feeds it oxygen, then returning it to the heart. The last-resort procedure does not treat COVID-19, but allows patients to rest and recover enough to get off the machine.

Stories of hopeless loved ones have been reported since at least August in several states, particularly those in the South with low vaccination rates, including Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, Texas and California.

‘Matter of life and death’: COVID patients struggle to find lifesaving ECMO machines

Can your employer put you on leave if you have a COVID-19 vaccine exemption?

More companies are requiring employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine after Biden unveiled a new rule mandating millions of American workers to get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing.

Some have sought exemptions for medical or religious reasons — but what happens once they’re granted one? The requirements have prompted questions about reasonable accommodations afforded to employees under federal law.

Here’s what federal guidelines and experts say.

You have an exemption to getting a COVID vaccine. Can your employer put you on leave?

At-home COVID-19 test costs are eligible for reimbursement, IRS says

People who have used, or will use, an at-home COVID-19 test may be able to have the cost covered or reimbursed.

The Internal Revenue Service last week reminded taxpayers that the cost of at-home coronavirus testing is an “eligible medical expense” and therefore can be paid for or reimbursed under health flexible spending arrangements, health savings accounts, health reimbursement arrangements and Archer medical savings accounts.

“That is because the cost to diagnose COVID-19 is an eligible medical expense for tax purposes,” the IRS said.

Continue reading to learn more.

At-home COVID test costs are eligible for reimbursement, IRS says. Here’s what to know

Can you get a flu shot and COVID-19 vaccine booster at same time?

And just like that, we are heading into another flu season complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, except this time we have more tools under our belt.

Coronavirus vaccines have been widely available since April, and now, COVID-19 boosters are expected to roll out for all Americans beginning the week of Sept. 20, pending recommendations and authorizations from federal health officials.

Flu shots are still recommended for everyone 6 months and older, with some exceptions, as well as COVID-19 vaccines for those aged 12 and older. You may be wondering what the best steps are to dodge the flu and COVID-19. So, here are answers to some of your questions.

Can you get a flu shot and COVID vaccine booster at same time? Your questions answered

Some sheriffs reject Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine and testing mandate

President Joe Biden’s rule requiring millions of American workers to get a COVID-19 vaccine or submit to regular testing has sparked outcry among law enforcement — particularly sheriffs, many of whom are facing reelection.

In Facebook posts and public statements, elected law enforcement officials have called the president’s rule “tyranny” and “unconstitutional government overreach.” Several cited their obligation to uphold the U.S. Constitution.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is expected to draft Biden’s rule, which will affect at least 80 million employees. But enforcement won’t likely fall to local deputies or police officers — that authority belongs to OSHA, the federal agency tasked with overseeing workplace health and safety regulations.

Some sheriffs reject Biden’s COVID vaccine and testing mandate. ‘Attempt of tyranny’

Applying for a green card? Immigrants will need the COVID-19 vaccine first

Migrants applying for U.S. residency will soon be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine first, the Department of Homeland Security said.

The rule, which goes into effect Oct. 1, says that applicants who are subject to the immigration medical examination must be fully vaccinated before the exam. They must also provide proof of vaccination to the physician conducting the examination. Most green card applicants are required to undergo the physical examination.

The examination is intended to show that applicants are “free from any conditions that would render them inadmissible under the health-related grounds.”

Applying for a green card? Immigrants will need the COVID vaccine first, feds say

Army unveils COVID-19 vaccine deadline for active-duty members

Active-duty members of the U.S. Army are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by mid-December.

The Army announced that all active-duty units are expected to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 15, while Reserve and National Guard units are expected to be fully vaccinated by June 30, 2022. The plan complies with an Aug. 24 memo from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin that mandated COVID-19 vaccines for all U.S. service members.

The Army said it started implementing the order on Aug. 24. Before that, the vaccines had been optional.

‘Matter of life and death.’ Army unveils COVID vaccine deadline for active-duty members

Unvaccinated COVID-19 patients cost US hospitals billions

Unvaccinated Americans who become hospitalized are costing the U.S. health care system billions of dollars, according to a new report.

Research from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that preventable COVID-19 hospitalizations cost at least $5.7 billion between June and August.

The average coronavirus hospital bill is estimated to be $20,000, the study notes, but “there is reason to believe average costs for COVID-19 hospitalizations may be even higher.”

How much did unvaccinated COVID patients cost US hospitals? Study says in the billions

Adventuring abroad? Avoid these 9 countries with high COVID-19 risk

As travel ramps back up, the CDC is putting travelers on notice as COVID-19 cases continue rising worldwide.

The public health agency added nine nations to its list of international destinations with the highest COVID-19 risk, including three popular vacation spots in the Caribbean.

The CDC’s 4-level Travel Health Notice system is updated weekly and alerts travelers to health and safety threats across the globe, according to the agency’s website. Destinations are ranked from “Level 1 risk” to “Level 4 risk” based on reported coronavirus data.

Read on to learn what countries are high risk.

Adventuring abroad? Avoid these 9 countries with high COVID risk, CDC says

ICE facilities in Texas house more than half of detainees with COVID-19 in US

Migrant detention centers in Texas currently house more than half of all detainees with COVID-19 in the country, federal data show.

Currently, 600 migrants in detention facilities around the country have COVID-19 and are under isolation or monitoring, according to data released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Of those, 319 are in Texas centers, located in or near Dallas, El Paso, Houston and San Antonio.

ICE facilities in Texas house more than half of detainees with COVID in US

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting