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COVID in the U.S. update: Disney's vaccine mandate, boosters, a startling death toll

A Disney employee welcomes guests to Walt Disney World Resort on July 11, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Disney has paused its COVID-19 vaccine mandate to comply with a new Florida law.
Matt Stroshane
Walt Disney World Resort via Getty
A Disney employee welcomes guests to Walt Disney World Resort on July 11, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Disney has paused its COVID-19 vaccine mandate to comply with a new Florida law.

The U.S. is approaching its second Thanksgiving in the COVID-19 pandemic, and cases are rising again.

The CDC reported that, as of Thursday, the seven-day daily average of new infections was 88,482, a 16.1% jump over the prior week.

Public health experts say families that are fully vaccinated can enjoy a normal Thanksgiving together, and they're urging those who have not yet gotten the shot to do so.

Here are some other coronavirus updates:

Disney pauses employee vaccine mandate after new Florida law

Disney has paused its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for workers at Walt Disney World in Orlando, the company confirmed to NPR on Sunday.

It comes after a new Florida law signed Thursday by Gov. Ron DeSantis that bars employers from imposing COVID-19 vaccine mandates and gives employees the ability to select an exemption or opt for periodic testing or the use of personal protective equipment.

"Nobody should lose their job due to heavy-handed COVID mandates and we had a responsibility to protect the livelihoods of the people of Florida," DeSantis said.

In a statement to NPR, a Disney spokesperson said the company believes its "approach to mandatory vaccines has been the right one as we've continued to focus on the safety and well-being of our Cast Members and Guests."

More than 90% of Disney's Florida-based employees have verified that they're fully vaccinated, the company said.

Fauci says it's unclear how often boosters will be necessary

The head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week endorsed COVID-19 booster shots for all adults who were fully vaccinated.

But as to whether we'll need boosters of the coronavirus vaccine this frequently for the foreseeable future, experts say the jury is still out.

"We would hope — and this is something that we're looking at very carefully — that that third shot with the mRNA [vaccines] not only boosts you way up but increases the durability so that you will not necessarily need it every six months or a year," Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the president for COVID-19, said on ABC's This Week Sunday morning.

"We're hoping it pushes it out more," he added. "If it doesn't, and the data show we do need it more often, then we'll do it."

Fauci was also asked about the governors of Connecticut and New Mexico saying that people are no longer considered fully vaccinated until they've gotten booster shots. He said the federal definition of fully vaccinated remains unchanged: two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson shot.

Have COVID deaths in 2021 surpassed those in 2020?

Data from Johns Hopkins University appears to show that recorded deaths from COVID-19 in 2021 have surpassed those from 2020, even as the vaccine has been widely available for most of the year.

As of Sunday, the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 data dashboard reported that there have been 771,045 total coronavirus deaths in the U.S. throughout the course of the pandemic.

According to the CDC, 385,343 deaths occurred last year, which would mean that the remaining fatalities — 385,702 — happened in 2021.

But official CDC data has not yet caught up with the university's tally. The agency said 382,861 people have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. so far this year.

Johns Hopkins gets its data directly from state and county health authorities.

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