Nation gathers to honor soldiers felled by war and COVID; colleges weigh vaccine requirements: Live COVID-19 updates

Restrictions at funerals have been lifted for vaccinated individuals at the nation’s 155 cemeteries dedicated to veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced last week. 

It comes as the VA reported last Monday that there were no new COVID deaths at its medical centers throughout the country, a first since March 18, 2020. VA data shows more than 12,000 have died and more than 2.5 million have been inoculated against COVID-19 out of the roughly 9 million veterans enrolled in the agency’s programs.

The isolation of the pandemic has also been particularly hard on veterans, many of whom depend on kinship with fellow service members to cope with wartime trauma, Jeremy Butler, a 47-year-old Navy Reserve officer in New York who heads the advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, told the Associated Press. 

“We’re reuniting now, but it’s been an extremely challenging year,” he said. 

But others, especially the families of veterans who survived the horrors of war, only to die from COVID, Memorial Day can reopen barely healed wounds.

In western Massachusetts, Susan Kenney told AP the death of her 78-year-old father last April from the virus still remains raw.

Charles Lowell, an Air Force veteran who served during the Vietnam War, was among 76 residents of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home who died in one of America’s deadliest coronavirus outbreaks last year in a long-term care facility.

“I’ve been reliving this for a whole year,” she said. “At every milestone. Veterans Day. His birthday. His death anniversary. Everything is a constant reminder of what happened. It’s so painful to think about.”

Also in the news:

►A Tennessee hat seller removed an Instagram post after fueling social media controversy by 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.”

►In a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers studied antibody levels of solid organ transplant recipients who had gotten two shots of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine and hadn’t previously had COVID-19. Of the 658 participants in the study, 46% had no detectable antibodies to the virus that causes COVID-19 after both shots. Read more here.

► About half of U.S. adults are completely vaccinated against COVID-19 and cases are going down across the nation. However, The Washington Post found that the rate of hospitalizations for those who are unvaccinated is the same as it was three months ago and the rate of infections for those who are unvaccinated is the same as it was in December.

►New York’s seven-day coronavirus positivity rate has dropped to a record low of 0.71%, following 55 straight days of decline, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Sunday.

►Businesses can require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and offer incentives to do so without violating federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission laws, the agency said. The updated EEOC guidance also indicates that employers must make “reasonable accommodations” for employees who don’t get vaccinated because of a disability, religious beliefs, or pregnancy.

►Japan on Friday announced that the country’s state of emergency set to expire Monday would be extended until June 20, a little more than a month from the Olympic Games which are set to be held in Tokyo.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 33.2 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 594,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: Over 170.1 million cases and 3.53 million deaths. More than 135 million Americans have been fully vaccinated — 40.7% of the population.

📘 What we’re reading: The pandemic — and the political battles and economic devastation that have accompanied it — have inflicted unique forms of torment on mourners, making it harder to move ahead with their lives than with a typical loss.

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.

Base built to launch U-boats now a vaccination site

A decommissioned World War II submarine base in Lorient, France, has become the latest vaccination site for the country, according to the New York Times.

The structure, built in 1941, was initially used to launch German U-boats. Now revamped with chairs, tents and an art exhibit, the base turned vaccination center has administered more than 6,000 doses over the past week, the Times reported.

The first person to receive a vaccination at the site was a Frenchman involved in the war and worked on the reassembly of submarines, the vaccination center chief Jean-Michel Pasquet told the paper.

“He told us it was a beautiful symbol of resilience,” Mr. Pasquet said. “This bunker that used to build warships to kill people now embodies a comeback to life.”

Colleges hope students get COVID vaccines for fall semester — but can they require it?

As colleges plan for a potential re-opening in fall 2021, some question if vaccination will be required to take classes in person.

Although about half of American adults are fully vaccinated, only about 30% of college-age adults make up the group, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Considering college towns and counties home to universities experienced some of the worst outbreaks of COVID-19, vaccination has become a priority to resuming in-person classes.

Over 400 colleges across the United States are requiring at least some students and employees to be vaccinated before returning to campus, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Controversy on the colleges’ decision to make it a requirement stems from the vaccine being approved by the FDA under an emergency authorization order. The University of California and the California State University systems, for example, said they will require vaccinations once it is fully approved.

Unvaccinated staffers at Houston hospital file lawsuit

117 unvaccinated staffers at Houston Methodist Hospital filed a lawsuit against the hospital on Friday stating that it is unlawful to require them to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The claim states that the mandate violates the Nuremberg Code, which prevents experimentation on human subjects without consent.

The code was developed after World War II as a response to atrocious medical practices conducted in concentration camps. The lead plaintiff, Houston Methodist nurse Jennifer Bridges, said that there needs to be further study on the COVID-19 vaccine.

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