Florida lawmakers block vaccine, test mandates; Department of Defense to help relieve Minnesota hospitals: COVID-19 updates – USA TODAY

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With Republicans touting their defense of personal freedom and Democrats condemning the special session called by Gov. Ron DeSantis as a political stunt, Florida lawmakers approved measures Wednesday aimed at blocking any kind of vaccine or test mandates.

The outcome of the three-day session was never in doubt. 

The Republican-controlled state legislature finished work Wednesday night on a package of bills that both defy the Biden administration’s vaccine-or-test requirements for larger businesses and stop local governments from enacting such standards.

DeSantis called lawmakers back to the Capitol primarily to fight the White House in what Democrats condemned as a political play to enhance the governor’s national image and affirm his support among Floridians who refuse vaccinations.

“What are we doing?” asked Rep. Kelly Skidmore, D-Boca Raton. “We are agreeing with a loud minority that vaccines are bad,” adding: “We are devolving into making sure we are taking care of our political health, not our public health.”

Republicans saw the action differently.

“Today we’re doing something to protect people’s rights,” said Rep. Cord Byrd, R-Neptune Beach. “We are a legislature and governor who believe in individual rights, including liberty. It’s not a charade. It’s not a stunt.”

— John Kennedy, Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Also in the news:

►A global study has shown that the single most effective public health measure at tackling and preventing COVID-19 is mask-wearing, which reduces incidence by 53%. 

► New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she believes being fully vaccinated includes boosters, eschewing federal guidance which currently defines it as people with two doses of Moderna or Pfizer or one does of Johnson & Johnson. 

►The Department of Defense will send medical teams to two major Minnesota hospitals to relieve doctors and nurses who are swamped by a growing wave of COVID-19 patients, Gov. Tim Walz announced.

📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 47 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 767,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 254 million cases and 5 million deaths. More than 195 million Americans — 58% of the population — are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘What we’re reading: The pandemic has spurred many workers to reevaluate their lives and the role work plays in them, leading some to set fresh boundaries, find new jobs or maintain the side hustles that got them through the shutdowns and layoffs. Some workers shared their stories with USA TODAY.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s Coronavirus Watch newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox, and join our Facebook group.

Booster doses for all could be recommended within days

The Food and Drug Administration is expected to authorize as soon as today a COVID-19 booster shot for anyone who wants one and is at least six months past their initial vaccination. Vaccines do a great job of preventing hospitalization and death, but their protection against infection starts to fade at about six months – even in young, healthy people. That’s why booster doses may be recommended for all adults – or at least those over 30. Ted Ross, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Georgia in Athens, who recently got a booster shot himself, said the U.S. government bought so many doses so long ago that many will go to waste if they aren’t used soon.

“The thing boosters might help with is to help dampen the surge or increase we’re going to see this winter,” as people travel and spend more time indoors, Ross said. “That peak or that slope will hopefully not be as steep.”

Karen Weintraub

Vaccine-or-test rules: Are they worth the cost?

Vaccine-or-test work rules are proving to be a costly compromise for governments. Virginia’s Department of Corrections requires unvaccinated employees who work in crowded settings to get tested every three days, and the rest, every seven days. It cost the department nearly $7,000 to test 442 staff members over two days in October. The state is tapping federal COVID relief funds to pay for the testing.

Securing scarce testing supplies also can be difficult. The Virginia State Police had to wait more than a month to start a testing program in part because of delays in delivery.

Some experts say the option just isn’t as good as effective as mandating vaccine anyway.

“A vaccine-and/or-testing policy is second best,” said Jeffrey Levi, a professor of health management and policy at George Washington University. “A testing policy catches a problem early. It doesn’t prevent a problem, whereas the vaccination requirement helps to prevent it.”

Amanda Michelle Gomez and Phil Galewitz, KHN

Nearly 100 young Maryland students given diluted COVID vaccine dose

Nearly 100 Maryland elementary school students received an incorrect dose of the coronavirus vaccine at a clinic last week, health officials said. Officials were notifying the parents of 98 students at South Lake Elementary School by telephone that doses of vaccine administered at a clinic at the Montgomery Village school on Nov. 10 were diluted more than recommended, the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services said in a news release. Students were given additional doses at a clinic Wednesday. Acting county Health Officer Dr. James Bridgers said staff already received more training on children’s doses.

Over the weekend, a health clinic in the San Francisco Bay Area city of Antioch gave 14 children under age 12 the wrong dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, raising a furor among parents.

Contributing: The Associated Press