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A international political struggle to control the narrative of coronavirus is growing as the United States, Europe, and China focus on investigating the origins of the COVID-19 instead of solving other problems perpetuating the global pandemic. (May 26) AP Domestic

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

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.

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

“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.”

Also in the news:

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.

📈 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.

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

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