Today’s coronavirus news: New CDC data underscores need for continued indoor masking, higher vaccination targets, head of Ontario’s science table says

The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Saturday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

9:53 a.m.: With U.S. health officials recommending that children mask up in school this fall, parents and policy makers across the nation have been plunged anew into a debate over whether face coverings should be optional or a mandate.

The delta variant of the coronavirus now threatens to upend normal instruction for a third consecutive school year. Some states have indicated they will probably heed the federal government’s guidance and require masks. Others will leave the decision up to parents.

The controversy is unfolding at a time when many Americans are at their wits’ end with pandemic restrictions and others fear their children will be put at risk by those who don’t take the virus seriously enough. In a handful of Republican-led states, lawmakers made it illegal for schools to require masks.

In Connecticut, anti-mask rallies have happened outside Gov. Ned Lamont’s official residence in Hartford, and lawn signs and bumper stickers call on him to “unmask our kids.” The Democrat has said that he’s likely to follow the latest advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC on Tuesday recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors at schools nationwide, regardless of vaccination status. The agency cited the risk of spread of the highly contagious delta variant, even among vaccinated people.

8:29 a.m.: Alarming new COVID-19 data from the U.S. suggests that vaccinated people with breakthrough infections can spread the Delta variant as easily as those who are unvaccinated — data the head of Ontario’s science table called a “game-changer” that underscores the need for continued indoor masking and higher vaccination targets than what policy-makers are currently aiming for.

The data comes from a new paper by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the agency published in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

It was also referenced in a leaked CDC presentation, obtained and posted online by the Washington Post, urging health officials to start acknowledging “the war has changed” thanks to Delta, a strain even more transmissible than the viruses causing Ebola, the common cold or chickenpox.

In its new MMWR study, the CDC described an investigation into a massive Delta-driven outbreak in Barnstable County, Mass., which infected 469 people with COVID-19, three quarters of whom were fully vaccinated. Seventy-nine per cent of vaccinated cases were symptomatic; worryingly, viral loads in many fully-vaccinated people were “similar” to those who had never been vaccinated.

These new data were “pivotal” in the CDC’s decision to reverse its position on masking on Tuesday, when it issued guidelines for vaccinated people to resume indoor masking in areas with high infection rates.

Read more on Jennifer Yang’s latest.

8:28 a.m.: In June, the G7 pledged 870 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access, or COVAX, to help it meet its two billion vaccine goal for lower- and middle- income countries by the end of 2021.

The global vaccine-sharing initiative is pooling funds and vaccines to distribute to 92 low- and middle- income countries with the goal of vaccinating 20 per cent of their populations.

But as high-income countries move into post-vaccination life with vaccination rates of more than 80 doses per 100 people, a number we’re not seeing in the headlines is the 1.1 per cent.

That’s the percentage of people in low-income countries who have received at least one dose. Globally, 3.83 billion vaccine doses have been administered so far, but a large vaccine gap exists between countries and continents. Africa has the lowest vaccination rate.

With a global population of 7.88 billion, and only 27.1 per cent of the population vaccinated, that means 5.74 billion people globally aren’t vaccinated. And the majority of those people are in South America, Asia, Oceania and Africa.

The pandemic has left asylum-seekers, refugees and undocumented migrants in the lurch — and when it comes to vaccination rates, they’re being similarly affected.

With 86 per cent of the world’s refugees living in low- and middle- income countries, their inclusion and prioritization in national vaccination plans is crucial.

Saturday 8:26 a.m.: West Virginia raced ahead of the country last winter to get people in nursing homes vaccinated against COVID-19, but with cases and hospitalizations on the rise again, state officials want to know whether immunity levels are falling for residents who had their shots.

Starting in August, West Virginia plans to begin measuring the levels of disease-fighting antibodies in the blood of vaccinated nursing home residents, which could help indicate whether they need a booster shot. The process will be voluntary and the data will be shared with federal health agencies evaluating the need for boosters.

Some experts question the strategy, particularly since the federal government has not yet authorized the extra shots.

Read Friday’s coronavirus news.

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