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As Covid cases drop in Georgia and Florida, some states with colder weather see an increase

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By Madeline Holcombe and Amir Vera, CNN

Southern states, many of which have been hotspots, are now starting to see a decrease in Covid-19 cases while many states that have started experiencing cold weather — mostly in the North and Midwest — are seeing an uptick, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

New cases in Georgia and Florida are down 37% and 25%, respectively, compared to last week, JHU data showed. Both states had among the 10 lowest case rates in the past week. But a handful of states — in regions where cold weather has set in — are seeing an increase. This pattern is similar to what happened last year.

Five states saw Covid-19 cases increase more than 10% compared to last week, JHU data shows. Those states include Iowa, Oklahoma, Alaska, Vermont and New Hampshire.

Alaska, particularly, had more Covid-19 cases per capita than any other state over the past week, JHU data showed. Cases jumped 14% over the week before, and there were 125 new cases per 100,000 people each day, about five times the national average.

Vermont was once among the states with the lowest case rates, and now ranks among the 15 worst case rates.

Cases are trending in the right direction in the US overall — the daily average is down 10% over the past week.

The downturn of cases, hospitalizations and deaths could end with another spike, said Dr. Anthony Fauci the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. But the US could still prevent that spike with higher vaccination rates.

The US Food and Drug Administration is planning to allow people to receive a different Covid-19 vaccine as a booster shot than the one they initially received, people familiar with the FDA told The New York Times on Monday.

According to the Times, the FDA might note that getting the same vaccine as a booster is preferable, but it would not recommend one shot over the other.

The National Institutes of Health presented early information to the FDA’s vaccine advisers Friday from an ongoing study showing that it didn’t matter which vaccine people got first and which booster they got — it was safe to mix boosters and it revved up immune response. Mixing boosters also provided a good response to the Delta variant.

Dr. Amanda Cohn, a member of FDA’s vaccine advisory panel, said guidance about mixing and matching Covid vaccine booster shots would allow flexibility for the public and for those trying to offer vaccine doses to the public.

“I don’t think there’s any sort of need from a public health perspective to have a preference for mixing or matching,” said Cohn, who is also chief medical officer for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases.

Although cases still remain high, with an average of about 85,000 new infections a day as of Sunday, they are down by more than 8,000 from a week prior, according to JHU data. Deaths are down an average of more than 200 a day from the start of the month.

Progress in the numbers is threatened, however, by the low rates of vaccination. As of Monday, 57% of the total population was fully vaccinated against the virus, according to the CDC.

And though health experts do not know exactly what proportion of the population needs to be protected to control the spread of the virus, Fauci has said a vast majority will need to be vaccinated.

Fauci does not think another spike in cases is inevitable.

“It’s going to be within our capability to prevent that from happening,” said Fauci, who is also the chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden.

“The degree to which we continue to come down in that slope will depend on how well we do about getting more people vaccinated.”

Mandates counterproductive, governor says

Health experts have pointed to vaccine mandates as a key tool to keeping cases down and relieving hospital strain, but some officials stand staunchly against the measures.

Fauci has been a proponent of mandates, saying the data shows that they work in getting more people vaccinated. And though it would be preferable to convince people to choose to get vaccinated, that is not always feasible, he said.

“I think when you’re in a public health crisis, sometimes unusual situations require unusual actions,” Fauci told Fox News.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Sunday that he believes both federal and state mandates are counterproductive to increasing vaccination rates.

Hutchinson told NBC News he believes muddled messaging at the highest levels of government has “slowed down acceptance of the vaccine and increased resistance.”

“I’d like to see us get to, without the mandate battle, let’s just encourage the vaccine acceptance, build confidence in it, and that’s the direction we need to go,” the governor said.

Asked specifically about the success of Tyson Foods and Walmart’s vaccine mandates in the state of Arkansas, the governor said it is “absolutely” proof mandates work.

“So yes, there is an effectiveness there. And so, let me make it clear that when I say I don’t believe we ought to be engaged in mandates, I’m speaking of the government mandates, whether it’s a federal government mandate or a state government mandate,” he said.

Hutchinson pointed out that employers must navigate a nuanced, on-the-ground reality of some employees wanting a vaccine mandated work environment to feel safe while others do not. Hutchinson said, based on that predicament, the choice of whether to mandate should be left in the hands of employers.

Gottlieb pushes for research into Delta variant type seen in UK

Former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said “urgent research” is needed into a different version of the Delta variant of the coronavirus that has been seen in the UK, although there’s no evidence that it’s more transmissible.

“The variant has been in the UK since about July, but it has been slowly increasing in prevalence. There’s no clear indication that it’s considerably more transmissible, but we should work to more quickly characterize these and other new variants. We have the tools,” he wrote in a tweet on Sunday.

“This is not a cause for immediate concern but a reminder that we need robust systems to identify, characterize new variants,” he said.

A report released by the UK Health Security Agency on Friday says in the week beginning September 27 — the last full week with complete sequencing data — this version accounted “for approximately 6% of all sequences generated, on an increasing trajectory.”

Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths have all been rising in the UK, where there are no countrywide mask mandates and few travel restrictions from other countries.

Even with waivers, some paid thousands for Covid hospitalizations, study says

Many insurers waived Covid-19 hospitalization costs in 2020, but those waivers didn’t cover everything and out-of-pocket expenses cost patients a lot more than other respiratory diseases, according to a new study.

The study published Monday in JAMA Network Open found that out-of-pocket spending for Covid-19 hospitalization was about $4,000 on average for people with private insurance. For people with Medicare Advantage it was more than $1,500.

Researchers looked at hospitalization records for more than 4,000 people in 2020 and found that this spending was about four times the average out-of-pocket cost for other respiratory infections in 2019.

“The findings suggest that out-of-pocket spending for COVID-19 hospitalizations may be substantial if insurers allow cost-sharing waivers to expire,” the study said.

Minnesota governor announces incentives

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced that children in the 12-to-17 age group will be eligible for a $200 gift card if they get fully vaccinated.

Additionally, all children that are fully vaccinated will be entered into a weekly drawing for a $100,000 scholarship to a Minnesota college.

“It’s an incentive, it’s an acknowledgment that the sooner we get this group vaccinated, the sooner we spread our vaccinations, we’re seeing it around the world,” Walz said. “Once you start to get close to that 80% number, you start to see amazing things happen as the infections drop off.”

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CNN’s Deidre McPhillips, Carma Hassan, Gregory Lemos, Jen Christensen, Jamie Gumbrecht, John Bonifield, Elizabeth Cohen and Jennifer Henderson contributed to this report.

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