Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has been mocked for wearing a protective visor over a face mask during a diplomatic visit to Manila in accordance with Filipino laws aimed at tackling COVID.
The face of the United States military was seen walking along the front row of a Philippines military guard of honor on Friday, while a battle over mask mandates between GOP and Democratic lawmakers raged back home.
US Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) mocked Austin for his PPE, calling a video of the retired four-star general’s Thursday arrival in the country ’embarrassing COVID theatre.’ ‘Our [Secretary of Defense] is vaccinated,’ Mr Rubio wrote on Twitter. ‘But he arrives in the Philippines wearing a mask AND a face shield.’
Rubio’s comments came despite the fact that the Philippines in December made it a legal requirement to wear both a face shield as well as a face mask in public with police ordered by President Rodrigo Duterte to arrest anyone not wearing the proper protection.
‘The Philippine government has mandated that everyone must wear full-coverage face shields together with face masks while in public places,’ according to the US Embassy in the Philippines. ‘Local governments continue to implement additional requirements to slow the virus’ spread.’
Austin’s mission to the Philippines appeared successful when on Friday it was announced by his Filipino counterpart Delfin Lorenzana, in a joint press conference, that the country would continue to hold large-scale combat exercises with the United States.
The announcement is step back from Duterte’s stunning vow early in his term to distance himself from Washington as he tried to rebuild ties with China over years of territorial rifts in the South China Sea.
Meanwhile in the United States, the CDC has faced a backlash from GOP leaders after it stepped up mask and vaccination recommendations this week amid the worrying surge of the Delta variant – which some doctors have called the ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated.’
From Texas to South Dakota, egged on by former President Donald Trump, Republican leaders responded with hostility and defiance to the updated mask guidance, who advise that even fully vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors if they live in areas with high rates of virus transmission.
Pictured: United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin – seen left wearing a visor and face mask as protection again Covid-19 – views the military honor guard at Camp Aguinaldo military camp in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines Friday, July 30, during a diplomatic mission to the country
Austin (second left) is visiting Manila to hold talks with Philippine officials to boost defense ties and discuss the The Visiting Forces Agreement between the US and Philippines. In December, the Philippines made it a legal requirement to wear both a face shield as well as a face mask in public with police ordered by President Rodrigo Duterte to arrest anyone not wearing the proper protection
Austin’s (left) mission to the Philippines appeared successful when on Friday it was announced by his Filipino counterpart Delfin Lorenzana (right), in a joint press conference, that the country would continue to hold large-scale combat exercises with the United States
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, left, leads his delegation in a bilateral meeting with Philippines counterparts, separated by plexi-glass screens as a precaution against Covid-19
The backlash reopened the culture war over pandemic restrictions just as efforts to persuade unvaccinated Americans to get shots appeared to be making headway. The response reflects deep resistance among many GOP voters to restrictions aimed at containing a virus they feel poses minimal personal threat.
Abbott, 63, announced the executive order in a press release just hours after Biden called on states to do more to incentivize vaccination.
Biden announced a series of new measures Thursday meant to boost vaccination rates in the federal workforce and around the country – as the Delta variant hospitalizes covid patients and threatens the nation’s recovery.
‘You want to know how we put this virus behind us? I’ll tell you how: We get more people vaccinated,’ Biden said in remarks at the White House Thursday.
He called for Americans to get their shots, for those who got a first dose to follow up, and for people to follow evolving government mask guidance.
‘With incentives and mandates, we can make a huge difference and save a lot of lives,’ Biden said about 19 minutes into his speech – using a term that vaccine opponents have turned into a rallying cry.
Asked about doing even more to get people vaccinated through mandates by states, localities, and businesses, Biden said he wants them to ‘continue to move in that direction.’
He also didn’t rule out the idea of a national mandate, though he wouldn’t vouch for the authority. ‘It’s still a question of whether the federal government can mandate the whole country. I don’t know that yet.’
Biden acknowledged exploring the authority even amid pockets of opposition to much more mild regulations, such as wearing masks in indoor settings as a precaution.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed an executive order on Thursday night preventing mask and COVID-19 vaccination mandates
Biden said Americans may soon need to provide proof of vaccination when flying abroad, although he didn’t say whether the requirement would be imposed by host countries or other authorities
Announcing the executive order, Abbot said: ‘Today’s executive order will provide clarity and uniformity in the Lone Star State’s continued fight against COVID-19. The new Executive Order emphasizes that the path forward relies on personal responsibility rather than government mandates.’
Meanwhile, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis mocked the new government guidance that is calling for more widespread use of masks to blunt a coronavirus surge.
‘Did you not get the CDC’s memo?’ DeSantis joked on Wednesday before an almost entirely unmasked audience of activists and lawmakers crammed into an indoor hotel ballroom in Salt Lake City. ‘I don’t see you guys complying.’
On Capitol Hill, a large group of GOP lawmakers protested Nancy Pelosi’s reinstated mask mandate this week by walking over to the Senate side of the building, where there is no renewed requirement to wear a face covering.
In its announcement, the CDC cited troubling new – thus far unpublished – research that found that fully vaccinated people can spread the delta variant just like the unvaccinated, putting those who haven’t received the shots or who have compromised immune systems at heightened risk.
The CDC also recommended that all teachers, staff and students wear masks inside school buildings, regardless of vaccination status.
The backlash was swift.
At an event in Salt Lake City on Wednesday (pictured) Florida Governor Ron DeSantis mocked the new government guidance that is calling for more widespread use of masks to blunt a coronavirus surge
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (pictured earlier this month in Kansas City) called the new guidance ‘disappointing and concerning’ and ‘inconsistent with the overwhelming evidence surrounding the efficacy of the vaccines and their proven results’
‘We won’t go back. We won’t mask our children,’ declared Trump, who routinely cast doubt on the value of mask-wearing and rarely wore one in public while he was in office. ‘Why do Democrats distrust the science?’
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson called the new guidance ‘disappointing and concerning’ and ‘inconsistent with the overwhelming evidence surrounding the efficacy of the vaccines and their proven results.’
He, like others, warned that the measure would undermine efforts to encourage vaccine holdouts to get their shots by casting further doubt on the efficacy of approved vaccines, which have been shown to dramatically decrease the risk of death or hospitalization, despite the occurrence of breakthrough cases.
Last week, White House officials reported that vaccination rates were on the rise in some states where COVID-19 cases were soaring, as more Republican leaders implored their constituents to lay lingering doubts aside and get the shots to protect themselves.
That includes Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, who has pleaded with unvaccinated residents, saying they are the ones ‘letting us down.’
‘This self-inflicted setback encourages skepticism and vaccine hesitancy at a time when the goal is to prevent serious illnesses and deaths from COVID-19 through vaccination,’ Parson tweeted. ‘This decision only promotes fear & further division among our citizens.’
The announcement ‘will unfortunately only diminish confidence in the vaccine and create more challenges for public health officials, people who have worked tirelessly to increase vaccination rates,’ echoed Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, who has banned mask and vaccine mandates in his state.
In his Wednesday speech, DeSantis took particular aim at the CDC’s call for kids to wear masks in the classroom.
‘It’s not healthy for these students to be sitting there all day, 6-year-old kids in kindergarten covered in masks,’ he said – though there is no evidence that wearing masks is harmful to children older than toddler age.
And in South Dakota, Gov. Kristi Noem called out the CDC for shifting its position on masking ‘AGAIN.’ She said that those who are worried about the virus can get vaccinated, wear a mask or stay home, but that ‘Changing CDC guidelines don’t help ensure the public’s trust.’
On Capitol Hill, some Republicans were in revolt after the Capitol’s attending physician sent a memo informing members that masks would again have to be worn inside the House at all times.
The change set off a round robin of insults, with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy ‘a moron’ after McCarthy tweeted, ‘The threat of bringing masks back is not a decision based on science, but a decision conjured up by liberal government officials who want to continue to live in a perpetual pandemic state.’
The mandate also prompted an angry confrontation, as Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., verbally assailed Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, who exited the House chamber and walked past her without a face covering.
Conservatives also forced a vote to adjourn the chamber in protest to the mandate, which was defeated along mostly party lines.
Pictured: Maskless GOP lawmakers stage a protest on Thursday. U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) leaves the Senate chamber after marching with a group of House Republicans who oppose mask mandates to the Senate to highlight different coronavirus disease (COVID-19) mask rules between the House and Senate sides of the U.S. Capitol
President Joe Biden (pictured on Thursday) urged local governments to pay people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and set new rules requiring federal workers to provide proof of vaccination or face regular testing, mask mandates and travel restrictions
‘We have a crisis at our border, and we’re playing footsie with mask mandates in the people’s House,’ railed Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, the motion’s sponsor. ‘The American people are fed up. They want to go back to life. They want to go back to business. They want to go back to school without their children being forced to wear masks.’
Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., called the renewed mandates a ‘socialist takeover of America’ led by Pelosi and Biden.
‘The Democrats are back at it again – whatever it takes to put you back into lockdown,’ she said in a video shared to her Twitter followers.
‘Now we hear that Speaker Pelosi is going to have people arrested if they do not wear a mask. I don’t know about you, I’ve not heard one valid reason that a person who has been vaccinated should be forced to wear a mask.’
Abbott said that Texans ‘have mastered the safe practices’ that prevent the spread of COVID-19, even as the state reported 6,347 new cases on Thursday.
The Texas Health and Human Services data also shows 1,876 ‘possible cases’ on Thursday, with 39 new deaths attributed to COVID-19.
The data shows that the two largest demographics of deaths in Texas are white, 35 percent, and Hispanic – 36 percent. There have been a total of 2,628,438 confirmed cases in the Lone Star State and 51,984 deaths since the pandemic began.
‘They have the individual right and responsibility to decide for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks, open their businesses, and engage in leisure activities,’ Abbott said.
He added: ‘Vaccines, which remain in abundant supply, are the most effective defense against the virus, and they will always remain voluntary – never forced – in the State of Texas.’
The executive order declared that ‘no governmental entity can compel any individual to receive a COVID-19 vaccine administered under an emergency use authorization.’
It declared that state agencies could not require proof of vaccination, or so-called ‘vaccine passports,’ from people entering a place of business or receiving services.
Any public or private entity that receives state funds has also been ordered not to require proof of vaccination or deny people entry for not providing proof.
Abbott also banned companies, state and local agencies – including school districts – from requiring patrons to wear masks. He also prevented local governments and entities from imposing their own restrictions on masks within their jurisdictions.
Local governmental entities that impose directives that conflict with Abbott’s orders can face fines up to $1,000.
The orders stand in stark opposition to new CDC guidelines – effectively ordering all businesses, local governments and schools not to comply with federal recommendations.
The CDC said on Tuesday that anyone walking into a school should wear masks and that even vaccinated people should wear them again indoors in public spaces in regions ‘with substantial and high transmission.’
Substantial transmission areas are defined as having 50-99 new infections for every 100,000 people over a seven-day period – while high transmission areas have 100 or more new infections per 100,000.
More than 200 of the 254 counties in Texas are in such categories, the Texas Tribune noted.
The Texas State Teachers Association sent a letter to Abbott on Tuesday requesting he let local school districts set their own mask mandates.
‘Educators are eager to return to the classroom, but the pandemic is still dangerous,’ said Ovidia Molina, the association’s president.
A map shows the total number of coronavirus deaths and cases in the United States
A map shows the percentages of states that have received vaccinations so far
A chart shows the number of vaccinations given in the United States per vaccine type
A graph shows the average vs cumulative number of vaccinations in the United States
A graph shows shows the daily number of COVID-19 vaccinations in the United States
A graph shows the number of coronavirus deaths per day since the start of the pandemic
A graph shows the number of coronavirus deaths per day in June and July
A graph shows the number of coronavirus infections per day since the start of the pandemic
A graph shows the number of coronavirus infections per day in June and July
President Joe Biden on Thursday urged local governments to pay people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and set new rules requiring federal workers to provide proof of vaccination or face regular testing, mask mandates and travel restrictions.
The measures are Biden’s latest attempt to spur reluctant Americans to get vaccinated as the Delta variant of the coronavirus surges nationwide, infecting unvaccinated people in particular.
The United States lags behind other developed countries in vaccination rates despite having plenty of free vaccines on hand.
White House efforts to urge the hesitant to get vaccinated have hit a wall of anti-vaccine sentiment, misinformation, and political division.
Biden’s decision to require millions of federal workers and contractors to show proof of vaccination is a departure from a previous opposition to so-called vaccine passports.
It shows the White House taking a tougher stance towards circumstances within Biden’s control as the virus spreads.
‘Right now too many people are dying or watching someone they love [dying],’ Biden told reporters at the White House.
‘With freedom comes responsibility. So please exercise responsible judgment. Get vaccinated for yourself, the people you love, for your country.’
According to the CDC, roughly 163.8 million people in the United States are fully vaccinated out of a population of some 330 million.
The federal government is the largest employer in the United States and Biden’s move could serve as an example for private businesses and other institutions to follow as they assess getting workers back into offices and work places.
Government employees who do not show they have been vaccinated will be subject to weekly or twice-weekly COVID-19 tests and restrictions on official travel.
The United States has about 2.18 million civilian employees and 570,000 other U.S. Postal Service (USPS) workers, according to 2020 data. The U.S. government employed 3.7 million contract employees as of 2017, a New York University study found. Postal workers are not affected by the new rules.
Biden also directed the Defense Department to look into ‘how and when’ it will require members of the military to take the vaccine.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, while traveling in Southeast Asia, said he would consult with his medical advisers and other senior military leaders and come up with a plan for the way ahead.
Austin did not give a timeline on how long it would take to look into the issue but he said the military would move as fast as possible.
Dr Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC, is pictured on July 20
An anti-vaccine rally protester dressed up as Joe Biden holds a sign outside of Houston Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas, on June 26
Retired RN Barbara Vicente administers a shot of the Pfizer vaccine to Bobbie Guillette, 68, from Austin, Texas, at a clinic at Mother’s Brewing Company in Springfield, Missouri
Anti-vaccine rally protesters hold signs outside of Houston Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas, on June 26
Meanwhile state, local and U.S. territorial governments will be able to dip into $350 billion in coronavirus aid to provide $100 payments for every newly vaccinated American to boost COVID-19 inoculation rates, the U.S. Treasury Department said.
‘I know that paying people to get vaccinated might sound unfair to folks who have gotten vaccinated already. But here’s the deal: if incentives help us beat this virus, I believe we should use them,’ Biden said.
Growing outbreaks could have an impact on the strong economic recovery. The U.S. economy grew at an annualized rate of 6.5 percent in the last quarter, the government said on Thursday.
Another issue is how the surge in infections affects efforts to get children back into schools in the fall.
‘We can and we must open schools this fall, full time,’ Biden said. ‘We can’t afford another year out of the classroom.’
Biden pressed school districts to hold at least one ‘pop-up vaccination clinic’ in the coming weeks to get children aged 12 and older vaccinated.
The White House also said small- and medium-sized businesses will be reimbursed for offering their workers paid time off to get children and other family members vaccinated.
The National Treasury Employees Union, which has 150,000 federal employees in 34 departments and agencies, said it encouraged its members to get vaccinated but had questions about how the new rules Biden laid out would be implemented.
‘We will work to ensure employees are treated fairly and this protocol does not create an undue burden on them,’ the union’s president, Tony Reardon, said in a statement.
The International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, which has 90,000 members including some 30,000 NASA engineers and other skilled federal workers, said it supported a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal workers.
‘We don’t want any more of our members dying,’ the union’s president, Paul Shearon, said in a statement.