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Boosters, employer mandates drive increase in U.S. COVID vaccines

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Boosters, employer mandates drive increase in U.S. COVID vaccines

The number of Americans getting COVID-19 vaccines has steadily increased to a three-month high as seniors and people with medical conditions seek boosters, and government and employer mandates push more workers to take their first doses.

Demand is expected to spike in a few weeks if regulators authorize the Pfizer vaccine for elementary school children, and some states are reopening mass vaccination clinics in anticipation.

In Missouri, a mass vaccination site at a former Toys R Us store is set to open Monday. Virginia plans to roll out nine large vaccination centers over the next few weeks, including one at the Richmond International Raceway.

Colorado opened four mass vaccination sites in mid-September, largely to deal with employer mandates, and officials saw a 38% increase in vaccinations statewide during the first week.

The total number of doses being administered in the U.S. is climbing toward an average of 1 million per day, almost double the level from mid-July — but still far below last spring. The increase is mainly due to boosters, with nearly 10% of the nation’s over-65 population already getting third shots, but there are signs of increased demand from other groups as well.

On Thursday, 1.1 million doses were given, including just over 306,000 to newly vaccinated people, said Dr. Cyrus Shahpar, the White House COVID-19 data director.

Organizers of the effort to reach the roughly 67 million unvaccinated American adults say the rise in demand can be traced to approval of the Pfizer booster, mandates that have forced employees to choose between the shot and their jobs and sobering statistics that show nearly all COVID-19 deaths are among the unvaccinated.

“We’re seeing people who need the shot to keep a job,” said Dr. Ricardo Gonzalez-Fisher, who runs a mobile vaccine clinic mostly for Latinos in Colorado.

Last weekend, his clinic delivered 30 shots to people outside the Mexican Consulate in Denver. “On these days, 30 is a very good number,” he said.

Virginia’s state vaccine coordinator, Dr. Danny Avula, said opening the large vaccination centers, will allow local health departments to focus on reaching underserved communities. “This should really help relieve the burden for our local providers,” he said.

Last week, the number of people getting shots at a mall in Charlottesville, Virginia, doubled over the previous week, said Ryan McKay, who oversees COVID-19 operations for the Blue Ridge Health District.

The big push now, he said, is in neighborhoods where rates are low. The health district has set up mobile clinics at weekend basketball tournaments, high school football games and even at a corner market where 20 people were vaccinated in a day.

“Those 20 vaccinations sound small, but it’s really a huge success,” McKay said.

Vice President Kamala Harris stopped Friday at vaccine center in Newark, New Jersey, where she met with patients and health care workers and encouraged people to get the shot.

“There will be an end to this,” she said. “We really feel we are starting to get in front of this.”

Alba Lopez in Ohio decided to get the Pfizer vaccine Friday at the Columbus Public Health Department after tiring of twice-weekly testing required by her employer, Chase Bank, and filling out an online form each day indicating whether she had a fever and how she felt.

The vaccine “helped me to avoid all that,” said Lopez, who also figured her company will eventually require it.

Health officials in Springfield, Missouri, an early epicenter of the delta surge, are opening the new vaccination site at the former toy store because they anticipate seeing an influx of people.

Roughly 28 million more U.S. children could be eligible for reduced-dose kids’ shots as early as November if regulators give their approval. Regulators have yet to take up the question of booster shots for people who got the Moderna or the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but that’s likely coming soon.

“All told, in the coming weeks and months, we are expecting more than 120,000 people to seek vaccine,” said Jon Mooney, assistant director of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department. “We are already experiencing increased demand in the last week or two.”

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Consumer confidence takes a hit in November

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Consumer confidence takes a hit in November

WASHINGTON — U.S. consumer confidence fell to a nine-month low in November, clipped by rising prices and concern about the coronavirus.

The Conference Board reported Tuesday that its consumer confidence index dropped to a reading of 109.5, down from 111.6 in October. It was the lowest reading since the index stood at 95.2 in February.

The survey was completed on Nov. 19 and does not include omicron, a new variant of the coronavirus that has begun to spread with few answers about the damage it might do to the U.S. and global economies.

Even before the omicron variant appeared, consumer optimism was being tested by price spikes across the board, particularly for gasoline and food.

The Conference Board’s present situation index, which measures consumers’ assessment of current business and labor conditions, fell to 142.5, down from 145.5 in October. The expectations index, based the outlook for income, business and labor market conditions, fell to 87.6 in November from 89.0 in October.

The board said concerns about rising prices and to a lesser degree, lingering worries about the delta variant, were the primary drivers of the November decline.

But economists believe rising prices and any jolt from the omicron variant will not have a major impact on holiday spending this year, something that can have a sizable impact on the U.S. economy.

Nancy Vanden Houten, lead U.S. economist at Oxford Economics, said she expected the omicron variant would have only a “moderate negative impact on growth.” She is looking for the overall economy to expand at an annual rate of 7.9% in the current quarter ending in December, a big improvement from the lackluster 2.1% GDP gain in the July-September quarter.

The decline in the Conference Board confidence index followed an even bigger drop reported last week in the University of Michigan’s gauge of consumer sentiment, which fell in November to a decade-low of 7.4, compared to a final October reading of 71.7.

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Ticker: Woburn firm in battery deal with Mercedes, Stellantis; Maine groups take aim at fed permits for hydro lines

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Ticker: Woburn firm in battery deal with Mercedes, Stellantis; Maine groups take aim at fed permits for hydro lines

Automakers Mercedes-Benz and Stellantis announced agreements with Woburn-based Factorial Energy on Tuesday to help develop solid-state battery technology that they hope could make electric cars more attractive to a mass market.

Mercedes-Benz, part of Daimler AG, said it is joining forces with Factorial to jointly develop batteries with the aim of testing prototype cells as early as next year. It said it is “investing a high double-digit million dollar amount in Factorial” that will give it the right to a representative on the battery company’s board of directors.

Stellantis, which combined PSA Peugeot and Fiat Chrysler, said it signed a joint development agreement with Factorial and is making a “strategic investment” in the company. It didn’t detail the size of the investment.

Maine groups take aim at hydro lines

Maine environmental groups have requested that the federal government suspend the permits it issued to a billion-dollar electricity project for Massachusetts residents, which Maine voters rejected in a referendum last month.

Three groups, including the Natural Resources Council of Maine, wrote a joint letter on Monday to the federal Department of Energy and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, seeking to halt the New England Clean Energy Connect project.

The 145-mile electric transmission corridor would run through western Maine, and is backed by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker.

The letter emphasized that the project could not continue because of the Nov. 2 referendum blocked the project that would be used to transmit power from hydroelectric dams in Canada to the New England grid through Lewiston.

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John Shipley: Change looks good on the Wild

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John Shipley: Change looks good on the Wild

The Minnesota Wild are an almost entirely different team than the one that has been disappointing its fans for the better part of 20 years. For Wild fans, it must feel good.

Forget for a minute how good the Wild have been this season and simply enjoy not hearing about “the young core” or Ryan Suter’s steady veteran leadership.

Chuck Fletcher’s core? Hardly anyone left. Suter and Zach Parise? Gone for fewer than 25 games and already forgotten. The Wild entered Tuesday night’s game as one of the best teams in the NHL and looked every bit the part in a wide-open, 5-2 victory over the Arizona Coyotes at Xcel Energy Center.

The Coyotes, to be polite, are not very good. But the Wild handled them the way a good team handles a not very good one. It wasn’t always perfect, but it was fun to watch.

Sometimes making a change, any change, is the answer.

Paul Fenton didn’t last a full year as the Wild’s general manager, but he was here long enough to ask a question that absolutely had to be answered: Why are we still married to Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter?

There was no good answer, so he got rid of them, sometimes for, well, not much. But it was a start and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Current GM Bill Guerin was just finishing his second season as Fenton’s replacement when he tackled the other major piece of old business: Are Parise and Suter still helping us?

Guerin determined the answer was no, bought out the rest of their $98 million contracts at a financial penalty, and it’s hard to argue with the decision. After Tuesday’s win, the Wild are 15-6-1 and tied with Calgary atop the Western Conference standings with 31 points.

“I think that fits right where we should be, where we expect to be,” said winger Jordan Greenway, who scored his first goal of the season on Tuesday and added assists on goals by Joel Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno.

“We’ve been playing well enough to be at the top of leaderboard. So, yeah, I think that’s where we should be, and that’s where we should stay for a while.”

A second-round draft pick out of Boston University, Greenway played his first full season in 2018-19, the tail end of Fletcher’s 10-year reign in Minnesota. Fletcher drafted a lot of players still helping the Wild, most notably blue liners Matt Dumba, Jared Spurgoen and Jonas Brodin and forward Kirill Kaprizov, a fifth-round (!) pick in 2015. The guy knew what he was doing.

But Fletcher had grown so close to his plan that he failed to alter course after it became clear it wasn’t going to work. The forwards he had drafted for his “young core” — Coyle, Niederreiter, Granlund and Jason Zucker — all had an upside but didn’t work as a unit. Parise and Suter had missed their window and became more trouble than they were worth. Still, Fletcher was loath to change it.

Enter Fenton, who was something of a bull in a china shop but did the team a service by taking the important first steps of the dirty work. Guerin has shown a knack for adding congruent parts — Cam Talbot, Ryan Hartman — and made the difficult decision to jettison Parise and Suter, shocking at the time but only because of the money the team is still paying them.

Whatever those two brought, on the ice or in the dressing room, it hasn’t been missed. This is a confident, dialed-in team that is fun to watch. They lead the NHL in scoring with 83 goals, one better than the Washington Capitals and 19 more than they have allowed.

“We’re not teaching, we’re not coaching any differently,” coach Dean Evason said. “I just think that we’ve got some depth scoring that everybody’s producing. They’re all for the most part playing the right way and the same way, and if we do that we feel that we’ll be able to score goals.”

Sports are a fickle business, and hockey more fickle than most. Maybe this won’t last. Maybe the Wild get bounced in the first round of the playoffs again. Who knows? But one thing is certain: If it goes belly up, or is just plain disappointing in the end, it won’t be for the same reasons as the past 10 years. It won’t be because the team was afraid to do something different.

Doesn’t that feel good?

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