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Dr. Fauci Says Early Reports On Omicron Covid-19 Variant Are Encouraging 

US health officials stated this Sunday that while the omicron variant is rapidly spreading throughout the world and country, early reports suggest it may be less dangerous than the delta variant, which is continuing to impact hospitalization rates across America. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, told the media that scientists do need more information before drawing any concrete conclusions about omicron and its severity. 

South Africa, where the variant initially emerged, reported that it is becoming the dominant strain for its citizens, but also suggested that their hospitalization rates haven’t increased exponentially like they did with delta initially. 

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“Thus far, it does not look like there’s a great degree of severity to omicron, but we have really got to be careful before we make any determinations that it is less severe or it really doesn’t cause any severe illness, comparable to delta.”

Fauci also explained how the Biden administration is considering lifting travel restrictions between the US and noncitizens from several African countries. Initially, the US imposed heavy restrictions once the omicron variant first appeared. 

“Hopefully we’ll be able to lift that travel ban in a quite reasonable period of time. We all feel very badly about the hardship that has been put on not only in South Africa but the other African countries,” Fauci said.

According to reports the omicron variant has been detected in about a third of the US state’s as of this past Sunday. The Northeast, South, Great Plains, and West Coast have all reported omicron cases with Wisconsin, Missouri and Louisiana being the most recent states to confirm cases. 

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Delta continues to remain the dominant variant in the US, as it’s currently driving a surge of hospitalizations in the North, and makes up about 99% of the confirmed Covid cases. The National Guard has been sent out to help overwhelmed hospitals throughout the Northeast, and many hospitals are rescheduling non-urgent surgeries to cope with the increase in Covid patients. 

A majority of these cases are among unvaccinated individuals as well, so US officials are working hard to continue to urge people to get vaccinated, receive their booster shots, and take all the necessary precautions when out in public. 

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) epidemiologist Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove told the media this week that even if the omicron variant continues to be less dangerous than the delta variant, it’s existence alone is still a major issue. 

“Even if we have a large number of cases that are mild, some of those individuals will need hospitalizations. They will need to go into ICU and some people will die. … We don’t want to see that happen on top of an already difficult situation with delta circulating globally.”

We are now about two years into the pandemic, and during that time about 780,000 Americans have died, and deaths remain at a rate of 860 per day, proving we still have a long way to go before we can consider this pandemic even close to being beaten. With more than 86,000 infections being reported per day, experts are encouraging all Americans to remain safe during the upcoming holiday season, and keep all travel to a minimum. 

Experts Warn Omicron Covid Variant Is A ‘Reason To Be Worried’

The Omicron Covid-19 variant was first detected in South Africa, and has now spread to 14 countries, with some experts claiming the variant has already reached the US. Scientists are working to figure out how much more dangerous and contagious the new variant is when compared to other variants, especially as international governments race to ease travel restrictions. 

The US has been imposing travel restrictions on travelers from South Africa since Monday, as well as other countries around the region. The variant has already been confirmed in Canada, and Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former head of the Food and Drug Administration, discussed the variant on the news recently. 

“The new variant is likely already in the United States, but the government is better positioned to detect cases of the new strain than it was a year ago.”

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As of this week, most travelers from southern Africa are barred from entering the United States, and restrictions have been renewed for all travel from southern Africa to most European countries. Within 36 hours of discovering the new strain, scientists in South Africa alerted the world and began testing current vaccines against the strain immediately. Dr. Anthony Fauci discussed the increased risk for unvaccinated Americans when it comes to any variant. 

“The US certainly has the potential to go into a fifth wave of high infections if enough people don’t come forward for vaccination and booster shots.”

South Africa’s government and president, however, are worried that the region is being unjustly blamed for the new variant, when the reality is these variants only have the opportunity to develop due to uneven distribution of the Covid-19 vaccines throughout the world. 

“We want all travel bans to be reversed, as they have no basis in science. These restrictions are completely unjustified and unfairly discriminate against our country,” South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa said. 

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“I think there’s good reason to be worried. I don’t think that means that we’re powerless, answers are coming. We need to collect data. We need to investigate and understand this variant,” said Professor Anne Van Gottberg of South Africa’s Institute for Communicable Diseases.

“We should be doing the things that we know work when you’re dealing with a pandemic virus. It’s not the time to panic. We should be concerned, and our concern should spur us to do the things that we know work,” Dr. Fauci said.

Fauci explained that “the concern over the new variant comes from the number and type of mutations found around the spike protein, the part of the virus molecule that allows it to attach itself to human cells. The high number of mutations and where they were found suggests that this would be more transmissible, and also suggests that it might evade some of the immune parameters that we have, such as antibody and plasma treatments, and the current vaccines.”

“It appears to be spreading very readily and has a transmission advantage. One of the key things we don’t know right now is whether the new variant causes more severe COVID-19 symptoms than previous strains.”

Omicron currently accounts for more than 2,000 new daily cases in South Africa. One expert in the nation is worried that the daily infection rate could triple within the next week alone. 

“I am expecting we will top over 10,000 cases by the end of the week per day,” Dr Salim Abdool Karim said during an online press briefing by the Health Ministry.

President Biden’s Vaccine Mandate For 100 Million Workers Officially Being Enforced

Back in September President Biden announced that he would be working on creating multiple vaccine mandates to get more Americans vaccinated. On Thursday, the administration started the process by releasing mandates for over 100 million workers. 

The first rule has been issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and covers mandates for companies with 100 or more employees; it’s estimated this rule will apply to 84 million workers. Companies need to ensure their employees are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 by January 4th, or they will need to provide a negative test in order to come into work every week. 

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OSHA’s rule also requires employers to pay their employees for the time it takes for them to get vaccinated, and recover from any potential side effects that arise. 

Employers also won’t be required to pay for weekly testing for their unvaccinated employees, or even provide the testing in the first place. This is in an attempt to get more employees to actually receive their vaccines as opposed to remaining at higher risk for exposure. 

Unvaccinated workers will also be required to wear face coverings at all times; this rule will be enforced starting December 6th. 

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services are requiring around 17 million health care workers to be vaccinated by January 4th. However, healthcare workers won’t be given the option to decline being vaccinated to opt for weekly testing. 

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Some employers are worried that the deadlines OSHA provided won’t give some of them enough time to gather the information required to find out who’s already vaccinated and who’s not. However, the Biden Administration asserted their authority in issuing these mandates due to OSHA’s responsibility to provide safe and healthy working conditions for all employees. 

“A virus that has killed more than 745,000 Americans, with more than 70,000 new cases per day currently, is clearly a health hazard that poses a grave danger to workers,” said a senior administration official.

Companies will mainly be responsible for enforcing the OSHA rule, as there’s only a couple thousand state and federal OSHA inspectors nationwide. It’s expected that OSHA inspectors will more likely be responding to employee complaints regarding their employers or fellow workers who aren’t abiding by the mandates. 

Employers that violate the rule can face fines up to $13,000 per violation, and depending on how severe the violation is that fine could multiply by ten.

Covid-19 Deaths Surpass 5 Million Globally As Pandemic Progresses 

More than 5 million people have now died from Covid-19 during the two year span of this pandemic. The world is continuing to battle this virus, its highly infectious strains, and any new mutations that may appear. 

According to Johns Hopkins University, there have been 5,000,425 Covid-19 related deaths around the world. 745,836 of those deaths were in the United States, making it the country with the highest Covid death rate. 

Despite the rise in deaths and infections, particularly among the unvaccinated, many countries are lifting pandemic restrictions and ending lockdowns. The rapid development of Covid vaccinations helped aid these reopenings, as they are clinically proven to reduce severe infection, hospitalization, and death from Covid-19.  

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Unvaccinated individuals are at a much larger risk of contracting the virus and being hospitalized for it. Now that we’re approaching the winter season, healthcare experts are worried for those at more of a risk of infection. 

During the week of Oct. 18-24, “the number of weekly Covid cases and deaths had increased slightly from the previous week, with over 2.9 million new cases and more than 49,000 new deaths, a 4% and 5% increase, respectively,” according to the World Health Organization.

Europe accounted for more than half (57%) of global new weekly cases and was the only region to report a higher number of cases when compared to the week before. 

According to reports, “the highest numbers of new cases were reported in the U.S. (with 512,956 new cases, although this represented a 12% decrease from the previous week), the U.K. (which reported 330,465 new cases; a 16% increase) and Russia, which reported 248,956 new cases; a 15% increase from the previous week.”

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The alpha and delta variants have dominated the globe especially among unvaccinated citizens. The delta-plus variant is also being reported in the US, UK, and Australia. The new mutation of the delta variant is currently being examined to see if it could make Covid-19 even more infectious. 

The World Health Organization announced last week that they would be closely tracking the delta subvariant, which has appeared in 42 countries now. 

“An increase in AY.4.2 sequence submissions has been observed since July. The majority of cases stemming from the AY.4.2 variant have been detected in the U.K., and these are rising in frequency,” the organization said in a report last week. 

“A gradual increase in the proportional contribution of AY.4.2 has been observed [in the U.K.]; accounting for an estimated 5.9% of overall Delta cases reported in the week beginning 3 October 2021. Epidemiological and laboratory studies are ongoing to assess if AY.4.2 makes the virus more transmissible or makes antibodies against the virus less effective.”

Study Says Merck COVID-19 Pill Cuts Risks Of Hospitalization, Death In Half

According to results of a clinical trial released, an experimental COVID-19 pill known as molnupiravir could assist in cutting the chances of hospitalization or death for at-risk patients by up to 50%.

Merck & Co., the pharmaceutical company that developed the pill in partnership with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, announced in a press release that it is planning to submit an application for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Merck stated that it expects to produce 10 million courses of molnupiravir by the end of 2021, with more courses on the way in 2022.

Back in June, Merck announced a procurement agreement with the U.S. Government, where the company would supply 1.7 million molnupiravir courses at the cost of $1.2 billion. Merck is also discussing supply and purchase agreements with other governments worldwide.

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If the EUA is approved by the FDA, molnupiravir will be the first oral medicine made available to combat the risks of COVID-19. The pill will require a prescription, and is intended for those with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms.

ScienceDaily detailed how molnupiravir works, with the agent targeting the RNA genomes of the COVID-19 virus:

“When it [Molnupiravir] enters the cell, it is converted into RNA-like building blocks. In the first phase, the viral copying machine, called RNA polymerase, incorporates these building blocks into the RNA genome of the virus. However, unlike Remdesivir, which slows down the viral RNA polymerase, Molnupiravir does not directly interfere with the function of the copying machine. Instead, in the second phase, the RNA-like building blocks connect with the building blocks of the viral genetic material.”

Thanks to multiple mutations in the replications of viral RNA, pathogens are thus rendered unreproducible.

Merck noted that in their “MOVe-OUT” study, which consisted of 1,550 patients with varying COVID-19 symptoms and underlying conditions, only 7.3% of participants (28 out of 385) who received molnupiravir were hospitalized or died.

That number was significantly lower than the 14.1% of participants (53 out of 377) who were hospitalized or died while being treated with placebo. Additionally, no molnupiravir patients died through the 29th day, as opposed to eight placebo deaths.

Wendy Holman, the chief executive officer of Ridgeback, stressed how important it is to have a form of antiviral medicine that isn’t intertwined with healthcare facilities, which are currently swamped with COVID-19 related cases.

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According to Our World In Data, there are over 71,000 COVID-19 patients that are currently hospitalized in the United States. Despite hitting just around the 12,000s in July, the lowest hospitalization total in over a year, the U.S. saw that number skyrocket to nearly 99,000 in early September.

For a country that has dealt with wave after wave of the virus for months on end, it is hard not to be excited by the game-changing developments that molnupiravir could bring. It’s easy-to-obtain, practical nature could be attractive to those who have been hesitant of vaccination, or cannot take the vaccine for medical or personal reasons.

While vaccines remain the best method of protection against COVID-19, alternatives in any form are sorely needed in order to help speed up recovery processes and assist in preventing deadlier cases.

Merck and Ridgeback are not the only pharmaceuticals that have been developing COVID-19 oral drugs. Pfizer Inc., which started the first phase of their oral agent in March, is close to reporting clinical trial results, as is Swiss Roche Pharmaceuticals.

According to Retuers, Enanta Pharmaceuticals, Pardes Biosciences, and Japan-based Shionogi & Co. are all in the processes of producing oral treatments as well. Rest assured, there should be no shortage of medicine such as molnupiravir.

Doctor with Covid-19 Vaccine

BioNTech Co-Founder Says ‘Covid Will Become More Manageable’ In The Coming Months 

Co-founder and chief medical officer of BioNTech, the German firm which developed a Covid-19 vaccine with Pfizer, Dr. Ozlem Tureci, told the media recently that the “world should not live in fear of the Covid-19 virus.”

“Covid will become more manageable. It already has started to become manageable, however, we will need to go back to a new normality, because this virus will accompany us for, still, some years.” 

Dr. Tureci explained that when it comes to new coronavirus variants, “BioNTech will continuously assess them as they appear, and there will be more. For all these variants which are currently circulating, it seems that boosters alone, bringing the waning immune responses back to high levels, are suitable and do protect.” 

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“However, we have to continue to screen because there might be variants upcoming for which this is not the case. And for this we have a second pillar, namely that we prepare ourselves to be quick and fast in the case that we need to adapt to a variant … And we are doing those dry runs, not alone, together with regulators, so that they are also prepared for the potential need to switch,” Tureci explained. 

Tureci co-founded BioNTech in 2008 with her husband, Chief Executive Ugar Sahin. She explained how more data is needed to guide us through the rest of the pandemic, but she can picture a future where boosters are given out every 12 to 18 months. 

BioNTech’s overall focus as a company is to “pioneer individualized immunotherapies for cancer medicine and using mRNA technology,” which is used to stimulate the body’s own immune response.

“So we had, already, the science and the knowledge about immune mechanisms and how they can be used against viruses and could leverage that. And the other pillar of our response was our technology, the mRNA technology, which allows [it] to be used as a vaccine format, which means it allows [it] to communicate with the immune system and teach it how to respond against this new enemy with high precision,” she explained. 

“And this technology, because we had used it in clinical trials in cancer patients, was already ripe. We knew how to conduct clinical trials with it, how to treat humans with it, and how to set up a manufacturing process,” she added.

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This extensive experience is what led the company to developing the mRNA Covid-19 vaccine within a year of the pandemic. When it comes to future vaccines for other diseases and viruses that impact the immune system, Tureci explained that there has been “high prioritization which was required for this global threat, but there were definitely lessons which could be learned and taken forward with future vaccines.” 

“There are a couple of things which, I think, if we transfer them into future drug developments can help us to be quicker. Also, for example, for non-pandemic infections, but also for cancer and autoimmune disease.”

Other vaccines currently circulating throughout the world, such as the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, are also being led by female scientists, which Tureci believes is “very important.” These high-profile examples of gender balance in science create an overall new standard for equality and representation in STEM fields that have been previously dominated by men. 

“I actually truly believe that one of the secrets why we have been successful as a team and as a company is that we are a gender-balanced team. Almost half of our workforce is female and also on the top management level, half of our teams are female,” she explained.

“However, what I also realize is that in our teams we don’t recruit women because we want to fulfil any gender quota, it comes naturally … And it simply turns out that half of them are women,” she said.

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US Restaurant Workers Demanding Livable Wages Amid Reopenings 

America’s restaurant industry has opened up for business, however, a majority of staffers in these eateries are still coping with the hardships of the Covid-19 pandemic, its economic impact, and the responsibility of enforcing health and safety protocols on angry customers for small wages. 

Restaurants all throughout the country have been struggling to find enough workers who are willing to fill open positions for minimum payment. Many industry workers throughout the nation blame the labor shortages on poor pay, unsafe working conditions, disrespect from customers, and concerns over the pandemic in general. 

Iesha Franceis is an employee at a Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers chain in Durham, North Carolina, who recently spoke to the Guardian about why she believes restaurants throughout the nation are struggling.  

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“I currently make $11.40 an hour, employees are still struggling and employers are still not caring, and it’s their own fault these corporations are experiencing worker shortages. We are all still not making livable wages and these companies are still trying to penny pinch any way that they can.”

The leisure and hospitality industry currently has 1.7 million fewer jobs available when compared to before the pandemic. For the food industry, jobs declined by 42,000 in the month of August 2021, and overall has experienced a surge of workers quitting all throughout 2021. 

Francis herself led multiple walkouts at her restaurant over Covid-19 safety concerns and poor working conditions throughout the entire pandemic. This is a common form of protest that many industry workers have turned to in order to show their employers that they should be valued for being an essential worker during a global health crisis, and being paid like they’re working a summer job in high school is not going to cut it anymore. 

Franceis explained “many employees left through the pandemic while operating hours are still reduced, which has left me and my co-workers to deal with increased workloads and work extra hours to try to compensate for staffing shortages.

“Pay me what I’m worth. Because if I can sacrifice myself for your business to keep your wheels turning, then it’s time that you sacrifice yourself to keep my wheels turning. It’s off of our backs that their lives are so easy.”

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A spokesperson for Freddy’s said in an email: “Freddy’s has an uncompromising commitment to safety and expects each of our franchisees to provide a safe working environment for their employees, including following proper cleaning and sanitation protocols. Additionally, as an independent franchisee, the local owner in Durham is solely responsible for setting their employees’ hourly pay and salaries.”

Lily Nicholson is a server at a restaurant in Memphis, Tennessee who discussed the constant harassment and issues workers are facing from customers who refuse to abide by mask mandates and Covid-19 safety protocols. Leading to a much bigger discussion over why low-paid employees are having to deal with verbal abuse from customers when they’re the ones working during a pandemic to provide services. 

“It’s such a precarious scenario. We’ve been the worker who has been deputized into enforcing this rule at the door that you’re supposed to have a mask on, so at the door you already have an altercation,” said Nicholson.

Many fast food employees also had no paid sick leave throughout the entire pandemic, so if they did happen to catch Covid, they were losing money everyday they had to stay home, and in some cases, employees were fired for not showing up. 

Essential workers in every industry are growing tired of not being as valued as the nation has made it seem to be throughout the past two years. Individuals are literally putting their lives on the line to clock into work and make the bare minimum so they can continue to scrap by. Time will tell how much longer the food industry, and others, will be able to last without a proper source of labor. 

How The Northeast Can Prevent A Covid-19 Surge This Winter According To Dr. Fauci 

Dr. Anthony Fauci recently spoke on CNN to advise the Northeast on the best ways to prevent a wave of Covid-19 this fall and winter season. The South is currently enduring multiple waves and spikes on infection, but Fauci believes those in the Northeast can get ahead of it. 

“It is within our power, and within our grasp, to prevent another wave from occurring. The way to do it is by utilizing mitigation measures like wearing masks indoors and in schools, as well as increasing vaccination rates.”

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Evidence has shown that vaccine mandates do lead to more people getting vaccinated, and the more vaccinated people there are in a given community, the more protected that community will be. President Joe Biden stressed the importance of people getting vaccinated on Monday while he received his booster shot. 

“This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. That’s why I’m moving forward with vaccination requirements wherever I can.”

Former US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb estimated that “the Delta wave of the pandemic could run its course by Thanksgiving, and Covid-19 could eventually become more of a seasonal nuisance than a devastating pandemic. But that is dependent on getting a lot more people vaccinated.”

55.4% of the US is currently fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. The daily pace of new vaccinations is the lowest it’s been since the CDC started tracking it back in January. 

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Health experts have also been discussing using vaccine boosters as a way to increase protection against the virus. Booster shots are not currently accessible to everyone, and even when they do become more widely available, it won’t solve the issue of the part of the population still refusing to get their inoculations. 

While mask and vaccine mandates have been highly politicized and debated, the data is accurate. Vaccine mandates lead to more individuals getting vaccinated, that’s a fact. The more people who get vaccinated in a given community, city, state, etc., the more protected that space will be. 

Currently Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine is available in booster form for people 65 and older and adults with underlying medical conditions that increase their risk of infection. 

Fauci said that “many people are still well protected from their initial Covid-19 vaccination, while certain categories of people, such as the elderly and those in long-term care facilities, may be ready for a boost six months after their initial vaccination. If you’re a person who ultimately might get a booster that will make you optimally protected, you don’t necessarily need to get it tomorrow.”

US To Ease Travel Restrictions For Fully Vaccinated International Visitors

Jeff Zients, White House Covid-19 response coordinator, said the new rules will take effect in November to give agencies and airlines enough time to prepare for the influx of travel that will likely come from these new standards.

Airlines Pushback Reopening Flights Between US And Europe Amid Covid Case Surges 

US borders are currently closed to travelers from the European Union (EU) and the UK, and have been that way for over 500 days now. While there hasn’t been a formal announcement as to when these borders will reopen, airlines are beginning to push back the scheduled restart of their London-New York flights. 

Initially flights were set to resume between the two major cities in September, but now airlines are waiting until November. New outlets in Ireland seemed to allude that the US would be lifting its travel ban in time for Labor Day weekend, however, no official announcements have been made to confirm those reports. 

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The EU is currently discussing whether or not they will reopen their borders to US citizens while the Department of Homeland Security announced that it will be keeping land borders between Mexico and Canada closed until at least September 21st. 

Land border restrictions don’t apply to cross-border trade, US citizens.lawful permanent residents, or individuals traveling for school or medical reasons. Travel into Canada is also now allowed for US citizens who are fully vaccinated. 

Jeff Zients is the White House Covid-19 coordinator who recently held a press briefing regarding the reopening of international borders and US travel in general. 

“The interagency working groups are currently developing a policy process, and we will be ready when it is the right time to consider reopening travel. And that’ll be guided, as always, by science and public health.”

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Travel correspondent Simon Calder claims that “in the past 48 hours I have asked a number of travel industry chief executives about when the current presidential proclamation banning arrivals from the U.K. might be lifted. Their answers and predictions range from ‘September’ to ‘no idea’.”

“The main problem now appears to be two-fold: inertia (once draconian rules are imposed, they can be slow to remove), combined with an unwillingness in Washington DC to complicate the difficult domestic situation at a time when the Delta variant is running wild across America, especially in the key tourism state of Florida.”

Henry Smith, chairman of the all-party Future of Aviation group told the press that “the figures are going in the wrong direction for the U.S. and I don’t really see any appetite in the U.S. to open up sooner rather than later. It is slightly different for the U.S. because they have such a big domestic market, which means international travel makes up a smaller proportion of the industry’s revenues.”

The US currently allows entry to any US citizen and their dependents as well as anyone who has spent 14 days in a country not listed on the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention’s prohibited list.