Starting Friday, tens of thousands of National Guard troops who have yet to prove they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus will be in violation of a direct order mandating their compliance.
As a result, they will no longer be able to drill with their units until they provide proof that they have been vaccinated or have received an exemption approved by military leaders.
More than 43,600 National Guard troops — about 10 percent of the total force — have not provided documentation of vaccination. Some may have opted not to be vaccinated because of medical reasons or because they have requested an exemption. However, military leaders say they would not be immediately separated from the service when the deadline of midnight Thursday passed.
“We’re going to give every soldier every opportunity to get vaccinated and continue their military career,” Lieutenant General Jon Jensen, director of the Army National Guard, said in a statement. “We’re not giving up on anybody until the separation paperwork is signed and completed.”
Of the approximately 330,000 members of the Army National Guard, 86.4 percent are fully vaccinated against the virus and 88.6 percent have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to a National Guard spokesperson, Nahaku McFadden. For the 104,000 members of the Air National Guard, those rates are 94 percent and 94.2 percent.
The active-duty Army has a higher compliance rate, with 97 percent either fully or partly vaccinated as of June 23, and has discharged more than 1,000 soldiers for refusing to be vaccinated. As of June 22, the Navy had nearly 3,800 unvaccinated sailors and had kicked out more than 1,200 for refusing a shot, according to a statement.
A number of Republican governors have fought the federal vaccine mandate for their National Guards, and in December, Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor sued the Biden administration. O’Connor said in a statement at the time that the mandate was unlawful and did not “reflect the Land of the Free.” Two other states, Texas and Alaska, also filed lawsuits.
Federal officials have long said that governors have no legal standing to allow Guard members to refuse to comply with the military’s vaccine mandate. State officials and some legal experts, however, believe that unless National Guard members are federally deployed, they are under the jurisdiction of the governor of their state and therefore not subject to federal mandates.
NEW YORK TIMES
North Korea suggests ‘alien things’ brought COVID
SEOUL — North Korea suggested on Friday that the coronavirus had entered the country on foreign objects from South Korea, saying that its first reported outbreak had begun in villages near the countries’ border after people there touched “alien things.”
North Korea did not directly blame the outbreak on the South. But its State Emergency Epidemic Prevention Headquarters warned its people to “vigilantly deal with alien things” brought across the border by “balloons,” wind, or “other climate phenomena.”
For years, activists in South Korea, mostly defectors from the North, have sent balloons across the border loaded with leaflets denouncing the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un, as well as dollar bills, miniature Bibles, and USB drives containing news from the outside world. North Korea, which tightly controls access to information, has bristled at these campaigns and even tried to shoot balloons down.
South Korea’s previous government outlawed the launches last year, on the grounds that they provoked the North.
On Friday, South Korea said it was impossible for the balloon launches to have brought COVID-19 into the North, saying it had consulted disease-control experts on the question. Activists who have sent balloons across the heavily armed border, known as the Demilitarized Zone, accused the North of shifting the blame for its outbreak to the South, and of trying to frighten its people into avoiding the leaflets.
“It’s typical North Korean propaganda, attempting to turn its problem over its COVID outbreak into fear and hatred of South Korea,” said one such activist, Lee Min-bok, a North Korean defector. “Its regime fears outside news spreading among its people more than anything else.”
After two years of claiming to have no COVID cases, North Korea declared a “maximum emergency” on May 12, saying that an outbreak had begun in late April and locking down all of its cities and counties. So far, it has reported 4.7 million cases of people developing COVID-like symptoms, such as a high fever. North Korea said on June 15 that 73 people had died of the disease, but it has since provided no update on fatalities.
Outside experts consider the North’s data untrustworthy, in part because the country does not have enough testing kits and laboratories to accurately track a major outbreak. In recent weeks, it has claimed to have the virus under control; it said its daily count of suspected new infections had dropped to 4,570 on Friday, from a high of 390,000 in mid-May.
NEW YORK TIMES
Mass. man to plead guilty to pandemic relief fraud
BOSTON — A Massachusetts man has agreed to plead guilty to fraudulently obtaining about $1.2 million in federal loans intended to help businesses struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
James Joseph Cohen, 59, of Wenham, between April 2020 and September 2021 submitted six false applications in which he overstated the earnings, the number of employees, and the payroll for two companies he controlled, according to federal prosecutors.
In one case, he said a company had $2.8 million in annual revenues, when it no revenues at all, according to court documents.
He used the money to pay personal and business loans, including for a mortgage, car payments, tuition, and to a Maine resort, according to law enforcement, which were not allowed under loan rules.
A date at which he will plead guilty to bank fraud has not yet been scheduled.
An email seeking comment was sent to his federal public defender.
Although he could face a sentence of up to 30 years in prison on a bank fraud charge, the defense and prosecution has agreed to a sentence of 12 months of probation and full restitution of nearly $1.2 million, according to court documents.
COVID cases up by more than 30% in Britain last week
LONDON — The number of new coronavirus cases across Britain has surged by more than 30 percent in the last week, new data showed Friday, with cases largely driven by the super infectious omicron variants.
Data released by Britain’s Office for National Statistics showed that more than 3 million people in the UK had COVID-19 last week, although there has not been an equivalent spike in hospitalizations. The number of COVID-19 deaths also fell slightly in the last week.
“COVID-19 has not gone away,” said Dr. Mary Ramsay, of the Health Security Agency. “It is also sensible to wear a face covering in crowded, enclosed spaces,” she said. Britain dropped nearly all its coronavirus measures, including mask-wearing and social distancing months ago and masks are rarely seen on public transport.
The latest jump in coronavirus cases comes after an earlier increase of about 40 percent last month, following the large street parties, concerts, and festivities held to mark the platinum jubilee celebrations marking 70 years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign.
British officials said the latest wave of COVID-19 infections were likely caused by omicron subvariants BA.4. and BA.5. Omicron has tended to cause a milder disease than previous variants like alpha or delta, but scientists warn its ability to evade the immune system means that people may be more susceptible to being reinfected, including after vaccination.