(WASHINGTON) — The United States is facing a COVID-19 surge this summer as the more contagious delta variant spreads. More than 637,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 while over 4.5 million people have died from the disease worldwide, according to real-time data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

Just 61.2% of Americans ages 12 and up are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Latest headlines:

Here’s how the news is developing today. All times Eastern.

Aug 30, 3:11 pm

Alarming rise in counterfeit vaccination cards, federal health officials warn

Authorities are warning of a fresh and specific increase in counterfeit COVID-19 vaccination cards on the online market, according to a new law enforcement bulletin obtained by ABC News.

A blank template imitating the CDC-issued COVID-19 vaccination record card has been circulating on various social media platforms, including an anti-vaccine Telegram channel, the internal notice says.

These blank cards can be downloaded, printed and filled out in order to gain entry where proof of vaccination is required, and to “satisfy employer vaccine mandates,” according to the notice.

This latest warning comes just as ABC News has reported exclusively that federal health officials are seeing an alarming rise in the demand for these fraudulent cards, which cyber experts and federal officials are are concerned is a burgeoning and rapidly evolving market.

The illicit niche industry for forged cards is hitting its stride just as new vaccine requirements are rapidly being implemented at the federal, state and local levels and in both the public and private sectors — requiring proof of inoculation in order to work at a hospital, teach or attend school, work out at the gym, or eat inside a restaurant.

Despite new policies and FDA full approval of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, some hesitant Americans still refuse to be vaccinated.

For enterprising fraudsters, the fresh demand presents a ripe opportunity.

In this latest bulletin, social posts and law enforcement source information indicates that criminal actors in the Philadelphia area are “profiting from the production of these cards” and “selling the counterfeit cards through online and in-person sales.”

“The PDF being shared on local Telegram channels offers limitless access to counterfeit vaccination cards,” authorities warn.

“The use of fraudulent cards may have a significant impact on public health, especially in compact and vulnerable communities like academic institutions and healthcare facilities,” the bulletin warns, reminding those who profit from or use these fake cards may face prison time or hefty fines.

Aug 30, 2:52 pm

Civil rights investigation opened against states prohibiting mask mandates

The U.S. Department of Education has launched a civil rights investigation into five states that have barred indoor making mandates, alleging that the governors are creating an unsafe learning environment for students with disabilities at heightened risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

It’s an aggressive new legal tact from the Biden administration to challenge Republican governors who insist indoor mask mandates don’t work.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that schools are generally safe if students and staff universally wear masks. School districts that struggled with COVID-19 outbreaks this year – often sending thousands of kids home – typically did not require masks.

The investigation’s focus is on Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah. The Education Department says it is not including Florida, Texas, Arkansas and Arizona at this time “because those states’ bans on universal indoor masking are not currently being enforced as a result of court orders or other state actions,” federal documents state.

Aug 30, 2:31 pm

Risk of developing myocarditis higher for unvaccinated, CDC says

The benefits of getting a COVID-19 vaccine outweigh the risk of getting myocarditis from the vaccine, CDC experts say, adding that it’s even more apparent now that cases are spiking among young people.

The risk of getting myocarditis – inflammation from the heart muscle – from the virus is much higher than getting it from a vaccine, scientists said at a CDC advisory panel Monday, pointing to new data.

The CDC estimates that the risk of myocarditis for the highest risk group — young males age 16 to 17 — is about 73 cases per million doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

The public health agency also estimates that 56,700 cases of COVID-19 would be prevented in that same age group for every million vaccines.

In addition, the risk of myocarditis after actually getting COVID-19 is six to 34 times higher than it is from getting a vaccine.

Aug 30, 2:05 pm

More than half of US nearing ICU capacity

As of Aug. 29, dozens of states were reporting limited beds in intensive care units, with 23 states reporting over 80% capacity and six states reporting over 90% capacity, CDC experts announced at an advisory panel Monday.

The panel also found that the risks of contracting COVID-19 are still much higher for the unvaccinated.

People between ages 18 and 49 are 24 times more likely to be hospitalized if unvaccinated, according to the CDC, 19 times higher for unvaccinated populations between 50 and 64 and 13 times for unvaccinated people 65 and older.

Aug 30, 11:48 am

Vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization drops, CDC says

The COVID-19 vaccines’ ability to keep people out of the hospital appears to be dropping slightly, particularly for those 75 and older, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Monday during an advisory panel.

The CDC has previously estimated that 97% of people in the hospital being treated for COVID-19 are unvaccinated, but that data was collected before the spread of delta, a hyper-transmissible variant that many doctors have warned appears to be making people sicker.

The latest CDC analysis estimates that the ability of the COVID vaccines to keep a person out of the hospital is now between 75% to 95%.

For people older than 75 in particular, vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization experienced the steepest decline, from more than 90% to 80% between June and July.

Health experts are also concerned that a person’s immunity could be waning over time, particularly among older people whose bodies are less likely than younger people to develop a strong immune response to the vaccines.

However, the vaccine still remains highly effective at preventing serious illness, according to the briefing.

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