(NEW YORK) — The United States has been facing a COVID-19 surge as the more contagious delta variant continues to spread.

More than 681,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 while over 4.7 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. The average number of daily deaths in the U.S. has risen about 20% in the last week, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The U.S. is continuing to sink on the list of global vaccination rates, currently ranking No. 45, according to data compiled by The Financial Times. Just 64% of Americans ages 12 and up are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the CDC.

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

Sep 23, 6:38 am
COVID-19 hospitalizations reach another all-time high in Iowa for 2021

More people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in Iowa than at any other point
this year so far, according to weekly data released by the Iowa Department of Public Health on Wednesday.

The data shows that there are now 638 people hospitalized with the disease statewide, up from 578 last week. Although the figure is nowhere near Iowa’s peak of more than 1,500 in mid-November last year, it’s the highest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations that the Hawkeye State has recorded since December.

Sep 22, 7:48 pm
FDA authorizes Pfizer booster dose for those who are 65 and up, high-risk

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized a third booster dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for people who are 65 and older or at high risk of severe COVID-19, the agency announced Wednesday.

The dose is authorized to be administered at least six months after the second shot. High-risk recipients must be at least 18 years old.

The announcement comes days after a similar recommendation from FDA advisers.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advisory board is scheduled to vote on booster recommendations Thursday.

Sep 22, 6:04 pm
Florida letting parents choose whether to quarantine asymptomatic, close-contact children

The Florida Department of Health issued an emergency rule Wednesday that lets parents choose whether to quarantine their children if they are deemed a close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

In such cases, parents can let their children “attend school, school-sponsored activities, or be on school property, without restrictions or disparate treatment, so long as the student remains asymptomatic,” the emergency rule stated.

The move is the state’s latest to empower parents when it comes to coronavirus measures in schools. In July, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order giving parents the choice of whether to send their kids to school with masks, setting off an intense back-and-forth between the state and districts that mandated masks in the weeks since.

DeSantis touted the new “symptoms-based approach” during a press briefing Wednesday.

“Quarantining healthy students is incredibly damaging to their educational advancement,” he said. “It’s also incredibly disruptive for families all throughout the state of Florida.”

At least one superintendent in Florida has spoken out against the new quarantine rule.

“I find it ironic that the new state rule begins with the phrase ‘Because of an increase in COVID-19 infections, largely due to the spread of the COVID-19 delta variant,"” Carlee Simon, superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools, said in a statement posted to Twitter Wednesday.

“In fact, this rule is likely to promote the spread of COVID-19 by preventing schools from implementing the common-sense masking and quarantine policies recommended by the vast majority of health care professionals, including those here in Alachua County,” she added.

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