Hours after signing a massive coronavirus relief bill into law, President Joe Biden commemorated the anniversary of the nation’s shutdown over the pandemic Thursday night.
While encouraging the nation to work together and to “get vaccinated when it’s your turn,” Biden also made sure to acknowledge the grief and loss experienced by the entire nation, which has seen some 530,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
Nearly 1 in 5 Americans — 19% — say they lost a relative or close friend to the coronavirus, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The numbers were considerably higher for Black (30%) and Hispanic (29%) respondents, yet another example of the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on minority groups.
“It all has exacted a terrible cost on so many of us,” Biden said. “For we are fundamentally a people who want to be together … but this virus has kept us apart.”
Biden also announced he is ordering all states, territories and tribes to make all adults eligible to “get in line” for their vaccines by May 1, a date he said is much sooner than anticipated.
Also in the news:
►During his primetime address, President Joe Biden denounced violent attacks against Asian Americans, which have risen markedly during the pandemic. “It’s wrong, it’s un-American and it must stop,” Biden said.
►Starting April 1, domestic travelers to New York will no longer be required to quarantine, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday, though the state still recommends it as “an added precaution.”
►The U.S. is once again reporting less than one COVID-19 death per minute, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows. The U.S. also reported less than 400,000 new infections in the week ending Wednesday, a level not seen since mid-October.
►The few remaining COVID-19 restrictions in Oklahoma were to be rescinded Friday as Gov. Kevin Stitt announced there would be no more limits on public gatherings or indoor sporting events and that a mask mandate in state buildings would be lifted.
►The European Medicines Agency has authorized Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose COVID-19 vaccine, giving the European Union’s 27 nations a fourth licensed vaccine to combat the pandemic, along with offerings from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca-Oxford.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has over 29.2 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 530,800 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 118.6 million cases and 2.63 million deaths. More than 131.1 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 98.2 million have been administered, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: USA TODAY’s panel of experts have different definitions of what the end of the pandemic means. But they agree it’s getting closer.
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Pfizer vaccine appears effective against asymptomatic COVID-19 cases, data from Israel suggests
Real-world data from Israel suggests that COVID-19 vaccines will prevent transmission of the coronavirus, in addition to protecting against symptomatic disease.
The lack of clear data on transmission has meant that even people who are vaccinated must be careful around unvaccinated people, particularly those at risk for severe COVID-19 infections.
The preliminary information from Israel, where more than half the adults have been vaccinated, most with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, showed those who received the vaccine did not develop symptoms or transmit the disease.
“It looks like 90% reduction in asymptomatic transmission. So that’s really good,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine, at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
– Adrianna Rodriguez and Karen Weintraub
Vaccine eligibility brings ‘shame’ and ‘guilt’ to some who meet BMI requirement
When states began to announce body mass index, known as BMI, would be a factor in determining early eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines, some who meet the requirement has expressed feelings of guilt.
“As someone who does have a high BMI and is considered by the medical field as obese, I felt a lot of complicated feelings about being a part of this group and once again being told that because of my weight, I’m unhealthy,” Sydney Greene, a 24-year-old living in Austin, Texas, said.
Nirit Pisano, a licensed clinical psychologist and chief psychology officer at Cognovi Labs, said she is seeing an increase in “fat talk” that is wreaking havoc on self-esteem.
Still, Pisano advises people who are eligible but feeling apprehensive to “keep in mind the big picture” and “go out and get vaccinated.” “Realize (BMI) is just one piece … that gives you access to this vaccine, which is an important part of protecting yourself,” she said. “This is just one small item that happens to give you access here, but doesn’t define the full picture of who you are.”
– Sara M. Moniuszko
Families, bars and restaurants are big winners in COVID-19 relief package
America’s families and small restaurants and bars are among the biggest winners of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package signed into law Thursday by President Joe Biden. The law grants $28.6 billion in relief for family-owned restaurants, and $1.25 billion was added to a grant program for live stage venues.
The restaurant industry was decimated in 2020, with nearly 2.5 million jobs lost and as many as 8 million chefs, servers and other restaurant workers laid off or furloughed, according to the National Restaurant Association. “Today, the heartbreak starts to heal,” said Erika Polmar, executive director of the Independent Restaurant Coalition.
Meanwhile, the package serves as a large windfall for families, beyond the expanded child tax credit which has received much praise. The measure provides $39 billion for child care, $125 billion for reopening schools, $7.2 billion for remote learning and 4350 million for community-based child abuse prevention programs.
– Ledyard King and Paul Davidson
Spring break crowds a concern during critical moment in COVID-19 fight
Florida is already seeing the first throngs of college students on spring break, crowding beaches and bars. That’s worrying public health experts around the country who see the weeks of partying as a potential for another spike in COVID-19 cases.
The primary concern, experts say, is that partying is occurring at a crucial moment in the fight against the coronavirus: More and more vaccines are being administered each day, yet more and more cases of variants – which are highly transmissible – are being reported. Making matters worse, they say, is that students will be enjoying their break as more states continue to relax restrictions they had in place, such as mask mandates.
“I knew the spring breakers would show up,” said Lauren Tedeschi, 53, who was visiting Fort Lauderdale with her niece. “Just look at the beach. They’re out in full force. And this is the start of spring break. It’s only going to get more crazy.”
– Christal Hayes
Novavax vaccine 96.4% effective against original strain, company says
Another COVID-19 candidate vaccine appears to be 96.4% effective against mild, moderate and severe disease caused by the original COVID-19 strain in a United Kingdom trial.
On Thursday, Novavax, a Gaithersburg, Maryland-based biotechnology firm, reported in a final analysis of more than 15,000 patients in the U.K. that the overall vaccine efficacy was 89.7%, lowered slightly because of the B.1.1.7. strain first discovered in the country. The company also released results from the smaller South African trial, which exposed participants to the variant discovered and circulating there, that showed roughly 55.4% efficacy among 2,665 participants.
But in both trials, the vaccine was 100% effective in preventing serious illness and death.
A third trial, in the United States, announced it had recruited its 30,000 planned participants in late February, but won’t release results for several more months.
Record growth for UK variant in US
The U.S. on Thursday reported a record increase of 437 cases of coronavirus variants since the previous report just two days earlier, a USA TODAY analysis of CDC data shows. Variant cases are increasing quickly even as regular coronavirus infections have been falling across most of the country.
South Dakota reported its first two cases of the B.1.1.7 variant first seen in the United Kingdom, leaving Vermont as the only state to not have a known variant case.
The U.S. now has 3,701 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, by far the most common in the country. The number has doubled since Feb. 24, with Florida at the forefront with 690.
— Mike Stucka
CVS expands COVID-19 vaccine to 12 more states
A day after Target announced CVS pharmacies in more than 600 of its stores were administering vaccinations, the drugstore chain said it is continuing to increase the number of pharmacies offering vaccinations and to expand access to additional states.
CVS said appointments in the “newly activated states” will start to become available for booking on Saturday, March 13.
The new states are: Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nevada, Oklahoma, Utah and Vermont. After previously expanding to New York and Pennsylvania, CVS said it also will administer vaccines in New York City and Philadelphia.
CVS Health President and CEO Karen Lynch said in a statement Thursday that the company is “increasing the number of active stores and expanding to additional states as fast as supply allows.” She said the company has the capacity to administer 20 million to 25 million shots per month.
CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, Kroger and other major retailers with pharmacies started administering their first COVID-19 vaccine doses in February as part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is administering the program.
— Kelly Tyko
Contributing: The Associated Press