The U.S. coronavirus death toll could have stayed under 300,000 if by last May the nation had adopted firm mask, social distancing and testing protocols while waiting for vaccines to vanquish the crisis, a University of California, Los Angeles economics professor estimates.
The report was released Thursday, the same day President Joe Biden set a new target of 200 million vaccine shots in his first 100 days in office, double his initial goal.
The U.S. death toll exceeds 545,000 and continues to rise. UCLA Professor Andrew Atkeson projects a final fatality level of around 672,000. Without a vaccine, 1.27 million would have died, Atkeson estimated in a report released Thursday at the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity conference.
“Public efforts at disease control can save a lot of lives over the long run by controlling disease while we wait for a vaccine or a cure,” Atkeson told The Brookings Institution. “We have a tremendous opportunity to learn from international experience with COVID on how to do that without tanking the economy.”
The report comes as America’s long stretch of declining daily coronavirus cases appears to be ending – and some states are seeing rapid increases even as one-third of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccination shot.
Also in the news:
►New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans Thursday to set up vaccination sites for Broadway performers and theater workers to ensure shows can make a return to the city this fall. Broadway theaters abruptly closed on March 12, 2020.
►Poland reported a record daily number of new coronavirus cases for the second day in a row as the prime minister prepared to give details of harsher restrictions for the Easter period.
►AstraZeneca released updated information on its COVID-19 clinical trial Wednesday evening, showing an effectiveness rate of 76% instead of the 79% rate it claimed earlier in the week.
►German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the European Union’s problems with getting coronavirus vaccines have underscored the need for the bloc to redouble its vaccine production efforts. Merkel acknowledged that the vaccination rollout in Germany has not gone as quickly as hoped.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has over 30 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 545,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: 125 million cases and 2.74 million deaths. More than 169.2 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 133 million have been administered, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: A growing share of Americans would feel safe resuming activities such as dining out or flying within a few weeks of their second dose of COVID-19 vaccine, but 25% to 30% would wait until the nation reaches herd immunity, according to a Harris Poll survey for USA TODAY. Read the full story.
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Biden doubles down, targets 200 million shots for first 100 days
President Joe Biden opened his first formal news conference by setting a new goal of administering 200 million COVID vaccine shots in his first 100 days in office. Biden’s original goal was to administer 100 million shots in that period. The U.S. passed that goal last week and is already on track to reach 200 million shots by the president’s first 100 days. The U.S. is now averaging about 2.5 million doses per day; 133 million shots have already been given, though some before Biden took office Jan. 20.
“I know it’s ambitious, twice our original goal,” Biden said Thursday. “But no other country in the world has even come close. Not even close to what we’re doing. I believe we can do it.”
– Michael Collins
California to open vaccines for all 16 and older April 15
California, the nation’s most populous state with 40 million people, will make all residents 16 and above eligible for COVID-19 vaccines starting April 15. In addition, those 50 and older will become eligible April 1.
That doesn’t mean vaccine appointments will be available right away, but state officials expect supply to increase substantially in the coming weeks as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine becomes more widely distributed.
According to the Los Angeles Times, California expects to get about 2.5 million doses per week in the first half of April and more than 3 million later in the month. That’s a major leap from the 1.8 million expected doses this week.
Rutgers among first universities to require COVID vaccine for fall students
Rutgers University in New Jersey said Thursday that all students who take on-campus classes in the fall term will be required to be vaccinated for COVID-19, while faculty and staff members are “strongly urged” to get one of the available vaccines.
Rutgers is believed to be one of the first, if not the first, universities to impose that mandate, although school officials don’t have data to confirm that.
Vaccination availability in New Jersey has been limited to those who are 65 and older or who have a preexisting condition, such as asthma or diabetes, as well as smokers. But state officials have said they expect to get additional supplies and ramp up vaccinations in the next few weeks.
— Abbott Koloff, Bergen Record
Schools prepare for spring break rule-breakers
Spring breakers are back, but this time schools are more prepared for COVID-19 rule breakers. After a year of pandemic schooling, districts and colleges warned students to avoid travel. Some canceled spring break altogether. Even further, some schools put protocols in place to prevent traveling students from coming back to in-person school. They will be required to quarantine or finish the semester virtually. Schools have punished students who break COVID-19 restrictions on school grounds. Punishment for travel is trickier.
“Most institutions don’t have the power to lock down their students,” Christopher Marsicano, a professor of higher education practice at Davidson College in North Carolina, told USA TODAY. “They just don’t have the money to have adequate testing to make sure everybody returning to campus after spring break doesn’t have COVID-19.”
– Dustin Barnes
Infection rate again rising: ‘I don’t think you can declare victory’
The U.S. is reporting a seven-day average of about 55,000 new cases per day, up 3% from the previous week, the CDC reports. The country is also reporting about 4,600 new hospitalizations and nearly 1,000 deaths per day. And the U.S. surpassed 30 million coronavirus cases Wednesday afternoon, once again reaching a dubious milestone much faster than any other country.
“When you’re at that level, I don’t think you can declare victory,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said during a briefing. “We are at the corner. Whether or not we’re going to be turning that corner remains to be seen.”
There are positive signs. About 2.5 million Americans are being vaccinated each day, according to Andy Slavitt, White House senior adviser for COVID-19 response. And the CDC reported that more than 133 million vaccine shots have been administered, and 18% of the U.S. adult population is completely vaccinated.
Florida joining growing list of states allowing all adults to get vaccinated
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Thursday that he will eliminate the age restriction for COVID-19 vaccines as of April 5. And starting Monday, anyone 40 and up can make an appointment for the vaccine. President Joe Biden has instructed states to allow all adults access to vaccines by May 1. DeSantis said more than 3.2 million seniors 65 and older, over 70%, have been vaccinated.
Louisiana announced this week it will provide access to anyone 16 and older starting Monday, and Idaho Gov. Brad Little said eligibility will be open to all state residents 16 and up starting April 5.
– Jeffrey Schweers, Florida Capital Bureau
Philippines’ Duterte demands probe of vaccine list: ‘Always the favored few’
The Philippines president has ordered at least nine city and town mayors investigated for possible charges after they reportedly jumped ahead of a priority list led by 1.7 million health workers and got injected with COVID-19 vaccine amid a shortage in supply. President Rodrigo Duterte said in a televised meeting Wednesday night with key Cabinet members that aside from the mayors, other well-known people were allowed to jump to the front of the line.
“We were told by the WHO country representative, `If you do not follow the list of priority, you might lose the assistance of the WHO,’’’ Duterte said of the World Health Organization. “It wasn’t followed because I heard even the son of an actress got it. It’s always the favored few.”
Billions from relief bill heading to states, health centers for vaccines
Community health centers will receive more than $6 billion from the federal government to expand access to COVID-19 vaccines, testing and treatment for vulnerable populations, the administration announced Thursday. An additional $3 billion will be distributed to states, territories and some large cities for initiatives intended to increase vaccine access, acceptance and uptake. Another $330 million will go directly to support community health workers.
The funding comes primarily through the recently passed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.
– Maureen Groppe
34% of US adults have had at least one shot; half the others don’t want it
In the U.S., 34.1% of adults report having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and those who aren’t vaccinated and would get the shot say they are relatively brand agnostic, according to a new poll by Survey Monkey on vaccine hesitancy.
Meanwhile, 66% of people willing to get the shot would be up for the Moderna vaccine, while 70% are willing to get the Pfizer vaccine and 67% are willing to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. But just 51% of people still unvaccinated say they would get a vaccine if offered to them.
Reports: Gov. Cuomo’s family got priority testing early in pandemic
In the early months of the pandemic, when COVID-19 tests were scarce, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo vowed to make the testing available to those most in need. Turns out that included his family members and other well-connected people close to his administration, according to reports Wednesday night. Both The Washington Post and the Times Union in Albany reported that Cuomo’s office arranged coronavirus testing for his family, including his CNN anchor brother, Chris Cuomo, and other influential people with close Cuomo ties.
The testing was conducted at times at people’s homes and in part by Dr. Eleanor Adams, an epidemiologist who was a special adviser to the state Health Department, the reports said, citing unnamed sources. The Times Union, which first reported the details, said Adams’ trips included going to the Long Island home of Chris Cuomo, who announced in late March 2020 that he was positive for COVID-19 and detailed his battle with the virus nightly on his show – on which the governor often appeared last year.
The governor’s office did not deny the reports but said the state was trying to test as many people as possible.
– Joseph Spector, Democrat and Chronicle
Facebook, Twitter urged to crack down on vaccine hoaxes
A dozen state attorneys general on Wednesday called on Facebook and Twitter to take more aggressive action against conspiracy theories, hoaxes and lies that are undermining public confidence in the COVID-19 vaccines.
“The people and groups spreading falsehoods and misleading Americans about the safety of coronavirus vaccines are threatening the health of our communities, slowing progress in getting our residents protected from the virus, and undermining economic recovery in our states,” the letter from Connecticut Attorney General William Tong and 11 other Democratic state attorneys general said. “We call on you to take immediate steps to fully enforce your companies’ guidelines against vaccine misinformation.”
The letter to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey also cited research from the Center for Countering Digital Hate and Anti-Vax Watch showing that a small number of anti-vaccine accounts are responsible for falsehoods about the safety of the vaccines that have reached more than 59 million on Facebook, Instagram, Google’s YouTube and Twitter.
Contributing: The Associated Press