After new COVID-19 cases fell in recent weeks from their record-high peak in January, President Joe Biden’s top public health officials warned Monday that the U.S. could “lose the hard-earned ground we have gained” if cases plateau at their current level.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said she was “deeply concerned” as new case counts stall but states continue their rollbacks of virus-related restrictions.
“We cannot be resigned to 70,000 cases per day, 2,000 daily deaths,” Walensky said.
Sunday marked the first time in more than a month that most states reported rising case counts, and more cases were recorded in the latest week than a week earlier, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows.
On Monday, new rollbacks also took effect in states, including Virginia removing a midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew and increasing capacity for outdoor gatherings, Wyoming lifting all restrictions on personal care businesses, New Jersey opening large entertainment venues at 10% capacity indoors, and Massachusetts easing restrictions for restaurant capacity and allowing a number of indoor venues to reopen with restrictions.
Globally, infections increased last week after six consecutive weeks of declining totals, and World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said part of the reason was the “relaxing of public health measures.”
Also in the news:
►Former President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, were quietly vaccinated for COVID-19 in January before their departure from the White House, the New York Times reported. Though other high-level elected officials got vaccinated publicly to emphasize the vaccines’ safety, Trump did not. He did encourage his supporters to get vaccinated during a speech Sunday.
►Twitter says it will start labeling tweets with misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines starting Monday. Since cracking down on misleading information about the coronavirus and vaccines, Twitter has removed more than 8,400 tweets and “challenged” 11.5 million accounts across the globe.
►The number of hospitals reporting full intensive care units has fallen by nearly 50% nationwide since early January, according to a USA TODAY analysis of data from the Department of Health and Human Services.
►California Gov. Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers have reached a deal that would provide $2 billion in incentives for public schools to bring back some students by March 31. School districts in counties in the second most restrictive tier of the state’s reopening plan would be eligible for extra funding if they reopen all elementary schools and at least one grade of middle or high schools.
►Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told NBC’s “Meet The Press” on Sunday that elementary school children may start being vaccinated at the end of the year or beginning of 2022. High schoolers may start getting their doses in the fall, he said.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 28.6 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 513,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 114.3 million cases and 2.53 million deaths. More than 96.4 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and about 76.9 million have been administered, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: The number of COVID-19 cases and deaths at America’s nursing homes has dropped significantly since December as millions of vaccine doses have been shot into the arms of residents and staff. Read the full story.
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More U.S. deaths in January and February than in first 6 months of pandemic
If warnings from CDC officials about a possible resurgence in COVID-19 cases aren’t enough to prompt continued vigilance, perhaps a reminder of the recent misery the U.S. has endured will accomplish that.
It took the U.S. only two months – January and February of this year – to accumulate 160,209 COVID deaths. That’s more than the country registered in the first six months of the pandemic, and more than the current total for all but two nations, Brazil and Mexico.
It should also come as sobering news that on Sunday, for the first time in more than a month, a majority of states – 29 in all – reported rising case counts.
These are the states with more infections in the latest week than a week earlier: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
— Mike Stucka
In an effort to reassure passengers of the safety of its cruises, Royal Caribbean is planning a “fully vaccinated” voyage leaving from Israel in May.
The cruise line’s latest ship, the Odyssey of the Seas, will make its debut on that trip, marking the first time the company has sailed from Israel. The Middle Eastern country has already vaccinated half its population against COVID-19.
“Royal Caribbean will be the first to offer fully vaccinated sailings, where both crew and guests above the age of 16 will be vaccinated against COVID-19,” the cruise line said on its website.
— Morgan Hines
Local pharmacies say they need more vaccines as CVS, Walgreens ramp up shots
Community pharmacies can play a critical role in delivering COVID-19 shots, but so far drugstore giants CVS and Walgreens and big-box stores such as Walmart and Kroger have been getting the lion’s share of vaccines from the initial allotment devoted to retail pharmacies, independent pharmacists say.
Some independent pharmacists say they’re frustrated that they aren’t receiving as many vaccines proportionally as major chains are getting from federal, state and local governments, and they reject the suggestion that they don’t have the technology necessary to handle the scheduling process
Still representing about 1 in 3 of the nation’s 60,000 pharmacies, these businesses say their personal relationships with customers are crucial to a successful vaccine rollout, especially with low-income communities and people of color. In the 63 major jurisdictions identified by the CDC for distribution of vaccines, locally owned pharmacies were initially allotted shots in only 17, according to the National Community Pharmacists Association.
– Nathan Bomey
Variant cases quintupled in February
The U.S. reported 306 new coronavirus variant cases Sunday, a record increase for viruses that can spread more easily, dodge some treatments and immunities, or both. Nearly all the new cases were in three states: Florida, up 104 cases to 605; Michigan, up 85 cases to 421; and Texas, up 41 cases to 102.
Among those, Florida added four cases to its previous one case of P.1, a dangerous variant first seen in Brazil, and the state’s first reported case of B.1.351, a variant first seen in South Africa.
The vast majority of cases – new and existing – are of B.1.1.7, a variant first seen in the United Kingdom that the CDC says could become America’s predominant version later this month. In February, known variant cases quintupled from 471 to 2,463 even as total coronavirus infections were dropping from a peak in January.
Presidential adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said Monday a variant spreading in New York City has raised concerns because there’s some evidence it can evade antibody treatments and render vaccines less effective.
– Mike Stucka
Florida’s oldest residents lag in COVID vaccinations, state report shows
When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in December limited inoculations to seniors 65 and older, he said, “The vaccines are going to be targeted where the risk is greatest, and that is in our elderly population.”
But as vaccinations ramp up statewide, Florida’s oldest residents are not getting the share of immunizations equivalent to the risk they bear from the coronavirus, especially recently.
Florida seniors 75 and older make up 62% of 30,734 residents killed by COVID-19, but only 32% of the 1,642,800 people who have received their second dose of the two-shot vaccine, a state report released Saturday shows. Seniors 65 to 74, meanwhile, account for 21% of the resident death toll and about 41% of the immunized.
– Chris Persaud, Palm Beach Post
Six recent studies suggest that people who’ve already come down with COVID-19 might not need to get a second vaccine dose.
The federal government has not changed its recommendation for a second dose, but studies that look at the immune response show that while a first shot gives people who have recovered from COVID-19 a huge boost, the second shot makes little difference.
“I think that makes perfect sense,” said Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Read more here.
– Karen Weintraub
COVID-19 testing sites across US are closing amid plunging demand
Just five weeks ago, Los Angeles County was conducting more than 350,000 weekly coronavirus tests, many of them at a massive drive-thru site at Dodger Stadium, as health workers raced to contain the worst COVID-19 hot spot in the U.S.
“It’s shocking how quickly we’ve gone from moving at 100 miles an hour to about 25,” said Dr. Clemens Hong, who leads the county’s testing operation. After a year of struggling to boost testing, communities across the country are seeing plummeting demand, shuttering testing sites or even trying to return supplies.
– Matthew Perrone, Palm Springs (Calif.) Desert Sun
Contributing: Mike Stucka, USA TODAY; The Associated Press