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.
Most 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 in March.
Over the month of February, known variant cases quintupled from 471 to 2,463 even as total coronavirus cases were dropping from a peak in January.
However, that rapid decline in case counts has halted. On Sunday, for the first time in more than a month, most states reported rising case counts as more cases were recorded in the latest week than a week earlier.
Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson began distributing its vaccine Sunday, adding a third weapon to the country’s COVID-19 arsenal.
Those doses will begin arriving at vaccine distribution sites as soon as Tuesday morning, according to Biden administration officials. Nearly 4 million doses will be equally distributed this week among all states and territories, along with doses of the other two vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
More than 49.7 million Americans have received at least one dose of vaccine, a USA TODAY analysis of Centers for Disease Control data shows.
– Mike Stucka
Also in the news:
►In the first two months of 2021, the United States reported more dead than it had in the first six deadly months of the pandemic: 160,209 people, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows.
►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.
►NBA G League guard Jeremy Lin shared on social media that he experienced an act of racism – being called “coronavirus” – on the basketball court, sparking a league investigation.
►The Senate becomes the focus of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package after the House approved it Saturday. The measure would provide millions of Americans $1,400 stimulus payments, ramp up vaccine distribution and extend unemployment aid through the summer.
►U.K. health officials are worried after identifying six cases of the highly contagious strain of the coronavirus first identified in Brazil, including one in a person who has not been contact traced.
►Native American leaders across California said COVID-19 deaths have shrouded their communities, yet state figures show few American Indian people have died here compared with other states with significant Indigenous populations. Leaders and experts fear deaths in their communities have been undercounted because of a long history of Native Americans being racially misclassified.
►His wife has made it her mission to find a way to get him immunized – even if it meant a 14-hour car ride to Mississippi. When they got there, there were no vaccines left. Inside the lengths people will go to get the shot.
📈 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 million cases and 2.53 million deaths. More than 96.4 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and about 75.2 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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As states ease restrictions, public health officials are worried
States across the U.S. lifted some COVID-19 restrictions Monday despite pleas from top government public health officials in recent days to remain persistent in social distancing.
Rollbacks that went into effect Monday included 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.
However, over the weekend, President Joe Biden’s top health officials urged states not to roll back their protections against the virus’s spread.
“Things are tenuous. Now is not the time to relax restrictions,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director said Friday. “It is really risky to say, ‘It’s over. We’re on our way out. Let’s pull back,’” Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.
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 the federal, state and local government, and they reject the suggestion that they don’t have the technology necessary to handling the scheduling process
Still representing about 1 in 3 of the nation’s 60,000 pharmacies, these businesses say their personal relationships with their customers are crucial to a successful vaccine rollout.
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. But more than half of locally owned pharmacies are based in communities with a “high” or “very high” rating on the CDC’s social vulnerability index.
If local pharmacies are left out, that threatens to prevent Americans in low-income communities and people of color from getting vaccinated quickly, independent pharmacists say. “Local pharmacies have to be involved,” said B. Douglas Hoey, CEO of the National Community Pharmacists Association.
– Nathan Bomey
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 fatal pathogen, especially recently.
Florida seniors 75 and older make up 62% of 30,734 residents killed by the coronavirus since the pandemic began, but only 32% of the 1,642,800 people who have received their second 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, including 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