America will be marking Ash Wednesday in alternative ways today as the threat of spreading COVID-19 takes its toll on religious traditions on the first day of the Lenten season.
Catholic priests have been told by the Vatican to skip making the traditional sign-of-the cross with ashes on worshiper’s foreheads. Some churches are offering drive-thru ashes and do-it-yourself, bagged ashes. The Vatican asks that priests sprinkle the ashes upon the heads of their congregants, a customary practice at the Vatican and in Italy.
“You never see the Pope with ashes on his forehead,” said the Rev. Steven B. Giuliano. at Our Lady of Lourdes in Wilmington, Delaware. “They are always placed atop his head.”
Ash Wednesday comes one day after “Fat Tuesday” – Mardi Gras – which also saw big changes this year. Parades were canceled and the streets of the French Quarter in New Orleans, usually packed for the parties, were relatively quiet. Bourbon Street was quiet. Instead, locals decorated their homes in festive colors.
“Thank you all for embracing the Carnival spirit through your creativity and innovation,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell said.
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In the headlines:
►The U.K. Foreign Secretary will urge the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday to declare “vaccine ceasefires” in conflict zones to enable the COVID-19 inoculations of people in those zones, officials there said in a news release.
►One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of N95 masks are pouring out of U.S. factories and heading into storage, but there still aren’t nearly enough going to hospitals, an Associated Press investigation found.
►President Joe Biden is extending a ban on home foreclosures for federally backed mortgages by three months and expanding a mortgage relief program to provide relief for families struggling financially amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
►California opened federally supported mass vaccination sites Tuesday in Los Angeles and Oakland that are intended to bring inoculations to communities hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 27.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 487,900 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 109.48 million cases and 2.41 million deaths. More than 71 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and about 55 million have been administered, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: A next generation coronavirus vaccine is in the works. But initial funding was denied. Read the full story.
Bill would fund hunt for coronavirus mutations
U.S. scientists would gain vastly expanded capabilities to identify potentially deadlier mutations of the coronavirus under proposed legislation. A bill cleared for floor debate last week by the House Energy and Commerce Committee would provide $1.75 billion for genomic sequencing. It calls for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to organize a national network to use the technology to track the spread of mutations – such as the recently discovered U.K. and South African variants – and guide public health countermeasures.
“We need that data. Otherwise, in some ways, we’re flying blind,” Esther Krofah, who directs the FasterCures initiative of Milken Institute, told the Associated Press. “We don’t understand the prevalence of mutations that we should be worried about in the U.S.”
Biden promotes teacher vaccinations, in-class learning 5 days a week
President Joe Biden made clear Tuesday his goal is for the majority of K-8 public schools to be open “five days a week” by the end of his first 100 days after the White House received criticism for scaling back that goal last week.
“I think that we’ll be close to that by the end of the first 100 days,” Biden said during a CNN town hall in Milwaukee. “You’ll have a significant percentage of them being able to be open.”
Frustrating many parents and opening a new line of attack for Republicans, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said last week Biden’s goal is for more than 50% of schools to have “some teaching” in person “at least one day a week” – not necessarily fully reopened – by Day 100 of his presidency.
But Biden said that statement was inaccurate, recommitting to a goal of having most K-8 schools fully open. Asked how he would return students to classrooms, Biden said, “We should be vaccinating teachers.
He also said that “by next Christmas I think we’ll be in a very different circumstance [in terms of normalcy] than we are today.”
SAT testing for students ramping up for spring
The SATs will go on this spring in pandemic or in health. The College Board, which owns and oversees the exam many colleges use for admissions, has directed school hosts to “make their own decisions about the test and safety standards based on local restrictions,” according to its website. Hosts can close sites up to the day of testing, but no closures were posted to the College Board closures page. SAT sites, often hosted by high schools, are working to update exam security and COVID-19 safety protocols to accommodate thousands of students. Hundreds of test sites across the nation were shuttered last spring and this fall due to the pandemic.
“While College Board can’t directly control capacity and test center availability, we’re working to ensure that as many students as possible are able to test safely,” the not-for-profit group said in a statement.
– Carly Q. Romalino, Cherry Hill Courier-Post
White House: States to receive biggest boost yet in vaccine doses
The White House announced that it’s doubling the number of doses sent to directly to pharmacies, and will increase its shipment of coronavirus vaccine doses by 23%over the previous week, administration officials told governors Tuesday.
The number of doses states will receive will increase from the 8.6 million a week they received during Biden’s first week in office to the 13.5 million that Zients told governors Tuesday they will receive.
“That’s a minimum,” Jeff Zients, Biden’s COVID-19 coordinator, told USA TODAY in an exclusive interview before holding his weekly call with governors.said. “Supply will continue to ramp up.
Cities scramble to vaccinate residents, not only necessary to speed the nation’s health and economic recovery but also to slow the mutation of the virus. Although vaccine distribution has increased, vaccination sites all over the country are shutting down while hundreds of thousands of people are on waiting lists.
– Maureen Groppe
Contributing: Ryan Cormier, Delaware News Journal; The Associated Press