The White House announced plans Friday to invest $1.7 billion in genomic sequencing — the process of mapping a virus’ genetic code — to help states detect and curb the spread of COVID-19 variants.
The funding comes from President Joe Biden’s nearly $2 trillion relief package and will be used to collect COVID samples, sequence the virus and share data, according to a White House fact sheet. The first portion of the funding will be allocated in early May through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The money will be used toward collecting COVID samples, sequencing of the virus and sharing subsequent data, according to a fact sheet provided by the White House.
Until recently, only a fraction of samples in the U.S. were sequenced, but the Biden administration invested $200 million on sequencing, quadrupling the rate of testing beginning in mid-February.
The investment also includes $400 million to establish six “Centers of Excellence in Genomic Epidemiology,” a partnership between state health departments and academic institutions for research and development, and $300 million to create a national bioinformatics system to share and analyze sequencing data. The administration will allocate the first portion of funding in early May, with a second tranche expected to be invested over the next several years.
— Courtney Subramanian
Also in the news:
►Chicago high schoolers may return to class for the first time in more than a year after the city’s teachers union reached a tentative agreement Thursday with the school district. Terms of the agreement haven’t been released yet.
►Johnson & Johnson asked Moderna and Pfizer to join a study into the risks of blood clots, but the rival companies declined, the Wall Street Journal reported. J&J also asked AstraZeneca, which was interested in a joint study, the Wall Street Journal reported.
►Travelers visiting Maui, the second-most-popular vacation destination in Hawaii after Oahu, will soon have to take a second COVID-19 test to bypass the state’s mandatory quarantine.
►New U.S. government data shows that the country saw somewhere around 600,000 more deaths than usual during a 13-month span. COVID-19 was blamed for most of those deaths.
►New Hampshire’s governor says the state will lift its mask mandate Friday, though individual communities and businesses will be allowed to continue to impose restrictions.
►Michigan’s largest hospital system is turning to tents to handle emergency care as it deals with a crush of COVID-19 patients in suburban Detroit. Beaumont Health said it had more than 800 COVID patients Thursday, up from 500 two weeks ago and 128 at the end of February.
►The pause in using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a bump in the road to full vaccination for health care workers relying on the one-dose shot to vaccinate Florida’s more than 100,000 farmworkers before they begin migrating north. The Healthcare Network, which reached more than 430 farmworkers Saturday in Immokalee, Florida, with the one-shot, will now rely on the two-dose Moderna vaccine.
►France has become the third country in Europe after the U.K. and Italy to reach the unwanted milestone of 100,000 COVID-19-related deaths as new infections and deaths surged due to virus variants.
►A top official from the World Health Organization says Europe has surpassed 1 million deaths from COVID-19.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 31.4 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 564,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: more than 139 million cases and 2.98 million deaths. More than 255.4 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 198.3 million have been administered, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: Siblings fighting. Spouses at odds. How to fix relationships damaged by COVID.
USA TODAY is tracking COVID-19 news. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates. Want more? Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates to your inbox and join our Facebook group.
US reports 30% of adults fully vaccinated
The U.S. has reported 30% of adults fully vaccinated, and nearly 50% of the U.S. adult population having received at least one vaccine dose, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But we’re still a far way from herd immunity. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, has said the number could be as high as 85%.
Meanwhile, people will probably need a third shot of the Pfizer/BioNTech within 12 months of being fully vaccinated, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told CNBC on Thursday. Annual shots may also be needed, Bourla said.
In addition, Fauci said this week that people may need to get booster shots for the COVID vaccines in a year, during an interview with MSNBC’s Medhi Hasan. Recent data suggests that Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines provide protection for at least six months, Fauci said.
Florida mayors say governor’s orders worsened spring break COVID surge
The mayors of some of Florida’s most popular spring break destinations say they had little power to stop revelers from clustering in their towns last month, spreading the coronavirus.
In the four weeks between March 13 and Tuesday, infections have surged more in Florida’s spring break hot spots than elsewhere in the state, an analysis from the Palm Beach Post, part of the USA TODAY Network, found.
DeSantis shares blame for that because he removed cities’ and counties’ ability to enforce their anti-coronavirus rules, local officials said. He ordered local governments on March 10 to cancel fines levied against businesses that violated anti-disease measures, and he asked state lawmakers to pass legislation allowing him to overturn local mask mandates.
– Chris Persaud, Palm Beach Post
COVID infection after vaccination is rare but breakthroughs can happen.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that out of more than 75 million fully vaccinated Americans, just 5,800 have had post-vaccine COVID-19 infections — or so-called breakthrough infections.
So far, just over 40% of the breakthrough infections were in people 60 or older and 65% were female, Kristen Nordlund of CDC Public Affairs said.
Nearly 30% of those with such infections had no symptoms at all. But 7% were hospitalized, she said, and just 1% died.
– Karen Weintraub, USA TODAY
$1,400 stimulus checks helped March retail sales soar 9.8%
Newly vaccinated and armed with $1,400 stimulus checks, Americans went on a spending spree last month. Retail sales surged a seasonally adjusted 9.8% in March after dropping about 3% the month before, the Commerce Department said Thursday.
The increase was the larger than the 5.5% increase Wall Street analysts had expected, and the biggest since May of last year, when stores reopened after closing at the start of the pandemic.
This is the latest sign that the economy is improving. Last month, 916,000 jobs were added, the most since August.
– Associated Press
Some health experts worry Johnson & Johnson pause could cause ‘grave damage’ to public perception of COVID-19 vaccines
The U.S. government’s recommended pause on the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine due to a rare side effect will remain at least another week, after a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention panel decided Wednesday it needed time to evaluate more data.
With more than 3.7 million J&J shots administered in the two and a half weeks before the April 13 halt, additional information on the rare blood clotting condition is expected. But some health experts fear prolonging the pause may do more harm than good.
“When you have a long pause that’s not rapidly resolved, it stirs worry and fear on the part of people who are already vaccine hesitant,” said Dr. Arthur Caplan, a professor of bioethics at the NYU School of Medicine in New York City.
Health experts not only worry people will become more hesitant about getting the J&J vaccine but fear people may avoid COVID-19 vaccines altogether. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. are a different technology from J&J’s and one by AstraZeneca, which also has been associated with similar blood clots in Europe.
– Adrianna Rodriguez
Florida education commissioner tells schools to make masks optional for 2021-22 school year
Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran issued a letter Wednesday telling school districts to amend their mask policies for the 2021-22 school year to make masks optional.
The Department of Education reviewed data from across the state and did not find a correlation between sweeping mask mandates and the presence of COVID-19 in schools, Corcoran said.
“The data shows us that districts’ face covering policies do not impact the spread of the virus,” Corcoran wrote, calling for more “surgical — not sweeping” policies.
Families should have the option of determining whether their child wears a face covering, Corcoran said. He added students with disabilities and those learning English are particularly impeded by the “one size fits all” mask policies and some families may have opted to pull their child out of school due to the mandate.
His letter closes with the request for “districts which currently are implementing a mandated face covering policy (to) revise their policy to be voluntary for the 2021-22 school year.”
– Ryan McKinnon, Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Contributing: The Associated Press