About 2.5 million Americans are vaccinated a day, a pace that needs to be maintained for the administration to reach the 200 million mark, White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said in a Friday coronavirus briefing.
“This is an unprecedented pace. No country has ever vaccinated this many people this fast,” he said, adding that three new vaccination operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be set up in Boston, Norfolk and Newark.
At least 34 states plan to make coronavirus vaccines eligible to all adults by mid-April as others focus their attention to meeting Biden’s May 1 goal, according to a Washington Post review.
Here are some significant developments:
The United States is on pace to clear President Biden’s new goal of 200 million coronavirus shots in his first 100 days. The revised target is twice the original but sets Biden up to declare victory on an issue that will help define his nascent presidency.Backing a controversial theory without evidence, former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield claimed in a CNN interview Friday that he believes the virus originated in a lab in China — an assertion disputed later in the day by the country’s top infectious-disease expert, Anthony S. Fauci. After Redfield’s comments, Maryland lawmakers called for him to step down as a medical adviser to Gov. Larry Hogan (R).The European Medicines Agency announced plans on Friday for new manufacturing sites that will scale up production and supply of the AstraZeneca, BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.The European Union released new figures showing it has exported more coronavirus vaccine doses than it has administered, but leaders meeting for a virtual summit played down the threat of blocking shipments leaving the bloc.Brazil reported a record high of 100,000 new coronavirus cases in a day Thursday, just days after the country’s official death toll from the pandemic surpassed 300,000.The NFL and the players’ union have no plans at this point to make coronavirus vaccines mandatory for players, coaches or staff members.More than 30 million people have been infected by the coronavirus in the United States since the pandemic began and more than 547,000 people have died. More than 87 million people in the United States have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.Maryland has seen steady growth in virus cases, hospitalizations — but not deaths Coronavirus cases in Maryland have ticked back upward in recent weeks, with the state on Friday reporting its highest seven-day average for new daily cases since Feb. 13.
The increase has prompted warnings from public health experts who say it is too soon for members of the public to let their guard down, despite a growing number of vaccinated residents and a recent loosening of capacity restrictions.
Hospitalizations and the statewide positivity rate are also trending upward in Maryland, with 4.64 percent of tests coming back positive as of Friday — up from a recent low of 3.28 on March 3.
A 5-percent positivity rate could signal that not enough testing is happening and that new cases are likely going undetected, said Neil J. Sehgal, an assistant professor of health policy and management at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.
Colleges and universities push to get vaccines to students As states expand coronavirus vaccine eligibility to include younger adults, universities are planning to inoculate students to make it safer to reopen fully by the fall.
Some schools are opening vaccine sites, with the goal of giving shots to every student on campus. Others are waiting for guidance from local officials and, in the meantime, urging students to get their doses wherever they can.
The hope, college leaders say, is to open the door for more students to reconvene safely in classrooms, residence halls and cafeterias next school year.
“Fall 2021 is going to look much more like the fall of 2019 than it did 2020,” said David Lakey, vice chancellor for health affairs and chief medical officer at the University of Texas System. “I’m hoping that at that time all the students that want to be vaccinated and all the faculty that want to be vaccinated will have that opportunity.”
Texas on Monday will begin vaccinating people over the age of 16. Officials at the University of Texas in Austin told students who want to receive their vaccines through the school to register online so they can begin to schedule appointments.
Justice Dept. has charged 474 people with trying to steal more than $569 million in covid-related fraud schemesThe Justice Department has charged 474 people over the past year with trying to swipe more than $569 million by using criminal fraud schemes connected to the coronavirus pandemic and seized at least $580 million in civil proceedings, officials announced Friday, demonstrating how taxpayer-funded programs meant to ease the economic burden of the crisis have become susceptible to scammers.
The department said it has seen fraud attempts connected to several government aid programs. The Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, for example, has charged at least 120 people in connection with fraud of the Paycheck Protection Program, a taxpayer-subsidized loan program regulated by the Small Business Administration, which has long been of concern because of how program funds were disbursed with relatively little oversight.
The department said it had also seen immense fraud in connection with the Economic Injury Disaster Loans program, and, along with the Secret Service and U.S. attorney’s office in Colorado, had seized $580 million of possibly stolen money from that program through administrative procedures. That money, authorities said, is separate from the funds explicitly tied to criminal charges.
Former CDC chief Redfield urged to step aside as Hogan adviser after comments about Wuhan lab Maryland lawmakers on Friday called on former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention chief Robert Redfield to step down as a medical adviser to Gov. Larry Hogan, hours after an interview aired in which Redfield said he believed the coronavirus escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, China.
Redfield said his “personal opinion” was that it’s unlikely one of the most infectious viruses for humans leaped from bats to people at a wet market, and it seemed more plausible to him the virus was developed in a Chinese laboratory.
While there is no scientific consensus on how the deadly virus originated, the World Health Organization has called the laboratory theory “highly unlikely.”
Redfield’s endorsement on CNN of the so-called “lab-leak” theory of the virus’s origin outraged several state lawmakers, who saw his comments as exacerbating anti-Asian sentiment that has been on the rise since the outbreak began.
Despite covid-19, economic pressures make it hard for Cancún to turn visitors awayBy Steve Fisher
American tourists — chafing at social distancing rules, impatient over the rollout of coronavirus vaccines — are surging back to Cancún.
William Cruz can’t decide whether to welcome them, or worry about a new wave of coronavirus cases.
“Should gringos come here?” asked the father of two, who waits tables in the city’s popular tourist district.
He knows he needs them, desperately.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has encouraged Americans to avoid all travel to Mexico. More than 2 million coronavirus cases have been detected so far in the country, and Mexico has the third-highest covid-19 death toll in the world.
But with tourists who seem to want to keep partying, economic pressures make it hard for Cancún to contemplate turning visitors away.
15 states to give all adults vaccine access this month, with number rising to 34 by mid-AprilPeople 16 and older will be eligible for immunization against the coronavirus in at least 15 states by the end of the month — a sign of rapidly expanding access to the shots as the nation confronts an uptick in infections.
More widespread availability is made possible by enlarged supply of the three authorized vaccines. The federal government is preparing to distribute as many as 35 million doses next week, according to a federal official. That includes 11 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine, which so far has been available to states and other jurisdictions in sharply limited quantities.
With ramped-up manufacturing, rationing is no longer required in many places. Kansas and Minnesota were two of the most recent states to unveil plans to open the floodgates, on Monday and Tuesday of next week respectively.
Six states have already removed eligibility requirements: Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Mississippi, Utah and West Virginia. Those preparing to do so by the end of March also include Indiana, Louisiana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas.
At least 34 states have announced plans to make everyone 16 and older eligible by mid-April, according to a Washington Post review. And Jeff Zients, coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus response, said 46 states and D.C. had already made clear they would prioritize all adults by May 1 — the deadline set by President Biden.
He said opportunities for more Americans to be immunized signaled the program’s success. More than 71 percent of people 65 and older have received at least one shot, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
Zients acknowledged that some states were rapidly opening up eligibility because they have not been able to fill appointments among their most vulnerable populations, which includes elderly people and those with high-risk medical conditions.
“If there are states that are lagging behind, we’re working with those states to ensure they continue to prioritize the most vulnerable populations,” he said during a Friday briefing.
Health officials stressed that the accelerating pace of inoculations may not be sufficient to ward off another wave of infections. The latest seven-day average of daily cases, which stands at about 57,000, represents an increase of 7 percent from last week, said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. She warned of a “real potential for the epidemic curve to soar again.”
Northern Virginia schools divided over CDC’s new three-feet guidanceFollowing new federal guidance, Arlington Public Schools will switch from six to three feet of distance between students in classrooms — allowing the school division to place more children in face-to-face learning before the end of the year.
The three-feet paradigm will also enable Arlington to offer five days a week of in-person summer instruction and to better plan for five days a week of in-person learning this fall, Superintendent Francisco Durán told the school board at a meeting Thursday.
But the Northern Virginia school system of 27,000 will not add more days of in-person schooling per week before the end of this academic year, Durán said, because it would be too complicated logistically and would disrupt education for many. The majority of the roughly 15,000 Arlington students who have returned to classrooms this semester are heading to campus two days a week, although special-needs children are coming into classrooms four days a week.
With Thursday’s announcement, Arlington is stepping out ahead of some other school districts in Northern Virginia. Neither Alexandria City Public Schools nor Fairfax County Public Schools, the state’s largest district with 180,000 students, have said how they will respond to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s revisions.
A voter outreach group in Northern Virginia has turned its focus to getting people vaccinatedThe Arlington Democrats outreach group has transformed its “get out the vote” efforts into a push to get neighbors vaccinated — regardless of how they might choose at the polls.
But as those debates continue, the Arlington Dems have focused instead on calling and checking in with the most vulnerable residents of this liberal pocket of Northern Virginia.
Using its usual phone-banking software, the chapter generated lists of people likely to fall through the cracks: seniors, people with disabilities and those without reliable transportation, as well as the Spanish- and Vietnamese-speaking immigrant communities that have disproportionately borne the brunt of the pandemic.
Vaccinated adults may have more freedom. But for kids, ‘The rules haven’t changed.’As more Americans become vaccinated against the coronavirus, many parents who have received the shots are finding themselves in a quandary: While they may be protected, allowing for more freedom in socializing or engaging in other routine activities, their children are not.
This divide has prompted a slew of questions from concerned parents wondering what their kids can do as they await vaccines, which experts estimate could take anywhere from several months to a year depending on the age group. Can unvaccinated children play together with fewer safety measures if all the adults in their households are fully inoculated? What precautions are needed for birthday parties? Should kids be allowed to attend summer camps?
Here’s why you shouldn’t get more than one vaccineThe three available in the United States — Pfizer’s, Moderna’s and Johnson & Johnson’s — were authorized to be given as separate and complete immunizations, not in combination or sequence.
As we noted in January, swapping the Pfizer or Moderna second dose should be done only in “exceptional situations,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency also cautioned that those mRNA vaccines aren’t interchangeable. Two months later, that guidance remains.
Because demand continues to outstrip supply in most parts of the country, it’s also worth considering the many people who haven’t been vaccinated yet. If you’re aware of available doses nearby and would like to further decrease your chances of exposure to the coronavirus, even after full vaccination, consider reaching out to unvaccinated members of your community. The more people around you who have immunity, the harder it is for a virus to spread.
“It’s a bit too early to be getting greedy about taking multiple vaccines just yet,” University of Colorado immunologist Ross Kedl told Bloomberg News earlier this month. “Let’s all just be content with one for now until everyone gets a shot.”
Additionally, it is not clear how beneficial that extra vaccine would be. Here’s a rough analogy: If you have two bike helmets and you’re already wearing one, everyone is safer if you lend the spare to a bareheaded cyclist than if you try to stack a helmet on a helmet.
It’s not out of the question that we may need booster shots in the future should protection afforded by this round of vaccinations wane. If so, a recommendation will come after evaluation by medical researchers, statisticians, health regulators and others — not the result of “let’s try this at home” personal experiments.
Pfizer and Moderna, for instance, are testing additional boosters and potentially revised vaccines in response to variants. Vaccine combinations are also being studied in clinical trials: In February, the U.K. government announced a trial to give one shot of one vaccine, followed by a second shot of another (such as an AstraZeneca dose with a Pfizer dose 12 weeks later). Another clinical trial in Europe will test the AstraZeneca vaccine and Russia’s Sputnik vaccine given 29 days apart. Such studies are in the early stages. The first results from U.K.’s trial might come over the summer.
New FEMA-supported mass vaccination sites coming to Boston, Norfolk and NewarkThe Federal Emergency Management Agency is setting up three new mass vaccination sites — in Boston, Norfolk and Newark.
Jeff Zients, the coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force, announced the plans during a Friday briefing. FEMA is already supporting at least 21 such sites across 10 states. The sites are capable of administering as many as 6,000 shots a day.
Biden has made enhanced federal deployments a cornerstone of his handling of the immunization campaign, stressing the need for improved infrastructure to bring doses to people throughout the country.
Germany warns third wave could be worse than first twoBERLIN — German health authorities warned Friday that the country’s current wave of infections may be worse than the first two, as the more contagious coronavirus mutation first detected in Britain takes hold.
Germany is in the midst of a “third wave” triggered by the “even more dangerous” and harder to contain B117 variant, warned Lothar Weiler, head of the Robert Koch Institute, the federal agency responsible for the control of infectious diseases. The variant now accounts for the majority of cases in the country.
“We have to be prepared for the fact that the number of cases will rise sharply, that more people get seriously ill again, that clinics will be overloaded and that many people will die, too,” he said at a joint news conference with German Health Minister Jens Spahn.
Germany has recently faced a spike in new infections despite ongoing restrictions, which include limiting contacts to two households. On Thursday the country recorded its highest number of new infections since January, with 22,657 new cases in a single day.
It comes against the backdrop of a sluggish vaccine rollout and plunging approval ratings for the government’s handling of the pandemic. Spahn said that vaccinations were reducing cases among those over 80, but the prevalence of B117 was reducing the overall impact of inoculation.
As of next week, airline travelers to and from Germany will be required to show a negative test before their flight, but Spahn said the measures wouldn’t be a “game changer” for the upcoming Easter holidays.
“At the moment, the numbers are rising too fast and the virus variants make the situation particularly dangerous,” he said. “If this continues unrestrained, we run the risk of our health-care system reaching its limits in the course of April.”
Lebanon receives first shipment of privately procured Russian vaccine dosesBEIRUT — Lebanon’s Ministry of Health confirmed Lebanon has received around 50,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, imported by the private sector and set to be sold at $38, making the cash-strapped tiny Mediterranean country one of few in the world to roll out the vaccine via private initiatives.
An online platform was launched allowing companies, foundations, NGOs, associations and institutions to register to purchase the vaccine, encouraging them to cover the costs for their employees and families. Individuals cannot register yet.
The country’s flagship airline carrier, Middle East Airlines, said Thursday that it will begin vaccinating its employees, as well as airport employees, starting March 30. Vaccine rollout has been slow in Lebanon, which is mired in an economic crisis that has plunged the country into poverty. There have been intermittent lockdowns as the government grapples with political gridlock and pressure to keep businesses open to combat the economic collapse.
The Lebanese pound, long pegged to 1,500 pounds to the dollar, has had its real value collapse, currently trading on the black market at nearly 13,000 to the dollar. On Friday, minimum monthly wage’s real value stood at around $53. The country of roughly six million, including about a million Syrian refugees, has only inoculated about 180,000 people, according to Ministry of Health data. The country has received Pfizer-BioNTech doses since February, funded by the World Bank, and received AstraZeneca vaccines this week, provided under the United Nations-backed COVAX program.
Pandemic-hit local newspaper prints blank front page: ‘What happens if we’re gone?’Editors of Kansas City’s Northeast News opted for an unusual choice for the front page of Wednesday’s issue: They left it blank.
It was not a printing error, they assured confused readers who called and emailed their Missouri newsroom. Like many other local news organizations, the News has lost advertising revenue at an unprecedented rate during the coronavirus pandemic. So the six-member staff kept its front page empty, a warning sign to the community about what might come if it ceased publication.
“That’s the message we wanted to send: What happens if we’re gone?” publisher and co-owner Michael Bushnell said.
The 89-year-old weekly newspaper with a circulation of 8,500 was already struggling financially before the pandemic as advertising dollars waned. The newspaper is free, and the website does not have a paywall.