The virus that causes COVID-19 changes all the time, but scientific leaders say there’s no reason to panic about known variants yet.
Several states and cities rolled back COVID-19 restrictions this week.
In Montana, Gov. Greg Gianforte lifted the state’s mask mandate Friday. In Nevada, Gov. Steve Sisolak on Thursday announced he would gradually end a monthslong “pause” on economic activity meant to slow the virus’ deadly resurgence over the holiday. And in Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine promised to scrap a curfew that has been in place since November.
Meanwhile, limited indoor dining began in New York City Friday, and Chicago expanded its indoor dining capacity limits.
The rollbacks come as U.S. health officials released new guidance for reopening schools Friday, saying schools can safely reopen by adhering to five key mitigation strategies.
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In the headlines:
►The University of Oxford became the latest vaccine developer to test its AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in children for the first time, announcing a trial Saturday where it seeks to recruit 300 volunteers between the ages of 6 and 17.
►New COVID-19 variants are spreading fast in multiple regions of France, prompting tougher mask rules and a curfew crackdown around the English Channel coast.
►China refused to give raw data on early COVID-19 cases to a World Health Organization team probing the origins of the pandemic, one of the team’s investigators, Dominic Dwyer, told Reuters and The Wall Street Journal. The head of the WHO said Friday that all hypotheses into the origins of the coronavirus were still being investigated and analyzed after a team of investigators said earlier this week that the theory that the virus leaked from a virology lab in Wuhan would no longer be pursued.
►Florida passed a grim milestone on Friday when state health officials reported more than 10,000 residents and staff of long-term care facilities have died of COVID-19.
►Mask wearing will be needed for “several, several months” even as vaccinations roll out, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Once 75-80% of the population is vaccinated, the country can “start pulling back a bit on what are stringent public health measures,” he added.
►The U.S. Food and Drug Administration agreed to let Moderna increase the number of doses of its COVID-19 vaccine that it puts into each vial from 10 to 14, The New York Times reported Friday. The Times reported that the change, which could boost the nation’s vaccine supply by 20%, could take effect before the end of April.
►Fully vaccinated people who meet certain criteria will no longer be required to quarantine following an exposure to someone with COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 27.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 483,800 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 108.4 million cases and 2.39 million deaths. More than 69 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and about 50.6 million have been administered, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: People of color have suffered most from COVID-19. But now that a vaccine is here, they are far less likely to have received a first dose – for many of the same reasons. Read more.
FDA policy to allow antibody tests without authorization was ‘flawed,’ officials say
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration policy of allowing companies to market their COVID-19 antibody tests without authorization was “flawed” and allowed ineffective products to flood the market, two FDA officials wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine Saturday.
In March, the agency began allowing companies to market their antibody tests without FDA emergency use authorization as long as the companies notified the agency and could show that the test worked.
“As a result, the market was flooded with serology tests, some of which performed poorly and many of which were marketed in a manner that conflicted with FDA policy,” wrote Dr. Jeffrey Shuren, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, and Dr. Timothy Stenzel, director of the FDA’s Office of In Vitro Diagnostics and Radiological Health.
Inexperienced or dubious companies capitalized on the vacuum of FDA oversight, including one that sells vape pens and one headed by a self-proclaimed technology evangelist, a USA TODAY investigation last year found.
“We realized that the policy outlined in our March 16 guidance was flawed,” the authors said. “Knowing what we know now, we would not have permitted serology tests to be marketed without FDA review and authorization, even within the limits we initially imposed.”
As of Feb. 1, the FDA had removed listings for 225 tests from its website, issued 15 warning letters, and placed 88 firms on import alert for violations, the authors said.
Massachusetts program to vaccinate people who accompany seniors quickly ‘abused’
Some people in Massachusetts are offering rides and even money for a chance to take advantage of a state rule that allows those who accompany people age 75 and older to a coronavirus vaccination appointment to get a shot at the same time.
But the rash of online ads from people looking to cut the vaccination line drew a stern rebuke from Gov. Charlie Baker, who warned against offers of help from complete strangers. “If you’re contacted by somebody soliciting to take you to a site, please report it to the authorities,” Baker said Thursday.
Seniors should accept help only from someone they trust, he said. Many senior centers in the state are offering help. Some officials called on the Republican governor to put the vaccine companion program on hold.
“While it may have been well-meaning, it took less than 24 hours for this new state policy to be abused,” Boston City Councilor Andrea Campbell in a statement.
Democratic state Rep. Steve Owens said a group of lawmakers have urged Baker to pause the program, noting that he saw an ad from someone offering $250 to drive an eligible resident to a vaccination site.
– Associated Press
Oxford University testing vaccine in children
The University of Oxford plans to test its COVID-19 vaccine – which is being produced and distributed by AstraZeneca – in children for the first time, becoming the latest vaccine developer to assess whether its coronavirus shot is effective in young people.
The trial announced Saturday seeks to recruit 300 volunteers between the ages of 6 and 17, with up to 240 receiving the COVID-19 vaccine and the remainder a control meningitis vaccine.
Andrew Pollard, chief researcher on the Oxford vaccine trial, says that while most children don’t get severely ill from COVID-19, “it is important to establish the safety and immune response to the vaccine in children and young people as some children may benefit from vaccination.”
– Associated Press
Backlogged COVID-19 death reports propel US to single-day record
Ohio’s efforts to clean up backlogged death reports propelled the U.S. to a stunning single-day record of 5,443 COVID-19 death reports on Thursday, Johns Hopkins University data shows. The previous record was 4,436 cases reported exactly a month earlier.
Ohio reported 63 deaths on Tuesday, 721 deaths on Wednesday, and 2,559 deaths on Thursday.
Deaths in the U.S. have been slowly dropping since a peak several weeks ago. The nation is reporting an average of fewer than 100,000 new cases per day now. That’s still more than 1 new case every second, but it’s less than half the rate the country was reporting in January.
– Mike Stucka
Data from California shows Black people get low percentage of shots
California released much-awaited statewide race and ethnicity data for COVID-19 Friday, and the results show that Black people so far account for just 2.8% of all people who have received at least one shot.
White people have received nearly 33 percent, according to the data collected by the California Department of Public Health.
The data did not immediately explain the disparity. It showed also that Asian Americans who have received at least one vaccine dose account for 13.1%, Latinos 15.8%, and multi-race 13.9%.
California – and several other states – have come under fire in recent weeks for lagging behind in reporting data on how vaccinations are being delivered across ethnic groups. A lack of data is further masking vaccination rollout transparency, health equity researchers say, and the data deficit is hurting those most vulnerable. So far, less than 20 states are releasing vaccination counts by race and ethnicity, and the data is incomplete.
CDC guidelines to reopen schools: Vaccinations not a must
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says public schools can safely reopen amid the pandemic if a host of safety measures are taken including keeping 6 feet of physical distancing inside school buildings where possible. And while the vaccination of teachers is important, according to the CDC, it isn’t a must for in-person instruction.
The CDC on Friday released new highly anticipated guidelines for reopening schools that are still closed and conducting classes virtually as the COVID-19 virus rages. President Joe Biden has repeatedly pointed to the guidelines as key to his goal of reopening the majority of schools within his first 100 days.
The guidelines – billed as a “roadmap” and a “one-stop shop” to safely reopen schools – are not federal mandates, but rather “recommendations based on the best-available evidence.”
– Joey Garrison
After losing homes amid COVID-19, more people are living in cars, RVs
Americans are being driven into their vehicles by pandemic-fueled woes. And their ranks are likely to grow as the government safety net frays and evictions and foreclosures rise.
“It’s in times of crisis that the fragility of our systems are laid bare,” said Graham Pruss, a postdoctoral scholar with the Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative at the UC San Francisco Center for Vulnerable Populations.
Even before COVID, millions struggled to afford a decent place to live. The pandemic has made the housing crisis even worse, says Pruss. He expects a surge in the number of people without permanent homes taking refuge in cars, vans, RVs and campers – and not just in the nation’s most expensive regions such as the San Francisco Bay Area where vehicles have increasingly become a form of affordable housing, but all over the country. Read more.
– Jessica Guynn
Contributing: The Associated Press
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