As the CDC issued relaxed rules for the fully vaccinated on Monday and the pace of shots increased, concern mounted on another front: Young people eager to go on spring break.
Florida is getting busy. Disney theme parks in Orlando are booked solid next Monday through Thursday. Throngs of college students are strolling the strip in Fort Lauderdale, many without masks and ignoring social distancing. At least one hot spot there, however, is pumping the brakes.
The outdoor event space The Wharf, featuring live music, food and drink, announced on social media that during the spring break season guests with out-of-state ID must be 23 or older. The Wharf says it will be operating at reduced capacity and requiring masks be worn at all times while walking through common areas and when not eating or drinking.
In Miami Beach, Mayor Dan Gelber is determined to avoid a new burst of virus cases in his city. Gelber issued a stern warning for spring break revelers: “Don’t be foolish. Don’t come here if you think this is an anything-goes environment. We will arrest you and it will ruin your time here.”
Help is on the way: The U.S. vaccination rate has risen to an average of 2.2 million doses per day, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients announced. New York City alone administered 100,000 doses over the weekend.
Also in the news:
►The seven-day rolling average for daily new cases and COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. has decreased over the past two weeks. Infections dwindled from 66,162 on Feb. 21 to 57,972 on Sunday, while fatalities dropped from 1,873 on Feb. 21 to 1,677 on Sunday.
►Millions of Americans should start to see stimulus checks of up to $1,400 land in their bank accounts in just a few weeks. The one-time payments are part of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-relief package that’s expected to get final approval in the House on Wednesday.
►Italy surpassed 100,000 dead in the pandemic, a year after it became the first country in Europe to go on lockdown. The per-capita death toll in Italy is about the same as in the U.S.
►Colorado health officials are advising anyone who participated in a raucous Boulder party-turned-riot to quarantine for at least 10 days and to get tested for COVID-19. The event turned so violent a car was flipped over and a police SWAT team used tear gas to break up the crowd.
►New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says her country will now use only the Pfizer vaccine to inoculate its population. She says the decision was based on the Pfizer vaccine’s effectiveness.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has over 29 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 525,600 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 117 million cases and 2.59 million deaths. More than 116.3 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 92 million have been administered, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: Public heath experts have been critical of Texas, Mississippi and other states that have tossed aside mask mandates. They also warn of another threat to the country’s hard-fought gains against COVID-19: The number of Americans getting tested for coronavirus has dropped significantly since January. Read the full story.
Wyoming is joining Texas and Mississippi, becoming the fifth state – all led by Republican governors – to lift mask mandates recently against the advice of public health experts. A sixth state, Alabama, extended the mandate but said it would end on April 9.
Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon, whose order goes into effect March 16, also said several businesses will be able to resume normal operations. They include establishments that typically operate indoors, such as bars, theaters, gyms and restaurants.
The discarding of masking requirements by some states drew a rebuke last week from President Joe Biden, who likened the decisions to “Neanderthal thinking,” and a warning against prematurely removing restrictions from the CDC.
Satisfaction with the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the U.S. has increased enough that a majority of both Democrats and Republicans approve of it, but 1 out of every 4 Americans still say they’ll never get the vaccine if they can avoid it, according to a new Monmouth University poll.
Of the 60% of respondents who said they’re at least somewhat satisfied with the vaccine rollout, 69% are Democrats and 58% Republicans. Partisanship is more of a dividing line in the decision to skip the vaccine, with 36% of Republicans saying they want to avoid it, compared to only 6% of Democrats.
The survey also reveals the public is generally more pessimistic about how long it will take to return to normalcy after the pandemic, with 21% saying by the summer – down from 29% in a January survey – 40% saying by the end of the year and 27% saying even later.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased guidelines for fully vaccinated Americans on Monday, saying they can visit with other vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing. They can also visit with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 – indoors and without wearing masks or physical distancing.
Fully vaccinated people also don’t need to quarantine or get testing following a known exposure if asymptomatic. But they still must take precautions in public such as wearing a well-fitted mask and physical distancing and avoidance of medium- and large-size in-person gatherings.
“COVID-19 continues to exact a tremendous toll on our nation,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a press briefing of the White House COVID-19 Response Team. “Science and the protection of public health must guide us as we begin to resume activities.”
The Biden administration said Monday that it is taking steps to combat Russian disinformation aimed at undermining confidence in the vaccines produced by Pfizer Inc. and other Western companies. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki’s remarks came in the wake of a Sunday report in the Wall Street Journal that four publications, all serving as fronts for Russian intelligence, have targeted Western-produced COVID-19 vaccines with misleading coverage that exaggerates the risk of side effects and raises questions about their efficacy.
“We will fight (the disinformation) with every tool we have,” Psaki said during a press briefing on Monday.
– Deirdre Shesgreen
More than 100,000 New Yorker City residents were vaccinated over the weekend, raising the total doses administered in the city to more than 2.3 million, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday. The mayor said the city could vaccinate 500,000 per week if it can get more supply. Many residents who “had hesitation before” about getting vaccinated told him they are now ready, de Blasio said. And the Johnson & Johnson shot is the vaccine of choice, he said.
“One of the most consistent things we heard is people want the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because it’s one dose and you’re done,” the mayor said.
President Joe Biden will make the first prime-time address of his term Thursday night to commemorate the one-year anniversary of shutdowns taken across the nation at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. White House press secretary Jen Psaki, who announced the address, did not provide a time or say where the president will deliver remarks. State lockdowns rapidly closed businesses across the country, spiking unemployment to a high of 14.8% last April before slowly improving.
“He will discuss the many sacrifices that the American people have made over the last year and the grave loss communities and families across the country have suffered,” Psaki said. “The president will look forward, highlighting the role that Americans will play in beating the virus and moving the country to getting back to normal.”
– Joey Garrison
The number of Americans now completely vaccinated for COVID-19 has surpassed the number of reported cases of the virus since the pandemic began more than a year ago.
Just over 31 million people have been completely vaccinated, 9.4% of the population, according to the CDC. The Johns Hopkins data dashboard counts 29 million cases of the virus reported nationwide, but experts warn that reported cases likely represent a fraction of actual infections.
Recent studies indicate that adults with Down syndrome, specifically those 40 and older, are three to 10 times as likely to die from COVID-19 than the general population. The findings confirmed what many had already suspected – that those with the genetic disorder, already prone to respiratory issues, heart conditions and other risk factors for coronavirus, were more susceptible to the virus’ harmful effects. But Down syndrome priority for the vaccine varies from state to state.
“It’s clear that they should be moved to the front of the line,” said Republican Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen of Minnesota, lead author of a letter signed by bipartisan state legislators last month imploring health officials to prioritize adults with the condition. “I can’t emphasize enough how dangerous it could be for these individuals if they don’t get the vaccine.”
– Marc Ramirez
The U.S. added a record 380 new coronavirus variant cases Sunday, continuing a trend that has seen the country double its known total of such coronavirus infections since Feb. 18. Different versions of the virus that causes COVID-19 are spreading quickly even as the pace of new infections has generally been falling nationwide.
The variants can spread more easily, dodge some treatments and immunities or both, leaving them a threat even as more Americans get vaccinated. The U.S. has 3,133 known variant cases, up from the 2,753 reported Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control said Sunday.
Most of America’s known variant cases are of B.1.1.7, which was first seen in the United Kingdom, with 3,037. Vaccines have proved effective against it, but the variant is considered at least 50% more infectious than the original strain, making fast, widespread vaccination imperative.
– Mike Stucka