The U.S. surpassed 600,000 COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday, a stark reminder of the pandemic's enduring toll even as the nation continues to take steps toward normalcy.
The remarkable progress in the battle against the coronavirus, thanks to a concerted vaccination effort led by the federal government, has ushered in the lifting of restrictions and perhaps even a sense that the pandemic’s over. The current seven-day average of about 430 deaths a day is less than one-seventh of the 3,300 daily fatalities during the ghastly January peak.
But even 430 represents a fourfold increase on the number of Americans per day who die of the flu in a typical year, and the U.S. still leads the world by plenty in reported coronavirus cases (33.4 million) and deaths. No other nation comes within 100,000 COVID-19 fatalities.
And with half of Americans still unvaccinated, the potential for further grief and suffering has been far from eliminated.
"The light at the end of the tunnel is in sight, but it doesn’t bring back any of those lives or bring solace to the grieving families," said Dr. Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University.
"My other worry is that, for too many Americans and politicians, the rush for life to 'get back to normal' will lead to complacency about the problems that made us vulnerable to COVID in the first place. The same root causes have made Americans sicker than people in other countries for many years."
Also in the news:
►The Kaiser Family Foundation’s ongoing vaccine monitor shows 20% of adults don’t intend to get the vaccine unless required, and 12% are on a wait-and-see mode. That’s nearly one-third of the country’s adults expressing reluctance.
►Nearly 900 people received expired COVID-19 vaccine doses at a vaccination site in Times Square this month, health officials said.
►Toyota is among Japanese companies opening mass vaccination sites in an effort to speed up the country’s lagging vaccine rollout by sponsoring before the Tokyo Olympics begin next month.
►AstraZeneca announced that late-stage testing of its COVID-19 antibody therapy showed the risk of developing symptomatic COVID-19 was reduced by only 33% compared to placebo, which the company said "was not statistically significant."
►Mexico on Tuesday received 1.35 million doses of Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccines donated by the United States.
📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has more than 33.47 million confirmed coronavirus cases and at least 600,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 176.3 million cases and more than 3.8 million deaths. More than 145.7 million Americans have been fully vaccinated – 43.9% of the population, according to the CDC.
📘 What we're reading: Effective COVID-19 vaccines were developed in under a year. But a half-century after the country declared war on cancer, and 40 years after the first reported case of HIV/AIDS, there remains no way to prevent either disease or many more. Read the full story.
Royal Caribbean cruise ship launch, sailings postponed after crew members test positive
Royal Caribbean International is postponing the inaugural sailing of its newest cruise ship after eight crew members received positive COVID-19 test results during routine testing.
The Odyssey of the Seas initial sailings, which the cruise line had laid out as six- and eight-night Southern and Western Caribbean cruises from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, from July 3 to July 31, are being postponed out of an abundance of caution, according to a Facebook post from Royal Caribbean President and CEO Michael Bayley. A test cruise originally slated to leave in late June will also be rescheduled.
Those who had planned to sail with the ship “will be notified and given several options to consider,” Bayley said.
- Bailey Schulz
Arizona bars schools from mandates on vaccinations, testing and masks
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order Tuesday that bars all public universities and community colleges from requiring a COVID-19 vaccination.
The order also blocks requirements for mask usage for the unvaccinated and testing for students. It was issued in response to Arizona State University and aimed to halt the school from implementing planned requirements for unvaccinated students on campus this fall.
The order also blocks schools from accessing information from students about their vaccination status prior to their arrival on campus It also blocks requirements for mask usage for the unvaccinated. It states schools cannot, "place any conditions on attendance or participation in classes or academic activities, including but not limited to mandatory testing and mandatory mask usage, if a person chooses not to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine or disclose that they have been vaccinated against COVID-19, unless such requirement has been mandated by law in the State of Arizona."
Ducey, a Republican, said the order ensured "getting the #COVID19 vaccine is a choice – not a requirement."
As of Tuesday, ASU reported 13 active cases of COVID-19 with 11 of those involving students in surrounding metro Phoenix. This was a slight decrease from 17 active cases the week before. Statewide, 423 new COVID-19 cases and 11 new deaths were reported Tuesday by the Arizona Department of Public Health.
New York state reaches 70% vaccination, restrictions being eased
New York state has surpassed the first-shot, 70% vaccination threshold for adults, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday, a benchmark that will trigger a pullback on safety precautions such as those still in place for social distancing in restaurants.
It means retail stories, restaurants, offices, gyms, amusement centers, hair salons can make it optional to have capacity and social distancing restrictions, as well as ease COVID disinfection protocols. However, large-scale event venues, pre-K to 12th grade schools, public transit systems, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, nursing homes and health care settings must continue to follow existing state's guidelines until more New Yorkers are vaccinated.
"Congratulations to New Yorkers because they are the ones who did it," Cuomo said at a celebratory event at One World Trade Center in Manhattan.
– Joseph Spector
COVID reached US earlier than we realized
Mounting evidence suggests COVID may have been circulating in the U.S. earlier than previously thought and before the first case was discovered on Jan. 21, 2020, according to a study published Tuesday by the National Institutes of Health’s All of Us Research Program.
Researchers analyzed 24,000 blood samples between Jan. 2 and March 18, 2020 and found antibodies in blood collected as early as Jan. 7 in states such as Illinois, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Antibodies in the blood are taken as evidence of coronavirus infection and can be detected as early as two weeks after a person is first infected.
The report expands on previous research published in Nov. 2020 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found evidence of antibodies in blood sampled as early as Dec. 13, 2019.
"This study allows us to uncover more information about the beginning of the U.S. epidemic," said Dr. Josh Denny, chief executive officer of the NIH program and author of the study.
– Adrianna Rodriguez
Biden to throw July 4th bash – and wants you to throw one, too
The Biden administration is encouraging nationwide July 4th celebrations and plans to host a blowout cookout for first responders, essential workers, military members and their families on the South Lawn of the White House. The more than 1,000 invited presidential guests will get to stay for the fireworks over the National Mall as well, according to two White House officials who spoke to the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity. The celebration marks a big jump from the cautious goals he announced on the one-year anniversary of the pandemic March 11.
“By July the 4th, there’s a good chance you, your families and friends will be able to get together in your backyard or in your neighborhood and have a cookout and a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day,” Biden had said. “That doesn’t mean large events with lots of people together, but it does mean small groups will be able to get together.”
'It's a new day': California reopens after 15 months of restrictions
The nation's largest state reopens today, effectively ending a slew of 15-month restrictions to stem the COVID-19 pandemic. California is ranked 41st among the states where coronavirus was spreading the fastest on a per-person basis, according to a USA TODAY Network analysis of Johns Hopkins University data. With 11.87% of the country's population, California had 6.19% of the country's cases in the last week.
The Golden State is in a markedly different place than it was in December when it broke records for hospitalizations and single-day case numbers multiple days in a row. Deaths topped 30,000, then 45,000 the next month, and many funeral homes in Southern California were overrun by the surge. Last week, California recorded 792 to 1,136 new infections every day, down from a December peak of nearly 54,000.
'A day to celebrate': California, once epicenter of COVID-19 pandemic, marks its reopening
"Today is a day to celebrate, a day to reconnect with strangers, loved ones, family members, give people hugs," Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday, touting the reopening at Universal Studios Hollywood with a backdrop of families entering the theme park and animated characters at his side like Shrek and the Minions. "We're going to come back, roaring back. California is open again. California has turned the page. Let us all celebrate this remarkable milestone." Read more.
Gov. Kelly urges Kansas lawmakers to extend state of emergency
Governor Laura Kelly asked the Kansas Legislative Coordinating Council to extend the state of disaster emergency declaration. The Democrat, who also rescinded executive orders involving several restrictions, said some restrictions will be needed until at least Sept. 1. The GOP council has previously expressed skepticism over the proposed extension. Kelly said the declaration was needed for, among other reasons, continued use of the Kansas National Guard to distribute vaccines.
"Our state’s emergency response is the groundwork for getting shots in arms, supporting local communities, and getting our state back to normal," Kelly tweeted. "We owe it to Kansans to finish the job responsibly."
Cashier fatally shot after mask dispute at Georgia supermarket
One person was killed and three others were wounded Monday in a shootout at a Georgia supermarket after an argument over wearing face masks, authorities said.
The alleged gunman started arguing with a cashier at Big Bear Supermarket in Decatur, Georgia, over his face mask, Dekalb County Sheriff Melody Maddox said during a news conference Monday. The shooter was identified by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation as Victor Lee Tucker Jr., 30, of Palmetto, Georgia.
The agency said preliminary information indicates that Tucker then left the store without making a purchase. He returned shortly after, pulling out a handgun and shooting the cashier. She later died from her injuries, Maddox said.
A deputy, who was working as a security guard and has retired from active duty, attempted to intervene in the shooting, Maddox said. The deputy and Tucker exchanged gunfire, and both were wounded during the shootout. Both have been transported to local hospitals.
One other cashier was wounded at the store but was treated at the scene.
Worldwide cases drop for seven weeks in a row, WHO director says
The head of the World Health Organization said the number of new coronavirus cases reported have now dropped for the past seven weeks, the longest such period of decline since the pandemic began.
At a press briefing on Monday, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed the drop, but said the vastly unequal access to coronavirus vaccines was threatening further progress.
"The virus is moving faster than the global (vaccine) distribution," Tedros said. He called for political leaders to commit to immunizing at least 70% of the world’s population by the time of next year’s G7 meeting.
Contributing: The Associated Press.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: US COVID deaths surpass 600K; Biden to host July 4th bash