Florida bans 'vaccine passports'; California to allow indoor gatherings starting April 15; CDC travel guidance: Live COVID-19 updates

The U.S. has vaccinated more than 30% of its population against COVID-19, with more than 101.8 million Americans receiving at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccine tracker. More than 17% of the total population has been fully vaccinated, as have more than 53% of those 65 and older.

Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson has begun vaccinating participants between 12 and 17 years old in its ongoing clinical trial for its COVID-19 vaccine, according to a company statement Friday.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on adolescents, not just with the complications of the disease, but with their education mental health, and wellbeing,” said Dr. Paul Stoffels, chief scientific officer at Johnson & Johnson. “It is vital that we develop vaccines for everyone, everywhere, to help combat the spread of the virus with the goal to return to everyday life.”

The news follows the release of a Pfizer study that found its COVID-19 vaccine with German partner BioNTech was proven safe and effective for kids ages 12 to 15. The company also announced beginning trials in children under 12 years old.

In a separate company study, researchers found volunteers remained more than 90% protected against symptomatic COVID-19 and even better protected against severe disease six months after getting a second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. It also protects against the P.1 variant, first identified in Brazil.

Also in the news:

►Colorado will no longer require masks to be worn in most settings in the 31 counties that are on the lowest level of the state's COVID-19 dial system, Gov. Jared Polis' office announced Friday.

►The coronavirus variant discovered in California triggered a less effective immune response from the vaccine, a study published Thursday said.

►Michigan, where COVID-19 is surging more than in any state, on Thursday reported its first confirmed case of a coronavirus variant that was initially identified in Brazil.

►Nevada lawmakers are considering sending mail-in ballots to all active voters in future elections after passing a law last summer that directed election officials to do so to prevent the coronavirus from spreading at polling places.

►British regulators identified 30 blood clot events from people who received the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, which is 25 more cases than previously reported on March 18, according to a statement from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency on Thursday.

📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has more than 30.6 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 553,900 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: 129.9 million cases and 2.83 million deaths. More than 200.49 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 153.63 million have been administered, according to the CDC.

📘 What we're reading: What can I do if I'm vaccinated against COVID-19, but my child isn't? Here are activities health experts say are safe.

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.

CDC announces next steps to getting cruise ships back in US waters

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday issued the next phase of its Framework for Conditional Sailing Order, the guidance that will lead to getting cruise ships sailing again in U.S. waters.

The initial conditional sailing order came out in late October, and cruise operators have since been waiting for further guidance. In an announcement late Friday, the CDC said the second phase of the order will include trial voyages to practice new COVID-19 operational procedures with volunteers before sailing with paying passengers.

The CDC update, described in a news release as "technical guidance," also includes a requirement to increase cruise COVID-19 reporting frequency to daily. There was no clarity in the guidance, however, about when cruise ships can start sailing again in U.S. waters.

– Morgan Hines, Jayme Deerwester and Julia Thompson, USA TODAY

California to allow indoor gatherings beginning April 15

California will allow indoor concerts, theater performances and other private gatherings starting April 15.

The California Department of Public Health announced the changes Friday as the rate of people testing positive for the virus nears a record low. It's a sharp turnaround from the slow pace California has taken on lifting restrictions, and comes as Gov. Gavin Newsom urges continued vigilance about wearing masks and maintaining social distancing.

To attend, people will have to either be tested or show proof of full vaccination. How many people can attend gatherings will depend on the level of restrictions in place at each county. California divides counties into four tiers based on how widespread the virus is in those places.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs order banning 'vaccine passports'

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order Friday, effectively immediately, that bans businesses from requiring customers to show proof they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to get service.

The Republican governor had previously announced his intent to issue an order banning so-called “vaccine passports.” His action also barred any government agency in Florida from issuing such documentation for the purpose of providing proof of vaccinations.

In his executive order, DeSantis asserts that “vaccination passports reduce individual freedom and will harm patient privacy.”

CDC says fully vaccinated Americans can resume travel

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Americans who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can resume travel at low risk to themselves, but the agency is still not recommending travel given rising case counts.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, who earlier this week issued an urgent plea to limit travel due to fears of another COVID surge, said Friday the new guidance is based on studies showing the "real-world'' effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.

Vaccinated travelers no longer have to follow the CDC's recommendations to get a COVID-19 test before and after travel unless required by the destination. They still need to wear masks and take other precautions.

For international travel, vaccinated passengers still must abide by a CDC order, issued in January, requiring a negative COVID test to board flights to the United States, and should get another test three to five days after arriving.

Despite the new guidance, Walensky said during a White House briefing that the CDC is not reversing its advice to avoid nonessential travel during the pandemic, vaccinated or unvaccinated

Asked how that squares with the announcement that vaccinated Americans can safely travel, she said: "Our guidance is silent on recommending or not recommending fully vaccinated people travel,'' she said. "Our guidance speaks to the safety of doing so. If you are vaccinated, it is lower risk.''

– Dawn Gilbertson

FDA permits changes to Moderna’s vaccine, allowing for more doses per vial

Moderna can put 50% more vaccine dosage in each vial, the Food and Drug Administration said Thursday.

The company has been manufacturing 10 dose vials, but the FDA's decision allows the company to put up to 15 doses in each vial, a move that allows Moderna to speed up shipments and get more shots in arms.

The FDA is also allowing 11 doses to be extracted out of current 10 dose vials.

“Both of these revisions positively impact the supply of Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine, which will help provide more vaccine doses to communities and allow shots to get into arms more quickly. Ultimately, more vaccines getting to the public in a timely manner should help bring an end to the pandemic more rapidly,” said Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.

Florida’s pop-up COVID vaccine clinics raise ethical concerns

When Florida threw open the door for seniors to get COVID-19 vaccines, hundreds camped out overnight, some bundled up in lawn chairs in the January cold to score a shot.

Thousands more waited in digital lines for their number to come up in county-run vaccine pools. But for some lucky Floridians, getting a vaccine was as easy as hopping in their golf carts and rolling down to the clubhouse.

A USA TODAY Network analysis of state and local government records, news reports and information from private developers found at least 150 communities that landed vaccine pop-ups or priority access to doses. Data provided by the state is incomplete so there likely are many more. Read the full story.

– Zac Anderson and Josh Salman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID updates: Moderna variant vaccine begins trials; MLB opening day