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ACROSS AMERICA — Maylette Brown's birthday was Friday. She turned 47 years old. She's too young to have funeral arrangements in place, but as the mother of three children and someone with a host of underlying health conditions, she does anyway.
Just in case.
Brown, of Winchester, California, dodged two coronavirus bullets last year.
She wasn't as lucky this year.
Brown has numerous underlying health conditions — asthma, breast cancer, lupus and others. Despite trying hard to avoid it, she tested positive for coronavirus this year.
On Thursday, Brown was home after being in and out of the hospital. She's on oxygen and has a chest port, and two home health caregivers are assigned to her.
Speaking by phone, she coughed and often gasped for air. She also got emotional.
"I'm not going to lie," she told Patch. "I'm scared."
Brown, whose salvation has been her faith, her children, and her neighborhoods, doesn't ask for much. Just prayer — and for people to stop bickering over COVID-19.
"This nation has lost so many people from this virus," she said. "People, stop complaining. Stick together and help each other. We all can do this."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an order late Friday requiring face masks on all public transportation in the U.S., including planes, boats, subways, ferries, taxis, trains and rideshare vehicles. The order takes effect at 11:59 p.m. Monday and will continue indefinitely.
The CDC's order comes just over a week after President Joe Biden issued an executive order requiring masks for traveling in the U.S., as well as requiring a negative COVID-19 test for travelers coming to the U.S. from other countries. He also issued an executive order requiring face masks in all federal buildings.
Masks must be worn over the nose and mouth while waiting, boarding, traveling and disembarking, according to the order.
"Appropriately-worn masks reduce the spread of COVID-19 — particularly given the evidence of pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic transmission of COVID-19," the order reads.
However, as the United States enters the final full month of a dark winter alongside a global pandemic, parents may have one more thing to look forward to once warmer weather arrives.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, said during Friday's White House coronavirus briefing that he hopes to see children being vaccinated starting in the next few months.
“Hopefully, by the time we get to the late spring and early summer, we will have children being able to be vaccinated,” Fauci said.
While current vaccines have not yet been approved for children, getting them vaccinated will be critical to the country achieving herd immunity. Children represent about one-fourth of the population; and for the U.S. to reach widespread resistance to the virus, about 70 percent to 85 percent of the population must be vaccinated.
While this is good news for parents hoping to safely send their children back to school, the United States is still struggling to keep a swift pace in its efforts to vaccinate adults first.
As of Thursday, only about 1.3 percent of Americans had been fully vaccinated with the required two doses of the currently available vaccines, AP reported.
Meanwhile, a day before the number of new coronavirus cases surpassed 25.8 million, the first of yet another new variant strain has been confirmed in the United States.
Two cases of a variant that first originated in South Africa were confirmed in South Carolina on Thursday, according to an Associated Press report. The two cases don't appear to be connected, and neither patient has a history of recent travel, the state health department told The AP.
"That's frightening," because it means there could be more undetected cases within the state, Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious diseases physician at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, told AP. "It's probably more widespread."
The South Africa variant is one of three emergent strains that are being closely watched by U.S. public health officials. Other variants first reported in the United Kingdom and Brazil have already been confirmed in the United States, and researchers believe these three variants may spread more easily.
As these new variants emerge, public health experts are calling on Americans to mask up — and mask up again.
The time has come to upgrade the simple cloth masks that have become a staple shield during the pandemic. Now, public health experts are recommending that Americans don a second mask over — or under — the one they already wear. The best combination, according to a Washington Post report, will likely be a fabric mask on top of a surgical mask.
Fauci touted double-masking earlier this week during an appearance on the "Today" show, saying two layers "just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective."
Also, the World Health Organization on Friday officially changed its considering a COVID-19 vaccine. Previously, the WHO said only expectant mothers who were considered high risk should get the vaccine.
The move came after health experts expressed disappointment with the guidance, The New York Times reported. The experts noted it was inconsistent with guidance issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, while they have not been tested in pregnant women, have not shown any harmful effects in animal studies. And the technology used in the vaccines is generally known to be safe, experts said.
In other vaccine news, Novavax, a little-known, Maryland-based company supported by the U.S. federal government's Operation Warp Speed, confirmed on Thursday that its COVID-19 vaccine offers robust protection against the virus, The New York Times reported.
But here's the downside: The company has said its vaccine is not as effective against the fast-spreading variant first discovered in South Africa.
The announcement from Novavax comes came just days after Moderna and Pfizer said their vaccines were also less effective against the same variant.
Finally, Johnson & Johnson's one-shot COVID-19 vaccine is just about ready to go out to the public, although research is showing it is less protective than the two-shot alternatives.
Following Phase 3 of the clinical trials of the single-dose COVID-19 vaccine, the company's vaccine showed it was 66 percent effective overall in preventing moderate-to-severe COVID-19, 28 days after vaccination, according to a news release from the company.
However, studies showed it was more effective — 85 percent — in preventing severe disease in all adults 18 years and older.
At least 317 deaths and 20,312 new cases of coronavirus were reported in the United States as of 10:55 a.m. ET Saturday, according to a Washington Post database. The Post's reporting shows that over the past week, new daily cases have fallen 14.8 percent, new daily deaths have risen 4.2 percent and COVID-19-related hospitalizations have fallen 13 percent.
Currently, 101,003 people are hospitalized with a coronavirus-related illness in the United States, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
As of Saturday, 36 states and U.S. territories remained above the positive testing rate recommended by the World Health Organization to safely reopen. To safely reopen, the WHO recommends states remain at 5 percent or lower for at least 14 days.
As of 11 a.m. ET Saturday, the United States had reported nearly 26 million cases and almost 437,000 deaths from COVID-19-related illnesses, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.