Daily cases 10% higher in US this week; J&J vaccine may protect against delta variant: Today's COVID-19 updates

New cases of COVID-19 are on the rise compared to last week as the delta variant spreads throughout the U.S., health officials said Thursday.

The weekly average of new daily cases was 10% higher, even though cases were down 95% from the nation's peak in January, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a briefing.

The delta variant, which is thought to be more contagious, is the second-most prevalent variant circulating in the U.S. and is expected to become the most common "in the coming weeks," Walensky said.

"As we prepare for Independence Day, I want to remind those who remain unvaccinated to protect themselves by wearing a mask, and avoid crowds to prevent transmission and illness," she said.

Also in the news:

► Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi announced fully vaccinated residents will no longer be required to wear face masks in most public settings, and capacity restrictions for businesses will be lifted starting July 5.

►The head of the World Health Organization’s Europe office said a 10-week drop in COVID-19 cases in the region has ended, and warned a new wave could loom unless people "remain disciplined" and more people get vaccinated.

►The African Union special envoy tasked with leading efforts to procure COVID-19 vaccines for the continent is blasting Europe as Africa struggles amid a crushing third wave of infections. "Not one dose, not one vial, has left a European factory for Africa," Strive Masiyiwa said Thursday.

►Several nations are imposing new COVID-19 restrictions. The Czech Republic is imposing measures to contain the spread of the delta variant. Portugal and Malaysia are imposing curfews in some areas. And British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says unspecified "extra precautions" to contain the spread will be needed in coming weeks.

►Fifty-two Italian prison officers have been suspended for their alleged involvement in an assault on inmates who had protested the lack of face masks and virus tests during the peak of Italy’s pandemic last year.

►About 77% of vaccinated adults said everyone in their household is vaccinated, while 75% of unvaccinated adults said no one they live with is vaccinated, according to a recent survey from Kaiser Family Foundation.

►A Washington state lawmaker apologized Wednesday for wearing a yellow Star of David – a symbol forced on Jews by the Nazis during the Holocaust – at a speech over the weekend to protest restrictions implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic.

📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has more than 33.6 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and at least 604,900 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 182.4 million cases and more than 3.95 million deaths. More than 154.8 million Americans have been fully vaccinated – about 46.7% of the population, according to the CDC.

📘 What we're reading: Across the country, there is growing evidence that Black and Latino boys fell furthest behind in school this year. In this moment of upheaval, educators and advocates see a chance to rethink how schools serve boys of color.

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US falls short on promise to deliver vaccines to the world

President Joe Biden has come up well short of his goal of delivering 80 million vaccine doses to the rest of the world by the end of June.

The White House says logistical and regulatory hurdles have slowed the pace of U.S. vaccine diplomacy. The Biden administration had announced about 50 countries and entities would receive a share of the excess COVID-19 vaccine doses.

But an Associated Press tally shows the U.S. has shipped less than 24 million doses to 10 recipient countries. The White House says more will be sent in the coming days.

Vehicle traffic takes unexpected turn as pandemic ushers in remote work

Rush hour isn’t quite so rushed in the early morning hours anymore. And it’s not just an hour, either. (Not that it ever was.) While Americans are gradually getting back to some semblance of normal, traffic data suggests that the morning drive has changed drastically – and it may never go back to pre-COVID-19 patterns.

In short, rush-hour traffic is more spread out and, generally, has shifted later in the morning as Americans are more able to avoid heavy traffic periods due to remote work, according to traffic data analyzed for USA TODAY by Wejo, which tracks data from connected vehicles. Read more.

– Nathan Bomey

US jobless claims fall to 364,000, a new pandemic low

The number of Americans applying for unemployment aid fell again last week to the lowest level since the pandemic struck last year, further evidence that the job market and the broader economy are rebounding rapidly from the coronavirus recession.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that jobless claims dropped by 51,000 to 364,000. Applications for unemployment benefits have fallen more or less steadily since the year began. The rollout of vaccines has sharply reduced new COVID-19 cases, giving consumers the confidence to shop, travel, eat out and attend public events as the economy recovers. Read more.

J&J vaccine may protect against delta variant

A top U.S. official suggested people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine likely are protected against the delta variant.

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told CNBC data shows the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot – a "cousin" of the J&J vaccine – is highly effective against the variant first identified in India and currently surging across the nation.

"While we are still awaiting direct studies of Johnson & Johnson and the delta variant, we have reasons to be hopeful, because the J&J vaccine has proven to be quite effective against preventing hospitalizations and deaths, with all the variants that we’ve seen to date," Murthy said Wednesday.

Murthy's comments come as other companies such as Moderna announced that their vaccine is effective against all variants of COVID-19, including the delta variant, which is thought to be more contagious.

Gen Z, millennials find digital life more memorable, study shows

After a year of virtual living during the COVID-19 pandemic, younger generations feel online presence is more important than real-life interactions, a study released Thursday shows. The survey finds that 60% of Generation Z and 62% of millennials say that how you present yourself online is more crucial than how you appear in person.

On average, Americans visit more than eight websites per day, amounting to more than 3,000 per year, according to the study by Squarespace on how Americans engage with digital platforms. Of the 2,032 adults surveyed, Squarespace found Americans are becoming more invested in the online world, especially millennials and Gen Z. Read more.

– Kate Mabus

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to announce COVID vaccine sweepstakes

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer plans to announce details Thursday of COVID-19 vaccine sweepstakes that will give vaccinated Michiganders a chance to win a combined total of more than $5 million in cash and nine college scholarships worth $55,000 apiece.

Called the "MI Shot to Win Sweepstakes," the lottery-style raffle will be operated by the state in conjunction with Meijer and the Michigan Association of United Ways as an incentive to encourage more residents to get vaccinated. Read more.

– Kristen Jordan Shamus, Detroit Free Press

CureVac says shot is 48% effective overall

German vaccine maker CureVac said Wednesday that its vaccine is 53% effective against COVID-19 of any severity in 18- to 60-year-olds. Overall, CurveVac says the shot is 48% effective, based on 83 cases in the vaccine group and 145 in the placebo group.

The World Health Organization has said vaccines with an efficacy above 50% are worth using, though many of those already approved have a far higher rate.

CureVac CEO Franz-Werner Haas says the vaccine fully protects 18- to 60-year-olds against hospitalization. He calls it "an important contribution to help manage the COVID-19 pandemic and the dynamic variant spread."

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: US COVID-19 cases 10% higher this week; J&J vaccine; delta variant