One more encouraging sign about the pandemic for Americans: Puerto Rico, a popular travel destination that was the first U.S. state or territory to go into lockdown, has lifted its nightly curfew.
The island has seen a 58% decline in new infections over the last two weeks after enduring a dramatic spike in April. Besides ending the nightly curfew after more than a year, Puerto Rico will now allow admittance to vaccinated visitors without a negative coronavirus test result. Business capacity will also increase to 50%.
Unvaccinated visitors to the U.S. commonwealth, where tourism is rising amid pent-up demand for travel, will still be required to present a negative coronavirus test or promise to offer a test result within 48 hours. Those who don't comply could face a $300 fine.
Puerto Rico had been under some form of nightly curfew – at least from midnight until 5 a.m. – since March 15, 2020, when its first coronavirus case was reported. But daily cases have plummeted from a weekly average of more than 1,000 at the height of the April surge to about 150.
According to CDC data, 40% of Puerto Rican adults are fully vaccinated and 56% have received at least one dose.
Also in the news:
►Even though the pandemic is waning in the U.S., there have already been more COVID-19 infections worldwide this year than in all of 2020. Here's a graphic look at how much the coronavirus has spread globally.
►School districts from California to Michigan are offering free prom tickets and deploying mobile vaccination teams to inoculate students 12 and older so everyone can return to classrooms in the fall. Officials are concerned that once school lets out, it will be tough to get enough teens vaccinated.
►Stephen Colbert’s late-night show will return on June 14 to episodes with a full studio audience, CBS said. Audience members must provide proof of vaccination to attend shows at New York’s Ed Sullivan Theater.
►Vermont is expected to reach 80% of eligible residents vaccinated within 10 days, then the remaining pandemic-related restrictions will be dropped, state officials said Tuesday. Vermont is a leader in vaccinations; the nationwide goal is 70% by July 4.
►San Diego County and private businesses have donated 10,000 coronavirus vaccines for workers at U.S.-owned border assembly plants in Tijuana, Mexican officials said.
📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has more than 33.1 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 590,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 167.4 million cases and 3.47 million deaths. More than 359 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and more than 287.7 million administered, according to the CDC. More than 131 million Americans have been fully vaccinated – 39.5% of the population.
📘 What we're reading: People with compromised immune systems face potential threat from people not vaccinated for COVID-19. Read more here.
Feds give thumbs-up to lottery, cash incentives for vaccinations
Those monetary incentives some states are using to encourage residents to get the COVID vaccine -- the source of much attention, some criticism and at times mockery -- are perfectly fine with the federal government.
The Treasury Department on Tuesday updated its guidance for how states and local governments can spend billions of dollars in aid included in the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package that passed in March. Lotteries, cash payments or other incentive programs are allowed as long as they are “reasonably expected” to increase vaccinations and the costs are “reasonably proportional” to the expected public health benefit.
“We encourage states to use their creativity to draw attention to vaccines and get their states and the country back to normal as quickly as possible,” said Andy Slavitt, the White House senior advisor on COVID-19 response.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine made national news when he announced the state would give away five $1 million prizes and five college scholarships to eligible state residents who got vaccinated. Since Vax-a-Million was unveiled, Ohio's vaccination rate among those ages 20 to 49 has increased by 55%, and New York, Maryland and Oregon have come up with similar programs.
On Tuesday, Colorado joined in with its own plan to award five $1 million prizes to vaccinated residents.
-- Maureen Groppe
Royal Caribbean cruise ship first approved to sail in U.S. in 15 months
Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas will be the first cruise ship allowed to sail in U.S. waters as a test after a 15-month ban on cruises because of the pandemic.
Company CEO Michael Bayley revealed on a Facebook post Tuesday that the CDC had granted approval for a simulated voyage with volunteer passengers. Vaccine requirements are not mandatory for test sailings per the CDC's Framework for Conditional Sailing Order.
"Onwards and upwards team!'' Bayley wrote in his posting.
-- Morgan Hines
Senses of taste and smell taking a hit with COVID
Of more than 33 million Americans who have tested positive for the coronavirus, about 85% suffered olfactory system infection, according to Dr. Todd Loehrl, an ear, nose and throat specialist at Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin. The infection of those nose and sensory structures that support smelling, which also affects people's sense of taste, is what causes the loss or change in smell and taste.
"Some people come in and say their taste or smell is not as sensitive and robust as it once was, all the way down to patients saying they don't get anything," Loehrl said. "It affects people differently."
– Jordyn Noennig, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Baby bust in California: 'The pandemic is freaking people out'
The pandemic, affordable IUDs and increasing costs of living have more California adults opting for contraceptives over starting a new family. As a result, California is expected to see 50,000 fewer births in 2021, according to the Los Angeles Times.
IUDs – intrauterine devices – continue to grow as a popular form of contraception, especially after the Affordable Care Act made the option free for most patients. The long-lasting contraceptive that prevents pregnancy for up to 12 years appeals to women because it's a one-time procedure that is more accessible than some birth controls that are restricted by regulations and some insurances. Job losses and other issues related to the pandemic made many people rethink family plans.
"The pandemic freaked people out,” Ponta Abadi, a reproductive health expert, told the newspaper. “It caused a lot of people to lose their jobs and affected whether they wanted to have kids.”
Canceling Tokyo Olympics would cost $1.7B. Holding the games could cost more.
Canceling the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics would cost Japan $1.7 billion, but proceeding with the games and then declaring another coronavirus state of emergency would be even more costly, Japan's Kyodo News Service reported Tuesday. The Japanese government, the International Olympic Committee and athletes around the world are hoping the games can take place. The U.S. consistently fields one of the largest and most successful teams. But the U.S. on Monday advised its citizens not to visit Japan because of the COVID-19 crisis, raising its travel alert to the highest level of 4.
Tokyo is one of several areas of the country under a state of emergency because of a surge in infections. The status is due to expire Monday, but officials are considering an extension of at least two weeks. Nearly 60% of respondents in a Kyodo News survey in mid-May said the games should be canceled.
Takahide Kiuchi, executive economist at the Nomura Research Institute, told Kyodo that a post-games spike in cases and hospitalizations could bring more economic hardship to the region.
"Even if the games are canceled, the economic loss will be smaller than (another) a state of emergency," Kiuchi said.
Half of adult Americans fully vaccinated
The vaccination rate for U.S. adults will surpass 50% Tuesday, according to the White House. Vaccination rates still vary by state, however, and officials have stressed that the coronavirus will continue to spread in communities with lower levels of vaccinations. At least 25 states have fully vaccinated at least half of their adult residents, according to data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
President Joe Biden has set of goal of getting at least one shot into the arm of 70% percent of adults by July 4th. More than 61% of adults have now had at least one shot.
– Maureen Groppe
Moderna says its vaccine is 100% effective in kids ages 12-17
Moderna announced Tuesday that its vaccine was 93% effective after the first dose in children 12 to 17, and 100% effective two weeks after the second dose.
The company's clinical trial, which involved more than 3,700 adolescents, also identified no serious safety concerns, data from Moderna said. The firm plans to apply in the coming weeks for emergency use authorization for its vaccine from the Food and Drug Administration to allow children as young as 12 to receive it.
Currently, the only COVID vaccine authorized for kids as young as 12 is the one made by Pfizer and BioNTech, which got the OK in early May. Moderna previously faced issues enrolling enough teens into the trial. But depending on when the FDA application is made and how quickly it is processed, the vaccine could offer families more choices for immunizing children over the summer vacation and before the 2021-22 school year.
– Elizabeth Weise and Karen Weintraub
Suicides dropped at height of pandemic
Deaths by suicide fell 9% at the height of the pandemic shutdown compared with previous years, a surprise given increases in reported levels of stress, anxiety and depression. There were more than 2,400 fewer deaths by suicide from March to August 2020 than normally would have been expected, said Dr. Jeremy Samuel Faust, an emergency physician in the Division of Health Policy and Public Health at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and an instructor at Harvard Medical School.
Thomas Joiner, a professor of psychology at Florida State University and an expert on suicide, said the expanded availability of mental health services via telehealth, such as counseling calls by phone or computer, may have been part of the reason for the decline.
"Access went up and telehealth was a better platform than many of us anticipated," he said.
– Elizabeth Weise
70% of Brits have had at least one vaccine dose
As the United Kingdom reopens its economy, including lifting restrictions on travel and hospitality, experts are warning of a surging variant even as inoculations remain relatively high. The variant, first discovered in India and surging there in the past few months, is present in at least 49 countries, including the U.K. Scientists, who are sequencing half of coronavirus cases, say it is "highly likely" to be more transmissible than Britain's variant.
But inoculations in the U.K. remain some of the highest in the world, because of a nationalized vaccine campaign. According to the BBC, 70% of adults in the country have had a first vaccine dose. British health officials said Sunday that the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines offer effective protection against the India variant.
"If vaccination reduces the likelihood of transmission for this variant, increasing regional vaccination in areas where it is prevalent could dampen growth in infections, although it takes several weeks for vaccines to provide protection," the study says.
Travel bans put staffing crunch on summer camps
American summer camps are up against the same staffing crunch plaguing other employers seeking lower-wage workers, but with a lingering pandemic twist. Many camps rely on foreign workers who come on temporary, cultural-exchange visas. Because of processing holdups and a COVID-19-related travel ban on certain countries, those workers aren't coming. The staffing woes are complicating what would otherwise be a booming year for summer camps. With the pandemic on the wane in the U.S., families are eager for their children to have in-person opportunities again – and many have the money to do it, after a year of saving on activities.
"We’re going to see more camps that can’t open or have to cut capacity," said Scott Brody, the director of two summer camps in New Hampshire. Read more here.
– Erin Richards
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID: Puerto Rico opens up to vaccinated visitors; cash incentives OK