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The Biden administration has arranged to purchase an additional 100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine — enough when added to vaccines from other sources to provide the nation with more than enough doses to inoculate every American, the White House said Wednesday.
The actions come as states ease pandemic restrictions; Texas has dropped them all, becoming open "100%," Gov. Greg Abbott said.
Also Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed a $1.9 trillion pandemic-relief bill, which now goes to President Joe Biden for his signature. The stimulus package includes $1,400 checks for most Americans, billions for vaccines, and money to reopen schools. Biden is expected to sign the legislation Friday.
He said the additional doses of the single-shot J&J vaccine are needed for “maximum flexibility. ... A lot can happen. A lot can change. And we need to be prepared.”
Biden spoke at a White House event with the heads of Johnson & Johnson and Merck, the pharmaceutical company that is partnering with its competitor to help produce the vaccines.
The new purchase is on top of the 100 million doses J&J pledged to produce by the end of June. It’s also in addition to the 200 million doses of the two-shot vaccines being made by Pfizer and Moderna, which along with the nearly 128 million doses already distributed would be enough to vaccinate every U.S. adult.
The extra 100 million, expected to be delivered mostly in the second half of the year, gives the administration a cushion in case of problems.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki pointed out that it's not known which of the vaccines will be most effective on children and better at defeating the emerging coronavirus variants.
– Courtney Subramanian
Also in the news:
►The seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the U.S. dropped over the past two weeks from 67,713 on Feb. 23 to 55,844 on Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The seven-day rolling average for daily deaths over those same dates decreased from 1,986 to 1,566.
►Georgia will expand COVID-19 vaccine criteria starting Monday to everyone 55 and older, plus younger adults who are overweight or have serious health conditions, making more than two-thirds of Georgians 16 and older eligible for vaccination.
►The pandemic appears to be easing in North America, with U.S., Canada and Mexico continuing to report a drop in new infections, the Pan American Health Organization said. Brazil, however, is battling rising infections and last week had its deadliest day, with almost 2,000 fatalities reported, the agency said.
►Maryland will ease restrictions on restaurants and other businesses starting Friday, Gov. Larry Hogan said, citing improving COVID-19 health metrics and increasing vaccinations.
📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has over 29.15 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 529,100 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 117.9 million cases and 2.61 million deaths. More than 127.8 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 95.7 million have been administered, according to the CDC.
📘 What we're reading: In just two months, the United States could be swimming in COVID-19 vaccine. That could bring its own problems. Read more here.
Vaccine now available at some Target stores
The COVID-19 vaccine has arrived at Target stores in 17 states.
The retailer announced Wednesday the rollout of vaccines for those who are eligible at more than 600 CVS in-store pharmacies at Target locations in parts of the country. CVS Health acquired pharmacies in Target stores for $1.9 billion in 2015.
Target told USA TODAY that select stores in the following states are offering vaccines by appointment through CVS: Alabama, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. Which of the vaccines are available varies by location.
— Kelly Tyko
Democratic-led states fared poorly early in pandemic, then rallied ahead
States led by Republican governors fared better in the first few months of the pandemic, but the trend reversed in early June, and from mid-year through early December, states with Democratic governors had a lower incidence of coronavirus infections and deaths, a new study found.
The report, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, says researchers theorized Democratic-led states would do poorly early on because of entry points in the U.S. coasts, which are mostly Democratic strongholds. That indeed happened, but while most states issued stay-at-home mandates when infections skyrocketed in March and April, Republican governors were slower to respond and kept the orders in place for a shorter time, the researchers said. They also pointed out Democratic governors were more likely to require the use of masks.
"Gubernatorial party affiliation may drive policy decisions that impact COVID-19 infections and deaths across the U.S.,'' the study concluded. "Future policy decisions should be guided by public health considerations rather than political ideology.''
Guidance on nursing home visits relaxed
The marked decrease in COVID-19 infections in long-term care facilities and the extensive vaccination program in them has led federal health officials to loosen visiting guidelines, allowing for in-person contact with residents.
While noting that outdoor visits are the preferred option, the guidelines from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recommend that the facilities allow indoor visits “at all times and for all residents” even if neither party has been vaccinated, with some exceptions.
"Visitation can be conducted through various means based on a facility’s structure and residents’ needs, including in resident rooms, visitation spaces, and outdoors,'' the recommendations say.
Texas ends mask mandate, fully opens for business
Texas formally dropped its mask mandate and businesses shed all restrictions Wednesday as Gov. Greg Abbott followed through on his plan to "open Texas 100%." Abbott noted that the test positivity rate has dropped for 15 straight days and is down to 6.64%. He tweeted: "Keep up the great work to crush COVID in Texas."
Some health officials aren't sold. Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the Baylor College of Medicine, said the highly infectious U.K. variant is sweeping the state while vaccinations lag.
"None of that is good news," he told CBS News. "I worry we are in for the perfect storm."
Los Angeles students, teachers headed back to school. Next month.
The nation's second-largest public school system is headed back into the classroom. In California, the Los Angeles Unified School District and the union representing more than 33,000 educators announced a tentative agreement on how to reopen schools for in-person instruction "as soon as possible and in the safest way possible." The plan prioritizes preschools, elementary schools and services for students with learning differences to reopen by mid-April.
“Conditions finally allow us to resume in-person instruction," school board President Kelly Gonez said. "With the declines in COVID-19 in our communities, the preparation of all our school sites and the vaccinations of our school staff, we are excited to start safely welcoming students in a hybrid model in the coming weeks."
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID news: J&J vaccine; Texas ends mask mandate; House stimulus