TSA reports highest number of travelers since March 2020 ahead of July 4; mixing Pfizer, AstraZeneca could work: Live COVID-19 updates

·6 min read

As the Fourth of July approaches this Sunday, health officials are concerned about an increased spread of the delta variant of COVID-19 in pockets of the nation where vaccination rates remain low.

President Joe Biden had hoped to get 70% of adult Americans at least partially vaccinated by the holiday, but the White House last week said that the goal will fall short.

Now with Transportation Security Administration screening numbers trending upward, including the highest recorded number since March 7, 2020 reported Friday, holiday revelry is expected to be at full-force.

Dr. Jayne Morgan, executive director of Piedmont Healthcare's Coronavirus Task Force in Atlanta, told CNN that since children under 12 are still not eligible for the vaccine, it makes it even more important for those who are eligible to get vaccinated and reduce the transmission of the delta variant.

“Those mutations have the ability to continue to learn, to become smarter, and eventually evade the immunization status of the rest of us," Morgan said.

Also in the news:

► U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said Monday that Puerto Rico will receive nearly $4 billion in federal education pandemic relief funds to help boost the U.S. territory’s fight against COVID-19.

►Restaurants and cafes in Moscow on Monday began requesting that patrons provide proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test as the Russian capital faces a surge of new infections.

►The delta variant now makes up 14.5% of cases in California, according to the state's most recent Department of Health statistics. As of June 19, it accounts for more than 20% of cases in the U.S.

► The U.S. began shipping its first doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine abroad Monday, CNN reported, sending 2 million doses to Peru. The shipment comes weeks after the White House announced purchasing half a billion doses to donate to 92 low-income countries.

►Malaysia’s leader says the country will indefinitely extend a near-total lockdown that’s been in place for a month as coronavirus infections remain high.

►U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who has led the country’s response to the coronavirus, resigned Saturday, a day after apologizing for breaching social distancing rules with an aide with whom he was allegedly having an affair.

►Even though 40% of Americans said they preferred to work from home full time last month, major companies across the country are encouraging or demanding that their staff return to the office by Labor Day.

📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has more than 33.6 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and at least 603,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 181 million cases and more than 3.92 million deaths. More than 153 million Americans have been fully vaccinated – nearly 46% of the population, according to the CDC.

📘 What we're reading: Although COVID-19 vaccines work incredibly well for the vast majority of people, roughly 10 million Americans whose immune systems are compromised because of medication or disease may not be well protected. Read the full story.

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.

Mixing Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines is 'highly effective,' study finds

Mixing one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and one dose of the AstraZeneca-Oxford shot provides protection against the coronavirus, a British vaccine study found.

Researchers measured the immune response in more than 800 volunteers who were given two doses of the vaccine four weeks apart. They found the highest antibody response was seen after two doses of Pfizer and that the level of antibodies differed depending on the order the doses were received, according to a paper published in the Lancet pre-print server.

Those who received the AstraZenca vaccine followed by the Pfizer shot had a better immune response than those who received the Pfizer dose first. Both mixed schedules induced more antibodies than two AstraZenca shots alone and "are also likely to be highly effective, and could be considered, in some circumstances, for national vaccine programmes," researchers wrote.

Researchers are expected to release results of a similar study with a 12-week gap between doses soon. Lead researcher Matthew Snape, from the University of Oxford, told the BBC that the longer interval between doses leads to a better immune response.

Given the United Kingdom's stable supply of COVID-19 vaccines, there is no reason to change the current vaccine schedule, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said in a statement.

"But we now know mixing doses could provide us with even greater flexibility for a booster programme, while also supporting countries who have further to go with their vaccine rollouts and who may be experiencing supply difficulties," he said.

Deleted gene sequences confirm COVID-19 circulated before Wuhan seafood market

The virus that causes COVID-19 did not originate at the Wuhan seafood market, confirms a new study of deleted gene sequences from the virus's earliest days.

The sequences had been posted to a website run by the National Institutes of Health but were removed for unknown reasons.

Jesse Bloom, who studies viral evolution at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, does not suggest an answer to the question of whether the SARS-CoV-2 virus jumped directly from animals to people or was accidentally leaked from a research lab in Wuhan, China, in his new report, which has not yet been peer-reviewed.

But by studying how the viral genes mutate over time, researchers such as Bloom can reconstruct their history, figuring out which cases came first and how the virus changed as it moved through the population.

"These sequences are informative for understanding early SARS-CoV-2 spread in Wuhan," Bloom said. "They're not transformative, but they fill in some really important gaps."

Bloom knows that the deletion of the sequences will raise suspicions in the public, but he says there are many reasons a researcher might ask for material to be taken offline, including the fact that the week the study was posted, the Chinese government instituted a requirement that it review all scientific information related to SARS-CoV-2 before publication. Read more.

– Karen Weintraub and Elizabeth Weise

India raises concern of a new mutation of the delta variant

A mutation from the delta variant, called delta plus, is rising across a dozen countries.

Officials in India asked Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh, three states in the country with the most cases, to increase screenings for the strain. Indian labs identifying and tracking the spread of COVID variant identified three main concerning characteristics of delta plus: Increased transmissibility, an increased attack on lung cells, and possible reduction in monoclonal antibody response or possible resistance to vaccines and immunity.

Experts say that there is still more research needed to fully confirm if it's more daunting than the original delta strain.

“I would keep calm,” Dr. Jeremy Kamil, a virologist at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, told BBC News. “I don't think India or anyone else in the world has released or accumulated enough data to distinguish the risk from the so-called delta plus as being more dangerous or concerning than the original delta variant."

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID-19 concerns soar ahead of July 4 as TSA sees travel uptick

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