Federal and state health officials are urging Americans to avoid Super Bowl parties this year as more U.S. states continue to confirm cases of more transmissible COVID-19 variants.
Officials in Hawaii announced Friday an Oahu resident with no history of travel contracted the B.1.1.7 variant that first emerged in the United Kingdom. Hawaii Gov. David Ige called on residents to fight the spread of variants by taking public health precautions and urged football fans to "limit your Super Bowl viewing parties to household members."
Earlier this week, Dr. Anthony Fauci issued a similar call on several TV shows, asking football fans to "just lay low and cool it."
Meanwhile, all of the NFL's 32 teams have committed to making their stadiums available as vaccination centers, commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in a letter addressed to President Joe Biden and obtained by USA TODAY Sports on Friday.
In the letter, Goodell informed the White House that NFL teams will work "in coordination with local, state and federal health officials" to offer their stadiums as vaccine sites. Seven NFL stadiums have already been part of vaccination efforts, while an eighth is set to open next week.
COVID-19 has killed more than 460,000 Americans, and infections have continued to mount despite the introduction of a pair of vaccines late in 2020. USA TODAY is tracking the news. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates. Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates to your inbox, join our Facebook group or scroll through our in-depth answers to reader questions.
In the headlines:
►A divided Supreme Court late Friday blocked enforcement of California's prohibition on indoor church services during the coronavirus pandemic, the latest case in which the justices have been asked to assess measures intended to slow the spread of the virus in light of religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution.
►China on Saturday gave broader approval for its Sinovac Biotech vaccine, expanding who can receive the vaccine beyond the high-risk and priority groups already allowed under an emergency clearance.
►Later this month in California, more than 1,000 active duty troops will begin supporting vaccination sites around the U.S., White House senior COVID-19 advisor Andy Slavitt announced Friday. He said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin OK'ed the move and troops' mission in California would being within 10 days.
►The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives voted nearly along party lines Friday to approve a key procedural step paving the way for the House to pass President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill to pass the chamber as early as the end of the month.
►A lack of data is further masking vaccination rollout transparency, health equity researchers say, and the data deficit is hurting those most vulnerable. So far, only 16 states are releasing vaccination counts by race and ethnicity, and the data is incomplete.
►While the U.S. economy is far from healed from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, many permanently laid-off workers are finding new jobs and often for more pay and at higher levels than their previous positions, according to a recent survey by Skynova.
►The Ohio-based supermarket chain Kroger said Friday it will pay its employees a one-time $100 payment to get vaccinated for COVID-19.
►The FDA's advisory committee will meet Feb. 26 to discuss Johnson & Johnson's application for emergency use authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine, the agency announced Thursday.
📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has more than 26.8 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 460,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 105.6 million cases and 2.3 million deaths. More than 58.3 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and about 36.8 million have been administered, according to the CDC.
📘 What we're reading: Do states and cities "need" Biden's $350 billion in direct COVID-19 relief? It depends where you're asking.
Outbreaks stoke tensions in state capitols, including in Iowa and Missouri
After only their first few weeks of work, tensions already are high among lawmakers meeting in-person at some state capitols – not because of testy debates over taxes, guns or abortion, but because of a disregard for coronavirus precautions.
In Georgia, a Republican lawmaker recently was booted from the House floor for refusing to get tested for the coronavirus. In Iowa, a Democratic House member boldly violated a no-jeans rule to protest the chamber's lack of a mask rule.
And in Missouri, numerous lawmakers and staff – some fearing for their health after a COVID-19 outbreak in the Capitol – scrambled to get vaccinated at a clinic before legislative leaders warned that the shots weren't actually meant for them. GOP Gov. Mike Parson denounced the lawmakers as line-jumpers. Read more.
Nearly 100 students, staff quarantining two days after school reopening
Two days after a San Diego County school district returned to on-campus classes, nearly a hundred students and staff were in quarantine, the district said in a press release Friday.
Nearly 9,000 Escondido Union School District students enrolled in hybrid classes returned to campus Tuesday. By Thursday evening, the district had reported 17 COVID-19 cases – including eight people who came to school infectious – and at least 81 students and 15 staff were quarantining.
The cases were not transmitted at school, and six of the cases originated from a single extended family, the district said.
Superintendent Dr. Luis Rankins-Ibarra said quarantines so early in the reopening were "frustrating and concerning" but "not unexpected." Rankins-Ibarra said the district hopes to "sustain on-campus instruction in the hybrid model."
Inmates at St. Louis jail set fires over coronavirus restrictions, concerns
Inmates at a St. Louis jail set fires, broke out windows and threw things from fourth-floor windows Saturday in the latest disturbance over coronavirus concerns and restrictions that have limited visits and stalled court proceedings, officials said.
Dozens of law enforcement officers were working to bring the situation under control at the St. Louis City Justice Center, said Jacob Long, a spokesman for Mayor Lyda Krewson. The disturbance began around 3 a.m. and about 115 "extremely violent and noncompliant" inmates were involved, he said in an interview with The Associated Press.
"I imagine they are under the same amount of stress due to COVID restrictions like the rest of us are," Long said. "Courts haven’t been hearing cases in the 22nd Judicial Circuit. Their family visits have been restricted. But also they are acting out and that is the current situation."
Got your vaccine? Ask for a sticker; don't post your card
If you've received a COVID-19 shot, it's okay to cheer the news on social media – just don't post a photo of your vaccination card. That could expose your full name, birthday and information about when and where you got your shots.
"Please – don’t do that! You could be inviting identity theft," the Federal Trade Commission wrote on its website Friday. "Think of it this way – identity theft works like a puzzle, made up of pieces of personal information. You don’t want to give identity thieves the pieces they need to finish the picture."
The nonprofit Better Business Bureau issued a similar warning late last month, citing scammers in Great Britain who were caught selling fake vaccination cards on eBay and TikTok.
Instead, the groups are recommending vaccine recipients share photos or selfies of vaccination stickers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers several templates for stickers – including taglines "#sleeveup to fight COVID-19" and "I got my COVID-19 vaccine!" – in its toolkit for organizations serving communities affected by COVID-19. Some providers have their own unique stickers, too.
"The stickers are really cool," the Federal Trade Commission wrote.
Cases are falling in the US but experts say it's not from the COVID vaccine, yet
New coronavirus cases are on the decline in the U.S. following staggering post-holiday peaks last month, but experts say it's too early for new COVID-19 vaccines to be having an impact.
The positive trend also is not assured to continue, as new and more transmissible variants threaten to reverse it, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.
"Although we have seen declines in cases and admissions and a recent slowing of deaths, cases remain extraordinarily high, still twice as high as the peak number of cases over the summer," she said this week. Read more.
– Adrianna Rodriguez
Should snowbirds be allowed to get vaccinated?State officials, residents at odds
Coronavirus cases drop at US homes for elderly and infirm
Coronavirus cases have dropped at U.S. nursing homes and other long-term care facilities over the past few weeks, offering a glimmer of hope that health officials attribute to the start of vaccinations, an easing of the post-holiday surge and better prevention, among other reasons.
More than 153,000 residents of the country's nursing homes and assisted living centers have died of COVID-19, accounting for 36% of the U.S. pandemic death toll, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Many of the roughly 2 million people who live at such facilities remain cut off from loved ones because of the risk of infection. The virus still kills thousands of them weekly.
The overall trend for long-term care residents is improving, though, with fewer new cases recorded and fewer facilities reporting outbreaks. Coupled with better figures for the country overall, it's cause for optimism even if it's too early to declare victory.
Iowa governor lifting mask requirements effective Sunday
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds will lift the state's limited mask requirement on Sunday, along with the social distance and other limitations she had in place for businesses and social gatherings.
Her latest coronavirus emergency proclamation, issued Friday afternoon and effective 12:01 a.m. Sunday, instead "strongly encourages Iowans, businesses and organizations to take reasonable public health measures consistent with guidance from the Iowa Department of Public Health," Reynolds' spokesperson Pat Garrett said.
Since mid-November, Reynolds, a Republican, has required Iowans two years of age and older to wear masks if they were in indoor areas and spent 15 minutes or more within 6 feet of a person not in their households. The rule carried several exceptions. Her previous proclamation also required social distancing between groups at bars, restaurants, casinos, fitness centers and other establishments, as well as at social gatherings and sporting events.
Mask violations on planes, trains, buses could result in fines up to $1,500
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced Friday that it will recommend fines ranging from $250 to $1,500 for people who do not abide by the new transportation mask order issued by President Joe Biden on his second day in office.
The agency said it could also "seek a sanction amount that falls outside these ranges," in the announcement and noted the higher fines would apply to repeat offenders.
Biden's order requires people to wear masks in airports, bus and train terminals and on trains, planes, buses and public transportation.
TSA has been charged with implementing Biden's executive order and subsequent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mask-wearing rules that took effect Feb. 1 and built on the order.
Although the TSA is most commonly associated with airport checkpoints, fines will apply to offenders across those various transportation types. TSA said on Twitter the agency has "provided transportation system operators specific guidance on how to report violations so that TSA may issue penalties to those who refuse to wear a face mask."
– Julia Thompson
Contributing: Ryan Miller and Nicholas Wu, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID news: UK variant found in Hawaii; Relief bill clears key step