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Hospitalizations and deaths should decline sharply by July if the nationwide vaccination program remains strong and community mitigation efforts are followed, according to a federal report released Wednesday.
Still, ignoring mitigation efforts such as masks and social distancing in some situations could lead to substantial increases in "severe COVID-19 outcomes," even with improved vaccination coverage, the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
"High vaccination rates and compliance with public health prevention measures are essential to control the pandemic and to prevent surges in hospitalizations and deaths in the coming months," the report says.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CDC director, said variants remain a "wild card," but that so far the vaccines appear to work well against them.
"Models once projecting really grim news now offer reasons to be quite hopeful for what the summer may bring," Walensky said at a White House briefing. "The sooner we get more and more people vaccinated, the sooner we will all get back to normal."
Also in the news:
►Israel is the first country to report national data on the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine: Observational analysis showed that two doses provide more than 95% protection against COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and death.
►New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo tweeted that Broadway shows will reopen at full capacity Sept. 14, and tickets will go on sale Thursday, adding, "Broadway is major part of our state’s identity and economy, and we are thrilled that the curtains will rise again.''
►Canada’s health regulator has authorized Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for ages 12 and older. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to do the same by next week.
►The federal government will have a bit less vaccine to offer next week. This week's total was 9.62 million first doses; next week's is 9.53 million. The primary reason: Johnson & Johnson will provide 161,900 fewer doses.
►Two of the most populous counties in California, Los Angeles and San Francisco, are now eligible to move to the least restrictive tier in the state's reopening framework.
📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has more than 32.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 579,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: Over 154.6 million cases and 3.23 million deaths. More than 321 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 249.5 million have been administered, according to the CDC. More than 107 million Americans have been fully vaccinated.
📘 What we're reading: It may not take true "herd immunity" to see a dramatic drop in COVID-19 cases, some researchers say.
U.S. backs lifting intellectual property rules for COVID-19 vaccines
The Biden administration will support efforts to waive intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines, a major step in the attempts to end the pandemic as it continues to rage in India and other parts of the world.
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced the decision in a Wednesday statement, amid World Trade Organization talks over easing global trade rules to enable more countries to produce more of the vaccines.
“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,'' Tai said in the statement. “The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines."
She also cautioned that it would take time to reach the required global “consensus” to waive the protections under WTO rules, and U.S. officials said it would not have an immediate effect on the global supply of COVID-19 shots.
The pharmaceutical industry has opposed lifting the patent protections.
Moderna’s new shot appears to be effective against variants
Vaccine-maker Moderna said Wednesday two strategies it has tested for increasing protection against coronavirus variants have yielded positive results, an encouraging sign in the battle against the virus as it mutates.
In an early 40-person trial, Moderna found a half-dose of its original vaccine and a new vaccine tailored to the B.1.351 variant increased neutralizing antibody responses against that mutation and the P.1 variant, first identified in Brazil.
The targeted shot elicited a stronger response, a welcome result considering the B.1.351 variant, first detected in South Africa, has shown some resistance to vaccines.
Side effects for both approaches were similar to those experienced by people who had their second dose of the original Moderna shot.
"We are encouraged by these new data, which reinforce our confidence that our booster strategy should be protective against these newly detected variants,” Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a statement.
-- Karen Weintraub
Not only India: Other Southeast Asian countries dealing with COVID surge
The huge COVID-19 crisis in India is rightfully receiving worldwide attention, but the problems extend beyond its borders and to other Southeast Asian countries as well, with coronavirus infections spiking throughout the region.
Authorities in Nepal’s capital Kathmandu and surrounding districts extended a lockdown by another week as the Himalayan nation reported its highest daily tolls of cases and deaths. All domestic flights in Nepal have been grounded.
In Thailand, a surge that began in April has prompted health officials to rush to vaccinate thousands of people in Bangkok's biggest slum. Thailand has been recording about 2,000 cases a day and double-digit deaths recently.
Bhutan, which borders India, and Laos are also reporting surges in infections in recent weeks, mostly blamed on virus variants but also failure to adhere to mitigation measures.
40-something? Good chance you've been jabbed
New CDC data shows 51.7% of Americans in their 40s have had at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot. In addition, 44.9% of people in their 30s and 35.6% of people 18 to 29 are at least partially vaccinated. Vaccination rates are higher with higher age ranges, although people 65 to 74 are slightly more likely to be partially or fully vaccinated than people who are 75 or older, the data show.
Dr. Anthony Fauci and other experts have estimated that it would take vaccination of 70% or more of the population to reach herd immunity. Some researchers, however, now say another 30 million to 40 million first shots could be enough for the U.S. to reach a vaccine tipping point and containment of the pandemic.
– Mike Stucka
India high court won't jail government leaders over oxygen shortage
India's Supreme Court declined Wednesday to press contempt charges against officials for defying its order to meet oxygen requirements of more than 40 hospitals in New Delhi. The court instead ordered government officials to return Thursday with a plan to supply the oxygen, desperately needed by an overwhelming number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients.
"Putting officers in jail is not going to bring oxygen to Delhi," the court ruled.
India is reporting more than 25,000 deaths per week, and official tallies are expected to be a fraction of the true totals. At the official level, India represents about 27% of the world's reported COVID-19 deaths in the last week. The nation's death toll has doubled in the last 12 days. India's reported case counts have doubled in about 18 days.
If pandemic ends, inmates once sent home may be returning to prison
More than 24,000 nonviolent federal prisoners have been allowed to serve their sentences at home to slow the spread of COVID-19 inside prisons. But a Justice Department memo issued in the final days of the Trump administration says inmates whose sentences will extend beyond the pandemic must be brought back to prison. The prospect of going back to prison is not imminent because President Joe Biden extended the COVID-19 national emergency declaration, and the public health crisis is expected to last for the rest of the year, the department said. But the issue must eventually be dealt with.
"These people are twisting in the wind, and they’re growing anxious every day," said Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. "It’s not simply that (the Justice Department) should fix it. They should fix it yesterday."
– Kristine Phillips
California drops most outdoor mask requirements for vaccinated residents
Californians are no longer required to wear masks outdoors except when attending crowded events, such as live performances, parades, fairs, festivals and sports events, the state Health Department announced. For unvaccinated people, face coverings are required outdoors any time physical distancing cannot be maintained. In indoor settings outside of the home, including public transportation, face coverings continue to be required regardless of vaccination status in most cases, the department said in a statement.
New York lawmakers press for more staffing at nursing homes
New York lawmakers passed legislation that establishes minimum staffing levels for hospitals and nursing homes, asserting understaffing practices at some facilities contributed to COVID-19 infections and deaths. The health care staffing bills, which have been debated in various forms over the past decade, were approved by both houses of the Legislature on Tuesday afternoon. Health care union leaders and lawmakers urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign the bills. More than 13,000 New York nursing home residents died from the virus during the pandemic.
"This legislation will not only save lives, improve patient outcomes but will allow New York’s health care system to increase its capacity to better respond to future public health emergencies," Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said.
– David Robinson, New York State Team
As with 9/11, first responders once again took brunt of national tragedy
For 9/11 first responders – as well as volunteers and survivors – the COVID-19 pandemic presented another crisis that left them feeling vulnerable. There were marked differences, of course: One was an attack that blindsided a nation – a terrorist act. The pandemic was a worldwide phenomenon that crept to our nation even as we still felt unprepared. But for the responders who rushed toward danger in September 2001, the COVID threat was all the more magnified by their resulting health vulnerabilities, their continued position on the front lines and the echo of trauma.a. Read more here.
Oren Barzilay, president of Local 2507, the 4,000-member union that represents emergency medical technicians, paramedics and fire inspectors in the New York City Fire Department, says nearly half of FDNY medical responders ended up with COVID.
“We had an exodus,” he said “Our members are leaving in droves. It’s just too risky.”
– Christopher J. Eberhart and Nancy Cutler, Rockland/Westchester Journal News
The push to get Americans vaccinated takes a sharp turn
The pace of the nation’s unprecedented immunization effort is slowing. Inoculations have retreated more than 40% from the peak on April 10 of 4.6 million daily shots. Lines of vehicles at stadium-style mass vaccination clinics are winding down. Now public officials are trying to lure Americans into getting jabbed.
The city of Detroit will hand out $50 prepaid debit cards to people who take a resident to get a vaccine shot. West Virginia, which set a quick pace during the opening weeks of the nation’s vaccination effort, will give out $100 savings bonds to residents ages 16 to 35 who get a vaccine.
“We’ve known that at some point in time, you had to hit a wall,” West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice told USA TODAY. “You develop some level of resistance.” Read more here.
– Ken Alltucker
Birth rate falls to lowest point in more than 100 years
The U.S. birth rate fell 4% last year, the largest single-year decrease in nearly 50 years, and the pandemic no doubt contributed to last year's big decline, experts say. The rate dropped for moms of every major race and ethnicity, and in nearly age group, falling to the lowest point since federal health officials started tracking it more than a century ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says in a report for release Wednesday.
Anxiety about COVID-19 and its impact on the economy likely caused many couples to think that having a baby right then was a bad idea. But many of the 2020 pregnancies began well before the U.S. epidemic. CDC researchers are working on a follow-up report to better parse out how the decline unfolded, said Brady Hamilton, lead author of the new report.
Contributing: Mike Stucka, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID-19: Hopeful CDC report; India oxygen; California mask mandates