Vaccination keeping elderly out of hospitals; 'new normal' nears as US case counts fall; pandemic baby bust: Live COVID-19 updates

Fully vaccinated adults 65 years and older were 94% less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than people of the same age who were not vaccinated, new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows.

Even people in that age group who had only gotten one dose of either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccine were 64% less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than people who were not vaccinated. Currently two-thirds of Americans 65 and over are fully vaccinated, according to CDC.

These are the first large scale, real-world findings in the United States confirming clinical trial data showing the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines prevent severe COVID-19 illness. People were considered partially vaccinated two weeks after their first dose of mRNA vaccine and fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose.

The results are from two hospital networks covering 24 hospitals in 14 states from January to March. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine wasn’t authorized until late February so it was not included in the study.

Elizabeth Weise

Also in the news:

►Detroit drivers who take a city resident for a coronavirus shot can get $50. There is a $150 three-person cap per vehicle, but there’s no limit on the number of trips. Compensation will come in the form of a prepaid debit card.

►Spain’s health officials say vaccination efforts are picking up pace after a record week in both the arrival of doses and the number of shots administered.

►Governors in Oregon and Washington are about to impose new restrictions as coronavirus infections and hospitalizations rise to alarming levels in both states.

►Russia has launched a major campaign using ministries, companies and pro-Kremlin media to promote the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine and spread fake news that the West and the European Union are trying to undermine the shot, an EU agency said in a report Wednesday.

►More women than men are getting vaccinated against the coronavirus in Maine. The trend in Maine reflects a broader trend around the country. Nearly 58% of the people who have received their final dose in Maine have been women.

►The Wisconsin State Fair is preparing to return this summer after the coronavirus pandemic wiped out the event for the first time in 75 years, organizers said Wednesday.

►Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is calling for mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for public employees, saying it is a matter of public safety: “You’re interacting with the public. That’s a part of your job, by definition.”

►Exactly one year after the U.S. passed 1 million coronavirus cases, the nation has reported a staggering total of more than 32 million infections. But the latest numbers also show the U.S. pandemic could finally be easing, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

►Children as young as 6 months old are now taking part in trials studying the safety and effectiveness of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, ABC News reports. Dr. Zinaida Good, a research fellow at the Stanford cancer center, enrolled both her sons in Stanford Hospital’s Pfizer trial. Her son Soren, 7 months old, received his first shot last week and is doing well, she said.

📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has more than 32.1 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 573,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 148 million cases and 3.1 million deaths. More than 297.5 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 232.4 million have been administered, according to the CDC.

📘 What we're reading: Have a loved one who doesn't want to get the COVID-19 vaccine? Here's how to talk to them.

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US may finally be turning corner on pandemic

Potential COVID surges may have collapsed in nearly all states, a USA TODAY analysis of the data shows. National case-count leaders New York, Michigan and now Florida all have reported falling case counts. But the threat has also fallen in most states with smaller populations.

"We should be mostly heading down toward a new normal," tweeted Dr. Ashish K. Jha, dean of Brown University's school of public health, noting that most U.S. adults are now at least partially vaccinated. Clinical trials are underway for vaccinating children as young as 6 months old.

Florida, which still leads the nation in new cases, has seen those case counts fall 12% from the previous week. It only became the leader because counts in Michigan have plunged more than 36% from earlier this month.

– Mike Stucka

For at least 3 states, numbers continue to climb

At least three states are bucking the downward trend, instead struggling with persistently rising cases. Colorado and Washington have seen cases more than doubled since their lulls in March. The United States is still reporting about 376,000 cases per week, but that number has fallen about 24.5% in less than two weeks.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is putting 15 counties that encompass the state’s biggest cities into the state’s extreme risk category starting Friday, imposing restrictions that include banning indoor restaurant dining. As Brown issued her order on Tuesday, she said rising COVID-19 hospitalizations threaten to overwhelm doctors. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to order new restrictions next week for several counties that would force businesses and churches to reduce their indoor gathering capacity from 50% to 25%.

– Mike Stucka

Baby bust: Births fall dramatically in many places amid pandemic

The pandemic-driven lockdown that paralyzed much of the nation more than a year ago apparently did not spur baby-making. Births actually have fallen dramatically in many states during the outbreak, according to an Associated Press analysis of preliminary data from half the country. Nationally, even before the epidemic, the number of babies born in the U.S. was falling. But data from 25 states suggests a much steeper decline in 2020 and into 2021.

“When there’s a crisis, I don’t think people are thinking about reproduction,” said Dr. John Santelli, a Columbia University professor of population and family health.

School mask mandate draws protest in Arizona town

A school mask mandate has touched off emotions that some residents of tiny Vail, Arizona, say is tearing their community apart – even thought the district contends that 90% of the community support it. spoke to some of the scores of parents and students, most without masks, who turned out for the district Board of Governors meeting on Tuesday night after the district announced it would not drop its requirement that students wear masks. District leaders, citing security concerns, canceled the meeting. The protest heated up, and ultimately the board did listen to five students and their parents.

The clash can't last much longer – the school year ends in a month.

India reaches 200,000 deaths amid COVID 'perfect storm'

Last March, when COVID-19 arrived in India, the country of 1.4 billion people quickly went into lockdown for two months, keeping infection rates under tight control. There was a spike in September, but then the numbers came back down. By February, cases were at an all-time low, and people started attending cricket games, religious festivals and weddings. Now, the country's caseload is growing exponentially and its health care system, particularly in smaller cities, is completely overwhelmed. India surpassed 200,000 deaths Wednesday as the surge tears through dense cities and rural areas alike.

"It's almost like India hit a perfect storm," said S.V. Subramanian, a professor of population health and geography at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Karen Weintraub

Door-to-door vaccines crucial to reaching underserved

Public health experts say door-to-door vaccination outreach to underserved neighborhoods is needed to protect vulnerable communities of color who have suffered disproportionate deaths and hospitalizations from COVID-19. Lack of transportation, trouble taking time off work and other logistical challenges make it complicated to get to the doctor or clinic for a shot.

“When we’re talking about going into the neighborhoods, we’re talking about bringing health care services to patients where they are,” New Orleans nurse Sophia Thomas said. “If we didn’t, the likelihood that they would be able to get the services, get the vaccines, is limited.”

Nada Hassanein

Southwest Airlines flight attendant sues after husband dies from virus

A Southwest Airlines flight attendant has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the airline, alleging that lax COVID protocols during mandatory training last summer and faulty contact tracing after an attendee tested positive led to her husband's death from the virus. Carol Madden, a 69-year-old Baltimore-based flight attendant who has worked for Southwest since 2016, is seeking more than $3 million in damages for what the lawsuit says was the airline's negligence, according to the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Maryland.

"Every touchpoint was cleaned" for passengers, she told USA TODAY. "They did not do that in my training last year. I love my airline, but they didn't love me back."

Dawn Gilbertson

'Cuomo chips' may be passing into history

Lawmakers in New York state say they will ease some of the COVID restrictions ordered by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Among the is the "Cuomo chips" rule that mandates food purchases with alcohol at bars and restaurants.

“As more New Yorkers continue to get vaccinated, and our infection rates continue to decline, it is time to begin removing certain restrictions and regulations that are no longer necessary,” Democratic State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in a statement.

CDC updates masking guidelines for fully vaccinated Americans

New masking guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say fully vaccinated Americans don't need to wear a mask outside. Public health officials said Tuesday that fully vaccinated Americans can unmask while walking, running, hiking or biking outdoors alone or with members of their household.

Vaccinated people also don’t need to wear a mask during small outdoor gatherings with fully vaccinated family and friends, or at gatherings with a mixture of vaccinated and unvaccinated people, they said. In addition, fully vaccinated individuals don’t need to wear a mask at outdoor restaurants with friends from multiple households, the guidance said.

Do I need to wear a mask? Follow along this flowchart to determine how the CDC's new guidance applies to you.
Do I need to wear a mask? Follow along this flowchart to determine how the CDC's new guidance applies to you.

The CDC still recommends fully vaccinated people wear a mask in indoor public settings and at outdoor public settings or venues where masks are required.

“The bottom line is clear, if you’re vaccinated you can do more things more safely both outdoors as well as indoors,” President Joe Biden said in a later White House briefing Tuesday. “For those who haven’t gotten their vaccination yet, especially if you’re younger or thinking you don’t need it, this is another great reason to go and get vaccinated now.”

– Adrianna Rodriguez

Contributing: The Associated Press.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID news: Hospitalizations; Moderna; Pfizer; vaccinations; India