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As some see deposits, stimulus payments may still be days away for many; Italy back on lockdown: COVID-19 updates

Grace Hauck, USA TODAY
·12 min read
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The U.S. on Friday reported administering its 100 millionth COVID-19 vaccine, cities and states across the country are slowly rolling back coronavirus-related restrictions, and many gleeful Americans began to see pending $1,400 stimulus checks show up in their bank accounts this weekend.

A year after the nation first locked down, President Joe Biden has promised all Americans will be eligible for a vaccine by May 1, with the goal of friends and families being able to join together in small groups for Fourth of July celebrations.

But in Italy, the reality of the pandemic stands in stark contrast. Much of the country was expected to go back under lockdown Monday, and the entire nation was expected to be under additional restrictions over Easter weekend.

There, just under 2 million people – or roughly 3% of the population – have been fully vaccinated as of Saturday. In the U.S., 10.5% of the population is fully vaccinated, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hospitals are struggling with an increase of ICU admissions for COVID-19 patients in Italy, and daily new caseloads of confirmed infections have soared. Italy has Europe’s second-highest known death toll.

"Unfortunately, one year after the start of the emergency, there is a new wave of contagion," Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said Friday.

Also in the news:

► Residents in more than a dozen California counties will wake up Sunday morning with lifted business restrictions. State officials loosened the requirements necessary to move out of the most restrictive tiers in California's reopening system due to increased vaccinations hard-hit communities up and down the state.

►This year’s Grammy Awards will look different, swapping out the Staples Center stage for outdoor sets at the Los Angeles Convention Center, as well as remotely from other places amid the coronavirus pandemic.

►After being canceled last year by the coronavirus pandemic, the NCAA men's basketball tournament and March Madness are back in 2021. It starts with Selection Sunday, when the field of 68 teams will be announced.

►The World Health Organization says it’s assessing reports of rare blood coagulation problems faced by some people in the European Union who received doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. It noted that the European Medicines Agency has determined that the vaccine’s benefits outweigh the risks, and said that no cases of death have been found to be caused by any COVID-19 vaccines so far.

►Nearly 1 in 5 Americans say they lost a relative or close friend to COVID-19, a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows. The numbers were considerably higher for Black (30%) and Hispanic (29%) respondents, yet another example of the pandemic's disproportionate impact on minority groups.

📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has over 29.3 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 534,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 119.3 million cases and 2.64 million deaths. More than 133.3 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 101.1 million have been administered, according to the CDC.

📘 What we're reading: A year after the start of a pandemic that has killed more than 500,000 Americans and sickened nearly 30 million, the infection has exposed deep political, economic and racial fault lines that appear unlikely to heal anytime soon.

USA TODAY is tracking COVID-19 news. 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.

Stimulus payments: Some see deposits, but Wells Fargo says payments still days away

The third round of stimulus checks has started hitting bank accounts for eligible Americans after the IRS said Friday that some would start getting payments as soon as this weekend.

"Following approval of the American Rescue Plan Act, the first batch of payments will be sent by direct deposit, which some recipients will start receiving as early as this weekend, and with more receiving this coming week," the IRS said in a statement.

While some people have reported on social media that they have been notified that their stimulus payment is a pending deposit in their bank or credit union account, others have taken to Twitter wanting to know their status.

The IRS said Friday that some people may see the direct deposit payments as "pending" or as provisional payments in their accounts before the official payment date of March 17.

Wells Fargo was trending on Twitter Saturday after a tweet the banking giant sent out late Friday. "Customers who are eligible to receive direct deposit of their stimulus payment may expect it as soon as March 17, 2021," Wells Fargo tweeted.

Still, some bank customers complained on what they saw as a delay and asked why competitor banks and credit unions customers were getting their payments earlier.

"Wells Fargo will process all of the direct deposits according to the effective date provided by the U.S. Treasury," the bank tweeted and directed consumers to check their status using the IRS Get My Payment tool, which is scheduled to go be updated Monday.

H&R Block also said March 17 is the day the IRS has told them most people will receive payments.

The IRS said in the coming weeks, more batches of payments will be sent via direct deposit and through the mail as a check or debit card.

– Jessica Menton and Kelly Tyko

US surpasses 100M vaccinations

The U.S. on Friday reported administering its 100 millionth COVID-19 vaccine as the World Health Organization reported 300 million global shots have been given.

About 1 in 4 U.S. adults have received at least one shot, and about 1 in 10 is fully vaccinated, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An average of 2.2 million doses are being administered per day, up from about 1 million doses a day in mid-January.

Ramping up vaccinations is key to President Joe Biden's goal of friends and families being able to join together in small groups for Fourth of July celebrations. "July 4th with your loved ones is the goal," Biden said Thursday, stressing that "a lot can happen. Conditions can change."

White House officials said Friday the federal government will focus on ramping up the number of vaccinators and the number of locations where vaccines are available after Biden's announcement this week that all Americans will be eligible for a vaccine by May 1.

Over the coming weeks, the federal government will increase the number of community health centers in the federal vaccine program, double the number of pharmacies and double the number of federal mass vaccination sites, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said Friday.

Millions board flights as pandemic enters second year

Travelers who haven't flown since the coronavirus pandemic began are in for a surprise if they're expecting empty airports and planes when they return. Passengers packed planes during the Thanksgiving and year-end holiday rushes despite advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to avoid travel and are now doing so in greater numbers for spring break.

The latest evidence arrived Saturday from the Transportation Security Administration. The agency said it screened 1,357,111 passengers on Friday, on top of 1,284,271 on Thursday as travelers headed out on vacations. With more than half the month to go, March is shaping up to be a strong one for airlines, with passenger counts topping 1 million on seven days so far.

Friday's numbers are the highest since the Sunday after New Year's when 1,327,289 passengers were screened. The totals fell below 90,000 in April 2020 in the early days of the pandemic and didn't top 1 million again until October.

– Dawn Gilbertson

Judge allows Austin-area mask order to continue 2 more weeks

Austin and Travis County will continue to require masks to be worn in public for at least two more weeks after a judge put off a ruling on the state’s challenge of that mandate until a hearing later this month.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the city and county Thursday, asking a judge to force the city and county to comply with Gov. Greg Abbott’s order that lifted the state's COVID-19 restrictions, including a requirement that masks be worn in public.

On Friday, though, state District Judge Lora Livingston denied Paxton’s request for a temporary restraining order and scheduled the March 26 hearing on his request for a temporary injunction. Livingston said the state had given the local officials insufficient time to prepare their case.

– The Associated Press

What to know about outdoor safety and COVID-19

A new tool to fight COVID-19 is on the rise: Warm, fresh air. Spring and summer weather will provide opportunities for people – vaccinated or not – to enjoy low-risk, outdoor activities to better their physical and mental health, experts say.

It's a development in the fight against COVID-19 because experts are now confident that it's much harder for the virus to spread in outdoor conditions – especially when people wear masks and keep their distance.

"There (was) a lot of fear in the early parts of the pandemic because we didn’t know how it spread," Gleb Tsipursky, author of a book about adapting to "the new abnormal" of COVID-19, told USA TODAY.

That uncertainty was at play last year as states closed beaches and parks and has continued to influence policy this year. But research has shown that simple precautions are usually enough to keep you safe from COVID-19 when outside, experts say. Read more.

Nursing homes pushed to reopen for visits, hugs after vaccine

The residents of America’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities, the first and hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, now offer early evidence of the vaccine’s power to end the threat. Outbreaks in nursing homes have dropped by about 90 percent since the winter’s peak, with their residents and staff placed at the front of the line for vaccination.

Government regulators this week mapped out how nursing homes can reopen to visitors more widely, a year after abruptly closing their doors. The full toll on the elderly and frail inside is only beginning to come to light.

Grassroots advocates have lobbied the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to ease restrictions intended to protect against a virus responsible for more than one million cases among nursing home residents and staff and at least 131,700 deaths. Those numbers do not capture what happened in assisted living facilities or the physical and mental consequences of isolation.

Over the past week, black-and-yellow posters have been on display in cities nationally as advocates pressed for greater access to loved ones in nursing homes and, ultimately, reforms to give them more say in future decisions. Their pointed message: "Isolation Kills, Too." Read more.

– Letitia Stein

The COVID-19 relief bill aims to help Black, socially disadvantaged farmers

Tucked into the massive $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill signed into law by President Joe Biden on Thursday was a provision aimed at benefiting farmers of color who are socially disadvantaged, in a move to cover outstanding debt.

The provision, which was drawn from the Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act, was inserted into the relief package and includes $5 billion of which will go to socially disadvantaged farmers of color. These include Black, Hispanic, Native American or Asian American farmers. Four billion dollars would go toward covering up to 120% of outstanding debt, and another $1 billion is designated for outreach, training, education, technical assistance and grants.

It’s part of the $10.4 billion provided in the package for agricultural and food supply sectors. Read more.

– Jeanine Santucci

Pfizer vaccine appears effective against asymptomatic cases

New real-world data suggests that COVID-19 vaccines can prevent transmission of the coronavirus, in addition to protecting against symptomatic disease.

The preliminary information from Israel — where more than half the adults have been vaccinated, most with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine — showed those who received the vaccine did not develop symptoms or transmit the disease.

An absence of clear data on transmission has led health authorities to recommend vaccinated people be careful around unvaccinated people, particularly those at risk for severe COVID-19 infections.

"It looks like 90% reduction in asymptomatic transmission. So that's really good," said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine, at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

The promising news comes after President Joe Biden announced he was ordering all states, territories and tribes to make all adults eligible to "get in line" for their vaccines by May 1. If Americans "do our part" in the coming weeks, he said, friends and families will be able to join together in small groups in time for the Fourth of July.

Biden's primetime address came hours after signing a massive coronavirus relief bill into law, and the president commemorated the anniversary of the nation's shutdown over the pandemic Thursday night.

– Elinor Aspegren and Ryan W. Miller

Novavax vaccine 96.4% effective against original strain, company says

Another COVID-19 candidate vaccine appears to be 96.4% effective against mild, moderate and severe disease caused by the original COVID-19 strain in a United Kingdom trial.

On Thursday, Novavax, a Gaithersburg, Maryland-based biotechnology firm, reported in a final analysis of more than 15,000 patients in the U.K. that the overall vaccine efficacy was 89.7%, lowered slightly because of the B.1.1.7. strain first discovered in the country. The company also released results from the smaller South African trial, which exposed participants to the variant discovered and circulating there, that showed roughly 55.4% efficacy among 2,665 participants.

But in both trials, the vaccine was 100% effective in preventing serious illness and death.

A third trial, in the United States, announced it had recruited its 30,000 planned participants in late February, but won't release results for several more months.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID vaccine update: US surpasses 100M; Pfizer appears to slow spread