Biden administration won't surge vaccines to virus hotspots; Alabama, Utah lift mask mandates. Latest COVID-19 updates
President Joe Biden's administration said Friday additional vaccine doses will not be delivered to states seeing surges in COVID-19 cases, despite appeals from local leaders and some health experts.
The administration says its current rollout plan, based on state adult population, is "fair and equitable."
"We're not even halfway through our vaccination program so now is not the time to change course on vaccine allocation," said Jeff Zients, coordinator of the White House COVID-19 task force, during Friday's briefing.
"This pandemic has hit every state and every county, hard," he added.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she directly requested additional doses from Biden in a recent phone call. The state's seven-day average of new daily cases reached 6,429 on Thursday, its highest point since mid-November and the highest in the country currently, a Detroit Free Press analysis of state data shows.
Whitmer argued that surging shots to hot spots is not just a good plan for the state, but a vital piece of a national strategy to combat spiking COVID-19 trends.
Experts have also called for surging shots, including Ashish Jha, dean of the school of public health at Brown University.
"This is very upsetting," Jha said of the recent spike in cases in a tweet. "Michigan is struggling. We need to be surging tests, vaccines to the state."
A forecasting model from University of California, Berkeley found that 1,200 deaths could be prevented in Michigan by July if the state received double allocation of vaccines for two weeks, NPR reported.
Also in the news:
►Iran began a 10-day lockdown Saturday amid a fourth wave of coronavirus infections. Shops are closed and offices are restricted to one-third capacity in its capital Tehran and 250 other cities and towns, which have been declared red zones or areas with the highest positivity rates.
►While Alabama's statewide mask mandate ended Friday after nearly nine months, Birmingham, the largest city in the state, is keeping mask requirements in place "because the pandemic still exists and remains a threat," Mayor Randall L. Woodfin said. Montgomery, the state's second-largest city, will also continue to require face coverings.
►The latest forecast from the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s coronavirus model projects nearly 620,000 U.S. deaths by Aug. 1. The forecast improves with 95% mask usage (604,413) and tops out at 697,573 deaths in a worst-case scenario in which fully-vaccinated people return to pre-pandemic levels of mobility.
►Connecticut plans to provide full summer access to its outdoor recreation areas including state parks, campgrounds, shoreline beaches, boat launches and inland swimming spots after providing partial access last summer at the height of the pandemic, state officials said Friday.
►Utah's statewide mask mandate expires Saturday, though some businesses and government facilities will continue to require face coverings – including Salt Lake International Airport and the Utah Transit Authority.
►The CDC reported nearly 3,400 new variant cases late Thursday, bringing the U.S. total to 20,412, a number that's nearly doubled since March 28.
📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has more than 31 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 561,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 134.7 million cases and more than 2.9 million deaths. More than 233.5 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 178.8 million have been administered, according to the CDC.
📘 What we're reading: Clinics, pharmacies seek to fill open vaccine slots as hesitancy looms. Read the full story.
FEMA's funeral assistance program launches Monday
Starting Monday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will accept applications for its funeral assistance program.
The agency will offer a maximum of $9,000 per funeral and a maximum of $35,500 per application.
To be eligible for assistance, the death must have occurred in the U.S. and happened as a result of COVID-19. The applicant must be a U.S. citizen, national or qualified resident.
For more information, visit the FEMA website.
- Ben Yoder, Des Moines Register
More colleges, universities say they will require COVID-19 vaccinations
First it was Rutgers and Cornell. Then Notre Dame. Now Duke.
The list of colleges and universities that will require COVID-19 vaccinations for new and returning students to attend in-person classes this fall grew again Friday, with the North Carolina school announcing a policy that will cover all undergraduate, graduate, and professional students.
"We know that widespread vaccination will be the only way to facilitate a return to normal and robust campus life," Duke President Vincent Price said in a statement on the university's website.
Brown in Rhode Island, Northeastern in Boston, Nova Southeastern University in Florida and Fort Lewis College in Colorado have also followed the precedent set by Rutgers in New Jersey and Cornell in New York.
“It doesn’t just make us safer. In the end, it makes our entire community safer," Antonio Calcado, Rutgers' chief operating officer, told USA TODAY this week. "That’s why we think requiring is the way to go versus encouraging.”
Colleges and universities have been especially hard-hit by coronavirus restrictions, losing students who say they’re tired of paying full-price tuition for virtual learning, and that generally means less money for universities that may already be struggling financially.
As Americans are getting COVID-19 vaccinations in record numbers, music venues and comedy clubs have begun preparations to re-open. But even when things can go back to normal, they might not. Some parts of lockdown life may linger, especially streaming.
A Bandsintown survey of 1,000 artists found that 85% of them plan to maintain live stream shows as part of their schedules even after in-person shows are doable.
The same survey, which surveyed about 6,000 fans as well, also found that more than half of music fans (55%) say they will keep streaming live concerts after in-person shows return.
- Mike Snider
The Supreme Court Friday shot down a California regulation limiting religious worship at home in a 5-4 vote. This is the latest in a series of rulings in which the justices have found that coronavirus pandemic regulations violate the First Amendment's protections of religion.
California prohibited at home gatherings in counties hard hit by the pandemic and limited those gatherings elsewhere to no more than three households. The restrictions were challenged by two Christian pastors who wanted to hold Bible studies, prayer meetings and other services in their home.
The court said California would need to show that it is more dangerous for people to gather in homes for religious services than in hair salons, retail stores, movie theaters and restaurants, where the state allows people to gather from more than three households.
Before the ruling, California had already announced significant changes loosening restrictions on gatherings that go into effect April 15. The changes come after infection rates have gone down in the state.
- John Fritze
Reports of COVID-19 vaccine side effects support what many have anecdotally observed: women shoulder the bigger burden.
Among nearly 7,000 reports processed through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) from Dec. 14 to Jan. 13, more than 79% of them came from women. The most frequently reported side effects were headache, fatigue and dizziness.
Women also are more likely than men to experience some of the vaccine’s more unusual side effects, such as an itchy red rash that appears at the injection site. With about 95% of the reactions occurring with the Moderna vaccine, women account for 77% of the vaccine’s reported side effects.
Health experts say this may be because women exhibit a greater immune response to vaccines and men tend to underreport their side effects. Another possible explanation from experts is gender bias in clinical research — such as adult men and women receiving the same dose of a vaccine regardless of size — which may mean women are getting a stronger dose than is necessary to trigger an adequate immune response.
- Adrianna Rodriguez
Florida woman gets 29 days in jail for coughing on cancer patient
A Florida woman was sentenced to 29 days in jail for assault this week after she was captured on video coughing in the face of another woman, a cancer patient with a compromised immune system, last year at a Jacksonville-area mall.
Debra Jo Michele Hunter, of Fernandina Beach, also made an obscene gesture toward Heather Sprague, who was wearing a mask to further protect herself after recent brain tumor surgery, in a video that gained widespread attention.
Duval County Court Judge James Ruth heard testimony from Hunter's husband, friends and family who said she has a "really huge heart" and was "broken-hearted" over the incident. Sprague, who told the judge she feared being attacked for wearing a mask, described Hunter's actions as "rooted in privilege and entitlement."
– Dan Scanlan, Florida Times-Union
Pfizer-BioNTech asks for FDA approval of its vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds
Pfizer and its German collaborator BioNTech on Friday asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to allow their COVID-19 vaccine to be used on adolescents ages 12-15. Their vaccine is already authorized for those 16 and up.
The companies also plan to ask for similar authorization from regulatory agencies in other parts of the world. In trial results released recently, the companies showed that their vaccine prevented all COVID-19 symptomatic disease in trial participants ages 12-15, generated large numbers of protective antibodies in that age group, and did not pose any safety concerns.
The companies will follow all of the more than 2,200 trial participants for two years after their second dose to ensure safety and vaccine durability.
– Doyle Rice
COVID pandemic knocks 80% off Atlantic City casino profits in 2020
The coronavirus outbreak sent profits plunging at Atlantic City's casinos by more than 80% last year, according to figures released Friday by New Jersey gambling regulators.
Still, seven of the nine casinos managed to eke out a profit, no matter how small, during what New Jersey Casino Control Commission chairman James Plousis called the "most challenging year in history" for the city and its casinos.
The state Division of Gaming Enforcement reported the nine casinos collectively posted $117.5 million in gross operating profits in 2020. That was down from nearly $594 million a year earlier, before the pandemic forced casinos to close for 3 1/2 months, and limited their operations even after reopening.
Contributing: Chris Quintana, USA TODAY; The Associated Press