The United States reported dozens more coronavirus variant cases Thursday night, showing further reach of viruses that can spread more easily, dodge some treatments and immunities, or both.
The country now has 997 known variant cases in the country, including the first cases in California and North Carolina of P.1.351, a variant first found in South Africa that some vaccines and treatments have less effectiveness with.
The B.1.1.7 variant, which spreads more easily, was reported for the first time in Kansas, Missouri and Ohio. Most states reported relatively modest increases in their counts since Tuesday night’s reports, but Washington added 10 new cases of B.1.1.7 to reach 15; Louisiana added six to reach 14; Maryland added five to reach 22; and Iowa added five cases to reach eight.
Florida, which has 347 variant cases and remains far ahead of the rest of the country, reported four new cases of B.1.1.7. There were no new cases of P.1, a variant first spotted in Brazil.
Known variant cases in the U.S. have more than doubled since Jan. 31, and have increased five-fold since Jan. 22.
– Mike Stucka
In the headlines:
►After weeks of vaccine distribution being largely limited to hospitals, health systems and local health departments, COVID-19 vaccines are poised to roll out Friday at major pharmacies, including the nation’s two largest chains, CVS and Walgreens.
►The National Hockey League is adding game-day rapid tests for players to its safety protocols in its latest bid to stem potential COVID-19 outbreaks. The league also said that players and club personnel are required to stay at home “and not leave their place of residence except to attend practices and games, to exercise outdoors on an individual basis, to perform essential activities (e.g., go to the doctor), or to deal with family or other emergencies and other extraordinary circumstances.”
►New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top aide apologized to the state’s Democratic lawmakers, saying the administration “froze” when it failed to reveal the full death toll in nursing homes due to COVID-19, the New York Post and CNN reported. Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor, said New York was concerned about pressure from Trump’s Justice Department and worried what was told to state lawmakers would be used by federal prosecutors, the news outlets reported.
►Current COVID-19 vaccines should work against variants of the virus, a top National Institutes of Health scientist said Thursday on President Joe Biden’s tour of the facility.
►Fully vaccinated people who meet certain criteria will no longer be required to quarantine following an exposure to someone with COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
►New Zealand’s first vaccine doses are due to arrive next week, with border workers getting inoculated beginning Feb. 20, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Friday. New Zealand has had no community transmission of the virus for several months due to heightened restrictions.
►The Australian Open will be allowed to continue but without crowds for at least five days after the Victoria state government imposed a lockdown starting Saturday in response to a COVID-19 outbreak at a quarantine hotel.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 27.3 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 475,400 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 107.8 million cases and 2.37 million deaths. More than 68 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and about 46.3 million have been administered, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: How many COVID-19 vaccines have been sent to your state, and how many people have received a shot so far? Check the USA TODAY vaccine tracker.
Ethel Walton, a nurse and president of the Chicago Chapter of the Black Nurses Association, lives in a majority-Black south side neighborhood located in a zip code where just 4% of residents have received a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and nearly 120 people have died. The rate of COVID-19 deaths in that zip code is three to four times higher than several majority-white north side neighborhoods. The vaccination rates in those white neighborhoods are six times higher.
“It’s a stressful situation, because no one wants to hear that their (people are) dying of COVID in massive numbers,” she said. “It’s unfair that the immunization has again been made … just not equal at all.”
A USA TODAY analysis of data from Chicago and the U.S. Census Bureau found that, citywide, the vaccination rate in Chicago’s majority-Black or Latino zip codes averaged 5%. Majority-white zip codes averaged 13%. Four of the city’s majority-white zip codes exceeded 20% initial vaccination, while the highest rate for any majority Black or Latino area was 12%.
Chicago is not alone. The data shows similar trends in Washington, D.C., and Austin, Texas, two other places that have reported vaccination rates at the neighborhood level. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also show gaping disparities nationally, and a recent study of the small number of states reporting race and ethnicity for vaccine recipients showed a widespread pattern of inequity.
Experts say the findings reflect festering systemic problems, including poor health care access and distrust of the vaccine, colliding amid a chaotic rollout that failed to ensure equal access to communities of color.
“There was so much pressure on the health departments to roll out the vaccine quickly, they built up their systems as quickly as they could but they weren’t built in a way that was necessarily equally accessible to all,” said Dr. Julie Morita, vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and former commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health.
– Nada Hassanein, Grace Hauck, Jayme Fraser and Aleszu Bajak
A series of violent crimes against Asians and Asian Americans has prompted activists and experts to warn that racist rhetoric about the coronavirus pandemic may be fueling a rise in hate incidents.
Police in Oakland, California, announced this week that they arrested a suspect in connection with a brutal attack of a 91-year-old man in Chinatown that was caught on camera. In less than a week, a Thai man was attacked and killed in San Francisco, a Vietnamese woman was assaulted and robbed of $1,000 in San Jose, and a Filipino man was attacked with a box cutter on the subway in New York City.
It’s unclear whether the crimes were racially motivated, but advocates calling for more to be done to address violence against Asian Americans say racist crimes against the community are historically underreported for a variety of reasons.
Stop AAPI Hate, which includes a self-reporting tool for harassment, discrimination and violent attacks, recorded 2,808 incidents of anti-Asian discrimination across the U.S. from its inception on March 19 to Dec. 31, 2020. Another organization, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, recorded more than 3,000 hate incidents in their self-reporting system since late April 2020 – by far the highest number in the tool’s four-year history.
“When President Trump began and insisted on using the term ‘China virus,’ we saw that hate speech really led to hate violence,” said Russell Jeung, chair of the Asian American studies department at San Francisco State University and creator of the Stop AAPI Hate tracker. “That sort of political rhetoric and that sort of anti-Asian climate has continued to this day.”
– N’dea Yancey-Bragg
Former President Donald Trump’s condition had become so concerning after he tested positive for COVID-19 that officials spoke of putting him on a ventilator, the New York Times and CNN reported Thursday.
Trump was hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in October, and the White House and his doctors routinely sent mixed signals about his condition.
According to the Times, Trump’s blood oxygen levels dipped into the 80s, and a case of COVID-19 is considered severe when blood oxygen levels are in the low 90s. The Times also reported that Trump had lung infiltrates, meaning his lungs were inflamed and contained a substance such as fluid or bacteria.
Citing a weeks long decline in new COVID cases and deaths, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak on Thursday announced he would gradually end a monthslong “pause” on economic activity meant to slow the virus’ deadly resurgence over the holidays.
Eased restrictions on restaurants, bars, churches and gyms are set to take effect on Monday, including a 10 percent jump in permissible casino capacity. Youth and adult sports tournaments, along with gatherings up to 250 people, are tentatively scheduled to resume March 15 — two days shy of the one-year anniversary of the state’s first virus-related shutdown order.
Sisolak later announced plans to turn over the bulk of ongoing virus-containment efforts to local officials by May 1, but said the state would continue to play a role in supporting city and county health officials. He said statewide protocols will remain in place to mitigate the virus’ spread, including but not limited to mask-wearing and social distancing requirements.
– James DeHaven and Ed Komenda, Reno Gazette Journal
President Joe Biden on Thursday announced completion of a deal to purchase an additional 200 million coronavirus vaccine doses, fulfilling an agreement he outlined two weeks ago.
“We’ve now purchased enough vaccine supplies to vaccinate all Americans,” Biden said during a visit to the National Institutes of Health. “Now we’re working to get those vaccines into the arms of millions of people.”
In addition to finalizing contracts with Pfizer and Moderna for 100 million more doses each that will be delivered by the end of July, Biden said 100 million other doses that were supposed to arrive in June will now be delivered in May.
“That’s a month faster,” Biden said. “That means lives will be saved.”
Contributing: The Associated Press