Once-grim CDC projections now ‘quite hopeful’ for summer; India leaders won’t be jailed over oxygen shortage: Live COVID-19 updates

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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. It’s particularly important because the U.K variant was a dominant strain.

►The federal government will have a bit less vaccine to offer next week. This week was 9.62 million first doses; next week is 9.53 million. The primary reason: J&J will provide 161,900 fewer doses.

►A Massachusetts pizza parlor owner lied about the number of employees he had to fraudulently obtain more than $660,000 in federal coronavirus relief funds, then bought stock an alpaca farm in Vermont, federal prosecutors say. Dana McIntyre, 57, is charged with wire fraud and money laundering.

►An Elmira, N.Y., woman who died of COVID-19 in November was a secret millionaire. Among gifts left by Evelyn Lutz, 86, a nurse who wrote books on the profession, were $1.4 million to the University of Colorado and  $640,000 to Case Western Reserve University.

►Two of the most populous counties in California, San Francisco and Los Angeles County, are now eligible to move to the least restrictive tier in California’s reopening framework.

►The chairman of one of South Korea’s biggest dairy companies, Namyang Dairy Products, has resigned over a scandal in which his company was accused of deliberately spreading misinformation that its yogurt helps prevent coronavirus infections.

►Masks in Michigan are no longer required at small outdoor weddings, graduation parties or other similar events or while playing some youth sports, according to a new state health department order set to take effect Thursday. 

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 32.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 578,400 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: Over 154.4 million cases and 3.23 million deaths. More than 318.4 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 247.7 million have been administered, according to the CDC. More than 106.16 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.  

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.

40-something? Good chance you’ve been jabbed

Most Americans in their 40s are now at least partially vaccinated, CDC figures show. In data reported through Tuesday, about 51.7% of Americans in their 40s are now partially vaccinated, along with 44.9% of people in their 30s and 35.6% of people 18 to 29. 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 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

US, World Trade Organization work toward distribution of vaccines

The U.S. top trade negotiator began talks with the World Trade Organization on ways to overcome intellectual property issues that are keeping critically needed COVID-19 vaccines from being more widely distributed worldwide. President Joe Biden has faced calls from fellow WTO members, activists and U.S. lawmakers to temporarily waive the restrictions as some states are turning down planned shipments from the federal government given a decrease in demand. At issue: 82% of shots have been given in high- and middle-income countries and just 0.3% in low-income countries, according to the World Health Organization.  

The rush for vaccination has ebbed across much of the nation, and some states are turning down all or part of their weekly dose allotments. The federal government will now shift some of those doses to areas where appointments remain difficult to get.

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, an analysis of Johns Hopkins data shows – 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 outdoor events, such as live performances, parades, fairs, festivals, sports events or other similar settings, 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. 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 hand 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,the lead author of the new report.

Contributing: Mike Stucka, USA TODAY; The Associated Press