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Coronavirus updates: Bidens ambitious plan will take time; Florida combats vaccine tourism by limiting shots to residents

8 min read
https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2021/01/22/covid-news-updates-biden-plan-vaccine/6667047002/

COVID-19 has killed more than 410,000 Americans in less than a year and infections have continued to mount despite the introduction of a pair of vaccines late in 2020. USA TODAY is tracking the news. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates. Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates to your inbox, join our Facebook group or scroll through our in-depth answers to reader questions.

President Joe Biden on Friday is set to combat the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic by signing a pair of executive actions that aim to provide relief for Americans feeling financial pressure.

While Biden is calling for Congress to pass a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, he will also move to expand access to federal nutrition and food assistance programs and start the process for requiring federal contractors to pay their workers a minimum wage of $15 per hour and give them emergency paid leave

The executive orders are to come a day after he laid out his plans for a federal COVID-19 strategy and declared it “a wartime undertaking.”  The plan rests on using the Defense Production Act to strengthen the supply chain and make vaccines – but experts say the plan will need time.

Meanwhile over the past few days, authorities in California, Ohio, West Virginia, Florida and Hawaii warned that their vaccine supplies were running out. New York City began canceling or postponing shots or stopped making new appointments because of the shortages.

In the headlines:

►January is already the second-deadliest month during the pandemic for the United States, with 64,147 deaths reported so far, Johns Hopkins University data shows. The country has averaged about 3,055 deaths per day so far this month, a daily toll worse than the human cost of the 9/11 attacks. At this pace, by Tuesday, January will have become the deadliest month so far of the pandemic.

►Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday on CNN that the lack of candor and facts around the U.S. pandemic’s response over the last year “very likely did” cost lives. Asked Thursday about his experience working on the pandemic response for two different administrations, Fauci also said being able to share science was “liberating.” Fauci said he did not enjoy having to correct information provided by former President Donald Trump during briefings.

►After weeks of railing against “vaccine tourism,” Florida officials will limit the scant supply of COVID-19 vaccine to residents only. Surgeon General Scott Rivkees issued an executive order requiring people seeking an appointment to get the vaccine to provide proof of residency, or proof of being a health care provider directly involved with patients. Until now, a person only needed to prove they were 65 or older.

►Comedian Dave Chappelle tested positive for COVID-19 just before his comedy show scheduled in Austin for Thursday, forcing his upcoming appearances to be canceled, a spokeswoman said. Chappelle had been performing socially-distanced shows in Ohio since June, and he moved his shows to Austin during the winter.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 24.6 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 410,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 97.6 million cases and 2 million deaths.

📘 What we’re reading: COVID-19 could kill 100,000 more people in the U.S. in coming month. Will we face this as “one nation”? USA TODAY’s editor-in-chief Nicole Carroll speaks with health and politics reporters on where we are and where we’re heading in the battle against COVID-19.

New strains of COVID-19 are swiftly moving through the US. Are they more deadly? No. But scientists are worried.

Variations of the SARS-CoV-2 virus have popped up all over the world – including ones first seen in the U.K., South Africa, Brazil, and most recently, California. Now, medical experts are worried that although these new variants don’t cause a more serious form of COVID-19, they spread more easily.

“If you have a virus that’s more transmissible, you’re going to get more cases,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top disease expert, said Thursday. “When you get more cases, you’re going to get more hospitalizations, and when you get more hospitalizations, you ultimately are going to get more deaths.’

As far as scientists know now, vaccines still work against the variants, as do diagnostic tests and the protective measures we all know so well – masks, social distancing, washing hands, avoiding crowds. What’s less clear is whether targeted drugs developed to help the immune system fight the SARS-CoV-2 virus will continue to work, and whether natural infections will provide as much protection.

As long as there is virus circulating widely, it can mutate and cause more trouble. Read more here. 

– Karen Weintraub and Elizabeth Weise

With pandemic still raging, colleges reopen in-person. What comes next?

College campus leaders hoped the lessons from the fall would better position them for the spring semester. That was before a post-holiday winter surge pushed the number of COVID-19 deaths in America over 400,000. Before more contagious variants of the coronavirus emerged. Before the vaccine rollout proved slower than anticipated.

Now, returning student populations may be at even greater risk than they were in the fall — not to mention their surrounding communities, where research has suggested greater outbreaks in college towns. Some public health experts fear the new semester’s timing could exacerbate the state of the pandemic. 

Despite those concerns, colleges are pushing ahead. The stakes are high; enrollment plummeted at most colleges last semester, and the loss of income from in-person services like campus housing and dining could be devastating to schools that depend on that money. College towns would feel the economic pinch as well.

But when administrators talk about the need for reopening, they focus on what went well in the fall — and the advantages of the full university experience.

– Chris Quintana

Super Bowl: 7,500 vaccinated health care workers going for free

The NFL announced Friday that 22,000 fans will be in attendance for Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, next month. Of that total, 7,500 will be fully vaccinated health care workers, the majority of whom will hail from hospitals or health care systems in the Tampa or central Florida area. 

Tickets will be free for the recipients. Additionally, all 32 clubs will select vaccinated health care workers from their communities to attend the big game.

“These dedicated health care workers continue to put their own lives at risk to serve others, and we owe them our ongoing gratitude,” commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.

– Chris Bumbaca

Scientists applaud Biden’s decision to rejoin World Health Organization 

The scientific community applauded President Joe Biden’s decision to rejoin the World Health Organization and other global efforts designed to stop and prevent COVID-19. The move had both symbolic and practical implications, said Jen Kates, senior vice president and director of Global Health & HIV Policy at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Practical, because U.S. funding will help the agency balance its budget, fulfill its commitments to boost public health, and protect Americans from new strains of COVID-19 and future disease threats.

And symbolic, because the United States was the agency’s largest funder and has long been a key player on the global health stage. 

In the short term, the United States retracting its notice of withdrawal means that it will fulfill its financial obligations to the organization and stop its drawdown of U.S.-provided staff at WHO. In the longer term, U.S. participation means it will help advance pandemic preparedness, reverse the health consequences of climate change, and promote better health globally, the Biden administration said.

– Karen Weintraub

Texas doctor charged with stealing vial of COVID vaccine

A fired county public health doctor in Texas was charged with taking a vial of COVID-19 vaccine, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg announced in a Thursday press release

Dr. Hasan Gokal took a vial that contained nine doses while working at a county vaccination site on Dec. 29, according to the district attorney’s office. He told another employee what he did a week later, and that employee reported him to supervisors. 

“He abused his position to place his friends and family in line in front of people who had gone through the lawful process to be there,” Ogg said.  “What he did was illegal and he’ll be held accountable under the law.”

Gokal was charged with theft by a public servant, a misdemeanor that “carries a penalty of up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine,” according to the district attorney’s office. 

Chicago teachers vote to defy orders to report for in-person classes

Chicago teachers began voting Thursday to defy orders to report for in-person class next week ahead of elementary students’ return, actions the nation’s third-largest school district said could lead to “an illegal strike.”

The Chicago Teachers Union fiercely opposes Chicago Public Schools’ reopening plans over safety concerns during the coronavirus pandemic. The roughly 355,000-student district, which went online in March 2020, has gradually welcomed students back. Thousands of pre-kindergarten and special education students chose in-person learning this month. Teachers who didn’t show were punished.

Roughly 10,000 educators in kindergarten through eighth grade are expected to report for duty next week, but the union’s House of Delegates approved a resolution late Wednesday to skip classroom teaching and continue remotely. Students in kindergarten to eighth grade have the option to return two days a week starting Feb. 1. No return date has been set for high school students.

Expansion of vaccine eligibility blamed for shortages

The Trump administration’s push to have states vastly expand their vaccination drives to the nation’s estimated 54 million people 65 and older has contributed to vaccine shortages, public health experts say.

The push that began over a week ago has not been accompanied by enough doses to meet demand, according to state and local officials, leading to frustration and confusion and limiting states’ ability to attack the outbreak that has killed over 400,000 Americans.

As states have ramped up their distribution chains, authorities in California, New York, Florida, Ohio, West Virginia and Hawaii warned their supplies were running out. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer even inquired about buying vaccines directly from manufacturer Pfizer, but have not been authorized to do so.

Some state and local public health officials have complained of not getting reliable information on the amount of vaccine they can expect, making it difficult to plan the inoculations.

– Adrianna Rodriguez, USA TODAY

Contributing: The Associated Press

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