Optimism about the pandemic continues to grow as spring ushers in warmer weather – and spring break.
Florida is getting busy: Disney theme parks in Orlando are booked solid next Monday through Thursday. Throngs of college students are strolling the strip in Fort Lauderdale, many without masks and ignoring social distancing. At least one hot spot there, however, is pumping the brakes.
The outdoor event space The Wharf, featuring live music, food and drink, announced on social media that during the spring break season guests with out-of-state ID must be age 23 or older. The Wharf says it will be operating at reduced capacity and requires masks be worn at all times while walking through common areas and when not eating or drinking.
In Miami Beach, Mayor Dan Gelber is determined to avoid a new burst of virus cases in his city. Gelber issued a stern warning for spring break revelers: “Don’t be foolish. Don’t come here if you think this is an anything-goes environment. We will arrest you and it will ruin your time here.”
People walk near the beach on March 04, 2021 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Also in the news:
►The U.S. vaccination rate has risen to an average of 2.2 million doses per day, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients announced.
►The U.S. House is expected to finalize the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan Tuesday. It could head to Biden’s desk for his signature that day, and stimulus checks could go out soon after.
►Colorado health officials are advising anyone who participated in a raucous Boulder party-turned riot to quarantine for at least 10 days and to get tested for COVID-19. The event turned so violent a car was flipped over and a police SWAT team used tear gas to break up the crowd.
►New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says her country will now use only the Pfizer vaccine to inoculate its population. She says the decision was based on the Pfizer vaccine’s effectiveness.
►Israel started vaccinating Palestinians who work inside the country and its West Bank settlements on Monday. Over 3.7 million Israelis – more than 40% – have received two doses of the vaccine, but Israel had provided few vaccines for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
►Germany is looking to ramp up the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine after authorities last week gave the green light for it to be administered to people 65 and over. Germany’s vaccine campaign has lagged behind Britain and the United States.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has over 28.9 million confirmed coronavirus cases and nearly 525,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 116.9 million cases and 2.59 million deaths. More than 116.3 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 90.3 million have been administered, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: Public heath experts have been critical of Texas, Mississippi and other states that have tossed aside mask mandates. They also warn of another threat to the country’s hard-fought gains against COVID-19: The number of Americans getting tested for coronavirus has dropped significantly since January. Read the full story.
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.
CDC eases restrictions for fully vaccinated Americans
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased guidelines for fully vaccinated people Monday, saying they can visit with other vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing. They also can visit with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease indoors – and without wearing masks or physical distancing. Fully vaccinated people also don’t need to quarantine or get testing following a known exposure if asymptomatic. But they still must take precautions in public such as wearing a well-fitted mask and physical distancing and avoidance of medium- and large-size in-person gatherings.
“COVID-19 continues to exact a tremendous toll on our nation,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a press briefing of the White House COVID-19 Response Team. “Science and the protection of public health must guide us as we begin to resume activities.”
Have more Americans been vaccinated than have been infected?
The number of Americans now completely vaccinated for COVID-19 has surpassed the number of reported cases of the virus since the pandemic began more than a year ago.
Just over 30 million people have been completely vaccinated, 9.2% of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Johns Hopkins data dashboard counts 29 million cases of the virus reported nationwide. But experts warn that reported cases could represent a fraction of actual infections.
Down syndrome adults face high risk – but many can’t get vaccine
Recent studies indicate that adults with Down syndrome, specifically those 40 and older, are three to 10 times as likely to die from COVID-19 than the general population. The findings confirmed what many had already suspected – that those with the genetic disorder, already prone to respiratory issues, heart conditions and other risk factors for coronavirus, were more susceptible to the virus’ harmful effects. But Down syndrome priority for the vaccine varies from state to state.
“It’s clear that they should be moved to the front of the line,” said Republican Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen of Minnesota, lead author of a letter signed by bipartisan state legislators last month imploring health officials to prioritize adults with the condition. “I can’t emphasize enough how dangerous it could be for these individuals if they don’t get the vaccine.”
– Marc Ramirez
Biden to witness vaccinations at Veterans Affairs center in Washington
President Joe Biden and Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough will visit the Washington D.C., Veterans Affairs Medical Center today to witness the administration of vaccines there. The center is offering vaccines by appointment to veterans who qualify as front-line workers or are 65 or older, homeless or residing in group housing settings, are on a transplant list or have cancer and are receiving IV chemotherapy at the medical center. The VA has administered more than 1.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines at over 250 locations since its campaign to vaccinate millions of veterans enrolled in its system began Dec. 14.
Variant cases have doubled in US since Feb. 18, CDC data shows
The U.S. added a record 380 new coronavirus variant cases Sunday, continuing a trend that has seen the country double its known total of such coronavirus infections since Feb. 18. Different versions of the virus that causes COVID-19 are spreading quickly even as the pace of new infections has generally been falling nationwide.
The variants can spread more easily, dodge some treatments and immunities or both, leaving them a threat even as more Americans get vaccinated. The U.S. has 3,133 known variant cases, up from the 2,753 reported Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control said Sunday.
Most of America’s known variant cases are of B.1.1.7, which was first seen in the United Kingdom, with 3,037. Vaccines have proved effective against it, but the variant is considered at least 50% more infectious than the original strain, making fast, widespread vaccination imperative.
– Mike Stucka
Michigan makes homeless people eligible for COVID vaccines
People who are homeless will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccines in Michigan starting Monday.
“Our vulnerable populations are high priority for us right now,” Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail said, according to the Lansing State Journal. “This opens the door to make sure that population is also vaccinated and we don’t continue to have outbreaks in shelters.”
The news comes as infection rates are dropping and vaccine campaigns are ramping up. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently announced the further loosening of the state’s coronavirus restrictions, easing capacity limits in restaurants and other businesses while also allowing for larger indoor and outdoor gatherings.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson plans to end mask mandate in April
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Sunday that he will end a mask mandate next month if the state’s test positivity rate or hospitalizations are low. Hutchinson on Friday lifted most of the safety restrictions placed on businesses to curb transmission of the coronavirus. He said that it’s time to “rely upon common sense and good judgment” versus mandates that are crippling businesses.
Last week, President Joe Biden dismissed the decision by some Republican governors to end mask mandates as “Neanderthal thinking.” White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended the comment as a “reflection of his frustration” about Americans refusing to follow public health guidance.
Hutchinson does not agree. “Just give us our freedom back and lift some of our mandates,” he said. “That’s not caveman thinking, that’s common sense.”
Contributing: Ken Alltucker, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID news: CDC eases rules for vaccinated Americans; spring break