The vaccine favoritism questions swirling around Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis received another national spotlight Sunday when the CBS news show “60 Minutes” reported how the governor’s campaign donors were involved in the vaccine rollout.
The controversy intensified as vaccinations continue to gain momentum: Florida is one of 12 states that opened vaccine eligibility to all adults on Monday.
The Florida report touched on a controversial vaccine pop-up clinic in Lakewood Ranch that drew a federal complaint, which was first reported by the USA TODAY Network; the state’s arrangement with Publix to distribute vaccine; and the disparity in vaccine distribution in Palm Beach County.
Vaccine favoritism questions have dogged the governor since the early days of the rollout, starting with the state’s January partnership with Publix, which donated $100,000 to the governor’s political committee in December.
“That’s a fake narrative,” DeSantis said in dismissing the claims. “I met with all the folks in Palm Beach County and I said here’s some of the options: We can do more drive through sites, we can give more to hospitals, we can do the Publix. And they said we think that (Publix) would be the easiest thing for our residents.”
Also in the news:
►Vaccine skepticism is more widespread among white evangelicals than almost any other major bloc of Americans, according to a poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The poll found that 40% of white evangelical Protestants said they likely won’t get vaccinated, compared with 25% of all Americans, 28% of white mainline Protestants and 27% of nonwhite Protestants.
►The White House was forced to scratch its annual Easter Egg Roll for the second straight year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
►The White House on Monday announced the opening of three more federally run mass vaccination sites, in Columbia, South Carolina; Pueblo, Colorado; and St. Paul, Minnesota. This brings the total number of federal vaccination sites to 28.
►Mexico’s president Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Monday he won’t get a COVID-19 vaccine because his doctors told him he still has a high level of antibodies from when he was infected in January.
►Retail stores across most of Greece were allowed to reopen Monday despite an ongoing surge in COVID-19 infections, as the country battled to emerge from deep recession.
►The Nationals and Atlanta Braves are still waiting to find out whether Major League Baseball will allow their upcoming series to proceed as scheduled, while Washington deals with a coronavirus outbreak that could prevent 11 players from participating.
►After going more than a month with a handful of players at a maximum out in accordance with the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol, the league is now facing a new challenge: the growing number of Vancouver Canucks players being put on the list.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 30.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 555,100 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 131.5 million cases and 2.85 million deaths. At least 204 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 165 million have been administered, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: The pandemic forced us to stop hugging, shaking hands. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, some experts say.
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CDC director: Young people fueling COVID-19 uptick
A top U.S. public health official said young people are driving the latest uptick in COVID-19 cases, as the increasing rate of vaccination in older Americans is preventing the most serious cases among seniors.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a White House briefing Monday that “cases are increasing nationally, and we are seeing this occur predominately in younger adults.”
She cited the increasing spread of variants, but also a rise in youth sports and extracurricular activities as contributing to the steady increase in cases over the last four weeks.
But Walensky pointed to positive developments among the most vulnerable age group, saying senior citizens’ virus deaths have reached their lowest levels since the early fall. More than 75% of those aged 65 or older nationally have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and nearly 55% are fully vaccinated.
“What we’re seeing is both a decrease in emergency department visits as well as hospitalizations associated with that demographic,” Walensky said.
An indoor event celebrating a bar opening in rural Illinois has been linked to a COVID-19 outbreak that resulted in 46 cases and a school closure affecting 650 students, according to a study published Monday in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
After an investigation by the Illinois Department of Public Health, the February event was associated with cases in 26 customers and three staff members, which subsequently led to an additional 17 secondary cases.
The public health department also discovered one of the cases included a customer who was asymptomatic but received a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis the day before the event.
More than two dozen people in a school were exposed to a bar attendee who tested positive, which closed the school for two weeks. Another attendee worked at a long-term care facility where one staff member and two residents were infected with COVID-19.
The case report shows how one incident can result in a community-wide outbreak, the CDC says, and the importance of following public health measures and getting vaccinated.
– Adrianna Rodriguez
The United States reported 37,925 COVID-19 deaths and about 1.8 million new coronavirus cases in March, with numbers roughly a third of the pace of a disastrous January, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins data shows.
But the easing appears to be short lived as numbers have begun to rise again.
In Delaware, the last time people were testing positive for COVID-19 at a rate as high as they are now was Feb. 11. Michigan has the most COVID-19 cases per capita of any state in the country and on Saturday reported the highest case total in the state since early December.
In Florida, the actual tally of variants ravaging the state is likely two or three times higher than what’s reported, said the director of the state-run Palm Beach County health department.
– Mike Stucka
Vaccinations on the rise; 40% of US adults have been jabbed
The U.S. reported more than 4 million vaccine doses in a single day for the first time Saturday, according to data from the CDC. More than 100 million Americans have had at least one dose of vaccine, about 40% of all adults. And 23% of U.S. adults are now fully vaccinated.
Meanwhile, 12 states are opening vaccine eligibility to all adults Monday: Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Michigan, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wisconsin are all dropping restrictions for adults 16 years or older.
Everyone in the United Kingdom will be able to take free rapid coronavirus tests twice a week starting April 9, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced Monday.
The testing option comes as Britain prepares to allow nonessential shops to reopen and pubs and restaurants to start serving outdoors effective April 12. The country is also preparing a system for allowing international travel to resume.
“Reclaiming our lost freedoms & getting back to normal hinges on us all getting tested regularly,” Hancock tweeted.
Vaccine passports being developed to verify COVID-19 immunization status and allow inoculated people to more freely travel, shop and dine have become the latest flash point in America’s perpetual political wars, with Republicans portraying them as a heavy-handed intrusion into personal freedom and private health choices.
They currently exist in only one state – a limited government partnership in New York with a private company – but that hasn’t stopped some lawmakers in a handful of states from rushing out legislative proposals to ban their use.
Vaccine passports are typically an app with a code that verifies whether someone has been vaccinated or recently tested negative for COVID-19. In use in Israel and under development in parts of Europe, they are seen as a way to safely help rebuild the pandemic-devastated travel industry.
More than 30% of Americans have received at least one vaccine dose compared to about 12% of Canadians, according to public health statistics from both nations.
“The good news for Americans has prompted a slew of jealousy, and criticism from Canadians asking why our provinces are so far behind,” the Toronto Star writes.
Conservative Canadian parliament member Michelle Rempel Garner took note on Twitter of the U.S. push to open up vaccination appointments to all adults. She also noted that the Oakland Zoo plans on vaccinating some of its most at-risk animals this summer.
“Most Americans aged 16 and over will have access to a vaccine in the next week or two,” she tweeted. “In Canada, that milestone is far away. In fact, these zoo animals in the United States might have access to a vaccine before many Canadian adults will.”
Social media users were quick to point out that on one recent day the U.S. administered about 4 millions shots while Canada performed about 72,000 jabs.
Contributing: Zac Anderson, Sarasota Herald-Tribune; The Associated Press