Federal health officials have directed states to make all adults eligible for vaccination by May 1, Andy Slavitt, the White House senior adviser for COVID-19 response, said Wednesday.
Slavitt, speaking at a press briefing, said the Department of Health and Human Services issued the directive as vaccine availability increases. The White House says that more than 22 million vaccine doses will be distributed in the next seven days, a new high that would send the daily average over 3 million for the first time.
Also Wednesday, Massachusetts and Iowa announced plans to open up vaccination appointments to all adults next month, joining a growing list of states removing eligibility requirements as doses become more readily available.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker unveiled a timeline Wednesday calling for everyone over 60 and certain workers to be offered appointments starting March 22. People age 55 and over and people with certain medical conditions can join the line on April 5. All requirements will be dropped April 19.
Iowa will open up eligibility to all Iowans April 5, contingent on the state receiving the increase in doses it’s expecting, Gov. Kim Reynolds said. Mississippi and Alaska are already vaccinating anyone who signs up; Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said his state will do so within two weeks, and Connecticut is starting April 5.
Baker said the state Health Department is working closely with the 20 hardest hit communities “supporting vaccination in these communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.” The state has received “assurances” from the federal government that an increased vaccine supply will be available soon, Baker said in a statement.
Also in the news:
►All vaccination sites and testing locations were closed in Mississippi on Wednesday in advance of severe weather that could also jeopardize vaccine activity in Louisiana, Arkansas and Alabama.
►California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he is preparing for a likely recall election fueled by backlash to pandemic restrictions: “We will fight it. We will defeat it.”
►The first major wave of stimulus checks should become available in bank accounts across the nation – up to $1,400 per person, a family of four could see $5,600.
►More than 15% of U.S. adults are now fully vaccinated and 28% have had at least one dose, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has over 29.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 536,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 120 million cases and 2.66 million deaths. Nearly 143 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and more than 111 million have been administered, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: Outdoor seating isn’t always safer than indoor dining. Some structures may be relatively safe, others could be worse, trapping aerosols inside.
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Disneyland to reopen April 30, but only for Californians!
Disneyland Park & Disney California Adventure Park are planning to officially reopen to state residents on April 30, with limited capacity, Disney said in a statement. Disney will manage attendance through a new park reservation system that requires all guests to obtain a reservation for park entry in advance. A park reservation and valid admission for the same park on the same date will be required for guests ages 3 and up.
Reservations will be limited and subject to availability “and, until further notice, only California residents may visit the parks in line with current state guidelines,” the statement said.
Virus variants spread accelerating across nation
Cases of coronavirus variants are exploding across the United States, with more than 1,000 new cases reported in a five-day span, a USA TODAY analysis of CDC data shows. The United States now has 4,855 known variant cases, up 27% in less than a week. The variants the CDC tracks – mostly one first seen in the United Kingdom, but also ones traced to South Africa and Brazil – can spread more easily, dodge some treatments and immunities, or all three. Some variants also appear more likely to kill their victims, researchers say.
The national tally of known variant cases has already doubled in March, even as all coronavirus cases have been falling across much of the nation.
– Mike Stucka
WHO official backs AstraZeneca vaccine, says clots are ‘very rare’
People should feel comfortable getting the AstraZeneca vaccine, even if health authorities turn up a link to “very rare” blood clots, a top World Health Organization expert said Wednesday. Dr. Kate O’Brien, who heads WHO’s department of immunizations and vaccines, said the U.N. health agency and the European Medicines Agency are trying to investigate whether the vaccine has anything to do with the clots. The potential side effect has prompted some European countries to temporarily suspend use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. A WHO panel is reviewing the data.
“I think the reassurance to the public is that regardless of whether or not the committee ultimately assesses that there may be an association between these events and the vaccine, that in any event, these are very rare events,” O’Brien said at a news conference.
Many U.S. experts also are bullish on the AstraZeneca vaccine, although it has not yet been authorized for emergency use here. Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, warned that the suspensions create a perception that vaccines are dangerous.
“The only way out of this pandemic is by vaccination,” he said.
St. Patrick’s Day celebrations muted again this year
Muted, virtual celebrations marked St. Patrick’s Day in New York City on Wednesday, including a modest parade minus the floats, oversized balloons and marching bands. Mayor Bill de Blasio joined parade leaders and several dozen National Guard troops in marching up Madison Avenue.
“This morning’s parade may have looked a little different, but the spirit of our Irish community shone through all the brighter,” de Blasio tweeted.
One of the nation’s biggest St. Patrick’s Day parades is held in Savannah almost every year since 1824. But not last year and not this year. Mayor Van Johnson said he saw thousands out celebrating, many flocking downtown. But he said he doesn’t regret allowing businesses to stay open.
“Our economy needed a shot in the arm, but we also needed people to be safe,” he said. “There is a curfew order that is signed waiting for me to date it that I will implement without a moment’s hesitation if things get out of hand.”
Stimulus checks roll out today; some will buy food, others stocks
The stimulus cash rolling into bank accounts today will put food on the table and pay rent for many Americans struggling financially because of the pandemic.
But many young investors plan to use their relief payments to snatch up stocks, according to a recent survey from Deutsche Bank. Half of respondents between 25 and 34 years old plan to spend 50% of their COVID-19 relief payments on stocks, the study showed, which published the report in February. It surveyed 430 users of online broker platforms between Feb. 5 and 9.
Marlon Watkins, who lost his job last spring, got another one in the fall. “It was a wake-up call,” Watkins said. “Now I’m back on my feet and want to invest so that I’m prepared for the next time something like this happens.”
– Jessica Menton
Vatican says J&J vaccine OK – if it’s the only one available
Catholics might be somewhat confused by reports on differing messages about the acceptability of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine due to a cell line from an abortion being used in its production.
The differences have been resolved and Catholic teaching is clear: Catholics have a moral duty to protect themselves and others from COVID-19 by being vaccinated. However, if given the choice, they should avoid the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to the Vatican and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Should they choose not to be vaccinated, they have a moral obligation to mask, socially distance and “do their utmost” to avoid becoming infected or infecting others, the Vatican said. Read more here.
– Elizabeth Weise
Contributing: The Associated Press