Senators were reconvening Friday to debate President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package after one Republican added hours to the process by asking that every word of the 628-page bill be read aloud.
The Senate’s 20 hours of debate on the bill could last through Sunday, and a final vote may not happen until early next week.
Vice President Kamala Harris, as president of the Senate, advanced the bill forward when she broke a 50-50 tie to begin debate, but Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., made the rare request for a reading, stalling debate.
Meanwhile, in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was facing fresh criticism after reports from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal detailed how his administration successfully pressured New York’s health department to strip the full COVID-19 death count attributed to nursing homes from a state report released last July.
The report indicated more than 6,200 nursing home residents had died, instead of nearly 10,000 who were residents of the homes and died either there or at a hospital.
Also in the news:
►More than 49.7 million Americans had received at least one dose of vaccine, a USA TODAY analysis of Centers for Disease Control data showed on the last day of February.
►The coronavirus variant that first appeared in the United Kingdom has now been spotted in almost the entire country, CDC data reported Thursday show. Only the states of Montana, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Vermont have not reported a case
►In an effort to protect communities that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, California officials said the state will implement a plan that allocates 40% of its supply of COVID-19 vaccines to residents in the lowest-income areas.
►Unemployment payments since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic a year ago in Oklahoma have surpassed the payments made during the past 10 years combined by nearly $1.5 billion, the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission said Thursday.
►Traffic deaths in the U.S. increased for the first time in four years in 2020, as coronavirus-induced lockdowns opened roads and led to more reckless driving, according to a report from the nonprofit National Safety Council.
►In Arizona’s Gila County, anyone over the age of 18 can get a COVID-19 vaccine, making it one of the first areas in the country vaccinating the general population.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 28.8 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 520,200 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 115.5 million cases and 2.56 million deaths. More than 109.9 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and about 82.57 million have been administered, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: President Joe Biden said this week that there will be enough COVID-19 vaccine for every U.S. adult by May, nearly two months earlier than his administration predicted last month. Some health experts wouldn’t be surprised if it’s even sooner. 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.
9 great apes receive COVID-19 vaccinations at San Diego Zoo
The San Diego Zoo has vaccinated nine great apes for the coronavirus after a troop of gorillas in its Safari Park became infected, officials said Thursday.
Four orangutans and five bonobos received COVID-19 injections in January and February. Three bonobos and a gorilla also were expected to receive the vaccine, which is experimental.
The vaccinations followed a January outbreak of COVID-19 at the zoo’s Safari Park. Eight western lowland gorillas got the virus, probably by exposure to a zookeeper who tested positive for COVID-19, officials said in January, even though employees work masks at all times around the gorillas.
Cuomo administration recrafted report on nursing homes to conceal COVID-19 death count: reports
The Cuomo administration’s reporting of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes drew another round of criticism late Thursday after it was revealed the total death count was stripped from a state report last July.
The report released by the Department of Health last summer had long been criticized for not including the number of nursing home deaths that occurred in hospitals, leading to a drastic undercounting.
Now the reason is more clear: The Cuomo administration pressured the health department to not include the full death count attributed to nursing homes in the report, according to The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Instead, the report indicated more than 6,200 nursing home residents had died, instead of nearly 10,000 at the time who were residents of the homes and either died there or at a hospital.
The lower count allowed Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo to more affirmatively tout the state’s response to the pandemic, which has killed more than 48,000 New Yorkers. He wrote a book in October to burnish his image over lowering the state’s death count and cases through government action.
– Joseph Spector, USA TODAY Network in New York
Biden campaigned as the mask candidate. Now he’s facing the limits of the bully pulpit.
Joe Biden ran for the White House as the mask candidate, criticizing then-President Donald Trump’s dismissal of masks, promising to get tough on mask wearing and modeling good behavior by wearing at least one – and sometimes two – masks himself.
As president, however, Biden is running up against the limits of the bully pulpit as mask-wearing remains politically polarized. After the governors of Texas and Mississippi moved to lift mask mandates on Tuesday, an exasperated and frustrated Biden said Wednesday that such decisions come from “Neanderthal thinking.”
“It shouldn’t be political at all, but it seems like it is,” said Rep. Charlie Crist, a former GOP governor of Florida who is now a Democrat and critical of his state’s lack of a mask requirement. “What President Biden is doing is exactly what he needs to be doing: calling them out for it.”
– Maureen Groppe
Texans who lost loved ones to COVID hurt by state’s decision to lift mask mandate
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s Tuesday declaration that it was time to “open Texas” has been decried by local officials and health experts who say it’s too soon to become lax with coronavirus restrictions with just 7% of the state’s residents have been fully inoculated against the virus.
But the announcement hit harder with Delia Ramos, and others who have lost spouses, parents or friends to the virus — in some cases, making them wonder if the deaths of their loved ones meant nothing.
It feels like people that think it’s “inconvenient to wear a mask” override all the “people that have been lost” to the virus, as well as doctors and nurses working long hours and teachers scared to go to work for fear of being exposed, Ramos, 39, said.
She’ll continue to wear her mask “with honor.”
“I don’t want other children to grow up without a father, the way that mine unfortunately are going to have to grow up without one,” she said. Read the full story.
– Shannon Najmabadi, Corpus Christi Caller-Times
Wealthy white Florida residents getting vaccines aimed for rural minorities
In Palm Beach County, Florida, where former President Donald Trump now lives, people in wealthy white areas are getting a significant share of the COVID-19 vaccines intended for rural Black and Latino communities.
STAT News reports that even though Hispanics make up 21.7% of the county residents and Black people account for 18% of the population, as of March 1 they had received only 4.7% and 4.1% of vaccines, respectively. Combined, the two racial or ethnic groups represent nearly 40% of the county’s population and had gotten less than 9% of the doses.
And it’s not just those in the county who are attending vaccination drives for poorer neighborhoods. STAT reports that people from more than 100 miles away have been driving in to those events.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and state health officials have been under scrutiny amid accusations of favoring wealthy residents for vaccinations. DeSantis has denied any favoritism.
Contributing: The Associated Press