Menacing coronavirus variants are sweeping across the nation even as new cases of the original virus are dropping quickly.
The United States reported 1,932 variant cases through Tuesday night, up 49% from a week earlier. The variants appear to spread more easily, dodge some immunities and treatments, or both. They remain, however, a very small percentage of all cases.
The B.1.351 variant first detected in South Africa was reported over the last week in Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, New York and Tennessee for the first time. On Sunday, South Carolina said it had two cases of that variant; on Tuesday, it reported it had 21 cases.
The variant is a concern because experts warn it might spread more readily than the original virus and might reduce the effectiveness of some COVID-19 vaccines.
The United States on Tuesday reported 220 new cases, for a total of 1,881 cases, of the B.1.1.7 variant first seen in the United Kingdom. The variant appears to be markedly more infectious than the original virus. The Centers for Disease Control says U.K. variant is now found in 45 states and territories; the South African variant in 14; and the P.1 variant first seen in Brazil is found in four.
Also in the news:
►Ghana became the first country in the world to receive vaccines acquired through the U.N.-backed COVAX initiative, with a delivery Wednesday of 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Ghana is among 92 countries that have signed onto the COVAX program.
►The U.S. House of Representatives will vote on President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package Friday, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Tuesday.
►A variant first discovered in California in December is more contagious than earlier forms of the coronavirus, a new study out of the University of California, San Francisco suggests.
►More than 2,400 doses of COVID-19 vaccines in Tennessee’s most populous county went to waste over the past month while local officials sat on tens of thousands of shots that they thought had already gone into arms, the state’s top health official announced Tuesday.
►The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, is calling for better COVID-19 vaccine access for poor nations, saying, “More than 210 countries are yet to administer a single dose.”
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 28.2 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 502,400 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 112 million cases and 2.48 million deaths. More than 82.1 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and about 65 million have been administered, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: In one year, COVID-19 has left more than 500,000 dead in the United States. If we were to bring them together, the resulting community would be filled with grandparents, great-uncles and aunts, making it the oldest large city in America. View the data.
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The U.S. supply of vaccine doses is increasing again
States will receive about 14.5 million vaccine doses this week, marking a nearly 70% increase in distribution over the last month, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. Psaki also said governors were told that the number of doses sent directly to pharmacies will increase by about 100,000 this week. Before last week’s winter storm delayed vaccine doses to many states, the rollout of shots had been steadily increasing. At least in some states, like Texas, vaccinations had resumed by the weekend. But others hoped to get back on track this week.
The rollout could get even faster, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers emergency-use authorization for the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Richard Nettles, the company’s vice president of medical affairs, said Tuesday that J&J hopes to supply 100 million vaccine doses by the end of June.
Community health centers counted on to vaccinate low-income patients
The Biden administration is targeting community health centers, which serve about 30 million patients nationwide, as vaccine distribution hubs. Two-thirds of those patients live at or below poverty level, half are racial or ethnic minorities and most are uninsured or on Medicaid.
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, chair of the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, announced earlier this month the administration will begin shipping doses to 250 centers, at least one in each state or territory.
At the Southeast Mississippi Rural Health Initiative, Chief Operating Officer Janice Robinson said more than 3,000 patients are on waiting lists for a shot throughout the network’s 17 community health centers.
“We don’t have enough,” Robinson said. “This will definitely make a change.”
– Nada Hassanein
Woman who died after transplant surgery got COVID from donated lungs, study finds
A woman who died after undergoing a double lung transplant at the University of Michigan Medical School appears to be the first known person to contract COVID-19 from donor lungs, according to a case report published in the American Journal of Transplantation.
The case is rare and represents “the worst-possible scenario” to play out in a pandemic that has killed half a million Americans, said Bruce Nicely, chief clinical officer of Gift of Life Michigan, the state’s federally designated organ and tissue recovery program.
“To my knowledge, this is the first, and actually the only, documented transmission of COVID-19 to a recipient” from donated organs, Nicely said, noting, that Gift of Life Michigan was not involved in this donation. The transplant occurred in late October and the donor was from out of state.
– Kristen Jordan Shamus, Detroit Free Press
Biden administration to send millions of masks throughout the country
President Joe Biden, who has asked all Americans to wear masks during the first 100 days of his term to limit spread of the coronavirus, said Tuesday his administration intends to send millions of face coverings to people throughout the nation soon.
Biden confirmed the plan during a virtual roundtable discussion with four Black essential workers, saying, “We’re probably going to be sending out an awful lot of masks around the country very shortly, millions of them.”
He did not offer details about the timing or the type of mask under consideration.
Contributing: Mike Stucka, USA TODAY; The Associated Press