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Dying COVID-19 patients find comfort from nurses
Zach Boyden-Holmes and Michelle Hanks, Des Moines Register
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has ordered all schools must return to in-person learning this month, saying “students need to be back in the classroom.”
Ducey issued an executive order Wednesday that calls for all schools to reopen in-person learning by March 15, or after spring break. The move comes about a year after schools initially closed in-person classes to help limit the spread of COVID-19. Some states have similar plans to welcome back students, including California, Michigan and North Carolina.
President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package being debated in the Senate, has about $130 billion included for schools to give them the resources to reopen safely amid the pandemic. Many states are now vaccinating teachers in an effort to get them back into classrooms as soon as possible.
There is emerging proof that vaccines are effective: There has been, for example, a significant drop in cases among health care workers in Los Angeles County, where many have been vaccinated.
Public health officials reported this week that among health care workers, cases have dropped to the lowest number since the beginning of the pandemic.
“During the week of November 29, there were over 1,800 cases among healthcare workers. The week of February 14, there were just 69 cases,” they said in a news release.
Also in the news:
►A first: The U.S. administered an average of more than 2 million vaccine doses a day over the seven-day period that ended Wednesday, based on a USA TODAY review of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
President Joe Biden slammed the decisions of some states to roll back coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday, a day after the Texas and Mississippi governors said they’re doing away with mask mandates. Only about 8% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
► Health officials in Hillsborough County, Florida, have determined that official events around Super Bowl 55 resulted in 57 total COVID-19 cases, despite the thousands of fans who traveled to Tampa to attend the game and surrounding events.
► New York, one of the first states in the U.S. to implement travel restrictions on domestic visitors last spring, took another step toward relaxing its COVID-19 policies Wednesday by lifting the quarantine and COVID-19 testing restrictions on people who have been vaccinated within 90 days of their second inoculation.
► An outbreak of COVID-19 at the Vermont state prison in Newport has grown to 100 inmates and eight staff members, the commissioner of the Department of Corrections said.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 28.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 518,300 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 115.12 million cases and 2.55 million deaths. More than 107 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and about 80 million have been administered, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: Four states have announced rolling back mask mandates in major recalls of COVID-19 safety measures over the last month — leaving many to wonder whether additional states will join the tide and alter how the country is dealing with COVID-19 at a crucial moment in the fight against the disease. 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.
Applying to college has always been harder for first-generation and low-income students than for peers with greater access to support at every step of the process. This year, data shows, that gulf has widened. The pandemic is a likely culprit. Overall completion of the federal financial aid form, a harbinger of college-going intent, was 9.2% behind the prior year on Feb. 19. In high schools serving lower-income students, it lagged 12.1%, and in schools with a high percentage of students of color, the decline was 14.6%.
“What we are really worried about, simply put, is: ‘Will we miss out on an entire generation of students going to college?’ ” said Angel Pérez, CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. “If the pandemic has highlighted anything” about admissions, he said, it is “how the system perpetuates inequality” and how complex applying has become.
– Laura Pappano, The Hechinger Report
As vaccine experts welcomed President Joe Biden’s accelerated timeline for distribution, they offered some caution about whether the companies can reach their promised doses and delivery dates. While there’s never 100% certainty in manufacturing, pharmaceutical manufacturing is especially finicky and demanding. People like to think making vaccines is like making widgets or automobiles but it’s not, said Robert Van Exan, president of Immunization Policy and Knowledge Translation, a vaccine production consulting firm.
“You can be going along and getting a certain yield and then all of the sudden your yield drops and you don’t know why,” Van Exan said. “Test delays or failures, raw material supply chain, lot failures and yield problems are just some of the examples of things that can result in supply disruptions.”
– Elizabeth Weise
Even as some states roll back mask mandates, some of the nation’s largest retailers including Kroger, Macy’s, Starbucks and Target are not rolling back theirs. Kroger, which also owns supermarket chains including Ralphs and Dillons, said in a statement to USA TODAY that it will “continue to require everyone in our stores across the country to wear masks until all our frontline grocery associates can receive the COVID-19 vaccine.” Best Buy also told USA TODAY it had no plans to change its mask policy.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to lift the face covering requirement and “open Texas 100%” to full capacity on March 10 conflict with safety protocols at many businesses. Read more here.
– Jessica Guynn
The California Office of Emergency Services is disputing a local television report that some people who were vaccinated on Monday at the Oakland Coliseum received too little of the Pfizer dose. The Bay Area’s KTVU reported Wednesday that two EMTs told them they had received a number of 0.3-mL syringes at the site that day just before 2 p.m. that left about a third of the vaccine stuck in the bottom of the plunger. But Cal OES spokesman Brian Ferguson said in an email to USA TODAY that neither the state nor the Federal Emergency Management Agency “are aware of any instance of even a single individual being under-vaccinated” at the site.
“The public should rest assured that vaccines administered at the Coliseum are being dispensed in a manner consistent with medical and scientific best practices and will work as designed,” he wrote.
Health officials are urging Americans to not let their guards down against COVID-19 as researchers discover new variants that may already be more transmissible and could also be somewhat resistant to the vaccine. “At this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House briefing Monday. “These variants are a very real threat to our people and our progress.”
While experts have been following variants first identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa, they’re also seeing red flags in newer variants discovered in Brazil, New York and California. Find out what you should know about the variants.
– Adriana Rodriguez
Contributing: Mike Stucka, USA TODAY; The Associated Press