Biden doubles vaccination goal as more states open up access; nurse accused of removing oxygen from patient charged: COVID-19 updates
About half of U.S. states will open up their vaccination efforts to all adults by mid-April, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said Friday.
Zients said 14 states have already opened up eligibility to all adults or will do so within the next week and 12 additional states will open up eligibility by April 15. In all, 46 states and the District of Columbia have already pledged to meet President Joe Biden's goal of having all Americans eligible for a vaccine by May 1, Zients said.
Biden on Thursday announced a new goal of administering 200 million COVID vaccine shots in his first 100 days in office. That's double his initial goal of 100 million doses. The U.S. is currently averaging about 2.5 million doses being administered per day.
Meanwhile, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said Friday she was "deeply concerned" about the trajectory of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. The most recent seven-day average of new cases was up by about 7% from the prior week, while hospitalizations have increased slightly and deaths have hovered, Walensky said.
Also in the news:
►The U.S. coronavirus death toll could have stayed under 300,000 if by last May the nation had adopted firm mask, social distancing and testing protocols while waiting for vaccines to vanquish the crisis, a University of California, Los Angeles, economics professor estimated in a report released Thursday.
►California, the nation's most populous state with 40 million people, will make all residents 16 and above eligible for COVID-19 vaccines starting April 15. In addition, those 50 and older will become eligible April 1. With Florida announcing Thursday it is also dropping age requirements in the coming weeks, the country's three largest states by population will make COVID-19 vaccines available to all adults by no later than mid-April. Texas plans to do so Monday.
►The New York Times reported Thursday that the president of the pharmaceutical company Regeneron received special access to COVID-19 testing for him and his family from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration during the early days of the pandemic, when tests were scarce.
►Up to 90 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from India to be delivered around the world as part of the U.N.'s COVAX program will be delayed as India faces a surge in cases that will increase domestic demand.
►Romanian authorities announced Thursday that Easter celebrations in the deeply Christian country will go ahead in person this year, even though Romania is battling a surge of COVID-19 infections that is threatening to overwhelm its hospitals.
►Cambodia announced Thursday it will train dogs to detect the presence of the coronavirus in humans.
📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has over 30 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 546,500 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: 125.3 million cases and 2.75 million deaths. More than 173.5 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 133.3 million have been administered, according to the CDC.
📘 What we're reading: Despite potentially longer hours, most Americans enjoy working remotely and want the option to keep doing so after the pandemic. Read the full story.
An Indiana nurse who is accused of removing the oxygen from a nursing home resident who died hours later has been charged with a felony.
Connie Sneed, 52, has been charged by the Clark County Prosecutor with practicing medicine without a license, a Level 5 felony. A Level 5 felony in Indiana carries a potential penalty of one to six years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Reached by telephone Friday morning, Sneed said, “I have no comment.” Clark County Prosecutor Jeremy Mull did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sneed is a licensed practical nurse with an active license, according to the state's online licensing database.
Sneed's actions prompted an investigation by the Indiana Department of Health in May. According to the inspector's documents, Sneed unhooked the oxygen from a resident of Wedgewood Healthcare, a nursing home in Clarksville. The man died hours later.
– Emily Hopkins and Tim Evans, Indianapolis Star
Starting Friday, New Yorkers will be able to pull up a code on their cell phone or a printout to prove they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 or recently tested negative for the virus that causes it.
The first-in-the-nation certification, called the Excelsior Pass, will be useful first at large-scale venues like Madison Square Garden, but next week will be accepted at dozens of event, arts and entertainment venues statewide. It already enables people to increase the size of a wedding party, or other catered event.
The new pass is part of a growing but disjointed effort to provide vaccine "passports" or certifications, so people won't have to hang onto a dog-eared piece of paper, worry about privacy issues or forgeries, or fork over extra cash to prove they're not contagious.
However, there are hurdles. The biggest challenge will be linking these systems together, so people won't need different apps for every venue or use. Another will be finding a consistent set of standards, so what counts as an acceptable test or vaccine in one state or country will count in another. Read more here.
– Karen Weintraub and Elizabeth Weise
Robert Redfield, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview with CNN he thinks the SARS-CoV-2 virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic was accidentally released from a lab in Wuhan, China.
Redfield offered no explanation for this belief other than to say as a virologist, he does not believe the virus could have been so contagious when it jumped directly from an animal to a person. Instead, he believes it was manipulated in a lab to become more contagious and then accidentally released by a laboratory worker in September or October 2019, several months before coming to public attention.
The World Health Organization, which has been investigating the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, considers the lab-leak scenario so unlikely that it discontinued research in that hypothesis.
W. Ian Lipkin, director of the center for infection and immunity at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, said that while it is theoretically possible the virus originated from a lab leak, there are other much more plausible explanations.
The WHO investigation found that the Chinese were farming wild animals in Wuhan. These farms could have been the origin site of the virus Lipkin said. “That seems to be the most likely and plausible explanation, particularly since we’ve seen so many of these viruses emerge in just this way,” he said, citing Zika, West Nile and the first SARS virus. It’s also clear from infections of SARS-CoV-2 that passed from humans to mink and back again, that this virus is very transmissible between species, Lipkin added.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also cast doubt on Redfield's comments Friday, saying most public health experts believe it is possible that the virus became well adapted to spread among humans without having been released from a lab and by circulating undetected for months.
– Karen Weintraub
A new study launched Thursday will examine whether COVID-19 can spread from vaccinated individuals to their close contacts, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday.
Fauci said the study will span 12,000 college students at more than 20 universities over five months. Around 6,000 students in the study will be vaccinated immediately with the Moderna vaccine while the other half will be vaccinated four months later.
Study participants will then identify their close contacts, and all people will provide swabs to determine whether vaccinated people can transmit the virus to their close contacts.
"We hope that in the next five or so months we'll be able to answer the very important question about whether vaccinated people get infected asymptomatically and if they do, do they transmit the infection to others," Fauci said.
Rutgers University said Thursday that all students who take on-campus classes in the fall term will be required to be vaccinated for COVID-19, while faculty and staff members are "strongly urged" to get one of the available vaccines.
"Broad immunization is critical to help stop the current pandemic and to protect our University community," President Jonathan Holloway said in a message to the community.
Meanwhile, schools are combating student travel for spring break. Some schools put protocols in place to prevent traveling students from coming back to in-person school. Others canceled spring break altogether.
Wealthy countries that have secured large amounts of COVID-19 vaccine doses, including the U.S., have come under increasing pressure to share their bounty.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, reiterated that point recently, noting that as long as the pandemic rages out of control anywhere, variants can emerge and pose risks to those thought to be immune.
"The inequitable distribution of vaccines is not just a moral outrage,'' he said. "It’s also economically and epidemiologically self-defeating."
The Biden administration has vowed to contribute to the global vaccination effort and has pledged $4 billion toward that cause but wants to take care of Americans first.
"The president has stated his No. 1 priority is to make sure we prioritize vaccination in this country,'' said Andy Slavitt, White House senior adviser for COVID-19 response. "We've suffered over 540,000 deaths, more than anywhere else in the world."
– Karen Weintraub
Community health centers across the country will receive more than $6 billion from the federal government to expand access to COVID-19 vaccines, testing and treatment for vulnerable populations, the administration announced Thursday.
An additional $3 billion will be distributed to states, territories and some large cities for initiatives intended to increase vaccine access, acceptance and uptake. Another $330 million will go directly to support community health workers.
The funding comes primarily through the recently passed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.
Community health centers disproportionately benefit underserved communities, such as the poor, minorities and people living in rural areas.
Nearly 1,400 centers will receive funding, beginning in April.
– Maureen Groppe
The list of registered COVID-19 vaccine providers in Wisconsin features hundreds of hospitals, pharmacies, doctors and health centers — and some cheesemakers.
Grande Cheese Company, a longtime Fond du Lac-based family business known for its Italian cheeses, began holding vaccination clinics after food supply chain workers became eligible earlier this month.
Sargento Foods, a nearly 70-year-old cheese company founded in Plymouth, Wisconsin, has started administering vaccine doses at its on-site wellness centers and is planning to soon host a mass vaccination site for other food production workers.
Meanwhile, Organic Valley, the largest farmer-owned organic cooperative in the nation, has started holding vaccination clinics for not just workers, but for any member of the community who is eligible.
Call it an effort to help reach, well, curd immunity.
– Mary Spicuzza, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Contributing: The Associated Press