Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Friday, March 26, as the day unfolded. It is no longer being updated. Click here to see all the most recent news about the pandemic, and click here to find additional resources.
Michigan, which not long ago had one of the country’s lowest COVID-19 infection rates, is confronting an alarming spike that some experts worry could be a harbinger nationally, according to the Associated Press. Over the past two weeks, Michigan’s seven-day average of new cases per day has increased 122% — the largest change in the U.S. — rising to 3,753 from 1,687, the biggest jump in raw figures, too. Nationwide, COVID-19 has killed more than 545,000 people. With the vaccine rollout hitting its stride, deaths have plummeted to fewer than 1,000 a day on average, down from a peak of more than 3,400 in mid-January. New cases have plunged as well but are running at a still-worrisome average of more than 57,000 per day.
Flush with rebounding tax collections and a windfall in federal aid, Washington Senate Democrats on Thursday released a new budget plan that funds public health amid COVID-19, provides relief for immigrants and renters, gives new aid for businesses, child care programs and funds a tax exemption for low-income families. The new, proposed $59.2 billion state operating budget for 2021-23 includes an additional roughly $7 billion from the federal government’s COVID-19 relief package on programs.
Florida to feds: Allow cruise ships to operate or we’ll sue
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ripped into the federal government’s continued pandemic ban on cruise ships using U.S. ports, threatening Friday to file a lawsuit if one of the state’s biggest tourism sectors is not allowed to resume operations soon.
Appearing at Port Canaveral with leaders from Carnival, Norwegian, Disney and Royal Caribbean cruise lines, DeSantis and Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said they are exploring the state’s legal options if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not allow U.S.-based cruising to resume by summer.
The state is the nation’s cruise capital, with three of the world’s busiest ports: Miami, Port Canaveral near Kennedy Space Center, and Port Everglades near Fort Lauderdale. Millions typically cruise from Florida each year and the industry generates billions for the state’s economy.
DeSantis said the continued ban is only hurting Florida with no effect on the pandemic as cruising is resuming elsewhere in the world and Americans are flying to the nearby Bahamas to board ships.
“Is it OK for the government to just idle an industry for a year?” the Republican governor said. He said people now need to decide for themselves what they are willing to risk.
FEMA vaccination sites to close as California ramps up shots
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Federal Emergency Management Agency plans to stop operating two mass vaccination sites in California next month, just days before the state makes everyone 16 and older eligible for a shot.
The two sites in Oakland and Los Angeles opened in February for an eight-week pilot program that concludes on April 15. The sites will switch from the Pfizer to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires just one shot, during the final two weeks of operation so that people do not have to sign up for a second dose elsewhere.
State and county officials said they would have liked the program to continue, though it provided a small fraction of California’s overall shots. Each site was set up to vaccinate 6,000 people per day but they have been administering up to 7,500 shots per day, according to the state Office of Emergency Services. Since the sites are federally managed, those shots are separate from California’s overall weekly allocation, which is now about 1.8 million shots per week.
Extremist groups adopting new anti-vaccination agenda
Adherents of far-right groups who cluster online have turned repeatedly to one particular website in recent weeks — the federal database showing deaths and adverse reactions nationwide among people who have received COVID-19 vaccinations.
Although negative reactions have been relatively rare, the numbers are used by many extremist groups to try to bolster a rash of false and alarmist disinformation in articles and videos with titles like “COVID-19 Vaccines Are Weapons of Mass Destruction — and Could Wipe out the Human Race” or “Doctors and Nurses Giving the COVID-19 Vaccine Will be Tried as War Criminals.”
If the so-called “Stop the Steal” movement appeared to be chasing a lost cause once President Joe Biden was inaugurated, its supporters among extremist organizations are now adopting a new agenda from the anti-vaccination campaign to try to undermine the government.
Bashing of the safety and efficacy of vaccines is occurring in chat rooms frequented by all manner of right-wing groups including the Proud Boys; the Boogaloo movement, a loose affiliation known for wanting to spark a second Civil War; and various paramilitary organizations.
These groups tend to portray vaccines as a symbol of excessive government control. “If less people get vaccinated then the system will have to use more aggressive force on the rest of us to make us get the shot,” read a recent post on the Telegram social media platform, in a channel linked to members of the Proud Boys charged in storming the Capitol.
Nearly 15% of Washingtonians now fully vaccinated
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,104 new coronavirus cases and five new deaths on Friday.
The update brings the state's totals to 359,666 cases and 5,218 deaths, meaning that 1.5% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Thursday.
In addition, 20,286 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — with five new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 89,203 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,458 deaths.
Since vaccinations began in mid-December, the state and health care providers have administered 3,012,719 doses and 14.84% of Washingtonians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to vaccination data, which the state updates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Providers are currently giving an average of about 48,455 vaccine shots per day.
Indiana nurse allegedly removed COVID-19 patient’s oxygen
CLARKSVILLE, Ind. (AP) — A southern Indiana nurse has been charged with practicing medicine without a license for allegedly removing a nursing home resident’s oxygen mask hours before he died from COVID-19 last year.
Connie Sneed, 52, was charged Thursday with the felony, which in Indiana carries a potential penalty of one to six years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Authorities began investigating the man’s April 2020 death at a nursing home in Clarksville, Indiana, after learning that Sneed wrote in a social media post that she had asked the man if he wanted her to remove his oxygen mask so he could “fly with the angels.”
In that Facebook post, Sneed called her alleged actions, “the hardest thing I’ve ever done in 28 years,” according to an inspection report from the Indiana Department of Health.
The man, who was a resident at Wedgewood Healthcare Center, had been struggling after days of aggressive oxygen treatment for COVID-19, according to investigators. Sneed wrote in her Facebook post that she saw him repeatedly try to take off his oxygen mask when she approached him and asked if he wanted her to remove it, according to the report.
As states expand COVID vaccine eligibility, universities make a push to inoculate all students
As states expand coronavirus vaccine eligibility to include younger adults, universities are planning to inoculate students to make it safer to reopen fully by the fall.
Some schools are opening vaccine sites, with the goal of giving shots to every student on campus. Others are waiting for guidance from local officials and, in the meantime, urging students to get their doses wherever they can.
The hope, college leaders say, is to open the door for more students to reconvene safely in classrooms, residence halls and cafeterias next school year.
“Fall 2021 is going to look much more like the fall of 2019 than it did 2020,” said David Lakey, vice chancellor for health affairs and chief medical officer at the University of Texas System. “I’m hoping that at that time all the students that want to be vaccinated and all the faculty that want to be vaccinated will have that opportunity.”
WASHINGTON — Biden administration officials are anticipating the supply of coronavirus vaccine to outstrip U.S. demand by mid-May if not sooner, and are grappling with what to do with looming surpluses when vaccine scarcity turns to glut.
President Joe Biden has promised enough doses by the end of May to immunize all of the nation’s roughly 260 million adults. But between then and the end of July, the government has locked in commitments from manufacturers for enough vaccine to cover 400 million people — about 70 million more than the nation’s entire population.
Whether to keep, modify or redirect those orders is a question with significant implications, not just for the nation’s efforts to contain the virus but also for how soon the pandemic can be brought to an end. Of the vaccine doses given globally, about three-quarters have gone to only 10 countries. At least 30 countries have not yet injected a single person.
And global scarcity threatens to grow more acute as nations and regions clamp down on vaccine exports. With infections soaring, India, which had been a major vaccine distributor, is now holding back nearly all of the 2.4 million doses manufactured daily by a private company there. That action follows the European Union’s decision this week to move emergency legislation that would curb vaccine exports for the next six weeks.
U.N.-backed program laments vaccine supply woes, looks to U.S.
GENEVA (AP) — A leader of the U.N.-backed program to ship COVID-19 vaccines to needy people in low- and middle-income countries expressed disappointment on Friday about supply delays from a key Indian manufacturer, but says he hopes the United States can begin sharing shots soon.
Dr. Seth Berkley, the CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, said doses for health care workers and other high-risk groups in such countries to be delivered through the COVAX program will be set back weeks.
He was elaborating on an announcement a day earlier from Gavi and its partners that as many as 90 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India will be delayed through the end of April as India’s government grapples with a spike in infections.
“We are disappointed,” Berkley told The Associated Press. He said talks continued with India’s government and the SII “with the hope that we can get some of those doses freed up and be able to then move back into full-swing scale-up later, in perhaps May.”
Aid groups call on Biden to develop plans to share vaccines
A coalition of nongovernmental organizations is calling on President Joe Biden to immediately begin developing plans to share an expected surplus of hundreds of millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses with the world, once U.S. demand for shots is met.
Biden has repeatedly said his primary focus is on ensuring all Americans can get vaccinated, and on Thursday he outlined a new goal to deliver 200 million doses cumulatively over his first 100 days in office. But with all adults set to be eligible for shots by May 1, and the U.S. set to have enough vaccine for its entire population by the end of July, Biden is being asked to facilitate the sharing of excess doses with the world — and to do so without putting strings on the injections or engaging in “vaccine diplomacy.”
In a letter to Biden sent Friday and obtained exclusively by The Associated Press, the groups — 30 NGOs including the ONE Campaign, the International Rescue Committee, Catholic Relief Services and Save the Children — call on Biden’s administration to commit to sharing excess doses through the World Health Organization-backed COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access, or COVAX, facility.
EU vaccine politics reach fever pitch; Britain a target
European Union vaccine politics reached a fever pitch Friday with charges of British blackmail and unfair practices among EU members flying about as the bloc frantically sought to ramp up production and impose export controls to stave off another deadly surge in coronavirus infections.
Underscoring the ebbing cross-Channel relations, French Foreign Minister Yves Le Drian highlighted the lopsided exports between the EU and Britain, to where the EU had approved the export of 21 million doses while none have come the other way since vaccinations began in December.
The U.K. has adopted a policy of quickly giving as many people as possible a first dose of vaccine. Le Drian said that meant the country would struggle to get enough doses to administer the required second shots and that the British government was pressuring to get more supplies, at the cost of the EU’s vaccination drive.
Serbia vaccinates migrants amid surge in COVID-19 cases
Serbia became the first European country to vaccinate people living in its refugee camps and asylum centers on Friday, according to United Nations officials.
Some 530 migrants and asylum-seekers across Serbia have signed up to get vaccinated. The first recipients had their initial jabs of the AstraZeneca vaccine Friday at a drab camp on the outskirts of the Serbian capital, Belgrade.
“Today is a very, very special day because we have vaccination of refugees and asylum-seekers in the centers,” Francesca Bonelli, a U.N. refugee agency representative in Serbia, said. “It is really an important sign of support that Serbia provides to refugees, and it is a very good example of inclusion of refugees in Serbian society.”
Thousands of refugees and economic migrants from the Middle East, Africa and Asia are stuck in Serbia and neighboring Bosnia while awaiting opportunities to cross a border into European Union member Croatia and continue on to wealthier Western nations.
Thailand plans quarantine-free entry for vaccinated tourists
Thailand plans to allow vaccinated foreigners to visit the southern resort island of Phuket without quarantining on arrival in a step toward reviving the country’s big but battered tourism industry.
Part of the plan to institute what is being called a “tourism sandbox” involves inoculating at least 450,000, or 70%, of Phuket’s residents before the July reopening. The inoculations are expected to begin in April.
Starting in April, the country also is shortening the quarantine period for arrivals from abroad to 10 days from 14.
The plan for Phuket is set to begin on July 1, and if judged successful, may include other popular destinations such as Samui Island, Krabi, Pattaya and Chiang Mai in October, said Yuthasak Supasor, head of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
U.S. on pace to clear Biden’s new goal: 200M coronavirus shots in his first 100 days
President Joe Biden’s first vaccine promise — 100 million shots in his first 100 days — was met 42 days early. So on Thursday he doubled it, saying 200 million doses will have been administered under his presidency by April 30.
The nation is already poised to meet the revised target, as the seven-day average of daily vaccinations surpasses 2.5 million. Vaccine supply is also expected to expand in April, prompting numerous states to throw open eligibility to everyone 16 and older.
“I know it’s ambitious — twice our original goal — but no other country in the world has even come close, not even close, to what we’re doing,” Biden said as part of introductory remarks before his first formal news conference. “I believe we can do it.”
Shots in little arms: COVID-19 vaccine testing turns to kids
Researchers in the U.S. and abroad are beginning to test younger and younger kids to make sure COVID-19 vaccines are safe and work for each age. The first shots are going to adults who are most at risk from the coronavirus, but ending the pandemic will require vaccinating children too.
But younger children may need different doses than teens and adults. Moderna recently began a study similar to Pfizer’s new trial, as both companies hunt the right dosage of each shot for each age group as they work toward eventually vaccinating babies as young as 6 months.
Getting this data, for all the vaccines being rolled out, is critical because countries must vaccinate children to achieve herd immunity, noted Duke pediatric and vaccine specialist Dr. Emmanuel “Chip” Walter, who is helping to lead the Pfizer study.
For Brazil’s doctors, choosing who lives and who dies exacts a toll
In Brazil, where the coronavirus is still surging — daily deaths hit a record 3,251 Tuesday — this is now the life of a doctor: an unending succession of life-or-death decisions, and grappling with the mental trauma that follows.
Brazil, which has buried more COVID-19 victims than any country outside the United States, is suffering a health-care collapse. In three-fourths of state capitals, the critical care system is at greater than 90 percent capacity. There are vanishingly few places anywhere in the country to transfer patients. Hospitals are facing shortages in oxygen and the medications necessary to intubate patients. Intensive care units are so overwhelmed that victims of other emergencies are being turned away.
Now the country is running out of doctors, too. The failure to hire more has undone expansion plans all over the country, placing more stress on already overburdened health-care workers. As the virus kills about 2,300 Brazilians every day, the people charged with maintaining the faltering health-care system say the daily carnage has pushed them to their limit.
Officials urge vigilance as Germany sees 3rd infection wave
German health officials warned Friday that the country’s latest eruption of coronavirus cases has the potential to be worse than the previous two last year, and they urged people to stay at home during the upcoming Easter break to help slow the rapidly rising numbers of new infections.
Lothar Wieler, head of Germany’s disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, said that Germany is just at the “beginning of the third wave” of the pandemic. He said the more contagious variant of the virus first detected in Britain is now the dominant one in the country.
“It’s more contagious and more dangerous, and thus more difficult to stop,” Wieler said. “There are clear signals that this wave could be even worse than the first two waves.”
The number of new weekly infections per 100,000 people was around 70 two weeks ago, compared to 119 on Friday, he said. Germany reported 21,573 new cases on Friday, compared to a daily number of 17,482 a week earlier.
China outlines COVID-origin findings, ahead of WHO report
Chinese officials briefed diplomats Friday on the ongoing research into the origin of COVID-19, ahead of the expected release of a long-awaited report from the World Health Organization.
Feng Zijian, a Chinese team member and the deputy director of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said the experts examined four possible ways the virus got to Wuhan.
They are: a bat carrying the virus infected a human, a bat infected an intermediate mammal that spread it to a human, shipments of cold or frozen food, and a laboratory that researches viruses in Wuhan.
The experts voted on the hypotheses after in-depth discussion and concluded one of the two animal routes or the cold chain was most likely how it was transmitted. A lab leak was viewed as extremely unlikely, Feng said.
New study of students at UW, other colleges, will answer a key question about coronavirus transmission
COVID-19 vaccines appear to do a great job of protecting people from severe disease, hospitalization and death.
But a key question — with implications for long-term control of the pandemic — remains: Can vaccinated people get mild or asymptomatic infections and pass the virus on to others?
Scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and several other institutions now hope to find the answer with the help of thousands of college students across the country — including at the University of Washington.
A major study announced Friday, called Prevent COVID U, aims to enroll 12,000 students at 21 colleges and universities and follow them for five months. Half the young people, ages 18 to 26, will get the Moderna vaccine right away. The rest will get the shots starting four months later.
All of the participants will keep electronic diaries, swab their noses every day and provide periodic blood samples. The idea is to detect even low levels of the novel coronavirus as soon as they appear and compare the vaccinated and unvaccinated groups.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
A "very concerning" sign in Washington state: The COVID-19 case count is flattening instead of continuing to drop as we come off a surge — and in some counties, including King and Snohomish, cases are rising. Vaccinations are rising, too, but fast enough? Meanwhile, another state that had one of the lowest U.S. infection rates is now confronting an alarming spike that experts worry could be a harbinger nationally.
Side effects can mean your COVID-19 vaccine is working. But what if you don’t have a reaction? Three experts explain what's going on.
Washington’s schools can immediately reduce physical distancing to 3 feet, Gov. Jay Inslee said yesterday as he pushed to get more kids in classrooms. But not every school can start moving desks.
"My best friend just lied about being pregnant" to get a vaccine, one shaken Twitter user wrote as such falsehoods increasingly test friendships.
What lockdown is like for a mother of 11: One laptop for the entire family … well, that didn't work. Katja Heimann has carried her family over hurdle after hurdle, but it's become “very exhausting lately.” (Just lately?! We're impressed.)
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