April 14, 2021
Half of new COVID cases are in 5 states; UK variant dominant in US
Nearly half of new coronavirus infections nationwide are in just five states, a situation that is putting pressure on the federal government to consider changing how it distributes vaccines by sending more doses to hot spots.

New York, Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania and New Jersey together reported 44% of the nation’s new COVID-19 infections, or nearly 197,500 new cases, in the latest available seven-day period, according to state health agency data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

The heavy concentration of new cases in states that account for 22% of the U.S. population has prompted some experts and elected officials to call for President Joe Biden’s administration to ship additional vaccine doses to those places. So far, the White House has shown no signs of shifting from its policy of dividing vaccine doses among states based on population.

Also in the news:

►The federal government is expanding COVID-19 vaccine access to all federally qualified community health centers. The White House decision, announced Wednesday, expands opportunities for underserved people to find vaccines in their communities. There are more than 1,400 of the health centers nationwide.

►The European Union’s drug regulator says it has found a “possible link” between the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine and a rare clotting disorder but said the benefits of the shot still outweigh risks. In a statement released Wednesday, the European Medicines Agency placed no new restrictions on using the vaccine in people 18 and over.

►A third of COVID patients in a study of more than 230,000 mostly Americans were diagnosed with a brain or psychiatric disorder within six months, scientists reported in the journal Lancet. Among patients who required treatment in ICU units, more than 4 in 10 suffered disorders, the researchers found.

►Not a single oceangoing cruise ship has departed with passengers from a U.S. port in the past year, but that's changing. Norwegian Cruise Line announced Tuesday plans for a return to service in late July, with sailings in Europe and the Caribbean. Passengers and crew will be required to be "100% vaccinated" two weeks before boarding.

The U.S. has more than 30.8 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 558,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 132.6 million cases and 2.87 million deaths. At least 219 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 168 million have been administered, according to the CDC.

UK variant now the dominant lineage in US

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been warning since January that the highly contagious coronavirus variant first detected in Britain would become the dominant strain in the U.S., and that time has arrived.

On Wednesday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the variant, formally known as B.1.1.7, is “now the most common lineage circulating in United States.”

Though not surprising, the acknowledgement is significant because B.1.1.7 is considered at least 50% more transmissible, and it's also more virulent, than the virus' original strain. The variant is believed to be a major factor in the current surge of infections in Europe as well as the recent increase in U.S. cases after an extended decline. Of the 17,017 variant cases reported in this country, 16,275 are of the U.K. lineage.

The three vaccines authorized in the U.S. have proved effective against the variant, adding further urgency to the nation's inoculation program.

US behind other nations in crucial tracking of variants

The United States lags well behind many other countries in employing the essential tool for keeping abreast of variants, gene sequencing, increasing the risk that a new variant could spread undetected here. Sequencing involves taking samples from positive tests to another lab to seek the genetic code of a virus, laying out for scientists a precise map for how to defeat it.

So far this year, the U.S. ranks 33rd in the world for its rate of sequencing, falling between Burkina Faso and Zimbabwe, according to COVID CoV Genomic, led by researchers at Harvard and MIT. The top three nations, Iceland, Australia and New Zealand, sequenced at a rate between 55 and 95 times greater.

About 80% of teachers, child care workers vaccinated

About 80% of teachers, school staff and child care workers have gotten at least their first COVID-19 vaccine shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The percentage came from a CDC survey completed by 13,000 education staff and 40,000 childcare workers across the country. The CDC said it had tracked more than 7 million doses that had been administered to the group, which were prioritized in early March in hopes of reopening schools across the U.S.

"Our push to ensure that teachers, school staff and child care workers were vaccinated during March has paid off and paved the way for safer in-person learning," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said. "CDC will build on the success of this program and work with our partners to continue expanding our vaccination efforts, as we work to ensure confidence in COVID-19 vaccines."

Some colleges will require vaccines this fall

The class of 2025 entering college this fall could have a new prerequisite: Getting vaccinated against COVID-19. Rutgers University in New Jersey and Cornell University in upstate New York were among the first universities to announce that their students would be required to be vaccinated if they wanted to study in-person during the fall semester. Brown in Rhode Island, Northeastern in Boston, Nova Southeastern University in Florida and Fort Lewis College in Colorado have all announced similar policies. More schools likely will join the list.

“It doesn’t just make us safer. In the end, it makes our entire community safer," said Antonio Calcado, Rutgers' chief operating officer. "That’s why we think requiring is the way to go versus encouraging.”

Brazil, Argentina break records for deaths, infections

Both Brazil and Argentina broke their own bleak records with COVID-19 infections and deaths as the rest of the globe continues its race to vaccinate while more virus variants spread. Brazil, where the more infectious P.1 variant was discovered, saw its deadliest day on record Tuesday with 4,195 deaths within a 24-hour span. More than 330,000 people have died in the country because of COVID-19.

Argentina also broke its record for infections, recording 20,870 new COVID-19 cases in one day. The number of confirmed cases in the country rose to more than 2.4 million. (Source: USA Today)
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