A former White House coronavirus adviser says most virus deaths could have been prevented, while a current adviser has an optimistic view of how the summer in the U.S. will play out.
Dr. Deborah Birx, in an interview for CNN’s documentary “Covid War: The Pandemic Doctors Speak Out,” said deaths in the first wave of the pandemic were likely inevitable but that the death toll from later surges could have been greatly reduced with more stringent mitigation efforts. And Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, warned again Sunday the nation could be at risk of a new surge.
But Fauci also said the fast-rising number of vaccinations could mean fans could be attending baseball games this summer.
“As we get a really, really low level of infection, you’re going to start seeing a pulling back on some of those restrictions,” he said. “I think if we do it correctly and we get the vaccines out at the rate we’re doing, that will happen.”
More than 50 million Americans are now fully vaccinated, 20% of the adult population, and more than 36% of adults have received at least one dose, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Sunday. Forty-six states and the District of Columbia have pledged to meet Biden’s goal of having all Americans eligible for a vaccine by May 1.
Also in the news:
►While 143 million vaccine doses have been administered across the nation, the CDC says 180 million have been distributed, a 37 million disparity. The U.S. pace of about 2.5 million shots a day is picking up, with 3.5 million doses administered on Saturday and 3.4 million on Friday. Even at 3.5 million daily inoculations, it would take more than 10 days to clear a 37 million backlog.
►The United Kingdom, which has the most COVID-19 deaths in Europe but has enjoyed more success with its vaccination program, is replacing its stay-at-home mandate with a message to stay local, allowing small outdoor gatherings and sports.
►Brazil’s two biggest cities, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, have imposed extensive restrictions during a 10-day “holiday” that began this weekend aimed at curtailing one of the world’s most severe COVID surges. The holiday may backfire. Many Brazilians are taking advantage of the break to travel and visit friends and families.
►Spanish indie band Love of Lesbian played a show in Barcelona, Spain, before 5,000 fans who all passed a same-day coronavirus screening, to test its effectiveness in preventing outbreaks of the virus at large cultural events. The only rule inside the show was the strict use of the high-quality face masks provided by the concert organizers.
►New York has launched the nation’s first “vaccine passports” system. The certification, called the Excelsior Pass, will be useful at large-scale venues such as Madison Square Garden and will be accepted at dozens of event, arts and entertainment venues statewide.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has over 30.2 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 549,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: 127 million cases and 2.78 million deaths. More than 180.6 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 143.4 million have been administered, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: Robert Redfield, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN he believes the virus that causes COVID-19 was accidentally released from a lab in Wuhan, China. Several scientists said Redfield’s theory did not pass the scientific smell test.
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Birx: Most deaths were avoidable
Most coronavirus deaths in the United States were avoidable, former Trump administration coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx says. Birx, in an interview for CNN’s documentary “Covid War: The Pandemic Doctors Speak Out,” said deaths in the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic were likely inevitable. But she said the death rates in later waves could have been greatly reduced if the U.S. had “mitigated earlier … paused earlier and actually done” greater social distancing and shutdown measures.
“The first time, we have an excuse – there were about 100,000 deaths that came from that original surge,” Birx said. “All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially.” Read more here.
– Matthew Brown
Stuck in Mexico: Americans who test positive can’t come home right away
Travelers don’t need a COVID test to fly to Mexico, but they can’t board a flight back to the U.S. from any international destination without showing a negative test taken no more than three days before departure or proof of recovery from COVID. Travelers who’ve been stuck say they were told they faced 10 to 14 days in isolation. When the requirement was announced Jan. 12, travelers rushed to cancel plans or shift their vacation plans to U.S. vacation spots that don’t require COVID tests. But the bookings rebounded as some hotels announced free testing and a free quarantine stay if they tested positive. Read more here.
Korey Mudd’s positive test extended the honeymoon with his wife, Alisha, in Mexico for nine nights longer than planned.
“Ultimately, we had pushed it off so many times already, we decided we were going to go ahead and go for it,” he said. “It would have been better just to stay home.”
– Dawn Gilbertson
Florida’s variant cases more than double
Florida, which was already the country’s hardest-hit state for two kinds of coronavirus variants, more than doubled its tally of variants in a report released Sunday by the CDC. Florida had reported 1,075 variant cases through Thursday. Sunday’s report added another 1,255, bringing the state to 2,330.
The U.S. as a whole reported another 2,303 variant cases Sunday, more than double the worst increase ever seen in the thrice-weekly CDC updates. The previous record was set Tuesday.
Spring break effect:Spring break partying could lead to spike in coronavirus cases, experts say
That brings the country to 10,985 known coronavirus variants, a tally that more than doubled in the last two weeks as new coronavirus cases overall in the U.S. stopped their extended decline.
Most of the variant cases in Florida and the U.S. overall are of B.1.1.7, which was first seen in the United Kingdom, spreads more easily and may be more likely to kill its victims. But Florida also nearly doubled its case count of P.1, a variant first seen in Brazil, adding another 19 cases to reach 42.
— Mike Stucka
Mexico’s true COVID-19 death toll ranks second-highest in the world
Mexican officials are acknowledging the country’s true COVID-19 death toll stands above 321,000, more than any nation other than the U.S. The number is almost 60% higher than the government’s official figure of 201,429.
Mexico does little testing, and because hospitals were overwhelmed by the pandemic, thousands died at home without getting a test. The only way to get a clear picture is to review “excess deaths” and death certificates. When such a report was published, it revealed 294,287 deaths linked to COVID-19 from the start of the pandemic through Feb. 14. There have been another 26,772 deaths confirmed by tests since then.
Vaccines slowly bringing families back together
For a year, the coronavirus preyed on the vulnerable and spread uncontrollably throughout the U.S., upending daily life. But now, nearly half of Americans over 65 are fully vaccinated, and heartfelt reunions are happening across the nation. The CDC guidance says those who have received a full course of the vaccine may get together with other fully vaccinated individuals in small groups inside their homes without masks or physical distancing. They can visit with unvaccinated people from one other household who are at low risk for severe disease.
“You can visit your grandparents if you’ve been vaccinated and they have been too,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said. “If grandparents have been vaccinated, they can visit their daughter and her family even if they have not been vaccinated, so long as the daughter and her family are not at risk for severe disease.” Read more here.
Study: COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, even for babies
COVID-19 vaccines are extremely effective at protecting pregnant women and likely provide protection for their babies as well, according to a new study. The research, published last week in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, examined 131 vaccine recipients, including 84 who were pregnant, 31 who were breastfeeding, and 16 who weren’t pregnant as a control group.
Earlier studies suggested the COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna would be safe and effective. But this is the largest study to date looking at the immune responses of pregnant and lactating women to vaccination. Read more.
– Karen Weintraub
Contributing: Mike Stucka, USA TODAY; The Associated Press