Mutated forms of coronavirus continue to surge across the United States, according to a USA TODAY analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On Monday, Minnesota became the third state to report its 1,000th variant case.
In the last week alone, the U.S. has added 5,189 cases of variants that spread COVID-19 more easily, dodge some treatments and immunities, or both. The country now has 16,174 cases, according to data released Monday.
Florida alone added 949 variant cases in the last week, surging to 3,279. Michigan added 415 cases to reach 1,657. But Minnesota nearly doubled its known number of variant cases, adding 464 cases to reach 1,000.
Other states had dramatic surges with smaller numbers: Delaware, Illinois, Missouri, Mississippi, New Hampshire and Nevada more than doubled their tallies of variants in the last week. West Virginia jumped from three to 53 cases; Puerto Rico and Oklahoma each went from a single case to 11.
America’s most prevalent variant is B.1.1.7, which spread rapidly through the United Kingdom. Oklahoma reported its first case of it.
Also in the past week, Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma reported their first cases of B.1.351, a variant first seen in South Africa. The P.1 variant first seen in Brazil has spread to Michigan, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.
– Mike Stucka
Also in the news:
►Vaccine skepticism is more widespread among white evangelicals than almost any other major bloc of Americans, according to a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The poll found that 40% of white evangelical Protestants said they likely won’t get vaccinated, compared with 25% of all Americans, 28% of white mainline Protestants and 27% of nonwhite Protestants.
►The White House was forced to scratch its annual Easter Egg Roll for the second straight year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
►The White House on Monday announced the opening of three more federally run mass vaccination sites, in Columbia, South Carolina; Pueblo, Colorado; and St. Paul, Minnesota. This brings the total number of federal vaccination sites to 28.
►Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, said Monday he won’t get a COVID-19 vaccine because his doctors told him he still has a high level of antibodies from when he was infected in January.
►Retail stores across most of Greece were allowed to reopen Monday despite an ongoing surge in COVID-19 infections, as the country battled to emerge from deep recession.
►The Nationals and Atlanta Braves are still waiting to find out whether Major League Baseball will allow their upcoming series to proceed as scheduled, while Washington deals with a coronavirus outbreak that could prevent 11 players from participating.
►After going more than a month with a handful of players at a maximum out in accordance with the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol, the league is now facing a new challenge: the growing number of Vancouver Canucks players being put on the list.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 30.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 555,200 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 131.5 million cases and 2.85 million deaths. At least 204 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 165 million have been administered, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: The pandemic forced us to stop hugging, shaking hands. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, some experts say.
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Pace of US vaccinations is climbing, CDC data shows
The United States has administered more vaccine doses since March 1 than it did during the entire rest of the pandemic, a USA TODAY analysis of CDC data shows.
Since March 1, the U.S. has administered about 84.2 million doses of vaccines, compared to 83 million through the end of February. The pace of American vaccine administration has climbed fairly consistently since the first doses were administered in mid-December.
The U.S. is now reporting far more doses administered in a week than it administered in its first month, which began with a two-dose Pfizer vaccine and soon added the two-dose Moderna vaccine. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine that’s also now available provides protection after a single shot.
– Janie Haseman and Mike Stucka
Biden administration names global COVID response coordinator
The Biden administration on Monday named a global COVID response coordinator – Gayle Smith – to ensure equitable vaccine distribution worldwide, as the U.S. faces escalating pressure to share its excess vaccine supply with developing countries.
“I know that many countries are asking for the United States to do more, some with growing desperation because of the scope and scale of their COVID emergencies,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in announcing Smith’s appointment at the State Department. “We hear you.”
Blinken said the Biden administration still remains focused on vaccinating Americans first, but added “we are exploring options to share more with other countries going forward.” He did not offer any specifics on how quickly that might happen, but noted the U.S. has donated $2 billion to the global vaccine initiative COVAX and has pledged another $2 billion.
Smith has a long resume in the global health arena. She is the former head of the U.S. Agency for International Development and worked on the U.S. response to Ebola in the Obama administration. Until Monday, she served as president and CEO of the ONE Campaign, the anti-poverty group co-founded by Bono, the lead singer of U2.
– Deirdre Shesgreen
CDC director: Young people fueling COVID-19 uptick
A top U.S. public health official said young people are driving the latest uptick in COVID-19 cases, as the increasing rate of vaccination in older Americans is preventing the most serious cases among seniors.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a White House briefing Monday that “cases are increasing nationally, and we are seeing this occur predominately in younger adults.”
She cited the increasing spread of variants, but also a rise in youth sports and extracurricular activities as contributing to the steady increase in cases over the last four weeks.
But Walensky pointed to positive developments among the most vulnerable age group, saying senior citizens’ virus deaths have reached their lowest levels since the early fall. More than 75% of those aged 65 or older nationally have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and nearly 55% are fully vaccinated.
“What we’re seeing is both a decrease in emergency department visits as well as hospitalizations associated with that demographic,” Walensky said.
Bar opening leads to 46 COVID cases and school closure, CDC study finds
An indoor event celebrating a bar opening in rural Illinois has been linked to a COVID-19 outbreak that resulted in 46 cases and a school closure affecting 650 students, according to a study published Monday in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
After an investigation by the Illinois Department of Public Health, the February event was associated with cases in 26 customers and three staff members, which subsequently led to an additional 17 secondary cases.
The public health department also discovered one of the cases included a customer who was asymptomatic but received a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis the day before the event.
More than two dozen people in a school were exposed to a bar attendee who tested positive, which closed the school for two weeks. Another attendee worked at a long-term care facility where one staff member and two residents were infected with COVID-19.
The case report shows how one incident can result in a community-wide outbreak, the CDC says, and the importance of following public health measures and getting vaccinated.
– Adrianna Rodriguez
March numbers much improved from January
The United States reported 37,925 COVID-19 deaths and about 1.8 million new coronavirus cases in March, with numbers roughly a third of the pace of a disastrous January, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins data shows.
But the easing appears to be short lived as numbers have begun to rise again.
In Delaware, the last time people were testing positive for COVID-19 at a rate as high as they are now was Feb. 11. Michigan has the most COVID-19 cases per capita of any state in the country and on Saturday reported the highest case total in the state since early December.
In Florida, the actual tally of variants ravaging the state is likely two or three times higher than what’s reported, said the director of the state-run Palm Beach County health department.
– Mike Stucka
’60 Minutes’ segment explores Florida’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout
The vaccine favoritism questions swirling around Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis received another national spotlight Sunday when the CBS news show “60 Minutes” reported how the governor’s campaign donors were involved in the vaccine rollout.
The controversy intensified as vaccinations continue to gain momentum: Florida is one of 12 states that opened vaccine eligibility to all adults on Monday.
The Florida report touched on a controversial vaccine pop-up clinic in Lakewood Ranch that drew a federal complaint, which was first reported by the USA TODAY Network; the state’s arrangement with Publix to distribute vaccine; and the disparity in vaccine distribution in Palm Beach County.
Vaccine favoritism questions have dogged the governor since the early days of the rollout, starting with the state’s January partnership with Publix, which donated $100,000 to the governor’s political committee in December.
“That’s a fake narrative,” DeSantis said in dismissing the claims. “I met with all the folks in Palm Beach County and I said here’s some of the options: We can do more drive through sites, we can give more to hospitals, we can do the Publix. And they said we think that (Publix) would be the easiest thing for our residents.”
Vaccinations on the rise; 40% of US adults have been jabbed
The U.S. reported more than 4 million vaccine doses in a single day for the first time Saturday, according to data from the CDC. More than 100 million Americans have had at least one dose of vaccine, about 40% of all adults. And 23% of U.S. adults are now fully vaccinated.
Meanwhile, 12 states are opening vaccine eligibility to all adults Monday: Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Michigan, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wisconsin are all dropping restrictions for adults 16 years or older.
Vaccine passports are latest flash point in COVID-19 politics
Vaccine passports being developed to verify COVID-19 immunization status and allow inoculated people to more freely travel, shop and dine have become the latest flash point in America’s perpetual political wars, with Republicans portraying them as a heavy-handed intrusion into personal freedom and private health choices.
They currently exist in only one state – a limited government partnership in New York with a private company – but that hasn’t stopped some lawmakers in a handful of states from rushing out legislative proposals to ban their use.
Vaccine passports are typically an app with a code that verifies whether someone has been vaccinated or recently tested negative for COVID-19. In use in Israel and under development in parts of Europe, they are seen as a way to safely help rebuild the pandemic-devastated travel industry.
Contributing: Zac Anderson, Sarasota Herald-Tribune; The Associated Press