BioEmergent Solutions execs to testify before House subcommittee; Texas threatens fines for mask-wearing rules: Live COVID-19 updates

The top executives of Emergent BioSolutions, which ruined millions of Johnson & Johnson doses of coronavirus vaccine in their Baltimore plant in March, will testify to a House subcommittee Wednesday.

A 13-page report released in April by the Food and Drug Administration found that the plant in Baltimore was too small, poorly designed, and dirty. Unsealed bags of medical waste were observed, along with peeling paint and damaged floors and walls that could inhibit proper cleaning, the inspectors said.

Employees were not properly trained and failed to properly handle ingredients, the report says.

Members of Congress are asking for an explanation from the company, which was awarded a $628 million contract last year to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines but has not yet produced a single usable dose.

Meanwhile, 60% of adult Americans have had at least one vaccine dose and new cases and hospitalizations are steadily falling. The seven-day average of new cases has dropped to numbers not seen since March 2020, essentially the start of the pandemic, according to the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Also in the news:

► A group of House GOP lawmakers refused to wear face masks on the floor during votes on Tuesday in defiance of leadership’s rules regarding COVID-19 protocols.

►Coronavirus vaccination rates across the nation are lower in rural counties than in urban ones in both genders and in all age groups, according to a federal report issued Tuesday. The analysis, released by the CDC, looked at vaccination rates through April 10. It found rural counties had a rate of about 39% compared with 46% in urban counties.

►Al Rimal health clinic in central Gaza City, which housed Gaza’s only coronavirus test laboratory, was damaged by Israeli airstrikes Monday, where doctors had administered thousands of tests and vaccines a day, reported The New York Times.

►The Las Vegas Strip and surroundings will fully reopen to vaccinated diners, dancers, shoppers, and club-goers beginning June 1.

►Sign-ups started for Ohio’s vaccine lottery Tuesday. Here’s how to win $1 million or a college scholarship.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 32.9 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 587,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 163.96 million cases and 3.39 million deaths. More than 346.6 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 275.5 million have been administered, according to the CDC. Nearly 124.4 million Americans have been fully vaccinated — 37.5% of the population.

📘 What we’re reading: She survived COVID after being on a ventilator, but her nightmare was far from over. Read more here.

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Austin-area businesses can drop mask rules for fully vaccinated customers in certain cases

Hours after the Austin area’s top health official lifted mask mandates on businesses for fully vaccinated customers under certain conditions, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is using the threat of fines to squeeze local leaders who continue to impose mask rules.

Many Austin and Travis County business owners on Tuesday learned they no longer need to require masks for fully vaccinated people indoors if fewer than 500 individuals are inside at once, according to a revised mask mandate set in place Tuesday by Mark Escott, the exiting Austin-Travis County health authority.

Partially vaccinated and nonvaccinated residents under the new health authority rules are still required to wear masks and remain at least 3 feet from others while outside and inside in public, according to Escott’s revised mask mandate.

However, Austin Public Health officials said those plans might change in response to Abbott’s executive order that, starting late Friday, local governments or officials in Texas — including counties, cities, school districts, and public health authorities — could no longer require the use of masks.

Abbott planned to enforce his new order with a fine of up to $1,000 for government entities or officials who continue to require mask-wearing.

Exempt from Abbott’s orders are state-supported living centers, government-owned or operated hospitals, Texas Department of Criminal Justice facilities, Texas Juvenile Justice Department facilities and county and municipal jails.

– Heather Osbourne, Austin American-Statesman

India reports record number of deaths

India’s total virus cases since the pandemic began swept past 25 million on Tuesday as the country registered more than 260,000 new cases and a record 4,329 fatalities in the past 24 hours.

The numbers continue a trend of falling cases after infections dipped below 300,000 for the first time in weeks on Monday. Active cases in the country also decreased by more than 165,000 on Tuesday — the biggest dip in weeks.

But deaths have continued to rise and hospitals are still swamped by patients.

The nation of nearly 1.4 billion has reported more than 400,000 daily new cases several times over the course of the month, shattering global records. It has been slammed by a surge in cases since February, partially driven by a dangerous variant now found in 49 countries, including the U.S.

White House COVID adviser’s son suffering ‘long-haul’ symptoms

White House coronavirus response senior adviser Andy Slavitt on Tuesday urged young Americans to get vaccinated, saying his own son is battling long-haul symptoms of the infection.

“He’s young and fit, and in the prime of his life. But six months later, he stills suffers from tachycardia (rapid heartbeat), shortness of breath and ongoing and frequent flu-like symptoms,” Slavitt said at a White House briefing. “His hands are cold to the touch.”

Slavitt said it is not clear how long the symptoms will last. He said that “many, many” young people are more seriously ill than his son, and that more than one-third of hospitalized COVID patients are under 50.

“My message to young people is simple. ‘Get vaccinated,'” Slavitt said. “It’s the most important thing you can do right now.”

Contributing: The Associated Press.

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