California, Washington open up vaccine eligibility; empty middle seats on flights reduce exposure, CDC says: Live COVID-19 updates

California and Washington open up vaccines to all adults Thursday.

It came as California Gov. Gavin Newsom urged all schools in the state to reopen, saying there are no health barriers to getting children back into classrooms and ending distance learning. His wishes, though, remain an expectation rather than a mandate because California’s decentralized education system lets the 1,200 school districts govern themselves.

Speaking Wednesday, he said: “Money is not an object now. It’s an excuse.”

Newsom has repeatedly said he sees no barriers to getting the state’s 6.2 million public school students back into classrooms now, as California’s COVID-19 infections continue to drop and more residents are being vaccinated.

“If current trends and best practices continue, the next school year can begin with offering full in-person instruction to all students,” the California Department of Health said in a presentation Wednesday that focused on school reopening. It specified that schools should plan to offer full days of instruction, five days a week.

Meanwhile, Puerto Rico broke its record for cases in a week and Michigan had its second worse week yet over the last seven days, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Thirty-nine states saw a rise in cases from the previous seven-day period.

Also in the news:

►Colorado health officials say nearly 4,000 people who received COVID-19 vaccinations at a medical spa need to be re-vaccinated because they can’t verify the doses were properly stored.

►The parts of the U.S. that are excelling and those that are struggling with vaccinations are starting to look like the nation’s political map: deeply divided between red and blue states. Americans in “blue states” that lean Democratic appear to be getting vaccinated at more robust rates, while those in “red” Republican states seem to be more hesitant.

►Ivanka Trump has received her first COVID-19 shot and is encouraging others to get vaccinated as quickly as they can.

►Attendance at Saturday’s funeral for Britain’s Prince Philip will be limited to 30 mourners because of current coronavirus restrictions in England. Queen Elizabeth may be required to sit alone, and guests must be spaced 6 feet apart.

►Kansas health officials say the coronavirus variant from Brazil has been detected for the first time in the state.

►Michigan health director Elizabeth Hertel traveled with family to Alabama for spring break last week despite her department’s guidance to avoid out-of-state travel while Michigan suffers a raging coronavirus outbreak.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 31.42 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 564,300 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: 138 million cases and more than 2.97 million deaths. More than 250.99 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 194.7 million have been administered, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: Although still murky, a picture is starting to emerge about the connection between two types of COVID-19 vaccines and rare blood clots. Read more here.

USA TODAY is tracking COVID-19 news. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates. Want more? Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

CDC says empty middle seats reduce COVID-19 exposure on flights. Will airlines bring social distancing back?

Blocking middle seats on airplanes reduces the risk of COVID-19 exposure, according to a study released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The research, done in conjunction with Kansas State University, found a 23% to 57% reduction in exposure to “viable” virus particles when middle seats are vacant.

The conclusion: “Physical distancing of airplane passengers, including through policies such as middle seat vacancy, could provide additional reductions in risk for exposure to SARS-CoV-2 on aircraft.”

Airlines have abandoned the pandemic practice of blocking seats to maintain social distance between travelers.

Delta Air Lines is the only U.S. carrier still blocking middle seats in economy, and that practice will end May 1. Southwest stopped blocking seats Dec. 1.

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby has repeatedly said there is no way to keep passengers 6 feet apart on a plane, and chief communication officer Josh Earnest said last summer that blocking seats is a public relations strategy, not a safety strategy.

– Dawn Gilbertson

More data needed on rare J&J vaccine side effect, committee says

A pause on the use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine should continue until more is known about a rare vaccine side effect, a federal advisory committee decided Wednesday.

The committee will meet again within a week to ten days to evaluate more data that is expected to become available.

The extremely rare blood clots have been reported in seven of the 7.2 million Americans who have gotten the J&J vaccine. The recent six cases were reported in women ages 18 to 48, and symptoms occurred six to 13 days after vaccination. One woman died and three remained hospitalized.

There was some concern the pause might harm those most in need of the vaccine as J&J only requires one shot and is easier to store and transport than the other two authorized vaccines. But the committee noted continuing the pause would not significantly affect the ability to vaccinate Americans.

The J&J vaccine so far makes up less than 5% of shots administered in the United States. The two other vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna have not had such effects.

Karen Weintraub

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