Experts fear spike from spring break; former CDC chief believes virus escaped from lab: COVID-19 updates

Robert Redfield, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview with CNN he thinks the SARS-CoV-2 virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic was accidentally released from a lab in Wuhan, China.

Redfield offered no explanation for this belief other than to say as a virologist, he does not believe the virus could have been so contagious when it jumped directly from an animal to a person. Instead, he believes it was manipulated in a lab to become more contagious and then accidentally released by a laboratory worker in September or October 2019, several months before coming to public attention.

The World Health Organization, which has been investigating the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, considers the lab-leak scenario so unlikely that it discontinued research in that hypothesis.

W. Ian Lipkin, director of the center for infection and immunity at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, said that while it is theoretically possible the virus originated from a lab leak, there are other much more plausible explanations.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also cast doubt on Redfield’s comments Friday, saying most public health experts believe it is possible that the virus became well adapted to spread among humans without having been released from a lab and by circulating undetected for months.

Also in the news:

►Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said Friday she was “deeply concerned” about the trajectory of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. The most recent seven-day average of new cases was up by about 7% from the prior week, while hospitalizations have increased slightly and deaths have hovered, Walensky said.

►New York on Friday launched the nation’s first “vaccine passports” system. The certification, called the Excelsior Pass, will be useful first at large-scale venues like Madison Square Garden, but next week will be accepted at dozens of event, arts and entertainment venues statewide.

►Rejecting arguments by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a state judge declined Friday to block Austin and Travis County pandemic orders requiring employees and customers to wear a face covering in local businesses. Paxton is expected to appeal the ruling.

►About half of U.S. states will open up their vaccination efforts to all adults by mid-April, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said Friday. In all, 46 states and the District of Columbia have already pledged to meet President Joe Biden’s goal of having all Americans eligible for a vaccine by May 1

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has over 30.1 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 548,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: 126 million cases and 2.7 million deaths. More than 177.5 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 136.6 million have been administered, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: As vaccines have rolled out across the country, trainers say they’ve seen significant increases in clients aiming to look their best by the time the world fully reopens. Though fitness and mental health professionals agree a healthy lifestyle is a worthy goal, they caution against quick physical transformations — especially after a year that was traumatic for so many.

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.

Spring break partying could lead to spike in coronavirus cases, experts say

Disregard for public health measures from spring breakers and pandemic-weary tourists in South Florida will likely result in a spike of COVID-19 cases, health experts say.

Modeling suggests there’s going to be a “bump” in the curve, according to Dr. David Andrews, associate professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and vice chair for pathology laboratories at Jackson Health System.

“Everyone is concerned, and the University of Miami epidemiologists have projected a surge to emerge from that activity post-spring break,” he said. “They’re predicting a bump in the next couple of weeks.”

Although some Floridians and out-of-town vacationers may have immunity from prior infection or the vaccines, what worries experts most is the highly transmissible coronavirus variant B.1.1.7 is quickly becoming the dominant variant in Florida.

– Adrianna Rodriguez

Fauci: Study will look at if vaccinated college students can spread COVID

A new study launched Thursday will examine whether COVID-19 can spread from vaccinated individuals to their close contacts, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday.

Fauci said the study will span 12,000 college students at more than 20 universities over five months. Around 6,000 students in the study will be vaccinated immediately with the Moderna vaccine while the other half will be vaccinated four months later.

Study participants will then identify their close contacts, and all people will provide swabs to determine whether vaccinated people can transmit the virus to their close contacts.

“We hope that in the next five or so months we’ll be able to answer the very important question about whether vaccinated people get infected asymptomatically and if they do, do they transmit the infection to others,” Fauci said.

Whitmer again vetoes virus aid after no legislative deal

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday again vetoed about $652 million in proposed COVID-19 relief spending after the Michigan Legislature passed it without negotiating with her administration.

Majority Republicans reapproved the funding following the Democratic governor’s first veto weeks ago during a fight over an attempt to link federal funds to her agreeing to cede certain pandemic powers solely to local health departments.

One bill proposed $405 million in state-funded business relief and a $150 million deposit into the unemployment insurance fund. Another would have given $87 million in federal funds to private schools and $10 million to reimburse parents for summer school expenses.

In a letter to lawmakers, Whitmer said she vetoed the measures because they primarily included spending she previously rejected.

– The Associated Press

Contributing: The Associated Press

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