New cases, hospitalizations, deaths fall to numbers not seen in almost a year; 100 infected on Mount Everest: Latest COVID-19 updates

New cases across the U.S. have tumbled to rates not seen in more than 11 months, sparking optimism that vaccination campaigns are stemming both severe COVID-19 cases and the spread of the virus.

Hospitalizations and deaths steadily declined last week. Hugs and unmasked crowds returned to the White House, a Mardi Gras-style parade marched through Alabama’s port city of Mobile, and states that have stuck to pandemic-related restrictions readied to drop them. The seven-day average for new cases dropped below 30,000 per day, a number not seen in 11 months. The average number of deaths over the last seven days also dropped to 552.

All the numbers have fallen dramatically since the pandemic roared to new highs in January. Still, experts warn the pandemic is not over.

“My biggest concern is new strains of the virus and the need to remain vigilant in the months ahead,” Boston College public health expert Dr. Philip J. Landrigan said.

Also in the news:

►Essential caregivers were locked out of nursing homes during COVID-19. Advocates from New York to California don’t want it to happen again.

►An expert climbing guide said Saturday that a coronavirus outbreak on Mount Everest has infected at least 100 climbers and support staff, giving the first comprehensive estimate amid official Nepalese denials of a COVID-19 cluster on the world’s highest peak.

►Health officials say the most common COVID-19 variant of concern circulating in Los Angeles County is now a variant discovered in the U.K. Previously, two California variants were dominant.

►County officials in Maui are reminding travelers that they must provide COVID-19 vaccination documentation to be exempted from the testing requirement upon arriving on the island.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 33 million confirmed coronavirus cases and almost 590,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 166 million cases and more than 3.4 million deaths. More than 357 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and more than 283 million administered, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 129 million Americans have been fully vaccinated – 39% of the population.

📘 What we’re reading: 1 in 14 migrant workers at a Wisconsin food plant died of COVID: How missteps fueled a deadly outbreak.

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Loss of smell afflicts up to 80% of infected

As the pandemic continues, more information is accumulating about the loss of smell that afflicts as many as 70% to 80% of people who catch COVID-19 and seems particularly common among those with mild disease. For most, the condition only lasts for a few days or a few weeks. But for as many as one-third, the loss can last for months, said Dr. Evan Reiter, an ear, nose and throat specialist at Virginia Commonwealth University Health System in Richmond. It may even be permanent. Now, a new understanding is emerging about what causes smell loss with COVID and eventually, how it might be treated. Read more here.

“You don’t think it’s as important ’til you don’t have it,” Reiter said.

Karen Weintraub

NBA tells head coaches they can go without masks in games

Just in time for the playoffs, the NBA told its head coaches Saturday they may work without masks during games if they have been fully vaccinated. Assistant coaches and players will still be required to wear masks in the bench area. Head coaches may choose to go without masks after pre-game introductions through halftime, then again after halftime until the game concludes.

The memo, sent Saturday morning just a few hours before the postseason opener between Miami and Milwaukee and obtained by The Associated Press, also said that head coaches will have to wear masks during halftime, during warmups and shootaround before the start of the third quarter and postgame. If opposing coaches choose to meet briefly on the court after a game, masks are encouraged.

The updated policy is consistent with the way things have been trending in the NBA during the pandemic: Those who are vaccinated simply have more freedoms than those who are not.

Ohio vaccinations jumped after Vax-a-Million news

The number of people in Ohio age 16 and older who received their initial COVID-19 vaccine jumped 33% in the week after the state announced its million-dollar incentive lottery, though an analysis shows vaccination rates lag well behind what they were in March and most of April. In the week after the May 12 announcement about the lottery, 119,394 people age 16 and older received either the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine or the first of the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccination, according to Ohio Department of Health data.

That’s an increase of nearly 30,000 from the 89,464 people in the same age group who received a first shot during the seven-day period from May 6 to May 12, according to an analysis of state data by The Associated Press. The analysis did not include vaccination numbers for children ages 12 to 15, who only became eligible for the vaccine the day the lottery was announced.

One Ohio lawmaker, however, wants to call the whole thing off, according to the Ohio Capital Journal. Republican Rep. Jena Powell is drafting legislation that would prevent the state from administering any vaccine lottery program. The bill proposes to redirect the funding used for these drawings toward either children’s mental health initiatives or to small business relief grants, according to the outlet.

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