States, cities roll back coronavirus restrictions. CDC releases school reopening ‘roadmap.’ Latest COVID-19 updates

Several states and cities rolled back COVID-19 restrictions this week.

In Montana, Gov. Greg Gianforte lifted the state’s mask mandate Friday. In Nevada, Gov. Steve Sisolak on Thursday announced he would gradually end a monthslong “pause” on economic activity meant to slow the virus’ deadly resurgence over the holiday. And in Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine promised to scrap a curfew that has been in place since November.

Meanwhile, limited indoor dining began in New York City Friday, and Chicago expanded its indoor dining capacity limits.

The rollbacks come as U.S. health officials released new guidance for reopening schools Friday, saying schools can safely reopen by adhering to five key mitigation strategies.

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In the headlines:

►Mask wearing will be needed for “several, several months” even as vaccinations roll out, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Once 75-80% of the population is vaccinated, the country can “start pulling back a bit on what are stringent public health measures,” he added.

►The New York Times reported Friday that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration agreed to let Moderna increase the number of doses of its COVID-19 vaccine that it puts into each vial from 10 to 14. The Times reported that the change, which could boost the nation’s vaccine supply by 20%, could take effect before the end of April.

►The head of the World Health Organization said Friday that all hypotheses into the origins of the coronavirus were still being investigated and analyzed after a team of WHO investigators said earlier this week that the theory that the virus leaked from a virology lab in Wuhan would no longer be pursued.

►Fully vaccinated people who meet certain criteria will no longer be required to quarantine following an exposure to someone with COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

►Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte lifted the state’s mask mandate Friday. And in Nevada, Gov. Steve Sisolak on Thursday announced he would gradually end a monthslong “pause” on economic activity meant to slow the virus’ deadly resurgence over the holidays.

►The Australian Open will be allowed to continue but without crowds for at least five days after the Victoria state government imposed a lockdown starting Saturday in response to a COVID-19 outbreak at a quarantine hotel.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 27.4 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 479,00 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 108.0 million cases and 2.37 million deaths. More than 69 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and about 48.4 million have been administered, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: People of color have suffered most from COVID-19. But now that a vaccine is here, they are far less likely to have received a first dose – for many of the same reasons. Read more.

Data from California shows Blacks get low percentage of shots

California released much-awaited statewide race and ethnicity data for COVID-19 Friday, and the results show that Blacks so far account for just 2.8% of all people who have received at least one shot.

Whites have received nearly 33 percent, according to the data collected by the California Department of Public Health.

The data did not immediately explain the disparity. It showed also that Asian Americans who have received at least one vaccine dose account for 13.1%, Latinos 15.8%, and multi-race 13.9%.

California – and several other states – have come under fire in recent weeks for lagging behind in reporting data on how vaccinations are being delivered across ethnic groups.

A lack of data is further masking vaccination rollout transparency, health equity researchers say, and the data deficit is hurting those most vulnerable. So far, less than 20 states are releasing vaccination counts by race and ethnicity, and the data is incomplete.

Four fully vaccinated people in Oregon test positive

Four people in Oregon, who have been fully vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccine, have tested positive for the coronavirus the health authority reported Friday.

Oregon is among the first states nationwide to report “breakthrough cases” — people who test positive for coronavirus at least 14 days after receiving their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“(This is) not to be unexpected in a vaccine that while phenomenal, with 95% percent effectiveness, still means 5% may still be infected,” Patrick Allen, the director of the health authority, said Friday.

The four people had mild or no symptoms. Officials say that studies show that the vaccine may help reduce the severity of the illness.

“What all this means is that we can expect to see more breakthrough cases,” Dean Sidelinger, the health authority’s state health officer.

– Associated Press

After losing homes amid COVID-19, more people are living in cars, RVs

Americans are being driven into their vehicles by pandemic-fueled woes. And their ranks are likely to grow as the government safety net frays and evictions and foreclosures rise.

“It’s in times of crisis that the fragility of our systems are laid bare,” said Graham Pruss, a postdoctoral scholar with the Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative at the UC San Francisco Center for Vulnerable Populations.

Even before COVID, millions struggled to afford a decent place to live. The pandemic has made the housing crisis even worse, says Pruss. He expects a surge in the number of people without permanent homes taking refuge in cars, vans, RVs and campers – and not just in the nation’s most expensive regions such as the San Francisco Bay Area where vehicles have increasingly become a form of affordable housing, but all over the country. Read more.

– Jessica Guynn

Cuomo aide admits ‘we froze’ on nursing home deaths, report says

Democratic lawmakers in New York are facing increased pressure to rein in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s emergency powers after reported comments by his top aide raised new questions about whether the state has been forthright about the COVID-19 death toll in nursing homes.

In a call between top members of Cuomo’s administration and some legislative Democrats, The New York Post reported, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa suggested the Cuomo administration “froze” on reporting the COVID-19 death toll in nursing homes because the Trump administration’s Department of Justice issued a separate request for information about nursing homes around the same time.

DeRosa, who answered questions about why it had taken the Cuomo administration more than six months to answer requests from lawmakers for information about the state’s handling of the virus in hospitals and nursing homes, apologized to the Democratic lawmakers for putting them in a tough position, the Post reported.

– Jon Campbell and Joseph Spector, New York state team

Reports: Officials considered using ventilator for Trump during COVID-19 bout

Former President Donald Trump’s condition had become so concerning after he tested positive for COVID-19 that officials spoke of putting him on a ventilator, the New York Times and CNN reported Thursday.

Trump was hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in October, and the White House and his doctors routinely sent mixed signals about his condition.

According to the Times, Trump’s blood oxygen levels dipped into the 80s, and a case of COVID-19 is considered severe when blood oxygen levels are in the low 90s. The Times also reported that Trump had lung infiltrates, meaning his lungs were inflamed and contained a substance such as fluid or bacteria.

Attacks on Asian Americans highlight rise in hate incidents amid COVID-19

A series of violent crimes against Asians and Asian Americans has prompted activists and experts to warn that racist rhetoric about the coronavirus pandemic may be fueling a rise in hate incidents.

Police in Oakland, California, announced this week that they arrested a suspect in connection with a brutal attack of a 91-year-old man in Chinatown that was caught on camera. In less than a week, a Thai man was attacked and killed in San Francisco, a Vietnamese woman was assaulted and robbed of $1,000 in San Jose, and a Filipino man was attacked with a box cutter on the subway in New York City.

It’s unclear whether the crimes were racially motivated, but advocates calling for more to be done to address violence against Asian Americans say racist crimes against the community are historically underreported for a variety of reasons.

Stop AAPI Hate, which includes a self-reporting tool for harassment, discrimination and violent attacks, recorded 2,808 incidents of anti-Asian discrimination across the U.S. from its inception on March 19 to Dec. 31, 2020. Another organization, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, recorded more than 3,000 hate incidents in their self-reporting system since late April 2020 – by far the highest number in the tool’s four-year history. Read more.

– N’dea Yancey-Bragg

Contributing: The Associated Press

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