US reports rising case numbers in 29 states amid variant surge; San Diego Zoo vaccinates 9 great apes. Latest COVID-19 updates

The novel coronavirus took hold in New York City and was passed through Mardi Gras a year ago. It was in April when so many of those infected people died of COVID-19, 61,016 in all.

In January and February of this year, the United States reported the equivalent of last April’s toll. And also last May, June, July and more. In just the two months of 2021, the U.S. reported more dead than it had in the first six deadly months of the pandemic: 160,209 people, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows.

There are signs of both hope and worry.

In the last week of February, the U.S. reported about 471,000 new cases and 14,082 deaths. Those are still devastating numbers, but about half the rate of new cases of the last week of January, and about two-thirds of the death toll.

And more than 49.7 million Americans had received at least one dose of vaccine, a USA TODAY analysis of Centers for Disease Control data showed on the last day of February. Many of those shots went to people most at risk of death or serious illness.

But America’s rapid decline in case counts from a peak in January halted. On Sunday, for the first time in more than a month, at least 29 states reported rising case counts. And coronavirus variants continue to spread rapidly across the U.S., capable of spreading more easily, dodging some treatments and immunities, or both.

On the last day of January, the U.S. knew of 471 cases of variants. On the last day of February, that number was 2,463.

– Mike Stucka

Also in the news:

►In an effort to protect communities that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, California officials said the state will implement a plan that allocates 40% of its supply of COVID-19 vaccines to residents in the lowest-income areas.

►Gov. Larry Hogan released further plans Thursday to distribute COVID-19 vaccines more equitably to underserved parts of Maryland, after leaders of the state’s largest Black populations criticized major disparities in the rollout of vaccinations to minorities.

►Unemployment payments since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic a year ago in Oklahoma have surpassed the payments made during the past 10 years combined by nearly $1.5 billion, the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission said Thursday.

►Traffic deaths in the U.S. increased for the first time in four years in 2020, as coronavirus-induced lockdowns opened roads and led to more reckless driving, according to a report from the nonprofit National Safety Council.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 28.8 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 520,200 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 115.5 million cases and 2.56 million deaths. More than 109.9 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and about 82.57 million have been administered, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: President Joe Biden said this week that there will be enough COVID-19 vaccine for every U.S. adult by May, nearly two months earlier than his administration predicted last month. Some health experts wouldn’t be surprised if it’s even sooner. Read the full story.

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.

Medical assistant Keona Shepard prepares a dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday at a mass vaccination clinic at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

Texans who lost loved ones to COVID hurt by state’s decision to lift mask mandate

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s Tuesday declaration that it was time to “open Texas” has been decried by local officials and health experts who say it’s too soon to become lax with coronavirus restrictions with just 7% of the state’s residents have been fully inoculated against the virus.

But the announcement hit harder with Delia Ramos, and others who have lost spouses, parents or friends to the virus — in some cases, making them wonder if the deaths of their loved ones meant nothing.

It feels like people that think it’s “inconvenient to wear a mask” override all the “people that have been lost” to the virus, as well as doctors and nurses working long hours and teachers scared to go to work for fear of being exposed, Ramos, 39, said.

She’ll continue to wear her mask “with honor.”

“I don’t want other children to grow up without a father, the way that mine unfortunately are going to have to grow up without one,” she said. Read the full story.

– Shannon Najmabadi, Corpus Christi Caller-Times

9 great apes receive COVID-19 vaccinations at San Diego Zoo

The San Diego Zoo has vaccinated nine great apes for the coronavirus after a troop of gorillas in its Safari Park became infected, officials said Thursday.

Four orangutans and five bonobos received COVID-19 injections in January and February. Three bonobos and a gorilla also were expected to receive the vaccine, which is experimental.

The vaccinations followed a January outbreak of COVID-19 at the zoo’s Safari Park. Eight western lowland gorillas got the virus, probably by exposure to a zookeeper who tested positive for COVID-19, officials said in January, even though employees work masks at all times around the gorillas.

Wealthy white Florida residents getting vaccines aimed for rural minorities

In Palm Beach County, Florida, where former President Donald Trump now lives, people in wealthy white areas are getting a significant share of the COVID-19 vaccines intended for rural Black and Latino communities.

STAT News reports that even though Hispanics make up 21.7% of the county residents and Black people account for 18% of the population, as of March 1 they had received only 4.7% and 4.1% of vaccines, respectively. Combined, the two racial or ethnic groups represent nearly 40% of the county’s population and had gotten less than 9% of the doses.

And it’s not just those in the county who are attending vaccination drives for poorer neighborhoods. STAT reports that people from more than 100 miles away have been driving in to those events.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and state health officials have been under scrutiny amid accusations of favoring wealthy residents for vaccinations. DeSantis has denied any favoritism.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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