Vaccine-themed concert marks surreal pandemic moment; NYC still storing bodies in refrigerated trucks: Latest COVID-19 updates

Rockstars, movie stars and politicians came together for a vaccine-themed concert and fundraiser set to air Saturday night — an affair that signals a unique and surreal moment in the pandemic.

“Vax Live: The Concert to Reunite the Word” will celebrate COVID-19 vaccines and feature President Joe Biden urging Americans to take them. It also aims to persuade world leaders and corporations to make COVID-19 vaccines available worldwide.

The event was filmed in Southern California — one of the largest concert gatherings there since the beginning pandemic, a sign of the state’s success in beating back the virus with vaccines and restrictions.

But even as performers celebrate a return to normalcy in a country where vaccine supply is quickly outpacing demand, other speakers will mourn the deadly surge of COVID-19 in India and advocate for worldwide vaccine equity.

On Friday, India reported a new daily record of 414,188 confirmed cases and 3,915 additional deaths as it faces vaccine shortages. That same day, the European Union called on the United States to start boosting its vaccine exports to contain the global COVID-19 crisis.

Also in the news:

► Pfizer and BioNTech said Friday they had submitted an application for full FDA approval of their COVID-19 vaccine for people ages 16 and older.

►The pace of U.S. vaccinations has been slowing from its peak on April 10 of 4.6 million daily shots. Public health agencies are working harder to get shots in arms, a critical effort that could help President Joe Biden’s new goal of 70% of Americans getting at least one shot by July 4.

►Job gains fell well short of projections with employers adding 266,000 jobs in April. Economists had estimated that 995,000 jobs were added last month, according to a Bloomberg survey.

► Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing growing pressure to impose a strict nationwide lockdown as the nation faces a historic and crippling surge of the virus. The situation is so dramatic that among those calling for a strict lockdown are merchants who know their businesses will be affected but see no other way out.

►Los Angeles and San Francisco are reopening for more business under California’s least restrictive coronavirus safety rules, even though these counties have more infections than many others. It’s the latest wrinkle in the state’s often confusing reopening plan often praised by health experts but criticized by business owners.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. more than 32 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 580,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: Over 156 million cases and 3.2 million deaths. More than 325 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and more than 250 million have been administered, according to the CDC. More than 110 million Americans have been fully vaccinated.

📘 What we’re reading: Prisons, jails and detention facilities were early hotspots for the COVID-19. People held there “have virtually no way to protect themselves,” said Andrea Woods, an ACLU attorney. The average COVID-19 mortality rate in prisons was more than double the general population’s, according to a September report.

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.

Couples criticize Washington D.C. wedding dance ban

Washington D.C.’s Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s recent ban on dancing has faced backlash for prohibiting wedding traditions such as cocktail hour and father-daughter dances.

Bowser’s order, which went into effect May 1, states guests at weddings must remain seated and socially distanced from one another or other household groups. Venues hosting weddings may open with 25% capacity or fewer than 250 guests.

For one groom, the ban even means breaking a religious tradition.

Daniel Chazen plans to marry his high school sweetheart on June 4, at a 40-person wedding in D.C. Raised as a devout Jew, Chazen said he can’t imagine skipping out on the traditional hora dance during his reception.

Washington, D.C. resident and bride Shakira Tobin is also among those hoping the ban will end before her June wedding: “What’s a wedding without dancing?”

— Gabriela Miranda

NYC still storing COVID-19 victims in refrigerated trucks

New York City is still using refrigerated trucks to store bodies of coronavirus victims, more than a year after they were first set up as temporary morgues as deaths surged at at the height of the pandemic.

The city’s medical examiner’s office said Friday that 750 bodies are being kept in long-term storage in refrigerated trailers at a Brooklyn pier while family members sort out plans for their final resting places.

Dina Maniotis, a deputy commissioner with the Office of Chief Medical Examiner, told a city council committee on Wednesday that many of the bodies held at the 39th Street Pier could end up buried in the city’s potter’s field on Hart Island.

Trader Joe’s drops senior hours at many stores

Trader Joe’s has dropped senior hours at many of its 515-plus stores.

The specialty supermarket, like the majority of the nation’s major grocery stores, started designating special shopping hours in March 2020 to help those the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention then considered most vulnerable and at-risk for COVID-19.

Trader Joe’s originally set aside the first hour each day at all stores for 60 and older and customers with disabilities. The hours were later reduced to twice a week – usually Wednesday and Sunday – at most stores with some variations.

But recently, hundreds of its stores stopped offering the designated time, the company confirmed to USA TODAY. To find out whether your store still offers senior hours, read more here.

— Kelly Tyko

Racial divide persists in vaccination rates across much of the country

Five months into America’s unprecedented vaccination effort, a trend is holding across much of the nation: white people continue to be vaccinated at faster rates than Black and Hispanic people in most states.

Hispanics make up only 12% of COVID-19 vaccinations, but 17% of the U.S. population, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of Wednesday. Similarly, 8.8% of those who have received at least one dose are Black, but Black people make up more than 12% of the population.

In another analysis, Kaiser Family Foundation found that among 43 states, white people are vaccinated at 1.6 times the rate of Black people and 1.5 times higher than the rate of Hispanic people.

“If we mean equity, and if we mean vaccine for all and justice for all, then there’s still a lot more that we need to do,” said Harald Schmidt, an assistant professor of medical ethics and health policy at University of Pennsylvania, who writes on vaccine rationing and social vulnerability. Read more here.

— Nada Hassanein

Contributing: The Associated Press.

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