Variant cases have doubled in US since Jan. 31; Nevada to end economic ‘pause’; CVS, Walgreens begin vaccinations. Latest COVID-19 updates

The United States reported dozens more coronavirus variant cases on Thursday night, showing further reach of viruses that can spread more easily, dodge some treatments and immunities, or both.

The country now has 997 known variant cases in the country, including the first cases in California and North Carolina of P.1.351, a variant first found in South Africa that some vaccines and treatments have less effectiveness with.

The B.1.1.7 variant, which spreads more easily, was reported for the first time in Kansas and Missouri and Ohio. Most states reported relatively modest increases in their counts since Tuesday night’s reports, but Washington added 10 new cases of B.1.1.7 to reach 15; Louisiana added six to reach 14; Maryland added five to reach 22; and Iowa added five cases to reach eight.

Florida, which has 347 variant cases and remains far ahead of the rest of the country, reported four new cases of B.1.1.7. There were no new cases of P.1, a variant first spotted in Brazil.

Known variant cases in the U.S. have more than doubled since Jan. 31, and have increased five-fold since Jan. 22.

– Mike Stucka

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In the headlines:

►After weeks of vaccine distribution being largely limited to hospitals, health systems and local health departments, COVID-19 vaccines are poised to roll out Friday at major pharmacies, including the nation’s two largest chains, CVS and Walgreens.

►The National Hockey League is adding game-day rapid tests for players to its safety protocols in its latest bid to stem potential COVID-19 outbreaks. The league also said that players and club personnel are required to stay at home “and not leave their place of residence except to attend practices and games, to exercise outdoors on an individual basis, to perform essential activities (e.g., go to the doctor), or to deal with family or other emergencies and other extraordinary circumstances.”

►Current COVID-19 vaccines should work against variants of the virus, a top National Institutes of Health scientist said Thursday on President Joe Biden’s tour of the facility.

►New Zealand’s first vaccine doses are due to arrive next week, with border workers getting inoculated beginning Feb. 20, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Friday. New Zealand has had no community transmission of the virus for several months due to heightened restrictions.

►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.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 27.3 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 475,300 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 107.7 million cases and 2.36 million deaths. More than 68 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and about 46.3 million have been administered, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: How many COVID-19 vaccines have been sent to your state, and how many people have received a shot so far? Check the USA TODAY vaccine tracker.

Registered nurse Marife Edquilang, left, administers a dose of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to Anthony Monroe on Thursday during a vaccination drive at Texas Southern University in Houston.

Nevada plans to begin easing restrictions, end COVID-19 ‘pause’

Citing a weeks long decline in new COVID cases and deaths, 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.

Eased restrictions on restaurants, bars, churches and gyms are set to take effect on Monday, including a 10 percent jump in permissible casino capacity. Youth and adult sports tournaments, along with gatherings up to 250 people, are tentatively scheduled to resume March 15 — two days shy of the one-year anniversary of the state’s first virus-related shutdown order.

Sisolak later announced plans to turn over the bulk of ongoing virus-containment efforts to local officials by May 1, but said the state would continue to play a role in supporting city and county health officials. He said statewide protocols will remain in place to mitigate the virus’ spread, including but not limited to mask-wearing and social distancing requirements.

– James DeHaven and Ed Komenda, Reno Gazette Journal

Joe Biden: US will have ‘enough vaccine supplies to vaccinate all Americans’

President Joe Biden on Thursday announced completion of a deal to purchase an additional 200 million coronavirus vaccine doses, fulfilling an agreement he outlined two weeks ago.

“We’ve now purchased enough vaccine supplies to vaccinate all Americans,” Biden said during a visit to the National Institutes of Health. “Now we’re working to get those vaccines into the arms of millions of people.”

In addition to finalizing contracts with Pfizer and Moderna for 100 million more doses each that will be delivered by the end of July, Biden said 100 million other doses that were supposed to arrive in June will now be delivered in May.

“That’s a month faster,” Biden said. “That means lives will be saved.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci says April will be ‘open season’ for vaccinations

April will be “open season” for vaccinations in the U.S. and any adult will be able to get vaccinated, Dr. Anthony Fauci predicted Thursday.

Fauci, speaking on NBC’s “Today” show, said the rate of vaccinations is already accelerating. As production speeds up of the two authorized vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna, and more come online, vaccines will quickly become more readily available, Fauci said.

“By the time we get to April it will be … open season, namely virtually everybody and anybody in any category could start to get vaccinated,” Fauci said.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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