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Coronavirus Outbreak: Latest Updates

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This article was updated May 8, 2021, at 11:25 a.m. ET.

The United States leads the world in cases of COVID-19. We'll provide the latest updates on coronavirus cases, government response, impacts to our daily life, and more.

What is the latest news?

Atlanta Braves Return to 100% Capacity, Offer Free COVID Shots

May 8, 2021, 11:25 a.m. ET.

The Atlanta Braves baseball team has lifted a major COVID restriction, allowing 100% capacity in Truist Park on Friday night for the first time this season.

Attendance was 38,952 for the game against the Philadelphia Phillies. the Associated Press reported. Earlier this season, the Braves had allowed 33% and 50% capacity in the ballpark, which can hold 41,084. 

“Our outdoor environment, the demand from our season ticket holders and fans to watch us play in person plus safety measures which are in place make it feel that now is the right time to get back to full capacity at Truist Park,” Derek Schiller, president and CEO of the Braves, said on the team webpage. 

While throwing open their doors, the Braves also encouraged people to get COVID vaccinations, as other MLB teams are doing.

The Braves and Emory Healthcare offered free COVID-19 vaccinations to fans at the ballpark on Friday and Saturday night, May 7-8. People who get the shots are eligible for two free tickets for future games.

The Braves kept some COVID safety precautions in place. Fans had to wear face masks when they weren’t eating or drinking, and all transactions were cashless. But unlike other MLB teams, the Braves didn’t take anybody’s temperature before they entered the park and fans didn’t have to show a vaccination card or a recent negative COVID test.

While virtually every MLB team backs the vaccination program, teams vary wildly on stadium capacity, depending on state regulations.

The Braves are the third MLB team to open their stadium to 100% capacity, along with the Texas Rangers and the Arizona Diamondbacks, according to The Athletic. Other teams allow capacity ranging from 12% (The Boston Red Sox) to 50% (Houston Astros), The Athletic said,

Many MLB teams offer special seating for people who can prove they’ve been vaccinated.

For the two teams in New York City, the Yankees and the Mets, special sections will be marked for vaccinated people in which they don’t have to social distance, WCBS reported. For the unvaccinated, capacity will be limited to 33% and they have to social distance. Everybody has to wear masks.

Both teams will also start offering free Johnson & Johnson vaccinations soon, plus a free game ticket, WCBS reported.

The Seattle Mariners made a similar move and created special seating for vaccinated people. The team is also offering vaccinations at the ballpark, according to the Seattle Times.

“Getting vaccinated is the single most important thing we can all do to protect ourselves, our families and our community,” said Mariners chairman and CEO John Stanton in a statement. “Encouraging vaccinations and helping make them accessible to everyone will save lives. And once enough people are vaccinated, we can all get back to the things we love to do, like sitting with family and friends and enjoying a night at the ballpark.”

In Atlanta, another team is lifting seating restrictions. Atlanta United of Major League Soccer will allow 100% capacity in Mercedes Benz Stadium starting May 15.

U.S. Could Vaccinate 185 Million People by September, Experts Say

May 7, 5:17 p.m. 

The U.S. could administer COVID-19 vaccines to 185 million Americans by September — reaching about 88% of the adult population — according to a new forecast from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Public health officials have targeted a goal of vaccinating between 70% to 85% of the population to control the spread of the coronavirus. Earlier this week, President Joe Biden announced a goal of reaching 70% of the adult population by July 4. The IHME forecast predicts that 70% of the adult population will receive at least one dose by the end of May, and 65% will be fully vaccinated by mid-June.

At the same time, IHME data scientists said vaccine hesitancy and new coronavirus variants could still lead to another increase in cases. They added that the explosive outbreak in India, which has been linked to the B.1.617 variant identified there, likely won’t cause a surge in the U.S. this summer, but it may later this year.

“Looking to the fall, if vaccine confidence means that vaccination rates in adults only reach 70%, and the vaccines have reduced efficacy against the escape variants, then the risk of a winter surge remains substantial,” IHME wrote.

Certain incentives and requirements could encourage more people to get vaccines, according to a new survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

About 3 in 10 unvaccinated adults who aren’t ready to get the vaccine said they’d be more likely to get a shot if it was offered at a place that they typically visit for healthcare or if they only needed one dose. About a quarter of those who aren’t ready to get the vaccine also said they’d be more likely to get vaccinated if it was required for flights, international travel, or large events and performances.

The poll also found that 28% of unvaccinated adults said they’d be more likely to get a shot if their employer gave paid time off to get vaccinated and recover from side effects. About 25% said they’d be more likely to get a shot if their employer offered a financial incentive of $200.

As public health officials look ahead to forecast the course of the pandemic, vaccine manufacturers are creating booster shots to target coronavirus variants, according to CNN. Moderna announced this week that a booster shot of its updated vaccine could protect against the B.1.351 variant, which was first identified in South Africa, and the P.1 variant, which was first identified in Brazil.

“Reinfections will happen at some point, and the best way to ensure that we do not have renewed outbreaks in well-vaccinated countries is to boost and maintain the highest possible levels of neutralizing immunity,” Stephen Hoge, president of Moderna, told CNN.

Nepal Faces COVID-19 Spike Similar to India’s Surge

May 7, 5:01 p.m. 

Nepal is struggling to contain a new surge in COVID-19 cases, which has led officials to worry that the situation could become similar to — or worse than — the devastating outbreak in India, according to The Guardian.

Nepal, which shares a long border with India, now has a national positivity rate of 47%. The country reported 9,070 new daily infections on Thursday, setting a nationwide record.

In the past month, cases have increased from about 100 per day to more than 8,000. The previous peak in November was about 5,700 daily cases.

“What’s happening in India right now is a horrifying preview of Nepal’s future if we cannot contain this latest COVID surge that is claiming more lives by the minute,” Netra Prasad Timsina, the chair of the Nepal Red Cross, told The Guardian.

Top government officials called for international help this week to manage emergency facilities and reduce pressure on the healthcare system. Hospitals are overwhelmed, and vaccines are in short supply.

The capital city of Kathmandu and regions in the southwest and west are experiencing serious outbreaks. Nepalgunj, a city near India’s Uttar Pradesh state, became one of the hardest-hit areas as citizens returned from India before the countries began closing dozens of border points in recent days. Cases have even spread as far as Everest Base Camp, according to CNN.

Cities have imposed lockdowns, which has hampered access to transportation and vital medical supplies, The Guardian reported. Many people are staying home, but there are also long lines at hospitals and pharmacies. Cremation facilities are filling up, and family members aren’t able to perform last rites for loved ones.

Nepal is also facing logistical concerns since the landlocked country typically receives medical supplies by land through India. The Himalayan nation then must ship supplies across mountainous regions, including remote villages that are only accessible by dirt roads or on foot.

“We need to act now and we need to act fast to have any hope of containing this human catastrophe,” Alexander Matheou, the Asia Pacific director for the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, told The Guardian.

Pfizer Seeking Full FDA Approval for COVID Vaccine

May 7, 2:39 p.m.

Pfizer and its European partner BioNTech are seeking the FDA’s full approval for their COVID-19 vaccine, which is already being widely administered in the United States under an emergency use authorization.

If the FDA says yes, Pfizer would be the first COVID vaccine to gain full approval in the United States.

In a news release, Pfizer said it will initiate a Biologics License Application and submit information to the FDA on a rolling basis over the coming weeks. The vaccine application is only for people 16 and over.

Pfizer says it’s seeking a priority review, which the FDA defines as “a 6-month review of the entire BLA rather than the usual 10-month review.”

How would full approval affect the public?

Schools, government agencies, and companies would be more likely to require vaccinations, The New York Times reported. Many organizations have been urging vaccinations but holding off on making them a requirement until the FDA formally approves a vaccine, the Times said. 

The Equal Opportunity Commission said in December that employers can create a mandatory vaccine policy that requires most employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

FDA approval also might put a dent into vaccine hesitancy among the public. The government says demand for vaccines is slowing.

All COVID vaccines being used in the U.S. were granted an emergency use authorization, which the FDA grants for a medical product that’s needed because of a public health emergency.

Pfizer was the first vaccine to receive an EUA in the United States, in December.

The CDC says that 134 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine have been administered in the United States, compared to 109 million doses of Moderna vaccine and 8.6 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Pfizer is also seeking an EUA for a vaccine to be given to children 12-15 years old

"We are proud of the tremendous progress we've made since December in delivering vaccines to millions of Americans, in collaboration with the U.S. Government," Albert Bourla, chairman and chief executive officer of Pfizer, said in a statement. "We look forward to working with the FDA to complete this rolling submission and support their review, with the goal of securing full regulatory approval of the vaccine in the coming months."

CDC Says ‘Sharp Decline’ In COVID Cases Possible by July

May 6, 5:20 p.m. 

The CDC said computer modeling shows “a sharp decline” in the number of new COVID-19 cases could occur by July.

But that scenario could be upended by a slowdown in vaccinations, relaxation of safety measures, and a rise in variants, the agency said.

“Data from six models indicate that with high vaccination coverage and moderate NPI adherence, hospitalizations and deaths will likely remain low nationally, with a sharp decline in cases projected by July 2021,” the CDC said in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

NPI stands for nonpharmaceutical interventions, and means safety measures such as masking and social distancing.

The CDC said lower levels of masking and social distancing “could lead to substantial increases in severe COVID-19 outcomes, even with improved vaccination coverage.”

COVID infections increased in March and early April despite the rollout of the vaccination program, the CDC said, noting the increases coincided with the spread of variants and the relaxation of safety measures.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, discussed the MMWR report and repeated the warning on Wednesday at a White House briefing.

“Although we are seeing progress in terms of decreased cases, hospitalizations and deaths, variants are a wild card that could reverse this progress that we have made and could set us back," she said.

Walensky cited encouraging statistics in the fight against the virus that has infected 32.5 million people and killed 578,000 in the United States.

She said the seven-day average of new COVID cases is about 48,000 per day, a drop of about 12% from the previous 7-day average. The 7-day average of hospital admissions is around 3,900, a drop of almost 10% from the prior 7-day period. The 7-day average of daily deaths is down to 400 per day, she said.

But the government has also noted a drop in demand for COVID vaccinations. The administration has announced a three-part plan to increase vaccinations by vaccinating children 12-15 years old, making vaccinations easier to get, and combatting vaccine hesitancy.

Walensky urged Americans not to let down their guard.

"Something I'm often asked is, when will this pandemic be over and when can we go back to normal? The reality is, it all depends on the actions we take now," she said. 

White House Backs Suspension of Vaccine Patents

May 6, 5:10 p.m. 

The Biden administration has come out in favor of loosening patent and intellectual property protections on COVID-19 vaccines to increase vaccine supply availability around the world.

The administration has been pressured to take that stance by some sections of the Democratic Party and global leaders, The New York Times reported. COVID-19 cases are rising rapidly in India, Brazil, and other nations, even while the United States appears to be bringing the virus under control with a strong vaccination program.

“The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines,” Katherine Tai, the United States trade representative, said in a Wednesday statement announcing the policy change. “As our vaccine supply for the American people is secured, the Administration will continue to ramp up its efforts -- working with the private sector and all possible partners -- to expand vaccine manufacturing and distribution.”

The lifting of patent protections could allow drug companies in other nations access to the trade secrets about how COVID-19 vaccines are made, the Times said. Up to now, the United States had resisted a move in the World Trade Organization to suspend some of these intellectual property protections. India and South Africa proposed the patent waiver last fall. Some Democrats support the idea.

Tai said the United States would take part in negotiations at the World Trade Organization, but a decision would “take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved.”

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America attacked the decision, saying it “flies in the face of President Biden's stated policy of building up American infrastructure and creating jobs by handing over American innovations to countries looking to undermine our leadership in biomedical discovery.”

“This decision will sow confusion between public and private partners, further weaken already strained supply chains and foster the proliferation of counterfeit vaccines," Stephen J. Ubl, president and chief executive officer of the organization, said in a statement.

The Times said the U.S. policy shift does not guarantee patent protections will be dropped. The European Union and the United Kingdom oppose the idea. Changes to international intellectual property rules require unanimous agreement in the World Trade Organization, the Times said.

How many people have been diagnosed with the virus worldwide, and how many have died?

According to Johns Hopkins University, there are more than 156.32 million cases and more than 3.26 million deaths worldwide.

How many cases of COVID-19 are in the United States?

There are more than 32.64 million cases in the U.S. of COVID-19 and more than 580,770 deaths, according Johns Hopkins University.

WebMD Health News

Sources

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