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Coronavirus Outbreak: Latest Updates

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This article was updated March 6, 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?

CDC Issues New Report on Face Mask Effectiveness, Dangers of Indoor Dining

Mar. 6, 2021, 11:25 a.m. ET

As more states drop COVID-19 restrictions, the CDC issued a report Friday saying coronavirus case counts went down when states mandated face masks and that coronavirus-related deaths went up in places when indoor dining resumed.

CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, said that’s a good reason for states to stay vigilant with safety measures, especially during this period when national coronavirus statistics are leveling off but new variants are appearing. 

“You have decreases in cases and deaths when you wear masks, and you have increases in cases and deaths when you have in-person restaurant dining,”  Walensky said at a Friday news briefing.  “We would advocate for policies, certainly while we’re at this plateau of a high number of cases, that would listen to that public health science.” 

The CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report said mask mandates adopted last year were linked to almost a 2% drop in new COVID cases within 100 days of adoption.  

When states and localities lifted restrictions on in-person restaurant dining, they experienced a 1.1% increase in new coronavirus cases and a 3% increase in coronavirus-related deaths within 100 days of the lifting of those rules, the study said.

A number of states have eased some coronavirus restrictions recently, including Texas, Mississippi, West Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Massachusetts, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wyoming.

Texas has been one of the states hit hardest by the pandemic, but Gov. Greg Abbott said in a Tuesday news release, “We must now do more to restore livelihoods and normalcy for Texans by opening Texas 100 percent. Make no mistake, COVID-19 has not disappeared, but it is clear from the recoveries, vaccinations, reduced hospitalizations, and safe practices that Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed.”  

He also acknowledged that while there is no mask mandate in Texas, he personally would continue to wear one and recommended that others do so as well.

The CDC assessment of indoor dining drew a tart response from the National Restaurant Association, which called the study “more an ill-informed attack on the industry … than a reliable piece of scientific research.”   

“Correlation does not equal causation. For example, if a positive correlation between ice cream sales and shark attacks is found, that would not mean that ice cream causes shark attacks. For restaurants, customer behavior outside the venue remains the major contributing factor in COVID-19 transmission,” the restaurant association statement said.

Arizona Removes COVID-19 Capacity Limits at Gyms, Restaurants

March 5, 5:10 p.m. 

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey lifted capacity restrictions on Friday for gyms, restaurants, and several other types of businesses, according to The Associated Press.

Ducey cited lower COVID-19 cases and higher vaccinations as a reason to remove the capacity limits. However, mask mandates will stay in place.

“Today's announcement is a measured approach; we are not in the clear yet,” he said in a statement.

The executive order lifts capacity limits for gyms, restaurants, theaters, water parks, bowling alleys, and bars that provide dine-in services. Before Friday, gyms had been limited to 25% capacity, and restaurants and theaters were limited to 50% capacity.

Although the limits have been lifted, customers will need to wear masks while not eating and maintain social distancing between parties.

“We need to continue practicing personal responsibility,” Ducey said. “Wear a mask. Social distance. Stay home when you're sick, and wash your hands frequently.”

The move to lift restrictions was met with opposition from big hospital chains in Arizona, the AP reported, including Banner, Dignity, HonorHealth, Tenet, and Northern Arizona Healthcare.

“Now is not the time to relax our mitigation efforts; we must stay the course to ensure that our vaccination efforts can outpace the spread of the virus,” the Health System Alliance of Arizona told the AP in a statement.

Arizona has reported more than 823,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 16,200 deaths during the pandemic, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. On Friday, the state reported 2,276 new cases and 84 deaths.

Arizona has administered COVID-19 vaccines to 1.3 million people, including 711,000 who have received two doses, the department reported Friday. The state passed the 2-million mark for doses administered on Friday morning.

“This is certainly a milestone, but there is plenty of work ahead and millions more Arizonans in need of vaccination,” Cara Christ, MD, the department's director, said in a statement.

“Getting vaccine to all Arizonans who want to be vaccinated is an all-hands-on-deck effort,” she said. “Our goal is removing barriers as soon as we identify them and taking advantage of every opportunity to do things better.”

Some States Report 'Breakthrough' COVID-19 Cases After Vaccine

March 5, 4:56 p.m. 

A small number of people have tested positive for COVID-19 more than 2 weeks after being fully vaccinated, which is also known as a “breakthrough” case.

The 2-week mark is important because the body needs enough time to develop immunity, according to Prevention. So far, those with breakthrough cases have reported mild or no symptoms.

Earlier this week, the Minnesota Department of Health announced that it was investigating several of these cases across the state. The department issued an advisory that asked hospitals, clinics, urgent care centers and emergency departments to report any cases where people test positive for COVID-19 at least 14 days after completing their second vaccine dose.

“These vaccines that we're using are fabulous but they're not perfect,” William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, told Prevention.

“At best, they're 95% effective in preventing serious illness, but minor illnesses can occur,” he said.

Although researchers expect that some breakthrough cases may occur, they're primarily focused on whether patients develop symptoms. Among 14 breakthrough cases identified in Minnesota, all were health care workers who tested positive during routine screening for work. All reported mild or no symptoms.

“The [Pfizer] vaccine is 95% effective, that means that theoretically of 100 people vaccinated, there may be five who don't have the same level of response to provide protection,” Kris Ehresmann, director of the infectious disease division at the Minnesota Department of Health, told CBSN Minnesota.

Oregon has also reported a handful of breakthrough cases, according to an Oregon Health Authority statement posted on Facebook. Four cases had been identified by mid-February, and all had mild or no symptoms.

“Such cases are not unexpected,” according to the statement. “Clinical trials of both vaccines presently in use included breakthrough cases.”

Even so, vaccines reduced the severity of illness, the statement said. The same types of breakthrough cases happen with other diseases and vaccines as well, such as the flu.

Breakthrough cases provide a reminder for people to continue to take precautions against the coronavirus as they get vaccinations this year, CBS Minnesota reported.

“You still need to mask, you still need to make sure you're socially distancing and consider those mitigation guidelines measures that we've been talking about for the last year,” Ehresmann said.

CDC Finalizing Guidance for Activities for Fully Vaccinated People

March 4, 12:15 p.m.  

The CDC is expected to soon release guidelines on safe activities for fully vaccinated people, Politico and other news organizations reported.

The CDC will recommend that vaccinated people try to only socialize with other vaccinated people at home. They should still wear masks elsewhere while observing other safety measures, such as social distancing, reported Politico, citing two unnamed senior administration officials.

In describing the upcoming guidance during a news briefing Monday, Anthony Fauci, MD, President Biden's chief medical officer, said:

“I use the example of a daughter coming in from out of town who is doubly vaccinated, and a husband and wife doubly vaccinated, and maybe a next-door neighbor who you know are doubly vaccinated,” Fauci said. “Small gatherings in the home of people, I think you can clearly feel that the risk -- the relative risk is so low that you would not have to wear a mask, that you could have a good social gathering within the home.”

The new guidance was expected to be released today, but Politico reported later the rules have been delayed. A new date for publishing is not yet clear.

When published, the CDC guidance is expected to describe how vaccinated Americans should respond in certain scenarios, such as while traveling, Politico said.

The guidance comes as more people become vaccinated and coronavirus cases and deaths decline across the country, yet health experts warn that “normalcy” remains a long way off.

However, some state governments are already relaxing safety restrictions. Hard-hit Texas, for example, is lifting the statewide mask mandates and plans to lift other COVID-19 restrictions soon.

The CDC says that 102.3 million doses of vaccine have been distributed and 78.6 doses administered. About 26.1 million people have received both doses of the two-dose Moderna or Pfizer vaccines. About 10.2% of the U.S. population over age 18 has received both doses, the CDC says.

Johnson & Johnson's one-shot vaccine received emergency use authorization last week, which means the amount of available vaccine should soon increase.

American, United Airlines to Provide COVID-19 Vaccines to Chicago Workers

March 3, 4:35 p.m.

American Airlines and United Airlines will begin providing the one-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to workers at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport on Thursday, according to Reuters.

In letters sent to Chicago-based employees, the two airlines said a limited number of vaccines will be available on an appointment-only basis. United said the first shots will go to employees who live or work in Chicago and are either flight crew or over age 65.

“Unfortunately, not having enough vaccines in circulation continues to be the biggest challenge,” according to the United letter, which was obtained by Reuters.

U.S. airlines do not require employees to take a COVID-19 vaccine, but they are strongly encouraging employees to do so to help the travel industry to recover. In January, United Airlines said vaccines may become mandatory for workers, which is still being “seriously considered” as more vaccines become available, a spokeswoman told Reuters.

O'Hare is the first airport where American Airlines is distributing a limited supply of doses, a spokeswoman told Reuters. Employees who have customer contact will receive the first priority for appointments.

Southwest Airlines said it doesn't have vaccines available to provide to workers, but the airline strongly encourages employees to get vaccinated, Reuters reported.

Delta Air Lines launched a vaccination site at its Atlanta hub in February for employees who were eligible under Georgia's distribution guidelines. The Delta Flight Museum is one of the four mass vaccination sites in the state.

“We're looking for opportunities to replicate this in other states where possible,” a Delta spokesman told Reuters.

Other transportation workers, including train operators, taxi drivers, and rideshare drivers, will be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine at new distribution sites at O'Hare, according to the Chicago Tribune.

On Friday, vaccinations will open up for first responders and security workers, and on Monday, eligibility will expand to include all employees at O'Hare and Midway airports, including those who don't work for airlines.

The O'Hare site will operate for 6 to 8 weeks, the newspaper reported, and the city plans to add a drive-through vaccination option in coming weeks.

NIH Launches New Research on COVID-19 in Children

March 3, 4:12 p.m.

The National Institutes of Health has launched a new research initiative to better understand how COVID-19 affects children, particularly those with long-term effects of coronavirus infection.

The CARING for Children with COVID program will study why some children face greater risks for contracting COVID-19, why symptoms vary among children, and how to identify children who have higher risks for the life-threatening multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C.

“While much of the devastation wrought by COVID-19 is on older and vulnerable populations, it is affecting children in ways we are just beginning to understand,” Gary Gibbons, MD, co-director of the initiative and director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, said in a statement.

Most children who contract COVID-19 don't have serious symptoms, the NIH said, but some develop severe inflammation, severe abdominal pain, and a prolonged fever that can lead to shock. Some children with mild or no symptoms also may develop long-term effects such as fatigue, muscle pain, joint pain and respiratory problems.

The research program includes clinical networks across the country, which will look at the various complications associated with MIS-C, as well as potential treatments that may work in children.

“That's why this research and these networks are so critical,” Gibbons said.

The studies will also look for new approaches to identify children who face high risks for severe COVID-19. The idea is to use new, non-traditional approaches to address gaps in COVID-19 testing and surveillance, the NIH wrote.

The clinical networks will share data among research projects and post data on multiple NIH platforms so researchers can conduct additional analyses. Information about the collaboration and specific research projects is available on the Caring4KidsWithCOVID website.

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

According to Johns Hopkins University , there are more than 115.91 million cases and more than 2.57 million deaths worldwide.

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

There are more than 28.87 million cases in the U.S. of COVID-19, and more than 522,200 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University .  

WebMD Health News

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