New York City will reopen public middle schools Thursday, providing in-classroom learning for another 62,000 students whose parents opted out of remote education.
About a quarter of the district's 1 million students will be back in schools, many for five days a week. Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday that he hopes to have an announcement on reopening high schools in the next few weeks.
"A lot of cities didn't even dare to reopen their schools," de Blasio said. "We said, 'We're going to do it.' It's the New York way. We're going to do great things."
School reopening in New York, as in many other cities, has prompted clashes between teachers and administrators over safety provisions. The mayor said the district is adhering to guidelines set up for schools by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The guidelines include universal and correct use of masks, physical distancing in all elements of the school, hand washing with sanitizer "everywhere," clean and well-ventilated spaces and contact tracing when infections are discovered, he said.
Also in the news:
►North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper eased coronavirus-related restrictions throughout the state, ending a 10 p.m. curfew and opening bars for indoor service at 30% capacity, starting Friday. Sports venues able to seat over 5,000 people can host up to 15% of their fans. Restaurants, breweries, wineries, gyms, bowling alleys, swimming pools, museums, outdoor amusement park areas, hair salons and retailers can operate at 50% capacity.
►Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy has tested positive for COVID-19 and has mild symptoms, his office said Wednesday. Dunleavy, a 59-year-old Republican, began feeling symptoms Tuesday night and a test Wednesday morning confirmed his infection.
►More than 150,000 Americans have already been reported dead of COVID-19 in less than two months this year, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows. The U.S. initially recorded its 150,000th COVID fatality July 28, five months after the country's first reported death and six months after the first reported case.
►A new initiative by the federal government will study so-called COVID long-haulers, patients who endure residual symptoms months after contracting the coronavirus.
►The U.S. government will start delivering 25 million cloth masks to low-income Americans through food banks and community health centers, Jeff Zients, the White House COVID coordinator, said Wednesday. He said the program will cost $86 million.
►CVS and Walgreens drugstores will start vaccinations in more states Thursday, citing additional doses from the federal government. CVS Health Corp. says it will add stores in six states, including Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Walgreens said it will expand into California, Oregon and Virginia, among other states.
📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has more than 28.3 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 504,200 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 112.4 million cases and 2.49 million deaths. More than 82.1 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and about 65 million have been administered, according to the CDC.
📘 What we're reading: In one year, COVID-19 has left more than 500,000 dead in the United States. If we were to bring them together, the resulting community would be filled with grandparents, great-uncles and aunts, making it the oldest large city in America. View the data.
USA TODAY is tracking COVID-19 news. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates. Are you on Clubhouse? If so, tune in to our live discussion on COVID-19 here at 7 p.m. ET Thursday.
Moderna to start trial of vaccine against South Africa variant
Massachusetts-based Moderna, the biotech company that makes one of the two COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the U.S., said Wednesday it will begin a clinical trial of a new vaccine designed to counter the coronavirus variant first found in South Africa.
Any change to address variants, which other vaccine makers also are working on, would need to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
A Moderna study last week showed its current vaccine induces the production of neutralizing antibodies against the major known variants, but only one-sixth of them protected against the South Africa variant, technically known as B.1.351.
– Karen Weintraub
'The devil is already here': Worrisome California variant spreads through state, US
A coronavirus strain that has been spreading throughout California and may have been responsible for the state's dramatic surge in infections during the holidays should be regarded as a "variant of concern,'' researchers said.
A team of scientists at the University of California-San Francisco said the variant has been detected in 45 states and is particularly worrisome because studies have shown it to be more infectious than the original virus, more resistant to vaccines and potentially more deadly.
Dr. Charles Chiu, who led the UCSF team, predicts the new variant will be responsible for 90% of the COVID-19 cases in the state by the end of March.
"The devil is already here,'' Chiu told the Los Angeles Times. "I wish it were different. But the science is the science.''
Pediatricians push for children to get vaccine when one's authorized
Pediatric specialists are emphasizing the importance of vaccinating children against the coronavirus in the near future, pointing out that a small but significant number of kids have endured grave effects from COVID-19. That includes about 250 deaths and more than 2,000 children and teenagers who have developed a serious condition known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome.
The experts say inoculating children would protect them from the disease and benefit society at large by making them less likely to transmit the virus.
“I don’t think anybody wants to keep kids wearing masks for the rest of their childhood,” Evan Anderson, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, told the journal Science.
No vaccine has been authorized in the U.S. for anybody younger than 16, but Science reports that Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca are among the companies close to or already conducting clinical trials on children under that age, and Johnson & Johnson is also taking steps in that direction.
HHS, squeezed by pandemic, releasing more immigrant children
The Department of Health and Human Services has drastically cut its capacity for immigrant children because of the coronavirus pandemic. Nearly all of the department’s 7,100 beds for the kids are full. Meanwhile, Border Patrol agents are apprehending an average of more than 200 children crossing the border without a parent per day. The Biden administration is working to expedite the release of children to their relatives in the United States. HHS on Wednesday authorized operators of long-term facilities to pay for some of the children’s flights and transportation to the homes of their sponsors.
An internal memo sent Wednesday and obtained by The Associated Press authorizes facility operators to use government funding for transport fees “in the event that a sponsor is not able to pay fees associated with commercial airfare, and a child’s physical release would be otherwise delayed.”
Coronavirus variant first found in South Africa rolling across US
Menacing coronavirus variants are sweeping across the nation even as new cases of the original virus are dropping quickly. The United States reported 1,932 variant cases through Tuesday night, up 49% from a week earlier. The variants appear to spread more easily, dodge some immunities and treatments, or both. They remain, however, a very small percentage of all cases.
The B.1.351 variant first detected in South Africa was reported over the last week in Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, New York and Tennessee for the first time. According to the CDC, 46 cases of the variant have been identified, covering 14 states. On Sunday, South Carolina said it had two cases; on Tuesday, it reported 21. Experts warn the variant might spread more readily than the original virus and might reduce the effectiveness of some COVID-19 vaccines.
– Mike Stucka
Dr. Anthony Fauci says CDC could soon ease rules for vaccinated people
Dr. Anthony Fauci says a new, eased guidance for people who have been vaccinated should be coming soon from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fauci, the White House's chief medical adviser, told CNN the update should will particularly focus on people in the same family who have been vaccinated. Easing the rules is nothing new: Two weeks ago, the agency said fully vaccinated people didn't have to follow quarantine rules.
"If I'm fully vaccinated, and my daughter comes in the house, and she's fully vaccinated," Fauci said. "Do we really need to have the stringent public-health measure that we would if it was a stranger who was not vaccinated?"
FDA: Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine raises no red flags
Detailed information on a Johnson & Johnson candidate vaccine for COVID-19 raises no safety concerns, according to a report released early Wednesday. A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee is holding an all-day meeting Friday to review the data and is likely to give the vaccine a thumbs-up. That could lead to an FDA authorization for the vaccine within the next few days. J&J vice president Richard Nettles has said the company will make 20 million doses of the vaccine availabby the end of March.
The J&J vaccine differs from the two already authorized because only one shot is recommended instead of two, and it doesn't need to be stored in a freezer.
The FDA advisory committee, called the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee or VRBPAC, is expected to sign off on the vaccine because it seems to have met all the criteria for authorization the FDA established last year.
– Karen Weintraub
Churches serving as vaccine sites in many communities of color
More faith-based groups are stepping up as vaccine sites, particularly in communities of color, which have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. During the pandemic, vaccinations have become the latest public service in a health and economic crisis that has seen places of worship offer canned food, clothing, housing and other assistance.
“There’s a comfort level with the church,’’ said the Rev. Karen Curry, an associate minister at the Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. “Familiarity is important. We’re providing what people want and need.”
– Deborah Barfield Berry
2,400 doses wasted in Tennessee
More than 2,400 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in Tennessee’s most populous county went to waste over the past month while local officials sat on tens of thousands of shots that they thought had already gone into arms, the state’s top health official said.
The finding comes after the state Health Department launched an investigation over the weekend into a report that recent severe winter storms caused 1,000 doses to be tossed in Shelby County, which includes Memphis. Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said the problems were far more widespread and date back to Feb. 3.
“The people of Shelby County deserve efficient and effective vaccinations,” Piercey said. “It is our largest population center. It is also one of our centers of color, as far as disadvantaged and minority communities, but the people deserve to have good access to vaccines.”
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID news: Moderna tries to combat South Africa variant; J&J vaccine