Coronavirus updates: 2 in 5 Americans live where hospitals are at capacity; COVID-19 vaccines may be less effective against variants – USA TODAY

COVID-19 has killed nearly 420,000 Americans in a year, and infections have continued to mount despite the introduction of a pair of vaccines late in 2020. USA TODAY is tracking the news. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates. Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletterfor updates to your inbox, join our Facebook group or scroll through our in-depth answers to reader questions.

One of the world’s largest drug companies has abandoned its COVID-19 vaccine development effort, citing “inferior” immune responses.

Two vaccines already are in use and several more are in the pipeline, so Merck’s decision should have minimal impact on vaccination progress across the nation,

“We are grateful to our collaborators who worked with us on these vaccine candidates and to the volunteers in the trials,” said Dr. Dean Y. Li, president of Merck Research Laboratories.

Merck said it will concentrate on COVID-19 treatments, an area where demand is strong. The world is likely to reach 100 million reported COVID-19 infections this week. A quarter of them are Americans.

In the headlines:

►Moderna said Monday that its vaccine is effective against COVID variants emerging from Britain and South Africa. The company also said it is developing a new booster shot that could enhance effectiveness against new variants.

►Every nursing home resident and caregiver in America who wants to be vaccinated against COVID-19 should have received at least their first shot by Monday night. Walgreens and CVS, which the Trump administration hired to deliver the shots, say they are on track to meet the deadline.

►A bipartisan group of lawmakers met virtually with Biden administration officials Sunday to push forward plans for vaccine distribution and another massive stimulus.

► Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said he tested positive for the coronavirus but that the symptoms are mild.

► President Joe Biden on Monday will announce a ban on travel to the U.S. from South Africa for most non-U.S. citizens. Biden will also reinstate restrictions for Brazil, the U.K., Ireland and 26 countries in Europe, a White House source confirmed to USA TODAY on Sunday.

► Coronavirus vaccines may be less effective against new variants of the disease emerging in South Africa, Brazil and other areas of the world, Britain’s health minister warned.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 25.1 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 419,200 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 99.2 million cases and 2.1 million deaths.

📘 What we’re reading: President Joe Biden is seeking to reset the nation’s inconsistent coronavirus testing efforts with a $50 billion plan and more federal oversight. Read more here.

Japan scrambling for ‘herd immunity’ as Tokyo Olympics draw near

Japan’s vaccine effort is falling short and could imperil the Tokyo Olympics, at least one expert warns. 

Japan probably won’t achieve herd immunity to COVID-19 through mass inoculations until months after the Tokyo Olympics, which are scheduled to begin July 23, Rasmus Bech Hansen, the founder of British research firm Airfinity, told Reuters. 

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has pledged to have enough shots for the populace by the middle of 2021. Hansen, however, said Japan will not reach a 75% inoculation rate, a benchmark for herd immunity, until around October.

“Japan looks to be quite late in the game,” Hansen said. “They’re dependent on importing many (vaccines) from the U.S. And at the moment, it doesn’t seem very likely they will get very large quantities.”

In rural Pennsylvania, COVID-19 is making a tragic mark

The pandemic hasn’t bypassed rural America, and it’s not going away.

In the Pennsylvania town of Beaver, 35 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, vaccine shots are nearly impossible to get. Nurses at Heritage Valley Beaver had to open a second COVID-19 unit to treat all of the critically ill patients. The community-based health system recently treated 115 patients simultaneously with COVID-19.

“The struggle to just breathe. It sounds like a small thing, you just keep breathing, it is not a small thing,” said Rebecca Register, 40, of Beaver, a seven-year veteran nurse who works on the COVID-19 unit. “Watching someone struggle with that, and they’re on the highest amount of oxygen that I can give them at any time and it’s ripping your heart out.” Read more here.

Daveen Rae Kurutz, Beaver County Times

2 in 5 Americans live where COVID-19 strains hospital ICUs

Straining to handle record numbers of COVID-19 patients, hundreds of the nation’s intensive care units are running out of space and supplies and competing to hire temporary traveling nurses at soaring rates. Many of the facilities are clustered in the South and West.

An Associated Press analysis of federal hospital data shows that since November, the share of U.S. hospitals nearing the breaking point has doubled. More than 40% of Americans now live in areas running out of ICU space, and only 15% of beds are still available.

Intensive care units are the final defense for the sickest of the sick, patients who are nearly suffocating or facing organ failure. Nurses who work in the most stressed ICUs, changing IV bags and monitoring patients on breathing machines, are exhausted.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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