States, cities roll back coronavirus restrictions; Oxford University testing vaccine in children: Latest COVID-19 updates – USA TODAY

Several states and cities rolled back COVID-19 restrictions this week. 

In Montana, Gov. Greg Gianforte lifted the state’s mask mandate Friday. In 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 holiday. And in Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine promised to scrap a curfew that has been in place since November.

Meanwhile, limited indoor dining began in New York City Friday, and Chicago expanded its indoor dining capacity limits.

The rollbacks come as U.S. health officials released new guidance for reopening schools Friday, saying schools can safely reopen by adhering to five key mitigation strategies

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In the headlines:

►New COVID-19 variants are spreading fast in multiple regions of France, prompting tougher mask rules and a curfew crackdown around the English Channel coast.

China refused to give raw data on early COVID-19 cases to a World Health Organization team probing the origins of the pandemic, one of the team’s investigators, Dominic Dwyer, told Reuters and The Wall Street Journal. The head of the WHO said Friday that all hypotheses into the origins of the coronavirus were still being investigated and analyzed after a team of investigators said earlier this week that the theory that the virus leaked from a virology lab in Wuhan would no longer be pursued.

►Mask wearing will be needed for “several, several months” even as vaccinations roll out, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Once 75-80% of the population is vaccinated, the country can “start pulling back a bit on what are stringent public health measures,” he added.

►The U.S. Food and Drug Administration agreed to let Moderna increase the number of doses of its COVID-19 vaccine that it puts into each vial from 10 to 14, The New York Times reported Friday. The Times reported that the change, which could boost the nation’s vaccine supply by 20%, could take effect before the end of April.

►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 27.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 481,100 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 108.2 million cases and 2.38 million deaths. More than 69 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and about 48.4 million have been administered, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: People of color have suffered most from COVID-19. But now that a vaccine is here, they are far less likely to have received a first dose – for many of the same reasons. Read more.

Oxford University testing vaccine in children

The University of Oxford plans to test its COVID-19 vaccine – which is being produced and distributed by AstraZeneca – in children for the first time, becoming the latest vaccine developer to assess whether its coronavirus shot is effective in young people.

The trial announced Saturday seeks to recruit 300 volunteers between the ages of 6 and 17, with up to 240 receiving the COVID-19 vaccine and the remainder a control meningitis vaccine.

Andrew Pollard, chief researcher on the Oxford vaccine trial, says that while most children don’t get severely ill from COVID-19, “it is important to establish the safety and immune response to the vaccine in children and young people as some children may benefit from vaccination.”

– Associated Press

Backlogged COVID-19 death reports propel US to single-day record

Ohio’s efforts to clean up backlogged death reports propelled the U.S. to a stunning single-day record of 5,443 COVID-19 death reports on Thursday, Johns Hopkins University data shows.  The previous record was 4,436 cases reported exactly a month earlier.

Ohio reported 63 deaths on Tuesday, 721 deaths on Wednesday, and 2,559 deaths on Thursday.

Deaths in the U.S. have been slowly dropping since a peak several weeks ago. The nation is reporting an average of fewer than 100,000 new cases per day now. That’s still more than 1 new case every second, but it’s less than half the rate the country was reporting in January.

– Mike Stucka

Data from California shows Black people get low percentage of shots

California released much-awaited statewide race and ethnicity data for COVID-19 Friday, and the results show that Black people so far account for just 2.8% of all people who have received at least one shot.

White people have received nearly 33 percent, according to the data collected by the California Department of Public Health.

The data did not immediately explain the disparity. It showed also that Asian Americans who have received at least one vaccine dose account for 13.1%, Latinos 15.8%, and multi-race 13.9%.

California – and several other states – have come under fire in recent weeks for lagging behind in reporting data on how vaccinations are being delivered across ethnic groups. A lack of data is further masking vaccination rollout transparency, health equity researchers say, and the data deficit is hurting those most vulnerable. So far, less than 20 states are releasing vaccination counts by race and ethnicity, and the data is incomplete.

CDC guidelines to reopen schools: Vaccinations not a must

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says public schools can safely reopen amid the pandemic if a host of safety measures are taken including keeping 6 feet of physical distancing inside school buildings where possible. And while the vaccination of teachers is important, according to the CDC, it isn’t a must for in-person instruction.

The CDC on Friday released new highly anticipated guidelines for reopening schools that are still closed and conducting classes virtually as the COVID-19 virus rages. President Joe Biden has repeatedly pointed to the guidelines as key to his goal of reopening the majority of schools within his first 100 days.

The guidelines – billed as a “roadmap” and a “one-stop shop” to safely reopen schools – are not federal mandates, but rather “recommendations based on the best-available evidence.”

– Joey Garrison

After losing homes amid COVID-19, more people are living in cars, RVs

Americans are being driven into their vehicles by pandemic-fueled woes. And their ranks are likely to grow as the government safety net frays and evictions and foreclosures rise. 

“It’s in times of crisis that the fragility of our systems are laid bare,” said Graham Pruss, a postdoctoral scholar with the Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative at the UC San Francisco Center for Vulnerable Populations.

Even before COVID, millions struggled to afford a decent place to live. The pandemic has made the housing crisis even worse, says Pruss. He expects a surge in the number of people without permanent homes taking refuge in cars, vans, RVs and campers – and not just in the nation’s most expensive regions such as the San Francisco Bay Area where vehicles have increasingly become a form of affordable housing, but all over the country. Read more.

– Jessica Guynn

Contributing: The Associated Press

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